Alex Hill’s eye snaps open and he sits bolt upright when he hears Spike yelling.
“…kitten! You’ve turned him into a bleeding kitten!” Spike’s voice yells. “Worse! You’ve ripped out all ’is teeth and declawed ’im while you were at it! What’m I supposed to do with him? Hunh? What’m I supposed to do?”
Spike is pacing back and forth on the walkway outside their hotel room. Spike’s got one hand up to his ear, so he’s probably talking into a cell phone. The other hand is holding a cigarette, which Spike keeps bringing up to his mouth.
Alex quickly lies back down before Spike notices that he’s awake. His back aches a little bit (but not nearly as much as he thinks it should, especially since he sat up so quickly), so he squirms a little until it aches a little bit less than it did. He even partially closes his eye. It’s open enough so that he can kind of watch Spike, even though Spike is a little blurry, but it’s closed enough that he’ll be able to fool Spike into thinking that he’s still sleeping in case Spike looks into the room.
Alex is surprised that the drapes are open; especially since Spike has never opened the drapes of any hotel room they’ve stayed in. Still, Spike must’ve opened the drapes at some point, because they were closed tight before Alex fell asleep while Spike sat in a chair. Alex isn’t sure why Spike decided to sit in a chair instead of getting into the other bed. He would have asked, but he was still too upset to talk to Spike. He didn't even when Spike forced a glass of water into Alex’s hand and told Alex to drink the whole thing down (Spike didn’t say “drink the water or else,” mostly because he didn’t have to) before Alex got into bed.
It’s a good thing the window’s cracked open, too, because Alex can hear everything Spike says. Alex remembers that Spike cracked open the window after Spike realized that the air conditioner didn’t work. Spike told Alex it was too close to dawn for him to leave the room and that he was too tired to go complain to the front desk about it anyway. Spike said they’d have to just live with the window being open even though the breeze was strong enough to move the drapes.
Alex can also see that it’s already dark out, so that means Spike let Alex sleep longer than usual. Alex is pretty sure that Spike always woke him up as soon as the sun set, so that means Spike has probably been arguing with whomever he’s talking to on the cell phone for a very long time.
“Don’t you start with me,” Spike yells. “Don’t even start with that shite! You go talk to Maddie. You can chat with what’s left of her.”
Maddie? Alex wonders. Who’s Maddie?
“You heard me,” Spike yells. “She forgot to give him that blasted book.”
Alex frowns. Is Spike talking about how Ms. Smythe would give him books to read when she’d see him? But the person who gave him books to read was Ms. Smythe, not someone named Maddie. Or is that Mad-y? Maybe it’s Maddy.
“No book, no trigger. Now there’s a clever plan, yeah? Make the whole house of cards depend on him gettin’ the latest book, and him actually crackin’ the spine so’s he can absorb it.” Spike’s not quite yelling, but he still sounds really mad.
Spike stops pacing and there’s a long period of silence. Alex guesses that Spike’s listening to whomever he’s talking to.
Spike starts laughing. He bends over a little, which isn’t surprising because he’s laughing so hard. The hand with the cigarette in it is waving in the air. The red, glowing end looks almost like it’s leaving a trail, which gives Alex the illusion that there’s a small red crack forming in the night sky. Alex’s heart starts pounding and he feels very afraid. His eye pops open all the way and he opens his mouth to scream at Spike that he can see a red crack forming near him. But as soon as his eye is open all the way, the red crack disappears. Now it looks just like what it’s supposed to look like: Spike waving his cigarette around while he laughs and laughs.
Alex shuts his mouth and squints his eye half-closed again.
“Riiiiight. I drag some poor bloke on an airplane who’s convinced I mean ’im harm,” Spike finally says. “Do I have to remind you that the plan assumed that Maddie’d be draggin’ Harris onto that redeye flight? Not that there’d be draggin’ to do in that case. I’m fairly certain Harris would’ve jumped on the first ticket out of town just so he could leave that miserable life behind.”
There’s a beat of silence and then Spike explodes.
“I arsed it up? Me?” Spike yells. “I’m not even supposed to be involved with this bit of it! My job was to guard Harris’s arse until he was safe an’ sound at the airport back in Philly, not run all over hell and creation with— No! I could not—”
Spike mimes throwing a punch.
“As I keep tryin’ to tell you you, what I’ve got on my hands is another animal entirely!” Spike’s yelling even louder. “All it would’ve taken is one funny look outta him, an’ we’d’ve been sittin’ in a little metal room on little metal chairs and chatting up some rather large Geordies with broken noses and very thick necks. You do understand the concept of fish inna barrel, yeah? ’Cause that’s just the scenario that—”
Spike suddenly stops. After a few seconds, he tilts his head and finally says, “Well it’s bleedin’ nice to hear you finally admit it.”
Spike starts pacing again. He brings the cigarette up to his mouth and puffs on it.
Alex winces. He isn’t looking forward to sitting in the car with Spike stinking like he’s smoked a million packs of cigarettes.
Spike stops pacing. “Well, now there I think I’ve got it sussed.” Spike sounds much calmer. “As it turns out, our boy has been havin’—”
Spike suddenly stops talking. Alex wonders how Spike was going to finish the sentence.
“What?” Spike yells into the phone. “When?”
Alex quickly shuts his eye. Spike sounds furious.
“Tosser was most likely dusted as soon as they got the information they wanted, so justice served,” Spike says. “What leaves me boggling is that you let Andrew in on where he was. All mouth and no brain that one. Can’t see how turnin’ would fix that.”
Alex cracks open his eye again. Spike is standing with his back to the window.
“Oh. Well. You should’ve realized he’d make an educated guess. And need I remind you that 24 cities is a damn sight smaller than the big, wide world, innit?” Spike asks as he shakes his head. “Doesn’t change my theory overmuch anyhow. Turns out you missed somethin’. Dreams. Bad ones. One in particular sounded familiar. Caleb left quite the impression, didn’t he?”
Alex frowns. Spike’s talking about his bad dreams? Why? And who’s Caleb?
“Yeah, well, ’pears your boy wasn’t buried as deep as you thought.” Spike is pacing again. “Aside from the dreams, he’s been breakin’ out here and there. No, not often. We had a bit of a to-do with some vampires where he went into this, I dunno what to call it. Trance? Fugue state? Somethin’ o’ that nature, at any rate…”
Spike’s voice trails off and he stops talking. He keeps pacing back and forth as he flicks the last of his cigarette over the railing.
“Ahhh, ’splains that, then. An’ you should know, that didn’t work right, either,” Spike suddenly says. “Turns out he dusted one good an’ proper ’fore it kicked in. Put ’im in a bad state. Was convinced he killed someone. Had a hell of a time explainin’ reality. Still not sure if he really believes me. Honestly, I can’t tell you what he believes and doesn’t. The way you lot twisted ’im around, I can’t figure out the way his mind works at all.”
Alex feels like he’s going to throw up. Spike is talking about the vampires to someone. He doesn’t want Spike to talk about what happened, not to anyone.
Spike stops pacing and shakes his head again. “Other than that? Broke through once. I’d bet the last bag of O-poz on the planet that he was mouthin’ off at me for a few seconds there. Lookin’ back, I think there was one other time right at the beginnin’. Hard to say, really. He was havin’ a bit of a panic, thinkin’ that he was bein’ kidnapped. Turns out he thought I was gonna drag him out into the woods and murder him as well. Didn’t pick up on it at the time, but…yeah, I dunno for sure.”
Spike starts rubbing his head. Alex holds his breath and hopes really hard that Spike doesn’t turn all the way around and look into the room.
“This is getting us nowhere,” Spike says. “I need that army, an’ I need to break Harris out. There’s too much turbulence between here and L.A., and right about now I could use Harris’s full wits to lend a hand. So give me a new tri—”
Spike’s free hand drops to his side. “Then why on earth did you want me to— Right. Right. So we could get him out with minimal fuss.” Spike starts pacing again. “I don’t like it. Can see it, but I still don’t like it.”
Alex closes his eye all the way and suppresses the urge to scream. Without knowing what the other person is saying, he doesn’t have a hope of finding out what’s going on.
“What? No. Absolutely not, no.” Spike sounds really frustrated. “You can’t be— That’s not the point! You can’t expect me to—”
Alex’s eye pops open. He can see Spike’s profile.
“Fine.” Spike drops his head so much that it looks like his chin is touching his neck. “I’ll just keep reinforcin’ it, but I think…I want that army, Rupert.”
Alex fights a smile. He’s got a name. Okay, it doesn’t do him any good, but at least he knows the name of the person Spike is talking to.
Spike turns away and looks up, like he’s looking at the sky. “Only thing better ’n an army is an army with flamethrowers.”
Alex silently agrees, especially if that army is going to protect him and Spike from the monsters.
“Better than that. Weeeeeeell, I can’t wait to see that.” Alex can tell that Spike is making fun of Rupert. “It should be something, yessirree. I look forward to whatever addle-brained—”
Spike tilts his head. “Now?” Spike asks. “I’ve been on this phone a bit too—”
Spike starts pacing again. “Alright, alright. Keep your hair on. Guess the folks in Philly weren’t very clear on what happened.”
Spike suddenly stops moving. He’s so still, that Alex thinks that maybe this time Spike really did turn into a statue.
“All of ’em? That can’t be right.” Spike’s voice is so soft that Alex has to strain to hear what Spike is saying. “There were more ’n three dozen people there. Not one? Are you sure?”
Spike’s shoulders slump, like he’s heard the worst news ever. “The town we just left, too? How many people—” Spike stops speaking and he brings his free hand up to run it through his hair. “That’s a long, bloody trail we’ve got there.”
Spike starts pacing again, but much slower this time. Spike’s head is down, like he’s really, really sad. “Bleedin’ hell. That town, too? How many people were— Well, we had to stop there for two days on account of his injuries. Knew we shouldn’t have done it, but I didn’t think—”
Something in the pit of Alex’s stomach goes cold. All he can think is that everything’s gone wrong, and it’s all his fault that it went wrong. He doesn’t know why he thinks that it’s all his fault, but the thought is right there in his head. He’s got to stop…he’s got to stop…he’s got to stop doing something.
Except Alex doesn’t know what he needs to stop doing.
Spike stops moving, but he doesn’t turn away. “Ask me, that butcher’s bill is getting a bit rich. It’ll destroy him when he finds out. Well, I don’t plan to tell ’im, but you can bet someone will let slip somethin’ when this is over.”
Alex wants to curl into a ball and cry and cry, although he can’t say why he wants to cry. It isn’t like anyone has died. As far as he knows, he’s the only one who’s even gotten hurt. Spike hasn’t been hurt at all. But the way Spike is acting, like Rupert has told him someone has died, is making Alex think that someone really has died.
Spike nods. “Organized. I don’t like it. You’d think the vampires at least would have a spot of brains. If that portal blows open it’s bottom of the food chain, make no mistake. You’d think the last thing any of them would want is for the worst to happen, yeah?”
Spike starts pacing again. “Well, not expectin’ a helpin’ hand, no. That’d be askin’ too much. But you’d think at least they’d stay out of our way. Well, it’s self-interest, innit? Who wants to give up bein’ top of the food chain? Oh, don’t you start. Even without the soul I could suss out that much. I swear the lot you see around these days have the brains of turnips. If they think for a moment they’re going to be lordin’ it over anything when the real big nasties start stompin’ on everything in sight, they should bally well think again. I blame poor raw materials m’self. Too many bloody sires too afraid of smart minions, that’s the problem right there. Either that, or too many sires are too blasted lazy to raise the minions up proper.”
Spike stops pacing. “I’m tellin’ you. Fear. Laziness. And rampant, blinding stupidity. Only way to explain the precipitous drop in vampire quality.” Spike not only sounds like he’s very sure that he’s right, but that he’s really unhappy about it.
Alex makes a face. He can’t help it. Why would Spike care about vampires being stupid? Isn’t it better if vampires are stupid? Alex doesn’t know anything about vampires, but he’s pretty sure that stupid vampires would be easier to kill. So, it seems to him that the more stupid vampires there are, the better off everyone is.
“Near as I can tell, he’s been havin’ those dreams since the get-go,” Spike says. “No. Accordin’ to him, he never said a word to a blessed soul about them until this past Saturday. Yeah, the reg’lar meet ’n greet with Maddie.”
Alex’s eye pops open all the way. Maddie, or Maddy, or Mad-y must be Ms. Smythe. There’s no one else it can be.
“Now, piecin’ together what I witnessed, and what he told me, and what you just told me here, I think I’ve got a pretty good picture,” Spike says. “After Andrew got turned and pointed ’em right at those 24 suspect cities, they must’ve sent out some, I dunno, witches maybe. Or demons with the psychic touch. Anyway, somethin’ that could get a whiff of him, mystically speakin’.”
Spike starts pacing again. “Well, what I can tell you is I was already settled in and we were makin’ plans to grab him off the street when Maddie called. No. Said she couldn’t talk on the phone, but she sounded like she was in a panic. Yeah. Said she’d be right over to explain in person. I figure that would’ve been right after he told her.”
Alex is lost again. What was Ms. Smythe panicking about? Alex’s bad dreams? But that doesn’t make any sense. They’re just bad dreams.
Although, Ms. Smythe did act very weird after Alex told her about his bad dreams. So, maybe she really was even more scared than Alex thought. He doesn’t understand why she’d be so scared that she’d call someone Alex didn’t even know so she could talk about them.
“Not for hours. Well, traffic for a start. And there was a fire. It was on her regular route to the house. We thought she got held up, and—” Spike nods. “Yeah, well, could’ve been a trap.”
Alex frowns. Spike said Ms. Smythe was killed by monsters, not burned in a fire.
It’s then that he realizes that Spike really was telling the truth about Ms. Smythe. Alex blinks back the tears in his good eye, even though he feels there are tears leaking out of his eye socket and gathering under the eyepatch. He stuffs a hand in his mouth to stop himself from making any sound.
“Well, we didn’t think of it at the time, did we?” Spike throws a punch in the air. “No one spotted anythin’ unusual. Guards outside his building checked in reg’lar, and they were reporting the all-clear. Patrols came across just the usual. No sign of anythin’ out of the ordinary at all.”
Ms. Smythe is dead, Alex thinks. She’s really dead and he’ll never, ever see her again. He’ll never talk to her about his favorite television shows or comic books. She’ll never ask him about work or the gym or AA. They’re never going to go for coffee. They’re never going to sit outside when it’s a nice day and watch people.
She’s gone, gone, gone and he doesn’t understand why.
“For your information, everyone was on high alert, ’specially since we were movin’ into the endgame,” Spike says angrily. “Well, yeah, maybe we should’ve started worryin’ sooner, but—”
Ms. Smythe is dead because of Zander, Alex thinks. It has to be. All the monsters think that Alex is really Zander. Spike sometimes gets confused and thinks Alex is Zander, too. Somehow, the monsters must’ve thought Ms. Smythe would be able to tell them about Zander and they killed her because she couldn’t tell them anything.
It’s right at that moment that Alex decides that he really hates Zander, whoever Zander is. Alex decides that if he ever meets Zander, he’s going to beat Zander up. Maybe he’ll beat up Zander so bad that he’ll kill him.
Alex knows that he won’t feel guilty at all if he beats up Zander. He won’t even feel guilty if he kills Zander, not even a little bit. Because it’s all Zander’s fault that Ms. Smythe is dead and all these bad things have happened to Alex.
“Don’t tell me we arsed it up!” Spike shouts. “I know that now, don’t I? Figured that bit of it out when the whole blasted City of Brotherly Love turned into a war zone.”
Spike starts laughing, but it’s not a nice laugh. Alex cringes. He knows what that laugh means. Spike is very, very angry.
“You should’ve seen it, Rupert,” Spike says. “All around him it’s goin’ to hell inna hand basket an’ he hasn’t got a clue. He just flitted from place to place, going about his day like it’s any other, and not one jot of trouble even registered. You blinded that boy. ’S criminal, that’s what it is.”
Alex bites his lip out of frustration. He can understand that there was some kind of trouble, probably right before Spike showed up in his apartment, but he can’t figure out anything else. If this were the movies, Spike would be explaining everything to Rupert and Alex would be able to just listen in and find out what was going on.
Except that this isn’t the movies, and Spike isn’t making any sense, and Alex can’t make heads or tails of anything Spike says.
“Honestly? Don’t know,” Spike says. “Maddie was already ripped apart by the time they found her. Given how close they were on our tail when we high-tailed it out of Philly, I thought she might’ve done.”
Alex wants to block his ears. He wants to pretend that he never heard this entire conversation. If he hadn’t heard this conversaton, he could still pretend that Ms. Smythe was really alive (even though Spike did tell Alex that she was dead). Now he can’t pretend. That’s bad enough, but hearing how she died…
Alex decides that he doesn’t want to hear the words “ripped apart” anywhere near Ms. Smythe’s name ever again.
Spike tilts his head. “After we left? About a half-hour behind us, give or take. Not much of the building was left standin’ from what I gather. Last I heard on the news, the locals are blamin’ gang warfare.” Spike snorts. “Right. Love to know how a human gang could tear down a four story walk-up brick-by-sodding brick with their bare hands, but there you go.”
Alex frowns as he tries to puzzle out everything Spike has said. No matter how hard he tries, though, he just can’t. And nothing Spike says explains how Alex got mixed up in whatever is going on.
“There’s an alternative,” Spike says. “Turns out he had one of those bad dreams of his the very day I grabbed him.”
Alex doesn’t bother trying to keep his eye half-closed. Now it’s wide open.
“So it is possible they honed right in on him because of that. Hate to say it, but I like it better than the idea that Maddie talked,” Spike says. “He says he hasn’t had any of those dreams since we buggered off to the hinterlands, but I’m not too sure I believe ’im. It’s hard t’ get around the fact we were just ambushed in the middle of nowhere. I’m keeping a sharp eye on him, just to be sure.”
Alex is tempted to jump to his feet and storm out of the room and yell at Spike. He hasn’t had any of his bad dreams at all since he was knocked out by Spike. He was telling the truth.
Spike checks his watch. “We’ll be there. And Rupert, don’t bother calling. Cell’s getting destroyed soon’s I hang up.”
Alex quickly closes his eye. He tries to slow down his breathing, too. He remembers that he used to pretend to be asleep all the time when he was a little kid. He used to be really, really good at it. He’s pretty sure he can fool Spike.
“And don’t forget that army,” Spike says.
Alex swallows and waits with his eye closed.
There’s the sound of a crash, like Spike’s thrown something against a wall.
The sound startles Alex so badly that he’s half out of bed before he realizes that he’s no longer lying down with his eye closed.
“Awake are you?”
Alex looks up and sees Spike standing in the open doorway. There’s no expression on Spike’s face. He’s just looking at Alex.
Alex doesn’t say anything as he tries to breathe through the thudding ache in his back.
“How much of that did you hear?” Spike asks.
“I-I-I heard a crash and I woke up,” Alex lies.
“Bollocks,” Spikes says.
Spike steps closer and tilts his head. “You don’t look like you just woke up. Don’t smell it, either. So, how much did you hear?”
“N-n-nothing,” Alex stutters.
Spike starts to look angry. “You best tell me the truth.”
Alex swallows and starts to shake. Spike is madder than Alex has ever seen him. “Kittens. You were yelling about kittens.”
Spike seems to relax a little. “As much as all that? Well, how much did you understand?”
Alex looks down. “That Ms. Smythe really is dead.”
There’s the sound of movement.
Alex quickly looks up.
Spike is standing a little closer. Alex can see that Spike’s mouth is shut really, really tight and his eyes are narrowed a little bit.
Alex doesn’t dare say anything. He’s afraid that Spike will just madder.
“Get dressed,” Spike finally says. “We’ve got to go.”
Alex doesn’t want to go, not until he really understands why Ms. Smythe is dead and why all these bad things keep happening to him. He decides that maybe if he delays Spike long enough, maybe Spike will explain everything to Alex so Alex will move faster. “All my clothes are dirty.”
Spike’s hands curl into fists. “We’re not goin’ too far. We’ll only be on the road for two, three hours at most. We’ll hand scrub your things when we get to where we’re going.”
Alex tries again. “I’m hungry.”
“We’ll eat when we get there.”
Alex gets to his feet and looks Spike in the eye. “I haven’t eaten anything in days, except for soup. And I didn’t eat anything at all yesterday.”
Spike stares back. “Then I’ll get you a packet of peanuts from the vending machine before we go. We’ll get somethin’ substantial to eat when we reach our destination. Now get dressed.”
“Tell me what’s going on!” Alex yells. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me—”
Spike moves so fast that next thing Alex knows, Spike is right in his face. Spike is grimacing so hard, that Alex wonders if Spike’s about to turn into a monster right in front of his eye.
“I’ll explain everything to you as soon’s we get to where we’re going,” Spike says through clenched teeth.
Alex takes a step back. He’s shaking very hard, although he’s not sure if he’s shaking because he’s mad or because he’s scared. He thinks that maybe he’s both mad and scared, and that’s why he’s shaking.
“Tell me now,” Alex says.
Spike throws up his hands. “Well, I have to figure out how to tell you, don’t I? I need time to think on how to do it properly.”
“Just tell me!” Alex shouts. “I’m not stupid and I’m sick of you treating me like I am. I bet I can understand everything if you’d just—”
“It’s because you don’t know what’s what!” Spike roars at him.
Alex’s mouth snaps shut.
Spike glares at him. “Now, you’ll get your full explanation. You’ll get all of it. But I’ve got to figure out how to tell you on account of the fact that,” here Spike makes a face, “you’ve never dealt with monsters before. Got to figure out how to explain it, don’t I? Don’t want to have you misunderstanding anything.”
“Still don’t know why you can’t just tell me now,” Alex grumbles.
Spike makes a growling sound. “Fine. Be a stubborn arse. You want to stay put? You go right on ahead. Me? I’m leaving. So you can stay here all by your lonesome and face those monsters on your own when they come knockin’.”
Alex jerks his head up and stares at Spike.
Spike looks like he’s being serious. “If you’re comin’, you’ve got 20 minutes to get dressed and pack your things. As for me, I’ve got to nick a car. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll cross paths with some poor sod and I’ll just pick his pocket for the keys. Either way, be in front of this godforsaken hole in 20, or I drive off and leave you here.”
Alex desperately looks around the room. Spike wouldn’t leave him here, would he?
“Twenty minutes,” Spike repeats.
When Spike leaves the room, he slams the door.