"Invite me in," Spike said anxiously.
Dawn's eyebrows rose. "Come on in.”
He put his arm around the girl and slowly led her inside. They stepped into the foyer and he gently took off her headphones. "Are you okay now?" he asked, stroking her back.
"Much better," she assured him. "It's better inside, where everything's not so wide and open."
"Good," he said with relief. "Do you want me to get you a drink? Do you want to sit down?"
"I'm fine, I'm fine," she said as she turned to Dawn. "Please forgive my rudeness. I'm Winifred Langley. Everyone calls me Fred."
"I'm Dawn," the girl introduced herself.
"You're Dawn?" Fred said. "Oh my." She looked shocked.
"Is something the matter?" Spike asked worriedly.
"Not at all,” Fred replied, regaining her composure. “I was just expecting someone- taller."
"Oh," Dawn said, confused. "Well, I'm still growing. I just turned fifteen in July."
"How nice," Fred remarked sweetly. She took off her Discman and bundled it into her bag.
Hank Summers came in, followed by a petite woman with red hair. "You must be Spike," he said heartily as he shook Spike's hand. "This is my wife Mona." Mona and Spike shook hands as well.
"Nice to meet you," Spike said cordially. "Mr. and Mrs. Summers, this is Fred."
"I'm ever so sorry we were delayed," Fred apologized earnestly. “I had a little moment, and Spike had to get me a radio.”
Mona looked at Spike questioningly. “Travel sickness,” he elaborated. “Headphones make her feel better.”
"That’s a good idea," Mona said. "L.A. traffic is horrible on Saturday night. I’ll have to try it the next time it’s driving me out of my mind." She led them into a spacious living room with a high ceiling, the walls and furniture done in light pastels. An open patio door let in the sound of the surf.
"You're right on the ocean?" Fred asked.
"That's why we bought the house," Hank explained. "Mona just loves it here. I've got the grill fired up back there; I thought you might like to eat out on the patio."
"That would be nice," Fred said, as she followed him out onto the deck. A large patio led down to an infinity pool overlooking the ocean. Wooden torches burned down a set of steps that led to the beach below. "Oh, this is really lovely," she exclaimed.
"Thank you," Mona said. "We're still settling into the house, but the first thing we picked out was some patio furniture and a grill, so we could enjoy it out here." The group sat down at a prettily set table lit with candles as Hank walked over and opened the grill.
"Did you just move to Los Angeles?" Fred asked.
"I transferred from the Madrid office of my company back to headquarters here," Hank replied. "We thought it would be better for Dawn to stay in California near family. My sister and her kids live in this neighborhood, and my mother is in a home in Bel Air."
"My Grandpa Marcus lives here too," Dawn said. "He lives near the Hyperion."
"That's where you live, isn’t it Spike?" queried Mona.
"I live there too," Fred volunteered.
"We both work for Angel Investigations," Spike explained. "The hotel is the base of operations."
Hank walked back with a platter of steaks and placed one on each person's plate before sitting down. Spike picked up his knife and fork and began to cut his steak. "Would you like to say grace, Spike?" asked Hank.
He looked like a deer caught in the headlights. "Pardon?"
"We say grace before meals in this house," Mona said gently. Dawn sank down in her seat, completely embarrassed.
"Oh.” Spike folded his hands and bent his head. "Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men." There was a pause, and then everyone said "Amen."
"That was a lovely prayer," Mona said sincerely.
"Thank you," Spike replied. "Bit out of practice. Surprised I remembered it."
"Are you not religious?" she asked.
Spike shrugged as he cut up his steak. "Used to be. That was a long time ago."
"I like hymns," Fred said. "'Amazing Grace' was the first thing that I learned to play on my violin." She took a bite of her salad.
"So where are you kids planning on going tonight?" Hank asked.
"We're going to the new Sandra Bullock movie," Dawn replied.
"Must we?" Spike said irritably. “You know she gets on my nerves."
"I love her," Fred gushed. "'While You Were Sleeping' was the cutest thing I ever saw."
"I love that one too," Dawn agreed. "It's so romantic."
"Lying bint fools comatose man's family into thinking she's engaged to him, and then the silly twit marries his brother," Spike said dryly. "Deeply moving."
"You're much too cynical," Fred argued. "It was a sweet movie."
"I don't do sweet," Spike stated.
"Well, it's my turn to pick tonight, so you're just going to have to suffer," Dawn declared. She looked at her watch. "We really need to motor if we're going to make it in time."
They hurriedly finished their meal and then Dawn stood up. Spike followed her lead and walked around to Fred's place, pulling out her chair for her. She stood up and thanked him.
"Sorry to eat and run," Fred apologized. "I hope we can do this another time."
"You'll have to come back during the day to see the view," Mona said.
"I'd really like that," replied Fred. "Thank you."
Hank and Mona walked them to the door. Hank handed Dawn a crisp fifty-dollar bill. "Treat your friends to a movie," he offered.
"Thanks, Dad," she replied, and turned to go.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" he asked, opening his arms.
"Right," she said. She gave him an awkward, fleeting hug. "I'll be back by midnight."
"Call us if you have any problems," he reminded her.
"I'll be fine," she assured him.
Spike's eyes were riveted to the screen as the music reached a dramatic crescendo. The house lights came up as the credits began to roll, and Spike blinked, startled by the change in lighting. He'd completely lost himself in the movie, forgetting his surroundings.
Fred was fast asleep, her head resting against his chest, and Dawn was crashed out as well, propped against his shoulder. Spike smiled, enjoying the sight of both girls peacefully sleeping.
A group of people exiting the row knocked into Fred's knees, and she startled awake with a screech, her eyes wild. They looked at her oddly, hurrying away from her.
"It's okay, love," he assured her. "You just fell asleep." He smoothed her hair out of her face, cupping her cheek.
She looked around sleepily, taking in her surroundings. "I guess I missed the movie.Did it have a happy ending?”
“I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you,” he said. “We’ll have to come back and see it again another time.”
“I’d like that,” she yawned.
Spike gently shook Dawn's shoulder and she woke up. "Time to go, niblet.” She murmured and swatted his hand away. “Little bit’s down for the count.” He stood up and picked the sleeping girl up in his arms. They left the theater, walking out the back door to the parking lot.
Fred watched Spike carrying Dawn, his demeanor gentle and protective. “She’s not your girlfriend, is she?”
“What?” Spike asked, turning to face her.
“I thought she was your girlfriend,” Fred explained. “You said that you loved her, and I overheard your conversation with Cordelia-” She broke off at his expression, a combination of anger and disgust that made her fear him for the first time.
“She’s a little girl,” he said angrily. “What kind of monster do you think I am?”
“I don’t think you’re a monster at all,” she replied.
“You’d be wrong,” said a dry voice. The biker demon Spike had picked a fight with earlier stepped out of the shadows, followed by what could only be his gang. Burly, brawny, and armed with chains and bats, they looked ready for a rumble.
Spike set Dawn on her feet. “What’s going on?” she said groggily.
“Run,” he said quietly. “Run like hell.” She rubbed her eyes and looked at the gang of demons. Eyes wide, she grabbed Spike’s hand. He planted his feet and tossed her away, placing more space between her and his enemies. She landed on her hands and knees, and quickly got to her feet. “Run, Dawnie!”
The girl turned and dashed across the parking lot towards the theater. A group of demons peeled off from the rest of the pack and chased her. Simultaneously, the remainder rushed Spike, bats and chains at the ready, with several large demons heading towards Fred.
Fred dropped to her knees and closed her eyes. “This isn’t real, not real, not real,” she whispered forcefully. “Not real, not happening.” She heard the laughter of the approaching demons, felt the pavement scraping her knees, and knew it was real. Realer then anything. She was going to die, and Dawn, and Spike, unless she did something.
She wanted the monsters to go away, and she couldn’t think of anything else to do. So, she recited the string of syllables that had caused her to fall through the portal to Pylea, the syllables she’d endlessly recited in vain while she was trapped there. They only worked one way: to open the door between this world and that one. Right now, for the first time, they would actually help her get her out of the mess she was in. “Crv der pler de plzgrb,” she said quietly. “Vos stumpt ver der pler de plzgrb.” She felt the hum of the portal opening even before she felt the wind begin to blow.
“What the fuck is that?” a demon asked. Fred opened her eyes and saw the three demons that had planned on attacking her facing away from her, turning to watch the shimmering wall that had appeared out of nowhere. The demons that had cornered Dawn were watching it as well, and the girl seized the opportunity to run.
Several demons were still beating on Spike. He was giving as good as he got, but he was outnumbered and pretty banged up. A bat connected with his nose, and blood sprayed across his face. Anger surged through Fred, and in a quick motion she grabbed a bat from a distracted demon and bashed in the back of his head. He fell like a shot, and she repeated the procedure with the other two demons.
Bat in hand, she ran towards Spike, passing in front of the portal. Something rushed out of its depths, knocking her down. She fell on her face, and was tugged upwards by her hair. Her feet dangled off the ground as she was pulled up in the air. The face of an angry Pylean warrior stared into hers, his green skin glowing in the flare of light as the portal closed.
“What have you done with me? How have you brought me here?” he asked gruffly. He tightened his hands around her throat, choking her. Fred couldn’t breathe, her vision blurring as she lost oxygen. “Filthy cow bitch!”
All of the anger, fear and hatred of five years of slavery exploded within Fred. She kicked with all her might into the warrior’s knees, and he came crashing down. After rolling away, she swung her bat with all her might. A red haze filled her vision as she brought the bat down over and over.
Strong hands took the weapon out of her grasp. “It’s over, pet,” Spike reassured her. “He’s gone.”
Fred stared at him blankly, then brought her hands to her face and clawed at her forehead. “Filthy.”
“Stop it, Fred,” Spike said angrily. “Don’t do that.” He pulled her wrists away from her face. She looked up at him, dazed, a thin trickle of blood running down her forehead.
“Bad cow,” she whispered. “Should have been headless long ago.”
“Hush, petal,” Spike said. Gently, he wiped the blood from her skin, wiping it off on his jacket.
“I’m just a cow,” she shrieked.
“You’re a beautiful, brilliant girl,” Spike said forcefully. “And I can’t tell you how much I’d like to find every one of the bastards that did this to you, and kill them all.”
“I’m a cow, a cow, a cow,” she chanted, her eyes glassy.
He took her chin in his hands and forced her to look at the body. “You killed him,” Spike said. “He paid for what he did to you. It’s over, love. The portal is closed, Pylea is gone, and the demons are all dead. It’s over. We’re all safe.”
She snapped to reality. “Dawn! Oh, no. Where’s Dawn?”
“Dawn’s fine,” he assured her. He pointed to the hood of the DeSoto, and Dawn waved at them. “She had the sense to run away and call Angel. The cavalry is on the way, although we don’t really need them anymore.”
Fred wiped away the blood from his nose and wiped it on her skirt. “I think it’s really broken this time,” she said.
“Lucky shot,” he replied.
She ran her hand over the other assorted cuts and bruises on his face. “Were these all lucky shots too?”
“Every one,” Spike grinned. He tilted his head and regarded her seriously, pulling her hair away from her neck. “You’re going to be black and blue tomorrow yourself. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to protect you.”
“I was more afraid for you,” she said. “There were so many of them, and just one of you.”
“Fists and fangs,” he said with a grin. “I like a good number of demons gunning for my ass. Makes me feel like nothing else.”
“You should be more careful,” she chastised him.
“What’s the fun in that?” he said jauntily.
“It’s all about fun, isn’t it?” Angel asked as he stepped from the shadows. He advanced on Spike, his eyes gleaming with anger. “It’s not important that you nearly got Dawn and Fred killed, what’s important here is that it was a really good time.”
“It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way,” Spike said defensively.
Angel’s hands balled into fists. “How exactly did you think it would end, when you decided to stir up a vendetta with a biker gang for the sheer joy of it?”
“It was just a little fun,” Spike protested.
Angel cuffed him in the head. “Scaring the hell out of Dawn, making her call me in tears, is that your idea of fun?”
“Stop it,” Fred said angrily.
Angel’s face turned even grimmer as he saw the purpling bruises around her neck. “Putting Fred in danger, letting a demon choke her nearly to death, was that good for you?” Angel said coldly, hitting Spike again.
“Leave him alone,” Fred said. She shoved Angel hard with both hands, and he looked at her with surprise.
“You found another woman to fight your battles for you, William,” Angel said softly. “But I’m not letting this one die because you failed.”
Spike closed his eyes, shame and humiliation washing over his face. “Stop being so hateful,” Fred said.
“You don’t know him,” Angel said. “You don’t understand this boy, the way he thinks, what passes for logic in his pretty blond head.” He looked at her seriously. “This was a vampire who loved the kill. Relished a good fight. He can’t hunt humans now, can’t feed from a living person. But he can feed from the dead.” He pushed his face close to Spike’s. “The girl Dru killed for you, did she taste as good as ever? Or was some of the spice gone, since you didn’t get the thrill of the hunt?”
Spike stared at Angel, his face slack. “How did you know about that?”
“How do you think? You get in a pinch, Dru comes running to Daddy for help, just like always.” Angel smirked. “She said you were in danger, that you were losing yourself. But nothing’s really changed, has it? You’ll never learn, never grow up.”
Fred looked at Spike, disbelief on her face. “Is that true? Did you let someone kill a girl so you could feed?” He didn’t answer, just looked at his feet. “Is it true?”
“Yes,” he confessed. “Yes, it’s true.”
She looked at him for a long moment, then turned and walked away. “I’ll see her safely back,” Angel said. “You take Dawn home. When you get back to the hotel, you stay away from Fred. Don’t try to see her, talk to her, bother her in any way.” He turned and followed after Fred, his black duster billowing in the breeze.
Spike walked back to the DeSoto. Dawn regarded him sadly. “Angel’s just upset because I scared him,” she said. “He was scared for Fred and I, and that’s why he took it out on you.”
Spike waved his hand dismissively. “He doesn’t bother me. What hurts is losing Fred.” He sighed. “I suppose she’ll hate me now, like everyone else at the hotel.”
“She’ll come around,” Dawn assured him. “She really cares about you, Spike. Anyone could see that. She doesn’t seem like the kind of person that would shut you out.”
“She thinks I’m a killer,” Spike said. “Angel’s her hero; he saved her from Pylea, he’s the one with a soul. If he tells her that I’m just an evil bastard that wanted her dead, she’ll believe him.”
“She’s hurt and confused, but she’s not stupid,” she said. “I know you would never think of hurting us. Deep inside, she knows it too.”
“Why should she believe in me? I did let Drusilla kill the girl,” Spike confirmed. “She died and I drained her dry. No different than a thousand other girls I’d had over the years, only difference is that it wasn’t my hands snapping her neck.”
Dawn looked at him seriously. “Did you enjoy it, when you drank her blood?”
“Yes,” he admitted.
“Do you want to kill me?” she asked. “Would you drain me, if you could?”
“Of course not,” he reassured her. “Dawn, I love you with all my heart. I could never hurt you.”
“And if you didn’t love me?” she queried. “If I was just some anonymous girl, would you want to then?”
“Probably,” he admitted.
“But would you do it?” she asked.
Spike sighed. “I don’t know.”
“That’s progress, then.” Dawn opened her arms and hugged him tightly. “I love you,” she assured him. “I love the good in you, Spike. I know it’s there.”
“I want to be a good man for you, do right by Buffy,” he said, on the verge of tears. “I’m trying so hard.”
“Don’t do it for us. Do it for you,” Dawn whispered.
Spike walked into the lobby of the Hyperion. His suit was stained and torn, his tie gone, his nose swollen.
Fred steeled herself against the urge to comfort him, and to say what she needed to say. “I wasn’t sure you’d come back,” she said, rising from the couch where she’d waited for hours.
“I nearly didn’t,” he admitted, as he walked to her side.
“Why are you here then?” she asked.
“I have a lot to prove,” he said. “To Angelus, to myself, and to you.”
“You don’t have to prove anything to me,” she said sharply. “I just want to know.”
“Know what?” he asked.
“That you wanted more from me than blood,” she said.
“I want a lot of things from you that I can’t have,” he admitted.
“Does that include friendship?” she asked. “I thought there was something between us, something that mattered. Was it just all in my head?”
“No,” he admitted. “But it can't happen. I nearly got you and Dawn killed, because I’m an idiot. I can’t be around you, not at all.”
“One mistake doesn’t mean that you’re an idiot,” she argued.
“It wasn’t just one mistake!” he said passionately. “I can’t care for you. I loved a woman, a human woman. She was stronger and faster and harder than you, and I couldn’t save her.” He swallowed hard. “I wanted to save her, more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my existence. But I failed, as I fail at everything. I can’t bear to add to my mistakes. It’s enough of a risk to let Dawn near, but I’m too selfish to let her go.”
Fred looked at his anguished face. “You’re not a failure. You’re strong, brave and kind. I think that inside you know that you’re strong enough to be a hero for someone. I think you’re just afraid to try.”
“I’m not afraid,” Spike denied flatly.
“Yes, you are. Stop listening to the bad voices and listen to the music.” She put her hand on his chest and gazed into his eyes. “Can you hear it?” she asked intently.
“Yes,” he said softly. He put one hand on her waist and closed his fingers around her hand. Together they moved into a slow waltz, smiling at each other. They danced perfectly, casting shadows across the floor, the only sound the quiet tapping of their feet.
Continued in Chapter Six