"So that's it then?" Spike was amazed at how even his voice remained.
"I'm afraid so."
The apologetic tone in the doctor's voice made Spike cringe. He'd heard that tone in way too many voices since that night.
He swallowed hard, nodding. "Okay. Right."
"There's an excellent facility just forty minutes away. It's managed by a friend and former colleague. I could give her a call if you like? It would be a good place to be for a while."
"Don't be ridiculous!"
The high-pitched voice indicated his mother had entered the room. He squeezed his eyes shut and then bit back a sob at how bloody stupid a gesture that was now.
"He'll be coming home with me." His mother took his left hand in hers, not seeming to notice it was clenched into a fist. "I'll not have strangers looking after my boy. Not when he's in this state."
Spike heard the doctor's sharp intake of breath at that comment.
"Mrs. Pratt-Giles, your son would benefit from the program they run," the doctor continued gamely. "It would help him get the most out of his life. Help him learn to be independent again."
Spike wondered if this is how it was going to be from now on. People talking as if he wasn't there. As if they were the ones who were blind.
"Independent?" his mother squawked. "He doesn't need to be independent. He needs to come home. That's right, isn't it, darling?" She squeezed Spike's hand.
No! I couldn't stand living with you before! And now…
His mouth apparently didn't take any notice of the words that echoed in his brain. But what did it really matter? He was twenty-four years old and his life was over. He jerked as a sloppy kiss was planted on his forehead without any warning.
"See," said his mother triumphantly, as if she'd won a competition. "Oh!" Her brain caught up with what she'd just said. "I didn't mean… I just meant that it showed you'll do best with me caring for you."
"I know, Mum." His voice was hollow.
He wanted to run – bolt – race out of this room. Out of the hospital. Hell, out of this fucking country. But since he only had a vague idea of where the door was and walking was enough of a challenge, Spike stayed where he was and listened to the doctor and his mother continue to talk about him as if he wasn't there.
My eyes are fucked, not my brain!
But it didn't matter because his life was over. He might be living, but he'd never be alive again.
They'd given him a stick - a nice retractable white one, with a loop on the top so he could keep it on his wrist and not lose it if he needed to pick something up. His mother had taken one look at it and snatched it out of his hand.
"You don't need that thing! You're at home. It's all familiar to you and I'm not having you go outside alone."
But not easy to navigate when you hadn't set foot in the bloody place for four years. Not easy when it was crammed full of furniture. Not easy when the furniture seemed to be moved every second day.
The one place he'd yearned for – his old bedroom – was off limits. It was upstairs and his mother had deemed the thought of her son attempting the stairs 'in his condition' just too much of a risk and so had converted one of the numerous rooms downstairs into a bedroom for him.
The stupid cow didn't even think how ironic it was to have moved him into the old library with its walls full of glass-fronted bookcases. So now, even escape into his own room offered no solace, as the weight of the words he'd never be able to read seemed to crush him a little more each day.
"Come on, darling. Time for your stroll around the garden."
His mother arrived in the room with the waft of her heavy floral perfume tainting the air.
"I don't want to go."
Spike had said it every day in the six weeks he'd been here, and every day she'd done exactly the same: ignored him.
"Don't be so silly. It's a lovely day. The fresh air will do you good."
Her manicured fingernails dug into the flesh of his arm, and he steeled himself against the urge to throw her across the room. He didn't need to see to know they were blood red. He'd never seen her use any other colour.
With a sigh, he allowed her to help him to his feet and shuffled beside her like the invalid she made him feel. She prattled on about the many upcoming charity functions that she just had to attend, darling. As usual, he zoned out of her inane chatter until something permeated his brain.
He stood still.
"What?" He shrugged off her vicelike grip. "What the fuck did you just say?" He could scarcely breathe for the fury building inside.
"Language, William," said his mother, unfazed by his outburst. "I merely said that I have arranged for a nurse to come to watch over you while I am out."
"A baby-sitter?" Could his life get any worse? He pointed a finger in what he hoped was the right direction. "You don't think I'm capable of being home alone? I'm twenty-four, not four!"
"But you're blind, sweetie." His mother clutched his arm once more. "I would just be worried sick about you all night and not be able to enjoy myself at all. I mean…what if there was a fire?"
"Now, now, William. It's all organised and I know that you're not so selfish as to want me to worry. Now let's go for our stroll. You're all grouchy because you need some fresh air."
"Yeah, that's what's wrong alright."
She totally missed his sarcastic tone.
"Well, you'll be right as rain in no time."
The daily walk in the large grounds might have been pleasurable but for the way his mother pointed out how seemingly every blade of grass apparently only existed in order to try to trip him up. The constant weight of her on his arm made him feel more out of balance, not less so.
He had no idea how he could carry on living like this, but even suicide was harder when you were blind. The pills and liquor were locked away and the kitchen was locked when the cook wasn't there. Can't have you getting scalded can we, darling? So sharp knives were out too. The house was only two storeys high and so even flinging himself from an upstairs window would probably maim and not kill.
Not that he'd thought of things like that. No. Of course not. Never crossed his mind.
Spike sat in his favourite chair, eyes closed as he listened to the radio. His moment of peace was disturbed by the familiar click, click, click of his mother's stilettos as she approached. He shifted position as he heard other footsteps along with hers. The infamous nurse no doubt.
"Darling!" He stiffened as his mother enveloped him in a theatrical hug. "Don't get up. But I've brought your nurse to meet you before I go out. Now I assure you that he comes with the highest recommendation. Nothing but the best for you, sweetie."
Spike's little fantasy of having some statuesque Swedish blonde look after him disappeared like so many of his dreams had.
"William, this is Daniel Osbourne. Daniel, my son, William."
"Hello," said Daniel. "Nice to meet you."
Spike nodded, until prodded by his mother on his arm. He shrugged his arm away, and all but growled. "Oh for Christ's sake." He turned towards where he thought the nurse was standing. "Hi."
"I apologise for my son—"
"Don't fucking apologise for me! I'm not a child."
"No, darling. You're just behaving like one." She patted his arm and then guided the nurse out of the room.
"You see what I have to put up with," she said, rolling her immaculately made up eyes and shaking her head.
"I sure do."
"Are you sure you'll be able to deal with him? I will pay you extra. It's just that I really do have to go. It's for the starving in Africa, you know?"
"I'll be fine. I'll look out for him until you get home."
"Oh, thank you so much." She kissed the air somewhere in the region of his left cheek and then tottered down the hallway on her Manolo Blahniks.
He waited until the front door slammed shut, before he took a deep breath and walked back to his charge's room. He tapped on the open door and paused, waiting for an answer.
"Look. This was all her idea. Why don't you just piss off into the living room – fourth door on the right – and watch telly 'til she gets back."
"Why don't we just start over? 'Cause that introduction wasn't at all embarrassing, was it?"
Spike snorted. "Should be used to it by now, but…"
"It's a fairly common reaction."
"She's always been like that…even before…" Spike waved his hand towards his eyes.
"Oh, man! That sucks."
Despite himself, Spike laughed. "You're not wrong." The laughter tailed off and he added, "Daniel, I know you're here to do a job, right? But I'd really like to be alone."
"Call me Oz, not Daniel, and please never Nurse Osbourne."
The corners of Spike's mouth twitched upwards. "Must say I was hoping that if I was having a nurse foisted on me that it'd be some big bird with even bigger tits."
"Sorry to disappoint." The smile was apparent in Oz's voice. "Do you mind if I sit down?"
"Suppose not. There's an extremely uncomfortable chair somewhere over there." Spike pointed.
Spike inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Mum generously donated the pieces of furniture she liked the least when she kitted out this room for me."
The creak of leather gave away the fact that Oz had sat down.
"So you've just moved back in?"
"Yeah… She was right, not fit to be on my own."
"Maybe not at first, but in time, why not?"
"Look, don't okay?" Spike said, his voice low. "This is what my life is now. No point in thinking anything else." He turned away so that Oz wouldn't see the tears threatening to overflow.
"How old are you, William?"
"Christ, call me Spike. She's the only one who still calls me that."
"So, Spike. How old are you?"
"Just… no – forget it. None of my business."
"No. Go on."
"It's just… Do you like living here?"
"What? No. I fucking hate it. I fucking hate all of it!" He swept his arm out, knowing it would knock the radio off the table beside him. "I didn't ask for this!"
Oz was on his feet in an instant.
"Hey, look I'm sorry."
Spike pulled his legs up into his chair and pressed his face against his knees. "I can't…it's…"
His words were lost as they dissolved into sobs. For the first time since he'd woken into this dark world, he began to cry and found he couldn't stop.
Oz stared at him for a while and then slowly approached. He tentatively touched Spike's shoulder, unsure of what reaction he'd get. To his relief Spike didn't shake off his hand, and as the man continued to weep, Oz squeezed his shoulder, silently communicating his support.