"The trick is to keep it this way," Fred replied. "We have to keep on top of the paperwork, or it will deteriorate back to utter chaos."
"Well, that's Spike's job," Cordy said. "He's in charge of getting all the info into the files."
Spike looked up from the office supply cabinet, his attention drawn by the sound of his name. He watched the two girls as they chatted about running the office, both of them intent on the topic at hand.
Cordelia was wearing a long satin gown, the soft pink flaring around her calves. She looked softer and prettier than usual, the blush of the satin bringing out the color in her lips and cheeks. Fred was delicate in comparison, her dark hair a stark contrast with the paleness of her skin and dress.
They were both beautiful, but only one of them captured his eye. Fred laughed at something Cordelia said, and Spike felt a surge of warmth, his blood quickening with the heat of desire. He tore his eyes away from her and went back to stocking the cabinet. Carefully he lined up boxes of pens and stacked pads of post it notes.
'Get your mind where it belongs', he reminded himself. Do right by Dawn, fight the good fight; that was all his unlife was good for. He could be a friend to Fred, and that was all. Friends don't think about friends the way he'd been thinking about her. Don't be a stupid git, and don't make the same mistakes you made with Buffy, shooting for the moon when all you deserved was dirt.
His cell phone rang, and he pulled it out of his pocket. "Hello?"
"Hey, blood breath."
"Hey, bite size," he said happily, smiling at the sound of Dawn's voice.
"What are you doing tonight?" she asked.
"Well, I have to check with my social secretary, but I believe I'm free," he replied.
"Do you want to go to the mall?" she said hopefully. "I have a gold card."
"I'm not really a mall guy," he explained.
"How about a movie?" she suggested.
"Sure, if you like," he said. "What time do you want me to pick you up?"
Dawn paused. "Well, actually, you'll have to come and have dinner."
"Don't want to have dinner with the parents," Spike said. "I haven't sat through one of those since I had a set of my own."
"It's not really optional, Spike," Dawn said. "If I want to go out with you, you have to come. Plus, they've heard a lot about you, and they'd like to meet you."
Spike sighed. "Alright."
"There's just one thing," she said.
"What?" he asked, hearing the hesitation in her voice.
"Can you look a little less- badassy?" she queried. "I mean, don't get me wrong. I love the way you look. But you don't really scream ‘trust me with your teenage daughter.’ It's more like ‘I can unfasten a bra in five seconds or less.’”
"Dawn!" he exclaimed, appalled.
"Just do me a favor and leave the duster at home. Wear something not black, okay?" she said. "It will make things easier on me if I don't have to sneak out of my house just to see you." She listened to the silence on the end of the phone. "Please?"
"Fine," he said in a clipped voice.
"Great!" she said happily. "Be here at seven thirty. Here are the directions to the house." He scribbled down her instructions on a legal pad.
"Alright, niblet," he said. "I'll see you then."
"Just one more thing," she said. "Could you maybe bring a girl with you?"
"What?" he asked.
"It would look a lot better if you brought someone," she explained. "That way it wouldn't seem like a date to my dad, and he'd be less dad-ish about me going out with a group than alone with a hot guy.”
"I don't have anyone I could bring," he argued.
"How about Cordy?" she suggested. “She's a snappy dresser and she has manners. Dad would like her."
Spike looked at Cordelia. "She also makes me want to stake myself."
"Don't be that way," Dawn said. "Please? It'll make things so much easier."
"No fucking way, Dawnie," he said flatly.
"Pleaseeee?" she wheedled.
"Alright, alright, I'll think about it," he said, and hung up the phone.
"Problem?" Cordelia asked. "Hair bleach get recalled or something?"
"You're one to talk, dye job," he retorted.
Her hand flew to her chic blonde bob. "Highlights."
He snorted. "Ever so natural."
She narrowed her eyes. "I totally hate you."
"My heart bleeds," he said sincerely.
''Why are you two acting so mean?" Fred asked.
"He started it," Cordelia snapped.
"No," Fred said. "You made fun of his hair, so he made fun of yours."
Cordelia sighed. "You know what? It's time for me to go. Files are done, I haven't had a debilitating vision; it's time to make the most of my Saturday." She picked up her purse and walked out of the office.
Spike hurried after her. "Wait up. I need a favor."
She turned around and burst out laughing. His lip curled in anger as he watched her shake, unable to control her snorts and giggles. "Yeah, right!" she chortled.
"I need to bring a date to Dawn's," he explained. "I want to see her, and her dad's not too keen on my taking her out alone."
"Gee, I wonder why not?" she said, eyes wide.
"Please," he said sincerely. "It's important for me to spend time with Dawn."
"You know what I think?" Cordelia said. "I think that Dawn deserves to have a normal life, with regular human friends, not spending time with a creature feature like you. Hanging with a vampire is only going to drag her back down into weird Sunnydale-style crap, and that's the last thing she needs." She turned and walked out of the lobby, leaving him standing there.
Spike was stunned. “A creature feature like you.” Cordelia was right. What did Dawn need him for, reminding her of the past, keeping her from a regular life? The Slayer had asked him to keep her safe, but there were no threats against her here. The vampire felt hollow, all of the purpose that had kept him going since the final confrontation with Glory draining away. For the first time since Buffy's funeral, he felt truly dead inside.
A warm hand closed around his, startling him. He looked into Fred's face. "What's the matter?" she asked. "You look so sad."
He pulled his hand out of her grasp. "It's nothing," he said gruffly. "I've just had a change of plans." He turned his back, not wanting her to see him vulnerable.
"This girl, Dawn. You really love her?" she asked quietly.
"More than anything in the world," he replied. "She's all I have, really." He walked up the staircase, heading for the privacy of his room, where he could retreat into scotch and not feel for a little while.
"I'll go with you," she offered. He turned around and saw her standing at the foot of the stairs, her face pale. Her hands were shaking, as she held tight to the newel post. "If you need me to, I'll go with you."
“Do you think you could?” he said. “I know you don’t want to leave the Hyperion.”
"I have to leave eventually, right? I mean, I can't just be Miss Haversham in the attic, all cobwebby. Or was that Rochester’s wife?” Her voice shook, and Spike could smell her fear. “I can’t hide in the hotel forever.”
“Just to Dawn’s house, and to dinner, and then I’ll bring you back,” he promised. He could see the toll the notion of leaving was having on her. Her skin was beaded with sweat, and he could smell the blood that trickled down her hand from the cuts of her fingernails against her palm.
“Peachy,” she said wanly. “A fun night out on the town.”
He walked down to her and wiped away the sweat from her brow. “You don’t have to, petal,” he assured her. “You don’t have to go if it makes you this scared.”
“I’m not scared,” she said brightly. “I’m A-OK. I’m in full bloom, hale and hardy, fit as a fiddle.” She wobbled.
“Fred?” he asked, concerned.
“A sound mind in a sound body,” she said firmly, as her head rolled back and she fell towards the floor. Spike caught her and pulled her into his arms. He hefted her slight weight and carried her up the stairs and down the hall to her room.
He set her down on the bed and turned her radio on, then sat next to her, gently stroking her hair. She was so pale, and drawn, and only her heartbeat indicated that she was fine. After several long minutes, she opened her eyes, staring up at him. “I know you,” she said faintly.
“It’s me, Spike,” he assured her.
“The gleam in your eyes is so familiar a gleam,” she said.
He knew this bit very well. “That’s right, love,” he agreed. “Can I get you someone to eat?” He shook his head. “Something.”
“I know it’s true that visions are seldom what they seem,” said Fred.
“Oh, goody,” he quipped. “Visions." He went into the bathroom and returned with a tumbler of water. He handed it to her and she sipped slowly, draining the glass. “Do you want to tell me about your vision, pet?” he asked softly.
“Fairies,” she said. “Blue and pink and green.”
Deja vu rolled over him in a swell. “Fairies?” If the sodding fairies started telling her what to do, he wasn’t sure he could handle it. Then again, Fred was sweet and gentle. Her fairies were bound to be nicer.
“Flora and Fauna and Merryweather,” she elaborated. “And you’re Phillip, but you did it all wrong.”
She smiled, and he was lost. More than anything, he wanted to lean down and kiss her. He wanted to rest her head on his chest, close his eyes, and have her hold him tightly. Abruptly, he scrambled to his feet. “I have to leave."
Spike walked down the hall and into his room. He opened the bottle that sat next to the bed, drinking deeply as he closed his eyes. Fred, laughing, her lips parted. He snarled and tipped his head back, gulping down the burning liquid until there was nothing left. Think of something else. Anything else. Fred descending the staircase, fair and shining in her finery.
One day. One day and this crazy girl had crawled under his skin, in his brain, twisting things up. He didn’t want to help her; he wanted to possess her. God, he was pathetic. So much for his strong, true Buffy love. Slayer wasn’t gone four months yet.
He smashed the bottle against the wall and stormed out. “Spike?” he heard Fred call, but he ran away. As fast as he could, he ran down the hall, putting as much space as he could between himself and a mistake he was hell bent on avoiding.
Spike dashed through the lobby and out into the sunlight. Cursing, he pulled his coat over his head and ran out to his car. Pulling the door open, he leapt inside. He knew what he needed to burn this out of his system. A smirk formed on his lips as he remembered exactly where he needed to go to find what he needed.
Fred opened the door and looked out into the hallway. He was gone. She could feel the lack of him in the air. He probably wanted to get ready for his date, not hang around with her weirdo self.
A wave of panic swept over her as she thought about going out. Her skin broke into a sweat, her heart pounding in her chest. She could do this, she thought firmly. For Spike, who'd been so nice, and for the girl he loved.
She wondered what Dawn looked like, if she was as nice as Spike. Maybe she would want to be her friend. It would be nice to have a friend to talk to, to share things with. It might be worth leaving the hotel for.
Something tugged at her memory, and she got up and went across the hall. She opened the door to her old room and looked at the chaos inside. Living here seemed like something long ago, a place in her life that she couldn't get a feeling for anymore.
Fred dragged the cardboard boxes across the hall to her new room. There was something inside, something that she needed. She pulled open a box and took out her belongings: a faded blue teddy bear, a fat scrapbook, a worn looking Bible. At the bottom there was a crumpled leather bag. She picked it up and ran her fingers over the tooled leather. Roses and trailing vines were embossed into the shining surface, surrounding her name. Yes, this she remembered.
"No one in this whole world is going to look after you the way that I do," her father had said. He looked at her earnestly, his hand gripping her wrist hard. "After I'm gone, there's going to be a whole lot of people who want a piece of you. You need to look out for yourself, baby girl." He'd handed her a box, his hand shaking.
On the floor of her room, Fred opened the leather bag and pulled out the wooden box. It was made of mahogany, polished to a fine sheen. She lifted the lid and on a bed of velvet, lay a shining silver gun.
Her father had stood behind her, his hands resting on her shoulders. The gun had felt cold against her hands, and it was heavy, so heavy that it was hard to keep it from shaking. "Make that Coke fly, baby," he'd said. She'd aimed and fired, the aluminum can popping as the bullet slammed into it. Her father had laughed and slapped her on the shoulder. "You're a natural," he'd said.
Fred traced her hands along the gun. Why would she need one? Who would she need to protect herself from? The memory of her father was so strong that she could smell the scent of his cologne, feel the warmth of his hand on her back. Why couldn't she remember more?
Carefully she closed the case, putting the gun back in the cardboard box. She wanted something to make her feel secure, to make her safe outside of the hotel. The gun just made her afraid, the metallic taste filling her mouth. Her hands closed on the teddy bear and placed him into the bag.
Spike stomped into the bar, his duster flaring behind him. The chatter of demons turned to silence as every eye in the room was drawn to him. A large, burly demon in biker leathers put down his pool cue and pointed at him. "You," he said venomously.
"Yeah, it's me," Spike said, striding over to stand inches away from the other demon's face..
"You got our friend Marcus killed," the demon spat. He snapped off the end of his cue, creating a jagged wooden stake.
"Can't say that I'm sorry," Spike said. "Evil sadist kiddie fucker that he was."
The demon growled loudly and lunged for Spike's chest. The vampire leaped back and punched his opponent in the face, and the stake flew out of his hand. The other demons in the bar swarmed around the pair, screaming and yelling for a good fight.
"Your face is going to be a lot less pretty when I'm done," the demon growled.
"Still be a lot better looking than you," Spike retorted. He ducked, avoiding the demon's punch. The biker's fist plowed into the torso of a Fyarl demon.
"Sor-" the demon began, right before the Fyarl backhanded him across the throat.
Spike stepped aside, not wanting to get in the way of an angry Fyarl. He couldn't get too banged up; it would upset Dawn. He knocked into a serpentine creature who hissed at him, his tongue flickering. "Bring it on," Spike yelled. "I'm not afraid of the likes of you."
"You ssshould bbbeee," the snake trilled.
Spike vamped, baring his own fangs. "Let's see who's got more bite then." He picked up the creature and threw it into a table of Horlocks playing poker. Chips and cards flew everywhere.
"You ruined our game," one walruslike creature protested.
"Added a bit of fun to mine," Spike grinned. He whooped with joy as a throng of pissed off demons surrounded him.
Fred walked down the hall and knocked on the door of Angel's room. "Come in," he called out.
She turned the knob and stepped inside. He was sitting on his bed, a volume of Baudelaire resting on his chest. "Hi," she said shyly, as she sat next to him.
He smiled at her. "You look lovely."
"Thanks," she said. "I'm going out with Spike, so I wanted to look nice." She fidgeted with a lock of her hair.
"You're leaving the hotel?" Angel asked, his eyes shining. "Fred, that's wonderful news."
"I'm very nervous," she admitted. "I don't really remember that well, but I'm pretty sure I don't like it out there."
"Then why are you going?" he asked. "Did Spike coerce you, threaten you?"
Fred shook her head. "Of course not. He asked, I said yes. That's all."
"This really worries me," he admitted. "When I agreed to bring Spike here, I never thought he would take an interest in you. They told me that he was grieving, didn't really talk. I thought he'd keep to himself, get the work done. I didn't think he'd fixate on you."
"He's really good to me," she said. "He's been a friend, more than anyone else here."
Angel looked sad. "When I left, after we got back from Pylea, I didn't really think about you. I should have stayed, helped you adjust, made sure that you'd be okay here."
"Wesley and Cordy and Gunn tried," she said. "But I didn't want to see them. I didn't want to see anyone. I didn't think any of this was real, really, and it seemed like a waste of time to talk to people who weren't really there at all."
"Then why am I different?" he asked. "Why is Spike different?"
"You're not part of this world," she explained. "You don't really belong here either."
"You are part of this world, Fred," he reminded her. "This is your world. This is your home."
She smiled. "It might be. I'd like it to be. We'll see."
Angel looked at her sweet, innocent face. "I don't think that you should go outside the hotel with Spike. If you want to go somewhere, I'll take you. But you and him alone- it's a bad idea."
"You think he'll hurt me?" she asked.
He frowned. "No, that's not what I'm afraid of." He bit his lip. "Spike is a very- passionate creature."
Understanding filled her eyes. "Oh. You think he wants to comshuck me."
Angel sighed. "Well, yes. I mean you're a beautiful woman and-"
"He loves someone else," Fred said.
Angel looked at her in surprise. "He told you about her?"
"Yes," she said.
"I'm surprised," he said. "His friends in Sunnydale said that he wouldn't say a word about her. I saw him get upset when her name came up. But if he told you about her-"
She heard fast steps coming down the hall. "He's here, he's back," she said excitedly. "I have to go." She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "Have fun reading-" She picked up the book. "Les Fleurs de Mal."
"Flowers of Evil," he translated.
"Oh," she said, taken aback. "Well, you have a nice time with your diabolical book, then." She left the room, leaving Angel staring after her.
Spike was ripping the cellophane off a dress shirt when a knock came at his door. "Come in," he said. Fred opened the door and stepped inside. "I'm running late," he said hurriedly. "Forgot that I'd promised Dawn I'd dress in something different." He pulled out the blue shirt, struggling with the straight pins that held the garment to the cardboard package. "Little pointy bastards," he muttered.
"Let me do it," she said. "You seem a little frazzled." She took the shirt out of his hands and he sat down on the bed, pulling out a pair of dress socks from a plastic bag.
"You wouldn't believe what I had to pay for this rig," he said. "I could have bought a bleeding car for this much money not terribly long ago." He opened a cardboard box and pulled out a pair of gleaming brown oxfords and slipped them on.
"I got the pins out," Fred said. He grabbed the shirt from her hands and shrugged it on, fastening the buttons. She handed him his tie, and he hurriedly looped it around his neck.
His sleeves flapped, and he swore. "French cuffs! I didn't pick out French cuffs! I haven't got any bloody cuff links."
"I have some," Fred said. "I'll be right back."
Spike struggled with his tie, the silk slipping as he impatiently tried to knot it. "Fuck!" he screamed, ripping it off and throwing it onto the floor. "Damn the bloody sodding stupid tie."
Fred came back into the room, her hand cupped. "Ssh," she said soothingly, rubbing a hand down his back. "You don't want to get all upset before you see your girl."
He tried to calm down, and looked at her for the first time. She was dressed in a long, white satin dress. The halter-top was cut low in a gaping vee, and the skirt was pressed into a flurry of tiny pleats. She wore tall silver sandals on her feet, and dangling beaded earrings hung from her ears. Her long hair was gathered on her head in a loose bun, with wispy tendrils let loose to drift over her shoulders. The only incongruous touch was a huge bag of tooled leather that hung over her right shoulder.
She slid a cuff link through the holes at each wrist of his shirt. He looked down at the circles of silver, a script "L" in the center of each one. "They belonged to my father," she explained.
"I'll take good care of them," he promised.
She looked up at him with a smile. "I know." She bent down to retrieve his tie, and Spike could see all the way down the front of her dress, the smooth sweep of skin from neck to belly. Tie in hand, she stood up, carefully fastening it around his neck in a tidy knot. "You look perfect."
"Are you sure?" he asked. "I feel like a moron in this get up."
"You look like every girl's dream," she said seriously. She rested her hand on his chest, and her mouth was inches from his. The scent of her clouded his mind, the warmth of her heating his body.
“We have to go,” he said, shaking himself out of it. "Dawn will be waiting." She nodded and extended her arm. He slipped his hand underneath her elbow and escorted her out of the hotel.
Continued in Chapter Five