In The Comany of Wolves
The road rolled on, one motel replacing another, each day like the last. Insensibly, Willow adapted to the routine; she slept during the day, then rose, showered, packed, and headed for the car. Spike never allowed Willow an opportunity to escape. When they left the car, there were always either physical restraints or threats to innocent lives, which bound her even tighter.
They drove north and east, crossing the Canadian border by stealth. Willow watched the scenery change from seacoast to mountains to plains, and the road signs change from miles to kilometers, and then from English to French. Those changes, and the occasional shopping trips, were the only evidence she had to prove that she wasn't simply living the same day over and over again.
Which made it all the more surprising when the routine abruptly ended. They reached Montreal in the early evening, and checked into yet another tiny motel. Willow had settled back to watch television when Spike returned, hours early, jingling a key. She gave him a startled look.
"Back to the car, pet. Now." She stood up, dressed, grabbed her pack, and followed him to the car. <<Now what?>>
Spike pulled out of the motel and began weaving his way through the back streets. Much to Willow's surprise, he volunteered an explanation. "End of the road."
"We stop here. For now."
Willow raised a skeptical eyebrow of her own. "In Montreal? Why? What's so thrilling about it? Unlesss you're a big hockey fan... or you like cheese on your french fries?"
"It has its advantages, Pet. For one thing, you don't speak the language. Cuts down on the escape attempts."
Willow bit her lip to keep from pointing out that it was only her tutoring that had dragged Buffy through French at Sunnydale High.
Unfortunately, Spike saw her expression, interpreted it correctly, and laughed. "Trust me, luv, schoolgirl 'parlez-vous' has damn all to do with Quebecois."
"Which you learned how?"
"The usual way. Practice. Chin up, after a year, you should be able to say 'Help, I've been kidnapped by a vampire.' and be understood by the locals. Making them believe you may take another year or so, though..." He nosed the De Soto into a back street and parked it. "At last. Stick close; this neighborhood isn't exactly hospitable."
Willow followed Spike out of the car to a street-level door, which he unlocked and held open for her. He waited for her to enter, relocked the door, then ran up the stairs, which were lit by a single dim bulb. Puzzled, she followed. Six flights up was another heavy door, which Spike also unlocked. He waved her inside. "Home sweet home."
Willow looked around by the light from the hall. It was a tiny place, with an irregular roof up under the eaves. She stood in a hallway that opened into a single room; off her right was a small bathroom, and what looked like a kitchen. She walked in and flicked the wall switch. Nothing happened. She opened the tap. Again, nothing.
She walked into the sitting room. The windows were covered by wooden shutters, which were nailed shut. By the thin line of light from the staircase, she could barely see a chair and the posts of a bed. Spike was looking disgustedly at the floor, which was covered in dust and rodent droppings. "This won't do."
<<He took the words right out of my mouth.>> "What is this?"
"Pied-a-terre. Set it up years ago. Haven't been back since."
Willow snorted. "I can see."
His head snapped up. "Stubble it. You'll be here for the next year, best get used to it." He grabbed her wrist and yanked her over to the chair. "Sit. I'll be back soon." He pushed her into the chair and began tying her down.
"Spike... I'm scared." Willow tried to catch his eye.
He snorted, and kept tying. "You're supposed to be. You're alone with a vampire, remember?"
"No, I mean I'm afraid of this place. I don't want to be alone here. There's no light. Anybody could come in. It's creepy."
"Sorry, luv." He didn't look terribly moved. "Where I'm going, you wouldn't be welcome... or you'd be all too welcome. Briefly."
"But it's scary here! There are rats!" Willow's voice quavered alarmingly.
Spike grabbed her chin. "Don't crack now. You can't afford it." He saw tears welling in her eyes, and sighed. "Have to hunt. I'll be back as soon as I can. You're perfectly safe; there's a deadbolt on the door." He turned and left, the duster swirling behind him. Willow heard the locks snick on the door, and she was alone in the darkness.
Not nearly soon enough, Spike returned. He was carrying a lit Coleman lantern in one hand. He crossed to the chair and set Willow free, not commenting on the tear streaks. "Come along, we've got stuff to shift before dawn."
She followed him down to the car. The trunk was packed with camping supplies: a portable stove, some freeze-dried food, a couple of jugs of water. There were also pillows and bedclothes. <<Black. It figures.>> Willow carried them upstairs; Spike followed with the lantern. When the last load was inside, he set the lantern on the floor, then shot the bolts home and pocketed the key.
Working together, they made the bed up. Willow reached up to rub her tired eyes, and brought her hand back black with dust. <<I must look like a coal miner.>> She sighed, sat down on the bed, and toed her shoes off. Suddenly, all the horrors of the last week caught up with her at once, and she buried her face in the bed and began sobbing.
Surprisingly, Spike didn't make a snide comment; he quietly continued setting the room to rights, then sat down on the bed beside her. When she continued to sob, he said quietly, "Go to sleep, Red. It will all look better when you wake up." She cried on. Eventually, a cool hand began stroking her hair, then her shoulder. The sobs grew slower and quieter, and eventually she fell asleep.
The next few nights assumed their own routine. Spike rose, chained Willow's ankle to the bed, and left to do whatever vampires did in their spare time. She never heard any sounds that would indicate the building had other residents, living or otherwise. After the first night, he got the heat, water, and electricity turned on. The light made the dirt and decay all too visible. It also revealed the furnishings: typical vampire gothic <<Where do they shop? Gargoyle Barn? Crate And Bondage?>> with one modern addition, a small television set.
On the nights when Spike returned early, he released Willow and set her to cleaning the apartment. Even though she loathed housework, it was something to do. Besides, the room was even more depressing dirty than clean. Before long, she'd done everything possible without paint, spackle, or a sledgehammer, which she privately thought was the best solution.
When Spike returned after a particularly long night, Willow reopened an old argument.
"Can I PLEASE have my laptop?"
"I won't hook up to the Net, I promise."
"What did I say about promises?"
"This apartment doesn't even have a phone jack."
"And you know that because? No."
"Spike, if I don't have *something* to do for the next year, I will go crazy."
Spike quirked an eyebrow. "I could offer some suggestions..."
"I meant, something to think about. Besides that I'm flunking all my classes because of you. Books. Computers. Magick."
"What, no bungee jumping?"
Another airless sigh. "Go to sleep, luv."
Willow sighed and rolled over. <<I'm going to flunk out of college, and I have to spend the next year watching Passions in French with a vampire. Could my life get any worse?>>
When evening came, Spike went through the usual routine of chaining Willow, handing her the remote, locking her in, and leaving. When he returned, much earlier than usual, he had a small box in one hand, and a large bag, which he left in the hall. He switched the TV off, strolled to the bed, and sat down beside Willow.
"Just how badly do you want to get some air?"
Willow scanned his face. For once, it was completely serious, even solemn. "What's the catch?"
"Answer the question, pet."
<<What am I getting into?>> Willow swallowed several times, but her throat was too tight to speak.
"I suppose that's your answer, then." Spike rose, and Willow gasped "Wait!".
Spike suppressed a grin. "Yes, Red?"
"I want out very badly, and you know it. What do I have to do?"
He sat down again. "I'm not hunting tonight. Going to meet some old... acquaintances. You can come... if..." He watched her face.
"It's a vampire bar. Humans enter only as food or as toys. If you don't want to be the first, you'll have to be the second." He flipped open the box. Inside was a fine black chain. The clasp was a tiny padlock, supporting a polished garnet teardrop.
Willow shrank back. "Ick."
Spike snapped the package shut and pocketed it. "As you like." He rose, locked the door, and left.
Willow slumped back against the bed and thought. <<Getting some fresh air... but being a toy? Yuck. Bleah. Possessive vampires, ptooey!>>
Nothing further was said on that subject for a week. Every evening, Spike rose, restrained Willow, locked the doors, and left. Willow paced (within the limits of the chain), watched television, and recited all the Shakespeare she could remember. One evening, she could stand it no longer. As Spike stood to leave, Willow said, "Just what does that necklace mean?"
Spike froze, with that preternatural vampire stillness. "Two things. You're under my protection and under my authority." He grabbed her chin and held it. "Which means that, in public, you do exactly what I tell you. Cross me or mouth off, and you may not live to regret it."
Willow sighed and met his gaze. "Okay. In public, I obey." She put on her best Resolve Face. "In private, I'm a free agent. Or as free as I ever get, which isn't very. Now what?"
Spike took both her hands and raised her to her feet, then pulled the box from his pocket. "This is generally a lifetime commitment, although..." his mouth quirked, "the lifetime is frequently shorter than the mortal imagines. Call it a year, in this case; when I get the tape, you can go free. There's a lot of ritual folderol, but why bother.
Willow knelt, and Spike fastened the chain around her neck. Her hands flew up and tugged; it was thin but strong.
He looked down at her. "Go change. There are clothes in the bag in the hall."
"What am I, some sort of vampire fashion accessory? I HATE this!"
Spike's smile did not reach his eyes. "Payback's a bitch, pet. Wear what I chose, or stay here."
Willow carried the bag into the bathroom. The clothes echoed Spike's colors: long black velvet skirt, crimson long-sleeved silk top, tight to the body and low in the neck. However, the shoes, black stiletto-heeled pumps, were pure Drusilla. <<Buffy can walk in these, because she's the Slayer. I'm going to break an ankle!>> Grumbling to herself, Willow dressed, then looked in the mirror to fix her hair.
<<Same old Willow, dressed as a Goth. Or a vampire 'toy'. How nice.>> She drew herself up to her full height, opened the bathroom door, and walked out, fighting to keep her balance.
Spike scanned her head to toe, face expressionless. "You'll do. Stay close. And don't speak unless you're spoken to." She followed him out the door.
After they left the apartment, Spike set out on foot, with his usual long, loping stride. Willow tried to keep pace, but kept catching the stilettos between cobblestones. After her third near-fall, Spike sighed and extended his right arm to her, bent at the elbow. "Hold on, pet. No need to fall down just for the sake of independence."
"If I were independent, I wouldn't be wearing these heels. I can't walk in them."
"Like anything else, it takes practice. Keep wearing sneakers, and you'll never learn."
"How would you know? How many hours have you spent trying to walk in spikes?"
His mouth twitched. "Watched Drusilla practising, back when they first came in. *She* wasn't going to miss out on the latest, even if it did take a bit of effort. Wasn't long before she could take down a football player without turning a hair -- or an ankle."
<<That's the first time he's mentioned her.>> Willow glanced at Spike's face, but saw only a reminiscent grin. She stayed silent, hoping not to disturb the mood; she remembered Drusilla's effect on his emotions all too clearly.
After a block or so, they turned into another apparently-abandoned house. In the basement of this one was a tunnel. <<I should have known.>> They followed its twists in silence, moving steadily downward.
Surprisingly, the tunnel did not end in the sewers. Instead, it led to an underground street, full, even at this hour, of pedestrians of all flavors, from punk to professional.
Willow was startled. "Is Montreal on a Hellmouth, too?"
"Next best thing, pet. It's got weather that even a polar bear couldn't love. The locals decided to move some of the city underground. Nicest present the vampire community ever got. You can spend months in Montreal without ever seeing the light of day. Very popular spot for undead vacations."
They walked through the underground city. It was more like a mall than a city, really; every square foot was devoted to selling something, and most of the stores seemed to cater to insomniacs ... or vampires. Periodically a tunnel would open out into a multistory atrium, which gave Willow a brief stab of homesickness for Sunnydale, and the mall where she had helped Buffy pick up pieces of Judge, a lifetime ago. <<Ick. Depressing choice of phrase.>> She briefly considered running, then discarded the idea; in those shoes, she wouldn't make it more than a step or two away. <<And I don't think that's an coincidence...>>
As they left the wider thoroughfares behind and turned into a side tunnel, Willow realized that fewer and fewer of their fellow pedestrians could pass the cross test. Her heartbeat sped up, and she tried to slow Spike's rapid pace. She succeeded only in turning her ankle again.
Spike glanced over. "Trying to become dinner, luv?"
"I'm not really sure what you're talking about."
"Fear attracts predators. You're screaming 'Come eat me'. Not smart."
Willow stopped cold. "I am scared. I don't think that's going to change."
Spike grabbed her arm and turned to face her. "Change it. Now."
Willow tried unsuccessfully to shake his hand off. "That's what my parents said about bullies. Just ignore them, reacting gets their attention. Hah."
"They were right."
"I can't stop being scared just because I know I should."
"Let's try this another way. You're afraid of me, right?"
Willow snorted. In a heartbeat, Spike vamped out, grabbed her shoulders, and raked his fangs over her carotid artery, just below the ear. "Do you need a demonstration?"
Willow tried, unsuccessfully, to shrink away. "N-Nope. Not at all. I'm totally scared. Honest."
Spike traced a path with his tongue down the artery to her collarbone, released her, and resumed the human mask. "Good. Then believe me when I say I *will* kill anything that interferes between you and me. Worry about me; anything else is taken care of."
Willow swallowed, then quavered "Okay." <<This is his idea of reassuring?>>
Spike offered his arm, and she took it and resumed walking. Oddly enough, she did feel better. <<Oh no, now his logic's starting to make sense. Before you know it, I'll be turning evil. Buffy will be so ashamed of me. I hope she gets the chance to be ashamed of me.>>
A few more blocks brought them to their destination. There was no sign, just an iron door with a grille at eye level. Spike flicked a glance at her.
"Mind your manners."
He dropped her arm and knocked. A peephole opened; Spike flashed into demon face, and the door swung wide. Spike walked in, resuming his human mask. Willow followed, wondering if boredom was really such a bad thing.
She hadn't known what to expect from a vampire bar. Willy's place, perhaps, or something halfway between Willy's and the Bronze, with a side order of the old factory. Instead, she saw a fairly conventional space: forest green walls, wooden floor, a long wooden bar, and a scattering of bar tables and stools. Oh, and wall-to-wall vampires.
Spike walked up to the bartender and said something Willow couldn't catch; he received a beer in return, and paid. Without glancing at her, he strode on to a vacant side table; Willow scurried to keep up, fighting to keep her balance. He sat with his back to the wall, and nodded at the chair beside him. She sat, took a deep breath, and released it slowly. Then she looked around, under her lashes.
The bar was full of vampires. <<Big surprise>>. Some, like Spike, in jeans; others in business suits, from Armani to polyester, or dresses, ranging again from strictly business to "Hello, Sailor". No sign of the Bela Lugosi look, of course.
She didn't see any other humans, which was a relief in a way; she didn't think she could sit silently while somebody else got eaten. The noise level was about like the Bronze on a typical evening, which meant that she could probably hear conversations at her own table, if she listened hard. The few snippets she did overhear seemed to be in French; unfortunately, none seemed to involve hippos, the pen of her aunt, or Josette and her mobylette.
She looked back up at Spike; he was ignoring her, scanning the crowd and the doorway. She went back to investigating the bar. It really wasn't that bad at all... it even had a little stage in one corner. Then the bottom dropped out of her stomach. Instead of amplifiers and speakers, the stage had chains, stocks, a rack, and a nasty set of stains. And hanging on the wall... She gasped, and heard Spike's chuckle. She whipped her head back to Spike in horror. He was watching her face with amusement.
"Relax. It's Tuesday. Shows are on the weekend."
"Save it." And he looked back to the crowd.
This time, he spotted somebody, and raised one hand. A pair of male vampires began to work through the crowd toward the table. One had long black hair, a broken nose, and was wearing jeans with holes in the knees; the other was bald and wearing leather pants and a royal blue shirt. Spike hissed "Stay", then left the table, strode toward the pair, grabbed the black-haired vampire and pounded his shoulder.
"Martin, it's been too damned long."
"Whose fault is that?"
They headed back to the table, Spike in the lead. Martin saw Willow and grinned nastily. "Who's the bint?"
"On trial. So, what's happened since Croatia?"
"Not much. Bland, Spike; not your usual style. Where's Dru?"
"Elsewhere. Who's with you?"
"Sorry, forgot you hadn't met Clive. Spike, Clive. Clive, Spike." The bald vampire nodded to Spike and ignored Willow. <<I like being ignored, under the circumstances. Being ignored by vampires is good. If I'd ignored vampires, I wouldn't be here now.>>
Martin couldn't resist one more dig. He leaned into Willow's face and said "So, pretty, what tricks can you do? There must be more to you than meets the eye."
Willow bit her lip. "Speak when spoken to," Spike had said, but she didn't know what to say. The silence lengthened, and Spike stepped in. "Since when do you take an interest in the living, Martin? I thought your tastes ran more to lanky blondes with triple-jointed hips."
Martin laughed and replied in kind, and Willow shrank thankfully back against the wall. The conversation moved on to war stories -- literally, since Spike and Martin had last seen one another when they were running on the outskirts of the Ustashi. Willow tuned out of the conversation and went back to vampire-watching. If you ignored the stage -- something she was trying very hard to do -- vampires acted a lot like anybody else in a club. They flirted, moved in and out of groups, and table-hopped.
Willow was trying to decide if a petite blonde liked a tall Angel-ish guy, or was just using him to make the vampire behind him jealous, when she was recalled to reality by a cold and bruising grip on one wrist. She looked at Spike, who was glaring at her. Martin and Clive seemed to have moved on.
"Speak when spoken to, remember? Pay attention, Pet." He emphasized the last with a hard squeeze.
Willow swam back to reality. "What...?"
"I said, that was pathetic. If you're going to imitate a blancmange, you can stay in the apartment for the duration. If you want out, grow a backbone."
Willow straightened up unconsciously. "I thought I wasn't supposed to speak until spoken to?"
"You're supposed to bloody have something to say when spoken to. Which means something witty, intelligent, or insightful. Act like something more than a meal."
"But I thought if I mouthed off, I died?"
He grinned, "That's what makes it interesting, luv. Walking that fine line. You'll learn. You don't have a choice."
"B-but I'm terrible with people! Or vampires! I clam up! I'm stupid!"
Spike lost all humor. "You don't have that luxury. I've seen you cut the Watcher six new orifices. Be that girl. She's in there somewhere."
They were interrupted by the sound system's coming to life, full of thrashing guitars. Willow could only make out snatches of the lyric, something about "I gotta full moon\A smaller room than I need\A candy store a sexy whore\Yes I bleed" Spike's face got the wicked expression that always made Willow's heart sink. He grabbed her hand, yanked her up, and began dancing.
Unfortunately, Spike's idea of dancing involved frequent collisions with the other inhabitants: first Willow, then other vampires. Willow simply went down in a heap; the vampires reacted less favorably. One came up swinging, and Spike happily swung back. The bartender appeared, grabbed Willow, and threw her out the door. Somewhat later, Spike followed.
He got up, dusted himself off, and headed back toward the shopping area. Willow ran to catch up with him, twisting her ankle once along the way.
As they passed through one of the multistory atriums, Spike's attention was caught by a chain bookstore. He turned to Willow.
"Want to stop, pet?"
Willow looked up, startled. She'd assumed Spike would be in a foul mood, but he radiated cheer. "Please."
They walked into the bookstore. Spike paid no attention to the merchandise, but kept a watchful eye on Willow, staying a few casual steps away. She made a beeline for the science fiction section. <<Yay, Iain Banks! No Steven Brust. Hey! There's a Laurell K. Hamilton ... but Spike would laugh. No new Neal Stephenson. >>
She cast a wary glance at Spike; he still looked amused, not annoyed. Emboldened, she moved to the computer section, and loaded up. When she had both arms full, he began laughing. "Some women can't leave a jewelry store. Some can't leave a playground. You're the only one I've met who can't leave a bookstore. Enough for now, pet; you've got more than you can carry in those shoes." He escorted her to the counter, paid for her purchases, and offered her an arm. He did not offer to carry the parcel. They retraced their steps through the underground.
When they returned to the apartment, Willow slipped into the bathroom, changed, then decided to risk a question. "Spike?"
"Why aren't you upset about the fight? I mean, getting thrown out?"
He laughed. "Haven't had a good fight in ages. Loosens up the muscles something wonderful."
"But won't you miss that bar?"
"Who says I'm not coming back?"
"Think, luv. Rafe doesn't want the place to turn into a sodding fern bar for the undead. The odd fistfight keeps the tone where he wants it -- not too rough, not too smooth. He doesn't play The Damned unless he wants a fight. He and I go back a ways."
Willow's mouth fell open. "You did that on purpose?"
He gave her a cocky grin. "I live to serve, pet."