It was a night like any other night. Spike woke up with a hangover, swore, and glanced blearily at the radio on the nightstand.
“Hey, all right, this is KLON Drivetime with Kip Casper; how are all you commuters out there? We’ve got a new one for you this evening, so don’t take it out on that car in front; get a load of this instead…
Behind the blinking numbers, slender as a temptress, was a half-empty bottle of JD. It was such a simple thing, really, brown liquid in a bottle, but nonetheless Spike took great pleasure in reaching out, turning the lid and drinking himself a good slug to start the night. The burn of it sloshed between his teeth as he made his way to the shower, enlivening his movements as he toed his way through the litter of last week’s t-shirts.
“So, how about a competition tonight for all you guys driving home? Here at KLON Los Angeles we wanna hear stories from anyone who felt like quitting today. Did your boss ream you out? Are your co-workers slackers? Give us a call…”
The basement apartment was dark; the floor was cold; he could hear a cockroach, somewhere, scuttling – but within fifteen minutes Spike was somehow washed, dried and dressed yet again, his coat swirled around his shoulders to face his purgatory.
“We’ve got a call from Salome here, who…”
The radio died the death of silence.
Stomping steadily up the stairs, Spike rose from the depths into the drab hell that was his office. One plain room with two broken desks, the smeary windows looked out onto the denizens of the strip mall – who were either heading home or burning for a burrito. Not so long ago, Spike would’ve killed them all and dined on the one who’d bought the spiciest, but now he simply watched. And sighed.
“Well, don’t you look even more like crap today than yesterday.”
Never earning the money he paid her, completely useless at anything practical, his secretary was somehow always there.
“Cordelia,” he growled, because that was her name, one final insult to Shakespeare Spike could lay at the foot of Hollywood. “Don’t you have some showbiz twat to whore yourself on?”
She was examining her eyebrows in the glare of her computer monitor, compact in hand – his words made her close it with a sigh. Like he wasn’t even worth the effort. It was fucking pathetic. “Unfortunately,” she pointed out, “whoring only gets you a much less stable income than what you’re paying me here.”
Spike set one foot across the linoleum. “What I’m paying…”
“Well, I guess I’m paying me,” Cordelia continued, like she couldn’t care less. “Since if you had your way our clients would pay us in pints of their own tasty blood." She shrugged, still not looking up. "At least my way we make rent.”
Stuck like a prat under the ceiling fan, of course, Spike didn’t give that much of a toss – but he thought it was worth saying nonetheless: “Maybe you’re paying you too bloody much.”
“Oh please,” came the immediate retort. “Who else knows you’re a vampire? Who else figures the government really could put a chip in your head. Who else is gonna believe you’re a big enough loser to go for this in the first place – and still somehow find us clients? If we could afford it, I’d give myself a raise.” With a haughty flick of her hair, she leaned back and stared at him like she was the boss, arms crossed like an advert for the LA tan.
Two years ago – less than two bloody years ago – Spike would have killed her. Another time, another place, he’d have done a few other things, because she was pissing him off and when people pissed him off he killed them.
But that was then. Here, right now, he couldn’t keep himself from saying, “So what have we got tonight, then?”
And Cordelia, god love her, at least didn’t draw it out. “Bianca – BiBi. A four year-old husky. She went missing in Elyria Canyon last week.”
“Right. I’ll get on that then.” Because yes, he was Spike. The fucking Pet Detective.
He’d been doing this job a few months now, and every night he lost a little more hope that he was going to get out of it.
It wasn’t like he was here by choice after all. Stood on a moonlit trail, hands in his pockets, not a soul around apart from bloody wildlife – nights like tonight were hardly Spike’s idea of a good time. But he’d been cursed – at least, he was pretty certain he’d been cursed – and there wasn’t much he could do to stop it.
Even now, as Spike thought he could sense the whiff of dog on the air, there was an urge inside him to follow after it. At the moment it was mild, a bit like the way his hand twitched sometimes for a smoke, his legs reminding him he was restless and this was where he had to follow. But he knew from bitter experience that it could get worse than that.
Nonetheless, Spike resisted for a little while longer, taking in the air as the conviction inside him grew. Eventually he gave into it, accepting with a sigh that tonight would be another night when he was too caught up in suffering this thing to have time to get to the bottom of it. He started off.
A couple of hours later, Spike was sick of the park. As his boots trampled through the grass, as the twigs snapped and the branches swung to smack him in the head, it was difficult not to entertain the thought that struck him on at least a weekly basis. Because part of him was very much convinced that he was in fact actually dead, and this was some sort of bizarrely slow-paced hell dimension, steadily grinding him down before they stuck the pokers in. All told, they weren’t doing too bad a job of it.
There had to be someone pulling the strings, anyway – Lucifer or not; this all made no sense otherwise. Someone had to be getting a kick out of this.
Buoyed ever so marginally by that conclusion, not that it was new, Spike decided to ditch the scrubland from the south side – back in the direction he'd come. As it was, he’d long since lost any sort of scent trail.
The facts were, after all, that he was shit at this job. He hated animals and they hated him – and yet for some reason distraught clients kept calling him and for some even stranger reason, he had managed to locate the odd furry friend. His greatest successes were when demons were involved or Wolfram and Hart had a buffet on, but even when they weren’t he somehow still had a viable business model. It made him even more certain that someone out there was paying more than a little attention to him.
Deciding to troll the street benches for a little while, Spike first took a detour to check his car hadn’t been stolen. He was assuming it would be all right, but given there were people around here apparently stupid enough to own a husky in Southern California, he decided it was worth a glance.
Back in the car park for some big Hispanic grocery, Spike made the thrilling discovery that his car was fine. And that “BiBi” hadn’t decided to grow a couple of braincells and chase down the stack of steaks he kept on his backseat. No, it was just some lowly mutt sniffing around and failing to figure out a way in.
Spike left him to it, calling a fag break before he went back out on the road.
He was about halfway through his first cigarette when the service entrance to the grocery banged wide open, light spilling out onto the asphalt. It released one burly bloke with a taped-up stack of flattened boxes in his arms. Eyebrow raised, smoke in his throat, Spike watched him for a moment before he decided a bit of canvassing potential witnesses couldn’t hurt. “Oi; you all right, mate?” he called over. There was a slight hitch in the bloke’s step, like he was listening. Spike continued, “You haven’t seen a husky round here, have you?”
Now that he’d made it to the bins, the guy dropped his stack of boxes and glanced over. The look on his face was like he had no idea what Spike was on about. Spike couldn’t really blame him; it was at least 80 degrees and well past 11. The last thing any self-respecting shift worker was waiting for was some English bloke to appear out of nowhere and ask about a bloody ridiculous dog.
Still, because he was cursed, Spike tried again. “Look; yo no hablo español, right, but –”
“Oh, fuck off; I’m from Brazil,” the guy immediately replied. With the pile of boxes emphatically kicked amongst the others, it didn’t seem as though this guy was messing around. “I’m not an idiot over here, but you might as well be asking me if I’ve seen Santa and the Elves. Gimme a second.”
If he had a soul, there was a chance Spike would have felt like he’d said the wrong thing. But he was standing outside the entrance of somewhere that seemed pretty particular about who it catered for, talking to someone who didn’t not look Latino. “Well, what you doing working here anyway?” he asked, because he was happier off the topic of the husky no matter what. He had half a cigarette to finish before he was back on that dead-end.
Grocery-man rolled his eyes. “I’m in grad school; the TA slots were all filled this semester. And my Spanish is better than yours.”
Well, he apparently wasn’t all that scared of things that went bump in the night. A few years ago – again, those sodding few years – Spike would’ve had a go playing his chances. He could pass, this guy, as half demon: he was a mite heavy-set around the shoulders, had the sort of caveman-brow he’d surmised some birds found attractive, even without any visible horns.
As it was, this was now, so it was time to get on with the show. “Yeah, well, all right then,” Spike continued, saying it though it made him grind his teeth. A car drove by; he almost wished it would hit him. “Look. I’m supposed to be tracking down this dog, right, so you see one missing his sleigh then maybe you give me a bell?” The guy said nothing; Spike couldn’t be bothered to explain that particular piece of idiom. Tucking his smoke between his lips, he pulled a battered stack of cards from inside his duster and peeled one from the elastic band. “Here,” he said, heading over to meet the bloke with it. “Otherwise,” he added, turning for the retreat, “you have a nice time with your boxes, innit.” He almost managed to cut the sarcasm.
As he walked away, however, the darkness of the parking lot sucking him in like a vortex, he couldn’t quite block out the sound he always heard. The laughter – one short guffaw that could never be blocked out. “You’ve gotta be kidding me; you’re a… What’d you do, lose a bet?”
Spike paused, turned back. He wished, as in many moments previously, that he could somehow shoot beams of liquid fire direct from his eyeballs. Or at least just bleeding kill somebody. He began, “It’s funny you should say that –”
But then he stopped.
It was only for a second, probably even less than a second, but he heard something that he’d been waiting a very long time to hear. It had come from above them, quiet enough that he’d been lucky to have it carried by the wind, but he’d heard it: one girlish little titter, which certainly didn’t belong and was certainly aimed at him.
It was the string-puller. He knew it was. It didn’t quite sound like Dru – but this whole thing could still well be down to her. If not, then there was someone else. Watching.
The other man forgotten for a moment, Spike looked up. He tried to scan the roofline – but he couldn’t see past the glare of the security light, casting everything beyond into black. Who could it be? There wasn’t anything there, no shadow or silhouette, nothing that he could get standing upwind.
“Did you hear that?” Spike demanded of the guy from the grocery, really wanting anyone to tell him he wasn’t going mad. He pointed an arm in the direction of the sound. “Up there,” he explained. “Did you hear that?”
Of course, Spike didn’t really expect an answer. Even so, when he glanced back to realise the guy had beaten a steady if not hasty retreat inside, it cut a little bit. As did the swearing under his breath in Portuguese, which after some good times back in Europe Spike did actually have a grip on.
Cheeky bastard. Out of spite and a general sense of deflation, he threw his fag end over to the trash. It wasn’t nearly hot enough to start a fire, but lost momentum completely inoffensively, fluttering to the ground beside the bags. “Bollocks.”
There were two ways to go after that. One was acceptance, and one was the other thing. With a snarl that almost convinced him he was still a demon, Spike decided he wasn’t giving up without a fight. Ignoring the call of the wild or whatever the geas driving him was, and didn’t the twinge in his legs make him feel it, he took a run up to the grocery wall and hurled himself up towards the roof. His hands gripped it, concrete scraping into his palms as he pulled himself up and his thudded into what felt like solid rock.
There was nothing there, naturally– at least not that he could see. The roof was flat and low, the odd skylight breaking it up, but there was no-one he could see waiting in the shadows. A scream in the distance and the sound of fighting, maybe, but he figured whoever was watching him had a fast enough getaway to escape. Some sort of malevolent genie, maybe, or the fey. He never had succeeded in whittling it down.
He started off in the direction of the sound he could hear, just in case – it was on the other side of the building, a few hundred feet away. Of course, the DTs or whatever this curse had on him was already kicking in, making his mind cast around to remember what it was he’d heard in the first place. The memory of the laugh was fading, the exact pitch of it shifting and morphing in his head.
Lurching across the roof, Spike found himself turned around. There were skylights around him, backwards as well as forwards, but where was he going? There was pain in his legs, reminding him of something, but his head felt woozy; he couldn’t quite figure it out.
Pausing, dizzy, he wrenched his brain back into gear. There was a dog out there, he realised. A sodding husky; four years old and waiting to be found. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t found her yet, as obviously that was the reason he hadn’t had any sleep or blood or bourbon for his shaking hands.
Spike tried to keep going – he did. He made it about halfway across the building, yanking his mind back round to the bigger task – something ever more vague that he could somehow taste all the same. There was a masochistic streak in him saying he should go on, so he tried.
At a certain point, however, his shaking legs wouldn’t hold him. He tripped on the corner of a skylight, slamming face down into the rough surface of the roof and (what was worse luck) knocking himself out cold.
Later, Spike woke to the feeling of something wet slapping at his face. It was, of all bloody things, a husky, licking him. It took him a moment to figure out the significance.
The first thing he noticed, actually, because he wasn’t completely gone, was that he’d lost time. It was well into the early morning now, maybe three or four AM, and he realised Cordelia was going to kill him, unfortunately not literally. She was the streetwise tough gal in the big city, but she still claimed part of the deal in working for him was that he didn’t leave her to lock up. He was vampbait, she said. And to be fair, she had a point; you always did find vamps most where other vamps had been. The fucking sheep.
Still, Spike realised further, coming to – he had a dog. Either all husky owners in this area were as negligent as they were stupid, or he had his case well solved. If this whole adventure was a decent curse he’d have got a nice little buzz of that, but as it was it just reminded him he now had to get this dog back to its owner before the sodding thing ran off again.
Groaning, Spike waved the animal away from his face and stood up. The dumb thing looked at him, like a sorriest excuse for anything that was meant to be halfway to a wolf. “Come on, then – you daft bloody mutt.” Before she could expect it, he reached out and yanked her up by the middle. She struggled for a moment, but then gave in, like she’d been tiring herself out in the open.
On a better night, he’d use this excuse to get out searching again for his watcher, but it was close enough to sunrise that he decided that all he wanted to do was piss off home.
“So, what you’re saying is, some crazy girl who you didn’t see and didn’t recognise is out to get you. I… I think that’s a new low.”
Spike didn’t bother dignifying that with a response.
It was the next night, inevitably, and he couldn’t figure out whether his head was still bruised, if he’d had too much to drink, too little, or if he was simply bored.
“I mean…” Cordelia was wittering on. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re not the kind of guy girls obsess over? You don’t even drive a nice car.”
“Cordelia…” Spike began, with as little effort as possible. She had something resembling a point, of course, but he drew the line at comments about his car.
On the other side of the office, tapping away far too many keys for one simple saved-husky invoice, the girl barely glanced at him. “What?” she asked.
Spike told her straight, “Shut up.”
Of course, he wasn’t going to get what he wanted. As he rubbed a hand over one of his two bleary eyes, Spike suppressed a groan as the kraken was unleashed.
“Wow,” Cordelia began, ceasing typing so she could stare at him, framed by her social calendar and the other pile of crap that littered the noticeboard on her side of the office. “That has to be the lamest comeback I’ve ever heard. Why was it that Dru left you again?” She asked it like the jibe was meant to hurt, but Spike had stopped rising to taunts about Dru long ago, out of sheer bloody necessity. “Because, seriously, all I can figure is that she got bored of your whining. I mean, newsflash!” She splayed her hands. Like a flash. Spike wished he was dead. “It’s not all about you, Spike. You can’t even remember what happened, so why you think this is some big project I don’t even…”
“Hey,” Spike interrupted, sharply. Slumped forward on his desk, that final charge was at least something to make him sit up and snarl back. “Of course I bloody remember. It was a difficult time: Dru’d started sleeping around with whatever piece of snot slimed her way; that lead on the Gem of Amara had done nothing but get me incarcerated by scalpel-wielding morons. I come to LA, and – yeah, all right, things get a little blurry.” Honestly, Spike wasn’t sure if it was months or years he’d spent rehabilitating himself, but it had been a hell of a long time. Even now he could practically still hear the sound of tinkling glass. “But I still figure, one night I go out to a bar and lose a round of poker.” Quite what he’d been betting on, of course, he didn’t know. Really, all he could remember was the smell of piss, stale beer and cheap lemonade, but it had to mean something. “That’s all I need to know. I’d never been here before,” he finished, “but next morning I’m waking up in this cesspit to find you knocking at my door to answer some ad I never posted. It’s a bleeding set-up!”
Cordelia blinked at him, presumably remembering the rest of the story just as well as she did. He’d been mammothly pissed off, so had blown caution to the wind and tried to bite her. His chip had fried him out of the game, but not before she’d kicked him in the balls and pulled a cross from her bag. “Whatever,” she concluded as they both gave up on memory lane.
To be fair, Spike thought, it was the part about his head exploding that was one of the few reasons Cordelia was still there. She was a pain in the neck, and not the good kind, but since she was human Spike figured she wasn’t likely part of the plot to torment him. It was a long shot, but, really, at this stage he didn’t want to blood in anybody else, so he was risking it. Besides, she could be worse on the old eyes.
“So – to sum up,” Cordelia added, because she never could stop yammering. “I'm right, and you have no idea why you’re here, do you?”
“Not as such,” Spike conceded, just to shut her up.
Silence fell; it was almost soothing.
But then, out of nowhere, came the comment – “I do.”
Startled, Spike spun in his chair and wrenched his eyes into focus. Cordelia’s “Hey!” let him know he wasn’t the only one to be surprised.
But there she was, standing in the doorway – because apparently he hadn’t imagined the bell. One mystery woman, if not the one he was expecting. He was too stunned to speak.
This... Wasn't quite how it was meant to go, was it?
“Sorry I lost you last night,” she was saying, hands on hips like she owned the place. “But there was a vamp being vampy the other side of the building – I know you heard me, so I figured you’d catch up.” The tone was as bad as her look, like she was accusing him of following her. Quite where she was getting that idea from, he didn’t know. She was tiny, probably not much over five foot, with big eyes and a weird nose. She had too many earrings and her make-up was done like a goth six year old – which at least went with the pigtails.
“And who the hell are you?” Spike asked her.
The girl rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Spike; this is not a joke.” She said it like she was auditioning for The Matrix. “Maybe some part of you is enjoying living out this Angel fantasy, but it’s time to get you out of here. Dawn’s worried.”
There was something Spike had done in a past life, he was sure of it, to be surrounded by so many women who were mad as a box of hammers. Summoning the energy he had left for the evening, he turned to the sanest one, before asking, “You have any idea what she’s on about?”
Cordelia shook her head, slowly, apparently unable to take her eyes away from the trainwreck in front of her. “Really, really don’t have a clue.”
On second glance, it was possible he was being cruel about the mad girl’s outfit. The black-on-black wasn’t all that bad, but she looked so much like she was trying to play with the high school girls and have her juice box at three all the same. Especially now she was throwing a tantrum. “Seriously?” she was asking, the dark background and her dark clothes making her head look like a bobble-doll. “Even in this whacked-out alterno world, you must know who I am. I’m Buffy. The Vampire Slayer.”
He wasn’t expecting the laugh, so for a moment Spike choked, wheezing as his chair creaked beneath him. This couldn’t be her, could it? His stalker from the night before? She didn’t look like she could plan her way out of a paper bag, let alone magic him into this humiliating, dead-end existence.
“Please,” Cordelia was saying for him. “You’re not the Slayer – it’s that ho Faith.” Now Spike remembered why he kept her around – he was still corpsing too hard to talk.
“Right, but I was the Slayer first.” The so-called ‘Buffy’ was insisting.
“Again, no,” Cordelia disagreed, spinning out the apparently much-needed history lesson. “That was the girl from the Carribean who couldn’t talk to guys.”
“Kendra.” With the night behind her and the rage in her eyes, Spike really tried to see this girl as the Slayer, but he just couldn’t buy it. She was pissed off, for certain, but a champion in the fight between good and evil? No fucking way. And yet she said it all the same, “And sure – but I was the Slayer before her too.”
“Ah,” Spike found himself interrupting, because he was starting to feel bad for the mad girl now. “No, see,” he explained, pointing the way to one pissed off secretary, who was clutching her pen like a dagger. “That was her over there’s friend, so you might want to pretend be…”
“Harmony,” Cordelia spoke over him, seething. “That was her name, and she was a good slayer, so –”
“Harmony?” the mad girl interrupted, because apparently she had a death wish. It turned out he had a screech on her as well as the sulk. “Harmony’s the Slayer in this dimension? Are you kidding me?”
“Hey!” Cordelia screeched right back, standing tall and sending a pile of badly ordered papers slopping into further disarray. “Why don’t you wipe that drugstore smile off of your face and take your crazy someplace else?”
“No,” ‘Buffy’ replied, not backing down. “I think I wanna hear this.” To be fair to her, it did sound like she was used to having the attention of a room. Also, still, like she was a little unhinged. Spike had a slight problem where he found that quality as attractive as he did repulsive. Amusing, at least. “Let me guess, Harmony coped just fine with the whole sacred calling shtick, saved the world and made all her friends super proud. I’m guessing she took out Glory without a sweat, right? Adam, the Mayor… Gee, did she even break a nail? What is this world?” she snapped, her sarcasm breaking just for a moment. “You’re gonna tell me she killed the Master without even dying…”
God help him, Cordelia even looked a little taken aback. “No,” she said, and Spike rolled his eyes. Didn’t everyone know this story? It had done the circuit for months. “She blew off facing the Master for the school dance. And then he didn’t rise anyway, but The Anointed One did some ritual where he killed him and assumed his power – and, and eventually Angel killed him, but not before the stupid kid got to Harm about halfway through the summer.” Cordy sniffed, like it was sad rather than hilarious, then stared down the (now silent) Buffy so she could finish, “I don’t know where you came from, but shut your mouth. She didn’t deserve to go out like that.”
The actress in her got the last part out all poignant-like – almost to point that Spike found himself feeling sorry for the girl. It was worse than Passions.
“Right,” Spike interrupted, slamming his hands on his own desk and breaking into the silence. He wasn’t quite sure what he was going to say, but he knew it was the moment to say something. “So, you see, love,” he said, deciding to state the bleeding obvious. “there’s no way you can be the Slayer.” Nonetheless, he did take a moment to look her up and down one last time. It was possibly worth taking back what he’d thought about her nose; for some reason on the third glance it seemed almost like a shame she was just a common-or-garden delusional twit. “If you think you can help me with this spell, and are actually here to do that even though I’ve never met you before in my life, well…” That, he couldn’t help but think, had to be the least likely idea he’d ever heard, but he was going with it anyway. “Well, that’s fantastic,” he concluded, without much feeling. “But otherwise you might as well jog on, because the situation’s bizarre enough as it is and I’ve got things to do.”
“I don’t believe this,” the Buffy told him, shaking her head with an expression of near absolute impatience. She did cut something of a picture tapping out her little boots on his cruddy floor. “I come all this way and you can’t even figure out that you’re in the wrong dimension.” Spike felt like defending himself, but he wasn’t entirely sure what the charge could be. Mostly he assumed that they’d had their fun for the evening and it was time to get on with his sorry predicament the slow way. “I mean,” she continued, “none of this makes any sense. Why didn’t the Mayor ascend?”
Cordelia, apparently, had the answer to that. “Um, Faith crushed his magic spider box thing?”
But the other girl kept going, “I just… I don’t know what you want me to do here.” Her eyes were now struck on his, and Spike didn’t know what to do with how wide and imploring they were, like she was an imp at the end of the garden. “What am I supposed to say?”
Staring at her, there was – god help him – a small clench somewhere between his balls and his heart, like she’d launched a hook inside him and found something to catch onto. Spike really didn’t know what to make of it. The moment held, but in the end he sighed, figuring they were in for a long night. He glanced at Cordelia, before relenting. “Fine!” he groaned, waving a hand towards her. “Why don’t you explain how you got here?”
It took her a moment, and when she was still he could almost see her as a leader of people. Then she agreed, “OK.”