In The Company of Wolves
Willow awoke with a start. << I don't remember getting home... Oh, God, I don't remember getting into bed. >> She sat up in alarm, to discover she was still fully dressed, except for her shoes. << I am NOT disappointed. >>
Something was missing, though: Spike. There was no sign of him. << Probably out 'hunting'. Now there's a euphemism. >> She stretched. << Eww. Unbrushed teeth. >> She grabbed jeans and a T-shirt, then headed off to sanitize herself.
When she came out of the bathroom, Spike was sitting in the armchair, lighting yet another cigarette. He shook out the match, then looked up at her. "Good evening."
He waved his cigarette at the closet. "Go change; we're going to Rafe's."
<< Well, so much for my turn. >> She took the velvet skirt and silk blouse off their hangers. As she was bending to collect the new shoes, Spike's voice interrupted her.
"You'll need these as well." He tossed something, scoring a bulls-eye on the small of her back. The something bounced to the floor and turned out to be the second drugstore bag. She opened it, to discover Ace bandages and packages of blue, black, and purple eye shadow.
Willow looked over her shoulder. "Huh?"
Spike shrugged. "I told Francois I'd be punishing you. You need to look the part. Bandage that ankle and play up the bruises on your wrist and cheek. That should do for public consumption."
Willow stood. "Okay. And, this is really embarrassing but I think I should say it anyway, thank you."
She could feel her face flushing. "You didn't ... um ... take advantage of me."
He gave her the eyebrow. "Popular fiction aside, luv, I can think of few things more boring than shagging an unconscious woman. I'm holding out for enthusiastic participation."
She blushed even deeper. "Thank you anyway."
"Go dress." She scurried to the bathroom, glad to have the conversation over.
When she returned, suitably dressed and bruised, Spike had already shrugged his coat on and was pacing next to the door. "Let's go." She took his arm and they left.
As they neared the club, Willow felt herself growing colder and more frightened. << Chin up. I can do this. I've faced worse... and probably will again. >>
After flashing vampface at the gatekeeper, Spike caught her eye; she nodded, the door swung wide, and they entered.
This time, the bar was packed; Spike reached out, grabbed Willow's uninjured hand, and dragged her through the mob to a table where Martin was arguing vehemently with another of what Willow mentally tagged as post-punk vampires. This one sported pink hair, an eyebrow piercing, and an Armani suit, black of course.
"Evening, Martin, Lew. Watch the skirt. Another Molson?" And without even glancing at her, Spike dropped Willow's hand and headed off to the bar, leaving Willow standing alone next to the table. << I am going to die. No. I am going to kill Spike. Then I am going to die happy. >>
She glanced around for a seat, but none was available. She leaned against the table and tried to avoid making eye contact. << No. I am the New Willow. >> She tried to make eye contact, only to find that she was invisible; Martin and his colleague had apparently written her off. << Stuck-up vampires. >>
Spike reappeared, three longnecks in one hand, a chair in the other. A vampire two tables over was picking himself off the floor and giving Spike an extremely dirty look, which he cheerfully ignored. Spike handed beers to Martin and Lew, shouldered Willow aside, dropped the chair where she had been standing, and sat in it. Willow glared at him. He grinned back at her and took a pull from his beer.
Martin saluted Spike with his bottle. "Still hanging out with the fragile silent type, I see."
Willow switched glare targets. "I'm silent when I don't have anything to say. You might try it." Shocked at her own boldness, she backed up a step and bumped into Spike's free hand. He patted her bottom. She hastily moved forward.
Martin laughed and toasted her, then turned to Spike. << Yay, me. >> "So, Spike, maybe you can settle this. Lew thinks Darla sired Valerie; I don't think she goes back that far. You heard either way?"
"Don't know, don't care. Whoever sired Valerie picked beauty over brains. The bint's careless as hell -- she's bound to meet up with the business end of a stake some time or other. Seen anything of Elena?"
"Not since Havana."
<< Boy, this is just as boring as a human party. I hate listening to stories about people -- vampires -- I haven't met. >> Willow pasted on her polite listening smile and kept just enough track of the conversation to make sure nobody was addressing her directly.
Suddenly a drum roll sounded. The lights dimmed and a spotlight played over the stage, moving from a rack to whips to things Willow didn't want to recognize. Over the sound system, a voice announced "And now.... our Master of Ceremonies!"
Willow froze. << Oh, God, what day is it? >> She counted hastily on her fingers. << It's a weekend. Spike warned me about weekends. Get me out of here. >>
A cold hand grabbed hers under the table. She turned her head to meet Spike's eyes, her own wide. His face was stone. She opened her mouth, but Spike shook his head once, emphasizing the gesture with a hard squeeze of her hand. She tried to pull her hand away, but Spike tightened his grip until she gasped.
The vampires were applauding the Master of Ceremonies. Willow had been half-expecting Joel Gray; instead, the MC was a fat, balding vampire in a too-tight tuxedo, set off by a ruffled green shirt. << I guess they can't all be Spike or Angel. >>
Spike stood, dragging Willow with him. The spotlight flashed to them. "What, leaving so soon?" purred the MC.
"I'm going to play the home version!" Spike flashed his best carefree grin and yanked Willow into his arms. Bewildered, she looked at his face for guidance, but his gaze was focused on the stage.
In a scornful voice, the MC asked, "Afraid you might learn something new? Afraid she might?"
Spike snorted. "Not bloody likely, mate."
"We wouldn't dream of your leaving so soon." He looked at the back of the room and raised a finger.
A quartet of bouncers began converging on them; Spike met their eyes, scanned the room, then sat again, dragging Willow onto his lap. Cold lips brushed her ear.
"Sorry, pet. Change of plans."
She shuddered and tried to slip down, and an arm pinioned her in place. "Stay put and calm down."
The spotlight returned to the MC and Willow let out a long breath. << Now what do I do? >>
The first act began; nothing terribly novel, a pair of teenage boys and a lamia. She'd wrapped her snaky tail around one boy and was focusing her attention on his twin. Spike flicked a glance down at the redhead. The girl was whiter than he was, and trembling on the edge of some outburst, whether of tears, outrage, or nausea, he couldn't guess. Not that it mattered; any would be equally dangerous.
He shifted beneath the girl's warm weight. << As if I needed the distraction. >> He had to find some way of getting her out of the place before she became the center of attention. She was radiating nearly as much fear as the boys onstage.
One word, one touch, and she'd go over the edge for sure...
which just might be a solution. Of sorts.
As a plan, it sucked. Even so, it beat the Hell out of waiting.
<< Show time. >> He stood up, threw the girl to the floor, and yelled "Bitch!"
The damned spotlight picked her out, a huddled red-and-black heap looking up at him, green eyes wide, mouth open in shock.
The MC purred, "You disliked the performance so much you wish to offer an alternative?"
<< You just joined the superfluous list. >> "Sorry. Unexpected interruption."
"Do you -- expect -- any more?"
"No. If you'll excuse us ..." << Don't plan to stay on the list long, ponce. >>
"Having interrupted the planned entertainment, the least you can do is provide a replacement."
<< Fuck. >> He swept an arm toward the lamia. "Can't interrupt a lady..."
"Oh, we insist." The MC shooed the lamia and her prey offstage, leaving the floor open.
Spike risked another quick glance; the room was with the ponce, not with him. If he tried anything now, Rafe wouldn't be backing him up.
<< Out of options. >> He strode to the girl, picked her up by the injured arm, ignoring her gasp of pain, twisted it behind her back, and marched her up to the stage.
He turned to the MC. "I assume I have free run?"
Spike dropped the girl to the stage floor; she cradled her wrist in one hand and stared up at him, eyes pleading for rescue. << Not this time, Red. >>
He ran an eye over the equipment, sorted by size on chrome racks. << Bloody theatrical amateurs. >> The tamest thing on offer was a riding crop. Spike took it, walked up to the human, turned her around, and tore her shirt and bra down the back. "Don't move."
Then he hit her with the crop. She flinched.
After the third blow, she began to cry.
After the tenth, she was screaming.
When he had finished, she made no sound at all, except to gasp for breath.
He swept a challenging glance over the audience. << Was it good for you, too? >> They seemed satisfied enough. He replaced the crop, lifted the girl by her shoulders, dragged her offstage, and made for the exit. This time, nobody attempted to stop him.
Once they were safely outside the club, he checked the girl, who had remained blessedly silent. She was shaking, white except for the remaining smudges of eyeshadow, and wouldn't meet his eyes. He turned away to collect himself.
When he was sure his face was blank again, he shrugged off his duster, then wrapped it around the girl, touching her back as little as possible. He arched an arm around her, avoiding her back, and half-led, half-carried her up to the street. Fortunately, there were still cabs free at that hour; he flagged one, gave the driver the street address in a voice that didn't permit argument, and bundled the girl in. She shrank against the door, as far from him as the cab seat allowed. They rode to the apartment in silence.
Spike paid, lifted Willow out, and got her up the stairs and into the apartment. He turned away to lock the door.
Willow waited till the door was closed and hit Spike hard across the face. Or tried to. Demon reflexes, and her back wasn't letting her move very fast.
"You enjoyed that, you bastard."
He leaned against the door and folded his arms. "And your point is? I'm a demon, luv."
"I am going to hate you for the rest of my life." She struggled out of his coat and threw it at him.
"Witch." His voice and face could have frozen helium. "Did you want to spend the rest of the evening watching? I promise you, nobody else on that stage is going to get off as easily as you did. You survived. You shouldn't even be marked."
"This isn't just about me. Those vampires were torturing people. For fun. And you enjoyed it, too."
"I am a vampire." The words fell like drops of molten lead.
"That's not an excuse."
Spike straightened, all pretense of unconcern gone. "I don't need an excuse. If you had the self-control of a fledgling, I wouldn't have had to get you out of there before you caused a scene."
"I am not a vampire!"
Spike dropped his voice. "That could be corrected."
Willow stepped into his face. "You're wearing that threat out, Spike."
His eyes glowed golden, and he leaned forward. "Don't throw my words back at me!"
"If I had something else to throw, I would. Excuse me." She spun, walked into the bathroom, and closed -- and locked -- the door.
Spike stared in disbelief and fury at the door. If he broke it down, he doubted he'd stop there. He looked around for something to throw, and spotted Willow's pile of books.
When he had finished, a snowstorm of pages littered the floor. It wasn't enough. He picked up his coat, slammed the door, and locked it. << And now, Mr. Green-brings-out-my-dewlaps, let's have a chat about audience participation. >>
When he returned, a little before dawn, the witch wasn't in the room, either in the chair or the bed. He doubted she'd had the strength to go far.
The bathroom lock didn't deserve the name; when he opened the door, she was curled up in the bathtub, still dressed in the rags of her blouse, arms cradling her head. She didn't move when the door opened, and her breathing was slow and even. He closed the door again and retreated to the bed.
<< What a world-class cock-up. >>
The next night began with a question. "What day is it?"
Spike didn't open his eyes. "What?"
"What day is it?"
"I have no sodding idea, and I care less. Leave me alone!"
The girl let out a long sigh.
Spike opened his eyes and sat up. "What is it? Last night was so much fun you want a repeat?"
The witch was sitting on the edge of the bed, still wearing the torn clothes from the night before; her face was pale and serious, with deep rings around the eyes. "You don't know what day of the week it is? Really, truly?"
"No. And I don't know who's Prime Minister, and I don't have a concussion, I just don't give a rat's arse!"
She nodded. "Okay. I just needed to know." And she rose, stiffly, and began to walk away.
He grabbed her hips and sat her down.
"Not so fast. You have your bloody answer. Why the question?"
"I needed to know." She stared into her lap, avoiding his eyes.
"Don't beat around the bush. No, I had no idea there'd be a show, I would have left you home if I had."
She looked at him unhappily. "But you'd still have gone yourself."
He met her eyes. "I believe we've covered that. How's your back?"
She straightened, then winced. "I'm not discussing that with you."
"You're right, no point, really. Stay." He stood up, pulled on his jeans, walked to his duster, and rummaged in the pockets. He returned with a small jar. "Arnica. Turn your back."
Willow shrank back. "I don't want you to touch me."
"You don't have a choice. Turn around, or I'll turn you."
She met his eyes, recognized that he wasn't bluffing, and turned, movements slow and careful.
He stripped the rags of her blouse from her shoulders, then sucked in unneeded breath. << Enthusiastic participation, remember? Remember ?? The Boxer Rebellion was in -- ask me if I bloody care --, six nines are -- completely irrelevant to my unlife, thank Whoever -- an Imperial pint is -- barely a mouthful ...>>
When he'd regained some semblance of control, he began spreading the ointment over her back. She flinched, which didn't help. << The jeans were definitely a good idea. >> When he finished, he left the bed and retrieved a black T-shirt.
She tried to obey, but cried out and dropped her arms again.
Spike sat back and thought. << I didn't exactly plan for this situation when shopping. >> He looked at the blouse remnants, but he doubted she'd want to touch them again. He tore the T-shirt down the front, eased the sleeves over her arms, and tied the front halves in a knot between her breasts. << That contact was entirely accidental. Soft accidental skin she's got, too. >>
He stood. "Take it easy. I'll be back in a bit."
She turned and glared at him. "Don't hurry."
<< She'll live. >>
When Willow was sure Spike was really gone, she stood up from the bed. Then she screamed. It hurt.
Thinking hurt worst of all.
Willow started looking for something to read, then froze. When she'd left the bathroom, she'd been looking straight ahead, at the sleeping vampire. She'd missed the drifts of torn pages on the floor. She dropped to her knees, gathered the remains to her chest, and cried as if her heart would break.
When she ran out of tears, she sat up. Her head hurt. Her back hurt. Her heart hurt. Aspirin and time would probably repair the first two. She went back into the bathrom and took some aspirin. Time she apparently had in abundance; Spike usually returned quickly, if he planned on returning at all.
<< I've screamed. I've cried. Now what do I do? >>
She looked around the apartment. The door was still locked, and Spike's threats about the consequences of escape seemed uncomfortably real today. Her torn blouse was still on the bed. The floor was covered with the remnants of books. Both reminded her of things she'd rather forget. She began gathering up the pieces and throwing them away.
For some reason, her 'Perl scripts' had escaped the carnage, and were still lying where she'd left them; she picked them up, stacked them, and slipped them under the mattress. She removed the velvet skirt, but couldn't raise her arms to hang it; she draped it across the foot of the bed.
It didn't take nearly long enough to restore the apartment to its usual bleak Gothitude. Willow thought about a hot bath. Her back didn't veto the idea, which was something. She fixed herself a sandwich, then went back into the bathroom, locked the door, ran a very hot bath, and eased herself into the water, agonizingly slowly. After some squirming, she figured out that lying on her stomach, supported by her forearms, seemed to cause the least amount of pain.
<< I started trusting a vampire. Knowing what happened to Buffy, knowing what happened to Drusilla, knowing what happened to Kendra, I trusted a vampire. How could I have been so stupid? And why am I so surprised? >>
No answers came, or at least none she was willing to acknowledge.
<< Not getting anywhere with this line of thought. >> She groaned, and tried to shift to her side. It hurt. She inched herself back upright, let out the lukewarm water, ran hot back in, and then lay down again.
<< Okay. I can't trust Spike. I can trust Willow. What can I do to get some good out of the rest of this year? I suppose there's always the diary ... >> She flinched. That hurt, but not as much as the thought of recording the previous evening. << "Vampires like to hurt people." Everybody knows that already. Everybody except stupid Willow. >>
<< Oh, God, he's back. >>
"I'm in the bathtub. " A horrid thought struck her. "Don't come in, I-I'll be right out. "
"Take your time."
<< I see we're back to Mr. Nice Vampire. Sorry, I won't get fooled that way again. >> She pulled out the plug with her toe, clambered out as fast as her back would allow, towelled off, and dressed in clean underpants, jeans, and the modified T-shirt. She looked at the door wistfully. << I wish I could stay in here for the rest of my life. In my sense of the word, not in Spike's. >> She sighed and turned the knob. The door opened far too fast, and she walked out into the room.
Spike was lying on the bed, watching the television. He jerked his head at the table, then returned his gaze to the TV. "There's some stuff you might need over there."
Willow glared at him, which was pointless since he wasn't looking at her, then stalked over to the table. It held several shopping bags. One she recognized as coming from the same bookstore they'd visited originally. She opened it.
It contained *COBOL For Dummies*, *Visual BASIC Certification*, and three Harlequin romances. Willow fell into the chair, dropped her head into her hands, and started laughing uncontrollably. Her laugh grew louder and wilder until it turned into sobs, and she couldn't stop those either. Suddenly Spike was beside her.
"Stop it. I thought you liked computers. Stop it."
She kept sobbing, and he pounded the table. "What the Hell is wrong with you?"
Willow sniffed, tried to speak, then went back to crying.
He squatted down and lifted her chin. "What is it?"
Willow sucked in a breath, swallowed, and waited. For a wonder, Spike let her collect her thoughts. She raised her eyes to his.
"You really don't understand me any better than I understand you, do you?"
One corner of his mouth twitched up. "If you think I make about as much sense as a chocolate-covered fire hydrant, then I'd say we're even." He grew serious again. "What are you on about?"
Willow tried to turn away, but he held her chin and wouldn't let go. "Let go of me and let me get something to blow my nose with."
He stuffed his free hand into his pocket, passed her a crumpled napkin, then raised an eyebrow. "Answer the question."
Willow wiped her eyes, then blew her nose. "It's kind of hard to explain. You don't understand why those books aren't the same as the books you ruined, because you don't know anything about the things I care about. Which means you also don't understand that t-torturing people for fun upsets me; you think I'm just upset because it was me. And I didn't understand why you couldn't understand that." She rushed on. "It hurt a lot when you hit me, but that's not the really awful part. The awful part is knowing that you'd have killed anybody else without a pang of conscience, and you only care that you hurt me because it's me."
Spike met her eyes. "Can't help you with that, luv. It's the truth."
Willow sighed. "I know it's the truth. Reality really bites sometimes, though."
Spike jerked his head at the table. "You haven't looked at the rest of them."
"Can I have another tissue first?"
"Sorry, I don't actually need them myself. Hang on a sec." And Spike walked over to the bed and retrieved the box Willow kept on the floor. Willow mopped her eyes, then blew her nose vigorously.
She looked at him. "Presents don't really change anything, Spike."
"They pass the time, though."
She sighed. "Fair enough." She reached out a hand and opened the nearest bag. It revealed three button-front silk shirts in violet, royal blue, and deep green. Without thinking, she said, "What is it with vampires and dark colors anyway?"
Spike smiled and draped a white hand against the material. "High contrast, luv. What is it with humans and pastels?"
She shrugged, then winced. "Low visibility?"
"You glow against deep colors. I've never understood why you feel the need to play fluffy bunny instead."
Willow reached hastily for another bag. To break the silence, she said, "This better not be a puppy!"
Spike looked sheepish.
"Oh, God, it isn't a puppy, is it? Because it isn't moving, and a dead puppy would be very bad, and even a live puppy would be pretty bad, because this isn't a very big apartment, and I couldn't walk it, and anyway I'm having a major responsibility problem as it is..."
She did, gingerly. It proved to contain a takeout container, the kind used for Chinese food. She looked at Spike, who was back in You-Can't-Tell-What-I'm-Thinking face. She pulled the container toward her and opened it.
It contained a baggie of water, with a scarlet Siamese fighting fish.
"Oooh, it's gorgeous!"
"Think you can handle the responsibility problem?"
She grinned. "Probably. As long as you don't go all grr."
"If I do, I promise to concentrate on you rather than the fish."
Willow shivered. << I think that wasn't a threat. Or not meant as one, anyway. >>
The last bag contained a bowl, gravel, and food for the fish. She took a few minutes to tuck the fish into its new home. It swam around, looking elegant and self-assured. << Lucky fish. >> Willow smiled at it. "Thank you."
Spike shrugged, then stretched elaborately. "Bedtime. And if you'll be advised by me, you could use another dose of arnica."
Willow blushed. "What is arnica, anyway?"
"And you the witch. It's an herb. Heals bruising. "
"Okay. Let me get something loose to sleep in. " She rummaged through her clothes and found an oversized T-shirt. Then she crossed to the bed, turned her back to Spike, sat, and untied and removed the black T-shirt. << God, this is embarrassing. >>
Spike remained almost clinically detached; he smoothed the ointment into her back, then lifted the T-shirt over her head. She managed to get her arms into it.
Spike's voice was matter-of-fact. "Had trouble brushing your hair?"
Back still turned, Willow nodded.
"Where's the brush?"
"In the bathroom."
Spike rose, got the brush, and ran it carefully through her hair, working it through the tangles without yanking her scalp. Willow felt herself slowly relaxing, and despised herself for it. When he had finished, he returned the brush, turned out the light, and lay down beside her.
"Good night, Spike. Thanks for the fish."
"Good night, witch."
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