Spike may have agreed to share his knowledge of the vampire world with the re-formed Watcher's Council, but that didn't mean he intended to be high-profile about it. Giles had agreed, unsurprisingly, and had left it up to Spike to make what working arrangements he would. A line was drawn against Spike shifting a large portion of the library down to the sub-basement, so Spike reluctantly agreed to a nook in the library itself--near an overlooked door that led onto an emergency staircase that led to said sub-basement. Escape routes were never out of fashion.
Andrew had thrown himself delightedly into covert activities, surreptitiously rearranging some book cases in the boring government documents section and moving in a desk and comfortable chair. A low-wattage lamp provided more than enough light for vampiric eyes without shining bright enough to attract attention; a hub for the wireless network--Willow's work--was installed nearby, and Spike was pleased to discover that whoever had programmed his new laptop had considerately left out the Internet filters that were standard on the public computers around headquarters.
"We've got a lot of really young girls here," Willow had explained when Spike had complained. "They've got enough to worry about with being Slayers without wandering around strange porno sites and getting weird ideas about sex." She'd quickly left before Spike could ask her about what kind of sites she had bookmarked on her own private computer.
After swearing an oath on his soul and his hope of getting laid that he'd never light a cigarette inside the library, he took possession of his domain. After chasing a giddy Andrew away, Spike leaned back in his chair and listened to the pleasant silence of books dreaming. He put his feet up on his very own desk, but pulled them down again before long. He kept expecting to hear someone yell at him to get his filthy boots off the desk, didn't he know how expensive it was and if he didn't do it right now he'd find out what trouble was. Wasn't the same without that voice he'd never hear again.
He reached for the desk phone as he flipped through the notebook on the desk to a list of numbers. The first one on the list was full of international switching prefixes, and the line was full of hisses and beeps as he waited for an answer.
"Oh, my god, who's dead?" Xander's voice finally said anxiously.
"Well, I am, but that's nothing new. Hello, love."
"Spike!" Even the brief satellite delay couldn't hide the obvious taking-a-breath-to-calm-down. "Hey. Don't scare me like that. Nobody ever calls me unless there's trouble."
"Sorry," Spike muttered. "What, they just leave you out there all alone? Nobody just calls up to say Hi?"
"Not with what these satellite calls cost. That's what email's for. You'd be amazed how many internet cafes there are in the world." Xander sighed. "Really, it's great hearing from you, but Giles is going to be pissed when he gets the bill--"
"I know that laugh. I've heard that laugh before, and it scares me. Spike, what did you do?"
"I didn't do anything!"
"Then what did you get Andrew to do?"
He laughed again. "You're clever for a human. Let's just say my little friend Andrew feels grateful for a few things and leave it at that."
"Let's not, and you can tell me what you did to Andrew."
"Nothing he didn't want me to do!"
"Oh, god . . . for the sake of my sanity and my overactive imagination, please just tell me."
Spike leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the desk. "I may have helped him meet some girls he'd never get a chance at by himself."
"You pimped out Andrew for free phone calls?"
"I really need to get to know this overactive imagination of yours better. Anyway, all I did was go to a couple of clubs with him, attract a better class of girl than he could pull by himself, and let him horn in on the conversations. Love, it is the weirdest thing watching him chat up birds. They fall like rocks for him."
Xander laughed. "I'm going to have to see it to believe it, I guess. So, how are you doing?"
"Where's your box of stuff stashed?"
Spike didn't have a flippant answer for that. He still wasn't able to sleep without having the box that contained the few things he'd been able to bring out of Los Angeles within reach. He tried not to admit that it was the blood-stiffened, dust-caked scrap of cloth he kept closest. That would mean admitting just how much he mourned Angel. "It's still where it was when you left," he finally muttered. Taking up the left hand side of his bed, where he could touch it when the nightmares woke him.
"It's not like there's any hurry," Xander said gently. "I'm not even in the same country as you are."
"Well, I'm in a bloody hurry!" Xander had said he didn't want to share a bed with anything but Spike, much less a box of memories; it was a measure of how off-balance Spike felt that he'd agreed that nothing more physical than involved kissing would take place until he was able to put that box away.
"It's OK, you've got a lot of stuff to get straight in your head. Anyway, it's a new thing the kids are doing these days, it's called taking things slow."
"No kids I know of ."
"OK, it's something I'm doing, then. When we get to the point of more happening, I don't want you thinking about anything but me, all right?"
The smirk was coming to him more naturally these days. "I'm thinking about you anyway, pet."
"You know what I mean, Spike."
"Yeah," he finally admitted. "Still, between the box and the sword, it's not like I've got room for much else."
"Some people have teddy bears, some people have swords, that's all."
"You're sleeping with weapons?" Xander's voice went sharp. "What's happened?"
"Oh, nothing--yet. Just thought, you know, not a bad idea to have some back-up to hand."
Xander laughed. "Spike, at this moment, there's an axe between me and the gearshift and a loaded pistol in the holster hanging behind my seat. And I'm not sleeping in the headquarters of an organization who's stated purpose for centuries has been the eradication of my kind. I think you having a sword nearby is the height of trust and diplomacy."
"So where are you?"
"Northwestern Uganda, not that you're changing the subject or anything. Some aid workers I talked to in Kampala told me stories about a she-demon who was terrorizing some of the militia groups. Figured I'd check it out."
Spike leaned over to his computer and typed "travel warnings Uganda" into the Internet search window. Several entries came up, and he clicked on the State Department page. He scanned the entry and frowned. "How close are you to Sudan?"
"What, have you got an atlas out?"
"No, the U.S. State Department website of travel warnings. Says here American travelers are advised to register with the local embassies and consulates."
"Don't think that'd be a good idea, since I'm traveling on a British passport."
"Wouldn't take long to pull up the Foreign Ministry's website and see what they have to say."
"Look, I appreciate the concern, but I'm fine. I've never had any problems, and I won't do anything stupid."
"You're out there, aren't you?"
The sound of a faint scuffed footstep out in the library attracted Spike's attention. He focused on the sound, then grinned. "Sounds like I've got another baby Slayer sneaking up on me, love. I'm going to have to make them leave me alone when I'm talking to my boy."
"I'm not your boy, you're my vampire."
"Either one works for me, pet," he said softly.
"Yeah . . . I hate telling you to hang up. It does get awfully lonely out here."
"Then come home. Red and her bed warmer don't seem in any hurry to get back to South America."
"Can't, Spike. I just got back here."
"Damn stupid humans and their damn stupid senses of duty."
"Yep. I'm going to hang up now, Spike."
"Not from where I'm sitting you aren't."
"I really am."
"Don't be an ass out there. I need you to get home one of these days."
"Yeah. Hanging up now."
"Sure you are."
The soft click in his ear and the buzzing silence that followed hurt.
Spike hung up the phone and waited. He could hear the girl breathing. Finally he got bored and picked up the latest book he was checking for inaccuracies. Somehow the Watchers had gotten in their heads that he and Dru had been involved in the Russian Revolution. He was debating whether or not to claim that he'd killed and turned Rasputin and that's why the mad monk was so hard to kill. Too bad he and Dru had actually been playing in Paris that decade.
Giles had been after him to provide a chronology of his travels. He knew he'd agreed to that sort of thing, but it was hard to go against long-set habit. If his chip-inspired demonhunts had pissed off the night world, then giving the Watchers true information was an even bigger betrayal. The soul approved of making the fight against evil more effective, but he hated giving up his privacy.
Startled, he looked up. A tiny copper-haired girl with huge blue eyes stood at the other side of his desk. Damn, he was getting soft if a baby Slayer was able to get that close without him noticing. She looked more nervous and uncertain than the usual novice Slayer confronting the Council's "tame" vampire. "What did you say?"
She fidgeted and clutched her hands together. "I'm supposed to talk to Professor Binns about some classwork. I was told you were back here." Her Scottish accent was so thick you could chip off bits and sell them as souvenirs.
"My name's not Binns."
Her eyes went impossibly bigger with dismay. "Oh, I'm sorry. I was sure Kennedy told me his desk was back here."
"Kennedy, eh?" He listened to the noises in the rest of the library and took a deep breath. The little one was so new arrived she still smelled of trains. Kennedy was lurking near the doors, snickering to herself. "What's your name, pet?"
"Sarah. Sarah McNaughton."
"I don't think there's a Professor Binns here, Sarah. Least of all me."
Her shoulders slumped. "So she's having me on, then. I did think it was odd, what with Professor Binns being in Harry Potter and all."
"Harry--oh, yeah, the scar-faced bloke who makes life hard for that handsome blond-haired lad in the movies." Sarah giggled, and Spike saw her glance at his hair before covering her mouth. "Who's this Binns person?"
"He's the History of Magic instructor. He's a ghost, but he hasn't noticed yet that he's dead because he's too busy lecturing."
"Must have been a Watcher, then." He almost hated doing this, but young Sarah was being entirely too trusting. "I do have one thing in common with Binns, though." He shifted into gameface and grinned. "I'm dead, too."
Sarah gasped, then she bounced and clapped her hands. "You're him!"
He gaped at her, forgetting the fangs. "You are a Slayer, right?" She nodded. "You've had the dreams, you know vampires are the things you exist to fight?" She nodded again, less eagerly. "And you know I'm a vampire."
"But you're nice."
"I am not!"
Sarah hid another giggle, and Spike realized it was happening all over again. A little girl with more heart than brains who somehow knew she had nothing to fear from him--until she learned first hand what he was capable of and stared at him in disgust. He didn't know if he could go through that again.
Footsteps warned him just before Kennedy poked her head around the book case. She looked at Sarah, then at Spike, then shrugged. "Guess you really aren't that scary after all, fangless."
Spike settled back in his chair but didn't let the fangs go. They gave sneers such a perfect edge. "Or else some people aren't so ready to scream and run away as others."
"I never ran away!"
"Did I say anything about you?" He glanced at Sarah, wondering where she fell in the Slayer loyalty rankings. She only stood there and watched, looking back and forth between Spike and Kennedy thoughtfully. He looked back at Kennedy. "So, the whole Professor Binns thing, your idea of a little joke?"
She shrugged. "She's new, I was just having a little fun with her." She grinned at Sarah. "No hard feelings, yeah?"
Sarah didn't answer, but Spike saw the way her mouth tightened up. "Practical jokes would be your speed," he said. "Yeah, you're that sort. Take advantage of someone in a weaker position, get your jollies from proving you have power over them." He smiled at Kennedy's gasp of outrage, and the soul never twitched. "You do know that the only reason you have any kind of special position around here is that you talked your way into Willow's bed when she was lonely and thinking of something else."
Kennedy stepped away from the book case. "I love her, not that it's any business of yours."
"You love her power. You saw a way to get into the inner circle and took it. Red was still getting over Tara, much less her power getting away from her."
"I am so tired of hearing about Tara," Kennedy muttered.
"Well, you'd just better get used to it, because some of us still miss her. You're not worthy to brush the dust off her headstone."
She started to answer but stopped herself. "Come on, Sarah. Don't get the idea that he's someone you can just hang around with. The first thing you've got to remember about vampires is that they don't give a damn about anyone other than themselves and they love telling lies."
"But he has a soul," Sarah said softly.
"A nice vampire is only trying to lure you in close enough to kill you without too much effort. Even the ones with souls can't be trusted. They go crazy, and then you have to hope something kills them before they take too many people down with them."
Spike made himself be slow as he got to his feet. "And what do you think you know about it, girl?"
Kennedy grinned. "What everybody knows. Angel went evil and made a bunch of deals that bit him in the ass, and somehow you slithered out of it and came running here with your tail between your legs. Which is kind of ballsy, considering nobody here cared what happened to your bunch."
"Everybody knows that, huh? Nobody cared?" He took his time walking around the desk. "Which is why Red was in tears when I told her how Fred died." He smiled at her slight flinch. "She didn't tell you about Fred, huh? Winifred Burkle, a girl probably smarter than Red herself. I heard they quite hit it off when Willow came down to put Angelus back in his bottle. Would have liked to see them together, the two of them babbling and making sense only to each other. They'd have done well together."
He hadn't lost his touch at twisting people. Kennedy charged. He caught her swinging arm, yanked it behind her, and shoved her face-first against a bookcase before she could get a kick in.
"Give it up, girl," he snarled in her ear. "I've sparred with gods." No reason to say how often Illyria kicked his ass.
"Gonna kill you," she growled. "You should have stayed dead."
"Wasn't my idea to come back, but I'm here, and I'm staying." She nearly broke loose, and Spike pulled her elbow up higher till she subsided. "But I'd rather not get your blood on the books. You want to take your shot, there's three gyms downstairs that I can kick your ass in." He let go and jumped back out of immediate reach. Sarah was gone, he noticed. The little girl definitely had the gift for appearing and disappearing.
Kennedy turned, swearing and holding her shoulder. "You think I'm scared to face you, Spike? I'm not. Right now, in one of those gyms, no holds barred."
He hesitated, waiting for the objection of the soul/conscience/mental scolding voice that sounded like Xander. It didn't come, and his smile should have worried him. "No holds barred? I'm game. After you."
She disappeared around the bookcase too quickly for him to consider attacking when her back was turned. He followed cautiously, wary of ambush, and he found her waiting in the hallway outside the library. She challenged him with a look, and he nodded.
They hadn't gotten far before Willow ran up, followed by Sarah. "What's going on?" Willow demanded.
"Why didn't you ever tell me about Fred?" Kennedy shot back.
Kennedy pointed at Spike. "He was going on about how upset you were that she was dead and how perfect the two of you would have been together."
The look Willow threw Spike made his soul squirm. "That isn't any of your business, Spike." Her voice shook a little, but she smiled at Kennedy. "Anyway, I'm with you, honey, so that doesn't matter. I said as much to Fred when I was in LA."
"So you were thinking about it, then."
Willow sighed. "Kennedy . . ."
Spike made a disgusted noise. "I know you were lonely, Red, but couldn't you have held out for somebody who was at least half as pleasant to have around as Glinda? You didn't have to settle for the first thing that came along."
"You shut up," Kennedy snapped.
"Spike, really, just stay out--" Willow stopped rubbing her head and looked surprised. "You liked Tara?"
He blinked. "Did anybody not like her? She was one of the sweetest people I've ever met."
She smiled at him. "Yeah, she was, wasn't she. Sweeter than Xander?" she added, grinning.
He snorted. "Definitely. I don't picture Glinda tying me enthusiastically into a chair and gloating."
"Oh, euw. Bad picture. Oh my god, you're grinning. I know that grin. Were you thinking about him like--that even back then?"
"A man's allowed to enjoy the view."
Willow's smile faded a little. "To think I'd miss the days when the most we had to worry about was what to do about you."
Spike wished he was faking his affronted feeling. "You were supposed to worry about me back then."
"True. You were scary."
"Were," he muttered.
Kennedy looked at the two of them, then went up to rub Willow's shoulder. "Can't dwell on the past, sweetie. All that's gone."
Willow sighed. "But you never even want to talk about it. Every time I bring up Tara, you can't wait to change the subject."
"What good does it do, talking about her? It just makes you sad."
"I loved her. I don't want to forget her."
"You won't. But she's part of the past. Did she ever see the wonderfully powerful goddess I know and adore?"
"No. She loved the woman." Willow studied Kennedy for a few moments. "If I lost all my powers right now, would you still love me?"
Kennedy hugged her. "You're not going to lose your powers, you're so amazingly in control, you're so strong--"
"That's not what I asked."
Spike, for once, knew it was time to keep his mouth shut. He glanced at Sarah. She was watching everything with an expression that seemed too old for her. She looked back at him for a moment, then returned her attention to Willow and Kennedy.
Willow put up her hands. "No, this time I don't want to talk about it. Just leave it."
"If you want to talk about Tara, OK, I just wish you could get over her."
Kennedy started to reach for her, but Willow brushed her hands away, staring. "I did settle, didn't I," she said softly. "The first person to show any romantic interest in me, and I grabbed it." She glared at Spike. "Why do you have to be so right about people all the time?"
"Trust me, Red," he sighed, "I'd like to be wrong more often than I'm not."
After a moment, Willow turned and walked away. Kennedy stared after her, then turned to Spike. "I haven't forgotten that appointment for me to kill you."
"Name the day, bitch."
She snarled at him, then ran after Willow.
Spike sighed again, then saw Sarah watching him thoughtfully. "Go ahead, get your shot in."
"You were mean to her," Sarah said after a moment.
"Yeah, well, old habits die hard, pet." He wished for his cigarettes, something to distract him from the contempt he didn't want to see rising in the girl's eyes.
A tiny smile escaped her control, and she didn't quite get her hand up quick enough to stifle the giggle. "Good," she whispered, then she ran off herself.
Spike shook his head and headed back to the library. Best place for a vampire so far fallen that baby Slayers found him amusing. Hopefully no one else would bother him back in his corner, so he wouldn't have to explain why he was grinning.