DEDICATION: For Mint Witch, Kimi, and Chris, just because.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Fred quotes Emily Dickinson's "I'm Nobody! Who Are You?" Lyrics from "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" and “Strangers in the Night” used without permission.
Fred bit her thumb, her eyes fixed on the dresses. “Sex kitten,” she said decisively.
Cordelia smiled. “Go, you!” She handed Fred the silver dress. “Can I wear the other one?”
“Of course,” Fred said happily. “That color will look beautiful on you.”
Cordelia held the purple dress against her shoulders and admired her reflection. “It really brings out my eyes.”
“You’ll look great,” Fred assured her. “The men will be lining up for you.”
The blonde girl grinned. “That would be great. Lots and lots of free drinks.”
Fred pulled the dress she was wearing over her head and slipped on the silver dress. It was covered in silver spangles, the dangling strings of beads at the hem flapping around her knees. “How do I look?”
“Very sex kitteny,” Cordelia assured her.
“Did you bring your makeup?” Fred asked.
Cordy pulled a zippered bag out of her purse and waved it in the air. “Prepare to be Cosmofied.”
Down in the lobby, Angel sat on the couch, dabbing at a spot on his coat. He turned to Wesley. “Is that slime?”
Wesley looked at it. “Yes, there’s a streak there, and another patch around the hem.”
“I thought I got it cleaned up,” Angel grumbled. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Gunn watched as Angel walked up the stairs. “What’s with the primping? We’re just going to Caritas. Lorne won’t care what we wear.”
“No, I think Angel’s concerned more with Cordelia’s opinion,” Wesley said.
Gunn looked thoughtful. “You think she knows that he’s got feelings for her?”
Wes shook his head. “He’s good at keeping everything in check.”
A bar of soap flew across Spike’s bathroom, shattering into pieces. “Bloody fucking hell!” Spike yelled. He clenched his hands in the wet, wrinkled mess of his jacket. The blood refused to come out of the brown linen. He’d been at it for half an hour, scrubbing and rubbing like a charwoman.
He picked up his phone and called Dawn. “I need help.”
“What’s the problem? More demons trying to kill you?” the girl asked anxiously.
“I haven’t got a thing to wear,” he said plaintively. “The new suit’s done for, ruined it in the fight. Fred asked me to take her to some fancy club, and we’re supposed to be leaving in a few minutes. I’ve got nothing.”
“Fred asked you on a date?” Dawn said excitedly. “See, I told you she’d forgive you! I knew she liked you.”
“Well, she’s not going to like me much if I show up looking like an idiot for her first night out in five years,” Spike pointed out.
“Just wear your shirt from last night and your jeans, with the duster,” Dawn instructed.
Spike pulled out the blue shirt and looked at it. “Are you sure?” he queried. “I don’t want to disappoint her.”
Dawn laughed. “Spike, you really need to buy some self esteem.”
Spike smoothed out the shirt with his hands, his brow furrowing. “It’s just that- she wants me, she asked me to go. She could have gone with one of the other chaps. But she chose me.”
“I guarantee you she won’t be disappointed,” Dawn assured him. “The leather coat really works for you.”
“You sure?” he said anxiously. “Because I know she’ll be totally fucking gorgeous, and I don’t want to embarrass her.”
“Never happen,” Dawn said. “Trust me.”
The Angel Investigations gang walked into Caritas. Wesley and Gunn headed straight for the bar, while Angel and Cordelia waited for a table. Spike and Fred walked in behind them, the girl holding tightly to the vampire's hand. She shimmered in her dress, and her hair was pulled back with a silver clasp, the brown strands tumbling down her back.
"This place is really busy tonight," Cordelia observed, taking in the full house. Lorne was onstage, finishing up a soaring rendition of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."
"It usually is on weekends," Angel said. "I can't believe all these people are willing to pay these kind of prices for drinks."
Cordy smirked. "Not everyone on the planet is afraid to part with some cash to have a good time."
"I know how to spend money," Angel said defensively. "But there's no point just throwing it away."
"Some people consider fun to be a worthy thing to spend money on," Cordelia pointed out. "In fact, many people earn money solely so they can have fun with it."
"That's pretty impractical," Angel commented. The audience applauded as the Host finished his song with a bow and a wave. He walked off the stage and Cordelia called out his name, waving him over.
Lorne walked up to the group, looking less than thrilled. "I really hope this is pleasure and not business. The place just got rebuilt and I'd really like it to stay that way."
"I need a favor," Fred said shyly.
"Anything for a looker like you," he murmured, taking her hand and kissing it. She smiled at him, and he raised his eyebrows. "Fred, is that you?" She nodded and he took her hand, twirling her around. "Look at what you had hidden under those rags of yours. Baby, you are one hot little number."
"You're looking pretty good yourself," she giggled, pulling on his tie.
He struck a pose in his gold metallic suit. "I do look great, don't I? This color really brings out the highlights in my skin."
Spike snorted loudly, and Fred and Lorne turned to look at him. "Lorne, this is my friend Spike," introduced Fred. "Spike, this is Lorne, the Host."
"Nice to meet you," Lorne said. "Any friend of Fred's is a friend of mine."
"Likewise," said Spike, shaking hands with the demon.
"Nice strong grip. I really like that in a man." Lorne smiled flirtatiously at Spike.
“So you’re a real man’s man then?” Spike asked, looking amused.
“Oh, I like to keep my options open.” A table opened up and Lorne led them to it. ”What would you all like to drink?"
"I want a Zombie!" Fred said excitedly.
A decrepit looking guy at the next table turned to look at her and smiled hopefully. "She meant the drink, mate," Spike smirked. Crestfallen, the zombie turned back to his companions. "Double scotch on the rocks for me."
"Same here," said Angel. "Strawberry daiquiri for Cordelia."
"Where are Tweedledourer and Tweedledouerest?" Lorne asked.
"They're at the bar," Cordelia informed him. '"Apparently, their major concern is staying as close to the liquor as possible."
Lorne turned to walk to the bar and Fred stood up. "I need to speak with you."
"Come on along and tell me what's on your mind," he offered. He led her through the crowd to the bar and gave the bartender their drink order.
“No fruit in my Zombie, please," she requested.
"So spit it out, honey," Lorne said kindly. “I can feel the anxiety from here. No need to be shy."
"I want you to read Spike," Fred explained. "Angel and the gang don't trust him, and it’s really important to me that they warm up to him. Would you please read him for me and tell Angel that he's not evil?"
"You want me to tell them that he's a good guy, or do you want me to tell them what I really think?" asked Lorne.
"I wouldn't ask you to lie," Fred said earnestly. "I know that would be wrong."
Lorne looked at her sympathetically. "But you really wish I would, don’t you, doll?"
Fred sighed, her eyes sad. Lorne reached out and patted her cheek. "I hope it works out for you," he said gently. “If it makes you feel better, the overbearing vibe I’m getting from our ensouled friend, that’s coming from a place of love. He is genuinely concerned about this other vamp’s presence in your life.”
"I know that Angel means well,” Fred admitted. “But they’re never going to give him a fair chance without a little push. I can’t bear to run interference indefinitely. I don’t think I can deal with all of that.” She began to knead the hem of her dress, and a string of tiny beads broke, scattering onto the floor. She was so distraught that she didn’t notice.
“I think your intuition about Spike is dead on, no pun intended,” Lorne said. “So just try to relax.” He handed her a couple of drinks. "I would suggest that you let him have his hooch and then pop the question. I can tell you from experience that your older vampires have a hell of a lot of ego. I wouldn't hold my breath on getting him to do this if I were you."
"Oh, I know he'll do it! I just hope you can see in him what I do. I hope so, with all my heart.” Lorne watched Fred walk through the crowd to her table. She brushed her hand along the back of Spike’s neck and he looked up at her with a look of longing.
"Besotted bastard," Lorne said as he turned to the bartender. “Sea Breeze, Eduardo."
Fred handed Spike his drink and leaned over to whisper in his ear. "I want to talk to you in private."
He stood and they walked through the club, finding a patch of quiet and privacy in the stairwell. They stood close together, and Spike could hear her heart beating fast, the flush in her skin another cue that something was off. “Is something wrong?”
Fred shook her head. “No, I think everything will be just fine.” She put on a brave smile and raised her glass. "To friendship," she toasted.
"To friendship." They clinked glasses and drank. Fred finished her drink and waited nervously for Spike to do the same. When he was done, he looked at her expectantly. "I need you to do me a favor.”
"Anything for you," he responded immediately.
"I need you to get up onstage and sing karaoke,” she blurted out in a rush.
He laughed, his white teeth flashing. "I don't think so."
"You said anything," she reminded him.
Spike took a step back, his expression serious. "I'll have to amend it then. Let's just say I'm not the singing type."
“Please?” Fred pleaded. She took his hand and looked up at him, brown eyes soft and wide. “This is very important to me.”
“I’m not going to do it,” he said flatly. “I’m not making an ass out of myself in front of a roomful of demons, not to mention a bunch of wankers who already treat me like a sodding schoolboy.”
“Please,” she said earnestly. “Please, Spike. For me.”
He looked at her sweet face, and he knew he was screwed. He’d do anything for her, truly. If it was bloody karaoke- well, she was an odd duck. That was part of her charm, and he reminded himself of that. He pushed the image of Cordelia and Angelus in hysterics from his mind and focused on her need, her air of desperation. “Two conditions,” he said crisply, maintaining a façade of dignity.
“Okay,” she quickly agreed.
“Firstly, I need a hell of a lot more drinks,” Spike said. “And secondly, you have to get up there with me.”
Fred’s hands flew to her cheeks. “Oh no. I couldn’t.”
“Turnabout’s fair play, kitten.” Spike turned her hand over and gently kissed her palm. “Your call.”
Spike and Fred stood on the stage, staring at the monitor that would display the lyrics of their duet. His arm was thrown over her shoulder, holding her close. Her hand held the edge of his duster in a death grip, but she still wobbled slightly in her heels. The music began, and they shared a quick look of horror.
“'Don't go breaking my heart," Spike belted out.
"I couldn't if I tried," Fred chimed in, her voice cracking.
"Honey if I get restless," Spike sang smoothly.
"Baby you're not that kind," warbled Fred.
Angel and Cordelia watched the show with great amusement. "Tell me you're getting this," Angel said, his eyes locked on the stage.
"I'm totally getting this," she said, adjusting the handle on her concealed video camera.
Wesley and Gunn watched the performance from the bar. "Man, that is just sad," Gunn said, shaking his head.
"One hundred and fifty years of practice, and he can barely carry a tune," Wesley commented.
"He's not that bad," Gunn disagreed. "She- man, she is baaadd. The girl is tone deaf."
Wesley frowned. "Yes, there is an- utter lack of musical quality about her voice."
After several torturous minutes, the two finished their song and left the stage to a smattering of polite applause. Fred turned and looked anxiously for the Host. He smiled widely, giving her a thumbs up. Fred hugged Spike hard. “Oh, that was terrific.”
He tightened his arms around her and grinned broadly. “We were crap. I think we made them bleed out their ears.”
“But we did it,” Fred beamed back at him. “That’s all that mattered.”
“I’m glad I made you happy, pet,” Spike said, running his fingers along the bare skin of her back. “Can I have a little prezzie for being a good boy?” Her pulse sped up as he dipped his head to hers, and she closed her eyes in anticipation of his kiss.
“Great job,” Lorne said heartily as he clapped his arm around them both. “You two deserve a couple of drinks on the house. There’s a Zombie and a double scotch with your names on them.” The horned demon pointed at the couple and his bartender nodded. Spike took Fred’s hand in hers and led her over to the bar.
Lorne walked over to Angel and patted him on the shoulder. The vampire looked up at him, his eyes serious. “What can you tell me?”
“He loves her,” Lorne said with a shrug.
Angel looked shocked. “Well, that’s not what I was expecting to hear.”
“Spike’s no threat to anyone, except those that try to harm his girl,” Lorne explained. “He’s no white knight, but he’s not Darth Vader by a long shot. I think light gray is pretty much his color.”
Cordelia’s eyes widened. “Back up. He’s in love with Fred?”
“Head over heels,” the horned demon confirmed. “The poetry that dreamboat has in his head is all hearts and flowers and forever. Sweet enough to send a diabetic into a coma.”
The bartender handed Fred and Spike a fresh pair of drinks as they sat down on a pair of barstools. Spike tilted back his drink, downing it in a flash and gestured for another.
Fred fished the garnish out of her drink. Delicately, she bit the pineapple off and extended the skewer to Spike. "Want my cherry?" she asked.
He grinned. "You flirting with me?"
She looked at him questioningly. "Not that I know of. Is there something romantic about fruit that I've missed out on?"
"Apparently," he said, his eyes gleaming.
"Open up," Fred instructed, and slid the skewer in his mouth. He sucked the cherry off the wood as his eyes locked into hers, and she flushed at the intensity of his stare. Within seconds he stuck out his tongue, revealing a small red knot.
She looked at it curiously and picked it off his tongue. “What is that? Cherry stem?"
"Yeah. Vampires, we're an oral lot. Got a lot of tricks up our sleeves." Spike tilted his head and watched her, his eyes filled with desire.
"You did this with your tongue?" she said, inspecting it closely. "That's unbelievable. It’s so tight."
“You want to see what else I can do with it?” He slid his hand into her hair and moved it away from her neck, bending his head and gently tracing along her collarbone with the tip of his tongue.
She closed her eyes, her mouth parting. “Spike,” she gasped as she clenched her hand on his knee. “Oh my goodness.”
Slowly he moved his mouth away from her skin and looked up at her. His pupils were dilated, the blue of eyes swallowed by black. “Let’s get out of here, love.” He took her hand and pulled off the stool, wrapping his arm around her waist possessively.
They walked away from the bar and towards the door. Cordelia appeared, looking quite cheerful. “Hey Fred,” she said brightly.
“Hi Cordy,” said Fred. “We were just leaving.”
“Can I talk to you for a second before you go?” she asked politely. “Just a girl thing, won’t take a minute.”
Spike’s fingers traced over her palm, and Fred gulped hard, trying to focus. “Okey doke,” she said.
“Hurry back,” Spike murmured, placing a gentle kiss on her earlobe.
Cordy and Fred went into the ladies lounge. Wall sconces illuminated a room tastefully decorated in cream, with gilt mirrors on the wall, a loveseat, and several wing chairs. “Fred, how many drinks have you had?” the seer asked.
“Seven,” Fred said, weaving slightly.
“How about Spike?”
Fred wrinkled her brow. “Lots. Fifteen?”
“Okay, here’s a piece of advice from Auntie Cordelia.” She looked at Fred seriously. “You’ve had way too much to drink. He’s had way too much to drink. Do not let him take you home.”
“We’ll get a cab,” Fred said. “Safe.”
Cordelia crossed her arms and looked straight in Fred’s eyes. “I’m not talking about transportation, I’m talking about penetration. You two go back to the hotel, you will have sex. Sex. With. Spike. Are we clear on this concept? Fucking the undead.”
“I’m not sure we’ll do the –fucking,” Fred said awkwardly. “But he seemed to want to do some kissing, and I really like kissing. Long time since I had kissing.” She sighed, smiling.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Yes, but was the idea of kissing Spike appealing before you drank a gallon of rum? Or are you going to wake up in the morning and want to strangle yourself for being an idiot?”
Fred thought about it. “I’ve wanted to kiss him since I first saw him,” she said decisively. “He is so pretty.”
“Well, I’ll give you that,” Cordy conceded. “And Lorne gave him the not evil seal of approval. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be a good guy back at the hotel. He could want to go farther than you do. More importantly, how are you both going to feel about this tomorrow? Do you care about him? Is this a friends with benefits thing, or the beginning of dating, or just drunken stupidity? You should take a minute and figure this out.” Cordelia gently sat Fred down in a padded chair. “You stay here, and when I come out, we’ll talk about what you’re going to do.”
“Okay,” Fred agreed.
Cordelia began to walk away and then stopped and turned back. “And please, consider a human guy. Don’t gloss over that option in the pondering process.”
“Groo wasn’t human,” Fred pointed out.
Cordelia frowned. “Whole different ball of wax.” She opened the door and stepped into the bathroom.
Fred rested her chin on her palms and looked at the toes of her shoes. Spike. What did she want from Spike?
Spike was propped against the wall, waiting for Fred. He felt terrific. He wanted Fred, and she wanted him, and it had been too long since he’d had that, the wanting and wanting back.
A familiar face came into his field of vision. “Spike?” said a sweet voice.
“Elisabeth!” he exclaimed, surprised.
She hugged him tightly, her face beaming with delight. “It’s been forever since I’ve seen you!”
“Not since Prague,” he said quietly.
The blonde pulled away with a frown. “Yes, Prague. What a horrible time that was. Did Drusilla fully recover?” she asked gently.
“Dru’s right as rain, last I saw her,” Spike said. “We’re not together anymore.”
She clucked disapprovingly. “What is it with the younger generation? Don’t you understand the concept of eternal love?”
He gestured towards the locket that rested above her breasts. “Apparently not as well as you and James.”
Elisabeth smiled up at him, her eyes deep and green. “You know, we do like a bit of variety. A fresh partner in the bedroom, to keep the flame of passion ever bright.” She closed her hand over his, pressing it against her breast. Her other hand trailed up his thigh, slipping between his legs.
Spike gasped at the same time as he heard a crash from behind him. Elisabeth dropped her hand and the vampires turned to see Fred, running up the steps as fast as she could.
“Fred!” Spike yelled, chasing after her. “Fred, wait!” He ran out of the club and looked down the street. Fred was walking fast down the pavement, tripping slightly on her tall heels. He caught up with her, grabbing her arm and turning her to face him. "It’s not what you think.”
“I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid,” she said angrily. She jerked her hand out of his grasp and turned away, continuing down the street.
“You can’t just walk off like this with no one to look after you,” he said, walking fast to keep up.
"That's a benefit of being insane," she said. "People tend to leave you alone."
"You're not insane," he argued. "There's nothing wrong with you."
She laughed bitterly. "Apparently there is something wrong with me."
"The only thing wrong with you is that you're drunk," he said angrily. "I don't know what the hell Lorne was thinking, buying you all those bloody drinks. They’ve got you all muddled, making something out of nothing."
"I'm not drunk," she protested. "I'm just stupid. Stupid naïve little Fred." She laughed. "I'm nobody! Who are you?"
"Baby, you're raving," he said, concerned. "It's the alcohol, it's messing with your mind. Let me take you home."
"I don't have a home," she said. "I have a cave, that's where I belong. I could go there, stay here. Doesn't matter. I'm invisible." She waved her arms widely. "You didn't even see me. But I saw you. And her."
"Quite enough of that," he said firmly as he took her hand. "You're going to bed."
"I think you're the one going to bed," she said bitterly. "She’s very pretty. I’m sure you’ll have lots of fun, fucking her."
He laughed, surprised. "It was just a bit of flirtation, pet. All smoke and no fire; means nothing."
She tried to pull her hand away, but he held tightly to it. "Let go of me, Spike."
"What is wrong with you?" he asked adamantly. "I don't understand why you're upset. Nothing happened."
"I'm tired of feeling stupid, and I'm tired of hurting. You make me hurt." Her eyes shone with tears, and Spike looked at her anxiously.
“I don’t want her, I want you, Fred. Please let me make it up to you. I just want you to be happy," he said sincerely.
"Then leave me alone," she said softly, and jerked her hand out of his grasp. She teetered off balance, and fell to the pavement. Spike tried to help her up, but she waved him away.
Cordelia came running up, out of breath. "Fred? Are you okay?"
"I don't feel well and I want to go home," Fred said in a strained voice.
"Too many drinks, sweetie?" Cordy asked, concerned. "I've been there myself." She put her arm around Fred's shoulders and walked her across the street to her car. "We'll give you the patented Cordelia Chase no hangover treatment. You'll feel just fine in the morning."
"I really hope so," Fred said.
Spike watched them get in the car and drive away. He didn't know what the hell was going on. One minute, he was in heaven, and now, he was back in exile. He turned around and walked back to Caritas.
Gunn and Wesley were talking quietly, their expressions serious. Angel was chatting with a Suvolte demon, his expression focused. James and Elisabeth were sitting in a cozy corner, energetically kissing. With a heavy sigh, Spike sat at the bar and ordered another shot of whisky. He downed the amber liquid, enjoying the burning sensation as it slid down the throat, and gestured for another.
Lorne came and sat down next to him. "Slow down, sweetums. You’ve already polished off a bottle of the good stuff."
Spike shrugged. "I can handle it."
The Host looked at him questioningly. "Can you handle it? I'm not so sure."
"What do you mean?" Spike asked.
"The situation you’ve Romeo’d your way into. Fred is an extremely fragile soul," Lorne explained. "Pylea is a hard place, even if you're born into it. To survive as a slave for five years, that took more than courage. That took drive, tenacity and a single-minded focus. Now that she's back home, she's floundering. If it wasn't for you, she probably would have gone under already."
"I don't think I'm helping her," Spike said, sinking a shot. "I seem to be making her miserable."
"You kids will work it out," Lorne assured him. "The course of true love never did run smooth."
"It helps when the person you love loves you in return.” The vampire leaned forward, cradling his head in his hands. "She hates me now; they always wind up hating me.” He laughed painfully. “God, unrequited love stings like nothing else."
The Host patted his shoulder. "Good thing that's not what you're dealing with this time around, cowboy." Spike looked at him, his expression startled.
Lorne walked across the club and took the stage. “Strangers in the night, exchanging glances," he sang. "Wondr'ing in the night, what were the chances, we'd be sharing love, before the night is through."
Spike stared at the wall, his mind racing. It couldn't be true. Could Fred really love him? "You make me hurt," she'd said. He thought of her relief when she'd found that Dawn wasn't his girlfriend. Her reaction tonight to seeing him with Elisabeth. She wanted him, all to herself.
"Strangers in the night," Lorne sang. “Two lonely people who were strangers in the night, up to the moment when we said our first hello. Little did we know love was just a glance away, a warm embracing dance away.”
Spike remembered Fred’s anger when Angel had hit him, the light in her eyes as they danced, her conviction that he could be a hero, that he was strong. She loved him. He didn't understand why or how, but he really didn't care to look too closely. It was a miracle- or a misunderstanding. Either way, he needed to talk with her- now. He threw a couple of bills on the bar and ran out of the club.
Continued in Chapter Eight