Spike watched the plastic bottles from the overturned recycling bin bounce anemically down the street. No satisfying clatter and crash in this modern world. Why had he expected any relief from kicking over rubbish bins, anyway? Stupid git.
He stalked off without any destination in mind. He had no particular place to be, besides away from the scene of his latest humiliation. If he’d allowed himself to think it, he’d expected to be tucked into the Slayer’s cozy apartment all evening, baring his heart and begging her forgiveness. In his closely guarded imaginings, she’d sweetly granted him that and more. Instead, he was out on the street, the same deluded sentimental fool he ever was.
Buffy’d take his help, but she would never accept him as a man without the soul. She knew the demon too well. He wished he could say the same. Wished he could see the line between man and beast so that he could choose to be one or the other. As it was, he fooled himself into thinking he had control over the monster, only to be reminded that he never would. Yet the old freedom was gone. He would never be free-range evil again. Neither Buffy nor Dru would like it, and his gut told him he wouldn’t either.
On Kearny Street between North Beach and Chinatown he stopped to light a cigarette. Across the road was the Purple Onion, not a patch on its old glory days, like so much of the neighborhood. He remembered haunting it with Dru back when it was swarming with young artists, all filled with anger at a fat, self-satisfied, hypocritical post-war society. Hoping for a beautiful new world. Had they won? In some ways, yes. The blinders were off — cynicism was rampant. Hope? Harder to say.
Above him, the marquee for The Lusty Lady peep show read “KEISTER BUNNIES”. It took Spike a moment to crack the code, until he remembered that Easter was nigh. Still a crap pun. Surrounding himself for an hour in the bosom of comforting, willing women was tempting, though. Ha. There was a pun. He hesitated on the threshold. Was ogling naked women an evil, soulless activity? Was NOT ogling them yet another sign that he’d been unmanned? Would it soothe his heart or mind? Did he care, or more precisely, have anything better to do?
Shrugging, he ducked inside. Noting the “Couples Welcome!” signs, he made his way to an unoccupied booth and stuck a twenty in the slot. The window rose and a stage dotted with gyrating lovelies came into view. To Spike’s discerning eye they could all use a good feed, not that he was complaining. A fellow liked a bit of jiggle with the wiggle, but at this point all he was searching for was a sweet smile.
Or perhaps he was fooling himself. In some ways, this time with Dru was just what he’d been telling himself he wanted. She loved him with openness and lack of guile. She no longer tried to corrupt or mold him. She seemed to accept him and see in him a partner, someone who could be depended on and consulted. Her smile was offered unstintingly, her presence and kindness consoled him when he was feeling the strain.
And yet. Dru’s love for him now was true, but…familial. Not a passionate, romantic love. He still craved love, respect, intimacy, and fantastic shagging with one woman. His impossible dream.
Meanwhile, a possible dream was shimmying right in front of him. A tall redhead with a glint in her eye and a smile on her face was performing a series of low, twisting bends on stage. She turned and looked at him from over her shoulder. Swaying in time with the music, she slowly slid her hands from her shoulders, down her sides, over her hips, and down her thighs. His head tilted along with her body as she bent at the waist, her charming arse twitching on the other side of the glass. Just as she was about to reveal a few delectable secrets, his window slid shut.
“Buggering hell,” he muttered, fishing out another bill and inserting it into the slot. The window rose again, but the redhead had moved on. Story of his life, really.
He perused the other dancers. An athletic little spitfire sporting a tiny flame tattoo on her hip prowled toward his window. She gave him a sultry shoulder roll and he showed her a bit of tongue. Nearly got a grin, too. She was too professional to laugh outright, but he reckoned she appreciated the nod from someone who knew the score. One teasing seducer to another, and all that. She looked about ready to launch into something special when her attention was drawn to the other side of the stage.
Then Spike heard it — a flat pounding sound that didn’t line up with the dancers’ thumping soundtrack. He looked through the various limbs to see a fist beating against a window across the way, but he couldn’t make out more than that. The performers attempted, with varying degrees of success, to continue their exertions while the pounding got more frantic. With a splintering crash, a hand broke through the glass. Blood droplets and glass shards fell across the stage. The dancers fell back and finally stilled. Spike got a glimpse of a man’s face through the jagged opening, twisted with pain and revulsion.
Spike stood and did a quick calculation, flinging the door to his booth open. The floor of the hallway was bathed in mist up to his calves, which he didn’t remember being there when he came in. He pounded down the hall to the booth he figured held the man, mist swirling like grasping fingers behind him. The scent of blood overpowered even the disinfectant smell of the place. The door was locked, of course. He kicked it in. The bloke was trying to crawl out the broken window, causing himself further injury and terrifying the ladies on stage.
Spike hauled the tosser out of the mess, trying not to exacerbate the damage to his hide. He dragged him into the hallway and pressed him roughly up against the wall. The man’s eyes were rolling and he was panting wildly. Spike wondered if banging his head against the wall might not make one of them feel better.
“Drop ’im,” came the order from behind him. It rang like a bell through Spike. He could hear it even over the techno beat.
He turned his head to see a young woman with close-cropped hair, fists firmly planted on her hips, giving him a familiar level gaze. She was wearing glittery shorts, a halter top, with ankle boots on her feet. The glitzy get up didn’t do much to camouflage her true nature.
“What have we here? Scene kid slayer? Adorable,” he purred. “Let’s hear the magic word, then”
Her eyes widened. Surprise warred with annoyance. She suddenly held a stake in her fist. Spike marveled yet again at the ease with which these bints concealed their weapons. He whirled and held the bleeding man to his chest. That his head was lolling to the side with his neck stretched out below Spike’s mouth simply made the tableau more convincing. Classic even.
“What’s your name, precious?” he asked. Her chin jutted out in defiance. So cute. “Mine’s Spike.”
She blinked. Recognition dawned. She took a more solid grip on her stake. Gratifying to know that he still made the lesson books.
“Heard of me, have you?”
She narrowed her gaze, but seemed be taking stock of the situation more carefully. She glanced into the booth and must’ve seen the broken window. Her eyes were back on him in a flash.
“A bulletin went out about you yesterday. Pretty unusual. ‘Don’t stake except to protect or defend’ it said. So which is it here?”
He sighed. “Neither, pet. Just trying to do a good deed. This wanker broke through the glass to get at the girls. Thought I’d step in. You’re welcome, and all.”
She really looked annoyed now.
“You know this is a union shop, right? We don’t need scabs coming in to help with security.”
He laughed. “Union strippers, sweetling? Pull the other one.”
Her expression didn’t change a jot. “Look, vampire. Maybe you’re new in town or something, but we’ve got our own way of doing things, and right now that way is for you to put Carl down. Gently.”
“Carl?” asked Spike.
She shrugged. “He’s a regular.”
The man he held started coughing, as if on cue.
“Carl? You okay there?” she asked.
“Honey?” wheezed the man. “Oh, ow. I don’t feel so good.”
“Where d’you want him?” Spike asked the slayer. She looked uncertain. She probably wanted to argue about jurisdiction or what all. He had possession, though. Finally she pointed further down the hallway. Spike lifted Carl and — keeping an eye on the slayer who kept an equally close eye on him — carried him to an alcove that held a bench.
“Here okay?” he asked. She nodded. He put Carl down without an excess of tenderness and stepped away. He’d managed to get smeared with blood at some point, and began to suck it off his fingers with relish. Mostly to brass off slayer-girl, but also because it was a sin to waste food. He didn’t often get even a taste of human this fresh.
She gave him a dirty look. Spike approved of this one. She kept her stake at the ready, even when she crouched down beside Carl to take stock of his condition.
Spike could see and smell lots of cuts and gouges, but the guy had miraculously not nicked anything vital, far as he could tell. He seemed to be regaining a measure of alertness, focusing on the girl in front of him.
“Hey, Car. You’re pretty banged up. I’m thinking you should probably see a doctor.”
“Aw, c’mon, Honey,” he whined. “Can’t you just pour me inna cab like always?”
“Sorry. You’re bleeding all over the place. No cabbie is gonna take you like that.”
Carl looked down and seemed to notice the cuts criss-crossing his hands and arms for the first time.
“What the hell?”
“That’s what I was hoping you could tell me, Car.”
He furrowed his brow, attempting to recall. “I was in my booth and it got real cold. I couldn’t get the door open and I felt like I was, I dunno… drowning? Jeez. What the fuck is going on around here?”
The slayer gave Spike a suspicious look. He shrugged.
“Gripping as this is, I think I’ll skip the pointless questioning of the canapés. Good luck with all that.” He stalked away in a swirl of leather, but stopped before he was out of sight. “Genuine pleasure to make your acquaintance, Slayer.” He blew her a kiss and melted away.
The EMTs arrived within minutes and took charge of Carl. Honey met the cops soon after. The damage was contained and the injuries seemed to be of the self-inflicted variety, so they wrote up enough of a report to satisfy the insurance company. When they were gone the janitors set to work, hanging an OUT OF ORDER sign on a chain across the broken doorway and getting out the mops, heavy duty gloves, and bleach. Honey climbed the stairs to the office. She pulled the bulletin off the board and called the number listed at the bottom. She’d never had to call in an after hours update before.
“Hey, Buffy? It’s Honey at The Lusty Lady. One of your vamps was in here tonight. Yeah, the male. Uh huh. Course I didn’t stake him! He was, I dunno, helpful? And disturbing. Oh. Well, we had a bit of an incident. Patron managed to get shredded, though it doesn’t look like the vampire was involved. Nah, he’ll be all right. Your vamp seemed to think he was an appetizer, though. No, no fangs…just lots of tongue. Hey, you okay?”
Wednesday morning at the SlayerSF offices
Buffy wasn’t in the mood. She hadn’t been able to sleep last night. Coffee was her friend, but it couldn’t do all the work. She looked over the reports littering the conference table and sighed.
Sylvia took pity on her. “It looks more complicated than it is. We had an uptick in after-hours reports, but nothing requiring reinforcements. Our source at SF General Hospital says psychiatric emergency intakes spiked significantly last night. Unofficially, most of those patients were fine within a few hours.”
“Okay. Weirdness on the rise.” Buffy tried very hard not to think too much about anything “spiking”. That way lay badness.
“Looks like it,” agreed Angela. “The good news is that fatalities citywide are still running at normal rates.”
“I guess we’re not at DEFCON 2 yet. Whatever that means,” said Buffy.
The other two slayers looked confused, but shrugged it off. They were wonderful, dedicated teammates, but they didn’t speak Sunnydale-ese. On a day like today, Buffy could use a little understanding. Xander would have got it. Heck, he probably would have said it. Sylvia dug through her notes, pulling a pink phone message from a file.
“The witches and seers are starting to pick up portents, no surprise. The witches want to set up a summit with some of the friendly demons, to pool information. They’d like to have a slayer representative there.”
“I’ve got patrol tonight,” said Buffy.
She wasn’t a diplomat, to say the least, but she was still the Slayer their demon allies wanted to deal with. She wasn’t sure if it was a cultural thing and they wanted the Head of the Slayer line, or if — as she suspected but had never confirmed — they wanted the Slayer who had shown a willingness to fully collaborate with demonkind in the good fight. If it was the second, they were mistaken if they thought she was likely to be more sympathetic. The new slayers were probably more open-minded than Buffy, even with all her “experience”. She couldn’t blame the demons for wanting a known quantity, though. She often felt the same way.
There it was again, the thought pushing its way into her consciousness: Spike. Spike was back, and she didn’t know what that meant. She didn’t know if she still knew him, if he was the man she’d loved, the demon who’d fought alongside her, or someone new. Someone who frequented strip clubs, she thought bitterly.
She pushed the distracting thoughts aside. There was work to do.
“Can you ask them to set it up for tomorrow afternoon? I can let the girls know that classes will be cancelled. They’ll be thrilled.”
Sylvia made a note and that wrapped up the meeting. One item checked off Buffy’s lengthy to-do list. She ducked into her office, shut the door and collapsed into her office chair. Thick fog obscured the view out her window. The foghorn guarding the Golden Gate sounded its mournful bellow, the perfect counterpoint to her frame of mind.
The day stretched before her: conference call, classes, and patrol. With luck, she wouldn’t have time to worry about her own personal vampire problem. She could think about it after the apocalypse, right? That approach felt right. Familiar. With a jolt, she realized that it was familiar because it was what she’d done in the last days of Sunnydale.
She’d been so full of feelings, feelings much less confused than the ones she was having now, and frightening in their intensity. She’d kept them on lock down, separate from everything else. She’d known she had something precious — too precious to leave out in the open, too brilliant to examine directly. She’d tucked that cherished treasure away, and only opened it for a moment or two at a time, keeping in reserve for later.
She’d poured all her focus into the fight and she’d won. They’d won. But she’d lost him. Later never came.
Until now. Now she had a chance to reconnect with him, if she wanted. Did she? This Spike was strange, if completely recognizable. He walked like Spike and he talked like Spike, but the jury was out whether he was her Spike.
The big question mark was the missing soul. What did it mean that he no longer had possession? He’d been happy enough with the blood she’d provided last night, but she hadn’t thought to ask if he was back on a human Happy Meal diet. Was he killing? She didn’t think so. He didn’t seem to have that predatory air, but she’d seen him doing his menacing act with that little girl. How much of an act was it?
And what about Dru? She had Spike’s soul. What did that even mean? Was Dru his moral true north now? That was a terrifying thought. She seemed to get an awful lot of his attention for a not-lover. Not that Buffy missed being the center of his intense focus. Wanting that again would be wrong. It was just sorta strange to be around him and not feel his…yearning. Yes, that was it. It was strange.
And what the hell did it mean that he was hanging out in strip bars? Was that part of the no-soul package? It didn’t seem very Spike-like — the original Mr. Love’s Bitch. But he wasn’t in love, was he? He’d said he had a soft spot for the women he’d loved, and she got that. But he only talked about love in the “used-to” sense. He hadn’t said anything about love in the present. It used to be so easy for him, before the soul, to talk of love. Love, love, love, all the freaking time. Now he talked about “helping” but he was spending his time at girly shows.
It didn’t make any sense that something so stupid would get to her like this. It wasn’t like he was her boyfriend. According to him, he wasn’t Dru’s either. Buffy guessed that maybe he wasn’t anybody’s at the moment. It gave her a pang, to think of all that untapped devotion, going to waste. No wonder he was hanging out with strippers.
Argh! So many questions, none of which she could possibly answer now. She’d think about all this later. Avoido Buffy was still in the driver’s seat. It had to be that way.
That night Buffy took her squad to the Castro, feeling that all of them, including herself, needed a cream puff assignment. The International Film Festival was in full swing at the theatre, so there was even more foot traffic than usual. Yeji, Celeste, Pilar, and Ashley monitored the long lines wrapping around the block, just in case something tried to pick off stragglers. The ID checkers at the gay bars were too savvy about keeping underage boys out to let a few underage girls slip through, so hitting the bars was up to Buffy. The neighborhood bouncers knew her and they were thrilled to let her do a quick vamp-check without paying the cover charge. They were awfully sweet, and always made sure to tell her how gorgeous and darling she was. It was fun, getting all that positive feedback from men without an agenda. Just what she needed today.
When she got back to the theatre to check in with the girls, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were working the ticket holders’ line. They were glittering in their colorful habits, bejeweled and bespangled, passing out fliers for their Charity Easter Sunday Egg Hunt and Hunky Jesus Contest, entertaining the crowd. Buffy tried to remember if she was on the security detail for this year’s event.
They always seemed so joyful. A Sister had told her once that he’d lost so much that it would be a sin NOT to make the most of every day. It was still hard for her to grasp the scourge that AIDS, fear, and hatred had been for this community, but it put her own problems and losses into perspective. She felt a kinship with those that had been through the wars and come out the other side. They were survivors, too. She just hoped she could one day get to the place of peace the Sisters seemed to have achieved.
Buffy caught Sister Mary Mae Hymn’s eye and motioned him over to the curb.
“What can I do for you, child?” he asked, eyes dancing.
“Hey, I was just wondering if you’ve noticed anything unusual the last few days. You know, my kind of thing?”
His expression sobered. “It doesn’t take an adept to notice there’s something strange going on. Sister Pat dei Bunny and Sister Shirley Good Nessan Mercy fell into spiritual ecstasy last night, and I don’t think it was the holy spirit at work, if you get me.”
“Are they okay?”
“It passed. I get the feeling that it’s just the beginning, though. Call it a Sister’s intuition.”
“You might be right. Hey, do me a favor and call in anything of the weird, alright?” She handed him a business card. He studied it for a moment before tucking it away somewhere inside his habit.
“Blessings be upon you for asking me that with a straight face, child.” He smiled beatifically and looked around at his flock.
In the corner of her eye, Buffy thought she caught a glimpse of black leather disappearing into a cab, but before the thought even registered, she was distracted by an enormous, echoing boom and the screech of tortured metal upon metal. She took off at a run in the direction from which the sound had come, catching up with the other girls within a block.
At the foot of Dolores Park, a Muni train lay on its side in a pile of overturned automobiles. Buffy called out orders to the squad to check the cars for injured people and ran to where the driver’s seat of the train would be. The inside of the compartment was filled with fog, though the street directly around it was clear. Buffy punched out the window and the fog poured out onto the ground, flowing up the hill to a fog bank that hovered, held in place by invisible air currents. The driver was wreathed in snakelike mist, pouring from her mouth and ears. She was dead.
Dru looked across the back seat of the cab at him.
“You must guard your heart.”
“Doing my best.” Spike’s hollow chuckle let her know how little success he was having with that.
He’d gone down to the Castro with a view to not much. Dru wanted to go, and he went where she bid. Her fascination with the nuns in drag seemed to be the point of the outing, until he spotted one of them talking to Buffy.
It was too soon after the disaster of yesterday to face her again, although he suspected there wasn’t much time left to forge an alliance for the looming trouble.
It’d be all right. She’d do the right thing, like always. They’d just have to give her a little time to get used to the idea of help from an unexpected, and probably unwanted, source. It’s not like she hadn’t forged strange alliances in the past. It was practically her trademark.
He might be kidding himself, but he thought he still knew what made her tick, all these years later. She was still in the thick of the good fight, as he’d known she would be. Still doing her duty as den mother to a new batch of slayers. Maybe she didn’t have the joy in it she’d once had, but not the despair either.
He wondered why he hadn’t seen any of her mates from Sunnydale yet, making themselves indispensable. They’d always been good at keeping her aware of what she kept fighting for, night after night. Even if she wasn’t interested in being friends with him anymore, he didn’t like to think of her all on her lonesome.
Drusilla stopped his train of thought with a hand to his cheek. She looked at him seriously.
“You’re stronger in goodness than you know. Don’t despair. I see such a glorious light in you. Here.” She tapped his temple. “And here.” She touched his chest. He wondered that such familiar gestures could feel so different. She pulled his face down until his forehead rested against hers. He closed his eyes and felt a sort of peace flow into him. If this was thrall, the soul had transformed it into something a pole apart from what it had been.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow he’d talk to the Slayer and together they’d make this looming nasty wish it had stayed in its slime pit until the end of time.