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Resurrection Man

 

Project Paranormal

Author: Jo

Season 3

Part 2

 

**

 

Summary:  Angel’s looking to move forward, but events and an old enemy conspire to get under his feet.  Our team are in trouble.  Are there any friends to save the day?

 

**

 

 

Resurrection Man

 

(continued)

 

Nick waited for three hours, and then he called Buffy.  Her phone rang, but she didn’t answer.  He wasn’t sure how she would be tackling her business, and he didn’t want to disturb her if she was in the middle of delicate discussions, and so he clicked the phone off after a few rings.  Then he went to rescue his car and parked it in a pricey National Car Park.  At five o’clock, he called her again, but there was still no reply.  This time, he let the phone ring for much longer, but it did no good.  He wondered whether her business had concluded early, and she’d gone back home.  Then he tried to call Rupert.  There was no reply there either.

 

He didn’t have the address that she’d gone to – he’d never even heard it discussed – and he didn’t feel that knocking on every door he could find would be at all productive.  Angel was in Richmond, but without a cell phone – or, he might be back at Westbury.  Giles was apparently out somewhere.  Nick felt that he was uselessly kicking his heels, being of no help to anyone at all.  He tried her number once again.  No reply.

 

He did the only thing he could think of, short of calling the police.  He retrieved his car, and set off back to Westbury, his phone on the seat beside him, ready to turn back at a moment’s notice.

 

++++++

 

Somehow, in the mêlée, she had managed to get the Monaghans out of the room, and to reach her backpack.  The stake from her waistband was now embedded in the wall.  It was embedded in a crab-creature first, though.  The beasts that she had despatched were the smaller ones, the ones with less armament, but the psychic screams of their deaths still rang in her head.  Those screams were drowned out, though, by the others.

 

Her mind was flooded with images, pictures of terror and pain, and of things she hoped she would never have to see.  She was almost blinded by them, her ears deafened by the din of events that either hadn’t happened yet, or had happened elsewhere.  She neither knew nor cared which was correct.  She was fighting blind and deaf, on slayer instinct alone.  So far it had served her well.

 

Then, as she lunged for one of the larger crab-creatures, she felt a touch on her back, and something nip the nape of her neck.  Blood ran down, warm and wet, as she reached around to yank the thing off.  But there was nothing there.  She whipped round, searching for it, but saw only a flash of movement from the corner of her eye.  And then she knew that the creature’s bite had been poisoned, as a terrible lassitude swept through her body, and her leaden limbs refused to respond.  As she crumpled to the floor, the last thing that she heard was Mrs Monaghan’s voice, each word precisely clipped.

 

“There, Donald.  That wasn’t so hard, was it?  The master will let you have some treats, now, I’m sure.  Maybe…”

 

Buffy slipped into unconsciousness before Mrs Monaghan enumerated the promised treats.

 

++++++

 

When Angel awoke, he was immobile and helpless.  He was in the dark.  And he was terrified.  Nightmare.  It had to be a nightmare, a reliving of his time beneath the ocean, yet there was no water here, and he could see nothing.  Besides, except when he remembered his time in Hell, or beneath the sea, his nightmares were strange amalgams of horrors and wishful thinking.  This was neither.  This was nothingness.  He had no idea how long he stayed in the nothingness.  It might have been hours, or it might have been millennia.

 

And then there was light, and, weak as it undoubtedly was, he was dazzled by it.  He wanted to screw his eyes up against it, but even that small movement was beyond him.

 

He saw the light as if through a small window, and then there was a dark, hooded figure, casting a shadow on that tiny window to the world.

 

“Awake, Angel?  You’ll soon wish you weren’t.”

 

The tone of voice was genial, chatty, and he thought that he remembered it, although he’d need more to bring that memory back to mind.  The figure moved away.  There was a scrape of wood on stone, and the figure reappeared, lower.  Angel thought that whoever it was had sat down on a stool or a chair.

 

“Remember the Shorshack box, Angel?  You didn’t manage to get the Ethros demon into that, did you?  Well, you’re in a Vampire box now.  It’s good for a thousand years, they tell me.  I guess I did better than you.”

 

He seemed to pause for an answer, but Angel couldn’t have answered if he’d tried.

 

“You know, I thought of just shackles and chains, first, because they’re much easier to get hold of, but I’m not at all sure you couldn’t get out of those, no matter how unbreakable they were.  You’re a lot stronger than you used to be, back in the day, aren’t you?  You won’t get out of this, though; not until I choose.”

 

He paused again.  It might have been for a reply, or it might have been for effect, but Angel could gratify neither.  He felt sure the man knew that, too.

 

But how the devil did anyone still alive manage to know about his strength?  That he was stronger than he’d used to be?  The voice was still dreadfully familiar, and if he could remember who it was, perhaps he could find a way to get out of this.  Otherwise…  A thousand years?  He tried to struggle, to make his limbs move, but nothing happened.

 

“Let me tell you what’s going to happen, Angelus.  Oh, yes, I know you now, although I didn’t then, when it mattered.  You spoiled my big day, you and your friends.  All of you are going to pay for that, but you especially.  The others will be here, soon.  What, you still don’t remember?”

 

The figure pushed back the hood that had darkened and obscured its features.  Angel would have gasped if he could.  It was Francis.

 

But, it was a horribly changed Francis.  The left half of his face had been burned into something resembling seared pork, and Angel could see, in his mind’s eye, the cauldron of flame that had been every part of the Hellfire Caves except the protected circle that had housed himself, Philip, and the boy, Joshua.  Francis raised his left hand, and it was nothing more than a blackened bony talon.  In it, he held an oval of what looked like wickerwork.

 

“You see what you did to me?  And, angry as he was, my master took me bodily down into hell.  You know what that’s like, don’t you, Angel?  I’ve been there a long time now, but you know about that, too.  I’m really very, very cross with you, but I hate to tell you that my master is even crosser.  You will suffer for that, and we’ll both make sure of it.  You see, the thing is, if everything goes well here, I’ll be restored.  He’s made me that promise.  I’ll be restored in body, back to what I was before, and I’ll be restored back to life on Earth.  You could say that I’m motivated.”

 

Then he lifted the oval of wicker into the tiny window of light, and Angel was back in darkness, and complete sensory deprivation.

 

++++++

 

Martha was waiting for John to get ready to drive up to Summerdown House.  They generally did the same hours so that they could travel there together, although sometimes Martha enjoyed the long walk through the village and over the start of the downs.  John was in the garage, fiddling with the car.  It had been reluctant to start, and he was poking and wiping and cleaning, and Martha hoped he knew what he was doing.  John was good with all manner of things, but woodwork was his real craft, not petrol-driven machinery.

 

He’d been out there for twenty minutes now, and here she was, twiddling her thumbs and huffing quite a lot.  There was so much that she had to do.  The last of the brambles needed making into jelly before they mouldered, some apple cheese from the windfalls from the old, gnarled trees behind Giles’ house, and the cinnamon and apple cookies that Buffy loved were almost gone.  And, her search continued for something that would tempt Angel other than blood.  She was sure there must be something… There was too much time being wasted here.  My goodness, it was twenty-past eight already.

 

She picked up her bags and marched through the utility room and out of the side door into the gloominess of the garage.  John was sitting in the car, apparently waiting for her.  She huffed in exasperation.  Why hadn’t he tootled the horn to show that he was ready?  When she got close to the driver’s door, her heart skipped a beat.  And then another.  John’s head leaned against the glass, and his eyes were closed.  Full-blown panic made her heart thunder as she reached for the door, and then an arm reached around her, and a pad was placed over her mouth and nose, and she didn’t recognize the sickly-sweet smell as chloroform, although it was, and then she knew no more.

 

++++++

 

The little window of light appeared again, but it took Angel long seconds to be able to see Francis through the blinding dazzle.

 

“Found a way out of there, Angel?  No?  That’s because there isn’t one, you know.  Specially constructed by a famous sorcerer, that box was.  Of course, you and your friends have pretty well done away with the most powerful magic users in this dimension, so I had to go somewhere else to get it.  They knew about vampires, though, especially after I gave them one to practice on.”

 

He raised the taloned claw again, and this time he held a mirror.

 

“I thought I’d let you see the workmanship.  Well, workdemonship, but it’s all the same thing.”

 

He held the mirror up and positioned himself so that Angel could see a reflection of the box that entombed him.  It was anthropomorphous.   It had contours that slightly resembled the human body and more clearly resembled something else.  It looked like one of the old Egyptian mummy cases.  And then again, it didn’t.  Overlaid on top of the almost-humanoid shape, and somehow a part of it, were the desiccated corpses of things that were somehow octopus-like, and somehow crab-like.  They twined around the sarcophagus, and bulged obscenely, their matter somehow incorporated into the tightly-woven wood.

 

There was a picture painted onto the front, and the outlines of the box followed that picture, away from the human and into the demonic.  The portrait, while stylised, looked shockingly like him.  Shockingly, that is, because it depicted the demon that he’d been in Pylea.  There was just a single oval opening in the face, where he ought to see his eyes, wide and fearful.  Drawn around the painted figure were rank after rank of tiny letters, from inhuman alphabets.  They were the words, Angel thought, of whichever spell made the whole thing work, although he was too stunned to think much at all.

 

He was standing upright, which came as a surprise to him, since he had no sensation, no spatial awareness, no feeling of up or down.  He wanted to weep.  This was so much worse than when he’d been immobilised in the Hellfire Caves.  He wondered whether Philip was here to help, as he had helped before.  Or whether Philip was another victim.  Perhaps Francis saw something in his eyes.

 

“You’re wondering about Philip?  He’s not coming to rescue you.  Oh, yes, I know that he gave you immunity from his gris-gris.  Unfortunately, he and his family have disappeared.  When I’m returned to Earth, though, he’ll be my first concern.  You, of course, will be elsewhere, then.”

 

The mirror disappeared, and so did the figure of Francis.  There was the scrape of wood on stone, again, as Francis pulled up something to sit on.  Angel, trying to regain control of his fear, wondered whether Francis’s left leg was as burned as his arm.  Perhaps he couldn’t stand for long.  He urgently needed to understand all of his enemy’s weaknesses.  He thanked the Powers that Francis, like most evil beings, was inclined to brag and boast.  The urge to torment was overwhelming in him.  He remembered the feeling well.  There was information in that, though, information that could be used, if only he had the ability to needle more from the… man.  Then it seemed as though he didn’t need to needle.

 

“There’s a plan for you and your friends.  Want to know what it is?  I’m sure you do.  You think that the small window I’ve given you is a weakness, and you’ll be able to use it.  You think that, when you get out of the box, you’ll be able to foil the dastardly villain, hm?  ‘Fraid not.  The box has a field around it, and around you.  You could be all the way out, but if you have only one fingernail left in the box, you are still its prisoner.  Come on Angel!  Why so glum?  You were prepared to do this to a fellow demon.

 

“Of course, you’ve spent a bit of time in a box yourself.  Gave you a taste of what’s to come, you think?  Not a chance.  You and your friends are going somewhere where you’ll pray for the time you spend in that box.  You’ll beg to be allowed to crawl back in.  I know a whole host of beings who’ll get a great deal of sport from you.”

 

He fell silent for a moment, and then it became clear that he had been listening to something that Angel couldn’t hear.

 

“Here they come.  The first of the catch, after you.  With luck, all my traps and ambushes will work first time, but if not, it doesn’t matter.  I have…” He looked at a watch on his good wrist, “about thirty-six hours to get everyone, and then whoever is in here will be taken… elsewhere.  Instant transport, although not a transport of delight for you, sad to say.  I made sure you were first, of course.  You’re the most important.  The others are just gravy…

 

“Did you enjoy the book, by the way?  I thought that another Summers would attract your attention.  You made it so easy.”

 

Francis walked over and grasped the coffin, for such it seemed to be, to Angel.  Surprisingly, even with Angel in it, it seemed to be light enough for him to lift, and he adjusted its position until Angel could see virtually the whole of the room.  It looked like some sort of chopped-off tunnel, arched overhead, and covered in whitewash.  The only illumination came from a couple of bare light bulbs.  An empty set of shackles and chains hung from the opposite wall.  Angel wondered whether those were intended for Buffy, and prayed not.  Yet there was some hope if they were.  He was positive that she could free herself from those.  If she were loose, he didn’t give a lot for Francis’s chances.

 

There was nothing else in the room except a door to his left, huge and heavy and iron-bound.  It looked as though it had been purloined from elsewhere – a castle, he thought morosely, from the size of it.  The wall on the right was completely blank.  Then the single door burst open and three men, in the loosest sense of the word, hurried in.  They carried two bound and unconscious bodies.  Martha and John.  Angel realised, with a sinking feeling in his heart, just how comprehensive Francis’s idea of revenge might be.

 

Then the oval was replaced and he was nowhere again.  Nowhere and nothing.

 

++++++

 

By the time Nick got back to Westbury, there had been no phone call from Buffy, but he’d talked himself into believing that she’d simply concluded whatever needed doing in Bethnal Green, and come home early.  When he pulled into the courtyard, Buffy’s Mini sat in the garage, where they’d left it, but the Porsche and the Discovery were absent.  The door into the house was locked.  So were all the other doors, and the windows, although Nick had serious doubts about his ability to climb through them, even if one had been open.

 

He had no idea where spare keys might be kept, but he hunted around all the obvious places, the places where Rupert would never, ever keep a key because those were the places that burglars would look.  Of course, they were also the places that abandoned houseguests would look…  He started hunting in some of the less obvious places, and then gave up.  He sat on the low wall that completed the courtyard, and started to rack his brain for the location of people who might know what was going on, people like Martha and John.  Unfortunately, he didn’t know Martha and John’s surname, so looking them up in the phone directory was pretty much a bust.  He continued to turn his powerful intellect onto the problem.

 

++++++

 

When Buffy woke up, she was lying on a cold stone floor, but she wasn’t just uncomfortable, she was in positive pain.  And she couldn’t move very much at all.  At first, everything was just a grey haze, but then, as vision returned, she saw just how much trouble they were all in.

 

She was in a room bare of all furnishings except a small wooden chair pushed into the corner next to some weird mummy case.  And ‘she’ wasn’t just ‘she’.  ‘She’ was ‘they’.  Martha and John lay trussed up at the end of the room opposite the door.  Martha was crying, and John was trying, unsuccessfully, to comfort her.  Giles was chained to the wall, the manacles around his wrists fixed tightly against the stone.  He could sit, but he couldn’t move much more than that.  He was conscious, and watching her.  Not that she would be able to do anyone any good.

 

She was bound in iron.  Two iron bands pressed tightly around her upper body, imprisoning her arms.  Another was fastened around her waist, keeping fast her lower arms.  There were two more around her thighs, two around her calves and one around her ankles.  They were all so tight that they were impeding her circulation.  Iron bars joined each band to the one below, making something like a sadist’s corset, so that there was no possibility of shuffling the bands downwards, and so wriggling out.  She was going to have such a bad case of pins and needles after this…  And her hands were wrapped in layer after layer of torn cloth strips until they just looked like balls.  She couldn’t free her fingers.

 

She flexed her muscles, but was only rewarded with more pain.

 

“Giles!  How are these things fastened?  If I can manage to get upright and hop over there, can you unfasten them at the back?”

 

“Not a chance, Buffy.  They’ve got big padlocks on.”

 

“John!  Can you pick a lock?”

 

Even as she was talking, Buffy was shuffling to the wall next to Giles, and trying to stand.  So far, she’d only succeeded in sitting slightly upright.

 

“No.  And even if I could, I reckon I’d need something to pick it with.”

 

John was right, of course. 

 

“We’ve got to rely on Angel, then.  He’ll miss us before long.  Anyone know whenabouts it is?”

 

She’d lost all sense of time, and she’d feel better if it were night time, and she could know that Angel would be on the hunt.  But she was the Slayer.  She wasn’t just going to wait here like a lamb for the slaughter.

 

John was the first to reply.

 

“We were taken just after eight in the morning, at our house.  We were out cold when they brought us here, but we were alone when we woke up.  Apart from yonder casket, that is.”

 

He nodded towards the mummy case, or whatever it was.

 

“Giles was next.”

 

Giles nodded and took up his part of the timeline.

 

“It was almost lunchtime when I was taken.  I’d had a message to look at a property, and decided to do it on the way to pick up the cats.  I saw…”

 

He trailed off as he remembered what he had seen.  He hadn’t been conscious for many more minutes than Buffy, and remembering anything was an extremely painful process.  He knew he had a lump on his head the size of a hen’s egg.

 

“Oh, gods.  I stopped because I saw Angel’s car in a lay-by.  There was blood on it.”

 

Buffy felt all the hope leave her in one despairing breath.  Her head hung low as she realised that they were in all likelihood on their own, and that something must have happened to her lover.  Not only would there be no rescue there, but he himself might be dead.

 

“Buffy, I looked.  There was no ash.  Not anywhere in the car or around it.”

 

That was one thing, at least.

 

“Blood doesn’t mean anything with Angel.  And it might be someone else’s blood.”

 

It was Martha who had spoken, in a halting, tear-filled voice.  Also in that voice, though, was a hint of defiance.  Buffy searched inside herself for her own defiance.

 

“You’re right.  So, the first thing, then, is to try and get free.  I’ve always found that lying around helplessly tied up is never a good plan.  What I think…”

 

But they didn’t hear what she thought.  The heavy door opened and a figure, cloaked and hooded, limped through, followed by a group of demons.  They were almost like humans, but not quite.  Not close enough.

 

“Well, well, everyone awake then?  I hope you aren’t too uncomfortable, because you’ll be here for a little while yet.  Of course, once we leave here, you’ll be very much more uncomfortable, but mustn’t grumble, eh?”

 

He looked over the group, and Buffy could feel the smirk under the hood.

 

“What a motley crew we have.  An aging and failed Watcher, a surplus to requirements Slayer who, let’s face it, is also past the first flush of youthful slayerhood, and a pair of helpless servants.  And let’s not forget the vampire.  Now, I wonder where on earth he is?  Perhaps he doesn’t care enough to come and get you, do you think?  Hm?”

 

He turned to one of the man-demons.

 

“Thank you, Mr Tarita.  I think I can take it from here.  No need to detain you any longer.  They seem secure enough.  If I require anything else, I have your number.  You’ll keep an eye on things until it’s time?”

 

The man-demons bowed to him, each in turn, and then they walked to the door, and were gone.  Giles eyed the figure up.

 

“That the best you can do?  Anonymous insults?  My goodness, but evil just can’t get the staff nowadays.”

 

The man, if such he was, pulled the chair away from the wall and sat down, straightening one leg out in front of him.  It seemed painfully thin.

 

“Well, now, what shall we talk about?  Your escape?  I don’t think so.  Mr Tarita and his family seem to have done an excellent job.”

 

He lapsed into silence.  Buffy tried to work out from what had been said before he came in how long they had been here, and when they might be missed.  What she didn’t miss was the fact that he kept glancing at the strange casket.  There was something significant in there, and she was determined to find out what it was.  Keys, or weapons, perhaps.  Meanwhile, she tried surreptitiously to wriggle her way out of the ironwork, and to hope for some form of rescue.

 

++++++

 

It was almost sunset, perhaps seven thirty, before Nick accepted that his hosts might not be coming back tonight, and, incidentally, that he might not get fed.  He was worried, and he was hungry.  He always thought better on a full stomach, and he hadn’t had more than a bite of rabbit food for lunch.  He knew none of Rupert’s friends and acquaintances here in Westbury.  He’d thought several times of calling the bobbies, but he was well aware that some of the things that Rupert was involved with were, in the nicest possible way, better off not scrutinised by the forces of law and order, and so he reserved that as his Plan B.  His Plan A was to find someone who might know more than he did.

 

He climbed into his car, and drove to the nearest pub.  It was the Boar’s Head, with its fetching sign of the head of a wild boar on a plate, a coronet tastefully placed between the severed neck and the platter, and a rosy red apple in its mouth.  Even this early in the evening, the car park was full.  Inside, the place was packed.  What he wasn’t to know was that this Monday night, the village would be given a full accounting of how the summer’s fundraising had fared, and would determine who should benefit from money that wasn’t already allocated.  Then, next year’s fundraising committee would be elected.  The Boar’s Head was offering free sandwiches as its contribution to the evening.

 

Nick stood in the doorway bemused by the diverse throng.  There were grannies and families, and folding chairs had been brought from somewhere so that everyone could sit down.  He shook his head a little and decided that Westbury was the most unique village he’d ever come across.  He liked it.  He recognised many faces from the garden party, but he’d no idea who might be able to answer his questions, and so he adopted the simple expedient of bellowing to the crowd in general.

 

“I say, do any of you chaps have any idea where Rupert Giles is?  Or the Americans?  They seem to be missing just now.”

 

++++++

 

Nick sat next to Lisa Bradley, she of the livery stable, tucking in to a large plate of sandwiches.  Lisa wore a little frown of concern.

 

“You say you should have met Buffy at St Paul’s?  Well, why did you leave her?”

 

He tried to answer around a mouthful of ciabatta and brie and smoked bacon, having eschewed the free cold ham or cheese sandwiches, and the reply was somewhat muffled.

 

“Because she clearly wasn’t coming there, and she wasn’t answering her phone!  I’d no idea what else to do!”

 

Lisa lapsed into silence.  A couple of the older teenagers had been despatched on bicycles to go to Martha and John Fletcher, and see what Giles’ plans had been, but she was worried.  Colin Blackwether had stood up in the middle of the confused silence that had followed Nick’s original question, and said he’d expected Giles to come and collect his cats that afternoon, but he hadn’t arrived.

 

It wasn’t long before the boys arrived back.  There was no sign of the Fletchers.  Their car was in the garage, but there were no lights on in the house, and no answer at the door.  Tony, the owner of the Boar’s Head, was just giving his opinion that perhaps the police should be contacted when the police arrived, in the shape of DCI Ian Collins.  He was clearly off duty.  Lisa waved enthusiastically to him.

 

“Here, Ian.  We need your advice.”

 

When the problem was explained to him, he frowned, just as Lisa had done before him.  He remembered some of the things he’d seen, things that he had recounted to no one, and he rather thought that whatever Giles and his people were involved in would fare much better without the involvement of the plods.  Still, what if there had been a normal, everyday problem?  Something his boys could and should handle?  He knew that, with missing people, time was critical.  But was this a normal missing persons case, or were they all on a strange job?  The involvement of the Fletchers would argue against that.  Probably.  A voice cut through his ruminations.

 

“I think that we should get up some search parties.”

 

That was John Cummings from the White Hart, sitting with his wife, Laura.  What he’d said made sense.  These were all locals.  They could probably search as well as the police.  But, it was dark now, and this was a thing best done in the light.

 

He identified himself for those who didn’t know him.

 

“We’ve no evidence that any of them have come to harm, but if they haven’t turned up in twenty four hours, the police must be properly involved.  Meanwhile, I’ll help.  It’s unsafe to have people traipsing around at night, and in any event, you won’t be able to see well enough and might miss something.  We’ll start tomorrow morning.  We’re looking for any of the three, but we’re especially looking for signs of Rupert Giles, or anyone who saw him after his phone call with Colin Blackwether.  Now, who’s prepared to co-ordinate, and who’s prepared to search?”

 

Everyone there wanted to be involved.  Many of them felt that they owed it to one or another of the missing for help offered in the past.  A map of Westbury was produced, and divided up into sections.

 

Tony Barnes and his team would take the sector around the Boar’s Head, John Cummings, that around the White Hart, and Alan Groom from the Blue Bull would take the area around there.  George Laverton offered to head up a team of farmers searching the outlying farms and barns and sheds.  The Bucklands and the Prestleighs shared responsibility for the areas around the railway station.  Mrs Grittleton and Mr Satterthwaite would lead a team of pensioners who would question shopkeepers, market stall holders, librarians and so forth in the centre of the village.  The vicar would hold prayers at eight in the morning, and then would lead a team in the area of the church.  Gangs of teenagers were identified by their parents, and volunteered for cycle patrol.  Lisa and the other horsewomen would cover the outlying districts.  They could cover more ground, and see further from the height of a horse.  And the names kept coming forward.  Neither Nick nor Ian had realised quite how much Giles and Buffy and Angel were part of the fabric of this village.

 

Lists of cell phone numbers were compiled, and Mrs Brewster, the local postmistress took it to make copies for distribution to every team.  Everyone had a job to do, and would start after the first gathering at St Cyprian’s church.  A room was found for Nick at The White Hart.  No one noticed the quiet young man sitting in the corner, drinking his pint of best bitter. 

 

Kevin thought back to the previous night, and wondered if what he had seen had anything to do with what was happening now.  That small and jealous part of his soul kept him silent, though.  He hadn’t said anything before, and people would wonder why.  Buffy would be found safely, he was sure of that.  Almost sure.  She had to be.  And if Angel wasn’t… What would that mean for him?  His guilt-ridden mind didn’t probe too closely at the logic of those assumptions.  He slipped into the Gents, and then he quietly left the Boar’s Head, and walked up to the Hawkeridge Road.  The Porsche was gone.  Reassured that what he had seen was nothing to do with anyone going missing, he went back home, uncertain of whether he would be joining in tomorrow’s search.

 

Kevin slept badly that night.

 

++++++

 

Collins sat in the Boar’s Head the next day with Nick Hunt, taking reports from each of the teams.  That wasn’t always the easiest thing to do, with excited amateurs garbling their information.  Still, so far, they’d managed to make sense of it, and they were steadily hatching over the various parts of the Westbury map.

 

True, Buffy had last been seen in London, and Angel had set off for there, but Giles had last been heard of in Westbury, and Collins was as sure as he could be that whatever had happened, they were all in it together.  Find Giles, and he expected to find the others, or clues to where they were.  His next plan, after today, would be to gain entry to Summerdown House, and see what turned up there.  Last night, he’d gained illegal entry to both Summerdown House and the Fletchers’ house, but there was no sign of anything amiss at all.  He’d moved that down the list of priorities.  What he really wanted to find just now, apart from three missing people, was two missing cars.  Find the cars, and you’d got a good clue where the people were.

 

He’d worried when most of the village appeared to turn up at St Cyprian’s the next morning – most of the old village, anyway.  He wasn’t sure whether they counted any of the newer parts of Westbury as being part of the village at all.  He worried because they’d come prepared.  That is, they’d come in hiking boots, and carrying sandwiches and packs with torches for shining in dingy corners.  He’d almost expected that.  They also come with a variety of other things.  The walking sticks and walking poles he’d also expected, but the stout cudgels and pitchforks he definitely hadn’t.  What he’d let loose resembled a peasant army more than anything else.  Still, many of them would be prodding haystacks and poking under hedgerows, and who knew what they might disturb?  Searching the countryside was nothing like searching in a town, and so he hadn’t protested.  He’d made Arthur Holden leave his shotgun at the Boar’s Head, though.  It was probably a good thing that only later would he learn of people like Agnes Wellow, an elderly, white-haired pensioner with bones as small and fine as a bird’s, and tiny gold-rimmed glasses, and who could impale a grey squirrel at twenty paces with a pitchfork.

 

He’d got on well with Nick Hunt, and they’d talked more about what had been happening in the days leading up to the disappearances, tentatively at first, and then with a little more candour.  Neither voiced their deepest worries and suspicions, though.

 

Weird as business was at Summerdown House, only Buffy’s disappearance seemed moderately suspicious.  Collins had had Gavin Lincoln check for Monaghans in and around Bethnal Green, but there had been none.  He put that back into the to-do pile, still convinced that find one, and he’d find them all.

 

The teams started drifting back to the Boar’s Head at about six o’clock.  They were all tired, and had found nothing worthwhile.  Almost the last people in, an hour after sunset, were a group of teenagers, led by a twenty-something.  Stephen Oldford, with Ellie Croscombe, Rosemary Fitzpatrick, Pauline Smith and Darren Wingham, had been cycling around the car parks in Westbury, looking for the two missing cars.  Now, they were breathless with excitement.

 

“We found the cars!  Both of them… In that little parking area on Sand Holes Lane, in Westbury Leigh.”

 

Tony Barnes produced cans of Coke for the five breathless cyclists, while Collins questioned them more closely.  The parking area was used by walkers, and by those wanting to use the neighbouring football field.  They hadn’t examined the cars, they’d just seen enough to know there was no one in them.  They’d tried to call, but their group’s cell phone battery was too low.  Darren scowled at Rosemary as he said that.

 

Collins stood up.

 

“Okay, I’ll take it from here.  I’d appreciate it if everyone would stay away from that area just now.  We don’t know what we might find just there.  Thank you.”

 

Another figure stood up, a tall, dark-haired young man who Collins vaguely recognised, but couldn’t put a name to.

 

“I… I think you’d be searching in the wrong place.”

 

The boy looked as if he hadn’t slept for a week.  He also looked thoroughly miserable.  Collins had it, then.  This was the one who had been dancing attendance on Buffy for the summer.  Kevin, that was his name.

 

“Why do you think that, Kevin?”

 

Haltingly, the story came out.  What Kevin had seen the previous night – or thought that he’d seen.  And where.  Kevin sat down, looking more miserable than ever.  Collins turned to the assembled throng.

 

“This building – anyone know what it is?”

 

His answer came from old George Croscombe.

 

“I reckon that must be the old railway shack from where there was that old tramway under Station Road and Hawkeridge Road.  From when they were mining and smelting iron up there.  There’s still tunnels.  I thought the shack had been knocked down, but you can get access into the tram tunnels around there.”

 

Collins turned to Kevin to ask whether he’d actually seen the man he thought was Angel being taken into the old shack, but Kevin was gone.

 

++++++

 

The hooded man had sat in the chair for hours.  Or possibly days.  Buffy had lost all sense of time.  He hadn’t removed his cloak, nor his hood, and Buffy had no idea who he was, but she was sure he wasn’t precisely human.  Her slayer sense was on overtime.  Sometimes, he looked at her, and the darkness beneath the hood seemed to smile.  It wasn’t a friendly smile, it was one that completely creeped her out.  It was a knowing smile that spoke of horrors yet to come.

 

And then he’d walked out.  She had no idea why.  He’d said nothing, he’d simply walked out, apparently satisfied that they would be there when he came back.  She intended to disappoint him.  In any event, she’d had a good long time to worry about what had happened to Angel, and the results of that weren’t pretty.

 

The thing was, would the man be back, or did they have time?

 

++++++

 

Francis walked up the little hill to the small copse of trees on top.  Had he known it, this was the vantage point from which Kevin had seen his demons take Angel into the tunnels.  He knew that he’d given way to a foolish whim in leaving Angelus and the Slayer and her Watcher unguarded, but he wouldn’t be gone long. 

 

Besides, they were secure.  The vampire had been his biggest threat, but he’d had the demon craftsmen build in the odd refinement to the standard Vampire box.  This one was leaching Angelus’ strength away, minute by minute, hour by hour, and using that strength against him, to reinforce its own.  As osteoporosis thinned a skeleton until it was no stronger than a paper doiley, so the magic of the box was thinning his demonic strength to its own benefit. He giggled.  Superman and Kryptonite.  Modern culture had so many good ideas.  He’d given Angelus the demonic equivalent of the widow’s hump.  He giggled again, a chilling little sound that seemed to still the tiny, rustling night dwellers around him.  Oh, not permanently.  The devil wouldn’t have liked that.  But he’d be easy to handle for a while, whenever he was released from the box.  Whenever.  That sounded good.  There was a lot of when to go round.

 

As for the others, well, the servants were of no account, of course.  The other two were secure enough.  And he had the Door, to keep intruders out and captives in.  It could cut through anything magic.  Demonic and slayer strength, it was all magic.  The Door was impervious to all that, making magic flesh into normal flesh, and shrugging off magic spells.  The Watcher didn’t have that much power and even if she were loose, the Slayer could kick at it all she wanted.  Nothing that they had, between the three of them, could harm the Door.  No, everything was safe and secure.

 

The thing was, the gateway would open in about an hour, and he’d wanted to savour the Earth one more time.  To smell the late summer evening.  To hear the rustle of trees.  To feel the cool breeze in his face.  To see the colours of the land, even under the light of the moon.  These were things that you didn’t get, where he’d been.  Oh, he was sure that Old Nick would keep his word – well, as sure as he could be – but you just never knew.  Devils were tricky, and this dimension’s devil was trickier than most.  Still, Francis could do so much more if he were loosed from hell, and his master knew that.  It was in both their interests.  And there would be the vampire, now, for the devil to vent his rage on.  And the vampire’s lover and his friends.  Maybe he would let Francis watch occasionally.

 

He tried not to think of what would have happened if he’d failed.  The vampire had denied the devil embodied access to the Earth; it would be a long time before there could be another chance to bring that about, and someone had to pay for that.  Francis preferred that it not be him, anymore.  He’d paid enough.

 

His tools had done their jobs very well indeed, and he was glad that he’d got everyone on the first trawl.  Time had been pressing.  Everything needed to be exactly right, to open a gateway direct to where they were going, and all the elements needed to be in place to make it happen.  Otherwise they could finish up in all sorts of limbo.  While that was definitely going to be part of Angelus’ future, and by far the kindest part, Francis definitely didn’t want it to be part of his.  The gateway would only be open for a short time.  He’d need to make the most of it.

 

He turned his burned and hideous face up to the moon.  He couldn’t wait to come back, whole.

 

Too soon, it was time to go back to the tunnels.

 

++++++

 

Kevin raced to the place where he’d seen Angel taken.  He couldn’t understand why he had acted as he did, hiding what he should have known was nothing good.  He’d been jealous and besotted, certainly, but that didn’t excuse him.  It was as if he’d been possessed or enchanted.  It was up to him now to make good what he’d done.

 

When he was close enough to the old building to make out its shape, he saw that he wasn’t alone.  He slipped through a small gap in the hedgerow, into the field, and crept closer.  A stranger, wearing a hooded cloak, was outside the building talking to what looked like five of the burly men who had been in the car with Angel.  As he watched, three more came running up the road.  There were urgent words, which he couldn’t hear, and then they all ran into the darkness of the building.  At least, the burly men ran, and the cloaked man hobbled.

 

Kevin made himself wait for thirty seconds, and then followed, cautiously.  The building held very little except for a door leading to a stone stairway that plunged downwards.  At the bottom of the stairway was a short and straight length of tunnel, which ended in a wall that appeared to have been hewn from the solid rock.  There was nowhere else to go.  He felt around for hidden doors, and found none, and then he went back up the stairs to examine the single room in the building.  There were no other doors or traps or entries to anywhere else.

 

There was no other place that all those men could have gone, but gone they had.  He puzzled over that, and then he became aware of a commotion outside.

 

++++++

 

The mass of people in the Boar’s Head seemed to think that this operation was being run as some sort of democracy.  They were making preparations to go to the railway shack.  At least, the adults were.  The youngsters were rounded up and told to sit in the Boar’s Head with Andy, who would lock the doors on them if necessary, and who promised to feed them and give them soft drinks.  Or shandy for those over eighteen.

 

Collins tried to stop everyone – it was a policeman’s duty to go up there, not the mob’s, but Ivy Grittleton rattled his shins with her walking stick and told him to stop behaving like a spoilsport.  Everyone had been involved so far, and would see this through to the end.  It was like Canute trying to hold back the tide.  He felt someone take his arm.  When he looked around, it was Lisa.

 

“Come on.  If we’re quick, we can get there before they get sorted out.  You don’t want to be tailend Charlie here, you know.  Getting there first is the only way you’ll stay in charge.”

 

He bowed to her commonsense, and they ran out to his Volvo.  Nick, not to be left out, was hot on their heels, and hopped into the back of Collins’ car.

 

They were only just in time.  As they pulled up just out of sight of the railway shack, they were followed by a retinue of cars and other vehicles. Perhaps a dozen of the younger men had crammed onto the back of Arthur Holden’s lorry.  Collins tried to make Lisa stay in the car, but he failed there, too.  So did Nick.  She’d brought a hockey stick with her, and she walked up the road behind them, clutching that tightly.  Some yards behind her was a decent-sized mob.  There were several pitchforks that Collins could see, and he prayed that no one from the force was watching.  All he needed now was flaming torches…

 

++++++

 

Buffy counted to five hundred, and the others seemed to hold their breaths as she did so, but the man didn’t return, and the door was firmly closed.  Then she hissed at the Fletchers.

 

“Can either of you undo your ropes?”

 

If one of those could run for help…

 

They both shook their heads.

 

“Martha, can you undo John’s, if you lie back to back?”

 

The Fletchers, obedient to Giles’ suggestion, shuffled over the ground until they were back to back.  After a very few minutes, Martha shook her head despairingly.

 

“The ropes are so tight, I can hardly feel my fingers.  I just can’t do it.”

 

John’s deep burr gave a new hope.

 

“I think I can.”

 

It took long, long minutes, but eventually Martha’s hands were free.  She made quick work of untying her legs, and then freeing John.  The first thing that John did, like Martha, was to try and rub some feeling back into his limbs.  Then he tried the door.  It was locked.

 

“I think that there might be something to help us in that demonic Egyptian mummy,” Buffy declared.  “That guy kept looking at it as if it amused him.  There might even be a key to these padlocks.”

 

John moved over to the casket.

 

“Be careful, John.  We’ve no idea what’s in there.”

 

John nodded to Giles, and stood to one side of the decorated box.  He felt the line of the crack that ran all the way around it, certain that this was how it opened.  On one side, he found two slight bumps, which he thought must be hinges.  He started to prise open the casket.  The lid was stubborn, resisting him until he applied his full strength, and then it opened suddenly.  Angel stood in the casket, immobile.

 

++++++

 

The long, silent seconds ticked by as the captives stared at Angel.  He stood, wedged into the casket, his arms crossed over his chest in an attitude of death, his eyes wide and unseeing.  The same thought ran through all their minds.  At least he isn’t ash.

 

It was John who broke the silence of horror.  He pulled at Angel’s shoulders, and then caught him as he fell.  With his limbs still weak from their long confinement, John couldn’t hold Angel’s weight, though, and he had to let him slide to the floor.  He lay like a corpse, his eyes still wide open, and Buffy was terrified for him.

 

John bent down to him, then looked at Buffy and Giles, and shrugged in perplexity.

 

“B’ain’t no use me feeling for a pulse, nor for breathing.  What should I do?”

 

All eyes turned to Giles, but he felt useless.  He had no idea.  He looked at Angel, half curled on his side, his feet still inside the casket, his vacant, dead expression.  What was there to do?  Vampires were either alive or they were ashes.  They generally weren’t catatonic.  That spoke of some intervention, magical or otherwise.

 

“Search him.  See if there’s anything that seems strange.  Empty his pockets.  See if there’s anything around his neck.  Look for something that’s bespelling him.”

 

John patted over the body, then turned and shrugged again.

 

“Nothing.”

 

Martha, who had been examining Giles’ shackles to see if they could be opened, sighed in vexation.

 

“John Fletcher, you need to look everywhere…”

 

She marched over and pulled at Angel’s feet.  John hadn’t looked at the shoes.  She’d seen at the cinema what could be done with shoes…

 

As his feet left their contact with the casket that had kept him enthralled, Angel gave a gasp, and started to shake.  Then he coughed, a deep, hacking cough as if he had been drowning, and rolled over onto hands and knees, his head hanging down.  He drew in air in great, shuddering lungfuls, as if he needed it, as if it could bring him back to life.

 

John and Martha knelt down to him.  John threw an arm over his shoulders while Martha put a hand under his chin and lifted his head.  His expression was that of a hunted animal.  They both tried to calm him and reassure him, with small touches and soft words.

 

Buffy, longing to go to him, tried to force her way out of the iron bands, but only succeeded in leaving long, deep bruises, even in Slayer flesh.  Gradually, though, she could see that his breathing was easing.  She hoped he’d hurry up and come back to them.  They might not have much more time.

 

++++++

 

Frances cursed the vampire, the Slayer, the Gileses, and anyone else who lived in this damned village.  He did the cursing as he ran – or ran as best he could, anyway – following the family of Mr Tarita.  They’d been stationed around, watching for trouble, and trouble they had found.  A mob.  With pitchforks.  He knew all about mobs and pitchforks.  He’d been in Paris when the Bourbons were overthrown, and what a shockwave that had sent through the courts of Europe.  He’d barely escaped with his skin intact there.  Or with his head still on his shoulders, rather than in Mme Guillotine’s basket.

 

He got down the stairs as quickly as he could, and into the tunnels.  As he and Mr Tarita’s family ran through the door into the holding room, he left a trompe l’oeil vision of a rock face behind him.  It was a figment of his imagination, but unless they happened upon the door handle, they would never know.

 

++++++

 

Angel was unsteady as he clambered to his feet.  His strength was returning, though, and not a moment too soon.  He’d no idea just when it was, but if Francis had everyone here, then he was sure that the endgame wasn’t far away.  He had to get everyone out, and fast.

 

Extricating himself from the attentions of John and Martha, he went first to Giles.  That looked easiest.  He tried not to obsess on what had been done to Buffy.  He took hold of one of the manacles fixing Giles’ wrist to the wall, and pulled.  Nothing happened.  He took a deep breath, and tried to centre himself.  He didn’t know why the breathing was helping him, but it was, so let that be enough.  Then he pulled again.  The shackle fell from the wall, with a clatter of brick debris.  Within seconds, he had the other one out, and had snapped the chains attached to Giles’ ankles and neck.

 

Then, leaving Giles to try and rub some life back into his arms, he went to Buffy.  He let his finger caress her cheek as he turned her over to inspect the locks.  She pressed back against the finger.  They didn’t need words.  Not just yet.  Breaking the locks was the work of seconds, and then Buffy was free.

 

++++++

 

As they approached the railway shack, a dark figure ran down the road towards them.  It was Kevin.

 

“I saw the men who took Angel into there.  There were a lot of them, and they went down into the tunnels, and now they’ve just disappeared.”

 

“Don’t worry, Kevin, I’ll send for some dogs to track them, if I have to.  We’ll get them.”

 

“No!  You don’t understand.  They haven’t run into the tunnels.  There’s nowhere to go.  They’ve literally disappeared.  Into thin air.”

 

Collins closed his eyes briefly.  He should have known.  After what he’d seen at the Hellfire Caves, he should have known.  Were all underground tunnels like this, he wondered.  It was going to be one of those nights.  He didn’t disbelieve Kevin.  Nevertheless, he set off to examine the building and its tunnels himself, followed by his mob.  It didn’t take long to understand what Kevin had meant.  He’d seen the men come into this building.  There was one door in, and then there was the door that led to the tunnels.  There was a dozen feet of sheer-walled tunnel, and then there was a rock-cut wall, blocking the way.  There was simply nowhere else for the men to have gone.

 

Collins, stumped, was aware of some whispering behind him, and a couple of the men hurried back out into the night.  When they returned a minute or two later, there was some more whispering.  Then, Walter Satterthwaite and Ivy Grittleton came forward.

 

“Mr Satterthwaite says that the rock of that end wall isn’t proper rock.  It don’t belong here.”

 

Collins looked confused.

 

“Now, now, Mrs Grittleton, let me explain to the policeman.  Mr Collins, the thing is that I know rock.  I was a blaster and quarryman for nigh on fifty year in Yorkshire.  Westbury stands on greensand, a poor and rotten rock that is, too, and on chalk.  Yon rock face is granite.”

 

“So?”

 

“Granite be come from volcanoes.  Weren’t that many volcanoes just hereabouts.  The rock’s wrong.  It’s been put there.  May be a secret door or some such mechanism, but that rock don’t belong.  We’re going to get rid of it, see what’s behind.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

The hair on the back of Collins’ neck was starting to rise, and his copper’s instinct was screaming at him.

 

That elderly pensioner, Walter Satterthwaite, held up a stick of dynamite.

 

“We’re going to get rid of it,” he repeated.

 

++++++

 

They were loose!  How in hell had that happened?  Francis gaped in astonishment when he saw his five captives unfettered and mobile.  Even the vampire!  Still, they couldn’t possibly be at full strength yet, after their physical confinement.  And so long as they didn’t get out of this room, then all would still be well.  A few minutes only, and the gate would open.  Everyone in this room would be sucked straight through.  No problem.  Just keep them here.

 

He shouted that instruction to Tarita’s people, and then tucked himself into a corner, out of harm’s way, as fists started to fly.  He wasn’t a brawler.  Let Tarita do what they’d been well paid to do.

 

++++++

 

Collins stared in astonishment.

 

“Where the hell did you get that?”

 

Walter Satterthwaite shrugged.

 

“Arthur’s been doing some hauling for the quarry.  That’s in the load to deliver tomorrow.  It’s safe.”

 

“I’ll arrest anyone who tries to detonate anything in this tunnel!  Is that understood?”

 

++++++

 

His time in the Vampire box seemed to have deadened all his senses and drained half his strength.  It was taking too long for him to come back to normal. Buffy was taking the fight to the demons, but she, too, was still weak.  Giles was making best use of the chains that had lately ensnared him.  John had his arm around the throat of a demon, and was clinging to its back for all he was worth.

 

A fist sent Angel flying to the floor.  He had to do much better than this.  As he got up, he saw Martha edging down the wall, in the direction of the corner where Francis was huddled, next to the damned Vampire box.  His fist connected with the throat of a demon, leaving it on its knees, coughing up blood, and he wondered what would happen if Martha managed to shove Francis into the box.  He thought that was her intent.

 

Then, as he yanked another demon from Buffy’s back, his hearing began to sharpen.  He heard people outside the door.

 

He flung the demon hard into the one that John was clinging to, kicked the knee out from under the one that Giles was belabouring with his chains, and ran to the door.  It was locked.  He heard a voice that he recognised, though.

 

“I’ll arrest anyone who tries to detonate anything in this tunnel!  Is that understood?”

 

Collins.  What the…?

 

He started yanking on the door, but it was far too solid.  Probably magically solid.  He heard what sounded like a crowd muttering, and then ‘Fire in the hole!’, and Nick bellowing, his voice drowning out even Collins’, telling everyone to ‘Run!  Sorry, walk, but just look sprightly now.

 

There was a pause.  Angel wasn’t misled.  There was an orderly withdrawal taking place outside the door.  Someone knew what they were doing.

 

Then he heard a sound from inside the room, one that he heard in many nightmares, usually after he’d dreamed of gratifying his most demonic wishful thinking.  It was the grating noise of a portal opening, just as Acathla had opened.  He looked around in terror, and saw a point of light on the far wall, a point that spun and expanded, growing from the size of a dinner plate to cover half the wall in the time it took him to process that fact.  This wasn’t the blue of the portals that he’d seen so far – although he hadn’t seen the Acathla portal, so perhaps that had been different – it was raging red, a billowing inferno.  He could feel the pull of it.

 

And then he heard something outside, something that he’d expected.  A sort of click, but a click that presaged something much worse.  They were caught between the devil and the detonation.  They had no defence.

 

Pushing vampire speed to the limits, he picked Francis up bodily, and hurled him at the flaming, billowing gyre.  From the corner of his eye, he saw the demons disengage, hold hands, take a step and disappear, although not into the portal, and then he’d flung himself at his lover and their new family, sweeping them into his arms and against the side wall.  Braced as best he could, he gave them the only defence available, the shelter of his own body.  And it wouldn’t be enough.  He’d piled them on top of one another, but he couldn’t cover everything.  He had nothing to hang on to as the gateway to Hell sucked at him, stronger and stronger, and then the world exploded in more fire and heat and sharp, sharp pain.

 

And then it all stopped.

 

++++++

 

The first of the crowd stepped into the tunnel to find a scene of carnage.  There was a huddle of bodies against the left wall.  Angel lay on top, covered in blood.  Slowly, Angel turned his head to see the shattered doorway in which stood Collins and Nick, and Lisa wielding a hockey stick, Mrs Brewster’s great-niece, Angela, holding a cudgel, and several pitchforks in the rear.  Pitchforks.  He thought that they must all have been sucked down into a rather stereotyped hell.  Then, painfully, he turned to look the other way.  The massive door stood flat against the wall exactly where the portal had been.  It was scarred and shattered around the edges, and the central part looked dreadfully thinned, but it had saved them.  It had clung on to this reality, shutting out the other.  The gateway had closed behind it, and he hoped that it had closed on Francis, and then the pain became too great, and he gave in to it.

 

Nick shouldered his way past everyone and knelt down by his friends.  Then he turned and said into the pin-drop silence, “Get an ambulance.  Quickly.  And someone come to help me here.”

 

There was an abundance of willing volunteers, but knowing where to begin was a problem.  He needed to get Angel off the others, but he was so badly hurt…  Nick could see what had happened.  He’d protected the others with his own body, and he’d caught the full brunt of the blast.  Long wooden shards from the shattered door surround stood out from his back.  The door itself, in its passage across the room, had sheared across his legs, both of which were shattered and torn, and had caught the back of his head, which was bloody, and felt spongy to the touch.  Gently, Nick pressed his fingers into Angel’s throat, searching for a pulse.  There was none. 

 

Heedless of the wooden shafts in the man’s back, or of the massive injuries to his legs and head, Nick turned him over, pulling him from the pile of bodies, and tried to resuscitate him.  As his lips touched Angel’s, he only had time to think that he’d imagined this in better circumstances, and then he was the absolute professional, giving mouth to mouth and pressing rhythmically down on the heart.  Again, and again, and again.  He searched once more for a pulse.  There was nothing.  There was no longer any need to be careful.  The man had given his life…

 

Nick threw savage words over his shoulder.

 

“Look what you’ve done with your damned dynamite now!  This man’s dead!”

 

There was movement from the sprawl of limbs that had lain beneath Angel, as the others tried to gently separate the casualties, and Nick heard Rupert’s voice.

 

“No!  No, the explosion saved us.  It saved us.  Give me a hand to get up…”

 

Giles had seen the gateway to hellfire, and guessed what it was.

 

People ran forward, lifting as gently as they could, and Giles wriggled free of the others.  Groans promised that some still lived.

 

“Believe me, we would be gone beyond all hope, if you hadn’t blown down the door.”  Giles knuckled at his ears, trying to stop the ringing.

 

Nick and his helpers had the others separated now.  Martha clutched at a broken arm and John sat holding his ribs.  Buffy lay ominously still.  Nick directed a bystander to find a tie or a belt and strap Martha’s arm into her body, and then he turned to look after the young blonde girl he’d grown so fond of.  He feared that she might be dead, like her lover.

 

She was just concussed.  There was a bloody patch, where something had struck her head, but it had been a glancing blow.  It was possible there was a fracture of the skull, but he didn’t think so.

 

Then he heard the sirens of the ambulance.  He felt Rupert touch his arm as he cradled Buffy, automatically checking her vital signs.  They were strong and steady.

 

“Angel’s dead, Rupert. I’m sorry.  Buffy will be fine, though.”

 

“Angel isn’t dead.”

 

Nick looked up at Rupert in sorrow.  His friend was always so full of realism, but it seemed to have deserted him now.  Nick shook his head.

 

“He’s dead, Rupert.  Dead and gone.”

 

“Nick, you have to trust me.  Please.  You really do.  Angel isn’t dead.  But we need to save him.  Get him into the ambulance.  Please.”

 

It was a little more than Nick could process, so he just nodded.  Who could it hurt?  Certainly not a dead man.  Nick heard Collins directing the crowd, and then the paramedics arrived, and things were out of his hands.  He watched the wounded being helped or carried out.  And the dead.

 

He felt a tug on his arm again, and Rupert was pulling him up into the night.

 

“We’re ambulance chasing.”

 

“What?”

 

Rupert waved a bunch of car keys at him. 

 

“These are Ian Collins’ car keys.  Where is his car?  Can you remember?”

 

“Over there.”

 

Giles turned around at the new voice.  It was Lisa.

 

“Well, you don’t think you’re going without me, do you?  And you’ve got the car keys on sufferance from Ian, provided you call him and tell him where to come to.  He’ll be following as soon as he can.”

 

There was no more time for talk, just then, as the ambulance rumbled into life, and the blue light flashed its emergency signal as the vehicle pulled away.  The three of them ran to the car, and set off in hot pursuit.

 

++++++

 

Police vehicles arrived shortly after the departure of the ambulance.  One of them contained Gavin Lincoln, looking for his boss.  He stared at the wreckage in consternation.

 

“What happened, sir?”

 

After only the briefest hesitation, Collins replied, loudly enough to be heard by his mob, “Seems some unknown idiot in years gone by left some ancient explosive lying around.  The casualties are on their way to hospital now.”  If Giles said the explosion had saved them, Collins couldn’t dismiss that, even though he didn’t understand it.  He damned well would understand it, though, and somebody was going to explain it all to him extremely clearly.  Only then would he decide who should be arrested.  He’d heard what Nick had said about Angel.  Someone was going to pay for that.  It probably should be him.  He should have been the leader here, and he’d failed abysmally.

 

Others heard what Collins had said, and the whispers were passed around.  The cover story would stand.

 

As Lincoln tried to think of something useful to say, Angela Brewster walked up, holding a long, sharp aluminium javelin.  Lincoln tried to get his head around why so many people were carrying what could be interpreted as weapons.

 

“The paramedics said that there were some sort of power cuts at the A&E in Bath.  They’re off to Bristol.  The BRI.”

 

“Thanks, Angela.  I’ll follow on in a minute or two.”

 

Angela went back to the small knots of villagers.  Many of them were suffering from shock at the temerity of what they’d done, and at the injuries they’d seen.  At the lifeless body of Angel, and the sight of the blonde girl, limp and bloody.  The Blue Bull was the nearest place with space, and better to go there than to the Boar, and worry the teenagers she hoped were being entertained.  She had a word with the Bull’s landlord, Alan Groom, and soon everyone was being ferried there for tea and sympathy.  She guessed they’d mainly stay there until there was word from the hospital.  On that thought, she turned back to Collins.  Lifting Lincoln’s notebook and pencil from his fingers, she wrote down her cell phone number.

 

“We’re going to the Bull.  Call me when there’s any news.  People will want to know.”

 

As she turned away, Gavin made to tear the page out, but Collins stopped him.

 

“Find me a reliable sergeant, and then we’re off to Bristol.  Witnesses to interrogate, and such.”

 

There was little enough to do here, now, Collins thought.  He took a last walk around the blasted room, savagely kicking aside some pieces of wooden wreckage as he did so.  It was painted wood, certainly not from the door, but it was in so many pieces now, he couldn’t identify what it had once been.

 

Gavin came up with Sergeant Allinson in tow.  A good man, not too imaginative, but compassionate and thorough.  He gave the sergeant some final instructions, then waved Gavin out of the room.  They, too, followed the ambulance to Bristol.

 

Angela Brewster watched them go.  She’d heard Rupert Giles aver that Angel wasn’t dead, and truly hoped that was so.  She’d known the Fletchers all her life, and she hoped that they and the American, Buffy, would be fine.  She particularly hoped that Rupert Giles would be okay.  At the age of 31, Angela had started to think of herself as on the shelf.  She didn’t mind that – she knew she was pretty enough, but she was so demanding when it came to boyfriends.  She wanted brains as well as pretty, and that was hard to find in Westbury.  This summer, though, she’d come to know Rupert a little, and she’d liked what she’d seen.  She’d thought that Lisa also liked what she saw, but Lisa seemed to have made herself comfortable with DCI Collins.  Maybe the field was clear…

 

++++++

 

Giles, Nick and Lisa still had the ambulance in sight when it pulled up at A&E.  There’d been a slight spat over the keys, but it was Lisa who’d driven.  They had expected it to go to Bath, but as it continued, it became clear that Bristol was the intended destination.  Giles, in the back seat, and grateful that he still had some of his hearing left, felt an idea burgeoning.  He wasn’t as worried about Angel and Buffy as the others, and John and Martha seemed to have got off lightly if painfully.  And now, this little idea wouldn’t be denied.

 

“Nick, where’s the nearest MRI unit?”

 

“Bristol Royal Infirmary, why?”

 

As they pulled into the Infirmary grounds, Giles simply nodded.  There was a lot to do before then.  Angel’s legs had looked badly damaged, and he’d no idea what his friend’s healing powers were for injuries like that.  A little intervention might be timely.  After all, Nick had intervened with Zillah…  He felt a pang of conscience.  He hadn’t been able to pick Zillah and Ari up.  They’d take a long time to forgive him.

 

A&E was busy for a midweek night, but triage sent John and Martha immediately to the next vacant cubicles.  Buffy was still unconscious and was wheeled off to X-Ray.  Privately, Giles thought that they’d probably had to knock her out on the way, to make her stay down.  Her colour was good, and he had no real fears.  Lisa gripped his hand.

 

“I’ll stay with Buffy.  You two do what you have to do.”

 

She looked meaningfully at the two men, and then slipped away.  Giles ignored Nick’s confusion and dragged him back outside, towards the ambulance.

 

“Are you known, here, Nick?”

 

“Some people will know me, yes. Not many.”

 

“Do you know your way around?”

 

“Y…yes, I think so.”

 

“Good.  I’ll push, you lead the way.”

 

As he spoke, Giles took the end of the trolley holding Angel, taking advantage of the fact that, for the moment, everyone else’s back was turned.

 

“What?”

 

“Just go!  Before anyone sees us!”

 

“Where to?”

 

“Somewhere you can attend to Angel!”

 

Nick stopped arguing.  He understood what grief could do to the human mind.  Perhaps it was best to let it run for a little while, to humour Rupert, or at least to talk seriously to him somewhere more private.  He recalled something from his last visit here, and set off down the maze of corridors.

 

It’s a strange thing that, no matter how bizarre the thing you are doing, if you look as if you have every right to be doing it, and look as if you know where you are going, no one will stop you.  This seems to especially apply when you are in a hospital and are pushing a trolley with a corpse on it.  At least, so Nick and Giles found out that night.

 

Nick found a small day-care operating theatre, and they pushed the trolley to a stop beneath the theatre lights.  Giles took the initiative.

 

“Nick, I know you think I’m demented, but try to leave that aside for a moment, will you?”

 

He waited for an answer, and Nick nodded, cautiously.

 

“Then tell me, do you trust me?”

 

“Absolutely, old boy.  No question of it.”

 

“Nick, I’m going to remind you of some strange things that happened at Abbotsbury Holt.  People being turned into statues?  Angel felling a tree with just his fist?  I know it was a small tree, but…”

 

“I remember.”  Nick’s reply was solemn.  He’d asked Rupert a number of times to explain what had happened there, and Rupert had fobbed him off.  Then he’d stopped asking, and finally decided that it was probably better if he forgot the whole thing.  Now, it was painted in glorious Technicolor on his retina once more.

 

“Trust me when I say that Angel isn’t dead.  The proof of that is that he’s lying on this trolley.  If he were dead, he’d be gone.”

 

Nick eyed up the body.  “You aren’t trying to tell me he’s actually an… an…”

 

He couldn’t bring himself to say the word ‘angel’.  He wondered for a moment whether Rupert was quite safe to be with, and then chastised himself for the thought.

 

“No!  Although sometimes I wonder…  But no, he’s very far from that.  But he’s my friend, and I’m going to do the best I can for him.  I don’t know how well or how quickly his legs will heal if we don’t do something.  I want you to just put him back together.  Can you do that here?”

 

Nick’s temper broke.

 

“Rupert!  I may be good, but I can’t resurrect people from the dead.  And if I’m not careful, I’m going to be struck off after tonight’s little episode, even if the hearing finds me not guilty!”

 

He bent over the corpse and carried out a quick examination.

 

“He’s cold!  He has no heart beat.  He has no pulse.  He isn’t breathing.  He’s dead, Rupert.”

 

Giles put his hand on Nick’s arm, remembering when he had so recently done that to Angel.

 

“Yes.  He is.  Just, you know, not permanently.”

 

As if on cue, Angel’s hand came up to touch the back of his head.  Nick stood wide-eyed while Giles bent over the ex-corpse.

 

“Giles…  I seem to have a hell of a headache.”

 

His voice was weak and thready.

 

“Your skull got bashed in by that door, you idiot.  If you aren’t careful, you’ll get my reputation for being concussed.”

 

Angel smiled feebly.

 

“That’s not all that got bashed in, is it?”

 

“No.  It did a good job on your legs, too.”

 

He lifted the green sheet that covered his friend.  Angel tried to inspect the damage, but didn’t have the strength.  Giles wrapped an arm around his back and pulled him into a sitting position.

 

“Ah.”

 

“Will they heal, if we leave them?”

 

“Eventually.”

 

His expression said that eventually might be a long time, and a lot of pain, away.

 

“Want Nick to fix them?”

 

Angel looked up at Nick.

 

“Would you mind?  It will speed things up a lot.”

 

Nick nodded.  He felt as though the rational part of his mind had shut down, in the presence of far too much conflicting information.  If his mind were a computer screen, it would be displaying a blue screen of death.  But surgery was instinctive for him.  He didn’t need his rational mind.

 

“Anaesthetic?”

 

“Yes, please, Nick.  If you wouldn’t mind.  And Giles, these stakes are a bit uncomfortably close, you know…?”

 

“Sure, Angel.  Nick, help me get him over, and then maybe you could find the stuff you need?”

 

Looked at in the cold light of the theatre, it was amazing that Angel wasn’t dust.  There were perhaps a dozen impromptu stakes in his back, and half of them seemed to be round about the heart area.  Giles started to pull them out, while Angel gritted his teeth and tried not to scream.  The pain from his back and the pain from his legs had completely drowned out the fractured skull.

 

By the time Giles had finished, Nick was ready, and had a bottle of anaesthetic in his hand.

 

“What do you weigh, Angel?”

 

“Just do it.”

 

Giles took the bottle and the syringe from Nick’s hand.

 

“Let’s play safe.”

 

He simply filled the syringe and pumped it into Angel’s arm.

 

“That… that’s enough to kill an elephant!”

 

“Should be just about right, then.”

 

And so Nick got to work rearranging Angel’s legs to make them look something like they had a few hours previously.  There was a running commentary from Giles.

 

“No need to put pins in, Nick. Just lay the bits of bone where they should be.  They’ll do the rest.”

 

“Yes, Nick, stitches will be good, Nothing fancy, just enough to keep things in place until he starts to heal.”

 

“Nick, do you think that knee should be a bit further up?  Still I suppose he’ll sort it out.”

 

“Rupert… this being dead thing – has he tried acupuncture for it?”

 

++++++

 

When Collins arrived, he left Lincoln kicking his heels outside.  He didn’t know what he was going to find.  He found Lisa sitting with Buffy.  A nurse was just bustling out.

 

“They want to keep her in overnight for observation.”

 

“Well, they won’t.  I hate hospitals.”

 

“Where’s Giles and Nick?”

 

Lisa looked appraisingly at Collins, and then at Buffy.

 

“I suspect they went looking for a theatre.  Angel needed some attention.”

 

“He… He’s still…?”

 

Buffy couldn’t say the words.  She hadn’t been able to ask Lisa yet, and she felt sure that Angel would be here, if he weren’t dust.

 

“He’s still himself, yes.  He needed a bit of attention, though.”

 

Having said that, Lisa left with an offer to find coffee.  Collins sat down and looked at Buffy’s woebegone face.  He took her hand.

 

“Buffy, a man who can stick a sword through his head and live to tell the tale isn’t going to take any permanent damage from being hit by a door, do you think?”

 

“You saw?  And you haven’t said anything?”

 

Collins just smiled.

 

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…  Angel is a good guy.  I’m trying not to worry about the rest.  I’ll take it as it comes.  I think Nick will do the same.  I’m betting Lisa knows more than me, too.”

 

Buffy said nothing.  Lisa had seen Angel in demon face, but she’d never asked, and no more had ever been said.

 

Then Lisa was back, with tea.  It was weak, but it was warm and it was wet, and the three of them sat a little, celebrating life with that bastion of the English spirit.

 

++++++

 

“Well, I’ve never done a more Heath Robinson job in my life, not even as a student.”

 

Giles surveyed Nick’s work.  Despite being done at some speed, it was practically perfect.

 

“Nick, while we’re here, do you think there’s any chance of slipping him under the MRI machine?”

 

Nick goggled at him.

 

“You want to get me jailed as well as fired?”

 

“I’d be grateful.”

 

“I suppose we could try.  It’s twenty-four hour access, although only staffed when needed outside normal hours.  If it’s free, I know enough to do it, I think.  Has he got anything metal on him or in him?”

 

Giles considered that question.  He knew that Angel had been shot more than once.

 

“What will happen if he has anything inside?”

 

“I’m not precisely sure.  If it’s steel or iron, I think it will come ripping right out.”

 

“That’s alright then.  So long as it doesn’t mess up the machine.”

 

Nick tried to ignore that.

 

“What am I going to look at?”

 

“His heart.”

 

++++++

 

Buffy insisted on discharging herself.  The three of them went to find the Fletchers.  John was being given advice on dealing with a broken rib, and Martha was off somewhere having a plaster cast put on her arm.  John shook his head wonderingly.

 

“That’s the first broken bone she’s ever had.  She’ll be a right tartar to live with, you mark my words, until she can do things for herself again!”

 

Buffy nodded.  She was sure of it.

 

“Where are the others?”

 

Nobody knew the answer to that.

 

++++++

 

Angel still lay unconscious.  Giles looked at the results of the MRI scan.  Nick traced around one of the organs shown there.

 

“That’s the heart.  It’s entirely normal, except that it isn’t beating.  It looks like an athlete’s heart.  Very healthy.  Now, are you going to explain any of this to me?”

 

“No, Nick.  Not now.  Better not.  Another time, maybe.”

 

Giles hardly registered what he was saying.  His attention was fixated on the heart, so unlike the heart of the vampire in Cardiff.  Perhaps Angel was right.  Perhaps the gypsies, whether they knew it or not, had simply restored his heart to pristine, if unbeating, condition, together with the small neural net that was part of it.  And which might contain the soul.  Or perhaps the Coven had done that, when they resurrected him from the dead.  Or perhaps all vampires’ hearts were like that in the early years after their birth, and the organs only deteriorated later.  After all, by some measures, Angel was a young vampire now.  Or perhaps the vampire in Cardiff had been unusual.  Or perhaps…

 

He stopped himself.  There was nothing he could talk to Angel about, and now that he came to think about it, it had been a stupid idea anyway.  But he’d so wanted to relieve some of Angel’s angst, to demonstrate to him that the soul was something more than nerve cells in the heart.

 

He slid the pictures into the knotted sheet that was now sitting on Angel’s stomach so that they wouldn’t forget it.  It contained everything that had Angel’s blood on it.  Giles remembered the dog.

 

“Come on.  Let’s find the others and see if we can go home.”

 

From somewhere, they found a wheelchair and managed to lift Angel into it.  The debris of their night’s work went into his lap, then he was wrapped around in a hospital sheet to hide his bare legs, and they made a bid for freedom.

 

On the way home, someone remembered to pass the good news on to those left back at the village.

 

++++++

 

A few days later, Angel sat in the family room, his legs up on a green leather pouffe, dozing.   The two cats were dozing with him, huddled in a boneless heap across his lap.  Zillah’s hind leg stuck out straight, at a comic angle, swathed in its stiff navy blue bandage.  In view of his wounds, Angel and Buffy were sleeping in the house, rather than in the flat, and he’d been inveigled into coming downstairs for a nice glass of CiderBoy.  If Nick wondered why no one else in the house was offered a drink of CiderBoy, he was much too polite to ask.  He had this morning taken the last of the stitches from Angel’s legs, and it was clear even to a sceptical surgeon that healing was well on the way to completion.  When he gently felt the bones, there was no give in them.

 

Just now, though, Nick was up at Lisa’s, bouncing around on a horse, and thoroughly enjoying himself.  This was one of the sports that he’d never previously tried.  Lisa told him that she thought he would be good at it, once he learned to relax.

 

Relaxation was hard coming, though.  He’d told Giles only that morning that he really would have to end his holiday in the next day or two.  His disciplinary hearing was due in a couple of weeks, and he needed to go and concentrate on that.

 

Buffy and Giles were out in the garden, weeding, deadheading, and enjoying the late summer sunshine, and wondering whether it was time for morning coffee yet.  Then Buffy called out to Giles as two figures walked slowly up the drive.

 

It was Ivy Grittleton and Walter Satterthwaite.

 

Buffy and Giles extricated themselves from the petunias and dahlias, although not without Giles catching himself on one of the newly planted rose bushes and having to unhook the leg of his jeans.  Ivy and Walter sat down on the new cast iron bench that had been placed by the porch.  Giles kept out of reach of her walking stick.  He’d heard Collins on the subject.

 

“Mr Satterthwaite’s come to see how you are.  He didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt with that dynamite.”

 

Buffy held out her hand to the weathered, wrinkled little man on the bench.  He stood up to take it, and she could see how his eyes twinkled.

 

“I can’t explain how, but you saved our lives.  There’s no apology needed.” 

 

Besides, she was pretty sure that the likes of Ivy Grittleton didn’t give actual apologies.  This was as close as anyone was going to get.

 

“Are you truly alright now, lass?  You gave me a real turn when I saw you back in that hole in the ground.”

 

She smiled back at him.

 

“Right as rain!”

 

Then, in mock despair, she looked up at the azure sky.

 

“No!  I didn’t mean rain…”

 

Ivy’s smile was a small thing, but it was there, and it was warm enough.

 

“Got your cats back yet, Mr Giles?”

 

“Yes, Mrs Grittleton.  They’re around somewhere…”

 

Giles hadn’t seen either of them for a while, but he was sure they wouldn’t be far away.  They had both been very clingy when they came home, rather than turning the usual cold shoulder on their humans, in punishment for leaving them.

 

“You think the little one will mend?”

 

“I think there’s every chance.  She had two good surgeons…”

 

Giles felt Buffy’s arm slip into his, in comfort and reassurance.

 

“Hmph.  Well, surgeons be as surgeons does.  But think on this if you need to.  You know Clarice, from the vet’s, and how good with animals she be?  She got that from her grandmother.  You remember Agatha Sheen?”

 

Ivy paused, to see memory rushing back into Giles’ face.

 

“I see you do.  She came to see you when you fell out of the High Oak, I recall.  Esther insisted that your father send for her.  She might only be a hedge-healer, but she be good at that.  If your little one isn’t sound, send for Aggie Sheen.  Call it physiotherapy if you want.”  She pronounced it pheye-sio-therapy.

 

“I will.  I promise.  And thank you.”

 

“There’s someone else here we should see.”

 

She reached up to take Walter’s arm.

 

“In the house, is he?  I hope you’ve been looking after him, you and that doctor friend of your’n?”

 

“I’ll go and check whether he’s asleep,” Buffy responded immediately.

 

Ivy levered herself up from the bench with the aid of her cane and Walter’s hand.

 

“No need for that, girlie.  Mr Satterthwaite and I…”

 

“Well, I’ll go in first and make everyone a cup of coffee.  You two just wait here for a minute, enjoy the sunshine,” Buffy interjected, casting a despairing glance at Giles.

 

“No need for standing on ceremony.  We know how Martha Fletcher organises a kitchen, don’t we, Mr Satterthwaite?  We called on her first thing.  No, Mr Satterthwaite will make sure that your young man and I have a comfortable cup of tea and a chat.  I’m glad to see you both looking so well.  Happy that there was no lasting damage.”

 

This last was tossed over Ivy Grittleton’s shoulder as Walter Satterthwaite helped her into the house.  Buffy made to follow, but Giles took her arm and held her back. 

 

“Through the kitchen on the right and left into the family room,” he called out.  He waited to say anything more until the two were gone into the blackness of the house.

 

“Buffy, you need to understand that, in a village like this, a very few people can sway opinion on who is a villager and who is an outsider, and not to be trusted.  Ivy is one of those.”

 

Buffy looked at the rings on her fingers, but none of them on the finger that mattered.  She, too, had heard the gossip.

 

“So, you’re in and we’re out?”

 

“That’s not it at all.  She’s making her mind up.  And Ivy is cantankerous enough to make her mind up in defiance of the rest of the village if necessary, but usually they follow her lead.  Walter should have at least another five years of Purgatory before being given a slight incline of the head by those born here, but her patronage of him rather speeded that up.”

 

“Everyone waits to be told what to do?”

 

Giles chuckled.

 

“Not at all.  But villages generally distrust outsiders.  There’s a lot of history in it.  The Ivies of this world are just such busybodies that they find out everything there is to know.  If they’re happy with someone, then other people feel that they can relax.  They’ll still make their own minds up, though.”

 

Buffy sat down on the bench with a decided snap.  She wondered whether she’d ever understand England.  Or the English.

 

++++++

 

They could see that Angel was asleep when they came into the room.  He stirred slightly with their entry, though, and they heard him mumble, “Yorkshiremen – tough as leather.” 

 

Walter chuckled.

 

“That we are, lad, that we are.”

 

Angel sat bolt upright.  Sometimes predators become predatees, and that possibility had brought him to instant wakefulness.  The two cats raised their heads and stared at the intruders, green eyes and gold eyes unblinking.  Then they settled back down again to do what cats do best.

 

“You wouldn’t be a Yorkshireman yourself, by any chance?”

 

Angel peered at the owner of the voice, his eyes still not adjusted to the transition from sleep to a light-filled room, but it was his nose that told him who his visitors were.

 

“I’m afraid not, although I’ve… er… I’ve known quite a few… Mr Satterthwaite.  Mrs Grittleton…  Sit down, won’t you?  Can I get you anything?”

 

He made to get up but Mr Satterthwaite held up his hand.

 

“No cause to fret, lad.  Don’t want you wobbling around on those pins just yet.  We’ve seen the kitchen.  I’ll make tea.  Mrs Grittleton wants a word.  Oh, and sorry that you got cut up.”

 

“That’s alright.  I don’t know what we’d have done if you hadn’t been nifty with that stick of dynamite.”

 

“Me, lad?  What makes you think it were me?”

 

Walter grinned, a gap-toothed grin but a warm one, and then he went back to the kitchen.  Ivy came over towards Angel and took a chair next to his.  A small table stood between them, and there was a sketch pad on it.  Her definition of ‘not standing on ceremony’ clearly included poking around at will.  She picked up the pad without so much as a by-your-leave, and started flicking through it.  Angel watched her, amused.

 

She stopped at a series of small, rough sketches on one page.  On the page, she could follow the progression of a rambling building constructed around all four sides of an inner courtyard.  It was a coaching inn called the Rose and Crown, according to the sign hanging outside.  Then, three of the sides disappeared, leaving a single range, now called the Boar’s Head.  In the corner of the page, a few bold strokes delineated what could only be the buildings of Lisa’s livery stable.  A neat legend underneath read ‘Heywood Lodge’.  In another corner, the early, courtyarded inn was in the process of being dismantled, and there was something round on top of a long pole by the front door.

 

“The local history group would be interested in this.  You’re doing a drawing for Tony Barnes, at the Boar?”

 

Angel just nodded.

 

“I see you know what happened to it?”

 

Angel looked at her warily before replying.

 

“I heard, I mean, I read about it.  During the Civil War, wasn’t it?”

 

Ivy pointed to the round thing on a pole.

 

“Is that what I think it is?”

 

“What do you think it is?”

 

Ivy’s smile was positively girlish.

 

“I think that’s Robert Keevil’s head on a pole.  The Boar.”

 

She was right.  He had never seen it, of course.  The Civil War was a century before his time.  But he’d heard about it, when he’d been here.  Robert Keevil owned the Rose and Crown, and was a Royalist.  That wasn’t why he was hated, though.  He was hated because he was a mean and vicious bully of a man, and his nickname had been the Boar.  Parliamentarians had taken their revenge.  When they’d torn down the bulk of his inn, and sold the stone off to build Heywood Lodge – what was now the livery stables – they’d done it under the blind gaze of the Boar’s rotting head, stuck on a pike outside his own front door.  Not all pub names were exactly what they seemed.

 

“How do you know that?”

 

“We have long memories here.  At least, a few of us do.  An ancestor of my husband, may he rest in peace, took the head down in the end.  I’ve still got the pike in my loft.  At least, that’s what Charlie said.  O’course, Tony and Andy don’t know any of that.  Do you think they’d lie easier if they did?”

 

She looked at him with sharp old eyes.

 

“Folks have always said that I know things.  Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t.  But you, you know the past, and the past knows you.  Isn’t that right?”

 

Angel wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, and so he kept silent.  She didn’t seem to need an answer.

 

“And I’m not easily taken in, not even by names that sound as if they know better.  You mark my words, young man, if you don’t deal with the past, then the past will deal with you.  You hear me?”

 

She thumped the end of her walking stick down, just once, and it gave a dull thud on the carpeted floor.  As if on cue, Walter came in with a tea tray.  He spoke as he poured.

 

“You know, when Mrs Grittleton and me were coming up the lane here, we saw a young man.  Looked to us like he didn’t rightly know whether to come or not.  Might have been worried about his reception.”

 

“Kevin.”

 

Angel’s voice was flat when he said the name.  He knew now what had happened.  That was what you got for taunting a callow would-be rival.  He remembered Kevin watching him with Buffy, through the branches of a shrub, on the night of the garden party.  Watching him feeling her pulse with his mouth, lusting for…

 

“Aye, Kevin.  But you know, if he hadn’t spoken up at last, none of us would have known where to look for you at all.  According to you, things would have gone badly, then.”

 

Angel let out air – he could hardly call it a breath – that he hadn’t known he was holding.

 

“Yes.  I know.  Do you think he’s still in the lane?”

 

“Dunno.  Is there owt we should tell him if we see him?”

 

“Yes.  Tell him that we’d like to see him.  All of us.”

 

Ivy nodded, and then they drank their tea and talked of small things.  When they got up to go, Ivy said, “I’d expect Martha to be back tomorrow, if I were you.  I’ll tell Rupert Giles on the way out.  And you might want to think about making an honest woman of that pretty girlfriend of your’n.  Save a lot of trouble in the long run.”

 

Then she stumped out.

 

Walter lagged behind a little, and then he turned back to Angel.

 

“What Ivy means is that you’re a rum sort – a decidedly rum sort – but you’re our rum sort.  You and Buffy and Rupert Giles.”

 

He gave Angel a broad wink, and then he followed Ivy out into the sunlight.

 

++++++

 

Kevin came up later that day.  Buffy saw him walking up the drive and she went to meet him.  They stood talking for a long time, and then he turned to go.  She called him back, held out her hand, and took him up to the house to join the others.

 

++++++

 

Collins sat undisturbed in his office, staring at a folder on his desk without actually seeing it.  For perhaps the first time in his life, he was truly undecided about the course of justice.  Eventually, he put the folder into his bottom desk drawer.  And then he sat, still undecided about what he should push to know, and what he was better staying in ignorance about.  He was incredibly relieved when Gavin knocked on the door and told him they had an armed post office robbery to deal with.

 

++++++

 

Giles sat in his study, staring blindly at the book in front of him.  He’d just talked to Angel and Buffy about the fact that at least three people knew more about Angel than they might all be comfortable with.  Lisa.  Collins.  Nick.  They’d agreed that it was up to Angel to decide what should be disclosed, and what should not.  Angel had said that he would see what time brought, but he had seemed sanguine about it all.

 

As Giles worried at the situation, the telephone rang.  It was Angela Brewster.  She had two tickets for Les Miserables in Bristol.  Would Giles like to go with her?  He found that he was faintly disappointed that the call hadn’t come from someone else, but then he brightened up.  Angela was a very nice girl, intelligent and pretty.  He said yes.  It needn’t mean more than a trip to the theatre in good company, need it?

 

He picked up the large brown envelope in front of him.  It held Angel’s MRI scans.  He sealed it, addressed it to himself, and then locked it in the safe.  Angel and Buffy both had the combination, but they wouldn’t open an envelope addressed to him.  Then he reached for the A-Z and checked the car parks in Bristol.

 

++++++

 

Despite protestations that Giles and the others could manage, Martha and John both came back to Summerdown House the next day and, after greetings and hugs, everyone stayed out of Martha’s path as she learned to cope with the clumsy pot on her arm.

 

John took things easily outside, but wished that he still had his summer helper.  Still, Stephen had his own life to get on with.  John shook his head at the passing strangeness of some demons, and at the need to take people as you found them.  That had always been his philosophy, anyway.

 

++++++

 

Nick went back home to prepare for the upcoming hearing.  If he were found to be negligent, his career might be at an end.  He went over everything, from the thread to the needle.  He could find nowhere any misstep that could have resulted in paralysis of his patient.  He began to doubt himself, and became more and more morose.  The time he’d spent in Westbury began to look like golden days.  Giles phoned him regularly, but neither of them went to the next meeting of the Sophists.

 

++++++

 

The days ticked by, and Angel’s legs recovered, but Buffy teased him that he had lost another bunch of brain cells. 

 

One night, he asked to use the computer in the study, so while Giles and Buffy played an extremely unfair game of Trivial Pursuit, he put into use a few search tricks that he’d picked up along the way.  In the end, it wasn’t hard to find what he wanted.

 

After that, he spent the next few nights out, coming back exhausted just before dawn.  Then, one morning, he came back with a smile on his face.  That morning, he made love to Buffy until they were both utterly spent.  Neither of them got up until teatime.

 

++++++

 

On the day before Nick Hunt’s hearing, the chairman of the disciplinary committee and Nick’s lawyer both got a set of photographs.  The chairman also got a memory stick with the original images on.  They were imprinted with the date and time of the exposure.  They were from three days ago.

 

The pictures showed Nick’s complaining patient, at home.  He was partying.  He wasn’t in a wheelchair, or bedridden; he was striding around, king of the festivities, with a drunken grin on his face.  The pictures were taken from outside his windows, which seemed strange, since he lived on the twelfth floor of an isolated council tower block, but the pictures were irrefutable.  The man was lying.

 

After the case against him was dismissed, Nick came down to Westbury, and carried Giles and Buffy and Angel off to the Boar’s Head for a drink and dinner to celebrate.  Hanging in pride of place was a beautiful framed drawing of the pub in pastels, taken at the height of a summer evening, all long shadows and brightness, a riot of flowering climbers gracing its walls and an English cottage garden around it.

 

Angel thought of the last time that he and Buffy had been there, and wondered once more whether he should buy her a ring.  Or, at least, talk to her about buying a ring.  The answer, when he thought about it, was self-evident.

 

Nick basked in the pleasure of being with these friends once more, as they made jokes about the terrible things that had happened.  Most of the jokes were about Rupert and concussion. 

 

He was sure these three had had something to do with the fact that his reputation was now untarnished, although he hadn’t worked out yet how they’d done it.  Covertly, he watched the man sitting opposite him.  He’d wondered how it would feel, seeing Angel once more, knowing that here was another thing he couldn’t yet comprehend.  Angel was, in some way, dead.  And yet not.  He itched to understand that, professionally and personally. 

 

On an even more personal note, Nick had come here wondering whether the attraction he’d felt would have turned to something different, considering the attraction was apparently for a dead man.  He watched the person in question brooding over something, thinking that Angel definitely made a lively corpse, and then Rupert said something about feeling far too old for this sort of thing.  Buffy made some reference to Rupert having one concussion too many at his age, and dropping that last catch in the cricket match, and Angel gave that killer smile that all too rarely graced his face.  Rupert said something else that Nick failed to catch, and Angel threw back his head and laughed, a full-throated laugh of absolute delight.  Oh, well, thought Nick, his heart beating a little faster, I suppose nobody’s perfect.

 

 

THE END

August 2006

 

Author’s Notes

 

34      Shandy

Just in case there are different names for it, this is half beer, half lemonade.

 

35      Canute

Canute, or Cnut, has had an undeservedly bad press.  In having his throne carried onto the beach, he was trying to teach his courtiers that there are some things you just can’t change, even if you’re king.

 

36      Paris and the Bourbons and Mme Guillotine

Yep, the French Revolution, and it certainly did send a shockwave through Europe.

 

37      Bristol Royal Infirmary

There is a Bristol Royal Infirmary, and I’m absolutely sure that they wouldn’t let any of this happen!

 

38      There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Hamlet act 1, sc. 5, l. 166

Wm Shakespeare

 

39      MRI and heart

An MRI apparently gives a very good set of images of the heart.  Would Nick be able to work the machine and read the images?  Well, they do it every week in ‘House’!

 

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003795.htm#visualContent

 

40      I suppose nobody’s perfect

I pinched the last line from that classic film ‘Some Like It Hot’, where it is also the last line.  It seemed appropriate.

 

 



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