Night had finally come to London, and the rail stations were bustling with revelers trying to catch the last trains out of town. The tourists had long vanished for the night. Paddington Station had once again been turned over to the natives.
A group of American Students huddled over a map, overstuffed backpacks never leaving their side as they scurried to find shelter for the night while a throng of drunken would-be hooligans sporting Arsenal shirts tried their best to harass a poor bloke whose only crime was donning Chelsea colors. And if you looked close enough, you could spot a trio of Rubczek demons playing a game of hearts in the shadows.
At quick glance, London hadn't changed much in the thirty years he'd been gone. Sure, many of the nuances had changed. The angry punk rock of the Seventies had long yielded to the throbbing sounds of techno. Cell phones had become de rigueur and the euro loomed unwelcome on the horizon.
But this London hardly felt like home. Hadn't in decades. His old haunts had either been leveled by the Blitz or had long been swept away in the name of industrial progress. Everything seemed harsh and bright. For a moment, he longed for the day of gaslights and cobblestone streets.
Home or not, it was a place to start. After months of meandering his way though Africa and Europe, surviving on the kindness of both the living and undead, it was time for Spike to finally start the final leg of his journey and make his way home, wherever that was. He'd wandered long enough like a ghost, floating through the world without ever truly being seen or leaving his mark. He'd been a phantom long enough and it was finally time to rejoin the land of the living.
He glanced briefly at the timetables on the wall and made his way to the ticket counter. Digging into his front pocket, he pulled out a wad of crumpled bank notes and handed them to the cashier. "Single to Bath," he quietly requested as he waited for his ticket and change.
Slinging his pack over one shoulder, he made his way toward the platforms. He easily blended into the crowd. Another ragged traveler among the herd of backpackers criss-crossing Europe. His trademark black attire had been traded for convenience. His black boots were long gone, and more comfortable hiking boots had taken their stead. His slim black jeans had been replaced with a faded pair of blue Levi's he'd won in a card game in Tel Aviv, and he was drowning in a marl colored sweater he'd found abandoned in a hostel somewhere along the way. It was a size or two too big, and its cuffs were frayed at the wrists. But as the autumn chill started to settle across Europe, it had quickly become a prized possession.
He wasted no time finding his train. Last one out for the night, it was half-empty. Suited him fine as the last thing he wanted to do was stomach another crowd. He wasn't sure if the chip in his head still worked, but it didn't take much these days for a blinding headache to blossom behind his eyes. Tonight, the guilty culprit had been the bustling cacophony from the city around him that had jarred his senses.
Finding a pair of vacant seats, he flung his heavy backpack into the seat next him and hoped the others would take the hint and find a different place to sit. The damn thing seemed to grow heavier with each detour of his travels. But it was his only connection to the rest of the world these days. Packed with useless junk, two pairs of clean socks, his long, black t-shirt, and an extra set of jeans.
He'd tucked away a weathered copy of Inferno under his heap of clothes. Quite fitting, he'd thought when he found it in a used bookshop a few weeks back. Dante had nailed Hell right on the head. Made Sunnydale and its supposed Hellmouth seem like a five-star spa. It wasn't the fire and brimstone that had been preached in sermons for ages. No, Hell was a personal journey that was cold and barren. It was a lonely void where you froze into a solid mass with only your past transgressions as company, where you hope that you, too, will be devoured by the beast just so your suffering would end. He'd spent the past few months there enduring his own personal Inferno, and the tattered book had become his passport. He'd seen the inner circle and it was high time he climbed out.
Lost in his thoughts, Spike hadn't realized the train had left the station until he gazed out to the blackened countryside. "Ticket, please," the uniformed agent asked drawing him from his reverie. Without saying a word, the vampire automatically dug into his coat pocket and pulled out the little orange card from the pages of his forged passport. Long after the agent had punched the card and made his way to the next rail car, he clung to the passport. On paper, he was a person, but in actuality he still felt as real as the forgery in his hands. Sure, he walked and talked like any other on the train. But no matter of paperwork would change the fact that he was still a demon, a monster with a history littered with murderous mistakes and unforgivable stupidity. Soul or not, he couldn't deny his true existence.
Exhaustion had become a familiar bedfellow and hunger a constant companion. He was nowhere near the skeletal stage, but his clothes hung looser on him by the day. The pint of bitter and plate of curry in London had taken the pangs away, but it had been nearly a fortnight since he'd had any blood and his stomach roiled in empty protest. Unlike the Hellmouth, reliable supplies of blood had been few and far in between. Wandering as a nomad had only made the search harder. Granted he could have easily found a meal rats deep in the bowels of the Underground, but he hadn't sunk that low yet. Damn it, if he was going to masquerade as a human, then he was going to feed like one. Only animals fed on vermin. He'd gone to sleep hungry many a night, and he knew he could hold out a little longer.
Like clockwork, the snack cart made its way down the aisle. Nothing ever sounded appealing - overpriced crips and tasteless chocolate bars. "Something from the trolley?" the portly employee asked. Too bad they didn't sell a pint of O-negative. For that, he'd easily hand over a king's ransom.
Spike fished a golden pound coin out of his pocket and settled for something on the menu. "Tea, please," he requested, waiting for his change.
For as pricey at is was, the steaming drink hardly lived up the label emblazoned on the side of the paper cup. Yes, technically it was 'leaf tea.' It was warm, and wet. But after that, it was a tasteless substitute for such an English mainstay. More like floor sweepings steeped in hot water. Couldn't believe he had just wasted nearly a pound on the drink. But he was too tired to complain, and he savored its warmth as it permeated though the cup and warmed his chilled hands. Blowing away the steam, he took a sip and settled back into the seat while the tea cooled just a bit further.
If only life could be so simple to complain about a bad cup of tea, he mused to himself. It was the least of his worries. The train would be pulling into Bath in no time, and he wasn't quite sure he was ready to face the scariest part of his journey. A twinge of icy dread suddenly knotted his stomach as he thought about reconnecting with his past. How do you atone for over a century of inexcusable fuck ups, for betraying your loved ones and vanishing without a trace? At one time he thought that knowledge would come as a package deal with the soul. But no, as he learned along the way from Africa, it was something that came from within. Epiphanies were never free, he added with a swipe through his tangled, grimy hair, the last of its platinum cut off six weeks ago by a half-blind demon in Budapest.
But had nowhere else to turn, and he was running out of options. For the moment, Bath seemed far less intimidating than Sunnydale.
God, he was tired. His whole body ached for even a few minutes of sleep, and it was so tempting to rest his head on the rattling window and doze for just a few minutes. But the last thing he wanted to do was drift off. That's when the dreams came. They always did. Haunted memories that came unbidden, grotesque reminders of what he'd squandered. It had been months since he'd heard her voice. But in the folds between reality and sleep he could still hear it full of fear and seething anger.
**"Ask me again why I could never love you?**
His eyes snapped open, and Spike awoke with a strangled gasp as tepid tea sloshed on his lap. "Bloody hell," he muttered to himself as he surveyed the mess and tried desperately to draw as little attention to himself as possible. Fortunately, the other occupants in the car were either asleep themselves, too inebriated to care, or lost in their own private little worlds.
He didn't know how long he'd been asleep. Long enough for the memories to find him, that's for sure. With a shaking hand, he absently took a sip from the paper cup. Cold and bitter, like everything in his life these days.
It didn't take long before the trail pulled into the Bath station. Spike crushed the empty paper cup and tossed it in his seat as he rose and looped his arms through his backpack and exited the compartment.
The stars were out in full force. There was not a cloud in the moonless sky. The wind had picked up since he'd left London, and he zipped up the front of his second-hand coat to ward off the biting chill. In the dark he made out the clock by the empty ticket window - half past one - and found the faded city map secured behind a thick, scratched layer of plexiglass. Setting his pack on the ground, he dug out the copy of Dante and retrieved the torn bit of envelope he'd been using as a bookmark. "9 Rockliffe Road," the fragment read. End of the road, or just the beginning. He wasn't sure. Spike squinted and wished for a little better lighting as he tried to find corresponding street on the map.
Target sighted, he tried his best to memorize the directions, grabbed his pack and started the final leg of his trek. This one would be taken on foot. He strode past the lone taxi outside the station and walked into the darkened night. Part of him wanted to prolong the inevitable. The other welcomed the last precious moments of solitude. He wouldn't call it brooding, but he was getting damn close.
Bath had gone to bed, her shops and local pubs closed for the night. In the distance the abbey rose above the Roman spa, keeping silent watch over the town below. Even now he had faint memories of visiting the town when he was a small child. Family holiday if he recalled correctly, doing the Victorian pilgrimage to take in the waters and all that rot.
The streets were all but empty, and the faint scent of burning coal from a fireplace wafted through the breeze. A stray ginger-striped cat darted from a yard, paused briefly on its journey to look him over before vanishing back into the foliage. Most of the windows were darkened for the night, but he could easily make out the flickering blue glow of a television behind a pulled shade.
He kept time to the quiet cadence of his footsteps echoing against the pavement. A dog barked plaintively in the distance. It was such a stark contrast to the perpetual motion and roaring chaos that was London. Not a single vamp or demon in sight, he thought to himself as he passed a small cemetery.
Thirty minutes and one wrong turn later, he finally found his destination. The front garden was small, choked by unruly ivy and weeds, and the curtain in the window obscured the front room Not a single light was on. It's occupant, no doubt, sleeping like the rest of the town.
Spike paused before heading up the front steps. If his palms could have, they would've been drenched in a clammy sweat. He swallowed against a parched throat. Four more steps, how hard could that be? Facing the trials in Uganda had been easy in comparison. Facing his past in a few minutes, now that was terrifying.
He clutched the rail for a moment before making the ascent. Could it be as easy as knocking on the door and saying, "Hi, Dad, I'm back! Found a soul on the way home, can I keep it?" and return like the lost, prodigal son? He'd be lucky if he weren't staked on site. Hopefully the old man would welcome him in just as he had the last time he turned up on his doorstep shivering like a drowned rat.
His hands flexed nervously as he raised up a fist to knocked on the door. Finally, after a deep breath, he gently knocked and waited. Honestly, he didn't know what to expect. But after receiving no response, he wrapped his knuckles against the door a second time, his stomach tightening in a knot as a light flipped on inside.
Someone trudged down a flight of stairs. He could hear a heartbeat draw closer until it was directly behind the door. Spike swore he could feel an eye bear down on him through the tiny peephole. The front light blinked on, and the door opened.
"Spike?" Rupert Giles incredulously asked through a yawn.
His voice suddenly lost, he stuffed his hands in his front pockets. Glancing anxiously at his boots before turning his gaze back at the watcher, he quietly asked, "Can I come in?"
Spike wasn't quite sure what had transpired between them. Glasses nowhere in sight, the older man squinted at him as though shocked by the wraith standing on his stoop. Maybe it was pity. Perhaps patience. But there were no stakes, no angry words of condemnation followed by a slam of the door. Instead, Giles tightened his blue terry robe and nodded his head.
"Come in, Spike," he offered as he stepped out of the way.
The unseen and impenetrable barrier was lifted from the doorway with those three little words. He knew his voice would fail him. Once again he found himself blessed by the mercy of others, knowing it was a debt that he might never be able repay. Silently nodding his thanks, Spike crossed over the threshold and closed the door behind him.
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