Title: Readjustment 7/15
Summary: Sequel to Reassembling. Just when life seems to be going your way it can throw you a curve ball. Their's was named Principal Wood.
Rating: PG for a bit of swearing.
Beta read by the incomparable incandragon
Spike woke up a couple hours before sunset. Smirking, he fired up the laptop. He’d need to get a power cable if they expected him to check in on a daily basis. Dawn had responded to his email with indignity and guilt trips. Much better than the lost tone of her previous message.
Xander’s response was two lines. “Thank you. You’ve always kept your promises to me.”
Somehow, the fact that Xander did still have faith in him made the separation easier to bear. Now that the pain wasn’t quite so fresh and sharp he allowed himself to think about that last conversation with Xander in the basement. His mind only half on his task, he packed up and checked out over the telly. Brilliant innovation that, made it much easier to duck out unobserved. He hadn’t bothered to black out the windows in his current ride so he was restricted to driving at night.
On the road again he mulled the situation over as Kansas’ harvested fields gave way to Missouri’s equally boring woods. It was late enough in the year that he had the car’s heater cranked all the way up. Too many years spent in perennially warm climates, he wasn’t used to this anymore. Not the cold, and not the solitude.
So what did he do with Xander’s insistence that he leave? Until now he’d been focused on Xander’s apparent belief that Spike couldn’t stop himself snacking on the local population. As if Spike were some newly risen fledge with no control. Xander’s lack of trust had rankled particularly hard as he had nailed Spike over a similar issue months ago.
But further contemplation, digging past the hurt, showed that wasn’t what Xander had said. No, Xander seemed more concerned about making Spike choose between his vampiric nature and Xander. Stupid boy. Hadn’t he already made his choice in such matters perfectly clear? But when he thought back past his own grief to Xander’s face and voice he realized just how much fear was motivating Xander. Not fear for himself or the family, he’d been clear about that, but fear that Spike would slip up and he’d be caught between duty and love, ripped apart in ways that could never be mended.
So he was facing Xander’s insecurities again. This was familiar ground since he was hardly a stranger to insecurity himself. He’d just have to show Xander that his fears were unfounded. It might not even take a year before Xander was begging him to come home and forgive him. And, being the magnanimous sort he was, Spike would forgive him.
In the mean time, nothing said he couldn’t have some fun. Visit some of his old haunts. See if anyone remembered him from his glory days. He’d been king of the New York courts after killing the Slayer. Everyone wanted to be his friend, buy him drinks, hear the story. It had been a glorious battle. Robin seemed to have inherited some of her spark. He was a formidable fighter and Spike had humiliated him, brought him to his knees.
A thread of worry sang through him. He’d counted on being around to keep Wood from getting out of line. Now they were undefended and Wood might consider taking his revenge against Xander.
He fished his cell phone out. It had been off since he left Sunnydale, and he was sure he had a dozen messages but had no time to deal with them now. He dialed up Xander’s number.
It took four agonizing rings before there was the click of someone picking up. “Hello.” Spike easily recognized Xander’s barely awake voice. A quick glance at the clock told him it was three in the morning. He shrugged, with the time difference Xander would be getting up in less than an hour anyway.
“Xander, has that Wood git been sniffing around?” Spike didn’t see any reason to waste time on idle pleasantries.
“Spike!” Spike could almost see Xander snap awake. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“Yeah, it’s me, I want to know if Wood has been messing with any of you in my absence. He had a bone to pick and he might try to take it out on you.”
“So you call me at … 5am … to talk about it?” Xander rambled.
Spike wondered if he’d ever be able to get the man back on topic. “It’s when I thought of it, all right. Anyway, you’ll be getting up soon anyway.”
“Hey, I treasure those last thirty minutes of sleep,” Xander protested.
“Not the point,” Spike growled, determined to get his answer. “About Wood--”
“It’s been four days and it’s only occurring to you now?” Spike didn’t like the accusation in Xander’s voice.
“Xander.” He wished he was closer to use some of his newfound ability to hurt humans to slap Xander upside the head.
“Yes, yes, Wood, I got it,” Xander conceded. “We’re fine, he’s backed way off.”
That puzzled Spike a bit. Lifelong vendetta like that, Spike had expected to have to scare him off a couple more times, maybe even kill him. “He gave up a lot easier than I’d thought he would.”
“Yeah, guess the revenge business isn’t what it used to be,” Xander agreed. Spike recognized that tone of voice. It was the one Xander used when he wasn’t telling the whole truth
“So what happened?” Spike was in no mood to play twenty questions. If Wood was causing problems for them he’d turn back around and Xander’s insecurities could just go hang.
“Nothing! Everything’s fine,” Xander insisted in a voice that was definitely hiding something. Xander couldn’t lie worth a damn to anyone who knew him well.
“What did you do?” Spike hoped his voice conveyed that he wasn’t going to put up with any more prevaricating. It was hard to be threatening from hundreds of miles away but he gave it a shot anyway.
“I talked to him, all right. He won’t be any trouble,” Xander placated.
A smile spread across Spike’s face. Sounded like Xander had learned the fine art of intimidation. The thought warmed him and he wanted the whole story. “What did you say to the berk?”
“Just that you weren’t the only person willing to take someone out to protect the people you love. It was a pretty short conversation.” Xander paused as if he was somehow ashamed of himself. “I was pretty pissed He’d tried to kill you, after all. Not to mention he was basically responsible for you being gone.”
Spike would argue that Xander was the reason Spike was gone, but he didn’t want to start that argument up again. “Why Xander, I didn’t know you had it in you,” he said, concentrating on how pleased the idea of Xander putting the fear of his wrath into Wood made him.
“I just didn’t want him going after you, so, I kind of explained to him that none of us were people you wanted to mess with, especially if you were fond of waking up the same species you went to bed as.” Spike imagined Xander using just those exact words too. There was a note of bashful pride in Xander’s voice.
“How did Will react to you using her to threaten him?” Spike couldn’t resist coaxing just a bit more out of him.
“She suggested it. Spike, you have to know none of us have changed how we feel about you.” There was a pleading note to this, as if Xander feared he wouldn’t be believed. Spike decided he didn’t like it.
“I miss you all as well,” he said, hoping that was all the confirmation Xander required, no need to get too mushy. “Listen, I’m still on the road but I’ll do the email thing a bit more frequently. Try not to worry you.” Realizing he was getting perilously close to an overabundance of sentimentality, he was just about to say goodbye when Xander broke in.
“It’s really good to hear your voice, Spike.”
“Same,” Spike allowed. He heard Xander’s alarm go off. “Of to work with you now.” He hung up before he could say anything else that would permanently damage his image.
Spike caught the next road sign and decided that he was in no real hurry to make it to New York, and St Louis was less than 50 miles down the highway. It would be a fun town to stay in for a day or two. They had all manner of spooky locales that would be prime hunting grounds. The idiot tourists would probably think he was part of the show.
He stayed a few days in St. Louis, it was a very vampire friendly town. He was even able to find a place to buy some human blood for when he hit the road again. So he hit the local night life, did a bit of non-lethal snacking on the locals, and emailed the folks back home.
Dawn had taken to writing chatty emails about what was happening at school, how life was unfair and boys she thought were cute. Spike had to wonder if she included the last topic in an attempt to get him to come charging back home. If so, she was on the right track.
Willow was invaluable as his barometer to how Xander was really doing. From the sound of things, there had been a marked improvement since the phone call. Willow was the one who kept him certain that Xander still wanted him, he just insisted on playing the martyr.
Xander kept his emails short, mostly written on his lunch hour. He spoke about trivial daily things and Spike could read between the lines that there was a concerted effort to keep him from feeling guilty. Xander never asked where he was or what he was doing. Spike wasn’t sure if that was an attempt to show trust or a suspicion that Spike wasn’t walking the straight and narrow and Xander didn‘t want to know about it.
Rupert only emailed once or twice but he kept him apprised of the situation on the Hellmouth. Spike was grateful that they had done those excruciating upgrades on the bot. Willow was an exceptionally powerful witch and Tara was no slouch, but not everything could be solved by magic. Without a slayer or master vampire holding the line, things could get out of hand. The Watcher assured him all was quiet at the moment. There had been a couple of challenges but they had been repelled and there was nothing ominous on the horizon. Still, Rupert shared Spike’s fears about the long term stability of a Hellmouth without a proper guardian. There were even hints that he would feel better if Spike were there. Not in so many words of course, but the concern was there. Spike had to wonder if he was reconsidering letting the Council deal with Faith.
The upshot of all of the communication was that no one was happy with the situation as it stood. Spike made it clear that he’d just as soon come home and forget all this nonsense, but Xander refused to entertain the idea, and everyone but Dawn was backing him up. Eventually he decided that, as usual, it fell to him to make them all see sense. So he threw everything into his appropriated sports car and set out on the road as soon as the sun sank below the horizon.
There was only one course of action he could think of that might shorten his exile. He’d establish himself in New York, he knew the lay of the land there, how to fit between the cracks. With a population that size, nightly feedings wouldn’t put a bull’s eye on him, even without Sunnydale blindness. He’d set up in an apartment, something nice and posh. Then he’d invite them all out for a short vacation. He’d show them the town, do the whole tourist thing. Not a bad idea in and of itself, they could all use a bit of downtime. They’d see how well he was doing and they’d remember how much they missed having him around. He’d be headed back with them when they left. A couple months should be more than sufficient time to get himself set up and he could issue the invitation to match up with the Christmas holidays. Might even do New Year’s Eve in Times Square, then off back home.
As the evening wore on traffic thinned out and he could feel the smooth glide of the road as he raced down the I70, feeling more optimistic than he had since this enforced road trip began. He knew he wasn’t the best at strategizing, but this plan had success written all over it. Nothing could be easier
He was forced to stop somewhere around Harrisburg and chortled a bit at the irony. He didn’t even bother getting a room, just found a convenient parking garage. After relieving the attendant, who had interrupted his nap, of a couple pints, he wandered for a bit, too restless to sit still anymore. He found himself an Internet café and caught up on his daily emails, relieved when nothing traumatic had happened since he last checked in. He did a news search, just in case, but no mysterious crisis loomed in Southern California that the conventional news was aware of. After that, he started looking into accommodations in New York. Since he planned to stay awhile, the various credit cards he’s appropriated in his travels wouldn’t do, so he pulled out his own seldom used card. He’d listed Angel’s hotel as the billing address just to tweak the old bastard. He wished he could see Angel’s face when he got the bill.
By then, it was getting sufficiently close to sunset that he headed back to his car, hauled the bound and gagged attendant out of the trunk, sat him next to a minivan and gave his cheek a friendly pat before heading out again.
The previous night’s optimism hadn’t left him, but he recognized that he had work ahead of him. There were people he needed to contact, arrangements to be made. New York was a lot pricier than it was the last time he was there, he’d need a healthy influx of cash if he wanted to set himself up in impressive digs. Enforcer jobs brought in some nice dosh, but he didn’t fancy working for someone else as hired muscle. Setting himself up as the big fish was doable, but it would take too much time. No, he’d need to make a big score fast. In the old days, he’d have found some rich bloke whose home would suit, kill him and take it for himself. With his current restrictions he’d have to get more creative.
He had been so lost in his musings that a glance at the horizon convinced him he’d taken a wrong turn somehow. He caught the next road sign and it indicated he was where he thought he was. It took a few more miles to hit him that he was missing seeing the Twin Towers. The last time he’d driven this way they were already rising like obelisks against the night sky even this far out. This early in the evening they would have been lit up and easily visible.
Reassured that he hadn’t taken a wrong turn, he went back to musing over his plans, nebulous as they were. But something would turn up. He was past due a break.
He parked the car across the street from the Roosevelt in a tow away zone. Everything he wanted safely tucked in his duffle, not like the car would be here later. Besides, a car was more of a liability in New York than an asset.
The bird at the check in desk didn’t bat an eyelash as she confirmed his reservation and handed him his key. His special request for a west facing king suite had been fulfilled without comment. Spike was instantly reminded just how much he loved this town.
He dumped his bag in the room and headed back out. The night was still young and he didn’t have time to waste.