I felt like a freight train had just slammed into the left side of my chest. Then I was suspended in space, plunging downward ten stories to a fate my police vest wouldnt save me from. Unthinkingly, blindly, I reached out
and caught hold of the rusted iron railing of the ancient buildings fire escape. Pain lanced through my shoulder, hot and sharp, muscles and tendons tearing under the sudden strain.
The pain brought me to my senses quickly, and I added my uninjured arm to my grip on the railing. Taking a deep breath and gritting my teeth, I managed to pull myself up onto the landing, where I collapsed on my back. I lay there, breathing hard and trying to think past the fire in my shoulder. I took stock.
My right arm didnt want to respond. I didnt think it was dislocated, but Id done the shoulder some considerable damage. My chest didnt feel much better. The slug hadnt gotten past the vest, but I was pretty certain it had broken a rib or two, and there was no telling what kind of damage had been done by hydrostatic shock. I didnt taste any blood, nor did I feel any fluid in my lungs, so at least it didnt look like Id punctured a lung. You take your consolation where you can get it sometimes.
I looked up toward the roof line and saw Spike leaning out over the edge. As he looked at me, I saw his lips form a choice profanity, then he was gone.
I fumbled for my gun with my left hand and pulled myself into a sitting position, my back against the railing. I trained the weapon on the blackness behind the glassless window that opened out onto the fire escape. My breath sounded harsh and loud to me, and I tried to calm it, to concentrate all my senses on the dark room in front of me. I was only going to get one chance at this.
Wait for the door to the room to open, then take the shot. That was the plan. Patience. Dont rush the shot, but dont take too long. What was it someone had said about winning a gun fight? That the trick was to take your time in a hurry?
The rain started in warm, fat drops that mixed with the sweat running down my scalp and into my eyes. Below me, the noise of city traffic droned its constant background racket. A metro bus must have been passing by, because I could hear its electronic billboard rattling off ad copy for the NutriBurger chains Soy Melt special.
My heart felt like someone had injected adrenaline directly into it, and my left arm was getting tired. The holographic sight picture of the Magnum wavered and bounced in my vision.
Where was he, damn it? Come on, you s.o.b. Show yourself. Lets finish it.
Doubt began to creep into my mind. I should have made a run for it when I had the chance. But then again, I was a mess. I wouldve been lucky to get half a block before Spike caught up with me. But maybe I could have hopped a bus, or flagged down a blue-and-white, or
No second guessing, Summers. Concentrate.
The clatter from off to my left seemed ridiculously loud to me and I turned toward it with a start. I squeezed off a round, rushed, wild. It passed harmlessly over the head of the figure crouching on the other fire escape several yards away.
Shit. Why didnt I think of that? Stupid, Summers. Stupid.
Spike was a blur of motion as he covered the landing in one powerful stride. He leapt, and his right foot pushed off the railing. Then he was airborne, arcing through the night, through the gap between the fire escapes. He cleared the railing on my own landing and came to rest less than three feet from me.
I retrained my gun on him and he kicked it out of my hand. I watched as it fell several floors to land squarely on the El tracks below.
Im afraid youve started to irritate me, love, said Spike. This little games lost its appeal.
He must have expected a quip from me, because he hesitated, waiting.
Instead, I put the last of my strength into a kick to his knee. To my surprise, it connected and I heard him grunt as he went down.
I rolled away, rose, and vaulted over the railing. I hooked my almost useless right arm around the iron and grabbed the ledge of the landing with my good hand. Then I swung down to the landing below me. Its a lot easier in the telling than it was in the execution, let me tell you.
I rode the fire escapes telescoping ladder down to the next floor below even as I heard Spike scramble to his feet. One more flight down and I was level with the El tracks and my gun.
The planners had shoehorned the new El into the city thoroughfares with no regard for anyone living along its route. Thank God for an uncaring bureaucracy, because here the train passed bare feet from the buildings fire escape. I climbed over the railing and made the short jump to the track, my bad leg nearly giving out and the wound beginning to bleed afresh. My gun was only a few yards away. A few yards between life and death.
Without guardrails alongside the rain-slicked trackway, it suddenly seemed like a long way down, and I edged forward carefully. My hand closed around the guns Neoprene grip and it was one of the most welcome sensations of my very long life.
I took a quick look at the weapon. It seemed intact, except for a broken holo-sight. I was ready for him when I heard Spike land on the track behind me.
I spun in a crouch, loosing my balance halfway around and falling ignominiously on my butt. Nevertheless, I still managed to get the weapon trained on my relentless, demonic pursuer.
Except, he had his gun trained on me, too. Mexican standoff. I didnt know how that phrase got coined, but it sure as hell applied just now.
The moment seemed to stretch indefinitely, the two of us watching each other and watching our lives end then and there, all our thoughts and hopes and dreams ending on a hot, rain-soaked night in a city that could hardly care whether either one of us lived or died.
Suddenly, Spike laughed. At me.
What? I asked.
You look ridiculous, flat on your ass and soaking wet. Like a drowned rat.
I didnt see the humor.
Then he did something I never expected. He slid the safety of his gun on and stuck the weapon into his waistband behind his back. I cant say I returned the favor. The Magnum maintained its increasingly unsteady bead on his torso.
So, how does it feel? he asked.
How does what feel?
To be the hunted, to live wondering if this moment is your last. No fun when the shoe is on the other foot, is it, Slayer?
I dont understand, I said. It was true. I didnt. Maybe I would have at any other time, but right then as I battled fatigue and pain and the dread of my own death, I didnt understand.
Killing you is a waste of time. A redundancy. You died a long time ago. Your body just hasnt caught on to the fact yet.
I dont trust you, I said. The rational part of my brain kept screaming at me to kill him, but I didnt. For some reason Ill never understand, the instinctive part of my brain refused to send that signal.
Well, I suppose you have precedent to base that on. I wont argue with you. But that was the old me. The new me, much as I may despise the fact, has his soul back. Its a real bitch having a conscience. Couldnt even bring myself to kill your friend Cordelia.
Cordelias alive? I asked, hoping against hope that this wasnt just one more lie, another deception in an endless list of them.
It would have been like killing a puppy. Which I used to do, mind you, but theres that conscience thing again. Funny how that works. Of course, you probably dont know anything about matters of the conscience. None of you Slayers do. You all traded your souls for a lot fewer pence on the pound than I got, he said.
Maybe, I said.
He looked past me, above me, at the city that spread out into the distance. He looked wistful and sad, something Id never seen in him before.
These people, these mortals they have no idea the things weve seen in our lives, Buffy. Wonders and horrors, moments of sublime beauty and years of unimaginable ugliness. It changes us inside. Makes us different, lonelier, less a part of their world with each passing decade until theres nothing left of us but faded images of our past selves and distant echoes of old battles that we re-fight endlessly because thats all we have left of who we once were.
In all the years Ive known him on two separate Earths, Id never heard anything like that from him. But then again, I never knew a Spike with a soul until this minute.
Is that why you killed Lothair, to keep our battle going? I asked.
Spike came out of his reverie and said, Nothing so abstract, Im afraid. That was just me playing old Elliot at his own Darwinian game. Im the top of the bleeding food chain, a shark in a kiddy pool. But Elliot and his evolve or die crap would have ruined that, made me just one more shark in a sea of sharks. No, you and I are too old to keep on evolving and adapting. Were at the end of our evolutionary run, and if they rewrite the rules on us now, I think were out of the game.
So what now? I asked.
Thats rather up to you, ducks. As for me, Id just as soon get in out of the rain.
He turned away and I just sat there, my gun still trained on his retreating back, the rain slashing through the gulf of night that widened between us.
I dont know why he let me live. I dont even know why I let him live. Maybe at the end of the day we needed each other to justify our own existences.
And maybe we werent really so different underneath as we liked to believe. We were two killers on different sides of the same war, and both of us had given up the really human parts of ourselves a long time ago. Maybe this one act of mutual salvation was a first, small step back for each of us.
I watched him disappear down the trackway, into the rain and the dark, then with effort I rose and walked into my own endless night.
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