Disclaimer: This is fanfic, based on the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Characters are property of Mutant Enemy. This story was written for fun, not profit.
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London Callingby: Shadowscast
As soon as Buffy opened the door, Xander could tell there was some new problem. Her smile for him was perfunctory, and she headed back towards the kitchen without a word, leaving him to follow.
That was a good Sunnydale practice, come to think of it—never invite anyone in, just see if they can cross the threshold on their own.
"What's up this time?" he asked as he followed. He noticed the papers spread out on the coffee table; it looked like Dawn had been working on homework there, but she was nowhere in sight now. "Just tell me it's not something else at the school. Our construction schedule's already far enough behind..."
He met up with Buffy in the kitchen. "Listen," she said, and pressed a button on the answering machine.
'Hello, Buffy.' Xander felt a chill run down his spine. He hadn't heard that particular voice in a good four months, 'good' being the operative word. The voice was tinny and a bit strange—distorted by the machine, and maybe the connection hadn't been great on the other end—but Xander would never mistake it for another.
'I—I was going to come back to you, but now I can't,' the message went on. 'So I'm just ringing to say...I'm sorry.' There was a weird noise, like Spike was choking or something. 'Bloody hell,' it went on, the words muffled as though they'd been spoken away from the receiver. Then, loud and clear again: 'I'm sorry for everything.' With a sharp click, the message ended.
Buffy just stood there, frowning at the answering machine and running her fingers lightly over its buttons.
"So the evil dead thing's back in town," Xander said, feeling his voice get cold and protective all at once. "I swear to God, Buffy, I will stake him this time."
Buffy shook herself, like she was waking from a daydream, and looked at Xander. "I star-sixty-nined it. He's not in Sunnydale. The call came from a pay phone in London."
"Okaaay." Xander frowned. "He's on the other side of the world. That's my second-favorite place for him to be. Close runner-up to blowing on the wind in the form of dust. So what's the crisis?"
"You heard the message. Spike's in trouble."
"Okay, whoa, slow down." Xander let a bit of a laugh creep into his voice, because this had to be a joke. "First, he didn't say that. Second, why the hell would we care if he is?"
"He didn't say he was in trouble, but he sounded..." Buffy shook her head, searching for a word. "Desperate. Forlorn. I think he was crying." At least she seemed to be having as much trouble associating that last word with Spike as Xander was. "That's not the Spike we know."
"Yeah, the Spike we know is more into laughing at the pain of others. Or possibly causing it. So again I say: what's the problem?"
Buffy took Xander's hand and squeezed it. Looking him straight in the eye, she said "Xander, I need you to go to London and find out what's going on with Spike."
"Oh, hell no, you did not just say that." Xander pulled his hand away from Buffy's so abruptly he whacked his elbow against the kitchen island. Buffy winced, but didn't say anything else. Xander rubbed his elbow and tried to stay calm. "Buffy, please tell me you didn't just tell me to fly to fucking England to see why Mr. Date Rape is having a bad day."
"I owe him—" Buffy started, but Xander cut in.
"No, no, and again I say no. If he's in trouble, I'm cheering on the trouble."
"I'm not asking you to do it for him. I'm asking you to do it for me."
"And I'm saying no for your own good."
Buffy glared at Xander, and Xander glared right back.
She blinked first. Sighing, she went and sat down at the table. "Come on, sit," she urged Xander quietly.
He joined her, and plucked an orange from the bowl on the table. He'd come here straight from work; he hadn't had dinner yet.
"Look, I know you don't like him," she said. "But you've fought alongside him lots of times. He helped out while I was dead. All that's got to count for something."
"Not enough to cancel out the times he tried to kill us." Xander ripped at the orange's peel.
"He's got the chip now. He can't hurt anyone."
"Except you. And he sure took advantage of that." Xander would never forget it, it was seared into his memory: Buffy on the bathroom floor, with her robe torn and her thigh bruised and her eyes full of tears. Spike's coat hanging on the stair post.
Buffy grimaced. "That was...a low point. But you don't really understand what it was like between Spike and me."
"Maybe because you never told me," Xander said, a little too harshly. It was still a sore point. "Buffy, I know the two of you had had sex before, but nothing excuses what he did."
"Tried to do," Buffy corrected him.
"That's not the point."
"Yes it is. I wasn't some poor defenseless little girl getting jumped by a big strong man, Xander. I'm stronger than Spike, and he knows it. On some level he must have known I could stop him if I wanted to."
Xander shook his head. "Still no excuse."
"Maybe not." Buffy looked sad. Xander wished she'd be angry, instead. He wished she'd stop trying to justify Spike's attack on her. "But I did some inexcusable things to him, too." She glanced over her shoulder, making sure they were still alone in the kitchen, and she lowered her voice. "I was hating life, Xander, and I was hurting in ways I couldn't explain, and I took it out on him. I used him. God, there were a couple times when I went to him for sex and he said no, but I kept going—and he always changed to 'yes' pretty fast, but I don't know if I would have stopped if he hadn't."
"That's different," Xander insisted. He didn't want to hear this. "You weren't doing anything he didn't want, and besides, he's a monster."
Buffy went on as though she hadn't heard. "He told me once that you always hurt the one you love."
"Did he say that while he was sexually assaulting you?"
"No, he said it right after I finished pounding the crap out of him for trying to stop me from turning myself in over Katrina." She gave a choked little laugh.
"You don't love him," Xander said. It wasn't a question.
"No," Buffy agreed after the briefest hesitation. "But if he's in trouble, I owe him some help. I'd go myself, but I can't leave Dawn..."
"I'd go myself before I'd let you go," Xander said, realizing as he did that his defenses were crumbling, that what he'd just said was a short logical leap away from actually agreeing to go. "Spike's the one vampire in the world who's more dangerous to you than to me. But what about Giles? He's already in England. Why don't you ask him to pop over to London and check up on Spike, if it's that important to you?"
"He's busy with Willow, and all that Watcher Council stuff." Buffy didn't quite meet Xander's eye.
"You think he's even less likely to go along with this plan than I am."
Buffy looked poised to argue that point, but after a second she gave it up with an apologetic nod. "That, and I don't want him to get in more trouble with the Council."
"And what about money? Neither of us is exactly rolling in the dough, Buffy. Plane tickets to London cost, I don't know, a lot."
"We'll manage it," Buffy said firmly, and Xander knew he'd lost. Buffy was smiling with such tangible relief Xander couldn't back down now.
She was the Slayer, he was the last remaining Slayerette, and no matter how much he didn't like this plan of hers, he was going to do it for her.
He was going to London.
Xander had never flown before. The short flight from Sunnydale to LA was very cool. From his window seat in the small plane, he watched the ground fall away while his stomach got pressed against his spine. Suddenly he could see all of Sunnydale, spread out underneath him like a lovingly constructed model. There was the rebuilt school, the hospital, the mall, the graveyards. It was hard to believe it was real.
An hour into the nonstop flight from LA to London, Xander had already made the transition from starry-eyed airplane newbie to jaded international traveler. Okay, technically he hadn't even set foot in another country yet, but the trip got old fast. He was in the center seat in the middle section, fighting for elbow room with two strangers. His knees bumped the seat in front of him, a baby cried in the row behind him, and instead of an in-flight movie the airline was showing a series of infomercials.
"Coffee, tea or juice, sir?" a flight attendant asked at the end of his row. "Would you like a complimentary newspaper?"
Xander accepted coffee in a tiny plastic mug, and a London newspaper called the Sun. He might as well read up on the place where he was headed. In the week since he'd agreed to make this trip, he'd been busy getting his passport application rushed through and setting up his crew at work to run without him; he hadn't even cracked open the London guidebook Buffy had bought him. The guidebook was now in his duffle bag in the belly of the plane along with some clothes, a few wooden stakes and vials of holy water, and that damn leather duster of Spike's. Buffy had pressed the coat on Xander at the very last minute, at the airport, saying she thought Spike should have it back. If Xander'd had more time to think about it he would have refused to take it. Maybe he'd just sell it to a secondhand clothes store in London.
Jack the Ripper Stalks London! screamed the paper's headline. Huh. Xander raised his eyebrows at that. Even in Sunnydale the undead didn't tend to make the front page of the paper, what with the massive collective denial and all.
Reading the article, he quickly figured out that it wasn't literally Jack the Ripper they were talking about—just a bunch of murders that sort of resembled Jack's.
The Sun has learned that the modern-day Jack the Ripper has claimed a sixth victim. Another young woman was found murdered and mutilated near King's Cross Monday night. Our police source confirms that the woman, whose name is still withheld, was a prostitute.
From old Scooby habit, Xander scanned the article for hints that there might be anything more at work here than a run-of-the-mill human psycho. Not that supernatural evil in London was his problem; London had a whole hive of Watchers to take care of it, after all. And besides, other than looking for Spike, Xander was on vacation.
The newspaper ran through a few more sketchy details about the murder, ending with:
The original Whitechapel murders, which took place in the summer of 1888, were never solved.
So there were some dead women, and the police didn't seem to have any leads, but as far as Xander could tell the newspaper was just making the connection to Jack the Ripper in order to make their headline more exciting. There was no reason to believe that the same killer from 1888 was at work in 2002.
Xander flipped to the sports section and tried to get used to thinking of soccer as football.
"Hey, excuse me. I'm looking for a friend of mine."
The burly red-haired man didn't even turn around to acknowledge Xander. His gaze was fixed on the TV over the bar, which was tuned to a soccer game.
"Excuse me!" Xander repeated, louder. This time the man did turn.
"I'm looking for my friend," Xander said, holding up a polaroid of Spike. "Seen him around?"
The man squinted at the photo, then shook his head. "Nah." He turned back to the game. Xander sighed, and moved on.
TV detectives always made this part look so easy. Canvassing the neighborhood would take maybe a minute of screen time, tops. Xander hadn't worried too much about the actual finding of Spike before he got here—it had been impossible not to run into him back in Sunnydale. But now it was starting to sink in that Xander was looking for one vampire in a city of six million people (and God only knew how many demons), and he didn't even know for sure that Spike was still in the city. The only lead he had was the phone booth where Spike had placed a call eight days ago.
Xander had gone to that phone booth nearly first thing when he got to London. He'd landed at Heathrow just a bit past eight in the morning London time, which made it just past midnight Sunnydale time. Check-in at the hostel where Buffy had made reservations for him wasn't till one p.m. at the earliest, so Xander had rented a locker at King's Cross—which turned out to be a big train station and subway stop, not too far from the pay phone in question—and ditched his duffle bag there. Then he'd bought a map at a newsstand in the station and set out to find the pay phone.
He'd found it without too much trouble. It was on a fairly busy street lined with four-story buildings which had shops on their first floor, and what looked like apartments above. Disappointingly, the phone booth wasn't red with little windows and a rounded top like the ones on the postcards at the train station. It was just a Plexiglas box with an accordion door.
He'd come halfway across the world to see this?
He hadn't had much hope of clues, but he'd gone into the booth anyway. It had smelled faintly of urine and perfume. On the wall beside the phone there was a panel that looked like it was meant to hold some official ad, but it was covered with little cards advertising "escort services." The full-color pictures of the women were as graphic as Playboy illustrations. Xander stared at them blankly for a few long seconds, jet-lagged and culture shocked (this was a public phone booth! children could come in here!) before remembering what he'd come in for.
There was lots of graffiti in the booth, but nothing that seemed connected to Spike. There were cigarette butts on the floor, but what the hell did that prove? Nothing at all.
Xander had been tempted to call Buffy from the phone booth, but it was one-thirty in the morning in Sunnydale by then, and he had nothing to say that was worth the cost of an overseas call from a pay phone.
He'd spent the rest of the morning finding Big Ben and looking at it. ("Big Ben is actually the bell, not the clock or the tower," said his guide book, but never mind that. He still set his watch by it.) He'd spent the afternoon asleep at the hostel, then returned to the pay phone and started a search pattern.
He knew that Spike had been in this neighborhood at least once. If it'd been a one-shot deal Xander had approximately no chance at all of finding him, but if he was a regular in the area, Xander should be able to find him by asking around in the pubs.
At least, that was the theory. Xander figured there was one thing working in his favor, at least: no one who'd seen Spike even once could fail to recognize his face.
Xander glanced down at the photo he was holding as he walked out of pub number eight of the night (the Thirsty Blue Dog). Spike was scowling, facing the camera but looking just to the right of the photographer. The background was black, and Spike's skin looked paper-white in the flash. Xander remembered that Tara had taken this photo towards the end of the summer Buffy was dead, in a graveyard after one of their group patrols. Tara had been trying to cheer everyone up; she'd brought along a camera, and made everyone pose for "hero" shots.
Xander swallowed hard, remembering Tara. He would have brought a different photo, if there'd been any others.
Back out in the night, he headed down the road looking for the next pub. He found it, walked through the door, caught a glimpse of bleached blond hair, and discovered that it wasn't so hard to find one vampire in a city of six million people after all.
The pub was smoky and dimly lit and crowded, and it didn't have a mirror behind the bar. There was a television mounted on the wall above the bartender, and it was showing another soccer game—or maybe the same one. Everyone sitting at the bar, and half the people at the tables, had their attention riveted on the TV. Even the bartender was standing transfixed, a white towel twisting between his hands.
And near the far end of the bar, face lifted towards the TV like all the others, was Spike.
He looked about the same as Xander remembered. His face was a bit thinner, the cheekbones standing out even more sharply than before—but that might just be the pub's lighting playing tricks. He was wearing a soft-looking black shirt, unbuttoned, with a black t-shirt underneath. So, yeah, that was all about normal. Seeing his hand resting on the bar, Xander noticed Spike had on black nail polish, which seemed like the kind of thing that could get a vamp beat up in a place like this, but never mind. There was an empty shot glass in front of him—more normal. It looked like it'd held something clear, not blood, and all of the people in the room looked like, well, people, so Xander guessed this was probably not a demon pub. Yay for that.
Since Spike didn't seem to have noticed him yet, Xander decided to watch from the sidelines for a bit, see if he could learn anything. He made for the one vacant stool at the bar, at the very end where the counter curved into the wall. It had no view at all of the TV, which was probably why it was empty.
Settling onto the stool, Xander realized that the room had suddenly become nearly silent—there was a sense of tense anticipation, a collective breath-holding. Everyone was watching the TV.
Xander remembered reading on the plane that there was going to be an important "football match" between England and Wales tonight. It hadn't meant much to him, but maybe that's what was playing.
Suddenly, the room erupted. Everyone was whistling and cheering and slamming their fists on the tables, grinning—except for Spike. Spike was scowling, shouting something in the general direction of the TV and making that two-fingered gesture which Xander had once, but only once, mistaken for the peace sign. The men standing nearest Spike started to react to him. It looked like they started shouting back and forth, though Xander couldn't make out any words over the noise in the room. The man on the far side of Spike from Xander was turning red in the face as he yelled. He was wearing what might be a soccer jersey and was built like an NFL linebacker. He waved his hands as he talked. Spike, facing away from Xander now, shifted into the guy's space in what would definitely look like a threatening move if you didn't know Spike had a chip in his brain that stopped him from attacking humans, and he did still have the chip, didn't he? Xander swallowed, taking a quick look around the room for possible makeshift stakes. Soccer Jersey Guy made a move like he was going to punch Spike, but he stopped himself. Then Spike's head tilted a bit to the side, and Xander just knew that whatever was the worst possible thing to say at that moment, Spike was saying it.
Soccer Jersey Guy walloped Spike with a left uppercut that threw the vampire right off his stool. Spike ricocheted off a couple other guys who hastily moved back, and ended up on his feet, looking dazed. That lasted only a second or so; then Spike yelled something else at Soccer Jersey Guy, who looked stunned that Spike was still standing and talking at all. Spike took a step towards the guy and brought his fists up, provoking another punch—this one to Spike's gut. Spike barely even fell back—he just grinned, and took a wild swing way wide of the guy's face. Xander suspected Spike had never intended that one to hit, which would explain why the chip didn't fire. Soccer Jersey Guy caught Spike's extended arm, twisted him round, shoved him up against the bar, and punched him in the back of the head.
There was a loud crack, and Xander felt the bar under his elbows vibrate. It wasn't Spike—it was the bartender, who'd brought out a nightstick from somewhere and thwacked it against the bar's thick wooden countertop. Everyone in the room froze for a moment, just long enough for the bartender to yell "Oi! That's enough!" A couple men came on Soccer Jersey Guy from behind and grabbed his shoulders, pulling him away from Spike. Soccer Jersey Guy was scowling and breathing hard.
"Did you hear what that wanker said?" Soccer Jersey Guy demanded, loudly, of the room in general.
The bartender crossed his arms. "Get out of my establishment, now."
Soccer Jersey Guy shrugged, grumbling, and nodded to a couple of guys standing near him. They all headed out.
"And you, Billy," the bartender continued, looking at Spike now. "You've had enough. Go home."
"Well that's not bloody fair, is it?" Spike protested. "I didn't lay a hand on that bloke."
"You never do, do you, Billy?" The bartender's question was obviously rhetorical. "Go home."
Spike shrugged and headed for the door, not sparing a glance in Xander's direction. His lip was cut and bleeding a bit, but he looked otherwise unhurt, and there was a manic glint in his eyes.
Xander stayed in his seat for a moment, sorting through what he'd just seen and heard. From the bartender's remarks it sounded like Spike had developed a hobby of coming in here, starting fights with humans and letting them hit him. There had to be a catch, but Xander couldn't see it.
He left the pub and looked up and down the street. Spike was about a block away.
Xander followed as covertly as possible, a block behind and on the opposite side of the street. Meanwhile, he asked himself why he didn't just go up and say hello. If he lost sight of Spike now, it would be hard to find him again. Still, it seemed like a good idea to learn as much as he could before talking to Spike directly—evil undead things didn't tend to have what you'd call a monogamous relationship with the truth.
They walked for about ten minutes, taking a couple of corners. The neighborhood wasn't making Xander feel very comfortable. There were a lot of boarded-up storefronts, gang tags on the walls. Ragged people in doorways asked Xander for spare change as he walked by, and he felt pangs of guilt each time he said "I don't have any," and kept walking. He'd given all his change away on the way to the subway station from the hostel.
Finally, Spike stopped to talk to a couple of women—women standing on a corner, wearing short skirts and high boots and tops which were too skimpy for the cool September night.
"Hookers," Xander whispered to himself, almost startled that he'd recognized what they were. He'd never seen one before; Sunnydale didn't have any. Naive much, Xander? Okay, if he stopped to think about it Sunnydale probably did have a sex trade, just not the standing-on-the-street-corner kind. Besides the clean cut small town thing, there was also the vampire problem.
Xander stopped at a bus stop, nearly across the street from Spike and the girls. If Spike looked around he'd see Xander, which was fine. They had to talk eventually. Otherwise, what had been the point of spending $600 on plane tickets and taking two weeks off work and flying across a continent and an ocean?
Spike took something out of his pocket; a pack of cigarettes. He shook out one for himself and handed the pack over to the girls, who helped themselves. He lit his first, then theirs.
They stood there talking for as long as it took to smoke the cigarettes. Xander was too far away to hear anything. The girls gestured with their hands as they talked; Spike didn't, much. Was he hiring them? Xander didn't like to think about that.
Then Spike tossed his cigarette butt into the street, spun on his heel, and walked right towards him. Xander felt a quick surge of adrenaline.
Spike didn't seem to notice him at first. Maybe the sheer unlikeliness of their meeting at random in London was making Xander invisible to him. About ten feet away he stopped, blinked once, and said "Xander?" in a tone that almost managed to sound unsurprised.
"Um, hi, Spike," Xander said. He was tempted to add 'Fancy meeting you here,' but decided against it.
He still didn't know for sure that the chip still worked.
"You followed me here," Spike said, coming closer. Not a question. Xander just nodded. "From where?"
"From the bar—er, pub."
Spike considered that for a moment. His lip had stopped bleeding, Xander noticed. And he did look thinner than Xander remembered. And there were dark roots showing in his hair.
"What were you doing in my bleedin' pub?" Spike asked.
"Um, I'm visiting London. Tourist." Xander pulled a couple of pamphlets out of his pocket and waved them vaguely.
"Oh." Spike stared at him a moment longer, then took out another cigarette and lit it. "Great city, London. Lot different than the last time I lived here."
"So, um, why'd you decide to move back? I mean, you have, um, friends here or something?" Smooth, Xander. Real smooth. The vamp'll be giving up all his darkest secrets in no time.
Spike gave him a look that said 'idiot.' "I've got...interests in town."
"Did you come here straight from Sunnydale?" Right after you tried to rape Buffy, you bastard?
Spike didn't answer for a moment; his cigarette tip glowed red. "I made a stop in Africa first. So, how is everyone back in Sunnyhell?" He smirked at his version of the town's name, and Xander briefly considered punching him in the nose. "Little Bit doing all right?"
Dawn was about the only person from their group who was pretty much all right, so Xander was glad to answer, "Yeah. She just started going to Sunnydale High."
Spike raised his scarred eyebrow. "Thought you lot blew that up."
"Yeah, they rebuilt it. I mean, we rebuilt it. I was on the construction crew."
"Huh." Spike shrugged it off—no concern of his. "How about the witches?"
Xander tensed. Spike didn't know what a rough question that was. "Tara's dead," he said. "Willow's off with Giles, trying to pick up the pieces." There was no need to say more than that; no reason for Spike to know how close Willow had come to ending the world in her grief.
"A vamp get her?" Spike asked, expression neutral.
"No. Human." Xander tried to make the words tight and hard enough that Spike wouldn't ask anything more.
It seemed to work. Spike looked into Xander's eyes silently, taking another drag on his cigarette. Xander noticed Spike's eyes were icy blue—had he known that before? Finally, Spike said, "And Buffy?"
"She's doing great without you."
There might have been a flicker of hurt in Spike's eyes before he turned away. If so, Xander was glad.
"My bus's coming," Spike noted. "You actually want it, or were you just standing here to watch me?"
Xander saw, with a joy that not even a surly and mysterious vampire could diminish, that the bus was one of those big red double-decker ones. He'd seen some around during the day, but thought they were just for special tours or something. Following Spike onto that wouldn't suck. "Does it go to a subway station?"
"'S called the Tube here, Yank." Spike took a last pull on his cigarette and flipped it into the gutter. Then with a barely restrained sigh he added, "Bus goes to Euston station."
The bus stopped for them. Xander had his pass, and Spike paid with a token. The idea of Spike as a regular user of public transit amused Xander a lot. He hoped the vampire would take his grin for sight-seeing enthusiasm as he asked, "Can we get up top?"
"Blimey, you are a tourist." Spike pushed past him and led the way into what turned out to be a small spiral staircase inside the bus. The upper floor of the bus was nearly empty—just a couple making out at the very back, and a man reading a newspaper near the stairs. Xander went right to the front. Spike plopped himself down in the seat next to him a moment later, and immediately put his feet up on the window ledge.
Xander leaned forward to look out the window. It was dizzying, watching the street rush by so far below. He had a nervous feeling of being on the wrong side of the road. The bus seemed to sway wildly as it picked up speed. Beside him, he heard the snick of Spike's lighter opening.
"Hey, no smoking," Xander pointed out the sign.
Spike smirked. "Bite me."
Xander watched the scenery for a few minutes, flapping his hand once in a while to try to send the smoke in the other direction and trying to figure out how much farther Buffy would want him to carry this thing.
"So," he said finally, "What the hell was with that message you left on Buffy's answering machine?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Xander saw Spike shrug. "Was in a bit of a black mood, I guess." Pause. "Don't tell me you've never rung up that vengeance demon of yours in the middle of the night to say you're sorry."
"Hey," Xander snapped, turning to face Spike full-on now and clenching his fists. "Don't ever think that what I did to Anya compares to what you did to Buffy."
Spike exhaled a slow cloud of smoke, still looking out the front window. "Nope. Doesn't compare."
"And you aren't really sorry," Xander continued, hissing low now so the man sitting farther back wouldn't overhear. "You're a soulless monster, you can't even feel sorry. I should stake you right now and do the world a favor."
Spike still didn't turn to look at Xander, though the muscles in his jaw tightened. "I'm not stopping you, mate," he said very quietly, in a tone that gave Xander goose bumps.
Without moving a muscle, Xander imagined doing it. With a phantom hand he gripped the stake he'd neglected to bring with him, let the point hover over the vampire's heart, watched for any flicker of reaction in those dead blue eyes. There was none.
The bus pulled to the side of the road, and Spike finally turned to face Xander. "My stop," he said.
Xander rushed to the back of the bus as soon as Spike was gone. Through the back window as the bus pulled away, he saw Spike opening the door of a boarded-up shop and going inside.
Back at the hostel, Xander sat in the common room trying to decide what to do next.
Option one, which was 'forget Spike, spend two weeks looking at sights and taking in musicals, maybe meet a cute backpacker girl to do the aforementioned with, then go home' was looking pretty good. Buffy had sent him here to see if Spike was okay. Well, mission accomplished. The vampire seemed about as okay as ever. And Xander had managed to resist the temptation to stake him, or even punch him in the nose, so—bonus points.
Option two was 'go back to the place where Spike got off the bus and check it out.' That option wasn't so tempting, but Xander had a nasty feeling that it was the course Buffy would want him to take. And he had come all this way, after all.
An Asian girl got up from another couch and dropped a newspaper on the coffee table in front of Xander before she left the room. He noticed it was the same one he'd read on the plane, with the headline 'Jack the Ripper Stalks London!'
Jack the Ripper. When did the article say the original killings had been? Xander picked up the paper, flipped through to the body of the article. 1888.
When had Spike been turned? 1880, right? In London. Xander had vague memories of being told that Spike had stuck around this area for a few years, and then stayed out of London for the entire twentieth century.
Now Spike was back, and Jack the Ripper was apparently stalking again. Near King's Cross—the same area where Xander had found Spike. And Spike had been talking to prostitutes.
Xander's Sunnydale-bred monster sense had started tingling.
Okay. Maybe option number two was worthwhile after all. But first, a phone call to Buffy to let her know what had happened so far.
Across the street from the boarded-up building Spike had entered last night, there was an actual, still-operating "Kebab" shop. Kebabs turned out to be basically like gyros. Xander's mouth watered as he watched the grey-haired man in the grease-splattered white uniform slice chunks of meat off a big rotating spit. It was served in a pita with vegetables and sauce. Xander paid for it with some weird-looking British money, not sure whether it was a cheap meal or not. Then he sat at the counter in front of the store's window, eating slowly. He wore sunglasses, even though the sun was setting, and the James Bond theme played in his head.
A few minutes past sunset, he saw exactly what he'd hoped for: Spike walking out the front door. The vampire was wearing what looked like the same black shirt and jeans as yesterday, and his ever-present boots. He pushed the door shut behind him with a sharp thump and walked away down the street. Xander made himself count to a hundred before stuffing the last bite of kebab in his mouth and heading across the street.
He tried to open the door cautiously, not knowing who or what might be inside, but it was stuck. If he hadn't seen Spike open it, he would've thought it was properly nailed shut.
It took some effort to open. Finally he got it by bracing one foot on the door frame and yanking the handle with all possible force.
Inside, it was dark. He got out his flashlight and shone it around, clutching a stake in his other hand. The room seemed empty. It looked like an abandoned convenience store. There were empty shelves, and a counter over to the left where the cash register would have gone. The floor was littered with random trash—crumpled up newspapers, squashed beer cans. He headed deeper into the store.
In the back corner there was a stained old futon, shielded from sight from the door by a set of shelves. On the shelves were some folded-up clothes, all of them black, and a jar of black nail polish tucked back in the corner.
Yep, this looked like Spike's nest.
There were candles on a packing crate next to the futon, but no matches. Next to the clothes on the shelf, there was a stack of newspaper clippings. Xander took these out and sifted through them, careful to keep them in the same order.
They were about the 'Jack the Ripper' killings. Xander had spent some time in a public library today, reading about the original Ripper. The women had all been prostitutes that time, too, and their bodies had been mutilated, just like the murders this summer. The police never figured out who did it.
It didn't sound like the work of vampires, though. The contemporary papers might not have all the details of the coroners' reports—Xander knew from Sunnydale that certain details were kept out of the press—but the descriptions of the nineteenth-century cases had been very thorough. A vomit-inducing sort of thorough. There hadn't been any twinned puncture wounds on the victims, at their necks or anywhere else, and there'd been no blood missing from the scenes.
Of course, Spike and his vampire family—Darla, Angelus, and Drusilla—hadn't exactly been your typical vampires.
But, the chip. Spike couldn't be committing these murders if he was still chipped. If the chip was still working.
And even if the chip was still working, what stopped Spike from teaming up with a vampire who could hurt humans? Where in the world was Drusilla, for instance?
Xander glanced at his watch, and then nervously towards the door. He'd been in here nearly an hour. Time to finish the search and get out. He took the candles off the crate and flipped it over. Empty. He put it all back like it was, then he lifted up the futon to look underneath. Bingo! There was a spiral-bound notebook hidden underneath. Xander pulled it out and flipped through the pages.
It looked like poetry, covering about the first three-quarters of the pages.
Xander picked a random page. It was covered with scribbles and cross outs, but in the middle it read:
blood stains my clothes and I can't get it out
murdered faces haunting dreams
the demon laughs but drowns in screams
no way to atone no forgiveness no
no right to die to end it no
reach for the sun
Not like Xander was an expert literary critic, but this looked like bad teenage angst poetry. What the hell did Spike have it for? Fuck, maybe it had belonged to one of the murdered prostitutes. Xander gave a quick shudder at the idea. He flipped back a few pages and read another poem, and then another. They were similar to the first—awkward rhythm, forced rhymes, and a general theme of horrible despair. He turned the page and kept reading. It was like trying to stop looking at a traffic accident.
The front door screeched open.
Xander jerked upright, biting his tongue but managing to stifle his yelp and shut off his flashlight even in his panic. He was completely blind in the dark. Spike probably wasn't—and when he got close enough he'd smell Xander, maybe even hear his heart beat.
Heavy footsteps clomped across the floor. Xander crouched behind the shelf unit, waiting, listening to the boots come closer. When they were even with his hiding spot they paused, and in that moment Xander launched himself in the direction of the sound.
He hit something solid with his shoulder. Spike—if it was him—staggered backwards. There was the sound of something crunching on the floor. "Hey!" the intruder yelled. Sounded like Spike all right. Xander punched towards the voice, and his fist connected solidly with bone. Spike grunted, and a vamp punch or kick hit Xander's gut with the force of heavy machinery. Xander flew backwards, landing on his ass on something softish. The futon.
"Ow ow ow ow ow!" Spike was shouting. There was a weird, rotten smell in the air which hadn't been there a moment ago. Xander scrambled to his feet and flipped on the flashlight and saw Spike crouched on the floor four feet away, his hands pressed against his forehead in the familiar my-chip-is-killing-me gesture.
Well, that was a relief.
Spike looked up at Xander, snarling with his human face. His eyes glittered in the flashlight's beam. "Xander," he said after a moment.
"This isn't bloody well fair, you know. Or polite." Spike got to his feet—it seemed to take him a bit of effort, and he looked unsteady for a moment. Then he recovered his scowl. "I can't break into your fucking flat without an invitation, can I now?" He kicked at something near his feet, outside the flashlight's beam, and the rotten smell intensified tenfold. Xander gagged, and swallowed hard. Spike glared at him. "You owe me twenty quid for that. Fucker."
"What's a quid?" Xander asked. If it was what broke on the floor and let out that smell, he really thought Spike was better off without any.
Spike flicked his lighter open and lit a couple of candles, and the room came dimly into view. "A quid's a pound, idiot. Like saying you owe me twenty bucks. Only it's pounds, so it's more like thirty-five bucks."
"For the fucking pterey eggs you made me drop, you wanker!" Spike pointed indignantly at a paper bag on the floor, which was darkly wet and definitely stinking up the room.
"Uh, I think they'd gone off already." Xander covered his nose with his sleeve, trying to filter the stench. "What the hell were you going to do with those things?"
"I was going to sell them to the magic shop for twenty quid." Spike glared at the paper bag a moment longer, and then at Xander again. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Okay, look." Xander held up his hands, open. "Buffy sent me to London to check up on you after that weird phone call. I just came in here to see if there was anything...wrong." It looked like the chip was still working, which made it less likely Spike was the monster behind the newspaper murders, but Xander was keeping an open mind. Priority one was to get out of here alive right now.
"Buffy..." That seemed to stop Spike in his tracks for a second. Then he recovered. "Well, you've had your look. Hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in London..." As he spoke his eyes were sweeping the small sleeping area, and he stopped talking as soon as he saw where Xander had dropped the poetry notebook. "Bloody hell," Spike whispered, eyes going wide. He looked back up at Xander. "You read my poems?"
"Y-your poems?" Xander repeated, stumbling over both the word and the idea. "You write poetry?"
Suddenly Spike was in game face. "Get. Out. Now."
"No way," Xander breathed. It was a reaction to the bewildering idea that Spike wrote those painful poems, not a response to Spike's order—but it was a stupid thing to say.
Spike flew at him, fangs bared and fists flying. Xander with his human reflexes had no chance to get out of the way. A punch connected with his face and snapped his head back so hard that he lost consciousness for a moment. He came to just as he hit the futon again, flat on his back with Spike on top of him. He saw Spike's feral golden eyes, his deadly fangs, and why wasn't the chip stopping him fuck oh fuck. Spike's fingers gripped Xander's shoulders so tightly Xander expected to hear them crunch, and he lifted Xander up just to slam him back down against the bed. His game face was crumpled into deeper ridges than Xander'd ever seen, contorted with unbelievable rage. Spike lunged for Xander's neck, and Xander still had his stake but he couldn't move his arm to use it, and this was the end—
But no. Spike's face collapsed back into its human form mid-lunge, and it suddenly didn't look like lunging so much as falling, and then Spike toppled off Xander and onto the futon, curled up into a fetal position with his hands cupped around his head. He made gasping noises. Xander saw the tendons standing out on Spike's hands, saw his fingers trembling, and figured out that the chip was kicking in with a vengeance.
It was about fucking time. Xander sat up carefully, feeling his own injuries. His left eye was going to be black for sure. His shoulders ached where Spike had gripped them. He felt the beginnings of a really good headache.
Speaking of headaches...Spike was still curled up, twitching and gasping.
"Spike?" No reaction. "You shouldn't hit humans, it hurts you more than us."
Spike went quiet for a moment, then spoke in a strained tone that managed to sound threatening even though his voice was shaking. "You sh-shouldn't h-have read my bloody n-notebook."
Spike still wasn't moving, so Xander picked up the notebook from the floor and flipped through it. He wasn't too worried about provoking Spike again. It looked like if Spike tried to attack him again the chip would knock him out completely.
"I don't get it," Xander said. It was true, he really didn't. "Why'd you write these? Like this line—'the soul burns my throat as the blood goes down'—What the hell? You don't even have a soul."
Spike started to laugh, a hollow, unfunny chuckling muffled into the futon. "Vampires don't have souls," he choked out.
"Right. Except for Angel..." Xander looked down at the notebook again. Every poem he'd read in it said something about guilt or penance, or atonement or pain. Those were some of Angel's favorite themes, though Angel hadn't written any poems about them as far as Xander knew. "Spike...you haven't pissed off any gypsies recently, have you?"
Spike sat up, still keeping his head low and clutching it with his hands. There was blood smeared on his upper lip and chin. "It wasn't a curse," he said in a low, calm voice. "I asked for the bloody thing."
"Asked for..." Xander looked down at the poems, then back again at the vampire. Holy crap. "You have a soul now?"
"Had to fight for it, actually. Barely survived the experience," Spike commented in an offhand tone that didn't match his pose or his words.
Xander felt his brain scrambling to catch up. Spike had a soul? Spike had decided to go out and get himself a soul?
"If you're all soul-having and good now, how come you just tried to bite me?"
Spike either laughed, or coughed. "Just 'cause I've got a soul don't mean I'm good, Scooby. Anyway, you're the one went through my stuff. What do you think Dawnie'd do to you if you read her diary?"
It was a good point, sort of. If you were willing to admit a vampire had a right to privacy in the first place.
Another vampire with a soul. Fantastic.
Xander felt warmer all of a sudden, and tight, and he realized he was angry. Not sure why, but definitely angry. He stood up and glared down at Spike. "Just because you have a soul now doesn't mean everything you did before is erased. I'm not going to forgive you."
Spike finally dropped his hands and lifted his head. "Understood, mate."
The quiet acceptance in Spike's expression just made Xander feel angrier. "It's not a fucking get-out-of-jail-free card! You killed people, tortured people—thousands! And you betrayed Buffy, you tried to rape her, and I'm not going to say 'Oh, it's the good Spike now, he's totally different from the bad Spike' because they're both you, Spike! They're both you!"
"You're right, Xander," Spike said, still quiet and calm.
"And fuck you!"
Xander turned around and left the store, clutching his rage against him with both arms and walking fast. Spike didn't try to follow.
"You again." Spike glared at Xander, then pushed the door to his lair shut behind him. "I'm not going to invite you into my bloody flat, so you might as well just go."
"I just want to talk to you," Xander said. He'd been waiting for sunset outside Spike's abandoned store. He still needed to know why Spike was saving news clippings about the murdered prostitutes.
"Right then, you can come along with me. You owe me four pterey eggs anyway. Not wearing your good shoes, are you?" Spike lit up a cigarette as he talked, and started walking.
"They're kind of my only shoes, at least here in London..." Xander ran a couple steps to catch up with Spike, then fell in beside him. "Listen, about last night—"
"Did you tell Buffy?" Spike interrupted.
"Tell her what?"
"That we rode on the top of the bus," Spike said scornfully. "That I went and got a bloody soul, you wanker—did you tell her?"
Xander quickly considered whether there'd be a strategic advantage to lying. Okay, who was he kidding?—he wasn't the strategy Scooby. He told Spike the truth. "No. I just told her I talked to you."
"All right then."
"So you don't want her to know?"
Spike shrugged and didn't answer.
"So about last night," Xander repeated. "I found your news clippings. About the Jack the Ripper killings."
"Jack the Ripper." Spike snorted. "This is nothing to do with the Whitechapel murders. That's just the tabloids trying to sell copy. Not like a few murders is real news in London."
"Okay, what's it all got to do with you?" Xander stopped walking, grabbing Spike's arm to stop him too. "I saw you talking to those prostitutes last night."
"Ooo, aren't we being all judgmental? Just 'cause a couple of birds choose to dress up nice and stand around on a street corner at night, they must be whores?"
Xander gripped both Spike's shoulders and slammed him up against a wall. "I don't trust you, Spike. I think you were in London in 1888. I know you're in London now. If your chip's working right, you can't be killing those women—but maybe you know who is."
"I do." Spike glared at him, not trying to break out of Xander's hold. "Sort of. At least I know it's not a who, it's a what. That's why I was talking to those birds last night—trying to find if they'd seen anything."
"Keep talking." Xander loosened his grip a little, but he kept Spike pressed up against the wall.
"A bag lady saw it killing the fifth girl. Name's Eunice—the bag lady, I mean. She's a loopy old bird. The coppers thought she was just making things up, or seeing things that weren't there."
"What did she see?"
"Big spiny thing. Seven feet tall. Claws like butcher's knives. Tail with spikes on it."
Xander let go of Spike, took a step back. "So, a demon."
"Sounds like." Spike dusted himself off, tugged his shirt straight. "So I thought, hey, not doing much else here. Might as well hunt down the demon and kill it." He started walking again in the direction they'd been headed before.
"Okay." Xander trotted to catch up again. "Well, hey, want some help? I mean, demon-killing's kind of my hobby, you know?"
He believed Spike. Everything Spike had said and everything Xander'd seen fit together nicely, and Spike wasn't the kind of guy to come up with complex and well-constructed lies. Spike's idea of a lie was saying 'No, I didn't eat the Doritoes' while licking orange dust off his fingers.
So if he believed Spike, that meant...Spike had a soul, and he was one or two steps away from opening a storefront in London and sending out flyers promising to help the helpless.
This was going to take some getting used to.
"So are we going after the demon now?" Xander asked.
"Not that demon. I don't bloody well know where it is." Spike stopped walking, hopped off the curb, and crouched down to flip up a manhole cover. "We're just going to rob a pterey's nest."
"What's a pterey?" Xander whispered once they were down in the sewer. He pulled out his flashlight and turned it on.
The sewer was dark, rank, and disgusting, just like the sewers back home. Rats skittered away from them, occasionally running over Xander's shoes and giving him goose bumps. No matter how much time he spent hunting monsters in sewers, he never stopped hating it.
"It's a small, stupid demon," Spike explained, leading the way. "More like a big salamander. Eats refuse, lives in sewers, lays eggs that fetch me five quid each at the magic shop."
They splashed along for maybe two blocks underground, then Spike held out his hand for Xander to stop. "We're almost on it. Put out your torch."
Xander turned his flashlight off. "Now I can't see a thing." He felt Spike press an empty paper bag and a large knife into his hand.
"I'll go get the pterey out of the way. You wait for my signal, then you can turn on your torch and go for the eggs. Then get out of here the way we came. Use the knife to defend yourself if you have to."
Spike's footsteps splashed away. Xander waited, his heart thumping with the familiar pre-combat adrenaline rush.
Suddenly there was an animalistic shriek, followed by lots of growling, snarling, thumping, and splashing. After about ten seconds, Spike yelled "Xander! Now!"
Xander flipped on the flashlight and ran around the corner. Spike and the pterey were rolling around, locked in combat. Big salamander? It looked more like a crocodile! Its teeth were locked on Spike's shoulder and Spike, in game face, had his fangs dug into the pterey's neck.
Xander spotted the clutch of eggs. He ran for it. They were leathery and mottled, about the size and shape of baseballs, and there were five of them. He stuffed them into the paper bag as quickly and gently as possible.
Spike, on top of the pterey for the moment and wrenching its head back, yelled "Meet me up on the street!"
Xander hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should stay and help, but the vampire seemed to have things under control. Xander ran.
Up on the street, he waited. He sat on the edge of the curb by the manhole he'd come up through, stinking like sewer and clutching his paper bag of pterey eggs. The few people walking along the sidewalk steered well clear of him. Between the sewer stench and the black eye, Xander knew he didn't look or smell like someone you'd want to get close to.
Man, this sucked.
Just as he was starting to worry a bit, the manhole cover slid to the side and Spike climbed out. There were splatters of dark green goop on his hair and face, and his shirt was ripped open at one shoulder, showing a crescent of bloody tooth marks on his skin.
"Got the eggs?" Spike said.
Xander held up the bag.
"Right, let's go get cleaned up then."
There was a bathroom at the back of Spike's place, with cold running water. Spike flicked on his lighter and lit a couple candles that were stuck on the rim of the sink.
"Right then." He turned to Xander. "You hurt?"
Xander shook his head. "Not from tonight. I've sure got bruises from last night, though."
To Xander's surprise Spike reached up and touched Xander's chin, then gently pushed it to make him turn the black eye towards Spike. "Sorry about that," Spike said softly, taking his hand away. "I shouldn't have done that."
Xander was startled by the apology. He'd expected Spike to rail on him again for snooping through his stuff. "Whatever," he said with a shrug. "I mean, you were right, if Dawn caught me doing the same thing to her she'd probably whale on me just like that."
Spike turned on the tap and ducked his head under, and started scrubbing the demon gook out of his hair.
"But hey, doesn't the chip usually kick in at the first punch?" Xander asked.
"It bloody well did," Spike said into the sink. "I was mad enough to keep going."
"Wow, uh." Xander took an instinctive step back, towards the door. "I didn't know you could do that."
Spike stood up and shook his head, flinging drops of water all around. Xander blinked and the candles flickered and sizzled. "I can't really," Spike said. "Pretty much knocked me out for the rest of the night. Still got a bit of a headache." Looking around, he noticed Xander'd moved halfway out the bathroom door. Spike gave a faint smirk. "Don't worry pet, I won't do it again."
He shrugged off his black button-up shirt and let it fall to the floor, and then peeled off his t-shirt. He examined the holes in it, frowning. "Looks like I'm off to Oxfam again," he muttered.
Xander stared at the vampire's torso. Besides the deep bite marks around Spike's shoulder, there was a gash across his belly that oozed blood, and shallower scratches crisscrossing his front and back. There were green and purple bruises, too, which looked like they came from a few days ago but it was hard to say for sure, since vampires healed so much faster than humans.
Xander'd spent enough time around vampires and slayers to know that it wasn't as bad as it looked. He'd still be sporting his black eye from last night long after all Spike's injuries had healed without a trace.
What was really giving Xander pause was how skinny the vampire was. He'd noticed the gauntness in Spike's face when he first saw him, but up until now Spike had been wearing a loose shirt, hiding the shape of his body. His ribs were sticking out like a famine victim's.
Spike reached down and got a bandage roll, scissors, and a safety pin from a box under the sink. "Give me a hand sticking my guts back in, would you, Xander?"
Xander took the roll and started winding it around Spike's middle, covering the deep gash. "You've lost weight, Spike. Aren't there enough yummy rats running around in the sewers?"
Spike raised an eyebrow. "Yummy rats?"
Xander shrugged. "Just trying to think about it from a vampire's point of view. Seriously, what's with the heroin-chic supermodel look?" He snipped the bandage off the roll and pinned the end.
"Can't kill rats, actually." Spike looked at the bite marks on his shoulder, then crouched down to rummage through the box again. "The chip. Doesn't let me harm anything but demons." He came up with tape and couple gauze pads.
"So why don't you buy some blood from a butcher's shop, like you used to in Sunnydale?" Xander taped the gauze pads in place over the bites.
"Have been. Things are a bit tight, is all," Spike said, sounding suddenly curt. "Look, that's good. Thanks for the help with the eggs. I'll want to be off to the magic shop now, so you'd best be on your way."
"Okay." Xander backed away, sensing that he'd somehow offended Spike. "Uh, listen, how about I call Giles and ask him to look up tall, spiny demons? Maybe he can help us figure something out."
"Sure." Spike brushed past him, heading over to the shelves by his futon. He pulled out another black t-shirt and put it on.
"Okay, I'll, uh, meet you back here at sunset tomorrow."
Spike nodded. "Cheers, mate," he said, still sort of scowling. "Get out of here."
This time, Xander actually knocked on Spike's front door.
"Hi," he said when Spike thrust the door open. Xander held up the shopping bags he'd brought. "I brought you, um, lair-warming gifts."
Spike nodded in an inviting sort of way and stood aside to let Xander in.
"So what have you got there?" he asked, tugging the door shut again. He followed Xander to the back part of the store where the sleeping area was set up. There were about ten candles burning on the shelf and on the crate, making that corner of the store relatively well-lit. The area still smelled a bit funky from the broken pterey eggs, but maybe vampires didn't care about that kind of thing.
"Well, the first one's actually from Buffy." Xander tossed the bag over and watched as Spike looked inside and then, with a surprised expression, pulled out the leather duster.
"My coat." Spike held it up for a moment, staring at it with a faint frown. Then he shrugged and pulled it on. "You've been talking to the Slayer, then?"
Xander sat down on the futon, looking at Spike. With his duster restored to him, Spike looked exactly like his old self. If the shadows under his cheekbones were darker than before, it just made him look more striking and dangerous in the candlelight. Xander felt a quiet shiver, wondering for just a moment why he spent his time hanging out with vampires, slayers, witches, werewolves, and demons—all beings that could kill him without breaking a sweat.
"She sent the coat with me from LA," Xander said. "But yeah, I talked to her today. I told her about the spiny demon, and that I'm helping you hunt it. I, uh, didn't tell her about your soul."
For one thing, Xander worried that if Buffy found out Spike had a soul, it would be like Angel all over again. For another, Spike hadn't really seemed to want Buffy to know. And on some level, Xander had to agree that this should be Spike's call.
"And the librarian?" Spike asked, coming over to sit on the futon beside Xander. "Did you talk to him?"
"Yeah, first thing this morning. That was a lot easier since he's, you know, in the same time zone as us and all. He's just over in Bath—that's close, right? I told him about what the bag lady said. He said it wasn't a lot to go on, but he went through his books and found a bunch of different demons that fit the description. He couriered me some photocopies, so we can show them to the bag lady and maybe she can pick out the one she saw. Once we know what it is, Giles can help us figure out where to find it and how to kill it."
"Hey," Spike said. "Didn't you say Red was with the librarian?"
"Yeah. But, uh, she's out of the game. Not going to be helping us." Xander held up the other bag he'd brought. "So hey, here's the present from me!"
Spike took the bag and pulled out the jar. He screwed off the top and sniffed the contents. "Pig's blood."
"Fresh from ye olde English butcher shoppe. Should hit the spot, right?"
Spike started to screw the top back on. "Thanks for the thought, but I can get my own blood."
"Come on Spike, don't be rude! I'm a guest, I brought a bottle of blood. It's like bringing a bottle of wine, for humans."
One corner of Spike's mouth quirked up. "Oh, you could bring me wine, I wouldn't say no to that."
"Come on." Xander took the jar out of Spike's hands and unscrewed the top again. "I know you're hungry. Don't mind me, I've seen you drink before."
Xander was starting to get annoyed. When did Spike get too proud to take handouts? The vampire was way too skinny. Not that Xander was worried about him, exactly—soul or not, why would he worry about a bloodsucking monster? But he knew that vampires' strength depended at least partly on the blood they drank, and if the two of them were going to go up against the spiny demon together, Xander wanted Spike as strong as possible.
Spike took a couple of sips of blood, grimacing with his human face. "There, all right? I drank some." He twisted the top back on.
"Look, I'm sorry it isn't warm, but you don't exactly have a microwave in here, do you? And it's not going to get any fresher."
"I'll have some more later. I'm not hungry right now." Spike put the jar down and stood up. "Now let's get off our arses and go find Eunice, show her the pictures."
"Wait." Xander stood up too. "Like hell you're not hungry. You're starving, Spike. What does it take to get you to accept a gift? I didn't poison it, if that's what you're worried about—I had enough chances to do that when you lived in my basement, before you even had a soul, and I didn't, did I?"
Spike scowled, and walked towards the door. "It's not that. I'll drink it later. Just let's bloody go."
"No." Xander crossed his arms and stayed put in the circle of candles. "I'm not going until you drink that blood."
Spike crossed his arms, too, glaring back at Xander. "I'm not hungry, can't you get that through your sodding thick skull? The blood doesn't go down right, is all. Now let's go." He headed for the door again.
Go down...that rang a bell. It reminded Xander of the line of poetry that he had read out loud from Spike's notebook the other night. "You don't want to drink," he said in an undertone, looking at the vampire wonderingly. "You don't want to drink at all."
Spike stopped with his hand on the door, looking back at Xander uncertainly. "Yeah, that's what I said. Not hungry now. Let's go."
"You are hungry, you have to be," Xander said, thinking out loud. "But you don't want to drink. You've, um, gone off blood." He walked slowly toward Spike. "You wrote 'the soul burns my throat as the blood goes down.' In your notebook."
Spike turned away, rested his forehead against the still-closed door. "You shouldn't have read my fucking notebook."
"Explain this to me, Spike." Still walking slowly, Xander was almost beside him now. "Why are you starving yourself?"
"It doesn't seem right, is all," Spike said softly into the door. "Drinking the blood. I can't kill the beasts myself. Wouldn't, now, even without the sodding chip. Not right to get someone else to do it for me, either."
Cautiously, Xander laid one hand on Spike's shoulder. "The blood's a by-product, Spike. They'd just be throwing it out if you didn't buy it. They're not killing anything for you."
Spike's shoulder moved slightly under Xander's hand. "I know," he said. "When I get hungry enough, I drink. It just doesn't go down right, is all."
Xander moved his hand a little, tentatively rubbing Spike's shoulder. It seemed like the right thing to do. "I guess you're new to this soul thing, figuring out how to be a good guy—but seriously, Spike, everybody needs to eat. A vegetarian vampire is a pretty stupid concept. Tomato juice and tofu just aren't going to cut it for you."
"Leave it alone, pet," Spike whispered. "This is between me and my soul."
Xander stepped away. This whole scene was too raw, too intimate. It shouldn't be happening. Vampires were for hating, not for comforting. He cleared his throat. "Okay. Okay, let's go find Eunice."
The bartender looked up when Spike and Xander walked into the pub. It was the same place Xander had first seen Spike, but much less crowded this time.
"Well, that got us sod all," Spike groused, heading for the bar.
"Hey, at least we can eliminate eighteen demons from the list of possibles. Giles's going to keep combing the books." Xander stopped talking when the bartender came within earshot.
"Evening, Billy," the bartender said to Spike. "Are you going to behave tonight?"
"Look," said Spike, tilting his head towards Xander, "I brought me mate tonight. No trouble at all."
"You're a mate of Billy's?" The bartender looked at Xander, seeming surprised and pleased. "Right then, what'll it be?"
Xander ordered a pint of Guinness—might as well get the whole tourist experience. Local demons, local beer. Or was Guinness Irish? Whatever, it was more local here than in LA. Spike ordered whiskey, neat.
"Billy?" Xander whispered when the bartender left them.
"Going incognito. This here's a human pub, you know."
"Yeah, I noticed that the first night. When you started a fight with that guy and couldn't hit back. What the hell was that about, anyway?"
Spike shrugged, and tossed back his whiskey. "I was in the mood."
Xander shrugged back, and sipped his drink. Compared to becoming a vegetarian, picking fights with humans seemed like a pretty mild self-destructive urge for the vampire, so he let it go. "Okay, here's the plan. Giles should send some more pictures tomorrow. Tonight, you're going to go back to the murder scenes and look for clues, tracks—anything useful."
"The beastie's probably moving around in the sewers to stay out of sight," Spike said. "I've looked around down there before, but I'll do it again. And what are you doing?"
"Tonight? Going back to the hostel and sleeping."
"What? We can't all be creatures of the night, you know."
"Bloody right. The creatures of the night club has standards." Spike smirked at Xander in an almost friendly way. "Meet you back at my flat, sunset tomorrow."
Xander lay awake on his bunk in the hostel, staring at the ceiling. The guy on the bunk underneath him was snoring. In fact, both of the guys on the other bunk bed were snoring, too.
Not that this would normally be a problem. If he could fall asleep in the basement with his parents having screaming matches overhead—and he could, he had—he could fall asleep to the sound of the snoring trio, and turn it into a quartet.
And it wasn't the spiny demon troubling him, either. Sure, it had horribly murdered six women, and it would almost certainly kill again if they didn't stop it, but so far it had always gone seven to ten days between killings, which meant they had at least three days before it killed again. By Scooby standards, that was plenty of time. And sure, this would be harder without Buffy's help, but Xander had faced demons without Buffy before, when she was out of town...or dead. And besides, Xander had a vampire on his side. Vampires were plenty strong. Angel fought lots of demons in LA with only ordinary humans for sidekicks.
The vampire. Time to face it: Xander was lying awake at night because he was worried about Spike. And not worried as in 'will I get killed if he's too weak to beat the spiny demon?'—though that was a legitimate concern. Xander was worried about Spike for Spike's sake.
There was nothing wrong with being concerned about a friend who was going through a rough time. Xander had tried to be there for Buffy, for Willow, during their hard times—failed sometimes, but succeeded when it mattered most. But Spike wasn't his friend. They'd lived together, unwillingly, for a while. They'd made alliances of convenience and fought together, but they'd also fought against each other. Spike had nearly killed Xander and his friends more than once. And yeah, that was before the chip, but Spike couldn't exactly take credit for the chip.
He could take credit for the soul, though. Angel had been cursed with a soul; Spike, apparently, had gone looking for one. That was a weird thing to wrap your head around. How could a purely evil monster decide to become not evil? There had to have been some not-evil part in there to begin with, for him to even want a soul...right?
Spike didn't seem a lot different than Xander remembered from Sunnydale. Okay, yeah, the stupid not-drinking-blood thing was different, but if Xander hadn't found the damn poetry, he might never have guessed that Spike had got a soul. Not like Angel, who was so different without a soul that everyone but Xander thought of Angel and Angelus as two different people.
What the hell was a soul, anyway? It wasn't some separate part of Xander that he could pull out and look at. In Angel, it seemed to work as an on-off switch for evil, but it had to be both more and less than that. Warren had had a soul when he killed Tara and tried to kill Buffy. Faith had had one when she decided to side with the Mayor. And Spike...Spike hadn't had one when he took Glory's torture to protect Dawn, or when he helped them fight evil the whole summer Buffy was dead.
Xander remembered how angry he'd got when he found out Spike had a soul. He didn't really know why he'd reacted that way. He knew it had something to do with the way everyone had welcomed Angel back even after he killed Miss Calendar, but it wasn't like Spike had been asking Xander to treat him differently now.
And the really funny thing was, Xander was treating him differently now. Or at least thinking about him differently. Even without Buffy around to impress, Spike had been trying to hunt down a monster, trying to fight evil. That was something Xander had to respect. And he knew it was incredibly stupid of Spike to think he could stop drinking blood, but it was kind of noble, too, wasn't it? And those poems Spike wrote. Xander imagined Spike hunched over his notebook, chain-smoking probably, frantically scribbling out his pain and torment by candlelight. Getting his soul back like that after over a century of killing—there must be a hell of a lot of pain.
Maybe Spike wasn't so bad after all. And maybe he needed help, and maybe Xander was the one who would give it to him.
"So. Your witness was sure that was the right picture?" Giles asked.
"Absolutely," Xander said. "I mean, she's kind of batty, but she was really firm about this—it was definitely the Dur'athan demon."
"Hm. Hold on a moment, and let me get the relevant text."
"Okay, just hurry—I've only got eighty pence left on this phone card." Xander saw the number on the display change again. "Oops, seventy pence."
"Er, um, why don't you call me back and reverse the charges?" Giles suggested quickly.
"Deal," Xander said, and hung up the phone.
Spike popped around the edge of the phone booth. "All done? Got what we need?"
"No, I was running out of money. The phones in this country are a fucking racket, man. You could talk all day for a quarter on an American pay phone."
"It's a long distance call to Bath, pet, but you're right. British Telecom is a bloody rip-off." Spike fished in his pocket for his cigarettes. "So now what?"
"I'm calling him back collect, and by the way would you stop doing that?"
"What, smoking?" He flipped open his lighter and lit the cigarette. "I like it. Makes me look hard, don't you think?"
"Calling me 'pet.' It's weird."
Spike raised his eyebrow and smirked. "Dru didn't mind."
He wandered away before Xander could get a good retort in, so Xander just dialed the operator and made the call. While he waited for Giles to pick up, he thumped his head against the Plexiglas wall of the booth, hating his own stupidity. Now that Spike knew the 'pet' thing annoyed him, he'd never stop.
"Right, yes, I accept the charges, of course I do," Giles said. "Xander?"
"I found the entry in Compendium Demonica. The first tricky part will be finding the demon—they have an amazing ability to hide, and they only come out to kill. But the good news is, I can tell you almost exactly where and when the next attack will be, in relation to the last one. There's a very strict pattern. Now, the only way to kill a Dur'athan demon is by piercing its one eye with a steel blade—"
"Hey, cool, sounds easy—just one eye? It must have terrible depth perception..."
"—a steel blade," Giles continued more sternly, "anointed with an elixir of Iroras."
"Okay, where do we get that?"
"It's not sold ready made," Giles said, in his 'any idiot ought to know that' tone. "You'll have to purchase the ingredients and mix it up yourself."
"Um...is this going to involve any serious mojo, Giles? 'Cause that was never my specialty, you know, that was more you and Will."
"No, no, not to worry. No magical incantations at all, it's simply a recipe. No more complex than making a peach smoothie. Now, the recipe—do you have paper and a pen on you?"
Xander took out his notebook and pencil and took down Giles's instructions, making him spell each of the items out. "So," he said at the end, "I can find these at any magic shop?"
"I imagine so, yes. They're all quite common. That's not what concerns me..."
Xander imagined he could hear Giles taking off his glasses and polishing them. "All right, what concerns you?"
"Your choice of allies," Giles whispered. "I am not sure if we can trust Spike in this matter."
"Well, really he's not my choice of allies—I'm his." Xander glanced up; Spike was standing maybe fifteen feet away and looking in the other direction, smoking. "He was on this case before I even got here."
"I fail to see his interest in this matter. The effort required to kill this demon goes far beyond the kind of opportunistic carnage he gifted us with in Sunnydale."
"Well...I guess he's defending his turf here." Xander hadn't told Giles about the soul—Giles might agree not to tell Buffy, but it was hard to say for sure.
"I could help, you know. I could be in London on the first morning train."
"No," Xander said firmly. "I'd love to see you again Giles, but Will needs you more than I do. It's just one demon. Spike and I can handle it."
"This is a bit of a problem, innit?" Spike murmured to Xander.
The owner of the magic shop stood behind the counter with her arms crossed—all four of them—and her foot tapping impatiently. "Look, lovey, if you put back the dagger and the red newt powder, it'll be just sixty pound for the rest."
"We need the red newt powder, the elixir won't work without it." Xander looked in his wallet, trying to calculate how much was left and how much he needed for another week and a half at the hostel, and food. "How much do you have again, Spike?"
Spike snorted. "Seventeen pounds and eighteen pence in all the world, pet, just like the last time you asked."
"What if we just don't buy the dagger? We could use your chef's knife, that's steel—"
"Seventy-five pound for the lot without the dagger," the shopkeeper said, absently twirling a lock of her pink hair around one of her fingers.
"Look, if you want to go fighting a Dur'athan demon with nothing but a sodding kitchen implement, be my guest," Spike said. "But I'm only going in there with a proper weapon."
"Okay, okay, we need the dagger. Look, um, Ma'am," Xander turned to appeal to the shopkeeper, "We're trying to do a public service here. We're going to kill the demon that's been killing the women—it's been in the papers, the Jack the Ripper story. And we need this stuff to do it."
She blinked her violet eyes one at a time, looking unimpressed. "Everyone's got a story, lovey, but I've got babies to feed. This here's a place of business, not a charity."
"We can return the dagger after we use it," Xander offered.
"If you survive," she smiled, "you bring it here and I might just consider buying it back off you."
"Don't you have a credit card?" Spike asked Xander.
"I maxed it out getting the plane tickets to come here. Hey!" Spike had just snatched Xander's wallet out of his hand.
"Hey yourself, you have plenty of dosh in here." He riffled through the colorful bills quickly, picking out a fifty and three twenties. "One hundred and ten quid." He handed them to the shopkeeper, and handed the wallet back to Xander.
"Spike," Xander hissed, "I need that money to pay for my bed at the hostel."
Spike rolled his eyes. "Priorities, pet. You do want to kill the murdering demon, right?"
"Well, yeah." Spike was right. Much as Xander hated having the right path pointed out to him by a vampire. "But where the hell will I sleep?"
Spike considered the question while the shopkeeper bagged their purchases. "Well," he said finally, not looking too happy, "I guess you can doss with me."
It was still three days before the night that Giles had predicted for the Dur'athan demon's next kill. Xander went to the hostel to collect his duffel, and brought it back to Spike's place.
Xander decided that if he was going to have to stay there too, he'd follow Spike's lead and call it a flat instead of a lair. 'Flat' sounded cozier, like a place inhabited by a person instead of a dead thing.
"Well, this'll work fine," Spike said, offering Xander a swig from his bottle of whiskey. "You sleep all night while I'm out, I sleep all day while you're out. We'll hardly see each other."
"Better than the last time we lived together," Xander said. The drink went down harsh, but it warmed up his insides fast.
"Bloody right," Spike agreed. He grabbed the bottle back. "Cheers to that."
Xander spent the next day doing dirt-cheap touristy things. He went to Trafalgar Square and saw the pigeons. He found the British Museum and wandered around for hours, thinking about how much Willow would love it. He got back to Spike's place about half an hour before sunset, carrying a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter.
Spike was still asleep, sprawled face down on the futon with his clothes and boots still on, the leather duster crumpled in a heap nearby. His posture was kind of disconcerting—he looked like he'd be smothering, but of course vampires don't need to breathe.
Xander lit a couple candles and settled down to his gourmet peanut butter sandwich dinner.
After a while he noticed Spike's fingers and feet were twitching. It reminded Xander of Uncle Dave's cat, the way its paws and nose used to twitch in its sleep. Uncle Dave always claimed the cat was chasing mice in its dreams. Xander thought about that for a moment, then regretted it. He didn't want to think about what Spike would chase in his sleep.
Suddenly Spike gasped and rolled up onto his feet in an explosion of motion. He snapped his head around to look in Xander's direction, and Xander caught a glimpse of snarling game face before the vampire crumpled back onto the futon and curled up in a tight ball.
"Uh, Spike?" Xander got up and approached Spike cautiously. "Are you all right?"
Spike didn't move or make a sound. He wasn't even breathing. Which, again—vampire. But Spike usually did breathe when he was awake, whether out of habit or to pass as human or what, Xander didn't know. He wasn't doing it now.
"Did you, uh, have a bad dream?" Xander knelt on the futon next to Spike, feeling awkward and strange. Maybe he should just walk away. Leave the store, come back in another hour.
"Killing," Spike spat out, the sound muffled because his forehead was pressed into his own knees. "I had a killing dream."
"Oh." Xander hesitated, then put his hand on Spike's shoulder. "It's okay, it was just a dream."
"1967. November. It was raining. Dru and I hitched a ride in a farmer's lorry. We said we didn't have any place to stay for the night, and he invited us to stay at his home. With his family." Spike was silent for a moment, still curled up, still not breathing. "Not a dream, Xander."
Xander had no idea what to say. Without thinking about it he started rubbing Spike's back, his hand moving in slow circles. It was getting to be a habit. The rubbing, the not thinking.
It wasn't like Xander had no experience with people who'd done awful things in the past. Hell, he'd nearly married an ex-vengeance demon.
Anya had never had nightmares, come to think of it. Strange.
"It wasn't your fault," Xander heard himself saying. Funny, it had always pissed him off when people said that about Angel killing Miss Calendar. Exactly whose fault was it, then? The demon's? The demon was still in there, right along with the soul.
Maybe the only difference was that Xander had never met the farm family. Not a comfy thought; he shied away from it.
"Doesn't matter," Spike said. "It happened. I did it." Abruptly he sat up. "Where's that bloody whiskey?" There was a half full bottle sitting on the wooden crate. He grabbed it, tugged the cork out and tossed it across the room, and upended the bottle into his mouth.
Xander watched Spike chug the bottle until it was empty. No need to breathe. When he'd finished, he hurled the bottle away. It smashed against the wall behind the cash register counter in a glittering explosion of glass shards.
"That's better." Spike grabbed the leather duster, jumped to his feet, and strode towards the door, yanking the coat on in two violent thrusts.
"Whoa, whoa, Spike, where are you going?" Xander sprinted to get to the door ahead of Spike. He was no expert on vampire physiology, but he'd seen Spike get drunk once or twice. After downing that much alcohol that fast, Spike should be having trouble just standing up.
"Going out. Get out of my way." Spike ducked to one side then the other, trying to get around Xander, but Xander just stood firm in front of the door.
"No way. You'd get yourself in trouble."
"Yeah." Spike glared at Xander, swaying a bit. "Trouble. That's what I bloody well want. So piss off."
"No. I need you intact to fight the Dur'athan demon."
"That's two nights away, I'll be back by then." Spike let fly a kick which landed on the door and jarred it halfway open.
Xander grabbed Spike's arm and pulled him away from the door. "No walkabouts for drunk vampires."
"Sod off." Spike started to struggle. He yanked his arm out of Xander's grasp and gave Xander a push that threw him clattering into the nearest set of shelves, then immediately howled in pain and dropped to the floor, clutching his head.
"Right," Xander said, going to yank the exit closed again. "See what I mean? No shape to go out."
Spike came to his knees, still pressing his hands to his forehead. "No fair, I didn't even hurt the wanker, just gave him a shove out of the way," he muttered. He stood up, took one step towards the door, and crumpled very ungracefully back down to the floor.
"We could do this all night," Xander said, kneeling beside the sullen heap of vampire, "But it would probably suck a lot for you."
"Bloody chip packs more punch than it used to," Spike said from the floor. "You'd think it would wear out, but no."
"You're not going anywhere, Spike. Let me give you a hand back to bed."
Spike didn't struggle this time when Xander grabbed him under the shoulders and hoisted him to his feet. It was easy to half-carry him back to the futon. Even when he was well-fed, Spike was probably thirty pounds lighter than Xander. Xander laid him down on his back on the mattress, then sat down beside him.
"Room's spinning," Spike commented after a moment.
"Yeah, I bet it is." Xander looked at his watch and sighed. So much for doing anything fun this evening. He wished he had a book, at least.
Spike closed his eyes and was quiet without moving for so long that Xander thought he'd gone back to sleep. Then suddenly he spoke up, eyes still closed. "The first time I came to Sunnydale, when the Order of Teraka didn't manage to kill Buffy, I went to her house to do it myself. I hid around the corner of the house until I saw Little Bit coming up the walk. I grabbed her, then rang the doorbell. Buffy came to the door and I told her I'd kill her sister if she didn't come out and fight me. I still thought I could take her one-on-one, see. Buffy came out and I threw Dawn out of my way—so hard she broke her arm when she landed. Buffy and I fought. She won but I got away."
"I remember that," Xander said. "Dawn had her arm in a cast for a month. I think she was more pissed off about not being allowed outside after dark for the next year than she was about the broken arm, though." Xander rubbed his chin, noting absently that he needed a shave. "Look, if you're counting up your sins, I think you should get a pass on that one. It didn't really happen, remember? Dawn didn't even exist till three years after that." As weird as that was to think about. "The monks gave you the memory of that fight. You never broke Dawn's arm."
"Exactly." Spike's lips showed a shadow of a smile. "I never hurt Dawn. The one bad thing I didn't do. It's something to hold onto." Then he rolled over onto his front, pressing his face into the futon, and started to sob.
Xander felt awkward and helpless, and kind of embarrassed to be seeing this. He thought about going and sitting at the other end of the store, to give Spike space. He didn't move, though. He stayed, and after a while laid his hand on Spike's back again and started rubbing it in slow circles. Spike didn't react any more than he had the other times, but Xander hoped it was comforting. The sounds Spike was making were awful to listen to.
It was a long time before Spike became quiet again, and by then Xander's eyes were closing involuntarily. Even though he hadn't been doing anything, just sitting beside Spike, he felt wrung out and exhausted. He blew out the candles, lay down beside the dead-quiet vampire, and tumbled into dreamless sleep.
"What do we do if the bugger doesn't show?" Spike whispered.
They were crouching behind garbage cans in the alley where, according to Giles's usually infallible calculations, the Dur'athan demon would bring its seventh victim in about—Xander checked his watch—two minutes.
Spike had the anointed dagger. Xander had the big kitchen knife. The plan was that Spike would stick the dagger through the Dur'athan's eye while Xander got the intended victim the hell out of the way.
Xander shifted his weight, trying to keep the blood flowing in his legs. Beside him, Spike was perfectly still.
Spike seemed be doing better since the breakdown two nights ago. Last night he'd been in a good mood when he woke up, and he'd gone out with Xander to a bar where they played pool and had a couple beers, and it was fun.
What was weirder—rubbing a vampire's back while he cried, or having a great time spending an evening with him?
Maybe the weirdest thing for Xander was realizing last night that he was glad that Spike seemed happier.
"It's coming," Spike whispered.
A moment later, the Dur'athan came around the corner. It was easily seven feet tall, with a dark purple hide covered in short, blunt spines, and it had one yellow eye in the middle of its forehead. It had a young East Asian woman tucked under one arm; she was conscious and struggling, but the demon's other hand was clamped over her mouth so she couldn't scream.
"Right then," Spike said, popping to his feet. "You're a big ugly, aren't you? You'll be letting the girl go now."
The monster turned its face towards Spike and roared, showing three rows of slimy, jagged teeth.
Spike snarled into game face. He leapt up onto the garbage cans and slammed into the demon, stabbing the dagger into the arm that was holding the woman. The monster swung its arm to slash at Spike with its six-inch-long claws—and the woman slipped out of its grasp, landing on the pavement by its tail.
That was Xander's cue. He sprinted towards the woman, who was already stumbling to her feet. He put his arm around her shoulders and helped her get up and out of the alley, fast.
As soon as they were around the corner of a building, the woman looked at Xander. "What the fucking hell was that?" Her eyes were wide, and she was shaking.
"Something from hell. Are you hurt? Can you run away?"
"Not hurt bad. I can run." Behind them, the monster roared, and there was a sound of crashing garbage cans. "Thanks for the rescue," she gasped at Xander, then spun and ran away, barefoot on the pavement.
Xander wished briefly he could make it a more thorough rescue—find her shelter, or something—but the battle was still raging in the alley and he thought he'd better go back and help.
He rounded the corner just in time to see the Dur'athan fling Spike against a brick wall like a rag doll. Spike dropped to the ground, his face smoothing back into its human form, and the demon drove its claws right into Spike's chest.
"Hey!" Xander yelled, picking up a metal garbage can lid. "Over here!" He flung the lid at the demon, Frisbee style. It bounced off the Dur'athan's neck, and the demon roared again and stood up, turning to face Xander.
Spike, clutching his chest with the hand that wasn't holding the dagger, rolled to his feet. As the monster took a step towards Xander, Spike tucked the dagger between his teeth and grabbed the Dur'athan's thick fleshy tail. He braced his feet and yanked the tail so hard he swung the monster off its feet, and this time it was the Dur'athan that slammed into the brick wall.
Spike grabbed the dagger out of his mouth and slipped back into game face as he dove at the Dur'athan, fangs gleaming. The monster stood up just in time to take the dagger in its neck instead of its eye. Spike fell backwards, leaving the dagger stuck in the demon's neck. The Dur'athan spun around and whapped Spike with its tail; Spike flew into the opposite wall.
Meanwhile Xander spotted a pile of loose, broken bricks. He picked one up and hurled it at the Dur'athan. The brick hit its mouth and it howled with what Xander sincerely hoped was pain.
Spike leapt onto the beast's back, wrapping his arm around its throat to grab the dagger. The Dur'athan flung itself backwards, slamming Spike against the wall. Spike dropped off and rolled to the side. Xander flung two more bricks at the monster. They hit its flank, and it hardly seemed to notice. Spike jumped up onto a rusted old stove, and from there dove at the monster, dagger raised. He plunged it into the Dur'athan's eye. The monster let out a high-pitched squeal that hurt Xander's ears. It staggered backwards away from Spike. Then there was a crackling, electric sound, and purple lightning started flashing around the monster. The lightning intensified and then, with a loud crack, the monster disappeared. The dagger fell to the pavement.
"I love it when they disappear like that," Xander quipped giddily. "No cleanup. Just like a video game!"
Spike was in no condition to walk home. He could only manage a couple steps without assistance.
"Same bus we took that first night goes by a block from here," he said. "I can make it that far."
The leather duster had made it through the fight intact. It had been hanging open, so when the Dur'athan had clawed Spike it had just wrecked his shirt. And, oh yeah, his flesh. Now Xander buttoned up the coat to hide Spike's injuries, and hoped that the bus driver wouldn't look too closely when they got on.
Spike dug his hand into his coat pocket and pulled out a couple of bus tokens. "You take these," he said.
Xander took the tokens. They were bloody.
With Spike's arm slung over Xander's shoulders, Xander half-carried the vampire to the bus stop. In a stroke of amazing luck, the bus was rounding the corner just as they arrived.
Spike pulled himself together to get onto the bus without help, and the driver barely glanced at him. He collapsed into the seat nearest the rear exit of the bus, and sat very still with his arms pressed over his chest and his eyes wide, staring out the window without focus. Each time the bus lurched and bumped, there was the slightest wince. Xander held his breath each time, barely realizing it.
When they reached their stop, Xander helped Spike stand up. There was a pool of blood by his feet. His knees buckled, and Xander caught him before he fell back down into the seat.
"Think I'm going to need a bit more help, pet," Spike mumbled, and then his head dropped forward limply.
"Fuck," Xander whispered. He picked up the unconscious vampire and carried him quickly off the bus. Blood dripped from the bottom of Spike's coat as Xander walked towards the store, leaving a splattered trail on the pavement. He had to put Spike down at the front door—it always stuck, Xander needed two hands to pull it open. Spike moaned softly when Xander picked him up again.
"We're home," Xander told him. "You're going to be fine."
"'Course I am," Spike murmured. "Vampire. Immortal. This is nothing."
Xander pulled the door closed and carried Spike all the way back to the bathroom, making his way around the shelves in the dark by memory. Then he put him down on the floor and fished in the duster's pockets for the lighter. He lit the candles in the bathroom, then turned to Spike.
His eyes were open, watching Xander. He was lying where Xander had set him, with his head and shoulders propped up against the wall and his legs sprawled out, boots resting against the opposite wall of the small bathroom.
"Okay, let's get you patched up," Xander said, forcing himself to sound cheerful. Spike watched glassily as Xander pushed the coat down off Spike's shoulders and pulled his arms out of the sleeves.
The front of Spike's t-shirt was shredded, so Xander took the scissors out of the box under the sink and just snipped it off him. Spike's chest was a mess of blood—it was hard to see where the actual holes were. Xander would have to wash off the worst of the blood. Lacking any better washcloth, he took one of the cleaner pieces of t-shirt and rinsed it under the tap.
Xander looked up at the mirror while he rinsed the cloth. His black eye was a lot better—the swelling was almost gone, and the bruises were pale yellow. That was one good thing, at least. And he hadn't got so much as a scratch tonight.
He couldn't see Spike in the mirror. It hung at a tilt, so he could see the leather duster lying on the floor behind him, strangely flattened in places, but he couldn't see Spike or the clothes he was still wearing. Weird how that worked.
Xander turned around and knelt down, and started wiping the blood off Spike's chest. Spike still had on the bandages Xander had applied after the fight with the pterey. They were ripped and bloody now; they'd have to come off. Xander peeled the gauze pad off the place where the pterey had bitten Spike's shoulder. Underneath the pad there was a crescent of small puncture wounds, oozing red.
The pterey bite. It hadn't healed at all.
That couldn't be right. Xander grabbed a candle off the sink and held it closer to get a better look. "Careful, pet, I'm flammable," Spike murmured. His lips looked gray.
The bite looked the same as when Xander had bandaged it up. Xander had seen how fast vampires heal—the wounds should have completely closed over in the space of one or two days. How long had it been since they stole the pterey eggs? Four, five days?
Xander picked up the scissors and carefully slid one blade under the bandage wrapped around Spike's abdomen. He snipped the bandage, and tried to tug it off. It was stuck to Spike's belly with dried blood. Gross. It was a good thing vampires' wounds resisted infection.
Xander set the candle back on the sink, got the t-shirt rag sopping wet, and then used that to wet the stuck bandage. He let it sit for a minute, hoping that would loosen it a bit. Meanwhile, he cleaned around the new wounds.
There were deep scratches oozing blood on both of Spike's forearms. Xander wrapped bandages around them. That was the easy part. His chest was a mess, though. There were evenly spaced punctures all over, like someone had slammed him with a peg board—that was probably from when the spiny Dur'athan pinned him between its back and the wall. There were four deep gouges just above the old bandage—that would be from the claws. The Dur'athan had been trying to gut him, and it would have worked on a human.
Xander hadn't noticed Spike taking any cuts to the legs, but he figured he'd better check. The jeans were soaked with blood anyway; they'd have to come off.
Xander unlaced Spike's boots and pulled them off, then his socks. Then the jeans, trying not to shift Spike around too much when he lifted him up. He wasn't wearing underwear. Not a tidbit of information Xander had really wanted to know about Spike, but hey, no modesty in the trenches. There was one stab wound in his left thigh, which Xander quickly wrapped up. Other than that his legs looked all right, just a few bruises.
Finally, Xander started peeling away the old bandage around Spike's belly. It was still pretty stuck. Spike batted at his hand, trying to push him away. "Fucking hurts," he complained.
"Yeah, I bet it does." Dried blood came off with the bandage, and the horizontal gash underneath still looked fresh. "This is an old wound, Spike. Why hasn't it healed?"
Xander grabbed the box from under the sink and shook its contents around. "Fuck, there's not enough bandages left."
"Chemist five blocks north of here," Spike mumbled, his eyes closing. "Open all night."
"Uh, okay, I can get bandages there?" Spike didn't answer. "Spike? Which way's north?"
Spike opened his eyes and managed to look scathing. "The way the bus was going, pet."
It had started to rain outside. That was good. It would wash away the blood trail leading from the bus stop to the store. It would hide the bloodstains on Xander's clothes.
A 'chemist' turned out to be a drugstore. Xander bought lots of bandages, and some antiseptic, too. Then he walked back quickly, ducking his head against the now torrential rain.
Why hadn't Spike recovered from the fight with the pterey? What would stop a vampire from healing?
Blood. Vampires got their powers from blood. Spike wasn't drinking blood, he was starving, and now he'd lost the ability to heal.
Okay. First thing in the morning, Xander would go find a butcher and buy some blood, and he'd hold Spike's nose and pour it down his throat if he had to.
After Xander had wrapped Spike's torso completely in bandages, he dressed him in fleece pants and top—Xander's, not Spikes. They'd fit more loosely around the bandages than anything Spike had. Spike protested, but he was only semiconscious so Xander didn't give his opinions much weight.
Then Xander carried Spike to the futon and laid him down on it. Xander stepped back, and wrapped his arms around himself, and realized he was shaking.
His clothes were sopping wet from the rain and the blood. It was four in the morning. He'd just been through a death-match with a demon. He was squatting in an abandoned building in a foreign country, keeping watch over a mentally and physically fucked-up vampire who Xander was just now realizing he cared about. A lot. Okay, it was okay to cry for a minute. Just for a minute or two.
Xander pulled the store's door firmly shut behind him. This early in the morning, the sun would stream right in if it was ajar at all.
He lit some candles. Spike was still lying on his back to one side of the futon, where Xander had put him in the night.
"Wake up, Spike." Xander shook his shoulder gently, and Spike frowned and mumbled incoherently without opening his eyes. "Wake up, I've got blood for you. You're going to drink it."
Xander got a sweater out of his duffle bag and bunched it up, and put it under Spike's head to prop it up. Spike finally opened his eyes. "I'm really not hungry, pet," he rasped.
"Like hell you're not." Xander unscrewed the top from the jar of pig's blood, then dipped his finger in the liquid. "Mmm, blood." He then touched the finger to Spike's lips, and brushed the blood across them.
Spike's eyes opened wider. The tip of his tongue darted out to lick the blood.
"There, see? Yummy, nummy blood." Xander moved in closer, lifted Spike's head and shoulders onto his lap, and tucked his left arm around behind Spike's head to support it. It was disconcerting how cold the skin at the nape of his neck felt, even though Xander knew that was normal for a vampire. Xander touched the rim of the jar to Spike's lips. "Open up now," he said softly.
Spike's lips parted, and Xander tilted up the jar to let the blood run into Spike's mouth. Spike suddenly went into game face, and for the first time ever Xander was relieved to see the demon features. Spike reached up to grab the jar himself, and he gulped the blood—then suddenly he changed back to human face and started gagging. He flung the jar away. It smashed wetly on the floor in front of the bathroom. Spike huddled forward, coughing.
"Spike?" Xander said, fighting back panic. "Spike, what's wrong?"
"Death, it's death, it tastes like murder, death," Spike gasped, still choking out blood. The front of the gray sweatshirt he wore now had a big red-black stain.
Maybe that was why Spike always wore black—it hid bloodstains better.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Xander held on to Spike, waiting for him to stop coughing.
Finally he did. His head fell back onto Xander's lap. He wiped the blood away from his mouth with the back of his hand, and then let the hand fall limply to his side. "Bloody hell," he said softly.
"You can't drink blood at all now."
"Not for the past three weeks," Spike admitted hoarsely. "Before that, less and less."
"You drank a bit when I brought it before."
Spike gave a wry smirk. "I only pretended to, pet."
"This is bad, Spike," Xander said in a low, soft tone. "You're starving. Your injuries aren't healing. You lost a lot of blood last night, and you didn't have much to lose."
"Don't be so gloomy, pet." Spike smiled a bit, but his voice was strained and quiet. "It's not like this can kill me."
Xander gave the haggard vampire a skeptical look. "You don't think so?"
"Nah. Didn't the Slayer let you read her sodding Handbook? Wooden stake through the heart, decapitation, sunlight, fire. That's the whole list. No other way to kill a vampire."
Xander thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. "That's a lie."
"What do you mean?"
"Buffy killed a vampire once by getting him to drink holy water."
Spike blinked once, slowly. "What vampire would be daft enough to drink holy water?"
"And another time, Faith shot Angel with a poisoned arrow, and he would have died if Buffy hadn't made him drink her own blood."
Spike snorted weakly. "The poofter never deserved her."
"My point, Spike, is that there's more than one way to skin a cat. And more than four ways to kill a vampire."
"Hold on now." Spike frowned thoughtfully. "Weren't you the one who always wanted me dead?"
"Well, kind of, at times...okay, yeah." Xander brushed his fingertips along the side of Spike's cheek, wiping off a fleck of blood. "I changed my mind."
Spike closed his eyes and grimaced. "Go back to Sunnydale, pet. We're done here."
"No." Xander shifted away and lowered Spike's head back down onto the pillowed sweater. "We're not done yet."
"Yes, I accept the charges. Xander, thank God you rang," Giles said. "I've been leaving messages at the hostel for the past thirty-six hours—have you not received them?"
"Um, no, I'm not staying at that hostel anymore," Xander said. "What's the problem?"
"Well, for starters, I rather hoped you'd ring me last night to let me know you survived the encounter with the Dur'athan demon," Giles said, his words clipped with restrained anger.
"Right." Xander slapped his forehead, feeling like a jerk. Of course Giles would have worried. "It was just...Spike got beat up pretty bad, I had to drag him back to his place, and...sorry. I'm really sorry, Giles. I'm fine—not a scratch."
"And the demon?"
"Dead. Dagger through the eye, just like you said."
Giles's tone softened. "No harm done. But listen: I did a bit more investigation into the background of the Dur'athan. They aren't indigenous to this plane. They must be summoned. Which— which begs the question—"
Xander completed the thought. "Who summoned it?"
"Exactly. The coven in Devon has been working on a locator spell, but of course the demon was summoned at least two months ago, so any traces would be very faint."
"And whoever did it might summon another one."
"I very much hope to the contrary, but I would advise Spike not to pawn that dagger just yet."
Spike was in no condition to use the dagger right now. If there was another demon, it would be a huge problem. And Xander knew he should tell Giles that, knew it was important, but he didn't. Instead he said, "Okay, keep me posted on that. I promise I'll check in more often. Hey, before I go, I have a question. Is it possible for a vampire to die from not drinking blood?"
"Well—what? Why do you ask?"
"Me and Spike were debating it, and I figured you'd be the one with the final answer," Xander dissembled almost smoothly.
"Vampires in captivity have survived being deprived of blood for extended periods of time. The hunger brings out the beast to an alarming degree, of course—they go quite mad with it. The faintest whiff of blood drives them into a frenzy. They do weaken, but die? No."
Spike wasn't mad with hunger, he was fucking anorexic. Maybe it was different in vampires with souls.
"What if a vampire was deprived of blood, and then injured, too?" Xander pressed. "The kind of injuries that would kill a human. Could that kill a vampire?"
"Well, I've never heard of—" Giles sounded puzzled, and a bit intrigued, the way he always got with unanswered questions. "I suppose it is theoretically possible, if the vampire did not have sufficient blood resources to heal the wounds, that they would worsen and eventually kill it." He paused, then said sternly, "Xander. Tell me why you're asking this."
"Like I said. Me and Spike were talking about it."
"Xander, if Spike has been experiencing difficulty finding enough blood to drink—if he is going hungry—he could become quite unpredictable and dangerous. Even with the chip, I don't think you should be alone with—"
"He's not dangerous, he's fine. It's fine. Bye." Xander hung up the phone quickly before he could hear Giles's reply.
Heavy traffic rushed by, an unending roar.
Spike could die.
Not only that, there might be another Dur'athan demon to fight.
Xander knew what he was going to do, and he knew that he couldn't let Giles even suspect it.
Xander gathered the things he needed by the futon before he prodded Spike awake.
"What now, pet?" Spike whispered when he woke up. Xander laid his hand along Spike's cheek and looked at him, thinking this through one more time.
Spike's face was gaunt and absurdly pale. His lips were gray and cracked; there were dark circles around his eyes. He wasn't bothering to breathe.
"You can't drink the blood of things that have been killed," Xander said softly. "So I want you to drink my blood instead."
Spike's eyes went wide. "No."
"It won't kill me if you don't take too much. It won't taste like death—it'll taste like life."
"I can't bite you, pet. Not even if you want me to."
"I know, the chip. You won't have to bite me." Xander picked up the kitchen knife, and poured antiseptic over both sides of the blade. Then he gripped the knife handle firmly in his right hand, and pressed the blade against the inside of his left wrist.
"No," Spike whispered again.
"You'll drink," Xander said, as sternly as he could manage. "And then you'll stop before you take enough to hurt me. I know it's possible." And if Spike didn't drink, he'd die. And if he drank too much, Xander would die.
This was no time for second thoughts. Xander gritted his teeth, and slit his own wrist.
It hurt, and blood welled up fast, glistening in the candlelight. Xander pressed his wrist against Spike's mouth. The vampire looked appalled for a moment—and then his face slipped, shifted, and he wore the knobby features of a demon, and he drank.
Xander had expected the pain, he'd braced for it. What he hadn't expected was the euphoria.
He felt like he was floating. The licking, slurping noises Spike made as he drank seemed unnaturally loud and resonant in the still room, and the sounds were warm, round, soft, lovely, erotic. Spike's yellow eyes glittered like amber in the candlelight. The deeply crumpled ridges of his brow were beautiful. Xander let the knife fall from his limp fingers, and then reached up to trace the ridges with his fingertips. They were firm and cool. Why had he ever thought they were ugly? And then they shifted, changed, smoothed away under his fingers. Spike's blue eyes shone in the candlelight, and he pushed Xander's wrist away from his red, wet lips, and Xander felt an intense sense of loss, of emptiness—and then a wave of dizziness.
He let his head drop onto his lap. The dizziness passed in a couple seconds. His wrist ached—it was still bleeding. Xander reached for the gauze pad and pressed it over the wound.
Spike was looking a little stunned. He raised his scarred eyebrow when Xander looked his way. "That was very fucking dangerous, pet."
"I need you to wrap tape around my wrist. I can't do it one-handed."
Spike sat up—and that was good, he'd been too weak to do that before, that meant it had worked—and took the medical tape, and wrapped it quickly and firmly around Xander's wrist. When he was done, he still held on to Xander's hand.
"I didn't know it would be..." Xander paused, cleared his throat, embarrassed. "...sexual."
Spike rubbed the back of Xander's hand with his thumb. "Did you mind that?"
Xander hesitated, repeating the question silently in his head. Did he mind that he'd just shared an intensely sexual experience with a vampire? A male vampire? Spike? He thought he should, but he didn't. He started to shake his head, but then instead he leaned in and kissed Spike on the lips. Spike's lips tasted like Xander's blood: bitter, coppery. They were warm.
Spike leaned in too, and his lips moved on Xander's, parting, playing. His hand slid up Xander's back, pulling him closer.
Xander was already hard, had been since Spike started feeding off him. He was lightheaded, too, and he knew that was the blood loss. This wasn't the right time to start anything. They weren't strong enough. They weren't thinking straight. It was too fucking weird. "Stop."
Spike pulled away. He looked as confused as Xander felt. The hand that was still holding Xander's had started shaking, Xander wasn't sure when.
"Why did you do that?" Spike asked.
Xander felt his cheeks flush. "I don't know, I'm sorry, I just wanted to kiss you, and then I wasn't sure..."
"Not that, you bloody idiot. Why did you make me drink?"
"You were dying."
Spike's hand shook harder. "But I'm no good...I didn't deserve..."
"Shhh." Xander knew what to do this time. He hugged Spike tight as the vampire's whole body started to shake, and when the deep, wracking sobs began, Xander held on.
And when Spike was quiet again, Xander whispered that it was time to sleep again. They lay down, and Xander kept his arms wrapped around Spike's cool body, and Spike tucked his head into the crook of Xander's neck, and Xander fell asleep with bleached blond hair tickling his cheek.
Xander struggled awake. It was dark, he was hung over, and he couldn't remember where he was but there was someone curled up next to him.
The someone moved, and stretched, and rolled away from Xander. A moment later a lighter flicked on. Spike gazed at Xander in the yellow glow. "Good afternoon, pet."
"Ugh." Xander sat up slowly, and watched Spike light the candles on the bedside crate.
"Bloody hell, what am I wearing?" Spike asked with an appalled expression, checking himself out by the candlelight.
"My track suit." Xander suppressed a snicker, seeing Spike twisting around to check out his own butt.
"'S all baggy," Spike complained.
The gray track suit was a size too big for Spike, and bloodstained down the front. He looked like a photo from the Worst Dressed issue of Undead People Magazine.
"Just be glad you can't see yourself in the mirror." Xander grinned, and then winced at how talking made his head hurt.
"Mixed blessing, that." Spike pulled the sweatshirt up over his head, giving Xander a view of the bloodstained wraparound bandages covering his torso. "No way to know if my hair looks funny when I wake up in the evening."
"Looks fine now," Xander assured him. It was rumpled and curly and sticking out in all directions, and it was weird how adorable Xander was finding it.
Funny how a vampire bite messed with your head. No wonder Riley had got drawn in so far. But this was nothing like that. That had been sick and twisted. This was...nice.
Spike shucked the pants off quickly, leaving them crumpled on the floor. Barefoot and naked, he sauntered over to his clothing shelf and pulled out a clean pair of black jeans. "'Course I always had it easy compared to the really old vamps, the ones turned before photography," he continued, pulling on the jeans. "Darla went centuries without seeing herself—bloody near forgot what she looked like." He pulled a black t-shirt off the shelf, shook it out and looked at it. "Sod it, this is my last shirt. I've been running through them like stockings in nettles these last few days."
"Wait, don't put it on yet," Xander said. Spike turned to him, raising an eyebrow. "Come here." Xander patted the futon beside himself.
"What is it, pet?" Spike came and sat by Xander.
"Let me see how you're doing." Xander peeled away one side of the square gauze bandage he'd taped over the pterey bite on Spike's shoulder. The crescent of puncture wounds was still clearly visible, but the holes were healed over with new pink skin. "Hey, that's great. Look at it!" He peeled the bandage the rest of the way off, and Spike craned his neck to look.
"Well, that's nice," Spike said. "Wouldn't go taking off the rest of the mummy-wrappings just yet—I can feel the deeper cuts still."
Xander frowned, touched a bloodstain on the wraparound bandage lightly with his fingertips. "Do they still hurt?"
Spike snorted. "Bloody right they do. Got a couple broken ribs, too, I think."
Xander jerked his fingers away, suddenly afraid he'd been hurting Spike whenever he touched him. "Fuck, Spike, you should've said something—"
Spike shrugged, then winced. "Said what? It doesn't matter, it'll all heal in a day or three." He paused, gazed steadily at Xander. "I owe that to you."
Xander shrugged, and lowered his eyes, feeling his face flush. "It was all I could think of—"
"It was fucking stupid," Spike said sharply, shocking Xander into looking up at him again. "Did you have any fucking idea how dangerous it was? Any idea how bloody hard it is for a vampire to stop feeding before they've drained all the blood? Goes against every instinct, pet, and I was hungrier than any vampire you've ever met."
Xander tried to lick his lips, but his mouth was dry. "I kind of knew about that," he said. "But I trusted you."
Spike blinked at that, then gave a sardonic head-tilt and half-smile. "Seems to me you Scoobies put altogether too much faith in a soul."
"Not just the soul." Xander squeezed Spike's hand. "That was part of it, but...I just met Spike-with-a-soul a week ago. It takes more than a week to build that kind of trust, Spike." Xander hadn't thought about this before he said it, but he knew it was true.
Spike hesitated, then laughed a bit awkwardly. "Are you feeling all right, mate?"
"Yeah! Well, no, kind of crappy actually, in a hangover kind of way which is weird 'cause I haven't been drinking, but I mean it, Spike—after that time Glory tortured you and you didn't betray Dawn I started to trust you, and I started to like you, only I hated it that I was trusting you and liking you because I knew you were really evil, you couldn't be anything but evil, you were a vampire, you've killed probably thousands of people, but I still couldn't help starting to trust you, but then I was always afraid you'd do something to make me regret trusting you, and then you did."
Spike nodded. "I hurt Buffy."
"Yeah. I was planning to stake you for that as soon as I saw you." Xander rubbed his temples. This was too much deep thinking and feeling; his head was pounding. "Buffy made me rethink that, though, when she talked me into coming over here. I was seeing it all black and white—man hurts woman. Man bad. Buffy reminded me that she's not a normal woman, and I guess there was a lot of...stuff...between the two of you that I still don't understand..."
"You have a headache?" Spike asked, touching Xander's fingers where he was rubbing his head.
"You're dehydrated." Suddenly Spike was standing up, throwing on his shirt, searching the store for his boots. "Bloody hell, there's broken glass all over the place!"
"Don't look at me," Xander muttered.
Spike grabbed the last item left on his clothing shelf. It turned out to be a big blanket. "Be back in a flash, pet!" he called out, and, throwing the blanket over his head, hurled himself against the front door of the store and out into the daylight.
Xander waited on the futon, feeling nervous on Spike's behalf. The slice of world he could see past the half-open door looked bright and sunny.
It was less than a minute before Spike ran back through the door, smoking a little. He slammed the door shut and strode briskly back to Xander, and presented him with a bottle of pineapple juice.
"Kebab shop across the street." Spike twisted the top off and pressed the open bottle into Xander's hand. "Mind you drink it slowly, now."
As soon as the sweet, cold liquid touched Xander's tongue, he realized how desperately thirsty he was. He tilted the bottle back and started gulping it, and Spike pulled it away.
"Slowly, I said. Give it a minute, pet."
It filtered through Xander's awareness that the term of endearment wasn't meant in a mocking way at all, and that it was actually kind of sweet.
"Spike, won't the guys at the kebab shop think it's kind of weird for a man to burst out of an abandoned store, sprint across the street wearing a blanket, and come into their shop with smoke pouring off him to buy a bottle of juice?"
"Nah, they're used to it." Spike grinned at Xander's skeptical expression. "It's amazing how blasé folks get in a big city."
After Xander finished drinking the pineapple juice slowly enough to satisfy Spike, he went out to find a pay phone and check in with Giles.
"Yes, I accept the charges." Giles's voice was reassuring as always; a link to normalcy. At least, as close to normalcy as life got in the social circle of a vampire slayer. "Hello, Xander? I'm glad you called. The coven has been working steadily, and the high priestess assures me they will pinpoint the location of the summoning within the next twenty-four hours. I want to be with you in London when they do, so that we can move fast."
"All right," Xander said. "When can you get here?"
"Meet me at Paddington Station in two hours. The train station, not the Underground—that is, not the subway. Wait for me by the train information board."
"Paddington Station," Spike repeated. "Too many skylights for me. I'll wait for you in the Underground."
Xander shook his head. "You're not coming. You noticed that bright yellow ball of vampire death in the sky, right?"
"Oh come on," Spike scoffed, "we'll be traveling most of the way by Tube."
"And how far is it to the nearest station?"
"Ten minutes' walk. Just four minutes running."
"Right." Xander rolled his eyes. "How could that possibly go wrong?"
"I used to do it all the time in Sunnydale."
"Sometimes it really amazes me that you've lived to be a hundred and twenty."
"A hundred and twenty-two, thank you very much, and that's just the vampire years." Spike crossed his arms. "There's a sewer entrance half a block away. We can get all the way to Euston station that way."
"Uh, no thanks. I'm not meeting Giles smelling like sewer." Xander put his hands on Spike's shoulders and pushed him gently down onto the futon. "You just hang out here and keep healing, okay? We might have another demon to deal with soon."
"I don't like sending you out by yourself," Spike muttered, sulkily lighting a cigarette. "You lost a lot of blood—shouldn't be running around so much."
"I'll buy a nice big hamburger on the way to the train station," Xander promised. "Hey, damn, do you see what we're doing?"
"What?" Spike sucked on his cigarette, making his lips into a pout.
Xander laughed. "We're fussing over each other."
"Are not," Spike said, but he smirked a little. "Just be careful, pet. Come back safe."
Xander saw Giles before Giles saw him. The ex-librarian was wearing khakis and a brown leather jacket, and pulling a small wheeled suitcase behind him. He smiled when he saw Xander, and walked more briskly.
"Hi Giles," Xander said, hesitating between a hug and a handshake as always, wishing he could be unselfconscious about it like Buffy and Willow.
Giles accepted the awkward hug and then pulled back, looking concerned. "Xander, I hope you don't mind my saying you look terrible."
"Oh. Uh, yeah." Xander glanced down at himself and grimaced, as the realization struck that he hadn't showered in four days—not since moving in with Spike—and he hadn't shaved since yesterday morning. Why hadn't he cleaned up better before meeting Giles? "You know how it is, living out of a suitcase, fighting demons and jet lag simultaneously."
"You're ghastly pale—and is that a black eye?"
"This?" Xander instinctively reached up to touch the bruise around his left eye. It was only a little tender now. Better not tell Giles that Spike had given it to him; he wanted Giles to trust Spike as an ally. "Uh, yeah, well, I got a little caught up in one of those famous football riots—"
Giles caught Xander's wrist as he lowered it, and pushed back the sleeve, fully revealing the blood-soaked gauze pad taped over Xander's left wrist. "Xander," Giles said, quietly.
"Uh, the Dur'athan." Xander laughed nervously. "Claws like knives. It was going for my face, but I blocked it."
Giles's expression was stern and concerned, and he held on to Xander's arm. "You told me this morning that you came through the fight unscathed. Also, you have an appallingly bad poker face. I think you need to tell me what's really going on."
Giles led Xander to an empty bench at the edge of the station, ignoring Xander's babbled attempts to deflect him.
"I suggest you start by explaining to me why you are in London in the first place," Giles said. "I trust life in Sunnydale has not become so dull that Buffy has started scanning foreign newspapers for hints of demonic activity."
Xander gave a weak laugh. "Sunnydale. Dull. Not two words I've put together in a sentence since I met Buffy."
Giles waited patiently.
"Okay, look, Buffy sent me here because she got a call from Spike, and she wanted to know what was going on. That's all."
"Hm." Giles didn't sound satisfied, but he let it slide. "The most pressing question, Xander, is how your wrist came to be injured."
"Well, that's—it's a long story, actually." Xander realized he was going to have to tell Giles that Spike had a soul now; otherwise there was no way to justify what he'd done. He felt strangely irritated that Giles was pressing him and making him tell.
"Is it one of those 'long stories' you can summarize in two or three sentences?"
"Um. How's this." Xander held up one finger. "Spike has a soul." Giles's eyes opened wide and he moved as if to speak, but Xander held up a second finger. "Spike stopped drinking blood." Third finger. "I made him feed off me so he wouldn't die. There, three sentences—do you feel enlightened?"
"I'm—I'm speechless, actually." Giles's glasses were suddenly in his hands, and he was patting his pockets, searching for a cloth to clean them with. Then he looked down at them, startled, and put them back on. "I can't even conceive what would lead you to—how did he bite you? Is the chip not working?"
"He didn't bite me." Xander absently pressed the bandage. It felt damp. "I cut myself. Look, Giles, you weren't there. Spike was teetering on the edge of going poof into dust right in front of my eyes."
Giles frowned. "I've never heard of spontaneous vampiric poofing. I think you took a terribly reckless action, Xander, and I'm greatly surprised that you survived it. And did you say that Spike has a soul?"
"Yeah. He's waiting for us back at his, uh, flat. We should go—never know when the coven's going to call, right?" Xander stood up.
Oops, bad idea. All of a sudden Xander's ears filled with a hollow ringing sound, and the station seemed to go dark—and he was sitting down again, hard.
"Xander?" Giles's worried voice seemed to come from far away.
"Just a little dizzy..."
"Put your head down between your knees. Yes, like that. Never mind Spike's flat. I'm taking you to the hospital."
In the end, Xander had a two-hour wait in the emergency room. After the first half hour he managed to convince Giles to go meet Spike and let him know what was going on.
Then finally Xander did see a doctor. He got stitches, a new bandage, a blood transfusion, and a psyche evaluation.
"How did you cut yourself?" asked the nice woman with the clipboard and the yellow-framed glasses.
Xander gave her Cover Story Version 2.0. "I was peeling a potato." He demonstrated, holding a phantom potato in his cupped left hand. "The knife slipped."
"Mm hm." The doctor didn't sound wildly convinced. "Within the past two weeks, have you been experiencing feelings of isolation?"
"No." I've been getting really chummy with a vampire, actually. Xander nearly broke out laughing at the thought of what would happen if he started telling this doctor the truths of his life. Hello, straitjacket.
He covered up his expression with a cough.
"Have you been experiencing feelings of depression?"
"Nope. Happy as a clam."
"Have you been having trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much?"
It went on. Xander gave all the right answers, and finally the doctor released him, though she didn't look happy doing it. She did make him promise to talk to a counselor when he got back home. Well, hey, Buffy was a kind of counselor now and he was sure to talk to her, so he promised it with a straight face and a clear conscience.
Giles was back in the waiting room when Xander got out. He had Xander's duffle bag at his feet.
"Hey Giles. So you, uh, found the place."
"You should have told me you were short of funds," Giles said, frowning. "I would have—there was no need for you to stay in that wretched hole with Spike. My God, Xander, I thought you had more sense." He led the way out of the hospital.
Xander followed. "Well, what can I say—it all seemed like a good idea at the time. Saved on commuting. Why did you bring all my stuff?"
"You're going to stay at the inn with me tonight." Giles shot a stern look over his shoulder. "No arguments."
"No arguments. Why would I argue?" Xander said, but it felt hollow. "Real bed, hot shower, food that doesn't come out of a jar—you are offering food, too, right?" It was a great deal. It would be silly to protest. Incomprehensible to say that no, he'd rather go back to the wretched hole with the vampire, thanks very much.
They got in a cab outside of the hospital—one of the big, boxy black ones.
"Did you talk to Spike?" Xander asked once they were settled and Giles had given the driver his directions.
"Yes—and I must say, I'm not convinced—" Giles leaned in close to Xander, and spoke more quietly, "that he has a soul, as he says. Frankly, he seems completely unchanged from the last time I met him."
"Well, sure, he doesn't do a Jekyll and Hyde like Angel does, but he's changed," Xander whispered back. "I mean, hello, not drinking blood? That's different."
"He drank yours happily enough, now didn't he?"
"I'm not dead. He can't drink blood from animals that've been killed." Xander wished he knew how to put this better. He wished Giles didn't dislike Spike so much to start with, making this so much harder to explain. "I tried to make him drink pig's blood, and he just started choking and gagging on it."
"Well, that's convenient, isn't it?" Giles pushed his glasses up his nose, looking angry. "I'm sure he's been missing the taste of fresh human blood these past three years."
"I know what you're thinking, but it wasn't a con, Giles." Xander was starting to feel very defensive. "He didn't ask me to feed him, he was completely shocked when I did. And he chewed me out for it, too—said it was dangerous."
"Well, he's right about that."
"He was dying."
"He looked fine when I saw him."
"Did you see him without his shirt on?"
The look Giles gave Xander made it very clear that no, he had not seen Spike with his shirt off. The look also vaguely insinuated there was something morally wrong with having even suggested it.
"What about his poems? Did you see the poems he wrote?" But Xander knew before he even asked that the answer would be no. The way Spike had reacted when he caught Xander with the notebook, the vampire wasn't going to be giving coffee-shop readings any time before a week after never. "Look, can't you just take my word for it? He's got a soul."
"Frankly, Xander, I'm finding your judgment questionable at the moment."
"I'm the one who always hated vampires, remember? Vampires killed my friend Jesse. I never trusted Angel. I never liked Spike. It's got to mean something that I'm the one saying I believe Spike now, doesn't it?"
Giles hesitated, then gave a small nod. "It does. I shall try to keep an open mind—but I do not trust Spike."
"Wasn't that a stop sign?" Xander asked rhetorically, keeping a white-knuckled grip on the weapons bag he was holding.
"The summoning spell the coven detected will be reaching its climax in approximately seven minutes." Giles swung the rental car out around a slow-moving delivery van, honking his horn.
Xander swallowed hard and tried to comfort himself with thoughts of how a nice fatal traffic accident would get them all out of having to face another Dur'athan demon. It didn't help his state of mind that he was sitting on what he thought of as the driver's side. He kept instinctively stomping on a brake pedal that wasn't there.
"Any way of knowing what's being summoned, then?" Spike asked from under the blanket in the back seat. The call from the coven had come at two-thirty in the afternoon. At least it was an overcast, drizzly day, so it might take a few extra seconds for an unprotected vampire to combust.
"Not mystically, no." Giles two-wheeled around a corner, and Xander let out an involuntary squeak. "However, we do know this is the same person who summoned the Dur'athan, so the odds are good they will repeat that performance."
“You’re sure that you can get Spike inside?” Xander asked. “’Cause I seriously do not want to face one of those things without some super-powered backup.”
“It’s a simple spell,” Giles assured him, wrenching the wheel hard to the right to avoid a startled pedestrian. “Easier even than the de-invitation spell—assuming one is not, one’s self, a vampire.”
“Good to know,” Xander murmured, and gripped the weapons bag just a little bit tighter.
After narrowly avoiding death another four or five times, Giles screeched to a halt on a quiet street lined with brick row houses. "This is it," he called out, throwing his door open. "Number forty-two."
Xander ran after Giles through the front garden. The garden was tiny and filled with roses. Giles threw a handful of black powder at the door and said something Xander couldn’t make out—it sounded like Latin. “That should do it,” he said. Then he grabbed the doorknob and rattled it. "Locked," he said. "Spike!"
Spike burst out of the car, hunched under his blanket. He smashed the door with one kick and met no mystical resistance. Giles and Xander rushed in after him.
It was the right address, that was for sure. In the living room, a small couch and a TV table had been pushed against one wall, and an area rug rolled up out of the way, leaving the center of the room empty except for a large red pentagram painted on the hardwood floor. A middle-aged woman in a floral-print dress stood in the middle of the pentagram with her hands raised and blue electricity crackling around her. Her eyes were all black, and she was chanting.
"The bag, Xander, my book!" Giles snapped. Xander tossed him the spellbook, then ran to the picture window and pulled the curtains shut.
"Thanks, mate," Spike said, letting the blanket fall away. He circled cautiously around to the other side of the pentagram, holding the anointed dagger at the ready and keeping an eye on the woman, who seemed oblivious to them all.
Xander pulled a small battle axe out of the bag and tossed the rest to the side. He stuck close to Giles, who was reading aloud from his spellbook now in some language Xander didn't know—Latin, Sumerian, Fyarl, whatever. The woman turned to glare at Giles directly, and started chanting louder and faster.
All of a sudden there was a thunderous boom. Xander felt the floor vibrating under his feet. The woman clapped her hands, and Giles flew backwards into the wall. Lightning lanced from the ceiling to the floor in between the woman and Giles, momentarily blinding Xander. When he could see again, there was a Dur'athan demon standing in the place where the lightning had hit.
This demon was smaller than the one they'd faced before—maybe five feet tall, instead of seven. That wasn't a lot of comfort to Xander, though, since he was standing three feet away from it.
Xander took a step backwards and raised his axe. The demon looked his way and roared. Giles lurched to his feet and grabbed for the weapons bag. Spike bounded across the pentagram towards the demon, dagger raised. The woman in the floral dress, whose eyes looked normal now, crossed her arms and smiled smugly.
The demon extended its claws and swiped at Xander, but Xander hopped out of the way, swinging his axe. He missed, too. Spike hit the demon in the flank with a solid kick, which knocked it over onto the couch.
Giles yelled, "Spike!" and tossed the vampire a short sword from the weapons bag. Spike caught it and advanced on the demon, armed now with a blade in each hand. The Dur'athan lashed around with its horned tail and caught Spike on the legs. Spike fell, rolled, and came to his feet wearing game face.
Xander caught the woman's startled look at Spike's transformation. "Oh, sugar!" she spat angrily, and ran for the window and tore the curtains open. Since it was cloudy outside there was no sunbeam, just a diffuse brightening of the room. Spike didn't seem to notice; he was fending off the Dur'athan demon, fighting two-handed. The vampire and the demon smashed against a shelf at the other side of the room, sending dozens of porcelain kittens crashing to the floor. Wisps of smoke started to come off Spike's hair.
"Hell no," Xander swore. He ran and shoulder-tackled the woman, knocking her down, and he yanked the curtains closed again.
"Put your hands up and step away from the pentagram." Giles had a crossbow trained on the woman now. On the other side of the room, Spike kicked the demon back against the couch again, and slashed its belly with the sword. It screeched and ducked his dagger-thrust, swinging out wildly with its claws and catching him on the side of the neck.
The woman did as Giles said. Xander stayed in front of the curtains, poised with his axe. As Spike staggered from the Dur'athan's most recent blow, the demon suddenly leapt in Giles's direction. Giles quickly swung the crossbow round and fired its bolt right into the Dur'athan's neck. The Dur'athan screeched. It hunkered low and spun around at the same time, whapping Giles with its tail. Giles was knocked sideways, hitting his head on the door frame.
Xander hefted his axe and ran to put himself between Giles and the demon. Spike was faster. He deflected its claws with his sword and then followed through with a dagger-thrust to its eye.
Just like the first Dur'athan, this one squealed with an ear-shattering intensity as purple lightning started crackling around it. Then there was a pop, the demon vanished, and the dagger fell down to lodge point-first in the wooden floor.
Xander turned to Giles. He was sitting up woozily, holding his hand to his head.
"Don't anybody move." The middle-aged woman in the floral print dress had a gun, and she was pointing it at Xander. Xander froze.
"Don't let's be hasty, now," Spike said, dropping the sword and putting his hands up quickly—not up over his head, just shoulder height, casual. His face was human again. He took a couple sideways steps that put him closer to Xander and Giles, and fractionally closer to the woman.
"Not another step. You lot did away with my first demon, didn't you?"
"Hell yeah," Xander said. "Us and our ten burly, well-armed friends who are waiting just outside."
The woman's eyes didn't so much as flicker towards the door. "Now I have to summon another one. Do you have any idea how much the arcane materials cost?"
"Well, you could save money and just get a dog," Xander suggested.
"If I could train it to kill the filthy whores my husband's been fornicating with, I would," the woman said, her voice taking on a hysterical note. Her gun arm straightened fractionally, the barrel of the gun still pointing at Xander, and Xander knew in a moment of perfect clarity that she was about to shoot him.
He didn't see Spike move. Spike was standing absolutely still, a good three feet short of blocking the woman's line of sight to Xander, and then he was face-to-face with the woman, his duster swirling around his legs as he hit her with a full-force vampire punch to the head.
The woman fell, the gun fell, and Spike fell.
Xander grabbed for the gun. Spike was curled up on the floor, clutching his head and cursing. The woman was flat on her back with her eyes closed. Xander popped the clip out of the gun—wisps of memory from his Halloween as a soldier tickled the edge of his mind—and glanced towards Giles. The other man was on his feet now, holding the door frame with one hand and his head with the other.
"You need help?" Xander asked him.
Giles gave a wincing grin, and shook his head gingerly. "My skull has proven to be quite resilient, thank you."
With another anxious glance at Giles, Xander went over to crouch at Spike's side. "Spike?"
"Give me a minute, pet," Spike whispered, not uncurling.
Xander wanted to rub Spike's back and wait for him to stop clutching his hands to his head in that terrible, straining way, but it would be weird with Giles watching and besides, there was the woman lying on the floor and they'd better do something about her.
Xander went and checked her pulse. It was steady; Spike hadn't killed her. Xander wondered for a moment whether he had tried to, and whether the zap the chip delivered was proportional to the level of violence Spike attempted.
"Alive?" Giles asked, walking closer almost steadily.
"There's some rope in the boot of the car, if you would be so kind as to get it." Giles rubbed his head. "The Watchers' Council will know what to do with this woman."
"Just as long as they don't let D'Hoffryn get wind of her." Xander shuddered. "Come to think of it, I wouldn't be shocked to find Anya hiding in the bathroom."
He took another worried look back at Spike—not moving—then ran out to the car. When he came back in with the rope, Spike was sitting up, and Giles was examining the gash on Spike's neck.
"Good thing I don't have a pulse, hey?" Spike said. There was a trickle of blood coming out of his nose. He absently licked a drop from his upper lip.
"Here—" Giles took a white cloth handkerchief out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Spike. "Press this over the wound."
Spike smirked. "Sure you want me to dirty up your nancy-boy hankie?"
"Do it now, Spike," Xander said, surprising himself with the hard edge to his voice. "That's my damn blood you're leaking all over the place."
"Sorry," Spike muttered, pressing the folded handkerchief against his neck. "Don't happen to want it back, do you?"
Xander held out the rope to Giles. "I bet Watchers learn lots of fancy knots. Like killer boy scouts. Am I right?"
Giles half-smiled, taking the rope. "I've been known to tie a double loop bowline or two."
With Giles taking care of the woman, Xander went and knelt by Spike. "You hurt anywhere else?" he asked quietly.
"Nah, just banged up. You?"
"Totally fine. It looked for a second like I was going to get shot, but then this vampire came flying out of nowhere like Batman and saved me."
Spike raised his eyebrow. "Batman? I never went in for that fancy-pants shape-shifting rubbish of Dracula's."
"No, I mean the superhero from Gotham City—never mind. Spike, your nose wasn't bleeding before you hit that woman. Did the chip do that?"
Spike touched his free hand to his upper lip, and looked surprised at the blood. "Doesn't usually. Well, I did give the bint quite a wallop."
Giles tied off the end of the rope and stood up. "Right then, time to leave. Xander, would you check that no one's watching out on the street? We need to get this woman to the car."
When Giles suggested Xander come to Bath and visit Willow before he went back to Sunnydale, there was no real chance Xander would say no. If Giles thought Willow was ready to see Xander, then Xander was ready to see Willow.
Almost ready. As ready as he'd ever be.
For an hour and a half on the train, he worried about what he'd say when he saw her. They had sixteen years of history between them, years of sharing crayons and sandwiches and illicit notes passed in boring classes and geekiness and heartache and adventure—and all he could think about was that last night. Warren's skin flying off. The Mac truck bearing down on the fragile little car, with Willow a dark figurehead on its roof. Morning on Kingman's Bluff, when Xander saved the world by talking.
He loved her. He'd never stopped, not even when she was about to destroy the world. But he was afraid, too. Dear God was he ever afraid.
There was a long, awkward moment in which they both hesitated, standing there on the train station platform. Willow was wearing a long green skirt and an unbleached wool sweater. Her hair—red like always, not black like that night—was pulled into two long, loose pigtails. She had the same wide-eyed, scared yet hopeful look she'd had on their first day at Sunnydale High.
"Will," he whispered, and he hugged her. She hugged him back, and they both held on tight as the platform cleared.
"I missed you," she said.
"Me too. I mean, I missed you. 'Cause I was with me, so I didn't miss me—"
Willow giggled, and let go. "So, wanna see the baths?"
It was good. It was easy, it was normal. They didn't have to talk about that last night, not yet. "There's baths in Bath?" Xander asked, putting a loose arm over Willow's shoulder and walking with her out towards the parking lot. "I thought it was just a name. Like Los Angeles isn't really full of angels."
Willow smiled. "Just the one."
"Well, yeah. Angel. But the city was named before he moved there."
"No, I mean there's just one bath. Well, there's several pools...It's an old Roman bath, it's really cool. It smells a bit weird, because of the hot spring. Parts of it were built two thousand years ago! And the Roman plumbing still works!"
"Wow, Uncle Dave the plumber would love to hear about that."
They walked along towards the baths, and the talk was easy and light, and the sun was warm and the town was exotic and quaint in a stone cottage, fairy tale way, and it was good.
Later, sitting on a hill at the edge of town, huddling together under a blanket and watching the sun set, they did talk about some of the difficult things.
Not about that night. Maybe they'd never talk about that. But Willow talked about how she was doing now. How Giles and the local coven had been teaching her to control her power, and tap into the earth and feel the connections between all things. How she wasn't sure of her power yet, how afraid she was to do any but the tiniest magicks. How the women of the coven seemed to be afraid of her. How she missed Tara.
Xander talked about the summer in Sunnydale, and about missing Anya—even though she was still in Sunnydale—and about missing Willow, too. About watching Dawn and Buffy's relationship mature. And, naturally, about the weirdness of helping to rebuild Sunnydale High.
"So when are you going back?" Willow asked finally.
"My plane ticket's for the day after tomorrow."
"Huh. Why do I get a feeling there's a silent 'but' at the end of that sentence?"
"I really have to go back. I only arranged two weeks' vacation, and it was hard to get that. My boss'll be so pissed if I come back late, I probably won't have a job to come back to."
Willow pulled the blanket tighter around them. The sun was just a reflected red glow on clouds near the horizon. "Still with the silent 'but,' Xander."
Xander hesitated. "I didn't come here to talk about my problems, Will. You've got enough of your own."
"Aha, so there is a problem," she said lightly, squeezing his hand under the blanket. "It's okay. I've had way too much time to think about my problems. Distract me."
"Well..." Xander sighed. "There's more to the Spike stuff than I told you."
"More than Spike having a soul now, and you and him hunting down a Dur'athan demon together?" She waited for his nod. "Well, I have to say I'm intrigued."
So Xander told her about the poems he found, and about finding out that Spike was taking the not-killing thing so far he wouldn't even drink blood from butchered animals.
"I can understand that," Willow said quietly. "I've stopped eating meat, too."
"But he's a vampire. He can't survive without blood."
She nodded. "True. Like—like cats. You can't feed them a vegetarian diet, they'll get sick. Even if you don't eat any meat ever, you still have to feed dead animals to your cat. And it's okay. It's their nature."
"Okay, so Spike's like a cat." Xander smiled a little, despite himself. "But when I found him in London, he was starving himself. He hadn't drunk any blood for weeks, and when I tried to make him drink pig's blood he just gagged on it. And then he got really badly hurt in the fight with the first Dur'athan. He couldn't heal—he didn't have enough blood. He was dying."
"That bandage on your wrist—" Willow said. "You fed him."
She was a smart girl, Willow was.
"I figured if he could feed without killing, it'd be okay. He'd be able to do that."
"Like milking a cow instead of killing it for hamburgers," Willow said.
"Right, um, except I don't like that in that analogy I'm the cow. Can you come up with another one?"
"Eating fruit off a tree without hurting the tree?"
"Okay, I'm a tree. A Xander tree." Xander laughed a little, and tightened his arm around her shoulders momentarily. Then he got serious again. "It worked. He got strong again. Giles and Spike both chewed me out for it, though."
"Giles would've worried about you," Willow said. "And Spike—"
When she trailed off in a question, Xander finished her sentence. "Also worried about me."
Willow gave herself a little shake. "It's hard to imagine Spike with a soul."
"He's not that different, really."
They were quiet for a moment, then Willow said "Buffy did it for Angel once. Fed him her blood."
"She loved him a lot."
There was an unspoken question. Xander didn't answer it. "The thing is," he said instead, "I don't know if I can leave now. I mean, he's still starving. I bought him a little time, is all."
"Maybe he'll come around to drinking pig's blood again."
"Maybe," Xander said, without much conviction.
"Well, what could you do? Stay here and keep feeding him your blood? I don't think you have enough to keep both of you alive."
Xander didn't admit that he'd thought about it, that he'd even gone into an internet café yesterday and searched until he found out that it takes three to four weeks to replace your red blood cells after donating a pint of blood. And eight weeks to replace the iron, but he figured he could take iron pills or eat a lot of liver or something.
Willow was right. It wouldn't be enough.
"I don't know what to do," he said.
"Don't worry," she said, squeezing his hand. "I do."
"Oi! Who's there!?"
"It's me," Xander said, yanking the store's front door shut behind him. Spike's voice had come from the back corner, where the futon was. It was just a few minutes past sunset; he'd probably still been asleep.
"Didn't expect to see you again." There was the flick of a lighter and Spike came into view, lighting candles on the back shelves. "I know you're leaving England in the morning. Figured you'd stay out with the witches and warlocks till then."
"I needed to see you again. I've got something for you." Xander dropped his duffle by the door and went over to Spike, zipping open the small thermos bag he'd carried from Bath. Under the ice pack inside there was a blood bag. "Here," he held out the bag to Spike, "Blood from a certified, one hundred percent unkilled human."
Spike raised an eyebrow. "Where'd you come by this?"
"They keep a stock of blood in the infirmary out at the estate in Bath."
Spike hesitated a moment longer, then took the blood bag. "Cheers." His forehead went bumpy. He ripped the bottom open with his teeth and started gulping the blood.
Xander watched Spike drink, feeling a proud glow of satisfaction at being a provider even though it hadn't come out of his own veins this time. Spike's black t-shirt and jeans didn't hide that he was still too thin.
Spike drained the bag quickly, and then his face smoothed out and he dropped the empty bag on the floor. "That hit the spot. Thanks, pet."
"There's more," Xander said, feeling oddly nervous about the good news he was about to give Spike. He wasn't sure how Spike would take it, and it was really important. "Giles has a contact in a blood bank somewhere in the city. She can get you blood as often as you need it. Here." He took the slip of paper with the contact info out of his pocket and handed it to Spike.
Spike unfolded the paper and looked at it, frowning slightly. "So I just walk in off the street and this lady hands me a couple pints of the red stuff? No strings attached? I'm not so convinced, pet...the old librarian doesn't like me that much."
"He didn't exactly offer straight out—it took Willow and me a while to convince him. He didn't crack till Will threatened to hold her breath until her faced turned blue." Xander smiled at the memory.
"Is she a Watcher, this blood bank lady?"
"I don't know. I don't think so, but there's probably some connection with the Council." Xander shrugged. "I'd rather not have the Council keeping tabs on you, but what's the alternative?"
"You didn't have to do this," Spike said, tucking the paper into his jeans pocket.
Xander crossed his arms. "Yeah, actually, I kinda did. Also, I want you to promise me you'll go get blood regularly after I leave."
Spike gave Xander a startled look. "What?"
"I'm serious, Spike. I swear to God I won't even leave London if you don't promise it." Xander could feel his heart speeding up, though he didn't exactly know what he was afraid of. That Spike would call his bluff? That it wasn't a bluff at all? "I'll stay here and make you eat, and you'll get sick of me walking around waking you up in the middle of the day and leaving my socks on the floor of your lair."
Spike shook his head, still looking puzzled. "You can't do that. You have to go back to Sunnydale. There's your job, your flat. And Buffy needs you. Dawn needs you."
"So promise it."
"All right," Spike scowled, "I bloody well promise to sponge off the blood bank lady till she can't stand the sight of me."
"Okay, good." Xander briefly fought off the urge to hug the vampire. Then he thought about the fact that Spike had basically just promised not to starve himself to death—and hey, if that wasn't worth a hug, what was?
"Hey," Spike yelped as Xander hugged him. "Get off me." The protest wasn't as vehement as it could have been, but Xander stepped back anyway.
Spike unnecessarily tugged his shirt straight. "So, you're here anyway—I've got a full bottle of scotch. Want some?"
"Sure," Xander said. He followed Spike to the back of the store, and sat beside him at the edge of the futon.
Technically he'd only come to give Spike the blood and the note, but there was nothing else to do between now and nine o'clock tomorrow morning, when Xander had to be at Heathrow.
Okay, stop with the kidding of the self. Xander had come for a lot more than that. He'd come to say good-bye...and to figure out what else he needed to say.
Spike produced a corkscrew, popped the cork out with ease, and then took the first drink himself.
"Still no glasses?" Xander asked rhetorically.
"This ain't bloody Windsor Castle." Spike rolled his eyes and handed Xander the bottle.
Xander took a careful swallow. It was better quality than the whiskey Spike had had last time. "So, how've things been? Since, um, two days ago?"
Spike shrugged, taking the bottle back. "Never changes much. I found another clutch of pterey eggs last night. Wanna see the bite marks?"
"Maybe later," Xander joked, and then blushed a bit when he realized how suggestive that sounded, and how suggestiveness in this context maybe wasn't quite the same safe, heterosexual male humor thing that it was around, say, Riley.
And he remembered kissing Spike. And he remembered liking it. And that was one of the reasons he'd come back here, wasn't it? He needed to find out about that.
"How was Red?" Spike asked.
"Doing better. It was good to see her." Xander took the bottle, had a drink, handed it back. By now he'd probably had about two shots' worth. Better watch that; it would suck big-time if he got drunk and passed out and missed his flight back to California. "Hey, by the way—now that Giles and Willow know you have a soul, Buffy's going to have to find out too. Do you want to tell her yourself?"
Spike grimaced, and took a long drink. "Don't think I'm up to it. Talking to her. Would you do it?"
Xander nodded. "Yeah, I'll do it." Spike tried to hand the bottle of scotch back to him, but Xander refused it. "I'm warm and glowy enough, thanks."
Spike shrugged and took another swig. "Your loss."
They sat silently for a minute, staring at the candles. Spike drank again.
"So, uh. It's been an intense couple of weeks, huh?" Xander felt his voice getting higher-pitched, which meant he was nervous because he was thinking about it again. The kiss. "Lots of near-death experiences for the both of us...."
Spike gave Xander a half-smile. "That's run-of-the-mill for you, innit?"
"Well, the demon-fighting parts were pretty standard. But—actually, can I have another drink?"
Spike handed it over. "Your heart's racing," he noted, sounding vaguely amused. "What's got your knickers in knots?"
"You can, uh, hear it from there?" Spike's attitude was making Xander think twice about bringing up the kiss. If it had meant anything at all—if the weird tenderness they'd shared in the day after Spike fed off Xander had been more than some kind of magical afterglow from the feeding process—then wouldn't Spike be acting less casual and distant?
"Like a sodding jackhammer."
"I'm, um, nervous about flying home tomorrow. I'm scared of flying. Did you see Fight Club?"
"Yeah, loved that flick. Bloody brilliant. And no you're not." Spike set the bottle down on the floor, and shifted closer to Xander. "You're afraid of this." And Spike kissed him.
It happened so quickly that Xander didn't really participate. Spike was beside him, and then his cool lips were pressed against Xander's, and then Spike was standing up five feet away taking a gulp from the scotch bottle.
It took a moment for Xander's brain to catch up. Did he imagine the kiss? No, he could still feel the ghost of it on his lips. "Now that's where you're wrong," he said lightly, spinning words over his confusion. "I wasn't afraid of that. Nervous, maybe, about bringing up the topic. There were definitely butterflies for a minute there. But hey, it's on the table now, so no more fear. And—why did you do that?"
"To make a point," Spike muttered, and drank again.
"Hey, uh, listen, Spike." Xander stood up and walked over to the vampire, and put a hand on the liquor bottle. "I was really hoping to have a good talk with you before I left, and if you drink much more of that there won't be any talking, just incoherent swearing and maybe some passing out. And possibly some puking, only I'm not sure if vampires do that."
Spike glared at Xander, but didn't resist when he took the bottle away. "What's there to talk about, pet?" He spat out the last word, making it more an insult than a nickname.
Xander took an instinctive step back, startled by Spike's sudden swing into hostility. "Well, that," he said. "You kissed me. I kissed you. I don't know about you, but in my life that kind of thing's rare enough to warrant some talking."
"Not in my life, pet," Spike said. "I've snogged too many folks in the past hundred twenty-odd years to get worked up about one more." He paused. "And yes, some of them were blokes, if you were wondering."
If Spike hadn't been standing there all inexplicably defensive and angry, Xander might've accepted the brush-off and suggested they go out and play pool or something to kill the next few hours. But he was, so Xander asked quietly "What's wrong, Spike?"
The vampire crossed his arms and glared at Xander, and didn't answer.
Xander decided the only way to move this forward was to take a risk himself. He took a deep breath. "Okay, look, I want to talk to you because I'm kind of confused about how I feel about some things that happened between us." Pause. No reaction. "I'm kind of confused about how I feel about you."
"Confused, are you?" Spike arched an eyebrow, still looking angry. "Going through a life change, pet? Not very original—there's already a gay Scooby."
If Spike was trying to piss Xander off, it was working. "I'm not gay, idiot. I nearly got married, for fuck's sake."
Spike smirked. "Yeah, that proves your manliness for bloody sure. You left the beautiful bride standing at the altar, isn't that right?"
And oh, fuck, that was a sore spot. Before he knew what he was doing, Xander had given Spike a rough shove backwards. Spike took it, laughing.
"You don't know anything about that," Xander half shouted.
Spike's lips twisted into a wild grin. "I know how she came and fucked me for comfort afterwards."
That was it. That was the breaking point. Xander didn't even decide to punch Spike in the face—he just did it.
Spike spun around and fell to his knees, and hunched over laughing. Xander unclenched his fists, breathing hard, and took a walk to the front door. He slung the duffle bag's strap over his shoulder and kicked the door to open it.
It wasn't a great kick. The door didn't open.
And Spike wasn't laughing back there, was he? He was sobbing.
"Fuck," Xander whispered.
He didn't move right away. He stood there in front of the door and breathed slowly, deliberately, letting the anger ebb away. Because yeah, Spike had been trying to piss him off, hadn't he? And Xander was just so damn easy to manipulate. But he didn't want to leave this way.
Once the tight, hot feelings had faded enough, Xander put the duffle bag down and went back and kneeled down next to Spike. "I'm not leaving," he said quietly.
Spike lifted his head, and Xander saw his cheeks were wet with tears and his upper lip was bleeding a little. "Yes you bloody well are," he hissed.
Oh. Oh hell. "Yeah, I guess I am. On a jet plane. Sorry. I wasn't thinking..." Xander trailed off. He was stunned by Spike's intensity. He hadn't expected this. He reached over and took one of Spike's hands. "But not yet, okay?"
Spike shook his head and looked away. "It's bloody pathetic, I know," he said to the opposite wall. "First I fall in love with Buffy, then you. Maybe when you fly out I should go to Bath, spend some time with Red, see if I can make it a hat trick."
"Oh. God." Love? "I'm sorry," Xander said, even though it was almost certainly exactly the wrong thing to say. Spike winced, and his eyes glittered in the candlelight. Xander couldn't quite bear to look at his face any longer, so while he talked he looked down at their linked hands instead. "I didn't know you felt that way." Spike's fingers were almost as long as Xander's, but slimmer, and very pale. "I don't even know how I feel. I thought I hated you two weeks ago." Spike's knuckles were bruised and a bit scraped, and it looked like a days-old injury but it was probably from the pterey-egg hunt he had said he had yesterday. "I care about you. A lot. It scares me how much." He had black nail polish on, but it was badly chipped. "And I think I find you...attractive."
"Well, that's something, innit?" Spike said softly. "Still not enough, though."
"Yeah, I guess not."
Spike pulled his hand away and shook himself out. "Right, what now?" he asked, in something close to his normal voice. "You've still got, what, ten hours before you've got to leave for the airport?"
"I could paint your nails," Xander suggested out of nowhere.
Spike's eyes went wide momentarily, and Xander stifled a laugh at his expression. Then Spike tilted his head and said "All your friends are girls, aren't they." Not a question.
"Yeah, well, I had a guy friend once but vampires killed him—" Xander stopped himself. It wasn't something to joke about. "Never mind."
"No, it's cool. You can do my nails. That'd be nice," Spike said, perfectly deadpan.
"Oh." Xander's turn to be surprised. "Okay."
Spike got the bottle of black nail polish from his shelf, and they sat on the futon together and Xander brought a candle closer, for better light.
Spike sat sprawled with his back against the wall. Xander sat cross-legged beside him, knees just barely brushing Spike's right thigh. Xander held Spike's right hand with his left to steady it while he slid the little polish brush carefully over the nails. Spike didn't have any nail polish remover, so Xander just painted the new right over the old. It gleamed wetly in the candlelight.
The sharp, unnatural smell of the nail polish evoked memories of times Xander did this for Willow and for Buffy at those emasculatingly innocent sleepovers they used to have. Oh, and one time in eighth grade when Xander let Willow do it to him.
They didn't talk for a while. There was no sound but their breathing.
"Why do you breathe?" Xander asked after he'd done all five nails on Spike's right hand. He stood up and stepped over Spike's legs to sit at his other side. "Is it just habit?"
Spike shrugged. "Well, yeah, that's a lot of it. Helps to pass as human, too. And I need to breathe to talk, and to smell." He gave a short laugh. "And to smoke."
Xander smiled, starting on Spike's left hand. "How do you stop a vampire from smelling? Hold his nose."
"It's a joke. How do you stop a skunk from smelling?"
"Oh. I get it."
"You smell better than a human, don't you?"
Spike smiled, leaned in and gave Xander's shoulder an exaggerated sniff. "Nah, you smell all right."
Xander laughed. "Same bad joke. Come up with a new one. You know what I meant."
"Yeah. And yeah, we do. Not smelling much but the nail polish right now, but I can tell you used Willow's shampoo while you were in Bath."
"Not bad," Xander admitted. "And your hearing's that good, too?"
"I really can hear your heartbeat, pet," Spike said, smiling gently now. "It sped up just there, when I said that."
"Wow." Xander screwed the top back onto the nail polish bottle.
"See, that's why it's so hard to lie to a vampire. We can pick up on the same cues your lie detectors use—a jump in the pulse, a little extra tang of sweat..." He met Xander's eyes. "We can tell other things that way, too."
Xander didn't have to ask what he meant. He knew he was flush with arousal. Even a human would notice it.
Sitting that close, touching hands, talking softly...Spike smelling him....
"Bloody hell," Spike whispered, "I'm going to kiss you again." And then he did.
Unlike the last kiss, this one lingered. Spike sat up straighter and Xander unfolded his legs so that he could edge closer to Spike, and the kiss went on.
"Careful," Xander murmured against Spike's lips when he felt Spike's hand sliding around his back, "Don't mess up the nail polish."
Spike snorted a quick laugh. "Sod that."
So on his last night in London, Xander spent an hour or two making out with a vampire on a grubby futon in an abandoned, boarded up convenience store. And it was the happiest he'd been in a long, long time.
Spike smelled like smoke and whiskey and blood. His skin was cool, which was strange at first but nice, too, in a weird way. His hair was prickly, gelled hard to his head and then messed up from sleeping and from the way Xander kept trying to run his fingers through it.
Xander felt the ridges of Spike's ribs under his t-shirt, and as he sometimes had with Anya, Xander had a fleeting worry that if he held Spike too hard he'd break. But of course that was silly, Spike was supernaturally strong; he was the one who could break Xander in two.
They kissed for a long time before they did anything else. It was all soft and gentle. Not what Xander had expected from Spike.
Eventually Spike's hand found its way to Xander's crotch, and rested over the bulge there. Xander felt himself breathing deeper at the feel of Spike's hand, and he knew that Spike would hear the change. "I'm not sure if I can..." Xander whispered. His body wanted sex. His mind was much less sure.
Spike ducked down and kissed Xander's pants right at that place. Then he laid his head on Xander's lap and rolled over so he was facing up, all squinting blue eyes and teasing smile, with the swollen cut on his lip that Xander felt really bad about giving him, now. "Let me suck you off, pet," Spike cajoled him. "A going-away present."
Xander tried to speak, but he couldn't, quite. He gave a slight nod instead.
Spike undid Xander's fly and eased his dick out, and went down on him right away. Xander gasped and buried one hand in Spike's hair; clutched at Spike's t-shirt with the other hand.
One time Anya had gone down on Xander right after drinking a glass of cold water. That's what Spike's mouth felt like—cool where Xander had expected hot. For just a second Xander thought he didn't like it, and then Spike started using his tongue.
Xander moaned, and let his head thump back against the wall.
Spike obviously wasn't kidding about having done it with guys before. He had tricks with his tongue and his lips that Xander couldn't even have imagined. He swallowed Xander down to the base of his shaft, and Xander's toes curled and his fingers clawed at Spike's back, not meaning to hurt just not able to help it.
Spike kept it going for longer than should have been possible, and when Xander finally came it was with a feeling of bright lights and roaring ocean waves.
Xander slumped on the futon, boneless and happy. Spike did up Xander's pants, then crawled up to lie nose-to-nose with Xander.
"Would you like to sleep now, pet?" Spike asked softly. "I'll wake you up in time in the morning, I promise."
"There's no alarm clock," Xander murmured.
"I won't sleep. I'll just sit here."
"Okay," Xander agreed sleepily. "I trust you."
He closed his eyes, and felt Spike moving, sitting up, picking up Xander's shoulders and shifting him a bit so his head lay in Spike's lap. Then he felt Spike's hand stroking his hair...and that was the last thing he remembered before drifting into a deep and peaceful sleep.