The Blind Leading


by Saber ShadowKitten





Part Six





Practice, practice, practice.

Práctica, práctica, práctica.

"Put obstacles in your way," instructed Carmen.

Spike threw more crap on the floor and walked over or around it.

"Stairs. Up and down," said Carmen.

Jim, the security guard, gave Spike permission to use the stairs at the NBS building.

"Curbs and cars," taught Carmen.

Spike ventured out into the motel parking lot late at night, banged into cars, and tripped over the parking curbs.

"Let's take a walk around the block," suggested Carmen.

Spike blanched whiter than he already was, wondered if it would be uncouth to stake himself with his cane, then went for his first stroll on the crowded sidewalk with Carmen and the Chihuahua.

"Public transportation is the cheapest way to get around," informed Carmen.

Spike had chocolate and Reese's peanut butter cup ice cream and Carmen had vanilla with rainbow sprinkles after a bus ride to Maggie Moos.

"Will you please go and get me the new issue of Ladies Home Journal at the drug store across the street?" asked Carmen.

Spike told himself he was the Big Bad, held his cane in a death grip, and made his first true venture out alone.

When Spike wasn't practicing, practicing, practicing, he spent his time listening to the television or radio, and pestering one Detective Kate Lockley.

"LAPD -- 115."

"Detective Lockley, please."

"Lockley."

"Hello, Yancy Butler. How are you?"

"LAPD -- 115."

"Detective Lockley, please."

"Lockley."

"Yancy."

"Can you not call me that?"

"What should I call you then, ducks?"

"Detective."

"LAPD -- 115."

"Detective Lockley, please."

"Lockley."

"Detective Yancy."

"If I ask, will you stop calling me?"

"Of course... no, probably not. At least, not until you have a drink with me."

"It's Kate."

"LAPD -- 115."

"Detective Lockley, please."

"Lockley."

"So, Kate, how about that drink? I'm all for that feminist bollocks. I'll let you pick me up and drive, pull out my chair... hell, I'll even let you pay."

"Spike, you have to be the most annoyingly persistent man I've ever met."

"Is that a yes?"



*****

Spike entered NBS for his nightly appointment wearing a large grin. Kate had finally agreed to get a drink with him. Not that he was interested in pursuing an actual relationship with her -- he was still hard for Buffy -- but he was bored, Kate was a sardonic adult with normal conversational skills, and he hadn't had a beer in longer than he'd liked to admit.

Things were going pretty well in his constantly dark unlife. He still tripped and fell, got frustrated and angry often, hated that he was blind and sometimes became extraordinarily depressed. But now, thanks to Carmen, he knew how to fold his money so he could tell the value of each bill; he could take the bus to NBS -- a much cheaper form of transportation than cabs -- and get to the fourteenth floor office without help; Lisahuahua found a butcher shop -- ironically, Sam's Butcher Shop -- near the motel, which Spike could walk to, and he'd made arrangements to buy blood from there; and he'd found a coin laundry room at the motel where he could wash his clothes.

He was running out of money, though. The new motel manager charged $75.00 per week for the room, and blood cost a pretty penny. Plus, doing laundry was expensive, and the price of a carton of cigarettes had gone up again.

"Hello, Spike," Carmen greeted as Spike walked into her office, with only his cane as a guide. "You look happy. Good day?"

"'S'alright," Spike replied. "I finagled myself a date for tomorrow night."

"Fantasticó," Carmen said. "Where are you going?"

Spike shrugged. "A pub, most likely."

"Then tonight we'll work on dining in public," she said. "I hope Oreo cookies will satisfy as the main course."

They moved to the practice room, where Carmen set up several tables and chairs. She put in a cassette of "dinner conversation" and the room was filled with the steady conversation of invisible patrons and the clinking of forks against plates. Spike maneuvered through the tables using his cane, following Carmen's voice over the din.

Once seated, she showed him how to flag away the menu and request a dish summary; how to position items on the table -- similar to her previous mealtime lessons, which the vampire had found amusing; and how to subtly ask for the amount of the bill.

In the middle of their four-course cookie meal, right after Carmen taught him about paying the bill, Spike broached the subject of money and his upcoming lack thereof. Embarrassment burned his cheeks, but he was surprisingly grateful to the woman. She'd worked well past six o'clock because of his "disease" as the sun began to set later; she'd taught him how to get around on his own, even though he hadn't really ventured anywhere other than the butcher shop and NBS; and, horrors upon horrors, she'd given him hope that he would survive this second atrocity that had happened to him.

"Do you feel ready to attempt employment?" Carmen asked suddenly.

"Employment?" Spike was stunned.

"Yes," Carmen said. "There are several jobs available at the O.W.D. Incorporated factory, third shift. I could arrange for you to work seven hours per day, six days per week, so that you would be employed full-time and therefore be eligible for benefits without worrying about your skin condition. I would need a copy of your green card..."

Spike was no longer listening. Green card? Factory work? Employment? Being a biteless, blind vampire was awful enough, now he had to get a job?! Him?!

"'Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work we go.'"

Great, the darkness not only laughed, it sang, too.

*****

"...James Curtis is up next, from eight to midnight, here on NPR. Happy Cinco de Mayo. Goodnight--"

Spike clicked off the radio and stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray on the night-stand. Kate would be arriving at any time for their date. He was anxious and nervous as hell. Not about the date part -- he could sweet talk a chit out of her knickers in minutes if he wanted to -- but the 'going out in public to a place he didn't know' part. Despite having learned to get around on his own, he still hadn't gone anywhere unless on assignment by Carmen. He was afraid to -- afraid of looking the fool.

Unlife hadn't been the picnic it once was since the Initiative chipped him. The demon community was not that compassionate when it came to its incapacitated members. The weakest and the injured were normally culled from the pack. If Spike hadn't been old enough, quick enough, and fight-savvy enough, he would've been dust in the lyrical wind.

He'd always been too big for his britches, according to Angelus, and that meant he got into more trouble than he avoided. Even with the chip, Spike had managed to cause chaos, mainly to his fellow demons, but a few times he'd harmed humans incidentally. He'd adjusted to having the chip, though he hated it with a fiery passion, and he'd adjusted to being the constant butt of jokes within the non-human -- and even a portion of the human -- arena. To them, he was "the impotent vampire", "the neutered one", "Slayer wannabe", or, Spike's favorite, "the embarrassment."

Spike wasn't embarrassed about being blind, though. He was angry and hateful, but not embarrassed, not like he'd been embarrassed about having gotten caught and implanted by the Initiative. There was the potential for embarrassment, however, in going out tonight, increased by the fact that he was going to be with a woman he'd flirted with for months. If the Powers That Be had cursed him -- which he strongly believed they had, only not with a soul because that would be cliche -- then humiliation could be forthcoming, followed by more anger and a bout of depression.

Oh joy.

There was a knock at Spike's motel room door, and the vampire took a purposeful, fortifying breath before opening it. "Kate?"

"Hey, Spike," Kate greeted, her tone friendly, but wary. "Ready to go?"

"I'm good," Spike replied, checking to be sure he had his key as he stepped out the door. The segments of his white cane clicked into place as it opened.

"So, uh, what do I do?" Kate asked stiffly.

Spike crooked his right elbow, the cane in his left hand. As Carmen taught him, he instructed Kate how to unobtrusively lead a blind person. "Lightly cup my elbow and walk normally. Just tell me if you're suddenly going to stop or turn," he said. "Are you in the front lot?"

"Yes," she answered.

They made their way out of the courtyard in an uncomfortable silence. Spike felt his cheeks already starting to burn in humiliation. Did he lose his ability to speak when he lost his sight? Had it been so long since he'd done anything socially that he'd become like his wanker of a sire?

Spike mentally shuddered. He never wanted to become like Angel. It was bad enough they were related by blood, once removed, and that Spike had, at one time, thought of the plonk as his true sire. Dru may have made Spike, but Angelus had taken the time to teach him the less foofy stuff when it came to being a vampire. But time, souls, and a slip of a girl had come between them, and Spike would rather not have anything to do with Angel ever again, if he could help it.

Spike cleared his throat after Kate's SUV got underway. "Well, now that the painfully awkward silence portion of the evening is done, where are you dragging me to?"

Kate chuckled. "The Blue Bar," she replied. "I hope that's okay."

"Fine by me, Yance," he said with a shrug.

"Not again," Kate groaned.

Spike laughed, and the tension was broken. On the drive, they started debating about the music playing on Kate's radio and arguing over which classic rock band was better than which.

They both laughed as they walked into the Blue Bar to hear a song by the band they were arguing over playing on the jukebox. The Blue Bar was only semi-crowded for a Saturday night. Men and women were scattered amongst the booths along the wall, the tables in the center, and the bar on the far side of the pub.

Spike's cane lightly tapped against wooden booths on his left as Kate steered him to a seat. He was tense and could feel eyes on him. He heard several calls of "Hey, Lockley!" and he turned his gritted teeth into a false smile. "I'm guessing this is a cop bar," he said as he slid into a booth seat. His cane disappeared into his duster pocket before he shrugged out of the coat.

"You guessed correctly," Kate said from across the rickety table. "I figured better safe than sorry, if you turned out to be a serial killer."

"No worries, pet," Spike said. "My serial killing days are, unfortunately, over. You'll have to settle for simple sexual deviancy."

Kate chuckled. "In that case, maybe we should go somewhere that I won't be saved."

"Speaking of sexual deviancy," Spike said with a smirk. "I don't even know what you look like."

"I'm blond, blue-eyed, and could kick your ass from one end of this bar to the other," Kate said matter-of-factly.

Spike's smirk grew. "My kind of gal. Maybe we should go somewhere else after all."

Spike felt someone approach the booth, and he turned his head and raised his chin as if he could actually see the person that stopped at the table. His action was a form of politeness that Carmen had drilled into his skull. That woman had gotten him to do the most undemon-like things.

"Here ya go, Lockley," a gruff male said, thunking two bottles onto the tabletop.

"Thanks, Jeff," Kate said. As Jeff walked away, she lowered her voice and said to Spike, "Don't be surprised if several people stop by to check out the man who managed to drag me away from my desk."

More scrutiny, what fun, Spike thought. But it beat sitting in the motel room, brooding. One brooder in the Aurelius clan was plenty, two would be overkill. "So, Kate," he began, carefully searching for the beer Jeff had set on the table. "How was your day? Any horrible homicides that you want to share, complete with gory detail?"

Laughing, Kate responded, and the night got underway. As the evening progressed, conversation and beer flowed steadily. Kate was correct in her prediction of people stopping by the table. They taunted Kate and greeted Spike with a smile in their voices until he looked up at them. Then they grew silent, said goodbye shortly thereafter, and left.

"Do I have something in my teeth?" Spike asked, when yet another cop scurried away.

"No," Kate replied. "I think your eyes unnerve them."

"They're not crossed or something, are they?" Oh, that wouldn't be humiliating.

"No, they're normal. It just looks like you're staring through a person, or over their shoulder, instead of looking at them."

"Interesting, considering I'm not looking anywhere at all," Spike said. He never really stopped to think about how he looked to others. He was so used to not having a reflection, he could "make himself pretty," as Dru used to say, without the use of his eyes.

"How long have you been blind?" Kate asked, curiosity without malice in her tone.

"Since December. I was in a motor accident," he lied, using the same cover story he'd given to Carmen. He tapped the back of his head. "Damaged my occipital lobe, and now I'm blind. That's why I'm in L.A., to learn how to function like any normal bloke who can't see shite."

"In my non-expert opinion, you seem to be doing fine," Kate said. "A little mental for wanting to get a drink with me, but on the whole..."

"Well, I was pretty desperate for a beer," Spike said, smirk returning. A pretzel hit him in the center of his chest. "Hey, now! No need to throw things at me."

The evening degenerated from there. They left the Blue Bar shortly after midnight under a flurry of "Later, Lockley!"s, chortling like a pair of loons from a particularly raunchy joke. Spike was even able to ignore the stares he felt as he used his cane.

Spike could honestly say that he'd had a good time with Kate. He still didn't know if she looked like Dogzilla or not, but he wasn't planning to bed her so it didn't matter. For once, he actually wanted a friend and not a lover, someone he could call on without the romantic entanglements that caused more problems than were worth. Well, Dru had been worth it, he thought. And Buffy, although he hadn't gotten anywhere with her. Yet.

Luckily, Kate felt the same way. She'd made it perfectly clear that she wasn't interested in "that relationship crap," as she put it. She wanted a distraction from work, even if she ended up talking about her job while they were out. Spike didn't mind being labeled a distraction, because it gave him carte blanche to phone and annoy her when he was bored.

"Here we are," Kate said, pulling the SUV to a stop. "Do you need me to walk you to your door?"

"Are you planning on kissing me?" Spike asked with a leer in her direction.

"Only if you promise to turn into a handsome prince," Kate replied dryly.

"Ouch," Spike covered his heart, "that hurt, right here."

"Yeah, yeah," Kate said. "Whatever you say, Spike. Now, get out of the car."

"Rude chit," Spike said, smiling. He felt for the handle and opened the car door. "G'night."

"Goodnight," Kate echoed.

Spike climbed out of the SUV and closed the door behind him. His cane clicked in a hated familiar way as it unfolded, and he maneuvered between a pair of parked cars to the sidewalk. He knew to head left until he reached a wall, then to turn right to go down the hallway to the courtyard. Turning left at the wall would take him to the motel office.

Back in his room and glad that his humiliation prediction did not come true, Spike refolded his cane and set it on the night-stand, then laid his duster on the dresser beside the television. His Docs were lined neatly against the dresser, the toes underneath it, socks tucked into each boot. Jeans and tee removed, folded, and placed in the top drawer. "Always put your belongings in the same place," Carmen had taught. "And being neat will make things easier."

He was so neat now he rivaled Angel in the Tight-Ass competition.

After lighting a cigarette, the vampire turned on the radio to find out the time. He knew he should purchase one of those talking watches for the visually impaired. Lisahuahua said she could hook him up with a used one for cheap as long as he didn't mind that the watch looked like it'd been through a warzone. A fashionably conscience vampire he was not.

It was late night Saturday, technically Sunday morning, but most didn't claim the start of a new day until they'd slept. For Lukas, the procurer of anything for the right cost, it was the only time he arranged new business. Spike picked up the phone receiver and dialed. The line only rang once before it was answered.

"Yeah?" Lukas said over the line.

"Identification," Spike said.

"Kind?"

"Green card."

"A quarter."

"Not a problem."

"Tuesday, eleven p.m., back booth at Siggy's," Lukas instructed, then hung up.

Spike put the receiver in the cradle, set his cigarette in the ashtray, and sighed. He could afford the $250.00 cost, which was cheap compared to some forms of identification, but after that he'd be close to broke and would therefore have to get a job.

Maybe Kate could get him a job at the City Morgue. All the mostly fresh human blood he could drink for free and without the searing pain in his head, since those that frequented the morgue were usually corpses. Or he could be a janitor, with a cane in one hand, push broom in another.

With a slightly maniacal giggle, Spike began to thump the back of his skull against the headboard until his neighbor banged on the wall and yelled for him to stop having sex so loudly. The vampire laughed hollowly, scooted down on the bed, and buried his head under the pillow.

Spike, the Employee. It had such a wonderful ring to it. Humans and non-humans everywhere were quaking in their boots.

Why couldn't Riley's stake have been real?





Part Seven



Siggy's was located on the outskirts of the "bad part" of Los Angeles -- not that there was a "good part." Squashed between a tattoo parlor and an adult book store, Siggy's sat while street hustlers and prostitutes, card sharks, and salesmen set up shop on the sidewalks up and down the street. Demons, half-demons, and humans that were tougher than some demons were just starting to emerge as the sun set on the horizon.

Spike climbed out of the cab, shut the door behind him, and stepped up onto the curb. According to the driver, the door to Siggy's was directly across from Spike, and there was a bus stop two blocks north from the bar. With the meeting taking place at eleven, Spike hoped he'd be able to catch the last bus, which ran at midnight, back to the motel. He'd hate to have to call for a cab.

The newly painted black cane unfolded with its ususal clicks, and Spike headed for the door. He'd convinced Carmen at their session the night before to allow him to paint the white cane black. "For vanity reasons," he'd told her. He wanted to be less conspicuous, and that meant painting over the brilliant white cane that practically screamed: "Look at me!"

Counting his steps, Spike walked to Siggy's door and went inside. The noise from the street was replaced with the soft notes of jazz playing on the jukebox. He could feel a few pairs of eyes on him -- the early bird drinkers -- but on the whole the bar was relatively empty. The usual patrons didn't start filling the place until after nine.

Spike had been to Siggy's in the past so he had a general remembrance of how the bar was set up. He'd purposely come as soon as he was able in order to walk the place and reaffirm the layout in his mind. He needed to exude confidence once the other patrons arrived, or he'd might as well stamp "victim" on his forehead and beat himself bloody.

He took a step forward, then a second, knocking his cane against a waist-high divider to his right until the short wall ended. A military turn to the right, and he made his way past the tables lining the front of the establishment to the jukebox in the corner. Another military turn, this time to the left, and he was at the bar in a few steps, his cane clinking against the metal legs of the stools.

Spike removed a ten dollar bill from the front pocket of his jeans -- he had the money for Lukas counted, rubber-banded, and stashed in a liberated NBS envelope in the inner pocket of his duster -- and set the money on the bar, keeping his hand flat on top of it. "Stoli's, neat," he ordered.

A few seconds later, a glass thunked on the bar top in front of Spike. "One Stoli's, neat," the bartender said.

Spike looked in the direction of the bartender's gravely voice. "I'm going to walk the room. Will there be a problem with that?" the vampire asked with a hint of a growl.

"No skin off my nose," the bartender replied. "Just don't bother the other customers."

Spike nodded, and removed his hand from over the ten. He found his drink, took a sip, and set it on top of the bill, indicating he would be at the bar for awhile. The bartender went to answer an order further down the bar, but Spike could feel himself being carefully watched by the man.

Spike wanted to be in a position where he could easily get to the back booth. He'd persuaded the Lisahuahua to loan him a watch for the night, and he planned on staying at Siggy's, therefore he wasn't worried about missing his appointment with Lukas.

Late last Saturday night, after hours of internal flogging and half a carton of cigarettes, Spike had resigned himself to the fact that he was going to become a member of the workforce. Working was such a human trait that it made his stomach turn, but it was the choice he'd made.

On Sunday, he'd forced himself to sit down and make some decisions about the future. He'd faced several truths head-on: he would always have the chip and would never be able to intentionally harm a human; his sight was not going to return; Drusilla would never come back to him now; and he would have to have money in order to take care of himself. Other demons would just as soon eat him than help him eat, and he refused to stoop so low as to accept pity handouts from humans again. Going to Buffy and Company after escaping from the Initiative had provided enough humiliation to last him a century, he didn't need to add more.

Self-sufficiency was important to Spike. He was a Master Vampire, handicapped or not. If he chose to continue unliving, he had to fully accept and adjust to his new limitations. He'd already started down that path by religiously going to NBS and learning to use a cane. He'd simply had to decide if he wanted to go on or go sunbathing.

Suicide was a coward's way out, and no one would get away with calling Spike a coward. Not even himself.

He conveniently forgot the fact that he'd tried to commit suicide before. His declaration sounded much more impressive that way.

*****

Siggy's had gotten crowded as the night wore on, the small bar filling with customers both human and non. The music from the jukebox had changed from jazz to hard rock, but the loud voices of the patrons drowned most of it out.

Spike had changed his seat to the other end of the bar, and had switched from drinking Stoli's to beer. He nursed each bottle for as long as possible, usually until the bartender returned to ask if he wanted a refresher. The blond didn't want to give the bartender an excuse to kick him out for loitering.

Some of the patrons had tried to strike up conversations with Spike, but he politely put them off. Rudeness at Siggy's could lead to a fight, and that was not something the vampire was interested in. He just wanted to meet with Lukas, purchase his green card, and catch the bus back to the motel.

"Ten fifty-eight p.m.," a mechanical voice said when Spike held the watch to his ear and pushed the button. He'd been checking the time continually throughout the night, not wanting to be late.

Swallowing back the rest of his beer, Spike set the bottle on the counter and stood. This was it, he thought, taking his cane from his pocket. He was on his own, about to maneuver through a crowded bar using his cane, announcing to all those present that he was blind.

Spike couldn't decided whether he had the biggest pair of wrinklies around, or if he was the stupidest git on the planet.

Squaring his shoulders, Spike opened his black cane and tapped the tip twice on the wood floor, gaining the attention of those closest to him. "Excuse me," he said, half-sensing where the patrons stood in conjunction to him. He slowly took a step away from the bar, starting a shortened swing-arc with the cane. Another step forward, then another. He could feel the others watching him, a sensation he hated, as he made his way to the back booth.

His cane made a hollow sound as it hit the edge of a booth, and Spike hoped he'd reached the correct one. He cleared his throat. "Lukas?"

"Sit down."

Derisively congratulating himself on reaching the correct table, Spike patted the seat to the left of the voice and slid into the booth. His cane was quickly folded and set on the table in front of him. In his mind, he pictured how Lukas had looked the last time he'd met the half-demon: larger than normal head, human features with over-pronounced brow, dreadlocks, grey-brown skin tone.

Across from him, Spike heard the pages of a book turn. "Tuesday, eleven, green card," Lukas said, indicating he was looking at an organizer. "A quarter."

Spike took the envelope from the inner pocket of his duster and slid it in Lukas's direction. He listened as the sealed envelope was opened and the rubber-banded money fanned. The vampire refrained from growling at the disrespect Lukas showed by counting the money in front of him. He needed that green card.

"What name do you want on the green card?" Lukas finally asked.

Keeping the bite from his voice, Spike supplied the information as Lukas requested it. The green card needed to match the fake Driver's License, which Carmen had a photocopy of in his file. She was going to use both to obtain employment for him -- whoopie -- and he didn't want anything to screw that up. Of course, he had no way of knowing how real the green card looked, or if the information really did match his fake license. He'd have to trust that Lukas wasn't going to take advantage of a blind person.

Trust wasn't Spike's strong suit, but what was he going to do? Ask a passing bar patron if his illegally obtained ID looked authentic?

The benefit of using Lukas, however, was that he produced the item requested almost immediately. While Spike sat there, he could hear the tapping of a keyboard as the other man created the false identification. If Spike remembered correctly, Lukas had a small portable color printer and a small laminating machine that he carried in a thick metal briefcase, along with a laptop and other tricks of the modern forgery age.

"Here you are, Mr. Smith," Lukas said, putting the new green card in Spike's hand. "It is a pleasure doing business with you."

Spike knew a dismissal when he heard one. Putting the identification in his inner coat pocket, he nodded in Lukas's direction, stood, and unfolded his cane. He made his way to the front door without incident, having memorized how to get there from the booth earlier. The other patrons of the bar ever-so-nicely moved out of his way with a maximum of staring and whispers about the blind man.

Out on the street, Spike sighed in relief. One green card obtained and paid for, he thought, and one vampire unscathed. He hit the button on his borrowed watch. "Eleven thirty-seven p.m.," the mechanical voice intoned. Spike smiled. He would even make the bus.

Turning north, the blond vampire headed up the block, keeping near the buildings as he was taught. In the few months that had passed, his hearing had become sharper, as had his other three senses. It was interesting how his body had compensated for his loss of sight even though he was undead. Spike could tell the direction of the traffic on the street, pre-warning him of when he was approaching an intersection. By listening, he knew when it was safe to cross... well, as safe as it could get when crossing the street in Los Angeles.

On the second block north of Siggy's, Spike came to a stop and waited until he felt someone walk near him. "'Scuse me," he said quickly. "Can you direct me to the bus stop?"

"Uh, sure," a male said warily. "It's at the next corner."

"On this side of the street?"

"Yeah."

"Thanks, mate," Spike said. As the human rapidly walked off, Spike growled unhappily. A very large detraction from his sharper senses was that fear smelled all the more intoxicating to him. What he wouldn't give to be able to drain a human just once more, to feel the body stiffen in his hold, to hear the gasp of pain as his fangs pierced the supple skin right over the jugular...

So far into his fantasy, Spike failed to sense someone come up behind him until he was roughly pulled backwards. The vampire stumbled as he was spun and violently shoved, the sudden dampening of the sound of traffic telling Spike he was between two buildings. His cane clattered loudly against the pavement as it was knocked from his hand.

"Give me your money," a stony voice ordered.

Spike's jaw almost dropped in shock. He was being mugged?

"Now," the male demanded, "or you'll be kissing the pavement."

The incredulity of the situation struck Spike, and he laughed in disbelief. "This just isn't my decade!"

The mugger attacked swiftly and harshly, indicating he wasn't an amateur or a drunk. The fist that connected with Spike's jaw had enough strength behind it to knock the vampire back a step, and it told him two things: the mugger was human, and Spike was fucked.

Spike managed to block the next hit, but the mugger's follow-up jab sent him staggering. His foot came down on the cane and, just like in the cartoons, the cane rolled and his foot flew out from under him. He tried to catch himself by dropping to one knee and proceeded to hurt himself worse by landing in a half-split, his tailbone cracking against the thick heel of his boot.

The mugger showed no mercy, and the heavy ring he was wearing split Spike's lip on the next blow. Spike brought his hands up and shoved the human away, the brief jolt of pain in his head reminding him there wasn't much more he could do.

Spike put one hand on the ground, twisted his other leg under him, and started to stand. The mugger had the clear advantage, though, and the blond grunted when a boot connected with his ribs. Steel toed, didn't it figure?, Spike thought.

It was unfair. The fight was more demeaning than hurtful; the Slayer dished out much worse when she wasn't even mad at him. But Spike couldn't do anything to the mugger without the chip searing his brain. Hell, he couldn't even simply run away because he was blind!

Spike growled when the man stomped on his fingers. Game-faced, his head shot up and he snarled threateningly in what he hoped was the human's direction. He couldn't beat off the git, but maybe he could scare the arsehole away.

The mocking darkness had a name. It was Murphy.

"Vamping out won't save your hide, muthafucker," the mugger sneered. "If anything, it sealed your coffin." He laughed. "Get it? Sealed your coffin?"

Bloody h;ell, not only was Spike blind, defenseless, and most likely going to be staked by a random human mugger, it was a mugger that punned. Could anything be more humiliating?

The mugger suddenly squawked, and it was followed by the sound of a body hitting the ground.

"Spike?" Angel's surprised voice came out of the darkness.

Spike dropped his head and groaned. He'd had to ask.





Part Eight





"Spike, what are you doing here?" Angel asked, surprise already replaced by annoyance in his tone.

Spike sat up on his heels, game-face fading away, and sent a dirty look in Angel's direction. "Do you mean: what am I doing in this alley, or the big existential: what am I doing on this earth besides waiting to see if my dick's gonna fall off next?"

"Let's go with what you're doing in this alley, since your brain probably spasmed with your use of the word 'existential' and will need time to recover," Angel replied.

"I'm impressed," Spike said. "A little long but mildly witty retort."

"Ten seconds, Spike, or I'll finish what this guy started," Angel threatened.

"I was being mugged, you great gormless git," Spike said in exasperation, "which you ever-so-nicely saved me from. So I thank you--" because it would freak Angel out, "--and, now, if you'll excuse me, I have a bus to catch."

"You were being mugged?" Angel said skeptically.

"Fuck you, Angel," the blond spat. He did not need Angel reminding him of his complete helplessness. He checked his duster pocket for the green card -- at the rate things were going, he was surprised to find it was still there -- then felt around for his cane without being obvious.

"Oh yeah, that's right -- you're chipped," Angel murmured quietly, but Spike heard him.

"That's right, I'm chipped," Spike snapped. Angrily, he started slapping the ground in his search. "I'm biteless. I'm fangless. I'm neutered, impotent, fixed, or whatever the bloody hell else you want to label me. I've heard 'em all." His hand came down on his cane and his fingers closed around the familiar plastic-coated wood.

Now, if he could only stake his sire with it...

"Don't even think about it," Angel growled in warning, his foot coming down over the cane as Spike went to pick it up. He grabbed the blond tightly by the arm and hauled him to his feet.

"Let go!" Spike exclaimed, ineffectually trying to break free. "You've done your soddin' good deed, now leave off!"

Angel released Spike with a small shove, and the younger man bumped into the wall. "If I hear that you're the cause of any trouble in this city, I'll be on you faster than a fly on shit, got it?"

Spike straightened his duster, surprised by the older vampire's coarse language but not by the threat. "Are you through?"

"You can go," Angel said.

"Oh, thank you, your royal highness," Spike mocked, dramatically bowing.

"But remember, I'm watching you."

A vulgar salute was the blond's reply.

The mugger groaned, and Spike used what he hoped was a distraction to rest the back of his hand against the building wall. Angel hadn't seemed to notice that Spike was blind -- it was nighttime and they were in an alley, so it wasn't implausible -- and the younger vampire intended to keep it that way. All he needed to do was make it to the street, then walk along the curb to the bus stop on the corner without the use of his cane.

Ugh.

Spike set his jaw and started forward, his hand brushing against the rough brick wall. He forced himself to walk normally despite the desire to take tentative steps. He had no clue how far down the alley he'd been pulled, or if there was a dumpster or any other object in his path. Even a simple beer can on the ground could trip him up if he wasn't careful. If he wasn't careful, Angel would learn that he was blind and then his night would be complete.

Spike hadn't realized how dependant he'd become on his cane in the months he'd been using it. It had grown into an extension of him, just as Carmen had predicted, and gave him the autonomy that he craved. Despite being mugged, he vowed to no longer sit at the motel and wallow in self-pity to the theme songs coming from the television. He might be blind, be he wasn't an invalid.

At the moment, however, Spike felt like a fish out of water, floundering and gasping for breath. He refused to go back for his cane, though. He could ask strangers for help and be polite and courteous as he did so, but there was no way he was going to lose face in front of his sire... at least, not this time.

The alley wall ended at a sharp corner, and Spike followed it around to the front of the building. The noise of the traffic on the street increased in volume, giving him a general guidance. He didn't feel Angel's eyes on him, and he hoped that the prick would be occupied dealing with the mugger for a bit.

"Twelve oh-eight a.m.," the mechanical voice on the borrowed watch intoned.

"Damn it!" Spike fumed. He'd missed the bus. Now, he'd have to find a phone and call for a cab.

Spike slumped against the wall and thumped the back of his head twice on it with a: "Not... fair..." He pinched the bridge of his nose, wondering how much attention he'd attract if he started screaming. Most likely only Angel's, the one wanker whose attention he didn't want.

With a sigh, Spike pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He took a fortifying drag from it, then continued to follow the building, dragging his hand along the wall at roughly waist-level. There was bound to be a door sooner or later. He walked with his head down in hopes that other people on the sidewalk would chose to walk around him as if he wasn't paying attention to where he was going.

The first door was locked, but the second opened under Spike's hand with ease. He flicked his cigarette to the ground before slipping inside and letting the door close behind him. Cut off from the outside noise, the blond stood still for a moment to get his bearings.

Almost immediately, he knew he was in an adult bookstore. The smell was always the same: a mixture of lubricants, leather, plastic, sweat, and sex.

Spike took a step forward and, knowing that the clerk's counter had to be near the door, said, "Hello?"

"Can I help you?" came from the left.

"Yeah, mate," Spike said, turning towards the thin male voice. "Could I use your phone to call a cab?"

"It'll cost you thirty-five cents," the clerk replied.

Spike dug out the correct change from his pocket, walked forward with hand outstretched until he touched the counter, and set the coins onto it. He could feel the guy looking intently at him, and he stared sightlessly in return. "The phone," he prompted.

"It's right in front of you," the clerk said suspiciously. "Are you blind or something?"

"Or something," Spike said, running both hands along the fake-wood counter until he found the phone. Putting the receiver to his ear, he dialed the familiar number of the cab company he'd used daily before Carmen had taught him how to ride the bus.

"Pella's Yellow Cab."

"Hello, Jeanie," Spike said into the phone. "It's Spike."

"Hey, Spike," Jeannie, the control operator, greeted warmly. "You haven't called in a while."

"Charge me the same rate as taking the bus, and I'll promise I'll call more often."

Jeannie laughed. "You know that ain't gonna happen. So, where are ya, hon?"

Spike asked the clerk and repeated the information over the phone. "I'm at the adult bookstore on Fifth and Strieber."

"Now, sweetie, why are you in a place like that?" Jeannie asked with a slightly chastising tone.

"A man has needs, luv, and you won't let me call you for pleasure," he purred in response.

"Shame on you, Spike, for getting an old woman's imagination going," Jeannie teased. "Someone will be by to pick you up in about a half hour."

A half hour was perfect. It gave him time to make sure his sire had left the area and retrieve his cane. "I'll be waiting outside, pet," Spike said, and rang off with a promise to behave. He uncrossed his fingers and smiled slyly in the clerk's direction. "You have any entertainment selections for the blind, mate?"

*****

Twenty minutes after his call to the cab company, Spike left the adult bookstore and headed back to the alley. He figured Angel would be long gone and, hopefully, the mugger, too. Without thinking, Spike had counted his steps earlier, making it somewhat easy to return to the place of the almost-crime.

"Bloody prick," Spike muttered, cursing his sire as he got down on his knees in the alley. The cane had been in Spike's hand until Angel had bodily picked him up and pushed him away. Now, the blond had no clue as to where it was in the alley. He smiled wryly. He'd have to trust in blind luck in order to find it.

Starting near his knees, Spike began skimming his hand over the surface of the pavement. As taught, he worked slowly and methodically, creating an invisible graph on the ground. He moved his hand back and forth only the width of his knees, reaching forward as far as he could while supporting himself on one hand. When he finished a section, he took a single 'step' on his knees to the right and started again.

He kept an ear on the time as he searched. Jeannie would undoubtably send one of the regulars to pick him up, so he wasn't worried about missing his ride, but he'd rather not have anyone else know he'd been mugged if it could be avoided. He was bitter over the fact that it happened to begin with, he didn't need it compounded on by sympathetic humans.

"Got you!" Spike's hand closed over the cane and he sighed in relief, then he rolled his eyes at his behavior. Strike up the band, Spike found his cane!, he thought derisively as he stood. Cor, sometimes he was such a ponce.

Spike shook his head and started out of the alley, the cane swinging in a steady rhythm in front of him. There was a quart of Chateau le Moo on ice back at the motel with his name on it, and he'd probably make it back in time for the Late, Late Show. Julia Roberts was the main guest, as he recalled.

Spike's cane thwapped against something and he slowed his step. A second thwap, this one a little higher as he tried to identify what he'd come upon. "Er, excuse me?" he said questioningly, wondering if someone was standing in his path. No one had yelped when his cane hit...

"Do you mind telling me what's going on?"

Angel.

Fuck.

"Don't you have some damsel to rescue?" Spike retorted angrily. For the billionth time since being blinded, he mentally screamed: WHY ME?!

"What's with the cane, Spike?" Angel demanded to know.

"None of your effin' business," Spike snapped in reply. He purposely whacked the older man in the shin with his cane. "So move."

"No," Angel said simply.

Spike felt Angel's hand close around the cane, and he growled, "Let. Go."

"Spike, it's Wally," a new, gruff voice entered into the conversation. "Is there a problem?"

Spike yanked the cane out of Angel's hand. "No, Wally, no problem," he replied with a scowl in his sire's direction. The blond took a military step to his left and felt the alley wall brush against his arm. Without using his cane, he started forward.

Angel grabbed his other arm. "I'm not through with you, yet."

Spike shook him off. "Yes, you are. My unlife is not your bloody affair, Angel. I'm not some helpless sod that needs to be saved and I'm not a danger to your pet humans, so bugger off."

The blond vampire continued forward unhampered. He stuck his elbow out when he reached the end of the alley. "Wally?"

Wally, one of Spike's regular cab drivers, took his elbow. "I'm double-parked in front of the bookstore," the man said, guiding Spike towards his cab. He lowered his voice and asked, "Sure you don't need me to rough him up?"

Spike could feel Angel's stare right between his shoulder blades, and his cheek ticked from clenching his jaw. "Thanks, but no," he ground out. "The tosser's not worth it."

Wally assisted Spike into the cab, shutting the door behind the vampire. Spike clasped his thighs, his fingernails digging into his legs through his jeans, the folded cane resting on his lap. Posture ramrod straight, he faced directly forward as the cab got underway. Wisely, Wally kept silent the entire ride to the motel.

*****

Back in his room, Spike stripped down to his jeans, threw himself face first onto the bed, and let out a discordant scream. He hoped the Powers That Be were getting a good chuckle at the torture they were putting him through. He screamed again, just because it was something he could still do without any trouble.

Spike laid like that until a knock at the door dragged him out of his well-deserved pouting marathon. He knew who it was, too. The arsehole could never leave well enough alone. And Spike couldn't not answer, because the pillock would most likely just kick the door in and enter anyway.

"Grr," the blond stated, stomping the appropriate number of steps to the door. With a twist of the knob, he violently yanked the door opened and yelled, "I'M BLIND, OKAY?!!"

Leaving the door open, he stalked over to the night-stand, grabbed a cigarette from the pack in the drawer, and lit it. He heard the door snick as it was shut by his unwanted guest and the click of the light-switch on the wall. His shoulders tensed, he waited for the inevitable questions that he knew he had to answer before the bastard would leave him alone. He didn't have to wait long.

"How did it happen?" Angel asked, his tone bland.

"Not that you really care, but your little girl bashed me up against the wall one too many times," Spike replied, exhaling the smoke from his cigarette as he spoke. "She broke the chip, it fried my brain, and now I'm blind."

"Will you heal?" the older vampire inquired in the same emotionless tone.

Spike shrugged. "Doubtful. The Watcher says the brain can't repair itself like that, even in vampires."

Silence from the other man, which stretched on until Spike's cigarette was down to the filter. The blond stubbed the butt out, then turned around and leaned back against the night-stand with his arms crossed over his bare chest. "Get a good look, Angel," he said. "Because this is the last time I'm going to let you near me."

Angel was still silent, but Spike knew he was being examined like a bug under a microscope. Finally, the brunette spoke. However, what he said wasn't at all what Spike expected.

"Drusilla is in L.A.," Angel said, his voice still without inflection. "Darla is back from hell and with her. Watch your back."

The door closing sounded like a pistol shot to Spike.



Continued