All About Spike

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The Sick Rose
By FayJay

Sequel to Bone Chapel; part of Prague Series

FEEDBACK: Pope. Shit. Woods.
CONTACT: pandorapandarus@hotmail.com
ARCHIVE/DISTRIBUTION: Bugger This, fanfiction.net, List Archives. Others please ask first.
SUMMARY: Spike and Dru get their come-uppance. Self-contained, but follows ‘Painted Eggs’ and ‘Bone Chapel’ to conclude the Czech adventures of Spike and Drusilla. (FayJay home page. )
SPOILERS: Pre-Sunnydale – set just before BtVS Season 2.
CONTENT/WARNINGS: Sex (Het & Slash). Violence. I subscribe to the ‘unchipped-&-unsoulled-vampires-are-very-nasty-pieces-of-work’ school of fiction. Romantic, yes. Passionate, yes. Amoral and cruel – also yes.
RATING: NC17.
DISCLAIMER: I am not now, nor have I ever been, Numfar. Not even a little bit. The characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui, Sandollar, and David Greenwalt Productions, 20th Century Fox, and whoever else may have a hold upon them. The situation is wholly mine, and I do not mean to infringe upon any copyrights.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Grateful thanks to Rebecca Lizard for heroic Beta work, and to Herself and Kalima for nagging me to finish the darned thing. For Spike’s Bitches, without whom...



The Honeymoon Suite at the Hotel Europa came complete with champagne on ice, a spray of blood-bright roses in a crystal vase and a pair of dinky little chocolates wrapped in green foil and nestled in the clean white pillows. Jiri, laden with boxes and bags, followed The Crazy Americans down the corridor towards their suite with a tolerant smile and high hopes of imminent enrichment. Their clothes were expensive and they carried themselves with the unthinking confidence that came from absolute security. Rich as Midas, or Jiri would eat his hat. The girl was singing to herself, swinging a porcelain doll in one hand and her sweetheart’s hand in the other; foreigners were peculiar creatures and no mistake.

When they reached the entrance to the suite Mr Van Helsing produced his newly acquired keys with a flourish, unlocked the door and then scooped the giggling girl up in his arms and carried her over the threshold. (“Van Helsing” indeed! But it made a change from “Smith” and the staff were happy enough to cater to tourists’ whims when they had such huge wads of hard currency.) Jiri had noticed no sign of wedding rings, but that was not unusual in this day and age; and by the time he had carried all their gear into the room they were wrapped around one another on the bed and kissing like they had just invented it. Jiri waited patiently by the bags. When it became perfectly clear that no crisp handful of dollars or crowns was going to be forthcoming Jiri’s smile leaked away. He stalked out into the corridor muttering Czech imprecations under his breath and left them to their rapt contemplation of one another.

“Naughty,” said Drusilla after several minutes of quiet tussling. “He wanted a tip, Spike.”   She was sitting astride his waist, the folds of her black satin skirts bunched up around them like the topsy turvy petals of a discarded, full-blown rose.

“He’s alive, isn’t he?” replied Spike. “No pleasing some people.”

He buried one hand in the sea of dark fabric, seeking out the sharp curve of her hip and then cupping it firmly once it was found.

“Do you like it, pet?”

He meant the Honeymoon Suite, the Art Nouveau Hotel, the tourist-glutted city, this century, this life; but the wicked little glance she shot him and the irresistible circling of her slender hips over his groin put a slightly different slant on his words. Dru dipped her head towards him until the soft lustre of her hair hid the rest of the room, and the pressure of her lips on his answered all Spike’s questions without recourse to speech.

And after all, it was early afternoon; what better way to while away the sunlight?

*

Spike showered briskly, scrubbing blood out from under his fingernails and soaping away the smells of champagne and semen and his darling’s sweet quim with some reluctance. Getting messy had been entirely delicious and the maid had arrived at the perfect moment, just as he was weighing up the pros and cons of calling room service. They had made her change the bed linen before they ate her.

The shampoo smelled of some kind of herb. As he massaged it into his scalp Spike made a mental note to swing by a chemist’s for a box of bleach once he’d dumped the maid’s body. He always took great care to hide his roots.

“Spoike,” she pronounced his name. It still sent a little shiver of tenderness through him to hear her betraying her origins with that accent. Nonsense, of course, to think of such things – hierarchy among vampires had entirely different rules, and yet it seemed that his class-consciousness was ingrained even beyond the grave. It shamed him. Drusilla’s voice was a strange vulnerability; it labelled her as the daughter of a tradesman scrabbling his way into the middle classes without the money to pay for her elocution lessons. She sounded common. She was the most uncommon of creatures, a fairytale princess whose humble origins were a presage of greatness; but she sounded common. She sounded like the little match girl plucked out of life and obscurity by a passing angel. The contrast with William’s cultured tones couldn’t have been more marked and in time it had come to trouble him. She was beyond such pettiness, but he could not bear the thought of seeming to put himself above his princess in any way. Their accents had all blurred with time and travel anyway, and with the influence of each other’s speech patterns, but Angelus had still mocked and mocked when he decided to adopt her accent wholesale and shed the name ‘William’ altogether. Darla’s contempt was less vocal and more withering.

Drusilla had accepted it like a new game, sublimely oblivious to the delicacy that motivated him. But he was glad to embrace even this trivial little facet of his darling girl, giving up the last reminders of his life to honour her.

Since they had been up most of the day, first packing and then making their way underground to the cellars of the Europa with enough luggage for a small army (how ever had they managed to gather so many possessions in so short a time?), Drusilla was now thoroughly drowsy and sated and disinclined to hunt. Spike, in contrast, was ready to run a marathon and take on a pub-load of drunks. But if Dru were in a mood to be waited upon, then Spike was more than happy to go out a-wandering the streets of Prague alone to find her some tasty human morsel. He’d been trying to be more careful since the witch burning, but he’d paid attention to the headlines and it seemed that they’d got away with it. Again. Theirs really was a charmed life.

Spike grinned as he towelled himself down, thinking about the evening’s entertainment with gleeful anticipation. He could get rid of the corpse, steal some more hair dye, spill a little blood, ravish a few tourists and perhaps pick up a gift for his girl along the way.

*

He used to be quite partial to a spot of absinthe. The sight of Gary Oldman’s Dracula swigging the stuff, however, had given Spike a definite distaste for the green liquor - and indeed for Gary Oldman, of whom he had previously been rather fond. Instead he accepted a foaming pint of Pilsner Urquell and surveyed the human contents of The Golden Tiger pub with a speculative glint in his eye. It was ridiculously busy, but he just didn’t see anyone he fancied - although he was aware of being checked out by a number of men and women. They would do well enough for a quick bite, but he wanted to get Drusilla something special.

Perhaps jewellery was a better idea, or some fragile wisp of lace.

His attention was finally snared by a fresh-faced young Australian; a big, bonnie, brawny lad with a tumble of golden curls and a disarming baritone. Shoulders and hands that reminded him of Angelus, but the face bespoke sunshine and surfing and uncomplicated pleasures. He was alone, but wholly unintimidated by the mass of beer-swilling strangers surrounding him. The boy caught his eye and grinned at him. Spike smiled back.

His smile deepened when the Australian held his gaze for half a beat longer than necessary – the half a beat that amounted to foreplay in a certain kind of bar. Interesting. Not Drusilla’s type, this one, but potentially entertaining nevertheless. He stepped a little closer.

“You meeting somebody, mate?”

“Guess I just have,” the Australian said with another lingering smile. “Name’s Sean.”

“Spike.”  They drank in companionable silence for a few moments while the tide of eager tourists ebbed and flowed around the bar.

“So this is where they all come, then, eh, The Golden Tiger? Clinton, Hrabal, Havel, all those guys?”

“Apparently so,” Spike said, glancing around at the horde of mundane men and women as he patted his pockets in search of the silver lighter he’d stolen in Budapest. He found it, lit a battered Marlboro and took a lungful of the smoke without any further comment. He didn’t feel very much like small talk; had rather hoped this human might prove a bit more entertaining than the rest of the crowd, but apparently not.

“Well it’s boring as fuck, mate,” said Sean after a few moments. “Where’s the action around here?”

Spike grinned. Perhaps he’d been too hard on the boy. He caught Sean’s eye and held it for a space, then let his glance slide down to the wide mouth and the freshly shaved chin and then linger on the tender skin sheathing his Adam’s apple. Delicious. His upper body was well muscled - a rugby player’s physique. Spike’s glance trailed lower and he was satisfied to see the boy’s slumbering, denim-encased cock stirring under his attention. He looked back up into the wide green eyes and was rewarded with a lovely expression of straightforward lust.

As Spike licked his lips and lifted the brimming glass of Pilsner, the jostling arm of a large local made him splash beer down the front of his red shirt and interrupted a rather pleasant train of thought. He set the glass back down on the counter and then looked slowly from his wet shirt to the human responsible and back again.

“How d’you feel about bar fights?” he asked. Sean’s sleepy eyes lit up and a broad grin stole over his wholesome face.

“Here? Now? You’re off your fucking head, mate!” But he sounded rather taken with the idea.

Spike turned to the group of Czechs on his right and grabbed the shoulder of the shirt-wrecker, twisting him around.

“You spilled my pint,” he said evenly. The man scowled in utter incomprehension. “D’you speak English? Mluvite Anglicky?”

“Ne,” replied the Czech, looking thoroughly pissed off.

It was not that Spike couldn’t speak languages other than his own – in point of fact he was fluent in quite a number by now – but he generally preferred not to as a matter of principle. This, however, was an exception. He smiled sweetly at the various meaty faces turned towards him.

“Your country stinks of shit, your women are all whores, Havel copulates with pigs and your beer tastes like goat piss,” Spike said, in loud and perfectly accented Czech.

That did the trick.

*

Afterwards, bruised and bleeding and retaining the semblance of human form by the very skin of his teeth, Spike stalked out of the pub with an expression of battered triumph. That would teach the fucker not to spill people’s pints. Sean - who had handled himself quite respectably in the fight - stumbled along at his heels, fingering his tender jaw and walking with a slight limp. Drusilla was far from bored with the city, so Spike had made a point of not killing anyone in public - didn’t want to have to flee the local bobbies just yet. Spike was reasonably sure none of the motionless bodies littering the floor of The Golden Tiger was actually dead. This, in his considered opinion, constituted keeping a low profile.

“That lively enough for you?” he asked, glancing back at his Australian with a fierce little grin.

“You really are a mad bastard,” said Sean, sounding awed and a little afraid.

There was blood coming from the corner of his mouth and it proved entirely irresistible. Spike grabbed him and dragged him down the nearest alley. Sean was taller than Spike, putting the hollow of his throat in line with Spike’s mouth; he closed his lips over the tantalising Adam’s apple and sucked, feeling the blood rise up under the skin but pulling away before he broke the soft layer of tissue. He found the trickle of dried blood on the lad’s chin and licked it back to the corner of his parted lips, settling into a feeding kiss that tasted every recess of the boy’s mouth before returning its attention to the luscious little leaking wound. Spike could feel the itch of the demon mask just beneath the surface of his skin, and controlled it with some difficulty. The large hands that clutched his arse provoked a shiver at the visceral memory of Angelus. But now was not then, and Spike was the only one calling the shots these days. He wrapped his own hands around Sean’s face and stepped back, forcing the lad to look at him.

“Take your clothes off,” Spike said. The boy blinked.

“But I’d rather…”

“I said. Take. Your. Fucking. Clothes. Off,” repeated Spike. “Now.”

Sean scrambled to comply, the memory of Spike’s unexpected strength still uppermost in his mind. He’d been utterly astonished (and not a little turned on) by the skill and no-holds-barred ferocity with which Spike had flung himself into the fighting – like  a peroxide Bruce Lee on speed. Arguing with him was right at the top of things Sean really didn’t want to do anytime in the next century.

“Knickers too, pet.”

Spike lit a fag and stood back to watch the boy disrobe, plainly enjoying his shivering self-consciousness. They could hear people walking along Husova Street a scant few yards away and Sean had not anticipated finding himself butt naked in an alleyway in the middle of the city. That wasn’t quite how these things usually worked, in his experience, and the unexpected nudity was making him feel exposed in all kinds of ways. But he wasn’t protesting. Within a few minutes Sean was standing with the bare curve of his buttocks and shoulders pressed into the brick wall, glancing down at the bag containing passport and wallet with an expression of sublime misery that was at odds with the way his knob was slapping into his firm belly.

Spike, fully dressed and enjoying it, withdrew the cigarette for a moment to lick the forefinger of his right hand. He ran his finger around the boy’s mouth, making small circles, and then traced a delicate little line down over his throat, dwelling on the firm, smooth flesh of the sternum. Spike stopped smoking long enough to dropped an incongruously chaste kiss on the warm curve of a collarbone and then, cigarette nonchalantly clamped between his lips once more, he rubbed the cool, calloused heels of his left palm over the boy’s perky nipples. He smiled at the moan this elicited and let his hand traverse the trembling skin until it reached the salivating head of his penis. Young Sean had shown plenty of spunk in The Golden Tiger and he’d watched Spike’s back like a good lad. Spike was feeling generous. He’d let the boy show a little more spunk before he died.

He brushed the wet tip with the end of his finger and idly stroked the pulsing underside of his cock, before wrapping a tepid hand around the shaft and beginning to work it firmly. The green eyes widened and then closed and the lad’s breathing grew hoarse and ragged. He bit his lip and after some time began to gasp out the kind of inanities people usually did: “Yes”, “More,” “Fuck,” “God,” and other monosyllables, until Spike gagged him with another sucking kiss. A little later Spike unfastened his own flies left-handed and freed his prick, grinding the cool skin of his erection roughly against the lad’s bollocks. Sean’s fingers dug into the vampire’s shoulder and he let out a helpless moan of pure sensation as his hips bucked in that distinctive way and he finally came into Spike’s waiting palm.

In the hazy moment that followed, Spike rubbed the spunk over his cock and slipped a sticky finger between the human’s thighs and up into the hot little bud of clenched flesh, readying it for his first thrust. Sean’s eyes peeled open in puzzlement, but before he quite knew what was happening Spike had angled the warm pelvis according to his needs, wriggled the head of his cock into the tight passage and then slammed in, lifting a thigh in each hand and wrapping the lad’s legs around his waist. It was not an especially comfortable position for either of them, and Spike could smell fresh blood as the boy’s skin rasped against the rough bricks behind him.

“What the fuck?” Sean was astounded at the ease with which the slighter man had picked him up and bent him into this shape. “Shit, what are you – what – you’re not wearing a fucking condom, are you, you mad fucking bastard!” He thrashed against the wall and when his wriggling only made Spike smile he eventually pulled back his fist and punched the vampire in the face. Spike never missed a beat, but he let the human mask melt away like butter on a hot griddle and Sean yelped at the sight.

“Yeah, what big teeth I have, eh? All the better to eat you with, my dear,” said Spike, his hips hammering away as his fangs came down on the boy’s neck.

*

Faces drawn in the candlelight, bare eyes raw and bruised from too many sleepless nights and long hours of angry weeping. Nothing self-consciously mystical about their clothes, no tinkling earrings or hair shirts for the spell-casting. Businesslike. Ruthless. Bent on revenge.

At the centre of the circle: a bracelet of uneven amber beads threaded on a slender braid of smoke-tainted human hair. Tiny specks of dried blood freckling the limpid stones.

Beneath the bracelet: a battered square of celluloid. A pale remembered face trapped by light and chemicals, smiling out of the past. Guileless as sunlight. Guilty as sin.

*

It was a flyer pressed into his hand by a bored teenager that gave him the idea. Puppets. Spike couldn’t imagine why it hadn’t occurred to him before, because if ever a gift had ‘Drusilla’ written all over it in gilt-edged letters, then this was surely it. There were toy shops a-plenty in the streets of the Old Town selling puppets of kings and queens, witches and devils, The Good Soldier Svejk, even Vaclav Havel and Bill Clinton; but Spike had no intention of getting his girl any cheap tourist rubbish. Besides, the blurry photograph on the flyer had shown the very doll for him.

The Marionette Theatre was easy enough to find and easier still to break into; Spike strode through the corridors backstage with an aura of such businesslike self assurance that, although the evening’s performance was still a couple of hours away, nobody had the nerve to question him.

In spite of himself he found the storeroom slightly disconcerting; a host of miniature manikins suspended from the ceiling by hair-fine wires, their dead eyes staring blankly at the door. The carving was very fine, though – far better than the tourist-fodder – with exaggerated expressions of dumb rapture and comical dismay curving mouths and brows into parodies of life. He thought about Miss Edith, and the brittle Easter eggs Dru had arranged snugly on her dressing table in an improvised nest of silk scarves and reddened feathers torn from a flailing swan. The puppets would be just her cup of tea.

The dolls for the current production dangled from hooks at the front of the room; and Spike tangled his fingers in the threads, tearing the little figures down until he found the ones from the flyer –Snow White and her dashing Prince. She was ideal - Drusilla in dainty miniature. The dark hair and Neanderthal brow of the little puppet prince would never do, though; it reminded Spike of things he didn’t much fancy remembering. He plucked the doll from its strings and enjoyed the pitiful little snap as he broke each joint in turn: satisfying as the crackle of brittle human finger bones splintering in his grasp. He dropped the fragments underfoot and browsed through the racks of marionettes in search of a more appropriate figure, finally settling on a roguish little blond pirate king clad in a dapper gold waistcoat over a billowing white shirt and black satin breeches, a tin cutlass clasped in one tiny wooden hand. Not bad. He carried his prize back to Snow White and admired them together.

They made the perfect couple.

*

The Globe Bookshop was quite full, considering that it was so far off the beaten tourist track. The people in here didn’t think of themselves as tourists, though. “Travellers”, every one of them, as if such semantics meant anything at all. Spike wandered down an aisle of second-hand books, scanning the battered spines with mild interest. One title caught his eye. He pulled out a horror paperback and glanced at the back-cover blurb: "Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red." Clive Barker – an Englishman after his own heart. He grinned and slotted it back into place. A little further along the same shelf there was a hardback edition of the collected writings of William Blake – now *that* was more tempting. Blake knew a thing or two, to be sure; Spike had heard a rumour that the old boy had been a Watcher at one point, but had lost the plot when his Slayer died. Wouldn’t surprise him in the least.

Drusilla was not a great reader herself, but she was partial to eating poets, and painters, and other such fanciful dreamers of dreams. Spike had a speculative eye on a charmingly gauche little redhead loitering before the poetry shelves in the New Books section; all soft curves and freckles, with her hair pinned up haphazardly and not-quite-fashionable glasses that kept slipping down her slightly-too-long nose. Adorable. Not pretty, but quite possibly beautiful.

He followed her receding form discreetly, admiring the concave flare of her waist and the translucency of her skin. The nape of her neck was slightly sun-scorched from wearing her hair up during the day. Spike could already imagine the heat of it under his mouth, and he gazed at the frayed lacework of her peeling skin with a predatory little smile. She rounded the central stack of shelves and Spike sidled along a few paces behind, one hand loosely clasping The Collected Works of Blake and the other trailing absently along the spines of the books he passed.

His attention was caught by a flurry of movement at the door and Spike paused on the balls of his feet, taking in the new arrivals with interest. Dark eyes, dark hair, olive complexions ripened in the sun to a warm near-chocolate. For a moment he couldn’t decide whether they were brothers or friends, so alike the two lads looked. A brush of hand on arse and the quality of a smile suggested that they were neither, and upon closer inspection he realised that the impression of similarity owed more to gesture and expression than to actual physiognomy. Latin lovers. He’d have hazarded a guess at Romanian or Macedonian but the cut and colour of their clothing indicated western tailoring rather than post-Soviet block. He drifted closer, aware that the girl was paying for her books of verse and escaping into the darkness but no longer interested as he followed the two matching fawns into the Globe’s coffee shop.

*

“Mind if I join you gents?” It was a reasonable request, since there were no empty tables. The couple glanced up automatically, wearing twin expressions of irritation that faded as they took in Spike’s dangerously disarming smile and the acres of black leather.

He took the empty seat and scanned the menu casually, aware of two pairs of liquid brown eyes fixed upon him as he inclined his bleached head and read with an appearance of fascination. He noticed the shop’s motto “In libris, veritas; in kava, vita” - In books, truth; in coffee, life. Thought about the tatty Clive Barker paperback with its gruesome cover and smiled to himself as he waved at the waitress and ordered a double round of plum brandy for himself and his unsuspecting new “books of blood”. “In Libris, Vitae” was more like it.

After the fourth glass of slivovice they were all the very best of friends. It transpired that, despite their Arcadian appearance, the pair were Londoners; Londoners of Italian extraction, but Londoners just the same. Gianni and Bob. (“Roberto. But everyone calls me Bob, except my mum.”) They were childhood sweethearts, no less – grew up together, since some 25 years earlier their dads had moved to London from the same little town outside Verona, married a pair of good Italian girls and all set up together in the restaurant business. (Gianni rolled his eyes with a sheepish grin at the cliché.) Back in Blackheath Bob and Gianni were, they assured him, so far back in the closet that they were practically on first name terms with Aslan. Their parents were determinedly oblivious and kept pushing appropriate girls at them and dropping hints about grandchildren. Spike found this a little difficult to believe – their body language *screamed* “couple” – but the human capacity for ignoring the obvious never ceased to amaze him. It was very convenient.

Since Gianni and Bob were no more Mancunian than Spike, they were, naturally enough, big fans of Manchester United. They started arguing about the off-side rule and as he ordered more slivovice Spike realised that he was having a fine old time. They smelled of Lux soap, CK1 and of each other, and he thought that Drusilla would find them entirely delightful. The gold medal-standard game of 3 person footsie under the table left him in no doubt that he could get them back to the hotel with perfect ease.

“I’ve got a place,” he said after a while, looking squarely at Bob and then Gianni and savouring the cocktail of pheromones.

Piece of cake.

*

She wasn’t there.

Spike had unlocked the door to let the lads in and then quietly locked it behind him, slipping the key into the duster’s pocket and following Bob and Gianni into the bedroom. He cocked his head slightly to one side as he looked from one firm arse to the other and wondered which boy Dru would nibble first. He expected to find her slithering out from between the cotton sheets at the first sound of their entrance - but there was no sign of her, no scent of her, no sound of her. His drowsy darling had changed her mind and taken to the streets without him.

Spike knew he shouldn’t be piqued, but his lips still formed an involuntary pout. He put the bag of marionettes down on an over-padded chair, feeling oddly cheated. Here was the hunter, home from the hill with puppets to play with and humans to kill – and Sleeping Beauty had put on her glad rags and wandered off to paint the town red. Without him.

Well bugger that for a lark. The pretty little Englishmen were embracing under his nose, wrapped in a positively pornographic pose that was plainly aimed to titillate. It was working. If she didn’t want to stay and play then she could damn well come home to find the toys had been broken in without her.

Patience had never been one of Spike’s virtues.

He stalked forward and pulled the lads apart, hooking a hand into each belt and tugging them both towards him with a degree of force that took them by surprise. Bob moved into the first kiss, which was just what Spike would have expected. He was game for anything, this Roberto; flightier and ballsier and dumber than Gianni. His tongue in Spike’s mouth was carelessly slutty and thoroughly at ease, moving with the practised, teasing skill of a scene queen in the full bloom of youth and beauty. Gianni was only a heartbeat behind, kissing his way along Spike’s cool throat as his hands worked on the vampire’s belt and slipped down the back of his black jeans.

Spike moved his hands to the neck of Bob’s T-shirt and ripped it in half. Bob, jolting out of the snog, looked frankly astonished and more than a little pissed off, but Spike didn’t give him time to start some poofy rant about the cost of designer gear. He picked the lad up, enjoying the warmth of the skin under his hands, and threw him onto the king sized bed. Took in the gob-smacked mixture of emotions on the lad’s face as he ripped open the combats and yanked them down and off. Calvins. But of course. And there was Bob’s todger straining to make its presence known inside them – more a satyr than a fawn, and that was just as Spike had hoped. Gianni was a lucky lad. He felt Gianni’s hand on his shoulder and, turning, saw that Roberto’s lover had already divested himself of his clothes and was already roused and ruddy and raring to go.

Mouths and hands everywhere. Pale arms interlaced with dark ones in an angular chiaroscuro tangle of flesh. A cold tongue licking down the brown curvature of a spine to slide between the cheeks of a youthful arse and slither into the eager little pucker of clenched muscle. Fingers exploring the silken skin of a penis and cupping a softly swinging scrotum. A sharp anklebone grazing the soft flesh of a calf. Messy and awkward and delicious. Gianni was ticklish and tender and prone to laughter at unlikely moments, whilst Roberto thought himself terribly worldly and brazen and seemed acutely conscious of always looking his best, as if he were starring in his own personal porn film.

It was all so bloody *easy*. Almost dull. He wondered what Drusilla was up to.

*

Afterwards he left them handcuffed together on the bed, wrist to ankle. Roberto’s sobs were barely audible through the gag; you’d have thought the little idiot would be grateful to have been the one left alive. Spike thought the whimpering was unlikely to be overheard, but he hung the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign over the handle, just to be on the safe side.

He had taken them both, of course. Roberto missed the moment when Spike separated Gianni from his proud member and gulped down the pulsing arterial blood; Spike had Roberto on his knees at the time, with his face shoved into a pillow and Spike’s cock ploughing into his arse at full steam. It was a little tricky keeping Gianni from collapsing as the strength went out of his legs, but Spike gripped onto the dying man’s right hip and left buttock with a force that left little bloody half-moon nail prints embedded in the cooling skin as he fed. The quality of Gianni’s screams eventually registered with Roberto and had him thrashing under the vampire, but not until it was far too late; and not until Spike’s cold seed had been spent inside him.

*

He didn’t know where to look for her, so he headed for the Metamorphosis, one of the more modern demon bars off Wenceslas Square, and the one in which the two of them had idled away many an evening. Henry, the Jamaican werewolf who ran the place, prided himself on the freshness of the blood and the authenticity of the bourbon – too many bars tried to palm you off with cheap shite shipped over from Turkey in a Jack Daniels bottle, or else they watered down the A Neg with pigs’ blood. Drusilla was especially fond of the music in the Metamorphosis – they played a lot of Bjork and Iva Bittova, and she had managed to persuade the Kankanath behind the bar to lend her his Rasputina album. For seven foot of spiny blue war demon, the Kankanath was surprisingly modern in his musical tastes. It was only a short walk from The Europa, and as good a place as any to start looking for his girl.

He was most surprised to find it closed. Spike stood outside the silent bar, gazing at the stylised stag beetle on the neon sign and weighed up the merits of heading over to the Jewish Cemetery, which he knew she rather liked; but she really could be anywhere at all. It was thoroughly frustrating.

He heard the demon walking up behind him, of course, but he still really wasn’t anticipating the blow. It was a bloody Brachen demon, for Christ’s sake – hardly the most warlike of species.

“What the fuck?” he spluttered as he got to his feet, rounding on the little demon with teeth unleashed and eyes yellow with irritation under his crinkled brow.

“You burnt the witch, didn’t you?” said the demon. Spike stared at him.

“Yes. And?”

The demon was shaking with barely contained fury.

“You stupid bastard. Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

Spike felt the beginnings of fear.

“Had a nice little barbecue, as I recall,” he replied in his best flippant tone.

The little hedgehog fella gawped at him for a moment and then launched another blow at his head, but Spike was ready for it this time and dodged effortlessly, yanking the demon’s prickly arms up behind its back until something broke with a satisfying little crunch. He wasn’t much of a fighter, this one. The demon quivered against him, though whether from pain or emotion he couldn’t readily tell.

“The witch your girlfriend, was she?”

“You stupid bastard,” the demon said. He sounded close to tears. “You stupid, stupid bastard. You’ve broken the truce and now we all pay.”

The nameless dread was getting more difficult to ignore by the minute and the need to find Drusilla was almost a physical ache. He could feel the demon’s pulse clattering against him and twisted the arms harder, taking momentary comfort in the agonised moan that this provoked.

“What truce would that be, then?”

“With the witches, of course. They’ve got a demi-goddess looking out for them, bound to the soil - you never heard of Libushe? Or her sisters? You do not *mess* with the Czech witches. We don’t touch them or theirs and the witches leave us be. Now you’ve broken the damned truce and they’ve been scouring the city for two idiot leeches who think they’re Bonnie and Clyde. They don’t care who they kill to get to you and your girl. Especially the girl.”

Fear blossomed in his veins. He was used to travelling light – gathering possessions for a while but discarding them whenever the time came to flee, or when they had simply grown bored. Threats to his property meant nothing. Threats to himself he rarely heeded. But threats to Dru filled him with blind terror and murderous rage in equal measure.

“Where are they, these witches?” he asked, when he was able to master his voice. The demon made a movement that would have been a shrug, cut off with a whimper of pain. It said nothing. Spike sighed with exaggerated patience and bit off its left ear. As the Bracken screamed he jerked its cactus-spiked head to one side and pressed a vicious little kiss onto the remaining ear before speaking into it.

“We’ll try again, shall we? Where. Are. These. Witches?”

*

Drusilla couldn’t feel her feet bleeding, but the wounds were staining her lace hem with smudges of cinnabar as she paced down the quiet street. Her head was sharply angled, listening to the insistent whisper on the wind and straining to distinguish the words.

Kazi, healer of deep wounds and fatal fevers

Work our will

She couldn’t quite make out what the voices were calling but she knew with absolute certainty that it was something wonderful. Dru’s world was full of marvels and horrors, and she rarely knew which was which. The patterns that she saw about her so plainly often eluded other people – even Angelus, even her Spike – and in turn their reasoning made little sense to her. They seemed oblivious to the most obvious things: the music of the spheres and the burning baby fishes dancing in the ether. She regarded their pitiful incapacity with perfect, if puzzled, equanimity.

Teta, finder of things lost and long forgotten

Work our will

When the voices called her from her bed she had not paused to pull on shoes or lace herself into a frock – and really this should have struck her as strange, but everything had the imperfect logic of a dream. It seemed entirely reasonable to step out of the suite clad in nothing but a nightgown, her pale unstockinged feet shod in nothing but her skin.

Libushe, the knowing one, founder of the city

Libushe, the wise one, bringer of justice

Libushe, the great one, queen among witches.

Find our blood.  Bind our foe.

When she trod through the discarded shards of glass and her sluggish blood seeped onto the cobbles, Drusilla’s slumbering nerves carried no message of pain down the long-dead synapses to her bewitched brain. She still couldn’t quite make out the words, but if she went just a little further she knew that they would be clear.

Dru walked on unhurriedly, tugged by distant voices like an obedient marionette; and each unflinching footstep ground the glass still deeper into her unprotected soles.

*

The muscles in his legs began to ache as he darted down the streets, seeking her familiar form. It seemed impossible that these witches should pose such a threat when killing one of them had been so bloody simple. He was probably worrying over nothing - Brachens were scared of their own shadows – but his limbs were heavy with a sense of dread that he could not reason away.

If she were dead - *really* dead, dead-and-gone dead, dust-and-ashes dead – then surely he should feel it somehow? He could not have lost the one thing in all the world that mattered in the space between one drink and the next. Could he? Had he been mid-coitus on the sheets she had left rumpled, utterly insensible of the instant when some faceless enemy crushed her into powder?

The thought terrified him.

The streets were cluttered with herds of idiot tourists in search of banal pleasures; overpriced beer, vanilla sex, middle class theatre and outmoded nightclubs. He stared at the lumpen throng of humans and hated them. Hated the cobblestones underfoot; hated the pastel castle perched upon its hill; hated the tapering spires of St Vitus that stabbed the dark velvet sky; hated the very bones of this saccharine city where his girl was something’s prey.

Still no sign of her.

He wondered, as he ran, how one went about fighting a god. How hard could it be? The weren’t so damn special, after all – if she even were a god, this Libushe. Oftentimes a lot of it was just cheap parlour tricks and clever spin. There were demons who were quite convinced that Christ had been a vampire, citing the whole transubstantiation thing, and the resurrection, and raising their scaly eyebrows knowingly about the way that the crucifix, alone amongst human religious symbols, had any power over vampires. Spike gave it no credence – too many inconsistencies – but the sheer effrontery of the notion tickled him. It was quite a common belief, which just went to show how bloody gullible people were, be they human or demon.

Likely this Libushe was all talk too, owing her reputation to similar half truths and gossip. And the Brachen was very probably exaggerating about the amount of damage the witches had caused while searching for them. They’d say anything when you started pulling their little spines out, after all. Still, let her be as all-bleeding-powerful as she pleased, Spike would not tolerate any threat to Drusilla. Not if Jehovah and all his heavenly host appeared in person with flaming swords in hand.

Which was all well and good, but his bravado was no sodding use if she were already taken from him and her beloved atoms scattered on the breeze.

The smell of her blood pulled him up short. Faint – so very faint! – but unquestionably Drusilla’s. And freshly spilled. He caught the air current carrying her scent and followed it, trying not to think about the many ways to hurt a vampire without letting them crumble to dust. If they had harmed a single strand of her midnight hair…

The blood, when he found it, spotted the ground near a shattered beer bottle. He hunkered down and dipped a finger in the liquid. The taste was unmistakable. Spike stared at the dark glitter of the lamplit glass and concluded that she had walked straight through the glistening shards and left a trail of red droplets instead of crumbs of bread.   He followed it at a run, his boot soles growing slippery as he trod in her cold footsteps.

When he glimpsed her in the distance the relief was overwhelming. She was walking along calmly enough, although he was surprised to see her in a state of dishabille. A lumpen young couple trailed along anxiously at her side, plucking at her little puff sleeves and addressing her in exaggeratedly gentle tones. She ignored them like Lady Bracknell being importuned by lepers. Spike realised that he was grinning like a maniac. She was fine. Everything was fine.

“What are you up to, sweetheart?” he asked when he reached her side. The pudgy humans looked at him askance. He turned his dazzling smile on them and told them, quite pleasantly, to fuck off. They backed away slightly, but seemed unwilling to leave Dru to his tender mercies.

“Drusilla, love?” She still had not glanced at him and showed no signs of halting; the rhythm of her footsteps had faltered not a whit. The receding tide of fear turned and swept over him anew.

“Dru?” Spike’s tone was hesitant. He moved to stand directly in front of her, but her face betrayed no flicker of recognition as they stood practically nose to nose. Her gaze remained fixed serenely in the middle distance; but this did not prevent her from thrusting him out of her way with all the preternatural strength her spindly arms possessed.

He got back to his feet and stared blankly at the fragile line of her spine under the white cotton gown, watching the slight sway of her skinny hips as she wandered on her way. Didn’t look back once; no danger of Drusilla turning into a pillar of salt.

“Hey mister, the lady doesn’t – “

He swung on the fat tourist and roared, the planes of his face shifting of their own volition. The swiftly spreading dark patch on the man’s suddenly soaking jeans afforded Spike no satisfaction; his whole attention was fixed despairingly on Drusilla as the tourists ran away. Whilst she walked the lace-edged cotton swirled up around her ankles and he caught brief flashes of the sweet arch of her insteps all sullied with scarlet.

Spike knew just enough about magic to know that he knew bugger all about magic. There was no way to be certain that intervening would not make matters worse, but he simply couldn’t stand back and let this – whatever exactly ‘this’ was – happen. She was very clearly under some wretched spell; and based on family history to date, no good was going to come of it. He walked up behind her with his shoulders squared.

“Sorry, princess,” said Spike, and knocked her unconscious with a brick.

He caught her before she could hit the cobbles, lifted her up in his arms and cradled her against his chest, kissing the pale and pulseless arch of her throat and pressing his newly-human face into the disordered silk of her hair. He clearly wasn’t crying, because vampires didn’t cry – especially not big bad slayers of Slayers. He just had a little dust in his eye, that was all.

*

He was perhaps being overly cautious, but caution was such a novelty for Spike that he had difficulty judging. Still, it seemed to him that the Europa might not be such a good place to go right now, carrying a bleeding and half-naked girl who was sought all over the city by vengeful witches. To be on the safe side he carried Dru to the nearest front door and kicked it with one steel-toed DM. After several minutes the door opened a crack.

They presented a sight pitiful enough to melt the sternest heart: Dru looking, for once, almost as dead as she truly was and Spike’s wet eyes brimming with helpless misery. The old woman took one look at them and invited them in, muttering in scandalised Czech and making compassionate little clucking sounds as she took in Drusilla’s pallor and her blood-spotted skirts. Spike appreciated the sympathy enough to make a point of breaking her liver-spotted neck quite quickly and painlessly as she picked up the phone to call an ambulance.

*

The annoying thing about sweet little old grandmothers was that they didn’t often have manacles and stout chains to hand. This was by no means a universal rule, but it tended to be the case; and sadly the old dear whose home Spike had appropriated was not a big fan of the S & M scene. He was forced to improvise with the tools available and hence Drusilla’s still-limp body was wrapped up like a mummy in ropes ad-libbed from twisted sheets. He hoped it would be enough to keep her there while he dashed out for sturdier restraints; if he was lucky she would remain unconscious long enough for him to shackle her properly, so he could go out and find the bitches who had the gall to mess with his girl.

Spike took the low road to the Europa alone, picking his way through the disused stretches of the sewer tunnels and through metro station maintenance shafts that witches were surely less likely to frequent; although he realised, with a sinking heart, that he was probably persona non grata with most of Prague’s demon community too. If the Brachen had been telling the truth, the witches had already burned out a dozen vampire nests and killed assorted other demons of various castes and species pretty much at random until they had a vampire’s name to go with the corpse. The photograph had been found a couple of streets away and it was the sheerest bad luck they had connected it with the killing; he wondered how many discarded crisp packets and random fag ends they had gathered up just on the off chance.

How could he have been so unforgivably careless?

He managed to avoid bumping into angry humans or angry monsters and emerged in the Europa’s cellar after half an hour’s travel. Made his way discreetly up to the Honeymoon Suite and crept in, his whole body tense with nervous energy. Half expected witches and demons to spring out of the wardrobes and wriggle out from under the bed, but the place appeared untouched. He moved through the room with the utmost caution, alert for any sign of intruders, but he could neither see nor smell anything new.

Roberto made a hopeful little sound that modulated into a muffled sob of terror when he realised it was Spike. The vampire spared a moment to look at the two humans and unaccustomed pity welled in him at the sight; they had been quite the little Romeo and Juliet just a few hours earlier. His dead heart clenched painfully at the thought of losing Drusilla and he patted the lad’s dark hair absently.

“Don’t worry, pet,” Spike said, planting a friendly kiss on Roberto’s cheek.  “Spike will make it all better.” Didn’t take long to drain the boy; at first he thrashed like a hooked fish, but as the blood pumped out of him his limbs grew loose and unresisting. Afterwards Spike briskly unfastened the sets of clanking cuffs and stuffed them in the pocket of his duster. He packed only one bag, piling in some of Dru’s more treasured dresses. None of his own garments, though; he could pick up more clothes for himself easily enough when the need arose. Tucked in the handful of mementos he had gathered during a century of travelling and a couple of Drusilla’s blessed dolls. It was primarily the cuffs and chains he’d come back for, along with Miss Edith. As an afterthought he wrapped Dru’s hollow Easter eggs in a couple of silk scarves and slipped them into his remaining pocket.

*

Once he had her wrists cuffed to the iron bedstead, and there was no immediate danger of her escaping to wherever the spell wanted her to go once she returned to consciousness, Spike finally allowed himself to tend to her poor feet. He filled a basin with warm water and soap and found a little bottle of disinfectant, and he brought these into the bedroom with a towel and some bandages. She looked like one of the figurines in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, like a model of Sleeping Beauty. Except for the handcuffs.

Her feet were encrusted with congealed blood and nameless muck. When he picked them up they weighed almost nothing in his hands, as if she had the hollow bones of a bird. He dipped one corner of the towel into the basin and gently wiped her right ankle clean and then the top of her foot, working down towards the gory mess that was her wounded soles and slowly revealing the whiteness under all the dirt. Her skin was in ribbons. It took him a good twenty minutes to pick out the shards of glass and the little pebbles that had been grating away as she walked. He knew it would heal quickly enough and that the disinfectant was unnecessary, but nevertheless he sloshed it over her tattered flesh and smeared on some antiseptic cream before binding a bandage around each foot. He couldn’t bear to let them remain in that condition.

He propped Miss Edith up on the bedside table and arranged the fragile Easter eggs beside her in a hastily-fashioned nest of scarves, so that there would be something familiar and reassuring for Dru if she woke up in this strange room. Brushed her tousled hair out of her face and stroked her cool cheek with the back of his fingers. He hated to leave her like this, but Spike knew that he was entirely out of his depth. For the first time he almost regretted being so wrapped up in his girl; he hadn’t built up a particularly wide circle of acquaintances in Prague. The vamps were liable to stake him on sight, since they were bearing the brunt of the witches’ anger. He needed a wizard - preferably a foreign wizard, and possibly a demon one. And he needed one now. This was not a threat that he could handle with his fists or his fangs.

He took one last look at her quiet body, dropped a kiss on her unresponsive brow and then hurried back out into the darkness.

*

The Kankanath was surprisingly helpful. Drusilla’s flirtation with the bartender at the Metamorphosis had occasionally irritated Spike in the past, but it was hardly the time to be possessive about his flirtatious little flibbertigibbet. He needed all the help he could get right now. The blue demon gave him the address of a powerful human wizard and pressed Dru’s favourite Iva Bittova album into his hands, the one she always used to wheedle him into playing on repeat while she danced between the tables with her eyes closed. He wished Spike luck in a voice rendered even croakier than usual by emotion.

* * *

In spite of the lateness he could see a couple of lights on in the apartment, which was promising. He knocked and waited, wondering what on earth he could offer in exchange for help. It was all so much easier when you could simply keep on breaking things until you got what you wanted.

No answer. He knocked again. After a little while he was gratified to hear the grate of bolts being drawn and keys creaking in locks. Spike strove to look trustworthy and harmless. He was most surprised to find himself facing a young woman instead of the elderly Jewish gentleman he had been led to expect. She fixed him with a thoroughly forbidding glare.

“Good evening,” said Spike in impeccable Czech. “I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour, but I need to speak to Isaac on a very urgent matter.”

The woman looked him up and down with one eyebrow arched, and then she smiled in a decidedly unfriendly fashion. She replied in English.

“And what would possess me to invite William the Bloody into this house?”

Bugger. He thought fast.

“You know what I am. Fair enough. But I need Isaac’s help and I’ll pay whatever he wants in return. And whatever security he wants, I’ll give it. Anything. Anything at all. No tricks, no strings.”

She eyed him appraisingly for a long moment and he wondered just who the bloody hell she was. Her crisp voice proclaimed class and privilege as clearly as the understated hair cut and the pink earlobes studded with pearls. Spike really wasn’t taking to her one little bit.

“Fine words, Master William,” she said, “But I’m more impressed by fine deeds. I take it you want Isaac to stop two and two from adding up to four and save your lover? Oh, don’t look so surprised. They’ve been combing the town for her these past three days. You’re just lucky that she’s so thoroughly dotty; it’s only the fractured mind that’s prevented them from getting hold of her. Well, that and her own half-baked powers. Of course it helps that you don’t have souls; being neither fish nor fowl, it’s trickier to pin you down with a spell. They must have found something of hers, though – I heard a rumour about a photograph, but that you wouldn’t possibly be so stupid as to – ah. You did. Well, that was rather foolish, wasn’t it?”

“And just who the hell are you supposed to be?” he asked belligerently.

“Gwendolyn Post. Mrs.” She smiled. “My friends call me Gwen. But you can call me Mrs Post.” And that, it appeared, was that.

“Well, Gwenny, I actually wanted to talk to the man of the house. Where *is* old Isaac, anyway?”

“He’s a trifle…indisposed…at present.” Her smile widened, very much like the cat who’d had not only got the cream but also a nice plump canary. Followed by a plate of pate de fois gras and a whole roast goose with all the trimmings. “Suffice it to say that Mr Goldstein and I are having a slight difference of opinion over things that need not concern you. In spite of which he is very much in the land of the living and shall remain so for the foreseeable future. And no, you are not welcome in this house.”

She hooked her index finger inside the collar of her neatly buttoned blouse and tugged at it with every appearance of casualness. He watched the slender fingertip travel across her unmarked neck and growled very softly. Spike found himself torn between carnal impulses. He waited.

“It seems to me that we can do business here, Master William. You want the spell lifted from your mad mistress. I can arrange that. Meanwhile all I want is one tiny little book. Stealing it may be a little tricky, but is well within your capabilities and can only serve to enhance your reputation; whereas it would damage mine irreparably.”

That was more like it.

“And why, exactly, should I trust a low-rent version of Mrs Peel?” he asked, mimicking her mellifluous tones. Saw her brows contract angrily and felt a germ of satisfaction. Got her, the smug cow. “What’s to say you aren’t just some posh totty he picked up for a bit of slap and tickle? No, I’d really rather talk to Mr Goldstein if it’s all the same with you, dear.”

“Well that is simply too bad, because Isaac isn’t going to be talking to anyone for a while. I can’t think of any reason why you should trust me, Master Will, but that really isn’t my concern. I am all you’ve got and all you’re likely to get – but if my offer doesn’t interest you, that’s perfectly fine by me.” She made to close the door and he reached out automatically to stop her, his hand slamming into the invisible barrier. She paused and looked down at him with a frosty little smile. Spike very earnestly hoped that an opportunity would arise to teach Mrs Gwendolyn Post a little more respect for vampires, but for the moment she seemed to be holding all the cards. Bitch.

“OK, love, keep your hair on. You win. Fix my girl up and I’ll go and get this book quick as a flash.” She laughed. Well, he hadn’t really expected her to go along with it, but it was worth a try. He realised then who it was she reminded him of, for all the surface differences: Darla. Not in appearance or colouring or accent or class, but in something more quintessential than that; something calculating and fearless and casually cruel.

“Bring me the book and then I’ll perform the spell. That is my offer. Take it or leave it.”

Spike sighed.

“Where’s this book, then?”

*

Petr Soucek slept the untroubled sleep of the just on the top floor of the Prague Watchers’ Council building, his innocent beer belly rising and falling gently with each rumbling and sonorous snore as William the Bloody broke in through the back door and stepped onto the premises with a grin. 

Turned out Gwen Post had been as good as her word; either she really was an honest-to-god Watcher currently resident in Prague or else she was more powerful than any other magic user Spike had ever met. He wasn’t at all sure which was the worse scenario.

Breaking and entry was one of Spike’s many lesser-known skills. Admittedly the breaking bit was his real forte, but Spike could be stealthy and discreet when the occasion demanded it. Reasonably discreet. Discreet by Drusilla’s standards, at any rate, and they were the only standards he was normally interested in.

He paused momentarily in the unlit hallway and listened for movement. The city streets were very quiet at this hour; no trams or trolley buses rattling in the distance; no Czechs going about their work in the wee small hours; no toothsome tourists out wandering and wasted, all ripe and untasted and wondering blearily where the hell they were. The whole world had sunk at last into longed-for slumber and Spike felt himself the only wakeful creature left with unfinished business to attend to.

He tried not to think about Drusilla lying shackled to a bed on the other side of town. She was probably awake by now. If she were sensible of her surroundings she would be thoroughly confused and perfectly furious. And perhaps afraid. Likely struggling to be free and biting through the makeshift gag as the cuffs rattled against the headboard. Desperate to do the witches’ bidding.

If this woman were trifling with him he would strangle her with her own entrails.

He took the stairs carefully, wary of creaking boards and listening for any alteration to the rhythmic palpitation of the sleeping Watchers’ hearts. Their quiet pulses continued unperturbed as he ascended and in no time at all Spike was prowling through the dark rooms of the first floor. The layout was just as Gwendolyn Post had described it.

Spike’s heightened sense of smell had no trouble picking out her room and the door gave at his light touch. Unlocked. No surprise there – say what you would, the woman was no amateur. She would have left no trace of her treachery for the good Council folk to find and likely nothing of use to Spike, but his curiosity was aroused and he took a moment to look around the room. It was as impersonal as any hotel room, although she claimed to have been living there for the best part of a year. Certainly it was thoroughly impregnated with her scent; the imprint of her fingers on door handles and window sills had imbued their surfaces with oils too faint for human noses and the bouquet of her sweat and sex and secrets still clung to the fabrics and lingered around the innocent bookshelves. She had not been here for a week or more. He trod carefully, listening to the even breathing of the girl in the room across the hallway, and fingered the decorative knickknacks and gimcrack jewellery lying in apparent disarray on a shelf. His eye was caught by a pretty ball of blown glass hanging from a cord beside the window and he plucked it down and pocketed it automatically; always a magpie for his girl. Slid open drawers and rummaged stealthily through the wardrobe but found nothing more interesting than knickers from Marks and Spencers.

This wasn’t getting him anywhere; and it certainly wasn’t getting him any closer to the damned book. He dismissed the room and left it behind, heading up to the second floor in search of Gwen Post’s prize and Drusilla’s disenchantment.

Petr Soucek’s door wasn’t locked. A trusting bunch, these Watchers; placed a touching faith in their demon-repulsing spells and the traditional rules against vampires. Weren’t counting on one of their own extending an open invitation to the big bad wolf.  

Spike pushed the door gently and was rewarded with the very faintest of creaks; unfortunately this was enough to jar Mr Soucek into wakefulness and Spike was obliged to cross the distance to the bed in the few seconds before the human had settled into full consciousness. He straddled the Watcher with a snarl, trapping the man’s hands by his sides and cutting off the astounded Czech expletives by applying one firm hand to the warm throat and squeezing. Hard. Alternating bars of moonlight and shadow cast by the blinds crosshatched the bed, severing their tangled bodies into stripes. Petr Soucek’s bulging eyes stared helplessly up at the vampire from a colourless island of terrified skin, separated from the silent scream of his gaping mouth by a slice of darkness that neatly erased the plump jowls and twice-broken nose.

Spike leaned forward until his unrising chest rested on the man’s upper body and his goat-yellow eyes smiled at the Watcher from only a few inches away. He pressed a friendly kiss onto the unseen nose and then nipped off the tip with a clean little snap. The Watcher jerked beneath him in sudden pain and Spike rocked with him, stroking the short grey hair with his free hand and lapping idly at the wound while the man whimpered with shock.

“There, there, mate, no need to make a scene,” Spike said pleasantly in Czech. “You just keep nice and quiet and I won’t bite anything else. I’m sure you don’t want to be the Czech Republic’s answer to John Wayne Bobbit, now, do you?”

After a moment he released his grip on the man’s jugular and felt the lungs inflate at once. Spike laid a warning finger firmly over the parted lips and was pleased to find Soucek didn’t shout or scream after all.

“Good lad! Now, on to business.   The secret writings of John Dee and Thomas Kelley – just hand them over and I’ll be on my merry way.”

There was an expectant pause and when the Watcher remained stubbornly silent Spike sighed.

“Come on, mate, Dee and Kelly? Mysteries revealed to them by Uriel and Madimi? Written around 1585, I think she said; brimming with brimstone and bedknobs and broomsticks, all that kind of thing. You know the one I mean.”

Petr Soucek continued to bleed quietly and uncommunicatively. They were all just bloody well determined to make his life more difficult, as if he didn’t already have enough to worry about. Bastards.

“Fine then. We’ll do it the hard way.”

*

The girl was awake.

He had been conscious of her scent as soon as he stepped into the hallway. He’d been peripherally aware of the modulated throb of her pulse as Petr Soucek slipped out of life, hamstrung and blinded and bleeding from countless cuts. Even as the pain-quickened patter of his frantic heart grew fainter and fainter and faded into death Spike was still aware of the living girl downstairs. He sensed the sudden syncopation when the sleeping Watcher woke and he heard the quiet fall of her sleepy slippered feet as she rose and made her way down to the kitchen.

Spike paused at the top of the staircase and considered his alternatives, licking Petr’s blood fastidiously from fingers white as bread. He glanced down at the book, which had been under nothing more complicated than a simple invisibility spell. Soucek had taken quite a lot of persuading to render it visible, but Spike could be exceptionally persuasive when necessary.

It was an unremarkable looking volume, considering all the fuss that was going into getting it. The leather, as far as he could ascertain, was just ordinary leather; not the flayed skin of a virgin or preserved dragonhide, nothing fancy like that. No gold or iron bindings either. Just a book, when all was said and done, with its fragile pages guarded from deterioration by a standard little cantrip, if the faint stink of civet and sage was any indication. He didn’t know and he didn’t care what she wanted it for, just so long as she could undo the wretched witches’ mojo. On the other hand he really didn’t like having her hold all the cards like this, because she was clearly no more trustworthy than he was himself. She’d make a very good vampire, this Gwendolyn Post. He’d take great delight in the look on her face just before she exploded into ashes.

After a little thought he ghosted down the staircase to the first floor, unfastening shirt buttons with one hand. Listened to the hiss of water gushing from a tap downstairs and hitting glass, the quality of the sound shifting as the volume increased. Spike moved silently to Mrs Post’s empty room and waited until he heard the girl turn off the tap, then opened the door loudly. Sensed rather than heard her pause downstairs. Strode cheerfully over the polished wood and descended the final flight of stairs with a spring in his step and a lascivious gleam in his eye.

He was yawning a little theatrically as he reached the threshold of the kitchen, the book of magic tucked casually in his armpit, and he made a point of looking thoroughly surprised to find the kitchen inhabited. Even managed a dash of embarrassment, although it was a stretch, when he met Martina Ruzitckova’s narrowed grey eyes. Took in the tousled brown bob and the imprint of a crumpled pillow creasing her right cheek; noted the delicate beginnings of crow’s feet framing her gaze. A small woman in her late 20s, limbs rounded from the sedentary life of a scholar; the very epitome of unthreatening girlishness in too-large striped blue pyjamas clearly designed for a man. Slippers embroidered with daisies. Her features weren’t especially pretty but she was not unattractive, and her eyes positively shone with keen intelligence. Which was fine by Spike: intellectuals were often the easiest ones to manipulate.

She had heard him galumphing down the stairs and the utter lack of concealment, in conjunction with his dishevelled appearance, had already done a lot to allay her qualms. Her expression was quizzical but unafraid as she leaned back against the counter and sipped at the glass of water she’d come seeking; but Spike noticed that this Watcher had pulled a knife from one of the drawers, and was still holding it casually in her other hand. A glint of silver against her collarbone; a cross dangling between her breasts under the cotton, he’d wager. Hardly a great threat to a vampire like Spike, this girl, but he was hoping for a little fun and – more to the point – more information about Mrs Post and these blasted witches. This would take delicate handling.

“Sorry! We didn’t wake you, did we?” he exclaimed in English, all roguish charm and chiselled cheekbones. “I mean, uh…prominte? Ahoj…um…mluvite anglicky?” he took a perverse delight in pronouncing the words in an accent thicker than boarding school custard, as his countrymen were wont to do with any tongue but their own, and watched more of the traces of mistrust melt away from her bare face. Let her think him a fool.

“A little. And you are…?”

“Blake,” he improvised cheerfully. “I’m a friend of Gwenny’s. Mrs Post’s.”

“A friend,” she repeated, glancing at his hastily-mussed hair and half-exposed chest and raising one eyebrow. “I didn’t hear you come in. I haven’t seen Gwendolyn for days.”

“No, she said as much,” he agreed with a smile. “She’s been slaving away at the research. Once that girl has the bit between her teeth there’s simply no stopping her. You must be…?”

“Martina. Martina Ruzickova.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” he agreed breezily. “Gwenny’s told me all about you, Martina. You might not realise it, but she thinks the world of you.” His eyes locked onto hers with an intensity that made her breathing quicken ever so slightly. “’Scuse me, you don’t mind if I just…?” Standing just a hair’s breadth too far away to be actually invading her personal space and then he leaned forward; watched an assortment of expressions cross her freckled face before she realised he was just getting himself a glass. Martina dropped the knife back into the drawer and stepped away rather sheepishly as he calmly poured himself some cold water and gulped it down. Oh, but this would be fun – he could smell desire on her already. Hardly surprising, though; she was only human. They were so pathetically easy.

“So you and Mrs Post…?” she asked, with a rather sweet attempt at nonchalance. Spike managed to feign a scandalised expression rather well, all things considered.

“You surely don’t mean...? Sweetheart, Gwenny’s a married woman. What kind of man do you take me for?”

Adorable the way the blush mounted on her cheeks then – he could smell the blood blossoming just below the skin. Delicious.

“I’m sorry,” Martina said, looking genuinely embarrassed. He smiled his most saintly smile and patted her hand forgivingly.

“No, I’m sorry. Really, what else would you think? But we’re just good friends. She’s helping me with a little problem.” Martina was having difficulty taking her eyes off him and he returned her gaze with just the right blend of deference and desire. Spike hadn’t seen himself in a mirror for centuries, and certainly back when he had a reflection it had never seemed particularly adequate or dashing; but Drusilla’s eyes were the only mirror he needed. She saw that he was beautiful and terrible and wicked as sin and so he knew that it was true. It was all in the eyes.

“Gwenny said you knew a lot about Libushe,” he said casually, his eyes still locked on hers. She gave a coquettish little giggle at odds with her evident intelligence; sex was such a great leveller.

“Oh, just what everyone knows,” Martina replied, smiling at him.

“I’m sure you’re just being modest. And you certainly know far more than me - I’m no expert on witches. Demons are more my line.” The timbre of his voice made her think he was just making conversation, was asking about anything in order to draw their dialogue out a little longer. As if anything about her mattered in the slightest. Humans were so painfully predictable.

He missed Drusilla terribly just then. She had never once bored him in all their decades of travel; and he had never taken her or her love for granted. Knew that Angelus could have taken her away from him with one snap of his fingers, the mincing great ponce; and he didn’t blame his girl for that, because after all the man was her sire. Bastard. But oh, how he treasured her now that she was his alone. They had their arguments from time to time, to be sure – life wasn’t always blood and kisses. But nothing serious; just a little pepper to spice up the banquet of existence.

He would not countenance the possibility of life without Drusilla.

Martina, the poor fool, was blooming under his admiring gaze. Spike marvelled again at the human capacity for self-deception; a Watcher really shouldn’t be so painfully easy to fool, but they saw what they expected to see. Seems like they’d grown soft in Prague – a little flattery, a little sleight of hand and Bob’s your uncle.

“So tell me about this Libushe, then,” he said, casting a soulful look at Martina and watching her pupils dilate further. “She really a goddess?” He was the personification of louche nonchalance.

She made a business of drinking the water; breaking eye contact and lowering her lashes demurely as she gulped it down. Spike watched with his head cocked to one side, his gaze travelling languorously along her bobbing throat as she swallowed. She was making him thirsty. Martina wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and half shivered as she caught sight of the intensity of his focus on her at that moment.

“A goddess?” she repeated, transparently grateful for the distraction. “No, not a goddess – although a lot of the demons take her for one. You know demons, though – the sentient ones are so superstitious and romantic.”

Ha. Not a goddess. He’d *known* it was all just hype.

“So she’s a fraud?”

“Not exactly. You’re familiar with the legends?”

“Why don’t you fill me in?”

“Libushe was the greatest of Czech rulers. ‘The Mother of Czechie,’ they called her.  Her father was a powerful chieftain in the seventh century; a great magician and warrior but also a just and fair ruler. He was like our Solomon, you know?”

Spike nodded.

“When he died, the crown passed to Libushe. All three of his daughters were powerful witches in their own right – Kazi was a great healer and Teta a powerful priestess, but Libushe was the wisest and the fairest of them all. She

was chosen as ruler, lawmaker and judge and for many years the Czech people prospered. Then one day she gave judgment on a land dispute and the man who lost the case became very bitter. He said it shamed the country to have a woman ruler.”

Spike stifled a yawn, only the slight flaring of his nostrils revealing the onset of ennui. His gaze wandered to the window and he noticed another of the little glass baubles dangling from a cord; there had been one in Petr Soucek’s room too, come to think of it. He was sure he’d seen them before somewhere, but couldn’t quite place it at the moment. Pretty things. Very Dru.  Martina was still rambling on about ancient history and his patience was swiftly wearing thin. Perhaps flaying any useful information out of her would be quicker after all.

“And so Premysl became king instead and he ruled the people with an iron rod.”

“My kind of guy,” Spike murmured. Martina smiled uncertainly.

“Libushe continued with her witchcraft. We know that she saw prophetic visions which disturbed her greatly.” Her voice became steadier as she warmed to her theme; she was clearly the sort who could ramble on about myths and legends and musty texts indefinitely. Watchers – really, could they possibly be any duller? No wonder Gwenny had decided to embrace The Dark Side of the Force.

“Somewhere she found – or perhaps created – a window to another dimension and then she and her sisters passed through the portal. Time passes more slowly in that world; we know this because there have been a number of recorded incidents of Libushe’s followers returning through the portal over the centuries. She may still be alive.”

Spike had the feeling that she would keep right on talking until sunrise unless he did something about it, so he jumped in as soon as she paused for breath.

“Right – so she *was* a powerful little witch, but she waltzed off through the looking glass? So what’s the big deal about these Prague witches, then?”

His irritation was all too clear. Martina looked startled and he gave her an apologetic grin that seemed to satisfy her for the moment.

“They are the ones who elected to stay and guard this side of the portal - I mean, their descendents. They have had some contact with Libushe herself over the centuries, but their philosophy is very different from hers. Vlasta was her successor on this side of the portal - a warrior-woman, a sort of Amazon, you know? She led an army of women against Premysl. They were defeated, but the remnants formed the Order and their successors carried on their work. The witches are very powerful, especially here in Prague. They cleansed the city of several very aggressive species of demon and they have fought some great battles against hellspawn in the past. The Order of Libushe is a dangerous enemy.”

Buggeration.

“So no weaknesses then? They don’t melt if you throw a bucket of water over them, for example? ‘Cause I always thought that looked like fun…”

“They are mortal women. Individually their power is not great, but together – on their hallowed ground, armed with the power of the portal? They are a force to be reckoned with. The Council leaves them to their own devices, but we have an… understanding. Their enemies are our enemies. They guard many items of power, many objects that could do terrible harm in other hands, and they have never tried to abuse this power. We trust them.”

Spike felt a surge of furious helplessness. What the hell did Mrs Post think she could do to these bitches? If she were pulling a fast one, the supercilious cow – if she dared to use him like some idiot dogsbody…

“Of course, they are sworn not to harm women,” added Martina, half to herself. “This has always seemed a little naïve to me. Gwendolyn thinks that they are idiots to be bound by such a geas – but you will have heard all about it, I suppose. They don’t even kill female demons; can’t kill them, or their own lives are forfeit. But they can encourage them to kill one another.”

His glance fell upon the kitchen clock and he started slightly; it was getting late. He had enough information to be going on with.

“Speaking of killing,” he said cheerfully, allowing the curve of his brow to realign itself more comfortably, “I came down here for a drink.”

*

Spike rang Isaac Goldstein’s doorbell again and was gratified by how quickly Mrs Post opened the door. He held the book just out of her reach and watched her mouth tighten.

“You wouldn’t be thinking about double-crossing me, now, would you?”

“Certainly not, Master William,” she said pettishly. “I’m a woman of my word.”

“Tell that to Petr Soucek, love. Now, the thing is I’m a suspicious type and I felt the need for some security – I’m sure you can understand. So right now your little friend Martina is still very much alive and well aware of who it was that invited a vampire into the Watchers’ Prague HQ. She won’t be telling anyone for a little while, of course; I’ve stowed her away in a nice safe place. But if you’re thinking of screwing with me, Gwenny, then she’ll be free to tell her Watcher chums all about what a bad girl you’ve been.”

He was bluffing, as it happened; all these years of poker playing had made him a pretty skilful liar. Martina was thoroughly dead. He had made her drink before her heart stopped, though; the notion of a vamped Watcher rather tickled him.

Gwendolyn Post looked bored.

“I assure you, this is entirely unnecessary. You have fulfilled your part of the bargain, now I shall fulfil mine. Give me the book.”

Spike considered his options and found them remarkably thin.

“What’s the magic word?” he asked. She stared at him through narrowed eyes.

“Please.”

“There you go!”

The door slammed a moment later and Spike was left alone and bookless on the threshold, wondering whether the bitch would keep her word and where to start looking for these bloody witches if she didn’t. The news that they couldn’t kill female demons had taken a great weight off his mind, but he wasn’t about to get complacent anytime soon.

*

As luck would have it, a youngish tart happened along the street whilst Spike was waiting impatiently for Gwendolyn Post. At least, he thought she was a tart; dressed like a tart, smelled like a tart – spunk and sweat, fear and anger and cheap perfume. Not that such semantics mattered – meat was meat, regardless of its name or occupation. He savoured the hasty clip-clop of her heels long before she strutted into view. Such sweet vulnerability in the sound. He delighted in the vagaries of fashion; could not imagine Drusilla ever donning such unseemly footwear, but he relished the seductive rhythm of these stiletto-shod footsteps; the sharp, percussive beat of precariously arched feet aching to be chased. Promising to be caught.

He watched her sail around the corner, wearing her body like an advert and a shield. Hard little face masked in faded makeup; mascara-smudges under her eyes and lipstick almost worn away - only a crimson ring still staining the edges of her lips, quickly fading into the honest dusky pink of her naked mouth. He took in these details as she walked through pools of lamplight and hurried through the shadows in between them.

Smiled. Just what he wanted.

She didn’t notice him uncoil leather wings in the darkness and had barely time for a sharp inhalation of night air when he seized her and covered her wet mouth with one hand, wrapped an arm around her wildly struggling torso and dragged her into the shadows. 

Hot skin quivering against his snarl and then the blissful tearing as his teeth ripped a beautiful new hole in her throat. Her scream was imprisoned by his palm and it bubbled bloodily into his mouth. He drained her veins with gulp after ravenous gulp – no need to pause for breath, after all. Imagined it was Gwendolyn Post whose heart was thrashing helplessly towards silence in his grasp and smiled against her neck. Bitch.

When she was spent and he was rosy and brimming with second-hand life, he dropped her broken body between two parked cars. Retrieving her orphaned handbag he rummaged through it, plucking out a wallet and a pack of Lucky Strikes with a triumphant grin. Leafed quickly through the wallet and extracted the crumpled bills with practised ease, ignoring the receipts and scribbled phone numbers and the creased photo of a blue-eyed toddler. Dropped the ransacked wallet and bag onto her limp body and strolled back to Goldstein’s house, lighting up a fag.

If she were double crossing him, Gwendolyn Post could hope for no such merciful death.

Faint stench of sulphur and pine curling from the house. Spike stared hungrily at the windows, cursing the small print that came with the gift of vampirism. Bloody invitations. Stupid rule. A flicker of blue-white light, almost opaque in its intensity, licking quickly at the glass and then darkness shrouded the house once more.  He cocked his head to one side, listening hard, then bounded up the steps to the threshold. Waited.

When the door opened, Spike’s jaw dropped. The figure before him stood at least eight foot tall. Built, he reflected, like the proverbial brick shithouse. He stared at the hulking great human-shaped thing – a blank-eyed Apollo with feet of clay.

“Let me guess – your name would be Mud?” Spike’s gaze travelled down to the flat, sexless branching of torso into thighs. “Or possibly Ken… I take it this isn’t Mr Goldstein?” he asked as nonchalantly as he could.

Gwendolyn Post’s voice was thick with triumph, her face flushed with the sated expression of a woman who had just been well and truly laid. Or something very like it.

“This is our way into the lion’s den, Master William,” she said. Her crisp hair was dishevelled and still crackling with blue sparks.

“Our?” She smiled at him, and Spike felt his cock stirring automatically at the look and the smell of her.

“Our. I’m coming along for the ride; and if you want your Drusilla to be safe, you’ll have to restrain your appetites for the duration. Besides, the golem won’t tolerate any attack upon my person.”

He tried to remember when he had last heard such concentrated smugness in a voice. Darla, of course.

“Fair enough, pet,” he said, pretty-faced, his blunt teeth gritted in a glittering smile. “Whatever you say. You’re the boss.”

“You would do well to remember that,” she said, stepping out into the night a pace behind her golem. Spike was acutely aware of her movements, but his eyes were fixed on the golem as it moved into the circle of lamplight.

“I thought the secret of making them had been lost,” he said.

It moved like water, somehow – not lumbering, as he had half-expected, nor yet with any human or demon grace; but bonelessly, like lava or liquid mud. As if its form were a matter of whim; as if all the molecules in its body were rolling forward together almost by coincidence, like the shape of a shoal of thousands of tiny fish. As if gravity held no sway over it at all. Strange, even by Spike’s standards.

“It was lost,” said Mrs Post. “But I found it again. With a little help from Mr Goldstein.”

Spike could almost have pitied the poor bastard.

Gwendolyn Post stalked across the pavement with every appearance of fearlessness. Spike did not reach out and snap her brittle neck. He did not seize a double handful of clean brown hair and yank her head right back, slice through the white skin over her jugular and watch her blood arc through the night air. He did not punch her in the solar plexus or plough the fragile bones of her nose back into her skull. Instead he followed the girl and her golem, like a good dog, and bided his time.

Drusilla was his only priority, the dark sun around which his world revolved, the sweet erratic beat by which he measured time. His heart. His soul. The cream in his coffee, the salt in his wound. His love for her was boundless and binding and tender as a bruise. Gwendolyn Post pissed him right off and he would happily unravel her intestines to make his girl a skipping rope – but there was a time and a place for such things. For Dru’s sake he could put his pride to one side and lope after the lapsed Watcher. Drusilla’s safety was paramount.

Mrs Post walked very quietly for a human, her neat feet shod in predictably sensible shoes. The golem, far from shaking the ground with its reverberating tread, flowed forwards as silently as smoke. Spike wasn’t entirely sure it was actually touching the road at all.

“Where are we going, then, Gwenny?”  She didn’t so much as glance at him.

“We are going,” she enunciated with irritating precision, “to rescue your lover.”

“Yeah, I got that part, love,” he replied after a moment, congratulating himself on his restraint at not having lunged straight at her in vamp face. “But how do you know where to find the buggers who are hexing her?”

“It is my business to know such things,” she said. Spike very nearly retorted that it was her business to stake vampires, not save their pretty little arses – but he bit his tongue just in time. Screw the small talk anyway. Paused long enough to light another of his newly-acquired fags; drew in a long breath of smoke and felt the pleasant little kick possess his body. Not alcohol or blood, but still a nice low-level buzz that took the edge off his frustration. He watched the cocky sway of her receding backside with a tight little smile, and strode after her once again.

*

“So this is where they hocus their pocus?”

She shot him another repressive look and peered back at the slice of courtyard visible through the archway. The building stood at the foot of Vysehrad hill – big, but unprepossessing. The façade was decorated with faded art nouveau swirls, but this was unremarkable in Prague – certainly it was nothing like as grand as the front of the Hotel Europa.

“William?”

“Yes?”

“Kindly shut up.”

He was going to carry on needling her, but then his eye was caught by a flicker of familiar movement in the courtyard and his heart suddenly sank.

Drusilla, her narrow back towards them, pacing towards the door.

“Sodding HELL.”

The bandages on her feet were filthy. The chains of the mangled steel cuffs dangled uselessly from her torn wrists and swung against the bloodied nightgown like the latest outré bangles to grace the catwalk. Bondage chic, he thought numbly, as his legs carried him down the street towards her at a run.

He never even heard the golem move behind him, but it plucked him from the ground effortlessly and Spike found himself hanging suddenly by the scruff of his neck with all the dignity of a wet kitten. He swore in several languages and wriggled uselessly, his vicious kicks and bone-splintering punches having absolutely no impact whatsoever on the damned thing that carried him. God damned magical perversions.

Spike was unceremoniously deposited at Mrs Post’s feet. He whipped around in time to see Drusilla step inside the building, then threw back his head and howled pure yellow-eyed fury.

“I’m sorry, William,” said Mrs Post carefully as he turned towards her, sharp-toothed and murderous. “But that approach simply would not have worked, I assure you. Believe me, this way is the best. She has their full attention now. They won’t be expecting us.”

He glared at her for a long moment, angry beyond words. Exerted every ounce of willpower he possessed to keep from killing her then and there, golem or no. Reminded himself that he needed the bitch’s help and that the little Czech watcher had told him the witches couldn’t harm women. Even demon women. Drusilla was not about to be dusted, whatever it was they had in mind; but that really wasn’t the point.

He should have known that the cuffs wouldn’t hold his darling long if she truly wanted to be free of them. Normally she didn’t want to escape. He shouldn’t have left her alone.

Shit.

“Tell me,” he said at last, his brow still crumpled with wrath.

“This isn’t a dwelling. You aren’t bound by the Invitation Rule. But,” her tone was peremptory, and paused him on the brink of turning. “It is warded against humans and demons alike. Nothing living or dead can enter uninvited without setting off the…well, we shall call them ‘alarms’. The invader will be ignited on the spot. It’s a very powerful spell.”

“But Drusilla –“

“Was plainly invited. We aren’t.”

He scowled at her and heard her pulse quicken; he could smell the mixture of fear and exhilaration on her body.

“So?” His voice was lethally calm.

“So – the golem. The witches’ spell is centred in that orb,” she said briskly, pointing at a dull sphere set into the lintel over the door. “Demons of all denominations will be set afire if they try to enter uninvited. So will humans. Golems, being neither human nor demon, neither living nor dead, should be impervious to the spell.”

“Should? You’d better be a whole lot more certain than you sound, Mrs Post.”

Her composure flickered for a moment.

“I’m perfectly certain. I’d stake my life on it.”

“That’s just as well. So what are we waiting for?”

He could hear chanting from somewhere deep within the building – had heard it very faintly all this time, but now he grew more conscious of it as the voices swelled to a crescendo and then – stopped.

Christ.

“Get on with it, you dozy cow!” he snarled. So much for tact.

Her lip curled, but Gwendolyn Post muttered something in Hebrew that sent the giant striding across the street at once. They watched it pass effortlessly through the archway and stalk up to the door. Watched the huge fingers bunch into a fist and punch straight into the orb. No human gesture, that blow; no attempt to draw the arm back and build up momentum. Just a clean, punch straight forward that shouldn’t have worked but clearly – disquietingly – did.

The orb crumbled under the impact and Spike was on his feet and running at once. Patience be damned. Magic be damned. Mrs Gwendolyn Post and her ruddy great garden gnome be damned. Drusilla needed him.

Mrs Post watched the vampire hurl himself into the building and permitted herself a complacent smile. It was all progressing like clockwork. She snapped out a quick command to her golem, picked a speck of lint from her jacket and proceeded through the archway like a conquering queen.

*

Losing Drusilla.

It was the only thing he feared. Not Angelus or The Master or the ever-changing Slayer; such awful, awe-full figures inspired him with nothing but an impish urge to defy and let fly with fists and fangs. Losing Dru was another matter entirely. His imagination balked at it. Spike ran past whitewashed empty walls, beneath bare light bulbs dangling from the ceiling at intervals, over floors clean and smooth and characterless. He ran as if running itself would answer everything; and he tried not to think of what he might be running towards.

It was all ridiculously stark, like some amateurish set design; as if decoration were far too frivolous for this place. Spike had seen his fill of monasteries and convents back when his unholy family was still intact and Angelus was still fervently bent on corrupting Christians as creatively as he could. This had something of that feeling – institutional, practical, everyday and yet still incontrovertibly a holy place.

Where the devil *was* she? He could smell the faint metallic taint of her dried blood on the air, a delicate note below the more brazen layers of burning myrrh and rosemary. She was close, he would swear to it, but he found himself unable to judge the direction. But his lover was close, of that he was sure. As were the witches, damn their eyes; the throb of a dozen human heartbeats blending together into subliminal music thrumming somewhere up ahead.  And abruptly the muffled chanting resumed, but it sounded different this time around; pitched deeper and more threatening.

Rounded a corner and the scent of her was stronger still. He could hear a sliver of sound that was surely the silvery scrape of steel against steel from Drusilla’s tortured handcuffs – but it seemed to come from behind him, not ahead. It was the bloody witches, wasn’t it? Messing with his mind.

Spike hated magic.

Didn’t have a plan. Didn’t have a plan. Didn’t have a plan. A nagging voice in the back of his head reminded him that Mrs Gwendolyn Post had undoubtedly had a plan of some description, as well as some serious eldritch firepower. But he wasn’t prepared to wait for her any damn longer, not with Drusilla defenceless in the middle of this place. The Watcher had got him in, and for this he was glad he had resisted the impulse to break her irritating neck. His patience would not extend any further.

Spike’s plan, such as it was, involved biting, breaking and running, in whatever order seemed appropriate at the time. It was a tried and tested formula and had always served him well. Of course, generally it hadn’t involved breaking or biting or running from a coven of Super Witches.

The air around him was charged with power, magic so thick that he felt like he was running through water. His shirt plastered itself to his unmoving chest like a second skin, heavy with not-quite-static that unaccountably made his gorge rise. His peripheral vision was peopled with figures that vanished as soon as he swung his head around for a proper look. His teeth ached.

*

Gwendolyn Post found the room without any difficulty, thanks to the information in her newly-acquired book. There was no door in the smooth wall that Spike had rushed past, but she knew where the entrance was. It wasn’t a case of a door concealed by a glamour, either – there literally was no door until one walked through it. It was deep magic, this, and the sort of stuff that would have given Schroedinger nightmares, or perhaps wet dreams – but Gwendolyn Post wasn’t about to be disconcerted by something so simple. 

She strode into the wall and passed through into the safe room, then paused just inside the threshold to survey the amassed artefacts. Priceless. The witches were cretins to harbour all these items and take no advantage of the wealth they had accrued over the centuries. Such a mouth-watering Aladdin’s cave of Etruscan gems and Anasazi amulets, of blood-soaked Sumerian statuary and prophetic Dacian scrolls! Her fingers itched with the nearness of all this quiescent power; all these objects waiting patiently for their mistress to come and claim them. Perfect. Let the vampire distract the little fools – it would not take them long to finish him off, but she didn’t need much time. And even if they caught her, their geas crippled them. Idiots.

She ran her tongue over dry lips and experimentally ordered the Golem forwards. Nothing – no magical cacophony or flashes of light. As far as she could detect the room was unprotected, but it seemed so easy that she was automatically mistrustful. Paused a moment more, then straightened her spine and marched into the room. It really was just as easy as that.

*

He rounded the corner, muscles starting to ache from the strain of fighting against the tide of power – felt like he was wading through treacle – and found himself looking down yet another bloody whitewashed corridor. But this one – thank Christ! – was lined with doors. Very Alice in Wonderland; Spike half expected to see a be-waistcoated rabbit consulting its pocket watch. (Drusilla loved the Alice books, and as far as he could gather she took them entirely seriously; certainly far more seriously than she did any of Darwin’s nonsensical notions. The knots in his gut tightened convulsively at the sudden memory of reading Dodgson’s stories to her in a shambolic nursery in South Kensington decades ago. She had dandled Miss Edith in her gory satin lap, primly licking fresh blood from her skinny fingers, and clapped gleefully when he got to the Queen of Hearts’ stentorian calls for decapitation.)

Nostalgia wasn’t getting him anywhere. Spike stared at the array of doors for a moment or two, looking for some sign. His girl had to be behind one of them – he could smell her somewhere close at hand, even through the thick scent of smouldering herbs and incense. He could still hear human hearts and an off-pitch humming laced with words in archaic Czech, but something was distorting his sense of direction and the noise could have come from anywhere as far as his ears were concerned. No sound of Drusilla; he couldn’t decide whether her silence was a good thing or a bad thing and wondered again how these wretched witches proposed to avenge themselves without breaking their geas. They can’t kill her, he told himself, repeating it again and again like a mantra in his head. They can’t kill her. It’s not allowed.

He shoved forward into the sludgy currents of magic, donned his fiercest predator’s scowl and ripped open the first door with enough force to make the hinges scream. Loomed panting on the threshold and snarled ferociously at –

…an empty storage room.

Damn.

He dragged himself deeper down the corridor and flung himself savagely at the next door, with much the same result. No Drusilla. Not behind the second or the third or the fourth or –

And there she was at last, wide-eyed and wriggling, her mouth distorted into a soundless scream that quite put Edvard Munch to shame. She hung suspended in a thickening column of half-opaque orange light four or five feet above a glinting circular shape that was either a distorted mirror or a pool of – something. The air around her precious feet was hardening even as he watched. He blinked. His girl was slowly being encased in amber. In the dirty nightgown, with her disordered hair hanging in liquorice tangles down her back and the mangled manacles glinting at her wrists, Dru looked like a nightmarishly disreputable pantomime Wendy; although he couldn’t see any wires holding her up. But she was flesh, not dust – the pure exhilaration he felt at having this confirmed was overwhelming. She was whole and his and still far more vividly alive than any of the living cattle they fed upon. Thank fuck.

The forcefield, or whatever the blazes that whole hideous air-like-mud thing had been, was evidently limited to the corridor; he felt almost weightless now that gravity was back to its normal self, strength and energy zinging through his cold veins like cheap liquor. Everything was going to be just fine.

The first spell knocked him flat on his back and sent him flying over the smooth stone floor like a kid skidding on black ice. Fortunately his rapid progress was halted by a wall; the pain in his skull that this occasioned was really quite considerable.

Spike got to his feet a little shakily and squared his shoulders. Looked *down* this time, rather than just staring at his levitating lover, and took in the inevitable ring of humans. Who the hell did they think they were? A dozen of them, just as he’d thought – and such unremarkable women one would never have given them a second glance on the street. A few were dressed the part, in vaguely gothic or hippyish clothes, but for the most part they looked like shopgirls and housewives, their hair coloured with cheap dye and their makeup based on last year’s Hollywood movies. Shopgirls and housewives with whiteless eyes of sheer liquid midnight, and enough power to hypnotise Drusilla and draw her mindlessly across the city in spite of chains and handcuffs.

They had been intent on their spell when he entered and most of them continued to hum and mumble, their pitch-dark eyes fixed unblinkingly on Drusilla; but a couple had turned their attention towards him. It was the blonde who’d got the first blow in, from the grimly satisfied look on her milk-and-water face.  Bitch.

“We can do this the easy way, ladies, or we can do this the hard way,” he said, his voice infused with all the cockiness he could muster in the circumstances. In English, because it was Johnny Foreigner’s job to understand him, damn it. Jenny Foreigner. Whatever.

He couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t smell afraid. Perhaps he should have waited for Gwenny and her pet boulder after all; a ruthless and amoral female magic user *who was on his side* would be pretty damned handy right about now. If she were really on his side, that was – he’d be a fool to trust that woman as far as he could throw her wretched golem.

The second spell tried to slam him back against the wall again – not very imaginative, these girls – but he was braced for the impact this time and he leaned into it, hands buried deep in the pockets of his duster and arms flat against his body. Fingers closed over the forgotten glass bauble salvaged from the Watchers’ House for Dusilla’s amusement. The glass felt warm against his skin and he clasped it with all the fierce tenderness he possessed, determined not to let it break. He’d found the bloody book and stormed the bloody fortress – he was damned well going to save the girl and live happily ever after with his fairy princess if he had to kill every bloody person in Central Europe in the process.

He slid back a few inches, but that was all. Ha. Watched the bitch responsible for that particular little love pat frown her surprise and displeasure. She reached out one ring-laden hand towards him, muttering another incantation.

“Oh, I don’t think so, love.” Stopped fighting quite abruptly and let the current carry him back, then grabbed the nearest column and used the momentum to swing himself right around and clean out of the path of her spell. Oh, and they weren’t expecting that – she was still rocking on the balls of her feet when he fell onto the nearest chanting witch and snapped her brittle neck with brisk efficiency. Moved so damn fast she didn’t have time to gasp.

The discordant humming and mumbled Czech broke off altogether for one horrified moment and Drusilla’s scream split the air, for all the world as if someone had let go of a mute switch. In that instant the curdling light around her faded and she began to fall, but before she had dropped more than an inch or so one of the witches resumed the spell-casting and Dru’s voice was swallowed away again whilst the sunset glow buoyed her back up. It was all over in a heartbeat – the piercing cry, the half-fall – all over before the broken witch hit the ground at Spike’s feet.

“Come on! Is this the best you can do? What was all the fuss about?”

The fast-congealing amber was mid-way up Drusilla’s calves, but the witches had all turned their tar-black eyes away from her. They continued to hum and chant, but he had their attention now.

Blondie spat a spell at him, her face distorted with rage. He was running before the first syllable left her mouth, weaving between the columns in the hopes that this would be another piece of non-specific firepower that a person could dodge or outsmart without any actual hey presto skills. No such luck. He felt it hit him like a bucket of icy water as soon as the phrase was uttered; magic coated his body in an instant and the visceral sense of horror was sudden and total.

*

The witches had placed a touching faith in their reputation and in the power of the protection spell over the building’s entrance, but it still astounded her that the items were just lying around on shelves and stacked on tables and chairs, even piled haphazardly on the floor. She was slightly shocked by the casualness with which they treated these things. Men and women and demons had died for the treasures in this room; empires had fallen, battles been lost and won – and now all these objects of desire sat gathering dust in a store-room.  Gwendolyn Post didn’t know whether to be impressed or appalled by such a lack of respect for power.

She had done her research well, but there were still dozens of artefacts that the Watcher didn’t recognise in the slightest from any of the countless Histories, Memoirs, Grimoirs and Catalogues she had ploughed through over the past months.  This was frustrating. The Hapsburg Medallion she recognised immediately, and was careful to avoid. Similarly the glittering Midas armband and the deceptively innocent-looking fifteenth century treasure chest with its lid left tantalisingly half-open – these she knew for the honey-traps they were. There were perhaps a dozen similar items that she knew by reputation and, much as she might like to command their power, she wasn’t about to touch any of them with a bargepole - because there simply wasn’t time for the sort of ceremony required to render touching any of them safe. An amateur would have seized upon the glistening knickknacks arrayed near the door; but she was no amateur, and she wasn’t about to risk blowing herself to kingdom come by stuffing two mutually incompatible magical artefacts side by side in her shoulder bag. Gwendolyn Post picked her way past the more obviously appealing items, her eyes narrowed and her shoulders squared as she unzipped the bag.

The Golem loomed at the door-that-was-not, with strict instructions regarding the fate of anyone foolish enough to enter.

*

Shit! Shitshitshit! Cursed with a soul? Turned to a frog? Incinerated in one brief and dazzling pyrotechnical display? Spike dangled disgustedly between cause and effect, waiting.

…nothing.

Cold fingers closed around the glass ball in his pocket, his lucky charm, and Spike snarled; he was not going down like this. If he had only a matter of seconds before he turned into stone or sprouted donkey’s ears, then he was going to make those seconds count. He threw himself straight at the nearest witch and dashed her stocky body to the ground. Her skull cracked like a soft boiled egg. Blondie gaped at him and he wondered when her spell was going to take hold even as he cannoned into the next girl and ripped her throat wide open. Still nothing. The witches were scattering like hens in a hurricane, half of them abandoning their singing altogether. He smiled savagely as he took down the fourth woman, pouncing on her as she ran and breaking her neck before the curls of light snaking from her fingertips had the chance to turn into serious mojo. These witches were pretty over-rated, as far as he could see. Drusilla thrashed like a trapped wasp in her prison of marmalade light, and he caught the tiniest slices of her furious voice strobing out of nothingness as the spell faltered. Nearly there.

And still Blondie’s abracadabra had not taken effect. He could feel the magic crawling over his skin but it didn’t seem to be actually *doing* anything. Curiouser and curiouser.

Felt another spell hit him from behind and he hadn’t even heard this one being cast. He snapped around to see a little brunette thing with her hands outstretched and her brow furrowed in concentration. Tears had smudged her mascara and she stank of fear, but she was still grimly standing her ground and muttering in Latin. An instant later he heard another voice raised, and a third impact broadsided him; magic slicking his skin in layer upon layer. And still *nothing actually happened*.

From the expressions on their faces the witches were quite as astonished as he was himself by this turn of events. Spike shot a feral grin at Blondie and sprang towards her, snarling; she kept her cool admirably and hurled spell after spell at him, but they did nothing worse than fill his clothes with static electricity and make his skin smell of ozone. She still didn’t seem to believe it when he seized her around the waist and slammed her back against one of the columns.

“If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s pushy little blondes,” he told her conversationally, covering her mouth with one hard palm to pre-empt any further witchcraft and biting into the base of her throat. He’d had his fill of pushy little blondes during his years with Darla, thank you very much. Spike felt another magical blow and then another slamming into him, but he ignored them and cleaved to the warm body struggling ever more weakly against him. He downed enough of her blood to feel certain she wouldn’t be causing any more trouble before he let her slide limply to the ground and rounded on the remaining witches.

“Who’s next, then?”

*

She hadn’t even noticed the door set into the wooden panelling - not that it was shrouded in a web of see-me-not spells, just hidden by the mundane magic of good carpentry - and so Gwendolyn Post was most surprised when the wood slid away and several dishevelled women suddenly spilled into the back of the room. One of them had a splatter of blood darkening her sweater and they all bore expressions of shock and incredulity. Two were crying. Mrs Post took in these details in a matter of seconds, powerfully conscious of the satchel in her arms that was now bulging with stolen artefacts, and of the sheathed Tak Horn dagger in her hand. She slipped the dagger nonchalantly into her pocket and stepped forwards with an expression of concern before they could catch their balance and start to wonder what the hell she was doing there.

“Are you all right? What has happened?” she asked in impeccable Czech, radiating competence and reassurance and defying anyone to ask her who she was or what right she had to be in this place. Gwendolyn Post did not lack gall.

“Vampire,” said one of the women, wild-eyed. “Spells bounced off him like water. I don’t…where did he come from? How did he get in? Jana is dead. I watched her die.” There was an edge of hysteria in her voice. “And  Agata, Miriam, Olinka... Jesus Maria! He came from nowhere, this demon.”

Damnation. Who would have guessed William The Bloody would last five minutes against this much-vaunted Order of Libushe?

“She told us, Agata told us this could happen,” one of them sobbed. A teenager, this one, trying to look American but not quite succeeding. Pretty girl, but her face was red and blotchy, makeup smeared with snot and tears. “We should have turned the other cheek. We have dishonoured this place with this night’s work."

“She was a demon.”

“She was a woman. We have dishonoured our vows and we have been punished. “

“Shut up,” snapped the older witch.

“Agata told us! We have dishonoured ourselves. We have dishonoured our vows. We tortured her, Maria. We tortured her, and that is against everything we -””

The girl’s ragged voice broke off quite abruptly when the older woman slapped her. They all stared then, dumbfounded and lost. This Maria looked quite as shocked as the other witches and stared at her guilty hand as if it belonged to someone else, her expression suddenly pitiful.

“I’m sorry. Tina, I’m so sorry,” she said brokenly, but the teenager sent her one righteous wounded-puppy glare and then stared away, hiccupping through her sobs.

And these were the witches who had terrorised the city’s demon population for centuries? Good grief.

*

Dru dropped out of the air as the last terrified witch abandoned the chanting, her beloved voice suddenly echoing freely through the chamber in a familiar caterwaul that should never, *ever*, be caused by anyone but him. Spike had expected her to fall and was already springing to catch her before the amber light blinked out and gravity awoke to the fact that its laws had just been messed with.  He was careful not to step on the mirror out of a formless fear that his foot might pass straight through into nothingness; so when she dropped into his arms he was straddling the frame awkwardly and he swung for a moment under the impact, his knees buckling very slightly. Drusilla was wailing like a banshee and flailing furiously in his grasp but he clung to her for a very long moment before waddling out of the way of the mirror.

“I’m here, princess. Spike’s here,” he crooned, rocking her like a baby. “Oh, sweetheart, what did they do?”

Drusilla was incoherent in his arms for long minutes, her raw howling gradually fading to muffled little-girl sobs as he held her and patted her back reassuringly, pressing kisses into her hair and her cheeks and her waving fists. Tears and snot were soaking through his shirtfront. God, he loved her so much it hurt. Priced beyond rubies.

“Make them pay, Spike,” she finally whispered. She sounded like somebody had sandpapered the inside of her throat. “They made the air burn. Everything. Everything burning.” She snuffled against his coat like a broken hearted seven year old. “They hurt me.” He hugged her tighter.

“They’re gone now, pet. Spike showed them. Think they can hurt my girl, do they?” For the life of him he still didn’t understand quite how he had managed to ‘show’ them, but this didn’t seem like the best time to admit it. He was quietly horrified by how frail she looked – her skin was the colour of old parchment and it stretched too tightly over her bones, giving her a disquietingly skeletal appearance. There were dark shadows under her eyes which certainly hadn’t been there before. He wished with a blistering passion that the thrice damned witches would come back to life so he could kill the bitches all over again; considered chasing down the scattered remnants and devoting some serious time to their suffering, but dismissed the idea as impractical. Drusilla was his first concern.

“Hey, precious, look what I brought you,” he exclaimed, suddenly remembering his gift. He rooted in his pocket for the glass ball, astonishingly still intact, and produced it with a flourish. Then did a double take. Drusilla sat up straighter, her face growing more animated.

“A witch ball,” she announced, her voice a tattered skeletal scrape of its former self. “You brought me a magic bubble to drain away their nasty poisons! Horrid girls. No supper for them.” Drusilla nestled into his chest and peered at the iridescent darkness trapped behind the thick glass. Spike grinned.

“Yeah,” he agreed nonchalantly. “Just a little something I picked up. You don’t think I’d come looking for you without any protection, do you, princess? Got to keep my darling safe.” He dropped a kiss on the top of her head and cuddled her closer to him. No wonder the bloody thing had looked familiar. He really was quite the luckiest vampire ever fashioned.

“So that’s how you did it.”

Spike hadn’t heard Gwendolyn Post, which spoke volumes about the depth of his concentration on Drusilla. He peered between the columns and scrambled to his feet, clumsy through his efforts to keep hold of Dru while he rose; he was sorry but unsurprised to find his darling barely able to stand.

“Yeah,” he agreed as he hooked one arm around Drusilla’s waist, scanning the room for ideas and seeing only corpses. The Watcher sounded rather less thrilled by his success than he was - which somehow didn’t come as a great surprise. “They’re all talk, these girls. Don’t know what all the fuss was about.”

Gwendolyn Post paced between the columns in a manner that set alarms ringing in his head – humans weren’t supposed to move like that. They were supposed to run away, possibly screaming and begging for mercy. They most certainly were not supposed to move like predators. He found himself wishing, for purely practical reasons, that Drusilla was at full strength. Wondered what on earth could have weakened her so quickly. What she needed was fresh human blood. And as luck would have it -  

“Where did you get the witch ball?” said Gwendolyn Post softly, almost to herself. “And where did you find one imbued with magics strong enough to deflect – oh. But of course. How very foolish of me.”

“Cheers, love. Nice of you to leave it hanging around like that. Worried they might be able to scry you, were you? Or is it standard issue for Watch Houses?” He could tell from her expression that he’d hit the nail on the head. Probably a bit of both – the Council of Watchers had some pretty powerful sorcerers on their payroll, from what he’d heard tell; obviously they’d have some serious shielding on their premises. Somebody somewhere was looking out for him; he choked on the thought of a guardian angel. Too excruciating an irony.

Right – well, he couldn’t support Drusilla and catch her some supper simultaneously. Spike gently leaned her up against a column and turned towards Mrs Post.  She still looked disquietingly unafraid, considering the fact that she was facing a blood-drinking demon shielded against magic. He smiled. He was going to enjoy teaching her about fear.

“Who would have imagined that she could possibly have upset them so much?” mused Gwendolyn Post as she came closer to the vampires. “It seems incredible to me that they could show such poor judgment as to test the parameters of their geas by torturing her. Granted they weren’t actually going to kill her, but to risk the sanctity of their powers for something as petty as vengeance…It’s ridiculous. “

“Payback’s a bitch,” agreed Spike. “So I take it you weren’t helping me out of the treacherousness of your heart, then, Gwenny? You been busy plundering their library? Stolen the Crown Jewels? Raided the Lost Arc?”

“Something like that,” she smiled, pulling her shoulder bag closer to her body. “I was perfectly sure they would kill you both, but it seems that they really were quite appallingly incompetent. Presumably their predecessors were a force to be reckoned with.” She glanced down at the bodies strewn across the floor like so many broken dolls and lifted one eyebrow disparagingly.

“Then again, it could just be that they were shit-hot witches and they finally met their match,” he suggested, cocking his head to one side and flicking an assessing glance up and down. His delicate nostrils flared as he inhaled her scent; a little fear, but not enough yet. Still that intolerable self satisfaction. “I’ve killed two Slayers, Gwenny. Think about that a little. Supernatural champions of Truth, Justice and the Watcher Way – and cute with it. And deadly. And I killed them.” Her eyes were fixed on his now. He could smell the giveaway wisp of sex in the air and smiled wolfishly at her.

“You got lucky, Master William,” she replied, her voice as crisp as a winter morning in the Cotswolds. “They compromised their vows and left themselves vulnerable – which serves them right for making such ridiculous vows in the first place. Had they not, you would be powder on the flagstones by now. Fortunately I can rectify that little oversight.”

It had not escaped Spike’s notice that her shoulder bag was bulging in places where formerly it had been smooth. When her fingers dipped towards the zipper he was already in motion and had the bag in his hands before she understood his intent. Silly bint. He wasn’t a moron, for God’s sake – he wasn’t about to let her produce a broomstick and try to curse him into the middle of next week, magical shield or no.

“What’s in the bag, Gwenny?” he called over his shoulder as he darted out of reach with the leather clasped in his hands. “Nothing good for my continued health, I’ll bet.” He was highly gratified by the way her unflappable demeanour finally fell by the wayside.

“Give that *back*!” Gwendolyn Post’s howl would have put the shrillest of fishwives to shame. She flung herself after him, her features bunched up in a mask of pure, killing rage. Spike laughed out loud as he wove away between the columns.

“What’s it worth, pet? Safe passage for me and Dru, perhaps?” She replied with a snarl in a language that was neither Czech nor English; and it took Spike a moment to identify the words. Hebrew.

Bugger.

He swung around just in time to see the golem surging towards him impossibly fast; and Spike was under no illusions about his ability to best the wretched thing in terms of speed, but he ran for it anyway. The golem flowed silently behind him across the cold stone floors; and it was only a matter of seconds before the damned thing would be on him; and if he had guessed wrong then he was going to be looking pretty goddamned silly in the few seconds left before it pulled his head off his handsome shoulders; but what the hell. Carpe Diem, and all that bollocks.  He pounded towards the centre of the room and sprang over the mirror; and as he jumped he dropped the bag and watched it pass straight through the surface. Just as he’d thought; the looking glass was also a rabbit hole; Libushe’s window to her other world. Gwendolyn Post’s anguished howl echoed through the room as she realised what he had done; and when a split second later the golem’s obedient pursuit sent it tumbling through the portal her lament grew louder still.

If Spike had possessed a pulse it would certainly have been racing. There was nothing like *winning* to give a bloke a buzz; and defenestration was a grand old Czech tradition, after all. He smiled beatifically at the Watcher.

“Oops.” Incredulity and rage crossed her smooth features as Gwendolyn Post took in the waste of a whole year’s careful planning and research. It cracked Spike up. “Not feeling quite so tough now, are you, Mary Poppins?”

If looks could kill he’d have been dead twice over, but Spike was so busy revelling in his heady victory that it didn’t occur to him that immobilising Gwenny was really the first order of the day. He wasn’t expecting the sudden burst of speed that took her over to Dru; and even as he broke into a belated run he saw the stake slam straight into his darling’s chest and roared in helpless fury.

The impulse to tear Gwendolyn Post limb from limb was overwhelmed by the horrified need to reach Drusilla before she dissolved; to hold her in the limnal space between cause and effect, between flesh and dust, between love and isolation. Time stretched out like salt water taffy. Spike was aware of every beloved joint and sinew, every fingernail and lock of hair. He didn’t dare blink, lest he miss the moment when she ceased to be; and although he heard Gwendolyn Post’s receding footsteps, finding her and killing her would have to wait a moment.

Drusilla curled up around the stake in a pitiful ball of skinny limbs, shaking and mewling. And she was still not dust. As the seconds mounted up and Drusilla writhed like a tangle of snakes, Spike tumbled to the glorious realisation that his girl had not, in fact, been staked. Impaled, most certainly; but staked, no. He lay gentle hands on her and pushed the tangled hair from her eyes; and Spike was startled into immobility by the sight of her face. He had considered her skeletal before, but that was nothing compared to the way that her flesh had fallen clean away in the space of seconds, leaving her gaunt and grey. She looked like she hadn’t fed in years. Spasms still wracked her limbs and her bulging eyes were dull and unseeing, the pupils dilated so far it hurt him to look at them.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Dru,” he exclaimed, and closed trembling fingers around the shaft of the not-stake immediately. It came out cleanly and he dropped it to the floor, where it rolled a few feet and then lay still in a smear of his girl’s precious blood. Drusilla’s convulsions slowed as soon as the thing left her flesh, but she lay where she was with a thread of saliva trickling from her mouth and nothing remotely like awareness animating her features. It terrified him. Spike scooped her up into his arms and was appalled by how tiny and breakable she felt. Far worse than before. He stroked her dull hair blindly and was horrified when a clump came away in his hand.

Spike’s legs gave beneath him. He slid down to the floor with his back braced against the cold stone column and pulled Drusilla close. The cause of all this agony lay quietly a few feet away; and after a moment or two he made sense of the shape; it was a dagger made from some kind of bone or horn, with a handle of polished stone. He blinked at it stupidly, trying to make sense of what had happened. Unicorn horn was dangerous; but Gwendolyn Post was no virgin, so that couldn’t be it.  A demon’s horn of some kind.

“Ssssh, baby,” he said - quite needlessly, since Drusilla was limp and unresisting as any rag doll. A Tak horn could do this, perhaps; that would drain the life out of a human in a matter of seconds. God knows what it would do to the undead. Perhaps this. He leaned back against the column and rocked her wordlessly in his arms.

*

“I’m back, kitten. I brought you a snack.”

He closed the door softly and paused for a moment on the threshold to pull a hipflask from his back pocket. The sting of slivovice on his lips was too familiar. Ineffectual. While he stood in the hallway Spike clung to the belief that she might breeze through the archway from the bedroom at any moment, her cheeks flushed with borrowed life and the tang of fresh blood metallic on her tongue when she kissed him hello. The vision faded further with each unsteady step towards the bedroom, and when he reached the archway it vanished altogether, leaving him trapped in this miserable reality.

She looked better than she had done. Blood had helped; it always did. But it hadn’t been enough. Fat foreign tourists, unripe local virgins, whimpering infants with milk on their lips – he had tried everything and none of it had been enough to effect a proper cure. She was Dru, and yet not Dru. Some days were better than others. He had to believe she was improving. She had shown a faint interest in Miss Edith and had seemed to recognise the little painted eggs that she had been carrying around since Easter, and this had given him hope. When he returned to the house the day before he found that she had crushed the coloured shells into rainbow-bright powder, and was crying with childlike incomprehension. Sometimes he despaired.

“We’ve got to get out of town, princess,” he said, helping her to sit up. She smiled at him with a blankness that broke his heart into ever tinier pieces, and let him tuck a clean towel tenderly into the collar of her nightgown. “You need your game face, love.” He didn’t want to have to hit her again to bring it on, and he was inexpressibly relieved when this time she remembered what to do. He pulled a pack of blood from his pocket and passed it to her. Watched her frown with concentration as she bit through the plastic and sucked the dead blood down. It would have to do for now. He stroked her dark hair cautiously, reassured to feel it softer and thicker than it had been, and tried not to think about anything but her restoration.

Prague’s demon population was still a-buzz with the news of the witches’ defeat, but Spike hadn’t the heart to swagger around town. He had scoured the city for Mrs Gwendolyn Post, but she had pulled a very effective vanishing act. Bitch. Spike wasn’t unduly worried, though; he had an eternity to think about vengeance. He wasn’t getting any older, after all. In the meanwhile he was aware that the city was growing more dangerous as the witches regrouped and pulled in favours from other humans in Plzen and Brno and Vienna; and he had heard a rumour this evening  that the Watchers’ Council were on his tail. Turning that little Watcher Martina Whatsername really hadn’t gone down well at all.

Time to find somewhere safe, where Drusilla could recover; and the Metamorphosis’s Kankanath bartender had suggested the very place.

“We’re going to Sunnydale, sweetheart,” he said, stroking her shoulder through the thin fabric. “Going to find you a cure at the Hellmouth they’ve got there. You’re going to be all better, baby. Spike will see to it.”

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