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The Secret of Redemption

Project Paranormal

Author: D.M. Evans

Season 2

Part 6

 

**

 

Summary: A rash of child killings stir up the past for Giles and Angel

Disclaimer: so not mine. All characters belong to Mr. Whedon et al. Don’t own Most Haunted either.

 

**

Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer; the secret of redemption lies in remembrance.
Richard von Weizsaecker


“Penny for your thoughts.” Buffy handed Angel a mug of warmed blood. He sat in the shadows of Giles’ office.

 

He smiled, wrapping a big hand around the fragrant mug. He still felt oddly shy about drinking in front of her and Giles and he wondered why. He had mostly gotten over it with Cordy, Wes and Gunn. What did it matter anyhow? Giles was busy shuffling papers, trying to look busy. He wasn’t even paying Angel any mind. He turned his attention back to Buffy. “Mostly thinking that having too much time on my hands is a bad thing.” Angel knew it was more likely a dangerous thing. Time let his losses play through his mind, so many dead friends, Wes, Cordy, all those young Slayers. Angel shut his eyes as thoughts of his son, not dead maybe but lost to him, floated to the forefront of his mind.

 

“Yeah, lulls can be boring.” Buffy rested a hip on the desk. “What’s up with this, Giles?”

 

Giles glanced up at her, pushing up his glasses. “Perhaps things work in cycles, Buffy. Maybe we should just enjoy a little down time or see if we can find where those two fire demons got off to. I was thinking of visiting some old friends.”

 

“Giles? On vacation?” Buffy’s eyebrows reached for the ceiling. “Has hell become a frosty place?”

 

Giles pursed his lips at her. “A few days off is not a vacation, Buffy.”

 

Buffy waved him off. “You’d make it about work anyhow You’d have your friends looking into those missing fire demons.” She sat on Angel’s lap, putting her arms around his neck. “Ready to tell what’s bothering you?”

 

Angel shifted uncomfortably. He should have realized that he couldn’t hide anything from his lover. “Just thinking about everyone who’s gone. Wondering where Connor might be and if he’s okay.”

Buffy tightened her grip on him. He never spoke of his son to her. She wondered if he was embarrassed or regretted Connor wasn’t hers, or worse, thought she would be angry about his existence. “That’s natural. Want to talk about it?”

 

Angel shook his head, displacing her as he got up. “It’s nothing.”

 

Buffy’s lips pulled into a thin line. She knew it wasn’t nothing. Angel was worried about his son and if he wasn’t worried then he wasn’t the man she loved. Still, she knew better than to push.  “Well when it’s not nothing, you tell me.”

 

He smiled gratefully at her. “Thanks. Didn’t you have some more Christmas shopping to do? Now would be the perfect time.”

 

Buffy kissed his cheek. “Is someone fishing for a gift?”

 

“I’ve every faith in two things. One, you already have a gift for me and two, you can’t resist a shopping trip,” Angel said, seeing Giles trying not to laugh at that one.

 

“You are so right. And on that note, I’ll leave you two to entertain yourselves.” Buffy made a face. “Ewww bad mental image.” She shrugged and headed for the door. “Call me if something comes up.”

 

Angel watched her go. “Ever wish that men could solve their problems with a shopping trip?”

 

Giles pushed up his glasses, pondering that question. “It could make it a little easier. Then again, we do have the pub crawl.” His blue eyes went a little wistful.

 

Angel sighed. “I haven’t gone on a good pub crawl since Doyle died.”

 

“Ah, yes, your half demon friend. I would have liked to have met him.”

 

“He would have driven you crazy...or maybe not. He was a little like your friend, Ethan, only not evil.” Angel smirked.

 

“Yes, well, Ethan didn’t start out that way either. Power can be...alluring.” Pain hid in Giles’ eyes.

 

Angel’s shoulders drooped. “As I well know.”

 

The two men stared at one another for a moment, the atmosphere turning uncomfortable as they both realized this was one of their longer, friendlier chats. The tension was broken by the jangle of the phone. Giles snatched it up, giving their business slogan as a greet.

 

“Oh, hello, Nigel. It’s been a long time.” Giles’ brow pinched as his friend from Leicester started talking. “Missing children? Isn’t that something the police...skins?...oh dear. Yes, I’ll be out there as soon as I can to investigate. I’ll see you shortly, Nigel.”

 

Angel gave Giles a questioning look.

 

“Several children have gone missing in the Leicester area,” Giles answered the unasked question. “They’ve found two of the children’s skins in the woods. The police are treating it as a serial killer but my friend thinks it has a supernatural cause.”

 

Angel cast a glance at the curtained window. It was still daylight. “I’ll start looking for things that match in the books and online.”

 

Giles nodded. “I’ll pack a bag in case I’ll need to spend the night, which is likely. I’ll call you with more information as soon as I have it.” Giles took his glasses off for a moment, thinking. “Why don’t we let Buffy have her afternoon off? We don’t have very much to go on yet. It could be a human crime, however repulsive.”

 

Angel scowled at the thought. “I was thinking that myself.”

 

“Children,” Giles grumbled. “It’s always so much more horrible when children are involved.”

 

Angel thought about the children he had killed, Holtz’s children and then of how it felt to lose his own baby twice now. “It takes a monster,” he said, his voice heavy with regret.

 

To his credit, Giles had no comment to that. All he could think about was what he had done to those poor young girls months before.

 

***

 

Giles hated to think about how much time had passed since he had last seen Nigel. It reminded him how long he had been away from home and how old he was getting. Most of his friends had drifted away while he was in America or they had been killed. Giles tried to shake off his melancholy as he went up the walkway to the inn Nigel and Lilliana Tenpenny ran.

 

His friend was waiting for him. Upon seeing Nigel one thought ran through Giles’ mind; it really had been awhile. The last time Giles had seen Nigel, the man’s ginger hair had no ash threading through it, and his pale face had only a few lines unlike now. Seeing Nigel’s paunch, Giles unconsciously touched his own belly, hoping he was in better shape. He thought so.

 

Nigel smiled. “Nice to see you, Rupert. I wish it wasn’t under these circumstances. When you told me you were starting up this investigatory group I thought you had gone a little barmy, never thought I’d have to call you myself. Can I interest you in a scotch?”

 

Giles nodded. “Thanks, Nigel. You can tell me more about what’s been happening here.”

 

His friend’s face went grim but Nigel waited until they were both ensconced in comfortable chairs in the Inn’s library, scotch in hand, before he started his tale. “Over the last several weeks, children have disappeared, young ones, mostly in the age range of five to ten. The local police believe a serial pedophile is responsible.”

 

“A reasonable assumption. It seems to be happening with frightening regularity,” Giles replied, thinking on the Amber alerts that used to come over TV, radio, and highway signs in California.

 

Nigel nodded his head but the clouds in his eyes said it wasn’t anything human doing these killings. Giles felt oddly relieved. This monster could be made to pay. Human justice wasn’t always so sure.

 

“Yesterday two skins were found hanging from some trees. The police think the killer is showing off his trophies. The pedophile-murderer theory is all over the telly.”

 

“Care to tell me why you don’t buy into this theory?” Giles twirled the scotch in the glass, wishing he felt a hundred percent on his game. Thoughts of dead youngsters, granted much younger than the Slayers, brought back their fate to the front of his mind. Even if it was necessary to put the world right again, Giles wasn’t sure he’d ever escape the haunted feeling stirred up in him by the culling of the Slayer line back down to what it was meant to be. He understood Angel better now than he ever wanted to.

 

“Lilianna and I went out to the woods, got as close as we could to the crime scene. We didn’t believe the media spin,” Nigel said, not elaborating as to why.

 

Giles’ brow knit as he wondered if he would have just bought into a pedophilia story after his exposures to such crimes in America; maybe and that disturbed him. Still he didn’t know why Nigel hadn’t believed it. “That doesn’t tell me why you didn’t believe it, Nigel.”

 

“You know where we are,” Nigel said as if that explained everything. He seemed surprised Giles hadn’t twigged onto it yet.

 

Giles thought for a moment then took a deep breath as the realization set in. “Oh, the Dane Hills. You think it’s the Black Annis.” More scotch passed his lips as he thought about the various legends of the Black Annis, otherwise known as Cat Anna or Black Anny. It was hard to sort her out from history but if he sifted out legends that could be contributed to real women, he was left with a creature that could be traced back to the Cailleach Bheur. A supernatural being, she was said to be related to the fey, with long talons that she dug her home, Black Annis’ Bower, out of the stone with. Children were her favorite food. She would drink their blood, eat their flesh and suck their marrow before wearing their skins. “Surely she’s just a legend, a nursery boggart to make children behave.”

 

“That’s what the books suggest and I would have believed that since this area has been settled for so long. The Dane Hills were paved over back in the first World War including the area that legend had it where Black Annis’ bower was carved into the stone. Still, Lillianna and I decided to check it out, just in case.”

 

“Good instincts,” Giles said, thinking back to his youth when mages like himself, Nigel and Ethan would have gone out in the hopes of finding the Annis just for sport. “What did you find out?”

 

“Not much unfortunately. We couldn’t get all that close. I wasn’t eager to cross police tape in a case that involved the murder of children. Still, you could feel the power. There is something out there of a magical nature. Maybe the Annis, maybe something else but it’s not human. That’s when I decided to call you, Rupert,” Nigel said, looking unsettled and somehow old. It depressed Giles.

 

Giles took a sip of the smoky liquid. “I’m glad you did.”

 

“It’s a bit late to go out there now,” Nigel said, glancing out the window, at the gathering gloom. “I’ve no desire to go trampling around in Cat Anna’s woods if it is her out there killing. She’ll have no troubles flaying and eating us. You might be used to that sort of thing but I’m not.”

 

Giles nodded, not exactly thrilled with tromping around in the dark woods either. “I’ll call Angel and have him look into the Black Annis to see what we can do about her.”

 

“No Slayer?” Nigel sounded disappointed.

 

“Eventually no doubt. If it requires a spell, you, Lilliana, and I should be able to handle this,” Giles said, feeling a need to do something himself. He was beginning to understand Angel’s desire to balance the tables. He hadn’t felt like this since the 70's when Eyghon’s horror was fresh.

 

“Come on. I’ll show you to your room,” Nigel said, levering himself up out of the wingback chair. “Then we can go out and get a bite to eat.”

 

“Sounds good.”

 

***

 

Angel put the phone back on the hook and started flipping through the books to look for information on the Black Annis. It was a relatively easy task. He glanced up, hearing Buffy stomping in. It wasn’t the happy light sound of a satisfied shopper. His nose wrinkled against the pungent odor she carried with her and it wasn’t the scent left behind by the attack of the perfume sharks in the cosmetic department. Angel turned to her, his eyes widening slightly as he took in the deep cerise stains all over her body. Her blonde hair stuck up in stiff crimson spikes where it wasn’t matted down.

 

“Buffy, what-?”

 

Her hand whipped up, her face rigid with suppressed rage. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

Angel knew enough to take the hint. “At least you killed whatever it was.”

 

She shook her head, her hair not even moving. “No I didn’t. It spit up on me and ran. And that’s the last I’m saying until I’m clean.”

 

Angel nodded enthusiastically. “Just toss your clothes out into the hall and I’ll....burn them.” He grimaced.

 

“Good plan.”

 

Once Buffy was scrubbed clean and ensconced on the couch, resting against his shoulder, she picked up her tale. “I overheard some of the clerks complaining about weirdness at the mall, moved Christmas displays, funny stuff happening with the clothing, things disappearing.”

 

He smoothed her hair back. “And you investigated.”

 

She shot him an ‘are you nuts’ look. “No, the stupid prankster demon just so happened to show up and slimed me!”

 

“Slimed?” Angel’s brow knit.

 

Ghostbusters, you know. Or maybe you don’t.” Buffy sighed, patting his hand. “I’ll rent it later. Anyhow, I was too busy trying to get red goo out of my eyes before I went blind or something and by the time I got them clear, the thing was gone.”

 

Angel did a quick mental inventory of things that hacked up hardening slime. “Did you get any kind of a look at it?”

 

Buffy nodded. “Small, like a ten year old boy, with these little curvy horns. It might have been cute if not for the whole cherry spew.”

 

“Could be a phooka or something like that,” Angel offered. “More mischief than malice but you can work them up.”

 

“Why are you doing the book thing?” She gestured at the spread of tomes.

 

Angel hesitated for a moment. It suddenly seemed like not such a good idea to leave Buffy out of the loop. “After you left, one of Giles’ friends called to tell him about something killing children in the woods.”

 

Buffy stiffened. “And you didn’t call me?”

 

“Giles went to Leicester on his own. We’re not sure it isn’t a pedophile just like the police think it is and it was still daylight when he left. I don’t think either of us wanted me riding up there in the trunk of his car,” Angel said, quickly. “He just called. He and his friend are going out to a pub tonight and tomorrow they’ll check it out. They think it might be the Black Annis.”

 

Her lips thinned. “Which is?”

 

Angel picked up one of the books and tapped a picture. “That’s her.”

 

“Oh, yuck,” Buffy muttered, seeing the blue hag with long dirty black hair and steely claws. “Why isn’t she the Blue Annis if her skin is blue?”

 

“I don’t know,” Angel admitted honestly.

 

“And we have Giles out there on his own looking for this.” Buffy’s eyes stayed glued to the Annis’ talons. “We need to go help him.”

 

“Giles isn’t on his own. I’m helping here and he’s with his friends who are probably very capable of handling the supernatural, judging by most of his friends,” Angel said placatingly. “And, why don’t you handle the mall? I’ll go to Leicester.”

 

Buffy looked at him, stunned. “Are you sure?”

 

“I’m sure. The Annis is a night creature, too, and we can’t expose Christmas shoppers to whatever it is in that mall.” Angel managed a faint smile. The truth was more painful. Dead children had dredged up his past yet again and maybe saving a few would leach out some of his pain.

 

Buffy smiled back, ruffling his hair. “Figures you wouldn’t want to be caught dead in a mall.”

 

“I’ll have you know, I’m an excellent shopper...and I just signed myself up to marathon sessions, haven’t I?” He shook his head ruefully. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure nothing happens to Giles.” He didn’t add that Giles was quite capable of taking care of himself, in spite of the fact he had to hold the record for getting knocked unconscious. “We’ll call if we need you.”

 

“I know.” She traced the line of his lips. “Have time for a little study break?”

 

He kissed her. “I’m sure I can spare a few minutes.”

 

“Think hour,” she instructed.

 

“Done.”

 

***

 

“This is why Nigel didn’t put up much of a fuss about handling things at the inn today,” Lillianna said, rubbing her ankle where she had slipped on a root. There wasn’t much woods left in Dane Hills but she managed to fight with what little there was.


 

“Are you all right?” Giles examined her ankle. It didn’t look to be swelling.

 

“I’ll be fine.” She held out a hand to him.

 

Giles hauled her up. Lillianna was starting to show the years that had passed since she was young woman mixing magic and pot and hanging out with him and Ethan and the others. Her ash brown hair was frosted with grey and little parentheses had etched around her lips. He would never have pictured her as Nigel’s wife back in the good old days but they had always seemed happy. “What is going on at the inn?”

 

“Everyone wants to stay in a haunted hotel these days so we thought, why not capitalize on it?” Lillianna started leading the way again. “Nigel wrote to the blokes at ‘Most Haunted’ and they decided to do their thing at the inn. It’ll be great for publicity.”

 

“And Nigel volunteered to handle TV people?” Giles was surprised.

 

“Mostly because he was afraid I’d strangle Yvette and queer the deal,” Lillianna replied with a laugh. “I mean could she scream more? If ghosts scare you that much, give up hunting them and get a new job. She’s bloody annoying.”

 

“I’ll take your word for it,” Giles said, having never seen the show. He never watched much TV but he had caught some of the police reports about the dead and the still missing children last night. He wasn’t thrilled to be out here even in the daylight hours, more worried about wasting police time if they questioned him.

 

“There we are.” Lillianna pointed to the blue and white police tape.  “That’s where the two skins were found.”

 

Giles looked at the scene. He got hints of magic floating in the air like a miasma that wouldn’t clear but it wasn’t as potent as Nigel had led him to believe. Still, there was a sadness clinging to the area that was palpable. “Did it feel stronger yesterday?”

 

She bobbed her head. “Very much so. Now the question is, where would the Black Annis be? Not much in the way of caves around here.”

 

“There is some rock though,” Giles mused, pointing to the outcropping that was a natural fence for some of the nearby homes. “Let’s skirt around the tape and head that way and see if we can find some opening in the earth.”

 

“All right but why that way?” Lillianna asked, letting Giles take the lead.

 

“Because legend had it that the Black Annis’ tunnel connected to Leicester Castle, which is that way.”      

 

Silently the two mages slowly investigated the landscape, inching their way along, not at all sure what they were looking for. Giles wondered how police investigators did this every day. It was nerve wracking and tedious all the while there was the pricking of urgency; find the clues now or more will die. He knew that most likely that any of the children that were still missing were dead, eaten by the Annis. She just hadn’t displayed the skins yet. He wondered why she would be back now but he thought he had an answer to that. This could be spill over from before when the extra Slayers had thrown things out of whack. She could have awaken, slowly coming back into her own. Not for the first time he found himself wishing there could have been another way to have handled things in Sunnydale so that so much death and despair could have been avoided.

 

Sometimes it took him by surprise that he longed to go back to that place, even if it didn’t exist any more. When had Sunnydale begun feeling a little like home? When he looked at Lillianna and his surroundings, he only saw his past and still wondered if he could truly make a future here. He knew that was just his self doubts talking. No matter what he had done since coming home, he had done a lot of good, too. Why was it so much harder to think on the good instead of the ill?

 

“Rupert, what do we do if we find Black Annis’ Bower?” Lillianna asked, breaking into his thoughts and he was grateful for it.

 

“You go back to the inn and deal with the tv crew. I’ll call for my reinforcements,” Giles replied without hesitation. He didn’t enlighten Lillianna to the fact that Angel had already called him, planning to be there by tonight. He didn’t know how much of the night would be left by the time Angel arrived but he’d be glad to have someone more capable of going toe to toe with the Annis.

 

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Lillianna said, relief heavy in her voice. “I’m getting too old for this.”

 

“I know the feeling.” Some days he really did.

 

The comfortable silence enveloped them again. Finally Giles spotted something that looked promising. In the roots of an old oak, certainly old enough to predate any of the housing developments on the Dane Hills, was an opening in the rock. It was small, barely big enough for someone’s shoulders to fit through. He knelt down looking at it. There were no leaves or twigs in the entrance, suggesting something had used it recently. A foul odor wafted out of it.

 

“Think that could be it?” Lillianna asked, her voice tight.

 

He nodded, touching the dirt around the entrance. “It’s the best possibility we’ve run across so far.”

 

“If it’s not, this is pointless. We should probably find ways of luring the Annis out,” Lillianna said. “Once your reinforcements get here.”

 

“Agreed.”

 

***

 

“Did you bring them?” Giles asked, meeting Angel in the parking lot of the inn. The Watcher carried a canvas bag.

 

The vampire nodded, going to the little trunk. “I’m assuming these are the ones you meant.” He pulled out a flat carrying case. “I didn’t realize you had swords this old in your collection.” Angel opened the case to reveal two ancient-looking swords, heavy and ugly in form. These were weapons meant for heavy use, not for decorating an officer.

 

“They are several centuries older than you and they’re made of good iron,” Giles said, then pointed to some of the tiny cottage houses behind the inn. “You’ll be staying back here.”

 

Angel eyed the ramshackle little buildings. “Not welcome at the inn?”

 

“I think Lillianna and Nigel would be very curious and excited to have a tame vampire in their inn,” Giles said, smirking slightly at Angel’s annoyed look at the suggestion that he was domesticated. “However, they have a film crew taking over most of the hotel. Your best bet for not being disturbed is the cottages.”

 

“Film crew?” Angel dreaded knowing.

 

“They’re looking for ghosties and things that go bump in the night,” Lillianna said, coming out of the shadows. “Rupert, you were supposed to let me know when our guest arrived.”

 

“Sorry. Angel, this is my friend, Lillianna Tenpenny. She and Nigel own the inn and let’s just say they are good at finding enchanted objects,” Giles said, as Lillianna closed in on Angel curiously.

 

Angel nodded. “Nice to meet you. Giles was just about to show me where I was staying.”

 

“I gave him the key, just in case I couldn’t get away. It’s back here.” Lillianna waved them to follow.

 

Angel shut up the swords and picked up the case and his small travel bag. Giles had an absurd thought about how strange it was to see a vampire with luggage. Lillianna took the key from Giles and opened the cramped little cottage.

 

“Cosy,” she said with the air of someone used to using euphemisms to put a positive spin on things for tourists. “I can’t offer you any...uh liquid refreshments of the...um warm variety.” She blushed slightly.

 

Angel smiled disarmingly. “I’m fine, thank you. You went with Giles to find the cave, didn’t you?”

 

She nodded. “And I’m annoyed enough with all the rigamarole inside the inn now that I’d go with you there in the dark if I could. You two be sure to come back in one piece. If she keeps annoying me, I might need you to show Yvette your real face, Angel. It’d be worth it to see her die of fright.”

“Then she’d be haunting your inn, Lilli.” Giles grinned at her.

 

Lillianna shuddered. “I’ll get an exorcist. If you need any spell components that we didn’t think of earlier, hunt me down, Rupert.”

 

“I will.”

 

Lillianna let herself out.

 

“Do I even want to know what that was about?” Angel asked, setting the cases on the bed in the next room. He came back out and sat in one of the narrow chairs that looked inadequate to hold his muscular form.

 

Giles sat down as well. “Not really. I’ve learned one of the ways to draw the Black Annis out but I’m not really willing to give it a try unless there’s no other choice.”

 

“The dragging a dead cat soaked in anise seeds? I saw that in the books.” Angel replied, shrugging.

 

“That would be the one. I don’t have a dead cat and I’d rather not scour the streets looking for road kill,” Giles said.. He didn’t want to think about having to kill one himself. He really had had enough of death. “I think we can call her out in other ways.”

 

“And the swords, closest thing we have to cold iron,” Angel mused.

 

Giles nodded. “Yes. She might have to obey you after that whole thing with the faerie king last year but I’m not sure the Annis has ever owed fealty to anyone but herself. And she’s a killer of children. I see no point in you telling her to stop, an order that will be rescinded as soon as there is a new king.”

 

Angel’s expression said he didn’t really want to think about that. “Point taken. I’ll assume the second sword is for you.”

 

“I can handle it,” Giles said, bristling a bit wondering if he heard criticism in Angel’s voice. He was getting old but not that old, not yet. He could still do field work.

 

Angel rubbed his jaw. “You were damn handy with a flaming stick as I recall.”

 

Giles’ eyes narrowed at the mention of what happened after Jenny’s death. “I’ve been well trained.”

 

“I think Buffy assumes you’ll be staying behind the lines,” Angel said, an expression on his face that said he didn’t want to tell Buffy if Giles got killed in the field.

 

“Don’t worry, if I get into trouble, I plan on tripping you into the Annis’ path.” Giles’ lips quirked up.

Angel snorted. “Understood.”

 

The phone jangled before Giles could continue his line of thought. He picked up. “Yes, Nigel...what? Thank you for telling me. We’ll be heading out there soon.”

 

“Something’s happened,” Angel said as Giles hung up.

 

“Two more skins found hanging from the trees near Dane Hills,” Giles said, feeling disgust churning his gut.

 

“Fill me in on the plan once we get out there. We’ve wasted enough of the night,” Angel said, going to get the swords.

 

They kept the conversation to a minium as Giles led the way. The light from his torch was not very comforting nor was the fact that he was going into the night by himself with the vampire. On the times he went out on the hunt, Giles had to wonder how Buffy felt. They were times racked with dull anxiety and boredom. No wonder her world occasionally turned bleak.

 

“The Black Annis has been around a long time,” Angel said softly. “I found records going back to the fifteen hundreds. She won’t go down easily.”

 

“If we’re even dealing with her,” Giles said, still hoping they were. “It’s still all speculation. We don’t know for certain it’s not a human pedophile. We’re working on the gut feelings of me and the Tenpenny’s.”

 

“You have good instincts, Giles. How do we go about calling her out before someone sees us in a housing plan with swords?” Angel asked in a dry tone.

 

“I didn’t have anise seeds but I did have this.” Giles dug in his pack and pulled out a bottle. After opening it, he surprised the vampire by dousing him with it. “Sorry Angel, but one of us has to be bait.”

 

Angel wiped at his soaked clothing. “This reeks of licorice.”

 

“Anisette. Took it off Nigel’s bar. Just don’t light up a match?” Giles smiled, looking mildly amused at the idea of Angel flambee. “It’s liquor made from anise seeds.”

 

“You could try giving me warning next time,” Angel grumbled, wringing out his shirt.

 

“Would you allow me to drench you in alcohol if you knew?” Giles asked and Angel shot him a slotted eyed look. Giles took stock of the vampire as they started walking again. He couldn’t help wonder why Angel hadn’t handed off this assignment to help him to Buffy. “Why did you volunteer to come up here instead of Buffy? I know you’re not that afraid of malls, Angel.”

 

The vampire didn’t answer immediately. Giles saw the pain stitching up in the broad planes of the man’s face. “I killed a lot of children in my time. They weren’t my favorite prey, too easy but I did kill some. I wasn’t like Spike though, who had a real taste for ‘veal’ as he called it,” Angel said unapologetically. “He had a taste for kids and Slayers that I never quite understood. Still, I killed enough kids. It’s time to save some.”

 

“You’ve saved kids before,” Giles said, assuming it had to be true given the last several years of the vampire’s life. “I thought this might be more...personal.”

 

Angel’s look was as sharp as the sword he carried. “I know what these parents feel like, Giles, their children missing, wondering if they’re dead, wondering what the person who took them might be doing to them.” Angel’s voice was brittle. “The first time Connor disappeared, he was in the hands of a man whose children I murdered and turned. I could only imagine what Holtz was doing to him. Now, Connor’s gone again of his own volition true but we don’t know if he’s dead or alive. These dead kids here in Leicester reminded me I don’t know where my son is and the dull ache, the fear he might have given his life for mine, flared into an agony I wouldn’t want anyone to know. I know from his communications with you before he disappeared, Connor didn’t want to be found but the not knowing...it’s more painful than anyone knows.” Angel shuddered almost imperceptibly, giving a hint to the pain he carried.

 

“You’re right, I can’t imagine...though I know what I felt like when Buffy died. It was the closest I’ll ever come to losing a child,” Giles said slowly.

 

“I try to push him to the back of my mind so I can go on. No one knows everything I gave up for Connor,” Angel said softly. He didn’t elaborate on ‘everything.’

 

“It’s strange,” Giles said, his tone going reflective. “I’ve never doubted you could love. Watchers aren’t taught to think vampires are capable of it but I knew from the beginning you loved Buffy. It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that you miss your child, Angel, that you loved him. Buffy knows it, too, even if she says nothing. You can tell her, you know. She is not going to hate you for it. You don’t have to bear all your burdens alone. Thinking about a creature capable of skinning a child and eating it stirs something in us all and with what you’re already carrying...” Giles trailed off, not sure if he wanted to get in this deep with Angel. Still, a less broody Angel made for a happier Buffy and Giles would do anything for her.

 

Angel’s smile was so faint Giles might have imagined it. “Thanks, Giles. I’m done being maudlin now. Is it too much to ask that the Black Annis just show up so we can stop her?”

 

Giles looked around. “Apparently so. The cave was right over here...I think. Everything looks different after dark.”

 

“It’s been so long since I’ve been out in the daylight, I’ll take your word for it,” Angel said ironically.

 

Giles found the oak tree finally. “Doesn’t look like much does it?”

 

Angel shook his head. “The books said she claws her cave out of the rock with her fingernails. She might not need a lot of space.” His head jerked up. “Smell that?”

 

Giles shook his head. He didn’t have a vampire’s senses. The wind picked up just a bit, carrying the odor to him. “Smells like rotting flesh.”                 

“Fresh meat walked into my bower,” a voice in the dark said sounding like the crackle of crumpling tin foil. “Smells like an offering.”

 

“Bloody hell, the anise worked,” Giles said surprised, gripping his sword tightly.

 

“Wonderful,” Angel grumbled, bringing his blade up.

 

“Do you see her?” Giles asked.

 

Before Angel could answer, something swarmed out of the hole in the ground. The Black Annis drew herself up to her full height, shaking dirt from her thin shoulders. She was taller than Giles was expecting and skeletal thin. She smiled at him, showing him a sharp, snaggletoothed, yellow smile. She lunged at Giles before he could bring his sword up.

 

Angel knocked Giles out of the arc of her long, steely talons as they scythed through the air. Giles hit the ground hard, almost losing his sword. He did lose his torch and his wind. Momentarily stunned, he watched the Annis turn on Angel, her blue face twisting with rage.

 

“My offering is dead meat.” She sounded extremely disappointed. “Still, there is blood in you, leech. I’ll have it for my bed time drink.” The Annis laughed at the vampire.

 

She moved faster than Giles would have expected her to. Her skirt of human skins whipped around her as she tried to dance around Angel’s sword slashes and move in close on him. Angel tagged her arm and her flesh smoked where the iron came in contact. She howled. Her claws flailed at him and Angel grunted when they scored alongside his shoulder.

 

“She’s fast, Giles,” Angel said.

 

Giles wasn’t sure if that was a warning to ‘get the hell’ out or a ‘get off your ass and do something.’ It was times like this he wished he knew a spell like ‘immobilist.’ Damn Willow for making him watch all those Harry Potter movies. He dragged to his feet, his hip hurting from where it had smacked ground. Maybe he was getting too old for this.

 

The Annis came in under Angel’s reach and grabbed him around the neck, lifting him off his feet, something Giles didn’t think something as thin as she could do. She slammed Angel into the oak making him drop his sword. Angel’s hands wrapped around hers trying to pry her talons away from his flesh. Seeing Angel bleeding, Giles wondered if the Black Annis was capable of severing the vampire’s neck.

 

Realizing she wasn’t concerned with him, a mere human, prey, Giles rammed his sword straight through her back with all the strength he had, driving it past muscle and bone and organs until it blossomed out the front of her. He stumbled into her, pushing the sword to the hilt. Angel yelped as it went through her and into his upper thigh.

 

The Annis let Angel drop. She hissed at Giles, looking over her shoulder at him. In spite of his fervent wishes, she did not collapse and die. Instead, she reached around and started pulling the sword out of her back. Angel’s sword whirled around like a baseball bat, cleaving her head from her shoulders. The Black Annis died without a sound until her flesh started bubbling and dissolving. The smell nearly made Giles vomit. He stumbled away, looking for his torch.

 

“Are you okay, Angel?” he asked, looking back at the vampire.

 

“No!” Angel pointed at his leg where blood pumped from a rent dangerously close to his groin. “You nearly....”

 

Giles winced in sympathy. “Sorry but I was trying to keep her from tearing off the more important head.”

 

Angel’s look suggested Giles should let him decide which was the important head. “You okay?” he asked.

 

“I’ll live.” Rubbing his sore hip, Giles glanced back at the cave. “Do you think there are more kids down there? She hadn’t displayed all the skins of the kids known to be missing.”

 

Angel nodded. “It’s possible but they aren’t alive.”

 

“No, I didn’t hope they might be.” Giles sighed.

 

Giles led the way to the nearest pay phone. He used the hem of his shirt to cover his finger as he dialed and tried to make the police believe that they might find the bodies of the missing kids in a little cave in Dane Hills.

 

“That was the worst American accent I’ve ever heard.” Angel smiled after Giles hung up and both men started limping for home.

 

“So long as they don’t track the call to me, I’m happy,” Giles admitted. “I think I’m going to have a bruise the size of London on my hip. You threw me right into the oak’s root.”

 

“And you stabbed me, I call that even,” Angel said, probing the torn flesh of his neck.

 

Giles snorted. “At least she’s stopped.”

 

“And hopefully one of a kind,” Angel said, glancing back the way they came.

 

“Exactly.  We’d better call Buffy and let her know what happened here and see if she handled that mall demon,” Giles said, pragmatically.

 

“I just hope it didn’t spit up on her again. She was not pleased.” Angel smiled.

 

“I’m quite glad I missed out on that. She usually gives me a look like I’m the one responsible for it.” Giles made a lemony face at the thought.

 

“You are her Watcher,” Angel reminded him, obviously amused.

 

“Yes, well, I don’t go about encouraging demons to ruin her clothing, no matter what she thinks.” Giles laughed. “We might even get back to the inn in time to have a little fun with the filming crew at the inn.”

 

“You wouldn’t dare.”

 

Giles allowed himself a cheeky smile. “Lillianna would be amused.”

 

“You’ve known her for a long time, haven’t you?” Angel asked.

 

Giles nodded. “Since the 70's. We used to have all sorts of parties back then, me, Ethan, our friends, a little magic, a little mayhem, keys might have been exchanged.” He smiled at the memories.

 

“Buffy has no idea does she?” Angel grinned.

 

“I’m not even sure if she knows what a key party is and the idea that I might have once had a sex drive is an absurd one to the whole crew of them,” Giles lamented. He sobered for a moment. “Do you feel any better now that the Annis is dealt with?”

 

Angel hesitated a moment, pondering that then nodded. “Yes. If nothing else, Giles, I know this, my son isn’t helpless like the poor children the Annis preyed on. He can handle himself. When he’s ready, he’ll come home.”

 

Giles noted that Angel was obviously thinking that Connor was still alive in spite of his earlier fears. He hoped the vampire was right. “I’m sure, Angel.”

 

“And you, Giles, you ready to lay down whatever it is you’ve been carrying around since the call came in about the Annis?” Angel asked, softly.

 

Giles startled; he hadn’t thought he was that obvious. Then again Angel was very good at reading people. Giles thought about the lost girls. It was a pain he couldn’t carry in the front of his mind for the rest of his life. It was time to bury it. “Yes, I think I am.”

 

**

 

Buffy came in toting several shopping bags and a very happy look. Giles looked up from where he was recording about the Annis in his journal. Angel was tucked away on the couch in the shadows with a sketch book. Giles wondered if part of Buffy’s Christmas gift would be a portrait of herself.

 

“Keep out of the bags,” she said in warning.

 

“Never fear,” Giles replied. “Did you find the demon plaguing the mall?”

 

“It’ll plague no more,” She replied cheerfully. “How are you two?” Buffy snugged against Angel’s hip on the couch. “Is everything healing up?” A smile played with her lips. “Giles told me where he hit you.”

 

“Yes. but it was a close call,” Angel said, pouting as he mined for sympathy.

 

“If you don’t quit whinging on about it, I’ll be sure to have better aim next time,” Giles replied tartly. “My hip’s doing fine as well.”

 

“You’ll have to tell me everything,” Buffy said, taking Angel’s sketch book away, her eyes flicking at what he was drawing. “Later. You and I need to talk, Angel.”

 

She got up and put the shopping bags his hands. “If you’re really good, I’ll let you peek at one of your gifts.”

 

Angel’s bemused look made Giles smile as the vampire skirted the shadows towards his and Buffy’s room. Giles waved Buffy over and whispered something to her. She nodded and followed Angel into their room. Angel had set the bags down and wore an anxious look on his face.

 

“Is everything all right Buffy? I thought we were okay,” he said, a hint of worry in his voice.

 

Buffy smiled, taking his hand, pulling him toward the bed. “Sit. Relax. We’re fine. I just wanted to say, it’s okay Angel, if you want to talk about him. I’ve told you that before.”

 

Angel sighed. “Did Giles tell you...”

 

“Yes, but he didn’t have to. I want to know about Connor, Angel, because he was part of you, not because you got to thinking about him because of this case of disappearing and dead children. I want to know what was good and joyous about your son, because he’s yours and you love him. You can even tell me the not so good things. I won’t judge.”

 

Angel gauged her expression and saw nothing but love and concern for him. He cupped her chin, leaning in to kiss her softly. “Thank you. I love you so much, you know that.”

 

“I know.”

 

Angel settled back on the bed pulling her to him. He told her everything, all the fears the Annis had dredged up, all the bad things he had done, all the bad things Connor had done and all the good. It felt good to let it all go, to have her acceptance of his child instead of pretending he didn’t exist, never talking or thinking about him. Maybe one day he could be there to see them both together. It didn’t matter. The burden was lifted from him. How odd it felt that he owed the Black Annis for this.

 

In the other room, Giles put away his diary and took out his guitar. For the first time in a  long time, he felt light enough of spirit to play it. As he picked out tunes from his youth, he felt somehow healed, if only a little.

 



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