He kicked off his boots and reached for a smoke. It would be interesting to see how the news followed up on the aftermath. The Cleveland police department was being pummeled for this latest rash of murders. So far the public consensus indicated it was a group of teenage satanists. Spike laughed to himself as he slipped a Cramps record onto the turntable. If it wasn't satanic, it was gang-related. He thought back to how everything in Sunnydale was reported to be due to PCP. At least Clevelanders had some clue that they were living in a demonic hotspot. The ritualistic slayings had tipped him off. Too clean to be a group of kids. Rumblings in the local demon bar had everyone on edge. When his buddy Gar was unsettled, Spike knew something was up. A Kailiff demon, Gar didn't scare easily. Not at all.
It only took Spike a few hours to track down the beasties. A pack of five Prekians, likely on their way out of town. But it had been a slow week for Spike, and there was no way he'd let this rare opportunity pass him by.
Now he was feeling the effects of the fight. Five-on-one, weaponless against their carved blades, Spike pulled out olympic-worthy moves to best them. It was an intense battle, certainly rash and stupid, and it lit that fire inside him he remembered from those early years of being a vampire. All fists and fangs. He shouldn't have gone into a fight like this with out Gar, at least, but it had been a long time since he really let his demon out, and he felt he needed to. Good for the soul, he smirked, knowing that meant more than a couple things to him. (The soul you got for her, his unbeating heart whispered.)
He cranked up the stereo louder, stretching the kinks out of his now-achey muscles.
It's drivin' me insane
And I don't like your ride
So push that pesticide
And baby I won't care
Cuz baby I don't scare...
Spike inhaled a deep breath of cool night air. It really was too early in the season to have the windows open, but he liked the scent of the thawing lake. It had the fragrance of an old fishmonger's shop, like he remembered from when he was human. Springtime in Cleveland was the time of the "fishpocalypse," as he heard the college students describe it. The shoreline would be deep with dead fish, their silver bellies bloating in the sun. Lake Erie's sudden winds would carry the rotting scent all along the coast, together with the thankful sounds of hungry seagulls. Cleveland was a place of such dichotomy, constantly confirming that he chose his new home well.
He lucked out when he had arrived in town. Finding a cheap flat above an old Italian restaurant on the west-side gave him a perfect spot to keep up on all the action. His only neighbor was deaf, and the building next-door was a nightclub called The Phantasy. He could make all the noise he wanted at all hours of the night and no one would complain. The woman who owned the restaurant was elderly, and she gave him a good rate on the apartment in exchange for a helping hand. He also didn't need to steal much anymore with the wage (though small) he was paid to be the Phantasy bouncer. It really was a nice set-up.
All that was missing was Buffy.
He had tried to contact her when he was in L.A. Well, first he was too scared to—afraid that his glory would be wasted, and she'd regret those words she said to him before his very obviously-inevitable end. Surely, that's why she said what he'd longed to hear. She was clever enough to know that it would help him bear the pain of the end. And he appreciated it; he certainly did. Any scrap she'd toss him he savored. Saving the best for last made him feel the sacrifice was worth it. God, she wasn't the bloody Slayer for nothing. He loved her, and his sacrifice was so that she would make it out—so that she would live. He helped her return to life once, though he went about it the wrong way, he guessed. Closing the Sunnydale hellmouth was the revised version. He knew his love was real because he let her go. To live. That was the vision he took with him as he incinerated.
When he became corporeal again, all touchy-feely and not ghost-Spike, he'd tried to find her once more. Peaches wasn't very forthcoming with her whereabouts, but the lack of despondent brooding told him that Buffy must be okay, at least. Living her life, just like he had wanted. After he saw Andrew, he was sure the message would have gotten to Buffy of his return; Andrew wasn't known to keep a juicy tidbit like that a secret. But he never heard a word.
Spike couldn't help but take that as a sign that her last words to him really were a warrior's salve in the battleground.
You did the right thing, mate, he reminded himself daily. It was the only thing that got him through. And now that he was in Cleveland, he doubted he'd hear her voice again anywhere other than his dreams. He never told Angel or Ilyria that he was leaving or where he was going. Hell, he didn't even know if they knew (or cared) that he survived that last battle. He was done with the West Coast. California is where people come to die, he recalled from a book. Read it in the '40s and never realized how true it was, on so many levels. Spike died there too many times to count. He was heading back to New York City—busy, grey, interesting, and home to one of his greatest conquests. It was a place that always reminded him of his strength and the things he loved...before her.
Spike missed his old DeSoto as he travelled across country. He had hitched most of the way, swiping a car or two where the trains diverged. When he hit Chicago, he was happy to see a real city again. As he drove east from there, he hugged the Great Lakes and something stirred within. Cleveland. The hellmouth. Wood.
Angel had told him that the rogue slayer and Robin Wood settled in Cleveland to take on the nasties in that hellmouth. Ha! Spike had been to Cleveland before. Stayed there for a while in the late '70s. (But not long enough. Dru thought the blood there was bitter. Even the children were tainted, she swore. "They taste like rust. Old rusty nails and sewer grates.")
Cleveland was a much different hellmouth than Sunnydale. The residents weren't so vapid, weren't so in need of a slayer's help. They were cynical and poor and had thick blood coursing through their veins. Spike licked his lips in remembrance and grinned when he thought of the type of welcome Faith and the principal had probably gotten. That was something he'd like to see first-hand.
So, Cleveland it was.