All About Spike

Descent
By Indri

SUMMARY: A post-Grave piece written with the benefit of Season Seven hindsight. Completed March 2004. 13,000 words. Spoilers to Lies My Parents Told Me. R.



Cold stone under him, darkness in front, the scent of blood and burnt flesh. No sound now at all except when he moves and bone grates against bone. It hurts when he groans, so he doesn't.

*

He's starvingly hungry. He can't flex his left hand. Two or more ribs are broken and his insides feel like mush. When he passes a hand over his face he finds that it's swollen. He wonders if he can see, gropes for his lighter, is relieved when he gets a small flame. So -- still in the cave then. He glances down at himself, sees the four-fingered blister on his chest, the unnatural angle of one leg.

Christ. And he's cold.

*

He doesn't really remember the way back to the cavemouth, but he can smell it: fresher air, a touch of woodsmoke. He has to take things very, very slowly, or he'll bust one of his reknitted ribs. He's managing to sit up now, back to the tunnel wall, sitting on his arse and pulling himself along, inch by inch.

There's even a little light in this part of the cave, a reflection of a reflection of the glare outside. He sets his teeth and pulls himself towards it. Heal, sodding heal, he tells himself. If he could just stand up then he could make it to the jeep at nightfall. He has some blood there. And he'll need to look less beaten up before they'll let him on a plane.

*

Hand over hand on cold rock, pulling himself up, his weight on his one good leg. He thinks it's midnight -- he passed out before, so he's not sure. He manages to be vertical, looking out over the view. It doesn't seem any different: the same wide and hazy sky, the same sand shivering under the wind, clouds scudding across stars. The mountain looms behind him and from here he can see where the plateau ends, the ground plunging towards forest.

He stumbles away from the cave, open shirt flapping, but when his feet find sand his gimpy leg starts to give way. He staggers a bit and then tries to walk tall: the huts are ahead.

It's quiet at this time of night. The fires have been put out and the goats are tethered. He can smell blood, the ever-present scent of people, and it reminds him that he's hungry.

Swing. Wince-step. Swing. Wince-step. Always aiming for the even ground, because if he stumbles he's lost, he won't be able to pull himself up again without something to hold onto.

He reaches the first of the huts. A skinny dog comes sniffing out of it, its stupid tail wagging. It follows him across the sand and starts to yap. Spike kicks at it and straight away loses his balance. He's on his knees, reaching for an abandoned chair, when he feels someone come out of the hut behind him. He hopes that the man doesn't know what he is.

He pulls himself upright again, using the chair for leverage, the dog still wittering at his heels. Other people are coming out of the huts now. He glances around to see if anyone has weapons, but all he sees are eyes. Sombre, pitying eyes. Sod them. Don't they know what he just did?

No-one moves to help as he stumbles forward, more falling than walking, past huts and cooking fires.

Someone at last moves to shut up the dog. But now the whole village is out, watching him limp away. Spike risks turning to them. "Go!" he shouts. "Go to sleep! It's late, don't you have," he waves, "huts to go to? Go to fucking sleep!" He squares his shoulders, his whole body singing with pain, heading back towards the tree line and the jeep. He pretends he can't feel their stares upon his back.

The jeep's down a ways, hidden a bit from view by the trees and an outcrop of rock. He's glad to see it's still there. There's a large cooler bag in the back that he reaches for hungrily. It smells appalling now, the blood's so old, lukewarm and thick as snot. Still, he gags it down, feels it push viscous through his parched veins. He almost lets himself pass out right then and there in the driver's seat, but that's just asking for sunny-side-up. So he crawls under the vehicle before he closes his eyes.

*

He wakes briefly when his left leg starts to smoulder. He pulls his leg in sharply and throws sand over the flames. Then he lies there, staring up at the blackened pipes of the engine, hemmed in by the light.

*

The next night there is a woman sitting in the vehicle's passenger seat. He only went away for a minute, to stretch his bad leg, limping around bushes over the mountainside rock. And when he came back -- there she was. She's white, middle-aged, with short blonde hair, a white coat and a clipboard. Might be an aid worker, like the people he took the jeep from. She doesn't look like a threat to a vampire.

"What are you doing there?"

"My job," she says. Her accent's American. "I'm coming with you."

"Oh no you won't," Spike says. "You'll get out."

"You won't make me."

Spike looks at her. "Might," he says. "Might push you out as we go." He tries to sound menacing but he only sounds tired, even to himself.

The woman smiles unpleasantly. "I'll risk it."

Spike considers his options, the chip, and the condition of his limbs. So he checks the tires, glances in at the engine. But the woman's still there when he finishes. "How did you come to be so beaten up?" she asks. He just shakes his head and climbs in. It's cold up there on the plateau so it takes a few minutes to get the jeep running.

The road is unwelcoming: a dirt track clinging to precipitous slopes covered in thornscrub. The track is red clay, lumpy and uneven, turning to slick mud wherever the mountain water meets it.

Spike drives with the lights off, doing a one-foot tango with the clutch and the accelerator because his bad leg jerks with pain when he moves it. Blackened fingers mean he has to steer with the wrong hand, so he can't drive as fast as he'd like, too slow to fly over potholes and broken rock. The jeep shudders and jars as it takes a sharp curve.

"You didn't volunteer to come here," the woman says after a while. "No-one does."

"I volunteered," he says. "And what's it matter to you?"

"I don't want others encouraged."

"Do I look encouraged?"

"No," she says, smiling. "Not at all."

"And what are you doing here again?"

"I'm checking on an old experiment."

"And is it working?"

"No," she says, the smile suddenly gone from her face.

She shuts up after that and Spike's glad.

*

After a couple of hours they reach a small town. It's just a few more of the huts plus a couple of buildings for tourists, which is where Spike drops off the woman. He tells her he's driving further, but he doesn't go far. He's worn out already and his leg is giving him hell. Plus, his stomach's been unsettled and his head aches. He needs more of a rest.

He pulls over at the base of a cliff, a mile from the town. He can hear the sound of a waterfall nearby. Down here the vegetation's lush, ferns clinging to wet rock, the scent of water.

He tries to sit still for a while, his eyes closed. People must come here during the day, because he can smell them. His stomach rumbles but he has nothing left to eat.

He wishes he wasn't so tired. He's too tired to think and too tired to feel. He'd expected to feel jubilation. He's got the little bauble now, good as any of the lot of them, safe as bleeding houses. And he realises that he is bleeding, some chest wound re-opened during the drive, blood on his shirt. Fuck. He puts his hand on the wound, hoping to keep it from seeping.

In the end he finds a dank little grotto and crawls in to sleep. He could go back to town, but doesn't want to deal with any more people while his injuries are so obvious.

He doesn't sleep well.

*

When he wakes the next evening he's partially healed and can very nearly walk without limping. His fingers aren't black, more a raw reddish-pink, and he should have the full use of them soon. The swelling of his face has gone down; the bruises have faded.

He's so hungry now that he stops at the very next village, where the buildings are made of mudbrick and corrugated iron. Each has its own small plot of matoke, potato and corn, and some have sheds, mostly stinking of poultry, but that's not what he's after. So he looks harder, until he finds a right-smelling barn that's a bit out of sight from its neighbours. He has to move careful, skirting around buildings and lying low when he needs, feeling conspicuous under the moon.

Then he moves, launching himself through the door of the shed. The pigs inside squeal as he picks up the biggest sow he can find. They're heavy buggers, pigs, big as some humans and harder-kicking besides. He has to grab its snout because its wailing is deafening in his ear, but he can't stop it from emptying its bowels and its bladder. He hauls the pig out and hightails it before the owners come to investigate. He runs through tiny fields, out across road, into the forest. A mile from the sty, he finally puts the pig down, dunking it and himself in a stream to wash up. Then he drags the struggling pig out through the mud, using one hand to hold its snout shut and his other to hold it pinned, belly-up, to the ground.

The pig kicks and squirms, thrashing about, waving its fat limbs in the air like a newborn. Spike crouches over, pressing his lips to the wet, white and slightly hairy flesh of its throat. But then he gags and can't manage to bite down.

He lets it go in the end, sits on the streambank watching as it staggers away.

*

He just needs a little liquor, he thinks, to calm him, settle his nerves. He takes what he has left in his flask, puts a cigarette between his lips, and walks back to the jeep to start driving. At least the road's smoother now, crossing rivers and streams and past larger clumpings of huts. Scrubby trees and acacias have given way to thicker vegetation and the air is warm.

By the time Spike reaches an actual honest-to-God town, with municipal buildings and all, it's late evening. There are a few people out on the streets or loitering in the square but there's little traffic: a car, a few bikes, a boda-boda. He finds a bar with some foreigners in it, mostly backpacker kids and nurses. English, French and Scandinavian voices, some crap Europop playing. He gets himself a bourbon and finds an empty table under the stairs.

It's his injuries that are upsetting his stomach, he thinks. Some internal fuckup scrambling his innards: who knew what those buggery beetles did?

When he gets back to his table after fetching his third, he hears a shout. "Spike!" it says, putting more enthusiasm into the name than he's heard in years. And there at his elbow, is a grinning, dark-haired young man. A boy, really. He looks all of sixteen. Also: dead.

"Spike!" he says again, proffering a hand that Spike doesn't take. "I haven't seen you in years!"

"Do I know you?"

"Oh come on," the boy says. "California!" Spike looks at him blankly. "Sunnydale! The basement of The Sunset Club?"

Realisation dawns. "Ford?" he says, after trawling the depths of his brain for the name.

"Yeah," says Ford.

"And I sired you?"

"Yeah," says Ford.

He must have been stoned.

"You were going to die anyway, weren't you?" he asks. The boy nods. "So, mercy killing," Spike says.

"Really," Ford says, his skin as pale as Spike's own, "I think it was more about the killing." He sits down across from Spike and takes a sip of a fancy beer. He smiles appreciatively. "You know, I've been wanting to thank you. I get a lot of respect out of the fact that you're my sire. The famous William the Bloody, slayer of Slayers. You've got a real following, did you know that? Every day I hear some new story about you. Massacres in Barcelona. Children rent limb from limb in Bulgaria. Dimestores filled with the dead in New York. You're a real hero."

"Yeah," Spike says. "That's me."

"And then I heard about your accident," the boy says, pointing to indicate the chip. "And I thought, that's not going to keep a guy like Spike down, he's too tenacious, too resourceful. He'll find a way out. He'll be back to killing in no time."

"I kill demons now," Spike says.

Ford doesn't take the hint. "You know that's not what I mean. Aren't you looking forward to it, the joys of the hunt, hitting on some girl in a nightclub, knowing she's never going to go home? Beating up bigger guys, just because you can? Doing what you want when you want because there's nobody there to stop you?"

"There's always the Slayer."

"Yeah," says Ford, "and look what you do to them."

Spike stands up suddenly. "Get out."

"What?"

"I said, get the fuck away from me!" He shoves the table violently in Ford's direction, sending shot glasses skidding.

Ford backs away, looking offended. "If that's the way you want it." He leaves, taking his beer with him.

Spike straightens his shirt, pulls the table back into place. He notices that no-one in the bar is talking: all the customers are staring at him. He self-consciously rights a glass.

A woman approaches. She asks, "Who are you talking to?"

"A tosser," Spike says, sitting down again. Because her accent is German, he adds, "Ein sheisskopf." He stretches back in his seat. "A dickhead," he says. "A lamearse. A pathetic little shit."

Someone who must be the bouncer gets up from his seat near the door.

"A fuckwit," Spike says. "A dickwad. An arsewipe. An ignorant git."

The bouncer is walking towards him.

"A wanker. A jerk. A nasty little homunculus."

The bouncer pulls him from his chair.

"A homicidal fucknut!" Spike shouts. "A murderous rapist loser lying whore!"

Spike lands on his knees and hands outside, sinking into red mud. He wipes his forehead with the back of his hand, leaving a streak. He is shaking. He takes deep breaths, trying to calm himself, and then looks up.

Down the street he can see the white-coated woman, watching him from a doorway. She shakes her head, as if disappointed, and then disappears through a door.

*

Spike sits in the jeep, his head resting on the steering wheel, feeling weak and sick. He's still parked outside the bar after nearly an hour. The mud has dried on his skin and clothes and the moon has set. Every so often the bar door opens and a gasp of music escapes.

"If you walk without rhythm, you won't attract the worm."

He hears footsteps, but doesn't look up until they change direction towards him. It's the German woman again. She's maybe thirty. She asks, "Do you have someone to go to?"

"Not here," he says.

"Somewhere to stay?"

"I haven't looked." He checks a pocket. "I've got a few quid."

"I'll show you a place," she says.

She takes him to an ugly block of flats near the hospital that passes for a motel. She talks to the man behind the counter and, after an exchange of money, hands him a key.

"You know, if you're sick you should really get out of Uganda. This isn't a good place for it."

"I'm trying," he says. Then he finds himself saying thanks.

His room is on the east side ground floor. It's painted white and has a large window. The furniture is all second-hand. In a tiny room to one side there's a shower stall and a loo.

Spike checks that the blinds are secure on the window. He strips and throws his one set of clothes into the shower with him. There's no soap and the water's not much warmer than the air, but he stands there with his head under the spout for a long while. He sees that the burn on his chest has almost gone.

While he's in the shower, the lights go off and the water turns cold. He turns the tap off and picks up his sodden clothes. Out of the window he can see nothing except what the starlight shows him: even the hospital lights have gone out. He goes back to the shower, wrings out his clothes, and drapes them over a rail. He can't find a towel, so he just sits on a chair, dripping water onto the floor, while he has a cigarette.

After a while the lights come on again.

*

The place is noisy during the day and Spike finds it hard to sleep. Just after dawn a huge bird decides to knock on the window, making some godawful guttural cry. Spike has to get out of bed and rattle the blind before the fucker will deign to piss off. In the process, Spike gets a few burns, thin slices of light carved onto his arms and chest and cheek.

Later, the lorries start coming past. Spike can sleep through that, but not really the voices, people talking loudly and melodiously as they walk nearby. Every time he hears another burst of laughter, he wakes.

And then at ten, a woman unlocks the door from outside and steps in, carrying buckets and towels. Spike, still naked under the sheets and flinching from sunlight, has to wave her away, tells her to piss off and do not disturb. She's incensed by his tone and leaves before Spike has a chance to snag a towel or some soap.

It's noon before he can settle down proper. And then he dreams of a Brooklyn convenience store, a place he visited some years' back. He went there for Pez, because for a while he'd been fascinated by the little plastic heads. Some kid in the queue had had the last Miss Piggy, and when he took it from her, her father started a fight. Spike had punched the man's jaw up through his brain and then the shopowner brought out a gun. Shots were fired, one hitting Spike and one hitting a woman picking out icecream, but most of them just broke the glass of the freezer doors, spilling cans of frozen orange juice all over the floor. Spike had picked up whole aisles worth of shelving and flung them about, sending packets of cornflakes and tampons all over. He remembers breaking open the shopowner's head on the till, blood-soaked one dollar bills going everywhere. He doesn't remember what happened to the girl.

And then, when he left, he forgot to pick up the Pez. That always used to be the irritating ending to an otherwise pleasant memory.

*

That night he goes back to the bar, sitting outside in the jeep, waiting for Ford. When the bar closes without the American showing, he gets up to search the streets.

At this time of night there are few voices and no cars. It's far quieter at night than Sunnydale ever is, without the constant hum of televisions, air-conditioners and computers coming from every home. The streets seem empty.

Which is how come he hears the first shout from a mile off and can tell which direction to run in. In an alley he finds an abandoned bicycle, its handlebars twisted off. There are fresh spots of blood on the ground and Spike follows them, expecting to find Ford at his dinner. But instead he finds two female vampires fighting over their dying victim. They snarl something in a language Spike doesn't know and doesn't need to. He launches himself at one of them, pulling her down onto the ground, twisting her head off. Once she's dust, he gets up and sees that the other one has run. He goes after her, past trees and shopfronts, leaping over the uneven ground. She swerves into a sidestreet, ducking her way between two buildings, trying to double back. But Spike keeps track of her, moves faster, and despite the twinges remaining in his leg and her home advantage, begins to catch up. She starts throwing things at him: streetsigns and pieces of fence, but this just lets him close the gap. She looks close to panicking but then she starts to move with more purpose. They're close to the edge of town now, whistling through the streets.

She leaps into an abandoned house. Spike doesn't pause to think, just throws himself after, rolling to a halt inside a large room. Spike tries to work out why she's grinning from ear to ear and then realises: there are four other vampires with her. All in gameface, yellow eyes turned towards him, weapons in hand.

He breaks the nearest piece of furniture, grabbing something for use as a stake. One of the vamps slashes at him with a knife, leaving a hot streak on Spike's back as he turns. But he manages to duck the blows and contrives to twist so that his opponents meet in a confusion of limbs over the top of him. He pushes up, pretty much at random with his stake and feels one shiver into dust. A second one falls once his companion evaporates, allowing Spike to seize his neck. He snaps it back, hearing bones shatter. The vampire writhes on the floor.

The third vamp is armed with a wooden spoon but she seems too angry to use it: she tries to bite and hit him instead as if he were human. She lands a few blows and Spike lands on his backside on the floor, his stake rolling loose from his grasp. He spins away from her only to have the fourth one's fist land on his jaw, sending him flying. The wooden-spoon woman stabs through his chest but misses his heart. He grabs her wrist, pulls her down on top of him like a shield. Spike rolls like this, holding the woman to him, for a good five or ten seconds. By then he's found the lighter in his pocket and has pressed it to her hip. He has to throw her off the instant her skirt sets alight or he'll go up in smoke too. He grabs the spoon from her just as she starts to incinerate and thrusts it into the heart of the fourth. Then he turns to the vamp with the broken neck and kicks off his head.

Only the vampire he chased there remains. She looks so terrified that for an instant Spike can't move, caught in the memories of ten thousand similar moments. But this isn't a woman, not really, not any more, this time she's not just some unlucky housewife who let the wrong man in the door. She's got a forehead furrowed like a potato field, teeth like the nightmares of dental apprentices, eyes like pieces of desert. She's a monster.

So he kills her.

Afterwards, he crouches in the dust, panting. He's surprised to discover he hasn't rebroken his ribs. There's a lot of bruising though and that cut on his back and the wooden spoon injury. His shirt's a blood-sodden rag. Yet he feels better than he did at the start of the night, though he'd be happier to have gutted Ford with the spoon.

After a while he gets up from the floor, looks about. The place is a dump, a half-rotted building patched with pieces of corrugated iron, wooden boards nailed over the windows. The furniture consists of packing crates and junkyard debris, filled out here and there with expensive stolen camping equipment. He paws through the vampires' belongings, hoping to find a wearable shirt, disturbing roaches and rats as he does so. He finds watches, sunglasses, jerked-on copies of the Bible, even an AK-47 with its mechanism rusted shut. Shawls, trousers, Mickey Mouse tees, a wad of cash which he pockets. Deep beneath all this crap he finds a dark shirt that doesn't smell too strongly of ratshit and pulls it on.

The sorriest part of it is, someone's tried to decorate. There's brightly-coloured pieces of cloth hanging on the walls, some still stained with blood. Two wire coathangers hang twisted together from a light fitting, strung with necklaces. A memorial mobile to the dead. Spike shakes his head. Give people fucking superpowers and what do they do with them?

Pack of jackals.

Out in a back room he finds the larder, but the larder's already dead. A local man lies with his arms and legs broken, face down in his own dried blood. The vamps have been sloppy, not bothering to gag or tie this fellow down, just breaking his limbs to prevent his escape. And they've snapped his arm so hard that a bone's poking out: he's of no use to anyone now, if he ever was.

The upstairs room is empty and, oddly enough, almost intact. There's a curtained window and through it he can see the first hint of daylight. His lip curls at the thought of sleeping down in the vampnest, so he fetches some bedclothes and lays them out upstairs.

He needs some sleep but he feels too on edge and hungry. He sits there, his head leaning against a wall, watching what he can of the sun rising over the mountain. At first it's just a sort of glow, a luminous mist on the hillside. Then it reaches the top of the first ridge, and suddenly strips of light sear across the landscape, bringing colour and form to whatever is touched. The light spreads, pouring over the mountainside and into the valleys. That's when Spike can't look any longer and he pulls the curtains closed.

*

Spike leaves just as the sun is setting, walking down a shaded alley in the direction of the jeep. A minute later he smells smoke and turns to look back the way he came: the building's on fire and the scent of petrol is carried on the wind.

Spike switches from a saunter to a brisk stroll.

A minute after that, he starts running.

There aren't many assailants, as far as he can work out, straining his hearing and trying to pick out different gaits, but he catches a glimpse of one of their silhouettes, picked out against the darkening sky: a huge hulk of a man. Which normally wouldn't worry Spike too much, except for the cloven feet and hands.

Yeah, he's pissed off the locals.

This time the vamps aren't stupid. They block streets and force Spike into another part of the city, near the railway station on the western edge of town, herding him like a sheep. So suddenly he stops, tries to go back the way he came. And finds the huge vampire in his way, a four foot breadth of bodybuilder overproportions, a sunken inhuman nose and extremities malformed by age. One of the old ones.

The minions grab Spike and start weighing in. They're armed with crowbars and metal hoes. The first blow hits him straight across his injured back and he topples, rolling to avoid another blow. He grabs one of the hoes, sending one of his attackers flying as he does so, but three others smash him down, hammering at his legs, his arms, his face. He does what he can to dodge, but every other blow thuds through him. He crumples, his game face coming on, wondering how the fuck he'll get out of this one. What if he dies here, ten thousand miles from Sunnydale? Then Buffy'll never know what he did.

When Spike is feeling as small and beaten as possible, the blows stop. He looks up at the elder hulk standing above.

The old one looks at him curiously. "You're a vampire," it says in heavily-accented English, its voice as deep and gravelly as a bad voiceover. "Why did you do what you did? Do you seek territory?"

Spike wants to laugh through his bloodied teeth, like he'd want any of this shithole country. He shakes his head.

"Then what?" the old one asks.

"After one of my get," Spike says, his voice lispy over fat lips. "White American boy, name of Ford."

The elder vamp shakes his head. "We have no knowledge of him."

"He was here," Spike says, "a couple of days ago..." but he trails off at the old one's expression. He's being looked at too hard. A chill runs through him.

There is a long pause while he is stared at. The old one seems puzzled, almost incredulous. Spike takes the opportunity to count his opponents, uses the reflection in a nearby window to check out escape routes, plausible ways to run. And he looks at the old one's cloven feet.

"You're..." the old one says, almost hesitantly -- and Spike's willing to wager that this guy isn't hesitant often -- "You are souled."

Spike tries not to look sheepish. He swallows down his reply, "All the rage these days," and takes in the elder hulk's expression of disgust, of horror, the old one backing away.

"An abomination!" it says. Except that it only gets as far as "An ab--" before Spike is on his feet, rolling backwards through minions stupefied by the elder one's absurd assertion. Spike races for a warehouse, reaching a ladder before the minions even turn. Spike propels himself up a storey to the warehouse roof and starts running along it. He's hoping that the elder one's cloven feet will slip on the narrow ladder steps, but when he glances back, he sees that it's simply pulling itself hand over hand up the ladder with its massive forearms, the minions following behind. And Spike hasn't the faintest idea what to do, except that forward and away still seem like good ideas. He races on along the roof, manages a clumsy leap to the next building, and keeps going.

And then he comes to a dead halt.

The sun hasn't set yet in the next part of town. A gap in the hills to the west lets a last shimmer of sunlight through to the railyards. Two steps in front of Spike it's still day.

An over-eager minion reaches him first, pushes past, disintegrates in the light, her mouth still an 'O' of surprise. Spike has to turn to face his opponents. They've slowed down, looking confident of their victory. Two minions jump from the roof to the shadowed side of the warehouse to cut off his escape.

There's a train going past, but it's too far to jump from the roof to the track and he'd be in direct sunlight within seconds. He'd never make it.

The old one stops a yard from Spike. "I've heard of you," it says, but all Spike can think is, fan-fucking-tastic, he thinks I'm the ponce. "There is a prophecy..."

Spike couldn't give a toss in the best of times and right now he's in a hurry: the train's leaving. He leaps from the roof towards the tracks, grimacing in pain as he hits the ground and the impact snaps through his frame. The minions are on him in an instant but he pushes past, the freight train within the sunny stretch and casting long shadows. Spike twists out of the minions' grasp and half-somersaults into the shadow of one the long railcars. The minions follow and pull him to a halt. He punches one in the face, tries to get the other off balance, but without much success. He prises a crowbar from one of them and manages a good blow. The second minion knees him in the gut but it's a glancing blow, so his attackers are a little surprised when he suddenly collapses onto the ground.

But not half as surprised as they look when the sun hits them. The high-sided boxcar has passed and the last empty flatbed casts much less of a shadow. Spike's prone form is barely covered, but he still risks setting his hair alight so he can look up at the elder one, who now stands at the edge of the darkness.

"You'll never escape Uganda," the elder one says. "We will hunt you."

Spike's too tired to think of a witty retort, so he just gives the old vamp the two fingers and then rolls towards the train, grabbing the low side of the last railcar, trying to keep his head down and his feet up and his body more-or-less horizontal. He hopes like hell that the train won't turn a corner before the sun sets.

*

When the last light is gone he pulls himself up onto the railcar. He lies there, looking up at the darkening sky. The vast bulk of the mountain cuts out half the view, but as the train moves away from it, Spike can see more and more of the stars.

There are no lights out here and no human sounds apart from the train. There's a breath of air in the trees and a distant rush of river. The moon's past full, hanging low, picking out tree trunks and silvering streaks of train. Whenever they round a corner, slices of moonlight shear across the bed of the railcar.

He's cut and covered in bruises again, but that's normal for him these days.

(Nothing good in him at all.)

He can't remember now what he came for, what he was trying to achieve: to please her that could never be pleased? To prove to her and himself that the soul didn't matter? To cut out and destroy whatever part of him hurt her -- 'cause fuck that, it's still there.

Perhaps he had just been so sick of his own desperation that anything else had seemed better.

He closes his eyes for a moment and when he opens them, Buffy seems to be there. She stands opposite him, leaning on the back of the container carriage, her hair longer than when he saw her last. She looks bereft; there are circles under her eyes and her lips are bruised. She looks him over, blinking slowly as she does so, her chest rising and falling with each breath.

Spike blinks, and then the apparition is gone.

*

He gets off the train a couple of hours before sunrise. He's wishing now that he'd stopped off at the hospital the night before for a couple of bags of blood. He'll have to try at the next town instead.

He follows the railway track in but on the outskirts he spots a vampire slouching against an old car. There's something about the way the vamp's very carefully doing nothing that gives him a warning. He backs away, heading cross-country in the last hour before dawn, towards the scent of water.

He finds an unoccupied holiday shack -- built low, thatched roof -- and jemmies open its sole window. Clean sheets and a bed but no running water or electricity. He falls asleep straight away.

Sometime after dawn he has one of those dreams where you imagine that you've just woken up, but he still must be asleep because it's Dru there, sitting on a chair, and a gap in the curtains is letting the sunlight fall on her face. She's talking to him, whispering sweet lover's words of death and destruction, her voice rhapsodic with gore. Spike doesn't want to hear; he turns his head away and covers his ears with a blanket but the words get through to him anyway. Rip, tear, burn, sever. He still doesn't turn. Soon she's weeping with frustration and Spike can't help it anymore, he just has to look at her, his lost, lost love.

"Why are you leaving me?" she demands.

He can't tell her.

Later, when he wakes for real before sunset, he stands next to the chair and fingers the gap in the curtain where the light had come through. He finds himself wondering for the first time what she'd been like when alive, before Angelus had got to her. All cascading hair and trim petticoats, naive as the dawn? What would she have done with her life had she had one? Got married and knocked-up? Put letters in the penny post, warning miners not to work tomorrow and sailors not to put to sea the day after next? Drusilla as kindly seer. Drusilla as grandmother.

He rests his forehead and his fingertips against the cool glass.

*

When he goes out later to check the lie of the land, he finds he is near Lake Victoria: the holiday shack is not far from a beach. It's silent and deserted, the lake so vast that he cannot see its other side.

At the shore's edge, he sinks to his haunches, resting his fingers onto the ground without putting weight on them. He looks out over the water: on this windless night it is as still and opaque as black glass, spreading out to the horizon as if to infinity.

He imagines himself running over that surface, the rhythm of his footfalls, the stretch and release of muscle as he moves. The water-glass would be cool beneath his feet and the still air would feel like wind as he cut through it, running tirelessly and steadily and forever into the night.

He almost tries.

A huge bird -- fat and ugly and big-beaked -- hits the water as he watches, destroying the illusion. Its wide feet and awkward wings send out ripples the size of small tsunamis. The bird cries out raucously as it settles its wings, turning its head as if to look at him. Spike doesn't like its expression, finds himself backing away towards some lakeside bushes so that he'll be out of the bird's line of sight.

Twenty yards further on he realises that at least he's picked the right direction, towards the airport, only fifty miles distant on another part of the lake. The beach has ended abruptly and now the lake edge is bordered by thick masses of plant that he has to scramble over. As he pulls himself up over the top of a slight rise he suddenly scents blood. Below him, not far distant, he can see a foot protruding from under some tall grasses. He goes to look.

What he finds there is a beautiful woman, lying on her back in the grass. She wears sandals and one of the colourful patterned dresses that the local people wear. A long and elegant neck lies at an impossible angle and her heartbeat stops even as Spike comes close. Her dress is torn from the throat down and still-fresh blood is welling between her perfect, Halle Berry breasts. The blood smells sweet. He glances around, looking for something or someone who might have done this, but sees nothing.

He can do nothing for her, so he moves on, clambering a little faster over the hummocks, hearing only his own footfalls and the sound of water lapping up against the edge of the lake. He's concentrating on his footing and on avoiding the boggier bits of land, but this still doesn't explain why he doesn't see the second body until he almost trips over it: a boy this time, lying head-first over his small bicycle, his still-warm blood seeping through an injury on his back. Spike looks around, but again can't see any third party. He starts to hurry.

He's on the edge of a marsh now and has to turn inland somewhat. Tall reeds obscure the lake water to his left and trees block the starlight on his right. Striding through the vegetation, he finds a third corpse and that's when Spike breaks into a run. Because it's a man that Spike recognises, a balding, thickset white guy who's had his jaw punched up through his skull, his face and shirt a mess of blood and bone -- just like Spike left him thirty years ago, in that New York convenience store.

He pelts past trees and bushes, leaping over uneven ground and sending nesting birds flapping into the air. When he smells blood again he keeps going and doesn't stop to look.

Spike does, in fact, remember what it was like to have a soul. But back then it had been linen-fresh: crisp and white and clean as one of his mother's antimacassars. He supposes he should have expected that it might be different, getting it back.

He wades into a stream that crosses his path, soaking his boots and his legs up to the thighs. The coldness of the water makes him pause, helps clear his panic a little. He lets himself stand there for a minute with his eyes closed and the water rushing past.

The people, the blood -- it has to be an illusion, he thinks, his conscience gone haywire out of shock. There's been nothing there. No enemy except himself, etc. etc. He just has to get a grip.

But when he opens his eyes, there is another man standing on the stream bank. The man is tall and broad, dark-haired, and is wearing leather pants.

"Have I ever told you how disappointed I am in you?" Angelus asks.

"You're not here," Spike says, wondering why he even bothers.

"You never really got it, about being a vampire. No care or finesse, no attention to detail, no real interest in evil for evil's sake... I always told Dru she'd brought home a milksop."

"There is absolutely no way that you could be here right now."

"Why not?"

"Because that would be too fucking much of a coincidence."

Angelus raises his eyebrows.

"So, all right," Spike concedes, "maybe it could happen, but why would you be here?"

Angelus gestures to their surroundings. "Safari?"

"You're not even funny," Spike says. "You never were." He pretends to look over his shoulder at something. But then he turns the movement into a lunge, leaping straight at Angelus, going game-faced. Angelus tries to get out of the way but Spike follows, fangs out and fists punching as hard he can. Yet nothing connects; his body sails straight through and Spike finds himself twisting in mid-air, trying to roll into a landing.

When he looks back, Angelus is smirking.

"And what is that?" Spike asks. "Astral sodding projection?"

Angelus shrugs. "Think of me as the Ghost of Christmas Past."

Spike just stares at him. "Aw, come on," Angelus says, "don't you remember? Poor Tiny Tim, all crippled and hungry and with no goose for his Yuletide dinner?" He lowers his voice to make it a private invitation: "We'd better put him out of his misery."

"It's May."

"And then there's the Ghost of Christmas Future," Angelus continues, ignoring him. His appearance begins to change: his hair grows longer and shaggier and his clothes become shapeless. He smells really quite bad. He squeaks, "A rat! A rat! My kingdom for a rat!" He stands upright again and resumes his former, sleeker, look. "But remember, Spike, a rat's not just for Christmas -- you'll get to eat them all year round."

"You are so amused by the sound of your own voice," Spike says, but even he hears the note of disquiet that has crept into his speech.

"I'm here for a serious reason, Spike."

"You want me to lose my soul."

"Oh no," says Angelus, "you can keep that if you want. But I want you to know that it's not going to help. Whatever it is that you think you're going to get out of this -- you won't. Or you will and it won't be worth it. Listen to me, Spike. You think I got what I wanted by choosing this path?" Angelus's expression is grim. "Friends have betrayed me when I needed them most. Family has let me down -- literally. Buffy? I had to walk away from her. Some other girl? Even the gods conspired against me on that one. I don't even get job satisfaction most days."

"You got Buffy's forgiveness," Spike says.

"Yeah," says Angelus, smiling, "but she loved me."

There's pain in Spike's gut and he has to blink and bite his lip in front of Angelus. He does his best to square his shoulders as he turns away, trying to compose himself even as he pulls himself up the bank.

"Got no answer for that now, have you?" Angelus calls out from behind, because he is the world's greatest prick. "Forget about the soul, Spike. Concentrate on what you're good at -- whenever you find out what that is."

The land is even boggier after that, Spike's boots slipping and sliding as he walks. Sometimes he misses his footing entirely and finds himself on his hands and knees, wrist-deep in black mud. But he can hear human sounds again, of a road and a railway running parallel to the shore. He breaks away towards where he thinks the road is. The air has thickened even further with humidity and he thinks he can smell rain on its way.

He reaches the edge of the marsh and starts pushing through the undergrowth between the trees. Angelus is there, leaning against a post. "So," he says conversationally, "you agree now that the soul's worthless? Bloodshed and mayhem, that's what you want."

Spike ignores him.

A little later, he passes the labcoat woman and her clipboard. "We'll remove the chip," she says. "We'll restore you. You'll make me proud."

Not far from the road, Angelus finds him again. "You're giving up on this, right? We both know the whole soul thing is really, really stupid. Won't get you anywhere."

Spike walks past.

"Spike?

"Spike? Answer me!

"Spike!"

Suddenly Angelus appears in front of him and all of Spike's reflexes prevent him from walking through the apparition. "Tell me you're giving up on this ridiculous nonsense, lad."

Spike pauses, considers, purses his lips, thinking carefully through his reply. Then he says, quietly at first and then with greater vehemence and volume, "You fucking better fuck off because there's no fucking way this fucker will ever let you fuck me over again. So fucking well fuck off. Fuck! Fuck off! Fuck!"

Angelus' expression goes from piss and vinegar to just pissed. "You'll regret this," he says.

"I regret everything already. And which part of, 'Fuck off, you fucker,' did you not get?"

Angelus glowers and then, to Spike's slight surprise, he actually does fuck off, leaving Spike alone in the last clearing next to the road. Now that Angelus has gone, he can hear traffic and a low roll of distant thunder from the direction of the lake. The wind is beginning to rise.

As he steps out to the road, a motorcyclist goes past. The cyclist is clearly a vampire, yellow eyes turning to stare directly at Spike. And Spike wonders wearily if there is any country on Earth where he would be more conspicuous than he is here in Uganda, with his white skin and hair like a flare.

He stops the next car going towards town. "You have to let me in," he says, "it's an emergency."

The driver is a middle-aged man with closely-cropped hair. He says, in surprisingly good English, "What sort of an emergency? Is it medical?"

"Yeah," says Spike, "it's life or death."

"Well, I am a doctor and I could perhaps assist." He opens the passenger seat door for Spike. "Tell me what this is about."

"Sure," says Spike. "But you have to let me drive."

The doctor considers this. "I don't think I should let you do that," he says. He offers, "I would drive as fast as I can."

"And I would drive faster," Spike says. "Which is what we need."

The man shuts his car door. "Then I cannot help you." He restarts the engine.

"No!" says Spike, grabbing the driver's side door. "I have to outrun the guy on the bike or he'll fetch others."

"Have a good evening," the doctor says and presses his foot to the accelerator. But Spike is still holding onto the door and the car doesn't budge. The doorframe starts to warp. The doctor stares at this and then abruptly stops the engine. He grabs his bag from his backseat and moves to the passenger seat.

"Good," says Spike, getting in. "Now just hold on a bit and I'll almost certainly won't kill you..." But the doctor is stepping out of the car with his bag and is fleeing down the road. Spike gives him a single backwards glance and then presses the accelerator to the floor.

It's a bitumen road, for a miracle, and in fairly good nick, but the car's one of those pint-sized Japanese numbers, a bit old and already well-rusted in this climate. The motorcyclist must be able to go faster, but then the motorcyclist doesn't know he's being followed.

Spike pushes the car as hard as he dares. He turns off the headlights and makes do with the moon. At first the road cuts through forest, but after a few miles it breaks out into cleared land, huts and small farms on the side of the road, Lake Victoria lying vast on his left again, flashes of lightning visible in the distance. Ahead he can make out the night glow of the city and -- he thinks -- the biker.

Spike pushes the car even harder, until the biker is just a hundred yards ahead. The biker is clearly looking back at the car, but hopefully all he sees is a small Japanese rustbucket being driven by a lunatic. Without lights. Spike can't actually get the car to go any faster, but then he spots his chance: a dip in the road followed by a corner. The biker takes this stretch without fuss, not increasing his speed, and then disappears from view. Spike uses this brief moment to plunge the car down the dip, gaining just a little in speed. Then he swings around the corner, punching on the highbeams. The biker is blinded for a second -- just as the road curves, and he goes sailing off the edge of an embankment into the waters of Lake Victoria.

Spike follows.

He's in mid-air for less than a second. As the car hits the water, his head snaps back and then the nose of the little car sinks towards the lakebed. Water pours in around the doorframes and when the car lights go out, everything goes black. The engine makes a pitiful sound as it dies.

He can't get the door open. He pulls and pushes but the handle just comes off in his hand. He's trying to wrench the door off, when the car hits the bottom of the lake and his shoulder gets wrenched instead. He reminds himself that he doesn't need to breathe and that it's the water pressure holding the doors shut. All he has to do is wait for the car to fill with water and then he can get out.

It's not quiet underwater. He can hear a great many sounds; he just doesn't know what any of them mean. Even the ones he ought to recognise, the ones from the surface, he can't interpret down here. They're muffled and attenuated, made strange. It's almost calming, this level of incomprehensible noise, as none of it triggers any warning bells or memories he wants to avoid. He has, he reflects, killed very few people on lakebeds.

The water level has reached the base of his seat. He knows it's pointless, but he still squirms away, as the water's cold and sodden jeans are no fun to wear. He realises now that if he wound down the windows he'd get out faster, so he leans to grope for the handle. He hears water gushing in as the window lowers, but he still can't see a damned thing. Then a sudden flash of light makes everything visible: the half-drowned car interior, a startled fish, the former motorcyclist, swimming only thirty yards away.

Spike smashes the windshield with his fist and takes a deep breath, as pointless at it is instinctual. He grabs the driver-side windowframe and pulls himself through.

He finds himself:

-- in the dark again,

-- disoriented,

-- spun in unknown directions by the flow of water around the car,

-- stripped of any auditory clues except an unknown drumming noise coming from one direction,

-- with a desperate urge to breathe, even though he doesn't need to,

-- regretting that his last packet of cigarettes is now soaked.

Water slides over his skin as he twists, trying to work out which direction is up. He decides to head for the drumming noise, which is at least in a direction.

The drumming sound gets louder. It's diffuse and multiple, ten thousand drummers all sticking to their own beat. Suddenly his heads breaks through the lake surface -- and he wonders if he's not still underwater. He takes in great gasps of air, but the rain is so solid and heavy and loud that it's barely distinguishable from the lake. Wind-whipped waves drown him anew every couple of seconds. Clouds have blocked out the moonlight and starlight and all Spike has to see by is the glow of the nearby city.

There's another flash of lightning and another tableau: the vampire motorcyclist caught frozen in the light as he swims to shore. Spike follows, diving under the lake surface so he doesn't have to fight the waves as much. The lightning comes more often now -- at twenty second intervals and then ten second -- and each time, the light picks out a single image of the biker swimming for his life.

But sometimes it's not just the two of them. Sometimes a third floats between them, trailing blood, a dead face turning to watch.

Another flash, and he can see that the vamp is stepping up onto the shore. Spike lets his own feet hit the lakebed and suddenly rises up. The biker, surprised, loses his footing, and trips backwards into the water. Spike seizes him by the throat and stands above and behind, his fingers pressed hard over the other guy's jugular. The vamp struggles, his head underwater, his eyes glowing, but then he seems to pass out. Spike keeps pressing down until he hears bones snap, just to be sure. Then he hauls the vamp up onto the shore. He breaks a branch from a nearby tree and plunges it into the biker's heart. The dust becomes mud on his boots and is washed away in the rain.

Spike spends a minute trying to get his shoulder back into shape. Then he runs his fingers through his hair so that at least it's all sodden in a single direction.

Angelus is standing on the shore. Angelus isn't even wet. He seems to be above that kind of thing.

"Look," he says, "I'll give you one last chance, just because I like you and I've appreciated you in the past."

"That wasn't what you said before."

"That was different," Angelus says. "I was trying to get a rise out of you, get you to think."

"And what's your sales pitch now?"

Angelus throws back his shoulders and puffs himself out. "Evil," he says. "You know it makes sense."

It's still pouring with rain. Trees far taller than they are sway in the wind. Angelus stands on the shore of a lake the size of a sea as lightning whips through the sky above. And none of this, none of it, touches him. He just doesn't seem aware. And Spike finally realises just how ludicrous Angelus really is.

"You're as bad as can be," Spike tells him, not bothering to shout above the wind.

"Yes!" says Angelus.

"You strive every day to be as evil as you possibly can. You devote your every waking moment to being evil; you want to cause as much suffering as any one person could hope to inflict."

Angelus nods encouragingly.

"Because you can't think of anything else to do with your worthless life."

"No," says Angelus, annoyed. "That's not it at all."

And Spike looks at him, this almost-man, with whom he has cheerfully killed children, who taught him how to snap open a ribcage to reveal a still-beating heart, who thought that raping nuns was only worthwhile if they were still conscious. And the enormity of what they have done -- together and later, apart -- suddenly hits him.

"What?" says Angelus. "What is it?"

Blades of grass stick up through the mud an inch from Spike's face. He realises that his knees have given out.

"What is wrong with you?" Angelus is shouting. Spike wants to look up but can't seem to.

"What do you think you're doing?" Angelus bellows.

"Get up, boy!

"Get up!

"Spike!" he hears.

"Now, Spike, now...

"Will?

"Will, you'll hurt your throat.

"Will, you do know that you're screaming, don't you?"

*

He's lying on the lakeshore. The rain has stopped and he seems to be alone. When he rolls over onto his back, his sodden clothes shift and chafe. His throat is raw. Above him hangs a clear sky. It's perhaps an hour before sunrise.

He walks in the direction of town, looking for shelter. He passes homes that he can't enter and chicken coops where he'd surely be discovered. There's a church, and a warehouse that smells of other vampires. Finally he finds what he needs -- a drain -- and drops in before the sun's rays catch him.

Now he's in the sewers that empty into the source of the Nile.

Other vamps must live down here, he knows, and other demons. He's going to have to keep moving until he finds a safe place.

He wishes he had a dry cigarette.

He travels through the tunnels, trying to maintain a sense of direction. At first he chooses ones in which the scent of vampire is weakest, but soon the stench of effluent becomes overpowering and he just picks his way at random. He goes down ladders; he climbs up stairs; he leaps across channels.

Around one corner is the Chinese Slayer. She snarls, "I was the best night of your life!"

Down another passage he finds a Frovalox demon who sells him a hat to disguise his hair. But a vampire overhears the transaction and soon Spike is careening down the sewers, holding a makeshift stake his hand. The fight is brief.

He tries to nap in an alcove in a little-used tunnel. But the first time he closes his eyes he finds himself standing in a dark room, wide but low-ceilinged, where the walls are all filled with doors.

Dru is there, sitting on an ottoman, her hands folded neatly before her. Her eyes are sane and clear and Spike thinks that she has never looked more beautiful. He kneels and when she reaches for him, her hands are warm. "Spike," she says, "Spike, you must beware wood. Spike, you must not spill any dead virgin's blood. The other seer must be told---" She glances over her shoulder, but Spike can see nothing. She says, "The other seer--" But then Spike hears a great crashing sound: Dru stands and the room tilts and suddenly Spike isn't there.

The second time Spike closes his eyes, he finds himself in the lower part of his crypt, on the bed, with Buffy naked beneath him. He kisses his way over her belly, runs his tongue and lips up to a breast, blows small, whispery breaths below it. Then he pulls himself up, so that his chest will brush across her nipples and his cock will stroke between her thighs. But when he moves to kiss her he finds her lips already parted, her eyes glassy. Her body's cold beneath him and there are bruises along the inside of her thighs.

He wakes with a start, lying on his back. Buffy's crouched over him, her face not three inches from his own, her grey robe tied loosely and sagging.

"Why did you stop?" she asks him. "Couldn't you tell I was begging for more?"

She disappears when he screams but his cries attract other vamps. This time he's outnumbered, so he runs instead of fighting. He only manages to give them the slip by submerging himself in sewage.

After that he finds a grating and is startled to discover that it's already night. He cleans himself up a bit under a tap and then looks for the centre of town. It's early enough to be busy and he buys a few things from various places: candles, herbs and a piece of jewellery wrapped in cloth. Then he ducks into a cheap-looking hotel, pays some money up front. He is taken to a small room with too much furniture and is given a key.

Spike locks the room, checks the window, barricades and boobytraps the door. In the middle of the room he lays out the candles in a small circle and lights them. With shaking hands, he starts to crumble herbs into the flames. Then he starts to recite the words of a ritual that he barely remembers, hoping his Latin isn't too bad.

Afterwards, he waits, still sitting cross-legged, waiting to see if anything happens. If the spell worked, then nothing will. Well, if the spell worked and if he's being haunted and if the ghosts aren't too strong and if his soul has nothing to do with this.

Nothing happens. Nothing continues to happen. Spike sighs, hardly believing his luck. He blows out the candles and pulls off his boots to go and lie on the bed.

Then he says, "No, oh please no, please. No." But Cecily still stands there.

"You ripped me apart," she says, her dress hanging off her. "Did you not enjoy it?"

Spike makes a last attempt: he picks up the still-wrapped piece of jewellery, a silver cross. Holding it through the cloth so that it burns him only a little, he thrusts it at her.

She laughs.

*

He wonders if this is what Angel goes through every day.

*

Adam is standing in the middle of the room. "The nature of the vampire," he informs Spike, "is to destroy."

"Our raison d'etre," interjects Angelus from the armchair.

"Not to give me good parents," says Coal-Bin Girl.

*

Tara says, standing near the window, facing away from him, "You need to be who you are."

Another Tara says, from the other side of the room, "You need to be what you are."

*

William is sitting at the ramshackle table next to the bed.

"You," he says to Spike, from under that hair. His voice is brittle with contempt.

"Do you think I'm happy with what you've done?"

*

There are many, many worms crawling across Spike's bed.

*

"You don't get to choose!" Glory shouts, stamping her heels.

"I choose," Spike whispers, "a fucking big television."

*

"You do look quite feverish," his mother tells him, leaning over. "I'll read you a story. The Little Mermaid or The Nightingale and the Rose?"

*

He lies on the bed, trying to remember what it is he's supposed to be doing. He should be taking the train/plane/car to get to Cecily/Buffy/Drusilla. But he can't find his hat and without his hat he'll be laughed at/be easily spotted/just die.

And where's his ticket?

*

"And what a stupid little mermaid she was!"

*

"So she kills a vampire," Warren says. "Big deal. That's what she's supposed to do, right? She's a vampire slayer. Then she stops the world ending a couple of times. So what? She's an above-average vampire slayer, give her a B plus."

The Master pauses. "When she got in the way of Glorificus, I expected a quiet funeral: the Slayer's, of course. And yet the god died too." He waves an elegant hand. "It was unexpected and unpleasant, but as long as the girl was dead, it hardly mattered."

Richard Wilkins shakes his head. "But now---well, I can't find anyone willing to take her on. Everyone else has a self to preserve."

"I tried to be subtle," says Rack, "inching people on." He gives a small shrug. "But that didn't work out."

Snyder snorts and narrows his eyes. "Humans saving the world. Slayers coming back from the dead. Vampires wanting souls. Now does that sound like a well-run universe to you?"

*

He wants to lock himself in the wardrobe and never come out.

He wants to mash himself to the window until the sun comes up.

He wants to bolt from the room and keep running, running, until they can't keep up with him any more.

He wants never to be have existed.

He wants to have been someone else.

Instead, he sits huddled in a corner, trying to think of something, anything that might calm him. Some happy memory, from before he did anything he now regrets.

He remembers now: his mother sang.

*

A slim black man in a sharply-tailored suit sits on a chair. He leans towards Spike, his nostrils flaring. "Now, this just isn't working," he tells Spike. "We're gonna have to try something else."

The man vanishes.

*

Spike crawled under the bed several hours ago, when they stopped appearing. He thinks they've maybe lost interest, but he can't be sure, so he's hiding. When they come back they won't see him there, not if he stays still and quiet. So still and quiet. Hardly there at all, he is.

It's worked so far.

He has one cheek pressed against the warped wooden flooring; one shoulder touches the mattress. He keeps his eyes open, so as to stay alert, but all he's seen so far is burnt-out match and dust bunny. He hugs his knees and lets himself blink.

He can hear sounds throughout the building: people coming and going, arguing in languages Spike doesn't understand and in a couple he does. Slammed doors, hurried sex, radio music, the shouts of small children.

Footsteps approach the door. A voice, American: "You still in there?"

But Spike won't be tricked. He's not going to let them know that he's there.

The door handle rattles. The voice curses and Spike hears the sound of a key in a lock, the handle turning.

The door opens in fits and shudders as it pushes against the furniture that Spike has piled against it. A chair topples, then a table.

A pair of dirty sneakers appear. The voice says, "Cash upfront buddy, if you're still here."

Then the man says, "What the---" as the boobytrap Spike set up drops a wooden chest on his head.

The man lies still, lying on his back with one arm stretched out. He's still breathing. The scent of blood reaches Spike, but he knows it's just a ruse to tempt him out of hiding. No catching this rabbit, he thinks.

He waits for a while, listening to the liquid sound of seeping blood as his stomach starts to growl. Any minute now, he thinks, the man will get up and lecture him on the nature of evil, proper methods of flaying, or the fact that the Nile is a river in Uganda as well as in Egypt.

The man does none of these things.

Shortly after sunset, Spike crawls out from under the bed. The man is still bleeding, just a little. The blood smells fantastic but Spike doesn't want to drink. It's supposed to be inside the man, so he scoops up a little and drips it carefully into the injured man's ear.

But he can't help licking his fingers clean, after.

"Matt?" someone is shouting now. "Matt, where are you? Matt?"

Spike thinks it's time to leave. He grabs his hat and heads for the window, trying to remember what he was there for.

Airport. California. Buffy.

People mill about the city streets, dodging bicycle taxis and vendors lugging mountains of matoke. A schoolgirl answers his question when he asks for the way to the airport, pointing him towards a bus marked "EMS".

They almost don't let him on. He's thin as a rake, smells of sewage, and his scarlet hat reeks of regurgitating demon. But he pays a little extra and they let him on.

No-one sits next to him at first. He keeps his head down, because there's a local vampire hanging around outside. The vehicle's small, just a minibus really, so it fills up pretty quickly. Men, women and children climb aboard with boxes, bags and cases, even a caged chicken. Everyone is squeezed on as tightly as possible, kids sitting on their parents' laps. The woman with the chicken takes the seat next to him with a hurried smile.

"Last bus," calls out the driver. "Last bus to Kampala-Entebbe."

By the time the driver pulls the door shut, the bus is full of smells and conversation. Spike can scent bread, fresh paint, sweat, printer's ink, matoke, dog, mud and urine. He can hear people talking about their kids, their jobs, their houses, their journeys. Everyone seems to know everyone else, except for him.

The woman next to him finishes talking to someone in front just as the bus starts to move. She turns to Spike, saying matter-of-factly, "I'm going to a funeral."

"Oh?" he says.

"An unmarried cousin, very sad. I didn't know him well. Where are you going?"

"Entebbe."

"To the airport? Are you going home?"

Yes," he says. "No, I mean, I don't know."

They are jostled together as the bus rattles over the uneven road. The cage in her lap settles next to his arm, its occupant looking flustered.

"How can you not know?" the woman asks, but then her chicken starts to go mental, beating its atrophied wings and pecking at Spike through the bars, hard enough to draw blood. "Oh, I'm sorry!" the woman cries, yanking the cage back onto the centre of her lap. "Bad chicken!"

All the lights in the street go out.

"Oh, don't worry," the woman says, in lieu of explanation. "This happens all the time."

They drive on through the darkened city.

"Look," says Spike, "I didn't kill you, did I?"

The woman gives him a strange look and then turns to talk to somebody else.

*

The lights are off in Kampala too when they get there. Then they come on again.

"Twenty minutes!" the driver shouts. "Then Entebbe and airport!"

Spike gets off the bus with everyone else, just to stretch his legs. Kampala is hectic, the biggest city he's been to since---

He doubles over, biting his lip. He hadn't thought it'd be like this. He'd thought the soul would fill him, seal the gaps in himself from which he'd been leaking. Everything was supposed to suddenly make sense.

What's he going to do, he wonders. Get back to Sunnydale and do what? Surely Buffy will kill him on sight.

Not if she knows, he thinks. Not if she knows.

There's a telephone booth at the bus station. Spike feeds the machine with change. He should have thought of this before. Buffy -- she'll help. It's what she does. He has a soul now. He's crossed the line, pulled himself up by his bootstraps and she'll have to take him in.

"I have a soul now," he practices saying. The booth doesn't seem to care.

He stands there, jiggling up and down with nervousness, as the phone rings out. Ring ring, it goes, as he holds the phone to his ear with his eyes closed.

"Summers," says a bored Dawn. "Hello? Hello? Is anyone there, 'cos I'm gonna hang up." A pause. "Or is this some weird stalker phonecall where someone calls to not breathe down the phone? Oh Spike, is that you? Spike, if that is you, I want you to know that we know. We all know what you did. We all hate you and you must never, ever, come back."

Spike stands there for the longest time, just looking at the phone. Dawn has hung up minutes ago, but he's still there. Someone has to push him out of the way.

"Entebbe!" he hears the bus driver shouting. "Entebbe!" It takes him a while to remember that this has something to do with him.

The bus is half-empty when Spike gets back. He takes a seat at the rear, feeling cold even in the damp heat. For some reason, most of the other people on the bus are speaking French.

Spike looks around the bus, trying to work out how many of the occupants he has killed. The pale, pinched woman on a middle seat -- now doesn't she look familiar? And the Indian-looking man in a suit sitting next to him, his manicured hands folded properly over a suitcase -- didn't Spike gut him in Chicago? Even the driver, Spike thinks, must have been a warm and liquid dinner for him once.

They leave Kampala, heading out along the road into the countryside. He can tell they're heading in the right direction for the airport, because a roaring comes to fill the air, and a plane passes almost impossibly low above the bus.

"Addis Ababa," the businessman says.

Spike rolls the syllables over in his head. Addis-abab-ba. A-ba-ba.

When Spike was a boy, this place didn't count as a country. He remembers when Stanley found Livingstone on the shores of another lake.

Of course, they had to name this one lake Victoria. Every bloody thing was named Victoria, except for the things that were named Albert.

If he had the chance, he'd name everything Buffy. Buffybuffybuffybuffybuffybuffybuff.

She's never loved him, and he knows it.

"Vingt heures moins le quart."

The driver beeps the horn, giving it a couple of long blasts. Spike looks out of the window and sees that the airport is still a few miles off, across grassland.

The bus slows. Ahead of them, Spike can see a jeep barricade. He recognises a broad silhouette.

"Keep your head down," he tells the man sitting next to him.

"What?" the businessman asks.

"Head down," Spike repeats. And then he somersaults backwards, his feet breaking through the window behind, sending shards of glass out into the night. Suddenly, Spike isn't in the bus anymore and there is grass beneath his feet. The bus slows to a halt behind him.

Spike starts running.

It's a beautiful night. He's running across uneven ground, past small trees and wide-fronded bushes. The landscape is flat enough to make the sky seem huge, the horizon uninterrupted except for the distant rectangle of the airport. The air is warm and scented of rain-freshened grass.

He hears the sound of shouting and of flesh smashed through glass. He hears tires slit and briefcases thrown out of windows. There's fresh blood on the wind.

He runs on, feeling the impact of boot on ground, his body warming and stretching as he pushes himself further. Behind him, he hears jeep engines start.

It was a miserable night when he killed Nikki Wood. It rained on and off, thunderous showers alternating with patches of clear, starry sky. When he found Drusilla, she was bedecked with tiny raindrops that shone orange under the streetlights. He remembers seizing her by the waist and spinning her about, his new coat flaring out to touch the crimson of her whirling skirts.

The jeeps are coming his way. He's downwind, which might have slowed them, but his skin must just glow. The moon's waning.

The night he'd first had sex with Buffy, the weather had been unusually warm. And it had remained so, throughout the winter of their affair. On the colder nights, she'd go all goose-pimply and flustered, his body unpleasantly cold to the touch, nothing but friction to keep her warm. She'd go home shivering.

He hears a safety catch pulled back. He starts to weave between the hummocks. Under all the grass and bush is more of the same god-damned red soil that seems to cover half the country.

The clearest night he can remember, clearer even than this, was the one when he climbed the tower. He'd gone hand over hand on the rungs, splinters digging into his skin, the tower swaying under his feet. Below had been confusion: shouts and screams and evil hobbit-furbies, madwomen and witches and bitch-goddesses in high heels. But up near the top, everything had been still, the lights of Sunnydale laid out below like a field of stars. No uncertainty, just a simple set-up of imperilled girl, villain and hero. He knew then he'd been given a chance, a golden moment, to rewrite his role and choose another sort of life, one for puppies and Christmas and the gratitude of all. He was going to save the kid sister, win the love of his girl and the respect of her friends. He was going to live up to expectations instead of living down to them.

A bullet hits the ground near his feet.

It's going to end here, he thinks, under this wide sky, I'm going to be shot like a dog. The Souled Vampire Mark II, Number Seventeen, William the Bloody Stupid Fucking Idiot ends here. Pumped full of lead and then staked by a vampire doing a bad Bluto impersonation.

Another shot sounds out; it doesn't hit, but Spike pretends to fall and spasm, clutching his leg. The jeeps draw up. Spike counts the number of solid, smart-looking minions and reflects that at least he'll die fighting.

The elder vamp steps out from one of the vehicles, holding an elephant gun. He shouts something to his minions. Spike squares his shoulders and readies himself for the fight.

But then a figure steps out in front of him. Five-foot-one, blonde-from-a-bottle, shoe size five, and reeking of power. He lies there, thinking, "like sunshine through cloud" and other such rot.

Buffy's come for him after all. He doesn't know how and he doesn't care how. He's just so fucking happy she's here.

She's talking to Mr I-Don't-Need-A-Dick-I-Have-An-Elephant-Gun. "You're going to leave him alone," she says. "He's one of mine."

The elder hulk says something Spike doesn't quite catch. Buffy laughs. "That's my job, isn't it?" she says. "And might I remind you that only one of us is destructible?"

Attagirl, Spike thinks. You tell him.

"He's one of mine"!

The elder vamp demonstrates just how he's come to live so long by sensibly backing away. The minions and two of the jeeps go with him, but the third jeep is left. "Can you drive?" Buffy asks.

He nods, although his limbs are shaking from fatigue and gladness. He reaches out towards her cheek but she jerks her head away.

"No!" she says. "No touching!" And Spike hangs his head because he has no right. "We have to get to the airport," she says, "in time to catch the plane. Everything's been arranged."

He can't quite believe that she's real, even as she sits next to him, her hair streaming out, as he takes the jeep towards the road. But she blinks the same and she smells the same and her lips look just as kissable.

"You're not watching the road."

He wants to stop the car and pick her up out of her seat and throw her onto the bonnet while he lifts up her skirt.

She's never going to let him touch her again, he thinks.

"Up to that gate," she says. "They're waiting for us."

"Dawn's not going to like this," he says. "Have you told Dawn?" She doesn't answer, because the gate opens and they're motioned in. The man at the gate has an envelope for Spike. "Your tickets, sir," he says, even though Spike smells of sewage, "and your passport. Just go through the door."

He walks with her through the near-empty airport, where cleaners are readying their mops. "There's something wrong with me," he tells her. "There's been something wrong with me for a while."

"Years," she says. "But I'll fix it."

The stewardess ushers them into the plane. They have good seats, up near the front. Buffy sits at the window and Spike takes the aisle. He watches the gleam of fluorescent light on her skin as she sits quietly for a time.

Then she turns to look at him with those wide, liquid eyes. "Spike," she says, and her expression and voice have never seemed more tender, "promise that you'll never leave me."

"Of course not," he says, alarmed. In his softest tones, "You know I never will."

A strange sort of expression passes over her face.

"Now, that's more like it," she says.


Geographical note

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