In winter it rained at least once or twice a week, sometimes more often, sometimes days at a time, causing houses to slide down hills and cars to spin out of control on oil slick highways. People who didn't live in Southern California thought it was all sunshine, smog and oranges. Sunshine had never been a big selling point for Spike at any rate, but in winter there wasn't much smog and there were oranges he could pick right off the trees, even in January. Still, it wasn't proper weather for winter. Damp icy cold seeping into the bone, now that was proper winter weather.
He'd heard Seattle was a bit like London for the weather. He'd been thinking of going up to Seattle. Someone told him it was a good place for vampires, especially in the winter - dark days that drifted into darker nights, long stretches of night where you never saw a single star shining. He could wander both the days and the nights in Seattle, a comfortable insomniac if nothing else. He had no reason to stay in not-so-Sunnyhell. No good reason, only one stupid, insane reason.
He was so hungry. Hungry all the time. Filling the emptiness inside himself with pig's blood and peanut butter. Jack Daniels, beer, and vapid conversation at Willy's Bar.
"You know, if you're really hard up," the vamp-girl who'd been sitting next to him had said, "there are ways to get live blood and a little cash in the bargain." Her name was Sandy, beautiful sultry Sandy. He'd been trailing his hand up her thigh when she mentioned a certain place in the warehouse district. At first he couldn't figure out why she was telling him this. Yeah, sure, he'd been going on about his troubles, his problems, his bad breaks. And also he was pretty drunk, so it took a moment for his brain to reconcile her words with the reason she was speaking those words to him. Numb shock when he realized that the expression on her face wasn't a precursor to a sympathy shag, but merely pity, plain and simple - without the hoped-for shagging. Spike, big bad vampire, scourge of three continents, slayer of Slayers, was getting the inside scoop on the best place to whore himself for blood. Fucking hell! He'd nearly broken her neck right there. Would have, if the regulars hadn't beat the shit out of him and tossed him in the alley.
Wherever there were humans there were whores of some kind or another. He knew that. Not every vampire was suited for the hunt. He knew that too. They usually died quickly even in cities without a resident Slayer. Better a blood-whore than to starve in perpetuity it was thought. But that path was for weaklings and cowards, not for William the Bloody. Never for him. And he kept telling himself that, even as his aimless wandering on a rainy winter's night brought him to the very place in question.
It was dark and dirty just as it should be. A catacomb of a warehouse, broken in all the right places. Sofas and mattresses salvaged from the dump, the smell of unwashed bodies and blood. The sounds of soft moans, hissing pain and pleasure, sucking and licking. This was where the spirit-crushed and the fallen mighty belonged.
The vampires in residence were not in his league. They had never been mighty and if they'd fallen it wasn't from too great a height. They were young, their undead bodies wearing the same impoverished desperation they'd probably worn when they were alive. Many pairs of yellow eyes shot him furtive appraising glances - competition or customer? - before returning to business. A quick perusal of the room revealed that all their "customers" this night were male. No big surprise there either.
He lodged himself into a space where the drywall had crumbled leaving the frame of the building exposed, then lighted a cigarette and closed his eyes. Smoke and blood atomised the air, curled on his tongue, danced like ghosts in his lungs and his belly. The sounds in the room became a kind of white noise, and underneath that he could practically hear the gnawing emptiness inside him digging in deeper and hollowing him out. Soon he'd be nothing left but a shell.
Until a few days ago he was sure the only way to fill the hollow in his being was the death of the Slayer, preferably by his own hand. He used to dream of that. Her pleading for his mercy in a way she never would. In his dreams he would make her beg for a quick death and then wouldn't give it to her. Sometimes he'd whisper, "Sshh, love ssshhh, it's all right. It only hurts for a little while." A lie to make it hurt worse. Sometimes he fucked her first and made her come like she'd never ever come in her short little life and she'd sigh and moan and scream his name and then he'd kill her, because betrayal always made it hurt that little bit more. Sometimes he'd just shag her rotten, the killing part all but forgotten in the scent of her shampoo commercial hair. Now...
Now his dreams had taken on a whole new dimension of personal horror. Nightmares of longing and love. He wasn't in control. There was something seriously wrong with him. Something twisted and pathetic. He'd gone all-soft in the brain, and the empty place inside him ached constantly and got bigger and he knew, knew it would never go away. He would die empty and probably by her hand. He wished to hell she would just get it over with. He was so hungry.
This has got to stop.
He sensed a human approaching him and pushed the hunger down. It made him crazy and desperately foolish, which was always followed by searing blinding pain. He blamed her for that as well. But he wouldn't let her get to him. Not here. Here he could still pretend to be an ancient evil. He peeled open an eye. A man was standing much too close, the odours of Taco Bell drive-through, booze and cigar clinging to his Big and Tall Man's trench coat. All flesh and blubber and jowls with a bit of hair on top. Mean nervous little eyes squinting at him.
"I want a suckjob." Ah, just the right combination of fearfulness and demand.
Both eyes open now. Spike took a long slow drag from his cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke into the man's face. "You and me both, sport."
Confusion, irritation on the man's face. Forty dollars in a grubby fist. "You are one, right?" Voice low and hissing, "A vampire?"
"No need to whisper. Most of us here still know what we are." He pushed away from the wall, a languid lazy movement meant to disguise the way his body was buzzing with need. His mouth scant inches from the man's ear, "I could kill you in a blink. Dangerous game you're playing."
The fat man licked his lips, his eyes like little slits. Danger was what he'd come for. Spike pulled back and flicked a glance at the money. Cigarette smoke curled into his lungs. He held the heat inside him, pushed it out again. "Gonna cost you more than that," he heard himself say. "I'm one of the old ones. Master of my kind."
Three more crisp twenties. A hundred dollars fanned out before him.
He probably couldn't do it anyway. Chip and all. Would it fire off if he didn't intend to kill? Christ.
What are you doing? What in the bleeding hell are you doing?
"I'll be wanting an extra special suckjob from a master then," the man said. And smiled the smile of someone who knew how loudly money talked to desperation.
The master vampire laughed. The sound of it bothered him a bit. "Of course you do, you sick fuck." He slipped into game face and felt a momentary satisfaction when the fat man gasped. "You sure you want these teeth close to your dick?"
And the man said, "Yes."
"Hey!" A vamp in a cheap leather jacket grabbed Spike's arm as he started up the stairs.
He was feeling strangely euphoric, drifting after the fat man like a mist in a B-grade horror film. The grip on his arm was solid enough. He smiled. "I know you. Friend of Harm's, right? Jake is it?"
"What the hell are you doing here?"
"Same as you." He shrugged out of the hold on his arm.
"You can't kill him."
"Oh, rub it in." Floating up the stairs now, a preternatural mythic legend in a bad movie.
"I'm serious, man. Nobody dies here. We got a good thing going. You mess it up and get the Slayer on us, we'll hunt you down ourselves-"
Apparently this kid didn't know killing the fellow was pretty much out of the question. Spike turned. Cold smile. Icy. Deader than dead. "Please. Put me out of my misery."
Jake took a step back. "I mean it man. You kill him and you're dust."
"I won't kill him."
Eyes locked. Jake looked away first, muttering, "I get thirty percent."
"Of the blood or the money?"
"Let's see, that would be what...fifteen bucks?"
"Uh...yeah. That's right."
Still smiling. "No problem." Wanker.
Up the stairs now. Up. Up. A step. Another step. Three. This isn't so hard. Follow the wheezing.
Fat man in a chair. The trench coat was off, shirt collar unbuttoned. Thick neck, chafed from sweat rubbing where the collar was a bit too tight. Flesh shifted about, and the squinty eyes widened, staring at him. He could hear the heartbeat pounding erratically, the breathing quicken.
"Are you afraid?" the scary vampire asked him.
The man made a sound like "nhuh." A no that meant yes, but there was something of the ritual response to it. Spike figured he should play on that. Convince himself, if no one else.
"Yeah, well you bloody well should be. I am the monster under the bed, in the cupboard, out of your most terrifying nightmares. I've been killing your kind for over a hundred years. I might forget to stop. I might drain you dry and leave you a shrivelled husk in that chair. I might bite your dick clean off as a favour to your wife and all those little boys you fuck in your spare time." He paused, held out his hand. "Money."
The man jerked like he was coming out of a trance. Two twenties. "This much now. The rest after."
"No. All of it, up front."
"Ain't gonna happen that way, master vampire. You think I'm stupid." Oddly, it wasn't a question.
"Stupid enough to be alone in a room with me, yeah. See, problem is, I don't happen to fancy you, and ordinarily I'd be hunting something that could give me a run for the money. What I ought to do is rip your head off and take the bleedin' money just on principle, teach you a lesson you'd take with you into your next miserable life."
It was the fat man's turn to smile. Only a phantom of fear remained at the edge of it. "But you're not in a position to do that or you wouldn't be here."
Spike went completely still, no pretence of breathing, no need to blink, but he could feel his body humming, hovering on the edge of violence, the urge to spring and rip and tear barely suppressed. If he moved aggressively now the game was over. Crippling pain. Check and mate. Only his mouth moved, but his jaw was so tight he could barely get the words out. "When you've lived as long as I have you get a bit bored. Try new things."
"Uh huh." An ugly snort. "Figured you'd never done this before. I could tell when I scoped you out. This isn't your style. You're a hunter like me."
It was Spike's turn to snort. "Right. Me and Elmer Fudd. Hunting wabbits."
"Huh, yeah, that's funny. Actually, I'm in sales. Twenty-five years. Stalk my prey, follow the scent, look for weaknesses, move in for the kill. By the time they sign on that dotted line, might as well be signing over their souls in blood."
"I've met the soddin' Devil and you're not him!" Headache now. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyeballs. "Bloody fucking hell."
>i>What am I doing?
"See, right there I can tell something about you," the man continued in his thick wheezing voice. "You hate the fact I'm comparing what you do to what I do. You want to tear my throat out, break me, crush me just for saying it -
"Doesn't take a genius to figure that out, chum," Spike snapped. "I wanted to do all that before you started yapping."
"Oh hell, you wouldn't even be in this dump if you had the power to rip my head off. You were thinking you could grab the money and run, right? Leave me quivering in this chair, thankful to be alive. But, here's the thing. When I saw you downstairs, I knew. I said to myself, there's a dangerous beast got his leg caught in a trap, and worse, poor bastard is muzzled. Can't even gnaw off his own foot. You're never gonna make this scene go the way you want. Truth is you've hit bottom, friend."
"Not your friend. And fuck you."
"Yeah, we're getting to that, aren't we?"
The first explosion in Spike's head was blind fury, no hunger or joyous mayhem to satisfy. He simply lunged, hands aimed for the throat of the son of a bitch in the chair. He'd squeeze the thick neck until no words could ever come out again. Kill the truth. Twist until it was very very dead. The second explosion was delayed as a result, or his reaction to it momentarily deadened. But it came nevertheless and he fell to his knees, roaring at the pain until there were only whimpers left, skull clutched between his hands to keep it from flying apart. He found himself prostrate before a sweaty human in exactly the way the sweaty human wanted him to be. It should have been laugh-out-loud funny, the whole irony business. But he just couldn't work up the juice.
The fat man's voice was almost soothing, like a cool rough flannel on his head. "And here I was about to compliment you on your intelligence and a healthy urge to survival. You hungry baby?"
Spike looked up. The man lifted his hand from the armrest, blood beneath the wrist within sniffing distance, a beckoning that seemed to encompass everything - the place, the situation - a hundred year existence distilled into one moment. And here it was. The moment.
"I may not be pretty but I got what you need. Blood and money. The only thing you got going for you right now is that you're a good-looking boy with nice sharp teeth. All the better to eat me with, don't you think?"
Fat Man thought he was the Big Bad now. A master vampire might have laughed.
Spike's legs were a bit shaky as he stood, and his temples were throbbing, but otherwise he was no worse for the wear. He cocked his head, and took a long hard look at the man in the chair as if considering the lack of options. Long enough for the fellow to look smug. Then he said, "Thank you."
Fat man blinked. "What?"
"Thanks. Clarified a few things for me."
"Good. That's real good. We're clear then. Now--"
"I'm not touching you or your money."
"Oh Christ. Don't tell me. You'd rather die than humble yourself. I'm real disappointed."
"No reason to be. I'm with you on that point. That sort of martyr logic is just soddin' stupid as far as I'm concerned. No, you were spot on about me. I am, as you've so cunningly noted, a survivor. It's just... well, you see, I got plenty of other ways to get fucked up the arse. Doesn't pay as much, but at least the bitch is pretty. And she smells nice too. But hey, lots of whores downstairs won't mind a bit if you're high in cholesterol and saturated fat."
He left the room at a saunter, though his exit from the building was less than nonchalant. The door banged closed behind him, cutting off the shouting protests of Jake the pimp.
Outside it was still winter and it was still raining. Too wet to light a cigarette without sticking close to the cover of the warehouses. Spike extended his senses as he ran, making note of the time of night, heading towards the cemetery the Slayer would likely be patrolling next. There'd be trees for cover. He'd smoke a couple of fags while he waited. Help kill a demon or two, maybe earn himself a few pints for his trouble. Beer or blood, he didn't care which.