Brakes squealed. Horns blared.
In the back seat, Mena gasped loudly, then giggled nervously. And if the torrent of obscenities coming from the mouth of the outraged truck driver they'd just cut off had been bullets, they'd all be dead now. Riding shotgun in the front seat of the SUV while Spike drove, Xander was both an unwilling participant in and terrified witness to it all.
"Dammit, Spike! Watch where you're going!" He gripped the sissy bar above his window and slammed his foot into the floorboard for effect. "You just cut that guy off!"
"Wasn't even close," Spike dismissed him with a snicker, then added, "Grandma."
"At least you could find a decent station to listen to, Death Breath," Xander grumbled and tightened his seatbelt. "This one's giving me a headache."
He reached for the tuner button.
"Touch that and you'll lose those fingers."
Xander froze mid-reach and glared over at Spike, who continued speaking without looking at him.
"Lesson the first," Spike lectured, "Driver controls the music. When you're driving, we can listen to your music. Of course, the only time you'll be driving is when I'll be sleeping and won't have to hear it. Nothing wrong with the tunes, mate. Good cruising music."
Defeated, Xander leaned back onto the headrest and closed his eyes. This, he thought to himself, is going to be a long trip.
He must have been more tired than he'd thought because, when he opened his eyes, they were well out of suburban sprawl and cruising through the desert.
Spike looked over and noticed Xander was awake.
"I don't mind you sleeping," he teased. "Kinda peaceful, actually. But you have to do something about that snoring."
"I snore?" Xander asked, still trying to get his bearings. Then he noticed the slight smirk on Spike's face. "Oh. You are so full of shit."
Spike's only reply was a cocked eyebrow and another snicker.
"Hey," Xander did a half-stretch and turned his head to catch a glimpse of Mena in the back seat, "anybody hungry?"
"I thought," she replied, "that you guys were going to drive and sleep all the way to Colorado without stopping to eat or deal with... other important stuff."
Puzzled, Spike looked at her through the rearview mirror and noticed she was wriggling nervously as she spoke.
"I need to make a pit stop soon, guys," she said. "My teeth are floating."
"Should've said something sooner, Little Thumblemena," Spike told her. "First place I find, we'll stop and take care of you."
"What am I?" Xander muttered under his breath. "Chopped liver?"
The comment met with another raised eyebrow, but Spike didn't dignify it with an answer. True to his word, Spike pulled the rig off at the next exit, and soon they had emptied themselves, then refilled over a quiet meal. Afterwards, there was an uncomfortable moment in the parking lot when Xander walked to the driver's side door and blocked Spike's way.
"Give me the keys," Xander announced firmly as he stretched out his hand. "It's my turn to drive."
Spike hesitated, but Mena leaned between them and gave him a pleading look.
"You do look like you could use a nap," she offered, hoping her unsolicited feminine opinion would prevent yet one more unnecessary confrontation between the two "men" in her life.
Spike considered for another second, then decided she was probably right. He handed the keys over to Xander, crawled into the back seat and draped himself across it.
"Wake me in an hour," he ordered as he closed his eyes.
"Way to go, girl." Xander gave Mena an approving grin. "Looks like you're up front with me."
"And I," she chirped as she raced around to climb in the other side, "finally get to ride shotgun!"
They gassed up the SUV and hit the road again. Despite Xander's horrible choice of music, Spike was soon sound asleep. Some time later, he was startled awake by several high-pitched squeals from Mena. The tone of her voice and the fact that he smelled no fear at all told him they were not in danger. He pushed himself up, looked around, and located the source of her excitement.
Up ahead, the lights of Las Vegas were putting on quite the show. The city known for its high-rollers and lowlifes shimmered in the distance, beckoning to them. Spike had to admit the sight was impressive, almost magical --- especially to someone who has never seen it before, like Mena.
"Can we go see them closer?" Mena begged. "Tafadhali?"
"Another time," Xander replied, his tone reminding her they were on a mission and that someone needed their help.
For once, Spike agreed with the Watcher, but not for the same reasons. He was remembering the last time he was in Vegas and the huge gambling debt he still owed to a loan shark with a very long memory. Spike was in no mood to deal with that tonight; the loan shark had eyes and ears everywhere in Vegas. He'd make the debt good someday, but this was not the day. He needed to focus his attention elsewhere. He slid back onto the seat and closed his eyes again.
Mena, however, continued to gaze wistfully at the sight as it shrank behind them, twisting her neck, head and body till they hurt. As the city vanished beyond the horizon, she gave a tiny sigh, then turned herself back to face the oncoming road.
"I promise," Xander said softly.
The rest of the trip through Nevada, then Arizona and Utah was more or less uneventful. Stopping only to eat, fuel the SUV, or trade off drivers, they made good time. Spike continued to seize any opportunity to needle Xander, and Xander continued to grumble and complain. Although she'd found the bickering humorous at first, Mena had quickly tired of it and kept pretty much to herself, finding refuge in meditation and preparation for the upcoming task ahead of them.
Spike had to laugh to himself as he listened to the young Slayer chant or whatever the hell she was doing, but he heard the phrase "hakuna matata" over and over. Bugger that. No worries; be happy. Like that was going to happen any time soon. But it kept her occupied, so he was grateful.
As Spike sped down the empty highway, channel-surfing, he had almost given up on finding anything to listen to until it finally landed on a country western station.
Just my luck, he thought. Oh well, it's better than nothing.
He turned the volume up, half expecting a comment about his choice; but a quick glance at the passenger beside him and the one in the back found them both asleep. And no wonder -- even doing seventy-five-and-then-some, the Land Cruiser drove like a dream. Spike could hardly tell he was towing the Viper. They'd put no more than 20 miles behind them since the last gas stop, but already he could hear them both snoring.
Maybe it was all that junk food they'd been jamming down their throats, or maybe it was just the scenery. There really wasn't much to look at out there, just shadows growing longer as the sun sank in the west. Whatever it was that had put them to sleep didn't matter; Spike was grateful for the peace and quiet.
For him, dusk was the best time of day. The oncoming night promised so much, and he always felt a surge of, well, optimism, as he watched the light fade. In his bad old days, it was anticipation of victims, of death and destruction. These days, however, he found himself hoping for respite, a bit of peace, and not all that much more. Spending hour after hour with Mena and the whelp, he could feel himself reaching the limit of his aggravation threshold.
Really, it was a toss-up between the new Slayer, who was even bossier than Buffy -- if that was possible -- and her Watcher as to who got on his nerves more. He still wondered what insanity had possessd him when he'd agreed to Buffy's demand that these two accompany him.
Bloody hell! Sending the whelp was the ultimate insult. Okay, maybe Harris saved his life in Gilroy, but that didn't mean they could get along on a day to day basis. There was still so much baggage from their years in Sunnydale.
On the other hand, he had no doubt that Mena would prove useful. He knew better than to doubt her strength or intuition, even though she was still so young and untested.
There was so much happening inside his head that Spike felt at times it would explode. Getting his soul for Buffy had definitely taken him down a path he had never expected. These last few years had been a roller coaster of emotion for him; an e-ticket ride that carried him closer to Hell than he ever wanted to get.
It was actually laughable -- Spike, the Big Bad, was now one of the sodding good guys! Spike laughed out loud at that, then quickly looked around to make sure no one had heard him.
Hell, how many of us can say we died a hero? he mused, and then came back to do it all over again? Buffy, sure. And me.
He should have known Buffy wouldn't just fall into his arms after everything that had happened between the two of them. Though things had strayed from how he hoped for or imagined, he could honestly say he didn't regret a single minute he'd spent with her those last days in Sunnydale. And he believed that things with Buffy were far from over, just shoved to the back burner for the time being.Neither of them was at a place in their lives where they would -- no, make that could -- commit to a relationship. When they met again, she'd find a different person than the man she had known. He'd be someone who needed nobody else's approval to give him a sense of self-worth.
No more, he pledged to himself. No more love's bitch here.
Now, if only he could do it.
Shaking his head, he cleared his mind of thoughts that were too much to handle right now, and focused instead on recent memories. Those, too, were bittersweet. Though his time in L. A. was anything but peaceful or enjoyable, he had been able to come to terms with a lot of things about himself and his relationship with Angel.
It was still hard to believe they were all gone -- Angel, Wes, Gunn and Fred. He hoped that they went on to that "Better Place" people talked about. The one he didn't think he'd be welcome in.
Not yet, at least, but things change. Spike determined once again to figure out why he was the only one left standing. It had to mean something.
He'd make it mean something.
He wondered about Illyria. Was she dead? If she was not, it was hard to tell what the girly God-King might be planning next. Even though he sort of enjoyed her company, she was an unstable entity, and the feelings that had begun to awaken in her only compounded that issue. And now she was out there, all alone in the world. With that, he could sympathize; he too, knew that feeling.
Lorne was out there somewhere, too, but Spike doubted he would ever see him again. That last mission took such a toll on the peaceful, green demon that Spike truly hoped it had not pushed him over an edge he could not climb back up.
Suddenly he came upon, then sped past, the colorful sign that said:
"Welcome to Colorado".
Colorado had definitely been a colorful place for Dru and him. They'd had a wild and woolly time here. Spike smirked as he recalled some of their exploits. Dru had fallen in love with Glenwood. How they had enjoyed the easy goodies they had found there! He could still hear her saying over and over and over again that Glenwood "fed" her soul.
Too bad she didn't have one.
Thinking of feeding made him think about food. He was thankful he was beginning to see more and more lights up ahead; they should be there shortly.
His exit sped by.
Spike shouted the expletive as he slammed his foot on the brakes, jolting his two sleeping passengers out of their sleep.
"Geez, Spike, drive much?" Xander exclaimed, thoroughly irritated at his quick awakening. "You could give a person a heart attack!"
"No such luck, Harris," Spike mumbled. "Mighty jumpy, aren't we?" Since you're officially a Watcher, shouldn't you have been watching?"
"Jamani, you okay back there?" Spike called back to Mena, who was pulling herself together in the back seat. "Didn't mean to give you a start."
"Abe, Spike, and you are very right," Mena replied, shooting a quick, accusing look at Xander. "We should always be on the alert and not caught off guard."
"Hey," Xander caught her look and scowled defensively. "A little support here would be nice."
"Well, when you are right, I will support you," she replied, "but when Spike is right, I must do the same for him."
Spike gave a quick wink to Mena over his right shoulder and she let a giggle escape. This mission was going to turn out to be one she would not forget; she just had that feeling. Although it was against all of her teaching, she was drawn to Spike and felt safe in his company as she would with a big brother.
Spike took the next exit without incident, and soon the SUV was pulling into a Chili's Restaurant parking lot.
"Make the best blooming onion things here," Spike told them as he turned off the vehicle and proceeded to climb out. "Almost as good as the ones they used to serve at The Bronze."
Xander and Mena knew they had no choice but to follow because when Spike was hungry, he waited for no one. They still did not understand why he enjoyed human food so much, but they were glad he did. That was at least one thing they all could all agree on. They liked to eat.
As Spike bounded up the steps to the restaurant doors, he glanced back over his shoulder, an old habit that had always served him well. Across the lot, a building with a sign that said "Karaoke--Nightly" caught his attention. A hollow feeling hit him on seeing those words, as he remembered Lorne for the second time that evening. Pausing just long enough to take the image in, he noticed the name on the sign over the nightclub's door.
Walking into the restaurant, Spike couldn't believe the changes that had taken place in this small town---hell, the last time he was through here, this area had been pasture. Pickins' had been slim. The town hadn't even had a fast food joint. Now look at it. They passed several well-known restaurants before he pulled into Chili's. Big fancy mall. Dunkin Donuts. Even McDonald's and a Taco Bell.
Bugger that. There is even a line of people outside the door here, waiting to be seated. Guess nothing ever stays the same, Spike thought.
As they waited their turn in line, Spike continued to watch the club across the parking lot that had caught his attention. Soon enough, they were seated at a table, and the club was out of his view. But something nagged at the back of Spike's mind all through the meal; he just could not quite put his finger on it.
The food was great, and he enjoyed introducing Mena to her first Awesome Blossom. Watching her first timid bites, followed by widened eyes and a tight grin of happy discovery while she chewed, he knew he had another convert. Even as he savored watching her enthusiasm as she helped polish it off, his feeling of uneasiness would not let him relax.
He found himself constantly scanning the restaurant, looking at everything with an odd sense of expectation, but everything appeared perfectly normal. He even watched the young Slayer to see if she was picking up on anything, but she appeared to be totally relaxed. That didn't matter, though. He still could not shake it.
The waitress brought the bill, and Xander paid it. When she returned with the change, he tucked a tip between the salt and pepper shakers.
"We done here, people?" he asked, announcing it was time to go, "or what?"
His Watcher instincts warned him something was up with Spike, or maybe it was just the fact that Spike had failed to notice the pretty, young waitress who had tried several times to flirt with him. Spike had even missed several opportunities to take a cheap shot at him --- totally out of character for the vampire. Even now, Spike was distracted, paying attention to everything and everyone but him.
"Are. We. Done. Here?"
"Uh, yeah," Spike replied. "Sure... Why?"
Xander shrugged off his concern for the moment, and they made their way through the restaurant and out to the parking lot with Spike and Xander walking slowly, side-by-side, matching each other stride for stride. Mena noticed the pair's strange demeanor and wondered what was up, then decided to attribute it to their complex history. Probably just a guy thing.
"Great meal," Mena said, making small talk. "So, what time do you thing we'll get to Georgetown?"
Spike pulled the keys from his jeans pocket, pushed the "Unlock" button, and the Land Cruiser squeaked in obedience. As the other two rounded the front of the vehicle, he opened the driver's door, but before getting in, he paused a second to take one last look around, hoping to free his mind of the strange feelings and regain some focus. As he started to climb in, his eyes caught the name on the building across the street once again.
Hmmm, Solitas. If he was remembering his Latin correctly, that meant alone. Funny. The name brought back memories of another club that Wes and Gunn liked to talk about. What was it called?
Solitas. And it's a karaoke bar. Could it be? Spike instantly knew he had to find out. He slammed the door closed, then left the pair staring at him as he crossed the road to the club's entrance, heading inside.
Confused, Xander and Mena stood still for a few minutes, looking at each other, not quite sure what to do. It was Xander who moved first.
"Good Lord, Spike!" he shouted just as Spike vanished through the door. "We really don't have time for drinks."
Then he followed the vampire, all the while mumbling something under his breath about "trouble" and "not being able to count on" something that Mena, who trailed behind, could not quite make out. She wondered if this meant the "trouble" was waiting for them inside the karaoke club, and her Slayer instincts came alive as they entered the establishment.
Spike was ahead of them, moving slowly into the main room, looking around in a carefully casual manner as he continued further inside.
"We're so glad you've joined us this evening," a pretty hostess greeted him. "Will you be singing or just enjoying the music tonight, sir?"
"Dunno," he replied, not looking at her but beyond.
"Well," she persisted, "There's plenty of room at the bar if you... "
"Thanks." He cut her off, then stepped past, moving in the general direction of the bar, still scanning the dimly lit interior. He'd almost reached the bar when he spotted the big, green demon in a flashy red suit engaged in a cheerful conversation with a couple at one of the tables. At that same moment, Lorne, having ended that conversation, turned to look him in the eyes.
There was a second of disbelief, then recognition, then they crossed the distance between them, stopping just short of embracing one another, neither quite sure what to do or say. It was Lorne who broke the silence.
"Oh, my God!" he exclaimed as he enveloped the vampire in a big hug. "Look what the cat dragged in! You look good, my little blond crumpet."
"You, too," Spike answered. "Nice set up. Must admit, though, didn't think you'd jump back into this racket."
"Not much call out there for disillusioned, used-up, horn-y, green demons these days." Lorne laughed, then put an arm around Spike's shoulders and guided him toward his office.
"Figured I'd go back to doing what I'm best at."
"In Colorado, of all places?" Spike asked, genuinely confused. He'd imagined Lorne would always stay in the big city, where he wouldn't stick out, but then, no one here appeared to be shocked by his appearance.
"Would've taken me a million years to think of looking for you... here."
"This is a hip and happenin' little town, Spike."
"And they don't care about the... ?" Spike made a tiny gesture towards Lorne's head, indicating horns with his fingers.
"What, these? These are the 'Horns of Hip', Sweet Stuff." Lorne pushed open his office door and guided Spike inside. "Everyone thinks it's a costume, part of the gig."
"Like I said," Lorne crooned, "Hip and happenin'... "
From the doorway, Xander and Mena watched the reunion scene in uneasy silence. Even after the encounter in Gilroy, it was not easy getting used to the whole "good demon" thing. They now understood that good demons existed, but neither of them had ever seen one quite like Lorne.
He was a friend of Spike's -- they could see that -- but, still, he was a demon. Then the office door closed, shutting them out, and they realized that the same pretty hostess who had greeted Spike was now standing in front of them, smiling expectantly.
"It looks like we'll be here for awhile," Xander told Mena, "so we might as well enjoy ourselves." He looked at the hostess. "Have anything that is, uh, not in the spotlight?"
The hostess gave Mena a quick look, then smiled at Xander knowingly.
"Sure," she cooed, already moving. "There's a table in the back that is just perfect for you and your "neice"."
"Huh?" Mena asked.
Xander silenced her with a tiny, embarassed wave of his hand, and they followed the hostess to a table in the back corner where Xander could monitor the whole room, and Mena would not draw too much notice.
In Lorne's office, the conversation had stalled. The question was hanging there, suspended between them, so painful to ask, so painful to answer, that neither was able to speak.
Lorne hung his head, taking his eyes off Spike, then he asked, even though he already knew the answer. He could only manage one word.
"Angel. Wesley. Charlie," Spike replied, his voice quiet, almost reverential. Then he paused, and Lorne looked up at him, silently urging him to continue.
"Illyria made it," he went on, "at least, I'm pretty sure she... and I, well, I'm still here..." He knew he was rambling, but he couldn't stop it. "Just a fluke, really, that I'm alive. Heroes. Every one of them. High price to pay for fighting the good fight."
"I always knew," Lorne said, more to himself than to Spike, "they were way out of my league."
They exchanged a singular look, a shared sorrow, then it was over.
"Well, enough of this depressing talk!" Lorne's voice took on an artificially cheerful tone, forcing the sadness aside. He went to a cabinet and took out two glasses and a dark green bottle. "What brings you to Colorado?"
"I guess I kinda liked playing the hero; got myself talked into helping a Slayer."
"Buffy?" Lorne proceeded to fill the glasses from the bottle.
"No. Well, not directly," Spike explained. "The Senior Partners are none too happy I'm still around, and she figured I needed some help, so she sent a Watcher and a new Slayer to protect me."
He paused to take the glass Lorne was offering him and took a sip. The unidentified liquor burned his lips as he drank, but then turned to delicate, cooling sweetness in his throat.
"Babysitting me's more like it."
"You and Buffy." Lorne didn't phrase it as a question, but it clearly was.
"No," he answered. "I mean, door's still cracked, I guess. Too much to work out right now. And you, Big Green, Colorado." Spike didn't phrase it as a question either. "You sure jumped back in with both feet." He raised his glass in a toast. "Solitas, Caritas redux... I like it."
"Well, not quite." Lorne studied his glass, gazing into the liquid as if it were a crystal ball.
"I'm a host, but not The Host anymore. I haven't sung or read a singer since I left L.A."
It was no surpise. Spike was always aware of his friend's tender heart. A deep sadness in Lorne's eyes gave witness to how much pain the demon was in. Guilt. Regret. Unrelenting remorse. Spike had been in that woeful place himself, and he hated to see anyone there, especially a friend.
"Well, big guy," he tipped his glass in Lorne's direction, "no time like the present to start again."
"What?" Lorne asked, then realized what Spike was suggesting. "No, wait, it's not as easy as you... "
"Here's the deal," Spike interrupted, not giving an inch. "We'll work you back into things real slow. I'll sing. You'll read."
Lorne seemed to be frozen with dread.
"Believe me," Spike pressed his point, "if I can make myself sing, you can make yourself read."
With those words, he took the glass from Lorne's hand, steered Lorne out of his office and herded him toward the empty stage. Knowing he was beat, Lorne climbed onto the stage and headed to the karaoke machine. Deep inside, he knew Spike was right; it was time to move on.
"Okay, Big Bad," he spoke as he handed Spike the microphone. "Name your song."
"You know it's gotta be 'My Way.' "
A raucous chorus of boos ensued from the patrons scattered about the room.
"Sorry, Mr. Punk Rocker," Lorne laughed. "We've got only the crooner's version of that song in our karaoke machine, and I know you wouldn't like singing it 'Ole Blue Eyes' way!" He fiddled with the device, searching for, then selecting another song. "Trust me?"
"Always, mate," Spike answered.
"Got the perfect one for you."
Spike walked onstage to a stool that sat in front of a small screen. Still holding the microphone that Lorne handed him, he sat himself down.
Bloody hell. What have I gotten myself into? he thought, smiling weakly at the audience. Can't be much harder than reading poetry, right?
Spike laughed out loud as he noticed the song Lorne had selected. "Movin' On" by Good Charlotte was one of his favorites, and how very appropriate it was tonight for the both of them.
The room grew quiet, and then the song began. The audience soon became caught up in Spike's performance because it was obvious that the song was coming from his heart and soul. All eyes were on Spike when he reached this section of the lyrics:
Spike's voice had faltered for a second or two, but he soon got caught up in the song and found himself enjoying it more and more each minute. Getting into the lyrics was almost a cleansing process for his pent up emotions, and he sort of hated to see the song end.
He must have performed the song well because when he set the microphone down and looked around, the club exploded with applause.
His eyes found Xander and Mena in the back corner. Xander stood quietly, as if lost in thought; Mena was clapping enthusiastically. Bloody hell. His attention had been so focused on Lorne, he had forgotten all about those two. He wagered he would have some explaining to do.
Lorne met him at the side of the stage, a look of pleased amazement on his face.
"Wow, Cupcake, why didn't you tell me you had a set of pipes like that? That particular genre of music suits you perfectly. You are star material -- if you ever need an agent, you know where to find me. That curled my toes," he enthused.
"Bollocks! Wasn't all that, but it was fun. Great song. Really got into it," Spike replied, feeling a little overwhelmed by Lorne's effusive praise. "Okay, Mr. Demon Host, I did my thing; now you do yours. What did you see?"
Lorne's expression totally changed to one of concern, and he took just a moment to assess how he should answer.
"See, it's not necessarily what I saw, but what I was kept from seeing. At first, I thought for sure that my gift was gone 'cause your reading was black. Nothing. Then, all of a sudden, kaboom. Your soul was talking to me loud and clear, Sweet Cheeks. Gotta tell ya, man. Never saw anything like it."
Lorne paused, a bit in awe of the vision he had sensed as Spike sang. Seeing Spike's puzzled look, he hurried to continue his explanation.
"Just as your soul was about to spill its guts to me, something reached out and blocked it from my view. Then, out of nowhere, in comes an even brighter light than your soul which starts playing tug of war with whoever else was there. There is one heck of a fight going on over you. As bent on destroying you as the Senior Partners may be, the Powers That Be seem to be fighting that much harder to protect you. All I can tell you, Sweet Pea, is that you must be headed toward a destiny changing event," Lorne finished, still grinning.
That was all it took. Spike didn't realize he'd been holding in his anger for so long. He was used to having Peaches around to lash out at, and Angel's absence had lead to Spike bottling up his rage. Sure, he'd knocked the piss out of Xander a few times, but this new revelation that there was an otherworldly battle over his soul was the last straw. The fury of knowing that others were out there somewhere, deciding his fate, suddenly erupted. Spike launched himself from his chair and began pacing erratically.
"You mean the Powers That Bugger?" he snorted. "The Powers That Interfere Whenever The Bloody Hell They Occasionally Feel Like It? They never seem to be around when a bloke really needs them! Like when his friends are dying all around him. Or better yet, how about when he's saved the bloody world and gone out in a blaze of glory? But nooooooo, some stupid lawyer git has another idea. Let's bring Willie back from the Great Bloody Beyond. Hell, I didn't even make it to the Beyond. The Powers can sod off. They just, well, they suck."
Spent, Spike threw himself down into the comfy chair again. Not exactly the manly ending he'd wanted for his little tirade.
"I'm getting the feeling that maybe you don't really like the Powers all that much?" Lorne couldn't help but tease the sullen vampire, although he really felt badly for his friend --- poor guy never seemed to catch a break.
Spike had to chuckle. He could always count on Lorne's quick wit to get him out of a funk.
"Like the Senior Partners even less. I'm right sick of being toyed with. This is one rubber ball that's tired of being bounced."
"But you're not getting it, my friend," Lorne said. "I've done readings for years. Never seen anything like this before. I know I'm a little rusty, but what I saw is almost enough to make me want to come along for the ride---to see how it all unfolds for you," he continued, trying to convince Spike that he was headed for something quite extraordinary.
Lorne couldn't help but pick up on Spike's continued disbelief, so he stopped and took a deep breath.
"Okay, Crumpet, maybe I'm getting a little carried away..."
"Bugger that, Big Green, had a great time singing and all that. Felt good to let some things go, but I should've told you I don't believe in all this destiny crap." Spike laughed nervously and continued.
"So, the Senior Problems are after my soul for some reason, and the Powers That Don't are babysitting it. Fine, I'll just let them fight it out. I'm still my own man. No one's going to play Kick the Spike anymore."
"Okay, don't kill the messenger, Sweetie Pie. Just call them like I read them," Lorne told him, ready to change the subject. He was confident in what he saw, but knew Spike well enough to understand he would have to learn the hard way.
"Well, Lorne," Spike said, following suit and changing the tone of his end of the conversation, too. "No offense taken. It has been really good to see you."
Spike shook Lorne's hand again, then leaned close to exchange a manly hug and spoke quietly in Lorne's ear.
"Without being obvious about it, do you see those two wankers standing in the shadows at the far end of the bar?"
"The two who look like they work for Wolfram & Hart? Yeah, can't miss them."
"Had a run-in with one of them before. No actual harm's necessary, but could you see to it that they're detained for a while? Just long enough for us to get maybe fifteen minutes down the highway?"
"Consider it done, my friend," Lorne assured him.
"And hey, mate, if you ever need a change of pace, just came from a great little community in California named Gilroy. Look it up, you'd fit right in. They've got a regular human/demon love fest going on there. Seriously, demons are accepted right into the everyday life of the town. Long as they pledge non-violence. Like I said, it's perfect for you."
"No kidding! Sounds interesting and so very Rainbow Coalition of them. Maybe if I'm ever ready to give up this sweet set up, I'll venture that way."
Spike caught sight of Xander and Mena approaching. Again, for the second time that night, he had forgotten the pair.
Oh, my God, he thought, I'm never gonna live this down. They're gonna throw that song in my face for the rest of our trip.
"Wow, Spike!" Mena exclaimed, "That was totally awesome. You really rock!"
"Thanks, Jamani, but that was my first and last performance. Did it as a favor for a friend," Spike said, nodding his head in Lorne's direction.
"Can't say I'm disappointed," Xander grumbled as he extended his hand to Lorne. "I'm Xander Harris. This is Mena Ridgeway. Buffy and I go way back," he said, not waiting for Spike to make the introductions.
"Sorry, Harris, and you, too, Mena. Shouldn't have left you standing in the parking lot with no explanation. This is Lorne. He was part of Angel's team back in L.A. Thought he was dead," Spike said in his defense.
"Hey, no problem," Lorne replied, shaking each of their hands heartily. "Any friend of Spike's is a friend of mine. Glad to meet you."
"You have a lovely place," said Mena, smiling broadly. "It's brilliant."
"Why, aren't you just the sweetest, most polite young woman I've seen in a long time. Care to sing for us, Shortcake?"
"Hate to break up this reunion, but we should have been on our way an hour ago. You know how Mena is with her schedule. We were supposed to be in Georgetown by now," Xander explained.
"Hakuna matata," Mena replied. "Hearing Spike sing was worth the delay."
Spike appreciated her support, but he knew they needed to get going, so he turned and faced his friend once more.
"It was really good to see you again, mate. But before I take off---I held up my end; now you've---"
"Yeah, yeah," Lorne said as if in dismissal. "You guys have got a real special player here. Take good care of him."
With that, Lorne turned and headed to the stage. Just before he got there, he said something quickly to one of the burly demon bouncers, who nodded and moved towards the bar, taking an even larger bouncer with him. As soon as Lorne climbed onto the stage, he turned toward Spike and waved his goodbye.
Spike watched and smiled as his friend picked up the microphone, then turned to leave. As he began to make his way toward the club exit, the Watcher and Slayer followed quietly.
When Spike reached the door, a familiar melody filled the club and soon he heard Lorne's rich voice belting out the words, "When you're down and troubled, and you need a helping hand---"
Shaking his head and smiling, Spike stood there and listened just a few moments longer before heading to the parking lot. In a gesture of camaraderie, he sang along with the voice he left inside, "And nothing, whoa, nothing is going right. Close your eyes and think of me, and soon I will be there---" Still smiling, he unlocked the door and climbed into the vehicle.
Both of them surprised at seeing this side of Spike, Xander and Mena stood watching him.
"Well, gonna stand there all night like a couple of wankers?" he teased and continued the song. "...to brighten up even your darkest night."
Xander and Mena exchanged an amused look and joined in the song as they climbed into the Cruiser. "You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am---"
Their voices rang out as they pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the highway.
As Spike and his singing colleagues drove away, the mood inside Lorne's bar shifted suddenly for Mike and his new partner, Tom. They had paid for their drinks and headed for the exit to follow Spike, when two very large demons dressed in typical bar bouncer fashion blocked their path.
"The boss wants you two to stick around for a while and enjoy the rest of his song," said one of the demons.
The larger of the two demons added, "Yeah, this is a real purty song about friends and how you can always rely on a friend to help you out when you need help. Know what I mean?"
As Mike and Tom reached for their recently acquired taser guns, their arms became pressed very tightly to their sides. The two demons had slipped quickly behind them and now held them in very effective bear hugs. Mike and Tom were completely immobilized by beings they realized were much stronger than they were. There was nothing to do but accept the situation.
"We asked you nicely to listen till the end of the song. Guess you needed our assistance. We were happy to oblige," said the first demon.
After a few minutes, Lorne finished the last note of the song, handed the microphone to the next singer and crossed the bar to where Mike and Tom were being restrained.
"They've got weapons, boss," said the larger demon.
"Well, we'll just have to relieve them of those nasty things, won't we?" said Lorne as he grabbed the tasers out of their jackets and tossed them over to the bartender. "We don't allow weapons in our friendly little club."
"Sorry about that," said Mike. "We'll just be on our way then."
"Au contraire, my little Wolfram & Hart pastry. We have a policy here. At least one member of each party must sing before leaving. And since you've already broken our non-violence rule, I'm afraid your ante has been raised. Now you'll both have to sing before you leave."
"No way I'm singing anything," grumbled Tom.
"Then that means you'll be staying for quite a long time," replied Lorne. "We don't close for hours."
"So if we sing, you let us leave with no further trouble?" asked Mike.
"Of course, sweetcakes. We never want any trouble here at Solitas. All you've got to do is abide by our rules."
"All right," said Mike. "Fine. We'll sing, but I really don't know any songs."
"No problem," said the first demon as he released Mike. "The words come right up on the screen for you. Haven't you ever been to a karaoke bar before?"
"No way," exclaimed Tom. "I'm no fruit."
"Well, my little gooseberry tart, then you may find this a bit of a challenge. But I'm sure a big, strong man like you can handle himself in any situation," teased Lorne as he led them to the stage.
"Let's see, how about 'Every Breath You Take'---you know, the Sting song with the lyrics 'I'll be watching you'? That sounds like it'll be right up your alley," Lorne looked pointedly at Mike and then turned to Tom.
"And for you, I'm going to suggest, 'You Don't Mess Around With Jim'. If you substitute your current assignment's name for that of Jim, it ought to make things a little clearer for you. Maybe you'll decide to quit your job. I certainly would, if I were you. Spike will never make things easy. He's extremely tough, never gives up, and he's much more clever than you imagine."
"Yes, that has become abundantly clear," acknowledged Mike. "Let's get this over with. How do you turn the damn thing on?"
While Mike and Tom suffered through their humiliation at Solitas, Spike's team had traveled several miles up the interstate. After the three of them finished singing 'You've Got A Friend', the mood in the Cruiser quickly changed from one of shared conviviality to one of strained silence. No one had said a word for several minutes.
Noting that Spike seemed lost in thought, Xander and Mena remained quiet, wisely giving him some space. For his part, Spike did not even notice the silence; his mind was full of thoughts and feelings clamoring for his attention. Lorne's words had left him feeling very unsettled.
Mile after mile, Spike mulled things over in his head---not only the things his friend had told him, but everything that had happened in his sorry life the past few years. Before he could deal with whatever the future held for him, there was something he needed to do. And he knew just the place that would be perfect to clear his mind, enabling him to face whatever was ahead straight on.
He came to his decision just in time to pull into the rest area at Glenwood Springs. Harris would be pissed, but Spike didn't care. He had made up his mind. The Watcher would just have to deal with it.
"Okay, don't even try to tell me you have to use the little boys' room," Xander grumbled as they pulled into a parking spot.
"Well, he may not, but I do," Mena said, getting out of the vehicle. "Be right back."
Spike sprang out of the Land Cruiser right behind her but headed in a totally different direction. Without offering any explanation or waiting for anyone's approval, he began to unfasten one of the ratchet straps that held down the Viper.
After watching him from the vehicle for a few moments, Xander jumped out and followed him. When he realized what Spike was about to do, he demanded, "Just what do you think you're doing, Spike?"
"What does it look like?" he answered curtly as he moved to unleash another tie down.
Trying to keep his temper in check, Xander replied, "Okay, I can see what you are doing. Now, please tell me why?"
Spike continued to ignore the Watcher and remained focused on his task. Frustrated at his lack of response, Xander moved to block his access to the next one.
"Outta my way, Harris," he warned. "Wouldn't want to have to hurt you."
"Take your best shot, Spike. But I won't let you leave here without some kind of explanation to pass on to the Council. What has gotten into your oh-so-mysterious vampire mind? I thought we were all on the same page," Xander challenged.
"No talking needed," Spike replied, trying to push past the Watcher.
Spike was just a little impressed that Harris was taking his new responsibilities very seriously and was not about to back down without a fight. Either that or he didn't want to have to explain to Buffy why he let Spike go off by himself. Whatever it was, he could tell Harris wouldn't give up easily.
Sensing a momentary upper hand, the Watcher asked a question that he was sure he already knew the answer to, "You are taking Mena with you, right?"
"No! This is something I gotta do by myself," Spike replied.
Mena could hear bits of the heated exchange from inside the rest room and hurried out before they could hurt each other. Rushing across the parking lot, she stepped between her Watcher and the very determined vampire.
"Enough! Now, what is going on?" she asked.
Taking advantage of the interruption, Spike began to undo the final tie down, leaving Harris to deal with the Slayer.
"Ask him. He's the one hell bent on doing something stupid," he told Mena.
Walking over to Spike, Mena placed her hand on his forearm and calmly implored, "Please, tell us what is going on. We are supposed to be in this mission together. Did something happen back there that we need to know about?"
"No. And this has nothing to do with the bloody mission. It has to do with me. Me. What I have to do right now has nothing to do with either of you, get that?"
"I am trying to understand, Spike. I thought things had been going relatively well, considering. You know Buffy wants us to watch your back," she reminded him.
"Buffy ain't here, pet, and if she was, she would know my mind is made up."
Not knowing what else to say, Mena shook her head in frustration and looked to Xander for help. Taking the cue, he made one last attempt to reason with Spike.
"You're right. Buffy isn't here, but we are, and she asked us to work together. Together. Last time I checked, going off by yourself wasn't part of the togetherness plan. Did you forget we have a job to do in Georgetown? People are counting on us. And you're going to need that legal paperwork Giles sent for you before long."
Spike stopped what he was doing for a moment and said, "Look, I agreed to this little traveling party, but I don't follow anyone's bloody orders but my own."
Mena jumped back into the conversation, adding, "But there is safety in numbers, right? Okay, there is something you need to do. Fine. We'll wait for you here. Better yet, let me come along. I promise I won't get in your way, and I can watch your back."
"Been on my own a long time. I can take care of myself," Spike said.
"What about Buffy?" Xander asked, hoping he had hit Spike's one soft spot. "What do we tell her?"
"Tell her anything you sodding like. Hell, she doesn't even have to know," Spike said with a smirk. "Look, you guys head to Georgetown. I'll be only two, maybe three days behind you. Use that time to do your set up and research. Come up with a plan of action, and we'll follow through with it when I get there. You know me; never been fond of the research. That's supposed to be your area of expertise, Watcher," he finished, hoping he'd smoothed things over.
Xander and Mena looked at each other. Both knew he was giving them no choice but to let him go.
"Okay, Big Bad, but I wouldn't want to be you when Buffy finds out about this," Harris warned.
"What's she gonna do?" Spike asked and then laughed. "Stake me to death over the phone?"
His laughter broke the tension. Knowing they were not going to win this battle, Xander helped Spike finish unloading the Viper. It didn't take long before Spike was seated inside his car. He smiled and waved at the worried looking pair. They smiled weakly and waved back at him.
As Xander and Mena turned to get into their vehicle, they noticed Spike's brake and back up lights come on.
"He changed his mind," Mena exclaimed.
She hurried to the car, with Xander right behind her. That hope was quickly dashed when Spike rolled down his window only to warn them.
"Harris, keep an eye out for that dark green sedan that's been following us. Scared them enough a while back for them to keep their distance, but they followed us into the bar. Lorne detained them for us, but I'm sure the bloody wankers will be back on our trail at some point. Mena, take care of your Watcher, and I'll see you in a few days."
And with that, Spike spun the tires of the Viper and was out of sight before Xander and Mena were back into their Land Cruiser.
<Xander glanced at Mena as they pulled onto I-70 heading east. Her continued silence was beginning to worry him.
"You sure are quiet tonight," he said. "What gives? The moody vampire has left the building. We can relax and enjoy ourselves for a while."
"I've grown rather fond of this 'moody vampire' we're working with. I know my training tells me I should be wary of him, but Spike is a really good-hearted guy. I like him, and I'm worried that something might happen to him." The concern in her voice and eyes was obviously heartfelt.
Great, Xander thought. Here we go again. First Dawn, now my Slayer. He sighed.
"Mena, he'll be fine. Because he IS a vampire, remember? You know, super strength and all...can smell the bad guys coming, yada yada."
"Yeah, a vampire who is completely on his own, with his back-up in a separate car that is no where near him. A vampire with terribly evil enemies who are having him followed."
"Hey, we lost those guys. No problem. Spike knows better than we do what he's dealing with. I promise you, he'll be fine. Believe me, he wouldn't have left behind what little reinforcements he has if he was really worried about running into more bad guys anytime soon. Meanwhile, where is it we're going again?"
"Buffy sent us here specifically to watch his back. I don't think she'd care too much to hear we've separated. He may not like it, but you are the Watcher. You shouldn't have let him leave. This is not protocol, and it makes me very uncomfortable."
Xander was getting frustrated. This seemed to be an ongoing issue when they were in the field. He knew Mena respected his authority, but he was not sure if she could accept his or anyone else's instincts.
"Listen, Mena. This really is an unusual set of circumstances. Protocol doesn't always work for every situation when you're on an assignment. You need to learn to be more flexible. Yes, Buffy's our boss, at least as far as being Spike's back-up is concerned, and we answer to her. But Spike doesn't. She chose us because I know Spike. Buffy and I both understand that he's going to do what he chooses, and sometimes things like this are going to happen." He decided to try to change the subject.
"Okay, now, we're headed to some kind of hotel or something, right? What's the name of the place again?"
"And what will you tell Buffy if he ends up dusted? We're going to a place called Georgetown. It's a small mining village just west of Denver. But our primary mission is to stay with Spike. My understanding is that Mr. Giles is sending us to check out a few other possible problems only because we're already here in the States. I think he also presumed that Spike would be with us on this assignment."
"Speaking of Giles, did he send us any more information or give any insight into how we're supposed to deal with a ghost demon or demon ghost or whatever it is?" Xander tried once again to get her to focus on the problem at hand.
Mena looked at him, fully realizing that he no longer wanted to discuss Spike taking off on his own agenda. She knew she was right. She also knew that Xander would never admit it. She made one last quip before filling him in on Giles' most recent communication about their impending investigation.
"If I was the Watcher, I would not have let him go." Xander rolled his eyes as she continued. "The email message Mr. Giles sent today gives us a little more information about this woman in Georgetown. We already knew she owns a fairly successful Bed and Breakfast. Well, her name is Eliza McKennon, and she is known to be familiar with the occult. She claims that her establishment is haunted, and that she can communicate with the spirits who reside there."
"So let me guess, the vamps in town are demanding she add more garlic to the breakfasts? And the ghosts keep stealing all the clean sheets off the beds? Who you gonna call--"
"That joke was old and not funny the first three times you sang it," Mena complained as she rolled her eyes. "Please don't sing it again. In fact, it was old before I was born! And no, she's not having any trouble at all with vampires---"
"Wait till Spike shows up!"
Mena chose to ignore Xander's riposte. "---but she's absolutely convinced there is a malevolent spirit of an unidentified demon in her establishment. It's called the Mad Creek Bed and Breakfast."
Mena stared intently at the lap top. "Apparently, she and some of the guests have encountered this thing. She's only caught glimpses of it, and there's some concern that the creature is gathering strength."
"So does Giles have any idea what kind of demon it is?"
"He doesn't say. I believe our job is to determine for sure that it really IS a demon and proceed from there. Once we investigate, I will email him. If this is indeed a demon, one we are not familiar with, I'm sure he can expedite some research based on whatever information we gather."
Xander yawned. "Well, we should know something pretty soon. Only another hour to Georgetown."
Spike exited off Interstate 70 just east of the rest area. He'd realized after leaving Lorne's new place that he hadn't had any blood all day. He reckoned Mena had noticed but had chosen not to mention it to him. Good thing, because for the last two hours he'd known exactly what he needed to do and had no intention of explaining it to either of them. This was his business.
He pulled into a convenience store for supplies, then drove on up the side road. There was the regal Hotel Colorado standing sentinel as it had for so many years. The parking lot at the Yampah Spa Vapor Caves was empty, so he decided to park the Viper in the hotel's parking lot. It definitely wouldn't look out of place there.
He parked the car, shoved a few things in his pockets, grabbed a flashlight and hopped over the retaining wall. He was definitely feeling the lack of blood. He was beyond hungry and becoming a little lightheaded. It struck him odd that once again, in his reformed, 'White Hat' life, he was intentionally doing something he generally tried to avoid.
Spike remembered the natives here had embraced a ritual called a vision quest. It was used for spiritual growth, rites of passage and for solving the big problems. He didn't understand why, but it struck him like a lightning bolt while he was driving, that it might be just what he needed to resolve the issues and questions that had been troubling him. He knew the caves were up ahead. He and Drusilla had actually spent some time there.
He also knew he had gone way too long without blood, and as he felt the caves calling him, it dawned on him why. If Lorne couldn't read him, then maybe he would just have to read his own aura. Or meditate his way to clarity or whatever the bloody hell people do to get some answers.
It was a short hike from the Hotel Colorado parking lot to the small entrance he and Dru had used to slip into the caves and hunt. As he made his way past the scattered pinyon and cedar trees, he remembered how much he had loved the hunt. His stomach growled at the very thought of it.
This place had been Dru's idea. She'd read about it somewhere and insisted they go. She created a fairly involved plan (for Drusilla anyway) on just how they would feed, and in fact, her plan had worked. She thought it was so much fun to play the dark monster. He just loved the anticipation that led to that final moment before he sank his teeth into someone's tasty neck.
He shook his head, trying not to remember all the lives he'd taken. The monster was not in control of him anymore. He stopped and leaned against a boulder. He was a little weak but not so tired that he needed a break. He just wanted to think about this a little more.
He gazed at the mountainside ahead and was struck by the stark beauty of the moonlight shining on the trunks of the aspens. They almost glowed.
He focused his thoughts. Although he no longer had the desire to kill indiscriminately, he had to admit that he did miss the hunt. He reckoned that it was due to his humanity, which had been heightened even further when he regained his soul. But hunting is not a thing to be reined in or muzzled. Hunting is not a sin. It just depends on what you're hunting.
In a moment of bright clarity, he had realized another aspect of his souled self. That was the thing he needed to keep doing. Figure out just who he is now and what he is supposed to be doing. Spike grinned and thought, Hey, this vision quest thing is already working. Moment of Zen, here I come!
Spike couldn't believe his luck. There in front of him, just like he remembered, was the small, craggy hole, well hidden behind some brush. It was open and appeared to be unused. He had assumed some "extreme sports" rock climbing ponce would have discovered it after all these years and added these upper vapor caves to the commercialized ones lower in the mountain. That's one of the things he loved about Colorado. People guarded their environment, for the most part.
All the better for me, he thought.
He wouldn't have to break into someone's business operation after all. This spot was important enough to him that he would have broken in if necessary. He was amused by his relief at not having to bust a window or lock to get into somewhere he wanted to be---illegally getting into a place he wasn't supposed to be had been a big part of the thrill not so very long ago.
Granted, walking through a broken door or window would have been a hell of a lot easier. This entrance had always been a challenge, and Dru hated it. She was always worried about tearing her dress.
Spike slipped through the small rocky opening and dropped to the cave floor. As he landed on his feet, he felt a bit dizzy from his lack of nourishment. He took it as a sign he was doing the right thing.
He would be glad when this was over. These caves had always unnerved him, but it was one of the only places he could ever remember Dru being truly at peace.
Spike looked around the undeveloped part of the caves. Things were exactly the way he remembered them. Being hit in the face by the sulphur fumes, humid heat, and total darkness made him instantly aware that he didn't feel any better about being here this time.
It was Dru who had enjoyed this haven, and he had always returned only to make her happy. Without Dru here with him, the place unnerved him even more. Had he really become such a softy? Safety and comfort seemed so much more to his liking now than during his pre-Sunnydale days.
All of a sudden, he felt an urgent need to get on with this whole meditation gig or whatever the bloody hell was drawing him here. The very air filled him with a sense of dread and foreboding. The idea of actually sitting around and trying to "find himself" had taken on a nightmarish quality. The tortuous months spent in the basement of Sunnydale High, trying to reconcile his life with his soul, had been pure hell, and he expected this experience to be no less traumatic.
He moved through the narrow passageway and followed the curve of the cave, having to duck only occasionally. The cave walls and the stone floor were slick with moisture. Straight ahead, the natural tunnel opened up, presenting the proverbial fork in the road.
Ah yes, to the left was the passageway that led to the spa, and to the right, the part of the caves where the people came to be cleansed. Cleansing, is that what he needed? Spike took a deep breath and glanced down at the stairs that had been carved out of the rock.
"Bugger this," he said, his voice eerily echoing throughout the cave. "Let's get it over with."
He stepped into one of several "rooms" that were connected by door-like openings. The passages were much like a maze, causing many a person to get lost in here. Therefore, they had provided the perfect hunting grounds. Warm humans bled even faster. And escape was a breeze.
He and Dru were always long gone with full bellies by the time the body was discovered. The victim's mates never wanted to disturb their friend who appeared to be in contemplative, peaceful repose, what with the meditation and communing with Mother Earth and all. Eventually though, it was discovered that the seemingly tranquil person was now communing with the afterlife.
The superstitions that surrounded the vapor caves were a major asset back then. People like to be scared, and those who came here knew there was danger -- expected it, hoped for it, and viewed it as a test of their fortitude.
Spike's vampire constitution allowed him to remain longer than the average person - the heat, though good for humans in small doses, could cause havoc in their bodies if they stayed too long. Benches had been carved out of rock in various places throughout the caves, which perhaps made it too comfortable for newcomers, unaware of possible danger. At first glance, the caves seemed like a peaceful and quiet place to be one with nature.
Spike could hear the soft murmuring of the water as it snaked its way through natural channels along the edges of the cave walls. He made his way to one of the more secluded areas in the back and settled quickly on one of the rock benches to prepare himself for whatever vision might appear.
He rummaged through his pockets and pulled out the pack of smokes and the pre-filled Zippo he'd gotten at the convenience store. Native Americans view tobacco as a sacred herb, using it in ceremonies and as an aid with vision quests. Too bad the store didn't sell peyote. He figured since he had enjoyed smoking for so many years, he might as well try smoking for an actual purpose other than mere enjoyment.
He smiled as he thought of Fred. She would not have minded him smoking in these circumstances. She had always had an interest in Native American culture. He lit the cigarette and took a drag. Ah, how he did miss it! He closed his eyes as he exhaled.
Unexpectedly, a few of the tiny lights randomly embedded in the stone began to glow. Well, that was helpful. Maybe this show was about to begin. He could now see the smoke as it curled its way toward the ceiling. He leaned his head back against the wall of the cave, took another drag and tried to clear his mind.
He let his thoughts wander again to the past and all the things he had done. He thought about all the choices he had made. He realized deep down that fighting for his soul had not been only for Buffy's sake. He had wanted her, and he had thought that was what it would take to get her, but he could not kid himself that she was the only reason.
He had always known that even with a soul, she might still choose not to be with him. She was unpredictable. It was one of the things he loved so much about her. And with that in mind, he understood that with or without Buffy, he would still have the soul.
What did that mean? Having a soul.
He knew it meant more than just picking up where his human self had so abruptly been forced to leave off. Besides, he had detested the old William so much during his vampire life. But when he thought now about his human past, he could finally accept and believe that he had been a good man.
He had lived in this world for so long now that most things had just become habit. His life as a vampire had actually become a bit of a boring routine. At least before he came to Sunnydale. Then things had gotten interesting again. Mostly due to the existence of Buffy. Choosing to work for good, even without the soul, had been a fun challenge, and even before he realized it, it had all started to matter.
Spike sighed. He did not know how to connect with his soul. Why had he been saved? What is his purpose? He knew he had always been a warrior and would always be one. He knew he had something to offer. He just needed to know where to start.
He snuffed out the cigarette and tried to assess. He had done so much since he had returned from Africa, but when he really thought about it, so much of it had been like everything else in his life. Random circumstances that required action. He liked that the best.
He usually always knew what needed to be done, but now things were different. There were so many choices about who to be and what to do. This time, all the decisions were up to him. Only him.
The heat was really starting to get to him. His shirt was getting soaked. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, folded his hands and stared through the darkness at the cave floor. There was one thing he did know for sure. He trusted Lorne and what he'd seen.
The Senior Partners and the Powers That Be could focus on him and fight over his destiny all they wanted. He would do whatever it took to reject and ignore the lot of them. Of course, the Senior Partners would still probably chase him around for a while. That would be fun for a tussle or two, but the Powers could sod off! They'd taken liberties where they had no right to in the past, and he didn't want anything to do with them. He decided to close his eyes for a few minutes to see if he could do that looking inward thing. He tried to clear his mind of all thoughts and open himself to whatever might happen.
Suddenly there was an explosive noise. Spike's eyes flew open to find the cave lit up with colored sparks. He ducked down and shielded his eyes. Then a loud, deep voice boomed.
Spike focused as the smoke dissipated and the sparks faded. He could see a tall, dark-haired figure standing in the middle of the room with his back to him. Slowly the figure turned around and scowled.
"Bloody hell! Angel? Oh, God!"
"Spike." Angel spit the word as Spike had heard him do so many times before.
Spike rolled his eyes and jumped up off the bench. He walked up to Angel and started circling him.
"So they've brought you back now, too, huh? Ha! How does it feel, Bossman? You were all nice and dusted, probably enjoying your new life in Hell, and now you've been jerked away from it. Sucks, doesn't it? So, are you a ghost now, too? And by the way, no one invited you to my little party here. I don't appreciate you crashing it!"
"Make me. I'm calling the shots. I don't believe it's you, anyway. I'm just seeing things. I'm all starved for blood and hallucinating. Now get the hell out."
Impatiently, Angel replied. "You're seeing things all right, and right now you're seeing me. I'm not in Hell, you constantly annoying pain in my ass, and it is your fault that I'm here."
"Right! I'm in control here. My vision quest thingy, and I can guarantee I wouldn't want to see you!" Spike bellowed back.
He really did not believe it was Angel. What he was after had nothing to do with him. This was probably the sodding Senior Partners playing some kind of magical, mystical trick. God knows, they jerked Angel around for years.
Angel closed his eyes and tried to regroup. Even now, Spike made him crazy.
"Calm down, Spike." He had no idea how he was going to get his message across. Spike could be so thick-headed.
"Listen carefully, this is really important. I know you don't usually want to hear anything I have to say, but I've been sent here for a purpose, and you have to hear me out."
"Who sent you?" Spike insisted.
"It bloody well is! It's the most important thing going on with me right now. Apparently, everyone's nosing around in my business these days, and, go figure, now here you are."
"So, you're listening?" Angel asked. Spike was just staring at him now. Maybe that was a good sign.
"I won't be tricked," Spike warned.
"Okay, here's the deal. You're right. Everyone is interested in you, and all that stuff about prophecies and fate --- Well, I wasn't completely right, and I wasn't completely wrong."
The look on Angel's face was serious and nostalgic. It seemed to Spike that for the first time, Angel appeared to have a bit of peace about him. He wanted to believe it, but this could very well be the trick.
"Wait a minute. You really didn't go to Hell, did you?"
"No, I told you I didn't. I've been there before, and I can assure you this place is definitely not Hell."
Spike desperately wanted to believe that.
"The thing is, Spike, the job's not done."
"Well, of course it's not. It never is. There's always gonna be evil in the world," Spike proclaimed.
"No, not that job. Mine. Focus, Spike. Listen to me. I have a new job."
"Oh, really? No eternal torment, but no rest either?"
"Now you're getting it. Spike, I don't have much time. Let me do my job."
Spike folded his arms and leaned back. "Spit it out, then."
"I know what's going on with you. What Lorne told you is true. I know you don't want to hear it, but you can't ignore the Senior Partners and the Powers That Be. Both sides have a big interest in you."
It's really him, Spike thought. And he's wanting me to do exactly what I don't want to. It was too much.
Spike bellowed, "NO! I'm not gonna hear this load of rubbish! I've got no interest in the lot of them. I don't bloody care what any of them want, and I'm absolutely not playing along! Get this, Angel, 'cause it's never gonna change!"
"I was always jealous of that."
Spike was taken aback. "What the bloody hell are you talking about?"
"The way you always know where you stand. You have always listened to your heart about what you wanted. You don't usually have to do the kind of thing you're doing right now. That was my gig. Sitting around, trying to figure things out. It just always seemed to come to you, and then you just did it." Angel snapped his fingers.
"Not always. And it was rarely as easy as a snap of the fingers."
"Almost always, then. It really pissed me off that you came to terms with your sins so much quicker than I was able to. I never thought you suffered enough. The truth is, we all suffer our sins in our own way. No one else can judge it. I respect that we all have different journeys. I get that now, Spike."
As much as he didn't want to be, Spike was moved by Angel's words. He looked away. He hated that he wanted Angel's respect.
Angel read Spike's mood and was just as uncomfortable. He decided it would be best to simply continue.
"Spike, please don't blow off the Powers That Be. I admit that they used to tick me off because they often left questions unanswered and only occasionally gave me any real, solid help. They're mostly concerned with keeping the balance between good and evil, rather than focusing on the good fight. But every now and then, they gave me exactly what I needed. They can be a great ally for you now. They're the ones who sent me. That's my new job."
This bit of information cheered Spike. "So you mean to say, you're my angel? You work for me now?" He cocked his head to the side as that trademark, arrogant grin spread across his face.
"No!" Angel replied indignantly. "I work for the Powers. Idiot!"
"Ponce! You just can't admit it. Oh, this is priceless. Your new job in the afterlife is all about me!" Spike laughed so loud and hard that he almost hurt himself.
"Have you heard a word I've said?"
"Yeah, yeah, Gramps, I'm all ears. The Powers are your friend, blah, blah, blah." Spike was still laughing.
Angel leaned back and folded his arms. "Well, it's true. That's all I can do to help you out here."
There was an easy silence as Spike stared back at Angel, exhaled and said quietly, "Well, as much as I hate to admit it, it's been good talking to you again, mate. And as for continuing the fight, at least I don't have to slay the dragon. You already did that."
Angel's previous job on earth was done, and his new job was, too, at least for the moment. He smiled appreciatively at Spike and slowly disappeared.
As Spike sat in the dark, that sense of urgency remained. He knew he was no good with patience. He fidgeted a bit and wondered out loud, "So, now what? Time to start chanting?"
Xander stopped the Land Cruiser in front of a large vintage house, almost nestled into the shelter of the mountain behind it. Mena peered out of the passenger window and tried to channel her Slayer senses. Either they were on the fritz, or this place was normal. It seemed like a cozy establishment. The name, Mad Creek Bed and Breakfast, was the only thing out of the ordinary.
"Okay, let's get in there and see what's the what," said Xander, eager to get out of the confines of the vehicle to stretch his legs. He climbed out of the SUV and walked around to Mena's side as she was emerging. She looked up at her Watcher with some trepidation. Xander noticed her look and decided to give her a pep talk a la Giles.
"Mena, you've honed your skills, and I'm very proud of how far you've come---"
A startled look flashed across Mena's face as she nearly yelped,
"No! Man, I suck at this. I guess you have to have glasses to wipe and mutter 'Good Lord' in order to convey the right message. The thing is, I want you to know that you're going to be fine. You've proven yourself time and time again. This is going to be a piece of cake."
As Xander was wrapping up his speech, a woman with red flowing hair and dressed in a peasant blouse and long, full skirt seemed to float down the stairs of the porch.
"Ms. McKennon?" asked Xander.
He noticed that she appeared to be a new-age, hippie, wicca type. Not that there was anything wrong with that. He knew if she were indeed of the wiccan persuasion, she might be able to read his mind. Maybe thinking about his friendship with Willow would be the equivalent of 'We come in peace'.
"Yes, and you must be Mr. Harris."
"That would be me. This is Mena. We're here to check on this demon spirit you've got. Maybe we could come in, and you can fill us in on all the spooky details."
"Please," Ms. McKennon motioned towards the house, "come in and I'll make us a pot of tea. Then we'll discuss my problem."
They followed her up to the house. Mena immediately began feeling better about herself. Xander really believed in her, and he had --- how did he put it? --- clocked enough field time to know whether or not she was up to the task. Yes, this was going to be easy. Hakuna Matata.
As soon as they'd settled themselves into the comfy sitting room, drinking herbal tea and eating tasty lemon poppyseed muffins, Ms. McKennon began her explanation.
"Shortly after I purchased the house and began preparations for the Bed and Breakfast, I became aware of a ghostly presence. I'd occasionally catch sight of a beautiful woman, floating from room to room. Inititally, I was quite pleased. You may not know this, but I'm an aficionado of the spirit world. Anything of an otherworldly, supernatural nature intrigues me greatly. Many people consider me to be quite gifted, I'm happy to say. Although I was never able to commune with the spirit, she seemed rather friendly. Then I began having guests stay with me."
"I take it your guests were less happy than you were to be living with a ghost," suggested Xander.
"Quite the contrary. They loved it. They'd go home and tell their friends and family about their unique adventure. The B&B became a huge success. I had a lot of repeat visitors, and they recommended the place to friends who were also eager for the experience. Business was booming. I developed quite a long waiting list. And then things began to change."
"Were there any deaths?" asked Mena.
"No. But sometimes when I'd walk out of a room, I'd see the spirit shift her shape out of the corner of my eye. From the hallway, I'd watch the beautiful woman become a luminous blue demon with long tentacles. If I ducked back into the room, she'd laugh and shift back to her womanly form or simply vanish."
"That must have been very frightening," said Xander. "Definitely sounds like the kind of creature you'd see in a horror movie rather than the ghost of a pioneer woman who lived in the house during the old mining days."
"Quite right. It's definitely a demon. I became very concerned when I realized that the demon seemed to have been gathering strength over the months the B&B had been operating. Lately, she -- or it -- has become quite malevolent, saying very rude things and threatening me if I didn't start bringing in guests again."
"I see," said Mena. "The guests have been afraid to come since the demon grew stronger, and it became apparent that it wasn't a sad, lonely ghost."
"Actually, I became fearful of lawsuits should anything happen to anyone, so I stopped taking bookings, indicating that the house was having some repairs done and would reopen later on."
"That was a smart move, if you ask me," said Xander.
"Don't worry, Ms. McKennon," assured Mena. "I'm sure that I can handle this for you. I'm a Slayer, you know, and have been slaying vampires and demons for almost a year now. My watcher, Xander, and Spike, the souled vampire who is working with us, have both told me that I'm a skilled fighter. I doubt that I'll have much trouble with just one demon."
"Mena," said Xander as he stared at her with a slightly puzzled look, "I think it would be wise to wait for Spike to join us before trying to kill the demon."
"But we don't know how long he'll be gone!" Noting Xander's continued stare, Mena added, "All right. Let's wait for Spike for a couple of days, but if the demon tries to make any trouble in the meantime, I'll end it."
Xander couldn't understand what had come over Mena and hoped that Spike would show up soon -- hopefully, by the next day.
As Xander, Mena and Ms. McKennon continued talking about the ghost demon, said ghost demon listened from the next room, smiling and glowing and flickering back and forth from a transparent state to a more solid one. This young girl was responding quite nicely and may be just what was needed to accomplish its goal.
Totally exhausted from his encounter, Spike lay back on the rock slab and closed his eyes. He knew this place had drawn him here, and he wasn't shocked to see Angel, but he was shocked by the things he had said. Spike now had so many thoughts running through his mind that he couldn't keep up with them. He didn't know exactly how these visitations worked, but he wasn't sure he was ready for any more apparitions right now.
He must have dozed off for a while, because when he awoke, he knew he was not alone. Spike looked around to see who his next visitor was, but he could not see anything or anyone. He tried to wait patiently for it to make its appearance, but he soon became antsy. Patience never was one of Spike's virtues.
"Okay, Ghostie, are you gonna make me wait all night?" he asked.
His question was answered with giggling --- very familiar giggling.
"Okay, Fred, come on out where I can see you, love," Spike told her.
"Golly, Spike, can't a girl, well, technically, a ghost have any fun? You used to enjoy coming upon me unawares during your incorporeal days," teased Fred as she materialized, standing right beside him.
"Boo!" she exclaimed, and her giggles echoed through the caverns again.
"They let you out so you could give your old pal Spike a right good haunt, is that it?" he asked and then continued. "Well, can't say as I'm disappointed to see you, even if you are a ghost now. Never got to say goodbye or tell you how sorry I was that Angel and I---"
"Hey, you, no sorries needed," Fred assured him. "I'm happier here than I ever thought possible. 'Course, I miss you, and I'd love to be there to help you out. Wow, do you have a job ahead of you!"
"Great. Reckon I'm getting that idea --- not the first time I've heard it lately," Spike replied.
"Oh, I know, but I just wanted to mention it myself. It is sooooo exciting! But, actually, that is not what I was sent for. My gosh, you sure do look good. Wish I could give you a hug," Fred said, giggling again. "I really understand now just how hard it was for you during all those weeks when you couldn't touch anyone."
"Thanks, pet, the feeling's mutual. You are a sight for sore eyes," Spike answered, meaning it very sincerely.
"Okay, okay! I know. I will," Fred said, giving her attention to someone he could not see.
She looked back at her friend and spoke in a much more serious tone, "I don't have much time. It was just so good to see you, I kinda got carried away. I just --- well, here goes," she said, looking at him with the same sparkle in her eyes that he remembered.
"It's okay, pet. Hit me with your best shot. That's what I'm here for," Spike teased.
"Hey, trying to be professional now. I guess you can be a professional and be a ghost." She could not help but giggle again at the thought. Then remembering she had a very important message, she continued. "You are a good man, Spike."
Those words made him uncomfortable; he looked down, not wanting to meet her earnest gaze.
"Stop that, Spike. Look at me. The Powers That Be showed me that even when you had no soul, you fought against what you were. You love with a depth and a passion that most humans are not capable of. It is not just what is ahead that makes you worth saving. I want you to know that. The Spike that I got to know and care for was worthy all by his lonesome." Fred's eyes misted as she tried to continue, "But---"
"Yeah, yeah, there's always a but," he told her smirking.
"Now, cut that out," she ordered in her Texas drawl. "I said that you are a good man. Nothing, not even your disbelief, is going to change that, but," she added, carefully emphasizing the but,"there are some things I need you to do. Not for me or anyone else --- for yourself."
"Not making any bloody promises. Lot on my plate right now."
"I am not asking," Fred said, taking an authoritarian tone. "I am telling you, mister. Yes, I know I can't make you do it, but it will make your life so much more pleasant. Call it an early reward from those, you know, upstairs. They wanted you to have this chance, so I got to come tell you about it."
Taking a deep breath, she began again, "You need to let go of all the guilt and all the burdens you are carrying. They cloud your judgment too much of the time. You need to learn to trust the man you have become and listen to him. You were saved for a purpose. Don't waste it, wallowing in the past. You are fighting a good fight, and we're all so very proud of you."
Spike cocked his head, looked at her and listened carefully, making sure he understood what she was saying.
"Yes, you heard me right," Fred confirmed. "We're all here --- Wes, Angel, Cordelia, Charles, and we're together. There's even a sweet guy named Doyle here, who used to work with them before I came along. Our jobs were done. Please know that we're here now, rooting for you, so you will never be alone again."
Spike's eyes clouded with tears at her last words. He blinked and wanted to say thank you, but she had vanished.
Spike sat down on the bench and ran his fingers through his hair. Putting his head in his hands, he began to cry --- first softly, then with heaving sobs as he began a healing and cleansing process that would unburden his soul.
Spike wondered if all this was worth it.
"Bloody well had better be," he answered himself out loud. He was feeling even more drained now, both physically and emotionally, than he had been after his visit with Angel.
"Not good for much of anything in this shape," he muttered. "Don't know about the soul-cleansing part, but I'm feeling right well scrubbed.
With that, Spike lay down on the rocky slab and was soon fast asleep.
Lost in a dream world, he found himself watching the life he had lived in Sunnydale -- both the good and the bad -- just like he'd dreamt about it most days when he slept. Only this time, he was able to watch it without the pain. He saw all the mistakes he had made. All the foolhardy acts, the poor choices, the moments of incredible stupidity paraded before him. But so did the times when he had gotten things right. Things like babysitting Dawn, fending off Glory, standing up to The First, and that final heroic act in the Hellmouth cavern, when he saved the world.
Only there really wasn't a final anything, was there? Things ended. New things began. As his own story played out before him, Spike came to realize that living in the past, successes or failures, did him no good. He determined right then and there to learn from his past that he must live for the future.
Whatever it brought.
And then, he was given a gift. The drama of that final day in the cavern, the day he sacrificed everything for love of her, flashed into view again -- only this time, he saw it the way he wished it had been. This time, when Buffy said "I love you", he was able to believe her, and he mouthed "I love you, too" as they shared that timeless moment together before he sent her to safety.
Then he watched himself go out in a blaze of glory. Effulgence achieved.
As he watched the last few embers of himself vanish into the past, Spike thought about his recent phone conversation with Buffy with renewed hope. He knew they had huge issues to work through. A Mt. Everest of Issues! It loomed over them, stormy and cold and full of dangerous twists and turns. But Buffy was too important not to try -- and then to try again.
No matter what, he would not be afraid to try.
Something startled him from his dream, and he sat up and looked around. Buffy was standing there in front of him. He couldn't believe his eyes. She'd found him! He cocked his head and looked at her questioningly, his lips forming a smile. She returned his smile. It melted his heart, and he reached for her, then froze as familiar laughter rang in his ears and echoed throughout the cave, mocking him.
Right before his eyes, Buffy morphed into Drusilla.
Spike blinked several times, hoping against hope that when he opened them again, Buffy would still be there. He wanted the laughter he heard to be just a figment of his imagination and his sheer exhaustion.
No such luck.
"Ah, my sweet, sweet William," the apparition said in greeting as she floated around him, careful not to touch any part of him.
"Mommy and Daddy have gone away and left us all alone."
"Did they send you?"
"No, my silly boy," her voice lilted. "They went far, far away."
"Then who did send you?" Spike demanded. He could only hope the walls he put up were strong enough to keep her out. The sire connection was still strong, and he could feel it pulling at him.
"Naughty, naughty boy. Haven't you missed your dark princess at all?"
"Can't say that I have," he said, feeling drawn to her, even though he fought it. "The sad truth is, Dru, I was hoping never to see you again. I didn't want to have to be the one who---" He stopped, not wanting to even say it, and returned to his original line of inquiry.
"Why are you here? Know it's not because you care. I'll ask you once more --- who sent you? Wait. Angel? Fred?" He called out to his former visitors for assistance.
"Silly boy, you know I've been dead for over a century."
"No, I know. I mean...you *know* what I mean!"
"Well, there's been no ashes to ashes, dust to dust yet, if that's what you're asking." Drusilla then whispered seductively, "Miss Edith and I still have tea parties...occasionally." She grinned. "But we've missed you so very much."
Spike sighed. He reckoned he asked for this. He could tell that Dru was not solid. Not physically there. She was always so easily used by people; why not the Senior Partners? Then again, the tie between them was strong enough that he did not want to just dismiss her either.
Changing his tatics, he asked, "What do you want, Dru? It's been a long night, and I'm completely knackered."
He seemed to be sweating profusely, something completely unheard of for vampires, and was starting to feel nauseous.
Drusilla slowly shrank back, looked down at the floor and gave Spike her infamous pout.
"Please don't be cross with me, my love," she said in a small voice. "It's only that I've missed my little kitten. There's no one to play with the ball of yarn."
He could not help it; she had pushed the right button. His protective feelings for this sad, lost creature in front of him, with whom he had spent so many years, compelled him to give comfort. Instinctively, he took one step toward her. As had happened so many times over the decades, he ached to console her. He stopped himself and mused at how some things never change.
The last time he'd seen her, he'd threatened to kill her. He had often wondered what happened to Drusilla and where she had gone. At the same time, he knew he would have to dust her if they ever met again. She was evil. He knew better than anyone how dangerous she was. He even tried to imagine that if she were dust, she might then find some kind of peace, the demon being free of the insanity. But he had also wondered if he could actually end her existence. His face softened and he lowered his voice.
"Drusilla, why are you here?"
She drifted slowly toward him. "Spike, I knew you were coming here --- to this nice place where we had so many happy times together." She tilted her head down and looked up at him. "I could hear the caves calling me, too."
"No, Dru. The people we were back then were happy here. But I doubt very seriously that you were called here now for the same reason I came."
Suddenly, Drusilla stopped dead in her tracks. She doubled over as if she'd been hit in the gut.
"Ewww, Ohhh, no, no, no...Nooo!" She shook her head back and forth and mewled like an injured animal. "Oh, no, Spike. You're so sick. No, no, no! Oh, this is dreadful. What have you done?"
Spike was unfazed by her dramatics. Was she actually crying now?
"No, Drusilla. I'm not sick."
"Yes, you are. You're soul sick."
"Actually, quite the opposite. I think I'm finally getting better." He looked away from her and added under his breath, "Just never planned for it to be so complicated."
Drusilla was truly saddened by the knowledge that Spike now had a soul, but she quickly resigned herself to what she'd realized years before. They had a remarkable history and would always be connected, but Spike would never be hers again. She turned her head from him and wiped her eyes. She had a job to do. She needed him, and whether he liked it or not, he needed her.
In a frail voice, she started again, "Spike, I have to tell you something."
He'd finally had enough. "Bloody hell, Drusilla, stop playing games! I know the Powers That Be wouldn't send you to me, so that leaves the Senior Partners. And I'm not listening to anything they have to say. I'm my own man now, Dru," he warned her in a stern voice. "So just get on with it, already!"
"It's about the others. Your new traveling companions. The woodsman. You know, the one you used to always call the whelp. And the young and tender Slayer from a far off land."
Spike was immediately alarmed. "Drusilla, what? What is it? If you've put them in harm's way---"
"No. I have not. You have. They have to storm the castle all on their own because their brave knight has abandoned them."
"What, the place in Georgetown? Hell, it's just a haunted house. They can handle things till I get there. But you, dear Dru, have always been so needy. Couldn't really help you then. Can't and won't help you now," Spike said very firmly.
"You're very, very wrong, my sweet boy. As in times past, I've come to assist my brave knight with my special sight. The queen of the castle has a monster chasing her --- what fun! *She* thought it was just a ghostie, too, but she's since discovered otherwise." Dru giggled. "It's a nasty, nasty demon, and it's up to no good."
"Bloody hell, woman, imagine that! A demon, up to no good. Quite out of character, wouldn't you say?" Spike said, losing his patience with Dru's game.
"If you're here to help, how about telling me something that we wouldn't have thought of on our own? I know that you always were fond of riddles, but why do you care about whatever this thing is up to?"
He could tell that she knew something. He understood that her motives were probably screwed up, but useful alliances could be formed in the strangest of circumstances. He smiled as he remembered the time he'd offered to help Buffy stop Angelus so he could get Drusilla back.
What the hell, no harm in hearing her out. He might not know her motives, but he did know Dru. This was going to take some patience.
He sighed, "All right, pet, come tell me all about it." He sat down on the rock bench and patted the place next to him.
Drusilla's face lit up. She and Spike would be friends again. She clapped her hands and giggled, "Oh Spike, what fun! Want to hear my fairy tale?"
He smiled at her as she sat down next to him. "You know I do, my dark princess."
Drusilla settled herself and turned to face him.
"Once upon a time, there was a magnificent castle in a lovely little mining town surrounded by beautiful mountains full of silver and gold. The mountains were magical, of course. They made men wealthy beyond imagination, and the wealthy men thought they were better than everyone else.You knew men like them, Spike. They were cruel to you. I saved you from them, remember?"
Spike smiled and nodded, remembering the fateful night they had first met.
"The men could do whatever they wanted. And they did. They had many fun parties in the castle. The pretty girls and boys who lived in the castle and served the men were like Grandmum. They had no silver and gold. So the powerful men took whatever they wanted. And the once lovely castle soon became poisoned."
Drusilla suddenly appeared to be very agitated. She whimpered and looked away.
"Spike, there's a monster in the castle now and you *must* banish it."
As he concentrated on extracting more information from a distraught Drusilla, Spike unconsciously reached to lay a comforting hand on her arm. His hand went right through her, and he smiled at how easily his old habits with Dru came back.
"I will, pet, I promise. I'm a big hero," he said mockingly. "Stopping monsters is what I do these days. Drusilla, look at me." She turned back to him. "Tell me how to stop this one."
Drusilla focused on Spike and her eyes seemed unusually clear. "William?"
"You were always my hero."
Spike's heart clenched. She seemed sane. Almost, human. In a barely audible voice, he said her name. "Drusilla..."
"Arrogance!" She blurted out suddenly. "Just give her a bit of a trim, and then we will have a happy ending."
Spike roared, "What the bloody HELL are you talking about, Drusilla? He shook his head and immediately regretted losing his temper, but the frustration was unbearable. He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself as Drusilla keened.
"Oh, Spike. I'm trying to be a good girl for you, really I am. The big one. Cut the big one." Eventually, she calmed and continued with her story.
When she had finally finished, he mulled it over for a moment, then asked, "Don't suppose you'll be telling us exactly what this Dochmur demon is after, eh?" He looked up at her expectantly.
She had a sweet and satisfied smile on her face as she started to become transparent.
"Ah, there there, my kitten. The ball of yarn has come all unwound. I have to go tidy it up now. Run along and play."
"Wait! Drusilla! Wait!" He could hear her singing as she slowly dissolved into nothingness.
"Run and catch, run and catch..."
As soon as the sun went down, Spike emerged from the caves at vampire speed. He had to get to Harris and Mena. If anything happened to them--- No, he wasn't going to let Buffy down. Besides, he'd grown fond of the Little Slayer Who Could. Harris was growing on him, too. Not that he actually liked him or anything. Bloody hell, who was he kidding. It was nice having someone from Sunnydale around. A connection to her.
"Time to play hero," he muttered. Spike hopped in the Viper and sped off, tires spewing gravel. He sincerely hoped this cozy, little demon-haunted inn would prove to be right easy to find.
Spike came to a screeching halt outside of the B&B. He got out of the car and surveyed the picturesque old home. He couldn't believe how unassuming it looked. But then again, beasties chose all sorts of places to take up residence. Spike was just making his way up the cobblestone path to the front door when a piercing scream erupted from the house.
Spike took the stairs two at a time up to the front door and hesitated. This was no time to have to ask for an invite. He noticed a sign in a window: All visitors welcome. That would have to do, as it appeared from the overlapping screams that not only was the Slayer in trouble, but so was the owner of the house.
Spike burst through the door, racing up another flight of stairs before he came to a hallway. A very agitated Xander was standing outside of what Spike assumed was one of the bedrooms, struggling with the doorknob.
"Harris, what's going on?"
"It's Mena. The damn thing trapped her in there with Ms. McKennon. I can't get in."
"Wimp," Spike growled as he shoved Xander away from the door and tried kicking it in. An unseen force flung him across the hall, where he hit the wall and crumpled onto the floor. Spike hurriedly regained his footing.
"Bollocks! It's been sealed or something."
"Ya think?" Xander snarked in frustration.
Spike rolled his eyes and turned to face his only ally in the hall. "Look, we're going to have to work together on this. I know what to do; I've just got to get in there and do it."
Xander eyed Spike suspiciously. "You gonna fill me in, or are you going to make me guess what the plan is?"
"The plan is for me to get in there and kill that bloody thing!"
Spike continued wrestling with the doorknob and even threw himself against the door a couple of times. Finally, he resorted to banging on the supernaturally reinforced door.
"MENA! Can you hear me, love?"
Xander pulled Spike away from the door. "Listen, if you'd just stop being 'Mr. I've got a plan, and it's mine, all mine', we could maybe work together to help Mena."
Spike scowled, but he knew the whelp was right. Teamwork was necessary.
"Fine. I'll tell you what needs to be done; then we'll figure out a way to get in there and put an end to this. That thing isn't just any demon ghost, it's a Dochmur demon ghost. It's feeding off the arrogance of the people who stay here. My guess is they get all puffed up, spending the big bucks to stay in a haunted house, sleeping with a ghostie so they can brag about it and such."
"Yeah, that's pretty much what's been going on here," Xander confirmed. "Whole lotta boasting going on. It's been a total bragfest."
"Meanwhile, the Dochmur is getting her fill of this bravado but not enough to become permanently corporeal. So, she bides her time getting stronger, making a little more noise, drawing more attention to the place because the scarier she makes it, the braver the people will have to be to stay, won't they? She's got a right nice set up here. But she's gotten greedy. Little tart wants to come into the world. Obviously, that's not a good thing."
"Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out, Captain Peroxide."
"Do you want to help me or not?"
Xander considered the information for a moment. "Okay, okay. So she feeds off arrogance, blah blah blah, and she wants to become corporeal. Finish your story."
"In order to kill her, I have to cut off the biggest tentacle on her head."
"Ouch! And may I also say, yuck?"
"Yeah, not going to be the prettiest sight. Anyway, the plan is -- since we can't hurt her in this phantomy state, we go in---"
"Get our brag on and chop off her main vein?"
"You're pathetic, but yes. Now the problem is how do we get in?"
Xander contemplated the problem for a moment, then began yelling through the door.
"If I could get in there, you pitifully feeble Dochmur, I'd SO kick your demon ass!"
Spike was dumbfounded. "What the bloody hell do you think you're doing? We need to---"
"Shut up and help me. Look, there's no bravery going on in there right now. We both heard the screams. If we make her think all the bragging's going on out here---"
"That might actually work." Spike turned back to the door and started ranting. This was something he was really good at.
"You must be very scared of us, you bloody lame-assed, weak-kneed, frail little She-thing! Otherwise, you'd let us in so's we could show you what we manly men are made of."
"Yeah, and we're made of a whole lot of demon-stomping bravery. We've got a Champion out here who fought for his soul and closed a Hellmouth."
Spike wasn't sure if Xander was just going along with the moment or really thought of him that way. Regardless, he decided to return the favor.
"And he's the man who stopped the most powerful witch on earth from destroying the world's very existence."
Xander smiled at Spike as he realized those words were actually true. "Yeah, I did do that. So you're nothing but small potatoes, Chickie!"
Suddenly, the door flew open.
"Well, Harris, it looks like we did it. Follow me and look for an opportunity to get the women to safety."
Inside the bedroom, Mena was huddled in a corner with the woman who Spike assumed owned this charming, haunted home. Hovering in the middle of the room was a surprisingly beautiful woman. She was surrounded by a shimmering blue light that made her look angelic. Surely this couldn't be the evil Dru spoke of. Her hair radiated the same light as it swished and swirled around her.
Once she saw the brave pair who'd come to face her, her appearance changed. Her hair began winding together to form thick, rope-like tentacles. Her soft, beautiful face was replaced by a sharper, more angular version. The light around her started to fade, and she began to solidify before their eyes.
"Well, well, well. Looks like the game has changed," sneered a malicious voice emanating from the Dochmur.
Spike turned to Xander and held out his hand, "Sword!"
Xander looked at him blankly. "You don't have a weapon?"
"Did you see me with a weapon outside in the hall? Do I look like I have a weapon on me? All the bloody weapons are stored in the Land Cruiser, you git!" Spike ranted.
"Spike!" Mena tossed him a battle axe.
"You can always count on a Slayer to come with accessories," Spike grinned.
The Dochmur launched itself at Spike, knocking him to the floor. Its tentacles wrapped around his neck while its hands struggled to hold him down.
"I won't let you stop me!" the demon yelled. "I've waited far too long to become flesh to have it ripped away from me the second I've achieved it."
While Spike wrestled the demon, Xander went to Mena and Ms. McKennon. He got them to their feet and rushed them out into the hall.
"You two stay here. I'm going back in."
Xander re-entered the room and found that Spike had maneuvered the demon near the far wall and was twirling the axe, biding his time. The main tentacle remained unseen.
"Come on, you show me yours, and I'll show you mine," he teased as he slid into his game face.
The Dochmur swung its head, and its tentacles unfurled. The largest stretched out and tried to strike Spike.
"You really think I'll be stopped by a mere vampire? And what is this," she turned to Xander, "a mortal?"
"Yeah, I may be mortal, but I know how to do something you don't." With a primal scream, Xander rushed forward and pushed the demon against the wall. "Now!"
Spike, still shocked by Xander's heroic action, swung the axe. The blade narrowly missed Xander, but connected with its target. The demon's largest tentacle was severed, and black ooze spilled out from the stub and onto Xander's head.
"Great, I pin the thing and end up with guts in my hair."
Spike chuckled. "Yeah, but it could be a look for you."
The Dochmur's corporeal body immediately shifted shape into a luminescent blue bundle of wavering tentacles. Soon it was nothing but streams of blazing blue light, and then it vanished completely with a loud crackle. All that remained was an odor reminiscent of burned electrical wiring.
After cleaning up in one of the B&B's bathrooms, Xander helped Spike get the Viper hitched to the Land Cruiser once again while Mena and Ms. McKennon looked on.
"This is not because we've bonded or anything," Spike told Mena when he caught her watching them with a smile on her face. "It's just too far for a bloke to drive to save your asses."
"I'm sorry, wasn't that moi who figured out how to get that door opened? And who was it that held Miss Bad Hair Day, so you could do your little choppy thing? Oh, yeah! That was me, too. Face it pal, you couldn't have done this without me."
"Actually," Ms. McKennon interrupted, "it was talk like this that started this whole thing. I'd really rather not relive what just happened."
"At least you two were able to fight it," muttered Mena.
Startled, Ms. McKennon turned to face the young Slayer. "But, you're still just a child. Who would expect you to fight that monster?"
Mena hung her head. Ms. McKennon didn't notice, but the two men did. Spike went over to Mena and put his arm around her.
"Come on, kid. Papa Bear's putting the pedal to the metal, and you're riding shotgun."
Xander opened the passenger door for her and looked back at Ms. McKennon. "Looks like you're all demon free now. We'd better get going. We've got a long drive ahead of us."
"Of course. I just can't thank you enough. And since you said you won't take any money, please know you'll always have a room here."
Xander snorted. "Sure, that's --- well, that's just great." He climbed into the back seat and muttered, "Yeah, we'll be back to celebrate next Never Gonna Happen Day."
"So, where are we headed now?" Mena whispered.
Spike eyed Xander in the rearview mirror. Xander leaned forward and poked his head between the two front seats.
"Indianapolis, Indiana. Of course, wouldn't you know, we've just missed this year's Indy 500. Anyway, I think the specifics about our next assignment can wait long enough to talk about what's really on your mind."
"Yeah, I can pull over, and we can just chat or--- Bloody hell, I'm out of practice. I'm going to talk to you like a real person -- not a confused, scared, defensive, hormonal teenaged girl. That work for you?"
Mena looked up at Spike with tears in her eyes and nodded. "Just keep driving. I want to get away from this place."
"Okay with you, Harris?"
"I think we're all adults here."
"Some more than others," Spike said under his lack of breath. "So do you want to tell us what's wrong, or do you want me to tell you what I think is wrong?"
Mena studied Spike's face. She couldn't figure out how a vampire would be able to understand her feelings. He mentioned being out of practice. Dawn! He must've been there for her, too. That was sweet. Not something she'd expect from her natural enemy.
Not wanting to be left out, Xander piped up from the backseat. "It's okay, Mena. You got scared. You think that you're the first Slayer to need help?"
"I'll bet Buffy never froze the way I did."
"Rubbish! You'd lose that bet, love. The Slayer has frozen up loads of times. Once she even went catatonic when the Bit was taken by that slutty hell-god with the groveling toadies and barmy minions."
"Spike, she has no idea what you're talking about. Look Mena, it happens. You may have Slayer strength, but you're still human. Hell, I was scared. Weren't you Spike?"
They both looked at him expectantly, but he was staring out the window. He was thinking about his time in the caves. He had friends who were rooting for him. His own little cheering section. Hell, even Dru wanted to help him. Things weren't always going to be okay, but for the first time since losing so much in the alley, he didn't feel alone. He shook his head and came back to reality.
"Course I was scared. A little. At first. Then I remembered that I have a lot of people pulling for me. And it'd be letting them down if I were to stop fighting. That's the trick of it, pigeon. You've got to remember that you have people who will back you up. Harris may not be much of a Watcher---"
"But, he's lasted longer than most humans who have seen as much otherworldly action as he has."
"And Spike is older than the dirt he should be buried in---"
"But he's lasted longer than most vampires I've ever come across, and he's helped stop a few apocalypses. See, you're not the only one who can give an underhanded compliment. So long story short, we're here for you." Xander put a reassuring hand on Mena's shoulder.
"Bloody hell, Harris. That was a sodding Hallmark moment if I ever heard one. Came over a bit queasy, I did." Spike smirked and glanced at Mena out of the corner of his eye.
Mena laughed. "Indianapolis, here we come. All three of us. And we could have our own Indy 500."
Far overhead, helicopter blades whirred. The pilot knew how to keep his distance and remain unnoticed.
Spike entered one of the caves and found Drusilla sitting on the ground, surrounded by her dolls. Miss Edith, her favorite, was propped up in her lap.
"Miss Edith and I were having tea with our friends. Would you like to join us?"
"I'm always hungry for whatever you serve up, my ripe, wicked plum."
Spike sat down behind her and pulled her back against his chest, his mind on more than imaginary tea.
"Naughty, naughty, William." Drusilla pulled away from him and smoothed her dress. "We're having a civilized party today."
"Whatever your wicked little heart desires, my dark princess." Spike could just as easily sit for hours with his beloved Drusilla. Even though she was a teacup shy of a complete service set.
"Miss Edith doesn't like our caves. She thinks we're in hiding. I've told her it's all a happy little game of musical chairs, and this is the one we've been given for now." She leaned in and listened to her doll.
"Miss Edith thinks we should be out in the open again. She liked it when she could tell all of her dolly friends that her daddy was William the Bloody. She misses the attention. I tell her it's okay. One day we'll be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."
"What are you talking about, love? They don't even have one of those."
"Shh! Speaking of things you know nothing about. Some day, you and I will dance there beside the great lake. And I'll rule the Hellmouth that the Hall sits on like the Queen of Swords. And you? You'll be my jester."
"You calling me a fool?"
"Yes, but you're a very special kind of fool."
Drusilla's giggles were infectious, and Spike smiled as he nuzzled her
neck, saying, "I'll always be your fool, love."
End of Visitations
Will Spike's team really play Indy 500 on deserted stretches
To find out, come back on
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