“Just leave it outside,” she called. “I’m working.”
“You were ravenous ten minutes ago; forced me to go fetch you the grub,” he argued.
“Can’t stop,” she replied.
“Should I just set it outside your door then?” Spike asked. She didn’t respond, so he left the bag and went into his room. He pulled out a cold six-pack of beer from his own bag and popped the first tab. After draining the can, he sat on his bed and turned on the television.
Several hours and five crumpled cans later, Spike was in a deep funk. He kept thinking of Dawn’s face when she came off the tower, the desperation of her grief at Buffy’s funeral, the brave little soldier bit she’d been doing ever since. If he’d done right by Buffy, Dawn would be happy, and the Slayer would be alive. If not for Spike, the colossal fuckup, the Summers girls would be right as rain.
He chugged the last beer and tried to shake himself out of it. Do the niblet proud, be a team player, help save people the way Buffy had; that was all he could do now to honor the woman he loved and the sacrifice she had made. Living here, in the Hotel California, and dealing with his bloody sire and his irritating sidekicks, it was nothing compared to her gift.
It wasn’t all bad, Spike reflected. The hotel seemed familiar somehow; he liked the feel of the place. He thought he and Dru might have stayed here in the thirties. He decided to have a peek around the place, see if anything jogged his memory. Opening his door, he stepped out into the hallway.
Spike’s attention was immediately drawn to the paper bag that still sat in front of Fred’s room. His lip curled in anger as he banged on her door. “Thanks for checking on me,” she said brightly. “I’m fine.”
“Open the door,” he said firmly.
“I’m working,” she said. “I can’t stop.”
“You need to eat your food,” Spike insisted. “I know you’re bloody starving. Don’t be stupid.”
There was a pause. “I’m offended that you called me stupid, but I don’t have time to discuss this with you. You’re breaking my concentration,” Fred said sweetly.
“Right then,” Spike said. “Not like I give a damn either way.” He stalked down the hall and slammed open the door to the stairwell. Walking fast, he ascended a flight of stairs and opened the door, stepping into a hallway that looked exactly like his own. He opened the first door on his left. It was a mirror image of his room, the furnishings exactly the same. After checking several other rooms on the floor, he confirmed that they were all alike.
He jogged up another flight of stairs. A large table was pushed across the hallway, blocking the corridor. The entire length of this floor seemed to be filled with furniture, lamps, luggage and junk, as if everything unwanted in the hotel had been dumped here. Spike began whistling, happily reminded of his foraging at the dump in Sunnydale. He leaped over the table and began to shove stuff aside.
In short order, he had unearthed a bulky boom box, a case of scotch and a locked steamer trunk, and pulled them free from the tangle. Spike stacked the wooden case on top of the trunk and hefted the load, bracing the radio under his chin. Carefully, he made his way to his room, dropped his load and went back again. He juggled a Tiffany floor lamp and a small bookshelf down the stairs and into his room. Setting the lamp on his dresser, he rubbed it with his elbow, revealing the jewel tones of the glass shade. He moved the bookshelf into a corner and dusted it off as well.
Spike opened a small penknife and sat in front of the trunk, jimmying the latch until it popped open. Inside were books, carefully wrapped in brown paper. Spike dragged the trunk in front of the bookshelf and then unwrapped the volumes. The fifteenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica was in mint condition, the spines perfect, and there was a full set of the Harvard Classics as well. The vampire carefully set the books on the shelf, setting the first volume of the Classics aside. When the trunk was empty, he closed it and set it at the foot of his bed.
He hummed happily as he cracked open a bottle of really nice liquor. The vampire dusted off the radio and plugged it into the wall. The quiet hiss of static indicated it worked, and he twisted the dial until the sound of music played through the speakers. He sipped from the bottle as he lay down on his bed, his fingers gliding over the smooth pages, reacquainting himself with Aristotle.
Fred lay on her stomach, scribbling furiously along the base of the wall. A lock of hair fell into her eyes and she shoved it out of the way. Noise intruded on her concentration and her brow furrowed with annoyance. She stopped still, focusing on the interruption. Slowly she rose to her feet and followed the noise. The marker fell from her hand to the floor as she left her room and walked across the hall.
The sound grew louder, chiming clear and sweet to her soul. Her hand closed on the doorknob and she opened the door. The music washed over her and she closed her eyes, swaying. Images flickered through her mind. Flashes of memory, or dreams: the feel of grass under her as she lay on her back; dancing with a smiling man; the feel of a bow in her hands as she performed.
Fred heard a broken sound in her throat and felt the tears rolling down her face. She sank to her knees and cried, overwhelmed by the truth: she was back in a world that had music. A world that was real.
Spike watched the sobbing girl, seized by indecision. Comfort her? Ignore her? Go get someone else to deal with her? Her body shook violently, reminding him of Dru during one of her episodes.
He watched Fred’s shoulders heave. She was so thin and frail, and he couldn’t bear to see her this way. The vampire set down his bottle and book and walked slowly to her side. He leaned down and set his hand on her shoulder, stilling her. She looked up at him, her eyes red. “What’s wrong?”
The tears still rolled, and he could feel her trembling with the force of her sadness. “Music,” she whispered.
He grabbed a shoe and threw it at the radio. It fell to the ground with a crash, the music instantly ending. “Better?” he asked intently.
“No!” she cried, sobbing again in earnest.
“What did I do?” he said hurriedly. “I did wrong?” She nodded her head yes. “You liked the music?” She nodded vigorously.
“Damn it!” he swore. He got up and crossed the room, picking up the boom box. It was smashed, unequivocally down for the count. “It’s broken,” he said.
She wailed, an unearthly sound that raised the hairs on his neck. Sweet holy Christ, he wished he had some laudanum to dose her with. A thought occurred to him. “No worries, pet,” he said. “We’ll get more music.”
Fred stopped crying and looked up at him. He walked back to her and took her hand, bringing her to her feet. She stared up at him, looking dazed. “Come with me, princess.” She tightened her hand in his and he smiled. “Good girl.” He led her down the hall and up to the stash of discarded belongings. She watched from behind the table as he waded back into the morass of junk, his platinum head appearing and disappearing in the shadows. Soon he returned with a beautiful cherry and brass Victrola and a handful of shellac records in sleeves. He opened them carefully, finding record after record broken. The last one was intact, and he cranked the handle of the phonograph and placed the record on it. He set the needle into the groove, and music began to play.
A soprano voice sang in Italian, a low hiss underneath her aria. “I know it sounds like crap,” he said. “I’ll find a radio. This is just to tide you over.”
He moved back into the heap, coming out periodically with things he though she might like: an Art Deco mirror, a small still life, and a lamp with a pink-fringed shade. She listened to the music with her eyes shut, a look of peace on her face. Finally he came back out carrying a leather suitcase and a Philco Cathedral radio. “We can put these things in your room,” he suggested. “You can listen to the music whenever you want to.”
She smiled and helped him gather up the treasures he’d found. They went back to her room, and she swung open the door. Spike watched her take in the mess inside, the blizzard of papers, the writing on the walls. She stood and stared, seeing it as if for the first time.
“Do you want a new room?” Spike asked. “The hotel is full of them. I’m sure we’ll find one that suits you better than this.”
“I don’t think I need to do this anymore,” she said quietly.
“Why were doing it in the first place?” he asked.
“I was writing to try to make room in my head. I thought it would help move the bad stuff out, and then I could fit the good stuff in.” She turned and walked down the hall, stopping one door down from Spike’s room. Opening the door, she peeked inside. “This one’s better.”
“Let’s get you settled in then,” he said. Spike leaned the mirror against the top of the bureau as Fred plugged in the radio. She lovingly polished the beautiful antique and turned the knobs, then lay down on the bed and closed her eyes.
Spike set down the suitcase on the bureau. “There’s some dresses in here, look like they’d fit you,” he said. “Little frilly knickers and chemises and such as well.” He smiled. “If you’re anything like the other ladies I’ve known, you’ll fancy some pretty new things.”
He turned and looked at her. Fred lay across the comforter, her long brown hair sweeping over the pillows. Her eyelashes looked so dark against the white of her skin. She was sleeping peacefully, her lips curled into a sweet smile.
“I’ll just let you rest then,” he said. He turned and left the room. In the hallway he picked up the bag of Fred’s abandoned food. He sniffed it and shrugged. It smelled a little off, but that didn’t really matter. Lightning fast, he wolfed down the tacos, enjoying the taste of grease and hot sauce. After turning off the lights, he undressed and lay down on the bed. Closing his eyes, he listened to the sweet strains of the music next door. Maybe tonight he’d rest. Maybe tonight he wouldn’t dream.
The tower shook beneath his feet as Spike ran as fast as he could up the metal stairs. He pushed his body hard, willing it to move faster, the ringing of boots on steel hammering in his ears. “Run!” Willow screamed in his head. “Damn it, Spike, hurry!”
He could hear Dawn’s heartbeat pounding as he drew closer to her. Fear surged through his body. Was she hurt? She better not be, damn it, not his little girl. He raced out on the platform.
Dawn looked scared but fine, bound at the wrists like some human sacrifice. “Spike!” she cried out, and Doc turned to face him.
He didn’t waste time chatting, or posturing, or blowing off the old man as no real threat. He just pulled the knife out of his hand, and snapped his neck with one good twist. He dropped the body and ran to Dawn, ripping the ropes off her wrists and pulling her into his arms. “I was so scared,” she cried, her hands clenching in his coat.
“It’s over,” he assured her. “No one’s going to hurt you. Not ever.”
She pulled away. “Buffy,” she said frantically. “We have to help her. Glory’s so strong-”
They ran down the stairs, Dawn slightly ahead. Abruptly, they ran into the Slayer. “Dawn,” Buffy said in relief, grabbing her in a hard hug. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Dawn assure her. “Spike saved me.”
Buffy turned and looked into Spike’s eyes. “I made a promise,” he reminded her.
“I knew I could count on you,” she said confidently.
“We’d better go see how the others are,” Dawn said. She turned and walked down the stairs.
“So we managed to avoid the apocalypse. Again,” Buffy commented.
“What do you do for a follow up?” he asked. “Must be a bit of a let down.”
“I think the whole celebration of life thing is in order,” she said. “Even if you’re dead.” Buffy smiled at Spike and reached out her hand, closing her fingers over his.
Fred woke up with a yawn. She rubbed her eyes and stretched. Classical music still played in her room, and she lay for a while, relishing the sound of the chords. Her hand began to twitch, and she got up mechanically. She pulled a marker from the box in her pocket and stepped over to the wall.
Fred hesitated, remembering that she didn’t need to do this. Good things were here; the real world was this place. There was happiness in this world, although she only remembered bits and pieces, discordant shards of memory. She looked around the room and found a notepad, the hotels’ name engraved at the top in a rolling script.
“Texas,” she wrote. “Deirdre. Violin.”
She could write those down, try to merge them together. Deirdre. The name rang a bell, stirring up the muck in her mind. She walked across the hall and opened the door, moving around piles of paper until she uncovered three large cardboard boxes. “Winifred Beadle,” they were labeled neatly. She vaguely recalled going with Wesley to a building where he said she’d lived, meeting an old lady who seemed happy to see her, and bringing the boxes home.
“Her sister Deirdre sent movers to pack up the apartment,” she had said. “She told me to just give everything to charity, but I didn’t have the heart to give away her pictures and personal things.” Cordelia had showed her pictures and mementos from the boxes, but none of it had seemed familiar; just confused her.
Fred kneeled down and opened the boxes. Picture frames were stacked neatly inside one, and she pulled out a few. A handsome man in a tuxedo had his arm around her waist, and she was dressed in a puffy pink dress. They both smiled widely at the camera. Peter’s wedding, her mind filled in. That’s your brother. He’s dead now.
She looked at another picture. Three children sat in a row on wooden steps, each holding a large slab of watermelon. The two girls looked exactly the same, their brown hair in pigtails. The blond boy in the middle was slightly larger, his grin revealing missing teeth. Fred, Peter, and Deirdre. The next picture was a large family shot. Her eyes scanned the picture. She remembered the aunts and uncles, the cousins and friends. This one was Deirdre’s wedding. Her sister was dressed in a long white gown standing next to her husband. Dale, that was his name. Fred herself was holding the train of her sister’s dress. She wore a white dress too, simpler and ankle length, her hair gathered up in a bun with baby’s breath. Deirdre always liked it when she wore her hair up; she thought it showed off Fred’s neck.
Fred looked down at her body, dressed in formless sweats, her hair knotted into greasy tangles. She looked at her image in the picture, pretty and smiling. It was okay to be happy in this world. It was okay to laugh, and smile, and look nice. Nothing could hurt her here. She wasn’t a cow anymore.
Someone shoved Spike’s foot. The vampire, jarred from sleep, opened his eyes and looked up into the serious face of Gunn. “Put some damn clothes on,” the man said. “We’ve got problems.”
“What’s going on?” Spike asked, as he sat up and pulled on his pants and shirt.
“Angel and Cordelia need backup,” Gunn said. “Wesley’s downstairs in the car.” He held out a crossbow and an axe. “Which one do you want?”
Spike got out of bed and took the axe. “What’s the plan?” He felt better than he had since he left Sunnydale. The prospect of a good fight was the finest mood elevator he knew of.
Gunn looked at him sideways. “You kill what I tell you to kill.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “Seems like I’m everyone’s bitch these days.” Gunn didn’t disagree. “So what’s the monster of the week?”
“Apparently it’s a Tarloth,” Gunn said. “Doesn’t mean squat to me. Wesley said they’re nearly impossible to take down, so that’s why we’re bringing you.”
The two men walked down the hall. “Tarloth,” Spike said with relish. “Oh, those are a real treat.”
“How’s that?” Gunn asked.
“Huge fuckers,” Spike elaborated. “Got spines like armor all over their bodies. They can read your thoughts, so they know what your next move is going to be.”
Gunn grimaced. “How do you beat them?”
“Popcorn,” Spike explained as they descended the staircase.
“What about popcorn?” Gunn asked.
“It’s fatal to them,” Spike said. “But they’re undeniably drawn to it. Little bastards crave it like crack. Just hand them a bowl of it, they eat it, their heads melt. Goodbye, Tarloth.”
“Orville Redenbacher here we come,” Gunn said. “Wesley’s going to love this.” He took the axe from Spike. “Guess you can go back to sleep.” He turned his back on the vampire and walked across the lobby.
“Hey!” Spike objected. “I want in on the fight.”
“Don’t need you any more,” Gunn said. He pivoted back and smiled. “Lots of filing though, if you want to be useful.” The lobby doors slammed behind him as he left.
“What a knob,” Spike complained. Pulling a cigarette and a lighter from his pocket, he sat on the couch, propping his feet on the table as he smoked. He looked over at the office, the desk lamp shining in the dark lobby. “Nothing better to do,” he muttered to himself as he headed towards the files. “Might as well help the bloody helpless.”
Fred leaned forward and pulled the plug on the bathwater. A terry robe hung on a peg on the wall, and she wrapped it around herself and stood in front of the mirror. Slowly, she picked through the tangles in her hair with a comb. When she was satisfied that it was all done, she went into her bedroom. She popped the locks on the leather suitcase Spike had discovered, and opened it up. The scent of roses filled the air, and she pulled out delicate lingerie wrapped in fragranced tissue paper, and thin silk dresses in pale shades. At the bottom of the case were a crystal flacon of perfume, a ceramic box of ivory hairpins, a silver backed hairbrush and a long flat velvet case.
She pulled on a delicate slip, the neckline and hem decorated with pleats of ecru lace. She walked to her vanity table and set down the hairpins and the hairbrush. Carefully, Fred began brushing out her long hair and slipping the pins between the strands.
Spike sat in an office chair, surrounded by piles of files. It had been a while since he’d really wanted to pop someone’s head off, but Cordelia Chase was a prime candidate. He shook his head at the folders and piles of documents. How the fuck was he supposed to find anything in this mess? What was the point of creating a new file, only to throw it into a cesspool of disorganization?
He’d tried unloading A-C from the file cabinet and starting from scratch. Then he’s reached D-F and found a whole bunch of A’s, B’s and C’s mixed in there. In a fit of frustration, he’d removed all the files from all of the cabinets and started from scratch. Then he’d realized that the labels on the files were mostly incorrect, either misspelled or apparently coded by some formula beyond deciphering.
The lobby doors slammed shut, and Spike rushed out of the office. The Angel Investigations team looked awful covered in a combination of thick green slime and popcorn kernels. Spike took a moment to enjoy the sight of the poof in such a magnificent state of disarray, and then turned on Cordelia. “I want you to sit down and explain to me the rationale behind your filing system,” he said. “I spent a hundred years keeping up with the leaps and bounds of a completely insane woman, and yet, you’ve completely lost me with your bizarre brand of logic.”
Cordelia bristled. “I do a perfectly fine job with the files,” she said defensively.
Spike snorted. “An illiterate blind person could do better than you.”
“Take that back!” Cordelia said angrily.
“Just calm down,” Angel said soothingly. “Cordy, you did a great job with the filing, but now it’s Spike’s responsibility. Just explain to him how to use your- system, help him set up the files and that’ll be the end of it.”
Cordelia raised her chin angrily. “You know, I’d really rather take a shower and get all this disgusting crap off of me, but I’ll make time to show condescending vamp here the ropes first.”
“You’re a fine team player,” Gunn said, scraping demon brains off his coat with a letter opener.
Cordelia stalked into the office, taking in the blizzard of folders that had overtaken every available surface. “Oh my God! I am so not cleaning this up!” She rushed into the lobby, making a beeline for Angel. “There’s no way I’m dealing with this! You should see the mess that he made in there.”
Angel paused from cleaning the sword in his hand. “You don’t have to clean it up. Just tell him where to find everything.”
“Well, he messed it all up, and now I don’t know anymore!” she exclaimed in frustration. “You have to make him do it. You’re the boss.”
“Actually, lest we forget, I am the boss,” Wesley corrected.
Cordelia sighed. “Yes, all powerful lord and master.”
“I am quite tired-” Wes began, but something caught his attention. His jaw dropped, a choking sound escaping his throat.
Cordy looked over her shoulder, and saw a woman walking along the upper arcade, her hair piled high on her head. Soft tendrils fell over her shoulder, drawing attention to the curves of her high breasts. She moved to the stairs, and a shaft of light illuminated her. Backlit, her hair glowed softly as the silhouette of her body was revealed under the sheer fabric of her dress.
“Sweet Jesus,” Gunn said breathily. Cordelia turned towards him, and saw that every man in the room was riveted to the spectacle of the woman descending the staircase. They all stood like statues, entranced by the sight of the beautiful girl. Cordy’s face flooded with shame and envy, acutely conscious of her slime encrusted face and body.
Spike felt like someone had taken a stake to his chest. Fred was so ethereally beautiful that it hurt to look at her. She glowed with cleanliness and sleep, her delicate beauty in full force. The white silk dress became modest once more as she stepped out of the sunlight, her high heels tapping on the marble floor. She walked up to him, her rosy lips smiling and her eyes shining bright.
Fred smelled wonderful, delicately scented of roses. A diamond pendant rested in her throat, the teardrop flaming against the creaminess of her skin. Her dress was a style he remembered fondly from the twenties, a wispy frock that was held up by thin straps, the hem cut far above the knee. She put her hand on his arm, and it was all he could do not to whimper, or cover her with his coat, or storm away. He felt aroused, protective, and guilty, all at once.
“Hey,” she said cheerily. “You wouldn’t happen to know who ate my tacos, would you?”
Continued in Chapter Three