In The Company of Wolves

By Jonquil

etline.jpg (9710 bytes)


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

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

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

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

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

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

Willow took a step back. "How?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And my alternative is?"

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

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

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

"I can't do that!"

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

"But what if he stands still?"

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

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

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

"You're not giving me time!"

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

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

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

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

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

Willow froze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Only to jaded tastebuds."

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

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

"Bit random, but it'll do."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spike gave back the stack of papers and accepted the letters in return, then sat in the armchair and read.

Dear Buffy,

I miss you, but I'm glad I left town for awhile. I've been doing a lot of thinking, mostly about you. I hope you're making your usual dent in the undead population.

<<Very funny, Red.>>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She scowled. "Do I have a choice?"

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

"No. I'm coming."


From the diary of Willow Rosenberg (decrypted)

perl -pi.dos -e 's/\cM$//' index.html

I'm not sure who I am any more. I can't be Research Girl, or Net Girl, or even Witch Girl -- Spike saw to that when he left my Book of Shadows behind. Buffy could kick some ass, Giles could think his way out, but I'm useless here.

Hence this diary. It's based on a lot of assumptions -- that Spike lets me live, that he sets me free after a year, that he doesn't suspect what I'm up to, that he lets me keep these papers -- which puts it out on the pretty thin end of the probability tree. But it's the best I can do for now.

I'm going to write down everything I can find out about vampires. If I can ever get these notes into Giles's hands -- I don't trust the Council any more -- they might save some future Slayer's life. Which isn't useless at all. Spike says everybody needs a credible threat, and I suppose this is mine.

Spike can't read this, I'm pretty sure. He thinks it's a Perl script. The first couple of lines are valid Perl, just in case. The rest is rot13, with random characters thrown in for confusion. I do have to be brief. Even Spike won't believe a 5-page Perl script.

perl -0777 -pe 's{/\*.*?\*/}{}gs' foo.c

Last note I complained about all the girls I wasn't. Apparently Spike has the same perception; he seems to be trying to turn me into Vampire Girl. Not literally, so far anyway.

I suppose it's a compliment, in a left-handed Hellmouthy sort of way.

So, VG is supposed to mouth off. Not mouthing off is a sign of weakness. Weakness gets you attacked.

Note: If this is true for real vampires as well, then Buffy's sarcasm may actually be part of what makes her so effective.


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