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All’s Well That Ends Well

Project Paranormal

Author: Renee

Season 2

Part 13

 

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Summary: Buffy’s day experiences a distinct downward spiral, especially when Angel disappears during the course of their latest investigation.

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All's Well That Ends Well

~*~

 

Rupert Giles toed open the door to his study, book and cup of gently steaming tea in hand, ready to shut away the world and lose himself in a new Tengu Compendium- not that he thought that there was any chance of running across Japanese mountain demons in the wilds of Wessex, but it never hurt to be prepared. What he got instead was his slayer sitting in his chair behind his desk chatting animatedly into his desk phone with her- thankfully stockinged- feet propped up on a priceless first edition of lithograph prints.

 

Hearing a resigned sigh, Buffy looked up and smiled cheekily at her fussy, British Watcher-man. “Yeah,” she replied into the phone. “He just came in. You wanna say hey?”

 

“It’s Dawn,” she mouthed at him, holding a hand briefly over the receiver before turning back to her conversation. “Okay, just try not to get Andrew into any trouble this time.” Buffy paused, listening, and rolled her eyes at Giles. The look of joy and contentment on his slayer’s face- a face too often drawn and apologetic after the strain of the Witch of Wookey incident- would almost make up for this month’s phone bill. Almost. “I miss and love you, too,” she ended softly before holding the handset to Giles.

 

A lovely morning spent ensconced in his study gone clearly up in smoke, Giles took the receiver and gently, gently removed the offending appendages from his desk and shooed his slayer out of the chair. Why she never called Dawn from the flat, he didn’t know.

 

“Good morning, Dawn. How are you?” Giles asked. A teenaged stream of near incomprehensible babble assaulted his ears and he smiled nostalgically at Buffy as she waved herself out the door. Giles settled himself in for what promised to be a marathon session and tried not to gaze longingly at the book sitting forlornly beside his rapidly cooling tea.

 

~*~

Buoyed by her sister’s upbeat and often hilarious look at life (and Andrew) in Rome, Buffy slipped her shoes and coat on and, with a hasty good morning to Martha, ran out the door and into the early morning sunrise. The dawning sun slowly stretched its fingers across the land, washing the gently rolling hills in Tiffany-patterned light and pushing back the shadows. Buffy breathed in the passage of night to day and turned her gaze to the windows of the flat above Giles’ garage.

 

Buffy thought she saw the curtains in the window facing the drive twitch and knew he was there, watching and waiting for her to come back to him. She couldn’t see him at the window, but her skin tingled as it always did when his eyes rested upon her. Buffy threw out her arms and twirled in circles in the drive, knowing he was watching her playing in the morning sun; proving that she could have it and him, and be happy with whatever time she got to spend with both. She had her Watcher and her man and had gotten to talk to her sister- today was going to be a wonderful day, she just knew it.

 

~*~

Buffy leaned against the shower tiles and let the warm water beat down on her bowed head and slumped shoulders. She’d washed her hair four times and had been scrubbing her skin raw for half an hour, and only now were the last disgusting remains of sludge floating towards the drain. The fact that she’d gotten slimed was only the bright, shining cap on the plastic explosive that was her life.

 

Buffy sighed and turned the cold water lower; the hot was already as high as it could go.

 

It had all started out so well. Dawn had sounded so happy that Buffy had called this morning, even if it did get her out of bed. Buffy had run back up to her warm bed and Angel and neither one of them had gotten back out until Martha had called to scold her for missing breakfast and cajole them both into coming in for lunch.

 

Of course Angel’s fridge no longer held just blood, but Martha seemed to think neither one of them knew how to make sure Buffy didn’t starve. According to Martha, they would all- Buffy, Giles, John and even Angel- waste away without her prodding them to stop and eat once in a while. It was one of her favorite rants and everyone within hearing always nodded solemnly in agreement. No one wanted to make the cooker of their food or doer of their laundry angry, they’d all be confined to beans on toast for a week or find themselves strangled by their own shrunken shirts. She was probably right anyway.

 

Buffy had run down the pergola, laughing all the way. John’s handiwork was flawless, as always, but the covered walkway seemed raw and bare as only a recently built structure could. Surprisingly, Giles, and not Martha, had been making noises about the merits of various flowering climbers and the possibility of finding suitably large pots or ornamental urns. Buffy’s momentary inattention to the chase had cost her and Angel had caught up to her at the door, trapping her in his arms before blowing a raspberry against the side of her neck. He had slipped around her and through the door while she was choking on her own laughter.

 

They had finally swept, laughing and stumbling playfully against each other, into the warm, inviting kitchen. Buffy, under the watchful gazes of Martha and Giles, proceeded to eat everything in sight while she and Angel had indulged in mischievous glances at each other across the table that had made Martha smile fondly and Giles harrumph uncomfortably.

 

They had all been lingering over the remains of their meal, when the call had come from one of the shopkeepers in Frome. Buffy had picked all the pertinent information out of Giles’ lengthy explanation, kissed Angel briefly on the lips and trotted contentedly out to the Mini with her all-purpose slaying bag in hand.

 

That, right there, was the first step on the downward spiral of her day.

 

Item one: There were not two gremlins in the print shop on Manor Furlong, there were two dozen. And they were chillingly enough like five inch tall versions of the gremlins from that movie that she had to wonder if one of the filmmakers or effects people had had a previous run in of the ‘get out of that delicate machinery and come back here so I can stomp you into an icky spot on the linoleum’ kind.

 

Item two: Gremlins are nasty little beasts and not above using any weapon at hand to fight back when cornered.

 

Item three: Whether you are a slayer or not, paper-cuts sting. A lot.

 

Item four: By the time Buffy was sure she’d located and disposed of them all, it was already past six o’clock, night had fallen and her back was sore from hunching over to wiggle and wedge herself in behind the machinery. There was no reason any of the six, count ’em six, industrial copy machines should be bolted to the floor. Honestly, who would steal something like that?

 

Item five: She’d stepped off the curb outside the shop, caught the heel of one of her favorite pairs of ankle-high black boots and went sprawling down on all fours on the sidewalk. Slayer reflexes? Nowhere in evidence.

 

Item six: The stinging in her palms and knees along with the disgust of breaking her gorgeous boots was the only excuse she had for not immediately picking up on the fact that the nice man who had helped her to her feet and picked her bag up for her was actually a blood-sucking, undead creature of the night. It had become extremely clear that he wasn’t just a Good Samaritan when he’d pulled her into the alley beside the shop and tried to bite her. Buffy was so upset the vamp didn’t even get a quip before dusting.

 

Item seven: The car had a blowout. On, of course, a completely deserted road in the middle of nowhere which she’d thought would be a shortcut home. It was obviously some sort of cosmic conspiracy that, when she looked in the trunk, she found the spare was also flat, which meant she’d had to call the house like a helpless little girl and ask Angel to please come get her or bring a new tire.

 

Item eight: She had muttered, completely innocently, “What else could possibly go wrong?” And, hey, someone up there certainly had a sick sense of humor because right then she’d been run into by… something.

 

Item nine: The Slayer was caught without a weapon. The weapons were all locked in the car so she’d had to get in close and fight hand to funky wavy things. The creature, whatever it was, had let out an ear piercing screech and then puked slime all over her before running away chattering incomprehensibly to itself.

 

Item ten: She’d lost it. Buffy Summers, slayer extraordinaire, had lost track of a big hulking creature trailing slime and screeching at the top of its voice and making enough noise to wake the dead- or undead for that matter.

 

Item eleven: It had started raining. Granted, it seemed to rain pretty much all the time in her little bit of England but this time it just seemed personal, as strange as that thought was. There was no way she was going to sit in the car in her recently slimed state and ruin her upholstery, so she’d spent a good fifteen minutes standing in the freezing rain until Angel had driven up with the new tire.

 

Angel hadn’t said a word, just took a plastic tarp from Giles’ Discovery, spread it on the driver seat of the Mini and motioned for Buffy to get behind the wheel while he changed the flat. Smart vampire. It was one of the countless reasons she loved him; he knew when to push and when to leave her alone to stew in her funk.

 

Buffy was tired and sore and the only thing she wanted to do was curl up on the couch with Angel and listen to him read to her. Angel’s idea of light reading was usually stuck somewhere in the eighteenth century and nothing she would ever choose herself, but it didn’t matter because she never really listened to the plot, if there was one, anyway. She listened to him; let his deep, soothing voice roll over her and sweep everything else away. That’s what she wanted to do. What she was going to get to do- thank you, Giles- was put on clean clothes and go back out into the dank and dreary night after the restless dead or some stupid thing.

 

~*~

“I think I’ve found it,” Giles said. He’d been paging through several books in his library trying to find any mention of the demon or creature or whatever it was that had slimed her. “I was looking under the wrong dialect; it’s Dalmatian, not Istriot.”

 

Buffy looked up from her list of essential ingredients needed for whatever mission Giles was sending them on now. “Giles, that thing that slimed me in no way belonged on a firetruck, unless it was splattered all over the grill like a bug.”

 

“What?” Giles blinked at her in bewilderment before turning to Angel for clarification. Giles was fluent, or nearly so after all these years, in Buffy-speak but it was possibly the most fluid language he’d ever come across and she was still able to leave him gaping in confusion just when he’d decided nothing she said would ever stump him again

 

.

Angel passed Buffy a small jar of purified coarse salt and said to Giles succinctly, “Dalmatian, black and white spotted dog, firetruck.”

 

“Oh, I see. No, Dalmatian is an extinct language once spoken on the coast of Croatia near Dubrovnik. I had it confused with Istriot, which is quite similar and also spoken on the western coast, though it is still a living language even if only spoken in a small area. A common mistake, but it makes all the difference when attempting to look up the spelling on a name barely remembered from studies at the Council decades ago.” From where he was sitting Giles couldn’t clearly see the look on Buffy’s face, but it had made Angel smile so he was quite certain there was an eye roll involved in there somewhere. He pushed the open tome across his desk to Buffy. “Is this the creature that, ah, attacked you?”

 

“Let’s see, burning eyes, enormous rubbery blob, looks like it could spit slime all over someone? Yep, that would be the one. It had better hope I don’t catch up with it.” Buffy passed the book back and arranged the last of the items Giles thought he’d need into the brown leather bag. She looked up quickly as a thought struck. “Wait, do I really need to be catching up with it? It’s not going to start setting things on fire or gather up an army to help it conjure up an apocalypse or anything, is it?”

 

“No,” Giles answered, closing the book and leaning back in his chair. “It’s harmless, if quite repugnant. You must have startled it.” Giles looked ruefully at Buffy’s still drying hair. “The excretions are a defense mechanism. I’m not entirely certain what a Croatian hobgoblin was doing charging around Wessex in the middle of the night, but it will likely find a piece of ground to burrow into and that’s the last we’ll hear of it.”

 

“Famous last words,” was Buffy’s response. “I think we’re ready, oh fearless leader. Let’s get this over with.”

 

~*~

The trip to the small community of Bugley, a stone’s throw west of Warminster, had only taken about ten minutes once they’d gotten on the A350. On the way, Giles explained that he’d had a call from one of the landowners about ghastly wailing noises and what sounded like a woman’s voice crying out in pain. Mr. Poolman and his son had walked the property for the last three nights and had not been able to locate the source of the increasingly frantic noises.

 

Giles was certain that, once the source of the disturbance could be located, it would be a simple matter of performing a cleansing of the spirit or poltergeist, and they could all make an early night of it. Buffy just knew that, with the kind of day she’d been having, it would turn out to be another all-nighter.

 

When they had walked the tidy little field for an hour and a half without any sign of paranormal activity, Buffy was certain of it.

 

“Giles, are you sure this guy’s not just a nut,” Buffy questioned, hunching deeper into her warm wool coat.

 

The gusting wind was cold and biting and the night sky was hidden behind a rolling bank of black clouds. Not the best weather for tramping around the countryside looking for unholy whatevers. Or the absolute perfect weather, if you looked at it from the direction of the unholy things. On the whole, they seemed to prefer the gothic romance vibe. All Buffy needed was an artfully torn white flowing dress and a weak ankle that could twist her into Angel’s arms just as the big bad spook showed up and they’d be set.

 

“He said the noises go on all night, and we haven’t heard so much as an unearthly peep.” Buffy snorted and continued, “Maybe it was just the wind through the trees or something. Not everything has to be spooky weird paranormal stuff.”

 

“Poolman was quite voluble about the extent of the problem,” Giles replied absently, continuing to sweep his torch over the ground in front of his feet. “However, I wasn’t able to find any occurrences of missing persons or violent or sudden deaths in the area that would account for the disturbances he described.”

 

Angel wrapped an arm around Buffy’s shoulders and pulled her to his side, absently running a hand up and down her arm. “And there’s never been any problems before this?” he asked.

 

“He said not,” was Giles’ distracted reply. “Angel, could you come and look at this please? I think I may have found a settled grave.”

 

Angel lifted his arm from Buffy’s shoulder, giving her cheek a passing caress with cold, bare fingers, and walked to the spot Giles had his torch trained on. The ground was indeed sunken in, in a rough rectangular shape very much like an old grave. Angel’s gruesome discovery in Corbett’s field skipped through his mind as a stray gust of wind brought the faint smell of something rotting to Angel’s nose.

 

“It smells like something died, like decaying flesh,” Angel said, frowning. “But if the grave is old enough to have settled, it’s too old to still smell so strongly of rot.” Angel crouched down and sat on his heels, stretching his arm out to plunge his fingers into the ground. “The ground hasn’t been consecrated. We’ll have to dig it up to be sure.”

 

“Just how I wanted to spend the evening,” Buffy announced with a grimace. She moved up next to Angel as he rose to his feet. “You don’t think… Should I go see if Mr. Poolman has a couple of shovels?”

 

“I don’t think anything yet. Stay with Giles and I’ll go get the shovels. I can get to the house and back faster, and I don’t need a light.” Angel stepped over the depression in the ground and started walking confidently back the way they’d come. He’d gotten only half a dozen yards away when the normally graceful and surefooted vampire seemed to stumble and, with a startled cry, was abruptly lost from sight.

 

~*~

 

Later, much later when they were all alone, Buffy would apologize. She would explain that it was stress and relief, and that was all it was. She’d had a horrible day; she’d gotten a sore back, broken boots, skinned knees, almost bitten, slimed, rained on and her lover/boyfriend/love-of-her-life had just disappeared in what looked like, on a dark night with the moon hidden behind clouds, a puff of smoke or, to put it another way, dust.

 

That was the only reason she laughed. And it wasn’t even a laugh, more like a giggle, a chuckle, a twitter even. It could’ve even been described as nothing more than a surprised squeak. And it wasn’t because Angel was stuck in a hole in the ground. It wasn’t because his arms were wedged up above his head and he could do nothing but flop his hands around and wiggle his fingers (and that in no way reminded her of a hysterical Kermit the Frog even a little bit). It wasn’t because he had a clump of grass perched on his head like a very eccentric pillbox hat. It wasn’t because every time he tried to move he slid farther down and started cursing in what Buffy thought was a foreign, or possibly demonic, language. It definitely wasn’t the resigned, disgusted, put upon expression on Angel’s face when Giles shined his torch down on him.

 

It was relief. That was her story and she was sticking to it.

 

When Buffy had finally gotten over her small squeaking fit and Giles had noisily cleared his throat and polished his lenses to a high shine, they tried to figure a way to get Angel out. Normally, he could’ve dug his fingers in and pulled himself up the wall, but the walls were thick with moss and slime and every time he attempted to move he slid farther down. Faint sloshing noises drifting up as his feet churned the water that was obviously below him. They hadn’t brought a rope to the exorcism- why would they?- so they had nothing to lower down to him.

 

Giles wanted Buffy to run back to the Poolman’s and borrow a length of rope. Buffy didn’t want to leave either one of them alone in case Mr. Poolman wasn’t just a hysterical nut job and they were dealing with something that could rip an unsuspecting Giles or a temporarily immobile Angel to pieces. The beginning of what could have been a lengthy argument was interrupted by a frustrated Angel who just wanted out and if Buffy didn’t have another idea could she please run back to the house.

 

Buffy suggested she lower Giles down and he could grab Angel’s wrists and she could pull them both out. This was strongly vetoed by Giles, who didn’t want to have his shoulders dislocated or get stuck himself, and then by Angel, who didn’t want Giles to drop him or get him stuck in a worse position than before. For some reason, Giles took umbrage with Angel’s logic on this.

 

“I will not drop you, you great ninny.” Giles, kneeling beside the open hole in the ground, started shrugging off his coat in preparation for being lowered into the pit. “I may not have slayer or vampire strength, but I am in exceptional physical condition.”

 

“For a man of your age,” a very frustrated Angel acknowledged, not quite under his breath.

 

“Angel, that’s not-”

 

“For a man of any age,” Giles interrupted coldly.

 

Buffy tried to reign in her impatience. “You’re a vision of manly testosterone,” she said, nodding her head and raising both eyebrows at Giles. “Now, could we please-”

 

Angel looked up at the other man who, while chronologically younger than the vampire by almost two centuries, was physically much older than he would ever be. “If any age happened to be your own or older, certainly.”

 

“Buffy, lower me down. I’ll pull him up if it kills him trying,” Giles said snidely, pride pricked.

 

“Giles-”

 

“I don’t think so Rupert” Angel shouted up

 

.

“Come on, An-”

 

“I will not drop you,” Giles shouted down at Angel. “I would think after all we’ve been through you’d trust me a great deal more than this.”

 

“Giles, he didn’t-”

 

“I trust you to stand beside Buffy when I can’t. I trust you to hold your own in a fight.” Angel sighed a little before continuing. “But this isn’t about trust. You can’t pull me out, Giles. I’ll be a dead weight in your hands. You aren’t strong enough to take all my weight and I can’t brace myself enough to help you. Look at my hands.” Angel wiggled fingers coated with black slime. “You will drop me before you can get me up.”

 

The discussion was cut short when Angel’s body jerked and he slid down another yard.

 

“Stop moving,” Buffy reproved, leaning over to frown down at him and absently noting the broken pieces of wood dusting his hair.

 

“I am not moving,” Angel gritted out between clenched teeth. “I think something has my foot.”

 

Angel jerked again and a puff of foul air exploded out of the hole as he slid, yet again, still farther down. He scrambled at the walls enclosing him until, with a low growl, he was lost under the inky, black water at the bottom of the pit.

 

~*~

 

For an infinitesimal eternity Angel was once again deep under the ocean. The slow beating of piscine hearts surrounded him, forever just out of reach as his hunger and madness grew. The cold wet cocooned him and ate fiercely at what little warmth his body had possessed. Flashes of things blacker than the chill darkness swam across the small glass square that was his only distraction.

 

The hand shifted its grip and tightened around his ankle, breaking Angel free of the vivid flashback. If he had been human, his heart would have surged into his throat in a flurry of staccato beats. But Angel wasn’t human- hadn’t been in a very long time- and he had walked with madness many times before. It was getting to be something of an unpleasant recurring theme; one he would like to discontinue if at all possible. He wasn’t about to start panicking now.

 

Angel tried kicking the whatever-it-was off his leg, but its small bony fingers only clamped down tighter and a soft bypass-the-ears-and-go-straight-for-the-brain noise, like whale song, drifted up from between his flailing feet. He had found the source of the ‘haunting’. Angel let the bones in his face shift and looked down the length of his body as he was dragged along. He needed to know what unholy creature, which he’d soon be tearing into little pieces, had a hold on his foot. Even vampire sight couldn’t pierce the icy, black gloom, though, and he wasn’t able to bend down far enough to get a hand on the creature that had him.

 

Angel’s shoulders kept scraping and sticking along the sides of the tunnel and his tilted head was brushed by thick slime while his back bumped against the uneven wall. The water was stagnant and foul with a thick oily quality that had it sliding sluggishly over his skin and clinging stubbornly to his clothing and hair in a way that no water ever should. He could find no purchase on the ooze covered walls and every time he dug his fingers in or tried to brace his feet to stop his descent, he was tugged roughly free and carried farther down the shaft.

 

~*~

 

“Oh my God, Giles, something took him.” Buffy looked at her Watcher, eyes wounded and begging. As if Giles could wave the magic wand he didn’t have and pull Angel out of the hat that he also didn’t have. The hopeful light in her eyes slowly extinguished and, as Giles watched, her gaze went alarmingly dead.

 

Buffy jerked off her gloves and shoved them in her coat pockets in preparation for diving in after Angel.

 

“Run to the house and see if the Poolmans have a length of rope,” Giles snapped out, forestalling her. “We may not be dealing with anything so common as a spook, but I’ll begin preparations for the cleansing, just in case.”

 

Buffy stared hard into her Watcher’s eyes and then, with one last look down at the reflective surface of the water, took off across the field of green spring grass as if all the hounds of Hell were after her. The sudden eerie wailing that seemed to rise from the very ground beneath her feet only spurred her on, fashionable shoes be damned.

 

~*~

 

Angel was still trying to find a way to brace himself on the slick walls when his left leg was jerked unaccountably backwards. He pitched forward and his face was pressed against slime and hard rock as his right leg jarred down on the floor.

 

The shaft had turned.

 

It was just the thing Angel had been looking for.

 

He locked his knee and jammed his right leg into the bend of the shaft. He pressed his back hard into the stone and quickly worked his arms down to press his hands into the wall in front of him and his elbows into the sides. The tugging on his leg became more insistent as he used his new leverage to draw his left leg forward, wedging his knee as solidly in between the rock and his body as he could.

 

A sound of pure frustration pierced his ears as the tugging became pulling became frantic jerking. Angel made minute shifts to make his position all the more solid and unmoving.

 

The mysterious hand was joined by another and they started walking themselves up his leg. The creature squeezed itself into the already tight space and slid itself up along his body. Angel tensed and waited. So far he hadn’t been harmed, other than his injured pride and slightly strained sanity, but that didn’t mean a feast on dead flesh wasn’t about to begin.

 

Angel started when his left wrist was grasped by bony, childlike fingers and yanked off the wall. His elbow skidded down the rock and the copper tang of blood entered the lip curling mix of aromas trapped in the water. Angel rotated his wrist and curled his fingers around a thin, hairless forearm. The skin felt almost human, if a little spongy and chilled. It would take a small portion of his strength to snap that arm like a twig, and a part of him wanted to. Muscles twitched in remembrance of his hands twisting and breaking bones, of the screams elicited by grinding the broken ends of those bones together. Part of him wanted to hear those sounds again and would have taken guilty pleasure in it.

 

A soft mewling had Angel enfolding the creature gently in his arms, latching on tight to flailing limbs. He scissored his legs around the thrashing form as high pitched wailing bombarded his ears. The lithe form caged by Angel’s arms and legs slowly stopped fighting and lay quietly in his grasp, chest heaving against his stomach. Long hair drifted up in a cloud around him, caressing any exposed skin it found with feather-light and fleeting brushes. The previous squirming told Angel it was most definitely female, not a child in any way and extremely, disturbingly naked.

 

He was starting to think he knew just what he was dealing with. If his hunch was correct, something was very wrong here. The water should have been sweet and clean, not this thick foul liquid that stank of decay.

 

He had to get back to Giles.

 

Angel tightened his grip and started trying to wriggle back the way they’d come. Another echoing cry had his head ringing, tempting him to press his hands over his ears, but he didn’t dare loosen his grip. He carefully began to inch himself back the way they’d come, squirming against the ooze and rock surrounding him and bracing his knees and elbows on the walls.

 

~*~

 

By the time Buffy had politely threatened Mr. Poolman with grievous bodily harm if he was unable to produce such a housely staple as a spool of rope, squashed the younger Poolman’s overt ogling of her -admittedly, barely there but still heaving nicely, thank you- chest with the use of her (patent pending) look of painful death, fended off Mrs. Poolman’s insanely determined offers of a nice hot toddy, snatched the rope and a shovel (just in case) from their dusty resting places in the shed and raced back across the field, Giles had already performed the cleansing ritual- to no discernable effect.

 

Buffy stripped off her coat and began tying the rope securely around her waist.

 

“He can’t drown, Buffy,” Giles told her gently. “But you can.”

 

“You know of an all night scuba shop in the area? Cause I don’t. I’m not losing him again, Giles. ” Buffy grabbed a ceremonial knife from Giles’ bag and knelt on the remnants of stone encircling the lip of the hole. “Never again,” she advised quietly, momentarily lost in her own memories. “Never again.”

 

“I’ll be right back,” Buffy promised as she stared intently at the gently rippling water. Her dramatics were cut abruptly short when a dark head broke the surface and triumphant brown eyes met her own.

 

The band around Buffy’s chest released and her heart lurched painfully against her ribs. Fancifully, she thought that maybe her heart only beat for him and it had sat cold and dead until the sight of that beloved face shocked it back to life.

 

She thought that for all of two seconds…just until a second dark head broke the surface of the water.

 

“Good Lord,” Giles cried, shocked.

 

Buffy was beyond speech. She’d thought Angel was in danger, possibly about to be eaten or torn into itty bitty pieces. Instead he turns up, looking none the worse for wear, with a woman cradled in his arms, her head pressed into his chest.

 

Buffy looked into large, liquid doe eyes, not noticing the purple shadows underneath them. The woman’s lips were full but bloodless. But Buffy didn’t see that, just as she didn’t see the grayish cast to her skin or the way it hung from her bones. Buffy saw dark hair that cascaded over bare shoulders and a naked back to disappear under the water. If the hair was stringy and dull, it could have been from the dubious quality of the liquid she’d been swimming or living in. She was small, tiny even, but obviously a fully formed woman. Her fingers tangled in the sodden silk shirt covering Angel’s chest and it was that that made Buffy’s fingers curl unconsciously into fists.

 

Maybe it was some strange side effect of the spell that brought Angel back that made him prone to compromising situations with mystical or semi-magical women. Maybe it was just pure blind luck. Either way, it needed to stop.

 

How was it that she got the slime monsters and four-armed demons and nasty, evil witches while Angel got faerie queens and succubi and naked fish-women thingies? Where were all her compromising situations with attractive, mystical men? If nothing else, it would have been a welcome change of pace.

 

“Angel?” Giles questioned when the silence began to wear a little thin. “Would I be correct in assuming this, ah, young woman was the source of the recent activity?”

 

“My ears are fairly certain of it,” Angel replied with a twist of his lips. “I’m not sure, but I think she’s a naiad.”

 

“A water nymph?” Giles was suddenly fascinated, playing the light over every inch of her that was exposed. “She doesn’t look entirely well, does she?”

 

“Nymph? As in goat-boy with a flute running around chasing nymphs type nymph?” Buffy asked, with narrowed eyes. “Nymph as in the origin of the word nymphomaniac?”

 

“I believe traditionally satyrs have been depicted as consorting in various ways with woodland nymphs and that, ah, particular word obviously does have its origins in the Greek word nymph,” Giles noticed the increasingly dark look on Buffy’s face and hastily revised the rest of his sentence, “which actually has no bearing on the current situation.”

 

“Just so we’re all clear on the current situation: the Poolmans were being spooked by weird noises, we investigated a whole lot of nothing, Angel fell in a hole full of really disgusting water, a nymph grabbed him, he grabbed the nymph back- which Angel and I will be discussing later, by the way- and Giles can’t say ‘nymphomaniac.’ I’d say that brings us up to speed, so what now?” Buffy looked from Giles to Angel, avoiding the large brown eyes of the naiad. “Do we…dispose of the problem? Giles, is she evil or a demon?”

 

“Buffy-”

 

“It is a valid question, Angel. Let me think.” Giles removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to remember everything he knew about naiads. “Classically, water nymphs are the daughters, wives or sisters of water deities or Greek Gods, Poseidon and Zeus being among the most notable. Naiads are fresh water nymphs. Nearly all water nymphs are associated with some power over water: the ability to conjure storms, purify water, cause floods or large waves, imbue water with the ability to heal certain afflictions. There are myths in which naiads have caused blindness, drowning and other acts spurned by maliciousness or extreme jealousy.” Giles raised his hand to forestall outbursts from both Angel and Buffy. “There are also tales of water nymphs saving drowning victims, curing illness and generally benefiting the areas around the body of water they inhabit.”

 

“So, she’s not a demon but you don’t know if she’s evil,” Buffy stated, as she pulled her jacket and gloves back on. “Really, Giles, that’s all you had to say.”

 

“There is something wrong with her, that much is obvious,” Angel said pensively, staring down at the bent head resting on his chest. “I don’t think she was trying to hurt me. She wants, needs help. Could the water be contaminated, Giles?”

 

“It’s possible, I suppose.” Giles turned and looked east towards the shining lights of Warminster. “Contaminants could have seeped into the ground water. Actually, it’s nearly impossible that some sort of chemicals haven’t.”

 

“So, why don’t we move her somewhere else,” Buffy asked reasonably. “Get you guys out of there, wrap her in something wet, load her in the back of the Discovery and cart her off to clean water?”

 

The naiad chose that moment to whimper piteously, the sound echoing up the shaft. She tugged at Angel’s shirt and tried half-heartedly to slip from his arms and back under the water.

 

“We can’t move her,” Angel replied, trying to calm the creature pressed against him. “A naiad is bound to her spring, river, lake or sea. If she is cut off from her source of water, she’ll die.”

 

Buffy walked away from the shaft and the sad eyes that were drifting closed in exhaustion.

 

“If it is something in the water making her sick,” Giles mused, “we have little hope of finding a way to stop its poison before the young lady is too far gone to save, if we haven’t reached that point already.”

 

“We can’t just let her die, Giles.”

 

Buffy stopped a few yards away to kick listlessly at the grass, deep in thought. She was bending down to pick up a small rock when she stopped suddenly and stared at the ground in front of her- the ground that they had thought was a sunken grave, the ground that Angel said smelled of decay. What if it was a grave, just not the kind Angel and Giles thought it was? Because a naiad cut off from her water, say by a cave in, was as good as dead and buried.

 

Buffy swung back to face Giles. He was still kneeling at the edge of the pit and the sound of murmured conversation drifted to her on the March wind. She strode back the way she’d come and knelt down next to Giles.

 

“Angel, the shaft, does it go straight down,” Buffy asked excitedly, “or do you know if it turns?”

 

~*~

 

The cave in was only yards away from the bend in the tunnel that Angel had used as leverage against the naiad. It took him an hour of working in zero visibility to brace open a space big enough for the water nymph to squeeze through. Fresh water swirled out of the newly made hole in the pile of rocks that had cut the naiad off from the source of her underground stream.

 

Just as Angel started to wriggle his way back, something smooth and round was pressed into his hand by tiny firm fingers. A quick caress of floating hair and a pleased trill of sound and she was gone.

 

~*~

 

Giles spoke with Mr. Poolman about the presence of what appeared to be an old well and firmly suggested first thing in the morning would not be too soon to take whatever steps necessary to make sure no one would be able to accidentally fall down it again. A slightly soggy rope and the unused shovel were returned, with thanks, and the three investigators took their leave.

 

Angel made the trip back to Westbury perched uncomfortably on the edge of the backseat, the tarp having not been dried and put back yet after Buffy’s earlier adventures with slime and water. His jacket and shirt were folded neatly and piled on top of his waterlogged shoes on the floor. He and Giles were still deeply involved in the running conversation about water elementals that had started as soon as Angel had been lifted out of the well shaft.

 

“Giles, you don’t think that was Hog’s well,” Angel asked. “It is supposed to be somewhere in the Bugley area.”

 

Buffy scrunched up her nose. “What well?”

 

“A healing well,” Giles answered. “Several landowners at the turn of the century had their own wells, some of which are probably still in use today. Water from Hog’s well was used in curatives for people with weak eyesight. Sick farm animals were often bathed in it, thus the name. The well was said to have a guardian spirit. But I believe the guardian of Hog’s well lived in a barrow on Cley Hill, so it’s doubtful it’s the same one.”

 

“Cley Hill… that was where Angel caught the last of the fire demons, wasn’t it?”

 

Giles glanced in the rearview mirror and smiled at Buffy. She was settled in the backseat beside Angel and trying not to be obvious about keeping as clear of the wet, grunge-covered vampire as possible. “Yes, with all the UFO sightings on the hill, any glimpses of the demons were attributed to the strange and mysterious workings of little green men.”

 

As Giles and Angel shared a laugh, Buffy relaxed back against the seat and watched as Angel again rubbed his thumb over the small white pebble held in his hand. To Buffy it looked just like a thousand other small white rocks that littered the countryside, but Angel kept turning it over and peering at it as if puzzled by its existence. She’d asked him about it and he’d gotten the strangest look on his face before telling her he thought it was just what it seemed- a small white rock- but he’d check with Giles to make sure. Sometimes the workings of Angel’s mind were just as strange and mysterious as anything UFO aficionados could come up with.

 

Buffy shifted until she was able to peer out the windshield as they drew closer to the welcoming lights of home and thought back over the day. It had felt good to go out on an investigation and save the cause of it instead of the usual slice, dice and julienne.

 

There was also what was left of the night to think on. Angel would probably head straight for the shower. He had streaks of greenish-black gunk smeared all over his clothes and body, it was even matted in his hair. Maybe she would join him in that shower, make sure he got all those pesky hard to reach places. Buffy was a very conscientious girlfriend. And she did have some apologizing to do, after all.

 

Who knew what tragedy and weirdness the coming days would bring? But this day would end on a very good note indeed- she just knew it.

 

~*~

 

Information on the tengu can be found here: http://www.asianart.com/articles/rubin/ or by Googling ‘tengu, Japanese folklore’.

 

There is an actual print shop located on Manor Furlong in Frome, but I have no idea how many copiers they have, whether they are bolted to the floor or the possibility of an infestation of gremlins.

 

Dalmatian is an extinct language once spoken in Croatia. For information on the languages of the region see here: http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=HR Unfortunately, all the really interesting looking Croatian folklore sites were in a language other than English so my hobgoblin is entirely fictional.

 

Some information on the different classifications and attributes of nymphs can be found here: http://www.pantheon.org/articles/n/nymphs.html and here: http://www.loggia.com/myth/nymphs.html and here: http://www.bulfinch.org/fables/naiades.html

 

The only information I have ever been able to find on Hog’s well, is here: http://people.bath.ac.uk/liskmj/living-spring/journal/issue1/indepth/kjorspa2.htm#bugley

 

 

 



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