In The Company Of Wolves

In The Company of Wolves (c.1-10)

AUTHOR: Jonquil
EMAIL: serpyllum@yahoo.com
DISTRIBUTION: Just ask.
RATING: R (strong language, violence, sexual references)
SPOILERS: Fourth season, post-Oz, pre-Tara
SUMMARY: Willow has re-fanged Spike, and must deal with the consequences. Sequel to "Blinded By Science".
FEEDBACK: reinforces the desired behavior.
DISCLAIMER: All characters belong to large corporations, and were created by the brilliant writers for Buffy and Angel.

Chapter 1

When Willow regained consciousness, she was slumped against something hard. She opened her eyes. A car door. Cigarette smoke. Black windows. Oh, God, Spike's car! She sat bolt upright, then regretted it as her head began to pound and her stomach twisted.

"Sorry, pet. Don't make sudden moves for a bit. No permanent damage, though."

"How would you know?" spat Willow, keeping her face straight ahead.

"Practice. Lots of it. We both know I don't want you dead -- not this year. "

"And if I vanish from Sunnydale, they'll think I'm dead."

"Doubt it, luv. Not with the long chatty letters you'll be writing, telling your friends -- and your lawyer -- about how you decided to make a clean break from the memories of that ex-boyfriend of yours."

Ouch. That was my lie, not his. "And why will I write these letters?" Spike glanced at her. "Use that clever brain, pet. You're alone. No rescuer coming. The chip's gone. Need I go on?"

Willow swallowed. Change the subject. "My head hurts."

"That's what punches do, ducks. You'll get better."

"Can we stop so I can get some aspirin?"

"At a friendly, human-infested store where you can get help? Don't think so. Points for trying."

"Where are we going?" Willow looked sidelong at the vampire.

Spike's right hand flashed out, grabbed her wrist, and twisted.

"Ouch!" His hand automatically flew up to his head, then he pulled it back and smiled. It wasn't a pleasant smile.

"Let's get this clear, witch. I'll ask the questions. We're going where the Slayer won't look for you, and that's all the information you'll get."

Willow made one last try. "But why?"

"Call it a whim. No more questions."

Willow closed her eyes and slumped, only to have her cheek slapped once. "No more sleep. Not smart after a head injury."

Willow sat up and flashed a glare that should have incinerated Spike. He met it with a chipper grin.

If looks could kill, pet, this world would be a desert.

Willow peered through the gaps in the window, seeing nothing she recognized. Maybe I can find some aspirin in my pack. She looked on the floor. No pack. She twisted her head to the back. Ouch! No pack.

"Spike? I think I have some aspirin in my pack. Where is it?"

"In the trunk. You can have it when we stop."

"But my head hurts now."

"Having spent five months with the Instant Migraine Machine, somehow I can't get terribly concerned. You'll get your pack when it's safe to stop."

Willow fell silent and watched the road whip past. It was a deserted two-lane road, too small even for signs. The moon rode high in the sky.

After a long silent while, the road widened and intersected a state road. At the crossroads, there was a dilapidated '30s cottage-style motel and a combination convenience store and gas station. Spike pulled up to the motel, cut the engine, and turned to her.

"Let's be clear, pet. Try to get help from the staff, and I'll kill them all. Your life is safe for now, but I'm really looking forward to a spot of bloodshed. Stay silent, and I kill only what I eat. One word, one move, and their blood is on your head. Understood?"

Willow bit her lip.

"Understood, witch?"

"Yes. I understand."

"Wait here." Spike got out, rang the night bell, and negotiated with the sleepy desk clerk. Then he reentered the car, jingling a key, and drove to the most secluded cabin. "End of the line, pet. All out."

He got out, walked around the back, and opened the door for her in a parody of courtesy. When she stood up, he grabbed her wrist hard in his right hand and pulled her back to the trunk. He released her, opened the trunk, grabbed her pack, and slung it over a shoulder.

"Ladies first." Willow silently walked to the cottage door. Spike followed her, dropped the pack, unlocked the door, and waved her inside. After she had gone in, Spike shut the door, locked it, stalked over to the only chair, sat down, and unzipped her pack.

"Hey, that's mine! And it's private!"

Spike looked up at her. "Red, as of several hundred miles ago, you lost the ability to command." He began to rummage through the pack. He threw her Book of Shadows on the floor Arrgh!, snickered at and discarded her copy of Jane Eyre, and tossed her Java book atop them. Moving on, he confiscated her Swiss Army knife, spare stake, and laptop, and stacked them on the floor beside him. Then he rezipped the pack and tossed it to her.

Willow found her aspirin, put the pack down, and headed to the bathroom. When she returned, Spike had draped the windows with the coverlet, and was lying on the bed with his hands behind his head and his feet crossed at the ankles.

"Come here, pet."

Her heart sank. This had always been a possibility. "No."

"We both know I can make you."

"We both know I'm not making it easy for you."

He heaved an airless sigh. "Have it your way, then."

He sprang up, crossed the room, grabbed Willow by the waist, threw her down on the bed, pulled handcuffs from his hip jeans pocket, and handcuffed her to the bed frame.

Oh, God, it's October all over again. And I destroyed the one thing that kept me safe.

Spike smiled down at her and said "Pressing business, Red. Back soon." He dropped a kiss on the pulse in her throat, then rose, picked up the laptop and other contraband, and strode out whistling. The door locked behind him, and Willow was alone with her thoughts.

What a mess I've made. As she began to cry, a small, calm, practical part of her noted, Bloodlust is stronger than any other need. I must remember that.

Chapter 2

All too soon, Spike came whistling in the door. He locked it, shrugged the duster on to the easy chair, and turned to her. "Miss me, Red?"

Willow took a deep breath and began the conversation she had planned. "I set you free. Why did you pay me back like this?"

"Because I can. Because, for the first time in months, I can do anything I bloody well want to." His eyes sparkled. "And, oh, yes, because you're a trusting fool and I am not."

Keep him distracted. "Where are we going?"

"Sorry, it's not Question Time." Spike sauntered over and sat down next to her on the bed. "And now, luv..." he placed pale hands on either side of her head and leaned in.

Now or never. "Wait."

Spike paused an inch from her lips, his own lips curling in amusement. "Red, I don't think the cavalry are coming this time."

"I don't need cavalry." Willow rushed onward, tripping over words, desperate to finish while she still had space and air! to talk. "One year from today I'm meeting my lawyer at noon in the park in Sunnydale. Alone. If I tell Joanie I'm okay, she throws the tape in the incinerator. If I don't show up, or I'm not alone, or I say I'm not okay..."

Spike pursed his lips, bringing them even closer, and looked thoughtfully into her eyes. Bloody Hell. Left her time to think again. "I see."

It's working! "So if you'll just let me go, I'll call Buffy to come get me, and we're back where we started."

Willow smiled, hoping she looked firm, in control, and not to be trifled with. Unfortunately, she looked like what she was: a woman dancing on the edge of a cliff and hoping it wouldn't crumble.

Spike met her hopeful smile with his usual shark grin. "Not quite, Red. I am not letting you loose while that tape exists."

He held up a finger and traced the curve of her cheek to her ear. "You could trip over a shoelace and die."

Two fingers, down the line of the cheekbone to the jaw. "You could blame me for one of your little friends' getting a hangnail."

Three fingers, lifting her chin. "You could get bored." He caught her chin in a bruising grip. "While that tape exists, you remain under my eye."

Salvage what I can. Willow looked Spike in the eye and put on her best Resolve Face. "All right. But if you lay a hand on me again, you won't like what happens in a year."

"Truce, then." Spike released Willow's face and sat up. "I admit, that does take some of the thrill out of the evening. If you'll excuse me..." He stood up, turned away, and strode toward the door.

"Let me go!" Willow began to thrash.

Without turning or slackening stride, Spike responded, "Not likely, pet. Not before time."

"If you don't unchain me, you'll be sorry!"

Then Spike did turn, presenting a completely expressionless face. "Willow." His voice was soft and deadly. "Don't tell me I have nothing to lose by killing you now."

Willow met Spike's eyes. There was no court there to which she could appeal. Willow saw no gratitude, no mercy, not even humor.

Last try. "My arms hurt. If I promise I won't try to escape, will you please let me loose?"

"No, pet. But we can probably find a more comfortable position for you to be restrained in. Unless you'd prefer Plan A." The glint in his eyes explained Plan A all too clearly.

"No, thank you."

Spike returned to the bed and unlocked the handcuffs. When Willow sat up and rubbed her wrists, he waited, then tied her wrists and ankles, this time with cord. He travels with a complete set of restraints? Ick. After tying her, Spike stood and strode again to the door.

"Lights on, pet?"

"Off, please."

"As you like. You'll be keeping vampire hours from here on, though. Best get accustomed quickly." And he left her alone with her regrets.

Chapter 3

The next Willow knew, Spike was dragging her out of bed. "Up, into the car, NOW."

"Wha..." Willow tried to rub her aching head, then realized she was still bound.

Before Willow knew what was happening, Spike picked her up, threw her over his shoulder, sending pangs and nausea through her body, carried her out to the car, and forced her in. Willow gasped out, "My books! My pack!"

Spike hopped in and started the engine. "No time."

As the car began to roll forward, Willow had an inspiration. "It has my name and address in it!" The car stopped, and Willow was thrown against the dashboard. Spike glared, reached over, and threw her back against the seat.

"Stay!" He leapt from the car, disappeared into the motel room, returned carrying Willow's pack, and threw it atop her. "Be a bloody Girl Scout and be prepared next time!" Then he slammed the car into gear and spun out of the motel parking lot.

As the car gained speed, Willow suddenly realized why Spike was in such a hurry. Oh, God, he's killed somebody else. And it's my fault. Without moving her aching head, she looked sidelong for bloodstains, but found none. I guess he's a tidy eater.

Spike grinned. "What a smart little girl. Quite right, too. That town would have been a trifle hot by dawn."

Willow spun to face him, ignoring the pain. "You killed someone! And you're laughing about it!"

Spike, unmoved, continued accelerating. "I'm a vampire, Red. Remember, 'wolves should be wolves'?"

"Oh, God."

"Not a factor here."

Willow sank back into the seat and looked out at the sky, which was still dark. She looked reflexively for her watch, but it wasn't there. Probably got lost during the Bondage-O-Rama. "How far are we going?"

Spike reached across and caressed her throat. "When I want a conversation ... which I don't at the moment ... I'll start it myself." Willow swallowed involuntarily, and he laughed and removed the hand. "Actions have consequences, pet." He lit a cigarette and drove on.

Willow began to cough, intercepted a glare, and stifled it. Not only have I been kidnapped, I'm going to die of secondhand smoke. If Spike doesn't just eat me first. He doesn't HAVE to go back to Sunnydale, after all. Better not remind him of that. But what happens when he figures it out himself? Oh, God, what have I done? She sank into a morass of guilt and regret.

After a couple of cigarettes, Spike interrupted her musings. "So, pet, time for some ground rules. As from now, you keep my hours. Move when I do. Don't bother unpacking, I don't plan to stay anywhere long. Understood?"

Willow tried to answer, but her throat was tight with tears.

"Do you understand? I expect answers when I do talk."

Willow swallowed hard and quavered "Yes."

"Don't snivel. It's boring. I hear enough of it from the soon-to-be-deceased, and you don't want me confusing you with them. Right?"

"Yes."

"Yes, what?"

"Yes, I'm not supposed to c-cry." Willow bit off the last word, feeling her voice betraying her.

After a few moments of silence, Willow found a reservoir of courage. "And my rules--"

"Sorry, pet, doesn't work that way. Don't bore me, and don't annoy me, and you may yet survive to retrieve that tape."

Before her nerve vanished entirely, Willow said, "I thought you'd sworn off kidnapping?"

Spike gave her a self-satisfied smirk. "Hardly. I did swear off telling the truth to enemies. Some years ago, in fact."

The sky was beginning to lighten; the stars closest to the horizon were hard to see. Maybe he'll drive into the sunrise!

As it happened, Spike recognized dawn as well as did Willow -- somewhat better, being both more motivated and more experienced -- and pulled into a small motel well before the sky began to turn pink. He checked in, drove up to an end unit, carried Willow in (this time against his chest, cradled like a new bride), dumped her on the bed, returned to the car for her pack and a duffel, and set them on the floor. Then he began checking the curtains and preparing the room for the day.

Willow looked up at Spike from the double bed. "Spike? My hands and feet hurt. I still have a circulation, you know."

He turned from the window and quirked an eyebrow. "That could be remedied..."

"Not if --"

Spike strode over to the bed and grabbed her shoulders, hard enough to bruise. "Last warning, Red. Don't wear that threat out. You may need it." He took one of her hands, which was indeed somewhat cold. He sighed dramatically, then untied her wrists. Willow rubbed her hands, while Spike freed her ankles. He looked up. "Off with your clothes."

"WHAT?" She scooted back against the headboard, eyes wide.

He smirked. "Pet, if you don't want to be tied all day, I need some other form of restraint. Hand me your outer clothes, and you can be free. Otherwise, it's back to the ropes. I understand they make quite good prosthetics nowadays..."

Under Spike's sardonic eye, Willow kicked off her shoes, dived under the covers, removed her sweater and skirt, handed them over, then pretended to be asleep. Oh, God, what if he joins me?

"Very convincing." There was more than a hint of laughter in his voice.

Willow burrowed deeper, not wanting to meet his eyes. I don't know which would be worse: having him laugh at my underwear, or having him laugh at my body. Let's not find out. She heard Spike striding around the room for a few more moments, then felt his body land -- on top of the cover, thank Whoever -- next to her. She waited until she thought he must be asleep, then scurried to the bathroom. When she returned, he was sitting up in bed laughing at her.

"Have you considered a career as a secret agent?"

Willow felt a tide of color rising to her ears. She slipped under the covers and turned her back on the vampire. He flicked the back of her head with a fingertip. "Get some sleep. You'll need it." Trying hard not to think of unpleasant interpretations of that last, Willow drifted to sleep.

Chapter 4

Willow woke with a start. For a moment, she was not sure where she was; then she turned her head, and the whole situation burst back in on her. Spike was stretched out on the bed beside her, naked eep! and still as the corpse he was. One sleeve of her sweater peeked out from under his head. Willow sighed. She had time to kill, a lifetime supply of things she didn't want to think about, and no distractions in sight. Well, except for naked vampires. Distracting, but not a good distraction.

Willow slipped out of bed and looked nervously over her shoulder. This time, the vampire didn't stir. She turned to the nightstand, and slowly and gently lifted the phone headset. It was dead. She searched for a cause, and found it: the wall cord had been removed, and was nowhere in sight. She lowered the headset agonizingly slowly, and resettled it without making a sound. So much for easy answers. She scanned the room for other options, and saw her pack next to the door.

Willow paced silently to her pack, knelt, opened it, and sighed again. Spike had been quite thorough in removing all possible weapons, and to add insult to injury, had apparently left all her books behind in the first motel. Willow rocked back on her heels to think. There was no clock in the room; judging by the light filtering through the window, it was late afternoon.

Hey! I could open the blinds, he'd flame out, and I could go home! She judged the distance between the window and the bed. It was about three feet, and Willow didn't know exactly where the sun was in the sky. It takes time for vampires to catch fire. If he didn't burn up immediately, I'd be alone with a very angry Spike. I think I've done that enough for one lifetime.

I could prove he's wrong about me. I could walk right out there in my underwear and ask the motel clerk for help. Willow shriveled at the thought. And what would I say? Help, I've been kidnapped by a vampire, don't go in there unless you've got a stake? Nobody would believe me. Even if they believed the crazy half-naked woman, somebody would go into the room to check the story out ... and get killed. Only Buffy could cope with this mess. Oh, God, someday I'm going to have to explain this to Buffy, and she is not going to be one little tiny bit happy. And Giles. Oh, Giles is worse. Much much worse. Time to stop thinking.

While the vampire was -- asleep? dead? -- Willow could preserve the illusion of free will. Good time for a shower. Life always looks better in the shower. Although I'll have to put two-day-old clothes back on afterwards. Yuck. Vampires have it easy. They can wear the same clothes forever. She grabbed her hairbrush, padded to the bathroom, closed and locked the door, and looked in the mirror. Her own pale face peered back at her, dark circles under the eyes and a deep black bruise on the point of the chin. Still visible; I suppose that's something.

Willow turned away from the mirror, undressed, and piled her underwear on the sink. She stepped into the shower, pulled the curtain closed, and ran the water full force, hot as it would come. Then she closed her eyes and let the water stream down her face. I'm back in the dorm. Any moment now, Buffy's going to barge in and ask if she can borrow my eyeliner...

The door burst open, but it wasn't Buffy. "Just what the hell do you think you're doing?"

Willow stuck her head around the curtain, too angry to be afraid. "What do you think? Go. Away." Oh God, he's still naked. She pulled her head back in.

"You are not to lock the door again. Do you understand?"

Willow yelled back, "What do you think I'm going to do, climb through the ceiling? People lock bathroom doors for a reason."

"I'm not people, pet."

"Will you please GO AWAY? The door isn't locked any more, and I'd like to shower in peace!"

Much to Willow's surprise, Spike left. She closed her eyes and leaned back into the shower, but couldn't recapture the mood. She washed up, dried herself, dressed, combed her hair, brushed her teeth with a finger, and sighed. Can't put it off any longer. Time to face a new day --make that night-- and the same old vampire.

Willow opened the door a crack and peered through it. The room was now dark, lit only by the flickering of the television set. Spike had dressed, piled her pack and the duffel next to the door, and was sprawled on the bed, one foot tapping. Her clothes were piled next to him.

I am not putting on another floor show. "Could you please hand me my clothes?"

Spike grinned. "I've already seen your undies, pet."

Resolve Face."Come on, Spike. Hand me my clothes, and we can go. I'm sure you have places to be, people to betray, evil things to do?"

Spike stood up, all expression gone. "I am not your servant. I am leaving in one minute. So are you, in whatever you're wearing -- or not -- at that time."

Willow scurried out, grabbed her skirt and sweater, and pulled them on. She had just tied her second sneaker when the time was up, and Spike grabbed her elbow. "I can walk perfectly well!"

"Then do. Next to me. With that pretty mouth closed, thank you."

Willow bit her lower lip, walked out to the car, and got in. The road unrolled ahead, a ribbon dividing her from her friends and her life.

After that first night of celebration and freedom for Spike, regret and captivity for Willow, they settled into a pattern of driving all night and sleeping all day. For the rest of her life, Willow remembered the drive with Spike as a jumble box filled with inconsistent and incongruous incidents. A few sharp vignettes stood out from the blurred background of endless roads and motels. The second evening, for instance, when Willow found out how vampires solved the clothing problems she thought they didn't have.

"TARGET?"

Spike raised an eyebrow at her. "Bloodstains, luv. Wear and tear. Unsightly holes caused by bullets, knives, and poorly-aimed stakes. Can't depend on dinner to be wearing the right size and color. And your higher-class boutiques close before sundown."

Willow fought back a grin. If Cordelia only knew... Although she doubted Drusilla's wardrobe said "Merona" on the hang tag. Black jeans and T-shirts, on the other hand, could be found pretty much anywhere. After making his own selections, Spike steered her to the women's department, one hand in an apparently affectionate grasp around her arm. She walked toward a rack of ponchos, and was yanked away.

"I am not going to spend the next twelve months squiring Annie Hall around the underworld. Ah, this is more like it."

"This" proved to be a rack of baby-blue crop tops.

"I am not a fourteen-year-old hooker!"

"No, they generally have some flair. Taste, too. Quite tasty, in fact."

Willow gave Spike a dirty look, which was answered with a reminiscent grin. She turned away hastily and grabbed the closest piece of clothing, which turned out to be a navy-blue sweatshirt.

"You just lost your vote, Red." Ignoring all Willow's protests and arguments, Spike picked out a green velour minidress, a violet silk blouse --"With MY hair?"--, a couple of low-necked T-shirts, and a pair of black jeans. He headed toward the lingerie section, and Willow flamed up to her hairline.

"Please, please, let me do this alone. I promise I won't run away. I vow. I'll take an oath!"

Spike's face lost all humor. "If you learn anything from this little trek, witch, learn this. Trust is NOT a virtue. If you've a brass farthing in one hand and a promise in the other, take the farthing every time. I don't accept apologies, IOUs, or promises."

"I'm going to die of embarrassment--"

"Not possible, luv. Ask your President."

Spike did allow Willow to make her own selections, although he cheerfully offered advice and editorial comments along the way.

"Sure you wouldn't prefer leopard?"

"Drop DEAD!"

"Too late."

After a brief stop to pick up toiletries and envelopes and paper Oh, I so hoped he'd forgotten that part, they checked out. Spike paid in cash; with a gasp, Willow suddenly realized where it must have come from. A renewed grip on her arm kept her from saying anything in the store.

In the parking lot, Willow spat "You stole that! From a corpse!"

Spike grabbed Willow's free arm and spun her to face him.

"Enough. If I want moral lectures, I'll go to the Salvation Bloody Army. I'm a vampire. I like being a vampire. I'm not interested in your opinions on my morals, my manners, or any other subject. You won't convince me, and you just might bore me to death -- yours."

Willow glared at Spike, but kept her mouth shut. She climbed into the car and stared straight ahead as he turned back on to the road. They were heading north, but Willow knew she wouldn't get answers if she asked where. She wondered what Buffy was doing, and wished she were doing it, too. As usual, Spike interrupted her thoughts.

"Time to make contact, luv. Write a lovely chatty letter to the Slayer, explaining that you just can't stand being reminded of Dog-Boy, and you're taking some time away to clear your head. In your own words, of course. Don't bother sealing the envelope. When you've finished that, you can make copies for the Watcher and your lawyer."

"I mostly send E-mail nowadays."

"And I prefer naked virgins delivered to my doorstep in chains. Nice try. God only knows what you could do with that computer, and I have no intention of finding out. Try the old-fashioned way, on paper."

Willow sighed, and wrote brief notes to Buffy, Giles, and her lawyer. Spike checked the wording, made her rewrite the note to Giles, and dropped them off at an all-night copy shop to be mailed. One more hope of rescue closed off. Spike's right, the cavalry aren't coming. It's going to be up to me to rescue myself.

Chapter 5

The road rolled on, one motel replacing another, each day like the last. Insensibly, Willow adapted to the routine; she slept during the day, then rose, showered, packed, and headed for the car. Spike never allowed Willow an opportunity to escape. When they left the car, there were always either physical restraints or threats to innocent lives, which bound her even tighter.

They drove north and east, crossing the Canadian border by stealth. Willow watched the scenery change from seacoast to mountains to plains, and the road signs change from miles to kilometers, and then from English to French. Those changes, and the occasional shopping trips, were the only evidence she had to prove that she wasn't simply living the same day over and over again.

Which made it all the more surprising when the routine abruptly ended. They reached Montreal in the early evening, and checked into yet another tiny motel. Willow had settled back to watch television when Spike returned, hours early, jingling a key. She gave him a startled look.

"Back to the car, pet. Now." She stood up, dressed, grabbed her pack, and followed him to the car. Now what?

Spike pulled out of the motel and began weaving his way through the back streets. Much to Willow's surprise, he volunteered an explanation. "End of the road."

"Huh?"

"We stop here. For now."

Willow raised a skeptical eyebrow of her own. "In Montreal? Why? What's so thrilling about it? Unlesss you're a big hockey fan... or you like cheese on your french fries?"

"It has its advantages, Pet. For one thing, you don't speak the language. Cuts down on the escape attempts."

Willow bit her lip to keep from pointing out that it was only her tutoring that had dragged Buffy through French at Sunnydale High.

Unfortunately, Spike saw her expression, interpreted it correctly, and laughed. "Trust me, luv, schoolgirl 'parlez-vous' has damn all to do with Quebecois."

"Which you learned how?"

"The usual way. Practice. Chin up, after a year, you should be able to say 'Help, I've been kidnapped by a vampire.' and be understood by the locals. Making them believe you may take another year or so, though..." He nosed the De Soto into a back street and parked it. "At last. Stick close; this neighborhood isn't exactly hospitable."

Willow followed Spike out of the car to a street-level door, which he unlocked and held open for her. He waited for her to enter, relocked the door, then ran up the stairs, which were lit by a single dim bulb. Puzzled, she followed. Six flights up was another heavy door, which Spike also unlocked. He waved her inside. "Home sweet home."

Willow looked around by the light from the hall. It was a tiny place, with an irregular roof up under the eaves. She stood in a hallway that opened into a single room; off her right was a small bathroom, and what looked like a kitchen. She walked in and flicked the wall switch. Nothing happened. She opened the tap. Again, nothing.

She walked into the sitting room. The windows were covered by wooden shutters, which were nailed shut. By the thin line of light from the staircase, she could barely see a chair and the posts of a bed. Spike was looking disgustedly at the floor, which was covered in dust and rodent droppings. "This won't do."

He took the words right out of my mouth. "What is this?"

"Pied-a-terre. Set it up years ago. Haven't been back since."

Willow snorted. "I can see."

His head snapped up. "Stubble it. You'll be here for the next year, best get used to it." He grabbed her wrist and yanked her over to the chair. "Sit. I'll be back soon." He pushed her into the chair and began tying her down.

"Spike... I'm scared." Willow tried to catch his eye.

He snorted, and kept tying. "You're supposed to be. You're alone with a vampire, remember?"

"No, I mean I'm afraid of this place. I don't want to be alone here. There's no light. Anybody could come in. It's creepy."

"Sorry, luv." He didn't look terribly moved. "Where I'm going, you wouldn't be welcome... or you'd be all too welcome. Briefly."

"But it's scary here! There are rats!" Willow's voice quavered alarmingly.

Spike grabbed her chin. "Don't crack now. You can't afford it." He saw tears welling in her eyes, and sighed. "Have to hunt. I'll be back as soon as I can. You're perfectly safe; there's a deadbolt on the door." He turned and left, the duster swirling behind him. Willow heard the locks snick on the door, and she was alone in the darkness.

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Not nearly soon enough, Spike returned. He was carrying a lit Coleman lantern in one hand. He crossed to the chair and set Willow free, not commenting on the tear streaks. "Come along, we've got stuff to shift before dawn."

She followed him down to the car. The trunk was packed with camping supplies: a portable stove, some freeze-dried food, a couple of jugs of water. There were also pillows and bedclothes. Black. It figures. Willow carried them upstairs; Spike followed with the lantern. When the last load was inside, he set the lantern on the floor, then shot the bolts home and pocketed the key.

Working together, they made the bed up. Willow reached up to rub her tired eyes, and brought her hand back black with dust. I must look like a coal miner. She sighed, sat down on the bed, and toed her shoes off. Suddenly, all the horrors of the last week caught up with her at once, and she buried her face in the bed and began sobbing.

Surprisingly, Spike didn't make a snide comment; he quietly continued setting the room to rights, then sat down on the bed beside her. When she continued to sob, he said quietly, "Go to sleep, Red. It will all look better when you wake up." She cried on. Eventually, a cool hand began stroking her hair, then her shoulder. The sobs grew slower and quieter, and eventually she fell asleep.

#####

The next few nights assumed their own routine. Spike rose, chained Willow's ankle to the bed, and left to do whatever vampires did in their spare time. She never heard any sounds that would indicate the building had other residents, living or otherwise. After the first night, he got the heat, water, and electricity turned on. The light made the dirt and decay all too visible. It also revealed the furnishings: typical vampire gothic Where do they shop? Gargoyle Barn? Crate And Bondage? with one modern addition, a small television set.

On the nights when Spike returned early, he released Willow and set her to cleaning the apartment. Even though she loathed housework, it was something to do. Besides, the room was even more depressing dirty than clean. Before long, she'd done everything possible without paint, spackle, or a sledgehammer, which she privately thought was the best solution.

When Spike returned after a particularly long night, Willow reopened an old argument.

"Can I PLEASE have my laptop?"

"No."

"I won't hook up to the Net, I promise."

"What did I say about promises?"

"This apartment doesn't even have a phone jack."

"And you know that because? No."

"Spike, if I don't have something to do for the next year, I will go crazy."

Spike quirked an eyebrow. "I could offer some suggestions..."

"I meant, something to think about. Besides that I'm flunking all my classes because of you. Books. Computers. Magick."

"What, no bungee jumping?"

"Spike...."

Another airless sigh. "Go to sleep, luv."

Willow sighed and rolled over. I'm going to flunk out of college, and I have to spend the next year watching Passions in French with a vampire. Could my life get any worse?

When evening came, Spike went through the usual routine of chaining Willow, handing her the remote, locking her in, and leaving. When he returned, much earlier than usual, he had a small box in one hand, and a large bag, which he left in the hall. He switched the TV off, strolled to the bed, and sat down beside Willow.

"Just how badly do you want to get some air?"

Willow scanned his face. For once, it was completely serious, even solemn. "What's the catch?"

"Answer the question, pet."

What am I getting into? Willow swallowed several times, but her throat was too tight to speak.

"I suppose that's your answer, then." Spike rose, and Willow gasped "Wait!".

Spike suppressed a grin. "Yes, Red?"

"I want out very badly, and you know it. What do I have to do?"

He sat down again. "I'm not hunting tonight. Going to meet some old... acquaintances. You can come... if..." He watched her face.

"If ...?"

"It's a vampire bar. Humans enter only as food or as toys. If you don't want to be the first, you'll have to be the second." He flipped open the box. Inside was a fine black chain. The clasp was a tiny padlock, supporting a polished garnet teardrop.

Willow shrank back. "Ick."

Spike snapped the package shut and pocketed it. "As you like." He rose, locked the door, and left.

Willow slumped back against the bed and thought. Getting some fresh air... but being a toy? Yuck. Bleah. Possessive vampires, ptooey!

Nothing further was said on that subject for a week. Every evening, Spike rose, restrained Willow, locked the doors, and left. Willow paced (within the limits of the chain), watched television, and recited all the Shakespeare she could remember. One evening, she could stand it no longer. As Spike stood to leave, Willow said, "Just what does that necklace mean?"

Spike froze, with that preternatural vampire stillness. "Two things. You're under my protection and under my authority." He grabbed her chin and held it. "Which means that, in public, you do exactly what I tell you. Cross me or mouth off, and you may not live to regret it."

Willow sighed and met his gaze. "Okay. In public, I obey." She put on her best Resolve Face. "In private, I'm a free agent. Or as free as I ever get, which isn't very. Now what?"

Spike took both her hands and raised her to her feet, then pulled the box from his pocket. "This is generally a lifetime commitment, although..." his mouth quirked, "the lifetime is frequently shorter than the mortal imagines. Call it a year, in this case; when I get the tape, you can go free. There's a lot of ritual folderol, but why bother."

"Kneel."

Willow knelt, and Spike fastened the chain around her neck. Her hands flew up and tugged; it was thin but strong.

He looked down at her. "Go change. There are clothes in the bag in the hall."

"What am I, some sort of vampire fashion accessory? I HATE this!"

Spike's smile did not reach his eyes. "Payback's a bitch, pet. Wear what I chose, or stay here."

Willow carried the bag into the bathroom. The clothes echoed Spike's colors: long black velvet skirt, crimson long-sleeved silk top, tight to the body and low in the neck. However, the shoes, black stiletto-heeled pumps, were pure Drusilla. Buffy can walk in these, because she's the Slayer. I'm going to break an ankle! Grumbling to herself, Willow dressed, then looked in the mirror to fix her hair.

Same old Willow, dressed as a Goth. Or a vampire 'toy'. How nice. She drew herself up to her full height, opened the bathroom door, and walked out, fighting to keep her balance.

Spike scanned her head to toe, face expressionless. "You'll do. Stay close. And don't speak unless you're spoken to." She followed him out the door.

Chapter 6

After they left the apartment, Spike set out on foot, with his usual long, loping stride. Willow tried to keep pace, but kept catching the stilettos between cobblestones. After her third near-fall, Spike sighed and extended his right arm to her, bent at the elbow. "Hold on, pet. No need to fall down just for the sake of independence."

"If I were independent, I wouldn't be wearing these heels. I can't walk in them."

"Like anything else, it takes practice. Keep wearing sneakers, and you'll never learn."

"How would you know? How many hours have you spent trying to walk in spikes?"

His mouth twitched. "Watched Drusilla practising, back when they first came in. She wasn't going to miss out on the latest, even if it did take a bit of effort. Wasn't long before she could take down a football player without turning a hair -- or an ankle."

That's the first time he's mentioned her. Willow glanced at Spike's face, but saw only a reminiscent grin. She stayed silent, hoping not to disturb the mood; she remembered Drusilla's effect on his emotions all too clearly.

After a block or so, they turned into another apparently-abandoned house. In the basement of this one was a tunnel. I should have known. They followed its twists in silence, moving steadily downward.

Surprisingly, the tunnel did not end in the sewers. Instead, it led to an underground street, full, even at this hour, of pedestrians of all flavors, from punk to professional.

Willow was startled. "Is Montreal on a Hellmouth, too?"

"Next best thing, pet. It's got weather that even a polar bear couldn't love. The locals decided to move some of the city underground. Nicest present the vampire community ever got. You can spend months in Montreal without ever seeing the light of day. Very popular spot for undead vacations."

They walked through the underground city. It was more like a mall than a city, really; every square foot was devoted to selling something, and most of the stores seemed to cater to insomniacs ... or vampires. Periodically a tunnel would open out into a multistory atrium, which gave Willow a brief stab of homesickness for Sunnydale, and the mall where she had helped Buffy pick up pieces of Judge, a lifetime ago. Ick. Depressing choice of phrase. She briefly considered running, then discarded the idea; in those shoes, she wouldn't make it more than a step or two away. And I don't think that's an coincidence...

As they left the wider thoroughfares behind and turned into a side tunnel, Willow realized that fewer and fewer of their fellow pedestrians could pass the cross test. Her heartbeat sped up, and she tried to slow Spike's rapid pace. She succeeded only in turning her ankle again.

Spike glanced over. "Trying to become dinner, luv?"

"I'm not really sure what you're talking about."

"Fear attracts predators. You're screaming 'Come eat me'. Not smart."

Willow stopped cold. "I am scared. I don't think that's going to change."

Spike grabbed her arm and turned to face her. "Change it. Now."

Willow tried unsuccessfully to shake his hand off. "That's what my parents said about bullies. Just ignore them, reacting gets their attention. Hah."

"They were right."

"I can't stop being scared just because I know I should."

"Let's try this another way. You're afraid of me, right?"

Willow snorted. In a heartbeat, Spike vamped out, grabbed her shoulders, and raked his fangs over her carotid artery, just below the ear. "Do you need a demonstration?"

Willow tried, unsuccessfully, to shrink away. "N-Nope. Not at all. I'm totally scared. Honest."

Spike traced a path with his tongue down the artery to her collarbone, released her, and resumed the human mask. "Good. Then believe me when I say I will kill anything that interferes between you and me. Worry about me; anything else is taken care of."

Willow swallowed, then quavered "Okay." This is his idea of reassuring?

Spike offered his arm, and she took it and resumed walking. Oddly enough, she did feel better. Oh no, now his logic's starting to make sense. Before you know it, I'll be turning evil. Buffy will be so ashamed of me. I hope she gets the chance to be ashamed of me.

A few more blocks brought them to their destination. There was no sign, just an iron door with a grille at eye level. Spike flicked a glance at her.

"Mind your manners."

He dropped her arm and knocked. A peephole opened; Spike flashed into demon face, and the door swung wide. Spike walked in, resuming his human mask. Willow followed, wondering if boredom was really such a bad thing.

She hadn't known what to expect from a vampire bar. Willy's place, perhaps, or something halfway between Willy's and the Bronze, with a side order of the old factory. Instead, she saw a fairly conventional space: forest green walls, wooden floor, a long wooden bar, and a scattering of bar tables and stools. Oh, and wall-to-wall vampires.

Spike walked up to the bartender and said something Willow couldn't catch; he received a beer in return, and paid. Without glancing at her, he strode on to a vacant side table; Willow scurried to keep up, fighting to keep her balance. He sat with his back to the wall, and nodded at the chair beside him. She sat, took a deep breath, and released it slowly. Then she looked around, under her lashes.

The bar was full of vampires. Big surprise. Some, like Spike, in jeans; others in business suits, from Armani to polyester, or dresses, ranging again from strictly business to "Hello, Sailor". No sign of the Bela Lugosi look, of course.

She didn't see any other humans, which was a relief in a way; she didn't think she could sit silently while somebody else got eaten. The noise level was about like the Bronze on a typical evening, which meant that she could probably hear conversations at her own table, if she listened hard. The few snippets she did overhear seemed to be in French; unfortunately, none seemed to involve hippos, the pen of her aunt, or Josette and her mobylette.

She looked back up at Spike; he was ignoring her, scanning the crowd and the doorway. She went back to investigating the bar. It really wasn't that bad at all... it even had a little stage in one corner. Then the bottom dropped out of her stomach. Instead of amplifiers and speakers, the stage had chains, stocks, a rack, and a nasty set of stains. And hanging on the wall... She gasped, and heard Spike's chuckle. She whipped her head back to Spike in horror. He was watching her face with amusement.

"Relax. It's Tuesday. Shows are on the weekend."

"That's--"

"Save it." And he looked back to the crowd.

This time, he spotted somebody, and raised one hand. A pair of male vampires began to work through the crowd toward the table. One had long black hair, a broken nose, and was wearing jeans with holes in the knees; the other was bald and wearing leather pants and a royal blue shirt. Spike hissed "Stay", then left the table, strode toward the pair, grabbed the black-haired vampire and pounded his shoulder.

"Martin, it's been too damned long."

"Whose fault is that?"

They headed back to the table, Spike in the lead. Martin saw Willow and grinned nastily. "Who's the bint?"

"On trial. So, what's happened since Croatia?"

"Not much. Bland, Spike; not your usual style. Where's Dru?"

"Elsewhere. Who's with you?"

"Sorry, forgot you hadn't met Clive. Spike, Clive. Clive, Spike." The bald vampire nodded to Spike and ignored Willow. I like being ignored, under the circumstances. Being ignored by vampires is good. If I'd ignored vampires, I wouldn't be here now.

Martin couldn't resist one more dig. He leaned into Willow's face and said "So, pretty, what tricks can you do? There must be more to you than meets the eye."

Willow bit her lip. "Speak when spoken to," Spike had said, but she didn't know what to say. The silence lengthened, and Spike stepped in. "Since when do you take an interest in the living, Martin? I thought your tastes ran more to lanky blondes with triple-jointed hips."

Martin laughed and replied in kind, and Willow shrank thankfully back against the wall. The conversation moved on to war stories -- literally, since Spike and Martin had last seen one another when they were running on the outskirts of the Ustashi. Willow tuned out of the conversation and went back to vampire-watching. If you ignored the stage -- something she was trying very hard to do -- vampires acted a lot like anybody else in a club. They flirted, moved in and out of groups, and table-hopped.

Willow was trying to decide if a petite blonde liked a tall Angel-ish guy, or was just using him to make the vampire behind him jealous, when she was recalled to reality by a cold and bruising grip on one wrist. She looked at Spike, who was glaring at her. Martin and Clive seemed to have moved on.

"Speak when spoken to, remember? Pay attention, Pet." He emphasized the last with a hard squeeze.

Willow swam back to reality. "What...?"

"I said, that was pathetic. If you're going to imitate a blancmange, you can stay in the apartment for the duration. If you want out, grow a backbone."

Willow straightened up unconsciously. "I thought I wasn't supposed to speak until spoken to?"

"You're supposed to bloody have something to say when spoken to. Which means something witty, intelligent, or insightful. Act like something more than a meal."

"But I thought if I mouthed off, I died?"

He grinned, "That's what makes it interesting, luv. Walking that fine line. You'll learn. You don't have a choice."

"B-but I'm terrible with people! Or vampires! I clam up! I'm stupid!"

Spike lost all humor. "You don't have that luxury. I've seen you cut the Watcher six new orifices. Be that girl. She's in there somewhere."

They were interrupted by the sound system's coming to life, full of thrashing guitars. Willow could only make out snatches of the lyric, something about "I gotta full moon\A smaller room than I need\A candy store a sexy whore\Yes I bleed" Spike's face got the wicked expression that always made Willow's heart sink. He grabbed her hand, yanked her up, and began dancing.

Unfortunately, Spike's idea of dancing involved frequent collisions with the other inhabitants: first Willow, then other vampires. Willow simply went down in a heap; the vampires reacted less favorably. One came up swinging, and Spike happily swung back. The bartender appeared, grabbed Willow, and threw her out the door. Somewhat later, Spike followed.

He got up, dusted himself off, and headed back toward the shopping area. Willow ran to catch up with him, twisting her ankle once along the way.

As they passed through one of the multistory atriums, Spike's attention was caught by a chain bookstore. He turned to Willow.

"Want to stop, pet?"

Willow looked up, startled. She'd assumed Spike would be in a foul mood, but he radiated cheer. "Please."

They walked into the bookstore. Spike paid no attention to the merchandise, but kept a watchful eye on Willow, staying a few casual steps away. She made a beeline for the science fiction section. Yay, Iain Banks! No Steven Brust. Hey! There's a Laurell K. Hamilton ... but Spike would laugh. No new Neal Stephenson.

She cast a wary glance at Spike; he still looked amused, not annoyed. Emboldened, she moved to the computer section, and loaded up. When she had both arms full, he began laughing. "Some women can't leave a jewelry store. Some can't leave a playground. You're the only one I've met who can't leave a bookstore. Enough for now, pet; you've got more than you can carry in those shoes." He escorted her to the counter, paid for her purchases, and offered her an arm. He did not offer to carry the parcel. They retraced their steps through the underground.

When they returned to the apartment, Willow slipped into the bathroom, changed, then decided to risk a question. "Spike?"

"Yes?"

"Why aren't you upset about the fight? I mean, getting thrown out?"

He laughed. "Haven't had a good fight in ages. Loosens up the muscles something wonderful."

"But won't you miss that bar?"

"Who says I'm not coming back?"

"But..."

"Think, luv. Rafe doesn't want the place to turn into a sodding fern bar for the undead. The odd fistfight keeps the tone where he wants it -- not too rough, not too smooth. He doesn't play The Damned unless he wants a fight. He and I go back a ways."

Willow's mouth fell open. "You did that on purpose?"

He gave her a cocky grin. "I live to serve, pet."

Chapter 7

The next evening, Willow woke up and reoriented herself. Late afternoon, I think. Heartbeat. Check. Naked dead-looking undead person. Check. Sorry, Toto, still not in Kansas.

She tried, as usual, to slip out of bed without awakening her companion. As usual, a cold hand reached out and grabbed her wrist. Without opening his eyes, Spike drawled, "That trick never works."

"It's still me, I'm still not going anywhere, let go!" Spike released her wrist, and she stalked off to the bathroom with as much dignity as she could muster. After she'd showered, combed her hair, and changed into jeans and a red T-shirt, she walked out of the bathroom and looked for the parcel of books, but it wasn't on the floor where she'd dropped it the night before.

"Looking for something?" Spike was lounging, cigarette in hand, on the bed, with the books beside him. He'd pulled on a pair of jeans. Small mercies. His chest is distracting enou-- Bad thoughts. Stopping now.

Willow walked toward the bed. "Can I have those, please?"

Spike stubbed the cigarette on the bedpost, dropped it to the floor, then gave her one of his patented non-friendly smiles. "You can earn them."

Willow took a step back. "How?"

"Hand-to-hand backchat. Score a point, win a book. The reverse also applies."

"Oh. Okay. I'll try." She perched on the edge of the bed.

Spike lunged into her face. "So, pretty, what tricks can you do? There must be more to you than meets the eye."

Willow reflexively jerked back, overbalanced, fell flat on her back, and started giggling from nervousness. Spike grabbed the top book and hit her lightly on the head. Unfortunately for Willow, it was The Art of Computing, volume 1. She couldn't stop giggling. Spike lost patience, grabbed her arm, and yanked her upright.

"You're not twelve years old, that isn't adorable, and you will stop it now, if you don't want me to drop these into the nearest dumpster." He dropped Knuth on the floor to emphasize the point. Willow sat up and wiped the smile off her face.

"Try again." This time, she was prepared for the lunge; however, with Spike so far inside her personal space, she couldn't think of any effective answer. "Uh..."

"Time's up." And he dropped Excession on the floor.

"That's stupid. What could I say? He's being a jerk."

"And you're letting him get away with it."

"And my alternative is?"

Spike heaved an Oscar-worthy sigh. "I'll demonstrate. You be Martin."

Willow leaned a millimeter toward Spike, then said "So, pretty, what tricks can you do--"

He leaned forward, forcing her back, and said, "Nothing you're prepared to handle."

"I can't do that!"

Spike sighed. "He's in your face. If you flinch, it's a sign of weakness. If you push back, he flinches, and he looks a wanker instead of you."

"But what if he stands still?"

"Then you're no worse off than you were, and I'll step in. You're not alone. Your job is to defend your honor until the cavalry arrive.

"Again." He leaned in. "What do you have to say for yourself?"

Willow leaned forward, misjudged the distance, and bumped lips with Spike. He smirked, but retreated. She blushed up to the eyelids and began to stammer. Spike dropped Programming Perl to the floor, then lit another cigarette.

"You're not giving me time!"

"This is life, Red, not a videotape. There is no Pause."

"You're making me nervous! I can't think when I'm this nervous!"

Spike gripped her shoulders. "You don't have a bloody choice. If you want to leave this room again, you will grow a spine. Credible threat, remember? If you offer yourself as an easy victim, someone will be more than happy to oblige." He released her, but did not back off.

"I'm surrounded by vampires, and I'm supposed to have a credible threat? What is it, 'Watch out, or I'll bleed on you?'"

"Red, you can play a bad hand better than that. I've seen you. Remember 'There will be no bottle in face'?"

Willow froze.

Spike followed up his advantage. "You're the smart one. Use those brains, and defend yourself."

"If you wanted a fight, you should have kidnapped Buffy! She's the brave one!"

"The Slayer isn't here, pet. You're the brave one, you're the smart one, you're the only one you've got. Last chance. Fluff this, and I leave for the dumpster." He leaned back, drew in some smoke, and looked at her.

Willow took a deep breath, exhaled, and met his eyes. "Okay."

Spike blew out a stream of smoke, then drawled "Not your usual style. Isn't she a bit ... bland?"

I think I can I think I can. "Some people LIKE vanilla!"

"Weak. First, don't put yourself down. Second, you're defending instead of attacking. Don't give ground, take it. Again.

"Aren't you a bit... bland?"

"Only to jaded tastebuds."

"Better. 'What's a pretty thing like you doing with this wanker?'"

"Um..." she caught his eye and rushed on "Playing croquet, mostly."

"Bit random, but it'll do."

After about an hour, Willow had 'won' all her books. Spike stretched and put out his last cigarette. "Not that this hasn't been a little slice of heaven, pet, but I must go. Reach me an ankle."

Willow glumly stretched out her foot. Spike pushed up the jeans leg, then hissed. The ankle was bright red and swollen. "What happened?"

Willow tried to pull her leg back, but Spike wouldn't let go. "Ouch! I think I landed wrong in those stupid heels."

"If we keep chaining you, you're going to lose a foot. Hmm." He released her, stood, pulled on a shirt and his duster, and walked to the door. Then he paced back and looked down at her.

"Witch, I'm going to leave you loose. If you aren't here when I come back, or if you make any attempt of any sort to attack me, I'm going to kill an entire troop of Girl Guides and FedEx their hearts to the Watcher. Do I make myself clear?"

Willow met his eyes; he was smiling, but there was no warmth in the smile. "Yes, perfectly clear. I promise "-- he arched an eyebrow -- "I mean, I won't try to escape. Or attack you."

"Good. Oh, write another set of letters while I'm gone; I'll check them when I get back."

He turned on his heel and left; the deadbolt shot home.

Chapter 8

When Spike returned, Willow was tucked up in bed, surrounded by sheets of paper and open books. Hearing him enter, she looked up, blushed, and tidied the paper to one side.

"Um. I wrote the letters. See. Here they are." She held up one stack of paper, looking rather like a puppy hoping for a treat.

Spike's eyes narrowed. "So I see." He closed the door, locked it, and strode to the bed. "What are these?" He snatched up the papers she wasn't offering and stared at them. Complete gibberish.

"Perl code. See? I don't have my laptop, so I thought I could work out the examples in longhand, then test them later."

Spike studied the papers again. They contained a weird mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. They could be Perl, Hindu, or Fyarl for all of him. He looked at the witch again. She looked embarrassed. Was this her usual shyness, or was she hiding something? His first impulse was to confiscate the lot; then again, this would involve admitting that he didn't know what she'd done. Damn.

He scanned her face again. She looked back, eyes wide and innocent. She was up to something.

Spike racked his brains, but couldn't think of any serious damage she could do using paper alone. He was more certain than ever that handing over the much-desired computer would be a mistake. Possibly even his last.

The witch wasn't herself dangerous -- at the moment -- but the Slayer and the Watcher were in a different league entirely. They would certainly come running if he gave the girl half a chance to call.

Which was why her letters would carry a Los Angeles postmark, not Montreal. Let the busybodies comb Angel's back yard for the girl. Let the Poof waste his time on a cold trail. He'd have a merry old chase; might even muss that artfully dishevelled hair.

Spike gave back the stack of papers and accepted the letters in return, then sat in the armchair and read. Dear Buffy, I miss you, but I'm glad I left town for awhile. I've been doing a lot of thinking, mostly about you. I hope you're making your usual dent in the undead population.

Very funny, Red.

I was in the underground mall the other day ...

Spike looked up. "Nice try, pet." He threw the letters back in her face. Unfortunately, being flat, they flew into the air instead of hitting her, but at least he'd made the gesture. He stood up.

"Write those again, without all the lovely local detail. The Slayer doesn't care what you think of Montreal. In fact, she doesn't much care what you're doing, does she?"

The witch flared red. "Buffy cares a lot about me!"

Ah. That smarted. "Yes. So much that she didn't notice when you wasted nearly to a thread over the wolf, or became so desperate that you cast half-baked spells to get him back."

The witch took a deep breath, then spoke. "Unlike you, the Dr. Laura of the vampire set?"

Much better. "I see you've taken our lessons to heart, pet. Save the defiance, and write me a nice chatty letter that could have come from anywhere. Iowa. Vienna. Tibet. Then do it again. Three times, in fact."

The redhead gave him another would-be lethal glare. There's fire there, no doubt. The trick is to channel it. Spike smiled sweetly and sat down to wait.

"The faster you finish, Red, the more time you get out of your cage."

The second set of letters passed inspection. He stood, folded them, tucked them into a duster pocket, and offered the girl his arm. "Will you walk?"

She scowled. "Do I have a choice?"

"Now and again, luv. Are you choosing to stay here?" He made as if to turn, and was, as he expected, interrupted.

"No. I'm coming."

#####

From the diary of Willow Rosenberg (decrypted) perl -pi.dos -e 's/\cM$//' index.html I'm not sure who I am any more. I can't be Research Girl, or Net Girl, or even Witch Girl -- Spike saw to that when he left my Book of Shadows behind. Buffy could kick some ass, Giles could think his way out, but I'm useless here. Hence this diary. It's based on a lot of assumptions -- that Spike lets me live, that he sets me free after a year, that he doesn't suspect what I'm up to, that he lets me keep these papers -- which puts it out on the pretty thin end of the probability tree. But it's the best I can do for now. I'm going to write down everything I can find out about vampires. If I can ever get these notes into Giles's hands -- I don't trust the Council any more -- they might save some future Slayer's life. Which isn't useless at all. Spike says everybody needs a credible threat, and I suppose this is mine. Spike can't read this, I'm pretty sure. He thinks it's a Perl script. The first couple of lines are valid Perl, just in case. The rest is rot13, with random characters thrown in for confusion. I do have to be brief. Even Spike won't believe a 5-page Perl script. perl -0777 -pe 's{/\*.*?\*/}{}gs' foo.c Last note I complained about all the girls I wasn't. Apparently Spike has the same perception; he seems to be trying to turn me into Vampire Girl. Not literally, so far anyway. I suppose it's a compliment, in a left-handed Hellmouthy sort of way. So, VG is supposed to mouth off. Not mouthing off is a sign of weakness. Weakness gets you attacked. Note: If this is true for real vampires as well, then Buffy's sarcasm may actually be part of what makes her so effective.

Chapter 9

Willow took Spike's arm and set out for the wide world. She was mildly surprised that he hadn't required her to change, but was grateful to escape the stilettos. In fact, if she had anything to say about the matter, those shoes would be required wear in all maximum-security prisons, and seen nowhere else.

They walked back down to the tunnels and merged into the late-evening crowds. This time, Spike didn't seem to have any destination in mind. They were drifting with the crowds.

They passed a small cafe. "Want something to eat, Pet?"

"Please."

They sat down and accepted menus. They were the only customers, being too early for the club crowd, too late for the pre-movie crowd.

"I'll have an ale. You?"

"Mmm. A Diet Coke and the salade aux crevettes, please."

Spike repeated the order in French. When the waitress had gone, he cocked an eyebrow. "What, not milk? You could have had something stronger, you know."

"I'm under age."

"Not in Quebec."

Willow bit her lip. Then she decided to say what she was thinking for once. "Thank you, I only drink with friends." Oh, God, what if he gets mad?

Spike merely said "Very sensible. Does rather limit the opportunities, though. Especially for the next few months."

The food came quickly, and Willow happily tucked into her salad. She looked up to see Spike watching her and hastily returned her gaze to her plate. She could feel the blood rushing into her face. This is really weird.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice from behind her. "Good evening, William. What brings you to our city?"

Willow looked up. Spike's face had lost all expression. If he weren't a vampire, I'd say he'd gone white. "Good evening, François."

"I asked a question."

"Sorry, thought you were making small talk. Missed poutine, of course. How are you?"

"I am well. Some of my friends are ... less than amused. You haven't introduced me. American manners, no doubt."

She felt a cold hand grab her wrist hard under the table. He let that slide? What's up? "Didn't think you'd be interested."

The voice moved into Willow's line of sight, between her and Spike. As she'd suspected, it belonged to a vampire. This one had jet-black hair and was tall, slender, and wearing an exquisitely tailored gray suit. He leaned toward Willow, cutting off her view of Spike, and traced the line of her necklace with one cold finger. "This makes her of great interest. Her name is?"

Spike's fingers made a deeper dent in her wrist. Oh, God, now I have to be rude. I think polite would be smarter... "My name is Willow. And I'll thank you to keep your hands to yourself."

The next instant, she was yanked to the floor, and one hard hand was on the back of her neck, forcing her face downward.

"Apologize. Now." Spike emphasized each word with a push to her head.

She stammered out "I'm sorry", then was silenced by a second hand clamped across her mouth. "As you can see, François, she's not ready for public appearances. I would not have brought her to your attention, given the choice. I apologize humbly for her indiscretion. She will suffer for it."

Spike being humble? I'm going to faint. Wait a minute... suffer? "I shall not interrupt you, then." Willow watched his polished black loafers stride away. A hard yank on her hair collected her thoughts.

"We're leaving. Now." Spike pulled her to her feet with another yank on her hair, flung a handful of cash on the table, grabbed her wrist, and dragged her to the door. Willow followed, running to keep up with him.

When they were outside, she said "What was that all--"

"Silence."

"But..."

"Shut up NOW." And he grabbed the chain and twisted it. She gasped for air, and he let go.

They walked to the Metro stop in silence, boarded the train, and sat down. Willow stole a sideways glance at Spike's face; he glared back at her. How dare he? I was doing what he taught me to do!

They left the train at their stop, then walked silently through the tunnels and back to the apartment. Spike preceded Willow up the stairs, keeping that iron grasp on her wrist.

After he opened the door, Spike threw Willow across the room, then stalked up to where she was lying against the wall. He had dropped his human mask, and his soft, emotionless voice was colder than her fear.

"I suggest that you give me a very good reason why I shouldn't kill you now, then send your head to François as a partial apology. And DON'T mention that bloody tape." His control cracked a moment, then returned.

Willow, white as death, lifted her chin and spat out one sentence. "I. did. what. you. told. me. to. do."

Spike slapped her hard across the face. "I didn't tell you to mouth off to the Master's right hand!"

Willow rubbed her cheek. "What did you tell me, then?"

He grabbed both of her shoulders. "Why did you bloody think I grabbed your wrist?"

"Because I wasn't being rude enough."

Spike raised both hands to his head. "What have I done to deserve this?" He slammed a fist into the wall next to Willow's head; she flinched away.

Spike froze, eyes flaming golden. Then he whirled and left the room, locking the deadbolt behind him.

Willow stayed next to the wall, breathing deeply, until she heard his footsteps fade. Then she slowly pulled herself to her feet and went to the bathroom. Her cheek was a brilliant red, and her wrists were beginning to swell. She bathed her face and wrists in cold water.

I nearly died. Again.

##### Diary of Willow Rosenberg (decrypted) perl -i.bak -p \ -e 's#title>#title>WR: #i' *.html My last note was based on partial information. There are some vampires to whom one must be rude. Other vampires demand politeness. No, I have no idea how to tell them apart. And I found this out the hard way. And I was doing what I was supposed to do, damn it. There is also somebody called "The Master" in Montreal. I don't think it can be the same Master as in Sunnydale -- Buffy pulverized him. I can't be sure about that, though. I wish I were a real anthropologist. No. I wish I were at home, coping only with drunken fraternity boys and weekly Apocalypses.

Just as Willow finished the last line, the door swung open. It was Spike. He had resumed his human facade, but there was a splash of blood on his shirt. He killed somebody else because he was mad at me. One more stain on my soul.

"It seems I have a toy to correct."

Willow sat up straight in the armchair. "That was in public, remember?"

"Your behavior in public was not acceptable. There are consequences."

"But..."

"Come here."

Willow froze, not intending defiance, but too frightened to move.

Spike grabbed her arm and dragged her over to the bed. "That wasn't a request."

Willow tried to yank her arm free, and found herself flat on her back, with a golden-eyed vampire straddling her hips with his knees and holding her shoulders down. Oh, my God. She lay perfectly still. Fear attracts predators. Calm.

Golden eyes stared into green. Willow held her breath; Spike stayed still as ice, as still as his own heart. Spike's eyes drifted down from Willow's face to her throat. The moment stretched on long past bearing.

Spike released Willow's shoulders and sat back. Willow slowly let the air out of her lungs. It seemed she'd get to take that next breath after all. Breathing was nice.

Spike leaned back into Willow's face, hands gripping the bedclothes beside her shoulders, the gold of his eyes slowly drowning in blue.

"Don't. Push."

Willow swallowed. "I wasn't--"

He leaned even closer, nose an inch from hers. "I said, 'Come here'."

Willow nodded. "Sorry. I'm really sorry. I thought---"

"Don't."

She lay still. More time passed. Spike stayed in her face. Let him do the talking.

An expression she couldn't read flickered across his face. Suddenly the tension drained from his shoulders and body. He sat back, still resting his weight on her hips, and broke the silence.

"I did teach you to bloody mouth off. I also told you there was a fine line to walk, and you bloody crossed it by furlongs. And you could not possibly have picked a worse person to do it with."

Willow looked back into his eyes and let the silence linger, afraid to say the wrong thing.

Spike sighed. "And you had no way of knowing that. Which doesn't change the consequences one damned bit."

Willow bit her lip.

"Don't do that, it's distracting. Sometimes it pays to be pushy. Sometimes it pays to be polite. It always pays to know the difference between the two."

Willow swallowed. "How do I know?"

He sighed again. "Follow my lead. I'll kick you if you should get in somebody's face; otherwise, assume you're on what passes for your best behavior." He rose from the bed, releasing Willow.

"It's been one Hell of a night. Turn in, Red." He flicked off the light, undressed, and lay down beside her. Willow stayed awake, staring into the dark.

Chapter 10

Spike awoke to a hand on his shoulder. He sat up and grabbed the attacker by the throat.

It was the witch, of course. He let go, and she gasped for air.

"Not smart, Red. Next time, try talking. What's the rush? Couldn't wait to see my face?"

She took a deep breath, exhaled, calmed herself, and met his eyes. For a moment, Spike caught a glimpse of the woman she would become, if she survived long enough. She rushed on, pausing only to gulp breaths of air.

"Listen, and don't interrupt. Because if you do... I probably won't get to start again, and this is important. For you, not just me.

She gulped a breath and continued, staring through Spike rather than at him. "This isn't working. Twice so far, you've told me what to do, I've done it, and then you've exploded. First in the bar, when I didn't speak until spoken to, and then last night, when I was rude against my own better judgment.

Her voice rose as her anger gathered force. "Each time, you gave me a simple baby rule. 'Mind your manners.' 'Be rude.' And each time the baby rule made me do the wrong thing. And now you have a new baby rule: 'Don't be rude, unless I kick you.'

"That won't work. Because the next time I'm in public, I'll probably be polite, then you'll kick me, then I'll be too rude, then the next thing I know I have fangs in my face. Again.

"I'm not a baby, and this isn't a baby world. Tell me the real rules, or just leave me here to rot."

After finishing her speech, the girl took another deep breath, then met his eyes again, looking anxious.

He let a small smile escape him. Not bad. There is a backbone there, after all. If I pushed just a bit, she'd collapse. But that would be boring. He stood up and stretched, to give himself time to think. Willow blushed and turned away.

"The problem, luv, is that I've been a vampire for 126 years, and that doesn't exactly lend itself to explanation. I can't give you those years. I could give you the fangs "-- she shuddered -- "but the rest comes from experience.

"Go take your shower, and I'll think."

Willow grabbed her green minidress, shoes, and underwear and scurried off to the bathroom.

#####

I didn't think I could confront Spike, but I did. And he listened. After he stopped strangling me, anyway. She caught sight of herself in the mirror. Her cheek was yellow; she raised a hand to touch it, and gasped. The flesh of the wrist was ringed by a deep black bruise where Spike had grabbed her. Another injury for her collection. She rotated her hand cautiously, and decided nothing was actually broken. She sighed and began undressing. Hot water wouldn't cure all ills, but it was the best medicine she had available.

After showering, Willow pulled her underwear and dress on. She frowned at the stilettos. If I hadn't picked a dress, I might have been able to slip the sneakers by him. If he hadn't insisted on a mini, my shoes wouldn't show. Oh, and if my grandmother had a PCMCIA slot, she'd be a laptop. She left the bathroom, barefoot.

Spike had dressed in jeans and a clean T-shirt and was sitting on the bed, lighting a cigarette.

"Have a seat, pet." He patted the bed beside him.

She sat in the armchair, facing him. He quirked an eyebrow, but didn't argue.

"The simplest way to put this is that there's a generation gap. Not based on age, but on attitude." He paused and took a long pull from the cigarette, then exhaled.

"The only vampires you've really met -- socially, anyway -- are Peaches and me, right?"

Willow nodded. I am NOT mentioning vamp-me. "And Harmony, I guess."

Spike snorted. "Leave her out of it. Anyway, the vampires you know made our peace with change a long time ago. You ask me, the 1890s were dark and smelly, and the music sucked. The Poof would say much the same about the 1700s."

He leaned a little toward her; she forced herself not to retreat. "Vampires like us -- or the ones you'd meet at the bar -- don't much care about age. Oh, we don't pay a lot of heed to fledglings, but anybody who's lasted more than a couple of decades probably has some sense. Good company matters, not when you joined the party. Weaklings and cowards are boring. Fools die young."

"Then there's the other set, the traditionalists. They think the world's gone steadily downhill since their time, whenever that was. All that matters to the trads is age -- the older the vampire, the more worthy of respect. Some cobwebby old fossil can have never had an idea since 1659, and be a very big cheese in their world. They wear modern dress to blend in, but they don't like it."

Spike took another drag on the cigarette, then ground it out on the floor. "Sunnydale is pretty much my kind of town. Charleston is for trads. Montreal is split. The two sets of us ignore each other as much as possible. I hadn't planned on introducing you to the trads. It was bloody appalling luck that threw one in your way."

He waited until she looked at him, then held her gaze. "So. With my lot, act intelligent, a bit cheeky, but bear in mind that you're mortal, which makes you both bottom dog and disposable." His face became grim. "With the trads, and I hope to Hell you won't need this information, grovel. They expect it."

Willow absorbed this. "How do I tell the difference?"

Spike shrugged. "You can't. Follow me. If I start talking like a bloody toff, you do the same. Got it?"

She nodded.

Spike chucked her under the chin. "If you want to go out, best go cover up that bruise. Makes you conspicuous."

I suppose an apology would have been too much to hope for. She walked back to the bathroom and made herself up. After that, feeling daring, she put on socks and her sneakers. Spike said nothing, but simply offered his arm, which she took, and they left the apartment.

After locking the outside door, Spike turned to her.

"Red?"

"Yes?"

"What do you want to do this evening?"

Willow raised her head in shock. "I get to pick?"

His face seemed serious. "Yes. Within reason."

Willow thought. "Are there any touristy parts of Montreal? Non-vampiry touristy parts that are open at night, I mean? Because I spend enough time with vampires -- oh, dear, I shouldn't have said that, but you know what I mean..."

Spike was amused. "You don't want to go shopping? Or to a movie?"

"If I get to pick, I want to see something about Montreal that I haven't seen yet; make it more like a visit, and less like... well, less like what it is."

Spike pursed his lips and thought. "We could go to the Boulevard St-Laurent -- that stays open later than almost any other part of town. Or there's the Parc du Mont-Royal, which has a pretty good view of the city. Can't promise there'll be no vampires, though; late hours, you know..."

Why is he being so nice? "Let's go to the park; I've been indoors forever."

They headed for the Metro. After riding a few stops, they got off and began walking toward the park. The neighborhood around it was funky and fun, full of well-kept old houses and interesting stores. When they reached the park proper, they entered the gates and sauntered up the dirt walking path leading to the top. The path was not well-lit; there were dark patches between the lit areas. For once, Willow was glad to be accompanied by a vampire. At least the scariest thing in the park is on my side... sort of. In one clearing, signs stapled to the trees advertised a drum jam; Willow thought wistfully of Oz, then suppressed the thought and walked on.

About halfway up the plateau there was a viewing area, complete with coin-operated telescopes. They stopped and looked out over the city. It was a clear, moonless night; the city lights below echoed the stars above, with the moving lights on the highways weaving a counterpoint.

Willow turned to Spike. "Wow! Gorgeous, isn't it!"

He looked down at her upturned face, smiling slightly. "Yes."

Willow crimsoned. He's putting me on! "You don't have to butter me up. I know I'm not gorgeous."

He frowned. "What utter rot. I know what a beautiful woman looks like -- and tastes like, for that matter -- and I know what I see."

Willow turned away. I am not falling for this. "Don't bother."

He gripped her shoulders. "Willow."

Oh, my God, he used my name. She kept her face averted. "Yes?"

"If you won't believe the bare truth, believe this." He stressed each word. "I have a reputation to keep up. I took you to meet my friends. If I didn't think you'd be a credit to me, you'd have rotted in the apartment. You did me proud."

Her shoulders relaxed, and she stole a glance backward. "Really?"

"Really. Martin wanted to take you off my hands."

She whirled. "You wouldn't!"

He smiled. "Nope. Don't owe Martin any favors, for one thing."

I am SO not going there. She pointed. "What's that building over there, the one with the searchlight?"

Spike followed her arm, then shrugged. "I have no idea. Don't really spend a lot of time here; you wanted a non-vampiry part of Montreal, remember?"

They looked out over the city in a surprisingly companionable silence. Willow shivered; the night was cold, and she didn't have a jacket.

Spike broke the spell. "Well, that's Montreal by night. What next?"

"Can we go to the Boulevard St-Laurent? That sounded like fun."

"As you wish."

She flashed him a startled look. Has he seen The Princess Bride? His face, as so often, was unreadable.

They set off down the path, Willow deep in thought. Why is he being so nice this evening? There's got to be a mean reason for it. A group of happy college students came up, arguing enthusiastically in French. Willow's eyes swam with unshed tears. The park seemed determined to confront her with reminders of the life she ought to be living.

A little later, a pale-powdered girl with dyed black hair, dripping black chiffon and silver jewelry, walked up alone, disdaining their glances. Willow looked anxiously back.

"I wish I could warn her. It isn't safe to go out alone!"

Spike's lips twitched. "Shouldn't worry, luv."

"Well, I know you won't worry, but I do. Not that it does any good..." She looked angrily at Spike. "What are you laughing at?"

"You, pet."

"What?!?" Then it hit her. "Ohhhh..."

"Bit tacky, really, but surprisingly effective. Wouldn't recommend she go to Rafe's tarted up like that, though."

Goth vampires. Now I've seen everything.

#####

They reached the Metro stop, caught the train, and sat down. They had the car to themselves. Spike leaned back against the seat and drifted off into a brown (red?) study. He was interrupted by an elbow nudging his ribs.

Without opening his eyes, he said, "Don't. What is it?"

"What's your sneaky plan?"

"Which one?"

"Why are you being so nice?"

He smiled, eyes still closed. "If I told you, it wouldn't be sneaky, would it?"

She sighed. "I mean, since Sunnydale, you've been treating me like a dog. Do this, go there, sit, go to sleep. Today you're letting me make choices. Why?"

He opened his eyes and watched her face. Let her think again, damn it. "Hadn't anything better to do? Don't need to hunt, thought you could use an airing, why not? Unless you dislike freedom, even in small doses?"

Red hair flew as she shook her head vigorously. "No, no, please don't stop."

Not quite the context I'd hoped for, but definite progress. He kept his face grave. "So, what are your plans?"

"Let's just wander."

The car reached their stop, and they climbed up to the surface street. The girl gasped at the spectacle. Not much like Sunnydale, is it, pet?

The Boulevard St-Laurent was a kaleidoscope of storefronts, all eagerly patronized by exquisitely-dressed insomniacs. The street was full of revelers, shoppers, and sightseers. The redhead began walking, and Spike kept step. Suddenly, the witch spotted a magic and occult goods store.

"Oh, look!" She dropped Spike's arm and sprinted toward the window.

"Wow, a real orichalcum chalice! I've only read about those! And mandrake! That's hard to grow!" She started for the door, only to be brought up short by a hand around her bruised wrist.

"Ouch!" She tried to free herself, but the grip intensified.

"No."

The witch whirled. "Oh, please?" The green eyes were wide and pleading.

"No."

"I prom-"

"Within reason, I said. This is bloody far beyond it. I'd sooner hand you a pint of nitroglycerine."

The animation vanished from her face. The happy, unselfconscious girl had been replaced by the prisoner.

"Oh, bloody hell." I'm going to regret this. "We can look. But we are NOT shopping, and you are not to open a single book, do you hear me?"

She nodded, face still stricken. She walked into the store, paced once around the shelves, and paced out again.

Broke the spell. Sod. She walked politely beside Spike, nodded when he pointed out a mime being mugged, and said "Ooh" when he indicated a fire juggler.

This won't do. Ah, there's a diversion. "Want to look for shoes, pet?" He indicated a store half a block ahead.

"More stilettos? No, thank you." She didn't look at him, just kept walking.

"I was thinking of a compromise, actually. Something between Kitten With A Whip and Apprentice Nun."

"Okay."

They went in. Spike pointed out a pair of T-strap pumps. The girl nodded politely. If she insists, I suppose I can live with flats. He indicated a pair, and she said "Ah." Growing suspicious, Spike pointed out some marabou mules, and she said "Very nice."

Fine. If she won't choose, I will. "Do you have these " -- indicating some kitten-heeled patent-leather pumps -- "in a size 6?" The salesman returned. Willow tried the shoes on, agreed that they fit, and waited while he paid.

They left the store and walked on in silence. Finally, Spike lost his temper.

"What the Hell is your problem?"

Without looking at him, she said, in a flat voice, "Nothing. I'm fine."

"Don't give me that. You're acting like I killed your bloody puppy."

Still staring ahead, the girl said wistfully, "I never had a puppy. Even Angel only killed my fish. But it wasn't really him, it was the bad him, and I try not to remind him about it, because he's depressed enough already."

The logic train just left the station again. He seized desperately on the only part of the comment that made any sense. "Do you want a puppy?" What the Hell am I saying?

"No, thank you." Again, she did not meet his eyes, just kept walking.

"Then what do you want?" He grabbed her shoulders and turned her toward him.

She raised her eyes. "I want to go home."

The bitch set me up. He dropped her shoulders as if he'd embraced a crucifix. "Not an option, luv."

"I know." She began walking again.

I will not be played.

They walked together in silence, ignoring the swirl of club-hoppers around them.

"Spike?"

"Yes?" His voice was cold.

Her voice was quavering, as if near tears. "Are you planning on ever letting me go home?"

That was the last straw. "No. I am sodding keeping you alive because it amuses me to nursemaid a skinny child when I could be a very happy lone wolf. How damned many times do I have to remind you that if I wanted you dead, you would be?"

She nodded. "Okay. I just wondered."

After another silent block, they reached a drugstore. Spike turned in, and Willow followed. He cocked an eyebrow. "I expect you've purchases of your own." He handed her a ten and wandered off to the First Aid section. Willow blushed, then hurried off to make the purchases he'd hinted at. He made his own selections, then waited for her at the door.

"Anything else?"

"No. But thank you."

"Your most obedient, madam." And he swept her a mock bow.

When he straightened, Willow looked anxious again. "Spike? I'm starving."

"Nothing easier. Indian, Chinese, French, Serbo-Croatian?"

"Whatever's closest."

"Whatever" turned out to be a small pizza place. The waitress seated them, handed them menus, and wandered off.

Spike scanned the beer list, then looked at the girl. "Well, witch?"

"I'd like a small cheese pizza and a diet Coke."

"Oh, for Hell's sake, have what you'd like."

She raised her chin. "I like diet Coke."

The waitress returned. "Une St-Ambrose, un cidre, un Diet-Coke, et une pizza margarita, s'il vous plait."

"Right away, sir." Smart-ass.

She was as good as her word, returning swiftly bearing Coke, beer, pizza, and another glass full of something foamy.

Willow looked suspiciously at the extra glass. "What's that?"

"Hard cider. I expect you'd like it. Unless you're too busy defending your virtue."

When she thought he wasn't looking, she took a small sip. The verdict must have been positive, since she alternated sips of cider and Coke, and had finished half the glass before she announced that she was ready to go.

Spike made no comment, but merely settled the bill and stood. "And now?"

"I'm really pooped. Could we go back now?"

"Certainly."

They retraced their steps to the Metro, boarded an empty car, and sat. The witch's head drooped, then rose again, then fell onto her shoulder. Before long, her entire body began to slide sideways on the seats. She'll slip onto the floor any moment. Spike reached out his right arm and pulled her to him, nestling her head into his shoulder. She murmured sleepily, then subsided.

The stops ticked by until they reached theirs. He shook Willow gently. "End of the line, pet."

She did not move. He shook harder, then sighed. No head for alcohol, these modern women. He picked up the carrier bags from the shoe shop and drugstore, then gathered Willow into his arms and carried her off the train, grateful there were no witnesses he need kill. She lay boneless and trusting against his shoulder as he carried her through the tunnels to the street and back to the apartment. She never awoke, even when he shifted her to free his hands and unlock the door.

He carried the girl in, then deposited her on the bed. She sighed, then curled into a ball. He gently tugged her sneakers off and dropped them on the floor. Spike locked the door, then looked down at the exhausted girl. What the Hell was I thinking? Sod that; what am I thinking now?

Finding no acceptable answer, he undressed and got into bed beside her.