Nearly ten years after his second death, Spike summoned the courage to do what he knew very well he should have done nine and a half years previously. He visited Harrods, bought – no, really, bought – a dinner suit, a box of chocolates of a size more or less guaranteed to provoke diabetes in anyone with the slightest inclination that way, a beautiful dress, petite style and a diamond necklace. The last two were guaranteed no previous owner.
The money? He’d come by that honestly too. Even in the midst of a legendary rampage of slaughter across London and across Europe he’d found time to set up an investment account. The year the Titanic went down he’d loaded a deposit box with gold and silver plate. Just before the Wall Street crash he’d bought a few patches of land in three or four countries. Every five years he’d kept his details up to date. Most of the cash – and there was a lot of it – came from a century and more of interest. And a seeress, bonkers maybe, but astonishingly astute financially, who could tell him which markets to get into and out of, and when.
All of this was in the past. Long past. After the alley – why had so many of the most memorable beatings of his life been in alleys? After the alley he’d got himself into a cargo shipment back to the Dear Olde Countrie. Made some sort of sense back then. And OK, yes, the cargo might just have involved evicting some corpse from his tin can so he could have a padded couch for the trip. So? Git didn’t care where he was now, and the grieving family never knew. The Co-op funeral types did a good cover-up when they’d found the box empty, and didn’t ask too closely about why the can opener seemed to have been used from the inside.
There were hotels in London with shady rooms. And the city never slept these days. It was almost as good as the Big Apple had been back in the day. He’d got in at the ground floor – or basement floor – of the fad for buying big houses in Bayswater and extending downwards. Out went the swimming pool, last used before the Blitz. In came the stylish batchelor pad with personal access to a disused Tube line and, below that, to one of Mr Bazalgette’s inspiring creations. No, not Big Brother, the other Bazalgette – the sewer king.
From a safe distance Spike had watched his girls get on with a real life. Not hard to Google the Council of Wankers – and the Crash Bandicoot King adapted very quickly indeed to the internet. Their idiot-in-chief Andrew had set up a website, and the password-protected areas had been fairly easy to hack, once you worked out that all the passwords were about dear old Sunnydale.
The nine years or nearly in Blighty hadn’t been so bad really. He’d cleared out a few notorious vamp crews and if their property had found its way into his offshore accounts, well he was hardly getting a salary now, was he? OK, he’d been bored, but not broody. Never broody. Not even when his Bit married her Oxford Blue on the sunniest day of the year. Not even when the Slayer, the original Slayer, went off to LA to visit a former CEO of Evil Law Inc. And come back to settle in the Smoke.
The longer he’d waited, the easier it was to make excuses. She’d probably forgotten him by now. The Pouf must have told her he was less dusty than rumour had it. If she’d wanted to, she’d have found him. She was getting on now. Biological clocks and all that. Wrong to bugger up her natural inclinations by popping up again. She’d moved on. Course she had.
And then, in that bloody winter that never seemed to end, when London was dark and cold, Olympics over, bugger all left to hope for, he’d turned a corner and bumped into a red-headed witch.
Willow stepped back, apologising instinctively. Red had gone native, had she? A decade had made little difference to her looks or figure, he noted. Still stick-thin, still playing with shades of hair-dye. Still a bit of a looker, though never really his type.
It took her a moment to recognise him. Dark poodle hair was not the look she’d known on him. Hurt a lot less than the bleach, mind, so he’d gone with it. Not at all trying to disguise himself. No way. He watched her eyes open wide as she took in the detail when the man in her way just stood there, staring, instead of apologising back as tradition required. He could guess what she was seeing – still young, still with the scarred brow, still athletic-looking. No photos, and no mirrors, of course, but he doubted if there would be any great change beyond the hair.
After the recognition, the exclamations, the questions, the further exclamations. Yes, he was pleased to see her. No, he’d had no idea any of the old gang from California were in London. (Liar) Yes, it might be good to get together again, for old time’s sake.
And yes, it was mid-January, so of course there would be a party for somebody’s birthday. Why not come along? (Why not? Because ten years of hiding hadn’t made the pain go away, and that was a wound needed no extra salt in it.) That hotel in Knightsbridge? He’d be delighted.
And hence the trip to the big shop and the buying of the ridiculous penguin suit. And the presents. And the pretence that he was actually going to go through with it this time. And the ticket to Birmingham, of all god-forsaken places, that sat in his wallet for the escape he almost certainly knew he was going to have to make.
And then, in the bitter cold of a London evening, the lights of the shops and the cars reflected up at him from the pavement, came a strange twist of the stomach. A rainbow iridescing across the night sky. (How in bloody hell did that work?)
And suddenly around him was a room full of people, a tacky hotel function room. And the people all staring at him, gobs agape. And, just a little separate from them, the smile of delight fading from her eyes with the thunder-crack which arrived as he did, she stood.
Sorry to see him. Bloody hell, he’d known it. That’s why he’d stayed away all these years. Must have been witchy magic gone wrong had brought him here. Just what the girl didn’t want or need, another bloody disaster of a birthday for her.
But he couldn’t move. Didn’t want to. Just drinking her in, waiting for the moment Willow realised she’d cocked up and sent him back. And she was just standing there too, that adorable crease between her brows as she tried to work out what the hell had gone doolally on her this birthday. He pushed his hands towards her, the three boxes suddenly heavy and hard to manage. He shoved them into her arms. She let them fall – her arms and the boxes, both.
And she just kept on staring at him. He was drowning in her again, as he knew he would do, decade apart or no.
Then there was babble. People coming up to him, pumping his hand in manly handshakes, hugging and kissing, squealing with delight. Willow introducing her new girl, a heavily-pregnant blonde. Dawn jumping up and down and dancing round him. Sodding Andrew again, rabbiting on about bleeding hobbits.
In the middle of it all was a bubble of silence. Just the two of them. Nothing else in the whole world. And, synchronised, each raised a wondering hand, touched fingers which really were really real. And were together again.