All About Spike

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Dark Horse
By wiseacress

He didn't recognize the kid at first glance—and on second glance, it was just something familiar around the mouth, around the dark stunned-looking eyes. They'd cut his hair. Razored it right down to the skin, and that was hard to see past, at first. Made him look like all the others, made him look naked. Made the thin ratty shirt, the trousers with holes at the cuff, seem like they weren't even there. Showed the bones climbing up his spine, one by one. He'd lost weight. Lost colour. Looked wan, yellow. Colour of his stupid shirt. Colour of something used and ready for the bin.

By that time Spike was sitting up and taking notice. Well, you had to. Didn't see a former Scooby every day, much less one with faculties more or less intact. Or so it seemed on second glance.

"That one," he said, nodding and flicking a bottle cap in the kid's direction. It hit the wall beside him, but he didn't react. Hm. "He up for grabs?"

Virgil looked over, squinted, and shrugged. Had his hands full with the latest fledge, teething. She'd been a dentist; Virgil liked irony. He was patient with them all for a few days, nursing them through the pangs, and then inevitably he lost his temper. He went through a lot of fledges. God knew why he kept turning them.

Except God didn't really keep a hand in anymore.

Spike leaned forward and flicked another bottle cap at the kid. This one hit him on the shoulder, and he twitched slightly, like a horse shaking off a fly. He didn't move, though, or look around to see who'd flicked it. Smart, Spike thought. Or broken.

He leaned back and sipped his drink, glanced around at the fledgling dentist, then turned and lazily raised a hand. No sense paying more than he had to.

When he left, he was out fifty bucks and he had the kid on a length of string, like a catch of fish. Oh, and Virgil had been good enough to contribute another fifty to the buy. If he wasn't sharp enough to keep an eye on his wallet in a den of thieves like that, well that was his problem, wasn't it?



By the time he was home, he still hadn't figured out what he was going to do with the kid. He wasn't even sure why he'd got him, except for old time's sake. Curiosity. Maybe a little payback.

"Make yourself at home," he said, opening the door and leading the way inside. "I'll most likely drain you in the morning."

The kid came in behind him, stepped to the side of the door, and just stood there. His hands still tied in front of him with that ridiculous, ceremonial string. His weight back in his heels. He didn't smell too frightened; mainly he smelled tired and dirty and low on iron. There were bruises all over his neck where he'd been tapped to keep him quiet. Slight lingering smell of whatever drug they gave them to stop the fight-or-flight. Don't try him till tomorrow afternoon, the auctioneer had said. Rote, bored tone of voice. Not unless you want a headache.

"Close the door," Spike said, and went to get a drink. When he came back, the door was closed and the kid was standing in the same spot, leaning against the wall, his eyes half shut. He pushed off and stood upright when Spike came in. Not looking for a smack in the head.

Spike stood swirling his glass, breathing bourbon instead of the kid's nasty smells, and looked him over. Too dark in the room for the kid to do the same. That was nice; gave him a nice sense of control. You could never have too much of that.

"You look like shit," he said, and then wondered why he'd said it. Well, it was true. Apart from the thinness and bite bruises, the burnt-out glassy eyes, the clothes half falling off him—apart from all that, the kid had a beaten-down look. Standing there like a whipped dog. Waiting. Silently.

Spike took a drink from his glass. Fifty bucks for sentiment. And now he had to decide what to do with him.

"Sheets in the cupboard," he said, and turned his back. "I'm going to bed."





He woke up to a feeling he didn't much like, and couldn't figure out why he had it. He felt unsettled, like he'd forgotten to do something. He hadn't felt that way in years. Hardly even counted time like that anymore.

Then he remembered the kid, and almost groaned.

He couldn't go back to sleep after that, and so after a while he rolled out of bed and checked the clock. Seven. Too early to be up; the sun was still out. Council hadn't sorted out a way to keep the sun from shining yet, though you wouldn't know it from their campaign platforms. Still. Tinted glass was a lot easier to come by than it used to be.

He pulled on a T-shirt and jeans, unlocked the bedroom door, and started up. House was silent. At the top of the stairs he paused, and heard the little wrenbeat in the back, the kitchen. Found the kid curled in a sheet on the floor under the table, his hands still tied, thrust between his knees in the old foetal prayer. For a while he crouched there, watching him. The kid had soft-looking lips, and once in his sleep he said, "Willow."

He killed an hour or two wandering the house, wiping dust off things with his knuckles, breathing on mirrors and drawing with an invisible finger. Back in those days, he never could have owned a house like this. He used to sleep in a bloody crypt. They probably thought he liked it.

He swung himself over the balustrade and landed in the hall with a bang. The wrenbeat surged, and he grinned. Took less than five seconds to get to the kitchen, flip the table over, lean in with game face, and bark "Morning."

The kid's face was really something to see.

That put him in a good mood, and made him think the fifty bucks hadn't been a bad idea after all. Might be worth keeping him around just to scare the piss out of him every once in a while. Nothing like terrifying a former Scooby to make you glad you weren't alive.

He laughed, ran a hand over the kid's shorn scalp, and went whistling out into the night. Brought back not one but two Russian lovelies, showed them downstairs, and proceeded to fuck them into the mattress in turns. After locking the door. You couldn't be too careful with the help.





Problem with keeping a human around on a semi-long-term basis was, you had to feed him. Wasn't like he kept the cupboard full of bread and marmalade, either. He had to go out and buy some concentrate from a dealer, which meant word would get around that he was keeping a human, if it hadn't already got around from Virgil or the auctioneer. Vamps were nothing if not gossipy fuckers.

"'s good for you," he said, watching the kid stare down at the tube in front of him. "'s a five-course meal, right there. Soup to nuts."

The kid glanced up at him, then picked up the tube and bit the top neatly off. He had all his teeth still, which was something. White, too. Probably something they put in the concentrate. And God knew what else was really in that stuff. Five course meal, right. Advertising hadn't changed much, at least.

Spike let his head drop back and cradled his glass against his chest. Chandelier was dusty. Ought to get up there and—fuck it, who was he kidding? He sort of liked the dust. At least in the parts of the house he didn't use, which was almost all of it, except for his bedroom. Which had been the wine cellar, and which was cool and dark and well-equipped with bottles, and which he kept very clean.

The kid finished the tube and dropped it empty onto the table, sat back, and licked his lips. Spike lowered his head and looked at him. The kid looked back. His mouth was still working, either because he was still hungry or because he was trying to get rid of the taste. For a few seconds his gaze was just normal, the nobody-home abstract look. Then he blinked, and seemed to focus, and started to look nervous. His fingers crept back up onto the table and made the empty tube disappear.

Spike kept looking, smelling the slow rise of anxiety, knowing the kid was wondering what next, clumsily riffling the possibilities. All kinds of reasons a vamp would buy a human. One hundred dollars was a significant investment, given that blood was practically free these days. Blood was free, which meant playing cost money. Ironic.

He rolled his head back on his neck again and studied the dusty crystals. Wondered what the kid was thinking. All stuff that happened, because there wasn't anything that didn't happen now, and if he had any wits left at all he knew Spike had a bone to pick. That fucking Barcalounger, for one thing.

Except he wasn't really sure the kid did have all his wits. So far, there hadn't been any sign of recognition. And for some reason, he hadn't done anything to spark it. Hadn't called the kid by his name. Hadn't even really thought it. And why was that? Well, most of those memories weren't good, and maybe that was reason enough.

When he looked back down, the kid's head was drooping, and his eyelids were halfway down. He looked small, sitting on the far side of the big dining room table. The chair dwarfed him. Even back in those days, when he'd had his chance, he hadn't exactly lived large.

The flat of Spike's hand made a satisfying crack on the table top, and the kid leapt six inches. Heart all aflutter. Spike grinned.

"Don't let me keep you," he said, and motioned at the door to the kitchen. The kid blinked at him, then at the door. Then took the hint, scraped his chair back, and hopped it out. Back to his sheet and his baseboard and whatever he dreamed out. World where a Slayer still saved the day, likely. Sad.






He went out and drank his weight, and next thing he knew he was crouched under the table again, the world weaving and pulsing between its legs, watching the kid's eyes jitter behind his eyelids. Thin skin, pale and papery. Whole world inside there. When had he put the table back up? Nobody told him he could do that. Kind of thing could get him smacked in the head, if a body had a mind.

Kid's skin was luminous in the darkness, glowing like a candle behind a screen. Glow of life, internal combustion. That was rare. And warm. Everything was so cold now, always cold and dark, streets running with blood but where was the fun in that?

He wanted to see what was behind the kid's eyelids. Inside his skull. Wanted to just—

The kid's skin was smooth under his thumb. For a second. Warm and smooth, and then the eyelid opened under his touch, the eye naked and alarmed. Gasp of breath, interruption, freeze. It startled him. He was sitting back on his ass, braced on both hands, trying to make things stop moving.

"I just—" he started, and then realized he was on the floor of his kitchen, about to explain. No. That was for another world. In this world he didn't have to explain, didn't have to do anything except take what he wanted.

And he wanted—

The kid was right there, pressed to the wall, staring at him with huge stark eyes.

"Piss off," he snarled, and got carefully to his feet, and almost walked into the door on his way out.





Nobody made Coca-Cola anymore, but he kept a cache for just this sort of occasion, and damn if it wasn't running low. He sat at the head of the dining room table, feet on the dusty mahogany, and drank a can warm. Not much refrigeration anymore either. Like bloody wartime London minus the bangs, and sometimes he was tempted to think the humans had done a better job of running things after all.

He could hear the kid doing…something in the kitchen. Moving around, quiet as a mouse. There were mice; he could hear them too. On a head like this, mouse feet were fucking agony.

"Hey!" His own yell was an icepick in his brain, and he flinched and grabbed the bridge of his nose. Jesus. What the hell all had he drunk last night?

The kid stopped moving, and there was just the rapid patter of his heart, waiting. Scared. Now that was a nice sound.

"Come in here." He said it without knowing why, or even that he was going to. Then he thought, Can bloody make himself useful, but that was belated, and didn't even convince him. Fuck it. He felt like death warmed over.

The door to the kitchen opened and the kid came in, stepped to the side, and just stood there. He had a habit of keeping his hands together in front of him, wrists touching, as if the string were still there. Probably used to it. He stood there with those eyes like dinner plates, skinny, pale, Edith Piaf in a cruddy T-shirt and someone's cast-off trousers. Little sparrow. Too bad he couldn't sing.

Spike put the can to his forehead and rolled it. Wasn't cold, but the little carbonated pops helped, somehow. The kid watched him do it.

"Come here," Spike said, and wondered again what he was doing. Maybe he should drain the kid, have a proper drink and stop the mouse feet trampling all his thoughts. Never should have bought him in the first place. Humans were a pain.

The kid walked slowly over, hands still dangling in front of him, and that was suddenly the most annoying fucking thing in the universe.

"Why the fuck are you walking like that?" He heard the can snap, and quickly loosened his grip. "Walk like a normal person, will you?"

The kid looked shocked, confused. Then he glanced down and saw his hands, and they sprang apart like birds let out of a cage. Right around behind his back; out of sight, out of mind. Spike frowned.

"Not like that. Normal. Just—normal, like you—" used to. He froze, and the kid took one look at his face and froze too. There was a moment of quiet, except for the skittering mouse.

"Go get me some blood," Spike said finally. "Proper glass. Warm it up first." The first time, the kid hadn't warmed it, and he'd chucked the glass straight back at him. Little Napoleon. No, fuck it—his house, his human, he had a right. "And eat another one of those…things," he added, to the kid's retreating back. For some reason, he felt uncomfortable. Like he should have done something differently.

He drained the rest of the Coke and hurled the can into the fireplace with a pathetic, unsatisfying clink.







They got into a routine. It was easy to do; there wasn't much to occupy Spike's time, now that victory was theirs, dark powers reigned supreme, humans were farmed like cattle and yadda yadda yadda. He spent most of his days asleep, most of his nights in the hells and blind tigers. Made money at cards, lost it again into a bottle. That was the only reason they let him keep coming back, the way he won; they knew they'd have it again once he was pissed. He bought drinks, picked fights, fucked other men's women in the upright stalls. Took entirely different women home in the wee hours, stumbled downstairs with them, and showed them what a Master could do. Several times.

The kid wafted around like the smell of breakfast, smart enough to keep out of the way of the departing lovelies, and out of Spike's way until well after dusk. The hangover was better by then, and he usually spent an hour or two reading in the library before he went out. Just stupid stuff, left over from the old world: old Dorothy Sayers novels, sometimes a little Randall Jarrell. One night the kid wandered in and pasted himself to the far baseboard, his knees up to his chest and his hands dangling loose, together, out over them. Spike considered telling him to fuck off, but his head still hurt and the kid was quiet. He let him stay.

The next night the kid came back, and again Spike didn't say anything. Just glanced up, noted him duly, and went back to chapter eleven. The night after that, he didn't bother glancing up. Night after that, the kid fell asleep there, his head propped against the bookcase, his lips parted slightly. When Spike left, he happened not to wake the kid up.

He forgot the kid was there one night, and laughed out loud at a bit of dialogue. The kid shifted, and his heart picked up slightly. Not fear. Something else. Spike didn't raise his head, but he found himself reading the same paragraph over and over, not taking it in. The kid subsided again, but the book still didn't make sense. Finally Spike marked it, dropped it over the arm of the chair, and walked out.

The next day the book smelled of the kid. Busy little fingers. He sat staring at the dogeared page, his head still throbbing, imagining the scuttle over, the hesitation, the cautious light fingering of the cover. Then the quick, hungry rifling to find whatever he'd been reading last, whatever had made him laugh.

A bought human wasn't supposed to touch anything without permission, or so he'd heard. Not that he'd bought any humans before, or knew of any guidebooks for those who did. But it seemed fundamental. Same as locking his bedroom door, which he still did every night, because there was one time the help could turn on you, and that was when you were asleep. Didn't matter how pale and skinny and ghost-eyed they looked, all they needed was a croquet peg and good aim, and you were dust. That was why there were ground rules.

He waited until the kid came in and settled himself against the wall. Then he said, "Hey."

The kid flattened himself to the wood panelling and stared. Spike frowned and lifted the book in one hand.

"You looked at this."

There was silence. Then, slowly, the kid nodded. He swallowed, and his throat clutched. Spike let the silence draw out.

"Next time you do that—" he said. Could see the wheels spinning in the kid's mind. Frantic.

"Ask first." He gave the kid a grim stare, and went back to the book.

Incredulity had a funny, tripping sound. So did relief.





The kid didn't ask, but he did keep coming back. Holing up in the spot between the doorway and the bookcase, hands dangling, head nodding on his neck. It was the concentrate; they put a sedative in, along with all the other stuff. Not much, not enough to interfere with their doing whatever they'd been bought to do. Just enough to keep them calm and sleepy and in denial, and to make them smell ever so faintly of labs.

It was the smell that bothered him, he decided, watching over the top of his book as the kid's eyelids fluttered and his jaw worked in little spasms. Didn't like that smell in the background, in the whole house once you noticed it, stale and chemical at once. Smelled like the Council getting a hand in. Couldn't buy concentrate without the stuff in it, couldn't feed a human without concentrate. Fucking Council. Well, he'd heard the richest vamps fed their humans real food. Hamburgers, orange juice, raisins. There were places to get it, if you had the money. Made for sleek, pink, glossy pets. Alert. You could have a conversation with them, probably.

More trouble than it was worth. And he didn't have the money.

He went back to the book, but again the words were refusing to assemble, and he found his eyes drifting up, back to the kid. White and wasted, the shaved head pathetic. Made him angry to look at it. No point having a pet if it was just going to sit around rubbing its fingers all day, was there?

Fucking Council.

He narrowed his eyes and went back to the book. The faint smell of blood-borne chemicals made his nostrils itch.






He went out the next night as usual, and when he staggered back, the kid was dead.

Or so he thought.

The front of the house looked fine, and he was escorting a highly distracting visitor from New Delhi. Small dark round and giggling, with a little necklace of blue stones and a henna line on the parting of her hair, which pleased him for some obscure reason. There was fumbling with keys, fumbling with lips and breasts and the convenient boltholes of her sari-or-whatever, and they half-fell into the hallway with a gasp and a snarl. He still didn't notice anything. They got halfway to the stairs before she said, "What's that smell?" And sniffed the air with the focus that meant only one thing. He paused to let his head settle. Smelled blood.

Then it was a process of walking drunkenly and very fast through all the rooms, trying to find him. Cursing at the top of his lungs. Passing the broken window in the kitchen, in the back of the house, and not pausing but noticing with some calm scorekeeping part of his mind that that was how they'd come in. No blood there, though. Kid must have run.

He was in the library. Half in the fireplace, sprawled face-down on the brick, his shirt long gone and his throat wide open. There was a trail across the floor from the spot between the doorway and the bookcase. Maybe they'd meant to light him on fire. Pages of Sayers and Tey and Rendell all around him, ripped from the covers, like tinder. The paper darker than his skin.

He was on his knees, two fingers on the kid's shoulder, when the New Delhian found him. "Oh, your human," she said, in an unsurprised tone. Word had got round. "What a shame. You want to finish him first?"

He turned game face on her, got half up, and she retreated hastily. "No one cares, you know," she called from the doorway. "So-so proud of your one stupid human."

He turned back to the kid, and she was gone, out of the house, before he realized the wrenbeat was still there. Faint, thready. Line in the snow. He turned the kid over gently, grimaced at the soup of his throat, the red poster paint smeared from forehead to navel. Little bubbling breaths, unbelievable. Never could kill this one.

He got a hand on the hole, carted him to the bathroom and laid him in the bath to find inadequate bandages, antiseptic, yards and yards of gauze. Wrapped him up like a Christmas package and wiped him clean as he could. Got the bloody awful trousers off him too, while he was at it, and tried not to pay any attention to how thin he was. Five-course meal in every tube. Right.

Through it all, the wrenbeat faltered, picked up, faltered, carried on. Every time it paused he paused too, his hands in the middle of something, shaking. The kid's eyes were closed, his lips open and white. The wrenbeat picked up. Spike wrapped him in a wealthy man's towel and carried him downstairs.

His bedroom was cold, he knew that. But he had blankets, and he piled them on the kid until he was afraid of suffocating him. Lit candles so there'd be light. Locked the door and stood staring at the lock, wanting it to be more. He wasn't going to prop a bloody chair under the knob.

He went back to bed and got in on his own side, smelled blood and chemistry and leftover sex with half a dozen lovelies. Wanted to cry. He was drunk, that was all. He put out a hand and let it lie against the kid's shoulder. Cool, now. Not warm, like he should be.

Maybe he dreamed it, but at some point in the day he saw the kid looking at him. Watching him. As if he were about to speak, but he didn't.





The kid didn't die. He spent a week in bed, mostly sleeping or something like it, not seeming to know where he was. Hardly moved, even for the changing of dressings, which was a sticky process. Said nothing about what had happened, who had done it. Not that he'd know.

What did you feed an almost-dead human? In the old days, there was bouillon and mashed potatoes and milkshakes; you could hand the kid a menu and dial a phone for anything he wanted. Now, just tubes. Had a gross of them sitting on the counter in the kitchen, nasty fucking things they were. He emptied one into a mug, filled it with hot water and a shake of whiskey, and made the kid drink that. For once, the sedatives were a plus.

For three nights he didn't go out at all. It was touch and go; once, the kid's heart just wandered off a cliff and he sat bolt upright in his chair on the other side of the room, in the suddenly silent house, the book in his hands bent almost in half. Silence. He got to his feet, started for the bed, and the tired little dance started up again, one and two and three and four, and he wanted to scream and throw his book at the kid's face. Don't do that. Don't—

By the third night, the kid was awake, conscious, his eyes following Spike around the room, and Spike dosed him, locked him in, and went out to get drunk. Very drunk. He got deeply, nastily pissed and stood on the back of a booth, shouting that he wanted to know who had done it. He'd find them, and he'd make them sorry they'd ever dropped fangs. William the Bloody, he was.

There were snickers, he was aware.

Bloody Aurelius, he went on. Remember us, don't you? Remember Angelus?

The snickering stopped.

It was satisfying and annoying in ways he couldn't place, and then he was helped down from the booth by a couple of large vamps with attitude problems, and by the time he was assisted out there were glasses flying and Rosie was on the bar with her shotgun.

He went home and crawled into bed. Woke up in the night curled next to the kid, forehead pressed to shoulder, arm around waist. Felt like he had the wrenbeat in his arms. Like he could keep hold of it. Felt good.

He thought, huh.

From then on, the kid slept in his bed, in his arms.





He went back to the sinks and backrooms, back to cards, but now when he won he didn't drink it all away. He kept hold of it, minus whatever small percentage he judged wise to return in bought rounds and gifts to new friends. Wasn't stupid. You couldn't just take them for all they were worth, come back the next night, and do it again. Had to give a little something back.

Four days later, he had almost five hundred dollars in his pocket when he crushed his cigarette out beside a silver Lexus parked at the curb on Sherman and Fourteenth. The window came down, his money went in, and a brown paper bag came out. The duster was handy for holding things unseen. He had a drink at the Malibu, played two rounds of five-card stud, lost twenty-five bucks, and called it a night. Walked home by the usual route, and if he didn't have a companion, well, he hadn't had one in a while now. Wasn't unusual.

In the bedroom, with the door locked, the bag came out. He sat on the edge of the bed and took things out. Tin of chili, vegetarian. Bag of dried apricots. Sachet of milk powder. Box of crackers, couple of imperishable little cheeses in red wax. Chocolate bars. And at the bottom of all of it, wrapped carefully in a torn piece of newspaper, an apple.

The kid sat propped against the headboard, looking dazed. Spike sort of knew how he felt. He hadn't seen an apple in…how long? He picked it up, polished it against his shirt, and smelled it. It wasn't as fresh as it could have been—he remembered when apples were hard as wood, and soaked your mouth with juice—but it still smelled right. Like a tree, somewhere. Like late summer. He closed his eyes and tested the skin with one tooth.

The kid swallowed, and he opened his eyes. They looked at each other for a second, and then the kid looked down. Back at the pile of real food on the blanket between them.

"Here." Spike held the apple out, and the kid looked at it, then reached out slowly and took it. He held it as if he didn't know what to do next. Started tentatively to put it back with the other stuff. Spike frowned. "Well, if you're not going to bloody eat it—"

That took a second to process, and then the kid's eyes were on his face again, sharp and dark and famished. But taking no chances. Spike nodded.

"Go ahead."

The kid lasted a second or two longer, then snapped the apple up to his mouth and crunched into it. He'd forgotten how sweet apples smelled. Covered up the lab smell right away, and there was juice on the kid's chin and a look of faint recognition in his eyes. Memory. Something about that made Spike's chest hurt, and made a part of him think This may not be a good idea—.

The kid wiped his chin and chewed, swallowed, bit another hunk out. He'd eaten half the thing in two bites. Chewing, he put a finger out and touched the apricots, the bright primary colours of the chocolate bar wrappers. Again, he seemed to be remembering. One of them was a kind he used to like. Had peanuts. Bloody awful, American chocolate bars.

The kid took another bite of the apple, then looked at what was left—almost core—and swallowed. He turned it slightly in his fingers, then held it out to Spike. Spike looked at it.

"Yeah, all right." He took it, had a bite, and handed it back. Sweet, tart, juicy. Almost worth five hundred dollars. He missed apples.

The kid ate the core, the stem, everything. As if there were memories buried inside it, and he wanted to eat those too.






On real food, the kid improved. He gained weight, lost some of the hollows and angles. Got pinker, warmer. Stopped looking so glazed. The wound in his neck was healing, and it itched. He rubbed the dressing in his sleep, and Spike got in the habit of waking up to stop him. Then he got in the habit of stopping him without waking up. In the evening he'd find his hands around the kid's wrists, their legs entwined, as if they'd been wrestling in slow motion or trying to waltz. Kid was warm, at least. Wasn't a bad thing.

He kept winning at cards, keeping a careful eye on how much he could take each night, each week, without causing too much resentment. He met the silver Lexus at the corner of Sherman and Fourteenth. An orange one week, an avocado the next. One banner week, a pomegranate. They spent the afternoon passing the skin back and forth, digging seeds out in a companionable silence. By the time they'd finished, the kid's lips were stained bright pink, and his fingers looked bloody. He was smiling slightly, and Spike had a brief, intense desire to kiss him.

That was a shock.

Staring blankly at a book in the library, he told himself it wasn't surprising. He hadn't entertained in a long time. Weeks. He wasn't used to this kind of privation. Wasn't healthy. Only natural he'd settle on whoever was close at hand, and it didn't help that the kid was getting warmer and sharper every night. He came and went on his own now, for water and the bathroom and what all, slipping in and out and locking the door carefully behind him every time, in or out, like he'd been shown. Once when Spike had been a little drunker than he usually got now, and fumbling with the key, the kid had opened the door from inside for him. Handy, that.

But still. He obviously needed company, so he made sure to bring some home. A haughty six-foot Californian, should have been playing beach volleyball on golden sands or answering phones at an agency, but in this world she had two-inch canines and drank a real Bloody Mary. Camille. He brought Camille home, brought her downstairs, opened the bedroom door and there was the kid, sprawled half-naked between the sheets. He was wearing the wealthy man's clothes these days; silk boxers and silk shirts and everything was too big and licked right off him if he didn't tie it on. He sat up blinking, and Camille smiled.

"Oh, Spike."

"Out." He stood aside, pulled Camille aside, and jerked a thumb at the door. The kid just sat there, blinking, and Spike felt a surge of irritation. "I said out."

The kid was up and moving before the words were fully out, one hand keeping the wealthy man's boxers up, the other searching frantically for something else to put on. Camille made a moue.

"He can stay."

"No he can't." That came out sounding grim, so he turned and gave her the signature smile. "Want you all to myself, love."

Cooing, and a quick hungry look sideways at the kid struggling into a too-big shirt, and Spike wanted him out now, just get out and be quiet and unseen, no reason to draw any more attention than he already had. And he was in the way. He kicked the door open wider, and the bang of his boot made the kid jump, made him abandon the buttons and run. At the doorway, Spike turned and snagged his collar, snapped him to a standstill. The mouse feet kept pattering, fast.

"A moment, love." He raised an eyebrow at Camille—humans…what can you do?, and stepped out, pulled the door to behind them. Whispered. "Just go—go wait in the library." That was where he was happiest, wasn't it?

The kid's eyes widened and he smelled like fear, and Spike realized that no, the library wasn't a happy place anymore. Well then, the kitchen. But the window was still broken. Well then…

"Just…go stash yourself somewhere," he hissed. "Go upstairs, one of the bedrooms, I don't care. Go to sleep."

The kid swallowed and nodded, and Spike let him go. His feet made a panicked, diminishing thump on the staircases.

Spike opened the door again and lasered a smile at Camille. "Now, where were we?"







It wasn't quite the experience he'd hoped it would be. She was annoyingly loud, for one thing. Usually he liked loud, but this time he knew she was doing it for the kid's benefit, and he realized he was trying to keep her quiet for the same consideration, and that was irritating beyond belief. His house, his human. He could do whatever he wanted. After a bit he threw himself into it too, because he'd be damned if he'd creep around his own home worrying what his possessions thought of him. Then it was just a shouting match, and that got boring fast.

She tried to linger. He wanted her out. He didn't trust her to leave on her own, so he escorted her to the door, and they both knew why he was doing it. Having a human was more trouble than it was worth.

"I'd heard you were better," she said at the front door.

"I'd heard those were real," he said, nodding at her breasts.

It was downhill from there.

When she was finally gone, he poured himself a drink and stood in the hall for a while, listening to the mouse feet. He felt…unsettled.

He drained his glass, sighed, and started up the stairs.

He almost never went upstairs, because he hadn't bothered to have the window glass changed and being that far aboveground made him twitchy. The curtains were always drawn, but still. Going upstairs added to the unsettled feeling in his belly. And what the hell was he doing, coming up here? Why didn't he just shout from the hall?

The kid was in the guest bedroom, on the dusty little bed with his back pressed against the wall. Curled up with his hands between his knees, prayer position. Wrists together. Eyes closed.

Spike stood for a while in the doorway, listening to the regular thump and swish of his heart, the push and pull of his breathing. His hair was starting to grow. Almost an inch on the top of his head, enough to be soft again. How long did it take for hair to grow? Maybe six months till it was back to being too long for his own good.

He took a step into the room, and then another, and then he sat down on the edge of the bed and carefully put a hand out. Hesitated. Then very deliberately ran his fingers over the kid's skull, down his cheek, along his neck. All the little workings under the skin. Warm.

The kid's eyes opened as if he'd been awake all along. He looked at Spike solemnly, without surprise.

They sat that way for a while.

Then Spike stood up, said, "Come on, then," and led the way back downstairs.






There were times after that that weren't so bad. The kid got eerily good at knowing when he wasn't wanted, and on nights when Spike brought someone home, he inevitably found his bed already empty. Warm still, and occasionally his guests would comment on that, but it was easy enough to take their mind off those kinds of details. As long as they didn't actually see the kid, things went smoothly. Like clockwork.

After they left, he'd have a drink in the hall and try not to think about the feeling in his belly, tell himself he was hungry or he'd drunk too much, or maybe pulled a muscle. Before too long the kid's feet would come padding down the stairs. He'd prop himself against the wall and yawn until Spike led the way back downstairs.

The kid never flinched at the state of the sheets.





One week, a little bitter grapefruit the size of a fist. The kid ate it slowly, contemplatively, including the rind. Next week, a handful of cherries. Week after that, a mango. Hard as a rock, and Spike was annoyed at the waste, but the kid ate it anyway. Made him sick, cold-sweat stomach-clutching sick, and Spike called him an idiot and wiped his face with a cloth and worried. He got better. The scar on his neck wasn't as pink as it used to be.

Nothing was going to kill this kid, Spike reflected one night. Watching him sleep, hands at prayer. Not an easy death, not like Spike's. He'd given it up the first time someone had come for him, but this kid, this stupid suburban kid with his jokes and sweatshirts and powerful friends, all of whom were gone… And look where it had got him. What had happened to him before Spike bought him wasn't worth thinking about. Why he slept like that, why he held his hands like that when he was nervous. Why he did everything you told him to, and wouldn't eat an apple without permission.

He wasn't the one you would have picked, looking at that group. Dark horse.

"Sorry 'bout that," Spike muttered, and watched the frown work across the sleeping brow. "Looks like my team won after all."

But they didn't make Champagne anymore, so what kind of victory was that?






He thought about the kid's lips too many times in the next few weeks. Watched his hair grow out and thought about how it would feel to the thumb. Watched him lose some of the laid-waste look in his eyes, and dreamed more than once about conversations, insults, feeding, sex. Woke up hard and rolled away before the kid could feel it. Or told himself he did.

It got to be annoying. More than annoying. Like a constant itch all over his skin, and he didn't understand, himself, why he didn't just fucking scratch it already. His human, his fifty bucks. Plus the thousands he'd spent feeding the git. Do what thou wilt, right? Anyone else would have had the kid over a desk by now, if that's what would put a stop to this, and he was fairly sure it was. All he needed was a little perspective, a little taste.

He brought more company home. Fucked one, kicked her out, went out and found another before it got light. Sent that one home via the tunnels. When the kid came down to the landing, yawning and scratching his head, Spike regarded him sourly. He was tired, too. His guests were demanding, and he was drinking more again, and that meant he didn’t sleep well. The kid, on the other hand, was getting pinker and brighter every night. He smelled good, like fruit and milk and warm sheets, and he watched Spike closely whenever he was around. There was somebody home there, now. Somebody paying attention.





One night Spike pushed well past drunk and brought a boy home. Just to show—he thought obliquely, wobbling in the main hall, trying to see his keys—just to show it could be done. Just to demonstrate the possibility.

The boy was pretty, big-shouldered, dark-haired. A passing resemblance to what once had been, if you were very very drunk and in a certain frame of mind. He wandered off down the hallway, touched the wealthy man's pictures, picked up the dusty silver service on the side table, while Spike kept sorting his keys.

"Hey." The boy—Russell?—looked back over his shoulder, and Spike waved his keyring. "Bedroom's downstairs."

"Who says we need the bedroom?" Russell came slouching back, grinning, fingers fanned over his belt buckle. Spike felt tired. Maybe this was a bad idea.

"I say—" he started, and then froze. Something was—

Russell was looking up, nostrils flaring, a little gold in his eyes. "You've got mice," he said softly, and then he was sprinting up the stairs, three at a time, one hand skimming the banister. Spike started after, smacked into the newel post, picked himself up and kept going. He could hear Russell laughing. Then he could hear the kid. Running.

He heard the kid make it from the guest room to the adjoining bath. The door slammed, and Russell whooped. The kid's heart was rabbiting, he was drenched in the prey smell, the waving flag. If he just stayed— But he burst out of the other door, through the master bedroom and back for the hallway, trying for the staircase. Trying to get downstairs, and out. Not a chance of that, Spike could have told him.

And he was right. He got to the top of the stairs just as the kid bulleted out of the bedroom and Russell casually clotheslined him from beside the doorway. The kid hit the floor on his back and skidded. Made a choking sound, rolled, and tried to get back onto his feet. Russell yanked him right off them.

"Mousie," he said, and gave him a little shake. Then he turned a grinning game face to Spike. "You mind if I play with him?"

Spike took a wobbling step forward and started to open his mouth. Not going to let this—

The kid dropped a stake from his sleeve into his hand, and swung. Russell drifted gently to the hardwood between them.

The kid hit the floor and stood panting, sweating, his shirt torn half off and a red mark across his throat where he'd been hit. Spike just stood there. The kid still had the stake. Where had he got a stake? How long had he had it?

It didn't occur to him for almost half a minute that he was still very, very drunk, and that the kid was still holding the thing, staring at the pile of Russell. Then the kid looked up, and his eyes fastened on Spike, and he took a step forward.

Spike took a step back.

The stake clattered and rolled, and the kid kept coming, his face crumpling, his whole body starting to shake. Spike stopped moving. The kid came right to him and hit his knees, pressed his face to Spike's thigh and started to cry. Saying things…who knew what. Stupid things, you couldn't make them out. His hands at Spike's jeans, clutching the fabric, hot and wet now with tears.

Histrionic, it was.

He let his hand fall and touch the soft dark hair, let his fingers run over the heated cheek and neck. Bent down and got his hands on the kid's shoulders, told him to stop already, it was all right, didn't like that one anyway. The kid didn't stop. So he crouched down awkwardly, put their faces on a level, and made the kid look him in the eye.

"Haven't lost your touch," he said, with a very small smile. The kid stared back with soaked eyes, panic. He ran a finger over the kid's cheek, collecting tears, and thought he saw a little movement forward. Well, he was drunk. Good a time as any.

The kid's mouth tasted like salt, and his lips were as soft as they looked. Softer. He moaned, and that was soft too. He was so warm. Hot, his face. Blushing, when Spike stopped to look. And what did that mean? The kid blushed when he was kissed. He was drunk enough to think that meant something important.

He glanced over the kid's shoulder, at the forgotten stake and forgotten Russell, and grimaced. Stood up, and offered the kid a hand. "Not here."

The kid stared at his hand for a few long seconds. Spike waited.

At last the kid stood up on his own, and they went downstairs together.







That was another line crossed, the last one, or maybe not since there seemed always to be another one looming. But it was the point at which he stopped bringing guests home, stopped drinking himself off the face of the planet, stopped wondering what it would be like to taste the kid, open him up, see that look on his face. Because he knew. And liked it. More than liked it.

He'd be damned if he was going down that road. So of course, he was.

And it was unbelievable that after all this, all this life and whatever else you called it, years of ignominy and famine and living beneath the human heel, the world was finally his and all he wanted was this…kid. This human kid. Who should have been lunch years ago. Who should have been bringing him blood and washing his sheets and doing whatever the fuck else he was told.

Well, he did those things. But still.

It wasn't like the old days. He wasn't himself, not really, and maybe he never would be. He still didn't talk much, and for some reason watching reruns on television made him anxious and sad. So they didn't watch television. Spike read, and the kid sat at his feet, head against his knee, and did…whatever he did. Remembered things, probably. Spike's fingers in his hair, testing the growth, stroking.

They ate whatever came in the paper bag that week, sharing it back and forth in bites, a mandarin orange in December, grapes in June. The kid's mouth tasted like fruit, all the time. The nape of his neck smelled like soap. When Spike was inside him, above him, their fingers locked to the knuckle and the kid's sweat blackening the sheet, his eyes were like holes and he said quiet, ragged, begging things. Said please. More than once said help me.

Spike did his best.






He worried that someone would find out about the kid, about who he really was, about his having been a Scooby. Not sure how that might happen, but the kid was looking more and more like he used to, and there had to be some left who'd encountered that gang. It was troubling. Made him think he should cut the kid's hair, possibly his rations. He couldn't bring himself to do it.

He was in the Slaughtered Lamb one night, dealing from the bottom of the deck, when the conversation at the next table took a bad turn. Someone started in on the Slayer, the witches, and wasn't there one more? Some little nothing-in-particular, some kid. Harris. Nobody Harris. Anyone ever hear what happened to him?

Bought and sold, someone said gravely, and there was raucous laughter. Bought and sold.

I'd buy a share of that, a woman said, and that was the cue for more laughter.

Spike smiled and picked up his hand. Someone leaned over and caught the edge of his sleeve.

You knew that group, Spike. What happened to the Harris kid?

He had no idea. And thanks, he was playing cards. A man had to make a living… Apologies all round.

Later on, unless he imagined it, whispering. He looked up from his hand and saw Camille at the other table, in among the whisperers. Staring back at him with perfect blue California eyes. Inscrutable.






"Don't like this."

The kid picked his head up from Spike's knee, turned, and looked at him. Surprised, confused. Spike shook his head.

"Just thinking out loud. Thinking—" The silver Lexus, he'd been a customer now how long? How far had that word spread? And how many lovelies had seen the kid, before he'd had the wit to keep him hidden? Why hadn't he thought about this? Of course there were people who'd want the kid, if they knew who he was. Want to…do things to him. He'd thought of payback himself, once upon a time.

He couldn't sit still, couldn't read, kept thinking he heard things in other rooms. Wondered why the hell he had such a huge fucking house, when all he ever used was a couple of rooms. Maybe a crypt was a better idea after all. But the kid needed things—needed a kitchen, a bathroom, insulation and lights. Needed a semblance of civilization. Which was all there was left anyway.

He'd stopped drinking, and he missed it. Didn't like to be drunk, in case something like Russell happened again. Didn't like to be sober, because he couldn't stop thinking. Thinking, what if word got to the Council? What if a gang found out? There was only one of him. The house wasn't safe, the bedroom locks were cursory, anyone could get in if they tried. He'd never had to think like this before.

He sat awake and watched the kid sleep, watched his eyelids jitter and wondered what that world looked like in there. World with sun and universities and coffee stands and people all over. Driving cars and posting letters and acting like fools on the television. Like they owned the world. Because they did.

If he could just find the seam, open it up, pop through. He'd be back where he started, however many years ago. Before it all fell apart and the hellmouth flopped out its hot red tongue like an asphalt superhighway, straight through humanity's homestead. Wrong place, wrong time. He didn't want to go back there. Couldn't, anyway. Wasn't an option.

But he couldn't figure out what the other options were. Or he could, and didn't like them. He sat with one hand on the kid's sleeping head, and thought, turn him? Better, in principle, to kill him. Not that he could do either. Take him somewhere…but where? Nowhere was safe anymore. What else was there to do?

The kid woke up and smiled at him, sat up and kissed him with a sleepy warm mouth, and there were still some things to do, while time was running short. Warm hand on his neck, warm body parting under him. Brown eyes and soft lips and the chin still a little too hard, the hip a little too sharp, but every week, less.

Less of everything. Including time.

He'd heard the same rumours everyone had. There was a stone. A deus ex machina, a wishing stone. If you could find it, afford it, avoid being killed by it. Then it gave you a wish.





He started winning every game. Smirking and shrugging and saying look at that… Kept every dollar of it. Didn't drink. When a group followed him outside and tried to stop him going home, he opened up six months of growing anxiety and staked all but two of them. He had to move his game after that, but it didn't matter. He didn’t need to keep it up for long.

He had no idea how much money he needed. Some for information, some for whoever guarded the thing, or buffed it, or whatever the hell they did with it. Some for keeping it all quiet and the usual for the kid. It added up. He kept winning. Soon almost no one would play him. Rosie tried to talk to him, and he brushed her off. Then went back and got the name of a dark wiccan who sometimes gave her background on the high-rollers.

The wiccan charged him an arm and a leg and told him the stone was a fake. With a hand around his neck, he was a little more forthcoming. It was real, it gave you your wish. Also, it was in Nepal.

Nepal.

He was staggered by it, like a kick to the gut. Nepal was… There was no way he could get them there in one piece. You couldn't just hop on a plane anymore. You couldn't just take a human to Nepal. The first checkpoint they hit, they'd have the kid out of the car and asking for his papers. Which didn't exist, because it hadn't been that kind of auction. The whole thing was just—

It wasn't fair. All he wanted to do was keep the kid safe. God was an unparalleled motherfucker, and if they ever met, Spike was going to spit in his fucking eye.

He went home and wrapped himself around the kid. Breathed in the sweet scent of his neck, ran a hand through his hair. Three inches, now. Getting long. The kid smiled and kissed his hand and went back to sleep. After a while he woke up again, and asked why Spike was crying.

"'m not." He turned his face into the sheets and kept it there a second. "Hay fever," he said, when he came back up.

The kid regarded him. Almost the way he used to, or at least with the same higher functions. He was more serious now; he hardly ever joked. It was strange, to think of him joking.

"Spike." The kid put a finger out and touched his eyebrow, the scar there. "I know who I am."

Spike lay still. After a moment he said slowly, "What do you know, then?"

"That I used to be important. That I used to have important friends."

Spike let out a long breath and studied the kid some more. The closest they'd ever come to talking about any of this. The kid's eyes were bright, luminous. Like there was something lit inside him.

"They're gone," he said. "But sometimes I still—" He stopped.

"Still what?"

The kid shook his head. "You don't have to go to the stone," he said. "Willow told me that. Nobody goes to the stone. You just…it's like a mirror."

Spike didn't move. "Willow told you," he said finally.

"Yeah. At the Circle K."

"At the Circle K."

"Before all this."

Spike fell silent. Could be. Could be the witch said something once about a wishing stone, maybe even this wishing stone. Could be he talked in his sleep. He's been known to do it. Could be the kid heard him, put two and two together. He paid attention. Liked to help.

"What do you mean, a mirror?" he asked, but the kid's eyelids were dropping, and he just smiled and shrugged.

"She didn't say. I don't know."

"Xander."

The kid opened his eyes again, fully awake, and looked at him. There was a long silence. His eyes weren't warm now.

"Don't call me that," he said at last, and turned his back.






Spike went back to the wiccan. Idiot hadn't improved security since the last time, God knew how he ran an occult business.

"I don't have to go to Nepal," Spike said. The wiccan simpered. Never said you did, mate, never said you did.

"Set it up," Spike said. "The mirror." No idea what he was talking about, personally, but he'd made a living off his bluffs forever now. The wiccan named a figure. He could bargain, too. He was good at it. By the time they agreed, they were at a third over Spike's counter offer. The wiccan looked pissed. Fuck him.

"Anything goes wrong," Spike said, watching him chalk a circle on the floor, "and you can remember me to Angelus, right?"

The wiccan hand stuttered, retraced, rubbed out a sign or two. Right. Thanks for that at least, you rotten big bastard. Wherever you may be.

He didn't see any mirror, just a lot of Brechtian chalk and some smouldering herbs, smelling like catgut. Well, that's why they called them the dark arts, he guessed.

Then the lights went out and the smell got awful, and he kept waiting to be told to get into the circle, make his wish, something. There was a taste of metal in his mouth, and his hands kept closing into fists. He hadn't thought this through very carefully; what if it happened now? He hadn't said good-bye, even. He had a mad impulse to rush out before anything could be completed.

Then the wiccan said, "Done," and the lights came back up, the smell died down, and they stood looking at each other, the wiccan brushing chalk casually off his hands.

Spike started for him, and he backed up fast, raising his palms. "Done! Just like we agreed! Now—" One palm came out, facing up. Spike stared at it.

"That's it?"

The wiccan nodded.

"But I didn't—you didn't tell me to wish."

The wiccan gave him a funny look. "If it's something you really want, you're wishing it already." He waggled his fingers. "Angelus didn't teach you to welch, I hope."

Actually, he had. But still. "So—it's done?" He fished for the money with numb fingers. That was it, then. The kid was gone already, and he hadn't even known it when it happened.

The wiccan grabbed the bills from his hand and started counting, shaking his head. "Who knows? I did what I could. If it takes, it'll happen sometime within—" He paused, glanced up, and assessed Spike narrowly. "I'd say, two to three days."

"It'll—" Spike just stared. "What kind of system is that?"

The wiccan shrugged. "I just work here."

Spike left him counting, wandered the crummy streets for a while, and turned in to a dive he didn't know. Sat at the bar and ordered a shot, and then another, and then another. There was a television over the bar, a Kojak rerun. Kid would have loved that, once upon a time. Wouldn't watch it now, of course.

If it was something he really wanted… What if he wasn't sure, now, what he wanted?






He made it home finally, dreading the key in the lock, dreading the silence he…didn't hear. Mouse patter, wrenbeat, down in the basement as usual. He was awake, calm. Probably deep in that world he lived in when Spike wasn't around.

So maybe it hadn't worked, and maybe he'd just been just taken for a large sum and one mangy dark wiccan was even now booking a holiday in Gstaad. Heading down to the bedroom, he found it hard to care.

He came through the door and the kid was waiting, propped against the headboard with his elbows on his knees, hands dangling loose, wrists apart. Smiling. For a minute he looked so much like what he used to be that Spike stopped in his tracks, his own smile faltering. He hadn't wished for this, had he? He hoped to God he hadn't. Didn't know what to do with it.

Then the kid read his confusion and his own smile dropped. His eyes widened and he swallowed, alert to everything, waiting for word from on high. He was familiar again, goddammit. Familiar, more than familiar; he couldn't imagine not seeing that face again, couldn't imagine wishing it would go away. And damn whatever soul he didn't have, for making him want this version. Making him need it.

The kid's wrists were together. Autonomic, automatic. He went over and separated them gently. Held them in his hands for a while. The kid watched in silence.

Bad old world, it was. But at least they were both still in it.







Two days went by, and he was on edge the whole time. Went out, couldn't stand to be out. Couldn't stand seeing anyone he knew, anyone who might make a comment about his one stupid human, or his winning streak, or mirrors. Word got around. He'd been an idiot. Called attention to himself, to both of them, and if there hadn't been interest before, there was now. Stopping in the Lamb to test the wind, he heard the kid's name in low tones. Caught hard, curious looks skittering off when he looked back. The mood was dangerous. He slipped Rosie something to watch his back and sloped the fuck off.

He stayed in, and couldn't stand that either. Felt like he was just waiting for a knock on the door, or more likely a brick through the window. Only a matter of time now, and what the hell was plan B? He hadn't made it this far to be dusted in his own bloody house. And the kid—well, he was unkillable, wasn't he?

Supposed to be, at least.

The only thing left to do was run. He had money still, from what he'd saved for the stone. He could get them out of the city, maybe as far as the border, and from there they'd have to see. But they had to leave now.

Two days, and then a third. And some part of him relaxed. Despite the flight, despite everything. Because—two to three days, the man had said. If it's going to take at all.

He woke up and the kid was still there beside him, naked and warm and slightly crusty around the mouth. He'd never been so happy to have wasted so much money.





He filled the DeSoto's gas tank, met the silver Lexus one last time. The bag felt light, and he paused, then took a chance and glanced inside. A tin of Spaghettios, a couple of tubs of pudding. Nothing else. He turned back.

"This one's missing things."

The hand flicked him away, like a gnat. "Inflation, Spike. He's worth a thousand a go, isn't he?"

He opened his mouth, and the window went up. The Lexus drove off. He resisted the urge to spatter its back window with pudding.

He took the bag home, and the kid was happy to have it. Not so happy to learn that was all there was.

They sat staring at the little cache of food left on the blanket between them. Upstairs, a gross of concentrate still sat on the kitchen counter. The thought of putting the kid back on that—

Spike lowered his head and rubbed his eyes, tried to think. After a minute the kid's hand came down warm on the back of his neck.

"It's okay," he said. "It's okay, Spike. I know you tried."

That didn't quite sound like him, and Spike looked up sharply, trying to see something different in his eyes. He looked just the same. Smiling. Earnest.

Spike decided the food could last three days, if the kid ate sparingly. After that…

He put the box of concentrate in the trunk of the car, and said nothing more about it.






The plan was to drive south, bat out of hell, stop for no man and nothing. How far did word travel? And how far again, in Spanish?

They'd leave as soon as it was dark. There was water in the car, and food, and blood in bags. Like the old days, but marketed a little differently now. The kid said he remembered how to drive, if it came to that. Daytime travel was risky; it drew attention. They'd have to see how it went.

Maps, a Gucci suitcase full of a wealthy man's clothes, an armload of books tossed in by the kid. He never read, so God knew why. Spike packed a box full of gauze, bandages, first aid stuff. He'd never planned anything right in his life, but he could start.

Sunset was in half an hour, and the kid was in the bedroom, stripping the sheets. Something to sleep in, keep him warm in the desert nights. Spike was upstairs tapping the liquor cabinet. There was a knock at the door.

He froze with the Glenlivet halfway out of the cabinet. What time— He checked the clock. Still half an hour to darkness. That was when the Council came for you. You couldn't run as well in the light, couldn't make a sudden break. You'd burn if you tried. They had humans to chase you down, to hold the shades over the vamp officers. To hold the shades over you while they walked you to the car and helped you into the back seat, the one you couldn't let yourself out of.

He was still standing there, holding the bottle, staring at the clock. Another knock. Fuck. The kid—where was the kid? Downstairs. Could he hear? Did he know that meant they had to go now, or not at all?

He put the bottle carefully down and started walking quickly, quietly for the stairs. As he passed through the hall he looked quickly down at the front door, the glass panels on either side of it. Bodies out there, trademark black outfits. Fuck. He hadn't really believed it, somehow, till now.

He started to run.

They knocked again, harder, and he heard voices out there, someone shouting his name with dark and heavy authority, even while his feet skimmed him down the stairs and his mind tried to figure out what next, where next. The tunnels. They could take the tunnels out from the back cellar, connect to Rosie's or a hundred other places, buy another car. He was wearing his duster, thank God. Money in the pockets.

The front door broke open with a crack, and boots pounded down the hall above his head.

He made it to the bedroom door, tried the knob. Locked. The keys were—the kid had the keys. Inside. He slammed the heel of his hand into the wood, barked Xander, not caring who heard it. Let me in, let me fucking in.

No sound on the other side, and he gave a desperate glance back over his shoulder, then backed up and threw himself against the door. Cracked, didn't give. He did it again. They were coming down the stairs now. He was going to be too late. After all this, too late—

He hit the door again and it swung wide. He almost fell over his own feet, stumbling into the middle of the room. The bed was half-stripped, the keys on the mattress. He barely took that in, looking wildly around for the kid.

"Xander—"

Nobody there. A pair of boots skidded into the room behind him, and rough hands grabbed his forearms, forced them up behind his back. He paid no attention. The kid was—

They searched the room. Tore it apart. It was funny, after a while. The kid would have enjoyed it. Except he wasn't there.

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