The encounter with the principal called for a family meeting post haste, so they all gathered in the Summer’ living room the following afternoon. No one was happy with the change in circumstances. The bot was bad enough at impersonating a somewhat vapid version of Buffy’s public persona. It was far too much to ask for it to fool someone expecting to see the greatest slayer who ever lived. Spike would lay odds Wood could beat it, hardly the slayer who had handed Spike his arse more than once.
“If he has been raised by a watcher, and his fighting last night would suggest he is telling the truth, he will never be fooled by a robot,” Rupert insisted. “He will be trained to notice details and he’s suspicious enough to be observing closely.”
“Do you think we could get away with a shell game?” Xander asked, miming moving shells around on a table. His hand gestures tended to get larger the more nervous he was. Spike leaned forward to rub at the tension in his neck. It was gratifying to watch Xander relax back into his hand, but it didn’t answer the question.
“I don’t think we have a choice.” Willow was a nervous wreck sitting on the couch. Tara rubbed her arms trying to calm her just like he was trying to relax Xander. He wasn’t sure either of them was having that much success. He was fairly sure they were royally screwed this time.
“Quite so.” Rupert looked like he wished there was someone to reassure him.
“So, shall we call the bloke up and invite him to join our little coffee klatch?” Spike proposed. Willow looked like she’d rather put the whole thing off for as long as possible. Rupert looked like he’d had the same idea Spike had. This man was a threat. Inviting him in seemed the best way to calm his suspicions. Spike knew the others would never consider killing the man to be an answer, but accidents happened on patrol.
“We gave him an invitation last night,” Xander reminded him. “I think we should give him time to check with his contacts. Get the word that there’s a no stake order for you.”
Spike gave a slightly firmer rub to Xander’s shoulders that had him humming in appreciation. “I think you delivered that message rather handily last night, luv.”
“I think we should give it a day or two,” Willow said, obviously stalling for time.
They did a few rounds on the subject. Eventually, they agreed to wait until the next day.
They scattered after dinner. No one wanted to discuss Wood anymore, but conversation on other topics definitely lagged. Spike was having a bit of a nosh while Will did the dishes. They were mostly ignoring each other, lost in their own thoughts, when the phone rang.
As bad luck would have it, Red was the one who answered. She was a big, bad uber-witch who had gone toe to toe with a hell god, but put her against a little mortal authority and she crumbled like a stack of cheap playing cards.
“Principal Wood, how are you?” Will grimaced like she’d just been caught sneaking off school grounds. How these children had ever conducted a successful, clandestine campaign against the underworld was beyond Spike. Chalk it up to Sunnydale obliviousness.
“Ask him his business, Will,” Spike said loudly enough it would carry through the phone line. He made a gesture which he hoped conveyed both “get on with it” and “don’t let him push you around.”
The embarrassed shrug he got in return could have meant she didn’t understand, but she seemed to stiffen her spine a bit and, with a bit more force, “I assume you found out we were telling you the truth.”
“I heard it, but I still don’t believe it,” Wood responded in that clipped condescending tone. “What kind of slayer calls a vampire an ally? Not to mention one as ruthless as William the Bloody.”
Spike hadn’t been called ruthless in quite some time. It warmed him to his toes.
Willow took the comment as besmirching Buffy’s reputation, and it put a fire under her. “Oh yeah? Just how many apocalypses have you averted, buster? We’re at six and counting!”
Spike smiled into his mug, maybe he could leave this to the witch after all.
“The ends justify the means, Miss Rosenberg? Is that really how you want to play this?” Oh he was a smooth one, he’d have the little witch tied up in knots in no time.
“No, that’s not what I said at all,” Willow protested. “You don’t even know Spike! He’s saved all our lives more than once. He even helped us avert an apocalypse before the chip.”
She just had to bring up that humiliating bit of trivia. If he let this go on she’d spill everything she knew before she was done. Time to take over. He wrested the phone from Willow who was loath to give it up. She was spitting mad by now, and eager to give Wood a piece of her rather brilliant mind.
“Maybe you should take your poke at me, mate, rather than sully the Slayer’s good name.” Spike had had about all he could take of this self important prick.
“Just what are you suggesting?” Suspicion dripped off his tone. That was all right, he had plenty of reason.
“I believe I suggested you come talk to us. I suspect Xander was thinking we were offering a nice dinner, but I don’t think that’s our best course, is it?”
“What time do you begin patrol? I’m not coming to have tea.” Spike was bizarrely relieved not to have offered hospitality. The whole situation was a powder keg.
“Nine sharp. We like to have Dawn in bed before we head out.” It amused Spike to sound like a responsible parent type.
“I’ll be there.” The click of the line going dead was sharp in his ear.
“Best assemble the troops,” Spike told an anxious Willow. “Company’s coming.”
Dawn was out of the line of fire for this interview. She’d no doubt be listening in at the top of the stairs, but as long as she stayed quiet that was fine by Spike. Willow had filled everyone in on the earlier conversation and they had their cover stories ready. The Slayer was definitely unavailable to Principal Wood. He was too sharp.
They had the television on as a distraction, but no one could have said what program was on. Conversation had gotten so strained that they had all lapsed into silence. No one wanted to be in midsentence of something damning when the knock came at the door, and no one could think of anything but Wood’s imminent arrival. When the knock finally did come, it was more of a relief than anything else.
Rupert opened the door while the rest of them held their seats in the living room. “Principal Wood,” he greeted without offering any kind of invitation to enter. In this case, it was only partially vampire protocol.
Wood nodded, approving the caution or acknowledging the adversarial roles Spike wasn’t sure. “Mr. Giles.”
He stepped in and his eyes swept the assembled Scoobies, a sneer prominent on his face. Spike didn’t really mind the fact that Wood looked at him with hatred. Hatred wasn’t a bad thing to have aimed at you, if it was tinged with proper amounts of respect and fear. But the wanker was eying Xander like he was something loathsome and that made his hackles rise.
Ever the peacemaker, Tara broke the silence. “Won’t you sit down?”
“I think I’d rather stand, thanks,” Wood said in that smooth, cultured voice that made Spike want to push his face in.
“Perhaps it would be wise to state our intentions.” Rupert smoothly inserted himself into the situation. Spike fancied that he was no happier at the way Wood was snarling at his children than Spike was. “If this is some new attempt by the Watcher’s Council to gain control of the Slayer I believe Buffy made her views on that quite clear last time.”
Spike realized that thought hadn’t crossed his mind. Trust Rupert to come up with a new horror to contemplate.
Wood smiled for the first time since he’d entered the house. “She made quite an impression. No, I’m not here from the Council. You might call me an independent operator.”
He and Rupert nodded at each other. “So, what is your interest then?” Rupert pressed.
“I’ve heard a lot about this slayer, thought I’d see what she was all about for myself.” Wood eyed Spike again. “Hard to believe a slayer would work with not one but two vampires.”
Spike held his tongue. This was Rupert’s show. Spike didn’t go in for subtle, it wasn’t his strength, so he’d leave it to the Watcher. Xander was not so inclined. “You’d be astounded how much more effective you can be if you have powerful fighters on your side,” Xander said snidely.
Spike had to hide a chuckle even as he wished Xander would keep quiet. They needed to maneuver this bloke, and antagonizing him would just keep him on his guard.
“I prefer allies it’s safe to turn my back on,” Wood shot back. “And where is the Slayer. Thought I’d be meeting her here tonight.”
“She’s closing tonight. Child Protective Services prefers her to be gainfully employed to retain custody of Dawn.,” Rupert supplied smoothly. What he didn’t supply is that they had made sure the bot volunteered for the late shift to keep it out of the way.
Wood surveyed the group again, his gaze lingering on each of them as if he was trying to read their secrets. “Is that right? Then who was I patrolling with tonight?”
“Me, mate,” Spike said casually. It seemed the best opening he was likely to get.
“Along with the rest of us,” Xander was quick to add. As great a joy as Xander’s love for him was, Xander’s protectiveness was going to throw a serious monkey wrench in the works.
“Not this time, luv,” Spike corrected without looking away from Wood. “Principal wants to know why the Slayer would work with a vampire, he ought to see first hand.”
“Spike,” Xander hissed. “You can’t trust this guy at your back.”
“And he doesn’t trust me at his. That’s the point, isn’t it.”
Spike could hear Xander drawing breath to launch a fresh protest when Rupert intervened. “Spike is quite correct, Xander. Principal Wood needs to see for himself why we allow Spike such access.”
Spike cut his eyes briefly to Rupert. In that briefly exchanged glance he thought he saw agreement in the Watcher’s eyes. He was far too cagey a man not to have figured out what Spike had in mind. They would talk later, after the deed was done.
“Can’t he do that without Spike being alone with him?” Willow asked. Spike found himself rather touched that Willow was so concerned for him.
“How will he know one of you isn’t holding my leash that way?” Spike reasoned.
“I don’t care what he wants. I don’t like the idea of you alone with him when you can’t defend yourself against him.” Xander was like a dog with a bone.
“Afraid I’ll stake your pet vampire?” Wood sneered.
“I’m very afraid you’ll kill my boyfriend, yes.”
“Can’t be a very powerful fighter then, can he?”
“The chip only works with humans. He kills demons just fine.” Give it another minute and Xander and Wood were going to be punching each other’s lights out.
“Calm yourself, Xander.” Spike insisted. “I can’t hurt the principal here and he’s not going to hurt me. He’s one of the good guys, isn’t that right?”
“That’s right,” Wood returned in a confident tone. This was going to be one nasty patrol.
Xander looked like he was going to protest more but he focused on Spike and seemed to come to a different conclusion. Maybe he just didn’t want to make Spike look weak in front of Wood. “Don’t turn your back on him,” he said, gave Spike a searing kiss and left the room.
Spike gestured to the front door. “Shall we?”
“Why not.” Spike made sure to exit the door first. It was the last time he’d turn his back on Wood this evening but, for the moment, he still had people he trusted guarding it. Spike stifled laughter at the sight the two of them must make, walking down the street absolutely even with each other with a couple feet of space separating them, as if they were afraid that brushing against each other would contaminate them.
“I want to pick up a couple weapons at home before we head out,” Wood said. Spike saw no difficulty in indulging him. The side trip would give him more time to come up with an appropriate hunting ground. He doubted a simple encounter with a couple vampires would do the job. This required something more impressive, but something that wouldn’t look so dangerous immediately that the prey would bolt. There was the ghora down in the sewers but there were far too many escape routes there. There were a few mora demons set up on the east side that had possibilities. It was too bad they’d killed that skin eating demon, the gnarl, last week, some paralyzing claws would be damn useful right now. They had been too damn effective in clearing out nests of late. It didn’t leave many trap opportunities.
“How did you end up working with the Slayer?” Spike rolled his eyes. The last thing he wanted to do was get chatty with Wood, especially on anything so personal.
“Had this chip stuck up in my head,” he replied. Maybe a partial truth would satisfy. “At first I didn’t know I could hit demons, I thought I was helpless. White hats have to help the helpless, don’t they?”
Wood didn’t seem satisfied with his grin. “I would think the only thing she would give you is the mercy of a quick staking.”
In honesty, that possibility had been pretty close in Spike’s mind at the time as well. “I’d worked with her before a couple times, and I had information on the Initiative. It was to her advantage to keep me in one piece.”
Wood seemed to digest this. Spike allowed himself to entertain the chance he might not have to arrange an accident. If he could convince the bloke there was nothing to see here he might just leave them alone. As difficult a time as he was having coming up with a likely trap it was worth a shot.
“That still doesn’t explain why you decided to start fighting on the side of the angels.”
Once again Spike thought a half truth would be more believable. Besides, he hardly wanted to reveal his hopeless crush on Buffy to this wanker. “Once I found out I could kill demons, seemed the thing to do. I could get my spot of violence on, keep myself in blood and fags, and have protection from all the demons I was hacking off in the process. Worked out well.”
Wood nodded to himself, clearly satisfied. “Thought it was probably something like that.”
They traveled along for a few minutes in silence before they came up to Wood’s house. He led Spike around back to a shed or workshop. “I keep my weapons in here,” Wood explained as he removed the padlock. He actually allowed his back to face Spike for a few moments while he unlocked the door. When he had the door open he turned to Spike and said formally, “Come in, Spike.”
Spike had been expecting to wait outside while Wood grabbed his weapons. He wasn’t comfortable playing on Wood’s turf, but declining such an invitation would look suspicious so, displaying trust he didn’t feel, he preceded Wood inside.
Spike knew he was in trouble the moment Wood hit the lights. The sound of the door slamming shut behind him was just the capper. He spun around entirely too late as Wood secured the door behind him.
Crosses of every description decorated the walls of the shed. His opponent was surrounded by weapons Spike couldn’t touch. Trying to keep out of Wood’s reach and trying not to touch the walls seriously limited his ability to dodge. He was well and truly buggered.
“So, do you lure all the vampires here, or am I special?” Spike strove for nonchalant and suspected he missed by a significant margin.
“Oh you’re special, Spike.” Wood assured him, taking up a fighting stance in front of the door. “I’ve been searching for you a very long time, nearly my whole life.”
Spike backed up a few paces trying to give himself room to maneuver. “Do tell. What did I do to earn that honor?”
“You killed my mother,” Wood snarled. He pulled out a baseball bat from next to the door and began advancing on Spike.
Spike maintained his distance. “I killed a lot of people’s mothers. Afraid that doesn’t narrow it down much.” If he could incite him to charge he might be able to slip past him and break through the door.
“Oh, you’d remember my mother,” he assured smoothly. “She was a slayer.”
“That does ring a bell,” Spike goaded. “About so high, based in New York, scrappy fighter.”
“You’re wearing her coat. I want it back.” Wood took a step forward, swinging the bat in a half arc, all cold precision. The door remained fully covered. “The way I see it, you can take a lot of damage before you dust. So I get to give you back just a little of the pain you cost me, before I end you.”
Reasoning with him was definitely out. Just as well, as that wasn’t Spike’s strongest suit anyway. He hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and called up as much of his big bad self as he could summon. There was considerably more of it than there had been a year ago. “You think you’re a big enough man to end me? Please. Your mother was a slayer, one of the best I’ve ever seen, and she couldn’t get the job done.” Spike stroked a hand down the front of the duster. “Got the trophy to prove it.”
With a scream, Wood stepped forward and took a swing. Spike dodged beneath, got a hand on the bat and flung it away. Wood was no slouch and got a knee up in Spike’s stomach before he could dance away.
Spike pulled back a foot or two and shifted from side to side, looking for an opening. Without the ability to hit his opponent there was no way to win this fight, he had to get away. They feinted and danced around each other. The door was covered in crosses as well and securely bolted. Spike would have to get Wood seriously out of position if he had a hope of getting through without giving the man a free shot at his back.
Looking about him Spike concluded his mouth was his only real weapon. “So, you’ve wasted your whole life tracking me down. That’s sad, it really is. Spent a fair amount of time learning to fight, can see that. Did you ever shag or were you too … dedicated?”
Wood snatched a mace from the wall and swung it. Spike ducked it easily, he was getting to Wood. “Sloppy follow through. You should really work on that.”
“Oh, I have,” Wood said in far too calm a voice. He was centering himself, that would never do.
“Right, of course. Have to do Mummy proud. Except Mummy wasn’t proud, was she? Too focused on the job to pay attention to you.” Spike’s snide tone seemed to hit home.
“Shut your filthy mouth.” Wood swung again, missing by a hairsbreadth this time.
“Afraid to get a little truth on you, revenge boy?” Spike taunted. “You blame me for your mum’s death, but it wasn’t me that killed her.” A sly smile spread across Spike’s face. “Well, yeah, it was me, and damned proud of it.” Spike leaped over a swipe at his legs. “But really, if it hadn’t been me it would have been some other nasty. It was the job that killed her.” Spike couldn’t help but think of Buffy, surrounded by friends and allies and still insisting that the weight of the whole world rested on her shoulders alone. “A job she loved more than you.”
In that moment, he wasn’t sure if he was discussing Nicky Wood or Buffy Summers. Life of the chosen one, it was all the same in the end. But it was a moment of introspection he couldn’t afford. Wood’s swing at his head got a bit of his chin and damn near took his head off. He staggered back a step while Wood pressed his advantage. Spike had no space for taunts and was running out of maneuvering room.
It was becoming painfully clear he was going to dust here. He had no way of incapacitating his assailant and attacking back would leave him writhing on the floor. At least he wouldn’t have to listen to Xander say, ‘I told you so’ which was a bit of a comfort. Still, if he was going down, he wasn’t going down without a fight. Maybe if he could hit Wood hard enough with one blow he could crawl away before Wood regained consciousness, who knew what it would do to his brain if Spike succeeded in killing him but it was better than lying down and dying.
He ducked under the next swing and ploughed his fist into Wood’s chin. Wood staggered back and collapsed against the wall. Spike winced in anticipation of a massive burst of pain from the chip.
There was nothing.
He stared down at Wood, barely conscious on the floor before him, and there wasn’t the slightest twinge from the chip.
A grin of pure joy spread across his face and he whooped in triumph. He gave Wood’s leg an experimental kick, just to make sure.
Seemed the chip’s battery had finally run out. Spike threw his head back and roared, “I’m back!” He felt like dancing a bloody jig right in the middle of the room. Then he turned to Wood, who was barely focusing but struggling to sit up, and smiled viciously. “And I owe it all to you, mate.”
Spike figured he couldn’t have done more to the guy if he’d stabbed him, and from the flinch Wood gave that judgment seemed spot on. He got right up in Wood’s face, feeling like twisting the knife a bit. “This chip could have been burned out for months and I never would have known it. So, you’ve given me my bite back.” Spike patted the side of his face. “Thanks, you’ve done me a real service, you have.”
Wood winced, clearly all the fight drained out of him. “Just finish it already,” he ground out in an exhausted voice.
Spike felt like the king of the world. He didn’t have to back down from any fight ever again. He could protect his family, be a real vampire once again. “Don’t think I will, mate.” Spike bounced back, away from his fallen opponent. “When it came right down to it, your mother didn’t choose you, she chose the job, she chose me.” Spike could see the truth of his statement hit home and it filled him with glee. “So, I’m leaving you alive, unless you’re fool enough to come after my family again.” Spike’s voice dropped to a deadly serious tone. “Come near any of them again and I’ll take days killing you. Believe me, I’ve been trained by the best at that.”
Wearily, Wood nodded.
Spike clapped his hands together, feeling like a little kid set loose in the toy store, he declared, “Right then, places to go, people to kill, you know how it is.” He left the shed whistling a happy tune.
He was still whistling as he swung in the front door. The whole gang was sitting in the living room around two large pizzas. “Pass over some of that pepperoni,” he demanded.
Xander raked his eyes over Spike like he was looking for holes. “What happened, you’ve only been gone half an hour,” Xander asked suspiciously.
“It’s all sorted.” Spike’s grin was drawing suspicious glances from all of them. He reached down and snagged a piece of pepperoni pizza. Everyone else was clearly too frozen to hand it to him.
“How is it sorted?” Rupert asked pointedly.
“He’s not after the slayer, he was after me.” Spike had barely finished speaking before Xander grabbed his sleeve and began dragging him toward the basement stairs. Spike finished off his slice of pizza and called a “Don’t wait up.” over his shoulder. The expected rolled eyes made him smile wider.
Spike was pretty much bouncing by the time they made it to the bottom of the stairs, bursting with the news he had to tell. “The chip stopped working.”
Xander’s dropped jaw was not the joyful expression he’d been expecting. “What happened?”
“Git pulled me into a shed full of crosses. Seems he’s the kid of the slayer I killed in New York. Been gunning for me ever since. He won’t be doing it anymore.” If Xander wasn’t going to get into the spirit of the celebration then Spike wasn’t going to be large on the details.
Xander hung his head as if oppressed by his thoughts. “Did you kill him?”
“Nah, was too thrilled to be free, besides, I did kill his mum.” He wondered if the fact he’d had sympathy for the kid meant he was going soft.
Xander slumped against the wall. “Well, that’s something at any rate.”
Spike’s euphoria took an immediate nose dive. “Sounds like you’d rather the git killed me.”
Xander’s head snapped up, a look of horror on his face. He looked as if Spike had just gut punched him. He grabbed hold of Spike, burying his face in his neck. “No, God no, Spike. But, you have to leave and I hate that.”
Now Xander had simply gone insane. Spike pulled away, gripping Xander at arm’s length so he couldn’t do something foolish and dangerous to himself, and so Spike could get a good look at his face. “What the bloody hell are you talking about? I‘m not going anywhere.”
Xander looked miserable. “You have to, Spike,” he said as if it was all decided.
Spike felt shaking some sense into Xander so he channeled his anger into pacing. “Do you have the slightest idea what this means to me, Xander? I can defend myself again. I don’t have to worry about a couple of human thugs taking me out because I can’t hit them back. Or was it just the defanged version you cared about? No room for me now I’m not all weak and helpless anymore.”
Xander shook his head and tried to close the distance between them. Spike shook his hand off and continued pacing. Xander stopped trying to touch him, dejectedly staring at the floor as he spoke. “You’re unleashed, Spike, and part of me is happy for you. You hated the chip, I’ve actually come to hate the chip, but it meant you could stay. Now you have to go. I’ve known this day was coming for a long time. The chip was a prototype, it couldn‘t work forever. I guess I was just really selfish and hoped I‘d be dead before then.”
Spike wasn‘t sure what to make of this insanity. They’d never talked about what they would do if the chip stopped working. The subject had gotten too depressing for Spike to contemplate any longer. But Xander was talking like he had the whole thing worked out. What did he think Spike was going to do? Weren’t they were well past this by now? He thought he had a real home here. Now, just when things were finally going his way, he was being given his marching papers. “You think I can’t control myself? You think I’d hurt you? Dawn?”
Xander looked up and his eyes were brimming with unshed tears as he spoke his truth. “I think you’d stake yourself before you hurt one of us. You love us, we’re your family. The rest of Sunnydale, not so much. How long before you forget yourself and eat one of Dawn’s classmates, one of my work buddies, one of Willow and Tara’s teachers or just some random stranger? Giles has his sacred duty and Willow and Tara will agree. Once you kill someone they’ll feel they have to kill you, and having to choose like that, I hope one of you would kill me first, because I don’t think I could stay sane.”
Spike stopped pacing, facing Xander squarely across the space they had created between themselves. He couldn’t believe Xander would shatter his life like this and anger was his only shield. “Do you think I’m some fledge with grave dirt under my fingernails? I have control. I don’t have to randomly kill people if I don‘t want to.” He was shaking as he waved his dirt free fingernails under Xander’s nose. He told himself it was outrage.
Spike had to admit that feeding again had featured prominently in his list of things he missed since the chip, but feeding wasn’t worth the loss of his family. He could give it up if it meant he didn’t lose the best home he’d had in over 100 years. He didn’t like to think of it as pleading, but he couldn’t think of a more dignified explanation at the moment.
Xander, however, appeared unswayed, even as he looked like his whole world was ending. “You’re free, Spike. My love can’t be another leash. You’d resent me, maybe even hate me for it. Maybe not now, but eventually. Go, be a vampire somewhere not here. I love you too much to let you do anything else.”
This made no sense! Xander had no right to do this to him. Hadn’t he proved himself many times over? Hadn’t he nearly died defending them? Xander made him believe he was loved, and now he was ripping him to pieces. Spike refused to cry in front of the unfeeling bastard, not while the ungrateful git was kicking him out. If he was going to hold true to that he needed to get out fairly fast though. He snatched a duffle bag out of the closet and started emptying the dresser into it. He wasn’t sure that he wasn’t shoving half of Xander’s clothes in as well but he didn’t care, couldn’t care. He couldn’t remain silent though, not with Xander standing in a corner looking like he was somehow heartbroken. The heartless idiot didn’t have the right. “I’m leaving, and just to prove to you what a moronic git you are, I’m not going to kill anyone for a year, a whole year!” Spike paused and rethought that position. “Unless they deserve it. Not going to get myself staked like some bleeding martyr.”
“I wouldn’t want you to, Spike,” Xander said in a small voice. “I don’t want you to go.”
Spike stabbed a finger at him. “You don’t get to say that. Not and kick me out in the same breath. I’m just going to prove to you how very wrong you are.”
Xander nodded as if he accepted the chastisement as his due and went back to staring at his shoes. “Do you need any money?”
“No,” Spike replied succinctly. No need to mention the fact that he could get all the dosh he needed now that he didn’t have to fear humans anymore. That would just start them fighting again. There was no purpose in that.
Xander looked like he didn’t really need the explanation anyway, staring off to the side nodding absently to himself. “You should say goodbye to Dawn before you go.”
Xander has some gall asking him to do a thing like that. Spike slipped into his vampiric face without his conscious volition. “I’ll just leave that little chore to you, shall I? You explain to her where I’ve gone and why. Don’t leave that out.”
Once again Xander took the drubbing as his due. It was putting Spike right off, he needed out that minute. He shoved the last of his possessions into the duffle and zipped it. That seemed to unlock Xander’s jaw. “I know I’ve got no right to ask.”
“You’ve got that right,” Spike growled back, pain choking his throat.
Xander continued, undaunted. “We both have gmail accounts, wherever you go, email me, let me know you’re all right?”
“What do you care about one more vampire out there,” he snapped, intending to hurt. He slung the bag over his shoulder and headed for the stairs. Xander didn’t move but he seemed to be collapsing in on himself as Spike got closer to the door. At the top of the stairs he relented. He didn’t turn but he made sure his voice could be heard. “Tell Dawn I’ll email her as soon as I get settled. Wouldn’t want her to worry.” Some of the oppressive atmosphere of the room lifted at that.
He left by the back door, grateful not to run into anyone else.
Spike spent the first night getting as far away as fast as he could. He stole a great American land yacht and started driving He had no destination in mind and ended up kipping in the boot just before sunrise. The tears he wouldn’t let Xander see clouded his eyes until he managed to fall asleep for a few hours.
He awoke before nightfall and spent the time trying to come up with some place to go. He would receive no warm welcome from Angel so LA was out, no telling where Dru had gotten herself off to, and the speculation ended there. Over 120 years walking the Earth and everyone who might give a damn about him had either turned their back on him or was irretrievably dead.
Xander wanted him to “go be a vampire” like he could just pick up where he left off when the Initiative grabbed him. He hadn’t been a true vampire in three long years, longer probably. The more he thought of it, the more he ran through all of Angelus and Darla’s pronouncements that he wasn’t a proper vampire at all. Maybe they had been right all along.
Still, moping wasn’t his style, and this wasn’t the first time he’d been on his own. Time to go out and find a town to paint red. At sunset he’d head east.
The next night he ditched the car for a sportier model, something worthy of a real road trip. He also realized where he was headed. New York City seemed the only fitting destination. Besides, he’d loved it there a few decades ago. It was just the sort of place for him to get his head back together after having it messed with for so long.
He was in no particular hurry to get there and took a meandering path through middle America. He went so far as to obtain animal blood in his first couple of stops, just to spite Xander bloody minded Harris. Before he was halfway to New York he’d decided that was going way too far. He could feed without killing. It took longer and was a bit riskier, but risk was the way he liked to play things anyway.
He was in Kansas when he took a corn fed, farmer’s daughter behind a bar. He hadn’t lost his touch in chatting up the birds and he had her convinced she was swooning with sexual satiation rather than blood loss easily enough. He sent her back inside and was on his way before anyone could comment on how pale she looked. He made a couple more stops before finding a motel to kip at for the day. His last meal lost more than a quart of blood as Spike relieved him of the laptop he had in his backpack.
Holed up for the day, a “Do not disturb” sign warding off the maid, Spike marveled at the fact that even out of the way, cheap motels had free wi-fi. Lifting the laptop had been a spur of the moment thing, just something to pass the time and make life easier, like the dosh he’d lifted off another bloke. He was checking to see if the twit had his bank account bookmarked. No such luck, perhaps he wasn’t as stupid as he looked, when the email icon seemed to be looming large on the screen. Spike puttered around, doing a bit of surfing, filling his newly acquired ipod with road trip music, but he’d never been good at self deception. Eventually he broke and logged onto his email account.
There were multiple unread messages waiting for him. Two from Dawn, one from Willow, even one from Rupert. There were seven from Xander.
He closed out without opening any of them. He went to sleep trying not to imagine what could be in those messages.
Two hours of tossing and turning later he fired up the laptop and pulled up the emails. He compromised with himself by reading Dawn’s messages first.
Sent: November 7, 2002 5:36:18 PM
Subject: Stupid vampire
How could you just leave without even saying goodbye? I thought you loved me! I don’t care how mad you were at Xander, who was being a big, fat idiot, you didn’t have to leave without talking to me. I don’t care that the chip isn’t working anymore. I’m glad it isn’t, because now you won’t get hurt anymore. I don’t care what Xander says, nothing could be worse than having you gone.
Why does everyone leave me?
The last line pretty well broke Spike’s heart. He almost responded but thought he should look at the second message first.
Sent: November 9, 2002 3:50:54 PM
Subject: Where are you?
I guess Xander was right. You’re probably off somewhere having a good time now that your “shock collar” is gone.
Maybe you don’t care that there are people back here who love you, maybe you’re not even reading this email. I wouldn’t have believed it but it’s been three days and we haven’t heard from you. You told Xander you would email me and you haven’t. Don’t you know we’re worried about you?
Call, or email or something. Maybe if you do Xander won’t look so sick anymore.
Didn’t like the sound of that at all. It gave him a pretty good idea of what he would find in the other emails as well. He still didn’t feel up to reading Xander’s messages so he opened Willow’s.
Sent: November 9, 2002 5:23:43 PM
Subject: You’re in big trouble, mister!
I’ve got a shovel with your name on it. I told you not to hurt him and here you are, ripping him to pieces.
I know he told you to leave, and you’re probably feeling pretty crappy right now, but not knowing if you’re still walking around or not is ripping Xander apart. We’re your family, can’t you stop sulking long enough to let us know you’re all right?
Spike doubted the watcher was going to be so charitable in his missive. By the sound of it, things were a right mess back home. Time to let Rupert have his say.
Sent: November 9, 2002 10:23:53 AM
Subject: no message
Although I shouldn’t expect better of you, I would think you could stop reveling in your newfound freedom long enough to contact Dawn or Xander. Heaven knows why but they are beside themselves with worry over your sorry hide. Congratulations, you may have succeeded in destroying us with their love for you more thoroughly than you ever could have through more conventional means.
Spike felt his stomach turn over. This wasn’t how he wanted this to go. Yes, he was mad at Xander but he didn’t want him hurting. Time to face the music.
Sent: November 7, 2002 11:32:13 AM
Subject: no message
I told Dawn. She hates me now. Don’t wait too long to contact her okay.
He immediately went to the next one.
Sent: November 7, 2001 7:43:31 PM
Subject: The ball’s in your court
Didn’t strike fast enough. She’s still not too pleased with me but now she hates you too. Don’t worry too much about it. Send her something nice from wherever you are and I’m sure you’ll be forgiven.
Sometimes Spike forgot just how generous Xander was. He found himself mulling over what he could get Dawn to smooth things over. Nothing here, but once he got to New York it would be easy to pick up a trinket she would love.
Sent: November 8, 2002 11:42:44 AM
Subject: Enough’s enough
Spike, I know you’re still ticked at me but that’s no reason to take it out on Dawn. Make contact already.
Spike really didn’t want to open up the next one but there wasn’t much choice.
Sent: November 8, 2002 7:51:36 PM
Subject: Stop sulking!
It’s been two days! Respond already!
Spike didn’t feel quite so bad after reading that one. After two days he was supposed to just forget about having his heart shredded? Did Xander expect him to be sitting in some poncy Internet café somewhere just waiting for their emails? He had to put his life back together. He opened the next one in a much angrier frame of mind.
Sent: November 9, 2002 2:25:12 AM
Subject: I miss you
Okay, I was out of line with the last email. I’m kind of crabby right now. It’s just, every time I close my eyes I see something terrible happening to you. So, you might notice I’m not getting much sleep.
I know I have no right to ask, just, let me know you’re all right. Please.
That doused every bit of anger he’d managed to build up from the last message. He went to the next email.
Sent: November 9, 2002 11:56:43 AM
Subject: Guess I have my answer
Guess you’re too mad to respond. I don’t know what to say to make this right. Maybe nothing can.
Xander always expected people to walk away from him. Was his short term memory suffering? Spike hadn’t left, he’d been tossed out. Could none of them even comprehend that he might not be near a computer for a few days? He opened the last one.
Sent: November 9, 2002 11:51:31 PM
Subject: I’m really sorry
I’m sorry that I hurt you so badly. I guess I should have said that first thing, huh? I still believe everything I said three nights ago but hurting you was never my goal.
This is still your family. If you wanted to hurt us, your silence is a pretty effective punishment. You’re about to drive me to drastic measures. I’m going to see if Willow can’t find some way to magically locate you. I have to know you’re all right.
If Xander was turning to magic things were completely out of hand. Time to put a stop to all of this with a little message of his own. And fast. It was already ten in the morning, he expected Xander would fire off another round on his lunch break he was almost afraid of how maudlin that could get.
Sent: November 10, 2002 10:03:05 AM
Subject: Calm down
I’ve been traveling the last three days and only got my hands on a laptop last night. Stop being so bloody impatient. It’s not like I left with a plan or anything. I was shoved out the door without so much as a by your leave.
I’m not settled anywhere yet and I’m not likely to be for a bit more. If two days go by without my checking in I’m probably just driving through the day or some such. Don’t carry on so.
By the way, I haven’t killed a single person yet. So much for all your fine theories. I’m going to have you eating your words.
I will be in touch.
Spike wondered if that was enough, wondered if he had the strength to email Xander something more personal. Eventually, he decided he had no choice.
Sent: November 10, 2002 11:05:37 AM
Subject: Still here
So, here we are. I’m still not dusty so you can stand down from whatever foolishness you were going to try. I don’t know where I’m going and I’m likely to move around quite a bit. If experience is a teacher I could end up in some very remote regions. There may be times it will be a week or more before I can get to a computer.
I won’t stop contacting you, all right. I promise, for whatever that’s worth to you. Judging by our last talk, it’s not much. I’m going to prove you wrong and I’m going to come home. Just try not to get yourself killed in the meantime.
Spike surveyed that response with some satisfaction and went to bed, feeling better than he had since leaving home.
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