All About Spike
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Blood Kin
By Nan Dibble

Sequel to Old Blood

SECTION THREE: ENGAGEMENTS



Chapter Eight: Striking Distance

Custodian of the weapons, Dawn perched attentively on the back bench of the Magic Box training room watching Spike with the SITs, who weren’t precisely sure who she was, except that she belonged to Spike in a way they didn’t, which was probably enough to know for now.

They’d probably expected Spike would explain when he arrived, but Spike never much believed in explanations and Dawn had doubted much account would be given for her. She didn’t mind.

She’d just set down the small sack of weapons he’d had her bring, the SITs milling around and none quite bold enough to demand who she was, what she was doing here, when Spike showed up--he’d had to take the roundabout way, through the tunnels and sewers, because of the bright morning light--and came straight to her. His hand closed around her shoulder at the neck and he turned her to face them. Dawn tried to put on a pleasant, noncommittal face, just as if she didn’t know all their names and hadn’t run with them on patrol.

“This is Buffy’s sis, Dawn,” he’d said. No prelude. No explanation, or hardly, continuing, “Been away awhile, an’ now she’s back. She helps me sometimes. You treat her right or you’ll hear from me about it. All right, doin’ back flips now, by twos. Push off, flip, to standing. If I can kick your leg out, you’re not doin’ it right.”

Watching, Dawn noticed he wasn’t the least shy with them anymore. That had progressed, while she’d been gone. He slapped or shoved them, or kicked a badly positioned leg out from under a SIT, dumping her, and then extended a hand to yank her up again, matter-of-fact and impersonal. And all of them businesslike too, soberly watching what he did and how he did it, watching the lesson rather than him. Not the way she remembered, all the giggling and moon eyes and whispered speculations.

If now and again Amanda or Kim or Rona flashed her a puzzled glance, as though some twinge of memory had sparked, Dawn didn’t let on she’d noticed. The matrix of fake facts and memories didn’t support her existence anymore. She’d have to earn everything she got and wasn’t at all displeased to have it so. Cleaner, she thought. No baggage. Start from here.

Buffy had known her right away--at least who she was. Welcomed her and been glad, even if mostly for Spike’s sake. Buffy had never really needed her anyway, that wasn’t how they’d been set up. The need had been all the other way, and that was over: ended with Dawn’s keyness. So they’d greeted each other with the kind of uncomplicated happiness friendly acquaintances might have, who didn’t really know one another all that well and therefore weren’t all tangled up with buried resentments and guilts and hopes, and could simply enjoy one another’s company.

They’d stayed up nearly all night, talking. Getting reacquainted. Comparing notes. Buffy wasn’t repressed and self-pitying and Dawn wasn’t clingy or shrill. Because of starting fresh, a new dynamic was emerging that Dawn thought she might actually like. Buffy had fixed French toast for breakfast and that had been pretty neat, actually.

Extra points for remembering about the French toast.

“Bit, why don’t you see if Anya might have a soda for you,” Spike suggested, swinging by after inspecting the nearest pair of SITs. Stopping just long enough to stroke her hair, trade a glance.

Not exactly clingy, but close to it. Wanting to check on her solidity, confirm her presence, every few minutes. Amazing, then, that he’d left her to sort out things with Buffy all on her own. Thought that was important, apparently. Because this was what he did when considering only himself: check on her, touch her, make contact. And Dawn didn’t really mind, although she didn’t have the same need for confirmation. Everything was solid and here, and she knew where she was and why. She was quite comfortable being Dawn again.

She saw that during their time apart, Spike had been alone in ways she hadn’t. So it would probably take him awhile not to be anxious about her. That was all right, she thought. He’d get over it and be easy with her again, given time. And they should have that, since she no longer had a passed expiration date hanging over her.

Dawn shook away that thought. Too abstract. Focus on the immediate. That was what she was here for.

Where did you come from, Baby Dear?/Out of the Everywhere into the Here.

Grinning wryly to herself, Dawn dragged herself out of the Everywhere into the Magic Box proper and found Anya halfway up a ladder, cleaning the shelves of crystals with a feather duster.

“Hi, Anya. Spike said--”

“Well! Color me astonished!” Anya exclaimed, swinging around on the ladder and nearly falling off as a heel slipped. Descending hurriedly, Anya came and gave Dawn a hug only slightly impeded by the feather duster that ended up pretty much in Dawn’s face. “Don’t tell me Spike’s managed to sweet-talk the Powers, now!”

“Wouldn’t exactly call it sweet talk, but something like that,” Dawn agreed, rubbing her nose, trying to push the duster away except that Anya felt it necessary to hug her again.

“Well, I’m amazed. Are you permanent now? Or just on loan?”

“Pretty permanent. All solid and everything. But it’s kind of ick to talk about it, so--”

“Most of the real things are,” Anya agreed, nodding vigorously. “Sex, birth, excretion. Eating. Sex.”

“And the neat thing is, I don’t have to go to school anymore because all the records got poofed. Lots of time to fake something up before next fall. So I’m not failing Civics anymore, isn’t that terrific? Anyway, Spike thought you might still have some soda around.”

“Well, I’ll look,” said Anya, and hustled off to check the small refrigerator under the front desk, next to the safe. Her head popped up over the desk. “So when’s the party?”

“What party?”

“Your homecoming party, of course! I have Diet Coke and that repulsive Dr. Pepper.”

“Repulsive, please, and I don’t think anybody’s planning a party, actually, since my being away and then coming back are both so weird, what with the complete forgetting I ever existed, except for Spike and now you, of course.”

Anya handed the can out over the desk. “When has weirdness ever stopped anybody around here before? We had a couplehood party for Willow and Tara, for heaven’s sake, and that one for Xander and me, the very-not-wedding one, and there was the back-from-the-dead one for Buffy, but nobody thought to tell her so she didn’t show up so that was kind of a bust--”

Dawn pulled the pop-tab and sipped the soda. “I think they’d freak, Anya. Honestly. Low profile, here.” She held her bladed hand level with her eyes, then raised it to head-height, to show how low the profile should be.

“Well, we’ll just disguise it then, that’s all.” Anya propped both elbows on the desk and bit her lip, in obvious thinking mode. Then she beamed in a way that made Dawn’s stomach sink in anticipation. Anya’s bright ideas had a way of turning disastrous. Anya declared, “The patrol. We can have a party for that. After all, it’s kind of a mixer. Getting acquainted, the demons and the rest of them. Cooperation. I’m sure a party would improve things. And if it’s your party too, nobody has to know but us. Now what would be appropriate by way of refreshments, not including the guests of course, that would be tacky--”

Dawn backed off and retreated to the training room. “Ah, Spike?”

Spike had taken a stance and a couple of SITs were taking turns trying to kick him out of it. “Yeah, what?”

Dawn went to him rather quickly, glancing over her shoulder every few steps. “I think you need to head this off. Anya wants to have a party. I don’t know what it’s for, but she mentioned a patrol and demons….”

Spike hung his head and sighed, relaxing from the stance, so the SITs quit kicking at him. “Right. All right, whoever can hold the longest handstand wins. I’ll get this sorted out quick as I can.”

Every single handstand had been abandoned and resumed at least once, and the SITs eyeing her, wondering if she’d tell on them, before Spike returned, rubbing at the back of his neck and in the last fading of game-face. Not pleased.

Dawn kept mum, figuring if he wanted a report on the handstands, he’d ask her, but she wasn’t about to volunteer. But Spike had apparently forgotten the assignment, giving the SITs a gathering wave, so that they all tipped out of their poses and came to sit around him on the mats nearest the back bench where Dawn had settled.

“All right, children, there’s something afoot and I been given the chore of explaining it to you. Some of you are gonna make nice with some vamps that are not me. Gonna patrol with ‘em. An’ they’re under strict orders not to eat you, but I dunno how well they’ll listen. Might be you’ll have to remind them. To dust, if need be. However, if things go well at all, you’ll get to take down a whole lot of Turok-han. Biters, we call ‘em. Us vampires.” And looking around at the SITs, he’d gone game-faced again: second time in just a few minutes. That surprised Dawn because he generally only did that to make a point, for emphasis, briefly. But none of the SITs batted an eye, so clearly they were more accustomed to it than Dawn was.

Spike continued, “It’s to be Saturday. So there’s three days to practice how you’re to do, and think about who’s goin’ and who’s not. Bit, lay out the new toys.”

Dawn emptied the sack onto the mat where he could reach: a dozen tasers, each about the size and shape of a small remote. Spike picked one up gingerly and showed it around.

“With the other pair, that makes fourteen,” Spike said. “So fourteen of you get to go. Volunteers only, because this could go wrong real easy. But it’s worth trying, I think. An’ so does the Slayer. I’m workin’ on getting you one apiece, but haven’t got there yet. So this is what there is. Pair of these could take down a Biter, I think. But I’ll test that out, to know for certain, before you children will need to play with ‘em. ‘Manda, why you doin’ that?”

Leaning to collect one of the tasers, Amanda looked around and offered a short smile as she sat back, taser in hand. “I’m going, that’s why. Any reason not to claim mine now?”

“Guess not. Just mind you don’t lose it, then. They’re not easy to come by. An’ don’t run out the charge, testing it out. In fact, don’t test it out except if I’m there to watch and say how to do. All right?”

“All right, Spike.”

Immediately the other SITs started snatching. In just a moment, only three tasers were left unclaimed, not counting the one Spike still held. And one of those was taken by Kennedy, Willow’s girlfriend: collected with a slow deliberation as though she were making up her mind before, during, and after claiming it. She sat holding it in both hands, frowning at it thoughtfully.

Spike watched her but didn’t say anything about it. Instead, he said, “Now the thing to remember is that to the vamps with you on this patrol, you’re food. Lunch. Walking, talking lunch. They’ll probably try to behave, but that may not come to much. Not used to thinking any different than they do. And you’ll have things to learn and unlearn too, those of you goin’, so don’t you be all full of yourselves neither. You got to learn what striking range is. ‘Manda, come help me show this.”

Then Spike proceeded with the creepiest demonstration Dawn had ever seen him do: walking slowly alongside Amanda from the other end of the room and without any kind of warning whirling and at her neck, not quite biting down. Then another few strolling paces and at her again. Faster than the SIT could react, although after the first time she began trying--to get an arm up, to lean away. Spike was faster.

Then Spike led Amanda back to the far wall again, starting a little farther from her this time. Beyond hand-holding distance. And still at her, his hands locked tight at her shoulder and head, fanged jaws poised over the tilted neck: motion almost too fast to see. Three of those not-quite-attacks before they went to reset and began the stroll again with the distance between extended another notch.

It wasn’t until he was starting from fully eight feet away that Amanda had any chance of blocking a lunge, and the first time, Spike smacked her arm away and still achieved biting position. When the next lunge was interrupted by the braced point of Amanda’s elbow, Spike stood away and told her, “Now remember, this ain’t a Bringer here. Poke him in the diaphragm, he ain’t gonna care. Breathing’s a hobby, not a necessity. Where you gonna try to hit him, pet?”

“Throat?”

“Could do. But miss to either side and he’s in close an’ got you. Face is better. Bridge of the nose: right between the eyes.” Spike touched his own vamped-out face, showing her. “Miss and you got maybe an eye, cheekbone, temple. Enough to set him back on his heels a second, anyway. At best you bust the nose. If he gets past your arm, inside your guard, use the taser and take him down. But if you’re minded to go ahead and dust him then, remember that means one less thing between you and a Turok-han. That’s a better use for him. Don’t waste him unless he makes you. But if you can’t back him off, don’t play about: just do him.”

When Amanda had thought a minute and then nodded, Spike took her back to the far wall and made her say if he was in striking distance or not as they did another slow pavanne down the middle of the room, Spike circling in or away as Amanda came straight on. Eerily like steps in a formal old-fashioned line dance, punctuated by Spike demanding, “Now?” and Amanda responding Yesor No. It took three processions before Spike was satisfied she’d gotten it right every time.

Then he called Kim to him and did exactly the same thing with her.

Uber-creepy.

Presently it occurred to him that he’d left everybody else standing around with nothing to do. So he dismissed those who hadn’t claimed a taser and tried to send Dawn home too, except that she smiled and said, “No, I’m good.”

“You sure? Can’t be all that much fun, watching.”

“Slo-mo deathdance? I’ve never seen it before. Very edifying.” When Spike took her at her word, Dawn put her chin back on her fists, quite content to be here, watch him move. Another time, maybe, she’d bring a magazine but now he was working with Kennedy, whose stiff abrupt motions made plain that she disliked and feared him. Because of that, she made the fewest errors and needed the fewest repeats. Dawn figured Kennedy hadn’t been that comfortable with him to begin with and so had less to unlearn. Spike behaved to her exactly as he had to the others and commended her performance when they’d finished their final walk. Kennedy returned an impassive nod and then left.

No need of a magazine when you had something that interesting to observe and interpret.

It was nearly noon before he finished with the last of the SITs and let her go. As he came back toward Dawn, he shed game face: the first time he’d done so in about three solid hours. Interesting, Dawn thought, kneeling to collect the unclaimed tasers and return them to the sack. Spike dropped full-length onto the pad, turning onto his back with one bent arm across his eyes.

Dawn inquired, “Vamp patrol plus SITs plus party equals potential for extreme unpleasant wackiness?”

“I expect.”

“Can I be vanished again until it’s over?”

A sigh. “I’d see if Harris would talk her out of it, except then he’d be all for it because it was me, asking. So that’s no good. Keep meaning to get that boy sorted. Keep puttin’ it off some way.”

“Is he fun to argue with?”

“Not specially. If I wasn’t on the outs with him, though, I’d have nobody left to insult. Got to be somebody I don’t have to be polite to. Getting real sick of that. Chip don’t work an’ still I can’t hit Harris, even. Not even when he has it coming. Doesn’t seem right.”

Dawn flopped to use his torso as a backrest. It was midday, and he was tired: she could tell. “You can sleep here if you want. I’ll keep anybody from sneaking up and staking you.”

“Now that’s an idea. But what you gonna do if they try?”

“Well, there’s the fact I have three charged tasers here. And if that’s not enough, I could bite them.”

“You do that. That would scare anybody off, certain sure.” He stirred enough to start combing his fingers through her hair. Dawn leaned back in lazy comfort. “You know, strangest thing, Bit: Anya an’ Red and Buffy, all three, wanted to know if we were shagging.”

Dawn sat up sharply to look at him, and he was just looking back, not a scrap of self-consciousness or discomfort, telling her that just like he’d have told her anything. Delighted, she hugged him hard.

“Now what’s that mean?”

“Means I’m glad to be back, and no, you don’t have to worry: we manage just fine as we are.”

“Oh. That’s all right then.” He resumed fuzzing at her hair when she wiggled down to let him do it.

She’d believed the soul had completely robbed him of his demonic innocence--the blind spots where anybody else would boggle or cringe and he’d barge right through, quite unaware of any problem. It made her all kinds of happy to know that wasn’t so, that there were still some isolated pockets left.

She liked his demon, to the extent he had let her get to know it. She liked its directness and ruthlessness, its complete clarity about what it wanted. Things were so much simpler that way. In Anya, it came out as tactlessness whereas in Spike, it was mostly violence. But whichever, that was the demon of it: tart and alien and forever surprising. Dawn had the pleasant suspicion that she was going to get the chance to know his better.

Following that thought, she asked presently, “Demon getting impatient with all this uber nice?”

“Somewhat. I’ll go kill a few things tonight with Michael. Test out the tasers. That should help.”

From the way he said it, Dawn knew Michael was a vampire. And she’d never heard him speak of another vampire so comfortably, so familiarly, without a plain edge of contempt. Except Dru. “When do I get to meet Michael?”

“Dunno, Bit. Dunno if I’d trust Michael around you. If there was a problem, I’d have to pull his head off and he’s sort of useful now. So I’d just as soon not.”

Dawn shrugged. “Whatever. Want to know what Buffy made of me showing up?”

“Not specially. Expect she’ll tell me. If you tell me too, stereo. And you’ll say one thing and she’ll say another and I’ll have to remember who said which or somebody will take offense.”

“People are tiresome that way,” Dawn agreed. “Never saw you in game face that long at a time.”

“As long as what?”

“Demonstrating striking distance.”

“Oh. Didn’t notice. Nobody said…. Easier that way.”

Nobody said anything for awhile. When his fingers stilled in her hair, she looked around carefully and sure enough, he was asleep. Not quite turned: somewhere between, barely noticeable in the thickened brow and about the mouth a little. Defaulting to this now and not the other whenever he let go, forgot. No sign yet however that the demon was in any way at war with the soul: something she’d worried about when first she’d heard he’d acquired one. As things had turned out, the soul had proven handy, an anchor for her when she’d needed one, a Presence on the aetherial plane; but Dawn remained mistrustful of it and watchful for signs of its turning dictatorial, wanting everything its way. Human people didn’t have to put up with bossy souls. She didn’t see why Spike should either. His demon had at least squatters’ rights that should be respected.

Smiling, she slid lower so she could rest her cheek over his unbeating heart. This was nice, she thought. She’d missed this.

**********

“So, Michael,” Spike said. “You ever get hit with a taser?”

Mike’s response was an expressive glower.

“Think they’re little children’s toys, do you?”

“You touch me with that thing, I’ll come back at you,” Mike warned.

“Why, I expect you will. Not right away, though. Apt to slow you down somewhat, but likely you know that. Been practicing with it, have you?” Spike responded, all agreeable, figuring he likely had: on his minions, squad, whatever he was calling them. But wasn’t the same as knowing in your own flesh, the way Spike did.

“Got hit with an armor-piercing round once. Made quite a mess. I was the best part of a week healing from that one.”

“As long as a week. My, my.” Spike smiled to himself. He hadn’t played power games with another vamp in considerable time and rather enjoyed it.

They were sitting on the edge of the dock at Willy’s, the two of them, looking off in the direction of the school grounds. Eventually a Biter would come by, from the one direction or the other, and then they’d take it down. Spike had one of the big double-handed axes leaned by his knee. Tasers could put the Biter down but not dispatch it. Lots of room to be creative in that last regard.

If one actually came within the boundaries Willy claimed as his, so much the better because the bounty would apply then. Might make the price of a second batch of tasers if it proved to be a busy evening.

Spike was of two minds about drinking and both said yes. Absolutely, emphatically. Yet to be determined were when, and how much. One thing to get himself falling down incapable. Another thing to maybe let the lad get hurt, which wasn’t on the menu, because he’d be needed no matter how matters went later. So, later, then. And no more than for entertainment.

Lighting a cigarette, Spike asked idly, “So where’d you end up after Angola?” Passing the time, getting the boyo’s history on the installment plan, observing vampire etiquette that ignored questions like where you’d been born to the other life rather than this, what family you’d left behind or slaughtered, what schooling had been reduced to a hunt for blood and a safe place to lie up during the day. He didn’t know where Michael laired. Could have found out if he’d wanted, but if anybody knew where your lair was, you were apt to wake to thieves or worse or never wake at all, so you never asked about that and you never told. Always meetings, marks, set places away from what never was home….

Mike broke off in mid-sentence and they were both watching, listening long and intent. Spike slid off the ledge and got the taser out of his pocket, flicking the safety. He caught up the big battle-axe, setting the haft under his right arm, blade backward. Then he started after Mike at a steady, unhurried pace. The lad had reached the chain link fence that circled the perimeter of the school grounds. Eager but not stupid: noting Spike’s following pace, Mike moderated his own. A little apart, so nothing would easily surprise them both, they were angling toward the next gate, where there’d been motion.

Crossing the weedy lot along the fence, Spike scanned for advantage. With a Biter, you always wanted the option of getting high, adding to your reach. At the street where the lot ended, at right angles to the fence, there were a row of concrete and board benches along the bus loading area. A stout telephone pole with an attached street light presided about midway. Spike pointed and said, “Mark.” The other vampire nodded and headed directly for the gate, to locate the target and possibly draw it toward the chosen site. Pausing to prop the axe against the telephone pole, Spike circled right, into the dead-ended street, using what parked cars remained overnight as cover.

Biters. A pair, standing just outside the gate. Waiting for their chums, maybe. Mike showed himself and at almost that same moment, Spike kicked back against the rear quarter-panel of a sedan, a loud thump, then veered off, retreating fast through the darkness along a line of store fronts. One of the Biters was coming out to investigate the noise by the stores. Which left only one loping along the line of the fence toward Mike, now headed at a medium run back toward the benches. Decent set-up, Spike judged. They should have time to do the one before the other could arrive.

As Mike passed the first bench, the Turok-han barely a pace behind now, Spike stood close against the telephone pole and counted down aloud, “Three, two, one.” On one, Mike dodged aside, and Spike jumped in, and they took the Turok-han from two sides with the tasers. Mike went for the body, which got him slapped off his feet; Spike hit a swinging arm, partly to find out if the charge would be less effective that way. Hard to tell, since the Biter went down on its face as every muscle locked up.

Spike would have preferred to see how long it took the Biter to recover from the charge, but the other one was coming now and would have to be put down fast. Spike waited until the Biter had committed to Mike, then moved aside to not present a single target. Since Mike was closest, Spike let him decide how to make the initial hit and moved when he did. Again, they both hit the second Biter about simultaneously, Spike getting a clear jab at the back ribs, Mike striking someplace else. Spike continued the spin and caught up the axe. Mike stood clear, Spike swung two-handed, and it was a nice, neat beheading. A few paces, just enough time to bring the axe up and over again, and the other Biter exploded into dust, too.

Spike asked, “This one move any?”

“Not that I saw.”

“Good minute, ninety seconds, he was down then. Plenty of time. Come the patrol, figure the vamp should go in first. No great harm there if the Biter takes a swing. And that’d open it up for the children. Team of three, I’m thinking.”

“Team of four. Another vamp for backup, and the kill. Soon as the fucker’s down. I got enough for that.”

“Maybe. Consider it,” said Spike as they retreated across the lot to the side of Willy’s again. He didn’t altogether like the idea of even teams, vamps and SITs, even if only the SITs had tasers.

Sitting on their heels near the loading bay, they did a brief rehash, remarking on the Biters’ apparent reaction time and whether they’d seemed to react more to sight or loud noise, agreeing noise brought them faster and therefore maybe their distance vision wasn’t all that great. Ambush predators, more likely, than something that saw prey from a distance and ran it down.

“Anything else?” Spike asked.

“Well, it stank.”

“Yeah. Could be handy if we get to huntin’ ‘em in the streets. Not much help in the open…. Goin’ inside for something. Whack on the door,” Spike directed, slapping the metal lift door, that resounded like a big metal drum, “then to the mark out front if anything comes at you.”

“Don’t bring an audience.”

“Try not to,” Spike agreed.

He came back with a bottle of bourbon and the big roll of duct tape from behind the bar, kept for general repairs. When Mike declined firsts on the bottle, Spike pulled out a couple feet of tape, sliced it on the axe blade, then taped the taser (prudently safetied) crosswise on his right palm and thumb. He flexed the hand experimentally. Still left the fingers and most of the palm clear for holding the axe or any other weapon. And no chance of dropping or otherwise losing the taser.

That piece of experimental ingenuity deserved a drink.

Returning to sit on the edge of the bay, he observed, “Not precisely a fight. More of an execution. Your lot are gonna end up all wound up an’ with noplace for that to go. Have to figure some way to turn that aside or make a proper fight of it or they’ll turn on my children next thing.”

“They don’t dare,” Mike contradicted in a near growl.

“Fact they shouldn’t, and even know they shouldn’t, doesn’t mean that they won’t. What, you never done something outlandish stupid just because you were all wound up an’ no other way to let it out?”

“No,” said Mike flatly, insulted.

“Then either that’s a lie or you still got a bit to learn about what you are….”

“You callin’ me a liar?”

“Oh, please. All right, you’re not a liar, you’re an idiot. That better?”

Mike glared back at him, both in game face, of course. “I don’t have to put up with that from you!”

“Fine, you take the next one on your own, show me the fine points an’ all. Fucking independent git.”

“Fine, I will then!”

“You do that. Even let you borrow the fucking axe.”

“Don’t need your gear!” Mike declared haughtily, although Spike had spoken of the axe because Mike’s glance had gone to it.

Except for the taser, Mike had shown up empty-handed with nothing for the kill. Which should probably have earned him extra points, like the way Dawn awarded them.

Mike was so busy showing off his bristling alpha dog routine that he didn’t notice the Biter coming in from the other direction, likely all fed up and happy, until Spike pointed. And though it might have been amusing watching the wanker get himself pulled apart, Spike pitched a stake at him from the sack he’d brought the tasers in. Mike saw it coming out of the edge of his vision, quick enough to catch it before seeing what it was.

Spike remarked, “What they got ain’t a proper rib cage. More a layer of chest and back armor. Doubt the axe would go through it. Got to take ‘em up from the belly to get at the heart.”

Mike popped the stake in his palm a couple times, like he was thinking of tossing it back, but wasn’t quite idiot enough for that and stuck it through a belt loop, then jogged off to intercept the Biter. Spike didn’t bother watching. He’d done dumb stuff like that, showing off, when he was about that age. And likely since, he supposed. Only difference, he didn’t play to himself it was anything but what it was. Maybe not smarter but somewhat more honest.

Presently Mike came back, limping just enough to notice, no sign of the stake. Had his hair mussed too, poor child, and a bruise coming along the side of his face. He came straight at Spike and swiped the bottle out of his hand.

After he’d put some down, the younger vamp complained, “Not a real fight. Butchering meat’s more fun. That’s annoying. Near as annoying as you. But nowhere near as annoying as admitting I’m an idiot and I just done exactly what you said.” Grinning and mad at himself, both.

“Wondered if you’d notice that,” commented Spike moderately. “Now I expect one time you could have sat on a ridge or perched in a tree an’ picked off the opposition with a sniper scope all night and been right pleased with yourself, never the least twinge of impatience. Won’t be like that now. Never no more.” Spike slid his hip off the ledge and held both arms straight out, fingers spread. “Vamp ends here.” He swung around, defining an area arm’s reach out from his body. “If you can’t touch it, hit it, drink it or fuck it, you ain’t made contact with it. Inside here, that’s where you live. An’ nothing past that is gonna give you any satisfaction whatever. I liked your grenade. Liked the noise and the fine light it made. But if I had to fight Turok-han with ‘em for any length of time, I’d go after ‘em, hand to hand, fists and fangs, and likely get my head yanked off. Because anything else, that’s just video games, Michael. No blood in it. And no bloody satisfaction. Got to get your hands on it to know it, feel it’s a fight. Or any goddam thing else.”

“Right about that,” Mike allowed, after another pull from the bottle. “Tried one of those arcade games down at the mall, you know? Racked up fantastic points. Better hand-eye coordination than I’d ever had. And nothing. Just dust and ashes.”

“And what’d you do then?”

Mike lifted his face and admitted, “Kicked the damn thing in. Nearly got caught when the alarms went off…. Is that what it’s like? Having a sire? Somebody knows this stuff and teaches it to you, so you don’t have to learn every goddam part of it by trial and error?”

“Not much. Not really.” Having let his arms fall, Spike reached out for Mike to pass over the bottle. Spike sat back on his heels, and Mike hunkered down too. “Maybe some are different. I dunno. Mostly it’s getting hammered to do what you’re told: no more, no less, an’ no different. And mostly no explanations. Just do it. Maybe you figure it out a while afterward. Maybe you never do. Or there was no reason for it to begin with, just an excuse to hammer you down. A lot of times, that’s all it is. I been annoying a long while, Michael. An’ Angelus, he’s a cruel hard bugger an’ always has been and still is, never seen much difference on account of the soul. Not to me, anyways. I dunno which of us had the best of it--you or me. But we’re both here, either because of him or in spite of him. So I expect that’s all you can ask. It’s hard, any way you turn.”

They did a few more Biters, maybe five, and Spike swore when gripping the axe cracked the taser’s housing and ruined it. So taping it hadn’t been such a great idea after all. Trial and error, he thought--that’s all any of them had.

And none on Willy’s property, so not a penny of bounty out of the evening.

And Michael fidgeting around restless and not trying, anymore, to pretend otherwise. That was something, anyway. Taught the boyo something, at least.

Mike asked, “There any more use to this, you figure?”

“No, I don’t expect. One taser’s enough, for a vamp, who can take a little damage at close quarters if need be. Have to be two, for the children. And there’s not sufficient yet to go around, or to replace any that get broke. That’s cutting things a bit fine, but anyway, they work as advertised.” Spike finished cutting and pulling off the last of the tape from his hand and stuck the broken taser in his pocket, just in case it could be repaired.

The younger vampire looked around, both hands stuffed in his pockets. Wide-eyed, wide open expression: just like that Finn. “You figure that’s important, like you said before? To know what it’s like, getting hit with one?”

Spike stared. It was an offer to get tasered, just on Spike’s say-so. “You’re an idiot, Michael. Spend your thought on how to do the other fellow, not on such nonsense as that. Gimme back the toy, now.”

“Oh.” Mike pulled the taser from his back pocket and handed it over.

Except for that, Spike knew the lad would have tried it just the same: done himself, the second he got home or wherever he kept himself. Likeable, a boy as predictably stupid as that.

“No tasers for your lot, this time,” Spike said, collecting the axe. He’d leave it in the store room rather than be lumbered with it. “They’ll have to do with whatever they can, whatever’s to hand. All for the children. Because they’re more breakable.”

“All right. Want to come back to my place and fuck?”

“No, I got something else in mind, and then I’m due back here come midnight. Some other time, maybe. Got the bike, though: could drop you someplace.”

“No, that’s all right.”

**********

Spike cruised to one of the back edges of the extensive parking lot that flanked Sunnydale Mall. Waiting and watching the scatter of parked cars, he lit a cigarette, thinking about what a fine rest he’d had, there in the Magic Box, today noontime. Only a couple of hours, but the first time in months he’d actually wakened feeling rested. No eruptive prescient dreams, nothing expected of him, nothing he’d done wrong somehow while sleeping.

Sleeping with Buffy had its advantages, not that much actual sleeping got accomplished, and he planned to give her a thorough seeing to before the patrol and whatever might happen then; but Dawn’s company was also good in a different way and really restful. He felt a lot more peaceful within himself than he had for a long while.

Since getting the soul, maybe: as long as that. And now he thought about it, the months leading up to that had had their bad moments. Nights. Whole weeks, sometimes. That was when he’d been courting the Slayer, an experience combining the most brilliant shagging ever and bloody bare-knuckle brawls, sometimes both together. Could have done without some of it, but he could never quite decide which part he’d wish gone.

And he thought about Michael’s two offers. Well meant, he supposed, and friendly enough after its fashion, and it’d been awhile since he’d done a boy. But vamp sex meant considerably less than a handshake and Spike truly wasn’t interested in meaningless contact. Not like with the Slayer, when everything he did and didn’t do had meaning. And generally repercussions. Be unsatisfying to have it mean less: dust and ashes, the same as Mike had said.

Even with Dru, it had meant a lot and required considerable figuring and planning what might please her or at least hold her attention long enough to get her finished, much less himself.

And Bit, that he didn’t have to worry about at all that way, who just was. That could be good and even outright splendid sometimes, just be, himself, and no kind of performing required at all. He was glad she didn’t mind, didn’t expect that from him. Hadn’t ever thought she did, except for everybody asking. That had been strange, and he was glad Bit had agreed with him about it.

He noticed right away when somebody came into range. In one way, he was peaceful, knowing very plainly what he was going to do. But in another way he was strung quite tight because it’d been two days and a little now since he’d fed. Could have waited a little longer if he’d had to, hadn’t snapped at any of the children, it was still well within his control. But when food walked within his range, he noticed very sharp.

Pigs’ blood was a true abomination. Worse than meaningless. Barely food at all, hardly any life left in it whatever. Just a way to keep going, deny the unrelenting hunger for actual life that was fundamental to what he was. For years he’d had no choice about it on account of the damn chip. Just reaching could blind him and lay him flat for days. But that was done now and he’d made up his mind to it the same as he’d made up his mind about the tat. Done, accomplished in his mind even before he’d started.

He dropped the cigarette and stepped on it, to not be waving the coal about. Swung his leg over the bike seat and started walking. Woman, shopping bags dragging both arms down. Aiming herself at the green Toyota sedan. Nobody inside, waiting for her. Nobody else about. Spike adjusted his pace and his angle, to meet her before she reached the car. Didn’t want to set off the alarm.

The second he got within striking distance, he went fast and took her: a lot slower than a SIT and not expecting anything besides. Barely jerked, no struggle at all, as he opened her and the incredible first richness of blood hit the back of his throat. Feeding, he let her down and her packages down easy. Took four full long swallows and quit, shuddering with how hard it was to stop but managed to stop anyway, settle himself down enough, hold fast. Licked the bite a few times to finish closing it, then shed game face and began helping her up, finding her car keys and opening the Toyota for her, getting her parcels in the back, explaining to her how she’d fainted right away there in front of him and how she should wait until she was herself again before driving and get something solid to eat inside her as soon as she could, and she no more than nodding and bewildered and likely a little dizzy but he hadn’t taken enough for her to be worse than that.

He couldn’t do thrall but he could do this, be concerned and deliberate and persuasive, especially in Sunnydale where nobody was apt to admit to themselves they’d just been fed on by a vampire. They’d cling onto any other explanation for dear life rather than admit that.

Not even enough to take the edge off, he thought, watching the Toyota’s lights come on and the car start slowly rolling toward the exit. But it was real, alive, and his whole body exulted in it after the endless miserable fast. Pure life, pure meaning, drinking it down. As deep and profound as sex, except that he didn’t love the woman, of course. Didn’t dislike her, either, though. No need to end her, just for the first sip of a meal.

She was truly none the worse for it, any way that he could see. Of course Buffy wouldn’t look at it that way. But Buffy didn’t have to know for awhile yet.

Spike returned to the bike and was quiet there, feeling his proper food transforming inside, better than the finest champagne. Now, after the first taste, he was outright hungry so he’d have to take care with the next one, not to get lost and take too much. Maybe five, six people were gonna faint in the mall parking lot tonight and be helped by a solicitous stranger. And still plenty of time to make it back to Willy’s before midnight.


Continued in Chapter Nine: On Notice

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