"So, 'bout time for my dinner," Spike announced as they left the restaurant. Xander found himself suddenly fighting to keep his dinner down as he watched the faces of people walking by them. What the hell was he doing? He was calmly walking by the side of a monster who would pick one of these innocent people and eat them. Would it be that mother, Xander wondered as he watched a yuppie mother pulling a five or six year old child down the street. What about the shopper? A woman with a suit, track shoes, and an ungodly number of department store packages in the back seat of her car locked her car door and joined the stream of people on the sidewalk. The whole while, they walked closer to the shops and bars.
"You're going to kill someone."
"It's how I feed, pet. If I leave them alive, they might go natterin' to someone about the big bad monster."
"Other vamps…" Xander started, but Spike stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and trapped him with a golden stare that made his stomach drop a good two inches even as his heart sped out of control. The look of a hungry predator about to devour prey. The look of one seriously pissed off vamp.
"Don't ever compare me, pet. Not if you intend to live." Spike stepped forward, leaving Xander to press his back into the brick of the building behind him, his legs shaking when he faced Spike's demon for the umpteenth time. Just how many sore spots could one vampire have? Xander wondered idly if Dr. Phil would take Spike on as a client and work on some of these issues.
"I just… I didn't…" He struggled just to breathe and to keep his heart beating under the glare of those gold eyes.
"Just say it, pet. Course, it might help if you breathed a bit first." Spike resumed his casual saunter down the sidewalk, and Xander had to trot to catch up. For one moment, he had glanced down the street in the opposite direction, but he knew that the feeling of freedom was an illusion. The vampire could easily catch him, and, he thought glancing down at the bag he still held, find much more unpleasant things to do than just haul him from one bar to another.
"I don't know if I can…" Xander began when he caught up.
"Can what? Not asking you to kill 'em for me."
"I can't just stand by while you kill someone," Xander finally hissed as he walked beside Spike.
"Don't have much choice on that. You either stand by, or I'll chain you up and you'll still stand by." Spike now detoured into an alley and leaned on a huge metal dumpster. "I'll feed tonight one way or the other." Xander turned and watched the people go past the mouth of the alley. So many innocent lives, which one would end tonight?
"Spike? Does everyone taste the same?" Xander finally asked, the seeds of an idea forming in his mind. "I mean, anyone not raised on the mouth of hell?"
"Pretty much. Emotion changes the blood quite a bit, but one scared victim tastes pretty much like another."
"So it doesn't matter to you what type of person you take?"
"Generally avoid drunks. You'd be amazed at how much drugs and alcohol survives in the blood. Once spend an entire week stoned when I fed off this group of hippies. Not doin' that again." Spike gave a small shudder of his own, and Xander had to smile at how human-like Spike truly seemed. Well, most of the time anyway. Sometimes he was totally human with reactions that Xander could identify with entirely too much: the guilt, the desire to not have others laugh at him, the hatred of being compared and always found lacking. Oh yeah, too many similarities. But then the predator would appear with his gold eyes and cold stare.
"But you don't care if your victims are good people or bad, do you?"
"Not especially, luv. I'm not in the judgment business." At this, Spike stood up straight and walked forward with a curious expression. "What are you thinkin’?"
"Would you mind if we went over to the west side? We'd have to get some sort of transportation, but we could do that, right? Maybe the bus?"
"And why would I want to go to the west side?"
"I can't stand by and let you kill some bystander," he whispered, afraid that Spike would reject his idea or not care enough about his feelings to go so far for a simple meal, or even that the vampire might enjoy torturing him by having him watch another human die while he did nothing.
"Pet, you have got to learn to put sentences together so they make sense." Spike reached out and put his hand on Xander's left shoulder, squeezing the scar gently before pulling Xander closer. "Now, what are you thinkin'?"
"If we go west, you could find a member of Sotel 13 over there—find someone who tries to hurt you, and then it wouldn't really be murder." Xander whispered into Spike's shoulder. The fear of having his idea rejected, the smell in the alley, and the thought of helplessly watching someone die allied in an assault on his stomach so that Xander could feel the muscle spasms as he tried not to vomit.
"Oi, not on the leather," Spike protested as he pushed Xander out of the alley and back into the direction they had come from. "Don't mind goin' for a bit of take-out, so west it is," Spike agreed. "We go back for the bike."
"You have a bike? Okay, never mind, you obviously have a bike or we couldn't go back for it." Xander blurted out in one breath even though all he wanted to do was thank Spike for listening to him, for not making him watch some college student die. Okay, that also meant that he had to watch a gang member die, and how disturbing was it that watching that made his happy-list for the day? Xander considered that last thought the entire walk back to the truck yard and to a side lot where a Honda motorcycle in black waited. Before he had a chance to even compliment Spike on the bike, Spike had taken the leather bag, secured it to the back of the bike, and swung into his place at the front.
"Comin' mate?" Spike asked as he held out a hand.
"Thanks," Xander replied quietly as he took Spike hand and quickly settled in behind the vampire. He only hoped that Spike knew that his gratitude covered the whole side trip to the west side. A little voice in the back of Xander's mind told him that *master* must value him if *master* listened to him, but Xander forcefully stuffed that back into his rapidly growing denial pit in the back of his mind as he reviewed his current goals. He leaned into Spike's strong body as he reflected.
Okay, Goal One: Warn Gunn that something was up. Maybe he could tell Gunn that he had hooked up with a more experienced vampire hunter—which was technically true since they were hunting a vampire. He didn't have to mention that he was the bait in this little hunt. Goal Two: Not get killed. Possible as long as he didn't make fun of, laugh at, compare, or insult the vampire and as long as vampire number one didn't accidentally lose him to vampire number two. Goal Three: Get Free. Xander knew that he should probably amend that to "kill vampire," but for all the vampires he had seen turn to dust, he didn't want to see that happen to Spike. He was too human for that. Maybe he could sneak away—okay, not likely, at least not without leaving the state. Maybe Spike would let him go if he helped get Cassidy—a chance there, a small chance but a very real chance if Xander could judge character. If not, he knew that killing Spike would be the only option.
By the time Xander had finished mentally reviewing just how much trouble he was in and just how likely Spike was to allow him to go free, the motor of the bike had stopped, and Spike held the bike steady, waiting. It took Xander a minute to realize he was waiting for Xander to get off.
"So, this is your hunt, luv. Where do we go from here?"
"We walk?" Xander answered uncertainly. He had always avoided this part of town, and now he knew why. Graffiti covered the buildings, and Xander guessed that if he spoke Spanish he'd be really embarrassed by what it said, at least if some of the more graphic pieces of graffiti were anything to judge by. He turned his back on a spray-painted outline of a woman with attributes that would have left a real woman unable to walk without help. He stepped closer to Spike, and he felt a cool arm slip around his waist.
"Don't have to stay," whispered a voice.
"Not letting you eat a housewife," Xander replied as he tried to stand up on his own, but Spike hand remained so that Xander simply managed to pull both of them one step away from the bike. A couple of passing pedestrians glared at them, and he even heard an overweight woman with a canvas bag snort in disgust. Normally, that would have sent Xander running for a hiding place, but he had trouble feeling ashamed of his homosexuality and his arm, which had found its way around Spike's waist, when he had brought Spike here to kill. So, he simple rolled his eyes at the woman and snorted back.
"Subtle luv," Spike laughed as he started pulling him down one street.
Xander looked and spotted a graffiti covered payphone not twenty feet away. He stood there staring so long that Spike finally turned a quizzical look his way.
"I need to call my mom."
"And say what? Sorry, mum, but I got kidnapped and don't think I'll be home tonight?"
"Are you going to kill me, Spike?" He needed to hear the answer.
"No. Told you that already."
"Then I need to call her. If I'm never going back, then she can start grieving now, but if I'm going back, I can't worry her like this. I can't just leave her to wonder where I am."
"And what exactly do you plan on tellin' her?"
"I'll think of something, but please, don't make her worry," Xander turned his best begging eyes towards Spike, the eyes that had gotten his mother to buy him a bike, the eyes that had made his first girlfriend let him touch her boobies.
"Bloody hell, don't look at me like that," the vampire complained before starting toward the phone.
After a brief conversation where he made up lies as fast as he could think them up, he convinced his mother that his new job included riding to San Francisco in one of the trucks in order to check on a problem with the inventory. He even impressed himself with his calm lies, and Spike's half-smile made it clear that Spike approved as well. However, it didn't escape him that he'd had to argue to get the phone call to his mother; Spike would never let him call Gunn.
"Thank you," he whispered after he hung up the phone.
"Had a mother too, once," Spike pointed out. "Now let's hunt." Spike started walking down the street.
"Spike, if we leave that bike, it won't be here when we get back."
"It’s okay. I stole it, so not my loss. 'Course I also don't plan on having to go far." Spike pulled him into another alley.
"Are all you guys this predictable?" Xander tried to count the number of vamps the crew had dusted by setting up a trap in an alley.
"Tried and true, innit?. If you lot didn't build cities with perfect little killin' spots, it wouldn't be an issue." Spike agreed amiably as he pulled Xander closer. Xander wondered if he could go to hell for feeling so good during such a disturbing moment, but he had saved some innocent shopper from being dinner.
"Cabron" hissed a voice from the other end of the alley. Xander physically jumped and tried to turn, but Spike simply chuckled in his ear and continued to hold on. Obviously, the vampire had heard the speaker before he had spoken.
"Listen chilito, you're on our ground," came a second voice, and now Xander tensed as he heard multiple footsteps coming up from the back of the alley.
"Do I want to know what they're saying?"
"Probably not," Spike offered with a grin right before releasing Xander and turning around so that Xander found himself behind Spike's back. Even from that relatively sheltered position, he could see the three boys walking toward them. Boys in age anyway. These three clearly had some experience in fighting from the way they walked and the way they swung heavy chains from fists. At least two swung chains; the third, Xander realized as the group approached, carried a long and wicked-looking knife. He wondered if they had guns that they simply hadn't bothered to pull out faced with two lonely victims in an alley. They were going to need bigger weapons soon because Spike had started that strange half-bounce on the balls of his feet. Spike wanted action.
"I realize it's hard to make good decisions when you're thick as pigshit, but you soddin' gits are in way over your heads. Might want to go home to mummy, boys." Xander watched as Spike's words inspired one of the chain-wielders to swing his weapon. Quicker than Xander could watch, Spike had somehow pushed that boy face first into a building and taken the chain. Spike now swung the chain in a lazy arc as he paced the alley between Xander and the remaining two attackers.
"Last chance to run, gimboids,” Spike offered as the speed of his chain increased until Xander couldn't make out the chain but instead only saw the blur as it moved.
"You and your friend are gonna die, mayate," the taller of the remaining assailants promised darkly. Xander couldn’t restrain a small laugh at that—although he didn't know whether it came from the ridiculousness of these two trying to take out Spike or the bizarre fact that one more person now threatened him. Considering he was only a sidekick, he seemed to attract a lot of attention lately.
"Think not," was Spike's only answer as the chain came down on one boy's head even as the second boy had a near fatal meeting with Spike's elbow. All three now lay unconscious and bleeding. "I take it you're alright with me feeding on them?" Spike asked as he pulled a knife from his own boot and reached down for the tallest boy. Xander looked away when he saw the knife slide into the boy's neck. Perhaps the shock of seeing the boy die slowed him down. Maybe the emotional drain of the last 24 hours had finally taken its toll. Maybe he just didn't know how to keep himself out of trouble because Xander suddenly found himself face to face with an unfamiliar set of ridges and fangs. Xander felt the new vamp's hands on his shoulders at the same time he felt the air rush by his ear as Spike's fist passed on its way to break the vamp's nose. With a scream, the new vamp fell back toward the street, and Xander felt himself pulled back even as Spike reached forward and yanked the vampire back into the shadows. Xander now watched a second vampire slink into the alley.
"Master?" the second vamp's voice sounded unsure, maybe even hopeful.
"Not soddin' yours," Spike growled in reply as he glared down at the vampire who lay bleeding at his feet. "You touch what's mine and I'll kill you," he calmly announced as he pulled out a stake. With an almost snake-like strike, Spike had plunged the stake into the fallen vampire and then pulled it back before the body could even turn to dust. Now Spike moved and stood between Xander and the new vamp. Xander curled his fingers around Spike's arm in fear, seeking protection.
"Master?" it repeated as it inched closer to one of the fallen fighters. Xander watched in fascination as the vampire tilted its head even as it crept toward the still-breathing body. He felt like he had front row seats at a National Geographic special on lions, with the problem being that he had nothing between him and two fierce predators acting out some sort of ritual.
"Whose are you?" Spike finally growled, and the new one froze in place.
"My master's gone," he whined quietly as he tilted his head even more. Xander looked at the torn clothes, the dirt caked onto the vampire's skin, the greasy brown hair, and he recognized the type of vampire he knew and fought. However, when he encountered these types of vamps, they usually made a dive straight for his neck, and this one didn't even look at him after Spike's little declaration of ownership.
"If you displeased him, you won't find a place at my side."
"I didn't, master. My master died. The other master killed him." Oh yeah, the whining was really getting annoying now.
"You should’ve followed him, then." Spike declared coldly even as the brown-haired vamp sunk even lower to the ground.
"I couldn't. I can't find him. He killed my master with magic." Now the brown haired vamp had obsequiously lowered himself all the way to the ground with his forehead touching the cement.
"Then follow your old master," Spike ordered as the stake struck out again and a second pile of dust drifted to the cement.
"Well, that's disturbing," Spike commented as he hurried Xander out of the alley.
"Yeah," Xander agreed quietly. "He was kinda pathetic."
"The second vamp. He really seemed a little pathetic—I could see what you meant about them being like kids."
"That was not a childe." Xander looked up at the voice which carried both amusement and steel. "And I am not disturbed by one less mindless minion in the world. What does disturb me is the thought of some master using the mojo." Spike must have seen the confusion because with a sigh he amended his sentence. "The magic. Some master is using magic."
"Vamps don't normally do that, right?" Xander asked as Spike got on the bike and then waited for Xander to join him. Even the leather bag had survived the thieves, but Xander barely even glanced at it; he had other thoughts circling his consciousness.
"No, vamps usually avoid the mojo—it can backfire when the undead try throwin' it around."
"Writing strange letters in blood; that would be magic, right?"
"Big mojo in blood, pet. What do you know?"
"The vamps who killed Fredrick, they used his blood to write letters," Xander said as he raised his leg over the bike and finally settled in behind the vampire.
"Really?" Spike sat silently on the bike for several second. "We'll check that out after we run you by a few demon noses."
"What was up with that knife?" Xander remembered the knife Spike had used to slice open the gang member's neck.
"Makes it easier to clean up. Knife wound looks like human business and don't attract extra attention. When I'm traveling, I feed and let the locals make up some logical explanation, but when I'm in a place for too long, I like to cover my tracks." Spike reached out a hand to start the engine, and he could see the shaking. He wondered if the desire to not attract attention with messy kills had come before or after Dru's death.
He pushed in behind Spike and wondered just what the hell was going on. Was there some sort of magic revolution going on in the vampire community, or did Fredrick's death connect to a homeless vamp halfway across the city. And the timing of Dru's death to the increased vampire activity didn't escape Xander. He remembered a line out of some book he had read for a book report. Something like, "Once is luck. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action." He wondered how much enemy action was taking place behind the scenes.