Spike appears out of nowhere and places a hand on his shoulder. “Was worried about you there for a bit,” Spike says quietly. “Barely found this place in time. I was smoking good ’n proper when I carried you in here two days ago.”
Alex is so tired he can barely keep his eye open. “Two days?” he croaks through chapped lips.
Spike crouches down so he is eyelevel with Alex. “You passed out on me in the car. From the fever, I reckon. Any rate, you looked like hell. Managed to convince the office of this fleabag of a rent-by-the-hour dive to bring us regular servings of ice so I could cool you down from that fever of yours. Cost me a pretty penny, too. Robbers, the lot of ’em. Makes my bad ol’ self look like an amateur. Hit me up for some extra by hinting around that maybe the police should come by for a look-see at you. We should trash the room before we leave. Serve ’em right if we stick ’em for a few thou in damages.”
Alex blinks uncomprehendingly at this. He doesn’t know what Spike’s talking about.
Spike sits back on his haunches. “Look at me! Pathetic. The soul’s made me pathetic, that’s what,” he complains. “I’m contemplating property damage. Once upon a time, I’d’ve ripped their eyes out and eaten them in front of their eyes.”
“See you?” Alex whispers.
Spike leans forward. “What’s that?”
Alex just wants to back to sleep, but Spike’s a little too close to make it seem like a smart thing to do. “See you?” he repeats with effort.
Spike mouths the words a few times before he winces. “Oh. Yeah. Hard for them to see me eating their eyes when I’m actually eating their eyes.” He suddenly waves a hand. “Prolonged torture was more Angelus’s specialty. I was more the straight-for-the-kill type. Never saw the point in mucking about. Things have a nasty habit of getting too complicated when you play with your food.”
Alex shivers in fear. Spike is talking about killing and torture, probably because Spike wants to make sure he stays scared. He’s so ashamed that it’s working, because it’s just more proof that he’s not brave. He always knew that he wasn’t, but before Spike and being kidnapped he could pretend and now he can’t.
Spike looks around the room while Alex does his best to focus. He’ll die if he stays with Spike, he knows that much. He might not be an action hero, but he can pay attention. He might not be smart, but he can learn things really fast. If he learns enough about Spike, maybe he can convince Spike that he’s really his friend. If he convinces Spike that he’s his friend, Spike might wait a little longer to kill him. Alex knows that the longer he manages to stay alive, the better his chances of escaping.
Although, he wonders what he’ll be escaping to. The monsters are real and they tried to kill him. They have to be mixed up. They’re after someone else. They have to be.
It’s all too much to think about, especially because it’s harder than usual for him to work things out. His head hurts so much and he aches all over. He wishes he could go back to sleep and shut it all out, but he doesn’t dare.
“Still, taking out our frustrations on the telly wouldn’t go amiss,” Spike continues. “We’ll do that just before we flutter off never to be seen again. No point in punishing ourselves for their greedy ways, right? A few fist-sized holes in the walls would liven the place up a bit. The plumbing is already on the list of things that need to go.” Spike nods. “Can’t hold a candle to my bloody ol’ days, but it’ll have to do.”
“I guess,” Alex rasps.
“There’s a bit of good news, despite our top-notch situation. I managed to grab a doc for a house call to our palatial accommodations,” Spike says. “On his suggestion, I nipped on down to the Drugs-R-Us and scored us some antibiotics.” Spike snaps his fingers. “Oh. Right. Can’t destroy the plumbing on account of the doc tied up in the bathtub. Don’t want him to drown before the owners figure out they’ve got a plumbing problem.”
Alex’s eye widens and he struggles to sit up. “What?”
Spike reaches out and gently helps Alex sit upright. “Wondered how much crap I’d have to shovel before I’d get you moving. Should’ve gone right to threatening innocent bystanders. Know better now, don’t I?”
“You kidnapped someone else?” Alex asks.
“Nah. Kidding. Did manage to flag down a doc the other night. Fed him a bit of a sob story on the order of Rain Man meets Of Mice and Men and how we were skint with no health insurance. Took one look at your shredded back and became a Good Samaritan,” Spike cheerfully says.
All Alex can do is blearily look at Spike. Sitting up takes a lot of effort. All he wants to do is lay back down and go back to sleep.
“He had to stitch you up and left us with some freebie pills. Even came by earlier right after your fever broke to help clean you up and change the dressings,” Spike says. “You were in a bad way, but you’re out of the woods now. So we can all breathe easy. Well, you can at any rate, seein’ as I don’t breathe.”
Alex begins to slowly lower himself to the mattress. Spike is talking crazy again. His earlier bout of panic is too distant for him to get too worried about it. At least now he’s awake and can talk. If the doctor comes back, he’ll be able to tell the doctor that Spike kidnapped him and the doctor will call the police.
Spike has other ideas. His cold hands reach out and haul Alex to his feet. That’s when Alex realizes that he’s completely naked. “My clothes,” he moans.
“Torn up or soaked with blood. I managed to get you some new ones. Now that did require a little breaking and entering on my part,” Spike explains as he tugs Alex over to a chair. “And much as I’d like to stay and give you one more day to recover, we took a big chance staying as long as we did. We’ve got to put some road between us and this hellhole, so let’s go.”
Alex wobbles as he ineffectually tries to pull away from Spike. “No. Please,” he begs.
Spike holds fast and looks up into Alex’s face. “Can’t. Those things are still looking for you and they won’t be none too gentle when they find you. The mess on your back is nothing compared to what they’ll do to you if they get their claws on you for good.”
“Why is this happening?” Alex asks.
Spike’s answer doesn’t make any sense.
“Because this world’s full of idiots who think the grand gesture’ll save it all,” Spike says as he gently leads Alex to the chair and helps him sit. “Because I deserve a boot to the head for buying into it instead of putting my foot down and demanding a second think about the big plan. Because other people figured out right quick that a big mess got made and that it had to be cleaned up while us big-shot heroes went underground to lick our wounds.”
Spike turns on his heel and heads for the dresser to pick up a pile of folded clothes. Alex sees jeans, flannel shirts, plain t-shirts in a variety of colors, underwear, socks, and heavy work boots. He doesn’t like the clothes Spike picked out, because clothes like that will make him look like a construction worker. He won’t say anything, though, because he doesn’t want to get Spike mad. At least they look clean and they don’t look ripped.
“I got a couple of changes of clothes for you while I was at it,” Spike says as he returns to Alex. “I had to guess at the size, but they all should fit. I’ll help you get dressed.”
“I can dress myself,” Alex weakly protests.
Spike shakes his head. “If you can stand on your own, you can dress yourself. But if you can’t, no shame in accepting a helping hand.”
Alex grips the arms of the chair and slowly, painfully forces himself to his feet.
Spike smiles. “Stubborn. Got that going for us at least.” The smile fades. “Never thought I’d say this, but it’s a shame you had to pay for the ocean of stupidity that got us into this mess.”
Alex’s moment of strength fails and he almost falls back into the chair. Spike drops the clothes and manages to reach out and grab him before he falls all the way down. He can’t figure out how Spike moved so fast. He can’t even figure out how Spike is strong enough to keep him from falling.
As Spike helps him get re-settled in the chair, he adds, “Of everyone in this mess, you’re the only one with clean hands. Shouldn’t be you paying through the nose to make it right.”
All Alex Hill wants to do is lie down in the back seat, but Spike won’t let him.
“Need to keep an eye on you. I can’t trust you not to knock me on the head and escape, so you’re staying up front with me,” Spike says. He says it like he’s sorry that he won’t let Alex lie down in the back.
Spike makes him wear a seatbelt, which forces him to face front with his back against the seat, even though Alex’s back hurts more than anything he can remember (except for when he lost his eye, but he only half-remembers because he was drunk when that happened). He keeps wiggling and twitching to relieve the pain, but it’s not helping.
There is one thing different now. Spike still ties his hands and ankles together, but the ropes are loose. Alex can slip the ropes off if he wants to. Plus, Spike doesn’t make him wear the gag.
“If we run into your fan club, you should be able to get out of that, no trouble,” Spike tells him. “But you’re to keep these on, otherwise. If I see you slipping these off when things are goin’ well, these knots are going to be pulled tight right quick. Understand?”
Alex nods and pretends that he’s crossing his fingers behind his back. The loose ropes mean he can escape if he’s smart, but it hurts too much for him to move, let alone run away. All he can feel is relieved that the ropes won’t cut into his wrists and ankles like they did before and that he isn’t wearing a gag.
What follows is nothing but a series of blurs, which Alex hates because it feels too much like he’s drinking again. He knows it’s because he’s sick. He knows it’s because he’s hurt. He knows it’s because he’s scared, although he’s not sure what scares him more — the monsters or Spike.
Sometimes he falls asleep because it all gets to be too much. Sometimes Spike wakes him up and gives him pills. One pill is for the pain, Spike says. That one makes him feel stupid and slow, but his back hurts less when he takes it so he doesn’t argue. The other pill is for the germs making him sick, Spike tells him, but all that one does is make his stomach feel icky.
Sometimes Spike wakes him up to feed him. It’s always soup, which Spike calls “pot noodles” instead of Cup O’ Soup, which it says right on the package. Alex can’t figure out why Spike calls it pot noodles. Maybe because there’s a lot of noodles in the soup, or maybe it’s because he’s English and that’s what they call Cup O’ Soup in England. He should probably ask, but he can never make his mouth work right.
Between the pain and the naps and the food, Alex has a hard time understanding what’s happening to him or how long Spike has been driving. It’s more than two days; he knows that. He can dimly remember stopping at a few motels. He can remember Spike half-dragging him between the car and the room and back again. He knows that Spike has helped him wash up and change clothes, even though Alex complains about it. He also knows that at some point Spike has stopped using the highways. They’ve even stopped using what Spike calls “secondary roads,” whatever those are.
He’s not entirely sure, but he thinks Spike keeps changing cars, too. It seems like every day the car’s not just a different color, but also a completely different kind. When he feels a little better, and when he’s able to stay awake long enough, he asks Spike about the cars. He’s very careful about how he asks and he asks very, very politely. Spike may be planning to kill him, but right now Spike’s the only thing keeping the monsters from tearing him apart.
To his surprise, Spike answers him.
“We nearly got spotted a few times. So you and me, we’re running underground now, an’ part of that is changing runabouts as often as possible.” Spike pats the steering wheel, like he’s very proud of the car. “Been putting my special skills to good use, I have. Wish I could do this just for fun and mayhem, but,” he glances at Alex and grins with all his teeth, “I’ll take what I can get with that Jiminy Cricket of a soul.”
Alex sits forward just a little bit so his back isn’t against the seat so much. He really wants one of those pills for the pain, but he doesn’t like what they do to his head. He can put off taking the pills for the pain (but not the pills that make his stomach feel like he wants to throw up, because those are for the germs that got him sick) if he doesn’t show that he hurts. If he shows that he hurts, Spike will pull over and make him take another pill, so he pretends that he doesn’t hurt as much as he does.
“Where are we?” Alex asks.
“Dunno. One of them flat states in the middle,” Spike answers.
Alex thinks that Spike knows where they are; he just doesn’t want to tell him.
“Kansas, I think,” Spike says with a frown. “No! Wait! Oklahoma. Forgot we crossed the state line a little bit ago.”
Alex feels panicked. He’s never been in Oklahoma before. If he runs away, he’ll get more lost than he’s ever been and he won’t know how to get home. He closes his eye very hard and opens it again. Then he tries to concentrate. Even though it’s night out, he can see that everything’s flat, flat, flat. He can see lights in the distance. He thinks that those might be houses, but they look so far away.
“Now don’t you fret,” Spike says. “I know it looks a bit too open. Truth to tell, it is a bit too open, but right now all those mean nasties after you think we’re goin’ the direct route since as far as we’re concerned time is money and all that rot. Still, can’t argue with success. We’ve been free an’ clear from fang an’ claw the past few days, present company excepted.”
The only thing Alex understands is that Spike hasn’t seen any monsters, which means they’ve lost them. Now all he has to do is get away from Spike. Since Spike is treating him nice, he thinks that maybe he should pretend to be his friend. The best way to do that is ask questions. It’s a good idea, Alex knows. He needs more information if he wants to escape.
“Where are we going?” Alex asks.
Spike glances over at him. “Well, we’re suddenly very chatty.”
Alex hunches his shoulders and shifts in his seat. Spike is smarter than he is, so he should have known that Spike would know that he’s just pretending.
“It’s a good sign,” Spike says. “It means you’re feeling better.”
Alex lowers his head and bites his lip. He doesn’t dare hope that he’s fooled Spike.
“Don’t blame you for asking questions. You must be confused beyond belief right now. You’ve been in and out for the past few days.”
Alex turns his head so he can see Spike. Spike isn’t looking at him, but Spike is smiling like he’s happy that Alex is asking questions and feeling better.
“You and me are going to L.A.,” Spike says.
Spike glances at him and the smile disappears. “L.A. is short for Los Angeles.”
Alex looks away. He knows he’s not smart, but he’s not stupid either. “I know that. I also know that it’s in California, and I know that’s where all the movie stars live, and I know that—”
“I’m sorry,” Spike interrupts.
Alex looks back at Spike.
Spike’s eyes are on the road. “I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to imply that you were stupid, but it’s hard for me to figure out what it is that you do know. You’re a bit of a mystery to me, see? So I’m feeling my way here.” Spike glances at him and repeats, “Sorry.”
“S’okay.” Alex shifts a little because his back is really hurting. It doesn’t help. He wants a pill for the pain, but this is too important. “Why are we going to L.A.?”
Spike glances at him with a happy grin. “Ahhh, we are going to L.A., now.”
“Hello? You driver, me passenger. Yes, we. Unless you’ve started hanging with invisible people again and there’s an imaginary ‘we’ in this car that I don’t know about.” Alex slaps his hands over his mouth just as Spike slams on the brakes.
Alex cringes against the passenger side door as Spike throws himself at Alex and grabs him by his arms.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry,” Alex repeats. He didn’t mean to say that. He didn’t even think it, so he has no idea where those words came from. His voice even sounded like it belonged to someone else. He sounded like someone who was mean and angry. Okay, he’s angry, but he’s not mean.
Spike keeps touching his face and making Alex look at him, but Spike’s expression is so scary that Alex keeps fighting him. Spike then grabs him on either side of his face and yanks his head so he’s forced to look at Spike.
“I knew it,” Spike says. “I know you’re in there, you bastard. Right under the surface. You’re being stubborn, that’s what. Now, enough. You’ve had your bit of fun. Get the hell out of there and help me.”
Alex whimpers. He doesn’t mean to, but it feels like his back’s on fire and Spike’s scaring him. Plus, it feels like there’s someone hitting him on the head. No, not on. In. Inside his head. He can even feel the person’s fists as they punch-punch-punch like they’re trying to get out.
“Xander!” Spike barks. “I’m out of bleedin’ ideas here! We’ve got demons behind us, and demons ahead us. At some point, we’re gonna have to fight our way through them, ’cause it’s not a clear run. Not by a long shot. So, fire up the brain and let’s get plotting.”
“My name is Alex Hill. My name is Alex Hill. My name is Alex Hill. My name is Alex Hill…” He has to keep saying his name until he believes it, just like Ms. Smythe told him. Except that he knows he’s Alex Hill, so why wouldn’t he believe it? Spike is the one who thinks he’s someone called Zander.
Spike suddenly lets him go and backs away with his hands raised. “It’s okay. It’ll be all right, yeah? Didn’t mean to scare you like that.”
Alex curls forward and almost screams when it feels like something in his back is pulling so tight that the skin is going to rip apart. He’s breathing hard like he’s run a hundred miles. His head is pounding and pounding and pounding like the little man inside is still trying to get out.
“It’s going to be okay. See?” Spike raises his hands a little higher so Alex can see he’s not holding a weapon and that he isn’t making a fist. “It’s not your fault. That was me. I pushed when I should’ve…dunno what I should’ve done there really, but it’s blindingly clear that what I just did wasn’t the thing to do.”
Alex bites his lip and waits. He wants very badly to shake the loose ropes off and jump out of the car, but he hurts too much and he’s afraid. Spike just went crazier than crazy. If he tries to escape now, Spike will probably just pull out his gun and shoot him dead.
“Breathe deep,” Spike says softly. “C’mon. In and out. In and out.”
Alex does what Spike says, but he doesn’t take his eye off Spike while doing it.
“That’s right. Keep going like that,” Spike nods.
As Alex takes deep breaths, he’s surprised that he really is calming down. While he’s glad it’s working, he suspects that Spike’s playing a trick on him. If he’s relaxed instead of alert like he should be, he’ll miss his chance to escape. Alex decides to pretend to be more relaxed than he is. It’ll be hard to do, especially since his back really, really hurts.
Spike shifts until he’s settled back in the driver’s seat with his hands resting loosely on the wheel. His head is bowed, like he knows he did a Bad Thing and like he’s actually sorry that he did it.
“Your back must be screaming bloody murder right about now, what with me manhandling you,” Spike says quietly.
“Not too much,” Alex lies.
Spike glances at him. “Then get yourself right in the seat.”
Alex moves as slowly as he dares, and tries to show that he doesn’t hurt at all. When he’s sitting the right way again, Alex looks at Spike. The expression on Spike’s face is very easy to read. Even though Alex didn’t make any sound that would hint that he was in pain, Spike knows that it’s a lie.
“I smell blood,” Spike says.
“Blood?” Alex chokes.
Spike hits the steering wheel very hard with his hands. “I don’t need this! I’ve had barely a sip for days! And now there’s the smell of—”
Alex can’t suppress the whimper. Spike’s talking about blood. That can’t be a good sign.
Spike freezes. “We’re going to have to stop a little earlier than I’d like tonight,” he says. “I’ll stop in the first good-sized town we find. You need the rest, and I need to,” he glances at Alex before adding, “eat.”
Alex checks the car’s clock. It’s only 11 p.m. He doesn’t remember much about the past few days, but he’s pretty sure Spike usually doesn’t start talking about finding a place to stay until it’s early in the morning. When he looks back at Spike, he can see that Spike keeps swallowing, like he’s gulping down a drink. Spike’s hands are clutching the steering wheel so tight that Alex can see the outline of every muscle and bone in Spike’s hands by the light from the dashboard.
“Right. We have to stop. No two ways about it,” Spike says like he’s choking. He quickly rolls down the window and sticks his head out of it like he’s going to be sick.
Alex looks at the door handle on his side of the car. If Spike’s not feeling well, this might be his best chance of escaping. Except, his back hurts so much that he knows he’ll barely be able to walk, let alone run. Plus, he can’t see anything in the dark outside other than the lights that are too far away for him to get to, so that means that there’s probably nothing out there that’s close. He’ll get so lost that he’ll probably die before he can find help.
Maybe he should try it anyway.
Just as he’s about to reach for the door handle, Spike starts the car.
“I’ll need you to hang on a bit longer before I feed you that pain pill.” Spike’s voice sounds strange. “Think you can do that?”
If Spike wants him to wait, then maybe he should take it. He knows that Spike’s trying to trick him, he just doesn’t know how. When he opens his mouth, he changes his mind. If Spike’s getting sick, it’s better if he doesn’t take it. That way he won’t feel like his head is stuffed full of cotton when they get to a motel. If Spike keeps getting sicker, Spike’ll be so sick that Alex will finally be able ask someone for help before Spike can stop him.
Alex bites his lip to stop himself from smiling. “Yeah. I can wait.”
Spike closes his eyes and nods. “Maybe for once luck won’t take a crap on our heads and you won’t have to wait too long for relief.”
Alex Hill wakes up and realizes that he’s laying facedown on the bed.
“Good. You’re awake,” Spike says.
Alex bites his lip and tells himself not to cry. He’s weak and he’s stupid. His back had starting hurting so much that Spike could tell he was in pain, even though he didn’t make any sound. Then Spike forced him to take his pills before they even got close to a town. He said that one of the pills was for the germs, but Alex thinks that Spike lied and really gave him two pain pills because as soon as he took them he fell asleep.
Stupid. He’s so stupid. He fell for Spike’s trick. He’s never going to escape.
“While you were sleeping, I nipped out to get somethin’ to eat.” Spike walks into Alex’s line of sight and crouches next to the bed so he can look into Alex’s face. He makes a face. “Town didn’t have much by way of a butcher’s, let alone a well-stocked blood bank. Had to make do with what I could find on a farm not too far from here.”
“A farm?” Alex asks. His mouth feels dry.
Spike hunches his shoulders like he’s ashamed. “I didn’t hurt anyone. Well, nothing human at any rate. Killed a few chickens and chased that down with a taste of horse.” Spike rubs a hand over his face like he’s tired. “Why I’m telling you this, I dunno. Just thought you’d like to know, I guess.”
Alex thinks he might throw up. “You went out and killed animals? Why?”
Spike looks angry and opens his mouth.
Alex cringes. He shouldn’t get Spike angry if he wants to stay alive. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to yell.”
Spike closes his mouth and looks a little sad. “I needed to eat.”
Alex is confused. He’s seen Spike eat. Actually, he’s seen Spike eat junk food, like potato chips and crackers and anything else that Spike can crunch in his teeth.
Spike shakes his head and looks up at the ceiling. “You’ve no blessed clue what I’m on about, do you?”
No, Alex doesn’t. Instead of admitting it, Alex thinks that maybe he should keep quiet.
“After I finished dinner, I came back and cleaned you up. You’re not as well as we thought, because you slept through everything, up to and including me changing your dressings.” Spike reaches out a hand to help Alex sit up. “I took a butchers at your back while doing that. The stitches are still holding, and I couldn’t smell any sign of an infection, but there was some bleeding. Not as bad as I feared it’d be, so that’s something at least.”
Alex groggily hangs on to the side of the bed. He’s still wearing his t-shirt, jeans, underwear, and socks. Spike probably took off his boots and flannel shirt, since he doesn’t remember doing it. He’s not sure if he’s glad that Spike let him sleep in at least some of his clothes. “Thank you.”
“‘Thank you,’ he says. Like I’m doing him any favors,” Spike grumbles.
Alex ignores Spike’s outstretched hand to help him stand and does it all by himself. His back hurts a lot, but he doesn’t want Spike to give him a pain pill so he doesn’t say anything.
“We’re going to have to give the regular pre-departure ablutions a miss,” Spike says.
Alex blinks. “A-blue-shuns?” he asks.
Spike sighs. “Ablutions. That’s when I help you freshen up with a flannel before we leave.”
Alex knows that Spike calls washcloths “flannels,” so he finally understands what Spike means. He feels dirty enough. He needs to wash up, even if it’s just a little. He opens his mouth to argue, but Spike interrupts.
“We have to make up for lost time. You can freshen up when we stop in the morning,” Spike says. “On the upside, I’ve a bit of good news you’ll like. There’s a diner in the center of town. How ’bout we get some solid food in you, hunh? You’d like a burger and some chips, I bet. The pot noodles were good enough when you were feeling poorly, but I think you need to get some solid food in you. It’ll give you that energy that’s in short supply.”
Alex perks up. A diner. With people. He could ask for help when Spike brings him in there. He doesn’t think Spike will try to kill him if there are witnesses.
Spike nods at a duffle bag. Where he got it, Alex doesn’t know. It just appeared at some point, in the same way the various cars did. “All the clothes are dirty, so there’s no point in changing anyway. We’ll have to hand scrub what we’ve got when we stop.”
Alex’s thoughts are still on the diner. “Okay.”
Spike’s eyebrows rise.
Alex forces himself to smile. “I’m really hungry. I’d like to get that burger now.”
Spike smiles back. “We’ll have to get it to go and you can eat it in the car while I drive. It might get a bit messy.”
“Then it’s a good thing I won’t change into new clothes,” Alex quickly agrees.
Spike’s smile turns into a grin. “Now that’s the spirit.”
It’s the first sign Alex has that he’s finally fooled Spike into thinking that he’s really his friend.
Alex Hill waits until he sees Spike walk into the diner. He quickly peels off the loose ropes and strains his neck as he watches Spike talk to the waitress behind the cash register through the diner’s windows.
All he needs is for Spike to turn around, and he’ll be able to escape. Although there aren’t many buildings in the center of town, Alex sees that there are lights on in some of the windows above the storefronts. Those are probably apartments. Since it’s only 8 o’clock, people will be awake and watching television. All he has to do is figure out how to get from the street to the second floor of any of those buildings. Once he does that, he’ll be able to tell someone what happened and they’ll call the police.
Then Spike will have to run away and leave him alone.
Or maybe not.
If Spike takes out his gun and hunts for him, Alex knows that he’ll probably be dead if Spike finds him. Worse, Spike will probably kill whoever tries to help him. Alex knows he needs to find that gun if he wants to be sure that he’ll be safe from Spike.
While waiting for Spike to get distracted, Alex leans forward just enough to try opening the glove compartment. He’s very surprised when it pops open, since he was pretty sure that Spike would lock it so he couldn’t see inside. He jumps a little in his seat when the light inside flicks on. He quickly closes it in case the light is bright enough for Spike to see it from inside the diner.
Alex looks up and again strains his neck to see where Spike is. He’s still inside the diner. Even though he’s moved, Spike’s still not turned around all the way. Alex doesn’t think that Spike saw the glove compartment light, because he’s just standing there instead of running out of the diner.
Alex bites his lip and slowly opens the glove compartment again. When the light flicks on, he closes it just enough for it to go off again.
“Okay. I can do this. It’s okay,” Alex tells himself as he reaches into the darkness of the glove compartment with his free hand.
He’s not really sure if he expects to find the gun in the glove compartment. He knows that Spike is smart, so that means he’s probably got the gun somewhere on him, but even smart people make mistakes. There’s always a chance that Spike hid it in the glove compartment so he wouldn’t have to carry it around all the time.
Alex is very surprised when his hand touches something made of wood. He freezes while his heart thumps very hard in his chest. He strains his neck again to see where Spike is.
Spike’s still in the diner, but now his back is to the car.
“Yes!” Alex whispers to himself as he opens the glove compartment wide enough for the light to come back on.
Then he sees what’s in the glove compartment. It looks like there are six heavy sticks in there.
“Hunh? What’s this?” Alex asks.
He picks up one of the heavy sticks and pulls it out. The surface of the stick is smooth, like someone has sanded it down, and it’s sharp at one end. It looks like a tent peg. Only this tent peg is made of wood instead of metal, like the metal tent pegs he saw at a day camp he went to when he was a little kid. When he closes his hand around it, he realizes that it fits perfectly in his fist.
It dawns on Alex that even though it’s not a gun, a wooden tent peg could be a weapon if he needed to use it like that. But if he had to fight a person who had a gun, the wooden tent peg wouldn’t be any good as a weapon. Then again, it would probably better than no weapon at all.
Alex keeps the wooden tent peg and shuts the glove compartment. He checks the diner again.
Spike is pacing.
Alex swallows. He hopes that Spike will turn around again so he can open the door and run away without Spike seeing him.
Spike stops and looks out the diner window.
Alex holds his breath as he clutches the wooden tent peg in his left hand while he holds the door handle with his right. Spike looks like he’s made of shadows. Alex guesses that it’s because the light is behind Spike instead of in front of him. The whole thing makes him feel uneasy because he can’t see Spike’s expression. All he sees is this blob of shadow that’s in the shape of Spike. If he could see Spike’s expression, then he’d know if Spike saw the light from the glove compartment.
Spike waves at him through the diner window.
Alex lets out the breath he was holding. Spike wouldn’t wave at him if he knew what Alex was doing in the car. He’s still safe. For now.
Spike then holds up three fingers.
Alex isn’t sure what it means, but he guesses that it maybe means that his food will be ready in three minutes. His stomach growls with hunger. “Stop it,” Alex whispers. “I have to run away first, then I can eat.”
Spike starts pacing again.
“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” Alex chants. He just needs Spike to turn away for one second.
The waitress that Spike had been talking to says something to Spike and Spike turns around.
That’s all Alex needs.
Alex flings open the door, jumps out of the car, and runs as fast as he can even though his back still hurts a lot. The closest building with lights on in the second floor windows is a block away. He doesn’t dare look over his shoulder to see if Spike has seen him run. He has to get to that building and find the door that will take him to the second floor.
When he reaches the building, he looks through the storefront window on the first floor. He hopes that maybe someone might be in there, even though he can’t see any lights on from the street. It would be faster if there were someone inside the store, because then he wouldn’t have to look for a door to the second floor in the dark.
He doesn’t see anything.
He’ll have to look around the building, then.
It’s then that he hears voices.
“I’m tellin’ ya. Waste of our time,” says a man’s voice.
“Shaddap. We got our orders,” says a second man.
The voices are echoing so much that Alex can’t tell where they’re coming from. He closes his eye and listens very, very hard.
“We’re in the middle of fucking nowhere,” the first man says. “There’s no way in hell they’re gonna be riding through here. This town ain’t anywhere near a real road.”
“We had a sweet deal in Vegas. At least there we could’ve had fun while we waited,” a third man says.
Across the street. The voices are coming from one of the buildings across the street, Alex realizes. Whoever they are, they’re fighting about something. It doesn’t matter. They’ll stop as soon as he asks them for help.
“Well you can thank Johnny for that,” says a fourth man.
“Hey! Stop blaming me!” a fifth man says. “All I did was ask—”
Alex runs toward the voices. “Help! Hey, you there! Help! I’ve been kidnapped!”
The voices stop.
Alex stops in the middle of the street. He knows he shouldn’t, but he hasn’t seen a single car since Spike parked in front of the diner. He’s not really sure where the voices are coming from anyway, so maybe it’s better if they come to him. “Hello?” he calls out.
“Well, well. What have we here?” a man’s voice says.
The voice is coming from his blind side, so Alex turns his head. There’s a short Chinese man leaning against the front of the building. He has his arms crossed and he’s looking at Alex. Something about the Chinese man makes Alex feel nervous, but whoever he is, the Chinese man has to be better than Spike.
Even though Alex was the one who asked for help, he stays where he is. “I need help,” he calls out to the Chinese man. “I need to call the police, because I don’t have a phone.”
“I don’t believe it,” the Chinese man says. He then goes back into the alley.
“Hey! Wait!” Alex yells as he runs to the other side of the street. “Don’t leave! I need to talk to you!”
When his feet land on the sidewalk, six men are leaving the alley.
“Well, I’ll be dipped in shit,” says a tall blond man.
Alex doesn’t like the way they’re looking at him and he starts backing away. “I need to call the police. I’m in a lot of trouble,” he says.
When the men look at each other, Alex realizes that none of them are going to let him call the police. He knows it’s stupid to think it, but he thinks that maybe they think he’s this Zander guy that Spike thinks he is when Spike is acting crazy.
“Dude, are you sure this is him?” asks a black man.
“I’m sure,” the Chinese man says. “Look at him.”
A man with black hair pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket. He looks at it before looking at Alex. “It looks like him.”
“You know what? I can fix it myself,” Alex says as he keeps backing away. He doesn’t like the way they keep taking a step forward for every step he takes back. “I don’t need the police. I can just go into the diner and ask for help.”
“Nah, you don’t have to do that,” says the black guy. “We can help you out.”
“Sure,” the Chinese guy says. “We’re the local good Samaritans. I bet you’ve got car trouble, right? Follow us and we’ll take you right to a mechanic. No point in dragging some poor cop out of bed or bothering diner patrons.”
The two guys who haven’t said anything yet nudge each other and start laughing.
“I have to go,” Alex says. He turns around and starts to run. Pain shoots up and down his back when he does it, but he doesn’t dare stop running. He doesn’t know why, but he knows that these guys are going to kill him if they catch him.
“Get him!” someone shouts behind him.
Alex doesn’t get very far before a hand grabs him by the shoulder. Instead trying to shake off the hand, Alex spins around with his wooden tent peg raised. When he’s facing the man who grabbed him (it’s the tall blond man), he stabs the wooden tent peg forward right into the man’s chest.
For a moment all Alex can do is stare at his hand around the handle of the wooden tent peg. The tall blond guy looks down at the wooden tent peg in his chest before he looks up at Alex. He seems very surprised. Then he crumbles into dust.
Alex drops the wooden tent peg and stares at where the man was. The other men are forming a circle around him. He doesn’t blame them. He just killed one of their friends.
Then it hits him: He killed someone.
“Oh, yeah,” the black man says. “This is the right guy.”
Alex thinks he’s going to throw up. He wraps his arms around his middle and he bends over. He killed someone. He’s a killer. Now they’re going to kill him. He closes his eye and waits.
Suddenly, he hears a roar.
Alex cringes where he is. That must be the signal to kill him.
Someone bumps into him and he falls down on the ground. That’s when he opens his eye and sees…
It’s Spike! Spike is fighting the five men all by himself!
Alex slowly gets to his feet. While Spike is busy fighting the men, he can run to the diner and call the police. He’ll have to tell the police that he killed someone, and that means he’ll have to go to jail. But he should be in jail. He did an evil thing.
One of the men who is fighting Spike looks at him. There’s something wrong with his face. It’s all scrunched up and ugly and his eyes are yellow. He looks a lot like some of the monsters Alex has seen in his nightmares, the ones that turn to a cloud of dust when he kills them.
Spike grabs one of the men by the head and three of the other men surround Spike so that Alex can’t see what’s happening.
The man who was looking at Alex doesn’t join the other three around Spike. Instead, he starts running towards Alex.
It’s the last thing Alex sees before everything goes black.
When Alex Hill can see the world again, he’s sitting on the ground, leaning against a brick wall, and shaking. Spike is crouched in front of him looking very scared.
“C’mon, mate, I need you to snap out of it. Say something. Can you understand a bleeding thing? D’ya hear a blessed word I’m sayin’?” Spike’s voice sounds a little too high. “Jus’ nod your head. You don’t have to talk.”
Alex’s eye feels itchy, like he’s been walking around a very dusty room.
Dust, Alex thinks, he turned into dust when I killed him, just like some of the monsters in my nightmares.
Alex lifts his hand to wipe his eye and realizes that he’s holding the wooden tent peg. He doesn’t know how it’s possible. He dropped it after…after...
Alex throws the wooden tent peg away from him with a yell.
Spike falls backwards and lands on his butt.
That’s when Alex starts feeling pain. His back hurts so much that he thinks he’s probably bleeding again. All his muscles are really, really sore. He has a very bad headache.
He can taste blood in his mouth.
Alex rolls himself sideways so that when he throws up, he won’t throw up on himself. He doesn’t know how long it takes to throw up every pot noodle he’s ever eaten, but by the time he’s done and all he can do is gag, he can feel Spike’s cool hand on the back of his neck.
“You’re going to be okay,” Spike says softly. “We’re going to be okay. Just let it out, unh, so to speak, yeah? You’ll be fine soon’s we get out of here.”
Alex backs away from the pool of vomit on his hands and knees. He’s shaking so hard, that he’s afraid that he’ll collapse and land face-first into it.
Spike helps him sit up. “What happened?” he asks. He doesn’t sound angry. He sounds gentle, like he’s afraid Alex is going to break into a million pieces.
Alex doesn’t know why Spike is trying to be nice. He already feels broken apart. There’s nothing Spike can do to him that’s worse than this.
“’S my fault,” Spike says. “I underestimated you. Should’ve realized that you’re still you, even if you don’t know who you are and who I am. Should’ve made those ropes tight and—”
“I won’t run away anymore,” Alex says. His throat feels like it’s burning.
Spike grabs him by the shoulder and stares very hard into his face. “Xander?” he asks.
Alex screws up his courage and asks, “Are you going to kill me?”
Spike lets go. He looks very confused and disappointed. “Kill you? Now why on earth would I kill you? I thought I made it clear from the get-go that I’m protecting you. If I wanted to kill you, I’d’ve done it back in that hovel you called home. I’d have to be a bit thick if I went through all this trouble just to kill you, wouldn’t I?”
“You said you had a gun,” Alex says.
“A gun? I don’t have a gun. Wouldn’t do a bit of good anyhow even if I did, but…Where did you get that idea?”
“You kept talking about pulling the trigger,” Alex points out.
Spike sighs and shakes his head. “Was talkin’ ’bout something else entirely.”
Spike shakes his head again. “A very long story. Too long to get into here. I hate to rush you given your state o’ mind, but we’ve got to go. Sooner or later someone’ll come looking when their minions don’t check in, and it’s best if we’re elsewhere when that happens.”
“I need to go to the police,” Alex says.
“What? Why?” Spike asks as he gets to his feet. “I thought we just established that I’m not some thick-o who’d drag you across purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain just to—”
“I killed someone,” Alex interrupts. Alex can feel something inside his head curl into a ball and whimper when he says that. “I have to tell. I did something bad and I have to go to jail.”
Spike freezes. “You’ve been a busy l’il beaver, then. Where did you find the time to kill someone?”
“I killed one of those men before you came,” Alex answers.
Spike stares down at him like he’s not sure he believes Alex. “Actually you dusted more than — actually, no, I’m not sure you were you because you were in a trance when — what I mean is there’s —” He throws up his hands. “Oh, balls. I can’t even begin to deal with this.”
Alex slowly gets up. “I have to go.”
Spike grabs him by the arm. “Wait. Before we go doing anything rash, I need you to think on this. Half the planet’s nasties are after you. If you stop in one place for too long, they will find you and tear you to bits. Understand?”
“I deserve it,” Alex whispers.
“No. You. Don’t,” Spike says. “An’ you didn’t kill anyone. Now it’s best if you listen to me on this. No matter what you thought you saw, you did not kill anyone. Trust me on that point of fact.”
Alex opens his mouth to say that he did so kill someone, but Spike interrupts.
“Not now. Later. I’ll explain how that’s possible later.” Spike lets him go and walks a few steps down the alley. He bends down and picks up the wooden tent peg that Alex tossed away. When he comes back, he forces Alex to hold it. “In the meantime, I want you to keep this on you at all times. Don’t let it out of your hand. You might need that to protect yourself.”
Alex shakes his head no, but Spike grabs him by both arms. Spike squeezes his arms so hard that it hurts a little bit.
“Listen to me,” Spike says. His voice is very tense, but it doesn’t sound angry. “If they find you, they’ll kill you. Now maybe you don’t care about that, but if they kill you they’ll kill me right along with you.”
Alex stops shaking his head and looks at Spike.
Spike swallows. “It’s like this, see? I’m protecting you, which means that they have to get through me to get to you. And they’ll do that over my…over my…unh, dead body. That’s right. Over my dead body. If you carry that stake, then you’ll be able to protect me if I need it, and the way things keep goin’ pear-shaped you jus’ might have to. You don’t want them to kill me dead…er, do you?”
“No,” Alex quietly says.
Spike drops his hands and looks away. “Why am I not surprised that you’d see it that way?”
“Where are we going to go?” Alex quietly asks.
“L.A.’s still the plan,” Spike says, “only I’m going to see about getting some help. We might have to take on passengers somewheres along the way. Coughing up more muscle to protect you is the least those bastards can do. Hell, with that. We need a bleedin’ army, but there’s no point in askin’ for miracles.”
“Is all of this happening because everyone thinks I’m Zander?” Alex asks.
Spike closes his eyes and shakes his head. He looks like he wants to cry. “C’mon. We can’t stand around bleating at each other all night,” he says in a gruff voice.
“Okay,” Alex whispers.
Spike nods as he turns and walks away. On his way to the street, he stops long enough to kick a trashcan over. When it’s down, Spike kicks it again so it bounces off the brick wall. Then he stomps through the trash like he’s Godzilla and walks the rest of the way out of the alley.
He doesn’t look back.
Alex hesitates for a moment as he clutches the wooden tent peg in his right hand. He really should go to the police and confess what he did. But if he stays, then Spike will have to stay, and that means the monsters and bad men will find both of them. Then Spike might get killed trying to protect him. It’s Alex’s fault that he got all mixed up and thought that Spike was the one who wanted to hurt him. Spike shouldn’t have to suffer because he was wrong.
Besides, he’s the killer. He’s the one that deserves to die, not Spike.