Spike reached the hardware store in the exact centre of Sunnydale's Main Street and checked his watch. It was nearly eight and it had taken him twenty-five minutes to walk here from his crypt. An onlooker would have seen his brow furrow and his lips move slightly as he worked something out, after consulting a tattered almanac, dragged from his duster pocket.
Satisfied, he turned and walked down the street, glancing casually into the lit windows. The display in the shoe store caught his eye and he hesitated a moment before pushing open the door. The store was about to close, but he charmed the assistant into staying open so he could try on several pairs of running shoes, choosing some that took his fancy. He paid for them with a moment of regret for the old days, where he would have dragged her to him across the counter and drunk deep and the only tip he ever left was the whispered advice that it was never wise to judge by appearances. He grinned as he remembered reading that the Queen never carried money. Neither did a vampire. The smile faded as his fingers curled around the wad of notes and coins in his pocket. The chip had a lot to answer for.
It was his chip induced melancholy that had prompted him to resurrect an old habit of his, one begun in the streets of London, with a score of fellow vampires running beside him. It was a gamble, a dare, a calculated risk - this time it might prove to be the last one he ever took.
Many hours later, so late it was almost early, he left his crypt, looking dubiously at his new footwear. They were a decent black of course and the way those lights came on when he moved was rather intriguing, but after his trusty Docs they felt strange. Taking it easy, he retraced his footsteps and waited outside the hardware store's door, watching the second hand sweep round on his watch until it reached the exact time he’d set for himself - ten minutes until sunrise. His body was almost trembling with the desire to move, to flee, but he quelled his panic, channeling it, transforming it into energy.
Pushing off from the door, he began to jog swiftly, dodging and weaving round obstacles. Not many moving ones; at this time there were few people up and about. He didn't get out of breath as a human runner would but he could still tire, could still feel the pull on muscles and the drag of encroaching fatigue. He left the town and ran through streets lined with houses, dark and quiet for the most part. His route didn’t take him near the Slayer’s house. He wanted no distractions.
The cemetery gates loomed up at last and a swift glance skyward sent a shiver of delicious fear to quicken his steps. He felt sunrise coming, fleet of foot as any sprinter, inexorable as any marathon runner - and he was still many yards away from home.
Now he really began to run fast, leaping over gravestones, his new shoes skidding on the gravel paths and dew wet grass. In a moment of near suicidal hubris he paused to snatch a flower from a carefully tended grave, a rose, perfect scarlet petals velvet soft, triangular thorns gouging his hand. The pain gave him the impetus he needed to force his tired legs to carry him forward to where the crypt door stood ajar.
His hands slammed against the stone as the first rays of the sun sent a tingling caress along his spine. With one final gesture of defiance (a century ago he would have saluted the sun with two fingers but age brings respect for an ancient adversary) Spike turned and squinted through tear-blurred eyes at the scant sliver of sun shimmering on the horizon.
Enough was enough.
Spike dived inside, his new shoes smouldering, his face with the twisted grin it wore when he'd risked everything and won. Licking absentmindedly at the blood that was welling up across his palm, he decided, as he always did, not to do it again. Too risky.
Odds were, one day he'd trip, or miscalculate the time needed to get home from his starting point for his sun race. One day.
But not today.
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