She placed the shamash in the center of the menorah, squishing the wax slightly into the little metal cup so that the candle would remain upright. The flames burned cheerfully, flickering slightly in a little breeze. But she didn’t feel very cheerful at all, and she cupped her chin in her hand and watched the candles burn.
She shouldn’t feel so gloomy. It wasn’t as if she was observant in her parents’ faith, or that she really expected any of her friends to remember the holiday and celebrate it with her. They never had before, and this year, what with Buffy busy with the baby and Dawn with school, and Giles nursing Lindsey, and Xander fighting demons with Spike in LA, well, she certainly hadn’t thought anyone was going to come eat latkes with her or anything. Still.
She was happy when the phone rang, derailing an entirely too-depressing train of thought. “Hello?” she said, maybe a little too hopefully.
“Red.” The deep English voice on the other end didn’t sound happy at all. In fact, he sounded downright distressed, and immediately all her internal alarms began to ring, because Spike didn’t usually dial her up for a chat. “Need you here, love. It’s Xan.”
Spike handed her a cup of steaming Earl Grey and watched as she patted her hair and clothing more or less back into place. Teleporting would probably be easier on her if she wore something a bit more practical than the wispy skirts and blouses she was prone to, he thought, but he didn’t say so out loud. She had a small sip of tea, took a deep breath, and set her face. “What’s wrong with him?” she asked.
Xander stopped pacing and sat next to Spike’s legs. Spike stroked the huge, furry head, knowing how much Xan fancied it when he was rubbed right behind the ears. Xan whined a bit, so quietly that the humans in the room likely didn’t hear. But Spike did, and it made his stomach lurch. Angel did, too. He frowned and crossed his arms over his chest.
“We were fighting this nasty thing—“
“An Ochus demon,” Kyna interrupted. “Nearly three meters tall. Purple blotches all over. Horrid breath.”
Spike shot her an impatient look and continued. “Yeah, it was an Ochus. Bloody hard to kill, they are. But the four of us were making good headway when Xan managed to get his paw stuck in one of its mouths. It bit him.”
The corners of Willow’s mouth turned down and she looked at Xander’s foot. Most of the swelling had gone down, but it was obviously still sore; Xan had been favoring it as he walked and was now not resting much of his weight on it. She looked as if she badly wanted to give him a hug and Xan likely would have allowed it if his alpha hadn’t been stroking the soft fur on the side of his muzzle.
She drank some more tea. “And now?” she asked.
Spike sighed. “Now he’s stuck furry. Can’t change back to human no matter how he tries.” He could tell a good bit of his own misery had crept into his voice, but he couldn’t help it. He fancied his boy as a boy—well, man, really—with clever hands and a mouth that could babble for hours. The wolf was fine enough when they were fighting something, or when they felt up for a bit of a hunt, or even when they both wanted a long, fast run. But back at home he wanted the human.
“How long has it been?” she asked.
It was Angel who answered. “Four days. And, uh, he’s been getting more…animal-like.”
Spike sighed again. Earlier in the day, when Angel and Spike had been arguing over what to do about the problem, Xander had snarled at Angel and then lifted a leg and deliberately pissed on Angel’s Berluti loafers. Angel had not been pleased.
The witch had gone pale. “So you think this bite has, has poisoned him?”
Spike nodded unhappily.
Her jaw set, and Spike was relieved to see the look of determination on her face. She was a stubborn bint, and that was just what they needed.
“Do you have a computer? Electronics don’t teleport well, so I couldn’t bring my laptop.”
“Yeah. Slayer here has one set up in the office.”
“Good. I need to do some research, okay?” She stood and walked closer, her free hand out as if she were approaching a strange dog. Xander sniffed at it and then licked it once before leaning his heavy head into Spike’s thigh. She bent at the knees and looked in his good eye. “I’ll find a way to fix it, Xan. Promise.”
Spike would have liked to go find something to beat up, some way to work out the frustration and tension that knotted his limbs and clenched his innards. But it was still daylight out, and even if he wouldn’t incinerate, the locals were bound to notice that the beast at his side was not exactly a sodding poodle. So instead Spike and Xander marched back and forth through the lobby until Angel threatened to decapitate them both. Xander ran down to the basement then, and came back up with a length of rope in his mouth. He shoved the end of it into Spike’s palm, and for half an hour or so they had a rousing game of tug. They were about equally matched for strength. Xander had the advantage of three good limbs on the ground, plus a lower center of gravity, but his paws tended to skid on the tile, while Spike’s Docs had better traction. So they alternated dragging each other about until they were both tired, and then collapsed against one another in a comforting heap against the round sofa.
Angel glowered. “I never thought I’d say this, but he’s actually less annoying when he’s human.”
Spike and Xander growled in unison, but without much heat.
Just then, Willow and Kyna came bursting out of the office. Kyna strode over to Angel and pulled him in for a quick snog, while Willow smiled at Spike and Xander. “We found some info,” she announced.
Spike and Xander disentangled themselves and stood. Xander perked his ears forward and Spike said, “Yeah? Spit it out.”
“Ochus demons have this venom. It freezes things in their supernatural form. If it had bitten you or Angel instead, you would’ve been stuck all bumpy and fangy.”
“What if it bit Kyna?” Angel demanded.
Willow made a face. “It wouldn’t have been pretty. I mean, Kyna, you’re pretty now and everything, but with the venom, that Slayer demony part of you would have shown.”
Angel looked grim and his bird chucked him under the chin.
Spike didn’t care about any of that. “So what do I have to do to sort him?” he asked.
The witch shook her head. “You can’t, Spike. Sorry. But I can. There’s a spell.” She bit at her lip. “Some of the ingredients are really hard to find. But if we don’t get them in time….”
“What? What happens if we don’t get them in time?”
“He’ll be a wolf forever. A real wolf, I think, without…without the Xander inside.”
Xander whined again, but Spike just wanted to howl.
It took nearly ninety minutes worth of emails and international phone calls to establish that their best bet was a shop in Santa Monica called Simply Charming. The owner was a friend of one of the members of Willow’s coven in England, and she said she had the elements that were needed for the enchantment. By then it was dusk, so Angel and Kyna drove Willow over there, while Spike found some blood for himself and a big raw chunk of meat for Xander. The two of them ate their supper quickly and efficiently in their room, while Spike tried not to think about how much he missed snagging French fries from Xander’s plate, or having a nice, spicy snog after the boy had been eating Thai food.
When Spike’s mug was rinsed clean and Xander had licked the gore from his muzzle with his long, pink tongue, Spike slumped on the loveseat, while Xander curled up under his feet. Spike kicked off his boots so he could feel the heat and the soft, slightly prickly pelt against his soles. Xander licked at his sore paw for a moment and then rested his chin on his good one, while Spike channel surfed, purposely lingering on the sci-fi shite his boy so fancied.
They both heard the front door when it slammed open, and they went loping down to the lobby.
Angel and the girls had their arms full of pink plastic bags, but they looked grim.
“What is it?” Spike asked. “I thought she had what you needed.”
“She did. But only enough for one dosage, Spike. The anti-Ochus spell has to be done once a day for two weeks.”
“So get more!”
“There isn’t any more, Spike,” Angel said. “Not in LA, not Orange County or San Diego—not anywhere from here to Mexico.”
Spike swore, loudly and in every language he could think of, until Willow put a small hand on his arm. “Sweetie, shh. Judith found some more griffin oil up in Modesto. The shop up there has plenty.”
Spike took a breath and tried to calm himself. “Right. Then you can just pop up there and—“
“Can’t. It’s not easy to translocate 5500 miles, you know. I’m sort of out of commission for a while, especially if I’m gonna have enough magics left to work the spell. Besides, the oil is pretty tricky stuff. It needs to be transported carefully.”
“Fine. Then we can get in Xan’s van and—“
“No. The spell’s tricky, too. I’m going to do the first dose tonight, before it’s too la—well, tonight. And moving him around right after isn’t a great idea.”
Angel put his bags down on the floor. “I’ll drive up there and get it. I can get there before sunrise and then come back again at sunset tomorrow. It’s only about 300 miles.”
Spike thought for a moment. “No. You drive like a little old lady, Peaches. I’ll go.”
There was some more discussion after that, but none of it really mattered. In the end, Spike got down on his knees and scratched under Xander’s chin, and Xander licked his face and whined. “I’ll be back before you know it, yeah? Try not to bite the pouf,” Spike whispered into his ear. Then he stood and patted Xander’s head one more time. “Take care with him,” he said to Willow.
“I will. I love him too, you know.”
He nodded at her, and then at Kyna and Angel. Angel made a pained face and then tossed him the keys to the Viper. Spike would have taken the car anyhow, but it was nice not to have to nick it. He patted his duster pocket to make sure he had the directions Willow had printed out for him, and then he left.
Lucky’s Magic Store was located in a slightly seedy stripmall, in between a sandwich shop and a shop that sold mobile phones. Someone had rung ahead and, despite the fact that it was past two in the morning as Spike pulled into the car park, Lucky was waiting to unlock the door and let him in. Lucky himself didn’t look anything like the usual proprietors of these establishments—nothing like the crystal and incense crowd that Spike had once snacked on. Lucky was well over six feet tall and likely over three hundred pounds of muscle and fat. He had a red bandana on his head and a grizzled beard on his chin. He was wearing faded blue jeans, a sleeveless Metallica t-shirt that showed off the many tattoos on his arms, and a black leather vest. He looked like he should have been leading a motorcycle gang, not selling charms and dried herbs.
Lucky gave Spike a long look, grunted, and let him inside the store. “Didn’t take you long to get here,” he said, moving behind the counter.
“’M in a hurry,” Spike responded.
“Well, you’re a lucky guy.” He held up a small plastic bottle full of blue-gray liquid. “Nobody else on the West Coast has more than a drop or two of this stuff. There’s a gal up in Tumwater who’ll try and sell it to you, but I wouldn’t buy it if I was you. It’s shit—cut with Christ knows what. More likely to blow you up than work the spell right.”
“I won’t need her, will I? Got yours.”
“Well, it’s a good thing I’ve got it. I know a guy in Boise who’s got some, but not near enough. You’d probably have to go to Kansas City, maybe even Chicago.”
Spike had had enough of Chicago. Hell, he’d had enough of Modesto. He just wanted to get home and get his boy cured. “How much?” he asked.
“Ten grand.” Spike choked and looked at the man incredulously. Lucky looked back, unabashed. “Hey, man, it’s all about supply and demand. ‘Course, if you wanna head to Chicago instead….”
Spike gave him his most evil glare, but then he fished his American Express card—well, Angel’s American Express card—out of his pocket and tossed it onto the counter. He really, really wished he could just eat the pillock.
Stomping back out to the car, the precious bottle stowed in his duster, Spike realized that he couldn’t possibly make it back to the Hyperion that morning. True, the Viper itself was necrotinted, but he’d have to stop for petrol on the way, and then he’d end up a small pile of ashes on the tarmac of a Shell station in Bakersfield or somewhere. He growled at himself and pulled out his phone.
“He’s fine,” Angel said as soon as he answered. “Willow did her thing and now he’s resting. I can wake him up if you want to talk to him, but—”
“Nah,” Spike sighed. “Just wanted to make sure the mojo didn’t turn him into a frog or something.”
“No, it just made him really hungry. Man, I thought he ate a lot when he was a teenager.”
Spike sighed with relief. He couldn’t be too bad off if he was eating well. “Right, then. I’m going to drive until the sun comes up, then find a place to lie low until tonight. Be good to him, yeah?” He’d hoped to sound threatening but ended up closer to pleading.
“Yeah, William. We’ll take good care of him.”
The highway was straight and flat and nearly empty, save for scattered lorries. Spike didn’t bother to drive fast this time—there was no point in risking a run-in with the police now—and he turned the radio up very loud and sang along with it.
He was slightly north of Bakersfield when the sky began to lighten a bit. He spied an old motor court, the Satellite Motor Hotel, and pulled the Viper to a stop there. He could have afforded better, of course, but this place was convenient to the highway and, in his experience, the staff in these kinds of establishments tended to ask very few questions.
In this case, the staff turned out to be a fat woman of indeterminate age, with stringy no-color hair and tiny, bright eyes. She’d been watching the telly, but when he entered the office she heaved herself upright with an aggrieved sigh and stared at him balefully. “Yeah?” she demanded.
“Need a room, love.”
The endearment only made her glower. “Check out time’s eleven.”
“I need the room until five.”
She scowled even deeper. “I’ll have to charge you for two nights.”
She watched as he peeled out a fifty and two twenties from the small wad of bills he kept in one of his duster pockets. He set them on the grimy Formica counter and then she snatched them away, as if he might change his mind. Then she thrust a bedraggled book in front of him. “Name and address,” she grunted.
He smiled and wrote Randy Giles on the first blank line, then Buffy’s old Sunnydale address. She looked at it suspiciously, but then handed over a key with a green plastic tag attached. The number five was scrawled on it in black ink. “Ta,” he said, but she’d already turned back to her home shopping program.
The room was as depressing as he’d expected. Orange carpeting, badly stained. Slightly warped wood paneling on the walls, and a painting of a landscape that looked like it had been made by a colorblind kindergartener. Lumpy bed with a green and brown bedspread on it. The bathroom was tiny. The drains were moldy and the sink was pulled out slightly from the wall. Still, he’d stayed in worse places before, and the single window was covered in heavy green draperies that would keep out the sun.
He’d brought a small cooler with him with a packet of blood in it. He sat on the bed and drank the stuff cold, then shoved the bedspread onto the floor and curled up on the scratchy sheets, boots, duster, clothing and all. He fell asleep almost immediately and dreamed of his Xander.
He was awakened suddenly when the door crashed open. Before he could manage to do more than sit up, three men came bursting in, all of them brandishing handguns. One of them shot him and he screamed as his knee shattered. He lurched upward nonetheless, but then another blast hit him in the other leg and he crashed to the ground, unable to stand. A third bullet tore through his belly. The pain from that one was beyond excruciating and he couldn’t do much more than writhe and howl.
The men stood over for him a moment, watching. Then two of them held him to the floor—he was in too much pain to put up much of a struggle—while the other patted him down. “Here they are!” he crowed triumphantly, holding the keys to the Viper up high.
“Great. But Crystal says he’s got cash, too,” another of the men said.
So the first bloke pawed at him some more until he found Spike’s money.
“I can’t believe the fucker’s still alive,” said one of them. “Shoot him in the head.”
Spike instantly went very still. He didn’t know exactly what a bullet to the brain would do to a vampire, but he didn’t much fancy finding out. He stopped breathing and tried to look as convincingly dead as he could. It wasn’t all that hard, really, and in fact he felt unconsciousness tugging at him.
“Let’s just get him the fuck out of here before the cops show up,” somebody said.
They lifted him and he had to nearly bite through his tongue to keep from crying out as his wounds were jostled. They carried him outside, and the exposed bits of his skin instantly began to sizzle in the morning sun. He was trying to muster enough strength to kick himself free when he was tossed into the boot of a car. It smelled of fast food and dirt. Then the top was slammed shut and he was at least in the safety of darkness once again. The engine roared to life and he felt the car moving. The car hit a bump—a curb, perhaps—and the impact sent a jolt of agony through his battered body that caused blackness to finally come rushing over him.
He awoke an indefinite time later, to find himself in a nightmare. He was buried with dirt in his eyes and ears and mouth, dirt pinning him in place, no oxygen to fill his lungs. It was 1880 again and he was a fledge newly awakened in a coffin, and he was consumed with panic. He flailed frantically, choking and kicking, and only when he broke through to the surface and his face was seared by a ray of light did he begin to think rationally. He immediately covered himself again with soil and then lay there, panting shallowly, trying to become more lucid.
It was not the nineteenth century, he was not lying in some pauper’s cemetery in London, and he was not a newborn demon. It was well into the twenty-first century. The quick glimpse he’d had before reburying himself was of snow-covered evergreens. And he was a souled vampire whose lover was waiting for him. But his knees were only partially mended and his stomach wasn’t in much better shape, and he couldn’t go anywhere until the sun set.
As he lay there, growling and swearing quietly, he was able to move his arm enough to pat cautiously at his pockets. He heaved an enormous sigh of relief when his hand closed around the small bottle of griffin oil. It was unbroken and he could still feel the contents sloshing around inside. But more exploration brought more swearing as he realized his mobile phone was gone. He couldn’t even be certain how long he’d been unconscious, although the hunger he was feeling suggested it had been longer than just a few hours.
It was a very long afternoon.
As soon as the sun dropped low enough on the horizon to no longer pose a threat, Spike emerged from the makeshift grave. He was in the middle of a forest, it appeared. A fresh layer of snow, three or four inches deep, lay over the sloping ground. His sensitive ears could pick up no sounds other than those of the woods at dusk—birds settling in for the night, small creatures rustling in the brush, dollops of wet snow plopping down from branches.
He tried to stand, but only fell to the cold ground, moaning with pain. Xander, oh Christ, Xander. How was Spike going to help him now?
He counted them, each one driving him deeper into despair. During the days he covered himself with dirt again, and six nights is how long it took for Spike to catch enough squirrels and mice to get enough blood to enable his body to mend. They tasted disgusting. He thought he’d had his last rodent after that horrible time in Chicago’s sewers, but he’d been wrong. But they were his only option, at least until he was strong enough that one day he managed to kill a deer instead. That deer was old and wouldn’t have made it through the winter, but it gave him what he needed to finally find the road he knew had to be nearby. It was just two deep gouges in the soil, likely a logging or fire service access road, but he followed it down the hill to a gravel road, and then followed that to one that was paved.
He had to jog several miles in the dark until he found a small cluster of houses. They appeared to be weekend cabins and most of them looked cold and empty, but one of them had a white Suburban parked in front of it. Spike would have liked to try to ring the Hyperion, but of course he couldn’t enter any of these homes without an invitation, and he doubted the owners of the SUV would be enthusiastic about letting him in. Aside from the fact that it was the middle of the night, he knew he must look like something from a horror movie, covered in blood and filth.
Right, then. It only took him a few moments and several twinges from his sodding conscience to get the truck running. It was harder to hotwire cars now than it had been in the old days, but he was still good at it. He slipped into the driver’s seat and eased the vehicle out of the driveway, not wanting to wake up the people inside. He didn’t turn on the headlights and speed up until he was a way down the road.
Of course, he had no bloody idea where he was, but he reckoned civilization—LA’s version of it, anyhow—must be to the West, so that was the direction he drove. The road dipped and turned and twisted through the trees like a demented snake, and he went for miles and miles before he came to more houses. There was a small sign there—Three Rivers, it said—but that didn’t help much. He’d never heard of it. So he continued onward, and the signs of human habitation became more frequent. He followed the road around a lake, through another few tiny settlements, and finally saw a sign that informed him that Visalia was fifteen miles ahead. That, at least, was helpful, and he heaved a huge sigh, studiously ignoring the voice in his head that told him he was already far, far too late.
It was nearly two hundred miles from Visalia to LA. Spike made it in barely over two hours, pulling up in front of the Hyperion just as the sky was beginning to turn orange. He was smoking when he lurched in through the front door.
The lobby was empty. But Spike could smell Xander, and so he ran towards the stairs and then up, desperate for the sight of him. He knew that due to his carelessness, Xander would now be trapped forever in his wolf form, and it broke Spike’s heart. But he still loved his Xan, still wanted to bury his face in Xander’s fur and feel that strong heartbeat against his own dead chest.
Spike burst in through the door of his and Xander’s suite. Several things happened then, very fast.
Willow—who was on the bed—screamed and then yelled something that froze him in his tracks and sent him crashing to the carpet.
A very large, one-eyed wolf leapt up from its resting place on the floor, snarled, and landed on top of Spike’s body.
And in the hallway, two pairs of footsteps came thundering up the stairs and then down the hall in his direction.
Spike looked up at them all, helpless blinking the only movement he could make.
“Oh, goddess!” Willow said.
Xander didn’t move from Spike’s chest, but stopped growling and instead began licking vigorously at Spike’s filthy face and snuffling at the places where the gunshots had been.
Angel was stark naked. He swore and grabbed a blanket off the bed and wrapped it around himself. Kyna was wearing a frilly green nighty that likely would have got Spike leering, if he didn’t have a face full of upset werewolf, and if he wasn’t fairly certain the Slayer would dust him even without her evident lack of a stake.
“What the fuck happened to you?!” Angel shouted.
Spike made a muffled sound—he couldn’t move his mouth at all—and then Willow blushed and said something in Latin and his paralysis was gone. Spike gently pushed Xander off of himself enough so that he could sit up, but Xander still sprawled over his lap.
“I’m sorry,” Spike cried, ignoring the pouf and resting his forehead against his beloved’s. “I’m so bloody sorry, Xan. I tried to—Christ, it doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. Still love you, don’t care if you’re furry. We can still hunt together, and…I’m still your alpha, yeah? Will you forgive me?”
Xander licked Spike’s face.
“What happened?” Willow asked, more softly than Angel. She knelt beside Spike and placed a hand on his shoulder.
Spike wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his arm. “I got the oil and I was on my way back. But I was stupid, and these blokes—just humans, thieves—shot me and buried me and it took me all this time to get home. Still have the bloody oil.” He laughed bitterly and removed the bottle from his pocket, then pressed it into Willow’s hand. “There you go. All you need, now that it’s too late.”
She looked at the bottle for a moment and then stood and set it on a table. “That’s great, Spike,” she said. “There’s plenty there for the last six doses.”
He shook his head to clear it. “Six? But—you said fourteen, and—”
“It is fourteen,” Angel interrupted. “He’s already had eight.”
“But…how? Did you find more after all?” Spike frowned in confusion and Xander licked his cheek again.
Willow shook her head. “No. That was it. We were looking for you, and the cops called two days ago when they found the Viper at a chop shop in Stockton, but there was no sign of you at all. Angel and Kyna have been back and forth between here and Modesto a few times, and—”
“Wait!” Spike held a hand up. They could go over the details of his disappearance later. Right now he needed to know what was going on with his Xander. “You said you only had enough oil for one day, but now you’re telling me you’ve done the spell eight times. How?”
Willow knelt beside him again. Her face was glowing with happiness. “It was a miracle!” Her voice was soft with awe. “I don’t know how—none of us do; Giles and I have been researching it but we’ve come up with zilch. But one day’s worth of oil lasted for eight. We just ran out last night.”
The last treatment—the fourteenth night—was also Christmas day. Hanukkah was over already, of course, but Judith had come over to help Willow finish up the spell, and then she and Willow had made latkes and Xander had eaten so many that he was now stretched across Spike’s lap, groaning theatrically.
“I’m never gonna eat again,” he moaned.
Spike snorted and tapped the tip of Xander’s nose. “Yes, you will, berk. I’ll wager an hour from now you’ll be into those jelly donuts Judith brought.”
From the other loveseat, the witches giggled their agreement. Judith had brought over some spellbooks and they were pretending to read them over together, when they were actually so busy flirting with each other that even Kyna and Angel, huddled comfortably together on the floor under a huge wool blanket, were rolling their eyes.
“This sucks a lot less than holidays when I was a kid,” Xander said. “Not a single fistfight among us and no broken dishes. And Tony and Jessica sure as hell never gave me a such great presents.” He smiled happily, no doubt dreaming of the many hours he’d be spending watching Dr. Who, Stargate, and Battlestar Galactica on Blue-Ray.
Spike bent his head down low. “Got some more pressies for you, pet. To open when we’re alone,” he whispered.
Xander’s eyes went wide and his mouth split in a wolfish grin.
|Feed the Author|