Spike slunk into the back of the Cold ‘n’ Tall Creamery late on the evening before the grand opening. Jhiera was directing Xander to park the truck inside the loading area, but the other girls had already gone off to the cold storage unit that had been converted into their dormitory. He prowled around the perimeter, glanced over the storefront area, and nodded at her with satisfaction.
“Got all the trimmings, I see.”
“We are prepared.”
“Right. Well, here I am.”
“What the hell are you doing here, Spike?” demanded Xander, handing the truck keys to Jhiera.
“I’m on night watch, Harris. Want to make sure these lovely ladies get their beauty sleep before the big day, don’t we?”
“Oh, sure. Out of the evilness of your cold, black heart?”
Spike rolled his eyes. “No, you prat. Least I can do. The princess did me a good turn when the soldier boys shot me up with that tracking bollocks. Besides, she’s letting me store my blood here until I can get my new crypt fitted out.” He rocked back on his heels with a smile.
“Uh huh. And your gratitude and vigilance will last exactly as long as your itty bitty attention span.”
“Imagine I’ll find some way to keep busy,” said Spike, with a sideways glance at Jhiera.
The temperature in the loading dock notched upward. Spike dug around in his pockets absently while Xander looked back and forth from him to Jhiera. He pointed a trembling finger at Spike.
“The vampire is helping us, like his kinsman before him,” she said. Spike looked sharply at her and stopped short of lipping a cigarette out of the pack he’d found. “I do not understand the curse upon them…”
“Hey!” objected Spike. “No sodding curse here, alright?”
“…but I have recently learned to accept help from unexpected places. Even you — a human man — have come to our aid in spite of the difficulties. I thank you.”
“That’s just the Scooby way, your Highness. But Spike only helps when there’s something in it for him.”
“That’s right, genius.” Spike finally extracted a cigarette and gestured with it toward the roll-up door. “And there is something in it for me, so you can just toddle on home now. I’ve got this one.”
The temperature rose a little more.
“Fine. With any luck, you’ll get the Oden Tal BBQ special,” grumbled Xander.
Spike produced his Zippo and lit his cigarette, letting the flame burn for a few extra seconds.
“Might’ve escaped your keen notice, but I like playing with fire,” he said, pocketing the lighter. The heat haze was getting noticeable.
Xander watched Jhiera watch Spike and wondered if it was too late to stop by Anya’s. He shrugged.
“Your funeral. And see: now I’m happy again.” He noisily lowered the heavy door, secured it, and after a last look back, left via the side door. Neither Spike nor Jhiera had moved.
As the door clicked behind Xander, Spike shook himself. He put his hand on Jhiera’s shoulder. She stiffened, but allowed his hand to remain. It was soothingly cool against her skin.
“Bet it’s been another long day, yeah? Maybe a little snack before beddy bye will fix you up.” He gave her a nudge toward the shop, and as she turned one of his fingers brushed against her glowing spine. She gasped, but he nonchalantly popped the injured digit into his mouth. He turned and began to walk backward, pouting slightly around the finger he was suckling.
“Tell me, princess, do you still eat all your cold treats with a spoon?” he asked.
She nodded. He held the door open to the front of the shop.
“Just thought you might like a little variety, yeah? Could show you how to lick an ice cream cone, if you like.” He smiled warmly, but the tip of his tongue poked out from between his teeth.
Jhiera hoped the product would not melt before morning.
Continued in part 4, Come and Get It.