Across the street from the boarded-up building Spike had entered last night, there was an actual, still-operating "Kebab" shop. Kebabs turned out to be basically like gyros. Xander's mouth watered as he watched the grey-haired man in the grease-splattered white uniform slice chunks of meat off a big rotating spit. It was served in a pita with vegetables and sauce. Xander paid for it with some weird-looking British money, not sure whether it was a cheap meal or not. Then he sat at the counter in front of the store's window, eating slowly. He wore sunglasses, even though the sun was setting, and the James Bond theme played in his head.
A few minutes past sunset, he saw exactly what he'd hoped for: Spike walking out the front door. The vampire was wearing what looked like the same black shirt and jeans as yesterday, and his ever-present boots. He pushed the door shut behind him with a sharp thump and walked away down the street. Xander made himself count to a hundred before stuffing the last bite of kebab in his mouth and heading across the street.
He tried to open the door cautiously, not knowing who or what might be inside, but it was stuck. If he hadn't seen Spike open it, he would've thought it was properly nailed shut.
It took some effort to open. Finally he got it by bracing one foot on the door frame and yanking the handle with all possible force.
Inside, it was dark. He got out his flashlight and shone it around, clutching a stake in his other hand. The room seemed empty. It looked like an abandoned convenience store. There were empty shelves, and a counter over to the left where the cash register would have gone. The floor was littered with random trash—crumpled up newspapers, squashed beer cans. He headed deeper into the store.
In the back corner there was a stained old futon, shielded from sight from the door by a set of shelves. On the shelves were some folded-up clothes, all of them black, and a jar of black nail polish tucked back in the corner.
Yep, this looked like Spike's nest.
There were candles on a packing crate next to the futon, but no matches. Next to the clothes on the shelf, there was a stack of newspaper clippings. Xander took these out and sifted through them, careful to keep them in the same order.
They were about the 'Jack the Ripper' killings. Xander had spent some time in a public library today, reading about the original Ripper. The women had all been prostitutes that time, too, and their bodies had been mutilated, just like the murders this summer. The police never figured out who did it.
It didn't sound like the work of vampires, though. The contemporary papers might not have all the details of the coroners' reports—Xander knew from Sunnydale that certain details were kept out of the press—but the descriptions of the nineteenth-century cases had been very thorough. A vomit-inducing sort of thorough. There hadn't been any twinned puncture wounds on the victims, at their necks or anywhere else, and there'd been no blood missing from the scenes.
Of course, Spike and his vampire family—Darla, Angelus, and Drusilla—hadn't exactly been your typical vampires.
But, the chip. Spike couldn't be committing these murders if he was still chipped. If the chip was still working.
And even if the chip was still working, what stopped Spike from teaming up with a vampire who could hurt humans? Where in the world was Drusilla, for instance?
Xander glanced at his watch, and then nervously towards the door. He'd been in here nearly an hour. Time to finish the search and get out. He took the candles off the crate and flipped it over. Empty. He put it all back like it was, then he lifted up the futon to look underneath. Bingo! There was a spiral-bound notebook hidden underneath. Xander pulled it out and flipped through the pages.
It looked like poetry, covering about the first three-quarters of the pages.
Xander picked a random page. It was covered with scribbles and cross outs, but in the middle it read:
Not like Xander was an expert literary critic, but this looked like bad teenage angst poetry. What the hell did Spike have it for? Fuck, maybe it had belonged to one of the murdered prostitutes. Xander gave a quick shudder at the idea. He flipped back a few pages and read another poem, and then another. They were similar to the first—awkward rhythm, forced rhymes, and a general theme of horrible despair. He turned the page and kept reading. It was like trying to stop looking at a traffic accident.
The front door screeched open.
Xander jerked upright, biting his tongue but managing to stifle his yelp and shut off his flashlight even in his panic. He was completely blind in the dark. Spike probably wasn't—and when he got close enough he'd smell Xander, maybe even hear his heart beat.
Heavy footsteps clomped across the floor. Xander crouched behind the shelf unit, waiting, listening to the boots come closer. When they were even with his hiding spot they paused, and in that moment Xander launched himself in the direction of the sound.
He hit something solid with his shoulder. Spike—if it was him—staggered backwards. There was the sound of something crunching on the floor. "Hey!" the intruder yelled. Sounded like Spike all right. Xander punched towards the voice, and his fist connected solidly with bone. Spike grunted, and a vamp punch or kick hit Xander's gut with the force of heavy machinery. Xander flew backwards, landing on his ass on something softish. The futon.
"Ow ow ow ow ow!" Spike was shouting. There was a weird, rotten smell in the air which hadn't been there a moment ago. Xander scrambled to his feet and flipped on the flashlight and saw Spike crouched on the floor four feet away, his hands pressed against his forehead in the familiar my-chip-is-killing-me gesture.
Well, that was a relief.
Spike looked up at Xander, snarling with his human face. His eyes glittered in the flashlight's beam. "Xander," he said after a moment.
"This isn't bloody well fair, you know. Or polite." Spike got to his feet—it seemed to take him a bit of effort, and he looked unsteady for a moment. Then he recovered his scowl. "I can't break into your fucking flat without an invitation, can I now?" He kicked at something near his feet, outside the flashlight's beam, and the rotten smell intensified tenfold. Xander gagged, and swallowed hard. Spike glared at him. "You owe me twenty quid for that. Fucker."
"What's a quid?" Xander asked. If it was what broke on the floor and let out that smell, he really thought Spike was better off without any.
Spike flicked his lighter open and lit a couple of candles, and the room came dimly into view. "A quid's a pound, idiot. Like saying you owe me twenty bucks. Only it's pounds, so it's more like thirty-five bucks."
"For the fucking pterey eggs you made me drop, you wanker!" Spike pointed indignantly at a paper bag on the floor, which was darkly wet and definitely stinking up the room.
"Uh, I think they'd gone off already." Xander covered his nose with his sleeve, trying to filter the stench. "What the hell were you going to do with those things?"
"I was going to sell them to the magic shop for twenty quid." Spike glared at the paper bag a moment longer, and then at Xander again. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Okay, look." Xander held up his hands, open. "Buffy sent me to London to check up on you after that weird phone call. I just came in here to see if there was anything...wrong." It looked like the chip was still working, which made it less likely Spike was the monster behind the newspaper murders, but Xander was keeping an open mind. Priority one was to get out of here alive right now.
"Buffy..." That seemed to stop Spike in his tracks for a second. Then he recovered. "Well, you've had your look. Hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in London..." As he spoke his eyes were sweeping the small sleeping area, and he stopped talking as soon as he saw where Xander had dropped the poetry notebook. "Bloody hell," Spike whispered, eyes going wide. He looked back up at Xander. "You read my poems?"
"Y-your poems?" Xander repeated, stumbling over both the word and the idea. "You write poetry?"
Suddenly Spike was in game face. "Get. Out. Now."
"No way," Xander breathed. It was a reaction to the bewildering idea that Spike wrote those painful poems, not a response to Spike's order—but it was a stupid thing to say.
Spike flew at him, fangs bared and fists flying. Xander with his human reflexes had no chance to get out of the way. A punch connected with his face and snapped his head back so hard that he lost consciousness for a moment. He came to just as he hit the futon again, flat on his back with Spike on top of him. He saw Spike's feral golden eyes, his deadly fangs, and why wasn't the chip stopping him fuck oh fuck. Spike's fingers gripped Xander's shoulders so tightly Xander expected to hear them crunch, and he lifted Xander up just to slam him back down against the bed. His game face was crumpled into deeper ridges than Xander'd ever seen, contorted with unbelievable rage. Spike lunged for Xander's neck, and Xander still had his stake but he couldn't move his arm to use it, and this was the end—
But no. Spike's face collapsed back into its human form mid-lunge, and it suddenly didn't look like lunging so much as falling, and then Spike toppled off Xander and onto the futon, curled up into a fetal position with his hands cupped around his head. He made gasping noises. Xander saw the tendons standing out on Spike's hands, saw his fingers trembling, and figured out that the chip was kicking in with a vengeance.
It was about fucking time. Xander sat up carefully, feeling his own injuries. His left eye was going to be black for sure. His shoulders ached where Spike had gripped them. He felt the beginnings of a really good headache.
Speaking of headaches...Spike was still curled up, twitching and gasping.
"Spike?" No reaction. "You shouldn't hit humans, it hurts you more than us."
Spike went quiet for a moment, then spoke in a strained tone that managed to sound threatening even though his voice was shaking. "You sh-shouldn't h-have read my bloody n-notebook."
Spike still wasn't moving, so Xander picked up the notebook from the floor and flipped through it. He wasn't too worried about provoking Spike again. It looked like if Spike tried to attack him again the chip would knock him out completely.
"I don't get it," Xander said. It was true, he really didn't. "Why'd you write these? Like this line—'the soul burns my throat as the blood goes down'—What the hell? You don't even have a soul."
Spike started to laugh, a hollow, unfunny chuckling muffled into the futon. "Vampires don't have souls," he choked out.
"Right. Except for Angel..." Xander looked down at the notebook again. Every poem he'd read in it said something about guilt or penance, or atonement or pain. Those were some of Angel's favorite themes, though Angel hadn't written any poems about them as far as Xander knew. "Spike...you haven't pissed off any gypsies recently, have you?"
Spike sat up, still keeping his head low and clutching it with his hands. There was blood smeared on his upper lip and chin. "It wasn't a curse," he said in a low, calm voice. "I asked for the bloody thing."
"Asked for..." Xander looked down at the poems, then back again at the vampire. Holy crap. "You have a soul now?"
"Had to fight for it, actually. Barely survived the experience," Spike commented in an offhand tone that didn't match his pose or his words.
Xander felt his brain scrambling to catch up. Spike had a soul? Spike had decided to go out and get himself a soul?
"If you're all soul-having and good now, how come you just tried to bite me?"
Spike either laughed, or coughed. "Just 'cause I've got a soul don't mean I'm good, Scooby. Anyway, you're the one went through my stuff. What do you think Dawnie'd do to you if you read her diary?"
It was a good point, sort of. If you were willing to admit a vampire had a right to privacy in the first place.
Another vampire with a soul. Fantastic.
Xander felt warmer all of a sudden, and tight, and he realized he was angry. Not sure why, but definitely angry. He stood up and glared down at Spike. "Just because you have a soul now doesn't mean everything you did before is erased. I'm not going to forgive you."
Spike finally dropped his hands and lifted his head. "Understood, mate."
The quiet acceptance in Spike's expression just made Xander feel angrier. "It's not a fucking get-out-of-jail-free card! You killed people, tortured people—thousands! And you betrayed Buffy, you tried to rape her, and I'm not going to say 'Oh, it's the good Spike now, he's totally different from the bad Spike' because they're both you, Spike! They're both you!"
"You're right, Xander," Spike said, still quiet and calm.
"And fuck you!"
Xander turned around and left the store, clutching his rage against him with both arms and walking fast. Spike didn't try to follow.
"You again." Spike glared at Xander, then pushed the door to his lair shut behind him. "I'm not going to invite you into my bloody flat, so you might as well just go."
"I just want to talk to you," Xander said. He'd been waiting for sunset outside Spike's abandoned store. He still needed to know why Spike was saving news clippings about the murdered prostitutes.
"Right then, you can come along with me. You owe me four pterey eggs anyway. Not wearing your good shoes, are you?" Spike lit up a cigarette as he talked, and started walking.
"They're kind of my only shoes, at least here in London..." Xander ran a couple steps to catch up with Spike, then fell in beside him. "Listen, about last night—"
"Did you tell Buffy?" Spike interrupted.
"Tell her what?"
"That we rode on the top of the bus," Spike said scornfully. "That I went and got a bloody soul, you wanker—did you tell her?"
Xander quickly considered whether there'd be a strategic advantage to lying. Okay, who was he kidding?—he wasn't the strategy Scooby. He told Spike the truth. "No. I just told her I talked to you."
"All right then."
"So you don't want her to know?"
Spike shrugged and didn't answer.
"So about last night," Xander repeated. "I found your news clippings. About the Jack the Ripper killings."
"Jack the Ripper." Spike snorted. "This is nothing to do with the Whitechapel murders. That's just the tabloids trying to sell copy. Not like a few murders is real news in London."
"Okay, what's it all got to do with you?" Xander stopped walking, grabbing Spike's arm to stop him too. "I saw you talking to those prostitutes last night."
"Ooo, aren't we being all judgmental? Just 'cause a couple of birds choose to dress up nice and stand around on a street corner at night, they must be whores?"
Xander gripped both Spike's shoulders and slammed him up against a wall. "I don't trust you, Spike. I think you were in London in 1888. I know you're in London now. If your chip's working right, you can't be killing those women—but maybe you know who is."
"I do." Spike glared at him, not trying to break out of Xander's hold. "Sort of. At least I know it's not a who, it's a what. That's why I was talking to those birds last night—trying to find if they'd seen anything."
"Keep talking." Xander loosened his grip a little, but he kept Spike pressed up against the wall.
"A bag lady saw it killing the fifth girl. Name's Eunice—the bag lady, I mean. She's a loopy old bird. The coppers thought she was just making things up, or seeing things that weren't there."
"What did she see?"
"Big spiny thing. Seven feet tall. Claws like butcher's knives. Tail with spikes on it."
Xander let go of Spike, took a step back. "So, a demon."
"Sounds like." Spike dusted himself off, tugged his shirt straight. "So I thought, hey, not doing much else here. Might as well hunt down the demon and kill it." He started walking again in the direction they'd been headed before.
"Okay." Xander trotted to catch up again. "Well, hey, want some help? I mean, demon-killing's kind of my hobby, you know?"
He believed Spike. Everything Spike had said and everything Xander'd seen fit together nicely, and Spike wasn't the kind of guy to come up with complex and well-constructed lies. Spike's idea of a lie was saying 'No, I didn't eat the Doritoes' while licking orange dust off his fingers.
So if he believed Spike, that meant...Spike had a soul, and he was one or two steps away from opening a storefront in London and sending out flyers promising to help the helpless.
This was going to take some getting used to.
"So are we going after the demon now?" Xander asked.
"Not that demon. I don't bloody well know where it is." Spike stopped walking, hopped off the curb, and crouched down to flip up a manhole cover. "We're just going to rob a pterey's nest."
"What's a pterey?" Xander whispered once they were down in the sewer. He pulled out his flashlight and turned it on.
The sewer was dark, rank, and disgusting, just like the sewers back home. Rats skittered away from them, occasionally running over Xander's shoes and giving him goose bumps. No matter how much time he spent hunting monsters in sewers, he never stopped hating it.
"It's a small, stupid demon," Spike explained, leading the way. "More like a big salamander. Eats refuse, lives in sewers, lays eggs that fetch me five quid each at the magic shop."
They splashed along for maybe two blocks underground, then Spike held out his hand for Xander to stop. "We're almost on it. Put out your torch."
Xander turned his flashlight off. "Now I can't see a thing." He felt Spike press an empty paper bag and a large knife into his hand.
"I'll go get the pterey out of the way. You wait for my signal, then you can turn on your torch and go for the eggs. Then get out of here the way we came. Use the knife to defend yourself if you have to."
Spike's footsteps splashed away. Xander waited, his heart thumping with the familiar pre-combat adrenaline rush.
Suddenly there was an animalistic shriek, followed by lots of growling, snarling, thumping, and splashing. After about ten seconds, Spike yelled "Xander! Now!"
Xander flipped on the flashlight and ran around the corner. Spike and the pterey were rolling around, locked in combat. Big salamander? It looked more like a crocodile! Its teeth were locked on Spike's shoulder and Spike, in game face, had his fangs dug into the pterey's neck.
Xander spotted the clutch of eggs. He ran for it. They were leathery and mottled, about the size and shape of baseballs, and there were five of them. He stuffed them into the paper bag as quickly and gently as possible.
Spike, on top of the pterey for the moment and wrenching its head back, yelled "Meet me up on the street!"
Xander hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should stay and help, but the vampire seemed to have things under control. Xander ran.
Up on the street, he waited. He sat on the edge of the curb by the manhole he'd come up through, stinking like sewer and clutching his paper bag of pterey eggs. The few people walking along the sidewalk steered well clear of him. Between the sewer stench and the black eye, Xander knew he didn't look or smell like someone you'd want to get close to.
Man, this sucked.
Just as he was starting to worry a bit, the manhole cover slid to the side and Spike climbed out. There were splatters of dark green goop on his hair and face, and his shirt was ripped open at one shoulder, showing a crescent of bloody tooth marks on his skin.
"Got the eggs?" Spike said.
Xander held up the bag.
"Right, let's go get cleaned up then."
There was a bathroom at the back of Spike's place, with cold running water. Spike flicked on his lighter and lit a couple candles that were stuck on the rim of the sink.
"Right then." He turned to Xander. "You hurt?"
Xander shook his head. "Not from tonight. I've sure got bruises from last night, though."
To Xander's surprise Spike reached up and touched Xander's chin, then gently pushed it to make him turn the black eye towards Spike. "Sorry about that," Spike said softly, taking his hand away. "I shouldn't have done that."
Xander was startled by the apology. He'd expected Spike to rail on him again for snooping through his stuff. "Whatever," he said with a shrug. "I mean, you were right, if Dawn caught me doing the same thing to her she'd probably whale on me just like that."
Spike turned on the tap and ducked his head under, and started scrubbing the demon gook out of his hair.
"But hey, doesn't the chip usually kick in at the first punch?" Xander asked.
"It bloody well did," Spike said into the sink. "I was mad enough to keep going."
"Wow, uh." Xander took an instinctive step back, towards the door. "I didn't know you could do that."
Spike stood up and shook his head, flinging drops of water all around. Xander blinked and the candles flickered and sizzled. "I can't really," Spike said. "Pretty much knocked me out for the rest of the night. Still got a bit of a headache." Looking around, he noticed Xander'd moved halfway out the bathroom door. Spike gave a faint smirk. "Don't worry pet, I won't do it again."
He shrugged off his black button-up shirt and let it fall to the floor, and then peeled off his t-shirt. He examined the holes in it, frowning. "Looks like I'm off to Oxfam again," he muttered.
Xander stared at the vampire's torso. Besides the deep bite marks around Spike's shoulder, there was a gash across his belly that oozed blood, and shallower scratches crisscrossing his front and back. There were green and purple bruises, too, which looked like they came from a few days ago but it was hard to say for sure, since vampires healed so much faster than humans.
Xander'd spent enough time around vampires and slayers to know that it wasn't as bad as it looked. He'd still be sporting his black eye from last night long after all Spike's injuries had healed without a trace.
What was really giving Xander pause was how skinny the vampire was. He'd noticed the gauntness in Spike's face when he first saw him, but up until now Spike had been wearing a loose shirt, hiding the shape of his body. His ribs were sticking out like a famine victim's.
Spike reached down and got a bandage roll, scissors, and a safety pin from a box under the sink. "Give me a hand sticking my guts back in, would you, Xander?"
Xander took the roll and started winding it around Spike's middle, covering the deep gash. "You've lost weight, Spike. Aren't there enough yummy rats running around in the sewers?"
Spike raised an eyebrow. "Yummy rats?"
Xander shrugged. "Just trying to think about it from a vampire's point of view. Seriously, what's with the heroin-chic supermodel look?" He snipped the bandage off the roll and pinned the end.
"Can't kill rats, actually." Spike looked at the bite marks on his shoulder, then crouched down to rummage through the box again. "The chip. Doesn't let me harm anything but demons." He came up with tape and couple gauze pads.
"So why don't you buy some blood from a butcher's shop, like you used to in Sunnydale?" Xander taped the gauze pads in place over the bites.
"Have been. Things are a bit tight, is all," Spike said, sounding suddenly curt. "Look, that's good. Thanks for the help with the eggs. I'll want to be off to the magic shop now, so you'd best be on your way."
"Okay." Xander backed away, sensing that he'd somehow offended Spike. "Uh, listen, how about I call Giles and ask him to look up tall, spiny demons? Maybe he can help us figure something out."
"Sure." Spike brushed past him, heading over to the shelves by his futon. He pulled out another black t-shirt and put it on.
"Okay, I'll, uh, meet you back here at sunset tomorrow."
Spike nodded. "Cheers, mate," he said, still sort of scowling. "Get out of here."
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