Spike had called to her, he'd shouted, and now he was bellowing, but to no avail. If he could just get Eve to come down, she could go to Connor, and they could go to Anne, and then Anne would come down and let him out. Except there was that "Frankly, Scarlett" line he'd laid on her just before Anne lured him down here, and Eve might be thinking something along the same lines about him right now. Spike wondered if the reason nobody else had heard him and come down to investigate was that nobody could hear him over all the noise up there. Or they had heard him and simply didn't care. Or maybe Anne had made the basement - and him - off limits to them all.
He was annoyed and his throat was already growing sore from the shouting, so he stopped that, and surveyed the cage he'd been imprisoned in. It was pretty much a standard food lock-up. There were several rows of steel shelves littered with casually sorted rows of various supplies; some boxes, some cans, and a few large jars of food, but not much else. The cans and jars reminded Spike that he'd had naught but one scrawny rat to eat all day, and that was hours and hours ago, so he pushed the rows around a bit, searching, until his hand fell onto the label of a jar that proudly proclaimed:
"Homestyle Beef Gravy - made with real beef juices!"
Beef juices? Spike thought, there would be some beef blood in that. He slid the jar out from the others, then walked over to a pile of cardboard cases labeled "green beans", sat on top of them, unscrewed the lid of the gravy jar, gingerly dipped a finger in, then put the coated finger to his mouth and tasted.
Salt and slime... and a tiny trace of cooked blood.
It was unlikely that the cooked blood would be of any value to his vampire body, but the taste was not repulsive. This would give him something to do while he waited for Anne to return, so Spike stuck two fingers into the jar, sucked them clean and went back for more.
As he scooped and sucked, he amused himself by looking around at all the things Anne had stored in the basement. In one corner, there was a sorry excuse for a Christmas tree, all plastic and faded, with its branches sagging, as if it knew how pathetic it was. Next to it were some cardboard boxes labeled with big black letters saying "X-MAS", and Spike snickered, because he'd always thought of "X-Mas" as a black day himself. Next to the boxes, hanging on the wall, was a large wooden cross, the sight of which brought first the usual revulsion, and then a vivid memory that flashed through Spike's head...
"Come on, hero. Tell me more..."
He and Angel were in the desert, in that ridiculous, buried opera house, fighting over what turned out to be the even more ridiculous Cup of Torment. Spike taunted Angel between the punches; his words were a perfect blend of insight and outrage that pounded on Angel like hammers.
"Teach me what it means..." Spike lectured, "And I'll tell you why you can't stand the bloody sight of me..."
"Tell it to your therapist," Angel hissed.
"... Cause every time you look at me... " Spike was relentless, beating Angel down with every word, "You see all the dirty little things I've done..."
Spike hit him again.
"... all the lives I've taken..."
"...because of you..."
"... Drusilla sired me..."
"... but you..." Spike landed one last blow, sending Angel to his knees, then to the floor, "You made me a monster."
"I didn't make you, Spike, I just opened the door," Angel got back on his knees, trying to rise, "... and let the real you out."
Spike reached down, picked up the cross that Angel had dropped, and swung it at Angel, bashing the vampire across the chest and knocking him clear across the room.
"You never knew," Spike shouted after him, "the real me."
As Spike sat there, slurping gravy and remembering that all-too-brief moment of victory over Angel, it suddenly occurred to him that he should be saying some of those things again now, only into a mirror this time. In one way, Angel was right - Spike was a monster, and something of that monster must have been present in the man from which the demon was sprung. It was odd to think of William the Bloody Awful Poet as anything other than the perpetual victim that he was, but surely there must have been powerful darkness buried somewhere deep inside the human William to have followed the demon Spike to such depths of evil that, even now, Spike sometimes had trouble believing he'd really done all that.
But he had.
Is it possible, Spike wondered, that I never knew the real me, either?
This was certainly food for thought, which was all Spike had left now, as the gravy jar was empty. He set the empty down, and was returning to the shelves to see if there was another when he heard the door handle at the top of those steps creak, then light fell on the stairs as the door opened.
"Well," Spike looked up, addressing the open door above, "it's about bloody time you..."
His words trailed off when he saw that it was not Eve, nor Anne, coming down the steps. It was the one Anne called "Joseph" and everybody else called Preacher Joe.
"... Oh, hello, Joseph," Spike shifted gears, going from snarl to smile, "It is Joseph, right? Nice of you to drop by."
"And you're Spike," Preacher Joe reached the bottom step and paused there, studying Spike from across the floor. "Anne said you needed to be down here for a spell, so I've come down to bring you some comfort."
"Rather have a smoke."
"What?" Preacher Joe made a face, then laughed a bit, then walked over to just outside Spike's reach. "Sorry, can't help you. I try to avoid temptations of the flesh."
"I'll bet," Spike tilted his head, gave the man a quick once-over, then announced his findings, "you don't have too much trouble doing that."
"Oh, there's always trouble," Preacher Joe looked down, noticing the two big, shrink-wrapped bundles of toilet paper lying next to the cage door, "things out of order, things out of place." He bent over and lifted one bundle up, then placed it on top of the other, "There... that's better; now..." he fumbled through his pockets, then brought out a small candle and a box of wooden matches, "... where was I? Oh, yes... "
He held the candle over the toilet paper bundles, struck a match to light the candle, and then held the burning candle over the burning match until that flame died. Melted wax dripped down onto the plastic wrap below, forming a tiny pool into which he set the candle and held it until the wax cooled.
"Better to light a candle," Preacher Joe gazed dreamily into the glow of the candlelight, then jerked his head up abruptly to look at Spike, "than curse the darkness, wouldn't you say?"
"So, tell me, son, are you troubled?"
"No, I'm trapped," Spike replied. "And if you could please go upstairs and ask Anne to come down here, I would be..."
"Anne... she's seen the light, you know." The man leaned towards Spike a bit, his eyes wide and more than a little wild, "She knows things, she sees things... she put you in there."
"It was a... misunderstanding," Spike explained. "If you'd just go get her..."
"No, not until you've seen the light."
"I'll see anything you want, if you just go upstairs and get Anne to come down here."
Laughing slightly, Preacher Joe walked to the supply cage door and inspected the lock, then grabbed the widely spaced, but strong, welded steel wire mesh and shook, testing it.
"Strong stuff," he snaked his hands through two adjacent openings, "but not strong enough, is it?"
Spike knew it would be so easy to leap up and seize the demented little man, then scare him a bit so he'd do what was being asked of him; but if Preacher Joe were to run upstairs with Spike's demands, all Anne would need to see was the fear in his eyes, and she would be convinced that she'd done the right thing.
The bottom line was that Spike was the captive audience here, and Preacher Joe had the upper hand, so all Spike could do is stay put and let the man ramble on. It was hardly a new experience for him, since often Drusilla would go for hours and hours raving about everything and nothing at all.
"No, not strong enough," Preacher Joe repeated, "Not strong enough... all the evil inside is bound to get out. No, no... not strong enough..."
There was something almost lyrical in the way he said the words, as if he was hearing music in his head.
Drusilla did that, too.
"Deja vu, all over again," Spike mumbled. "You're makin' me feel nostalgic for the bad old days, mate."
"Oh," Preacher Joe shook his head, then yanked his hands back from the wire mesh, "we can't have that. Oh, no, no, no... "
"You have to see the light." He brought his hands back through the mesh again, only this time one held his box of matches and the other had a match ready to strike. "You must see the light."
There was a flash as he struck the match.
"See it?" He extended his arm as far through the wire mesh as it would fit, waving the burning match at Spike. "Do you see it?"
"I see it," Spike replied, but he wasn't really listening. "I see it just fine."
"But have you embraced it?" Preacher Joe asked, his eyes glued to the little flame as it consumed the matchstick, burning its way toward his fingers. "Have you embraced the cleansing fire of the light?"
"Been there, done that," Spike made a face, remembering his heroic death and much less heroic resurrection afterward. "Didn't stick."
"Oh," Preacher Joe leaned against the wire mesh and blew out the match just as it was about to touch his flesh. "Pity."
He dropped the spent match, pulled out another, and then struck it.
"Well, then," he said, "it's time to try again."
With a flick of his finger, he launched the burning match. It arched over the narrow walkway inside the cage to where Spike was sitting, bounced off his duster, then fell to the floor at his feet.
Spike stomped down hard, extinguishing the match. When he looked back up from what he was doing, he saw the man strike another match and flick it, only this time, it was aimed directly at the shelves. Spike leaped to his feet and caught the match before it could bounce into the stacks of cardboard boxes and ignite them.
"Ow!" He howled as the dying match burned into his hand, then lunged at the man, who quickly pulled his hands out of the cage and backed away from it. "What in bloody hell do you think you're doing?"
"See the light." Preacher Joe struck another match, and then held it up. "Let the cleansing fire of the light purge you of your sins and you will be redeemed."
"Redeem this," Spike made the gesture - and instantly regretted it.
Highlighted by the glow of the burning match before him, Preacher Joe's face immediately transformed from ecstatic evangelist to vindictive inquisitor.
"Unclean thing!" He hissed as he pulled out another match and struck it. "You think I don't know what you are... Demon... Vampire?"
He lifted the match higher this time, preparing to loft it over Spike's head, into the shelves behind him, but just as he was about to toss it, a sound on the stairs behind him caught his attention. Still holding the match high, he turned around and saw Colin standing there, looking down at him in alarm.
"Stay there, son, it's dark and dangerous down here." Preacher Joe shook the match out, pocketed the matchbox, and quickly went to the staircase to meet the boy and prevent him from making it all the way down. "See? I came to you."
"Anne wants you," Colin's eyes drifted past the man, searching the shadows. "Is Spike down here, too?"
"He's, uh, busy," Preacher Joe answered quickly, touching the boy's shoulders to bring his attention back to himself and away from the cage. "He's helping Anne."
"Okay." Colin replied. "Anne says come help in the kitchen."
"Colin!" Spike called out. "Go find Anne... Bring Anne here!"
"And a little child shall lead them," Preacher Joe turned Colin around so he was facing the other way, then gave him a boost to get him started up the steps. "Let's go find Anne... You go first!"
As the man shooed him up the steps, Colin looked back, trying to see where Spike was and what he was doing, but each time he turned his head, Preacher Joe would push him harder. He had no choice but to allow the man to herd him up the steps, through the door, then all the way to the kitchen, where they found Anne scooping spoonfuls of tuna salad onto bread.
"Joseph!" She shouted his name before he could speak, then she looked down at Colin. "Thanks for finding him." Then she looked back at Preacher Joe, "I need you, Joseph, to take these", she slapped slices of bread onto the tuna salad, then pressed the sandwiches together, "out there", she threw them on a plate, shoved the plate at the man's chest, and pointed toward the television room, "and feed those kids before they start eating the furniture. Okay?"
"Loaves and fishes!" Preacher Joe announced his approval as he grasped the tray, then turned and walked away reciting to himself, "Blessed are those who hunger..."
Anne stared after him for a second, then returned to her tuna fish, and it was several more seconds before she realized that Colin was still there.
"Hey, you," she glanced down, "what's with the sad face?"
"Why is Spike in the basement?"
"Spike?" Anne put her eyes back on the tuna. "Oh, he's just having a time out... you know what a time out is, don't you?"
"It means you've been bad," Colin answered.
"Well, Spike's been bad, Colin." Anne worked faster. "Very bad. So I locked him in the food cage so he can think it over for awhile, and then, uh, somebody will come for him."
"I don't like cages."
"Neither do I," Anne stopped working, but kept her eyes on the food, "Neither do I."
She was trying to decide how much she should tell the boy when one of the teen girls burst into the kitchen.
"The cots are full," she complained loudly, "and we're out of blankets."
"Here," Anne reached down, pulled her keys out of a pocket, and tossed them to the girl. "Upstairs hall closet; use the blue one."
The girl caught the keys and zipped back out the kitchen doorway just as Preacher Joe returned with an empty plate.
"I fed the multitude," he cried out, "and now they thirst!"
"Thirst!" Anne growled, "Dammit!" She dropped the spoon, went directly to the refrigerator, yanked the door open, and leaned inside. "I don't know what we've got left..."
Moving closer so he could hear what she was saying, Preacher Joe passed Colin and peered over Anne, trying to listen and see at the same time. Colin used the moment to slip out the kitchen door and follow where the girl had gone. He caught up to her just as she finished pulling a small pile of blankets off a shelf, then closed and locked the closet door.
She had just pulled the key out of the lock when she noticed Colin standing beside her.
"Here!" She shoved the keys in his face. "Make yourself useful; take these to Anne."
A few moments later, Spike heard the upstairs door open, and then he saw Colin hurry down the steps and run over to the cage door. Before he could ask, the boy held up the keys and shook them, then smiled.
"Thanks, mate." Spike took the keys and tested them one after another in the lock until one finally fit. Spike gave the key a twist and the lock opened, then he pushed it out of the way and let it drop to the floor. The cage door creaked and swung open without being pushed, startling Spike for a second.
"What do you need," Colin asked, "An imitation?"
"It's invitation," Spike laughed, "and, no, I don't; not this time, anyway."
The joke was completely lost on the child, of course - but somehow that made it even more amusing. Clearing his throat, Spike reached down and took Colin by the hand.
"Come on," he said, "Let's go find Anne."
As Spike and Colin walked up the stairs and out of the basement, Connor came out of the kitchen just in time to see Spike shut the basement door behind him. Connor rushed forward, calling out to Spike.
"Spike! Is my father with you? I've been trying to find him all day."
"You know this guy, Connor?" asked Anne as she hurried towards them.
"Sure. Spike's been working with my father this whole past year. And I guess you could say that we're even sorta related. Spike, I haven't seen my father since he sent me home after I helped him..." Connor noticed the young boy standing with Spike and modified his words accordingly. "...um, deal with Hamilton."
"Hello, Connor. This resourceful, young lad is Colin. He's a good mate -- watches your back when needed."
Spike glared pointedly at Anne, who shrugged her shoulders, smiled and tried to look as apologetic and chagrinned as she felt. Spike's glare melted into a smirk. She couldn't have known that batty preacher would come downstairs and try to set him on fire. He shook his head in resigned amusement at his inability to convince Anne he could be trusted. It was only to be expected, of course. Why would any human trust a vampire without good reason? Then Spike looked back down at Colin, who was steadfastly gazing up at him, and realized that someone had trusted him tonight. Maybe there were others in the world who would also do so. He reached out and placed one hand on Colin's shoulder.
"Colin, Connor's the son of my friend, Angel. I need to talk with him about something important. Could you maybe go watch the telly for a bit? Won't be long."
"Sure, Spike." Colin had noticeably appreciated Spike's praise and was eager to appear worthy of more such high regard. He held out his hand to shake Connor's, saying, "Pleased to meet you, Connor."
"Nice to meet you, too, Colin." Connor shook the boy's hand and indicated Anne. "This is my friend Anne. She runs the shelter."
Anne also shook Colin's hand. "Hi, Colin. I'm going to take Spike and Connor to my office so we can talk where it's more quiet. Do you know where the television is?"
Erin and Melissa had been watching this exchange with great interest and stepped forward again to offer their assistance.
"He can watch T.V. with us, Anne," offered Melissa. "We've already met, right, Colin?" She smiled at both Connor and Spike, not sure which guy she might have a better chance to flirt with later. Both were definitely good looking.
"Yeah. We'll make sure Colin is entertained while you're busy," added Erin. Her smile and complete attention were focused entirely on Spike, since she was already certain in which guy she was most interested. He was just so freakin' hot! She hoped he wouldn't think she was too young for him, because, you know, she was, like, way mature for her age.
"Thanks, girls", said Anne, laughing a bit to herself at the obvious intentions at the root of their eager helpfulness and knowing that neither Spike nor Connor were likely to reciprocate the adolescent attentions of the two fourteen-year-olds. But she also understood that crushing on guys, especially if they're older and good-looking, was a healthy, normal activity for teen-aged girls. She wouldn't dampen their spirits unless they pushed it to a point where it became necessary. The spirits of most of the teens at the shelter had already been damaged by the various conditions that brought them here in the first place. She figured she might as well let them have a little hope and excitement now and then. What's the harm? As the girls led Colin to the T.V. room, Anne ushered Spike and Connor to her office.
"I'm sorry that I locked you up, Spike. I hope you understand that I was concerned for all the people here. I had no way of knowing that you could be trusted," Anne apologized as she opened the door to her office and turned on the light.
"That's all right. Shouldn't trust vampires. That was a pretty good trick you pulled. Took me by surprise," Spike complimented as he sat in one of the chairs facing Anne's desk, and Connor seated himself in the other, while Anne sat in her usual chair behind the desk.
"Wait a minute. What was that? You locked him up?" asked Connor.
"No need to get your knickers in a twist, mate. It's all over now, but I'd keep an eye on that preacher if I were you, Anne. He's a right nutter, that one."
"I know. We've had a few problems with Joseph in the past, but he's mostly harmless, and he means well. Couldn't shut him out with all the attacks in the neighborhood the last two days," Anne replied.
"Yeah. What happened, Spike? And where's my father?"
"You said you helped him deal with Hamilton. That oversized brute in a suit's definitely dead meat, then?" asked Spike.
"It was a tough fight. He was amazingly strong. He bragged something about being filled with the blood and power of the Senior Partners."
"Bloody hell. Knew there was something off about that bloke. He knocked the hell out of Blue, and none of the rest of us could've managed that. How'd you two beat him?"
"The cocky bastard mentioned blood, right?" Connor and Spike exchanged grins. "Once my father managed to help himself to some of the power in that blood, they were fighting on more equal terms. Didn't take long after that. But the building got pretty battered during the whole fight, and it was beginning to crash down around us. He didn't want me to get any further involved in whatever you guys were up to and made me promise to go home. What were you guys doing, Spike?"
"Charlie, Wes, Lorne, even Illyria...we all agreed to take on the whole, bleeding Circle of the Black Thorn."
"Who are they?" asked Anne. "Sounds like a horticultural society, but I imagine it must be something wicked or demented."
"An organization of very powerful demons that do all the sodding dirty work for the Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart. Total scum bags, the lot of them. Angel assigned each of us a specific target, and we split up to take them all out simultaneously. Sorta an homage to The Godfather, yeah?"
"Ballsy move," Connor acknowledged. "So that's what got all the usual L.A. vermin riled up and out on the streets?"
"That's part of the reason. Thing is, we were successful. All of our targets were killed."
"So where are all of the guys? Where's my father? Don't think I haven't noticed that you keep avoiding that question."
"Coming to that, mate. See, the Senior Partners got right brassed off, losing their whole team like that, yeah? And we all figured that would happen. So Angel told us all to meet up afterwards, outside the Hyperion in that alley on the north side. But only me, Charlie-boy, Blue and Angel showed up."
"What happened to Wesley and Lorne?" asked Anne, with a clear look of concern on her face.
"Well, Lorne, he told us he wouldn't be coming to the alley no matter what. Said that he'd had enough and that if he lived through his assignment, he was going to take off. Didn't want anyone to come look for him either. So he might be all right. No way to be sure."
"And Wes?" prompted Connor.
"Didn't make it." Spike sighed and allowed the other two a moment to take it in. "His target was Cyrus Vail. You met him, mate. He was the one who constructed the whole memory wipe thing." Connor nodded solemnly as Spike continued, "Well, Vail's dead, but so is Wes, I'm sorry to say. Blue checked in on him before meeting up with the rest of us. Told us what happened."
"Wesley's had a really difficult time of it, the last two years. He was a good man. He deserved better," sniffed Anne.
"Agreed," said Spike and then continued. "Charlie-boy was in right bad shape when he arrived, but he still joined us in the alley. We had only a couple of minutes before the Senior Partners showed us just how brassed off they were."
"What'd they do?" asked Connor.
"Bloody wankers sent a bloody demon horde after us -- dragon and all."
"Oh, my God!" exclaimed Anne, her eyes wide with fear and dismay.
"Angel just took a gander at them and said, 'Well, personally, I kinda wanna slay the dragon. Let's go to work.' And so that's what we did. We mopped the pavement with them. Should've seen your Dad, mate. Cutting a swath through the middle of them, intent on making his way to the dragon. 'Course, he needed just a bit of my help with the dragon, but he killed it, all right. That alley's clean as a whistle now. Senior Partners must've contacted someone to make it look like nothing ever happened there."
"So where's my father, then? And Gunn and Illyria?"
"Thing is, mate, there was just a few too many of the enemy. Charlie and Angel -- they're dead. And Illyria's gone...don't know where."
"Oh, Connor, I'm so very sorry." Anne got out of her chair and walked to Connor's side, moving her right arm around his back to pat his shoulder and squeezing one of his hands with her left.
Connor didn't move or speak for a moment. Finally, he shook his head and whispered, "I...I thought we'd have time to...time to..." He appeared unable to finish the thought.
Spike leaned closer and gazed intently into Connor's eyes. "As long as you're alive, so is he. Know what I mean, Connor?"
Connor blinked slowly. "He said those exact same words to me."
"Because it's true," Spike nodded. "Believe me, you never forget the people who really meant something to you. They live on in your memories forever. I ought to know; been around a while, myself."
"I'll never forget him," vowed Connor softly. "How could I?"
"Right. And you'll remember things that'll help you get on with your own life. 'Cause that's what he'd want, yeah? Wanna know one of the most important things I learned during the years I knew him? Something that's helped me out more than once; that's for sure."
"What's that, Spike?" Connor stared at him, clearly in need of something more to hang onto.
"Never give up, that's what. Can't say that he taught it directly to me during our earlier times together, but I sure as hell picked it up indirectly as a result of our...interaction. Over the years, it's gotten me out of more messes than I can count. Sorta became my code to live by. And it bloody well helped us all face that demon horde last night. Never give up, kid."
Connor raised his chin and nodded his head. "Never give up," he repeated quietly. "I won't, Spike. Not ever." He took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. "I suppose I should notify all those people from Sunnydale, but I only met Willow once and Faith for a couple of days. I never met the rest of them at all and have no idea how to contact them."
"I'll take care of that," offered Spike. "I know them all and know how to reach them, too."
"Thanks, Spike," said Connor. "And wasn't he dating someone recently? She should know what happened to him, too."
"You mean Wolfgirl? Yeah, she should be told, too, but Angel mentioned something 'bout her being off on holiday somewhere. Not sure where or when she's due back. All I know's her name and where she lives. Don't have her phone number." Spike wrote down Nina's name and address on a piece of paper from Anne's desk and handed it to Connor. "Maybe you could try to find her next week."
"Yeah, I'll do that," replied Connor. "I'd like to meet her."
Anne removed her arm from Connor's shoulder, stepped back around her desk and opened a drawer. She dug out a small key and handed it to Connor.
"Angel gave me this key yesterday and asked me to hold onto it until either he, Charles, Wes or you showed up here in need of it. I should have realized something was up when both Charles and Angel stopped by on the same day. Especially since Angel never came over here unless there was some kind of emergency, and I hadn't seen Charles in ages either. I really should have known there was trouble. Angel stayed just long enough to give me the key."
"What's it for?" asked Connor as he closed his hand around it.
"It's the key to a safe deposit box at the bank on La Cienega, near the restaurant that sells Fred's favorite tacos. He said you'd remember that place. The box is registered in the names of your Dad, Charles, Wes and you. Oh, and he said to tell you it's under the name on your driver's license. Isn't Connor your real name?"
"Um...he meant my last name. The one we use for legal identification purposes. Did he give you a message for me?"
"Just that he left a letter for you in the box as well as bank books that'll give you access to several untraceable bank accounts in a few different countries that guarantee privacy. He said that he set this up in case they ever needed a quick getaway from Wolfram & Hart."
"Huh. I'm not surprised," declared Spike. "He and Darla used to stash away money all over the place, back in the day. Sounds just like him. And he bloody well knew the whole Wolfram & Hart thing'd blow up in his face, someday."
"I haven't trusted that company since Lilah and Lindsey tried to use our shelter in a ruse to scam donations a few years ago, but during this last year, Charles had such hopes for turning it around." Anne sighed as she moved over to a locked cabinet and began to turn the combination dial.
"Told them it wouldn't work," Spike shook his head ruefully. "Those Wolfram & Hart bastards are too corrupt to allow any real change. Of course, didn't mind using their resources while we did our own thing," Spike grinned. "Your Dad managed to do a lot of good right under those berks' noses. Glad he thought of skimming some of those ill-gotten gains away from their wicked schemes and purposes."
While they continued talking in Anne's office, Preacher Joe re-entered the basement for his own wicked purposes. He scanned the room, spotting some shelves with various containers that could help him with the new task he had set for himself. He splashed turpentine and charcoal lighter fluid all around the walls, and over the bundles of toilet paper, some stacks of boxes and a bin of newspapers and magazines, ready for recycling.
He bowed his head, muttered a prayer and then set the basement ablaze, crying out, "Unclean. I purify this unholy place in His name. Demons and vampires shall find no shelter here. Unclean." Then he ran up the stairs, shutting the basement door behind him. "Unclean", he yelled to the people he passed on his way out of the shelter and into the streets beyond.
As Preacher Joe began his arson in the basement, the discussion in the office had progressed. Connor looked very determinedly at Spike and Anne. "I don't want that evil Wolfram & Hart money. What am I gonna do with it? I really don't want it."
"Are you daft? Take that evil money and do something good with it. Use it for college, mate. Angel was proud that you're doing so well at Stanford. He would've wanted you to finish getting your degree and make a good life for yourself. Don't be a git about where the money might have come from. If you find that there's a truly obscene amount of money in the accounts, there are a lot of charities and hospitals and the like that could make good use of it, yeah?"
"I suppose so," grumbled Connor. "Yeah, of course that's true. And you're gonna need some money, Spike. I'll go to the bank and get some for you," offered Connor.
"No need for that," said Anne, opening a safe from within the cabinet and pulling out a thick wad of cash. "Wesley brought this over here a few weeks ago, asking me to hold it for them in case of emergency. Seems like all of those guys knew things at Wolfram & Hart were getting out of control. Since they won't be able to use it, themselves, I'm sure they'd want you to use it, Spike."
"Nah. Always get by on my own. Been taking care of myself for a lot of years, you know. You use it for things here at the shelter."
"We're doing all right, Spike. This money was specifically on hold for an emergency you guys might be in. Sure looks like that's the case now. I'll bet those Senior Partners you were talking about will be looking for you as soon as they realize you're not dead. Please take it." Anne set the money on her desk in front of Spike.
"You've got to get out of L.A. fast, Spike. Don't be an idiot." Connor picked up the cash and shoved it into Spike's hands.
"Sounded exactly like your Dad, just then. He always called me an idiot. Never liked it much." Spike tilted his head and gazed intently into Connor's eyes. "You lucked out and inherited your clear blue eyes from Darla, but you got your Dad's hair color and broody eyebrows."
"Guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," Connor smiled at the thought. "Just use the money to stay safe, would ya?" Connor seemed both touched and a bit uncomfortable under Spike's continued gaze. "And get hold of me whenever you need some more, okay? I don't want those bastards getting you, too."
Giving in, Spike began tucking the money into both pockets of his jeans, which certainly looked in need of immediate replacement.
"Nah. This is more than enough for the likes of me. Like I said, I always get by. But if I ever run across somebody else who could use a Daddy Warbucks, promise I'll think of you, mate. I smell smoke. Do you smell smoke?"
Spike jumped to his feet and rushed out the office door, with Connor and Anne at his heels. Thick, black smoke rolled up the basement steps and billowed under the crack beneath the door. Spike immediately started looking for Colin.
Panic erupted as the occupants of the shelter scrambled to their feet and rushed en masse toward the front door, pushing and shoving, even dragging one another along as they tried to squeeze through the opening. Anne and Connor found themselves pressed back against the wall as the mob surged past them, but managed to struggle to the door and take positions on either side.
"This way! Don't push!" Anne shouted, using her arms to funnel the others into single-file. "One at a time! Now, move it!"
"You heard the lady!" Connor followed her lead, "One at a time!"
Together they quickly gained control of the crowd, herding them through the door and out into the street, emptying the building with surprising efficiency.
Meanwhile, Spike fought his way back through the current of bodies, shouting for Colin.
The boy's voice gave Spike a direction, and a few seconds later, he found the boy among a group of teens who were standing in the kitchen doorway, waiting for the crowd that had cut them off to move out of the way.
"Come on!" Spike snatched the boy up roughly, then turned and pushed his way into the crowd, and the teens followed. Once the last of them had passed through the front door, Anne and Connor followed. As they joined the little crowd that had formed in the dark and smokey street outside, they heard Eve calling the fire in on somebody's cell phone, so now all there was to do was watch and wait for the fire trucks to come.
"Dammit!" Anne made fists at the smoke that was pouring out of the building and drifting over the crowd. "I just got this place!"
"Hope you're insured," Spike pried Colin's arms from around his neck, then passed the boy to Anne. "Take this, will you?"
"Okay," Anne took the boy from him, then swung him onto her hip and looked around. "Say, sport, want to help me make sure everybody got out okay?"
Reassured, Colin nodded, and Anne carried him away, into the crowd, calling names and asking questions. This left Spike and Connor sort of alone, so Spike took a step closer to the young man, drawing his attention.
"About your father," Spike began, "there's something I... "
"Who did this?" Eve interrupted him, her face tight with almost hysterical dread. "Was it them? Did they follow us? I can't stay here; I have to... "
"Get a grip, luv," Spike said. "No reason to think this has anything to do with you."
The words had only just come out of his mouth when a gang of vampires in full vamp-face suddenly appeared and dove into the little crowd, snarling and howling as they came, scattering people in all directions. Eve gasped out loud and fled with them.
"What the fu...!?"
Spike could hardly believe his eyes. What kind of moronic vampire hunting scheme was this? Vampires stalked, they seduced, they ambushed, but this? He had no time to consider that question though, as the attacking vamps seemed to be singling out females, and Spike felt compelled to help them. He tried to spot Eve or Anne, but the cries of a young woman who was already caught and struggling with one of the vamps reached his ears and, in an instant, he had pulled the vamp off of her and began smashing its head into the street.
With Colin clinging to her side, Anne tried to outrun the vamp that was pursuing them, but the boy's weight proved too much. The vamp caught her by the arm and pulled it back, causing her to lose her grip on the boy, who fell to the street and just sat there, too stunned and scared to move. As the vamp spun her around, Anne shoved her hand into her waistband, gripped the stake she'd been carrying ever since she'd recognized Spike, then used it as the vampire yanked her close, and the vampire vanished in a puff of dust.
Anne was still shaking off the dust and the fear when she caught a glimpse of Connor, who was nearby, fighting another vamp.
"Connor!" she shouted, holding up the stake.
Seeing that Anne had exactly what he needed most at the moment, Connor shifted his weight, changing the direction of his blows and battering the vamp her way. As soon as he was within catching distance, he reached out his hand, and Anne tossed him the stake.
Another vamp was dust.
"You guys okay?" Connor shouted.
"We're okay!" Anne knelt down beside the trembling boy, then cradled him in her arms protectively. "Go do what you do!"
At that, Connor turned back towards the pandemonium that was filling the street and went to take on the other vampires. He found Spike just in time to see the platinum-haired vampire seize one of the biggest vamps by the neck and toss it headfirst into the burning building. He and Spike shared a quick "I see you're okay" look, then Connor spotted another vamp dragging off the two girls he'd met earlier that evening, and took off after them. Spike saw yet another vamp that had Eve cornered, and raced to her rescue.
Eve was standing with her back to the wall, frozen with fear, unable to move, watching the vamp as it approached.
"Hello, sweet thing," it laughed. "We've all been looking for you."
As the vamp took hold of her by both shoulders, then leaned in to bite, Eve closed her eyes and thought of Lindsey. The fangs touched her skin, but didn't bite through, then Eve felt them being jerked away and opened her eyes.
Spike had pulled the vamp off her. Still paralyzed with fear, she stood and watched for a second as the two vampires battled it out, then decided not to wait to see who won. Turning her back on her rescuer, she ran away as fast as she could and never looked back.
Spike had the vamp he'd just pulled off Eve in a headlock and was punching hard, when he heard the distant wail of sirens that meant the fire engines were on their way. The sound brought the chaos in the street around him to an abrupt halt; the attacking vamps immediately ceased whatever they were doing. Chasing, fighting and even the biting stopped, as one by one they dropped the attack and fled, disappearing into the smoke-filled night.
Spike's vamp pushed itself free and followed the others, and for a second, Spike was frozen in place. Rage and hunger and the thrill of battle had brought his bloodlust to a full boil, and it was all he could do to resist the urge to pursue, to run it down and kill it. But he caught sight of Anne kneeling in the street holding Colin, and instantly, all he could think of was the two of them, so he turned and ran to where they were.
"Anne? Colin?" he dropped to his knees beside them, "are you two okay?"
Anne nodded her head, but Colin was trembling with fear and too afraid to see anything else, so he kept his face buried in Anne's chest.
"You look cold," Spike said, stripping off his duster and placing it over the boy's back. "This'll keep you warm 'til the good guys get here."
As Anne pulled the duster around Colin, slipping it under her arms and pulling it snug, the boy ventured a peek out at Spike.
"But you're already here," he said quietly.
The boy's words hit home, and Spike looked up and away, not knowing what to say. His eyes met Anne's, and her face told him that she agreed with Colin.
"Right, then" he stood up, "we'll just wait here... "
He stopped speaking when he saw Connor return with a girl hanging tightly on each arm. Spotting Spike, Connor steered his charges over to where he and Anne were, and then had to practically peel them off in order to deposit them on the street next to Anne.
"Most of them went that way," he spoke rapidly as he gestured back the way he'd just come. "I think we can guess where they're heading. If we hurry, we can catch them. We can make them pay... " he panted, "... all of them..."
Just then, Spike had a rare moment of perfect clarity. He could see that all the pent-up rage and frustration Connor had been keeping locked up inside himself was about to rise up and crash over him like a tidal wave; and if that happened, Connor would do something rash and stupid. Spike knew the feelings all too well, as the exact same feelings were burning inside him, too. Twenty-four hours ago, he would have been happy to give in to them and race off to what could only be described as a meaningless death.
Was it only twenty-four hours? God, it seemed like an eternity.
"Come on," Connor turned and took several steps, then he realized that Spike had not moved, and turned back to him. "What are you waiting for? Are you coming?"
"NO?" Connor's rage suddenly had a new target. "What do you mean, NO?"
"I know what you're feeling," Spike told him. "I feel it, too. But now's not the time. You and I can't take them all down, and if you try alone, you'll spend the rest of your life - all fifteen minutes of it - destroying everything your father fought and died for."
The words hit Connor hard. He drew his breath as if to shout something back, but instead closed his eyes, lowered his head and let out a heavy, wounded sigh.
"Angel couldn't take the Senior Partners out, but he's hurt them, Connor," Spike pressed his point. "So we have time. You have time. He bought you that time. Time to grow. Time to learn. Time to live. That's what he wanted; it's the only thing he ever truly wanted."
Connor raised his head, and Spike could see in the young man's eyes that the words were getting through.
"So, you're not going to run off and get yourself dead," Spike continued. "Not for Angel. Not for anybody."
"What do I do, then?" Connor asked. "Where do I go now?"
"You go back, Connor," Spike replied. "You go back home. You go back to your family. You go back to school. You go back..."
... go back and figure out why you didn't die."
Flashing lights from a police cruiser that had just turned the corner into the street washed over them, splashing party colors on their faces and bringing the intense talk to a halt. Anne set Colin down and got to her feet, then picked him up again and started to walk toward the approaching police car, with the girls trailing close behind. The others followed her lead, each of them patting and thanking Connor and Spike as they passed.
"Looks like all the good guys are here now," Spike said as the first of the fire engines appeared at the corner, "so, I'm off."
"Yeah, that's probably a good idea," Connor was watching the police officers take control of the crowd and direct them out of the street, but then noticed that Spike was already walking and caught up with him. "Spike, wait a minute."
Spike stopped and looked at him.
"If you ever..." Connor started, but then paused to rethink it, "Anne will always know how to find me."
"Okay, good, " Connor sniffed a little bit. "Smoke in my eyes. Listen, when the time does come, I want in."
Spike didn't answer; he just nodded and started to walk again, and Connor kept up with him.
"Where you going now?" Connor asked.
"To figure out why I didn't die."
They reached the point where the crowd was gathering, and Connor stopped to talk to the two girls he'd rescued. Spike slipped behind them, passing the police on the unguarded side of their car.
It was there he found Anne leaning against the side of the squad car, holding Colin by the hand. Swamped inside the leather duster, the boy was standing there, looking up at him with large, expectant eyes.
"You know what?" Spike knelt down in front of him, "Anne here is gonna see to it that you get back to your... to the folks who love you." He looked up at Anne, "Isn't she?"
"Sure will," Anne replied, then asked, "You're going now, aren't you?"
"Yeah," Spike looked back at the cops and the crowd. "About to get a bit too busy around here for my tastes."
Anne didn't say anything, just nodded her head. She understood.
"So long, you two," Spike wanted to keep it short, but the boy's expression caught and held him there. He put his hand on Colin's head, and petted him a bit. "What do you say about you keeping that coat safe 'til I come back for it?"
"Okay," Colin replied. Reassured and smiling again, he let go of Anne's hand, and then crossed his arms, gathering the duster tightly around himself. Spike stood up, exchanged a look with Anne, and then walked away.
Waving goodbye from within a floppy leather arm of the duster, Colin watched as Spike walked to the corner, then turned it, and vanished behind a building wall.
Then he pulled himself up proudly, offered Anne his hand, and led her back into the crowd, where they were needed.
Eve was almost out of breath.
She'd run as fast as she could for several blocks before fatigue and a fiercely throbbing ache in the arches of her feet forced her to slow down, then stop. It was those damned Italian shoes.
Panting heavily, she turned around to chance a look back the way she had come. Nobody was chasing her so, after taking a deep breath, Eve turned back around and found herself looking at someone she never expected to see again. Ever.
He stepped out of a doorway and caught her by the arm, pulling her up short. After a second of mindless terror, she recognized him and let out a squeal of surprise and relief. The former Watcher, one of Wolfram & Hart's prize recruits, had helped Eve and Lindsey pull off the phoney Cup of Perpetual Torment trick on Angel and Spike, and then vanished as planned.
"Sirk?" she asked, then smiled. "Sirk! Oh, thank God, it really is you! What are you doing here?"
"The Senior Partners sent me," he smiled back at her but, as usual, his always-condescending smile never reached his sly, disapproving eyes. "I trust you followed their instructions to the letter?"
"Yes, I did what they wanted," Eve replied, "but I don't think he was falling for it. He's no Angel."
"But a seed has been planted - you did well - and the Senior Partners have more pressing matters to deal with right now, anyway." Sirk put a protective arm around her, then walked her away from the violence. "I'm sure it will do."
"What about us?" Eve asked fearfully.
"We're lucky." Sirk replied. "The Senior Partners are being extremely reasonable; they understand that you were under Lindsey's "spell", so to speak, that's why you were given this chance to make amends, to show them where your heart truly lies. And they recognize talent when they see it."
"Talent? I don't underst... "
They had to stop because fire engines responding to the fire call were racing through the intersection, blocking their way.
"Mine, not yours." Sirk turned, then took her in his arms and offered a comforting hug, "But you need not worry about that, my dear, because..." Eve felt a sudden, sharp pain in her side.
"All that's behind you now."
Pushing Sirk away, Eve looked down and saw the hilt of an ornate dagger sticking out of her body, then a wave of nausea rushed up through her. She put her hands around the wound and pressed, as if that might stop the river of blood that was running out of her.
"Why?" she asked weakly, already feeling light-headed and cold. "Why?"
"Nothing personal," Sirk explained. "This sacrifice is simply part of the deal - my deal - with Wolfram and Hart."
Eve stared at him, disbelieving, dying.
"Come on, now," Sirk said, "it's just business. You'd have done the same to me, if you'd had the chance. Besides, it's only your life that you're losing, not your contract - before you know it, you'll be back on the job. You'll be in Hell, that's true, but at least you won't be unemployed."
Resigned to her fate, Eve closed her eyes, fell to the sidewalk, and lay still.
"Bon voyage," Sirk stood over the body, waving farewell. "I'd say "God speed", but, well, you know..."
Then he walked away, leaving her to the night.
That's where Spike found her.
Concentrating hard as he recited the words over and over in his head, trying to figure out just how he was going to say it, Spike was so preoccupied with the upcoming phone call, the one he knew he should be the one to make, that he didn't discover Eve's body until he quite literally tripped over it. He knelt beside the body and checked for signs of life.
She was dead, but no vamp had done this. The very last drops of her blood were still trickling from the place where a dagger jutted out from her body. And under the heavy smoke, the sweet aroma of terrified humans, the beckoning scent of the fleeing vamps, and the delicate bouquet of Eve's freshly-spilled blood rising from the sidewalk, Spike smelled an old enemy.
Sirk had put one over on Spike, and Angel, too, and now it appeared he'd put one over on Eve.
Suddenly it all made sense.
The fire was just a co-incidence; the vamps were already on their way to the shelter because Eve was there. That's why they'd charged the crowd, to scatter them so they could single Eve out and then take her away while Spike was caught up in the fighting. What happened next seemed inevitable; Eve had outlived her usefulness in this world, so they'd sent her on to the next.
"Poor little girl", Spike spoke softly as he gently lifted Eve's arms and folded them over her chest, "that part of your story was true; the Senior Partners were out to kill you. Should've stayed with me but, in the end, you just didn't have the courage, did you?"
Shaking his head sadly, Spike stood back up, and spent another minute contemplating the dead young woman at his feet.
"What a waste," he concluded.
Several blocks away from Eve's body but not far at all from The Hyperion, Spike walked into the parking structure where he had hidden the Viper -- just in case a quick getaway had been needed the night before. He pulled the key out of his jeans pocket, opened the driver's side door and hopped into his favorite car from Angel's fleet of vehicles. He put the key in the ignition and turned it, then listened as the engine growled like a waking tiger.
It was a beautiful machine, all power and purpose.
Just like him.
Spike pressed his foot on the gas pedal and sped off into the night. He turned the volume on the radio up as high as it would go, using the music to drown out all the anger and regret for the time being.
Then he focused on the road that lay before him.
End of Never Give Up Part II
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