All About Spike

Chapter: Prologue  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12

When Darkness Falls
By L.A. Ward and Sanguine

Chapter One: All That Matters

=Hell must be like this.=

Willow ran her hand over her face, then through her matted hair.  She glanced around the bar filled with demons of every size, shape, and description.  They drank.  They growled.  They cursed.  =Who am I kidding?  This isn't *like* hell.  This *is* hell.=

And the insane part was, she'd walked through the door of her own free will.

A seven-foot-tall warlock pushed Willow away, causing her to land in a heap on the floor. She didn't care. He'd given her what she wanted.  Her own powers might be bound, but now his effervescent sorcery bubbled in her veins. The catch? This magic came at a price.

A scaly black-and-gold demon with snake-like features grabbed her shoulder. He spoke to the warlock in a hissing language that Willow didn't understand--except that she did understand. She might not recognize the words, but she knew what was happening. She was being sold for the price of the magic. She had even agreed to it.

Willow shivered.  There was a creepy-crawly sensation under her skin.  Whether it came from fear or magic, she didn't know.  What she did know was that it wouldn't go away.  She had tried everything.  Going without magic or overdosing on the stuff didn't matter.  Something awful continued to wiggle inside her, but at least with the magic she didn't care.

She felt cold-that came from the magic too.  The room around her was stifling, but maybe demons liked it warm.  Maybe it reminded them of whatever hell dimension they came from, or maybe the heat compensated for the cold that came from inside them, just as it came from inside her.  Most of the time it only seeped from Willow's veins, but sometimes it would roll out of her in waves, dragging her under a sea of ice. All too soon, she would resurface, and the memories would return. That was the worst of it. When she returned to herself and the reality of--

No.  She wouldn't think of that.  She wouldn't think of anything.  When Willow thought, she hurt.  Inside her was a gaping sinkhole of hurt.  Fate had screwed her.  Life had screwed her.  Not long ago, she'd had everything--a 4.0 grade point average, a perfected sunshine spell, and Tara.

Tara's skin had been soft and warm, and had always smelled of apricots and cinnamon. More times than she could count, Willow had lost herself in Tara's arms, in Tara's scent, in Tara's touch.  Tara had always been so calm and loving, and now she was dead and cold in the ground.

Did Tara feel as cold as Willow?  Did her heart feel like a block of ice?

Willow sighed heavily. She wanted everything to be over. That was why she had run away.  That was why she was here.

The demon, who apart from his black and gold color looked remarkably like a Cardassian from Xander's Star Trek DVD collection, grabbed Willow's arm.  His talons dug into her flesh as he dragged her across the floor.  No one protested.  No one said a thing.  This was a demon bar.  What did they care about one stray witch?

The demon headed toward the door. Where was it taking her? Would it kill her? Would it do something *worse* than kill her?  Then again, she deserved to die.  There weren't enough cookies and 'I'm sorries' in the world to cover what she had done.  She'd crossed the line, and her friends wouldn't respect her any more. They would look at her and see something dirty, weak, and low. She was beneath them.

Willow hated that.  She hated disappointing people.  She hated being less than the best.  She hated herself. What did it matter if a demon killed her?

The demon's scaled hand pushed against the door, shoving it open.  Something deep inside Willow told her to pull away.  If she didn't escape something terrible would happen.   But Willow didn't fight back.  She didn't pull away.  What did that mean?  Had she come to this place seeking death as well as magic?

The ground was wet and it stunk of garbage. As the demon lifted her against the wall, although Willow knew she should be terrified, she laughed.

Fueled by magic fizzing in her veins like Pepsi without the sugar content, Willow was beyond caring what the demon might do.  Everything felt distant and unreal. Nothing could reach her now, not even that terrible, high-pitched scream filling the air. . .and it was coming from her.

Without warning, the demon let go of Willow.  Cool air surrounded her as she tumbled to the ground, landing in a foul-smelling puddle of water. Her cry turned to a sob as she waited for the fatal blow. It was coming. It had to come.

What was taking so long?

There was a dull thud followed by a grunt somewhere behind her.  Then Willow felt a hand on her bloodied shoulder.  Her long-lost survival instinct kicked in and she violently pulled away, shrieking like a terrified animal as she cowered against the wall, trying to harness her borrowed magic.

"Bloody hell. What have you done to yourself, Red?" The familiar British voice caused Willow to open her eyes.

=Spike?=

The vampire knelt in front of her, framing her face between his cool hands. "Are you even in there?"

Willow flinched away. "Leave me alone."

"Not bloody likely."

"Go!"

Even in the dim light Willow could see the muscle clench in Spike's jaw as his eyebrows lowered. "How did you get here, pet? Teleportation spell?"

=Here?= Oh yeah, London. She was in London. "The Council."

Spike pulled her into a sitting position, leaning her against the wall. He patted her shoulder. Willow didn't know what to make of that.  Was this his idea of offering comfort?

Spike eased away and Willow noticed the snakey demon lying behind the dumpster. Was it dead or unconscious? Knowing Spike, it was probably dead.  Spike's frown knitted his brow, making him look worried -- which was weird because vampires weren't supposed to worry. "Think you can stand?"

"I can stand."

"Then how about trying to?" He sounded gentle. How could an evil creature sound so gentle?

Willow pushed his hand away. "Don't want your help."

"Willow--"

"I *said* I don't want your help."

Spike laughed bitterly. "No one ever does, but that's your tough luck. I'm all you've got." He stood, a black-clad creature with moonlight-colored hair and skin. "Skip the resolve face. As stubborn as you think you are, I'm a century more stubborn. Now, stand up."

It sounded like an order. The gentleness in his voice had been replaced by something stern and uncompromising, something that once would have made Willow shiver. Now she fought him. "No, and you can't make me!"

=I sound like I'm ten and he's making me eat brussels sprouts!=  Willow knew she sounded petulant and whiney, and if she really had been ten, her mother would have sent her to her room for an attitude adjustment and a nap.  But Willow wasn't some irritable child.  She was something worse.  She was something unspeakable.

"Why didn't you let the demon kill me?" she asked insolently.  "You're supposed like watching people die."

Spike looked angry or offended or. . .hurt?

=God, Willow, you really have gone nuts.  Either you *think* you've hurt something that can't be hurt or you *have* hurt something that can't be hurt. And neither of these things paint a pretty picture of you.   And, just so you know, neither does talking to yourself.=

Willow watched an agitated Spike pace in front of her like a wounded lion or tiger or something. She really must have hit a sore spot. But it was a very strange sore spot for a vampire.

"You're bloody fucked on magic, aren't you?"

Yeah, he was pissed.

"Summon any demons this time?" Spike tilted his head toward the corpse behind the dumpster. "That what he was?"

"Back off!" Willow didn't want to be questioned. If she had any spare power left, she would have sent Spike flying into the wall. She would have seen him staked and dusted just for looking at her. Willow didn't want anyone looking at her--especially someone who had  known her. . .before.

Spike didn't intimidate easily. "Get up."

"No."

"Will. . ." Suddenly he cocked his head to the side in a gesture similar to a puppy hearing something a human couldn't hear. Of course with vampire hearing, Spike probably *did* hear something she couldn't. "Someone's coming." And the low way Spike pitched his voice told Willow it was something bigger and nastier than him.

Spike hauled Willow to her feet, slinging her over his shoulder in a fireman's carry before she could protest. Willow thought about screaming for help as he strode out of the alley, but it required too much energy. Besides, Spike would only go into game face and scare the shit out of anyone who tried to stop him. . .unless the thing stopping him was a demon, in which case he would just kill it.

Spike set Willow on her feet when they reached the street. And unlike the dim bar and the dark alley, the light here hurt her eyes. Where were they?

"A few blocks north of Leicester Square," Spike said, surprising Willow because she hadn't known that she'd asked the question out loud. "Now, what the hell happened to make you fall off the sodding magic wagon?"

Willow blinked. Spike didn't know. How could he not know?   Had he missed the part where Warren had walked into Buffy's back yard and accidentally shot Tara dead?  Only it wasn't so much an accident as bad aim.  Warren had been trying to kill Buffy.

Emotion shadowed Spike's blue eyes. "Buffy. . .?"

"Isn't proving third time's the charm. She's still kicking butt in fashionable high heels."

"And the little white witch?"

Had bled to death on Willow's bedroom floor.  There had been so much blood.  It had splattered over Willow's clothes and had stained the floor where Tara fell. Willow had watched the stain grow. Millimeter by millimeter it had stretched out across the floor, taking Tara away from her.  Tara's eyes had remained open to the end--still serene and dark blue until they had gone vacant, lifeless, and dead--and Willow had been unable to fix it.  She was good at fixing things.  Why couldn't she fix this?

"Why, Spike?  I fixed the Buffybot.  I brought Buffy back.  Why couldn't I fix Tara?"

But Tara was gone.  Willow had known it the moment Tara had hit the floor, and something black and cold had twisted inside her telling Willow that all that was left was an empty shell. There would be no more laughter or shy delight in Tara's eyes. There would be no soft smiles or sweetly stubborn expressions. There would be nothing. Tara was dead.

How could Fate decide to do this to her?  Didn't the Powers That Be see how wrong this was?  Didn't they *care*?  Tara didn't deserve this!  Tara was kind and centered and good.  She was a rock.  Everyone loved her.  And hadn't Willow done what she was supposed to do?  She had stayed away from magic.  It had been hard, but she had done it.  Where was her reward? Where was her fucking reward?

When Tara had been shot, something inside Willow had died.  And when Tara had taken her last breath, something inside Willow had raged.

"I'm a killer.  I killed because I wanted to."  Willow carefully enunciated each syllable.  Inside she felt hysterical, but she knew she sounded calm and cold.

"Anya once summoned a vamp version of me from another dimension. The other me killed people.  She had my face, and she killed people, tortured them. I said she wasn't me."  Willow looked up at Spike.  "Now, I'm her."

"*I* killed Warren.  Me--the real me--killed Warren. . .and Rack. Then, I decided Dawn should be a glowy, green glob again.  I actually started the spell."

Spike looked anxious. "You didn't--"

Willow shook her head. "Buffy stopped me." She gave a frigid little smile. "I kicked her ass.  I kicked Giles's ass, too.  Then I tried to destroy the world."

And it had all been because of Warren. Hate like Willow had never imagined could exist burned inside her--hate for Warren, hate for Fate, hate for the world, a world that refused to do her bidding. It wasn't fair, and it wasn't right. And it would *not* be endured.

She had murdered Warren slowly, killing him inch by inch.  Her every action had been deliberate and without mercy. She had skinned the man alive, turning him into a living, breathing anatomy lesson--muscle and tendon, blood vessels and nerves all exposed, all raw and all in pain. He had been her hideous creation, full of ugliness and hurt, a reflection of what was inside her.  Then, Willow had set him on fire, incinerating him with nothing more than a casual gesture and callous "Bored now" because she didn't want to face what she had become.

When Buffy had realized what Willow had done, she had gazed at Willow with horror. Later, at the Magic Box, Giles had watched her with pity. But the face that Willow remembered most was Xander's.

Xander loved her. For her, he was big with the love and forgiveness.  He had stood between Willow and the end of the world, and had pulled her back from the edge.

That was a good thing, right?

It had been so easy to allow herself to think it was a good thing.  She loved Xander, and Xander loved her.  He had saved her.  It was enough. . .for about a week.  Then Willow had started to think about the big picture.

Why did she deserve to be saved?  Glory had been willing to destroy the world so she could go home.  Willow had been willing to destroy the world because she was in pain. World destroying was world destroying.  Glory's and Willow's actions had been essentially the same. Only Glory had been beaten by a troll hammer and smothered in Ben's body while Xander had spoken to Willow of love and forgiveness.

Why?

The more Willow thought about it, the more she suspected Xander didn't see what she had done--not really.  He couldn't if he still loved her.  He must have only seen Willow, his friend, not Willow, the world destroying witch.

Xander had never been one to accept change. So much easier to cling to what was comfortable, to think of a red-headed girl who treasured cookies and Crayolas and not  face the woman who dispassionately flayed the skin off a living man.  Who would want to face such a woman?  No wonder Xander kept a vice-like grip on illusions.

Willow glanced at Spike.  The vampire had no illusions and knew exactly what she had done. He didn't cling to memories of what she used to be. A creature of the moment, unable or unwilling to dwell on the past, Spike adjusted to change with lightning speed.  "That's a hell of a story, Will."

Willow didn't respond. What was left to say?

"Tara, she. . ." Spike ducked his head and shuffled his feet. "I'm sorry about Tara. She was a good sort."

And Willow could see that he *was* sorry, which  should have been impossible--except for a creature supposedly incapable of emotion, Spike overflowed with the stuff. He was weird that way. Vampires in general might be immune to sorrow and grief and incapable of compassion, but when Willow looked at Spike, she swore she saw all three.

"I understand," he said softly.

Willow didn't want him to understand.  "I guess you can't shock something which spent the last hundred years killing whatever crossed its path because the DMP doesn't serve people burgers." Even to her own ears, Willow sounded vicious.  "For me it's going to take a while to get used to this 'stone cold killer' thing. Wasn't on my career plan."

"Planning to make it a career?"

Sick, twisty fear filled Willow's gut. "No."  Her voice sounded tiny.

"Good." At Willow's look of disbelief, Spike amended. "Well, not 'good' precisely. 'Good' would have been to have never done it in the first place. But it's too late for that. Can't undo what's been done. . .though you have to admit vowing never doing it again is better than the alternative." He glanced at her. "Bugger it, Red! What do you want me to say? This isn't exactly my forte."

"Then don't say anything."

"Keep my mouth shut?"

"Pretty much. Yeah."

"Never been much good at that. And, to be honest, don't think it would do you much good. Kept my tongue too long. Should've gone after you after the resurrection spell." He paused and then admitted more softly, "I was just too bloody grateful to worry overlong about consequences."

They walked down the street in silence. Spike's shoved his hands into his jeans pockets, his shoulders hunched as he stared straight ahead. "The Council. You mentioned them. They bring you here?"

"For detox, but I ran away."

"Why?"

"Why the detox or why did I run away? I'm thinking the detox part is obvious. Big magic addict gone uber-evil."

Spike shook his head. "Never would have expected this of you, Red. Knew you were playing with the deep dark, but I didn't know how deep."

"Or how dark." She eyed him. "At least you didn't say I'm a 'good person.'  That's what Warren said just before I killed him."  She stopped walking. "I'm thinking skinning someone and setting him on fire knocks me off the 'good' list.  What do you think?"

A passerby looked at Willow with a startled expression, giving Willow the urge to laugh and ask why he was afraid of her when there was a vampire standing next to her. And if the vampire didn't scare the man, maybe he should see what the vampire had just killed in the alley.  But Willow didn't say anything.  Standing outside herself for a moment, she realized the stranger didn't see a vampire or a witch. He had no idea demons lurked alleys.  To the people walking down Litch Street, Willow wasn't a corrupted sorceress, and Spike wasn't Dracula's old pal. They were just two people discussing unspeakable things.

Ninety-nine percent of the population didn't know magic and monsters existed. It felt strange remembering that fact, remembering a more naïve world. And it struck Willow that if her plan for mass destruction had succeeded, these people wouldn't have known what hit them.  They would have had no way to understand.

Up until now she had told herself she'd only murdered Warren--who deserved it. Taking out Rack didn't count.  He may have been human, but he was a warlock. Killing him wasn't much different from Slaying. But standing on the sidewalk in Soho, Willow realized she'd almost murdered every person in sight.  "I think I'm going to be sick."

"Magic wearing off?"

Willow shook her head. Not saying no, but--  "You should have left me in the alley. You should have let the demon kill me."

"Another death wish.  Don't you think we've had enough of those?"

Willow glared at Spike.  It was *her* death wish. She could have it if she wanted it.

Spike gave an impatient growl and dragged her into Leceister Square's Underground station. She watched him plug two pounds into the ticket machine before gathering his change and handing Willow the ticket. "Use it." He pulled a three zone pass out of his pocket.

"Where are we going?" Willow followed him through the turnstile.

"You'll see soon enough."

The station's floor was gray and dirty and stained with substances Willow would rather not think about as she wrapped two fingers through Spike's rear belt loop. She didn't want to lose him in the late-night crowd.  The theaters must have just let out.

Willow rolled her eyes as she realized what she had done--so much for her bravado and protests of wanting to be alone.  She could have used this opportunity to escape.  Instead, she perversely clung to Spike for no reason other than he was a familiar form in a crowd of strangers.

As she followed Spike down the tiled passageway, Willow felt a warm, stale wind caused by arriving and departing trains.  And she found herself watching the graceful, unobtrusive way that Spike negotiated their path through the crowd--a predator walking unnoticed among the prey. He stopped at the far end of the platform; appropriately, for social-pariahs like Spike and herself, they stood alone.

"Never thought you were a coward." Spike leaned against the wall. "Guess I was wrong."

"Hey! Not a coward. I stood up to you even before the chip."

"That you did, pet."

"So I'm not a coward."  She looked at her toes.  "It's guilt. Newsflash. Some of us can actually feel it."

Spike pushed away from the wall when train arrived. "Which is why it's cowardice." He took Willow's arm in an oddly gentlemanly fashion to lead her onto the train. "That scene I happened on in the--" He paused for a moment then substituted the word 'pub.' "That was about numbing pain, wasn't it? You didn't want your conscience any more." He took the seat next to her. "Makes things a hell of a lot easier when you don't give a damn."

"You should know."

Spike ignored her mean-spirited remark and said quietly, "Death is the easy way out. It's harder to face yourself and what you've done. That's the real bitch. I can see why you don't want to do it. A get-out-of-guilt-free card must look pretty good."

"You think I'm trying to kill myself?"

"Yeah."

"But not because I feel guilty. Because I'm a chicken."

"Didn't say chicken.  I said coward.  Chicken is piss poor imagery.  Too comical."

The train came to a halt and the doors slid open to the tune of a taped voice warning passengers to 'mind the gap.' Spike and Willow kept their seats and waited for the doors to close and the subway to move toward the next stop.

Willow wrapped her arms around herself. "So what if I *am* a chicken. Big fat deal if I take the easy way out. I'm not important."

Spike leaned back, sprawling in his seat so that his body language projected both attitude and contemplation. "Why are you here?"

"I told you."

"No, I mean how did you come to be here?"

"Well, let's see. London. The Council. I'm thinking Giles would be a good guess."

"Mm-hmm. . ." Spike studied the advertisements over the seats on the opposite side of the car for a very long time before turning to face Willow. Then it was her turn to look away. As the train lurched into motion, she watched the way lights streaked by before they plunged into the next dark tunnel.

Spike wasn't deterred. "Let me see if I have this straight. You went Darth Willow, betrayed those near and dear to you, then got a yen to destroy the world." He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Seen that old story at least a dozen times, and I'm not even two hundred."

The doors slid open.

Spike tugged Willow to her feet. "Our stop, luv."

When they emerged onto the street he began talking again. "So what happened? Scoobies come to your rescue, risk life and limb to pull you back from the brink?"

"You make it sound like a lame X-Files episode. It--"

"Was traumatic. Not saying it wasn't. It was horrific and wrong, and it changed you. And maybe you *aren't* a good person any more. Maybe you'll never be that person again." Spike stopped walking.  He bowed his head as he considered something intently. Then he nodded and looked Willow dead in the eye. "No, you *won't* be that person again. You can't go back to being  who you were five or ten years ago any more than I can go back to being the man Dru found in an alley. But that doesn't mean you give up."

"That's different.  You *aren't* the man Dru found.  That man died.  He lost his soul."

"And does that make you better or worse than me?"

Willow wanted to scratch his eyes out. "Why are you doing this?"

"I'm not doing anything."

"Yes, you are. You pulled me out of that alley. Why?  Do you think it's going to win you Buffy brownie points?"  She circled the vampire who suddenly looked hunted.  "Why do you do keep doing these things? We aren't your friends, and we stopped paying you a long time ago. Do you think it's going to make a difference?  Do you think if you do enough good things we'll forget what you are? Or do you think at all?  Maybe you just decided if you can't be arch enemy try being best pals.  At least one way or the other someone would notice you existed." Willow wavered on her feet.  "It doesn't work that way."

"Tell me something I don't know."

"Then why do you keep trying?"  Willow stumbled.  "Why are you here?  Why-" Her legs felt like rubber and the world seemed kind of blurry around the edges. "What the--" Heat shimmered in Willow's head, chest, and arms even though her hands felt icy cold. Something wasn't right.

"Oh no, not yet," Spike warned.  "You save those magic DTs until we get where we're going."

As if she had any control of it.   Willow collapsed, and the effortless way Spike swept her up in his arms would have looked romantic if he wasn't an evil vampire and she wasn't a strung-out witch.

Actually, it probably *still* looked romantic. Spike was very handsome with his full mouth and sculpted cheekbones. His only visible flaws were a nose that looked like it belonged on a Roman statue and a scar bisecting his left eyebrow.

Willow couldn't deny it. Spike was handsome. She was gay, not blind.

"Red?"

"I'm not a coward."

"'Course you're not." Spike started walking again.

Willow had no idea where he was going, but Spike seemed determined to go there.  After a long silence he asked, "How many Big Bads do you think have tried to destroy the world?"

Willow closed her eyes.  "I'm guessing a whole bunch."

"More than you or I would want to count. And what do you think happens to most of them?"

"Slayer?"

"Yeah, more often than not. Although sometimes the scheme just fizzles so the Big Bad is hoisted on his own petard." Spike paused on the corner trying to read the street signs, looking as if he was unsure about which direction to go. "Hypothetical question: what would happen if I got the chip out and decided to take my revenge by destroying the world?"

"Buffy would stop you."

"'Course she would, but how? Tearful speeches wouldn't be included, and there'd be no desperate attempts to pull me back from the brink. It would all be very simple--big fight, a few well chosen quips, and a dusty end after which Harris would spring for a few rounds of celebratory drinks at The Bronze." Spike's words sounded flippant, but his tone of voice was anything but. He was dead serious. He'd thought about this, about what people's reactions might be, and Willow opened her eyes to see his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed some emotion.  "Thus would be the end of William the Bloody."

Spike turned down a narrow residential street. Occasionally, he would look at Willow with worry.  She must look like shit.  Either that or the shaking unnerved him.  She'd begun shivering uncontrollably ten minutes ago, and now it was becoming violent.

"Hold on, Red.  Just a little further."

Willow's head pounded, and even the street lights hurt her eyes.  Thankfully, it was darker on this street than it had been on the avenue.  Streetlamps were few and long stretches of black lurked between puddles of light.

It was in one of those long stretches that Spike chose to say, "The point I'm trying to make, Will, is you're not meaningless. They love you."  Willow didn't need to ask who 'they' were.  "They were willing to do anything to save you."

Spike paused in front of a wrought-iron garden gate. "So even if you can't forgive yourself, even if guilt is tearing you apart, *let* them save you.  Doesn't matter if you don't think you're worth it. They do. Do it for Buffy and Bit, for Rupert--hell, even for Harris. You're important to them. You're not alone."



Reginald Claridge had always known vampires existed. His father was a senior member of the Watcher's Council so Reggie had been raised knowing the story.

The world was older and far different than most people knew.  It had once been ruled by monsters, but eons ago the monsters had lost purchase on this reality, which had led to the rise of mankind. When the last true demon left this world, he fed off a human, mixing their blood, leaving a man's form infected by a demon's soul, and that vampire bit another human who bit another and another, killing some, infecting others to make more of their kind.

That was the story.  But vampires were like sharks. While they were most everywhere, swimming in the sea of humanity, most of the stories about them originated from the Hellmouth. The Hellmouth was the supernatural equivalent of chum baited waters of Florida, and Reggie was stuck swimming in boring old London. In his twenty-three years on earth--and his six months and three days as a Watcher--Reggie had never seen a single one. . .until now. And to think, he'd complained about having to stay late to do research!

The crystal orb on the table in the middle of the foyer, which was supposed to give warning when something preternatural and nasty approached the door, began to glow, causing Reggie's boredom to fly out the window. Looking through the peephole, Reggie saw a black-clad man, who wasn't a man, carrying a red-headed woman. It was so clichéd Reggie wanted to laugh. It could have been a scene from a nineteen-seventies Dracula movie.

=Except this is real.  This is happening! = a voice inside Reggie whispered excitedly as he wondered whether the woman was dead. Had the vampire ripped out her throat? Was he about to leave her bloodied, mangled corpse on the doorstep? Then, to Reggie's horror, the creature approached the door and rang the bell!

"Vampire!" Skidding across the marble floor, Reggie accidentally hit his head against the library door before throwing it open to find Lydia Grant staring at him with wide-eyed shock. "There's a vampire!" he told the blonde.

Lydia scoffed, "Surely not.  No vampire would be so bold."

Reggie crossed the library to grab the antique crossbow from the glass display case in the corner and pull a crucifix off  the wall before following Lydia into the foyer. But it was too late. She had opened the door.

"Lydia, don't!"

"Oh, my." She removed her glasses, and Reggie thought she used her hand to smooth her hair.

Reggie desperately tried to load the crossbow. "I'll protect you!"

The blond vampire standing at the door looked irritated. "Bloody hell." Gazing at Lydia he said, "Might want to take the tinker toy from the boy. Could hurt himself."

Giving up on the crossbow, Reggie dropped the weapon to the floor and held out the crucifix. "Back, you evil fiend!"

The vampire sighed.  Could a vampire sigh? "You know, I can't actually *cross* the threshold unless you invite me in. You're completely safe."

"Oh." Then Reggie lifted his chin. "I knew that."

Lydia's voice became soft and breathless. "William. . ."

"I don't go by that name, luv. Didn't you have that in your thesis? And just so you know, I didn't come here to bite anyone."

"Why are you here?"

The vampire nodded, indicating the shivering, nearly insensate girl in his arms. "Red here needs some help."

Reggie snarled. "You expect us to believe you came here for help?"

The vampire stepped back, gently laying the woman on the doorstep.  "You're the white hats, aren't you?  Bloody well, help her."  He looked at Lydia.  "Give old Rupes a call. Tell him I found his wayward witch."

Lydia's looked starstruck. "Of course. I--"

But the vampire was gone.  It shouldn't have been a surprise. Vampires had that blurry speed thing going for them, but, when Reggie knelt to help Lydia pull the woman over the threshold, out of the corner of his eye he saw the vampire standing across the street.  What was it waiting for?  Was it keeping watch?

Reggie anxiously moved to shut the door, but Lydia stopped him saying she would do it herself. And she did. . .eventually.  It took far too long for Reggie's taste, but Lydia seemed intent on watching the solitary figure across the road. The vampire nodded to them, turned, and left the pool of light.



Continued in Chapter Two: Blackmail

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