By Jericho TGF
Between the second and third floor, Buffy whirled around and pinned him with an intense stare.
"Say nothing. I need to charm...there may be cajoling. If you start in on your 'I'm an annoying vampire that runs off at the mouth' routine, we run the risk of getting tossed out of here. Unless you brought along any SPF three million sun block, not the way to go."
Smirking at her all-business attitude, not offended in the least, he shoved his hands in his pockets. "I feel compelled to mention, pet, when it comes to charm, well...you're less than gifted in that area."
Buffy felt a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth but she forced her face to remain impassive. "Spike, every time your lips move you prove my point." He raised a brow and grinned knowingly. Rolling her eyes, she pointedly ignored his unspoken indication that she just proved his point. "Just...try not to be too...you."
The sound of a door closing and people moving down the hallway of the floor below them prevented their conversation from degrading to the 'I'm way cooler than you are' stage. It didn't stop Spike from leaning in towards Buffy and whispering, "If memory serves, that's a different song than you were singin' last night, luv."
"Uh huh. Right. And was that before or after we were dealing with the psychotically deceased?"
Tingles danced down the flesh at her neck when she heard his husky laugh and an almost non-existent, "Both," before he slid around her and continued his descent down the stairs.
Ida Heggan was standing almost exactly where they'd left her the night before, the only indication that she hadn't been there all night was the change in her clothing. Though she did look equally professional in another trendy business suit, apparently the favored code of dress for the contemporary woman.
Buffy took a deep breath and pasted a large smile on her face, wrapping a hand around Spike's not only to complete the happy couple image, but to be able to have some inconspicuous way of communicating - even if it was only the occasional hand squeeze. They had gotten to the point of knowing each other so well, working together so extensively, that the slightest pressure could transmit a myriad of messages. It wasn't romantic; it was practical.
"Good morning, Mrs. Heggan," Buffy chirped pleasantly as she pulled the rather reluctant Spike up to the reservation desk.
The middle-aged woman looked up from the paperwork spread around her and beamed at the attractive couple, her professionalism preventing her from commenting on the fact that the pair looked less rested this morning than they had last night, the slightly wicked sense of fun she kept hidden from all but her husband allowing her to make assumptions on what they would have been up to during the night hours that would have prevented sleep. "Good morning, dear. But please, call me Ida. Really. Formality is so formal. I hope you enjoyed your first night at Carr House."
Buffy squeezed Spike's hand, just in case he felt a sarcastic rejoinder coming on, and beamed back at the kind-hearted woman. "We did, thank you for asking." Her efforts to keep Spike as silent as possible were for naught when Ida directed her attention to the vampire.
Ida addressed Spike with a happy twinkle in her eyes. "Good morning, Ken. Was the Dalton Suite satisfactory?"
He clenched his jaw at the offensive nomenclature, but decided it was just about time to show Buffy just how charming he could be. Not to mention he had the accent, and in his experience, his north London drawl easily swayed American woman - regardless of age.
Flashing a smirk filled with sexual heat and sardonic humor, he stepped forward and reached over the desk, clasping the woman's hand in a gallant show of chivalry. Bringing it to his mouth, he kissed the back of it before straightening up and winking at her conspiratorially. "It was very impressive, mum. I, for one, was especially taken with that monster of a bed you have up there. Sunk right in, we did. Got a bit lost for a while, but the little woman here made sure we found our way out." He caught Buffy's warning glare out of the corner of his eye and decided there was no reason not to enjoy himself as much as the situation would allow. Draping a casual arm around her shoulders and giving her a squeeze, he chuckled at her embarrassed squirm.
Buffy was desperately wishing a hole would open up in the floor and swallow her, but this wasn't Sunnydale, so Hellmouth activity of that sort couldn't be counted on. What a shame. She was left with little choice but to grin and bear it, damning Spike to hell in the meantime and definitely making a mental note to torture him later. She just didn't understand how he could think acting like a sex-fiend-type pig equated with being charming.
And for the life of her, she couldn't figure out why it always worked so damn well.
Ida, though, was proof that it did, because she tittered almost coyly at the vampire's words. The Slayer tried to steer the conversation back to a safe and hopefully more informational path.
"Ken and I are very impressed with the whole house, Ida. It's beautiful. Way old, too, I bet."
Spike winced inwardly, shaking his mental head at Buffy's blunt and less than subtle prompt for information. He caught the slight frown that clouded Ida's face and he rushed in to smooth out the rough edges of Buffy's words.
"Now, pet," he said chidingly, in a similar tone Xander used when warning Anya whenever she's being...well, Anya. "Historical is not the same as old and this house is definitely historical."
Spike flashed an engaging smile to Ida, ignoring the sparks that flared in Buffy's eyes at his purposefully condescending tone. "See, this house is what, one hundred and fifty years? In my country, that's little more than a blip on the timeline, but here..." Spike paused; glad to see Ida was listening intently, the slight offense taken at Buffy's words forgotten, "...well, here this house has to be one of the oldest in the surrounding area. Where else but in the States can you find something so old and so young at the same time? That's one of the many great things about this country."
Buffy had to struggle not to laugh out loud. What's with all the 'ode to America' stuff? Not that she could argue it was working. There was also the amusement about the 'so old and so young at the same time' thing. From a vampire. From a vampire that looked to be in his late twenties, but was actually closer to his late one hundred and twenties. Ironic much?
Ida smiled, completely enchanted with Spike. "You know, we're featured on California's list of historical landmarks."
"Impressive, mum. Not many can boast that honor, I wager."
"Very true. And it's more than just the age of the house, which is actually closer to one hundred and thirty years old, but because it's in its original condition. There has been no structural renovation done, as is so often the case with houses as the passage of time takes its toll."
Buffy was encouraged. It sounded like Ida was more than just casually informed on the house, so more in-depth information was well within the realm of possibility.
"Wow, Ida," she said, trying to take back some small measure of control, not that she wasn't duly impressed with Spike's rather ingenuous ploy. "It sounds like you know a lot about the history of the Carr House."
Ida chuckled merrily. "Oh, I should, dear. I am, after all, a Carr."
Buffy and Spike exchanged a glance, sharing the thought that they just hit the mother load. That one quick look set the stage for the next round of information gathering - and Buffy slipped into the 'dumber than she really is' blonde routine.
Frowning prettily, as if trying to work out the logic, she questioned the older woman. "You're a Carr? As in the Carr House? So...your not a Heggan?"
Reaching out and patting the young girl's arm in a friendly gesture, Ida said, "I'm both, dear. Heggan is my married name, and in truth, Lockley is my maiden name, but my Great-grandmother was a Carr. I was raised in this house. After my parents died, my husband and I were left ownership. It seemed natural to make use of it. Lived in it until my husband and I decided to try our hand at inn keeping. Once the children moved out - I have three boys...all about your age - the house was too large for Fred and I. Fred is my husband, of course. Now we share a smaller cottage next door, though still on the Carr House grounds."
Everything was going according to plan, better than the Slayer had even hoped. They had established a congenial rapport, information was flowing freely...if a little longwindedly...and Buffy was getting ready to ask another 'I'm a little dim, could you clarify?' question. Snags, though, have a tendency to pop up when least expected. Snags in the form of a family - father, mother, and small child of the sticky-faced, male, five-year-old variety - that came bundling and bungling down the stairs. Loud, laughing, playful, a couple in their early thirties held their son between them, carrying him as if he was doing some odd sort of impression of a dribbling, squealing airplane.
"Zachary!" Ida called to the giggling bundle of energy in his parents' arms. "Look at you! You're flying! Aren't you the lucky one?"
It took all of three seconds. The contemporary businesswoman, chic and respectable, turned into a pseudo-grandmother, all earth-mother wisdom and 'lives through the children' exuberance. Buffy and Spike may as well have no longer been present, though they did get an introduction to Roxanne and Dylan Kaplan, visiting from Salt Lake City, Utah, with their already identified son, Zachary.
Now, just how well did you think that went over with the less than patient pair?
Dylan Kaplan, a walking advertisement for the self-made Internet-loving generation X'er, all Land's End and Gucci, slapped Spike on the shoulder - once he'd set the wriggling mass of son down - in gregarious congeniality. Some kind of male bonding thing.
For the first time in longer than the vampire could remember, he was completely out of his depth and more interested in just munching on the whole lot of the noisy bunch than spending one more nanosecond in their company.
It was fortunate that a couple of parents with a precocious and hungry child had little time for pleasantries when the breakfast bells were tolling, because the three moved off to find some food after fifteen minutes of the mindless gab.
Which in Spike's mind was about twenty minutes too late.
Especially as Ida's next ten minutes were dedicated to informing Buffy and Spike all the known details of the Kaplan's lives. By the time Ida had started to wind down and Buffy and Spike could finally get a word in, both of their patience levels had been stretched to the breaking point.
Without words, without even realizing they were doing it, the Slayer and the vampire leaned into each other, Spike wrapping his arms around Buffy and pulling her back against his chest. It was calming, and it saved both of them from going boom - but it was a near thing.
"So," Ida had returned most of her attention to the paperwork in front of her, not that she thought the guests at the Carr House were distracting - but in her experience, paperwork knew no social necessities, "what do you two have planned for today?"
What a good question, Buffy thought. A little haunt bashing, a little making sure Spike and I don't get dead, a little investigation into the mysterious spectral nasty. The usual. "No plans," she said as she rested her head back against Spike's chest. "We came here more for the resty time, less for the touristy time."
Already lost to her work, Ida just nodded vaguely. "That's good dear, I'm sure you'll find your stay completely relaxing."
Little late for any hope of that, Buffy thought, and the soft huff of derision she heard from Spike expressed his opinion quite plainly.
And the truth was, there just wasn't time to ring around that rosy any more. Charming wasn't cutting it. They needed information. Ida was the one that had it. No way she could live in the house as long as she had and not have it. Time for the Slayer to come out and play.
"Actually, Ida," she started slowly. Spike heard the change in her tone of voice and tightened his grip on her in support of the 'lets up it a notch' plan. "There's something about that relaxing thing I wanted to ask you about."
Spike wasn't the only one who caught the change in tone, and though she didn't understand the reason behind it, it did pull Ida away from her ledgers. "Of course, dear. Anything I can help you with, I will. Ask away."
"Who was Miranda?"
If Spike was surprised that the 'up it a notch' plan turned out to be more of a 'lay it all out there' plan, it was nothing compared to the reaction Ida Heggan had. She started as if she'd just touched a live wire, then paled considerably. Buffy stepped away from Spike and cocked her head at the obviously surprised woman, arms crossed and serious.
"I see we're all on the same page. Good to know."
Staring hard at Buffy, the innkeeper's surprise turned quickly to offense. With her mouth set in a firm line - the first time the Slayer had seen her unsmiling - she motioned to the two of them to follow her and stepped from behind the desk. Briskly, efficiently, she crossed the hallway and disappeared into the room she'd come bustling out of the night before.
Spike and Buffy had little choice but to follow her.
It was a small office filled with filing cabinets and furniture, a desk, a lamp, a computer and computer desk...things like that. Ida was bent over the coffee machine, pouring herself a cup, her back to the door. When she turned with the mug in one shaking hand, she wasted no time cutting to the chase.
"Who do you work for?"
Frowning, a little thrown, Buffy glanced at Spike in confusion before saying anything. "I-I'm sorry?"
"Is it that 'Scariest Places on Earth' group? Did they send you here? I told you people that I wanted nothing to do with having this house turned into some kind of supernatural theme park. This is my home. My family home. And it's my business. You're money will be refunded for tonight's stay. I want both of you to leave."
Backpedaling quickly, trying to get control of the situation, Buffy was quick to reply. "Whoa. Wait. We're not working for anybody, Mrs. Heggan. I promise you."
"Really." Ida was by no means swayed by Buffy's attempt. "Then how do you know anything about Miranda?"
Buffy and Spike looked at each other for a long second before deciding to answer the question with the truth. More or less.
"We saw her, mum. Last night. Had a slight difference of opinion with her, so to speak."
Glaring at them warily, sizing them up, Ida frowned. "If you're suggesting that a woman who has been dead for over a century popped into your room and introduced herself, I think you've more than outstayed your welcome. Get out. Whoever you are, just leave."
"Mrs. Heggan," Buffy said, worried that things were getting totally messed up. "How would we know the name if we weren't telling you the truth. Miranda is haunting this house. You have to trust us."
Moving around the desk, setting her coffee cup down with enough force to slosh the liquid over the rim, Ida laid her hands on the tabletop and addressed both of them. "I don't have to do anything of the sort, young lady, and let me tell you why. There are very few people who know Miranda's story. I don't care if you heard it and came here out of some morbid curiosity or were sent to research the house and her story for those dreadful television people. Either way, I want nothing to do with having you here."
"Listen," Buffy tried again, "I understand you're skeptical, I do. But we are telling you the truth. And we can help you. We can get rid of her, I promise. But we need information from you first."
Ida was indignant. She scoffed at the Slayer, "Help me get rid of her? You're not serious. I don't need your help and I have no desire to get rid of her. She's my Great-great-aunt, for goodness sake. She's family."
Spike's head reared back in surprise, a move closely matched by the Slayer's. "You know," he accused. "You know she's here. In the house. You've always known."
"Of course I know. I told you I've lived here most of my life. How could I not know?"
Sputtering, confused, Spike said, "So havin' an evil nasty floatin' around, terrifyin' your visitors is what? The premium package? All's right and proper because she's family."
"Excuse me," Ida replied, the epitome of offended affront, "I will not have you referring to that poor woman in such a manner. She's no more evil than you are." Buffy shot Spike a look at that particular comment. A look that he pointedly ignored. "What's more, she's never terrified anyone. She exists in this house, yes, but she's harmless. I don't know where you got your information, Ken, but it is obviously flawed."
Fed up, still agitated by everything that had been going on since he stepped into this nightmare of a house, furious, Spike stalked to the desk and spoke with deadly intensity through clenched teeth. "That's it. I'm done playin'. First, the name's Spike. Second, Buffy and I spent the better part of the evenin' doin' the bloody duck and cover from this thing - so don't play that long-lost relative rot with us. Trust us or not, Auntie dearest has started a game she won't get to finish."
"Okay, enough." Buffy turned to the vampire and laid a comforting hand on his arm. "This isn't the way, Spike." Glancing at the stricken expression on Ida's face, she pushed him back a step and placed herself between him and the desk, right in front of the innkeeper. Speaking calmly, smoothly, she took control. "Ida, we don't mean to trash your relative, but Spike's right. Miranda is nowhere near harmless. She is dangerous - you have to trust us on this. I'm..." Buffy broke off, not sure how to explain without going into the 'I'm the Vampire Slayer and I say so' deal. Tact and discretion were needed.
"When I was fifteen, something happened to me. I was given a...calling...of sorts. This calling lets me see the world differently than most people. And I deal with things...things that other people can't deal with. But because of that, those things - mostly not so nice things - have a way of finding me. Spike and I came here for a vacation away from that - but we've had that 'nowhere to run, nowhere to hide' lesson driven home. Really driven home.
"We're not here to turn your house into the top draw on the Tour of Homes from Hell, and we don't work for a television show. We came here for rest. We got Miranda instead."
Falling silent, the only sound in the room was a low hum coming from the computer on the table. Buffy watched Ida for a reaction, waiting, hoping that what she said was enough to keep from getting tossed out on their collective ear. Finally, after what seemed like minutes, Ida sighed and sunk down into the leather chair behind her.
"She's not evil. You're wrong."
Not exactly promising, but at least she wasn't throwing them out...yet. Buffy walked around the desk and kneeled down next to Ida's chair, looking up at her earnestly. "We need to know what you know, Ida. Maybe you're right. Maybe we are wrong. But we need to know."
Doubt and indecision marred Ida's features, and for a long time she remained silent. Then, as if coming to an internal decision, she sighed deeply again and spoke. Her eyes were trained on her clasped hands lying on the table. "My grandmother would tell me about Miranda when I was a very little girl. Long before I knew she was still here. I remember thinking how romantic it was, but so sad. So tragic. I would pester her to hear it over and over, though I could have recited it verbatim."
Ida met Buffy's eyes and gave her a tentative smile. Spike leaned back against the doorframe, getting settled, impressed as hell with Buffy. Looked like she saved the day...again.
Leaning back against a filing cabinet, the Slayer got comfortable for what may be a long story. From across the room, she felt Spike staring at her and she met his gaze. Relief teased her mouth into a smile. His lone nod and wink were recognition of her accomplishment.
"Miranda was fifteen when she met Jacob Morgan. He was older, ten years older, but she fell in love with him and he with her. He was a good man, the son of a banker. The Morgans were one of the richest families in the area - mostly because of the business Jacob's father William did during the California gold rush. Jacob himself was a simple man, a man of less exclusive tastes. Instead of going into banking and following his father's dictates, he chose to become a minister. Once he'd been ordained, he chose Three Rivers to start his ministry. Miranda saw and fell in love with him at the church's very first picnic.
The age difference was a problem for Jacob, though, and he tried to stay away from her. He didn't think she was old enough to really know whom she loved, but Miranda was persistent. Finally, he couldn't deny his love for her any longer. On her sixteenth birthday, Jacob asked her to marry him. I know that sounds young - but it was a different time, girls were women at sixteen. And true love, that kind of deep and abiding love, knows no age barrier. She said yes."
Buffy could see the faraway look in Ida's eyes as she told the story, and Buffy knew she was reliving fond memories of hearing the story from her grandmother when she was young.
"They were married for just over a year when Miranda gave birth to Nathan. Jacob was thrilled and so very, very happy. They both were. You can't understand just how much that man loved his wife and son - it was a beautiful thing to see, according to my grandmother - as her mother, Miranda's younger sister, told her. He would have moved mountains for them, died for them. There's nothing he wouldn't have done.
"When Nathan was eight, Jacob started building this house. He dedicated it to Miranda, named it the Carr House in her honor. But..." Ida frowned, lost in her memories. It was a story oft told at family gatherings, oft repeated between family members, but for Ida, it had never lost its power.
"Just days before they had planned to move into the Carr house, it happened. Jacob went to the church one morning to prepare a sermon for the next day's service. He never came home. The next day his horse was found grazing by the road less than a mile from his house, scratched up and injured, but alive. They found Jacob's body later that day, several yards from the road, just inside the nearby woods. It looked like an animal, probably a cougar that came down from the Rockies, had taken him.
"My grandmother told me that Miranda was never the same after they buried her husband. She moved into the Carr House with Nathan. There were too many memories for her in the house she'd shared with Jacob. It was too painful for her to stay there. She became withdrawn, staying in this house with only her son for company. There would be days - weeks that would go by without her family ever seeing her.
"It was a dark time for the whole town. In the year after Jacob's death, several women and children were also taken - found days after they'd disappeared, all attacked by an animal, left just inside the woods. The town leaders were convinced they had a man-eater on the loose and put all of its admittedly limited resources into trying to find and destroy it. Nothing they did stopped the killing."
Buffy was numb. Ida had been right; this was not a warm and fuzzy story. But it was worse for the Slayer, because Buffy had more than a sneaking suspicion about just what kind of creature was really responsible for the death of Jacob and the other people of the town. It was a predator, all right, but it wasn't the four-legged kind. And she had a funny feeling that the story was going to get worse before it got better. If it ever got better.
"Nathan Morgan, Miranda's son, was the twenty-third victim, almost exactly one year after his father's death."
Man, I hate it when I'm right, Buffy thought, a maelstrom of emotions churned painfully in her stomach. She didn't need to look at Spike. There was no doubt in her mind that he was thinking exactly what she was thinking. A vampire had killed the townspeople.
"He'd stayed out late at a friend's house - past dark, even though he knew he wasn't supposed to. He was always supposed to be in the house before the sun set. Miranda was extremely protective. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. Nathan was the only victim whose body was never found. His disappearance destroyed what was left of a once vibrant and happy woman.
"For a week they searched for Nathan, just about every man and boy over the age of ten that lived in Three Rivers searched for him. One morning, just before sunrise, my grandmother says, several members of the search team headed here to update Miranda on where they'd be looking that day. They found her on the front porch. Dead. The window in the living room had been broken in, and the same thing that killed her husband and son had apparently attacked her. Miranda was its last victim. They never found the animal that killed all those people and they never found Nathan. The killings stopped - they just...stopped." Coming back to the present, the innkeeper studied the blonde couple in turn. "Those are the facts of Miranda's story as I've been told, but the part that always struck me as the most poignant, is the legend."
"Legend?" Buffy prompted, enthralled and aching for Miranda, despite herself. "What legend?"
"Well...its been said that when those five men from town crested the hill and saw the house, just warming up to greet the morning sun, that they saw Jacob Morgan standing on the porch, holding Miranda in his arms, facing east. They say they saw him sit down on the porch steps, never letting go of her. And they say, when the sun first bathed the house in all its glory, that he burst into flames and disappeared. When they got to the porch, all that was left was the body of Miranda, laid gently and with great care on the porches' top step. Nothing but a pile of ashes next to her, around her, covering her. Perhaps the ashes of the husband that had been dead for just over a year, the husband that had loved his wife so much that upon her death, had left heaven to find her, to bring her home - for the final time."
Spike was staring hard at Buffy, not liking the stricken expression on her face. He knew she was feeling sympathy for Miranda. He knew it. But he was a vampire. It was beyond his ability to feel sympathy for a woman dead over a century ago, a woman who had done what she had done to Buffy. To him. The haunt may have gotten the raw deal in life, but that didn't mean Spike was going to stop trying to destroy her for what she'd done in death. He was just afraid that Buffy may no longer want to, might even try to stop him. Not that she could.
He wasn't happy about it, though. Fear that the actions he knew he had to take would drive a rift - perhaps an unbridgeable rift - between him and the woman he loved had him grimacing and miserable. The haunt may have succeeded in doing something worse than killing him, and without even being here to do it. She may have just made him and the Slayer adversaries again.
And that royally pissed him off.
"Nice story," he drawled sarcastically, " 'specially that legend part. It's complete rot, but then, you know that."
"What?" Ida was looking at him in confusion. She didn't understand his demeanor, and looking at him, seeing a dangerous glint in his eyes, she felt a slight twinge of fear. Hostility was shimmering off him in waves; she could feel it. But she had no idea why he would be so hostile.
"Spike." There was warning in Buffy's voice and she frowned. She recognized that look, knew it spelled trouble. She needed to get him out of there, out of the office, before he did or said something that they would both regret.
"Oh, come on, mum. You have to know that last part's a soddin' fairy tale. Else we wouldn't have the hauntin' Auntie to deal with now, would we? Think 'bout it. If hubby dropped down from the great beyond to take his chit home, she wouldn't still be here."
Speaking slowly, thinking about what Ken...Spike said, she conceded, "Well...no. I suppose you're right about that."
"Spike!" The warning became a demand, and Buffy got to her feet. She really didn't like that look in his eyes, that look that told her he was about ready to put his fist through something.
He ignored her. Never took his eyes of Ida. Couldn't look at Buffy's face and see the disgust for his kind there. He wasn't that strong. His heart was breaking and he just wasn't strong enough. It was a familiar feeling.
"So why's she still here, mum. Tell me. What's that bint still doin' here if her business was finished?"
The young man was across the room, but Ida felt pinned under the intensity in those feral blue eyes of his. Eyes that had been so clear earlier were now clouded with anger and...pain. None of it made any sense. Why would he have taken the story so personally? It just didn't make any sense.
"I-I d-don't know," she stammered, "m-maybe she's here because she never found her son." As she thought about it, she became stronger in her convictions. "Miranda has appeared to several people - mostly family. She only appears in the south side of the house, in front of windows in any of the rooms she goes to. It's like she's standing, watching, staring out the window, a sorrowful expression on her face. Maybe she's looking for her son. Waiting - still waiting - for him to come home from his friend's house."
Spike, enraged, pushed himself off the doorframe and stepped dangerously closer. Buffy was across the room in a heartbeat, not letting him go any further, shoving a Slayer-strength hand into his chest. She flipped her head around and flashed what she hoped would be a conciliatory smile at Ida. "Could you excuse us for a minute, Mrs. Heggan? I need to talk to Spike."
She didn't wait for the vague and surprised, "O-Of course." Buffy yanked the mightily pissed off fiend out of the room before the damage became irreparable.
Dragging him across the hall, past the reservation desk, into the living room, she finally let go and whirled on him.
"What the hell is your problem?" she hissed, trying to keep her voice down low enough not to be overheard by everyone in the house. "Would you care to explain that rampage you were on in there?"
Sullen and aching, Spike didn't meet her eyes. He turned away from her and paced off his excess energy. "Listen, Slayer," he answered hotly, "I'm sure you're all weepy and forgivin' of that bitch and what she did to us now, but I'm still gettin' rid of her. Let me save you from havin' to do the 'you're a bad, bad man' routine. I'm a monster; I know it. But I'm a monster that's makin' that bint pay for what she did to you. Don't rightly care how bad she had it in life. Hate me, I'm used to that. Stake me, even. But get the hell out of this soddin' house."
Realization dawned, lightening Buffy's expression and making her smile. He was scared. Spike was afraid that hearing Miranda's story, how bad it was, would make her change her mind about taking the haunt down. And if she did, she'd be against Spike, enemies again, and he was terrified of that happening. He thought he'd lost her, that she wouldn't love him anymore. That explained the defensive and prickly act in the other room. Geesh. Save me from insecure vampires, she thought, amused.
Still pacing, still not able to look at her without his heart breaking in two, Spike didn't notice Buffy's expression.
"Spike," she said casually, "what part of 'losing you would destroy me' did you not understand?"
Stopping abruptly, his back to her, she watched as he swiveled his head around slowly, confusion and hope etched hauntingly on his face. His body followed his head and he faced her, looking into her love-filled face for the first time. It soothed him, chased away his temper. He loved Buffy so much, his chest hurt sometimes. Just looking at her made him happy. And he hadn't lost her. He grinned at the knowledge that she loved him - still.
"Now, about Miranda - who we are so getting rid of. Sure, I feel bad about her life, but she's dangerous. Besides, I still have that 'whore' score to settle with her. We are both thinking Jacob was a vampire, right?"
Long strides carried him back to her side and he dropped his mouth to her smiling lips. Her hands came up and wrapped themselves in his hair, pulling him down, deepening the kiss. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he lifted her off the ground a bit, hugging her strongly. When they finally broke apart, Buffy was panting and Spike's eyes were gleaming again. With pleasure and relief.
"Spike." Buffy frowned, thinking about what Ida had told them - about the legend. "Did you notice anything odd about Miranda's story?"
Nuzzling her neck, he mumbled in her ear. "What do you mean, luv?"
"Well...Jacob gets turned. Got that. Spends a year feeding on the town. Got that. Finally kills his son and his wife. Got that - especially the wife part. Had a front row seat to that one, thanks to Slayer dreams - and that explains why he could get into the house, too. This was his house, he wouldn't need an invitation. But why does he only feed on women and children? That strike you as unusual? This town would have been one long smorgasbord, so why only the women and children? And if you're a vampire, large with a thirst for life - and blood - why did he dust himself after killing what was left of his mortal family?"
She pulled away from Spike slowly, her mind going a mile a minute. He watched her walk over to the large window in the room - the window that had been broken in almost a hundred and thirty years ago. Under her breath, lost in thought, she muttered, "What was she running from that night?"
That's when it hit her. Like a ton of bricks it hit her. She remembered what Jacob had told Miranda when he crashed through the window. "Your own actions dictate the course I take," he'd said. Then he didn't just kill her; he punished her with death.
"Oh God." The words were ripped from her throat in a hoarse whisper.
Spike heard her and panicked, but was held back from rushing to her side by the sun coming through the windows. Stuck in the shadows, cursing his helplessness, he called out to her. "What is it? Buffy? What's wrong?"
She didn't answer him, couldn't answer him. The thoughts in her head were too horrible to express. It couldn't be...
"Buffy! Talk to me damn it!"
Backing away from the window, she stepped back into the shadows and he was on her in a minute. Holding her shaking body, he searched her face, confusion and worry gnawing at his stomach. She raised her eyes and he sucked in an unneeded breath at the dead expression in them.
"I think I was wrong, Spike. I don't think you're as one-of-a-kind as I thought you were. He loved her. Not just before he was turned - but after. He was a demon and he still loved her. Whatever she did...it was so horrible that he killed her for it. And I think I know what it was."
Tears trickled down her face. She wasn't sure how she could be so sure, but it was there - like a cancer that wouldn't go away.
"She killed her own son. She killed Nathan."
They had no warning. One minute they were standing, alone, in the quiet living room. The next, an explosion of sound was ripping through the house, shaking it on its foundation. Glass shattered, blown in by some unseen force, from every window on every floor. Buffy and Spike ducked down behind a couch to escape the deadly flying projectiles.
"You know nothing, whore!" The shrieking sound of inhuman fury came from behind them and Spike and Buffy spun around, still crouched behind the couch, prepared for anything.
Anything, that is, except what they saw.
Continued in Chapter Six