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Grave Matters

 

Project Paranormal

Author: Ares

Season 3

Part 5

 

**

Summary: The dead do speak, one only has to listen.

 

**

 

Grave Matters

 

 

When I have fears that I may cease to be
    Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
    Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
    Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
    Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
    That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
    Of unreflecting love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

John Keats (1795 – 1821)

 

 

The dead insist on being heard. From beyond the grave the whispers come, calling to one that walks in the land of the living and yet is one of their own. They want to claim him.

 

“Why do you not listen?” they call, and he does not hear. He chooses not to hear.

 

Skeletal fingers try to grip with bones long gone to dust, in spirit only do they reach and grasp and slip away, leaving shivers that crawl up the spine. Humans call it “someone walking on their grave,” and it is almost true.

 

He shrugs powerful shoulders and chases the ghostly prickles away. Oft times the feeling lingers - his spider sense, Cordelia called it - and he pays attention to those. Is he special in that, he wonders? Are champions gifted with senses that detect things amiss, the world out of skew? Or is it his demon, that gift all bound up in evil that senses the darkness when it draws nigh?

 

The dead sit before him, bent and grotesque, calling to him with glassy eyes and open mouths. Angel turns away from their frightened frightful stares, and concentrates on the living. The world comes rushing back and brings with it the aftermath of vehicular carnage. Buffy is kneeling beside a child, a boy she has placed gently on the footpath. A middle-aged woman comes and offers a blanket. Another has cloths to staunch the flow of blood. He strides past, his efforts going into silencing the screaming. He hears Buffy’s quick footsteps as he arrives at the mangled wreck. Some poor soul is trapped inside and the smell of petrol is strong here. There is no time to lose. He knows what they say; never move an injured person, but he has no choice. They have no choice. With a quick glance he surveys the roadside. There are the usual on-lookers, hanging about like carrion birds waiting for their next meal. Traffic cannot even crawl by, for the intersection is a battlefield of metal and flesh and the dearly departed. A few caring and yes, courageous folk are trying their best to help. A couple of men carrying torches are encouraging people to turn their cars about and find an alternative route. He can see their lights bobbing about further down the road. The ambulances and police are sadly nowhere to be seen.

 

Buffy is leaning in what’s left of the car window, and tries to calm the screaming woman. The traumatised woman doesn’t even know Buffy is there.

 

Angel moves to the other door and looks inside. His gaze carries past the dead man at the wheel to the woman’s legs. They are trapped behind the crumpled dash, crushed in all likelihood. One arm is canted at an unnatural angle and her face is bloody from a myriad cuts. He raises his eyes to see Buffy looking back at him.

 

“We don’t have much time,” she says, and he knows she too must smell the deadly fumes.

 

He nods, wraps his hands about the door handle and frame, and pulls. The door comes away with a squeal and falls onto the road with a thud, shattered glass tinkling in a running rivulet across the concrete. Angel grasps the dead man’s shoulder, manoeuvres a hand about the body’s waist, and lifts the corpse from the car. The woman quietens and he wonders briefly if the man and woman were husband and wife. Carefully he carries the body to the side of the road and lays it there. Buffy is in the car when he gets back and he moves faster than he should to remove the passenger door. It clatters behind him and sends the approaching help back a step.

 

“Stay away,” he shouts. “The gas tank is leaking.”

 

He leans into the car. Angel sees that Buffy is attempting to free the trapped flesh, and the victim starts to scream again. Tears shimmer in the Slayer’s eyes when her face lifts to his.

 

“Just do it,” he commands. Buffy bites her lip and nods. She sprawls across the seat which moments before contained a dead man, the grime and gore unnoticed as it coats her clothing bloody. Buffy struggles with the woman’s legs and suddenly the screaming stops.

 

“What happened? Is she, did she?”

 

“She fainted, Buffy,” Angel speaks the lie. He gently releases the woman’s neck and head. He hasn’t killed her. She is better off unconscious with Buffy’s attempts bringing her more pain.

 

He hears his lover’s fist hitting metal and goes to his knees to help. They push and hammer the crumpled dash enough to release the captured limbs. Buffy rips the woman’s seat-belt from its lock and wriggles herself out of the car. The vampire scoops the unconscious form out, and with long strides heads away from the car and finds a place a safe distance away to lay the lady down. He turns to find Buffy peering into the other vehicles as a last minute check, her face as pale as his own. There are three cars all told. Two nestle together like giant demons mating. Five dead and the injured count is two. One of the dead is a child; the other child is alive and badly hurt. Angel shakes his head at the fragility of the human form. Buffy joins him and he wraps an arm about her shoulders, knowing how she is feeling. She leans gratefully into his embrace. Dealing with tragedy and death is a part of the life they lead, but when it comes to children, it hits her hard. Truth be told, it doesn’t do him much good either.

 

“Such a waste,” she murmurs, and all he can do is nod.

 

They hear sirens and know there is not much more they can do. The light that spills from open doorways and window panes does little to illuminate the dreadful scene. Death manages to hide its face beneath the shadows of the night. One dim streetlamp struggles in its duty, and a car’s headlights is all the brightness the humans receive. Angel can see quite well in the dark, however, and he notices a man approaching. Of mid-height and carrying a few extra pounds, the man’s face is pale. Angel’s glance downwards informs him that the stranger’s hands are shaking. It isn’t easy dealing with road kill. Something, call it his sixth sense, persuades Angel to look past him. The vampire can see a woman, quite striking in her appearance, staring back at him. The lady had been within his range of vision, hovering near the family’s car earlier. His call of caution had moved everyone else away, but she had persisted. He frowns. There is something... Angel sees her lips moving, and only his preternatural hearing picks up the words, “Help him.”  Angel’s frown deepens. Did they miss some one? He doesn’t think so.

 

The stranger starts to speak and the vampire’s attention is back on him.

 

“It was a brave thing you did back there.” The man sweeps his arm out indicating the accident behind him. Angel allows his gaze to slide past him again, but of the woman there isn’t a sign.

 

“My name is Bernard. I live on the corner over there.” Bernard jerks his head in the direction of his home. “My wife and I heard the squeal of tyres and the sickening thuds.” He sighs before continuing, “It’s not the first accident we’ve had here, nor the last, I warrant. We have a supply of blankets ready just in case, you know. Elaine wants to know if you would like a cup of tea.”

 

Buffy looks up at him, her face pinched and grey. “Angel?”

 

“Would you like a hot drink, Buffy?” he asks her.

 

“I want to go home, to Westbury. I don’t feel like going to Bath anymore.”

 

He nods and twines his fingers through hers. Angel looks back at the Good Samaritan. “The gas tank could blow at anytime. Keep everyone back just in case. Thank Elaine for us, will you, Bernard? We’d better be on our way.”

 

Bernard is surprised that they are not going to wait around. “What about the police?”

 

It is Buffy who answers as they step away. “Not our problem.”

 

Keeping away from the fractured light, the Slayer and vampire skirt the crash scene. Ignoring the weight of dead stares, Angel can see how the accident happened. One of the vehicles, and he bets it’s the car that has rammed head-on into the driver’s side of the other, has run the light. The third car slamming into the mess has ricocheted away and hit the street light on the corner. Five dead and not a demon in sight. Well, not counting him of course. Angel loves his cars and drives like the demon he is, but his reflexes are extraordinary, he doesn’t kill people with his vehicle, at least not humans. He thinks that some people should never drive, the devastation they leave rivals some of the evil they have encountered. They do not say much on their way back to Westbury.

 

***

 

Giles is surprised to see Buffy and Angel walk into the kitchen.

 

“Did you lose your way to Bath?” he jokes and then his smile slips when he sees Buffy’s grim face, and the blood on her jacket.

 

He slams to his feet in his worry. “What’s wrong?”

 

Buffy just shakes her head at him.

 

Angel grabs the kettle to make a fresh pot of tea and Giles can see his look matches Buffy’s. The vampire is the one who answers him, however. “There was an accident.”

 

Giles slowly regains his seat. “Is anyone hurt? There’s blood,” he says, and reaches out to his Slayer when she takes the adjacent chair.

 

Buffy closes her eyes and allows her head to fall into her hand. The arm that is supporting her head is not anchored to the table that well. Her head wobbles.

 

He notices how gently the vampire places the two tea cups on the table. Angel’s answer is brief. “Yeah.”

 

Buffy opens her eyes and looks sideways at her Watcher. “Five people, Giles, and one of them a little girl.”

 

“Hurt?” he asks with dismay.

 

“Dead.”

 

“Everyone is dead?”

 

Angel sits down. The tea is steeping in the pot. “No. Five dead and two injured.”

 

At last, someone with a coherent answer.

 

“Where?”

 

“We were passing through Trowbridge. Not far.”

 

Buffy reaches out and pours her tea. She doesn’t like it strong. She adds milk and sugar. Angel watches as she stirs the tea with the spoon. Round and round it goes, he thinks that she will stir the liquid dry. His fingers find hers and he stills her nervous action.

 

“I think the sugar is dissolved,” he says softly.

 

Buffy raises her eyes and gives him a sad little smile. “I like it sweet.”

 

“I know.”

 

She draws a breath, straightens her shoulders and picks up her cup. Both men watch as she swallows a mouthful of the hot liquid.

 

“Mmm, I think you Brits have something here. A cup of tea does do wonders.”

 

Her cheer is false, both Angel and Giles can hear it, but this is the Slayer talking. She has pushed the horror of the accident to where it belongs, into her memory and not her heart, and is concentrating on the now. There is nothing she can do about it, time to move on. Angel doesn’t believe she can do that quite so easily.

 

Giles shifts in his seat, his gaze seeking out the vampire’s hand as Angel pours himself a cup and then lifts the china to his lips. Such large hands, he thinks, the teacup fragile and small in those extraordinary fingers.

 

He blinks and steers the conversation back to the accident. “What do the police say?”

 

Buffy finishes another mouthful before replying. “We didn’t hang around to find out. God, Giles! The boy is going to be an orphan!” She scrubs at the tears that suddenly threaten to fall. She is grateful when her lover’s hand engulfs her own. Buffy blinks rapidly, willing her tears away, and attempts a smile. Her chin trembles with the effort.

 

Angel gives her hand a squeeze. His voice soft, Angel paints a picture of twisted metal and lost souls.

 

***

 

It is two in the morning and Buffy is well asleep. Angel listens to her breathing as he quietly dons his clothing. Planting a gentle kiss on her cheek, he leaves the flat and heads for his car. It doesn’t take him long to reach his destination. The vampire walks the few blocks towards the fatal intersection. His car is parked back where it will not be recognised.

 

The crash scene is ablaze with lights, heavy vehicles, people, and noise. A television crew is there: more ghouls feeding off the suffering of others. Angel stays well away from the lights and no one notices his presence. The ambulances have all but gone. One remains and he knows a body rests inside. The living have priority, the dead wait their turn. The fire crew are cleaning up, the newly dead have been released from their metal coffins, and tow trucks wait to clear the road. It has been a long night. Silently, beneath the growl of engines, the vampire walks by the wreckage.  Dressed all in black, he is another shadow the night throws in defence against the glare of harsh lights. His finely-tuned senses explore the area, minutely examining where the family has died. Inhaling deeply, the vampire separates the bouquet of blood from other smells. The scents that reach him are of mortality, aftershave, a lady’s perfume, and sticky lollies, all of which belong to the car and its occupants. He ignores the tang of sweat from the men and women of the emergency crew, he is hunting for something specific and he does not find it. It does not mean he is mistaken.

 

Angel continues his search as he heads back to the footpath. Out of the corner of his eye he catches a glimpse of what he has been looking for. The woman is walking away, long legs on high heels, her back to him. And, as if she senses his eyes on her, she turns her head and her heels cease their high steps. Angel stands motionless. He knows for all his speed he can never catch her. She stares at him and her lips form the words he already knows.

 

“Help him.”

 

***

 

The next morning, Giles discovers that the accident has made the news. He is not surprised, multiple deaths always make good television. He sees for himself the scene that Angel has described. The ambulances standing there would have been for the dead. The child and woman have already been carried off to Bristol. The camera pans the cars as the journalist reports the grisly details. The names of the dead and injured have not been released. However, he learns the couple with the children had been their maternal grandparents. He is relieved to think that the one surviving child will have the love and care of his parents. He will need it in the days to come, just as they will need him.

 

Giles finishes his Darjeeling and brushes at the crumbs that have escaped his plate.

 

Behind him, Martha murmurs, “Those poor folk. It’s a crying shame when a child dies. What a waste.”

 

Giles couldn’t agree more. “Every life lost is a waste,” he says, as he picks up his breakfast dishes and carries them to the dishwasher. If not for the pot on Martha’s arm he wouldn’t think of doing for himself, he would never hear the end of it from his housekeeper. He has been pitching in, and so has Buffy and Angel. It’s amazing really to see a vampire vacuum, and more than amazing to see him polishing the mirrors. Angel takes care of his and Buffy’s small flat above the garage in his usual tidy way, and he has extended his services to the main house to help the poor injured woman. His culinary skills have certainly lightened the load.  Buffy to her credit has also pitched in. She has been doing the washing, picking up groceries and helping out where she can. Giles can swear that he has seen an iron in her hand a time or two. He is happy to think that she doesn’t come near his clothing and he chuckles at the memory of Angel snatching a silk shirt from under her iron, dismay written over his face.

 

Martha, bless her kind soul, has been showing up to do what little she can albeit one-handed. Presently she is making up a lovely broth of vegetable soup. He tries not to flinch as she slices and dices, and chooses not to watch her with the knife. Martha has her own method of dealing with recalcitrant carrots and runaway celery. He leaves her to it, his morning paper tucked under his arm. He has mail to attend to.

 

In his study, Giles finds more than his mail. The two cats are there, sleeping. Aristotle has pride of place in his leather chair. Zillah has nested, the paper and envelopes on his desk a fine mattress. Giles doesn’t want to move the black cat; she has had far too much stress in her short life: losing Ella and then nearly her leg, let alone her life, to a ferocious dog, to name but a few. He does what many a cat owner does. Carefully trying not to disturb, he pulls at the things he needs from under her sleeping form. He is rewarded with the flick of her tail. Ari’s ears prick up and his eyes open to watch his antics.

 

Giving up, he sighs, scoops Zillah up and gently deposits her on a chair. Typical of all cats - it isn’t her idea to move and therefore she isn’t going to stay. She gives him a look of utter disgust, jumps down, tail in the air, and stalks off. Aristotle decides to follow her. Giles watches them go and wonders how he became a slave to the feline. He sweeps his letters into a pile and gets to work.

 

He is hanging up the phone when Buffy shows up, a coffee mug in hand.

 

“Morning, Buffy,” he says waving her in.

 

Her smile is easier today, he notes. The sadness still lingers, but Buffy isn’t letting it overwhelm her. Perhaps he has something that will take her mind off things.

 

“Hey, Giles. Who was on the phone?”

 

“A client,” he is happy to inform her. “I received a letter from them this morning requesting that I ring them.”

 

“Why didn’t they ring you? Wouldn’t that have saved a stamp, let alone the wait?”

 

“Here,” he says handing the letter across.

 

Buffy puts her mug on the desk, and begins to read. Giles quickly places an envelope under the mug to protect his precious desk, but doesn’t say a word.

 

“An exorcism, Giles?” Buffy reads some more. “The apartment?”

 

“They were too embarrassed to ring directly and didn’t know if we would take them seriously.”

 

“Perhaps they don’t take us seriously,” she adds with the lift of her brow.

 

Buffy hands the letter across to her friend, her eyes alive with interest.

 

“What time are we going?”

 

***

 

Buffy shifts her feet, the autumn days are getting shorter and colder. She and Giles are outside a small flat in Bath. It isn’t the flat that Giles has generously handed over to them; it is the home of Briony and Ryan Middleton. They are expected and the door opens almost immediately. A slender young woman, pretty, with brown hair and hazel eyes invites them in and leads them down a short hallway that opens into a tiny lounge. The lounge runs into the kitchen where sits a table designed for two. The dining room, Buffy surmises correctly. She can see the strain the girl is under in the way her eyes tick anxiously about the room. Briony is nervous, but she offers them tea all the same. Giles accepts and Buffy realises that her friend is giving the girl something to do other than worry.

 

Buffy sits on the small cream couch, sharing space with its pretty coloured cushions. Nice, she thinks. Her eyes take in the room once again. The furniture is sparse, of necessity and fashion. A lovely blue rug and a charming coffee table finish off what’s left of the room. A flat-screen LCD television hangs on the wall; there isn’t room for anything else. She senses the owners take pride in their home.

 

Briony arrives with tea and biscuits and sets the tray down. Giles has taken the only armchair that is wedged in a corner. Briony settles down next to Buffy. When everyone has a cup, Giles asks Briony to tell her tale.

 

“We had some friends over for a meal a few nights ago…”

 

Giles interrupts her, trying to get everything clear in his head. “How many nights?”

 

Briony frowns. “Um, I think it was Saturday…no, it was Sunday night. Stuart and Jill couldn’t make it Saturday night.”

 

Giles nods for her to continue.

 

“After dinner we decided to use the Ouija board.”

 

“Why?” Buffy asks, speaking for the first time.

 

The look Briony gives Buffy isn’t a happy one. “We thought it’d be fun. It’s not so funny now. Besides, it isn’t really a Ouija board. It’s an Angel Spirit Board.”

 

What did you say?” The Slayer leans towards her. Giles also.

 

“An Angel board. Wait, I’ll show you.” The brunette leaves Buffy’s side and hurries away.

 

Buffy and Giles exchange a look.

 

“An Angel board?” The surprise on her Watcher’s face matches her own, she is sure.

 

She mutters, a little peeved, “I bet there isn’t a Buffy board anywhere.” Her peeve deepens at his soft chuckle.

 

“It always comes back to Angel, doesn’t it?” he says to finish off her mood.

 

The scowl that looks back at him ensures he closes his mouth on his next sentence. His eyes twinkle, however.

 

 

Briony is back and in her hands is a book-type affair, the case a little bigger than Giles’ laptop. He reaches over, moves the tray to the floor, and the woman opens up the board. Giles can see that it has a stand that retracts - it looks a little like an artist’s easel - and it lies flat like an open book on the table. The surface is a bluish colour, the alphabet gold, and in the middle of both sits a painted angel in flowing robes with opened wings. There is a planchette, heart-shaped, and its use is obvious. By all accounts it is a OuOO    Ouija board.

 

“Where did you get this?” he asks her.

 

“On e-Bay. It came from the United States.” Briony turns to Buffy. “That’s where you’re from, isn’t it?”

 

California originally. What happened next?” She steers the conversation back to the Ouija thing, the Angel thing. Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy can see the impatience and irritation building on her Watcher’s face.

 

Giles is wondering what other dangers lie waiting for innocent folk on e-Bay. One doesn’t have to leave the safety of one’s home to invite peril in, for God’s sake! He glares at the planchette in his hand. An old-fashioned planchette would have wheels and a pencil for writing the messages. This one is more sleek and modern.

 

Trying hard not to sound like a disapproving old fart, he says, “You and your friends shouldn’t be playing with things you don’t understand.”

 

“That is what we were doing: playing. No one really believes in this stuff, it’s just a game.” The brunette bites her lip. “We won’t be playing anymore.” Buffy thinks her eyes look haunted.

 

“It was a giggle at first. We were sure that the others were moving that thing you have in your hand.”

 

“It started to move on its own,” Giles prompts gently.

 

She nods. “It spelled out Help and Them. We didn’t know what we were getting into. It wasn’t as if were we performing a séance. Those are too creepy.”

 

“You believe in the afterlife, and yet you…” she didn’t finish. Buffy knew first hand the consequences of dabbling with the supernatural. Her thoughts flew to her mother and Dawn’s attempt at bringing her back, and the thing that Dawn would have raised. She shivers at the memory.

 

Briony’s laugh is now verging on the hysterical. “The words weren’t the problem; we were expecting messages, what came after…” Her eyes flick about the room before coming to rest on Buffy’s face. “There was blood on the wall.” She points to the wall behind the Slayer. Buffy turns, and feels a little foolish. Blood would have been the first thing she noticed. It has been cleaned.

 

“A wind came up inside the flat.  How does that happen?” Briony is looking at Giles now, her eyes wide. “Books and paper and ornaments flew about. My precious dolphin was smashed against the floor. It was like in the movie, Constantine, I think.” Her voice lowers in her fright. It is barely a whisper now. “It’s not the Devil, is it? He isn’t coming to take our souls?”

 

“Mmm.” Giles doesn’t think so. “I don’t think it’s the Devil, Mrs Middleton.”

 

“Briony, please.”

 

“Briony. The Devil wouldn’t be asking you to help anyone.”

 

“Then what is it? An angry ghost, a spirit come to haunt us?” She bursts into tears. “I can’t stay here another night. I can’t!”

 

Buffy lays a hand on the other woman’s arm. “We’ll sort this out so that you can.”

 

Briony’s smile is tremulous, but it is there. “You can?”

 

Buffy’s nod reassures her. Giles coughs to get their attention.

 

“Can you feel anything…strange, Buffy?”

 

The Slayer’s eyebrows rise. No, she hasn’t. She should be sensing something, anything. This is her calling, the one of only two slayers to combat the evil that is in the world.

 

She shakes her head, no.

 

Briony stares, her tears still wet upon her cheeks. “Are you a psychic? Can you send whatever it is back to where it came from?”

 

“Not really. I do get a sense of some things.” Evil things, she thinks, demonic things.

 

Giles clears his throat. “Rest assured we do have some expertise in these matters. When was the last incident?”

 

“Um…last night, although, come to think, it didn’t go on as long as usual. It barely got started before all went quiet. Do you think it’s gone? Can you be sure?”

 

“What time was this?”

 

“Not long after dinner.”

 

“No messages of any kind?”

 

Briony’s head shakes no. “It’s kind of spooky when dead people talk to you, don’t you think? I mean, I’ve had enough of this, imagine if some ghost appears and actually speaks? I think I would be running screaming into the streets. People would think me crazy.”

 

Buffy smiles at the other woman’s comment. What would Briony think if she knew that Buffy frequently talked to dead people, Angel most of all? The others, she was usually staking.

 

Her phone rings, Buffy fumbles about in her purse for it and, talk of the devil.

 

“Angel?”

 

Giles’ sigh of resignation goes unnoticed by their client. Briony is all ears, however, on the phone conversation. The word Angel has been mentioned and of course the woman is curious. 

 

Buffy mouths, sorry, at Giles and gives her man her full attention.

 

Buffy. Where are you?” her vampire asks.

 

“Didn’t you find my note? We’re in Bath on a case. Mrs Middleton has a ghost, a manifestation problem. What’s wrong?” 

 

Do you need any help?”

 

“No, we can handle it. Stop stalling.”

 

“When you’re finished, can you get Giles to drive you to Bristol?”

 

The Slayer decides that Briony’s attention to her call is too intrusive. Sliding past knees and table, she moves into the kitchen.

 

“What’s this about?”

 

“I want you to go to the hospital and check up on the boy that was in the accident.”

 

Buffy’s heart flutters at the thought of the injured child. “Why?”

 

“I think he is in danger. I’ll explain later. Will you do this for me?”

 

Buffy can refuse Angel nothing, at least within reason, and when it comes to him she loses all reason.

 

“Of course I can. This case isn’t going to take long. I’ll let you know when I arrive.”

 

Thank you. I’ll meet you there when I can.

 

“Bye, Angel.”

 

“Sorry about that,” Buffy apologises, and rests a hip on the arm of Giles’ chair.

 

“Did I hear you mention an angel?” Briony’s curiosity has obviously gotten the better of her manners.

 

Giles recognises the look on his Slayer’s face. There is business afoot and she wants this case closed.

 

“Angel is another member of our organisation. Apparently he has another case he is working on.” Giles sees Buffy nod, and continues. “I think we need to do a protection…”he is loath to say spell, the woman will think them mad, “ritual. If we can move the table I think we can begin.”

 

Giles gets to his feet and Briony asks, puzzled, “Ritual? What’s that? Is that like witchcraft? Are you mad?”

 

The Watcher chooses his next words carefully.

 

“You’ve heard of priests performing exorcisms, baptisms and blessings? This is similar. Think of it as a blessing to protect this house against harm. It should help settle the spirit that you have contacted. You do believe in spirits.  This isn’t witchcraft per se, and it is of a spiritual nature.”

 

The woman studies him for a minute, glances at the Slayer before making up her mind.

 

“I guess after seeing objects flying about and having words written by a ghostly hand, I have to believe there is more to the world than meets the eye. What do you need?”

 

Giles retrieves the bag he has carried in with him. “I have everything in here. One must always be prepared. Buffy, if you will?”

 

“Like a boy scout, you mean?” Briony asks, her mood lifting by the minute.

 

Buffy’s snicker at the comment has Giles’ eyeballs rattling in his skull. He can’t help but grin all the same.

 

Briony clears away the tea things before Buffy helps her friend move the coffee table out of the way. She sets out the candles he hands to her. When they are upright in a circle, Giles opens the book he pulls from his case. She raises her eyebrow at the title, Magio Blanco. Giles and Angel had used a spell from the book to protect against a poltergeist the year before last, back when the other slayers were alive. Back when she didn’t have their blood on her hands, back when...

 

“This is not dangerous, is it? You look worried.”

 

Buffy feels the rigid lines of her mouth, and forces her lips to relax.

 

“No, it’ll be okay. I was just remembering another time we needed to do this.”

 

Giles glances up from the book, the memory of it in his eyes. “It worked quite well, I recall.”

 

The Slayer’s words are barely audible. “Back when…”

 

“Back…yes, quite.” His heart misses a beat. Murderer of children. He forces his attention back to the task at hand. “Let’s get on, shall we? Light the candles please.”

 

Buffy does so with his lighter, and when the wicks are well alight, she gently steers the other woman away and into the kitchen. From there they hear his short Latin sentences, a flash of light and then, nothing.

 

“Is that it?” Briony asks.

 

***

 

“Did Angel mention the boy’s name? Did he say why you need to be there?”

 

“Only that the boy is in danger. I’ve told you this already, Giles. Weren’t you listening?”

 

Buffy is looking through the window of Giles’ Discovery. The streets of Bristol glide by in the dull autumn day. She is anxious to find out how the boy is doing and hopefully she can protect him from further harm.

 

“Did Angel mention the name of the hospital at all? There are seven in total in Bristol.”

 

Buffy looks across to her Watcher with a guilty look on her face.

 

He snorts, “I didn’t think so,” and she feels bad about her earlier snipe.

 

“I’m sorry, Giles. I was distracted, and you know how cryptic Angel can be.” Batting her eyelashes at him doesn’t work. He ignores them with practised ease. She sighs.

 

“No matter, it will most probably be the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children on Upper Maudlin Street.”

 

Although she feels like thumping his arm really hard for teasing her, she gives it a light tap. “And you know this how?”

 

“Nick Hunt sometimes operates there. It is one of the leading paediatric hospitals of the south-west and his expertise is sometimes required. Besides, it stands next to the Bristol Royal Infirmary.”

 

“Oh,” she hadn’t realised that. “Will Nick be there today, do you think?” she asks, hoping that he will be. She likes the surgeon. He helped Angel in his time of need and he doesn’t ask questions. 

 

“One never knows,” Giles replies as he pulls up to a set of lights.

 

The journey hasn’t taken long. Bristol is not that distant from Bath. Giles finds parking at the hospital and they both make their way into the building. Giles enquires after Nick at reception and it appears they are out of luck. He is not on any list and Giles wonders, if he were would they be told? Buffy asks the way to Intensive Care where they find not a few people hovering about the waiting room. Buffy wonders if any are journalists. Bad news is always good news as far as the media are concerned. They don’t care about the feelings of the victims or their families, and Buffy cares less for journalists.

 

“You head back home,” she tells Giles. “It’ll be boring, surveillance usually is.”

 

The Watcher scans the crowd. “Are you sure, Buffy? I can wait with you. I know how much you hate hospitals. We can try…”

 

“No. You go. I’ll keep watch, although I suppose that’d be a job for you,” she says with a smile, “and I promised Angel. He’ll be along later. Go. Shoo!”

 

“If you insist. Be careful, and make sure you get something to eat.”

 

“I will. Now hit the road before I kick you out.”

 

Buffy approaches the nurses’ station to ask after the boy, but when she hears the nurse behind the desk coldly refusing to answer any questions about patients unless next of kin, she veers away and hurries down the corridor. She has work to do.

 

***

 

It is well into the afternoon when Giles arrives home and in the driveway he sees a familiar vehicle. He finds Angel entertaining the police, or rather, Ian Collins, policeman and acquaintance, in the drawing room. There is evidence that afternoon tea was had, Collins has been here for some time.

 

“Hello, Ian,” he greets the man, extending a hand.

 

Ian’s hand clasps his in a firm shake.

 

“Mr Giles.”

 

Ah, this is a formal affair, Giles thinks. “Angel,” he acknowledges, and he receives a nod from the vampire. “Is this an official visit, or were you passing by?” he asks to be polite.

 

Ian chuckles, and Giles relaxes.

 

“I had a hunch and it seems as if I was right. I have received reports on the accident in Trowbridge last night. Surely you have heard about it?” Collins’ question is a double-edged one.

 

“I have seen the news, yes.” He can hedge as well as the other man.

 

“Relax, Giles. Angel has already admitted he and Buffy were there.”

 

Giles glances at the vampire. Angel’s shrug is barely perceptible. He looks back at Collins and finds he is being watched.

 

“Oh. Well. They’re not in any trouble are they?”

 

“No, they’re not. When I saw that witnesses had described the two people pulling the injured from their cars as one petite blonde woman and a tall dark-haired man, I thought immediately of your two young friends. I am not here to give them grief about leaving the scene. After all, they weren’t directly involved. In fact they deserve a commendation. No, let me finish,” he says forestalling whatever Giles has been about to say. “I wondered if they had actually witnessed the crash. Unfortunately they hadn’t. As I explained to Angel, there is something not quite right about the whole thing.”

 

Giles raises an eyebrow.

 

Collins shakes his head and rises from his seat. Both Giles and Angel get to their feet. “I’ll let Angel fill you in. I must get on. I’ve got an appointment I must keep.” To Angel he nods. “Thank you for the tea, it’s been…interesting. Nothing is as it seems when you lot are involved.”

 

To Giles he adds, “I’ll see myself out. I’ll keep you informed.”

 

He leaves the pair, wondering for not the first time how they managed to solve anything out of the ordinary before Rupert Giles and his friends settled in Westbury. He rather thinks it will be Giles informing him about the ongoing case. In his car, his brow furrows when he recalls the witnesses reporting the ease with which Angel had removed car doors. Somehow Collins knows that the doors hadn’t been weakened enough for an ordinary man to rip them right off their hinges. He blinks away the image of a sword slicing through temple and brains. It is too fantastic to comprehend how anyone could survive such a thing.  But then Angel is no ordinary man and Buffy is no ordinary woman. Thinking on that, Collins turns the wheel and heads on down the drive.

 

 

Giles helps Angel clear the tea dishes. He follows him to the kitchen where the vampire proceeds to wash up.

 

“We do have a dishwasher,” he reminds Angel, but grabs a tea towel anyway.

 

His friend’s eyes do not lift from watching the bubbles swirl in the hot running water. “I know. It helps pass the time.” His soapy hands turn off the faucet.

 

Giles surmises that Angel is alluding to fact that he cannot leave the house until the sun sets and is bothered by it. Giles changes the subject, and dries.

 

“What did Collins mean, there is something amiss?”

 

“The Foresters’ car appears to have run the light at speed, thereby causing the crash.” At Giles’ look, Angel explains. “The children’s grandparents. The old man was always a safe driver, at least according to his neighbours.”

 

“Then what is it that has Collins concerned?” Giles sets the saucer to one side and grabs the other.

 

Angel pulls the plug and rinses the dirty water away.

 

“The man was speeding. This is a seventy-two year old man. They are careful and slow.”

 

The Englishman finishes up and begins to put away the china.

 

“And? Accidents do happen.”

 

“The accelerator appears to have jammed down for no apparent reason.”

 

“They do that sometimes.”

 

Angel leans back against the now spotless kitchen sink. “The old man had the car serviced two weeks ago. His service book was up to date. And, his foot was on the brake.”

 

“It can still happen.” When Angel doesn’t answer, Giles senses there is something bothering him. He realises he hasn’t asked an important question.

 

“Why did you ask Buffy go to the hospital?”

 

Angel walks away without a word. Giles follows him to the study and waits for an explanation.

 

“I know the boy is in danger.”

 

Giles sits down in his leather chair. He notices a piece of chewed paper wedged under the pile of mail he has left unanswered. It is the note that Buffy left for Angel. The teeth marks tell the tale when he smooths it out. Those damned cats. He crumples it back into a ball and throws it to the floor. That’ll keep them from his desk.

 

The vampire hasn’t pulled up a chair; he is standing by the book shelves, his fingers running lightly over the spines there. Angel’s dark eyes are watching him, and is that an amused smirk lifting the corner of his mouth?

 

Giles knows his scowl doesn’t fool the vampire. “How?” he blusters, getting back to the business in hand.

 

“There was a…woman last night…at the accident.” The fingers continue to caress the tomes. Giles can see that Angel is thinking something through. His answers are secondary to his thoughts.

 

“A woman? What woman? Who is she?”

 

“She didn’t tell me who she was. All I know is that she is connected.”

 

Like getting blood out of a stone. The Watcher sighs. “Angel, get to the point!”

 

The vampire leaves off his love affair with the books and settles in a chair.

 

“The woman is a spirit, a ghost, a revenant.”

 

Intrigued, Giles leans forward. “You could tell?”

 

“If you mean was she shadowy or incorporeal, no. She appeared as solid as you and I.”

 

“And yet you knew.”

 

He got a look from Angel that was too like Buffy’s.

 

“Of course you knew. What did the woman say?”

 

“Help him.”

 

A shiver runs down Giles’ vertebrae.

 

“Help him? Are you sure?”

 

“Giles, I know what I heard.”

 

“No, it’s not that, Angel. The case we were on this morning. The Middletons had a poltergeist or some ghost haunting their small dwelling. They have been playing around with a Ouija board.” Angel can hear the derision in the Englishman’s tone. “We placed a protection spell on the flat, but now I think it was too late.”

 

“You think it is connected?”

 

“There was writing, two words. ‘Help them.’”

 

“Them?”

 

“The phenomenon has not returned since the time of the accident…”

 

Angel knows that it is not a coincidence. There are too few of those in their line of work.

 

“It may have been a message to help the family and now it is too late. The boy is the only one left to save.”

 

“Did you know about the Foresters before you rang Buffy?”

 

“No. I know the woman wants me to look after the boy. I didn’t know why at the time, only that he must be in danger.”

 

“We’ll find the reason, Angel. It is what we do.”

 

The vampire hears the echo of ‘Help the Helpless,’ at the end of the Watcher’s sentence. Apparently helping the helpless is possible from beyond the grave.

 

A little despondent that the others cannot be saved, Angel looks away. “The boy’s name is Peter Marchman, his sister was called Emma.”

 

“What about the parents? Where are they?” Giles has his note pad out and is writing down all relevant information.

 

The vampire looks back at his friend. “The father is dead, seven years since. The mother remarried a couple of years ago.”

 

“Well, it sounds as if our friendly bobby has filled in all the blanks. Are the parents in danger? The message was, help them. Maybe it isn’t too late to save the rest of the family.”

 

Giles notices that the vampire’s hair doesn’t move an iota when he shakes his head. “The mother died over a year ago, an illness. It is too late.”

 

“But why would anyone want to kill an entire family?”

 

Angel’s next words are bleak and a chill runs through Giles. He feels the hairs on the back of his neck rise.

 

“Because they can.”

 

He stares at the vampire. Angel stares back, his dark eyes unflinching. Giles swallows and clears his throat.

 

“I guess we have work to do.”

 

***

 

Pretending to be busy, head down, the Slayer’s peripheral vision allows her to observe without being noticed. Right now she is watching the man by the bed. He is about Giles’ age, may be younger by five years, she guesses, although it is hard to judge, being decades younger herself. His ginger hair is thinning and she can see that he could be considered handsome by some. It looks as if he is in good physical shape too. A nurse bustles in and glares at Buffy before taking the vital signs of the boy in the bed. Peter Marchman had been transferred from Intensive Care to Ward 33 after undergoing surgery.  Buffy finishes straightening the towels in the en suite bathroom. While the nurse is in the room, she leaves but doesn’t go far. Buffy has been in and out of the ward all afternoon watching every visitor and what they did. Most have been doctors and nurses, and now, this man. He must be the father, and it is Buffy’s job to find out.

 

She ambles by the nurses’ station and bats her eyelashes at the male attendant. He doesn’t stand a chance. She leaves with his phone number, and the name of the man at the bed. He is not the father; he is the step-dad, Morris Goddard. If Buffy had reservations about him before, she is even less inclined to like him now. There is something cold about his eyes. His body language speaks volumes to her and none of them of the good.

 

The ward has twelve individual rooms; six are close to the nurses’ station for those patients that require close observation. She notes that a complex computer system is busy monitoring most of the young patients. The boy is in one of these rooms. At each end of the ward there stands a bay of four beds. Some are occupied. Buffy stares at one child, tubes snaking from her body, into machines and out, her mother quietly reading by her side. The mother looks done in, the child almost, and the girl’s brown curls all but covered with bandages. Buffy remembers why she hates hospitals. They harbour so much pain and misery, and she feels so helpless.

 

“Miss?”

 

The young voice has to say it twice before Buffy realises she has been spoken to.

 

Looking around, Buffy sees a small figure in the last bed. A machine with flashing numbers is attached to the child.

 

“Can I help you?” she asks the little blonde person vying for her attention.

 

Eyes as blue as the sea peer up at her. “I need to go potty and I can’t get out of bed.”

 

“Oh.” Buffy blushes, embarrassed for the little, she looks up at the name above the bed, girl.

 

“Hi, Julia. My name is Buffy.”

 

“Hello, Buffy. You’re pretty.” The girl is not shy.

 

“Thank you, Julia. I think you are pretty too.”

 

Julia watches as Buffy fusses about looking for a bed pan. The little girl smiles at her.

 

“They’re kept in the cupboard down that way.” She points Buffy in the right direction and the Slayer hurries to fetch the pan.

 

When she gets back, Julia says, “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

 

Buffy helps the girl sit up and looks away for her benefit. She hears the tinkle of liquid hitting metal.

 

“How did you guess?” she answers with a chuckle.

 

“I’m done now,” the girl says with no embarrassment at all, and Buffy quickly enters one of the toilets and flushes the evidence away. After washing her hands she goes back to see if Julia needs help with anything else.

 

She doesn’t, and Buffy asks her where her parents are.

 

“Daddy comes in the morning before he goes to work and Mummy visits after my brothers go to school. She’s at home now. They may come after tea.”

 

“That’s good, Julia. Your mummy and daddy must love you very much.”

 

“Uh-huh. Do you have a mummy and daddy?”

 

Buffy hesitates. Does she tell the little girl that her mother is dead? She gazes into trusting and intelligent eyes, and makes her decision.

 

“My mummy died a few years ago, and I don’t know where my dad is.”

 

Julia’s thin arm reaches out and her tiny hand pats her arm. Buffy feels like crying. She gently hugs the girl and whispers, “I have to get back to work.”

 

“You have to watch the new boy,” the girl says.

 

“You noticed?” Buffy is chagrined.

 

Julia lowers her voice into a conspiratorial whisper. “I won’t tell anyone.”

 

Buffy winks at Julia and kisses her cheek.

 

“Thank you, sweetie. I’ll come by later, I promise.”

 

***

 

A familiar face appears through the doors of the ward. It is DCI Collins. Buffy busies herself at the linen closet and when the policeman approaches Mr Goddard. Buffy scoots closer so she can hear. Her phone trills in her pocket. There’s a notice on the wall next to her that reads ‘Do not use your mobile phone in the hospital’, and so she curses under her breath, and rushes away before someone investigates and finds her there. It is Angel, and before he can say anything she tells him where she is, and that the policeman is there and she has to get back to eavesdropping. Closing her phone she sees Julia watching her. Buffy gives her a quick wave as she slinks back to her listening post. She is in time to hear Ian ask why the children were with their grandparents; where was he, and did they have any enemies. 

 

The man’s voice is melodious; sing-song almost.

 

“My wife’s parents doted on the children; of course they spent time with them. A lot of the time, they stayed over. They were on their way to London, Inspector. Some show the children wanted to see, and I didn’t expect them back until the end of the weekend. As for where I was, I was at home. The servants can vouch for me. I don’t know why you ask me that. Was there something wrong with the car?”

 

She can hear an edge creep into Ian’s voice. “And why do you think that?”

 

The answer is quick and Goddard doesn’t sound at all flustered.

 

“Only supposition, Inspector. Unless Edward had a heart attack, some illness maybe that made him crash the car?”

 

“These questions are only routine, Mr Goddard. Your in-laws’ car has had a cursory inspection; there will be a more thorough examination. The coroner will of course be looking for any signs that may have contributed to this tragedy.” She hears him cough. “I am sorry to have intruded at a time like this.”

 

“Not at all, Inspector. You are only doing your job.”

 

Buffy hears footsteps and voices heading her way. She scurries away down the hall to avoid being seen. Behind her a doctor and nurse enter the boy’s room. Her throat dry, Buffy finds a basin in a small niche along the wall, and against all regulations tilts her head and allows the water to flow into her mouth.

 

“Hello, Miss Summers.”

 

Buffy straightens to find Ian Collins staring at her. His lips form a smile and she is sure that he has a twinkle in his eyes.

 

“Hey, Mr Collins.”

 

“Ian, please.”

 

Buffy opens her mouth but Ian holds up a hand, palm up in a shushing gesture.

 

“First Angel, and now you.”

 

“Angel?”

 

“I’ve just come from Summerdown. We had reports of a young couple matching your description at the scene of the accident. It didn’t take much to put two and two together. You do take your public duties seriously.”

 

Buffy decides what the heck, might as well come clean. “Well, you know how we Americans are. Always in the way.”

 

Ian chuckles and shakes his head. “Let me know if you find out anything.” As he nears the corner, she hears, “Nice look by the way.” He leaves her there with her mouth slightly open.

 

***

 

Giles is alone in his study, Angel having left for Bristol as soon as the sun had disappeared over the horizon. His computer is on, and has produced good results for their efforts.

 

They have the deceased mother’s name, Lynnette Goddard, was Marchman, nee Forester. The poor woman passed away in the summer of last year. She hadn’t been married two years.

 

Giles checks his notes again. Miss Forester married a James Marchman, a handsome man, and the love of her life. James was a photographer and his family are what they call bluebloods, connected to the aristocracy, centuries back. Although James Marchman didn’t have a title, a distant cousin does. James died in an unfortunate accident. The helicopter he was a passenger in hit a power line; the machine plummeted, killing his friend and pilot, and James. The children were babies and Lynnette Marchman mourned her husband for five years. Along came Morris Goddard, paid court to her and a year later they were married.

 

Morris and Lynnette Goddard inhabit the home of James Marchman, a historic house in Chippenham. How convenient for Morris, Giles thinks, and dislikes the man without having ever met. Two years later, Lynnette was dead, and now, her parents and her young daughter. The boy and her second husband are all that are left. Again, convenient.

 

If Angel is correct, and Giles is certain he is, the spirit of Lynnette is trying to protect her family, and now all she has left is her son.

 

Giles removes his glasses and polishes them with his ever-present handkerchief. Repositioning them on his nose, his gaze falls on the morning paper. His mind cannot absorb the mundane and he subconsciously searches for the bizarre, the oddity. A small piece, not more than a paragraph long, informs him that a toddler has raised the alarm thus saving himself and the household from a house fire. The tot had used the phone – Giles frowns – that had been disconnected. Enquiries are continuing.

 

“How odd,” he mutters, and makes a mental note to follow it up when he can.

 

***

 

“I like it,” a deep voice says next to her ear, and Buffy refuses to let her lover know how startled she is because she hasn’t sensed his approach. She has been too busy keeping an eye on young Peter Marchman.

 

Knowing he can hear her heart beating furiously, she rounds on him, notes the leer that pulls at his lips, and decides to run a suggestive hand over her nurse’s uniform.

 

“Ready for your sponge bath, sir?” she asks in a husky voice.

 

His eyes darken and she sees the promise there. “As long as you’re doing the sponging,” he teases.

 

Buffy whacks the arm that tries to circle her waist. “Sorry, we’re not allowed to fraternize with the patients. Particularly the old patients.”

 

With a wounded look on his face, Angel places a hand over his heart.

 

Buffy pouts. “What is it with you men and a woman in a nurse’s uniform?”

 

“Do I really have to show you?” he asks.

 

Buffy considers the notion and then sobers. “Another time, Angel.”

 

They have work to do, a boy to protect. Angel peers in at the lad before they leave. His eyes harden and his mouth sets in a grim line. Buffy knows that look and decides that he needs to meet someone. She steers him over to Julia. The girl is only pretending to be asleep. She opens her eyes when she hears her name.

 

“Julia,” Buffy says, “this is my boyfriend, Angel.”

 

Julia’s eyes go wide when she looks up at him. Angel’s smile is dazzling.

 

“Hey, Julia. I see that you know my girlfriend. Has she been looking after you?”

 

“Are you really an angel?” the girl asks, all excited at meeting someone new.

 

“No, it’s just a name. Pleased to meet you.” He holds out his hand and her small fingers get lost in his palm.

 

“Buffy, your boyfriend is pretty.”

 

If Angel could blush, Buffy is sure he would have.

 

He can blink, however. “Uh, thanks. I think you’re very beautiful too.”

 

It is Julia who blushes. She giggles and wriggles further into her blankets.

 

Buffy doesn’t want to say goodbye to the brave little girl but she must.

 

“We have to go now, Julia. I promise I’ll come back and visit. You be good.”

 

“Bye Buffy, bye Angel.”

 

With a lump in her throat too big to swallow, Buffy tugs at Angel’s arm, laces her fingers through his, and leads the way to the utility room where she has stashed her clothes. Angel guards the door while she changes.

 

She pulls her arms through her blue sweater and stretches the wool to fit. “Morris Goddard has left. Although they do have visiting hours, most parents are welcome to stay longer. They even have a cot for parents who don’t want to go home. He chose to go.”

 

“Has the boy come to?”

 

Buffy zips her pants and hops on one foot trying to roll her socks over her toes.

 

“No. I think he is going to be okay. There is head trauma, but the doctors are sure that there will be no permanent damage. He has two broken legs, cracked ribs, compressed lungs and multiple contusions.”

 

An arm is suddenly there and a strong hand helps her balance.

 

“Head trauma?” Angel asks, and when Buffy looks at him, she can see a raised brow and a very annoying smirk.

 

Sighing, she manages to wrestle the sock on, and attacks the other foot. “I hate hospitals, you know that. I think a little of the medical speak has rubbed off. There!” Buffy has her socks and then shoes on and handbag over her shoulder. “I’m ready. I presume we are going to check on daddy dearest?”

 

“Giles and I both agree that he is the likely candidate. What did Ian have to say?”

 

“You first.”

 

Few notice the couple, deep in conversation, leave the building.

 

***

 

Buffy sees Bath go by, regretting for a moment that they aren’t heading for their bed there, but the regret is fleeting. The memory of Peter Marchman lying orphaned in his bed is enough to make her cry, which she won’t, because she’s mad. She wants Angel to hurry. Morris Goddard has murdered most of his family and she is going to make sure that he doesn’t get the chance to finish the job.

 

The A4 runs from Bristol, through Bath and various other towns on its way to London. It also goes through Chippenham. The way Angel is driving, the drive won’t be a long one. He can feel Buffy’s anxiety, he shares it too. The lad’s plight has hit a nerve. Peter reminds him of Connor and how he grew up in the cruellest way with a cruel man posing as his father. His son had been denied the love of his real father, and he would have done anything for his boy. He had done the impossible, given Connor a new start and a new family that loved him. His hands tighten on the steering wheel as his grief for lost opportunities threatens to overwhelm him. What will become of young Peter? Are there relatives willing to take him in, care for him, love him? Angel knows he cannot make it better, but he can make it safer for the boy, at least give him a chance. It’s all he can do.

 

They do not go directly into Chippenham. The Markham family home is situated in the surrounding countryside which is sprinkled with wonderful historic houses. He pulls off the A4 and soon the road has meandered into a country lane. Buffy is thankful for vampire eyesight, the road is not at all well lit, besides which she is hopelessly lost. As they approach the house, Angel can see it is a manor house, seventeenth century, he guesses, maybe earlier. To Buffy, it looks like a home, a place where a family can grow.

 

The car purrs to a stop on the driveway and they both exit to stand before the house. The looming doorway, set within an arched alcove, beckons. The vampire doesn’t set foot on the small step, he knows he cannot enter. He hangs back.  Buffy gives his hand a squeeze, throws him a cheeky grin, marches up to the door and rings the ancient bell hanging there.

 

Someone other than Morris Goddard answers the door.

 

Buffy smiles and tries to sound official. “We’re sorry to call so late. My partner and I are here to speak to Mr Goddard about the accident. DCI Collins sent us.”

 

The tall cadaverous person holding the door open blinks at her, and the eyes look past her to the darkness beyond. The voice is as harsh as gravel itself. “One moment please.”

 

The door closes. Wide-eyed, Buffy twirls to face Angel. He’s back among the shadows, but she knows he is there.

 

“Did you see him? Are you sure this isn’t the Addams’ family home?”

 

Although she can’t see it, she hears his frown. “Addams family?”

 

“Lurch, the tall monster-looking butler. There was Thing, he was a hand, no body, and I think Grandpa was a vampire.” Buffy giggles at the image of the short tubby man dressed in the traditional tuxedo that is supposed to be the uniform of vampires.

 

“Grandpa?”

 

Buffy doesn’t reason why Angel finds the fact Grandpa is more interesting than a disembodied hand. Angel is a mystery himself.

 

The door opens and Lurch is back. “Please, come in. Mr Goddard will see you both in the drawing room.”

 

Buffy looks back at her lover. Stepping over the threshold she waits, and when he approaches the door holds her breath, letting it out only when his foot hits the carpet inside.

 

The butler closes the door and leads the way down the hall. Buffy had surmised the house would be full of antiques and all things classy. She is surprised to see a large mirror beneath which stands a small table; a vase of freshly cut flowers adds a splash of colour. A comfortable-looking chair sits nearby waiting to take the weight of a patient caller. The carpet is well-worn if not a little threadbare. Inside the drawing room is one of the biggest fireplaces Buffy has ever seen. Two grey wingchairs stand to either side; the beautiful carpet they sit on is exquisite. The magnificent mantle of the fireplace draws her eyes to the ceiling. Is it low or is the looming form of her lover giving it that appearance?

 

Angel scrutinises the room. He has been in manor houses before, many of them as Angelus looking to feed off the gentry and their servants. The house is comfortable, not ostentatious, a family home. On the window seat a children’s book sits. A jigsaw puzzle lies unfinished next to it, the two small pieces of the puzzle upside down on the board. Angel tenses. Things are not what they seem. Buffy notices his preoccupation.

 

“What’s wrong?” she asks in a whisper.

 

“The children’s things. The manor will have a playroom.”

 

Buffy doesn’t have time to speculate. Their host appears, and she wonders again at the coldness lurking behind his eyes when he turns those pale irises her way. The same eyes travel to Angel and it isn’t her imagination that the pupils widen. Behind the pale eyes, something slithers, something sly.

 

Angel knows he has been made. The man before him recognises what he is. Either Morris Goddard has had dealings with vampires before, or he can sense it, which means the man isn’t quite what he seems. He inhales deeply trying to catch the scent of demon. His finely attuned nose tells him the man is just that, a man. A wrinkle creases his forehead. His nose doesn’t detect any fear.

 

A smile snakes across Goddard’s lips. “Who are you people?”

 

He doesn’t offer them a seat; he crosses his arms and waits for an answer.

 

“DCI Collins sent us. We have a few questions…”

 

The bereaved stepfather interrupts her. “I’ve already spoken to Inspector Collins. Who are you?” A frown appears, he narrows his eyes at Buffy and adds, “Don’t I know you?”

 

Without moving from his corner of the room, Angel answers, “Buffy Summers. I’m Angel.”

 

“Well, Angel, I don’t have to answer any of your questions. You have no right to be here.”

 

“You invited me in.” The menace in Angel’s voice is palpable.

 

Buffy decides to rattle the man some more. “The accident in which your wife’s family,” she almost says, were murdered, “perished, wasn’t an accident.”

 

The surprise is feigned, Buffy can tell. Angel doesn’t hear the man’s heart speed up; in fact it is beating rather slowly. His frown adds another wrinkle to his forehead.

 

“Goodness! Really? Isn’t it too soon to come to that conclusion?” Morris, in his fake distress, wobbles over to one of the wingchairs and sits.

 

Buffy is not buying it. “No, how, why, or who could?”

 

Morris drops his hand from his head. His face is eerily calm. “Are you accusing me of killing my own family?”

 

“They’re not your family, and now, they’re no one’s.”

 

Goddard stands in mock indignation and tries unsuccessfully to intimidate the Slayer by towering over her. “I think you had better leave or I’ll call the police! Get out!”

 

Buffy holds her ground and raises her hand to push him away from her. There is no need. Goddard slumps over, and she jumps back to watch him fall in an unconscious heap to the ground. His fist still clenched, Angel stares at the man he has just hit.

 

“Hey! I wanted to do that! And, can we do that? What if we’re wrong?” Buffy worries at her bottom lip and stares at her lover for reassurance.

 

“Does it feel wrong?” he asks her before he starts searching the room.

 

Buffy joins him. “No. Is he a demon? He doesn’t give me slayer wiggins.” She stops looking for…“What are we looking for?”

 

Angel turns to face her, curtain ties in hand. “First we tie him up.”

 

It doesn’t take long to truss up the owner of the house. Buffy thinks the man doesn’t deserve any comfort when Angel props him up in a chair. She would rather Morris lie on the floor.

 

“What are we looking…,” Buffy stops because Angel has moved so quickly he is beside the door when it opens.

 

Lurch enters and Angel grabs hold of him, his arm around the butler’s throat.

 

Buffy holds up her hands and the only thing she can think of sounds lame even to her.

 

“We’re not here to steal anything.”

 

“Tharguud.”

 

“What?”

 

“Thargnnn.”

 

“Angel. Give him some air.”

 

His face flushed with the effort of dragging in much needed oxygen, Lurch manages, “Thank God!”

 

Angel hasn’t relinquished his hold on the man, only loosened it. “What?”

 

“Thank God you’ve come.”

 

Only then does the vampire let the man go. He pushes him further into the room and closes the door. Lurch stares at his employer before looking across to Buffy.

 

She notices his hands are shaking when he points to Morris Goddard.

 

“We’ve been waiting for some one to come. This man is a monster.”

 

Buffy glances across to her lover. His face is completely closed off. She brings her gaze back to Lurch.

 

“What has he done?”

 

“I think he killed madam’s family.”

 

“Do you have any proof?”

 

“No, but…things have been very strange and getting stranger. He’s made vague threats.  My wife and I would leave if it weren’t for the children. He’s not at all upset about the accident.”

 

From behind him Angel asks, “What’s your name?”

 

“Andrews, sir. Jonathon Andrews.”

 

“Where’s your wife?” Buffy asks.

 

“We live in the servants’ quarters at the back of the house. Are you going to arrest him?”

 

Buffy folds her arms, her back straight, all business-like.

 

“What did you mean you think he killed madam’s family?”

 

“Mr Goddard dislikes the children, miss, the grandparents even more so. They were a nuisance, you see, and he didn’t want them about. I know he had something to do with the accident. I think he may have tinkered with the car.”

 

“Why didn’t he just hand over custody to his in-laws?”

 

Angel has been thinking it through. “The estate, Buffy. The estate belongs to the children, and with them gone he may inherit.”

 

The Slayer stares at the human-monster that kills for money. Vampires she can deal with. People with souls that do evil, she despises more.

 

“It wasn’t always like this. Mr Goddard and Mrs Marchman were happy. It was good to see madam happy again after… It nearly killed the master when she died. He hasn’t been the same since.”

 

Buffy’s next question goes unasked. She notices Angel patting at his pockets, looking for something. With a smile she produces her phone and waves it at him. A little sheepishly, he grins back. “Ring Giles and tell him we need him. There are a few things he’ll want to bring.” Angel proceeds to tell her what those are, and then asks Andrews to show Buffy around when she is finished.

 

Angel is right, Buffy thinks, when Lurch, she can’t get that name out of her head, shows her the playroom and the children’s bedrooms off that. The rooms are immaculate. Everything put away, nothing out of place.

 

“The rooms are very tidy,” she says as she fingers the coverlet on the bed. A bright purple teddy bear sits waiting on the pillow. The girl’s room is a pretty yellow. Flowers and butterflies cover the walls. Tears well up when she remembers that the little girl who lived in this room won’t ever set foot in it again.

 

“Margery does the rooms. Mr Goddard doesn’t like mess.”

 

“I see that. It isn’t normal for a kid to be so tidy.”

 

The boy’s room has pictures of planes and oddly, a picture of a bird. It’s an American Bald Eagle.

 

“What’s this?” She points to the photo.

 

“A photo that Peter’s father took a few years ago. James Marchman was a news photographer but he loved snapping wildlife. It is one of Peter’s favourites.”

 

Buffy is shown the rest of the house, the detached chapel included, and meets Margery Andrews. Unlike Jonathon, she is short and round, mousy-haired and extremely nervous. Buffy assures her that everything will be fine, and leaves her and her husband behind their locked door. The house is a warren. Upstairs and down, a girl can get lost very easily. Jonathon had shown her the door to the attic, and Buffy heads back upstairs to investigate further. The lock on the door is no match against slayer strength and Buffy climbs the stairs behind it that lead to the attic. What she finds sends her flying down the stairs to get Angel.

 

***

 

The first thing Morris Goddard sees when he opens his eyes is Angel sitting in the chair opposite. The vampire faces the door. He struggles to sit before the fact he is bound sinks in. He glares at Angel and manages to lift his hands a little. They are bound together and then tied to his belt. His ears are ringing with the blow to his head.

 

Recovering his composure, his voice like silk, he says, “Come. We don’t have to be enemies you and I. Tell me what you want and you can have it.”

 

The vampire refuses to answer. His unblinking eyes stare at him, and Goddard licks his dry lips.

 

“We can come to some arrangement. I know you’re not police, and that you’re not human. Why do you care what happens here?”

 

Angel is as still as stone. An old and tried technique is to let the other do all the talking. Some people, and demons, can’t help themselves. Morris isn’t any different.

 

The man continues, his tone a little more pleading. “You’re a vampire, a killer. You don’t have to kill me. Your lady friend can have anything she wants. You can have the servants.”

 

That there condemns the man. Angel allows his eyes to close in a blink.

 

Showing just a hint of fang, he says, “Servants are an acquired taste. I prefer finer game.”

 

The man’s Adam’s apple bobs up and down in a nervous swallow. Now, the tang of fear perfumes the air. Angel licks his lips, savouring the reaction, wanting to kill, knowing that he shouldn’t.

 

Morris begs, “Immortality does give one the opportunity to do as one wishes. Please, let me keep a grasp on mine. We’re the same under the skin, you and me. Brothers…”

 

The vampire is on him so fast Morris doesn’t feel the slice of fang and the iron-grip of large hands until they are gone. His yelp dies in his throat when he realises he is still alive. The vampire’s tongue removes a drop of blood from the corner of his mouth, and a look of pleasure blossoms in those feral eyes. Goddard knows that he will die here. His head spins.

 

He stammers, perspiration running down his face, “Please. Don’t kill me. Let me go and I’ll leave, you can have the house and everything in it.”

 

Whatever Angel is about to say is lost as Buffy bursts back into the room.

 

“Angel, you have to come and see…”  He is vamped and her gaze goes immediately to their prisoner, to his neck and the blood visible there. A part of her is disappointed that he is still alive, but most of all she is worried about Angel. Their trip to Clapham had unnerved both her and her lover. Have those violent urges come crashing in again? Angel is used to his demon, has dealt with it for over a hundred years. It can’t be that, can it? She pushes her fears aside and using her well-honed instincts focuses on another scenario. Angel is toying with Goddard. Torture by vampire, Buffy muses, and then thinks not, because Angel has torture honed to a fine art. Tasting, testing, whatever, Morris Goddard deserves far more.

 

“Oh, he’s still alive. What a pity.”

 

She watches her lover slip on his human guise and smiles with relief when his head gives a barely perceptible nod.

 

They both ignore Goddard’s flinch.

 

Angel’s voice is more a growl when he asks, “What have you found?”

 

Playing along, the Slayer puts her hands on her hips, and swivels them a little. “Promise you’ll let me watch when you kill him, and I’ll show you what treasures I have discovered.”

 

Her vampire shakes his head and barely contains his laughter. “You are such a wonder. What did I do to deserve you?”

 

She snorts. “I don’t know. It’s a mystery to me.”

 

“Show me,” he orders her and Buffy does so, not even giving Morris a second glance when Angel picks him up one-handed and brings him along.

 

The attic is a surprise. The cobwebs one expects, white, silver strands clogging up the beams. These are black, shiny and gelatinous, and Buffy shivers. What sort of creature spins webs like these? There is a thump behind her. Angel has dropped his charge, none too gently, and sidles up to her.

 

A pallet rests against the slope of one wall, a chair resides under the window and in the centre of the space a large table sits. The table-top is covered with parchment, dried herbs, unguents, candles, and are those eyes of newt? More of the same fill the shelves that lean crookedly against the far wall. Angel’s keen eyesight discerns a shelf full of books on the other side of the attic. At least Goddard knows better than to allow sunlight to ruin the bindings.

 

“The Magic Shop. This looks like the Magic Shop in Sunnydale.”

 

They both turn to look at the bound man on the dusty floor.

 

“Angel, I think he’s a magician.”

 

Angel smiles at her. “Warlock is the appropriate term.”

 

“Whatever. A male Wicca. We had one or two of those at Sunnydale High. Willow’s friends, although there was this one guy, he was evil. He gave Willow so much power that she became addicted to it.”

 

Angel is staring down at the man. Goddard is staring off into space. “Power corrupts,” he says absently as he studies him.

 

A movement in his peripheral vision alerts him at the same time Buffy cries, “Watch out!”

 

He ducks and something black and glistening shoots past where his head was. A glass jar follows as Buffy with all her slayer strength pitches it after the thing that was trying to take a bite of his head. The jar shatters, spilling out pungent-smelling herbs. The creature has vanished into the shadows and Buffy picks up the nearest object she can use as a weapon. It is an agate pestle. Angel raises his eyebrows.

 

The Slayer shrugs. “I don’t think the stake is going to do it.”

 

“And that is where?”

 

She pats the band of her trousers. “Where it should be, guarding my back.”

 

Buffy goes hunting. Buttons go flying as Angel rips Goddard’s shirt open. Hanging from a chain is an agate eye. It stares out at him.

 

The vampire chuckles. Goddard glares at him and asks, “What’s so funny?”

 

A pale hand rips the amulet from his neck, breaking the chain.

 

“This. Superstition only. This won’t bring you wealth or overcome your enemies.”

 

“It’s done fine so far.”

 

Angel ignores the smirk with one of his. “If you say so.”

 

He straightens and steps over to the table.

 

From the floor, Goddard sneers, “Aren’t you going to help her?”

 

“She can handle herself.”

 

Angel’s long fingers sort through the parchment, but his senses are attuned to the room and especially to his love. She may be able to handle herself, stake or no stake, but he has her back.

 

Buffy is intent on her target. A blur out of the corner of her eye sees her twist and smash the pestle against the roof. The pestle makes a hole but the creature is gone.

 

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” she sings through her teeth and pounces when a large black bulge moves in the webbing. Again she misses and she is ticked.

 

“Okay, black spidery-demony-thing you. Come and get me. See if your teeth are as big as your bite!”

 

Teeth, legs, and claws launch themselves at her from the rafters. The Slayer sidesteps, twists again, and stomps down hard. A satisfying crunch can be heard. A sob comes from Morris on the floor and a “Feel better?” comes from Angel.

 

When Buffy turns around he isn’t even looking in her direction. His eyes are glued to some old piece of paper in his hands.

 

She pouts. “Did you see that? I vanquished my foe! Killed the beast and you never even gave me a hand.”

 

Angel lets the parchment fall to the table and starts to clap his hands softly.

 

“Feel better?”

 

A huge grin splits her face. “I do, thank you. All I want is some appreciation.”

 

His smile warms her heart. “I appreciate. You know I do.”

 

“That’s alright then. Do you think there are any more of these, ew, whatever? ” She lifts her foot, squints at the gooey mess and scrapes her boot against the rough floor.

 

“Perhaps we had better check.”

 

Morris yells at them, his voice thick with grief. “You killed it! You killed my Pet. You killed Tika!”

 

Buffy is not sorry in the least. “Are there anymore?” She has a horrible thought. “Do you think he left one of his pets at the hospital?”

 

Morris complains bitterly that Tika was a solitary creature and quite rare.  Fine, she isn’t that trusting, she is going to make sure and she will be heading back to the hospital to check up on Peter.

 

Angel says, and Buffy thinks the man is a mind reader, “You didn’t sense or see anything did you, when you were there? When we’ve finished here, we’ll head back to be sure.”

 

Somewhat mollified Buffy begins poking about, and decides that she needs her sword and not her hands to investigate the disgusting mess of webs. A trip to the car is needed but she sees that Angel has wandered over to the books. Already there is a book in his hand.

 

“I thought you said we?”

 

“Mmm? Oh, I will…”

 

Buffy joins him. Reading the title of the book is of no help at all. It is incomprehensible to her. “What have you got?”

 

“Giles will be interested.”

 

“Speaking of, where is he?”

 

***

 

Giles is surprised to see the door slightly ajar when he arrives at the house. Cautiously he enters, ready for anything. The house appears empty although the lights have been left on. He opens doors to check rooms as he passes down the hall. Of Buffy and Angel there is no sign. He follows the hall until he arrives at a very large kitchen. His shoes hardly make a sound as he traverses the scrubbed stone floor. The rest of the kitchen has been modernised but the floor remains as it must have been for centuries. Peering through the windows and out into the night, he sees a beacon of light in the darkness beyond. Giles grabs a large kitchen knife before he steps through the door and crosses the yard. The small family chapel beckons and Giles accepts the invitation.

 

Inside the church his friends and strangers are gathered before a small altar. It gleams bright with the light of a dozen candles. With a sigh of relief Giles joins them.

 

Buffy eyes the knife in his hand with a raised brow. “Planning on using that?”

 

Giles sheepishly lowers the blade.

 

“The house was empty,” is his only excuse. He places the knife in his Slayer’s hands and opens the bag he has brought with him.

 

“Sorry about that. We decided this was just the place we needed.”

 

Giles remembers his manners and asks to be introduced. Mr and Mrs Andrews are an unlikely pair, he thinks, and yet they seem kind and willing. Buffy explains what has happened and what the couple have been through.

 

Giles brings his gaze to bear on the man on the floor. His mouth has been taped shut. There is blood on his collar and Giles’ eyes narrow, focusing on the tear in Goddard’s throat. The man has been bitten. Giles shifts his eyes to look at the vampire. Angel is a pace or two away, the candle light casting eerie patterns across his pale skin. His face betrays no emotion and the Watcher wonders what the vampire must be feeling this close to an altar. And why the devil did Angel bite the man?

 

Buffy interrupts his musings. “When we’re done here, there is a room you have to see. Giles, the man has enough supplies to stock The Magic Shop. There may be stuff in there you want.”

 

Giles opens his mouth and closes it again. Finally he manages to say, “Magic supplies? I don’t suppose the particular items you asked me to bring are in that stuff, as you call it?”

 

Buffy glances across to Angel before looking back at her friend.

 

“I didn’t find the room until after I rang you, and by then you would have been on the road. Besides, you’re always complaining that you don’t get out enough. We need you to work your mojo.”

 

Giles is touched at Buffy’s sentiment. They want him in the field with them even if it is blatantly obvious the two of them could have handled the exorcism themselves.

 

Once upon a time, the Watcher would have worried about Angel performing any sort of exorcism. There have been times when the vampire’s hold on his soul has been shaky at best. Since the Coven saw fit to bring Angel back, though, with his soul firmly ensconced, Giles has had no such qualms. Giles ponders this fact. He knows that Angel has performed exorcisms. Why then doesn’t this affect Angel’s own demon?  He remembers when asking, Angel’s reply, “No, I wasn’t affected in any way.”

 

Exorcisms are performed to rid a person of an evil spirit, a demon, whatever, that has taken possession.  Is a vampire a person possessed, albeit it a dead person, with a demon, or is a vampire a different being, the whole package, the demon? Angel doesn’t consider himself human, and Giles has heard the vampire acknowledge that he is a demon with a soul.  It is inconceivable to think of a demon performing an exorcism. A demon exorcising another demon? Preposterous! And yet he can verify that Angel has done exactly that, and, is there a danger? Perhaps his concern for Angel’s soul has diminished, but if he wants to be honest, he does have a few qualms left.

 

Giles realises that during his brown study the room has grown quiet. He looks around.  They are waiting for him. He doesn’t know what the Andrews know about his friends and he doesn’t want to alarm them any further. Fat chance of that, he thinks, as he delves into his bag and begins pulling the tools of his trade out. Two banishments in less than twenty-four hours, he can’t say his life isn’t interesting.

 

“Let’s get on with it, shall we?”

 

The first few rows of the pews have been moved back to give them more room. Angel stretches out an arm and lifts Morris Goddard as if he weighed less than a child, and places him so that Giles can create a circle of binding around the man. The way the vampire rips the tape off the man’s mouth makes everyone cringe. The yell that follows confirms how painful it was.

 

“There really is a demon inside of Mr Goddard?” Margery asks, not quite believing but hoping it is the answer all the same. Stepping back and bumping up against her husband, Margery is grasping at straws. She had liked the man when first introduced to her employer’s beau. Everything had changed with the death of Lynnette Marchman. She wants it back the way it was, and knows that it can never be. She feels her husband’s arms squeeze her shoulders and she leans into him with a sigh.

 

Morris is yelling at them to stop. “You don’t know what you’re doing! You don’t have to do this, we can work something out!” His yells become obscenities and he struggles to worm his way through the circle.

 

Buffy dangles a pair of handcuffs from her hand, her smile for Angel simply wicked.

 

“I won’t ask you where you got those.” Giles’ look says it all as he eyes the bracelets. He is clutching the jar of binding powder and standing away from Goddard’s attempts at disrupting the ritual.

 

Eyes totally innocent, Buffy says, thinking of another time and another place that Giles had reason to use a pair of handcuffs, “I found them upstairs. Do you think I carry a pair of handcuffs around with me?”

 

Ignoring them both, Angel snatches up an old iron candlestick from the altar, and with considerable strength he bends the iron into a U and jams it upside down in the cracks on the stone floor. The stone chips, the humans wince but do not say a word. Morris is still squirming when a knife appears in Angel’s hand, but he stills when the blade nears his stomach. The vampire slices through the ties that bind the man’s wrists to his belt. Barely glancing up, Angel snares the handcuffs Buffy throws his way and snaps one cuff around Morris’ wrist, threads the other round the candle stick and snaps it shut about his other wrist. The vampire’s long stride takes him outside the broken circle.

 

“Thank you, Angel.” The Watcher finishes what he began.

 

Giles throws a concoction of herbs and powder over the struggling man; and something aromatic fills the air. A splash of holy water is next and Morris roars. Angel is well away from the water but grimaces all the same.

 

Goddard’s voice is no longer shrill. It has become deep, dry, a rattle of vocal chords. The words are no longer English; in fact, both Angel and Giles know they aren’t even human.

 

Buffy gently guides the butler and his wife to the back of the small church.

 

“You should be safe here,” she tells them and hurries back towards the altar.

 

Giles has his book out and is now chanting in Greek. Angel is poised, sword in hand and Buffy snatches up hers. They stand ready, each to one side, Giles facing the altar. Finishing the spell of Revelation, the Watcher closes the book of spells and picks up his prayer book. It contains among other things the Rite for Exorcism, in Latin of course.  He reads the verses that priests from centuries past have used to exorcise evil spirits. Goddard is growling now and twisting about trying to escape. His wrists are gouged and bloody.

 

His voice now a rising crescendo, Giles holds forth an ornate crucifix, and finishes the last incantation with a bellow. A final sprinkling of holy water and it is done. A blur, a shifting of senses, and Morris Goddard stops thrashing, his body goes rigid, his muscles taut. The blur races away and tries for the door.

 

Angel is there, a blur himself. His sword meets something insubstantial. All the same it veers away and races for a window. Buffy, already moving, leaps across the top of a couple of pews and bars the window. A form is starting to coalesce. Tendrils of mist are swirling, forming a figure within. Buffy stabs at it and it flees…right onto Angel’s blade. It hangs there a moment, solidifies and slides off the sword with a dreadful squelch.

 

“Euw!” Buffy’s nose wrinkles up as she examines the dead demon. The thing on the floor has tentacles instead of hands. The eyes are pale and bulbous, and the skin has a greyish tinge. It is ugly, and thankfully, dead.

 

Buffy looks up at her lover, “I thought you said Morris was human.”

 

“He smelled human. A demon or half-demon, I can detect. Some parasitic demons are not so easy. We had to use psylis eucalipsis powder to get an Ethros to show itself. The Thesulac we had to call forth, a little like we did with this one.”

 

“Hence the blood.”

 

“It was human, almost. A little astringent. It’s a give away.” Angel does not say that the man had virtually admitted his state of being before he took a taste. He is already brooding on his own motives.

 

“Is this the thing that was inside Mr Goddard?” Jonathon Andrews’ deep voice comes from behind them. Buffy turns to find they are staring at the demon with trepidation.

 

“We wouldn’t have believed it if we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes.”

 

“That is why Angel and I wanted you here. To see that it wasn’t Mr Goddard’s fault. He didn’t kill the Foresters or Emma. He wasn’t in control.”

 

“He was definitely possessed? Is this an evil spirit then?” Margery is confused. This isn’t the way the world is supposed to work.

 

The demon, Angel, answers her. “Yeah.”

 

Right in her ear, Giles says, “Buffy! Keys for the cuffs if you please.”

 

“Oh, sorry, Giles.” She digs about in her pocket and comes up empty. Sheepishly, she shrugs. “I don’t think I saw any keys.”

 

Giles just rolls his eyes at her. He squints at the thing on the floor before stalking away muttering, “So that’s what a dead Sathr looks like.” Angel follows after him.

 

“Sathr?”

 

Buffy looks up at the butler, “I think Angel said it was a Misery demon.”

 

Using his vampire strength, Angel tugs at the handcuffs about the man’s wrist. The lock gives and Morris Goddard’s hands are free. The man stirs and Angel quickly slices through the rest of his bindings. With one hand Angel pulls the iron from the floor, straightens the stick as best he can and leaves it lying on the altar. Giles moves in to help Morris, and Angel backs away from his uncomfortable proximity to the cross.

 

 

Morris blinks up at a strange man looking down at him. He hears, “Can you move?” and he thinks he can so he nods. Warm hands clasp his arm and he looks down at his own. He must have cut his wrists, there’s blood. When did he do that? He feels light, dizzy, his memory hazy. What’s wrong with him? He stumbles to his feet and sways, and the stranger comes back into focus. He hears voices, some familiar, others not. They’re in the chapel with candles, and…swords?

 

“Wha-a-t hap…?”

 

He cannot seem to stand upright and feels himself falling. Suddenly his feet leave the ground and powerful arms have him safe. A solid chest moves against his cheek and his vision fades.

 

***

 

He wakes up to find he is lying on the sofa in the living room. A woollen blanket tickles his chin. A young woman, pretty, blonde, hovers nearby and when he rolls his eyes away, he spies the man he saw before. Slowly he manages to lever himself up a little. A glass appears before him, it is Jonathon with brandy. When he moves aside, Morris can see Jonathon’s wife setting out cups for tea. A tall dark-haired man leans against the wall behind her.

 

His lips are dry and cracked, his voice croaks when he speaks. “Who are you people? What is going on?”

 

The older man asks, “Do you not remember?”

 

Morris looks back at him. “Your name, sir?”

 

“Rupert Giles.” Giles gestures to the young woman. “I think you’ve already met Buffy Summers and,” he nods towards the young man at the wall, “Angel.”

 

“What are you doing in my home?” Morris shifts his gaze to Margery. “Where are the children?” She looks away, avoiding his gaze.

 

“Morris.”

 

He looks back at Rupert Giles.

 

“Morris, what do you remember?”

 

“Remember?”

 

“The last thing you recall.”

 

Running a hand over his face, he thinks back. “I remember wanting the pain to end.” Hand shaking, Morris brings his glass to his lips and swallows a large gulp of brandy. He empties the glass. The fiery liquid burns a trail down his throat, and his mind at last begins to work. “I lost my wife you…” His voice trails off. He stifles a sob, he cannot speak. The room is quiet while he struggles for composure.

 

Giles decides that now is a good time for the tea. He drops into a nearby chair and accepts a cup from Mrs Andrews. He insists that she and her husband join them; they are after all, part of the family. All but Angel take a cup. Buffy raises an eyebrow at him as she passes him by, and he reassures her with a small smile. He stands silent as the others pull up chairs; there is virtually a semi circle about the sofa when they are done. Buffy sits where she can see Angel all the same.

 

Giles begins to speak, it’s a lecture really. Tea cups in hand, the humans listen and learn.

 

Morris, his employees and Buffy hear that Sathr demons prey on the emotions of the wretched, the emotionally damaged. The demons feed on sadness and despair, hence the common name, Misery demon. And, if the human is in such a state as to contemplate suicide - the human defences being at their lowest - the Sathr can possess their victim.

 

All eyes turn to Morris and he has to duck his head. He had been contemplating death all those months ago. He drank himself into oblivion week after week, unable to bear the passing of his dear Lynnette. He cannot even remember the names of the establishments he frequented. Some had been in the city and, he is sure, quite disreputable.

 

“Wait,” Buffy says into the silence, “why didn’t the Misery demon go after Lynnette Marchman? She lost the lov…um, her first husband. Surely that’s a recipe for despair.”

 

“You’re quite right. However, Mrs Marchman had her children to live for. She would not consider throwing her life away.”

 

Morris Goddard flinches and unsuccessfully tries to disappear into his seat. He is weak, he has always known it.

 

Giles’ lecture continues. The demon once possessing a body can set itself up to enjoy the fruits of their victim’s life, and spread more misery. Sometimes the Sathr come with pets, lesser demons that do their masters’ bidding. He suspects that this is the creature that caused the Foresters’ car to crash. It would have been easy for such a small thing to secrete itself away inside the car and cause havoc at just the opportune moment.

 

“Accident?” Morris looks up and sees pity and anger on almost everyone’s face. He can’t help it, his voice trembles. “Is anyone hurt?”

 

Again Giles asks, “You don’t remember?”

 

When Morris shakes his head, Giles frowns. “Usually the possessed are aware to some extent. How else can the demon feed on their misery? Mmm.” Thinking on that, Giles finishes his tea. “It is fortunate that Angel has encountered the Sathr before. It wasn’t until he confronted you,” Giles’ gaze slides once again to the bandage on Goddard’s throat, “that he became suspicious. Unfortunate for the Sathr, but lucky for you we could help.”

 

For a few minutes the clink of china fills the silence as everyone reflects on what the Watcher has said. No one mentions the fact that Morris hasn’t asked after the children again. His head is bowed and one hand begins to furiously scrub at his eyes. The china in his other hand rattles, his tea threatens to spill. Buffy rescues the cup and the tea.

 

Meanwhile, Angel’s dark stare hasn’t left the man on the couch.

 

And Buffy knows it. She tries hard to think of something to say just to get Angel to look away. “With all the misery in the world it’s a wonder there aren’t more Sathrs about. Why is that, Giles?”

 

“That’s a good question. Originally the Misery demon came from Norseland, Scandinavia, land of the Vikings, hence the name, Sathr. They purport to be solitary creatures, aside from their pets. It may be in their interest to not overpopulate, jealousy perhaps? Who knows?”

 

You do, Buffy thinks. Once again Giles has been in research mode. It wouldn’t have been hard for him to bone up on the Sathr once Angel had proposed that that was what they were dealing with.

 

The long frame of the butler rises from his seat and his next words are almost absurd. “So, everything is back the way it was, back to normal?”

 

Margery Andrews has been very quiet. The nervous look she shoots her employer’s way suggests that she is unsure and still a little afraid. Her husband is the brave one in the family. She doesn’t know how she would have coped without his steadying hand. Margery sighs. If he has it in his heart to help Mr Goddard then so shall she.

 

Giles knows how difficult this must be for them all. It’s not everyday one is confronted with demons and the like. He hopes they can manage.

 

“As normal as it can be. The demon is dead. He cannot hurt you or your loved ones. I’m sorry for the way things have been, and for your terrible loss. If there is anything you need, please feel free to ring me at anytime.” He places one of Paranormal’s business cards on the coffee table. 

 

Margery asks, “What do we do now? Is Mr Goddard going to be alright? Can we do anything for him?”

 

“Physically he’ll be alright in a day or two. Coming to grips with the other will take some time. This has been as harrowing an experience for him as it has been for you. You can be a big help just by understanding that and making him see it too.”

 

“What about the police?” Jonathon wants to know.

 

Collins will have to be told something, Giles thinks, but what? “What can one say? The police won’t believe any of it. Leave it to us, we’ll sort it out. DCI Collins is an acquaintance of ours.”

 

Turning his attention back to the slumped figure sitting on the sofa, Giles tries to reassure him, but he doesn’t know if Morris is listening. It sounds inadequate even to him when he says, “It isn’t your fault, Mr Goddard. Don’t blame yourself.”

 

There is an uncomfortable silence. Buffy hasn’t said much and Angel less than nothing. Wanting to remove himself from the awkward moment, Giles gets to his feet. “Buffy, perhaps you can show me that room, if that is alright with you, sir?”

 

The master of the house just nods, unable to raise his head and meet anyone’s eyes.

 

Buffy has been very aware of Angel’s silence. There is more than one person needing reassurance here, and she is not sure that one of them isn’t Angel. She gives him her best I-love-you smile and is pleased to see a slight lift of his lips in response. She leads Giles out of the room and heads for the stairs.

 

At the top landing and out of vampire hearing, Buffy says, “It’s not easy to forgive yourself.”

 

The Englishman lays a kindly hand on her arm. “He’ll manage. It won’t be easy, but he’ll do it.”

 

Buffy is sure that they aren’t talking about the same man. “Angel, I meant Angel.”

 

“Oh. He’s getting there.”

 

The Slayer shakes off his hand. “Is he? You knew the difference, and yet you couldn’t accept, or forgive,” she accuses, her heart aching now for both men downstairs.  She marches past the bedrooms and down to the door that leads to the attic.

 

Giles steps are measured and it is a moment before he catches up. “You’re absolutely right. I, a Watcher, know the difference a soul makes. I couldn’t see past my own pain…I do now.”

 

Her hand on the broken lock, Buffy says, “I know, Giles, I’m sorry. You’re sorry, I’m sorry and Angel most of all. What must it be like for him, to remember every kill?  How can we say, ‘get over it? Forgive yourself.’” The memory of young girls, chosen in her need to save the world, makes her ask, “Can we?”

 

His words are soft. “We try, Buffy.”

 

“They still haunt me,” she whispers into the door.

 

“I see them too.”

 

She swallows. “Imagine; tens of thousands.”

 

“Yes.”

 

When her friend touches her shoulder she doesn’t shake it off this time. Buffy places a hand on his and gives it a grateful squeeze.

 

It is Giles who breaks the mood and says, “Come on then. Where are these magical supplies I must take a look at?”

 

***

 

The Andrews take their cue and begin to tidy up the tea things. They move quickly and efficiently, politely ignoring Angel as they do so.  Finally the vampire and Goddard are alone.

 

Morris doesn’t hear the man move but he sees with his downcast eyes Angel’s boots when he sits in the chair Rupert Giles has vacated.

 

Angel’s voice is soft and compelling when he starts to speak.

 

“I know you remember who I am, what I am. I know you recall everything that has happened to you.”

 

Morris feels his eyes well up again. He can’t hear this. He doesn’t want to. The man, no that’s right, not a man, a demon, refuses to be quiet.

 

“Giles is right. You were possessed. It wasn’t your fault. You have to own it though, acknowledge that it happened. You cannot pretend that it didn’t, because it did.”

 

Morris is afraid. He doesn’t think he can live with the consequences of the Sathr’s actions. He wishes the memories gone as before. He wishes a lot of things.

 

“Look at me.”

 

And he does. He raises his head, and looks into eyes so dark he fears he will tumble in and drown in those sable depths. He is barred from whatever thoughts reside at the bottom of that deep well, and yet he sees what he is allowed to see. Hear me, those eyes say, I know of what I speak.

 

“There is a little boy who needs you.”

 

Morris sobs, his hands are at his mouth trying to hold back his anguish. He doesn’t look away, he can’t.

 

Angel doesn’t move an inch and yet it appears as if he has leaned in. “He needs you to be there for him and if you can’t, he has his father’s family who can care for him. Either way, you need to do the right thing. You cannot change what has happened, but you can make a difference to what comes next. You have to be strong whatever the cost. You cannot wallow in misery. That is what got you here in the first place.”

 

Tears rolling down his cheek unheeded, Morris stammers, “I murdered my wife’s family.”

 

The vampire before him nods. There is a slight hesitation before he says, “That’s a start. Maybe some day you can forgive yourself and then you can move on. Hearing that it isn’t your fault doesn’t make it feel that way.” He looks away towards the windows and out into the night beyond.

 

Morris feels a rush of relief when his gaze is no longer locked in that intense stare. He closes his eyes.

 

“How do I get through it?” he whispers.

 

Barely audible, the soft voice answers him. “One minute at a time.”

 

“You know,” he dares to breathe.

 

There is no answer and when Morris opens his eyes, he is alone.

 

***

 

Angel is outside crossing the drive. His boots make no sound on the gravel. Neither does the woman who is standing there waiting for him. Her dark hair falls about her face, and there is peace of a sort written there. Her lips curve up in a small smile when he appears.

 

“Lynnette?” he asks.

 

She nods and looks up at the house behind him. He can see in her glance a wish, yearning, desire. He waits for her to speak.

 

When she looks back to him, the peace is back. “Thank you. My son is safe.”

 

“He will be.”

 

“And so I believe is Morris. He filled the void, you see. I loved him for loving me, but my heart is already claimed by another, and always will be.”

 

“I understand.” And he does.

 

Her smile is like the sun, it warms everything it touches, and Angel can feel its glow.

 

“Don’t grieve for my family. They are with me.”

 

Is it possible? His heart aches at the thought.

 

“The language of the dead is incomprehensible to the living, but some things, like love, is understood by all.”

 

It is the truth. He cannot dispute it.

 

Elegant and pale, a slim hand reaches for his face and he feels a prickle as ghostly fingers glide over his own lifeless flesh.

 

“Yours is a long journey. I don’t envy you.” The hand falls away, there is pity in those startling eyes.

 

He doesn’t want anyone’s pity, least of all from a ghost. A little harsher than he intends he urges her to go. “Your loved ones are waiting.”

 

“They are.” One last look at the house, and another his way, Lynnette turns and walks away. She is a mere outline, fading, when for the last time he hears her voice.

 

“You are deserving.”

 

He wonders what she means by that.

 

 

The end.

 

***

 

ANs. Not too many, I promise.

 

As always a huge hug and thank you to Jo without whom I wouldn’t dare.

 

I found this on the net. There really is an Angel Spirit Board. Here is a site that sells them and I hope I got the details right.

http://www.amazon.com/Guiding-But-Angels-Spirit-Guides/dp/B000GDAQQE

 

 

Having never been to Bristol or the Children’s Hospital, Mr Google, ever my friend, supplied me with the information. I also used my imagination to fill in the gaps. I apologise if I got it horribly wrong.

Bristol Children’s Hospital.

http://www.ubht.nhs.uk/BCH/General/about_us.htm

 

I have made up the Marchman home and I have shamelessly used Sheldon Manor, which is just outside of Chippenham, as my template. You can find photos and a little history about the place here.

http://www.sheldonmanor.co.uk/

 

The drawing room and its magnificent fireplace I based on the photo I found of Burghope Manor. It is the second photo at the top.

http://www.bath.org/hotel/bigpics/burghop1.htm

 

 

Here is a little information about the rock, Agate. You can see there I improvised on the superstition.

http://www.desertusa.com/mag98/april/papr/geo_agate.html

 

Jo kindly pointed me in the right direction as regards to the Rite for Exorcism. If you want to have a peek here is the site.

http://www.katolik.nu/now/html/sacramentals.htm

 

Here is another site on exorcism. I see that Rule 20 decrees that the words of the Bible are to be used. This doesn’t necessarily mean from a Bible. Prayer books contain words of the Bible. I didn’t have Giles go through the stole thing etc that priests do. I have used what I have seen from the Buffy and Angel shows, especially the scene where Wesley and Angel exorcise the Ethros demon for the ritual of exorcism.

http://www.stmichael.pair.com/ritualofexorcism.htm

 

 

The word Sathr.

According to Collins English Dictionary the Old English word saed (sad) weary: is related to Old Norse sathr and I thought to purloin the Norse word for the name of my demon.

 



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