By Jericho TGF
Silence, too. A complete and utter silence that anyone familiar with the age of technology, traffic, and over-population cannot even comprehend.
It was that, more than anything else, which struck a chord in the Slayer's heart, letting her know that the where wasn't what was important. It was the when. And this time - unlike the last - she was seeing it, feeling it on her own. Not through the eyes of Miranda. Not in a dream. This was real. Well, as real as it could be, Buffy supposed.
Spike, a little confused, spun in a tight arc and took in the new scenery. Or more rightly put, the very old scenery.
For him, the night was nowhere near silent. It was screaming at him, echoing in his head in a way he'd never known it could - because when you live with noise every day, exist in it, you don't hear it. And Spike had lived with this particular silent noise before. He'd been human at the time, then not. But it had been so long ago - over a century, really, that it was slamming into his head with all the subtlety of heavy artillery.
A mile away, a cougar screamed out in victory over a fresh kill.
Just over his shoulder, a creepy-crawly crept and crawled.
The worms turned in the earth. The predators flexed talon and teeth. The circle of life was loud, large with vitality, and in full charge of this reality. Not like in their own time, when life - real nature-type life - was held at bay in designated areas or held back from their destinies by cages and walls and people. The difference was startling and severe. And oddly tragic. For when Spike was barraged by the call of the wild, a call that was as temping as a siren for the vampire, he knew a sense of homecoming that almost brought him to his knees.
And it had nothing at all to do with the demon in him.
There he was. In that shrieking, loud silence. Home. Sure, a continent and an ocean away from where he was born, but home in a way that time, being what it is, never allows. And it was the man in him that ached deeply in response. The tragedy in that? Well, it's not like he could just blurt out how intense the pleasure was. Or why he was fighting back the sting of tears. Or how having Buffy next to him, experiencing with him an age that existed before he was even aware that monsters were real, a time before he was one, made him feel...blessed.
No. Spike - Mr. 'Kick some bloody ass now, ask questions never' William the Bloody - couldn't say that to anyone. Not even to Buffy. Hell, he hadn't even known he was capable of that level of poof-ness.
He hated it. And he was moved by it. But he was Spike, so he went with indignant and pissed.
"Well, well. Fascinated with all the seein' we're doin'. Be better if there was actually somethin' to see." Sighing in aggravated frustration to show just how put out he was by the whole deal, he turned to Buffy. "No more guidin' lights of boy-sized energy, either. Looks like we're on our own. So. What's next on the need to view?"
The Slayer shook her head and frowned, perplexed and just as let down at the absence of 'show' in their little 'show and tell' as Spike was. "I have no idea." She motioned in the direction they'd come almost one hundred and thirty years in the future. "Let's head back to towards the house. Maybe we'll find...something."
Unable to think of a better plan, Spike just huffed at her and followed her lead through the forest.
The going wasn't as easy, that much was sure. More ground clutter to impede their progress. As they trudged along, silent and lost in their own thoughts, they came across a well-worn path that looked like it headed straight towards the Carr House. It was a path that didn't exist in their own time, but they took advantage of it, regardless.
Just after they turned to walk down the path more traveled, the proverbial other shoe dropped with an ominous thud.
Spike heard it first, thanks to vampire hearing, and he reached out to lay a hand on the Slayer's shoulder to halt her progress. She shot him a questioning glance but didn't say anything when she saw the serious expression on his face. A few moments later, she heard what had caught Spike's attention and locked eyes with the vampire.
Wordlessly, they slid off the trail and melted into the comforting arms of shadowy darkness as the sound of fast-approaching footfalls drew closer. Side by side, they were tense and ready for just about anything, almost hoping for something tangible to pummel to release some of their pent up frustration. They waited to see what would hopefully aid them on the 'get rid of Miranda forever' campaign.
The ready for anything bit went out the window when a small and remarkably familiar figure dashed down the trail in front of them, out of sight before either Buffy or Spike realized that it was none other than a very alive Nathan Morgan that had stirred up all their fighting instincts.
A Vampire Slayer and a vampire exchanged an almost disappointed expression.
"Well," drawled Spike laconically, "that was certainly..."
Unable to hide the smirk at the double entendre, Spike arched a brow and nodded at her.
She ignored him. Glancing down the path that Nathan had taken, she said, "We may as well follow him."
There was no way a dashing child could match their supernatural speed, so it didn't take long before Nathan was back in sight. Buffy called out to him. "Nathan! Stop!"
The child didn't even break stride, apparently not hearing her hail.
After listening to her holler out to the lad a few more times, Spike finally spoke up. "Won't work, luv. We're not really here, remember? It feels real, smells real, but at the end, it's just a memory we're playin' at."
He could almost feel her roll her eyes as she sprinted in front of him. Her response, spoken under her breath, floated back to him as he ran.
"I mention the ghost of Christmas past one time and poof. We're neck deep in Dickens."
The sound of an unseen creature thrashing in the underbrush just off the trail in front of them and to their right echoed through the woods. One lone, keening bleat of misery rang out, silencing the nightlife and bringing the three on the path to a screeching halt.
Slayer and Vampire recognized it as the sound of death and slipped back into the woods to investigate. For the moment, they completely forgot about Nathan.
Ten feet from the path lay a deer, its head twisted at an impossible angle, kicking weakened limbs reflexively as it died. But there was nothing natural about this death. Attached to its neck, feeding hungrily, was a shadowy figure with dark hair. A vampire.
He held the deer in an almost reverent embrace as he drained the large animal dry. Spike and Buffy looked on in grim fascination. Buffy couldn't help but watch, as much as she would prefer not to. There was something so visceral...primal...about it. It was the first time she'd ever seen a vampire feeding on something that wasn't her duty to protect. Still, there was nothing at all pleasant about watching a creature of the night - her sworn enemy - munching down on Bambi.
But still she watched.
And when the vampire raised his head and shook off the demon visage, Buffy sucked in a surprised breath at the pain she saw in shadowed, hazel eyes. Her own mixed emotions about what she'd just witnessed paled in comparison to the combination of self-hatred and yearning completion she saw there.
Before she could puzzle out reasons or explanations, a horrible, tormented expression darkened his features and with nothing but a whisper of air to mark his passing, he leapt up and fled into the woods like the hounds of hell were after him.
And a disbelieving, confused, lost and heartbroken voice disturbed the silence with one word.
"Papa?!" The wail was long and haunting in the dark and lonely night.
Spike and Buffy spun at the tragic sound. A small boy stood in a shaft of moonlight. Shocked and trembling, an iridescent tear dropped from one wide eye and trailed a devastated path down a pale cheek. Able to do nothing but stare, Buffy's heart was in pieces. Spike cursed the circumstances that had transpired. They finally realized what Nathan was starting to show them and it was no longer a matter to be taken lightly.
They'd been right about one thing. Nathan's father - Miranda's husband - was a vampire.
After a long minute, Nathan turned away and headed back towards the house, leaving Buffy and Spike in the dark.
"Do you think he saw...?" Buffy's voice trailed off as she focused on the now-empty spot the little boy had stood.
"His father feedin'?"
She just couldn't force an affirmative from her throat so she nodded slowly.
In a serious, low voice, Spike answered. "Don't know. Doubt it matters. He saw enough."
Buffy looked over her shoulder and searched out Spike's eyes in the darkness. "This vacation sucks."
She sighed deeply, the weight of a child's pain dragging her down. Lifting a foot to take a step after the boy, it came down not in the forest, but in a dimly lit hallway. Without so much as by your leave or a buzz of warning the woods were gone and in its place were the familiar walls of the Carr House.
Buffy jumped in surprise when Spike snarled angrily behind her.
"What the bloody hell?"
It was a good question. One for which she had no answer. After a brief moment to acclimate to the new surroundings, Buffy walked cautiously down the hall, half expecting something to jump out at her. Nothing did, but she gasped reflexively when she passed in front of a mirror hanging against the dark paneled wood that in their time is light and polished. In that mirror was not the reflection of Miranda as it had been during Buffy's dream, but the reflection of...the matching dark paneled wall behind her.
"Geesh," she hissed out in surprise, flashing a glance at Spike - who was staring at her with a lone brow arched in question. "No reflection. Creepy."
A smirk tugged at Spike's lips and he dropped his voice down into a sexy drawl. "You get used to it, pet."
One trademarked eye roll later, Buffy resumed her trek down the hall. Sounds of habitation were coming from the dining room and they moved to check it out. When they entered, Buffy noticed how similar it was to the one in their own time. The walls were whitewashed instead of papered in the attractive mauve color they were in the present, and the lamps lighting the area were less with the electricity and more with the gas, but the table was the same - as well as the ornately carved chairs, a serving curio cabinet against one wall, and a small table in the far corner.
The troubled boy sitting at the table - pushing food around on his plate and lost in thought - was new...or old, depending on how you look at it. As was his mother perched stiff-backed at the head of the table, eating delicately.
Spike snarled deep in his throat when he saw Miranda sitting there, calmly and primly dining. Buffy felt rage just looking at her. But in this time, Miranda was alive and they were insubstantial. They were no more equipped to deal with her than they'd been in their own time. Buffy laid a hand on Spike's arm and squeezed gently. It drew his attention back to her and he tamped down on his demon just enough to be able to smile tenderly at the woman he loved, letting her know he was in control of himself.
"Bleedin' ironic if you ask me," he said.
"House is still haunted." Spike nodded his head at the two occupants at the table. "Just, now they're the real ones and we're the ghosts."
Buffy grimaced at the thought while they moved further into the room, watching past events unfold before them.
"I've had quite enough of your sullen behavior, young man." Miranda's voice was stern as she stared down the table at her somber son. "You may either eat your dinner or leave the table, but we do not play with our food and glower."
Nathan made an effort to sit up straight and he looked at his mother with sadness swirling in his eyes. "I'm sorry, Mother."
"As well you should be. You know how important it is to be in by sunset, but you willfully disobeyed me. I will not allow you to ruin my meal because you are upset with your punishment."
The little boy stared down at his plate guiltily.
Watching him, Buffy could see him wrestle with his thoughts. She wished there was something she could do to comfort him. Glaring at the imperial Miranda, she silently vowed to a long-dead child to do whatever was in her power to make sure Miranda didn't hurt anyone else. It was the best she could do.
But it would never be anywhere near good enough.
"Mama," Nathan's voice intruded on Buffy's thoughts and she glanced at him. He was staring intently at his food and his voice was little more than a mumbled whisper. "I saw someone in the forest on my way home."
Spike had been watching Miranda when Nathan spoke and he saw the quick stiffening of her shoulders and the almost imperceptible tightening of her mouth. His eyes narrowed and he stalked to her side, listening for and hearing her quickened pulse and fast breath. Under his scrutiny, she paled visibly.
"I saw Papa, Mama. He's not dead."
"That's ridiculous, Nathan," the woman scoffed with forced dismissal. "You are well aware that your father, may he rest in peace, passed on almost a year ago."
Large brown eyes so like his mother's lifted and met hers across the table. The ragged edge of hope was prominent in them, enlarging them, begging for a truth that would never come.
"Are...are you sure, Mama? That Papa died, I mean. Maybe you were wrong. Maybe he was just hurt and couldn't come home to us. Maybe - "
"That's enough, Nathan!" Miranda pushed herself away from the table and stood up quickly, visibly shaken. She gripped the table until her knuckles turned white. "He died, Nathan. He died and we buried him. I will not listen to this...this...fantasy you've concocted. Are you trying to hurt me?"
"No!" the boy vehemently denied, obviously upset and growing more and more so as he tried to convince his mother of what he saw. "No, Mama. I would never...I saw him, Mama. I did. But he ran away. I called to him but he ran away."
Miranda was flustered and frantic. "You were confused. You don't know what you saw. You couldn't... No. It was dark. I've told you not to stay out after dark. You saw a stranger. It was not your father. It couldn't be."
"It was, Mama. I saw him. But..."
"But what, Nathan?" The boy didn't speak right away and Miranda asked again, her voice bordering on hysterical. "But what, Nathan?"
"Well...at first...I thought I saw...." He took a deep breath and finished in a rush of confusion. "There was something wrong with his face. It was...bumpy. But it went away so I thought it was the shadows. It was dark. But it was Papa, Mama. He's alive!"
An eerie calm descended on Miranda as she stared at her son. Her face expressionless, she just stood and stared. Then she calmly stepped around the table and went to her son. She ran a hand over his head in a gentle caress but Spike saw it. Buffy saw it.
There was cold deadness in her eyes.
As if the conversation had not taken place, Miranda reached for Nathan's almost empty glass on the table. "I'll get you some more milk, dear."
Miranda didn't turn back to her child. She disappeared through the doorway that led to the kitchen.
Separated by a table, the Slayer and vampire locked eyes for a long minute. A sense of impending doom weighed heavily in the room and as insubstantial as they were, they weren't exempt from feeling its suffocating presence.
"This is not good on a large scale, Spike. Did you see her face? Man, I hate this!" The frustration was eating at her, as was the sinking feeling of helplessness. She was a doer. A fighter. A righter of wrongs and protector of the innocent. But in this she was only spectator. The deed had already been done, the battle lost, the wrong wrung, the innocent...dead. And it hurt her more than she could ever say, seeing him sitting there, a lonely, confused little boy. Time had not yet run out on him in this time. But it would. It had.
There was absolutely nothing Buffy could do to change that.
Miranda reentered the room with a full glass of milk in her hand. A wasteland of glacial ice chilled her eyes. It was the coldest thing Buffy had ever seen.
Laying the glass down next to Nathan's half-full plate, she told him, "Drink your milk, dear."
Miserable and anxious to please, he picked up the full glass and took a long drink. By the time he'd set the glass back down, his mother had reclaimed her seat at the head of the table. He took a breath to plead his case once again but Miranda spoke first, overriding him.
"I'm going to tell you a secret, Nathan. It is something I had hoped to wait to tell you until you were much older, but obviously your actions this evening have left me with little choice. I did not lie to you. Your father did die one year ago."
Nathan shook his head and tried to interrupt, but she didn't let him.
"He died. It's true. But you were not mistaken. It was your father you saw in the woods. And it wasn't. Your father is a vampire, Nathan."
Buffy and Spike were stunned. The casual disregard with which she spoke was bad enough, but to just...blurt it out like that to a child that had no hope of comprehending the meaning of it all. It was beyond cruel. But Nathan didn't look upset. He looked surprised and confused, but he also looked...tired. He had an elbow on the table, probably something that wasn't allowed in this strict household, but Miranda didn't correct him. And when he rested his head in his tiny palm and stared at his mother, she just kept coldly relating the facts.
She may as well have been reciting a dissertation on the proper procedure for baking bread with as much emotion was in her voice.
"He is undead, Nathan, a demon in a man's body. The demon is evil. Devil's spawn. An abomination. But your father is there too. His memories. His personality. His mind. They are all there and they are in control of the demon. Most of the time. Your father drinks blood, you see. That is how he survives. That blood is what keeps the demon in check. With it, he is able to be the man that I fell in love with. That is paramount. His love for me and mine for him. That has not changed. And he speaks of you, Nathan, every time I go to him. He loves you."
Buffy was beyond worried. Something was wrong. Not only with Nathan, who was falling asleep at the table, but with her. She felt...odd. Off. Dreamy and floating but at the same time so very, very sleepy. Something was terribly, terribly wrong. Mostly because it felt so good. She raised a hand, reaching out to Spike, but stopped when it seemed to float prettily in front of her. So she stared at it for a while. Stared and floated and listened to the drone of Miranda's words. Pretty music in the swishing background.
"You saw the demon. The bumpy forehead you mentioned was the face of the demon. When he doesn't feed regularly he loses control over it and has to hunt. It drives him. The hunger is so intense. He feeds on the creatures of the forest. I try to help. It's my duty as his wife to do what I can. The blood is the key. With the blood he is your father. The man I married. Without it...he is nothing that can be understood. He needs the blood."
Spike was mesmerized by the story Miranda was telling. She was speaking of his kind. And she was so totally off her bird it was laughable. So he laughed. And he tried to share the joke with Buffy, but when he turned his head to look at her - and...why was the room spinning? - she wasn't there. Nathan had collapsed on the table. That couldn't be good, he thought, but he couldn't remember why. Staggering a little, he backed away from the table. Oh...there she is. Why is she on the floor? Why is she sleeping?
"Buffy?" His words were slurred and he snorted at the funny sound of her name on his lips. "Bu...ffy. C'mon, Slayer.... Huh.... Slay-er. Slay her. Wanna slay her, Slayer? What's wrong with you? Your all...lyin' down."
"I can see now, Nathan, that I have been remiss in more than just my handling of you. It's so clear. There is no other way."
By the end, there was no one to hear Miranda's precisely and coldly spoken words. Nathan was unconscious at the table. Buffy was unconscious next to the table. And after one last, shuffled step, Spike crashed to the floor, one hand outstretched towards his Slayer.
Her head was pounding. Her mouth felt like a whole field of cotton had sprouted in it. She was freezing - wherever she was, it was cold. And she was blind. It wasn't darkness; it was the absolute absence of light. A whole different thing altogether. Her body felt strange. Disconnected. Combined with the lack of sensory input from her eyes, it robbed her of the ability to determine if she was standing or lying down...or flipped upside down hanging from the ceiling, for that matter. An agonized moan slipped past her lips - but she heard it. As confused and disoriented as she was, adding to the fear over the sudden lack of sight, just hearing her own moan was a good thing.
"Buffy, luv, you there?" Spike's voice was hoarse and scratchy, like pieces of sandpaper rubbing together.
"Um...yeah. Think so, anyway. Spike...I can't see." The admission was hard. It was a weakness that she didn't think she could afford to have.
"You too, then. Right." There was relief in his voice. Waking up just minutes ago, he'd been shocked by the darkness. It affected him more than he could ever have guessed. He was a vampire, a creature of the night. His sight was hyper sensitive. Twilight was like day to vampires. Shadows were his home. But this was different. There was just...nothing. And it bothered him on an elemental level.
But Buffy was having the same problem, so he hadn't been blinded. Unless they'd both been blinded...but there was no reason to rush to that horrible conclusion.
"What happened?" Buffy asked. "I remember listening to Miranda, then it gets foggy."
"Yeah. Tends to happen when you're drugged."
"Drugged? What? Spike, that's not possible. Christmas past ghosty stuff, remember? We're not really here."
"That may be, but we were drugged. Laudanum I'd wager. Was the drug of choice back then. Used on everything from headaches to saw jobs. Opiate based. Right nasty stuff, but effective."
"The what's what in the history of narcotics is nice, Spike, but it doesn't explain how or why we were affected. Or where we are. Can you see anything at all?"
"If I could, you think I'd be lyin' here? Woulda gotten us outta here already."
"Right. Sight gone, ego intact. Good to know."
Her sarcastic drawl amused him. It served to buoy his confidence. "May not be able to see, but I can tell we're underground. Can smell the earth and damp. No mistakin' it."
"Well that's just great. You're feeling right at home, then. I'm happy for you. Do you think we can get out of here now? I'm cold." She moved to rise from the floor. And couldn't. Thinking it was just a side effect from the drugs in her system, she tried again, concentrating hard this time. With the same effect. It felt almost like something was holding her down. "Damn it. Spike, I can't move."
The vampire tried to roll over, tried to get to her side, but had no more luck in getting his arms and legs to work than she had. "Oh, bloody hell."
Sighing deeply, trying not to give into the tendrils of panic that were threading through her, she tried again. But she couldn't do so much as twitch a finger. "Is this an effect of the latinum?"
"Laudanum, pet, and no. If it's worn off enough for us to rise and not shine, it wouldn't be keepin' us kissin' the dirt. This is somethin' else." A weak moan echoed back to him and he frowned. "You alright, Buffy? Are you hurtin'?"
Horror reared its ugly and ever-present head and Buffy squeezed her eyes tightly shut. Unfortunately, closing your eyes on unmitigated darkness to block the sounds echoing in your head is never a successful course of action. "That wasn't me, Spike." The admission was ripped from the tortured girl's throat. "Oh, God. It wasn't me."
Realization dawned and Spike could only stare at the black around him, cursing the Carr House and all of its ugly secrets.
"Mama?" It was a whisper of sound in silence. The barest scratch of a twig on a wintry window.
"Mama? Are you there? What's happening, Mama?"
Buffy agonized over the tiny voice of the scared little boy. Nathan was trapped in a black hole, and though not currently alone, he had been during the live version of this sadistic scenario. And nothing Buffy could do would ever make that not true.
They were living it. There was nothing they could do to deny it or make it not be true.
"Mama? I'm scared. Please, Mama, what's happening? Where am I? I can't see, Mama. It's dark. I'm cold, Mama! Help me! Mama!"
Buffy couldn't speak. Spike was also silent. They couldn't comfort the child. They couldn't silence his fears. They couldn't speak of their own understanding that it would never get better. They couldn't talk over the desperation of a child, not even to recognize that it would only get worse. For all their combined strength, they couldn't even draw comfort from one another, almost didn't want to. If a nine-year-old boy were to suffer the unspeakable torture of being utterly alone in this dank hole, they would listen and pay attention to what Nathan was showing them. What they needed to see.
"Mama? Where are you? I don't understand? What did I do wrong, Mama? MAMA?!"
The hysteria was rising in Nathan's voice, the fear palpable in the room. Spike could hear it, taste it in the air. The little boy's heart was pounding, he was crying, then whimpering, then screaming, then whimpering, then sobbing, then sleeping, then waking, then crying, then whimpering all over again. Spike didn't know how long it went on. Time meant less than nothing. He didn't know how long Buffy had been crying along with Nathan.
But she was.
Spike didn't know what was worse, listening to the wails of the child or the almost silent sobs of the woman that meant more to him than his own unlife. But another sound was filtering through to his consciousness. A familiar sound. A sound that he'd heard on and off for over a hundred years but never, not once in all that time, had he had this particular perspective on it. It was so grossly out of place that he almost didn't credit it as fact. But after several long minutes, he could ignore the stark truth no longer.
His heart was beating.
More than beating, it was pounding in his dead chest like a freight train pounded down the tracks. Faster and faster and louder and louder, Spike tried to shake his head to clear it of what obviously nothing more than an illusion...or hallucination...or something. It had to be, because vampire hearts do not beat. Ever.
But his did. And it was. And it scared the hell out of him.
"Buffy," he whispered to the dark, "I...there's somethin' wrong."
The laugh that ricocheted off of the earthen walls was ugly and harsh. "Something wrong?" There was hysteria in her shrill voice. "You're kidding, right? Because I thought being trapped in this hole, unable to do anything but listen to a little boy being tortured, knowing what's coming next and not being able to stop it, was already pretty large with the wrongness. But hey, you're a vampire, so it's possible my idea of wrong and yours are on totally different planes of existence. So tell me, Spike, what else? What's wrong now?"
A sharp pain tightened on his chest. He tried not to let her callous words bother him, but he was glad she couldn't see his face. He wouldn't have been able to hide the hurt he knew was in his eyes. It wasn't fair, her hostility towards him. But he understood the reasons behind it. Not that it was any easier or less painful with the understanding, but it allowed him to answer her.
"My heart, Slayer. It's beatin'."
For a long minute the only sounds in the room were the haunting whimpers of the boy. Finally, incredulously, Buffy spoke. "Your heart is beating? Did you just say your heart is beating? Are you sure?"
He rolled his eyes and his frustration slipped into his voice. "Am I sure?" he sniped. "A loud thump-thump throbbing in a chest that's supposed to be cold and quiet inn't exactly somethin' easy to mistake. Yeah, I'm bleedin' sure."
"What the hell is going on here? I don't understand. We're not really here, but we get drugged, pass out, wake up here, and now your heart is beating? What the hell is going on?"
"You figure it out, you let me know. Because I have no soddin' idea."
A creak of a door was the only warning they had before a warm draft of air slid over them and the smell of lilac tickled their nostrils. The dark was relentless, but the new presence in the room was easily felt. And not just by the Slayer and Vampire.
"Mama! You've come! Help me, Mama. Please? I don't understand. What did I do? Tell me what I did. Why can't I see, Mama? What's happening?"
The silence that echoed back at the frantic questions and pleas was doubly tragic because the woman that should be her son's staunchest supporter and fiercest defender was responsible for it all. And Miranda said not one word.
"Mama?" The voice was no longer loud and pleading, but soft and small. Almost non-existent. "Help me. Please? I'll be good. I promise. I'll be good from now on."
The loudest silence Buffy had ever heard was in the aftermath of that little boy's final promise to a mother who had no intention of being merciful. But the silence was not a long one. And hell descended on a pitch-black room.
Nathan Morgan shrieked in pain. Buffy and Spike jumped at the shrill sound and sucked in quick, surprised gasps at their own pain. A slicing hot pain that stabbed into both of them.
"Spike! My leg!"
"Buffy! Bloody hell, what the fuck? You feelin' it too? Left leg, inside thigh? Shit!"
"Yes," she hissed, trying to lock down her fear at the sharp pain in her left leg that was even now abating to a hot ache. Her arms and legs started tingling - and it was spreading. Like she'd been sitting wrong and her extremities had fallen asleep. She started feeling lightheaded, too, and thoughts were harder to make sense of. Nauseated, cold, trembling, Buffy closed her eyes in an effort to will herself better. Not knowing exactly what was wrong, but knowing it was very, very bad.
Spike's newly beating heart raced, tripped, and thudded painfully in his chest. And he, just like Buffy, felt the tingling, stinging feeling in his arms and legs, felt the floating feeling in his head. But he, unlike Buffy, knew exactly what was happening to him. To them. And when he figured it out, everything else fell into place as well.
Spike was bleeding to death.
He should know. He'd done it before. And the feeling was exactly the same. The smack of irony was less painful than the cut on his leg, but he felt it, regardless. Listening to his heart slow gradually, sputter a bit and throb on some more, he was completely robbed of even the will to struggle. And it was all so tragically clear to him.
They were dying. He, Buffy, and Nathan were all dying. Together.
"First hand." The will to speak was strong but his words were weak. He didn't even know if Buffy heard them. But he had to say them. "He said we'd see it first hand. Bleedin' blue ball of energy told us. Said...first hand...said we'd see...Miranda...she.....Buffy...love......"
His words trailed off into a whisper of nothing as he passed out. The last thing he heard was a final beat of his dead heart. And with nothing more - not even a sigh - Spike died. Again.
Buffy was weak and dying when she felt him go. She felt him leave her. A lone tear slipped past closed lids. She'd heard him. At the end, she'd heard him. Her heart broke even as it slowed to a stop. But she couldn't force words from her throat, no matter how hard she tried to tell him she loved him. All that she had were fragmented thoughts and distorted guilt. Nathan, why? You're killing us. Spike. Love...you.
Nathan Morgan died in a cold, black room. He died in darkness. Alone. Confused. Terrified. The one person who was supposed to protect him from everything had betrayed him in the worst way imaginable. The person that had given him life had murdered him.
He showed Buffy and Spike exactly what had happened, how it happened. Let them see. And it killed them all.
Continued in Chapter Nine