DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: People in Spike's dream/memory are mistaking Buffy for a Miss Owen, including Spike's over-amorous father…

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Chapter 30: Yellow, and Black, and Pale

He had long ago decided this was the stupidest idea he'd had in bloody forever. As soon as he had begun the charade of returning to the party with his mother at his side---correction, that hellbitch Soul Eater in the guise of his mother--- Spike had found himself relegated to the back of his head, locked within young William's body as it went through the motions of reliving the events of the past, helpless to do much more than occasionally take control of his sight and look over at Buffy.

Those moments were too few, and confusing at best. She'd been captured the entire evening by a swarm of young women, and while Spike knew it was in actuality his Slayer, the image of her was overlaid with that of the long-dead Miss Owen, creating a mishmash of features that were both Buffy and not, like one of those holographic child toys where the face changed depending on how the plane was tilted. Happy…sad. Buffy…Miss Owen. Spike…bloody awful teenaged poet.

He desperately wanted to go over to her, to grab her hand and drag her out of the place of his youth, but William refused to relinquish reign over his corporeal form---and how strange to think of his dream body as corporeal---relegating a fuming Spike to rant and rave in the recesses of his mind.

If this played out as he remembered, he knew how this was going to end. It wouldn't be pretty. And the odds of Buffy being harmed were great, unless he could find some way to break the spell that he'd asked Red to cast.

You couldn't just tell her, could you, he silently seethed, berating his vampire self with the livid rage of impotence. No, you had to go and take the coward's path and let her see it for herself, all because you didn't trust how she would interpret your words. And now look at the mess you've gotten the pair of you into. Locked inside a nancyboy's head, forced to play toady to the bitch you came here to kill, incapable of even going up to Buffy to tell her exactly what's going to happen because poor William didn't have the spunk to walk up to a woman, let alone the stones to speak to her. That brand of temerity would not present itself until after he'd returned from university, which wasn't for a few years down the road in this trip down memory lane. And it damn well wasn't going to help Buffy tonight.

When his mother's voice had drifted up to him, complaining of the cold and asking him to fetch her shawl, Spike felt his heart shrivel within his chest, a chill dread icing over his skin as William hurriedly agreed and set to his task. This was it. This was why he'd left the party that night so soddin' long ago. The fact that he could still see Buffy sitting on the divan in the window did nothing to assuage his growing fear at what he knew was coming. If she was in fact there to play the role of Miss Owen, she would soon know firsthand exactly what Spike had wanted her to see. Would she hate him for putting her through this? He wouldn't be surprised if she did. Seeing the path he'd taken was one thing; being the prey within it was another.

The details of the memory of this night had escaped him over the years. Now, though, Spike found himself drowning in the colors and smells as William gathered the shawl from his mother's sitting room. Her scent, a mixture of lavender and camphor, hung in the air like a gossamer trail begging to be followed, evoking an eruption of nostalgia through the vampire that threatened to offer him a return to control.

For a moment, William faltered, frowning as he glanced back into the room, blue eyes sweeping over the elegant curves of the furniture, the book of poetry sitting on the table, his mother's needlework carefully folded in the basket next to her favorite chair. Inside his mental cage, Spike drank in the sight the young man's eyes gave him, unseen hands itching to pick up the text, to glance through it and see his mother's delicate script on the inscription. Fears for Buffy washed away as he eddied in the moment, pangs of regret for simpler days sluicing through him to root his form to the spot. This was unlike his other nocturnal forays. Those had been entered with foreknowledge of pain and suffering, penance to be paid for inflictions caused within the bowels of his past.

For all his intervention, for all his desires to open that final door to the Slayer to allow her true understanding of who he was, why he did the things he did, this was a rueful malaise for what might have been, brought about by the soul he no longer doubted he had. It wasn't Buffy's either, he'd come to realize. It couldn't be. Hers was still intact, merely tarnished by its contact with his demon. No, the driving force that had been burgeoning the array of emotions coloring his thoughts and actions since the cleansing could only have been the result of gentle William. The pain. The anguish. The fear. The desire for more. For respect. Well, that had really been about since before the cleansing, but it didn't negate its current presence as well.

The reminder of William shattered the brief power Spike held over the body that housed him, and the young man turned away from the room, pulling the heavy door closed behind him. The vampire could hear his host's thoughts---Mother will be waiting, mustn't let her get too cold---and almost sighed as he saw the egress to the study looming before them in the corridor. And here it was. Back to the root of it all. The reason they were bloody here in the first place.

And what he wouldn't give to be able to go back in time and not make the request of Red. To have the balls to just tell Buffy what had happened. It wasn't like he was pained by what he knew he was going to discover; as a vampire, Spike had certainly done far worse than anything his father had dealt in his mortal existence.

No, it was the destruction of innocence that frightened him now. William's innocence as an adult world he had no cognizance of prior to this evening destructed around him. Buffy's innocence as the perceptions she had of Spike's human time on this earth came into conflict with the immediacy of what she was about to experience and witness.

Each step nearer made the voices he could hear on the other side of the wall louder. Muffled, still, but undeniably there. And it became a litany of remembered sensations, a path that he'd started with the casting of Willow's spell, one that he had no recourse but to follow.
The niggle of curiosity that tickled William's stomach.

His father's voice. Laughter.

A woman. Not a scream, but perhaps a shriek, its tenor unknown.

Fear. Coursing through his veins. Adrenaline hastening his heartbeat to enliven the nerve endings in his skin.

The cool knob beneath his tremoring hand, his mother's shawl dangling forgotten from the other.

Pushing the door open, his mouth open to speak, the words reversing their route to choke in his throat as his brows shot upward, eyes bulging in surprise---William's surprise, knew this was goin' to happen, poor sod---at the tableau before him.

His father stood at the side of his heavy desk, his jacket off, his shirt undone and pulled from his trousers. Deep scratches etched his chest, but the older man seemed oblivious to the rivulets of blood that were oozing down his abdomen, his attention focused instead on the struggling form before him.

William's breath caught.

Miss Owen.

Not Miss Owen, you wanker. Buffy. The bastard's got his hands all over my Slayer. And the vampire raged within the young man's skull, powerless to do anything but watch.

Her wrists were caught in his father's grip, pinioned over her head so that her arms twisted in pain as she fought against both the confines of her clothing and the attentions of her attacker. Crimson colored her nails, and Spike noted with smug satisfaction that she had drawn blood in her resistance to Mr. Burbidge's assault. Her clothing was still intact, though her skirts were pushed up around her waist, her undergarments starkly white against the dark wood of the desk and the ebony of his trousers.

She saw him first, catching the sight of the young man hovering like ice in the doorway out of the corner of her eye as she thrashed to break herself free. He saw the recognition set ablaze the frustration in her eyes, the relief almost pouring off her flesh.

"Spike…" she called out, but it wasn't that name either man heard, though it landed on the vampire's consciousness like an arrow through his chest.

It was the sound of his son's name that drew the elder Burbidge's gaze to the door, steeling the desire that had flamed his skin. "Shut the door, William," he directed, almost a hiss through his teeth.

But the young man was frozen, and Spike could feel the tumult of thoughts and feelings battling inside his head. The betrayal. The anger. The disappointment. And most importantly…the fear.

"I said. Shut. The. Door." Harder, angrier, dangerous glints in the dark eyes.

"What are you doing?" William's voice was barely audible, though to the room's occupants, it seemed to boom against the paneled walls.

The danger dissolved into amusement, his father's head tilting as he scanned the thin form in the entrance. "I would not have presumed it would interest you. Perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps you would like the opportunity to find out for yourself what it means to be a man."

"Spike!"

Her second cry yielded a furious slap across her cheek by Mr. Burbidge's free hand, and Buffy's head smacked against the desk with a harsh crack. Returning his eyes to his son, he smiled. "We will be disturbing the party if you continue to stand there with the door open," he said, opting for a different tack.

Again, William didn't move. "Mother wanted her shawl," he said aimlessly, as if that was an explanation for his continued presence. "She was chilled."

"Then I suggest you get it to her. I will join you…momentarily."

No! Spike screamed, but was not heard, mute to the memories playing out in this netherworld of his dreams. He felt the vise gripping his human self loosen, lost the vision of the sight within the study as William ducked his eyes. And just as it had occurred over a century previously, the young man pulled the door quietly closed behind him, leaving Miss Owen---Buffy---within the vicious embrace of his father, the imprint of her voice as it called out to him for aid echoing inside his head.

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The door closed. It actually closed. He hadn't stayed. Or helped.

Buffy blinked.

When she opened her eyes again, the study was gone.

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

Instinctively, she knew it was the same house. As her eyes adjusted to the dark, Buffy hovered against the wall, feeling the heavy weight of her skirts around her legs, remembering the brutal claws of Mr. Burbidge's touch pinching and squeezing her flesh through her clothing, the heavy scent of cigar smoke and alcohol on his breath as his mouth had savaged her throat. Even without her Slayer strength, she had fought him, succeeding in drawing blood when she'd scratched at his chest, and though it should have filled her with some sense of accomplishment, it instead left her empty, vacillating between confusion as to what the hell was going on and frustration that she was trapped inside it.

It was all part of Spike's past in some way, but how much was real and how much was just an affectation brought upon by his unconscious, she had no idea. And she needed to know. More than anything else, she needed him here to explain it all.

The creak of wood settling behind her raised Buffy's senses, pressing her into the wall as her head turned in the direction of the sound. Silence, and then another creak, this time closer.

"Hello?" she called out, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Buffy?"

She almost wept at the sound of her real name and threw herself toward its speaker, colliding with Spike's very solid chest in the space of just a few seconds. Her cheek nuzzled the silk that covered it, her arms wrapping around him as she clung in relief, and relaxed against the steadying rhythm of his heartbeat within his breast.

"Sshh," Spike said, and lifted his hand to brush the hair away from her cheek, lowering his mouth to the top of her head. "We have to keep our voices down. Everyone is asleep."

"What's going on?" she whispered. "Do you have any idea what's been going on with me in this whacked out dream of yours? And can I just say?" She pulled back and stared up into his face. It was older than it had appeared earlier, a little fuller, and she realized that his voice was slightly deeper as well. They were still in his memories, albeit a little farther into the future. Or past. God, thinking of the time issues was enough to give her a headache. "Your dad is a scary, scary man."

"I know. I was there, luv."

She couldn't see his eyes clearly in the dark, only black pools gazing down at her. "You were there? But…I called to you, and you didn't…I thought it was William."

Spike sighed. "It was. And me. It was both of us, if you can believe it. Just not me steering the boat, which is why I couldn't answer you. Seems I only get my hands on the soddin' rudder when I'm not an active participant in the memories I was hopin' you'd see." The break in his voice was noticeable, and his lids flickered closed as he leaned down and pressed his forehead into hers. "I'm so sorry, pet. This wasn't s'posed to be like this. I didn't know…you were just…it was s'posed to be like a play or something. Where we watched. Not where we…" He swallowed the lump in his throat, angry at the tears that were now stinging his eyes. "Please tell me he…he didn't…that you…" Fuck. He couldn't even say it out loud.

She felt the damp on his lashes and lifted her mouth to brush her lips over his. "I'm OK," she assured, more of a breath than a voice. "As soon as you left, I showed up here. So nothing worse than some not-so-nice gropage."

"Thank god," Spike muttered, and his hands came up to scoop her face between his palms, pulling Buffy's mouth hungrily to his as he sought to share his relief in their kiss. It felt like forever since he'd been able to hold her; not having control, having to watch as if behind glass, had been more crippling than he'd thought. It was only when he could once again taste freedom that he realized just how much he valued it.

They were both gasping for air when they parted, and Buffy sensed the memory of William Senior's touch receding from her awareness, unable to compete with the practiced hand of her lover, even when he wore his Victorian persona. "Will you tell me what's going on here?" she queried. "Did Willow's spell go wonky? I thought this was supposed to be about whatever happened with your mother."

"It is. That was the night it truly started for me." He was beginning to slip into the more tempered tones of the era, and the realization that maybe she might be losing Spike again scored Buffy's heart in bloody slivers. "That was the night I learned the truth about my father."

"So…that…really happened?" She saw his reluctant nod and couldn't help the next question that came tumbling from her mouth. "All of it?"

His lips curled in scorn. "I ran like the child I was. Afraid of him. Afraid of what he would do if I stayed. Or if I told. Miss Owen called out to me for help and I…I…I went back to the party and gave my mother her bloody shawl and said nothing. I kept his damn secret, and when he returned to…to…" His breath hitched, thick with the sobs he could no longer contain. Stupid soul, he thought, except he knew he probably would've cried even without it. Because this time it hadn't been Miss Owen who had been at his father's mercy. It had been Buffy, and though she said she was fine, Spike knew better, knew he shouldn't have allowed anyone to hurt her in such a way. This was all his fault, when all he ever wanted was to protect her, and if she didn't toss him to the curb when this debacle was over, he would be mightily surprised.

She cradled his head into her shoulder, trying to soothe away the century of pain with the gentle caress of her fingers at the nape of his neck, the knots that tensed there refusing to yield beneath her ministrations. "You couldn't have stopped him," she whispered. "I was there. William would've been no match for his dad. It would've just made things worse."

"I should have tried. At the very least…"

It was her turn to shush him. "But it's over now, right? It's all in the past. You wanted me to see him. I get it. You were afraid of looking like a coward, that I'd think less of you. But I don't. So now we can concentrate on the Soul---."

"But you don't. Get it, I mean. That night was---." He broke off as the distant sound of voices filtered into the hallway, stiffening visibly before her eyes as his head swiveled to look past her. "Don't think I'm going to be at bat here for a bit, pet," he said, struggling to maintain his persona as William came to the fore. "Sit back and get ready for act one, scene two."

It was like a shutter being drawn over his eyes, and even in the dim light, Buffy could see the vampire disappear, the young man he'd been return to power. He held himself stiffly, shoulders thrown back, eyes trained on the door behind which the voices came. When she laid her hand on his arm, he seemed oblivious to her touch, choosing instead to step forward, his breath coming in short pants as the lines appeared between his brows.

"William?" she whispered, but knew even before she'd finished uttering the name that he wouldn't respond. He didn't see her. She wasn't really there. This time, at least, she was just there to watch.

Buffy followed his laborious tread as he neared the room, cocking her head to listen with him. The voices were louder here, and easily discernible. His parents. Arguing. Briefly, she wondered how the Soul Eater was reacting being caught up in the web of Willow's spell, and then decided that what was happening to Spike was probably happening to it, being locked behind the ghost of the past as time replayed itself. The sense of justice it gave her was surprising, and she had to bite back the smile that rose to her lips. Now was not the time for merriment, even if it was at the bad guy's expense. Well…maybe a little.

A crash from the other side of the heavy wood caused both of them to jump, Buffy back and William forward, his hand leaping to the doorknob as he visibly struggled with himself and some inner decision. Fear played across his features, mingling with residual anger, and flashes of the vampire he would become streaked in resonance through his eyes.

The choice was made for him as the door opened, just the narrowest of spaces, startling him away as his mother slipped out, clad in her nightgown, long hair plaited down her back. Her head was bowed as she turned around, and though she knew the Soul Eater was somewhere inside the slim frame, even Buffy couldn't help the sharp intake of breath when she saw the bruising mottling the sculpted line of her cheek.

"William," Anne Burbidge said, surprise at seeing her son sending her hand flying to her face in a vain attempt to mask the remnants of her recent battle.

His hand caught her wrist, preventing her from hiding, and behind the well of tears, Buffy saw the anger etched in his eyes, his dark gaze darting from his mother to the door, and back again.

It was as if some unspoken communication passed between them, an accepted tenor of silence, propriety winning over pain. Slowly, he released her from his grasp, and straightened, chin lifting as the smallest of sad smiles lifted the corner of his mouth. "Shall I fetch you a damp cloth?" he queried quietly, visibly cringing as yet another crash came from behind the door.

"That would be…" She winced in pain as she attempted to smile in kind. "Thank you."

They had turned from each other, William aimed for the stairwell, Anne toward a door further down the hall, when his voice stopped her, the subdued words that rumbled from his throat constricting Buffy's lungs in vestiges of ache. "There should be more to life than pain, Mother." His head bowed as he hesitated at the top of the stairs. "You deserve that more."

Both women watched as he disappeared into the blackness, his footsteps echoing into silence. Buffy itched to follow, but her feet remained planted, all awareness that she shared the corridor gone. The shadows of Spike she kept glimpsing in William were growing stronger as he grew older within the dream, and though she could understand that the vampire would find these events painful to impart, she failed to understand why he feared them as well, why he feared what her reaction might be. Was she that unforgiving? Did she seem so unyielding so as not to understand about cowardice? He knew how she had run at the first mention of her death at the Master's hands and didn't fault her for it. She had run after killing Angel because she couldn't face her life in Sunnydale, and he made no mention of it.

Why was it so hard for him to think that she would not relate to this?

"Isn't he delicious?"

It took her a moment for Buffy to realize that she was the one being addressed, and slowly turned her head to see Anne Burbidge staring at her. No, not Anne, she corrected, recognizing the gleam in those blue depths. The Soul Eater. Back in control.

"He's a good man," she replied simply.

"But you are not so good," the Soul Eater crooned, and stepped forth, smiling through the bruises, no longer aware or caring of the pain. Its gaze swept over her, its nostrils flaring in hunger. "Although quite tasty in your own right."

"You'll never know."

"That's what he said. Right before I reached into his chest and played ping pong with his lungs." Before the Slayer could react, the other woman was standing before her, a slim hand locked in palsy around Buffy's shoulder, causing the young woman to grimace in pain. "You are bold for one about to die. Is it true then? Do you wish for death?"

"Only yours," she hissed, and wrenched herself free.

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

"Willow!"

The alarm in the teenager's voice pulled the redhead from the spell they had just about been ready to perform, hurrying her steps as she darted to the side of the bed. On the mattress, Spike still slept as if dead, unmoved from his original position, but Buffy was currently muttering, thrashing against her pillow, her right shoulder jerking spasmodically as if she was struggling to get away.

As they watched, a crimson stain began to spread along the thin fabric of the Slayer's top, saturating the seam in thin rivers. Immediately, Willow bent forward and ripped the cotton open, baring the jagged cut that now adorned the young woman's golden flesh. "Oh, my goddess," she murmured, eyes widening, and used the torn material to begin mopping up the blood. "Giles!" she called. "We better wait on that resurrection! I've got a feeling we're about to be clocking some extra air miles!"

"Do you want me to wake them?" Dawn asked, her voice almost a squeak.

She was answered by a worried Watcher now present at the bed. "Do it," he ordered, and waited as the younger Summers reached into the leather sac to extract a handful of the powder inside.

Murmuring under her breath, she tossed it over the sleeping couple, her breath catching…holding…pausing in expectation, only to be released in a voluble stream when nothing happened. "What's going on, Willow?" she asked tremulously. "Why didn't that work? You said that would work. Why aren't they waking up?"

Feeling the blood ebbing beneath her fingertips, the redhaired witch glanced at the now relaxed face of her friend before flickering over to the vampire's. Oh, Spike, she thought, the worry carving her features in distress. What the hell did we do?


To be continued in Chapter 31: From an Unextinguish'd Hearth