The voice was warm, female and right behind him. He turned to be suddenly engulfed in a kiss that threatened to rock him back on his heels. The young woman backed off, took a breath, focused and smiled up at him, although not that far up. Wavy brown hair framed an oval face. Her mouth was generous, her eyes hazel rimmed with dark lashes and her nose was just slightly to the left of center, not enough to be a blemish, but definitely canted slightly off. He had absolutely no idea who she was.
"I beg your pardon," he not quite sputtered, straightening his glasses.
"You haven't got a clue." She chuckled. "Wonderful. I've had a crush on you since I was 12 and I obviously made absolutely no impression on you."
"Twelve?" His forehead wrinkled to think of any girl he'd known at twelve … except. "Aren't you a little young … "
She sighed disconsolately, which was marred by a touch of laughter. "Let's see if I can jog your memory, Ripper." Her use of that sobriquet jarred him. "The pool? You were usually ogling a girl with black hair, blue eyes and a penchant for black bikini's. Went off to model when she graduated."
"Lizzie?" He looked her up and down, eliciting another sigh.
"Elizabeth Bower was my older sister. She was seventeen when I was twelve. Braids, braces, all arms and legs? Yep, not a memory one. Well, I really didn't expect it. I'm Callie Bower. As I said, horrid crush. And yes, the kiss was worth it," she ended with a genuine warm smile while Giles' brain ticked over.
"Wait. You had a dreadful stuffed something that you always had with you."
"Giraffe," she supplied. "Yep. Dirty, torn, repaired, mis-matched eyes. I really should be put out that you remember Girky and not me. But, there was Liz. I really do understand."
"You tracked me down …?" He sounded a bit worried there.
"No. I was driving past when I saw you going into the school. Took me a minute to make all the connections, so I wandered in, took a chance and … well, stole a kiss." She was still regarding him in amusement. "I enjoyed it. I suppose I'd best be off and stop annoying you."
"No … I mean … by the way, how is Liz?" He honestly hadn't thought of the girl in years, yet his memory of her was vivid.
Callie's face fell. "Dead. She was beaten to death and her heart cut out on her 21st birthday."
Well, that was a frozen douche. "I'm sorry. I … I hadn't heard …"
"You probably did and it didn't sink in. There were six bodies pulled out of the Thames that day, all of them models with the Sharkton Agency, all broken, all missing hearts. Gregory Thane and three of his partners were tried and sent to jail for the horrific murders. They tried to get out of it, tried to blame it on drugs; but the courts weren't having any. Probably had something to do with the room they found in his penthouse with a pentagram on the floor and writing in blood on the walls. Not to mention the pile of hearts on a platter in the center of things." She said it matter of factly, but the pain of the loss was evident.
"She was very nice." what a stupid thing to say. "I mean ..."
"She was," Callie agreed. "Very nice. I'm glad you remember."
"So, what brings you to Sunnydale?" he finally asked.
"Research. I'm helping an author who's writing a book on the history of little known places in California. He sticks a pin in the board and I do the leg work … Well, that's not entirely fair. He's fifty-four and paraplegic. He does the internet work and hits the big city libraries while I wander through the town, take pics and dig up local info that might have been missed elsewhere. Although I do suspect that holding the title of most adolescent deaths for the decade is a bit odd."
"I beg your pardon?" Giles looked a bit broadsided by her comment.
"Most adolescent deaths in the decade for any town in Southern California; per capita that is. 1 in 8, I believe. Scary. Odd tidbit of info I gleaned from the local newspaper, tucked away in the back under the obits. That was four years ago. Of the starting freshman class of 2000, only twenty percent lived to graduate in 2004." Her eyebrows were raised as though she wondered what he thought of her numbers.
"Indeed. Yes, well … there could be a number of reasons for the low... graduation rate."
"Yes, there could. See you around," she said with a smile as she turned to leave. She was inundated by a small crowd of students suddenly; a blonde accompanied by a red haired young woman, a brunette and a young man, all of them clamoring Giles' attention.
Willow, the red head, noticed the connection between Giles and the woman leaving, before the rest of them quieted. "Friend?" she asked in the sudden silence as the rest realized that the librarian was not paying attention yet.
He turned his pale gaze on her. "Hmh? Oh, her. Uhm … actually, the sister of a girl I knew."
Buffy and Xander brightened. "Sister? Girl? When?"
"Erm … what? Oh. When I was much younger. Elizabeth was the girl every boy in the neighborhood wanted to date." His voice trailed off leaving his face with that kind of blank look Buffy hated to see. It meant something was causing her Watcher pain.
"Something happened?" she asked softly.
Their eyes met and he looked away. Something happened. "Not while I was there. She … she got a job modeling right after she graduated. Apparently, she was murdered several years later. I didn't know about it. I... was … I'd moved."
"Model?" Cordelia latched onto the word. "Don't you mean she'd moved on? I mean, she must have been gorgeous. What?" She looked around as clueless as usual.
"Dead," Buffy enunciated. "Murdered? Not all glamor and rich men apparently."
"Quite," Giles agreed. "In fact, it seems her murderer was a very rich man. She was right, I do seem to recall something in the newspapers, but it wasn't Slayer related … Well, what seems to be up?"
They dove into the latest issue with the Hellmouth and it's denizens.
Later that night, as Buffy was slinking through the graveyard, she thought about what Giles had told them about the woman visiting Sunnydale. After they'd decided there were simply more vampires active at the moment, which meant outsiders coming into the town, he'd told them what Callie had said about her sister being killed in some ritualistic manner. Willow had shuddered. Callie was here to get local color for a writer and had noticed the death rate among teens in Sunnydale. Gah. They'd have to keep an eye out for her if she wandered around at night.
A trio of newly risen vampires caught the petite blonde's attention for the few minutes it took to demolish them. Half an hour later, a commotion near the Bronze caught her attention. The Bronze with its mix of snacks and high school kids frequently drew the local vampire population to pick off stragglers.
She rounded the corner to find two figures struggling. The smaller pushed off the taller revealing a buff vampire type. Buffy pulled her stake and then stopped as the woman lunged forward and plunged a broken off piece of wood through the vampire who immediately fell to dust. "Nice work."
The woman whirled to face her, eyes wide. It was Giles' visitor. "Uhm … er … hi? I suppose you're wondering what exactly I'm doing."
"No. I recognize the technique. It's called staking a vampire. I'm a little confused that someone else knows it." That wasn't entirely true, after all, her friends and Giles all knew about stake the vampire.
Callie looked puzzled. "Some … oh, so, you … er … stake?"
"Yeah. I do."
They stood there regarding each other with suspicion when Willow and Xander arrived, breathless. The two looked at the two women, finally settling on an inquisitive look at Buffy.
"What are you two doing out here?" Buffy demanded.
"Um … Bronze?" That got a look. Well, they weren't exactly in the right neighborhood for the Bronze. "And," Willow added. "Giles … he said to keep an eye out for … uhm … non … er ..."
"She knows about vampires," Buffy told her in a resigned voice.
"Oh. Oh, good … I think." Willow looked thoughtful.
Xander looked truculent, but that was normal. "So, Miss British with the dead sister knows about vampires? Hey? And how ..."
"Do I come by this knowledge? Surely you don't think only Sunnydale has vampires, do you?" Callie shot back with a grin. "Really, now. You're all bent out of shape because I staked a vampire on a stroll through town?"
Buffy looked around. "Stroll? Or hunt?"
Callie looked a bit abashed. "Well, I was kind of curious about the exorbitant death toll among teens in this town. But even an enclave of vampires doesn't account for … well … I'm sure you have a better understanding of this than I … do ..." It looked like the connect the dots game in her head had just hit the jackpot. "Oh … my. You're … so that means Ripper … I mean, Mr. Giles is … oh my."
"That was remarkably inchoate," Willow observed.
That made the older woman laugh. "I thought your lot tended to be … well, solitary," she commented with a gesture at Willow and Xander.
"We do … damn … duck!" Buffy yelled and leaped to the fore, staking the middle of three vampires loping up out of the darkness.
Xander and Willow backed up out of the area of the fray while Callie stepped in, got clipped on the chin and went down, the vampire following her while Buffy was duking it out with the other one, he stake having been sent flying into the darkness. Willow looked around for something to use as a weapon. Xander picked up a miscellaneous length of pipe and whanged the vamp on Callie in the back of the head. That got his attention.
The vampire lunged for Xander closely followed by the woman he'd been attacking. She grabbed his hair and yanked backward. The sharp crack of bone breaking sounded before her hand snaked around and thrust the improvised stake through the vampire's heart. He exploded into dust as Buffy took out the other one and turned to help. All three teens stopped and stared at Callie.
"What the hell?" Buffy demanded, stake firmly grasped in hand. Instead of the wavy dark hair and sweet face of Callie, the woman before them shook out waist length black hair, pushing it away from a face that should be gracing Elle or Vogue or Marie Claire. Wait, Giles said … model? "Elizabeth?" Buffy asked as she completed her own game of connect the dots.
"Erm … yes."
"You're dead." Direct and to the point.
"Yes," she agreed. "Quite dead. Ghost, in fact."
Willow looked intrigued. "Ghost? As in, like, possessing?" she squeaked.
"Sometimes," Elizabeth agreed. "Do we really need to continue this here? Not that the company isn't charming, of course; but I think two vampires in one night is more than enough foolishness for my sister."
"Right. Giles," Buffy agreed and led the way back to the High School and her Watcher.
Giles looked up from his reading and dropped his jaw slightly in confusion. He pulled his glasses off, cleaned them and put them back on. The woman was still there, just behind Buffy and her friends. "I say …"
"Hi." Even her voice was different.
"Yes. Sort of. Long story."
"I imagine it is." He turned to Buffy. "Including why you brought her here?"
"Yeah, well ..."
"She stakes," Willow supplied the answer and then looked around at the dead silence. "Well, she does," she added uncertainly.
"So … uhm, you know about ..."
"Vampires. Yes. Callie's not very handy with this sort of thing, so … I … help out." She smiled warmly.
"How did you … Wait. You're haunting your sister?" Giles looked mildly surprised by this.
She giggled. "Sort of. Could I sit?" She took a seat at the table and looked around, pulling a book toward her, eyebrows raised at the title. "My goodness. Are you still …" her gaze swept the expectant looking teens. "No, probably not. You've gone rather tweedy to still be Ripper, haven't you?"
Giles looked uncomfortable. "That's …"
"Neither here nor there?" she asked with a grin. "I suppose not. Yes, I sort of haunt my sister. Inextricably."
"She said you were … murdered ..."
"Yes. There was a party. My agent caught wind that something was up and tried to get us out of the party before it went down." Her eyes grew distant. "Some big burly guy caught her and … just twisted her neck. I heard the snap. And then it was dark and scary and … I died. I found myself floating along with my body as it sank and surfaced in the water. Didn't know where I was, or why. Apparently the whole light thing missed me for some reason. I don't recall a light." She looked a bit bewildered by that confession.
"Interesting. How did you end up with … Callie?"
"She was at the funeral. I kept following my body around and so, funeral, Callie. I wanted to … to let her know it was all right, she was so upset. So, I just stuck around."
Giles nodded while the rest of the crew looked on not quite certain what to make of the story. "And the vampires?"
"That … that was … Three years ago, Callie got caught up in a street riot. She was trying to get out of it and this … this guy just …" she made a faint gesture toward her heart. "He stabbed her. Out of nowhere. She wasn't doing anything ..." Elizabeth swallowed and took a breath to pull herself together, the impact of her sister's getting hurt was apparently still very close to the surface for her. She looked at Buffy. "I had to do something. She was lying there with the knife … she was dying and … and" Tears started to slide down her cheeks. "I didn't even think. I just … slid in and … and kept her alive. God, it hurt so bad. I don't remember how I died, I don't remember it hurting and this was …"
"Like having a knife in your heart?" Xander supplied. "What? It makes sense," he replied the to rolled eyes of the rest of the group.
Elizabeth gave a wet chuckle. "Yes, exactly. Then we were in hospital, Callie was going to be all right and … I was stuck. I couldn't get out. Still can't separate. Not a clue why. We … I started researching things and … well, if you go looking into why things go bump in the night …"
"You're inclined to find things that do precisely that," Giles supplied. "Well, that's certainly an interesting situation. Does … er … Callie ..."
"Know I'm here? Yes. Yes, she does. As a matter of fact, I think it's time for me to go." Elizabeth stood up and took a step toward Giles, reaching out to touch his face. "I used to think I fancied you," she whispered. "Odd, I think you're better now. Mad, bad and dangerous to know …" she added with another chuckle as she leaned up to give him a gentle kiss. When she stepped back, it was Callie who blushed.
"Oh … my …" she gave a giggle. "I'm going to get a reputation as a masher if I'm not careful."
Giles blushed, fiddled with his glasses and cleared his throat, discovering he had absolutely nothing to say. He looked to Buffy who shrugged her shoulders.
"Ghosts who aren't endangering people aren't exactly my strong point," she told him.
"Er … no." He met Callie's gaze and smiled briefly. "It does seem to be a trifle uncomfortable for you."
"Now and again." She looked around at the young people regarding her curiously. "Well, it's been nice meeting you. I actually do have a day job and it's late. I should be going." She looked back at Giles. "If you happen to think of a way to separate us, give me a call." She handed him a business card. "OK, separate us without destroying one or the other. I've become used to having Lizzie around. I wouldn't want to lose her again. Good night." She nodded to all of them and walked out leaving Giles twirling the card in his fingers and watching her until the door closed between them.
"So, any ideas on how to un-ghost the old flame?" Xander asked the question on all their minds, if not in that exact phrasing.
"She's not an old flame," Giles corrected him. "Not even close, actually. And, no, I don't. I'll have to give it some thought and research. Anything else tonight?"
Buffy shook her head. "Nope, just semi-ghost girl indulging in slayage. Wanted to make sure it wasn't a problem."
"She won't be here long. Keep an eye out. I should think getting vamped would make things quite difficult for their situation," Giles ended thoughtfully. He frowned. "I wonder ..." He looked distant for a moment before realizing that the teens were all gazing at him curiously. "It's late. I think home is a good idea for all of you. Get some sleep," he dismissed Buffy and her companions.