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Time's Arrow

 

Time’s Arrow

Author: LisaP

Season 1

Part 2

 

**

 

Disclaimer: Not mine etc. This is just for fun.

 

Summary: Time heals all things. Or does it?

 

**

 

Giles put his head in his hands and leant his elbows on the cluttered desk.

Bills – some of them red – lay scattered about amongst faxes and printed copies of emails that reported worrying occurrences of strange paranormal events and experiences.

 

He’d known that taking responsibility for the new slayers was not going to be an easy task, but looking after the needs of all the new slayers, was stretching his finances to an alarming degree. Added to this there were an increasing number of distractions that were taking up far too much of his time. Giles was so caught up in his musings that he failed to hear the soft knock on his office door, and only when the knock became a sharp rap did he bring his attention back to the present moment.

 

“Uh…Come in”. Giles shuffled the papers, trying to get his paperwork into some semblance of order. Buffy came in, and perched herself on the corner of the large old desk.

 

“I’ve just taken a call about another weirdness. Somewhere called Salsbry. I tried to look it up on the map, but couldn’t find it.”

 

Giles smiled despite his worries. “Salsbry – spelt Salisbury. It’s about 50 miles from here. Big medieval cathedral”.

 

Buffy huffed. “Stupid English spellings – why do you have to make life difficult?”

“Indeed. May I just say Arkensas?”

 

Buffy shrugged, knowing that she was on a hiding to nothing in this sort of conversation with her ex-Watcher. “Anyway. Weirdness abounds. Headless monks or something. I mean, I know that England is all old and haunted, but isn’t this getting a bit on the excessive side?”

 

“It is.” Giles pointed to the faxes and emails. “These all need looking at too, but I just don’t have the time – or resources”.

 

Buffy had noticed the bills peeking out from underneath the other papers. She was a very different girl from how she had been a few years before. Buffy knew all too well what it felt like to juggle bills with never enough money to cover all the bases. She’d never asked how Giles afforded the upkeep of his house, or how he managed to feed and pay for the running costs of the slayers, she’d assumed that the Watcher’s council paid him. Now she wasn’t so sure.

 

“Can I do anything to help?” Even as she offered, Buffy wondered exactly what she could do. Money was tight for everyone.

 

Giles sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Thank you, Buffy. But we’ll manage somehow.” He tried to smile reassuringly, but Buffy could see the lines of worry weren’t disappearing any time soon.

 

-0-

 

“So I think Giles is a bit short of money, and I don’t know what I can do to help him. This is all being made worse with all these reports of strange paranormal events. I think that Giles believes the new slayers have got something to do with it, but he hasn’t got the time to spend researching it.”

 

Buffy went to wash out her empty coffee cup in Angel’s tiny kitchenette, glad to unburden herself to someone who would listen and understand. The vampire was leaning against the drainer and obligingly moved to let Buffy get to the sink.

 

“I guess that I should look for a job, but I don’t even know if I can work in England. And in any case, what would I do? There seems to be a big shortage of hamburger flipping places in and around Westbury, and somehow my brief CV as a school counsellor in a high school in a disappeared town in California doesn’t sound that great over here.” Buffy finished rinsing her cup, and noticed that Angel seemed miles away.

 

“Sorry Angel. I guess you don’t need to hear me whining about things that must seem pretty unimportant after everything you’ve been through.”

 

Angel glanced down at her. “No, I was just thinking.” All this talk of finances and resources had cast his mind back to the early days of Angel Investigations. The memories were bitter sweet. Doyle and Cordelia – and then Wesley. He remembered his reluctance to turn his mission to help the helpless into a paying concern, ignoring the fact that Doyle and Cordelia had to keep body and soul together as well as helping him. Angel’s throat tightened as he remembered Cordelia’s insistence on charging clients, and Doyle’s convincing arguments about people being able to move on with their lives instead of being beholden to some dark mysterious stranger. The faces of his three dead friends were painfully clear in his mind’s eye.

 

He mentally shook himself, and returned his attention to Buffy. “I’m sure Giles is more than capable of looking after things. After all, he did have the magic shop and turned that into quite a successful business.”

 

Buffy grinned. “ I think that Anya was the reason that the magic shop made money – I’m not so sure that training as a Watcher, and then a librarian really equipped Giles to be Entrepreneur of the year. Still, I guess you’re right. Still, it doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better being yet another drain on his resources.”

 

Angel disagreed. “He couldn’t manage the slayers on his own, Buffy. You’re doing an excellent job with them – don’t forget that.”

As always, Angel seemed to know the right thing to say to make her feel better, and Buffy decided to put her concerns for Giles to one side for the moment.

 

 -0-

 

This time the bills would have to wait. Giles put the phone down, having had another very disturbing conversation. He shrugged into his tweed jacket and hunted out the keys to his Freelander. He passed Martha Fletcher n his way down the stairs.

“Can you let Buffy and the girls know that I’ve had to go to RAF Boscombe Down. I’ve no idea when I’ll be back”. He disappeared out of the door leaving  Martha to wonder once more at the loss of her previously peaceful tenure.

 

-0-

 

RAF Boscombe Down is only a few miles from Westbury, and most people know it as the home of the Southampton University Air Squadron. What is less well known is that it also houses the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment arm of the Royal Air Force.

 

Giles drew up to the gatehouse and gave his name and passed over his passport for identification purposes. The uniformed guard saluted and raised the barrier for Giles to proceed up to the main car parking area. He parked up and made his way into the rather dusty and well-worn reception area.

 

“Rupert. Thank you for coming so promptly”. Alistair Cornwell was a heavy-set, florid-faced man in his early fifties. Normally a genial and relaxed person, despite his status as a scientist of some international repute, Giles could see that his old college friend was unnaturally anxious – even scared.

 

“Hello, Alistair. I’m pleased to see you – but judging by your call, I’m guessing that you didn’t just want to catch up on old times.”

 

Cornwell shook his head. “No. It’s your…specialist knowledge that I’ve need of right now.” He led Giles into a small private room. “I need your absolute promise that you won’t breathe a word of anything I’m about to tell you.”

 

“Of course. I’m still bound by the strictures of the Official Secrets Act in any case”.

 

Cornwell gestured for Giles to sit down. He remained standing, however, too agitated to sit down. “You know about our experimental activities here.”

 

Giles nodded his affirmation.

 

“One of our projects is the development of a contra weapon to ASRAAM. ASRAAM is one of our state of the art air-to-air missiles. It’s a fire and forget weapon and leading edge in weapons technology. Unfortunately, we sell it to regimes all over the world, so now we’re looking at the development of neutralising weapons.”

Giles nodded, Alistair Cornwell had a long and well publicised history of researching and developing this type of technology. He’d been a fierce pacifist in his youth, and had turned that pacifism into practical use in the laboratory and test ranges. Now he was as important to the military and airforce as any of their weapons.

 

 Cornwell took out a large handkerchief and wiped the faint sheen of sweat that had appeared on his forehead. “As I say, ASRAAM is the very latest weapon in our repertoire. The fact is…it’s disappeared.”

 

“Disappeared – stolen, you mean?” Giles asked.

 

 Cornwell sighed heavily. “ I wish it were stolen. I’d be able to cope with something like that. No, I mean it’s disappeared, vanished, popped out of existence. And not just the test missile. All the equipment and technology that relate to the development of ASRAAM has disappeared too. The lab it was in is completely changed. One moment it was all there…the next – gone. Every single thing that was connected to the project has gone.”

 

Giles leaned back in his chair and studied the scientist closely. “And you think that something supernatural has caused this disappearance?”

 

Cornwell nodded reluctantly. “I do – but Rupert, this is not all of it”. He looked down at his hands for a moment. “Nobody else seems to think anything strange has happened at all.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I mean, everyone I’ve spoken to about this looks at me as though I’ve gone mad. They say that there is no ASRAAM development project, let alone a contra project.”

 

Giles stood up and walked over to the window, peering out of its dirty panes and over to where his car was parked. He turned back to face the other man. “Tell me about it from the beginning.”

 

-0-

 

Giles was back in his office, with Buffy sitting on the sofa opposite his desk. To his annoyance – which he could disguise from Buffy, but not from Angel – Buffy had insisted that Angel accompany her to this meeting. Angel was now standing quietly in the shadowy corner of the office, looking as though he was just about to melt into the woodpanelling of the room. His unnatural stillness just served as yet another reminder to Giles of Angel’s predatory nature. Ignoring Angel as best he could, Giles outlined the details of his visit to Boscombe Down that afternoon.

 

Buffy was fidgeting a bit. “ But if everyone else doesn’t know anything about this project, only Mr Cromwell, isn’t it most likely that he’s had some kind of a brainstorm?”

 

“Cornwell” Giles corrected automatically. “Well, I thought that was the obvious solution too, but something he said made me think again. Alistair was in the lab with the project team when the event happened. He said that they had been testing out a new detonating mechanism, and something went wrong. He remembers an explosion, and being thrown back against the wall. But then he said that he somehow went through the wall – and straight into the identical lab. But all the lab staff were dead – the explosion had killed them all. Before he could do anything, he was somehow picked up again and sucked back through the wall and back into the lab. But this time the lab was full of different equipment and different staff – who were all working normally. There was no sign of an explosion, and nobody seemed to think it peculiar – or even notice – that Alistair had disappeared for a second and then come back. He’s no idea what to think, but he’s certain that it happened to him. I’ve known Alistair Cornwell for over thirty years and he’s not the sort of man to have brain storms. I’m inclined to believe him until another explanation comes along.” Giles paused. “However, I have no idea how to even think about beginning to help him.”

 

Buffy went over to the overflowing desk, and picked up one of the many faxes. “Well, I suppose until something else like it happens, we’ll have to stick to ichor running down walls”.

 

-0-

 

The something else like it happened again. Only this time nobody except Angel knew about it.

 

He’d been gradually getting his strength back – at least physically – and had taken to quietly slipping out of the garage flat in the small hours of the morning to work out using the slayers’ gym equipment. Angel had done his best to keep to human hours, but it was always difficult for him, and since his return all he wanted to do during day time was lose himself in exhausted sleep. Even so, his rest was troubled by harrowing dreams and painful memories. Working weakened muscles took his mind off things, at least for a short time. The night hours also brought a small measure of relief to the vampire’s preternatural senses in other ways. The presence of a houseful of nubile slayers activated instincts that were hard to control. Fight, Flight, Feed…Angel refused to even let himself think about the fourth F. At least when the girls were all asleep, their hormones settled down to more bearable levels.

 

Now Angel was bench pressing weights in the darkened and empty room that had once been a drawing room and now was filled with various pieces of gym equipment. But unbeknown to him, Angel was not the only one awake and prowling around the old house.

 

Sadie was wondering for the thousandth time why she had agreed to come to England and stay with her fellow slayers in this godforsaken part of the world. Her home city of Sydney was a far cry from the cold dampness of Wiltshire. She had only been in England for a day and was already missing her friends, the sun and the vibrant nightlife. She sighed and looked over at the clock on her bedside table in the tightly packed bedroom that was now a dormitory. Three am. It was no good, her body clock was all to hell what with the jet lag and everything. She got up and decided to get something to eat. As she crept down the stairs towards the kitchen she stopped, a strange tingling running up and down her spine.

 

Was this the vampire sense which that girl Buffy was telling her about? But surely there were no vampires here – they’d have to be crazy to come near a whole house filled with slayers, wouldn’t they? Still – best to be on the safe side. Sadie quietly opened one of the hall table drawers where she remembered someone telling her that a stake would be kept. Stakes lay about in virtually every drawer in the house.

 

Angel heard and smelled the slayer before she entered the room. He got up from the bench press and sank back into the shadows, hoping that whichever of the girls it was hadn’t developed her slayer senses yet. Then he saw his discarded shirt lying over the handlebars of one of the exercise cycles. Angel reached out to grab the shirt at the same time as Sadie burst into the gym, flicking the lights on as she did so. This simple action would have won the fight for her, as Angel’s sensitive eyes were blinded by the sudden glare and he flinched away from it blinking and shielding his face. But whatever Sadie had been expecting to be in the room, it wasn’t a half-naked man.

 And then she saw his face and screamed.

 

Angel – weakened by his recent traumas and both startled and hurt by the sudden glare of light – had momentarily gone into game face. His demonic visage was gone almost as soon as it had surfaced, but Sadie had seen the glint of fangs. And then her slayer instincts kicked in. Still screaming, she launched herself at Angel, stake held high.

 

There was a sudden, sharp POP and Angel found himself tumbling backwards through the previously solid wood panelling of the gym. He landed on his back and tried to fend off the furious slayer and the rapidly descending stake that was aimed directly at his heart. POP! Angel was suddenly back in the gym, and standing in the doorway was a young girl, looking at him uncertainly.

 

“Uh, Hi” she said. “I’m sorry to disturb you – I thought everyone would be asleep.”

 

Angel blinked and looked behind him at the wall he had just fallen through. Twice.

“Um, Hi. No….I couldn’t sleep. Thought I’d work out a bit.”

 

“Oh. OK. I’m sorry – I’ve just arrived from Australia. I’m Sadie. Are you a friend of Mr Giles?” Sadie smiled a little uncertainly.

 

“Yes.” Angel couldn’t think of anything to say to the girl, his senses were confusing him so much. Fortunately for him, Sadie was embarrassed to have walked in on such a gorgeous man, while she was dressed in tatty pyjamas, fluffy slippers and with total bed hair, and she was keen to beat a hasty retreat. She smiled shyly and closed the door behind her.

 

Angel stared after her. The girl who had screamed and launched herself at him was a slayer. He had no doubt in his mind about that. If he hadn’t seen the girl arrive at the house, he could smell the unmistakeable scent of her supernatural powers. But the girl who stood so uncertainly in the doorway was just that. A girl. A normal, everyday, none supernaturally powerful girl.

 

-0-

 

And the next morning there were 19 normal, everyday, none supernaturally powerful girls. And only one slayer. Buffy.

 

Angel watched from his shaded window in his flat. The girls wandered in and out of the house and several times he saw both Giles and Buffy chatting to one or two of them. Everything seemed normal. Except that it wasn’t.

 

A soft knock on the door made Angel look up. Buffy’s blonde head peeped through the gap. “Hi, you’re awake. Can I come in?”

 

“Of course. Would you like some coffee? Or tea?”

 

Buffy grinned. “It’s scary, but I think that I prefer tea these days. Old fashioned PG tips to boot, none of your fancy Earl Greys or Darjeelings. Giles will convert me yet.”

 

Angel put the kettle on, and quietly got the tea things ready, giving himself time to broach the subject of the change in the slayers – ex-slayers.

 

Buffy, as ever, was super-sensitive to his moods. “You look like the weight of the world is weighing even more heavily than usual today. Anything you want to talk about?”

 

Angel brought two cups of tea over to the small table, and sat down opposite Buffy.

“Do you remember a conversation that Giles had with you and I a couple of weeks ago about a vanishing experimental weapon at RAF Boscombe Down?”

 

Buffy’s blank look was discouraging. Angel ploughed on. “Giles’ old friend is the Chief research scientist at  the station. Alistair Cornwell. Don’t you remember, you got his name wrong and Giles corrected you?”

 

Buffy’s expression started to betray concern. “Angel, are you feeling OK? I don’t remember any conversation of the sort, and my memory isn’t that bad. Are you sure you’re not confusing it with something you might have dreamed?” Buffy had sat by Angel’s bedside often enough recently and had seen and heard for herself the vividness of some of Angel’s nightmares.

 

“OK, this is going to be harder than I thought” Angel said. “Buffy – do you know that the girls don’t have slayer powers anymore?”

 

Buffy frowned. “What do you mean, anymore? They’re only Potential Slayers. You know that. None of them have slayer powers, and only one of them will – when, if, Faith is ….well, you know.”

 

Angel was silent. This was even more confusing, it was as though they’d somehow gone back in time….

 

“Buffy, what date is it?”

 

Buffy scratched her head for a second and then decided to humour Angel. “It’s the 17th July.”

 

“What year?”

 

“OK, now you’re wigging me out here. 2003. What? Angel, what’s wrong?”

 

If Angel could have paled, then he would have at this moment. As it was, his appalled expression alerted Buffy instead. Angel’s tone was bleak. “I’ve no idea what’s going on – but whatever it is – I think it’s going backwards.”

 

-0-

 

Buffy was hesitant about talking to Giles about her conversation with Angel. Not only because she was concerned about Angel’s mental state, but also because any mention of Angel with Giles resulted in the Englishman’s jaw tightening. Still, she had promised Angel that she would do this for him.

 

“Giles, I know it sounds crazy, but Angel is convinced that somehow time is moving backwards. He’s adamant that the Potentials were – are – will be – well, ought to be actual Slayers.” Buffy trailed off, waiting for Giles’ response. It came, a reasonable, logical and quietly loathing filled list of reasons that Angel must be once again unstable and quite possibly dangerous. She interrupted the flow.

 

“Giles – Angel says that recently you had a telephone call from RAF Boscombe Down requesting you to investigate a strange occurrence there. He says that the call was from Alistair Cornwell, someone you have known for over thirty years. Do you know this man?”

 

Giles pushed his spectacles up his nose. “Well, yes. Alistair and I go back a very long way. But how…” he stopped.

 

“Exactly. How would Angel know anything about this Alistair Cornwell? You’ve certainly never mentioned his name to me, and let’s face it, it’s pretty unlikely that you would have spoken to Angel about him, right?”

 

Giles had to admit the truth of this.

 

Buffy saw Giles’ brow furrowing, and started to believe that perhaps Angel wasn’t unbalanced after all – well, no more than could be expected in any case. She pressed her advantage. “Will you talk to him? Please, Giles. If there is something weird going on, don’t you think we should at least try to find out what it is?”

 

“You’re right. You’d better tell Angel to come down later.” Giles said heavily.

“No need…” Buffy said, and glanced at the door of Giles’ office. It opened and Angel slid into the room, every line of his long body a study of apology.

 

“I knew you’d want to talk to him, so I just speeded up things a bit.” Buffy said lightly, ignoring Giles’ annoyed glare at her.

 

-0-

 

“ A portal”. Angel had had time to think about his experience and compare it with what Giles had said about the scientist’s similar one.

Both Buffy and Giles looked questioningly at him.

 

“There was a moment – just a few seconds – that I wasn’t here, in this dimension, something happened that sucked me through into what looked like a parallel universe to this one. Then, when I got sucked back through to here, I was able to notice the change. If I’d not gone through the portal, then chances are I’d not have realised anything was happening either. What bothers me now is, are changes still happening, and how would we know?”

 

“And if that’s true – where is it going to end, and how do we even begin to stop it?” Giles added.

 

Angel, hesitated for a moment and then said “There are people who can sense the presence of portals. They can sort of tune in to the echoes of the last portal that opened and track where the next one is likely to occur.” He forestalled Giles’ question. “I – we – had some experience of portals, quite a few actually.”

 

Buffy’s mind was turning over what Angel had just told them. “Would the coven be able to help us, Giles?”

 

“They might. But we’d need to get them all over here to the room where Angel says this happened.”

 

Angel shook his head. “No, that’s probably not necessary. I’ve been through the portal – a Portal Sensitive would be able to track the echoes from me.”

 

“And it would be a lot easier and quicker to take Angel to the coven rather than bussing them all out here” Buffy said.

 

“I’ll have to call them to make sure they’ll agree to this. After all, they’re white witches….” Giles left the sentence hanging in the air, but both Buffy and Angel knew that his reception in a witches’ coven would hardly be welcomed, soul or no soul.

 

-0-

 

The meeting at the coven had been a less uncomfortable experience than any of them expected. The witches had been forewarned that Giles would be bringing the souled vampire with him to meet the Portal sensitives,  and although the welcome was not gushing, it was not hostile either, much to Giles' surprise, and not a little resentment.  Angel, as ever, had betrayed no emotion as he waited for permission to enter the coven, but Buffy sensed his nervousness nonetheless, and despite her best efforts, couldn’t quell the rush of protective feelings towards him. She had reached out and caught hold of one of his large hands in hers and given it a comforting squeeze. Surprised, and pleased, Angel had squeezed back.

 

Finally, after what seemed an age, the coven doors were opened to them, and Angel was formally invited inside.

 

There were no fewer than four Portal Sensitives, and between them they were able to confirm absolutely that Angel had, indeed, been sucked through a portal very recently.

“His aura – and what a strange aura it is – has residual energy left over from the portal.” The oldest Sensitive commented.

 

“Then you can track other potential portal openings to this dimension?” asked Giles.

 

The Sensitive, a woman apparently in her late sixties looked appraisingly at Angel. “I could – but I could also make it possible for this creature to track them also, and given that I no longer wish to leave the coven, this might be the best solution for you.”

 

Buffy bridled slightly at the witch’s use of the term ‘creature’ to describe Angel, but Angel’s warning look made her keep her mouth shut.

 

“In any case. If what he says is true, and time is running backwards, then the vampire may be the best choice to help it to stop.” The Sensitive turned her steady grey-eyed gaze onto Angel. “How old are you, vampire?”

 

“250 years old, Ma’am.” Angel said politely.

 

“Then it has to be you. You haven’t changed in all that time, and so even now will be unaffected by this phenomenon. Your friends, and all of us, however, are probably getting younger even as we speak. We just don’t realise it.”

 

Giles and Buffy were stunned by this revelation, but Angel seemed to have already known. Buffy wondered if he’d already noticed any changes in her or Giles. Was she really getting younger? She resolved to ask him on the drive home.

 

In the event, she wasn’t able to. The spell that allowed Angel to become a Portal Sensitive was a powerful one. Cast over a human, there would have been no side effects, but the Portal magic that was imbued to Angel clashed and rebounded against the magic that animated him, leaving him sick and nauseous for a few hours, until both magics re-aligned themselves within his frame. Buffy felt so sorry for him, as he sat alone – eyes screwed tightly shut -  in the back seat of Giles’ landrover. She kept turning round throughout the journey to check on him. Giles noticed this, and somewhere inside him a deep sense of something inevitable began to form. Buffy and Angel. Angel and Buffy. All he knew was that Angel had the capacity to hurt the girl he regarded almost as a daughter more than any other being, supernatural or otherwise. He would keep a close eye on things.

 

-0-

 

Magic is a dangerous thing – and even in the most experienced of hands it can behave in an unpredictable fashion. Especially when one form of magic blends with another form of magic.

 

It turned out that the effect of the spell on Angel was far more reaching than simply making him feel ill. Not only did he become sensitive and able to track the specific portals to the parallel universe, but each time a portal opened – no matter where it was in relation to where Angel was – he was sucked through it and then disgorged again, exactly as had happened the first time, except that now Angel would suddenly find himself in a science lab, or a board room, or – one bizarre occasion – in outer space. The moment in the parallel universe was fleeting – and after the instant in space, Angel was particularly glad of that – and then he was back in Westbury. And each time he was popped back into this universe, he saw the changes that had happened as time moved backwards.

 

At first the changes were small. Giles’ car transformed into earlier and earlier models of the Freelander. Buffy’s BMW mini disappeared entirely to be replaced by a nondescript small Ford. Various pieces of modern technology got bulkier, or disappeared completely as time moved back before the date they had been invented.

 

But it was the changes in the people around Angel that disturbed him most profoundly. The Potentials, as he’d got used to calling them, were now very young girls, most of them no more than nine or ten years old. Giles looked exactly the same as when Angel had first met him. And Buffy was sweet sixteen. Still with her slayer powers at the moment, and Buffy as she was when Angel had first seen her, long blonde hair, flawless skin, blossoming figure. It conjured up unwilling thoughts which Angel immediately clamped down.

 

The worst of it all, though, was the loneliness. Angel was used to feeling lonely – it was pretty much his default setting after all – but this was an entirely new form of loneliness. He’d realised after the second time of blinking out of this universe and into the parallel universe and then back again, that he’d have to come up with some method of proof to Buffy and Giles that something was going on, as each time he returned he’d had to go through the entire torturous process of trying to explain the whole time running backwards thing. To be the sole individual aware of the changes taking place around him was a responsibility that Angel would have cheerfully given up. Except that he knew that it wouldn’t be very long before Buffy would lose her powers, get younger and younger – and finally she just wouldn’t be there any more. He had to do something and soon.

 

Angel had taken to carrying a daily newspaper on him at all times. For some inexplicable reason anything that was on his person would re-appear with him – also unchanged. It was his sole evidence to Buffy and Giles that there was something out of the ordinary going on. At least Giles had agreed to research everything he could lay his hands on regarding time displacement and continuums – even if Angel could only take advantage of this research in the interim periods between time leaps. At least as far as he could make out, time seemed to move forward normally in between the paranormal events, it was just each event that caused time to move backwards, sometimes by quite a small period – almost unnoticeable – and sometimes by a few years in one go.

 

But no matter how hard Giles looked, and the materials he passed on to Angel – nothing gave even a glimmer of what might be the reason for or cause of the phenomenon.

-0-

 

“I’m going stir crazy in this place. Can’t we go somewhere with a bit of nightlife?” Buffy whined, tossing her hair.

 

Giles frowned at the girl. “Is that all you think about these days? Going out clubbing? Anyway, you’re too young to be going out on your own.”

 

Buffy pouted prettily. “Pleeease. Angel could take me. I’d be safe with him.”

 

Giles wasn’t at all sure about this idea, in his opinion, a sixteen year old girl – Slayer or not – being chaperoned by a vampire – albeit a souled one – wasn’t his idea of safety. Still, Buffy had been nagging him relentlessly, and what with her, and the management of a whole crop of pre-teen potential slayers, Giles was willing to agree to Buffy having a night out accompanied by Angel.

 

“Alright. You may go out. But I will insist that you are back before midnight, and as Angel will be the one driving you, I will ensure that he knows his responsibility also.”

 

Angel wasn’t entirely sure that a night in Reading, escorting a teenage Buffy was going to be one of his favourite occupations, but he could see that Giles was almost at the end of his tether with the gaggle of females that surrounded him, and agreed to take Buffy off his hands for an evening.

 

Despite the unwanted memories and feelings that Buffy in her teenage incarnation created in him, Angel was missing the older, wiser – and yes – sadder young woman that Buffy had become in her early twenties. This Buffy was full of energy, beautiful in her youth and innocence, but sometimes came across as a complete airhead, obsessed with her looks and clothes and things like shopping. No wonder she was so bored in the depths of rural Westbury. Reading was going to seem like a complete metropolis in comparison.

 

As they drove along the road through Newbury towards Reading, something stirred in Angel’s brain. Something nagging at him. Then he saw a road sign and slammed on the brakes.

 

“Hey!” Buffy squeaked. “Warning would have been good”.

 

“Sorry” Angel said. “I just need to check something.” He drove Giles’ Landrover Discovery (Angel had noticed this big change as time moved back before the Freelander was launched), down dark country lanes. Buffy caught sight of the village road sign as they sped past it.

 

“Aldermaston. Angel, where the hell are we going?”

 

Angel didn’t answer her, but pulled up outside a large, open drive that led to a huge complex of factory and office buildings. He climbed out of the car, Buffy following his lead, and still completely bemused.

 

“Aldermaston. No fences. No security. No protestors.”

 

“Angel – have you been on something?”

 

Angel glanced down at Buffy’s puzzled face. “No, Buffy. This is Aldermaston. It’s one of the most famous – or infamous, depending on your point of view – sites in the UK. Aldermaston is the site where the UK makes all its nuclear warheads. It’s Britain’s bomb factory.”

 

Buffy peered at the complex. “Doesn’t look like a bomb factory to me. Not that I know what a bomb factory would look like. But shouldn’t we not be able to just walk up to it? I mean, it doesn’t look very ‘Keep out of here, or else’ does it?”

 

“Exactly.” Angel said grimly. “This is – was – one of the most secure sites in England.” He turned back to Buffy. “Sorry, Buffy – we’re going to have to go back to Westbury. I need to see Giles.”

 

-0-

 

“So, let me get this right. You think that whatever is causing these so called leaps back in time, is doing it because they are eliminating anything that could be used in any way to cause conflict or damage?”

 

Angel nodded. “That’s right. I tried making notes of all the changes that I noticed each time I was sucked through a portal, but the notes kept disappearing after each time leap backwards. Fortunately, I have a very good memory.” Too good, Angel thought. But at least now it’s coming in useful for something other than for torturing myself.

 

“I’d list all the things that have disappeared from the face of the earth, but as you wouldn’t have heard of them yet, it’s a bit of a pointless exercise. Suffice to say, the world has less weaponry in it than it did have – and other forms of technology that could be used in a warlike situation – like telecommunications and the internet – have either disappeared entirely, or will do soon.”

 

Giles mulled this over for a minute. “But you said that the Potentials should actually be Slayers – and they’re quite obviously young, ordinary girls. Why would this phenomenon affect them?”

 

Angel shook his head. “It could just be the fact that time is jumping backwards – they’ve been robbed of their powers just by chronological factors – or it could be because whatever is causing these time shifts saw the slayers as potential threats. I don’t know.” Angel suspected it was something else entirely. Why would a portal have opened just as Sadie was going to attack him? However, he didn’t want to alarm or antagonise Giles with his suspicion that the mysterious time jumps were systematically removing anything that could be perceived as having warlike potential, and that included the slayers.

 

Giles sighed heavily. “Angel. You have to realise that this is a huge leap of faith for me, and I’m not sure that I can make the jump. I mean, everything is completely normal as far as I’m concerned, then you keep turning up telling me that the world isn’t like it should be – and that I’m not ageing, but getting younger, and that the girls should all be in their late teens, and that everyone carries around mobile phones that can take pictures and shoot video – and which can be carried in your pocket. You have to admit – it’s stretching the imagination more than a bit.”

Angel started to agree with him, and then POP. For a fraction more than the blink of an eye, Angel found himself watching Saddam Hussein launching war on Iran over oil rights. Then, POP. He was back in Giles’ office.

 

“Giles…what’s the date?” The words died on his lips as Giles looked up at him.

“Who the Hell are you, and what are you doing in my house?”

 

Angel stared at the young man – only a year or so older than Angel himself appeared to be. Then he heard the wail of a newborn baby.

 

-0-

 

1980. Angel prided himself on his control, but he felt perilously close to panic at this moment. It had taken all his powers of persuasion to convince a 29 year old Rupert Giles not to throw him out of the house. Giles had been so startled by Angel’s sudden appearance in the room, that his watcher training had abandoned him, and he hadn’t yet identified Angel as a vampire, although Angel knew that it wouldn’t take long for Giles to regain enough composure to realise that his visitor was, in fact, undead.

 

Angel had shown Giles the newspaper he was carrying, with the 1996 date clearly marked, and had quickly tried to explain where he was from, and how he knew Giles. Seeing the watcher looking entirely unconvinced, Angel searched his memory for something that would lend weight to his words.

 

“The baby I just heard crying, is it a little girl?”

 

Giles nodded warily.

 

“Is it Buffy?”

 

“How do you know her name – nobody else knows about her except her parents and the Watcher’s council”. Giles’ alarmed tone betrayed him. Angel thought quickly. Somehow these time leaps were altering history in all sorts of ways. It was as though people and places remained static, which was why they hadn’t all been spirited back to Sunnydale as the clock moved backwards. This meant a whole new history was being re-written after each leap, though how and why were way beyond his comprehension.

 

“She’s a potential Slayer, right? Buffy Anne Summers. I know her, and you. But in my timeline you are in your fifties, and Buffy is 23. And the most remarkable Slayer in history. If we are to allow her to have that future back, then you must listen to me”.

Giles gaped at Angel, but after a second motioned him to continue.

 

As Angel explained the whole phenomenon of time running backwards, gradually eliminating everything that could conceivably be used for evil and warlike purposes he thought wryly that he was becoming quite polished in his explanation. After all, he’d repeated it time and again. This time was more difficult, as for the first time, Giles had no clue who Angel was, but by the end of his account the watcher was won over enough to be searching out some dusty research volumes.

“Here, let me help.” Angel quickly reached up and selected half a dozen books which he’d already seen Giles poring over several time leaps previously. Angel didn’t hold out much hope from the books, as they’d not revealed anything so far, despite Giles’ best efforts.

 

As he put the books down on the desk, Angel noticed a brand new book, its jacket still glossy, peeping out from under some papers. “World Peace – a machine for the elimination of War: The attainable dream”. He picked it up. Giles smiled slightly at his strange visitor’s apparent curiosity.

 

“It’s just been published. I think he’s mad to expose himself to public ridicule, but Alistair’s a good friend of mine, and he’s been obsessed with the idea of the ultimate weapon for peace ever since I first met him at college.”

 

Angel turned to the flyleaf. ‘I know you think I’m crazy now – but keep this book, Rupert – it really is an attainable dream! Alistair Cornwell 1980.’

 

“Alistair Cornwell…” Angel snapped the book shut. “Giles – We need to speak with Alistair – now!”

 

Giles stared at Angel’s sudden animation in startled surprise.

 

“Alistair Cornwell – in the timeline that we should be in, he’s an eminent research scientist. He specialises in the field of contra – weapons development at Boscombe Down. These time leaps – they all started with him. We have to see him.”

 

Giles was already flicking through his telephone book, mind racing madly. “You mean – you’re trying to tell me – Alistair made his machine after all?”

 

“I think so. But if he has, then it’s not working the way he expected it to – and if I’m right, then he’s our only hope of stopping this thing. If we can’t….”

 

“Then the machine will just keep on rolling back time until every single thing that is capable of war and strife will cease to exist.” Giles paled at the thought. “Eventually every living creature that is capable of predation will just disappear. The world will be empty of life.”

 

-0-

 

The drive to Alistair Cornwell’s home was a tense one. Not only because of the gravity of the situation, but Angel had had to reveal the fact of his vampirism to Giles before they set off. It was either that or demonstrate it through bursting into flames as he walked through the sunlight to the car.

 

Giles had reacted exactly as Angel had feared he would, by grabbing a stake from a drawer and hurling himself upon the vampire. Angel easily evaded Giles’ attack, and had no option but to catch the watcher and restrain him – hand over Giles’ mouth – while he urgently tried to reassure the struggling man that he was in no danger.

 

Explaining the gypsy curse and the fact of his ensoulment was no easy task for Angel as Giles wriggled helplessly in his iron grasp. Not least because Angel had avoided such close proximity to any human since his recovery, and Giles’ fear, the heat of his body, and the pounding of blood under Angel’s fingers was making his fangs lengthen and his willpower waver, even as he urgently promised Giles that he meant no harm to him.

 

Fortunately for Angel – and Giles – the Watcher stopped struggling and listened to Angel’s earnest pleading. He relaxed slightly and Angel almost pushed him away, so anxious was he to put some distance between them. Something in Angel’s dark eyes convinced Giles that the vampire was telling the truth – mind bendingly far-fetched as it all seemed – and with a recklessness that he had tried to bury deep inside him, Giles decided to let this rollercoaster ride of madness play out. It still hadn’t made for an easy journey. The hairs on the back of Giles’ neck prickled uncomfortably as he drove them expertly down country roads towards the outskirts of Bath where Cornwell lived, and Angel, sheltering under a thick car blanket in the back seat just hoped that another portal wouldn’t open before he’d had a chance to meet with the author of the book.

 

-0-

 

Alistair Cornwell listened to his friend Rupert Giles while glancing nervously at the tall, unnaturally still stranger who accompanied him.

 

“And you are trying to say that you are from the future?” he asked Angel.

 

Angel simply pushed the young scientist’s book across the table that separated them.

“All I know, is that where I started from, you are an eminent scientist specialising in developing contra-weapons. What I want to know is – are you developing something along the lines of the thesis that you present in this book?”

 

Cornwell looked down at his own hands and saw that they were shaking slightly. The silence grew between the three men.

 

Giles broke it. “Alistair. We have to know if you are working on anything like the machine that Angel thinks might be causing the time displacement he’s experiencing.”

 

Cornwell sighed. “It’s not official or anything. I mean, the research centre I work for doesn’t know anything about it. They know I’ve written papers on it – and now the book – but as far as everyone is concerned it’s all just theory.”

 

“You mean, there is a machine?” Giles said urgently.

 

“Well, not really. It’s all pretty much at the drawing board stage, but the principle that you’re talking about – creating specific time fluxes that make weaponry vanish because they never existed in the first place – yes, I’m working on something along those lines, here, at home.”

 

“Can we see it?” Angel asked, his quiet tone not betraying the flash of hope that ran through him.

 

“I suppose – not that there is much to see – it’s all on paper at the moment.” Cornwell stood up and motioned Giles and Angel to follow him.

 

As soon as they walked into the basement of Alistair Cornwell’s home, Angel could feel a dull energy pressing at him. Neither of his companions seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary, but as Angel moved towards the drawing board with its sheaves of drawings and calculations it was almost as if a giant hand was trying to push him away. It was as if something suddenly realised the threat that Angel posed to it. He turned to the young scientist.

 

“I think that whatever you made – whatever the machine was that you designed – somehow something supernatural is using it for its own purposes, and it wants to protect these drawings.” Angel made a sudden grab for the stack of papers.

 

This time it wasn’t a pop that hurled Angel through the portal, but a huge ZAP! Still clutching the sheaf of calculations, Angel landed hard on his back in what appeared to be a large laboratory. But this time there was no immediate sucking back in time. He rolled up onto his feet, instinctively dropping into a fighting crouch as he did so. Angel straightened up as he realised that nobody was going to attack him. Or so it seemed at first glance.

 

In the centre of the lab a machine about the size of a filing cabinet stood. And on top of the machine, attached to it with wires and tubes was a beautiful child. He was a boy, about 10 years old with the face of a cherub.

 

“You shouldn’t be here. I don’t know why you are.” The little boy turned sparkling blue eyes onto Angel. “And you wish to destroy me. I, who only wish to bring peace to all of the world.”

 

A glistening tear slipped from the corner of one of his eyes. “Don’t destroy me, please. This is our chance for perfect peace. This machine – it’s what I needed to have to make this happen.” His voice was soft, pleading.

 

Angel struggled to understand what he was seeing. “So it’s not the machine that Cornwell designed that is making time run backwards – it’s you?”

 

The boy nodded sadly. “I needed the human scientist’s belief in peace – his passion for it, and his ability to make something so powerful. But the machine alone could never have worked. It needed magic. My magic. White magic of the purest kind. I joined with the machine – as you see. I am connected to it, my blood energises it, its electricity feeds me. I have made it a part of me. Destroy one of us, and both of us will die.”

 

Angel’s unbeating heart tightened in his chest. He hadn’t known what he was expecting, but this beautiful, gentle child that radiated love and a passionate desire for peace was the last thing he had considered. Even though he knew that the creature before him was not human – and most certainly not a human child, its appearance was so innocent, and so vulnerable. Angel steeled himself, realising that this appearance was probably the demon’s best defence from attack.

 

“I’m sorry” he murmured. “But your magic is undoing the world as we know it. You are undoing man’s capacity for war, it’s true. But you’re also undoing their capacity for good as well. If you continue, soon the world will be truly peaceful – there will be nothing left alive on it.”

 

More tears coursed down the boy’s cheeks. “But there will be perfect peace. Surely that is worth everything?”

 

“No. It’s not.”

 

With preternatural swiftness, Angel was at the machine – ripping out tubes and wires. The demon cried out in mortal agony. Angel gritted his teeth and continued his destruction.

 

“Please…Please don’t” the little boy wept, as his blood flowed freely from the ripped out tubes and dripped onto the floor.

 

In a few moments the machine was a tangled, crumpled collection of junk. Angel stared about him, wondering why nothing seemed to have changed. The child lay at his feet, still weeping helplessly. Hating himself, hating the situation that had brought him to this, hating the memories of another time and place where he had taken the decision to prevent global peace,  Angel knelt at his side. With the suddenness of a striking snake, he reached out and snapped the boy’s neck. As soon as the demon was dead, the glamour surrounding it disappeared, and nothing remained of the innocent child except a slowly melting greyish lump of matter. It didn’t make Angel feel any better.

 

-0-

 

Buffy watched Giles as he thoughtfully placed the telephone handset back into its cradle.

 

“What did he say?” She’d heard Giles’ side of the phone call to Alistair Cornwell.

 

“Alistair wasn’t as stunned about it as I would have thought he would have been. It seems that odd things happened to him back in 1980 when he first started to develop the concept of the ultimate contra weapon. He said that it explained quite a lot. Anyway, he’s promised to dismantle the whole lab that’s been set up to develop it experimentally, and is burning all his papers as we speak. What worries me is even though the actual machine will never come to fruition, the knowledge that got them this far will still exist. How can we stop that?”

 

Buffy shrugged. “Perhaps we don’t need to. The demon, or whatever it was that Angel killed seemed to be the thing that was making it all happen. Let’s hope that with that gone, then there isn’t any danger that we’ll suddenly all start getting younger again. Shame – it’d be the perfect substitute for cosmetic surgery.”

 

Giles smiled at Buffy’s attempt at a joke. “How is Angel after his time portal experiences?” He’d seen the vampire briefly after Angel had killed the demon that had caused the time continuum phenomenon, but Angel had been reticent to the point of rudeness and had simply told them that he’d dealt with the problem. Then he’d retreated back to the garage flat, presumably to brood.

 

“I don’t know. He seemed – well, upset I suppose – guess it must have been a tough fight, and Angel’s still  not at full strength. I’ll go up and see him a little later.” Buffy sighed. Angel had been obviously distressed, but as was typical of him, refused to say why. Still, apparently things were back to normal, although as far as Buffy was concerned, nothing had ever been abnormal. Well, no more abnormal than was usual in a house with 20 slayers, a brooding vampire with a soul, and an ex-Watcher with a pile of emails and faxes about weird and wonderful occurrences happening all around them.

 



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