"Well, well, what have we here?"
Annabelle froze, her heart pounding in her chest. She pushed Connor behind her, sheltering him with her body.
"Didn't think I'd run into a couple of juicy morsels like you down here."
It was one of them, but not one Annabelle had ever seen before. She'd dropped her torch when he'd spoken and couldn't make out much of his face in the dim light. She could see his fangs, though, as his mouth gaped open.
It went against every instinct she had to turn her back on the vampire. Shepherding the child before her, she made towards the little lip of platform at Down Street. But it wasn't easy to run in the well between the rails, and the vampire caught them easily. A clawed hand landed on Annabelle's shoulder and spun her about, while the little boy went sprawling.
Annabelle screamed, feeling cold breath on her face and hands pawing at the front of her jeans.
Then something in her went limp - resigned to its fate, as if it'd only been waiting for this moment. Which, she supposed, it had. She'd never thought it would be a stranger, though.
Her knees gave under her and she toppled backwards, down into the filth and grease of the rail pit, with the vampire on top of her.
"Belle, get up!"
Connor's un-childish voice was childishly insistent, and it spurred her at least to try to struggle. Jamming a hand flat-palmed into the vampire's nose, she brought her leg up, trying to knee it in the crotch. But all she got for her pains was a slap across the face and a heavy body pinning her down while a cold hand fumbled underneath her t-shirt.
"Uppity little bitch, aren't you?" The vampire's claws scored fiery trails across her bare skin. "Gonna teach you a lesson before I tear you apart."
Connor was still shouting when the vampire's fanged mouth came down on top of Annabelle's. She clamped her lips shut as the cold tongue tried to worm between them. Somehow that was worse – a more total violation – than the hand pushing up her bra and fumbling at her breast.
Suddenly, there was a spine-jarring impact all through the strange vampire's body. He went flying backwards, up and off her, his head colliding with the nearest rail.
Spike's gaze raked her over, then went to Connor. The corner of his mouth crooked up in a feral smile.
"Take the kid home, Belle," he said. "You don't wanna see this."
And he launched himself after his fallen opponent in a swirl of white hair and black leather.
Annabelle didn't want to see it. She already knew what would happen. She wavered to her feet, grabbed Connor's hand and dragged him back to safety. She was covered in soot and grease, there was a horrible dryness in her mouth, and the stinging of her bitten lips and the trembling in her limbs made her knees feel weak. It was hard to walk at all.
"You're shaking, Belle. Stop it."
Connor made it an order and an accusation at the same time, but she ignored him - God, she thought, she'd nearly been raped – just pushed him onto the platform and climbed up after him, then stumbled through the open door back into the dimly lit safety of the lair.
It felt like safety tonight anyway - which it didn't often - especially when they ran head first into Erroll, coming the other way. Erroll wrapped one cold, muscular arm around Annabelle and hugged her to his broad chest. Through the door behind them, they could hear the fight still going on. The strange vampire was screaming.
"Spike won't need no help," Erroll said, his deep voice vibrating through Annabelle's body. "But I guess I'll just make sure. You get Connor to his mama, Belle."
He let her go and, as if there were no hurry in the world, strolled through the narrow door, jumped down off the platform and disappeared into the dark of the tunnel beyond.
Darla! Annabelle's blood ran cold at the thought of Darla hearing about this. She'd blame her, she knew, for putting her precious son in danger. But it wasn't her fault! She'd just been obeying orders. Darla had said herself that Connor needed exercise, and Annabelle was to take him for a walk every night after the trains stopped running, and that's what she'd done.
For a moment, she actually considered abandoning Connor and running to where the minions nested, on the eastbound platform of the station. There was some kind of safety in numbers, she thought, even if they weren't exactly friendly.
But her feet knew better and turned to walk through the archway with its dirt-encrusted cream-and-red tiling and along the bricked-in corridor that walled off the lair from the stub of the westbound platform.
Darla's and Spike's room was there, and hers and Connor's. Connor was already hauling her in that direction.
During the day, the trains thundered past behind the confining wall every few minutes, but just now it was silent, the dead air full of dust motes in the narrow vault-like space.
Annabelle turned, to see Spike and Erroll standing in the platform entrance. Erroll had the strange vampire's battered body in a fireman's carry over his shoulders while Spike was locking the door from the inside.
That done, he said to Erroll, "You and the others have fun, mate. Take your time. The Gravids'll be by tomorrow to empty the meat locker. They can have him if they want him but until then, he's all yours."
Erroll grinned, winked at Annabelle over Spike's shoulder, then went off at a hip-rolling easy lope towards the eastbound platform.
Spike walked towards her then, and as usual, Annabelle tried to resist the urge to cower down into a corner. Which was weird in a way, since Spike was the only vampire at Darla's court who'd never threatened her with violence.
Even easy-going Erroll had his limits, she'd long since discovered.
She couldn't help herself, though. Watching Spike approach was like being stalked by a big cat, even though he wasn't that much taller than she was. He was showing her his human face with the knife-blade cheekbones and the shock of peroxide curls. He was good-looking, she supposed, though men like that - the delicate sort who looked like they might be queer – weren't her type at all.
She liked tall men, big-built, like her brother Harry's rugby-playing friends. They were solid. Dependable.
They didn't scare her.
Spike stopped in front of her and put one hand on the wall next to her head. His face was inches away from hers. His eyes were so blue – the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. Just for a moment, she almost thought he might kiss her.
"You all right, Belle?" he said.
His voice was almost as deep as Erroll's. She swallowed hard and nodded.
His gaze slid away from her at once and down to Connor, standing at her side.
"How about you, rugrat? Not hurt, are you?"
"No, Papa. I'm fine." The little boy sounded as eerily self-controlled as always. "I want to go to Mama now, please."
"Right you are, mate."
Spike stooped and swung the child up onto his shoulders. Then he reached out and took one of Annabelle's hot hands in his cold one.
"Come on, love," he said. "She'll hear about this soon enough anyway. Best if she hears it first from me."
Not even Connor's real father was king.
But it wasn't as if Spike didn't sometimes speak to Darla quite rudely. He'd even call her a bitch to her face, and roll his eyes and wink at Annabelle behind her back when she was fussing too much about Connor, which was almost always.
"Come in, Spike."
Darla's voice always sent chills down Annabelle's spine, even though it sounded so sweet and girlish. But it sounded just the same when she was torturing people who'd displeased her as it did when she was talking to Connor. The sweetness meant nothing, as Annabelle had learned the hard way.
The room – and the one that Annabelle shared with Connor that opened off it – was windowless. The concrete walls protected it a little from the constant roar of passing trains during the day, though everything would still shake and you'd have to shout to make yourself heard. There was less of the omnipresent dust as well, which was a good thing.
Annabelle hated the dust – more so since Spike had told her that a great deal of it was made up of human skin and hair. The very thought made her flesh creep and wish that, like the vampires, she didn't need to breathe.
Darla had had the room made nice, with a big bed – big enough for at least four people, Annabelle often thought – all piled up with lace-covered pillows. The linen was changed every day. Draperies made of sari pieces that Ravinder had brought from Southall hung from the ceiling, the rich colours and gold embroidery glowing in the lamplight.
There were no mirrors, but a flat screen television with DVD recorder and PS2, which were Spike's, took pride of place on top of a chest of drawers. The huge wardrobe was stuffed full of clothes that belonged to Darla. She went for the classics mostly, like Annabelle's mother's friends – designer, but a bit old-school. Occasionally, she'd wear something long, flowing and timeless, like the pink thing she had on now. It clung to her body, outlining her curves, and her pale flesh glowed like pearl against the warm coral colour. She'd been combing her long blonde hair and the sheer fall of it framed her face as she looked back at them over her shoulder.
Annabelle heard Spike sigh a little. In spite of the name-calling, she knew he loved Darla to distraction. That's what he said: to distraction. It was sort of sweet and old-fashioned, the way Spike himself was sometimes.
Darla put down her hairbrush. Her gaze swept from Spike to Annabelle to Connor, then back to Spike.
"Trouble?" she said. She had an American accent.
Spike shrugged. "Nothing I couldn't handle. Had ourselves a visitor. One of us. Stupid bloody tosser should've known better. Attacked our Belle when she was taking the rugrat for his constitutional out in the tunnel. They're both okay, though."
Darla's eyes flashed yellow, and for a moment her vampire features overshadowed her beautiful human ones as if they were straining to get out. Annabelle flinched. She took a half-pace back before she could stop herself but Spike's grip on her hand was implacable.
"Wasn't Belle's fault, love," he was saying to Darla, his tone suddenly tinged with irritation. "I was there watching and I never smelt the bastard until it was too late – and besides, you said she was to do it. Maybe it's best if, from now on, they just walk around the lair? Never know what you'll bump into out there in the tunnels, this time of night."
Darla's features settled slowly, as she brought the turmoil within under control. Then she held out her arms to Connor. "Come and give mama a kiss, baby."
Connor went to her at once. He was always very obedient to her, which was one of the most disturbing things about him, Annabelle often thought, considering the way he behaved otherwise. When he was close, Darla gathered him into her arms, heedless of the filth on his clothes from where he'd fallen in the rail pit. She kissed him fiercely and he kissed her back. He nuzzled her neck as well, and when he moved away a little, Annabelle could see the imprint of his baby teeth in the soft skin of his mother's throat.
She shuddered and looked up furtively at Spike, in time to see him grimace, as though the sight didn't surprise him but he didn't quite like it.
But Darla's bout of maternal feeling was soon over. She pushed Connor away from her and said, "Go to your room and play," which again he did without question.
Darla's gaze swung round to Annabelle. Her pupils expanded like a predator's in the dark, and there was a deadly anger in them.
"Go clean him up," she hissed. "And if you risk my son like that again, I'll have you flayed alive, do you hear me?"
Annabelle's mouth dried up around the word. She sidled past Darla and into the other room, shutting the door behind her. Once inside, she sank down onto the floor and put her head in her hands. Her lips hurt where the strange vampire had bitten her, and she was desperate to clean her teeth and wash the taste of him from her mouth. She wanted to cry too and the only reason she didn't was because she knew Connor was watching with a look of avid curiosity on his face.
She was pretty sure that if Darla ever let him stay and watch when the minions were having their fun – which hadn't happened so far – his face would have that very same expression.
After a moment, she managed to compose herself enough to get up and pour two glasses of water, one for her and one for Connor.
"I'm not thirsty," he said, but she made him take the glass anyway.
"Your mother says you have to drink water, Connor. It's hot down here and you might get dehydrated. You know that, so drink it."
He sipped the water, looking at her over the rim of the glass. His eyes were blue too, but not like Spike's. Those were an intense, hot blue that reminded Annabelle of family holidays in Tuscany. Connor's eyes, on the other hand, were darker, indigo like a stormy sea – and cold; not like a child's eyes at all.
"Dehydrated is when you don't have enough water in your body. You can get ill," she told him. She had a strict list of instructions from Darla as to what Connor was, and was not, to do. Some of the things struck her as pretty stupid and contradictory but maybe Darla was reading the wrong childcare books -or more likely, too many of them.
Annabelle thought she probably had them all, and she seemed to read them obsessively, much to Spike's amusement.
Sometimes, though, they quarrelled about it. Annabelle had heard them. Spike had said that childrearing just came naturally and thinking about it too much was stupid, and Darla said that might be true of humans but it wasn't true of them; of vampires. Vampires didn't have children, except for her. Connor was unique.
Having been his nanny now for six months, Annabelle could only hope that was true.
The water finished, she squared her shoulders and took the child's dirty hand in hers to lead him to their little bathroom. It was best not to think about these things and just do what she was told.
But it was nothing new. Spike crossed the room, took the brush out of her lax grip and began to run it through the silken strands, over and over again, soothing her.
"She's not so bad," he said, choosing his words with care. "This is the first real trouble we've had since she came here and it wasn’t her fault, was it? I saw what happened. She tried to protect the kid. She put herself between him and danger. She's learning."
Darla's head moved with the gentle tugs of the brush through her hair. She'd dropped her concealing hand and there was a suspicious wetness on her cheeks. Spike frowned at the sight. He kept brushing.
"Why are you standing up for her?" Darla asked after a moment's quiet. "You haven't been interfering with the stupid little bitch have you, when I expressly told you not to?"
Spike laughed, though he couldn't say he hadn't thought about it, the girl being what she was.
"'Course not. She's not my type. Also, I am capable of obeying orders if I think they make sense. She's off-limits until you say otherwise. We all know that."
She sighed as he laid the brush down on the dressing table and began instead to massage her neck, digging his thumbs into what in a human would be pulse points, forcing her to relax.
There was a hint of uncertainty in her voice so he responded in a formal manner, to remind her of who she was. "Yes, Mistress?"
"I hate this," she said, after another pause, during which his fingers dug in harder, manipulating her head on its long slender neck, caressing the shell-like whorls of her ears from which two single pearls hung. "I love him so much. So much it almost hurts. I want to kill anything that dares to harm him -anything that touches him. Even that stupid girl, though I know we still need her. But I hate him too. I'm not supposed to feel this way."
"Maybe you are." He'd had plenty of time to think about the whole bloody business by now. "It's the prophecy, remember? Connor's the one all right – only makes sense. But he needs you to protect him until he's older – like John Connor in Terminator 2, yeah? Same name, even. He needed his mum as well."
She snorted. "More comic book references, Spike?"
God, she could be as clueless, he thought. As behind the times as... as the one they never mentioned.
"Anyway, if you didn't love him, you wouldn't care about him, and you have to care about him, don't you, if he's to fulfil the prophecy?"
He bent down and ran his tongue up the pale column of her throat. She tasted of perfume. He wondered how many times they were going to have to go over this, because he'd lost count and it was getting boring. He didn't want to believe in the bloody prophecy anyway.
"So do you think when he's old enough to fend for himself, I'll be back to normal – a real vampire again?" She was insistent. "This love thing – I don't like it."
He rolled his eyes, glad that she couldn't see him.
"Love's not so bad. Dru and me were happy with it anyway."
What else he had to say fell into the silence between them. At last she put her hand on his, stilling it, and leaned her head back against him.
"My William," she purred. "You got up too early this evening."
"Yeah?" He grinned, recognising the sultry invitation in her voice.
Suddenly, he swept her off the chair and into his arms, carried her across to the bed and almost threw her down on it. She bounced slightly on the mattress. But when he made to take off his duster she stopped him.
"Leave it on. You look good in it and I love the smell of it."
He grinned at her. "Yeah? Smell of dead Slayer, does it?"
She only smiled.
"Do what you do best. Look after me, William."
He hung over her, suspended on his forearms, taking a moment to enjoy the thrill of the forbidden. This used to be Angelus's place, and he still felt like an intruder.
His gaze raked down the length of her body, taking in the creamy swell of her breasts and the soft skin on the insides of her upper arms where she'd flung them above her head. Her hands were clutching the brass headboard.
"Your dress is dirty," he said, and she smiled slyly.
"Take it off me, then."
He ripped the dress open from neck to waist. Soon he had her writhing and whimpering beneath him, thighs splayed apart while he nuzzled between them, taking what he wanted and doing what he did best at the same time, and she no longer smelled of perfume but of family and home.
Spike had told Annabelle that. Then he'd had to explain to her what World War II had been about.
At school, she'd never had much interest in history, or in any of the other subjects except PE, though she'd diligently written up all the lesson notes. Not that it helped her grades, because she usually forgot everything the minute after she'd written it down. She wasn't any good at exams either.
The minions' room wasn't nice like Darla's and Spike's. They hadn't bothered decorating. They had their music – a steady mix of American hip-hop and classic soul, because that was what Erroll liked, and bhangra and songs from the Bollywood movies, which was what Erroll said Ravinder liked. Since those two were the alpha dogs in the pack, under Spike, and not minions at all, they always got their own way.
Annabelle couldn't help thinking of the vampires as dogs, because their behaviour reminded her of the ones at home. They'd sleep all huddled up together, and they fought over their food too – though Ravinder and Erroll always won.
Ravinder didn't like her. Annabelle had discovered that very early on. Ravinder was in love with Erroll and jealous of everyone who came near him. She didn't like that he was nice to her.
If Erroll wasn't around and she met Ravinder when she was out walking with Connor, Ravinder would just stare at her, eyes flashing yellow, and call her a stuck-up gori bitch. Gori just meant white girl, so Erroll said, but Ravinder made it an insult.
In spite of Ravinder, Annabelle went across to the eastbound platform in search of companionship quite often. The kitchen was there so she had to go there anyway when she was cooking Connor's food, but she'd sometimes make a detour and look in on the minions.
They could be in a good mood and not mind her, even chat with her almost as if she was one of them. But sometimes it meant she saw things she wasn't supposed to see – like the time they'd had some little kid in there with them. It was crying for its mother and they were all laughing and teasing it. Erroll had blocked her view with his big body and told her to get lost, and she had.
The mother was probably already dead, or hung up in the meat locker and close to death. She'd have been some beggar most likely, someone the vampires had picked up while riding the trains. Otherwise, they went hunting across the road in Green Park, only bringing back those who wouldn't be missed – rough-sleepers, gypsies, addicts.
The scum of the earth, Spike called them, and he'd make a face, as if at the memory of a bad taste in his mouth.
Once a week, a group of small, rat-like demons came by and emptied the meat locker. They were called Gravids and they had far too many teeth and horrible sharp claws. Spike said they ate everything, including bones and gristle, leaving not a trace behind. But they preferred their meat alive and kicking, and sometimes the vampires fed them titbits.
Spike had some kind of arrangement with them. A beautiful symbiosis, he said.
Annabelle didn't like to think about it. There were a lot of things she didn't like to think about. Spike had promised her she wouldn't end up in the meat locker – that when Connor didn't need her any more, he'd either let her go or turn her. But she wasn't sure whether to believe him. She didn't think vampires set much store by promises made to humans.
Anyway, Spike always did what Darla said in the end, and Darla didn't like her any more than Ravinder did.
She tried again not to think about it as she opened a can of baked beans and poured the contents into bowls, then put slices of bread in the toaster for Connor's supper and hers.
Connor was sitting at the table behind her. He was supposed to be building something with Lego but she knew he was watching her. That was what he spent most of his time doing – watching, staring, drinking things in, learning stuff he was far too young to know.
There was a thump against the wall that divided the kitchen from the minions' room and the sound of a muffled scream. Annabelle shuddered, swallowing sudden nausea. It seemed they weren't finished playing with that strange vampire yet.
She knew she oughtn't to care after what he'd done to her, but it turned her stomach all the same. Not so much what the minions were doing now, but knowing that tomorrow he'd be handed over to the Gravids, who would eat him alive, just like they had Justin a few months back.
"Is it ready yet?" Connor asked suddenly. "I'm hungry."
"Almost," she said.
The microwave pinged and she took the bowls out, jumped a little when the toast popped up – all sudden movements made her jump – and buttered it. She set Connor's plate in front of him and sat down opposite.
He regarded her coldly for a moment, then said, "I want a drink."
She wondered whether he did it on purpose – always waiting until she sat down before asking for something. She thought he probably did.
She fetched him orange juice, which he didn't like, as petty revenge. At least she had the power to make him drink it whenever he complained by invoking his mother's injunctions about a healthy diet. She didn't think he was scared of Darla exactly but her opinion mattered to him, and so did Spike's to a lesser extent, whereas her own didn't matter at all.
Of course, he'd seen lots of nannies come and go since he was a baby, though Annabelle didn't want to know where they'd gone. It was better not to.
They ate in silence. Connor was a neat eater, unlike most children Annabelle had come across during her nanny training. He never spilled food or drink down himself and he always chewed with his mouth closed. In a way, that made things worse.
After they were finished, she washed the dishes and put them away. The kitchen was a dismal place, all cheap plastic and formica. Spike said it was like something left over from the 1970s.
Hardly anyone used it except herself and Connor, though Spike and Erroll could sometimes be found sitting at the table, drinking tea or something stronger, and playing cards. All weirdly human and normal; but then the two of them were like that.
Erroll was Spike's. That meant Spike had made him a vampire. Once when she'd come on them unexpectedly, Annabelle had found the two of them kissing. She'd stood in the kitchen doorway staring, half of her revolted and wondering what Darla or Ravinder would say, and half completely fascinated. She'd never seen men kissing other men before and she was still very nervous round black people, even Erroll.
She couldn't imagine kissing one.
But somehow, the sight of Spike holding Erroll's big head between his hands, his pale thumbs stroking over Erroll's dark skin while his tongue was rammed down Erroll's throat, had made her feel another kind of discomfort altogether. Suddenly, she'd been wet between her legs and acutely aware of it, and at the same time, the two vampires broke off their kiss and two pairs of eyes, blue and brown, swung around in her direction.
Spike had inhaled deeply and grinned. Then he'd turned back to Erroll, setting a hand on his massive shoulder, just under the dusty black of his dreadlocks.
"Look at him, Belle." Spike tilted his head in Erroll's direction. "Isn't he beautiful? The moment I saw him in that club doorway kicking that pisshead in the bollocks I knew I had to have him."
Annabelle hadn't known what to say. Instead, she'd fled with their laughter ringing loud behind her.
Erroll had been a nightclub bouncer, but that was only to help out a friend, he'd told her, and no matter what Spike said, he'd never actually kicked anyone. His day job was as an electrician and Annabelle supposed that was the real reason Spike had turned him. They needed someone down here who could repair the generator and hook them up to the cables for Spike's TV. The minions had a TV too but they didn't seem to watch it much. Usually, when Annabelle had ventured into their room, it was showing only static.
"I want to go and sit on the bridge," Connor said, suddenly.
Annabelle was putting dishes in the cupboard. Her back was to the child so she risked making a face.
"The trains aren't running just now," she pointed out. "It's night-time. You won't hear those noises."
"I don't care," Connor said. "I want to go and listen anyway. I bet I'll still hear them."
"Maybe we should go and read books instead?" she tried. "We haven't finished Winnie the Pooh."
Connor got down from his chair and walked towards the door.
"I don't like Winnie the Pooh. It's a stupid story. I'm going and if you won't come with me, I'll tell mama."
And that was that. Annabelle followed him out of the kitchen, along the platform and up the other set of stairs – the ones that no one used and where the lighting was so dim she could hardly see her way - to the gaping space where the old lift shaft had been when this was a working station.
The shaft fell into the darkness below them, with the air-conditioning equipment from back in the war just about visible a little distance down. If you came here during the day, the noise when trains passed below was tremendous, the air sucking in and out through the holes in the concrete baffles with the pressure, like a giant breathing. Connor loved it, but Annabelle found it creepy, because sometimes even between the trains, you could still hear the sound.
Connor liked to sit in the middle of the metal walkway that crossed the shaft, legs dangling into the black abyss below, just listening. Sometimes for hours. Annabelle could do nothing but sit with him and wait till he was ready to leave.
The idea had come to her that there was something down there – something living, that only Connor knew about. She'd once told Spike about her fears and he'd looked at her oddly and said it was none of her bloody business, and she should just keep her eyes on the kid and make sure he didn't come to any harm. So it seemed if there was something there, it wasn't just Connor's secret.
Connor sat down. Annabelle sat beside him, within touching distance but not actually touching him.
She didn't like to touch him unless she had to.
Neither of them spoke and there was quiet that was never really silence. Far away, Annabelle heard another scream, this one long-drawn out, then cut off very abruptly. She glanced at Connor and saw his head tilt in that direction, drinking it all in. It was so hard to remember sometimes that he was only five years old.
With the trains not running, there was no pressure of air through the baffles to make the roaring noise, but in spite of that, Annabelle began to think that she, too, could hear something very far off, like a sort of sigh, coming from deep in the shaft.
She wondered how far down it went. Really, it ought to end where the platforms were, but something told her it didn't.
Her eyes wandered to the narrow metal stairway – more of a ladder - that snaked down from above and disappeared into the depths of the shaft. She hated that stairway because she was convinced that one day she'd see something terrible climbing up it and she'd be frozen in place, like in nightmares, unable to save herself.
After five minutes of sitting and listening, she was thoroughly spooked and desperate to go back to the relative normality of the lived-in parts of the station. But Connor seemed to have no inclination to move. He was sitting, staring downwards, and after a moment, he began to sing under his breath, his childish voice lisping slightly.
Annabelle didn't recognise the words. They sounded like a nursery rhyme but it wasn't one she knew.
"Run and catch, run and catch, the lamb is caught in the blackberry patch."
Suddenly, from far below them, out of the blackness, Annabelle thought she heard a woman laugh – a strange, sobbing sort of laugh, not a happy sound at all. Then she jumped as Spike's voice came from right beside her. She hadn't heard him approaching.
"Shut it, you little bastard," Spike snarled.
Annabelle had never heard him speak to Connor like that before – as if he hated him.
Connor went quiet but he didn't flinch, just stared up at Spike out of cold blue eyes. The air between them prickled with hostility. Then Spike shrugged, as if shaking off something he couldn't be bothered with any longer.
"Come on, mate," he said, to Connor. "It's not nice – baiting a caged animal," and he held out his hand to the boy.
After a moment's serious contemplation, Connor got up and took it.
"Sorry, papa," he said.
"I bet you are." Spike took a firm, but gentle, grip on his hand, and led him back towards the stairs. Soon, he'd tossed the child up into his arms and was tickling him, and Connor was giggling and squirming and – for once – acting just like a real child.
"You must be off your fucking trolley. You can't seriously mean to let him come here."
"Don't talk to me like that." Darla's voice was sweet as always but there was an edge to it. "You may be my mate, William, but that doesn't make you my equal."
"Mate - my arse!" Spike imbued the word with all the considerable disgust he felt for it. "What the fuck does that mean anyway? I'm not your husband. More like a bloody servant."
"Yes." Her voice was cold. "I'm the Mistress, Spike. I'm what my sire was. You're all my servants – all of you."
He leaned back in his chair, shoulders hunched, and glared at her. He never thought of himself as any kind of servant, and never would, in spite of all the bowing and scraping he did around her in public.
Her hand reached out, a delicate finger tracing a line down his face, pointed nail scoring the skin just a little.
"It's just that you are dear to me, that's all, and not expendable like the others. You're family, my sweet boy – family. And that means everything."
"They're not expendable to me. It took fucking ages to get that lot together."
He drummed his fingers on the table-top while he stared at her, suspicion eating at his mind like poison.
He wanted to believe her – to think that she really cared about him - and sometimes it was easy. She could be so tender, so soft in his arms, wanting to be comforted and held. But other times she could be a real ball-breaker.
It was strange, because back in the old days – the bad old days when Angelus had ruled the roost - he'd thought of her as the predictable one – the one whose thoughts he'd always be able to fathom. Not any more.
He gritted his teeth. "I forgot what's proper. I shouldn't have spoken that way to you."
"No, you shouldn't." She knelt up on her chair and leaned over the table to kiss him, her cool tongue sliding between his lips with practised ease.
"My beautiful William." She smiled her softest smile. "So precious to me – my knight in shining armour."
"Well, why won't you sodding well listen to me, then?" He had to press his point. "Mistress – Darla – letting him come here - we might as well stake ourselves and be done with it."
"I don't think so. I believe it's preordained."
He wanted to roll his eyes on hearing this and restrained himself just barely. It was hard being a pragmatist in a lair full of millenarians.
"Pre-ordained that we allow that wanker to know where we are and cause us unnecessary grief? Yeah – makes sense to me."
But his sarcasm seemed to roll right over her, with no effect at all. She kept smiling.
"Come now. Be kind, William. He wants to see his son. Besides, he's been searching for us for – oh, years. Now he has a lead, it's only a matter of time until he finds us anyway."
"And whose fault is that?"
He wanted to tell her he'd always known that letting that tosser Dracula come and pay homage was a mistake, but there was no point saying it. Instead, he picked up the two envelopes that lay on the table in front of him and examined them and their contents more closely.
Dracula's was postmarked from some godforsaken Romanian backwater, his covering note explaining why he'd sent on the other letter. The note was full, too, of repeated promises that he'd kept his oath and hadn't revealed their hiding place and for what little it was worth, Spike believed the old charlatan.
However, when Cousin Vlad started going on about how the desperation expressed in the letter he was forwarding had touched his heart as he hoped it would touch theirs, Spike could not only smell a rat but see its stinking corpse - and he didn't believe that Darla couldn't see it too.
As for the other letter, in the envelope postmarked from America, Spike held it to his nose and sniffed, trying to catch a scent. There was nothing, though – not even a hint of the man who'd sent it.
He put it down and looked at Darla again, searching for the familiar hint of madness in her eyes. Connor made her go funny in the head and she even knew it, yet she still trusted her own instinct.
He decided to go for the jugular.
"I didn't think you were stupid enough to want him back. Thought you said you could never trust him again. Forgotten that he's already killed you once, have you?"
"So that's what this is about?" Her voice held a note of triumph. "It's just petty jealousy, William, isn't it?"
"Nothing petty about it."
And wasn't that the truth? Spike couldn't remember a time when he'd been able to think of his long-lost grandsire without jealousy.
"He's not Angelus any more," he said, because he didn't know what else to say to convince her. "He has a soul now – the filthy old pervert- and he despises us lot who haven't. All he wants is the kid."
"You think I don't know that?"
Her voice had sunk to a hissing whisper. The overhead lights chose that moment to dip suddenly and then flare brighter again. Shadows chased themselves across her face, making hollows of her eyes, and just for second, she reminded him forcefully of her own sire, the Master.
He shuddered, thinking that the day might still come when she lost her terrible vanity and chose to stay in her true face, just as old Nest had done. He hoped he wouldn't be around to see it.
"When we're in bed together," he went on, "is it really me you think about – me you see – or him?"
"You're nothing like him." She smiled as she said it, perhaps to take the sting out of her words, or perhaps to rub them in harder, he wasn't sure.
"Not an arrogant twat, you mean," he said, bitterly. "Haven't got my head as far up my own arse as he has, that's for sure."
"Don't be crude!"
He didn't apologise this time. Instead, he came around the table, manhandled her off her chair and back against the wall, thrusting his knee between her thighs and then his hand. She hung there, pinned in his grip, not even trying to resist.
"You're hurting me," she said. "That's good." She'd gone soft-eyed and melting, as if at some pleasant memory.
"You think so?"
He bent his head – he didn't have to bend far – and kissed her hard. Her mouth was always so sweet, with the faint background taste of blood, like iron filings on the tongue.
"We don't need him," he said, when he let her go. "We don't need the old tosser. Write back and tell cousin Vlad you said to tell him no fucking way."
She didn't speak, just pulled his head down and kissed him again, and suddenly she was doing the manhandling. She pushed him until his knees met the edge of the bed and he tumbled backwards onto it. In what seemed like moments, she had him stripped, his arms raised above his head, hands gripping the headboard for dear life while she worked on him. And God, how she could work.
Soon, completely intoxicated, he'd forgotten everything else.
It was only later, when she lay asleep in his arms – when Connor came sidling into their room as he so often did and crawled into bed between them, pushing Spike to one side and squirming close to his mother's body, when the first train of the morning went thundering past making the room shake - that Spike realised she'd never answered him one way or the other.