By Jericho TGF
For all his attention, he neither saw nor heard the two figures blink into existence far below. The first, with shocking blonde hair contrasting a jet-black wardrobe, appeared mere seconds before the smaller, female figure. As if conjured out of thin air and with not even a whisper of a breeze to announce their arrival, the pair stood on a ribbon of bare earth and stared hard at their new surroundings.
Good old Mr. Owl had no idea they were there. To him, they were insubstantial. When his patience was finally rewarded and his prey had been targeted, he dropped from the branch and spread silent wings to catch the air. He swooped past the newly arrived couple with no idea that he wasn't alone, no idea that a vampire and a Vampire Slayer saw the movement of his wings out of the corner of their eyes and had turned their heads to watch him fly away. Even if they'd spoken, shouted at the top of their lungs, he wouldn't have heard them.
They were anachronisms. Misplaced in time. To him, they didn't exist.
Spike watched the owl soar silently into the darkness, feeling Buffy's presence a few feet behind him. He felt her but couldn't look at her, not because he couldn't bear to see her pain and torment, but because he couldn't let her see his. But he needed to do something, so he reached into a pocket of his duster and pulled out his pack of smokes. His hands trembled but she wouldn't see them. It was better that way.
That hellish hole, or wherever they had been during that bint-orchestrated sadistic romp was gone. He'd heard his heart stop beating...again...then everything went black. Then the scenery changed.
The forest was back, surrounding them. It was still dark - or dark again, he wasn't sure which - and he saw thin shafts of moonlight dapple the forest floor. That he could see at all was a good thing, reassuring, but he didn't recognize the surrounding foliage. They weren't where they had been before. They were still in the past, still being led around by a dead boy, but he had no clue exactly where they were.
Not that he cared, really. They were alive. More or less. One thing he did know, the next time some nappied nipper tells him he was going to be shown events of the past first hand, he'd demand sloppy seconds instead.
He felt her. Still he didn't turn.
It was within the realm of possibility that he could speak, say something, but for once the vampire that always had some quip or sarcastic rejoinder or pearly bit of wisdom had absolutely nothing to say. So he stood in a forest that he'd never seen before and stared off into the darkness, trying to collect himself, trying to incorporate something he'd learned when he'd been...dying.
He felt her. The tears he'd been struggling to contain mocked him, sliding past his lids to trickle down his cold cheeks. And he thought about what he'd realized just a heartbeat ago. Literally.
After she'd leapt to her death and saved the world, after he'd lived one hundred and forty-seven days without her, after she'd come back to the world she'd saved, finally came to him, he decided that before she got a chance to slip the constraints of mortality again, he'd die first - the dusty kind of death. He'd decided that being selfish in this, in not wanting to continue un-living with the loss of her again, was an acceptable course of action for a vampire without a soul. But now he realized that there was something infinitely worse than existing with her loss.
Dying, slipping away, knowing that her death would be cold and lonely with no one to tell her that it would be alright, to calm her fears or dry her tears, that was worse. Going first was worse. Now he knew.
She may die in battle, probably would, but she may live to a ripe old age. Didn't matter. Spike would never let her go alone. He'd be there. He'd cope with her loss again. He'd curse life, real living and dying life, and he'd hide those curses behind his love for her while he held her hand, brushed a strand of hair off her forehead, and kissed her goodbye.
Then he'd stake himself. Or greet the sun. But he would wage war on hell itself before he let her die alone.
He felt her. Then he heard her move. Slowly at first, stepping carefully towards him. A branch cracked under her foot. A dried up leaf disintegrated upon contact. He heard it. And he dashed away the tears on his cheeks and sucked in a breath, struggling to find that part of himself that could deal with anything with a wink or a show of fang.
"Where are we?"
Her voice was soft, barely above a whisper. But the lack of volume didn't hide the horror she'd experienced. Nor did it mask the resolve and determination. She was the Slayer. In everything, she was the Slayer.
He didn't turn to look at her; he just shook his head and shrugged.
"When are we?"
That was the question of the day...or night...or whatever. He managed to rumble out a low, "Still in the past."
"I know, but when? Why? What else could Nathan show us? He's..."
"Dead." He finished her sentence, taking that burden as his own.
"Yeah. But I don't want to talk about that right now. I...can't."
There was nothing to say to that. He'd never agreed with her more.
"So why are we still here?" she asked. It was a rhetorical question. They had been brought back to see what happened to Nathan. What else could there possibly be to see after he'd been mur...after he'd died?
She forced her mind to other things. "Is...? Your heart...is it still beating?"
Her small hand rested on his back and he sighed at the pleasure of it. And suddenly he was nearly bowled over with the need to see her standing in front of him. He turned, and fell in love with her all over again.
"No," he said, forcing a wry smile to his face. Tapping his chest, he said, "Quiet as a tomb, pet. But see, what I find really interestin', is that yours inn't either."
Buffy didn't question how he knew or if he was teasing her, she could see that he wasn't. His eyes were grave. Her hands flew to her throat in search of a non-existent pulse and her eyes flew wide in surprise. "Oh, God. I'm...it's...I'm..."
"I think 'dead' is the word you're lookin' for."
For such a momentous declaration, Spike seemed remarkably unaffected by it, amused even, but he was more than vaguely familiar with deadness. Not that that did anything to calm Buffy's distress, in fact, his cavalier attitude ticked her off. On top of the major wiggins over her non-beating heart, she wasn't feeling terribly gracious.
"I'm glad you're taking it so well, Spike. Somehow I can't seem to be all, 'Dead again? Oh well, third time's the charm.' Now, if you have anything resembling useful information, feel free to wow me with your insight, if not, just shut the hell up!"
She tried to spin away and storm off, but two vice-like hands gripped her shoulders and prevented her escape. His voice was low and rough, and unlike before, fierce with emotion. "You're not dead, woman! You think I'd be standin' here, chattin' you up like nothin' was botherin' me if you were? You bloody well know better. You didn't die in that soddin' hole. I didn't die. Nathan died."
He sighed deeply and loosened his grip on her arms...a little...when she winced slightly. His voice was more composed when he continued. "Think, Buffy. He told us we'd see what happened to him first hand. Woulda been nice if he'd been more bleedin' specific, as we seem to be more than seein' it; we're living and dying it, but there it is. That's why we had that wicked trip to laudanum land, that's why we...in the dark..." He trailed off, not wanting to say something that would bring her back to the horror. Instead he explained, "That heartbeat of mine wasn't mine, it was his - so was yours at the time, I expect, but you're used to havin' the chug-a-lug in your chest so it didn't seem different to you. Now the shoe's in the other ribcage, so to speak." His jaw snapped shut and she could see the muscles in his cheeks ripple at the pressure. "Point is, we're still bein' shown. My guess is, when he's done with us, you'll get that blood pressure of yours back."
Buffy stared at the vampire holding her. She didn't say anything right away, just watched him watch her. She was still upset, but for a different reason than before. The peroxide pest had actually wowed her with his insight. Sometimes that habit of his, the one where he had a tendency to see straight through to the heart of a matter, or to understand the way things were before she did really bothered her. Come on, she was the Slayer. She was the one that was supposed to figure out all the big nasties. But often, he was just the smallest step ahead of her - not to mention the times he was more than small steps ahead. It was...frustrating. Right up until she remembered that they were a team, it was downright annoying. But they were a team, and they worked well together. And to be fair, since they'd been together, he had never lorded his abilities over her head. Much. When he did, it was usually to goad her into a response that inevitably ended...satisfactorily for both of them.
Her irritation melted away, concern over the lack of a pulse lessening a notch.
"And, ya know? Imitation death...even less fun than the real thing." Her dry sarcasm tugged the corners of his mouth into a brief smile and he released his grip on her shoulders. As he turned to scope out the area, she said, "Just so you know...if you're wrong, I'm going to haunt you for the rest of your un-life."
Spike stopped in his tracks and looked back at her. She was teasing him. He managed to muster up a sexually charged smirk and quirked an eyebrow. "I know I'm irresistible, pet, but I appreciate the reminder that you can't stay away from me."
She rolled her eyes at him. The normalcy of their banter went a long way in allowing her to pull herself back together. To heal a bit from the tragedy they'd experienced.
Minutes later, they were walking through the woods. Staying in one place rarely accomplished anything, so Buffy suggested they start working the area, moving in an ever-widening circle so they didn't miss whatever Nathan wanted them to see next. So far, he'd popped them into scenes either close to or directly in the area of what he wanted to show them, she was working on the assumption that this time would follow the same pattern.
When she caught a flicker of light through the trees, she knew she'd been right. Pointing it out to Spike, they moved to intercept it.
It wasn't a little blue ball of energy, it wasn't a malevolent haunt, it was...a lantern. An old fashioned, gas lantern. And it was in Miranda's hand as she made her way through the forest. For the first time in her life, Buffy looked at a human being and sincerely thought that some people did deserve to be eaten.
The irony of having a vampire on hand more than willing but unable to do the job was not lost on her. Not to mention the fact that Miranda had, in fact, been eaten. Though far, far too late to do her son any good.
Neither Spike nor Buffy made any comment, snarl, or growl when they saw her. Sometimes emotions were just too deep seeded, too raw and jagged to express out loud. They seethed, but they did it quietly. Perhaps they just wanted to get through with whatever other horrors there were to be seen as quickly as possible, perhaps they didn't want to waste even one more syllable on the contemptible woman. Perhaps they were just tired.
Whatever it was, they followed her quietly, resigned to it. She had the lantern in one hand and a satchel over her shoulder. Miranda walked quickly and surely through the woods, like she knew exactly where she was going. Every once in awhile she'd pause and look around, check out her surroundings, and then continue along.
Somehow, when she reached a gaping hole in the earth - the mouth of a cave - and slipped inside, neither vampire nor Slayer was terribly surprised. Miranda had, after all, been walking with purpose and had an obvious destination in mind. And they had seen too much to be surprised by anything.
Or so they thought.
Following her into the darkness and moving further into the bowels of the earth, Buffy and Spike saw light up ahead. Ducking and weaving around low-hanging rock, they finally reached the end and stepped into a large cavern just behind Miranda.
Several candles were lit, a chair and a bed were against one wall and dozens of books were piled high on the other side of the cave. One table next to the books had a gas lamp glowing softly on top of it. A gentle drip and plunk of water falling somewhere echoed in the room and Buffy noticed that there was another opening in the rock against the back. Another tunnel. The cavern was damp and cold, but curiously homey. And even more appropriate for a vampire's lair then Spike's crypt.
Pacing the length of the cavern, walking back and forth and back, was Jacob Morgan. He must have noticed the presence of his wife, but hadn't so much as flicked a glance in her direction. He looked...concerned.
"Jacob," Miranda's soft voice bounced off the walls as she hailed her husband.
"He saw me."
Buffy and Spike watched the scene unfold. Grim and disgusted, they hoped for something - anything - to make sense of everything they'd seen so far.
"Yes," Miranda answered him, crossing the cavern and setting her lantern down on a small table next to the chair. She shrugged the satchel off her shoulder and set it carefully down next to the chair. "He told me about it at dinner last night."
"He wasn't supposed to be there, my love. I wouldn't have..." Jacob slid a tortured glance to his wife. "I would have stayed away from the house had I known. Did he...? What did he see, exactly?"
Miranda crossed the room and laid a gentle hand on her husbands' forehead. The emotion in her eyes was unmistakable. It turned Buffy's stomach. There had been none for her son.
"He saw the demon, my love. He told me. I was able to convince him that he was mistaken. It was dark. He admitted as much. I explained that the night played tricks on his eyes. You were dead. Had been for a year."
Jacob looked so guilty, so torn up about what his son had been through. "And he believed you?"
"It took awhile, but yes. He believed me."
"Perhaps it is time to tell him the truth. Perhaps we were wrong in keeping it from - "
"No." Miranda's voice brooked no argument. "He is but a child, my beloved. He would not understand and could not keep the secret even if he did. When he left for school this morning, he was content in the knowledge that he had been mistaken about your identity and I am certain that he will not break the rule about being in the house before the sun sets ever again."
Buffy glanced at Spike and noticed he was staring at her. She knew her face was twisted in revulsion over the combination of sick lies and macabre truths that fell carelessly from the bitch's lips. There had been no school for Nathan that day, or any day after, for that matter. As for the rule of being in before dark...
Miranda's certainty was wretchedly justified.
"He must have seen this," she whispered to him - though why she bothered to speak softly was beyond her. "He was here, after he'd died. He saw this and didn't understand."
Spike didn't confirm her statement, but the agreement was in his eyes. For them to be there, Nathan must have seen it, in whatever form he had become. "He had school the day after. Today. That's why she called out the search team. Bint dinn't want to answer questions 'bout why he wasn't in school."
"Well," she said on a sigh, "at least now we know why she did what she did to him. She didn't want to risk him telling anyone about his father. The bitch."
Spike wasn't looking at her anymore, he was watching Miranda walk back to the discarded satchel and pull out a corked bottle. The contents inside were hidden from view behind the green glass, but he had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach when he saw it. A feeling that he hoped to hell was wrong. He mumbled a non-committal, "Yeah," as he studied Miranda.
"You should have told me that the bloodlust was growing, Jacob," Miranda was saying as she uncovered the bottle and removed it from the bag. "The demon hunted last night. You could have told me, come to me. I could have helped. I want to help."
Jacob stared into the flame of one of the candles on the small table next to the bed. His back was to his wife, so she didn't see his features twist in emotional pain. Didn't see him close his eyes against her words. Buffy and Spike saw it. Their eyes narrowed as they watched the vampire's feelings play across his face. Something danced at the edge of Buffy's mind, something that bothered her, but she couldn't grasp what it was. It was just a nebulous tugging feeling, telling her that she was missing something important. But Jacob spoke and she gave up trying to pin down the feeling to follow his words.
"I saw searchers in the forest tonight. There's been another, hasn't there?"
Miranda stiffened. "Yes. Sometime last night. I heard the news in town today. They have been searching all day. But I don't want to talk about that, beloved. I know how it upsets you."
She met her husband in the middle of the room after setting the bottle down and lifted a hand to the worried frown marring his features. Smoothing away the lines, she kissed his lips and wrapped her arms around him. He embraced her, resting his chin on the top of her head, but his eyes remained troubled.
"It is upsetting, darling," Jacob murmured. "There is a blight on the town. This last is the twenty-third victim in a year." He eased away from his wife's arms, clearly agitated, and resumed his pacing. "I've searched, Miranda. I've tried to find the creature responsible. I felt it was my duty. I was smote by this...condition...but it is not without its meager compensations. It should be child's play, tracking a mindless beast, but I have had no success!"
"Please, husband, do not work yourself into a frenzy. You know what happens when you do." Miranda's placating voice was calm and rational.
His hazel eyes were tortured when he glanced at his wife. "Do not concern yourself overly, dearest. I am in complete control of myself."
Something dangerous flared briefly in Miranda's eyes and there was a new firmness in her voice as she contradicted him. "That...demon is not you, Jacob. Do not talk as if you were one. You know how it bothers me to hear you speak so."
Jacob looked as if he was going to say something, but he stopped. Spike, as a fellow member of the 'undead man walking' club, had a sneaking suspicion Jacob was going to correct his wife's erroneous assumptions about the true nature of vampires, but changed his mind before he began.
"I have seen the tracks, my love," Jacob said instead, "surrounding the area where each body has been found. I caught the scent. I've even followed the creature into the mountains on more than one occasion, but the ground is rock and the cat is wily. I loose both track and scent before I can find her den. Still she feeds on the town when her stomach rumbles. It makes no sense! There is plenty of wildlife in these woods. She should have no need to taste the flesh of humans! She should fear them."
The Slayer's jaw dropped open at the pack of smoothly spoken lies, so carefully and concisely laid out there. It was a joke, a horrible, tragic, and by no means funny joke.
"Oh, please!" Buffy's irritated voice rose in anger and covered Miranda's response. She just couldn't stay silent any longer. "He's lying!" She spun on Spike and tossed a hand up, motioning to Jacob. "Can you believe this? He's blaming a cougar for the people that he killed! And that bitch," she pointed an accusing finger at Miranda, "don't even get me started! Nathan was the twenty-third victim, Spike, remember? Ida told us he was. Couldn't help but notice Miranda conveniently failed to mention the name of the person the search team was looking for! Between the two of them, this was one fucked up family."
Spike didn't say anything; he was staring at Jacob intently, watching all of his responses, cataloguing even the barest flicker of expression or tightening of muscle. He was bothered by what he was seeing, but not for the same reasons Buffy was. Still...he wasn't sure...
"Miranda, I do not want you to come to me any longer. It is not safe, darling, and I could not bear the thought of anything happening to either you or our son."
The woman's eyes went wide at her husband's words. She shook her head vehemently. "Do not speak so, Jacob. I can assure you nothing will happen to me. I pray you not ask me to stay away from you, my heart."
The vampire broke away from her clinging arms and his temper - temper born from concern - burst forth. "Damn it, wife, I can not lose you! You will heed me!"
She gasped in horror at the misshapen features on her husband's face. In his heightened state of emotion, his game face had emerged. Miranda rushed to the table and grabbed up the bottle she'd brought along with her.
Drawing herself up, she glared at Jacob recklessly. Gone was the tenderness in her eyes. Once again Buffy and Spike caught a glimpse of the cold and calculating woman who had destroyed her son's life.
"Be gone, Devil's spawn," she hissed angrily. "You have no sway here. Take this," she held the bottle out to him, "and drink. You are an abomination. Take the blood you crave and return my husband to me!"
Demon-gold eyes pinned the small woman, then dropped to the bottle in her hand. Miranda trembled only slightly in fear as she uncorked the bottle and brought it closer to Jacob. The scent of blood permeated the room and Spike breathed it in, his own hunger stirring in response.
That's when he knew his fears had been justified.
Jacob took the bottle out of his wife's hand and brought the mouth to his lips. He drank thirstily but with gentility, then turned to set it down next to him. When he faced his wife again, the fangs and ridges were gone. Almost embarrassed, his eyes begged her for forgiveness.
She granted it by stepping into his arms.
"You are too kind to me, my love," he muttered, burying his face in her hair. "You do not need to bring me this cursed sustenance, but you do. I know it must be difficult for you to obtain it."
"It is not kindness, beloved. It is duty. As your wife, it is my job to see to your needs. And the difficulties are minimal. Fortunately, our neighbors, the Hanson's, have a healthy herd of cattle. They feel minimal pain and are none the worse for the small amounts I take from them now and again."
Spike's stomach pitched and fell sharply. His jaw dropped open. His eyes grew wide in disbelief. He watched in stunned amazement as Jacob accepted his wife's words at face value and pressed a caring kiss to her willing lips. Then he spun and - without a word to Buffy - stalked out of the cave.
Buffy, frowning and confused, watched him go. That feeling of being just a touch out of the loop was back again. She stared hard at Jacob, then at Miranda. Something wasn't...
The Slayer ran after the vampire.
He was just outside the cave, stalking back and forth. Buffy almost barreled into him as she emerged from the tunnel. When he turned away from her, wouldn't look at her, she knew she was right. She finally recognized what had been bothering her and it sickened her.
"No." She denied the unspoken truth vehemently, senselessly. "She didn't. You're wrong."
Spike didn't turn to her, didn't say a word, just kept moving cagily back and forth.
Buffy felt the hysteria rising. Felt her grasp on rationale slip. "We're wrong. We're missing something. It's not possible!"
It was the 'we' that stopped him in his tracks. She had been a step behind him in figuring it out, but once she did, it was so horrible that she tried to deny it. Tried to, but the truth was already there. A part of her had already accepted it. And it was tearing her up inside.
Slowly, knowing full well what he was doing, he turned and faced her. He saw the tears in her eyes, tears that had not yet had the chance to fall. She was being eaten alive by the horror of it all. There was only one thing he could do for her now.
He brought his game face forward and grinned coldly at her. "Of course it's possible, Slayer. Makes sense, too. Waste not, want not, I always say."
She hit him. He knew she was going to. She had to get rid of it, the rage, the pain. It was the only way. So he set himself up for it, knowing all along that she'd lash out at the only thing...person she could. Him.
Advancing dangerously, she swung again. "Damn you! It's not true!"
Spike's head flew back and he winced at the force of the blow. He managed to duck under the spin kick that was aimed at his head, but caught the uppercut and fell back into a tree. He shook his head, then rolled away before she could lunge for him.
"What's the matter, Slayer? Forget what he is? What I am? Of course it's true."
He goaded her, taunted her, and she fought him hard. A kick to the head he didn't see coming sent him reeling. An elbow in the gut when he grabbed her from behind lifted him off his feet. A flurry of jabs bled his nose and his lip.
"You son of a bitch! I can't do it! I won't do it!"
The tears coursed down her cheeks and still she kept coming. Her chest heaved in gasps of air as she grew tired and winded but she continued to throw punches and kicks. Some he blocked, most he didn't.
That was his gift to her. The only one he had to offer. The only one she needed right then.
Finally, it came out. She had worked herself hard, had bruised and bloodied him, and finally it slipped past her lips.
"I can't tell that little boy that his mother killed him to feed his blood to his father!"
Everything stopped. Eerily, as if time itself was too horrified by the truth to continue on, the night around them grew silent. No crickets chirped, no frogs croaked, no creepy crawlies crept and crawled. Predators paused their hunt, the stars dimmed, the moon hid.
And deep in her chest, Buffy's heart started beating again. So it could shatter.
She sunk to her knees, tired hands covering her face, smothering the wracking sobs that were shaking her body. Spike watched her with somber blue eyes. The demon visage had served its purpose and he'd shed it quickly, gladly, when he saw she'd reached the breaking point. Understanding her as no one else, he'd known she needed to pummel something. Her release was in the physical, it always would be. Now he had to give her space to let it all out and that, more than the vicious hits he took, cut him deeply and made him bleed.
Buffy Summers accepted comfort like she did everything else. On her own terms. Vampire feelings be damned. He knew and accepted that about her. While he waited, he straightened his disheveled clothing and wiped the blood from his face. Christ, he hurt. And he'd do it all again if she needed it.
Exhausted and drained, Buffy finally cried herself out. It felt like she'd been sobbing for days, but she knew better. Her hands hurt, her arms hurt, her heart hurt. She remembered punishing Spike for...well, for being there. For being a vampire. She knew he'd let her do it. He had even pushed her into it.
As shamed as she was in her behavior, she knew he would never hold it against her, knew he'd never even mention it. That was Spike.
Dragging shuddering breaths into her raw lungs, she wiped the tears from her face. It seemed like a good idea to stare intently at the ground, so she did. Her emotions were spent, and when she finally managed to find her voice again, her words were cold and arid.
"She bled him and gave the blood to Jacob. She lied to him. She told him it was cow's blood. And he didn't know the difference, did he?"
Buffy nodded, turning over the meaning of that in her head. "He didn't know human blood when he tasted it."
"No." It was hard for Spike, just waiting for Buffy to work it all out and put it into words. He could have explained, could have told her everything he figured out as he'd watched Jacob in the cave, but some of it was so absurd, so out there, that unless she came to it on her own, she'd never believe any of it. So he answered her when prompted and watched her carefully.
"He didn't kill the people from town. He couldn't have. He would have known the difference in the blood."
Buffy glanced up at him and he could see the hope that she was wrong still clinging tenaciously in her eyes. He had to destroy that hope. He nodded gravely.
She looked away, her mind spinning crazily as pieces of that notorious puzzle fell into place. Getting to her feet, she rubbed her damp palms on her pants. "Jacob didn't kill them. He honestly thought it was a cougar. There probably was one, but it was attracted to the...to the bodies."
"Wouldn't be too surprisin', Buffy. You see what this place was like. Big cats are everywhere in this time."
Slowly, she started walking back and forth in front of him, watching the ground intently again as she thought it all out. "I knew it, too. The minute I saw his face after he fed on the deer, I knew he couldn't have killed those people. It bugged me, but everything was moving so fast, I didn't get a chance to figure out what was wrong."
To that, Spike said nothing.
"Twenty-three women and children were killed. That's what Ida said. Women and children. That's why there weren't any men killed. They would have been too heavy to move. We were so wrong. Miranda didn't just kill Nathan. She killed all of them. She killed them - to feed him."
She stopped and raised her head. Eyes that had seen too many horrors, too many unexplainable things, and had still managed to shine were now dull and ancient at this atrocity. Sighing deeply, she set her mouth in a thin, hard line and squared her shoulders.
"Miranda was human. There isn't a name for the kind of monster she was. Jacob Morgan was a vampire. He felt love, he felt guilt, he felt sorrow and pain. Why? How? Did he have a soul?"
Spike stepped out of the shadows and joined his woman in the moonlight. She had acclimated. Still hurting, but able now to function as the Slayer, she'd forced herself to continue on.
"That I don't know," he admitted. "Watchin' the poor sod, all I know was he wasn't like any other of my kind I've ever seen, except..."
The name hung in the air between them. Spike studied her intently, waiting to see what she would do with it. She raised her chin and met his eyes squarely, showing him her heart - battered and bruised, but still his. He saw it. The relief was overwhelming.
"We're going to destroy her, Spike."
The certainty with which she spoke brought the first smile in a good long while to Spike's mouth. "Bloody right we are."
As if waiting for them to make that decision, the scenery changed around them. Staring at each other, they didn't even flinch at the suddenness of it, nor did they break eye contact. Whatever else Nathan was to show them, it would have to wait for a minute. There was something else vitally important that the Slayer and her vampire needed to do.
Coming together, closing the distance between them, each took one step forward. Their bodies fit together perfectly as they stared deeply into each other's eyes. Spike dipped his head a bit; Buffy raised her chin a bit. Each compromised slightly in who they were and what they were. To be together it was necessary.
And neither one saw it as a sacrifice.
Their lips touched softly at first, then deeper, harder. It didn't matter any more that it wasn't a good time or a good place. The truth of the matter was, it never really did. If you loved someone, you loved him. And a vampire and a Slayer weren't likely to get many 'perfect' places or 'right' times. They had to make their own.
Their hands entwined at their sides; their bodies pressed closer. Their tongues touched and they sought solace and comfort and love and passion - and found it all. They found themselves in the kiss. They gave themselves in the kiss. Time stopped for them because they demanded it.
When they broke apart, finally, they had laid their ghosts to rest. All that was left was a haunt. And 'rest' wasn't what they had in mind for her.
The night had given way to day and the blessed sounds of cars and trucks rumbling down a nearby road filtered through the trees around them. They were back in the clearing where Nathan had been buried, back in their own time.
Buffy and Spike glanced around, both relieved that the scenic tour was over. Tall trees shaded the area and beyond them the forest was no longer being blown and tossed about by a furious dead bitch with a monster of an attitude problem.
"Home sweet home," Spike drawled sarcastically.
"Oh yeah. Now all that's left is the making a dead woman deader bit."
He grinned at her evilly. "Sounds like a plan, luv."
Buffy frowned a little. "Well...that's more of a priority of a plan. I'm a little planless at the moment, actually. Sure, we got the not-so-guided tour of the past, and now we know all those nifty 'transgressions' Nathan referred to. Pretty sure the Mistress of Denial won't be too quick to fess up to the deeds, though."
"Hmm. Good point. Bint had a body, we could beat it out of her. I miss baddies with bodies."
Turning to look at Spike in surprise, seeing his wistful expression, Buffy tried to choke back a snort of amusement. It seemed inappropriate after everything they'd seen. But the problem was Spike looked so damn earnest. Earnest and a little pouty that they couldn't just chop off Miranda's head or break her neck or something.
"Baddies with bodies?" she questioned him slowly, struggling not to give into the laughter that was threatening to burst forth.
"Well...yeah. Somethin' to sink a little teeth into. You know."
Spike was staring at her like she'd fallen off her rocker. She probably had. She was grinning like a buffoon, after all.
"Oh come on, Slayer," he grumbled, "don't tell me you wouldn't rather be back in Sunnyhell, increasin' the town's dust population or dealin' with demon remains. I know better."
She just shook her head at him, amused and more hopeful than she'd been in a good long while. They'd figure something out, they always did. "Cheer up, Ken," she teased, "if all else fails, we may just have to burn Barbie's Dreamhouse to the ground to get rid of our sadistic specter."
The vampire perked up and sent a hopeful look in her direction. "Really? You're not just sayin' that?"
Rolling her eyes, she leaned over and picked up the comforter, tossing it to him. "Come on. I want to check out the house before the trade winds start blowing again. Miranda sealed off the place before; I'm hoping she's running too low on energy to keep us out by now."
"Great," Spike complained as she walked away. "You are familiar with the fryin' pan and fire analogy, aren't you, pet?"
Buffy didn't bother acknowledging his gloom and doomness. She had a haunt to destroy. And the one thing of which the Slayer was certain, Miranda would be destroyed. By whatever means necessary.
Continued in Chapter Ten