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Family Reunion

Chapter Text

"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.

"Run, Connor!"

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."

"Belle!"

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.

"Wait, Belle."

Spike's voice.

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."

*

Spike knocked on the door before going in, as he always did. This still struck Annabelle as weird, since it was his bedroom too, but she supposed it was something to do with the fact that Darla was queen of the vampires – or mistress of them, Spike said – whereas he wasn't the king but only a sort of consort like Prince Philip.

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?"

"Yes."

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."

"What's dehydrated?"

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.

*

"She's stupid." Darla had picked up her hairbrush again but she made no attempt to use it. Instead, she put one hand over her eyes to shade them and turned her head away. She hated him to see her weakness where the kid was concerned.

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."

"Good."

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.

"William..."

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?"

"Movie."

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.

*

The minions all slept together in one room. It was the one that had been an officers' mess when the abandoned station had been used as an operations facility during World War II.

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.

*

Dracula's letter lay on the table between them like an accusation. Spike picked it up and read it again, then threw it down in disgust. He wanted to tear it in pieces.

"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.

Chapter Text

Darla didn't often call the whole lair together and when she did it was always for something important. Annabelle stood next to Spike behind Darla's chair. Connor was sitting on a cushion at his mother's feet. His knees were bent, and he was resting his chin on his hands, staring at the gathered minions. Annabelle knew that he spooked them even more than he spooked her. Most of them wouldn't even look at him. Instead, their eyes went from Spike to Darla and back again, awaiting orders.

Darla glanced up at Spike and nodded. He scowled – he'd been in a bad mood all day – but then he shouted: "All right listen, you lot."

The faces with their ridges and bumps and yellow eyes swung round in his direction with eerie synchronicity. Spike was in vampire-face too, as was Darla, which went oddly with her porcelain-coloured Whistles summer dress.

Annabelle could never get over how ugly they both were like this, when their human faces were so beautiful.

Spike's breath hissed through his fangs but just as he was about to speak, a train went rumbling through the abandoned station and the place shook. Spike grinned and cocked his head and the minions all laughed. When the noise receded a little, the atmosphere had lightened.

"We'll be having another visitor," Spike said. "Not such a formal thing this time, like it was with old Dracula. More of a family reunion."

"Who's coming, Spike?"

It was Ravinder's voice. She stood at the front of the group, next to Erroll. For a moment, her eyes were on Annabelle, full of deadly spite, but when Spike answered her question, her gaze swung round to him again.

"Angelus," Spike said, and when Connor turned around to look at him too, "Yeah, rugrat, your real daddy's coming."

"I don't want him!"

Connor's voice was a childish squeal of protest, but what else he might have said was drowned out by another passing train. In the meantime, Darla had scooped him up and set him on her knee. She was speaking to him but Annabelle couldn't hear what she said and when the noise faded away, Connor had gone quiet.

Darla addressed the gathered minions herself.

"I believe," she said, "that Angelus's coming here is an important part of the prophecy concerning the Miracle Child. He may be degraded now – cursed with a soul – but he's still a great vampire, a prince of our kind. Like my cousin Vlad Tepes, he should pay his respects to my son and take an oath of allegiance to protect him."

Annabelle saw the corners of Spike's mouth tighten. He didn't like this formal sort of talk, she knew. He wouldn't even let the minions call him 'sire,' which the ones he'd made were supposed to. She wondered if she dared ask him who Angelus was when the meeting was over. From the look on his face, probably not.

Well, Erroll might tell her.

Spike took over again.

"'Course we can't trust the bastard. He has a soul. He's not one of us in all the ways that matter. My guess is he's coming here with some notion of taking Connor away from the Mistress and scarpering back to Yankland. 'S'up to us to make sure he fails."

"Should she be listening to this?"

It was Ravinder's voice again, and she was pointing straight at Annabelle. "She's a human. You can't trust her either."

Spike looked at Annabelle, smiling. When he was in human form, his smile lit up his whole face. Like this, it just showed her how very sharp his fangs were.

"Belle's okay," he said, "aren't you, Belle?"

Annabelle found herself nodding before she quite realised what she was doing. Spike winked one lazy yellow eye at her, then addressed Ravinder again.

"Not gonna talk about the plans now anyway," he said, "and for the record, love –" and suddenly, his voice had gone cold, "don't question me like that again or, child of mine or not, you'll end up like Justin."

There was sudden, deathly silence. None of them had forgotten Justin.

Annabelle saw some of the minions take a step away from Ravinder, as if afraid they might share in Spike's displeasure if they stayed close to her. Only Erroll didn't budge. His big hand gripped Ravinder's shoulder so tightly Annabelle thought it must be hurting her.

The silence stretched on and on. Then, Spike said, "Oh, for..." and took a step forward.

Suddenly Ravinder dropped to her knees and bowed her head.

"I'm sorry, Spike," she muttered, through what sounded like gritted teeth. "I'm sorry, sire. Please forgive me."

Darla was smiling, Annabelle saw, while Connor was leaning forward with the same avid expression he'd had on his face when the strange vampire was screaming.

Justin had ended up like the strange vampire – trussed up like a chicken and handed over live to the Gravids. Erroll had told Annabelle afterwards that Justin had been stupid enough to kill an Underground maintenance worker and boast about it back at the lair. Darla had overseen the torture personally.

"He put Connor in danger, Belle." Erroll had said. "Spike's told us an' told us – don't mess with the staff down here. Justin didn't listen an' he paid the price."

Spike's 'arrangement' with Transport For London was another of those things that Annabelle didn't want to think about.

"Get up." Spike put a hand under Ravinder's chin and raised her head. Yellow eyes stared into yellow eyes. Annabelle saw Ravinder swallow hard.

"I didn't sire you so you could be a mouthy bitch questioning my orders, Ravi, love," Spike said. "I made you because you're clever and mean and a fucking brilliant hunter – same as when you were human. Remember that, yeah, and keep your sodding gob shut?"

"I will, Spike, I'm sorry." Ravinder got to her feet and faded back to Erroll's side. Erroll put his arm round her and hugged her against him, his hand like a shadow on her arm.

Ravinder had been a sort-of hunter when she was human, Annabelle supposed. At least, a corporate head-hunter, like Annabelle's own father, whatever that was exactly. She couldn't help feeling a little smug at Ravinder's discomfiture, but the feeling was soon gone when Ravinder's eyes met hers again.

Annabelle shivered at the malice she saw in them.

Darla had risen from her chair, which signalled the end of the meeting. All the minions, even Spike, bowed to her as she walked past them and down the stairs back towards platform level, leading Connor by the hand.

Annabelle stood, irresolute, not sure whether to go after them. Spike was talking to Erroll and the minions were scattering to their various tasks. Vampires always seemed to be hungry and no doubt there were hunting parties to arrange and send out later when it was dark outside.

As the room – which was really only a widened corridor – emptied out, Annabelle's eyes strayed in the direction of a spiral stairway. She could just see the bottom of it through a door at the end of the passage. She'd been down those stairs just once when she'd first been brought here. It was the only way out apart from the locked door on the eastbound platform that led onto the train tracks.

Up at the top was light and freedom, but it might as well have been a million miles away.

Suddenly, Annabelle's eyes filled with tears. She was going to die down here, she knew – drained dry by the minions when Darla was finished with her and none of them – not even Erroll – would help her.

She wondered if this Angelus person would be any different.

*

Annabelle would have crossed the road if it hadn't been for the Asian girl. Big black men scared her – in fact, all black people scared her. There'd only been two black girls at her school the whole time she'd been there and they hadn't been in her class.

Asian girls, though – there'd been plenty of those. Doctors' daughters – businessmen's daughters – even the daughter of a Q.C. who wore a turban. Her best friend in the lacrosse team had been Asian –a colonel's daughter, though Annabelle was never sure whether it was in the Indian Army or the British. At any rate, Asian girls were familiar to her so seeing this one walking along with the big black man as if they were friends made him seem less threatening.

It was Annabelle's afternoon off and she'd been for a walk in Richmond Park. It was the tail end of a glorious autumn day and the deer rut was in progress. She could hear the stags roaring off in the distance, which had reminded her of holidays in Scotland with Daddy and Harry. She'd felt quite homesick - and probably because of that, she'd stayed longer than she should have. Now the sun had set, it was getting dark and there was no one much about. It wouldn't be long before the park gates were closed to traffic for the night.

When she first saw the couple walking towards her she'd stopped, only resuming the fast pace she'd set when the sight of the girl had reassured her it was safe. It was silly to be scared, she told herself. Embarrassing. She hoped the black man hadn't noticed her hesitation. She didn't like to be thought rude.

She wasn't even going to look at them as she passed them, just duck her head and speed up even more, but then the Asian girl said, in a strong London accent that sounded sort-of put on, "Excuse me, miss – you got the time?"

Annabelle stopped automatically and looked at her watch, and at once, the black man grabbed her, one hand pinioning her wrists together, the other over her mouth. She tried to scream but he shook her so hard, she began to feel dizzy. He was really strong!

"Watch it, Erroll, she nearly kicked me." It was the Asian girl speaking. "Where the bloody hell is he?"

Annabelle twisted and bucked in the black man's grip and then the Asian girl came right up to her where she hung in his arms and her beautiful, delicate face suddenly went all bumpy and hideous. Her eyes slanted under the bulge of her forehead, yellow as sulphur.

"Keep still, you stupid little cow!" she hissed through enormous and very sharp teeth.

Annabelle did as she was told but only because she was so shocked – so utterly terrified – that suddenly she couldn't even move. Then there was the squeal of tyres and a car – a black BMW – sped up to them, screeching to a halt on the double yellow lines just by the park gatehouse. The car windows were tinted glass so Annabelle couldn't see the driver and she didn't get more than a glimpse of him – a flash of white hair, a pale hand with black polish on the nails gripping the steering wheel – as she was bundled into the foot-well behind the front seats. She felt someone get in beside her – a foot nudged her in the ribs quite hard – and then two doors slammed and they sped away.

"Better gag her." It was a man's voice – deep and lazy-sounding - which must be the driver's. Annabelle felt hard fingers press a piece of sticky tape over her mouth and then the same fingers winding more tape round and round her wrists. She tried to scream, afraid of suffocating, but of course she couldn't. The car jerked as they turned right and the Asian girl said, "Take it easy, Spike," which must be the driver's name, because he replied, "Shut it, love. Been driving since long before your time."

The Asian girl was sitting at the front, so it must be the black man whose foot was holding Annabelle down. Her nose was full of dust and she felt as if she was choking – even more so when a thick blanket smelling of dogs was dropped over her. All she could think of was that these people must be terrorists and they'd kidnapped her because of Harry or because of Daddy's work, though Annabelle didn't know exactly what it was Daddy did. She didn't want to think about how the Asian girl's face had changed. Maybe she'd imagined it?

They weren't going quite so fast now, as if the driver had taken heed of the Asian girl in spite of what he'd said to her. After a while, the driver said, "Well done, kids. You've made your old man proud."

The Asian girl said, "Thanks," though not as if she really felt grateful, and then a deep rumbling voice which must be the black man's, said, "Yeah, Spike, thanks."

"You two make a good team," the driver went on– and could his name really be Spike? "Knew you would – Beauty and the Beast."

"But which is which, eh?" the black man said and they all three laughed, though Annabelle didn't think it was funny. Now that the initial shock was over and she didn't feel so numb, she couldn't help starting to cry and her whole body shook with sobs.

"She all right?" the driver asked after a short silence. "Wouldn't want to go to all this trouble to please her ladyship only to find the new nanny'd bloody suffocated before we even got home."

A corner of the blanket lifted and through her tears Annabelle saw the black man looking at her. His hair was done in short dreadlocks all over his head and his face was sort of – well – She didn't know if it was friendly or not. She didn't understand black faces. He saw her looking and winked at her then dropped the blanket back in place. Dog hairs tickled her nose and made her want to sneeze, but somehow that wink had made her feel better. Terrorists didn't give people friendly winks, she was pretty certain. Soon, she felt a lot calmer and the wracking sobs faded to faint little tremors that she couldn't seem to help.

"Yeah, she's doin' fine," the black man said.

The driver put the radio on, and they started arguing about what to listen to. The black man wanted one thing, the Asian girl another. In the end, the driver said, "Bloody kids, who'd have 'em?" and turned the radio off again.

None of their conversation made any sense to Annabelle. The driver was talking about the other two as if they were his children, but they couldn't be related, could they? The way they all talked was very similar but more as if the black man and the Asian girl were copying the driver.

Maybe it was some sort of disguise? Annabelle didn’t know and now her head hurt, probably because of the dust.

"Reckon she knows what we are?" the black man said, after a while of just driving with a lot of stopping and starting at traffic lights.

"No way!" The Asian girl laughed nastily. "She almost pissed herself when I changed. Didn't you see?"

"Thought she handled it pretty well considering," the black man said."But then you'd expect that, I s'pose?"

"Yeah?" The Asian girl was starting to sound hostile. "She smells weird. I don't like her already."

"Fuck, yeah!" It was the driver this time. "That's not a scent you ever forget – like napalm in the morning – I love it."

They all laughed again, to Annabelle's further bewilderment. What did the Asian girl mean – saying she smelt weird? She was sure she'd used deodorant this morning, same as always. If she ever forgot, the Firbank children would be the first to remind her. She sniffed experimentally, but she couldn't smell anything except dust and dog-hair.

The car ground to a halt again and the driver muttered, "Bloody rush hour."

"Least we're goin' the other way from most of it," the black man said. He sounded quite calm and peaceable and his foot that rested on Annabelle's back pressed only very lightly. Then he said, "So you think this one'll last a bit longer then, Spike?"

"I bloody well hope so," the driver said. "Soon's we can pack the kid off to boarding school the better in my opinion."

"She'll never agree to that. Will she?"

The Asian girl sounded sceptical, and after a moment the driver sighed. "Nah, no sodding chance. Can dream, though, can't I? An' anyway, boarding school never did me any harm. The Empire was won on the playing fields of Eton, etcetera, etcetera."

"That was the Battle of Waterloo," the Asian girl said. "And the British bloody Empire's not so great from mine and Erroll's point of view."

"Yeah well," the driver said, "without it, we wouldn't be having this interesting conversation, would we, love?"

They all laughed again.

Annabelle was sweating under her blanket. Her nose was running, her eyes were streaming from the dust and her throat was dry. She was feeling numb again too. Maybe because it all seemed like a dream and any moment now, she was bound to wake up. Or maybe it was just the shock.

The driver switched the radio back on. The news was on this time. Annabelle didn't listen to the news much. She wasn't interested in it and it clashed with the Firbank children's bedtime. This time she listened though, desperate to hear a story about her own kidnapping, and that police were already searching for her.

But it was just the usual wars and bombings and goings-on in Parliament. The black man was whistling quietly to himself, which was sort of soothing. He leaned down to check on her again and this time he said, "Don't worry, darlin', we're nearly there."

"What did you call her?" The Asian girl exclaimed. "She's not your darling, Erroll. She's here to do a job, that's all."

"Bloody hell," the driver broke in. "Jealous bitch, aren't you? Erroll's just doin' his job, Ravinder, love. You do yours, yeah?"

There was a momentary silence and then the Asian girl – Ravinder – said, "Sorry, Spike," - again, not as if she really meant it - and the driver said, "I should bloody well hope so."

After that exchange, the atmosphere seemed to sour. The driver turned the sound up on the radio and no one spoke. The black man's foot rocked backwards and forwards on Annabelle's back, almost like a massage. She shut her eyes. She felt sleepy in spite of everything. Then the driver said, "Home sweet home."

The car stopped, though the engine was still running, and Annabelle heard the driver getting out. There was a pause, then the Asian girl said, all in rush, "God, he is so fucking up himself. I can't stand him. I love you, Erroll. I fucking hate sharin' you with him."

Annabelle heard the sound of people kissing, then the black man's voice said, "I have to share you too, darlin', remember?"

"Not really." The Asian girl sounded bitter. "I can't remember the last time he even looked at me. Maybe I'm not big enough or black enough for him?"

"That's stupid talk," the black man said, "and dangerous too, yeah? You know as well as I do Darla doesn't like him goin' with other women. Anyway, I thought you said you couldn't stand him? What d'you want him lookin' at you for?"

There was the sound of more kissing and then the black man said, "Just face it, Ravi, you are a jealous bitch, just like Spike said. You'd be jealous of anyone. Spike's our sire. We still have a lot to learn about bein' vampires, an' whatever you think of him he has been teachin' us."

"So what're you saying?" the Asian girl snapped. "That in the meantime he can do whatever the fuck he wants with us?"

"Spike didn't make the rules," the black man said. "We're vampires. That's just how it is."

"For now," the Asian girl muttered, in a sulky tone. Then she changed the subject.

"You gonna dump the car or am I?"

"You," the black man answered at once. "Big black man – stolen BMW – tinted windows - it's askin' to be pulled over by the filth innit?"

"Guess so," the Asian girl agreed. "But you keep your hands off her, hear?"

"Come off it, Ravi," the black man said, "she's off-limits anyway, you know that, or you would if you was thinkin' straight."

"Can't think straight around you." The Asian girl's voice took on a wistful note but then the car door opened and the driver was back.

"Right, then," he said, "the coast's clear. Let's be having her," and Annabelle felt herself being lifted out of the car, still wrapped in the blanket. Her strange detachment vanished at once and she tried to kick out with her legs, but one of the men had them tucked under his arm and she could hardly move them.

"Pack it in, love," the driver said, "less you wanna start your new job with a spanking."

Annabelle didn't know whether he meant it or not - especially as both he and the black man laughed – but she stopped kicking anyway. They must have carried her through a door, because it slammed behind them. Then they began to go down some stairs.

"Watch her head on the wall," the driver said. At that moment, a blast of hot air hit Annabelle in the face. Then there was a horrendous noise – a rattling and roaring that got louder and louder and then passed on, sucking the air with it. She knew at once where she'd heard that sound before but it'd never been so loud.

The stairs seemed to go on forever. Annabelle counted a hundred and three. Then they were walking along a flat area before going down more stairs and along again. There was a humming noise, like electricity in wires, and then a distant rumbling that grew to a deafening roar as another Underground train passed by below, much closer now. When it had gone, the driver muttered, "Bloody rush hour," again and the black man grunted his assent.

At last, they stopped and Annabelle heard someone knocking on a door. A woman's voice answered and the door opened. Beyond was a stuffy, almost airless silence and then Annabelle felt herself being lowered and the blanket was pulled back.

She found herself lying on a bed with three people looking down at her, and now the black man was the least frightening of the three. The other two – the driver and the woman – were both white. In fact, they were too white -both blond, the woman very beautiful and neither very tall, and yet they were terrifying. Annabelle wasn't sure what it was exactly – something about the eyes, his blue, hers green, that seemed to pin her to the bed and make her shake with fright.

By contrast, the black man looked solid and reassuring, and what's more, as her gaze swung round to him, he grinned at her and winked again.

"Is this her?" The woman didn't sound impressed. "She's not very old."

"Wouldn't be, would she?" The driver grinned and tilted his head on one side, and suddenly he looked beautiful too, and scary, and dangerous. More even than before. "She's got the qualifications, though," he said. "All of them. Mark my words, love, this one's got... potential."

*

Spike was smoking a cigarette on the steps of Eros. All around him, the lights and noise of Piccadilly at night – the flashing neon, the traffic, the crowds of people – wove their garish magic while he stood apart from them, a still point at the heart of a dazzling maelstrom. Earlier, he'd picked up a girl in a pub round the corner in Shaftesbury Avenue– some American bint looking for a taste of Eurotrash – and left her with a love-bite she wouldn't forget in a hurry. It had sated his appetite but done nothing for the turmoil of his thoughts. Nicotine helped better with that.

He took another deep drag, then threw the butt down on the pavement and started walking back along Piccadilly in the direction of the lair. With Erroll out hunting, he couldn’t trust the rest of the minions out of his sight for long. Ravinder needed watching, for one thing. Even though he'd sired, her, he didn't trust the bitch further than he could throw her.

She was useful, though – very persuasive. She had the best capture-rate of any of the minions, so bitch or not, he hadn't yet got to the stage of regretting that he'd turned her.

But she was too possessive of Erroll, that was the problem, and too ambitious, which needed watching. It was lucky for him, Spike thought, that there was no way Darla would suffer a woman as her second-in-command, or Ravinder might have given him a run for his money.

The thought of Darla and what she'd been up to behind his back made him angry all over again. It didn't help that he was passing St James's Church and churches always put him in a bad mood.

On purpose, he barged into a group of passing clubbers – big blokes with loud, over-bred voices, just asking to be taught a lesson – and a minute later was kicking some posh bastard's head in while the others lay sprawled on the pavement groaning. When he heard the sirens coming, he ducked down the alley next to the church and climbed up to the nearest roof to get a better look at the fun. From there, he could hear one of the victims telling the filth they'd been set on by a gang – at least eight of them – maybe even ten.

He counted the money in the wallet he'd lifted and smoked another cigarette. But once the ambulance had arrived and carted the injured off to hospital, there was nothing left to look at and gloom settled over him again.

He still couldn't believe Darla had done it, or make sense of her reasoning. After all, it wasn't as if they were humans just because they had a sort-of human kid, and Angelus didn't have any legal rights of access to Connor, even if he was his real dad. Spike thought of the last time he'd seen the old man – so Slayer-whipped it was hardly even funny – and grinned at the notion of Angelus taking Darla to court over visiting rights.

Angelus was such a pussy now he'd probably do it if he thought it'd work.

'Course, with his beloved Slayer dead and white hats all around the world in chaos because of the Slayer-succession crisis, he might have toughened up a bit, and Spike had said as much to Darla. Just because the old man had assured Dracula of his good faith didn't mean he didn't have a plan. Angelus had always been all about the planning – at least, until he got bored and wandered off, and that was the difference between him and his souled counterpart.

Angel – stupid bloody name! – didn't get bored, not where his self-imposed mission was concerned.

Helping the helpless! Spike remembered laughing when Darla had told him about it back when they'd been hiding out in Mexico, keeping below the radar so Angel and their other pursuers wouldn't find them. Mocking the sad old twat had been the only light relief he'd had during all the endless running and fighting.

All Darla's fault, of course – and yet, he couldn’t leave her then and he couldn’t leave her now. She had him wound around her little finger – in thrall to the glories of her quim. And it wasn't just that of course. There were other reasons too – to do with family and love and other things that made him bloody uncomfortable to think about.

He threw the still-burning cigarette out into the dark then jumped back down into the deserted alley. The shock of the paving stones against the soles of his feet jarred up through his whole body. He set out at an easy lope back towards the lair, past the glossy frontages of Fortnum's and the Ritz then across the road, dodging the traffic, and on along the north side of Piccadilly. But he couldn't get Angelus out of his head. When he'd last spent any length of time around the old man, it'd been hell – far worse than he'd ever imagined it could be, and with Angelus, he could imagine quite a lot.

God, it made him angry still to remember that he'd actually been pleased when Angel lost his soul – even though Angelus had been a total bastard. He'd even thought that maybe – just maybe, Dru was right this time, and they'd be a family again. But it'd been nothing like that. Angelus had ruined everything.

And yet....

And yet there was a part of him still that would always yearn towards Angelus's dark presence – his power, his physicality. Spike ran faster, remembering long-ago nights of sleeping in Angelus's arms and being woken by the trailing of fangs down the curve of his back and his sire's thick cock forcing its way into his unprepared body until flesh split and the scent of blood filled the air. He'd never admitted it out loud, but sometimes it had felt so good to belong to him – to be held caged in that overwhelming grip, one of Angelus's hands holding his neck in position for the bite while the other nursed him to completion.

He'd never felt so owned – so cherished – as he did then.

'Course, the bastard only did it so he could twist the knife harder later.

Spike slowed as he reached the corner of Down Street, feeling in his pocket for the key. The Pay Fair Mini Mart was still open and he needed more fags so he strolled across the road and went inside. Mr Asif was just starting to lock up and he jumped most gratifyingly when he saw Spike coming. He started to sweat almost at once.

"Evening, Asif old son." Spike spoke cheerfully, in spite of the way he felt. It didn't do to be rude to the neighbours.

"Good evening, Mr Spike. How are you?" Asif's voice trembled slightly and he wiped his hand across his forehead. His sweat smelt of coconut hair oil.

"Not too bad, thanks. You?" Spike ignored Asif's wavering answer and helped himself to cigarettes from behind the counter, along with the Evening Standard and a couple of pints of milk from the fridge. The rugrat might need some for his breakfast. Then in a fit of generosity - because when the neighbours were a known quantity, you had to encourage them to stay, didn't you - he threw down a fiver next to the till and clapped the terrified shopkeeper on the back.

"Missus doing all right?" he asked. "And those two lovely girls of yours? Not sent 'em back to Pakistan, have you, because I wouldn't like that – not at all."

"N...no." Asif's brown skin has acquired a waxy pallor. "I remembered what you said, Mr Spike, don't worry please." Asif had tried to get his family out of the country when he'd first learned with whom he was sharing the building, and Spike had made it pretty plain to him why this would be a bad idea.

"Good man." Spike exited the shop in a swirl of leather, enjoying the stink of fear he left behind him.

He stood still for a moment, looking up and down the deserted street, scenting the air and listening, making sure no one was watching, human or otherwise. Then he unlocked the heavy metal door in the middle of the ox-blood tiled frontage and slipped inside.

As always, the blast of air from below of the passing trains roaring through the abandoned station nearly knocked him off his feet. He closed the door with difficulty then made his way down the flight of concrete steps inside to the head of the old spiral staircase. The cast-iron structure was still quite beautiful in some ways, with the cream and red tiling on the wall beside it – very Art Deco. It pleased the buried aesthete in him and he was humming to himself as he ran down the steps, round and round the central column of the stairwell.

On the way, he passed the door that led to the generator room, then about half way down, the entrance to a corridor that led past ancient bathrooms with their wartime plumbing still intact, to a set of backstairs down into the lair, and finally, at the bottom, the one that led to the old lift-shaft, the brat's favourite spot for a bit of torture practice. The place was a maze all right, and like a maze, it had only one exit – well, two if you counted the door that led out into the tunnels, but that was only safe to use when the trains weren't running.

The toilets and sinks in the bathroom corridor had been broken and stinking when Spike had come to recce the place and there'd been no lighting save emergency bulbs in the stairwell, but he'd still been able to see it had potential, and if he could only find the right people to help him sort it, it'd make a more than passable lair. Besides, he couldn't say it didn't give him a kick to know he was dossing down somewhere once used as a bolt-hole by Churchill.

The station hadn't had a very long working life – a mere twenty-five years before it was deemed surplus to requirements. Still, Spike had fond memories of it dating from way back. It was here, maybe in about 1927, that he'd snatched a girl off the deserted platforms late one night and given her to Dru to feed on while he'd slowly strangled her with her long pearl necklace. He wasn't sure which of them had killed her in the end, but Dru had been so taken with the girl's little cloche hat that she'd finally agreed to have her hair bobbed.

He wondered what Angelus would make of the place – not that Spike was going to let him see around it. Would part of him be proud to know how well his child's child had chosen? What would he make of Spike's alliances with other interested parties, especially Transport for London? He'd sorted out the beggar problem for them once and for all, hadn't he? No one else had ever managed to do that.

No, it was a bloody brilliant set-up, Spike thought, even if he said so himself, and that brought him right back to the whole problem; which was that Angelus – no, he had to remember to call him Angel! – coming here could spoil everything.

He thought of Darla again. She said she didn't want the old man back, even if he lost his soul again– that Angelus, rather than Angel, would kill Connor like an unwanted puppy, which only seemed too likely. But Spike knew better than to think Darla was as indifferent as she seemed. Even if Angel was on the level – only coming to worship the Miracle Child, like he'd told Cousin Vlad - who was to say that Darla wouldn't beg him to come back to her the minute she set eyes on him? She'd loved him for a hundred and fifty years and that wasn't something that you just forgot.

"Fuck it!" Spike stopped short of the stairway down to track level and lit another cigarette, while he listened to a train going by. In an hour or so, the current would be switched off and the lair would go into silent mode, keeping its secrets from any passing maintenance workers.

He wasn't ready, he thought, to have Angel come and take away everything he'd built – take his woman back – maybe even his kid. The thought was bitter, considering what Spike had given up for their sakes. On the other hand – and he pushed away from the wall as he thought it and went on walking – maybe it wouldn't be that way. Angel wasn't Angelus and he didn't love Darla. Besides, hadn't Connor said he didn't want him?

Spike grinned to himself. The kid had trouble enough sharing his mum with Spike, let alone with his real dad as well. And maybe this needn't be so bad. If nothing else, he'd have the satisfaction of seeing the look on Angel's face when Connor called Spike 'Papa.'

Chapter Text

Annabelle had a secret hiding place. She couldn't use it often, what with being on duty all day every day – only when Connor was napping and the trains were running. If they weren't, there was no pressure of air blowing through the abandoned station to keep her scent away from the vampires and her hiding place hidden. It was an air-vent that could be accessed from the old electrical switch room on the eastbound platform and she was crouching in it now. If you came out of the kitchen and walked left towards the tunnel mouth instead of right to the stairway, the room was first on the left-hand side with an empty room beyond it. That further room had been done up as a guest bedroom when Dracula had come visiting and from her hidey-hole Annabelle could look through into it.

She could still hardly believe that she'd seen Dracula with her very own eyes, though he hadn't looked anything like she'd imagined. He was a lot younger for one thing, with long black hair – a bit like Marilyn Manson.

Spike had laughed when she'd said that to him. "The old twat's just as much of a drama queen."

Annabelle chewed a ragged fingernail and looked at her watch. She was supposed to be warming a cup of milk for Connor so she only had another five minutes at the most before someone came looking for her. It was good to be alone even for such a short time, cocooned in this small space with the illusion of a safe refuge. Sometimes, she imagined just staying in the vent. She imagined the vampires fanning out through the station to search for her and sometimes – if she imagined very well – they didn't find her and once the current was switched off at night, she somehow got through the locked door out onto the track and away into the tunnels, making it to Green Park before anybody caught her.

The first thing she'd do, she thought, would be to phone Harry at Sandhurst and tell him everything. Then the army would come down into the Underground and flush the vampires out. She wouldn't care, she thought, not even about Erroll.

She did sometimes wonder what would happen to Connor but couldn't raise much interest. He frightened her too much.

She thought of the children she'd looked after during her probationary period after graduating from Norland College. They hadn't been particularly nice children – in fact, one of them had been a little horror. However, at least they were normal. They acted like children were supposed to act. Anyone trained at Norland could deal with them, even someone like her who wasn't really cut out to be a nanny but was biding their time until something better came along.

Because something would have come along, she'd always known it. Right from when she'd been very young she'd had a feeling of being different – of being better somehow. The fact that she was bad at everything at school except games hadn't changed her mind either. After all, it wasn't as if she hadn't tried. She just couldn't remember things unless they were all written down and right in front of her. Not everyone could be good at exams.

She'd often thought that she should have joined the army too – straight from school, like Harry. There were clear rules in the army. They told you what to do, which would have suited her down to the ground.

She still had no idea why her parents hadn't let her. After all, it wasn't as if they wanted her around at home. One of her most lasting childhood memories was of sneaking downstairs after bedtime to fetch a forgotten toy, only to overhear her parents talking in the drawing room.

"Oh, do buck up, Fiona," Daddy was saying. "It's supposed to be an honour, according to old Wyndam-Pryce."

"What does he know?" Mother had sounded like she was crying. "He hasn't got a daughter, has he?"

There'd been the clink of bottles and glasses and then Daddy went on, in a sarcastic voice, "Another gin'll make it all better, I suppose."

"It certainly won't bloody hurt," Mother said. "Why can't you just leave me alone?"

They'd separated soon afterwards, Annabelle remembered, and somehow or other, she'd known it was all her fault – probably because they'd become so distant with her, as if they were afraid to care about her, though both of them spent loads of money on her, especially Daddy. She still didn't understand it.

She felt a vibration through the ground beneath her. A train was coming, which meant it was a good time to crawl out of her refuge before she got into trouble. Twisting her body around with difficulty in the enclosed space, she exited the vent back out into the switch room.

The whole place was shaking now as the train tore through the abandoned station at full speed. No one would hear her as she slipped out into the bricked up corridor that ran along the platform edge and made her way to the kitchen, where she was supposed to have been all along. Through the metal grilles in the wall, she could see the lights of the train passing and she thought of all the oblivious people on it, going home to friends and family. It wasn't fair! She hadn't asked for this.

She wiped the tears from her eyes – because she'd long since learned not to show any unnecessary weakness – and opened the kitchen door.

"Well, well, what brings you here, Belle?" Spike was sitting with his chair tipped back on its hind legs and his feet up on the table, reading the evening paper.

"Connor wants some milk," Annabelle said, quickly. "I've just come to fetch it."

He glanced up at her through his lashes. "Yeah? Come to think of it, the rugrat did mention it when I last saw him – twenty minutes ago."

She went to the fridge and opened it. Her hand was shaking as she took out the carton of milk and poured some into Connor's special mug with the cartoon monsters on it.

"I needed some air," she said, knowing it sounded lame. "I just went for a walk along the corridor and back."

"Short bloody walk." He was staring at her, and unnervingly his eyes didn't blink at all.

"I watched the trains going by for a bit." Her heart was thumping nineteen-to-the-dozen and she knew enough about vampires now to know he could hear it. It took all her courage to turn her back on him and put the milk to warm in the microwave.

When she looked up, he was standing right beside her. She screamed.

Instantly, his hand was over her mouth and nose, and at the same time another train went by. The floor shook, the cups rattled on the shelf, and that hard hand was smothering the life out of her. She struggled, but he caught both her hands in one of his and pinned her in place . She could feel her face going red and struggled harder and this time, he let go.

"Milk's ready," he said, as the sound of the train receded into the distance and the microwave pinged behind them.

She was panting and her legs were shaking. He'd never done anything like that to her before. His face – his too-pretty-for-a-man face with the crown of white hair – was smiling cruelly.

"Don't piss me off just now, Belle," he said. "I've got a lot on my mind."

"I'm sorry." It was the only thing she could think of to say. He leaned in close to her, sniffing her all over, like a vicious, white-haired dog. One hand brushed down the length of her body, then up and across her chest, ghosting over a nipple in passing.

"Hard as a bullet," he said. He sounded amused. "Fucking typical – and the smell – that's something special, Belle, I'll tell you. Should be a way to have it bottled."

Abruptly, he was gone again, across the room and out of the door with a sort of whoosh of displaced air. He gestured to the abandoned newspaper as he went and said, "No one's looking for you, Belle. You're stuck with us, you might as well get used to it."

The door closed behind him and her legs gave out at the same time. She sat down at the table and put her head in her hands and as she did so, she saw what he'd been reading. It was a tiny article on an inside page, with a blurry picture that she had trouble recognising as herself in her Norland College uniform.

Still no trace of missing nanny

Police say that all leads in the mysterious disappearance of Annabelle Gieves-Bowen have dried up. 19 year old Annabelle was in her probationary year as a nanny after graduating from the prestigious Norland College. She disappeared from her employer's home in Richmond six months ago and has not been seen since. Police believe that, after all this time, it is very unlikely that Miss Gieves-Bowen will be found alive.

Annabelle read the article through twice before she could make herself understand it fully. When it had sunk in, she took a deep breath and got to her feet. Her knees were shaking but she picked up the cup of milk and held it with care, so as not to spill it. For a moment, she stared down into the white liquid with unseeing eyes but then she blinked the tears away and followed Spike from the room.

It wasn't like it was real news, after all. She'd known for some time that she'd die down here and this just proved it.

*

Twenty minutes after the current was switched off, Erroll came out of the tunnel from the Green Park direction. He had the unconscious body of a young man slung over his shoulders. The youth's long, ginger hair hung down over his face, concealing it from view.

Spike opened the metal door onto the track and let Erroll back in to the abandoned station. They stood listening for a moment but there was total silence in all directions. The air was hot and stagnant now there was no wind in the tunnels to move it around.

"Where'd you find him?" Spike pushed the young man's hair aside to get a better look at him and grimaced with distaste at his undernourished appearance and the sores around his mouth.

"King's Cross." Erroll grinned. King's Cross was a good hunting ground, like all the mainline stations. "Down from Glasgow, I think he said –couldn't make him out at all – should've taken an interpreter."

"Bloody foreigners, 'ey?" Spike laughed and Erroll joined him. "Druggie?"

"Looks like," Erroll agreed. "Not much meat on him for sure, so any dosh he had, he's not spendin' it on food."

They began walking in the direction of the meat locker, which was the furthest room along on the eastbound platform – once the old signalling equipment room, now kept cool with small portable refrigeration units.

"We're running low." Spike opened the door and took stock of the contents. They were down to a couple of almost-drained victims, barely alive, and now just this ginger freak. The room needed hosing down as well. Currently, it stank of urine.

"Hunting'll be better come summer." Erroll, as ever, was the optimist. He set about stripping the unconscious boy, revealing fish-pale flesh dusted with freckles. "Well, look at that," he said. "A natural red-head."

Spike snorted with amusement. He watched while Erroll strung the limp body up in chains. It was tempting to snatch a bite to eat there and then, but it was always more fun to wait until they woke up and could appreciate it. Besides, the boy would taste better if they hung him for a while to let the drugs flush out of his system.

The two vampires contented themselves with finishing off one of the previous victims - some skinny little Gypsy tart – one of these so-called bogus asylum-seekers - though she was so far gone it wasn't a very satisfying meal. Spike was glad he'd had a snack earlier down at Piccadilly.

"Dunno how Darla can stomach a diet like this," Erroll said, when they were finished. "Maybe you should take her out, Spike – get her some untainted meat for a change?"

"It's not like I haven't offered." Spike had wanted to take Darla above-ground ever since they'd set up shop here but she wouldn't go. She said it wasn't safe for Connor to go with them and it wasn't safe to leave him here without them. Spike supposed she had a point.

"Fancy a drink, mate?" He waved Erroll in the direction of the kitchen, which was empty now except for them. Annabelle's scent still lingered in the room – the smell of fear, Spike thought, pleased – and the newspaper still lay open on the table. Erroll read the article and frowned.

"You really think they've given up lookin' for her?"

Spike shrugged. "Couldn't say. It doesn't seem likely, what with her being what she is. Was always a risk, mate, nabbing someone like that as the rugrat's nanny, but the Mistress – well, she insisted on the best and that's what we got her. She's already lasted twice as long as any of the others. Stamina, see."

He unlocked the cupboard above the sink and brought out the bottle of Jack and two glasses. Erroll had lived clean when he was alive – no drugs, no alcohol. He'd been a regular churchgoer too. Now he tossed back his drink with relish and wiped his hand across his mouth.

"Good," he said. "Okay, Spike, about this Angelus bloke – that's what you wanna talk about, yeah?"

"Yeah." Spike slumped a little in his chair. "He arrives at Heathrow in two days' time – tranked up to the eyeballs and flying cargo as per instructions, which'll hopefully knock the stuffing out of him."

Erroll nodded. His face had gone serious. "Ravi can borrow her uncle's van again and we'll transport him up top – closed coffin -bring him down the stairs after dark, like before with Dracula."

Spike lit a cigarette. "That sounds all right – and be bloody sure you do a full body cavity search while he's still out of it. Wouldn't put it past the bastard to try to sneak a weapon in here in spite of his promises. In fact, I'd expect it."

He tipped his chair onto its back legs again and put his boots on the table. "Ravi's uncle still hasn't twigged?"

Ravinder's uncle thought she'd run away from home to be with Erroll – a relationship of which her parents would most definitely disapprove – and had no idea she was a vampire now. There was no accounting, Spike often thought, for the human ability to see what it wanted to see.

"He's all right." Erroll grinned, showing big white teeth. "He bought the story 'bout us hook, line an' sinker. Doesn't like me one bit, but he promised not to say nothin' and so far, he's kept his word."

"Bet she can twist him round her little finger." Spike remembered his earlier thoughts about Ravinder. "Keep an eye on her," he told Erroll. "She's asking for trouble if she crosses me again."

"She won't." Erroll spoke hastily. "She's learned her lesson, Spike. I'll keep her in line."

"You do that. mate. She's bloody useful."

Spike took another drag on his cigarette and shut his eyes. He was tired, though that was a permanent state of affairs these days, what with living such unsocial hours and the endless noise of the passing trains. For a moment, he considered going to bed, burrowing down under the cool linen with Darla – maybe even waking her up and reminding her of just how pissed off he was. She'd probably love it, though – and that was the bloody problem.

He opened his eyes again to see Erroll watching him unblinkingly, waiting. Spike let his gaze drift over the broad dark face with its full mouth – the softly biteable lower lip. He stubbed out his cigarette and got to his feet. Then he walked round the table and sat down astride Erroll's lap. At once, two huge hands had grabbed his arse and were squeezing his buttocks together through the rough denim, and when Spike bent down to kiss him, Erroll's mouth was open and ready, tasting of JD and blood.

When Spike let go, Erroll held him still, one hand undoing his belt and flies while the other gripped him tight at the hip.

"Poor little white boy," Erroll said, his voice thick with excitement. "Can see what you need."

"Gonna give it to me, then?" Spike pulled away a little, drawing Erroll to his feet and out the door in the direction of the so-called guest room. In the normal way of things, he didn't mind being caught in flagrante but the thought of that uppity bitch Ravinder seeing him grabbing his ankles for Erroll didn't exactly thrill him. She had little enough respect for him already.

The room was bare and smelt a little dank and the bed where Dracula had slept on his visit had been stripped down but not remade. They undressed quickly and then Spike let Erroll take him – fast, brutal, with only spit for lube. He let Erroll push his face into the pillow – hold him down and fuck him hard, until his skin tore – bite his shoulder and drink his blood. It reminded him of Angelus and of what a bastard he'd been– and that was the whole point.

After all, it was one thing to be handled like a piece of meat and then afterwards to lie with the rough wire of Erroll's hair in his face, Erroll's musky scent in his nostrils, giving him a luxurious blowjob - his favourite child, he told himself, wincing at his own sentimentality, though it was the truth - and to know that afterwards the favour would be returned. It was quite another, when you ended up doing the sucking and the being fucked and got nothing back except a quick, rough fisting, which was how most of his nights with Angelus had gone, unless the tosser had some special itch he needed to scratch.

God, Spike thought. What a selfish bastard the old man had been!

He stretched, arching his body to drive his cock further down Erroll's throat, his hands in the big man's hair, caressing and encouraging. He was close and getting closer, but something was distracting him – a familiar scent lingering somewhere it shouldn't be.

Suddenly, he had it, and he smiled to himself. He kept his eyes fixed on the thick iron grille down at floor level that covered the air vent, imagining the girl still there watching mouth open, eyes round as saucers, until finally, with a sigh of exhausted release, he came in Erroll's mouth.

*

"Is everything arranged?"

Darla was filing her nails, her back to the door, when Spike entered their bedroom. He glanced at the closed door on the other side of the room, beyond which Connor slept with Annabelle. The girl might actually be asleep by now if she'd got over her earlier shock, but Spike was as certain as he'd ever been of anything that Connor would be awake and listening.

The kid gave him the creeps – had done since he'd first set eyes on him.

"Yeah."

He wasn't in the mood to be polite. Stripping off his t-shirt and jeans, he got into bed, turned his back on Darla and stared at the wall in front of him. The plaster was crumbling a little down in one corner and there was dust on the floor. He'd have to get someone to come and clean up a bit.

"Don't sulk, William," Darla said. "It doesn't suit you."

"Not sulking." He knew that he was. "Just fucking tired, that's all."

He felt the mattress depress as she got into bed beside him. Then she leant over him, inhaling his scent. He hadn't bothered to wash.

"You've been indulging your latest obsession, I see." She laughed – the bitch! – and he rolled over and glared at her. "Yeah, well, sometimes a man needs to get his end away without losing his balls first!"

She looked coolly amused by his outburst. "Dear me," she said. "You are still in a tear. I told you, Spike, I've no intention of taking Angel back as my lover. I don't want him, and I don't want Angelus either."

Her hand was on his shoulder, dainty and cold. He'd seen that same hand rip out a man's entrails while he still lived.

"Don't want him coming between me and you, that's all," he muttered, trying to be gracious. "Don't want him coming between me and Connor."

At mention of the boy's name, her face grew serious. "That won't happen," she said, and he wondered how she could be so certain.

"Kid is human," he ventured, "or at least, sort of. Stands to reason he'll want to know his real dad."

"No it doesn't!"

Her eyes had that wild look in them suddenly that he recognised all too well. He'd seen it every day for a hundred years, though not in her face but in someone else's.

"As far as I'm concerned, William, you are Connor's father. At least, you're all the father he needs. And after this, Angel will know that too."

"That won't make him give up."

Maybe, he thought, it wasn't too late to make her see sense. "He wouldn't sodding care if the kid thought he was Satan Incarnate. He'd still take him if he got the chance."

"Let him try," she said, then, and she smiled that icy smile of hers that made her look like her sire and that sent shivers down his spine. He took her hand in his and kissed it, staring straight into eyes green as a stormy sea.

"Mistress," he said. "I am but your humble fucking servant," and he grinned when she clipped him round the ear for insolence then wrestled him down and began to work her magic.

She was up to something, he realised – something he wasn't privy to. He ought to have remembered that capacity of hers to surprise him. After all, it wasn't as if it would be the first time in the last five years, would it?

*

"Brought us dinner, have you?"

Spike didn't know how Darla had tracked them down – didn't know how she was even back on this earth at all. Last he'd heard, Angel had staked her to protect his precious little Slayer. Yet here she was.

He hid his surprise as well as he could, because he'd learned years ago it didn't do to show weakness in front of her. Instead, he blustered to his feet, naked as he was, and leered at her.

She stood in the open doorway, through which wafted the stink of the overflowing latrines along the hall, and rotting fruit from the flyblown marketplace down in the street. The white-wrapped bundle she held in her arms wriggled, and feeble mewling sounds issued from it.

"Wanna toss a coin for first dibs?" Spike grinned, gesturing towards the infant. Her face changed at once, becoming ridged and fanged and hideous –the family resemblance with her sire was unmistakeable - and she stepped into the room, slamming the rickety door behind her.

"I need your help," she said, "and if you lay a finger on this child, I'll kill you, William – but first of all – I'm warning you – I'll kill her."

Spike had realised then that Drusilla was awake in the bed behind him, sitting up and holding the greyish-coloured sheets up to her pointed chin. She opened her mouth as if to speak but no words came out. Instead her eyes were fixed, as his had been, on the baby Darla held in her arms.

"It's him!" she said, voice edged with hysteria. Then, with a cry of horror, she pulled the sheet up over her face and began to scream and scream as if she would never stop.

"Dru!"

Spike forgot about Darla and the baby immediately. Grabbing hold of Drusilla, he pulled her into his arms and tried to soothe her. She'd been jumpy the last few days, rejecting all his gifts and going out to kill on her own, recklessly and with no heed for her own safety. When Spike had remonstrated with her, she'd laughed at him and told him she wanted to play while there was still time.

He hadn't known what she was talking about of course, but that was nothing new.

"Shut her up, William."

Darla had moved further into the room. The child in her arms was crying louder, as if in sympathy with Drusilla's screams.

"Dru!" Spike shook her again. Tearing the sheet off her, he saw that she, too, had gone into vampire face, the delicate ridges of her true features distorted somehow, as if she were having some kind of fit. She was rigid in his arms, her whole body shaking, and still the terrible noise went on, like a wounded animal in its death-throes.

He'd heard enough of those to know.

He glanced towards the door in concern. The sound of a woman screaming might not raise much interest in this part of Juarez but he couldn't take any chances. Nerving himself up, he drew his fist back and hit Drusilla as hard as he could, once, twice and then a third time. She went limp in his arms and he laid her down on the bed. After that, he had to wipe the moisture from his eyes with the back of his hand.

He didn't like hurting her.

"God, I'm so sorry, princess!" He straightened her limbs as well as he was able and covered her with the sheet. Her face was human again, a massive purple bruise blooming on one cheek. She looked pale and wasted as a flower in January.

Spike turned back to Darla. She was rocking the baby in her arms while it continued to wail. It sounded hungry to Spike's unpractised ears and he wondered why she didn't just kill the brat and put it out of its misery.

"What the fuck is going on?" He glared at her while he pulled on his jeans and t-shirt.

"I need your help," she said again. "I need you to find us somewhere safe to hide. There are people – things – after me, and they won't stop looking until they find me."

"What things? And what's with the kid? Emergency rations, is it?"

"What? No!" She'd bristled up again, managing to look quite formidable in spite of her lack of height and her dainty floral dress. "He's mine, William. My very own – that's why they're chasing me."

He shook his head. That was the last thing he needed, he thought – another crazy woman to take care of. But she seemed to be expecting this reaction because she went on at once: "I know you think I'm mad and maybe you're right, but he is mine, and what's more Angel is his father."

He had to sit down then. His legs had suddenly gone all weak at the knees and he had an uncontrollable urge to laugh. Soon, he was holding his aching sides and his face was awash with tears of laughter.

Darla didn't try to hide the irritation she felt at his reaction, but at the same time she put the squirming bundle down on the floor carefully – so very carefully. The next moment, she'd hiked up her dress and Spike found himself staring at her slightly rounded belly, across which, above the pubic region, a thin red line could be clearly seen. It was a precise, surgical cut – healing already but obviously deep when it had been inflicted.

"They cut me open," Darla said, and there was a note of wonder in her voice. "I'd tried to get rid of the baby so many times while I was carrying him and it never worked, but when the right time came, suddenly they were able to do it."

She let her dress fall back into place and picked the baby up again. It was still crying feebly. "That's when I knew they were right. He is special, and nothing can be allowed to harm him."

Spike had stopped laughing. He was staring at her. Abruptly, he realised his mouth was hanging open and shut it with a snap. Then he got up and advanced on her – slow and careful, he didn't want to spook her –bent his head and sniffed at the baby, then at her.

"Fuck me," he said, finally. He'd known ever since he became a vampire that while sight and sound might deceive you, a scent once known, was unmistakeable. She was telling the truth, no matter how impossible it sounded.

He was surprised at his first reaction, which was a pang of bitter jealousy flooding through his body like poison. Once again, Angelus had been able to do something that he, Spike – along with all the other vampires in the world – couldn't.

Bastard!

"Fuck you?" Darla was saying. "It's not outside the bounds of possibility, William, but first my baby needs some milk."

He swallowed down his hunger - he could smell the child's blood pumping just under its thin skin – evidence, if any were needed, of its unlikely humanity.

"You don't..." he said, then swallowed again, embarrassed. "You can't..."

"Of course I can't," she said, rolling her eyes. "I'm a vampire, William – same as you. My body is clinically dead. It can't produce milk any more than it could give birth naturally. Besides, it's disgusting." She made a face.

"Right, right," he said, though he didn't think it was at all as obvious as she seemed to. "There's a drugstore a few blocks away. Should be able to get what you need, yeah?"

"Good." She sat down on the bed, nursing the baby in her arms, and now it seemed she had eyes for nothing else. "Go get it then, William."

"Spike," he said. "It's Spike now – and if you want me to run errands for you, I'll thank you to remember that."

Her face was human again, and at his words, she raised her head, looking startled. Suddenly, she seemed very vulnerable. God, she was beautiful, he thought – even more so than he remembered.

"I'm sorry," she said, and she at least managed to sound sincere, "Spike – that's what I meant."

He shrugged into his duster, giving Dru a worried look. What the hell had just happened to her? Then he set off, closing the door behind him. Out in the smelly passage, he suddenly remembered about there being no water, due to the landlord not having paid the water company. You needed water to make up baby formula, he knew that much. What's more, you had to boil it, or the baby might get sick.

His hand was actually on the door handle to go back and tell her forget it, when he thought of something. There was a woman living in the apartment opposite – a prostitute with a young baby. He'd exchanged the time of day with her a few times in his rudimentary Spanish. She seemed a decent enough sort.

So why bother stealing all that baby-feeding paraphernalia when you could get the milk on tap for free? Of course, it'd be kidnapping and murder, because there might not be enough milk for two, but then he was as good at covering his tracks as the next vampire when he wanted to be and something told him the fewer people who knew about this miraculous baby the better.

Chapter Text

Today was the day. Annabelle was supposed to be listening to Connor doing his reading but she kept losing the thread of it and so did he. She felt very tense, though she didn't know why. Maybe just at the mere thought of change.

Things didn't change much in the lair as a rule. Darla insisted on Connor having a proper routine with everything by the clock, which suited Annabelle as that was what she'd been taught at Norland College. She got up when Connor did, which varied by a few hours from day to day so that sometimes they were awake in the middle of the night and sometimes during the day. She washed and dressed him and gave him breakfast. Then she was supposed to take him for a walk which, since the incident in the tunnel, meant wandering around the abandoned station and as often as not, spending a while in the old lift shaft listening to the eerie rushing of air as the trains screamed past below.

After that, Connor was supposed to have lunch and spend some time with his parents, which seemed to involve playing very violent PS2 games with Spike or watching TV. Then Annabelle was meant to teach him reading for an hour – it was no use trying to explain she wasn't a teacher and didn't know how- before he had tea and got ready for bed. Sometimes Darla would read him a story before bed and sometimes she wasn't in the mood and wouldn't, and that was about all the variation there was. It was all so weirdly domestic and like the routine in the house of Annabelle's employers from before she was kidnapped.

The Firbanks, too, had seen very little of their own children and when they did see them expected them to be perfectly behaved.

Today had started off no differently, but in spite of that, Annabelle knew today was the day the mysterious Angelus was coming. Erroll and Ravinder had disappeared the previous night and hadn't come back yet and everyone else was very on-edge. It had been the same before Dracula's visit.

"Go on." Annabelle gestured at the page Connor was supposed to be tackling. "What's that word?"

Connor had been staring towards the door of his bedroom. He could hear far better than she could, Annabelle knew. "What is it?" she asked, at last, when the boy didn't answer. Connor's storm-coloured eyes came back to her face. He considered her for a moment, stone-faced. Then he said, "He's here. He's arrived."

"Your father?" Annabelle hadn't meant to say the word but somehow it slipped out. She couldn't help flinching at the look on Connor's face.

"Angelus." The boy's voice was inhumanly cold to match his expression. "I want to go and see."

He didn't wait for her permission, but then he rarely did. He got up from his chair and opened the door into his mother's room. Hurriedly, Annabelle followed him. There was no sign of Darla or Spike and the door was open onto the bricked-in corridor beyond. Connor was across the room and gone in a flash. Annabelle ran after him, seized with the usual terror when he managed to get out of her sight. If anything happened to him, he wasn't the one who would suffer the consequences.

She caught up with him at the top of the stairs in the cross tunnel leading to the main part of the station. Grabbing hold of his hand tightly, she ignored his indignant look.

"You're not supposed to wander about on your own, Connor. You know that."

"If I want to," he said, with absolute certainty, "you can't stop me."

Annabelle bit her lip hard. She wanted to slap him. Instead, she took some deep breaths to prevent herself from squeezing his hand too tight on purpose.

"We'll see what your mother says about that," she said in her best stern-nanny voice.

Connor regarded her for a moment with his usual disconcerting self-sufficiency. Then he walked on, but now, as a vast concession, he allowed his hand to be held. Once, he paused, sniffing the air like a dog, then went on in the same direction.

A train passed below, the sound rattling loudly in the enclosed space of the cross tunnel. The vibration through the metal handrail made Annabelle's fingers numb. When the sound had receded, she could hear footsteps approaching. Then Connor stopped dead.

"Careful with it! Bloody idiot!"

It was Spike's voice. He and Darla were coming towards them followed by Erroll, Ravinder and two of the minions, Jez and Simon. Between them, Annabelle realised, the four were carrying a large wooden coffin balanced on their shoulders, like a party of sloppily dressed undertakers. Dracula had been brought into the lair this way too. The coffin was very unbalanced because Ravinder was so much shorter than the other three.

"What are you doing here, baby?" Darla came abreast of them, her eyes on Connor as always. "Mama said to stay in your room." She flicked a glance at Annabelle that promised trouble. Annabelle looked away. It didn't do to meet Darla's eyes.

"I wanted to see." Connor said. His own gaze was fixed on the coffin being carried past. He licked his lips and scowled. Then he said, "Why did you let him come here, Mama? We don't need him."

Darla squatted down in front of him so that their eyes were on a level and at once, Connor's gaze swung back to her and fixed there. There was a sort of communication between them, Annabelle had often thought, that didn't seem to require words.

"We don't need him," Darla agreed. She glanced back over her shoulder at Spike, who had paused the coffin-bearers nearby and was standing waiting for the order to continue. Darla lowered her voice even further and just then a train went by below. Annabelle doubted that even Spike could hear what Darla said. She herself caught only the very end of it. "We don't kill family," Darla was saying. "You know that."

That seemed to be some sort of secret code because Connor grinned rather nastily and said, "Yes, Mama. I remember."

"Good boy." Darla stood up again and held out her hand to him. Connor took it at once and the procession carried on, leaving Annabelle alone.

For one wild moment, she considered making a run for it. There couldn't be that many minions between her and the spiral staircase and if she ran fast enough, maybe they wouldn't realise until it was too late. She poised on the balls of her feet but then slumped down again. It was hopeless. After all, she didn't have a key to the door at the top.

Suddenly, she realised that Spike was still nearby, standing at the head of the stairs that led down to the platforms. His hair glowed like a pale flame in the dim light of the cross-tunnel.

"Don't even think it, Belle," he said. "You'll be dead long before you reach the surface."

"I wasn't." She tried to protest but she knew he must hear the lie in her voice. At any rate, he did that displaced air thing again and was at her side in a moment.

"I don't have time to waste on you now," he said, and his voice was deadly. "Just remember – you aren't the first nanny Connor's had and I doubt you'll be the last."

"I'm sorry!" She shut her eyes but the tears squeezed through her eyelids. She could hear him sniffing her again like an animal and she froze, shaking all over. Then he said, in a kinder voice – much more what she was used to from him: "S'okay, love. I know you are. Just do all right by the kid and you'll be fine, you'll see."

Annabelle risked opening her eyes again to find him smiling at her – the electric smile that lit up his whole face. In spite of herself, she smiled back.

"That's my girl," he said. He took her arm carefully, as if he didn't want to spook her, and led her towards the stairs down to the platform. She went with him. There was no point resisting and besides, he was being nice now and she desperately needed someone to be nice to her.

As they went down, they met Darla and Connor at the bottom. They were still holding hands.

"All settled, is he?" Spike asked, in a nonchalant tone.

"No thanks to you." Darla sounded a little on edge and Annabelle shrank back, putting Spike between them. Connor was staring at her, smiling, and that was almost as scary as the look on his mother's face.

Spike ignored Darla's rebuke. "Erroll didn't need my help," he said. "He's a competent enough bloke, love. Got the old bastard here intact, didn't he?"

"You just didn't want to see him," Darla's voice held a hint of a sneer. "He looks magnificent, Spike – just as he always did."

Spike had gone very still and Annabelle, pressed against his back, felt a faint shudder go through his body. She had the impression of some kind of game being played, one with which both vampires were only too familiar.

"He'll ruin everything," Spike said, suddenly. "I fucking warned you, you stupid bitch."

And suddenly, he and Darla were in each other's faces, glaring, all yellow-eyes and snarls. Darla had let go of Connor's hand and the child was standing a little to one side, eyes fixed on his parents' sparring as if it was a show put on for his benefit.

There was what seemed like an interminable silence while the two vampires bristled and Annabelle wondered whether to take Connor's hand and run before he got hurt and she was blamed. Then suddenly, Darla smiled – a hideous thing to see on her vampire face – and at the same time Spike's features did that weird sideways slide, becoming human again. He dropped his gaze.

"I'm sorry, Mistress," he muttered. "I'm a bad, rude man." He frowned and shut his eyes after he'd said the words, as if at a painful memory. Darla meanwhile shook off her own vampire features and took Connor's hand again. She put her other hand up to Spike's face to stroke his cheek. "I told you to trust me, William. You must do that or what use are you to me?"

"I do trust you," Spike protested, "just not...not around him." And he gestured in the direction of the platform beyond.

"Dear foolish boy." Darla's voice was silk - a caress. "It's around him you should trust me most. You'll see." Her hand lingered on Spike's face a moment longer and then dropped back to her side. "Come along, baby," she said to Connor. "Mama will read you a story before bed tonight, okay?"

"Thank you, Mama." Connor looked smug. As he and his mother went past them, Darla's eyes swung round to Annabelle, cold and green as a winter sea.

"You," she said. "Next time I tell him to keep in his room, make sure he does. Understand?"

"Yes." Annabelle kept her gaze on the floor until they were gone. She very much had the sense now of having eavesdropped on a conversation she wasn't supposed to hear, about things she didn't understand at all. She hardly dared look at Spike in case he was angry again.

He didn't seem to be, though. Instead, he shuddered all over, shrugged and grinned at her. "I need a cuppa," he said. "Coming, Belle?" And he led the way in the direction of the kitchen.

*

The girl was frightened and Spike could hardly blame her. She wasn't privy to all the sordid details and yet here she was, stuck in the middle of this whole cock-up, same as the rest of them. They walked along the narrow corridor that squeezed between the maze of rooms on one side and the bricked up platform on the other. A sudden gust of hot air through the grilles that lined the wall heralded the passage of another train. Soon, the transformers in the tunnel were screaming its arrival and it thundered through the abandoned station, whipping up clouds of choking dust that made Annabelle turn her head to the side and cough.

There was no way, hearing that bloody racket every five minutes that Angel wouldn't work out soon enough where he was.

Spike kept hold of Annabelle's arm. He led her in the direction of the kitchen, steadfastly not turning to look the other way – towards where Angel was locked in the so-called guest room. Erroll and Ravinder were taking the first watch and at least Spike could be sure their attention wouldn't wander. Some of the others weren't quite so reliable.

He'd already checked over the entrance to Annabelle's hidey-hole in the empty room next door and satisfied himself that Angel couldn't fit through it – not unless the old man had lost a lot of weight since he'd last seen him - but just in case, he'd double-locked the door.

Ravinder was looking at him, Spike knew, but he didn't turn and acknowledge her. She'd been brown-nosing like no one's business since challenging his authority, but he wasn't ready to let her off the hook just yet. He would have to soon, though.

This whole leadership thing was such a delicate balancing act. Push Ravinder too far and she'd be going behind his back to Darla before he knew it. He would rather have her on his side.

Jez and Simon were coming back up the passage from the direction of the meat locker. Jez was wiping his mouth. They paused outside the door to the minions' quarters to see if Spike wanted anything but he waved them away and they went inside. As if at the very thought of food, Spike's belly rumbled and he frowned, thinking about the nice fresh blood pumping through the veins of the girl who walked beside him. He hated all this self-restraint – would never have put up with it back when it was just him and Dru. Still, the locker was a bit better stocked at the moment – two or three homeless kids and some nutter that Erroll had picked up at Speakers' Corner busy telling the world and his wife they were all going to hell.

The bloke hadn't been wrong, Spike thought, pleased with the notion, just hadn't realised he'd be going there first.

"Make us some tea, Belle, love."

He sat down at the table and put his boots up on it, gesturing the girl towards the necessaries. She had a nice body, he thought, as she boiled water and spooned tea into the pot – remembering to swill it out with hot water first, of course – nice tight arse on her and long willowy legs. Her face was pretty ordinary, though – pudding-shaped and definitely on the pasty-side after six months living down here in the dark. Still, beggars couldn't be choosers and she'd certainly do at a pinch. It was a pity that Darla had put her off limits, but then that injunction itself had limits. They'd have to get rid of her one day.

Spike had toyed with the notion of turning her, but in the end decided against it. As far as he knew, no one had ever turned a Potential Slayer before and you could never be sure what would happen. It just wasn't worth the risk.

"You must be wondering what the fuck is going on," he said to Annabelle as she put his mug of tea down in front of him and then sat herself opposite, perching gingerly on the edge of her chair.

"A bit." Her blue eyes flicked upwards in his direction but then she looked down at the table again. She was scared stiff of him, which was good.

"It was rude of me not to explain before, love." Spike took a healthy gulp of tea – she'd made it just the way he liked it – then grinned at her startled face. He'd soon have her eating out of his hand again.

"You ever have break-ups in your family?" he asked. "Stuff like that? You know – everyone shouting at everyone else and stopping just short of murder?"

"My parents are divorced." She volunteered the information tentatively – still wary but with that very useful eagerness to please showing through. "It happened when I was eight."

"That must have been tough on you." All those years of watching soaps on telly came in handy sometimes.

She flashed him a grateful look. "I was at boarding school," she said, as if that explained everything.

"Yeah? Nice place, was it?"

She looked wary. "It was okay. Some of the lessons were – well, they were strange. Anyway, my parents sent me to a different school when they separated. They had a big argument about it and Mother won." She looked uncertain for a moment longer and then she said, "Mother was drinking."

"Families, 'ey? Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em." Spike took another swallow of tea and she did the same. Her eyes clung to his face. She was beginning to relax.

His tea mug had left a wet circle on the chipped formica table-top. Spike ran a finger around it for a moment, pondering how much to tell her – that whole balancing act thing. In the end, though, keeping her reassured – making her feel part of the family – seemed more important than keeping secrets. After all, it wasn't as if she'd live long enough to tell them to anyone outside.

"You know the bloke in the coffin is Connor's real dad?" he asked, and she nodded. She'd been there at the assembly after all. Spike allowed his disgust at the whole notion to show in his face. "Darla – the Mistress, that is – see, she made him. He's hers the way Erroll and Ravinder are mine."

"You mean she made him a vampire?" Her eyes were big as saucers now. She looked shocked. "So he's sort of like... her son?"

"Hardly." He grinned. "We don't make people vampires because we want kids, love. We do it because we want them full-stop, yeah?"

"Like you and Erroll." It was a statement of fact and he could see it had cost her to make it. Her face was bright red, which contrasted horribly with her strawberry-blonde mane of hair. He wondered what bothered her more - the fact that Erroll was male or the fact that Erroll was black.

"Yeah, like me and Erroll. And me and Ravinder, though it might not seem that way. Anyway, Angel's not like other vampires. He used to be, but then he got cursed by gypsies. They gave him his soul back and now he's stuck with a guilty conscience just like all you humans."

He paused for a moment then he tilted his head on one side and licked his lips, watching the minute changes in her demeanour – smelling the incipient virginal arousal. He could have her now if he wanted, in spite of what he'd done to her, and it'd be sweet. After all, he'd killed two Slayers but he'd never got to fuck one. "We don't have them, you see. Consciences."

She was still staring at him, as if mesmerised. "I know. Erroll told me."

"Still have our families, though – and our family quarrels. Connor – well, he shouldn't really exist. Vampires don't have kids like that – not the way humans do."

"He said he was the only one." She was paling again and all it had taken was mention of the kid's name. Spike could sympathise with that.

"So anyway, he's pretty special. There's a vampire prophecy about him – an old one written down centuries ago. I always thought it was a load of bollocks till I set eyes on him but...well, you've seen him for yourself."

She nodded and now – oddly – just for a moment, he wasn't playing with her any more. They really were in sympathy.

"His mum thinks he's this Miracle Child, sent to lead the world's vampires and make us rulers over it – and I'm inclined to think she's right."

The words were out there now. Spike realised that he'd never said them before – not out loud – not to anyone. He felt choked suddenly with the weight of his responsibility and with fear too at what Connor's rule might mean. He'd had long enough to think about it and he didn't always like his thoughts.

Still, plenty of time before he had to worry about that, and a lot could happen before then. For instance, with Angel stashed away just two doors down, it could all go arse-over-tit tomorrow.

The girl was still staring at him. She lifted her mug to her mouth and drank more tea but she kept her eyes on him. Spike took a moment to bask in the small exercise of power. Then he said: "Anyway, Angel – that's the kid's dad – wants to take him away from us – bring him up like a human – and we can't be having that."

"So why is he here?"

Ah, the six million dollar question – the one Spike had been asking himself for weeks now.

"He says he's accepted that he can't have him. He says he just wants to pay his respects, like old Dracula. You remember him, don't you, Belle?"

She nodded, looking slightly bemused. Of course, the old fraud's fame had gone before him, as usual.

The memory of Dracula's visit made Spike smile to himself all the same. Finally getting his eleven quid back after all these years had been something to remember all right. There was a lot to be said for compound interest.

"You don't believe him – Angel, I mean?" She wasn't quite as stupid as she looked, he'd noticed. He grinned at her.

"No, I don't – but we'll see what we'll see, won't we?"

He dismissed her then, sending her back to her charge looking slightly less scared and lonely – and that was a good thing. He didn't want her spooked so thoroughly that they had to kill her before they were ready.

He followed her to the door of the room and lit a cigarette – stood smoking it contemplatively while the trains rushed by outside. He'd often wondered if anyone noticed any funny goings-on from the windows as they went past, but maybe they'd put it down to tricks of the light. Of course, some of the drivers probably knew and Spike was pretty sure that these days the trains actually speeded up when they went through the abandoned station.

Cigarette finished, he ground the butt out beneath his heel and made his way down the corridor to pay respects of his own.

*

"Angel wanted to take him away from me." Darla was sitting next to Spike in the front seat of the De Soto with the brat held tight in her arms. She'd wanted him to get hold of one of those kiddie car seats but he'd persuaded her they didn't have time for such niceties. He was in a hurry to get to the container port in Altamira.

"Yeah, you said."

He gave her a sidelong look. She'd not impressed him with her sanity in the last few days. But she looked perfectly calm at the moment – too calm, maybe, considering what was after them. How these cultist tossers had tracked them down so quickly, Spike didn't know, but there was no way he was letting them take what was his. And Darla was definitely his now. She'd made that pretty clear. He couldn't think how he'd ever forgotten how glorious it was to fuck her.

The rest of what was his lay trussed up on the back seat next to the terrified wet-nurse, who was herself tightly bound and gagged. He'd have to steal food from the galley for the bloody woman all through the voyage, Spike thought, which was a pain, as was setting up the larder they'd need for themselves. He could do with a few minions to help with the donkey-work but he didn't have the time to make or train them.

He was worried sick about Dru as well. Ever since Darla and the kid had arrived, Dru had been impossible. If she wasn't ranting and raving, she was hunched in a corner singing to herself and crying like her heart would break. It was something to do with the baby, Spike knew it, and he knew that Darla knew it, and yet somehow he didn't tell her to piss off and take her unnatural brat with her. Instead, he fed Dru mandrake he'd taken from a local bruja whom he'd killed just for her stash of herbs. Since then, Dru spent most of her time asleep. She'd hardly fed for days and she looked terrible, pale and ill, like she had done after that business with the mob in Prague.

"They all want to take him away from me – his father – those cultists." Darla was talking again. "Don't they know who I am?"

"What do you mean?" Spike was keeping his eyes firmly on the road. He didn't want to give the traffic police an excuse to pull him over.

"I don't think you know who I am either, Spike."

She was looking at him now, instead of down at the baby. Out of the corner of his eye, Spike saw her face change to its vampire features.

"I'm my sire's heir," she said, in a solemn tone. "Head of the Order of Aurelius."

"What?" Spike turned to gape at her and was struck again by her resemblance to the Master. He'd always thought it uncanny, as if she were really the fruit of the old goat's loins. Now she even sounded like him.

"Watch where you're going!"

Spike realised he was steering in towards the safety barrier and swerved back onto the carriage way just in time. A huge tanker, horn blaring, thundered past them in the outside lane. The old car shook – and not just the car. Spike felt a tremor go through his own body – something familiar and unwelcome. He remembered being taken to visit the Master back when he was newly turned. He'd done his very best not to impress and succeeded rather too well, and afterwards Angelus had pretty much flayed him alive and then when no one was around to see, licked up the blood from his raw back and told him he was proud of him.

Apart from that, Spike remembered most vividly the claustrophobia of the Master's lair – the sense of being trapped deep underground with hordes of devoted minions between him and freedom. Vampires loved a charismatic religious leader the same as humans did.

"You know," he spoke carefully since he wasn't sure how sane Darla was right now, "I've never been the religious type and I don't mean to start now. The way I see it, s'all bollocks – a way of keeping the credulous in their place."

"I'll have to see what I can do to change your mind."

She sounded so confident it gave him the creeps. He supposed she could be said to have whatever god cared about vampires on her side, what with this miracle baby of hers. The baby was an uncomfortable fact that couldn't be ignored even by him.

He decided to change the subject.

"So, what'd he do to you? Angel, I mean."

When he looked at her again, she was back in human face - the Darla he knew once more. Or the one he thought he knew – beautiful and vulnerable, and desperate for his protection. There were actual tears in her eyes and that gave him pause, because he'd never seen her cry, not even when she'd lost Angelus.

"He didn't do anything," she said. "He didn't have to. I know he was going to kill me. He thought I'd harm the baby."

Her voice grew soft suddenly and she looked down at the sleeping child in her arms. "But then I thought I'd harm him. I remember I told Angel to do it – to kill me if he had to. It was the baby's soul, growing like a cancer inside me. It made me weak, like a human."

"So why didn't you kill it?" Spike really wanted to know the answer to this, because if she had, it would've saved him a lot of trouble.

She still had that soft, wondering tone in her voice. "I meant to. Those friends of Angel's were the only ones in the room – Wesley – he was the one who found the surgeon – and Gunn, standing guard over me while Angel was away sorting out money business. I should have killed them when I had the chance, I guess, but I was in too much of a hurry."

"Pity." Spike hadn't met either man and hoped he never would. Angel on his own was bad enough, let alone trailing an entourage of fawning human lackeys. "So what happened then?"

"The cultists – the same ones after us now - broke into the hospital to take the baby and while Angel's humans were fighting them, I took my chance and ran. I took the baby with me. I was going to kill it. I was going to leave its body for Angel to find, to teach him a lesson. Except...."

She fell silent. She was looking at the kid again - staring rather, as if she couldn't look away from it.

"Except what?" Spike prodded her to continue. He glanced in the rear view mirror to see that the wet-nurse was crying again, something she'd been doing a lot and which was really getting on his nerves. A quick look over his shoulder showed him that Dru was still out for the count, though, so that was something.

"Except – when I looked at him – really looked, I found I couldn't do it. He's mine, Spike, and nothing and no one is going to take him from me."

And just like that she'd gone all fierce mama-lion on him again. Spike put his head down and drove. He couldn't wait to get to Altamira.

*

When Spike entered the room, Angel was sitting on the bed with his head in his hands. He looked groggy still after the flight, the drugs and so on.

"Can't say it's nice to see you." Spike closed the door behind him and leaned against it. His legs felt shaky. "Still, at least you're not Slayer-whipped these days."

Angel's hands dropped away from his face at once. He looked haggard and ill-fed and his face was thinner than Spike remembered it, but still beautiful – oh, yeah.

"Sorry for your loss, by the way." Spike tilted his head to one side and grinned. He hoped he sounded as insincere as he felt and a lot more confident.

"If you say her name, I'll kill you." Angel's voice was bleak. He meant what he said. Spike laughed. Outside, another train thundered by and plaster-dust rained down onto them both. Angel's eyelids flickered.

"Yeah, yeah, I know it's bloody obvious where we are."

Spike fished into his duster pockets for his pack of cigarettes and took it out. He paused for a moment then held the packet out to Angel, who, after a brief hesitation, took one. Spike lit the cigarette for him, tensing slightly as Angel leaned forward, his cheek almost brushing Spike's hand. Angel glanced up at him and raised an eyebrow.

"Afraid to touch me, William?" He inhaled and blew out smoke.

"You never know – that poxy soul of yours might be catching." Spike pulled up a chair. He thumped down into it and for a while they smoked in silence. Spike examined his grandsire under his lashes, knowing Angel was doing the same to him. The old man might have lost bulk since Sunnydale but he'd grown in stature somehow in spite of that, and in spite of his situation, he looked annoyingly sure of himself.

"They sorted out this Slayer succession business yet, then?" Spike asked at last, just to break the silence. He didn't know whether Angel would answer him but nothing ventured, nothing gained. And it seemed Angel was in an expansive mood, because he leaned back against the wall and said, "Not exactly. The whole thing is snarled up in bureaucracy."

This was interesting. Spike's outside sources had been completely silent on the matter for months now and they were usually pretty good at worming information out of the unwary – and so they should be after all those years of sneaking around and living in the shadows.

"Yeah? How's that, then? I heard the Slayer after your one died in prison, so what's with all the hold up? Why isn't there a new one?"

"Faith didn't die." Angel's voice remained bleak. "She was killed because she insisted on serving out her sentence." He took another drag on his cigarette, then said, "The world needed a Slayer."

The tone of voice in which he said it gave Spike pause. He eyed Angel with suspicion, and Angel's dark eyes stared back, cold and assessing. Spike could see his death in them if Angel ever had the chance. He wondered what Angel could see in his.

"Fuck!" Spike said, after a moment. He whistled softly. "Didn't know you still had it in you, Angelus old son. How'd you get near her, then?"

"I used to visit her." Angel's voice was positively wintry. "She thought I was a friend – and the name's Angel, not Angelus."

"Nice one!" Spike ignored Angel's protestation and raised an imaginary glass to him. "Welcome to the Slayer-slaying club, mate. Took your time joining it, didn't you, but better late than never."

He tensed as he spoke, expecting a furious assault of some kind, if only verbal, but Angel continued to regard him like his future executioner and hardly reacted at all, except to say, "Forget it, Spike. The joining fee was more than I wanted to pay."

Spike laughed. It seemed having a soul meant tying yourself in all sorts of uncomfortable moral knots. "Well," he said, "someone had to do it, didn't they, for the sake of puppies and Christmas or whatever? Might as well be you. After all, there's no way you're gonna be washing out that damned spot from your hands any time soon, is there?"

Angel's expression didn't change but somehow he looked defeated suddenly – old.

"No," he said. "There isn't. At any rate, there is a new Slayer but it turns out she's Iranian and very religious. She won't take up slaying until she receives a fatwa from the supreme Ayatollah decreeing it's her Islamic duty."

"Bloody hell!" This got better and better, Spike thought. "So the old boy's not been forthcoming yet?"

Angel shook his head. The grim expression on his face said as clearly as words could have, that the girl would only be allowed so much time to prevaricate before she went the way of her predecessor. Suddenly, Spike felt almost sorry for Angel. It was obvious he'd got in way over his head with the Watchers' Council – doing their dirty work for them.

Probably, the sad old git thought of it as some kind of penance, or maybe a way of honouring his dead Slayer's memory. He should have known better. He might have a soul but he'd mortgaged it to others.

Spike leaned forward in his chair and put an earnest expression on his face.

"Why are you telling me all this? Token of your good faith, is it?"

"After a fashion." Angel dropped his cigarette butt on the floor and ground it out with his heel. The air in the enclosed room was blue with smoke. "Cousin Vlad did tell me you'd expect something in return for the honour of a meeting with the Mistress and the Miracle Child."

The words rolled off Angel's tongue easily enough, but Spike could tell he didn't believe in them. Nice to know the old man was still as much of a sceptic as he'd always been, barring the one funny moment he'd had in Sunnydale during that Acathla business.

"S'funny to think of you and old Drac swapping pleasantries," Spike said, grinning, and this time Angel grinned back.

"Kind of a surprise to me too. I'm glad I don't owe you money."

Spike laughed and Angel joined him – proper belly-laughter that for a moment took Spike back to any one of a hundred moments he'd shared with Angelus. There'd been some good times once upon a time, along with all the bad ones. He had to bite his lip to keep from running off at the mouth reminiscing about some of the run-ins he'd had with Dracula over the years. After all, this wasn't Angelus and no matter how forthcoming he'd been about the Slayer business, Angel was here with only one thing in mind.

"Yeah, well," Spike said, once the laughter subsided, "if dear old Vlad had only paid me my eleven quid back years ago, he wouldn't be going begging to his distant relatives for money in return for services rendered, would he?"

Angel looked up at him sharply, and at once, his face was deadly serious again.

"I don't know what you mean."

The room shook as another train thundered by, and Spike realised there must have been others in between and he hadn't even heard them. He stood up – not that being shorter bothered him; just that one time, it'd be nice to look down on Angel.

"Don't play games with me, Angelus. We both know why you're here, and it's not because you've brought the frankincense and myrrh, or whatever-the-fuck, is it?"

For a moment, Angel looked so angry that Spike thought he was about to go for him – either that or bawl him out for blasphemy – but he did nothing; just sat there, his whole body tense with fury.

As casually as he could, Spike lit another cigarette and blew the smoke in Angel's direction. "Just want you to know I'm on to you, that's all. You're not getting him back, mate. Kid belongs with his mum – always did – and when you see him, you'll understand why."

"He's my son," Angel said, then, putting heavy emphasis on the word. "He's human. He has a soul."

Spike knocked on the inside of the door and heard the key in the lock.

"He's your son, yeah. That I grant you. As for the other stuff – jury's still out on those."

The door opened and he slipped through it and out, leaning against it with his full weight while Erroll did the same - just in time, as Angel's body slammed into it at full vampire speed. For a moment, his fists pounded on it, but then he gave up.

"Trouble?" Erroll indicated the pounding with his chin and cocked an eyebrow.

"Not really." Spike realised he was shaking all over and jammed his hands in his duster pockets, hoping Erroll wouldn't see. He turned his back on him and began to walk away.

"If he gets out of there," he said, "kill him. Don't hesitate for a second."

Chapter Text

They'd been two days into the voyage when Spike had finally understood that Dru wasn't going to get better. He'd had everything well set-up by then – quite cosy in fact, with bedding and all the home comforts of a well-stocked larder. His Spanish was pretty rudimentary of course, but good enough to threaten in, and the harbour-master had understood well enough what would happen to his wife and kids if he didn't co-operate.

Of course, it had happened anyway, but that was neither here nor there, and at least they were together, one not-so-happy family.

No, the set-up was sweet. They had access to a refrigerated compartment in the next container where the larder was located, and primitive bathroom facilities in the one beyond. The chemical toilet already stank of course, but these modern container ships were fast. They'd be in Southampton in no time, Spike reckoned, and keeping the human stock, including the wet nurse, fed and watered wasn't too much trouble.

Dru, however – that was another matter.

Once they were settled, he'd said the spell and given her the antidote. She lay on the mattress he'd set down for her in the corner, looking pale and fragile as only Dru could. Spike stroked the dark curls back from her forehead and smiled when her eyes opened and she gazed about her, in childlike wonder. She seemed to have trouble recognising him at first, as so often. Instead, her smooth forehead creased in puzzlement and she whimpered a little.

"Where's my Mama?" she whined.

Spike hesitated. He wasn't sure whether she meant Darla or her long-dead human mother. It wouldn't be the first time she'd woken up and behaved as if she were still asleep and dreaming of those distant times. He'd learned from experience that the best thing to do was to ground her quickly.

"She's dead, love, remember? Dear old Daddy saw to that ages ago. How're you feeling?"

"My head hurts." As if to prove her point, Dru pressed slender fingers to her forehead then winced, as if the very contact were painful. "The naughty little cherub was sticking daggers in it."

Suddenly, she screamed so loudly Spike almost jumped out of his skin. Then she began to thrash around on the mattress as if she were in terrible pain.

"He's still here! Make him go away, Spike. He's hurting me so much."

She was twisting her body this way and that with such violence Spike was afraid she would injure herself. He put one hand on her arm to keep her still and glanced over his shoulder at Darla. Darla was pacing up and down in front of the terrified wet nurse, who was trying to feed the baby. It clung to her exposed breast like a parasite, and the woman was slumped back against the metal wall behind her, eyes shut, tears rolling down her cheeks. Spike wondered if she were thinking of her own dead baby.

It hadn't made much of a meal.

The blow to the jaw took him completely by surprise and he went sprawling, hitting his head on the metal wall. Dru was up and past him quick as a flash and across the space that separated them from Darla and the child. She'd gone into game face Spike saw, as he shook his head, half-dazed. He knew at once what her intentions were, and so, it seemed, did Darla. At once she was suited up too and moving to intercept. She leapt across the intervening distance and brought Dru down in a fair approximation of a rugby tackle, pinning her to the container floor.

Dru was still screaming and thrashing, rolling her head from side to side as if to block out some terrible sound that only she could hear. Darla seized hold of her hair and began to yank her head up and down by it, bashing it against the damp metal over and over. She was snarling, and just as Spike reached her, leaned down towards Dru to bite.

"Bitch!"

Spike kicked her away, only to find himself now the target as she grabbed hold of the edge of his duster and brought him down with her, rolling them so that she straddled him. He put up his hands to fend her off, while looking around frantically to see what had become of Dru.

Dru was up again, and crawling this time – not towards them but towards the wet-nurse and baby. As Darla's fist came towards his face, Spike seized hold of it and used its momentum to flip her over his head. Then he was up and after Dru, reaching her just as her hand was clawing at the wet nurse's leg, the long fingernails digging in and drawing blood. He added his own blow to the ones that Darla had already given her, and Dru went limp again. By this time, the wet nurse was screaming, loud enough to wake the dead, even though it was too dark in the container for a human to see much. Spike wished he'd thought to gag her.

"Callate!" He knew enough Spanish to tell her to shut up. She fell silent at once, gazing at him out of terrified dark eyes. Neither the woman nor the baby seemed to be harmed. In fact, the brat was still sucking away as if nothing was happening. Spike grimaced in distaste and picked Dru up in his arms. He carried her back to her mattress and set her down, moving her limbs with care in case anything was broken. Darla had done a number on her.

And speak of the devil, she was right behind him.

"Don't let her do that again, William, or I'll kill her."

Spike put himself between the two women. Dru was slumped on the mattress, eyes closed, breathing raggedly, in great panting gasps like a dying human.

"I'd like to see you fucking try," he said, but he wasn't sure he fancied the odds. He'd never seen Darla so close to the edge, all nerved-up, as if limned by lightning. The air seemed to crackle around her and he was sure he could smell ozone. When he'd known her before in his fledgling days, she'd always been the calm one – the one who'd look at him across the room and sometimes roll her eyes and give him a conspiratorial grimace as they listened to Angelus encourage Dru's latest flight of fancy.

There was none of that now. Instead, she looked as crazy as Dru.

"Why's this happening to her?" Spike asked. And then, because he knew the answer already, "It's the kid, isn't it?"

Behind him, Dru whimpered again – a terrible, broken sound that tore at his heartstrings.

Darla was still poised as if to attack, but after a moment she relaxed a little. Her face slid back into its human features, sweetly poisonous and beautiful as sin. Spike felt a familiar stirring in his loins at the sight that he just couldn't seem to help. It wasn't just her beauty. Somehow, she smelt of power, like a Slayer, and it was a real turn-on.

"She can sense his destiny," Darla said, with no explanation of who 'he' was, but then Spike didn't need one. "His future greatness. That must be what it is."

"But why would that make her act so crazy? Crazier?" Spike risked taking his eyes off Darla to glance over his shoulder at Dru. Dru was weeping softly to herself and muttering something about a destroyer and eternal darkness, which sounded...well, maybe not so good.

"Who knows?" Darla was straightening her dress. "Just keep her sedated, William. It's best that way."

"And what if I don't want to?" He was tired suddenly of Darla's assumption that he was there to wait on her. "Suppose instead I tell you to fuck off and throw you and that devil-brat of yours overboard? Dru and I – we don't need you. We've never needed anyone except each other."

She smiled and now she was doing her ice-queen act.

"That's not what Dru told me when she made me a vampire again a little while back."

Spike didn't let his guard down or his surprise show, as he risked turning his back on her to prepare another sleeping draught for Dru. It wasn't hard to make her drink it. Instead, she let him hold her head against his chest while she gulped the liquid straight from the bottle, as if she welcomed the oblivion it brought. He continued to hold her while she drifted off, stroking her face gently and whispering empty reassurances in her ears.

In the meantime, Darla wandered back across the shipping container. Spike heard her speaking to the wet nurse and then, when she got no answer, the sound of a slap and the poor bloody woman crying again.

By the time Darla came back, Dru was out for the count once more, the creases of pain smoothed from her face, though the bruises were turning livid. Spike laid her down with care and covered her with a blanket. He stood up, glad that he could at least look down on Darla, though the dainty figure she cut was so very deceptive. He motioned with his head towards the wet nurse, who was rocking the baby in her arms and singing to it in wavering tear-filled Spanish.

"You'd better go easy on that one, love, or she might not last the trip."

Darla scowled but she looked worried for a moment too.

"She doesn't want to eat," she said. "If she doesn't eat, she can't feed my baby."

"Well, slapping her around isn't gonna help. They get as scared as that, you have to be a bit gentle with 'em, see?"

And just like that, she'd gone all helpless on him too. Her eyes filled with tears again – the second time he'd seen her cry in as many days – and the next moment, she had her head buried in his chest where Dru's had been moments before.

"I just get so angry," she wailed. "He makes me angry, Spike. This shouldn't be happening to me. Vampires don't have babies."

He found he'd wrapped his arms around her, stroking her hair as he'd stroked Dru's, and shushing her as best he could. She was right of course. They were in uncharted territory here. He thought how much easier it would be if they could just kill the brat and be done with it, but in spite of her momentary weakness he knew she wouldn't allow that.

No, best to just revel in the fleeting sense of his own manliness that her going all soft on him gave him and sort out the practical stuff, like always. He was good at that.

"Come on, love," he said, after a while, when the only sound in the container was the breathing of the living humans and the faint drumming of their hearts – the kid's much faster than the woman's. "Let's have a seat and you can tell me all about it."

*

"So how's this gonna go?" Spike was sitting across the table from Darla again. It was late and the trains had stopped running for the night so he kept his voice down. Even though he knew it was stupid, he couldn't help thinking that if he spoke more loudly, Angel would hear them.

Darla was examining her perfect manicure. It should be perfect, Spike thought, considering how much time she spent on it every day. He didn’t think he'd ever met anyone so vain, except maybe Angelus.

"Like last time," she said, in answer to his question. "We'll gather in the meeting room and you can bring him there. He'll be allowed to see Connor but only from a distance."

"We'd better keep him in the dark about our numbers." He'd been thinking about this and it only made sense. "He doesn't miss a fucking thing. Never has done." She nodded her agreement and he relaxed a little.

"You gonna let him talk to the kid?"

"I don't know." She looked pensive for a moment. Then she smiled. "I might. It'll only make it harder for him knowing he won't ever see him again."

Spike examined his own fingernails, which unlike hers, needed doing. The black polish was all chipped. Carefully, he said, "He admitted it to me – to my face – that's what he'd come for. To take Connor away. He bribed old Drac to write to us for him – but of course that was only after Drac wrote to him, which Drac only did in the first place because we'd bankrupted the old tosser and he was after a hand-out."

It occurred to him there was something unpleasantly circular about this whole business but she only smiled. "I wouldn't expect anything less."

Spike wasn't much in the mood to argue with her after the fraught day he'd had but all the same, he had to speak up. "I still don't get it. Why take the risk? Even if everything goes off all right, he's twigged where he is. It won't take him long to go through a list of abandoned Tube stations and find out which one we're in. He has contacts, same as we do."

She was listening but she didn't say anything, so he pressed on. "At the very least, the moment we're shot of him, we'll have to move on – another hiding place – maybe another country. He won't give up – unless..." He hesitated. "Unless you're gonna let me dust him."

She'd gone very still.

"You think you could?" she asked, sounding genuinely curious.

He thought about it for a moment. On the surface of it, it seemed only too easy. Angel hadn't had any trouble doing the same to Darla for the sake of his nubile little Slayer, had he? It seemed only fair to return the compliment. And if that weren't bad enough, there was the time the bastard had set Darla and Dru on fire. That was bloody unforgivable in Spike's opinion.

All the same, thinking about it couldn't help but remind him of what it'd been like when the four of them had been a family, back before Angelus got a soul and started thinking he was too good for the rest of them. Of course, there'd been a lot of pain and blood and humiliation mixed in with the sheer joy of the hunt and the slaking of all kinds of appetites, but still...

"I could do it," he said, emphatically.

"Sweet William." Darla reached out and ran a cold finger down his cheek. "So loyal and true. But you've forgotten something, dear heart. We don't kill family. Your very own words."

He had forgotten, and her reminding him of it now couldn't be coincidence. The bitch was up to something, no doubt about it, and it looked like Spike would be the last to find out what.

"Don't look so angry, Spike." Her voice was cajoling. "I took what you said to heart, didn't I, in spite of everything?"

"Yes." He could hardly trust himself to speak and when she ordered him to strip and get on his knees he obeyed her like an automaton.

*

Later, when he was sure Darla was asleep, Spike slid out of the bed again. She'd used him hard and he was sore all over, his lips still puffy and swollen. Sitting down for the next few hours was going to be a bitch as well.

He dressed quietly and slipped from the room, making his way back along the corridor towards the eastbound platform. It was hot and the air was dead and still. He could hear voices out in the tunnel in the direction of Green Park – maintenance men repairing the sleepers, probably. They were talking in loud voices, as if to keep their courage up, and Spike had a sudden urge to shout something, or laugh maybe, just to scare them. After all, they must know something was up at Down Street. Until recently, it'd been used as an access point in case of emergencies – hence the good state of repair of the staircase – and now it just... wasn't. Instead, if disaster struck on this stretch of the Piccadilly line, passengers would be expected to escape through the M.O.D. property at Brompton Road.

It'd taken a shed-load of dosh to set that arrangement up but Spike considered it money well-spent.

He resisted the temptation to frighten the workers and went on his way. Part of him was dismayed that caution seemed to have become such a habit with him, but then he didn't have Angelus to annoy any more. Besides, he'd been the responsible one for Dru for a hundred years. Thinking of her still hurt, even after all this time, and yet he couldn't stop himself doing it.

He checked up on the guards – Jez and Simon now, both of them pretty reliable if not up to Erroll's standard – then made his way along the platform to the meat locker. At first glimpse, the contents weren't very promising but in the end, Spike unchained one of the homeless kids. This one was bigger than the others and still had some juice in him – enough that Spike had to knock him out to make him stop struggling. Still, she'd always liked them feisty.

He slung the boy's slight, naked body over his shoulder and went back the way he'd come, then up the other stairs, the unlit ones, plunging into the dark. The air smelt dank here – stale – but even so, there was some movement of air from below, the sound soughing through the concrete baffles in the old lift shaft. When Spike entered the shaft, he stood for a moment, listening, and sure enough, he could hear her singing.

Quickly, he climbed down the flights of rickety stairs that lined the shaft, until he reached the bottom. One flickering light lit the way into the lower tunnel – the one no one mentioned – and he tapped it impatiently with his finger. He'd have to get Erroll to repair it. Making his way along the tunnel, surrounded by the smells of damp and mould, he thought again what it must have been like to be stationed here during the war – bloody claustrophobic, that's for certain. The part of the tunnel he was walking through still bore marks on the walls from where metal bunks had been fitted to them. Churchill's bodyguard had needed somewhere to sleep.

Ahead of him, where the air was most dead – not fit to breathe if you were human – the tunnel opened out into one large room, most of which was taken up by a big metal cage, firmly padlocked. There were rats down here – big as cats, he'd seen them – but they never ventured into this room.

"Dru?" Spike stopped beside the cage. "I've brought you something to eat, love."

Dru had stopped singing. She sat as she usually sat, leaning against the filthy wall with her arms wrapped around her as if to protect herself. She didn't react to Spike's voice or look up. He bit his lip, feeling the tears start up in his eyes at the sight of her in such a state. Every time he saw it, he asked himself why he stayed here– why the hell he let her suffer this way. But he already knew the answer. There was a part of him that wanted to punish her for all the secrets she'd kept from him.

Still, he thought, as he took the key out of his pocket and unlocked the cage, he was nothing without her and once Darla didn't need him any more – and that day would come - he'd take Dru and go. He'd been warned it might be disastrous for her – finish her off for good – but maybe that wasn't true? Maybe she'd get better – as better as Dru could get – once she was away from the kid? He just wished he didn't have the nasty feeling that one day soon there'd be nowhere in the world far enough away from Connor for them to escape him.

Setting the homeless boy's body down, Spike locked the cage behind him and knelt down beside Dru.

"Sweetheart?" He brushed the dark hair back from her face but she didn't look at him. Instead, she stared off into some nightmare distance that only she could see. "Oh, love!" He kissed her forehead tenderly, then dragged the limp body into her lap. "See? Just for you – all young and succulent."

In actual fact, the kid smelt foul and Dru was far from the first one to have a go at him. Spike waited, hoping she'd take the initiative, but, as usual, she sat there and did nothing, though now she was making that strange, high-pitched wailing sound – the one that carried up the shaft so well – that didn't seem as if it could issue from a human throat.

After a moment, Spike realised that she wasn't going to help herself. He sighed with irritation, bent down and pierced the boy's jugular as daintily as he could. Pinching the wound so the blood wouldn't go all to waste, he smeared some on his fingers and put them to her mouth. "Here, love. You must eat."

At first, she hardly reacted, but then, slowly, she opened her mouth and began to lick. Pleased, Spike hefted the dying boy and offered him to her and this time she took him, gathering him into her arms with a rattle of chains and holding him to her breast while she fed from him in an eerie imitation of a mother nursing her child. Dru had always had a thing for kids, of course, but it gave Spike the creeps all the same, thinking about what had got her in this parlous state in the first place.

Still, beggars couldn't be choosers and at least she fed well. Soon, there was nothing but a cooling corpse across her knees, which Spike cast aside into the corner. The Gravids would dispose of it soon enough.

He took Dru into his arms, drawing her head down onto his shoulder and stroking her tangled hair. He'd tried to keep her clean and tidy for a while but she didn't make it easy. Instead, she'd backcomb her hair into wild ringlets, and push him away if he came near her with a sponge. Nowadays, he just gave her a cursory wash and brush-up whenever he had time and tried to ignore the smell of neglect around her.

"I'm so tired, Spike," she said, suddenly. "I wish I could sleep."

"You do sleep, love." He continued to soothe her. "I bring you your draft every day, remember?"

"No, no." She sounded impatient. "I wish I could sleep forever, like my mummy."

She began to cry and, as always, he didn't know what to do except hold her and rock her. "It'll be better soon, love, you'll see," he said, as he always said. "One day soon, I'll take you away from here and you'll be better again, just like you used to be."

"No." And suddenly, she sounded completely sane. He lifted his head and looked at her. Her pale eyes were luminous in the gloom. "He's eaten too much of me," she said, sadly. "I'll never be right again, Spike. Never."

"Oh, God!" He hugged her convulsively, eaten up by guilt. She could still do it to him the way no one else could.

"The father took the light away from me," she moaned, "and now the son is taking the darkness too, and I'm all alone, Spike. All alone where there's nothing."

"You're not alone!" He seized hold of her chin and tipped it up so she had to look at him. "You've still got me."

"Have I?" She touched his cheek. "My dear boy's gone all away, hasn't he - to her – to Darla. She never liked me having anything of my own."

"Bollocks." He was wishing this moment would never end but already he could feel her growing tense again. "I'm still yours, love, you'll see. You just have to be patient."

Suddenly, the hand on his cheek was claw-like and her eyes went feral. A moment later, she'd lunged forward and bitten him in the neck, worrying at the flesh as if he were her next meal rather than her saviour.

"Stop it, Dru!" He pushed her off easily, she was so weak, but when he tried to hold her again, her eyes rolled up in her skull and she began to shake all over in one of her fits. Quickly, he took the flask of mandragora out of his pocket and brought it to her mouth, the metal clashing against her clenched teeth as he forced her to drink it. Then, he held her thrashing body until at last she went limp again.

But she hadn't finished with him yet. As she drifted into unconsciousness once more, she whispered, "Tell Daddy I love him."

Chapter Text

Spike didn't discover the three of them weren't the only vampires on board the container ship until a few days after the incident with Dru. He'd gone scavenging for fresh food for the wet nurse in the crew's quarters one night and on his way back, had discovered the corpse of the ship's cat, stuffed inelegantly behind a pile of old boxes in the hold. Once he'd frightened off the rats that had alerted him to the body, he'd examined it more closely - because beggars couldn't be choosers – and found that it hadn't been dead long and that its body was completely drained of blood.

He felt the hair on his arms rise as if in a chill wind, though the hold was stuffy and hot like all the below-decks areas. He shook his head, bringing fangs and ridges to the fore and scented the air delicately. Underneath the lingering smell of salt and mould, human sweat and animal death, he sensed one of his own kind not far away, and one not family either.

At once, he went into stalking mode, prowling the empty corridors, ready to pounce at any moment. He already had a feeling he knew who – or rather part of what – the strange vampire would turn out to be since he'd already been chased by them half way across Mexico.

His prey must have got wind of his approach at the last moment because it made a break from its hiding place near the entrance to the container deck. Spike caught a glimpse of shadow moving and took off in pursuit, getting a further sighting of a black-clad figure disappearing round a corner and the faint patter of what sounded like bare feet. He followed warily, sensing a trap and baiting it at the same time by allowing himself to be heard. If the stranger thought him overconfident, it might get cocky in its turn.

All well and good, but he only just avoided the stake that came flying out of the shadows, aimed at his heart. It struck his shoulder instead, causing him to hiss through his fangs in pain, but he caught an outstretched hand, and then a vulnerable jaw with his own fist, and then threw himself on the stranger punching and kicking, not giving him any chance to retaliate. When his assailant was safely battered into unconsciousness, Spike licked the blood from his knuckles, put the stake in his pocket and bent to examine his find. It was one of the cultists for sure – dressed in their trademark formfitting black and with that fanatical look about him even when his face was bloodied and bruised into a shape wholly other than human.

He hefted the body over his shoulders and took it back to show to Darla. Stringing the stranger up in the cold store, Spike gagged him with his own ninja-style headscarf and left him to stew for a bit. Then he tidied himself up and strolled back into their temporary home as if nothing at all had happened. The baby was crying and the wet nurse was changing its dirty nappy. Spike wrinkled his nose at the smell, though with a diet of nothing but breast-milk, he had to admit the odour wasn't too bad. It was more the evidence of the child's contrary humanity that disgusted him. How the hell could such a being even exist?

Darla was pacing again, up and down, up and down, her eyes barely leaving the baby, though she made no attempt to approach it. She didn't care for the messy side of being a mother and she had little patience with the wet nurse when the kid cried for too long. As Spike approached, he saw the woman fumble, shut her eyes for a moment, then begin shaking all over, obviously near the end of her tether. He was beginning to think that putting her out of her misery as soon as possible would be doing her a kindness.

"Got something to show you." He went to Darla and took her arm but she shook him off the way she sometimes did, her eyes asking quite clearly how he dared touch her without permission. "Come on, love." He put a cajoling note in his voice. "You'll enjoy it, you'll see. You need something to occupy you, and hanging around here like this, you're just making the poor cow nervous."

Spike gestured with his head towards the wet nurse as he spoke then mouthed quietly, "Honestly, pet, with that face on you every time you look at her, you'll curdle the milk – or dry it up completely. Then where will we be?"

That gave Darla pause and after a moment and with an exasperated sigh, she followed him.

"What's this?" Staring at the trussed up cultist, she must have known even as she asked.

"Found him sneaking around outside," Spike told her. "Dunno how they tracked us. They're right fanatics, aren't they? "

"They are." She sounded afraid for a moment. "They were going to eat me alive."

"Nice." Spike patted her shoulder reassuringly. "Well, you can return the favour if you want with ninja-boy here."

"I need a knife." She held out her hand but didn't take her eyes off the hanging body.

Spike was pleased. "That's my girl." He went and fetched a butcher's cleaver that he'd liberated from the harbour master's kitchen back in Altamira, along with a nice thin blade to complement it, and left her to get on with it. Knowing her skills with both, he was glad he'd remembered to gag the stranger. The wet nurse was already spooked enough without being subjected to the sound of his blood-curdling screams.

Returning to the adjacent container, he found the woman had managed to settle the baby, now fast asleep in its nest of blankets. Spike smiled at her and made a rocking gesture with his arms and she nodded, looking reassured.

"Good for you, love," he said, and gave her the thumbs up and this time she almost smiled back. The softly-softly approach was a tactic he'd used so many times to bait the trap that it came as second nature now. It was so much easier to lure humans to their own destruction all soft and willing, though of course violence always had its place. The art lay in knowing when to use it.

Spike glanced over at Dru, who lay like the dead, and a pang of guilt went through him that he'd allowed this to happen to her. He still didn't really know why he hadn't just told Darla to bugger off. She was family of course, but generally speaking she'd paid very little attention to him back in the old days; just used him whenever she fancied a change from beefcake. It was all about Angelus with her.

But in spite of his guilt, he was still angry with Dru. He'd done his utmost best to make it up to her for that pact with the Slayer but she'd cheated on him and deceived him again and again. When she'd up and disappeared one night, he'd almost been glad because he'd needed a break from the drama himself by then. He'd found it too, in the shape of that silly bint Harmony. It'd struck him as ironic at the time that she'd turned out to be a former classmate of the Slayer's -so much so that sometimes when he shagged her he'd pretended it was little Buff herself, even though Harmony had much better tits than that skinny little bitch ever had.

You'd needed ear-plugs to live with her, though, and he'd been relieved beyond measure when Dru came back and promptly dusted her. Dru had been acting...odd, even for her. Spike could see that something bad had happened to her while she'd been gone, because her face and body still bore the traces of burning, but she wouldn't say what had caused it. In the end, he'd decided not to push his luck and stopped asking her about it. You never knew with Dru when she might get fed up and decide to take off again. Instead, he'd kept her distracted with parties and games and a great deal of sex, as rough as she liked it. He'd even blindfolded her and pretended to be 'daddy.' And yet, all the time, she'd been hiding so much from him.

Spike sighed. He looked from Dru to the sleeping baby – the cause of all their troubles - and then, as quietly as he could, walked over to the makeshift cot – a packing case with one side torn off – and knelt down beside it. He leaned forward, sniffing the child's body all over. It smelled as babies always did, sort of clean with a faint odour of sour milk. But beyond that, there was the unmistakable signature of the kid's unique scent, redolent of its mother and its absent father. Spike closed his eyes, allowing his features to change to their true aspect. He let his senses expand outwards along the sensory trails and suddenly they were all there – not just Angel and Darla but the Master and Dru, and even himself. The kid might look like a nice crunchy human mouthful but he was family all right. No doubting that.

Spike opened his eyes again and let his face slide back into human form before the wet nurse saw it and had another fit of the screaming ab-dabs. The baby stirred in his sleep, pressing his little fist against his mouth and sucking hard. He was a pale little thing – not one of these big red screaming babies – and suddenly, in spite of everything, Spike felt almost tender towards him. He reached out and ran a finger down one soft cheek.

"Hey there, mate," he said, "it's your Uncle Spike. You go on smelling that way and you'll be fine, you'll see. We don't kill family."

"No, we don't. Unless we have souls." Darla's voice behind him made him jump. Spike hadn't heard her approach at all, though he should have because the wet nurse was back to whimpering. Not surprisingly, he thought as he turned around and rose to his feet. Darla's light summer dress was spattered with blood and she was still holding the cleaver in her hand.

Quickly, he grabbed her arm and drew her away from the frightened human.

"Are you off your head?" And he was afraid she really was. The answer he got was a vicious backhand across the face followed by a passionate kiss that tasted of blood.

"I needed a break," she said, smiling, and at once, he felt a stirring inside his jeans.

"Not here." He manhandled her out of this container and back into the other, almost slipping in a big pool of blood on the floor. She'd cut the clothes from the cultist's body and that wasn't all she'd cut either. Spike winced and shuddered, meeting the bloke's eyes for a moment, which were bulging and glassy. She'd probably have those next, or maybe the skin. She had a delicate hand for work like that.

"I want him to watch," she said, and she laughed breathlessly. "I want him to see how magnificent you are."

Her hands were pulling at his clothes and he allowed her to strip him, though the parallels with what she'd done to the hanging body sent a chill down his spine. Naked, he braced himself against the wall, his senses all primed and ready as she began a sinuous slide down to the floor. He felt a thrill of anticipation mixed with sheer terror. Her cool tongue was already tending to him when he noticed their victim was no longer gagged.

"Wait." He put his hand on her head to stop her. "He told you something, didn't he?"

Her blonde head was resting against his thigh. She looked up at him and smiled the smile of a satisfied cat. "Oh, yes. For instance, I know they'll be waiting for us when we dock in Southampton – the whole bunch of them and their leader too – their potentate, they called him."

"Great!" He didn't even try to keep the sarcasm out of his voice, but she only laughed.

"Oh, my dear, sweet boy, you mustn't worry. The best and simplest way to neutralise a threat is to deal with it once and for all. My sire taught me that. You'll kill him, I know you will, and then his followers will either be mine or they'll be dead."

"How do you know that?" The certainty in her voice didn't reassure him about her sanity – more the lack of it.

She flicked her tongue against the wet pink tip of his member, sending a shudder all through his body. "I know," she said, "because of what I just heard you say. My son is the Miracle Child, William, just like they believe, but until he grows up he needs a father and that father is meant to be you. I saw you with him. You want to protect him, don't you? You feel his power."

"Bugger that!" he protested, but she only laughed again and began to subject him to her considerable skill. Spike shuddered and moaned, swaying on his feet, but all the time he kept eye-contact with the trapped cultist. The poor bloke's lips were crusted together with blood. Evidently, Darla was done listening to him.

When Spike came, she swallowed him down without hesitation and just for a moment, he had a feeling it wasn't just his spunk she'd devoured. His knees gave way and she caught him and held him against her, his head on her breast. When he looked up at her, her green eyes shone with passion and confidence, and at last, for the first time since she'd declared it, he began to believe she truly was her sire's heir.

,center>*

Darla had really dressed up for the occasion, Annabelle thought, like she had when Dracula came. Her chair, which was only some old office chair that Erroll had found in a skip, was draped with more of the bright silk sari pieces, all covered in embroidery, like the ones in Darla's bedroom. Darla herself wore a long red dress that clung to her sinuous figure, accentuating every curve. Her hair and make-up were perfect, as always, and her nails were painted the exact same shade as her gown.

Connor sat on the floor in front of her, on his cushion, a big gold-tasselled thing in plum-coloured velvet. Darla had ordered Annabelle to dress him all in black – black trousers, black shirt and black polished shoes. He looked like he was going to a funeral.

Annabelle herself stood behind them. She was wearing her Norland College uniform, complete with the little, flat-topped brown hat and the white gloves. It wasn't her actual uniform, of course, as she hadn't been wearing that when she'd been kidnapped, and it didn't really fit properly. However, Darla required her to wear it at what passed for formal events in the lair. Annabelle was firmly not thinking about where it might have come from.

Spike had gone with Erroll to bring this Angel - Connor's real father - from the guestroom. Most of the minions that Annabelle knew by sight were present, but some were probably out hunting, as always.

The minions were talking quietly among themselves, but then at the sound of approaching footsteps they fell silent, their faces turning as one in that direction. Annabelle repressed a shudder. Vampires didn't go quiet like people did. There were no suppressed coughs or shifting of feet. There was just total, eerie silence.

She didn't know what she'd been expecting in Angel - maybe someone who actually looked like Connor's father, with the same medium-brown hair and sea-blue eyes and the same delicately girlish features. But it became plain at once that Connor favoured his mother, because Angel was tall – taller than Spike by a head – with heavy features and dark hair and eyes. He was handsome – very handsome – and much more Annabelle's usual type, the big, rugby-playing kind. Spike was behind and to one side of him, and suddenly he looked delicate - almost frail - as if a strong wind could blow him away – next to the other man's muscle-bound solidity.

"Angel," Darla broke the silence. "So good of you to visit. I hope you're recovered from your journey?" She sounded like Annabelle's mother greeting a guest at a cocktail party.

"Stop." It was Spike's voice, speaking quietly, and at the word, Angel stood still. He was staring at Connor already and he barely even glanced at Darla. "I'm fine, thanks," he said, in an absent tone. He had an American accent too, though it didn't sound quite like Darla's. Suddenly, he squatted down so he was more at Connor's level. "Hey, buddy," he said, "how're you?"

Connor glanced back at his mother. Annabelle caught a sidelong glimpse of Darla's face and she didn't look particularly happy at being ignored. Annabelle remembered what Spike had said about vampires making other people vampires because they wanted them, not because they wanted children, and suddenly Darla's exceptional care with her appearance made a lot more sense than before.

"You can answer him, Connor," Darla said to the boy, and at the sound of his name, Angel looked up, startled.

"You named him Connor?" he asked in amazement.

Behind Angel, Annabelle saw Spike's hands clench into fists.

"Of course," Darla said. "It's what you wanted, isn't it? Your father's name, you said - though it's a little late to get in his good books now."

Angel's heavy brow drew down into a thunderous scowl and he opened his mouth to speak but then seemed to think better of it.

"Sure," he said, at last. "Thanks for honouring my wishes. So, Connor, how're you doing?"

All the while this exchange had been going on, Connor had been staring at Angel, his small, pale face its usual unreadable mask.

"I'm fine thank you," he said very formally, and Annabelle thought she saw Angel react with a little shudder of distaste to the child's strong English accent.

Angel looked sour for a moment but then tried to force his face into a friendly smile, which it didn't quite manage to bring off. "So what do you get up to all day? You get to go out at all?"

"No." Connor was still being eerily matter-of-fact. "I just stay here with Belle when I'm not with Mama and Papa."

Annabelle was almost certain that Connor had put a deliberate emphasis on that last word and she was sure that Angel noticed. He half glanced over his shoulder at Spike and the frown was back again.

"That's good," he said, "except that a growing boy like you needs sunshine and fresh air. Don't you miss those things, Connor, living down here like this?"

"No," Connor said again, and then he looked away from Angel, as if he'd grown bored with the conversation. He leaned back against his mother's knee and Darla began to stroke his silky brown hair.

"You see?" Darla said, to Angel. "He's being well-looked after and he's perfectly happy here. We have an excellent nanny for him."

And then Angel was looking straight at Annabelle. She felt herself colour up at once under his scrutiny. She didn't feel like an excellent nanny, especially since she disliked her charge so much. Suddenly, that fact made her feel almost guilty –something to do with Angel's brown eyes that bored into her, seeking – as it seemed – some kind of reassurance. She thought what it must be like for him, being separated from his son all this time, and felt sorry for him, even though he was only another vampire.

There was something else in his gaze, though – some special kind of earnestness that she didn't understand, as if he were trying to get a message across to her without being able to tell her what it was. She wondered suddenly if the article in the paper was wrong and her family hadn't given up looking for her after all. Perhaps Angel had seen them – talked to Harry, maybe?

"You gonna take the oath, then, or what?" It was Spike's voice, the words directed at Angel. "Thought that's what you came here for."

"Sure," Angel said again. "Whenever your mistress wants," and now he was the one putting emphasis on words. He managed to say 'mistress' as if it was something dirty – beneath his contempt – and somehow Spike was included in that.

Spike just laughed, though he didn't sound happy. "I'd watch it, mate, if I was you. And keep a civil tongue in your head."

"It's all right, Spike. He has a soul, I guess he can't help himself." Darla didn't sound as if she minded what Angel had said, but Connor sat up on his cushion and frowned.

It didn't seem to Annabelle that Angel was going about this meeting the right way at all, antagonising everyone, and she thought the same thing must have dawned on him because he changed tack suddenly.

"I'm sorry," he said, to Darla. "That was uncalled for. I admit, I was jealous. Your ...relationship with Spike is none of my business."

"No, it's not." And suddenly, like magic, Angel and Darla had created this intimate space around themselves, as if they were alone in the room. Annabelle saw Spike's fists clench again and Connor was still scowling. He turned around on his cushion, trying to get his mother's attention, but just for once, she completely ignored him.

"You gave up the right to interfere in anything to do with me a long time ago." Darla's voice was soft – almost nostalgic.

"I couldn't help it," Angel said. "I didn't ask for what happened."

"No," Spike cut in sarcastically. "An innocent victim, that's what you were – well, weren't we all, mate? Once upon a time."

Angel ignored him. Instead, he said to Darla, "You put up with that on a daily basis? You have more patience than I'd ever imagined."

Darla's lip curled. "It has its compensations."

"Mama!" Connor's high child's voice intruded insistently into the conversation. He didn't like being left out. Darla's gaze swung round to him at once. She scowled. "That's enough," she said and she snapped her fingers at Annabelle. "Take him away. Can't you see he's overtired, you stupid girl?"

"Sorry." Annabelle hurried forward, very conscious of Angel staring at her again. She took Connor's hand and tried to raise him to his feet but he was having none of it. "No! I want to stay with Mama!" And then he turned on Angel, his small, pale face twisted with childish spite. "I don't like you," he shouted. "I wish you were dead!"

"Connor!" Annabelle's heart was pounding in her chest. She knew from bitter experience that Darla would find some way to make this all her fault. Already, she looked furious and her eyes had that sullen gold glint that showed she was losing her temper.

As usual, it was Spike who stepped in to calm things. He walked round Angel's crouching figure, hoisted Connor up from his cushion, then set him on his shoulders in one fluid easy movement.

"Calm down, rugrat," he said. "Better let your mum and her ex talk it out, yeah? Sooner they do, sooner we'll be shut of him."

He began to walk away, motioning with his head for Annabelle to follow and she hastened after him. She risked a quick glance back over her shoulder and saw that Angel was looking at her, the dark eyes still boring into her trying to convey that silent message. She saw too that Ravinder, standing with Erroll in front of the crowd of minions, had noticed the look between them. The expression on Ravinder's face wasn't nice at all.

"Hurry back, Spike," Darla said. "I need you here."

"Yes, Mistress." Spike put the correct respectful emphasis on the word, but he didn't sound happy. Annabelle trailed after him back along the cross-tunnel, over the tracks and down the stairs to platform level. She was thinking about Angel and how she could possibly contrive to talk to him alone and whether it was worth the risk.

"Here we are then, kiddo." Spike deposited Connor on the bed in his parents' bedroom. "Want the telly on?"

Annabelle looked at her wristwatch. "He's not supposed to watch television after nine o'clock," she said, hesitantly. "Darla says it's not suitable."

"Bollocks to that." Spike switched the television on and began to flick through the myriad channels. "What the fuck does she know about bringing up kids anyway?"

He grinned down at Connor and Connor grinned back. They looked like co-conspirators now rather than the rivals they sometimes seemed.

"This looks okay," Spike said, at last. "Bit of mindless violence never hurt anyone."

He'd found some sort of horror film. A pretty blonde girl was being dragged screaming along the floor by something just off-camera. Annabelle turned away just as a horrible metallic whirring sound started up and the screams got louder and louder and then abruptly stopped

"Is it a film about the Gravids?" Connor asked, in a serious voice.

Spike was rummaging in his coat pockets. After a moment, he fished out a couple of chocolate bars and dropped them in Connor's lap. "Could be," he said. "When they do their stuff, s'a bit like that, only slower, and no chain saws. Also, they'd never waste blood that way. Here." He turned to Annabelle and threw something at her. She caught it automatically and found herself clutching a Mars Bar.

"Courtesy of Mr Asif upstairs," Spike said, and he tilted his head at her in that way that always made her catch her breath and shiver. "Relax, Belle. Just get the kid to bed before we come back."

"I will." She watched him go, unable – as usual – to take her eyes off him. He was easy on the eye, if you liked that kind of thing, but she also needed to keep track of the predator's movements.

"Papa's stupid to let Mama talk to that man." Connor spoke with his mouth full of chocolate but his eyes never left the screen.

"I don't think he has much choice," Annabelle said. "Also, you shouldn't talk about your father like that."

"He's not my father." Connor shrugged dismissively. "Not really – but I like him better than that other one. Him. I don't like him at all."

"He only wants to see you." Annabelle wasn't sure why she felt moved to defend Angel but she found herself doing it all the same. "It must have been hard for him to miss all the years when you were a baby."

The silvery light from the television screen lit up Connor's face from below and danced in his dark blue eyes. He looked up at Annabelle, expression adult and bleak.

"What would you know about it?" he said. "You're just a stupid human cow, and one day you'll end up like that." He pointed at the screen where another victim was getting the chainsaw treatment to the accompaniment of more horrific screams.

Annabelle realised her hands were shaking. She clutched the chocolate bar harder to hide it. Then she walked round behind the television towards hers and Connor's bedroom. "I'm going to get changed," she said.

Connor didn't take any notice. His eyes were glued to the screen.

Alone in the bedroom, Annabelle put the Mars Bar down on the bedside table and poured herself a glass of water. She was sweating but the sweat was cold and uncomfortable. She felt the faint vibration through the floor that presaged an approaching train and sat down on the bed under cover of the noise, put her head in her hands and sobbed.

She knew – she just knew – that if she didn't use Angel's visit as a means of escape – if she didn't even try – she would die just as Connor said. For a moment, she thought she was going to be sick and she ran into the bathroom and crouched over the toilet-bowl, retching miserably. When nothing happened, she put the seat down and rested her cheek against the hard plastic. She tried to think what to do but it all seemed so difficult – unless...

Abruptly, she got to her feet. She peeled off her white uniform gloves, rinsed out her mouth and washed her face and hands. Then she went back into the bedroom and tore the hated uniform off. She'd always felt silly wearing it walking round the streets of Bath, and it was even worse here somehow. Instead, she put on jeans and a t-shirt. The noise of the television continued in the other room and she heard the rustling of sweet papers. Spike would be in big trouble if Darla found out he'd given Connor chocolate just before bedtime and so would she, probably.

She opened one of Connor's books– Winnie the Pooh, one she knew for certain he didn't like so wouldn't look at– took a colouring pencil out of his crayon box and began to write on the flyleaf.

It was hard to know what to say and she'd never been much good at English, but in the end, she managed:

Dear Mr Angel

My name is Annabelle Gieves-Bowen. I'm the nanny who was kidnapped in Richmond Park. I'm not a vampire. Please help me. Please tell my family I'm still alive and tell them to send help. My brother is in the army. This station is called Down Street.

Thank you.

There didn't seem much else to say so Annabelle tore the page out of the book as quietly as she could, folded it and stuffed it in her jeans pocket along with the pencil. If Angel wanted to send her an answer, he might not have anything to write with. She stood up, took a deep breath and went through to Darla's room. Connor was still sitting where she'd left him, his short legs swinging idly to-and-fro as he gazed at the television. He was still eating the chocolate too but more slowly now. He was probably getting full.

"I'm going to get your milk," Annabelle said, in her best, brisk nanny-voice. "And when I come back it'll be time for bed, all right?"

Connor barely spared her a glance. On the screen, a group of teenagers were inching their way down a dark corridor towards a door at the end, from behind which, the horrible metallic whirring could be heard. Annabelle wondered why people in horror films were always so stupid.

She shut the door behind her and hurried over to the eastbound platform. Near the foot of the stairs, she paused, looking around and listening, but there was no sign of anyone about. The door to Angel's guest room/prison was open and unguarded. As Annabelle ran towards it, she heard the vibration in the rails again and a blast of air from the eastbound tunnel blew her hair over her face. Inside the room, she looked wildly around for somewhere out of the way but obvious enough to be noticed, and in the end, jammed the note and pencil into the metal grille covering her secret hiding place.

She finished just as the train thundered through the station, speeding up, it seemed, as it went. She was about to make her way to the kitchen when she heard voices approaching down the stairs. She froze, heart pounding in her chest fit to burst. It sounded like two or three people and she heard Erroll say, "You sure about this, boss?"

"Of course I'm fucking sure." It was Spike's voice, sounding angry – and most of all afraid and trying to hide it. "Don't want you lot hearing any of this. Just make sure the door's locked and come back in a couple of hours."

"A couple of hours might not be long enough." Now it was Angel talking. "It's been a while, Spike, after all."

"Afraid you've lost your touch, are you?" There was an almost hysterical edge to Spike's voice that sent chills down Annabelle's spine but galvanised her into movement. She ran out of the door and made it as far as the kitchen just as the vampires came in sight. She peered round the edge of the doorframe to watch them. Spike came first with Angel a pace behind him and then Erroll behind them both. She couldn't see their faces but Spike's head was bowed and his shoulders a little slumped. When they reached the door of the guest room, Spike paused and Annabelle saw his prominent Adam's apple jerk up and down in his throat. In profile his face looked weak sometimes, and now it definitely did.

Angel laughed. "No need to be scared," he said, a sneer in his voice. "You heard me promise Darla. I'm not gonna damage you."

"Yeah, right." Spike glanced back at him over his shoulder, face white as paper. Then he turned to Erroll. "Don't let anyone out except me."

He went into the room, walking like a condemned man, and Angel followed him. Then Erroll locked them inside together.

Chapter Text

"Didn't think you'd agree to this." Angel's voice had that familiar roughness to it that, back in the day, had made Spike's breath catch in his throat. Now, it set his teeth on edge. He had his back to Angel, leaning against the concrete wall, which was filmed with dust from the passing trains. It filled his nostrils, smelling of human dirt and sweat.

"You don't get it, do you?" he said, bitterly. "You really don't get it. Forgotten the Master already, have you?"

Suddenly, Angel was right behind him, cold breath stirring the hairs on the nape of his neck. "Not forgotten anything," he said, and a finger ran the length of Spike's spine from the small of his back to his coccyx. "But Darla's not the Master."

"You're still a stupid twat, though." Spike decided not to argue with him. Let the old man believe what he wanted. He hadn't seen what Spike had seen, which made it more likely he'd overreach himself and reveal his true colours. In the meantime, since Spike had – and fuck knew, he hadn't really had a choice – agreed to this, or at least let Darla agree to it for him, he had to find a way to get through it.

But there was one thing he needed to know first.

"Why me? Why me, when you could've had anyone you wanted?"

Angel's whole palm was on Spike's back now, sliding under his t-shirt, the hard pads of fingertips tracing the line of backbone downwards.

"Why should I want anyone?" There was an amused edge to Angel's voice. "It looks to me like you're keeping my woman well-satisfied so I'm curious to find out what she sees in you. You must have improved with age."

Bastard, Spike thought, she's not your bloody woman -but he didn't say it. Instead, he tried to empty his mind and concentrate on the feel of that hand undressing him, slowly stripping away his dignity and his pride, making him lesser than his tormentor. He needed to remember that feeling.

He'd known something was up the minute he'd arrived back at the assembly after dumping the kid by the telly. Angel was on his feet, looking pleased with himself and Darla had that smug well-fed cat look on her face – the one Spike had learned to distrust the most. Something had been agreed between them in his absence.

"Got back as quick as I could," he said, and he'd heard the unease in his voice and known they'd heard it too. As one, their eyes swung towards him, making him feel for a moment that the years had fallen away and he was once again in trouble with his elders and so-called betters.

"What?" He glanced aside at Erroll, who wouldn't meet his eyes.

"We've decided to put off the oath-taking until tomorrow," Darla said. "Connor has to be there, of course, and he's way too tired just now."

"Yeah, tired." Spike thought of the rugrat busy stuffing his face with chocolate – not that it would distract him from his jealousy for long. Angel was on a hiding to nothing, what with the kid's massive Oedipus complex, and the sooner the old man realised it the better.

Spike gestured for Erroll to help him escort Angel back to the guest room but Erroll still wouldn't look at him.

Darla was examining her nails. "Just one thing before he goes," she said. "Our guest wanted some company tonight, and since he's our guest and we ought to be hospitable, I said yes of course."

The pang of jealousy Spike felt astonished him. After all, it wasn't as if he'd ever believed he could replace Angelus in her affections. What he and Darla had between them was...well, he still wasn't sure what it was sometimes, except that the evil old bitch depended on him and he adored her.

The very notion of Angel getting his claws on her again was unbearable, and what's more, it was a stupid risk, like this whole bloody business. He opened his mouth to tell her so, only for her to smile at him sweetly. "It'll only be for a couple of nights, William, and since I knew you wouldn't like me doing the honours myself, I told him you'd be happy to do it. After all, it's not like you haven't kept in practice."

The edge of vicious amusement in her voice sent an answering ripple through the crowd of watching minions - a collective pricking up of ears and scenting of the air for weakness. This was a spectator sport to vampires – this game of cat and mouse. Only Erroll didn't join in.

"Me?" Spike's voice died trying to say the word. He thrust his hands into his duster pockets, aware that Angel's eyes were on him, daring him to say no. Oh, it was one of the old games– the kind that Angelus and Darla had played between them so many times, often at Spike's expense.

He stared at the minions and they stared back, their yellow eyes suddenly hostile. He could almost see Ravinder's eagerness to find him weak – to find him wanting. Too afraid to deal with his terrible grandsire, even at the Mistress's bidding.

Well, he wouldn't give Ravinder the satisfaction. No way he was losing face in front of his own children or he was finished for good around here. Besides, even if he risked it – if he refused and told Darla to bugger off - there were too many of them and there was Dru to think of. If Darla wanted Angel to have him – if she needed that to happen, and it seemed she did - then Angel would get him.

He thought he might choke on his anger but he wrestled it down with an effort, because it was better to surrender on his terms than hers or Angel's.

"Can't say I'm flattered." He shrugged. "Still – daresay I can put up with it if I have to. Can always lie back and think of England."

"Good." Her eyes swung round to Angel at once. "He'll do anything you tell him," she said, "as if it were me ordering it."

"Really?" Angel sounded titillated. "Anything?"

Darla smiled, tightly. "You never did know how to handle him, did you? Remember one thing, though, Angel."

"Yes, what?" Angel's eyes were on Spike, his dark gaze smouldering as if already undressing him in his head. Suddenly, there was a hot stink of arousal in the room that made vampire nostrils flare. The minions stirred and muttered, eyeing each other, and Darla frowned. She began to tap with her fingernails on the arms of her chair – an impatient chitinous clicking.

There was silence again at once.

"If you damage him," she said coldly, into that silence, "I shall be very displeased indeed."

Well, that was something, Spike thought, remembering it now. His forehead was still pressed to the wall in Angel's cell, eyes closed, not daring to breathe because he knew if he did, he'd betray his fear at once.

Angel had hold of both his hands at the wrist, powerful thumbs pressing into the delicate bones. He teased Spike's clenched fists open and placed them, flat-palmed, against the wall. Then he took a pace back and Spike heard him undoing his belt.

"If you're thinking of using that," he said, trying to sound as if he didn't really care, "you might want to remember what Darla said about not damaging me."

Angel laughed in answer. "Time was, William, you'd have loved every blow and kissed my hand when I'd finished."

"Yeah, well – had to survive somehow, didn't I?"

Suddenly, Angel's powerful body was pressed to his back again. At the same time, Angel's belt was around his neck, looped tightly, like a collar. So, it was going to be one of those games, was it?

"That what you call it? Surviving? That's not how I remember it, William." Angel dragged him away from the wall as he spoke, using the belt as a leash and tugging hard on purpose. Spike felt the bones in his neck protest, as perforce he went where Angel dragged him. She wanted him to do this for some reason and he was pretty sure it was for nothing as petty as jealousy over Erroll, though what the fuck her thinking was, he still had no idea.

Moments later, he found himself on his knees in front of Angel, who was sitting on the bed, legs apart, with Spike caged between them. For a moment, Spike wondered whether the old man would be stupid enough to entrust his tender parts to him, but he made no move to do so. Instead, Angel just stared, which was unnerving all on its own.

"You're right," Angel said, at last. "I really, really don't get it. You're not even fighting me - and all because she ordered it. You'd never do that, Spike – never. What has she done to you?"

"Wanted a bit of a tussle, did you?" Spike couldn't keep the sneer out of his voice. "'Course, you always did get off on rape."

Angel's free hand had his face by the jaw and at the word 'rape,' his grip tightened painfully.

"Seem to remember you took to it easily enough yourself."

"Yeah well, I had a good teacher."

There was silence for a moment and then abruptly, Angel's hand dropped away. He unfastened the belt and laid it aside. "Get out," he said.

Spike backed off from him and rose unsteadily to his feet. He stood a moment, unsure what to do with his reprieve, and then Angel said, "God, you're beautiful. I can see why she keeps you around."

"Yeah?" Spike eyed him warily. It wasn't like the old man to give compliments – not even insults veiled as compliments - unless he wanted something in return.

"Thing is, though," Angel went on, "looks will only get you so far, William. She's gonna get tired of you eventually – want to move on, because they all do – Dru did, and so will she."

"Fuck you." Spike had forgotten just how expertly Angel could twist the knife when he wanted. However, he wasn't playing with a naïve little fledgling now. "You think I care about that? She gets tired of me, I'll move on first."

"Not you." Angel's smile didn't do his face any favours. "You're like a dog that's too stupid to drop a bone when the meat's all gone. She'll shut the door in your face and you'll be outside snivelling, begging to be let back in."

"Like you, you mean – China - 1900?" Spike had bent to pick up his jeans. He paused, straightening, clenching the worn denim in his fists. "You don't know me any more," he said. "You don't know a sodding thing about me – and what's more, you don't know Darla."

Even as the words escaped his lips, he realised he'd let Angel make him angry -score a point - and that his realisation must have shown on his face, because Angel laughed again. Suddenly, his hand snaked out and grabbed Spike's wrist, hauling him back towards him. A moment later, Spike was face down on the bed with Angel's hand at his neck and Angel's breath in his ear.

"I know she has your balls stuffed and mounted as a trophy." Angel's voice was laced with contempt. "Anyway, I've changed my mind. I want my pound of flesh after all – and very fine flesh it is too, though there's always room for improvement."

There was a sharp crack and pain bloomed out from the centre of Spike's left buttock where Angel had slapped him. He considered struggling for all of five seconds – giving the bastard the fight he obviously craved – but then he went limp; lay still while Angel's dry fingers probed into his crack and Angel's voice – like an echo from the past – told him how worthless he was – nothing but a pretty piece of ass – how Darla would soon see that and desert him like everyone else did.

Spike screamed dutifully when he was supposed to scream – it bloody hurt, so it wasn't hard – but he couldn't help smiling to himself to think how completely Angel had it wrong in some ways. This was a battle, after all, and far from the first time Darla had made him her champion.

*

It had been difficult keeping the vampire cultist going for the remainder of the journey, but somehow Spike had done it. Not that there was much to keep going once Darla was finished with the bloke – just a bag of bloody flesh and bones, minus most of its working parts, in which one yellow eye remained to plead for the release of death. Spike had had to force gouts of blood down the luckless creature's raw gullet just to keep it ticking over.

Still, here they were, on Southampton docks at night, with the cultist's remains strung up from the nearest streetlamp bleeding their signal far and wide. It was raining, of course.

Spike stood where the lamplight would show him up to interested parties, though he was careful to avoid the dripping blood. Darla was behind him, deep in the shelter of one of the containers. She was wearing Spike's duster since she hadn't a coat of her own, and he missed the familiar weight of it on his shoulders. Besides, he was getting wet.

"Here they come." He motioned with his head to a patch of moving shadow, going into game face at the same time. Instantly, the night was lit up with lurid scent trails – many of them and coming fast. He felt the usual thrill of anticipation at the promise of a good fight, but at the same time, weighed down with responsibilities, which took some of the pleasure out of it. If he failed – if the cultists' leader killed him – Darla would be next on the list and Dru next after her.

"Not gonna happen," Darla said, as if she'd read his mind. Spike turned to look at her, startled. She'd never been prescient before. She was still in human face, the black leather held tight around her. It fitted her of course, because after all it'd been made for a woman – something Spike was happy enough to acknowledge whoever cared to ask, considering what the woman had been.

"If you say so – Mistress." It was hard to get the word out but he managed, because it seemed the right one in the circumstances. For answer, she blew him a kiss.

"Give us the Miracle Child and cut our brother down." The voice was imperious – that of someone used to having his own way. Spike turned, lazily, as if there was no hurry in the world, and regarded the cultists, who'd formed a semi-circle around him. The tossers were all dressed the same – in black or monochrome - even the leader, though he wore a tacky-looking inverse-pentagram medallion to mark him out from the rest of them. He was a big bloke – impressively so, with a beard and a scar on the left side of his face and he'd been turned quite old for a vampire, his black hair shot through with streaks of grey.

"No." Spike tilted his head on one side and grinned, showing his fangs. He inhaled carefully, tasting the leader's scent, and got no impression of great age. Whatever made the others follow him, it wasn't ancient power like the Master's. In fact, Spike was probably his elder.

The leader – potentate, hadn't they called him, and what a stupid title that was – gestured to his followers and they began to close in, tightening the noose.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." Spike prepared himself, his excitement coiling up like a spring. He let them approach a little nearer and then he lashed out suddenly, catching the nearest full in the midriff with his foot. The woman went down, and Spike went after her, the stake in his hand rising and falling so quickly that he was back at his post under the streetlamp before she'd fully turned to dust.

"Spike!" Darla's voice alerted him to an attack from the rear, but he was ready for it with a sweet Glasgow Kiss, followed by a jab to the solar plexus. This one he kept alive, though, dragging him under the swinging near-corpse so that its blood dripped onto his face. The leader exclaimed in annoyance and gestured the other cultists back, his eyes fixed on Spike's prisoner in a way that was very telling.

"See – what I don't get," Spike addressed the cultists at large, deliberately excluding the leader, "is why you think this old fart should have charge of the Miracle Child over his own mother and family. Who the fuck is he anyway?"

The cultist in Spike's grip tried to struggle, but Spike kept the pressure on his throat and jaw. If the bloke thought he was some kind of spokesman, better if he kept his mouth shut. "You." He fixed his gaze on another woman – quite a young girl, this one – standing at the front of the crowd. "What's so special about him?"

She hesitated, glancing sidelong at the leader. Then she said, "He's our potentate."

"Yeah?" Spike didn't even try to keep the contempt out of his voice. "Brought you good luck, has he?" He glanced above him as he spoke and the girl's eyes followed his. She looked a little green at what she saw.

"Not pretty, is it?" Spike addressed the whole bunch again. "And you think that would've happened to the poor sod if you lot were supposed to have the kid? What kind of justice would there be in that?"

They were all looking at each other now, caught off-guard when faced with questions they'd probably never thought to ask. Spike met the leader's frustrated gaze and grinned, lifting an inquisitive eyebrow. The leader scowled back, yellow eyes glittering.

"Don't listen to him – the apostate!" he said. "The child is ours. It was foretold."

"Oh, yeah? By who exactly? Mystic sodding Meg?" Spike laughed, then sighed, as if speaking to someone very stupid. "Listen, you lot. Everyone – even vampires – knows kids are meant to be with their families. That's his mother over there – and that's not all she is. I mean – where exactly did you spring from, mate?"

"What?" It took the so-called potentate a moment to realise Spike was talking to him again. When he did, he seemed taken aback by the question. "I'm a vampire," he said, "like you."

"I know that, you twat. I meant, what's your pedigree? Who sired you?"

The leader's expression grew wary. Evidently, he wasn't stupid.

"That doesn't matter," he said.

"Like hell it doesn't." Spike glanced back at Darla, where she stood, veiled in shadows. He hoped the cultists' first impression of her would be the right one.

"See," Spike took on the air of a storyteller along with a firmer grip on his captive's neck, "there was this vampire called Aurelius – very powerful and old – and he sired Draco back in – oh, the Dark Ages or whenever – and Draco sired Joseph Nest, who you might have heard of – the Master."

"The Master is dead." The leader had interrupted him, breaking the mood a little. Spike wished that Dru was in a fit state to help him. She'd have had this lot eating out of her hand by now, all things being equal.

"But his line lives on," he said, and on cue Darla stepped forward into the light. She'd gone into game face, the family resemblance all too clear to Spike even if it was lost on their audience. The leader looked startled, though, and Spike realised it wasn't lost on him. The man licked his lips, looking suddenly unsure of himself.

"I am the Master's child – his favourite for four hundred years." Darla spoke simply but her pride was very evident. "He spent a long time in exile waiting for his Anointed One – his successor - and in the end, he died too soon."

"The Anointed One is also dead." The leader was addressing his followers, not Darla, and well he might, Spike thought, since all their eyes were fixed on her. "In fact, that one – William the Bloody, if I'm not mistaken – killed the child himself."

"Yeah – boring little twat." Spike was about to go on but Darla gave him a warning glance and he subsided. She was the boss after all, he told himself.

"That child was not the Anointed One," she said. "My sire, in his eagerness, made a mistake. I wish he was here to see the prophecy fulfilled but my grief for him is cold. Instead, I have taken his place as head of the Order he founded, until my child – his scion- is old enough. You will address me as Mistress."

The language was getting a bit portentous for Spike's taste, though it was probably what these tossers needed to hear. He waited, listening to the protest of small bones in the neck of the cultist he held. It would be so, so easy to break them.

There was silence, except for the sound of falling rain and very distant traffic. Far off, a dog barked. Spike licked drops of blood from his lips. He was getting splattered.

At last, one of the cultists – the girl – went down onto her knees. "Mistress," she said, to Darla. Some of the others followed suit but not all of them, and the one Spike was holding began to struggle harder. "Yours?" He grinned at the leader, who must have known what was to follow.

"Mine," he acknowledged, then watched without emotion as Spike did what he'd been wanting to do and broke the captive's neck. There'd be time to dust him later.

The cultists were pretty much evenly divided now – half kneeling and half standing. Spike flexed his arms impatiently. He was tired of the standoff and it was beginning to look as if a fight couldn't be avoided anyway. Then Darla spoke again.

"Maybe it would be better to finish this the old-fashioned way? Single combat – a fight to the death?"

"You?" The leader couldn’t hide his contempt, and truthfully, she was half his size. But then so was he, Spike thought. But even so he wasn't surprised to hear her say, "No, not me. Him."

She put her arm through Spike's. "My champion."

The leader stared at Spike, no doubt weighing the odds, and suddenly Darla said, "If he wins, you die and all your followers take an oath to protect me and my child forever. If he loses, however..."

"Yes?" The leader looked interested now.

"I'm yours – to do whatever you want with – and the child is yours as well."

She hung her head demurely while she spoke, looking up through her lashes, and for a moment, Spike was filled with rage at the thought she'd try to hedge her bets, using sex as a weapon against this tosser the way she always did. But then her hand squeezed his tightly and he understood he was wrong. She trusted him as she'd said back on the ship; trusted him so much she never once believed he could fail. Where that trust had come from, he didn't know except that it had something to do with the kid and his reaction to it.

And oh, she was a clever bitch, Spike thought, as the leader said, "Done."

Darla let go of Spike's arm and stood back and Spike took a minute or two to size up his opponent. The bloke seemed to have heard of him but in spite of that, he still fancied his chances so that told you something. He wasn't to be underestimated. Might as well make a show of it for them then, Spike thought, and he stripped off his t-shirt, baring his torso to the rain which was coming down harder than ever.

"Come on, then, fatso," he said. "Let's be having you."

The ring of cultists moved back, leaving them in a semi-circular patch of lamplight spotted with drips of blood. Spike circled to his right – he already had the bloke pegged as right-handed – moving on the balls of his feet, wary as a cat. He knew he had to stay out of the man's reach as much as possible, reduce him down blow by blow until his larger size no longer mattered.

He noticed that the young female cultist was staring at him, her mouth open, dazzled by a bit of prime Aurelian flesh the way women so often were. He winked at her then dodged back, avoiding a blow designed to test his speed. Then he ducked low under the swinging arm and got in a good punch to the kidneys with his left hand followed by an uppercut to the jaw with his right. The leader staggered but he didn't go down. Instead, he shook his head like a bear pestered by flies and struck out again, forcing Spike to duck and roll.

There was a lot of that in the end – ducking to keep out of trouble, using his small size and relative speed to inflict maximum damage for minimum payback. But it was a slow business – a wearing down by inches – a test of who tired first. Spike knew his moment had come though, when he saw that look in his opponent's eyes – the realisation dawning that he wasn't going to win. Of course, that only made the bloke redouble his efforts and at one point he even had Spike pressed up against the lamp-post with his hands around his neck. An eye-gouge dealt with that, plus a knee to the delicates followed by a quick one-two that battered the bigger man down.

"Some fucking potentate you are!" Spike grew vicious as he scented victory, punching again and again until the man's face became unrecognisable. Finally, he unleashed fangs and began to tear at flesh, reducing it to bloody ribbons, until Darla said, "Enough, Spike. You've done well. Now finish it."

Spike was so into it by then that it was hard for him to even hear her, let alone to stop what he was doing. But he'd been in these situations a few times in his life and understood when enough was enough, so he caught the stake she tossed him – ironically, the same one he'd nearly been dusted with on the ship - brandished it aloft in front of the watching cultists and brought it down with a flourish. Then he stood up, coughing slightly and wiping at the dust coating his rain-wet torso, before staking the leader's broken-necked pet for an encore.

He grinned at Darla. "Now that," he said, "was fun."

She smiled tightly in answer but her eyes held a warning too. Spike picked up his t-shirt and wiped himself down with it before putting it on again. Then he turned to the cultists to find, with some satisfaction, that they were all on their knees now. "That's better," he said.

"Mistress,"it was one of the men who spoke and Spike made of note of his face, either to be relied upon for having some initiative or to be disposed of for having too much, "how may we serve you?"

"Ooh," Darla sounded smug, "let me count the ways. First of all, you can take us back to your lair – which is my lair now, of course – and give us the best of whatever you have. Then you can all worship my son for a while – I'm sure you'll enjoy that – and then, well, we'll have to see, won't we?"

As leadership speeches went, it was hardly inspiring, Spike thought, but then it didn't need to be now. The cultists had made their choice. "You lot got a car handy?" he asked and when they shook their heads, "Well, go and steal one, you useless tossers – and make sure it's good and roomy. You –" he pointed at the young girl and two of the others- "- we need your help with the Mistress's things. Come with us."

The air was rank inside the refrigerated container. Spike wrinkled his nose in disgust. Of course, that's what happened when you had to keep your food alive for longer than was sensible and had no means of hosing down the resultant human mess. The Altamira harbour master and his family were disposed of quickly – it was hardly possible to tell the difference between before and after, they were so far gone – and their bodies weighted and thrown into the dock.

He kept the door to the end container – the makeshift bathroom – shut. There was nothing to retrieve in there. In their living quarters, however, there were Dru and the wet nurse to be dealt with, not to mention the brat. Darla went to him at once, snatching him from the wet nurse's arms mid-feed and holding him close against her. She was still in vamp-face so for a moment, it looked like she meant to devour the kid and Spike supposed that in a sense, she was doing exactly that. He'd never seen her look that way – so concentrated, so avid -not even when Angelus had done something particularly vicious and impressive.

He wondered again at her risking everything on his victory considering how she felt about the impossible fruit of her loins, and could only suppose that she'd never even thought he might lose because some obscure quirk of fate had decreed he should be the kid's surrogate father. That was... well, it was pleasing in a way that she'd think so highly of him. On the other hand, it was disturbing as well and once again he felt the unaccustomed weight of all those lives on his shoulders- his burden, his responsibility.

Then he shrugged. He'd got past the stage of thinking that any minute he was going to jack this in, take Dru and make off for pastures new. He'd never believed in kidding himself and he didn't intend to start now.

The wet nurse was making that set-your-teeth-on-edge whimpering noise again and Spike went to her and did his best to calm her. It wasn't easy any more – a third madwoman on his hands – but at least with her, he wouldn't have to do it much longer. They could get the kid a proper nanny soon, put him on the bottle maybe, instead of the breast.

"Chin up, love," he said to the woman, though she couldn't understand him. "We're on dry land now and things'll be better soon, you'll see." Then he hauled back his fist and punched her unconscious, gesturing for two of the cultists to pick her up and take her to the car – because there would be a car by now or Spike would want to know the reason why.

"Don't damage her," he told them. "The Miracle Child still needs her, yeah?" and they nodded earnestly, carrying the woman as if she were something precious just because she'd touched the kid.

Spike loaded down the others with what baggage they had, which was very little, then he took a deep breath and went to deal with Dru. She lay where he'd left her, dead to the world, her pale face wasted and thin under its crown of lank black curls. She needed a good wash and brush-up, Spike thought, and once he had some privacy, he'd make sure she got it. Tenderly, he lifted her up, kissing her cold forehead, and turned to find Darla watching him, her own burden still in her arms. They were alone.

"My little Spike," Darla said. "I knew you wouldn't let me down."

"How did you know?" He couldn't help asking it, even while a thrill ran down his spine to hear her call him what Dru had so often called him. "How?"

"The same way my sire knew things," she said, simply. "It took me a while to realise it, but he helped me," and she gestured with her chin towards the baby.

"Clever little tyke, isn't he?" Spike was only half-joking. There was some uncanny connection between mother and child – thought-transference or something like. It gave him the creeps.

"Better get a move on, then," he said. "You've got minions to terrorise, love, in case you've forgotten."

"Oh, you'll be doing all that for me." She spoke with complete confidence. "I rely on your judgement, William."

He almost laughed at that, remembering one time in a Yorkshire mineshaft and the look of sick anticipation on her face when she'd thought Angelus was going to stake him for his idiocy– which of course he had later, if not in the way Darla had been expecting.

"I can do that," he said, "and at least we've got this bunch of tossers off our backs."

"They were a big threat," she agreed, and her tone was sombre now, "but never as much as the other – never as much as him."

It took Spike a moment to realise which 'him' she meant this time, but then he understood.

"You don't have to worry about Angel, love, I guarantee it. No way he'll ever find us."

"We'll see." She sounded uncertain, but then she brightened. "But even if he does, it'll gain him nothing. I have a champion now –" and her eyes shone as she looked at him – "and you'll defeat him for me, just like you did the cultists."

"Bloody hell." Spike put Dru down again carefully. Then he went to Darla and took her in his arms. The baby was between them, blinking up at them sleepily with eyes that still changed colour whenever the light changed. He didn't look like other babies, Spike thought. He looked like he knew it all already. "You really believe that?" he asked.

"I do. If he finds us – when he finds us – he won't walk away from it."

"We don't kill family," Spike blurted out the words before he could stop himself because he couldn't believe what she seemed to be saying.

She smiled. "We won't need to."

Outside, it was still raining. A white van – a Ford Transit – stood under the lamp waiting. Beneath its wheels, the remains of the cultists' potentate was ashy residue in a puddle. Spike escorted Darla to the van and handed her into the front passenger seat, settling the baby carefully into her arms.

"You know what," he said. "He doesn't have a name. You gonna do something about that...er, Mistress? 'Cos Miracle Child is a bit of a bloody mouthful."

She looked surprised. "Of course he has a name. It's Connor. I thought I told you."

Well, that was a bolt out of the blue. Spike frowned. Evidently, the old man wasn't quite out of the picture after all since she'd chosen something Irish-sounding.

He took Dru round to the rear of the van and settled her as comfortably as he could. "Watch her," he told the young female cultist, "and guard her with your life. She's an Aurelian too."

That was enough to put a look of awe on the girl's face and Spike was satisfied enough to shut Dru in the back with her. He went back round to the driver's side and stood a moment, staring out to sea. Then he took the stake out of his jeans pocket and flung it with deadly accuracy at the corpse hanging from the lamp post above him. It exploded into a shower of glittering dust.

*

When Spike pushed himself to his feet, trying to ignore the pain of his torn anus, Angel said, "That happened to you because of her, William. Don't forget that."

"Sod off." Spike was surprised by how weary he sounded – how broken – but he went with it because he suspected it was what Angel wanted to hear. "This happened to me because of you."

Angel lay on his back, head on his folded arms. His brown eyes glittered like coals.

"Next time I'll bring flowers," he said, unsmiling, "or maybe we could catch a movie first."

Spike bent to pick up his jeans. He was bleeding and had nothing to staunch the blood with so he grabbed Angel's shirt from where it lay tossed onto the bed and used that. It felt like silk – very expensive – but Angel didn't even bat an eyelid. He only smiled, or at least his lips tightened.

Spike thought that when he'd told Angel he didn't know him – didn't know Darla – he'd not realised just how little he himself knew Angel. This wasn't the man he'd last seen in Sunnydale, so Slayer-whipped the girl was wearing his balls as a necklace. This was someone new.

This was, in fact, the man Darla had told him about - the one who'd set Darla and Dru on fire and then stood back and watched them burn.

Spike pulled his jeans gingerly over the raw abraded flesh - because Angel had used the belt in the end - then bent again for his boots and t-shirt. Angel wolf-whistled mockingly.

"You still have the sweetest, tightest ass, William," he said. "It's a pleasure to ride. Thought you ought to know that."

Spike thought of Erroll briefly. Erroll said stuff like that to him sometimes when they fucked, but then Erroll only said it when Spike wanted him to. He went to the door and knocked loudly on it, hoping Erroll wasn't too far away. "Funny," he said, in answer to Angel, "that's what I say to Darla about hers."

It was pretty pathetic as a come- back, and he knew it.

Angel had rolled onto his side to pick up his own jeans, which were in a heap on the floor. He paused for a moment before answering. His gaze flicked across the room and back, eyes narrowing. Then suddenly, he was up and had Spike pinned to the inside of the door and his tongue halfway down Spike's throat. When he finally let go Spike gasped and choked, gulping down air.

"Bet she can't scratch that itch," Angel said. "You still need cock, pretty little William – still wanna play catcher for me. I can see it in your eyes."

Spike heard the key turning in the lock. Suddenly, he brought his knee up as hard as he could into Angel's privates, doubling him up in pain.

"Think your seduction technique leaves a bit to be desired, mate," he said, as he slipped through the open crack of the door, slamming it closed behind him.

Outside, he leaned on it, staring up at the dusty ceiling. There was a cobweb in one corner.

"Bloody hell," he exclaimed, suddenly furious, "doesn't anyone ever clean things properly around here?"

"Sorry, boss." Erroll sounded contrite – as if it was his fault - but Spike ignored him. He set out at a fast walk towards the meat locker then slowed again immediately. He felt half-crippled. He stopped for a moment, leaning against the wall, eyes shut, while he fought down the pain. He hadn't been raped in years.

"Spike..." Erroll reached out one hand then drew it back, unsure what to do. "You doin' all right?"

Spike reflected that when it came to going into battle for Darla, he'd rather fight a dozen self-important cult leaders than go another round with Angel. "The old man hasn't changed," he said. "Still a fucking bastard, soul or not."

Erroll shadowed him down the corridor to the kitchen, where Spike stopped to pour himself a large JD, which he downed in one, the fiery spirit a welcome replacement to the taste of Angel in his mouth. When they got to the door of the meat locker, though, Erroll began to look apologetic again. "Not much in there. Only some old tramp, and he really stinks. Ravi's taken some of the boys out hunting across in the park."

Spike leaned against the door. The metal felt cold against his back, in spite of the stuffy after-hours heat of the abandoned station. He was desperate for blood just now and someone else's pain, and he didn't care about the packaging.

"Hose him down," he said to Erroll. "Then you can leave me to it."

*

Darla was sitting up in bed when Spike came into their bedroom. She was reading a book on child psychology. She glanced up at him coolly, as if he'd just come back from a pleasant evening stroll.

"How was it?" she asked.

"How d'you sodding think – bitch!" Spike could hardly believe she'd ask such a stupid question.

"I wasn't sure what course he'd choose." She ignored the 'bitch' comment. "He can be very persuasive, as I'm sure you remember."

"I do." Spike sat down on the edge of the bed with his back to her. He kicked off his unlaced boots, though the movement stretched his torn tissues and forced a hiss of pain through his clenched teeth.

"Did he damage you, in spite of what I said?" She still sounded more interested than concerned, but her small hand was on his back, rubbing in circles – an attempt at some kind of comfort.

"Depends what you mean by damage. My pride's taken a beating, that's for sure."

"No doubt that was his intention."

He supposed she didn't really need to ask what else Angel had done to him but he could feel her gearing up to it anyway. Women were always so bloody nosy.

Forestalling her, he said, "S'pose I can't exactly say he raped me since I said I'd do it, but that's what it amounts to."

"Darling boy." Her cool breath tickled his ear. "You're so brave to spare me that."

"What?" He turned to look at her over his shoulder because he could hardly believe what he was hearing. "For one thing – if it'd been you in that room, he'd never have treated you that way. It'd have been all – 'begorrah me darlin'! Why did you have to go leavin' me when we belong together? Can't you see we're a family?' – the whole Blarney Stone rigmarole."

She laughed at his awful attempt at an Irish accent. "True," she agreed. But he wasn't finished yet.

"You didn't have to grant his request, though, did you? What made you come over all Lady-fucking-Bountiful? And it's not as if the bastard's not gone without all these years except for when he got you up the duff, is it? Hard to believe that he comes here, of all places, and suddenly, he can't rein it in. Bloke's got the self-control of a bloody Jesuit."

He swung round to confront her, though again, the movement hurt his sore arse. Her face had gone opaque – a perfect, chilling oval. He wanted to grab her shoulders and shake the secrets out of her.

"Tell me," he said. "Just tell me what the fuck is going on. Why is he here? Why are you letting him have his way? If you want rid of me – if you want him instead - just say so and I'll take Dru and be off."

For answer, she leaned forward and kissed him softly on the lips. He jerked his head back. "I washed my mouth out with Jack. You won’t get a taste of him there."

Her answer was to kiss him more forcefully, pushing him down onto the bed beneath her. A moment later, she was astride him and he felt the wetness between her thighs.

"Gets you off, does it?" he asked bitterly. "The thought of him raping my arse with that monster cock of his?"

She frowned as if considering, then nodded her head. "Maybe a little. We are vampires, Spike, after all. We thrive on pain."

"Forgot you taught him all he knows." He was uncomfortably aware of growing tightness at the front of his jeans, which reminded him, Angel had ignored his needs completely. He'd just been a hole to be fucked. "Bloody stupid of me really."

She kissed him again, her mouth cool and sweet and he couldn't help responding this time, in spite of his anger towards her.

"I didn't have to teach Angelus much," she said. "The pupil soon surpassed the teacher. You ought to remember, Spike. I shouldn't have to remind you."

He did remember – the constant battleground that passed for family life back in the day, with Angelus and Darla fighting for control; the endless rounds of one-upmanship in which he and Dru often took a battering. He realised with sudden and absolute clarity that Darla had always loved Angelus – wanted Angelus – more than Angelus wanted her.

"Must burn," he said, "to know it's still not you he wants."

She stared down at him, unspeaking, and for a moment he thought he'd gone too far and that she'd go all Mistress of the Vampires on him. But then she put her hand to his face, tracing the line of his cheekbone tenderly.

"It does," she said, at last, "but not the way you might think. You see, William, no matter what nonsense you might choose to believe – no matter what he might want you to believe – I really and truly don't want him back as my lover and I don't want rid of you."

He remembered then she'd said that her feelings about Angel were the last thing that should make him doubt her. He'd forgotten about that somewhere in the last few days, or perhaps he'd never believed it.

"Then why –" he began, but she put her finger to his lips to shush him.

"Remember what I told you on the ship? The best and simplest way to neutralise a threat is to deal with it once and for all. We did that in Southampton with the cultists. They're ours now – they hunt and spy for us - go where we need them - bring us news of the world outside."

He nodded to show he did remember and already he thought he knew what was coming next.

"But they were never the biggest threat. He is. Connor's father." Her green eyes had gone stormy – the familiar troubling look. "He won't rest until he's taken Connor from me, but he'll never succeed. Never."

Spike wanted to ask, "Because we're going to kill him?" but he didn't say it. He remembered that after the fight on the Southampton docks, she'd said they wouldn't have to.

She was staring off into the distance now and her face had gone cold – implacable. "By the time this is over," she said, "he'll have lost once and for all."

For a moment longer, she stared, but then her attention was back on him, small, cold hands sliding under his t-shirt and across his torso, skating over the bruises Angel had left as if her fingertips could sense them.

"You might want to send your precious Erroll and some of the others away," she said. "Not too many of them, in case it arouses Angel's suspicions. Tell them to wait somewhere close, where they can get back quickly when they're needed, and tell them to keep an eye on the tunnels."

She bent down towards him, eyes large and liquid. "And send word to our outside agents to gather nearby. I think we're going to need all of them." She kissed him softly on the lips. "I'll leave it to you to make the arrangements."

"He's gonna try and take the kid, I know – but when?"

"I'm not sure exactly when, but soon. And until we know what his plan is beyond the obvious divide and conquer, we have to keep his hopes up – keep his interest – make him think he's winning."

She was sliding down his body, clever fingers opening his flies to feel where his eager flesh leapt at her touch.

"Until then, my sweet William, let me kiss your hurts better."

Chapter Text

"Why can't you help her?"

The witch seemed more Women's Institute than Wicca, except for her smell, which was so overpoweringly herbal Spike wanted to roll her into a joint and smoke her. Her clothes were no-nonsense vintage Marks & Spencer, probably dating from some time back in the seventies. She was kneeling next to Dru, who lay curled up like a wounded animal, lost in her drugged sleep.

"I'm sorry." The witch pushed her glasses back up her nose. "There's nothing I can do for her."

"But why not?" Spike was trying to keep his anger in check, though it wasn't easy. He'd given the woman a promise of safe passage and besides, if she belonged to a coven, which she probably did, killing her could bring a whole world of trouble on them.

"She's out of tune," the witch said, which made no bloody sense at all. "I was trying to restore her aura to its natural shape and colour but it just won't go." She dabbed her face with a tissue. There was sweat on her upper lip.

"What's that supposed to mean when it's at home?" Spike couldn't take his eyes off Dru's pale, suffering face. "Anyway, she's bonkers – mad as a hatter. You sure that's not what's disrupting your spell? Maybe you're trying to make her...aura – whatever- into something it isn't?"

"Certainly not." The witch sounded affronted that he'd questioned her professionalism. She climbed to her feet with arthritic slowness – Spike didn't offer to help her - and began to button up her cardigan. "You told me she was mad before she was made a vampire. Well then, madness is her natural state now – insofar as vampires are natural – and I allowed for that."

"Yeah, yeah." Spike waved his hand dismissively. "Blood-sucking spawn of Satan, contrary to the laws of nature – I know all that bollocks. You're saying she can't be healed?" He couldn't get his head round the thought.

The witch had picked up her coat, which was covered in cat hair. "I am," she agreed. "Some powerful force has her in its grip – something far stronger than me - something unnatural and not of this earth. I can't fight that. I don't know if anything can."

"But why her?" Spike reined back his vampire features with a supreme effort of self-control. "Why aren't I affected by this whatever-it-is? Why aren't you for that matter?"

The witch eyed him speculatively. "Maybe you are, but you just don't know it yet? As for her, you say she's prescient? Whatever's done this to her doesn't want her blabbing, I would imagine – or maybe..." Her sharp eyes narrowed and suddenly she looked almost afraid.

"Yeah?" Spike found himself hanging on her every word.

"Maybe it needs her for something and this is its way of controlling her until the time comes?"

"Fuck." A shiver went down Spike's spine. He had a feeling he knew what 'it' was. He thought, too, that in retrospect, it was bloody weird how easily Darla had found him and Dru in Juarez.

Then he stuck his hands into his duster pockets. "C'mon, Grandma, I'll see you on your way."

The witch scowled at him and he scowled back. He wasn't going to apologise. But she followed him without further question back through the lair – and a sorry excuse for one it was too – and up into the daylight. He stopped in the shadows of the warehouse basement steps, blinking a little in the unaccustomed brightness.

"So you're saying, then," he pursued, "that I should take her away from here – far from the influence of this... thing – whatever it is?"

The witch paused, looking back at him, her pale eyes without sympathy in their net of wrinkles. "I doubt it'll make any difference now," she said. "I think she's too far gone. In fact, it was probably too late from the moment this first happened to her."

"Don't say that!" And suddenly Spike's anger got the better of him. He vamped out and reached for her, but she jumped back in far sprightlier fashion than he'd been expecting.

"Don't cross me, vampire," she hissed. "You've enough on your plate already." She put her coat on, eyes like cold grey pebbles fixed on him the whole time. "I'm glad I'm old. I won't live to see how this turns out. And a good thing too." Then she walked away into the sunlight and all he could do was stand there and watch her go.

He went back into the lair, closing the door against the treacherous sun. He'd forgotten how chancy the weather was here in England – one moment cloudy enough for a vampire to risk daylight travel and pissing it down as like as not, another all bright and sunny like now.

They'd been here almost a week and the place was still a shambles. The cultists didn't seem concerned about their surroundings. Probably, Spike thought, they'd spent most of their time on their knees kissing their dead potentate's arse while the place went to rack and ruin around them. And it wasn't because they couldn't afford better lodgings. He'd had a look at the books now and this lot were rolling in money, or rather their leader had been – but then, that was cults for you.

He'd had one room cleaned up properly and made nice for Darla and the baby, though Darla didn't much like sharing space with the brat, in spite of how she felt about it. If it so much as whimpered she'd be on her feet prowling up and down, demanding to know what was wrong with it and threatening the wet nurse, and it was all Spike could do to keep her from killing the terrified woman.

He was getting tired of it. The kid would have to be weaned onto a bottle and the wet nurse got rid of. If Darla wouldn't look after the kid herself, they'd get a real professional to do it.

He kicked out at an old armchair from which all the stuffing was leaking like spoilt milk. Not for the first time, he wondered what the hell he was doing here, waiting on Darla like a servant when common sense said he should take Dru and get out - leave Darla to manage as best she could on her own.

However, if the witch was on the level – and why wouldn't she be? – it was already too late for that. Besides, when they were alone together Darla didn't treat him like a servant. No, she knew how to make a man feel good – how to twist him around her little finger. He'd seen her do it to Angelus enough times to watch cynically – like there was a part of him detached and just observing everything – while she did the exact same thing to him. It was that alone that was preventing him from falling hopelessly, stupidly, in love with her.

That and the kid too, of course. The little scrap might be family but it still scared him. He couldn't help thinking -unnatural spawn of two vampires, it couldn't lead to anything good. He couldn't help remembering, too, what Dru had said in her ravings – something about a destroyer.

The young female cultist – Melanie – was coming from the direction of Darla's room. She'd taken on the role of unofficial ladies' maid in the past week, always fetching and carrying for the Mistress, a real little brown-noser.

"Mel," Spike beckoned her towards him. "Can I have a word, love?"

"Of course, master," she sing-songed, which put Spike's teeth on edge. He couldn’t stand all this ritual nonsense but the cultists were steeped in it and he doubted they'd ever change – and maybe he shouldn't want them to. As long as they believed in this prophecy bollocks they'd be easy to control – easy to use as a weapon.

"None of that master crap," he said anyway. "Name's Spike and that's always been good enough."

"Sorry, master." The silly little bitch almost fetched him a curtsey and he rolled his eyes.

"Wanna ask you a few questions, yeah? What did your old boss have to say about the Miracle Child? There a prophecy, is there?"

"Oh, yes," the girl said, eagerly. "The Miracle Child will lead us to the Promised Land – Master Uthar taught us that."

Uthar? Spike raised an eyebrow in amusement. That couldn't have been the bloke's real name, could it?

"The Promised Land for vampires, this'd be?"

Again, she nodded. "The Old Ones will return," she intoned, "and demons will rule the earth again, like they once did. That's why we wear black -" and she touched her tight black tunic reverently with her hand – "to remind us of the darkness that ruled before the blight of humanity."

"Great." Spike could remember similar garbage being spouted by the Master's former minions in Sunnydale about their so-called Anointed One. He'd thought at the time - and still thought - this demon paradise was very unlikely to be what they were all anticipating. Vampires were the vermin of the demon world and always would be.

"Very important kid, then – the Miracle Child?" He lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. Mel was still standing in front of him all bright-eyed and eager. She was in vamp face, which he didn't fancy much, but he'd seen her human one and it wasn't too bad. He'd have her some time, he thought, when the mood took him – maybe knock some sense into her in the process.

"Very important," she agreed emphatically. "There's a scroll somewhere, Master Uthar said. It calls him the Tro-Clon – the Destroyer – come to wreak ruin and destruction on humanity. I can't wait. It's going to be wonderful."

"Yeah?" Well, that made a horrible kind of sense. Spike couldn't see why the girl was so pleased about it. Anything that disrupted the food supply had to be a bad thing, he'd always thought.

"Oh yes," Mel babbled on, happily. "We only live to serve him and maybe one day – when he's fully grown – he'll look on his servants with favour."

"What's she saying to you?" It was Darla's voice. She'd come out of her room, looking particularly wild-eyed and out-of-sorts. "Don't listen to that garbage."

Mel got a scared look on her face. She began to edge round behind Spike, using him as a shield from Darla. "I'm sorry, Mistress," she whined. "He asked me. I wouldn't have said anything but I wanted to share the good news of the prophecy."

Spike moved out from between them. It looked like Darla's blood was up and he didn't want to be collateral damage. Mel wasn't that pretty.

"It seems you people haven't learned your lesson yet." Darla advanced towards them, slow and sinuous as a snake, while Mel backed away across the room. She'd begun to whimper. "I'm the Mistress now and my child is here to be worshipped – not gossiped about like some... some pop-star."

They had an audience by now, the cultists gathering from all over the lair at the sound of raised voices. Spike saw their faces peering out of the gloom, yellow eyes and fangs at odds with their frightened expressions. He leaned back against the wall, exhaling smoke. This was like the old days back at the Master's court, from what little he'd experienced of it. No one was safe – not even the ones who obeyed the Master's orders to the letter. Everyone lived at the mercy of his whims. It wasn't Spike's preferred way of dealing with minions, except on the odd special occasion – bully them of course, but keep them around if they were useful.

In spite of that, he didn't intervene as Darla closed in on the hapless Mel, who subsided at her feet, trembling. He watched with growing disgust as Darla slapped her a few times, open-handed and contemptuous, and then staked her with a broken chair-leg. The pathetic little bitch didn't even try to defend herself. They were better off without that kind of help, he reckoned.

But he realised things were more wrong than he'd thought when Darla didn't move afterwards but stood as if frozen while a choking cloud of Mel's dust rose to envelope her. A quick glance round the assembled cultists showed nostrils flared here and there, obviously scenting for weakness. Spike made of a note of the culprits. It seemed not all of the tossers had bought the whole Miracle Child and his mum thing the way Mel had.

He ground out his cigarette underfoot and pushed away from the wall. Then he went across to Darla and took hold of her arm.

"You're tired, Mistress," he said, carefully. "Maybe you should rest."

She allowed him to steer her back in the direction of her room. She seemed almost dazed – as if she didn't know where she was.

"Get on with it, you lot." Spike scowled at the watching cultists. "Lair's not gonna sodding well feed itself, is it?"

He knew he'd have to throw his weight around a bit later on, but in the meantime, he was more concerned about Darla. And that concern only grew when he'd shut the door behind them and smelt the blood that spattered the walls and floor.

Letting go of Darla's arm, he ran to the wet nurse's body, but it was too late to do anything for her. He prodded the cooling flesh with his finger. "You killed her? What the fuck did you do that for?"

"I don't know!" Her voice came out a wail and when he turned to her, her hands were over her face. "I don't know what's happening to me, Spike. For God's sake, help me!"

He thought that pointing out the irony of a demon invoking the hostile deity was probably not a wise course at the moment. Instead, he went to her, holding her body against him, while she wept and trembled. "I'm afraid," she moaned. "What's happening to me?"

He knew she knew the answer to that. His eyes strayed across the room to where the baby slept in its makeshift cradle. For a moment, he contemplated offering to kill it for her again, but he already knew what would be her reaction. Besides, who knew what effect it would have on Dru if the witch were right? The two of them – child and madwoman - were bound together somehow, and perforce, he was bound to both of them.

"Come on, love," he said, instead. "You and I both know it's the kid, yeah? But you'll get used to it in time."

"I won't!" she insisted, into his chest. "It's all wrong, Spike. I should want to kill him – be free of him - not love him the way I do."

He began to stroke her hair, smoothing down the silken strands with his fingers.

"You don't know that, do you? How can you know what you should feel when this is the first time it's happened? Kid's special – that's certain. Maybe if you look after him yourself – be a real mum – things might improve, who knows?"

"No!" Her voice was emphatic. "I can't do that. It revolts me. And yet..."

Her voice trailed off again and for a while he simply held her. Then she said, muffled, "Oh, God! He'll wake up and be hungry – and I killed her. If he cries, Spike, I don't think I can stand it."

"S'okay, s'okay," he began to back her towards the bed, soothing her. "I'll send one of those cultist tossers out for a bottle and stuff. One of them can deal with the messy bit until we get him a proper nanny." He didn't say that the late-unlamented Mel would have been a perfect choice for the role. Darla probably knew that.

"A nanny?" She'd raised her head at last. A single tear rolled down her cheek, a perfect translucent pearl.

"Yeah." He caught the tear on his finger and wiped it away. "A professional – someone with qualifications."

"That might do," she said, hesitantly. Then, "I already know I won't like her."

He tipped her onto the bed on her back then lay down beside her, sliding delicate fingers up her thigh to rest on the thin silk that covered her privates. Even now, she smelt heavenly. "You don't have to like her, you just have to not kill her."

She moaned, a faint, animalistic sound, and hearing it, he tore the silk away and dipped his fingers into cool wetness. Soon he had her grinding herself against his thumb while with his other hand, he pulled up her dress. Her breasts were ripe and inviting and he set his tongue to their lace covering, feeling her nipples grow hard as he swirled wet circles around them and sucked them into his mouth.

"Fuck me," she hissed, and then she kissed him.

He took her from behind, kneeling up with her impaled on his lap. His balls slapped against the sweet curve of her buttocks as he plumbed the depths of her. One hand was lost in her grasping quim and the other teased her nipples to stiff little peaks as he held her against him. Her head was twisted back to look at him, her eyes open and on him the whole time, so he knew it was him she was seeing, not some ghost from the past.

Towards the end she grew molten and soft, shuddering and gasping, allowing him to take control in a way she'd never previously permitted him. He wondered if she'd ever dared let Angelus see her so vulnerable.

Eyes on her face, sliding towards that final edge, he suddenly knew he was lost. He couldn't give this up now, not even for Dru's sake.

He shrugged inwardly. Maybe he just had a thing for crazy women?

Afterwards, replete, they lay in each other's arms, his hand still cupping the full curve of her breast. She seemed calmer now – more like herself – and he saw her wrinkle her nose. The dead woman was beginning to smell already.

"I'll have someone take it away," he offered, gesturing with his head towards the cooling corpse. "Waste not, want not, after all."

"My William." She kissed him sweet and soft and then suddenly she'd gone all practical. "We can't stay here."

He'd known that from the start. "Agreed. We need to find somewhere else fast. This place is rubbish."

"Not just that. He'll find us here far too easily and we're not ready."

"Angel?" He almost sneered as he said the name. There was nothing here for the old man now. "I doubt it. Tosser's probably given up searching anyway – gone running back to his little Slayer."

"No." Suddenly she was frowning. "He'll never give up, don't you see? He's his father, Spike. Don't you think he feels it?"

"Feels what?" But he knew what she meant, even as he said it. And wasn't it foolish of him to think that the kid's influence would only extend to his mother. After all, it wasn't as if he hadn't felt it himself and he was only a distant relation – a sort of half-uncle or something.

"Right – you're right," he conceded. "We need somewhere anonymous – somewhere invisible. I'd better take a trip up to the Smoke and do some scouting around."

"You had."

"Also," he went on, because one thing led to another, "we need to keep this bunch of arseholes close but not too close. We can use them to spy for us – gather information – be backup in a crisis - but there's too many of them. A lair like this can't be sustained in secrecy. Better – more practical – if we make the ones we want near us from scratch – a small inner circle."

"I'll leave that to you," she said, as so often, and she put her head down on his shoulder. He thought about it for a bit. It made sense of course, though he'd never much cared for the training of minions, and finding and turning the right people was going to be difficult.

Nothing he couldn't do, though, if he set his mind to it. Maybe he'd even make himself some children of his own to help with the process. He'd been around long enough by now to deal with all that sire/child crap.

He thought of something else then, though it seemed a lot less important in the afterglow.

"You were gonna tell me about this whole Tro-Clon thing, weren't you, love? I do all the donkey work for you, the least you can do is trust me."

She kissed him again. "I do trust you. I've told you that repeatedly. I'd have told you when the time was right." Already her eyes were hooded with secrets.

"Yeah? Why'd you get so narked with Mel, then? She up-stage you or something?"

She ran cool fingers down his cheek, tracing the line of his cheekbone and jaw. "What use are these people," she said, "if they can't keep their damn mouths shut? They have to learn, Spike, and the sooner the better. You make sure they know that."

"I can do that." It might even be fun. He waited, but she didn't say anything else. "You aren't going to tell me, are you?"

"What is there to tell? You know I believe in the prophecy and after what you've seen since we met, how could you doubt it yourself?"

That reminded him of yet another thing he'd put out of his mind.

"And Dru?" he asked belatedly. "What'll happen to her? I won't just leave her."

She kissed him a third time, soft and lingering. "I wouldn't expect you to - and I won't harm her if that's what you're worried about, as long as you make sure she's kept safe where she can't hurt my baby." She smiled as if to reassure him. "She's family, Spike, and we don't kill family, just like you said. Anyway, one day Connor will want to know his dear aunt Drusilla, because after all he wouldn't be here without her."

Her words brought the witch's warning to mind again and he felt a shiver run all through his body. Raising his head, Spike saw the brat was awake in its cradle, staring across the room in a way that seemed very un-babylike. He had the uncomfortable feeling it'd been watching and listening to everything.

*

Annabelle straightened her uniform dress. It fit badly – baggy round the waist and tight on the hips. She was sure it made her bum look huge. Her stomach was a knot of fear and excitement and she'd hardly been able to choke down any food today at all.

"Aren't you ready yet?" Darla's voice came from the outer room, and it sounded like her patience, such as it was, was fast disappearing.

"Sorry." Annabelle jammed the brown felt hat on her head, adjusting the tilt of it by feel alone since she wasn't allowed a mirror. Her hand skated over the pair of white gloves, the fingertips slightly grubby from the dust, but she left them where they were and went through to the outer room. Connor and Spike had been playing some kind of car racing game on the PS2 and Spike was in the process of turning the machine off. He was very subdued, Annabelle thought, but since she had some idea why, she wasn't surprised.

Erroll must be pretty upset about it too. He'd gone, Spike had told her – left before the trains started running this morning – which meant Ravinder was in charge of the minions in his absence. The thought of Ravinder unrestrained by Erroll made Annabelle's blood run cold. She remembered the way Ravinder had looked at her yesterday – suspicious – just waiting for a chance to act on those suspicions. It was enough to make her decide to continue her attempt to get Angel's help in spite of what Angel must have done to Spike.

Darla was dressed very carefully again – this time in black, a full-length gown in some kind of clinging satin, with her only adornment her long blonde hair. Not for the first time, Annabelle wondered if the colour was natural. She flinched a little as Darla scowled at her then snapped her fingers and gestured at Connor.

"Hold his hand," she said, "and pay attention."

"Yes, sorry." Annabelle took Connor's small, cold hand in hers. His palm was clammy to the touch and for the very first time, she missed her gloves. She just hoped that Connor would miss them too – but not too quickly.

Darla had put her hand on Spike's crooked elbow for him to escort her, which seemed old-fashioned and yet very natural to both of them, as if they'd done it a thousand times before. They were old, Annabelle knew, especially Darla, but she had no idea how old.

They went out of the room, up the stairs and through the cross tunnel, over the eastbound line to the main part of the station where the others would already be waiting. Annabelle held her breath. When would he notice? She gripped Connor's hand a little tighter and he yelped.

"You're hurting me," he said, and then spitefully, "Mama, Belle isn't wearing her gloves."

"I forgot. I'm sorry." Annabelle let go of Connor's hand, trying to hide the rush of relief she was feeling. "I was in a hurry."

"Never mind, Belle." It was Spike, of course. "Forget the gloves. They aren't important."

"I disagree." Darla reached out and reeled Connor in towards her own body, where he leaned against her, a look of smug glee on his face at Annabelle's discomfiture. Darla herself looked furious.

"I'm beginning to wonder if you're worth all this trouble, you stupid girl. You can't remember the simplest instruction and now you're becoming woefully sloppy."

"Sorry." Annabelle tried not to clench her fists but her whole body was tensed up ready for flight. What if she'd gone too far? What if Darla just decided to kill her? It wouldn't be the first time she'd lost patience forever with one of Connor's nannies.

It was Spike who saved her, yet again.

"Take it easy, love," he said to Darla. "She's not that bad. Besides, she has lots of other advantages – told you that. Who else could take this kind of life and not go mad except someone like her?"

Annabelle wondered what he meant. The Gieves-Bowens were tough, of course – at least, that's what Daddy always said –come over in 1066 with William the Conqueror - and she'd always felt different – sort-of special – but just now all she felt was scared. Darla's face was rippling ominously, her hideous vampire features threatening to emerge.

"She sets my teeth on edge," Darla said. "She does the same to all of us – except you, of course. You always were an odd one, Spike."

"Yeah, well – "Spike sounded tired – like he was going through the motions rather than really interested -"I may be odd but I've got a scar and a coat to show for it, don't forget, whereas they're both dead. Can cope with anything. You know that." There was an edge of bitter amusement to those last words.

To Annabelle, he said, "Go and fetch the sodding gloves, Belle, and be quick about it, yeah?"

"I will. Sorry." Annabelle turned and hurried back the way they'd come. She felt sick. At the top of the stairs back down to the platforms, she hid just round the corner and watched until the two vampires and their child were out of sight.

She fetched the gloves first because if she was caught and she still didn't have them, she had no idea how she'd explain it. Then she ran back up the platform, through the gap and along the eastbound platform, the sound of her running footsteps muffled by a passing train. After it had gone, the bricked-in space was silent save for the fading hum of the transformers in the tunnel.

The door to Angel's cell was wide open again – no sign of anyone about. Inside the room, Annabelle had to wait a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim light. Then she hurried over to the grille covering the ventilation shaft. When she saw it, her heart seemed to plummet into her boots. Her note was still there – exactly where she'd left it. He hadn't even seen it. Her disappointment was so great she felt tears starting up in her eyes.

For a moment, she considered giving up – begging Spike to make her a vampire and not just kill her. She didn't want to die and it was life of a sort – better than nothing. But in her heart of hearts, she knew he wouldn't do it, and even if he wanted to, Darla wouldn't let him. She had to stop thinking that he cared about her. He wanted her to think it, but it wasn't true. It couldn't be. It was just pretend to keep her from causing any trouble.

Distraught, she snatched the folded note out of the grille, stuffed the pencil in the breast pocket of her uniform dress and made for the door. She had to get back before Darla sent someone to look for her and things got even worse. She hurried along the platform towards the stairs, rounded the corner and ran smack into Ravinder coming down them.

"What are you doing here?" Ravinder was in human face but her expression was still hateful.

"Nothing." Annabelle backed away but Ravinder kept on coming, herding her in the direction of the kitchen. "I was hungry, that's all. I came to get something to eat."

"Now? When the ceremony's just about to begin? I don't believe you – and what's that in your hand?"

Ravinder made a grab for the note still tight in Annabelle's grip but Annabelle knew she couldn't risk Ravinder reading it. She backed up fast, knowing she must look guilty as sin because her face always gave her away, flooding with colour when she felt embarrassed or caught out.

"Leave me alone. I'll tell Spike!" She resorted to the only threat she could think of that might have any power over Ravinder.

Ravinder's eyes flashed gold and she grinned, showing exquisitely white human teeth, tiny as a child's. She was tiny all over, in fact – dainty as a little black-haired doll – and she always made Annabelle feel like a clumsy carthorse in comparison.

"Tell him then, you stupid stuck up gori. I'll have a story of my own to tell him that'll make him finally listen to me. Give me that note."

Fast as a snake, her black hair whipping out behind her, Ravinder snatched for the note again and Annabelle turned and ran. The trouble was there wasn't really anywhere to run to. Even if she'd had a key to the locked door that led out onto the train tracks, the trains were still running and there was simply nowhere to go.

She retreated into the kitchen, looking around wildly for a weapon. Dim memories came to her from long ago of watching some vampire film on television. She'd been scared and hidden behind the sofa but she could remember that wood killed vampires – a stake to the heart – and fire, but there was nothing in here, not even matches. There was no gas – everything was electric, and the fittings were either plastic or metal.

"Don't make it harder on yourself than it has to be," Ravinder said, gleefully, "or tell you what – do."

She sprang, and as she did so her face changed, the features convulsing into their vampire shape. Annabelle screamed but she was so terrified she couldn’t move and then Ravinder was on her, knocking her to the ground. Annabelle twisted, trying the keep the hand with the note in it away from Ravinder's reach while Ravinder tried to wrestle it from her.

"Get off me! Leave me alone!" Annabelle twisted and bucked. Her little brown hat went flying and so did the pencil in her breast pocket. Ravinder was much heavier than she looked, as if the powerful vampire muscles inside the slight body had more weight than they should have. She had hold of both Annabelle's wrists, but she'd have to let go of one to prise her fingers open and get the note. When she did, Annabelle chose her moment to raise her head and bite Ravinder's hand as hard as she could.

"Bitch!" Ravinder stopped trying to get the note off her. Instead, she straddled Annabelle's body, holding her fast between her knees, and then she drew her arm back and slapped her hard across the face. It hurt dreadfully. Annabelle screamed again. At the same time, the floor began to vibrate, heralding the arrival of another train. Soon the whole room was shaking.

Ravinder's arm went up and back, ready to deliver another slap. "God, I've been wanting to do this for bloody ages," she said, viciously. "Coming in here – twisting my Erroll round your little finger with your snobby airs and graces. Who the bloody hell do you think you are?"

Annabelle's hands were scrabbling wildly on the floor on either side of her, the note balled up in one, the other searching desperately for a weapon. Suddenly, she felt the pencil roll against her fingers and she scrabbled it into her grip. Pencils were wood, weren't they? Above her, Ravinder was lost in her vindictive fury and the open-handed slap had changed into a clenched fist all set to deliver a teeth-shattering blow.

"When Spike's finished with you," Ravinder shouted over the noise of the approaching train, "I'm going to hold you down while Erroll rapes you bloody. Then I'll feed you to the Gravids myself."

Annabelle was crying – she couldn't help it - but all the same, she knew she couldn't let Ravinder's punch connect. If Spike and the others saw her all battered and bruised, it would all come out – the note – everything.

As Ravinder's tiny fist plummeted towards her, she twisted desperately and jabbed upwards with the pencil, catching the woman right in the chest. At that moment, the train thundered through the station, setting the pots and pans on the cooker rattling. Annabelle stared up at Ravinder and Ravinder stared back, a look of shock and incomprehension on her face. Her mouth framed the words, "What have you done?" and then she screamed and exploded into dust.

Annabelle gaped in shock. The rush of air of the passing train seemed to seize the swirling remains of Ravinder and draw them into its wake. Annabelle waved her hand through the remnants to dissipate them, the pencil falling from her nerveless fingers. After a moment, she scrambled to her feet and threw up in the sink. Her legs were shaking.

"I'm sorry," she said aloud. "I didn't know that would happen. I hope it didn't hurt too much."

Then it struck her how stupid she was being and then she thought of Erroll and how angry he would be - because he'd loved Ravinder, Annabelle knew it, and Ravinder had loved him. They were brother and sister in a way, though they did lots of things together brothers and sisters weren't supposed to do.

And what about Spike? He hadn't been close to Ravinder the way he was to Erroll but Ravinder was still his. His child. She'd belonged to him in a way that Annabelle didn't understand at all.

Annabelle knew she should tidy herself up and get back to the ceremony but it seemed hopeless now. Maybe she should kill herself before the vampires did it for her? She didn't want to die, but most of all, she didn't want to be eaten alive. There were a couple of knives in the drawer. They weren't very sharp but maybe they'd do?

A coldness settled over her as she made up her mind, along with a sudden urge to leave everything tidy, which must be the Norland College training again. She bent to pick up the note, smoothing the crumpled paper, and that was when she realised there were far more words on it than there'd been before. Angel had seen it.

All thoughts of knives went out of her head as she read what he'd written. In fact, she had to read it twice before she really understood it.

Dear Miss Gieves-Bowen,

I'm here to help you. The Watchers' Council and your family sent me. But you have to help me too. I have to take my son out of here. They're turning him into a monster like them. When I give you the signal, you must bring Connor to my room at night after the trains stop running and my friends will come to help us get away. Don't worry. When the time comes, you won't find it difficult. Just bring him.

It was signed Angel, with a curly, old-fashioned flourish to the signature.

Annabelle's heart was beating nineteen-to-the dozen. She read the note again. Then she tore it into tiny pieces and threw it in the bin. She took a broom from the corner and swept the remaining dust, some of which might be Ravinder's, out into the corridor to be carried away by the next passing train. Then she brushed herself down and put her hat back on, pulled on the gloves and started to run.

She'd just have to hope that Spike and Darla hadn't sent Ravinder to look for her in the first place and that she was long gone from here before Erroll came back.

Chapter Text

"I, Angelus of Aurelius, do solemnly swear by the infernal blood in my veins, that I will protect you, Connor, child of Darla, grandchild of the Master, with my life if necessary and for as long as I shall live."

Spike hated all this ritual crap. It was like being trapped in a bad fantasy movie. It occurred to him too that whoever had thought up the phrasing of this oath – and he was fingering old Nest as the culprit – could have worded it a bit better. As it was, not only did it impose on Angel no obligation or loyalty to Darla herself but he was free to interpret 'protecting' Connor however he saw fit.

Still, in the end, it didn't make any difference. Spike was pretty sure Angel wouldn't consider himself bound by an oath taken to a vampire, even signed in blood like this one. For that matter, Angelus wouldn't have either.

"There. That wasn't so difficult, was it?" Darla's voice was at its most sweetly poisonous. She was holding Connor in her arms like she was afraid if she didn't hang on to him, the kid would try and run away. Looking at his face, Spike wasn't so sure he wouldn't. It amused him no end to see that childish pout and snarl all aimed at Angel, especially since he himself was usually the one on the receiving end.

"What do you say, Connor?" Darla was frowning at her son. Any minute now she'd be giving poor Belle a tongue-lashing for not teaching him better manners.

"Thank you," Connor said, sulkily, to Angel, and Spike saw Annabelle breathe a sigh of relief. Her hair was a bit awry, he noticed and there was a smear of dust on the front of her dress. He supposed she must have fallen over in her haste to get back with the gloves.

"Now what?" Angel had risen from his knees. His eyes were fixed on Connor, as if he couldn't ever look at him enough.

"Well," Darla gazed up at Angel slyly, "if you were anyone else, I'd say, now we feast. However, I guess in the circumstances, it would hardly be polite. You must be terribly hungry, Angel."

"I can manage." Angel looked pained – or maybe he was just constipated? Spike was pretty sure that a diet of pigs' blood played havoc with a vampire's digestion.

"We could play chess," Darla said, suddenly, "or backgammon. You used to be fond of both games, as I recall, back in the day."

"Or we could go out clubbing." Spike couldn't stop himself butting in. In spite of Darla's words the previous day, he didn't like the way she and Angel were just so comfortable together. "Always were a live wire on the dance floor, weren't you, Angelus old son?"

They both ignored him. Angel was looking down at Darla – and from his vantage point he could see right down her cleavage – his eyes flicking from her to Connor and back. "Chess it is," he said, at last. "I don't think you've beaten me yet."

"Well, there's always a first time." Darla's smile was cool. She snapped her fingers at one of the minions to go and fetch the chessboard and men. Connor, meanwhile, had climbed on her knee and had his little arms wound tightly around her neck. Spike wondered how long she'd put up with it.

He nodded to Angel's guards – a signal to them to keep their wits about them. At the same time, he realised Ravinder was missing. She was nowhere to be seen amongst the minions, now dispersing about their business save for the two guarding Angel. The bloody little fool had probably gone chasing off into the tunnels after Erroll, Spike thought, and he added another cross to his mental checklist of her bad behaviour. There were getting to be a few too many of those. Maybe it was about time to teach her the true meaning of discipline?

Of course, that brought him back to thoughts of Angelus and his own upbringing, and he frowned again to see that same person – because it was the same person, no matter what the bastard claimed – sitting down all cosy to play chess with Darla as if they were holed up together by choice - a family like in the old days. Any minute now, Angel would be calling Spike to come and sit at his feet so he could mess about with his hair the way he'd used to do back then, and if Dru were here, he'd be wanting her to play a tune on the pianoforte.

"Think I'll take a stroll," he said. "I'll see you old folks later."

Neither of them even looked up from setting out the chessmen.

Seeing that, Spike tried very hard not to storm out, but it was bloody difficult. He went across to the kitchen on the eastbound platform and poured himself a drink. There was a pencil on the floor – one of Connor's colouring pencils – and he picked it up and spent a while trying to do the crossword. He'd never been good at puzzles, though. After a while, he gave it up and had another drink instead. He realised that he hadn't believed a single word Darla had said to him the previous night. Or at least, he knew she meant it with her head, but her heart was another matter. He remembered, too, that Angelus had always used the truth about people to hurt them, because lies never had the same impact.

It was over, he thought, morbidly - this thing of his with Darla. He should take Dru and get away now while he still could and bugger the consequences. At once, nothing else seemed to matter so he left his half-finished glass on the table and walked to the other way up from the platforms, the disused stairway that led to the old lift-shaft. He descended the rickety ladders down, down into the dark. The faulty light bulb was still flickering and the air smelled fouler than ever.

"Dru?" He paused outside the cage. She was slumped in the corner, her head fallen forward onto her breast. She looked asleep or unconscious. Spike undid the padlock and went inside, shutting the door behind him. He trod daintily over the bloodstains on the floor and squatted down beside her. "Dru, love, can you hear me?"

She looked up so suddenly that he jumped in shock, staring at him with yellow eyes that glowed like lamps in the dark.

"Hurts, doesn’t it?" she hissed, and somehow it didn't sound like Dru's voice at all. "Hurts when they take everything from you – your life – your mind!" And then she put her hands over her ears and screamed.

Spike reacted instinctively – because in the last five years, all his actions around Dru seemed to involve keeping her quiet, keeping her safe – making sure she wasn't a nuisance, because that way Darla would allow her to live. Seizing both her skinny wrists in one hand, he covered her mouth with the other, ignoring the way she tried to use her fangs to bite him.

"Shush, shush," he hissed in her ear. "It's all right, love, I got you." He began to rock her, soothing her, and after a short struggle, she relaxed against him and her face reverted to human. She shut her eyes and tears streamed down her cheeks leaving clear trails behind through the dirt. He let go of her mouth.

"It does hurt, doesn't it?" she said again. "Hurts worse when your family do it."

"Well, you'd know," he wanted to say, remembering the way she'd flirted with Angelus – and not just flirted. He'd sat too many times in that bloody wheelchair watching Angelus take her like a cheap trull, legs splayed, on her back on any convenient flat surface. Angelus had usually kept his gaze on Spike at such times, not wanting to miss a moment of his jealous fury, but Dru's eyes had all been for her daddy.

He didn't say it, though. That was the past and though he hadn't forgiven her, he loved her still in spite of it.

"Grandmamma will be so sad," Dru said suddenly, in a sing-song voice, "if Daddy goes. Daddy won't leave her anything if he can help it – not even you, my Spike."

"Dunno what you mean, love," he said. As if he ever did.

Dru giggled, an unnerving sound full of spite and childish glee that reminded Spike horribly of Connor. "They're coming," she said. "Through the dark – the black knight and the white, and they're bringing their magic with them."

"Who's that then, Dru?" Suddenly, she was making a kind of sense – more than she had done for ages. "Who're these knights, then? Anyone we know?"

"I know them," she said, smugly. "You don't know them. You don't know anything."

"Very likely." Spike undid the chains at her wrists and tried to haul her to her feet. "Come on," he said. "We're getting out of here. Not gonna stay where I'm not wanted."

But Dru was clinging to the cage bars, so hard he couldn't shift her.

"Silly Spike," she said, sing-songing again. "Daddy's filled your head with nonsense. He always could do that."

Spike gave up trying to raise her. "So what are you saying? That I'm letting Angel mess with me – that I should just stay? She doesn't want me, Dru. She only wants him, just like always."

"No." Suddenly Dru sounded completely sane. She regarded him solemnly with pale eyes that reminded him of winter. He shivered, even though it was hot and stuffy down here in the dark. "She wants you, Spike, she needs you."

"Bugger that! You didn't see her making moon eyes at him, Dru. I'm nothing to her. Never have been."

Dru closed her eyes and began to hum and Spike thought he'd lost her again. Then she spoke again, almost chanting the words.

"Grandmama is so greedy – just like her dear Papa, the Master. She wants you but she wants Daddy as well. She wants him in little pieces to feed to the baby prince."

Spike got up. He began to back away from her. She didn't try and follow him. Instead, she looked up at him soberly and said, "Go back, Spike. It's not time for me yet."

Her head drooped again and she became completely still, as if she were a clockwork doll whose mechanism had run down.

"Fuck!" Spike slammed the cage door shut behind him and began to run back the way he'd come.

*

Annabelle had thought Darla would send her and Connor away when the chess game started. Usually, she couldn't tolerate Connor's clinging for very long. This time, though, she endured it, allowing the child to sit on her lap and make her dress all creased, even to fiddle with her perfectly styled hair. Seeing the way Angel's eyes would fix themselves on Connor, only reluctantly returning to the game, Annabelle thought Darla had done it to torture him.

Annabelle had tried to learn chess when she'd been at school – mostly so she'd have some way to get Daddy's attention when she was staying at his house in the school holidays. It was hard, though. She'd never once managed to win a game. Both Darla and Angel seemed like seasoned players, and Annabelle supposed they'd had plenty of time to practise.

Angel moved a pawn.

"So," he said. "You and Spike – how'd that come about?"

Darla moved her own pawn. She was playing white. "William's a helpful boy," she said. "Always was – you know that."

"Helpful? Not exactly how I'd describe him. Where'd you find him?"

"In Mexico." Darla kissed Connor's forehead but her eyes were on Angel's face. "Ciudad Juarez, to be exact."

Angel's hand paused but then he completed the move, setting down another pawn. "You got all the way from Los Angeles to Juarez on your own – with a new-born baby?" He sounded incredulous. "How'd you do it?"

"I stole a car – in fact, I stole several." Darla took Angel's second pawn. "He –" and she nodded her head towards Connor – "never stopped crying once."

"I don't understand." Suddenly there was a raw edge to Angel's voice – an open, vulnerable quality that made Annabelle's breath catch in her throat. "You told me you were afraid that once he was born you wouldn't be able to love him any more – that you wouldn't even remember loving him. His soul's not inside you now. It's not nourishing you. How can you be like this with him?"

"What, you think I should've stuck around and let you put me out of my misery?" Darla laughed. "Vampires do know what love is, Angel – I forgot that. Once he was born, I remembered it again."

"Love? Is that what you call it?" Angel's tone turned bitter. "How is it love – keeping him down here in the dark – teaching him to be a monster just like you – allowing that...that filth to be his father? That's not love. You're destroying him."

"Are you going to make a move or not?" Darla's voice was calm but Annabelle could sense her growing fury. "Ask Connor if he wants to leave me, Angelus. Go on, ask him."

Connor didn't wait to be asked. He stared at Angel solemnly and said: "You're stupid. I always knew you were – and Papa isn't filth."

Angel ignored him. "See what I mean?" he said. He moved his knight and captured Darla's pawn.

"Hush, baby," Darla kissed Connor smooth brow and held him tight against her. "He wouldn't talk that way if he knew what you really were. Mama knows – Papa knows – but he doesn't."

"He's a little boy," Angel said. "An innocent human child with a soul. He doesn't belong here any more than she does," and he gestured at Annabelle, who was trying to shrink into the background and not be noticed.

Darla didn't even glance her way.

"He's a lot more than that," she said. "One day you'll see for yourself. In fact, one day the whole world will see." She moved her other pawn out of danger.

There was silence for a while. They played the game with furious concentration. Angel took Darla's bishop and Darla two more of his pawns. Then, Angel said, "So – about Spike – in what way is he helpful beyond the obvious? For that matter, what happened to Dru? Spike get tired of her, did he?"

"Ah, dear Drusilla." Darla put Angel's king in check. "Without her, I wouldn't be the woman I am today. Spike would never get tired of her, Angel, you know that – and as for his helpfulness, everything you see around you is his doing."

Angel glanced up at the low ceiling, the grubby white tiles on the walls. Nearby, a rusting notice left over from wartime days read, ENQUIRIES & COMMITTEE ROOM. Angel didn't look impressed. "So much for a room with a view."

"You think I can do better?" Darla watched as Angel rescued his king. She moved her own king to safety. One hand still petted Connor's hair. "You, for instance?"

"I always found you the best hotels," Angel said. "You never lacked for anything you wanted – clothes, food – the very best food – money, parties – I gave you all of it."

"You did." There was a nostalgic note in Darla's voice. "You were the best at everything – the handsomest, the cleverest, the most wicked – my darling boy, my beautiful, evil Angelus."

"Mama!" Connor pulled Darla's hair quite hard but she took no notice of him. Instead, with her eyes fixed on Angel, she moved her queen and put Angel in check again. "Our glory days, Angelus," she said. "I wouldn't have missed them for the world. But they're over. There are other things I want more now and I can't have both them and you."

"Why not?" Angel seemed to have forgotten the game entirely. He leaned across the board, a pleading look on his face, and Annabelle wished that once – just once – a man would look at her that way before she died.

For answer, Darla gave Connor a gentle push off her knee and steered him in Annabelle's direction and this time he went, though his eyes were fixed on his mother and father, wide and blue and curious. Annabelle could see why. For a moment, she thought Angel and Darla would kiss. The air between them almost seemed to sizzle.

"Why not?" Darla said. Then she leaned back in her chair, holding the white queen in her hand. "Because I know you don't want me, Angel. I knew it when you chose your little virgin Slayer over me." Angel opened his mouth to protest but she held up her hand – regal – peremptory – and he was silent, an unreadable look on his face. "Even if you lost your soul again, I wouldn't take you back. Angelus wouldn't tolerate my son for more than five minutes before he killed him. He could never brook a rival. No, I'm the Mistress now. I don't want equals around me."

Then she leant forward and put the chess piece down on the board. "Oh, and by the way, checkmate."

Connor had come to Annabelle's side and wonder of wonders, was standing quietly. He even stuck up his hand for her to hold and she took it. She had a sense of having watched more than just a chess game, as if some long undecided contest had suddenly been ended.

"It's over, then," Angel said, and Darla smiled. "It is."

Then there was the sound of feet pounding up stairs and moments later, Spike came into view. He'd been running but when he saw them watching him he slowed to a walk, affecting nonchalance.

"Good game, was it?" he asked, and he fished a packet of cigarettes out of his coat pocket and took one out, though he didn't light it. Darla didn't like him smoking around Connor.

"Most... enlightening." Darla smiled sweetly. "And you?"

"Yeah," Spike said, "I feel pretty enlightened an' all."

"Good to hear." Darla got to her feet and gestured to the guards to escort Angel back to his room. "You'll be gone by this time tomorrow," she said to him. "Don't look for us again, Angelus. You won't find us."

Angel stood up too. "That's Angel. Angelus is some other guy. Hope you're not going to renege on our agreement? After all that sitting around, I could do with some exercise." His eyes were on Spike. Annabelle felt herself colouring up and had an absurd desire to put her hands over Connor's ears so he couldn't hear the conversation. She glanced down at his face and saw on it the familiar look of avid curiosity.

"He's yours like I promised," Darla said. She was straightening the folds of her gown. "If you have an itch you need to scratch, who am I to deprive you? Just remember what I said last night, that's all. Don't damage him."

She walked off in the direction of the platforms, gesturing to Annabelle to follow her. As they went past Spike, Annabelle saw a look exchanged between him and Darla – a wary, almost covert look that she didn't like at all. She glanced back over her shoulder, to see Angel's whole attention fixed on her. He moved his hand very slightly, almost beckoning, but then his eyes were on Connor again as if there were nothing else worth looking at in the world.

It was enough, though. That was the signal.

*

"Alone again at last." Angel was sitting on the narrow bed smoking a cigarette. He regarded Spike lazily through the blue haze of smoke that filled the room.

"Yeah, wonderful." Spike had already taken off his duster. He began to unfasten his belt. He hoped Darla had understood his silent message back at the chess game – that even now she'd sent word to Erroll to gather the troops and keep a bloody good eye out for trouble. He had no way of knowing, though. He'd had to tag along behind Angel at once to avoid arousing suspicion. "How'd you want me, then, mate? Bend over and grab my ankles, shall I?"

Angel exhaled smoke. "I thought I might take you on your back tonight, William," he said. "Like a woman. After all, the way Darla treats you, you might as well be one."

Spike thought of the fate of Connor's wet nurse, and of one of the kid's earlier nannies who'd particularly pissed off Darla. "Oh, you don't wanna know how Darla treats women."

Angel stubbed out his cigarette on the floor by his foot. Then he got up and crossed the room, looming over Spike and seizing hold of his hands. "Let me," and he began to undress him with sudden unnerving tenderness. "I told her you were filth," he said. "I guess you are – I guess we all are – but such beautiful filth, William. Look at you."

Spike looked down to where Angel had freed his cock from his jeans and sure enough, the poor dumb piece of flesh was filling and rising, in thrall to the power of Angel's voice. Angel wrapped his big hand around it and pumped it once and Spike heard his own breath hiss out through his teeth. Angel put his mouth close to Spike's ear. "I want you naked," he said, his big hands busy sliding Spike's jeans down to half-mast, cupping his arsecheeks and squeezing the flesh between his fingers. "God, Dru had good taste."

The mention of Dru brought Spike to his senses a little. He realised he'd been on that slippery slope into the depths of unthinking sensual pleasure – the one that Angelus had never had any trouble pushing him down. "If you're fishing for information," he said, "don't fucking bother. I've nothing to say."

"Come on, William, don't be that way." Angel pulled Spike's t-shirt off over his head, giving him the momentary sensation of being trapped in the folds of material, which wasn't pleasant given the circumstances. The look on Angel's face was, though – the expression of intense lust all directed at him, as if he were the most desirable object in the world. Spike had forgotten how Angelus could do that.

Angel herded him backwards towards the bed at an awkward shuffle since his jeans were trapped around his knees. A moment later, Spike was flat on his back with Angel on top of him and Angel was reaching to pull off his Docs and tug his jeans all the way down. Angel sat up then, staring down at Spike's body as if it were a feast laid out just for him. Then he bent and ran his tongue from nipple to navel, licking round the indent in Spike's flat belly in a wet circle before heading further south. With half his mind – the half that still worked – Spike recognised the attempted seduction and he almost laughed. At least it was better than last time – and some of what Angel was doing... well, he'd have to make sure to teach it to Erroll.

"You're so fucking beautiful." Angel was nipping at Spike's ball sac with blunt human teeth. Then he bent Spike's knees up to his chest and went burrowing deeper. Spike gasped and moaned as the cold tongue pushed at the resistant muscle. "Oh, fuck," he groaned. He couldn't help it.

Angel surfaced for air. "All in good time," and he laughed.

He ran his tongue up Spike's cock from balls to tip before opening his mouth wide and engulfing it whole. Spike jerked with shock and something that sounded suspiciously like a squeak escaped his lips. He'd never in a million years have expected to see this – his cock - his cock, fuck it - in Angel's mouth. For a moment, he was afraid the old man meant to bite it right off but when there was no sign of that, just sucking and licking and the easy movement of practised throat muscles, he let go the thought and let go everything else too. Instead, he moaned and gasped his pleasure – head flung back, body twisting and writhing. Then he felt huge fingers worming their way inside him. He howled at the sensation -like fireworks going off inside his body - scrabbling with his arms whether to fend Angel off or to urge him on, he wasn't quite sure.

"Shush, shush, William. It's okay. I got you." Angel had released Spike's cock with a wet pop of lips and a cat-like curl of tongue round the exposed pink head. His breath tickled the sensitive flesh just inches in front of him. "Poor little boy," he said. "I know what you need," and he sat up, still pumping Spike's cock with one hand while with the other he freed his own. It was huge – a bloody bargepole – glistening with icy pre-come. Angel gathered some of it onto his fingers and used it as slick.

"Let your sire take care of you," Angel said, and he bent Spike's knees back until they were right next to his ears, positioned himself and began to push – gentle little thrusts this time, rather than the previous battering. Spike felt the smooth muscles in his back passage contract around Angel's cock, encouraging it on its way.

"Yeah, take it, baby." Angel was grinning in triumph. "You know you want it."

Spike knew he should say something – crack a joke – something – but he couldn't get the words out. All he could think of was that Angel had said almost the exact same words to him that Erroll had said the last time they'd fucked. Had Spike taught Erroll those words because he'd remembered Angelus saying them? Why the hell did he still want this? But when Angel began to move – short shallow thrusts that glanced past his prostate – when Angel laced their fingers together and looked down at him as if he really wanted him – he realised he just didn't care. Instead, he let himself melt, surrender – be washed by the tides of lust onto a familiar shore where he knew he couldn't stay long but...oh, it was good to be back!

*

"It's late," Darla said to Annabelle. "Put Connor to bed. He can have his bath in the morning."

She'd taken off her dainty little high-heeled shoes and lay on her side on the bed, one slender arm propping her head up.

"Yes," Annabelle said. As usual, she couldn't quite bring herself to say 'madam' and as usual, she was thankful that Darla didn't insist on it.

"I'm not sleepy!" Connor protested. "I want to wait for Papa to come back."

Darla turned to answer him just as a faint vibration began in the floor, heralding the arrival of another train. With Darla distracted, Annabelle glanced quickly at her watch. It was midnight. In another hour the last train would have passed and the current would be switched off. She didn't know what Angel's plan was but it would have to take place between then and five am when the current came back on if he wanted to escape through the tunnels.

Maybe that wasn't his plan, though? Maybe he meant to get out via the spiral stairway? The door at the top was solid steel. Annabelle didn't think it could be broken down but maybe Angel had a key.

"What are you standing there gawping for, stupid girl?" Darla raised her voice over the hum of the transformers. "I told you to put him to bed."

"No!" Connor said, again, and, with horrific suddenness, Darla hissed back at him, "Do what you're told, you hateful little brat!" She'd gone into vampire face, her features even more hideous in the subdued light of the room. She got like this with Connor sometimes – angry with him – almost fierce - as if she hated him for even existing.

Connor didn't react to her outburst at all. Instead, he regarded his mother from stony blue eyes. "You're stupid to miss him. I'm much better than him."

The cacophony of the passing train drowned any answer Darla might have made and when it passed, her vampire face went with it. She gathered Connor close in her arms and kissed him. "You are," she said. "Oh, you are, my beautiful little boy."

"Papa's better than him too," Connor went on. He nipped at the skin on the side of his mother's neck with his childish human teeth and Annabelle saw Darla shudder and close her eyes. "Papa doesn't want to take me away from you."

"Such a clever boy – Mama's little darling." Suddenly, Darla's eyes opened again, staring coldly at Annabelle. "Go to bed, girl," she said. "My son is sleeping with me tonight."

Annabelle didn't argue. In fact, it was a relief. She went into the inner room she shared with Connor and shut the door on them. They gave her the creeps and never more so than when they were all over each other like this.

She changed quickly out of her uniform and put on jeans and a long-sleeved top. Then she got under the bedclothes and waited. It was quiet except for the rattle and vibration of passing trains and after all this time, she'd come to find that quite soothing. Soon, she started to relax and even to feel sleepy. But every time her eyes closed, she'd jerk awake again because she'd remember something - like that she'd killed Ravinder and what Erroll would likely do when he found out. She'd seen him angry before, though never really with her, and she knew that no matter how easy-going he seemed, he was still a vampire underneath.

It was scary to think about so she tried not to. Instead, she tried to think of other things – normal things from when her life had just been like everyone else's; holidays with Daddy and Harry at Daddy's place in Scotland, going shopping with Mother in the West End and having tea at Harvey Nicks afterwards– games lessons at school – the routine at Norland College. It didn't work, though. Instead, for some reason, her mind kept going back to things she didn't really want to think about, like the weird stuff she'd been taught at her first school.

She'd only been eight when Mother and Daddy had quarrelled about it and she'd been taken out of there and everything was a bit hazy, but the teachers had been really strict, she remembered, and mostly old men, and the lessons were long and boring. There'd been lots of history but not the normal sort like the Tudors and Stuarts. It'd been all to do with long-lost empires where the people had funny names. She remembered the pictures of them. Some of them had had horns. Maybe they hadn't even been people?

She's learned stuff too about this special girl the teachers were always talking about, but she couldn't remember why or who the girl was supposed to be. Belatedly, she wondered if it was this that had made her decide she herself was special. Maybe she'd imagined she was this special girl, the way other girls pretended to be princesses?

Annabelle's eyelids drooped again, and again she forced them open. It was nearly one o'clock now and she had to stay awake. When the last train went past she made herself get up. For a while, she sat, staring at the door into Darla's room, trying to gather the courage to open it. What if Darla was still awake? She'd be in fearful trouble. Her stomach felt as if it'd shrunk to half its size – or maybe it had grown bigger because there didn't seem to be enough room in her body for her lungs to expand properly. She was panting – feeling a bit light-headed – and suddenly she realised she was in danger of hyperventilating.

She made herself breathe more slowly. Then she made herself get up and walk towards the door. She reminded herself she really didn't want to die and this was her only chance to escape. With her hand on the doorknob, she stopped again. Then, although panic threatened to overwhelm her – drive her back to the false security of her bed – she opened the door.

Total silence greeted her. With the trains stopped for the night, not even a breath of air stirred the hangings in the room. Annabelle stood still, staring. Darla lay on her back on the bed. She wore a white lace negligee and her arms were crossed on her breast like some old statue on a tomb. She was pale and she wasn't breathing. In fact, she looked dead. Connor was still dressed. He was curled up next to his mother with one arm flung possessively across her waist. As Annabelle watched, he twitched and whimpered but he didn't wake up.

Annabelle remembered that Angel had said: when the time came, she was to bring Connor to him and she wouldn't find it difficult. She wished he'd explained what he meant a bit better.

As she tiptoed across the room, she kept expecting Darla to catch her scent and wake up, but instead Darla continued to lie corpse-still, which was scary and unnerving. Annabelle was sure she wouldn't be able to do it but somehow or other she found herself reaching out and seizing hold of Connor's outspread arm. He whimpered again and his childish brow furrowed but he didn't wake and neither did his mother.

It's not natural, Annabelle thought, and as she thought it, a great sense of urgency overtook her. Quickly, she hefted Connor's small body into her arms, leaving Darla bereft on the bed, and carried him to the door. She tried balancing him on her hip but he was too big and his legs dangled down too far, and as she stumbled out into the bricked-in corridor, she very nearly dropped him.

Recovering herself, she set off at a staggering run towards the archway and the eastbound platform.

*

Spike lay on his side. Angel was taking up most of the room, leaving only a narrow strip on the edge of the bed for him. His head was pillowed on Angel's shoulder. They were sharing a cigarette between them like some clichéd romantic couple from an old black-and-white movie.

"Think you'll miss me when I'm gone?" Angel asked, suddenly. He blew smoke into the air, in which dust from a train just passed hung heavy, trapped in the blue haze.

"You are joking, aren't you?" Spike snatched the cigarette off him and took a deep, satisfying drag. "Can't wait to see the back of you."

Angel was looking at him, his eyes slitted and secretive. "See, I don't get that," he said. "In fact, I don't get this whole set-up. It's not like you at all."

"Like I said, you don't know me any more." Spike made to pass the cigarette back but Angel's hand had suddenly dropped to his groin and a big finger ran down the length of his sated cock – which, only too predictably, perked up and took an interest.

"Don't I?" Angel was smiling. "I know enough to know you still like to take it in the ass, William – always were quite the giver. Some things don't change."

"Fuck you," Spike said, without heat. He took another drag. Angel was squeezing him now and it hurt just a little.

"I also know," Angel went on, "that it's all about love with you – even if what you think is love is just a travesty of the real thing. Darla doesn't love you, William. You know that as well as I do. Darla doesn't love at all."

"Leave me alone." Spike prised Angel's hand off and sat up. The semi-tumescent flesh bobbed at his groin disconsolately. He leaned down and stubbed the cigarette out on the floor. "Kept your eyes shut as well as your mind have you, while you've been here?"

"If you're talking about her feelings for Connor, forget it," Angel said. "She wants him because she thinks he belongs to her. That's not love. It's just possessiveness."

"Who made you the judge and the fucking jury?" Spike could feel his temper rising and tried to smother it. Angel wanted to make him angry. "She's as much right to the kid as you – more, since she had to carry him for nine months in her belly. As far as she's concerned, mate, you're nothing but a fucking sperm-donor. You've no rights to the kid at all. If you have, show me the sodding paperwork."

"More rights than you," Angel said, and for a moment, his voice turned venomous. Then, suddenly, he laughed. "This is ridiculous. You're vampires. You've no business raising human children."

"That what you think he is?" Now it was Spike's turn to laugh. "Think all that saying he hates you is just sweet childish prattle, do you?"

"You've turned him against me," Angel said, as if there couldn't be another answer.

"Didn't need to." Spike began to put on his jeans. He had to be careful buttoning his fly. "That kid's not normal, Angel. Dunno how you could fucking expect he would be – child of two vampires, it's just not natural."

"I agree he's special –" Angel began but Spike had had enough. He pulled on his t-shirt then waited impatiently as another train went by. There couldn't be many more now – just the last drunks to be ferried home.

"You fucking listen to me, Angelus," he said, because he was tired of this Angel crap. "Kid's special all right but maybe not how you think."

Angel was sitting up now too. "What do you mean?" His tone was very hostile.

Spike shoved his feet back into his boots. "Somehow – who the fuck knows how -Darla found me and Dru in Juarez," he said. "The minute she walked in the room with that kid in her arms, Dru went crazy – crazier, that is – and she hasn't been right ever since. He's the Miracle Child all right – the real Anointed One – the one old bat-face was waiting for."

Just for a moment, Angel looked daunted but then he said, "So Dru is still around. I wondered. I almost thought I could sense her. Quite a little harem you've set up for yourself here, William."

Spike rolled his eyes. "You don't fucking listen, do you? This kid of yours – you know what else they called him in the prophecy? The Tro Clon. The fucking Destroyer, that's what."

"I know that." Angel dismissed the epithet with an impatient wave of his hand. "I don't believe that nonsense any more than I believe Darla's the Master's heir. What surprises me most of all is that you believe it. You were always such an iconoclast, William."

Spike was putting on his duster. He felt tired suddenly and his eyelids were heavy. He rubbed them in annoyance. He'd just raised his hand to bang on the inside of the door and ask to be let out when Angel spoke again.

"Tell me. I want to know. And most of all – because I don't understand it – I want to know why she chose you."

Spike rubbed his eyes again. It was getting hard to concentrate but one thing was crystal clear.

"Pisses you off, doesn't it?" he said. "Knowing it was me that raised your son – that I'm the one he calls 'Papa'? Far worse than if it'd been some stranger. Family are always the ones who can hurt us most. You taught me that, Angelus."

"You look tired," Angel said in reply. "Maybe you should lie down," but Spike just gave him two fingers. He turned and banged on the door. There was no response from the guards.

"Fuck! Where've those wankers gone?"

Spike knocked again. Suddenly, there was a rush of air and Angel was right beside him. A moment later, he was in a headlock he couldn't break. His reactions were all off anyway. Angel began to drag him back towards the bed.

"You didn't answer my question."

Spike struggled feebly but he couldn't break Angel's grip.

"She chose me because I'm family," he managed. His voice was slurring badly. "She knew me – knew she could trust me, provided she keeps me sweet. And she has kept me sweet, Angelus – you ought to know just how."

Angel didn't seem to be listening. Instead, he tightened his stranglehold. "Didn't think you came so cheap," he said, "but it doesn't surprise me to hear it. She'll betray you, William – put you down like a dog – and I hope I'm there to see it."

Moments later, Spike found himself on his back on the bed again. He felt dizzy – enough to know this wasn't natural. This was it. Angel was springing his trap and Spike was right in its jaws. He couldn't say it came as in any way a surprise.

Angel was leaning over him and Spike was sure if he could only focus, he'd see his death in Angel's eyes again.

"Since you mention it, though," Angel said, "it does piss me off that you got to raise my son. It pisses me off that you ever touched him."

His arm went back. The last thing Spike saw before blackness took him was Angel's fist coming towards his face.

Chapter Text

By the time Annabelle had carried Connor through to the eastbound platform, her arms were aching. She'd had to put the little boy down twice, he felt so heavy. Both times, he'd stirred and half-woken. The second time he'd called for his mother but then gone back to sleep. It was very weird, as was the total silence everywhere. Annabelle had never seen the station so deserted.

When she came through the archway at the bottom of the stairs, she stopped again, her heart in her mouth, but the solitary guard was slumped on the ground at his post outside Angel's cell, as dead to the world as Darla. After a moment, the pain in her arms propelled Annabelle forward. She felt a little more confident now. How he'd done it, she had no idea, but Angel had made all the vampires fall asleep. She nudged the guard with her foot and he sagged and keeled over sideways, loose-limbed and heavy.

"Mr Angel?" Annabelle knocked on the door timidly. At once, she heard a flurry of movement from inside the room, then she heard Angel's voice.

"The guards are asleep, aren't they?" he said. "Search them for the key and let me out."

"Okay." It seemed Angel still thought there were two guards. As carefully as she could, Annabelle deposited Connor on the cold concrete floor of the bricked-in corridor and began to go through the unconscious guard's pockets. She knew his name – Anwar - another Asian, or maybe he was Turkish – but he didn't impinge on her much, part of the amorphous pack of minions from which only Erroll and Ravinder had really stood out.

"Got it?" Angel asked, just as Annabelle pulled a key from Anwar's jeans pocket.

"Yes." Fumbling a little, Annabelle put the key in the lock. "It's open," she called and she bent to pick Connor up again.

"Let me." Angel had opened the door. At once, he took the child from her, gathering him into his arms and holding him close. After a moment, Annabelle realised he was trying hard not to cry. She felt a lump in her own throat.

Angel gave the child one more convulsive hug, then he looked at Annabelle. "Miss Gieves-Bowen? Nice to meet you." And he actually stuck out his hand.

Annabelle shook it, though it felt weird to be shaking hands with a vampire.

"I'll just put him down for a moment." Angel motioned with his chin towards Connor. "It's a good thing he's a heavy sleeper."

Annabelle followed him into the room. The air smelt of cigarettes. Spike, she saw, was lying sprawled on the bed, as fast asleep as the other vampires. There was a livid bruise on his jaw and chin. Angel walked over to the bed, lifted a foot and tipped Spike's body unceremoniously onto the floor. Then he laid Connor down on the bed in Spike's place and covered him with the blanket.

"He's not normally a heavy sleeper," Annabelle said, into the eerie silence. It was so quiet she could hear the light bulbs fizzling in their sockets. "Usually, he wakes up two or three times in the night or goes and climbs in bed with Darla. But now he keeps sort of half-waking up and then nodding off again. It's weird."

She stopped, aware she was babbling and that Angel was looking at her oddly.

"You don't feel sleepy?" he asked, to her surprise, and when she shook her head he looked stricken.

"It's not supposed to work on humans."

"What isn't?" Annabelle flinched as Angel suddenly turned and pounded his fist into the wall. The plaster cracked around the impact. "Don't," she said, before she could stop herself.

Angel's knuckles were bleeding but he hardly seemed to notice. "It's a spell," he said. "One of my friends prepared it weeks back – Wesley, he'll be coming soon, along with gun – " or he must have said 'a gun', mustn't he, Annabelle thought – "but it only works on vampires. I had the antidote of course. I was to trigger the spell only as a last resort - if I couldn't talk Darla round or get near enough to her to kill her– if I decided there was no other way of getting you and Connor out of here."

He drew a long, shuddering breath. "Darla called time on me this evening and I couldn't risk the two of you getting hurt in a fight so I felt I had no choice."

"Guns don't kill vampires," Annabelle said, stupidly. Then she realised what was bothering Angel. She looked at Connor, who was defiantly asleep in spite of their talking, and then she looked back at Angel.

"I'm sorry." She didn't know what else to say.

"It doesn't matter." Angel was licking his torn hand, dainty as a cat. "He still doesn't belong here – and it doesn't change what I'm gonna do to them." And he suddenly kicked Spike hard in the ribs, the limp body curling in around the blow and then going still again.

"Are there any weapons here?" Angel asked. "Anything made of wood?"

He didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, he went out the door and started down the corridor with Annabelle trailing behind him. She didn’t want to be left on her own with Connor and besides, what if Spike woke up?

Angel went right to the end of the bricked-in corridor and opened the door to the meat locker before Annabelle could stop him. She'd never been through it herself but she knew all too well what was in there.

"Jesus!" Angel took a step back. He wrinkled his nose in disgust at the mingled smell of human waste and blood that made Annabelle gag as she caught a whiff of it. Then he slammed the door shut again.

"Bloody idiot can't even keep a decent larder."

Angel moved back towards Annabelle, opening the door to the room where the minions slept. She caught up with him and peered over his shoulder, then watched as he went through all the minions' pockets, searching for something. She could hear the white-noise hiss of the television, which never seemed to get turned off, but apart from that there was total and utter silence.

"Five of them." Angel abandoned his search. "Plus the guard. Guess the other guy went off duty. You see him in here, Miss Gieves-Bowen, because I sure don't, or that big black guy? Where's the hell have they gotten to? Are they guarding Darla?"

Annabelle had been thinking she ought to tell him to call her by her first name but after what he'd said, it didn't seem important any more. Suddenly, she was frantic.

"No," she said. "They aren't. And there're more minions than this. Spike must've sent them away when he sent Erroll."

"Who's Erroll?" But Angel wasn't really listening. Instead, he shut the door again and moved on down the corridor and suddenly, he was moving much faster. Annabelle could hardly believe he didn't know who Erroll was. It seemed the minions weren't even faces to him.

She ran after him and caught him up at the door to the kitchen. Angel had picked up one of the cheap plastic chairs and she had to get out of his way as he went back down the corridor and wedged it under the doorknob of the minions' room.

"It won't hold them for long," he said, "but maybe it won't need to." He didn't really seem to be speaking to Annabelle but only to himself.

Back in the kitchen he opened drawers and cupboards, coming up empty-handed in his search for anything made of wood. Even the mop and broom were plastic. At last, he took the largest kitchen knife he could find off the hook by the microwave, brushed past Annabelle for the second time and went back towards his cell, stopping only a moment to search Anwar's slumped body again, seemingly finding nothing. Annabelle ran after him, terrified to be alone.

"What are you doing?" Even as she called out the question to Angel, Annabelle knew the answer to it. He meant to kill Spike and probably Darla too. "We ought to leave now," she protested, overcome by a rising sense of urgency. The missing minions bothered her a lot. She thought of them out in the tunnels and their numbers seemed to multiply in her imagination, swarming like rats in the dark. "We have to get away – please, while there's still time."

Angel didn't look at her and by the time she reached the door to the guest room, he was kneeling astride Spike's limp body, pinioning it to the floor, and the edge of the knife had already cut a thin red gash in the pale skin of Spike's throat.

"One good push should do it," Angel said, still as if he was talking to himself. "Much quicker than the evil little shit deserves."

"Wait!"

Annabelle didn't know why she said it, except that Angel was wasting too much time. It wasn't as if Spike had always been nice to her. She remembered the feel of his hard hand over her mouth, suffocating her, while his eyes, watching her ineffectual struggles, were as blank and cold as chips of sky-blue glass. She thought, too, of the Gravids and how sure she'd been that Spike would never turn her.

But in spite of that, she knew that if this all went wrong, which it would if Angel didn't get a move on, Spike was far more likely to spare her than Darla was.

"Please," she said, again. "Don't do it –there's no time. Let's just go while we can."

Suddenly, as if she'd somehow summoned him, Connor sat bolt upright on the bed, opened his eyes wide, and screamed. "You leave my papa alone!" Then he flung himself at Angel, beating at him with his small, impotent fists, and Angel had to stop putting pressure on the knife blade in order to ward the small boy off.

"Wait." Annabelle tried again, as Angel struggled to control the child. Connor was making too much noise and she was desperate to make him be quiet and for Angel to stop what he was doing and get them out of here. But from the look on his face, he was too intent on his revenge.

Then, as if from nowhere, the right argument came to her. "If you want Connor to live with you, maybe he shouldn't kill Spike in front of him? Spike's all the father he's ever known until now. I mean, I know how I'd feel – besides –" and this was what mattered the most –"there's no time. We have to go."

"Bastard!" Connor screamed even louder. "I want Mama! Take me back to Mama!"

He struggled so hard that at last, Angel had to drop the knife altogether. Annabelle couldn't quite repress a tiny sigh of relief as he rose to his feet, holding Connor tight in his arms. "Okay, okay," he said. "I won't hurt him, Connor, I promise. It's okay now, son. Calm down, daddy's got you."

"You're not my dad!" Connor wriggled in Angel's grip like a fish on a hook, but very slowly, he grew calmer. After a moment, he put his head down on Angel's shoulder, arms tight around his neck, and fell asleep again, and this time Angel kept hold of him.

"I meant to kill both of them," he said, to Annabelle. "Separate them – turn them against each other if I could – take them down one by one. They've spent all these years trying to hide from me. I didn't want to be doing the same."

"There's no time." Annabelle said again. She was sure of it. Spike had to have sent Erroll and the others away for a reason. She remembered, too, the look Darla and Spike had exchanged between them and that she had no idea what Darla had been up to while she'd been shut in her room waiting for the trains to stop. Maybe she'd sent the missing guard to fetch Erroll. "They've been expecting something like this ever since you arrived. We have to get away now."

Angel went back out into the corridor. He peered through one of the grilles in the brickwork out onto the empty track. There was total silence in both directions – no sign of anyone human or otherwise.

"Are your friends coming that way?" Annabelle asked, and, at Angel's nod, "Can't you break the door down? We could go outside and wait for them."

"Here, take him." Angel passed her Connor's limp body, set his shoulder to the door and began a rhythmic pounding. The whole bricked-in corridor seemed to reverberate to the blows but the door stayed stubbornly shut.

Angel gave up. He rubbed his shoulder. "It's too strong. You got a hairpin or something? Maybe I can pick the lock?"

Hairpin? Annabelle shook her head. Connor was getting heavy again and her arms ached.

"Spike might have the key in his pocket," she offered, but Angel didn't even bother going to look.

"He may be stupid but he's not that stupid – and the minions don't have it. Where would he have left it?"

"I don't know. He might've given it to Erroll." Annabelle heard her voice rise into a wail. They were going to be caught again. She knew they were.

"Here." Gently, Angel prised Connor out of her grip and settled him on his shoulder. "It's okay. My friends will be here soon. It's the nature of the spell – I trigger it and they get an instant bead on where I am and come running."

Annabelle realised a tear was slipping down her cheek. She wiped it away with the back of her hand. "Sorry to be such a baby."

Angel patted her gently on the shoulder and the next thing she knew, she was being held close to him. His body was hard and his hand on her arm was large and cool and comforting. He reminded her of Harry.

"It must've been hell for you," he said, "living here with them."

Annabelle didn't trust herself to speak for a moment. She swallowed hard, then she nodded.

"Mostly, though Spike and Erroll were nice sometimes. They protected me from Darla. She didn't like me at all."

"I guess she wouldn't." Angel was still hugging her but his eyes were fixed on the empty track outside. "She never could stand other women, except for maybe Dru. And no vampire would want someone like you around. You'd be confusing – prey and predator all mixed up together. It's a mystery why they chose you if they had the least idea what you are."

"What do you mean?" Annabelle leaned into him harder. "Spike said only someone like me could put up with living down here without going mad."

"I mean -" Angel sounded surprised "- because you're a potential Slayer. You know that, right?"

"No," Annabelle said. "I'm a nanny." Then, "What's a Slayer?"

Even as she said it, something seemed to stir in the dim recesses of her memory. She thought of that special girl – the one they'd taught her about at her first school. "Is it a girl?"

"Yeah, that's right." Angel was staring into the eastbound tunnel. "In every generation there is a Chosen One. She will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer." He intoned the words, like he was praying in church. "I'm sorry. I thought you knew. Wesley's father – that's old Mr Wyndam-Pryce – he said you'd been to the Watchers' Council school."

"What's a Watchers' Council?" But Angel didn't answer. He'd tensed up, staring out into the darkness.

"They're coming," he said," and they're not alone."

Annabelle listened but she couldn't hear anything. "How are they going to get us out?" she asked, but when she looked up at Angel, he was still staring - not even blinking once – and his eyes shone in the gloom like a cat's. Annabelle shuddered. For a moment, she'd forgotten what he was.

After a moment, when she still couldn't hear anything, she tugged on his arm. "How long till your spell wears off?"

Angel didn't look at her. "Not long," he said, in a distant voice. "Magic doesn't work so well down here – and it doesn’t work that well on vampires anyway. We're the product of dark magic ourselves so it tends to be repelled by us."

"It's weird." Annabelle had often wondered about this. "Six months ago, I didn't know anything about vampires or magic or things like that. Why don't people know about them? Why doesn't the government know?"

"How do you know they don't?" Angel put a finger to her lips and shushed her. "Listen."

Far off in the tunnel, from the direction of Piccadilly, Annabelle heard a faint popping noise, an absence of sound rather than sound itself.

"Gunfire." Angel shoved against the door again but it still held fast. "Things must be bad for Wes to risk firing a weapon down here. Damn it, where the hell is that key?"

He took a few steps back towards his prison cell then stopped again at the sound of distant shouting. Annabelle felt sick. Everything was going wrong.

"Erroll's going to kill me," she whispered. "I killed Ravinder and he'll know I did it."

She was so scared now that for a moment, she considered trying to snatch Connor back from Angel, running with him back to Darla's room and locking herself inside.

"Steady." Angel's hand was on her shoulder, as if he'd guessed her thoughts. "Here they come. Get ready to run for your life."

Annabelle could hear pounding footsteps now, and as she watched, a man burst out of the eastbound tunnel – a black man wearing a pair of funny goggles. For a horrible moment, she thought it was Erroll but then she realised it was a stranger. Besides, he didn't even have any hair.

"Charles! Over here!" Angel called, and the man sprinted towards them, hauling himself up onto the tiny lip of platform. He was holding a thick crowbar.

"Wes is acting rearguard." He had an American accent too. "Quite a hornet's nest we've stirred up, Angel man. Seemed like they came out of nowhere, half-way between here and Piccadilly."

He'd pushed the goggles up onto his forehead and all the time he was talking, he was working at the door with the crowbar. Sweat stood out on his forehead from the effort. "No time for anything more hi-tech. Had to abandon the blowtorch back in the tunnel."

Annabelle's heart was pounding in her chest fit to burst. She felt sick. She wished she could go and hide in her secret hiding place until this was all over. From the tunnel, she could hear the sound of more feet, then the popping noise again. A moment later a second man emerged from the darkness, a white man this time. He wore the funny goggles too. She supposed they must be some kind of night vision thing. There was blood streaming down his arm.

"Wes - hey, man, you okay?" The black man turned to help him, but the newcomer waved him back. With difficulty, he hoisted himself up onto the platform and combined his efforts with the black man's, and finally the door gave way. But when Angel made to lead Annabelle through it, the white man – Wes – pushed them back.

"No time," he said. "They're right behind us – at least thirty of them. We'd never make it to Hyde Park Corner before they caught us. Our only chance is to escape through the abandoned station."

"Thirty?" Angel looked stricken. "I never saw more than eight or nine – thought that was the sum total of this half-assed operation."

His mouth set in a grim line and he glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the guest room. "Guess he learned to guard his perimeter after all." Then, "Let's get out of here," he said, and he shepherded the two men through the door. "Annabelle Gieves-Bowen, this is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Charles Gunn."

"Call me Gunn," the black man said. He wasn't looking at Annabelle. Instead, he was busy bolting the door from the inside, though it was easy enough to open now it was so bent out of shape. Just at that moment, down the corridor, a thumping began on the inside of the minions' room and they heard angry voices shouting.

"Here." Wesley reached into a satchel that was slung over his shoulder and fished out some pointed wooden stakes. "Shall I?" He gestured at Annabelle and Angel nodded.

"This goes belly-up, she needs to be able to defend herself."

Wesley passed Annabelle the stake, which felt smooth and comforting in her hand, though she was shaking so badly, she didn't think she would be able to use it. In the meantime, Angel had paused at the entrance to his former prison. Annabelle saw him look inside to where Spike still lay unconscious on the floor and for a moment, she thought he meant to go back and kill him in spite of Connor's outburst. Instead, though, with Connor still draped over his shoulder, he bent over and his arm went back and then down and Anwar exploded into a cloud of choking dust.

Angel waved his hand through it. "That's one," he said. Then, to Annabelle, "Show us the way out of here."

*

Annabelle led the way through the cross tunnel to the main part of the station, back past the area where the lair held its gatherings and onwards in the direction of the spiral staircase. Behind them, she could hear thumping and angry shouts as the vampires who'd been pursuing Angel's friends broke their way into the station.

"Oh, God, hurry!" She tried to run faster but Wesley laid a hand on her arm.

"Just don't panic," he said. "We'll be all right, you'll see."

He had a nice voice – cultured – more like some of Daddy's friends than Harry's, as if he were old before his time. But Annabelle knew he was just trying to make her feel better. He didn't really know they'd be all right.

As they ran up the stairs, the shouts behind them grew louder. Erroll must have let the other minions out and Annabelle was almost sure she heard Spike's voice. If she looked down into the stairwell, maybe she'd see Spike looking up at her, all fangs and yellow eyes.

They passed doors on their left, some closed, some open. Annabelle caught glimpses of the bathroom corridor - showers and baths – two washbasins – the backstairs down into the lair. She could hear voices coming from that direction too, chanting like in some ritual, as if they were working themselves up for the kill.

"We're not gonna make it," Gunn said. He was holding the crowbar like a club. "'Sides, that door up top's pretty solid. We tried it earlier. You go on, Angel. Take the girl and the kid and get out of here while you can."

"He's right, Angel." Wesley had stopped on the last tread of the spiral staircase. Above them, a short flight of concrete steps was all that lay between them and freedom. But suddenly, Annabelle heard a key turn in a lock, then the door opening and slamming shut again. There were voices up above– Erroll's was one of them. They were cut off from the exit.

"Shit!" Angel had been in the lead. He came back down the stairs in a hurry, Connor's head bouncing on his shoulder. "There're a dozen of them up there and they have the higher ground." He pushed past Annabelle and headed down again. "There must be a way of doubling back to the platforms."

Annabelle couldn't move. Her feet seemed rooted to the spot. But then Wesley grabbed her with his good arm. "Don't panic," he said. "Just breathe," and he hurried her after Angel while Gunn brought up the rear. As they passed the door to the bathroom corridor and the backstairs, it burst open and vampires – more than Annabelle had ever seen before - came crowding through it. They were dressed all alike in black – not like Spike dressed in black but more like some kind of uniform.

"It's those damn cultists! Keep going!" Gunn yelled and suddenly, Annabelle realised he was no longer behind her. She caught glimpses of an arm flailing, heard a horrible smashing impact, the sound of a vampire dusting. Gunn was holding them back for the moment.

They'd almost reached the bottom of the stairs again when Annabelle remembered. She couldn't think how she'd ever forgotten. She seized the handle of the last door on their right and tore it open, just as Spike rounded the corner a few steps below.

"I'm disappointed in you, Belle," he said, and he grinned wolfishly at her. Her blood seemed to run cold in her veins at the sight. She remembered his hands over her nose and mouth, suffocating her. If he'd been angry with her then...

"This way!" Annabelle plunged through the door with Angel after her and then the door slammed behind them. Angel stopped.

"Wes!" he shouted and he ran back but then he hesitated, while on the other side the gun was fired again.

"Please! I don't want to die!" Annabelle was crying. Tears streamed down her face and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. "They'll give me to the Gravids – please!"

Angel came then, Connor held tight in his arms. In moments, they found themselves on the rickety metal bridge over the huge old lift shaft, the wind from nowhere sighing through the concrete baffles below them. Unlike the rest of the lair, it was dark here – full of flickering shadows from the dim emergency lighting.

"What is this place?" Angel seemed bewildered suddenly – almost disorientated- and at the same moment, Connor woke up again and began to struggle.

"Put me down!" he screamed. "I want Mama, put me down."

"Mama's here, baby."

Annabelle stopped in the middle of the metal walkway. The way back down to the platforms was blocked. Darla stood in front of them with more of the strange black-uniformed minions behind her, her white negligee and blonde hair streaming out in the fetid wind from below.

The wind seemed to be getting stronger. Annabelle grabbed hold of the metal rail and tried not to look down. She felt dizzy. She remembered how she'd imagined something horrible climbing out of the depths towards her while she stood rooted to the spot in terror. Her knees threatened to give way under her.

"Give him back to me, Angel," Darla said. "He's not yours – he was never yours. Can't you feel his power? He belongs in the dark with me."

"Screw you, you crazy bitch." Angel was backing away, but the way they'd come was blocked now too by Spike and Erroll and a crowd of minions behind them. There were so many, Annabelle thought, swarming like cockroaches. Where had they all come from? Spike ran a hand over his jaw where the bruise was still livid. He grinned again and began to move forward.

Suddenly, Angel was balanced on the metal rail at the edge of the drop, poised like an acrobat on a rope.

"Stay back," he shouted.

"Or you'll do what?" Spike took another step forward and on the other side of the bridge, Darla did the same. "You won't risk the kid, mate – we all know that. Now hand the little tyke over, there's a good fellow."

Angel didn't move and after a moment, Spike clicked his tongue impatiently. "We all know you'll survive the drop but what about him? He's human – according to you anyway."

Then Annabelle felt his hand on her shoulder and icy fingers taking the stake from her grip.

"You've been a naughty girl," Spike said and he licked her ear with his cold tongue. Then he thrust her towards Erroll, who held her tight in his arms.

"Please don't hurt me – please!" Annabelle heard herself plead. She twisted round to look up at Erroll's savage face. "I didn't mean to kill Ravinder, I swear."

Erroll didn't answer. He just passed her to one of the other minions and wiped his hands on his jeans.

"Give him to me." There was a desperate cajoling note in Darla's voice suddenly. "Give him back to me Angel - and maybe we'll spare your friends."

Angel looked up and down, searching for a way of escape. His dark gaze flicked from Spike to Darla and back again.

"They knew the risks," he said.

There was a moment's breathless silence, and then from deep in the shaft came a moaning sound– an ascending wail of misery and longing. "Daddy! Da-ade-ee!" followed by eerie sobbing laughter that bounced off the walls, amplified by the confining baffles. There was something down there – a dark shape spider-crawling its way up the rickety staircase. Annabelle caught a glimpse of long, tangled black hair, yellow eyes and claws – her worst imaginings come to life. She screamed and at the same time, Connor began to struggle again, his little foot catching Angel full in the ribs.

Taken by surprise, Angel wavered and began to fall, the child still clutched in his arms. But as he fell, Spike moved faster than Annabelle had thought it possible to move, diving headfirst under the rail and snatching Connor from Angel's flailing grip. In fact, Angel pushed the child at him – almost throwing him to safety - and Erroll was there to grab the tail of Spike's duster and haul him back from the brink.

From far below, there was a horrible, loose-sounding thump and then silence save for the wind in the baffles. As she was dragged away, Annabelle saw the black shape scuttling back the way it had come.

*

Spike rubbed his jaw. It still hurt where Angel had punched him. But, from the thin red line on his neck, which spoke of an attempt at decapitation, he was lucky to be alive to feel it. He wondered what had made the old man hesitate.

"Poor Spike, did he hurt you?" Darla's cool hand wafted across the skin at the nape of his neck and he shuddered.

"Not like last time."

He was sitting in a chair next to her, surrounded by the full complement of minions - cultists and all -as if he and she were suddenly equals. His reward, he supposed, for services rendered. Or maybe she'd decided she was done letting him kid himself he was still a free agent.

"You gave that up years ago, William," she whispered in his ear, as if she'd read his thoughts again. "You're not your own man any more – you're mine and you always will be."

"Yeah, great."

Spike didn't dispute it, though. Too late for that – too late from the moment she'd thrown herself on his mercy and he'd let himself be flattered into helping her. He'd done it to himself – and what's more, he'd done it to Dru, who'd just saved the day for them.

He couldn't have closed the cage door properly, he supposed, and a good thing too as it had turned out. He'd have to take her a reward later.

After a moment's sour contemplation, he shrugged and turned his eyes back to the prisoners. His gaze flicked over Annabelle contemptuously. The girl was crying again, which made him want to slap her. When it came to the crunch, she'd folded without even striking a blow. She'd even admitted doing for Ravinder – pleaded self-defence. Some Slayer she'd make if it ever came to it. She'd hardly be worth the killing.

Angel's friends had taken a battering. The English bloke – Wesley – looked to be on his last legs. Blood – and very tasty it smelt too – was pouring from a wound in his shoulder while a claw-mark ripped a jagged line from cheek to jaw. The American – Gunn – looked in better shape. He stared back at Spike defiantly, but Spike could smell his fear.

As for Angel himself, like his friends he was chained up pretty tightly but Spike had ordered his broken legs to be set – he'd listened to the pained groans with some satisfaction – and had him propped up in a chair. He was family after all.

"May I?" He turned to Darla and gestured with his head towards the four prisoners.

Darla had Connor on her knee. She held him close and for a moment, Spike wondered if she'd ever let him go again. "Of course, Spike," she said. "Whatever you think best, as always."

So it seemed they were back to the flattery now. Now she'd used him to destroy the last threat to her precious brat that stood any chance of succeeding. Well, Spike thought, he had only himself to blame and seeing her looking at him that way–as if she hung on his every word - still gave him a rush.

He reached out and ruffled Connor's hair, ignoring the brat's scowl. "Watch and learn, kiddo." Then he got up and approached the captives.

Angel's face was grey with pain. He had internal injuries caused by the impact with rubble at the bottom of the lift-shaft. Spike hoped it hurt like hell. He lit a cigarette and blew the smoke at Angel.

"S'pose this ought to be where I say how brave you all were. You know – brave and bloody stupid? But I think I'll just stick with the stupid. Anyone else know you tossers're down here?"

All three men stared back at him defiantly silent, though the Wesley bloke had trouble keeping his head up.

"Thought that might be your answer." Spike moved closer. Then he snatched Annabelle from the arms of the minion who held her. He twisted one arm behind her back hard enough to make her yelp. Her skin was clammy and she stank of fear – worse than he'd ever smelt her. But under the fear there was still a hint of that unmistakable Slayer musk. A bloke could get high just sniffing it.

"See," Spike affected a casual tone. "I reckon you blokes're trained to withstand torture – name, rank and serial number - all that bollocks – but maybe it might be different if it's not you that's tortured but say, some innocent third party."

A horrible sort of whine came out of Annabelle's stretched throat. "Shush, love," Spike hissed in her ear, "at least you won't die a virgin." He slid a hand under her t-shirt.

"Fuck you!" Gunn exclaimed at the same time as Wesley said, "You bastard," and Erroll said, "Give her to me, Spike."

Spike grinned at him. "You'll get your turn, mate." He eased the pressure on Annabelle's arm a little but he didn't let go of her. Come on Angelus, he thought. Make up your sodding mind.

"Got no objections to performing in public myself," he said, to hurry the old man up, "but I don't think Belle here'll like it."

"The Watchers' Council know we're in the country," Angel said, suddenly. "They don't know exactly where. As far as they're concerned we're here to rescue her." He nodded his head in Annabelle's direction.

"So they don't know about..." Spike half-looked back over his shoulder at Darla and the kid. He raised a questioning eyebrow at Angel and after a moment, Angel nodded again very reluctantly. "Does anyone know about him, except for the three of you?"

Angel's eyes flickered oddly. "Cordy knew, but she's dead. She died two years ago."

"Oh, how sad!" Darla exclaimed, full of false sympathy. "And that other girl – the skinny one – what was her name? I've forgotten."

"Winifred." Angel glanced aside at Wesley. "You won't find her. The Watchers' Council have her under their protection."

Spike looked at Erroll and raised his scarred eyebrow. Erroll shrugged.

"l'll find her," Erroll said. "No problem."

At this exchange, Wesley burst out, "Leave Fred out of this. She won't say anything."

The bloke was evidently sweet on this Winifred girl, Spike thought. He grinned. "Not even if none of you come back? And you won't, mate, believe me."

"Fred knows what's at stake," Angel cut in. "We all do." He looked over Spike's shoulder at Darla. "There were people who wanted to dissect Connor if they could get hold of him. You didn't see the cages - one each for mother and child."

"I hope you killed them all," was Darla's response, but Angel had caught her attention.

"Do what you like to me," he said, in a pleading tone,"but let them go. They were only following orders."

"No." Darla's voice was implacable. "They're here because they're your friends, not because you pay them. You really think I'd believe they'll give up if I let them go?" She laughed, her voice full of its usual tinkling spitefulness. "They were willing to give their lives for your cause, Angelus. It'd be a shame to disappoint them. Spike? "

Spike gave Annabelle's arm a final cruel twist that made her gasp with pain. Then he thrust her back at one of the minions. It was tempting to say to Erroll, "All yours, mate," but all that talk of the Watchers' Council had given him a better idea of what to do with the worthless bitch, and anyway, first things first.

He went up close to Gunn and Wesley, letting his vampire features emerge. The air around them tasted of fear and death, and though he was happy to grant them more of both, a man had to be practical. He leaned in close to Wesley and ran an exploratory tongue over the torn cheek. Droplets of blood exploded on his tastebuds – rich and heavy – the best he'd tasted in ages. In other circumstances, the bloke would've made a fine vampire – though, like Ravinder, he'd have needed a strong hand to keep him in check and stop him getting ideas above his station. As it was, he'd make a perfect present for a lady.

As for the other bloke – Gunn – he was afraid, but not of being killed, and suddenly, Spike understood why.

"You hate vampires don't you?" He treated Gunn to a fang-filled smirk. "Killed your family, did they?"

Gunn stared back at him, raw loathing in his eyes. "My sister," he said, and the way he said it revealed the vamps in question had done more to her than just kill her.

Spike stood up again. He looked back at Connor over his shoulder and winked at the kid, who was leaning forward the better to see what was going on. Then he looked at Erroll.

"Get one of these lazy buggers to clean out the meat locker – Gravids'll be by shortly and they'll dispose of what's left. When it's done, you can hang this one up–" and he grabbed Wesley's injured shoulder, causing the man to cry out in pain – "and make sure no one but me touches him."

Spike licked the tasty blood from the palm of his hand with relish. It was tempting to help himself to more, but he refrained. Dru would have her little treat – and this time it really would be just for her.

"And him?" Erroll was looking at Gunn. He'd vamped out too and his fangs gleamed in his dark face, dripping with saliva. Spike grinned at him. It was good to indulge your kids once in a while and he reckoned Erroll had earned it.

"He's yours, mate. Play with him as long as you like, then turn him. Reckon with the proper training, he'll make a good replacement for Ravinder."

"No!" Gunn's voice was little more than a whisper while Erroll's face clouded at the mention of Ravinder's name, then brightened again. "Fuckin' brilliant," he said. "I always wanted to meet an American brother."

"Good man. As for him – " Spike got up in Angel's face a moment. He wondered what Angel thought of him now – whether he feared him yet. It was impossible to tell from the old man's expression. Then he turned to Darla. "If you want, I'll do it now – right here – in front of everyone."

"Oh no," she said, at once. "I'm surprised to hear you say such a thing. We don't kill family, Spike. You taught me that, remember?"

"Except when they have souls," Spike wanted to say, but Darla was leaning forward, chin on fist, staring at Angel. She was smiling and so was Connor, their expressions eerily alike.

"He wanted to see his son grow up," she said, "so he shall, in a manner of speaking -and one day – when the time comes – Connor can do what he wants with him."

Spike was about to protest, where would they put the tosser – because there was no way he was letting Angel be banged up with Dru – but he didn't say it, because what was the point? The Mistress had made her mind up and, as usual, he would have to live with it.

He reminded himself again that he'd gone into this with his eyes open. Hadn't he spent twenty years living with Angelus and Darla? He knew how Darla felt about the old man – that she'd never bring herself to kill him. But maybe she'd been right all those years ago? Maybe they didn't have to. He remembered what Dru had said about Darla wanting Angel in little pieces, and suddenly he grinned again. Angel wouldn't need all four limbs to watch his son grow up, would he, and even if Darla wouldn't go for anything that extreme, the tosser certainly wouldn't be needing his sanity. In fact, he'd be better off without it.

This could even be fun and there'd been precious little of that around here lately.

He put out a hand to stop the minions who'd hauled Angel to his feet. Angel had come out of his pained stupor and was struggling wildly, calling his friends' names – "Wes! Charles!" -as they were hustled away. The corded veins in his neck stood out so much, they looked about ready to burst.

"Just one thing, Angelus." Spike had to raise his voice above the noise. "Before you go. How did your mates know where to find you?"

Angel stopped shouting. He turned and stared at Spike, his dark eyes still promising that final death he was impotent to give. He didn't answer.

Spike rubbed his chin. He frowned, pretending to be thoughtful. Then he said, "I'm guessing some sort of mystical transmitter and since we searched you thoroughly where, oh where could it be stashed away?"

Angel's lips tightened. He still didn't say anything. At last, Spike motioned to the minions to remove him. "Put him in the locker and chain him up properly. He can have a front row seat while we deal with his friends. Oh, and Angelus, if that transmitter's anywhere on you – say, subcutaneous – we'll find it."

It gave him some small amount of pleasure to see the way Angel's feet dragged as they took him away.

*

"Well, that was all most satisfactory." Darla leaned back in her chair, a smug expression on her face. But then she frowned, "Except that once again, we have no nanny."

Her gaze swung round to Annabelle, who was being held by one of the minions. The girl was still crying. At this rate she was going to drown them all, Spike thought. Definitely time to be rid of her.

Connor was looking at her too. He bounced slightly on his mother's knee.

"Is Papa going to kill her?" he asked. "Can I watch?"

Darla opened her mouth to answer but Spike cut in quickly. "No you bloody can't -even if I were going to– but I'm not. I'm gonna let her go."

"What?" Darla turned in Spike's direction, predator-fast, and suddenly, she was all yellow eyes and fangs. "She knows where we are, Spike. She knows who we are."

"So fucking what?" Spike lit a cigarette. He ignored Darla's warning glare and inhaled deeply. "You heard the old man. The Watchers' Council knows fuck all about the kid. All they want is their precious Potential back and we need to keep them off our backs. 'Sides, we can't stay here now, you know that."

He laughed but he couldn't say he wasn't pissed off to see all his hard work setting the lair up go to waste just because she'd come over all nostalgic. "We're leaving, Darla. What other choice do we have after this charming little family reunion? Planned it all, didn't you, right from the start. Bet you even told old Drac to write that begging letter to Angel in the first place."

"What is this?" Darla ignored his accusation. "Revenge because I wouldn't let you kill him? I have so few pleasures in life, Spike. Why would you want to spoil this one for me?" Her eyes were on Annabelle.

Spike laughed again. "If you fancy a spot of torture I can arrange that for you any time you like – or you can help me with Angel if you've got the stomach for it– make sure I've remembered what he taught me. You can do that just as well in Paris or wherever as you can here. Besides, the Metro's a damn sight cleaner than the Underground."

"True," Darla agreed after a moment. She subsided back into her chair. "And now we've nothing to worry about maybe it's time we broadened Connor's horizons – showed him there's more to life than hiding in the dark? All right then, Spike, if you think it's best, release her."

With that, she pushed Connor off her knee and stood up. She took the child's hand in hers.

"Don't keep me waiting long," she said, to Spike, and she gave him a terrible fang-filled smile. Her yellow gaze swept over Annabelle, dismissing her, and then she was gone.

Annabelle's knees were shaking so much that when the minion let go of her, she would have fallen if Spike hadn't held her upright. Idly, he wondered how long it would take to get the silly bitch to trust him again after what he'd done to her. He'd never know unfortunately.

"Dunno why you're crying like that, Belle," he said. "You get to live. Show a little gratitude."

He took her arm and towed her after him back through the station and up the spiral stairs. There were bloodstains everywhere from where that Wesley bloke had made his last stand and Spike's boots kicked up dust as they passed – the vampire remnants of the fight.

He regretted Ravinder. The lair would miss her – not to mention her credulous uncle, whose van had been oh, so terribly convenient. Maybe Erroll could borrow it a final time. Knowing the vehicle wouldn't be reported stolen would be a big help in moving all their stuff.

Spike sighed and shook his head. He had changed. Here he was, being the responsible family man – making plans for the future. He'd be taking out a sodding pension soon at this rate if he didn't watch it.

When they reached the top of the final flight of concrete stairs that led outside, Spike shoved Annabelle right up against the metal door and moulded his body to hers. She still smelt good and, flush against her like this, he soon had a hard-on. He had no intention of wasting it on her but he indulged himself a little, forcing his tongue into her warm mouth to taste that glorious terror.

When he finally let her go she sagged against him and he had to support her again with a hand on her elbow while he fished the key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. Outside, it was still dark but there was a greyish look to the sky in the east that heralded the dawn. The air smelt of petrol fumes and rubbish. Spike drew in a deep lungful. He was going to miss London.

"Go on then," he said to Annabelle. "Get lost before I change my mind."

He let go of her but at first, she didn't move. Instead, she looked at him, her blue eyes wide and terrified.

"You're really letting me go?" she asked, as if she still didn't quite believe it.

Spike rolled his eyes. "What does it sodding look like? Yes, I'm letting you go." Suddenly he grabbed her chin, forcing her to look at him. "And I just know you won't go blabbing to anyone about anything you've seen or heard in the last six months. You're a sensible girl, Belle, yeah? That's why I chose you."

She kept on giving him that deer-caught-in-car-headlights expression, as if she hadn't really understood him, but in the end, she nodded.

"Good girl." Spike relaxed his grip a little. "Because if I had the least notion you'd spill the beans – well, don't forget, we know where you live and we know where your family lives. Understand me?"

Again she nodded, and this time he pushed her through the doorway and out onto the pavement. A chill wind blew up the length of Down Street and below him Spike heard the distant hum of transformers as the first train of the day approached the abandoned station.

Annabelle was hugging herself and as Spike watched, she slumped onto the ground, almost rolling into a ball, shaking with sobs.

"One last thing," he said, "if you ever are the Slayer, who knows, maybe we'll meet again. Always wanted a third notch in my belt – that is, if Erroll doesn't get you first."

With a snort of derision, Spike slammed the door on her and locked it.

*

Annabelle cried for what seemed like ages. By the time she pulled herself together enough to stand up, the cold from the pavement felt as if it had seeped into her bones. She couldn't stop shaking.

The street was deserted. Above the recessed metal door with its Keep Out sign, the ox-blood-coloured tiles of the station frontage seemed black in the dim light, looming over her. For a moment, she felt dizzy, afraid the whole building was going to collapse and bury her underneath it.

Next to the doorway, there was a small tobacconist's shop. A single light shone inside but when Annabelle went to the peer through the windows, the place was empty. She looked at her watch. It was five o'clock in the morning. Soon, the city would be waking up around her. She should move, she thought – get well away in case Spike changed his mind.

She flinched away from thinking about him because then she'd have to remember his hand inside her t-shirt, just like that strange vampire back in the tunnels, while the assembled minions watched eagerly.

He would have raped her, she thought, right in front of them all, if Angel hadn't told him what he wanted to know. She couldn't believe she'd ever for one moment trusted him, or Erroll or any of them. They were monsters – horrible – not human. Just for a moment, she hoped that one day she would become the Slayer – be strong enough to fight them – hurt them back. But deep inside, she was afraid that even if that did happen the very sight of Spike coming towards her would be enough to rob her of her courage.

She didn't want to think about Angel and his friends either, or about the fact that if she hurried to warn someone it maybe wouldn't be too late to save them. Spike had told her what would happen if she said anything, though, and she believed him.

They'd tried to save her but she couldn't save them.

She couldn't save anything.

In fact, her instinct back in the lair had been correct. She was only alive because she hadn't let Angel kill Spike. But when she thought of that thin red gash in Spike's neck, already healing over – of Angel poised over the limp body, pressing the knife blade to the pale throat, she wished with everything in her that she'd kept her mouth shut.

Just then, a large, battered old car turned the corner at the end of the road. It came up the street and pulled to a stop at the kerb nearby. Annabelle saw a middle-aged Asian man inside the car, peering at her suspiciously. She tried to stand up straight, brushing her hair back from her face to make herself look presentable, but it was too hard and in a moment, she was wiping the tears away again.

The man got out of the car at last.

"Please miss," he said. "Are you one of them?" And he nodded his head towards the closed metal door between its brick pillars. "If you want anything, just take it. Mr Spike knows I won't make trouble."

"I'm not..." Annabelle had to force the words out. "I'm not a vampire," she managed at last. "Please, can you help me?"

The man regarded her for a moment. Then he locked the car door and came towards her. He peered into her face as if expecting it to turn all fanged and horrible, and when it didn't he seemed a little reassured.

"Come in the shop," he said. "You don't worry, miss. I have daughters your age."

He unlocked the shop door and ushered Annabelle inside, closing it behind them but not locking it, as if he thought he might need to get away in a hurry.

"Sit down please." He gestured towards an old kitchen chair standing behind the counter and Annabelle sat on it while he went around opening shutters and putting out stock. Various delivery vans pulled up outside – newspapers, milk – and still she sat there, in a kind of shock-induced stupor.

At last, when it was fully daylight, she roused herself. She knew she couldn't stay here even though the world outside was terrifying, because come nightfall, the world belonged to them. At the thought, she started to cry again, tears sliding down her face while the shopkeeper stared at her helplessly. She wanted to lean against him – for him to comfort her – and after a while, with great reluctance, he put a hand on her shoulder and patted it.

"You don't worry miss," he said again. "They can't hurt you now. You're safe." He went on patting her shoulder while she cried. She knew she'd never feel safe again.

Eventually, when it seemed she had no more tears left, he handed her a tissue. She wiped her face while he went to serve a customer. She felt wrung out – like there was nothing left of her. This was all there was – this shell of a girl. But then, like a pale ghost of hope, she thought of Harry and immediately felt a little better. When the customer had gone, she said as politely as she could, "Could I use the telephone, please, sir? I need to call my brother."

*

Spike had returned to the bedroom to find Darla fast asleep on the bed with Connor tight in her arms. So much for telling him to hurry back, he thought.

He stood looking down at them – the mistress of his heart and her unnatural brat. Their faces were close together, both soft and innocent in sleep, their hair – blonde and brown – mingling on the pillow. He ran a gentle finger down Connor's cheek with the baby-bloom still on it. It would be so easy to kill him now – and what's more he'd be doing the world a favour. He bent down and sniffed the child's body, which smelt of his mother and Angel – of himself and Dru and family. He knew he wasn't going to do it.

Darla murmured in her sleep. Spike bent closer, trying to catch the name on her lips. He watched as her body went momentarily tense and then relaxed with a tiny sigh of pleasure. Was she dreaming of him, he wondered, or was she dreaming of Angelus? He set his hand to her cold breast, running his thumb over the nipple until it peaked through the thin stuff of her negligee. She made an animal sound deep in her throat but she didn't wake up and Connor's grip on her suddenly tightened.

Spike grimaced. For a moment, he considered picking the kid up and putting him back in his own bed – taking what he felt he'd earned – but then he shrugged and went out again, closing the door quietly behind him.

It would do for later. He had years until the brat grew up and the little bastard could wait his turn.

Instead, he went back to the old lift shaft and made his way down the rickety metal staircase – down, down into the depths, to where Angel had fallen like Satan from the heavens. Spike could smell his sire's blood in the air still and he inhaled deeply. He hoped to have that scent in his nostrils quite a bit in the near future. Angel was owed payback for...oh, so many things, the humiliations of the last few days not the least of them.

Dru was asleep or unconscious when Spike knelt down beside her cage. Tomorrow, he thought, he'd bring her that treat he'd promised her. Watching Dru playing with her food was always very instructive. But now, he just wanted to be alone with her, to remind himself of the time when he'd still been free – days long gone, like a dream he'd once had.

He could just reach to touch a curl of dark hair through the bars. He ran it through his fingers then brought it to his lips and kissed it.

"One day I'll take you out of here," he whispered. "One day soon, Dru, I promise."

She didn't respond, but from the depths of the lift shaft, the soughing of air sounded like mocking laughter.