Written for the IWRY 2012 Marathon
Word count: 5108
Disclaimer: Joss is still King of this universe.
Jo, you’re a star. Thank you for the beta.
Summary: When one can exist for eternity, time becomes meaningless. Spending Christmas with Buffy has Angel focussing his energy on time.
When Buffy saw the watch, she knew it was exactly what she had been looking for. It was Christmas and she was shopping for a gift for Angel. She didn’t want to think about all the Christmases he had spent alone, no one to give him comfort or cheer, or even a gift to say that we appreciate you. She shuddered to think of that fateful day many years ago when she found him in the street in Sunnydale: she had been gift shopping and she hadn’t given her then ex vampire boyfriend a thought about what he would be doing Christmas Day. She knew he would have been all alone and, now thinking on it, why hadn’t she cared that little bit more? She knew why, she had been hurt, and her feelings, those of a teenager’s, hadn’t been mature enough to see beyond her own inner chaos.
Things were different now. They were in each other’s lives, and this would be their first Christmas together.
The watch was old, she could see that. Its glass was well-worn: no doubt from many a thumb rubbing across its face, and the chrome plate was marked a little. It had been knocked about. Its leather strap, though tired and a little frayed, felt comfortable and soft when she wrapped it loosely round her wrist. But it was the name on the watch that appealed to her. Cronos. That was Father Time, if she remembered her history lessons correctly. Yes, this was perfect for a centuries-old vampire who loved all things ancient. If a watch made in the 1940s could be called ancient. She thought it was.
She was surprised, then, when the proprietor of the Odds & Sods Antique Shoppe said she could have it for as little as ten pounds.
“Doesn’t it go then?” she asked, looking down at the watch’s second hand marking time around the dial.
“It goes, Miss,” the man said. “It’s Christmas and I’m feeling generous.”
Suspicious, still, and thinking this could be a modern watch that just looked like it was old, she said, “How old is it?”
“It’s seventy years old, which makes it vintage. It’s a German military watch. World War Two. The print is gold gilt. The manual wind movement has been cleaned and it keeps accurate time.”
World War Two. Not really that old in comparison to Angel.
“I’ll take it. Can you gift wrap it for me, please?”
The gentleman was happy to do so. Buffy left the shop with a smile. She couldn’t wait to see Angel’s face when he opened up her gift.
Two days later it was Christmas Day and it was actually snowing. Buffy hadn’t had many Christmases where snow had featured, but she never forgot her very first. And neither had Angel, it appeared. He stood at the window, looking out at the wintery wonderland the snow had made of the neighbourhood. Buffy admired his profile. He was as beautiful as ever, and now that she was just over thirty, they looked of an age. She refused to think about further down the track. It was Christmas Day. Happy thoughts only, she told herself.
As if sensing her consideration, Angel said, “Do you remember that day?”
Buffy slid her arms around his waist. She leaned into him and stared out through the window. “Every Christmas.”
“I had a snow globe once.”
She clamped down on her laughter when the sadness in his voice registered. For him it had been the day he had tried to greet the sun. She decided that he needed cheering up.
“I love snow globes.”
“I’ll get you one next year,” he promised her.
“I like what you gave me this year.” And she did. She had been thoroughly spoiled. She had unwrapped fluffy pink slippers, silky satin underwear, an expensive bottle of perfume, and a set of sapphire earrings.
Feeling a little guilty, she snuggled closer. “I’m sorry I only bought you two presents.”
“Don’t be. A new book is always welcome. And so is the watch.”
She felt him touching the new/old watch that she had strapped around his wrist.
Always alert to the dangers of gift giving, Buffy asked, “What’s wrong with it? Damn. I knew there was something wrong with it at the shop.”
He smiled and pulled her back to his side and, stepping back and sideways, he deposited them both on the comfortable sofa. “There’s nothing wrong with it. I love it, Buffy. I was thinking about the sort of life it must have had. I was wondering what had happened to the man who wore it first. Where did you say you bought it? Perhaps they might know more of the history behind this piece.”
Buffy relaxed into his arms. If Angel wanted to fossick about in the old antique shop then who was she to deny him? She told him where to find the antique shop. Fortunately in winter, the sun went down quite early. Angel could safely venture out when the stores were still open for business.
With Buffy curled up beside him, Angel stared at the gas fire and brooded. Buffy had been so excited when she had given him his gifts that morning. She had nattered on about Chronos, who was Father Time, and how fitting it was that the watch bore the god’s name, she thinking it perfect for him, being outside the ravages of time. He hadn’t the heart to tell her that Cronos, not Chronos, was a Titan, father of Zeus and Ares and a whole pantheon of gods. Cronos was depicted with a sickle in his hand, having castrated his father Uranus at the request of his mother, Gaia. In the end, though, Cronos had been sent to Tartarus, there to spend eternity, by his own son Zeus.
Fathers and their sons. The watch suited him more than Buffy realised.
A few days later, while Buffy was visiting Giles – the reason they were in the United Kingdom – Angel went off to find the antique shop the watch had come from. It had been Buffy’s idea. Actually, she had been quite insistent that he find out more of the history of the watch: how many owners there had been and who had worn it during the war. It had been an odd thing for her to ask - demand - and Angel decided that perhaps she was just looking out for him, finding him things to keep him occupied while she visited her old friend.
Beads of sweat dotted the proprietor’s forehead when Angel showed him the watch strapped to his wrist. Had the man sensed what he was? Angel had no idea. He forged ahead anyway.
“My girlfriend purchased this watch from you. I was wondering if you had any idea of its history.”
The relieved sigh coming from the man wasn’t lost on Angel. And when he unbuckled the strap and held the back of the watch out to him, relief turned to astonishment.
“How did you…?”
Pointing out the initials engraved on the back, Angel asked, “Do you have any idea what ES stands for?”
The man wet his lips. He was nervous. When Angel offered the watch to him, he held up his hands in a ‘no thank you’ gesture.
“The watch was most likely worn by a German airman back in World War Two. We don’t know how it came to be here in England. When my father ran the shop, he bought a job lot from a London dealer who had lost his business when it burned to the ground. The watch was among the few things that had escaped the fire.”
Angel placed the watch back on his wrist. As he did so, he noticed the man never took his eyes off of it.
“And you’ve had the watch since then?
Again, the man licked his lips.
“What do you mean, not really?”
“The watch has been sold three times since I inherited the business. And it has always found a way to come back.”
Angel examined the watch on his arm. It looked an ordinary time piece.
“There is something wrong with the watch.”
The proprietor was really sweating now. He mopped at his forehead with a handkerchief.
“I don’t know. All I know is that whoever wears the watch ends up dead.”
Angel narrowed his eyes. “Dead? How?”
“Accidents. A drowning. Hit and run. Suicide.”
“No, no. The first was about the late eighties. The next one, the hit and run, was nineteen ninety six, or seven. The suicide was only ten years ago.”
“I presume that these were all men? Did any of the men come here asking about the watch before they died?”
The man had had enough. He scurried around the counter and went to the door and held it open for Angel.
“We’re closing now. You’ll have to go. I’m sorry but that is all I know.”
Angel thought about forcing the issue, and then decided not to. He now had a mystery to solve. He left the shop determined to find the answer.
When Buffy asked him what he had been doing all evening he filled her in at what he had learned at the antique shop. She wanted to go with him to the library the next evening.
“It’s research, Buffy, and I know how much you hate research. Besides, isn’t Giles expecting you again?”
Her eyes lit up. “Little Henry is adorable. He’s a miniature Giles. And Julia is a wonderful mother. I like her.”
“You like her because she makes him happy.”
“That, too. I’m glad he’s found love again. Giles has a family. It’s hard to believe.”
“I’m pleased for him, Buffy.”
“Oh Angel. I wish you could see how settled and happy he is.” The sparkle in her eyes dimmed a little. She squeezed his arm. “I’m sorry you weren’t invited…”
“Don’t be. I don’t blame the man. He has a baby and a wife to look out for. Inviting a vampire in isn’t a wise thing to do.”
She kissed him then and they became occupied in other more pleasurable ways.
The next afternoon Buffy went out, and Angel also when he was able to. Fortunately, the library stayed open till quite late and Angel spent the hours looking through old news records. There were more suicides, death by motor vehicle, and drowning than he realised, and that was in the Bath area alone. It was hopeless. He would have to go back to the shop and see whether the proprietor could be made to divulge anything further.
On his way back to the hotel he found himself on unfamiliar ground. Puzzled, he stood and looked about. He hadn’t remembered turning into the lane. He did an about-face and walked back to the street he had been on previously. A few minutes later, he was, again, not going in the direction he had intended. Frowning, he studied the narrow street, trying to fathom what had drawn him there. The street stared back. It was old and ordinary. Run-down and decaying, it appeared sad and tired. Angel’s senses told him there wasn’t a demon lurking about, himself notwithstanding. Determined to be on his way, Angel lengthened his stride and made his way back to their hotel. It alarmed him that he had been distracted enough not to have noticed what he had been doing and where he had been going. He decided not to tell Buffy. She would only worry. Besides, what was there to tell? That he had walked on in a daze, only to find himself lost? Was he losing his marbles? Did vampires get Alzheimer’s, he wondered?
It was the same question he asked himself again the next day. He couldn’t access the internet on his new phone. He couldn’t get his phone to let him do anything. It hadn’t been a gift; he had smashed his old one – that was becoming a habit, Buffy had informed him – and the new one was a replacement. He stared at the offending piece of modern technology. He remembered the day when the telephone had been touted as the new way of communicating. It had been seen as near magical that a person’s voice could be carried over wire for miles and be heard at the other end. Telephones used to be for talking to a person. Nowadays one could do practically anything on a telephone. There were iPhones and Smart phones and all sorts of telephones. One could take photos, listen to music, video a scene, email, tell the time, and use the internet. Well, he wanted to use the internet, so why wasn’t the phone compliant?
The one he was glaring at was a Smart phone. Not so smart, he thought, as he tried to intimidate it into giving him access. It did no good. The phone refused to obey. Buffy found him frowning at the device.
“What’s the matter?”
“The phone doesn’t work.”
“Why doesn’t it work?” She picked it up to look at it. She tapped at the screen and a grin appeared on her face.
“You forgot to type in the pin number.”
“I did not. I typed in the right numbers.”
Buffy did her best not to laugh out loud. “What numbers were they?”
“They were the ones you gave me.”
“Perhaps you forgot?”
Buffy could swear she saw his chest swell with indignation.
“I have a photographic memory. I don’t forget things like numbers.”
She handed the phone back to him. “Show me.”
He did. She sighed.
“You typed in the wrong number. You put in a four instead of a five.”
“I typed five. What the hell?” He shook the phone.
Buffy gently took it from him. “You have to be more careful when you type. It’s easy to hit the wrong key.”
“What happened to a keyboard that you can push and tap? Touch screen keys are too small for my fingers,” he growled as he took the phone back from her.
“Use your pinky. That’ll do the trick.”
Buffy escaped the room before he could throw the phone at her.
When Buffy and Angel walked into the Odds & Sods Antique Shoppe the owner tried to make a run for it out the back. Angel was faster and had him by the collar before he had taken two steps.
The grin on Buffy’s face wasn’t a friendly one. “That tears it. He knows something.”
The man was shaking with terror in Angel’s grip. “I told you all I know.”
Buffy was having none of it. “Yeah, right. That’s why you tried to escape out the back door.”
Shutting the shop door and turning the sign over to CLOSED, she said, “Angel, put him down.”
Reluctantly the vampire did so. Angel shoved the man back towards the counter and glared at him. The already frightened man cowered away.
“Either my boyfriend is starting to suffer from dementia,” Buffy’s grin was wolfish, “he’s of an age when it’s not unexpected,” she ignored the glare turned her way, “or something, or someone, is pulling his strings. Colour me surprised on our evening walk tonight that he began acting weird and started wandering off in a daze. I will forgive the fact that he forgot to tell me that it wasn’t the first time it had happened.” She gave him a pointed look.
Turning her attention back to the shop’s owner, she finished with, “You either tell us what’s going on or I’ll let Angel hurt you.”
Angel looked eager to oblige.
“Alright. I-I-I’m sorry. It’s not my fault the watch is haunted.”
Angel jumped on the word. “Haunted?”
“We think it’s haunted. My father thought so, and I agree with him.”
“Haunted how?” Buffy asked.
Glancing nervously from one to the other, the man continued, “Each time the watch has been sold, the buyer always returns to ask about the inscription on the back. ES. It was terribly important for them to find out who that person may have been. It was so important that they threatened my father, and then me when the business had passed into my hands.”
“The customers became violent when we didn’t have an answer for them. Like now.”
“This isn’t violent, is it, Angel? We’re just having a friendly discussion.”
Angel bared his teeth. “Friendly.”
The man shrank back some more.
Buffy decided to try a different tack. “Listen…um…what’s your name?”
“Bernard. The people who bought the watch always died, didn’t they?”
At Bernard’s nod, Buffy said, “Why? How?”
“I think the watch drove them crazy. The customers became demented in their quest to find the original owner of the timepiece. At least I think whoever ES was may have been the original owner.”
Angel leaned up against the wall behind him and crossed his arms. The shopkeeper visibly relaxed when he did so.
“Why didn’t you get rid of the watch? Why sell it at all?”
“We tried that. We threw it away. Several times. It always found its way back to us. Bad things happen when the watch isn’t displayed for sale. Once, when my father locked it away in the safe, he suffered a heart attack. Thankfully he survived. We never did that again.”
Angel asked the obvious question. “If the watch drives people crazy, why don’t they just take it off and destroy it?”
“One would think it would be that easy. The fact of the matter is that once on the wrist it can’t be taken off. I’ve tried. The wearer won’t take it off, anyway.”
Angel pounced on what appeared to be a lie. “I took the watch off to show you yesterday.”
“And I was very surprised. It’s the first time anyone has been in here and has been capable of doing so.”
Angel had a feeling that a dead man wearing the watch changed the dynamics of the situation.
“So why don’t I have the watch glued to my wrist?” she asked. “I tried the watch on before I bought it.”
“You didn’t do the strap up. I was watching you. I would have stopped you if you had tried to fasten it to your arm.”
Angel undid the watch strap and was dangling it between his fingers.
“Still not a problem.”
Bernard held his hand out for the watch, thinking Angel wanted to be rid of it. Angel held it out of his reach and strapped it back on his wrist.
Thinking him mad, Bernard asked, “What are you doing?”
Angel stepped away from the wall and made his way to the customer side of the counter. “We’re going to solve this once and for all. You won’t have to worry about the watch and its ghostly influence again.”
Buffy waved her fingers at the man. “What he said.” And they were out the door, leaving Bernard staring after them.
Buffy looked out for Angel as he unfocussed his mind and let his feet take him where they would. Alert for anything dangerous like the presence of other vampires and demons, she was also concerned for Angel’s well-being. She hoped that his demon was able to shake off any madness the watch and its ghost were trying to impart. Thinking about the watch and its supposed haunted quality, Buffy wondered how it worked. How did a watch inherit a ghost? Was it a ghost at all? Houses have ghosts. Castles have ghosts. Can objects, no matter how small, harbour a ghost?
Angel led them away from the heart of the city. Bath was old. It dated back to Roman times. The buildings were spectacular, she thought. The Crescents, terraced houses that were built in an arc, were her favourite. They weren’t as old as the Roman ruins but they were old to her way of thinking. California had nothing so grand.
The narrow streets began to climb. Buffy trudged along the steep inclines, glad she had worn her comfortable boots. Her new ones would have pinched and slowed her down. Keeping quiet so as not to distract Angel, she kept her eyes on their route. She was lost. The streets twisted and turned. They travelled up and down and, she was sure, doubled back on themselves. She was sure she had seen that corner a couple of times before. She definitely remembered the circular red post box. She hoped Angel knew the way back when it was done. What done was, she couldn’t guess.
Angel wasn’t really aware of Buffy at his side. He was meditating, using the methods the monks in Sri Lanka had taught him to free his mind. He had no qualms about his alter ego getting loose. Meditating didn’t work that way. Besides, he knew that his inner demon was being kept busy with the spirit that was somehow connected to the watch. His demon allowed his body to be guided by the haunt and no more.
Eventually Angel stopped in front of a house. The dwelling was a small brick bungalow, nestled behind a small front garden. Being winter there were no flowers in the garden, only small frost-bitten plants looking sad and forlorn.
“I think this is it.”
Buffy and Angel stared at the house.
“It looks pretty ordinary,” she said. Buffy didn’t know why she was whispering, there was no one else about to hear her.
Angel stepped past the gate and came to a stop.
“I feel as if my feet are dragging. Something is trying to stop me from moving on by.”
“Can you overcome it? If this house doesn’t hold the answer will it be a problem for you?”
“It’ll be alright. This is the place.”
“Right, then. Let’s go find out.”
Buffy knocked on the door. Angel stood behind her, mindful that with his height he could look pretty intimidating.
A young woman opened the door. Wapping her cardigan tight about her, she peered out at them.
“I’m sorry it’s so late,” Buffy said, glancing at her watch. It said twenty past nine, well past time for strangers to be calling. “I wonder if you can help us?”
“Yes? What is this about?” the young lady said, shifting from one foot to the other. Buffy noticed she wore purple slippers. With bunny rabbits on the toes.
“I know this will sound a bit weird, but do you happen to know anyone who has the initials ES? Someone in the past, maybe?”
The woman’s puzzled look changed to one of surprise.
“Why do you ask?”
Angel held his arm out, over Buffy’s shoulder so that the woman could see the watch he was wearing.
“This watch has the initials ES engraved on the back. We would like to return the watch to whoever owned it before I did.”
“I bought it as a gift for Christmas,” Buffy said in a rush, “and we noticed the engraving and wondered if the original owner would like it back.”
“Wait here,” the woman said, before going back inside and closing the door on them.
“That went well,” Angel said.
She grabbed his hand and squeezed. “It doesn’t always have to be monsters, you know.”
He held up his arm that carried the watch. “Ghost.”
The door opened then, and the woman invited them in.
“Come in. There’s someone who wants to meet you.”
Buffy and Angel were led into the living room where an elderly lady sat in front of the fireplace. At her feet, a young boy, no more than seven or eight, sat playing with his toys. They looked new. Perhaps they were his Christmas gifts.
The woman in the chair looked at them with a keen glance. She nodded, and the younger woman relaxed somewhat.
She said, “This is my grandmother Gertrude. I’m Sigrid, and this young scamp is my son.”
Buffy introduced herself and Angel. The boy looked up at them, staring with big blue eyes. Finding nothing of any interest for him in their visitors, his attention wandered back to the toys laid out on the rug he was sitting on. There was a puzzle he wanted solving.
Sigrid said, “Sit down, if you’d like. I’ll put the kettle on.” She disappeared into the kitchen.
“My granddaughter tells me you have a watch with the initials ES engraved on the back?”
Gertrude’s voice was strong, not at all weak and timorous like many her age. Angel detected a faint German accent in her speech.
He unfastened the watch and handed it to her. Gertrude studied the timepiece carefully. She turned it over in her hands. She rubbed at the initials. Tears flooded her eyes.
“Thank you,” she whispered, and clasped it to her breast.
They sat in silence while the old woman composed herself. Sigrid returned with a tray of cups and a teapot. A small plate of fruit cake sat atop the saucers. Buffy eyed up the Christmas cake. Angel’s keen hearing told him that Buffy’s stomach was rumbling. He had been remiss. She had missed dinner. Sigrid poured them cups of tea. Buffy accepted a large slice of cake. The boy was given a cup of warm milk, and cake.
Sigrid placed her grandmother’s cup on the small table beside Gertrude’s chair.
“Oma?” she asked, concerned.
“It’s Papa’s watch,” the old woman whispered. Her smile was brilliant; it lit up her face, making her appear younger than her years.
Sigrid raised her eyebrows. Her grandmother nodded, and wiped at the tears of joy filling her eyes.
Sigrid added for their benefit, “My great grandfather was a pilot in the war.”
“He was German, I take it?” Angel asked gently. People could still be sensitive about that, even now.
“He was my father,” Gertrude said. “I was seven when war broke out. I was twelve when he was declared missing. All these years…” She shook her head.
Her granddaughter took up the tale.
“Oma and Uroma – my great grandmother - came here after Germany lost the war. They were told his plane went down over England. They wanted to look for him. They wondered if he had been captured, or was injured in some way and unable to come home.”
Angel was about to ask how that was possible, when Gertrude said, “Mama pretended we were Juden.”
At Buffy’s look, Angel said, “Jews.”
“We had no papers. Many people had no papers. The journey was hard on us. It was a terrible time.”
The old woman was silent for a time, no doubt reliving those memories of long ago.
“Mama had little English. I was placed in school. I learned quickly, but we never found out anything.”
“Information was difficult to acquire back then,” Sigrid said. “Oma has told me her story many times.”
“So you won’t forget, child,” the old woman said in a stern tone.
Sigrid shook her head, smiling fondly at her grandmother. “Oma read everything in newspapers she could find. Anything she saw that was about soldiers, and airmen, and prisoners, and the dead, she read.”
Gertrude handed over the watch to her granddaughter. “Papa’s watch.”
Sigrid turned it over in her hands. She stared at the ES engraved there.
“Where did it come from?” she asked in wonder.
Buffy’s tea had gone cold. Her half-eaten cake sat on her plate. The family’s story had her enthralled. She had forgotten she was hungry. “Originally, London. In an antique shop. But I bought the watch here in Bath. At a place called Odds & Sods Antique Shoppe.”
“Here in Bath? How long has it been in Bath?”
Angel supplied the answer. “A few years.”
The old woman squinted at them. She wore a puzzled frown. “But how did you find us? How did you know to come here? Was it the name?”
“Name?” Buffy asked, not sure what she was getting at.
“Smith. Our name is Smith. It was close enough to the German. Schmidt.”
Ah. ES. S for Schmidt. Angel went for honesty. At least as much as he thought he could reveal.
“We didn’t know your name when we knocked on the door. To be honest, the watch drew us here.”
The boy looked up. He had been listening. Gertrude nodded as if all was explained. Sigrid choked on her cake. She hurriedly washed it down with a sip of her tea.
“Is this true, Oma? Have all your stories been the truth and not made-up fantasies?”
“Haven’t you been listening, girl? It’s true. It’s always been true. Why else would Mama come to the place of our enemy?”
“What’s true?” Buffy asked, thinking she knew the answer.
Gertrude turned to look at her visitors. “Papa always said he would find a way to come back to us. No matter what happened, he would find a way. Mama believed him. I believed him.” She sighed. “The young generation don’t believe in such things.” She stared at Buffy, then at Angel with a discerning eye. “You believe, don’t you? And you, young sir, who are not so young. You know what I am talking about.”
He nodded, wondering how strong the Sight was in the woman. Not so strong, he decided, to have not stumbled across her father’s watch in all this time.
His thought was confirmed when she said, “My great grandson has the Gift. It jumped a generation. My daughter, Sigrid’s mother, had a little. ” She eyed her granddaughter. “It’s strong in him, or will be, once he’s grown. He is the reason we’re here. He wanted to spend the holidays in Bath. He wanted to see the Roman ruins. We’ve rented the house for a week.”
They all stared at the boy. He ducked his head, shy all of a sudden, and went back to his game.
“His name?” Buffy asked.
“Enrich, named after my great grandfather. But we call him Ricky.”
It was lunchtime. Near to one o’clock and Buffy was fussing over Angel’s attire.
“I’ve been dressing myself for a long time, Buffy. There’s no need to fuss.”
“You can’t see yourself in the mirror. A damned shame, if you ask me.” Buffy shook her head at the injustice of it all. A man as beautiful as Angel should be able to see himself. “Anyway, I want you to be perfect. This is a special occasion.”
Indeed it was. Giles and his family were coming to lunch. They were eating in the hotel’s restaurant downstairs. It was a compromise Angel never expected and was very grateful for. It was the season for miracles.