All About Spike

Chapter: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13

Haunt of the House
By Jericho TGF

Chapter Ten

Making a right hand turn into the pristine, white stone drive of The Carr House, Giles breathed a relieved sigh. He checked the time. Again. Exactly five hours and eight minutes had passed since the ringing phone had jarred him out of a peaceful sleep. Since Spike's voice and thoroughly unpleasant message had slapped him awake like a cold, wet hand.

He been choking on concern and worry ever since.

That was probably why a drive that should normally have taken five hours took only four hours and fifteen minutes. Less than an hour had been spent frantically searching the Magic Box shelves for information on haunts, then alerting and collecting his traveling companion. It was Willow that made the rest of the gang aware of the situation after Giles woke her up. She had wasted no time in getting ready and putting Xander in charge of keeping an eye on Dawn while they were gone.

No one dared call it babysitting. Dawn would have been highly offended.

As Giles pulled his sporty red convertible to a halt next to the monstrosity that Spike called a car, he smiled wanly at Willow. "We've made it."

They sat in silence for a long minute and stared out the windshield, just taking in the three-story house and grounds. It was a sunny day; the few clouds in the sky were fluffy and white. Even the temperature was pleasant and warm. Taken with the picturesque surroundings, it was as close to perfect as any place could be.

Giles finally shook off his musings and reached for the door handle. His actions spurred Willow out of her reverie. Once out of the car, she raised a hand to shield her eyes from the sun and looked at the house again.

"It looks so peaceful. Like nothing could ever go wrong here. Like...like a place you'd want to settle and raise a family."

Giles grimaced wryly as he popped open the trunk of the car. "Yes, by all means," he drawled sarcastically. "Yet one vampire visits and you have Amityville Horror. Leave it to Spike to bring out the worst of even the most pleasant of places."

Willow frowned. "Giles, I'm sure it's not Spike's fault. He would never do anything to put Buffy in danger."

Biting back an even less complimentary comment about Spike - a comment that was motivated not by any true animosity towards the vampire, but by fear for Buffy's safety - Giles sighed. "I'm sure he wouldn't, Willow. Not purposely, anyway. I'm just..."

"Worried about Buffy," Willow supplied after Giles' voice had trailed off. Understanding softened her features and she placed a comforting hand on his arm - an arm heavy laden with the books he'd retrieved from the trunk. "I'm sure she's fine. They're both fine."

She lessened his burden by taking several tomes off the top of his pile and turned to walk up the path to the house. It wasn't until she'd reached the porch that she noticed something odd.

"Giles," she called behind her as she stood and stared, dread pooling in her stomach, "the window."

He hadn't made it to the porch yet and when he heard her, he followed her gaze to the jagged hole where a large bay window next to the door should have been. Slowly, with trepidation, he raised his head and checked out the other windows on the front of the house.

Each one was open to the warm breeze - and not in a natural 'raise the sill' way, either. He could see glass shards still stuck in their panes, noticed several curtains flutter in the breeze, sliced from their contact with the sharp edges as the air stirred them.

Anxiety and concern gave way to fear.

Without thinking, he hurried up the steps and dumped the books on a white whicker rocking chair. Willow followed suit. Together, they burst in to the entryway of the Bed & Breakfast.

"Buffy?" Giles called.

"Buffy! Spike!"

They spread out and started casing the rooms on the first floor.

Panic kicked Giles in the gut when he entered the living room. A couch, fabric torn and frame cracked, was upside down against the wall, a table and lamp had been decimated, another lamp - a floor lamp - was on its side, stained-glass shade shattered. It was the scene of one hell of a fight. "Willow! Here!"

The redhead hurried into the room and gasped at the destruction. "Oh, God."

"Did you find anything?" he asked, dread deepening the lines on his face.

Her large green eyes told him she hadn't even before she opened her mouth to speak.

"No. Giles, there's no one here. I don't like this."

He reached out to her. "I don't either." Turning his head to check out the chaotic scene, he repeated himself under his breath. "I don't either."

Willow saw the computer before he did. She tugged on his arm. "The reservation desk."

He nodded his head at her. "Find out which room they were assigned."

It was a basic operating system, hardly a challenge for the technologically savvy Willow. Within minutes she'd found out that Buffy and Spike were checked into the Dalton Suite on the third floor. According to the computer, two of the four other rooms in The Carr House were also occupied.

But where was everyone?

That was something that the computer couldn't tell them.

"So," Willow said, trying to mask her nerves, "anyone up for some stair action?"

"Yes, quite," was Giles' droll response.

The gold-plated, engraved plaque next to the door on the third floor identified the room for them. Giles stared at it for long seconds before twisting the knob and pushing the door open.

Empty.

Then again, they really weren't expecting anything else.

What they did find didn't exactly ease their anxiety. The table was turned on its side and dirty dishes were scattered on the floor. And that wasn't all.

"The curtains are gone."

"Why would they take down the curtains?" Willow asked, confused.

Giles just shook his head and turned to check out the bathroom. Willow took the bedroom. When they met back up in the living area, they had more questions and more concerns than they had before - no answers.

"The curtains are on the floor in the bedroom," Willow told him. "Their bags are still here. The comforter is gone and there are bandage wrappers on the table by the bed."

"I found a smudge of blood on the sink in there." Giles took off his glasses and wiped at his eyes before studiously cleaning the lenses. It was just another sign of how distressed he was.

Willow scouted out the room again, nervous and afraid. "Maybe they got rid of the haunt. I mean, we may be worrying for nothing, right?" Giles stayed silent, but Willow had latched onto hope and ran with it. "They could have gotten everyone out. Maybe they're somewhere nearby." Her voice was a little shrill. No matter how tightly she clung to optimism, the reality she was seeing scared her.

Giles placed his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes. "Willow, calm down. We'll figure this out."

"Right. Of course, you're right. We'll figure it out. That's what we do. We figure. We're the figurers. How will we figure?"

Taking care of Willow actually helped Giles get a grip on his own rising apprehension, and he smiled tenderly at her. "One step at a time, like we always do. Lets go back downstairs. If they did take the other residents out of here, they'll be back."

The Watcher's expression grew grim as he trailed behind the slender young woman on their way back down to the first floor. He didn't tell Willow that it was unlikely that Buffy and Spike would leave the house when they knew assistance was on its way. Not while the sun was up. Not unless they had absolutely no choice.

Fifteen minutes later, Giles and Willow had set up the dining room as a kind of study area. All the books they brought were laid out, open to various sections for quick access.

Buffy and Spike had yet to show up.

"According to this one, haunts are capable of manifestations, telekinetic activities, even...occupations? What are occupations?"

"Similar to possessions," Giles answered, not even looking up from the book he was reading. "However, in cases of occupations, the subject is aware of his or her surroundings and activities during the occupation. Some documented cases even describe the subject being able to communicate in some way with the haunt."

"Oh."

Minutes passed in silence as the pair skimmed through long passages, searching for ways to rid the house of its presence.

Thirsty, Willow got up and told Giles she was going to get a glass of water. He nodded, acknowledging he heard her, but when she asked if he wanted one, he declined. She searched through the cabinets in the kitchen until she found the glasses. Pulling one out, lost in thought, she went to the sink and filled it. Her mind was mulling over the information she'd read so far, ordering and neatening it.

Troubled and anxious for Buffy, she took one long drink, striving to puzzle out what had happened in the house. Were they too late? They couldn't be too late.

She filled the glass back up absently, mechanically turning off the faucet and heading back to the dining room. As if slick as ice, the glass she carried slipped out of her grasp and fell, shattering and splattering its contents all over the tiled floor. She couldn't prevent the yelp of surprise at the sudden - and silent - arrival of the young woman standing in front of her.

Giles heard the glass break, heard Willow's cry, and was through the door separating the rooms before the sound of her shriek had faded. He came to an abrupt halt when he saw the other occupant in the kitchen.

"I-I'm so sorry," Willow stuttered, feeling her pulse race and her heart pound. "I didn't hear you come in."

The woman didn't say anything. She just stared deeply into Willow's eyes. Giles studied the woman's appearance. Her hair was up in a bun with tendrils of chestnut hair brushing her cheek. Her high-necked burgundy gown was long-sleeved, trim at the waist, with few flounces and frills. A utilitarian gown, but obviously well made and of high quality. She was petite. In fact, Giles doubted the top of her head would reach his shoulder.

"I was unaware I had company." The woman's voice was cultured and polite when she finally spoke. Backing up a step, she nodded - to herself, apparently - and turned her attention to Giles. "I believe I startled your companion, sir. My apologies."

Brown eyes looked him over intensely. So intensely, in fact, that it set Giles' teeth on edge. Something about the woman bothered him. "Not at all. I'm sure we were just as startling for you."

She dropped her gaze to the ground, a smile that Giles didn't understand turning up her lips. "Yes. Quite."

A little flustered, Giles stepped forward and extended his hand. "I'm Rupert Giles," he explained, "and this is Willow Rosenberg."

A dainty hand reached out and the woman put her fingers in Giles' palm. For a second, the Watcher was unsure what to do, it was such an antiquated action, but then he fell into the role she apparently wanted to play and clasped her fingers, raising her knuckles to his lips for a brush of a kiss as gentlemen would do a century in the past.

"I am Miranda Morgan," the woman said. "Welcome to my home."

He smiled at the ceremony of it, then apologized for the amusement when she just stared at him curiously. "I apologize, madam, I was unaware that this was a period Bed and Breakfast."

Again the small woman smiled a personal smile that Giles didn't understand as she straightened her skirts. "Yes." Spinning away, she studied Willow. It was an examination the young witch wasn't the least bit comfortable with. When Miranda finally turned away, it was almost a dismissal. She looked at Giles. "I apologize for missing your arrival, sir, I was...resting."

As soon as she had been released from the woman's gaze, Willow inched closer to Giles until she stood right next to him. Miranda Morgan gave her the wiggins. She didn't like her at all. Though, for the life of her, she couldn't put her finger on what was so disturbing about her. "I'm sorry about the glass," she said, "I'll clean it up."

"No matter, dear. It was an accident."

"Ms. Morgan, I - "

Something cold and hard flashed in Miranda's eyes and she interrupted Giles. "Mrs. Morgan, Mr. Giles. It's Mrs. Morgan."

"I-I apologize. I meant no offense." Willow looked at him and he spared a glance for her. He could tell he wasn't the only one that felt vaguely uncomfortable with this person. "Mrs. Morgan, Willow and I are here to - "

Willow panicked. Something was very wrong with Miranda Morgan - very, very wrong - and though she couldn't explain it, or even identify what it was, she knew to the depths of her soul that telling this woman anything would be a grave mistake. She did the first thing that came to mind. She grabbed the surprised Giles' hand and leaned into him.

"To spend some alone time together," she said loudly, practically shouting over his words. Giles looked at her like she had just taken complete leave of her senses, but she smiled up at him, trying to send a 'just follow my lead' message with her eyes. "No need to hide it, love." Giles' mouth dropped open. Willow clung to him and raised a hand to caress his cheek, then traced his lips with her fingers. "Mrs. Morgan here is a professional, modern woman. You know...uh...despite her costume. I'm sure she's not the least close-minded about the age difference between us. Love, after all, knows no age barrier."

Befuddled, completely confused, Giles stood woodenly and stared at Willow, who tried to cover for him by snuggling into him and lifting his limp arm over her shoulders. She beamed at Miranda. "A love like ours is so very rare, you know."

Miranda's attitude had undergone a dramatic change during Willow's display. Her whole personality seemed to warm. "I completely understand, dear. My husband and I dealt with similar prejudices when we were courting. Many did not condone the age difference between us."

"Y-yes, that can be a b-bother," Giles said, just trying to keep up and gain some small measure of control of the conversation. "Willow saw The Carr House advertised and insisted we come for a visit. I could only fulfill her d-desires. I l-love her so."

Willow struggled to control the urge to roll her eyes at Giles. He would have sounded a little more convincing if he hadn't stuttered his way through...whatever that was. She squeezed his waist in warning, but with the condition he was in, it was doubtful he comprehended her message. Men.

"It's true," she tried to cover for him with her own enthusiasm. "Gi...Rupert would do anything for me. We were so concerned when we arrived, though, and saw the damage to the windows. We were afraid you weren't open for business and we've come such a long way."

Like that, the warmth was gone from Miranda's expression. "The damage is no concern to you." She straightened her spine and glared imperiously. "We had a...disturbance...earlier. Those responsible have been dealt with and shall not be causing any further problems. They've been...removed...from the house."

Giles finally caught up. And his stomach dropped to his knees even as Willow stiffened in his arms. They needed to get away from Miranda Morgan. Now.

"Well," he stated carefully, sharpening his gaze on the figure in front of them, "we are certainly...relieved to hear that. You're quite certain that there'll be no further...troubles?"

The artic was warmer than the look in Miranda's eyes at the question. Her lips barely moved and she practically hissed her response. "Yes."

"Right then." He tried hard not to shift uncomfortably under the weight of her gaze. Hugging Willow to him, he gave a tight smile. "Willow and I will just go get our luggage out of the car. We'll be right back."

Miranda nodded once, slowly, then turned and exited the kitchen from a door opposite the one to the dining room.

"Move," he whispered to Willow as he shoved her in the other direction. "We've got to get out of this house."

He clamped a hand down on her arm, almost lifting her off the ground as he pulled her with him. They made their way outside, trying not to draw undo attention to themselves by fleeing like rats from a drowning ship - though that's what they wanted to do. Giles collapsed against his car and Willow rubbed the arm that he'd gripped a little painfully.

"Okay," Willow started, "that was really, really terrifying. She's..."

Giles raised his head to look at her. "The haunt. Yes. I think we've established that quite effectively."

"But...how?"

He moved around to the trunk of the car and opened it, just in case they were being observed. He motioned for her to join him. With the trunk up, they were out of sight of the house. "I'll be honest, I have no idea. I've never seen anything like it. Haunts are capable of full manifestations, but the level of energy necessary for...for that... I touched her. She was quite solid. Nothing I've read indicated they were capable of maintaining physical human form at all, let alone for such an extended period of time."

Willow frowned worriedly. "Giles, she did something to Buffy and Spike."

"It would appear so, yes."

"What are we going to do?"

"Oh, dear lord."

Willow looked startled. "What? What now?"

Giles rolled his eyes, disgusted with himself. "The books. We left the books in the house."

"Oh, no. If she sees them..."

"She'll know we're not just a happy vacationing couple fleeing from society's prejudices." He answered drolly, raising a brow at her.

Squirming a little, she played with her hands - which she seemed to have taken great interest in. "I'm sorry! It was the first thing I could think of. I was getting some big heebie jeebie vibes off of her and I didn't think we should just blurt out what we were doing here."

"Yes, well, I can hardly complain, as it would seem your 'heebie jeebie' vibes were well justified."

"Oh yeah. In a 'she's gonna eat our eyeballs' kind of way. Oh! Oh! Haunts don't eat eyeballs, do they?"

"Willow, really. We have enough to deal with without attaching exaggerated melodrama to the equation."

"Right. Of course you're right. But what are we going to do, Giles?"

"We're going to have to go back in there, more prepared now that we have at least a shred of an idea of what we're dealing with, and we're going to try to find out exactly what happened to Buffy." At her look, he added, "And Spike."

"Problem. We don't have luggage."

Giles frowned at Willow's matter of fact expression. "What? Luggage? What does that...?"

"You told her we were going to get our luggage. If we don't go back in there with bags, she's going to know something's up."

"Yes, I did, didn't I? Damn. Can you...?" He paused, not wanting to put undo strain on her, now that she finally managed to kick what had essentially been an addiction to dark, powerful magicks. She had been so good, going cold turkey on it, but after months without it she had been trying to get back to where she was before she lost control. Now she used magicks only to help out - not for her own purposes - and she stayed away from all darker magicks. He didn't want to put too much on her shoulders. But they had little choice. "If it wouldn't be too much for you, can you get us some?"

"Magickally?"

"Yes, Willow, magickally. I certainly wouldn't be suggesting you run down to the local mall for a quick purchase."

She took a breath, ignoring his sarcasm. Willow had known, when Giles told her Spike suggested she come along, that she may be asked to work some of the more powerful spells. And if it would save Buffy and Spike - or themselves - she would do it gladly. It didn't mean she wasn't nervous about wielding her power, though. And that was something that she hoped she never lost again. Her nerves would keep her in check.

"I think I can do something."

Bending over the back of the car, she closed her eyes and whispered under her breath. Waving her hand over the empty trunk, she concentrated. And two small suitcases appeared in a blink. One dark green, the other black, they were simple and plain. Something you could buy at any generic chain store. She could have 'requisitioned' exquisite Gucci bags, or anything else for that matter, but part of the test of her control was doing just going as far as was needed to help, no further. Giles recognized her restraint and squeezed her shoulder in approval before picking up the two bags.

He was proud of her. That was her reward.

"Giles, what if she's seen the books?"

He didn't want to entertain that notion. In truth, if a haunt as powerful as Miranda appeared to be got it in her mind to exact a little vengeance for their lie, there wasn't much they could do about it. Except suffer the consequences, of course. "We'll just have to hope that she hasn't."

The house appeared to be just as empty as it was the first time they'd entered. Moving quickly, they headed back to the dining room. Willow kept an eye out while Giles loaded the books into the two suitcases.

Unfortunately, he was in such a hurry he didn't count the books he was haphazardly shoving away. If he had, he may have noticed there was one missing.

They were finished, walking back towards the reception desk, when Miranda reappeared. Not in any spectral, supernatural way, though - she walked out of the room Willow had checked earlier, the one that was set up as an office. Giles, despite his apprehension, couldn't help but admire the kind of power necessary for such a complete manifestation.

Her hands were clasped demurely in front of her and she was smiling.

"Mr. Giles, I don't believe you told me where you and your lovely lady are from."

The urge to lie was strong. They didn't want Miranda Morgan in their heads in any way. In the end, though, the truth was inconsequential - and easier to remember. "Sunnydale, actually," Giles answered.

"Hmm. I am not familiar with it. You mentioned a long drive, how long was your journey?"

Willow looked at Giles, then back to Miranda. She had a feeling they were being tested, but there was nothing in Miranda's demeanor that would suggest such a thing.

"It's a five hour drive, Mrs. Morgan, but we made good time." Giles bent to lower the suitcase - heavy with books - to the ground.

Miranda nodded. "I am...pleased to hear it."

Movement out of the corner of Willow's eye caught her attention and she turned her head. She had to blink to be sure she was seeing what she thought she was. A piece of paper - large and brown with age - was fluttering to the floor a few steps away, next to the reservation desk. Giles hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary - he was facing Miranda head on. When a second sheet materialized right in front of her eyes, drifting down from the ceiling, Willow's jaw dropped open and she squeezed Giles' hand. She wasn't paying attention to their conversation.

"Mr. Giles," Miranda continued sweetly, "is Sunnydale a pleasant place to live?"

Giles took off his glasses. "Y-yes. It is." Remembering the role he was supposed to be playing, he squeezed Willow's shoulders in a show of affection.

Willow didn't notice. She was focused on the few dozen pages that were now fluttering in the air and lying on the floor right next to and behind them. Going for discretion, she tried to subtly attract Giles' attention. Her fear was rising and he seemed oblivious to her attempts.

"Giles," she whispered. He didn't notice.

"Would you say, Mr. Giles, that Sunnydale is a safe place to live, raise a family?"

His head reared a little in surprise at the odd question. When he did, he caught the slow rain of paper in his peripheral vision and his body stilled. Slowly, he raised his eyes to the ceiling. A flurry of sheets popped out of thin air and floated downward. Looking down, dread pooling in his stomach, he picked up one of the sheets, feeling as well as seeing the age of the paper. It was a title page. A title page he had seen before, very recently. Haunts, Specters, Ghosts, and Ghouls: An Introduction to Dead People.

"Oh...dear."

As if nothing unusual had happened, as if pages from a book mysteriously appeared and floated down from the ceiling every day, Miranda asked another question. "Tell me, Mr. Giles, are there many vampires in Sunnydale?"

The time for pretense was over - but the time for terror had just begun.

At first, the shaking was subtle enough to go unnoticed. Unfortunately that didn't last long. Wood creaked and groaned, pictures rattled on the wall, the sound of glasses falling in the kitchen mixed with the slamming of doors and rumbling growl of the ground as it shifted underneath their feet. And Miranda wasn't looking quite so human anymore.

Willow and Giles pitched and rolled along with the floor. Holding on to each other for support, they backed away from the pulsing and shimmering wall of red energy where the haunt had been standing. A severe jolt knocked Willow to her knees, and Giles gripped onto the reservation desk for support while he helped her to her feet.

Hell was breaking loose all around them.

No human voice was capable of the raging wail of fury that rent the air. The witch and the Watcher tried covering their ears, but the sound echoed in their skulls. There was no relief.

"We've got to get out of here!" Giles shouted. He doubted Willow heard him. He hadn't heard himself.

He grabbed her arm and pulled, motioning towards the door when she raised terrified eyes to his. She nodded in understanding and took a step forward.

A gale-force wind slammed into her and knocked her back. She grunted in pain when the corner of the desk jabbed into her ribs.

Miranda, unaffected by the phenomena, floated dangerously closer. Somewhere in the middle of the glowing orb there was a vague outline of the woman she used to be. Giles and Willow could only watch, transfixed, when she stretched her 'arms' towards them.

They never did see what happened next. Something plowed into Willow and she was thrown to the floor. Giles only caught a flash of black before he, too, was tackled. He crumpled next to her. The heat from the blast that erupted from Miranda singed the ozone and blew a hole in the desk behind them. The computer popped and crackled in protest before bursting into flames.

Changing direction, the wind tightened and whirled in a circle around the enraged haunt, blocking her form from their view. Electrical outlets blew, light bulbs popped and arcs of blue lightning searched for purchase. Willow was having a hard time breathing, something was over her head and there was weight pressing her into the polished boards beneath her. Giles had his own problems. He gasped in pain when the book-filled suitcases slammed down on his chest and legs. And he jumped in surprise when he heard a matching gasp right next to his ear.

The front door opened and closed and opened and closed - faster and faster and louder and louder. Chairs, tables, anything and everything not nailed down pounded on the wooden floor over and over.

And then...just when Willow and Giles thought they'd be shaken to pieces - or ripped to shreds by either blasts of energy or flying debris - it stopped.

Silence descended on the house at last.

The weight holding Willow down shifted and fell away from her. She could see what had slammed into her for the first time. Sitting up, wiping the hair out of her eyes, she blinked in surprise at the raised eyebrow, blue eyes, and sardonic smile of one arrogant vampire.

"Spike! You're not dust!"

"Pleased to hear it, Red, as it tends to put a crimp in a bloke's day."

"I...we...Miranda told us that she'd 'dealt' with you and Buffy - and what with it being day and all..."

"She tried, Will," Buffy said, sitting up and pushing the luggage off of her and Giles. "All kinda evil little points to her for the attempt."

Giles sat up, adjusting his glasses and taking in Buffy and Spike's appearance for the first time. "Dear Lord. Are you two alright?"

Dirty, scraped, and scratched, hair a mess, clothing ripped and more than a touch disheveled, they looked like war orphans.

"I wouldn't say we're ready to do back flips or anything, but we're alive - more or less," Buffy answered, looking at Spike for confirmation.

He grinned wryly at her and bobbed his head.

Brushing off their clothes, all four got to their feet and stared at the destruction around them.

"You saved us," Willow said reverently. "We were about ready to be toast of the extra crispy variety."

"Don't butter those slices yet, Will, we still might be. Giles, I can't even begin to tell you how glad you guys are here. Now you need to leave."

Giles bent down to pick up the second suitcase after handing one off to Spike...ignoring the vampire's snarky pack animal comment. "Yes, well, I do believe some strategic regrouping may be in order."

"I totally agree," Buffy nodded emphatically, "Spike and I will take whatever info you've brought and we'll get with the regrouping. We'll even do it strategically. You and Willow are going to be less with the fallback and more with the running away. Far away. Home away."

Willow frowned and before Giles could say anything she said, "No, we won't."

Buffy turned to her friend. "Willow, I'm not arguing about this and it isn't up for debate. You have no idea what this haunt is capable of and I'm not going to let you put yourself in danger."

"Gonna have to disagree with you there, Buffy. I think - after what we just saw - we're pretty aware of what Miranda is capable of. And we're not going to let you deal with it on your own. We came to help. We're going to, anyway we can."

Buffy and Spike exchanged surprised expressions.

"And you know the bint's name...how, exactly?" Spike asked.

Giles stepped forward, pressing two fingers to the bridge of his nose. "She...well...she introduced herself to us. Before she knew we were with you, anyway."

Putting her hands on her hips, she stared in disbelief at her Watcher. "She...introduced herself? Gonna need a little more information here, Giles. What do you mean, she introduced herself?"

"As odd as it sounds," He explained, "I mean just that. We got here and the house was empty. After setting up for some research in the dining room, Willow went into the kitchen. A very solid-bodied woman showed up and rather politely introduced herself as Miranda Morgan."

"Yeah," Willow huffed, still freaked by the circumstances, "pretty polite for a big scary dead person. Kinda gives new meaning to the term 'hospitality house'."

Spike stood by and listened to everyone prattle. He shook his head, amazed yet again that these people were so effective against all the baddies in Sunnydale. Sighing, he raised his voice to get everyone's attention...and to shut them all up.

"Bloody hell. All this wafflin' is getting' us exactly nowhere - which is somewhere I'd rather not dawdle. If we're gonna regroup, lets get on with it before the bitch gets it in her head to start shakin' us all about again." He'd long since set the suitcase Giles fobbed off on him back down and his hands came up to stroke Buffy's arms. "Luv, I know you're worried about Scooby Dee and Scooby Dum, but we'll be needin' them. No baddie body to bash, remember?"

The Slayer rolled her eyes and Giles and Willow exchanged disgruntled expressions at the less than complimentary labels.

Buffy was the first to give in, mostly because Spike was right - while doing it in the most annoying and confrontational way possible. She sighed dramatically and turned to her friends. "Fine. There's a place we can go - we'll be safe for a while."

The Slayer squared her shoulders and turned to lead the group down the hall and out the back door. Under her breath, unheard by all but a grinning vampire, Buffy muttered, "Next time I take a vacation, I'm gonna to do what every other self-respecting tourist does. I'm going to the beach."



Continued in Chapter Eleven

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