The Ghost and Ms. Burkle

Author: Kat Leon

Beta: many thanks to Addie
E-Mail: private
Rating: rated "R" for language, violence and mature situations
Spoilers/Timeline: Written after "Hellbound" Angel Season 5
All characters belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No copyright infringement is intended.

Part One "The World According to Fred"

In the realm of the magical, rules about stealing don't apply, Winifred Burkle reasoned.

After days under the clinical lights of the laboratory, turning the amulet over in her hand, querying herself on its substance, its nature, it had lost whatever novelty it once held for her. I'm missing the forest for the trees here, she thought, happily realizing that a forgotten metaphor had returned to her vocabulary. She slipped the gem into her lab coat pocket instead of to the security of its metal safe – although how "safe" anything could really be around here was debatable – feeling oddly untroubled for a first-time pilferer. She'd never even joined the neighborhood kids in pinching candy bars from the corner market, for goodness' sake! Besides, she needed to test her theory. Treat the paranormal as an ill-equipped science project and it would likely turn out as well as her poor lab partner's volcano did at her grade school Science Fair. Well, maybe not covering her with fluorescent pink slime, but along the same lines of Not Well Thought Out. Whatever the amulet equivalent would be of Gone Wrong.

The scientist-turned-pickpocket arrived at her new apartment building fumbling for keys. She forced her mind to recall that it was the newest one on her ring, the one with more steel. The one that did not feel like it belonged to her. Since her firm's unexpected promotion to finer digs, her boss had gently suggested that she too seek greener pastures—not in a "you're fired" sense, more in a "you have no life" sense. Living at her place of employment had made her work feel less like a job, her co-workers more like family – or at least college dorm mates. She could consume herself comfortingly there; make her self at home with a microscope instead of a television remote. Since her rescue from enslavement- of both the mental and physical kind- she had started living more like one of the people. But she was no less a stranger to their habits and customs. I'm like the lady with the gorillas, only who's the real beast in this scenario, she thought wryly.

Filled with the limitless possibility of her freedom when she hit the apartment lobby, she would sometimes shiver with the boundless anticipation. Her boundaries were expanding, making room for the self that was slowly emerging.

You have no new messages, her voice mail announced.

Fred knew she should be grateful since a call would mean an emergency, but the soundless room depressed her. Or maybe it was the air pressure. All the units were soundproofed and her door hissed shut like the seal of a pneumatic chamber. She flipped on her new laptop computer, proud of her savvy for installing the satellite radio that finally worked after a frantic call to a tech Wicca for help. Mellow piano filled the room and it all looked quite natural.

She had entered the awkward part of every evening, when she didn't feel as if she'd really come home and could find no place for herself. No message would stop that feeling. She'd chased her mother off the phone the previous night, rejected her parents' offer to come pick out curtains. In her parents' world, curtains would keep her safe and sound, would announce her ownership to her own garret, and would keep her bound to reality - an awful lot of pressure to put on a couple of valances. "You're not talking about curtains, Mom. A few window treatments won't change that you're worried about me, but I'm fine. I like it here. Yes, I'm still staying. Love y'all."

No matter how many testaments to the happy ordinary her family and friends pressed upon her, like the gift of the atomic clock she never used, only more time would cure the waves of unease that periodically fell over her. That's why the clock was such a painful gift. It was an ever-present reminder that she was the contrary anomaly in this life experiment. While she stood still against the tide screaming, hurry! Hurry! Go faster; so anxious to put distance between herself and her former life, her fellow humans were loath for time to pass. She had spent these last years observing them for clues on rebuilding her life. For all the upbeat psychobabble about moving on, people longed for what they missed, what they remembered as perfect, a private box of happiness from which they could pull out a better time to wrap themselves in and hide under. The time had passed, but she had lost it rather than gained it. Five years went by and all I did was become nuttier than a fruitcake, I went backwards. What I feel when I leave my apartment every day must be like what the Neanderthal felt when they made fire. No doubt who's the beast here, no doubt at all.

"Fuck it," she said aloud, looking around daringly, but no one scolded her. She'd had enough analysis for one night. Then, remembering the analysis on the amulet that she promised she would do at home, she guiltily fished the jewel out of her pocket and placed it on the desk. Flipping off the computer, the piano music died instantly. Time for sleep.


Alone in her bed, her conscience nagged at her about the amulet. Her heart raced as she lay in bed, her mind swarming with a jumble of reasons why it should have stayed in the lab. She'd break it. Or lose it. It would get stolen. It would become more an art piece than a serious subject of research. Me, this is myself again, I'm so glad to meet you, Fred thought. You were always careful and always a disciplined student. These are not problems. Would being an overeager guest to her self ever stop? She endeavored to make a good introduction, to neither negate nor exaggerate her strengths and weaknesses. But she'd forgotten how she had lost her perspective on the amulet and thus why it found its way into her pocket.

A conversation from earlier that day rewound in her mind. Spike had dropped into the lab unannounced, uninvited. But then, he didn't need invitations to enter rooms any more.

"I don't think there's a wind-up to it. I doubt it's going to pop open and play a wee jig."

She dropped the amulet on the examination table. He winced at the sound.

"Oh! You felt something then, when I dropped it? Can you describe what exactly—?" She reached for her clipboard.

He put his hand up. "Save it. Didn't get any creepy crawlies or ice picks through my skull, if that's what you're after. But since my existence, pathetic as it may be, is tied to that fancy bit of glass, I'd appreciate you treating it with a little less rough-and-tumble."

She patted the amulet. "This table is very safe, it may sound noisy when you drop things on it but the metallurgy is completely stable, it was designed specifically for experiments, for substances much more fragile than the amulet. You've got nothing to worry about."

He looked at her, amused. "I can see that I'm in the hands of a consummate professional."

Hearing the edge in his voice, she met his eyes. "Meaning?"

"Meaning that you're always at this here, aren't you, bent over tinkering away as if the whole secret of the world is going to spurt right out on that stable table of yours."

"I'm only trying to help you," she said softly.

"And I am trying to help you. You're always here, girl, your safe cubby where everything makes sense. Maybe it's time to get a change of scenery with it. Take you both out of your captivity."

She smoothed her lab coat and smiled, intrigued at where his mind was going. "What do you suggest?"

He leaned over to her conspiratorially. "Take it with you. Home. You've a home, don't you?"

She looked down. "Theoretically."

"So, there you go. Nice little antique might brighten up the place."

Realization crossed her face. "What are you up to? 'Nice little antique?' Which one are we talking about here, you or the amulet?"

Spike scowled and turned away from her. She readied herself for another barrage of wisecracks. But they didn't come.

"Every night you put your trinket back in its box and skip away, it isn't the only thing that gets left behind," he said bitterly. "I can't leave here anymore do you get it? I don't go bloody anywhere that it doesn't." He pointed accusingly at the amulet. "Damned if I know why, so you can sod the rest of your survey."

Fred put down her pen. "I thought you could go as far as the city limits."

He angrily kicked the metal waste can over with a crash. "Well, it's up and reshuffled the fucking cards on me, hasn't it, or switched bleeding games altogether! Seems that it's trial by fire all the way around these days and I get to learn as we go. Color. Me. Lucky," he spat, striding over to her. "What I want to know is what are you going to do about it? Leave me to rot in here night after night?"

The guilt for his still–intangible afterlife weighed on her. Weeks ago, he'd been gracious about her failed attempts to restore his body. How could she fault him for growing impatient, especially since he'd saved her life?

"What are you doing?" she murmured, moving away. He pulled her back with his most challenging glare.

"I believe the correct terminology, Professor, is goading you. I am goading you into bringing that amulet home and taking a crack at it with a fresh pair of eyes. And if you're a very good girl," he smirked. "A crack at yours truly."

She picked up her head and resolutely stuck out her chin. "Goading is a two-way street as I see it. You can do it and I can let you. Or I can choose not to let you. Or I can just do what I'm going to do regardless, a free-thinker unaffected by…goading."

"Sounds like there's more than two streets there, a whole intersection if you ask me…but since I'm the one tied to this thing, I'd like to know what you're doing. Keep me in the loop."

She considered it while she cleaned the fog he had created off her glasses. "I'll do it."

He blinked at her in surprise. "You will? You'll bring us home? Tonight?"

She nodded, choosing to sidestep the emotion he'd let her see. "You might be right. I've looked at the amulet nine ways to Sunday, hoping that… that it will just come to me. What we need to do next. Maybe a change of context would help."

All she could think of was how long it had been since she had brought a man home.

"Well, might as well get comfy. Nice digs, although you do give new cause for the word 'austere,' and this is from a crypt dweller. Ever think of a picking up a cheery flowerpot or bowl of fishies?"

Fred sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes. She could barely make out his filmy visage in the moonlight. "Nope," she said, a thrill coursing through her at the sound of his voice. "I killed things."

"Ah," he said rubbing his hands together. "Now we're talking. My kind of girl."

"No, I mean, I'd forget to water the plants, I'd get so focused on my work. Everything else kind of melted away. I couldn't stand to know that I had let some living thing die because I was…distracted."

"Damn lucky for me I'm already dead then, you might forget to feed me."

She laughed. "Not likely. You'd pester me into remembering."

"So this is bloody brilliant. You bring your work home with you and fall to sleep on the job?"

"If you hadn't noticed, I'm not sleeping. How could I, knowing that you'd enter stage right at any minute?"

"Must stop that then. Can't be predictable."

"I'm glad you're here. I can stop waiting for you and wondering when you're going to interrupt me. Again," she added pointedly. "Goodnight." She flipped her pillow over and lay back down.

"Oh, hold on now. Waiting, was she,she was waiting for me. With bated breath and the whole lot?"

She groaned. She had to be so aware of what she said to him. Spike made every word count and took equal calculation of others'. It was good for her, to work on her language skills, but she was too exhausted to care.

"You're always jumping in on me…I mean, you're always butting into…NO, what I want to say is, I knew I couldn't sleep until you came, so I, oh, no, I mean…"

"Pray, go on," he chuckled. " This is gorgeous."

"I can't believe I brought you here," she muttered into her pillow.

"So you knew what you were getting into?" he asked seriously. "Bringing the amulet with you?"

"What, getting you in the bargain? I'm not surprised. All your questions about when everyone was leaving, when we were coming back. What I want to know is, why me Spike? Why ask me to take you home?" she asked, trying to remain indifferent.

"You know of anyone else who'd have me?" he asked testily, and then softened. "You're the one who's going to save me. You're the best company of the lot. You'll get me sorted, I'll wager. My vitals, what they are plugging full speed ahead?"

She smiled in the darkness. "I still don't think I'm necessarily the right person for the job. I'm not all down with the magicks, not like some other folks."

"As far as I'm concerned, you're the best, the one, the only person for this job. You've already proven once that you've got the brains and the brawn to get me solid. You'll do it again." His earnestness touched her and she shivered beneath the covers.

Fred spoke to the shadows. "I need to prepare you. It could take some time, a really long time. Now that I know how much you're tied to the amulet, I need to break down its physical properties before I grasp its supernatural elements. Something about it could merge with carbon-based matter and anti-matter…or it could be about…-"

"It's about how long you want a roommate, pet, so put that on your slide and poke it." On that note, Spike disappeared. She tentatively lay back on the bed, but he did not speak to her again.

The next morning's sun struck unfamiliar angles of light in the room. Fred awoke more disoriented than she did most mornings, confused by the influx of light for 6 am. Her stomach sank with dread.

The clock confirmed her worst fears: 8:30!

"Damn it!" she burst out, looking around the room wildly. She threw the covers back, shivering in her cotton tank top and boxers. "I'm so late! How did it get to be so late?"

She whipped open her closet. Jeans and a flannel shirt, official uniform of the bleary-eyed graduate student, would have to do today. With any luck, she could find Angel, explain the germ of the plan she'd hatched, and beat a hasty retreat.

"Amazing things these clocks. I hear that if you set them, they give off a warning when it's time to rejoin the living. Never had much use for them myself, but what's your excuse?"

"I get up on my own, same time every day." She looked at the man hovering precariously over her corner rocking chair, his right ankle crossed over his left knee.

"You know," she thought aloud. "It could be one of the effects of the amulet, messing with the space-time continuum, or giving off low levels of electromagnetic energy which definitely affects sonar in bats, so it might also cause a person's body clock to go haywire…that's a place to start." She registered his balancing act. "Hey. You're rocking my chair."

"Do you like it?" Spike asked proudly. "Figured it out, oh, sometime around 3 am, after your snoring nearly sent me to the seventh ring of hell. Thought I'd better find a hobby quick or lose whatever sense I have left."

She pulled her thick dark hair through an elastic for a makeshift ponytail. "I don't snore."

"Tell me, how long ago did they have these flats soundproofed before you moved in? Did your reputation for imitating a bleeding freight train precede you?"

She pulled her jeans on over her shorts. "I know you're trying to stall me, but I don't have time to do this with you. I don't snore. Never have. Now I have to get to work."

Spike held his arms out. "Me, dead and awake? You, loud enough? Get it?" His lip curled cruelly. "When was the last time you kept a bloke long enough to tell you if you snored?"

She flashed him a cold look, pulling a soft blue flannel shirt over her tank top. She bit her lip. "If I want to start the day awful, I'll take the bus. I don't need you giving me a steaming heap of insult in my coffee." She stomped out of the room as he yelled, "Fred!"

He materialized in front of her and she walked right through him as she stalked to the kitchen.

"Hey now, that's uncalled for! I don't walk through you!" he protested.

"No, you'll just walk all over me if I let you." She prayed that she had remembered to buy French Roast but alas, the cupboard was bare. Fred slammed the cabinet door so hard she cracked one of its panes of glass. Shocked at her reaction, she brought her shaking hands to the coolness of the granite counter to steady herself.

He walked into the galley kitchen looking contrite, but she avoided his glance. "I'd like to cash in my 'get out of jail free card' here if I may."

She shook her head. "This wasn't well planned. It's my fault, I should have done better than this, should have thought it through more."

He held out his arms as if to be handcuffed. "Right then. Haul me back in, Warden. I've earned it."

Irritated, she swatted his joke away like a pesky insect. "You can't come here and just pick up my life like you know what it is, start shaking it and make all the pieces fly around! There have to be rules for how we treat each other. Why do you go out of your way to insult me when I'm trying to help you?"

Spike looked down and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his coat. "It wasn't really the insult you fancy it is. You're just not the sort to notch your bedpost, is all; you've a nice clean dance card." She folded her arms and cocked her head at him, resisted the urge to tap her foot.

When he spoke again, his voice sounded younger, less defensive. "If you must know, I saw myself in the harsh light of day, through your eyes. You slept so soundly," he said fondly, gazing at her. He caught himself and quickly continued.

"To see you frantic, in such a state to leave. You're not the only one who didn't think us through, love. Turns out, it doesn't matter if I'm lurking the halls of Evil Incorporated or twisting myself in knots over your chair. When you're gone, the lights go out."

It was his approximation of an apology. Her expression softened. "I was,…I am in a hurry, but not to get away from you. I have to tell Angel what I'm going to do with the amulet, and to prepare my lab for my absence."

"Absence? Taking me on safari are you?"

"I'm working here, with you. I'm not convinced the lab is the best place for either of us. There's something wrong there. I feel like I'm on display, performing science tricks for the crowd. It's eerie," she shivered.

"More than keeping a ghost under your pillow? You are twisted." He paused, wondering how to approach with her with a less pleasant subject. "You know, if your higher-ups want to know what you're doing, they'll find a way if they haven't already." He whirled his finger around the ceiling. "Whole place could be wired for sound for all you know."

Fred broke out in a grin. "Geez, you don't know me better than that? I've analyzed the structure of this entire building from head to toe. The soundproofing used in these walls is super spy quality. California was pretty conspiracy-happy during the commie years. New Yorkers have panic rooms, we," she gestured around her. "Have this."

She met his troubled gaze and read his fears there. "It isn't foolproof," she admitted. "But it will do. For now it will just have to do."

"What about Lord of the Broods? How will you suffer him when he finds that you lifted his Precious right from under his snout?"

Fred grabbed her keys off the counter. "I'll let you know."

Fred pulled down the street to the company's parking lot and met the kickstand of a motorcycle policeman. She saw the entire block around the WRH law offices surrounded by what looked like black SWAT vans and matching black-uniformed military with shoulder rifles and helmets. Wooden sawhorses barricaded the entrances. The private security team was on full red alert.

"Oh, crap!" she exclaimed out her open window.

The cop smiled at her. "No problem, miss. Just a minor gas leak, but they're taking all necessary precautions. I'll need to check your company badge, then I'll escort you to the temporary parking facility."

Fred's stomach sank. Her problems were just beginning. No doubt they'd found the amulet missing. To make things worse, she'd forgotten to recharge her cell phone and left the house before calling Angel. All she could do was run.

She burst into Angel's office and he put down the receiver of the phone. "Thank God. You scared us all to death. There's been a security breach. The amulet is missing. We went into the lab this morning…no amulet, no you, no answer at your apartment. We were frantic."

"Thank you," she beamed, momentarily forgetting that she was the cause of his distress.

"What's going on with you?" he frowned. "You were probably the last one here. Any ideas?"

"Uh, yup."

"Care to share?"

"Me. I took it home last night."

"You. You did what?" He tried to control his anger. "So that means…Did Spike come home with you, too?"

"Well. Yes. But before you go all post office on me…-"

"Postal," he corrected, rubbing his brow.

"Whatever. Let me show you the data." She turned from him and opened her backpack, pulled out a yellow legal pad full of notes.

"Fred, I don't want data…-"

She scanned over the notebook and flipped pages. "My theory is this. Here's this hugely powerful amulet that saved the world and fell out of the sky and now it sits there? Dormant? I think that something about this place is holding back its magic. I figured the best way to test the hypothesis would be on neutral ground." She looked up expectantly.

Angel drummed his fingers on the office table. "This idea came to you after weeks of research but last night out of the blue you decide, 'Tonight's the night I act on that hypothesis'?"

Her cheeks burned with embarrassment. "It didn't happen like that, I—…"

"I'll bet it didn't. In fact, I'll bet it isn't even your idea. You were conned. This isn't like you. I'm beginning to think it's the company you're keeping."

"What isn't like me? Me having an original thought once in awhile?

"To be so irresponsible!"

"Well, you're not the one who knows me anymore!" she shot back.

His lips parted open for a moment in pained surprise.

"I meant to say, you're not the only one who knows me any more," she amended.

"I think you said it exactly how you meant it," he replied quietly. "So what do you want from me? It looks like your mind is made up."

Fred could feel the chasm between them. How could she ever get back to where they had been?

"Buy me a little time with the guys so they don't wig out on me? Let them know that you're behind me on this?"

"But I'm not."

"So lie," she blurted, feeling the tears start. She took a deep breath to regain control. "They'll believe you if you tell them you trust me."

Angel grazed his palms on the edge of his desk. "I do trust you, I don't trust him."

"I trust anyone who's saved my life. Isn't that what we're about, not you carrying me over your shoulder every time, but me saving you back. Because that's what you do for someone you—"

"Do not say love. Not about Spike," he warned.

Angel looked into the face that he had adored for so long, partly because it could never deceive him. It didn't now. She remained quiet.

"No. No, no, no. This can't be happening. Do not tell me you love him. I will smash that amulet to bits if that's what it takes to keep you away from him. He is playing you and you!" he slammed his hand on the desk. "You are letting him pluck you string by string. When I think of all the souls he's destroyed…-"

"But you want to destroy his soul, because you have a grudge? Angel, there are all kinds of love, if you want to call it that, like yours for me. You gave me a chance. You brought me back here to make a difference, no matter what the others said about me."

"You were never evil just…-"

"Nuts? Loony? Crazy taco lady?"

"I was going to say traumatized. I knew you had goodness inside of you. I've known Spike for over a century and,…my jury's still out."

At that moment, Lorne breezed through into the office without knocking.

"So peanuts, the official word on the street is 'sewer gas leak,' say it with me now? I know, not very glamorous, but like I always tell my chorus line, there are no small parts, just the tiny actors who play them." He caught sight of their stony expressions and realized his interruption. "Brr, who opened the ole deep freeze in here? Let me go dig out an extra pair of mittens 'cause whew baby it is cold inside!"

"That's OK, I was just leaving," Fred mumbled, turning to zip up her backpack.

"You can pull the plug on today's PR machine, Lorne. We've found the amulet. Meet our security breach." Angel opened his palms in her direction.

Lorne's mouth gaped open. "Shame, sticky fingers! You had me fooled the whole time. This would've made a great 'Law and Order' ep."

"I have to go, I'll see you later," she said quietly, looking up at Angel and filled with disappointment.

Lorne glanced from Fred to Angel and back again. "Later in the, 'catch you later at the water cooler' later, or the, 'I'll let you buy me a drink later much later,' later?"

"Go on. Tell him," Angel prompted her.

"I'm taking a sabbatical, to work on the amulet at home," she told Lorne.

"With Spike, don't forget to mention that part," Angel added.

Lorne cocked a finger at him like a pistol. "And you're going for this idea 'cause it's brimming with oodles of tasty sense?"

Angel didn't take his eyes off Fred. "I trust her. She made a decision and I respect that. It was a hard decision to make. And she knows where to find me instantly should this backfire."

Her eyes widened and misted. Thank you, she mouthed.

Angel came from behind the desk and took her hand. "I run this firm, but I don't run your friends. I can't stop them from calling, visiting, camping outside your door, begging you to give up this crackpot scheme. I'll tell them to give you some space for a few days, but I can't hold them off forever. We worry about you. It's what we do. For someone we love."

The quick morning she'd planned to spend at work dragged through the better part of the day. Her lab associates were touchingly concerned and shocked to hear that she was taking a leave of absence and had many questions for how their various projects should continue – Knox especially.

"What do I do if someone asks me about M theory?" he asked miserably. "I'll think they're talking about chocolate covered candies."

"No you won't," she reassured him. "You'll tell them that 'it's the unknown eleven-dimensional theory whose low energy limit is the supergravity theory in eleven dimensions.' Or 'the unknown theory believed to be the fundamental theory from which the known superstring theories emerge as special limits.' Or call me. I'll give you my number."

"Can I call you, even if it isn't about space-time dimensions? What if it's about going out for coffee?"

Fred caught her breath. "I don't know how much time I'll have for goofing off, I'll still be working." She jotted her number on a post-it and handed it to him.

"I thought we were friends. Or at least on our way there," he said wistfully.

"Knox," she said. "I kind of need to take a break from the lab for a while. This has all gotten to be a lot for me, you know?"

"I hear you," he said. "That ghost, Spike? He has not let up on you. If you want, I could figure out some kind of containment mechanism."

"No," she answered. "That's sweet of you to offer, but he's held back from so much as it is. Containing whatever matter he has left would be cruel."

"I wasn't talking about his matter," Knox said lowly. "I was talking about his mouth."

Fred laughed. "I don't think he's going to be bothering the lab that much any more."

Knox gave her a searching look. "You've figured something out, haven't you?"

"I gotta go," she said without answering his question. "Good luck."

She marched out of the lab and straight into Wesley.

"Thank God, I thought I'd missed you. Angel tells me something about you taking the amulet because you think its magic is being blocked, and then I overhear one of the scientists saying that you're having a nervous breakdown. Whereas Harmony is under the impression you're suffering from chronic migraines."

"Wes, hi, um, listen to Angel, OK?" She linked arms with him and pulled him away from the lab entrance. "Walk with me. I'm trying to confuse the rumor mill. I don't want any of the other divisions to know too much about what I'm doing."

He stopped her and dropped her arm. "Is that what I am? Another one of the divisions?"

"No, of course not. But at this point, all I have is an untested hypothesis. And you know how I feel about those," she poked him lightly with the end of her pen cap in an attempt to joke.

"The description I believe you've used is that they 'totally suck,'" he said morosely. "But why didn't you talk to me about this first? You've made a rash decision. I can find another way and get you out of doing this."

Fred tapped her pen between her fingers, filled with irrational irritation. "I'm pretty much good with this way," she said coolly. "If you see Charles, would you tell him to call me if he has any questions? He's in court all day."

Wesley's expression of concern hardened. "I wish you the best," he said stiffly. "But I'd like to note for the record that your experiment fails from the worst sort of harebrained logic."

"I'll make a note of that," she sighed as she continued walking down the hall. "Thanks."

Before leaving for the day, Fred paid a quick visit to Cordelia's bedside, where her friend remained comatose and still. "You picked a great time to be unconscious,"Fred thought aloud. She tried to think what chain of events caused Cordy's condition, how long she had been this way, but Fred's mind went blank. She thought she recalled something about a hold-up at a store; some disturbed young man taking hostages, but the thought slipped away from her and a piercing headache took its place. Feeling her exhaustion, Fred chalked her poor memory up to hunger and sleepiness. By early evening, Fred reached her home at last and shut the door. She leaned back into it with a sigh of relief. For once, her apartment felt like the safe haven all homes should be.

Spike peeked his head around the corner. "Finally!" he shouted.

Fred put her hands up. "Spike please," she said. "I've had a bad day to like, the tenth power."

He relaxed into tenderness. "I'll take for granted that lingo means extreme. In that case, may I be the first to welcome you home."

"That's it?" She said in surprise. "No jokes? No jabs?"

"Kick a bird when she's down? Not my style," he smiled. "Well. Not anymore. I'm going to disappear for a bit, pet, leave you to your leisure."

She wondered what kind of mischief he could accomplish outside of her presence. "Please don't go all poltergeist on my neighbors," she pleaded. "They're nice people and they have to get up early."

"No worries." He disappeared; the one time he showed a side of himself that made her yearn for him to stay, and he left. Men, she thought helplessly and grabbed the Szechwan Garden's delivery menu.

Fred awoke stiff and sore from a night on the sofa. Chinese takeout containers littered the coffee table. As she rose, she felt a blanket slip from her shoulders. She padded to her desk in bare feet and picked up the amulet. No change.

"What's first, pet? You've a whole box of gadgets from the lab; you must be itching to try them out with your own personal guinea pig. I'm ready to let the healing begin," Spike said clapping his hands together.

"You know, I should tell you," she frowned. "This might be some new kind of stupid for me."

"What is?"

Fred slumped into her desk chair in disappointment. "OK, here goes. I do believe that the law offices are blocking whatever magic the amulet might have left. And I also believe that sooner or later, the amulet's going to change and likewise change you."

"'Sooner or later?'" Spike echoed.

"Yeah," she said warily, trying to gauge his reaction. "Other than that, I have no plan. No lab reports to write, no metaphysical experiments to run. Nothing."

"So your scientific method includes lying about, ordering stir-fry noodles, and… waiting?"

"Uh-huh," she answered bleakly. Her face brightened. "But I'm really good at waiting. I waited five years for Angel to save me from Pylea. You've got the head of the science department here on waiting. I've earned all the credits for a PhD in patience."

"I trust you, pet, I trust you. No need to strike up the bandwagon for me. I'm already on board."

Their eyes met and she saw the determined set of his jaw: strong, handsome, and even a little dangerous. Spike's unwavering confidence in Fred assured her that she was on the right path.

"That means a lot, Spike," she said as her cheeks turned pink.

He broached the next subject carefully. "Although I am a bit foggy on the Pylea incident, your boss saving you?"

Fred looked down. "One day I'm going to mention something about my life that doesn't include, Pylea, my great qualifier."

"Oh, you mean like, vampire-with-a-soul?" he asked. "I know about pretext, love. Don't feel you have to explain anything to me."

"I want to tell you," Fred replied, realizing that it was true. She tumbled out the story about getting sucked into a portal, living as a "cow" for five years in a hell dimension, and her triumphant rescue by Angel and company.

"They've seen me go through all that and they think of me as a little girl. Whenever I try to take a stand on my own, they're right there reminding me where I came from," she complained.

"That's not who you are now, is it? Any fool could see that," he told her gently, meeting her eyes again. He cleared his throat nervously. "So how did the band of merries take your news on being home bound with me? Did mass rioting ensue?"

She walked to the kitchen. "Nothing that bad, still, it wasn't pretty. Left a really bad taste in my mouth. Come to think of it, so did that Hunan Chicken." She took out two glasses for orange juice, and then quickly replaced one when she remembered Spike's condition. Her rude words to Wesley replayed in her mind.

"Oh, Wesley," she groaned, knocking her forehead with her fist. "Ugh, I forgot to apologize to him."

Spike followed her in, looking interested. "Come again? You took a side against the second coming of Giles? Isn't that like taking a swing at poor Friar Tuck?"

"He's all like, 'Why didn't you come to me, Fred,' like I can't do anything without him holding my hand. And then I go, 'well, I'm ok with what I did so nyah, nyah, nyah.' I acted like a brat."

Spike sat on her counter. "I think you're entitled to a little righteous anger, pet. Wisk broom for the heart brushes out all the cobwebs proper. Of course, you know the lads only fuss over you because they care. I'm not their idea of the model houseguest, that's for certain."

She sipped her juice and smiled at him. "You brought my blanket out to the couch."

"In another lifetime, you wouldn't have lived to morning," he countered.

She curled into one of her bistro chairs, as though she was preparing for a good story. "What was that other lifetime like? I've tried to ask Angel but he won't talk about it with me."

"Death, destruction, torture, chaos, mayhem, rape, pillage," Spike counted off on his fingers.

"No, I mean, what was it like to live for over one hundred of the most prolific years in history? The Age of Romanticism, the Industrial Revolution, all the discoveries, the inventions, music, poetry, art. You're living history!" she finished, awestruck.

Spike snorted. "Not living, remember? Barely existing. I hate to short-circuit your time machine love, but my lot wasn't exactly the postcards and snapshots set. We weren't on a sodding field trip; we were evil." He told his own story, living as a demon, the quest for a soul, the uneasy bridge between killer and man.

"Whew," she sighed reflectively. "I take out that whole evil part and dream about having tea with Einstein. But I know it wouldn't happen that way. That's the trade-off, right? To be alive forever without really living?"

He watched her in wonder. "That's, that's it exactly." He snapped out of his dreamy gaze of her. "To hear you talk, mine was a waste of an afterlife. Fair enough, too. After I turned, I never took much notice of the beauties of the world, except to ruin them. Now I wish I had. It'd give us a topic until your next delivery order." He grinned.

Fred drained her orange juice glass. "Don't worry about it. In addition to being science gal, I'm also a history nut. I'm kind of your worst nightmare when it comes to the whole pursuit of knowledge." She rinsed the glass in the sink.

"You're not my nightmare," Spike whispered. "Not in the least."

She turned to him, smiling knowingly. "You know, Spike. While we're having this 'roomie- bonding' session, I have to tell you: you don't have to keep doing that."

"What?" he looked aghast.

"You know, the whole, 'Boost Fred's Morale so she keeps on truckin' and gets me a body,'…thing that you do."

He jumped off the counter. "A happy worker bee makes all the more honey," he purred. "Sweetie."

He disappeared.

"I'm saying," she called out into the kitchen. "We're going to be spending a lot of time together, so…"

He reappeared behind her. "We've already spent a lot of time together."

Fred turned to face him. "But here, in my apartment, it's different. It's…" He disappeared and then materialized behind her again.


"Spike! You're…"

"I'm spinning you in circles. Getting dizzy?"


Spike appeared in front of her, grinning mischievously. "All right then. What exactly do you want me to do? Spare no details."

Fred pointed at him. "See, it's that. The flirting, I mean, I guess, that's what I'm talking about. I'm helping you; I'm on the case! You don't need to flirt with me or entertain me."

His face fell. "Oh, it bothers you then."

"NO! I mean, no. It just isn't necessary."

He looked at her closely. "Is there someone else? A male someone, who might mind?"

"God, no," she said, waving her hand dismissively. "My love life is all kinds of screwy. I mean, you said a nice clean dance card? Yeah, try a non-existent one. First there was Charles and I mean, that was sweet and then…-I showed him something about me that he didn't know was there, was too much, and I disappointed him."

Spike nodded thoughtfully, bouncing on his heels with his hands in his pockets. "I'm not thinking you killed a bowl of his fishies, love." He watched for her reaction.

"Nope." She lost herself in his deep blue gaze and chewed on her thumbnail, waiting for his response.

"For fuck's sake," Spike said sadly, realizing the depth of her meaning. "You are my kind of girl then, aren't you."

She jutted her jaw out bitterly. "The bastard deserved it, Professor Seidel, the one we killed. He sent me to Pylea and who knows how many other innocent kids. Charles wouldn't help me or let me do it alone, so I went to Wesley…"

"Who was more than happy to find an opportunity to meet your darkness halfway," Spike finished. "And help himself to you in the bargain? There's a love story for the ages. I should know."

She bit the inside of her lip. "But that was so long ago. I'm just full of anger at Wesley all of a sudden! Like he's done something terrible that I can't remember."

"He took sides with you against your beau to make himself look good in your eyes. That doesn't go away over night," Spike speculated.

Fred didn't look convinced. "Maybe. I wonder why I'm so mad and …oh, brother," she held her head in pain as the headache returned. "I'm also getting a fusion sized migraine. That's another one this week." She put her hands over her closed eyes.

Spike watched her helplessly. "I think I can spirit over some aspirin?"

"No, no drugs. I'm trying to deal with these the natural way."

"Which is the painful way. Let me do something for you, pet. What do you need?"

She squinted at him through her pain. "Take a walk with me? When's the last time you were in the sun?"

"Oh, that's another story for another day without a headache. But I would fancy a stroll with you on my arm."

"Spike," she began, but he interrupted.

"This is the only way I know how to talk to you love, so manage. No wonder you're coming down with headaches. Figure a bird with your track record should have one bloke around who won't make her read between the lines."

"Thank you," she said humbly. She looked at him kindly and the flashes of headache faded. "But tell me the story anyway?"

Spike sighed. "It all started with this ring called the Gem of Amarra…"

End of Part One

Notes: M theory definition used without permission from the Superstring Theory website.