The Meanness of the World
On the road to Grand Island:
Barreling down the long stretch of endless road, Spike's Viper flew past the expansive sea of corn. The stalks were swaying to a rhythm that only they and the wind determined.
He drove Mad Max style--one hand on the wheel, the other clasping his flask protectively. Once again, he had to hand it to his vampire constitution's ability to handle copious amounts of alcohol. It was hard for him to feel drunk.
Well, that wasn't quite true. He was drunk.
He was intoxicated by the lilting sounds of a harmonica played in desolate tones and the unmistakable and weatherworn voice of Bruce Springsteen singing Nebraska.
How appropriate! Considering that Nebraska was exactly the state that he, Xander, Mena the Vampire Slayer, and Antiquities Expert Haley Rayne were currently gallivanting across, looking for ancient relics. Like something out of a bloody Indiana Jones movie, Spike thought...
But for now, Spike was alone with the open road. It wasn't exactly the way the others would have had it. He grimaced as he remembered the conversation, or rather, the argument a few hours earlier.
"I need some time off, Harris."
"Spike, we're on a mission."
"Yeah, well the mission will still be there when I get back. These last adventures in Cleveland, Ann Arbor, and Memphis really burned me big."
"Buffy?" Harris had smirked.
"No, not that! That went well really well. But I'm starting to lose hair and I'm getting a rash. Hell, I'm even back on the 'Coffin Nail Habit' I told Fred I'd quit. I'm undead, Harris. Undead creatures aren't supposed to get rashes or suffer hair loss. Not without a vengeance demon around."
In hindsight, he probably shouldn't have said that last part. But it went like that. Xander kept saying no and listing his reasons. Spike kept countering him. If Spike thought about how civilized they had suddenly become in their time together, it gave him a headache. But, eventually, Spike chalked it up to visiting family. His cousin, Nigel Hawthorne, had a farm halfway between Lincoln and Grand Island.
Spike almost got Xander to give in when he told him he'd do some recon while he was at the farm. Heck, with any luck maybe he could actually find the damn relic. Spike had his doubts though. They really hadn't been doing too well in the artifacts department lately. But, when Spike reminded Xander that one of his childhood TV heroes was raised in Nebraska, he suddenly agreed that a little sightseeing might not be a bad thing.
Xander had once told Spike that he was a long-time fan of
the Tonight Show. When it was good, he had made a point to emphasize.
Although his family never really did get along, for sixty minutes after
the local news, they did. When Ed McMahon drew out his famous intro, Doc
played the jaunty theme, and then Johnny would be there with his self-effacing
smile, for a magical hour the Harris family actually agreed on something.
Now here Spike was, listening to Bruce, and pushing ninety.
No one ever would have believed it in the demon circles, and Spike had never told a soul or anything soulless, for that matter, but for three weeks, Spike had been the biggest Springsteen fan. He and Dru had driven up and down the East Coast because it had reminded Spike of home, especially, New Jersey, strangely enough. Where others saw belching factories, Spike saw fond reminders of the Industrial Revolution. While William had a genteel upbringing, Spike admired the working class.
So it seemed natural that Spike and Dru ended up in Asbury Park at the 'Stone Pony Pub'. Spike went in for a pint of good brew and fresh blood.
But considering the crowd that congregated at the stage, Spike decided to take in the show. Somewhere after the three hour mark, Spike joined in with the throng, shouting "Broooooooce!" at the top of his lungs. Poor Dru looked at him as if she'd finally met her match in the insane department.
Spike was so jazzed he didn't kill anyone that night, save for the bouncer because he was rude, and Irish. But he wouldn't touch Bruce or the E-Street Band. The only one he regretted not killing was Max Weinberg because he sold out on that O'Brien show. You can always find a good drummer.
He thought back to a conversation from another age. Something about drums and triangles and a feisty little blonde. He smiled, but shook it off.
Not thinking about her, he vowed. Not now...
So three weeks later, he and Dru ended up in the Big Apple, the city that never sleeps. That was Spike's reasoning behind it. What better place for a vampire to be? They went to another pub, this one was called CBGBs, to get another pint of beer and blood. They checked out another band, the Ramones. And from that moment, Spike converted from Bruce to the Buzzcocks. He saw all the acts Television, The New York Dolls, Lou Reed. Stayed the hell away from Talking Heads-- "Bleeding wiry guy looks like a poofter, and he sings weird." Made Dru wear a blonde wig a la Debbie Harry for awhile when they fucked up against chain-link fences.
See, Buffy? You weren't the only one. Dammit, Spike! he chastised himself. Not thinking about her!
But every once in a while, like Angel with Manilow, Spike would go back to good old Bruce. And sure enough, he found himself humming along to the words.
Spike winced as he realized why he loved the song. The humans had James Dean back in the fifties. For vampires, it was Charlie Starkweather. He used to masturbate to Capote's In Cold Blood.
Spike and Dru had been here before to retrace the path of death Starkweather trod. At each place Dru said she could feel the cries of his victims, and that of course made her hot. Naturally, they would shag each other senseless at each Starkweather shrine.
But...things were different now. The soul had seen to that. He took another swig. Finally, he saw it in the distance. A brown two-story house alongside a big red barn. The Hawthorne Farm.
Norfolk Country Inn:
Looking up at the dilapidated carport that covered the Norfolk Country Inn's entrance, Haley's lip curled. "Well " she commented, "Isn't this charming?"
Xander rolled his eyes as he took out their bags. "Nothing wrong with simple. Let's not be snobby."
Her attention went from the Inn to Xander. She looked mildly amused. "Having standards isn't snobbery."
Mena walked up beside Xander and pinched his arm, effectively getting the Watcher's attention. "Ow! What was that for?"
Leaning down to grab her backpack, she whispered, "Be nice, Xander. We have to work together." She went into the Inn without them.
Haley heard this exchange. "Yes, despite the accommodations, our primary mission is to find the artifact, which requires civility between us." She looked to Xander, "You do know the meaning of the word?"
Straightening, Xander looked her in the eye. "Yes, Ms. Rayne, I do know what it means."
He grabbed up a few of the bags, leaving hers on the sidewalk. "But knowing what it means and pulling it off are two different things." He walked by her, "Think we can pull it off?"
Haley looked down at her bags and shook her head in frustration. "And he says he knows what civility means." She grabbed her bags from the curb, only to drop them with the others by the check-in counter. She tapped Xander on the shoulder. "You seem to have forgotten my bags out there."
"Oh, I didn't forget them. I figured someone as tough as yourself could carry her own bags." He handed the clerk the credit card. "Reservation for Harris. Two rooms, two double beds. Adjoining."
"Adjoining? Please, Xander, is that really necessary?"
Xander looked at her, exasperated that she could not grasp the concept that he, too, was Mena's Watcher and as such, he should be where she could get to him at a moment's notice. "I'm a Watcher, too, Haley. We both need to be close to Mena."
He leaned in closer so that Mena and the desk clerk would be left out of the conversation. "Don't worry; I will ALWAYS knock first."
The desk clerk cleared his throat. "UHH...sir? Here is your credit card and your key cards. Your room numbers are #10 and #11. Would you sign this please?" Taking the cards, Xander signed the receipt and accepted his copy.
"Thank you very much, sir. You have a great evening." he said with a huge Xander smile. Turning, he found himself face to face with Haley, her hand out.
Xander placed her and Mena's key card in her hand, and without another word, she cocked her eyebrow and took off for the room. "What, not even a thank you? Oh, and you forgot your bags," he mock-yelled.
She looked over her shoulder, a pithy remark on her tongue, and accidentally collided with a man leaving his room. Attempting to catch her, he unbalanced them both, and they fell in a tangle of arms and legs.
Xander and Mena quickly rushed over. Xander extended a hand to the man, while Mena helped Haley, being careful to not expose her Slayer strength and toss Haley across the room.
"You okay?" Mena asked, stooping again to pick up the key card Haley had dropped.
"I'm fine," Haley replied, slightly embarrassed that her plan to make Xander get her bags ended up causing a scene. She straightened and turned to the man with a bright smile. "I'm terribly sorry, are you alright?"
The man was momentarily dumbfounded at her physical charm and then smiled in a very masculine way. "Yeah, being knocked down by a beautiful woman isn't really a hardship."
Again Xander rolled his eyes, while Mena looked on with interest. Haley just laughed, flattered but weary. "Well, again I'm very sorry." She started towards the check-in counter to retrieve her bags, the man trailing behind her. Mena and Xander exchanged an amused glance and went in search of their rooms.
The rooms were easily found, second floor, first hall to the right. Xander inserted the key in the lock; hearing the click; he stepped inside the door.
"Haley should be here in a minute or so, depending on how long that guy feels like making moon-eyes at her. I am going to unpack before dinner. Will you be okay by yourself?"
Mena shook her head as she walked into the room. "Will the Slayer be okay alone for a few minutes? Hmmm I don't know," she replied with sarcasm. "I'll tell you what. After Spike's weird moodiness, six hours in the car, and you and Haley baiting each other a few minutes alone would be heaven. Now go away."
He grinned and shut the door. Mena lay down on her back and felt her muscles start to unknot after being cramped in the car all day. She closed her eyes, only to hear Haley's laugh in the hall.
"Thank you for bringing these up. It was nice to meet you, despite the falling down."
The man chuckled as Mena opened the door. "My pleasure, ma'am. Maybe we'll run into each other again sometime." He gave a quick smile to Mena and walked back down the hall.
Haley cleared her throat and turned into the room.
Mena sat on the bed closest to the adjoining room door and asked, "Which bed do you prefer, Haley? It doesn't matter to me."
"Umm, I think I will have the one nearest the window, if that is okay with you?" Setting her bags at the foot of her bed, she began to dig for her toiletries. "I think I'll freshen up a bit, nothing like being knocked down to flatten a girl's hair."
Mena giggled and laid back down. "Very true, I think I'd like to rest a bit before dinner."
"That's fine I'll wake you in a bit," Haley said as she entered the bathroom. Mena didn't reply. Haley looked back at her, and she saw the girl was already asleep. Haley smiled and quietly went into the bathroom, silently turning the lights off behind her.
He'd faced down a god.
He'd fought for a soul.
He'd worn an amulet that burned him from the inside out.
And he fought the Senior Partners, but mostly he put up with Angel without losing his sanity. Couldn't say the same for his grandsire.
Yet Spike was as petrified as he'd ever felt standing outside his cousin's door. Fortunately, his cousin's wife Holly made it easy for him, when she opened the door and stood staring at him, first in surprise and then with warm recognition.
Spike never could fathom how an elegantly beautiful woman could be plagued with chronic bouts of vomiting. But such was the plight of Frovilox Demons.
Still, he had to admit, Nigel had more patience than he could ever have.
"Hmmm, must be a new rule. Vampires are allergic to telephones. You should have called, William."
"I know, Holly," Spike winced. "Just found myself in your neck of the woods or cornfield and decided to drop by. Nigel around?"
Holly sighed tiredly with a strained patience as she regarded the platinum-haired figure she once knew as Nigel's meek cousin William, the sweetest young man she had ever known. Unfortunately, he had possessed the backbone of a piece of balsa wood.
Funny, how time could change people, especially after centuries.
"He's probably still driving his tractor, finishing up. You could probably catch him before he comes in."
She left the door open.
"Would you like to come in?"
Spike grinned. "Naw, I'll go surprise him."
He regarded her for a minute and couldn't resist kissing her cheek. Holly responded with an embarrassed grin.
"Good seeing you, Holly."
Spike shrank into the shadows, brandishing his devilish smirk.
It was so easy it was almost pathetic.
Nigel parked his tractor and shut off the floodlights as he stepped down from his John Deere. Gingerly he peeked in at the motor and did some more fine tuning. But overall he loved his trusty machine. Purring when it was docile and roaring to life when it was hauling a disk, cultivator, or planter. In this case, Nigel had gone through the corn, separating it from the stalks. Looked like another good season.
We'll have to celebrate with some corn on the cob, he thought; then he paused, feeling a presence that filled him with an uneasy dread. The pit in his stomach clenched. Butterflies. Nervous about something.
He peered through the inner guts of his metal baby, but saw nothing. As an afterthought, he picked up a heavy wrench and walked to the front edge, ready to use the tool as a weapon.
He cast a cautious look around the corner. Nothing.
With a self-deprecating laugh, he shrugged it off, turning back to the house. Suddenly, a bleached vamp-face emitting a menacing growl leapt out of the shadows toward him.
Nigel's wide eyes immediately narrowed.
"Time still hasn't been kind to your looks, I see," he said in a crisp, upper class British accent. He'd kept his aristocratic upbringing despite the fact that he was clad in overalls that had been through every farm chore imaginable and a dusty cap that was in dire need of a cleaning.
Spike returned his face back to human form, looking very self-satisfied.
"I stand by my statement," Nigel said. Of all the times for him to show up, he thought.
"You could have called, you know."
"Yeah, well, according to your lovely wife, vampires are allergic to phones. She always was the smarter of you two," Spike shot back with a grin.
Nigel laughed, shaking his head. "Well, I suppose you have to show up in the middle of the night, what with being a vampire and all."
"So, I don't even get a 'Hey, Will' or 'Hey, cuz', you thoughtless git?"
Nigel rolled his eyes. "Out here you want to precede 'git' with 'go on'."
"Roger that. Avoid the intimidating British slang."
"Forgive my manners, cousin," Nigel said. He then took Spike into his arms and kissed him on the cheek, causing Spike to squirm in embarrassed disgust.
"Hey, now! Get off of me, you poof!"
Nigel immediately let go and clapped Spike on the shoulder. "It's good to see you, Will."
Spike smiled. Yep, this was turning out to be a bloody brilliant idea.
Norfolk Country Inn:
As Xander stood under the hot spray of the shower, he zoned out; back to the conversation with Spike just before the blond vamp took off on his own.
"Undead creatures aren't supposed to get rashes or suffer hair loss. Not without a Vengeance Demon."
He put his face under the stream of water as Spike's words echoed in his head. He sighed, turned off the water, slung a towel around his hips and stepped out of the tub.
"I wonder if I'll ever be able to hear the words Vengeance Demon, without being tormented by could-have-been, and only-if's?"
As he left the bathroom, Haley came in through the adjoining door. Both blushed.
Haley raised her eyebrow at him. "I thought you might be " She trailed off as her sight trailed downward. "Hungry ?"
Xander just stood there, not moving a muscle. "I think I might be now."
"There is a restaurant here. Should I make a reservation?"
"We are in Nebraska, Ms. Rayne. Reservations for dinner are probably not needed."
Haley started backing towards the door. "Well I'll go wake Mena. Meet you in 20 minutes." She backed through the open door and shut it.
"I said I'd always knock first. Doesn't she think maybe she should, too?" he wondered aloud, used to having Spike boarding up with him.
It didn't take him very long to get dressed as he had his clothes laid out already. He could hear the girls on the other side of the door chatting quite nicely.
"Guess I'll go down and order the drinks for when they arrive." He shook his head, "And I gotta quit talking to myself." He made sure he had his key card in his pocket before pulling the door shut with a quiet click and headed to the restaurant.
Xander walked into the restaurant and chose a table that could accommodate them all. He sat down and grabbed a menu from between the napkin holder and the salt and pepper shakers. A waitress immediately approached him.
"Are you ready to order, sir?"
"Umm, no, ma'am, I have two others joining me shortly. But could I get a diet cola and two red wines, please?"
"Right away, sir," she chirped as she half-walked, half-danced away from the table.
He perused the menu with its typical Midwestern American fare. After a few minutes went by, the waitress returned with the drinks.
"There you go, sir " the waitress looked towards the door at the sound of voices. "Oh, looks like your company has arrived." Xander saw Mena was waving like crazy at him.
"Ahh, so they have. Thank you very much."
He stood up and waved back at her. "Come on over, ladies. Make yourself comfy. I've taken the liberty of ordering beverages for all of us. Diet cola for you, Mena, and red wine for us, Ms. Rayne. I do hope that is alright."
Mena smiled her thanks at him. "It is fine with me. Thank you."
Haley sipped from her glass and grimaced. "Is this the best red wine they have here? It is mediocre at best."
Xander was a little miffed that his gesture of good will wasn't appreciated. "Well, excuse us, Ms. Rayne! This is a diner at a hotel in Norfolk, Nebraska. The Raja Rani is a ways behind us, so we'll just have to make do, okay?"
Hearing the exchange, the waitress chose that exact moment to show up and take their orders.
"What will you guys have tonight?" she said, looking closely at Haley.
Xander smiled at the younger girl. "I will have a giant cheese burger with fries. Mena?"
"I think I will have the same," Mena said. "Ms. Rayne?" she asked.
"Do you have anything on this menu that is not cooked in grease?"
"Ma'am, we have a very tasty baked chicken breast with vegetables. It also comes with your choice of a soup or salad. Is that more to your liking?"
"It sounds perfect. Thank you ever so much." Giving the waitress one of her more genuine smiles, she took another sip of her wine.
Mena started suddenly, "That's it, the wine. Red wine looks an awful lot like blood. Speaking of blood, I wonder if Spike is okay? I mean, I don't think he should have gone off on his own like that. I miss him."
At Xander's hurt look she corrected herself. "Oh, Xander, you're sitting right here. I don't have to miss you. It is just that Spike was acting so weird after he got back from Memphis. I just don't know if it's really the best time for him to be out there on his own."
Xander shrugged. "Well, creature of the night he's not really good at playing with others. And as long as he stays away from pointy wooden things, he should be fine."
Mena turned to Haley. "What do you think, Ms. Rayne? Do you think he is okay out there on his own?"
Surprised at being asked her opinion of something, she didn't answer right away.
"Yes, Mena, I think he is just fine out there by himself. He has been taking care of himself for quite a long while now, if the Watcher's Diaries are correct." Her thoughts were interrupted when the waitress returned with their food.
"Thanks so much," Xander said as the waitress left.
Haley continued, "Now that we've established that our champion should be fine, I think we need to discuss the mission. We should get started as soon as possible."
Xander grimaced. "Yeah, but we did agree I would get to see the Carson exhibit at the museum. We should probably do that before we get deeper into the mission. That way we don't get started and then interrupt it."
Mena backed Xander up, "So, what do you say we go to the museum first thing in the morning, and then we'll start looking for the artifact?"
Haley looked between the two. "Okay, we will visit the museum first and then get straight to the details of the mission. Is that agreed upon by all of us?"
Xander smiled his biggest grin. "Yes, ma'am. It is."
Mena took in her Watcher's goofy grin. "Thanks, Ms. Rayne. I love history, and the Carson Exhibit will make him deliriously happy."
Once they all were in agreement, the conversation then turned to less important matters as they finished their dinner and prepared for the next day's adventures.
"So, you were wearing a big shiny necklace?"
"Kind of like a cross between a what'd you say? A Christmas tree star and the Chrysler Building?"
Holly snorted up some milk through her nose, chuckling with wheezy laughter.
"I think Will said it was more like a Chrysler hood ornament, honey."
"I stand by what I said," Nigel replied haughtily, drinking some freshly brewed tea. "It may have indeed been shaped like the Chrysler Building."
"Well, as long as you don't believe it was the exact size of the Chrysler Building. Physics may not apply in some supernatural laws, but that's just plain ridiculous. Do we need more tea, gents? I'll brew some more, but right now I need to head to the bathroom."
"Sure. Just take your time, love," Spike said. He got up to get himself some pig's blood which was warming up on the stove.
"Straight from the pig, that blood is," Nigel said. "We don't believe in pasteurization out here in the sticks. Well," he added grinning mischievously, "We don't really believe in drinking blood either, but since you're our guest "
"Thank you," Spike replied dryly. "You and Holly got a right nice thing going on here with the farm and everything."
Nigel smiled and shrugged, hiding his blushing face with a quick sip of tea.
Spike waited for the words to come to him before he spoke.
"In fact, it looks exactly like "
Nigel smiled. "I think the old duffer would have liked it, too. I missed Da's place so I thought I could try to bring some of it back here. Not sure whether it worked or not."
Spike couldn't help but smile. Nigel was always the idealist. "I'm sure he would have been proud as hell of you."
Nigel brushed it off as Spike artfully changed the subject.
"So what have they been saying about me amongst the demon world?"
Nigel sighed. "Half of Holly's friends think you're a Benedict Arnold, and the other half think you're Sam Malone."
Spike's forehead crinkled. "And how do you figure that?"
Nigel shrugged. "Well, let's see. You've had relations with Drusilla. Beautiful girl, by the way, just a bit un-hinged. Still, she was your sire and you were together for over a century, so no big surprise there. Then you take up with another vampire of distinctly inferior status "
Nigel paused from his tirade and looked at his cousin like he had suddenly turned into Cletus Yokel. "Her name was Harmony?" he asked in distaste.
"The sex wasn't bad," Spike muttered as he heard Holly stifle another snort.
"And finally you have an affair with a Slayer that would make a great Bertolucci film or a late night, straight-to-video Cinemax flick."
"You know about films like those?" Spike blinked in surprise.
"I'm married, William. I'm not dead. The point is, cousin, you've been around."
"Yeah, well looking at the setup you and Holly have, maybe I'm a bit jealous of domesticity," Spike said softly.
"Lately I've been "
Before he could finish, Holly came in with more blood and tea. Both were steaming and giving off delectably powerful scents.
Spike's mouth watered as he took them both. Holly took a seat on her husband's lap.
Here now, missy," Nigel said, adopting a thick Cockney accent. "What're you on about now?"
"Nothing, good sir, that you couldn't remedy," she coquettishly teased.
"Aye, lass! And don't you ever forget it," Nigel husked. Taking his sweet time and teasing in the way that had become instinctual, Nigel and Holly kissed hotly. Ravenously, she lowered her mouth to his neck and journeyed to his ear, chuckling as she nibbled on it.
"Well, if you'll excuse me, I think I've had enough goodies for the "
Nigel waved a harried farewell to Spike in mid-smooch.
"And I think my eyeballs need gouging," Spike muttered, taking the hint and leaving Nigel and Holly to themselves.
He could feel its eyes on him as soon as he rounded the stairway.
Turning around, he saw it at the far end of the hall. A Native American wolf mask.
Spike felt himself drawn to it. He was mesmerized by the object's strength and mystery. He sensed the wolf's essence in the mask, its life force penetrating him, its spirit calling to him. He felt the demon within stirring, as though waiting to pounce.
Stare enough at the beast
That had to be it. That had to be the artifact his team sought. However, now wasn't the time to badger Nigel and Holly about it.
Spike briefly closed his eyes, remembering how close the demon was to coming out in Memphis. He climbed up the stairs, headed for the guest room and tried not to look back.
But his peripheral vision picked up something he couldn't resist looking at.
Nigel and Holly were dancing a Victorian waltz, poised and straight as beams. Then Nigel stopped and perched a guitar on his knee as Holly sat at his feet.
In fractured rhythm, with a clumsy approximation of three quarter time, Nigel crooned and strummed on his instrument.
"Oh, dear God," Spike lamented. "My cuz is a Bright Eyes fan."
Holly immediately enveloped her husband into her arms, wiping away some stray tears as she did so.
Spike skedaddled out of 'love fest central'; although he liked the sentiment, Spike hated it that Nigel was singing a song from a pretentious and whiney guy who thought he was the next Dylan. Spike had seen Dylan, thank you very much, when he first started in Greenwich Village.
He was never pretentious, at least. He may have been an awful poet, but at least he never had delusions well, at least not like Dru.
No, William was never pretentious...
Spike let the fond memories take him over...
He was awful. They were right as always, his critics. They were simpletons surely, but right all the same.
And then Nigel, bless his heart, wasn't making it any easier.
"Rowing, sewing, flowing, going "
"Yes, well done."
"Mowing, growing, lowing "
"Bravo! Good, I think I have it "
"Crow sing. Slow thing. My love is a slow thing of which only the crow sings."
"Bloody shut it, already!" William begged.
Oh, yes. Nigel was quite amused over that one.
"I know why the caged bird sings," Nigel muttered to himself.
"Right," William answered unimpressed. "Because it's trapped. Touching. Now stop fooling around and help me with this. It's important."
"Can't help feeling the same way. England holds no adventure for me anymore," Nigel mused.
William finally looked up from his poem.
"Nigel, you can't possibly be thinking about--"
"It takes but one boat ride, cuz. One jaunt across the ocean and I'm there. America. Land of opportunity. Wildness and danger. Excitement."
He leered with peeked out tongue. "Frontier lasses!"
"Nigel, it's uncivilized wilderness filled with savages and more savages. Total waste of time and effort. Now...where was I? Oh, yes...My heart increases grows gets big '"
"But it's there, Will," Nigel argued. "Ripe for the taking. I'd like for a Hawthorne to finally conquer the New World."
William only sighed and returned to his poetry. "Well, for right now let's just worry about your cousin conquering an Underwood."
He threw down his pen in frustration.
"I'm a daft fool! I could never win her heart!"
"William, when are you going to just stop thinking and do it? It's a good poem you've got there. Now go and prove that to her."
William finally smiled and closed his journal. "I think I've got what I need here, Nigel. What would I ever do without you?"
"Oh, most likely curl up in a ball, suck your thumb, and weep."
William punched him on the arm.
"You know the song, Will. Like we always sang it?"
"Who's the bravest of the brave?" Nigel asked.
"Willy," his cousin answered sheepishly.
"Who's a knight and not a knave?"
"Whose life I'd gladly save?"
"Who'll be with me at me grave?"
"Bloody right." Nigel beamed at him. "Now, let's be off for some wine and dumplings. And give me all the details of your meeting with dear Cecily, especially if you manage to get the corset unlaced."
William punched his arm again, and together they made their way back to the Hawthorne Manor.
It was getting worse.
They were supposed to work. The warlock doctor assured her it was supposed to work.
And yet here she was puking into the toilet, heaving up the gastric juices that had been the bane of her existence for as long as she could remember.
They were supposed to work.
Eventually, Holly's fits ended, and she lay curled up into a ball, her nightgown soaked with sweat. Her face expended more salty liquid as she wordlessly sobbed. It took effort to do so. She felt like wailing.
They were supposed to work!
Her cries slowly subsided, and she forced herself into a sitting position. Rocking had always calmed her down, even before the vomiting began when she was blissfully unaware of her demonic heritage. Ignorance. It had always been a highly underrated quality as far back as she could remember...
It had begun one day as she walked home from school. She had felt this volcanic urge lurch from her belly. Something was coming up. Worse, it wanted to come up. The alternative would have been disastrous. A torn stomach lining would have been the least of it. But suddenly her stomach had become a gas tank about to burst. Save for the small opening, where if she were only to let it hang open, the pressure would be relieved, and the nightmare would be over.
So she had heaved. And heaved! And heaved!
It was absurd to think this happened to her constantly. If this behavior had been part of a comedy act, it might actually have been considered funny. In fact, Nigel would have busted a gut at the Monty Python ring it had to it. The only thing missing was the wafer-thin dinner mint.
No, there was no pattern. It would happen when she was with friends, her mum, at church. She would run frantically for a private space, someplace with a door and lock, and she'd do her business. She'd try hard not to lose it. Sometimes she even cursed God. She was tempted to tell her mother. In the end she kept it to herself. The embarrassment was too much to bear. Soon, she was among the outcast, just like the ones who were cruelly being whispered about in the cafes and public gatherings. Occasionally, she'd hear a snicker, but more often than not, she'd catch a glimpse of those goddamned looks.
And then she had seen him, this boyish cad who charmed his way into her heart. If he was Mephistopheles, she wanted more than anything to be his Faust.
That's Mrs. Faust.
And he in turn had seemed to be smitten with her. And for the brief moments she had before her affliction, 'her curse', it seemed like he might be interested, that this wasn't just a sick dream concocted out of the ether from a hateful god.
She had thrown up on their third meeting.
Usually, her suitors fled. Or, rather, she would flee with some excuse. But this time, this strangely besotted fool didn't. He held her hair to the side as she vomited in loud, belching, inhuman noises. And still, he just calmly held her hair.
Finally, she inched a ways from him, turning her eyes away, waiting for his departure. But he simply slid his arms around her. It had been an odd sensation to just melt into his arms and let the tears fall, but not an unwelcome one.
That's not to say things didn't change. They did. She told him when they started and how often the episodes would come. And Nigel Hawthorne put his resources to use in helping Holly find a cure. So it was research, research, round the clock.
Finally, the day came when the research reached into other weirder areas.
"How do you know such things?" she had asked him.
"My cousin got turned into a vampire. He knows things," he had replied.
"I'd like to meet him," she decided.
When Holly eventually did meet Spike, she couldn't believe it was the same bumbling poet that she had occasionally seen around London.
"Who's this, then?" Spike sneered.
"Play nice, Will. This is Miss Holly Dashwood."
Spike rolled his eyes as he shook her hand. After an uncomfortable pause, he introduced Drusilla.
"Dru. Holly. Holly. Dru," he muttered. "So what seems to be the trouble, cuz?"
Nigel pulled Spike to the side, as Spike calmly warned Dru not to kill Holly. It didn't stop her ravenous eyes from scoping the other woman out though.
"So she's upset about a case of the 'upchucks', eh? What makes you think it's not natural?"
"She vomits more than what should be natural. For anyone." Nigel looked back nervously at Drusilla.
"So, what would you have me do about it?"
"You know people, Will. Things. Maybe we can divine what's happened to her."
Spike ran his hand through his shaggy, unkempt hair. Nigel still marveled at the changes in him. Of course, he still wept like William when he had told Nigel what he had done to his mother.
"And why should I do that?"
"We're family," Nigel stated.
"Yeah, well, undead and all. Reborn to the night. Creature of the dark. I got no time for trivial mortal concerns. Least of all hers."
Spike sauntered back to his sire, but Nigel grabbed his arm.
"I knew what you became, Will, and I let you exist. Even when I knew the moral thing to do was to send a demon like you straight to Hell."
Spike grabbed Nigel by the throat and bared his fangs.
"Watch it, mate. What makes you think I won't kill you?"
"Because it would kill you just as much!" Nigel said baring his own teeth. "And you know it."
Spike let him go, then clapped him on the back, chortling as he resumed human guise.
"All right, Nigel. I'll look into this puking problem. But after this, I'm out. No more family concerns. I got my own family now." Spike cocked his head. "That is, unless you and Holly Heaver want to join Dru and me. No more puking, that's for sure."
"Just see what you can find," Nigel said evenly.
True to his word, Spike did find out. Holly was a Frivolix Demon. Frivolix blood flowed way back in the Dashwood line.
Yet Nigel stayed at Holly's side. A couple of years later they wed in the blood bonding ceremony of her heritage. Spike attended while Drusilla was excused from the event.
"But, Spike, I like little flowers," she had said of the flower girls.
Frivolix Demons had incredibly long life spans. Through the bonding ritual, they were able to pass that trait on to their mates. And so Nigel and Holly found they could live decades without noticeable aging. Then centuries.
But the demon blood still flowed and grew stronger as did her vomiting. By the 1980's, Nigel had become well-acquainted with the supernatural world and in desperation, had sought out a warlock doctor to help his wife in any way possible.
Naturally, Spike came to protest.
"Look, you don't know what's going to happen to her if you go to this bloke!"
"If he can make Holly better, that's all that matters," Nigel said, as he sat with Holly on the divan. "The mage told me it was the latest in modern medicine."
Spike scoffed. "Modern medicine? Is that modern in Surrey or the dimension lined with walls of blood?"
"She's all I've got, Will," Nigel sighed, turning to look into Holly's eyes.
Spike shook his head. "Well, at least you stopped with the weekly sacrifices and elderberries."
Nigel laughed, grateful for the distraction. "Well, you know elderberries "
"Yep. The smell. Ghastly." Spike's eyes lit up in a mischievous glint. "Your mother was a hamster," he bellowed in a high-pitched screechy voice.
"And your father smelled of elderberries!" they both roared at the same time, letting their anxieties out in a laughing scream.
"If you two start in on the Parrot Sketch, sweets, I'm divorcing you," Holly said rolling her exasperated eyes.
So Nigel want to the dimension lined with walls of blood and got the pills. Dosage was one per day, no more. They made love the entire first night. No interruptions.
Now...Holly stared forlornly at the bottle she held in her hands. It's only one more pill, she rationalized. Only one.
She poured two out and swallowed them. Then quietly crept back into her bed.
Elkhorn Valley Museum:
They got an early start the next morning, arriving just as the Elkhorn Valley Museum opened. It looked somewhat like a school, square and brick.
As they got out of the car, Xander finished his dissertation on the funniest moments of Johnny Carson.
"So everyone always remembers it as Johnny almost got hit in the crotch. But the ax thrower actually hit the crotch of a target figure; Johnny just flinched like it got him."
Haley stifled a yawn, "Fascinating truly. Do you think perhaps we could find a decent coffee house after the museum?"
They lined up at the ticket counter. Xander didn't notice that Haley wasn't as excited as he and Mena were. "Coffee sure. Do you think they'll have pictures of him back in his school days? I wonder if he was as big of a dork as I was?"
"Two adults and one student," he said to the counter attendant.
"Do you think that's even possible?" Mena quipped. She practically bounced, eager for educational fun.
Haley regarded him closely, "Were you not so smooth in grade school, Xander?" She wondered then, if he had ever been.
"Not so much, but I did have every woman on campus in love with me at one time." Taking the tickets, he led them to the entrance. "Of course that was a spell." Grinning roguishly, he held open the door for Mena and Haley.
The Carson exhibit was prominently featured off to the left of the main room. Xander hurried in that direction, leaving Mena and Haley considering the museum map. There were several exhibits and galleries to explore.
"Hmm," Mena considered the options. "There's the Karl and Ida Stefan Gallery. It says here that Karl Stefan was a US senator."
"Oh, but look at this. They have a Native American Artifact exhibit in the LaBarre Gallery," Haley countered. "Maybe we can find something that will help us in our mission."
"Sure. Let's go!" As they passed the Carson exhibit, they heard Xander laughing at a Carson monologue and asking if he could pose with the Johnny mannequin.
"I think he'll be fine," Haley said with amusement. "Do you know much about Native American history?"
"I've read some. It's difficult to research, as the tribes and the regions they occupied changed constantly."
They entered the gallery. Unlike the other exhibits, which were cleverly displayed and filled with people, the gallery simply contained display cases and was totally devoid of patrons.
Remembering the brief conversation about Indians they'd had in the Raja Rani, Haley asked, "Did Xander ever tell you about what happened to him with the Chumash Indian he encountered?"
"No, and I know there's more to the story than he's letting on." Assessing a case of weapons, she exclaimed, "Nice tomahawk, might make for good slaying."
Haley dismissed it, "A stake is plenty efficient." Looking over a case of turquoise jewelry, she said, "There was a Slayer who was raised by a Native American tribe."
"I've read of her." Mena moved on to a collection of medicine bags. "Haley come look at this."
Haley moved across the room to Mena's side, her eyes following the direction of her gaze.
One of the medicine bags looked different from the others. It seemed ancient and almost out of place, radiating with some mysterious, nurturing power.
"Do you sense it?" Mena asked.
Haley looked up at her with excitement. Then she began searching the display case, looking for a way to get in. Getting frustrated, she unceremoniously destroyed the glass, much to Mena's annoyance.
"Haley!" Mena looked around to see if anyone heard the noise.
"This is important, Mena. We don't have time to go through the proper channels." She picked up the card that accompanied the bag and placed them both carefully in her purse.
"Let's go get Xander and get out of here quickly!" She hurried from the room, leaving Mena shaking her head.
This new Watcher is certainly going to be fun, she thought.
Sighing, she went to catch up with Haley and Xander.
Xander was on his way to find Haley and Mena. He had been able to see the Carson exhibit, and he was quite happy now, all except for the gnawing hunger. Which was why he was in search of the two people who at this very minute barreled towards him and showed no sign that they had any intention of stopping.
At least not any time before they flatten me into the carpet, he thought to himself.
"Ladies! What is the ru " Xander was cut off mid-question as Haley took one arm, effectively spinning the confused Watcher around towards the exit. Mena came up on the other side, grabbed the other arm, and they both half-ran, half-walked as they dragged poor, bewildered Xander out of the exit.
Once outside the entrance of the museum, Xander came to a dead stop. He jerked both females to a shaky stop beside him. He shook off their hands and threw his hands on his hips.
I just know I must look like Willow with this stance. He stood there looking somewhat out of sorts.
"Would either one of you like to explain to me why we just made a 'fast' getaway from the Elkhorn Valley Museum & Research Center? You act like the Devil himself was on your trail."
Haley looked through the doorway to make sure that no one was following them. She was not satisfied that the museum staff would not eventually send security if they suspected them of anything shady.
"I wouldn't go quite that far, but...let's just get into the SUV and get moving? I promise to explain everything soon. Now, please, let's get going... Mena."
As she said the girl's name, she nodded towards Xander's arm. They each grabbed one of Xander's arms and set off across the parking lot. They arrived at the SUV in no time.
"Okay, I am going to let this go for now, but later you two will explain why you were dragging me around and acting so strange. We can talk about this after I get something to eat, because if we don't, I'm going to starve to death."
No one said anything, but both of the girls tried for all they were worth to hide their laughter at the thought of Xander ever starving to death. How could he do that? He ate all the time.
All three of them climbed into the SUV with Xander at the wheel. As the SUV left the parking lot, Haley looked back nervously at the museum then joined the others in looking for a suitable place to stop for lunch.
Xander pulled into the first restaurant he saw, hoping he'd:
He looked up at the sign as they stopped at a Denny's Restaurant and thought to himself, Well, this will just have to do. The food is pretty good here. After he pulled into a space along the front of the restaurant, he put the vehicle in park and turned off the engine.
"Here we are, ladies," he said. "Plenty of food and a safe distance far away from the museum. Should we get inside so we can order and make with the explanations?"
Without another word, he jumped out of the SUV, strode up to the door and stood there, waiting for them. When they finally made their way up there, Xander gave them a funny look and remarked sarcastically, "Boy, for being in such a hurry back there, you sure are taking your time now."
Mena gave him a worried look on her way up to him. Haley hadn't looked at him at all; she just rushed past and into the restaurant.
Well okay then, he thought. Judging by their body language and faces, this must be quite the story.
Xander shrugged his shoulders and decided that lunch was the most important thing on his agenda. First things first, he figured. Then they can tell me their story. He hoped that it wasn't something he was going to regret in the end, but he had a feeling that it probably would be. He could just feel it in his bones.
He walked in and stood beside his Slayer and the other Watcher. Standing there beside Haley he couldn't help but wonder to himself, One Watcher for this mission would have been just fine. I wonder why Giles sent her along. To keep an eye on me? Why? Am I not a good enough Watcher? Do they want to replace me with Haley as Mena's Watcher?
He snapped out of his mental babble, as Willow would have called it, when the very friendly waitress asked, "Smoking or non-smoking?"
That brought Mena's head up, and she locked eyes with Xander. He knew exactly what she had been thinking about. Or rather who.
Suddenly it occurred to Xander that he wasn't the only one who had noticed that Spike had picked up his 'ciggie' habit again. But then, there wasn't much about Spike that Mena or Haley didn't notice anyway. Mena missed Spike but hadn't said anything for fear of hurting Xander's feelings. He knew she idolized the vamp.
"Non-smoking, please," he answered.
"Okay, table for three, please follow me please." She led them to a table not too far away from the entrance. "Here are your menus; can I get you something to drink while you look those over?"
Xander knew that there was no liquor served here, so he resigned himself to soda.
"How about a Dr. Pepper, please? Large," he said.
Mena decided that sounded fine to her, but she was into this Diet Cola thing.
"Do you have Diet Dr. Pepper?" she asked. "If so, I will have that. Large, also, please?"
The waitress smiled at Mena, appreciating the perfect manners this beautiful young woman exhibited.
"We sure do, Sweetie. Large Diet Dr. Pepper coming up. For you, ma'am?" she asked as she looked over to Haley.
"I think I will have a large iced tea, please? With lemon if you have it. Thank you," Haley replied.
The waitress was impressed and grateful. She was used to dealing with the late night truckers and workmen who came in, and polite conversation was refreshing.
"Okay, so I have one large Dr. Pepper, one large Diet Dr. Pepper, and a large Iced Tea with lemon. Will that be all for now?" she asked.
Haley looked at her and smiled. "Yes, that should do it, until we have looked the menu over a bit."
A few minutes later, she brought the drinks over to them. "Are you folks ready to order? Or do you need a few more minutes?"
Xander smiled. "No, I think we are ready. I will have that giant Double Bacon Cheeseburger with Fries. Mena?"
"I will have the same thing. I need to keep my strength up," she added shyly. "What about you, Haley?"
"I will have the salad with Broiled Chicken, Lite Ranch dressing on the side, please?"
"Okay, that will be two giant Double Bacon Cheeseburgers with Fries and a salad with Broiled Chicken with Lite Ranch dressing on the side. Will that be all for now?"
Xander watched as Mena eyed the desserts but looked up to the waitress and quickly replied, "That is all for now, thanks."
"Okay, thanks, be out ASAP." Then she left to work another table.
It wasn't very long before the waitress had their food in front of them, and they dug into the meal with relish. Soon after they started eating, Mena mentioned the medicine bag that they had found in the museum. She had a very strange look on her face when she said the word "found", and Xander decided he'd better just let them tell him instead of going off half-cocked.
"So---ladies---what exactly do you mean by found?" he asked cautiously. "And does that have something to do with the reason you dragged me from the museum?"
At this point, Haley reached down beside her chair and retrieved her purse. She decided to take responsibility for the explanation. She couldn't let Mena take the blame for this, when she really had nothing to do with it. Mena had just been there.
"Xander, here is what we found. I took the bag from the exhibit in the museum," she said coyly as she pulled the ancient artifact from her purse and held it before him.
"You did wha ?" he gasped, then stopped to get a sip of his drink.
He had become so upset that he had choked on a French fry. When he had himself under control again he looked at Mena with one of those withering stares that basically said I am so disappointed in you.
Then Haley chimed in again. "Mena had nothing to do with it. So please don't be cross with her. Considering the dire circumstances, I didn't think that we really had the time to go through proper legal channels to take possession of the bag. It is part of a collection."
Xander looked at Mena again as he asked anxiously. "Mena, is this true? You didn't have anything to do with the theft, and make no mistake, Haley; it is THEFT, of this bag? You didn't borrow it. It isn't loaned unless you had asked for permission to take possession of it before said possession took place!"
He gestured wildly with his hands since he didn't know what else to do to get his point across.
Mena sat there and looked from her Watcher to Haley. She was totally ashamed of herself even though she hadn't taken the bag or agreed with how Haley had gotten it.
"Yes, it is true. I didn't have anything to do with it until after Haley had broken the glass case and ran from the room in search of you. That is when I left the room. I caught up to her, and when we found you in the hall, heading in our direction, we dragged you out of the museum for the safety of us all and the safety and success of this mission."
Xander's mouth just gaped open and closed like a fish out of water. Then he sputtered "You smashed the glass case to get this?"
Again he gestured wildly with his hands, but now his mouth formed words to go along with it.
"Do you know that you could have had security on to you in a second, Ms. Raynes, and then where would we be? Well---actually, Mena and I would be here eating lunch. You on the other hand." He pointed straight to Haley. "You would be in jail right about now, being booked for robbery or any other trumped up charges that they might add! I just cannot believe that a Watcher would stoop to stealing. No matter what. You know you should always go through the proper channels. You could inadvertently expose the entire council with your shenanigans!"
Xander took a deep breath to try and calm down.
"Okay, okay, we won't get anywhere with me sitting here lecturing you further," he conceded. "I think you get the point. Is there anything else? It says a collection, so where is the rest of it? Wait, you didn't steal that, too, did you?"
By this time, Haley looked more than a little ashamed, but was pretty miffed at him for lecturing her in front of Mena, and in public no less. It was a good thing that there weren't many diners at that time of the day, and by now, everyone had pretty much left their section of the restaurant.
"We think that the Pawnee Indians have something to do with the artifact we are searching for, "Haley continued as she read the card that was attached to the bag, first to herself then aloud to Xander, who still stared at her in disbelief.
Haley ignored him and read on, "The card says, 'On loan from Allen Atkins' Pawnee Artifacts Collection.' I suggest we call Mr. Giles and get more information from him on this matter since I have no idea who this Allen Atkins is. And no, we didn't steal the rest of the Collection. It was not there. Only the bag was."
Xander hated to admit it, but he knew she was right about that at least. He just wasn't sure he wanted Giles to find out so soon about the theft of the medicine bag. There was no use putting it off though, especially since there hadn't been that many people in the museum with them at the time of the theft. They certainly could be easily described, and the authorities would be looking for them and the bag.
Reluctantly he agreed and said, "Yeah, we better get that out of the way right now. We need his input and need some research done just to continue with this mission."
He pulled out a cell phone from his shirt pocket and dialed the number for Giles' cell phone. Xander waited for the connection to be made and then, as nonchalantly as possible said "Hey, it is me. We need a bit of research and information."
Giles smiled on his end of the phone. "Sure, if there is anything I can do, just ask."
Xander took a deep breath and continued, "Okay, here's the deal. We need to find the Allen Atkins Pawnee Artifacts Collection. Haley said she doesn't know who he is, which led to this phone call."
Giles even sounded enthusiastic when he answered, "Ahhh, Allen Atkins. An old acquaintance, actually. We crossed paths at the British Museum, I believe, and compared notes on some important archeological finds relating to the paranormal."
"So where can we find him?" Xander prompted impatiently as he rolled his eyes. There was no time for memory lane.
Giles sighed, pondering the impatience of youth. "You need to go to the Genoa Historical Museum. Genoa is the Pawnee capital of Nebraska; as I recall, that was his area of expertise."
"Okay, we'll head that way. And by the way, we might have a slight problem." Xander said this last part very fast, hoping Giles would not catch it. Of course, Giles did catch it.
"What is it, Xander?" Giles snapped.
"Well, we kinda took the artifact from the museum," he said softly into the phone.
Giles shook his head before he even heard what Xander meant. "What do you mean took?" he grumbled.
"Well, we we stole it," Xander finally stuttered out.
"You stole it? I can't believe you would let Spike do such a thing!" Giles exclaimed in exasperation and all but screeched through the phone into Xander's delicate ear drum.
After a few seconds of loud silence, Xander regained his hearing and his courage and informed Giles, "It wasn't Spike, it was Haley. And Spike isn't with us; he's visiting his cousin."
Giles was shocked and---angry. "So you've stolen from a museum, and you've divided your team." It wasn't a question, but a statement. "Honestly, Xander, I thought after everything you've been through you'd realize the importance of what it is we're trying to accomplish."
Xander just knew Giles was furiously polishing his glasses on the other end of the line. He immediately went on the defensive. "Listen, Giles... whatever happened in Memphis apparently spun Spike's head, and he took off for a while. Maybe if I knew what happened there I might have been able to help him deal and convince him to stay. You wanna fill me in?"
"Xander, as far as I know, their mission was a success," Giles replied, a little taken aback at Xander's tone.
Xander pffft'd and made it clear he didn't buy Giles' explanation. "Well, apparently something didn't go according to plan, because Mr. Good-Fang is M.I.A."
Giles sat there for a couple seconds thinking. He was not pleased with Xander's news. "Hmm, I'll see if Andrew can shed any light onto the situation, but again I need to emphasize the importance of your mission. It's imperative that you do not fail."
"We won't. Heading to Genoa as soon as we check out," Xander stated very confidently.
"Good, I'll see what I can do about the consequences of Haley's actions. Keep me posted, Xander." he said with that stuffy, authoritative tone in his voice.
"I will," Xander promised and hung up with a grin on his face. "So, looks like we're going to Genoa, ladies."
"Did he know what happened to Spike in Memphis?" Mena asked anxiously?
Xander shrugged his shoulders apologetically. "Not a clue, but he said he'd ask Andrew."
"Like he'll know anything," Haley quipped. "It's doubtful Spike would confide in him."
Mena frowned, clearly worried about Spike. Again. Then she brightened. "Maybe we should call him? Just to make sure he is okay?" she asked with a pleading look on her face.
Who could resist a face like that? Haley asked herself. "Of course, you may ring him. In fact, we'll call him on the way to Genoa, was it? Yes, Genoa. Should be about a two hour drive."
Xander finished his meal and stood up. As he headed off towards the men's room, he teased the two women as he warned them, "You two promise not to steal anything while I'm away?"
Both of them looked away, slightly ashamed.
"Good." He walked away laughing, as the waitress brought them the bill.
"Just thought you'd like this before you went on your way," she said as she put the check on the table and walked back to the register.
"Thank you," Haley said quietly.
Mena turned a little red.
The girls approached the register as Xander returned from the men's room.
"So, ladies?" he asked in a fairly chipper voice, "are we ready to get going?"
At their nod, he handed the waitress his credit card and signed the receipt that was handed to him. He tucked his copy away in his wallet.
"Let's get going, then."
They left the restaurant, jumped in the SUV, and drove off, leaving the parking lot of the restaurant and the museum far behind.
On the road to Genoa:
As soon as they were heading south on Highway 81, Mena started in on Xander, "So can I call Spike now?"
"Now?" Xander questioned looking at her in the rear view mirror. "Don't you think that it's a little early to call a creature of the night?"
"There's no time like the present." Haley dug through her purse. "I'm certain that Spike would like to speak to Mena regardless of the time of day." She passed her phone to Mena.
"Don't worry, Xander, I'll tell him you said 'hi'." She quickly dialed and pressed the phone against her ear.
"Just remind him that we've got a world that needs saving here. This isn't the time to be milking cows or whatever it is that they do on the farm."
Haley scoffed at that. "Like William the Bloody would ever milk a cow!"
"Whatever he's doing, it's not helping us find this artifact," Xander grumbled as he passed an RV that was going only 55.
"So there are people out there who drive more slowly than you . I didn't think it was possible." Haley shot a sideways glance at the speedometer, which read just under 65.
"Safety first, my lady, safety first."
"He didn't answer so I left a message," Mena said. She looked disappointed, but thought that Spike would enjoy the recording of Haley complaining about Xander's driving. "How far is it to Genoa?"
"Only about an hour of so from here. We might even make it before the museum closes."
Mena was slightly apprehensive, "Do you think it will be okay for us to go to another museum this soon? Maybe we should wait until we hear back from Mr. Giles?"
Haley turned to face Mena. "Don't worry, Mena. I know my actions seemed rash, but I assure you that the Council will protect us from any unpleasant consequences."
Xander laughed. "Sure, wouldn't want a Slayer in jail again."
"That's not helpful, Xander." Haley gave him a disapproving look.
"No, it's really not," he agreed.
They lapsed into a worried silence for the remainder of the trip.
"You always yank down so hard on everything?"
Spike threw his arms up in frustration. He had been at this tedious nightmare since after breakfast. Nigel had set him up in the barn to do some chores. Right now, his biggest chore was getting the cow to let down her milk.
"Maybe if I pull harder it will make the milk come out faster," he griped.
"No, it means she'll kick your fangs out along with the rest of your teeth. You'll be defanged," Nigel sighed with strained patience.
"Been there, done that," Spike muttered.
"Yes, but you'll be moving from metaphor to literal, and I'm not pitching in for pointy dentures."
"Well, what would you suggest?"
"You have to be gentle with it. Coax the milk out, don't force it."
Gingerly, Spike squeezed and tugged on the cow's teat. Pacing himself and staying calm and patient, he was embarrasingly elated when the milk finally squirted out.
Nigel laughed and slapped Spike on the back. "There! You see, Will. I knew you could do it."
Spike kept it up, very pleased with himself, but he wasn't about to let Nigel know that.
"I'm used to 'em being smaller."
"Don't tell me you and Dru--"
He couldn't stop his eyes from rolling if he wanted to. "Look, it was a thing "
"So how would you describe Drusilla and yourself?"
Nigel sat down and chuckled. "You think anyone would have guessed how our lives would have turned out?"
"If they did, I'd use them to help me predict a few World Cups," Spike said distractedly.
"No, it's just I thought I was going to be the one to get the excitement, you know?" Nigel gazed thoughtfully at the barn door. "Instead, I'm Mr. Homebody Domesticus while you turned into Herr Nihilist Der Nosferatu."
"Is there a point to all this supernaturally-endowed wit?" Spike groused, still concentrating on the milking.
"Hey, it got Holly the pills, didn't it? Seriously, it seems like I'm the one who grew up out of the two of us. If anything, I thought it'd be you."
For the time being, Spike ignored the cow.
"Now see here, mate. I did a lot more growing up then you could ever conceive of," Spike protested.
"Oh, yeah, that's rich. You grew up. You're a vampire, Will! You don't age. You don't have to worry about disease or wearing down. You're an immortal, for God's sake!"
"So are you."
"But I have a wife. I have concerns. I have a farm, responsibilities. You? It's an adventure. It's saving the world. You may have a soul, and you may be a legend. But I also know you're still the oldest living member of the Sid Vicious Fan Club."
"Hey!" Spike exclaimed. "I founded that club!"
"No, you ate the founder," Nigel reminded him. "There's a big difference. But you have everything. Everything. You have strength, speed, agility. I'd kill to have what you have."
"What's stopping you?" Spike finally asked.
"My wife," Nigel admitted, swallowing uncomfortably.
Spike turned away from his cousin for a minute. Something was bubbling up within him. Something he tried to keep clamped down. But it hurt to keep it buried.
"Look, mate Nigel it's not all it's cracked up to be, believe me." Spike perched himself on the fence.
"You're always moving, Will." Nigel went on. "Your feet are never planted. They're always traipsing off somewhere, getting into another scrape. Another stupid but exhilarating scrape. What you do is important on a cosmic level. I could never be part of something like that."
For the first time since he'd arrived at Nigel's, Spike pulled out a fag and lit it. Casting a guilty look towards Heaven, he hoped Fred wasn't frowning down on him for breaking his promise. Maybe she'd cut him a little slack this time though. The drag he took seemed to go on for an eternity before he spoke.
"Sometimes they're not, you know, my feet. Sometimes they don't move. Sometimes they just stay planted. Immobile. They can run. They can kick. But sometimes they're just frozen. You can take on a demon or two, maybe even five at once if you're real good, but thirty? Fifty? That's a different matter. An altogether different... Sometimes you can't even see the enemy; you're just buried, flailing. Can't make sense of anything. Torsos? Limbs? All feel the same. All you can do is fight to break free. And when you do, everything you knew is gone. Everyone you knew is gone. All that's left is dust, debris, and blood. Blood spilled by friend and foe alike - all looks the same."
Spike took a deep breath and went on.
"Then you search for that one familiar face, the one that's been there through the centuries. And sure you hated him, but sometimes that's good, too, you know? And you wish you could get one last jab in, one last chance to see that bulgy brow crease and throb. But you never get the chance to say anything. Hear anything. Never hear him berate you, piss you off, never get the chance to beat him senseless, put him through pain. 'Cause that's life, too. Pain."
Spike's eyes caught Nigel's as he continued. "Pain is life. And maybe you think you'll be lucky, that once you'll hear him say, 'You done good. You made me proud.' And you like to think that. You really do. But you let yourself be buried. You let yourself become immobile. They were stronger than you. Everyone is stronger than you once or twice in your life, but the trick is you don't let that faze you. You keep fighting. And you "
Spike's shoulders slumped, and he shook his head slightly. "I didn't. I let him die. I failed him. William the Bloody blew it."
"So how's that, then?" he asked bitterly. "That enough to fuel your envy? Because I don't wish that upon anyone. To let down the guy you hate to admit you respected, maybe loved. Whose last image of you is being buried, for basically meeting his extremely low expectations of you?"
Nigel gave Spike a sympathetic look, but it didn't seem to help.
"No, you got it easy," Spike said firmly. "You're gonna win. You got her. That's the reality. Me? I'm gone. It doesn't matter if I end up with Bu with anyone. Sooner or later my number is coming. I can't stop that. I'm gonna lose."
Spike surged to his feet and faced his cousin. "The farmers are the real winners, you silly sod! Haven't you learned anything from the movies? So don't feel sorry for yourself around me ever again! You hear me? Ever!"
Realizing what he was doing, Spike quickly threw his cigarette down, snuffed it, and allowed his feet to carry him into the shadows, burying him there.
Nigel started after him but found his feet were carrying him out the door and into the afternoon sunlight.
Pawnee Indian Museum:
They arrived at the museum shortly after entering Genoa. After a superb example of parallel parking, Xander turned to regard Mena and Haley in careful consideration.
"So I'm thinking that maybe it isn't such a good idea for you two to go inside."
"But," Mena whined,"I was really looking forward to seeing all there is to learn about inside."
"Xander, I hardly think that they would know about what happened. I mean, do you think that the museum in Norfolk just called every museum in Nebraska to let them know?"
"I'm not saying that... it's just that..." he searched for the right words. "Two beautiful woman fleeing the scene of a crime is just the kind of thing that catches a man's eye. And hey, better off safe than that other less pleasant thing."
"Xander, why don't we try going in together? If we get any strange looks, Mena and I will go wait in the SUV."
He quickly countered. "How about I go inside, and if I don't get any weird looks, I'll come and get you two?"
"You're hardly an expert on historical artifacts," Haley scoffed.
"Exactly, so if there is trouble, I can be Mr. Expendable. You know we can't afford to lose you two."
A look of realization crossed Mena's face. "Xander, surely you can't expect us to just let you take the blame for this?"
"Mena," Haley interjected, "he actually makes sense. It would serve no purpose for all of us to be arrested and not be able to find the artifact."
"Okay, it's settled, then," He got out of the SUV before either of them could say anything more.
The museum in Genoa was considerably older and danker than the one in Norfolk. "It's a Giles type of place," he muttered as he crossed the threshold.
As the whole museum encompassed only two rooms, the Pawnee Artifact Section was easily found. As he looked over the collection, a tall gray haired man in a suit approached him.
"Mr. Harris." Xander froze as the man gave him a slow once over. "You match your description rather well."
When Xander didn't come out immediately to get them, Haley and Mena started to worry.
"I wonder why he hasn't come to get us yet," Mena asked.
Haley frowned at Mena's reflection. "Maybe he's found something."
"Maybe. But then maybe he's in trouble."
"Xander is completely capable of taking care of himself." Haley shifted in her seat to get a better view of the door. "See, there he is now." Her voice died in her throat when she realized that he wasn't alone.
"What? What is wrong?" Following Haley's gaze, Mena's mouth just sort of dropped open. She whispered, "Oh, no."
A man escorted Xander to the car, then stood expectantly on the passenger side of the SUV.
Soberly, Xander opened Haley's door. "I uh need you to give me the medicine bag." She hesitated and just clutched at her purse more tightly.
Mena started to really panic as Xander wouldn't meet her gaze. He just reached into the car and gently extracted the purse from Haley's clutches. He took out the medicine bag and handed it to the man.
"Is this it?"
All of a sudden the man smiled. "It certainly is part of my collection, but it isn't the artifact you're looking for. Was it really necessary to take it?"
The tension in the air turned quickly into confusion.
"Xander?" Mena questioned.
"Oh sorry, this is Mr. Atkins. Apparently Giles called him with a heads up that we were coming." He gave Haley a pointed look.
She cleared her throat. "Ahh. Please accept my apologies, Mr. Atkins. I'm afraid I was a bit overcome with excitement when I saw the bag."
He smiled slightly at this. "Well, I do understand excitement over historical artifacts. But a phone call would have gotten you clearance to take whatever you needed. It is extremely important that this mission is completed."
"Again, my apologies." Uncertain on how to proceed from this point she looked to Xander sheepishly.
"So Mr. Atkins here says he might be able to offer some assistance."
Mr. Atkins examined the bag as if it would give them a clue to find what they were seeking.
"I was told by Mr. Giles that you were seeking an Indian animal totem, or perhaps a mask, used in invoking hunter medicine. One possibly used by the Pawnee Indians in their ceremonial preparation for the hunt.
"Yes, when I felt the power of the bag, I thought perhaps it might be connected to the mask somehow," Haley interjected.
"Well, this bag was said to have contained powerful medicine, but I believe it had more to do with healing than hunting."
"So we're on the hunt for an animal totem mask," Xander said in his patented simplistic way.
Mena asked, "Can you tell us where we can find this mask?"
Mr. Atkins shook his head. "Not exactly, but another artifact in my collection, a dream catcher, was reported to have shown the dreamer wolves in the arms of Chief Red Cloud."
He paused momentarily and cleared his throat. "You see wolves represented the epitome of the hunter to the Native American people, but they also stood for many other things. The wolf was the protector and provider of family and tribe and he symbolized courage and truth. Perhaps this dream suggests that the mask is or was located near Red Cloud at some point."
Xander was having major league Giles flashbacks; he had to get away from Mr. Atkins before he decided book research was going to be necessary.
"Well, then I guess we're headed to Red Cloud. Thank you for your assistance."
"You're very welcome. And since you're obviously so fond of this, why don't you keep it. You never know when you might need a mystical container, especially when you're on a quest for a mystical artifact. Perhaps the medicine bag will channel Red Cloud's spirit to help you on your search. Good luck with your mission, oh and don't forget to visit the casino, you just may get lucky."
He handed the medicine bag back to Haley, nodded to Xander and Mena, and went back into the museum.
Xander breathed a sigh of relief as he got back into the car. "Are you ladies ready to go to Red Cloud? He said it's only about two hours."
"I can't imagine it would be that simple. There's got to be something we're missing." Then a light went on in Haley's head. "Chief Red Cloud! I believe he attacked a settlement somewhere near here. Mena, can you hand me the map?"
Mena dug the map out from behind the driver's seat and handed it to her. "Haley, wasn't Chief Red Cloud from the Lakota tribe?"
"Yes, but as I recall he was born in Nebraska."
Xander looked at Haley like she had grown another head. "Mr. Pawnee-Indian-Expert just told us to go to Red Cloud."
"Ah, here it is. Ft. Kearney Historical State Park. I know what he said, but there's no way we're going to just find the artifact laying about in some casino. A historical site is a much more logical choice for finding an artifact of this nature."
"I can't believe this," Xander said, leaning his head on the steering wheel.
Mena spoke up. "Xander, I have a feeling that we should trust Haley on this. It really doesn't seem likely that the mask would be at a casino."
Starting the car, Xander muttered, "Why can't it be easy? It never gets to be easy?" He pulled onto the street. "No casino for you; you get a musky old state park. Along with bugs and snakes and God knows what else."
Haley regarded the map. "Looks like we head south to Grand Island, and then we'll go east to Kearney. Are you talking to yourself, Xander?" she asked in response to Xander's grumbling.
"No. Fine. We'll go to Kearney, but not tonight. I need some food, and a beer, and sleep."
"I saw a Travel Lodge on the way into town," Mena said, thinking that it might be good to be done driving for the day.
Haley nodded in agreement. "Yes, some food and a good night's sleep would be excellent. Then tomorrow we'll find the artifact. We need to get a very early start though. It's a bit too hot for an arduous hike in the mid-day sun."
Oh, great, Xander groaned to himself. Bugs, snakes and heat, too...terrific.
Xander returned to the SUV, room keys in hand. "Okay, ladies, let's find that food and beer that was mentioned."
Mena leaned over the front seat. "There was a truck stop a little further out of town, kind of on the outskirts. Will that do?"
Haley was about to protest when she saw Xander's face light up at the prospect of getting what he wanted. She didn't have the heart to object now. "Sure. It will be fine, Mena." She answered knowing that the question was being directed at her. No way would Xander say no, she thought to herself with a little chuckle.
Xander jumped in the SUV. "Okay, then truck stop here we come!" he sing-songed.
Two hours later, after dinner and beverages, Xander dug in his pocket for the two room keys. Mena had been preoccupied at dinner, forgetting to make use of the facilities. She reached out and plucked the room key that Xander had indicated was theirs.
"Xander? Would you please grab my bag? I really have to get to the room. NOW!" She said as she half-danced, half-walked in the direction of their room.
He gave a small chuckle full of mirth. "Sure, Mena. Go on, hurry!"
Xander grabbed the bags out of the back and set them on the ground while he locked the vehicle. When it was all locked up, he turned to grab ALL of the bags. Haley has been a lot more likeable lately, he thought. Since we seem to be getting along much better, I guess I could act like a gentleman in return.
Haley reached for her case at the same time Xander did, and they ended up with her hand on his and two red faces.
He pointed at the case. "I just thought that since we were getting along so wellm I would keep it up by carrying your case to your room."
Haley decided to just take it in stride as opposed to questioning the whole situation. "Well thank you very much. I would really appreciate some help getting my suitcase to my room. "She patted his arm on the way by in search of their room.
Xander grabbed up the cases and followed in the direction she went. He came to a stop next to Haley who was just outside the door to the room she and Mena were to share.
Mena looked very glad to have gotten to the room when she did and happy that Xander had brought her bag, also. She was suddenly very tired and wanted to take advantage of the sleep time they had. As a Slayer, she didn't always get as much sleep as she needed. "Thank you, Xander," Mena said as she took her case from him.
Haley relieved him of her case as well. "Thanks again, Xander."
This earned them both a funny look from Mena. Could they actually be trying to get along?
Goofy grin in place, he looked her in the eye. "No problem, ladies. You're both welcome."
"Well, we have a busy, not to mention early day tomorrow, so what do you both say to getting us some much needed sleep? Driving kind of makes you tired. Need to stay re-charged."
Haley and Mena looked at each other and nodded, then at Xander. Mena turned, heading for her bed to open her case and get her night things out.
"Goodnight, Xander. Goodnight, Haley," she hollered over her shoulder just before she shut the bathroom door.
"Night, Mena!!!!" he hollered as the door was closing.
"So . Let's go to bed." Haley's mouth dropped open as she saw Xander's surprised look. Her face reddened. "OH! You know, in our separate rooms," she stammered.
Xander blushed, too. "Night, Haley," he mumbled as he quickly turned to open his own door.
Man, why does everything I say come out wrong when I talk to women? he pondered to himself as he closed his door.
He opted for a shower in the morning. He just sat his bag down, threw himself across the bed and crashed for the night.
When Haley shut and locked the door and turned aroundm Mena was sound asleep, looking so angelic in slumber. She slipped into bed, then set her travel clock alarm for 6:00 A.M. That should give us enough time to shower, dress and get an early start. We need to leave here no later than 7:00 A.M., she thought to herself since there was no one to confer with.
"Night, Mena," she whispered as she turned out the light.
Holly had to clamp her hand over her mouth to stop the scream.
Her leavings collected and coalesced in the toilet. Staring in horrified fascination, she saw her vomit smoke and eat through the ceramic lining of the toilet bowl. Water trickled down the sides.
Holly frantically shoved a towel under the rim to stop the water, then wiped the sides in the cold, methodical manner that she slipped into effortlessly as a housewife.
But nothing could stop the tears.
She whimpered pathetically like a beaten down puppy when she yanked the medicine cabinet mirror open.
Blinded with panic and acting only on stubborn instinct, she gulped down half the remaining pills and washed them down with a tall glass of water.
Holly fought for control. She always did, and this was no different. Satisfied, she reached for the bathroom doorknob.
She never made it back to her bed that night as she collapsed in a motionless heap against the door.
Whether he wanted it to or not, Spike's restless mind took him back to Ann Arbor.
Reuniting with Buffy had been both a frightening and exhilarating experience. But what scared him even more was the very thing he had most wanted to cast aside - possibility.
So now, as he started to drift off, he indulged himself with that forbidden prospect.
Could they make it work? Was it even a question of making it work as it was just jumping into something that frankly scared him worse than death? Death was easy. Coming back even easier, well...the first time it was easy, definitely corporeal. Love, though, was...hard.
And, frankly, Spike had had enough hard to last ten lifetimes.
Besides, he wasn't even sure he was going to survive the upcoming ritual, whatever it was. How many times you gonna roll the dice, William?
But then he thought of Nigel and Holly and how they worked it out against all odds. If they did it, then maybe he and Buffy could do it, too.
Hell, thanks to the soul, he grew by leaps and bounds. Right? And Ann Arbor proved that Buffy had grown as well.
Of course, that was Ann Arbor. After that
After that will come when it comes.
Yeah, all you can control is what YOU do. Let Buffy handle things from her end. Just take care of business, get the relic, and bugger off.
And above all, have faith.
Spike reached into his shirt pocket to take out the letter that Buffy had given him. His emotional balm. His crutch.
He glanced once more at the list she had made. Inelegant. Hardly poetic.
And so Buffy. He wouldn't have it any other way.
Spike made a subconscious note to give Nigel his thanks for his hospitality. He would also need to contact Xander. But until then
He fell into slumber, clutching Buffy's letter to his breast.
She nipped at his throat in loving bites as he felt his arms break out in delicious goose bumps.
He breathed her name. She responded.
The mane of her hair engulfed his head, but her eyes bore into his blue eyes. He was sinking within their depths.
With each fevered gasp she whispered, "Love Love you Love you "
Now their fingers entwined silky and sweet with sweat. The tighter they squeezed, the more heat escalated from their touch. No fire, but not too far off.
"Be with me?"
"Be in me?"
"Just say the word, pet."
"Be in me, Spike. Feel me love you, baby."
She arched backward, her eyes turned to Heaven but closed in rapture.
He desperately held on, joining with her. Roaring his need and desire.
Spike's eyes flew open in a panic, and he heard the quick tip-tapping of raindrops hitting the roof. God, did he really just
"Holly!" Nigel bellowed from inside the house.
Still groggy from sleep, Spike ambled downstairs.
"Interrupted a dream, mate. A nice dream. With a person with another name altogether," he added defensively.
"Have you seen Holly?" Nigel asked in a rush.
"Well, been asleep, you know. Dreaming that dream with that other name."
"Balls to your dream!" Nigel raged at him. "Have you seen Holly?"
"No, mate, I haven't," Spike said, immediately sobered.
"She wasn't in bed when I woke up, and I haven't seen her anywhere," Nigel said softly with underlying panic.
His shoulders slumped. Spike tried to cheer him up.
"Look, cuz, I'm sure she's fine. Probably doing chores or something."
"In the rain? At night?"
Spike shrugged sheepishly.
"She must be outside. Help me look for her, Will."
Spike grabbed his duster and followed Nigel outside.
They checked her garden, her clothesline, all the usual spots. It was unusual for Holly to be out in wet weather, let alone up at this late hour, but stranger things were known to happen.
They ended up empty-handed.
"No luck. I say we check back in the house and---"
Spike's wolf-like instincts suddenly sharpened. Like the animal's spirit was calling him again. He felt himself giving in to the feeling...
"Nigel, you notice something?"
"What?" Nigel huffed impatiently.
"Where's all the noise?"
Nigel stopped and focused. It was quiet as a tomb.
They sprinted for the barn. Spike ripped the door open and went for the cattle stall.
Nigel had just caught up, when he saw Spike's dumbfounded look. His features twisted in horror as he looked on.
Lying in a pile where the cattle used to be were the disintegrated and smoky remains of skeletons, the flesh melting into the bone and sinking in a green-hued acidic substance.
Spike's eyes and nose zeroed in on the acid.
Whatever had killed the cows left a trail. And the creature was long gone.
But there was something else that his hunter instincts had picked up. Something that chilled Spike to the bone.
Whatever had killed those cows had a scent exactly like Holly's.
It was horrific. Beyond horrific!
Yet there it was right in front of him.
Thomas Borne saw his beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers--his big-hearted Big Red--suffer the worst losing season since before the Bobfather, Bob Devaney. He was the renowned coach who led the Huskers to greatness back in the sixties, culminating with two national titles in 1970 and '71.
And now, here his Huskers were with a pitiful 5-6 record.
If Thomas was half a man, he would cry. Fortunately, Thomas was all man, although that hadn't been enough to save his marriage. But then at some point he had to choose a love. And his involved the Big Red.
Besides, there was always that former cheerleader who lived just down the road. Maybe he'd give her a call. They'd go line dancing.
In the meantime, Thomas had enough of wallowing in sorrow. It was time to celebrate the slaughter of Nebraska beating Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl. Rising from his seat on the scarlet-colored Nebraska couch, he hefted his rotund self to his VCR shelf, digging out his prized tape displaying his Huskers at their finest. The way they ought to be, not this 5-6 crap.
He settled in with his popcorn and hat displaying the proud red "N."
But the damn raccoons came back apparently, because he heard some rattling ruckus from outside.
He peeled himself out of his comfy red throne with a grunt, grumbling to no one in particular as he looked out at his yard. Thomas went outside to make sure that all was well, and he was immediately hit with the torrential downpour that had showered the heartland throughout the day. Probably continue all night too, he thought. Fine by me, we need the rain.
He took a moment to marvel at the buckets of rain, then went back into the comfort of his home and to the room of red that was his dwelling and sanctuary. His church, not as if he was being insensitive about it. Other Husker fans understood. As long as you had the Huskers, everything was fine.
Thomas took one last look around. Popcorn. Check. Beer. Check.
None of that imported, frilly shit for him. He was a Bud Man.
With great, sweaty anticipation, his thumb hovered over the clicker. One depression and he could forget his bills, his mortgage, his lack of crops. He could be transported back to that balmy night in Tempe when the Huskers founded a dynasty.
Lawrence Phillips was about to score from 32 yards out on his 'juking' and 'jiving' run when the dripping started.
Thomas was too much in his zone to even take notice, but eventually, the incessant 'drip, drip' won out.
He rose off the couch to investigate. Mentally playing 'hot and cold', his senses divined where the sound was coming from.
The drip grew louder and more insistent. Pipes. He made a mental jot to call Earl tomorrow. Shit...the way my luck's been going, it's probably a damn leak in the roof somewhere.
The closer he got to the sound, however, he heard something else. Something that didn't make sense.
Not unless the water got turned on by mistake or something.
Accenting the constant beat of the dripping was another noise, something that sounded like a sizzle, like bacon frying on a griddle.
Then...he saw it in the kitchen. A substance dripped and sizzled on the enamel floor.
He leaned over to study it. "What the fuc--?"
So intrigued by what was happening, he forgot that whatever it was---pipe or rain drops---was still leaking.
He winced as the weird substance hit his neck with a faint hiss, smelling of charred flesh.
That'll leave a mark, no doubt, he thought as he reached up to massage the back of his neck.
He was surprised to find an indentation where the smooth surface of his skin should be. Then he felt the substance pool in that spot making the divot deeper.
Thomas cried in alarm and stared at his fingers. Bit by bit his index and middle finger were slowly being eaten away.
He was caught between a cry and a scream when he heard another noise. A low rumble from nearby.
Correction, it was coming from right above him.
Clutching his hand close to his big red sweatshirt, he craned his face slowly toward the ceiling.
It was a woman--at least it was dressed as a woman. But where her hair should have been there were long tresses like tentacles that whipped out from the back of her head. Her mouth had sprouted lines of tiny teeth that lined completely around her mouth, and it was drawn up into a round circle.
Just like that fluke monster thing on that stupid show. What was it called? The X-Files or something like that... he thought.
Thomas shrieked as the thing vomited forth some kind of lime green liquid from its jaws. He had the good sense to listen to his instincts and step aside. As a result, the liquid harmlessly fell onto the floor. Or rather ate its way through the floor.
He turned and ran for the shotgun located in the attic; however, all the years of sitting and vegetating like some couch potato had finally caught up with him, made worse by the fact that he used his treadmill as some kind of apparatus to hang his clothes.
In the blink of an eye, the woman-thing sprang from its perch and tackled Thomas. Luckily, Thomas played ball at Lincoln Southeast as a defensive tackle, and his large mass bought him a few seconds. He bucked the creature off and bumbled his way to the living room.
Tommie Frazier had just scored on his mythic 75-yard run. All Thomas heard were the cheers from the T.V. as the monster tackled him again with such force he landed in the middle of the red 'N' on his Nebraska rug.
He fought hard to turn himself around to face the thing, but he was quickly overpowered. The creature had him sprawled out, his massive folds of fat peeking out from under his beloved sweatshirt.
Expecting it to be quick, he turned his head, regret and tears spilling from inside. It took getting killed for him to realize that worshipping the Huskers living an empty life had cost him more than he'd ever hope to repay, and he prayed that God was merciful on him for obsessing over such a worthless false idol. Such a meaningless religion, that he had allowed himself to be a disciple of at the cost of his wife and family.
Really, at the cost of himself.
But instead, the monster inhaled a long, raspy breath, and its lips puckered into something resembling a kiss. It planted its lips on those same gelatinous layers of flesh.
Then it simply blew.
Now Thomas did scream. A long, unholy scream that surely signaled his death. God willing, he would pass soon. To his horror, however, he was still alive, and he was still feeling every excruciating moment of pain. To make matters worse he threw up, staining his sweatshirt.
He frantically looked to the TV to see Herbie Husker, the tried and true mascot of his team, and its familiar strong confident smile, only now it looked like he was laughing at Thomas Borne. The tried and true biggest fan in the county.
He told himself he wouldn't look at what was happening to him. He would look on the things that gave him momentary, fleeting pleasure. Hell, right now it was all he had.
Curiosity though, won out, and he screamed again.
The acidic substance was exiting the thing's mouth at an alarming rate as the mouth now acted as some kind of connecting tube to his belly. An umbilical channel was creating a large bowl in his stomach, and he could see traces of intestines and God knows what else seeping out. He let himself go and could feel the warm wet collect in his pants as his bowels loosened.
Then the acid entered, and he felt his organs liquefy and disintegrate.
He opened his mouth to make a sound. There was none. Only a small trickle of bile leaking from the side of his mouth.
Then the sucking began. The creature alternated between eating the dead remains of his organs and vomiting even more acid into his body.
Why am I not fucking dead????!!!!!!
The acid obliterated his digestive system and moved on to his lungs and heart. For some reason, the thing kept his brain active through their connection. So he fought. He fought so hard to keep memories that he held as precious.His ex-wife. His kids. His parents. His coach. His teammates. His friends.
The acid ate away his spinal cord. Now blood and water joined with the bile.
Sacking the quarterback to win the state championship. Nebraska winning its first title in 1970. Repeating in '71. Finally, beating those fucking Canes in 199fore.
Blood gushed out of his ears and nose. His eyes exploded.
The thing that used to be Holly Hawthorne still sucked and blew. Sucked and blew.
Name .Airick, rite? ARRRk 1 t HE193404393284. ..
The acid melted his extremities, and his body fluids erupted in a geyser out of what remained of his face. His head blew apart, and the rest of what used to be Thomas Borne hit the walls and littered his Nebraska Cornhusker paraphernalia with pieces of unrecognizable flesh and acid-laden blood. The hollowed out carcass eventually faded into the rug until the blood and scarlet red fabric were indistinguishable.
Outskirts of Aurora:
"Police have been unable to explain the grisly murder that occurred at the Borne residence. The killer apparently used acid to murder the victim "
"The police found a family of five similarly massacred at the Kennedy farm outside of Aurora. All of the livestock were killed in the same grisly fashion. Police are at a loss as to what kind of individual they're dealing with, but expect to continue their search for this killer through the night..."
Nigel finally switched off the radio.
The air was thick with silence in Spike's Viper.
As they sped down the rain-slicked highway, Spike's hunter senses were at their peak. The acidic residue invaded his nostrils with its pungent stench thanks to his heightened senses. It was a gift, but sometimes he wished he could do without it once in a while.
Nigel could only stare straight ahead and fight to hold onto some semblance of the reality he once had. But instead, he clutched the bottle tighter. The half-empty one Spike had found tipped over haphazardly on the floor.
Holly never left bottles tipped over.
"They were supposed to work," Nigel muttered in disbelief, over and over.
And to add just the right type of irritation to this emergency, he had a fiery stomachache that persisted the entire time he was in this hydraulic machine of mid-life crises.
"Pull over. I need to throw up," Nigel said weakly.
Spike grimly shook his head. "Holly needs us, mate."
"Pull the fucking, bloody car over," Nigel gritted through his teeth.
With a sigh, Spike complied. Nigel opened the door and stumbled out to vomit.
Spike looked after him in concern. But his senses were so highly attuned now, he was giving into his instincts. Hunter. Protector. Leader. Like the wolf.
LIKE THE WOLF!
Spike thought about calling up Xander, but his fingers went instead to the 'G' directory. Rupert Giles.
Something about this didn't jibe right. He needed answers and quickly.
Ten minutes later, Nigel came back utterly spent. He collapsed into the seat.
Spike only stared at him sadly. Regretfully.
Nigel returned the look with a hard glare.
"You gonna make yourself useful and drive any time soon?"
Spike nodded and gunned the engine, peeling down the long stretch of road.
More silence enveloped them. Spike didn't know what to say. And when that happened, rules of propriety pretty much went by the wayside. Maybe it was insensitive, but if they dwelled in silence for too long, they'd lose themselves in it. Lose each other.
Spike wasn't ready for that.
"So, um, Nigel," Spike said haltingly.
Spike started to chuckle a bit. Talk about pointless questions.
"I I never did find out where you got that wolf mask. The one hanging by the stairs."
If Nigel thought the question was odd given the current circumstances, he didn't show it. "Holly and I sometimes go to Council Bluffs. We won it at a casino. Playing Keno," Nigel spoke blankly.
The car sped along; the only sound heard was the constant hum of the engines and the rhythm of the windshield wipers.
Then Spike started to have spit fits. His face twisted in a grimace. And he started to softly laugh.
Nigel was about to give Spike hell, but he shook his head in disgust and turned his direction - and thoughts - back to the road. But then he, too, started to laugh.
In seconds the sounds of wild, uncontained bellows filled the car's interior.
And what started out as a trickle quickly became a flood of release and defiance as Spike and Nigel howled their helpless, painful, and briefly victorious laughter.
Outskirts of Aurora:
As their uneasy laughter subsided, grim reality returned and Spike turned to face his cousin. "So, why did you take so long?"
Nigel looked over at Spike puzzled. "What are you talking about?"
"After your...episode. Why did you take so long?"
"I know the sheriff of the county here," Nigel answered quietly. "He keeps demon troublemakers off of Holly and me. Bounty hunters and the like. I do him favors. Thought maybe...he should know. Maybe he could...do something."
Spike wanted a bit more information about these favors, but there were more important things to think about now. Decisions were going to need to be made, he guessed.
No matter how painful.
Sure enough, Nigel's friend, Sheriff Malick, had laid a trap for Holly. Spike and Nigel pulled up to the cattle ranch surrounded by over thirty police cruisers. All the officers carried twelve gauges with them. They stood grim and poised to attack, oblivious to the relentless downpour.
Malick stepped forward. He looked like a guy who belonged more in the concrete jungle than the Midwestern Heartland. Still, he had that bushy moustache just like most small town sheriffs.
Thought they were bleedin' Burt Reynolds, Spike mused. Yep. Hickville...for sure!
But the sheriff looked bone tired. Like a trip to the local bar for pork rinds and Budweiser would be right up his alley.
"Nigel Christ, I don't know what to say."
"I'll say that Holly will serve you up some hotcakes at one of our weekly breakfasts, Sheriff. As always..," Nigel said tightly.
"I thought those pills were supposed to work?" Malick asked.
Nigel only looked down slightly.
Malick nodded and turned his attention to Spike, appraising him meticulously.
"So this is him. The vampire with a soul."
Spike shot a look over at Nigel.
Nigel only shrugged. "When you play the game, you gotta know who the players are."
With curt understanding, Spike turned back to the sheriff. "Yeah, I'm--"
"I know who you are," Malick explained but shot a puzzled look at Nigel all the same. "I thought he'd be taller. And isn't his hair supposed to stick straight up?"
Spike's eyes shot upward, annoyed but not altogether surprised.
"So my ball is in your court," Malick consented, "Whatever you want me and my men to do---"
"Fine," Spike cut him off. "I want you and your men to go home or go to Dunkin' Donuts or whatever you county Mounties do."
Malick couldn't believe his ears. "Now see here--!"
"No, you see here. I've had enough blood on my hands tonight," Spike roared, finally giving in to his tightly coiled anger. "I'm not losing anyone else. Tell your men to fall back. And give me your sawed-off."
Nigel blinked, "Will, what are you on about--?"
Malick wouldn't budge. And part of Spike liked that just fine. He got in nice and close with the sheriff. Nose to nose. Playing their own version of "Who'll Blink?"
Tightly, Spike fired his last threat.
"Tell them, Sheriff, or I will put you in a coma and tell them myself. A lot harsher. And sure as hell a lot meaner."
Malick's face worked and he shoved over his gun.
Spike strode off with determined purpose, shrouded in black and moving through the darkness. Nigel trotted along behind him, helpless to this strange change of events.
Malick just couldn't let it go. He wouldn't.
"I thought you were supposed to be a hero? A Champion!"
"I'm a vampire." He didn't look back.
At some point, a warning signal buzzed and blared in Nigel's head. It could have been in the Viper. It could have been when he threw up. But for whatever reason, that warning really made itself known now. Accompanied by that constant, sharp pain that had spread throughout his belly.
"Hold up, Will! Damm it! Hold up!"
Spike turned to face him. Nigel could only stare at the hardness that had settled on his cousin. Steely eyes. Firm set jaw. Deadly conviction. He looked like a hunter. He looked like a wolf. A real one.
He looked ready to kill.
"I thought we were going to subdue her? That's a sawed-off shotgun in your hand."
Spike nodded impatiently.
"So this...this is a killing ?"
"I'm sorry, Nigel," Spike only said dully.
"I deserve a lot more than fucking sorry! I deserve to know what's going on!"
For a second--a split second--Nigel could have sworn Spike would give him the same threat as he did Malick. But he was relieved to see that the old William peeked out as his eyes grew soft again.
"While you were gone, I called an old Watcher friend. Explained the situation and "
"There's no cure," Nigel hollowly finished.
Spike nodded grimly.
"So, fine, we put her in another dimension or sedate her somehow or "
"There is no or, Nigel," Spike muttered tiredly. "She has to be put down...has to be put down."
Whatever sanity that Nigel Hawthorne possessed teetered on the brink of a dark, bottomless abyss.
"No no I I don't accept that. I won't."
"You have to."
"Don't give me your hero trip bullshit! I can't KILL MY WIFE!"
Spike reached out and grabbed Nigel by his lapels, slamming him into the far wall.
"That thing is not your wife!!! Your wife died the minute she transformed! There's no going back!"
Spike thrust his face closer, until they were nearly nose to nose. "This is MY world, Nigel! MINE! It's not pretty, is it? Heroism never is. That thing is killing innocent people! Families. Children! You don't know me anymore. This is who I am. What I am. Sometimes I have to dash dreams and bring heartache to save lives."
He shook Nigel roughly. "I need you in this with me! But if you're not you're useless to me. And if that's the case, then piss off. Just piss off!"
His frustration spent, Spike gently lowered Nigel to the ground and couldn't help but settle his hand on his shoulder, giving it a brief squeeze.
But Nigel jerked his arm away as if he had been touched by poison.
"Give it to me, then," he said, holding out his hand.
"Give it to me, damn you. If she's to die, then I will kill her. And then I'll kill you."
Spike chuckled sardonically.
"That'll be the day."
He handed the gun to Nigel.
"Let's do this," Nigel said tightly. "Let's finish it."
Stakeout Cattle Ranch:
The rain continued to pummel them as Spike and Nigel melted into the inky blackness of the ranch stables.
The trail was easy to follow. It was made up of emptied out cattle carcasses. Nigel couldn't help dry heaving from it. Spike was grateful for his optional breathing. But in this case, he needed his senses focused. He took up point while Nigel trailed behind with the sawed-off shotgun.
"So, this Watcher friend, any other interesting theories he shared with you? Like what exactly happened to my my wife?"
When Spike spoke to Giles, he had sounded broken and empty. He was hoping somehow that his despair would be noticed by the Watcher, that somehow Rupert would provide some kind of comfort. But Giles had never been sympathetic to Spike, and he wasn't now. Looking back, though, he understood why. Without that detachment, he couldn't do his damned job. He was silently thankful for the Watcher's stubborn focus.
So that's how Spike spoke to Nigel now. Detached and objective. It was the only way he could do his job. His damned job.
"What's happening to Holly is natural. The pills she was taking were acting as a deterrent. It was only temporary. Her overdosing on the pills only accelerated the process."
"Are you saying that thing is Holly's natural form?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying. It's her heritage, Nigel. Her nature as a Frivolix is to become a demon. It's what she was meant to be." Spike turned to him."You might have been better off to let things happen the way they were supposed to. For both of you."
Nigel gripped the rifle warily. "Well, that's neither here nor there, is it? And by the way, fuck you."
Spike sharpened immediately.
"It's close," he muttered. "Be ready."
Glowing in a river of neon was the acid from the Frivolix. Keeping a wide berth, Nigel and Spike followed the trail. Spike ripped off a long metal support, keeping it at the ready.
The sweat made Nigel's hands slick. He couldn't find the grip but tightened his hold on the gun anyway.
Suddenly, Spike swung out into the black, and Nigel heard a sickening, crunching sound and a high, beastly squeal.
He shrunk back in the shadows and saw Spike wail on the demon in merciless strokes. His assault was relentless in its brutality.
Then he saw the form. The form that used to be his wife. It wore her clothes. Her favorite blouse. Her comfortable, yet stylish pants. It wore them in bloody shreds.
Spike never let up; he couldn't afford to. If for one second he paused and let the Frivolix get a bead on him, it would douse him with that acid, and then he hoped he would dust. He hoped it'd be quick, at any rate.
The Frivolix contoured its mouth to latch onto the metal gird. And immediately the acid began eating away at the tip.
Spike knew hehad only about ten seconds, give or take. So he shoved the rest of the metal down its throat, hoping to choke it.
His brows creased and the fangs elongated. And he gave himself over. Demon versus demon.
With a piercing war cry, he leapt and side-kicked the demon. The Frivolix thundered to the ground.
"Stay down, bitch! Stay down!"he snarled.
He stood over the Frivolix continuing to pummel and punish it. Letting himself go on the current of his bloodlust. Releasing the wolf-like power within himself.
But Spike underestimated the demon's agility and strength. The creature kicked out, catching Spike in the midsection, launching him into the far barn wall. The wall still held, but Spike slid down, unconscious.
As the Frivolix sprang up to its haunches, Nigel snapped out of his frozen fear, yelling out his cousin's name.
It was a foolish move. The Frivolix turned its attention to the creature that made the cry.
Its next prey.
Nigel regarded the monster that crouched toward him with a tired resignation. It really didn't look much like his now lost wife, but in a way...to him...it still did.
"Hello, baby," he whispered weakly with a sweet, sad smile. He held the gun at the ready. He held it tightly. So tightly that he couldn't pull the trigger. He was suddenly paralyzed from his own fear. But he could still yell.
He called for Spike again.
It all came down to blood for Spike. It was his food, his drug, his elixir. He once said it made him hard, but then he was around Buffy at the time, so maybe that wasn't the truth. The whole truth, anyway.
What he didn't say was that it didn't matter if it came from another person or thing. Human blood was still the best. But blood was blood. It was warm. And it was seeping up into his throat.
Spike's eyes opened as he gagged on his own blood. He spit some out. Bleeding internally, he surmised. He could hear his ribs grinding together. The vampire healing would take care of that. As for the pain, well, it was only pain. It let him know he still existed, and he could still fight.
Fighting through the pain was what Spike was all about.
But the blood bubbling up to his mouth was the spark that he needed. It soothed his throat and brought him back into focus with its coppery taste. And it was fucking delicious.
He fought for his bearings and saw the Frivolix bearing down on his cousin. "Nigel, shoot it!"
No response. His cousin was a goner unless he could stop it or
It was low. Beyond low. But it would serve its purpose.
He sprang forward as the Frivolix moved in to strike with its gaping maw, shoving Nigel out of the way while at the same time taking the shotgun. All in one orchestrated movement, he swung the weapon toward the Frivolix's open mouth and fired.
The creature needed to swallow the bullet. It did. And it blew apart. Spike shrouded his coat around him to protect him from the acid.
Nigel saw everything. His open eyes and horrific stare said it all. His sanity slipped off its precipice and into the black chasm of madness and despair.
He screamed and screamed. As if his very life was flowing out with the horrible sound.
Therefore, what happened soon after was a blessing.
Stakeout Cattle Ranch:
It began with the burning, but the burning was generous. What Nigel experienced now was an inferno in his stomach.
Spike helped his cousin to his feet.
"SHE WAS MINE TO END!!!!" his cousin shrieked. "HOW CAN I GO ON NOW, WILL? ANSWER ME THAT!!!"
Nigel wanted answers and sense to his world. Instead, he was met with the muzzle of the sawed-off.
Nigel stared at Spike in disbelief as he clutched his churning stomach. "We really got to work on your sense of comedic timing," he muttered.
"I'm sorry, Nigel."
"For what? For really bad jokes? A little late for that because you killed my wife!" Nigel shot back, then staggered forward in pain. "God, WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING TO ME?" he wailed.
Spike's vampire vision still worked flawlessly, but nevertheless he blinked back the emotions that threatened to get the best of him. Threatened to blind him to what he knew came next.
"It was the bonding ceremony, Nigel. It did more than bond your blood with Holly. Whatever happened to her will happen to you. You balanced each other. Now that balance is gone. She transformed into her natural state. Now now so are you."
When Nigel spoke, Spike could already hear the changes in him. His voice became guttural. Animal.
"I'm human, damn it!"
"No, Nigel, you gave that up when you bonded blood with her. Until death do you bloody part," Spike whispered.
"Well, now it's official," Nigel growled spitefully. "This is your worst visit ever."
He screamed once more and spit up blood that had developed a greenish tinge. He could feel his muscles pulse and bulge, rearranging themselves. His mouth grew larger and rows of razor sharp teeth lined its ridges like a Great White.
He looked with terror-filled eyes at the cousin who still pointed the gun at him. "Spike, help me! God, please help me!"
Spike sighed a terrible breath. "Don't fight it, cuz. Let it happen. It'll be easier if you let it happen, for both of us. I swear I'll make it quick," Spike vowed as his voice hitched.
He blinked a few more times.
"God, kill me already!" Nigel cried. "I can't I can't turn into this I can barely hold on "
"God help me, I can't. I can't kill my own bloody cousin. Just don't fight it," Spike pleaded. "Give yourself over. I beg of you. Please."
Nigel gave one more agonizing scream. Acid leaked from the side of his mouth. His skull split and tentacles protruded out the back. Nigel's beautiful hair lay in clumps on the ground.
Almost there. Almost.
Spike steeled himself. He aimed the gun. Cleared his eyes. "If you're still in there, Nigel, I love you. Forgive me." Spike breathed a silent prayer. "God Almighty, forgive me."
His cousin looked up with bestial, inhuman eyes. Whatever remained of Nigel Hawthorne ebbed away at a fantastic rate. But he was still sentient. He could still speak.
"Come now, cousin," the Nigel-thing rasped. "Surely, you won't kill me."
"Let go, Nigel. Let yourself become demon. I don't want it to end like this." He swallowed hard, fighting back the tears that burned his throat. "I never wanted it to end like this."
"Remember our song, Willy?" the Nigel-thing asked with a perverse mocking leer. Acid spilled down his chin as he hoisted himself in a position to attack. "Who's the bravest of the brave?"
It grinned as it spoke. A sick parody of everything his cousin had stood for. Whatever God, whatever Powers had allowed this to happen Spike hated them.
He couldn't help but answer. It was instinct. "Willy."
"Who's a knight and not a knave?"
"Willy," Spike choked out. He fought to control his emotions. Kept his support hand steady.
"Whose life gladly save?"
Almost complete, Spike thought. He--It--couldn't even pronounce words anymore. A few more seconds, and it would be a mindless devourer of flesh. An instinctual hunter and killer.
Spike was about to answer, but something hardened inside. He didn't look at this thing as his cousin. His cousin was dead. He looked at it as a Frivolix. As the enemy.
His eyes were clear. And finally, he was at peace with what he had to do. It was a blessing. What he had to do. His duty. His job.
"Who'll be me grave?"
The Frivolix leapt.
And the vampire affirmed who he was. What he was. What he is. "Spike," the Champion vampire with a soul calmly said. He fired.
The shell struck home down the monster's gullet. The Frivolix exploded in charred chunks. Then there was only one left standing. Alone.
At peace with what he did, surely. He had to be. At peace with himself
He vamped out. Giving himself over to the rage and anger. The simple cruelty if it all. The meanness. Howling like the wolf...mournful, damning cries he emptied his shotgun into the fleshy husks. Emptying his pain. Emptying his soul.
On the road to Ft. Kearney:
The alarm went off in Mena and Haley's room. Haley called Xander's room and woke him. They all agreed to shower, dress and meet at the SUV with bags in hand so that they could leave from there and grab a bite to eat on the way out of town.
Xander stood by the SUV waiting for Haley and Mena as they walked across the parking lot. They came up to him, each handing him their bag to stow away in the back of the truck. "So, are we all ready to head to Fort Kearney?"
Mena's eyes twinkled. "You know me. I am always ready to learn, and I think I could learn a lot from almost any place I visit. Everywhere has history."
Then she gave Xander a pleading look. "But could we at least get some donuts or something first? My tummy is doing this rumbley thing, and then I will be all about the learning. Okay?" She smiled sweetly at both her Watcher and Haley.
They smiled back. "Just a quick stop at the donut shop...OK?" Xander told her. "We'll get a real meal after we get done with the Ft. Kearney expedition."
"That's fine by me. We really need to get out of here and get started," Haley said to them.
They climbed in and headed out of town. Xander stopped at 'Dunkin Donuts' and then again to fill up the gas tank at the truck stop.
"Xander, I am going to the ladies room. Mena, maybe you should make use of this stop? We wouldn't want to repeat yesterday's drama, would we?" Haley asked pointedly.
Mena's pretty face reddened a bit. "No, I wouldn't want that." The two of them headed off to the ladies room while Xander paid for the gas.
He then filled the SUV up with gas and parked right in front of the door so that they could see him easily. The girls joined him about five minutes later, and they were off on their mission once again.
Xander figured that Mena must not have gotten enough sleep though, because she crashed soon after they started on the trip.
By 9:00 A.M. they were pulling onto the grounds of Fort Kearney Historical State Park.
"Oh, this will be easy," Xander exclaimed. He was being sarcastic. The park was comprised of 152 acres and not only featured an archaeological exhibit, but also a lake, a camping area, and hiking trails.
"This place is neat!" Mena exclaimed as she looked with wide eyes out the window.
"It certainly offers a lot in the way of entertainment." Haley wasn't really impressed; she was too focused on where they might find the artifact, but she didn't want to dampen the girl's spirits.
They got a map at the ticket kiosk and began to formulate their plan of action.
"Okay, so I'm thinking we split up, because there's a lot of territory to cover here." Xander was looking over Haley's shoulder at the map.
"I'm in agreement. I think we can rule out the camping and hiking areas. Focus on the exhibits and perhaps someone should circle round the lake and scout out the parade route." She frowned in contemplation.
"I'd really like to stretch out a bit." Mena was having a hard time sitting still. Too much sitting in a car and not enough staking wasn't exactly a Slayer's ideal of a good time. "So I'll take the lake and parade route." She was also brimming with energy having caught up on her sleep.
"Oooh! A carpenter-blacksmith shop! I'll take that area and hit up the stockades on the way." Xander missed the thrill of building things. Plus he figured that checking out the workshops would reduce the amount of time he'd have to spend in the woods.
"And that leaves me with the exhibits and the Visitor's Center. Meet back here in an hour?"
"I'd really like to see the Visitor's Center, too. Maybe we could meet around there?" Mena asked.
"That sounds like a plan. If anyone finds anything remotely wolf-like give a holler. Okay? Unless, of course, it's a real wolf in which case, then you are on your own." Xander winked at the girls and headed toward the stockades.
"Be careful, Mena, and keep your eyes open." Haley headed in Xander's direction, then veered off on her own path.
Mena happily headed toward the lake in a light jog.
The stockades were a bust. But the workshops were awesome. Xander loved seeing how carpentry and blacksmithing were done before modern tools were invented, and the shop had been restored to its original state.
He wandered around the shop admiring the variety of tools that had been painstakingly made by skilled craftsmen so very long ago.
"Wow! This is really incredible," he whispered to himself.
But unfortunately, he knew he didn't have time to spend on daydreaming. He needed to look for the artifact. Not that he expected to find it, of course, but he at least had to try.
The Blacksmith's area was small and took very little time to search, so in no time at all he was standing to the entrance of the carpentry shop. He just stood outside for a few moments, marveling at the skill of the early Pioneers. Whoever built this place did a mighty fine job, he thought just before he entered the shop. They sure don't build them like this anymore.
Xander searched the shop, doing his best not to disturb anything. That is, until he knocked an antique oil lamp off of the mantle. The sound of glass breaking shattered the silence. Frantically, he scooped up the pieces to see if it could be repaired, but soon realized it was hopeless. There were too many pieces missing.
"Damn. I am so sorry," he said out loud, although there was no one there. Or so he thought.
"Don't fret about a dusty, old lamp, boy. But you might want to tell me why you are trespassing in my workshop!"
Xander dropped the pieces of the lamp with a start. He turned all the way around the room twice, looking for the owner of the voice, before he came nose to nose figuratively, with...what looked like a man or a ghost. The spirit was a little older than Xander, and was very agitated by his presence. "WELL!" the man demanded again, only louder this time.
Xander started looking around, occasionally waving a hand in different directions while backing up. "I I umm We Uhh. Who are you? Wh What are you?" he asked when he could finally speak without stuttering, "Where did you come from?"
The man came closer. "I am Charles Albert Collins, and this is my shop. Now, young man, I asked you a question. So, don't you go answering my question with another one!"
"O..okay. I.. Uhh.. We, my team and I... are looking for a magical Indian artifact, sir, a wolf mask to be specific," Xander stammered. "It's very important that we find this object. It's needed to keep the world from coming to a premature end."
He hesitated to see if he was making matters any better for himself, and then continued carefully, "I know all this must sound crazy to you, but, I swear it's the truth. We were told that the mask might be here at the fort where Red Cloud attacked."
Xander took a deep breath but still backed towards the door.
The ghost smiled. "I believe you...but I missed your name."
"Oh, sorry, I'm Xander."
"Well, Xander, I'm afraid you have the wrong information. Red Cloud did not attack this fort."
"What? Are you sure I mean the experts told us to search here "
"Then the experts are wrong. I'm a ghost. I have been here for-- well, I don't remember how many years it has been now, but that's not important anyway. I built this place, and I would remember if Red Cloud was here," Collins calmly informed him.
"You built this?" Xander asked in amazement as he digressed for a moment and relaxed his guard. "You sure did a great job!"
"Thank you, son," the ghost replied.
"But seriously, sir, if Red Cloud wasn't here, then where was he?"
"Xander," the spirit said as he started to fade away,"to walk in the path of Red Cloud, you must follow the Oregon Trail. It will bring you closer to what you seek." The image flickered briefly and then disappeared all together.
Xander stood still for a moment, trying to take in all that had just happened. "Mena and Haley are never going to believe this!!" he said as he hurried out the door of the Carpenter's shop. "I'm not sure I believe it myself. Maybe it's just the heat. Doesn't matter whether they believe me or not, though," he sighed. "We still haven't found the damn mask."
He looked about nervously, almost expecting the kindly carpenter to make another appearance, but nothing happened, so he headed back to meet the girls.
Haley wandered around inside the Visitor's Center. She carried the medicine bag with her for luck in case Red Cloud's spirit decided to work through it. She had been all through the outside exhibits, and now had exhausted her search inside, but found nothing at all. "I was so sure we would find the artifact here," she mumbled to herself. "How could I have been so wrong?"
Mena, returning from her search, walked in the back door of the Visitor's Center and saw Haley standing near an arrowhead exhibit, obviously deep in thought, but talking to herself. She didn't want to startle her so she closed the door a little harder than was needed in order to announce her presence. It worked perfectly. Haley heard the door slam and turned to see who had entered. "OH! Mena. Did you find anything? Anything at all?" She asked hopefully.
Mena hated to dash Haley's hopes, but she too, had failed to find anything on her search of the grounds and the Parade Route. At least nothing that looked like the artifact. She had however seen something else, but the Watcher looked so dejected, Mena didn't want to worry her with that information right then. She concentrated on the subject at hand.
"No. No mask. I'm sorry," she replied softly, then continued, "what were you talking about when I came in the door?"
Haley paused thoughtfully for a moment. "Oh, I was just thinking out loud I guess. I was so sure we would find the artifact at the site where Red Cloud attacked. Apparently I was wrong," she admitted with embarrassment.
Mena felt sorry for the Watcher. Haley obviously didn't like to be wrong and probably wasn't wrong very often. "Well, Haley, maybe Xander had better luck than either of us did. You could still be right."
Little did either of them know, but they had company. The park groundskeeper was on his way back outside to make some adjustments when he overheard the two of them talking near the entrance. He didn't mean to eavesdrop, but he thought perhaps he could give them some useful information. He cleared his throat and excused himself.
Both of them jumped when they heard him and turned towards the noise.
"Oh, dear," he said as he came closer, "I didn't mean to startle you, ladies. I was on my way out and couldn't help but overhear your conversation. I just wanted to tell you that Red Cloud did not attack here. He attacked Ft. Kearnay in Wyoming. Please forgive my intrusion, but I hoped I might help you."
Mena and Haley stood there looking at each other, mouths slightly gaping. Haley frowned at first because she realized she had been wrong, but then quickly smiled. She hoped that at least now, someone had pointed them in the right direction. Haley recovered her composure just as the man opened the door to leave.
"Thank you so much, sir, for helping us," she called to him, "That was very kind of you."
He turned as he left and made eye contact, "You're most welcome, ma'am.You take care now. Hope you find what you're looking for."
Haley sighed deeply and turned to Mena, "Well, I guess all we have to do now is find Xander. I know it's been a very disappointing trip, but getting some useful information is better than finding nothing at all. Don't you think so?"
Mena had that deer in the headlights look on her face. There was something she had wanted to tell Haley when she got to the Visitors Center, but had decided to wait when she saw how upset Haley had looked. Now she had nearly forgotten about it.
She looked Haley in the eyes, knowing full well that she had to at least tell Xander and her that she had seen them. "Well, yes. Actually...I did find or uhmm... see something."
Haley looked concerned. "What is it, Mena? What did you see?"
"I should have mentioned it earlier, but I didn't want to upset you further. Besides, I really didn't think it was that important," Mena started.
Haley was glad that Mena hadn't wanted to upset her, but she was a bit disappointed nonetheless. The girl knew better than to keep information from her team, let alone from her Watcher. Or any Watcher for that matter.
"Just tell me what you found, Mena," Haley urged, "and from now on, please never keep anything from us, no matter how unimportant you think it is. We can't afford to be careless."
Mena nodded her head and looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Haley. It won't happen again...I promise."
She looked sheepishly at the Watcher and told her what she saw at the lake, "When I was checking out the parade route, I think I saw a couple of the Wolfram & Hart people out there, too. I'm pretty sure they were the same ones that Spike met. They didn't see me, but I kept out of the way and stayed hidden. Maybe they were looking for the artifact or just following us, but I didn't think it was important since the mask isn't here anyway. Right?"
Haley wasn't too worried about the Wolfram & Hart spies, but she still thought Xander should know, and they probably should let Giles know as well.
"I don't think those people pose any threat to us, Mena, but Xander won't be happy to hear they were snooping around. I'm certain that Spike would be pretty angry, too, if he were here." She sounded tired when she continued, "Maybe we better find Xander and fill him in since it looks like we'll have to search elsewhere for the mask."
Mena nodded in agreement and they headed off to find Xander and tell him the news.
A very hot, tired and frustrated Xander Harris sat on the steps outside of the Visitor's Center, waiting for Mena and Haley. He still wasn't sure how he was going to tell them about his encounter with the ghost of Albert Collins without them thinking he had heat stroke. The information the ghost had given was cryptic at best, but it was still a clue, Xander reasoned.
Not long after that, Mena and Haley arrived. They looked almost as haggard and dejected as he did.
"From the looks on your faces I take it you came up pretty...much empty. Right? No special 'vibes' from Chief Red Cloud or the medicine bag?" he asked sullenly when he saw them.
Both girls shook their heads wearily as they plopped down on the steps beside him.
"No," Haley started, "we didn't find or sense anything 'mystical' on the grounds or in the buildings..."
"But we did find someone who told us we were searching in the wrong place," Mena finished Haley's sentence for her.
Xander looked at them both questioningly.
Haley continued with obvious embarrassment, "We met the park groundskeeper, and he informed me that I was wrong about where Red Cloud attacked. He said that Red Cloud attacked Ft.Kearnay in Wyoming. Not Ft.Kearny, Nebraska. I was wrong. I'm sorry, but it looks like I led us to the wrong place."
Xander was tempted to poke fun at Haley for her mistake, but decided against it, since he wasn't exactly sure how his news would be taken.
"What about you? Did you find anything?" Haley asked, knowing full well he hadn't, but wanting to shift the attention away from her.
"Well, actually someone sort of told me the same thing," Xander said cautiously, watching the expression on their faces. "I...kind of ran into someone who was here when this place was built. He said we have to follow the Oregon Trail, and that what we seek is in that direction." He managed to get that last part out rather quickly before Haley started laughing.
She looked at him in disbelief, "Xander, surely you can't be serious. This place was built A LONG time ago. I doubt anyone living back then would still be around today."
"I know it sounds unbelievable, but it's true," Xander insisted. "He was a ghost; the ghost of the carpenter that built this place."
When Mena heard the word ghost, she blanched. She had had enough bad experiences with ghosts already and didn't want any more.
Xander caught her terrified look but gently assured her, "It's okay, Mena, he was friendly. He said he had no reason to lie to me and that he wanted to help."
It took a few minutes for them to digest what they had learned, but they all came to the same conclusion. They still didn't have the artifact.
"So now what?" asked Haley meekly. "Should we wait for the Indian spirits to guide us, or do we take the hints from a ghost or a groundskeeper and head off in another direction? For that matter, maybe we should just try the casino after all."
Xander shot her a withering glance and shook his head.
"Much as I hate to do it I think we should get Giles back on the phone and ask his opinion before we rush off searching for another needle in another haystack. I don't think he'd appreciate us just chasing every lead we get, especially if they come from rather uhh... unconventional sources. Plus we could really use Spike's help here that is, if he can tear himself away from the 'Addams Family Reunion'."
Mena perked up at the mention of his name. "Do you think Spike is okay? He's been acting pretty strange lately. I'm really worried about him."
"I'm sure Spike is fine, Mena," Haley reassured her."Perhaps he's just going through some personal issues."
"Yeah, well, he's about eighty years past the age where most men go through a mid-life crisis so I hope he gets his head screwed back on right, pretty soon," Xander grumbled. "But it's no use staying out here in this heat. Why don't we go get a cold drink and give Giles a call?"
"I think you're probably right, Xander," Haley agreed. "Giles should be consulted before we make our next move. Oh...and incidentally, there is one other thing we need to tell you and Giles, as well. Apparently Wolfram & Hart still has people following us and perhaps looking for the artifact. Mena saw them when she did her search at the Lake."
"Oh great!" Xander sighed. "Just what we need. Of course, those idiots would just say they were here to help if we ever confronted them. I'll tell Giles though. Then we can sic Spike on them, if we ever see him again, that is."
As they got up and walked towards the building, Xander's cell phone started ringing. He looked at the caller ID and shook his head and laughed in disbelief.
"Well...speak of the Devil and he sends you a text message. 'Sir Vamps a Lot' is on line one. It's about damn time!"
Epilogue - Hawthorne Farm:
Spike woke very late that morning, safe and sound in the guest bed at the Hawthorne Farm.
Surrounded by ten empty bottles of the finest vintage Hawthorne wine.
He scrambled to his feet and almost fell back over from the hangover.
It also took him sometime to realize he had fallen asleep with his head at the end of the bed.
Quite a night. Quite a
Spike immediately sobered.
He checked out the window and sure enough the sun shone bright and clear. A new day.
He snorted, "Fucking, sodding mornings."
Groggily, he picked up his duster and scooped up a quilt, opting for a store-bought quilt and not one of Holly's knitted masterpieces. He ambled downstairs. As he took it all in, he toyed a dozen or so times with the idea of burning the place to the ground. It was still a good house, a good place to raise a family.
He smiled one last pained smile and went to the kitchen to drink some cold pig's blood. Didn't matter what temperature blood was at when he had a hangover.
He shrugged on his duster and grimaced as he saw some small holes from the acid droplets. He took one last look around.
Yep. Good home. Lot of love here. Bodes well for the next owners.
Spike shrouded himself in the blanket, opened the front door, and swept it shut behind him. He stormed back inside almost immediately, ran upstairs, and with a vicious yank and disgusted mutter, pulled the ancient wolf mask off the wall. Making sure about the blanket and psyching himself up, he sprinted like mad to the Viper as smoke trailed up in curls behind him.
One thing about Angel. He had the best rides. The protective glass in the car allowed Spike to look out at the farm without feeling any ill effects from the sun. He had enough experience with that. Bloody nightmares from it.
He dug in his pocket for some more smokes when he came across the cellular. Momentarily he contemplated calling Buffy. He wanted to - needed to - but...
"Don't really think I can face her yet." He sighed irritably as he instead thumbed down to H and hit Xander Harris's phone number. "Yeah. Suppose I should give them the heads up, though."
"Yello?" the voice at the other end enquired.
Spike really didn't know how to even begin.
"Yeah, uh, Xander, it's it's me."
"Where the hell have you been?!"
"Well, the visit turned out to be a bit more involved than I thought it would be."
Xander wouldn't hear of it.
"While you were off playing bridge or kitten poker or whatever it is you guys with no surname to speak of do, we had a lousy time in Norfolk and an even lousier time in Genoa. Now I'm standing here sweating like a pig in some fly-infested state park, after embarking on yet another wild goose chase, or make that wild wolf chase. Seems like we're after some long gone Indian chief's mystical mask or something like that. Anyway...long story short...it's not here! Old Red Cloud's spirit isn't offering any help. Now the park groundskeeper and some carpenter's ghost say we have to follow the Oregon Trail to another fort in order to find the damn thing. And while I'm all for honouring the dead, that's what All Soul's Day and Dia de Muerte are for."
Xander finally did take a breath and then finished, "Besides, if I want ghosts, I got 'Poltergeist' or 'Ghostbusters'. The original for both."
"Look, Xander " Spike said, trying to get a word in, but Xander continued his rant.
"Don't 'Look, Xander' me!' Next time, I want to know where you're at, what you're doing, what you're milking and what the status of your mission is. This is too important for us to blow, Spike. And while we're at it, address me as Harris. Cause that's how you would be snarking at me right about now."
"Look, some things came up and, Xa Harris, I don't want to be talking about it right now."
For once, Xander paused. He seemed to sense Spike's moroseness. Moreover, he actually seemed to care.
"Yeah, well it's not really your fault. This whole trip has been a bust. A flat bust for the flattest place on Earth. Let's just pick up where we left off or I mean, at least we know what we're looking for. Now, if we just knew where the hell it was."
"I found the artifact, Harris. Its spirit called to me, I guess."
"What? Really? Well, I'll be damned! Give me the coordinates and we'll locate it."
"Got it right beside me on the passenger seat."
Spike checked to see if he still had a connection.
"We rendezvous at Omaha Airport," Xander said tightly. "Don't be late. And, man, if you didn't have a soul, I'd Don't be late."
Spike grimaced, "Oh, yeah, I'll be in the shit doghouse for a sodding well, I'm already in the shit doghouse where Harris is concerned so no big whoop."
Spike rubbed his eyes and squinted at the clock on the Viper's dash. "Damn, 11:20?" he groaned. Coffee. He needed some coffee.
He gunned the engine and peeled out in a storm of dust.
Diner outside of Grand Island:
Even the coffee turned out to be lousy. Figures! Also turned out to be Folgers. But the English Muffin wasn't half bad.
You'd think a diner that advertises 'Breakfast Anytime! All the Time!' would at least make a good cuppa, Spike thought miserably.
Naturally, Spike sat alone in the darkened corner. As per his specifications. Nancy the waitress, who was also attending the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, was fairly smitten with him. Always was when it came to leather jacketed studs with a hint of danger. Like James Dean back in the day. Hottie McHot!
Marlene, the older waitress, looked distastefully at him. She was reminded of those hooligans that rode through the Nebraska badlands in the 1950s. Troublemaking, No-Account Delinquents. And, of course, who could forget The Wild One. Starring Omaha's own Marlon Brando.
"Lazy, arrogant slob," she groused.
Spike just sat quietly eating his muffin, reading the Omaha World Herald when some shadows approached his table. He knew who it was, but he couldn't believe it. What did they want?
"So," Xander Harris quipped, "any of these seats taken?"
"Uh, no," Spike muttered thoroughly confused.
Mena and Haley happily said "hi" and sat down.
"Got anything good on this menu?" Mena asked. "We haven't eaten all morning...except donuts, but they don't really count."
"Um, not sure not sure, pet. Just got myself a muffin s'all."
"Huh. Well, nourishment is nourishment. I know it's after lunch, but the sign says 'All Day Breakfast' which is why I'm eating the six layer pancake special."
"Eggs for me," Xander decided. "Over Easy and runny. If it ain't runny, it ain't money." Xander immediately hid his face in the menu as he was bombarded with disbelieving stares.
"Look, as much as I appreciate you all ," Spike started.
"No bangers. No mash. Looks like it's just a croissant here," Haley lamented.
"They've got biscuits and gravy," Xander told her.
"Oh! I'll take that!" Haley amended.
"So, Spike," Xander finally said, "you feeling all right?"
"How did ? How did you all ?"
"Tracking device, my friend. Courtesy of Rupert Giles and Willow Rosenberg. Besides...you were right between us and the airport. No sense in you going it alone. We got to look out for each other, right? "
Spike couldn't help looking at Xander with new eyes. Couldn't help looking at them all, really. It felt like
It felt like home.
"You called me friend," Spike pointed out.
"Yeah, well, sunshiny day in the Midwest with some good diner stick to your ribs type cooking. Won't happen again. Don't worry."
Spike laughed. A real genuine laugh.
"So, how are things? Wanna talk about it?"
Spike sat staring at Xander Harris. His friend, Xander Harris.
And realized, yeah.
Yeah, he did want to talk about it.
End of The Meanness of the World
What happens when the past converges into the present?
Coming Next Time on
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