Boy William Had A Vision
Little Sister Lucy was crying again.
Boy William watched his mother rocking Little Lucy in her arms, her thin brittle figure tense with quiet desperation. "Sing to her, Mama," he urged her, for he had always liked her to sing, but Mama ignored him and continued to pace the attic room floor.
After a few minutes longer, Mama gave up with a heavy sigh and sat down on the hearth by the smokey fire where milk was warming in a pan. Carefully she uncorked the small dark bottle she always kept in her pocket and put a few pungent drops of the yellow-green stuff into the milk. It was called absinthe, as William would find out much later.
She stirred the concoction with her finger before trying, with various degrees of success, to pour it down Little Lucy's squalling throat with a spoon. "Come on, Lucy, drink up for heaven's sake." Mama sounded so tired, so ill, that Boy William's throat almost choked up with tears. Poor Mama, with her dark hair all draggled around her face, and her skirts fraying at the hem.
"Here, Mama," Boy William said, taking Little Lucy and the milk out of her arms. "Let me do it, and you can tell us both a story until she goes to sleep."
Mama smiled wearily, ever so grateful to her little boy, the man of the household at the age of ten. "Alright then, Will. Sit down here by the fire and I'll tell you about the Prince and the maidservant."
Boy William knew the story of the Prince and the maidservant very well, having heard it ever since he was born, but he kept quiet and concentrated on feeding Little Lucy - she had quieted somewhat now, the milk making her sleepy.
"Once there was a King, a great grand King," Mama began, in the low secretive voice that she used when she was telling stories or a really good piece of gossip. "He lived in an enormous house, a mansion like, in this very here town we live in, William, and he owned ten others just like it all across England and France. He owned a stable of thirty horses and drove around in carriages with golden wheels - yes, he was that rich, I tell you! Of course, he needed hundreds and hundreds of servants to look after all his grand houses and stables and whatnot, and one of them was a beautiful maidservant named Rosamund."
Mama cleared her throat, and paused to pour some of the absinthe into a mug of water. The liquid quickly turned cloudy and white, and she took a dainty sip before continuing. "Now, the King had a son called Prince William, the same name as you have. This Prince was ever so handsome, ever so dashing, ever so gallant - but the important thing, William, was that the Prince was a liar. He was rotten, rotten to the core, from his head to his boots. He made the maidservant Rosamund fall in love with him for the sport of it, told her he loved her when he was really laughing at her foolishness."
Little Lucy had fallen asleep, and so Boy William was free to watch his mother's face with all his rapt attention. Her face always changed at this point, William had learned, her mouth twisting into a hard knot when the Prince betrayed the maid. It did so again today, and her voice was bitter when she continued. "So the poor maidservant was turned away with nothing more than the clothes on her back. Thrown out into the street like a common thief. Most girls would have died then, from cold or hunger, or worse. But not Rosamund."
Mama sat up straight now, speaking with a fierce emotion that William could not identify. "No, not Rosamund. She got back on her feet and she shook her fist at the King and the lying son. She cursed their whole family with all her heart, especially the Prince, and the next morning they were all dead, every one of them in the house. Rosamund was the happiest woman in the world from that day forth."
And the story was over, as abruptly as that.
"Go to bed now, Will, and take Lucy with you," Mama suddenly ordered. "Go to bed."
* * *
At some point, around the time that he was five or six years old, Boy William had realised that the Prince was his father, and that Mama was the beautiful maidservant Rosamund. He also learnt to recognise the emotion in his mother's voice at the end of the story, when Rosamund cursed the King's family and they all died - it was longing, and hatred, and anger. From this William realised, with the same implacable certainty, that his father was not dead at all and the ending of the story was just his mother's wishful thinking.
The realisation that his father was rotten did not surprise him. In fact, it seemed to explain everything - the shoes he didn't own, the shabby attic room they struggled to pay the rent for, the way Little Lucy kept crying. Somehow, it even seemed to explain the strange men that Mama brought home or went out to find at all hours, who made her unhappy and sometimes struck her, but always gave her money afterwards. In time William came to blame everything on his father, almost unconsciously, this dark and absent figure that loomed so large in his mother's stories.
He had seen a picture of his father that his mother kept in her only book, a tattered copy of the Bible. The picture was a oil miniature that had been ripped out of its frame many years ago and it was much the worse for wear. His father didn't look like a prince, just a curly-haired man with very blue eyes - but Prince or not, Boy William had memorised the face so that if he ever met the man he could kill him. This was the closest William came to imagining the future.
But murdering his father was only a wistful daydream, and Boy William had little time for such frivolity. Every morning Mama would send William out with a crust of bread, before going out herself to find more men who would give her money in return for services rendered. Boy William found the days long and hard, standing on street corners begging for a spare coin or two, some days having to look after Little Lucy as well. If that proved too tiresome, he would sometimes try his hand at lifting a wallet or two in the markets with the other boys.
But when he came home with money jangling in his pocket, Boy William felt that life wasn't so bad after all. How could it be, when Mama kissed him on the cheek and called him a darling?
"You're the man of the house, William, you are. Don't know what I'd do without you."
Then she would pour a drop or two of absinthe into his drink as a reward, and put him to bed with Lucy. So Boy William would go to sleep with a smile on his face, and dream about killing his father.
* * *
One evening after a fruitless day's begging, Boy William came home with Lucy and found his mother not yet returned. At first this did not worry him, for Mama was often out until the latest hours. But then the hours passed and passed, until he could hear the bells chiming midnight, and still she didn't come home.
Little Lucy was crying, hungry and tired, her voice thin and weak. "Shut up, Lucy," he told her impatiently. "I'm trying to warm your stupid milk already." He stirred the milk warming over the tiny fire, worried all the while as to where Mama might be.
Boy William was no fool. He knew what could happen to a man or woman alone in the city at night, if they were unlucky. Some of the other boys had seen it happen, and rifled the pockets of the dead afterwards.
The milk was warm now and he tried to feed Little Lucy; but she continued to cry, knocking away the spoon and spilling milk on his trousers. "Oh, for god's sakes, Lucy," he said angrily, which only made her cry louder. Frustrated, he cast his gaze around the bare attic for something, anything, that would make her be quiet.
Then he saw it - a lump under his mother's pallet. Boy William knew what it was even before his hand closed around its cool hardness. It was his mother's bottle of absinthe, left behind today for some unknown reason, and he almost sighed with relief at the sight of it. Finally, something was going right.
As he had watched his mother do so often, Boy William poured a few drops into the milk and fed it to the chastened Lucy. Soon she was asleep by the fire, and William was left alone with his thoughts. He rapidly became sleepy, exhausted and a little frightened, as the hours passed without the sound of Mama's footsteps on the stairs. And he was so very hungry and thirsty...
Almost without thinking, he leant back against the wall and put the bottle of absinthe to his lips. Mama would be so angry if she knew, he realised, but suddenly he was too tired to care and with a reckless desperation he tipped as much of the bottle's contents down his throat as he could.
Later he would remember falling to the floor and coughing, his eyes tearing up and his mouth full of the awful bitter taste of wormwood, while next to him the bottle of absinthe fell on its side and spilt its contents all over the dusty floor.
And after that...
* * *
Boy William lay passed out the floor, breathing in the fumes of wormwood and licorice. He fell into green dreams, absinthe dreams, spiralling down with a speed that frightened him.
He dreamt that he saw his father, a tall lean man with sharp cheekbones and curly brown hair. But this wasn't the evil betrayer of William's daydreams, for he was dressed in the rich clothes of a Prince and he walked like one too. The ballroom was packed with all manner of fine folk dancing to their fancy music, yet Boy William saw that his father was the finest of them all. The women fluttered their fans at him, the men jostled to speak to him, and the light of the thousand candles seemed to illuminate his pale skin with an eerie glow.
But William's father, smiling ironically, brushed them all aside to walk to the furthest corner of the room where a lone man stood drinking a glass of red wine. Suddenly, shockingly, the Prince raised his hand and there was a gun in it, the lace falling over his wrist in a creamy flutter as he pulled the trigger and blew out the chest of the strange man in an explosion of red flesh and white bone.
Who is it? Boy William wanted to know, who was it that his father hated so much that he would kill him?
As hard as he tried, Boy William could not see the man's face. He watched the corpse toppling to its knees and then to the ground, and he could see the blood spilling all over the hardwood floor as the ladies screamed in the background and the gentlemen pulled everyone back from the scene. He could see all this, but he could not see the dead man's face. Instead his eyes were irrevocably drawn to his father's - his mouth like a knife, the gun still smoking in his hand, and those blue eyes coldly gleaming.
Then the curved ceiling of the ballroom seemed to close up like a flower and all went silent, all shrank away and faded to black, until there was only his father, the Prince, standing in a lone circle of light while Boy William crouched in the shadows. All his daydream fantasies of murder forgotten, William flinched from his father's piercing gaze before staring back as defiantly as he could.
But the Prince simply smiled at him, and uttered these strange words: "Boy William had a vision."
And then he woke up.
* * *
Mama never came home. Eventually the landlord came stumping up the stairs to their attic home and threw them out into the street, grumbling all the while. Boy William and Little Lucy went to live under the bridge with the other boys and girls, and for a while they were alright. But when winter came, Lucy took to coughing and died one morning in William's sleeping arms.
After that, the years passed in a blur, and it began to seem as though Mama and Little Lucy were absinthe visions themselves. Soon the only thing that remained to him of his old life were the dreams of killing his father at night.
Before he knew it, Boy William was twelve years old, with a knife in his hand, money in his pocket, and sturdy shoes on his feet - looted from corpses, stolen from strangers. Then he was seventeen, with a gang of boys behind him and a pretty dollybird named Susan who said he was her favourite. When he was twenty he killed his tenth man, and it was a girl called Kathy who warmed his bed at night. They called him Bloody William by then and he had the scars to prove it, too.
Then William was twenty-five, and he was dead.
* * *
He was dreaming of murdering his father when he was woken up by Angelus, shaking his shoulder impatiently.
"We're taking Dru to a ball," Angelus said. "Hurry up and get dressed in your best."
"Posh end of town, eh?" Spike sat up and stretched lazily.
"That's right," he said brusquely. "Now get to it. I want to feed before we get there."
Posh end of town indeed. Spike remembered it all from the moment he stepped into the ballroom and recognised the curving arches of its ceiling.
The absinthe dreams, Little Lucy, Mama's stories, the portrait hidden in the pages of a yellowing Bible - all came flooding back as though it were yesterday. The Prince saying Boy William had a vision, the fine clothes that he wore so well, the lace that fell over his wrist just so... And realising the fact that he hadn't seen his own reflection in over six years.
Drusilla and Angel were dancing, but William had almost forgotten that they existed. For he was the Prince, walking across the crowded room as the women smiled at him from behind their fans, as the men competed to get a word in at his ear. But he brushed them all aside, heading towards the man standing in the corner and drinking from a glass of red wine.
He was old now, Boy William's father. His curly brown hair - so alike to his own - was turning to gray and thinning, his hands cradling the crystal glass were twisted with arthritis, and his eyes were squinted with the shortsightedness of age.
But they were blue - yes, his eyes were as blue as ever, and in his face Spike could see his own. And when their gazes met, they both knew.
"Father," Spike said softly, and it was not a question.
The old man said nothing, his mouth working noiselessly and his face quivering with fear. But his hand fumbled at his waistcoat and Spike watched, as though in a dream, as the muzzle of a gun was pushed into his face.
"Get back," the old man finally spat, "get back or I'll shoot!"
Oh, but it was all too easy, all so preordained. Spike smiled and casually pulled the gun out of the old man's fingers with a flick of his hand. The dream took over - the Prince stretched out his arm as straight as an arrow, the lace falling over his wrist as he pulled the trigger and watched his father's chest explode for the second time, splattering his fine clothes with gore.
Gradually the screams fell to silence and Spike became aware that the people had shrunk away in a great circle around him. Soon someone would try to take some kind of action, probably some foolhardy boy with delusions of heroism whom he would have to kill.
But he ignored all that for now - instead, Spike turned to the figure he could not see in the shadows and smiled.
"Boy William had a vision," the Prince said softly. And now the vision is done.
Written pre-season 5 - I wanted to get this out before Fool For Love completely Joss'd my storyline. Which it duly did.