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Season Three Project Finale

Double Vision

 

Project Paranormal

Author: Dark Star

Season 3

Part 22

 

**

Summary: Summer is here again, and the Giles household has its hands - and kitchen - full. But are the village preparations the only worry?

 

**

 

Double Vision

 

She listened to the sounds in the street below. Somehow noises were always louder at night, and she wondered if that was her imagination or some kind of scientific fact. She had been lying in bed for hours, trying to sleep, but she was just growing more frustrated. The call of a cup of tea sounded rather nice, and so she got out of bed and put her slippers on. It had been a warm night, and she was tempted to go down dressed as she was, but her nightie was a bit thin and she didn't want to give her son a scare if he came home early.

 

Her dressing gown lay over the back of the bedroom chair, and she was pulling it over her shoulders even as she made her way along the landing. She decided against putting the light on, a habit she obtained as a hard-up newlywed, and one she knew drove Derek crazy. She had just stepped onto the top stair when a sharp crack! made her pause. What was that? Had it come from outside? She hesitated, cursing the pounding of her heart, because it was obliterating everything else. She knew she was over-reacting; it was likely just Derek having come in from his night out. Even so, she crept down the stairs as silently as possible; the ground floor stood in darkness. Whatever the sound had been, it hadn't come from her son.

 

She reached the hallway without mishap, and listened. Perhaps she had left a window open down here? There was no further noise and she breathed a sigh of relief. She should turn the light on. Derek would have kittens if he found her wandering about in the dark again. But for some reason, she was reluctant to do that. Then, just as her fear battled with her common sense, she heard another sound. It sounded like the creak of a door, and it sounded like it was coming from her kitchen. Goose bumps crawled up her arms; what should she do? There was a telephone in the kitchen, so that was out of reach, and another upstairs. The last thing she wanted to do was go back up there and possibly be trapped. Where was her phone? In her handbag, which was… where? All these thoughts crossed her mind in a nanosecond, and self-preservation kicked in at that point. She thought her bag was on the hall table, and that was just beside the front door. Even better. She couldn't see her bag in the darkness, but it was only a few feet away. Surely she could make it there without being heard? Suddenly thankful that she had put on more dignified covering, she moved along the hallway as stealthily as she could, certain that her thundering heartbeat would give her away to whoever was in her kitchen.

 

It took forever to reach the front door, and she was disappointed to find that her bag was nowhere to be found. At this point, she just wanted to get out. She had to get to a phone. Her hand was just turning the latch on the door, and escape was just in her grasp, when something… somebody very large, slammed into her back, propelling her forward to bounce her head off the wood and force the door shut again. Temporarily winded, she gasped, and then terror gave her strength. She pulled back, pummelling her elbow against her assailant's chest, and was gratified to hear him grunt. She twisted, trying to escape, when a splitting pain in her head made her pause, and something powerful whacked her in the midriff and more pain made her vision swim.

 

She screamed, or tried to, when a strong arm wrapped round her neck and began squeezing hard…

 

 

*

 

Giles came through from the utility room where he had been mixing up potions and found a hive of activity in his kitchen. Bewildered for a moment, he scanned the trays of buns and cakes, and drifted over to where Buffy was wrapping something that looked like fudge in small bundles of cellophane and tying them up with bright ribbon.

 

"Ah," he said as realisation dawned. "The village fete?"

 

"Yes," Martha replied, her voice muffled as she was bending down to take something from the oven, and when she stood up, her face was looking pinker than it usually did.

 

The fete would also explain the profusion of edible treats piled onto every available surface, and the paper plates, decorative ribbon and bright boxes on the table next to Buffy. "Did you make all of this?"

 

"Good Heavens, no!" Martha exclaimed, "We seem to have been allocated as the collection point this year." She indicated the empty cardboard boxes and carrier bags on the floor, and Giles assumed it was meant as a gesture to punctuate her statement.

 

"You seem to be doing a fair bit of the preparations," Giles noted.

 

"I don't mind," she replied valiantly. "Buffy! If you keep eating the sweets there won't be any left for the fete!"

 

"Sorry," Buffy mumbled, swallowing fast and doing her best to look apologetic. "These were just little crumbs that fell off…"

 

Martha gave Buffy a look that ought to have been a scowl, but it came out as an indulgent smile instead. Giles waited until Martha turned back to the sink and he plucked a fruit bun from the stack on the kitchen table. Buffy giggled as he smuggled the warm bun out of the kitchen and headed down the hall toward his study.

 

Just as he reached the study door, the telephone rang. He put the bun down on his desk and picked up the receiver.

 

"Hello? This is the office of Project Paranormal."

 

"Can I speak to Rupert Giles, please?" A man's voice said. It had a mild Scottish drawl to it. 

 

"You're speaking to him. How may I help you?"

 

"I'm not entirely sure." The voice sounded uncertain. "I'm calling on behalf of my mother - she's in hospital - and she asked that I send you a message."

 

"I see. And what would that message be?"

 

"It's kind of a visual message. Can I email you a picture? Fax it, perhaps?"

 

Intrigued, Giles said, "I'll give you my email…"

 

"I have it." The young man said. "It was on your advert. I'm… sending it now. She did the drawing in hospital. She said you'd know what it is."

 

Even more intriguing. He'd assumed he would be asked to identify some item, but if they already knew what it was, why did they need him? The transfer done, Giles opened the file he'd been sent.

 

"Good Lord."

 

*

 

Martha dropped the used trays and utensils in the washing up water, and turned back. Her gaze fell on the fruit buns on the kitchen table. Buffy held her breath. Could Martha tell?

 

"Is there one missing?" Martha asked, glancing at Buffy, only to have the girl start giggling again. She folded her arms, more for Buffy's benefit than because she was cross, and nodded her head in the direction of the hall. "Did Giles…?"

 

"I wouldn't know, Martha," Buffy tried to say, but the amused expression on her face rather gave the game away.

 

"I don't know why I bother," Martha grumbled, but Buffy could tell that she was smiling, too.

 

*

 

The drawing on his computer was practically identical to the one Angel had made. It was a drawing of the artefact taken from the Morris' house.

 

"Do you have information on this?" Giles said carefully.

 

"No. My Mother wanted to see you, urgently. She says it's not something that can be discussed over the phone. And since she's in hospital…"

 

"Yes, quite so. Tell me where I can find her, and I'll go to see her immediately. Is there anything else you can tell me, Mr…?"

 

"Appleton. Derek Appleton. I'm afraid that's all I know. My Mother wouldn't tell me what it was about, or what that odd item was. But she said it was very important to speak to you. My Mother's name is Judith Appleton, she is in the Edinburgh Hospital, and you can find her in Ward…"

 

As soon as the call ended, Giles called his contact to make sure the Morris' artefact was safe. Monty assured him it was, and he was relieved when he put the phone down. But something was nagging at his mind. The name Appleton sounded familiar somehow, but he couldn't place where he had heard it. And who was this Judith Appleton? What did she know about the artefact, and more to the point… how did she know that Giles knew about it?

 

He considered driving to the hospital, but Edinburgh was about 400 miles from Westbury, and would take a good 7 hours to drive up there. He felt in his bones that it was important that he got to see Judith Appleton as soon as possible. If she had information on the artefact, and felt it imperative she should speak to him in person, that couldn't be good.  Derek had said that his mother was in hospital after being attacked at home. Giles couldn't see how that was relevant to the artefact, but he could afford to overlook nothing. He decided against using the car; a flight would be much quicker. It would take him an hour to get to Bristol airport, and around an hour and a half to get to Edinburgh. He booked an immediate flight to Scotland - he could be there and back in the time it would take him to drive all the way up there.

 

*

 

Judith Appleton turned out to be a large lady of around sixty. Unfortunately, she reminded him very much of his mother's sister, Aunt Bertha, and to his chagrin instantly felt the same fear he had experienced as a small boy.  Ridiculous! He was a grown man; some old battle-axe of an aunt should hold no fears for him now. He knew that, and yet… he could not help the awkwardness he felt as he faced her. The lady in question was looking rather the worse for wear. Her face was bruised and swollen, and her fair hair had been shaved back so that dressings could be applied to a head wound.

 

Giles introduced himself, and was disconcerted by Mrs Appleton's expression; Aunt Bertha all over again. Worse, he could tell that Mrs Appleton didn't like him, but as far as he could recall, he had never met her before.

 

"You have information for me, Mrs Appleton?" he tried.

 

She hesitated, before saying, "The thing in the drawing… you know that it's dangerous?"

 

"I rather assumed that to be so. How dangerous are we talking?"

 

"Catastrophic," she said, and then waited while a nurse checked the temperature of the woman in the next bed. "I didn't want to call you, but I had no one else." Giles waited while she gathered her thoughts. "I was robbed, you see. The intruder…" she looked around to make sure they weren’t being overheard, "was some kind of demon, I think. I could hardly tell the police that, could I? You must help."

 

"I'll do what I can, Mrs Appleton. Tell me what was stolen."

 

She looked at him as though he were an imbecile. "Haven't you been listening? They took that."  And she indicated the drawing in Giles' hand.

 

Was he dealing with somebody deluded? "Er… no. The artefact is quite safe, I can assure you."

 

She made an impatient gesture, and hissed in pain. Giles guessed that she had a couple of cracked ribs as well. He'd had a few of those in his time.

 

"Oh god! The fate of the world is in your hands? Are you deficient?"

 

Stung, Giles said as politely as he could, "Well, perhaps if you stopped dithering around and told me what's going on, and why you need me, I might be able to do something about it."

 

Mrs Appleton glared at him, but his sharp tone must have got through to her, because she said sulkily, "Well, I hope you can hang onto yours better than I did mine."

 

Yours? Mine? At that moment, the penny dropped and Giles exclaimed, "There's two of them?"

 

"Very good, Mr Giles." She said dryly, and then frowned. "You didn't know?"

 

"No."

 

She rolled her eyes. "Wonderful." Giles winced, and she went on, "All right then, I'll tell you what I know. My father-in-law was given the responsibility of looking after the artefact. After he died, my husband took over. But he…" she glared at Giles at that point, "…died two years ago helping to clear up your mess. He was one of the council's magical advisers."

 

Council's magical advisers? His mind racing, Giles began to piece the jigsaw together. Didn't Gerald Appleton live in Scotland? And what was the father's name? Clancy? Clarence? Wasn't he expelled from the Council for some kind of wrong-doing? Or… was that a cover up? So… Gerald was one of the casualties from the supernatural near-apocalypse two years previous? No wonder the man's widow didn't like him.

 

"What makes you think you were attacked by a demon?" He asked instead.

 

"I didn't see it clearly, but it was much too big and much too strong. It was really fast, to get to me so quickly without any sound."

 

"Makes sense. All right… if the artefacts are so important, why was I never told about the one in your possession?"

 

Judith shrugged. "The Council knew about it. After you got fired, following the carryings on with that fool slayer of yours, Gerry didn't trust you.  Then the whole council was destroyed and he didn't know who to turn to. He thought Wyndham-Price's boy might have been all right, but we heard he was killed too. I would never have told you, but the… thing… has been stolen and the world could be in serious danger. I have to trust you - there's nobody else."

 

Giles' indignation over the slur to his slayer withered under her 'world could be in serious danger' proclamation.

 

"What do the artefacts do?"

 

"Separately? Nothing. But put them together and they open a gateway to a Hell dimension. Anything - and everything - could come through. Leave them open long enough and our world bleeds into theirs. That's why they have always been stored apart and hidden in some way. Gerald masked ours with a cloaking spell. I have no idea how the intruder breached it."

 

Hell on Earth.

 

"Why were they never destroyed?"

 

"The Council thought that any attempt would just break the walls down immediately. They decided that keeping them apart and under supervision would be the best policy. Nobody knew that the Council wouldn't be around to do the job."

 

Dear Lord. How many Council projects and safety measures had been interrupted? How much jeopardy was the world in because of that? 

 

"How close do the artefacts have to be in order to function?"

 

"I'm not sure. The closer together they are, the stronger the gateway, but I don't know if they need an open space to work or if proximity is the key."

 

"Then we have to stop yours reaching the one we have. Is there anything else you can tell me about them?"

 

"That's about all I know, I'm afraid. Except that they aren't called artefacts, they're eyes."

 

"Eyes?"

 

"Yes. The eyes of… something or other. I can't remember what. We've always just called it the eye."

 

"Well, it doesn't matter. Do you know of any way to find it?"

 

"No." Judith winced, and her voice sounded weaker when she answered. She seemed to have visibly wilted since he had arrived. Giles realised she must be in a lot of pain, but she hadn't been able to rest until her duty had been done. Two years trying to maintain world security with nobody to talk to about it?

 

"That must have been a terrible responsibility for you to bear," he said, before he could stop himself. When she looked at him, her expression was softer.

 

"We all do the best we can," she said. "If… you find this thing, and stop it, will you… take charge of it? I'm getting too old for all of this."

 

Something about the wistfulness in her voice made him smile gently. "You trust me to do that?"

 

Her returning smile was thin. "Well, if you don't stop it, then it probably won't matter either way. And if you do, then you must have done something right."

 

"That would be a reasonable assumption."

 

"Good luck, Mr. Giles."

 

As he walked back along the hospital corridors, Giles tried to assimilate Judith Appleton's information. A pair of eyes. The council's involvement. Something big was in there somewhere, and if the council had wanted to hide the eyes there must have been a very good reason for it. Research ought to start immediately but he hadn't brought his laptop, as it had needed charging and he hadn't expected to be gone for long. He should call Summerdown and ask Buffy or Angel to start looking for something called the eyes. He was also beginning to worry about the safety of the eye in their possession. Giles realised it was imperative that the eyes should stay apart; Monty had his own abilities, but to be sure, he should assign one of his superheroes to look after it, at least until they understood what they were dealing with.

 

His phone was turned off, hospital regulations, and he would call as soon as he got outside. On reaching the hospital car park, Giles walked over to the visitor pick-up area. He had asked the taxi driver to come back for him. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and turned it back on. Almost immediately, the shrill wail of his phone greeted him. He recognised the number as being Montague's. With growing dread, he said, "Hello?"

 

"Giles? Sorry mate… we've got a doosy of a problem."

 

Giles listened while Monty explained how the artefact had been snatched from under their protective cloaking spell. He didn't know where it had gone, or who had taken it. With sinking heart, Giles ended the call. The only bright spot had been that his friend hadn't been badly hurt. What should he do now? It was too late now to protect their artefact, and if the pair of artefacts - eyes - got close enough, it would cause, at the very least, massive disruption. He couldn't allow that… he had to find them, but he had no idea where to start. Perhaps his team would find something before he got back. But first, he needed help to find the missing eyes. He opened his phone and dialled.

 

"Oh… hello. Can I speak to Chief Inspector Collins, please? Tell him it's Giles, and it's really important…"

 

*

 

Angel got out of bed and pulled their sleeping arrangements back into a daytime sofa; it was too cramped in here to have it open any longer than necessary.  He shook out the duvet and pillows before folding them up and stashing them in the storage box under the sofa.  He hadn't slept well, it was far too sunny, and he knew it was pointless to stay there. He showered and dressed and went outside. He loved having the ability to go over to the main house in daylight, in safety, and he wandered into the kitchen. A stack of boxes with gay ribbons trailing out of the tops stood in the corner of the kitchen.

 

"Hello Martha," he said, watching her stack metallic trays on the drainer. "Everything ready for tomorrow?"

 

"Hello Angel." She was already moving toward the kettle to make him some tea. "Yes, it's all finished."

 

"Any word from Giles?"

 

"Only that he had arrived in Scotland safely and was on his way to the hospital. That was… about half an hour ago."

 

Angel sat down at the kitchen table.

 

"You're up early," Martha commented.

 

"Too much light, "Angel explained.

 

"Yes, that is a problem," she said, making his tea. She had put blackout linings inside their curtains in an effort to cut down the light, but Angel was still sensitive to it.  "Did Buffy tell you she offered to help out with the stall tomorrow?"

 

He'd heard that differently. Buffy had told him that Martha had volunteered her and she wasn't sure how to get out of it. Instead, he said, "I heard something about it, yes." He waited a beat before asking his next question. "Do you know…"

 

"Yes, she's out the back," Martha said, tilting her head in the direction of the dining room. Angel stood up.

 

"Thank you," he said, picking up his tea en route and added, "Buffy loves the table set that you gave her."

 

"It was just an old one," Martha said, but she looked pleased, and what Angel had said was true. She and John had just bought a lovely new wooden table and chair set for their garden, and had wondered what to do with their old plastic one. Around the same time Buffy had said how much she missed the sunshine of home and Martha knew it was no substitute, but had given her their old set so that she could at least enjoy what little sunshine she did have.

 

Angel carried his tea through the dining room to the open door that led out onto the lawn. He could see the fringe on the bottom of the cheerful blue umbrella  twitching in the light breeze, and standing back in the coolness of the house, he watched her. She was beautiful. Light glistened through her blonde hair, and made her skin look radiant. The sun reflecting off of the white table in front of her made his eyes hurt, but his gaze was drawn to the glass of water in her hand. It shone. Iridescent prisms of light infused the water with an almost magical quality, and he forced his gaze way from the painful dazzle and settled instead on something much more gorgeous.

 

She hadn't noticed him, she had been watching the birds fighting over some crusts of bread on the lawn; she only looked up when he stepped outside and stood under the covered back porch. Suddenly feeling guilty for enjoying something that he could never share, she started to get up to go inside.

 

"Don't."

 

She raised a questioning eyebrow, but sat back down.

 

"I like… seeing you like this," he said, his voice soft. "It's not something I get to do very often."

 

She smiled at him. "Did you sleep well?"

 

I missed you, he wanted to say. Instead, he replied, "I've had better."

 

She gave him a little sad smile to show she understood, and he watched, transfixed, as she lifted the sparkling glass of water to her lips and took a sip. He could see her throat move as the water made its journey downward, and in that moment, he wished he could be in the garden with her. He made himself look away, to look out across the lawn instead. Everything was too bright; it was simply too colourful. The light seemed to bounce off of everything, creating a radiant glare everywhere, and it made his head hurt.

 

Buffy noticed his frown, and got up. This time he made no protest when she approached him. She had mistaken his frown of pain for one of longing to be in the sunshine, and she wished that they could be outside together.

 

"The sun is bad for your eyes," she observed. "Giles said that the new house will have a veranda so that you can share some of the day with me, but in the meantime… I'm going to get you some sunglasses."

 

Angel chuckled. Surely only Buffy would regard sunglasses as an appropriate gift for a vampire?

 

He wrapped her in his arms when she reached him, and marvelled, "You're so warm."

 

She stood on tiptoe to kiss him; his lips and skin cool against hers.

 

"Let me warm you," she whispered.

 

Before Angel could respond, the phone rang and they both groaned.

 

"Duty calls."

 

Following Giles' phone call, Buffy and Angel located themselves in the study for some serious research. They had a pen and paper beside them and were making a list of everything that could possibly be of use. But they could find no pictures of the artefact, and so many references to eyes it was ridiculous. Not just eyes that saw things, but eyes that dripped poison, or glowed weird colours or did other unnatural things. Not only that, but there were references to false eyes, and eyes located in places Buffy would really rather not know about.

 

"God," she groaned, snapping her book shut and stretching the cramped muscles in her neck. "How does Giles stand this?"

 

Because he has to, Angel wanted to say, but he understood her frustration and said nothing. She had been getting antsy for days; she said her slayer vibes were starting to tingle. She'd felt something was going down even before the artefacts vanished.,. And their disappearance only added to her sense of foreboding.

 

She stood up and went to the window. "I need a break from this, Angel. Got any suggestions?"

 

"Well, I've been thinking that maybe we could enrol Alice into the search? She can understand languages that we can't - she could help?"

 

Buffy brightened. "Right! And that will cover for me, won't it?" She said, and ignoring Angel's disapproving look, she dialled Alice's number, and Angel returned to his book again.

 

He turned the page; Messira was a mountain species and had nothing of importance about eyes. The next article was very short, but there was an interesting bit about Milliaca having a hypnotic stare, and Angel added that to his list. He turned the page, and all the words on the page started to swim together. Mohra. Part of his mind registered Buffy's phone conversation with Alice, and another part swamped with memories of their perfect day. It didn't hurt as much as it had once, now that they had finally found peace together, but… it still hurt.

 

His throat clamping shut, he heard Buffy put the phone down, and he hurriedly turned the page before she saw it. He didn't want to answer any awkward questions from her. Would he ever have to tell her what he had done?

 

"Alice says that she will start… are you okay?"

 

Angel looked up, and gave her his most charming smile. "Information overload," he confided, and Buffy relaxed.

 

"Tell me about it," she exclaimed. "Alice says she'll see what she can find. I think I'm going into Westbury and have a little chat with Travis and some of our other contacts. You can do the night ones this evening. "Will you be okay?"

 

"I'm good," he replied, making more notes about something called the 'Eyes of Natar.' "You go and see what you can find."

 

"A plan," she said, relieved to be off of research duty; quickly kissing him goodbye, she left the room before he could change his mind.

 

It was early evening when she returned to the flat. Her contacts had provided nothing of use to them, and she was feeling anxious. Angel was still over at the main house, and Giles should be back by now. They didn't need her. She made herself a ham sandwich and a coffee, and settled down on the sofa. She put her drink down on the coffee table and couldn't help noticing the marks on the table. Angel had left the place neat when he'd gone over to the house, but with all the research and preparations for tomorrow's fete, Buffy had fallen behind with her housekeeping. She knew Martha would have been happy to give the place the once-over, but she didn't want her to. This was her place - hers and Angel's, and she wanted to do it herself.

 

While Angel was out and she had the place to herself, she decided it would be a good time to give the place the once over. If nothing else, it would stop her speculating on yet another apocalypse; and to that end, she turned on the radio to have a welcome background noise while she worked.

 

"Why go out?" the chirpy voice on the radio said. "The best thing you can do, is stay tuned for a great evening! Music old and new, for whatever mood you're in tonight."

 

"I'd rather be going out," Buffy muttered, getting out the duster and polish and setting to work. She had scrubbed and cleaned, she had hoovered, washed and ironed, and the evening flew by in a whirlwind of activity. It was now dark out, and she wanted to just mop the bathroom floor before Angel got back.

 

She was just running water into the bucket and squirting some pine-scented cleaner into the hot water, when some words of the song playing on the radio caught her attention.

 

There is a darkness deep in you
A frightening magic I cling to

Buffy turned off the tap and took a deep breath. That was a little too… close.

 

Give me a chance to hold on
Give me a chance to hold on
Give me a chance to hold on
Just give me something to hold onto

Somehow the rest of the song faded away, and memories and thoughts came crashing in.

 

He was the one she held on to. It was so nice to have somebody to share things with. How many times had she leant on him? How had she ever managed without him? Her hand gripped the kitchen worktop as she remembered all the times they had been apart, all the missions they had been on together, all the arguments, all the loving moments. And yet… was it his darkness that attracted her?

 

After Giles let Angel off of research duty - he and Alice had found a staggering list of eye references to follow up - he took off to check out his own contacts. Many of these were to be found outside the village, and so he had chosen to leave his car behind. He liked to do that sometimes, and rely on his own locomotion, and it felt good to just be out and about. He was cooped up for far too much of the time lately.

 

His investigations had not been any more productive than Buffy's had been, and it was with some disheartenment that he started back for home. Coming up from the bottom of the field, towards home, Angel passed round the back of the house and crossed over the lawn. He couldn't resist a small smile when he saw Buffy's sunshine table and chairs out on the grass. He supposed she would put them away in the winter.

 

Round the other side of the house, John pulled his car onto the gravel courtyard, and waited outside the kitchen door. He'd had a very busy day, and was looking forward to getting home so that his wife could start getting dinner. As much as he loved his job at Summerdown - it was never dull - the hours were rather… erratic, especially for Martha. He sometimes grumbled that she spent more time at work than with him, but in reality he was very proud of her for being such an indispensable asset to Giles, and the extra money she brought in was certainly very useful.

 

Angel approached the kitchen door, instinctively keeping in the deeper shadows cast by the house. The side door opened, and Martha came out, a carrier bag in her hand, and she closed the kitchen door behind her. Angel stepped into the light to greet her, and startled, Martha dropped her bag.

 

"I'm sorry," he said gently, trying not to notice the way her hand had started shaking, and they way her heart was thumping wildly. "I didn't mean to startle you."

 

"Don't be silly," she quickly said. "I just wasn't expecting…"

 

The car door opened, and John got out. "Everything all right, love?"

 

Angel bent down to pick up the bag of shopping while Martha breathlessly explained she was just being a silly fool. He handed the bag back to her, aware that her heart rate was still much too fast. Martha mumbled her thanks and gave him an embarrassed smile, while she let John usher her into the car. Angel stood where he was, deep in thought, watching the car pull away. He should be more careful; Buffy was used to his speed and silent approach, and he really hadn't meant to scare the housekeeper.

 

As much as he tried to blend in, events like that reminded him that he could never be completely one of them, and to know that they all tried and he still felt like an outsider was painful to think about. The sudden need to feel Buffy's warmth and love made him hurry across to the steps and start on up. He could hear music playing in the flat, and when he opened the door, he could see Buffy standing absolutely still, and she looked… distracted. What was wrong? Had something happened? Then he heard the music that she was listening to.

 

There is a darkness deep in you
A frightening magic I cling to

He watched her expression change, and he swallowed.

 

Give me a chance to hold on
Give me a chance to hold on
Give me a chance to hold on
Just give me something to hold onto

She was gripping the worktop so hard, he feared for its safety.

 

"Are you okay?"

 

She turned and saw him standing in the doorway. He watched the struggle in her expression, and she mumbled something about hormones, or a bad day, or some other nonsense. He saw only the expression her eyes. Hold me.

 

He didn't need to hear the words, and his own need for her was already driving him forward, to do what he'd wanted to do anyway. He wrapped her tightly in his arms. "What is it?"

 

He felt her shaking in his embrace, and he waited while she composed herself. When she looked up, her eyes were shining with unshed tears.

 

"Angel… what we have is… wonderful. More than I ever thought that we could have. Ever. But… I can't help feeling that…"

 

"What?" he coaxed when she faltered.

 

"That it's limited." She straightened. "Something is coming, and I'm afraid that what we share… will be gone."

 

"We can't know what the future holds," he said. "We just have to make the best of what we have." He leant down and kissed her, pulling her close to comfort her. Holding her hand, he guided her over to the sofa, searching her eyes for permission. She smiled at him, and it was all that he needed. He kissed her, long and deep, and when they ended up on the sofa in a tangle of limbs, their union was fire to his soul.

 

Afterwards, and possibly a little late, they opened the sofa up and made it into a proper bed, where they lay quietly together. Later, while she slept, cocooned in his arms, Angel watched her. He understood her concerns, because he felt them too. Sometimes he didn't believe how his life had turned out. He had a home, he had friends and people who trusted him - even if he found it hard to feel accepted - and he had a beautiful woman who loved him. It was more than he had ever hoped for, more than many people had, and it bothered him. Those things didn't happen to him. He wasn't worthy, and he'd had the feeling for some time that something was coming to sweep it all away.

 

**

 

Martha's cake and confectionary stall looked glorious in the Saturday morning sunshine. She had a crisp white cloth laid over the table, and had decorated the wooden side supports of the stall with bright red ribbon to match the candy-striped cover over the top. A mouth watering display of cakes, biscuits, buns and scones covered two-thirds of the stall, and home made fudge, coconut ice, toffee apples, boiled sweets and various other colourful treasures festooned the final piece. Giles had designed and printed out some price tags as the finishing touch for the goods. The girls had worked hard to get the stall looking so pretty, and both of them were pleased with it. Buffy had considered backing out of the fete altogether, but Martha had been so excited about the annual event that she hadn't had the heart not to help out.

 

"Why don't you take a little break and have a look round the fete?" Martha asked.

 

"Don't you need me here?" Buffy said in surprise.

 

"I will later." Martha said. "But it's a bit early for a lot of folk yet. I'd take advantage of the quiet and stretch your legs if I were you."

 

That sounded good to Buffy; she had hoped to have a bit of time to look around. She had never seen the village green look so busy, but she was glad that she hadn't let Martha down. After her emotional evening with Angel, she had felt the need for sunshine and people today. So she took Martha's advice and wandered off to see what was on offer. There were lots of homemade products to buy. George Croscombe, still ensconced in his grey cap despite the hot weather, was selling his impressive selection of homemade wine, and Minnie Heywood's jam and preserves seemed to be very popular. She was disappointed to find that the white elephant stall didn't actually have any elephants, but seemed to be just second-hand odds and ends.

 

There was plenty going on as well, what with the variety of fun stalls containing coconuts, prizes, raffles, games and a huge Bouncy castle supplied by Hugh Jones. She itched to have a go at the Tug o' War but figured it wouldn't have been fair. She saw kids - and a few adults - playing Beat The Goalie in what turned out to be a mini game of soccer where they tried to score a goal. The beer tent was packed, the Cream Tea tent seemed to be full of old ladies, and she saw an intriguing sign advertising the 'Duck race.' How did they get the ducks to take part?

 

There were plenty of goods for sale, too. Bags and clothes, soft toys, and to her delight, she found one that had some great sunglasses on it where she bought a pair for Angel.

 

Many of the villagers said hello to her as they passed by, which was a nice surprise, and she was away from the stall much longer than she had meant to be. On her way back she stopped to buy an unusual plant with reddish green leaves that had a peachy feel to them, from one of the stalls as an impromptu present for Martha, and later saw some members of the Westbury Brass band carting their instruments through the crowds to put on a musical display for the fete.

 

Martha had quite a crowd gathering when Buffy arrived back, and she carefully stored her presents down next to the stall refills and set to work helping her.

 

By three that afternoon they had sold everything, and they began to take the stall down. Buffy remembered her plant. She picked it up and handed it to Martha. Feeling a bit awkward, she said, "This is for you."

 

Martha looked surprised, but very pleased. "That's so kind of you, dear. Thank you very much."

 

"I… I don't know what it is," Buffy rushed to explain, "But I know you like houseplants and it was unusual. The stallholder said it should be kept somewhere light."

 

"I shall keep it in my conservatory," Martha said, touched by the American girl's thoughtfulness. "It's warm and light and I have a lot of plants there."

 

That was true. Buffy had only been to Martha's house a few times, but on one occasion she had been in the large glass extension to the back of their house. Martha found it relaxing to sit in there amongst all the lush vegetation and read quietly.

 

Martha put the pretty plant in one of the empty boxes for safekeeping while she and Buffy cleared up their successful stall.

 

By the time Buffy returned to Summerdown, she was tired but happy. She'd had a nice time at the fete, seen lots of local residents and sold all of their goods. Well, except for some little buns that Martha had left behind in the kitchen for her. Martha had gone home for the weekend. She said she was going to put her feet up and do nothing for the rest of the weekend.

 

Buffy wandered through the kitchen and down the hall toward the study. She could hear Giles talking, so maybe Angel was with him. But when she arrived at the study door she realised that he was talking to somebody over the telephone. Not wanting to intrude, she turned to leave but Giles indicated that she enter, so she stepped inside and waited.

 

"Thank you," Giles was saying, "I'll see what we can do."

 

After he hung up, he looked at her, and she tried not to notice his sombre expression. She waited.

 

"That was Inspector Collins. There has been an explosion over at Honiton. The police have cordoned off the area, but there are reports of… strange things in the vicinity."

 

"Strange things?"

 

"Ian doesn't know what. He's off duty right now, and by rights shouldn't even be aware of anything unusual. But he has contacts in the force, and he's getting this fed to him second-hand. There is concern that there might be terrorists involved, and they're worried that the area might even be radioactive. Ian has a hunch that it's got a more supernatural explanation, and he thinks if we can get there fast, we might be able to get in there before the experts arrive."

 

Buffy nodded. "Right. What are we waiting for, then?"

 

**

 

The local police had cordoned off the suspect area. Crowds had already started to gather and marvel at the place where a whole house had stood. Giles dropped Buffy off at the back of the building, where she was able to scale the high back wall and get into the property without being observed. He drove round the front and joined the curious onlookers.

 

"What's going on?" he asked a young man that had a little boy perched on his shoulders.

 

"Terrorist gang," the onlooker confided. "I heard that they'd been making bombs and done themselves in."

 

"Really?" Giles countered. "I heard it was a gas explosion."

 

"See?" The man's wife glared at her husband. "Told you nothin' interesting ever happens round here."

 

Buffy climbed through the back window, her slayer instincts screaming something not normal had happened here. The front of the house was gone, but the back part was still mostly intact.

 

She crossed the kitchen and froze when something that looked like a fat turtle ran across the carpet in front of her, only to vanish almost immediately. She froze. What was that? Was she about to vanish as well? Knowing she didn't have much time, she hurried down the hall. A bird flew past her, from goodness knows where, and vanished into the wall.

 

Relying on her instinct, she ended up at a room that looked like a large closet. Inside the room, a box that looked rather like an incubator stood on top of the table. She hurried over and peered inside.

 

The box was filled with miniature replicas of the artefact that Angel had drawn. They were laid out in three rows of five, and the fourth row only had two in it. Presumably they had enough replicas now. Something about the way they looked tugged at a memory, but she couldn't bring it into focus. At the top of the box, stood a piece of stone.

 

She didn't know how she knew, but she could tell that this room was the source of the vanishing things. What should she do? Acting solely on instinct, she leant down and pulled out the plug. Instantly, a scream filled the air, and it was a moment before she realised her own mouth was making the noise. A high-pitched sound was filling her head, and she had a vague recollection of Angel saying the sound he'd heard had been hard to bear. She yanked up the plastic top, snatched up the piece of rock and smashed each little object into smithereens. She expected to be obliterated with the first strike; but with each one destroyed, the sound lessened, until there was no sound at all. Then, with her eardrums still tingling with the assault on them, she watched the fragments of the artefacts fade away to nothing. But there was still something about this room. Searching around, she found their missing box underneath a thick woollen blanket. She hurried back down the hallway and back outside, carrying both the box and the rock in her hands. She saw no further strange visions in front of her, and she was content that there would be nothing peculiar for the local lawmen to ponder over later.

 

**

 

When Angel got up that afternoon, he found that Buffy had left him a brief note on the fridge over at the main house that said, On a case. - Buffy.

 

He had no idea what time she would be back, and he wouldn't be able to get out for a while yet, so he decided to get himself something to eat and do so more research.

 

A couple of hours later, a car pulled into the drive, and he knew it wasn't Giles. He heard the driver get out and hurry over to the kitchen door. Angel reached the kitchen before the driver had time to knock, and he whisked the door open, making the visitor jump.

 

"Good god, Angel!" he spluttered.

 

Angel smiled and stepped back to let Stewart come in. "Sorry."

 

"Is Rupert around?"

 

He would have been amused by the lack of greeting from the visitor, if he hadn't realised Stewart was so obviously stressed. If he had driven all the way up from his magic shop in Canterbury, then whatever he was concerned about was very important.

 

"I'm afraid not. Can I help?"

 

For a moment Stewart looked undecided, and then he pulled out a small parcel from his pocket. Angel waited while he unwrapped it.

 

"This is…."

 

"A locator stone." Angel supplied. "I haven't seen one of those for a while. I thought they were all lost."

 

"This one was Maria's." Stewart said. "After she died, I gave most of her mystic stuff to Rupert, as I thought he'd be better able to use it. But this is so small, I forgot about it." He put the stone on the table. "Until today, that is. It's been glowing, and it's giving me the willies."

 

"It's not glowing now," Angel observed.

 

"No. But it has been. I didn't know what to do with it. It's… not supposed to work unless a supernatural being uses it. Angel… I don't have any powers."

 

"Yes, it's true that only somebody supernatural can operate it. But, the glowing is a warning. Something really big is going down."

 

"Great."

 

"Wait here while I get a map," Angel said, disappearing toward the study. Before Stewart could formulate a reply, Angel was back, clutching a map, and that bothered him more than the scare he'd got on arrival. If Angel waived his usual care to act normally in front of mortals, then clearly, he was worried too.

 

Angel spread the map down on the table, and held the stone in his hands. It had been a while since he'd used one of these, but Dru had had one in her possession for years until she lost it. He pressed his hands together, and concentrated; then he put the stone down on the map. Immediately, the stone shot across the map and came to a stop.

 

"Holy cow, Angel!" Stu exclaimed. "I've never seen the stone move so fast."

 

Angel's expression was grave. "Are you going to call Giles, or am I?"

 

**

 

Giles went back to his car to wait for Buffy. To his relief, she arrived soon after, and filled him in as to what had happened while they stashed the box in the boot of the car. When they got back in the car, Buffy plopped the stone on the dashboard, and said, "That was in there too. What is it?"

 

"Limestone," he said. "It's very common in this area."

 

"But why was it in the incubator?"

 

"I've no idea," Giles' started to say, but his reply was interrupted by the ringing of the phone on the dashboard, and he turned it on.

 

"Giles?"

 

"Here," he said, and Buffy marvelled at hearing her lovers' voice coming out of the speaker.

 

"Problem, Giles. Stewart's just driven up here with an active locator stone."

 

Giles' smile dropped away. All he said was, "Where?"

 

"Mendip Hills." Angel replied. "I'll see if I can narrow it down further for you." There was a pause. "Tell Buffy to be careful."

 

"You know me," she said, and there was a grunt from over the line, before the phone went dead. Giles started the car, and began to reverse back down the lane to the main road.

 

"Are you going to tell me what a locator stone is?" Buffy asked, her voice tinged with apprehension.

 

"They're used to pinpoint dimensional hotspots and portals. I had no idea that Stewart had one."

 

"And we're going to the Mendips because…?"

 

"A dimensional breach has been detected. Something big has, or will, come through. We might be too late, but we must check it out."

 

By the time Giles reached the Mendip Hills, Angel, by using larger scale maps, had managed to narrow the search right down to an isolated house in the area.

 

Buffy was out of the car and dashing for the house practically before the car had stopped. The same energy that she had felt earlier from seeing the strange creatures coming and going was infused in this house, and she began searching room by room. The house was near derelict, and it was empty of furniture or furnishings. The ground floor had uncovered nothing, when she heard a noise coming from upstairs. Taking the stairs two at a time, she flew up the stairs. Somebody was moving about in the rooms ahead of her, and he was certainly fast; he was keeping ahead of her all the time.

 

They were heading toward the back of the house; the rooms were darker there, not only because the light was fading but also because leaves from nearby trees and ivy vines were covering up many of the windows.

 

The door ahead slammed, and she raced forward.  She could hear the intruder scrabbling with the window latch as she reached the door and she wondered briefly why he hadn't tried to get out of any of the other windows. Just as she was pushing the door open the window smashed, dropping little shards of glass down over the wooden floor. Years of painted frames and rusted decay must have taken their toll. She saw him yanking at the overgrown ivy to let him get outside. She saw his broad shoulders stiffen when he heard her come in. Her stomach clenched; he looked… familiar.

 

Slowly, the intruder turned round, and she gasped.  His eyes slid slowly up along the curves of her body, and she squirmed, feeling almost naked standing in front of him. The slow curl of his lip made her tense up, and she struggled not to shake. This was not possible. She must be hallucinating.

 

The hallucination stepped forward.

 

"Hello, Buff."

 

No.

 

Buffy scanned him rapidly. She had left Angel back at the house; heck, she had just spoken to him! Had he been transported here? Was it some side effect of the locator stone? But she knew that wasn't the case. His clothes were all wrong; She knew what was in Angel's wardrobe, and he had nothing like that. And certainly not… oh god… leather pants. The arrogant stance was all wrong too; and when she finally allowed herself to meet his gaze, his eyes were definitely not Angel's either. No - she couldn't go through that again.

 

She felt cold slither down her spine, and wondered if she was dreaming. This creature was her worst nightmare; she had regretted, years ago, allowing Other Willow go back to her own dimension; she should have been brave enough to destroy her. She could not afford to make the same mistake here. She started forward. This ended now.

 

He stepped away from the window, hands held up in supplication.

 

"Is that any way to treat an old friend?"

 

"You're no friend of mine," she snapped, surging forward, ready to dust the apparition from her life once and for all. 

 

"You wound me, " he murmured, hand held over his cold heart.

 

"That's the general idea," she snarled, retreating a couple of steps and smashing her foot backwards through the door so that she didn't have to take her eyes off of him, and snatched up a piece of broken wood. She rushed forwards, slamming the stake down to find she had missed him. Lithe as a cat, he had sidestepped, and was continuing to back up towards the door.

 

"And after I came looking for you, too," he said, the lopsided curl of his mouth making her skin crawl. She knew she shouldn't rise to his bait, but she couldn't help herself.

 

"Why would you do that?"

 

"Isn't it obvious?" he asked, catching the stake-filled hand that had lunged at him again, and pushing it gently away.

 

"I need your help."

 

End.

 

 

 

 



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