Timeline: Warning - here there be spoilers for seasons five and six! Third installment. Don't blame me, blame insistent feedbackers!
Premise: Buffy has a Watcher again, now what's she gonna do with him? Go on an adventure, of course!
Disclaimer: I own nothing but my imagination (and the characters I made up.) Joss Whedon, WB, Mutant Enemy and/or a bunch of other people own everything else in the Buffyverse.
Author's Notes: Thanks to Sandra for her knowledge of Cornwall! Thanks to Gail for the beta, and we had no idea we were both writing stories about Buffy going to England... cross my heart! The Biblical quote is from I Corinthians verses 7 and 8.
Buffy/Giles - rated PG-13
Giles awoke with a start at the unfamiliar sound, his entire body stiffening into battle ready mode. Through slitted eyes, he attempted to identify the source of the hum. It was barely dawn, the diffused gray light suggesting that snow had fallen in the early morning. He widened his field of vision slightly, and caught sight of blonde hair.
"You're not soft and comfy any more," the owner of the hair complained in a gravelly, early-morning voice. "How come?"
"Sorry." He relaxed instantly, and she repeated her contented murmur, snuggling back against him. He was spooned around his Slayer, clad only in his underclothes, and decidedly unembarrassed about it. He sighed happily and beat back the clouds of doubt and self-deprecation that threatened to gather. His nose buried itself in her hair of its own accord. He decided it was entirely lovely waking up to Buffy in the morning.
"Better. S'early. Go back to sleep."
He smiled and whispered, "Yes, dear."
He felt her almost silent giggles against his chest. Yes, lovely, indeed.
Her cheek, pillowed on his right bicep, moved to stroke his skin in a catlike, affectionate gesture. "Arm is better relaxed. Muscles are like stone when you tense up." She giggled again, slowly growing more awake despite her reluctance to move. "There's a time for muscle-y macho man, and a time for soft cuddly-bear man. Three guesses which time this is."
"Y-you think I-I'm m-macho?" His voice broke on the last word, which prompted a full laugh from the girl in his bed.
"Well, maybe, when your voice finally changes for good."
He cleared his throat pointedly, then said in an exaggeratedly deep voice, "Thank you, ma'am."
She turned in his arms and planted a kiss on his nose. "Of all the Giles cuteness I have ever witnessed, I think I like early morning Giles cuteness the best."
"I have rather a lot of, um, cuteness stored up, I think," he mused. "Haven't used it much lately."
She caught the slight melancholy in his voice, and kissed him again, this time on the lips. When they separated, he was smiling.
"See there? Again with the cuteness. I love your smile." She kissed him again, whispering against his mouth, "You just get cuter all the time."
A surprising rumble came from deep in his throat, a cross between a purr and a growl. He pulled her into a secure embrace as he began to trace her face with his lips. Soon their mouths were fused together, and there were interesting sounds coming from both of them.
Things moved rapidly from cute conversation to something else, and Buffy wasn't so sure she wanted to put a stop to it. Just as she was contemplating removing some of the layers of clothing in which she'd gone to sleep, a firm knock came at the apartment door. They both jumped violently.
"Mister Giles? Mister Giles, there's someone here for you," a strident, elderly female voice called through the front door. She knocked again, loud enough to be heard several doors down. "Mister Giles?"
"Landlady?" Buffy asked in dismay.
He nodded with a sigh and rolled out of bed to pull on his discarded trousers. He hopped to the door in bare feet, his toes curling to minimize the contact with the frigid floor. Leaving the chain in place, he opened the door slightly, hoping the curious senior would get the hint and make her comments short.
"Missus Fitch, g-good morning," he said with his most gracious, yet sleepy tone. He shivered and yawned widely for emphasis, shifting from one frozen foot to the other.
"Mister Giles, someone has come for you. He's very well dressed. He says you must consult with him immediately. He's in the receiving room."
"C-consult? W-what about?" He slid his hands under his armpits. The fire had died down during the night, and the temperature in the room was barely above making his breath visible.
"Well he didn't tell me, now did he?" she declared with a sniff.
"All right, I'll come down, but he'll have to give me a moment." He shut the door and leaned against it with a groan. "Good Heavens, what timing."
"My timing has always sucked. I didn't know yours was just as bad," Buffy called from the bedroom, smiling as he limped back towards the bed.
"Blame our mystery guest's timing, not mine." He pulled a pair of socks from his dresser and sat on the bed to put them on. As he did, he shivered again, and declared, "Dear Lord, it's freezing in here!"
She stuck an arm out experimentally, holding in place for a brief moment before snatching it back under the covers. "Brrrrr... don't you have central heat?"
He snickered briefly. "There's a gas stove in the loo and a fireplace in the den."
"Is it always this cold in the morning in here? Or is this your wacky way of saying, 'Welcome to England'?"
He leveled his patented 'Watcher glare' at her before answering. "I usually stoke the fire before I retire, and again in the morning."
"Better get stoking, then, or I'll still be under the covers when you get back."
He looked over at her, a saucy smile sliding across his features. Her eyes widened at his unspoken innuendo, then she grinned back. "Pervert," she accused happily.
His look told her he didn't take her comment as an insult. "As appealing as this train of thought might be, you might want to, um, get up and get dressed. After I've dealt with the matter downstairs, we could see a bit of the town, get a bite to eat..."
She sat up immediately, clutching the comforter around her. "Oh, food sounds good. Actually, a shower sounds good, too. I think my internal clock is messed up... it thinks it's breakfast time already."
"It is breakfast time," he retorted. "It's nearly six."
"Six??" she cried, falling back against the pillows and pulling the covers over her head. Her voice was muffled by the layers of material, but he heard her clearly as she growled, "Nobody should be awake this early. It's against the very laws of nature!"
He laughed at her, playfully tweaking a foot under the bedclothes. "I'm going down to see what our visitor wants, and you may have the bath all to yourself."
"Not moving until you start a fire in every available fire-compatible place." Under the covers, she missed his wide, affectionate smile. He stood and pulled on a shirt, buttoning it as he set about the task of warming his apartment to the specifications of a thin-blooded California girl.
He proceeded to light the stove in the bathroom, knowing it would quickly heat the chill air. He decided against a fire, since they were leaving the flat for who knew how long. "I'll give you about an hour, how's that?" he called from the front room as he shrugged into his jacket.
"Depends on how quick it warms up. Warm air equals clean Buffy," she explained from underneath the comforter.
"It'll be fine soon. Hurry if you can." She heard the door close behind him, and thought about his last words. She decided to accept the challenge and be ready before the hour was up. She threw back the spread and slid her feet to the floor. The moment she made contact with the cold boards, she gave a tiny scream and dove back into the warmth of Giles' bed.
"I'll give that heater ten minutes, then I'm starting my own fire," she groused.
Giles descended the stairs into the formal sitting room, unaware that he looked exactly as if he'd just gotten out of bed. His hair was a mess, his shirt wasn't fully buttoned, and his waistcoat was undone, but at least he was covered. The moment he stepped foot into the room, a young, clean-shaven man in a heavy raincoat jumped to his feet and approached him with an outstretched hand.
"Mister Rupert Giles, I presume! I've seen your pictures from your time at the Museum." Giles' hand was soundly shaken, and he couldn't help but smile at the young man's earnest demeanor.
"That was quite some time ago, Mister... ahh..."
"Oh, I'm sorry. How rude of me. Get a man out of bed on a Saturday morning and then neglect to introduce myself. Steven James Marsh the Third, at your service."
"Marsh? Of the... West Country Marshes?" Giles asked with some surprise. The Marsh family was well to do, and while they held no official title, their wealth afforded them a place among the old aristocracy.
"I'm afraid so," the young man replied, looking vaguely uncomfortable.
Giles gestured to the worn settee and they both sat, mirror imaging themselves at each end. "What could I possibly do for one of the richest families in Cornwall?"
Marsh chuckled bitterly. "Money has no sway in certain matters, Mister Giles, as you well know. The... well, I suppose the word is 'supernatural'... cares little for position or power."
Giles sat up straighter, intrigued. "I think you'd better start at the beginning, and with as much detail as possible."
"I knew I'd come to the right place. Your colleagues at the Museum assured me you'd never failed to solve a mystery, no matter what the source."
There was one great mystery in his life he hadn't solved... in fact, he'd run from it, but that was another story entirely. He did his best to look wise and concerned. "I'll do what I can."
Marsh began to relate his story. It seems his fiancИe, a Miss Cecily Hamilton-Fitch (of the seaside Hamilton-Fitches, of course) had been traumatized by an apparition in the Marsh's Hallowind estate. Since the ancient structure also housed the central office of the Marsh empire, it was expected that Steven, the heir apparent, and his new bride would join the rest of the living Marshes in the gargantuan home. However, due to the young lady's harrowing experience, she refused to set foot in the place again.
Marsh's father, mother and unmarried uncle were both horrified. They were both nearing retirement, and were looking forward to young Steven taking over the business under their careful tutelage. The idea of him living elsewhere was unthinkable. The thought of Miss Hamilton-Fitch, whose ancestry boasted considerable amounts of the bluest blood, refusing their only heir was an insult of the highest order. Steven found himself in the unenviable position of playing peacemaker in a building class war.
"And that's why I've called on you, Mister Giles. My father and uncle have no expertise in matters that don't involve making money. They simply don't believe there's a ghost in Hallowind Hall."
"Is the ghost male or female, or simply a disembodied mist?"
"I'm not sure. Cecily won't speak of it."
"Haven't you seen the ghost yourself, Mister Marsh?" Giles studied the man's face carefully, looking for signs of deception. He found none.
"No, sir, I have not. But Mother has seen it many times. My sister, as well, before she married and moved out of the house. They don't seem to fear it as awfully as Cecily does. She believes the ghost only appears to young ladies."
"That could make it difficult to study," he mused, "Since I'm not a young lady." He chuckled softly, and at that moment, a small hand fell on his shoulder.
"You're in luck, Giles. One young lady, conveniently at your service," Buffy said matter-of-factly as both men leapt to their feet.
"Buffy! You're already here," he said unnecessarily, unable to prevent a genuine smile of delight from spreading across his face.
"Never underestimate the power of a really cold bathroom floor," she quipped, turning to the attractive young man standing next to them. "Hi, I'm Buffy. Buffy Summers." She held out her hand in welcome, but the young man seemed frozen in his tracks. When he didn't move or offer to take her hand, she became nervous.
"Um, Giles? Is he all right?" She moved her hand back to Giles' arm and stepped closer to him with a frown.
"Mister Marsh?" Giles was caught between concern and a rising jealousy. The man was staring at Buffy like she'd dropped from the sky.
Finally, the man shook himself slightly and focused back on Giles. "I'm terribly sorry, I seem bent on being insufferable this morning. Miss... Summers, was it? I'm Steven James Marsh, the Third. Very pleased to make your acquaintance." He continued to stare at her.
"Um, If I'm weirding you out, maybe I should go back to upstairs..."
"No, please! I am sorry... it's just... you are the spitting image of my fiancИe. Her hair's a bit darker..." He wiped a hand across his face. "I'm not usually given to fits of apoplexy in a young lady's presence."
Buffy gave him a tentative smile. "It's okay, I guess. I would be freaked if a blonde Giles look-alike wandered into Sunnydale. With the way things go in Sunnydale, I'd be downright suspicious." She gave Giles a nudge in the side, and he beamed at her.
"And you'd have reason to wonder, given some of the things we've encountered there. Actually, this is a stroke of good luck, Mister Marsh. Buffy might be willing to accompany us and perhaps flush out your ghost."
Marsh looked back at Buffy, worry etching his forehead. "But, sir, I hardly think putting the young lady at risk is..."
"Buffy has considerable experience in this area, I assure you." Pride suffused Giles' voice.
"Yeah, weirdness is my specialty," Buffy assured Marsh with a wry smile.
"I suspect that's why you're with me," Giles supposed dryly.
"No, I'm with you 'cause you're cute," she corrected, patting him on the arm affectionately.
Giles blushed slightly, and Marsh began to smile with dawning understanding. "I believe you're a lucky man, Mister Giles."
"If your fiancИe is anything like Buffy, so are you, Mister Marsh," Giles countered gallantly. The compliment earned him a brilliant smile and a kiss on the cheek.
"Enough flattery. Count me in. A harmless little ghost would make a nice change of pace."
Marsh scratched his head, looking pensive. "I've never heard of the specter harming anyone, but it certainly did the job on Cecily's nerves. She's not a timid person, but she refuses to go anywhere near Hallowind."
"Let's see if we can't change that," Giles said confidently. The trio agreed to meet in mid-afternoon and travel to Marsh's family home. Marsh insisted that they be prepared to stay a few days, and with that the young man hastened on his way, leaving Buffy and Giles to fend for themselves.
"Giles, you mentioned food," Buffy reminded him gently after he'd been lost in thought for several minutes.
"Oh, yes. Are you ready?"
Buffy threw on her heavy coat with a flourish and pulled it tight around her. "As I'll ever be."
They stepped out into the crisp morning air, and Buffy exclaimed, "Snow! Look, it snowed!"
"Yes. It does that in England from time to time."
"I thought all it did was rain."
Giles looked up into the overcast sky with a fond smile. "I much prefer snow to rain."
"At least it's pretty."
Giles watched her as she kicked aside the soft blanket of white as she walked. "Very pretty, indeed," he agreed happily.
She looked up at him, grinning suddenly in amusement. "Your hair is all wavy and wild."
He ran a hand over it in dismay. "I didn't get a shower," he said in horror.
"The world may stop turning, but you're gonna have to feed me first. Otherwise you might end up without any hair at all."
He snorted. "I've lost enough hair worrying about you."
"Promise me you won't do the wrap-flap like all the old college professors do."
"Hey! I'll have you know the men in my family have had this hairline for centuries..."
She leaned up and kissed his cold nose. "Gotcha."
He took her arm firmly and began steering her towards the restaurant. "You do love winding me up, don't you?"
"Almost as much as eating. Note, I said almost."
"We're going, we're going!"
Although the day was cold, Buffy enjoyed Giles' impromptu tour of downtown Bath. Now that she wasn't on her own and hopelessly lost, she found it-and him-to be fascinating. They ate in a charming local restaurant boasting 'The Real Bath Breakfast'. Buffy loved the idea after Giles explained that most of the food on the menu was locally produced. They ate well, and Giles was surprised to find his appetite had returned to normal. He surmised it was Buffy's presence that made him feel like eating again.
They returned to the apartment to allow Giles time to freshen up and pack a bag. Just before three o'clock Steven Marsh arrived in his chauffeured car to drive them to Cornwall. They passed through some impressive countryside, enhanced by the remains of the earlier snowfall, and Buffy spent most of the time watching the passing scenery while Giles queried Marsh on his family history. There seemed to be little intrigue in the younger man's past, much to Giles' disappointment.
They traveled a main highway for much of the trip, but as soon as they turned onto smaller roads, Giles began to feel the ancient pull of magic as they drove past stone circles and sacred wells. Buffy must have felt something as well, for she grew quiet and contemplative as they traveled.
When Marsh's long car turned up the face of a craggy mountain and onto the winding driveway at Hallowind Hall, Buffy's eyes widened at the sight of the huge structure. Situated on a rocky outcropping that overlooked a wide valley, it exuded a decidedly otherworldly aura. She was immediately drawn to it.
"Wow, Giles, is that a castle?"
"No," he corrected. "It's a house. It's just... very large."
"That's an understatement. I've seen entire school buildings that are smaller than that!"
"It's a rather grand old place. I'm quite fond of it. There's a truly spectacular view of Bodmin Moor from the upstairs suites," Marsh stated proudly as they pulled up to the front entrance. "Leave your things in the car. Willis will take care of them."
"How will Willis know which is what?" Buffy wanted to know.
"I should think the 'LA International to London, Heathrow' tags would be a dead giveaway," Giles reminded her dryly.
She surreptitiously stuck her tongue out at him and changed the subject in her typical lightning fashion. "What's a Bodmin Moor?"
"You'll soon see, I'm sure. We'll make it a point to give it a look. Bodmin is it's name, and a moor is really just open, rough, rocky wasteland, and very soggy at this time of year."
She gave him a wicked grin and leaned close to Giles' ear as he helped her from the car. "Did you tell that Willis guy to put us in adjoining rooms?"
He shot her an admonishing glare. "I told him no such thing."
Her pout was deadly. "Steve-o interrupted stuff this morning. It's only fair that he should give us a second chance."
"Buffy!" he hissed, his face flushing.
She ignored him and followed Marsh to the front entrance. Before they reached it, the huge wooden doors opened and a slender, stereotypical butler in black appeared. "Young Master Marsh and guests," he announced into the house with a twinkle in his eye.
"Jeeves! Where is Mother?"
"In the drawing room, sir."
Buffy turned a disbelieving stare to Giles. "Jeeves? How clichИ is that?"
Giles shrugged. "It's the man's name, Buffy. Don't make fun of it."
"But, Jeeves... Sheesh, I feel like I'm in tenth grade English Lit again."
That comment earned her one of Giles' deadliest glares. She got the message and quick-stepped back to their host, fighting a grin.
Marsh led them into the massive house and did his best to answer Buffy's rapid-fire questions about the furnishings and the dimensions of the rooms in general. She had never seen a personal residence built on this scale, with its soaring three-story entry hall and air of timeless solidarity. Giles simply listened, more intent on getting the 'feel' of the place than learning about its collection of antiques. He did note that Buffy seemed to have gleaned some knowledge of valuable items from her Mother's gallery days. She recognized a Ming vase immediately, and was drawn to an exquisite Queen Anne couch that showcased an original Monet hanging above it.
"Here we are, Mister Giles," Marsh gestured towards one of the side rooms with a smile.
Giles turned to speak to Buffy, but she wasn't there. He turned and found her still admiring the antiques that lined the broad hallway. She was tracing her fingers over the thick tapestry table runner, enjoying the rich, brocaded finish. After it was obvious she wasn't going to follow them into the next room, Giles good-naturedly went to fetch her.
"Buffy? Much as I admire your taste, my dear, the drawing room is this way." He gestured towards the door and suppressed a grin as she whirled and blushed. He put an arm around her as she passed, and she noted his amusement.
"You enjoyed that, didn't you?"
"Quite a lot."
"Getting me back for all the 'oblivious, nose-in-a-book' jokes I've ever told about you, huh?"
"It's a start."
When they entered the room, Giles' first impression of Mrs. Marsh was that of a small, barely-caged wild animal. She was dark and wiry, her black hair liberally streaked with pure white and wound into a loose knot. She was dressed simply in a long navy dress with a white collar, and her eyes darted back and forth between her two guests, as if evaluating the potential for danger. She looked both frail and ageless in the austere setting of old furniture and heavy wall hangings.
Marsh went to her immediately, smiling. "Mother, I've brought someone about the ghost," he said gently, giving her a kiss on the forehead. He helped her stand and brought her to Giles, presenting her as proudly as a doting son could possibly manage. "This is Rupert Giles, formerly of the British Museum, and his companion and assistant, Miss Buffy Summers of California."
Mrs. Marsh raised an eyebrow at Buffy's unusual name, but she reached a hand to each of them in turn, shaking only once before retreating. To Giles, it seemed more of an appraising gesture than one of welcome.
"My son has told you of the ghost," she stated. It wasn't a question.
"Yes, ma'am." Giles was uncertain how to address her, since Marsh had indicated that they bore no titles. Still, this woman seemed to command respect.
She eyed him carefully before turning her attention to Buffy. "You are not afraid of ghosts, young lady?"
Buffy wasn't certain, but she thought that one was a question. "No, ma'am, I'm not," she said in a firm voice, implying that she wasn't afraid of Mrs. Marsh, either.
Unexpectedly, the elderly woman laughed. "You two are soul-mates," she declared. "It is a good thing. Together you are strong."
Buffy looked at Giles in alarm. Just what did 'soul-mates' mean to this strange lady?
"Mother has a certain... intuition," Marsh offered with an apologetic smile.
"In some ways, we are," Giles replied, addressing Mrs. Marsh. "And we would like to get to the bottom of this mystery of yours. Perhaps we could talk..."
"We shall talk." She indicated the sitting area, taking a seat that seemed scaled to her small frame. She waved the others onto the settee and sat back, her dark eyes sparkling. "Soul-mates, and not in some ways, Mister Giles, in all ways. You will see."
Giles cleared his throat and glanced at Buffy. She seemed pensive, but undisturbed. "All right, um... your son has given me a great deal of background on the specter, but I would like your... impressions, if you will, about the encounters themselves. Has there been any sort of threat attached to these visitations? Does it... or she... seem belligerent? Resentful? Welcoming? Protective? Any information of that sort would be most helpful."
A new respect glimmered in Mrs. Marsh's eyes. These were very pertinent questions to her mind. "I'm gratified that you didn't come purporting theories of mirrors and smoke, Mister Giles," she said with some enthusiasm. "For centuries, the women of the Marsh family have been haunted whilst alone in their bedchambers. Up until now..." She gave her son a disapproving look. "...most of them lacked the impertinence to stand up to their unbelieving husbands and leave the house. They lived in fear of a reappearance each time their husbands left them alone. There is a dread that falls on us when we see the apparition. I cannot explain it."
"That's quite all right. Please continue... does the spirit follow a set pattern of appearance?"
The old lady nodded thoughtfully. "It seems to do so. There is an odd thumping noise, which rouses the lady from her sleep. There are only two ladies' chambers on this floor, and the appearances always involve the third bedroom. When the lady goes to the door and opens it, there is a light at the end of the hall. It seems to gather itself into the form of a young servant girl and continues until it reaches the lady's open doorway. The ghost seems to be searching for something. She wails incessantly. The sound is faint at first, but grows in volume until she is nearly deafening. She passes through the person standing in the doorway as if made of air. I believe that is the most frightening aspect of the entire process."
Buffy looked vaguely disturbed at that. "Sounds... ooky."
Mrs. Marsh continued gravely, "It is most disturbing. The apparition continues into the room, stooping as if to open a drawer on the large dresser next to the wall. Then she disappears with a most alarming shriek."
Giles sat for a moment, his fingers steepled against his lips, and then gave the lady a soothing smile. "Thank you, Ma'am. I believe that will be a great deal of help. One or two more questions... could you recognize features, such as hair color, height, bone structure, or the color of her garment?"
"Her hair appears dark. She is pale, slightly built with delicate features, and her dress looks to be an off-white, coarsely woven cloth. That is why I was left with the impression of a servant."
"Yes, that would make a great deal of sense. Well, we'd best be getting settled upstairs. Is there a particular room that the ghost visits with regularity?"
Mrs. Marsh stood, and the men stood with her. The courtly gesture caught Buffy by surprise, but she stood gracefully and stepped closer to Giles.
"She never ventures beyond the third room on the right, or so I've been told. There are other tales in the family history, but matters such as this tend to expand with each telling. Steven can show you the library, and you can make your own judgments about the veracity of each tale."
Buffy nudged Giles with a mock straight face. "Ooo, Giles, a library," she cooed. "You'll be lost in there for weeks."
He gave her his usual glare and thanked Mrs. Marsh for her time. Marsh led them up the wide, curving staircase, where the servants had already selected two adjoining rooms on the second floor. Their bags were waiting inside. He mentioned some work he needed to attend to, told them that dinner was at six, and excused himself.
"Cool," Buffy approved, looking her room over. "Do we get room service, too?"
"Buffy," he warned, trying not to laugh. He followed her into the room, his eyes roaming the furnishings and coming to rest on the ornately carved bed. She grinned at him when he looked up, and he blushed slightly at her upraised eyebrows.
"So, where is Steven's dad? Doesn't he want to be in on the big ghost-busting scene?"
Giles blinked once, adjusting himself to Buffy's tangential conversation. He'd missed that about her. "He's away on business."
"So wifey sits around waiting for the spook to show up? Nice."
"Steven mentioned that his mother moved to the East Wing to avoid further...um... experiences. His father still resides in the first set of rooms, so we will be in the second and third suites."
"I don't blame her for moving. Too bad Daddy Marsh can't see the ghost. It might make him a little more sympathetic."
"I believe Mister Marsh, the Second does not hold with ghostly theories."
"A skeptic, huh? Walk a mile in my shoes, that's what I say to that."
"There is a possibility that we won't be able to see the ghost, either."
Buffy shook her head with a wry look. "Nah, no chance. Not with spook magnet Buffy around. She'll show, I'd bet money on it." She looked down at her empty hands and snorted softly. "If I had any."
Giles smiled sympathetically, then stepped through the side door into his room. "Th-these rooms are quite nice. I doubt if the other side of the house is as well appointed. Usually, in homes like this, the servants lived at one end of the building and the owners at the other."
"Mama's slumming," she quipped, drawing another pointed stare from her Watcher.
"Buffy, we must take this seriously. There could be dark forces involved."
"Mister 'Dire Consequences' speaks," she mocked lightly. "Mama said nobody's ever been hurt."
"True, but if these visitations are becoming more disturbing with each generation, there could be a reason." He sat on his bed, still thinking furiously. "Strong, negative emotions grow stronger with time and exposure to the spirit realm."
Buffy yawned in response. "Fine. Go to your library and research to your little heart's content. I want to take a nap. This bed looks comfy."
"Feel free. I'm just going to unpack a few things and head downstairs. We may find all our answers there."
"Knock yourself out," Buffy invited, flopping back on the welcomingly soft duvet. "I'll try not to snore."
Giles spent some time reading through the family diaries, gathering the most pertinent information, and it didn't take him long to realize a pattern. The hauntings had indeed grown more disturbing and frequent since the turn of the century. What began as a small cloud of haze at the end of the hall had developed into a spine-tingling encounter for the women of the Marsh clan. It concerned him greatly that things might grow steadily worse until someone was hurt or killed.
Marsh had told them he was leaving in the morning to tend to some business in London, and promised to return in a few days time to check on their progress. He made a car available to Giles, and insisted that they enjoy the countryside during their stay. After a quiet, formal dinner that ended with both Marshes retiring for the night, the 'consultants' returned to their rooms to get ready for their ghostly stakeout.
Giles had thought to return to the library to continue his reading, but Buffy definitely had her own ideas about how to pass the time until the apparition appeared, and they did not involve research. She blocked his exit with her body, and began in her best wheedling tone, "Giles, if you stay downstairs you'll miss the ghost."
"I won't be able to see it anyway."
"You'll miss my insightful play-by-play, then."
"I should be back before it appears. Mrs. Marsh indicated that most of the sightings were well after midnight. There are still several volumes I haven't examined."
"Okaaaayyy... if you leave you'll miss my snuggling."
That stopped his protests for a long moment as he stared at her, his imagination doing a Highland jig inside his head. He shook himself slightly and gave her a sheepish grin. "TouchИ, but that's extremely unfair of you. We're supposed to be working, not...um... snuggling... in, in this luxurious... and, and rather romantic... setting."
She sidled up to him and traced his arm with a fingertip. "What's wrong with combining a little pleasure with business?"
"Buffy!" he exploded in exasperation, backing away before his body could convince him otherwise. "Stop it! You're driving me mad!"
She actually looked surprised. Crossing in front of him, she sat down on her bed with a frown. "Sorry... I'm not usually so... needy."
"No, you're not." He joined her, leaving several inches of space between them, and searched her downcast face. "Perhaps you're sensitive to the pervading spirit of this place. Try reaching out with your inner senses. Um... do you... 'feel'... anything?"
She started to make a suggestive comment at that, but bit her lip to silence it. She closed her eyes and concentrated for a few seconds before she nodded. "Impatience. Frustration. Really wanting something and can't have it." She looked over at him with apprehension. "Am I possessed?"
"Oh, no, I don't believe so," he reassured her. "But you are picking up emotions from whatever or whoever is causing the haunting. It could be useful."
"Could be fun, too," she blurted, coloring brightly at her own words. "Geez, Giles, that came out all by itself. It didn't even touch my brain."
"It's all right. I'm flattered more than offended, but it does make concentration rather difficult."
She giggled, nodding. "For sure." Her face turned disappointed. "Does that mean I can't sleep with you tonight?"
He coughed several times before he could respond. "Th-that wouldn't work. I'm in the, the second room. The ghost never enters any room but the third... um, which is your room. That is, if the stories are correct."
"So, can you sleep with me?"
His laughter had a desperate edge to it. "My p-presence might deter the ghost, Buffy."
"Darned old ghost," she muttered with a pout.
The first thing that occurred to Buffy when she woke was just how dark it was without streetlights.
She sat up groggily, blinking into the darkness. Good thing Giles is Mister Prepared, she thought as she reached for the candlestick by the bed. Fumbling with a match, she finally lit the wick and looked around the room for the cause of her interrupted slumber.
There it was again. It sounded like someone rapping on the walls outside, like a carpenter looking for a wooden stud to hang up a heavy shelf. It was irregular, but steadily increasing in volume.
"The ghost," she said breathlessly, sliding out of bed. The adjoining door was open, as per her request, and she stuck her head into Giles' room. "Giles," she called softly, "We've got company. Dead company."
He was awake instantly, and fumbled with his shoes as she went back into her room. He was behind her in less than a minute, waiting for her to open the hall door. She winced at the creaking hinges, but poked her head out as soon as there was room.
"What do you see?" he hissed impatiently.
"It's... it's a girl!"
He used his height to advantage and peered out above her. The hall was pitch black. "I don't see anything."
"You're a guy. You're not allowed." She watched as the specter moved from one side of the hall to the other, tapping, moving her hands over the paneling, and whimpering to herself. "Can you hear the noise, at least?"
He concentrated, using his Watcher training to search for the presence of the otherworldly. Something faint and indistinct washed over him, and he shivered. "There's something... but I can't make it out. Crying."
"Yeah, she sounds like a candidate for the psych ward. You can't hear her banging on the walls?" The sound was getting louder, and it was beginning to grate on her nerves.
"No, I can't. Wait... there is a slight... she's testing the panels for a hollow space, isn't she? It makes sense."
"Looking for a secret passage, maybe?" Buffy watched as the ghost moved slowly nearer. Soon she could just make out words. "Hey, she's saying something. Listen!"
The girl's lips were moving, but the sound seemed to come from Buffy's mind.
Not here, not here. Where are you? Promised me, promised me, not here... not here...
"Very weird," Buffy whispered shakily. "Whatever she's hunting, she's not finding it."
"Stands to reason. If she had found what she was looking for, she'd most likely never reappear again."
The ghost was close enough by then for Buffy to make out her clothing, a simple dress with drawstring waist and gathered skirt. The girl's hair was tied with an off-white ribbon, and tears streaked the semi-transparent face.
"She is crying," Buffy observed sadly. "Poor thing."
Suddenly, the ghost whirled and started for Buffy's door with a determined look. "Oops, back up, Giles, here she comes!"
He backpedaled until he was against the heavily carved footboard of Buffy's four-poster bed. She left the door cracked and stepped back also, not really wanting to have a ghost pass through her. From her perspective, things moved swiftly, with the specter turning into the room, coming through the partially opened door, and brushing by Buffy until she was in the middle of the room.
The contact left Buffy shivering all over, violent tremors running up and down her body. She gave a short 'brrr' and wrapped her arms around herself. The ghostly girl bend towards the heavy dresser at the back of the room. She reached for the bottom drawer...
"Buffy? Are you all right? Is she still here?" He couldn't bear the silence any longer, and took a step forward.
The apparition looked up at him in panic and screamed. Her form dissipated like smoke.
"Darn, she's gone! You scared her away, Giles!"
"I did? I heard something... Look at you, Buffy, you're freezing." He stepped to her side and took her in his arms. She was still shaking like a leaf, and she let his body heat soak into her for a few minutes before she responded.
"That was definitely of the weird. Did you hear her scream?"
"Faintly. It sounded very far away."
Buffy rubbed her hands over her ears. "Not to me."
"You're still trembling, love."
She pressed tightly against him. "I'm so cold."
"Come on, then, let's get you warmed up." He led her back to her bed and helped her in, tucking her in carefully.
"Get in with me. It's the only way I'm gonna get warm, and we can talk about the spook until we fall asleep."
"Buffy, I don't think it would be appropriate..."
She reached for his arm and pulled him forward. "I couldn't care less about appropriate. I'm cold and I'm freaked and I want to figure this out so we can go back to your place and have sex."
He gave a quick half-laugh and kicked his shoes off. "Always the romantic," he drawled as he slid in beside her.
She immediately turned her back to his chest and pulled his arms around her. "Yummy warm... you must have been dying in all that tweed back in Sunnydale."
"Tell me about the ghost," he redirected firmly.
She sighed, snuggling against him. "It happened pretty much as Ma Marsh described. One young-looking girl ghost, banging on walls and talking crazy. She said something like, 'Not here, he promised me he'd be here.' She wore one of those peasant-type dresses, long sleeves, gathered, round neck, drawstring waist, loose skirt that touched the ground. It looked kind of like linen. The scratchy kind."
"I'm familiar with the style, and historically speaking, it was probably roughly woven wool."
"Whatever. Looked uncomfortable to me. Anyway, she walked through the door and went past me to the dresser, just like the stories. Then you said something, she looked up like she was surprised, and screamed. Loud. It rattled my eardrums. Then she went 'poof'."
"Poof. Like smoke. Just spread out and faded away."
She giggled and patted his hand. "Good night, Mister Spock. I'm tired. Ghost hunting takes a lot out of a girl."
"Buffy... what made you shiver so terribly?"
Buffy's voice was small and frightened when she replied. "She touched me."
"Are you all right?" He sat up, leaning over her to see her face in the candlelight.
"I'm okay. No permanent damage, just a case of ghost wiggins." She soothingly traced his face with a fingertip. "But I'm better when you're holding me."
He slid back down, his arms firmly around her. "Then I shall hold you for as long as you like," he vowed softly.
"I knew I'd get you into my bed tonight."
He snorted softly and buried his face in her hair. "Go to sleep."
He did notice, just before sleep overtook him again, that she'd never put out the candle.
They stayed in the house for the next two days, with Buffy seeing the apparition both nights. Each time she tried to communicate with the ghost, but it didn't seem to hear her. Every time Giles spoke or made a sudden move, it vanished. During daylight hours, Buffy and Giles alternately researched and traveled around, enjoying the towns and villages surrounding Bodmin Moor. Buffy was the consummate tourist, and the local people seemed very comfortable with American visitors. Giles soaked up much of the local history, gathering information about other ghostly sightings to help with his investigation. The place seemed rife with lore. There were stone rings and burial mounds that he would have happily examined, but he felt his focus had to remain on Hallowind.
During the times when Giles buried himself in research, Buffy walked the Moor, keeping to the footpaths and rocky stone fences to avoid getting lost. She found something compelling about the harsh landscape, something that invoked solitude rather than loneliness. It was healing to her battered soul, and she realized she was finding her center once again.
On the third day, Steven Marsh returned while Giles was in the study. From her vantage point atop a jumble of rock near the house, Buffy saw him drive up and ran to meet him.
"Hi, Steven," she called as he got out of the car.
"Oh, Buffy. Hello. Any luck with our specter?"
She fell into step beside him as they went inside. "Not yet. I've seen her, though. Giles is researching as we speak. We've gotten a lot of history about your family, but we can't place the girl anywhere. Rich people don't always list their servants in their genealogies."
Marsh's eyes brightened for a moment. "Have you tried the house accounts? They might have been listed as property, as barbaric as that sounds."
"Oh, good idea! Let's go tell Giles."
They found him with his head buried in a large, dusty tome, and Buffy fought the swell of nostalgia that threatened to overwhelm her. She flashed back in memory to the High School Library where they'd met, and bittersweet emotions flooded over her. She took a deep breath and announced, "Steven's back, Giles, and he has an idea."
The rest of the afternoon was spent pouring over financial records. The three of them started with the eighteenth century, based on the dates on which the ghost first appeared. Giles was understandably excited, since he was getting nowhere on his own. They found many references to serving girls, but none of the accounts mentioned strange occurrences in their lives. Mostly, they just chronicled hiring, firing, and deaths.
Just before dinner, Marsh closed his book with a sigh and rubbed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Mister Giles, this seems to be leading us nowhere."
"You may be right, but I want to finish these accounts. We could be a few pages away from a solid clue."
The young heir stood and began to pace, obviously growing agitated. "We don't have a great deal of time, Mister Giles. Cecily... she's not going to set foot in this house again until this matter is settled. The wedding is only a few months away, and if things continued as are now... well, there might not be a wedding if we can't exorcise this ghost."
"If we do get rid of it, will she believe us?" Buffy asked innocently.
Marsh gave her a weary smile. "I hope so. Both our families have agreed that the marriage is... suitable... but with Cecily, it's not just suitable, it's..." He gestured vaguely, unable to articulate his feelings.
"You just love her, don't you, whatever the family says?" she offered with an understanding nod.
"Yes. I do. I would live in a flat in London if it made her happy, but my parents won't hear of it."
Buffy examined the man before her with a critical eye. Here he was, probably in his early thirties, and he was still under his parents' thumb because of money. She found herself feeling sorry for him.
In a flash, her mind linked his predicament with hers. Had she been hanging onto Giles because of what he represented, rather than because of the man he was? He certainly embodied security, parental care, at least where Dawn was concerned, and he was financially stable... She suddenly recognized how her behavior had looked to the man who'd given up his entire life for her.
No wonder he finally left. No sane man wants to be a doormat in the house of the girl he loves.
She hid a sniff and turned away, her eyes clouding with tears. She was done demanding, begging, and conniving. From now on, she wanted what Giles wanted, and nothing more.
"Hey, guys, I need to take a walk before dinner. I'm not used to this kind of inactivity."
"Just a moment..." Giles cried suddenly. "I believe I've found something."
They gathered around him, and he pointed to an entry dated 1795. "There was a kitchen servant named Anna who disappeared just a few months after she came to the house. There's no death record. Servants seemed to come and go quite a lot back them, but this one simply states that she vanished one day."
"You think something happened to her? Something ghost-y?"
"It's possible. I'm not sure, but since there is no record of her death, she had to have run away or been taken."
"Or something else," Buffy mused. "She keeps pointing at the floor under that great big dresser, Giles... what if she's under there somehow?"
Marsh straightened with an odd look on his face. "We've never moved any of the furniture in those rooms, as far back as I can remember. I remember a governess of mine saying this dresser did not wish to move."
Giles stood and began to search the shelves. "There are drawings of the house here somewhere, I've seen them. I need to look at dimensions... there may be a hidden room behind the wall or underneath the floor."
"That seems unlikely," Marsh said doubtfully. "I've never heard of a secret room."
"You wouldn't, if it was sealed off while still a secret. Aha! Here we are." He pulled down a huge, narrow book that barely fit between the shelves. "Architectural drawings."
Before long, Giles had covered a sheet of paper with figures. He finally looked up with a triumphant smile. "That's it. The dimensions of the first, second, and third floors don't match." He pointed to his figures and to the drawing. "Here... on the second floor... there are three places where the walls don't match the floor above or below. There could be a considerable gap between."
"You are a genius," Buffy declared.
"I have to agree," Marsh echoed.
"Save the accolades for when we do away with our ghost." He stooped to gather his notes.
"It will take several strong men to move that cabinet," Marsh warned, still not sure about Giles' plan.
"Giles," Buffy reminded him with a hand on his arm, "You-know-what in the house, remember?"
"Oh! Yes, you're right, um... the three of us can probably manage."
Marsh looked back and forth at the two of them with a scowl. "I doubt that four men could shift that thing. How can two men and a girl..."
Giles held up a hand. "She's stronger than she looks."
"I am," she assured the young man. "But I'm also hungry. Can we do this after dinner?"
"Are you ready?" Buffy asked, getting a firm grip on the sides of the heavy dresser. Behind her, the ten drawers were stacked neatly, full of antique lace, leather breeches, and old jewelry. Removing them lessened the fixture's weight considerably, but the thing was still monstrously heavy.
"Almost... yes," Giles answered. He was poised at the back, with Marsh at the front. They both were gripping the cabinet as low as possible to prevent injuring themselves. Giles was so thorough in his instruction to Marsh about protecting his back, Buffy wondered if he had a minor in physical therapy to go with his Doctorate in Archeology.
"Okay, guys, on the count of three. One... two... THREE!" She lifted her side smoothly, holding it steady as both men fought to balance their end.
"Ten steps forward," Giles ordered tersely. They moved carefully and with surprising efficiency, easing the cabinet into its new resting place without a scrape or bump.
Both Giles and Marsh were gasping heavily from the exertion. Buffy watched them calmly until Marsh straightened. "I shall never call you a mere girl again, Miss Summers," he puffed, laughing breathlessly.
"Nor shall I," Giles agreed slyly, causing her to giggle at his appraising look.
"Okay, who's on the demolition team, or do I have to do that, too?"
Giles handed her a crowbar. "You just volunteered."
"Me and my big mouth."
After brushing centuries of dust away, they found a mismatched pattern of boards that almost exactly mirrored the dimensions of the old cabinet. Buffy set the edge of the crowbar into the slight depression, frowning as she came in contact with something more solid below it. The trap door had been well hidden.
"This might take some effort," she grunted, driving the metal edge into the hard wood. "And I'm gonna make a mess."
"I'll have it redone." Marsh dismissed her concern with a wave of his hand. "Perhaps I'll have the entire wing redone."
"Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you." She put her weight against the crack, and the wood groaned as it gave way and tilted upward. A swirl of stale, foul-smelling air billowed up into the room. They began to cough, and stepped to the doorway to gulp clearer air.
"Smells dead," Buffy commented, clearing her throat to erase the dust-induced gruffness.
"Indeed," Giles agreed. They waited until the dust had settled, then Buffy grabbed a large flashlight and peered down into the space.
"It's a room," she said unnecessarily. The narrow beam passed over a table, chairs, a small cot, several wooden boxes, and in the corner... "Uh oh. I think we found our ghost. What's left of her."
"Let me see." Giles took the light and focused it on the pile of rags in the corner. "It's a skeleton."
"Oh, my God," Marsh breathed.
"I'm going down. You can pull me out if there's not a ladder." She dropped easily into the small space. "Pretty nifty. There's even a chamber pot. Not looking to see if it was used, though."
"What else do you see?" Giles squinted into the dark, worried about Buffy despite the seeming lack of danger.
"Um... there's a writing desk, and some stuff on it, a chair, no, two chairs. A couch and a twin bed. A lamp... ooo, nice rug! Dusty, though. And Anna. No other doors or windows that I can see. That's it." He could hear her moving around, see the light briefly illuminating the area, but couldn't see much of Buffy.
"Look at the desk. Perhaps there are letters or notes."
He heard the chair scraping back, and Buffy aimed the light at the desktop. "Some stuff that looks like one of Willow's spells... it was torn out of a book, I think. One edge is ragged. Oh! A necklace!"
"Don't touch it," Giles ordered immediately. "Examine it closely, and describe it to me."
"Aye-aye, Captain," she retorted. "Okay, it's made of heavy silver. Looks like a choker. The chain isn't very long. It has a big stone... a ruby, I think. It's red. Not very pretty, though. It's dark and not very shiny, even with the flashlight right on it."
"It could be charmed or cursed. Let's get a ladder down there and I'll have a look." Marsh took the suggestion and dashed from the room as Giles squatted near the opening. "Anything else?"
"Yeah. Blood." Her voice was sober. "Lots of blood splatters on the table. On the floor, too."
Giles repressed a shudder and concentrated on putting together some theories. By the time Marsh and Jeeves returned with the ladder, he had decided on a course of action. 'Buffy, stand still a moment. I'm going to do something I should have done before you went into that room."
He turned to Jeeves, who was carrying a tall wooden ladder. "Ah, good. That should do nicely."
Giles took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He whispered a powerful protection spell under his breath, directing it at Buffy. "There," he said when he was finished, exhaling in relief. "That should help if something evil is lurking about."
"What'd you do? I feel all tingly." She giggled, swallowing the lewd comment that popped into her mind.
Giles, knowing her recent state of mind, silently thanked her for her restraint. "Just a small protection spell. It should repel evil."
"Really? Thanks. Y'know, I could use one of those all the time."
He smiled into the darkness, imagining her face. "Sweet Lady, your light doeth ever offend the darkness," he said softly.
"Nothing." He maneuvered the ladder into place and carefully lowered it. "I'm coming down."
He paused at the bottom rung, his eyes squinting as they became accustomed to the darkened room. He stepped to the floor and moved over to Buffy, who was still examining the necklace where it lay.
"It's not very pretty," she commented.
He had to agree. It was garish and large, much too heavy to be comfortable to wear. "It must have another purpose besides beauty," he murmured as he attempted to shift the brown-speckled papers without disturbing its resting place. "It looks like a focus."
"A sorcerer's focus. An amulet that allows a magician to concentrate his or her power." He studied the papers with the flashlight held close, and grunted when he recognized the spell. "I'm right. This is a containment."
"Like the containment field on Star Trek?"
He squeezed his eyes shut in protest at her pop culture thinking. "It binds souls and locks them inside the stone. It's nothing to joke about. This is perhaps the most horrible thing one human can do to another... to put them inside a prison that has transparent walls. The victim can see everything on the other side, but is powerless to effect it in any way."
"That's awful, Giles. No wonder you didn't want me to touch it. Gross." She backed away. "You think there's someone trapped in there?"
"It's very likely. If we bring the necklace into the light, the stone will probably look hazy, but the view from inside would be perfect."
"Yuck. Are we gonna try to free whoever it is? Could it be Anna?"
"I don't see how it could be. She's been wandering the rooms for centuries, trying to get someone to find this room and free her..." He frowned at the necklace. "...lover, perhaps? Or a relative... I have no idea, but we can't leave the poor soul trapped."
"No," she whispered. "Is it safe to touch? Can we bring it upstairs where it isn't so cobweb-y?"
"It should be safe. Take it. I'll get the papers." He didn't mention the spell, but he felt confident that she would be untouched by whatever evil induced the original magic, if worst came to worst.
When they climbed back to the bedroom level, Mrs. Marsh and her son were waiting for them. Her eyes narrowed as she focused on the necklace. "You've discovered something."
"Yes, a talisman. I believe our ghost was trying to help us find this."
"It is evil. I can feel it."
"It has been used by evil. The object itself is neither good nor bad, it simply is. I am going to attempt to nullify the spell and allow the trapped spirits to return to their rightful places."
"If you are confident, Mister Giles, then so am I," Marsh said earnestly.
"I'm fairly so. I need to study this document, and perhaps find the volume it was torn from. I dare not attempt something this complex without proper preparation."
"That sounds wise," Mrs. Marsh agreed.
"What about Anna? She'll be here tonight, 'cause she's still bound to the place until this spell is lifted."
Giles looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. Buffy stared back, wondering what he was up to. Finally he spoke. "Do you want to attempt to communicate with her?"
"Communicate how? I'm not the sИance type."
"Not that way. By using your... um... powers." He tapped his head, and she realized he was referring to the sensory training they had been working on the year before their confrontation with Glory.
"Oh. That." She considered the idea. "It's worth a try."
Giles took the papers to the library for further study, and Buffy decided to try and get some sleep. After an hour of tossing and turning, she gave up on the idea and got out of bed. She was looking for a missing shoe when the now familiar thumping started down the hall. She steeled herself for another encounter, and when Anna appeared at the door, she concentrated, frowning at the effort. In her mind, the words formed, and she directed them at the insubstantial girl in front of her.
The ghost wavered, looking in her direction, but not really seeing Buffy.
Anna, listen. We're going to help you, okay? We found the necklace, and we're going to help you. We're going to set you free.
Buffy's eyes welled up with tears as the ghost turned and looked full at her. A tiny smile crossed the pale face, and she gave a soft cry and disappeared.
"I think she got it." She dressed quickly and went downstairs to tell Giles of her success.
Giles did his preparation the very next day, gathering various herbs and an ornate lamp from Buffy's bedroom that would serve as his focus. Once he was satisfied, they left the house for a brief tour of some local churches. Buffy felt he needed the distraction to clear his head after all that study.
Evening fell, and after dinner everyone went upstairs to watch Giles set the stage for the releasing spell. As he set up the boundaries, he explained to his small audience what was going to happen.
"I'm going to attempt to break the spell that was originally cast on the amulet. Once this is done, the trapped spirit should be free to break out and return to the spirit world. We're hoping that once this is accomplished, Anna will no longer be bound to the house, and will leave as well."
He looked up and noticed that Jeeves, the butler, had joined them, coming up behind Mrs. Marsh at a respectful distance. Giles nodded at the older man, but said nothing.
"Buffy? Are you ready?"
She nodded, indicating the slip-on shoes by the bed. He grinned at her forethought. "Good. I suppose if we succeed there will be nothing left to see, no matter what gender occupies the room."
"Thank you, Mister Giles," Marsh said gratefully. "As curious as I am, Mother and I would only be in the way. I will see you in the morning. Jeeves, call me if they need anything."
"Yes, Master Marsh." Jeeves disappeared into the shadows, but Giles felt the butler would be close by at the first sign of trouble.
Marsh escorted his mother from the room, and once again, Buffy and Giles were alone. She moved to the bed and sat, patting the spot next to her with a smile. He joined her, his face reflecting his calm determination.
"You really think this is going to work, don't you?" She reached for his hand, holding in between both of hers.
"Yes. It all fits. Someone is trapped in the amulet, and Anna happens upon the hiding place. She falls in, the door closes above her, she cannot get out, and she dies... it's classic, really."
"I wonder why she screams, though."
He looked up, surprised. "What do you mean? Of course she'd scream as she fell."
"No, that's not how it went." Buffy sat straighter, trying to convey her disquiet. "I've watched her do this four times, now. Except for the last time when I told her we were going to help, she would go to the dresser, bend down, reach for something through the dresser drawer, and then look up like she was surprised. Then she would scream."
"Perhaps someone surprised her, then pushed her in," Giles said stiffly, beginning to share Buffy's uneasy feeling. "This is sounding more and more like murder."
"Hey, anyone that would do that..." She pointed at the amulet in disgust. "... to someone would probably kill someone else to keep it hidden. We are talking about a genuinely not-nice person."
"Yes. Well, the sorcerer is long dead, and all we can do is help his victims."
"Yeah. I love that about you, y'know? You're always helping."
He gave her a soft smile that melted her heart. "Thank you. I try."
She leaned into him for a gentle kiss. It wasn't enough, and she shifted closer, closing her fist around the front of his shirt.
"Mmmff," he protested softly, pulling away. "M-maybe we shouldn't..."
"And maybe we should. We could do with some positive, non-evil-making vibes in this room right now." She kissed him again, thoroughly.
"I hadn't thought of that," he panted as she let him go.
"Your thinker's all worn out with all this ghost stuff. Why don't you let me do the thinking for a while? Ghost Anna won't show up for hours." Her lips caressed his gently, drawing out another long, sensuous kiss. "Of course, if you don't want to, it's okay..."
Her arms slid around his neck and her fingers tangled in his hair, tantalizing him to the point of no return. He leaned into her waiting mouth, seeking more intimate contact with her tongue. His hands moved from her lap to her face.
"Buffy," he began softly, between kisses.
"Mmm," she replied absently.
He held her away slightly and placed his forehead against hers. "I have to tell you... I can't do this without telling you..." His voice failed, and he pulled in a deep breath.
"Tell me what?"
"That I love you. Truly. I couldn't... I would never allow this to go farther if I didn't."
"I know." She turned her head into his neck and nuzzled him there, sending shivers up his spine that had nothing to do with ghostly visitations.
He cleared his throat, struggling to think through the web of pleasure she was drawing him into. "After Olivia, I wasn't sure you'd h-hold that high an opinion of me."
She stopped kissing him and looked him square in the face. "After Angel, Parker, Riley, and Spike, you shouldn't be holding me at all. Now, unless you've changed your mind, let's stop talking about old lovers and start discussing new ones."
"Lovers," he repeated softly, his voice filled with wonder. "The very idea... it amazes me."
"It's your turn to amaze me, Rupert," she invited with a smile that was both a challenge and a promise. He gave up his doubts and pulled her close. Something inside him clicked into place, and he felt centered and whole for the first time since Buffy's death.
Showering her with kisses, he lowered her to the bed, carefully pulling the covers over them both. They were undressed within minutes, and things progressed quickly from there. He made no attempt to articulate his feelings, for he knew he would fail miserably. His touch and the look in his eyes told her all she needed to know, and her unguarded responses assured him that she felt the same.
Looking up at him in that intimate moment, the world suddenly shifted and she saw in his face everything she'd ever wanted in a man... a balance of strength and tenderness, of desire and control, of wisdom earned while weathering the rougher seasons of life. Before she could wonder why she'd been so blind before, he caught her mouth in a deep, searching kiss. She forgot her analysis and lost herself in his embrace.
Passion soon gave way to blinding release, then to drowsy contentment. They separated only long enough for convenience sake, rearranging themselves into a comfortable tangle in the middle of the bed. Just before she drifted off to sleep, Buffy traced his face with her fingers, and said with sudden clarity, "When you touch me, I feel like I've finally come home."
"Wherever you are is home to me. I-I'm sorry it took me so long to realize that."
"It's okay now." She tightened her arms around him and sighed, completely at ease for the first time since her resurrection. "Love you, Rupert," she whispered.
"And I love you, Buffy," he answered.
Sleep fell upon them easily.
Thump, thump... thump-thump... thump...
Buffy jolted awake, her face pressed against Giles' chest. "Uh oh, we weren't supposed to sleep this long... Giles... Rupert, wake up."
She hopped out of bed and gathered her clothes, dressing quickly. She knew there wasn't much time. "Giles, get up! The ghost is coming! You have to do the spell!"
Without a word he was standing beside her, pulling on his slacks. "Everything is ready. All we need is for the ghost to witness it so she can move on."
"I should have stayed awake," Buffy groused as she slid her sweater over her head. "See what you do to me?"
He laughed softly as he buttoned his shirt. "Vixen. I'll not mention what you do to me, then."
"Mention it all you want when we get through with this. As a matter of fact, I'd like a detailed description."
"Gladly," he said with a grin, then his face turned serious. "I can hear her."
"You can?" Buffy took up her position by the door and turned to him in surprise.
"Yes. She's saying, 'He promised me, but he is not here, not here.' It's extraordinary."
"Maybe the magic is giving you radar ears, or something."
He took his place beside the barrier he'd erected and carefully placed the necklace in the center. "I haven't cast yet."
"Maybe it's the sex, then."
He gave her an incredulous look.
"Look out! Here she comes!"
The ghost filtered through the door and began her agonizing walk to the now uncovered trap door. She paused to lean down, and Buffy spoke.
She actually looked up. A chill ran down Giles' spine. She looked so lost and forlorn, it tore at his heart.
"Anna, this is... Rupert. I know he's a guy, and all, but he wants to help. Can you just... not disappear yet, and let him help you?"
Giles began the incantation slowly, his eyes never leaving the girl's ethereal face.
When he finished the unbinding spell, the stone began to glow. "Stand back, Buffy!"
She moved in front of him instinctively, and before he could protest, there was a flash of blinding red light.
When the haze cleared, there were two figures standing next to the necklace.
"Whoa. That was unexpected," Buffy commented.
They could make out the shape of a young man, his hair long and shaggy. He eyed the room with a crazed expression until they fell on Anna. He gave a longing cry and tried to embrace her, but he was held in the confines of the magic square Giles had constructed. His cry turned to a wail, and Anna joined him. The sound was eerie.
The other figure, more indistinct and murky, remained still.
"What is that?" Giles peered into the gloom, his glasses forgotten on the vanity next to Buffy's bed.
"Don't know," Buffy offered. "But you have to let the guy out. They're gonna go crazy." She put her hands over her ears. "Either that, or make us crazy."
Giles spoke the final word of the spell to dissolve the barrier, and the two young spirits embraced.
"Aww, isn't that sweet?" Buffy said tearfully.
"Oh, dear," Giles added.
"Huh?" Buffy looked up in time to see the other figure morph into a black, billowing cloud and move slowly towards her, intent on the reuniting couple. "Hey! That doesn't look friendly at all!"
"It's not... it's evil. I can feel it."
"Can I hit it?" She took a battle stance between the cloud and the now cowering ghosts behind her. A wail of terror rose up from them.
"I don't think so," Giles shouted over the rising sound of fear.
"Then what do I do?"
"Get out of the way!"
"But it's gonna hurt them! We promised to help them!"
A sudden rope of lightning extended from the cloud and engulfed Buffy. She stiffened, and Giles roared, "NO!!" He leaped to her side, intending to shield her, but she waved him back.
"It doesn't hurt. I can't even feel it." The malevolent energy was dancing around her as if seeking a way to penetrate the invisible protection around her.
"The protection spell, Buffy! I never dissolved it!" Giles broke into a wide grin. "It can't hurt you!"
The cloud writhed with anger, and a grating, accented voice emanated from within. "But the sorcerer does not protect himself. Fool!"
The thick bolt of lightning redirected itself at Giles, and he was thrown violently back against the wall. His voice rose in a cry of agony as the dark energy engulfed him.
"Stop it!" Buffy cried, leaping to Giles' side. She deliberately put her hands on his shoulder and hip, attempting to draw the magic away from him. It seemed to help, and she turned back to the pillar of evil with a glare that had often sent vampires running. "That's it. You hurt Giles, and all he did was free you. Now you get your butt kicked."
"Free me? The usurper is also free! Once again, I am denied! You will rue this day!"
"I don't think so, buddy." Buffy made to stand, but Giles grabbed her arm. "What?"
"Lure him back to the barrier," he whispered.
She nodded and then ran to the two cowering ghosts. "Stay behind me," she instructed, and they seemed to understand. She moved slowly around the room, circling the evil spirit carefully.
"Just what are you, anyway? These two look like people, but you look like a big fat nothing."
"I am a sorcerer! A master of the dark arts! Kneel, beg for your life, and I may spare you!"
"Yeah, right, like that's gonna happen." She took another step. "If you're such a master, why'd you get trapped right along with the kid?"
"She unnerved me!" the cloud accused, throwing out an arm of billowing smoke at Anna. The ethereal girl moaned pitifully in response.
"I know she's cute, but just how did she 'unnerve' you? It's obvious you planned this thing pretty well. I mean, with the hidden room and all."
The cloud let out a wail almost as tortured as the sounds coming from the apparitions behind her. "The spell to trap the usurper's soul had not been completed. She found the bolt-hole. He was still alive, locked inside the room with the stone. I tried reason, tried to tell her of my love for her, but she fought me. She denied my love, claiming him, a mere stable hand! She scratched my face, and when I pushed her away, she fell..."
"She died, didn't she? And you were so upset you went ahead with the spell, and it backfired."
Giles was slowly crawling back to the bed, trying his best to be silent while Buffy distracted the evil warlock. He eased up to his knees so he would be ready when the spirit was in position.
Buffy took another step. "So, now's your chance."
"Well, yeah. You have them both in the same spot, and all you have to do is zap them both back into the soul-trap and you're free to go spread your evil... whatever... again."
The cloud roared and slowly began to coalesce into a recognizable human figure. It was an older, heavy-set man with graying hair and expensive-looking clothes. "Where is the necklace?" he demanded, his voice sounding more human.
"Right behind you," she offered cheerfully, pointing.
The warlock was so intent on his revenge that he cackled gleefully and moved to snatch the talisman off the floor. "At last!" he bellowed, holding the object high. "My revenge..."
"Is finished," Giles interrupted. "Resumo."
The barrier snapped back into existence, and the specter dissolved back into its unformed state with a confused bellow. The ruby necklace fell to the floor with a silvery jangle. The room was filled with crashing, sounds of lightning bolts and thunder, and vivid, centuries-old curses, but the prison held.
"Giles, how can we get rid of ol' Smokey, here?"
"I don't know. I didn't research any other spells." He frowned in thought, fighting his throbbing head.
"It's okay, honey, I know you're not at your best right now, what with the colliding with the wall and all."
He tried to glare at her, but it hurt too much. He dropped his head to his hands and moaned.
Buffy decided to harass the evil guy for information, and she stepped closer to the barrier again. "So, you're a big, bad sorcerer, huh? Why didn't you just conjure up a girl that liked you?"
"She was mine. I purchased her, but she escaped and came here. The fools took her in."
"You thought because you owned her she'd be easy pickin's, huh? That's mighty noble of you."
"What do you know of nobility?" the cloud shrieked as it battered itself against the invisible wall of magic.
She smiled. "All I know about nobility I learned from the guy you tossed across the room."
"He is nothing. He has no power without the element of surprise. I am more powerful than he."
"No, you're not." She looked over at the man she loved with a gentle smile. "Nothing's more powerful than love."
Giles' head snapped up and he winced at the sharp pain that accompanied the movement. "Buffy, you may have hit on the way to destroy him." He began to struggle to his feet, and Buffy moved to help him, sliding an arm firmly around his waist.
"What have you cooked up in that massive brain of yours?" she said lightly, giving him an encouraging smile.
"You'll see. Anna? Would you and your young man come and stand beside us?"
Giles wasn't sure they would be able to hear him, but they both moved until all four of them were side by side. He stepped away from Buffy's embrace and stood firmly on his own. He looked at the evil spirit with distain, and when he began to speak, his voice was clear and commanding.
"Look upon us, you who claim to command dark powers. We are your nemesis, your antithesis. We embody something you can never have and shall never control. Pure, unselfish, self-sacrificing, unconditional love. Alive, we represent something you cannot touch. You cannot create love from a heart of evil, and you cannot destroy it with hate. Love beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
The spirit of the sorcerer began to wail pitifully, the cloud seemed to shrink on itself. Giles pressed his advantage, his voice growing stronger and louder with each sentence.
"Even death cannot conquer love, for your feeble attempts to keep these two separate only served to make their love grow stronger. Both in life and in death, love has defeated you. You are powerless. You cannot create love, and you cannot destroy it. You have failed, whereas love never fails."
"May God have mercy on your soul, if indeed you ever owned one. Now, begone!"
The room shook as the sorcerer's spirit began to leak out of the room like an upside down cyclone. The process seemed to take forever, but in reality it was only a few seconds before the last wisp of smoke was gone and the evil spirit's cries were fading away. Nobody moved for several minutes, concerned that the evil spirit would return. When time passed and nothing happened, Buffy finally relaxed. She turned to the two amazed ghosts and smiled proudly.
"Told you Rupert would fix everything. He always keeps his promises."
A thud from beside the bed made her look around. "Giles?" She whirled around and found him sprawled out on the rug, his eyes closed and his face white as a sheet. "Rupert!"
She slid to her knees and pulled his head into her lap. "Giles?" She patted his face softly, then a bit harder when he didn't respond. She checked his pulse. It was weak and too fast, but still there. She lifted an eyelid and found his eyes rolled back. "Rupert Giles, you big idiot, why didn't you hide? Haven't you figured out that it takes both of us to fight the bad? Next time, do a protection spell for yourself, too, and you won't end up with another head injury."
His eyelids fluttered open, and he cleared his throat. "What a good idea," he rasped. She hugged him until he protested, the released him so he could breathe again. She helped him sit up against the bed.
"Don't do that again," she ordered seriously.
"Don't intend to," he agreed, holding a hand to his forehead in pain. "I'm sorry, Buffy. My only thought was to see that you were safe."
She gave him a loving smile. "You were being my guardian again."
"I have always been, and always will be."
"I can live with that, but only if you do, too. Live, that is. You gotta stop taking risks. I don't intend to fall in love with you and lose you during my one-and-only vacation!"
He chuckled briefly, stopping when it aggravated his headache. "Ow."
She helped him onto the bed and made him lie down. Then she turned to the two ghosts standing quietly beside the misplaced dresser. "Are you both okay?"
The young man nodded. "We are. You have freed me. Eternally grateful I am." His accent was strange, with a lilt she didn't recognize, but it was understandable.
Buffy's mind suddenly made a disturbing connection. "There was blood on the little table down there." She pointed to the hidden room. "It was yours, wasn't it? You tried to climb up and claw your way out."
He nodded again. "She called to me. The sudden light blinded me, and my love fell. My arms could not catch her." He stopped, overwhelmed.
Tears began to course down Buffy's face. "You poor guy... I know what it's like to have to claw your way out of darkness."
From the bed, Giles could hear the agony in his lover's voice. He swallowed hard, his tears threatening to escape as well. The thought of her digging herself out of her own grave horrified him beyond anything he'd ever known before. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"Not your fault," she countered firmly. "I'm okay now. I just remember sometimes." She turned her attention back to the two ghosts. "Are you free now? Can you go on to... wherever it is you're supposed to go?"
"Yes," Anna replied, startling Buffy. "We are free. Thank you."
"My pleasure." Buffy smiled, then looked back at Giles. "I would say 'our pleasure', but I don't think Giles' head would agree."
"May your love always protect you," the boy said gravely, and the ghosts clasped hands and began to dissipate as they rose to the ceiling.
"Bye," Buffy said softly, waving at the spot where they'd disappeared. She turned back to the door, intending to close it, and stopped with a small cry. "Jeeves!"
The butler was standing in the open door, brandishing a cross. He lowered it slowly, taking a deep breath. "Yes, Miss?"
"How long have you been standing there?"
"Perhaps fifteen minutes. Perhaps more."
"Did you see what happened? It might be nice to have a witness that isn't us."
"Yes, I witnessed most of the... ahem... manifestations. Most unusual."
For some reason, his calm statement seemed funny to her. She burst into laughter and sat back down on the bed beside Giles, holding her sides as the tension from the experience drained out of her body. Finally, she wiped her eyes and said, "Jeeves, I like you."
"Thank you, Miss. Would Mister Giles like a sticking plaster and some ice for his head?"
"Mister Giles would," the man on the bed answered. "A handful of aspirin and some water would be welcome, as well."
"Certainly, sir." The servant stepped out of the room, and Buffy turned her attention back to Giles.
"Are you sure you're all right?"
"I seem to be. My vision is fine and I only have a medium-sized lump on my head this time."
"Poor baby," she soothed, kissing his cheek. "Maybe I can make you feel better. Take off your clothes."
"Buffy, I don't th-think I'm up to any, um, strenuous activity at the moment."
"Silly, I'm putting you to bed. After Jeeves brings your aspirin and band-aids, I'm gonna rub your forehead until you fall asleep. It's just easier to undress you while you're still awake."
"Ah." He rolled to one elbow and sat up slowly. "Since you put it that way..."
"And tomorrow morning, when you're feeling better, It'll be easier to jump your bones if you're already undressed."
"So, Mister Giles, you have solved our mystery," the grand dame of the Marsh family stated with satisfaction.
"Yes, ma'am, with the help of Buffy and your son," he answered modestly.
Buffy smirked at him over her teacup, carefully sipping the hot liquid. They were leaving soon, and Mrs. Marsh had marked their farewell with a sumptuous luncheon. Between bites, they discussed the events of the night before, and tried to piece together the rest of Anna's story.
"I'm just sorry I wasn't there to see it," Marsh remarked with regret. "It must have been quite extraordinary."
"Not to us." Buffy took a generous bite of her watercress sandwich, chewing thoughtfully. "This is good. All it needs is a nice big slab of roast beef to be fabulous."
Giles managed to kick her under the table, making her giggle. He adopted an innocent expression and turned his attention back to Steven Marsh. "You might ask Jeeves what he saw. He witnessed most of the confrontation."
"I will," Marsh promised, looking up at the servant, who was gathering empty plates. The tall man inclined his head, and exited the room noiselessly.
"Have you discovered the identity of the evil one?" Mrs. Marsh asked with a strange expression on her face.
"No, ma'am. The man was obviously older and quite wealthy. The necklace was his, and unless he acquired it by dishonest means, it must have cost him dearly. That ruby is the largest I've ever seen."
"Would you describe the evil one?" Mrs. Marsh asked regally, her eyes intend on Giles' face.
"As he appeared to us, he was rather stout, with graying, shoulder-length hair and a moustache, dressed in tailored clothing. I didn't notice his footwear... I'm not sure his feet were visible. He had a very arrogant air about him."
"You can say that again," Buffy agreed. "He told me to bow down and worship, or something idiotic like that." She snorted. "Like I'm gonna worship any man." She looked up at Giles with a happy grin. "Except you, of course, sweetie."
Giles did his best not to look totally love-stricken as he smiled back at her. "Yes, w-well... um, as I was saying... he appeared to be quite wealthy. He had what I would call 'striking' features."
"And a honkin' big nose, too."
Giles cleared his throat, warning her not to elaborate.
"Are you finished with your meal, Mister Giles... Miss Summers?" Mrs. Marsh placed her fork beside her plate carefully, signaling the end of the meal.
They both voiced their agreement, and Mrs. Marsh stood. Her son and Giles stood with her automatically, and Buffy followed with a guilty look a moment later. "I have something to show you," she announced, moving with confidence out of the dining room and down the hall. They followed immediately. Giles' expression kept Buffy from asking what was going on.
Mrs. March swept into the library, moving with confidence to a shelf at the far end of the room. She took a large book from one of the lower shelves and placed it on the reading table in the center of the room. Without a word, she began to flip through the pages. Buffy could see photographs of oil paintings and drawings with descriptions underneath.
"It's our family history," Marsh explained to his guests. "We have documents dating back to around the sixteen century. Of course, the family name wasn't Marsh at the time..."
Mrs. Marsh suddenly turned the book around to Giles with a triumphant smile. "Here is your sorcerer."
Giles bent over the page and stared. Looking back at him was the face he'd seen upstairs. "This is the man we saw."
"Sure is," Buffy agreed. "Big as life and twice as nasty."
"Good heavens," Marsh breathed. "He was a relative!"
Giles nodded, pointing at the yellowed page. "Your great-great-great-great uncle, I believe."
"It says here he died in Africa," Buffy questioned, her finger tracing the words just below the picture.
"Actually, he disappeared while on safari... he could have easily returned without anyone's knowledge... but how could he gain unlimited access to the house? His plan to destroy Anna's young man wasn't a spur of the moment jealous reaction." Giles looked up at Mrs. Marsh, wondering just how much of the story she already knew.
"I believe he helped build the house," Mrs. Marsh clarified. "He is listed as one of the architects. He would have been aware of the bolt hole, or could even have designed it himself."
"You suspected something like this, didn't you?"
"I have had dreams, Mister Giles. I do not wish to speak of them."
He nodded, his face understanding. "Of course. Perhaps your dreams will be more pleasant from now on." He straightened, closing the book reverently. "Well, then, that's it, I suppose. Mister Marsh..."
"Steven... Mrs. Marsh, thank you for your hospitality. I believe it is time for Buffy and I to return to Bath."
"I don't know how to thank you, Mister Giles," Steven began, but Giles stopped him with a raised hand.
"No, it's quite all right. I do enjoy a good mystery."
Steven grinned at that, and reached into his coat pocket. "This was more than solving a mystery, good sir. You have set my life right again. I only hope this can partially express my gratitude." He handed Giles a folded piece of paper, and Giles took it with a confused expression.
"You hardly expected to come all the way out here without being compensated, did you?" Steven asked seriously.
"Actually," Buffy interrupted, "He gets compensated for his smarts all the time. He just doesn't like to brag." She elbowed him pointedly, and he pocketed the check without looking at it, his eyes locking on hers for a moment.
"Um... thank you, both of you. I'm sure it's more than adequate."
"I never thought I'd be glad to see this place again."
From the bedroom, where he was putting away their bags, Giles called, "Why do you say that?"
"Because it was way too cold in here." She pulled her coat tighter around her shivering frame. "Still is."
"Hang on a tick." He exited the bedroom with a box of matches in his hand. "I've already lit the stove in there." He knelt to stock the fireplace with logs and kindling.
"Y'know, you sound more British now than you did when you left."
"I do? Habit, I suppose."
"There you go again. A man of my age isn't 'cute', Buffy. He's handsome, or distinguished."
"Yeah, right. You're cute and you know it. Deal."
"I suppose I'll have to." As soon as the fire began to blaze, he sat on the small sofa in front of the fireplace and held out his arm. "Come here. Let me warm you up a bit."
"I like the sound of that." She curled up under his arm and snuggled against his neck. "How do you stay so warm?"
"My inner thermostat works better than yours."
"Humph." Sitting up suddenly, she reached in his inside jacket pocket and fished around until she found the check from Steven Marsh. "Let's see how much this is." She unfolded it and stared at the formal writing for a moment. "Is this a lot?" She held it up for him to see. "If it was American dollars, it would be a lot."
He gulped when he read the amount. "Y-yes, it is a lot."
"Cool." She slid the check back where she'd found it, and settled against him again. She sat quietly for a moment, fingers plucking at his jacket buttons. "Rupert?" Her voice was small full of insecurity.
"Do you want to come back to Sunnydale with me?"
He sighed. "Do you want me to?"
"That's not what I asked." She sat up, determined to pursue her train of thought. "Do you want to come back with me? I bet you could make bunches of money around here just being a ghost hunter."
"You said you needed me." He couldn't understand what she was going on about.
"I know, but that's what I need. What do you need?"
He smiled gently at her. "I need for you to be happy."
"Okay, you're not getting what I'm saying."
"Then explain it to me, Buffy, please. I can't read your mind."
She let out a breath of frustration. "Okay, the last two years... heck, my whole life... has been about me, me, me. I wanted a normal life. I didn't want to slay vampires, I wanted to date one. I wanted to have sex even though I was too young and stupid to know it was a mistake. I wanted to go to college; I wanted to join forces with some shady military organization because of a hunky soldier... I wanted Dawn to be my real sister, no matter where she came from... I wanted to die in her place. After I came back, I wanted you to do all the tough stuff so I could coast for a while... I wanted to sleep with Spike, because even though he can hurt me, I know he can't hurt my friends..."
He reached for her chin, tilting it up so he could see the tears forming in her eyes. "Here, now, what's all this? We agreed... it's all in the past."
She sniffed and continued, "This is me realizing what a selfish bitca I've been. So much of what happened to us... the bad stuff... was because I was determined to have it my own way. I never asked, 'What's best for everyone else? What does Willow want? Or Xander? Or Dawn? Or... or you?"
"No, let me finish. When I decided to come to England, I was going to drag you back kicking and screaming if I had to. It didn't matter that you had a life here, that you might be happy doing something besides catering to a spoiled Slayer with delusions of mediocrity."
"You're being to hard on yourself," he protested, but she silenced him by pressing her fingertips to his lips.
"No, I'm not. It's epiphany time for Buffy. I finally figured out that when you love people, really love people, you want them to be happy. You want them to feel secure and loved and free to make their own decisions without putting up with a temper tantrum. In case you haven't noticed, this is not the way things were when you left. Dawn was miserable, Willow and Tara were split up, Xander and Anya mostly hid from me so they could actually have a life, and you..." The tears escaped again and spilled over her cheeks. "You let me walk all over you, and it almost tore you apart."
During her speech, he found himself unable to deny the emotions that welled up inside him. He simply looked at her, his understanding of her inner turmoil plain in his eyes.
"I knew you felt like you had to leave, but I hated you for it... for a while, anyway. I hated myself already, so nobody else stood a chance. I mean... I went to Spike to make me feel better! I hit bottom and disturbed the bottom feeders while I was down there.
"But there was something else going on at the same time. When you were gone, I started thinking about you. A lot. I wondered where you were, what you were doing, if you were wearing that ugly gray sweater of yours... were you still eating that greasy fry-up stuff every Saturday morning, if you were cold, or hot, or lonely..."
"I never stopped thinking about you," he admitted hoarsely. "Every waking moment."
"That's so like you. Even when you think you're not wanted, you still worry about me."
"I never felt... well, I suppose I did feel... that is..." He couldn't get the words to come out in the proper order, so he gave up.
"Shh. Your turn comes later. By the time I got here, I was starting to wonder why on earth you'd ever want to come back to that Buffy-made Hell again. I didn't think you could be happy there. I started thinking that I'd rather have you happy and safe and in England than with me and miserable and possibly dead because I didn't care enough to keep you safe. That's when I knew I loved you."
"It's not your place to keep me safe."
"Yes, it is. You're supposed to keep me safe, and I'm supposed to return the favor. But I wasn't holding up my end of the deal. I'm your Slayer. That's more than friends or family or even lovers. That's a calling, and it's forever. If I sucked at being your Slayer, how could I ever be anything more?"
"Buffy... I once said you were everything I could have hoped for as a Watcher. Do you remember that?"
A sob escaped her and she nodded. "It was after you were stabbed with that spear... when the Knights of Byzantium had us pinned in that old gas station. I thought you were gonna die."
"So did I. But I meant every word."
In a voice that was full of pain and tears, she cried, "I never understood that! How could you be proud of me? I just threatened to kill you a few hours before!"
"You were listening to your heart. Now, you listen to mine."
She nodded again, still sniffling. He pressed a handkerchief into her hands and pulled her close. "First of all, there is one thing in this life that makes me happy... seeing you smile. Things haven't been perfect, I know. Neither of us is good at reaching out. I can only hope that practice will improve our abilities. There are so many reasons that we shouldn't be together... now, don't interrupt me," he added, as she began to protest. "I'm not finished. People look at us, and they don't understand how we could possibly choose to be together. They don't know... they can't know... what it's like to live with the Call that is upon us. Our destiny changes everything. Outward appearances and age aside, we are much the same, I think. Like two halves of a whole."
"Yeah. You're the better half." She wiped her eyes, scowling at the streaks of mascara on the pristine white linen.
"No, I'm not. I'm just half. Incomplete without the other. Do you want to know what I want? Truly?"
She nodded fervently.
"I want you to be happy. I want to know that your life is better because I'm in it. I never want to be a hindrance to your happiness."
"You're not a hindrance. You're my anchor."
"And you are mine. We center each other. When we're not in harmony, we tear each other apart. When we are, nothing can touch us."
Her eyes went wide with dawning comprehension. "You keep saying 'us'..."
"Yes. You and I. Us. Together. I should never have left."
"No, it's okay. I needed the wake-up call." She leaned forward and kissed him, leaving the taste of her tears on his lips. She smiled and tilted her head slightly, studying him. "I just have one question," she said in a low, serious voice.
"Do you want to come home with me? For good?"
"Will that make you happy?"
She couldn't speak for several seconds. She swallowed the massive lump that had appeared in her throat and smiled at him. He smiled back, and she saw the joy in his eyes. "Then I guess we have a plane to catch."