All About Spike

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

Haunt of the House
By Jericho TGF

Chapter Seven

Too fast. Too much to take in all at once. Not enough time to figure out what was happening. To be ripped away from the small comfort of Spike's support and thrust savagely out of the house from three stories up was just the last in a long stretch of bad breaks. Grossly misplaced humor - macabre as it was - had Buffy choking back maniacal giggles at the thought that when her body hit the paved path beneath the window, she was in for the baddest of the bad breaks. And as finely tuned a machine as her body was, she could do nothing but freeze, her body locking down completely. She fell like a stone.

Hands tightened on her waist, she felt the squeeze. There was a tug, a yank, and a twist, but she saw only darkness, which in her mind seemed wrong. There was the feeling of falling, along with confusion at why she couldn't see what should be the shiny day in all its glory. Fatal glory for the vampire she loved - and her thoughts were for him as she plummeted to the earth. For Spike, for Dawn, Giles, and the rest of her friends, as well. For the life that she had such a hard time getting reacquainted with but had finally embraced. And this plunge, unlike the last, gave no comfort at all. Before, there was acceptance and peace - and the knowledge that she was doing what needed doing to save the world as well as her sister. This time there was only failure and loss.

Buffy tried to call out, but there was something over her mouth, covering it. And still there was darkness.

And then the dull thud and pain and darkness of a different color altogether.

But it wasn't long, that darkness. Though it seemed like an eternity. And when the world lightened for Buffy once again, it wasn't as bright as she thought it should be. In fact, it was suspiciously like night...but stuffier. And a little smoky.

Coughing, gasping for air against the constraints of fabric and acrid smoke, Buffy shot back into awareness with every single part of her body hurting in ways she hadn't known were possible. Struggling for clean air, she instinctively clamored toward an unknown surface, pulling and tearing at the offending material over her head.

It took a minute, but she finally got free, sucking in deep breaths. The light was back, painfully back, and Buffy had to squint against the glare as she looked around in frantic confusion.

Smoke...what the? Reality came crashing back down on the addled Buffy with blinding clarity. Shit! Spike!

One leg, one long, jean-clad leg was exposed to the sun and smoking dangerously. Buffy scrambled to cover the smoldering appendage with the un-life saving comforter that had wrapped around them when they were so abruptly removed from their suite. It was the comforter, Buffy realized, that had been responsible for the darkness when they were falling. It was that very same comforter that saved Spike from going poof. She almost felt thankful to Miranda for ripping those curtains away from the window earlier - almost - because curtains would have been insufficient to keep Spike blanketed from the morning sun during their fall.

It wasn't until the panic over the no-longer-smoldering Spike lessened a notch that Buffy gave a thought as to why she was still alive - not that she was complaining. Two facts hit her like a sledgehammer. The only reason she wasn't road-kill...or, path-kill, so to speak...was that Spike had twisted their bodies during the fall - which explained the tug on her waist - and took the full impact of his own body and hers on the pavement. She'd landed on him, not the cement. And now, Spike wasn't moving.

But he wasn't fertilizer either, and that was a good thing.

She couldn't check him out until she got him under cover. The blanket would have to stay securely wrapped around him. Her concerns were large, though. He'd been in a wheelchair for months after an organ had dropped on him. Well, okay, so after she'd dropped an organ on him, but that was so long ago, why quibble over details. The point was he could be hurt very, very badly if she moved him - if he wasn't already.

If she didn't move him, the blanket would eventually not be enough to keep him from combusting - not against the full light of early morning. She'd seen many of Spike's fiery blankets as he'd romped around in the sun back in Sunnydale - though his fascination with what should be his sleepy hours was forever a mystery to the Slayer. Spike was nothing if not an unconventional creature of the night. Bottom line, however, he didn't have long, maybe fifteen minutes at most before there would be a toasty vampire barbeque in the garden.

In the past, when confronted with a rock of inaction and a hard place of action, Buffy chose action every time. This time was no different.

Ignoring the screaming agony of her abused body, she leaned down and grabbed him up, tossing the bundle of Spike and comforter over her shoulder as gently as she could and carrying him toward the front of the house. As much as she hated the thought, they needed to get back inside.

Finally back on the porch, Buffy reached for the door handle and turned it, thinking, Come on Giles, where are you? I need you. A lot.

Bumping her shoulder against the closed door, Buffy winced as one of her more prominent bruises made itself known. She frowned. She'd turned the handle of the door but it hadn't opened.

Trying again, twisting the handle and throwing some weight into it in case the damage to the house earlier had jammed the door, she had nothing to show for her renewed efforts but a groan and another bruise. It wouldn't budge.

And the hits just keep on coming, she thought, as she shifted Spike on her shoulder a little and turned toward the large, glassless window that lead to the living room. She lifted a leg over the frame...and almost toppled over backwards when it didn't go through the window like it should, but hit an unseen barrier.

Off balance and scrambling for footing, Buffy stared in surprise at the seemingly open window. She raised her free hand and reached out, feeling the solid but invisible wall that sealed off the house from outside intrusion.

"You have got to be kidding me."

The harsh and frustrated oath that slipped past the Slayer's lips was anything but ladylike, and she groaned when she realized that she and Spike had not only been kicked out of the house, they'd been banished.

Buffy stood on the porch of the Bed & Breakfast and tried to collect herself. They couldn't stay there. It was too exposed. If someone drove up and saw her tending to an injured vampire, saw her own state of bruised, scraped, and a little bloody dishevelment, it would raise more questions than she had tolerance to answer. So what could she do? Where could she take Spike safely?

There was really only one answer. The woods. Behind the house, there was still a dense and thick forest. It may be a little smaller than it was a hundred and thirty years ago - with California development, it would have to be - but to make up for it, if the glimpse she had from the suite was any indication, it was more fully foliaged than it had been that night so many, many years ago.

And it was the only place left to go.

The Slayer, with an injured and ominously silent bundle of vampire over her shoulder, slipped around the side of the house that provided the most shade and moved as quickly as her sore body would allow across the yard. In minutes she slid into the cool, shadowy dampness of the forest.

She had to go about fifty feet into the woods to find enough large-growth trees to guarantee that no nasty little shafts of light would interrupt her examination. Once it was dark and shady, with no dappling making it down to the forest floor, she stopped and lowered Spike to the ground. Propping his back against a large pine tree, she pulled the comforter away from his head and body to take her first look at him.

Oh God, was all she could think when the extent of the vampire's injuries grew with each body part she probed. At least three broken ribs, a cracked collarbone, a dislocated shoulder, a dislocated hip...possibly a broken pelvis, she wasn't quite sure, and a seriously scorched leg were among the damage. His spine seemed intact, which was lucky - the only luck he had going for him, actually - but the back of his head was split and oozing blood. It was a good guess that he had a concussion, if not an actual skull fracture. She couldn't tell through the bloody, matted hair how bad it really was.

He had trails of dried blood at both ears as well as his nose, which would have boded serious ill for a human. For a vampire, she just didn't know.

The one thing she did know, it was bad. And right now, his unconsciousness was a blessing. With feigned detachment, Buffy grabbed his left arm, braced a foot against a section of unbroken ribs, and yanked swiftly. She grimaced and fought back a wave of nausea when she heard the grinding sound, followed by a loud pop as Spike's joint slipped back into place. She quickly followed it up with similar treatment on his hip.

A few strips of the large bedspread served as bindings for the vampire's ribs and a sling to support the cracked collarbone, as well as a bandage around his head.

When finished, when Buffy had done everything she could think to do, the Slayer stood on weak legs, sore and defeated, and backed away from the broken body on the forest floor. Slipping around a tree, she sank to her knees and pressed the palms of her hands into her face.

Muffled, hidden, alone, she sobbed out her horror and sorrow to the surrounding nature.

At first, when a light breeze rustled through the branches of the canopy far above Buffy's head, she paid it no mind. It wasn't until the breeze filtered through the trees around her and teased her hair away from her face that she came back into herself and dashed the tears from her eyes.

Standing, she hurried back to Spike to make sure he wasn't at risk of sunburn.

"Spike! You're awake!"

Without a doubt, the vampire was awake. But he didn't respond to Buffy's excited hail, nor did he look at her. Something had his full attention and he stared intently off to his left, deeper into the forest. And he was in full game face.

"Spike?" Buffy stepped closer, but he held up a hand to halt her progress.

"We're being watched," he finally ground out past his pain.

Spike didn't take his eyes off of the area where he'd heard motion just moments ago. That wasn't what woke him so abruptly, though. It was her sobs. He'd heard them and it had dragged his mind back from oblivion. He'd been sitting, listening to her cry for several minutes. It ate at him, burned his heart like corrosive acid, but he'd been unable to go to her. So he'd sat and endured the torture and fear he'd heard in each snuffled gasp - hurting him more than all of his many and varied injuries combined.

But his attention had shifted when his predatory senses went into full alert. The telltale sound of a stick snapping under an unseen weight, the whisper of branches and leaves rustling when no breeze was there to toss them. The ridges and fangs had made an appearance on their own volition - an instinct for survival ages old.

"Watched?" Buffy questioned his words, not his instincts and she whirled to face the direction he was looking, placing herself between whatever it was and the vampire she'd protect with her life.

"Slayer," he snarled, "get behind me."

It would have been laughable, the idea that Buffy the Vampire Slayer needed to hide behind someone who was not only a vampire, but a vampire so hurt he couldn't stand. It would have been laughable - should have been - but when she heard the sounds of movement and a deep rumbling huff of...something...she didn't take the time to laugh. Instead, she turned to the tree and snapped off a dead branch just above shoulder level, heaving it like a club.

"Can't say I really feel like hiding behind your skirts, Spike, not that I don't appreciate the offer." Nothing else was going to get a chance to add to Spike's injuries. Not while she was still standing.

She was angry, there was rage in her voice. Not at him, though, and he knew it. It's the only thing that prevented a sarcastic retort - so he settled for rolling his demon-gold eyes at her stubborn hardheadedness...and the snarky 'skirts' comment. But he'd be damned if he faced whatever was heading their way lounging on his ass while she did the superchit protecto gig. He was too proud for that.

Silently, with a grace that belied the severity of his injuries, he got to his feet and prepared for whatever that bitch fate had up her well-stocked sleeve for him and his woman.

The tension mounted as the two battered warriors stood their ground against the approaching danger...only to be completely broken when a Tinkerbell-sized blue light whizzed past the startled pair and plunged into the foliage in front of them.

They heard a crackle of electrical energy and a roar of frustration...the warriors glanced at each other with wide-eyed surprise when they placed that roar. It was a bear. No mistaking it. Buffy and Spike remembered the last bear they'd dealt with. Okay, so Buffy dealt with it, Spike had been tied to a chair with arrows poking out of his chest at the time. It was Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, and a spirit guy from the Shumash tribe had added a bit of 'Slayer-style' festivity to the holiday.

Didn't sound like this bear was going to be adding any kind of festivity, judging by the hasty - and noisy - retreat it was making. Whatever that blue light thing had done, it changed the bear's mind about its interest in the Slayer and vampire. When all sounds of its scramble away from them were gone, Buffy and Spike finally relaxed. Buffy dropped her arms, and her club, and Spike collapsed against the trunk of the tree. The relief was second only to their confusion.

"What the bloody hell is that thing, Slayer?"

He meant the light, she knew. Unfortunately she didn't have the slightest clue. "It's saved your life, our lives, more than once. Whatever it is, I'm thinking it's on our side."

Spike, suspicious by nature, raised a brow at Buffy's troubled musings. "Be careful 'bout those assumptions, pet. 'The enemy of our enemy' rot doesn't mean it's not something that'll try to kill us."

Fed up, exhausted, more sore than she could ever remember being, Buffy's temper bubbled up dangerously near the surface. She slid a glance over to Spike and looked at him for a long moment before finally telling him, "Yeah, I know. I've learned that lesson already, but thanks for the refresher course."

He stared back at her, not needing the reminder of their checkered history. He knew she was thinking of their truce four years ago, thinking of Angelus and that whole Acathla business. Spike had been her enemy then, but had gone to her to help her get rid of his grand-sire. Purely selfish reasons, of course. She was right. He would have killed her if he could have - even tried to kill her after that. But all of that was a lifetime ago and much had changed. He'd changed.

"Don't," he warned, not wanting a ride on the particular train of thought she had on track.

"Don't what, Spike?" Buffy was tired. Her words were tired. And more than that, they were sad and small. "Tell the truth? Remind you of our past? Why not? It's the truth. I know it, you know it."

Bloody hell, he thought, she's slipped into one of those never-amusin' 'poor me' moods. Not what we soddin' need right now.

He pushed himself off the tree, almost biting through his tongue to keep from groaning in pain, and managed to limp only a little as he crossed to her. "Funny thing, truth." Standing in front of her, not touching her - though the need to do so was overpowering - he shook off his demon visage and smirked at her. "One of 'em pops up, rears its ugly little mug, 'nother one's just a turned corner away. You just have to know which bend to focus on, luv. We were enemies. Now we're not. Up to you which one of those you want to rattle around on. Be sure to let me know which one you choose. I've a mind to get the bloody hell out of this backwater, and I'd prefer to do it after we deal with the hauntin' Auntie."

Buffy mouth dropped open at Spike's casually spoken...truth. And that's what it was. It was the truth. The past was gone. She had a new life - literally - and it wasn't fair to either of them to sink back into the depressing and bloody history they shared. Nor was it fair to wallow in self-pity over the depressing and bloody present. It wasn't just depressing and bloody. There was also love and companionship and trust. It's just which truth you want to look at. Spike was right. Of course, she thought wryly, he usually is. Damn him.

Sighing, letting go of her frustration and anger - misplaced hostility, all of it - she closed the gap between them and raised a hand to his cheek. Caressing his jaw with a whisper of a touch, she smiled tenderly into his waiting blue eyes. "I love you."

His smirk grew to a smile and he huffed out a chuckle. "Good to hear you remember that, pet. Doubt I have it in me right now to do the 'me Tarzan, you Jane' act to jog your memory. Besides, loincloth's not my style."

Buffy shook her head, trying to hide her mirth as she leaned into him gently. "Style? Is that what the kids are calling it these days? Cuz I'm really thinking you're way over-generous with that particular label."

Finally unable to deny his need any longer, he wrapped his good arm around her petite body and hugged her to him. "That's not all I'm overly generous with...though we may need to wait a day or two before I can grace you with my attentions."

Pressing her face into the leather at his chest, she grinned. "You're a pig, Spike."

"Well lookee lookee, we've turned the dial to the golden oldies. How stunningly unoriginal, pet."

"That's not unoriginal, it's a classic. And I know how you are about me knowing my classics."

Spike had to bark out a laugh at that one.

Her grin grew to silent chuckles that shook her shoulders. "Okay, I'll give you original. I love you. How's that for original?"

"Not very, sorry to say." He feigned bored disinterest. "Heard that one before. Though, unlike the last tune, this one's got a beat you can dance to."

She pulled back in mock affront, struggling to keep her face straight. "You think we're dancing?"

He lowered his head, feeling the bands of love tighten in his chest, and stared seriously into her eyes. "It's all we've ever done. Told you that once before. But this time, we got the song right. I love you, Buffy. And that's a dance I plan to share with you for a bloody long time."

She managed, "I think I can live with that," before he dropped his head and captured her lips, effectively cutting off any other comments.

The kiss was powerful and tender, searing and soothing. Taking, giving, receiving, they poured their hearts into the dance. And it swept them away.

Spike's hands traced their way up Buffy's arms to her shoulders and neck before diving into her hair to tangle there, pulling her closer and closer still. Buffy grabbed at his duster, but it wasn't enough - never enough - and she slid them around his waist and up his back. Pressed together, plundering and reveling in fiery touches that flamed the senses and sealed their promise to each other, the only sounds were of satisfaction and bliss. It was a heady mix of intoxicating eroticism.

He broke away from her mouth - but only to give her a chance to breathe. Resting his forehead against hers, brushing his lips against the corner of her mouth, he whispered endearments to her that she echoed back in a breathless tumble.

"One of these days, Summers, you're going to kill me with that fiery passion of yours. And I promise not to complain a lick."

"You? Not complain? I'd like to see that."

That was enough of a breather for Buffy and she rejoined the fray yet again, demanding satisfaction as she gave it. Their tongues touched; swirled together in an exotic ballet, burning them both with need and want and love.

They damned their circumstances as well as their surroundings. It was neither the time nor the place to give in to their mutual desire. Spike wasn't even sure he was physically capable of giving in to his desire.

Regretfully, they pulled apart, eyes glowing with suppressed emotion.

Shaky, trembling in reaction to a kiss that touched her heart to the core, Buffy ran a hand through her hair and stared at the man she loved. He was trembling, too. She could see it. She just wished she could be sure it was the kiss, and not the damage that he had endured for her.

"You seem to have picked up an interesting habit, Spike."

Her voice was husky and throaty. It was a bedroom voice and he reveled in the knowledge that this thing between them was real. Wonderful and real and for good - if he had anything to say about it...and he did. His mouth quirked at the thought that this time, he really did have a say in the matter.

"What habit is that, Slayer?" It was a sardonic and self-satisfied drawl.

"Seems like every time I turn around, lately, you're doing something that saves my life. You really should see about getting that checked out. I'm sure it's bad for your image, a vampire saving a Slayer and all."

She was teasing him, he knew it. But one thing he couldn't tease about - didn't have it in him to tease about - was her life. His face lost all trace of humor.

"No. I don't think that's a habit I'm gonna to do a soddin' thing about."

If she was surprised at the lightning fast change of his mood, she hid it well. Instead, she matched it. "Thank you. Again. If you hadn't - "

He swung away from her, cutting her off abruptly. "I did. 'Nough said, I imagine. Rather not pick it apart."

Opening her mouth to speak again, his rush of words didn't give her a chance. She had no choice but to stare at his back while he spoke low and intensely.

"Lost you once, Buffy. Told you what it did to me. Almost lost you again today. If there's anythin' I can do to make sure it never happens again, I'll do it. Don't want to talk about it, don't want a bleedin' medal for it. Just is. That's a truth you'd better get used to. You fight your own battles, I know. I'm not sayin' I'm gonna be turnin' into some git that wants to deny you your place in the world. I'm sayin' I'm gonna be the bloke that makes sure you stay in the world."

She followed him and laid a hand on his back, understanding his need to protect her - sharing it - and loving him that much more for his words.

"I'm not going to lose you, either, Spike. You've got my back? I've got yours. Don't forget it. But I'm still thankful that you did what you did."

He grinned, but didn't turn to let her see it. "Stubborn chit. Always wantin' the last word."

"See, another thing you shouldn't forget. We're making real progress here."

Serious-talk time over, Spike limped over to a tree and tried to look cool as he leaned on it for support. When he'd sort of settled himself, he finally raised his eyes to Buffy, who stood watching him, concern in her eyes.

"Stop lookin' at me like that, Slayer. I'll be fine. Once those mates of yours get here, we'll be okay. Think I'll enjoy sendin' the mighty Watcher on a blood run, right enough."

Frowning, Buffy thought about Giles and Willow. "Shouldn't they be here by now, Spike? I mean it's only a five-hour drive. Feels like we've been going at it with Miranda for a lot longer than that."

"Just feels that way, luv. Of course, you wore a watch, we wouldn't have to wonder."

"I can't wear a watch. It screws up the fighty stuff. Plus, it'd just get broken. Or worse, it wouldn't break, and I'd have my hand yanked off. One handed Slayers don't quite strike the fear into the hearts of the demons like they should."

Spike rolled his eyes at her. "The point is they'll be here when they get here. Won't make it any quicker with you doin' the 'are they here yet' diatribe every thirty seconds."

"You're right. I know you're ri - "

He'd looked down as he searched for his pack of cigarettes. Pulling the pack out of his coat pocket, he glanced up to see why she'd cut off so suddenly. She was looking at him, or so he thought, but her eyes were wide and surprised.

Finally he figured out that she wasn't looking at him; she was looking just over his shoulder. And that was not a happy Slayer face she was sporting.

His game face surged forward once again and he tested the air for bears - or anything else that he could smell or hear. But there wasn't anything. Turning his head slowly, he looked over his shoulder and followed Buffy's line of sight.

"Bloody hell!"

Scrambling backwards, he put some distance between himself and the large orb of blue energy that had been materializing right behind him. Side by side, the Slayer and the vampire watched in a mix of trepidation and awe as a form solidified in the swirling mass of light. The more form it took, the less glowy it was, and eventually there was nothing left of the light at all.

Eventually, all that was left was a very solid-looking little boy.

And around them, the sounds of the forest fell silent as death. Spike and Buffy exchanged a look that was...difficult to explain. Searching for answers, for reason, for proof that what they were seeing was real in each other's eyes, there was only silence and confusion. And a touch of fear.

But answers - answers to life's most difficult and harried questions - are often found in only one place. In the in-betweens. In the silence.

Buffy stepped forward slowly, staring in wonder and fascination at the young child in front of her. He stared back and Buffy could swear, in the large, dark brown eyes that were familiar to her by now, there was humor there - as well as a cloak of peace and resignation. Eyes a century old. Wise eyes. Eyes that had not seen enough of life, but far, far too much of death. The eyes of...

"Nathan Morgan." It wasn't a question, and Buffy didn't need the nod of confirmation, but the entity in front of her gave it anyway. "It was you. In the house. You saved Spike when Miranda was in me. You saved me when Miranda was choking me."

Spike was floored, stunned beyond speech as the lad nodded again. It...he...was a small boy, brown hair, in wool trousers with suspenders over a crisp, white shirt rolled up at the sleeves. Clothes common for children back when a vampire named Spike was a human named William. One thing was certain; he didn't like surprises of this magnitude.

"Buffy, get away from him."

"What? Why? Spike, he helped us. You can't still think - "

"I'll tell you what I bloody well think, Slayer. I think little Lord Fauntleroy here," he nodded in the boy's direction, not bothering to shuck his game face, "isn't a ghost, and it's not a haunt." He pinned the entity with a dangerous glare, growling slightly. "Which begs the question, just what the soddin' hell are you?"

Lightning flashed in the child's eyes, even as he grinned at the vampire's expression. Before Spike could register that the entity had moved, Nathan was in front of him, with a hand on his chest, right over his dead heart. Spike only had time to gasp reflexively before warmth flooded his body, warmth that he'd never known as a vampire. Warmth he wasn't sure he'd ever known as a human. He heard Buffy's panicked, "Hey!" under a roar of colorful noise, before he toppled over and the connection was broken.

Buffy rushed to Spike's side, whirling on the entity standing there, smiling at her...laughing at her with his ancient eyes. "What did you do?! Tell me, damn it! What did you do to him?!" There was betrayal and disillusionment in her gaze.

A strong hand closed over her arm and she automatically let Spike use her to pull himself upright. She didn't take her gaze off of what was left of Nathan Morgan, and her mind spun with things she would do to him to make him pay for hurting Spike.

"Um...Buffy?"

She stared down the child; anger and strength coursing through her body, making her forget her own piddly aches and pains.

"Buffy?"

Still she spun on how to protect Spike from another attack. Buffy hadn't even heard him.

"Slayer!"

That got her attention and she jerked her head around to look at Spike in surprise at the hail. And her jaw dropped open in a very unflattering 'lets catch some flies' way.

"I think he fixed me."

It was true; there was no denying it. Spike was standing, slipping the splint off his arm and testing it for pain. There wasn't any. He ran a hand through his hair; removing the makeshift bandage Buffy had put on, and tested his head. It was tender, and there was still a slight lump, but the blood was gone and the flesh was closed. His ribs felt better, too, and he ripped the tight dressings off his chest while Buffy just gaped at him.

"He fixed me."

She could do nothing but nod, dazed at the odd turn of events, before realizing that an apology for almost ripping the child's head off his body may be appropriate. Guilt marred her features as she looked down at the still smiling boy.

He didn't give her a chance to say anything.

"I'm not a ghost. The vampire is correct. Nor am I a haunt, like my mother. Obviously, I'm not a boy, either. What I am, however, is even less important than who I was. And there is little enough time without wasting precious seconds on pointless explanations. Even now she's gathering her strength. She'll be coming for you again, even here you are not safe."

"Wait a second," Spike said, "just...slow down, nipper. What did you do to me? Why am I all ready to rumble all of a sudden?"

"Energy. You're a vampire, basically animated flesh. The damage to your body was repaired by an influx of electrical energy, mixed with a chemical energy I was uniquely qualified to provide. I gave you as much energy as I could spare."

"You did a Dr. Frankenstein on me, I get it."

"I...don't understand that reference."

"Not important. Appreciate the fix up."

Nathan bobbed his head in acknowledgement.

"Nathan," said Buffy, "what did you mean when you said we're not safe here. Miranda is a haunt. Don't they have to...well...stay in the places they haunt?"

"Yes, actually, though I don't think you understand. Miranda doesn't just haunt the house. She haunts this whole area - the original grounds of the house."

"Oh, well that's just bloody wonderful news. We're outta that soddin' house and we're still buggered. Perfect."

"Can you help us?" Buffy asked Nathan, nervous and a little shocked by the modulated and well-spoken words of what appeared to be an eight-year-old boy but was obviously something much different.

"Not in the way you think. My power is limited. It is insufficient to wage the battle necessary to rid the house and grounds of her presence. What I've done so far has been possible simply because she was distracted. She...fears me. I am a reminder of a truth she doesn't wish to face, and therein lays your power. If you make her admit her transgressions, you will defeat her. Her righteous fury is her power; it's why she's so strong. Remove that, and she will be beaten."

"You wouldn't happen to know what those bleedin' transgressions are, would you? I'm gonna take a stab in the dark and say it's more than what she did to you." Spike pulled out a cigarette - he needed it - and lit it, staring through the smoke and waiting for some answers. The sorrow that flashed across the child's face almost made Spike feel true guilt for the less than tactful way he'd worded his question.

"I don't know why she's still here. I can tell you it has less to do with me and much more to do with what you are. That much is as obvious as her hatred of you and your wife."

"My...wife?" Spike sputtered in surprise, hearing a snickering giggle bubble forth from Buffy's mouth. It confused the little boy - or whatever it was.

"Are you two not married?"

"No," said Buffy emphatically, a little too emphatically for Spike, actually, "we're so not married."

"But...I don't understand. You are together; you love one another. I've seen it. You bicker with love in your eyes and hearts. You share a room and a bed, are you sure you're not married?"

Embarrassed by the clinical description of their relationship, mostly because a child - more or less - recited it, Buffy didn't answer.

"We're different, Buffy and I. Our...we're not like that." Spike didn't bother mentioning that the bare facts of his statement made him...less than happy.

She was about to explain the 'boyfriend' concept to Nathan, she really was. But when Buffy opened her mouth to speak, the words wouldn't come. Spike wasn't her boyfriend. She thought about it and realized that he really wasn't. The label didn't fit. But then, what label did when referring to Spike? Other than 'obnoxious pain in the ass that she had mysteriously but truly fallen in love with', of course. And somehow, that just didn't seem appropriate to blurt out.

So if he wasn't a 'boyfriend', what was he? What exactly was Spike to her?

It came to her in a flash of insight and she knelt down next to the boy to meet him eye to eye. She didn't notice Spike's wary and interested glance in her direction, had no way of knowing he was very curious as to what she was about to say.

"Spike and I can't be legally married, Nathan." Buffy spoke slowly, as much to help him understand as to put it into the correct words. "He's not my husband, he's my...he's a bigger part of me than that. See, Nathan, along with my sister, Spike is a very large part of my everything. He's my...well, he's just mine. And I'm his. We belong to each other, with each other. Understand?"

One very surprised vampire almost toppled over in shock and pleasure at Buffy's words. He didn't...couldn't...say a word as he replayed the words she'd spoken over and over in his head.

And suddenly, he was really ready to kick a little haunt ass.

"I do understand, actually," Nathan told her with a wise smile. "I am heartened to know that you finally understand, as well."

That knocked Buffy for a bit of a loop. "What?"

The wind picked up and howled through the trees, tossing the leaves of the canopy about in a frenzy and allowing sunlight to shoot down from above. A startled yelp from Spike when a ray of light grazed across his cheek preceded a 'duck and run for the comforter' move.

Nathan stared up into the trees above while Buffy made sure Spike was safe. "She's coming," he called out to the couple. "You have not yet seen, and we're running out of time. There is a place we can go that she dare not follow. It is close, but you will need to follow me."

He didn't give Spike and Buffy time to argue, or even comment, before he 'orbed' - for lack of a better word - and slipped away from them. Buffy and Spike were left with little choice but to run after the glittering blue ball of light.

Struggling through the underbrush, cursing as he went, Spike had a difficult time keeping up. The comforter kept snagging on twigs and brambles, almost getting ripped out of his grasp more than once. Buffy, feet in front of him and moving fast, heard several 'bloody hell' and 'soddin' woods' oaths as they sped after Nathan.

A few minutes of mad dashing through the forest brought the Slayer and vampire into small, shaded area free of the ground clutter that had hampered Spike's progress. Unlike the woods around them, no wind penetrated the spot and the trees were, oddly enough, not swaying in the breeze - there was no breeze at all.

It was safe to toss aside the comforter, which Spike did, but he had no clue as to the why.

Nathan re-materialized and waited patiently for Buffy to catch her breath. "There isn't much time left. I won't be able to hold this form for much longer and you need to see before you face mother again."

"See...what exactly?" asked Buffy.

"Just curious, mind," interrupted Spike as he looked around at the calm and peaceful oasis in the center of a growing fury of wind that was the rest of the woods, "but why inn't this place doin' the big blow about like...well...everythin' else?"

Buffy noticed the eerie calm of the place for the first time and turned a questioning gaze to the child. She saw him look at one of the nearby trees; saw his chin quiver slightly. For all his wisdom and the age of his eyes, it really hit her for the first time that there was still much of the little boy left in him. A little boy that had been killed by his mother. That's when she knew why this place was untouched by the spectral reach of haunting arms.

"This is where you were buried. Oh God, she buried you here."

A tiny fist came up to wipe a tear away from his eyes. Small but proud shoulders squared with a child's sigh. "Yes."

"I'm so sorry, Nathan."

He turned and looked at her and Buffy's heart broke a little at the sad eyes - eyes so like his mother's, but without the hatred and insanity.

"What's done is done. And long done, at that. But she must not be allowed to hurt anyone else. She's been stirred, awoken from her complacency. Even were you to leave this instant and never return, I do not believe it would quell her thirst for vengeance. I will show you what I can. It won't be enough, but it may light your way."

"Um...sorry to interrupt, but before you open up with the showin' and the tellin', could you just give us a straight answer about one thing?"

Nathan nodded once. "If I can. Ask your question, vampire."

"Your mum, why'd she off..." Spike caught Buffy's warning glare and quickly adjusted his dialogue. "...I mean, why'd she do what she did to you?"

Nathan didn't say anything right away; he just measured Spike with a serious stare. Finally, his silence relented and he spoke with a child's voice and just a touch of a child's hope. "I will show you what my mother did to me, you will see it first hand. As for the why..." his gaze returned to the ground in front of the tree that Buffy knew he was buried beneath. "Maybe you will be able to explain that to me."

That was quite possibly the saddest thing Buffy had ever heard and nothing she could say would ever take away the pain and confusion of a small boy long dead.

"We'll stop her, Nathan. Show us what we need to see, and we'll stop her."

Nathan smiled a small, tragic little smile and reached out his hands. Meeting first Buffy's eyes, then Spike's, he waited for them to make the necessary connection.

Buffy clasped the fragile hand, a little surprised by the warmth she felt and she met Spike's wary gaze with a tremulous smile. The vampire sighed for effect, but didn't grumble...too much...before completing the odd triangle.

"Now," explained Nathan, "close your eyes and you will see."

Three pairs of eyes closed to the light of day and two pairs of eyes opened to the 'light' of night...over a century in the past.



Continued in Chapter Eight

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