Spike woke up a couple hours before sunset. Smirking, he fired up the laptop. He’d need to get a power cable if they expected him to check in on a daily basis. Dawn had responded to his email with indignity and guilt trips. Much better than the lost tone of her previous message.
Xander’s response was two lines. “Thank you. You’ve always kept your promises to me.”
Somehow, the fact that Xander did still have faith in him made the separation easier to bear. Now that the pain wasn’t quite so fresh and sharp he allowed himself to think about that last conversation with Xander in the basement. His mind only half on his task, he packed up and checked out over the telly. Brilliant innovation that, made it much easier to duck out unobserved. He hadn’t bothered to black out the windows in his current ride so he was restricted to driving at night.
On the road again he mulled the situation over as Kansas’ harvested fields gave way to Missouri’s equally boring woods. It was late enough in the year that he had the car’s heater cranked all the way up. Too many years spent in perennially warm climates, he wasn’t used to this anymore. Not the cold, and not the solitude.
So what did he do with Xander’s insistence that he leave? Until now he’d been focused on Xander’s apparent belief that Spike couldn’t stop himself snacking on the local population. As if Spike were some newly risen fledge with no control. Xander’s lack of trust had rankled particularly hard as he had nailed Spike over a similar issue months ago.
But further contemplation, digging past the hurt, showed that wasn’t what Xander had said. No, Xander seemed more concerned about making Spike choose between his vampiric nature and Xander. Stupid boy. Hadn’t he already made his choice in such matters perfectly clear? But when he thought back past his own grief to Xander’s face and voice he realized just how much fear was motivating Xander. Not fear for himself or the family, he’d been clear about that, but fear that Spike would slip up and he’d be caught between duty and love, ripped apart in ways that could never be mended.
So he was facing Xander’s insecurities again. This was familiar ground since he was hardly a stranger to insecurity himself. He’d just have to show Xander that his fears were unfounded. It might not even take a year before Xander was begging him to come home and forgive him. And, being the magnanimous sort he was, Spike would forgive him.
In the mean time, nothing said he couldn’t have some fun. Visit some of his old haunts. See if anyone remembered him from his glory days. He’d been king of the New York courts after killing the Slayer. Everyone wanted to be his friend, buy him drinks, hear the story. It had been a glorious battle. Robin seemed to have inherited some of her spark. He was a formidable fighter and Spike had humiliated him, brought him to his knees.
A thread of worry sang through him. He’d counted on being around to keep Wood from getting out of line. Now they were undefended and Wood might consider taking his revenge against Xander.
He fished his cell phone out. It had been off since he left Sunnydale, and he was sure he had a dozen messages but had no time to deal with them now. He dialed up Xander’s number.
It took four agonizing rings before there was the click of someone picking up. “Hello.” Spike easily recognized Xander’s barely awake voice. A quick glance at the clock told him it was three in the morning. He shrugged, with the time difference Xander would be getting up in less than an hour anyway.
“Xander, has that Wood git been sniffing around?” Spike didn’t see any reason to waste time on idle pleasantries.
“Spike!” Spike could almost see Xander snap awake. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“Yeah, it’s me, I want to know if Wood has been messing with any of you in my absence. He had a bone to pick and he might try to take it out on you.”
“So you call me at … 5am … to talk about it?” Xander rambled.
Spike wondered if he’d ever be able to get the man back on topic. “It’s when I thought of it, all right. Anyway, you’ll be getting up soon anyway.”
“Hey, I treasure those last thirty minutes of sleep,” Xander protested.
“Not the point,” Spike growled, determined to get his answer. “About Wood--”
“It’s been four days and it’s only occurring to you now?” Spike didn’t like the accusation in Xander’s voice.
“Xander.” He wished he was closer to use some of his newfound ability to hurt humans to slap Xander upside the head.
“Yes, yes, Wood, I got it,” Xander conceded. “We’re fine, he’s backed way off.”
That puzzled Spike a bit. Lifelong vendetta like that, Spike had expected to have to scare him off a couple more times, maybe even kill him. “He gave up a lot easier than I’d thought he would.”
“Yeah, guess the revenge business isn’t what it used to be,” Xander agreed. Spike recognized that tone of voice. It was the one Xander used when he wasn’t telling the whole truth
“So what happened?” Spike was in no mood to play twenty questions. If Wood was causing problems for them he’d turn back around and Xander’s insecurities could just go hang.
“Nothing! Everything’s fine,” Xander insisted in a voice that was definitely hiding something. Xander couldn’t lie worth a damn to anyone who knew him well.
“What did you do?” Spike hoped his voice conveyed that he wasn’t going to put up with any more prevaricating. It was hard to be threatening from hundreds of miles away but he gave it a shot anyway.
“I talked to him, all right. He won’t be any trouble,” Xander placated.
A smile spread across Spike’s face. Sounded like Xander had learned the fine art of intimidation. The thought warmed him and he wanted the whole story. “What did you say to the berk?”
“Just that you weren’t the only person willing to take someone out to protect the people you love. It was a pretty short conversation.” Xander paused as if he was somehow ashamed of himself. “I was pretty pissed He’d tried to kill you, after all. Not to mention he was basically responsible for you being gone.”
Spike would argue that Xander was the reason Spike was gone, but he didn’t want to start that argument up again. “Why Xander, I didn’t know you had it in you,” he said, concentrating on how pleased the idea of Xander putting the fear of his wrath into Wood made him.
“I just didn’t want him going after you, so, I kind of explained to him that none of us were people you wanted to mess with, especially if you were fond of waking up the same species you went to bed as.” Spike imagined Xander using just those exact words too. There was a note of bashful pride in Xander’s voice.
“How did Will react to you using her to threaten him?” Spike couldn’t resist coaxing just a bit more out of him.
“She suggested it. Spike, you have to know none of us have changed how we feel about you.” There was a pleading note to this, as if Xander feared he wouldn’t be believed. Spike decided he didn’t like it.
“I miss you all as well,” he said, hoping that was all the confirmation Xander required, no need to get too mushy. “Listen, I’m still on the road but I’ll do the email thing a bit more frequently. Try not to worry you.” Realizing he was getting perilously close to an overabundance of sentimentality, he was just about to say goodbye when Xander broke in.
“It’s really good to hear your voice, Spike.”
“Same,” Spike allowed. He heard Xander’s alarm go off. “Of to work with you now.” He hung up before he could say anything else that would permanently damage his image.
Spike caught the next road sign and decided that he was in no real hurry to make it to New York, and St Louis was less than 50 miles down the highway. It would be a fun town to stay in for a day or two. They had all manner of spooky locales that would be prime hunting grounds. The idiot tourists would probably think he was part of the show.
He stayed a few days in St. Louis, it was a very vampire friendly town. He was even able to find a place to buy some human blood for when he hit the road again. So he hit the local night life, did a bit of non-lethal snacking on the locals, and emailed the folks back home.
Dawn had taken to writing chatty emails about what was happening at school, how life was unfair and boys she thought were cute. Spike had to wonder if she included the last topic in an attempt to get him to come charging back home. If so, she was on the right track.
Willow was invaluable as his barometer to how Xander was really doing. From the sound of things, there had been a marked improvement since the phone call. Willow was the one who kept him certain that Xander still wanted him, he just insisted on playing the martyr.
Xander kept his emails short, mostly written on his lunch hour. He spoke about trivial daily things and Spike could read between the lines that there was a concerted effort to keep him from feeling guilty. Xander never asked where he was or what he was doing. Spike wasn’t sure if that was an attempt to show trust or a suspicion that Spike wasn’t walking the straight and narrow and Xander didn‘t want to know about it.
Rupert only emailed once or twice but he kept him apprised of the situation on the Hellmouth. Spike was grateful that they had done those excruciating upgrades on the bot. Willow was an exceptionally powerful witch and Tara was no slouch, but not everything could be solved by magic. Without a slayer or master vampire holding the line, things could get out of hand. The Watcher assured him all was quiet at the moment. There had been a couple of challenges but they had been repelled and there was nothing ominous on the horizon. Still, Rupert shared Spike’s fears about the long term stability of a Hellmouth without a proper guardian. There were even hints that he would feel better if Spike were there. Not in so many words of course, but the concern was there. Spike had to wonder if he was reconsidering letting the Council deal with Faith.
The upshot of all of the communication was that no one was happy with the situation as it stood. Spike made it clear that he’d just as soon come home and forget all this nonsense, but Xander refused to entertain the idea, and everyone but Dawn was backing him up. Eventually he decided that, as usual, it fell to him to make them all see sense. So he threw everything into his appropriated sports car and set out on the road as soon as the sun sank below the horizon.
There was only one course of action he could think of that might shorten his exile. He’d establish himself in New York, he knew the lay of the land there, how to fit between the cracks. With a population that size, nightly feedings wouldn’t put a bull’s eye on him, even without Sunnydale blindness. He’d set up in an apartment, something nice and posh. Then he’d invite them all out for a short vacation. He’d show them the town, do the whole tourist thing. Not a bad idea in and of itself, they could all use a bit of downtime. They’d see how well he was doing and they’d remember how much they missed having him around. He’d be headed back with them when they left. A couple months should be more than sufficient time to get himself set up and he could issue the invitation to match up with the Christmas holidays. Might even do New Year’s Eve in Times Square, then off back home.
As the evening wore on traffic thinned out and he could feel the smooth glide of the road as he raced down the I70, feeling more optimistic than he had since this enforced road trip began. He knew he wasn’t the best at strategizing, but this plan had success written all over it. Nothing could be easier
He was forced to stop somewhere around Harrisburg and chortled a bit at the irony. He didn’t even bother getting a room, just found a convenient parking garage. After relieving the attendant, who had interrupted his nap, of a couple pints, he wandered for a bit, too restless to sit still anymore. He found himself an Internet café and caught up on his daily emails, relieved when nothing traumatic had happened since he last checked in. He did a news search, just in case, but no mysterious crisis loomed in Southern California that the conventional news was aware of. After that, he started looking into accommodations in New York. Since he planned to stay awhile, the various credit cards he’s appropriated in his travels wouldn’t do, so he pulled out his own seldom used card. He’d listed Angel’s hotel as the billing address just to tweak the old bastard. He wished he could see Angel’s face when he got the bill.
By then, it was getting sufficiently close to sunset that he headed back to his car, hauled the bound and gagged attendant out of the trunk, sat him next to a minivan and gave his cheek a friendly pat before heading out again.
The previous night’s optimism hadn’t left him, but he recognized that he had work ahead of him. There were people he needed to contact, arrangements to be made. New York was a lot pricier than it was the last time he was there, he’d need a healthy influx of cash if he wanted to set himself up in impressive digs. Enforcer jobs brought in some nice dosh, but he didn’t fancy working for someone else as hired muscle. Setting himself up as the big fish was doable, but it would take too much time. No, he’d need to make a big score fast. In the old days, he’d have found some rich bloke whose home would suit, kill him and take it for himself. With his current restrictions he’d have to get more creative.
He had been so lost in his musings that a glance at the horizon convinced him he’d taken a wrong turn somehow. He caught the next road sign and it indicated he was where he thought he was. It took a few more miles to hit him that he was missing seeing the Twin Towers. The last time he’d driven this way they were already rising like obelisks against the night sky even this far out. This early in the evening they would have been lit up and easily visible.
Reassured that he hadn’t taken a wrong turn, he went back to musing over his plans, nebulous as they were. But something would turn up. He was past due a break.
He parked the car across the street from the Roosevelt in a tow away zone. Everything he wanted safely tucked in his duffle, not like the car would be here later. Besides, a car was more of a liability in New York than an asset.
The bird at the check in desk didn’t bat an eyelash as she confirmed his reservation and handed him his key. His special request for a west facing king suite had been fulfilled without comment. Spike was instantly reminded just how much he loved this town.
He dumped his bag in the room and headed back out. The night was still young and he didn’t have time to waste.
Spike watched the deal go down from a safe distance. Neither man aware of his presence, too focused on the money and drugs they were exchanging. It was incredibly boring but the chip had taught him patience if nothing else. A good thing too, finding a dealer had proved much more difficult than he expected. Time was that, if you knew what you were looking for, you could spot them on any street corner. The city had been sanitized since his last foray in the Big Apple. Times Square used to be prime hunting territory. Now it was a bloody Disney park. Still, the seamier parts of life would always be present and it had just been a matter of time to track down what he was looking for.
His sale completed, the dealer moved on again. After a profitable night he looked to be heading home, Spike might just relieve him of his cash and a couple pints of blood and start over tomorrow. He wanted the head of this particular organization, not this bait fish.
Turned out luck was with him. From the nervousness pouring off the kid he was headed to turn his money in to his boss. He trailed the dealer to a warehouse, He amused himself, thinking of how Xander accused vampires of being obsessed with such places. He never fully appreciated how convenient warehouses were, nice and public and needing no invitation for the undead. Perfect. He’d promised Xander he wouldn’t start killing again, but they agreed he could defend himself. If he provoked the fight that he defended himself during, well. Besides, killing these blokes was hardly the blood of the innocent on his hands.
He got himself a good view of the proceeding before he made his move. He wanted to know how many he was facing and where before the killing started. He ignored the petty posturing going on below while he searched the rafters for hidden snipers. Not that they could do much to him, but they were annoying and a head shot would be seriously inconvenient. The situation appeared to be a simple drop. The dealer Spike had followed traded most of the cash he’d taken for more drugs to sell. Seemed all he had to deal with was one middle manager type and two hired muscle.
Spike debated whether this was the end of the line for the evening or whether he’d follow these goons higher up the food chain. He bet Middle management down there holed up in a fairly nice place, with plenty of cash just lying about for an enterprising vampire such as himself. He might do for Spike’s purposes. On the other had, he’d have to deal with the big man sooner or later when he came looking for his money.
The night wasn’t getting any younger and pike was tired of traipsing all over town after these twits. He wasn’t some vice cop on stake out here. He’d deal with the big fish in his own time, his own way, for now he was acquiring himself some fancy new digs. Spike had deliberated long enough that the dealer had made tracks. Pity, his larder was bare, never hurt to take home a doggie bag .
From the rafters he watched Middle management packing his money away in a briefcase while the muscle covered the door. Any protection detail worth it’s salt would cast a glance toward the rafters now and then, but not this low rent operation. He dropped down in front of the two hired muscle just to rub their lack of foresight in. Subtlety was not his goal and the sharp, heavy sound of his Docs hitting the concrete floor snapped all attention to him instantly. The hired muscle was startled and looked to their boss for orders, unsure he represented a threat. Seriously, if this was the kind of protection this guy rated Spike could own this operation in a week. “Evening gents,” he said agreeably enough. “Have a business proposition for you.”
Middle management didn’t wait to hear more, he gave a nod and the goon squad moved in to pummel him. Both of them were well over six feet and built to intimidate. Just watching them lumber over made it clear they were accustomed to their size and strength carrying them through, grace and style were significantly lacking. Spike ducked a clumsy swing without even thinking about it, bringing his right fist up under the swing to connect with goon one’s chin and sent him sprawling. Goon two ogled his buddy on the floor instead of positioning himself to take advantage of Spike’s distraction. A casual twist of the wrist and Goon two’s neck snapped like a matchstick. The short, annoying sprint to overtake middle management before he rabbited out the back proved the most effort of the whole process.
“Now, now, no leaving the party early,” he insisted, pulling the squirming man against his chest. “I have questions for you.” He glanced over his shoulder where Goon one was picking himself off the floor. “First, I’m feeling a mite peckish.”
He twisted Middle management’s arm up behind his back where he could control him one handed and brought him stumbling over to Goon one, just as he succeeded in making it to his knees. This put Goon one at a nicely convenient height for Spike who twisted his head to the side and buried his fangs into the side of his neck. Middle management writhed in his grip, Spike felt the shudders ripple through him as he was pressed tight against his side. He stank of fear and sweat scant inches from Goon one whose struggles had grown weak almost immediately. Spike hadn’t exactly been delicate when ripping into his neck and the goon’s lifeblood gushed into his mouth and down his chin. Goon one was the best meal he’d had in years and he didn’t feel like rushing it so he twisted Middle management’s arm viciously to get him to hold still and stop distracting him.
When the last feeble pulses of blood slid down Spike’s throat he dropped the empty husk and turned back to his only remaining victim, he knew he was about to get anything he wanted out of him.
“Right, first things first, where do you live?” Spike asked while positioning his prey where he had a clear view of his face.
His prey blinked up at him, tears and snot streaming from him, with uncomprehending eyes. Spike applied a tiny bit more pressure and the mouse started singing. “Mid-town,” he gasped.
“Nice apartment, good view?” Spike asked, his blood stained face a scant few inches from the prey’s.
He nodded like a bobble-head.
“Have a wife, kiddies?” Spike asked in an amiable tone.
“No, no sir,” the prey babbled.
“Now see, if you had listened to my business proposition I would have told you how you could have made it through this little encounter alive.” Spike went fishing through the prey’s pockets until he came up with a wallet. He pulled out the driver’s license and took a look at the address. It would probably do. “As it is, you’ve only got one use I can think of.”
Without further preamble, he drained the twitching mouse. It was time to go check out his new home.
The apartment turned out to be perfect. It was a three bedroom, which Spike considered ideal, and was already outfitted with blackout curtains. Spike checked out of his hotel and moved into the apartment before the sun came up. He dumped the body of Steven Stiles, or so his driver’s license claimed, in a spare bedroom and availed himself of the king bed for a well deserved nap.
Steven was a sluggish riser, and didn’t appear to be a very promising vampire. Since all Spike required was that he be sufficiently cowed by his sire to show him where all the cash was hidden, the combination to the safe and other such matters it didn’t matter much. Steven fairly bounced with eagerness to show Spike how well connected and badass he was. For his part, Spike remained unconvinced, but it got him the information he needed. Once certain he had all the information he needed, Spike staked the fledge and settled into his new home. Spike loved getting rid of bodies this way, no better way to cover your tracks.
Over the next two weeks people came to his door wanting the money he’d snagged back. They were very persistent. It was better than ordering take out.
Eventually, he got tired of having his sleep disrupted, besides, the neighbors might start getting nosy. Not to mention, as convenient as the happy meals delivering themselves to his door was, disposing of the trash was a right pain. So he kept one of the next batch alive, and encouraged him to lead him back to the big man.
As it happened, his goons weren’t any better than the first ones he’d come across. So, after a hearty meal, he looked the place over. A quick once over decided him, too gaudy for his purposes. A quick grab of any loose cash left lying about and he headed back to his apartment and guaranteed peace and quiet.
He considered telling Xander about his bit of urban renewal. He couldn’t see him objecting all that much. As he recalled it, Angel had come crawling back to them, trying to get into Darla’s good graces. He’d fed on murderers and other rough customers, and that was after he got a soul shoved in him. So eating bad guys must be some kind of loophole no one had bothered to mention to him. He was sticking to his promise, no innocent blood was on his hands, but there was no sense clouding the issue when he was so close to being ready to make his move. Hell, he’d been performing a public service.
He wanted to wait another week before he sent his invitation for them to spend the holidays with him. He wanted to make absolutely sure no more men with guns would be coming to the door before he risked the family.
In the meantime, he was renewing old acquaintances, revisiting old haunts. It was good to see CBGB still in operation even though it had toned down from when he’d last been there. He fought enough to made sure no one wanted to mess with him, but not so much as to be a challenge to one of the courts. He didn’t need or want politics.
Spike kept checking the news coming out of California, just in case. He didn’t trust the Scoobies to inform him of potential problems, so when he heard about the darkness enveloping LA he congratulated himself on his foresight. As usual, the local news agencies hadn’t a clue. The only important information they provided was that the phenomenon affected only the LA area. For all the unpleasantness of their last several encounters, Spike found himself worried about Angel.
One Google search later he called the number for Angel Investigations. “Angel Investigations, Wesley speaking.” The watcher sounded hurried and nervous. Not a good sign.
“Hello Percy, care to tell me what the hell is going on over there?” Spike couldn’t resist tweaking the watcher just a bit.
Wesley’s voice turned annoyed, better than nervous, and Spike suspected that in seconds he’d be listening to a dial tone. “Who is this?”
“Spike. Just let me talk to Angel for a second.” Spike switched to as placating a tone as he could manage. He needed information out of them, after all.
The annoyance level rose several notches. “We are quite busy just now, and have no time for your games, Spike.” A dial tone rang in his ear.
Failing to get answers out of the crew at ground zero, he called up his next best source of information.
“Rupert, what the hell is going on in LA?” Spike demanded.
“Ah yes, I thought you might be calling.” Rupert knew him at least that well, which mollified Spike somewhat. “I take it you’ve already contacted Angel’s people.”
“Wouldn’t give me the time of day,” he said with venom.
“Yes, well I didn’t have much better luck,” Rupert confessed. “They believe that since we don‘t have a slayer to lend to the cause we are irrelevant.”
“Angel told you that?” Spike asked, sure the shock was evident in his voice. He didn‘t think Peaches had that much gall.
“It wasn’t phrased in those exact words, but the meaning was clear. Also, I wasn‘t put through to Angel,” Rupert said and the bitterness came through loud and clear.
“Join the club,” Spike said by way of consolation.
“I, well, I did suggest that they contact you.” Rupert sounded reluctant to make such an admission. “They declined.”
“Well, that explains the playing games comment Junior Watcher Boy handed me.”
Rupert sounded amused at the appellation and Spike relished making him feel better. The uptight bastards had no business discounting the help the Sunnydale crew offered. Probably just felt threatened.
“Possibly it’s for the best that you aren’t going. Xander was extremely concerned you might feel obliged to go.”
Just when things were feeling familiar and friendly, Rupert had to bring up Xander’s lack of trust. “I’m not going to go snacking on the cheerleader! You can tell him --”
“Spike, do shut up!” Rupert snapped. “Xander was much more concerned about Angel’s propensity for killing members of his vampiric family. He fears that Angel will, and I quote, “get stake happy” with you. After Darla and Penn I must say it’s a valid concern.”
Spike chuckled. Xander still had his back, even if it didn’t need covering. “Tell him not to worry, Rupert. Angel would never have killed Darla if she hadn’t made it a choice between her and Buffy. As for Penn, well, let’s just say he was a better student under Angelus than I was. I would have to be about to kill one of his humans for him to get “stake happy” with me. He has too much guilt over me and Dru.”
“Still, I’m just as glad you’re not going.” Spike could swear he heard relief lacing Rupert’s voice. “I have no doubt that Xander would insist on being there to watch out for you and it doesn’t sound like a situation I would recommend.”
Spike wasn’t too keen on Xander being in the danger zone himself, which brought him back around to his original question. “What situation is that, exactly?”
“Oh.” Rupert sounded positively startled. “Yes, we did get rather sidetracked. It seems there was a creature named the Beast, not Glorificus, I checked, who has begun the blotting out of the sun. At the moment, it is only affecting Los Angeles, but after further questioning I was told it is supposed to blanket the Earth.”
“Right,” Spike declared. “That tears it, I’m coming home.”
“To be perfectly honest with you, Spike, if the area of darkness expands significantly I would be very grateful for your presence,” Rupert said, completely earnest. “I can only imagine how eternal night would affect the Hellmouth, but I can’t imagine it would be good. Keep your cell on. If it starts moving I’ll wire you an airline ticket myself. Angel’s people seemed to think they had a means of combating this Beast. I say we let them flounder for a day or two and they might not be quite so adverse to our help.”
Spike had to smile. He liked the way Rupert thought. “I won’t wait very long. That eternal night thing is bound to attract every vampire in the state.”
“Yes,” Rupert agreed. “Patrol has been very dull the last two nights. It seems the energy of the Hellmouth can’t compete with 24 hour mobility.”
“Any vampire who hasn’t figured out how to move about during daylight doesn’t deserve to survive,” Spike asserted, pleased to have their old dynamic back.
“Just so,” Rupert said dryly.
Spike knew he was risking the conversation devolving again, but he had to know the answer to one, very important, question. “You really believe I’m out here bathing in the blood of the innocent, don’t you?”
Rupert cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with the subject change. “Given how long you had the chip restraining you, and your previous history, it would be very remarkable if you were not.”
Spike wanted to give a sharp retort, but felt too empty for one. He could feed on pig’s blood from now until the end of time. The watcher in Rupert wouldn’t believe him. “I see.”
“However,” Rupert continued, his voice gaining strength. “I have long realized that you are a singularly remarkable vampire. If you tell me you have not been doing so, I will believe you.”
Spike swallowed hard before he could speak. “I haven’t killed a single innocent person.”
“Then I believe you,” Rupert said with conviction.
Spike told himself he wasn’t going to get choked up like some poncy git over something so simple as being believed. That belief, on the other hand, did push him into full disclosure. “I have eaten the better part of a minor drug trafficking ring here.”
Rupert had the nerve to chuckle at him. “I sincerely doubt I’ll be losing any sleep over that. But is that wise? Such people are tenacious and dangerous.”
Spike waved away the concern. “Small operation. I’ve already eaten the big man.”
“I must say, it is a rather satisfying solution,” Rupert confided. “But I think I will refrain from telling Xander. He’d only worry needlessly.”
“It was something Angel did, when he was first cursed. He’d eat murderers and such. Figured if he could do that with the soul, it wasn’t out of line for me.” Spike didn’t like the questioning note that had slipped into his voice but couldn’t seem to make it go away either.
“You’ll get no argument from me, Spike.” Spike was reminded that Rupert was ever the practical man. And Rupert genuinely cared for him. Spike wasn’t sure he’d ever truly known that before. “Just be careful.”
There was a quiet pause in the conversation, and Spike thought it was probably time to end the call before he started acting like a nancy boy. But it seemed a propitious time to make his invitation. “I’ve got a nice apartment here in New York, plenty of room if all of you would like to come here for the holidays.” Spike tried for nonchalant and feared he came out tentative.
There was a brief pause and Spike feared the response. “I hesitate to give you an answer before we know what is going to happen with this Beast situation.”
“Well, of course,” Spike snapped back as if the Watcher had made an idiotic comment. “Can’t celebrate Christmas in the middle of an apocalypse, besides, I’d already be there, hardly any point in all of us trooping back to New York.”
“As you say,” Rupert said and Spike would lay good money he was smiling. “I’ll keep you apprised of the situation.”
“See that you do,” Spike said, feeling stronger. “And give my love to the others.”
“I will,. Goodbye, Spike.”
Spike hung up, then just sat, contemplating the strange conversation for a moment. He flipped through the news channels and fired up the laptop to check the web. He wanted to find out as much as possible about this situation in Los Angeles.
Rupert called or emailed with daily updates, all brief messages with a dearth of new information. The darkness did not, in fact, spread. However, days passed and it remained, while team Angel insisted they could handle matters on their own.
Xander kept his messages low key. Spike sensed the underlying worry, especially since Xander made him promise multiple times to tell him if he planned on taking a trip to Los Angeles. Spike suspected if he made such a trip Xander would be meeting him at the airport, which was endearing if somewhat irritating. He chose to chuckle at the concern rather than let his pique lead to thoughts of evisceration.
He kept the news on, even though they knew less than he did, as he stalked restlessly around the apartment. After less than a week, although it felt like six, the sun reemerged over the city of angels. There was a general stand down from red alert and Spike headed for his first good day‘s sleep in too long. His finger hovered over the off button on his cell phone for a moment before he decided to leave it on one more day, just in case. It turned out to be a good thing, as a mid-morning call from Rupert woke him up.
“What’s the situation, Rupert?” Spike wasn’t a big believer in greetings, besides, who knew how badly bollixed things could be now.
“Those idiotic, reckless half wits have thoroughly bollixed things this time. They removed Angel’s soul.” Rupert’s voice had a hard, cold edge to it, with more than a little Ripper seeping through. Not that Spike blamed him. The thought of Angelus running loose in what he still considered his territory had him struggling not to crack the case of the phone.
“I’ll be on the next flight out there,” Spike answered.
He booted up the laptop, online being the fastest way to acquire a plane ticket, when Rupert hastily said, “I need you to stay there.”
“Why?” Spike made sure his tone indicated that he better make it a damn good reason.
“Angel’s team swears they have him contained and they want Willow to re-ensoul him. She, Tara and I are heading there right now. At the moment, I wouldn’t trust this group to contain a girl scout, so Jonathan and Xander have stayed behind with Dawn. If they haven’t heard from us in two hours, they’re going to you. I’m hoping the better part of a continent will keep Angelus from tracking them down too quickly. With luck, we will arrive, perform the spell and be back home in time for dinner.”
“Since when has luck ever been with us?” Spike asked snidely.
“Exactly so,” Rupert agreed. “I can’t believe they thought this was a good idea.”
“So, which one of that bunch has turned evil now?” Spike asked through gritted teeth.
The dark chuckle Rupert responded with signaled his complete agreement. “If you don’t receive word in three hours, make sure Xander and Dawn are getting on a plane headed your direction and not off on some half-baked rescue mission.”
“No, the half-baked rescue will probably start five minutes after they touch down. Cover Willow, Angelus will want to take out the person who can restore his soul first,” Spike advised, racking his mind for everything he could remember about Angelus and his methods. “Don’t trust any of his crew. Angelus is a clever bastard and he loves his mind games, he could have turned any of them, or threatened one to control another.”
“I am very versed in Angelus’ methods, Spike,” Rupert chided. “Not only did I research him thoroughly, but I was treated to first hand observation when he reemerged in Sunnydale, as you may recall.”
Spike recalled very well the battered condition of the Watcher the day he formed his first alliance with Buffy. “I remember preventing Angelus from taking a chainsaw to you,” he reminded.
“I do remember,” Rupert sighed. “I assure you we will be careful. I have no interest in any of us being at his mercy. I will ring you back when we know more.”
“Be sure you do.” Spike cut the connection and tossed the phone on the bed. He couldn’t afford to fling it against the wall like he wanted.
Rupert was a pretty crafty bastard himself, angling them all exactly where he wanted them. Protecting Dawn pinned Xander in Sunnydale away from danger in a way nothing else could, just like protecting Xander and Dawn halted Spike from charging back to California. Spike hoped the confidence Rupert displayed in his own ability to keep the witches safe was not misplaced. Then again, Angelus had never faced Willow at her current power level, certainly not with Tara there to rein her in or augment her at need. If they guarded themselves well victory was, if not assured, probable. He still chafed at being benched.
Sleep no longer an option, Spike slouched on the couch perusing the telly’s offerings in an attempt to distract himself. Nothing held his interest in the endless parade of human misery and pettiness on view on daytime television. They considered him a monster, hm?
He debated calling Xander, but he didn’t want to tie up the phone when they needed communication lines open. Several attempts to sit down and type an email proved futile as restlessness sent him pacing after a few words, picking up random objects, only throwing a few of them.
Eventually, the phone rang.
“Well?” he answered.
“Just got the call from Giles,” Xander told him. “Angel’s soul is back where it belongs.”
“Good.” Spike sank into a chair, trying not to let too much relief slip into his voice. “Everyone okay, Will handle it all right?”
“Sounds like it got kind of hairy there for a little while. Some big, bad mystical force didn’t want Willow to put Angel’s soul back, but there’s not much that can stand up to Willow and Tara combined. The hellgod smack down twins prevailed, Angel’s all remorseful and tortured again, Giles didn’t get hit on the head and, as soon as they pack up the magical doodads, they‘re headed home.” Relief positively flooded Xander’s voice. “Looks like we have our yearly apocalypse averted with a minimum of fuss this time.”
“Oh you don’t get off that easy,” Spike said, warming to the teasing. “Come spring something worse will be knocking at the door.”
“But until then,” Xander clearly didn’t plan on being diverted, “life goes on. Giles told me about the invite for Christmas.”
Spike wasn’t sure why he was nervous. Of course, he wanted them to come, wanted to show off the nice apartment and the respect he’d earned. But Xander was a stubborn git and could throw a monkey wrench into his carefully laid plans. “And?” Spike asked cautiously.
“I was just wondering how much time I should ask off work. We get the week between Christmas and New Year’s, but I’m thinking it would be cheaper to fly up a few days earlier.” Xander’s matter of fact tone, like saying no never crossed his mind, made Spike grin like a prize fool, but he just couldn’t seem to care, besides there was no one there to see.
In the interests of disguising just how thrilled he was, he handled the logistics in a calm manner. “Probably right. There’s three bedrooms, I’m thinking that should be plenty of room. Get the best fare you can and let me know when you’re coming.”
“’I’ll find out what Dawn’s last day at school is, then check them out. Giles might have to wait, Christmas being a big shopping time.” Xander could be sitting in the living room debating dinner options with him. It was a bit surreal, considering all that had happened between them.
“Then he’ll get stuck with the couch, first come, first served,” Spike tried to inject a teasing note, but was afraid it fell flat.
“I’m, really, that is-” now Xander was the one sounding nervous. “I’m really looking forward to seeing you. I miss you.”
Did Xander actually think Spike was going to mock him for that? “Call me when you know your schedule.” Spike hung up before he could get all weepy. He might not mock Xander for his feelings, but letting Xander know how desperately he wanted to see them sounded like an abysmal idea.
Spike felt like a bit of human celebration so he headed to St. Mark’s Place. The city changed a lot while he was out west but St. Mark’s still sported the types of shops and hang outs he’d missed. He missed Manic Panic’s old store front, but progress meant he could order from them online. Still, he browsed music stores, searched the jewelry racks for an appropriate gift for Dawn, and stuck his head in St. Mark’s Comics with an eye for a Christmas present for Xander. He’d need to do some serious shopping for the whole gang if they were all headed this way. He considered his options over a slice of Ray’s pizza. Tonight was for window shopping, maybe picking up a few trinkets, he still had plenty of time.
A couple days later he was growling at his laptop as he read the subject line of Xander’s latest email.
Sent: December 10, 2002 7:51:36 PM
Subject: Please read the whole message before you do anything, okay?
Don’t be mad at anyone, I asked them not to tell you until I could get a handle on the situation. A few days ago, when the happy morons in LA realized sucking out Angel’s soul wasn’t such a good idea after all, Wesley broke Faith out of prison. She and Angel have some kind of weird bond thing going on and Wesley figured she could recapture him. Which she did, so go team.
Anyway, once the fireworks were over LA seemed a little close to the people looking for her, and we could use an actual slayer instead of a robot so, she came home with Giles and the girls.
EVERYTHING IS ALL RIGHT!
Faith and I have issues, but she actually tortured Wes and he broke her out of prison so I figured I can give her another chance at least. So I talked to her. She’s changed, well, not fundamentally, she still tries to put up the tough chick defense mode, but she’s a little more open with her vulnerabilities now. Seems she got some help while she was in the big house. Anyhow, I talked with her about the kind of weird history we have and she gave me the kind of sideways apology that someone expecting to get slapped down always seems to give. I told her that since my last two serious relationships were mass murderers I can cut her some slack. The upshot is that you don’t have to worry.
She’s going to man the Hellmouth while we’re in New York, so that’s a plus. We gave her Buffy’s old room, which makes me happier than catching sight of the bot recharging on Buffy’s bed. Anyhow, you can start yelling now.
Spike closed the email, picked up his cell and dialed the land line at home.
Usually, one of the girls answered that phone, but Xander must have anticipated his call because it was Xander’s voice saying, “Hello.”
“Let me talk to Faith,” Spike said in a perfectly calm and reasonable voice.
“Now Spike, there’s no need--”
“Put the Slayer on, Xander,” Spike cut him off without raising his voice.
Xander recognized an argument he wasn’t going to win and called Faith to the phone. He heard Xander tell her, “Spike wants to talk to you.” Spike was pleased he didn’t bother trying to get them to play nice.
“Hello.” Faith clearly had no idea why Spike wanted to talk to her, he’d change that for her.
“Slayer, you know who I am?” He didn’t snarl, there was no need to.
“You’re Xan’s boyfriend, and that is an image to keep a girl warm at night.” Spike could see what Xander meant about her hiding behind the tough act.
“Everyone in that house belongs to me, Slayer. I’ve killed two of your kind. Lay a hand on any of them, fail to protect them, and I’ll take my third. As far as what keeps you warm at night, as long as you don’t touch what’s mine you can imagine all you like. Are we clear?” He suspected Faith was the type of person who liked the rules nice and defined, whether she planned to abide by them or not.
“Crystal,” she replied, insolence lacing her voice. “Now, you listen to me. I’m going to do my job here and protect the Hellmouth. I’ll do it the way I think best without you, or anyone else, armchair quarterbacking me. Anytime you think you’re vamp enough to take me out you’re welcome to try. Are we clear?”
“We understand each other then. Let me talk to Xander.”
“Your boyfriend has a big mouth,” Faith bit out, followed by an “oof” as she handed the phone back over, forcefully.
“What did you say to her?” Xander pleaded.
“Something that needed to be said.” Spike finally allowed himself to smile. “She’s a little spitfire isn’t she?”
“Well she was certainly spitting fire when she left,” Xander said, indignant. “Seriously, don’t help. I think I’m going to be murdered in my sleep now.”
“She’s not going to hurt you. She probably wants a shot at me, which suits me just fine. You just make sure she keeps her hands to herself.”
“Not even close to a problem, Spike,” Xander reassured. “Sure, she’s hot and dangerous and treats sex like an Olympic sport, but she’s not my type.”
Certain all those terms applied to him, Spike let a little growl slip into his voice with his reply. “Exactly what is your type?”
“Loyal,” Xander replied without any pause or irony.
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