By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
"There are seven."
Tanner flinched and froze in the middle of the sidewalk, nearly dropping the filthy mesh bag he was carrying over one shoulder. He looked up. There was one modest patch of winter rye amidst the water-conscious landscaping in front of the Wells Fargo Bank, a pool of smooth, perfect, luscious emerald green surrounded by gravel and the pale, serrated leaves of succulents. The guy with no eyes was standing in the middle of it, and around his feet the grass had turned brown and dry as the winter-killed Bermuda it was supposed to be hiding.
From the moans and whimpers behind him some of the others saw the guy and some didn't. Dana, Jim and Ramon stumbled to a halt and clung to one another, staring about them with wide fearful eyes, while Lizzie, Blue, Matches and Carmel kept walking, straggling halfway down the block before they realized they'd been abandoned. Dana turned uncertainly back and waved. Tanner felt an internal lurch and looked down at his feet. The toe of his right shoe had slipped over the crack between one block of cement and the next. Shit, shit, shit. Reality yawed, ley lines crossed, worlds spun out of kilter... Trying to control his panicky breathing, he slid his foot back ever so carefully, and slowly, slowly the universe around him swung back into balance. He could hear the ponderous groan of the heavens realigning themselves overhead, the metallic screech of the stars sliding back into place. "Don't!" he hissed at the eyeless man.
Who ignored him, and repeated, "There are seven surrounding the Slayer. The Key. The Watcher. The Vampire. The Witches. The Demon. The Man. When the Balance is disturbed the pattern is always fragile. Pull upon the correct thread and the pattern unravels."
Tanner shifted impatiently. The names dropped into his mind, stones into a dark pool, leaving interference patterns of ripples behind. He would have known any of them in an instant now: the dark-haired girl, the bespectacled man, the peroxide-blond vampire from the poolhouse, the small redhead and the taller blond college girls, the girl with the sharp inquisitive face who ran the Magic Box, the dark-haired youth with the silly grin. "What do you want me to do?"
"Take my hand," the eyeless man said, voice as sere as the dead grass. Tanner hesitated for a second, but he'd promised. He stretched out his hand and the eyeless man grasped it. It was cold, cold and dry and withered. Not a dead thing, no, worse, a thing whose life had been stretched beyond endurance until existence became meaningless. He could feel the pulse beating in it, slow and awful, twitching against his palm, and then his own heart was pounding in rhythm, matching that feeble sickening twitch beat for beat. The eyeless man began to chant.
Where thou walkest, there we followTwinned heartbeats throbbed in his ears, nausea built in his too-empty stomach. With each pulse dark energy flowed from the eyeless man, black, viscous, and chill, sinking into his bones and congealing within his flesh. Tanner yanked his hand away and stood shivering, clutching it to his breast and flexing fingers stiff and stinging with cold. His heart beat of its own accord again, hammering against its cage of bone, but the mad rush of blood through his veins did not warm him. "What...?"
Where thou bitest, there we swallow
Where thou breathest, take we life
Where thou strikest, cause we strife
Where thou speakest, weave our lies
Servant of the Bringers, rise!"
"You are our instrument. Your touch shall open the gates of their hearts and they shall walk through the door into shadow."
Tanner licked his lips, tasting a residue of salt and bile. "Listen," he said, "We gotta hunt."
"Hunt then, but remember your promise. There are lives reserved for oathbreakers far worse than the one you lead."
Tanner hunched his shoulders, brows dipping in a sullen frown. "I keep my promises." There was no answer; the eyeless man was gone again, but the circle of dead grass where he'd stood remained, an urban crop circle to mystify the arriving bank tellers the next morning. Tanner pulled his jacket more closely around his shoulders, feeling the draft where the cool night air seeped in through the torn place in the armhole. He massaged the palm of his right hand with the thumb of his left, trying to work some feeling back into the numb flesh. "Dana!" he called. "Get back."
He waited while Dana herded the others back to the group. Eight. Eight of fourteen. Blondie out of commission because of her hands, and four more too far out of it to be of any help. Ronnie stuck back at the camp to look after them--and that would cost him dearly in the weeks to come, since Ronnie would miss out on tonight's hunt and would soon be in no condition to play backup. "Dirty," he whispered. "All torn and dirty." Couldn't be helped.
"We're going to split up," he said as Dana and the others shuffled back into line. "Like we did that time in July, right? Dana, you take Matches and head out for the park. Set up the circle behind the bandshell." He took the bag off his shoulder and handed it to her. "You remember how to do that, right?"
"Bright and rapture we see the coming day," Dana said. She couldn't talk worth crap, but like silent Ronnie, she still understood pretty well, even on bad days. She was fortunate that way.
"Yeah. Ramon, you take everyone else and find us a new friend."
Stunned silence. At last Ramon ventured, "Tanner... you always..."
"Tonight I can't." He tried to keep his voice calm and level. "I'll meet you at the park later." Tanner started off down the sidewalk, paused, and looked back; Ramon's face was sickly with apprehension in the yellow light of the street lamps. "Don't worry. I know you'll pick someone good."
The bar-cum-mediocre-restaurant was called Benders this year. It wasn't a dive, but it wasn't too classy, either--one of those establishments you found in every college town where any lack in the quality of the food and drink was made up by the variety of farm implements and old road signs tacked up on the walls. The patrons were mainly students from the nearby UC Sunnydale campus, along with a sprinkling of locals and the occasional high school senior trying out a fake ID.
Pro to hanging out with Spike, Xander thought as the waitress filled their glasses and set down the pitcher: Spike is old enough to buy beer.
It was difficult to tell how old Spike had been when he was turned; late twenties, probably, but he had one of those lean, ageless faces that looked more or less the same from twenty-five to fifty. The salient point was that he didn't immediately inspire waitresses to ask for his driver's licence, which was lucky as he didn't have one. Xander passed the vampire a twenty under the table and Spike handed it to the waitress with that half-smile and sideways, heavy-lidded glance which for some inexplicable reason made waitresses go all gooey. "Keep the change, luv."
Con: Spike requires my money to do so.
Spike reached for his glass and returned to his seeming perusal of the copy of the L.A. New Times he'd grabbed from the free bin inside the lobby. In actuality he was watching the crowd around the pool tables like... well, like a vampire intent on his next meal. He took a swallow and grimaced. "Lovely. The horse must feel much better now."
"Nothing like good ol' Guinness, huh? Cool. I had this weird urge for beer instead of warm, flat sludge."
"Remind me again why I stopped pinching your wallet?"
"Possibly because I haven't been in arm's reach?"
"I was saving you from yourself, you ask me. Yank blasphemer." Spike squinted at the paper and leaned back in his chair. "And would it be too much to ask for these wankers to hire a music critic who doesn't think he's the second bloody coming of Lester Bangs and just reviews the bloody albums?"
Xander considered asking who the hell Lester Bangs was and decided against it, since that would only provoke Spike to tell him. "So what exactly is our purpose here, besides inducing me to waste more of my hard-earned paycheck entertaining a cranky vampire?"
"Enabling me to collect my hard-earned paycheck." Spike scanned the little clumps of people gathered round the pool tables again, visibly sizing up and discarding prospects. "All you need to do when we get a table is pretend to give me a few pointers, show me the ropes like, and then stand back and let me work. In consideration of your delicate sensibilities, Harris, we're not going to skin anyone who doesn't roll up begging to be skint. Hah, there's one coming open. Come on."
Spike got up and headed for the pool tables. Half-way across the crowded floor the vampire stopped, a puzzled light in his pale eyes, and inhaled deeply. Xander, trying to juggle both glasses and the pitcher behind him, made an inquiring noise. Spike stood motionless for a moment longer, then exhaled. "Thought I recognized... nah, it's gone. Losing the plot, I am." He shook his head and set off for the pool tables again. Xander looked around, seeing nothing unusual in the crowd, then shrugged and followed him. They claimed the middle of the three tables before the previous players had finished hanging up their cues.
"Here we observe the wily vampire in his natural habitat, the pool hall," Xander intoned as he racked up the balls. "Note the exotic coloring of the pelt, designed by nature--or possibly Miss Clairol--to blend in with the cue ball and..."
"I'll pelt you if you don't shut your gob," Spike said, without much rancor. "Now teach me to play pool." He picked up the chalk as if he'd never seen one before and applied it tentatively to the tip of his cue. "Looks like jolly fun," he said in a spot-on imitation of Giles' cultured accent. All traces of North London vanished from his speech, the blue of his eyes went from icy and knowing to soft and luminous, and his body language from predatory to puppyish. "Fill my eager mind with knowledge."
"Uh... fine." Xander picked up a cue and looked nervously around. "Does this make me a shill?"
"Apparently it makes you unnecessarily talkative."
"OK, OK, just asking." This was probably a bad idea, he thought. But it was a couple of steps up from Spike's other methods of getting ready cash, most of which involved out and out larceny, and how many more chances was he going to get to be irresponsible and stupid with a reasonably clear conscience? He was getting married in... oh, God, only a month, and Anya would probably skin him if she found out about this--if only because he hadn't demanded that Spike give him a cut of the profits. Spike was eyeing him impatiently, drumming his fingers on the side of the table. Xander cleared his throat loudly. "The idea is to use the cueball--that's the white one--to knock the other balls into..."
Spike nodded, hanging raptly on his every word. In fact, ultra-cool vampire-guy Spike seemed to have completely disappeared, replaced by an earnest and slightly clumsy young man who'd had a bit more to drink than was good for him. He looked a great deal like Spike, and sounded a great deal as Spike might have sounded had he gone to Oxford instead of wherever the hell he'd misspent his youth, and played pool about as well as Spike might have if he hadn't had a century-plus of practice, reflexes Minnesota Fats would have killed his mother for, and a tolerance for alcohol bordering on the phenomenal even for a vampire.
Exactly the sort of fellow, in other words, that you wanted to get into a friendly wager with.
Spike set the stage carefully, Xander had to admit. He lost several games against Xander, but not too badly, and won once or twice, but not too well. He killed the first pitcher without much help from Xander, played another couple of games against a giggly redhead who only wanted to play for points, lost the first by one ball and the second by three, and made serious inroads on a second pitcher. He sulked vocally about how much better he'd do with a real wager on the line, but kept allowing Xander to talk him out of playing for money. At some point during the evening, the guys at the next table, a large, aggressively wholesome pair in letter jackets who'd been flashing a lot of cash earlier, began paying attention. By now, they were hard pressed to keep from snickering at the show.
"Look, Harris," Spike said, leaning forward and poking a finger at Xander's chest. "I've got the hang of it now. What I need is a little com-competitive edge." He was swaying a little and enunciating every word just a little too clearly; Xander, who'd seen Spike really drunk on more than one occasion and knew that it took considerably more than a couple of pitchers of American beer for the vampire to achieve this level of impairment, wasn't fooled, but it was a fairly convincing display for the lay observer.
"Yeah, you've got an edge all right." Xander removed the finger from just below his third shirt button, wondering if Spike expected him to start an argument or back down. "Let's go get you some coffee or something before you cut yourself on it."
A large hand clapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, there, don't be so hard on your friend there," Frat Guy Number One said, displaying lots of large white teeth in what was probably a winning smile, if one happened to be a shark. "If he wants a real game, we'll play. I'm David and this is Shaun." He jerked a thumb at his slightly smaller and darker compatriot.
"William." Spike shook the offered hand enthusiastically and pretended to wince at the pressure. "Ever so pleased to meet you."
The ivory ball careened across the green felt and struck its target a glancing blow. For a long breathless moment the red ball teetered on the edge of the pocket, and then, bowing to the inevitable, tipped over and dropped in. Spike straightened, beaming at Shaun with a wide-eyed and slightly tipsy smile, stunned and delighted with his own good fortune. "I say!" he cried. "That was a lucky one, wasn't it?"
Theoretically they were playing doubles, but so far Xander hadn't had much to do except sit back, try not to screw up when his turn rolled around, and watch as ‘William', after a shaky start, wiped the table with their opponents. Considering the usual results of their own much lower-stakes games at the Bronze, Xander wasn't surprised at the wiping the table part, but there was no way Spike was this good an actor; faking being drunk was one thing, but he'd never been particularly good at deception in the past. Xander leaned over and whispered, "Who are you, and what have you done with the real Spike?"
The real Spike made an immediate reappearance and jabbed him in the stomach with the butt of his pool cue accidentally-on-purpose, ducking his head to hide the pained expression as the chip set off. He injected a note of wounded petulance into his voice for good measure. "Really, Harris, push off--not fair of you to coach, what?"
Shaun glared and ran a hand through his short-cropped chestnut hair, something he’d been doing with increasing frequency and vehemence as the night went on. He might be smaller than David (who really ought, Xander felt, to have been named Goliath) but he still had a good two inches on Xander and a good four on Spike, and he was using them to best advantage. "Yeah, back off. Let Willy-boy shoot."
Willy-boy graced him with a smile which came nowhere near his eyes and began lining up his next shot, screwing his face into a comical expression of concentration. Xander looked from him up into the blunt-nosed, linebacker's face of David, who was currently looming beside him with a distinctly unfriendly air, held up both hands and retreated to the nearest table to nurse his beer. Pro: Watch Spike take snotty college kids to the cleaners.
The frat guys hadn't gotten to the point of sounding belligerent yet, but it was beginning to penetrate that their earlier lucky streak against the supposedly inexperienced English guy had run out. Hopefully Spike would have the sense to quit while he was ahead. Sense? Wait, this is Spike. David folded his arms and watched as Spike prowled his way down the pool table, his jaw jutting forward. From his vast store of personal encounters with guys who would just as soon pound you in the teeth as look at you, Xander judged that David was still a ways from exploding, but he was getting there.
"I've won again, haven't I? Fancy!"
Further pro: I won't have to cover Spike's bets to avoid a serious ass-whooping.
A lighter, feminine voice cut through the riot of voices in the background. "...told Kevin I liked him, but that I didn't like him like him..."
Xander frowned. That sounded like...
David’s basso rumble overwhelmed it. "...look, one breaking shot, double or nothing..."
Spike fiddled with his cue, distressed. "I don't know, chaps, hadn't I better leave off? Luck can't last forever, you know. Still...not really sporting of me, is it...?"
"...can't believe he said that right in the middle of Mrs. Doormann's class, of all places--"
Xander stiffened and buried his nose in his beer, shading his face with one hand as Dawn, Lisa, and a third girl he vaguely recalled as Morgan (or possibly Megan) sashayed by on their way to the ladies' room, all too-casual hair flips and considerably more makeup than Xander remembered from having dropped Dawn off at Lisa’s place earlier. Wait a minute. Why am I hiding from them? He straightened up and assumed the awful mantle of adult authority--hopefully Dawn would notice. "Hey! Dawn! Aren’t you out a little late?"
Dawn froze at the sound of his voice, and a second later the other two girls, realizing something was amiss, did the same. Her eyes widened in horror. "Xander?" she squeaked.
"Dawn?" Spike's white-blond head snapped up and he stopped mid-shot, eyes narrowing. He set his cue down against the side of the pool table, but he didn't get more than a half-step away before David's meaty hand clamped down on his shoulder.
"Hey! If you think you can walk out now--"
"Sod off." Spike shrugged the hand off and stalked over to Xander's table. Looked like ‘William' had taken a powder. "Bloody hell, Bit, it's after midnight. Does Buffy know you're about?"
Dawn grabbed Spike's arm, all but bouncing up and down in agony. "Oh, God, Spike, you're not gonna tell her, are you?" she pleaded. "We were just about to head home, honest! She'll get all freaked out over nothing, you know how she gets--"
That earned her the raised eyebrow thing. "Yeh, and you know how I get, so the odds of my letting you toddle off home through downtown Hellmouth unescorted would be..?"
Megan's (or possibly Morgan's) jaw dropped, taking in the vampire's full bleached-blond and black-denimed glory. Spike, engaged in a heavy-duty glowering match with Dawn, failed to notice. "That's Spike? Oh. My. GOD. I thought you said he was, like, a million years old!" She tossed her head, toying with her streaked hair, and batted her heavily mascara’d lashes at Xander. "And you're kinda cute too. Geez, Dawn, introduce us!"
Dawn's look could have melted titanium. "Could you possibly be a little more desperate?" she hissed. "I don't think the entire bar heard you." She waved an unenthused hand from one side of the group to the other. "Spike, Xander, jailbait. Megan, Lisa, engaged guy and... uh... Spike."
A Death Star-sized shadow intervened between them and the nearest overhead light; David and Shaun were approaching, pool cues in hand, looming with menace aforethought. "Look, the family reunion's touching," David said, smacking his cue into his palm. "But there's a little matter of two hundred bucks we need to settle. NOW."
"Hold your water, you feeble-minded tossers!" Spike snatched the cue away and shook a admonitory finger at Dawn. "You budge one inch before I get back and I swear I'll nail your feet to the floor with tent pegs--gerroff, you!" Megan, who'd been inching coyly closer with an eye towards some arm-grabbing of her own, hopped back in a shower of giggles.
David blinked. "When did he start talking like that?"
"You know, this is a really good night for me so far," Xander said brightly. Dawn groaned.
Under the watchful eyes of Shaun and David, Spike strode back to the pool table, all pretense of amateurishness abandoned. He bent over, took aim, let fly with his cue in one smooth, economical stroke and stood back with a clinical eye to observe the balls scattering every which way over the felt. "Four, five, six..." He turned to David with a lift of his scarred eyebrow and the patented Spike smirk. "I believe you gents said double or nothing?"
"Fuck!" Shaun screeched. "There's no fuckin' way you could make that fuckin' shot! This is fucked, man!"
"Some of us are," Spike agreed.
"Too fucking right!"
Con: get the shit beat out of you afterwards because Spike can't defend himself against snotty college boys who want their two hundred dollars back.
Lisa shrieked as Spike ducked Shaun's wild swing with the pool cue. Xander leaped to his feet; not only was Spike unable to hurt a human without setting off his chip, the cues were wood and there was an outside chance that Shaun might accidentally impale Spike and do some real damage. Not to mention that if Buffy found out they'd gotten Dawn into a bar fight, there would be no end to the messy painful death she'd arrange for both of them. He gut-punched a totally unsuspecting Shaun, who doubled over with a shocked, painful ‘whoof!'--Xander didn't have super-strength, but he'd been fighting vampires for six years and working construction for two, and had considerable muscle to show for it. "RUN!" he yelled, shoving Dawn ahead of him.
Spike shot one gleeful yellow-eyed look at David, and Xander could all but read his mind. A second later the vampire had gone all fangs and brow ridges, lunging at David with a "RRAARRGGGH!" David yelled and fell backwards onto the pool table. Spike vaulted gracefully over his head and hit the floor at a dead run, swooping up Megan and Lisa in the process, though it was difficult to tell if this was out of a sense of responsibility for Dawn's friends or simply because they happened to be in his way. He caught up to Xander at the door and all five of them pounded out into the parking lot, the girls squealing and the men laughing maniacally. Bad Xander! This is not in any way amusing!
Spike yanked open the driver's door of the DeSoto, hopped in and gunned the engine. "Pile in, children!" he caroled as David and Shaun, accompanied by several equally large and irate friends, appeared silhouetted in the doorway of the bar. Xander grabbed shotgun by virtue of superior size, and the three girls crammed themselves into the back seat. “Can't a vamp get a break around here?" Spike gasped, tears of laughter running down his once-more-human cheeks as they tore out of the parking lot at indecent speed. "I wasn't even cheating that time!"
"Someone up there just likes you, I guess," said Xander. “So did they pay you any of the money before the big fraidy runaway?”
“Not a quid.”
Something palm-sized and heavy landed on his lap with a thump. Xander grabbed it reflexively--leather? Spike was wearing the insane-vamp grin again.
“But I did manage to nick his wallet on the way out.”
It could have been worse. It could have been Buffy. It could have been worse...
Dawn kept repeating her new mantra as the DeSoto roared along the dark streets, despite scant hope that it would bring inner peace any time soon. It had all seemed like such a foolproof plan when Lisa had suggested it. Lisa’s dad was out of town, and her mother slept with earplugs because of her insomnia, so arranging a sleepover at her place and using it as a cover for a night on the town was easy. Catching the late bus over to the college was equally simple. Buffy sometimes patrolled near the college, but if she wanted a break she always went to the Bronze, or more rarely, to Willy’s. No one she knew ever went to Benders.
Which was probably why Spike had picked it to hustle pool in. Life just wasn’t fair.
Despite the embarrassment of being caught, Dawn had to admit to a smidgen of relief, since while getting to Benders had been easy, the buses stopped running at midnight, and their plans for getting back home had been a little shaky. Neither Spike nor Xander seemed too upset with her, outside Spike’s usual outrageous threats of bodily harm; in fact, their victory over the forces of the Letter Jacket Brigade had left them both bouncing off the walls. Spike was steering with one hand and extracting David’s cash from the purloined wallet with the other, while Xander rummaged through the vampire’s CDs making gagging noises.
“Devo, crap. Sex Pistols, crap. Butthole Surfers, crap... don’t you have anything less than twenty years old in here?--hey! This is mine!” Xander shook Murder in front of Spike’s nose.
“What can I say? The title speaks to me. There’s a Linkin Park in there somewhere.”
Xander gave up and slapped a random CD into the machine and the dulcet strains of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” blasted out into the night. He eyed the wallet-excavating process. “You’re only gonna take as much as they owed you, right?”
“Uh... yeah. ‘Course. Bugger all, I have to--double or nothing would have made four hundred, and there’s not three hundred here.” Spike tossed Xander two twenties. “Here’s your beer money, shill. How d’you fancy pool sharking as an occupation?”
“I’m not quitting my day job.” Xander tucked the money into his shirt pocket behind his rescued CD as Spike rolled down the window and made to chuck the wallet out. “Hey, hold on to that! There’s got to be ID in there, we can mail it back to him tomorrow or something.”
Spike slouched down in the driver’s seat, lit a cigarette and draped his arm out the window, trailing smoke. “Altogether too much work being a white hat if you ask me,” he grumbled, but tossed Xander the wallet again.
Dawn chewed on a lock of her hair. “Are you guys gonna tell...” she asked apprehensively.
Xander looked up from his examination of the wallet; he was apparently scrupulous enough to want to give it back, but not scrupulous enough to refrain from poking through David’s stuff. “Well--”
“Your sis has enough on her mind right now,” Spike interrupted. “No need to add to her worries, eh?” Dawn slumped back in the seat, relief flooding over her; of course Spike would come through. “If I catch you out running around without your leash again, mind, I’ll be taking you home in a plastic baggie.” He threw Lisa a look over the back of the seat. “Where’s your place again?”
Once out of immediate danger, Lisa had lapsed into temporary shell shock, and was currently staring fixedly at the place in the rear-view mirror where Spike’s reflection wasn’t. “Twenty-fourth and Ramada,” she got out in a subdued squeak. “You can take Wilkins south.”
Spike pursed his lips, figuring out trajectories. “Right then. I’ve got a stop or two to make and you’ll be home by two.”
“He’s not gonna kill us?” Lisa whispered.
“He can’t hurt you,” Dawn whispered back. “He’s got this chip--”
“And very good ears,” Spike interrupted. “And I could so kill you if I really wanted. Just so happens I don’t want to. Nyah.”
Dawn kicked the back of the seat. “Stop it! You’re gonna make Lisa pee her pants!”
“Not in my bloody car. And put your damned seatbelt on, it’s down in there somewhere.”
The first stop was Kohlermann’s Fine Meats, very likely the world’s only twenty-four hour butcher’s shop. Spike picked up two pounds of raw liver and several gallons of pig’s blood in quart containers, and spent a quarter-hour chatting up Benny Kohlermann, who worked the night shift. Back at the car, he stuck a straw through the lid of one of the blood containers and wedged it into the plastic drink holder up front like a Big Gulp, which didn’t help Lisa’s mental state any. Dawn accrued major unflapability points by nonchalantly helping pack the rest of the blood into the cooler in the DeSoto’s trunk. The second stop was the twenty-four hour Safeway on Wilkins, where Lisa thawed slightly, though she kept giving Spike’s lack of reflection in the store security mirrors surreptitious glances, and she’d tugged her cross necklace to the outside of her blouse.
Oddly enough, Dawn couldn’t remember Buffy having worn her cross necklace since coming back from the dead.
“Are you sure he’s... safe?” Lisa whispered to Dawn as the stood in the checkout line with Spike’s several purchases. Dawn shrugged, glancing at the vampire with a proprietary smile. Spike was the most and the least safe person she knew. Supposedly you could tell a lot about a person from their grocery list; what exactly a carton of Marlboro Reds, Nestle’s extra-rich cocoa mix, a block of extra-sharp cheddar, one bag of yellow apples, a jar of Jiffy extra-chunky peanut butter, and a random assortment of items from the Dry Crunchy Things To Dip In Blood food group added up to, Dawn wasn’t sure, unless it was that Spike was a sucker for anything with ‘extra’ on the label.
“He won’t hurt you, if that’s what you mean.” She felt a little sorry for Lisa; she’d run into Spike around the Summers house on several occasions and knew him as a friend of Buffy’s. Like most people who’d grown up in Sunnydale, Lisa was aware that there were things that stalked the darkness just outside the circles of lamplight--but also like most in Sunnydale, Lisa’s family never talked about them. Seeing Spike go all bumpy in public was a shock. It was tough, having to learn about vampires on the streets.
Megan was having no such difficulties. Megan always meant well, but she was blessedly free of the ravages of intellect, whether by nature or by choice. The fact that the dreamy blond guy had temporarily grown fangs wasn’t anywhere near enough to discourage her. She gazed admiringly at the back of Spike’s sleek head. “How come you never told us you hung out with all these hunky guys, Dawn?”
“It’s just Spike and Xander.” Dawn tried to inject the proper note of indifferent disdain as they followed the grocery-laden guys out to the parking lot. It was true she’d had a crush on both of them at one time or another, but that had been ages ago--last year, for crying out loud!--and she was over that now. It was excruciatingly embarrassing to be reminded of it. She wouldn’t have minded nursing her Spike-crush for longer, but Dawn was perceptive enough to know from the moment her sister had gone storming off to Spike’s crypt in the Lacy Red Blouse of Protesting Too Much to tell him that she had absolutely, positively no interest in him whatsoever that Spike’s unattached days were numbered. Of course at the time she’d had no idea that Spike would do something as colossally stupid as tying Buffy up and threatening to feed her to his ex, but... there was Spike for you. At least he’d learned his lesson. Maybe a little too well.
Back in the car, Megan leaned forward till her pert nose was practically in Spike’s ear, folding her arms on the back of the front seat. “Ohmigod, you’re totally a vampire, aren’t you?” she gushed, jiggling up and down on the seat. “Do you know my sister?” She giggled self-consciously. “That sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Like, ‘I live in New York’, ‘Do you know my uncle?’ But there’s not as many vampires as people in New York, otherwise we’d all be, like, Lunchables by now, right?”
It was probably a good thing, Dawn thought, that Spike’s expression wasn’t visible in the mirror.
“Actually my sister’s in Acapulco right now--I got a postcard.” Megan tossed her hair proudly. “She’s doing, like, this self-actualization thing, y’know, but she might be home for Christmas. Except Mom disinvited her since last time she stayed at our place she ate the maid, and Mom is utterly strict about not letting us have food in our rooms, so seeing as you’re both vampires and all--Hey, could you make me a vampire? Harm said it was totally intense.”
The toe of Dawn’s Reeboks bumped into an empty Jack Daniels bottle half-sunk in the sea of fast food wrappers and empty blood bags littering the floor of the back seat. Perhaps with enough sincere mental effort, she could shrink herself small enough to fit inside and free herself from the abomination that was Megan in flirt mode. What she could see of Spike’s profile was wearing a sort of glazed, desperate look, as of a man revisiting horrors he’d thought long departed. “No.” He took a long pull at his pig’s blood Slurpee and ran his tongue over his teeth, apparently struck by a cheering thought. “But as a special favor I might be persuaded to drain you dry and leave your shrunken corpse by the wayside.”
Megan shrieked with laughter and Xander swivelled round in his seat to gaze upon her with a look in his dark eyes which approached awe. “Your last name wouldn’t be Kendall, would it?”
“It is!” Megan gave him an arch look. “How’d you guess?”
“I went to school with Harmony.” An evil smile crept across his face; obviously Spike was rubbing off. “And Spike--”
Spike shuddered. “Tried to kill her once. Didn’t take, unfortunately.”
Megan dissolved into giggles again. “You’re funny.”
Dawn scrunched down on the seat, trying to sink straight through the leather upholstery. That’s it, I’m in hell.
Lisa’s family lived on the opposite side of Weatherly Park, and they’d just turned off Wilkins onto Twenty-Fourth and were cruising down the long stretch of road bordering the park. A shadow moved on the road ahead, and Spike slammed on the brakes before Dawn’s brain had time to register it was there. “What was that?” Xander asked, craning his neck out the window.
Spike frowned, stroking the steering wheel with his thumbs and staring out into the tangled mass of trees. The branches overhanging the road were half-bare, and the breeze chased little drifts of ghost-grey leaves across the black asphalt ahead. “Some bird over there on the side of the road,” he said. “Thought for a minute she was going to take a header into traffic the way old Willy did the other night. She’s just sittin’ there, now--no, wait, here she comes.”
Amidst the fitful stirring of the leaves a darker patch moved. Dawn squinted, trying to make out the figure through the DeSoto’s half-blacked-out windshield, but she couldn’t make out anything more than an indistinct shape against the trees for several minutes. Then a woman materialized out of the night, heading for forty, with short flyaway hair which might have been sandy blonde in daylight. She was wearing a dark jogging suit, making her even harder to see, and she broke into an awkward, exhausted run when she got near the car. She flung herself at the DeSoto, clinging to the handle on the driver’s door with both hands and supporting herself on it. Up close, it was obvious even in the dim light that her face was smudged and leaves clung to her clothes in several places. “Oh, God, you stopped!” she cried. “You’ve got to help him--it’s back there, in the trees--they’ve got him!”
“They?” Xander was already getting out of the car. “They who?”
“I don’t--back, by the--the--” She began to sob, pointing shakily back into the depths of the park.
“You got any weapons back there?” Xander asked, heading for the trunk.
Spike sighed and got out of the car. “Bloody hell. Whoever said there was no rest for the wicked apparently never gave virtue a go. When don’t I?” He took the keys from the ignition and went round to unlock the trunk; while Xander was pulling out the implements of destruction, Spike came back up to the front of the car and handed the keys to Dawn.
“Get up into the front seat now, Pidge, and lock yourselves in,” he said in the tone that brooked no argument or wheedling. “If we’re not back in fifteen minutes, take this lot home and then go get your sister. She should be back from patrol by now.”
Dawn looked up at the vampire’s angular face, closed her fist on the car keys and nodded. She crawled over the back of the front seat and settled into the driver’s seat as Spike closed the door. She felt for the floor pedals with her feet, getting used to their positions again. Not too bad. When he’d first started teaching her to drive (as Spike had neither license, registration, nor insurance, he’d assured her that her lack of a learner’s permit was no obstacle) they’d had to adjust the seat for her, but she’d grown over the summer; she wasn’t that much shorter than Spike now. She heard Xander slam the trunk closed behind them and looked up at Spike, trying to be mature and capable, and flashed him a smile full of confidence she didn't feel. “OK. I can handle it.”
His expression remained serious, but there was a flash of... pride, maybe? in his eyes, and his hand, cool and dry and reassuringly large for someone his size, rested on her shoulder for a moment. “I know.”
Then he was gone in a flurry of black leather, he and Xander disappearing into the interlacing darkness of the trees with the sobbing woman tugging them along, and Dawn was left in the dark with a sinking feeling in her stomach and Megan and Lisa in the back seat. For several minutes no one spoke.
“You can DRIVE?” Megan asked.
Continued in Part 7