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Breathing Space

 

 

Project Paranormal

Author: Kristi

Season 2

Part 4

 

**

Summary: “The trick is to keep breathing”-Garbage

 

Disclaimer: I own nothing. It all belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy.

 

**

 

Breathing Space

 

 

Kathy fidgeted on the fringe of the main entry. She could see the hotel manager, Michelle, bent over her desk trying to square things away for the guests that would be sure to arrive for the weekend. She hated to interrupt when she was working but she had no choice in this matter.

 

“Ms,” Kathy said as she stepped further into the room. Michelle looked up at the maid’s soft voice.

 

“Yes, Kathy?”

 

“Mr. Probust in room 8…he isn’t in his room,” Kathy stammered.

 

Michelle waved the maid away absently and turned back to her books. “I’m sure he woke early this morning. I believe I scheduled a sailboat excursion for him leaving quite early.”

 

“Ms…” Kathy hesitated again, stepping still further into the room and demanding that Michelle listen to her. “Mr. Probust…he didn’t sleep in his bed last night.”

 

This got the brunette’s attention. She laid aside her pen and removed her horn rimmed glasses. She walked around the reception desk, heels clicking on the wooden floor until they were subdued by the antique rug she stepped on. “You’re certain?”

Kathy nodded and sent errant strands of red hair bobbing about her face. “Yes. His bed was turned down but it’s not mussed a bit. The mint is still on the pillow and his things are all in order. At least what I could tell.”

 

Michelle’s face lined with concern at the news. “That makes the fourth one this month. I suppose I should notify the police. Leave the room as it is.” She turned back to the desk, dismissing Kathy and walking to the phone. When she took this job she never imagined she’d become such a close acquaintance to the local police.

 

 

*

 

 

Buffy looked down at the train tickets in her hand and back up at Giles who was perched on the lip of his desk. “Giles…I can’t-I mean we can’t.”

 

“Nonsense. The tickets are paid for, non refundable.  I’ve made reservations for you at the Corisande Manor. It’s right on the beach and the food is splendid. I’ve also taken the liberty of arranging evening tours of some of the more popular attractions. You must go,” Giles insisted.

 

A smile quirked one corner of Buffy’s mouth. “Are you sure you can do without us?”

 

“Quite. Cornwall isn’t that far away should I need you to return,” Giles assured her.

 

“Maybe getting out of here…spending a few nights somewhere else will help,” Buffy sighed. She looked back up at Giles and hesitated for a moment before embracing him briefly. “Thank you,” she whispered and then pulled away. “I’m gonna go-I’ll tell him that we’re taking a vacation…if that doesn’t work…well maybe I’ll slip in a white lie and say it’s work related.”

 

Giles smiled gently and nodded. He watched as Buffy walked out of the study then drew his weariness around him like a mantle. He picked up the glasses he’d discarded and sat down behind his desk. No rest for the weary.

 

 

 

*

 

 

Buffy parted the curtains just enough that she could look out the window to the sea beyond. “The balcony will be nice for sitting out in the moonlight. It really is right on the beach,” she said as she shut the curtains and turned to Angel who was unpacking.

 

“Can we try? I mean at least we can pretend we’re tourists here…right?” Buffy pleaded.

 

Angel hung some of his things in the closet and sighed. “Buffy….”he trailed off. He had a hard time denying her anything when she spoke in that little girl lost voice. It was so reminiscent of the person she’d been before the world had hurt her so much. “We’ll try. Okay?” He conceded as he turned to face her.

 

Buffy crossed the room and wrapped her arms around his waist, laying her head on his chest. “That’s all I want. Us to try. We need this, Angel. We need some time away from everything back at home, even if it is time in Never Never Land.”

 

“I’ll be Peter Pan. You get to be Wendy,” Angel smiled.

 

Buffy looked up at him, delight crinkling her eyes. He loved the way she looked when he surprised her with references to a culture that she got. “Then I’ll have to give you a thimble,” she grinned and went on tiptoe to brush a kiss across his lips.

 

 

Their evening consisted of a flashlight tour of Pendennis Castle and a walk on the beach. Buffy instituted the no shop talk rule and they both stuck to it. Buffy had been afraid they’d find nothing to talk about with the subject matter limited but she needn’t have worried. Angel started talking about books and she found he made literature more fascinating then all of her teachers combined.  For one moment she thought he’d make a great teacher, maybe when we get back I’ll talk to Giles about letting him teach the potentials. She nearly blanched at the thought but pushed it far enough back that it was almost forgotten soon after.

 

All in all, it was a good start to a nice, relaxing vacation.

 

*

 

Buffy woke up with a stretch and a yawn. Angel was still sound asleep beside her.  She rose on one elbow; her head propped up in one hand, and watched him sleep. She loved seeing him like this, vulnerable and soft. Early mornings seemed to be the only time Angel wasn’t haunted by ghosts of his past. After several minutes she brushed a whisper of a kiss across his forehead and got out of bed. After a quick shower she went downstairs to the dining room. The food in the Manor was reported to be excellent.

 

An hour later Buffy leaned back in her chair stuffed full of porridge, stewed fruits, eggs, kippers, sausages and toast. She hadn’t known she could eat that much but it had all been so good. The food was definitely the high point of the hotel so far, she thought as she got up from her chair and walked through the dining room into the lobby. The headline on the morning paper caught her attention.

 

Fourth Tourist Missing

 

Her brow furrowed as she took the folded paper and sat down on the sofa to read the article.  Her curiosity was further piqued by learning that all of the tourists had been staying at the Corisande Manor.  She gnawed on her lower lip, cast a glance around the main room and laid the paper aside. It was empty and she intended to take advantage of that by snooping. Buffy slipped behind the desk and started pulling open drawers, flinging open cabinet doors and expecting at any moment to find an amulet, head in a jar or something else that would indicate things were not as blissful at the manor as it appeared.

 

The only sign she got was in the form of the manager clearing her throat. Buffy peeked over the top of the desk, paused and then smiled her best dumb blonde smile. “Hi! I’m staying here. I mean I’m a guest. I was looking for paper and a pen.”

 

The manager arched an eyebrow at her. “The top of the desk,” she gestured to the corner of the desk where stationary with the Manor’s letterhead on it and pens with their name on it lay.

 

“Oh!” Buffy smacked her forehead with her palm. “I didn’t see it. If it were a mouse it would have bit me.” She grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen then made a show of scribbling some things down as she walked out from behind the desk. “I’ve been reading the paper…those people that were missing. Do you put them on milk cartons?”

 

At the woman’s confused glare, Buffy continued. “I mean in America we put them on milk cartons. Has anyone found any of them? I mean maybe they wandered off the path into the woods and were raised by wolves…or not. I was just wondering you know. My fiancée and I were thinking about going for a walk but I’d hate for either of us to miss the wedding because we were missing.”

 

The manager stared at her for a moment completely bewildered before recovering her manners. “Uhm…when is your wedding?”

 

“Oh weeks from now,” Buffy waved off. “Do you have missing people often? Or were those just an unlucky four?”

 

“The case is confidential. I’m afraid I can’t discuss it with anyone,” the manager smiled. “Now if you’ll excuse me. I’ve got work to do.”

 

“Oh yeah, sure…just go about doing whatever…I’m fine,” Buffy rambled, her smile fixed determinedly in place.

 

The manager stepped behind the desk, her eyes trained on Buffy. It took several moments before Buffy decided the woman wasn’t going to let her snoop about in peace so she took the paper and tromped up to her room, something the manager made obvious by excessive throat clearing that she didn’t appreciate.

 

Buffy perched herself on the edge of the bed and stared at Angel, willing him to wake up. She kept up the staring gig for all of five minutes before she reached over and placed a hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently.

 

“Angel, wake up,” she half whispered.  For her efforts, he grumbled and rolled over. She shook her again, harder this time.

 

Angel woke up with a sleepy growl, cracking one eye open first and then the other.  “If there isn’t a crisis I’m strangling you. Vacations are for relaxing, which means sleeping late.”

 

“Well…”Buffy placed the paper on his stomach. “There could be. Four missing tourists this month alone.”

 

“They got lost. There’s nothing to indicate that it could be supernatural. It’s a case for the police.”

 

“I’ve got wiggins,” Buffy blurted out.

 

Angel scrubbed his hands over his face, groaned, got out of bed and hopped into the shower.

 

 

 

They spent the afternoon in the hotel’s library looking at newspapers and thumbing through books written about the area.  The house had quite a history but none that would indicate a vengeful ghost or resident demon.

 

“It’s not as if they’d keep a record of the grisly triple murder that occurred in the house in 1806, at least not where the guests could get their hands on it,” Buffy grumbled as she tossed a book to the other end of the table.

 

“You’d be surprised. Haunted hotels can be a big tourist draw,” Angel replied.  “Generally the spirits are ambivalent or a total fraud, but it gives people a safe thrill. A pop to their adrenaline without a high cost and they get bragging rights. They can tell all their friends they spent a weekend in a haunted hotel. Grisly triple murders are big business, particular if they involved some spurned lover.”

 

“Well nothing about spurned lovers here. For that you have to go over to the Bronte sisters section,” Buffy quipped.

 

Angel smirked. “You got around to reading them?”

 

Buffy shrugged. “It was them or do slayer book work. Even the Bronte sisters are more fascinating then book work.”

 

“You can’t tell me you of all people didn’t like them? The unrequited love, the romance…”Angel trailed off.

 

“They were okay. Frankly, between you and me, I’ve had enough of unrequited love. I’m more into the hopelessly sappy, albeit badly written, forever and ever Harlequin Romance novels these days.”

 

Angel shook his head and pushed himself out of the deep, leather chair he was sitting in.  “I’m going to see what I can find out from the staff. I’m pretty sure you can find a Harlequin romance or two here. I think I saw a section of paperbacks against the back wall.”

 

Buffy watched Angel walk out of the library. She started to go after him, but remembered he’d spent several years as a private investigator and he’d been good at it. He didn’t need her help to question some maids. In fact she’d probably get in the way as the flirting and the charm would be much less effective with her hanging on. She got up, found the section Angel had been talking about, chose something not even closely related to vampires, blood or death and curled up in a chair to spend the rest of the day.

 

 

It was nearly sunset when Angel returned to their room where Buffy had retreated after tea. She was lying in bed watching a black and white movie on TV. Her face brightened when he walked in the room. He loved that about her, no matter how many times he saw it, he loved that she lit up like a Yule tree every time she saw him.

 

“Find anything out?” Buffy asked.

 

“Yeah, I had to ask a couple of maids, finally found one that was willing to talk. Apparently all the people who went missing took a moonlight walk down through the woods. Apparently there’s a nice little clearing with a pond not too far from here. The maid assured me it was very romantic and secluded,” Angel told her.

 

“Perfect combination for demon hunting grounds…or a serial killer,” Buffy pointed out. “I’m liking this vacation thing. I spent all day reading, curled up under a blanket with a cup of tea and some tasty pastries.”

 

“If I’m wrong we still had a moonlit walk in a romantic setting,” Angel said.

 

“I’m afraid you won’t be wrong though,” Buffy pouted.

 

*

 

“Looks normal enough,” Buffy said as she wrapped her arms around herself.  “And the maid was right, it is romantic.”

 

Angel glanced around, poking into the trees at the edges of the clearing and sniffing the air.  He walked to the edge of the pond and dipped his hand into it, cupping it and bringing it up to his nose. He smelled it and then snaked his tongue out to taste it.

 

“I can’t place it. The water tastes a little brackish, but it’s fresh water. There’s this briny smell, almost like the sea…but it’s a little off,” he said as he continued to poke around the pond. He furrowed his brow and crouched down near a nestle of rocks at the edge. He reached out and scooped something up from the water.

 

Buffy watched him with one eyebrow arched. “If that’s something gross, I don’t want to know about it.”

 

“No…it’s seaweed,” Angel answered quizzically.

 

“Isn’t that supposed to be…well in the sea?”

 

“Exactly.”

 

 

*

 

 

Their new clues led to a night of sleepless research and a call to Giles.  He had a lot more research materials available then they did at the Manor.

 

Buffy stared at row after row of books on the history of Corisande Manor. “Are you sure we can’t play vacation, let Giles research, since you know he’s gonna be researching something anyway, and he can just call us when he finds something.”

 

Angel smirked at her and handed her a book on local myths and legends. “That should be more interesting and possibly more fruitful then the others. I’ll take the dryer stuff.”

 

“Yay, at least I get fruitful,” Buffy grumbled as she slouched down in her chair. She opened the book, pulled her knees to her chest and balanced the book on her knees. Two hours later she was still staring at the same book while Angel had skimmed through half a dozen.

 

“Anything interesting?” Angel asked as he picked up yet another book.

 

“Oh yeah, if we’re looking for two headed dogs, tree spirits, dryads or other oogly boogley’s,” Buffy grumbled. “No mention of leprechauns though.”

 

“That’s because leprechauns are strictly Ireland and also completely made up,” Angel answered.

 

“I don’t even know what we’re looking for, Angel. Are you certain this is our area of expertise?”

 

“I’ve got a feeling,” he told her.

 

“And it’s not an ‘I’m bored and working out my hero complex issues’ feeling?” Buffy questioned as she continued to flip through her book.

 

“I do not have a hero complex and if I did, that’s not what this is about. That pond felt off. There was something wrong there. I can’t find any legend of any drowning there or anything like that. I feel like I’m missing something that I should see. I just can’t place it.” Angel pushed away from the desk and raked his hands through his hair. He began pacing the library, his fingers tapping on his chin as he walked.

 

“Missing something like….maybe a Cornish Shoney? Also known as a kelpie?” Buffy asked and held up the book to show Angel what she’d found. Angel snatched the book from her and read the page she’d marked.

 

“I think you’re onto something,” he said as he read over the page again. “Everything fits but the only way to know is to get a look at it.”

 

“But we went there last night, no horse or woman or man with seaweed in his hair,” Buffy pointed out.

 

“They don’t just hang around the lake or the pond like vampires, Buffy.  They prey on travelers.”

 

“We’re traveling or does it have a distance from home requirement. Like only people who are at least 500 miles from home are susceptible to being eaten alive,” Buffy asked.

 

Angel pinched the bridge of his nose as he thought. “I was there…a lot of things can smell vampires and don’t like them. Maybe I was driving it away.”

 

“So we lure it out,” Buffy stated matter of fact

 

“Buffy…I don’t like the idea of using you as bait.” Angel’s voice carried a hint of trepidation.

 

“Bait implies helplessness. I’m not helpless but the Shoney doesn’t know that,” Buffy insisted.

 

“Legend it has it that once you touch a Shoney you’re somehow bound to it,” he warned her.

 

“Like glue?”

 

Angel chuckled. “Something like that.”

 

“So I’ll lure it out. You throw sharp things at it until it dies,” Buffy suggested.

 

Angel made a full pace across the library and back, his hands shoved in his pockets as he walked. “Let me do some more research, call Giles and see what he knows about it and we’ll make a strategy from that. Try it out tomorrow night maybe.”

 

Buffy nodded. “Okay. In the meantime, I’m going to get something to eat. I’m starving. Want anything?”

 

“If they’ve got black pudding…” Angel trailed off.

 

“I’m not even asking what’s in that,” Buffy said as she got up out of her chair.

 

“It’s for the best,” Angel replied as he watched her leave the library.

 

 

*

 

 

Angel fitted a bolt into the crossbow and checked his pockets to make sure he had more. Giles had sent the crossbow via messenger earlier that day. Buffy watched Angel get ready to execute the first part of their plan with her arms wrapped around her. Angel reached out and grabbed her, pulling her to him. He placed a kiss on her temple and one on her lips. “I’m going to cut through the woods and find a place to set up, probably in a tree. Give me an hour before you start down there. Hide your stake but keep it close and remember try not to touch the Shoney. It will likely appear to you as a man, possibly a horse. You’ll be able to tell it-”

 

“By its hair. Seaweed,” Buffy smiled. It was sweet to see Angel so nervous. “I’ll be fine.”

 

“I know,” Angel nodded. “I just don’t like using you as bait. I don’t like sending you in there with just a stake and I don’t like asking you to take a defensive stance instead of an offensive. You’re better at the offensive.”

 

“I don’t have to be on the offensive. You’re going to be watching out for me,” she reminded him, wrapping her one of her arms around his waist. She laid the palm of her free hand on his cheek.  “Don’t worry. I know you’ve got my back.”

 

Angel nodded and gave her that particular half grin that she called her own. “Always,” he whispered as he brushed her lips in a whisper soft kiss. In the next breath he’d gone all business again. “If you do touch it by accident and the legend is true, it’ll drag you into the pond. Don’t panic, take a deep breath and I’ll come in after you.”

 

“Hey, drowning is old hat to me. You stop panicking after the first time or two,” she grinned.

 

“No jokes. I’m not going to let you drown.”

 

“I believe you. Now go on. Get out of here,” she shooed at him, swatting him on the rear.  He grinned at her as he left the room. Buffy went to the window and watched for him. She could barely make out his form as he cut across the field and disappeared into the woods.

 

“Now comes the fun waiting,” she muttered to herself and turned away from the window.

 

 

At exactly an hour after Angel had left, Buffy walked out the front door of the manor.  She made no moves to be stealthy. The plan was to make sure that if the Shoney was watching for potential victims, he saw her.  She kept her head down as she walked, careful to appear like she wasn’t taking in everything around her. It didn’t take her long to reach the clearing, even at the leisurely pace she’d forced herself to keep.

 

For the first time since she’d began her journey she looked up, taking in her surroundings. She could feel Angel somewhere nearby and that caused a smile to come to her lips. There was no sign of a horse or a man so far. She wandered the perimeter of the clearing, paused by the pond and dipped her hand in the water before backing away. She stood in the center of the clearing, her head tilted up to look at the moon. The hair on the back of her neck prickled but she avoided looking over her shoulder. She kept reminding herself that Angel was out there watching. He was the eyes in the back of her head to compensate for the need to let her guard down.

 

“Beautiful night, isn’t it?” A softly accented voice spoke.

 

So, not a horse, Buffy thought before turning to look over her shoulder. She smiled gently as the man in slightly outdated clothes. He was beautiful, made of moonlight and shadows but his hair hung around his shoulders, snaking down that beautiful skin, dripping water. There were green rushes twined in with the seaweed strands and Buffy started to reach forward and remove a bit of green from his hair. She caught herself, her hand going back down to her side. She looked back up at the moon, needing to look away from the Shoney for a moment so she could gather her bearings.

 

“It is,” she answered. “We don’t have nights like this at home, entirely too smoggy.”

 

“You’re not English.” The Shoney’s voice held a note of pleasant surprise.

 

“No, just traveling. I’m from California, Los Angeles,” she said with a smile, looking back toward him to discover that he’d stepped uncomfortably close. She reminded herself that according to legend she had to willingly reach out and touch him, until she did he couldn’t grab her.

 

She heard the crossbow bolts sing through the air before they ever hit their mark. The bolts thudded into the Shoney’s body and it screamed. It struggled to retain its form, wavering, and flashes of its true form flickering in and out. It shot past Buffy, hitting her hard on the shoulder and she flailed, trying to regain her footing when she should have just let herself fall. She scrambled for purchase on the slick grass, grabbing the first solid thing she could find, the Shoney’s wrist.

 

That was all the invitation it needed. It grabbed a hold of her, clutched her close to its breast and made a mad dash to the pond. Buffy felt like she was suffocating, drowning in the brackish, briny smell before they ever even hit the water. She took a deep breath just before she felt the cold water flood around her and closed her eyes.

 

Angel dropped the crossbow when he saw Buffy in the Shoney’s grasp. He jumped from the tree he had perched in and crashed through the undergrowth into the clearing. He dove into the pond on the Shoney’s heels, his hands immediately striking out to get a grip on Buffy. He punched at the Shoney and found it was some sort of semi liquid substance that he couldn’t get a grasp on. It almost seemed to absorb his hand. Angel gave up the idea of attacking the Shoney and focused on getting Buffy up to the surface. His hands closed around Buffy’s ankle and he pulled. The Shoney fought with him turning Buffy into a makeshift tug-o-war rope.  After a few moments of struggle, the Shoney decided he could get an easy meal somewhere else and let go of Buffy. Angel cradled her to his chest and swam for the surface.

 

Buffy gasped for air the moment Angel surfaced. “Deep breath,” she said hoarsely.

 

“Good job,” Angel smiled at her. “Now let’s get you back to the hotel and warm.”

 

 

*

 

 

Buffy sat in front of the lit fireplace in their room huddled in a blanket with a pot of tea on the table beside her. She couldn’t stop shivering even though she was nearly dry. Angel was pacing the room as he talked on the phone.

 

“Yeah, just fax it over. No she’s fine…I’ll tell her. Thank you, Giles,” he ended the conversation and hung up the phone. He walked over and sat down in the chair next to her. “Giles says to drink plenty of hot tea and to rest.”

 

“Of course. Tea is the cure all,” she smiled weakly.

 

Angel nodded. “He also said that the Shoney can’t be killed. It has to be banished.”

 

“That would have been useful information to know before we went on our killing mission,” Buffy answered wryly.

 

“He’s going to fax over the banishment spell. He says we should be able to get the ingredients at a magic shop that masquerades as a herb store in town.  I’ll mix it up, we’ll take it down to the pond and sprinkle it in the water, say an incantation and Cornwall shouldn’t have anymore missing tourists, at least none that can be attributed to the Shoney,” Angel told her.

 

Buffy nodded slightly, sipped at her tea and stared into the fire. “Shame. It would have been nice to have a little bit of a vacation, you know with out the almost drowning.”

 

“Tell you what, we take care of this and I’ll talk to the manager about staying a few more days,” Angel smiled. He reached over and tucked an errant strand of hair behind Buffy’s ear. “You deserve it.”

 

 

 

The water swirled like a kaldiscope, colors dancing in the water and then went still. Buffy glanced up at Angel and caught her breath. Sometimes she forgot how beautiful he was, but washed in moonlight the way he was at this moment, she couldn’t deny it.  He felt her gaze on him and reached for her hand. He brought her knuckles up to his lips for a kiss. “Ready to start our real vacation?”

 

“So that’s it? No more Shoney, no more missing tourists?” Buffy prodded. She wanted to be sure that the problem was resolved.

 

“That’s it. Giles said the water would react if it had worked. If it hadn’t, we’d probably have an angry Shoney on our hands,” Angel assured her.

 

A wide smile spread across Buffy’s face. “Let’s see, I think I’d like to start my vacation with a moonlit walk followed by an entire day spent in bed with no interruptions except for the occasional room service call.”

 

“That can be arranged.”

 

 



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