"-and so I said, look here, missy, there's such a thing as waiting in line for your turn."

"You did."

"I did."

"And this had what effect?"

"Well, it situated me in a long and honorable history of passive resistance."

"So, nothing."

"Nah. She budged anyway."

"Well, I'm sure you made her feel bad, which is the main thing. And someday she'll look back and-" Willow stopped walking, and Xander gave her a flat tire. "What?"

She held up a hand and squinted. "Do you see-"

He squinted too. Something was lurking a few graves off. It was too dark to see exactly what it was, but as they watched it stopped moving, and its outline became even vaguer in the darkness.

Xander nodded and pulled Willow back a step, and they both stood still, peering at the faint dark shape. Without movement, it was hard even to know there was anything there. Just an uncertain outline in the night, and if Willow hadn't been paying attention they probably would have walked right up to it. Xander squinted harder and ran down a quick mental index: vampire, zombie, giant snake, werewolf. The moon was wrong for werewolf.

Whatever it was, it shifted a little to the right, a little to the left. Then it seemed to withdraw farther into the darkness, but it didn't disappear.

He had a stake in his coat and so did she, but they weren't looking for trouble, just walking home, and Buffy was across town.

"Should we-?" She didn't sound eager, and he didn't feel eager. He shook his head and pulled her back another step.

"I'm thinking not. I'm thinking we go home the long way."

She nodded and stepped back hard onto his toes. "Stupid shortcut."

"Yeah. Come on, quick like a bunny."

They walked backward a few more steps, then turned and started back the way they'd come, following their own footsteps in the frost. They were both breathing fast, making clouds.

"Left?"

"Yeah, left. Veer left." He got his hand under her arm and walked a little faster to get them left a little sooner, so they could get back onto the path. "You remember that scene in American Werewolf in London?"

She shook her head. "Not right now."

"Right. Sorry." He could feel the bones of her elbow through her duffel coat, and forced himself to loosen his grip. "Hey, librarian joke? Giles laughed."

"Yeah? Sure."

"Okay, uh, a guy walks into a library and says, I want a burger and fries. And the librarian says-"

They were almost to the path, but he'd forgotten that the path looped back up the slope, back in the direction they'd just come. Willow paused.

"Oh, this is seeming like a less good idea." Her voice was tight and a little high, like his. He glanced up the path, trying to remember how far it went in that direction.

"It's probably nothing."

"Right."

"Like, a dog."

"Right. Or...a skunk."

"Man, I do not want to meet up with a skunk."

"I don't think it's really a skunk, Xander."

"Me neither. Skunks aren't that big."

"You thought it was big?"

"I thought-it was biggish. Not really big. Not, you know, enormous."

They paused and listened. There was a faint sound coming from somewhere up the slope; something moving. A scraping sound, a weird flat fluttering. As they listened, it stopped. They looked at each other.

"Maybe it's gone."

"Yeah."

Willow's nose was pink, and the two wool tassles on her toque had come out of the bow he'd tied on top of her head. She glanced up the path again. "Okay, um..."

A car alarm went off somewhere in the distance, and they both jumped. He put a hand to his chest. "Christ, slip a pill under my tongue, will you? Let's just get the hell out of here."

"Right. Exercising due caution, getting out."

They started up the path quickly, walking in step with their shoulders pressed together as if there weren't enough room to walk apart. Their shoes cracked on the gravel.

"So." Willow wiped her nose and adjusted her grip on her stake, glancing around. "So anyway, the guy says to the librarian?"

"Uh, yeah, he comes in and says, I'll have a hamburger and fries, and the librarian says, uh, you know, this is a library-"

"Are you making this up?"

"No. No, it's a real joke."

"Okay, go on."

His fingers were sweating slightly on the stake, and he had to wipe them on his jeans. "Right, so the librarian says, this is a library, and the guy says-"

They came to the top of the slope, and Willow gasped. He grabbed her arm without thinking, his fingers so tight around the stake he couldn't feel them. Before he could focus, she let out a long frustrated sigh.

"It's okay, it's just-"

It registered for him at the same moment as she said it-the skinny pale arms, the white hair. Sitting upright on a tombstone about fifty feet off, under one of the only working lamps in the place. Smoking a cigarette. Watching them.

"It's just Spike," Willow said, and pulled her arm out of Xander's grip. "Ow, Mr. Grabbyhands."

"Sorry." He looked down at the stake in his hand and noticed that his fingers were white. He let go and shook them out. "What the hell is he doing out there?"

"Terrorizing us younguns, I guess." She shook her own hand out. "Pretty successfully, too."

"Well, yeah." He held the stake a moment longer, then put it back inside his coat. "Fucking Spike."

"He can probably hear us, Xander."

"Yeah? Get a job, dumbass."

"Uh-huh. Cold, here. Want to go home now."

Spike hadn't moved. He might have been statuary, a part of the pilaster he was sitting on, except for the coil of smoke curling up from the cigarette between his fingers. Xander's heart hadn't stopped racing yet, and he had a sudden urge to step off the path and walk straight over to him, knock the cigarette out of his hand and see if the hand came with it. He could imagine it breaking cleanly off at the wrist, leaving a smooth chalky stump. It was a weird, satisfying image.

Willow pulled his arm. "You're getting that look."

"What look?"

"That professional football look. It disturbs me."

He shook his head and let her pull him. "It just-damn, I was freaked, there. He could pick a better place to lurk, you know?"

"Like the mall. He could spring out at the mall-walkers."

"It just pisses me off." He glanced back-Spike was still there, hadn't moved.

Willow pulled him on. "Or the DMV. He could lurk in the stanchions, and pop out to liven the experience."

"Wills, I'm trying to be manly and grudge-bearing, here."

"Or TGIFriday's."

"Out on the highway?"

"Sure. Or they're building a Chuck-E-Cheez in Belvista. He could lurk in the ballroom."

They walked down the hill in silence. The gates were just ahead of them, and then they were through, back on the streets and sidewalks, back in the land of the living. Still moving fast, but not as fast as before. Willow tied her tassels back on top of her head and gave him a couple of sideways looks that might have qualified as eye rolls. Finally he shook his head and sighed.

"Okay, so anyway, the guy orders a burger and fries, and the librarian says, this is a library, and the guy says-"





The alarm was working to rule; it gave a few beeps and then cut out, and he didn't so much wake up as surface briefly and then wobble softly back down, like a dead leaf seesawing to the ground. When he woke up for real it was ten thirty and he was half an hour late for work. He swore, rolled out of bed, dug around for his keys and wallet, and got the hell out.

He banged the door closed and locked it, then glanced up and just stood for a second with the key still in the lock, staring. There was something on the door-some kind of graffiti. Someone had scratched something into the door.

"Well, fuck me." He yanked the key out and touched the wood lightly. The scratches weren't deep, it was mostly just the paint. What was it supposed to be? A circle, a few lines breaking it, a couple of random-looking gouges that might have been mistakes, or the start of a tag that never got finished. Fucking kids.

He swore a little more, then turned his back on it and went to work.





"I've got this amazing skirt, it's huge, and a...well, a bodice, I guess, and then a shawl of course, because, bodice-"

Willow was sketching something on a scrap of paper, using one of the Magic Box's demonstration-model pre-levitated pencils, and Buffy was watching. They glanced up as he came in, and each gave him a little wave, then went back to the drawing.

"Hey, Xander. So, the shawl has this amazing fringe, like lampshade fringe, and then the shoes-"

He checked behind the counter; no Anya. There were stock-counting sounds coming from the back, and for a minute he considered going back and taking a little inventory of his own, but Giles was probably back there too. And even if you didn't see him at first, he could pop up at the least opportune moments from behind the bottled bog moss and corn spurry.

He took his jacket off and checked his watch; it was ten to nine. He was early for Scooby meeting. Which was kind of ironic, considering how the rest of his day had gone. The second shift guy hadn't showed up, and he'd got stuck working through till seven, which was more breasts and thighs than any man should have to bear. Then he'd gone home for a shower, and there hadn't been any hot water left, and there'd been a pair of sneakers thumping in the clothes dryer, so he couldn't sleep or watch TV or even think. And the graffiti was still on his door.

"We're talking finery over here," Buffy said. "Willovian finery, specifically. Come ooh and aah."

"Ooh," he said obediently, wandering over and glancing at the sketch. "Ah-what is that?"

"Lady Ada Lovelace," Willow said, a little defensively. "I'm going as her."

"World's first computer programmer," Buffy supplied, giving Xander a furtive look.

"Oh, yeah. Lady Ada. She was-wasn't she on the cover of Wired?"

"She was Byron's daughter," Willow said. "And everyone talks about Turing and Hollerith and Marvin Minsky, but do you ever hear anyone mention Lady Ada and the analytical engine?"

"Not recently," he admitted, easing into a chair. "I mean, not since Homecoming."

"What are you going as, Xander?" Buffy asked. "We need a Byron."

"Ah," he said again. That was the other bad thing that had happened today. "Not going, actually. Working. I was late this morning and my ass got shift-swapped." They both stared at him, and he almost laughed. "Hey, it's just Halloween, guys. One might say we're getting a little mature for it."

"One might," Willow conceded. "But one would be talking nonsense."

"Yeah," Buffy said. "There's no such thing as too mature for Halloween, Xander. Halloween is all about maturity."

"Like fraternities, yeah."

"And it's a certain Slayer's night off."

He sighed. "Yeah, I know, and now would be a good time for me to have a shop steward to bring this up with, but..."

"What about Anya?"

"She's her own shop steward. She's her own UAW. Giles is a marked man."

"No, what about Anya coming to the Bronze party?"

"Well, she's going to look pretty silly wearing the back end of the horse all by herself, but she'll manage."

He could see they were ready to keep going with it, and he was mentally steeling himself-because what did they want him to do, quit?-but Giles emerged from the back room, dusting the front of his jacket. Anya followed, clipboard in hand.

"I'm only saying that we can find mandrake through half a dozen other sources at least, and if we go through my friend in Corpus we can get it at half the price-"

"Of course," Giles said, in the tone of a man who had stopped listening hours ago. "Brilliant idea, go ahead and make the arrangements. What time is it?" He checked his watch, and glanced around at them. "Hello, are we all here?"

Buffy and Willow looked at each other, and at Xander.

"All present and accounted for," Buffy said.

"Except Spike," Willow said.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "Does he still come to these things anymore, or what?"






At the classified ads stage, the chicken factory had seemed like a good idea. Good pay, local business. No union yet, but they'd have one in the next six months or he was a Hottentot. And the machines did all the real work-all he had to do was watch the stuff go by, and pick out any obvious mistakes.

The first time he saw a head go by, half-stripped and gaping, sharp little eyes fixed on him, he started to have second thoughts. And there were feet, lots of feet. Once, an entirely intact mouse clambering desperately over the glistening cuts. One of the other guys yanked it out, and then there was a brutal little game of stomp with lots of Spanish shouting and money getting tossed around. He kept out of it.

The day after the graffiti on his door, a finger went by. A woman's finger, sheared cleanly off at the second knuckle, with brown skin and a long mauve fingernail.

He was too shocked to move, and later he got called into the supervisor's office and chewed out. If he saw any more body parts go by, he was supposed to grab them right away and head straight to the supervisor's office, where they had Baggies and ice. These things could be stitched back on, if they moved fast enough.






They were being quiet in the darkness, taking a breather with her thighs pressed to his sides and his hands resting on her hips. She was a dim shape above him, a smooth belly and the silhouette of breasts. They hadn't said ten words to each other since they'd come in, and that was okay. He felt sleepy and happy and in love.

The house was quiet. The world was quiet.

She leaned down and put her head against his, and he smiled and kissed her and rolled his hips the way she liked. But she put her hand down to stop him. They lay still a moment, and he stroked her hair back from her face.

"You okay?"

She sighed, and he waited.

"Do you ever feel...like you're missing something you used to have?"

"No."

She lay still for a minute, then brought her hand up and stroked the side of his face absently. He could tell it was absent, even in the dark.

"Ahn, what's up?"

She sat up again and crossed her arms over her breasts. "Do you ever worry about dying?"

He frowned. "What?"

"Never mind."

"No, what's-why are you worrying about dying?"

"I'm not." She rocked slightly, reached back behind herself and touched the spot where they were joined. "This is...good, isn't it?"

He put his hands on her hips to stop her, and wished he could see her face. "Yeah, it's good. But-"

"It's something people do to cope with mortality."

He paused. "It's, uh, more than that, I think."

"Oh, I know." She put her hand on his face again. "How do you not worry about it?"

"About what? Death?"

"How do you not think about it all the time? It's going to happen to both of us. All of us. Everyone we know. At some point."

He cleared his throat, and realized he was losing his erection. "Lift up a minute."

She lifted up, then lay down overtop him, warm and soft, her little fingers curled against his chest. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It's okay, it's good you said something if it was bothering you."

"I'm not used to dealing with this. I'm human, Xander. I'm going to die." There was an edge of panic to her voice.

He got one arm around her and reached out with the other to click the light on. It was too bright and they both squinted while he tipped the shade to the wall.

"I'm sorry," she said again, and he kissed her forehead, then her hair, then her eyelids. He made the eyelid kisses wet ones, and she grimaced and wiped at them. "That wasn't necessary."

"Death talk makes me licky."

"I'm not going to worry about this for the rest of my life, am I?"

"Not unless you buy a lot of stuff on installment."

"You don't worry about it, do you?"

"No. I'm too busy worrying about male pattern baldness."

She peered up at him. "You have beautiful hair."

He smiled and kissed her, and she kissed back a little more this time. For a few minutes they just lay there, and he rubbed his hand over the small of her back and licked the tip of her nose when she least expected it. That made her laugh.

"You want to watch TV? Nothing like Letterman to reaffirm your connection to life."

"No." She reached out and clicked the light off, and it was very dark in the basement. "I think I just want to sleep like this."

"Okay."

"I feel a little better. Thank you."

"No problem." He kissed her one more time, and she got comfortable on top of him and fell asleep with his hand still rubbing her back. He lay awake for a couple of hours, worrying about death.







"How do I look?"

He took a deep breath and nodded. "Like you shouldn't be let out of the house."

She smiled and turned a circle. "Good?"

"Like I shouldn't be sending you off to this gig by yourself."

"You're not sending me, I'm going. And I'm not going by myself, I'll be with Buffy and Willow."

"Like maybe I don't need a job so bad after all. Why do I have a job again?"

"If I bend over, can you see-"

"Jesus Christ."

"It's just pinned. Should I let it down a bit?"

He coughed. "Yes. Please. Or, hey, I could-"

He started forward, just as the bell over the door rang. Willow was first through, swinging sideways to get her skirts through the doorway. Buffy followed in full Sunnydale Shriekers football gear, her helmet in her hand. They both grinned at him and then blinked at Anya.

"Hey, Xander," Willow said. "Wow, Anya. That's...that's a really amazing costume."

"Whad there ish of it," Buffy said, spitting her guard into her palm.

Anya smiled. "I'm La Belle Dame Sans Merci."

Buffy's smile faltered. "Oh. Uh, right."

"You know, the beautiful woman without mercy. I seduce men and steal their lives, and they never wake from my embrace."

Willow and Buffy looked at Xander. He shrugged. "Not literally, I've been assured."

"Oh." Willow looked back at Anya. "Um, Anya, did you know you can see your-"

"Yes, Xander was just telling me that. I'm going to go and lower the skirt, and then I'll be ready to go." She clicked off into the store room, and Xander hoped that Giles wasn't hidden back there anywhere taking stock, or he'd be dealing with an infarction.

"Um, Xander..." Buffy's eyes were still on the stock room door.

"I know. I think it's therapeutic, or something. She's been missing the good old days, when she was immortal and demon-y and didn't have to worry about osteoarthritis."

"And you're okay with this?"

"With her going to the Bronze looking like-" He couldn't quite think of a way to end that sentence that wouldn't sound tawdry.

"Like she forgot to put actual clothes on?"

"Uh...well, that part I'm maybe not completely okay with. I mean, I'm supportive and modern about it, but at the same time I'm seriously thinking of quitting my job and escorting."

"Man, if I'd known that was the secret I'd have gone as a Lakers Girl instead," Buffy said.

"Whoah, hey, none of that. I'm fully keyed up here as it is."

"Are you sure you can't come?" Willow asked, fixing him with an earnest look. "It's going to be so weird without you there."

"Yeah, I know. I'll see if I can get off early. How much mechanically separated chicken does southern California need, anyway?"

They looked glumly at each other. Willow fiddled with her fringe, then said, "Okay, well, maybe we'll still see you, then. You can be the guy who's too cool to get there on time, because he's busy doing mysterious cool-guy things until late hours."

"Right. Maybe I'll be too cool to go in at all; maybe I'll just pull up and rev the engine."

"Speaking of too cool for school," Buffy said, "have you guys seen Spike lately?"

"Spike isn't cool," Xander said. "Spike is a dipshit."

"But have you seen him?"

"We saw him in the cemetery last week," Willow said. "He was all mysterious-lurking-guy. He had us scampering like voles."

"We were taking proactive evasive action."

"What was he doing?" Buffy asked.

Xander and Willow looked at each other and shrugged. "Didn't ask," Willow said. "It was cold, and Xander was getting all he-male from the fear factor-"

"I was not-"

"-and he was just sitting there. Being Spike."

"Being a dipshit."

Buffy sighed. "Okay, thanks."

"Any reason?"

"Not really. I just get antsy when he drops off the radar for too long, you know? Keep your enemy before you and all that."

"We have to call Giles," Xander said. "He'd be so proud to hear you talking all Sun Tzu."

"Don't worry," Willow said. "I know he's a vampire and everything, but I'm starting to think he might be kind of a decent guy. You know, underneath. Way, way underneath."

"Yeah, down with the C.H.U.D.S," Xander said. "He's a vampire, Wills. It's in the dictionary under 'not a decent guy.'"

She rolled her eyes and Buffy sighed again, and the stock room door opened. Anya clicked out, her skirt a fraction lower. "How's this?"

There was a pause while they all eyed her. Buffy and Willow kept silent, waiting for Xander to make the call.

"It's great," he said, putting his hands in his pockets and forcing a smile. "You look terrific. Have a good time."

"We will," she said, coming around the counter and kissing him lightly. "I hope you can make it later on."

He smiled and got the door for them, and when Willow went by she gave him a speaking look.

"Have fun," he said, and after Anya locked the Box up after them, they all went one way down the sidewalk and he went alone in the other.






No extremities, was all he was asking. And that was all he got.

He started at eight, and by nine thirty he'd half-filled the plastic trash tub next to him with mangled, broken, splintered, and otherwise useless chicken parts. There were more defectives than usual, because so many guys had taken the night off or just called in sick, and there was no way they'd turn the belt speed down. A guy was supposed to come by every couple of hours and change the tub, but apparently he was one of the no-shows, so the tub kept filling and by ten thirty it was topped up. Xander started chucking legs and wings on the floor beside it, which was strictly against code.

He caught ten minutes' worth of sleep during his break, lying on his back on the lounge couch with his feet propped up against the coffee machine. He was good at sleeping whenever, wherever.

When he got back to his station the tub still hadn't been emptied, and the pile beside it was even bigger. The guy who'd covered for him snapped his gloves off and walked away without a word, Zeppelin blaring from his headphones. Xander sighed and started watching chicken again.

It was weird how quickly it stopped looking like chicken, like anything recognizable or potentially edible, and started looking instead just like...meat. Which it was, of course, but it was different when you saw it in such volume, so many pimpled white-pink lumps coasting past, so many bloody bone stumps and blue vein tubes and yellow strings of fat When you smelled it like this, the smell of bleach so strong at first that it made your nose burn and your eyes water, and then, when you stepped a little closer to the line, the wet raw corpuscular smell of dead flesh. Meat. It was different, like that.

It was hypnotic.

He worked on auto-pilot, pulling out anything that looked oddly shaped or too red, and listening with half an ear to the two Mexican guys on the other side of the belt talk about women and cars. Then they started talking about something else-dia de los muertos-and he glanced up without meaning to. They noticed, and grinned whitely at him.

"Yeah," one of them said. "Day of the dead, man. Tomorrow."

"You better watch out," the other one said. "Some of these chickens, they gonna come visit you."

"Yeah, you too," Xander said, and the guy laughed.

"Yeah, all of us. Gonna come visit all of us, lot of dead chickens. Mad dead chickens."

They both laughed and started joking in Spanish he couldn't understand, and he smiled and went back to the belt. Then one of them gave a little whoop, and dived down to snatch something up. It was a head, with most of the neck still attached, and the eyes were yellow and indignant. The guy laughed, thrust his finger up the throat, and started waggling the head around, talking in a high-pitched, furious chicken voice.

"I'm coming to visit you, gringo," he said, and stretched his arm out to wave the head in Xander's face. "I'm dead, I'm pissed, it's my day to come and kick your ass."

The chicken's comb was torn and flapping. One of the eyes had been punctured. Xander stood watching the guys laugh, a half-smile frozen on his face, until finally they got tired of it and pitched the head into the growing pile on their side of the belt.






Maybe he'd get off early-yeah, good one. He worked the full four hours and then some, helping clean the place up because they were on skeleton crew and there were chicken parts everywhere. When he finally clocked out it was close to one o'clock in the morning.

He ditched the bloody apron and gloves, grabbed his stuff out of his locker, and straight-armed the door on his way out. The air outside was clean and cold. For a minute he just stood on the cement landing under the orange sodium lamp, breathing and staring up at the stars. There was the usual little group of men and women smoking along the wall, clutching their coats and laughing, talking shit in Spanish and English. After the stink of bleach and meat, the cigarettes smelled good, and sometimes he considered taking up smoking just for times like these.

He stood there a minute, his hands wrapped around the cold metal railing, vaguely wishing that he wasn't the big gringo, that he could go and chat and smoke with them a little before taking off. But that was a stupid thing to wish. He had friends in town, he had a girlfriend dressed like a two-bit whore probably waiting at home for him right now, and how many guys could say that? So it was funny that he didn't really feel like going home, or even like driving by the Bronze to see if he could make it in time for the last round of Shirley Temples. It was something to do with five solid hours of chicken parts. He didn't really feel like seeing his friends right now.

He pulled his cap out of his pocket and jammed it onto his head, took a last look at the stars, and pushed off the railing. A few people nodded as he went past, and he nodded back. At the end of the wall were the two guys who'd been working across from him all night.

"Watch out for the chickens!" one of them called, and he turned back to grin and nod. "Take it easy, man."

That was nice. He raised a hand and started across the lot to his car, feeling a little more human. Funny, how it didn't take much.

He got almost to the car and then someone stepped out from behind a pickup truck, right next to him. He overreacted and jerked back, dropping his keys, fumbling for his pockets. Stupid-he didn't carry stakes to work.

"Jumpy little thing, aren't you?"

He recognized the voice before the outline even made sense, and a hot black tar of anger came boiling up right away, as if he'd just been waiting to feel it. He collected his keys and stood up, then walked around to the driver's side of the car without looking back.

"Fuck off, Spike. I'm not in the mood."

"Mood for what?"

"You."

"Oh, come on. I need a favor."

It was so brazen that he paused with the key in the lock. Spike was watching him with a funny little half-smile, his hands in the pockets of the big coat. Way back on the other side of the parking lot, the crowd of smokers had thinned out, and there were just a few people left saying good night.

Xander rested his elbow on the roof of the car. "What are you doing out here, Spike?"

"Came to ask you a favor, obviously."

"Why would I do you a favor?"

Spike's smile widened. "Because you're one of the good guys."

"No, I'm one of the tired guys." He unlocked the door and got in. Spike came around and grabbed the top of the door so he couldn't close it.

"Look, I just want some blood."

"You what?"

"Bird blood, pillock. They've got vats of it in there, you work there, you can get it for me. Easy-peasy."

Xander sat squinting upward, still not quite believing what he was hearing. "You want me to get blood for you," he repeated.

"Yeah."

"And you just called me a pillock." There was a pause. "I don't know exactly what that is, but I know it's not a compliment."

"Look, I can't exactly walk in and buy it on credit, can I?"

"I guess not. Pillock."

"And since I've stopped nipping off you lot, I think I deserve-"

Xander tugged on the door, and Spike held it open. "You're delusional, Spike. I'm not getting blood for you. Let go of my car."

"Oh, dog in a manger-"

"Let go of my car, pillock."

"For fuck's sake, they pour it down the drain-"

"Spike-" He started to get up, and Spike immediately leaned away and let go of the door. That was actually gratifying.

"Right, fine. I'll just go hungry again, then." He started to turn away, and Xander started to get back into the car. "You could at least give me a ride back to town."

Xander almost laughed. Then he looked back at the empty parking lot, the big indifferent slab of the factory, the last stragglers walking to their cars. A woman said good night to her friend and started off alone to her truck on the other side of the lot. Spike was watching her absently, running a finger along his jaw. Xander frowned.

"Get in the fucking car, Spike."




Spike smelled. Not good. He smelled like cigarettes and cheap, possibly recycled booze and a leather coat that needed to be dry cleaned and then burnt. Under that, he smelled like a differently domiciled person. Like a bum. It was a sweet, exploded, rotten smell, and while it wasn't too strong, every time he moved a thread of it reached out and tickled Xander's nose. Besides that, he smelled like dirt. Like the bottom of a slice of sod. The wormy side.

Xander cracked his window and didn't say anything.

They pulled out of the factory drive and onto the frontage road, and Spike started rooting in his pockets. After a minute he took out a battered packet of cigarettes, and reached out to push the dashboard lighter in. Xander turned his face to the clean air coming in the window.

"Don't mind, do you?" Spike raised the packet and Xander shook his head. There was silence until the lighter coil popped, and then Spike plucked it out and started to lift it to the end of his cigarette. "Didn't have a party to go to, tonight?"

Xander adjusted his grip on the steering wheel-he was doing a perfect ten and two, and his knuckles were white-and shook his head again. "Lucky for you," he said, "I worked. Or you'd be walking your ass back to town."

"Well, that is lucky." Spike bent down to the orange coil, then glanced out the window and turned in his seat, craning his neck. Xander frowned and opened the window a little wider.

"What?"

"Nothing." Spike turned back and dropped his head back to the coil, then clucked with annoyance and put it back in the dash. "Gone cold on me."

Xander nodded tightly and slowed down for the stop sign. In a minute they'd be on the freeway and then it was ten minutes back to town. Eight if he put his foot down. Spike could walk from the city limits.

"Thought there was some kind of knees-up at the Copper, or whatever you call it."

"The Bronze," Xander said, signaling out of habit, even though there were no other cars in sight. Spike put a hand out suddenly as if to warn him, and Xander flinched and braked.

"What the fuck?"

"Sorry. Look, can you take me to a friend's place instead? Just up the road, take two minutes."

"I'm not a cab, Spike."

"Yeah, I know. But I'm out of blood at my place, haven't had a proper feed in days-"

"Oh, Jesus."

"I'm bloody hungry, Harris. Not that you lot understand what that means."

"And again, you're insulting me."

"Well, if you'd been willing to siphon a couple of pints out of the vat-"

"Oh, Jesus."

"Two minutes, and I'm off your plate."

Xander sat a minute, shaking his head, then flipped the indicator off with the back of his hand. "Fine. Which way?"

Spike pointed right. That way lay cotton fields and vineyards and orange groves, and not a lot in the way of civilization.

"Your friend has a ranch?"

"Just a little up the road."

Xander sighed and signaled right, out of habit, and they turned. Spike leaned over to punch the dashboard coil again, and Xander frowned and opened his window some more.




It was a two-lane country road, no street lights, and Spike didn't seem to have the clearest idea of where they were going. He sat peering out his window, still holding the unlit cigarette and the cold lighter coil, twisting in his seat every time they passed a mailbox. Xander checked the speedometer; they were doing an even twenty miles an hour. It had been a lot more than a couple of minutes, already. Not that that was a surprise.

"I think-" Spike said, as another mailbox approached. Xander sighed and braked. They crept up to the box and Spike squinted up the dark gravel driveway. "Nah, sorry. Must be the next one."

Xander ground his teeth and tapped the gas. Spike popped the cigarette into the corner of his mouth and scratched his head as if it itched.

"It's right along here somewhere. You should come in, have a drink before you go."

Xander bit back his first response, and tried to see this as Willow would. Spike was just trying to get somewhere, and he was being friendly enough. It wasn't his fault he smelled like roadkill. Being dead probably made good hygiene a challenge.

"Thanks, I just want to get home." It was a bit tight, but civil enough. He glanced over; Spike was inspecting something under his fingernails. Something he'd just scratched off his scalp. Nice. "You going to light that thing, or what?"

Spike glanced at him, then at the coil in his hand. "Oh, right," he said, and put it back in to heat up.

"Don't you have a lighter?"

"Yeah, somewhere." He patted at his pockets briefly, then glanced away out the window again. Xander got ready to brake. "So, no party on Halloween? That's no fun."

"Now that I'm grown and debt-carrying, I've sworn off fun."

Spike gave a little laugh. "Right. I know what that's like."

"You don't have debts, Spike. You don't have shit." That came out a little stronger than he'd meant it to, but Spike just nodded and kept looking out the window. "Besides, your kind of fun is hazardous to people's health."

"All the best fun is," Spike said, as the lighter coil popped. He didn't take it out; instead he rummaged in his pockets, until he finally produced a flat bottle with a peeling label. "Little fun for the road?"

"Uh, no. Seeing as I'm actually on the road right now. Driving on it."

Spike shrugged, unscrewed the cap, and drank. Xander checked his mirrors automatically, and frowned when Spike didn't put the bottle away again, but just let it rest on his knee.

"You want to stow that, Spike? I could do without the citation."

Spike looked at him with mild surprise, seemed about to say something, then just nodded and made the bottle disappear. Xander felt another little surge of almost-guilt.

"So," he said, and then stopped because he couldn't think how to make small talk with Spike. "You sure this is the right road?"

"Yeah, it's right." They were coming up to another mailbox-battered aluminum, the post canted out into the road, the flag and door long gone. The dead grass at its base was pale, almost white in the headlights. Xander braked with a feeling of inevitability.

Spike was still squinting out the window, one hand resting lightly on the door handle.

"Don't tell me," Xander said. "This is it."

Spike didn't answer for a minute. His fingers "Don't know. I think-" He didn't open the door.

Xander waited, then drummed the steering wheel impatiently. "If it's not it, Spike, you're out of luck. You can either get out and walk, or I'll drop you off in town. I'm done with the Rough Guide tour."

Spike glanced at him, then looked back out the window, up the drive. "Yeah, all right," he said. His tone was distracted. "This'll do. Cheers." He opened the door and got out, and Xander underwent a brief, violent inner struggle.

"Hey," he said, before Spike could close the door. "Everything...okay?"

Spike was already swinging the door shut, and he paused and looked back with an expression of surprise. "Yeah," he said after a second. "Everything's fine." He started to close the door, then paused again and said, "Ta very much for the ride," with a kind of absent politesse, and shut it carefully.

Xander sat for a minute, watching the vague movement that was Spike disappearing up the darkened drive. Already the air in the car smelled better.

Somewhere a dog started barking, and Xander waited a minute to see whether Spike was going to come sprinting back with someone's Rottweiler in pursuit, but that didn't happen. The dog barked, yipped, and trailed off. Then there was just silence and darkness.

He should back up and turn around in the drive, get back on the road, and hightail it for home. It was late, he was in the middle of nowhere. And he was tired. Time to go home.

He put the car in reverse, turned it, and then just sat in the mouth of the drive, waiting. Listening. He just wanted to hear a door bang, or see a light come on in the rearview mirror, or something. It seemed like the decent thing to do. And maybe Willow was right-maybe Spike was changing a little bit. A very little bit. An infinitesimal amount. Just enough to make him pitiable rather than detestable, and to make Xander feel the slightest bit guilty about dumping him on the side of the road and driving away.

He waited, but there was no sound of a door, and no lights came on.

Finally he knew he had to make a decision; either leave Spike to his own devices, or make an effort. He turned and peered back through the rear window, saw nothing but blackness, and sighed.

"Fuck." He cut the ignition, paused at the sudden silence that dropped, then flicked the headlights off. Now the world was completely dark, and he felt a little nervous thrill as he shoved his keys into his jacket pocket. He had a flashlight in the glove compartment, and he took it out while he waited for his eyes to adjust. Not that he was going to go anywhere. He just wanted it in his hand.

He opened the door, got out, and leaned against the car, facing up the drive. The air was cold and sharp, and the stars were like a dusting of salt in the sky. A beautiful night. If you were on your way home.

"Spike?" He didn't yell, exactly-it was too late to yell, even if there weren't many houses around. How far back was the last mailbox they'd passed? "Spike-you there?"

Somehow, he didn't really expect a reply. The best he was hoping for was the crunch of gravel as Spike walked back down the drive toward him, silently admitting his mistake. That didn't happen. The world was asleep, and Spike had disappeared. Silence.

Again, he had a decision to make. Spike was a vampire, he could take care of himself. Unless, of course, he ran into people. Well, if he was stupid enough to walk into someone's house in the middle of the night, that was his problem. Maybe getting gutshot would teach him a lesson about householders' rights.

Xander took a step away from the car and clicked on the flashlight. He regretted it almost immediately; the light was too small, it made the darkness bigger, and it made him feel like a target. He turned it off and just held it. It weighed a couple of pounds, and made him feel slightly better.

"Spike, you moron," he muttered. Then he raised his voice again and called, "Spike?"

No answer.

All right, that was it. He wasn't getting shot for trespassing, or having a limb ripped off by someone's dog. Spike would have to figure this one out on his own. Xander turned back to the car, already feeling a rush of relief-he'd done the right thing, taken it as far as he could reasonably be expected to, and now he was going home.

There was a sound from somewhere up the drive. At first he thought he'd imagined it, made it up out of the crunch of gravel under his own feet. He stood still, one hand on the door handle, and listened. There was silence for a long minute, and then he heard voices. He couldn't tell what they were saying, or how many there were, but he could hear the tones. They sounded angry.

He listened for a minute, but he couldn't make out Spike's voice, just a fierce low murmur without proper words. If he could hear that, they could hear him calling, and he cleared his throat, but didn't call. He wasn't Spike's keeper. He should just get going.

He opened the car door, and then he did hear Spike's voice. He couldn't hear very clearly, but he caught a few fast words-sorry, fuck, come on-and then the other voices cut him off. There was a man's voice, maybe two men's voices, and a woman. Maybe two women. Maybe more. It was starting to sound like a real crowd up there. And they all sounded mad.

"Wrong house," he said aloud to himself, and closed the car door carefully. He started walking up the gravel drive, tapping the flashlight against his leg.

The drive was longer than he'd thought, and he got halfway up and then stopped and wondered whether he was being an idiot. When he turned and looked back, he couldn't see the car or the road. Just blackness, no streetlights or houses in the distance, and not even the hum of the freeway. He might as well be on the moon.

The voices were closer now, and they should be more distinct, but somehow they weren't. He put a hand over his eyes and listened, hoping to hear Spike make some apology. A woman's voice rose above the others, shrill and sharp and furious. It's all over, there are bits of it all over. The last two words were like bullets, like something spat out.

What the hell had Spike done now?

Xander started up the drive again. He was curving slightly to the left, following the faint pale outline he could just make out, and he still hadn't seen the house. There were some low crabbed trees ahead, and then the drive seemed to disappear into them. Into darkness. He considered the flashlight again, thought about getting gutshot, and didn't turn it on. He walked forward slowly, trying not to make any sound on the gravel.

He got to the trees and they closed in around him, and the darkness was even more absolute. He could make the voices out better now, could hear some of what they were saying. It didn't make much sense. A man was saying Idiot fucking idiot over and over, and the same woman he'd heard before was talking about a porch swing-we were sitting on the porch swing, and that's when we heard it, we were sitting right out on the porch swing-and she didn't sound so angry now. She sounded bewildered and sad. Other voices were saying other things, talking overtop of each other, and he couldn't catch more than brief phrases here and there. In the head that old storage locker when they found him it was September do you remember dancing to godawful it's godawful what they did to him.

He walked forward until he wasn't walking on gravel anymore, but grass. The house, when it appeared, was tall and slanted and pale. He stopped and looked up at it. There was a big sagging porch, a set of stairs with sprung boards and a railing leaning out into space. The windows on the upper storey were newspapered on the inside. The ones on the bottom floor were black. No lights on.

The front door was ajar.

Xander stood where he was, gripping the flashlight loosely. He had the oddest feeling that if he turned it on right now, it wouldn't work.

The voices were quieter now. A few were whispering. He heard the woman murmuring, we were just outside on the porch swing, we were right there, and the man hissed fucking idiot. They were inside the house.

He should call for Spike. That was why he was here. He couldn't hear Spike's voice; maybe Spike had left already. Maybe he could just turn around and go back down the drive, and the car would be there and he could get into it and drive safely home.

There was a noise inside the house-the sound of something dropped on bare floorboards, and rolling. Xander jumped.

"Spike?" He said it before he could stop himself. The voices fell silent, and there was a moment of pure emptiness, while he willed himself to step back, turn around, step back, and stayed rooted to the spot.

"Yeah." It was Spike's voice. It had come from inside the house. It startled him, and then he was riding a tide of adrenaline and relief.

"Fuck." He shook himself, glanced around, and let out a deep breath. "Damn it, Spike, what's going on?"

There was a moment of silence, like a delay on the line, and then Spike said, "You've got to see this."

Xander frowned. "See what?"

Another pause. "Come and look."

There was no movement in the house, no light. He couldn't see anything past the door, just darkness. He eyed the stairs, the rotted boards and the black gaps where some had fallen through.

"I don't think so. Who's in there?"

Spike laughed, a quiet breathy laugh. "Just keep to the sides. Come on, this is amazing."

There was a strange prickling at the back of his neck, and his hand was clammy on the flashlight. "I'll take your word for it. And I'm leaving now."

Spike gave a long, ironic moan. "You'll have to-" he said, and then broke off.

Xander waited. "I'll have to what?" he said, after a minute. There was no reply.

He stood there a minute longer. Then another minute. "I'll have to what?" he said again, and there was only silence. "Spike?"

He heard something from inside, a slight rhythmic creaking, like old floorboards. "Spike?" he said again. There was a faint scuffling sound.

"Spike?" He took a step forward, staring at the black windows, then the open door. "Spike, what the hell is going on?"

"I don't-" Spike said, and then someone shushed him.

Xander tightened his grip on the flashlight and went up the stairs two at a time, on the side. They creaked and bowed. Then he was at the door, and everything inside was black. When he tried to push it all the way open it struck something and bounced back at him. He stood on the threshold, wavered there, then clicked the light on and shone it through.

It was just a hall. A long hall with faded wallpaper, a staircase on the left side leading up. A door under the staircase, with a round black handle. Another doorway on the right, and the angle was wrong for him to see inside. He put his shoulder against the front door and checked behind it; there was an old dresser jammed back there. Dust an inch thick on top.

The air smelled musty and strangely sweet. He stepped over the threshold and shone the flashlight up the stairs-nothing. He couldn't see past the landing at the top.

"Spike?"

There was a sound to his right, and he shone the light that way. It was the front room, the living room. He went to the doorway and looked inside, and the flashlight beam played over a long green couch, half-draped in a dust sheet, an armoire, a coat rack, a stack of yellowed newspapers and sheet music, an old foot locker with the lock broken and dangling. He raised the flashlight and saw a wasp's nest in one corner of the ceiling. He lowered it and was blinded for a moment; there was a mirror propped against the opposite wall.

There was a door there too, and while he was still blinking he thought he saw something go past the doorway. He heard movement.

A woman said They found him in September, and he spun around and shone the light down the hall. Nothing.

"Spike?" he said. "Who's here?"

Movement down at the other end of the hallway, or in a room just past it. He took a step that way and then stopped.

"I'm in here," Spike called, from down where the noise had been.

Xander took a deep breath. "Okay. Let's go."

"Come see this first," Spike called.

"Come see what? What the hell is going on?"

"Just come and see."

Xander's mouth tasted odd, and his lips were dry. He shone the light up the stairs again. There was a worn runner with a dark uneven pattern, dust on the newel post. Past the landing everything was darkness.

He shone the light at the ceiling over his head. Cobwebs, and a watermark like a continent.

"Spike-" He reached back to touch the door, to make sure it was still standing open. He'd had a moment of clear panicked certainty that it was going to swing closed behind him.

There was no reply, and he hesitated, then took a step forward. He could see his breath.

There must be people in the house. In the other rooms, maybe in the back, wherever Spike was. He took another step forward. There was a doorway at the end of the hall, silent and black. At this distance, the flashlight beam just sank into it and was lost.

His nose was cold, and he wiped it, then shifted his grip on the flashlight. It occurred to him that he should have brought a stake.

"Spike," he said. "I don't know what you think you're doing, but this place is dead. No offense to your friend." He was coming even with the door under the staircase now, and he didn't like the thought of walking past it. Anything could come out of there. He stopped where he was. "I think we should just go."

There was a creak from somewhere up ahead, and he jumped. Then he heard footsteps in the dark room ahead of him, the room he couldn't see into, and his heart kicked into his throat.

"That's right," Spike said. He was in that room. "I've missed hearing that."

"Hearing what?" Xander asked, before he could stop himself. "Seriously, Spike-enough." What was he doing in this place? There were people here, somewhere. He wasn't being logical.

"Did you turn the headlights off?"

Xander just stood there a minute, not understanding. Spike's voice sounded strange. Flat. Why was he asking about the car?

"Yeah-" he said, and stopped when Spike started whistling. It was a simple little tune, sort of jaunty, with a trill in the middle. He had a thin, reedy whistle. It put a cold finger on Xander's back. The sweet smell seemed to be getting stronger.

In the room at the end of the hall a woman said clearly and urgently, Put that down. Put it down. Don't- Xander walked fast down to the doorway and shone the light in.

The room was pitch black; he caught a glimpse of newspapers on the walls and realized the windows were covered here. There were a few covered pieces of furniture, just carved wooden legs propping dust sheets and the ghost of a form-a sideboard, a grandfather clock. In the middle of the room was a long dining table, sheathed in white. The sweet smell was very strong.

"Spike-" Xander played the light around the room and only saw the same weak flocked wallpaper, one wall spotted with dark ovals where pictures had hung. Then he turned the light on the corner to his right, and out sprang white hair and skin, and flat dead eyes. "Jesus, Spike-"

He was standing with his back pushed into the corner, his arms hanging at his sides, disjointed. His skin gleamed like wax. He was smiling strangely.

"Hello," he said.

Xander paused. He wanted to play the light around the room again, to see where the woman was, but he didn't want to take it off Spike. "What are you doing in here, Spike?"

Spike smiled a little wider, and didn't say anything. His eyes shone like tinfoil.

"Who were you talking to?" Xander's neck was creeping. "Where's that woman?"

Spike glanced sideways, as if he were shy. He shrugged.

"I heard a woman, Spike. Telling you to stop."

"She's around," Spike said vaguely.

"Around where? Don't make me-"

It was September when they found him, someone said in the front room, and then a voice hissed idiot fucking idiot in the corner by the clock.

Xander flashed the light that way, and caught a quick movement, something between the clock and the wall, under the dark peppering of stains on the wall. He turned the light back, somehow expecting Spike to have disappeared. But he was still standing there, pressed into the wall, watching Xander with his lips peeled back in a red-gummed smile.

"What the hell is going on, Spike?" He had to fight to make his voice even, had to talk through his heart in his throat.

Spike gave a little twitch and then dipped his chin and said, "You could at least give me a ride back to town." Xander stared at him. Spike laughed. "Didn't have a party to go to, tonight?"

Xander's hand was slippery on the flashlight.

"Look, can you take me to a friend's place instead?"

"Spike."

"Just up the road, take two minutes."

"Spike, I'm leaving."

He put his hands on the wall behind him, spread his fingers white like bleached bones, and pushed off. "Oh, don't go now," he said. "Getting here was only half the fun. There's a few things you've got to see."

Xander backed up. In the front room, something dropped on bare floorboards and rolled, and he knocked sideways into the doorframe. Spike was walking forward, his head lowered, his eyes washed stones under his brow.

"There's a lot of them," he said. "You have no idea what went on out here."

"Spike."

In the storage locker, that old metal storage locker, they found him in September-

"Spike."

"It's godawful, what they did to him." Spike laughed.

Xander banged into the wall again and now Spike was almost on him, already reaching out. He swung out with the flashlight and it was yanked out of his hand. Then there was just darkness, and silence, except for the sound of his own fast breathing.

"Spike," he said. His voice was high. "Spike, come on."

"Spike, come on."

"Fuck, stop it, I came in here to help you out-"

There were footsteps upstairs. A slow steady pace coming down the hall above his head, toward the top of the stairs.

"Oh God," he said, and turned for the door. It was closing. He caught a glimpse of a vague outline in the darkness at the end of the hallway, a faint pale blur of hair or skin. The door closed with a click, and the lock turned.

It's all over. There are bits of it all over.

The footsteps started down the stairs.

Spike began to whistle.








I need a drink









































Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clement's.
Pancakes and fritters say the bells of St Peter's.
Two sticks and an apple say the bells of Whitechapel.
Kettles and pans say the bells of St Anne's.
Old Father Baldpate say the slow bells of Aldgate.
Pokers and tongs say the bells of St John's.
Brickbats and tiles say the bells of St Giles.
You owe me five farthings say the bells of St Martin's.
When will you pay me says the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich say the bells of Shoreditch.
When will that be say the bells of Stepney.
I'm sure I don't know says the great bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed.
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.