The closer they got to Caritas, the more irritated Spike grew with himself.
Ever since the sodding chip, he had managed to adapt based on several principles—the foremost being no matter what he was forced to do, he wouldn’t like it. He would drink bagged blood, but he would not like it. He would kill other beasties, but not because he wanted to. He would save the innocent if they gave cash incentive. At no point would he ever develop empathy for those he rescued. He would never take pleasure in performing good-doer deeds, and he would certainly never put himself at serious personal risk to help another person.
Even if that person was a child.
Tonight, he had broken all those rules.
In all honesty, Spike didn’t know what had come over him, why it had occurred to him now, of all bloody times, to care. After all, this whole trip to LA was due to the fact that he’d gone and fallen in love with his greatest enemy. Saving a child on the way didn’t seem to make much difference—he was already a pathetic excuse for a vamp.
But he could explain why he needed to save Buffy. Loving her was a decent excuse. Well, not decent. Still made him a traitor to his kind, but at least he understood why he needed to do this.
He hadn’t needed to save that girl. He needn’t have enjoyed it, at least.
But he had. And bugger all, that bothered him.
It bothered him a lot.
Why had this child mattered? While it remained true that he hadn’t gone out of his way to kill children in his former life, he certainly hadn’t shied from it. A century’s worth of bodies piled at his feet, and he didn’t care a piss for any of them. For the families that mourned, for the tears that were cried, for the damage he had done. He simply didn’t care.
There were other things that he cared about, though. And it was starting to egg at him in a way that was most unbecoming. It felt like the start of an actual conscience.
Being around humans was the most sickening punishment anyone could have wished for him. It had taken him too long to shirk off his own humanity. Longer than anyone knew. Even through the early years at Angelus’s side, punishing those who mocked him with a swift spike through the head, shagging Drusilla in the snow of St. Petersburg while laughing at the dead that encircled them—all the while, shoved into some back corner of his mind, there had harbored a voice that wondered if this was what Mother would want. That asked what he had become, and if it was too late to make things right.
But he was a demon. Death was what he was made for. What he was supposed to do. And by committing to the role, acting the part he was supposed to play, by having a good time and ignoring that insipid voice, his conscience had eventually drowned. He had embraced the vampire he was meant to be.
Then Dru had abandoned him and he’d found himself back in Sunnhell for reasons he wouldn’t understand for months. By then, he had all but forgotten how to be human. The word guilt had no meaning. And that was just fine with him because he’d been addicted to what he had become. The power. The rush. Everything that life had denied him, he found in death. By the time the world was ready to accept him again, he had turned his back on the world.
And then Buffy had happened.
Being around humans had ruined him. He was starting to care. Loving the Slayer was just the first. He was starting to care about others, as well. He knew he would kill anyone who dared touch Dawn Summers, and not just because she was Buffy’s sister. He liked Willow and Tara well enough, he adored Joyce, and when the boy wasn’t talking, Xander Harris was tolerable as well. Anya was a bloody hoot and Rupert…well, he was important to Buffy. Plus Spike needed someone that appreciated British humor, and the old man had good intentions.
That was just it. Good intentions. A heart of bloody gold. Everything he was supposed to hate.
It didn’t end there. He had only been in Los Angeles for a number of hours, and he couldn’t complain about the company. Wesley was an all right bloke. Gunn seemed like someone he could get along with, as long as nothing pointy was within proximity. And Cordelia was almost exactly like Anya, except more human. Had the former vengeance demon been born and raised in California, he had no trouble believing she and Cordelia would have been the very best of friends at Sunnydale High. The same as Harmony and the like. People that lived for money and fame.
And now with this new lot. Two faces that he would likely never see again. A child and her guardian. Mother, babysitter, older sister—it didn’t matter. The fact that he had noticed them at all, gone to the lengths he had to keep them safe, risked what he had risked, felt what he felt…it was enough to make him sick with himself.
But the feeling would not go away.
And here he was. Feeling things he didn’t want to feel. Thinking things he didn’t want to think. Experiencing concern and guilt and all sorts of human sensations he’d thought he’d forgotten.
If his hosts were the humanitarians they claimed to be, they would stake him good and proper now before he did any more damage to his own psyche. As it was, the lot of them were chatting comfortably with each other, laughing, and occasionally looking to him to join in on the joke.
They were an exceptionally strange group.
Spike’s thoughts drifted inevitably to Buffy, as they were wont to do these days. She seemed farther away now than she ever had. It turned his stomach in knots to think of what they were doing to her. What sort of playthings Angelus might have developed a liking for, what sort of new toys he would try for kicks. There was no doubt that Angelus and Darla enjoyed a good, long torture session, but that could mean anywhere from hours to days.
And despite whatever he’d told the crew at Angel Investigations—they really needed to change the name—Spike would kill everyone who had touched her. From the lackeys that had helped bring her in, to the man behind the big desk. Chip be fucking damned.
Of course, he had to consider what he would do about Drusilla. The thought of killing her didn’t make him want to burst into song, but Spike was realist enough to understand that there would be a dusty ending for one of them. He also knew he couldn’t pull all this off by himself.
But he had to try.
If caring didn’t destroy him first.
“So, Spike,” Cordelia said, twisting in her seat. “Any hints on what you’re going to sing?”
He smirked. “Anyone ever tell you that you have an impatient streak?”
“I’m sorry? What was that? I couldn’t hear you over the pot calling the kettle black.”
“You look like a death metal guy to me,” she went on, speaking as though he hadn’t. “Or something equally lame. Maybe Jimi Hendrix?”
“Bloody genius, that man was.”
Wesley looked at Cordelia aghast. “Surely you don’t mean to suggest that Jimi Hendrix is…lame?”
“Just seeing if you were paying attention, Wes.”
“Are we ignoring the obvious?” Gunn asked, looking over his shoulder. “Billy Idol? I mean—come on! It’d be a hoot!”
Spike snorted. “Right. And I wouldn’t hear the end of it.”
“Well, do you like Billy Idol?”
“Yeah, actually I do. The boy’s got decent music. I just don’t appreciate the stealing my look parts of his gig.” Spike tilted his head. “Mmm…dunno. If I’m persuaded to do an encore ‘cause the crowd loves my stunning vocals, I might consider it.” A chuckle. “A demon karaoke bar. Still can’t feature the scene. Rupert’d shit himself.”
Cordelia frowned. “Giles? Why?”
“’Cause he sings.”
“Sings. Gets little odd-job gigs around town.” Spike sat back, ignoring Cordelia’s slack-jawed expression. “Actually, the bloke sounds decent. Guess every Watcher has to get his kicks off somehow. Your man kills demons, ours sings. ‘Course, he was unemployed last year and bored out of his skull. Enough so that he watched Passions with me.”
Cordelia pulled a Regan MacNeil, her eyes wide with excitement. “You watch Passions?”
Spike flinched, looked at her, then turned to Wesley, who had somehow managed to not steer into a signpost. “She always this shrill?”
His answer came in the form of a long sigh.
“I love that show!” she continued. “Hey, do you really think they’re going to go through with the wedding? Come on! It’s so a not. And what about Timmy? He—”
Gunn caught Wesley’s eye and they nodded. “Cordelia!”
“What? I’m just—”
“Sit down, please. We’re nearly there. You and Spike can discuss the fundamentals of bad television programming when we are not in a moving vehicle.” Wesley grasped her arm with his right hand and jerked her back into her seat. “On the way back to the Hyperion, one of you is riding in the back, or he can come up here. I believe we have established that the vampire is not going to attack.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “Took you sods long enough to suss that out.”
“In all fairness,” Gunn observed, “you haven’t proven that you can’t.”
“In all fairness,” he replied in the same tone, “I haven’t fancied a headache.”
“Still, I think a demo is in order.” Gunn grinned at him. “Just so we can be sure. Wouldn’t want you to go all bite-happy around a bunch of unsuspecting fleshies.”
“No,” Spike agreed dryly. “We couldn’t have that, could we?” He sank further into his seat and kicked the back of Wesley’s on a whim, then flinched when the chip activated.
There was a whoop of victory from Gunn and a brief swerve as Wesley attempted to regain control of the wheel.
“Spike!” their irate driver bellowed. “I know you can’t die, but we can. Please refrain from kicking my seat.”
“Charlie wanted a demo.”
Gunn nodded. “Worth it.”
“Oh thank god.” Wesley said, switching on the blinker. “Parking spot. I believe I’ll catch a taxi home.”
“That mean I get the Angel wheels?” Spike asked. “I promise to only bang it up a little.”
“Hands off the car,” Cordelia said in a frighteningly frosty voice. “So help me, I will stake you if you even so much as damage the paint.”
“Didn’t figure you to be one of those birds that got off on horsepower.”
“On what?” Her voice hit that shrill again, and she started to twist in her seat, but Gunn caught her and steered her back with a laugh.
“It’s a car term, Cor,” he said. “Nothing about horses.”
Wesley killed the ignition and undid his seatbelt in a hurry. “It’s a few blocks down, and this is the best place we’re going to find up the strip, and I want to get out of the car. All right everyone. Spike, I hope you have your number selected. We’re going to be hearing it soon.”
And before anyone could respond, Wesley was out of the car and halfway up the sidewalk.
Spike just grinned and quickly made to follow.
The bar was everything and nothing he would expect of a demon karaoke joint. It was a hodgepodge, comprised of demons of every variety of species, from those that blended into human society to those that actively tried to overthrow it. Some that were dangerous just to sniff and others that were as harmless as kittens. Very few that he could not identify. The whole scene looked as though someone had a right mind to redo the scene from the Star Wars Cantina properly.
Currently at the mic was a green-skinned, horned demon, belting out the soulful lyrics of Etta James’s “At Last”, and hitting notes better than James, herself.
“That’s him,” Cordelia said into his ear, pointing at the stage. “That’s the Host.”
Spike arched an eyebrow. “That’s the bloke that’ll read me?”
She nodded. “Isn’t he good?”
“Bloody fantastic, pet.” His gaze drifted to the mélange species of demon once more, fascinated. “Does everyone sign a peace treaty or what all before coming in? Half these gits have been at war for centuries. I know. I’ve seen it.”
“Caritas is a sanctuary,” Wesley explained. “There can be no violence within its boundaries.”
“Oh, so now I can’t hurt humans or my kind? Spectacular.”
“No one can. That’s the beauty of it.”
The Host finished his number, announced some Gnackner demon was about to take the stage, and immediately set off to see them, a spark in his eyes that he barely disguised as relief.
“Evening, kiddos!” the Host proclaimed loudly, throwing his arms around Cordelia and Gunn. “How goes it? Aside from the ugly death and the homicidal maniac that is your boss, of course. Honestly, I’m surprised you had the stones to show up here in the first place. Someone like woke-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-coffin-Angel-cheeks on my tail? Whew! I’d be hiding under the bed.”
Spike snickered. Angel-cheeks.
“Watch that,” Cordy said, wagging her finger in the guy’s green face. “I’m going to start believing you’re not glad to see us.”
“Oh, I’m glad. Let me count the ways. Especially to see all of you in three whole-looking pieces.” The Host shuddered and shook his head. “You haven’t had any trouble?”
“Not so much as trouble as the big bad Angelus standing outside the Hyperion, yelling his ass off at us to invite him in from sunset to sunrise two days straight. We haven’t seen him since, but that’s nothing we regret,” Gunn replied. “Your spell worked like a charm, man.”
“As spells are supposed to do,” the Host agreed. “Well, the man himself showed up here last night. Didn’t stay long. Spoke a piece, made some threats, and I think I lost me another bartender, but no harm no foul. He knew enough not to try anything.” He turned swiftly to Cordelia. “You never mentioned that the bad Angel is like a PMSing Martha Stewart. Details are appreciated!”
Spike laughed again, louder this time. Oh yeah. Definitely liked this bloke.
“I thought the ‘nailing of puppies to walls’ sort of covered that territory,” she replied with a grin.
The green fellow shuddered again at that. “Oh thanks, sweetcheeks, for giving me that image again. I had to have Larry the Hashnog demon forcibly remove it last time around. Not exactly an experience I’m looking to suffer through again, but sacrifices must be made.” He unwound himself from Cordelia and Gunn, then turned to Spike with a grin. “And you! You’re one of Angel’s!”
Spike felt his scowl fall back into place. “Wait a bloody minute—”
“No offense, skittles. I just go with the flow.”
“The pout. It’s all about the pout. I’d recognize that glower anywhere.” He turned to Cordelia and leaned over. “You think it runs in the family?”
Okay, whether or not he liked the bloke, no one got away with calling him a sodding Angel-model.
“Temper, temper,” the Host advised him before Spike could threaten him bodily. “It won’t do you any good in here, anyway.” He extended his hand with a friendly. “Hello. I’m Lorne, the owner and operator of this fine establishment.”
On the stage, some horrendous beast was belting out the theme to Love Boat.
Wesley’s brow wrinkled. “Lorne?”
The green demon waved airily. “Yeah, yeah. Proper name and all. What? You thought mummy dearest took a look at me and decided to call me The Host? Trust me, where I come from, there is nothing to host. Very sad and I’m sure we’ll shed a few tears later. I’m betting you’re here so sugarbritches can grace us with a number.”
“The name’s Spike, mate. And how the bloody hell—”
“Oh, and he has Angel’s attitude, too!”
Lorne inclined his head and clapped Spike on the shoulder. “Only you’re much livelier, pardon the pun. And that accent! To die for. There were times when I thought Angel might as well be an animated mannequin for all the moving around he did.”
“And you’ve made several facial expressions tonight,” Cordelia observed. “That’s way non-Angelish.”
The Host laughed richly. “And I knew because the team at Angel Investigations isn’t dumb enough to risk a trip here for the drinks while the boss is—how shall we put it—on holiday? Since they brought you along, I’m guessing you need to be read. Well, step on up! I love fresh blood around here. Again, pardon the pun.”
“Yo, man,” Gunn grunted. “We’re not gonna cower in some corner just ‘cause Angel’s out there in the not best sense, all right? We’re demon hunters. That’s what we do. The Hyperion’s just—”
“Yeah, yeah. Bygones.” Lorne waved dismissively, then wormed an arm around Spike’s shoulders and steered him toward the stage. “Spike, babe, walk with me, talk with me. We must get you set up for your number. I’m seeing strobe lights, a disco ball, and stylish choreography.”
Spike stopped in his tracks and stared.
“Kidding.” Lorne turned to aim him a grin. “But I do love the attitude. Tell me, sugar, you play any instruments?”
Another hesitant pause. “Why?”
“Because, as often as possible, I like to get authentic performers on my stage. Lindsey McDonald—oh, talk about a voice to die for. Not to mention that boy could play! Heaven’s chorus couldn’t compete. That was, of course, before Angelkins decided he did wonders for the one-handed look.” The Host paused again. “So, do you play?”
“Uhh…piano. A bit.” Spike shuffled. That wasn’t quite true. He’d taught himself to play by ear to keep Dru entertained during the years following Prague. Particularly when she’d get a tune stuck in her head and demand to hear it on repeat. But no one knew that and he wasn’t too keen on letting it get out. “It’s been a while, mate. And really, I’d fancy just getting up there and getting this over with without making a big thing outta it. See, there’s this—
“There’s always some this, and chances are it’s either a drug bust or a girl. I’m personally leaning more toward the second.” Lorne put some space between them—finally—and looked him up and down. “Piano, you say? Well, we have keyboards. Not quite the same, but workable. You say workable? I say workable. It’d be easier to haul those on stage than that honkin’ huge piano. We’ll save that for next time.”
“Listen, mate, I’d really rather—”
Lorne sighed and draped an arm over Spike’s shoulder again. “Spike, babe, you have to do this anyway. Some things are obviously worth the effort. And you obviously have trouble associating yourself with big daddy, right?”
Spike arched an eyebrow.
“Yeah. Figured. Can we just please get on with it?” He balled his hands into fists to keep them from trying a chokehold. “I gotta—”
The Host grinned. “The sanctuary spell’s really annoying you, isn’t it? Not used to negotiating with words.”
“More used to it than you’d wager.”
“Well, petals, I think, other than entertaining, outdoing Angelface here’ll be very therapeutic. I take it you’ve heard him. A tune can’t carry him, let alone the other way around. Let us not rehash that night of the singing undead.” Lorne shuddered, and Spike grinned without realizing it. “You have a helluva voice. I can tell.”
“Is that right?”
“Well, hon, I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I do do this for a living.” He shooed him forward. “Roberto will bring your keyboard up. We’ll talk after you’re finished.”
The Host was gone the next instant. He reappeared within seconds on stage, announcing their next performer—a Chaos demon, of all déjà vus.
“To be followed by a British baddie with a Billy Idol complex!”
Spike scowled. That joke had been old before Gunn made it, the Host ought not to press his luck. He might like the git, but didn’t mean he wouldn’t rip his throat out as soon as they stepped onto unsanctuarized ground.
Yes it does.
That voice was becoming a real nuisance. Bloody conscience.
The Chaos demon performed a breathtaking rendition of “Stand By Your Man” that had the crowd going nuts. He wasn’t necessarily good, but the movements he decided to randomly choreograph were so hilarious that a mime would laugh aloud. Too soon it was over, and it was Spike’s turn on stage.
And he hadn’t the faintest buggering idea what to play.
A bloke hurried out to get the keyboard set up as the crowd chattered. A few minutes later, Spike was sitting behind it, staring at the keys and surfing through his mental catalog of songs. None seemed to fit—and he had bugger all idea why, all of a sudden, what he sang would matter. The result was the same, right? Didn’t matter what he did so long as the Host got a read.
Then he thought about the car ride over, and Cordelia telling him he’d probably go for death metal.
A smirk stretched his lips as he lifted his hands to the keyboard.
He preferred, whenever possible, to turn expectations on their head. After all, it was the rebel’s duty to do the unexpected. So when his fingers began moving over the keys and the first few bars of a song everyone and their bloody cousin would know filled the room, he wasn’t surprised when Cordelia’s voice carried over the crowd.
Spike leaned forward, smirking still, and began to sing. “Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band.”
And that was as far as he got before the whole bloody club decided to join in. In all his years, Spike had never seen such a sight. Demons of all species looking up, their ugly faces stretching into grins as their voices lifted in the air along with him. He took them through the beats of the song, spurred on by their response. Little by little, the tension in his body began to fade and he started to enjoy himself.
Something he would never have thought possible.
“Looking on,” Spike cooed into the mic, “she sings the songs…”
“Words she knows!” croaked the Chaos Demon
“Tunes she hums!” chimed a Deevak, his arm slung around a Pockla.
Spike aimed a glance toward the corner where he knew his mates were and nearly stumbled over the keyboard in trying to swallow a laugh. All three of them had slackened looks on their faces. And all three of them were mouthing the words along with him.
“But oh how it feels so real,” he continued, building up for the last reprise. Excitement beat through the room like a tangible thing. “Lying here with no one near. Only you. And you can hear me when I say softly, slowly…”
The bar answered in a jubilant roar. “Hold me closer, tiny dancer! Count the headlights on the highway!”
“Lay me down in sheets of linen,” came Cordy’s voice, loud and shrill and very much off-key.
“You had a busy day today!” Gunn answered, sounding a little choked up.
Spike grinned, pounded the keys, and took the song home, his ears burning with the sound of too many voices to separate as they pushed toward the final refrain.
“Hold me closer, tiny dancer! Count the headlights on the highway! Lay me down in sheets of linen. You had a busy day today.”
No sooner had his fingers lifted from the keyboard than did the entire bloody place go nuts. Spike all but bounded to his feet, grinning ear to ear like a sodding lunatic, but fuck, he could get used to being greeted with wolf whistles and applause.
Then he saw the green guy fighting his way to the stage, and the smile melted off his face, the reality of his being here coming back full blast.
“Spikealicious!” Lorne crooned, stepping up to the stage. “That was beautiful! Inspired!”
“What’d you see?”
The Host looked away abruptly and motioned at the audience. “This has to be a first. You might have brokered peace between the Taniska and the Sumtah. Well done, friend.”
The last beats of his good mood vanished. Spike took a step closer and knelt down, his demon roaring. “What did you bloody—”
The smile faded off Lorne’s face, replaced with a sheepish grimace. “Well, here’s the bad news. I didn’t.”
“Or, rather, I did, but there was too much interference.” Lorne waved at the crowd, which was still applauding like mad. “I saw something in the first few lines, but once everyone started in, everything got jumbled. I’m afraid you’ll have to go again.”
Spike closed his eyes, willing patience he didn’t have.
“I can’t turn it off!” Lorne said, throwing up his hands. “It doesn’t work like that. All these folks here broadcast when they sing. Wires get confused. Messages wonky. It’s a whole big thing.” He climbed onto the stage and moved toward the mic. “We’ll get it fixed now, but you might try a song that’s less, uhh, Elton-y.”
Spike bit back a snarl, every line in his body tense. But he had no choice, did he? According to Wesley and Cordelia, this was the best place to get a lead. The Host was the bloke to provide it. So he had to do one more song. It wasn’t the end of the world.
Except for Buffy, it might be.
Spike’s insides went cold. While he was here, entertaining a bunch of wankers, Buffy was…
He couldn’t afford to think like that now.
“Well,” Lorne said into the mic, grinning wildly. “I think it’s safe to say that will go down in the Caritas history books. Wouldn’t be surprised if our platinum friend went platinum himself. How would you folks like an encore?”
The answer was immediate and enthusiastic. The Host held up his hands. “All right, but this time, exnay the ing-along-say, ‘kay? Give our man the chance to get his money’s worth.” He turned to Spike and motioned him back up. “Whenever you’re ready, stud.”
And then he was back at the keyboards, staring again at the keys, his ears ringing with cheers from the other patrons, but his mind on Buffy.
On what was happening to her now.
On what this extra few minutes would cost her.
He didn’t have to think too hard before the right song came to mind this time. After a prolonged beat, he brought his hands to the keys again and began a slower, somber introduction.
Then he leaned toward the mic, closed his eyes, and thought of her.
“So. So you think you can tell, heaven from hell. Blue skies from pain. Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail. A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell?”
If “Tiny Dancer” had brought the house down, this was the opposite. He wasn’t sure if it had been Lorne’s recriminations, the song, or himself. But this one he felt. He couldn’t help but feel.
Spike dragged his fingers up the keys again. “Did they get you trade your heroes for ghosts? Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze? Cold comfort for change. And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage.”
He broke for a musical interlude, keeping his eyes on the keyboard.
All he could see was her.
“How I wish, how I wish you were here,” he sang, and sod all, he felt that telltale sting at his eyes. Couldn’t help it, and too late to change his mind. He’d made it this far. “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year. Running over the same old ground and how we found the same old fears. Wish you were here.”
As the final notes drifted off, the bar erupted with another round of fevered applause. Spike rose to his feet, gave his head a good shake, offered a small bow, then bounded off stage before anyone could demand him another encore. No more bloody wasted time. It was straight to Lorne, who had abandoned his seat to give him a standing ovation.
“Enough of that,” Spike growled roughly, brushing past a couple of Rathkis—twins, from the looks of it—who were eyeing him with interest. He only had eyes for the Host now, which he hoped he made clear when he all but threw himself into the seat at the demon’s table. “What’d you see?”
“Boy oh boy, was I ever right? That was—”
“Stop with the bloody small talk. You snooped around my noggin. I did my bit. Twice, I might add. Now what did you see?”
The Host sank back into his seat and took a prolonged sip of his drink. “The question, honey, is more that I didn’t see. That is one conflicted cranium you’re supporting on your small albeit muscular shoulders! But first, you have to answer me a question or two. Why ’Tine Dancer’? Pink Floyd seems to fit you much better, but that first one? Never saw it coming.”
“Yeah, that was the point. Turned out to be a bloody waste.”
“I wouldn’t call it a waste! Everyone here had a great time!”
“At the Slayer’s expense.” Spike paused, clenched his teeth and shook his head. “Okay, enough. We’ll have plenty of time to chat about my taste in music later. Now just tell me. What. The. Bloody. Hell. Did. You. See?”
Lorne studied him a beat longer, his head cocked. “You’re a strange fella, Spike. Got yourself all in love with a slayer—the same Angel was so cockamamie crazy about for years, mind you—and now have crossed proverbial oceans to save her from your own kind. All without a soul, mind you. It’s fascinating. Hand me a camera crew and a group of talented actors—preferably including Johnny Depp—and I got me an Academy award winning script.” He took another drink, holding up a hand when Spike opened his mouth to lay into him. The Host lowered his cup, smiled pleasantly, then continued. “You’re setting your own path. That’s amazing. Most vampires are essentially pathless. At least the ones I get in here. They sing and all I see is whom they had for dinner, or whom they will have for dinner. Except your great-grand pappy—of course—and quite frankly, I’d rather not see what’s in his head right now. It’s so rare to meet an evil creature with purpose. Refreshing, really.”
Spike snickered. “You make it sound like it’s been all sunshine and daffodils.”
“Of course not. Purposes are nasty, grueling things that’ll kill you if you let them.” Lorne smiled. “I know this isn’t anything you asked for, pudding. It’s been decaffeinated when you needed your sugar boost and given you one Linda Tripp of a headache instead of energy. Hey—it happens to the best of us.”
“So is there anything you can tell me besides describing me and my problem? How’s the Slayer? Did you see her? Have they—”
“Slow down, Tiger. The only way I’d have any four-one-one on little Buffalicious is if Angel came in here to sing to me about it. Or the Slayer herself, but no one’s holding their breath for that one. You sing, I see your path, not hers.”
At that, the irritation that had been pulsing since this insane request was made burst into all out anger. It was enough. “So I came here for nothing? For Chrissake, if you can’t—”
“Not nothing, sweetie-pie. I can tell you that you won’t be alone. You can’t.” Lorne seized a napkin from the table’s dispenser and began jotting something down with a pen that materialized from nowhere. “You missed it once. Can’t afford to make you oh for two.” He slid his scribblings across the table. “And for that, I really should whack you upside the head, you enormous dolt.”
Spike glared at him, confused but too tired and angry to question him. He turned his eyes to the napkin. “What’s this?”
“The address you need to go to.”
“…Why? The Slayer there?”
“No, hon. That’s an alley. Knowing your hunka antihero sire, Buffy’s probably shacked up at good ole Wolfram and Hart. The alley’s your rendezvous point with your guide, so to speak. You’re going to meet someone to help you.”
“What about the Angel Investigation squad team of white hats?”
“Oh, they’ll help. But you need to go to the alley to find the person who will get you in.”
“Who could I possibly find in a bloody—”
“Listen, I wanna help you. I really do. And I’ve done what I can. You sang, I read, and this is what your path is screaming. In all languages, brother.” Lorne leaned forward. “You want to help your girl, right?”
His girl. Spike softened at that. “More than anything, mate.”
“All signs point to the alley.” That was it. The Host backed up in his chair, hands coming up. “I’ve done my part.”
Spike watched as Lorne disappeared into a multitude of creatures. A few seconds later, he was on stage announcing the next performer—some Chubra demon singing “Barbie Girl.”
Spike shook his head and turned his attention to the napkin. An alley. Seemed a lot of trouble to go through for such paltry information.
Again, Buffy’s face floated to the top of his thoughts and Spike’s resolve hardened.
It was more than he’d had an hour ago. Not much more, perhaps, but it was enough for now. It had to be.
Anything that got him closer to her was worth it.
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