All About Spike - Plain Version

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Haunt of the House
By Jericho TGF

Chapter Four

After the haunt disappeared from the suite, Spike relaxed back against the couch cushions, listening to Buffy order their breakfast. They had time - not a lot, but they had it - and it was the first chance he'd had to relax since turning around and seeing the inhabited Buffy-looking haunt behind him. He was off duty, in a sense, at least for now. That's when he remembered that he never got that shower he'd wanted.

While vampires aren't subjected to sweating, which is one of the more beneficial attributes of his kind, they do get dirty, or - as Spike thought back on the bedtime romp he and Buffy had engaged in - down and dirty. He was one unclean fiend. In both body and mind. As the haunt was off eating her spectral Wheaties somewhere, gaining strength for the impending conflict, now would likely be the only time he would have a chance to neaten up a bit without running the risk of the deader-than-him bitch popping up to ruin what could be a very good time.

He waited until Buffy got off the phone, then said, "I'm gonna jump in the shower, pet. Care to join me?"

Turning around to look at him, Buffy was caught by his eyes and held motionless for a second, before breaking the gaze and roaming over his body with an appreciative stare. He really was beautiful. Predatory, almost feline, powerful, all kinetic energy and sensual delight. And he loved her with a passion that did more to control his demon than any government-stamped chip ever could.

Reality, however, had a tendency to intrude on the moment, a fact that had been driven home again and again to the Slayer. Grinning slightly to take the sting from what she knew he would take as a rejection, she shook her head slightly and told him, "Seeing as breakfast will be delivered in less than thirty minutes, and our 'showers' tend to be of the not short variety, I don't think that's the best idea. Not that the offer isn't appealing. But, hey...shower away. Wouldn't want to deprive you of your weekly cleaning ritual."

Spike sputtered in mock surprise at the teasing insult, surging to his feet and blustering at the unabashed and superior expression on Buffy's face. "Weekly? Weekly? Now you know for a fact that's a bloody lie. Hell, you and I go for the wet and wigglies at least three times a week, pet. You also know damn well I shower every day."

"Oh, I know you get wet every day. And I know you destroy the musical integrity of every singer whose songs you butcher when you get in there, as well. I have no actual proof that you use that new invention called soap."

Lunging forward, Spike bent over and grabbed Buffy around the knees, ignoring her surprised protests. When he straightened, he had her tossed over his shoulder, struggling futilely against his strong grip. His chip didn't activate, despite the jostling he gave her, mostly because he wasn't trying to hurt her. There was no intent. Just like he could spar with her if he didn't try to hit her.

"Spike," the Slayer choked out from her upside down - and rather degrading - position, "what the hell do you think you're doing?"

Several long strides later, he set the surprised and mildly irritated girl down in the bathroom, not bothering to answer her. He just smirked at her flush-faced glare and yanked the short, satin robe she was wearing off her body. Grabbing her bare shoulders, he leaned down and attacked her mouth, forcing her lips open with his tongue, thrusting inside her warmth.

Her hands reached up and twisted in his hair as she returned his kiss, tugging just enough to hurt the smallest bit, hurting just enough to inflame his senses, fire his desire, telling him that she wasn't upset. And she was willing to concede to his changing her plans of not showering with him. Seeing as she could easily kick his ass all the way back to Sunnydale if she was in any way truly angry with him, he knew she was warming up to the idea.

There were one or two other clues, too. Like the fact that Buffy was in no way a passive participant. In fact, she was quite active while divesting him of his clothes. She no more bothered with permission than he did. His tee shirt was stripped off before he even acknowledged he'd raised his head so she could yank it off of him. Similarly, she had his pants unbuttoned, stripping him naked, in just two of her heartbeats later.

One of them turned on the shower, one of them pulled the other into the tub, one of them yanked the shower curtain closed. Neither of them knew which one did any of it.

If there was desperation in their coupling, they didn't mention it. If they came together with the water pounding down on their shoulders, their heads, their slick, naked bodies, with a little more fervor than the situation would have normally warranted, they let it. If neither one of them vocalized the fact that they both knew Spike's underlying reason for being so adamant about Buffy joining him in his shower, they were okay with that.

They both knew, though, that it was fear. Fear that what was in the house would be coming again soon. Fear that they wouldn't be able to deal with it as they did the baddies in their own town. Fear that Giles and Willow were a long way away yet. Spike's fear, too, that if he let Buffy out of his sight, the haunt would sneak up on them again. And maybe next time, the haunt would do more than get in Buffy's mind. Maybe next time, it would hurt her in ways that didn't heal so quickly.

So the words went unspoken, that was okay. They both understood. And they tried not to let their mutual concern mar the experience for them. It was easy to do. For a little while it was very easy to do. But all good things must come to an end. Slayer's and their vampire lovers knew that better than most.

For them, the good things came to a screeching halt just after Buffy stepped out of the shower. She turned to Spike and kissed him quickly before climbing, weak-kneed and tingly, out of the tub. Reaching out a hand to the towel she'd placed on the counter, the breath flew out of her lungs with a surprised hiss as she caught sight of the mirror over the sink.

Hours ago, Buffy had passed out when the haunt had forced her to see her bloody image, throat ravaged and pale as a ghost herself, in that very same mirror. Now, what she saw - though much less...colorful - was equally chilling for its simplicity.

Vaguely, as if separated from her body, she felt Spike's hand close tightly around her upper arm. It was welcomed support. Turning her head, searching his face for just the barest flicker of time, she saw his expression, grim and foreboding, with just the slightest tinge of demon gold crackling in his eyes. His gaze was locked on the glassy surface.

Neither one of them knew quite what to make of what they saw.

The bathroom was warm, steamy from the shower, but wisps of cold fog danced across the surface of the now iced-over mirror. Thicker and whiter than the steam from the shower, it was unmistakable. Buffy and Spike watched silently as the coating of ice slowly melted, small chunks sliding down the slick surface, dropping with slushy splats on the counter. It was a uniquely surreal experience made more so by the message left by a haunting hand.

"Abomination."

That was it. One word. One chilling, chilly word. Of course, it was enough.

The towel Buffy was going to use to dry off was still clutched in a tight-fisted grasp. Slowly, purposefully, she stepped up to the bathroom counter. With one last, disgusted glare, she swiped the offending word away, erasing it.

"Okay," she said in a serious, all-Slayer voice, "This haunt is living in one really big glass house. It's time we start throwing some stones."

Turning to the soggy vampire behind her, she saw how pissed off he looked. Pissed off and resolved. Impressive in any vampire, but in Spike...well...he did pissed off and resolved especially well. It was second only to his sardonic sneer in the 'effective Spike looks' department. Only the Slayer would ever dare tangle with Spike when he looked like that, like he was about ready to break something. Like necks. Lots of them.

His jaw clenched and unclenched again and again as he tried to lock down his demon, tried to control the rolling fury that was surging through him. If he went with it, this bathroom would never look the same again...and Buffy would never forgive him. Besides, he was much more interested in destroying that...thing...that had the gall to come in here and threaten them, strip away that small bubble of peace that he had tried so hard to give Buffy.

It was malicious, evil, and pointless. She couldn't be strong enough to attack yet, but instead of leaving them alone long enough to let them share some time together, she had to let them know she was still there. Watching and waiting. If it hadn't been Buffy and him she was focusing her aggression on, he might have admired the tactic. As a card-carrying member of the evil undead, he could have admired the tactic.

As a man in love with the tiny woman in front of him, he was enraged that the haunt dared even try.

A small hand closed over his and he started slightly at the contact. He hadn't noticed she'd moved. That hand, so tiny, yet stronger than anyone but him could ever understand...and not just in the slaying and defending the world against the forces of darkness...she was strong inside, where it counted most. Quite possibly the most intense force of nature on the planet. He got that. And the fact that he got that about her, that he understood her in ways that even her Watcher, her sister, and her Scoobies didn't, made him feel pretty good about himself. It brought him back to her. It always would.

Entwining his fingers with hers, he pulled her hand up and kissed the knuckles that had done so much damage to him in the past. Unable to be suppressed for long, his natural tendency towards sarcasm came dripping out of him as he grinned down and focused on the last thing she said.

"Told you before, Slayer. You don't have the stones."

Buffy laughed, remembering that long-ago conversation and fell into her role. "Oh I've got the stones. I've got plenty of...stones."

He always did that. That was his gift. One of his many gifts. No matter how intense things got, no matter how close to destruction her and hers came, Spike was there to provide the comic relief. He used his sarcasm and abrasive personality to relieve the tension in any situation. For a long time, she hated that about him, but that was before she understood that he wasn't just being sarcastic and abrasive to be sarcastic and abrasive. Not that it hadn't taken - what? Almost four years? - to recognize the pattern. Eventually, though, it sunk in.

Spike went all Spike-like when Buffy was closest to drowning in fear, closest to giving in to the terrors that were her day-to-day existence, closest to dancing that last dance of death. Closest to wanting it. Not to try to push her over the edge like she had thought for so long, but to keep her from it. A brassed off Slayer fought twice as hard. A brassed off Slayer never gave up. Fortunately for her, no one could brass her off as quickly or as effectively as Spike. That was something that, despite her feelings for him, had never changed. He'd have hated it if it had. So would she.

Now that the thick tension in the room was gone, and Spike had control over the demon in him again, she could give serious thought to what she just said.

"Well," she conceded, "I don't have the stones just yet...but I will. We're going to get them. Both of us. Then we're going to crash them into her. She won't know what hit her."

"Bloody right, she won't," he agreed.

"Spike," her command face was on again, "go get dressed. Breakfast will be here any second. We eat, we research, we destroy. In that order."

The twinkling amusement in his cobalt eyes had her dropping her gaze to her own naked and dripping appearance.

"And that wasn't exactly commandery. Damn. Note to self: clothes first, command second. This is worse than my yummy sushi pajamas." At his raised brow and mildly questioning look, she waved a dismissive hand at him. "Don't ask. Long story. Long, unpleasant Buffy story."

"Is there any other kind, pet?"

Sighing, knowing there was more truth to his taunt that she'd care to admit, she rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at him.

Considering that he was more interested in appreciating the new and exquisitely flattering view of her naked breasts that she just offered up to him, he was in no way concerned with her glare.

The knock on the door saved him from any Slayer retribution.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The morning sun was up, shining brightly down on the cheery yellow exterior of a quaint Bed & Breakfast in Three Rivers, California. But for all the perfection of that particular picture, a dark and sinister presence was residing in the house. Evil.

As a matter of fact, he was finishing his bacon and eggs breakfast with a blood chaser, hiding behind thick curtains, avoiding the sun and its deadly rays. And as evil as he was...well...he knew the love of a woman. While music may soothe the savage beast, Buffy, and only Buffy, could...not tame, certainly...redefine, maybe...the monster in the man. She certainly had done something, as he was sitting, wracking his brain for any information that might prove useful in destroying the entity that was threatening the Slayer's existence instead of sitting back and watching with glee as it happened.

Funny how things change.

Unfortunately he had nothing. Over a century and a score of years, and he had absolutely nothing. Demons, yeah, he could help with that...he knew a lot of them, if not personally then by reputation. Haunts, though...well...vampires and haunts didn't exactly have much use for each other in normal circumstances. They just didn't belong in the same...social circles.

He had told Buffy everything he knew. One large, Spike-sized batch of nothing useful. It was as frustrating as hell. And where was the mighty cavalry? That crack team that foiled his every plan? Still at least three hours away, and that was if they were lucky and they had left within minutes of Spike's call.

Wasn't that just peachy?

Buffy emerged from the bedroom, dressed and ready to go, and leaned against the doorframe, studying the glum beast brooding over a cup of platelets. It was a good thing that there was none of the physical similarity to Angel as there had been with Riley, as this new morose attitude of the blonde fiend would make the two vampires too close in essence for Buffy's comfort.

She loved, truly and fully loved both vampires, though in very different ways. That was enough of a similarity for her.

Taking a minute, perhaps selfishly, Buffy gave serious thought to the man sitting across the room. Why did she love him? How could she love him? He wasn't Angel. He had no soul. He wasn't good in the classic sense of the word. How could she forgive him for his evil ways? If it was just the chip...well...how shallow is that?

Would Buffy be able to love Spike if he got de-chipped? How could she trust him?

Answers, so hard to pin down when in reference to questions about her feelings for Riley, for Angel even, were remarkably simple in reference to Spike. What a pleasant surprise. And they had been getting easier and easier ever since her return from the great beyond.

Why she loved him was the easiest of all of them. Quite simply, because he was tails to her heads, the flip side of her coin. Her equal, her opposite, her completion. They were alike, so alike in so many tiny ways. Strong, brave, loyal...not normally adjectives associated with vampires, but true, nonetheless. And...oh yeah...there. Always there. When Spike believed in something, when he wanted something, he never gave up. Even though it was selfish at times. Most times. But that's what love should be, shouldn't it? A little selfish. Wanting to be with that one person, no matter the cost? That was selfish. Buffy had more than her share of selfless boyfriends. Angel, the epitome of 'suffering for the greater good' and Riley, as well. Both gone.

Spike stuck. He stood up, saw that Buffy was the one he loved, admitted it to himself, admitted it to her - oh...wall chains...tied up ex-ho looking on...let's not go there - and then stuck around, suffered horrible treatment at her hands, her friends' hands, Glory's hands...lots of bad hands pushing him away, torturing him. But he stuck.

That wasn't why she loved him...that question has already been answered...that's how she can love him. She can love him because he was there to love. He accepted it, reveled in it, wanted it, would never give up on it. And neither would she.

As to the forgiving of his past. Well. 'Fighting a Hell God? Impending death and torture for me? Where do I sign up?' That's essentially what he said with his actions against Glory. "Always knew I'd go down fightin'." That's what he actually had said, as he had shouldered an axe in her living room the night she died. Didn't matter to him that he knew he probably wouldn't make it. Or...it mattered...just not enough to prevent him from helping. Not enough to make him run for cover. That evil past of his was pretty blurry in comparison to that. And it had nothing at all to do with that chip in his head.

What about that chip? What if it came out, or stopped working? What then?

Well...see...that's where Spike not being Angel was the most beneficial. The chip prevented him from hurting humans if he wanted to...Angel's soul prevented him from wanting to. But she'd seen Angelus. Known Angelus. Hated Angelus. A virtually unstoppable, unspeakable horror. A demon of the worst magnitude. Evil, cold, ruthless...and a little insane. Two very different beings in one body, but a flip of a switch...a happiness clause...and they were interchangeable. Spike was just Spike. No Spikelus...or whatever.

Sure, he couldn't feed on humans with the chip. But all that made him loveable, which gave her no choice but to fall for him after pushing him away for so long, would never change. Wouldn't disappear one night. And she knew that even if he had that chip taken out, there was nothing he would ever do to threaten her love for him. So humans...and general evil directed at her and her friends, her family, were off limits. He had made a choice to ally himself with her loved ones; he loved Dawn.

And now that she thought about it, he'd given indications that he had some warm fuzzy feelings for Willow and Tara, too. Even Anya, who he'd always had a weird 'you were a cool demon' connection with. Not to mention his respect for Giles, which had grown by leaps and bounds since that night with Glory, according to Will. Something about being a band of brothers...but she didn't quite get the reference.

As for Xander, well...it was doubtful that they would ever be best buds. Too much blood under the bridge for that, Buffy guessed, but they had reached an understanding. They taunted and goaded each other as often as possible, and then fought side by side when necessary, a decent team. It was a friendship of sorts, as long as they both played by the rules. No staking of the vampire, no eating of the human. It worked for them.

All of that worked for Buffy.

She pushed herself off the doorframe and walked over to him. It was important to her that he understand. That was why they'd come here...why she'd brought him here. So far, the events of the previous evening had prevented anything but the barest essentials. Telling him she loved him was all well and good, but it wasn't all of it. Buffy knew it wasn't all of it.

Sliding into a chair at the small table in the far corner of the room, where they'd eaten together before she went to get dressed, she looked at him. Despite the shadows in the room - shadows that kept him from going up like a roman candle - she could see his exhaustion. Her heart went out to him when his tired eyes found hers. In truth, he looked half dead. Oh. Wait. That's not...well...you know. Anyway...he had slept hardly at all the night before, or the day and night before that. It was catching up to him; she could see it.

"You ready, pet?" Spike didn't know why she was staring at him like that, but her eyes were normal, so it wasn't the haunt. Okay, mate, he thought, what's with the silent treatment? You do somethin' you shouldn't have...again? She was starting to make him a little nervous.

He'd known she was staring at him from across the room. He always knew when she was nearby, definitely if she was in the same room as him. It was a vampire/Slayer thing. Plus, he'd memorized the beat of her heart, in much the same way a person recognizes the sound of a particular voice on the phone. He would know her anywhere. What he didn't know was what was going on in that head of hers.

Wanting to say something meaningful to get her message across, she took a deep breath and reached out to rest her hand over his large one. "You...dusty...not good."

Great, Buffy. Good work. Not exactly waxing poetic there, are you? Geesh, you're supposed to tell him how you feel...that wasn't even close. What the hell is wrong with you?

"Don't happen to fancy that myself, pet." He didn't know what prompted that less than stellar declaration of concern, but he enjoyed that faint blush that was flooding her face. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor in this case, he didn't give in to the habit of a sarcastic rejoinder.

"I mean...well..." Tell him, damn it! Tell him what you feel. Don't chicken out like you always do. "You're important to me, Spike." Oh, that's good...having toilet paper in the house is important...you're crashing and burning here, Buffy. "You're family." Better...much better. Hell, he's looking at you like you just grew a second head. Try again. "A year ago you told me...I mean...you didn't know it was me...you thought I was the robot...and, ya know, still icked out on that one...but...um...so not the point. Anyway...you told me...it...me...that you knew that losing Dawn would destroy me." Taking a deep breath, burning hotly in embarrassment, she rushed through the next few words. "Losing you would destroy me."

It's eerie, the stillness of a vampire. No breath, no muscle movement, no heartbeat. Not even an eye twitch. When they wanted to, they could do a very convincing imitation of a statue. Spike was chiseled stone. Unmoving, not blinking, perfectly, utterly still. Spike was never still. It was giving her the wiggins. He didn't even smile like he had when she told him she loved him. She thought she'd done something wrong, said something wrong, and her embarrassed confusion had her leaping to her feet, defensive and prickly.

"Don't."

One word. One deep, gravelly-voiced, accented word stopped her before she blurted out something she shouldn't, before she turned and fled. Didn't mean she could meet his eyes, though, so she stared hard at her feet.

Spike watched her; all he wanted to do for the rest of eternity was watch her. Look at her. Love her. Worship her. Defend her. Stand beside her. Protect her while she did the same for him. Fight with her. Fight beside her.

Love had just been redefined for him. Five words. It had changed everything for him. More than love. The meaning behind what she told him was as clear to him as glass and it was more than love. She loved her sister, loved Harris, Will, the rest. She loved him - told him she loved him. And it was great, hearing that last night. But this. This was more. She may not realize what she had just done, but she just pledged herself to him. She admitted something pure, raw, and it was the first time he'd even dreamed that she could possibly love him as much as he loved her. Love had been redefined and with the force of nature that was Buffy, all he could do was let it wash over him. Healing his heart in places he hadn't even known were damaged.

His demon was silent.

"That night. When you died...when I saw you lyin' there...gone...my world crumbled. I crumbled." His voice, ragged and hoarse, scratched out of his throat with painful honesty. It was time she knew. He had to tell her. "I wanted to die. I would have welcomed the fires of hell...wouldn't have been nothin' compared to what I was feelin'."

Buffy, transfixed by the horror she saw in his face, slid bonelessly back into her chair and watched, mouth slightly agape. She could see that he was reliving it - saw the memories of her death rake across his mind and heart, leaving scorching, burning furrows of agony.

"I blamed myself. Of course I blamed myself. Why the bloody hell wouldn't I? I thought you would have, too. I failed. Shoulda known. Always failed when it came to you, dinn't I? I wanted to greet the sun that mornin'. Nearly bloody did. It was my bleedin' fault you died."

Shaking her head in denial, she told him, "No, Spike. You didn't - "

"You were DEAD!" he shouted, interrupting her. "It was supposed to BE ME! Not you. NEVER YOU!"

Struggling not to lose it, Spike ran a hand through his hair until he had the composure to continue. Buffy was watching him intently and he wouldn't stop until this was finally done, haunts and Slayers be damned.

"I'm not supposed to feel guilt, ya know. Remorse, either, when it comes to that. I felt both. I was drownin' in it, burnin' with it. The one thing...ONE thing that kept me from greetin' the sun every mornin' for the three months you were gone was my promise to you. Every day, every time that burnin' ball dragged itself out of the east, I had to force myself not to meet it. Had to think 'bout my promise. Even dead, you had the ultimate power over me. Bleedin' ironic, if you ask me.

"Nothin' was gonna hurt Dawn. Not on my watch. Nothin'. Little Bit was the one that bullied me into protectin' the rest of that screwy Scooby club of yours. Why? She was you. YOU. To me, she was all I had left of you. I love her. Nothin' will ever hurt her as long as I exist. Now, that goes for the rest of your motley crew, too. They didn't trust me, ya know. Even after everythin' I did. Only Nibblet.

"It was bad, Buffy. So bad when you were gone. We tried, but you weren't there. You just don't know. There are things...things that I'll never tell anyone - not even you. Bad, evil things that came to town. That I fought. Alone. Things too horrible for the Scoobies to get near. I didn't want to put them through that. I did things. Things I had to do to get rid of the nasties. If I'd had a soul, I would have sold it to keep them safe.

"Then you came back. That was almost worse. I don't know if you can understand, but it was almost worse. It nearly destroyed me. With you back, they dinn't need me anymore, and that need was the only thin' keeping me not breathin'. I still had that guilt, that remorse, and that feelin' I failed you. And with you back, I dinn't have any way to make up for it anymore. But...then I saw it. I watched you - lovin' you so much it was consumin' me - not bein' able to tell you, to show you - I watched you struggle with your bein' back. That's when I knew I could still help. You needed me - not that you'd ever admit it. That's why I started patrollin' with you every night. The more time I spent with you, tryin' to keep you wantin' to stay in this world, the more I wanted to stay in the world. Savin' you was savin' me.

"You did this to me. Made me like this. I was happy bein' a demon. Until you I was happy. You ruined everythin' and nothin' will ever be the same for me again. And...see...I don't want it to be. Never again. I love you more than I ever thought possible to love anythin'. I'm yours. And losin' you again...well...I don't think a promise would be able to keep me from greetin' the sun next time, Buffy. Not like before. Not now that I know...that I know what I'd truly lose."

He was across the room, with no earthly idea how he got there. He didn't remember getting up out of his chair while he was talking, pacing the room. He hadn't realized he had been stalking back and forth, the emotions in him running rampant; taking control of his body while his mind was locked down in the memories, the agonizing memories and truth.

Buffy was trembling. Shaking violently with the force of love she felt shimmering off of him in waves. She'd never heard Spike speak for that long at one time before, and his words...well...earth shattering comes to mind. It was like a homecoming. He was her home. Never had she given a thought to what he'd gone through when she died, and as for the rest...well...since she'd been back, she'd never talked about the time when she wasn't. It had been too painful to think about. But Spike, well...that's what Spike did. He was strong in ways that she could only envy. He felt things, deeply and honestly, and acted on them. He was man enough to admit them. God, she loved him.

Regaining her feet, standing on quivering legs, she stared at the tortured fiend in front of her. They stood that way, eye to eye, separated by the length of a room, and watched each other, waiting to see what the other would do, or say.

And then there was no longer a room between them. They came together. Threw themselves at each other, wrapping strong, warrior arms around the other. Not a hug, more than an embrace, it was possession. The spell had been cast, and they gave themselves to it.

But Buffy was human, for all her Slayerness, and she needed to breathe. Spike's arms were making it just a touch difficult to do that.

"Spike," she rasped out, not wanting to let go, but wanting to stay alive - for a very, very long time. "Slayer strength all well and good...need oxygen, though."

Happy in ways he'd never been before, he laughed - an actual, honest laugh, and eased up just a bit. Not that he'd even consider letting her go right then, but he didn't want her cold and blue...not good. "Bloody humans with all that breathin' rot. Sad weakness if you ask me."

Chuckling, liking the way he lightened the atmosphere with his natural - or...well, as natural as vampires can be - personality. "Yeah, I know. So weak, I'm a weakling. Poor, poor Slayer. All weak and able to kick your ass to hell and back. Pity me. I need to be pitied."

"Oh, I see." He drew back just enough to meet her dancing eyes with the tickling delight in his own. "Gonna go there now, are we, pet? Why don't you - "

Spike never got a chance to finish his suggestion. The scream that rent the air stopped him cold, wiped all trace of amusement off his face. Serious and battle-ready, his game face surged forward and he whirled, letting go of Buffy, who had matched his expression...sans ridges and fangs...and dropped into a fighting stance.

It was everywhere, the scream. A howl of ultimate fury, unrestrained and un-abating. Buffy and Spike slid into their fighting habit, stood back to back, circling around, watching each other's blind side.

It was Spike that saw it first, saw her first, he was facing the window and he saw her materialize in front of it. The haunt had come.

"Buffy," he called, "here."

The Slayer spun from her spot behind Spike and watched as the haunt solidified ten feet from where the warriors stood.

The scream faded as the haunt became more and more visible. In short seconds, the figure of the woman, petite, wearing a long dress with a high collar, chestnut hair piled high in a bun at the top of her head, glared at them with righteous fury. Large, brown eyes flashed hateful fire and the scream was gone, replaced by a snarl of indignation.

Buffy, always one to take the initiative, surged forward, ready to engage the bitch that had ruined the best moment in her life.

Miranda didn't let her get close enough to try anything. Holding up a hand, a wave of energy leapt from her palm and blasted into the Slayer, not knocking her back, but holding her still - as if she was a fly in a spider web. Struggling, trying to break free from the unknown energy, Buffy was caught. She couldn't move.

Spike snarled low in his throat, eyes burning with a deadly intensity and he launched himself at the haunt. If he could break her concentration...

He didn't get the chance. Miranda flicked him a dismissive glance and whirled, evil triumph in her malicious chuckle, and raised her hands to the curtains.

Unable to do anything but watch in growing horror, knowing Spike was too enraged to grasp just what the haunt was doing, Buffy tried to call out to him. To warn him.

The curtains were torn away from the windows before she got a word past her lips.

And Spike was howling...not in rage - but in pain.

Smoking, smoldering, he thought quickly, flipping the table next to him on its side, huddling down into the saving shadows. A rapid flow of curses escaped his lips as he tried to pat out the various parts of himself - his bare arms, especially, that were burning.

"Buffy!"

"I can't move! I can't - "

The haunt disappeared in a blink and Buffy fell to the floor in a graceless heap. The energy wall slipped away as soon as the haunt had. With a roll she was up, running to the discarded curtains. She grabbed them both, rushed over to Spike, and wrapped them around him. Hiding him from the sun, from the light that was flooding the room with it's glorious but deadly fire.

"How bad?" In her Slayer mode, the question was short and to the point.

"Bad enough." He was assessing the damage, but under the cloaked covers it was hard to tell. "Bloody hell that hurts!"

"Bedroom. Now. Together."

Protecting him as much as she could, holding the curtains in place, Buffy helped him into the soothing cover of darkness in the bedroom.

Once there, the curtains fell away and Spike stood up, shaking off his demon visage and checking out his arms. They were red, but no open sores, nothing oozing or bleeding. That was good. He was still smoking a bit, but all in all, the damage wasn't too bad. Hurt like a mother, but that would pass. If I'd a had my duster on, he thought wryly, I wouldn't be sportin' this less than fashionable sunburn.

Buffy reached into his duffle and came out with two blood bags. She tossed them to him, told him to hold on, and jogged out to the other room to pick up the mug from where it had fallen when he'd turned over the table.

In the few seconds she'd been gone, he'd managed to down one bag on his own. Not exactly Miss Manners, she thought as she watched his re-emerged fangs puncture the second bag as she joined him again, but you gotta love a guy that can take care of himself.

"So," she said, dangling the mug by a finger, "guess you won't be needing this after all."

The second bag fell, empty, to the floor, next to the first.

He pushed the fangs and forehead back and looked at her almost sheepishly. "Didn't feel up to excercisin' my table manners, what with havin' to hide behind one and all." The slightly guilty expression faded away, replaced by a business-like seriousness. "We've got a problem."

Setting the mug down on the end table by the bed, Buffy shot him a dry smile. "Just one? Aren't we the lucky ones? I'd have figured at least a dozen."

"Good point. More than one. First, that bitch shouldn't be able to do what she just did. Singeing me - yeah, materializin' like that - yeah, but whatever that shit was she did to you...never heard o' that before. Not to mention, that kind o' energy..."

He let his voice trail off, not needing to finish the thought.

"We're in real trouble here, pet. And there's one other tasty bonus for us White Hats to deal with. I'm almost out o' blood. Didn't exactly pack for act of haunt."

"And you call yourself a vampire. All manner of weapons, first aide kit, what you call clothes and you didn't bring enough blood? Color me astounded." She was teasing him, trying to mask her fear of the situation behind humor.

Even now the blood he drank sped up his healing, the angry red marks on his arms and face disappearing under her watchful gaze. She dropped the humor and spoke seriously. "We'll just have to make sure she doesn't get another chance to damage you."

Stripping the bedspread off the bed in one swipe, Buffy went into the other room to cover the window. Once done, Spike joined her in the living area.

"Come on, Ken, we've got a haunt to research...and destroy."

Spike rolled his eyes at the name. "Bloody hell. Call me Spike. This place inn't exactly my idea of any kind of dream house right now."

Seriously, with just a touch of darkness in her voice, she spoke over her shoulder as she yanked the door to the suite open. "Sure it is, Spike. It's the dream house from hell."

Following her out the door, he just shook his head and sighed.


Continued in Chapter Five


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