Author: Lizbeth Marcs
Rating: PG (Language)
Genre: Gen, road trip
Characters: Spike, Alex Hill (OC-ish), Ensemble
Warnings: Spoilers for all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. All related comics are cheerfully and willfully ignored.
Notes: Written for the lynnevitational
Summary: Alex Hill is an ordinary man with an ordinary life, until the day Spike rescues him from an army of demons who think he’s someone named Xander Harris.
Disclaimer: Spike and Xander Harris and all associated characters and organizations are the property of FOX and Mutant Enemy. Any mention of real life events and real people is not meant to imply that the people or incidents in question as they are used in the story have any relationship to reality. All original characters and the plot are mine. No payment was asked for or received in the writing of this story and no profit was earned. No copyright infringement on FOX or Mutant Enemy is intended.
Special thanks to: My betas wesleysgirl and deannawol for an outstanding job dealing with what is (for me, anyway) a really unusual story. All mistakes are mine, not theirs.
The Last Tin Soldier
By Lizbeth Marcs
Alex Hill works as a janitor for Mutual Life and Fire.
He comes into work at 6 p.m. five nights a week, Sunday through Thursday. He empties trash buckets and recycling bins. He sweeps the floor and vacuums the carpets. He makes sure the kitchens are clean (although he won’t do anything about the dishes in the sink because his boss told him not to) and that the glass doors are spotless.
He always does his job to the best of his abilities because he likes keeping things neat and clean.
He doesn’t see a lot of people at work, only his boss and the workaholics at Mutual Life and Fire. The people who work at the desks smile and say hello in that way people have when talking to someone who’s not as smart as they are.
Sometimes this bothers him; usually it doesn’t.
He has his job and his Social Security checks. Between the two, he has enough money to keep an apartment all by himself (with the help of rental assistance), to buy his own food (with the help of food stamps), a gym membership (which he has at a discounted rate through a state Department of Mental Retardation program), and the occasional splurge at the local movie theater.
Alex Hill goes to AA once a week, although he never has a particular urge to drink himself stupid. Sure, he’d like a beer every once in awhile and he’s pretty sure he could keep it to only one. But then again, most people who like to drink too much probably think that and he doesn’t want to tempt fate. He doesn’t want to end up on the street and if he never sleeps in a homeless shelter again it’ll be too soon.
So he goes to AA once a week.
He remembers he had a drinking problem once, although the memories are a little hazy. Sometimes he thinks the memories aren’t real, but all he has to do is look in the mirror and see the eye patch to know they are. He lost his eye during a bar brawl he started when he was drunk.
Sometimes he thinks the memory of how he lost his eye is wrong because it doesn’t feel right to him. If anything, it feels like that memory belongs to someone else. Then he remembers the smell of spilled wine tied closely to the memory of pain and he knows he’s lying to himself.
It’s good he goes to AA once a week. It gives him a reality check.
While he can’t say he’s happy, he’s not unhappy.
It’s better than what he used to be. It’s better than the homeless shelter.
So he’s content. It’s good enough. He’ll take content.
Alex Hill meets with his social worker every other Saturday. She helped him get his job at Mutual Life and Fire, makes sure he stays on budget and that his finances are good, asks him about his AA meetings, and talks about his favorite television shows.
Sometimes she even takes him out for coffee and if the day is nice they sit outside and watch people walk by on the sidewalk.
He sometimes tries to remember when Ms. Smythe became his social worker, but he’s not really sure. He remembers there were a lot of social workers when he was a kid and moving from foster home to foster home. Then he turned 21 and got all twisted up on what he was supposed to do. He started drinking and ended up on the street with no social workers to help him. After he sobered up in a homeless shelter, Ms. Smythe was there and waiting to help him.
He likes Ms. Smythe a lot. She’s pretty and she talks to him like he can understand everything she’s saying even though he really doesn’t, but he likes that she pretends not to notice. Her accent’s a little funny, but that’s because she lived most of her life in England. She’s sometimes hard to understand, but she’s always willing to repeat what she says when he doesn’t understand a word.
Ms. Smythe always brings him books she thinks he might like. There are never any pictures in them and the words make his head hurt. He usually falls asleep after reading the first page, but it’s the kind of falls asleep that scares him. It feels more like the blackouts he had when he was drinking.
He never finishes any of the books Ms. Smythe gives him, but he can’t bring himself to ask Ms. Smythe to stop giving him books to read. He probably shouldn’t try reading them, but he does anyway because he doesn’t want to disappoint Ms. Smythe.
That’s probably why he still has every book she’s ever given him. They are lined up on library shelves all around his bedroom and displayed like trophies.
Even though the books make him feel uneasy, they also make him feel strangely happy. Whenever he looks at the leather-bound covers and gold-stamped lettering, he feels like he’s important to someone.
Alex Hill doesn’t go on a lot of dates. Most women just aren’t attracted to him in that way. He wants to blame the eye patch for it, but that’s not the problem. It seems like some women find the eye patch attractive.
No, the problem isn’t the eye patch. The problem is that after they start talking to him, they realize that he’s not very smart. A lot of women don’t want to talk to him any more when they realize he sometimes doesn’t understand what they’re saying.
Sometimes a woman stays and talks to him.
He remembers all of them, mostly because there are so few.
Once there was this woman named Violet. She was cute and nice and they went to a movie. He doesn’t remember the movie. All he remembers is how she held his hand through the whole show and during the cab ride back to his place. She kissed him on the cheek and said how much she liked him, but that they couldn’t go out on another date because she was joining the Peace Corps and it wouldn’t be fair to him.
The way she looked at him made him feel a little weird.
There was once another woman named Kennedy. She was very funny and they went and played pool. He doesn’t remember ever playing pool before Kennedy, but he still managed to beat her two games out of five. She never stopped cracking jokes and cheering him on whenever he sunk a ball. She gave him a big hug at the end of the night and told him to take care of himself, because there were a lot of mean people out there who might take advantage of him.
He told her about Ms. Smythe and how she always looked out for him, so he wasn’t worried about mean people.
Kennedy smiled, but it seemed to him like she was sad instead of happy when she did, and she said that it was good he trusted Ms. Smythe to look out for him.
And then there was Faith, who was wild and beautiful like the pictures of wolves he’d seen on a calendar in a cubical at Mutual Life and Fire. She picked him up in her car and they drove all around the city and suburbs like they had no particular place to go. He doesn’t remember a whole lot about that night, except for the feel of wind in his hair from the open window and Faith pushing the radio buttons in her never-ending search for cool tunes.
At one point they pulled over and slow-danced in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart. He didn’t know how to dance, but Faith put one of his hands on her waist and clutched the other one in her right hand as she counted off the steps. He remembers the smell of her hair (like spiced vanilla) and the feel of her pressing up against him like she didn’t want to let him go.
When the night was over she kissed him on the mouth (although he was surprised when she stuck her tongue in his mouth because that never happened before or since) and she told him he was a good guy who deserved better.
There were others, too. Not a lot, but a few. There was Rona with her glowing chocolate skin and her warm laugh. There was Li with her pretty almond-shaped eyes and her knowledge of comic books. There was Jeanne with her upturned nose and rosebud mouth and her love of karaoke.
He wonders sometimes what it would’ve been like to have sex with them. He’s never had sex (at least from what he remembers, no telling if it’s true since he did have blackouts when he was drinking), but he doesn’t know if it’s because women don’t want to have sex with him or if it’s because he’s afraid of having sex.
It’s nice that he sometimes gets to go out on dates and it surprises him how beautiful the women are, although he suspects that he would think any woman beautiful who wanted to date him.
The funny thing is he never actually asks them out (he knows better than to ask), but he always meets them in the same place: at the diner he goes to every day for lunch. They always start talking to him and before he knows it, he’s being asked to go out. The diner has become his lucky place, since it’s the only place where he finds women who’ll go out with him. So he goes every day, hoping that one of these days one of the women he meets will stay with him so he won’t be alone any more.
Not that he’s really alone. He has Ms. Smythe, but sometimes when it’s late at night and he’s had one of his bad dreams, it’s not enough.
Alex Hill sometimes has bad dreams.
He dreams that he kills people and they disappear in a cloud of dust when he does. He dreams about monsters that try to kill him and he has to fight them if he wants to stay alive. He dreams about black-eyed witches that hurt him with lightning that comes out of their fingers.
When he wakes up from his bad dreams he’s crouched in a corner and crying because he’s terrified. The strange thing is that he’s not really afraid of the dreams, because only little kids are afraid of dreams. He’s terrified because he’s afraid he won’t have them again, which confuses him.
Whenever he has his dreams, he wishes he wasn’t alone. He wishes there was someone with him. He wouldn’t tell them about the dreams, but maybe they’d hug him and tell him not to be scared because they can protect him from the monsters in his head.
This week he had a dream that was so bad that he was afraid to go back to sleep (he smelled wine and he was surrounded by screaming and his left eye socket hurt like fire). He barely slept for two whole days until he saw Ms. Smythe. When she asked him what was wrong he told her about the dream and that he thinks a priest maybe touched him in a bad way when he was drinking.
Ms. Smythe looked so sad when he was done telling her about the dream that he wanted to say that he didn’t really have the dream and that he was just joking, except that it wasn’t April Fools Day so he couldn’t say he was fibbing for a joke. Plus, lying is wrong. He’d be lying if he said he was lying, which would make him a liar (pants on fire). If Ms. Smythe thought he was a liar she might not like him any more.
Bad or not, he was going to lie anyway and tell her he didn’t have a bad dream when Ms. Smythe said it was good he told her. She asked if he ever had bad dreams before. He lied and said no, because he didn’t want Ms. Smythe to worry. She said she knew he was lying and asked him to tell her the truth, so he did. Then she asked him to tell her all about the dreams he remembered and not to leave anything out. He didn’t want to, but the way she was acting made him scared, so he admitted everything. When he was done, she looked even more scared than he felt.
When he was done telling her about his bad dreams, she said that when he woke up scared he was to get back into bed and repeat that his name was Alex Hill over and over again until he believed it, which confused him because he knows his name is Alex Hill, so why wouldn’t he believe it?
Ms. Smythe told him not to argue, just do what she said. She said that she would be back in a week.
He reminded her they meet every other week. He knows because she helped him mark it out on his Harry Potter calendar. He even showed her the calendar on his wall with all her neat red circles around the dates when they’re supposed to meet.
Ms. Smythe said that she was worried about his dreams, so she felt they should meet again next week so she could make sure he was okay. She even put a red circle around the date for next Saturday so he wouldn’t forget she was coming.
It wasn’t until after she left that he remembered: for the first time since she became his social worker, Ms. Smythe didn’t give him a book to read.
He is very upset that Ms. Smythe forgot to leave him a book. He hopes she’ll remember to leave him a book this Saturday.
Alex Hill is having a bad day.
He had another bad dream last night (in this one he’s tied up in a basement and he’s begging a blonde girl to untie his hands so he can fight the monster attacking him, but she just crouches in a corner and waits for the monster to kill him), and for some reason he can’t seem to escape the feeling of Big Doom he felt when he woke up crouched in a corner of his bedroom and crying.
Even doing what Ms. Smythe told him to (“My name is Alex Hill. My name is Alex Hill. My name is Alex Hill.”) doesn’t help at all. He really didn’t expect it to help (because he knows his name is Alex Hill, so he doesn’t understand why he has to keep repeating it), but he did it anyway because Ms. Smythe said he should.
The feeling of Doom got so bad that he couldn’t go back to sleep and every noise and shadow made him jump. He went to the diner a little early because he thought if he were around other people he’d feel better. It didn’t work. At the diner, he felt like everyone was watching him, although he couldn’t say why that was true. It made his stomach feel so funny that he couldn’t eat everything on his plate like he was supposed to, so he left early.
Then he went to the gym, even though it was earlier than the time he was supposed to go. When he got there, the nice lady at the desk told him that none of his trainers showed up for work (in fact, she told him, they didn’t even call in sick to say they wouldn’t be in, so she couldn’t even tell him why they weren’t there), so the gym had to cancel his session for the day. He walked a little bit on the treadmill, but it got boring really fast so he went home.
After he got home, he watched a little TV, but there was nothing good on. Plus, the feeling that Something Was Wrong just wouldn’t go away and he kept getting more and more nervous. Alex thought that maybe watching TV was making it worse, so he shut it off and sat on the couch a little bit and tried to pretend that nothing was wrong.
Finally, he thought that maybe he should go to an AA meeting, even though it wasn’t his normal day to go. Alex didn’t particularly want to drink, but maybe the Wrong feeling he was feeling was because he secretly wanted to drink. But when he looked at the clock, he realized it was kind of late. If he went to a meeting, he’d be late for work, which meant his boss would be mad at him. So in the end, Alex decided not to go.
Besides, Alex thought, he could go to a meeting after work if he was still feeling nervous. He knows his usual AA place has morning meetings, so it’s probably not a big deal if he waits.
Alex thinks that maybe he’s feeling bad because Ms. Smythe didn’t give him a book like she always does. Even though he’s going to see Ms. Smythe on Saturday, he hopes she remembers she didn’t give him a book and drops by his apartment in the middle of the week so she can give it to him. It’s only been two days since he saw her, and he’s already feeling confused and overwhelmed. Usually he doesn’t feel confused and overwhelmed until a few days before he sees her. If he’s feeling confused and overwhelmed this soon after Ms. Smythe’s visit, it can only be a Bad Thing. So he really hopes she finds a way to give him a book a little bit early.
All these scary thoughts in his head make Alex feel even more nervous than he already is, which is why Alex is grateful when the clock tells him its time for him to get dressed for work. Maybe when he’s working he can concentrate on something else and he’ll forget about the feeling of Doom he’s been having all day and he’ll be less nervous.
As soon as Alex is dressed and ready for work, there’s a knock on his door. He looks through the eyehole to see who it is. There’s a man with blond hair on the other side. He doesn’t recognize him. Since he knows it’s not safe to open the door to strangers, he asks the man his name.
“Federal Express,” the blond man says in a funny English accent. “Got a package for you.”
“I know you’re lying. You’re not wearing a uniform. All Federal Express people wear uniforms,” Alex points out.
“Ah. Right you are. See, the thing is…thing is…I’m already off work, see? I was supposed to deliver this package to you earlier and I plumb forgot. Since you’re sort of on my way home, thought I’d drop it off on my own time, what with me bein’ the one that made the mistake.”
He thinks hard about the blond man’s story. He’s bigger than the other man, but the other man might be carrying a weapon. He’s very proud when he has a better idea. “I think you should leave the package outside the door.”
The blond man smiles, but he seems angry instead of friendly. “I could do that. I could, but…ahhh…right. I need you to sign for it.”
“Where’s your clipboard?”
“Under my coat, you big…what I mean is, I need your signature on something like a note, yeah? Saying that you got the package all nice and safe. Can’t just leave it. If I did that, I’d get fired. You don’t want to get me fired, do you?”
While Alex thinks about that, the blond man holds up a Federal Express box to the eyehole to prove he’s telling the truth.
The box makes him curious. Plus, he doesn’t think the blond man can actually hurt him since he is smaller, so he opens the door. The blond man is dressed all in black and he smells like stale cigarette smoke. The leather jacket creaks as he tucks the Federal Express box under his arm.
“While you’re writing the note saying I did my job like a good little drone, I was wondering if you’d let me use the loo. I left work in such a rush so’s I’d get your package to you that I didn’t get the chance.”
The blond man’s smile is much more relaxed now, but something about it gives Alex the shivers. Plus, he knows inviting people he doesn’t know into his apartment is a Bad Thing. He even thinks ‘Bad Thing’ with capital letters, although he’s not sure why.
“Look here, a formal invitation would be the polite thing to do, since I’m delivering a package all special-like on my own time. So? Whaddya say?”
He knows it’s not smart to do as the blond man asks. He’s pretty sure Ms. Smythe would be upset with him, but he really wants to know who sent him a package. Maybe the package is a book from Ms. Smythe since she forgot to give one to him on Saturday.
“Okay,” Alex nods. “You can come in to use the bathroom. I have to find a pen and paper anyway to write your note.”
The blond man struts into the apartment with a big grin on his face, but he sees the blond man’s grin fade as he looks around the kitchen and says, “Bloody hell.” When the blond man finally looks at him again, the blond man looks upset. Then the blond man looks at him really hard, like he’s trying to see through his skull. “Bloody hell,” he says again, only softer this time, like he sees something that really makes him very sad.
“Can I have my package, please?” Alex asks.
“There’s no package.”
“But you have a box.”
“It’s an empty box. Nicked it from an office and headed here straightaway.”
“Listen to me very closely,” the blond man says. “You’re in a bucket load of danger and we’ve got to bugger out of here before—”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Now why would I lie about you being in danger?”
“You lied about having a package for me,” Alex points out.
“Got me there. But it was a ruse, see? And—”
“I want you to leave. I have to go to work and you can’t be here.” Alex realizes that he just told the blond man he was going to be leaving his apartment. What if the blond man is looking around so he could break in later and steal his things? “If you don’t leave, I’m going to have to…to…do something.”
The blond man snarls and says a bad word.
“It’s not nice to swear,” Alex says. “I’m calling the police.”
“You’re calling the police because I said fuck?” the blond man asks.
Alex runs for the phone.
The blond man drops the box and grabs him by the wrist so hard that it hurts. He tries to pull away, but the blond man holds on and squeezes even harder. The blond man’s stronger than he looks, but that’s okay because Alex knows that he’s strong too. So he starts fighting and yelling for the blond man to get out.
“We don’t have time for this. We’ve got to get out of here!” The blond man is trying to pull him out the door. “We’ve got a horde of demons heading this way, so if you want to still be breathing five bleedin’ minutes from now we’ve got to go!”
But Alex keeps yelling and yelling and fighting while the blond man hangs on.
“Oh, balls. I do not have time for this,” the blond man says. Then he throws a punch that’s so hard that he knocks Alex out.
Alex Hill wakes up and panics. He doesn’t know where he is and he can’t move.
“Ah. You’re awake.”
He looks wildly around the room to see who’s speaking to him. He sees the blond man standing by the window. The blond man’s trying to look through a small opening between the heavy curtains. There’s a slice of sunlight shining through, but the blond man is standing away from the light. Instead, he stays in the shadows and cranes his neck to look out. He’s acting like he’s afraid someone outside might see him if they look in.
Alex realizes that he’s can’t move because he’s tied to the bed. He’s wrapped up like the girl in those Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons where the villain puts her on the train tracks and Dudley Do-right has to save the day. Except he doesn’t think there’s a Dudley Do-right who’ll come and save him since that only happens in cartoons.
Without glancing back at Alex, the blond man says, “I can hear your heart beating a mile a minute over there, so you’ve got to calm down. Do an ‘oommmm,’ take some deep breaths, or whatever instructions they gave you so you can be centered good ’n proper. If I can hear you, good bet something with nasty claws might, too.”
Alex is confused. Center? Center where? He’s tied down in the center of the bed, but he doesn’t think that’s what the blond man is talking about.
Finally the blond man looks over his shoulder and adds, “Good news is we’ve lost your fan club, so I’m thinking we’re safe for a bit.” He returns his gaze to the outside. “Leastwise I hope so, otherwise I’m a charcoal briquette and you’re a corpse.”
Alex blinks. The blond man kidnapped him and wants him to calm down? This makes no sense to him at all. “Why did you…what’s going on?”
The blond man is now focused on Alex. “Short story? I gotta protect you from the big bads.”
“Only supposed big bad I see is in the room with me,” Alex says sharply in a voice he doesn’t even recognize as his. He bites his lip because he knows that being mean to the man who kidnapped him and tied him to a bed is going to get him in trouble, so he decides that maybe he should be more polite until he can figure out how to escape.
Strangely enough, the blond man takes what Alex says as compliment. He smiles and puffs up his chest like he’s been paid a million upon a million compliments. “Too right. I’m the baddest of the big bads, so it’s a good thing I’m around so’s I can be all protective-like. The name’s Spike. That name mean anything to you?”
Alex doesn’t say anything. He’s afraid Spike will be upset if he says no.
“Ah, never mind then. Ain’t surprising I ’spose,” Spike grumbles.
Alex thinks that maybe if he tries to be polite now, he might be able to convince Spike to let him go. “I think you’re confusing me with someone else because no one bad is after me. If you let me go, I promise I won’t tell anyone what happened, cross my heart and hope to die. I’ll be quiet. I promise, please?” Another thought strikes him and he panics. “It’s day out? What time is it?”
“Disorientated, are you? Not surprised there. Had to knock you out. Then you started stirring a bit too quickly and I didn’t have time to trigger you so’s I had to give you a shot so you’d stay out. When you go down, you don’t go down easy, do you?” Spike says it like he thinks it’s a good thing, but he still doesn’t sound very happy that Alex didn’t stay knocked out.
“What time is it?” Alex insists.
“About 9 or so.”
Alex begins to panic. “Oh no! My job!”
Spike’s eyes narrow. “What?”
“My job! I didn’t go to work last night and I didn’t call in sick and my boss says if I don’t come into work and don’t call in sick he’ll fire me. My boss is going to fire me and I won’t have a job at all because you kidnapped me and it’s not my fault.”
Spike gives his head a hard shake. “Your life is in danger. Half the planet’s mean nasties want to pull a telepathic thing with your brain before using your guts as birthday streamers and you’re worried about getting fired?”
“I’ve never missed work! Not never, ever. Not one day. Not even when I had a really, really bad cold and my nose was running and I was coughing. Please let me go? Please? So I can call my boss and maybe he won’t fire me? I’ll even make up an excuse. I don’t have to say anything about you at all. Promise.”
“I can’t let you go. S’for your own protection.”
“You just don’t let a thought go, do you?” Spike rolls his eyes and adds in a mutter, “Always were stubborn. Nice to see that’s not changed at least.”
“I even promise not to tell Ms. Smythe.”
Spike winces. “Ah. ’Bout that. I, uh, don’t know how to tell you this, so it’s best to come out and say it. Your Ms. Smythe is dead.”
Alex starts breathing hard as he struggles against the ropes. “You’re lying! I know you’re lying!”
“Calm down, before you bring the hounds of hell down ’round our sorry heads! I can’t help you if you don’t calm down right now!”
“You’re a liar! Ms. Smythe is not dead! You’re just saying that to scare me. But you don’t scare me. You don’t. You saying Ms. Smythe is dead just makes me mad.”
“You know? I believe you when you say you’re not scared.” Spike comes over to the bed and looks down at him. He tilts his head like he’s studying Alex. “Mad is good. Mad will make it easier to pull the trigger, see? Because you’ll be clear in the head instead of in a blind panic. I’da done it back at your place, but there’s gonna be a little bit of disorientation for an hour or two while this,” Spike waves a hand at him, “fades to black. We had to move fast, so no time to let you find your own clumsy feet. Least we got the time now to get it done.”
Alex starts to shake in the middle of Spike’s speech. If Spike’s planning to pull a trigger that means he has a gun. This is getting worse and worse and worse. He doesn’t want to die.
“If you stay angry, at least it might get your head clear faster. But if you’re going to be angry,” Spike says softly, “be angry about the proper things. You should be angry that Ms. Smythe is dead, because that’s the truth. You shouldn’t be angry at me for saying so, because it’s not nice to shoot the messenger.”
Alex glares at Spike, just to let him know that he knows Ms. Smythe is alive and that Spike’s a lying liar with pants on fire.
“Right. You’re bleeding well furious instead of scared. Good thing I got you tied down, otherwise my final resting place is a dust buster. Looking forward to your expression when you snap out of this, I gotta admit. Should be downright priceless. So here goes.” Spike bounces on his feet and grins. “Want to see the elephants dance with the alligators?”
The question genuinely frightens Alex. It’s clear that he’s been kidnapped by a crazy person since only crazy people talk like Spike just did. He’s heard crazy people can be really strong and Spike’s really strong. What if Spike goes crazier than crazy and decides to kill him right now?
Spike frowns down at him. “Right. Let’s try this again. Want to see the elephants dance with the alligators?”
He thinks Spike is expecting an answer, but he doesn’t know what to say.
Spike blinks very quickly. “Okay. I need you to keep your wits about you, or leastwise as many of your wits as they let you keep. I’ve got to ask you a strange question and it’s very important you tell me the truth because our lives may depend on the answer.”
There’s something about the way Spike says it, like something’s gone really, really wrong that makes Alex think he should at least hear the question. He nods and waits.
“Ms. Smythe…did she give you a book when she last saw you?”
Alex is surprised by the question. “How do you know Ms. Smythe gives me books to read?”
“Explain it later, but right now I need you to answer the question.”
“She didn’t. She always gives me books to read, but she forgot last time. That’s why I let you in because I thought you were delivering a book from her, otherwise I would’ve never let you in.”
Spike starts saying a lot of bad words. They fill up the room so much that Alex wants to clap his hands over his ears, but he’s tied to the bed so he can’t.
When Spike finally calms down he says, “Okay. This? This is bad, but it’s not a tragedy. We can do this without the arsed-up password phrases.”
The way Spike says “arsed-up” makes Alex giggle because it’s close to a bad word even though it isn’t.
Spike grins at him. “Laughing is better.” Then he gets very serious. “Your Ms. Smythe, she’s a good friend of mine on account that we’re both English and all. We’re like this,” here Spike holds up a hand with two of his fingers crossed, “so I know all ’bout the books, which means I’m telling you the truth about the fact she’s dead.”
Alex still isn’t sure he believes Spike, but he thinks maybe he should pretend he does until he can run away and get help. “How did she die?”
Spike looks at him a little before looking away. “Don’t think I should tell you in your condition. Not sure you can take the blow, to be honest. Hell, not sure you could take the blow if you were yourself, let alone like this.”
Alex gets the feeling that Spike thinks he’s someone else, even though he does know about the books. Maybe if he makes Spike tell him, Spike will think he believes him and might untie him, which means he can get away. “I want to hear it. Please.”
Spike takes a deep breath. “Like I said, there are some evil things looking for you and they want you very bad. They figured out she was one of the people watching out for you and they nabbed her right in broad daylight where I couldn’t get to her. They tried to get her to talk, but she wouldn’t give you up, not for all the tea in China.”
Alex doesn’t understand. “Why would anyone be looking for me? And why would they kill Ms. Smythe to find me?”
“Best if I don’t tell you right now.” Spike looks a little worried. He suddenly brightens. “’Ang on a mo’. Bit of a light bulb here. Prob’ly not going to work, but worth a try, yeah? So I need you to listen closely. I’m supposed to be chatting up an annoying twit named Xander. Xan-der. Does that name sound at all familiar to you? Xander?”
Spike’s expression collapses. “Remind me to strangle Red when I get my mitts on her.”
Alex Hill is belted into the passenger seat of a car. His ankles are tired together, his bound wrists are resting in his lap, and there’s a gag in his mouth. Spike had said something about not taking a chance that Alex might run away, and had explained that he had to tie him up to make sure he stayed in one place.
Spike didn’t make him wear the gag until he started yelling. Maybe he shouldn’t have yelled. The gag is uncomfortable and he’s learning first-hand why it’s called a “gag.” He still can’t figure out how a crazy person as small as Spike is strong enough to force him down, tie him up, drag him to a car, and shove him inside. Alex is not a small person, even though he isn’t fat because the personal trainers at his gym (also paid for by the state Department of Mental Retardation) make him run laps, lift weights, and do things like kick-boxing and tai chi and fencing almost every day and archery three times a week.
Alex keeps his head twisted so he can keep his good eye on Spike. Even though his neck is starting to ache with the effort of leaving his head in one position, he doesn’t dare let Spike out of his sight for one moment. Leaving Spike in the dark where he has no eye makes him worried because he half expects Spike to…what? He’s not sure. He squirms a little in his seat, hoping he might work the ropes around his ankles loose just like the action heroes do in the movies. He’s afraid Spike might hit him and knock him out again if squirms too much, so he tries to squirm only a little, like he has to go to the bathroom.
The way Spike drives makes Alex even more nervous. Even though Spike’s eyes don’t leave the road, his hands fly from one point to another. One moment he’s pressing buttons to scan the radio stations, the next he’s adjusting the rearview mirror, then he’s drumming a beat on either the dashboard or the steering wheel like he’s listening to music in his head, or he’s lighting yet another cigarette. Alex pointedly lets out a muffled cough every time Spike flicks his lighter. Spike just as pointedly ignores him.
But the thing that really scares Alex is the fact that Spike’s acting nervous. He keeps glancing in the rearview mirror like he thinks the car is being followed and he keeps stopping on all the news stations on the radio like he’s listening for something. Alex could understand if Spike was pressing radio buttons because he’s looking for cool tunes, but Spike just keeps going from one news station to the next.
Yet, as nervous as Spike is acting, Alex can’t see him sweat. He knows that when he’s nervous, he sweats a lot and stammers. Yet, Spike remains coolly pale and doesn’t say a word, leaving the voice on the radio to break the silence.
Alex isn’t sure how long they’ve been driving before he sees Spike visibly relax. “We lost ’em for sure. Caught a bit of luck there.” Spike spares him a glance. “You must be getting hungry right about now.”
Alex almost wants to shake his head no, mostly because he’s afraid that Spike will pull out a hidden weapon and kill him if they stop, but a flurry of thoughts — Hungry. That means food. That means we have to stop. That means I could run away. — stops him.
“C’mon, now. Don’t give me the silent treatment.” Spike winces and sounds like he’s sorry. “Which you are on account of the gag. Trust me, rather’d have you mouthing off at me over whatever’s got up your nose about me. That’d be normal.”
Alex can feel his heart pick up speed. Spike still thinks he’s someone else; someone who might cause him trouble. If Spike thinks he’s too much trouble that might mean Spike will kill him.
Spike spares him another glance. “Now don’t be working yourself up like that. Heart’s goin’ faster than a rabbit’s. Any faster and it’ll explode out of your chest. If that happens, there’ll be blood all over the interior and it wouldn’t look good for me. My life’s worth more than that bit of amusement.”
Alex blinks and wonders how Spike knew his heart was beating fast.
“Wonder what the bloody hell I said this time to get your motor running. That’s just not right. Not right at all, if you ask me,” Spike mutters as he rolls down the window to flick out the latest cigarette. “Should be telling me to get stuffed, you should. Or leastwise complain about…” Spike pauses and glances at Alex again. “Lessee now, how would you put it? Ah. Got it.” He clears his throat straightens his shoulders and says in a horrible fake American accent, “The suck that is you as a tour guide. No danger of you getting a job in hospitality.”
Yeah, Spike definitely thinks he’s someone else.
Spike’s grinning now, like he’s very pleased with his imitation of whomever he thinks Alex is. “Not quite right, but close.” He glances again at Alex. The grin disappears and his eyes snap back to the road as he mutters, “Not close enough, I guess.” Spike stabs at the radio a little bit before adding, “S’past midnight and you haven’t had nothing but that packet of peanuts I found back before we left the room. You must be hungry, yeah?”
Alex’s stomach growls in agreement.
“It’s settled then. ’Ang on a mo’. If I’m gonna take your order, I best get this gag off you. Mind this, though. You start yelling your fool head off, the gag’s going back on and we’ll be skipping this meal. Got me?”
Spike pulls the car over before he leans toward Alex and removes the gag. Alex immediately starts gasping for breath.
Spike frowns, but doesn’t back off. “Had a hard time breathing, did you? Should’ve said something ’bout that. I would’ve loosened the gag a bit for you.”
Alex keeps his eye on Spike and doesn’t say anything.
Spike flops backwards against the driver’s side door. “Feeling a mite peckish myself, truth to tell, so we’ll have to stop soon’s we spot a butcher’s. If Her Highness expects me to live off whatever rodents I come across, she’s got another serious think coming. I don’t do rats. I ask you: Do I look like Angel the Wet? Now ’im, he’d look at a rat and think it a proper meal full of vitamins and minerals. Unless I get some fresh-squeezed O-poz in me, I’m not at my best and I think we both agree that in this situation, I need to be in top form. That’s all there is to it. If she doesn’t like it, she can stuff it, I say.”
Alex shrinks back against his seat. Spike’s not just talking crazy again, he’s arguing with someone who isn’t even here about not wanting to eat rats. That can’t be good.
“Still, some crisps’ll do me in a pinch,” Spike says with a shrug, his complaint about butchers and rats forgotten. “How ’bout you? Maybe we could manage a sandwich and some pot noodles. Most convenience marts have a microwave so shouldn’t be too bad.”
“’Kay,” Alex responds. His voice sounds raspy.
Spike grins in a way that lights up his face. “That’s the ticket. What say I throw a Twinkie on top of the deal? You’d like that I bet.”
“If you want,” Alex says meekly.
“What’s this? ‘If I want,’ he says. C’mon. Twinkie’s like your main drug and I’m offering to be your dealer.”
Alex starts to stutter because right now Spike likes whoever Spike thinks he is. He doesn’t want to disappoint Spike because that would be bad for him, but… “I-I-I-I-”
Spike leans forward and stares at him. “You must be…you’re not serious. You’re telling me that you don’t want a Twinkie?”
Alex hunches his shoulders. “Don’t like them.”
“You don’t…but…” Spike sputters a bit. “All right. What do you want to end your fabulous feast with?”
“Trail mix. I like trail mix.”
“Trail mix,” Spike says slowly.
“It’s got raisins in it. And nuts. And dried fruit. But I really like the raisins.”
“You like raisins. You’re giving me the wind-up, aren’t you?”
“Raisins are nature’s candy,” Alex explains. “Twinkies are bad for you. Ms. Smythe said that I have to eat healthy so I can be healthy.”
“Stop. Right there.” Spike starts the car, puts his hands on the wheel, and mutters, “Trail mix. Red’s turned him into a bleedin’ health nut she has. That’s just…that’s just…” He turns back to Alex and shakes a finger at him like Alex has done something wrong, “A man’s got his needs. Every man’s got his poison, get me? Now, for some, it’s that aged fine whisky. Or a good Cuban smoke. Or the fresh blood of a virgin, yeah?”
“I’m not a virgin!” Alex yells.
“Hunh? Where the hell’d that come from?”
“Just mentioning it. Just in case,” Alex says quickly.
“Riiiiiight,” Spike drawls. “What I’m getting at here is that depriving a man of his poison is like…like…turning him into someone else. That’s just wrong, that is. A man needs his vices and without his vices, he might as well lose his soul.” Spike pauses with a frown. “Or gain it. Okay, as a metaphor, not one my better choices, so let’s just erase that last li’l bit. Is it any wonder it took centuries for me to get my standing Os for poetry? Belabor the point a bit too much. Almost had it there, but…”
Alex’s stomach lets out another growl.
“Right you are,” Spike says as he shifts the car into drive. “One packet of crisps for me; one sandwich, one pot noodle, and one packet of,” he pauses to give Alex a look that can only be described as disgusted, “trail mix for you. God what has this world come to? The day Xander Harris turns down…”
“Alex. Alex Hill,” Alex corrects. “My name’s—”
“I bleeding well know your name,” Spike snaps. “I see a station up ahead. Now here’s the plan. I get us some food then gas up the car. Given the way you’ve been squirming for the past few miles, I’m thinking a trip to the loo wouldn’t be out of order. But mind your Ps and Qs. You act up, I even think you’re trying to pull some funny business, an’ you’ll be takin’ a nap, ropes and gags or no. Am I clear?”
Alex nods. He knows that he’ll have to be really smart and pay attention. Maybe Spike will get distracted and he can escape.
Spike flashes him a smile. “’Course, I expect you’ll be lookin’ for an opportunity to leg it.”
“Take a runner. Escape,” Spike clarifies.
Alex tries to look innocent.
Spike pulls up to the gas pumps and adds in a happy voice, “Wouldn’t be you if you didn’t at least give it a go.”
“Unh-hunh,” Spike says absently as he cuts the engine. He reaches over and starts checking the ropes around Alex’s wrists.
Alex stiffens in fear.
“Those are fine. Good.” Spike grins at him. “Now don’t be thinking about kneeing me in the face while I check those ropes ’round the ankles. Just to give you something to think about, my face is practically in your lap. My teeth will be near some very delicate equipment. Trust me when I tell you, my bite is much worse than my bark.”
Alex tries to keep very still while Spike’s hand checks the rope around his ankles.
“Ho-ho! Now I know the why behind the squirming.” Spike sits up and smiles like Alex just handed him the best present ever. “Not even close to slipping off, but loose just the same. We’ll get your head turned right yet.”
Alex has no idea how to react.
“Don’t matter no how,” Spike looks like he’s trying not to laugh. “Would’ve had to untie those ankles anyway for the trip to the gents. Would’ve ended up re-tying them when we got back in the car and there you’d be, right back at square one.”
Alex sags against the seat. He didn’t realize that might happen. He thought he was being so smart, but really he was just being stupid like he always is. He’s not an action hero. He’s one of the scaredy-cat guys who are too weak to fight back and have to be saved by the action hero along with whatever woman is around.
“Now, don’t be disappointed,” Spike says cheerfully. “You’ll get another shot, I’m sure. We’ll make you over into a regular Houdini before this is over.”
Alex sinks lower in his seat. Now Spike’s just making fun of him because Spike’s smarter.
“Now mind, I’m just going to be in there,” Spike nods at the convenience store, “so I expect you to behave. Remember, I see anything out of place…” Spike leaves the threat hanging.
Alex gives a nod as Spike leaves, so he’s not even sure if Spike sees him. The moment the door closes, Alex lets out a shuddering breath and resists the urge to start crying. He’s never, ever getting out this. Spike’s going to drive and drive until they’re a million miles away from everywhere and then Spike’s going to kill him.
Maybe if he can figure out how to jump from the car while it’s still moving, he might have a chance. Sure, he might die anyway, but he’s better off dying before Spike gets to wherever he’s going.
A tap on his window startles him and he turns to look.
Staring back at him is something dark green with red eyes and a toothy grin.
Alex lets out a scream of surprise and tries to throw himself backwards, although the seatbelt keeps him from getting too far. At the same time the thing starts yelling gibberish.
Spike comes from out of nowhere and starts punching and kicking the green thing until it falls to the ground. Spike runs around the front of the car, yanks open the driver’s side, and dives inside.
“Change of plans,” he yells as he starts up the car.
Alex looks out the windshield and screams again. There’s a crowd of monsters, all of them every bit as bad as every monster he’s ever seen in his dreams, running toward the car. Some of them are armed. Some of them don’t need to be because their teeth and claws look like they can really hurt.
Alex feels his seatbelt loosen and he hears Spike yell, “Get down on the floor! Down on the floor!”
He tries to do what Spike says, but he’s too big to fit under the dashboard. He’s stuck crouched in an awkward position, leaving his back exposed. He can feel the car jump forward and he hears Spike say lots of bad words. The car jerks one way and then another. It sounds like Spike is either running over the monsters or the monsters are hitting the car, although Alex isn’t sure which one might be true.
There’s a sound of breaking glass and something that feels like claws digs into Alex’s back. He screams, this time out of pain, as the claws tear down his back. He tries to wedge himself further down to get away from the thing that’s hurting him. It must work, because the claws disappear, leaving behind just the stinging pain.
It must be forever before the thumping fades and the car is racing smoothly. Alex can hear the engine whine as the car picks up speed.
“Can you get up?” Spike asks without his eyes leaving the road.
It takes a little work for Alex to get unstuck, partly because his hands and ankles are still tied. He manages to work himself back into a sitting position, but yelps and jerks forward when his back comes into contact with the seat.
Spike looks over at him and hisses. “Back’s a mess. We’re going to have to raid a chemist’s to get you fixed up right.”
Between the pain, the monsters — the monsters are real, the monsters are real, the monsters are real — and the fact that he’s being kidnapped, Alex just wants to start screaming again. He bites his lip to stop himself from making a sound.
“In case you’re wondering,” Spike says, “those are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. More ’n that are after you, and you can bet it’s going to get even uglier from here on out. Might have to change plans and stay away from secondary roads. Try the highways instead. Harder for them to get a drop on us if we’re speeding down a motorway.”
“Why?” Alex asks through clenched teeth.
Spike’s eyes don’t leave the road. “You’re the white king on our chessboard, mate. And all the black pieces over on the other side want you out of the game.”
Alex Hill starts feeling feverish and sick long before sunrise, but he doesn’t say anything. He’s afraid if he says anything, Spike will decide that he’s too much trouble and Spike might decide to kill him. Worse, Spike might just leave him by the side of the road and let the monsters take him.
Excuse me, but didn’t the Fanged One over there just save you from getting eaten?
Alex blinks. He has no idea where the thought came from. It doesn’t sound like a thought he’d have. He’s also not sure what ‘Fanged One’ — he even thinks the words in capital letters, just like the thought said them — is supposed to mean.
Don’t say I said this, ’cause if you do, I’m going to deny it until critics start raving that ‘Attack of the Clones’ is a good movie, but maybe you should put a little trust in the bleached lunatic and say something, as in now-ish.
Alex is scared. He doesn’t know where the thoughts are coming from, and he’s very sure the thoughts aren’t his. He must be very sick if he’s thinking thoughts that aren’t his. It’s like this movie he once saw where the hero got sick and was acting strange. The other people said the hero was acting strange and saying strange things because he had a fever and was sick. He must have the same thing.
He doesn’t want to tell Spike that he’s maybe in trouble, but if he’s having thoughts that aren’t his he’s probably very sick and should say something.
But Spike scares him more than the thoughts do. Thoughts can’t kill him, but Spike can.
Willow, when I get my hands on you, you are so very dead. That’s if I don’t get dead before I see you.
Willow? Alex wonders. Like the movie, Willow? He doesn’t understand where any of this is coming from. Alex starts to shake; this time it’s because of the thoughts that aren’t his that are scaring him, instead of shaking because he’s feeling sick. He can feel something very, very angry behind the thoughts. It’s almost like something is beating its fists against the inside his head.
He’s torn. The anger behind the thoughts scares him more than anything, maybe even more than Spike. Maybe he should say something. Then again, that’s what the angry thoughts want him to do, so maybe he shouldn’t. Even though he is miserably curled forward because his back hurts so much, he turns his head enough so he can see Spike with his one eye. Maybe it’ll help him decide if he should say something, or just stay quiet about the thoughts in his head.
Spike glances over at him. “We hafta find a place,” Spike says grimly. “I’d like it if I had a few thousand more miles between us and your fans, but the sun’s up soon and we’ll have to stop one way or the other.”
Doooooooomed. We. Are. Doomed. What was I thinking when I told you to trust Spike? I wasn’t thinking. He’s got all the planning skills of Wile E. Coyote, I swear to God.
Alex clutches his head and hopes the angry thoughts stop on their own. They’re hurting him too much.
Spike. Of all not-people, they send Spike. Couldn’t they send someone who could drive day and night? Or how about some plane tickets? Plane tickets would be good. We could skip all of the flat states in the middle, but noooooooo. Of course not. Because that would be smart. Buffy’s so on the list with Willow. She’s has all the tactical genius of Custer. And Giles! Where was Giles’s brain again? Oh. That’s right. He lost it a few years ago. My friends are idiots. Big ones. Wait. Not friends. Ex-friends. Very much ex-friends. As soon as this is over, I’m quitting. They’ll just have to find someone else for their long-term suicide missions.
“Stop it,” Alex whispers hoarsely.
Spike slams on the brakes and he’s on Alex before Alex can even react.
“Calm down,” Spike snaps as Alex weakly attempts to swat him away. “Gotta check you. Somethin’ smells off.”
Spike eventually breaks through the half-hearted struggle and forces Alex to look him in the eyes.
“Oh, bugger,” Spike says under his breath. He places a hand across Alex’s forehead and Alex shivers against the clammy chill of Spike’s touch.
“All you lot are like furnaces to me, but you’re feeling like you’ve taken a dip in a lake of fire,” Spike says. He straightens up and places his hands on the wheel. Alex doesn’t like the fact that Spike looks like he just lost his dog.
“Fever. Was afraid of this,” Spike says like he’s talking to himself. He turns to glare at Alex. “You should’ve spoken up if you were feeling poorly. Now look,” Spike sweeps an arm over the dashboard, “I’ve now got to stop sooner than I like, but it’s not soon enough to find a place to lay low that’s near a chemist’s with some lovely drugs I can nick for you.” Spike begins to angrily beat on the steering wheel and Alex cringes in fear. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck it all to hell,” Spike spits out like a machine gun.
I think he’s stuck. Kick him. Aim for the nuts.
Spike freezes. He then slowly releases the steering wheel and turns his head so he is facing Alex. When Spike smiles, Alex whimpers again. He doesn’t like that smile at all.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” Spike says gently, like he’s talking to a little kid.
Alex would complain about Spike treating him like a kid, but he’s too afraid to say anything. He’s afraid Spike will become even more violent and start hitting him. He’s afraid the angry thoughts in his head will take control and he’ll attack Spike, which means that Spike will kill him.
“It’s the situation is all, yeah? We’re in a bad spot, you and I, and you getting sick now is bloody awful timing.” Spike keeps his voice soft. “It’s not your fault, understand me? It’s mine. Got a bit too sure of myself there when I pulled over for dinner, and it almost cost us.”
“Okay,” Alex whispers.
Spike grimaces as he starts up the car again. “You’re too afraid of me. You, of all people. Never thought you in particular were afraid enough of me, and now…” Spike’s voice trails off as glances at Alex once more. He angrily shifts into drive and snarls, “That red-haired bint of yours will be getting a earful from me.”
Do me a favor. Be the cold-hearted bastard I know you can be and rip her ears off when you’re done.
Alex squeezes his eye shut. Between Spike, the pain, the sick feeling, and the scary angry thoughts, he’s afraid he’s going to start crying. Little kids cry and he’s not a little kid, so he shouldn’t cry.
Maybe if he closes his eye tight enough, when he opens it again he’ll find out that it’s all just another one of his bad dreams. He’ll wake up and find out that he’s still in his room and that the monsters and Spike aren’t real.
Maybe this time when he wakes up there’ll be someone there with him to tell him it’s going to be okay.
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