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And If the Grave Be Now Thy Bed

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Where art thou, my beloved son—
Where art thou, worse to me than dead?

William Wordsworth, The Affliction of Margaret

Odds are, when you take up a story you're expecting certain things. Heroes triumphant, villains thwarted, selfish git learning a valuable lesson and a group hug at the end. 'S all rot, of course, but that's why you want it. 'Cause it's bloody certain that's not what real life doles out. So I'll tell you straight off, far as morals go, this story hasn't got any. Possibly 'cause your humble narrator's lacking in that department himself. As for lessons, I learned a thing or two. I'll let you decide how valuable they were.

Warren Mears was dead, to begin with. I should know. I'm the chap who killed him. Ripped his throat out, drank his blood, and loved every minute of it. I knew when I did it that it'd get me the boot from the White Hats Club, but I didn't care. The bastard had just consigned my lady and the child I'd just discovered she was carrying to oblivion or worse. For all that, I gave him a chance to walk away free and clear - was what the lady in question would have wanted, yeah? Mears didn't take it. His big mistake was assuming that because yours truly works with the white hats, my own chapeau's a fetching shade of ecru. Discovering otherwise cost him his life. And nearly me mine, when the lady in question came home.

Buffy wasn't happy with what I'd done, but she allowed I'd had reasons that went beyond feeling peckish, and let me live on the strength of 'em. But she'd been in a black mood ever since, thinking herself a bad Slayer and suchlike. I'd rather she have taken a stake to me than flog herself to no purpose - wasn't her who'd drained him dry, and Mears wasn't a bloke worth wasting guilt on, even if I'd had some to spare. So of course when a chance came for me to make things up to her, I jumped on it.

Mrs. Mears showed up on our front porch a couple of months after I offed her son. She was a faded old cow in a navy blue dress and down-at-heel pumps as dowdy as she was - no one does mourning up properly these days. We'd last seen her at her son's trial for kidnapping-assault-and-manslaughter, over a year ago, and that year hadn't been kind.

"I don't know if you've heard," she said, sitting on our living room sofa like she'd a right to it, clutching a cup of our tea and ignoring a plate of our biscuits likewise. "Two months ago, my son Warren disappeared. Last week, the police found his - what was left of his - body in the sewers. The coroner said it was a wild animal attack." She looked from Buffy to me, dabbed her reddened eyes with a dingy hanky, and wadded it up in her lap. "I've heard that - that you can get things done. Things the police might not..." She blew her nose. "I'd like you to find out what happened to him, and - and deal with the responsible parties. I don't have a lot of money - "

"No!" Buffy interrupted, going paler than me. "We can't possibly take any - I'm sorry, Mrs. Mears. But your son tried to frame me for murder. It would be a - a conflict of interest - "

"I don't care!" Mrs. Mears crumpled into a soppy, grief-stricken pile, wringing her hanky like it was a neck. "Warren had... problems, I know he did. If his father hadn't - but it doesn't matter. He was my son. My only son. I loved him. He'd just found a new job, he was just starting over - it's not right someone should do this to him, and get away with it! It's not right!"

Buffy was shaking her head, mute, panicked. Sans benefit of hanky, her hands clenched tight in her lap. Happens Warren Mears's new job had been in the R&D department of Wolfram & Hart, emissaries of Hell on Earth, and his first project for 'em had been the aforementioned sending of the Slayer to oblivion. Just icing on the cake he could get his revenge and collect a paycheck for it, and now to put Buffy over a barrel for his death? I'd lay odds he was laughing his arse off in Hell at this very moment.

The Slayer took a deep breath. "Mrs. Mears, I - there's something I have to tell you. We - "

I found myself standing up, crossing the living room, and patting the miserable old bat on the shoulder. Even pulling out a bit of the soothing posh accent. "We'll do it, Mrs. Mears. In fact, I'll look into the matter personally. Oi!"

That last was due to the love of my life grabbing me by the scruff of my neck and shoving me towards the dining room. "Excuse us, Mrs. Mears," she said, sweet as treacle tart. "I need to talk to my husband in private for just a teensy second. Have another cookie!"

The Slayer jet-propelled me through the dining room and into the kitchen, spun me round to face her, and hissed, "What the hell do you think you're doing? We can't - "

"Making things right!" I snarled back. "With her! With you! 'S what I'm supposed to do, innit?"

"This is not something you can make right!" Buffy whisper-shrieked, waving both hands in the air. We'd agreed it was probably best to take fisticuffs off the table as a negotiating tactic whilst she was up the duff, but times like this I couldn't help wonder if giving her a free shot at my nose with no reprisals wouldn't be the best thing for her after all. "You killed him! I let you get away with it! There's no fixing that!"

"There's got to be something!" I began pacing, round and about the kitchen island. "You lot with souls kill each other off all the time - it's a wonder a vamp can get a fang in edgewise sometimes! Your Faith - she's iced a couple of people, hasn't she? And old Rupert - " Hadn't ever told Buffy what precisely became of Ben, and I wasn't about to become the bearer of that particular piece of bad news. Not a complete idiot, me. " - did a thing or two in his wild youth, I'll wager. But here they are, card-carrying champions of goodness an' virtue. Must have done something to make it up, so what was it?"

"Felt bad about it, for a start!"

"You think I don't feel bad, watching you beat yourself about the head and shoulders with my sins?"

"But you don't feel bad about killing him!"

"No, I don't," I snapped. Vengeance aside, by my lights Warren Mears'd made himself my prey fair and square, the moment he declared himself above and beyond the human laws I'd promised the Slayer I'd follow. "How much of this is about the bastard I killed, really, and how much about the bastard you didn't?"

If we hadn't that no-punching truce, I'd've been cats-meat just then. Suffice to say the Slayer hadn't been cooling her heels in Oblivion whilst Mears and I were having our heart-to-heart in the here and now. She hadn't taken the bloke on the other end of Mears's zap-gun apart with a bone saw, true enough, but it had been a near thing. Suspect it's a good part of why she let me live. There but for the grace of etcetera goeth Buffy. Now she stood before me, fists clenched at her sides, vibrating with rage... and then she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and let her shoulders sag. "Maybe forty percent."

"Lay odds on sixty," I muttered, and got the ghost of a smile.

Buffy turned away, probably so's I wouldn't see the smile, and folded her arms beneath her sweet tits as she did when troubled. "But Warren's still dead, and there's nothing we can do about that."

The Slayer drives me spare sometimes - you don't see Giles whipping round to the station to turn himself in for snuffing Ben, do you? - but I'm daft enough to love her for it. I pursed my lips, rocking back on my heels. There were things you could do about that, right enough, but you'd need a stronger stomach to deal with the results than I featured Mrs. Mears having. Still... "Look," I said, drawing on four years' deep thought on What Makes People With Souls, Specifically Buffy, Tick. "I'm the one who cocked up. If there's any price to pay, I'm the one to pay it, and seems to me the old woman should have the right to set it. Weregild, like. She's the one who's lost a son, not the State of California. Let me deal with her. " Before the light of my life could ask if dealing with Mrs. Mears meant introducing her to the same sewer so recently become acquainted with her offspring, I added, "I swear on our sprog-to-be I won't harm a hair on her head."

She didn't look precisely chuffed about the idea, but at length Buffy nodded. She took my hands in her own, eyes solemn. "Just don't lie to her." She bit her lip. "Any more than you can help."

Give me this much, I've learned how to shut it when I'm ahead. I lifted her hands and kissed them, and together we sallied forth to brave the dragon in the living room. I put on my most knightly smile. "Splendid news, Mrs. Mears. Bloody Vengeance Inc. is going to take your case."

*********

Next evening, six o'clock sharp, I strolled up the Mears's front walk, cocked an ear at the door, and took a listen. Mrs. Mears's heartbeat was the only one in earshot, and the only scents her own and her son's fading pong. The neighboring houses were close enough someone might hear a scream - not that I planned on making her scream, but in my experience middle-aged biddies do tend to take on when you tell 'em you ate their son. Perhaps I could lure her down to the cellar. It was soundproofed, a fact the prosecution had made much of at Mears's trial. I rang the bell, and presently Mrs. Mears's heartbeat, accompanied by Mrs. Mears, came forth. She opened the door and blinked up at me. Sure sign of a bird too vain to wear her specs, not that I'd know anything about that. "So soon?" she asked. "I wasn't expecting to hear anything for - "

"Yeah, well, we're an efficient lot," I interrupted, surreptitiously testing the barrier across the threshold. Something the Mohra blood hadn't changed, that. It had made Angel human, but Billy No-Soul here came out of it with a pulse and an expiration date, plus the same old line in sun allergies and threshold issues. I'd had an invite to this house once, but it was Warren who'd given it, and they sometimes expire when their issuer does. That's the thing about magic, it's not reliable. "I've got news about your son. May I come in?" 'Course, it gave me the little bit growing in Buffy's belly, too, so I took it as a fair trade.

She looked me up and down, considering-like. "Come in," she said at last, waving me into a parlour as drab as she was. Place had enough plastic on the furniture to pass as Dexter Morgan's kill room, and the telly was crowned with a sort of shrine to her vanished boy, a pyramid of Star Wars action figures and Nintendo cassettes. She didn't offer me tea and biscuits, which was well enough with me.

Mrs. Mears drew herself up in front of the china cabinet like a man awaiting the firing squad. Her chin wobbled. "You've discovered who - who did this to my Warren?"

I very nearly offered her a last cigarette. Instead I caught her eyes - I've never had the knack for thrall, but it's amazing what you can do with a good hard stare. "Sit down, Mrs. Mears." Dazed, she cast about behind her for the plastic-covered armchair, and sat. I did likewise on the sofa, which squeaked. "I've come here alone because I don't want to involve Buffy in this. She had no part in any of it, and I won't have her dragged in now. Yes, I know who killed your son." Mrs. Mears gave a little gasp. I pressed on. "More important, I know why. Your boy came after Buffy again. She'd put him in stir, and he wanted revenge. Tried to do to her what he did to that other girl, what's-her-name, Katrina." Wasn't strictly true, but easier than explaining pocket dimensions and Wolfram & Hart's true agenda. "And I put him down like the rabid dog he was."

The old woman stared at me, mouth open. "What?"

Couldn't make it much clearer. "Your boy. Went after Buffy. So I ki - "

"No!" Mrs. Mears snatched up the first thing handy, which happened to be a cast-resin music box in the shape of the Millennium Falcon, and flung it at me. It smacked me square in the chest. Smarted a bit; the old girl had an arm on her. "No, no, no, no!" she wailed. "Why are you telling me this? I came to you for help!"

Back in the day I always liked it when they cried, long as they were young and pretty. Not so attractive, somehow, when they were older. And Mrs. Mears could have taken a prize in unattractive just now, eyes red, nose running, tears streaking her puffy cheeks as she blubbed. Once upon a time I'd have offed her on aesthetic principles alone. Now I sighed and handed her a handkerchief. She wadded up the hanky and flung it back in my face, not before emptying her nose of snot on it first. Brilliant. I tucked it between the couch-cushions.

"I'm not telling you this so's I can gloat," I said, dogged. I stood, taking a knife from my belt. "I'm telling you so's you can get your own back."

Mrs. Mears shrieked and cowered in her plastic fortress. "You're going to murder me too!"

"I am not!" I've a limited supply of give-a-fuck to lavish on people who aren't Buffy, and she was running though it fast. "You know as well as I do your boy was as much a monster as I am, but all the same, I owe you for his loss. So name your price."

She snuffled and wiped her eyes, a sodden, grotesque doll. "I don't understand."

"Join the club," I muttered. This right here was the sort of thing that convinced the demon community that old Spike had lost the plot. Some days old Spike agreed with them. But I couldn't see a way past it: however much I'd relished doing Warren Mears in, his death had turned out vastly more trouble than it was worth. Buffy miserable, Willow kiting off to Los Angeles, Mrs. Mears kicking up a fuss... one thing was certain, I'd never make the mistake of killing a human again, no matter the temptation. Next time some hypothetical berk trifles with my family, I’ll just torture them till they wish they were dead.

In the meantime, I needed Mrs. Mears quiet. I couldn't kill her, and that being so, couldn't even threaten her, really. Last thing I wanted was to drive her into the long arms of the law. William the Bloody might have no official existence, but William H. Summers-Pratt did, and with Buffy expecting, I'd no inclination to chuck everything and scarper off to the next town, as Dru and I used to do when we'd made things too hot for us in the old one. Nor would Buffy have countenanced any such scarpering. Sunnydale's finest might not be quite up for slapping vampires on the Most Wanted list yet, but the day was coming closer, and La Mears kicking up a fuss could only hurt Buffy's tender new rapport with the law.

That left bribery. I held the knife out, hilt-first. "You want to kill me? Take your best shot."

The old woman gaped at me, goldfish-fashion. She took the blade like a sleepwalker and gripped it tight in both hands. I wasn't taking much of a gamble, as I saw it. Thanks to that Mohra blood I mentioned, there's lots more than wood, fire, and decapitation that can kill me now, but I've still got the wrinklies to make it difficult for anyone who tries. Even if she came at me, she couldn't do me any lasting damage... or not much, any road; and what's a few more scars to a bloke with a century's worth? My thought was I'd let the old girl whale away at me for a bit, then play dead - alive I may be, but not human. My body temperature's only seventy-two degrees, I can hold my breath upwards of half an hour if I have to, and my heart beats once to every five of yours. No reason I couldn't fool a frightened old woman into thinking I was a corpse, and then make my escape when she fainted or somesuch.

Mrs. Mears raised the knife, gulping, and held it above her head. I didn't move a muscle, but shifted into my demon face, all fangs and ridges and yellow eyes. "This make it a little easier?"

With a desperate little scream Warren's mum brought the knife down. Feeble and awkward as the strike was, the point didn't even sink in, just glanced off my shoulder and snagged my t-shirt a bit. Mrs. Mears over-balanced and I caught her before she could topple to the floor. She stared up at me, wild-eyed and panting, flyaway wisps of graying hair escaping their bun. The knife clattered to the floor, and then she was pounding on my chest with weak, ineffectual blows that wouldn't have felled a sick gnat, and sobbing, sobbing, sobbing: "What good is it? What good are you? I want my Warren back! I want my son!"

Somehow I was patting her on the back and murmuring, "There, there, pet." Reflex, I suppose. Not precisely what I'd planned on doing. Surprised her into hiccups, but she left off crying, and I smoothed the hair away from her brow. I'd told her to name her price, and I'm a vamp of my word. "If that's what you want, I'll see what I can do."

*********

"How did it go?"

Buffy faced me across a Tab and a basket of nachos at one of the cleaner tables at Willie's. I'd spent the evening trapped on the squeaky couch whilst Mrs. Mears regaled me with album after album of ickle Warren as a lumpy, sullen toddler, ickle Warren as a lumpy, sullen boy, and ickle Warren as a lumpy, sullen teenager. There were pets in some of the photos, but they'd never lasted long. Same for the lumpy, sullen gentleman I assumed was ickle Warren's father. I'd escaped only with the assurance that I'd have ickle Warren up and hopping toot sweet.

"Eh? Well as you might expect. Wept, wailed, railed at fate in the person of one William the Bloody, smacked me about a bit, and ended up crying on my shoulder. Not a bad old bird, when you get to know her."

"Really?" Buffy was looking at me as if I'd lost my head. Quite possibly she was right.

"Really. Go check up on her, if you like." I'd extracted a promise from Mrs. Mears to keep our little project on the Q.T. The Slayer might not approve of what I was doing, but I don't approve of everything she does, either. I wasn't killing anyone. Quite the opposite, and contrary to popular opinion, she doesn't follow me about vetting my every word and deed. "I, er, ended up promising her I'd do a few things for her. Run errands, fix things up around the house, you know. Needs a man's touch."

"Really?" Now she was looking as if I'd grown a second one.

"Really. In fact, I'm popping around to the crypt in a bit to pick up a few tools." I tossed back the dregs of my beer (whatever Willie's got on tap is ninety percent dregs) and stood up, wishing I still had my old coat to flourish. "Don't wait up for me, love. I'll probably make a night of it."

I left Buffy at the Alibi Room and strode off into the night, destination Restfield Cemetery, very atmospheric, John Constantine eat your heart out. I was bloody certain it wasn't Heaven I'd be pulling Warren Mears back from, but raising the dead's a dodgy business - who knows that better than a vampire? First person I sired was my mum, and all I'll say about that is, it didn't end well. As a chap who knows a little bit about evil, I'll allow that resurrection's always dangerous, usually selfish, and most of the wannabe wizards who try it haven't a sodding clue what they're in for. Death's a journey not meant to be traveled in reverse, and when it is, there's a likelihood of severe tire damage.

Is it a mercy, then, to send the poor resurrected devil back to the hell you've just dragged 'em out of? Or cowardice? Was I a weaker man for turning my mum, or for staking her when I couldn't deal with what I'd brought back? Yeah, I don't know either.

Restfield was the Rolls-Royce of Sunnydale cemeteries - well-tended gravel paths, lovingly landscaped cypress and myrtle and oleander, all providing prime lurking spots. A selection of well-appointed early twentieth century crypts in marble and granite were the McMansions of vampire real estate. I'd first set up housekeeping in one of Restfield's posher digs back when the Initiative stuck the chip in my head. After I moved in with Buffy, we converted the Alpert crypt to offices and warehouse space for Bloody Vengeance Inc., the demon-hunting business I co-owned with Anya. Buffy was a silent partner, so to speak. Her overly-nice morals wouldn't allow her to take pay for slaying, but after my first big sale of demon parts provided the dosh for a new roof, she'd reconciled herself to helping me take down assorted nasties as an unpaid consultant, and looking the other way when I collected the fees.

Clem was sitting behind the reception desk at chez Alpert when I breezed in. He gave me a saw-toothed grin and waved a sheaf of printouts at me. "Hey, Spike! We just got in a new order for Erslach slime from Egon the Magnificent. He said to tell you - "

"Tell him I'm selectively deaf when the person yapping is two months delinquent on their last order," I countered. I hate deadbeat wizards. I nipped down the ladder to the second floor, where a handful of the undead slackers who work for me were lazing about, smoking and whinging about the hospital jacking up the price of expired blood bags again. I clapped my hands. "Oi, you layabouts! Powdered mandrake, six white candles, brass bowl, pint of O-neg, four-ounce glass jar, satchel to put 'em in, and a spade. If they're not in my hands in fifteen minutes, the lot of you are stake fodder."

Everyone snapped to, saving my procurement officer, Evie, who prides herself in taking the piss out of me every chance she gets. "What the fuck, Spike?" she said, stubbing out her joint. "Who set your ass on fire?" But she had me the goods within ten minutes, which is why I let her take the piss.

Next stop was the grave they'd lowered Warren Mears into, only two days before. He was buried in one of Restfield's newer sections, where the headstones were only a plaque flush with the grass, for ease of mowing. A spadeful of grave dirt, and I was good to go. Almost. I stowed the jar in my satchel and headed out of the cemetery, aiming for the nearest manhole and the last ingredient on my list. As you've probably guessed, I had a spell in mind.

The best resurrection spells require a life for a life, or something just as valuable. I gave up my soul so's Willow could bring Buffy back - not like I was using it - but even so there's some who claim she came back wrong, in ways more subtle than a craving for blood or brains. Not being a massively powerful wizard, nor having time to hire one, my present choices were limited. The spell that'd brought Darla back, and which Willow had modified to raise Buffy, was top of the line, but beyond my current means. Could've skimped and gone for a simple zombie-summoning, but I had a debt to pay, and no one's ever called Spike a welsher. Killer, cheat, and liar, yeah, but not a welsher.

Right in the middle was the spell I'd helped Dawn with that once. She'd never told me how it came out, but the fact that her reanimated mum wasn't cooking brekky in the Summers kitchen the following morning was a clue. I could have told her a thing or two about parental revenants, but there's some things you have to fuck up for yourself. Still, it was a step or three up from zombie territory, and if Dawn could give it a go, it wasn't utterly beyond the skill of a vampire with only a dilettante's knowledge of spellcasting.

I heaved the manhole cover aside, checked my satchel, and started down into Sunnydale's sewers. I wasn't keen on facing a Ghora demon again purely on Warren Mears's account, but as I said before, what's a few more scars to a chap with a century's worth?

*********

Buggering painful, is what. Won't bore you with the blow-by-blow, but the Ghora community was getting a touch irritated with me nicking their eggs, and made their feelings on the matter known. Along of two in the morning, I came limping up Mrs. Mears' front walk for the second time that night, sporting three newly-broken ribs, one lacerated shoulder, one mangled hamstring, and a half-split skull for my troubles. But I had in my satchel a football-sized Ghora egg - not a proper football, one of the American kind - in all its Technicolor glory.

I'd scarcely rung the bell before the door popped open, and Mrs. Mears ushered me in with a furtive wave. "Did you get everything?" she asked, shutting the door behind me and fluttering over to the window to make sure the blinds were completely drawn. "Are you sure it will work?"

In point of fact I wasn't sure at all, but I wasn't about to admit as much. "Got it," I said, patting the satchel. "Here, we'll need someplace flat to set up. You have the picture?"

She had the picture, an eight-by ten glossy in a cheap gilt frame. Warren Mears's smarmy grin leered out at me. He was resplendent in wrinkled gown and cockeyed mortarboard, clutching a roll of parchment, and looked a good ten years younger than I recalled him. Must have been a high school graduation photo. "I can clear off the kitchen table," his mother said. "This isn't going to stain, is it?"

"Small price for your son back if it does, yeah?"

I followed her into the little kitchen with its cramped dining nook and put my satchel down on the counter, shoving aside the sad remains of two or three funeral casseroles. Mrs. Mears cleared the table of crumbs and cutlery, and stowed the lot out of sight in a cupboard. She cast a worried glance at the Formica tabletop. "Is that enough room?"

"It'll have to be." Didn't take long to set up the ritual. Candles all about, circle of blood, the usual. The brass bowl, chock full of an appetizing mixture of raw Ghora egg, grave dirt, and powdered mandrake. Revolting as that sounds, to my nose it smelled worse. Warren's photo was propped against the bowl. "Before we start this, you do understand that your boy might not come back quite as you remember him?"

"You've already told me that twice," the old woman said, peevish. "And I've told you twice that it doesn't matter. You obviously don't understand a mother's unconditional love for her son."

"Just checking." I pulled out my lighter and set the candles ablaze, then handed Mrs. Mears a slip of paper with the incantation written on it. "Here. Recite this three times. If anything goes wrong, just destroy the photo." That last was another reason for using this particular spell. There's not many that'll give you such an easy out if things go pear-shaped.

Mrs. Mears took the incantation and squinted at it. "I can't read this handwriting."

"Oh, bloody hell," I muttered, and took my specs out of my jacket pocket. "Here, say it with me."

In a shaky voice, she joined in:


Osiris, giver of darkness, taker of life!
God of Gods, accept my offering.
Bone, flesh, breath - yours, eternally.
Bone, flesh, breath, I beg of you - return to me.

Wind was whipping up outside, though there hadn't been a hint of a storm earlier.

Bone, flesh, breath - yours, eternally.
Bone, flesh, breath - I beg of you - return to me.

Mrs. Mears was impassioned now, screaming the words over the wailing of the wind, prayers to an uncaring god. Had some version of this plea passed though my mind as my fangs sank into my mother's neck - I beg of you - never leave me? I could taste the sickness in her blood, the conviction that I was doing the right thing. Fine start to a career as a soulless monster.

I beg of you - return to me...

The wind howled, the lights flickered, and the candles guttered low and went out. Mrs. Mears gave a breathy little squeak of alarm, and held tight to my arm. "Is... is that it?" she whispered. "What do we do now?"

"Now," I pulled out a chair from beneath the table, "we wait." I traded my specs pocket space for a package of fags and extracted one, lighting it on the smouldering stub of the nearest candle. I drew in a deep soothing breath of nicotine. Much better. Mrs. Mears, after a spot of dithering, put the kettle on. I watched her putter about the kitchen whilst I smoked. Presently, "Was he good to you?"

Mrs. Mears almost dropped the kettle. "What?"

"Warren. Was he a good son to you?" Bloke had a soul. Presumably he had to be good to someone.

"Oh, well," Mrs. Mears's vague wave bid fair to tip the kettle over again. "He was all I had, you understand? Warren was always so... distracted. With his projects, you know. He was such a clever boy. Brilliant. He won so many prizes..." Her shoulders hunched. "He should have gone to a really good university. Stanford or MIT. But after his father...left us, we simply didn't have the money, and the scholarships just... never worked out, somehow." She broke off putting tea bags in our cups, staring out the kitchen window. "What was that?"

I hadn't heard anything, but I got up and looked just the same. "Nothing yet, missus."

"Oh." Her hunched shoulders sagged, in disappointment, or relief. "Children can be cruel," she whispered, near too low for me to hear, and that's going some. A little louder, "He was so often disappointed, that's all. I was never very clever myself. Warren's father used to say..." She trailed off, and took an iron frying pan from its hook above the stove, gazing into its shiny black surface. "Warren's very like his father."

"It was like that with me and my mum after my father died," I said, reminiscent. I accepted a cup of the vile liquid and took a reluctant sip - zombies can't compare to the horrors of Lipton. "Us against the world. Or so I thought. Come to think Mum saw it differently." I glanced up at the Christ-awful sunflower clock on the wall. Half an hour - enough time to walk from here to Restfield? Can take awhile, sometimes, digging your way out of a grave. "I'm going to be a dad, you know. Get to see it all from the other side. Gives a fellow something to think about."

She gripped the handle of her frying pan, avoiding my eyes. "I'm sure you never meant to cause your mother pain."

I contemplated the ash building up on the end of my cigarette, and at length tapped it into my teacup. Not like I was going to drink the stuff. I swirled the ashes round, in absence of tea leaves. "Road to Hell, and so forth." Before she could reply, I held up a hand. "Hsst." On the street outside, footsteps. Slow. Dragging. Perhaps not entirely human. Either Warren, or the chap who fished aluminum cans out of the recycling bins. "Someone's coming."

Mrs. Mears clasped the frying pan to her heart and moaned. A second later, the doorbell rang.

It's hard to give a vampire the shivers. After all, we're technically dead ourselves, and if that particular technicality didn't apply to me any longer, I'd nevertheless racked up a sight more face time with corpses than the average bloke. Still, I won't say I opened the front door with a song in my heart.

"Well, fuck-a-doodle-doo," said the thing on the doorstep. "If it isn't Spike."

Perhaps you've never seen a corpse that's been vampire-chewed and then left in the sewers to rot for six weeks. If so, count yourself lucky. Hadn't been an open casket funeral, that was for bloody certain. But through the magic of embalming, or the fact that the spell we'd used really was several steps above zombie territory, the worst of Mears's wounds had closed. He was missing a few bits here and there, but he didn't look bad for a chap six weeks dead.

"Warren!" his mother cried, pushing past me and falling upon his shoulders with little whimpers of joy. I revised my estimate of Mrs. Mears's intestinal fortitude considerably upwards. "It's really you! You've come home! You've come home!"

"Oh, for God's sake, Ma!" Mears fended her off and shoved into the house. "You're embarrassing me in front of the guy who killed me." He looked me up and down with a misshapen sneer. "Look Ma, no invite. What the hell? When I woke up in that fucking coffin, I figured you must have sired me or something."

I matched him sneer for sneer. "Don't flatter yourself. I wouldn't sire you if the vampire species depended on it." Not that I could have, since the Morha blood, but that's need-to-know. I gestured towards Mrs. Mears. "You've got your mother to thank for your current ambulatory state, so show some bloody gratitude."

Mears gave his mum a grudging nod. "At least I'm not a goddamn vampire."

"Please, darling, sit down," Mrs. Mears said anxiously. "You must be dreadfully tired. Do you want any fruit juice? A sandwich? We have liverwurst. Some coffee? Or no, caffeine probably isn't -"

"I'm not hungry." Mears strode jerkily over to the couch and sat down, grabbing his video controller from the telly on the way, and sat down. Turns out all that plastic was fortuitous after all. He glanced at me as he flicked the remote and brought up a screen full of high scores. "What the hell do I eat now, anyway?"

"Not my lookout, mate," I replied. "But if it turns out to be human flesh, rest assured, I put you in the ground once, and I can do it again." That's the thing about hanging about with humans, I've found - once you get used to them, the idea of someone else killing them off makes you decidedly stroppy. "Now, I'll just leave you two to your happy reunion - "

KLONK!

*********

That last was the sound of Mrs. Mears's frying pan meeting the back of yours truly's skull. Told you the old girl had an arm on her. Wouldn't normally have put me out, but the Ghora had done half her work for her earlier. I woke up with a blinding headache, trussed up like a chicken in an all too familiar basement. Boba Fett glowered down at me. The place didn't look to have been touched since the police had been through it - there were dust-furred gaps on the shelves where various bits and bobs had been taken into evidence. A few photographs, mostly of Mears Senior at his most sullen and lumpish, had been scattered round the shelves in an attempt to make up the difference.

I tested my bonds - wire clothesline, it felt like; I could most likely break it, though I'd shred the hell out of my wrists in the process. It was my imagination that the ugly shag carpet beneath my cheek stank faintly of death, wasn't it? It had to be Mears; Katrina had died in this room over a year ago, and vampire senses were good, but not that good. Didn't matter. There was a bad telenovela going on in the background, 'cept in English, and starring Warren and Mrs. Mears. I managed to swivel my throbbing head around to catch the latest installment.

"...for God's sake, I don't know! I didn't ask you to knock him cold." Mears was pacing back and forth in front of the tatty old cot with its zebra-striped throw.

His mother set a paper plate with a liverwurst sandwich down on the table beside the cot. "He was going to kill you again! But I don't know who he might have talked to! If the Slayer finds out he came here..."

"That's your problem. I'm not sticking around to clean up your mess. Look, he's a vampire. Stake him. " He eyed me appraisingly. "Just not right away. Spikey here owes me a fingernail or two before I go."

I thought I'd best inform them that staking me would leave 'em with a difficult-to-dispose-of corpse instead of a tidy pile of dust, but I couldn't get my jaw to work properly.

"Go? You're leaving?" Mrs. Mears plucked at her son's sleeve. "But you can't! Not so soon! You're in no condition to be out and about just yet."

Mears batted his mother's hands away with a snarl and faced himself in the brass-framed mirror against one wall. "And whose fault is that? If you had to bring me back from the dead, couldn't you have hired a real wizard to do it, instead of this amateur?" He spun around and gave me a boot to the ribs. He spread his arms wide. "Look at me! How the hell do you think I'm going to get another job looking like this?"

Mrs. Mears's chin was doing the wobbly again. "It's what's on the inside that counts. Besides, can't you call that nice lawyer at your old job?"

"Wolfram & Hart's already fired me," Warren replied bitterly, "and it's not the kind of place where they hand out second chances. Besides, I'm not going to play toady to Lilah fucking Morgan any longer." He grinned at her with teeth a little sharper than they ought to be, but the humor, such as it was, didn't reach his eyes. "You knew I'd be stuck here, didn't you? I bet you brought me back like this on purpose."

The wobble became a wail. "How could you! After all I've done for you!"

"Like what?" demanded Mears. He snatched up the sandwich and took a bite, and then spat it out with a grimace. "Name one."

His mum drew herself up, livid. "You have no idea," she hissed, "What I've done - what I've sacrificed to protect you - "

"Oh, you protected me just great, Ma! You earned just enough to keep me from getting a scholarship, and not enough to send me anyplace with a real cybernetics program. You said no girl was good enough for me, and then bitched about me not having a girlfriend." He lurched to his feet and flung the sandwich at her. "You never shut up, do you? Except when speaking up would have kept me out of jail!"

"Warren, please, not liverwurst on the carpet!" Mrs. Mears backed away, hands wringing frantically. "I didn't know what to think! I never believed that you - that you - "

"Then why wouldn't you swear in court I was somewhere else the night that bitch Katrina died?" Mears wasn't much taller than I was, really, but somehow he managed to look it. Must have been the teeth. "Was that why Dad walked out on us? You stabbed him in the back the way you did me?"

Mrs. Mears trembled, but it wasn't fear I smelled pouring off of her. "Your father didn't walk out!"

"Of course he did! I just wish he'd taken me with him! He was right about you dragging the rest of the family down, you useless nagging bitch!"

He lunged for her. I flexed aching shoulders and snapped the clothesline, feeling the cords cut deep into my wrists. Staggering to my feet, I intercepted Mears's charge - and stumbled, and bloody near fell, as my ribs twinged and my head pounded and my leg went out. It's this mortality business; pain hurts a fair bit more than it used to. Mears caught me 'round the throat with one hand and hauled me upright. "Fuckin' A, man," he said. "This is what you did to me, right? I can see why. Feels good. Maybe I should rip your throat out, tooOWOOOOOOOOO!"

Pro tip: if it's got nads, kick 'em. I wrenched free of his slackening grip and drove a punch at his midsection. Things ripped and squelched, but Warren dove for me again with a bellow, shark-toothed mouth opening impossibly wide. Mrs. Mears screamed and ran, pelting off upstairs. I morphed into game face and rammed my forearm against his throat - bugger me, but he was strong, strong as Buffy at least, plowing forward despite all I could do as the carpet rucked up behind me. Glass shattered in the kitchen upstairs. "Not so easy now, is it, smartass?" he roared. "Not so goddamned - "

"Warren!" Mrs. Mears stood it the doorway at the top of the stairs, her son's portrait clutched to her meager bosom, the broken frame dangling from her bloodied hands. She held it up and ripped the photograph mortarboard to diploma. "Go to your room! NOW!"

Neither wailing nor gnashing of teeth, thunderclaps nor gouts of flame. Between one moment and the next, whatever it was that made up Warren Mears fled this vale of tears for the second time. His body crumbled as it hit the floor, leaf mould and dust, as if he'd been dead for six centuries instead of six months. I staggered upright, coughing. "I'm sorry," I croaked. Funny thing was, I meant it.

Mrs. Mears stared at her son's remains, and swallowed. You'd think a woman who'd shed as many tears as she had today would be wept out, but apparently not. "It wasn't really him," she said. Convincing herself. "My boy could never say such things." The fragments of the photograph fell like dead leaves from her fingertips, drifting to the floor. Only memories now. "Are you going to kill me now?"

"What for?" I'd never have thought to ask, once. "I invited you to take a crack at me; can't blame you for taking me up on it. As for anything else...seems to me we're all better off for leaving our respective skeletons safely buried, yeah?" I nodded at Mears Junior. Sweep him out the door, and the wind would scatter him. "Speaking of which, d'you need help with..."

"No," she said. "I can manage." Her gaze flicked, for just a second, to one of Mears Senior's old photographs. She looked me in the eye then, level, and wiped her hands on her skirt. "I think perhaps you'd better leave."

So I left.

*********

It was getting on for dawn by the time I crawled back to 1630 Revello Drive. Buffy cracked an eyelid as I undressed in the candlelight, and took in the purpling bruises all along my ribcage, the tooth-marks in my shoulder and the gash across my calf, not to mention the prints of Warren's fingers still black and blue upon my throat. Didn't say a word, though. I skinned back the sheets and collapsed into bed beside her. "Not going to ask me what happened?"

Grave grey eyes met mine. "Do I need to?"

I considered. Warren Mears was really quite sincerely dead, and I didn't think Mrs. Mears would be troubling the police on our account. No one else dead, or not recently. "No."

"Well then." She traced the line of fingerprints across my throat - worth every bruise, to know she'd take my word, and that my word was worth taking. "Some errand. Done now?"

Christ, I was tired. "Yeah. Done now."

If I had a soul, could I convince myself I'd killed my mother because of what she'd become - a demon, unable to love? But I'm a demon myself, and it's not so simple. Do we kill the ones we love because they change, or because we can't bear to see who they've been all along? Not my purview, sympathy. 'S just... I had a mum once, whose son let her down.

I flung an arm around Buffy's middle, still so slender, and buried my nose in the nape of her neck. "Like I said, she's not a bad old bird when you get to know her. P'raps we could take her a casserole."

The End