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Footsteps

 

Project Paranormal

Season 4

Part 8

Author: Ares

 

**

 

Summary: Angel disappears while on a case. Buffy and Giles go investigate.

 

**

 

Footsteps

 

It is absurd to try to follow in a vampire’s footsteps when they appear to glide rather than walk, their feet barely touching the ground. And if they aren’t stalking the streets they fly from rooftop to rooftop, or slink safe underground.  How does one do that, anyway, track a vampire through a city or countryside? Does one do it by smell? Do vampires have a scent? And if they do, is it of death, being dead and all, or is it a unique smell, one that smacks of the supernatural? Is it magic that keeps the body animated and that is what one can detect? One would think, being a predator, there was no trace of a scent at all. Then how does a vampire slayer do it? What power does she possess that enables her to sense when one of her prey is near? And how does she manage, when the vampire she is searching for has disappeared?

 

 

+++

 

 

Buffy was wearing the carpeting thin with her pacing. Back and forth, back and forth she went, with Zillah, Aristotle, and Giles watching her. Giles, helpless to do anything other than offer platitudes. Angel had been out of touch for twenty four hours, and it wasn’t like him to do so. They had both tried calling his phone: to no avail. Of course, that wasn’t unusual in itself. The vampire was notoriously lacking in telephone skills. That wasn’t true, really, Giles knew. Angel inevitably lost track of his phone, or forgot to charge it, or was too busy to remember to turn it on. Giles suspected the vampire had something against the innocuous piece of technology. However, of late, Angel had been readily contactable by the device. Giles knew it was because of Buffy. Angel didn’t want her worrying about him unnecessarily.

 

“I think we have to go to Bristol.” Buffy had stopped her pacing and was staring at Giles.

 

He agreed with her. They had no choice but to follow in Angel’s footsteps. Buffy and Giles had been in Truro investigating what had seemed to be a ghost in a closet. Normally, Buffy wouldn’t have needed to go, it was such a minor thing, and Giles could have handled it on his own. However, the morning had burned bright, and, after a week of grey clouds and cold winds, Buffy had decided she would enjoy the sunny drive down to Cornwall. The ghost had turned out to be mice in the walls. It had been a waste of time, and while they were thusly occupied, Angel had taken a call from a young man that had sent him off to Bristol at the setting of the sun. Buffy and Giles had arrived home, missing Angel by a couple of hours.

 

Giles pocketed the note that contained Mr. Watts’ address that Angel had left on his desk, and followed Buffy out of the study. Martha met them at the door. She had a packet of date scones and a thermos of tea ready for them to take.

 

“For your journey, wherever it takes you” she said at their surprised looks. “Bring him home safe.”

 

Buffy gave her a hug. “We will, Martha. Thank you.”

 

Martha watched them go. She hadn’t been in the house when Angel had left the night before but she had been around that afternoon to have been the last person to see him. The young man - and she thought of him as such, despite her knowing he was well into his third century and he wasn’t really a man – had been checking the team’s website to see if they had had any enquiries. Martha had brought him a cup of tea when she went to bid him farewell for the day.

 

His smile and gratitude had warmed the cockles of her heart, as did his softly asked questions about their daughter Marylyn and her unborn child. She had left him sitting in Giles’ chair with the cup of tea steaming beside the keyboard.

 

+++

 

Buffy stared through the window of Giles’ car and out into the evening with worry. If Angel had been trapped by daylight, unable to get to a phone, then the fall of the evening should have given him the opportunity to do so. The long awaited call hadn’t come. Giles had called Chris Watts’ number during the day, several times at Buffy’s insistence, and hadn’t been able to contact him. Angel had briefed her on the nature of the case by telephone the previous day, and wasn’t that typical of Angel to have gone to investigate an interesting one while theirs had been a bust?

 

Buffy heard the volume of the radio rise. Giles was listening to the news. The top of the news that morning, and all day, had been the explosion in the town of Hitchin. Gas, the authorities thought. So far, there were no reports of anyone having been hurt or killed, although the search was still ongoing. The blast had demolished one building and had taken half of its neighbour with it. Buffy tuned out. She had enough to worry about without the woes of the normal world intruding.

 

Arriving outside Watts’ flat they were surprised to see the lights on. They hadn’t expected him to be home. Buffy had thought he had disappeared along with her boyfriend.

 

When the man answered the door, Buffy blurted out, “Where have you been? And why haven’t you been answering your phone?”

 

“Excuse me?” the young man asked, his tone both surprised and annoyed. He glared at the two strangers on his doorstep. “Just who are you?”

 

“Forgive us, Mr Watts. I’m Rupert Giles and this is my associate Buffy Summers. We’re from Project Paranormal. I believe you have had dealings with our other partner, Angel.” Giles handed over his business card while Buffy tried to look apologetic. She didn’t think it was working. She was more worried about Angel than a total stranger’s feelings.

 

Card in hand, and without really looking at it, Watts invited them in, leading them down a short hall and into a small living area. His light hair and light eyes gave him a boyish look, but Buffy figured Watts was at least her age.

 

“Is there a problem? Did the skull start screaming again?”

 

“Yes…sorry? Did you say…?” Giles didn’t know if he had heard him correctly.

 

“Skull,” the man confirmed.

 

“I thought the house had a haunt?” Buffy asked, intrigued, despite her fears for Angel’s safety.

 

“That’s what I thought, too. Until your man Angel found my skull.” Watts motioned for them to take a seat.

 

Buffy looked about. There were cardboard boxes, empty, and full, scattered about the flat. It looked like Mr. Watts was either moving in, or moving out. Buffy moved a few items off the couch, and sat.

 

“Would you be so good as to tell us what happened with this skull, Mr Watts?” Giles asked, sitting down beside her.

 

“Would you like a drink? I’ve only just got back in. I’ve got beer, and wine, if you’d like Miss…?”

 

“Buffy. Nothing for me, thank you, but you go ahead and have a beer.”

 

At Giles’ shake of his head, Watts disappeared into the kitchenette. From behind the fridge door they heard, “I have a friend, Cole, he’s Australian, and he’s convinced me to keep my ale cold. It’s an acquired taste, and one I’ve grown to like.”

 

Watts wandered back into the living area with his beer in hand. He sat in the one brown leather arm chair.

 

“I’ve only been in the flat four days, and when I first heard the scream the first night, I thought that someone was being murdered out in the street. Was thinking that maybe this wasn’t the best of neighbourhoods I had moved into.  When I looked through the curtains I could see the road was deserted. I thought it was kids, you know…playing pranks in the street.” He took a swallow of beer. Buffy noticed the bottle was labelled Newcastle Brown Ale.

 

“Was there more than the one scream?” Giles was leaning forward, interested.

 

“No. That was it, just the one. It was pretty unnerving all the same.  I went to bed, read a book, trying to get it out of my mind.”

 

Another swallow of beer. Buffy wanted to give him a shake to hurry him along.

 

“On the second night, with the scream echoing in my head, I ran out into the road looking for the cheeky buggers. I scared the old man across the street. Apparently, he doesn’t sleep well and he was taking a stroll…not that I think that that is a safe thing to do late at night, but, each to their own.”

 

Giles cleared his throat.

 

“Sorry…other than the old man, the street was empty. That was when I decided that I needed help.”

 

“How did you find us?” Buffy asked him.

 

Watts pointed to the computer set up on the kitchen table. “The internet.”

 

He continued, “I asked the old man if he had heard anything unusual, like a person in trouble, but he looked at me as if I was mad. He hadn’t heard a thing, and even if he was a little deaf there was no way he couldn’t have heard the sound. I came to the conclusion the noise must be coming from inside the flat. I thought maybe the place was haunted.”

 

“Angel arrived last night?” Giles prompted.

 

“Yes…there was a knock on the door…”

 

 

Chris opened the door to find the man from the Paranormal team was much younger than he had thought he would be. He was about his own age, he guessed, and better looking when, after inviting him in, Angel stepped inside and into the light.

 

Chris looked at his watch. It was nine thirty. He had made the call hours ago.  “You made good time.”

 

He thought Angel looked uncomfortable when he said, “I had other business. Sorry.”

 

“Never mind. The show doesn’t start till ten.” Chris looked about his small flat. “Where do you want to begin?”

 

Angel surveyed the room. “I’ll move about and get a feel for the place…”

 

“Sure. Anything you want. Can I make you a coffee, or would you like a beer?”

 

Without understanding why, but when the man’s intense gaze swung round to meet his own, Chris felt himself tense. He felt as if he was caught up in the stare of a large animal, one that had teeth and claws and wasn’t above using them.  He relaxed a moment later when Angel showed his teeth in a smile.

 

“A coffee will be fine.”

 

When Chris left Angel he could almost swear the man was sniffing the walls. He puttered about in his kitchenette, filling the kettle and spooning coffee.

 

“Milk and sugar?” he called, and when the answer came back “black only” he dared to peer into the living area. He was in time to see Angel’s black coat disappear out the door and into the hall. Listening intently, he didn’t hear the creak of the stairs, and went to see what held the man’s interest in the hall. Were there signs of a ghost out there? Did he pass it by every day without a clue? The hall was deserted.

 

“Angel?” he called.

 

“Upstairs,” came back the reply.

 

Chris craned his neck to look up the stairs. His bedroom and bathroom lay up that way. How on earth did a big man like Angel climb those stairs without making a sound? Chris wished he knew the answer to that. He was rather tired of the squeaky boards on his stairs and floor, and he hadn’t been there a week.

 

Chris went back to the kitchen and finished making the coffee. He had wanted a beer but had decided he might need a cool and sober head for what lay ahead. Turning around with the mugs in his hands, he started, and would have spilled the hot liquid if not for two steadying hands reaching for the cups. Angel was right there and he hadn’t heard him arrive.

 

Angel smiled in apology. “Sorry.”

 

Chris released one of the mugs into Angel’s care and, with shaky steps and a hammering heart, led the way to the seating in the living area.

 

“Did you find anything? I mean…if one can find a ghost, that is?” he asked, trying to find his equilibrium.

 

Angel took a sip of his coffee. “No, there’s nothing upstairs.”

 

Chris felt his shoulder’s slump. He wondered if this had been a waste of time, and was thinking maybe he had called the wrong people. He swallowed a large portion of his coffee, and it was hot, he realised, when he burned his tongue. He placed his mug on the floor beside his chair to let it cool.

 

“There’s something…”

 

Chris leaned forward in his seat, his scald put aside for the moment. “Yes?”

 

“…Not quite right down here,” Angel finished.

 

The young man stared about the room trying to see whatever it was that Angel saw.

 

“It’s a feeling,” Angel said, as if he could read his mind.

 

“A feeling?” Chris’ mood plummeted. Feelings? What use was that?

 

The other man stood and wandered over to the window.

 

“Do you have anything unusual in the house?”

 

“Like…?”

 

 

“The skull?” Buffy snickered.

 

Chris had the grace to blush. “Yeah, only I had forgotten all about it.”

 

“I presume Angel found it,” Giles stated.

 

Watts’ nodded.

 

 

Chris saw black-clad shoulders shrug. He racked his brains.

 

“The place was pretty bare when I moved in.”

 

Angel stepped away from the window and wandered over to the boxes on the floor.

 

“What do you have in here?”

 

“Just bits and bobs. Books and magazines.”

 

Angel’s toe touched another box.

 

“I think that has cleaning stuff in it. Rags…”

 

“And here?” Angel indicated a forgotten box in the corner.

 

“I…don’t know. Rubbish, I think. Just the last of my things I hadn’t sorted through. It was stuffed in the bottom of my wardrobe.”

 

Angel picked up the box and, placing it on the couch, started rummaging through it. Several items were revealed when Angel set them aside on the seat. An old journal, a well-thumbed text book, letters, and a tattered shoe. Chris had been missing the shoe. He had had to throw out its mate when he thought it had been lost. The pair had been his favourite. They had been worn in and comfortable. An old tee shirt with Rammstein emblazoned on its back came next. Another favourite of his. Chris was beginning to think the box had enticed and imprisoned articles that had lived in his old wardrobe. Bringing his hand out of the box again, Angel held a cloth bag, inside which something bulged.

 

“Here!”

 

He threw it at Chris.

 

“The skull?” Buffy quirked an eyebrow at him, a smile pulling at her lips.

 

Chris nodded with a grin. “It wasn’t so funny at the time.”

 

“What happened?” Giles asked with a frown. He didn’t think the matter was a laughing one at all.

 

“When I caught the bag I remembered what it was, but as I pulled it free from the cloth…”

 

A piercing scream shivered through the room, raising the hairs on the back of the young man’s head. He dropped the skull and scrambled out of his chair, backing away from the gruesome object. The sound died away, leaving Watts’ heart pounding in his ears.

 

He watched as Angel casually picked the skull up off the floor. The man examined the bone matter-of-factly, he thought. Had the man nerves of steel? Angel’s large hands were as steady as a rock. Chris’ own nerves were shot.

 

“Where did you get this?” Angel asked him.

 

Eyeing the skull, Chris remembered where he had found it.

 

“It was years ago. When I was a student up at Cambridge. I was living in a small flat in an old building up there. In fact, that is where I have moved from. There had been a party…you know how it is…?”

 

Angel stared at him.

 

“Well…the next morning I woke up to find the skull next to me in bed. It gave me a hell of a fright, too.”

 

“How did it get there?”

 

“It was one of my friends playing a prank. We were all drunk. I passed out and…”

 

“Did you find out who it was,” Angel waggled the skull, “that put this in your bed?”

 

“I thought it had to have been Cameron. He was studying medicine. He would have had access to old bones. When I confronted him he said Brian had found it in the flat.”

 

“Did he say where?”

 

“There was a crumbling piece of wall behind a cupboard in the kitchen. I looked and there was a hole big enough. I put my hand inside and I couldn’t feel anything else. Cameron and my friends were big on practical jokes. I don’t know how on earth they discovered the hole or that the skull was there. But it doesn’t surprise me that they decided to use it to their advantage. You should have seen this one time…” He fell silent. Angel didn’t appear to be amused.

 

“Did you tell anyone about this? Did you inform the landlord?”

 

“No. As I said, I didn’t believe him. I put it in a pillowcase and threw it into the box. I forgot about it. It’s been years sitting there.”

 

The look on Angel’s face informed Chris that perhaps he should have investigated the matter further. He hadn’t been thinking that there could have been anything sinister about the appearance of a skull in his rooms.

 

Licking his suddenly dry lips, he decided he needed the coffee after all, and, picking up his mug, swallowed several large gulps of the now cool liquid.

 

Angel studied the fleshless head he held in his hand. “The skull needs to be put back in your flat. This isn’t the first time a skull has objected when displaced from its resting place. Tunstead Farm in Derbyshire, among others, has had its share of troubles from a relic such as this.”

 

“So it’s quite common, then?” Chris asked, relieved.

 

“Not really.”

 

“How old would you say is…?” Chris pointed to the thing in Angel’s hand.

 

“It’s old.”

 

 

“We left right away for Cambridge.” The young man looked Giles in the eye. “That partner of yours is fearless on the roads.”

 

Giles nodded. Angel may drive fast but his reflexes were superhuman. Buffy always said she felt safe when he was behind the wheel. He did too, now that he thought about it.

 

“He’s a demon on the roads,” he agreed, with a look at his slayer. Buffy’s attempt at keeping her face straight made his lips twitch.

 

“Angel insisted that I put the skull back in the hole. I still have a spare set of keys to the flat. He didn’t want any trouble with the law if he got caught breaking and entering. He thought I had a better excuse for being there.”

 

Both Buffy and Giles knew that that hadn’t been the reason. Angel couldn’t enter a dwelling without an invitation.

 

“Did you run into any trouble? What about the occupants of your old flat?” Giles asked the young man.

 

Chris Watts shivered at the memory.

 

“They had moved in, and like here, there were boxes everywhere.”

 

Wishing the larger and more capable man was the one tiptoeing about his old rooms, Chris crept on anxious feet to the kitchen. Once, he cracked his shins on a wooden crate, and he had to put a hand over his mouth to muffle his cry. Although he was relieved to see the new occupants of the flat weren’t staying the night, Chris felt he needed to be as quiet as he possibly could. The kitchen was in disarray. The remains of pizza sat upon the small table in the alcove. He could smell it, not needing the borrowed torch to illuminate the leftovers. With shaking hands he had pushed aside the box standing before the kitchen cupboard and, kneeling, found the hole. Removing the skull carefully from the bag he carried, he inserted the head into the crumbling wall. As best he could, he filled the opening with pieces of the wall, and set about squeezing the tube of tile glue they had bought on their journey, to coat his handiwork. Next, he carefully pressed several large tiles in place, also having coated their backs with the glue, holding them there for a few seconds, hoping they would stick. They did. Chris placed items he found in the box on the floor inside the cupboard to hide his work, and was relieved when once again he stood outside with the waiting Angel.

 

“Why couldn’t we have called and explained the situation?” he asked the dark figure.

 

“Would you believe your story?”

 

“I suppose not, but if we presented the evidence…”

 

“Do you think that would work? And if they did accept our story, would they tear down the walls looking for the rest of the skeleton, or would they want to throw the head as far away as possible and leave the problem for someone else to solve? I think the bones need to stay where they are. Undisturbed, at rest, and quiet.”

 

It was the longest speech he had heard the taller man utter. He thought about it as they walked back to Angel’s car.

 

“Are you sure the skull is old? It may belong to the remains of a murder victim.”

 

“I’m sure, and if the victim was murdered, the killer is long dead.”

 

 

“Did we do the right thing?”

 

“Angel does know his bones,” Buffy assured him.

 

Giles was quiet. He trusted Angel’s instincts but wasn’t sure if the new owners of the flat shouldn’t be informed of a hidden guest in their kitchen. He decided to keep his silence on the matter. He would think on it and would discuss it with Angel when they found him.

 

Buffy shifted in her seat. This hadn’t explained why Angel wasn’t here with Chris Watts. “So where is he?”

 

“We were on the way home when he spotted something near the road. I couldn’t see what it was he saw. Angel must have pretty keen eyesight.” Watts stared at Buffy as if looking for an answer to a question. When none was forthcoming, he continued, “It was pretty dark where we were. Angel stopped the car, we got out, he apologised, told me to find my own way home, and took off. He can move pretty fast. One minute he was there, and poof…”

 

Giles coughed. “Yes…well! Where was this, exactly?”

 

“It was near the railway station. Parkside and Tenison Road.  It looked like Angel was headed for Station Road.”

 

“How did you get home?” Giles asked.

 

“I knew there was a train to Bristol, so I headed for the station myself.  I had to go in to work, you see. I’ve only just started my new job and I didn’t want to be sacked in my first week.”

 

“And you didn’t see any sign of Angel when you arrived at the station?” 

 

“No. The place was deserted.  My train pulled out just before five. I think I slept till then. Sorry.”

 

Buffy was on her feet.  Giles stood, knowing how eager Buffy was to head out for Cambridge.

 

“Thank you, Mr Watts. You’ve been most helpful. Did Angel tell you there would be a charge for his services?” Giles ignored Buffy’s glare. “I’ll take into consideration your train fare. We’ll be in touch.”

 

As they made their way to the street, Chris Watts called out to them.

 

“I hope you find him.”

 

 

+++

 

The drive to Cambridge seemed an eternity. Both were quiet, mulling over Watts’ tale. It was Buffy who finally broke out the refreshments, and the silence.

 

“Screaming skulls, eh?” she said as she handed Giles a scone.

 

Giles bit off a piece and placed the remains on his lap, his eyes never leaving the road. “Yes. They’re peculiar to Britain, I believe.”

 

“It sounds like the countryside is littered with bones that wail.” She chewed on her own scone.

 

“Not really. But I concede that there are a few documented cases.”

 

“Did Angel do the right thing?”

 

“Putting the skull back? His reasoning is sound. What would happen if the new tenants were told? Would they move out with fear? Would they want to have the bones removed?”

 

“Wouldn’t the screams start anew?”

 

“Yes they would, Buffy. That is why skulls that cry out have been interred behind walls. That way the bones can never be removed accidentally. People were a superstitious lot back then.”

 

“They still are.”

 

Buffy was quiet again, before saying, “I think, let sleeping bones lie.”

 

“I tend to agree. Perhaps I will do a little digging and see what I can find out about Watts’ old address, just out of curiosity…”

 

Buffy filled a cup half way of tea and carefully passed it to Giles. She waited until he finished his drink before pouring her own.

 

Conversation faltered once more and, after the warming drink, Buffy felt her lids grow heavy. She fell asleep, despite her ongoing worry for Angel.

 

+++

 

Buffy jolted awake when the engine of the car fell silent. Blinking rapidly, and straightening from her slouch, Buffy stared at a familiar sight. Giles had pulled in behind Angel’s car. The Porsche sat silent and sleek. Jerking open her door, Buffy ran across to the car. The door was locked when she tried the handle. Scrabbling about in her coat pocket, she found the Porsche’s spare keys and, sliding into Angel’s seat, she searched the glove box and found his phone.

 

“Great!” A glowing message declared the number of missed calls. Her calls.

 

A voice by her ear mumbled, “Let’s head in the general direction of the station. You may pick up his trail…”

 

Leveraging herself out of the seat, Buffy pocketed the phone, locked the car door and headed back to the Discovery.

 

“On foot, Buffy,” Giles started to say, when he noticed his young friend had something else on her mind. A sliver of steel was caught by the dull light of the street light when she rescued it from the back of his car.

 

Buffy thrust the point of her sword in a stabbing motion. “Whatever has taken Angel can look forward to this.”

 

The Slayer’s senses didn’t find anything unusual as they made their way through the sleepy streets of Cambridge. Buffy wanted nothing more than to pick up a vibe that a demon was near, or feel that special tingle when vampires were about. Her senses were quiescent and for once she wasn’t happy about it. Giles kept his silence, too, she noted, letting her work.

 

The station came into view. A long large building with high arched windows stared back at them in the gloom of the night. The building was lit for security, Buffy assumed, noticing the soft glow of lights from within. It was late, early morning. The station was deserted when they entered. Not quite, Buffy found. Out on the platform, against a wall, a large bundle of rags caught her eye. On closer inspection, the rags were wrapped about a human being: a homeless man sheltering from the night. Homeless people were easy targets, Buffy knew. No one bothered when the homeless disappeared. It’s what they did well. Disappear.

 

Gently, she shook the rags.

 

“Excuse me, please?”

 

“Gerroff!”

 

Two red-rimmed eyes stared up at her from a fringe of wild, greying hair. When Giles moved into view, there was a growl. “Leave me alone.” The figure huddled closer to the wall.

 

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” Buffy continued as if he hadn’t spoken, “were you here last night?”

 

“What’s it to you?” the man barked.

 

“We’re looking for our friend,” Giles said from behind her. “We’re wondering if you saw him last night.”

 

When he didn’t answer, Buffy tried again. “My boyfriend is missing. We know he was in Cambridge last night, and heading for the station. I’m worried about him.”

 

The eyes regarded her for a moment. The mouth beneath the eyes, asked, “What’s it worth to you?”

 

“Um…” Flustered, Buffy scrabbled about for her purse. Giles beat her to it. He handed a note across to her. Buffy proffered it to the bundle of rags at her feet. A hand shot out fast, latched onto the note, and whipped it from her fingers. Buffy almost felt the paper light up, the movement was that quick. After a moment, the man raised himself to a sitting position. Buffy couldn’t tell what age he was, but she guessed by the hair he was old. His face was filthy in the shadows, and she thought he hadn’t had a bath in a while. She moved back a step when the smell hit her, confirming her suspicion of his lack of bathing. She felt Giles move with her.  The odour was overwhelming.

 

“What’s he look like?”

 

“Tall, dark…he was wearing a long black coat…”

 

The dirty face stared at her. “Lots of people answer to that description.”

 

“He’s good-looking and rather pale.”

 

Wiry hair bobbed “I think I seen him. He was running for the train.”

 

Giles frowned. “Train? Which train?”

 

“The one to London.”

 

Wondering why Angel was trying to catch a train to London, Buffy asked, “Why was he running?”

 

Shrewd eyes narrowed at her. “He was chasing some…thing.”

 

“Thing?” Giles thrust his head forward, the smell forgotten, as he stared hard at the craggy face.

 

“You been on the streets as long as I have, you notice things. Not-so-human things. Keep your head down, stay invisible, and they leave you alone. Been a few on the street that weren’t so lucky.”

 

“Thing?” Buffy asked again, insistent.

 

“I couldn’t see what sort of thing it was, but it moved oddly. It had on a long coat, sort of like your fellow’s only not so nice, but even I could see its knees didn’t work properly. They bent at an odd angle.”

 

“What happened?”

 

The homeless man stared at Giles. “The thing got on the train and your friend followed.”

 

“Which train to London, do you know?”

 

“The one to Kings Cross.”

 

The slayer and the watcher moved back a pace, relieved to get away from the smell. The stench could peel paint from a wall.

 

Buffy smiled at the ragged man all the same. “Thank you.”

 

As they headed back the way they came, they heard the man call.

 

“I hope your man has a good sense of balance. He didn’t make it before the doors closed. The last time I saw him he was on the roof of the train.”

 

Buffy set a quick pace back to the cars. “Shall I follow you to London in Angel’s car?”

 

Knowing that Buffy wasn’t at all comfortable driving about a city as large as London, albeit it was the middle of the night and traffic would be light, Giles said, “We’ll leave it here for the time being. We’ll worry about getting it home once we’ve found Angel.”

 

Giles smiled at Buffy’s sigh of relief, before it became a voice full of concern.

 

London is a megalopolis. Is that the word? Even when we get to Kings Cross, we’ll never pick up his trail. This is going to be impossible.” Buffy kicked at the curbing as she stalked by. “I’ll kill him if he is sitting in a night club somewhere, safe and sound.”

 

Giles hid his smile when she turned her head. “It’s a start, Buffy.”

 

The hourly news was on when Giles turned the key of his Discovery.

 

The body of a young man has been pulled from under the ruins of the collapsed buildings in Hitchin. The body of the man, yet to be identified, has been sent to Lister Hospital. Police and fire crew are continuing the search for more victims in the hope that there may be someone left alive…” The radio went silent when Giles switched it off.

 

Buffy’s and Giles’ heads turned to look at one another.

 

“That may be him,” Buffy said, her eyes alight with excitement.

 

Giles nodded his agreement. “Hitchin is on the route to London. Angel may have got off there. It’s somewhere to start, and as we’re headed that way…”

 

“He must be hurt if he couldn’t pull himself free of the blast.” Buffy bit her lip. She had already decided the body was that of her boyfriend. “Do you think we need to call in Nick? Angel may need his expertise.”

 

Giles didn’t have the heart to say no to her. Besides, he trusted Buffy’s instincts, and he knew that Nick would jump at the chance to lend a hand. Giles handed her his phone. “His number is on speed dial. Give him a call and tell him to meet us at the hospital.”

 

+++

 

An hour, a day, a decade later Angel swam out of the dark and into a white light. Wait. White light? He was never destined for Heaven; he knew for sure Hell’s eternal fires were waiting for him. Unable to move, all he managed was to crack open an eye. Peering past lashes clumped together with stickiness he knew to be blood, the white light trembled into focus. Okay, he was seeing three of everything, but focus it was. The light was just a light. It trickled like water around brick and stone, illuminating very little. But it was proof that he wasn’t dead. Well…deader than he already was. A faint thump thump reached his ears. He knew from the sound a helicopter flew overhead. Where was he? How did he get here? He didn’t know. He couldn’t recall the last few minutes before he ended up here, wherever that was.

 

The ground shivered and groaned. The crushing sensation on his head intensified, and he knew no more.

 

When next he opened his eyes, there was no white light. There was no light at all. There was no sound, either. Had he gone deaf? Usually his hearing was exceptional, but all was silent. He tried opening his mouth, tried to make a sound, and failed. With his head held tight and his body wedged in and around tons of debris, he could do no more than blink. If he had been a mortal man his lungs wouldn’t be able to inflate. He would be as he was now, a dead man. Still, the dead man attempted to move fingers and toes and found that those, too, were denied him. The pain of his efforts sent him spinning away into the void.

 

His hearing was returned when he came to. There were muted sounds, voices, coming from afar. His nose caught the scent of wet fur. It was canine.  Whoever it was he could hear were using dogs to find him. To locate bodies, he knew. Whatever disaster he had walked into, he was one of the victims. He hoped the only victim. Another thing he hoped for was that he was found before the sun rose. He didn’t want to leave this mortal coil caught in an impossible position. To dust without saying goodbye to Buffy, to die the final death without a sword in his hand, would be the biggest irony. The Powers, he had learned, were cruel. They used up their champions and spit them out when they were no longer of use. He wouldn’t put it past them to end his life like this.

 

Oblivion caught him again, and when he regained consciousness he found himself being released from his rocky prison. A warm hand felt for his pulse, and he heard a voice declare him dead. His rescuers were gentle with him anyway. They pulled him clear from the rubble, and his sense of smell told him they had a digging machine nearby. They had used the machine to clear away most of the heavy debris before a chain of men had hauled away the rest of the rock to free him. Gentle fingers pulled at an eyelid. His dead man’s stare caught sight of a bearded man in a hard hat, a penlight in his fingers. Angel kept his pupil from reacting to the light as it swept across his eye. His eyelid was released as he was carried away.

 

A deep voice, the same that had declared him dead, lingered in his ears.

 

“There’s no rigor mortis. I think he may have been alive all these long hours. It’s a crying shame we didn’t find him sooner, poor bugger.”

 

Angel was placed on a stretcher and put into an ambulance. A blanket was laid over him, and he felt the vehicle sway as one of the attendants sat in a seat next to him. He tried wriggling his toes and to his great relief they responded. So, too, did his fingers. He ignored the pain the small actions caused him. He wasn’t paralysed and for that he was grateful. Angel dared not attempt to move his limbs. He had to play dead until he arrived at the hospital. He didn’t know if, when he tried to get away, his legs would carry him.

 

Angel endured the long wait on the gurney as the situation was explained to whoever was in charge of receiving the dead.  Finally, he was trundled off to whatever the hospital used as a morgue. The smell of death hit his senses as he was wheeled in. Despite the disinfectant, overpowering as it was, the scent lingered. 

 

Warm, feminine fingers touched his face. He suffered the indignity of being stripped of his clothes, lying very still when his pants were removed. He listened as the young doctor read out his vitals, or lack of. His head was gently pushed from one side to another as she described his injuries, to a tape, he thought. It was a cursory examination. The post mortem proper would take place later that morning when the pathologist was on duty. His injuries were severe, he learned. He was glad he didn’t try to make a dash for it, but already he could feel his preternatural healing kicking in. He was going to be placed in a cabinet until later in the morning. Oh joy, he thought, but at least it would give him more time to heal. He would be long gone before the pathologist arrived for work in the morning. A sheet was placed over his corpse. And as he was rolled into the cabinet, he heard the young doctor mutter, “What a waste.”

 

Once again Angel was in the dark, and this time he was grateful. His thoughts drifted, his memory finally kicking in, filling in the gaps of the missing moments from his eventful evening.

 

He had waited atop the speeding train, the wind buffeting fiercely, threatening to dislodge him if not for his supernatural strength, and climbing through the doors only when the engine had stopped at its next call. He waited to see if his quarry disembarked, and when it didn’t, he entered the train just as it left the station. Quietly, he walked through the cars, scanning the people he passed. A few were demons passing for human, keeping their heads down all the same. He could smell them: demon sweat had its own tang, different from human sweat, and the rhythm of demon hearts told their own story

 

The one he was hunting was a carnivore, an eater of flesh, specifically of the human variety. He found it in the last car, huddled beneath a coat, a hat covering its lack of ears. Angel recognised the demon. It had holes in the side of its skull, no lobes, which didn’t prevent it from hearing well, and snake eyes with their orange slits and excellent vision. The vampire sat down beside the creature and leaned back, his posture belying his coiled muscles ready for any sign of trouble.

 

Ruddy skin, flaking and peeling as if sunburned that was in reality fine scales of a rosy hue, clothed the head of the Rotlich. Angel stared at its mouth. His nostrils flared. The demon had eaten recently.

 

“Leave me alone,” the demon hissed, thin-lipped.

 

Angel draped his arm over the demon’s shoulders.

 

“Is that any way to talk to your travelling companion?”

 

“What do you want, vampire?”

 

“I want you to get off this train.”

 

“Or you’ll kill me?” Snake eyes flickered in his direction and then past him to look out the window. Angel saw hope come to life in its eyes.

 

“I’ll kill you. It can be quick, or…excruciatingly slow. Your choice.”

 

Angel could see its mind working. Using the other passengers as hostages wouldn’t gain it any time. Vampires were killers. They welcomed bloodshed.

 

“What did I do to you, vampire, that you want to kill me? I haven’t dusted any vamps lately.”

 

“Your last meal…young was it? A student?”

 

“Did I steal your dinner?”

 

Angel bared his teeth. “I can smell her on you.” His arm curled about the demon’s neck.

 

“The sun will be up soon, vampire,” it spat at him, attempting to shrink against the side of the car. The arm was like a vice, and a cold hand wrapped itself about the Rotlich’s throat.

 

“Not as soon as you’d like.”

 

Angel stared at the window beside them. The reflection he saw there echoed the Rotlich’s comment. The car offered no shelter from the coming sun. The walls were all window, and chrome gleamed around nylon covered seats. The train sped through an ever lightening landscape, and the two demons sat locked together in apparent camaraderie. Angel felt the other tense, ready for a bid for freedom. When it came, Angel was ready. The Rotlich still surprised him, though. A blade sliced upwards, tearing through cloth, skin, and heart muscle as Angel’s hand crushed the demon’s throat, his other hand reaching for the knife that was in his ribs. He ignored the pain, intent on keeping the demon still. Its body twitched against his side in its death throes, desperately trying to escape the vampire’s embrace. He stayed that way, watching passengers embark and settle into vacant seats. The train was headed to London. It was the beginning of a work day for most. A disembodied voice announced the station of Hitchin and Angel rose, hugging the corpse. He didn’t want to leave the body sitting in place, to be found at the end of the line. He would dispose of it and find shelter in Hitchin.

 

He passed by with hardly a glance from his fellow passengers, alighted from the carriage, and found a large drain nearby to dump the body. With hurried steps he headed away in search of an empty building, or a dark safe hole he could crawl into. The sewers would be his last option.

 

Angel blinked. The last thing he remembered was passing a building…a house?…and waking up under tons of rubble. An explosion of some sort? He lifted a hand and felt for the stab wound. He found the closing wound among the scrapes and tears blanketing his torso. His other arm was healing too, as were his legs. The broken bones were knitting, and the ogre of a headache reminded him his skull had been fractured, along with his cheek. With tentative fingers he felt around in his hair. There weren’t any obvious holes or dents in his skull, just the blood and dirt. And he was ravenous. Preternatural healing used up valuable energy, and to replenish his dwindling reserves, he needed to feed. With his feet up against the back of the cabinet he tested his legs. It was painful but he felt he could stand. Pushing hard against the wall and reaching for the door, he was surprised when it opened on its own accord. The smell of blood, human, reached his nose before his eyes caught sight of blonde hair and a wry smile.

 

“Guess what I found?”

 

Buffy was holding a bag of blood, straight from the hospital’s bank, he supposed, and behind her two faces peered.

 

“Are you alright?” Giles asked, concerned, as they pulled the slab forth.

 

Nick was there, doctor’s bag in hand.

 

“This is beginning to be a habit,” Nick said, smiling down at him.

 

“Buffy…How did you?” Angel asked as Buffy and Giles helped him to sit up. Grabbing hold of the sheet, the only thing covering his modesty, he swung his legs over the side and let them dangle a moment. It would be soon enough when he had to stand on his own two feet.

 

Buffy handed him the bag of blood. She had snipped an opening for him and, not caring if Nick was repulsed – the man had seen him drink straight from a vein – Angel drank.

 

“You’re on the news, bub.” Buffy procured a cloth, wet it, and gently began to clean his face and hair, not before kissing the top of his head.

 

“How did you know it was me?”

 

“After the night we had, it could only be you.”

 

Giles filled Angel in on their evening of follow-the-vampire while the others worked on him.

 

Nick concentrated on giving Angel the professional once over. He hissed at the knife wound, at the bruises and cuts and rents he found. His fingers probed Angel’s abdomen. The spleen and a couple of other organs had been mangled. If Angel wasn’t dead already, he would be dead. The legs he had put back together had suffered injury, but not enough to warrant more surgery, Nick was relieved to find. Angel’s cheek was smashed, his face misshapen, but no missing teeth. Nick wondered at that. Wondered if and when a vampire lost a tooth, would it grow back?

 

“Anything I can do?” he asked, fascinated by this walking, talking, dead man.

 

“Broken bones are knitting. The wounds are closing…”

 

Buffy interrupted Angel. “Dressings, please, Nick.” Cutting off Angel’s protest, she added, “I know that disinfectant and bandages aren’t really necessary, but for my peace of mind, could you?” She gave her boyfriend the look that has worked on men for millennia. He acquiesced immediately.

 

Giles, hovering by, wanted to know what had transpired on the train.

 

When Angel mentioned the Rotlich, he was surprised. “I didn’t know there were any this far north. They don’t like the colder climes.”

 

Buffy’s cloth hesitated over Angel’s damaged cheek. “What’s a Rotlich?”

 

Giles’ eyes went distant behind his glasses as he recalled the facts about the Rotlich. “Cold blooded creatures. Reptilian. They devour their young, if the female isn’t careful, and it seems as if they have a penchant for human flesh. They live in groups. Clans, I believe. They usually hibernate if caught in a chilly climate.”

 

“Perhaps this one woke early and was hungry,” Buffy suggested.

 

Nick shuddered inwardly. Vampires, he was getting used to, and now there were other type of demons to worry about. Nasty types.

 

Buffy stared at her boyfriend. “Did you find out if he had cousins nearby? Do we need to go and kill them?”

 

Angel managed to look sheepish despite his bruising. “Uh…”

 

“Too busy killing the demon, ask questions later kind of guy,” she snorted. “Never mind. When you’re better we’ll have a look around Cambridge. You may be able to sniff out their scent.”

 

Angel winced when Nick applied an astringent to a wound. “There’s no need for you to come, Buffy. It’s my…”

 

A sly look entered Buffy’s eyes. “You’ll need me to drive you to Cambridge. Your car, remember?”

 

Angel groaned inwardly. Buffy was right. She would have to drive him to Cambridge. He knew that Buffy was delighted with her new car. The Peugeot fitted her perfectly, and he knew that there was no way Buffy would let him drive. She was too enamoured of it.  He would have to suffer the journey with a smile, and try and not let Buffy’s driving rattle him too much. If his head hadn’t felt like it was going to fall off with a nod, he would have done so. Instead he gave her a smile that said yes.

 

Giles had retreated to the other side of the room but Angel could still hear his quiet chuckle. He narrowed his eyes at the man. A rustle of plastic and an “ah” preceded Giles’ return with Angel’s mutilated clothing in hand.

 

“I think these are rather ruined. But the trousers and the coat will suffice if one doesn’t look too carefully.” He held up Angel’s boots. “The socks are too bloody but at least you won’t go barefoot.” Over his arm was draped a hospital gown. “You can wear this if you prefer.”

 

Angel could swear that Giles was enjoying himself at his expense. “My clothes will do.”

 

Angel looked down at his feet. His left foot was in Nick’s hands. The toes didn’t look like toes. They were flat spatulas of flesh. But he could wriggle them. They would be as good as new come a day or two.

 

Nick looked up at him. “I think a wheel chair is in order.” He let go of the foot and rose to his full height. “It’s best you don’t wobble about on your pins and draw attention to yourself. No one looks at a person in a wheel chair.”

 

Buffy shooed the men out of the morgue, and as they left in search of an available chair, Buffy helped Angel dress.

 

“I was worried about you,” she said, her tone subdued. She held out his coat and helped him into it. Buffy was grateful to see the bandages disappear beneath black cloth.

 

“I’m sorry. I left the phone in the car, didn’t I?” he said as he struggled with his pants. She kneeled and gently pulled the material over his bloody legs. Her heart lurched at how often Angel’s body got battered and bruised. It was the nature of the job but she didn’t have to like it. He may be virtually indestructible but he still felt pain.

 

“We’ll give you a proper bath,” she said, “when we get home.” Blinking back her suddenly wet eyes, she managed to put a smile on her face as she helped him with his boots. Looking up at him, she said, “Now sit like a good little invalid and let nurse Buffy take care of you.”

 

She laughed when she saw his eyes light up. Battered, bruised, wounded and mangled, Angel had that look in his eyes that told her, despite everything, he was up for it. She was still laughing when Nick and Giles arrived with the wheelchair.

 

The End.

 

ANs.

 

As always, a huge thank you is due to Jo for her excellent advice and beta.

 

For more information on skulls that wail follow the link.

http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/hauntings/screaming_skulls.html

 

 

Cambridge railway station.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_railway_station

 

The train to Kings Cross leaves about the same time as the train to Bristol, just before 5 a.m., but for the purpose of my story I had the London train leave a little earlier. The sun rises just after 5 a.m. in May.

 

More about the town of Hitchin, little enough that Angel saw of it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitchin

 



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