“I'm sorry, Albert, we just can't sell it again.”
“But Roger, those sales weren't completed. I need the money, Roger,” an older man said as he leaned across the high wooden counter in the office of Starker Auctions.
Buffy looked up at Angel, but he was listening to the argument, staring over the men's heads.
“Can I help you?” a woman said from their right.
“We need a bidder's number,” Angel said smoothly, as the older man said, “It's a T2, Roger, an easy sale.”
“Albert, the last three people who've bid on it have suffered fatal injuries before even making it over here to pay for it. It's cursed!”
Poor Albert sputtered, at a loss for words.
“Please fill out this form, do you need a pen?” the lady asked, her voice strained.
Angel took it from her, and accepted the pen she was holding out, before fully diverting his attention from the men. He bent over the small desk the lady was seated at and went to work. Buffy didn't even attempt to turn herself away. Her slayer senses were aquiver. She sometimes felt like one of those field hunting hounds on point.
“I'm sorry, Albert,” Roger said. “Maybe a private sale. You could advertise it in the classifieds.”
Albert nodded. He looked like a lost ten-year old. He turned and wobbled out on shaky legs, his gaze cast downward to the old wooden floor. The building had obviously once been a farm building. Buffy could still smell the faded scent of old hay and burnt diesel fuel.
The auction was low-key and low-profile. They sold farm equipment, tractors and such, and mixed lots of harrows and disc plows. Angel had pointed out an ancient pump truck, an old Mack fire engine hiding under a tarp on the way in. The cars they sold were owned by farmers or the people who lived nearby in Somis and rural town officials or police departments. Willow had run across a list of agriculture auctions while searching for used cargo vans after Buffy and Giles became frustrated in their quest to obtain passenger vans at a price they could afford.
“Farm auctions?” Buffy had said. “Why?”
“Migrant workers,” Xander said, an ah-ha hidden in his voice.
“Strawberries,” Willow said. “Starker Auctions serves the Oxnard Plains, some of the most fertile land in the world. They grow lots of other stuff, too.”
Buffy said, “Who knew?”
Willow smiled, glancing over at Angel, whose lips were turned up at the corners as he stared at the floor of the Hyperion, apparently lost in thought. “The military,” she said. “There's two big bases in Oxnard and it's the largest commercial harbor between here and San Francisco.”
The once monthly Starker auctions often ran late into their scheduled Saturday nights, and cash sales were standard.
There was a concession stand, from which Buffy had already enjoyed a sausage kinda hot dog thing, and when the auctioneer took a break, a three man band played. Hand made goat milk soaps and other odd items were being sold from tables set up by individual vendors. Someone was even selling a litter of Australian Shepherd pups, and another of Jack Russells. Except for Angel's two bodyguard goons shadowing them, it had almost been pleasant.
“Do you have a credit card?”
Angel pulled his wallet from inside his jacket and took out a credit card. Buffy twisted her neck, trying to read as he extended it. Wolfram and Hart was clearly imprinted following his name. She placed a restraining hand on his arm. She wouldn't let him give her new vans, although he'd offered as many as they needed. There was no way he'd be buying used ones, either. As soon as Spike had a body again, she had every intention of convincing them to leave Evil, Incorporated to train slayers.
“Um, no.” he said, glancing at her. “Can we leave you a blank check, a business check?”
“Yes. I need your license, as well.”
Buffy slid the blank check that Giles had given her onto the table, and Angel placed his license on top. The woman paper clipped both to his completed form and handed him his bidder's number. Buffy bounced on the balls of her feet, anxious to be outside.
On the porch, she looked for Albert to the right and then swinging her head to the left, she caught sight of him disappearing down a row of big, green tractors. “What's a T2 look like, Angel?” she said, tugging on his arm. They had agreed with Giles that a four-door van would be the best choice. They could unload quickly. If they could get rear doors as well, it would also give them more options for carrying weapons.
“Buffy,” Angel said, caution coloring her name.
“C'mon, Angel, let's just find out what's going on, see if you sense anything.”
He sighed and let her lead him at a fast walk after Albert. “It's a VW bus,” he said as he followed her.
“You mean like the hippies drove?”
“Depends on the year,” Angel laughed. “They still make them down in South America.”
Up ahead, Albert turned right, jostling between two stout lumber-jack kinda men who were looking up at the raised buckets of the tractors instead of where they were going. Buffy bustled through their flurries of “so sorrys” and touched Albert's arm as he stumbled onward.
“Excuse me,” she said. “We couldn't help overhearing...”
She left the sentence lie, but Albert only seemed confused.
“About your van,” Angel added gently. “In the office.”
“Oh,” Albert said. He peered up at Angel and then at her, blinking under the artificial lights of the lot.
“We were wondering,” she said, “what the problem might be and if we could help.”
“I don't see how you could.”
“But we might,” Angel said.
“You might what?”
Buffy blew loose hair from her ponytail from her cheek in exasperation. Maybe this had been a bad idea after all.
Angel stroked her arm as he reached out his hand to Albert, soothing her, she realized, and she immediately found her patience.
Albert returned Angel's gesture on automatic, reaching out to shake his hand.
“I'm Angel,” Angel said. “And this is Buffy.”
“I'm Albert Chester. Pleased to meet you, I'm sure.”
“Albert,” Angel continued. “We overheard your difficulties in the office. You have a VW van to sell?”
“I do, sir. But the auction's sold her three times over already and won't take her on again.”
“Something about a curse?” Buffy said. Angel glanced at her, with that little annoyed look that wrinkled his eyelids just so. She shrugged.
“Just so, just so,” Albert said. He nodded and turned away from them to continue on his way.
“Where are you going?” Buffy said just as Angel said, “Mr. Chester.”
Albert Chester half-turned and frowned at them over his shoulder.
“We can help you,” Buffy and Angel said together.
“Don't see how.” Albert said again, but this time when he moved off again he said, “Come on, then, I'll show you.”
Missy Allen tipped her face to the sun, her eyes closed. A light breeze kissed her cheek and she sighed, rejoicing in the mild weather. She felt gooey with exertion after making the climb into Skipper Topp's carefully placed hillside garden above the Santa Clara River, but she thrilled to the thought of having the very best of the year's Corsica gourds for her float dressing.
The unusual mocha colored seeds were just the right shade for her water sprite's eyes. He would rise under his paperwhite petal moon as her crew built his scene in the moonlight proceeding the dawn of the Rose Bowl Parade. It would imbue the float jointed sponsored by the California Groundwater Association and Department of Water Resources with a little magic and imagination.
A sharp voice broke the stillness of her reverie. “Missy Allen, of course.”
“Hi, Evelyn,” Missy offered, but she knew her response wasn't necessary; most of Eve's conversations took place only on her side of the verbal net.
“I just knew if anyone were to beat me up here, it would be Missy Allen. I declare, you seem to know my appointment book better than I do. Have you taken all the Corsica seeds, or are there a pitiful few left for my own modest plans?”
Evelyn did retail windows and table decorations full-time for the wealthy in Oxnard. She resented the awards Missy had accrued simply moonlighting the same type of work.
“No, no,” Missy said. “There's plenty left. And look, there's bluebell up here, too, and the yellow squash are just now blooming, do you need yellow? Skipper Topp said to help ourselves.”
“...in bloom,” Eve continued on, absorbing Missy's words even as she continued to spew her own into the air that seemed to thickening to Missy, and heating under the sun's laborious heaving of itself into the sky. “Yellow would be nice, and I need red this year, roses, I think, rather than the carnations I tried in...”
Missy stood and brushed off her khaki pants. “Yes,” she said,” Well, I need to be....” She waved a hand down the hill. “I just... I'll say hi to Mrs. Walters for you, at the library.”
Eve stopped, hands on hips, a gourd clutched in each hand, her mouth half-open. She closed it slowly, a frown starting to crease her forehead, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. She cocked her head, preparing her next launch of pointed words.
Albert opened the door to a shiny red four door VW bus. It had a big silver peace sign on its nose.
“1978 Volkswagen T2b,” Albert said. “My daughter's.” He stepped back, granting Angel access to the driver's seat.
“Did she upgrade?” Buffy asked.
“Oh.” Even as the cold water shock of his words exploded through her, the heat of being caught flat-footed warmed her cheeks. Cursed car, unexpected fatalities, shouldn't she have already taken a deceased owner as a given in the case?
Angel only nodded and murmured something comforting as he bent and slid in behind the wheel. He reached down and adjusted the seat for the length of his legs. Albert handed him the keys as if they had discussed the order of things ahead of time. Buffy stomped on her irritation and shoved her patience front and center.
Angel started the car and listened, with his head cocked.
It sounded fine, to her. It had a throaty little thrum she liked.
“Repair schedule's in the glove compartment, but it's a fine car. Low milage, considering.”
“Reliable?” Buffy said, just to say something.
Albert nodded. “The VWs are in general.”
“Here, Buffy, look at the storage and there's passenger seating as well.”
She peered in past him. The custom racking was perfect for weapons and it would seat eight easily, ten or twelve in a pinch.
“May I... ?” Angel asked, hooking his thumb at the rear of the bus.
“The engine hatch? Yes. It's got electronic fuel injection...
“Bosch L-jetronic, right?” Angel said, as he got out and went around back to look at the engine.
“You know your stuff. The '78 came with hydraulic lifters, too.” He shook his head, and popped the hatch. “I know it's a Type Four engine, but I don't work on this. Give me an old Chevy Bel Air or a T-bird...”
“You like cars? To work on cars, that is.”
“I've been known to spend a night up to my elbows in an engine.”
“Would you be interested in a partial trade?”
Albert's mouth turned down and his eyebrows went up. His jowls were a bit saggy. Buffy thought he looked like a Basset Hound considering a beef dinner.
“Could be,” Albert allowed.
“We have a 1967 Plymouth GTX. It isn't entirely reliable. It'll run good enough to get you home again.”
“I could work with that. The truth is, son, I can't be looking at this car another minute in my little carport. I miss her that much, my daughter.” He flapped his battered workman's hand in the direction of the office. “Roger won't sell her again after the last mishap. Maybe I'll do better fixing up a GTX for re-sale than fussing with him or going into the city.”
“About the curse,” Buffy said, putting aside her question about where the GTX was coming from.
Albert turned his watery grey eyes on her and the sadness she saw there took her breath away. “There's no curse, Miss, just a mishap.” He looked at the muddy ground. “Or three.”
“Missy, what could I be doing for you?”
Missy loved Mr. Grayling's gravely voice. He always struck her as 'Earth', the same way red-headed wild child Andrea, the eight-year-old she nannied for three days a week, was 'Fire' in her heart and 'Cephalus' her Water. She didn't have anyone for 'Air', yet, although, come to think of it, Evelyn was blustery enough to qualify.
“I'm sorry, Mr. Grayling, you were saying?”
“May I help you?” His sincerity made his wiry white brows draw together over his flinty blue eyes.
“I need blue, Mr. Grayling, just the color of your eyes.”
His brows dipped in confusion and then he relaxed, his grin changing the whole demeanor of his face. Missy could see why his wife had fallen for him.
“Why, Mr. Grayling,” she said without thinking. “You are such a handsome man!”
He laughed, a tenor tinkle that matched his tall frame. “That's what the missus claims,” he said. “Don't see it myself, but since she's such a prize, I won't refute it. Will a handsome plant do?”
“Is it grey-blue?”
“With a pale pink edge that looks like whitecaps on the sea.”
Missy clapped her hands together. “Oh, please!”
“Succulents,” Mr Grayling said as he threaded his way through the staggered flats of nursery plants he had growing in the front of his little nursey, “I started them last year. They look to be the big thing in wholesale.” He stepped out into the sun out back and held the door for her.
“They're called “Blue Clouds”,” he said, as he scooped up a pot holding a plant growing in clumps of rosettas.
True to his word, the little water-plumped petals would look like ripping waves across the spring at the center of her float-dressing, her water sprite bursting forth from among them as if leaping to land. “They're perfect,” she breathed. “Thank you so much. Will Mrs. Henson be overly disappointed if I take some of them, too?”
Mr. Grayling shook his head. “No, girl, of course not. Should I be expecting her then?”
Missy covered her mouth.
“S'all right, we'll take a couple up front for her now. That'll save me a trip later.”
At the Hyperion the next morning, Giles set his tea cup down. “He's on his way, then?”
Buffy set the phone down at the kitchen table Angel had provided when he sent repairmen to get the kitchen operational and sat down, reaching for a muffin. “He's bringing his friend,” Buffy said. “Who drives a flat bed with a wench.”
“Ah,” Giles said.
Angel straightened from his slouch against the counter, but then only shifted his hips before settling again.
“You're worried,” Giles said.
“I was hoping to find out more about the deaths before we actually had to go through with purchasing the car. The two obituaries Wesley found weren't detailed.”
“And there were no newspaper accounts,” Willow said. “I tried hacking into the Ventura County Sherriff's office, but that's going to take more time.”
“I could make requests,” Angel said. “But...”
“It'll be days before we actually get the info we need,” Buffy finished for him.
Giles said, “Mr. Chester told you two of the fatalities were natural and one was accident.”
“Something about a ladder falling,” Buffy said.
“And an electrical line,” Angel said. He glanced at Buffy and down. “I'll sign the papers.”
“I'll sign...” Spike said.
Buffy jumped and Willow squeaked. Angel smirked and sketched a wave bye-bye as Spike flickered out as fast as he'd appeared.
The plan had been to place each of the required vehicles in Buffy, Xander and Willow's names as they were acquired. Giles was adamant that their few assets be diversified, at least until the Watcher's Council's funds were released to Giles. Lessons Learned In Sunnydale, Buffy called their constant attention to disaster planning in the past few weeks.
“We don't have to buy the car, Angel, to find the source of the problem,” Giles murmured. “If it is a death curse, and it finds the right circumstances, you won't be immune.”
“Mrs. Walters! Evelyn says hi. I believe this is the book she's been wanting, if you'll set it aside for her?” Missy handed her a novel. The faded red cover had stood out like beacon as she collected the books she needed for her next project, a flower mosaic for a store over in Oxnard.
“I'll keep it right here for her, my dear.” Mrs. Walters patted the cover as she placed it next to the card reader on her desk behind the low counter. She was country through and through, round and matronly though she wasn't yet fifty. Missy adored the fact that she had a celtic tattoo swagged around her hips, hidden always by the conservative flowered dresses she wore. “Was the Cullen's Mythological Creatures useful for your plans, dear?”
“Oh, yes! I found just what I was looking for, a water sprite located right here in the Santa Clara. His name is...”
Mrs. Walters leaned forward, her voice barely above a whisper although no one else appeared to be in the library. “Be careful, dearie, naiads can be nasty creatures.”
Missy's forearms broke out in gooseflesh as all the little hairs stood up. A cool draft brushed her neck.
But then Mrs. Walters laughed, and two girls burst through the library's double doors, giggling, bringing the bright sun in with them and the moment passed.
Angel stood by the VW's open hatch, rubbing the back of his neck as Giles utilized a small mirror to scan the engine one more time, looking for anything out of the ordinary.
Across the drive, Mr. Chester and his friend, an aged surfer boy from Oxnard, were standing on their heels, kicked back against the cab of the flat bed as they smoked. The GTX sat forlornly nearby, already inspected and deemed acceptable for trade.
Buffy and Angel had failed to purchase any of the Starker Auction offered vehicles. On the return trip, at aggravation-induced high speed in the Viper, their argument over whether or not the GTX fell under 'off limits' because of Angel's takeover of Wolfram and Hart was forestalled by first Angel's phone and then Buffy's. They spent the rest of the ride putting out fires and directing their employees and army, respectively, rather than sniping at each other.
“So,” Willow said from the ground, where she and Faith had been checking the VW's underside for hex bags or painted symbols, or other weird stuff. “No mojo, no spells, no attachments.
Angel sighed. “The motor's good, Giles, and the maintenance is up to date. The price is more than fair with the GTX thrown in. I shook on it. I don't think we really have a choice but to buy it, now.”
Giles gave up his looking and stood up straight, twisting around to loosen the tight muscles in his lower back. “You're sure the girl didn't die in the car.”
“Yes. Even if I didn't believe him, I know there's nothing inside the car except...”
“Whatever's shaking my Slayer sense,” Buffy said as she climbed to her feet.
“And mine,” Faith added.
Giles raised his brows at Angel.
“Hi, wild child,” Missy said as Andrea skipped up the gravel drive.
“Hi, Missy! Can I help you unload?”
Missy handed Andrea two of the three Blue Cloud plants she'd purchased from Mr. Grayling and then reached back into the bus's custom racking for the Corsica Gourds.
“Are these for your float dressing?” Andrea said. Her voice was deep for a child's and melodious. Missy had heard her singing from the safe haven of the tree house tucked into the corner of her parent's back garden, but she also knew Andrea sung nowhere else. Not even Andrea's parents knew of her talent.
“Yes, they are.”
“What kind of picture are you going to make?”
“A mosaic,” Missy said. Balancing the gourds and two paper sacks with various seed pods and petals and gatherings from her morning wandering at Skipper Topp's acreage, she led Andrea around to the rear of the small historic cottage she currently shared with father.
They placed everything on the back patio's wooden potting bench before Andrea said, “They're all mosaics,” in a know-it all tone. “What's your mosaic going to be?”
Missy looked in both directions, a finger to her lips, and then crouched to Andrea's eye level. “It's of a water sprite,” she whispered. She made another big show of looking for anyone who might overhear. “It's of a real sprite who's lived here for centuries, though no one speaks of him.”
“It's a boy?” Andrea said in a high, squeaky, trying-to-be-sneaky voice.
Missy nodded. “A man. A handsome man with a fish's tale. He can dive so deep into my well that he knows the source and can follow it all the way to the Santa Clara and then on into the Pacific and the whole ocean, where he swims with the dolphins and sings to the whales, and has seal guardians to escort him into Atlantis for concerts and dinners and balls.”
Andrea giggled. “Under the sea?”
“Huge balls, with ladies in gowns of seaweed and shells and they all have long, flowing hair. The men are rugged and true and spin them round and round the starfish-lit room while the musicians play conch horns and scallop-shell harpsichords.”
“How do you know?”
Missy straightened and laughed, tossing her own long, dark tresses over her shoulder. Because Cephalus had told her so, and told her she'd fit right in as well. She wanted to tell Andrea, and tell her, too, that her singing captivated the merman. But she only said, “Shhhh...” and danced away.
After a moment, Andrea squealed and joined her. They danced and danced underneath the sun.
“May I ask about your daughter, Mr. Chester?” Giles said after the two men, Buffy, Angel and Willow were all settled around the kitchen table with lunch served out. A plate of the fresh blueberry muffins from breakfast, another heaped with thick cut ham sandwiches, and various small bowls of potato and macaroni salad and condiments sat untouched in the center of the table.
The combined nervousness of the small group ran across Angel's skin like a low-voltage current. He wanted to move, hunt, strike. Instead he concentrated on breathing at a regular rate, once for every ten beats of Buffy's heart. It was just enough of a distraction to allow him stillness while still being able to focus on the task at hand.
Albert cleared his throat. “I knew you'd be getting to that, before we settle up, but...” He wiped at the corners of his eyes with one thick, calloused thumb and then sniffed and smiled. In the casual gesture of a life-long relationship, his friend, Mackey, patted the back of Albert's other hand, splayed open palm down on the old wood table.
“I'm sorry,” Giles said.
“No, no,” Albert said. “It's only right you should ask, considering the problems I've had selling her van.” He took a deep breath.
“She was a sweet girl,” Mackey said for him. “I know it's an old-fashioned word, but I always thought of her as 'fey'. She loved that van. It was her only real possession. The world's a hard, hard place for young people these days and she was back home with Albert. She didn't deserve ending up the way she did.”
“And how was that, Mr. Mackey?” Giles tone was mild enough, but threaded through with that no-nonsense cord that brooked no answer but the truth.
“She washed up along the shore near Point Mugu at the Naval Air Station, on October sixteenth, last year. Albert didn't even know she wasn't home. Her car was still in the drive. Her sample mosaic was finished, but for a detail or two, the makings scattered on the ground still. She'd been working when he went to bed at ten. The cops said she'd might have been snatched in the night, but they had no leads. No footprints. The street is gravel and the drive is paved. No one saw or heard anything.”
He glanced at Albert, who was sitting with his head bowed, his hands folded in his lap.
Willow shifted and then plucked up a blueberry muffin, but they had all learned the value of silence. Angel was impressed.
Mackey cleared his throat and continued. “She was nude, poor lass, draped in seaweed, with shells all caught up in her hair. The little girl next door said it was the water sprite that spirited her away, and hasn't left her house since, just sits in her bed trembling.”
Buffy's heartbeat sped up, and Angel's breathing hiccuped in response to it before he caught himself.
“Her parents are afraid for her,” Mackie finished.
“Water sprite?” Buffy said, leaning forward.
“Ceph... What did Andrea say his name was?” Mackie turned his head, touching Albert's hand again.
Giles said, “Him?”
Stirring, his eyes coming back into focus, Albert said, “Cephalus?”
“Yes, I believe you're right, Albert. She said Cephalus. Not that that matters much, I suppose.”
“Cephalus,” Willow muttered. Brushing muffin crumbs off her laptop, she opened it.
Giles said, “What kind of mosaic was she working on?”
“She was a designer for Phoenix, the float builders in Pasadena. Her crew was to assemble the rear section of a Water Resources float, for the Rose Bowl parade, and she was creating a sample for them to see and photograph. The main plants for the body of the float had been chosen and they were getting down to the finer details.”
“Are we ready then?” Albert said, placing both his hands flat on the table. “We'd like to get on the road.”
“Yes, of course, Mr. Chester.” Giles slid a pen to Angel, turning the Bill of Sale so he could sign it. “Mr. Mackey, what did you mean by 'fey'?”
As Angel took the pen, an iciness pressed to his back, penetrating his skin, the sharp smell of drying seaweed assailed him. His hand shook.
The pair exchanged a look, the kind in which a silent conversation hid. Albert shrugged one shoulder and looked at his hands. He said, “She had the sight. Made things hard on her.”
“Angel?” Giles said.
Forcefully, Angel blew the air in his lungs out his nose. He pressed the pen's nib down hard and scrawled his legal name illegibly. Giles finished filling in the title transfer of the GTX and slid it over as well, ready for his signature.
Buffy covered his free hand with hers, sliding her warm fingers around his cold ones and squeezed. Closing his stiff fingers, he clutched hers, grateful for her strength and signed the title over. Quelling his shivers with pure willpower, he took the envelope of cash that Giles had passed to him earlier and placed it on top of the title.
Giles picked everything up as he stood, already beginning to usher the two old men up and out as he tucked the paperwork into the envelope and gave it to them, saying thank you, thank you so much, and how he hoped the GTX project panned out, as their chairs scraped across the floor. Buffy's bright voice saying thank you so much, be safe. Willow's saying good bye, take care, but her concerned eyes were locked on his.
Angel said something he thought, thank you maybe, but as the men crossed the kitchen threshold into the hall, he crossed his aching arms over the crushing pressure in his chest and gasped. Buffy gripped his shoulder, her hand and fingers burning on his skin like a brand.
“Angel, what's happening?” Willow said, standing up.
He opened his mouth, he was sure of that, but nothing came out. He was used to cold. He'd frozen some stupid ass tree demon one time who'd made the mistake of reaching in to touch his heart, but this was altogether different. An iceberg invading. Invading.
“In...” He sucked up air. It took a long time to filter into his lungs and back out again. “...vading.”
Dried throughout the afternoon in the oven on low, the Corsica Gourd seeds looked perfect under the moon and the light of her VW's headlights as Missy built up Cephalus's eyes, layering the seeds upon the drawing she had transferred onto the clay frame her father had helped her prepare. She had already finished the depiction of the communal artesian well in front of her, which sat about three hundred yards behind her father's house. It was sunk deep into a half acre of land owned by the cluster of small homes upon her street. It drew upon an underground spring deep in the aquifer that fed the Santa Clara River two miles to the north.
Besides Cephalus, only her crew would see this flower dressing, but she felt compelled to make it stunning, to inspire and motivate them into the seasonal rush to the finish. She also wanted to be able to convince her designing head at Phoenix to let her find or buy as much of her material in Ventura County as she could. After all, the water sprite who inspired her design lived right here in Somis. Buying plants that grew in Thailand or Holland didn't really make sense.
As a surprise to Cephalus, she had wild gathered almost everything, or plucked it from gardens like Skipper Topp's. She wasn't sure he was real, but she knew he'd be pleased, even if he existed only in her own lonely heart.
As she thought about the beautiful planes of his high cheeks and the mocha brown of his eyes, the water in the well stirred. He had freckles- sun-kisses her mother had called them- which fascinated her. A water sprite with sun-kisses, who would've ever thought? Well, she had, of course, she'd obviously thought it up, and giggled at herself.
Cephalus surged up, grasping the edge of the well in his long fingers, and rose halfway from the well in one fell swoop, spraying her with fresh, cool water. She screamed and laughed, and threw a handful of Corsica seeds at his beautiful self.
“Missy,” he said. “My sweet breeze. Come feather me in kisses.”
“I'm making you a tribute. Let me finish.”
He sighed and lay his chin upon his crossed forearms to gaze longingly at her. “As you wish, but only if you promise.”
“I promise,” she whispered, a longing rising her in her. She loved to kiss his cool lips. They tasted like rain and half-realized dreams. If only she could find her own love, in the flesh. She thought him unimagined maybe, like she might be able to recognize him, right here in Somis if she could only shake this watery man of her imagination from her head.
He frowned. “What are you thinking?”
“I wish...” she said, and then remembered Mrs. Walters; the tattoo upon her hips; her sharp, knowing words. Naiads can be nasty creatures.
“What do you wish, love?” he reached out, his fingers dripping. She lifted her own hand and stroked her fingertips across his palm, but stayed out of his reach, shaking her head.
“Let me finish,” she said again.
He subsided, seeming content to splash the water in the well with his jeweled tail and watch her work.
When Angel woke, he was stretched out on the kitchen floor, a pillow under his head.
“He wakes,” Buffy said from somewhere above him.
Sitting up, Angel craned his neck around. Buffy stretched both arms above her head and yawned. Books were scattered across the table. The voices and noise of slayers filled the hotel all around him, and Angel could hear Giles shuffling things in his office. The cat one or the other of them had brought along with her uncurled from her spot nestled in his crotch and yawned as well.
“I was going to be worried soon. Giles said you weren't dust, so he expected you would recover, but I don't think he's looking up water sprites in there.” She raised her voice and yelled, “Giles, he's awake!”
Giles muttered something about slayer vocal cords and scissors, dropped something heavy, and then headed for the kitchen.
Angel levered himself up with difficulty.
“What's wrong?” Buffy said, coming around to help him.
“I'm not often possessed, Buffy, it feels weird.”
She pulled a chair out for him.
“Tea?” Giles asked, sweeping into the room.
“Please.” Angel scruffed his fingers over his scalp and tried to feel whole.
Angel pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. “No. I think... I think she's still in here, with me.”
“Who?” Buffy said, standing at his elbow. Her hand was a hot brick of coal resting on his nape. Her breath roared in his ear. “Albert's daughter?”
Giles, who had stopped, one hand on the kettle, continued to the sink to fill it. “I'll just make us tea, then,” he said.
“I wish I could make you tea, and feed you fresh baked raspberry pie, warm from the oven.” Missy kissed the lobe of Cephalus's ear.
He stroked her hair from her face and turned his head to place a kiss on her throat and trail his lips and tongue down to tickle her collarbone.
“I should finish. There's just a couple more...”
“No, come with me, my sweet breeze.”
“What?” Missy said. Her lips were numb. “What did you say?”
“Come with me, under the sea.”
She laughed. He tightened his hold on her and she kissed the bridge of his straight nose, and out along his cheeks.
“Come with me.”
“I can't, you're just a part of me.”
“And you're a part of me, love, come.”
“You don't exist, Cephalus.”
He straightened his arm and pointed at her flower mosaic. “Look there, love, you know me,” he said and dug his fingers into her arms and drug her down into the well, into the icy cool of the spring.
“He stole me,” Angel said. “Her. He stole her.”
“Cephalus wasn't a water sprite,” Giles said. “In Greek Mythology, he was human, although he was handsome enough to attract the Gods' attentions. He killed his wife, by accident, when she was spying on him, thinking he had taken a lover named Breeze. There are plenty of others, though, both supernatural and human alike who go by Cephalus. It was a common Greek name for a very long time.”
“He's in Cullen's Mythological Creatures By Region,” Angel said. He turned the hot tea cup in his hands, around and around.
“Oh,” Giles said. He started to stand. “I'll just go get...”
“No. This one will do.”
Buffy's hackles rose. She had the distinct impression Angel wasn't driving anymore.
Always calm, Giles removed his glasses, following his thinking ritual, buying his time.
Buffy's heart double-pumped. How she loved this man. These men, both of them.
“What are your intentions?” Giles finally said, placing his glasses back on his nose.
“To kill him.”
“No!” Buffy said, leaping up.
“Buffy!” Willow cried, jumping up, too, reaching for her.
Giles patted the air with both hands. Angel stared straight ahead, appearing unaware of them.
“Giles,” Buffy hissed.
“Who do you intend to kill?” Giles asked.
“The naiad. Cephalus.”
Buffy sagged inside, but on the outside maintained her position, protecting Angel the only way she knew how, by staying coiled for action. She would render him, them, unconscious if necessary. She remained physically stronger than he, even as she aged. They tended to ignore it, but the fact remained, regardless.
“A naiad,” Willow said with dismay. “Here in California? I've been through seventeen known water sprites. Naiads are hard to kill, and even harder to call.”
“I know how,” Angel said, not sounding like himself at all. “This one will do.”
“The trap should hold him,” Giles said to the sixteen available slayers, as he finished explaining the plan they had cobbled together in addition to Missy's scant concept for calling the naiad to them. “Willow will light the final spell and compel him to enter this bottle, which is where he'll stay until some fool releases him, or we figure out how to dis...”
“Hey, B,” Faith called, strolling in the Hyperion's front doors. “I think I narrowed down that funky feel in the bus.” She tossed something small through the air.
Buffy reached out and caught it. Her belly tightened and that slayer itch came over her. Faintly. She opened her hand. The VW's keys hung off a leather fob emblazoned with an M. The fob also held a narrow white ring mottled in shades of grey and brown.
“It's not the bus, it's the keys,” Faith said.
Buffy turned the fob and started to slide the ring over her pinky.
“Don't, Buffy,” Willow said, putting her hand over Buffy's.
Giles' brows drew together and his lips pursed. “May I?” he asked, taking the keys from her. “Is this shell?”
It was difficult, the place was wrong. Missy had no practice at inhabiting bodies. Two had died in shock and she had walked one into a ladder and gotten it electrocuted faster than she could react to the emergency.
The other (Angel.) whispered to her, insistently, reminding her she was only borrowing, not buying.
When they came for her, where she still sat in the kitchen, under the watchful eye of two young girls (Slayers.), she'd have turned left, walking out into the double bright floodlights beyond the house's great room (Hyperion. The house was Hyperion and he had lived here, in a way he'd never lived elsewhere, the way in which she had inhabited Somis. Home, but more. Rooted, she supplied.). He demanded she bear right, their steps hesitant until she gave in. They went through the doors onto a covered porch and then down into the night and a barely tended courtyard. There were California poppies there, blooming seasonally late in the sheltered warmth.
He reached up and pulled tender leaves from a tree she didn't recognize. From a hedge, he plucked a length of jasmine vine, studded with both flowers and young, yellow buds. She scooped up stray twigs, found a nearly complete bird's nest, containing no eggs, but threaded through with tufts of wool, and what might be horse tail.
He walked her into the furthest corner, and let her choose the dark red bark of a sunset manzanita. Beautiful white milkweed globes at the iron gate. Red thistle. Then back along the wall, holding the cache now in the bowl of his shirt. A few wild black-eyed susans, dry leaves, acorns, and handfuls of the long seeded fescue. The girl (Buffy. Slayer. Lover. Life.) walked behind, tracking them effortless while staying well back.
At the steps onto the porch, long-legged white monkey flowers grew. The moon was sinking. (Hurry.) Up the stairs, back down into the great room (Lobby.). There were others (Slayers.) standing just inside the doors, gathered to either side in small groups of two and three. All the furniture had been pushed back, and rugs rolled to the walls. They walked through the (Slayers) to a circle (Devil's Trap) of odd symbols chalked off on the tile floor.
He stopped them. She moved them. He stopped them. (Wait, he said. She felt his psychic hold on her with physical sensations- his arms around her, his chin pressed onto the top her head. It made her dizzy, inside him.) “Earth,” he rasped.
Movement around them. Slayers rushing to do his bidding. (He released her.) They staggered.
The man (Giles. An indescribable feeling. One she didn't know, outside her experience.) chalked as big a square as was possible within the confines of the circle. Two slayers brought dirt in from the garden and he spread it with a careful hand, creating a frame for the last mosaic she would ever build. She wanted, suddenly, her life back. (Mine, he said. Yes, she agreed. She recalled dancing in the sun with Fire, her wild child. Your life is like that, she said. Hidden in his silence- an image, a feel- dancing back to back with a boy under the moon, steel flashing.) Their throat closed. Their eyes burned with unshed tears.
They worked together. She placed the milk weed on the scattered earth and he threaded the monkey flower stems with the dry twigs. They plied the grass, and plucked the thistle, placing it just so. He placed the acorns, let her strip the poppies and black-eyed susans. It was better than her original. Much larger. More detailed. Cephalus stared up at her with life glinting in his eyes from the tiny, white seeds this one (Angel) placed as highlights in them.
The slayers gathered closer, closing ranks around them. Some held candles, which (Willow) lit.
“Why do I always get the stinky herbs,” (Faith) complained, without heat. She held a red bowl.
Buffy (Life.) moved when Angel moved, stood when he stood, a double fisted grip on the sword she held. Her eyes sparked, reflecting the candle flames. (Mine.)
Giles spoke in a low voice that dredged up the feel of dim alcoves in stone churches. A flush of something deep and scary turned in Angel's depths. Like the depths of the spring, like the dark unknown of the cold ocean currents swirling her from Cephalus' hold. (Wait, Angel said. She held her feet up inside him, and then crawled into his chest.)
Willow joined Giles, her girlish lilt a clashing counterpoint to his deep intonation. She read from a separate book. Hers was a chant she repeated under his prayer (Spell.) The slayers were silent.
Angel's darkness roiled beneath her. (It's waking up, she said. An emptiness without name. Angel crowded her, pushing. Go, he said. I'm not leaving, she said, and stretched inside him, filling him, every finger, every toe.)
They buckled over.
A great gout of water gushed down from above. Everyone except themselves stepped back, looking up, as Cephalus materialized and fell flapping onto the mosaic. His muscular, sparkling tail swung. Giles leaped, and the tail swept into them, spilling Angel's body to the floor.
Buffy stepped in close to Cephalus. Her face was clear. Her lips a thin line. Her eyes blazed. (Warrior. It was his- his- Angel's- word but the emotion- all hope and satisfaction, peace.)
With inarticulate rage, Cephalus screamed at them, thrashing. His gills and veins stood out from his neck. Buffy struck at his lethal tail, a short, efficient sword stroke along its length. It fell flat.
Graceful and cool, Buffy stepped back.
Rolling onto his back, Cephalus threw one hand up, palm out.
Many hands grabbed Angel, jerked on his collar and yanked at his arms, pulling them back, away from the trap. Light ricocheted within it, bouncing and rebounding off its invisible barrier. Inside, Cephalus covered his head, trying to avoid his own destructive power. Giles' voice rose with a wind that swirled in from everywhere and nowhere, snuffing the candles. Slayers crouched around them. Willow's nose began to bleed.
The light died. Cephalus, supporting himself on both his hands, looked directly at her, as if he could see her hiding there inside Angel. Hatred blazed from his eyes. Shadows flickered over him, over them all in the guttering light of Faith's burning bowl of herbs.
“Now, Buffy,” Giles shouted.
Buffy tossed something small onto the naiad's back.
Cephalus reared up and up, rising to his full height, held there on his quivering fins by the powerful magic being wrought. A high keening tore itself from his throat. He threw his head back in agony, fisting his hands, and the veins in his arms filled to bursting. Algae bloomed on his chest and tail and spread, covering his arms and neck and running like fire over his face. Seaweed burst from the torn flesh of his tail and sent tendrils in a wild spiraling outgrowth that covered him.
His terrified howl hurt Missy's heart.
The tip of his tail dripped.
In a rush of seawater that spilled upwards as fast as a waterfall, Cephalus dissolved. He crashed to the floor of the Hyperion with a dimension crushing pop that hurt their ears. The herbs hissed and smoked. Water sloshed against the chalk lines of the trap.
They recovered themselves. Buffy lowered her arm. The air stunk of seaweed and ash. Giles scuffed at the chalk lines with his toe and the water poured out, scattering the flower petals and twigs. The slayers skipped back from the wavelet.
Wet grass clung to Buffy's blade, which she held over her shoulder as she surveyed the mess. “Guess he's all washed up,” she quipped.
Angel brightened, inside, like sunrise. (Can I? she asked. Can you? he said. Love's True Kiss. What? he said.) His confusion was hers for a moment before she found herself. The slayers were shifting, talking amongst themselves, waiting to see what came next.
Willow stooped and scooped up Missy's soaked key chain from the floor. The ring of shell she had accepted from Cephalus dangled from it. Missy held out Angel's hand and Willow dropped it into his palm. It sizzled, burst into flame and disintegrated to ash. She shook the bite of pain from his hand. They looked at Willow.
“Naiads can be destroyed by turning their own spells back on them. Giles noticed the ring was shell, so we made it Plan A. It was a charm, a false promise.”
False promises. False starts. False love. (False memories, he said, false humanity, false motivations.)
Missy directed Angel's gaze to Buffy. She looked radiant. Satisfied. Leaning now on her sword, watching Giles shake out the pages of his dampened spell book.
(Love's True Kiss, she said. I want to feel it. For real. So I'll know- next time around.) Their blood rushed. (Yes, he said.)
Angel walked to Buffy, and when she turned, looking up at him, he took her upper arms in his hands and lowered his head. Buffy was stretching up already, her eyes closing, and Missy could feel her magnetism, how they fit together. Buffy melted into him, their kiss not just their mouth, but their souls entwining, until Missy couldn't tell her from him. Or herself from them.
When he broke the kiss, giving them all a breather, changing the angle of his assault on Buffy's non-existent defenses, Missy twisted and tugged herself from him. She clung there a moment, at his back, hugging her thanks and gratitude.
When she rose, she didn't get sucked back to her shiny red bus like she had been on her failed attempts. She watched Buffy and Angel deepen their connection, exchanging bits of themselves without words. A small movement caught her eye. Giles was watching, too, a perplexed scowl on his broad, open face, his book hanging from his hand.
“Missy,” a woman said behind her, and when she turned, Giles did as well, his brows creasing.
“Mother,” Missy cried, and went to her and the man standing there.
Missy stopped, her head tilted. “You. You're the one who's neither here nor there.”
“Sucks,” Spike said, watching Buffy and Angel.
Giles turned. “Spike,” he said carefully.
Missy smiled. “I have to go.”
“I know, luv. You did good.”
“He thinks of you both as his,” she said, nodding at Buffy and Angel, lost in each other. Forehead to forehead, they stared at each other, one of Angel's large hands cupping Buffy's head, his fingers tangled in her hair.
“Spike,” Giles said.
Spike closed his eyes, his lips tightening. Missy touched him and let him feel heaven's light as it absorbed her.
It spread, lighting Buffy and Angel in its glow as they kissed once more.
Buffy wandered out of Whole Foods with Dawn, three slayers, and two full carts; candles and a ripe cantaloupe in her hands. She wondered what Angel would taste like slicked in fruit. He had been tired and cold after his experience with possession. After she'd woken up from a morning nap curled against him, she'd left him sleeping in her bed, much to Gile's disapproval. Xander had obviously been filled in as well, if his weighted gaze as she'd left the hotel meant anything.
A little thrill zipped through her as she climbed into the passenger side of the VW bus. She loved it. It rode rough, but had plenty of space and the engine thrummed with a heavy, reassuring tone. Giles had fielded the morning call from Albert Chester, seeking reassurances that everyone was alive and well at the Hyperion.
She slammed the solid door. At her hip, her phone sang, “Sweet like candy to my soul, sweet you rock and sweet you roll...”
The caller ID read 'A'. Buffy's skin flushed at the memory of the searing kiss they'd shared at daybreak, witnessed by all. She wanted to roust him from his cool bed and warm him up.
“...lost for you, I'm so lost for you...”
“Are you going to answer that?” Dawn asked, sliding into the driver's seat.
“...crash into me...”
Buffy thumbed the button that shut the ringer off. The song echoed in her head, those stinging words she'd memorized long ago that hit way to close to home. 'You've got your ball, you've got your chain; tied to me tight, tie me up again. Who's got their claws in you, my friend? Into your heart, I'll beat again.'
The phone beeped, Angel had left a voice mail. Buffy already knew it would say he was gone. Back into the belly of the beast, which somehow had its claws hooked so deep in him, she wasn't sure there was a difference between it and him anymore.
“Was it Angel?” Dawn asked, too observant by half in Buffy's opinion.
“No,” she lied. “Just a text from the realtor in Scotland. Some other question she has for Giles.”
The slayers clambered in the side doors, laughing.
In her hand, Buffy's cell phone sang again, this time the theme to Star Wars. “Hey, Andrew,” she answered. “Tell me you've found one.”
“Si, Bella, I've found it! A perfect little Roman apartment and Giles is going to love the price...”
As Dawn maneuvered the bus into the unpredictable LA traffic with surprising ease, Buffy let Andrew ramble on about the size of the apartment, the separate entrance and the nearby clubs, so she wouldn't have to talk. She stared out the window, trying to hold onto Angel's chaste touches in the dark, his tight body spooned to hers. All that came was the familiar feel of the hollowness where her heart used to be.
Crash Into Me, Dave Matthews Band
You've got your ball, You've got your chain Tied to me tight, tie me up again. Who's got their claws, In you my friend? Into your heart I'll beat again Sweet like candy to my soul Sweet you rock, And sweet you roll Lost for you, I'm so lost for you
Oh, and you come crash into me
You've got your ball, You've got your chain Tied to me tight, tie me up again. Who's got their claws In you my friend? Into your heart I'll beat again
Sweet like candy to my soul Sweet you rock, And sweet you roll Lost for you, I'm so lost for you
Oh, and you come crash into me And I come into you And I come into you In a boy's dream In a boy's dream
Touch your lips just so I know In your eyes, love, it glows so I'm bare-boned and crazy... for you.
Oh, and you come crash into me Baby, and I come into you In a boy's dream In a boy's dream
And if I've gone overboard Then I'm begging you To forgive me In my haste When I'm holding you so girl, Close to me
Oh and you come crash into me, yeah Baby, and I come into you Hike up your skirt a little more And show the world to me Hike up your skirt a little more And show your world to me In a boy's dream In a boy's dream
Oh, I watch you there Through the window And I stare at you You wear nothing, but you Wear it so well Tied up and twisted, The way I'd like to be For you, for me, come crash into me, baby Come crash into me, yeah
Crash into me... Crash into me... Crash into me...
You know, I'm the king of the castle, You're the dirty rascal, crash into me. Please crash into me, baby...
Oh, no no no... Yes, I see the waves Come and crash into me. See the waves come and crash into me. Crash into me.
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Summary: A ghost asserts herself to get what she needs from Buffy and Angel.
Timeline: early BtVS S8 (slightly AU)/AtS S5 (Between 'Just Rewards' and 'Unleashed')
Disclaimer: Not Mine- Buffyverse is owned by Whedon, Greenwalt, ME, ect- just playing in their worlds
Notes: Thank you, starlet2367, for the original beta when this story started in a completely different setting, and to chrisleeoctaves for hosting IWRY and inspiring me to re-set and finish this. Title and lyrics are by Dave Matthews Band.