Title: The Trouble with Harriet
Disclaimer: All series characters and good stuff belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc. I am responsible for some original characters (although I stole names from Hitchcock) as well as the lame dialogue and most of the plot. The idea, of course, is stolen from the classic movie, The Trouble with Harry.
Summary: Buffy really needs a vacation, so when the chance arrives, she takes it, even though with a wandering corpse on the loose it's almost, but not quite, a busman's holiday. This is set in my cheerful, AU version of Season 6 where everyone sort of gets along and Spike and Buffy are a couple.
Thanks: to keswindhover andrevdorothyl for beta and to enigmaticblues for maintaining the comm.
The last of daylight faded away and the few streetlamps that hadn't burnt out or been broken struggled to fill the dark void. Buffy yawned. Sunnydale's perils had become as boring and dreary as its decaying infrastructure. Vaguely, she was aware that this was a dangerous attitude for someone in her job, but she couldn't bring herself to care. She stepped over a crack in the sidewalk and stepped onto the grounds of a cemetery.
She paused and closed her eyes, trying to remember how long it had been since she'd had a break from evening patrol. One that hadn't been because she was needed elsewhere to kill a giant slug, or stab a fyarl demon, or…
Even with her eyes shut, her Slayer's senses alerted her. Something was there, moving toward her.
"Shush." Before she could speak, arms wrapped around her. "So let us melt, and make no noise."
She'd known it was Spike, of course. The scent of his cigarette had announced him as surely as the sound of his voice. Smell, sound…and touch and taste before sight. By the time she opened her eyes, he'd taken her face between his hands and kissed her gently. "My beautiful lady."
The exhaustion rolled off her somehow, replaced by a sweet, languid lust. She leaned into him letting him support her weight as his lips moved over her collarbone and his fingers stroked her back.
Moments like this were the closest she ever got to a vacation. Quiet moments when he was being romantic instead of sarcastic or crude, and she could forget all the nastiness of real life. She could close her eyes and pretend she wasn't in a cemetery with a vampire. She was just a girl, snuggled in her boyfriend's arms.
"Whoa! Alert! Scene of snorgling with the undead ahead!"
Xander's voice crashed through Buffy's carefully built illusion. She turned to see one of her dearest friends mugging absurdly, holding his hands over his eyes as if to shield them as he smirked, and she had to resist an impulse to shake him.
Instead, she rolled her eyes. "You know what? People with thousand-year-old demon girlfriends who are always providing too much information about their sex lives should not throw stones at girls who are snuggling vampires in a PG-rated fashion."
Xander didn't hear the warning edge in her voice. "That was R, or at least PG-13."
Spike smirked. "If you'd come a few minutes later, I would have gotten the rating to… ow!" He rubbed his ribs where Buffy had given him what was, for her, a playful punch.
Xander pounced on another opportunity to needle him. "'Ow' is a rating?"
Before Spike could chime in with details about what kind of film would earn such a rating, Buffy retorted, "No, it's what you'll say if you don't have a really good reason for being here."
Xander made a sad face. "I'm only here because I have news about evil doings by…" He glared meaningfully at Spike. "Let me see, I think the evil things doing the evil stuff are vampires. And I wouldn't have to be here at all if you'd turn on your phone."
"It is on." Buffy pulled her cell out of her coat pocket and stared at it. Then she poked it. And poked it again. Then she shook it.
Finally, Spike pointed out the obvious. "Battery's dead, love."
"It's broken." Buffy gave the phone another thump.
"You know what magically fixes phones some times?" Xander was really enjoying this more than he should be. "Plugging them into the recharger thingie. I can draw you a diagram."
Buffy scowled at them, then glared at the unresponsive phone and stuffed it back in her pocket. "What's wrong, Xander? Besides my broken phone."
Xander shrugged. "A body's gone missing at the Friendly Resting Place funeral home. And this being Sunnydale, it probably did just get up and walk away on its own."
"The medical examiner asked if we could store some bodies for them." Bernie Wiles was a tall man with a long face that probably had no trouble looking mournful. Right now it was broadcasting fear instead. "There was a bit of a--a thing last night."
Buffy nodded. Last night's body count had been high, even for Sunnydale. She would have been more sympathetic if the deceased hadn't gotten that way by trying to raise the demon Thanatos. The result had certainly fallen in the "be careful what you wish for" category. She wondered if their spirits were still worshiping their demon lord or if they were wishing they'd chosen a different religion.
Wiles' hand shook a little as he reached for the cup of coffee the donut shop waitress had just placed on the counter in front of him. "They're kind of full up at the morgue, and we were pretty close to capacity too, but I said I could take one. They gave me a Jane Doe. Said she was probably a street person who died of exposure. I didn't even have a spare body bag, so I had to put her right into a coffin--I had one that I've been trying get rid of, but it's hard to run a crash and dent sale on funeral merchandise--"
"We're really more interested in the body than the wrapping." Buffy slipped her hand inside her bag, counting stakes. A fledgling vamp literally just out of the coffin shouldn't present much of a problem, but you never knew.
"It's gone." Wiles twisted his hands nervously. "I've lived in Sunnydale my whole life. Business is good here, really good, but my father taught me that if you don't want to become your own customer, there are certain things to look out for. Disappearing corpses are on the top of the list."
"So you ran out and called for help?"
Wiles nodded. "Word is the Magic Box is the place to contact these days. So I called and this woman said she didn't handle missing corpses herself because there was no money in it, but she'd pass the information on." He paused. "She seemed kind of odd."
"You have no idea." Buffy looked to see if Xander had heard, but he was busy paying the waitress for a box of donuts. Force of habit, she supposed. She stood up and slung her bag full of weapons over her shoulder.
Wiles stood up too. "One more odd thing. Well, two things. She was cold. Colder than usual for a corpse I mean. Almost frigid." He seemed to become aware of a double meaning and his next words stumbled over each other. "Not in a sexual way, of course, because I'd never--people have weird ideas about morticians, but I wouldn't-- I meant frigid like --"
"Really cold." Spike's tone communicated his impatience. "Got it, mate. What was the other thing?"
"Her hair was wet. Like, soaking wet."
Buffy had a sudden vision of a woman being bitten by a vampire posing as the shampoo girl at a beauty parlor. "Were her clothes wet too?"
"No. I mean, I don't know. She wasn't wearing any." Wiles seemed to think this statement required clarification, because he added, "She was naked."
Spike picked up a brochure touting the compassionate and reliable services of the Friendly Resting Place. "Who picks out these names? Sounds like a pet cemetery."
"Still better than Stiffe's Mortuary Service." Xander hopped up onto a table and opened the box of donuts.
"Mrs. Stiffe says it sticks in people's minds." Buffy joined them in the big basement room and dropped her bag on a chair. "So it's what they remember when the occasion arises." She looked around. "And speaking of arising…"
"Nothing down here but me, really dead people and some really creepy instruments for making them deader." Xander held out the box. "Or so Spike says. Cruller?"
"Jelly." Buffy chose, bit and grimaced. "Custard. Nothing upstairs either." She looked at Spike. "Can you make like a bloodhound and follow her trail?"
"No trail." Spike picked up a donut, bit, and smirked at the ooze of jelly. "No vamp, potential or otherwise, has been here for months. Bunch of humans in and out, live and dead, that's all."
"Zombie?" Xander looked hopeful. Zombies would be a change of pace, at least.
"I hate zombies." But Buffy's scowl disappeared when Spike had one of the fits of gallantry that always surprised her and traded donuts with her. She savored her first bite. "Mmm. Jelly."
Spike shook his head. "No zombies. No evil vibes of any kind. Not even any do-gooder mojo like the kind Glinda and Red spread about like rose petals. Can't even get a scent of a corpse from the coffin. All I can tell is it's been handled by a bunch of live humans, including our friendly nervous undertaker." Spike decided he didn't care for the custard either and tossed it, snagging a cruller from Xander.
Buffy stared at the wooden coffin. It was lying on a trestle, its lid suggestively open, the cheap fabric liner torn in a few places. The wood had splintered at one end where it had either been smashed or dropped. No wonder Wiles hadn't been able to sell it. You'd have to really hate someone to bury him or her in something this tacky and decrepit.
Xander swung his legs and thought for a minute. "So, where'd the body go?"
Spike and Buffy looked at Xander and then at each other. "Haven't there been cases where people steal bodies for kidneys and hearts and things?" she hazarded.
Spike shook his head. "She'd need to be still warm. A medical school or laboratory needing bodies for research?"
"There's no med school at UC Sunnydale and they gutted most of the other science labs when the Initiative left." Buffy polished off the donut and picked up her bag. "Not my job, guys. If she wasn't stolen by any of the forces of darkness, she's somebody else's problem."
Buffy sat up in bed, trying to focus on the phone call that had woken her up much too early after much too late a night.
"Please." Distress echoed in Wiles' voice. "This is turning into a huge problem for me."
"I don't know if I can do anything. " Buffy's mind was already straying from the wandering corpse to worries about a looming mortgage payment and her complete lack of any job or prospects for obtaining one.
"I don't believe that. I've heard people talk about you. I'm sure you can find her. And if you don't, I'm going to be sued."
Buffy tried to be firm. She might have plenty of practice saving the world, but she knew her limitations and anything involving lawyers was definitely out of her area of expertise. "It's really not my prob…"
"I'll pay you."