Spike took another drag of his cigarette and sulked out the window of the truck, one hand lightly on the steering wheel. Drusilla beside him was singing softly to herself of crows and broken glass wishes, or whatever she was on about this week. He swerved halfway off the road to avoid a drunk and cursed to himself. He hated these godforsaken one-factory towns, full of micks and garlic-eaters who still believed in magic, where you daren't even stop to take a local drunk for a little holiday libation without the whole bloody town coming after you with torches. God, he missed the Depression. There was a friendly local policeman probably watching them from just down the road, and he'd just bet the place was gearing up to celebrate Christmas alongside the return of some damn war hero.
If it had been possible for his knuckles on the wheel to go any whiter they would have. Fucking war. Fucking heroes. The pouf was probably getting a medal pinned on him by the President, and what did dear William get? William, who did all the dirty work, got to swim two hundred miles and wash up on some beach in Jersey with the beer bottles and unexploded shells, that's what William got.
Well, with any luck they'd be in New York with a few more nights' drive, and have a real celebration, and then Europe, and some fun, now that Dru had found him again. They'd just crossed the main bridge and if he knew these towns, that meant a few blocks of nice cheerful slums and they'd be back on the open road.
Drusilla pressed a hand on his arm. "Stop, Spike!"
He stepped on the brake, and before the truck had finished skidding in the new snow Drusilla was out of her seat and heading back to the bridge. "Dru!" he shouted, and then, "Bloody witch," as he opened his own door and stepped out.
But he couldn't maintain his annoyance: she was wearing a thin white gown tonight, and the softly-falling snow didn't melt on her shoulders or her dark hair as she danced up the road, every movement a deliberate madness, her delicate slippers barely marking the snow. She was a vision of beauty. Spike shook his head, smiled indulgently, and headed after her.
By the time he caught up with her she'd found her quarry: a tall young man leaning unsteadily on the railing of the bridge as Dru stalked up to him. He'd been in a fight: his lip was bleeding and his jaw would be bruised tomorrow. Dru took a step closer, almost pressed up against him, and wiped the blood off his lip with one slim finger, then licked it clean. The man blinked at her.
"Georgie Porgie pudding and pie," Dru said, stroking her hand down his chest but looking back at Spike. "He left his wife and came to die."
The man stared blurrily down at her. "Are you an angel, miss?" he slurred, taking a step back and almost overbalancing off the bridge.
"No angels here tonight," Spike said cheerfully. "Bloody well better off without them, if you ask me."
"No angels," Dru breathed, stepping up against the man again. "No peaches for William, no angels for Georgie, no wings for Peter and Paul. And only bells to pay Old Bailey with. Do you want to die, nice man?"
"Listen, Miss," the man said, trying unsuccessfully to extricate himself. "I don't know who you are or what you're doing here, but--"
"I'm here because I hear. Do your hear it? The stars are talking, each to each. I do not think they mean what they think they mean." She slipped even closer to him a slid her hands into his trouser pockets, and smiled in pure innocent delight as she came up with a handful of red rose petals. "Look, Spikey! Pretty petals!"
"Those-- those are Zuzu's," he said, looking lost and and miserable. "She wanted me to give her flower a drink, but I couldn't, I couldn't paste it back together-- it was all falling apart--"
"Know the feeling," Spike said. Dru frowned at him and he smirked and shrugged back at her, saying indulgently, "Drink then, white flower."
She melted then, into a smile for Spike, and fangs for the prey, and scattered the rose petals around the snow like drops of fresh blood; then before the man could see her face again she reached up and bit him. He gave a shocked little gasp and sank down into her arms, staring up with wide eyes.
She was taking her time, drinking him, and making little noises of pleasure. Spike stood over them and watched with amusement, hands in his pockets. The man found his voice eventually and made a pleading sound in his direction.
"You didn't answer the lady's question," Spike replied. "Do you want to live? Because I could have sworn you were thinking about jumping, and I can tell you, mate, it's a clammy sort of way to go."
Dru stopped drinking, dropped her fangs, and leaned back to watch his reaction, her hand pressed carefully against the wound.
"It-- it was the bank," he said, hesitantly finding his voice again. "Eight thousand dollars. I had a life insurance policy--"
"Nobody kills themselves over a lousy couple of grand," Spike said. "She can give you your wish, man. Just be sure you want to ask for it."
"No, it isn't just the money." He looked up at Spike, eyes dulled with drink and defeat, but under that a simmering anger that Spike recognized, a ferocity, and Spike thought, idly, he'd do well. "It's this crummy town. Every time I think I've finally got free of it, I have a chance to be happy, they need me to save them again, and I'm trapped even worse. This place, the building and loan, once it's got its teeth in you there's no getting out, there's no way to win, but it's tearing me up inside, bit by bit, to stay. I thought I might as well get it over with quick." Then he choked and fell silent as Dru leaned down and started drinking again.
She wasn't being slow anymore. She drank greedily, lapping up his despair, and before much longer the man would lose consciousness. Spike squatted down in front of them to watch. He had eaten well the night before, and though he'd felt the rich smell around them ever since he'd parked the truck, he didn't mind that Dru hadn't offered to share. He was bored though, and they'd already made trouble in this town, so why not? Dru obviously liked him. "You still haven't answered the question," Spike said softly, unbuttoning his cuff as he let his own face shift. "Do you want to die?"
The man was feeling the last of his life's blood drain out of him and his eyes were wide and dark. Maybe he was seeing clearly at last; maybe he'd just glimpsed his own non-existence and learned fear. But he looked into Spike's demon eyes and gasped out, "No. Oh god no. I haven't done anything yet--"
"Then drink," Spike said, biting into his wrist and offering the dark blood.
A few minutes later they had dumped the man's body into the river and were crouched under the bridge. Spike tried to keep Dru still and quiet (a happy eager Dru was an affectionate Dru) until the friendly town constable who'd stepped up to investigate a scuffle on the bridge was gone. He stared around for a bit, scratched his head in confusion, but Dru had been tidy tonight, and he walked on by, oblivious as ever to Christmas magic in the wind.
George woke up wet, which was uncomfortable, and colder than he could ever recall feeling before, which for some reason didn't bother him much, and thirsty. *Real* thirsty. The world blurred and roared and stank and scraped around him, but he could taste warm blood, fresh blood, right in front of him, and what more did he need to know? He rose into a crouch and bit and drank and drank and drank until the blood stopped flowing and he was warm again, warm from the inside out, and he sat back and took some time to look around him.
He was on a dirty back street in Potter's Field, very close to the river, judging by the sound and the smell. It was night, and the moon was only barely visible through reddish clouds, but everything was outlined with darkness and he could see clearly.
There was a young man leaning on the dirty wall of the shack across from him. He had white-blond hair and a smirk. "So, what'd you think of that, then?" he asked George sardonically, his voiced slanted with an exotic British accent.
"It was . . . nice. It was nice," George said, and looked down at the empty thing he still held limply by the shoulders. It was Violet; he would have known her by that awful hat, if nothing else. She was the same girl who had fluttered in and out of his life since he was a boy; he remembered kissing her in his office, and the way Potter had said her name as if it were a slimy thing; and she was pale and grey and he had torn her throat away from her. He dropped her and looked at the stranger. "What's going on here?"
"Has our little fledgling earned his wings?" a woman murmured behind him, in the same accent. He turned and she was standing behind him, dressed all in black lace. He remembered her from the bridge. He remembered, then, that whole last terrible day, the bank examiner and Uncle Billy and Mr. Potter and his family and the fight and going to the bridge to die, and the strangers who had found him there ... but he couldn't, somehow, remember why it had been so terrible, why he had needed so badly to do those things he had hated, why he would have thought to die when the world was so wide and wonderful and he'd never seen any of it. It was as if the keystone, the bit of logic that would have made his life make sense, was gone, had slipped away into the night on a careless wish.
"I think he has," the woman said, leaning up against the man and slipping under his arm. "I think he liked the birthday present you got him, my Spike."
"I think you're right, Princess," the man answered her, gazing down at her with a look of such open fondness on his face that George was struck with a shaft of pure envy: how long had it been since Mary had looked at him that way, without needing or expecting anything except that George be George? Had she ever?
"There's blood on your lips, mate," the stranger added. "You might want to do something about that."
George wiped his face with a finger, and it came up damp. Yep, that was blood all right. Vi's blood. He touched it to his tongue and tasted it, seawater and rust and power and goodness and life, and he was suddenly filled with a realization of his own strength, his potential, endless horizons of freedom and possibility stretching around him, for the first time unhemmed by worries and limitations, and he could have laughed. He did laugh. He could have shouted for the pure joy of it, could have run through the streets leaping, feeling the love for this crummy little town now that it didn't own him anymore.
And then the man called Spike struck him, hard, across the face, and the back of his head cracked against the wall behind him, and the pain was so bad his vision blacked out for a moment. When it cleared he was holding George up against the wall, with one hand over his throat, and his face was terrible-- as terrible as it had been before, when he'd told George to drink and George had never thought to disobey, staring into those strange eyes like he was now, unable to look away, unable to want to look away.
"You're feeling it now, aren't you?" Spike asked him, low-voiced. "You're feeling the poetry of it. Exulting. Exalted. Effulgent. Sparkling through with life. But the thing of it is-- and it's a real kicker of a thing, ain't it?-- is that you aren't alive anymore. You died yesterday, on the bridge, just like you wanted, and you'd ought to thank Dru for it, if you had any manners. We even did you the favor of dumping you off after instead of letting you crawl your way out of the dirt like's the old way. 'Cause I thought it was a damn shame, man like you going to dust in a dusty little shithole of a town like this, and I let you come back. You're a vampire now, George Bailey, and I've the honor of being your sire, and you've had your bit of fun, now it's time you learned your place."
"A vampire?" George said, incredulous. The man was obviously mad, and after all, he didn't have anything to fear anymore. He bared his teeth in laughter. "Dracula? Fangsh and weird accentsh and shpooky old manshionsh--" he broke off as he cut his tongue on one of his fangs, unfamiliar with using the other configuration of his mouth for speech, and paused to suck up the blood. Oh. "Oh," he said.
"'Xactly," Spike said, looking pleased, and letting up on him a little. George had almost a foot on him, but he didn't doubt that he had no chance of overpowering the other man-- man? Vampire, then. He knew he was outmatched and he didn't try to fight, but he didn't surrender, either, because George Bailey never surrendered to an enemy. Only to his friends. And he didn't need any friends any more.
"You're taking to this real well," the vampire said. "Better'n I did. Knew it when Dru found you." He let George go entirely and stepped back; George felt gingerly at his throat as the vampire continued, "And I'm not the sort of Sire who'll beat on you, unless you're asking for it, or I really feel like it, and as long as you remember that I rather think we'll get on fine."
"Yeah," George said. "Yeah, I think we will," and he put out his hand. Spike looked down at it for a second, and then started laughing, and shook.