Author's Note: Parts of this story takes place in the "Magic Box" universe, although it's not part of the main storyline. Call it an ancillary piece, if you will.
"You're joking, right?" Spike fingered the stem of his wineglass and considered the man sitting across the table from him. "You want to pay me to write some stories for you."
The man shrugged, an easy, graceful gesture of his shoulders. "It is a small thing. Call it...a whim."
His accent was thick, caressing each syllable. Didn't fool Spike for a moment. He knew exactly how easily a voice could be altered, an accent changed...and he hadn't needed acting training to do it. Still, it might be fun to play along for a little longer -- especially since Spike didn't have to pay for the drinks while they sat at the outdoor café enjoying the evening air. "So, *Count,*" he said, carefully emphasizing the title, "what type of stories?"
"There is a new novel that is all the rage in London. Perhaps you have heard of it? It is called Dracula."
Spike resisted the urge to laugh. Normally he wouldn't have bothered, but there was still the prospect of money to be considered. "I've seen it at the booksellers," he allowed. Read it in one bloody sitting, even with Dru nagging at me that she wanted to go feed while the sun was still out. "Supposed to be about a vampire, isn't it?"
Dracula smiled, nodding his head slightly. "I will admit to some small conversations with the author."
"Really think it's a good idea to let the populace know how we can be killed, mate? Might put a crimp in the social lifestyle."
"On the contrary. I think it will make us far more attractive to our victims. The darkness...the hunger..."
"The lack of reflection...not eating or drinking...the knitting needle through the heart..."
As Spike lifted the wine glass to his lips, he savored the puzzled frown on Dracula's face. "There are no knitting needles in Stoker's novel."
"No, but they're generally made of wood and have a nice pointy end to them. Someone reads about stakes, they might get ideas."
A deep sigh. "We are straying from the point, William. Will you accept my offer?"
Spike let his fellow demon stew for a few minutes. Twenty quid was mighty tempting, especially since Angelus and Darla had decided to leave Spike and Drusilla in Paris for a few months while they went wandering. The pair were doing all right for themselves, but Spike wouldn't be averse to bit more of the readdies. He'd learned there were things better bought than taken, especially if one wanted to be welcome in the places one wanted to frequent.
"Let me get this straight. You want me to write six stories in the vein of Stoker's piece of purple prose, all of which feature a devastatingly handsome Transylvanian Count."
Another shrug from Dracula. "You might not wish to be quite so specific. Mr. Stoker might take offense if it was too obvious whom your central figure is. Might I suggest a name...Alucard?"
This time, Spike couldn't suppress a grin as a line from Shakespeare flashed through his brain: Art thou Base? Common? Popular? The count so wanted to be popular, was probably that way when he could breathe. "Right. Alucard it is, then. Maybe not Transylvania. Someplace equally exotic...say, Cornwall?"
Dracula did his best to drawn his dignity around him like, which looked about as good as the cloak he insisted on wearing. "I grow weary. Will you do it or no?"
"I'll do it." As the count nodded, Spike quickly added, "Money in advance, of course."
It only took a second for Spike to realize the ponce didn't have the cash on him. "Surely, we can trust one another..."
"No money, no stories." Spike leaned back in his chair. "You can order me another drink as well."
An annoyed expression on his face, Dracula dug into his jacket and pulled out his wallet. "Will ten pounds serve for the moment? The rest upon completion of the work."
"Done." Spike made certain to snag the bank notes as quickly as he could. "Come see me in a week. I'll let you know how it's going."
Business done, he finished his wine and departed, having no desire to share Dracula's company any longer. So what if the bugger wanted stories to glorify himself? The possibility of actually seeing his work in print was appealing to Spike, even if they'd likely end up in the penny dreadfuls. It'd be a wonderful excuse to put pen to paper.
He found Drusilla in an alley off Esplanade des Invalides, finishing off a young man. Looking up from her meal, she smiled, fangs glinting in pale gaslight. "My Spike. Come to drink from the chalice with me?" She pouted. "Or have you already fed? There is an air of satisfaction about you."
"So there is, pet. So there is." He drew closer, sliding up behind her and slipping his arms about her waist. "It's not from blood, though." He nipped at her ear, letting the planes of his face shift as he did. "Something quite delicious, though."
She pressed back against him, letting loose with a low murmur of pleasure. "I like delicious."
He smiled, letting his hand slide upward over the curve of her corset. "Then let's finish your little snack and see how delicious you like it..."
Spike was thankful for the peace that had settled over the rooms he shared with Drusilla. With the quiet, his muse was free to come out and play, his pen scratching over the surface of the paper with a fair rapidity. With three of the commissioned stories already finished, he was hopeful to make progress on the fourth tonight.
It was the only reason he'd supported Dracula's suggestion he take Drusilla out for a nice evening. Didn't like the way the poncy bastard kept sniffing about her, but at this point Spike didn't have much of a choice if he wanted to get some work done. His dark princess was a demanding mistress and while poetry whispered against her lips or written in blood across her skin might delight her, she was not so understanding of his urge to put pen to paper. For the last several days she had been fretful and sulky, resenting every moment he spent at his desk, even if it was while she slumbered.
So he'd sent her out to enjoy herself in another man's company while he reveled in the arms of his other mistress. It had been far too long since he'd lost himself in the words. He'd quickly realized into those first few days that neither Darla nor Angelus would tolerate a moon-struck poet hanging about, and he'd begun the efforts to remake himself in a more appropriate image.
At the moment, though, he was happy to fall back on an old and secret fantasy: sitting in rooms in Paris, glass of wine at hand, writing stories someone was willing to pay him money for. Only hours before, the tousled sheets on the bed had tangled about him and his lover as they enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh that were not discussed in Polite Society. All that was missing from the scene was a bottle of absinthe, and that was by choice. He wrote better with a clear head. When Dru came back, however, he'd remedy that oversight, lapping the green liquid from the hollow of her throat.
Just the thought of the combination made his pen fly all the faster over the paper.
She lay helpless beneath him, head lolling back to reveal the graceful white curve of her throat -- unblemished, unmarked, pure. It took all of his restraint to merely lean forward and let his tongue glide over the surface. That was enough to make her moan with pleasure, the sound reverberating through his chest. Emboldened, he let his tongue stroke her again, tasting the sweetness of her skin. The idea that he would be the one to initiate her into the arts of pleasure was almost more than he could bear. He wanted to prolong it, savor the moment until that instant when his fangs descended and he pierced the innocent flesh that even now was displayed trembling before him.
As he dipped his pen into the inkwell, sounds floated upward from the street. "I think not," came Drusilla's voice. "What would Daddy say?"
With a frown, Spike laid down the pen and moved to the window. At this hour, the street was deserted save for the two figures below. Even from the third floor, he could read the frustration in every line of Dracula's body. "But it has been such a pleasant evening, my dear. Why should we let it come to an end?"
Spike felt the urge to go downstairs and beat the wanker for daring to even make the suggestion, but the way Drusilla was swaying stopped him. After seventeen years, he'd come to recognize the signs that his beauty wasn't seeing the world quite the same way the others were and knew it was best not to disturb those sights unless absolutely necessary. Of course, Dracula couldn't possibly possess the same knowledge and who was Spike to spoil the fun?
"It all comes to an end," she chirped. "Even me, even you. Over the hills and into the dales where my Spike waits for me." Her head lifted toward their window. "He waits."
Spike smiled as her eyes met his and blew her a kiss. Then the moonlight caught the glint of jewels at her throat...jewels that neither he nor Angelus had gifted her with.
"I am waiting," Dracula said, using his patented seductive tone as he stepped closer. "How much longer must I wait?"
"Not much longer. A mere century and then you will find her." Her expression changed. "She will take it all."
Apparently, Dracula didn’t have the patience for a century because he took Drusilla in his arms. "Your words, they are beautiful, like drops of wine. Not as sweet as the wine of your lips, I am sure."
With that he kissed her and Spike considered risking the leap to the street below. A broken leg would heal. Before he could move, however, she had wrenched herself free, hand striking a sharp blow across Dracula's face. "Daddy will not like that," she hissed. "He will do to you what he did to the other of you."
She stepped back and straightened her clothes, suddenly prim and proper. "I must go in. My Spike is waiting for me."
With that she left him there, hand pressed to his cheek as he watched her enter the building. As he took his hand away, Spike noted with pleasure the dark streaks of blood. Good girl.
Light footsteps on the stairs and she was through the door, her face cheerful. "Did you miss me?"
"Incredibly, my love." Spike caught her in his arms and kissed her. She melted into him for a brief moment before pulling away.
"You lie," she said sternly, but there was a teasing note to her words. "You have spent all your time writing."
"And made great progress, which gives me all the more time to spend with you."
She let him undo her laces and strip the clothes from her body. The necklace he let be, rubies glittering fire against her pale skin. "His gift to you?" Spike demanded as he pushed her back onto the bed.
"He thought to please me. Said it made me beautiful." She looked up at him with large dark eyes. "Does it make me beautiful?"
His answer was a growl as he pressed himself down on her body. She lay helpless beneath him, head lolling back to reveal the graceful white curve of her throat. This throat was far from unblemished, though, bearing the mark of the one who'd made her. Still, he let his tongue find its way along that curve, drawing her taste into his mouth. "Mine," he growled.
She smiled sadly at him. "For now."
"Mine!" he insisted, kissing her hard to drive any image of her precious "daddy" from her mind. She arched, pressing against him and there were no more words.
When they were done, she cradled his head upon her breasts, stroking his hair as they lay curled together. "When do you think Grandmamma and Daddy will be home?"
Spike squeezed his eyes shut. At least she'd forgotten for a little while, seen him and not Angelus. "I don't know, pet. They didn't say."
"I was thinking that he might not appreciate the gift the count gave me. Might take offense at it."
"And perhaps stake the wanker? Can't say I'd regret that."
"I was thinking that perhaps we should sell it and not tell Daddy where we got the money. Then there will be no unhappiness."
He lifted his head from her chest and saw a gleefully mischievousness gleam in her eye. Definitely sane at this moment. "We could have a lovely time," she said with a smile.
And what Daddy didn't know wouldn't hurt him...
Spike signaled the waiter for another bottle as Dracula read through the manuscripts. Perhaps "skimmed" would be a better word, because the Dark Ponce couldn't possibly be reading that fast. He kept nodding at appropriate intervals, though, so the work likely met with his approval. Not that Spike would ask, of course; under no circumstances would he let it appear he was begging for praise from this fool.
He was two glasses into the new bottle when Dracula at last put the papers down. "I must admit, I am a bit surprised. It is excellent work, William."
It was difficult to hide the grin that threatened to break out over his face. Too many years had passed since anyone had praised his writing. Dru always did, but he was never certain if it was his words or the way he said them that she liked. "You asked, I delivered. What do you plan to do with them, by the way? Not that it concerns me. Mere curiosity."
Now it was Dracula's turn to smile. "Shall we say I think it might be amusing to feed the public's...hunger regarding our kind. I know of a publisher whose readers might be particularly interested in such stories."
"You think stories are going to get you victims?" Spike didn't bother to hide his grin. "Sounds a bit daft."
"The publisher I have in mind caters to a, shall we say, 'select' audience of both men and women who would find your work particularly inspiring." Still keeping a tight hold on the manuscripts, he reached for the bottle and poured a healthy amount into his glass. "Given some of your tales, I believe the ladies I am thinking of will find them quite...stimulating."
"Playing the old seduce and kill game, eh? Seems like a lot of effort."
"Ah, but I am not as young and rash as you, William. I do not plan to kill the ladies in question. At least, not immediately. There is a certain enjoyment of having them in thrall, eager to greet you." Dracula drank, emptying most of his glass.
"So you keep them on the string...blood and sex, is that it?" Spike pondered his own glass. It was an interesting concept, but Dru would probably have some objections. He might have to share her with Angelus, but she'd made it painfully clear that he was her property and only allowed to stray as she saw fit. Flexing his fingers at the memory, he added, "Let's you hang around one place longer, too. No trail of bodies."
This was met was a smile. "There may be hope for you yet. Perhaps you are growing out of your 'string of corpses' period. If one is to survive..."
"Why should we worry about that? We're damn near immortal with only the Slayer to be frightened of -- not that anyone ever sees one of them."
Now Dracula's smile was patronizing. "You are young. You will learn. Now," the count picked up the bottle and considered the remaining liquid, "why not order us some champagne? We will celebrate your accomplishment."
"And the ten pounds you owe me." If the older vampire thought he could drink Spike under the table and avoid paying him, he had another thought coming. "Mustn't forget that."
"Of course not. Catch the waiter's attention."
Spike turned in his seat, scanning the café for their waiter. Not finding him, he turned back to search in the other direction...
...And found that he was suddenly alone.
Not only was Dracula gone, the manuscripts were gone as well, vanished with whatever gypsy trick the bastard had used to get away. Spike stared at the empty chair. It wasn't just that the man hadn't paid him; all those carefully crafted words were gone. He had drafts, but no fair copy but the one he'd handed over. How could he have been so stupid?
He sat there for several minutes, experiencing a painful twisting in his gut he hadn't felt for years, not since the last time he'd heard his poetry read in public. This was different; he knew this was actually readable, might even be good. And it was gone.
First, he'd have to make new copies, squirrel them away where neither Angelus nor Darla could find them. Then he'd find a way to get back at Dracula. Bleeding ponce took his work and still owed him ten pounds.
The waiter approached. "Will there be anything else, Monsieur, or would your prefer the check?" At Spike's shake of the head, the man laid a piece of paper on the table.
Not ten pounds...eleven, if one included the check he'd left Spike to pay for.
The covers were lurid colors, staring up at Spike from the box. "Giles, please tell me the publisher sent these by mistake and you didn't order them."
Giles took another bite out of his donut as he leaned over Spike's shoulder. "Good, they've arrived."
"Victorian Vampire Tales?" Spike lifted a volume from the box, wincing at the art of a Hammer Horror film reject menacing a swooning maiden's virtue. "'Dark and erotic stories from the hidden imaginations of nineteenth century authors?' What were you thinking?"
"That Anne Rice does very well for us and this should too."
"You're starting to sound like Anya."
"I'll take that as a compliment." Giles reached out and took the book from Spike's hand. "This got very good reviews in London, but it hasn't been released here in the States yet."
"This is not what I thought we meant when we decided that if you saw something that would work for the shop you should order it." Despite his grumbles, Spike continued to unpack. There were an even dozen including the one in Giles' hand, which matched with the packing slip.
It wasn't a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon, Spike had to admit. The rain had kept customers away from the Magic Box, but having Giles back in Sunnydale when the world wasn't about to end made Buffy's eyes shine, which in turn made Spike happy. She was sitting at the research table at the moment, putting together another batch of the aromatherapy packs Tara had designed for the store, able to chat with her watcher while she worked.
"If you're that anxious to get rid of it, why not put a display out up front?" Giles suggested as he sat at the table, laying the book down on the surface. "I'll wager they'll disappear pretty quickly."
"Looks like pretty standard horror stuff." Xander picked the book up, leafing through the pages. "I mean, the D&D geeks might go for it, especially with the word "erotic" on the cover."
"You drool on it, you buy it, Harris." Spike considered the stack of books on the counter, wondering if a display might work. "Don't you have a building to put up, anyway?"
"Rain shut the site down; can't work while it's pouring. Besides, where would I rather be than with my best friend?"
Buffy gave Xander a smile and Spike decided to let things drop. His ongoing antagonism with Harris was fairly under control these days, but the occasional flare-ups didn't make Buffy happy, which made Spike unhappy. Besides, unlife was good at the moment. He had his slayer, a successful business and all the violence he could wish for helping Buffy keep Sunnydale safe for Christmas and puppies. He could cut Harris a little slack.
God, he must be soft in his old age.
"So this is a big best-seller in London?" Buffy asked, tying a neat bow on the cellophane wrapped packaged in front of her.
"I wouldn't exactly call it a best-seller," Giles admitted. "The stories are reprints from a small, exclusive magazine that was published in the late nineteenth century. I'll admit they are somewhat lurid as the authors were catering to certain...tastes, but lurid seems to sell quite well."
Xander let out a hoot. "You've go to listen to this: The idea that he would be the one to initiate her into the arts of pleasure was almost more than he could bear. He wanted to prolong it, savor the moment until that instant when his fangs descended and he pierced the innocent flesh that even now was displayed trembling before him. They actually paid someone to...hey!"
Spike had practically vaulted over the counter in his rush to snatch the book out of Xander's hand. "I am not paying for that," Xander huffed.
Spike didn't pay him any heed, his eyes scanning the pages. "I don't believe it...that sodding bastard." He flipped to the table of contents. "Four of them?"
He looked up to find the other three regarding him curiously. "Is there something you'd like to share with the class?" Buffy asked.
Here was a pretty turn of events. Both Buffy and Giles knew he'd fancied himself a poet while he breathed; he still wrote the occasional odd bit for Buffy. Harris had no clue and Spike didn't particularly feel like handing the whelp fodder. He should have thought of that before he reacted. "I wrote that," he admitted. "In fact, there are four stories I wrote in the book."
It was news that merited Giles removing his glasses. "There is nothing in the Chronicles to indicate that William the Bloody passed his time writing horror stories."
"Possibly because I didn't bother sending them press clippings. Besides, Dracula commissioned the stories, so he probably claimed ownership. I mean they're credited to..." he glanced at the table of contents once more. "Wm. T. B."
"William the Bloody?" Xander asked innocently. Amusement was starting to quirk the corners of his mouth upwards.
"I'm going to stake that prat. I swear it. Doesn't matter about his damn gypsy tricks; I will find a way to stake him." Spike looked at the pile on the counter. "I wonder if people like them?"
Giles was looking more and more confused. "You're saying Dracula -- the Dracula -- commissioned you to write these stories?'
"Yeah. The four here and two others. Paid me twenty quid. Well, offered me twenty; only paid up ten."
"So he owes you ten pounds."
"Eleven, actually. I was handing them over in a café and he managed to stick me with the bill when he took off."
"Wait a minute." Xander was clearly having fun with this. "Why would Count Dracula, the Dark Master..."
"'Bater," Buffy inserted with a giggle.
"Stop that. Anyway, why would he want to do something like that?"
"Publicity." The cover of the copy he held was bent. He'd take this one home. It'd be nice to read what he'd written once more. "Thought it might help entice ladies into his bed."
"With that?" Xander laughed. "No offense, Spike, but that stuff's pretty overblown."
"It was the literary style at that time," Giles said. "And with that magazine, he was clearly going for a certain audience who might be receptive."
"I take it these people liked things that wouldn't be approved of by the Parent's Television Council." Buffy rose, coming around the table to hold her hand out for the book. A bit reluctantly, Spike handed it over.
"But why would Dracula feel the need to go to such lengths?" Giles was getting his "research" expression. "I mean, even then he was centuries old. Surely he knew..."
"No he wasn’t. Centuries old, I mean. Less than a hundred when I ran into him in Paris."
"But Dracula dates back to the middle ages. The stories of Vlad the Impaler are quite well documented."
"Yeah, well what's not so well documented is the fact Drac apparently made a pass at Darla in the early eighteen hundreds, wanted to make her one of his women or some fool thing like that. Angelus took offense and bye-by Dracula."
"We saw Dracula here in Sunnydale." Giles' voice was insistent and more than a touch indignant. Not surprising since Spike had just taken a whack at a very old and long-established fact. "I can assure you he was very much corporeal."
"You saw someone who claimed to be Dracula. Long dark hair, sallow skin with dark circles under his eyes, bad dresser, stupid cape, talks with a lisp and a bad accent?"
Buffy looked up from the book. "Uh, yeah. Sounds like him."
"That's Sydney. He's an actor. From Cornwall. Decided to take up the Dracula mantle a year or two after the dusting. Apparently becoming a vampire didn't stop his yearning for the spotlight. Why do you think he gave Stoker so much info? Loved playing the game."
"There's nothing in the Chronicles..." Giles protested weakly before he began cleaning his glasses.
"Do you think a publicity hound like him would admit he was just playing a part? Doesn't mean he wasn't dangerous; he won't stop at obtaining more glory." Spike looked toward Buffy. "Why do you think he came after you, luv?"
Their eyes met and he was rewarded with a shiver. "And his ability to disappear in a puff of smoke? Turn into a bat?"
"Gypsy tricks. Smoke and mirrors. There are ways around them if you know what to look for."
The conversation was clearly disturbing Buffy; but then "Dracula" had managed to get to her, held her under his thrall so he could taste some of that delicious slayer blood. Spike decided the prat deserved a staking for that if nothing else. Stepping closer, he bent his head to whisper in her ear. "I'll teach you how. Keep you safe."
Buffy nodded and started back toward the research table. Then she turned back, glancing down at the book she still held before looking up at him. "Spike, would you mind reading me one of your stories tonight? I'd love to hear it."
She was smiling a wicked little smile, one that promised it might take them a very long time to get through even one of the stories. "A bottle of wine? My place?" he managed
Giles was doing his best to ignore what was happening while Xander was wrinkling his nose. Buffy paid no heed to either, her eyes still locked with his. "Sounds perfect."
She handed the book back to him, their fingers brushing for the briefest of instants. Oh, yeah. His unlife was very good right now. He felt generous enough he could forgive Dracula the theft of his manuscripts. He might even forgive the wanker the eleven pounds he owed him.
But probably not.