A Dying Dream

by Europanya

CHAPTER ONE

Spike lit a cigarette and flicked the match to the ground under his boot. He smoked in silence under the bus stop awning outside his flat, listening for the steps that had lately walked in the evenings under his third-story window and echoed in his dreams. It was a methodical step that set itself apart from the rest of the city pedestrians by its effort to sound normal - that and the faint scent of something sweet - a cologne perhaps applied to hide the absence of a human skin. Only demons smelt and moved this way - and they were too few and far between for a vampire to miss, living alone above the streets of San Francisco, itching for a decent hunt.

He smoked until the fag was spent and lit the next. He tossed the butt to the growing scatter at his feet. He was bound to polish off the pack before he heard anything odd tonight. The demon, or whatever it was, knew Spike was on to him and had kept some distance ever since he'd taken it into his mind to come out to greet it face to face.

It had approached cautiously at first, keeping to 19th Avenue for a time before turning off into the quieter streets of the Sunset District and strolling under Spike's shaded Bay window. There it would stop, a perfect stop without a shuffle of imbalance and stand completely still for an hour or more while Spike listened to it, lying awake on his couch, smoking cigarettes and staring at the stained ceiling.

You've got some balls, he thought and considered getting up from the glow of the telly for a look once or twice. But then he'd thought the demon might not be so different from himself, alone and thirsty for a challenge. There weren't many left of them after all - vampires, demons, werewolves and warlocks-they'd all been beheaded or dusted back to Hell. Encounters with denizens of the underworld were rare now, aside from those who had been spared by Giles' born again Council decrees: himself, Angel, Clem and others who had fought on the side of the goodies or who had never harmed a hair on any head or neck of humankind. Like the demon who lived on the corner of Sunset and Moraga - Madame Soto she called herself, but she wasn't a 'she,' not by far. She kept a small medium's studio below her apartment and gave psychic readings to clients for 39.95 a visit plus tax. They let her stay because she was genuine in her cause, and being a demon, she really did know the future, or a close version of it anyway.

But Spike's romantic ideal of this lonely peeping demon under his window and its need for connection changed the night it felt brave enough to enter his flat, uninvited. It wasn't vampire at least, but it was as dark as one. It moved in the shadows, shifting with them, returning to a solid form, a humanesque form. This demon had learned to make its way about in a city where passing cars shot beams of light up and down the steep hills of the Peninsula. It had found its way into his bedroom by ducking under the intermittent splinters shining through the drawn shades. Caught up in a dream of warm skin and grasping thighs, Spike woke when the sound of the demon's even footfalls echoed under her fading moans. It stood in the corner, watching him with one eye from under a heavy hood. Spike lay there and stared back as if to say, 'Get it over with already and let me sleep.'

The demon didn't move, just stood as the scent and color of her hair fell away in Spike's darkening memory. In his sleep he'd been lying with her in the light of day, the warmth of the sun on his back was eclipsed only by the heat of her body as he drove into her. His sleep's wanderings were rarely so kind. If he dreamt of her at all it was of blood and death and carrying her broken bruised body down into the turned earth.

Bloody bastard.

Spike threw back the sheets and chased the demon through the flat and into his kitchen where he followed it out the open window and halfway down the fire escape until it disappeared in the alley shadows under the lights of a passing bus. The racket woke the old hag downstairs who turned back the curtains and screamed to see Spike standing naked on her escape landing, breathing hard and unwittingly pointed at her window. Fuck.

The lights of tonight's bus struck Spike's eyes before it came to a stop in front of his butt-littered bench. The driver opened the door and nobody got out. They'd stopped for him. A passenger tugged down a window and swore. He flicked his cigarette out and got on, tossing a token into the tray. He might as well take the bus. He had no clear idea where to go.

He got off at the park. It was only a quarter-mile from his flat. If a demon was going to hide from him, it might hide here where creeps in the shadows drew little notice. Spike caught the demon's fake scent before too long and followed it along the dark paths under the towering eucalyptus. It was smart to hide here where the fog-wet scent of the trees, heavy brush and rotting dogshit masked most smells. He crossed the arboretum bridge, breathing deep, following a trace of the creature over the stink of stagnant water.

He found the demon curled up under a park bench in the redwood grove just beyond. It was sleeping. Spike kicked it.

"Get up, you pervy sod. Fancied a gander at me in the flesh, did you?"

It moved fast and before Spike could jump back it caught him clean in the groin.

"That's what I thought," he growled, bent over in stars, but was soon hot after it across the daisy field until it slipped his sight under the security lights of the caretaker's shed. The beast was foolish, brazen, perverted and slippery as horseshit in a rainstorm.

"Come on out! Don't you know who you're dealing with? You're pissing me right off!"

Spike knelt in the wet grass to shake the pain. It would fade soon enough, but it still hurt his pride. Bad enough he got no use of the equipment but to have it kicked about was downright insulting. He'd hunt this piece of shit, rip off its head and kick its bloody ashes into the gutter.

For the next week Spike hunted the demon in the park from sundown to sunup, ducking into the heavy shade to survive the days lurking under a roll of pilfered black mulching plastic. The demon was still hiding here by the scent, which it had tried to alter by covering itself now in filth and rags. But borrowed human stink only works to fool stinking humans. Spike kept his nose on it.

A stray dog sniffed him out while he tried to doze in the dry pine needles and trash under the suffocating plastic. Spike had fashioned himself a half-tent set open by carefully placed twigs to hold off the heat of the sun. The dog was looking for shade and plopped down at his feet. He stank, the dog stank and he soon kicked it out. It whined and lifted a scrawny leg on his tent pole.

"Nice life you've made for yourself, mate," he said to himself as he mopped at the fresh piss with a rag. "Sleeping in the sodding park like a bum." But to hunt a demon, one had to live like a demon, and for all the unfavorable circumstances Spike's long life had got him into, this wasn't the worst of days. At least he had something to do. As foul as he felt, at the very least he felt alive, for lack of a better word. The anger and curiosity of chasing this thing was a pleasant respite from the doldrums of post-apocalyptic immortal life. He had an apartment, an electric bill, a cable telly, and even a working dishwasher. Not that he ever used it. The reformed Council had seen to keeping him in dry ice-shipped donor blood. It wasn't fresh, but it was human and a sight better than sucking butcher's swill. Sometimes he'd get caught up in a new banal telly show about humans who cried a lot over stupid things like lost poodles and broken hearts. Sometimes Spike cried, too. The soul did that. It stuck all your pain to you like dried bubblegum. He couldn't ever escape it unless to become abominable again, and he would not do that, not even for her memory, even to the last of it as he went up in dust filled with the light of her tears.

His sojourn in Hell had not been much worse, save for the pain. But the fires of Hell bring a different pain to one who is rightfully damned and welcomes the flame to eat at cold wounds wrought by centuries of evil. Heat dissolves sin, turns regret to ash and scars are hidden in reddened skin. He learned to breathe in the boiling air and to eat smoke and spit ash until it suited him. Still, the Powers took their good sweet time in finding him, chained where he was, suspended over a chasm of liquid pain.

They offered him a long-winded prophetic choice as the Powers usually do. He felt it a trap and despite the distracting blistering of his ever-healing skin, he gave their offer some thought. He liked to think he weighed the possibility of making some difference, of joining the remains of the quest to cleanse the Earth, but truly his choice was selfish. He chose her.

Released and sent back to grass, rock and wind, Spike found himself tossed aside in a world that had grown powerful enough to no longer require his services. What could a vampire bring to the fight in a world riddled with slayers? He was mistrusted and forgotten and soon he walked alone, purging the alleys and highways for the sake of the hunt and bite. It brought no pleasure, but it was familiar.

He did not seek her out. Somehow he knew he never would. He had been gone too long. Her life must have flourished without him in peace and Spike no longer had the strength to pursue a dying dream. It was all he desired to be granted the right to exist in the same world. She had loved him out of pity, loved his body out of need, and gave him up only when she was ashamed. What good would there be in going back? There was no longer a cause to fight at her side if she fought at all. Still, to see her again, even just to say hello would be everything - to hear her speak his name, even in regret. The world could be erased of demons but nothing could rub out the stains of his history. Not even Hell.

His instincts had been correct, the Powers had tricked him. As his days wore on in ignominy, Spike would fill his mind with the memory of fire and in it could sometimes find peace, melting in the heat, until her face would come, shining through the curtains of red and strike him anew. There was only one thing to do - keep on living. So he waited for dark and set out again.

The demon knew he was being followed, there was no mistaking it now. He'd caught its stink and followed it for an hour or more, strolling casually about the park. Spike could be silent at need, but his wandering mind, already growing bored of the chase, had led him to stumble over a fallen branch. But the demon didn't falter and kept its even pace along the night trails. The trees thinned as the park dropped off and narrowed into the panhandle. Streetlights now lit the demon's face: light skin, dark lips and a fall of black hair. Familiar.

"Hey! Hold up!" Spike called out, more curious than angry.

The demon didn't stop, but the shout made it turn its head a shade to the right. The right eye was missing, buried under a knot of white scar tissue. He had seen this thing before, somewhere, long ago.

Spike ran and made a lunge for it, an easy leap that never missed. He only realized his mistake when his chin struck the pavement and the spill of blood from his tongue filled his mouth, stirring a faint hunger. He shook his head and sat up. The demon had crossed the street and was moving away, fading into the shadows of the apartments. He cursed and ran after it only to become lost behind the buildings in a tangle of upset trash cans and fallen clotheslines.

He'd been tricked again.