DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: In anticipation of encountering the Soul Eaters in his dreams, Spike asked Willow to make it so that he would dream about the specific events from his past that he was concerned about Buffy discovering, so that she could see for herself what exactly happened. Meanwhile, the Soul Eaters are nearing…
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I debated where to put this and I've decided to predicate the next few chapters at the outset so as to be clear and to prevent any questions to come midway through the storytelling. The outline for this story happened last November/December. When I saw "Lies My Parents Told Me," unspoiled I might add, I got thrown for a huge loop because the backstory I had created for Spike was different than was told in that episode. I took a hiatus from writing this for a long time because of that, because I wasn't sure how to proceed. After a lot of thinking, I've decided to stick with my original outline rather than try to change it to accommodate the new canon that had been introduced. What that means for you as a reader is that the next few chapters are not going to be about Spike vamping his mother. I had my own ideas about what had happened to Spike and his family, and I'm sticking with those for the purposes of my own sanity. That being said, I hope you enjoy…

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Chapter 29: The Thorns of Life

Hunger licked along the wind that carried them closer to their repast, soaring above the stratum of mortal men as they focused on the light and dark, beckoning to them in taunting languor as if to say the promise of their souls would ease away a century of deprivation. They were tired of the games, the hide and seek the pair were playing, and yet could not stop…would not stop. They had traveled too far, and too long, to cease the hunt now. The dark and light would join with them, feed them in power as the children of the wind devoured their very essence, and nothing would stand in their way.

To trespass within their dreams was a luxury, a taste of the potential that would sustain them, and too tempting to ignore, so as soon as proximity allowed, they called within the ether to those minds, stretching to combine and control inside the heads of the light and dark. The tendrils that met them were unexpected, powerful, and though sense should've dictated they withdraw, the children of the wind found themselves bound by the magic that they encountered, unable to break free, drawn into the web encircling the pair they sought.

It was wrong. Even as they found their essence being absorbed into the unconscious world swirling around the dark and the light, the Soul Eaters felt the differences, knew they lacked their usual control and were entering dreams that were more than just dreams. Magic. Memories. And this time, nobody would have the power…

*************

Even if she hadn't been introduced to him, Buffy would've known this was his father as soon as he opened his mouth. The voice, though not a match for this current incarnation of her lover, was the same as Sunnydale Spike's, that deep rumble that emanated from deep within the chest, the edges just slightly coarsened by the effects of smoking. Cigars, she reasoned, as her gaze flickered over the carefully manicured fingers. That seemed more in keeping with the time. Though his accent was more genteel, the choice of words so stuffy he even made Giles sound normal, if she closed her eyes, Buffy would've sworn that it was Spike who was currently speaking, and not William Senior.

The similarities did not end there. The coloring was different, yes---where William Junior sported light brown curls and blue eyes, his father was dark, both of hair and aspect---but other features were the same. The nose, slightly too wide…the mouth with its full bottom lip…the wide forehead. He carried himself stiffly, as was the norm for the period she was discovering, with proud chin held high, an obvious intelligence glinting in the brown depths of his eyes, and while he was probably close to Giles in age, he was still trim, a compact build not hidden by the well-tailored suit that hugged his frame.

"My sincerest apologies," Mr. Burbidge was saying, stepping past his son to stand directly before Buffy. His bow was courteous, but as his head lowered, her eyes widened as she saw an unmistakable gleam in his own gaze as they raked over her slim form. She knew that look; she'd seen it often enough on Spike's face to recognize frank desire when she saw it. It was just disconcerting to see it on someone who was not only old enough to be her father, but also borne in an age where such impropriety was frowned upon.

"I do hope that your illness is not a reflection on anything we have served this evening," he went on to add as he straightened. "I would be most upset to learn that Mrs. Prescott's cooking was not up to her usual standards."

"No, it wasn't the food," Buffy assured, flashing him a bright smile in spite of her unease. "I was just too…warm. Spi---William was kind enough to…let me sit out here so that I could cool off."

The glance Mr. Burbidge shot his son was questioning, but cold. "Though William has much to learn of his duties, I cannot fault his gallantry in assisting such a beautiful young lady as yourself." He smiled down at the young woman. "Return to the party, William," he instructed. "I will tend to Miss Owen's needs."

Spike had already started to move before the order was complete, but the sound of the name from his father's lips visibly shook him, stopping him in mid-step and jerking stiffly to stare at the two. Buffy met his gaze with confusion, and wished that she wasn't stuck inside a dream unable to read his thoughts.

"You mean, Miss Summers," Spike said. "From America. I've only now introduced you, Father."

Mr. Burbidge waved a hand in dismissal, not even bothering to look at his son who now hovered just behind his shoulder. "Yes, I am fully aware of that," he said. "I'm certain your mother is looking for you, William. Miss Owen and I---."

"Miss Summers." His voice was harder this time, and Buffy caught a hint of the dangerous vampire peeking through the Victorian façade as Spike circled his father to stand at her side. His body was stiff as he stared at the older man. "This is not Miss Owen, Father. It's Miss Summers. Please stop calling her that."

The battle between blue and brown forged the air in copper as they glared at each other, the arguments flying unspoken in the face of their stand-off. The familiar play of muscles flexing under Mr. Burbidge's powerful jaw caught Buffy unawares, and she frowned, stepping back and slightly behind Spike as her gaze darted between the two. So recognizable, and yet eerily wrong, like a beloved costume worn by a common thief. But if these were memories, perhaps not so wrong. Just…unexpected.

In spite of the decorum of the era, Buffy had no doubts that William Senior would be able to more than handle himself in a more violent age, and understood without having to be told that this was something Spike himself had known, even as a human. How disconcerting, she thought, that the soft-spoken intellectual Spike had been, only interested in the beauty of the world surrounding him, had been raised by a man who courted with the very same danger the vampire would later embrace. Yes, it was wrapped in the appropriate manners and a well-cut suit, but the inclinations were still there; she'd been the Slayer for too long not to recognize a bad guy---or even a potential bad guy---when she saw one.

Mr. Burbidge was the first to break from the staring contest, and turned an apologetic smile to Buffy. "Again, my sincerest apologies you were feeling indisposed," he said, and bowed as he stepped backward toward the party. "I trust you will be rejoining us as soon as you are able to tear yourself away from my son's rather awkward care." One last glance at Spike, and his voice took a distinct chill. "Do not tarry, William. Your mother will be most displeased if you are not present when she comes down."

As soon as they were alone, Spike's hand curled tightly around Buffy's arm, pulling her further away from the door that remained slightly ajar. "What was that all about?" she asked, frowning as she looked up into his drawn face. "Who's this Miss Owen and why doesn't he seem to get it that I'm not her?"

He ignored her questions. "You're goin' to have to wake up here, luv," he said in a rush, his accent reverting to its crasser cadences. "I think I've buggered this little arrangement up, and I'm not usually the one who finds it so easy to break out of these little dream walks of mine. So, let's rise and shine, and hightail it outta here, all right?"

"Is there a problem?"

"I'll explain it once we get out of here," he said. "Just open those gorgeous eyes of yours, and get Red and Dolly to pull their little strings to get us the hell away from all this." He paused, watching as the Slayer closed her lids, the tiny line between her brows deepening as she seemed to be struggling with something internally. A minute passed, and the distant sound of his father's voice caused him to jerk more than once, but Spike remained intent on the blonde's face, waiting for her to vanish before his eyes, just like she had every other time she'd been wakened.

It never came.

"I can't," Buffy finally admitted after several more minutes of this, asserting her sight again to gaze up at his concerned face. "Maybe it's the magic, but something's not letting me get out of here like I normally can."

"Fuck," Spike muttered. Pulling off his glasses, he rubbed in frustration at his eyes. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

"Colorful language aside, you're not telling me anything useful here, Spike." Her tone was wry, slightly amused at his seemingly extreme reaction to what looked like such a little thing. "So I have to play at being this Miss Owen for a while. It's no big. OK, so not real keen on the whole need to be all Meryl Streep, but it's just a dream---."

She winced as his fingers dug into her shoulders, forcing her to look up at him. "It's not," he hissed. "That's just it. This---," and he gestured wildly about him, indicating the room as well as them, "---is part of what I wanted you to see. Miss Owen is part of what…was one of the…" His blue eyes widened as a flash of understanding burned inside his skull. "Buffy, if you can't get us out of here, I can't guarantee you're not going to get hurt."

She shook her head. "That's why Dawn's watching us, remember? If the Soul Eaters lay a hand on us---."

"I didn't mean by the Soul Eaters. I meant, by me."

It took a moment for his words to sink in, and Buffy's jaw dropped slightly as her hazel gaze scanned his face. He meant it. Somehow, Spike believed that he would be responsible for harming her in some way, and that was why he wanted them to get out. Was it part of what he needed her to see? What exactly had he done? Her lips parted to respond, to try and allay his fears, when a throat clearing from behind and above them drew both of their attention.

There was no mistaking who the new arrival was. The cheekbones, the vivid blue eyes, the soft coloring…this was where Spike had inherited those features so vividly etched into her memory, and yet, as Buffy stared up at the face of the his long-dead mother, an icy vortex of fear seemed to settle in her gut. The softness of the older woman's beauty may have been an accurate replication of Mrs. Burbidge, but she was sure the chill in those sapphire orbs was not. The Slayer had seen that same hungry gleam in another mother's eyes, in another dream where laughing children swirled in glee around a playground, and hardened herself as the woman descended the stairs.

"What an interesting choice, William," she said as she came level with the pair, her slim hand resting on the banister. "Isn't it amazing how the subconscious works? I would hardly have assumed you would opt to share such memories with…" Her clear voice trailed off as her eyes clouded, resting on Buffy's face in mild confusion. "Miss…Owen?" she queried, struggling with the name. "But…you're not. You are the dark one, not…" Her gaze returned to Spike. "I don't understand this game you're playing, William. She should be…but I can't…seem to…state something as obvious as her real name."

"Perhaps that means you will be forced to restrain yourself from hurting her," Spike replied, and Buffy noted that he'd returned to the refined accent of his youth in the presence of his mother, even if his words refuted her apparent identity.

Mrs. Burbidge smiled, a small chuckle escaping her thin lips in spite of her obvious discomfiture at the situation. "And perhaps that means I will be privileged in watching you do exactly what you fear the most," she said lightly. Lifting her hand, she patted Spike's cheek affectionately. "I don't understand what you've done here, William my boy, but I will play along for now. It should prove…" Her azure gaze flickered to Buffy. "…interesting."

*************

A shadow passed over Dawn's face as she watched her sister begin to twitch along the makeshift bed they'd constructed. Only a couple minutes had passed since Buffy had fallen asleep, and already Willow and the others were preparing the spell to try and resurrect Joyce, leaving the youngest Summers female to watch over the slumbering lovers as they attempted to face off with the Soul Eaters.

When the twitches turned into unintelligible muttering, her sister's placid face began to screw up in what could've been pain, and Dawn stiffened, her fingers tightening around the leather sac in her hand. "Willow?" she called out, not letting her eyes move from Buffy's form.

The witch immediately responded, scurrying to the teenager's side. "What is it?" she asked. Her eyes scanned the sleeping bodies.

"I think something's wrong with Buffy."

There was more muttering, a few more uncomfortable shifts in her rest, and then the Slayer settled, although the frown that now creased her brow didn't ease. "She's probably just arguing with Spike," Willow said, turning away. "Not like that hasn't happened before."

"But…" Dawn gnawed at her lip, the cord of the sac twisting around her fingers. The vampire was eerily still; it was only the stirrings from her sister that had raised her doubt. "Wouldn't Spike be arguing back?" she said. "It's not like he's just one to sit back and take what she shovels."

The question made the redhead pause, her own frown appearing for a brief moment. "They're not getting all wound-y, are they?" she asked.

"No. Not that I can see."

"Then they're fine. Spike's not dust, Buffy's not bleeding, nothing can be wrong. But good job on the lookout, Dawnie. Just let us know if anything else changes, OK?"

Behind her, the trio went on with their preparations, focusing on their task at hand while Dawn deliberately loosened her grip on the bag in her hands. Everything's fine, she thought. Willow wouldn't let anything happen to them. Everything's going to be just fine.

She just wished she could believe it.

*************

Buffy had never been so bored in her entire life. As she sat on the divan near the window, a bevy of other young girls seated around her gossiping and chittering in such a fashion that made the Slayer start thinking even Harmony would be a better party companion than these, her eyes kept straying to where Spike hovered at his mother's side, watching as he fetched her an assortment of foods and drinks as the evening progressed, smiling deprecatingly whenever she would make a comment to one of their guests that was obviously meant to be amusing.

The charade was confusing. On the one hand, it was obvious to her that Spike was aware of her presence yet did nothing more to assert his recognition of her, while on the other, he was almost melting into this portrayal of an adolescent William, slipping into the role of the shy and sensitive young man she knew he had been with an ease that surprised her. More than once, Buffy had tried to break from the group that had seemed to adopt her to approach him, but had been dragged back by insistent hands, scolding voices about the inappropriateness of interrupting their hosts, and giggly mockery of the younger Mr. Burbidge. Their disdain for the vulnerable aspiring poet was almost palpable, and she found herself sitting on her hands so that she wouldn't reach out and slap the silly smiles from their faces. No wonder Spike likes being a vamp so much, she thought irritably. If I'd had to put up with these simpering twits for more than this party, I'd probably have staked myself just to get away from them.

So she sat in relative silence, wondering just what exactly Spike had been so frightened about in dredging up these memories, entertaining herself by counting the flowers in the wallpaper before moving on to replaying the movie "Grease" in her head, recasting it with Spike as Danny Zuko and herself as Sandy. Who could be Rizzo? she wondered. Because Willow is definitely Frenchie…

She shook her head, bringing her mind back to the present. Or the past. Or whenever the hell she was. Spike had to have a reason why he wasn't going after the Soul Eater just yet, Buffy reasoned, but then again, Mrs. Burbidge had been the epitome of Victorian grace the entire evening. Maybe he can tell when things are going bad. After all, he was the one who knew when it was Mom, and they've been playing with him all along. He's probably got their whole sitch sorted and will tell me when it's time to make our move. She sighed. At least I hope so.

She watched as his mother beckoned him closer, his lean frame bending to hear what she whispered in his ear. His pale skin blanched, and she caught the furtive glance he shot in Buffy's direction, but Spike quickly straightened, adopting that obsequious smile he wore around the older woman, and nodded his head curtly before turning on his heel to exit the room. The adrenalin immediately shot through the Slayer's veins, her senses on alert. Maybe it was finally time. Except…why had he left without her?

Out of nowhere, the portly man who had guided her inside appeared at the edge of the divan, ignoring the other girls as he leaned forward to address her privately. "Master William requires your presence in the study, Miss Summers," he said.

So he hadn't forgotten her. She smiled. Time to get this show on the road. Spike must have a plan.

As she rose to her feet, it slowly dawned on Buffy that this messenger was the only person outside of Spike who seemed to recognize her for herself, and not this Miss Owen that everyone kept calling her. I wonder why that is, she thought as she followed him from the room, and shuttled the observation to the side to ask her lover later. It's not like it matters; it's all just a dream anyway. And pretty soon, it will all be over with.

He stood away from the open door of the study to allow her to enter, his wide face impassive as she brushed past. Greeted only by the presence of wall-to-wall books, Buffy turned back to him with a frown. "He's not here," she said.

The messenger was already guiding the heavy wood door closed. "Master William will be with you momentarily," he said, and vanished from her sight.

The problem with this particular dream, Buffy decided as she stepped to the middle of the room, was that everything in it to this point had been too real. Well, of course it's too real, she thought, it's all stuff that actually happened to Spike; at least, that's what he said. But still, when discontinuity of his subconscious stepped in, fast forwarding or creating anomalies that disrupted the fabric of the memories unfolding before her, the Slayer found herself temporarily laboring to maintain her equilibrium. Like Mr. Messenger Guy popping in and out like the Great Gazoo from the Flintstones. She grimaced. I've really got to stop watching Saturday morning cartoons with Dawn, she thought, her fingers trailing over the dark mahogany of the desk that dominated the room. I'm turning into Xander.

Her back was to the door when it opened, an almost imperceptible creak to the hinges reaching her ears. "Miss me, pet?" she heard, and had turned halfway around, a smile on her face, when his hands curled around her waist.

She knew right away it wasn't him---the touch too light, the fingers the wrong shape as they tugged at her flesh---and jerked back against the edge of the desk as she pulled herself from William Senior's caress. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" she demanded, angry glints dotting the hazel as she stared up at him in amazement.

He chuckled, and when he tilted his head in such a Spike-like way, dark eyes sweeping over her, Buffy felt her stomach plummet, wrapping her muscles in stone as he slowly stepped forward. "I do like this game of yours the best, I believe," he crooned. The voluminous skirts of her dress gave him anchorage to lock her against the wood with the lower half of his body, and her eyes widened at the unmistakable erection pressing into her pelvis, even through the many layers of clothing between them.

"Get. Away." Her voice was cold, chipped in ice as she lifted her hands and pressed against his chest, summoning her strength to send him crashing through the wall if she had to. The anger melted into fear, though, when he remained solid beneath her touch, his own fingers wrapping around her wrists and pinning them tightly. Her wince of pain was real, and for the first time since entering the dream---memory, she reminded herself---Buffy realized she wasn't the Slayer here, which meant she didn't have her Slayer powers.

She was a girl. In the company of a very bad man.

And she was beginning to suspect where Spike's fears had stemmed from…


To be continued in Chapter 30: Yellow, and Black, and Pale