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Thomas

Project Paranormal

Author: Dark Star

Season 4

Part 10

 

**

Summary: It's our relationships that make us who we are.

 

**

 

Thomas

 

Market square, Westbury. The only customer in the teashop named The Cheese Wring sat in a quiet corner of the upstairs room, her view of the counter partially obscured by a massive fern. She absently stirred her tea, and opposite her across the table, an empty china cup and a Danish pastry awaited their fate.

 

She looked up when footsteps on the stairs announced the arrival of another customer, and she watched him approach her table.

 

"Hello, Anne."

 

"Hello, Rupert."

 

He sat down at the table, and thanked her for the pastry. He hadn't seen Anne Hammond for… five years? And he felt oddly pleased that she had remembered that these pastries had been his favourite at that time.

 

"It's supposed to rain later," Rupert offered when his companion remained silent. She muttered something about not bringing a coat with her, and he helped himself to some tea while he studied her. Anne must now be in her mid-fifties, but she was still a very attractive woman. Her brown hair was tied back into some sort of clip at the back of her head, a simple black dress fitting nicely to her slim curves, and a concerned expression currently adorning her face. He waited for her to speak.

 

"Thank you for coming," she said hesitantly. "I heard that you deal in strange things these days, and I hoped…" she trailed off, searching for words. "I hope I'm not wasting your time."

 

"Why don't you tell me what's wrong?" he replied gently. "It can hardly be a waste of time to have tea with an old friend, can it?"

 

Anne smiled gratefully at him and blurted out, "It's Ruth."

 

Ruth? Giles combed through his memory, trying to place the name. Her daughter? No - that had been… Claire. "Your granddaughter?" he said, drawing the information from some forgotten archive of his mind.

 

"Yes." Anne confirmed.  "Claire's partner David left her a couple of months ago. She's a nurse, and when she works, I look after Ruth for her. It's no trouble, really - Ruth is a delight to have."

 

"How old is Ruth?" Giles asked when she faltered.

 

"Four. Bright as button," she said proudly. Giles made the appropriate appreciative noises, and she continued. "When Claire was a child, she had an invisible friend. I know it's common for children to make up a playmate, but hers - his name was Thomas - stayed so long that I began to wonder if he was real. Somebody she'd met, perhaps. Eventually she grew out of it, and Thomas went away." Anne shifted uncomfortably on her padded seat. "But, now… he's back.  Ruth has started talking to him." She looked up. "Thomas is back."

 

Giles took in his companion's' anxious expression and hesitated. The child's friend was quite likely just that - perhaps a confidant that a child whose father had abandoned her needed at that time. But… Anne was a sensible woman. She had been headmistress of the same school for over twenty years, and had been teaching before that. She was not normally given to flights of fancy.

 

"Ruth has an imaginary friend?" Giles asked at last, reaching forward for the little china teapot to pour himself a cup of tea.

 

"More than that. Thomas is her imaginary friend."

 

"Well," Giles said carefully. "That's not so surprising. Claire probably told her…"

 

"No," Anne shook her head. "No. Claire insists she has never told her about Thomas. Neither have I. Rupert - you know that Claire and Ruth are all the family I have. Who else would have told her?"

 

"I'm sure it's nothing to worry about," Giles said, leaning back in his chair, the welcome tea in his hand.  "But if it makes you feel better… would you like me to talk to her?"

 

"Thank you, " Anne replied. "I'm looking after Ruth tomorrow  - is 10 o'clock all right with you?"

 

*

 

"It's very kind of you to help out tomorrow, Alice."

 

Martha watched as Alice deftly removed some plastic boxes from her pantry and placed them on her big old wooden table next to four iced, but not decorated, home-made cakes.

 

"I'm looking forward to it," she said, adding ruefully, "I don't get out much."

 

"Well, the village fete is hardly exciting." Martha said doubtfully. "Buffy helped last year, but she's gone away for a few days. She's a good girl though - she did offer to postpone."

 

"But then she might not get away at all."

 

"That's true. In her line of work she never knows what's going to happen."

 

"There you go," Alice said, opening up her boxes. "What do you think?"

 

Inside the boxes lay delicate creations made out of sugar. Alice had made several different flowers, orchids, daisies and carnations; but the best, and most prolific of the plants, were the roses. Red roses, white roses, pink ones, and roses in pale yellow and cream. Each flower was a miniature replica of its natural inspiration and Martha was charmed by the detail in each curved petal or veined leaf.

 

"Beautiful," she breathed. "Where on earth did you learn to make them?"

 

"Heavens," Alice considered, her brow furrowing. "Years ago." She picked up one of her iced cakes and began adding her pretty flowers as the decorations all around the edge and on top of the smooth surface. She paused, remembering. "Maggie McCallen it was," she said softly. "She was a good friend of mine, worked in the kitchens in one of those big houses down in Eastbourne. It must have been… just before war broke out." Before Martha could ask, she said, "The Great One. The one to end all of them…"

 

"Didn't do too well, did it?" Martha indicated Alice's kitchen table, covered in cakes and cake decorations. "If everyone made cakes instead, there would be no wars."

 

Alice laughed. "You could have a point."

 

"You've seen a lot of things, haven't you, Alice? Not just wars, but inventions, and fashions, and trends that come and go..."

 

"Yes." Alice looked up, and for once, she looked sad. "The only thing that doesn't change is me."

 

"But… you do. You look different as you get older."

 

"Yes. But what happens when people start noticing how old I am? Expecting me to get senile or frail?" She looked around her comfortable cottage. The cat sprawled fast asleep on the chair. The homemade ornaments her students had made her twenty years ago. The fresh flowers picked from her own garden. She would be sad to leave all this and move on. Angel had told her once that he'd had to move on every few years or so to stop people noticing he didn't age. She was much luckier than some people had been, really. She smiled. "I heard that there are young men who find old ladies sexy. I should get myself a toy boy. Think I can find one that likes iced cakes?"

 

Martha laughed. "Stranger things have happened, dear. Stranger things… now, are we going to box these gorgeous creations of yours up for the fair tomorrow?"

 

 

*

 

Daniel crossed the carpeted lounge, his once-white trainers making no sound as he skirted round a lively family with four children playing tag round their ungainly stack of luggage. He crossed over to the exit, and stepped out into the breaking dawn.

Overhead, a massive jet circled the air terminal before coming in to land. In front of him, people swerved around like dodgems, diving into waiting cars or scurrying into the airport to catch their early flight. Even at this hour of the morning, the airport was seething with humanity. But it was chilly here, and Daniel zipped up his thin jacket and swung his bag over his shoulder, before looking at his watch. If he was quick, he might be able to make the first train; grateful for the excuse to stretch cramped muscles from his long flight over the Atlantic, his slow amble broke into a jog and he weaved his nimble way through the gathering throng.

 

*

Buffy moved restlessly, pushing aside the striped duvet that she'd got tangled in. She opened her eyes to find the room in darkness. It was hard to sleep here, unused as she was to the noise from outside. Westbury was very quiet, sleepy even, but London was not. She rolled over, but she was alone in the bed.

 

"Angel?" There was no reply, and she assumed Angel had gone out in the night air. She tried, but she couldn't get back to sleep and she got up. There was no view from her window, it only looked out onto the back of the hotel but they had specifically asked for one without direct sunlight. Buffy hadn't wanted to spend her few days break locked away with the curtains drawn. She didn't want to sleep, so she picked up the remote control on the television and turned it on. Flicking up and down the channels was depressing. London had not much more to show than down in Westbury. She settled on some old black and white film about gangsters because it amused her to see how deserted all the old streets looked in comparison to modern times.   

 

She heard the room door open but she didn't need to look.

 

"Can't sleep?" he asked sympathetically.

 

"Not tired," she replied, watching him strip off his shirt and shoes and then sit next to her on the bed. He looked at her quizzically. "Can I do anything?"

 

Her smile spread slowly, and she shifted position so that her legs curled over his. "I can think of a couple of ways," she said.

 

*

 

Martha bustled into the kitchen and heaved her shopping bags up onto the kitchen table, to join the two others already there. John came in from the car with a cardboard box that contained six of Alice's homemade creations. Each one was different - a craft masterpiece on their own merit. Her cakes were always popular, though several people had said it was such a shame to cut them up. The largest cake was carefully balanced on the top of the box; this one would take pride of place on their cake stall tomorrow but it was not for sale. The plan was to raffle the cake off and give the proceeds to the local children's home.  As John manoeuvred the large box onto the table, careful to avoid squashing the precious contents, he accidentally jostled one of Martha's shopping bags, making it topple over and send tins of various bright colours rattling over the kitchen floor.

 

"Sorry love," he muttered, already bending down to retrieve a particularly adventurous tin that had rolled all the way under the table.

 

Coming down the stairs, and alerted by the noise, Giles diverted to the kitchen to see what was going on. He found John on all fours under the kitchen table and Martha battling with rebellious shopping bags. The far end of the kitchen table was covered in bunting, string, wicker baskets and other paraphernalia.  He opened his mouth to ask if everything was going all right for the village fete when Martha whirled to face him.

 

"You'll never guess!" she exclaimed, waving her hand excitedly over the four white loaves on the table.

 

He tried. "They'd run out of brown?"

 

Martha glared. "No, not that!" John, emerging from under the table to place the Houdini tin on top of it, muttered something about his dahlias and hurried toward the garden but not before throwing Giles a sympathetic smile. He'd been on the wrong side of that glare a few times himself.

 

"There was a phone call for you while you were out."

 

Giles frowned. He'd checked the pads when he arrived back home. There had been no messages for him. "From…?"

 

"Cleveland."

 

Giles blinked. "Is Faith all right?"

 

"Turns out she's met this man. Wants to settle down and have a white picket fence…"

 

 

Giles' jaw dropped. That had been the last thing he'd expected. "Whatever is her watcher thinking of?" He knew he'd said the wrong thing the moment the words left his mouth. Martha's delighted expression changed and her arms crossed her chest in that firm way that meant trouble.

 

"Maybe he's thinking of her. Maybe he thinks that such a pretty young lady should have something in her life that isn't about demons and darkness. Maybe he wants her to be happy in whatever lifespan the good Lord sees fit to allocate her. Maybe…"

 

Giles held up his hands in surrender. "I get it, Martha! I'm sorry! It's just that… well, Faith is not the settling down kind."

 

"People change, Giles. She's had a hard life and she's not a child anymore. It could just be her latest whim, but if the lass can find a bit of happiness with this person, I think we should be happy for her." Her expression softened, and she added in a kinder tone, "We all need somebody sometimes, Giles."

 

Giles sighed. Unbidden, thoughts of Jenny and Ella fled across his mind before he could close the door to send them firmly back into storage. He'd shared some comfort with both of them before they had been stolen from him. Who was he to deny that same comfort to somebody who risked her life time and time again and who knew she stood no chance of making old age? He sighed. Getting maudlin in his old age…

 

"You're right. I'll call later and talk to her. Will that do?"

 

"It's a start." But she was smiling as she said it.

 

Bemused, Giles headed down the hall toward his office. Faith getting all slushy? What next? Little Faiths?  Sitting down at the computer to check his emails, he raised an eyebrow at the amount of mail he had accrued since yesterday. Business had certainly picked up since they had started the Project website, and he wondered idly if he should get himself a secretary to deal with it all.

 

Eight of the emails were orders for pills and potions to deal with supernatural problems and necessities, asking for things that were simply unavailable elsewhere. A couple were business ones from Alice, and one contained a rather risqué joke from Nick. He chuckled to himself before turning his attention to the last two. The first was from a young lady considering her forthcoming marriage and asked him if the stars were favourable? He sighed, informed her that wasn't his area of expertise and sent her the email of an Astrologist friend of his instead. He could hear a car pulling up outside the front of the house and checked his watch. Ah yes, his 11.o'clock client was arriving. Something about spectral sightings on his new sofa, or some such thing. He stood up and straightened his clothes in an effort to look suitably efficient. The last email would have to wait.

*

 

The following day dawned bright and sunny. Ruth was sitting in the middle of a chequered blanket stretched out on the wooden floor, drawing when Giles was shown into the lounge.

 

"Ruth?" The little girl looked up when Anne spoke her name. "This is Mr. Giles - an old friend of mine."

 

The little girl glanced up from her work and gave him a shy smile, but she remained silent.

 

"Hello Ruth. What are you drawing?"

 

"Gard'n," she said brightly. She held her picture up, full of circles, coloured blobs and scribbles.

 

Giles smiled. "I like your shed." He hoped the shed was in there somewhere.

 

Ruth beamed.

 

"Mr Giles is going to ask you some questions, Ruth."

 

"'kay." The child was drawing again.

 

"Is Thomas here today?"

 

Ruth stared at him, and then at her grandmother, but she remained silent.

 

"It's all right, darling." Anne said. "You can tell him what you see."

 

"Yes," Ruth said.

 

"Where?" Giles asked, suddenly whispering, "I'm not sitting on him, am I?"

 

Ruth giggled. "No, silly!" She indicated the stool. "There."

 

"Hello, Thomas!" Giles said loudly. "I'm here…"

 

Ruth was giggling again. "Doesn't talk to strangers."

 

"Very sensible," Giles agreed.

 

"Will he talk to me?" Anne asked. "He knows me, doesn't he?"

 

"He knows mummy."

 

"Ruth," Giles said slowly. "Is there any chance that you could draw Thomas for me?"

 

The little girl looked at her grandmother for confirmation, and then she turned her paper over and began to draw. Giles wasn't expecting much. The drawing skills of a four year old, in wax crayon, were not likely to give him a detailed picture of what the child might have seen. She finished her picture and scurried over to show the strange new visitor her creation.

 

"Thank you." Giles took the picture and looked at it. The figure Ruth had drawn resembled a tadpole, big head, tiny limbs, but what was interesting to him, was the fact the figure appeared to be holding something.

 

"What's this?" he asked, pointing at the line.

 

Ruth shrugged. Then, since Mr Giles seemed to expect an answer, she frowned, as though concentrating, and mumbled, "It's… stuff?"

 

"Stuff? What kind of stuff?"

 

Ruth shrugged again, already losing interest, and asked her grandmother, "Play, nanna?"

 

Anne said yes, and Ruth collected her favourite doll from the toybox. She opened the doors to the garden and skipped outside. On the patio, she looked back inside. "Thomas! Come on!"

 

Anne waited for the little girl to cross the lawn and enter her bright yellow Wendy House on the edge of the lawn before saying, "What do you think?"

 

Giles crossed over and passed her the picture. "You're a headmistress, Anne. What do you make of this?"

 

"Oh. My."

 

"Anne?"

 

"The big head and so on is typical of her age group. But… Claire told me that Thomas always carried something. She said it looked like a big stick."

 

"And that's what Ruth has drawn. Interesting…"

 

*

 

"We're going to be late, you know," he said, his voice sounding vaguely irritated.

 

"It's just a show," Buffy called from behind the bathroom door. "And we have plenty of time."

 

"Don't forget to allow for the London traffic," Angel retorted.

 

The bathroom door opened and Angel forgot what he'd been about to say. Buffy flowed out of the room. The strapless salmon coloured dress clung to every curve. It moved as she moved, like wisps of air in the breeze. Her hair was tied up high on the back of her head, little tendrils teased out and trailing down over her face.

 

Buffy waited. She'd expected some comment, a Wow, maybe. Even a negative of some kind but Angel said nothing. He just stood there staring at her. She was just starting to feel uncomfortable when he drifted toward her, as though he was being pulled by some invisible force. His hand rose and touched her face. Buffy lifted her eyes, and met his.

 

"Perfect," he whispered, lowering his lips to taste the pink of her lipstick. Caught up in the moment she forgot to tell him off, and remind him they'd be late. Instead she melted, a delectable timeless moment; when they pulled apart, Angel's hand found hers.

 

"Shall we go?" she asked.

 

"We could be a little late…"

 

*

 

Was Ruth's imaginary friend real? If so - what was he? Was the child in danger? Fuelled by Anne's conviction that the child's friend was actually some kind of stalker or demon, Giles returned home and pulled out a handful of books to go through. He spent the rest of the day and half the night going through his books, before he retired to bed. He could hear fete-related activities in the kitchen when he got up the following morning and renewed his search for information. He tried the Internet, he tried more books, and eventually, he went back to Anne Hammond's home. She'd told him that her daughter and granddaughter would be with her, and that was good because he wanted to talk to them all.

 

*

"I'm not sure how I can help you, Anne." Giles said. "I can find no evidence of anything strange going on here. If Ruth's companion is just her imaginary friend, he will probably disappear when she feels she can do without him - after she's started school, perhaps."

 

Anne shook her head. "No. Something is going on here, Rupert."

 

Giles looked at Anne's daughter. "What do you think, Claire?"

 

She shrugged. "I don't know, to be honest. It's very strange that Ruth should see the same man that was my friend as a child, especially when I've never mentioned him to her." She smiled at Ruth, busily dressing one of her dolls into a lacy dress to go to a pretend party. A second doll, sadly with only one arm, was already sitting propped up against the sofa and suitably attired in her own finery. Next to her, a small teddy bear had an empty teacup balanced on his lap.

 

"I haven't thought of him for years." Claire added. "I thought we'd seen the last of him."

 

Giles pursed his lips. "What did he look like? Sound like? Can you remember anything about him?"

 

Claire considered. "He was tall. Funny voice because he talked in sing-song. Red hair, I think. Made a strange sound when he walked because of the staff he carried. He liked to…"

 

Giles stared at her. "What did you say?"

 

Confused, Claire tried to remember what she'd just said.  "Uh..Thomas had red hair? Talked in a funny way?"

 

Impatiently, Giles waved his hand, indicating he wanted more.

 

 "Umm.. was it that he always carried a staff?"

 

"A staff?" Giles frowned. Ruth had said… an idea was beginning to form. "Anne - would you concentrate on one of Ruth's toys, please? One she doesn't play with much."

 

Anne stared at him curiously, and Giles could see the concentration on her furrowed brow. He turned to the child.

 

"Ruth - will you get the toy nanny wants?"

 

The child looked confused, and Giles said again, "Please, will you get it for her?"

 

Ruth ran to the toybox and pulled out a red bus. She held it up triumphantly. Anne's eyebrows shot up.

 

"Clever girl!" Giles said, glancing at Anne for confirmation. She gave a slight nod.

 

Giles glanced at Claire, hoping she would understand the look he was giving her.

 

"Would you get a toy for mummy, darling?" Claire asked quietly.

 

Ruth rummaged round in the box and pulled out a brown rabbit wearing a red shirt.

 

She beamed when her mother praised her, and she didn't notice that Claire was looking concerned. 

 

"Ruth? Is Thomas here?" Giles asked.

 

Ruth looked at her grandmother, and then pointed to the rug.

 

Giles sat back in his chair and turned to Ruth's grandmother.

 

"Anne? Do you think I could have some tea?" Giles asked politely. Anne blinked in surprise, and was clearly reluctant to leave, but went out to the kitchen to make some.

 

"Where is Thomas now, Ruth? Is he here?"

 

Ruth shook her head. She was rubbing her head, and she whined, "Head hurts."

 

Claire knelt down beside her daughter and hugged her. "We'll be done in a minute sweetheart, and then I'll get you some ice-cream. Would you like that?"

 

Ruth broke into a huge smile and hugged the bear to her chest, apparently approving of her mother's suggestion, and her headache forgotten.

 

When Anne returned, bearing a tray with three cups of tea and a mug of orange squash, she found her visitor discussing the merits of ice cream with her daughter. Was this a technique to make Ruth feel at ease? Giles waited until the drinks were handed out, and then asked Ruth, "Is Thomas here?"

 

The little girl looked up from the difficult task of drinking her squash, and her upper lip glistened orange. She nodded, and pointed to the stool - oblivious to the frown from her mother, who glanced questioningly at Giles.

 

"I think that's enough for today," Giles said. "I hear your mother has a treat for you?"

 

Ruth squealed, and Claire took her to the kitchen to get her ice cream. It was one of those that came wrapped from the freezer, and the little girl took her ice into the sunshine to eat it. Claire came back into the lounge. "Do you think she's being haunted?" she asked pointedly.

 

"No." Giles replied. "I think… that Ruth is telepathic."

 

"That doesn't make sense," Anne argued. "What has that got to do with Thomas?"

 

"I think she picked that up from you," Giles said calmly, eliciting a raised eyebrow from her.

 

"She… why?"

 

"Because Thomas worried you so much when Claire used to see him, you were concerned that her daughter would inherit him, and she read your concern. She only sees him because you expect him to be here, and she reads it from you."

 

"But…"

 

"That's why he disappeared when mum went to make the tea," Claire added, catching on. "So… my Thomas was just an imaginary friend?"

 

"Probably," Giles said cautiously.

 

"He… seemed real at the time," Claire said, frowning.

 

"How did you know?" Anne asked.

 

"It was the stick that Thomas carried," Giles explained, and was greeted with blank looks. "Ruth picked up the image from you, but when I asked her what he was carrying in her picture, she had never heard the word staff and replaced it with one familiar to her. She told me he was carrying 'stuff.'"

 

"Ah." Anne looked embarrassed. "I should know better than to jump to conclusions, shouldn't I?" She was silent for a minute, watching the child wave her hand at a fly that wanted to land on her ice cream. Then she said, "What will happen to her, Rupert? Will this be a problem for her?"

 

"It could be," Giles allowed, thinking of Buffy when she'd had no way of shutting out the voices in her head. "If my suspicions are correct, she will need to learn to control the intrusion of other people's thoughts, and I believe that is the reason for her headaches. Proper training should help to block out the thoughts she doesn't want to hear."

 

"Poor Ruth," Claire said quietly, suddenly realising that her daughter's life had just taken a different course. "What happens now?"

 

"I have friends who can help her," Giles said. "I will get them to contact you. In a way, it is very lucky that we have found her so early; there is much that can be done for her."

 

He stood up and picked up his bag, and Anne escorted him to the door. "This is so weird, Rupert."

 

"Yes, I'm sure it must be," Giles said sympathetically. "If there is anything I can do to help, don't hesitate…"

 

Anne nodded. "Thank you."

 

*

 

Martha was just folding the last of the tea towels before going home for the evening. She had the lights on in the kitchen and the radio on, and she was looking forward to getting home and putting her feet up. Something… a tiny noise perhaps, or intuition, made her pause - suddenly uneasy. She could see nothing through the kitchen windows. Had she imagined something? Heard John moving about?

 

She turned the radio off and listened, her heart pounding, and she ruefully wondered if she would actually be able to hear anything over the noise that her own body was making. She waited anxiously, and nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw somebody walk past the kitchen window. It wasn't John.  A young man arrived at the door and knocked on the wooden frame. She knew he'd seen her nervous jump and feeling foolish, she opened the door.

 

"Can I help you?"

 

The young man looked uncomfortable. He was a nice looking young man, just a lad really, a little on the small side perhaps, and his clothes were clean but looked well worn.

 

"I'm looking for… Giles?"

 

"He's out at the moment." Martha replied curtly.

 

The young man looked uncomfortable. "I'm sorry to have frightened you."

 

There was something about the young man that made Martha feel like she wanted to look after him. Where on earth were her manners? "Won't you come in to wait?"

 

Martha stepped aside and let the young man move into the kitchen. He looked around with the keen eyes of a cat, but she could tell from his movements that he was clearly very tired.

 

"Would you like to sit down?" she paused as he perched himself awkwardly on the chair. She frowned when he looked up at her. He might be young, but his eyes told a different story. She'd seen that look many times in this house - the one that said he'd seen far too much in his young life. She hesitated, not knowing what to say. She couldn't help noticing that the boy was so thin, she could see the bones in his wrist. That she could help, and before she could think about it, she blurted out, "I've just made some raisin buns. They're still warm, I think. Would you care for some?"

 

*

 

When Giles returned home to Summerdown, he was surprised to find Martha still in the kitchen, and even more surprised to hear her talking to someone. The Porsche was still missing from the garage, so he didn't think Buffy or Angel had returned yet. 

 

Martha was standing in front of the fridge when he entered the kitchen, busily pulling out cheese and salad ingredients. He could see some bread rolls on the table, already buttered and waiting for their filling. An empty plate lay on the table in front of a thin figure wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned with an image of a rock band.

 

"Good Lord," Giles said, stepping into the kitchen. "Oz?"

 

Oz stood. "Giles."

 

"What brings you to Westbury?"

 

Oz looked confused. "You didn't get my email?" He sat down again and picked up his tea.

 

"I must have missed that one." Giles glanced over the remnants on the table and smiled. "You came to eat me out of house and home?"

 

Before Oz could reply, Martha exclaimed, "Your young friend can't have been eating much… look at how thin he is! He must have been starving - he's wolfed down everything that I…" she paused when Oz spluttered over a mouthful of tea and started coughing. She didn't miss the look that passed between the two men. "Was it something I said?"

 

Giles glanced at Oz; the younger man gave the slightest of shrugs. You know her better than I do.

 

Giles smiled kindly. "Oz is a werewolf, Martha."

 

"He is?" She looked curiously at the small young man, and then down at the sandwich ingredients in her hand. "No wonder he's hungry." She put the cheese back in the fridge and pulled out a large piece of home-cooked ham. Without another word, she went back to the table to finish making the rolls

 

For anyone else, Oz's expression looked the same as before, but to Giles, it spoke volumes.  "She's used to sharing this house with a slayer and a vampire," he explained.  "What do you expect?"

 

Oz grinned, biting appreciatively into his very thick ham roll. Giles sat down at the kitchen table next to him. "How can I help you?"

 

Oz pulled his bag closer and opened the flap. He took out a battered brown envelope and gave it to Giles, who opened it up curiously to see what was inside. He found it contained an assortment of charred bits of paper. He looked inquiringly at Oz.

 

"Keep coming across this stuff, Giles. Everywhere I went. Something big's coming. Maybe even apocalyptic. I figured you ought to know."

 

"Yes, yes, " Giles was saying absently, excitedly poring through the assorted bits and pieces. "What happened to all these? The bits look burnt."

 

Oz gave an almost shrug. "Long story. Didn't get to it in time." He indicated the envelope in Giles' hands. "Make any sense?"

 

"The pieces are very small," Giles said doubtfully, picking up a charred piece of paper with some faint writing on it.  It looked like the word 'lump' and 'ill'. Giles frowned. Did it refer to some kind of illness? Symptoms of an illness, perhaps? Another dark piece had a name on it. It looked like 'Henry Willis.' He remembered that there had been a 19th Century artist called John Henry Willis. Did this refer to him? He also had a vague idea that a Henry Willis had been something to do with music. Organs? Organ repairer?

 

Another crumbling remnant revealed 'bledown'. His brow furrowing, he wondered if the word could be tumbledown. But… tumbledown what? A shack, perhaps? Maybe a place? He knew that Stu had a brother that lived in Harbledown.

 

He became so engrossed in the contents of the envelope he'd forgotten that he wasn't alone in the kitchen until Martha said, "Will the… young man, be staying, Giles?"

 

Abashed at having to be reminded they had company, Giles responded, "Of course you must stay. Buffy and Angel will be back on Saturday. They're going to be so disappointed if they miss you."

 

Oz couldn't help smiling. He'd heard the unspoken plea in Giles' voice, and knew he was really referring to Buffy. She's going to kill me if you don't stay. He considered his options. He had nowhere to stay in England yet; he'd flown in and gone straight down to Westbury, worried that his information would arrive too late. But… he'd done his bit, now. If it was anything to worry about, then the problem was in Giles' safe hands. He was starting to feel jet-lagged and didn't really want to go looking for accommodation right now. He was meeting a friend of his in Belgium in a week or so, but he had nothing planned until then and it would be nice to see old friends for a while.

 

Martha hurried off to make up one of the spare rooms. It would be so nice for Giles to have a friend to stay for a few days.  Something normal once in while didn't hurt anyone…

 

 

End.



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