AUTHOR'S NOTES: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to look at my work. I really appreciate it, and I hope it's worth your while. This is my first Buffy fic, so I beg your patience with me. ^_^ For some reason, Spander seems to be my 'drug-of-choice'… something to do with clumsy puppies and leather-clad vamps, I think. Anyway, this piece is dedicated to Raven, Miyeko, Amber, Ra, and Abyssinia4077, who never gave up until I had a taste of the 'dark side'. This one is for you, girls.

Any comments or feedback you should choose to leave shall earn forever my gratitude and adoration. ^_^



CANON NOTES: I have been notified of some slight discrepancies in the story. I have been told that Xander's mother's name is 'Jessica', mentioned at least once in the series. I, however, had missed this reference when I wrote the piece, and had used the name 'Ellen'. It's difficult for me to change it now, so I apologize to purists in advance. I have also been told that most canon points to William being an only child-- I think, however, it is possible for him to have a sibling who is simply a lot younger than he is. I appreciate your patience.





Lines in the Sand 1/1

by Meredith Bronwen Mallory




(Let me tell you how the story really goes...)

The eve of William Forscythe Brenden's one hundred and thirtieth birthday found Spike wandering the deserted boardwalks of a small, coastal New Jersey town, just after sunset. The beach was stark and strewn with weeds, small circles of light thrown by rickety street-lamps, lonely and abandoned at the end of tourist season. Briefly, he turned and looked back towards the small cottage he and Drusilla had broken into, but the air was salty and clear, and carried her broken sobs to his sensitive ears.

"Jesus, Dru," he muttered to himself, toying with his lighter, "some old busybody bint is gonna hear you, come look'n, you eat her, and next thing you know we gotta clear out." He snorted around his cigarette, just picturing Dru dressing herself up in some corpse's costume jewelry, twirling, unconcerned with the fact she and Spike were on their own. No clan, no family-- two vampires on the *beach* for Christ's sake. "Last thing I need is a lynch mob," he said, unkindly, listening to the words fall against the sandy wooden planks. He kept walking, pace regular and stiff, smoking despite the call to tip his head back and simply roar his rage. Drusilla cried; she cried for her stars, for her daddy, for dreams that refused to cease even when she opened her eyes-- Spike never cried at all. He didn't know how.

(You do, damn you-- you did, once, and like riding a horse, it is. Easy to remember.)

Spike resisted the urge to pull his duster close around himself-- it was warm, for late New England summer, and he needed no comfort.


He brought Dru to the beach because it was what she wanted. Let her pick a house, let her have most of the kill, drinking off the owners only once she had finished with them. An elderly couple-- he figured they had a week before anyone got suspicious and forced them to move on. Meanwhile, Dru made herself at home amongst the old woman's lacy things, sitting in the balcony's cushioned swing, bare feet dangling lazily. He'd just wanted her tonight, that was all; she wasn't the only one who heard whispers, saw shadows in the corners of her vision. He'd kissed her, pleased when everything seemed to fade, hiked her satin dress up and run his hands along her pale thighs. She breathed, though she didn't need to; a word, a name, a sigh, and it would have been beautiful if the name had been his. Her eyes had been golden with passion, fading to a tepid, human brown that was laced with fear and, even though he'd rocked and soothed her, whispering that he didn't mind, she had wept and sent him away.

('Come on, Dru, s'allright, you know.'

'Please, Dru, we'll just lie here, don't worry, love.'

'Shall I read you a story, Dru? Do you want one of your dolls?'

--Dru. Don't send me away, not tonight. I can't stand to be alone with him--)


The moon was low and irregular, white light on the modern, whitewashed condos. Briefly, Spike watched a young woman peddle past, considering the effort of procuring a meal. He didn't move, just listened to the spooling wheels fade, shoulders slumped. One hundred and thirty. He quirked a grin, fading and experimental on his face.

"Turnin' into bleed'n Peaches, here," he bemoaned, waving his cigarette for effect. At the edge of the boardwalk, he paused, looking at the shadow thrown on the sand. "You're dead," he told the vague outline, "not even a reflection left. Just a hole, a void. And no one cares, least of all me." September would bring the anniversary of his turning, and he would feel reenergized; it was only sheer bad luck that he had remembered William's birthday at all this year. Decades could pass without a thought for it on the actual day, leaving it as unremarkable as the unskilled poet himself. Dead, Spike thought, smiling a little. He stalked down the beach, in search of food.


He didn't have to go far to find it. Some ways away, a couple of teenagers were perched on a dune, their necks white and bared in the dim light. Spike approached silently, listening to the boy prattle on. He was older than the girl, shoulders filled out, hunched now as he teased her, pleaded, using all the sweet words to get what he wanted out of her tonight. Spike waited a moment, until the girl seemed waver, before he reached out and hauled the boy up by the biceps, watching his prey's pupils dilate in fear. The smell was think and rank around him, overwhelming the fading scents of any previous emotion, and the vampire spared not a thought for the whimpering girl as he bared the boy's neck.

(Dead, you're dead-- tonight, I feed and dance on your grave.)


"Please!" the girl cried, her voice so miserable and soft that it was almost trampled underneath the boy's harsh breathing. For a moment, Spike lifted his head, wanting to make sure she was watching, that she saw her young man die. Closer now, he could see that she wasn't quite as young as he thought, merely small and ungainly in the autumn of her adolescence. Short and painfully skinny, ribs like the wires of a harp underneath her pale green bikini, she stood before him with tears in her eyes. Spike watched those tears roll, smiled more widely, knowing that his fangs would gleam in the moonlight, and that it was only Dru's tears he couldn't stand. He should take the girl back to Dru-- she was doll-like, black hair pulled into short pigtail braids that shook in time with her tiny bones. "Please," the girl said again, a little louder, "don't." He was about to laugh-- really he was, long and loud-- that she would even consider appealing to him, when she parted her pink lips again and whispered like leaves across the grave. "Take me instead."

Spike raised an eyebrow in interest, even as Angelus' voice, in the back of his mind, whispered how unwise it was to play with one's food out in the open. Her hands were balled into little fists, back straight as if to challenge him, and for what? This boy, who's struggled and fear speaking only of single-mindedness? He did laugh, now, watching the girl's murky green eyes crowd with tears. "Why should I?" He ran a hand down the boy's torso, the other clutched about his windpipe. "Nice strong specimen, 'ere. Tasty, I bet. Full course meal." The moon was bright enough that even a human could see the horror of his demon visage, and he tilted his head to run a single fang along the pulsing vein.

"_Please_," she said again, voice so desperate, fear like flowers left out too long, spoiling. "Whatever you want-- please."

"Anything?" he said, voice deep and considering. Playing it up-- a deal with the devil. "Anything at all?"

"Yes," she nodded eagerly, braids bouncing, "whatever you want."

"Very well." He leered at her, just to watch the shudder rack her frame, and thought she might come apart with it. "Though you can't be too bright, agreeing to something so broad."

She blinked past her terror and her tears. "You have all the power here, don't you? Please, let him go."


"Glad you recognize that, sweetheart," he grinned, tossing the boy aside. He heard the boy scramble to his feet and up over the dune, even as the girl cried out 'Robby--!' and reached out a desperate, ineffectual hand. Spike kept his eyes on her face, watching the emptiness come over her, her heart crack and break. "What?" he tossed after the boy's retreating form, "Not even a token struggle for your lady fair?" he sneered, "Some knight." The girl was crying in earnest, now, tears streaming down her cheeks, and she kept moving her hands as if to cover her face, before dropping them, listless and half-curled, to her side. "Did you really think he was going to stay, sweetheart?" Spike asked with false sympathy. "They never do, you know."

(I know. Look at her eyes, the hollow echo-- that must have been my face, after Cecily...

--Shut up, you git!--)

"Hurts, doesn't it?" he continued, circling her, relishing the scent of her despair, cloying, heady. "Like your world's come apart at the seams."

"Are you going to kill me now?" she asked quietly, tilting her face up to look at him. He remembered that; being so melodramatic, writing endless pentameter verse proclaiming his passion. 'I'd die without you'-- ha! And when _she_ had turned from him, sneering, he'd been sure the world would never again hold... no.

(You are dead, now; it's ironic, and it's true. An unremembered, heartbroken fool.)

"Might be a mercy, love," Spike smiled, lighting another cigarette, "and the Devil knows I don't do mercy." He nodded, motioning for her to walk with him, and when she did not move he reached out a cold hand to pull her along.

The beach had chilled slightly, each wave crashing lonely, breaking, and they walked-- he purposeful in his boots, she shuffling, broken, in her too-large sandals. "I intended to, honestly," Spike said after a moment, "but I changed me mind. Now I think I will take that payment."

"Uh-huh," the girl looked up at him through her lashes, fearful, face tilted down. After a moment, she reached for the small, lacy sarong tied about her waist, and began to untie it. There was something horrifying in the resigned, casual way she did so-- as if it was her due-- that made Spike's stomach seem to turn.

"Not that," he shook his head, watching her uncoil with relief. "Something else-- I'd wager-- you being a little young for me and all." Lazily, he watched the smoke from his breath spread and dissipate. He was not entirely sure why he added, "S'my birthday, you know."

"You have birthdays?" she asked, sniffling loudly.

"'Cor, yeah. I was human, long time ago."


He sniffed derisively, "Don't you _read_?"

"Not that sort of thing." She bit her lip, "I like fairytales." He laughed again, because she made it so easy to be cruel.

(He remembers fairytales. Never of much interest to a gentleman scholar, but there was always Katie, his little sister, all golden curls and wide brown eyes and 'William, read me a story.' She would sit in his lap and follow the words with her little pink cherub's fingers.)

He sobered, closed his eyes to banish the image, and said, rather nastily, "Not worth much now, eh? Your happy endings."

"Guess not," she murmured, and looked as if she might start crying again. Spike nodded to himself, holding out a fresh cigarette.

"I'm not allowed," she said suspiciously. A pause, and then, "give it to me anyway."

"That's the spirit!" Spike lit it for her, cupping his hand around the flame; she breathed it in, staring at the burning orange. "One hundred thirty, today."

"That's a long time," her tone was considering. "What _are_ you?"

"Vampire," he smiled around his fangs, let her see the truth of his face. She staggered back a little, but he grabbed her, forced her to look at him. "Let's talk about that payment, love."

Cautiously, "Money?"

Money. He could take that from her-- he and Dru had cleaned out the old couple's safe, but it never hurt to have more. Somehow, it's not satisfying. He'd feed later, really feed, but for now this girl's fear was strengthening, reminding him of who he was. No bloody awful poet, but a demon with real crimson to stain his hands and never come clean. He could have snapped her little neck in a moment, but no. His demon whispered; let her always be afraid.

(You're afraid. No river of blood can quench that, the knowledge that you are still in so many ways human, still feel--

Goddamn it, shut up!)

"Nah," he said, rolling his shoulders. Setting her back down on her feet, he ran a single finger along her cheek. "What's your name?"

"Ellen." She blinked rapidly, eyes like uncut jade. She was not a pretty girl; too small, too mousy, too defeated to be conventionally beautiful. "Ellen LaVelle."

"We're goin'ta make a deal, Miss LaVelle," he grinned, charm written in the curve of his lips. "You own me somethin'-- on your honor, anything I want." At her surprised look, Spike chuckled, "Oh, I know all about honor. Raised in the reign of bloody Queen Victoria. May not employ it, but I know of it."

"I don't have anything to give you," Ellen said mournfully. "I don't seem to have anything you want. Money, or my body, or..."

An idea took root in his mind, made the words on his tongue so twisted and sweet. "Tell you what, love-- since you like fairytales so much, we'll make a deal like this." She looked up at him, lips parted, silently screaming fear. "Your first born."

"That's not--"

"Fair?" he laughed. "Life is not fair, Ellen. You can take that one to the bank."

"I _can't_..."

(Dru likes fairytales, too, though she never bends an elegant finger to follow along. Instead, she demands that he read, head lolling back on the couch while she laughs at certain passages, and finally dashes the book away, displeased with the ending.

"They lie, they lie," she'll sing-song, swaying, sitting in his lap, "Let me tell you how the story really goes...")

"Your promise or your life," Spike said quietly, dangerously. He drew her close, tipping her back in a parody of an embrace, hands harsh enough to bruise. "Your promise or your life." A little melodramatic, but he liked it-- had a nice ring.

"I shouldn't be afraid to die," she said, eyes fixed on his fangs, "but I am." Her body seemed to slacken in his arms, the last flicker of fight gone out. "You have my word."

He nodded, smirking, "Very good. Your first born child is mine." Laughter welled up in him again at her panicked nod; betrayal after betrayal, her life for Robby's, the baby's life for her own. "Still afraid to die?" he asked, licking the side of her neck, shivering with her muffled scream. "What's the matter? Don't believe in," he spat the word, "heaven?"

Ellen struggled, just a little, until she could look him straight in the eye. Perhaps there was a little viciousness left in her, after all. "Looking at your face," she asked, pupils merely dark pools where the demon refused to reflect, "how can I?"

Spike snarled, threw her down, rage bright and true within him. The anger was comforting, made him want to sink his teeth into her neck regardless of the bargain-- it meant, after all, nothing to him. A distraction. Instead, he stood over her where she lay sprawled on the beach, pointing a single, long pale finger down at her. "Remember, Ellen LaVelle," and the fear is more satisfying than her death. She will remember, long after he has gone; it will rot her from the inside out. "We have a deal."

He turned, stalking off, leaving her where she lay; the sound of his boots on the boardwalk firm. He was blind from memory with his demon and his rage-- he killed three men without breaking a sweat and returned to Dru bearing another as a gift. Flushed with blood, she made love with him again, eyes bright, keeping her lips closed firmly over whatever words would flow. William's birthday passed with the toll of twelve, and became featureless, blank days that Spike could sneer at.

He forgot about it, of course-- not only his birthday, most years, but the farce of a promise the girl took so seriously. A few days later, he and Dru left New Jersey-- he laughed to himself over a beer. As if he would have want of a child! And that is the last time he thinks about it. The years pass, bringing him to other countries, other towns, both alone and with Dru at his side. He kills-- brutally, for food; creatively, that she might be entertained. He returns to Sunnydale, the Hellmouth, to find Dru's Sire nursing his soul and his 'heart' while she wails with illness and pain. For a moment, Angel holds out an offering, as if it were the old days, as if it were Angelus behind that handsome face. Spike stares at the boy; slim, dark and young-- painfully so. His eyes are dark, full of secrets and a strange strength. Something clicks, a clockwork mechanism, a lock falling into place.

Then the vampire is roaring, ready to fight, and the human world fades.






Spike breaks into the Harris residence all too easily-- the lock on the front door is old, poor quality to begin with, and he finds to his amusement that his invitation has yet to be revoked.

"For all the whelp's noisy threats," he mutters, smiling to himself. The living room is dark, shadows and dust on worn furniture, the only noticeable light coming from the kitchen. Xander's parents, Spike assumes, and slips soundlessly down the hall towards the rickety basement stairwell. He flicks the light switch as an afterthought, grimacing as the garish Christmas lights come on, throwing their plastic colors. The scent of the boy is thick down here, concentrated as the nest or lair of any animal, and Spike pretends he is not breathing it in. Halfheartedly, he looks around for money, but the boy has always at least been smart enough not to leave the stuff laying about. The makeshift kitchen is in relative order, the small refrigerator overstocked with Chinese leftovers, mail stacked and leaning on the counter. Finding nothing of interest, Spike wanders back into the main room, where the furniture unconsciously congregates around Xander's workbench. There's a box sitting atop it, light wood sanded and smelling faintly of polish-- it's half finished, designs of willow trees and their long tresses set into the sides and the lid, stained a little darker than the rest of the material. Letters have been carved into the center of the lid, the first for dark and finished, 'W-i-l-l', and even though Spike can see the faint, tracery beginnings of 'o-w', there is just a moment, when...

"You disgust me," he mutters to himself, "truly neutered, that's what you're getting to be." Nicking a beer, he flops down into the banged up, red leather chair, unconsciously frowning when he can smell the demon girl in the battered cushions. "They can put a tiger in the zoo, doesn't mean it wouldn't eat all the little kiddies if it could." He takes a swig of beer and, even though it's worthless American swill, smiles just a little. "And I will. Eat them up." Drumming his fingers on his knee, he leans over just a little to look at the photograph perched awkwardly by the television set. The boy in the middle is unmistakably Xander, at some younger, more tender age; his grin is wide and infectious, small body leaning with ease on his friends. Spike recognizes the Red witch on the right, freckled and pixyish, but not the boy to Xander's left. "All the little kiddies," the words seem a little worn and, unwillingly, he focuses his gaze back on the child-Xander. He's an underfed little thing, clothes at least a size too big and hanging off his body, but there in those brown eyes is the same essence that now engenders Spike's grudging respect. He'll go down laughing, Xander will-- make a joke even as he lies somewhere, bleeding, with his luck run out.

("Admit it, you want to bite me. I'm moist and delicious."

"Fine," little brat, little, thoughtless, beautiful brat, "you're a nummy treat.")

Child-Xander keeps smiling, mussed hair in his face-- he is a very sweet little boy.

Spike puts the picture down when he hears the front door slam shut and, by the time Xander reaches the top of the steps, he's plunged the room into darkness once more, standing leaning against the wall. It takes Xander a moment to see him; the whelp pauses, reaches for something in his coat, and finally turns on the light.

"Boo," Spike says, raising a single, mocking eyebrow. "Have a nice day at work, dear?"

"Spike," Xander says, voice resigned. Even Drusilla can not say Spike's name in so many different ways. For a moment, the boy eyes the stake in his hand, before he tosses it on the work table and shrugs off his windbreaker. "What do you want, Fangless?"

"Oi, can't a mate drop by and have a chat, now?" Spike grins making a show of lighting his cigarette.

"Don't smoke down here," Xander shakes his head. "I have the blood and money from Giles. I give it to you, you get out-- how's that?"

"Sounds lovely, pet," Spike murmurs, standing a little too close. When Xander crosses the room, he's like a shadow, stitched on tight. He watches, amused, as the boy retrieves a small cooler from beneath the bed, thrusting it towards the vampire.

"Bring it back when you're done and I'll fill it up again," Xander informs him, rooting around in his pockets. At last, he pulls his wallet out, watching out of the corner of his eye as Spike rifles through the contents of the cooler.

"Human blood," the vampire says quietly, singling out one of the crimson pouches.

"From a blood drive," Xander informs him, shifting from foot to foot. "I mean, if you don't have some at least once in a while, you'll probably get sick, right? No matter how much pig's blood you drink?"

"Probably," Spike concedes, snapping the lid shut. "You'd probably have to ask Peaches-- he's the only other vamp I've ever known who's on a strictly non-human diet."

"Maybe you should throw in a raccoon or two for variety." The boy's words are casual, not deliberately mean but, none the less, Spike grips his wrist painfully when he hands the money over. The pain in his head is dull at first, sharpening, until he has to let go and clutch at his skull.

"Joke," Xander says, blinking. "Can you... feel it in there, even when it's not on? The chip?"

"Sometimes," Spike says, without thinking, "like the back of my skull is numb."

"Yikes," Xander looks suitably disturbed. He starts to say something else, how he couldn't _imagine_, but Spike just snarls, hating charity, the cloying scent of even Xander's smallest sympathy on his tongue.

"Geeze, never mind," the boy snorts in disgust, "I'm certainly not sorry you can't snack on my friends." He turns away, going through the mail, taking a sip of water from the tap. Not for the first time, the vampire notes just how difficult it is for the boy to be more than perfunctorily mean-- it simply isn't in his nature. After a moment, Xander looks at Spike, expectantly. "Why are you still here?"

"Thought I might borrow your telly for a while," Spike smirks, despite the fact he doesn't know. Should have left already, glad to be away from the boy's heady, earnestly clean smell.

"_No_," Xander says firmly, "oh, no." His sheer audacity is amazing-- he grabs Spike by the duster, herding him up the stairs, cooler carried under his arm. The vampire twists out of the boy's grip easily, sure to jar the human's wrist, though even that 'accidental' harm sends a warning buzz from the chip.


"Alright already, I'm going--" he begins. They're at the top of the steps, the rest of the house still dark, hushed, beaten and holding its breath.

"Xander, sweetie-- you home?" He registers the utter stillness of Xander's body before he even pays attention to the voice. A woman's voice, floating in from the kitchen, and Spike watches the boy curse silently and fluently.

"Stay here." Xander's voice is firm so, of course, Spike follows him. The kitchen is painfully bright, spartan and dismal, checkered in sickly green tile. The woman-- Xander's mother-- has her back towards them as they cross the threshold, tattered robe clutched tight about her as she pours another drink. "I'm here, Mom," Xander says as she sets the tumbler back on the counter; the air is rancid with vodka and helplessness.

"I was hoping it was just you," the woman says, turning. Spike steps out from behind Xander even as the boy tries to covertly keep him back; there is a strange moment where her heartbeat triples, and the glass falls from her shaking hand.

This is why I hate the human world, Spike thinks, even as Xander and his mother bend to the floor, gingerly picking up the shattered glass. The boy keeps his head down, focused on his task, but the woman just stares up, going through the motions of helping, her eyes fixed on Spike's. A thought burns across his brain, out of context. Angel, holding the boy out, Xander shaking, angry and afraid, and all Spike can think is, 'God I'd hate for Peaches to be right about something.' After a moment, he truly recognizes her, wishes that he didn't, because the horror of humanity is watching them all grow old and die, pass you by, like a child's ship of dreams in a silent sea.

("Never stay in one place too long," Angelus' voice intones. "Never get close. They're food-- toys, sometimes, nothing more. The grow old and die while we remain eternal, and the world is ever ours.")

She's changed, of course-- the finest of worry lines around her murky green eyes, gray inching from her temples into the thick of her hair. The black locks are cut blunt and short, looking much like Xander's in that they appear to have been cut with an old knife. She is still small, in her ratty white bathrobe and too-big nightgown, her skin has the translucent, vague shimmer of an alcoholic's, and somewhere in the back of his mind, Spike can hear Xander complaining, saying to the Watcher, 'what kind of middle name is LaVelle?'

"Are you alright, Mom?" Xander asks, finally, watching her as she sits there and continues to shake. "Mom!" he says again, reaching out to shake her, but his free hand needs steadying, and it lands amidst the glass. Spike watches it bloom, before turning violently, because its like the warmth of a fire or someone's slow embrace, the scent of that blood, and he struggles to keep the demon down. Even at this range, it burns him, so sweet, until almost all he can see is the boy sleeping, neck bared in unconscious fragility.


"I'm so sorry, honey," Ellen is saying when the world at last filters back to Spike. She's fumbling for a rag with which to stem the bleeding. The vampire can hear containers overturn, a tiny, frustrated fist hitting against the counter, Xander's resigned sigh.

"Mom, you're drunk," he says, and Spike finds enough composure to look back, only to find her eyes still on him, even as Xander eases her into a chair. The boy is clutching his left hand with a dishtowel, patting his mother's shoulder absently. When he looks up at Spike, he scowls. "Are you still here?" Not unkind, but rather mortified.

"Wh-who's your friend?" Ellen asks quietly, knuckles white against the kitchen table. Xander's frown increases, and he rolls his eyes at the vampire.

"Mom, this is Spike," he says offhandedly, "he's just a guy I know from work. He came by to pick something up and he's leaving right now, _aren't_ you, Spike?"

"Aren't you gonna introduce me to your Mum?" Spike asks, projecting confidence despite the fact he's lost fall footing.

"Spike, my mom, Ellen Harris," Xander makes a motion with his hand. "There, happy now?"

"Nice to meet y-you, Spike," Ellen says, wringing her hands, looking between the vampire and her son with an expression beyond pain. She sways a little in her seat, as if faint. "Have you..." her voice is soft, broken, "come to collect?"

"Not today, Miss LaVelle," Spike says, ignoring the surprise splayed across Xander's features, ignoring the chill and heat that twist beneath his own ribs.

"What the--" Xander pauses, obviously editing for his mother, "what's going on here?"

"Nothing," Ellen says, head in her hands, "I'm drunk, like you said. I--" There's a slam from the fore of the house, reverberating through the beams, and Spike can hear the muffled curses and heavy sound of muddy boots from the front hall-- fairly loud, to his vampire hearing, though he is surprised the humans notice it so soon. Xander and his mother are carefully still, though, sensitized, like dowsing rods in their low, humming fear. "Get out," she hisses, attention turned fully to Xander, " hurry."

Xander's eyes dart between her pale, drawn face and the threshold, "Will you--"

"There's beer in the fridge," she says, as if this explains everything. Xander lingers, before a particularly nasty crash sends him moving, pulling Spike's arm as they stumble out the back door and into the chill, wet lawn.

Xander leads the way around the side of the house, until they stand near the dim illumination of the streetlights, and the boy slumps his body against the neighbor's fence. Time prickles along Spike's skin, but he can only stare at the lines and shadows of the boy's face, at the child who has been forced so quickly to become a man. Even Spike flinches when he hears the found of flesh hitting flesh resound from the house.

(He remembers, Father and the belt. His own back retains scars from his mortal life and shell, and oh he remembers biting his lip because he wouldn't give the satisfaction of even one tear... Then Angelus, the screaming, one brutal master for another, you know, that's the way it goes...)

"Go ahead." When Xander opens his eyes, they are deep, almost black with resignation. Spike merely gazes at the boy, eyebrow raised in question. "Laugh-- I know you're going to."

"Was not," Spike says honestly, so bitter on his tongue.

"Sure," the boy rolls his eyes, letting his head fall back against the fence. "'Stupid, moron, Xander. Not only is he a Buffy-groupie, but he can't even deal with his father, spineless little git.'" The accent is not far off, and Spike is surprised, because even the mocking betrays the fact that Xander himself believes it. It has been a long time since he's spoken kind words to anyone save Dru-- his voice curdles, as if anything less than vicious would break it, and oh, he doesn't want this boy to see, to see anything, so he keeps his mouth shut. At last, Xander shakes his head, burring his hands in his pockets. "Go, already, why don't you? Entertainment is over, for tonight."


"Sure," Spike says, though he makes no move to leave, "got what I came for." Xander nods, they walk together towards the street, something strong and strange and silent strung between them.

"Look," Xander says when the reach the corner, "I know you're chipped and all, but you can still play your mind games." His eyes are all shades, looking up through his lashes, "So I'm asking you; leave my Mom alone, okay? Please. She's got enough problems without you."

"You think I'd bother with her?" Spike says, managing to sound offended.

"I suppose she's beneath William the Bloody," Xander snorts. "But I mean it-- she's my Mom. She's not the greatest in the world; when she's really drunk, she says I don't even belong to her, and--" Spike is afraid, sure there is the smallest hint of compassion in his own eyes-- worse still, the truth-- before Xander sneers at himself. "Why am I tell you this? Look, just let her be. Clear out." The boy waves a listless hand and, for some reason, Spike catches it, runs his chill fingers over the calluses and whirls.

('The lines,' Drusilla whispers, 'Its the lines that know where you're going.' Blueprint for fate.)

Xander's eyes are wide, so open, and if Spike could read the language he could decipher it all, right now. Instead, he moves his free hand to touch the boy's soft hair, brushing a lock behind his ear. Slowly, gently, Spike cups Xander's cheek, moves a thumb over the dry, silky bottom lip. What he wants is to take the boy's hand and guide it to his own shoulder then reach to trace the line of strong neck and shoulder; what he does is enjoy the breathless look, because already he has gone too far.

"Not gonna hurt your Mum, pet," he says, leaning in just a little, "believe it or not, I do have standards."

"I--" Xander begins, but their eyes are both fixed on the boy's tanned fingers, lifting as it to rest against Spike's duster. There's a moment where the vampire thinks that it might happen-- and oh, this weakness is so sweet-- but then, the hand drops, and the boys steps back. "I- I gotta go see if I can crash on Giles' couch."

Then he's gone, like that, void in place of warmth. Spike curls his hands into fists, all the rage for himself and none of it for the boy, because _he_ was weak. Weak. And there goes the whelp, back turned to William the Bloody, disappearing into a night whose dangers he knows too well.




Spike returns to the crypt, but he does not sleep. Willfully, stubbornly, he keeps his eyes open even as he feels the sun begin its painstaking climb. He lies still, gaze fixed on some imperfection in the vault's ceiling. Refusing to surrender, even as the height of day saps his strength and will, he never the less dreams-- of an empty, weed-strew beach. More than a century of existence has taught him what so many mortals choose to ignore; that memories live. Like Spike himself, they suckle, feed, growing like thorns that reach to choke, as dangerous as anything with teeth or fangs. The memory breathes as Spike does not, air rushing along the beach, sun just beginning to lift its pale, merciless fingers to the night.

Xander is there-- coltish, certain, foolish and determined-- soddin' Xander Harris, who belongs to Spike and knows it not. Xander, who stands leaning self-consciously against a rotting wooden fence and-- somehow, despite all the secrets Spike so carefully guards-- it seems for a moment as if it is the mortal who knows more than the vampire. The earth shifts, or time does; now Spike is standing close enough to smell the faint ceddarwood and autumn that compose the boy's scent, so overwhelming that he rarely allows himself to puzzle to out. It's here now, he's drunk on the boy's presence, and Xander sways as if folded securely in a dream within a dream. The pounding of the waves is the same as the pounding of Xander's heartbeat, pleasure heightened to a sweetness that must be borne. The tide draws in the moon, draws in Spike, so that his hands are curled around the boy's arms, cool lips pressed to warm forehead. Everything is gone; if the moon and stars still shed their dim glow, the vampire is unaware. There is only Xander, promised to him on a long-ago beach, made-- and here is the terror!-- out of flesh, and blood, and bone.

'He belongs to me,' Spike thinks, and this is a nightmare, because the human world has long since ceased to offer anything of value to him, save agony and blood. He must not want this boy and his dark-bright eyes, his soul that bends helpfully to bear what it should not.

But in the dream--

(Is this a dream?)

he holds Xander and feels an old emotion spreading through his too-still chest. It burns everything clean; buried, but alive, rattling in its tomb. How long the boy's eyes have been on his own, Spike can't tell-- they stare, and etched in those dark orbs is a single word that Xander finally speaks.


The pounding in Spike's ears is surely Xander's pulse, or the distant surf, and not the sound of his own, unmoving blood.


('Rumplestilskin,' says Katie, a whisper, close to his ear.)

Spike wakes, and is certain-- just for a moment-- that she has wiggled her tiny body into bed beside him. That it is Sunday morning, and Mum has sent her up to wake him for brunch. Outside his bedchamber window, London will sprawl, close and certain as the foggy air.

("You're still dreaming." Dru's voice, this time, and he can not be blamed if he at first does not believe her-- she said it enough when they were well and truly awake.)

He opens his eyes, gasping even though he doesn't need to. The air is stale, _he_ is stale, a corpse enchanted, and tells himself his heart is just a lump of meat within petrified chest.


Evening, then. He can smell the rain, the wet earth pressing against the crypt. Spike rolls quickly out of his makeshift bed, disgusted, snarling like an animal both desperate and reluctant to seek warmth.

'You're dead,' he thinks at William, 'dead, you pounce, and good thing, says I. So stay dead, no second life for you, no rising from the ashes. This is my body and my life and I will not be weak, you miserable...'

He _is_ Spike. He knows this, it is as firm as the duster about his shoulders, and the past is buried

(alive, kicking and screaming)

and gone. He opens the cooler with no thought at all to where it came from, tears into the packet of human blood even though some small voice whispers of saving it, for some special occasion. He refuses to treat it like that, as it is rare-- the chip is not forever, and he will feed again, fresh and someday soon. But it has been a long time, longer than he thought, and the human bloody makes him dizzy, as if on a precarious high. Dru's voice comes to him again.

("I'll tell you," she whispers, "how the story really ends.")

Spike looks at his hands, almost giggling, because there was the beach, and the LaVelle girl, and Xander, and who the hell would have guessed. There must be a line, somewhere, drawing them in, drawing them together, but he can't find it. Instead, all he can feel is the warmth of the boy's cheek, and all he can think of is what belongs to him.

("You have my word.")