By Two Ladies of Quality
"Some stray cat wandered in," they said among themselves, and they left whatever it was be. Since it was Sunnydale, the janitors didn't say out loud that the presumed "cat" might not be feline and might not be a normal animal at all. So long as it satisfied itself with rats and other vermin, more power to it.
Jesus Ortiz never considered such things when he took the last load of garbage to the incinerator one Friday night.
"Three blind mice, three blind mice," he sang, practicing the English song his children had brought home from school.
"See how they run, see how they run," came softly from the shadows.
"Madre de Dios," Ortiz gasped.
"No, that's not how it goes," the shadows said after a moment. "They all ran after the farmer's wife, she cut off their tails with a carving knife."
Ortiz only stared into the darkness. Something moved in the darkest corner, near the door that led to the rest of the maze beneath the school.
"Go on," said the voice. "She cut off their tails with a carving knife. Did you ever see such a sight in your life as . . ."
Ortiz took a shaky breath. "Th-three b-blind mice."
"Yes, that's it. Do you know this one? As I was going to St. Ives . . ."
Ortiz dropped the last garbage can and ran off.
The shadows parted to let the very thin, pale, white-haired man step through. "You needn't go. I was going to ask you to stay to tea. Tea parties can be great fun. Though please don't bring any dolls." He turned back to the shadows. "They see things, and they tell. And Dru only whispers to them and won't tell me what they say. But I miss tea. William will be very good if you let him have some tea."
* * *
Footsteps in the darkness again. Familiar footsteps. Heavy footsteps, not the light ones of the girl, the woman, whose brightness cut with joy and pain but never burned enough for the agony to stop. He didn't move. The walls protected him. Whatever lurked down here with him never let anyone get too close. Except for her. She could always find him. There was a lesson there, but his slate had gone missing again, and it was time for lessons.
"It'll be the cane again for sure," he whispered, rubbing his cold, stiff fingers. "Headmaster will scold, and it will be the cane."
The footsteps came closer. He frowned and pressed closer in his cubby hole. These footsteps should never have come so close alone. Unless they weren't there. So often the footsteps weren't really there.
"Lessons. I've not learned my lines. Meminerunt omnia--omnia--oh, what is it . . ."
The footsteps stopped near him. Two pairs of trousered legs, one pair in blue denim with boots, the other pair in black wool ending in polished black leather.
"There he is," said a familiar voice. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
"My god," whispered another voice. "I had no idea. I don't remember . . ."
He pulled his knees up close. That voice. Terror, adoration, desperate anxiety to please, wretched fear of punishment. Perhaps it was God's voice. God finally come to bring him retribution.
The lines. Good boys do their school work. Such simple, basic lines, an infant could learn them. "Meminerunt omnia--omnia--oh, damn it, William, think . . ."
The leather shod feet came close, and the man with God's voice crouched down. "Meminerunt omnia amantes. Ovid. Lovers remember everything."
He looked up and saw the face of his own Alpha and Omega, the dark angel's face. "Are you God or the Devil?"
"For you? Both."
Angel reached out to touch Spike's cheek, but Spike jerked back from the touch. "Look at you, boy," Angel whispered. "What have you done to yourself?" He got to his feet slowly, trying not to startled the wary vampire. "How long has he been like this?"
Xander rocked back and forth on his feet, hands shoved into his jeans pockets. "Since he got back, apparently. Buffy found him down here the first day of school. He's cracked, and all his brains seem to have dripped out."
"And you left him down here? Alone? What the hell has he been living on? Where's he sleeping? God, when's the last time he had a bath?"
"You know, three words come leaping to mind at those questions, and those three words are I. Don't. Care."
Angel stared at Xander in disbelief. "You don't care? He's helpless and--and disturbed, and you don't care?"
"Nope. Wanna ask me why?"
Xander shook his head. "I don't get why you care. Cordy said the last time you had a run-in with Spike, he was practicing torture as an art form on you and doing his best to kill everybody. But you show up at my door in the wee hours, saying you heard some crazy story about Spike off on some quest and he's back here in town, and you want to find him. And you still didn't tell me how you found out about this."
Angel went back to crouch down in front of Spike, who was tracing words on the concrete floor in front of him. It was the Latin phrase he'd been trying to remember. "It doesn't matter. I have sources. They tell me things. And you wouldn't understand."
"Vampire stuff or sire-childe stuff?"
"Both. Does he still have the chip?"
"I think so."
"Mad and helpless." He reached out very slowly towards Spike, who pulled away again. "I'm not going to hurt you. Do you know me?"
Spike watched him closely from the corner of his eye. "Yes. Headmaster. You teach. You taught me. Him. William was bad." He watched the hand approach his face and tried not too flinch too badly at the gentle touch. "Angelus. Angel."
Xander blinked in surprise. "That's a change. He hasn't been too clear on names."
Angel tried not to glare too obviously. "Xander, thank you for bringing me down here. I can take care of things from here."
"No, I don't think I'll go just yet. I'm thinking Buffy just might want to know what you're going to do with Mr. Twilight Zone there. And I'm also thinking that there's a few things you might want to hear yet."
"Like what?" Angel was more focused on how much weight Spike had lost.
"Like why he's nuts. Were you this out of it when you got hit with the brand shiny new soul?"
"I--don't really remember. I don't think so. But the guilt is overwhelming."
"Yeah," Xander sneered. "The guilt. The convenient soul and guilt, which makes smart people think twice about giving other people what they deserve. Like certain bloodsuckers who went over the line."
Angel settled back on his heels, watching Spike. "What did he do?"
Xander grinned in anticipation, then Spike looked up and met his eyes. Xander tried to hold on to the gloat, but the calm gaze threw him. "Ask him what he did to Buffy."
Angel had no trouble with a glare. "Spike? What happened? What did you do?"
The calm gaze dropped, and the rocking reappeared. "I--William was . . . I was . . . I tried . . . she . . . "
Xander took a breath, but Angel put up a hand to stop him. "I want to hear it from him." Xander glared, but it wasn't only vampire subordinates who obeyed that particular tone of voice. "Spike- -what did you do, William?"
The whisper was barely in the human range. "I hurt her. She said no. I was going to make her love me. I tried . . ."
Xander took a careful step back at the sound of Angel's voice. He'd wanted Spike to pay, and Angel was the most poetic tool available. But Xander hadn't wanted to summon up the shade of Angelus, and that was all he heard.
Spike bowed his head before his sire. "She stopped me. Maybe I'd have stopped. Maybe I wouldn't. I don't know . . . " He started rocking again, harder. "She never loved me. She asked me, and I told her I did, and she came to me, but she wouldn't love me. Not like she loved you. Give her what she wants, what she deserves, what you--but she won't, she'll never, it'll never be me--"
Angel put a hand on the back of Spike's neck, stilling the motion. "William, stop it. Hush." He rested his head against Spike's. "What am I to do with you, boy?"
"Yes, you have. Why did you come back here? Did you think they'd just let you come back?"
"Told to come. Had to come. Face her. Face them. Let them . . ."
"Let them what?"
"He's come looking for me. He can't find me when he's alone."
Angel pulled back. "He? Who do you mean?" Spike lifted his head and looked at Xander. "Xander? He's come looking for you?"
Spike nodded. "The walls move. He knows they do. They keep him away."
Keeping his eyes on Xander, Angel slowly got to his feet. "Why were you looking for him, Xander?"
Xander backed away a little, then stopped. "It's a silly little foible of mine, I don't like people who try to rape my friends."
"And what would you have done if you'd found him?"
The voice was soft, familiar, terrifying. Xander didn't look away from Angelus' eyes. "What should have been done months ago." He pulled a stake from his jacket pocket. "What do you intend to do?"
They stared at each other for several seconds. "Whatever I'm going to do," Angel said, "I'm not going to do it here. I'm taking him out of here."
Spike shook his head. "No. Not leaving."
"Be quiet, Spike."
"William, hush." Spike subsided.
Xander blinked. "That's all it takes? Using his real name?"
Angel smiled faintly. "That, plus having spent a few decades training him to behave." The smile broadened at Xander's look of discomfort.
"What are you going to do to him?" he asked again.
"Feed him. Wash him. Decide after that."
"That's it? He attacks Buffy, and you're not going to do anything?"
"I did not say that. What I do to Spike is none of your business. For God's sake, Xander, he's mad, what else do you want?"
"A little box of ashes with the words 'Here lies Spike' comes to mind."
"Not going to happen. What happens to Spike is up to Buffy. She's just left him down here. After her, it falls to me. I'm his sire in every way that matters, he's mine to deal with. If you want more than that, that's your problem." Xander glared at Spike, obviously unhappy. Angel studied him. "You know, it's probably a good thing Angelus didn't know about these urges of yours to administer justice yourself. He might have offered lessons."
Angel smiled very faintly. "Good apprentices are hard to find. I'm just saying." He turned back to Spike, who was hunched over tracing words on the floor again. "What are you doing, Spike?"
"Lessons. Must finish the lessons."
"I'll help you finish them later." Something in that phrase must have triggered memories, because Spike did not look happy at the prospect. "Come on, Spike, let's get out of here."
He got very slowly to his feet, wobbling slightly. "What are you going to do to me?"
"I'm going to take you home, and I'm going to make sure you have something to eat." Angel looked around. "Let me guess--rat." Spike nodded, and Angel shuddered. "Then I'm going to make sure you're clean, then I'm going to make sure you get some decent rest."
"Your home? With you?"
Angel wondered what he might be remembering, to make him sound so wistful about that. "Yes, home with me."
Spike studied Angel for several seconds. "You're not going to hurt me?" he said in a small, lost voice. Xander remembered small boys staring up at the arbiters of their fates, the male deities of the fragile world of childhood. That tiny, uncertain voice may have come out of his own mouth one or two times, and it made him want to say everything was going to be all right. Even though nothing ever could.
Angel rested his hand on the side of Spike's face. This time Spike didn't pull away, only stared back at his sire, waiting for his answer. "Only if you need me to," he said softly, but not quite soft enough for human ears not to hear.
Spike closed his eyes and relaxed, as if he'd finally found someone who understood.
Angel nodded. "Tell Buffy I'm taking care of this," he said to Xander. "If I can get him put back together, she can decide what else she wants to do."
Xander only nodded, trying not to think about what he'd heard and what it might mean. "I thought you hated each other," he finally said.
"I don't think you can't know someone the way we know each other without some hate being involved. But that's never been all there was to it." Angel pulled Spike into his arms; Spike rested his head on Angel's shoulder and snuggled in under his sire's coat. "He's my childe," Angel said softly. "No matter what we do to each other, that's a tie that can never be broken."
Xander looked away. "Never figured you for the father figure sort," he muttered. What was the world coming to when his paternal role models were a man who trained young girls how to kill and a vampire?
Angel thought of the young man wandering the streets of Los Angeles who was trying to figure out life and his bizarre place in it. "Maybe someday I'll get it right." He nudged Spike's head with his chin. "You ready to go, Will?"
"Mm hmm. Tired."
"You can sleep in the car. I'll leave the top down so you can see the stars."
"They still don't sing to me."
Xander saw another look between the two vampires that he thought he understood, except for all those layers underneath. "I'll let Buffy know you were here."
Angel nodded. "Thank you, Xander."
Spike raised his head and looked at Xander. "Good-bye, Xander."
Xander glared at him, then he saw the disappointed look from Angel. "Bye, Spike."
He watched Angel lead Spike off into the shadows. Even the evil undead had someone to lean on. He refused to define his feelings as either resentment or guilt that Angel had come all the way from Los Angeles to make sure someone took care of the mad, helpless Spike. All that mattered was that the bleached wonder was out of the Scoobies' hair.
He just wished he could believe it was forever.