This time, Xander actually knocked on Spike's front door.
"Hi," he said when Spike thrust the door open. Xander held up the shopping bags he'd brought. "I brought you, um, lair-warming gifts."
Spike nodded in an inviting sort of way and stood aside to let Xander in.
"So what have you got there?" he asked, tugging the door shut again. He followed Xander to the back part of the store where the sleeping area was set up. There were about ten candles burning on the shelf and on the crate, making that corner of the store relatively well-lit. The area still smelled a bit funky from the broken pterey eggs, but maybe vampires didn't care about that kind of thing.
"Well, the first one's actually from Buffy." Xander tossed the bag over and watched as Spike looked inside and then, with a surprised expression, pulled out the leather duster.
"My coat." Spike held it up for a moment, staring at it with a faint frown. Then he shrugged and pulled it on. "You've been talking to the Slayer, then?"
Xander sat down on the futon, looking at Spike. With his duster restored to him, Spike looked exactly like his old self. If the shadows under his cheekbones were darker than before, it just made him look more striking and dangerous in the candlelight. Xander felt a quiet shiver, wondering for just a moment why he spent his time hanging out with vampires, slayers, witches, werewolves, and demons—all beings that could kill him without breaking a sweat.
"She sent the coat with me from LA," Xander said. "But yeah, I talked to her today. I told her about the spiny demon, and that I'm helping you hunt it. I, uh, didn't tell her about your soul."
For one thing, Xander worried that if Buffy found out Spike had a soul, it would be like Angel all over again. For another, Spike hadn't really seemed to want Buffy to know. And on some level, Xander had to agree that this should be Spike's call.
"And the librarian?" Spike asked, coming over to sit on the futon beside Xander. "Did you talk to him?"
"Yeah, first thing this morning. That was a lot easier since he's, you know, in the same time zone as us and all. He's just over in Bath—that's close, right? I told him about what the bag lady said. He said it wasn't a lot to go on, but he went through his books and found a bunch of different demons that fit the description. He couriered me some photocopies, so we can show them to the bag lady and maybe she can pick out the one she saw. Once we know what it is, Giles can help us figure out where to find it and how to kill it."
"Hey," Spike said. "Didn't you say Red was with the librarian?"
"Yeah. But, uh, she's out of the game. Not going to be helping us." Xander held up the other bag he'd brought. "So hey, here's the present from me!"
Spike took the bag and pulled out the jar. He screwed off the top and sniffed the contents. "Pig's blood."
"Fresh from ye olde English butcher shoppe. Should hit the spot, right?"
Spike started to screw the top back on. "Thanks for the thought, but I can get my own blood."
"Come on Spike, don't be rude! I'm a guest, I brought a bottle of blood. It's like bringing a bottle of wine, for humans."
One corner of Spike's mouth quirked up. "Oh, you could bring me wine, I wouldn't say no to that."
"Come on." Xander took the jar out of Spike's hands and unscrewed the top again. "I know you're hungry. Don't mind me, I've seen you drink before."
Xander was starting to get annoyed. When did Spike get too proud to take handouts? The vampire was way too skinny. Not that Xander was worried about him, exactly—soul or not, why would he worry about a bloodsucking monster? But he knew that vampires' strength depended at least partly on the blood they drank, and if the two of them were going to go up against the spiny demon together, Xander wanted Spike as strong as possible.
Spike took a couple of sips of blood, grimacing with his human face. "There, all right? I drank some." He twisted the top back on.
"Look, I'm sorry it isn't warm, but you don't exactly have a microwave in here, do you? And it's not going to get any fresher."
"I'll have some more later. I'm not hungry right now." Spike put the jar down and stood up. "Now let's get off our arses and go find Eunice, show her the pictures."
"Wait." Xander stood up too. "Like hell you're not hungry. You're starving, Spike. What does it take to get you to accept a gift? I didn't poison it, if that's what you're worried about—I had enough chances to do that when you lived in my basement, before you even had a soul, and I didn't, did I?"
Spike scowled, and walked towards the door. "It's not that. I'll drink it later. Just let's bloody go."
"No." Xander crossed his arms and stayed put in the circle of candles. "I'm not going until you drink that blood."
Spike crossed his arms, too, glaring back at Xander. "I'm not hungry, can't you get that through your sodding thick skull? The blood doesn't go down right, is all. Now let's go." He headed for the door again.
Go down...that rang a bell. It reminded Xander of the line of poetry that he had read out loud from Spike's notebook the other night. "You don't want to drink," he said in an undertone, looking at the vampire wonderingly. "You don't want to drink at all."
Spike stopped with his hand on the door, looking back at Xander uncertainly. "Yeah, that's what I said. Not hungry now. Let's go."
"You are hungry, you have to be," Xander said, thinking out loud. "But you don't want to drink. You've, um, gone off blood." He walked slowly toward Spike. "You wrote 'the soul burns my throat as the blood goes down.' In your notebook."
Spike turned away, rested his forehead against the still-closed door. "You shouldn't have read my fucking notebook."
"Explain this to me, Spike." Still walking slowly, Xander was almost beside him now. "Why are you starving yourself?"
"It doesn't seem right, is all," Spike said softly into the door. "Drinking the blood. I can't kill the beasts myself. Wouldn't, now, even without the sodding chip. Not right to get someone else to do it for me, either."
Cautiously, Xander laid one hand on Spike's shoulder. "The blood's a by-product, Spike. They'd just be throwing it out if you didn't buy it. They're not killing anything for you."
Spike's shoulder moved slightly under Xander's hand. "I know," he said. "When I get hungry enough, I drink. It just doesn't go down right, is all."
Xander moved his hand a little, tentatively rubbing Spike's shoulder. It seemed like the right thing to do. "I guess you're new to this soul thing, figuring out how to be a good guy—but seriously, Spike, everybody needs to eat. A vegetarian vampire is a pretty stupid concept. Tomato juice and tofu just aren't going to cut it for you."
"Leave it alone, pet," Spike whispered. "This is between me and my soul."
Xander stepped away. This whole scene was too raw, too intimate. It shouldn't be happening. Vampires were for hating, not for comforting. He cleared his throat. "Okay. Okay, let's go find Eunice."
The bartender looked up when Spike and Xander walked into the pub. It was the same place Xander had first seen Spike, but much less crowded this time.
"Well, that got us sod all," Spike groused, heading for the bar.
"Hey, at least we can eliminate eighteen demons from the list of possibles. Giles's going to keep combing the books." Xander stopped talking when the bartender came within earshot.
"Evening, Billy," the bartender said to Spike. "Are you going to behave tonight?"
"Look," said Spike, tilting his head towards Xander, "I brought me mate tonight. No trouble at all."
"You're a mate of Billy's?" The bartender looked at Xander, seeming surprised and pleased. "Right then, what'll it be?"
Xander ordered a pint of Guinness—might as well get the whole tourist experience. Local demons, local beer. Or was Guinness Irish? Whatever, it was more local here than in LA. Spike ordered whiskey, neat.
"Billy?" Xander whispered when the bartender left them.
"Going incognito. This here's a human pub, you know."
"Yeah, I noticed that the first night. When you started a fight with that guy and couldn't hit back. What the hell was that about, anyway?"
Spike shrugged, and tossed back his whiskey. "I was in the mood."
Xander shrugged back, and sipped his drink. Compared to becoming a vegetarian, picking fights with humans seemed like a pretty mild self-destructive urge for the vampire, so he let it go. "Okay, here's the plan. Giles should send some more pictures tomorrow. Tonight, you're going to go back to the murder scenes and look for clues, tracks—anything useful."
"The beastie's probably moving around in the sewers to stay out of sight," Spike said. "I've looked around down there before, but I'll do it again. And what are you doing?"
"Tonight? Going back to the hostel and sleeping."
"What? We can't all be creatures of the night, you know."
"Bloody right. The creatures of the night club has standards." Spike smirked at Xander in an almost friendly way. "Meet you back at my flat, sunset tomorrow."
Xander lay awake on his bunk in the hostel, staring at the ceiling. The guy on the bunk underneath him was snoring. In fact, both of the guys on the other bunk bed were snoring, too.
Not that this would normally be a problem. If he could fall asleep in the basement with his parents having screaming matches overhead—and he could, he had—he could fall asleep to the sound of the snoring trio, and turn it into a quartet.
And it wasn't the spiny demon troubling him, either. Sure, it had horribly murdered six women, and it would almost certainly kill again if they didn't stop it, but so far it had always gone seven to ten days between killings, which meant they had at least three days before it killed again. By Scooby standards, that was plenty of time. And sure, this would be harder without Buffy's help, but Xander had faced demons without Buffy before, when she was out of town...or dead. And besides, Xander had a vampire on his side. Vampires were plenty strong. Angel fought lots of demons in LA with only ordinary humans for sidekicks.
The vampire. Time to face it: Xander was lying awake at night because he was worried about Spike. And not worried as in 'will I get killed if he's too weak to beat the spiny demon?'—though that was a legitimate concern. Xander was worried about Spike for Spike's sake.
There was nothing wrong with being concerned about a friend who was going through a rough time. Xander had tried to be there for Buffy, for Willow, during their hard times—failed sometimes, but succeeded when it mattered most. But Spike wasn't his friend. They'd lived together, unwillingly, for a while. They'd made alliances of convenience and fought together, but they'd also fought against each other. Spike had nearly killed Xander and his friends more than once. And yeah, that was before the chip, but Spike couldn't exactly take credit for the chip.
He could take credit for the soul, though. Angel had been cursed with a soul; Spike, apparently, had gone looking for one. That was a weird thing to wrap your head around. How could a purely evil monster decide to become not evil? There had to have been some not-evil part in there to begin with, for him to even want a soul...right?
Spike didn't seem a lot different than Xander remembered from Sunnydale. Okay, yeah, the stupid not-drinking-blood thing was different, but if Xander hadn't found the damn poetry, he might never have guessed that Spike had got a soul. Not like Angel, who was so different without a soul that everyone but Xander thought of Angel and Angelus as two different people.
What the hell was a soul, anyway? It wasn't some separate part of Xander that he could pull out and look at. In Angel, it seemed to work as an on-off switch for evil, but it had to be both more and less than that. Warren had had a soul when he killed Tara and tried to kill Buffy. Faith had had one when she decided to side with the Mayor. And Spike...Spike hadn't had one when he took Glory's torture to protect Dawn, or when he helped them fight evil the whole summer Buffy was dead.
Xander remembered how angry he'd got when he found out Spike had a soul. He didn't really know why he'd reacted that way. He knew it had something to do with the way everyone had welcomed Angel back even after he killed Miss Calendar, but it wasn't like Spike had been asking Xander to treat him differently now.
And the really funny thing was, Xander was treating him differently now. Or at least thinking about him differently. Even without Buffy around to impress, Spike had been trying to hunt down a monster, trying to fight evil. That was something Xander had to respect. And he knew it was incredibly stupid of Spike to think he could stop drinking blood, but it was kind of noble, too, wasn't it? And those poems Spike wrote. Xander imagined Spike hunched over his notebook, chain-smoking probably, frantically scribbling out his pain and torment by candlelight. Getting his soul back like that after over a century of killing—there must be a hell of a lot of pain.
Maybe Spike wasn't so bad after all. And maybe he needed help, and maybe Xander was the one who would give it to him.
"So. Your witness was sure that was the right picture?" Giles asked.
"Absolutely," Xander said. "I mean, she's kind of batty, but she was really firm about this—it was definitely the Dur'athan demon."
"Hm. Hold on a moment, and let me get the relevant text."
"Okay, just hurry—I've only got eighty pence left on this phone card." Xander saw the number on the display change again. "Oops, seventy pence."
"Er, um, why don't you call me back and reverse the charges?" Giles suggested quickly.
"Deal," Xander said, and hung up the phone.
Spike popped around the edge of the phone booth. "All done? Got what we need?"
"No, I was running out of money. The phones in this country are a fucking racket, man. You could talk all day for a quarter on an American pay phone."
"It's a long distance call to Bath, pet, but you're right. British Telecom is a bloody rip-off." Spike fished in his pocket for his cigarettes. "So now what?"
"I'm calling him back collect, and by the way would you stop doing that?"
"What, smoking?" He flipped open his lighter and lit the cigarette. "I like it. Makes me look hard, don't you think?"
"Calling me 'pet.' It's weird."
Spike raised his eyebrow and smirked. "Dru didn't mind."
He wandered away before Xander could get a good retort in, so Xander just dialed the operator and made the call. While he waited for Giles to pick up, he thumped his head against the Plexiglas wall of the booth, hating his own stupidity. Now that Spike knew the 'pet' thing annoyed him, he'd never stop.
"Right, yes, I accept the charges, of course I do," Giles said. "Xander?"
"I found the entry in Compendium Demonica. The first tricky part will be finding the demon—they have an amazing ability to hide, and they only come out to kill. But the good news is, I can tell you almost exactly where and when the next attack will be, in relation to the last one. There's a very strict pattern. Now, the only way to kill a Dur'athan demon is by piercing its one eye with a steel blade—"
"Hey, cool, sounds easy—just one eye? It must have terrible depth perception..."
"—a steel blade," Giles continued more sternly, "anointed with an elixir of Iroras."
"Okay, where do we get that?"
"It's not sold ready made," Giles said, in his 'any idiot ought to know that' tone. "You'll have to purchase the ingredients and mix it up yourself."
"Um...is this going to involve any serious mojo, Giles? 'Cause that was never my specialty, you know, that was more you and Will."
"No, no, not to worry. No magical incantations at all, it's simply a recipe. No more complex than making a peach smoothie. Now, the recipe—do you have paper and a pen on you?"
Xander took out his notebook and pencil and took down Giles's instructions, making him spell each of the items out. "So," he said at the end, "I can find these at any magic shop?"
"I imagine so, yes. They're all quite common. That's not what concerns me..."
Xander imagined he could hear Giles taking off his glasses and polishing them. "All right, what concerns you?"
"Your choice of allies," Giles whispered. "I am not sure if we can trust Spike in this matter."
"Well, really he's not my choice of allies—I'm his." Xander glanced up; Spike was standing maybe fifteen feet away and looking in the other direction, smoking. "He was on this case before I even got here."
"I fail to see his interest in this matter. The effort required to kill this demon goes far beyond the kind of opportunistic carnage he gifted us with in Sunnydale."
"Well...I guess he's defending his turf here." Xander hadn't told Giles about the soul—Giles might agree not to tell Buffy, but it was hard to say for sure.
"I could help, you know. I could be in London on the first morning train."
"No," Xander said firmly. "I'd love to see you again Giles, but Will needs you more than I do. It's just one demon. Spike and I can handle it."
"This is a bit of a problem, innit?" Spike murmured to Xander.
The owner of the magic shop stood behind the counter with her arms crossed—all four of them—and her foot tapping impatiently. "Look, lovey, if you put back the dagger and the red newt powder, it'll be just sixty pound for the rest."
"We need the red newt powder, the elixir won't work without it." Xander looked in his wallet, trying to calculate how much was left and how much he needed for another week and a half at the hostel, and food. "How much do you have again, Spike?"
Spike snorted. "Seventeen pounds and eighteen pence in all the world, pet, just like the last time you asked."
"What if we just don't buy the dagger? We could use your chef's knife, that's steel—"
"Seventy-five pound for the lot without the dagger," the shopkeeper said, absently twirling a lock of her pink hair around one of her fingers.
"Look, if you want to go fighting a Dur'athan demon with nothing but a sodding kitchen implement, be my guest," Spike said. "But I'm only going in there with a proper weapon."
"Okay, okay, we need the dagger. Look, um, Ma'am," Xander turned to appeal to the shopkeeper, "We're trying to do a public service here. We're going to kill the demon that's been killing the women—it's been in the papers, the Jack the Ripper story. And we need this stuff to do it."
She blinked her violet eyes one at a time, looking unimpressed. "Everyone's got a story, lovey, but I've got babies to feed. This here's a place of business, not a charity."
"We can return the dagger after we use it," Xander offered.
"If you survive," she smiled, "you bring it here and I might just consider buying it back off you."
"Don't you have a credit card?" Spike asked Xander.
"I maxed it out getting the plane tickets to come here. Hey!" Spike had just snatched Xander's wallet out of his hand.
"Hey yourself, you have plenty of dosh in here." He riffled through the colorful bills quickly, picking out a fifty and three twenties. "One hundred and ten quid." He handed them to the shopkeeper, and handed the wallet back to Xander.
"Spike," Xander hissed, "I need that money to pay for my bed at the hostel."
Spike rolled his eyes. "Priorities, pet. You do want to kill the murdering demon, right?"
"Well, yeah." Spike was right. Much as Xander hated having the right path pointed out to him by a vampire. "But where the hell will I sleep?"
Spike considered the question while the shopkeeper bagged their purchases. "Well," he said finally, not looking too happy, "I guess you can doss with me."
It was still three days before the night that Giles had predicted for the Dur'athan demon's next kill. Xander went to the hostel to collect his duffel, and brought it back to Spike's place.
Xander decided that if he was going to have to stay there too, he'd follow Spike's lead and call it a flat instead of a lair. 'Flat' sounded cozier, like a place inhabited by a person instead of a dead thing.
"Well, this'll work fine," Spike said, offering Xander a swig from his bottle of whiskey. "You sleep all night while I'm out, I sleep all day while you're out. We'll hardly see each other."
"Better than the last time we lived together," Xander said. The drink went down harsh, but it warmed up his insides fast.
"Bloody right," Spike agreed. He grabbed the bottle back. "Cheers to that."
Xander spent the next day doing dirt-cheap touristy things. He went to Trafalgar Square and saw the pigeons. He found the British Museum and wandered around for hours, thinking about how much Willow would love it. He got back to Spike's place about half an hour before sunset, carrying a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter.
Spike was still asleep, sprawled face down on the futon with his clothes and boots still on, the leather duster crumpled in a heap nearby. His posture was kind of disconcerting—he looked like he'd be smothering, but of course vampires don't need to breathe.
Xander lit a couple candles and settled down to his gourmet peanut butter sandwich dinner.
After a while he noticed Spike's fingers and feet were twitching. It reminded Xander of Uncle Dave's cat, the way its paws and nose used to twitch in its sleep. Uncle Dave always claimed the cat was chasing mice in its dreams. Xander thought about that for a moment, then regretted it. He didn't want to think about what Spike would chase in his sleep.
Suddenly Spike gasped and rolled up onto his feet in an explosion of motion. He snapped his head around to look in Xander's direction, and Xander caught a glimpse of snarling game face before the vampire crumpled back onto the futon and curled up in a tight ball.
"Uh, Spike?" Xander got up and approached Spike cautiously. "Are you all right?"
Spike didn't move or make a sound. He wasn't even breathing. Which, again—vampire. But Spike usually did breathe when he was awake, whether out of habit or to pass as human or what, Xander didn't know. He wasn't doing it now.
"Did you, uh, have a bad dream?" Xander knelt on the futon next to Spike, feeling awkward and strange. Maybe he should just walk away. Leave the store, come back in another hour.
"Killing," Spike spat out, the sound muffled because his forehead was pressed into his own knees. "I had a killing dream."
"Oh." Xander hesitated, then put his hand on Spike's shoulder. "It's okay, it was just a dream."
"1967. November. It was raining. Dru and I hitched a ride in a farmer's lorry. We said we didn't have any place to stay for the night, and he invited us to stay at his home. With his family." Spike was silent for a moment, still curled up, still not breathing. "Not a dream, Xander."
Xander had no idea what to say. Without thinking about it he started rubbing Spike's back, his hand moving in slow circles. It was getting to be a habit. The rubbing, the not thinking.
It wasn't like Xander had no experience with people who'd done awful things in the past. Hell, he'd nearly married an ex-vengeance demon.
Anya had never had nightmares, come to think of it. Strange.
"It wasn't your fault," Xander heard himself saying. Funny, it had always pissed him off when people said that about Angel killing Miss Calendar. Exactly whose fault was it, then? The demon's? The demon was still in there, right along with the soul.
Maybe the only difference was that Xander had never met the farm family. Not a comfy thought; he shied away from it.
"Doesn't matter," Spike said. "It happened. I did it." Abruptly he sat up. "Where's that bloody whiskey?" There was a half full bottle sitting on the wooden crate. He grabbed it, tugged the cork out and tossed it across the room, and upended the bottle into his mouth.
Xander watched Spike chug the bottle until it was empty. No need to breathe. When he'd finished, he hurled the bottle away. It smashed against the wall behind the cash register counter in a glittering explosion of glass shards.
"That's better." Spike grabbed the leather duster, jumped to his feet, and strode towards the door, yanking the coat on in two violent thrusts.
"Whoa, whoa, Spike, where are you going?" Xander sprinted to get to the door ahead of Spike. He was no expert on vampire physiology, but he'd seen Spike get drunk once or twice. After downing that much alcohol that fast, Spike should be having trouble just standing up.
"Going out. Get out of my way." Spike ducked to one side then the other, trying to get around Xander, but Xander just stood firm in front of the door.
"No way. You'd get yourself in trouble."
"Yeah." Spike glared at Xander, swaying a bit. "Trouble. That's what I bloody well want. So piss off."
"No. I need you intact to fight the Dur'athan demon."
"That's two nights away, I'll be back by then." Spike let fly a kick which landed on the door and jarred it halfway open.
Xander grabbed Spike's arm and pulled him away from the door. "No walkabouts for drunk vampires."
"Sod off." Spike started to struggle. He yanked his arm out of Xander's grasp and gave Xander a push that threw him clattering into the nearest set of shelves, then immediately howled in pain and dropped to the floor, clutching his head.
"Right," Xander said, going to yank the exit closed again. "See what I mean? No shape to go out."
Spike came to his knees, still pressing his hands to his forehead. "No fair, I didn't even hurt the wanker, just gave him a shove out of the way," he muttered. He stood up, took one step towards the door, and crumpled very ungracefully back down to the floor.
"We could do this all night," Xander said, kneeling beside the sullen heap of vampire, "But it would probably suck a lot for you."
"Bloody chip packs more punch than it used to," Spike said from the floor. "You'd think it would wear out, but no."
"You're not going anywhere, Spike. Let me give you a hand back to bed."
Spike didn't struggle this time when Xander grabbed him under the shoulders and hoisted him to his feet. It was easy to half-carry him back to the futon. Even when he was well-fed, Spike was probably thirty pounds lighter than Xander. Xander laid him down on his back on the mattress, then sat down beside him.
"Room's spinning," Spike commented after a moment.
"Yeah, I bet it is." Xander looked at his watch and sighed. So much for doing anything fun this evening. He wished he had a book, at least.
Spike closed his eyes and was quiet without moving for so long that Xander thought he'd gone back to sleep. Then suddenly he spoke up, eyes still closed. "The first time I came to Sunnydale, when the Order of Teraka didn't manage to kill Buffy, I went to her house to do it myself. I hid around the corner of the house until I saw Little Bit coming up the walk. I grabbed her, then rang the doorbell. Buffy came to the door and I told her I'd kill her sister if she didn't come out and fight me. I still thought I could take her one-on-one, see. Buffy came out and I threw Dawn out of my way—so hard she broke her arm when she landed. Buffy and I fought. She won but I got away."
"I remember that," Xander said. "Dawn had her arm in a cast for a month. I think she was more pissed off about not being allowed outside after dark for the next year than she was about the broken arm, though." Xander rubbed his chin, noting absently that he needed a shave. "Look, if you're counting up your sins, I think you should get a pass on that one. It didn't really happen, remember? Dawn didn't even exist till three years after that." As weird as that was to think about. "The monks gave you the memory of that fight. You never broke Dawn's arm."
"Exactly." Spike's lips showed a shadow of a smile. "I never hurt Dawn. The one bad thing I didn't do. It's something to hold onto." Then he rolled over onto his front, pressing his face into the futon, and started to sob.
Xander felt awkward and helpless, and kind of embarrassed to be seeing this. He thought about going and sitting at the other end of the store, to give Spike space. He didn't move, though. He stayed, and after a while laid his hand on Spike's back again and started rubbing it in slow circles. Spike didn't react any more than he had the other times, but Xander hoped it was comforting. The sounds Spike was making were awful to listen to.
It was a long time before Spike became quiet again, and by then Xander's eyes were closing involuntarily. Even though he hadn't been doing anything, just sitting beside Spike, he felt wrung out and exhausted. He blew out the candles, lay down beside the dead-quiet vampire, and tumbled into dreamless sleep.
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