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Ronin
Part 2
Author: Cynthia Martin
Rating: R
Summary: Spike, Andrew, Dana, post AtS, AU/no spoilers
Feedback: ycymartin@cox.net
Note: Thanks to Barb

****

Spike had never seen an uglier town. It made Sunnydale look like Shangri-La. At midnight heat was still boiling up in waves from the sun-cooked asphalt, withering the leprous palms. Every corner and every street was the same, an endless succession of discount tire joints, taco stands and 24 hour supermarkets. Dark figures loitered outside taverns, shouting and laughing. Music boomed from rolling SUVs. Televisions flickered behind windows with wrought-iron bars, and the smell of tortillas and fish sauce drifted like a fog.

Here it was as if nothing had happened. 20 miles over the hill Los Angeles was a smoking pyre, but no hint of horror or loss disturbed the trashcan rhythms of the San Fernando night. Here everything was blinking shopsigns and creeping cars and ugly, insulated, selfish peace. By the time they had cruised Sepulveda from Roscoe to Brand and back, Spike was seething.

"So? What happens now?" he demanded.

"Patience, my friend," murmured Andrew. "We're on the hunt."

"I know hunts. You don't. As hunts go, this sucks, Andrew."

"There have been unexplained incidents in this corridor," replied Andrew sagely.

"So, what, we're going to drive around until she jumps on the roof?"

"She's a cunning predator, and more than a match for ordinary trackers. I'm following a hunch."

"A hunch," muttered Spike, drumming his fingers.

Andrew signaled and moved carefully into the left lane. "Exactamundo. I get hunches now, and follow my instincts. Mr. Giles said that to be an effective Watcher I should let go my conscious mind and reach out with the Force... well, he didn't say it exactly like that, but I knew what he meant."

A squad car pulled into traffic behind them.

"How'd she get loose, Andrew? How'd she come to be your personal mission?"

"I'm thinking," said Andrew, glancing nervously in the sideview mirror, "that such a delicate question should be answered back at basecamp, Spike. We need to stay frosty out here."

The warning lights on the roof of the police cruiser began to spin silently. The siren burped, a short blatt of challenge.

"Oh, God," said Andrew. "Oh, God."

"I thought as much. You muffed it, didn't you? You tried to take a thorn out of her paw and she scarpered. That's what comes of going soft, Andrew. You're lucky she didn't chop off your --"

"Spike. There's a cop back there."

"Yeah? And?"

"He's pulling us over," quavered Andrew.

"Huh?" Spike twisted, wincing and annoyed. "Why the fuck should he?"

Andrew was staring into the rearview, quaking. "Atmosphere of terror, Spike. A baffling catastrophe levels downtown Los Angeles. Death follows on a mass scale. Paranoia, confusion, and, well, we're driving a suspicious van." Andrew's hands fluttered on the steering wheel. "I never should have borrowed the van."

"He can't pull us over just for driving a --"

Andrew hit the gas and the van lurched, tires squealing.

"Brilliant," sighed Spike. "And off we go."

The van whined as it struggled to accelerate. Andrew fought it across several lanes and cut into a parking lot, ramming through a tangle of shopping carts as pedestrians fled. "I'm wearing four tranquilizer guns, two bandoliers of ammo, six explosive gas caps and an electric net," panted Andrew. "I can't let Chuck roll me now. If Imperial Troops board this vessel the mission's over."

Another cruiser joined the pursuit, followed by a third. Sirens howled through the rushing night as Spike lowered the window. "Right, the mission," he sighed. "Look, Andrew, find a place to ditch this boat, and run. I can hold off a few miserable cops."

"Never!"

"Don't be a git."

"I'll never leave you!" cried Andrew, as the van bounced off a service road and wallowed up a loose grade, tires spitting gravel.

"Train," said Spike.

"If you go, I go," chanted Andrew.

"Train!" roared Spike, and dove for the wheel.

The van slewed right. A locomotive roared down on them in a cataract of silver noise. It clipped the van's bumper, knocking it back and sending it into a slow, dreamy spin. Loose comics and Slim Jim wrappers filled the cab. The van rolled, tumbling down the incline and onto the flat in a shower of glass and dirt and gravel.

Spike opened his eyes. The door was above him, like a skylight. The sirens were louder. He pulled himself out and yanked Andrew free, hustling him away from the van and into the shadow of a loading dock.

"Andrew!" Spike shook him. "Andrew!"

Andrew's eyes rolled. Spike cuffed him, once.

"Andrew!"

"Ow!"

"Andrew, you have to beat it. Go on."

Three black and whites screamed into the lot at the far end, gunning for the van.

Andrew burst into tears and clung, protesting. Spike resisted the urge to punt him over the tracks.

"Andrew, go on now. Find your Slayer. I'll catch you up."

And then Spike gave him a good hard shove and stepped out to meet the forces of John Law.

It turned out to be a long overdue spot of entertainment -- sliding into gameface with a roar, sailing headfirst into a knot of cops, going down with them like a scatter of ninepins. Made a bloke forget, for a moment. Took a lad's mind right off things. It was a rare and precious balm to watch the disbelief and shock as patrolmen emptied their clips, to hear their rising panic as they shouted and called for backup.

Didn't dislike the tossers, didn't grudge them their duty. Couldn't bring himself to actually do much harm, what with all the inhibitions and conscience and shackling devotion to Goodness lurking in his marrow. But a bit of mayhem to buy time for Andrew was apparently just fine with the soul, so Spike spread himself within those holy limits: heaving patrolmen about, tipping cars, taking a few bullets and making as much fuss as possible. It was a touch of relaxation he hadn't tasted in months.

When he heard more sirens wailing over the distant ash heaps, though, Spike judged the hour full and abandoned the field. A running leap and a drainpipe took him to a rooftop, and that rooftop led to another, and another. He landed badly once and when he rose there were three dots of light converging on him from the heavens: it put him in mind of Angelus and Darla and Dru, which was so stupid and crazy it made him laugh. Then Spike scrambled to his feet and ran again, skimming over tarpaper and pipes and parapets, in the rising open wind, under the clearing stars.

****

Andrew had never seen anything so beautiful. It was almost too much to hold in. He wanted to find a keyboard, write it all down for posterity, preserve the account for the ages. Spike the heroic, the selfless, the noble. Spike, the vampire with a soul, who threw himself to the enemy to buy the escape of a mere human, a mere Watcher's apprentice, of all things. It was bigger than an Elf Lord rescuing a mortal. It was bigger than Rogue saving Wolverine. It was bigger than anything, it was huge, and he had seen it happen. Andrew huddled in the bus shelter and wiped his eyes.

Had Spike looked like that in the Hellmouth, after he thrust Buffy from him and bade her depart? He must have looked just like that, except for being more... on fire. Spike, perishing in flame. Eyes glowing with love and resignation. Mouth curving in a rueful smile. Facing his end alone, calm in the knowledge that others would live.

"Go on now, Andrew," whispered Andrew.

He'd told Buffy to go, too. Except that morning Spike was giving himself to save the whole world. Tonight he'd done it just to save... Andrew.

Spike had fled east, over the top of the Ace Hardware. Andrew could see helicopters circling a few miles away, searchlights raking the streets.

The Roscoe Blvd bus finally arrived. Andrew climbed on, found a window seat, and kept his eyes on the sky.

****

Flipping off police choppers was fun as far as it went, but it got to be work right about the time Spike realized they weren't the only ones trailing him.

No footfalls, nothing so amatuer as that. Not even a scent, because she kept the wind in front of her. Spike slowed. She slowed. Spike left the rooftops and dropped back to ground level, and she followed. Never close enough to hear, never close enough to smell. But he didn't need that. He knew her as surely as if she were in his hands.

"Sod this," snapped Spike, halting. "Oi! Mental case! Come on, here I am."

The searchlights drew closer, pools of illumination playing over the streets.

"Wounded vampire, here," called Spike. "Weak and riddled with wounds, right? No match for a psycho loony Slayer. Come on, love. Take me down."

He turned a slow circle, arms wide. Dust billowed in the wash of a chopper. A searchlight found him and the night was lost in an immense, blinding glare.

She was on him instantly, kicking, punching, hammering. A low noise whined from her even as she struck, a growling sob, the uneven keening of an animal in pain.

"Oh, yeah," grunted Spike. His head rocked under her blows; he grinned at her through the blood. "Yeah, baby. That's the way. Thanks for coming out."

****

She fought like a rat in a coffee can. Like a cyclone, like a spinning wheel. There was no mind in her at all.

Six months in the bosom of her fellow Slayers had done nothing for her by way of skill, certainly. She swung wide, she hesitated, she took clumsy steps. It was all Spike could do to keep the thing going.

"Dana? That your name? It's Dana, right?" Spike danced under a kick, slapped her smartly, danced back. "Wake the hell up, Dana."

Dana lunged. Spike let her catch him and they sprawled, twisting on the asphalt. Her fists hammered him without rhythm. Spike put his hands on her throat and began to squeeze, staring up into her eyes.

"Little girl, this is bullshit. You're losing. I'm going to kill you. Is that what you want?"

Dana howled and kicked free, rolling to her feet. "You die," she spat.

"Talking won't do it," growled Spike.

Dana took two steps back and faltered.

"I remember you," she whispered with effort, her voice rough and slow. "I remember."

"You remember what? You remember me killing you in New York? You remember cutting my arms off in that rotten basement? Don't be such a goddamned bore, pet. Let's go." Spike beckoned with his fingertips, inching toward her. "What's the trouble? Vampire, slayer, we've done this already, and you won. What are you waiting for? You've been killing people all over town, haven't you?"

Dana's face twisted and a tremor shook her, a shudder of terror and wretchedness. "They're all dead."

Spike scowled. "Yes, and a fine job you made of it, too. Time to finish."

Dana dropped her hands and ran.

****

Spike closed with her at last in a U-Haul compound. When she turned at bay she had a weapon, a jagged hunk of tin; it was like wading into the blades of jet engine. Bits of Spike flew away, simply flew away, as he put his head down and plowed into her.

He absorbed the searing cuts, forced himself inside her reach. They locked together and reeled, snarling, rolling in the falling roof joists and spilling containers. She wrested her hands free and slammed his head into the concrete. He used the moment for his legs and caught her, tossing her back, and dove forward before she could recover.

He had her down. Her elbows pinned by his knees, his hands locked on her jaw. She bared her teeth and howled at him, writhing, defeated, screaming defiance.

Spike stared down at her battered young face, contorted by hate, streaked with his blood. Her brown eyes were bottomless and empty.

Then Spike was twisting through the air and landing on his back and Dana was coming at him, slow, like all such moments were slow, heaving a broken picture frame, the jagged wood trailing canvas but quite sharp enough on the business end. And that was it, God damn it, that was all, and nothing to do but brace and snarl in turn.

With a bang it all went sideways: a concussive explosion of air, everything rushing and burning yellow, papers and clothes and bits of garbage flying, lost in a searing golden fog.

****

"Gas?" Spike slumped on the pavement and scrubbed uselessly at his eyes, retching. "You threw gas at a Slayer? Gah. Fuck me."

Andrew's voice was almost dog-whistle high behind the mask. "I'm really sorry. It's excellent gas, though. Does it sting?"

Spike hawked and spat.

"We should get moving, Spike. They're coming."

Spike pointed at Dana, crumpled in the wreckage, unmoving. "And what about her? God help anybody who runs into that hellcat."

"Oh, she's coming with me, of course." Andrew knelt and gathered Dana gently into his arms. "She's my responsibility."

"With you."

"I've taken an oath."

"Then do her, Andrew, if you're so bleedin' responsible. She's a rabid dog. Do her now."

Andrew paused in his attempts to lift Dana. His eyes were unreadable behind the goggles. "She's my Slayer," he said, his words soft and flat through the filter.

"She's your Slayer," wheezed Spike bitterly. "Sure she is."

Andrew had another go at heaving Dana upright and nearly dropped her. "Um, Spike? She's a little heavy."

"You're having me on. You expect me to haul that crazy bint across town?"

"If we get started now we can make it back to the apartment before sunrise. I mean, if we get started now," said Andrew.

Spike laughed. "To hell with that. I ain't touchin' her."

"Spike."

"Forget it, Andrew."

****

Spike settled Dana and stepped back. No more bed for Spike: it was the comfy chair for Spike yet again. The crazy murdering psycho Slayer looked cozy enough, though.

Andrew arranged the blankets carefully, checked Dana's restraints, laid a finger on her pulse. The first weak rays of dawn filtered through the gaps in the curtains. Spike watched, frowning.

"This'll never work. You can't keep her tied up like that, Andrew. She'll go raving mad when she comes around. Well, madder."

"One thing at a time, my friend, one thing at a time." Andrew straightened. "How badly are you hurt? Do your wounds gape? Do you need anything?"

Spike waved irritably and turned away. Andrew trailed after him into the living room.

"There's a safehouse in Ensenada, Spike. If we can get some transport it's a perfect place to begin her reintegration."

Spike dropped into a chair. "Have fun, then."

"Spike, can you help us?"

"No."

Andrew hesitated, then withdrew to the kitchen to make a cup of blood. Returning, he placed it delicately on the coffee table and perched on the couch.

Spike ignored the offering, eyes fixed on the ceiling.

"Thank you for saving me, Spike," said Andrew. "Back by the tracks. It was an epic confrontation worthy of Toshiro Mifune, and I'll never forget it."

"Andrew, don't."

"It was the coolest thing I ever saw. I think... I think that if you wanted to, you could do anything. Because you're an unstoppable force, like a warrior kami or a -- " Andrew swallowed. "I've been rubbing elbows with a lot of heroes lately, walking with the mighty. But there's nobody like you, Spike. Nobody."

And wasn't that the fucking truth? Angel was lost, gone to his vague-as-hell, pie-in-the-sky reward, and the others with him, every last one. Gone into the everlasting, gone into the void, gone down, maybe, to the fiery hells. Gone, at any rate, and there Spike sat.

Spike tipped his head back and shaded his eyes, weary unto death.

****

The screams reached him through a blanketing fog of nightmares, more fever than dreams, horrible loops in which the world lit up and Angel perished, smiling and withering, over and over. Spike shot upright and bolted into the bedroom before he was fully awake, charging blind. Halted and clutched the doorframe as the slamming backlash of weakness hit him.

"For Chrissake, shut her up, Andrew. She'll have the whole neighborhood down on us."

Andrew was talking in a low, rapid voice, face ashen. "Dana, it's all right. It's Andrew. It's all right. We watched Gundam Wing in the TV room, remember?"

Dana shrieked, writhing in her bonds.

She looked so weirdly like Dru, with her brown hair plastered to her face around her gaping mouth and her tiny body arching in pain. Like Dru having one of her bad turns; Dru after Angelus had finished with her.

"I've got to give her something," said Andrew miserably. "Thorazine. A shot."

"Get it, then." Spike moved to one side as Andrew passed, his eyes never leaving Dana. He felt disconnected, muzzy, as though the dream still held him, as though it had punched a hole between now and the everlasting and parts of him were running into the gap like water.

Slowly, Spike sat on the bed and slid his arms around Dana, holding her as she stiffened and struggled. "Hush, now, pet. Hush now, lovey."

Dana moaned. It was a sound of such utter desolation Spike shivered. He lifted a hand and drew the hair out of Dana's eyes, let himself slump onto the bed, laid his own head next to hers on the damp pillow.

"Be calm now. No call to be afraid. There," he said. "Spike's got you."

Dana stilled and began to weep, quaking and shuddering. Spike felt the tremors in his bones like a pulsing echo. Outside the echo, nothingness; outside the echo, a void. The dim light in the room narrowed to a point and the sound of Dana's heartbeat grew louder, a ribbon of noise, a torrent rushing to the sea. There was life there, life and pain, and it pulled at Spike vertiginously, plucking at him with icy fingers, tempting him to dark, ugly things.

"Hush now, don't worry," mumbled Spike. "That's not me. That part's over."

And then heat bloomed in his chest, heat like the last minutes in the Hellmouth only keener, more concentrated. A star fallen from heaven, lodged and burning beneath his ribs.

He was too tired to struggle against the pain of it, too heavy to move. When Andrew appeared and began to shake him, gently at first and then with rising urgency, Spike was able to think, right: completely buggered now, but he didn't have the strength to say a word.

****

It took four hours to get clear of LA, inching south in gridlock on the San Diego freeway. Traffic loosened up through Orange County, then clogged again on the seaside stretch around Camarillo and Oceanside, which Andrew considered bitterly offensive. Andrew and his brother had made the trip to Tijuana with the parental units many a time before moving to Sunnydale, and it had never been this bad. California had gone completely wrong. Too many people. Too much of everything. It was like Soylent Green without the cool sets and penetrating cautionary message. And why were so many cars on the road a bare week after an apocalypse, anyway?

The air conditioner was spitting out a funky rental smell and it was burning gas something fierce, but Andrew kept it cranked as high as it would go. The heat was brutal.

Every time Andrew looked back Spike was sitting up again and letting the blanket slip. Spike didn't seem to notice what he was doing. He didn't seem to understand where they were, or that the sun was passing its zenith and starting its long descent into the blue Pacific. Every time Andrew took his eyes off the road and risked a peek back Spike was massaging his chest and watching the water twinkle, absorbed.

It was freaky, seeing that empty blanket move in the rearview. Andrew could hardly take his eyes off it.

"Spike, lie down, okay?"

"What? Oh. Right."

A mile later Spike was up again. Andrew pulled over at a rest stop, taking care to park in the lee of an eighteen-wheeler, and got out. He opened the passenger door and spoke to Dana. Dana shrugged and unbuckled her seatbelt. Then she got into the back with Spike, on the side facing west.

"I guess I'm your shade now," she said tonelessly.

Spike stared at her. Then he pulled the blanket over his head and leaned against the far door.

All the security was for traffic leaving Mexico rather than entering, as usual, so that went okay. Spike doffed his blanket at the toll and resumed it when they were clear, and then it was smooth sailing to Ensenada as the sky turned red and the sea burned beneath the setting sun.

"Hey, you missed Ensenada," muttered Spike after a while. He'd revived some as darkness came on.

"The place we want's a little south, about nineteen miles. Not far. Do you need blood?"

"God, no," grimaced Spike.

"There's some in the Coleman. I got a sports bottle. It's right behind you."

Andrew turned his head as he spoke and caught Spike glancing at Dana.

"Nah," said Spike.

"Dana, do you need anything?"

Dana folded her arms and shook her head.

Well, everybody was a little tense. Long drives made the best of people cranky. At least Dana was acting really sane, almost as sane as England!Dana. Andrew couldn't help but congratulate himself on chucking the Thorazine and going for Narvane with a Cogentin chaser -- that was so totally the ticket, and Andrew had thought it up all by himself.

Andrew smiled proudly, thinking about how pleased Mr. Giles would be to hear it. And then he remembered that Mr. Giles was off walking the earth and didn't care anymore, about Dana or anybody.

The headlights picked a sign out of the darkness.

"La Bufadora," announced Andrew. "Gem of the seaside and home of the Blowhole, a mid-sized ocean geyser. They also have dog racing. Please exit in an orderly manner and check the overhead compartment for personal items."

The beach house was made of cinderblocks, with a little porch on pilings that rose out of the sand. The jeep's engine ticked, cooling, as Andrew pulled their bags out of the hatch. Spike and Dana stood around, looking stiff and worn.

"This house has its own name. Papalote. I don't know what that means," admitted Andrew. "But we picked the town because it's funny. Bufadora. Buffy, we ador-a. We all thought it an amusing jest for the inner circle. Oh, I'm sorry, Spike. Come in, okay?"

"Why didn't you just pick a town called Hey, We're Over Here?" grumbled Spike, stomping into the tiny living room. "Fugitives, remember? Well, at least one of us is, eh?"

Dana sneered and crossed to the window, staring out at the dark.

"Hey, look!" Andrew sensed it was important to remain positive. "Hey, somebody put a new stove in. Wow, that must've been Xander. And bunks! I get the top."

Spike didn't want to sleep. He found the remote and turned on a variety show. The room filled with noise and tinny applause.

It was exhausting work, being a Watcher. Andrew went to bed.

***

In the morning it was all about digging in for the long haul. Andrew made a list.

"Gotta get some bottled water. Or more of those tablets, they're almost gone. Dana, don't drink out of the tap."

"I heard you the first time," said Dana.

"And we need salsa and chips, and maybe some stakes. Vampires in Mexico are crazy. They smell a Slayer and they lose all common sense."

Spike looked interested for the first time. "They do?"

"It's amazing. Barely got Paloma out in one piece, they say."

Dana put down her fork and got up from the table. But there was nowhere to go in the tiny room but closer to Spike, so she started to circle like a caged panther.

"Don't be scared, Dana," said Andrew, abashed at his usual stupid lack of tact. "I'm your Watcher. I'll protect you. And Spike here is a Champion of the Good and stuff -- we saved the world together. Don't worry."

"Yeah. Don't worry," muttered Spike.

Andrew stuffed the list in his pocket. "I'll pick up fish tacos. Ever had a fish taco? Dana? Spike? No, I mean it, have you? Well, they're a taste explosion the likes of which one must ... eat without fail. You'll like them," he concluded hopefully, but neither Spike or Dana were listening. Spike was staring at the TV again, and Dana was hovering at the window. When Andrew reached for the doorknob, though, Spike was at his elbow. Spooky.

"Take her with you," whispered Spike, tipping his head in Dana's direction.

"Dana? Shopping?"

"Yeah, Dana. Shopping," repeated Spike impatiently. "She gives me the twitch, Andrew. Don't like being alone with her."

"Spike, it's not really safe, is it? I mean, she just killed all those people."

"Fuck you," rasped Dana. "I'm not deaf."

Spike turned, eyebrows lifting. "Tut. They teach you to cuss like that in the loony bin?"

Dana froze and shot a glare of such fearsome hate Spike's way that Andrew waved at her hastily. "Come on, Dana. Let's, you know, forage."

Andrew held the door, trying to smile in a kind, encouraging, Watcherly way. Spike watched stood there, watching them go. Andrew thought his face was troubled and a bit ashamed.

****

The waterfront was a cheery jumble of white stands. American tourists thronged, fussing over pesos when they had to, but mostly using dollars. Dana walked beside Andrew, wide-eyed and a little nervous.

"Look, tiny saints." Andrew peered at a collection of plaster statuettes. "Of all shapes and persuasions. Colorful."

Dana touched a hanging cluster of rosaries and the beads winked in the sun. "These are pretty."

"Want one?"

"Can I?" Dana drew one off the hook, sky blue beads with silver caps. "I like this."

Andrew paid grandly and they walked on.

"Just don't, uh, leave it were Spike might find it, okay? It can burn him and stuff."

Dana put the rosary in her pocket. "Vampire."

"Well, he can't really help that, Dana. And he's good. Really genuinely good."

"Why's he so creepy?"

Andrew stopped before a stand heaped with trays of ice and shiny fat fish. "He's just sad, Dana. His great heart is broken. Usually he's very cool."

"I cut off his hands. In the city."

"Yeah, but Spike doesn't do grudges. Dana, he's gonna be a little weird for a while because his beloved band of fellow crusaders perished in an apocalypse. But we have to be patient, okay? And nice."

"I don't get it."

"Don't worry. It's confusing sometimes. Just don't go attacking him unawares and it'll all work out." Andrew pointed out a large bass and watched as the stall-keeper wrapped it in paper. "How are you feeling? This new stuff helps? You seem really ... okay."

"My mouth's dry."

"Yeah, that's the meds. But you feel alright?"

"I guess." Dana rubbed her palms on her thighs. "It makes my hands sweat, too. All the time. I wish I didn't have to take meds. I hate them."

"It's not forever, Dana," said Andrew, knowing it probably wasn't true.

****

"Cervezas!" cried Andrew, displaying the bottles with a flourish, mightily relieved that the expedition had concluded without incident. "And lime!"

Dana picked one up. "What do you do with the lime?"

"You cut it thin and drop it into the neck," said Spike, rising from his permanent duty station in front of the TV. "It's not bad."

A civil statement from Spike. An unmistakable olive branch. Andrew busied himself with the mesh shopping bag, pleased. "I got everything we need for la fiesta fantastico. See, the aforementioned chips. Tacos de los pescados. And this," Andrew held up a styrofoam carton, "is the finest, freshest blood south of the border."

Spike took a sniff. "What the hell? This is fish blood, Andrew."

"Exotic, don't you think? New cultures, new tastes." Andrew snapped on the radio and the room filled with the bouncing pulse of Alica Bridges singing I Love the Night Life in Spanish. "Let us party, mi amgios."

It took a few bottles and some tequila scrounged from under the sink for Spike to hit a groove, but he got there. He almost became chatty. At that point they made their way down to the beach and made a pile of driftwood, torching it with Spike's zippo.

"Demons rise and hellmouths fall," murmured Spike, holding it up in the dancing firelight, "But my sodding lighter endureth forever."

Andrew turned. "Hey, Dana. Slow down, okay. That's your third."

"I'm legal here, you said so." Dana grinned crookedly. "And it keeps the cold away."

"Christ, my chest hurts," sighed Spike.

Andrew had graduated to tequila himself and was feeling bold. "Why?"

"Dunno. Burns."

"Want me to look at it?"

"Nah, skip it. Forget I said anything. I'm just tired, is all."

"You freaked me out in Van Nuys, Spike. It was like somebody plugged you with a phaser." Andrew plopped another lime slice into a fresh beer. "Is that what happens when you get shot?"

"Guess so. Maybe. Who cares," muttered Spike. "Andrew, if we never talk about that place again it'll be too soon for me. Let's forget soddin' Van Nuys."

"Roger. You like your sunglasses?" asked Andrew.

Spike adjusted them. "Not sure. How do I look?"

Dana snickered and took a pull at her bottle. "Vampire with sunglasses."

"They look great, Spike," said Andrew sincerely.

"Guess I'll keep 'em, then."

Andrew felt a glow. "I was thinking that maybe since you're up in daylight all the time it wasn't so hot for your eyes. Mr. Giles said that vampires who adopt human habits usually suffer progressive debilitation. Well, okay, he was talking about you. He said that in Sunnydale you started to look older and weaker, toward the end."

"That bastard."

"I think you look terrific, though." Andrew took a hasty shot. When he finished coughing he said: "Mr. Giles showed me a book that said vampires are supernaturally resistant to change, and that when confronted with change, many will chose death. The book said the reason fledges are easy prey is because they can't make the change from human to vampire successfully, and take reckless chances."

Spike frowned. "Yeah, and they're afraid of garlic, too. Don't go filling your Slayer's head with all that stupid Watcher splooge, Andrew, you'll just get her killed. Fledges are smarter than anybody likes to think."

"Buffy -- "

"Buffy's a case apart, for Christ's sake. Buffy was death on two legs for vampires. If you want to keep your little girl over there alive, forget about Buffy."

"Okay, Spike."

"There's nobody like Buffy."

"You're right, Spike," soothed Andrew.

"It smells weird here," muttered Dana. She stood, rubbing her arms. "It smells... too strong."

"It's nothing, just raw sewage," replied Spike pleasantly.

"I want to go inside."

"So go."

Dana backed away, staring up the cliffs. "Not that way. It's worse that way. It gets worse when you go that way."

"Time for another shot, I think, Andrew." Spike peered into the neck of his bottle. "Your girl's setting up for one of her --"

A few pebbles fell from the cliffside and everything blew apart. Vampires shot out of the night from all sides, howling, a blitzkrieg of fangs and crude weapons. Spike and Andrew were struck simultaneously, bowled over by hurtling black shapes.

"Dana!" screamed Andrew. "Dana, run!"

Spike rolled with the onslaught and came up swinging, right, left, right, left. Andrew snatched a piece of driftwood and put it through one vampire, and caught another on the backswing as the first exploded. They kept coming.

Spike was buried under a knot of assailants snarling obscenities in Spanish. Andrew staggered free in time to see the whole crowd pressing, step by step, into the bonfire.

"Chinga tu madre," shrieked one, its voice high and terrible.

"Suck me, you gutless prick," grunted Spike.

And then they were all alight, a seething tangle of burning vampires. Andrew cried out and dove toward the flames.

"Spike! Oh, God, Spike!"

Dana cannoned out of the darkness and into the fire. Burning vamps burst around her like skyrockets, but Dana didn't slow down. She plunged straight through, legs pistoning against the sand, and drove Spike before her into the sea.

****

Spike was in a bad way. His face was a raw, red, seeping mess, and his eyes were just scary -- bright and glittering with pain. He was trying to make jokes as they carried him up to the house and laid him on a bunk.

"Did the fuckers break my sunglasses?"

"I've got them, Spike," lied Andrew.

"Well done," said Spike, and broke into a ragged giggle. "Get it? Well done."

"Should I get water?" asked Dana. She had begun to shake when the worst was over, and had nearly dropped Spike on the climb up from the beach.

"Water's good." Andrew turned and reached out to her. "He'll be okay, Dana. Vampires recover."

Dana backed away. Andrew heard her banging around in the kitchen, opening cupboards and knocking things over.

Spike had closed his eyes. "Your bird saved my life, Andrew. Eh?"

"Yeah."

"She hurt?"

"A little. Not bad."

"Bleedin' piss." Spike twisted as the pain took him. "Fucking pissing fuck. She got hurt. What do I do now?" he gasped.

"Don't worry about it, Spike."

"It's too much," panted Spike. "I mean it. It's too much."

Andrew patted his shoulder, wishing he understood more about the noble heartache of the heroic undead.

****

Eventually Dana came back, put the water bottle within reach, and climbed silently into her bunk. Andrew dozed, leaning against the bed frame.

After starting awake half a dozen times, Andrew finally got up and made his way out to the kitchen table. The little zippered bag was resting there, among all the stuff from Los Angeles. Andrew pulled back a chair, rubbed his eyes, and opened it.

The hypodermics were disposable, in little packets; he'd have to find more, though he hadn't the faintest idea where. Andrew pierced the ampoule's foil cap with the needle, biting his lip in concentration. He tapped the cylinder three times, just to be extra safe about air bubbles, and went back to the shadowed bedroom.

He stopped in the doorway, surprised into stillness.

Dana was on Spike's bunk, her slender body wedged into the narrow space between Spike and the wall. One hand rested lightly on Spike's chest, as though shielding him. Her face was as peaceful as Andrew had ever seen it.

Andrew stood there for a long time. Then he went back to the kitchen and put the needle in the red sharps canister, and put the canister in the trash. Then he returned to the bunkroom, stretched out on his scratchy blanket clothed, and watched them, alert and keenly aware that he had a stake under his pillow.

Dana and Spike didn't show any signs of roaring awake and pulling each other to pieces, though. They didn't even move.

Eventually Andrew slept, too.

****