All About Spike - Print Version
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Rapunzel
By jodyorjen

SPOILERS: Through the end of season five of BTVS and Season 2 of A:tS. AU At:S "Heartthrob."

DISCLAIMER: All hail Joss Whedon, UPN, the WB, FOX, Mutant Enemy and 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. GO team! Theirs, not mine.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Buffy’s dead. Really.

DISTRIBUTION: Please ask my permission first, just so I know where it’s headed.

FEEDBACK: Sure, fire away to jodyorjen@yahoo.com



Chapter One

A group of people surrounded Spike’s sarcophagus, staring down the blond vampire. "I’m not doing it," Spike said firmly. He exhaled a stream of smoke as he reclined, the very picture of boredom.

"It’s the only way that you can be near me," Dawn argued. "It’s bad enough that I have to move in with Dad and evil new stepmom without losing all of the people I love."

Spike’s eyes lit up when the girl professed her feelings, but it quickly faded. "You really think your dad is going to let you roam around the streets of Los Angeles by yourself?" he asked with a snort.

Dawn and Willow exchanged looks. "Spike, this is what you’ve been doing all summer," the witch said. "Saving humans, killing bad demons, making sure Dawn is safe."

"It was bad enough you bossing me around." Spike countered. "I don’t fancy taking orders from Angelus."

"Don’t call me that," said Angel, as he crossed his arms across his chest. "I’m willing to give you a chance because everyone deserves a fresh start. There’s a lot of work to be done; a great many people who need help."

"I don’t especially want to go help the helpless," Spike said. "I’d rather be eating the helpless."

"Comments like that just reinforce the fact that you must leave," Giles said sternly. "The new Slayer and her Watcher are on their way to Sunnydale. I’ve been told through the grapevine that these two take their duties very seriously, and go by the book."

"You’re incapable of keeping a low profile," Tara said softly. "It’s too dangerous for you to stay here. The demons all want to kill you, and there’s a good life waiting for you in L.A." She winced. "I mean, a good- existence." Willow smiled at her and patted her hand.

"Please?" Dawn said. "Please come with me?"

"Little love, I don’t want to-" Spike began.

"You promised Buffy!" Dawn interjected.

The vampire looked at her, pain raw in his eyes. With a sigh, Spike hopped up and ground out his cigarette. "Best get packing." Dawn squealed and threw her arms around Spike. He smiled, and hugged her back.

*******

"I’m pretty sure they weren’t real," Gunn argued.

"High and firm, but with a little- jiggle to them," Wesley said. "Definitely real."

Cordelia walked out of the office into the lobby, carrying an assortment of file folders. "Whether the client’s hooters are real or silicon isn’t really relevant," she said. "The check she wrote isn’t rubber, that’s for sure." She handed Gunn a folder. "Last known addresses of five mistresses of the client’s husband; use your grace and charm to get some dirt," she said.

"Not a problem," said the young man with a grin.

"Wesley, these are the names of motels Prince Charming has been known to frequent. Clerks, maids, front desk- talk to them all and see who is going-" A large crash resonated up from the basement.

The Angel Investigations team looked at each other warily. "Is he back already?" Gunn asked.

Cordy shook her head. "Angel’s not supposed to be back from his walk the earth like Kung Fu, grieve the loss of his one true love angst-a-thon for another week."

A second loud crash had them running for the weapons cabinet. Gunn grabbed a crossbow, Wes a two headed axe and Cordelia a sword. Cautiously, they made their way towards the basement.

Angel strode out of the shadows, his face dark. "I leave you all alone for a couple of months, and this is the greeting I get when I come back?"

Cordy tossed the sword aside and ran for Angel. He looked pleasantly surprised as she threw herself into his arms. "I missed you," she whispered in his ear.

"Me too," he replied.

"What did you bring us?" she said eagerly.

"Me, for starters," said a crisp voice. Cordelia stepped backwards as Spike appeared from behind Angel.

"Bad vampire, guys," Cordelia announced. "Big bad. Stake now, or forever rest in snack sized pieces." Gunn and Wesley stepped forward, their eyes locked on the threat in their midst.

"Let me explain," Angel said soothingly. "Everything is just fine."

"Last time Spike was in Sunnydale, I got a rebar through the abdomen," Cordy pointed out. "Last time he was here, he tortured you. In my book, that’s far from fine."

"He can’t hurt humans anymore," Angel explained. "He was helping Buffy fight down in Sunnydale, and now he’s going to help us."

"I don’t think we need that kind of help," Gunn said. "You’ve got a soul. No reason to trust this guy."

"I’m not asking you to trust him," Angel said. "I don’t trust him either. All I’m asking you is to give him a chance."

"You’ve lost your mind," Cordelia announced.

"Seems like a good bit of that is going around," Wesley said.

"Fred’s not really nuts," Gunn said. "She’s just adjusting."

"Trouble adjusting is a little different from locking herself in her room for three months," Cordy said. "The girl’s nuttier than a Snickers bar."

"I’ll talk to her," Angel assured his friends. He turned to Spike. "I’ll show you to your room."

"He’s not living here?" Cordy asked, aghast.

"Not that living is the right word," Wesley said.

Spike followed Angel up the staircase, carrying a milk crate, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. They walked down the hallway, and Angel knocked on a door. "Fred? It’s Angel."

There was a shuffling noise and then the door slowly opened, revealing a petite girl with long, tangled brown hair. "Angel?" she said in a sweet Southern accent. "Oh, it is really you! I thought you might have been an auditory hallucination." She beamed at him, her face lighting up with happiness.

"It’s really me," he said, smiling at her.

"And me," Spike interjected. The girl turned and looked at him curiously.

"This is Spike," Angel said. "Spike, this is Fred."

Spike extended his hand to her, and she tentatively shook it. "You’re not a human," she remarked. "You’re something else."

"That’s right," Spike confirmed. "Vampire. But I don’t kill humans, not anymore. You don’t have to be afraid."

"Oh, I’m not afraid," she said. "Angel saved me from slavery, and now I’m here, and there is real oatmeal and soft beds and a room with a door that locks."

Spike raised his eyebrows. "She fell into an alternate dimension and was trapped there for five years," Angel explained. "She’s only been home for a few months." He turned back to Fred. "Cordy says that you’re not coming out of your room."

"I like it in my room," Fred said. "Peace, quiet. No dirt. No bad things. It’s better in here."

"Well, why don’t you think about coming downstairs?" Angel asked. "It’s nice down there, too. Roomier."

"I come down for food," she said. "That’s enough." She bit her thumbnail. "I have to get back to work now," she said as she closed the door in their faces.

"Interesting girl," Spike said. Angel walked across the hall and opened the door, gesturing for Spike to go inside. Spike did so, finding a typical hotel room.

"This is your room," Angel said, handing him a key. "Butcher delivery’s at six, and I’ll start ordering some extra blood for you. You’ll work from seven to midnight processing the paperwork, since Willow said that you know how to type. Reading over the files will give you a good idea of what we do around here. When you get the feeling for how you might like to contribute, you come and let me know."

"And if I decide that I don’t want to contribute?" Spike replied.

"Door’s open, you’re free to walk out whenever you like," Angel said. "What you choose to make of yourself is up to you." Angel walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.

Spike unzipped his duffel bag and started putting his belongings in the dresser drawer. He pulled out a small gift-wrapped box. Sitting down on the bed, he opened it, revealing a framed picture of Dawn and Buffy. "Make us proud," said the Post-it that was attached to the frame. Spike traced the faces of the sisters in the picture, and carefully placed it on the bedside table.

He pulled a bottle of bourbon from his bag and sat down on the bed. He took a swig and closed his eyes and saw Buffy, lying dead on a pile of rubble. With a sigh, he leaned back against the headboard and picked up the remote. He drank steadily through the bottle, watching Tom and Jerry try to outwit each other.

*******

The last marker was dried out. Fred shook it, once twice, but it was no good- it was dead. With a sigh, she rolled her shoulders and stood back to appraise her work. Her writing covered three walls of her room now, and she followed along with the flow of her thoughts, trying to fix in her memory where she had left off. She left her room and darted downstairs. In the office, she found a box of black permanent markers. She patted the box affectionately. Sharpies, black, medium point; just what she liked. She pulled open the cardboard and sniffed one with a smile.

A pain in her belly caught her off guard. She rubbed absentmindedly and realized: hungry. She opened the door to the refrigerator. No leftovers, no nothing. She had money upstairs; Gunn had given it to her, encouraged her to go out. But she was scared to go by herself. Scared of portals opening up, of people who would hurt her. Scared she’d fall into the other place again, and be a cow.

She bit her fingers and walked downstairs. Angel was sitting on his couch, staring at a large lidded metal jar on the coffee table. "Did you need something?" he asked, as he turned to look at her.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," she said shyly.

"That's alright," Angel replied. "I'm dwelling on the past. It's probably good to break away from it." He gestured to the urn.

Fred sat down next to him and looked at the urn. "Those are Faith's ashes," she said quietly. "I heard Cordelia talking about her memorial service, how no one was there but her and Wesley."

"I should have been here for her," Angel sighed. "I promised her I'd help her, and then I just let her slip away."

"You couldn't have saved her," Fred said. "You're very strong, but she got sick."

"She died alone," Angel said. "At least Buffy didn't have to go through it alone." His face clouded, his grief palpable. Fred gently set her hand on his shoulder and patted him. "I'm sorry. I'm sure you didn't come down here to hear about this."

"I’m just hungry," she said apologetically. "I came to see if you had any food."

"I don’t have anything to offer except blood," he replied. "Do you want me to go out and pick up something?"

She smiled and nodded. "That would be so nice."

The telephone rang and Angel picked it up. "Cordelia?" he asked. He listened for a moment, his brow furrowing. "We’ll be right there," he said. He hung up the phone and turned to Fred. "Cordy’s in trouble," he said, hurriedly standing up and pulling on his coat. "I have to go."

"Is everything okay?" she asked.

He hesitated. "I’m sure it will all work out," he said encouragingly. He rushed out of the room, dialing his cell phone.

Fred walked back up the stairs to her room. She stood in the hallway outside, listening to the sounds of television coming from Spike’s room. She knocked on his door, and he quickly answered. "Hi," she said.

"Hello," he replied. He opened the door wide. "Would you like to come in?"

She shook her head. "No, that’s okay. I just need to ask you for a favor."

"What exactly do you need from me, pet?" he asked with a slow smile.

"Tacos," she replied. He looked at her oddly. "Well, I’m really hungry, and there’s no food in the hotel, and Angel would have gone with me, but he left to go meet Cordelia."

"You want me to go out with you for Mexican food?" he asked.

"No, I want you to go pick up food and bring it back here," she explained. "I don’t want to leave the hotel."

"Why not?" he asked.

"I’m scared," she admitted softly.

"Scared of what?"

"The outside," she said seriously. "There’s bad people out there, bad places. Portals." She shook her head. "It’s too risky."

"So you’re just going to stay in the hotel and hide away?" he asked. "Sounds like a horrible waste."

"It’s the intelligent thing to do," she said. "I’m very smart, so I respect my opinion."

He looked angry. "There are people out there, dying young every day, who would give anything to have the life you’re wasting. It’s a disgrace is what it is. May as well be dead, hiding out from the world."

"Well, I thought about killing myself," she said seriously. "But I don’t want to burn in hell."

"What would you have possibly done to burn in hell for?" he asked.

"Suicides go straight to hell," she replied. "And I would like to see my Grandpa Pete again someday, so I want to go to heaven."

He tilted his head and looked at her quizzically. "You’re a very odd girl," he declared.

"Yes, I am," she said. "Does that mean that you won’t get me food?"

"Why don’t you come out with me?" he asked.

"I couldn’t," she said.

"Because you’re too frightened?" She nodded vigorously, her eyes wide. Clearly the girl had been seriously traumatized. Spike decided to cut her a little slack. "I’ll do it," he said. "Where do you want me to go?"

"Taco Loco," she said. "555-3056. It’s right across the street. I’ll show you."

She stood up and Spike followed her across the hall. He stood on the threshold of her room as she walked in. "I invite you in," she said dramatically, with a sweep of her hand.

She walked over to the window, and he came inside, eyebrows raised at the complete disorder of the room and the walls covered in writing. She gestured him over and they looked down the street. Fred pointed out the green sign of the restaurant. "You just go downstairs and go out the main lobby doors, then make a right and cross the street."

"It’s literally across the street," he remarked. He turned towards her. "We could be there and back in five minutes. What do you say?"

"No," she said. She looked at him, her brown eyes soft and shining. "I know I’m crazy. It doesn’t make it any easier, you mocking me."

"I’m not making fun of you," he said. "It’s just ridiculous-"

She turned away and pulled a fresh marker from the box in her pocket. The girl looked around the room. There were reams of paper covered with symbols, and she looked through the stacks. "I need to find a piece of paper to write down what I want," she explained.

He extended his hand, palm up. She came over and took his hand in hers, writing slowly and precisely on his skin. When she was done, she dropped his hand and rifled through a pile of papers and junk, finally coming up with a small beaded coin purse. She pulled out a twenty dollar bill and handed it to Spike. "I’ll be back in a few minutes," he said.

"Thanks," she replied. She turned to the wall and began writing again, picking up where she had left off in the long stream of information on the wall. Spike watched her for a moment, and then turned and left.

******

Spike was waiting for his order when his cell phone rang. He smiled and pulled it out of his pocket. "Hey, niblet," he answered.

"Hey, vampy," Dawn replied.

"How’d the big welcome to L.A. dinner go?" he asked.

"It was actually extremely cool," she said. "Dad is way overcompensating for being invisi-father for so long. Apparently Stepmom wants to have a baby, and he’s showing her what great parent material he is."

"What do you think of Mona?" he asked.

"She’s nice," the teenager replied. "She knows she’s not Mom, and she’s not trying to be. Dad’s another story. Really clingy and over interested, and he laughs way too loud."

"You’ll have to give him a chance," Spike said. "I know this isn’t how you wanted things to work out, but maybe it will be for the best. You’ll have a normal high school experience off the Hellmouth. Your sister would have liked that."

They both paused, feeling the jolt of pain that still occurred every time they thought of Buffy. The cashier handed Spike his bag of Mexican food, and he left the restaurant. "Met a girl," he commented, changing the subject.

"Really?" Dawn said. "Is she pretty?"

"Beautiful," he said. "Really lovely. Sadly, she’s mad as a hatter."

"That shouldn’t be a problem," Dawn teased. "You were with Drusilla for like a thousand years."

"I’m not looking to date the girl, Dawn," he said. "She lives across the hall from me at the Hyperion."

"So she’s your hot roommate then," Dawn said. "Lots of potential there."

"I’m not trying to score with the insane bird," Spike said as he entered the lobby of the hotel. "I have to go. "

"Spike’s in looove," crooned the teenager.

"Sod off," he said, and hung up to the sound of her laughter.



Chapter Two

Spike walked down the hallway of the Hyperion, his footsteps whispering along the plush carpet. He knocked on the door to Fred’s room. “Food’s here,” he announced.

“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?”



Chapter Three

Fred looked up at Spike with concern. He seemed dazed, like someone had hit him in the head. "You okay?" She patted his arm gently.

He swallowed and cleared his throat. "Yeah, fine." He paused. "Just lost my train of thought."

"Happens to me all the time," she said reassuringly. "I was asking about my tacos?"

"I ate them," Spike explained. "They'd gone bad, anyway. That's what happens when you leave food sitting in a hallway for hours."

Fred sighed. "I'm really hungry. Can you go out and get me some donuts?"

He smiled apologetically. "I'd be happy to, pet, but the sun's already up."

"Didn't anyone tell you about the tunnels?" she asked. "They have them all through Los Angeles-"

"Sunlight's not a problem for me," Gunn interjected. "My truck's right outside. Looks like a fine day for taking a pretty lady out to breakfast."

"There's a lovely café around the corner," Wesley suggested. "They have fresh croissants and a truly wonderful selection of tea."

"Croissants!" Fred said ecstatically. "Oh! I'd forgotten about those. Do they have chocolate ones?"

Wesley brightened and walked over to her. "They do, and almond as well. They're lovely with a cup of Earl Grey."

"Okay," Fred said. She handed Wes a twenty-dollar bill. "I'll have one of each, and a big, big cup of tea with lots of cream and sugar. Thanks so much!"

"Would you- would you like to accompany me?" Wes asked hopefully.

"I don't leave the hotel," she reminded him.

"But you look so lovely," he said sincerely. "Surely it's a waste to keep you hidden away here."

"You're so sweet," she replied. "But I like being hidden away."

"I'll go get you your breakfast then," Wesley said, handing her back her money. "My treat," he said as he turned to leave.

"You're coated with demon goo, man," Gunn stated.

Wesley shrugged. "Francois has seen me looking worse. "

"Can I have a croissant too?" Cordelia asked. The door banged shut behind the Englishman. "I guess I'll go home and make my own breakfast."

Fred turned to her. "Oh my goodness," she said, tentatively reaching out her hand to remove a popcorn kernel from the other woman's hair. "You poor thing."

"I know I look disgusting," Cordelia replied briskly. "But I have to stay here and show Spike how to deal with the case files."

"It's Saturday, and we just worked all night," Gunn said. "Can't the files wait, Angel?"

"We can't just leave them all scattered around," Angel argued.

"Why don't you go upstairs and take a bath in my room?" Fred offered. "Spike found a suitcase full of pretty dresses and lingerie. That's where I got this." She pointed to her dress. "You can help yourself to whatever you want."

Cordelia's eyes lit up. "There's more like that?"

"A bunch," Fred said. "I moved next to Spike's room, out of that mess of papers I was living in. Just pick out whatever you want out of the closet. Take a bath, and take a nap. I'll help Spike get started with the files."

Cordelia smiled. "Would you really do that? Because I would love to deslime myself as soon as possible."

"I've read through all the files, and it made sense to me. I'll show Spike," Fred assured her. Cordy scampered towards the stairs, slipping and sliding a bit as she left a trail of green slime dripping behind her.

"Shower sounds good to me," Gunn said. "I'll catch you all later." He turned and left the lobby.

Angel turned to Fred. "I'd like to clean up myself."

"We'll get the office set to rights," she promised. "I wish we had a magic broom or a fairy godmother or something, but as long as you have adhesive dots I'll get it done in a jiffy."

He looked at her oddly. "Dots?"

"Don't worry," Fred said. She reached out to pat his shoulder, and realized it was coated with green bile. She backed away and made a waving motion. "Go on. Git." She took Spike's elbow and they walked into the office. "Boy, this is a serious mess," she commented.

"It was a mess to start with," Spike said defensively.

"Oh, I know," Fred replied. "Cordelia's mind is very interesting. Her system makes perfect sense if you take it from her point of view. It's all distillation, boiling it down to one word that brings to mind the situation for her. Like 'Eye' for a girl implanted by a Skilosh demon."

"I don't know the cases, so it doesn't mean much to me," he said.

"You should read them," she suggested. "The work they have done here is really amazing." She opened the office supply cabinet. "They don't have a label maker or dots. Geez, they don't even have any pens or post its. This is pathetic." She sighed. "Well first off, we separate the active files from the closed ones. Cordelia doesn't indicate which are which, so you have to open the case files and wade through to figure it out. First we can set aside all of the closed cases in alphabetical stacks, to get them out of the way."

She picked up a legal pad and a marker and made signs, taping them to the wall. Large letters indicated where to place the files. "Active files we stack over here," she said, slapping a sign on the opposite wall. "If a case is closed but it's still unpaid, then put it in the active file too."

"How can I tell if it's paid?" he asked.

Fred held up a file folder. A smiley face was written on the outside in yellow highlighter. She sat down at the desk, pulling a rolling chair next to her. "Come sit," she invited Spike.

He shook his head. "I'll just sit on the floor over here." He grabbed two armfuls of files and leaned against the desk. They worked in silence; Fred making six tidy piles on the desk while Spike flipped through the files and tossed them on the stacks against the wall.

Their concentration was broken by the arrival of Wesley. He stepped past Spike and handed Fred a paper cup and a pink cardboard box. "Thank you," she said with a grin. "I am so utterly famished, I've never seen a prettier sight."

Wesley smiled at her widely. "Neither have I."

Fred leaned forward. "There was something I wanted to tell you." Spike pretended to be engrossed on the files, but every bit of his attention was focused on Fred and Wes. "You have an office supply problem," she said seriously. Spike smirked as Wesley's face fell.

"What kind of issue is there with the supplies?" Wesley asked.

"Well, the fact that you don't have any," she informed him..

"Cordelia usually goes out when we run out of pens," Wes said lamely.

"You don't have an account with an office supply store?" she inquired.

"No, I never really saw the need," he replied.

"Can you open one?" she asked. "There are a whole lot of things you're lacking that should be in every well organized office. For the files alone, you need a labeler, a set of tickler files, and colored stickers for coding files by last name, case type, and status. Without the proper tools, it's a very inefficient use of our time."

He looked bemused. "How do you know all of this?"

She looked confused. "I don't really remember." Her hands started to jitter, tapping along the desk.

Spike looked up at the noise, saw her agitated face, and glared at Wes. He stood up and walked around the desk, sitting next to her. "Doesn't matter," he said casually, smoothing his hand over hers. He looked up at Wesley. "Can you part with the blunt to get her the stuff she wants, or should I take it up with Angel?"

Wesley blinked. "No, it's just fine. Making the office more efficient, certainly an admirable pursuit." He pulled out his wallet and handed her an American Express card. "That's the company card. Just be as frugal as possible."

She smiled. "Thanks." Fred picked up the phone and dialed a number. "Oh, good! I thought this number was the right number because I'm extremely good with numbers but it's been a while. I was afraid that I'd just made up a random string of numbers in my head, but obviously that's not the case. You're the office supply store!" She listened to the other end of the line. "No, I'm not a crank call. I need to set up a new account. Business. Angel Investigations." She rattled off all the billing information. "My name? Winifred Langley. Title?" She looked blank.

"Office manager," whispered Wesley.

"I'm the office manager!" she exclaimed. "Okay, here's what I need, and I want it delivered by noon. Ten 513382, AVE2020LB, AVE2020RG, MMM654RPYW, 127878, ELD16881. What's the newest model of the P-Touch labeler? Okay, one of those, and 10 refills of one inch clear tape for it. Thanks!" She hung up the phone and grinned, obviously proud of herself.

"That was amazing!" Wesley gushed. "You have all the inventory codes memorized."

"I guess so," she confirmed. "Of course, if the stuff shows up and I ordered three dozen hot cups and a case of Wite Out, you're going to be unhappy with me."

"You did say one thing that was wrong," said Wesley. "Your last name isn't Langley, it's Burkle."

"I don't think so," she said hesitatingly. "My name is Winifred Anna Langley. I was born August 1, 1976 in Dallas, Texas."

"I went to the library where you worked, your university, and your apartment," Wesley reminded her. "Your last name is Burkle."

"My name is Winifred Anna Langley," she repeated, her voice shaking. "I weighed six pounds, seven ounces and was seventeen inches long when I was born."

"It's okay, love," Spike said, patting her shoulder. "Wesley must have just got it wrong." Sadness flared through him as he watched her tranquil mien shatter into pieces.

"I did not," Wesley said defensively.

"I graduated from the Hockaday School in 1994 and was valedictorian of my class." She looked at Spike, her eyes filling with tears. "I think. Am I wrong?"

"I'm sure you're right," Spike said confidently.

"I'm in the wrong place," Fred said, her voice trembling. She turned and looked at Spike. "This world, it seems like home. But is it?" Her brow furrowed. "Stupid," she said. "Hallucinations. None of this is real. Cow." She twisted her hands in her hair and her beautiful upsweep fell apart, the ivory pins scattering.

"This is real," he assured her. "You're home, and safe." She looked at him blankly, confused and suffering. Spike stalked across the room and switched on the radio. He turned the knob to a soothing light jazz, then walked back to the desk and stood in front of Fred. "You know what your problem is, petal?" he asked, gently pulling the remaining pins from her hair and setting it to rights with his fingers.

"I'm in the wrong dimension?" she guessed, looking up at him with wide eyes.

"Hunger," he said firmly. "Eat your pastries and drink your tea, and I'm sure everything will fall into place."

"You're right. I forgot to eat," she giggled. "I forgot I was hungry!"

"Good thing you have me here to remember for you," Spike said. Fred smiled up at him, and the light in her eyes made him smile in return. Her happiness was contagious, and Spike didn't want to see it fade again, lost in doubt and pain. He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "I'm going to have a word with Wesley," he said. "So just listen to the music and enjoy your food. I'll be right back." He took Wesley's arm and led him out, shutting the door behind him.

"She seemed better," Wesley said apologetically. "I didn't mean to upset her."

"She's not well," Spike reminded him. "You idiots ignored her for months, let her lock herself away. Now that's she's presentable, you just want to pretend there's nothing wrong with her. Shallow bastard."

"That's not true," Wesley rebutted, his skin flushing.

"Balls," Spike said forcefully. "The lot of you let her stay in that filthy room like a rat in a cage. Where was all your do-gooding then?"

"I don't have to be insulted by the likes of you," Wesley fumed. "She'd been through a traumatic experience. We all thought it was best to leave well enough alone."

"She's insane," Spike said. "She's not going to just wake up one day and be fit as a bloody fiddle."

"She wasn't insane before Pylea," Wesley argued. "There's no reason why she can't overcome what happened to her there."

"Are you certain she was sound before?" Spike asked. "How much do you know about her past?"

"She worked in a library, studied physics at university," Wesley said. "She couldn't have done that if she was mentally ill."

"Did you speak to any of her friends and family, tell them that she'd been found?" Spike asked. "Why haven't any of them come for her?"

Wesley looked uncomfortable. "I spoke with her sister."

"And she didn't care that Fred was alive?" Spike said in disbelief.

"She hung up on me," Wesley elaborated. "I sent a letter, explaining that her sister truly had been found, and enclosed a photograph." He cleared his throat. "I received a rather threatening letter from a law firm, and a copy of a death certificate for Winifred Burkle."

Spike frowned. "That doesn't make sense. Why didn't you pursue it?"

"I assumed that Fred would do so when she felt more settled," Wes explained. "I thought she would get better eventually."

"She could need medication, or some kind of therapy," Spike pointed out. "She could be getting worse instead of better."

Wesley turned and looked through the window. "But she seemed so normal this morning," he said, watching her eat.

"That's the thing about the mad," Spike said. "It's not the fits and rages that break your heart. It's the moments of lucidity, when you see what could have been, if things were different."

Wesley turned and looked at the vampire. "She's not Drusilla."

Spike's eyes turned cold. "What do you know about Dru?"

"I know every detail of her existence since she was turned," Wesley said. "Her file at the Council House is five inches thick. I know all of about her, and you." He looked at Spike with palpable dislike. "William."

Spike hissed. "Don't you dare."

Wesley raised his chin and stared straight at the vampire. "I know what your sire is, and what you are," he said. "I'll never forget for a moment the atrocities you've committed. Don't play the courtly knight for me; it's a waste of time. If you didn't have that chip in your head, you would have killed Fred by now. You're not fooling anyone with your façade of concern."

"You don't know anything," Spike said bitterly. "Watchers never do."

"I'm not a Watcher any more," Wesley stated. "More a man of action. You cross me, you'll be gone in a flicker."

"I'm not scared of you," Spike said.

"That just proves how stupid you really are," Wesley said. He turned and walked out of the lobby.

Spike watched Fred though the window. If Pylea had caused her mental problems, he wanted to help. If they were caused by her inner demons, he needed to know. If he could help heal her, he would. But he needed to find out what was wrong with her. She was so lost, and there was no one there to help her find her peace, no family and friends. There was only him.

He sat down on the round couch and dialed his cell phone. "Huh whah?" he heard, followed by a thump, and then muffled cursing

"Red?" he asked. "You there?"

"Hello?" she said faintly and then more scrabbling.

"It's Spike," he said. "I need help."

"Come over later," she said sleepily. "Tara's making pancakes."

"I'm in L.A., Willow," he reminded her.

"Oh, yeah," she yawned. "It's really, really early. What's wrong?"

"Do you know anything about alternate dimensions, portals, that sort of thing?" he asked.

"A bit," she replied.

"Have there been any documented cases of people slipping through, staying away for years and then making it back?" Spike queried.

"I can ask Giles and do some research," she said.

"I want to know if it has caused mental illness, post traumatic stress disorder, any kind of problems," he elaborated.

"Okay," Willow replied. "I'll keep that in mind."

"I also need to find out any information you can find on someone named Winifred Burkle or Winifred Langley," he said. "She was a physics student at UCLA, says she graduated from somewhere called Hockaday, and was born in Dallas on August 1, 1976."

She paused. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't you have a job at a detective agency?"

"Yeah, what of it?"

"Couldn't you use their resources to find this stuff out?" she asked. "I mean, you should talk to the people that you work with. Cordelia, Angel, they would help."

"I want to do this on my own," he said.

"Team player," she reminded him.

"Look, I'm helping the helpless," he argued. "Bona fide helping is going on here, so don't bust my stones about it."

"Just this once," Willow said. "I'm not going to enable you to be broody loner dude. They already have one of those in your office."

"Don't compare me to Angelus," he snapped.

"Someone hasn't had a warm mug of good morning blood yet," Willow said cheerily. "I'll call and let you know what I find out. Be good, and tell Dawnie to check in."

"Will do," he promised. He hung up the phone and went back into the office.

Fred was polishing off her last croissant, and she looked up with a smile. "You were so right," she said brightly. "I feel like a shiny new penny."

Spike sat down next to her. "I'm always right," he announced. "One of those little things about me only my friends know."

"No one can be right all the time," she said. "It's statistically improbable."

"I'm a vampire," he pointed out. "Isn't that statistically improbable too?"

She laughed. "Good rebuttal." She leaned forward and hugged him. "You're so sweet."

"No, I'm really not," Spike argued. She tightened her arms around him, and he closed his eyes, relishing her warmth and softness. His nose was filled with her scent, and he sighed with contentment.

"Oh my God," she whispered. She ran her hands lightly over his back, and he shuddered. "Hugging."

"Yes, we are hugging," he said stupidly, as he ran his hands over her lower back.

"Oh, I'd forgotten that there was such a thing. Gentle arms, soft hands. Nice touching," she murmured, resting her head on his shoulder.

Spike really enjoyed being hugged. Hugs had been out of his experience as a vampire until Dawn. She hugged him often, and secretly it was one of his favorite things. They made him feel safe, and secure, and happy. This hug was different. He wanted to cup her breasts, and kiss her neck, and bury his face in the shining glory of her hair. Abruptly, he pushed her away, the wheels of her chair clattering.

She looked at him with pain in her eyes. "What did I do wrong?" she asked.

"Nothing," he said, wishing he'd handled this better.

"I'm sorry I touched you," she said. "I do the wrong thing all the time." She tapped her hand on the desk, biting her lip.

Spike took her hands in his and pulled her into his lap, making her squeal in surprise. "Let's have a little fun," he suggested. He shoved off with his legs, making the chair shoot across the room. She laughed uproariously as they ran into a stack of files. Another good kick against the wall and the chair flew out the door, whizzing out into the lobby.

Fred held fast to the arms of the rolling chair as Spike pushed with his feet, scooting them around the marble floor at high speed as they both cracked up. "Whee!" she cried out, lifting up her arms. Spike spun faster and faster, until finally he clipped the corner of a fern on a stand, and they both went flying.

Fred crashed into the floor, and Spike landed heavily on top of her. His head slammed into the back of her skull, and he felt his nose crunch. "Fuck!" he cried out. He rolled off of her, holding his face in his hands.

"My head," she cried out as she whimpered with pain. They both lay on the floor in agony.

Cordelia walked up to them with a frown. She looked down at them with the same regard she'd give a pair of naughty puppies. "Call me anal, but this looks completely unlike filing."

The lobby door opened, and a man walked in pushing a trolley laden with cardboard boxes. "Office supply delivery for Winifred Langley," he said.

Fred sat up, wincing as she held a hand on the back of her head. "Be right there?" She groaned. "I think."

"You okay, love?" Spike asked as he stood up, rubbing his nose.

She looked up at him, her eyes filled with tears. "My head hurts," she said in a small voice.

He helped her up and gently felt the back of her head. "You've got a knot growing there," he said. "I'm so sorry you got hurt. I'm a big hulking idiot."

" No you're not," she contradicted, reaching out to pat his nose."I'll be fine, as soon as my head stops throbbing."

"I'll get you some ice and aspirin," he said, his eyes full of concern.

Cordelia looked at them in disbelief. The affection between them was palpable, and Spike the vicious killer was nearly crying because he'd bonked Fred on the head. This place just kept getting weirder.



Chapter Four

"We rule," Cordelia said. "This is just- wow. Look at this. It looks like an actual office."

"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.



Chapter Five

Dawn opened the door to see Spike standing on the doorstep. He wore a khaki suit with a blue shirt and brown shoes. He looked uncomfortable and dorky, and a pretty girl held tightly to his hand. Her eyes were tightly shut and she was holding a Discman, the headphones covering her ears.

"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.



DEDICATION: For Colleen, who has provided boundless inspiration and encouragement.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Lines from BTVS episode "The Gift" by Joss Whedon used without permission.




Chapter Six

The tower shook beneath his feet as Spike ran up the metal stairs. The ringing of boots on steel hammered in his ears. "Run!" Willow screamed in his head. "Damn it, Spike, hurry!"

He could hear Dawn’s heartbeat pounding as 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.

"Doesn’t a fella stay dead when you kill him?" Spike asked the old man.

"Look who’s talking," he replied.

"Come on, Doc. Let's you and me have a go." Spike lunged forward, and Doc brought up his knife, stabbing the vampire in the shoulder. "Gonna have to do better than that." A flying fist caught Doc in the face, and he flew backwards off the platform. His tongue shot out and he caught a beam, dangling as he struggled to get back up.

Spike rushed to Dawn and severed her bonds. "Run," he instructed her. "Get to Willow." He pulled the bloodied knife out of his shoulder and handed it to her. "Kill anything that gets near you."

"Come with me," she asked tearfully.

"I can’t," he said. "I have to finish this. Go, now!" The girl looked at him, her face seized with indecision. Doc crawled up on the platform. "Now!" Dawn ran away, rushing down the stairs.

Doc stood up, a smile on his face. "You can’t win, you know that. You’re just postponing the inevitable."

"Doesn’t matter if I win," Spike stated. "Just as long as Buffy does." The demon lunged at him, and the fight began in earnest. Spike fought with all his might, fixing his mind on Dawn, his promise to Buffy. The world collapsed into a blur of sensations: pinpricks of fear and sparks of pain.

One final shove, and Spike stood alone on the platform. He watched Doc’s screaming face grow smaller as he fell fast towards the earth, landing with a satisfying crunch. Victory was sweet.

Spike ran down the stairs of the tower and stopped on the bottom step. Dawn and Buffy were hugging tightly, crying quietly and whispering to each other. Giles spotted Spike and walked up to him, a pleased look on his face. "Well done," the Watcher said. "Very well done indeed."

A ringing sound interrupted the moment. "What’s that noise?" Spike asked Giles.

"I think it’s your destiny calling," Giles said seriously.

"I don’t have a destiny," Spike argued.

Giles smiled at him encouragingly. "Nonsense. Every man has one."

Buffy and Dawn broke apart from their embrace. "It’s not destiny," Dawn said patiently. "It’s your phone."

Spike woke up from his dream and grabbed the cell phone. "Dawn?"

"Guess again," Willow greeted.

"What’s wrong?" he asked, shaking off sleep. "Is something wrong with Dawn?"

"No, something’s wrong with your pal Winifred," the witch explained. "According to the records I can find, she’s dead."

"Fred’s not dead," he said. "Believe me, I’d know."

"Winifred Burkle disappeared from the library where she worked on May 7, 1996, and was never seen again. Winifred Langley disappeared from her home in Dallas, Texas in May of 1996, and her skeletal remains were found in Death Valley in October of that year. She was identified by DNA testing. Here’s the interesting thing: Winifred Burkle and Winifred Langley shared the same birthday and Social Security number. It matches on the lease agreement for her apartment, her records at UCLA, California DMV, everything."

"So Winifred Burkle and Winifred Langley were the same person?" Spike said.

"I think so, and here’s where things get really complicated." Willow took a deep breath. "Winifred Langley stood to inherit a multi billion dollar corporation when she turned twenty one. Shortly before she disappeared, she was hospitalized three times. The first time was for a bullet wound in her back, again for a car accident, and lastly for poisoning. All within two months."

"Someone was trying to kill her." Spike sat up, stunned that someone would try to harm Fred.

"Looks that way," Willow agreed.

"Who got the bucks if she died?" asked Spike.

"Mother, father, and older brother were all dead," Willow explained. "The only remaining Langley is her twin Deirdre, who missed being the Publisher’s Clearinghouse winner by seven minutes."

"And Deirdre is now living the champagne and roses lifestyle, I’m guessing," Spike said wryly.

Willow leafed through some papers, the rattling clear over the phone. "You got it. I’m looking at a picture of her now. Really beautiful woman, by the way."

"Hey!" Spike heard Tara exclaim, then giggling and smooching.

"Knock off the love fest," Spike demanded. "Some of us aren’t getting any."

"Sorry, sorry," Willow said apologetically. "’Deirdre Langley Rice, heiress to the Langley pharmaceutical fortune, at a Palm Beach charity auction. The socialite and her husband Clay have homes in Palm Beach, Dallas, Nice and Malibu.’"

"While her sister lives off the kindness of strangers," Spike commented. "Lovely."

"You think that you know Winifred?" asked the Wicca.

"Fred lives here in the hotel," Spike explained. "I’ll bet you anything that she’s the missing sister."

"I bet you’re wrong," Willow disagreed. "There’s a dead body, remember? The real Winifred is pushing up daisies."

"Not so, Red. I’ll take that bet," Spike said. "Anything you want."

"I win, you have to give up wearing black for a week," she wagered.

"Done," he said sweetly. "I win, you have to do a spell for me."

"Okay," she agreed. "There’s a pretty simple answer to this question. I’ll need her fingerprints to verify her identity, but since Deirdre and Winifred were identical twins, I can fax you the picture."

"I’m heading downstairs; there’s a fax in the office." Spike pulled on his jeans and headed down the hall. Once he was there, he read the fax number off the machine. "Fred must have been down here earlier," he commented. "Everything’s labeled within an inch of its life."

"Fred works for Angel?" Willow asked.

"Sort of. She’s the reason I was asking if anyone had ever come back after spending years in an alternate dimension, if there are any problems caused by that." Spike paused. "Fred has some eccentricities."

The fax machine chimed and began printing. "I haven’t found very many examples," Willow said. "Most people head for an alternate dimension it’s strictly a one-way trip, unless they’re demons that work in our world and live in another."

"Was there any mention of mental illness in Winifred Langley’s medical history?" Spike watched the fax machine slowly spit out the paper.

"I don’t think so," said Willow. "I can pull it back up." Spike listened to the clacking of her keyboard. "She was treated for depression twice, for several months after the death of her brother and then her father. Her condition was treated with outpatient therapy and a prescription antidepressant for a few months. Nothing abnormal."

The fax beeped as it finished printing. Spike pulled out the paper and looked at an image of a woman in a low cut dress, her long dark hair spilling over her shoulders as she laughed. It was Fred, but not Fred; there was something harder in the eyes and brittle around the mouth. "This is definitely Fred’s sister, no question. Keep working on the transdimensional angle, Will. I really need to know what’s wrong with her."

"Will do," Willow said chirpily. "A lock of Fred’s hair and a fingernail clipping would be great, if you want to seal the deal on her identity. Oh, and if you talk to Dawnie, tell her that I’m sending her a batch of Tara’s special brownies and that book on love spells she wanted."

"Oh for Christ’s sake, Wicca, don’t send her a book of love spells," Spike protested. "Last thing that girl needs to do is start messing with the forces of nature."

"So sayeth the evil vampire," said Willow. "You’re awful stuffy for a creature of darkness."

"You know, I really hate that expression," he snapped. "I’m not a creature. I’m just a…"

"Stud muffin of darkness? Dude of evil? Deathily challenged person?" she suggested.

"Blow it out your spell book," he said.

She blew him a kiss. "Miss you too. Take care of yourself."

Spike set down the receiver and looked at the fax in his hand. Should he tell Fred about all of this? His gut instinct was no. She might get upset and have another episode. The whole thing could bring up a cloud of memories that could damage her, and that was the last thing that he wanted to do. He could just snip a bit of her hair, grab a fingerprint while she slept. No need to burden her with all of this mess. Best he leave the girl in peace until he was sure. He turned on the shredder and fed the fax in, watching as it was cut into confetti.

Spike walked up the stairs, bearing an inkpad and a sheet of paper, scissors tucked into his back pocket. He knocked gently at Fred’s door twice, and there was no answer. Slowly he swung the door open and saw Fred lying in bed, her arm thrown over her forehead. She moaned and rolled over. The sheets twisted around her waist, displaying her nude chest, covered only by her hair.

Naked Fred. She threw her arm back, revealing one pink tipped breast, and Spike dropped the inkpad and paper on the floor. He bent down to pick them up and the scissors slid out of his pocket, landing on the floor with a thump. "Bloody hell," he muttered in annoyance.

He gathered up his things and stood up. Fred was watching him bemusedly, resting on her side with the sheet pulled over her breasts. "Do you need help with something?"

He froze. "Morning."

"Morning," she said cheerfully. "Why are you here?" Spike held up the paper, ink and scissors. "Come to slit my throat and then do a finger painting?" He laughed, quite high pitched and loud in the small room. "You’re being really weird," she commented.

"I’m sorry," he said. "I’m off kilter."

"Why?" she asked.

"You’re naked," he blurted out. "It’s hard to think, knowing that."

She blushed. "I’m sorry. I wasn’t really expecting anyone to come into my room." She sat up, the sheet sliding ever further down, barely covering her. "Turn around and I’ll put my robe on."

He complied, listening to her light footsteps and the swishing of silk. "I’m decent now," she announced, and he turned around to find her poised primly on the edge of her bed, the covers pulled up. She wore a soft pink kimono, the sleeves hanging over her hands. Her legs were crossed, revealing one knee and a great deal of long, slender leg. "So what’s up with the arts and crafts?"

He looked down at the paper and inkpad. "I guess I really should explain," he said seriously.

Someone knocked at her door, and Fred walked over and turned the knob. Angel stood there holding a box of donuts and a white paper bag. "Can I come inside?" he asked.

"I’m angry with you," she warned him. "So if you’re in the mood for an earful, then come right on in."

He smiled at her. "I think I can take it."

"In that case, I invite you in." She took the bags from his hands and he entered the room.

Angel stopped short, seeing shirtless Spike sitting on the bed, looking quite at home. "What the hell is he doing here?"

"If you’re going to start in on him again, then just leave," Fred said adamantly.

Ignoring her, Angel advanced on Spike. "I told you to stay away from her," he growled. "You’re even more stupid then I gave you credit for."

"That’s enough," Fred said, tugging at Angel’s sleeve. "I’ll come down and talk to you later when you aren’t being all big dog."

"I want you out of here," Angel spat at Spike, brushing Fred aside. "You’re too much of a liability. You take advantage of the weak-"

"That’s rich coming from you," Spike said angrily. "Failed actress, fired Watcher, street thug. You’ve really recruited a top notch team here."

"Any one of them are worth ten of you," Angel rebutted, locking his hand around Spike’s throat. "You worthless-"

The distinctive sound of a gun cocking filled the room. Angel froze, feeling the cold barrel pressed against the back of his head. "You and I both know this is most likely an empty gesture," Fred said. "However, I am mentally unstable, so you really can’t be sure."

"You don’t want to do this, Fred," Angel said calmly.

"Right now I do. Growing up, we had a neighbor used to beat his dog every time he had a bad day. That’s who you remind me of right now, and I don’t like you very much." Fred tightened her grip on the gun, her hand steady and sure.

"I promise I won’t touch him again," Angel said. "Just stop pointing the gun at my head." Fred stepped back and Angel turned around to face her. "You know that wouldn’t have killed me."

"It would have made a less than pretty hole, and it definitely would have mussed the hair." Fred set the gun down and took his hands in hers. "I know you mean well, I really do. But you need to back off."

"Did I seem like that much of an threat that you needed to pull a gun on me?" he asked, his voice soft.

"Yes," she said. "You really did."

"I’m sorry I upset you. I’m just so worried for you," he said sincerely.

"Please find another way to show it," Fred informed him. She turned to Spike. "Apparently, I have some things to discuss with Angel."

"I’ll be in my room," Spike said. He got up from the bed and kissed Fred’s cheek, tucking her hair behind her ear.

The door shut behind him and Fred turned to Angel. "Excuse me for a minute while I put some clothes on."

"Sure," he said. She picked a dress out of the closet and some things out of the dresser and stepped into her bathroom. Angel sat down on her bed and took the paper bag off the bedside table, removing a plastic cup of blood.

A few minutes later, Fred returned wearing a light blue lace dress, her hair pinned up in a soft chignon. The puffy layers of her skirt surrounded her in a cloud as she sat cross-legged on the bed next to Angel. She opened the box of donuts and picked one. "You got blueberry," she said happily. "I love those best."

"That’s what Cordelia told me," Angel said, sipping his blood.

"Not a good enough bribe to get me to forgive you for the way you’ve treated Spike, but a nice try," Fred observed.

"Being near Spike is a huge risk for you," Angel announced. "Letting him come to Los Angeles was a mistake, and I put both you and Dawn at jeopardy. I’m going to ask him to leave the city, and not come back."

"That would destroy him," she said briskly. "The only thing that keeps him going is Dawn. If you take her out of his life, he won’t have anything."

"I can’t afford to take a chance on him." Angel took a sip of blood, his eyes downcast. "Two human lives are more important than Spike’s happiness or desires. You and Dawn could have been killed last night, and that overshadows everything else."

"Life is risk," Fred insisted. "If I wanted to be safe, I never would have left the hotel. Dawn is a teenage girl, with a good head on her shoulders. We don’t need to be protected, and we don’t need you to tell us who we can care about."

"I’m the responsible party here," Angel proclaimed. "This is my town, my turf. Spike is a manipulative, selfish bastard who will use anything and anyone as a pawn to serve his needs."

"This isn’t about fear of what Spike will or won’t do," Fred said. "You just don’t like him, and you want him somewhere he won’t get on your nerves."

Angel looked away. "That’s just not true."

"You’re lying," she said flatly. "I can see it in your face, plain as day."

Angel raised his chin and stared at her. "This isn’t negotiable. Spike is gone, out the door. It’s over."

"Then I guess I’ll go too." Fred crossed her arms and leaned forward. "You’re supposed to help the helpless. There isn’t anyone more defenseless than Spike. A three year old with a toothpick could kill him. If nothing else, he needs someone to protect him from humans."

"I don't want you to leave," Angel explained. "That’s not what I was trying to accomplish here. You need a safe place to stay, and I think you need to get some training with weapons and martial arts, so you won't have to open a portal to defend yourself."

"Then let Spike stay, and we won’t need to have this conversation," Fred argued. "I don’t want to leave the Hyperion, but you stick by this ultimatum and I will go."

Angel sighed wearily and drained his cup, tossing it into a wastebasket. "Guarantee me that he really wants to work for good, that he wants to help with our mission and protect the innocent. Can you do that, Fred?"

"No." Fred’s hands tapped on the donut box, her face agitated. She closed her eyes, and Angel looked at her worriedly. Her eyes opened wide and she clapped her hands. "But we know someone who can. Lorne!"

"This is that important to you?" Angel asked.

"Yes," she assured him.

"Then we’ll go to Caritas tonight and have Lorne read him," Angel said. "If he says Spike’s intentions are good, then he can stay."

Fred smiled with relief. "That’s fine, Angel. That’s fair."



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.



Chapter Seven

Fred sat on the bed in her room, her attention focused on Cordelia. “Are we going for the sex kitten look, or something a little more elegant?” asked the seer.  She held up one sparkling dress with a plunging neckline, the other was a deep plum satin, draped in elegant folds.

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.



DEDICATION: For Colleen and Minty.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Smutiness ensues. Wheee! Blood play may squick some. Quote from Les Miserables used without permission.




Chapter Eight

Cordelia was walking down the stairs into the lobby of the Hyperion when Spike ran in. “I wouldn’t be in a hurry to go to Fred if I were you. She doesn’t want to see you now. Or possibly ever.”

“This is all a misunderstanding,” he assured her.

Cordelia raised her eyebrow. “Did some chick at Caritas have her hand on your dick or not?”

“Well, yes…” Spike began.

“Then I think she has a pretty clear understanding,” Cordelia said. She shook her head. “You know, I’ve never heard of Lorne being wrong before, but his reading of you was really off.”

Spike furrowed his brow. “What reading?”

“Lorne can read people when he hears them sing. He told Angel and I that you were good, that you loved Fred-”

“Hold up a second,” Spike said angrily. “That’s why Fred wanted me to go to Caritas? To prove to all of you that I was worthy? She couldn’t just trust me, she had to test me?”

“It was for us, not for her,” Cordelia clarified. “She never doubted you, until you gave her reason to.” She walked out of the hotel, her satin dress swishing as she walked.

Spike ran up the stairs and down the hallway to Fred’s door. “Fred?” he called, turning the knob. It was locked.

“Good night,” she said quietly. Her voice was so close, and he knew she had to be right next to the door.

“We need to talk,” he said.

“Nothing much left to say.” Her voice was thin and distant, and Spike felt a prickle of fear.

“I know I hurt you, love, and I’m sorry.” He listened to the sound of her breathing, small choked pants that belied the detachment in her voice.

“I don’t want to see you,” she said. “Maybe when I’m not- drunk and sad. Tomorrow is another day, right? Tomorrow I can be brave, and act like you don’t matter to me. But right now, I just can’t pretend.”

“Just let me talk to you, and we’ll get this all settled,” he pleaded. “Don’t shut me out, I can’t bear it.” He really couldn’t. He needed her warmth, her laughter. The world was too cold without her.

“I know I’m stupid,” she said. “Stupid to think there was something there. Making something out of nothing, same as always.”

“We aren’t nothing,” he protested. “I’ve been thinking about you, wanting you, trying to deny it but just not able to. And after tonight, I don’t want to. You make this world bearable, pet.”

Slowly the door opened, and Fred stood there. All of her cosmetics had been washed away, her evening gown replaced by a short silk robe. “Just a girl. Lots of girls in the world. Nothing special.”

“Everything about you is special,” said Spike.

She smiled, her face lighting with joy. He bent down to kiss her, and her face clouded. “Then why the vampire?” she asked, stepping away from him. “Why did you let her touch you?”

“It was an instant, nothing more. I knew her and her mate a long time ago. Elisabeth flirts with anyone with fangs; it doesn’t mean anything.”

“It meant something to me,” she whispered, her eyes sad.

“Let me make it up to you,” he said. “I’ll do anything, princess, anything to make things right between us.”

“When I close my eyes, I see her with you. Her hands on you.” Fred pressed her fists against her head. “I need a drink.” She stepped past and walked briskly down the hall.

“You shouldn’t drink anymore,” Spike called after her. “You’re going to be ill.” She walked on, weaving slightly as she stopped in front of Angel’s door.

She turned the knob and walked into his room, picking up a decanter of brandy and a tumbler from a side table.  Spike walked in just as she lifted a full glass to her lips, shuddering as the alcohol hit her system. "My mother used to forget the things she’d done,” she said clearly. “Maybe if I drink enough, I’ll forget too.” She swayed, grabbing hold of the corner of the table.

“That’s enough,” Spike insisted. “Let me help you to your room.”

She filled the glass again, and sniffed it, closing her eyes. “Smells like my childhood,” she said softly. “I used to hide in her furs in the closet. It was always so cold in there, smelled like perfume and alcohol. She used to stash her empties in the tall boots; they’d clink when they fell over.”  She pulled on a chunk of her hair, twisting it around and around in a tight tangle. “Mother.”

““You can tell me all about her in the morning.” Spike said in a soothing voice.

“She was a crazy alcoholic. I come from a long, long line of them, both sides. But they don’t call you crazy if you’re a Langley, just eccentric.” She lifted the decanter, her hand shaking as the amber liquid missed the glass and slid across the surface of the wooden table.

“That’s enough,” Spike said forcefully, grabbing her wrist. “No more.”

She looked at him, surprised. He had the feeling that she’d forgotten his presence. “It’s man’s instinct to go on the hunt for fresh game,” she stated, her southern accent thick and rich. “True ladies look the other way.” She smiled at Spike, the glossy shallow flicker of a homecoming queen. “I apologize for my behavior. I don’t know what I was thinking to pry so into your personal affairs.”

“We’ll talk about this tomorrow,” he said, releasing her wrist. “Let’s get you to bed.”

“To bed,” she said softly, staring in his eyes. “He wants to go to bed.” She wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing her face into his neck.

”Time for you-” he began, and then he felt her tongue, tracing circles over his skin.  “Christ,” he murmured, his hands closing on her satin clad shoulders. The sensation of her warm breath blowing across his skin roused him tremendously.

“You taste so good,” Fred said breathily.  Small buttons popped and fell as she pulled hard on the front of his shirt.  Shoving the fabric aside, she licked across his shoulder, gently tracing the fine edge of his collarbone. Her mouth moved down to Spike’s nipple, rimming the puckered circle with her tongue.

Spike bit his lip to keep from crying out as she pleasured him with tiny licks and gentle sucking. Passion and need built in him as she took her time, exploring his body with a delicacy that left him quivering, desperate for more. He reigned in the urge to rock his throbbing erection against her. Slow down, make this last, keep this moment, don’t break it. Her teeth closed around his nipple, and his control snapped.  “Please,” he said raggedly. “Please.”

“Please what?” Fred asked, looking up at his face.

Spike lowered his mouth to hers in a possessive, searing kiss. She responded eagerly, her tongue flickering in his mouth, and he moaned, thrusting his stiff cock against her belly.  Her hand slid across his stomach, and she traced the outline of his arousal with her fingertips. He cupped her ass in both hands and lifted her. They kissed passionately as he staggered to the bed, landing on the mattress with a loud thump.

Spike struggled with the knot that tied her robe closed as Fred pulled the shirt off of his wrists. He ripped open the sash and bent his head to her breasts, suckling her as she’d done to him. She moaned and cried underneath him, the sounds of her pleasure intoxicating to him. The searing heat of her skin against his was bliss, and he wanted more. He needed to be inside her, basking in the warmth of her body.

“I want to make love to you,” he said openly. His cock was throbbing, hard as metal and aching for release.

“Yes, yes,” she gasped. “Oh yes. The chime, the click. The one.”

They kissed lingeringly, their mouths meeting and parting from gentle to hungry and back again. He slipped his hand between her legs and found her gloriously wet. His fingers sought her delicate bud and caressed her.  After several heated minutes Fred grabbed his forearm. “Crashing,” she cried, her voice strained. “Falling.”

Spike stroked her more quickly, and she began to shake. He watched her throw her head back, her cheeks suffusing with color. “More,” she said brokenly. “More.” Rapidly he slid down the bed and closed his mouth over her. She was slick and salty and wonderful, the essence of her flooding his senses. She bucked underneath him, grabbing his neck. “Please,” she begged. “Spike.”

He thrust his hand between her thighs, still lapping at her briskly with his tongue. Pain flared through his head like a burst of lightning, and he reared back, screaming. Fred echoed his cry, drawing her knees up to her chest and curling into a ball.

The scent of blood startled Spike. He looked down at his fingers, streaked with crimson. What the hell?  “Sweetheart, “ he said, struggling to her side. “Baby.” She was crying softly, her entire demeanor screaming that she was in pain. “I’m sorry I hurt you. I don’t understand-”

“No one told me it would hurt this much,” she gasped. “It’s amazing that the human race didn’t just die out.”

Realization dawned. She’d been a virgin, and he’d broken her maidenhead. “Oh my God,” Spike said. “I didn’t know. I didn’t mean to hurt you, surely you must know-”

“I don’t feel good. I think I’m going to be sick.” She covered her mouth with her hand, her skin pale, and rolled off the bed. “Ouch,” she whimpered. “Oh, this hurts.”

Spike stood up and swept her into his arms, carrying her out of the room. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “Didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“You keep saying that,” she said, closing her eyes. He carried her to his room, setting her down in his bathroom.

“I’m going to throw up.” Fred kneeled on the white tile, her head bowed.

“What can I do?” he asked worriedly.

“Please go,” she said, shooing him with one hand. He left, closing the door behind him.

Spike sat down on his bed and sighed deeply. She’d been a virgin, and hadn’t told him. Her passion had fired his, carried him along to a place where all thought and reason were far away. God, he was stupid, not to have thought. He’d never bedded a virgin before; he didn’t know the etiquette.  How did you make up for hurting the woman you loved, much less convince her to be intimate with you ever again?

He cupped his face in his hands as he listened to the water running in the bathroom. “Spike?” he heard Fred say faintly.

“Yes, pet?”

“Can you help me now?” Spike opened the bathroom door and found her leaning against the sink, face drawn. “I’m not bleeding any more,” she said tearfully. “But I feel so sick.”

Spike carried her to the bed and pulled down the covers, tucking her in. He undressed and turned off the light, casting the room into darkness as he lay down beside her. “You should have told me,” he said quietly. “I would have done things differently. Slower, better. I feel like a fumbling idiot. I didn’t mean to hurt you. All I wanted was to give you pleasure.”

“I hurt you too,” she said, spooning into him. “Poor Spike.” She pressed a kiss to his chest. “Looked like someone hit you with a cattle prod.”

“About what it felt like,” he confirmed.

“I want to make this all up to you,” she said. “But I’m not feeling so well.”

“Go to sleep, love,” he said, his hand running over her shoulders. “Feel better.”

Spike closed his eyes and buried his face in her hair. She held him tightly, and soon they were asleep.

****

The tower shook beneath his feet as Spike ran up the metal stairs. The ringing of boots on steel hammered in his ears. “Run!” Willow screamed in his head. “Damn it, Spike, hurry!”

He rushed out onto the platform and stopped. Buffy stood alone, her blonde hair fluttering in the breeze. “Slayer?” he said questioningly.

She turned and smiled at him, and he was struck by the beauty of it. When was the last time she had smiled at him? Under Willow’s spell, and never since.

“It’s over, Spike,” she said sweetly. “You don’t have to do this anymore.”

“Do what?” he asked, confused.

“Run,” she said simply. “I’m gone, and there’s nothing you can do. It’s over.”

Spike stared at her, confused. “I don’t understand. We can’t just give up the fight. We have to win, save the world-”

“I saved the world,” she said softly. “That was my gift. Why won’t you take it?” The tower faded away, and they stood alone in a white room flooded with light.

He looked around, his brow furrowed. “Where are we?” he asked.

“Heaven,” she said simply.

“I can’t be here,” he said, bewildered. “I haven’t got a soul, I don’t belong here.”

“To love another person is to see the face of God,” she said. She put her hand on his face and looked earnestly into his eyes. “You’re a good man, Spike. Be happy.”

******

Fred woke up and rubbed her eyes. She stretched her arms and smacked into something. Turning her head, she saw Spike sleeping. Smiling, she leaned over and kissed his lips. “Good morning, baby,” she said sweetly.

“Fred,” he murmured, opening his eyes. He smiled radiantly and pulled her mouth down to his. The embrace began lightly and tentatively, quickly becoming raw and passionate.

Fred ran her hands over his shoulders, sliding over the taut muscles. She broke their embrace, breathing heavily. “So beautiful.”

Spike stared at her, his eyes smoldering with desire. “No one has ever said that to me before,” he said huskily.

“Hasn’t anyone ever seen you naked before?” she asked.

He laughed. “Well, yeah.”

“Were they blind?” She laughed and covered his mouth with tiny kisses, her hands running through the unruly mess of his hair.

“God help me, I love you,” he said softly. “You’re the kindest, most wonderful person I have ever known.”

She pulled away, her eyes wide. “You don’t- you don’t have to say that.”

“I want to,” he said earnestly. “It’s true.”

She glowed with happiness. “You love me. Me?”

“Yeah,” he said, his eyes bright. “And you love me too. Sickeningly sweet, innit?”

She blushed. “You’re cocky! I didn’t say-”

“Didn’t have too,” he said confidently. He ran his fingers over her face. “I can see it here, in your smile, and here, in your cheeks, and there, in your eyes.”

She batted his hand away. “Stop it.”

Spike rolled on top of her. “No use lying,” he said, and bit the side of her neck. “You need me.” She moaned, her nails clenching into his back. “You want me.” He bit her again, and she reciprocated, biting his shoulder. “Ah, my sweet.” He shifted his weight and she gasped loudly. “Did I hurt you?” he asked, pulling away.

“No, I’m fine,” she said, stroking his arm. “That was a good noise.”

“I want to learn all of your little noises,” he said gruffly. “I’m going to show you all different kinds of pleasure, love.”

“You already have,” she whispered. “I wasn’t much impressed with what I’d done with men; I never wanted to take things further. What we did last night-” She blushed.

“Nearly had you over the top,” he said. “If I hadn’t bungled it you’d have come.”

“I never felt that way with someone else before,” she revealed. “I didn’t know how good it could be.”

“I want to show you how much better everything can be, with me,” he said seriously, sliding his hand between her thighs.

She grabbed his wrist. “I’m all bloody and gross. I should take a shower.”

“Not necessary,” he said. “I’ll clean you up myself.” He waggled his tongue at her and his cock jumped, hardening against her belly.

“I guess you like that idea,” Fred laughed.

Spike slid down her body, burying his face between her legs.  He licked away the thin trails of blood from her thighs and slowly slid his tongue inside her. She hissed through her teeth and he pulled away, concerned. “Did that hurt?”

Her eyes were closed shut, her face rosy. “No,” she said faintly.

He went back to his task. The tang of her blood was like rain after a long drought, and all the more precious for being hers. Innocent blood, spilled by him, but in the throes of passion, not violence. It was a difference that changed everything for him.  Each drop of her essence that he drew inside himself made him love her more. The thrill of possession, of knowing this woman had never loved another. No one had ever known her before, and no one other than him ever would. He knew it as a concrete truth, a certainty he would bet his eternal life upon. This girl would be forever his.

Her nails ripped across his shoulder as she arched into his mouth. “God,” she called out. “Oh God. God help me.” Her passion assured, Spike stroked his throbbing cock with a firm grip. Her breathing was labored, her heart pounding, the blood rushing through her veins. He was riding a high unlike any other; a crest of love, sex and sustenance that he’d never dreamed existed. “I love you,” she cried again as she peaked. Spike came explosively, warm sperm flooding across the palm of his hand as her juices filled his mouth.

When his mind cleared, Spike pulled up, collapsing on her shoulder. “I love you,” he said, kissing her neck.

She turned her mouth to his, kissing him vigorously. “I saw sparks,” she said breathily. “I can still see them when I shut my eyes.”

“Just the beginning, love,” he said. “It’s only going to get better.”

“I believe you,” Fred whispered. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him again, her tongue delving deeply into his mouth.

Someone knocked at the door. Spike ignored it, focused only on his girl. The knocking persisted, steady aggravating little thumps. “Go away,” Spike yelled, breaking the kiss. The insistent tapping continued. “Piss off!”

“Spike?” asked a sweet voice.

Spike sat up, his brow furrowed. “Tara?”

“It’s Tara and Willow,” the witch said.

Spike sighed. “I’ll get rid of them in a quick second,” he assured Fred. “Don’t move.”

“Hurry back,” she said, and nipped him on the earlobe.

Spike rolled out of bed and slipped on his jeans and a crumpled t-shirt. He opened the door to find the two Wiccas standing in the hallway. Tara was carrying two plastic grocery bags, while Willow had a backpack slung over her shoulder. “What am I?” he asked them, annoyed.

“Cranky?” Willow guessed.

“Hungry?” Tara said hopefully.

“I’m a vampire,” he said slowly. “Vaammmppiire. Sleeps during the day, up all night, yeah?”

“Did we wake you up?” asked the blonde Wicca.

“Well, no,” he admitted. “But that’s not the point.”

“We brought breakfast,” Tara said. She slid past him. “Doughnuts and some nice fresh-” She stopped still, her mouth agape, as she saw Fred in Spike’s bed, the covers pulled up to her chin. Willow came in behind her partner and stared at the strange girl.

“I’m Winifred Langley. Please call me Fred.” She got out of bed, pulling the sheet around her body, and extended her hand. Willow and Tara shook her hand and introduced themselves.  “I’m sorry I’m not presentable,” she said apologetically.

“We’ll go,” Willow said. “I mean…we had no idea that Spike had company.”

“He never does,” Tara said apologetically.

Fred shook her head. “I’m feeling a bit out of place, so I’m just going to- go.”

“Don’t go,” Spike said, taking her hand.

“You know where to find me,” she said sweetly. She stood on her tiptoes and pecked him on the lips. “See you soon.”

“As soon as I possibly can,” he said in a low voice. “I want to be with you.”

“I do too,” she replied.  “Do you think we’ll ever actually make love?” she whispered in his ear. He laughed as she smiled up at him. “Nice to meet you all,” she called to the witches.  She left the room, slamming the sheet in the door. Spike opened the door, freed Fred, and closed it.

“I’m sorry,” Tara said. “We had no idea, or we wouldn’t have intruded.”

“She seems very nice,” Willow said. “And she really seems to like you, Spike.” She looked at him seriously. “It’s good, that you’re moving on-”

“Yes, she’s wonderful, and I’d really rather be alone with her right now,” he said sharply. “So what exactly are you two doing here?”

The witches exchanged a look. “Let’s eat,” Tara suggested. The blonde girl set down the bags of food on the table, pulling out a large Styrofoam container of blood and handing it to Spike. She pulled out a Tupperware container, two boxes of doughnuts, and juice boxes.

Willow set down her backpack in the corner and looked around the room. “Nice step up from the crypt,” she said approvingly. “Much less of a dead person lies here kind of ambiance.”

Tara looked around. “It’s a little impersonal. Maybe some little twinkling lights, or Tibetan prayer flags.”

“Or a still life,” Willow suggested. “Give the room a little color.”

Spike set the blood in the microwave and turned it on. “It’s fine the way it is, ladies. Stop fussing.”  He turned to Willow, hands on hips. “Spill it, Red. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

Willow looked at him soberly. “It’s actually about Fred. We found out more about her, her past.”

“And it was so important that you had to come in person to tell me?” he asked.

“It really is,” Willow said seriously. She opened her backpack and pulled out a thick file. Bound in brown leather, it had “WC 432” embossed on the front cover in gilt. Untying the string that held it together, she set it on the table. “Watcher’s Council File No. 432,” the front page read. “Confidential. Concerning the Ulster Family.”

“Who are the Ulsters?” Spike asked. Willow flipped the page, showing an intricate family tree. He traced down the long list, coming to the bottom of the paged. Peter, Deirdre, Winifred. “Fred’s in a file belonging to the Watchers?”

“They’ve been keeping tabs on her family for the past two hundred years,” Willow explained. “I just happened to be going over some research when Giles saw the picture of Fred’s sister Deirdre. He thought it was someone else.”

“Who?”

Willow leafed through the file, pulling out a black and white photo. A smiling woman with a short dark pageboy sat between two men in suits. Spike recognized her as Maeve Gordon, the most famous psychic of her generation. She had graced television programs all over Britain in the sixties and early seventies before fading into obscurity. He flipped back to the family tree. “Fred’s mother is a famous psychic?”

“Was,” Willow corrected. “She died fifteen years ago. Suicide.” She pulled out another picture. “Pete Gordon, Fred’s brother,” she said. “He was one of the most well documented cases of telekinesis in history.”

A third glossy followed of Fred and her sister, dressed in sweeping white dresses, fluffy corsages on their wrists. “Deirdre can read minds,” Willow said flatly. “She was one year old when she turned to her mother and said “Don’t call her Winifred, she doesn’t like it.” Fred herself didn’t speak at all until she was nearly three.”

“And Fred?” Spike said, full of foreboding. “Is Fred- talented too?”

Tara came to his side and patted his shoulder. “Fred can resurrect the dead,” she said softly.