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Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

 

Project Paranormal

Author: Smiling_n_Michigan

Season 3

Part 8

 

**

 

Summary: Just because it's Christmas for the Project Paranormal team doesn't mean that they get a break.  Join our trio in their trek to London to investigate a haunted flat and a case that makes Giles' blood race in more ways than one.  

  

**

 

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

 

 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Let your heart be light

From now on our troubles will be out of sight

 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,

Make the Yule-tide gay,

From now on, our troubles will be miles away.

 

Here we are as in olden days,

Happy golden days of yore.

Faithful friends who are dear to us

Gather near to us once more.

 

Through the years

We all will be together,

If the Fates allow

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.

And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

 

The lyricist for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was Ralph Blane and the haunting music was composed by Hugh Martin.

 

+++

 

“Can you help me?”

 

Giles stared at the woman who sat before him.  He was used to talking to clients by phone; not many showed up at his door.  She appeared to be in her early forties, and impeccably dressed in a khaki colored pantsuit that hung splendidly on her curves.  Not a hair, light brown and quite shiny as it was, out of place. Sparkling hazel eyes as well.  Beauty wasn’t a word Giles used often, but his thoughts were now bordering on it.

 

“Can you?” she repeated.

 

His mind did a quick backpedal, and for a moment he feared he wouldn’t remember what she had asked.

 

When he didn’t answer, she continued, “It has truly frightened me, Mr. Giles.  There is no explanation for what I’ve been seeing and hearing.  I’m not sure what else to do at this point.”  She toyed nervously with the handbag in her lap.  “I know there are things out there that I can’t explain, and I don’t want to.  But these things, they’re…”

 

“Uncomfortable?”

 

She nodded her head vigorously.  “Yes, very uncomfortable.”

 

As she looked at him with pleading eyes, there was no doubt in Giles’ mind that he would help her.  Even if it turned out to be nothing, the holiday season was fast approaching, and if he couldn’t help and assure a woman that everything would be fine this time of year…

 

“Mrs. Bloomington…”

 

“It’s Miss, but please call me Alex.”

 

“Alex?”  Giles didn’t expect such a masculine name for such a feminine creature.  “You may call me Rupert.”

 

“Rupert, then.”  She tilted her head toward him.  “Alex is short for Alexandria.  It's quite a mouthful.”

 

He had caught the accent before, and thought it out of place to ask, but he couldn’t help himself.  “You’re an American?”

 

“Yes, but I’ve been here a couple of years.  Every once in a while I’ll lose my so-called accent, but it isn’t gone long.  One phone call to the family back home and it’s back in all its glory.”

 

“What brought you here, if you don’t mind my asking?”  Giles really didn’t need the information at this point, he just wanted to know.

 

Looking at him in a most-peculiar way, she slowly said, “My ghost?”

 

Realizing his error, and feeling quite embarrassed, he quickly added, “I’m sorry.  Not here as in my office, here as in London.”

 

She rolled her eyes.  “I’m sorry.  I’m a little frazzled.”

 

“No, I’m sorry,” he said.  “It’s really none of my business.”

 

“It’s okay.  I guess if you’re going to help me you need to know all my deep, dark secrets.  Do you want the long version or short version?”  She spared her wristwatch a peek.  “Well, since I’ve taken up more than enough of your time I’ll go with the short version.”

 

“Whichever you prefer,” he said, realizing it really didn’t matter to him how much time she took.  He found her voice to be very soothing, like a gentle breeze on a warm summer’s day.

 

“Here goes.”  After taking a deep breath, she began, “I needed something… different, and I had been corresponding with a man here for almost a year.  Email, phone, you name it.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.”  She shrugged her shoulders.  “It didn’t work out.  Now I’m alone, and in a foreign country, and weird things are happening to me.  I knew there was a lot of strange stuff on this side of the ocean, but who’d think they’d bother with me?”

 

Giles needed to check into things a bit before he could tell her anything specific.

 

Standing and walking around his desk, he said, “Ms… Alex, we’d be more than happy to assist you.  I will need to meet with my associates to discuss a matter, of course, and then one of us will contact you.  Does that sound satisfactory?”

 

She heaved a sigh.  “That is most satisfactory.  I was afraid you’d think I was crazy.”

 

“Not in the least.”

 

After slinging her handbag over her shoulder, she reached out and took his hand in both of hers.  “Thank you!”

 

“You are most welcome.”

 

+++

 

“So who’s the hottie?” Buffy asked as she plopped down in the chair that sat in the front of Giles’ desk.  She stretched her arms out over her head.  She was getting antsy and she wanted to go out and do something.  Fight some baddies, see a movie, have some dinner, go shopping.  Something!  The weather was a lot colder, and if she spent anymore time inside, she’d go crazy.

 

“You’d like her.  She’s American,” Giles said.

 

“Ah-ha!  So you agree she’s a hottie!”

 

He looked up from the book he had been reading.  “Yes, Buffy.  She is quite attractive for a younger woman.”

 

“Younger?  How much younger?”

 

“I’m afraid to guess.”

 

“Just guess,” she said, pushing his arm lightly.  “If you’re afraid to guess… Hey!  That tells me you’ve already been doing the guessing thing.”

 

“If I had to estimate her approximate age…”

 

“Giles!”

 

He took his glasses off and sat them on the desk.  “If I had to guess, I would say in her early forties.”

 

“That’s not too young for you!  How old are you anyway?  Like forty-five?”

 

He smiled at that.  “Not quite.”

 

“Still.  You’re young and happening and sexy in a you’re-an-older-guy kind of way.”  She shrugged her shoulders.  “Besides, I’m a younger woman when you think about it.  Way younger, and look at how good Angel and I are together.”

 

Giles needed to get out and have some fun.  It wasn’t fair that she had Angel, and Angel had her, and John had Martha, and Martha had John, and Ari had Zilah, and Zilah had Ari, and Giles didn’t have anyone, and it was almost Christmas.

 

She shook her head.  She so needed to get out and do something, because now she'd even started babbling in her thoughts.

 

“She’s a client.  I can’t very well ask her out on a date,” Giles said.

 

“How about when she’s not a client anymore and she’s forever indebted to you?”

 

“I’m fairly certain that would be considered taking advantage of the situation.”

 

Buffy decided not to push it.  She hadn’t actually spoken to the woman.  She had just seen her on the way out.  Seen her and the way Giles had been looking at her.  He had the same look on his face that he did when he was more than pleased with a fine wine.

 

“Promise me you won’t rule it out.  Okay?  Remember what Hecata told you.”

 

“Hecata?”

 

“Yes.  That whole thing about you and love and letting it in.”

 

“That was Hecate, Buffy.”

 

Smiling, she stood up and said, “Her, too.”

 

He was still shaking his head when she closed the door behind her.

 

+++

 

Alex wasn’t exactly thrilled about going back to her apartment in London.  No, it was a flat. They called them flats here.  It was huge by London standards, actually a house divided in two with separate entrances allowing Alex her privacy.  The older couple that rented the place out lived on the ground floor and Alex and Marcus had lived on the top.  Now, it was only Alex.

 

It wasn’t that she didn’t like the flat.  She just didn’t like being there alone.  Marcus had moved out months ago and it still felt kind of empty.  Start adding strange noises and shadows that seem to appear, disappear, and move at random… Well, that was an entirely different story.

 

Unlocking the door, she headed down the short hall to her sitting room.  She remembered how cute she thought a sitting room would be when she had first gotten to London.  It sounded very old fashioned to her, like something out of an old story that had plantations, magnolias and southern gentlemen.

 

Her sitting room resembled more of a living room and a dining room combination.  The room was long and narrow.  On one wall there was a royal blue couch, and sitting next to it was her desk, with a matching blue desk chair.  She did like the royal blue.  It seemed to stand out against the tan walls. 

 

The furthest wall held the room’s only window that overlooked the main street.  The remaining wall had her TV, stereo, and a recliner.  It was finished off with a glass dining room table for four.

 

Over the years she had added her own touches to the flat:  A vase of long stemmed white orchids adorned the round glass dining room table, a trio of white rose pictures hung over the couch that had been garnished with cream colored throw pillows.  A rectangular glass table stood in front of the couch.  Lying on it was the latest book she had been reading.  She seemed to be doing a lot of reading lately, but that was okay.  She really liked Dean Koontz.  

 

She walked over to her desk and dropped her keys and handbag.  Flipping through the mail that she had picked up on her way in, she didn’t find anything worth her time so she dumped it all in the wastepaper basket.

 

One thing she liked about being in London was tea.  If she ever went back to America, she had a sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t be able to get a good cuppa.

 

Going into the kitchen, she barely noticed the gold walls and the gray tiles.  When they had first moved in, she hadn’t been too pleased with the combination of gray and gold.   The gray marble over the stove went okay with the stainless steel appliances and white cupboards, but it didn’t complement the dark counters and gold walls on the other side of the kitchen. 

 

After grabbing the tea kettle off the shelf, she filled it with tap water.  She was tired and she just needed to get a good night’s sleep.  And if Mr. Giles - Rupert - couldn’t help her, she doubted she’d be getting one of those anytime soon.

 

Standing at the sink, she looked out the window and saw that the day had turned into night.  The brightness of the sun had been replaced by an inky blackness that was punctuated with sparkling lights of the buildings around her.  After finishing her tea, she placed her cup in the sink, and wrapped her arms around herself.  She was trying to stymie the chill creeping over her body.  Fear of the dark had never been an issue for her, but that was slowly beginning to change. 

 

She quickly walked around the rest of the flat and turned on a light in every room and in the hallway.  If there were lights, there wouldn’t be any shadows.  And if there weren’t any shadows, there couldn’t be anything left in the dark to scare her.

 

That was the plan anyway.

 

+++

 

“Sounds like your typical haunting,” Angel said, as he leaned against the wall in the kitchen, sipping warmed blood out of a mug.

 

Buffy was munching on a cookie Martha had made earlier in the day especially for her.  Brushing the crumbs from the table she said, “Since when have hauntings become normal?”  She caught the look on both Angel’s and Giles’ faces.  “You people sure have enough ghosts.”

 

“Have they tried to harm her?” Angel asked.  He washed his mug out and placed it in the sink.

 

“From what Alex has told me, no,” Giles said.  “So it’s more of a presence than a poltergeist.”

 

They’re heeere,” Buffy said.  “That movie freaked me out when I saw it.  Of course it was before I was a slayer, so that could explain the why.”  After thinking about it, she thought better.  “Nope.  It would’ve scared me anyway.”

 

“And you’re having focusing issues again, why?” Angel asked as he sat down.

 

Buffy kicked his leg playfully under the table.  “I’m not having issues focusing.  I’m all about the focus.  I even know the first thing we need to do.”

 

“And what would that be?” Giles asked.

 

“We need to go to Alex’s flat and see if there’s anything there.  Make sure it’s not her imagination.  Which I’m sure its not, but one can’t be too sure.”  Grabbing another cookie off the plate she added, “If a ghost doesn’t show up right away, we might need to split it into shifts and stay with her.  I think Giles should be the first one to stay.”

 

“Um…” Giles stammered.

 

“Dayshift of course,” Buffy said.  “Angel can take the night and I can fit somewhere in between.”

 

“That could work,” Angel said.  Buffy silently thrilled that he was going along with her.

 

“And someone needs to research to see if anything weird has happened there in the past.  Some incident that left a spirit behind,” Buffy said.

 

“Banishing spell,” Angel said.  “If we need to banish something we should be prepared.”

 

Buffy stood up.  “Angel and I will go into research mode right now.  You can go to Alex’s and see what comes up.” 

 

She grabbed Angel’s arm and dragged him out of the kitchen, leaving Giles speechless yet again.

 

+++

 

Giles chided himself for feeling so nervous.  He was a grown man working on a case.  He admonished himself again for feeling like an inexperienced lad.

 

After ringing the bell for the second time, he was beginning to wonder if Alex was even home.

 

The door opened and a pair of hazel eyes met his green ones.  It wasn’t hard to see relief spread out across her face.  Tight facial lines and a clenched jaw were soon replaced by a smile that could light up any room.

 

“Rupert!  I’m sorry!” Alex exclaimed.  “I was in the kitchen.  I can't tell you how glad I am that you’re here.”  She looked over his shoulder.  “Are your associates here as well?”

 

He shook his head.  “No, I’m sorry.  Currently, they are conducting more thorough research.  We believe that would be of more help to you right now.”

 

“Please come in.”  She stepped aside so he could pass.

 

“Did anything happen last night?” he asked as he surveyed her home.  The general location of the building screamed money and class.  Not that those things mattered much to him, but she wore them well.

 

Leading him to the sitting room, she said, “Please sit.”  She motioned for the couch.  “Before we start, can I get you some tea?”

 

“That’s not necessary.”

 

“But do you want some?” she asked, eyeing him playfully.

 

Giles met her smile.  “If it wouldn’t be any trouble.”

 

“The kettle is already on.  I’ll be right back.”

 

He watched as she left the room.  The pantsuit from the day before had been replaced.  A pair of black jeans and a golden turtleneck sweater, which brought out the amber in her hazel eyes, stood in its place.  He couldn’t believe he had become smitten in such a short period of time.

 

It had been too long.

 

“Here you go,” she said, walking back into the room.  She set the tea tray down on the table in front of the couch.  “Tea and crumpets would probably be the right thing to serve, but I really don’t know what crumpets are.”

 

“The crumpet has a distinctive flat top covered in small holes. It has a resilient, slightly spongy texture and a rather bland flavor which, when eaten hot with a topping, jam, honey, Marmite, or cheese, can make them quite tasty,” Giles said, taking a sip of tea.

 

“Biscuits.”

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

“They’re biscuits.  Flaky, hot, and taste good with butter or honey.  Jam even.  I’m not sure about the Marmite.  I didn’t like it.”  She shook her head.  “But still, they’re biscuits.  You can eat them at breakfast or dinner.  Whenever you want.”

 

“I do believe you and Buffy will get along splendidly.”  He couldn’t help but state the obvious.  “Crumpets could be served at breakfast with scrambled eggs, but that’s not typical.”

 

“Biscuits can be served at breakfast too.  You can get sausage gravy to put over them, although I was never tempted by that.  And since we’re not exactly having breakfast…”

 

“The lack of crumpets and or biscuits would suffice.”

 

“Exactly!  But if one day there’s breakfast involved…”

 

“I will bring the crumpets myself.”  The words were out of his mouth before he could think of their implication. 

 

“And I could scramble the eggs.”  Thankfully, after that little exchange, Alex changed the subject and Giles wondered if was intentional. 

 

“Who is Buffy?”

 

“One of my associates at Project Paranormal.  She and Angel.”

 

“Buffy and Angel?  Seriously?”

 

He hadn’t thought about it lately, but the names did sound odd on their own, let alone together.  “Yes, I am quite serious.”

 

“Angel,” she said.  An immortal spiritual being which functions as an intermediary between the realm of men and that of the Divine.[1][1]  His cup stopped half way to his mouth. 

 

“I’m sorry,” she continued.  “I’ve been doing a lot of research myself, I guess you could say.  I remember reading that on a website.  I figured if I had a ghost, an angel might not be a bad thing to have around.”

 

The defintion she'd stumbled upon had been very close to home, and it had shocked him.  Getting over his temporary speechlessness he said, “There is nothing wrong with research.  But you need to understand that there is a lot of inaccurate information available.  It is our job to weed out the fiction from the fact.”

 

“Which is yet another reason I’m glad you’re here.”

 

“Which leads me back to topic,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound too stiff.  “Has anything happened since yesterday?”

 

“It is the reason why you’re here, isn’t it?” she said, sounding slightly disappointed.

 

Giles couldn’t mistake the tone in her voice.  “It is.”

 

“It’s been a while since I’ve had company.  It seems like all the people I had thought were friends turned out to be Marcus’ friends.  Once we split…  Well, they don’t come around much anymore.”

 

“Marcus would be the man you moved here for?”  The ex probably didn’t have anything to do with what was going on, but he had to be sure.

 

She nodded her head.  “I thought he was the perfect man.  That should’ve made me suspicious right there.  There’s no such thing as perfection.”

 

Giles leaned forward and placed his empty tea cup on his saucer.  “I know this is difficult for you, but is there any chance that he has something to do with what’s going on?”

 

“Believe me, that thought crossed my mind, but its highly doubtful.  I’ve learned through the proverbial grapevine that he has relocated.  He is currently somewhere in the United States with yet another women he met online.”

 

The indignity this woman had suffered was too much for even Giles.  He knew what it had taken for her to confess that she had made a huge mistake.  He admired her for it.  “I’m sorry.”

 

She put up her hand to stop him for continuing.  “I know it makes me sound like an idiot-”

 

It was his turn to stop her.  “No.  You are not an idiot, madam.  You took a chance and it didn’t work out.  That is all.  If you ask my opinion, it would be that Marcus is the idiot.”

 

“I kept telling myself the same thing,” she said with a  laugh.  “It sounds more convincing coming from you, though.”

 

“I only state the truth.”

 

“I can see that.”  She waited a beat and then said, “Okay, weird things that have happened.  Come on.  I’ll show you the wheres.”

 

Giles followed her out of the sitting room.  Bypassing the entry door and the kitchen, Alex brought him into her bedroom.

 

A king sized bed stood in the middle of the room.  The fabric covered headboard matched the sofa that had been in the sitting room.  The cream colored bedspread was offset by royal blue and gray throw pillows.

 

She must’ve noticed that he was studying the room.  “I really like royal blue.  I think I might’ve gone a little crazy.”

 

“Not at all.  I find it quite striking,” he said.

 

Next to the bed was a nightstand and resting on it was a vase that matched the one in the sitting room.  Instead of white orchids, this vase held orange ones.

 

The look was completed by a mirror that encompassed one wall in the room.  A dresser sitting in front of it.  The clothes closet resided next to the bed.

 

She took a deep breath and then began to talk.  “First there was loud banging coming from the roof. I attributed it to noisy neighbors, but then I realized I didn’t have any neighbors above me.  I was half asleep when it happened,” she said as an obivious explanation to her mistake.  “Anyway, it almost sounded like knocking and I thought that was odd for being so late.  I didn’t ask the landlords about it because I was afraid they’d think I was crazy.”

 

“What happened next?”

 

“Come on,” she said, leading him out of the bedroom and into the sitting room.  “The next morning I came in here to get my handbag and keys.  The pictures above the couch were all hanging upside down.”

 

“Does anyone besides your landlord have keys?”

 

“I know what you’re thinking, and no.  Once Marcus left, I got permission and I had all the locks changed.”

 

“What else?”

 

The next stop was the bathroom.  “A few nights later, the knocking, banging, whatever you want to call it, woke me again.  I got up and came in here, I needed to get out of my bedroom.  All of the lids to my lotions and shampoos had been taken off.  There wasn’t a mess.  They weren’t dumped out or anything, but they had all been removed.  And all the drawers in the vanity had been pulled out.”

 

“Whatever it is, it sounds quite mischievous.”

 

She wrapped her arms around her shoulders.  “You could say that.  About a month ago, right before I was getting into bed, I heard knocking again.  This time it was coming from the spare bedroom.  I ran to see if I could spot anything.  As soon as I got there the knocking stopped, but then it started up again in my bedroom.  When I got to my bedroom, it stopped and started up in my bathroom.  It went on for hours.  I didn’t get any sleep.  I didn’t know where to go or what to do,” she said, her voice getting shaky.

 

They were back in the sitting room.  “That was pretty much the final straw for me.  All in all, it was kind of nerve wracking, and I need it to stop.”

 

Giles didn’t have time to answer.  His cell phone rang.  “I’m sorry,” he fumbled awkwardly with the device.  “Hello?” He paused as the familiar voice chittered back at him. “Oh, Buffy.  Have you found out anything?”

 

“Not really,” she responded.  “The house was built quite a while ago.  No one’s been murdered in it.  No one’s died under mysterious circumstances in it.  It’s been in the same family for years.”

 

“Oh dear.”

 

“Pretty much what I was thinking,” Buffy said.

 

“Doesn’t make much sense does it?” Giles asked.

 

“Nope.  Anything weird happen since you’ve been there?” Buffy asked.

 

“Not a thing.”

 

“What have you been doing all this time?”

 

Giles couldn’t miss the tone Buffy’s voice was taking or the direction the conversation was headed.  “We’ve been recounting the events that have made Alex uncomfortable.  I shall be leaving shortly.”

 

“It’s almost dinner time.  Maybe you should ask her out for something to eat.”

 

“Yes, all right then.  I’ll talk to you later.”  Giles snapped the cell phone closed.  He wasn’t about to get into the dicussion again.  Besides, he wasn’t sure whether or not Alex could hear both sides of the conversation in the quietness of the flat.  Her facial expression hadn’t changed during the entire duration of the call.

 

“Bad news?” she asked.

 

“That would depend on which light you take it in,” he said.  “There is no dark history to this flat or the residential house that it was before.  No one has died violently here, which is usually what causes these things to happen.”

 

“A spirit not being able to rest.”

 

“Exactly.  That is not the case here.  People aren’t typically haunted with no extenuating circumstances, like this. Has anyone you known died recently?”

 

She shook her head.  “No.  Everyone I truly care about is back in the States and they’re all fine.”

 

“Then I’m sorry, Alex.  But I do not know what to tell you.  We can continue our research and maybe have Angel and Buffy come here tomorrow night.  Sometimes they can… they have a way.”

 

“They can sense stuff?”

 

“More or less.”  He couldn’t believe what he had just told her, but it didn’t really make him feel uncomfortable.

 

“I get it.  It makes sense.”  She rolled her neck around her shoulders.  Up until then, Giles hadn’t really noticed the fatigue outlined on her face.

 

“It might help if you left for a while,” he said.  “Maybe find another place to stay.”

 

“Thought’s crossed my mind.  But I’ll be damned if I’m going to get chased out of here.”

 

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

 

“That’s very nice of you to offer, but until you can figure out what’s going on…”

 

“I understand.  If anything else happens, let me know.  You can call me day or night.”

 

As she walked him to the front door, she said, “I will do that.  Trust me.  It feels good to know I’m not alone in this anymore.”

 

+++

 

The holidays really never held anything special for Angel, but he was trying to change that. 

 

An evergreen Christmas tree symbolized renewed life.  And that seemed appropriate for Giles, Buffy, and himself.  Holly was celebrated for its protective powers.  In Angel’s book, protective powers were always a good thing. 

He figured they were ready for some peace and if Christmas wasn’t the time for peace, he didn’t know when was.

 

Christmas was a holiday steeped in superstition and folk belief. Everything comes from something. In all the years as Angel had been around, he had witnessed quite a few rituals come and go.

 

People used to gather around their hearths.  They didn’t do it because they were cold.  They did it because they considered the dark and cold months scary.  The Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, was the day evil forces lurked just out of sight and sometimes directly in front of you if you weren’t careful. 

 

It was a vulnerable time.  Bad things were always around, but at this particular time they were out in force.  The so-called bad things had a longer time to hunt due to the increased darkness.  The shorter day meant a longer night, and they had taken full advantage.

 

Friends and family would gather together and celebrate loudly hoping the noise would scare any would-be monsters away.  Too many people made for hard targets, right?  In Angelus’ mind it made it more fun, more of a challenge.  And that had suited him, Darla, Spike, and Drusilla just fine.

 

He checked through his list and crossed off yet another idea.  There was a perfect gift for Buffy; he just needed to figure out exactly what it would be.  It wasn’t that he didn’t have any ideas on what to get her, it was that he had too many.

 

He shook his head.  Times had definitely changed when Angel was thinking about good gift ideas that didn’t involve blood or torture. 

 

Merry Christmas.

 

“You look all thinky.”

 

Angel jumped.  He had been so absorbed in his thoughts that he hadn’t even heard Buffy come into the room.

 

Standing up, he stuffed his list into his pocket.  “I was sitting here. I’m wasn’t being thinky.”

 

“Sneaky then?” Buffy asked.

 

“How is that sneaky?”

 

“You jumped.  First indication of doing something you shouldn’t be doing and getting caught at it.  It’s a given,” she said, nodding her head and smiling.  “Dawn taught me that one.”

 

“Doesn’t count with us,” he said.  “You’re a Slayer.  You can sneak up without anybody knowing.”

 

“And you’re a vampire.  The sneaking up on you thing?  Not that easy.”

 

“Who said I didn’t know?” he said, crossing his arms in front of him.  “Maybe I was playing along.”

 

Her brow creased above her sparkling green eyes.  He loved her when she looked at him that way.  Who was he trying to kid?  He loved her no matter what way she looked at him. 

 

“I’m not buying it, but I’ll let you slide this time,” she said.

 

Pulling her into his arms he said, “Oh, I can slide.  I can slide fast.  I can slide--”

 

She pulled away.  “No you don’t!  You know it takes absolutely nothing to tempt me.” Standing up taller, she said, “But I’m being strong.  We have to go.  Giles is back and he’s sent me up here to get you.  We need to work on the case and on getting him a date.”

 

“Why are you pushing that so much?”

 

“The holidays are coming.  No one should be alone.”

 

“He’s not alone, Buffy.  He has us.”

 

“And although that’s a wonderful thing…”

 

“This is one of the reasons why I always hated the holiday season.”

 

“Why?”

 

“If people’s lives aren’t perfect or the way they think they should be, they get broody.”

 

“I’m not broody.”

 

She had been different lately.  Maybe not broody or even depressed for that matter, but there was something going on with her.  “If you say so.”

 

“I say so.”  She poked him in the stomach.  “Now, come on.  Let’s go get the scoop on Giles’ new girlfriend.”  Grabbing his arm, she dragged him out the door.

 

He didn’t bother reminding her that Giles wasn’t one to mix business and pleasure.

 

+++

 

“It's the most wonderful time of the year.

 

With the kids jingle belling, and everyone telling you,

"Be of good cheer,"

 

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

 

There'll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting and caroling out in the snow.

 

There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.

 

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

 

There'll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing, when loved ones are near.

 

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

(Eddie Pola, George Wyle 1963 )

 

+++

 

“How exactly do you expect to pull this off?” Giles asked.

 

“I’ll need your help,” Angel said.

 

Giles ran his fingers through his hair.  “It’s a beautiful thought, Angel.  Really, I mean it.”

 

“So you’ll help?”

 

Giles smiled.  “Of course I’ll help.”

 

Angel heaved a sigh.  “The daytime thing is what’s killing me along with what we already talked about.  It’s a specialty shop.  They’re only open for a few hours a day.”

 

“With Buffy spending so much time at Alex’s, that most definitely will help.”  He had been right.  Buffy and Alex had hit it off splendidly just like he thought they would. 

 

“She’s there right now,” Angel continued.  “Shopping and having lunch.”

 

“It’s good that Buffy is making friends.”

 

“She’s hoping that you will be making one soon.”

 

Giles smiled awkwardly at the vampire.  “I know she does.”

 

“But Alex is a client.”

 

“Exactly.  It wouldn’t be right.”

 

“What about when she’s not a client anymore?”

 

The thought of what would happen when he was no longer employed by Alex had crossed Giles’ mind on more than one occasion.  He had been back to her flat multiple times now and each outing had been even more pleasant than the first one had been.  She had even tried making crumpets and all though they had turned out horribly, Giles couldn’t help but eat them.

 

“We are quite friendly, but I’m not sure if it’ll be taken beyond friendship.”

 

“But you’re not ruling it out?”

 

“I never rule anything out, Angel.”

 

“Just checking.”

 

+++

 

“I love Gucci,” Alex said.

 

“And I’m sure he loves you too,” Buffy said as she shifted her bag from one arm to the other.  “I don’t love Gucci so much.  Gucci costs a little more than I can afford to spend.”

 

“I saw those boots you were looking at,” Alex said.  “You could’ve gotten a deal on them.  I wish I could’ve bought them for you.  After all you’ve done.  What you’re still doing.”

 

“I haven’t done anything,” Buffy said.

 

“We could’ve told Rupert that it was partial payment for taking on,” she lowered her voice, “The Case of the Haunted Flat.”

 

“Oh,” Buffy said, laughing.  “I’m sure that would’ve gone over well especially since we haven’t proved it’s haunted yet.”

 

“Just a thought.”  She shrugged her shoulders.  “I’ll let you in a little secret.  I couldn’t have afforded them either.  I was going on the entire ‘it’s the thought that counts’ philosophy.”

 

“I was thinking you might be secretly wealthy or something.”

 

“I wish!  But no such luck, basically I have just enough to live on from my grandmother’s estate.  It was the only reason I could drop everything and move here.”

 

“I’m sure you do Grandma proud,” Buffy said. 

 

“So what did you think of shopping?” 

 

“I thought the Anya Hindmarch store was pretty cool,” Buffy said.  She had stopped dead in her tracks when she had seen that one.  It would’ve done Anya proud.  “And I picked up a few things, so that worked out pretty well.”

 

“Their stuff was kind of neat.  But do you know what my favorite store was?”

 

“What?”

 

“Harvey Nichols.  How could you not like a store that has eight stories?”

 

“Let me take that,” Buffy said.  Alex was having a hard time handling her bags and trying to open the flat’s door at the same time.

 

“Thanks,” she said as she pushed the door open.  “Just toss everything in the sitting room.  I’ll make us some tea.”

 

“Sounds good.”

 

Buffy liked Alex’s flat.  She always seemed to have fresh flowers around and that added to the hominess of the place and took away from the dreariness of the weather. 

 

“Hey, Buffy?”  Alex called out to her from the kitchen.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“There’s a pretty cold draft.  Can you make sure we closed the front door?”

 

“Um, yeah,” Buffy said as her Slayer tingle went on red alert.  She knew the front door had been closed, and she also knew a supernatural chilling of the air when she felt it.  “Are you okay?”

 

“What?  Yes,” Alex said.  “I’m-”

 

Alex finished her sentence with a scream.  Not missing a beat, Buffy ran into the kitchen and skidded to a halt when she saw the cause of that scream.

 

“Tell me you’re seeing that,” Alex said.

 

“Oh, I’m seeing it.”

 

The tea tray Alex had prepared was sitting on the counter.  A small tea kettle, two cups, two saucers, a creamer, and a sugar bowl sat next to the cups.  What caused the alarm was a third tea cup being placed on the tray, and then a fourth that appeared to be floating in the air just above the tea tray.  Buffy thought it was floating, but after a closer look she realized a ghostly man was holding the cup.  He smiled at them.

 

“I might not be an expert,” Alex said.  “But I think that’s a ghost.”

 

“I am an expert,” Buffy said.  “And you’re right.  That’s a ghost.”  Between the cold chill, her Slayer vibe, and a hovering tea cup or two she didn’t have any doubts.

 

The fourth cup slowly lowered and landed gently on the tray.  Both women stood there as a third cup of tea was poured.

 

“I’m just wondering one thing…” Alex said.

 

“What?”

 

“Who’s the fourth cup for?”

 

+++

 

“They should be here anytime,” Buffy said.  Alex had been pacing nonstop since the tea incident and Buffy would feel better when Giles and Angel got there.  “You can sit down you know.”

 

“I don’t want to sit down.  What if it sat down next to me?  I would freak.  I couldn’t take it.”

 

“And on the other hand, what makes you so sure that it’s not pacing right next to you at the moment?”

 

Alex sat down.

 

“It’ll be okay,” Buffy said, sitting down next to her.  “It hasn’t hurt you or us for that matter.  I don’t think it’s malevolent.”

 

“It’s still freaking me out.”  She rubbed her arms nervously.  “I’m not alone in my flat and I can’t always see my guest.  What’s if it's some kind of pervy ghost and it watches me while I shower?  Or when I…” Her voice trailed off and her eyes grew wide.  “I’m going to die of embarrassment.  That’s what I’m going to do.  A ghost is going to kill me by embarrassing me to death.  That’s probably been its evil plan all along.”

 

Thoughts of things Buffy had done when she had thought she was alone began zipping through her brain.  With even more conviction she said, “We’ll figure this out.  You’ll be alone again.”

 

“Know what’s funny?”

 

“What?”

 

“After Marcus left the thought of being alone terrified me.  Now it’s all I want.  Funny how things change.”

 

“Be careful what you wish for?”

 

“Pretty much.”

 

Alex’s anxiety was beginning to rub off on Buffy and when she jumped at the sound of a loud knock, Buffy jumped right along with her.

 

Realizing that it was the front door and not the ghost again, Buffy said, “It’s gotta be Giles and Angel.  I’ll let them in.”

 

“You’re not leaving me here alone!” Alex jumped up and followed Buffy.

 

“Are you okay?” Angel asked, standing just outside the front door.

 

“I’m fine,” Buffy said.

 

“Hi,” Alex said, waving him inside.  “Come on in.  This is where the fun’s at, after all.”

 

Angel smiled and walked in, Giles directly behind him.

 

“Where’s Alex?  Are you both all right?” Giles asked.

 

“We’re fine.” Buffy began, but Giles had walked past her and gone directly to Alex.

 

“You’re not hurt?” he asked Alex.

 

“Not hurt.  Kind of weirded out, but not hurt.”

 

Buffy turned to Angel.  “I’m fine too, thanks for asking,” she said and was greeted with a ‘What did I do?’ look.

 

“Alex,” Giles said.  “This is Angel.”

 

“Angel,” she said, extending her hand.  “Nice to meet you finally.  It must be chilly out.  Your hands are freezing.”

 

“A bit,” Angel said.

 

“Are you getting anything?” Giles asked.

 

“Not much,” Angel said.  “Do you mind if I take a look around?”

 

“Not at all,” Alex said.

 

“I’ll come with,” Buffy added.

 

As they explored the rest of the flat, Buffy was disappointed.  Whatever spirit had invited itself and a guest to tea wasn’t there anymore.

 

“Whatever it was is gone now,” Angel said.

 

“I kind of got that.  Maybe it didn’t like the flavor of tea being served.”

 

He looked at her.  “I can’t believe that actually happened.”

 

“Kind of surprised me, too.  I can handle big bads, and vampires, and demons, but one that helps itself to tea?  Not so much.”

 

“I think it’s a good idea that we’re staying over.  It hasn’t been dark long, maybe it’ll come back sometime during the night.”

 

Buffy nodded.  “Alex did say it shows up mostly at night.  Maybe we’ll hit it lucky.”

 

“And if it takes more than one night?”

 

Buffy tipped her head in the direction of the sitting room and smiled.  “Then so be it.”

 

+++

 

Buffy and Angel made themselves comfortable in the extra room.  Giles had volunteered for the couch in the sitting room.  It worked out better for those involved.  Buffy and Angel could make sure that the window was completely covered while they slept.  The idea of waking up with a pile of dust didn’t sit well with Buffy at all.

 

“Are you going to try and get some sleep?” Angel asked, catching her yawn.

 

“Did you bring my stuff?”

 

“What do you think?”

 

“That you brought my stuff.”  She took his hands in hers.  “I missed you.”

 

“But you were shopping.”

 

Rolling her eyes she said, “I still can miss you when I shop.  And no peeking in any bags you see lying around mister!”

 

“Yes ma’am!”  He tipped his head toward the closed bedroom door.  “Sounds like Giles and Alex are in the kitchen having a drink.”

 

“Then we’re staying here.”

 

“You’re doing that matchmaking thing again.”

 

“So!  I like Alex and I love Giles.”

 

“She seems okay.”

 

“You don’t know her yet.  Give it some time.  She’s a good person, Angel.  I know it.”

 

+++

 

“At least I don’t feel embarrassed anymore,” Alex said, setting her glass down.  She had hoped the brandy would’ve warmed her up a little bit, conquer the chill from the inside, but it hadn’t work out that way.  Now, it was sitting like a lava rock in the pit of her stomach.

 

“There was no need to be embarrassed, Alex.”

 

“Oh, I know that now, but before?  I still haven’t told my family.  I’m pretty sure my mom would order me back home, afraid that I was having a nervous breakdown or something.  I’m not having a nervous breakdown am I?”

 

“No.  Of that I am quite sure.”

 

“Good!  Usually I’m a silver-lining kind of gal, but the silver-lining in all of this is a little tarnished.”  She heaved a long, drawn out sigh and then added, “But on the other hand, I got to meet you and Buffy.  I haven’t felt this connected to people in months.”  She had been in two minds whether or not to share her feelings with Rupert, but she figured they had gotten friendly enough, and it was only right that she be honest with him.  “So, what I’m trying to say is no matter what happens, thank you.”

 

“You’re most welcome,” he said, standing up and extending his hand to her.   “However, I do believe that I have kept you awake much too long.  You need your rest.  These situations have the tendency to wear on people after a while.”

 

She accepted his hand, and smiled.  He was such a gentleman, and he always made her feel special with how concerned he was for her.  “Are you sure you have everything you need?”

 

“Quite.  The pillow and blanket you provided will suffice nicely.  Thank you.”

 

She had taken one of the pillows from her bed and had given it to him.  The extra bedroom, where Angel and Buffy were staying, held the only other bed pillows in the flat.

 

As he walked her to her bedroom door, she was reminded of taking a stroll with someone you care about.  Maybe in a park that had a babbling brook, and then maybe you packed a really nice picnic basket.  Marcus never liked doing anything like that and it was one of her favorite things to do.  And if she closed her eyes and concentrated hard enough, she could imagine that it was warm and that they were in a park.  But it wasn’t Marcus that she was walking hand in hand with…

 

“Sleep well,” Giles said.

 

One of her eyes squinted open.  They were standing outside her bedroom door.  She didn’t just do what she thought she had?  Yep, she had.  As she opened both of her eyes, she said, “Thank you.  I’ll see you in the morning.”  And once she reached the sanctuary of her room, she closed the door and heaved a nice long sigh as she leaned against it.

 

+++

 

Alex wasn’t sure what woke her.  Initially, she had been too impressed with the fact that she had actually been able to fall asleep.  It didn’t take long for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, because it wasn’t all that dark.  She had installed multiple nightlights throughout the room days ago, and they provided just enough light for her to see into every nook, cranny, and corner of her room.  And there was no way she was going to let herself dwell on the ramifications of a woman her age needing a nightlight… or four.

 

In the furthest corner of the room a woman stood; she was looking out the window.  She was petite, not even five feet tall, and wore clothing from another era.  Alex was no expert, but she thought that they were nightclothes from a time long gone.  The bed cap was a dead giveaway. 

 

The woman was there, but then she wasn’t.  Alex was able to see through her, and see her in detail all at the same time.  Was this, too, a ghost?

 

Something niggled Alex’s brain.  Something wasn’t quite right, and she wasn’t just talking about the ghost.  That’s when she realized that the illumination wasn’t coming from the nightlights she had plugged in.  It was coming from flickering candles that were nestled in wooden candlesticks from around the room.  Once that realization nestled itself comfortably in her brain, she realized that she wasn’t exactly in her own room anymore either.

 

Sitting upright in her bed, she hugged her covers to her chest, and then dropped them.  They weren’t her covers, and it wasn’t her bed.  The room was hers, but nothing in it was.

 

“Rupert!” she shouted, rushing from the bed and out of the room.

 

+++

 

“It was a shadow,” Giles said.

 

“A what?” Buffy asked.

 

“What she said,” Alex added.

 

“Are you sure?” Angel asked.

 

Listening as the three people in front of him kept rapidly shooting questions at him, in his half-awake state, was almost too much for Giles to handle.

 

“Please,” he said, putting his hand up to stop them.  “Let’s go sit.”

 

Once they were all settled in the sitting room he began to speak, “I believe we have two things at work here: a tea-totting ghost and a shadow.”

 

“What’s a shadow?”

 

“A reflection of the past,” Angel said.

 

“Exactly.”

 

“Really?” Buffy said.  “That’s a first.  I think.”

 

“Okay, I know this is all normal for you people, but I have absolutely no idea what any of you are talking about,” Alex said, collapsing against the back of the couch.  “If it weren’t for all the weirdness lately I would’ve attributed it to a dream.”

 

“This woman didn’t know you were there, did she?” Giles asked.  “She didn’t acknowledge you like the man with the tea?”

 

Alex shook her head.  “No.  She was looking out the window.  And even when I called out for you, she didn’t budge.  She just stood there.  What does that mean?   What’s the difference?”

 

“A ghost is a spirit that hasn’t moved on.  They stay for a multitude of reasons,” Giles said.  “Maybe they weren’t ready to move on, maybe they don’t know that they’ve passed, maybe they have a message for someone still living.  It could be anything.  Shadows are not spirits.  They’re really not here.  It’s almost like you’re viewing a movie.  A period of time that has left its image engrained in this reality.”

 

“Could the two be connected?” Buffy asked.

 

“I don’t know,” Giles said, and he really didn’t.  “The odds of having an actual ghost are exceptionally high.  The odds of having a shadow are even higher.  Both?  That is beyond any sort of reasoning.”

 

“Aren’t I the lucky one?” Alex said, her eyes closed, her head resting against the back of the couch.

 

Giles had just fallen asleep when Alex had cried out.  It wasn’t that he wasn’t accustomed to sleeping in strange surroundings, it was the fact that Alex’s scent was all over the pillow that he had been trying to fall asleep on.  All sorts of thoughts were going through his mind, thoughts he shouldn’t have been having, and then the sound of her voice actually calling out his name?  It had almost been too much.  Reality had momentarily intruded on his fantasy and he felt very guilty about the entire thing.

 

“The odds of you going back to sleep aren’t very good are they?” Giles asked, trying to steer his mind back on track.

 

She peeked at him out of the corner of her eye.  “If you were a betting man you’d be a winner.”

 

“I’ll stay with her,” Buffy said. 

 

“You’ll what?” Angel asked, no missing the surprise in his voice.

 

“You’d do that?” Alex asked.

 

Buffy nodded her head.  “Yeah, I would.  It’ll be like a slumber party.”

 

Alex laughed.  “I promise I won’t freeze your bra.”

 

“Ha!  I won’t freeze yours either.”

 

“Or put peanut butter between your toes.”

 

“Or put your hand in a bucket of warm water!” Buffy added, obviously having fun with it.

 

“Does that really work?” Alex asked.

 

Buffy shrugged.  “I have no idea and I’m not willing to find out.”

 

Giles decided he didn’t want to know what they were talking about, and by the look on Angel’s face he didn’t want to know either.

 

+++

 

“You haven’t mentioned any of this to the landlords?” Buffy asked Alex as they lay in Alex’s bed, on their backs, staring at the ceiling.

 

“No.  I was afraid they’d kick me out because they thought I was a loon.”

 

“I can’t imagine that you’re the first one this has happened to.  Do you know who lived here before you?” she asked.

 

“I have no idea, but I’m beginning to see why they moved out.” Alex said.  “It’s all Marcus’ fault.  What kind of name is Marcus Carpenter anyway?  I bet you he changed his first name to sound all mysterious and exotic.  His name’s probably Joe or Tom or something that doesn’t sound exotic at all.”

 

“Giles kind of gave me the sitch on how you got here and everything.  Sorry about that,” Buffy said, meaning it.  She was pretty much with Giles in the ‘feeling really bad for Alex’ department.

 

“What can you do?  I got to see London and if it wasn’t for him that would’ve never happened.”

 

Rolling onto her side, and leaning on her hand, Buffy asked, “Think you’ll go back to America?”

 

Alex turned and looked at her.  “I don’t know.   Sometimes it’s really lonely, but I really do like it over here.  What about you?”

 

Buffy would be lying if she said she didn’t think about it once in a while.  But her life was here now with Giles, Angel, and Project Paranormal.  “I think about it, but I guess that’s part of my past.  My future is here with Giles and Angel.”

 

“Kind of not going back?  Not being able to change your past and all that,” Alex said.  “I get that.  I guess time will tell.”

 

“It does that.”

 

“It’s nice having you around, though.”

 

“You know once this is over we won’t be around so much?” Buffy hated to be so blunt about it, but it was the truth. 

 

“Oh, I know that.  I’m just enjoying it while it lasts,” Alex said.

 

“But you’re only a couple hours away.  Doesn’t mean we can’t see each other on occasion and you can come and see us too.  You haven’t had food until you’ve tasted Martha’s cooking.”

 

“Who’s Martha?”

 

“She and her husband John work for Giles.  They’re good people.”

 

“Seems like you’re surrounded by them,” Alex said, a tinge of envy in her voice.

 

“And right now so are you.”

 

+++

 

Buffy wasn’t sure what time they fell asleep, all she knew now was that she was wide awake while Alex slept soundly beside her.  The last thing she wanted to do was wake her.

 

Alex’s old-fashioned woman was back.  This time instead of standing at the window, she was sitting in an older rocking chair with a blanket tightly wrapped around her shoulders.  The room looked different, just like Alex said it did.   There was no mistaking it was from a different time.

 

Giles was right.  It was like watching a movie.  The ghost, who had helped himself to tea, was standing by the mystery woman trying to get her to drink something from a small cup.  All she would do was shake her head slowly back and forth, and wrap the blanket more tightly around her shoulders.  When the ghost man offered her his hand, she accepted it.  He led her toward the door, where he opened it, and she followed him into the hall.  Once they were gone from sight, the room returned to normal, with no sign of anything from a hundred years ago.

 

“Okay,” Buffy said quietly.  “Interesting much?”

 

She wasn’t sure what time it was and, like Alex, she knew Giles needed some sleep.  There would only be one person she could talk to about this where sleep pretty much wasn’t an issue.  She slipped out of bed, and when she was sure she hadn’t woken Alex, she went back to her own room.

 

+++

 

Angel was bored.  It was one thing not to be tired, but it was another to have Buffy down the hall sleeping with another woman.  Which once upon a time wouldn’t have been a bad idea, but that was a different time and different place… and different people.

 

On one hand, he was glad he was here to help, but there wasn’t much for him to do.  Alex was a nice enough person; he just hadn’t gotten to know her that well yet.  He almost felt like a fifth wheel when it came to her, Buffy, and Giles.

 

“Are you asleep?” Buffy asked as she walked into the room.

 

Angel was sitting in a chair in the corner, not even close to being near the bed, or in a prone position.  “Nope.”

 

Smiling brightly she said, “I kind of see that.”

 

“PJ party over already?” he asked as she slid into his lap, and linked her fingers behind his neck.

 

“You sound jealous!”

 

“Why would I be jealous?” he asked, placing a kiss on her lips.  “Just because you left me alone in a perfectly nice room with an even nicer bed.  Did I mention you left me alone?”

 

“For one night, you big baby,” she said, jumping off his lap.  “I saw our shadow again.”

 

That he wasn’t expecting.  He figured she had snuck back to be with him.  “Where?”

 

“In Alex’s room.  She’s still sleeping, but from what I can tell?  I think maybe it’s telling a story.”

 

“What kind of story?”

 

She plopped down and on the edge of the bed.  “I’m not sure.  But they are connected.  I think I know who the fourth cup of tea was for.”

 

“The woman?”

 

“Yes.  And I think in her time she was very sick.  Even for a shadow she wasn’t looking all that great.”

 

“So what do we have?  A ghost who won’t move on and a shadow from another time.  Husband and wife?”

 

“That’s what I was thinking.”

 

“So why did the husband stay?” Angel sat down next to Buffy on the bed, their thighs toughing, Angel enjoying the warmth that she always shared with him.

 

“Maybe he died before her?”

 

“And didn’t move on because he didn’t want to leave her?”

 

“I suppose, but that doesn’t make sense does it?  If she’s gone now, why is he staying?” she asked.

 

“Maybe he doesn’t know she’s dead,” Angel said.  “Or that he’s dead.”

 

“Could he think the shadows are reality?”

 

“Possibly.  Maybe he’s summoning them?”

 

“The shadows?” she asked.  “Like when he gets lonely or something?”

 

Angel was starting to feel frustrated in more ways than one.  “It could be anything, Buffy.  I don’t know.”

 

She put her head on his shoulder, and his hand automatically went up and began stroking her hair.  “We need to find out, but then again…”

 

“Once we do we’ll go home.”

 

She nodded her head.  “I like Alex.  She’s kind of like home without needing to go back there.”

 

“You’ll still be able to see her, Buffy.  London isn’t really that far away.”

 

“I know,” she said in a sigh.  “Maybe I’m just tired too.”

 

“Want to invite her back for Christmas?”  The words rolled off his tongue like change off a slanted counter.

 

Looking at him she said, “Do you think Giles would care?”

 

Sensing everything from Giles’ increasing pulse rate to his body temperature change whenever Alex was around, Angel highly doubted it.

 

“Not thinking so.”

 

+++

 

Once Buffy and Angel had caught Giles and Alex up on the previous night’s activities, Alex looked even paler, and Giles looked even more intrigued.

 

“I hate to admit it,” Giles said, thinking there was no other choice.  “But we might need to speak with the individuals that own this building.”

 

“I’m going to get evicted.”  Alex said, looking at Buffy.  “Wanna help me pack?”

 

“You are not going to get evicted,” Giles said.  “A few non-imposing questions would suffice.  We don’t need to tell them that their establishment is haunted.”

 

“I’ll talk to them,” Buffy said.

 

“You?” Giles and Angel asked in unison.

 

“Hey!” Buffy said.  “Don’t sound so surprised.  Alex is coming with me.”

 

“I am?”

 

“Yes. We’re going to talk to them.  Someone has got to know what in the hell is going on around here.  And since we don’t seem to be the ones who know…”

 

“You will help me pack though, right?” Alex repeated.

 

Buffy tugged Alex to her feet.  “Look at it this way.  It’s like a bandage.  The sooner we get this done and over with, the less painful it’ll be.”

 

+++

 

“That’s Cleda,” Lillian Carpenter said.

 

“Cleda?”  Buffy asked.  When she had laid it all out on the line to the older woman, who turned out to be Lillian Carpenter, someone named ‘Cleda’ was the furthest ‘What could it be? on her list.

 

“Yes.  She and Obediah are my ancestors.  Obediah built this place.  Has he been bothering you too?”

 

Buffy risked a sideways glance at Alex who was just sitting there, nodding, wide-eyed not saying a single-solitary word.

 

“Does he by chance like tea?” Buffy asked.

 

Lillian laughed heartedly.  “He loves his tea, but Cleda isn’t really there.  She’s a shadow you know.”

 

“Yeah, I kinda got that,” Buffy said.

 

“Could you maybe start from the beginning?” Alex asked. Buffy was grateful.  She was beginning to wonder if Alex was going to say anything at all.  “Is Marcus Carpenter a relative?”

 

“Yes.  He’s a descendent.  He was supposed to take over for me and my husband; we’re too old now, but he took off.”  She turned to Alex.  “That is why he left you.  He didn’t want to be tied down to this building even though that is his destiny.  It would’ve been passed down to him and then his heirs.   We can’t leave our family behind.”

 

Buffy could more than relate to destiny and leaving people behind, but the part that stood out the most was Lillian’s reference to heirs.  Apparently Alex has snatched onto that little tidbit too.

 

“Heirs?” Alex asked.

 

“Yes,” Lillian said, patting Alex’s hand.  “We were hoping he’d finally met the right one and settle down with you, my dear.  But the boy has ants in his pants.  We realize that if he can’t settle down with you, the chances of him settling down with anyone are pretty much out of the question.”

 

“Okay,” Buffy said.  “Let’s back up a minute.  Obediah and his shadow of a wife, Cleda, are the ones that we keep seeing?”

 

“Yes.  Obediah married Cleda and he built them this home.  They lived many long and happy years here, but age and illness gets the best of us all.  Cleda was sick most of her life and she died before Obediah did, terribly sad time I suspect.  Obediah went shortly thereafter still denying that Cleda was dead and gone.  He didn’t move on when he passed, but Cleda did.  Once he realized his error, and realized that it was too late and that he had ruined his chance to be with his beloved, he began to will her back, but all he got was her shadow, which is the result of memories of his dear-departed wife.  When you see Cleda, it’s the way Obediah sees her at that time.”

 

“What was with all the banging and messing up my stuff?” Alex asked.

 

“Oh, that would’ve been Obediah.  He figures the noise would bring Cleda around, and if that didn’t work… well, the woman hated a mess.  Everything has a place, and everything in its place.”

 

“They’ve been around how long?” Buffy asked.

 

“Oh, a hundred years give or take a decade or two,” Lillian said.

 

“And you didn’t tell me?” Alex asked.

 

“Marcus was supposed to tell you. Another strike against that boy.  You don’t have anything to fear.  Obediah won’t hurt you and even if Cleda wanted to, she wouldn’t be able,” Lillian said.  “I do wish Obediah would move on though.  He needs to be with Cleda and at this rate it’ll never happen.”

 

“What if I told you there was a way?” Buffy said.

 

“Then I’d say, dear girl, go ahead and do it and then we can all rest in peace.”

 

+++

 

“Just when I thought it couldn’t get weirder,” Alex said as she reviewed the list Rupert had given her.  “Sage bundle, sandalwood, Vesta powder, four candles of elemental representations, athame, and a mortar and pestle.”

 

“Yes,” Giles said.  “We have all we need and once we’ve cast the spell, Obediah should have moved on.”

 

“And then he can be with his wife.  Kind of romantic if you think about it,” Buffy said.  “Isn’t Vespa a scooter or something?”

 

“Vesta powder, Buffy.  Not Vespa,” Giles said.

 

“A Vespa is a motor scooter,” Angel added.

 

“I have a lot of questions,” Alex said, with the emphasis on the ‘a lot’.  “But I’d settle for a definition of what Vesta powder is and what in the hell is an athame?”

 

“Vesta powder,” Giles began, “is basically a banishing powder.  Vesta is the goddess of the hearth, the sacred fire, and maternity.”

 

“Athame is a ceremonial knife,” Angel said.

 

“We’re not going to be cutting someone up are we?  There are limits, and I don’t give up my blood willingly… or even unwillingly for that matter,” Alex said.  She noticed the odd look that passed among her three guests, but she didn’t have time to ask what it was about before Giles distracted her by placing his hand lightly on her arm.

 

“No, there will be no cutting of anyone.  It’s strictly a tool that directs energy,” he said.

 

“Good to know,” Alex said, not feeling any more relieved.  “Let’s just get this over with.”

 

“Yes, let’s,” Giles said. 

 

After clearing a space in the kitchen, Giles created a circle out of the Vesta powder.  He placed the small marble mortar and pestle in the center of the circle and then put the sandalwood inside the mortar.  He took the four candles of elemental representation and began placing them in equal spacing around the circle.

 

“I call to the Eastern Quarter,” he said.  He then moved to the second candle.  “I call to the Southern Quarter.” 

 

Once he was done with the Western and Northern Quarters he began to speak, "I conjure you, O ancient ones, Odin and Freya. To bring back peace and serenity to this tortured soul. We gather tonight to banish this spirit who is no longer a man.  Let him move on.”

 

Out of the corner of her eye, Alex caught a glimmer of Obediah Carpenter as he appeared with a look of confusion on his face.

 

"I conjure the mystical ones. Remove this spirit of confusing influences and send him through the gates whence he should have gone.  Trouble him not.  He is a friend.”  

 

Obediah Carpenter moved, as if floating, and was now standing next to Alex.  He wasn’t corporeal, but she could sense his presence without even looking at him directly. 

 

In this state, he wasn’t an old man by any means. After a few quick peeks, Alex found the nerve to actually turn her head and look at him directly.  It was as if he had chosen a younger version of himself to appear.  Dark curly hair accented a fair complexion, which further enhanced dark eyes that currently possessed a playful glint. 

 

He was dressed in a brightly colored shirt topped by a hard, white tubular collar. Over the shirt he wore a sporty sack suit jacket.  When her gaze traveled back to his face, she almost laughed out loud, out of nervousness or humor she wasn’t quite sure, when she noticed the ‘What the hell?’ expression on his face.  

 

"I send this spirit to you.  For his want on this plane is no more,” Giles continued, making the sign of a cross over the sandalwood with the athame.  Once that was done, he began to grind the sandalwood with the pestle.

 

Buffy was staring at the ghost next to Alex, but Alex was afraid of breaking the spell so she didn’t say anything.  She shrugged her shoulders instead, and Buffy smiled, setting Alex a little more at ease.

 

The room shimmered once more, and Alex wasn’t surprised to find another spirit had appeared.  This time Cleda Carpenter wasn’t a shadow, she was a petite blond woman with an hourglass figure.  She wore a dress that had her corseted, and then padded in the buttocks, hips, bosom and sleeves to exaggerate the wasp-waisted effect.

 

Obediah moved away from Alex’s side to stand next to the spirit of his late wife.  With their hands clasped and smiles on their faces, they shimmered once more and disappeared from sight.

 

“That was easy,” Buffy said.

 

“It was wasn’t it?” Giles agreed.

 

“So that’s it?” Angel asked.

 

“My home is my own again?” Alex asked.

 

“Just in time for Christmas,” Buffy said, taking Alex’s arm.  “And speaking of Christmas…”

 

+++

 

They had just finished a late supper and Buffy was packing to leave.  “That is very sweet, Buffy, but I just can’t,” Alex said, feeling happy and miserable all at the same time.

 

As Buffy shoved one of her sweaters into her bag, she said, “Are you sure?  We’d love to have you.”

 

Sitting round and having holiday with Buffy, Giles, and Angel sounded like a wonderful time, but Alex just couldn’t do it.  It felt too much like intruding to her.  “It’ll be nice to be home alone,” Alex said.  Feeling a little guilty about her little, white lie.

 

“You’re sick of us aren’t you?” Buffy asked, feigning hurt.

 

Alex laughed.  “Oh, that’s it.  I’m sick of the most pleasant, non-fake people I’ve met since I’ve been here.  You caught me,” she said, putting her hands up in surrender.  “I confess.”

 

“Well, put it that way…” Buffy smiled.  Alex was glad she had met her, and she was going to miss her, but it was for the best.

 

“But like you said, we’re only a couple hours apart.  I see plenty of shopping and lunches in our future.  And maybe one day I’ll work my way toward you and you can show me your neck of the woods.”

 

“I wouldn’t exactly call it my neck.  California would be my true home, but my home away from home?  You bet!” Buffy said.

 

Knowing that she was moments away from being alone at her request, Alex couldn’t help but ask, “Are all three of you leaving at the same time?”

 

“Actually, no.  Giles suggested I stay one more night to be on the safe side.  He and Angel are going to head back tonight.  We have two cars, so I’m going to drive back by myself in the morning,” Buffy said.

 

“It’ll be Christmas.”

 

“Yeah, I know.”

 

+++

 

“It has been a pleasure,” Giles said.  Buffy had walked Angel out to the car and Giles was trying to find a way to say goodbye to Alex.

 

“It has hasn’t it?” Alex said.  “It’s going to be a little weird not having you… all of you around anymore.”

 

Awkward wouldn’t describe the moment.  There was so much Giles wanted to say, and so much he couldn’t.  “Buffy said that you have a shopping and lunch partner for life.”

 

Laughing, Alex said, “And I couldn’t ask for a better one.”

 

“If things were perhaps different…”

 

Alex stopped him by placing a finger against his lips.  “You are a wonderful man, Rupert Giles.  I’ve never met anyone like you and I doubt I ever will.”

 

“I’m afraid of ruining that,” Giles admitted.

 

“I don’t see how that’s likely.”

 

“With what I do…  You’ve seen… and there’s much more to it than banishing ghosts.  It’s not a life… I wouldn’t want to drag you into something like that.”

 

“I don’t drag easily,” she said.  “How about taking it slow and seeing what happens.”

 

“Slow…”

 

“Are you open for lunch after the holidays?  In the New Year?”

 

Giles couldn’t think of a better way to begin a New Year.  “Yes,” he said, more as a sigh than anything else.  “Lunch in the New Year sounds like a splendid idea.”

 

And while he was debating on what to do next, Alex leaned in and kissed him softly on the lips.  He then did what he felt like doing since the first day he had met her: Giles grinned like a schoolboy.

 

“Lunch it is then,” she said as she opened the door.  Giles picked up his bag and walked outside, his goofy grin spanning ear-to-ear.

 

+++

 

Buffy was glad to be home, home for the holidays even.  She giggled at her own little joke, an example of just how tired she was.  But all in all it had worked out okay.  Alex’s ghost had taken up some time, but there'd been shopping which led to gifts for both Angel and Giles.  Maybe not as many as she would’ve liked, but it would have to do. 

 

The best thing?  Alex and Giles were going to be having lunch.  It wasn’t much, but it was a start and that made Buffy happy.  And it gave Giles something to look forward to.

 

Giles had told her that John and Martha were busy with the Christmas preparations and the sound of joy in his voice was enough to make her Christmas Day that much better.

 

Making sure she had all her things, gifts included, Buffy slammed the car door and walked toward the house.  She heard the Christmas music before she had even opened the door.

 

“Welcome home, Buffy,” Giles said, greeting her at the door and taking her bags.  “Merry Christmas.”

 

Garlands, evergreens, berries, blossoms, and candles decorated the hall.  Giles led her toward the living room.  Angel was standing by a tall, well-decorated, Christmas tree.

 

Buffy was overwhelmed by the beauty of it.  “I think that’s the prettiest tree I’ve ever seen.”

 

“Look closer,” Angel said, and that’s when Buffy realized just how custom it was.

 

The live pine tree was covered from top to bottom with red and white lights.  Silver garland wrapped the tree, and the garland was adorned with silver ornaments.  Spread throughout the tree, and hard to miss if you weren’t looking for them, were teeny-tiny stakes.

 

“You’re kidding!” she said, laughing.  “You put stakes on our Christmas tree?”

 

“Seemed like the thing to do,” he said, smiling that quirky little smile of his that could make her heart melt.  “I got this for you.”  He handed her a small box that was adorned with a ribbon, but no wrapping paper.

 

“Presents already?” She needed to find Giles.  She didn’t know they would be exchanging already and she wanted to go and get Angel his.  “I need to go and get mine,” she said, turning to leave.

 

“Stay,” Angel said, the tone in his voice making her stop in her tracks.

 

“Okay.”  She pulled the ribbon and it came of the box with ease.  “Little box,” she said as she removed the inner box from the outer, patting the velvety feel of it.  “Soft.”

 

“Open it,” Angel said.

 

“You sound more excited than I do!” 

 

Buffy opened the box and smiled.  She was holding an antique-looking white gold, diamond and emerald cross pendant.  “Angel…  It’s beautiful.”

 

“I figured almost ten years was long enough to wait before giving you another one,” he said.

 

Another time and another place quickly rose to the surface of her mind. 

 

“Who are you?” Buffy asked.  Whoever he was, well let’s just say he had a tendency to show up at all sorts of weird times.

 

“Let's just say… I'm a friend,” he said, and then started walking away.

 

“Yeah, well, maybe I don't want a friend.”  Oh, good, Buffy.  Nice comeback.

 

Turning back, he said, “I didn't say I was yours.” And then he turned and started walking away again.  He had outwitted her, and then smiled about it.  Stupid smile she could feel all the way down to her toes.

 

After he was gone from sight, she remembered the box she’d been holding in her hand.  After she opened it, she was more than a little surprised to find that it contained a silver cross and chain.

 

Mysterious much?

 

“Do you like it?”

 

The sound of Angel’s voice, her Angel’s voice, brought her back to the here and now.  And after she launched herself into his arms, and wrapped her legs around his waist, she began kissing his face and neck.

 

“Thank you,” she said, knowing she was repeating herself, but she didn’t care.  “I love you.  It’s beautiful.  Did I mention I love you?”

 

Laughing he said, “Maybe once or twice.”

 

“It’s something I never would have expected and it’s just…”

 

“Beautiful?”

 

She nodded her head enthusiastically.  “Yes!”

 

“If I'd known it would have this effect I would’ve done this a long time ago,” he said.

 

“I got you and Giles presents too.  I’ll go get them - and Giles.  Okay?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“One thing first?”  She turned around and lifted up her hair.  “Will you put the necklace on me?”  And after a few spine-tingling kisses, Buffy was wearing what was probably the best Christmas present she had ever received.

 

+++

 

“Where’d you get this?” Angel asked, on the verge of being speechless.

 

“In London,” Buffy said.  “One of the times Alex and I were shopping.  I mentioned that you liked to draw, and she knew of a book store that sold old sketch books.”  She shrugged her shoulders.  “I wanted to do something special for you.  The man that worked there was nice and really helpful.”

 

“This is great, Buffy,” he said.

 

“They’re not original sketches, but copies of originals.  Thomas Cole, who I’ve never heard of, but Michelangelo and Da Vinci I have. Didn’t Tom Hanks play him in a movie or something?” She shrugged her shoulders.  “You really like it?” she asked.

 

“Enough that I might need to start rethinking the entire Christmas philosophy,” he said.  He kissed her softly and after putting his arm around her waist, drew her closer to him.

 

“Okay, Giles, open yours,” Buffy said.

 

Giles had been sitting quietly by the tree, sipping tea.  “Which one first?” he asked, holding up two different gifts.  One a red envelope adorned with a bow, and the other a green gift bag the size of a cereal box.

 

“Open the bag first,” Buffy said.  “That one is from Angel.”

 

“Yeah,” Angel said.  “That one’s from me.” 

 

The thought of shopping for Buffy had made Angel nervous, but shopping for Giles?  That had put being nervous into an entirely different category.

 

As Giles pulled the white tissue paper out of the bag, he said, “I really didn’t expect anything…”  And then he stopped and looked up at Angel.  “Thank you.”  He hadn’t even finished opening his gift yet.

 

“See if you thank me once you see what it is,” Angel said.

 

Giles pulled out an old, worn and green hardcover book.  Michael Fairless – Complete Mystical Works – 1933.”  He just stared at the book.  Angel was beginning to wonder if Giles was going to say anything, but then he did.  “This is a wonderful gift, Angel.  I will eagerly add it to my current collection.  Where on earth-?”

 

Angel knew the question was coming, so he was prepared.  “On eBay.”

 

“You’re not serious?” Giles asked.

 

“What? That Angel used eBay?” Buffy asked.

 

Giles shook his head.  “No, Buffy, that he found such an item as this on eBay.”

 

“Oh, you’d be surprised what you’d find on eBay,” Angel said, not even close to expanding on the accuracy of that statement.

 

“I suppose I would,” Giles agreed.

 

“Open mine,” Buffy said, hardly able to keep the excitement out of her voice.  Angel hadn’t heard her sound that happy in a long time.  “You’re going to like it.”

 

Giles peeled open the envelope and pulled out two tickets.  Angel didn’t know what they were for, Buffy wouldn’t tell him, and so the surprise was not only for Giles.

 

“Two tickets to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra?” he asked.

 

“Look where it’s at,” Buffy said.

 

New Wimbledon Theatre, London, February 18th, 2007.”

 

“I’m sure Alex would love to go!” Buffy said, clapping her hands together like the over-enthused cheerleader Angel suspected she used to be.  At least now he knew why she hadn’t told him what she had gotten Giles for Christmas.

 

Angel was waiting for Giles to start telling Buffy all the reasons why he couldn’t go: it wasn’t right, Alex probably wouldn’t go, it probably wouldn’t work out in the long run, but he never did.  He simply said, “Thank you, Buffy.  This is a wonderful gift.  I’m sure Alex and I will enjoy the show immensely.” 

 

Giles stood up and came over to give Buffy a hug, Angel easily stepping aside and giving up his place for the former Watcher.

 

“I wanted something before February because I figured that was too long to wait,” she said.  “But I figured the Pussycat Dolls and Rhianna wasn’t exactly your cup of tea.”

 

“That would be an accurate statement,” Giles said.  “I have no idea who those people are.”

 

“I’m pretty sure they’re all female,” Angel said, shaking his head.  “Beyond that?  Absolutely no idea.”

 

Grinning, Giles said, “Now, it is my turn.  Shopping has never been one of my ‘things’, for lack of a better term, so coming up with the perfect gift for you each individually was nearly impossible.”

 

“Nothing’s impossible for you.  You’re Giles,” Buffy said.

 

“That’s very sweet, Buffy, but even I have my limits.”  Giles sounded flustered for a moment, but then continued, “Here,” he handed a plain white envelope to Buffy, “this is for both of you.”

 

Buffy handed it to Angel.  “You can open it?”

 

“Are you sure?” he asked.

 

“More than,” she said, smiling.

 

Angel tore open the envelope and found a white piece of paper.  After looking at it closer, he found that it was some sort of itinerary.  “We’re going somewhere?” he asked.

 

“We’re going somewhere?” Buffy repeated, yanking the paper out of his hand.  Friar’s Rest Guest House.”

 

“It’s not much,” Giles said.  “But I heard the place is lovely and you two deserve some time together.  The offer is valid until after the New Year, so you can take your time planning.  It will be all expenses paid, and just the amount of privacy you both shall need, er, for whatever reason.”

 

Buffy flung her arms around Giles neck, and after a small grunt of pain, she let him go.  “Sorry,” she said. 

 

Giles straightened up slowly and then stretched his back.  “I’ll accept that as a thank you,” he said.

 

Angel was never one for hugging, and even though it was the season for it, he still couldn’t bring himself to do it.  Instead, he offered his hand, and Giles accepted it.  “Thank you,” Angel said.

 

Giles answer was a heartfelt, genuine smile.  “Now, I know it is a little too early for supper, but I believe there is a batch of Christmas cookies that Martha has made especially for Buffy, her contribution to the holiday…”

 

“Any chocolate ones are mine!” Buffy said, excitedly, beating them both out of the room.

 

“I’m not getting in her way,” Angel said.

 

“Smart man,” Giles agreed.

 

“Let’s go.”

 

 

+++ End +++

 

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday’s to yours from ours at Project Paranormal.  May the New Year bring you nothing but happiness, health, and prosperity.

 

Oh, and I’m pretty sure Angel, Buffy, and Giles are wishing you the best too!  If it weren’t for all of you that are still happily reading stories about them ten years later, they wouldn’t be here anymore.

 

~ smiling

 

Thanks to Jo and Darkstar for the beta goodness, and to my betas in waiting Spiralleds and Mommanerd.  They’re always there for me no matter what.

 

 

Christmas History Sources:

    Crippen, T.G.   Christmas and Christmas Lore.

    London: Blackie & Son Limited, 1923.

    Hole, Christina.   The Encyclopedia of Superstitions.

    New York: Barnes & Noble, 1996.   ISBN 0-76070-228-4.

    Opie, Iona and Moira Tatem.   A Dictionary of Superstitions.

    Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.   ISBN 0-19-282-916-5.

    Pickering, David.   Dictionary of Superstitions.

    London: Cassell, 1995.   ISBN 0-304-345350.    

 

Actual Ghost Story inspired by this website:

http://www.ghosts.org/stories/test/viewstory.php?sid=1462&PHPSESSID=01c9f2210f267947f0eefc82121c7a51

 

Care to shop?  http://www.anyahindmarch.com/newhome.aspx & http://www.harveynichols.com/output/Page143.asp

 

Here’s the spell I used and tweaked. http://www.magickalpair.net/spiritbanish.html

You can get your own Vesta powder here:  http://www.magickrose.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=1271

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Athame:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athame

How our ghost and shadow dressed:  http://www.costumes.org/classes/fashiondress/TurnoftheCentury.htm

Go here if you want to take a peek.  http://www.heavenlytreasures.com/pe6811.html

Quote taken from www.buffyworld.com when Buffy got her first cross necklace from Angel.

You too can own Giles’ book!  It’s on e-bay! 

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/MICHAEL-FAIRLESS-Complete-MYSTICAL-Works-MYSTIC-HB-1933_W0QQitemZ260057015490QQihZ016QQcategoryZ98530QQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

Or go to a concert: Tickets

And thank you to Garnigal, a fellow Project Paranormal writer who offered up this suggestion on Giles’ gift.  Thank you!

If you want to hook up with Buffy and Angel on their little getaway:  http://www.visitus.co.uk/moreInfo.aspx?id=24070&style=3

 



 



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