He realizes with horror that he never paid
his parking tickets.
They’re still in the back pocket of the
trousers he was wearing the night he ran into Spike, the ones covered in
plaster dust from the site, and they’ve probably gone through the laundry by now,
and the tickets are toast. The Nova’s
going to be towed and scrapped, and then he won’t be able to get to work, and
he’ll lose his job. He’s already been
evicted, he’s been sleeping on bar floors for a couple of weeks. He hasn’t told the gang about it. They all go for drinks together and then one
by one the others leave, and he makes sure he’s always the last to go, because
he isn’t going anywhere. He sleeps
under the table with the cigarette butts and gum.
He empties his duffel out onto the bar and
starts going through it, looking for the trousers he was wearing that
night. There’s a huge pile of clothes
in front of him, and he catches a glimpse of something that might be them—but
it’s gone when he digs for it. He needs
“That guy’s a steel cleat bastard,” someone
says, and he looks to his left and sees an old guy with an alcoholic nose, a
Blue Jays cap, a bottle of Coors. He’s
watching the TV over the bar, and it’s Ty Cobb pitching. He’s got an arm like a cannon. The stadium lights gleam on his spikes, and
they look about three inches long, like the weapons they are.
“That umpire’s a blind fucking punter,” he
hears himself say. “Pardon me, a
visually challenged fucking punter.”
Spike laughs and drinks his beer, and
Xander smiles. He has a beer too, and
it’s cold and good. He spins it on its
mat and watches Cobb pitch straight through three Orioles like they’re not even
“Throws like a son of a bitch, though,”
Spike says mildly.
He’s trying to remember something, there was something important he had
to do. Something unpleasant. It worries him. He catches a glimpse of himself in the bar mirror and looks
away. Then he looks back, because
Spike’s reflected there too, and that’s just weird.
“Look at that. You show up.” He gestures
at the mirror and Spike glances at it, nods, and looks back up at the
television. Xander keeps looking. There’s something nice about seeing the two
of them there together, side by side.
He finishes his beer and there’s no one
behind the bar so he leans over and takes another bottle from the cooler
himself. Rosie’s old brown dog is lying
back there, watching him sadly. He
smiles and tosses a couple of peanuts down.
He wants to leave money, but when he pulls
it out of his pocket the parking tickets come with it. That was what he’d forgotten—the tickets.
He stares at the official stamp, the
smeared red ink and the savage black scrawl of his own name beneath, the date
that’s three weeks passed, the phrase “primary offense.”
His heart is climbing up into his throat. What the hell is he going to do?
He can’t imagine how he’ll get around this one, how he’ll make it
through the beating. He’s just
recovered from the last one, he can’t stand another.
He’s fucked. And it’s his own fault.
Spike’s still watching the game, and he
pushes his stool back and stands up shakily.
As an afterthought, he slides his beer over to Spike’s elbow.
“I gotta go, Spike. You can have this one.”
Spike looks around, at the beer, then at
him. “Where you off to, poppet?”
He tries to smile. “Disneyland. I’ll catch you later.”
Spike turns around on his stool and stares
at him. “You don’t have to go.”
He laughs a little, off-key. “Actually, I do.”
“Spike, come on. I forgot to pay these, I’m fucked. I gotta go get my head caved in.”
Spike looks at the tickets in his hand,
then reaches for them. “Give.”
He hands them over and Spike looks at them
carefully. Then he rolls his eyes.
“I paid these already.”
“Got Liv to do it when she took you to the
hospital. Tosser.” He drops them on the bar and turns back to
The relief is overwhelming,
incredible. He isn’t going to die. He doesn’t have to face another
beating. It’s going to be all right.
He leans forward and puts his forehead
against the middle of Spike’s back, just rests there. Spike drinks his beer and watches the game.
“That was never ninety miles per hour,” he
says absently, at one point.
Xander smiles into Spike’s shirt, then lifts
his head and looks in the mirror again, at his own face just behind Spike’s
shoulder. He looks happy and calm. It’s going to be all right.
He sits down on his stool again, drinks his
beer, and starts to watch the game.
He woke up to arguing, and for a second he
was back in the basement. It was hammer
and tongs time upstairs, and pretty soon he’d start hearing crashes. Just stay quiet and they’ll forget you
But he wasn’t in the basement, he was in
the loft, in the chair he’d fallen asleep in.
Spike’s chair. Spike and Liv
were somewhere behind him, arguing about something he didn’t understand yet.
He blinked down at himself. He was wearing his old green Oxford shirt,
half-buttoned, and blue boxers. His
knees and shoulder were throbbing. He
A second ago he’d had a good feeling. He’d been dreaming something good—he
couldn’t remember what, now. But the
tone of their voices stomped the good to jelly. Liv sounded tired, Spike sounded cold. They both sounded pissed off.
“It’s not a sure thing,” Liv said. “It could fall through completely. Or worse.”
“One way to find out,” Spike said.
“It’s dangerous, Spike. How many times do I have to—“
It’s the stupidest possible time for me to go off like this. You must know that.”
“There isn’t going to be a better
time, pet. We miss this chance, we
might not get another one.”
“We’ll get another one.”
“Nice to be optimistic. But I prefer realism. Carpe diem and all that.”
“I am being realistic. You’re the one who’s—“
Cold warning tone.
“If I get killed,” she said, “how will
“If you get killed I’m no worse off than I
was before I hired you,” he said calmly.
Xander opened his eyes.
“Then what if something happens here while
“Piss off, Liv.” His voice was hard now, and the anger wasn’t couched in
diffidence anymore. “I’ve bagged two
Slayers and more nasties than you’ll ever see.
Pack a goddamn bag.”
“You’re chipped,” she said
immediately. “And if the Slayer turns
up, or the plug uglies, I’ll have to sweep you out of the floorboards when I
“Oh, for Christ’s sake.” He almost shouted the words. “You stupid bint—why won’t you do what
“Because this is dangerous. For both of us.”
“I am going to—if I were any other
vampire, I’d break your wrists and make you knit an afghan.” The phrasing was deliberate, obviously, for
the chip’s benefit. There was no thud,
so it must have worked.
“Spike, we can wait. I’ll put him off, set up another time—“
He broke in harshly.
“You don’t want to go? Fine.
Get your coat.”
Now. And your kit.”
“You want to know why you’re going? Why we’re not waiting around any more? Get your fucking kit.”
A pause, and then she walked across the
room and pulled her coat from the rack.
Xander closed his eyes and watched from under his lashes as she walked
back to her room and disappeared behind the screen. When she came out, she was pushing something into the back of her
jeans, and she had a small black satchel slung across her chest. Her face was miserable and exhausted.
She glanced at him as she walked past, and
he shut his eyes. She paused, then veered
off to the kitchen.
“Come on,” Spike said from the
doorway. His voice was the coldest
Xander had ever heard it. “Stop fucking
“He’s due for more pills,” she said
quietly. There was the sound of a glass
under the tap, the bottle opening. She
walked over and he heard her put the water down in front of him, the tiny click
of the pills beside it.
Spike must know he was awake.
But he hadn’t said anything, and Xander
wasn’t going to either. He didn’t want
to be any part of this conversation, any part of this sudden viciousness. Whatever it was all about, he wanted to
steer clear. Spike was evil, yeah, he’d
forgotten that somehow. He’d consider
this his reminder.
“Come on,” Spike said again, and Liv
hesitated a split second at Xander’s side, then walked quickly out the
door. It banged shut after them, and
there was a small snicking sound. Their
footsteps went down the stairs.
He opened his eyes and sat up. He was alone. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the room with the security
monitors was still open. Awkwardly, he
stood up and gimped over to the wall, leaned panting against it and watched
from two different angles as Spike and Liv walked to the Jag. They didn’t speak.
Liv got into the driver’s seat and Spike
stood for a moment, staring oddly at the wall, before seeming to collect
himself and getting in on the passenger side.
The Jag’s headlights came on, the garage door opened, and they were
He was alone. Really alone. For the
first time in…how long? He didn’t
know. He was cold and in pain, and,
frankly, kind of scared. Liv had put
something into the back of her jeans, and he may be a small-town boy, but he
watched TV. He could put that gesture
together with the oil he’d smelled on her before, and come up with one word.
Where was Spike taking her?
He stood staring at the monitors, watching
the garage door come down slowly, slicing the blackness outside thinner and
thinner until it was gone. And that
blackness outside, that was the world still turning out there, and he was in
here, and this was his chance to get the hell out.
His first thought was for a phone, but he
couldn’t see one in the little office.
He hopped backward and looked around the apartment. Nothing.
Fuck that, there had to be a telephone.
Modern man, modern vampire, could not exist without call waiting. He went to the kitchen and scanned the
counters, then checked by the stereo.
“What are you, fucking Amish?” He turned in a slow wobbling circle in the
middle of the room. They must have cells. And they didn’t leave them lying around,
“Okay, so I’ll instant message my way to
freedom.” He went into the little
office, sat down, and stared at the computer screen. It was dead. The power
bar was on the desk to his right, and he flicked it on. The tower hummed and buzzed, and the screen
blurped numbers. He waited for the
familiar green desktop, but it didn’t come.
Just lots of numbers, and then a blinking cursor on a black screen.
It must be waiting for a password. He stared at it angrily, then hit
Enter. It fidgeted and gave him the
cursor again. He typed “spike,” and it
just blinked at him. He typed “liv,”
without hope. More blinking.
“Fuck you,” he said, and typed it in. Part of him was actually hoping it would be
The cursor kept blinking and he hit the power bar with his fist. The computer died.
He sat back in the chair and stared at the
monitor, trying to breathe normally. Why
was he such a putz? If he’d paid
attention to Willow at all since eighth grade, she could have taught him the
Way of the Computer. He’d be able to
geek his way out of here, maybe hack into the Department of Defense and call
down an airstrike on the loft after he was gone. That’d teach Spike a lesson.
If Willow were here, she could get him out
of this. She wouldn’t even need to use
the computer. She’d just cast a spell
and pop the locks off the doors. Maybe
she even had a spell for summoning taxis in LA.
He stared at the security monitors—the
landing, the doors, the garage. All
places he couldn’t get to. Thanks so
much for the view.
Then he looked at the wall just below the
monitors, and saw a bank of switches.
Numbered switches. He looked
from the switches to the monitors.
There were numbers in the bottom corners of the different shots—the
garage door was number one, the door from the garage to the stairway was number
two. And so on.
Sweet fancy Moses, he was going home.
He stood up and reached for the first
switch. He flicked it and watched the
He flicked it again, then twice more, then
tried the second switch. Again,
“What the fuck—“ Then he saw the little black keypad on the wall below the
switches. With numbers from zero to
“Jesus Christ.” He punched it and took skin off his
knuckles. It hurt. He stood shaking his hand and cussing for a
minute or two.
At last he hobbled back out to the main
room. The clicking sound when they
closed the door had been pretty obvious, but he tried the handle anyway. It didn’t move. He went back to the chair, sat on the arm, and stared helplessly
at the windows. They were too high to
reach. He couldn’t see anything that
was tall enough for him to stand on, even assuming he could haul furniture and
climb and break a window in his current racked-up condition. Even assuming there was something soft and
forgiving to land on outside.
He looked at the pills on the table in
front of him, and realized that his knees and shoulder were sending up sharp,
angry flares. Maybe he should hide the
pills, and just pretend that he’d taken them.
Then, when Spike and Liv got back, he could…surprise and overpower
them. Yeah. Sure.
He took the pills.
He sat in the chair and waited for the pain
to go away, hating himself. Zeppo.
He thought of Liv coming out from behind
the partition, tucking the…whatever, the gun, into the back of her jeans. She kept a gun in the room and he hadn’t
even known it. He’d never looked
through the dresser drawers; he’d been too busy passing out and having
nightmares and waking up with Spike’s hand on his head.
Whack it with a shovel and bury it.
If she had one gun back there, she might
He was up and hopping in a second. Jumpin’ Jack Flash, that was him. He’d always hated that song.
He must be getting better, or else
motivation was the key, because he made it to the partition without once
feeling like he was going to pass out.
He dropped onto the edge of the cot and yanked the top dresser drawer
Underwear, socks, T-shirts. Mostly white and black, a few grey, one with
a flaming skull that was actually kind of cool. He rifled quickly to the bottom, not letting himself think about
the fact that he was going through Liv’s underwear drawer.
He closed the drawer and opened the bottom
one. Jeans, mostly. A couple of sweaters, a pair of low-top
sneakers pushed to one side. At the
bottom, something heavy and metal that sent a shock through his fingers and
straight up his arm to his heart, but when he scrabbled it out, it was a set of
Brass knuckles. Jesus wept.
He dropped them back to the bottom of the
drawer and closed it.
There had to be something lethal in the
loft; a knife in the kitchen, or maybe Spike still kept a gun around
somewhere. Something he could use to
force them into letting him go.
Although, now that he thought about it, he wasn’t sure exactly how he
planned to do the forcing.
If he found a gun, he wasn’t sure he could
use it. What was he going to do—shoot
Liv? That was his only option. Shooting Spike wouldn’t help, although it
would feel pretty damned good. For
about three seconds, before Liv eviscerated him.
He was stuck. No phone, no Internet, no way to skitter off into the night and
leave this mess behind. And that was
really the only way he was going, if he was honest with himself—a quiet,
unobserved exit. He sure as hell wasn’t
going to fight his way out.
The Demerol was starting to rub warm
fingers up his spine. Thank you,
Pfizer. He sighed and shifted his feet
to stand, and his heel struck something under the bed. Something hard. He hesitated, then leaned down carefully and felt around. There was a box under there. Wooden, with a metal handle. He grabbed it and pulled.
It slid out easily and soundlessly, and
just from looking at it—solid dark grain, almost four feet long and a couple
feet deep—he knew what it was. It
smelled like gun oil. His heart started
There was no lock on it, thank God. He flipped the lid open and blinked.
Inside there were three guns—pistols. He had no idea what kind. Boxes of ammunition, a couple of
holsters. Tucked in one corner, a
bottle of gun oil and a clean white rag.
For a second his mind was blank, except for
one crazy thought: this was Liv’s hope
Then he reached down, without thinking, and
picked up one of the guns. It was
heavier than it looked, and cold. It
felt uncomfortable in his left hand. He
stared at it for a minute, then turned it over and tried to figure out where
the safety was. The little metal switch
by the trigger; that must be it. And
the bullets went… He checked the base
of the handle and saw where the clip fitted in.
The metal grip was warming slightly
already, and he shifted his fingers a little, put his index finger over the
trigger. Something told him it was
loaded. No toddlers running around the
loft, no reason for Liv not to keep her guns ready to go. All the reasons in the world for her to keep
them loaded all the time.
He wondered whether she’d shot anyone with
the pistol in his hand. If he smelled
it, would he be able to tell? No, that
was stupid, guns only smelled for a little while after you fired them. Even Angela Lansbury knew that.
He smelled it anyway. It smelled like metal and oil, sharp and
So, Liv had a gun. No, guns.
Several of them. He let his hand
dangle and stared into the box, feeling inexplicably hopeless. This was LA, they practically issued you a
firearm with your driver’s license. It
wasn’t such a strange thing, especially given her line of work. If he worked for Spike he’d want a gun too,
if only to make the guy shut up once in a while. And there were the plug uglies to consider.
Suddenly, the box of guns seemed like a
very good idea.
He lifted the pistol and tried pointing it
in front of him, aiming at the rice paper a few feet away. He’d never pointed a gun before. After just a few seconds, he felt the weight
in his wrist and forearm.
He tried to imagine Liv standing there. Him, pointing the gun at Liv. Closed his eyes and held the gun a minute or
two longer, until his arm started to shake.
He felt sadder than he’d felt in
months. Since Anya left.
He dropped his arm and put the gun back in
the box. Closed it and slid it back
under the bed, until he thought it was about where he’d found it.
Then he got up and made his way slowly back
across the room. His legs looped and
wavered. He dropped into the chair that
faced the door, hooked the remote from the table, and turned the television on.
Two Outer Limits and a Barney
Miller later, they came back.
He heard a bang beneath the sound of the
television, and when he muted the sound there was another. Car doors closing in the garage. If he stood up and went to the office he could
watch them coming up the stairs, but he didn’t feel like standing. He sat in silence and listened to their
A key in the door, the mechanism clicking,
and then Liv walked through, glanced at him, and kept walking. Her face was white and taut and her mouth
was set in a way that told him she’d either cried recently or was about to
now. She walked fast to the kitchen and
turned the faucet on full blast, then yanked the fridge open. She pulled something out of her coat and
threw it in.
Fast, but not so fast he couldn’t see what
A blood bag.
He blinked, and she reached into the other
side of her coat and threw another bag in.
Then she slammed the fridge and put her hands under the tap. Steam curled up.
Spike came through the door and kicked it
shut behind him with his heel. He
looked bright, wired. His eyes skated
over Xander quickly, and he smiled.
“Hello, ducks,” he said. “Behave yourself?”
Xander didn’t say anything.
Spike’s smile tightened. He pulled his coat off and dropped it on the
floor, then walked around and sprawled on the sofa. His boots went up on the coffee table. Clunk. Clunk.
“What’s this shite?” he asked, staring at
the screen. “Remote. Now.”
Xander tossed it at him, and he caught it
with a quick snap of his wrist, only half-looking. He started flicking through the channels.
There was some kind of stain on his
knuckles and the base of his nails.
Something dark and rusty.
A small rusty smear at the base of his
throat, almost hidden by the collar of his T-shirt. Like the last trace of something that had been almost completely
On the other side of the room, Liv shut the
faucet off and went into the bathroom.
She closed the door hard behind her.
Spike kept flicking channels fast, too fast
to see what he was flicking past, and Xander fingered the bottom of his shirt
and glanced at the screen, then back at Spike’s hand. There was more reddish rust in the web of skin between his finger
and thumb, the one he was using on the remote.
Xander was getting a chilly feeling in his stomach. He wished he was wearing trousers.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Spike said
conversationally, not looking away from the television. “It’s flattering you find me so bloody
fascinating. But maybe you could go be
all big-eyes somewhere else for a bit.”
“You killed someone,” Xander said. He hadn’t meant to say it. He’d been thinking it, but he hadn’t meant
to say it. He’d meant to play dumb and
keep his eye on the prize: getting out
alive. So much for that.
Spike didn’t look at him. “Nah,” he said. Kept flicking.
For some reason, that was maddening. There was dried blood on Spike’s fingers, on
his throat. Liv had just put two bags
of it in the fridge, then cauterized her hands. And Spike looked…full.
How stupid did he think Xander was?
“How stupid do you think I am?” Nothing like speaking your mind.
“Points off for guessing?”
“You’ve got blood on your hands,
Spike. Way subtle, there.”
Spike glanced at his hand and scowled. He clicked the television off and threw the
remote onto the table. In the sudden
quiet, Xander could hear the shower running in the bathroom.
Spike raised his arms, closed his eyes, and
stretched. His shirt rode up, and there
was something that looked like a rusty thumbprint smeared across his
“It’s four in the morning. Aren’t you supposed to be kipping?”
“I’ve been kipping for days,” Xander
said. “I’m all kipped out. I’m ready for parlor games and
explanations. Like, for instance, how you
managed to eat someone just now.”
“Fell on my fangs,” Spike said, and
smiled. It was unnerving to see his
teeth, his human teeth, just now. “Poor
“Come on, Spike. Since when do you pass up the chance to brag about killing
Spike gave him a butter-wouldn’t-melt
smile. “Chip, luv. Keeps me from kacking you lot,
remember? Should we go back to how
stupid I think you are?”
“So you just hit the drive-thru, huh? A couple chalupas and a large AB negative to
Know what? It’s been a long
night, I’m knackered. Think I’ll turn
“How come Liv’s taking a shower?”
“I don’t know. Ask her.” He stood up and
started to walk away.
He let it hang, and Spike didn’t turn around or answer, just yanked his
shirt off and dropped it on the floor.
There were a couple of dark red streaks around his ribs and back, like
dragged fingertips. He walked straight
to the bed and fell into it, toed his boots off with his face planted in the
mattress. Clunk. Clunk.
Xander stared at him, at the dirty soles of
his feet, the dried blood stripes on his white skin. Such a skinny little bastard, just muscle and bone. His spine was a line of knobs up the middle
of his back. Hard to imagine him
ripping anyone’s throat out.
Not hard, really.
He knew what Spike looked like with the
blood mask. He’d seen it just a little
while ago, on the floor of the bathroom, bright red and dripping.
He’d wiped it away.
But that was different—that had been
Spike’s own blood, and Spike’s eyes had been crazy and cracked like blue
marbles, and he’d been hitching for breath like a dying man. This time, the blood was someone
else’s. Someone who patently had not
fallen on Spike’s fangs, but who nevertheless had parted with a few pints at
least, and how the hell had that happened?
The chip would blow Spike’s lobes out before he could put the bite on
Xander stared at Spike’s back and listened
to the shower run.
He was starting to have an idea.
He really didn’t like it.
“Spike,” he said quietly. “Tell me it’s not what I’m thinking.”
There was a silence. Spike turned his head slightly to the side.
“’s not what you’re thinking,” he
said. His voice was muffled and sleepy.
“I’m not kidding, Spike. Tell me.”
“Just did, pet. Shut up now.”
Xander stared at the bandage on his
knee. He was toying with the tape,
rubbing it between his thumb and forefinger, just mindless touching.
After a minute Spike shifted up on one
elbow and looked around at him. He
The shower went on.
“You take the couch tonight,” Spike said
finally. “Let her have the cot. She’ll want some…privacy.”
Xander stared at him. After a moment he opened his mouth to speak,
and Spike frowned and put his face back into the mattress.
So he didn’t say it. Didn’t confirm it out loud, because he
didn’t need to. Spike had just done it
for him, without actually saying the words.
The shower went on and on, and after a
while he was sure Spike had fallen asleep, and he turned on the television but
kept the sound off. An old Rockford
Files was on, and he watched it with his hand on his knee, toying with the
tape. He wasn’t tired, but when the
shower finally shut off he closed his eyes and lay breathing quietly.
Her footsteps came out, paused, and went to
the bed. They stayed a long time
Then they moved away, and they were soft
and slow and regular as she went around the loft, turning out the lights.
Continued in Chapter 9