TITLE: BECKY AND SPIKE FOREVER (Part 4)
AUTHOR: Fojiao2 (Kevin Poston)
DISCLAIMER: I own none of the characters used in this story and profit by them not at all. They are the sole property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and anyone else Joss okays. Judy Ramirez IS my own, but Joss can have her if he wants; it's a fair trade.
FEEDBACK: OF COURSE, everything you can spare! But if you want to YELL AT ME for being slow in posting a new chapter, I'd rather you send e-mail than leave abusive reviews, no matter how well-deserved they may be.
SUMMARY: Spike authors a successful series of "Becky The Vampire Slayer" books—but it just may cost him his chances with Buffy! Spoilers through "Older and Far Away" (Season Six). "As You Were" never happened, and everything is AU past that point so no Dead Tara, no Crazy Willow, and NONE of the events from "Seeing Red." Buffy and Spike's relationship has coasted into the spring with still almost no one else knowing. Even the Nerdy Three have faded into the background.
DEDICATION: This chapter is for the beautiful Ditto-Spikette, my light-o'-love.

PART FOUR: Discoveries

Judy Ramirez, Night Manager at The Sunnydale Arms, had seen just about everything in her tenure at the hotel. It was in downtown Sunnydale, after all, home of the Hellmouth. And she well knew this, just as she knew that any paying guest who was paler than normal, used sun-blocking drapes on his windows, and only stepped outside of the hotel during the nighttime hours was most probably an Unbreathing American. Like the new permanent tenant in 425, William Bloody. Or "Spike," as he insisted everyone call him. He was definitely the most pleasant vampire she'd yet given shelter, and one of the most charming.

And in the two weeks since she had given Buffy Summers a key to his room, she had seen some interesting developments that made her think about Spike as the most unique vampire she'd ever known. She may have been watching his relationship with a human woman from the outside, but it was still something new to her. Some nights the pair would come through the lobby just before midnight with arms around each other, smiling and greeting hotel staff that they'd come to know, especially Judy at the front desk. Other nights they'd come in much later, laughing and dancing around each other, throwing mock punches as if continuing fights they'd had outside, usually one leaping on the other as they entered the elevator and kissing as they rode up. And a few nights they were glaring, tense, and silent, as if just waiting to return to the room so they could begin shouting.

Whatever type of night it was, soon everyone who worked the night shift got to know the enigmatic Mr. Bloody and the beautiful young Ms. Summers. No one could let the couple pass without noticing them: they shone with a passion and life that the usual drab residents of the hotel couldn't match. One felt that whenever either one of these eccentric people stepped into a room things were bound to be more exciting, less dreary, and forever memorable.

The female members of the staff had gotten a thorough education in dealing with Mr. Bloody. They found him naturally flirtatious, but not in the slobbering, lecherous way of some guests. He was just—"European," one of them would have said, more used to treating women with embarrassing attention, and always verbal, never physical. If one of them returned his flirtations, he could carry on up to a point and then drop it when he sensed that things were becoming more serious than he intended. But the women had learned to never respond in that way if Ms. Summers was around. The young woman's looks of burning jealousy at any woman who treated Mr. Bloody friendlier than usual were to be feared. At least Buffy only gave threatening looks. Any male member of the staff who gave the petite blonde a lingering look would find himself on the receiving end of Mr. Bloody's homicidal glare, a pointing finger, and some kind of really creative threat. "Oi! You ever taste your own liver, mate? Would you like to?" was one that Judy remembered with a smile. Then Buffy would apologize for his behavior and drag him away.

Judy had gotten onto a first-name basis with Buffy, but she still couldn't bring herself to call Mr. Bloody "Spike." She had too many years of hotel training to allow her to be so intimate with a guest. At most she called him "Senor Sangriento" like the girls in the cleaning staff. But she was friendly enough with both of them. She'd met them a few times in the 2nd floor restaurant, El Boca Del Paradiso, while having the continental breakfast the hotel provided for guests. Buffy seemed bright enough, but she barely held up her end of a conversation, as if she'd paid almost no attention to current events. When Judy referred to the attack on the World Trade Center as "nine-eleven," she saw that at first Buffy had no idea what she meant. Mr. Bloody, however, was full of conversation, as if he'd spent decades with nothing to talk about and was just now discovering how wonderful it was to speak with people about events again. The first time she heard him give a detailed history of Israeli-Palestinian relations, she watched Buffy instead of him and noted how shocked and pleased the young blonde was to see him fill the gaps in her social skills.

It was also the first time she had heard him use that word, the one he let slip a few times without meaning to: "Slayer." He usually called Buffy by her name, but every once in a while that other word would fall from his lips, as if it were the only way he'd referred to her for years. She most often heard it in the lobby, when they were coming back from a night out, and Mr. Bloody would be saying something like, "Bloody Hell, Slayer, I never said that Chinese one was better than you—just that you could do with some wushu training!" Judy wondered about it enough to ask around. When she spoke to Rosa, one of the night maids, the woman looked at her with wonder. "You mean you don't know?"

"Know what?" Judy asked.

"Buffy's the Slayer," Rosa said.

"Yeah, so I've heard. So what's that?"

Rosa put a hand on her shoulder, suddenly very serious, and whispered, "La Vampiro Asesina."

Judy stared at her, suddenly shaken. "La Asesina?!" Rosa nodded, then hurried away.

This just confused Judy even more. Mr. Bloody was not only carrying on with a human woman, but now appeared to be the consort of the Vampire Slayer. She had never heard of anything like it, even though her family in Guatemala would tell stories about La Vampiro Asesina, about how one would rise in every generation and how these young girls were the sole barrier between the human world and a larger demonic universe. To good Catholics and practitioners of Santeria, there was nothing surprising about this. And now Judy realized that not only was Buffy the Slayer—she was La Asesina Rubia, the Blonde Slayer, the one who had defeated Acathla and Angelus, saving the world. Stories of her adventures were whispered by shamans in the mountains all through Central America. And when she considered it, it only made sense that such a famous and powerful Slayer lived at the Hellmouth.

This was why she was tongue-tied when she came face-to-face with Buffy that same evening. The pretty blonde bounded into the lobby much earlier than usual and came directly to the front desk. "Hey Judy!" she said. "I was wondering something."

Judy blinked once. Twice. "Uh, good evening, Buffy. How can I help you?"

Buffy hooked a thumb toward the poster that stood on an easel by the main desk. It advertised the May Celebration, a Spring formal dance held each year in the hotel's ballroom. "Is that dance open to everyone?" she asked.

"Uh, usually the residents like to attend, though we have people from all over town at the dance. The music is Big Band and standards, so it doesn't attract a 'Bronze' kind of crowd. The old mayor used to attend each year."

For some reason, at the mention of the mayor the brightness and happiness that had been within Buffy shut down. "The mayor, huh?"

"Yes. But Mayor Avery hasn't been interested in coming."

Buffy nodded, moving off to the elevator already, then caught herself. "Oh! G'night, Judy! Thanks!"

"Good night, Buffy," Judy responded, finally finding her smile and becoming a little more comfortable with the Slayer being so near.

Hours later Mr. Bloody and Buffy came down again, arms around each others' shoulders, ready for their nightly excursion. Only now, Judy knew that they could more properly be called 'patrols' of Sunnydale's night streets. And the vampire accompanied her, probably even helped her in her battles with demons and the undead. Incredible. This kind of behavior was nowhere in the stories her native people told of Slayers, but then, maybe there was a purpose in that. Such moral ambiguities were fine for Americans, but the people she grew up with preferred their evil wholly black and their good wholly white.

As soon as he spotted her, Spike rushed over to the front desk. He didn't look happy. "Are you the one who put this idea of a 'dance' into Buffy's head?"

Judy stared in surprise. It took her a moment to remember how to speak. "Uh, no! No, I—"

By this time Buffy had reached them, and put a hand on Spike's shoulder. "Don't let him spook ya," she said through a grin. "He's all bark and no bite."

"I'll show you a bite," Spike mumbled loudly, turning to look at the Slayer. But the face he turned back to Judy was contrite. "I'm just not too keen on this—" He looked over to the sign— "May Celebration. Inventin' a holiday for no good reason and convincing some bloke he needs to dance for it. Bah!"

"C'mon, we talked about this," Buffy said, bumping him with her hip so that he was forced to move sideways. "You've been to dances before, lots of 'em."

"Yeah. In the bad old days," he said. "Not some memories I'm looking to re-live." His face already hardened into a mask of indifference, he swung away from Buffy's touch. His duster swept around him like bat wings as he moved to the lobby's front entrance and then was out into the night once more.

Buffy sighed heavily. "Don't worry," she said. "I have a week to soften him up. We'll be there." She turned to Judy. "You coming? Got some guy to dance the night away with?"

Judy shook her head, smiling wistfully, forcing herself to treat Buffy like just another woman with whom she was friendly. "Oh, I had lots of men back in my own country," she said, "but it's harder here. I meet lots of Mexicanos and mestizos, not so many Central Americans. And I don't have to tell you how hard it is to find a good man in Sunnydale, eh?" She ended it with a little laugh, but it was immediately apparent that she had said something wrong.

Buffy looked at her wide-eyed. "'A good man,'" she echoed, and swallowed a lump in her throat. She was already backing up, heading toward the doors Spike had disappeared through. "Um," she said, motioning over her shoulder. "I— I gotta go. If I don't catch up with him he'll be ahead of me all night. Um g'night."

"Good night, Buffy," Judy said to her retreating back, watching her dive into the night as well. She couldn't imagine the hardships Buffy must have gone through—the lovelives of Slayers never actually made it into the stories told along the Sierra Madres. And now she'd unthinkingly brought up some painful memory that Buffy didn't need to consider. She felt terrible about it, but didn't know what else to do. They were still very much strangers to each other, and until Buffy was more willing to share Judy was going to keep stepping on toes.

Things had been so much simpler when she didn't know about Buffy's life as the Slayer. Buffy didn't even think about how strange her excuse sounded—that her man would be "ahead of her." It was obvious that he was helping her to patrol or fight vampires, though for what reason Judy couldn't imagine. If she didn't know the truth about Buffy she would've wondered about her statement and thought her another weird American. But then, Judy had noticed that Sunnydale residents often accepted the flimsiest of excuses if it kept them from looking at the demonic truth of their town. Perhaps Buffy was used to never needing to explain things.

A week later, in Room 425, things were hectic. Buffy was walking around in just a slip, trying to choose between three different dresses that were hanging on the closet doors. Spike was pacing around nervously dressed in his boxers, combing his hair obsessively, looking for his cummerbund. The tuxedo he'd rented was laying in its separate pieces on the bed like an autopsy.

Stepping back, imagining herself in each dress, Buffy finally sat on Spike's couch to look all three dresses over at the same time. Her eyes wandered and she looked at Spike's laptop. It was a fixture in the apartment, always on and ready whenever Spike felt like working. She'd tried a few times to look over his shoulder to see what he was writing, but he always closed the computer rather than reveal the least word. He said it was crap and thus embarrassing, just the kind of drivel he had to produce to make money. If it had been something she found the least bit interesting she would have made a point of having him show her his work . . . but she had never been known to read much beyond what was required by her Slayer duties. Oh, and school, of course.

So the screensaver on the laptop was very familiar to her. Knowing how much down-time he put the computer through, he got the type that could last for hours without attention. It depicted an open field in what she supposed was England, with the sun rising slowly and continuing on its course for twelve hours, the light shifting on the grass and bushes and trees of the forest in the right-hand corner, and glimmering from the surface of the pond in the bottom center of the screen. Things moved within this little bright landscape: wind rustled the grass and leaves; fish and frogs leaped up from the pond; mice and hedgehogs moved in the grass, and sometimes a fox would hunt them; and every few hours a deer would wander out of the forest and drink from the pond. She hadn't understood what he would want with such a peaceful scene, knowing how he liked slam-bang adventure, but then it came to her: it was a scene that took place entirely in sunlight, and though it was quiet it was still a bit of innocent life moving under the sun, something that she took for granted but which he hadn't seen in more than a century.

And now she was curious about the wallpaper on his desktop. The last time she'd seen it there had just been a flat gray behind the icons because most of his computer's functions were left untouched. He hadn't even been online until Dawn asked him to get a DSL connection so he could help her with her homework. And Buffy suggested that he search around the Internet and find a wallpaper that would suit him. Because, just as she had suggested the artwork that now decorated the room's walls, she wanted to be sure that the walls of his computer were similarly touched. She wanted nothing of Spike's life to exist without her signature on it . . . and didn't want to think about the implications of that fact in the slightest. So she leaned forward and tapped the spacebar, wiping the screensaver.

The wallpaper on the laptop was the last thing Buffy would have expected. It was a picture of her, Xander, and Willow on the UC Sunnydale campus, taken probably while she was dating Riley. Nevertheless it had more hope, humor, and joy of living than she'd seen in any of those faces in a long time. God, when was the last time she'd smiled like that, just smiled without being tickled by Spike or coming down from one of the numerous orgasms he provided her?

"Where'd you get this photo?"

Spike had been looking under the bed. He got up and joined her on the couch. "Oh. Downloaded it from Red's Website. Couldn't find one of you alone, so I took this." He grimaced. "Guess if I learned Photoshop I could crop it down, but just exportin' it to bitmap format to make it work was a chore. Damn Windows."

Buffy blinked. "Uh, who are you, and what have you done with my Spike?"

That stopped him cold, wiping the smirk from his face. "YOUR Spike?"

Oh God, had she said that out loud? And why did he always notice such things? "Uh, I mean Spike. Just Spike. No other Spikes."

He chuckled. "Don't panic, Buffy. I wasn't trying to get you to admit you have some affection for me. I know it's no use."

"Hey!" She held his chin and turned his head in her direction. "Where'd that come from? Why are you wanting to start a fight?"

She saw anger flash through his crystal blue eyes, then shame, then he wouldn't meet her eyes. "Sorry," he muttered, leaving the couch and sitting on the bed. "You're right. The last three weeks have been the best in my life. We haven't fought like we used to. And I don't want to start again."

Buffy faced him from across the room. "What is it about this dance that has you so nervous?"

Spike closed his eyes. "It could be because of everything it represents between us. You'll be out in public with me, yeah, but it's in a place you know your friends won't be." He sighed. "But that's not the heart of it. The main thing is . . . Dru."

"Dru? Dru-SILLA?" Buffy noticeably stiffened.

Spike's mood improved just as noticeably—Buffy's jealousy always gave him a boost. "This kind of dancing—it's what we used to do, all the time. She could lose herself in the music and appear sane for a bit, so we indulged in it whenever we could. And I was afraid that it'd remind me too much of her, because—well, Buffy, I know what this means to you. The fancy dress, the 'grown-up' music, the brushes with some more important people in town: it's that need in you to be all 'normal' and have a place in the regular world, apart from the shadows." He now looked into her eyes. "I understand that, I really do. Because it was just the same for us. The chance to move among people and laugh with them and soak in their delicious heat that they give like a gift just for showing up? Hell yeah we wanted that! That feeling was what made us go to dances and learn new slang and watch movies for the pop references. It's what makes a vampire whose heart hasn't beaten since the 19th century want to listen to punk rock and dress like a kid and strut: the need to feel vital, to stay connected to the world at large." He sighed and stood up. "I want you to have that, luv, really I do. So I'll put on the monkey suit and we'll go have fun at that dance. But don't blame me if I feel a little . . . hesitant about it all."

Buffy shook her head. "Ah, Spikey." She also stood and approached him, wrapping an arm around his waist and running her hand over his muscular, carved chest. "What do you think I feel here, when I do this?"

"Dunno. Cold skin. No heartbeat."

"Bingo. It's what I feel every time we're together, Spike. It's what you are, and I wouldn't change that. But don't you think it reminds me of something? Or, more specifically, someone?"

It didn't take Spike a second to think of who. "Angel," he said.

"Bingo again. Yeah, it's not like I've ever kissed more than two vampires, Spike. So when I touch you, when we kiss, of course there's a part of me that remembers my first time to do that. It's there all the time." Before he could become angry and turn away from her she met his eyes with her own again. "But I set it aside. I'm glad of what I have now, and I'm starting to forget the pain that used to dominate me. I really don't want to think on that stuff. But like I said, it's always with me. So don't blame me if I feel a little . . . hesitant about it all."

Spike grinned down at her as she echoed his words, and pulled her close so he could kiss her deeply. When they broke apart, he said, "You really are more brilliant than most of us give you credit for."

"Yeah, well, I see a problem, I slay it. All part of the service."

"Mmm, I could use some servicing about now."

"Sounds good," she admitted, "but we're gonna be late. C'mon, c'mon, we haven't even gotten dressed!" She was out of his arms and grabbing the red dress from the choices on the closet door before he could spin around to see her do it.

When they walked into the ballroom on the second floor, Glenn Miller's music washed over the couple and Spike was rocked decades backward in his mind. He gritted his teeth and his hands curled into fists—he was kept from slipping into gameface only because he'd been prepared for this. For a dizzying moment he was back in 1943 and the woman he loved was still on his arm, but it was a lithe, pale queen of the night with dark brown locks who accompanied him. And here was the important difference: she loved him, too. At least at that moment, far away from her Daddy, she loved him. Her crystal blue eyes met his own and her sharp mouth drifted near his lips, whispering, "They call to us, my rough boy, their blood dances and sings."

Someone yanked his arm harshly. "Hey! Blondie! Wake up!"

Buffy's voice didn't immediately dispel the ghosts, though. Drusilla's voice wrapped around him once more like a trail of smoke: "You're mine, Spike—my Spike, and no one else's." He came to himself and looked into Buffy's worried eyes. The least bit of caring she showed him always raised his spirits, and he smiled in relief at her. "Ah, sorry, luv. Fell into a hole in time there for a moment."

"Well, don't go anywhere! We're supposed to have fun tonight," she said, tugging him onto the dance floor, hips already shaking with the beat. He chuckled at her aggressiveness and swept her around him, causing her skirt to twirl. The band had just started up a swinging Benny Goodman number and the pair of blondes moved to the swinging pace with the same matched, poetic movement others had noticed when they fought.

For a little over an hour they lost themselves to the dance. In a way it was more intimate and satisfying than when they slept together, because they could each leave who they were and just exist in the moment, together, carried along with the crowd. She was just a woman, not the Slayer, and he was just a man, not a vampire. They bopped and laughed and kissed and swayed and boogied and kissed. And if she showed more stamina and strength than a human woman by how long she kept him on the floor, neither one needed to make it an issue. And if his lack of need to breathe constantly made their frenzied slow-dance kisses a bit longer than she could stand, she didn't remark on it, being enchanted by his talented mouth as always. Finally, Buffy was in need of some refreshments to replace the sweat she lost dancing, so they moved over to one of the tables serving punch.

Buffy was standing at the table, with Spike behind her, unconsciously hiding her from whomever might approach from behind. They both stiffened when a familiar voice growled out, "Jesus Christ. What are you doing here, you undead freak?"

Spike almost wished he believed in a Creator, because this was exactly the opportunity when prayer was called for. Careful not to turn around, he said, "'S a free country, Harris. Can't a bloke take in a dance or two?"

"A 'bloke,' maybe," Xander said, his voice heavy with disgust. "But you're just a filthy leech."

"Xander!" said Anya, pulling on his arm. "Not so loud! You don't want to disturb anyone in the crowd."

But Xander's unerring instinct to make a bad situation worse led him to grab Spike's shoulder. "Why don't you turn around and look at me?" he said. Buffy winced as she felt Spike moved aside and her own lithe form revealed.

"Bu—Buffy?!" As Xander spluttered, staring and choking, Buffy turned around and finally greeted them. To her surprise, Xander was in a tuxedo as well, and Anya was in a blue-and-white gown that accented her figure lovingly. Of all the days for the wacky couple to act like grown-ups!

"Hi, Xan!" she said with a big grin, hoping to blind the young man to her proximity to Spike. Knowing just what she wanted, Spike took a step away from her, his countenance already turning dark and broody. "Um, whatcha doing here?" she continued.

"Oh, it's a wonderful thing," Anya gushed. "The caterers who do this dance gave us an invitation, using it to show off just what they're capable of, and I'm going to load up on this free food while I have a chance! We're auditioning them for the wedding, y'know, and they've invited several prospective couples for a free sampling. Is that why you and Spike are here together?"

"Together?" squeaked Xander.

"Together?" Buffy also chirped. "Uh, no, no, there's no together here. We just bumped into each other here at the punch bowl. That's all."

"So you're not his . . . date?" Xander said, a tiny spark of hope in his eyes.

Spike was turned from them and leaning forward on the table, the cuffs of his tuxedo jacket pulled up almost to his elbows, his hands curled into fists, knuckles pressed into the cool linen surface. "Don't be fucking ridiculous," he said, his voice drifting over his shoulder. "Why would she possibly want to spend even a moment in my presence? What do I have to offer anyone, after all? I'm just a brainless, chipped relic of what used to be a monster, right?" The bitterness dripping from each word struck Buffy like barbed wire, but she didn't feel that she could say anything. This was not the time or place to reveal the truth, and Xander was definitely not in the right frame of mind to receive a bombshell like this. She only hoped that her friend would drop this immediately.

Xander sighed heavily in relief. "You're right about that!" he said cheerfully. "No one in her right mind would want to hang around a killer like you."

Buffy knew something would happen as soon as she heard that, and sure enough, Spike spun around, looking furiously at the man he so despised. "A killer?" he growled, his voice causing dancing couples a few feet away to look sharply in their direction. "Oh, you mean the sort of bloody bastard who summons a demon to make the whole city dance and sing, and ends up killing three innocent people? Eh?"

Buffy put a hand on Spike's arm, only to have it shaken off. "Hey, let's all calm down," she said.

Xander's face had gone closed and brutish. "That was an accident and you know it," he said. "I didn't mean for anybody to get killed. But you went out and murdered people!"

"Ah, bollocks!" Spike shouted. "The bloody Watcher killed more people last year than I did!" He looked from Xander's surprised, frightened face to Buffy's surprised, confused face. "Ah, the hell with this—sod off, the lot of you!" He shoved Xander aside and made his way straight to the ballroom's exit.

"G-Giles?!" Buffy finally managed to say. "Was he talking about Giles? That's impossible!"

"Oh, no, quite possible," Anya said cheerily, fixing a plate of hors d'oeuvres for herself. "It was right before you died. You'd beaten Glory into being Ben, and Giles took that chance to suffocate Ben on the ground. Quite the wise maneuver!"

Buffy suddenly looked very lost. "He suff—Ben? Wha?!"

"She's right," Xander said. "It happened right before you died, and when you came back . . . well, there was never a great reason to tell you. Glory was gone and that was that."

Xander shoved his hands in his pockets and looked at his shoes, while Buffy stared in shocked silence at this news. The silence grew between them until finally, Anya poked Buffy in the shoulder. "Hey, try one of these crab puffs," she said. "They're divine!"

**************************************

The music from the ballroom could be heard in the main lobby, and as Judy returned to the main desk from the bathroom she couldn't help but do a few dance steps and twirl once or twice. Lissa was managing the desk and she didn't have to hurry back, after all. She was gliding sideways when she saw a familiar blond head surmounting a familiar pair of black-clad shoulders in one of the lobby's chairs. Strange: Mr. Bloody never stopped for long in the lobby. She stepped up to him to see what he was doing.

Spike was bent over and writing on a hotel notepad with a hotel pen. He felt the human standing beside him but didn't look up until he finished the last line. Then he leaned back and waved the pad at her. "Buenas noches," he said. "Care to read it?"

Judy took the pad and was surprised to see that he'd written a poem.

POSSESSION

She keeps my heart in her back pocket,
crumpled, folded—transparent as waxpaper;
she loses it with her change of clothes.
When I least expect her to have it,
she pulls it out, opens it onto a table
and writes her name on it again.
It's an IOU she can forget,
a promise not hooked to her soul
or chained to any important part.
She holds it over a flame to test me,
watching closely as I writhe,
making sure my pain is as real as her power.

"Wow," Judy said. "You really are a writer."

Spike smirked and sat back in his chair. "When I was . . . younger, no one wrote free verse. Was considered blasphemy. I might've gotten some recognition if I didn't have to stay in those rhyming forms."

Judy looked over it again, grateful that he hadn't used any complicated English words; reading English prose was hard enough, but the poetry could be incomprehensible at times. "I really do like this," she said, taking a seat as she handed the pad back to him.

Spike tried to hide how pleased he was to hear this and assumed his usual uncaring attitude. He shrugged and said, "Eh, I'm no Miguel Ángel Asturias, but I get by."

Judy's eyes flew open wide and her entire countenance brightened. "You know who Asturias is?!"

He leaned forward. "Keep it under your hat, pet, but I've met the man."

"No!"

"Yeah, first time I was in Guatemala, in the 60's. Was before the Nobel Prize, but he was really loved in his own country before that, so I was just another adoring fan. Still, I bought him dinner and talked with him about writing for a bit."

"Really?" Judy was now leaning forward intently.

"Oh, it was fantastic. Never got to talk to him like I'd like—my lady at the time dragged me away." He shook his head, clearly reliving the disappointment of that night. Then his whole body seemed to slip into a deeper gear of depression. "Always been at the mercy of those women I love. An old man who can't learn his lesson." He sighed and took to staring at the pad in his lap.

She looked at how his body telegraphed his mood from head to toe, and couldn't help but roll her eyes. Further proof that he really was a writer: melodrama. She thought that she might just leave him to his moodiness, but there was a point about which she was curious. "How did you know I was from Guatemala?"

Spike lifted his head. "Eh?"

"You talked about Asturias like you knew I'd be interested. How'd you know?"

He shrugged. "It's not too hard to tell a ladino at first sight, not when you've been around the world a time or two," he said. "And your English is good, but it's not flawless, pet."

She smiled. "I guess you'd know, you've been speaking it for—" Too late, she brought her hand up to her mouth, staring at the pale Anglo.

Spike raised an eyebrow, but made no threatening move. In fact, he smirked. "You noticed, eh? Look a bit young to have been buying dinners in the early 60s, don't I?" She nodded her head. "And you Central Americans are a damn sight more ready to believe in the undead than these damn fool Americans. You always took more precautions against the likes of me—had to respect that." He tapped the notepad on his knee a few times. "So, what else do you know?"

How could she respond to that? What to reveal, what to hide? "Uh, I know about the Hellmouth."

Now it was Spike's turn to look surprised. "Mmm, you do keep up with the local weather, don't you? Yeah, pegged you as a smart girl from my first day here. And you're not afraid of what I could do to you?"

"Well, uh . . . to be honest, you work within the hotel's policy. So I have no problems with what you may or may not do."

"Policy?" Spike asked.

"You don't attack residents of the hotel," she said. "And you . . . well, there's what we call the 'discrete factor.' You don't step into pools of sunlight and let your hands catch fire. And you don't stand in front of mirrors, just waiting for a reaction from people. As long as you're discrete, the hotel's policy is that we have no problem with you."

"How civilized," said Buffy, frowning down at them both.

Spike sighed. The Slayer must've been in full stealth mode if she was able to sneak up on him—thus she was purposefully trying to catch him doing or saying something wrong. So she hadn't found him to apologize; she must've been expecting an explanation from him. And if the reason for his stepping away wasn't clear already, then no amount of explaining was going to suffice. In lifting his eyes, he noticed the glint of fear in Judy's gaze as she stared up at the Slayer, looking as if she'd been caught with her hand in someone else's changepurse. Ah-ha, he thought: one more bit of Sunnydale Confidential is open to the hotel clerk.

"Darling," Spike said, knowing just how she hated for him to use terms of endearment in front of others. "You've arrived just in time to spoil a good conversation. Care to sit?"

"I think I'll stand," she said through clenched teeth. "Are you actually sitting here telling Judy that you're a vampire?"

Judy hopped up from her seat, not meeting Buffy's eyes. "No!" she squeaked. "I— I mean, I already knew. He wasn't telling me anything."

The heat in Buffy's gaze dimmed a bit.

Judy's eyes were shifting rapidly between Spike and Buffy. "Um, I think I'll just be getting back to the front desk." She pasted a fake smile to her face and shuffled past the Slayer, doing her best not to break into a run.

Spike sneered as he tore the front page from the pad in his hands and crumpled it. "Bravo. You scared the little girl. But I don't scare so easy, pet."

"I'm not trying to scare you," Buffy replied. "I'm trying to understand what's going on. Is it Xander? He's not going to change, Spike. And his attitude isn't my fault."

Spike looked up sharply. "Isn't it? If I was your acknowledged boyfriend do you think he'd talk to me like that? If he knew that hurting me was the same as hurting you?" As soon as he said this, his eyes widened and he barked out laughter. "But that's not true, is it? He could spit on me and it'd be nothing to you, just like I'm nothing—" Something caught in Spike's throat and he couldn't speak anymore. He just stared at the floor blinking rapidly.

Buffy took a seat beside him. "Is this about what you said earlier? About the dance and Drusilla?"

Spike leaned back and shut his eyes. "Ah, don't remind me of her, Buffy."

Buffy felt a sting from that remark. "Why?" she hissed.

Spike sighed deeply. He turned and looked directly into her eyes. "You damn well know why. Because when I think on her I remember someone who LOVED me! Who wanted to be around me, who smiled and laughed when I entered a room, who didn't shrink away from my hand or act ashamed of me in front of others. THAT is what comes to mind when I think on Dru, luv, and it doesn't do much for my happy state of mind."

Now it was Buffy's turn to look at the floor intently. "So I'm mis-treating you?"

He looked over to her and ran his fingers through her hair. She looked up to him, looking for blame and anger in his cerulean blue eyes but seeing only pain. "If you're mis-treating me, luv, it's the kind of torture I could do with the rest of my life. But . . . I've seen plenty of passion in your eyes, Buffy, but not much affection. Do you think I deserve that, at the very least?"

"Are you giving me an ultimatum?" she asked.

Spike chuckled and shook his head. "Determined to have a knock-down drag-out, aren't you? No, I'm not demanding anything." He stretched his arms out and yawned exaggeratedly. "I'm too tired for it." He stood, and pulled Buffy up with him. Looking into her eyes, he caressed her cheek. "You might wanna sleep at home with the Niblet, sweet. Think I'll drink myself into a hole tonight."

Spike was gratified by the worried look in Buffy's eyes. "Why do you need to drink?" she asked.

"It's the only way I'll sleep tonight, what with the memories that dance brought up in me." He cocked his head to the side and let his lips form their comfortable smirk. "Unless you'd care to argue me out of it? Have us both go tell Xander a little something about us?"

Buffy simply stared back at him, fear and hesitation glistening in her eyes. It was as clear an answer as Spike could expect, he thought, so he turned around.

"I told Dawn about us!" came out of Buffy, causing him to stop. He turned back to her with annoyance.

"What, the Niblet? Throwing her at me?" He stepped toward her, a finger raised in accusation. "That little confession was appreciated, Slayer, but it was also LONG OVERDUE. You've been sharing my bed for half a year and you still want to keep the whole thing tight within the family circle?" Spike's voice raised as he became angrier. "Goddammit, if I didn't love you so much I'd have spilled this whole thing long ago. For your sake as well as mine!" Fists raised, he took another step closer to her, seeing the spark alight in her eyes . . . and stopped himself.

Spike opened his hands and dropped them to his side. "No," he said. "I'm tired. And neither of us needs more pain tonight. Rest well, Buffy." He turned away from her once more and saw that his outburst had drawn Judy out from behind her desk. He nodded at her, demonstrating that his anger was over.

He took only three steps from her before Buffy grabbed his shoulder, spun him around, and kissed him desperately. He responded eagerly, as always, appreciating the feel and living power of her in his arms. But he also knew full well what she was doing. It was a kiss of obliteration, where she no longer wanted to think, no longer wanted to consider what was right or wrong as long as her loyal vampire was around to make her feel good. If she wanted to take him upstairs and have him treat her to a few hours of naked fun he'd do it, no matter how torn up he was inside. Each attempt he made to assert himself only wrapped him tighter in her web. Her kiss was passionate, warm, wonderful . . . and in the end it only made him sadder.

And it was there, standing in the lobby, wrapped around each other and kissing with their usual intensity, that they were disturbed by Xander for the second time in an hour. His disturbance was, specifically, a scream.

Buffy and Spike broke apart in surprise and were met by the man's shocked, gaping expression as he witnessed their little scene of unspoken affection. Buffy pulled a bit away from Spike, but he didn't pull back at all, so that his right arm was still draped over her shoulder. And he could feel her heart racing, could hear the sudden increase in her breathing, her sweat. He'd seen her face at least six vampires by herself and not show half as much fear. As for himself, he was still tingling from her kiss and a bit exhilarated at the turn of events. He'd waited for this moment for months, and now that it was here life suddenly became razor sharp, a disrupted balancing act that would change everything according to which way they fell. It was the feeling he used to get only in combat, but could now find when leading characters through a plot. He couldn't wait to see how this would play out.

"Buffy! You— You and HIM?!" Xander was wide-eyed and slack-jawed, pointing from the Slayer to the vampire and back.

Buffy stepped away from Spike, hiding any fear or hesitation from everyone. "Oh, grow up, Xander!" she snarled, and then stormed out the lobby's front doors.

It was the very last thing Spike expected. He turned to the still-swinging door, looking stupidly at her exit. "She— She ran away," he said aloud, his disbelief clear in his voice. She hadn't stayed to defend or support him at all.

Left with only one target, and a familiar dumping ground for abuse at that, Xander turned on Spike. "You!" he shouted. "What'd you do to her? Put her in some thrall like the Dark Mas— I mean, like Dracula? Hello! Hey, dead breath, I'm talking to you!"

Spike finally allowed himself to notice Xander's rant. He shook his head in weariness, looking at the floor between his feet. "Thrall only works on the feeble-minded, boy. Now why don't you run off while the grown-ups turn to drink, eh?"

"God, I oughtta stake you!" Xander cursed. "You should be erased from our lives!"

The vampire stepped to the seats astoundingly quick, one hand snaking out to pull a chair up by its back. He swung the chair over his head and brought it down hard on the marble floor, shattering the framework and pulling one leg free from it. Now with a jagged shank of wood in his hands, he stepped toward Xander and brought the man's hand up to the stake. And placed the pointy end on his chest.

"Do it," Spike said, his powerful eyes locked on Xander's own. "Go ahead, boy. You talk a fair game, but I want to see you do it. Look me in the eyes, remembering how I fought next to you last summer, how I saved your pudgy self more than once then, and 'erase' me." Spike put his hands up, so that Xander alone supported the stake at his chest. "I'm right here and I'm not stopping you. Hell, I'm bloody well asking for it! But I'm not some nameless, faceless creature you're staking. It's me, Spike. You've known me since high school. 'Course I was your enemy, but I was still a part of your life. And now you're going to remove that, right? Take it out and pretend it never existed? Well, do it. I'm tired of waiting on you, Harris."

The two stared at each other through a full minute of tense silence before Xander dropped the stake. It clattered to the floor, and Anya let out the breath that she was holding, but neither Spike nor Xander moved at all. Spike didn't smirk as he said, "It'd be almost like killing Jessie all over again, wouldn't it? I knew you couldn't do it. It's never a fun thing killing someone you know well, even if it's for the best of reasons. I know that only too well, and Buffy's known it for years." Spike stepped back, just watching the confusion in Xander's eyes. "It's okay to hate me, boy, but don't make threats about staking that you're not man enough to carry out." He turned and looked into Anya's peeved expression. "Heh. Now the Demon Girl here, she could teach you some things about being a man, Harris."

Judy had been standing and watching the drama in the lobby like a statue, passion and anger swirling around her. Spike stopped next to her and looked over to the chair he'd broken. "Guess I sorta broke the 'discrete' rule, didn't I?" he asked her.

Wide-eyed, Judy only nodded.

Spike shrugged. "Well, everybody has a bad night. Won't happen again, I swear. And—" He brought forth a hundred-dollar bill from his wallet. "I'll pay for the new chair. So, can you have Room Service send up a bottle of Glenfidditch to my room? I'll be needing it." He took two steps from her then stopped. "No," he said aloud, and whirled around. He pressed another hundred-dollar bill into Judy's hands. "Make that four bottles. I'm in a bit of a mood." Without another word, Spike stalked to his room.

*************************

Willow repeated one phrase to herself over and over: It's not an addiction. It's not an addiction. It's not an addiction. But she was a smart girl and always had been. She knew that her friends loved her and gave her the benefit of the doubt; thus, it was easy for her to fool them. And if she was going out of her way to fool them, if she was hiding her secret pleasure in plain sight so that Tara was the only one who even suspected what she was getting up to, then . . . then some part of her knew that it was wrong. And some part of her knew that it actually was an addiction.

At least it wasn't magic! She'd gone too far with that last time, caused Tara to leave her for months and endangered Dawn. It had required her to hit bottom, but she'd finally learned her lesson. She was back to being Good Willow, good old hacker Willow, a productive member of the team who broke into high security systems when necessary. So there was a bit of her that was still criminal, still dangerous, as far from being the boring high school Willow as she could, and she soothed herself with that knowledge.

And then there was her dirty little secret. Oh, it was so very easy to hide it from Buffy and Dawn and Xander, and even Anya: they had no idea what they were seeing. They weren't readers! Oh, sure, they could read, and sometimes picked up a book that wasn't required for school or didn't involve research. But they had no idea what it was like to live on Willow's level of reading, to be reading John Stuart Mill, John Maynard Keynes, Langston Hughes, Dumas (in the original French), Jonathon Spence, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Stephen Jay Gould at the same time, while maintaining three different novels on the side "for fun." She doubted that Buffy had ever encountered a Norton Anthology, or could tell her what MLA or APA style were.

But Tara knew. And Tara had more than once spied the books that Willow quickly stuffed into her bag, and when she moved back into Willow's room in Buffy's house she found two of the books Willow had tried to hide in boxes in the closet. It was just two, nothing suspicious. But the way Willow had snatched them away from her girlfriend was definitely worth noting. It wasn't the titles so much as the genre she was reading: Sci-Fi/Horror.

There was no reason for it all, no reason other than that she felt a burning need to reach out, to find some other corner of the world that dealt with the same things she did. She was dampening her powers to keep everything calm in Buffy's house and calm in her bed with Tara, but the hunger that had first led to her abuse of magic was still there. Her mind needed some foothold that wasn't stuck in the Hellmouth, some way of understanding her world that wasn't the standard view of Xander and those others around her. She thought of corresponding with Angel at first, or at least Cordelia, but decided that either one might tell Buffy what she was saying about life in the Summers household. She'd even had the crazy idea of talking to Spike! But in the end, like usual, she could trust no one so much as herself, and was dealing with it the only way she knew: by latching onto the idea of it and absorbing it entirely.

She had started with Stephen King, because it was expected and "safe" compared to her usual fare. No one noticed that her reading had suddenly taken a sharp turn to the Horror field—because Giles had been the only one who was a reader of her caliber. Giles would have seen immediately that she'd gone from reading Barbara Kingsolver and Margaret Atwood to something decidedly darker. But Giles wasn't there. Clive Barker was an even darker avenue for her to explore . . . at least for a while. His early work was full of gore and interesting twists, but the later stuff was, well, pathetic. Besides, none of this was fulfilling the need she felt in reaching out for horror literature.

With a feeling like she was stepping off a cliff, she picked up Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire. It didn't affect her nearly as much as The Vampire Lestat. When she read of The Talamasca in Queen of the Damned she got the first hint of what she'd been looking for. Not just a world of darkness, but the mortals who worked within that world, who fought against it while being nestled within its cold embrace. Unfortunately, the rest of the Vampire Chronicles weren't nearly as focused, and it seemed at one point that Rice had discovered Jesus. At the first hint of that, Willow quickly departed.

The vampire genre was so large that she went down several entertaining alleys before finding that they were dead ends. Nancy A. Collins and the White Wolf books on Vampire: The Masquerade were mildly diverting, but couldn't hold her interest. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's books on the Comte de Saint-Germaine were nice up through Hotel Transylvania, but just not right. She leaped to something more modern with Mick Farren's The Time of Feasting and Darklost, but again the books were too focused on making the vampires the heroes. She tried to go to a mid-point between these series of books and found something more hip and gynocentric: Poppy Z. Brite. Through Lost Souls and Drawing Blood she delved into vampire erotica at a level she'd never seen before—a place Rice seemed to have reached for but never attained—and was intrigued at the moralism of her tales and the warning it gave to mortals against looking into the abyss and having the abyss look back. Again, it wasn't quite right, but she read Brite up through her book Wormwood, at which point she dropped out. Who could possibly be interested in vampires living and loving all over the bayous and other landscape of the South? Wasn't California the center of the world?

Finally, she stumbled across a Tanya Huff book in an old paperback exchange. With Blood Price, she was on the trail of a whole series wherein mortals worked with vampires to stop the vampire menace: in other words, it was exactly what she'd been looking for. Asking around on the Internet—now that she better understood her own desires on the subject—brought her more examples. Some were single-shots, like Richard Matheson's classic I Am Legend or John Steakley's Vampire$, or Charlaine Harris's Dead Until Dark, but she was looking for another series that would possess her and lead her into an alternative world of demons and night battles.

She found it in Laurell K. Hamilton. Following the adventures of Anita Blake, she was held captive by how closely this woman's adventures followed her own life, how the world of Slayers and Hellmouths seemed to be touched on in these books. The werewolf parts made her nostalgic for Oz, for the things she'd never gotten to try with him because she'd been so young—now two years older, she felt supremely confident in her ability to deal with his wild side. She craved each one, and then, after only eleven volumes, they were all done. She switched to Anton Spence, and his ghostbusting houngan was okay, but she felt like she was overdosing on New Orleans, and there weren't enough vampires involved. On advice from someone in a chatroom she tried Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and while In the Forests of the Night reminded Willow of her days in Sunnydale High and the danger that invaded her safe world there, it wasn't until Demon in My View and Shattered Mirror that she found these literary meals truly satisfying.

And on this night Willow was on the hunt again, searching for some battle-against-the-forces-of-evil book to feed her ever-gnawing addiction. Even better would be the start of a new series—she almost salivated at the thought. The clerks at the local Books-A-Million rolled their eyes as she approached the Information Desk, hoping there'd be something special they could recommend: they knew her well. Willow didn't mind the smirks and comments, though. She spent tons of money here, certainly more than these jerks made at their crummy jobs. The cash kept flowing from dear old Mom; as long as she was a psychiatrist she'd keep her daughter in style, and with entire generations reeling from the Boomers' lack of parenting skills, that wasn't going to end soon. Thus Willow always had tuition and textbook money, rent money for Buffy, and the cash to buy a closet full of books in just a few months.

The clerks indeed had a book suggestion, and pointed to the Sci-Fi/Horror shelves with a single name: "Bloody." Willow squealed happily and hopped just a bit as she clapped in delight.

And there they were, a row of six identical editions of Becky the Vampire Slayer. Book One: Welcome to the Hellpit by William T. Bloody. Willow knew there was bad wrongness about this the second she picked it up. A Slayer? A blonde Slayer? On the "Hellpit?" The picture on the cover wasn't Buffy, but it could have been a cousin of hers. And the small picture of the petite blonde kicking vampire ass in a cemetery could have been a photo for how much it seemed like scenes she'd watched for years. Where the hell had this come from? She opened it up near the beginning to read a passage and see just what it contained.

"Look," Becky said. "That guy down there's a vampire."
Jeeves looked over The Forge's balcony and tried to pinpoint the undead individual. She was pointing to a man with outdated hair, a suit that was cut so that it exposed his hairy chest, and at least three gold medallions hanging amid that chest hair. "And how did you ascertain this?"
"I heard him," she answered. "He just asked that girl what her sign was. Definitely a guy who learned to date back when disco balls were all the rage, but he looks too young. Plus, those medallions are just way too much. So I'm guessing he's a vamp."
"Yes, well, that's as may be," Jeeves responded. "But you didn't use your Slayer senses to detect him. You didn't hone in on your prey."
"'Prey.' Jeez, you make it sound like I'm on safari." Becky rolled her eyes at her Watcher, but instantly turned back to make sure she never lost sight of the vampire. She could banter with Jeeves all she liked, but she did in fact take her job seriously now that she was committing to it. The young lady the vamp had been talking to was now getting off her stool and he was escorting her to the door: definitely his cue to make a robbery from the blood bank on two legs. But there was suddenly one big problem when Becky found the potential victim familiar!
"Oh no! That's Rowan!"
"Ms. Cohen?" Jeeves said, having met her in the library earlier that day. "I wouldn't think we'd find her in a place like this."
"It's my fault," Becky moaned, already moving fast to make it to the exit before the vampire. "I told her to carpe diem. I never told her to carpe noctorum!"

Willow's mouth went dry as she tried to comprehend what was going on. Was this some new plot by their enemies to embarrass them all? Was it some secret trick the Nerdy Trio had left behind? Had they all been cast into some alternate reality without their knowing it, where they were just fictional characters on a page? Maybe she was overreacting. She needed to read more to understand this. She remembered the events from the scene she'd just read, since it was the first time Buffy had saved her life, and it seemed that she was the model for this girl Rowan. She flipped ahead a short space, scanning pages for that name Rowan to appear again.

The robot body was far bigger than it needed to be, the kind of thing only a demon would design. Its shoulders brushed the ceiling and its stooped, horned head glared with the knowledge of and love for evil. Twin red LED eyes glowed from curving black sockets, their predatory intent clear. "Do you approve of this body, my lovely Rowan?"
Rowan backed against the wall, horrified with what she was seeing. "You're a monster," she said. "You're nothing like my Malcolm."
"Wrong," the growling machine answered. "I am everything that Malcolm is." He motioned for Hugh, the boy who'd nabbed her, to come near, and the high schooler gladly approached his master and looked up in awe and admiration. "My higher functions still exist on the Internet, with all those resources open to me. But I also exist here. It gives me the pleasures I am not allowed online—the joy of touching the real world; the joy of affecting things with my own hands; the joy of killing." Reaching out, he took Hugh's head in his clawed metallic hands and gave it a sharp twist, snapping the boy's neck and dropping the body.
Rowan's mouth dropped open and she fell back again, now boneless and nearly fainting. She was beyond words, beyond feeling, beyond understanding. She had given her young virgin heart to this personality on the Net, this imagined man who not only understood her but seemed to genuinely care, seemed more interested in her than any boy ever had in her lifetime. In such a short time he had become central to everything in her life. Food tasted better, the days were brighter, every song on the radio was happy—all because she was in love. So much positive energy expended, so many daydreams crafted and spun again and again about her future with him, so much of her soul spent praying for him and what they could have together. And now to find that he'd been a demon all along! Even the discovery that demons and vampires were real wasn't as hurtful as this betrayal of her innocence.
Moloch couldn't read her mind, but his words made it seem that way. "I have not killed anyone in centuries." His blood-stained hands were outstretched toward the young girl and his happiness vibrated through his electronic voice. "I could not have had this without you, Rowan. Your love brought me here, inspired me to create a body rather than destroy world economies. And now another soul lies within my purview, all because of you." The entire room shook as his heavy form moved forward, and the edge of a claw stroked her cheek. "Thank you."

Willow almost dropped the book in shock. Whoever had done this had gotten into her head somehow and knew things she had never told anyone, things she had never even admitted to Xander or Tara. Whoever had done this was displaying her darkest secrets to the world—a straight-on magical attack would have been more welcome. Burning down her home would have been more welcome! She felt violated and nauseous, and only now thought to check the back cover. The splashed message that a sequel was due out by the end of the year was not welcoming. She then looked to the inside back cover to see the picture of this "Bloody" person . . . and was so shocked that she leaned against the bookshelf, causing the entire thing to lean over with her weight. She recovered and continued to stare at the handsome, smiling face within the book.

Spike?! She knew he was evil down to his core, but THIS?! It was the most horrific thing she could think of. It made the Buffybot look like an unhumorous practical joke. The viciousness, the heartlessness it took to betray them all like this—she had truly thought him a bit better than this.

She had to get this to Buffy! Immediately! And then it'd be time to sharpen stakes once again.

TO BE CONTINUED

A/N: I know it was a helluva long wait for this chapter . . . some thought I'd never finish at all. But I really do have a plan here, and it took so long to execute because I wanted to do it right or not do it at all. There should be only three more chapters to this story.
Chapter Five: Voices
Chapter Six: The Summer of Bluntness
Chapter Seven: Room 425
I have parts of the next two chapters written, I just have to pull it all together to make them work. I make no promises about when they'll appear. I hope you enjoyed this chapter and will enjoy the succeeding ones as well.