Contrary to popular belief, shacking up with the Slayer wasn't all blood and skittles. For one thing, a bloke was obliged to obtain his cash in a manner which didn't involve violating the California Penal Code and more than one or two of the commandments. For another, there were certain... obligations. Obligations which, if neglected, could lead to consequences far more dire than a mere staking through the heart. Consequences like the pouty lip. The quivery chin. And worst of all, the single, glistening, unshed tear.
Not that Spike was wont to shirk such obligations. In the candlelit sanctuary of his office, a stack of new orders for Bloody Vengeance Inc. piled up unattended on the fax machine. Ergax scales for a coven in Sacramento, and a big order of Vorqual gizzard-stones from Consolidated Curses... it would all have to wait. He had more important matters to hand. It was the first week of November, and his and Buffy's one-year anniversary (counting from the first time they'd fucked, and on no account to be confused with the anniversary of the first day he'd moved in) was the first week of December. He'd already set the usual plans in motion - roses, champagne, epic shagfest in suitably romantic venue - but the most perilous task of all still loomed.
He had exactly one month to figure out what rhymed with 'Slayer.'
Spike planted his glasses on the end of his nose, his heels on the edge of his desk, and scowled at the much-scribbled-upon pad of lined paper in his lap. In most matters he considered himself a thoroughly modern vampire, but you couldn't write proper poetry on a computer. What he had so far was ten lines of utter shite. He ripped off the page, crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it across the desk to land in the growing heap of rejected efforts littering the carpet around the wastepaper basket. Right. Start from scratch.
When I in darkest night espy
The lighting-flash of...
What? Something passing by? Dum dum de try? Your bright eye? Ah, that was a good one. He wrote it down and sucked on the end of his pencil. 'Darkest night' was a bit dull, though, wasn't it? Wait a moment...strike 'darkest.' 'Thunderous.' Bloody brilliant extended metaphor, that was, and it led into the next couplet like a dream.
The heav'nly fire that striking down
Ignites my heart...
All over town? But not my frown? Just like a clown? Bloody hell. Why did the best lines always lead you into rhymes where nothing worked? And what about that 'I/eye' business in the first couplet? Wasn't that a bit dodgy? And if there was an internal rhyme in the first line, even by accident, was he obliged to carry it over into the next line? Or the next verse? Bugger. It had been years since he'd done any serious writing, not since...Christ, since before Prague, was it? He'd been out of the game too long, not that his game had been all that wonderful to begin with.
Still, the concept was sound. Better than anything else he'd come up with so far, anyway. Give him the rest of the afternoon in peace and quiet, and he'd have a good start on a first draft...
A thunder of footsteps on the stairs, a clamor of voices in the hall. "Oh, my God!" Megan Kendall squealed. "I can't believe she dumped him in front of the whole cafeteria!"
"Oh, please!" Janice sniffed. "Like he didn't deserve it after that thing with the jacket!"
"I dunno." That was Lisa. "Cassie said R.J. used to be a pretty decent guy in grade school. They used to hang. Dawn, is there any Diet Pepsi?"
"In the fridge, right behind the pig's blood!"
Spike groaned. That was the other disadvantage to shacking up with the Slayer - he had to play nice with the Slayer's friends. Or in this case, the Slayer's sister's friends. Janice, Megan, and Lisa: three little maids from school. Weekday afternoons they descended upon the Summers house like a plague of adolescent locusts, complete with shrieks of hypersonic girly glee. Even his office wasn't entirely girl-proof; it had been Dawn's bedroom before he and Buffy moved into the master bedroom and she'd moved into Buffy's old room, and Dawn still felt that certain proprietary rights applied.
The easiest solution would have been to kill them, of course. But quite aside from the Buffy Problems that would entail, as Dawn's friends the lot of them straddled that nebulous and ever-expanding border between people and food I'm not allowed to eat. Janice was a tart (though you had to admit she had a bit of spine to her) and Megan was a silly little cow (though really, she usually meant well), but Lisa wasn't bad, and he'd actually had a sensible conversation with her about Green Day once. Spike harbored an uneasy suspicion, which he'd decided was best left unconfirmed, that fantasizing about laying their throats open was likely to be a little more satisfying than actually doing it.
"Hey, Spike!" Dawn caroled as she led the pack of them past his door, laden with stacks of Seventeen and Cosmo and frightening amounts of junk food. "Whatcha working on?"
"Never you mind." Spike whipped off his glasses (despite Buffy's enthusiastic assurances that wire-rims were sexy, he had yet to be completely convinced) and slapped an unfilled order for scungeworm larvae atop his magnum opus. "It's enough I'm working, innit? More than I can say for some."
"Oooh, don't you just love accents?" Megan heaved a heartfelt sigh. "Say something in British!"
"Wow, it's stuffy in here with the windows blocked," Janice said. "And mega-crowded with all this stuff piled everywhere." She sashayed into the office, brushing rather closer to Spike's shoulders than she really needed to. "You should get a fan. Or, like, I guess you could just...take your shirt off." She fluttered overly-mascara'd eyelashes at him with blithe and unconvincing innocence.
Spike folded his arms across his chest, throughout which maneuver three pairs of eyes remained glued to every flex of his biceps. Megan and Lisa had, back in the first weeks of his gradual assimilation into the Summers household, gotten an eyeful of him lounging about in just his jeans one morning, and Janice was keen to even the scales. Bit of an ego-boost at first, but by now her persistence was just bloody annoying. "I could that. Could also pop your eyeballs out and play at marbles. Guess which I'd rather?"
Dawn rolled her eyes and made shooing motions. "Ooh, someone got up on the wrong side of the coffin this afternoon. Come on, let's leave Mr. Crankyvamp to his - " finger-quotes, " - work."
"Yeah!" Megan elevated her nose to Bracknellian heights. "Besides, we have that very important...project."
"Keep that treacly shite you call music down while you're at it, or I'll drain the lot of you dry and feed your hearts to the neighborhood cats!" Spike yelled after them, as the whole twittering flock followed Dawn down the hall and into the Sanctum Sanctorum of her room. The door slammed, and a second later, the lyrics to "Sk8ter Boi" blasted down the hallway on a gale of giggles. Spike shuddered, and after a moment's consideration, slid "London Calling" into the CD player and turned the volume up.
He managed a good fifteen minutes of peace and comparative quiet before his office door flew open again, and Dawn bounced in, all long legs and lip gloss. She had a steno pad in one hand and a sparkly purple pen in the other. MeganJanicen'Lisa piled up behind her in the doorway, nudging each other and whispering "You go in!" "No, you go in!" as if they were the vampires and he'd neglected to issue an invitation. "Spike, you're not really busy, are you?"
Spike replaced his glasses, the better to glare disapprovingly over the rims. "You're not really listening when I talk, are you?"
That earned him the deadly hair flip/eyeroll combo. "Don't be such a butt."
"We're doing vampire research," Janice informed him. "Because, um, it's Sunnydale. And dangerous. With all the vampires. So we were wondering if you could answer some questions?"
Spike willed his fangs not to extend and reminded himself that killing them all was definitely out. "Will it make you all go away if I do?"
"They're really quick, I promise." Dawn hitched herself up on the corner of the desk, pen poised above paper. "Question number one: Is it true vampires only purr around their mates?"
"Vampires don't purr." Spike regarded her with suspicion. "And what's this 'mate' business? Me not Tarzan, and last I checked, Buffy not Jane."
"You do too purr!" Dawn accused. "I've heard you! You make purry noises every time Buffy--"
"I growl," Spike said firmly. "Just before I abandon your eviscerated corpse in a particularly unhygienic alley and mail your spleen to Rwanda in sixteen separate packages. Postage due."
"Ok, fine, whatever," Dawn grumbled. "Scratch the purring." She made a tick mark and tapped her pen against the pad. "Next question: How much blood do you have to drink for a claim to work?"
The fuck? What were they on about? "Claim? What, like a mine? No blood involved. More like a pickaxe and a donkey. No stinkin' badges, though."
Janice slapped her hands against her thighs and moaned, "Noooo! Claiming! Like when you bite a human and leave your mark on their neck? And it warns other vampires off and shows that they, I mean the human, is your, like, property or something, but in a totally sexy way?"
Spike sputtered, fairly sure his jaw had come unhinged. "Are you barking? Vamp leaves a mark, on your neck or anywhere else, it's because he fucked up and you got away. Otherwise you're dead. You know that."
Lisa ventured, "But if there was a human you were completely in love with--"
"I'd turn 'em," Spike replied promptly.
Dawn shook her pen at his nose. "You lying liar! You didn't turn Buffy."
"You don't see me gnawing on her carotid, either. Stop changing the subject. Where'd you hear about this claiming bollocks?"
Dawn shot a look at her partners in lunacy. Janice pouted, lip jutting. "Zack told me all about it," she said. "Just before you and Willow dusted him. He said he was totally going to claim me and make me his dark concubine."
"He was lying, you stupid little slag. Evil, remember?" Spike rather regretted the expeditious staking of young Zacharias; if he'd been thinking clearly, he'd have kept the whelp un-alive a bit longer, along with that Justin bloke, and made a proper example of them both. Something with red-hot nails, maybe. Ah, well, hindsight. "The pup wanted into your neck, and he was going through your britches to get there."
Janice slumped into a sulk. Dawn sighed and made another entry in her notepad. "OK, last question. What's the punishment if a vampire defies their sire?"
Spike's brow knit in perplexity. "What kind of defiance are we talking here, Bit? Stealing the last chocolate doughnut? Turning a new minion without leave? Locking them in a warehouse and setting them on fire?"
Dawn bit her lip. "Say to be with the woman--or, uh, man--they really loved?"
Spike unknit one eyebrow, the better to express his deep and abiding skepticism on the subject. "In my personal experience? Sire kites off to Acapulco and takes up with a Vremoth demon, and the woman you love completely sodding misinterprets your perfectly reasonable desire to discuss the situation and disinvites you." He hitched his thumbs in his belt and teetered thoughtfully backwards in the chair. "In retrospect, it was a bit early in the relationship for chains."
Dawn assumed an expression of I-told-you-so superiority. Megan and Janice exchanged looks of disappointment. "But my sister says," Megan said plaintively, "That Angel would, like, totally own your ass under ancient vampire law and force you to kneel and--"
Spike thumped back to earth. "One, Angel's not my sire. Two, there is no vampire law, ancient or otherwise. And three, the day I kneel to anyone but Dawn's sis under circumstances totally unfit for your virgin ears is the day pigs fly out of my arse. Bit, what the fuck is this about?"
"We told you, it's research," Dawn snapped, "and excuse me for existing. Come on, guys, we've got enough to work with." She flipped her notepad shut it with a snap, and flounced off down the hallway, skirts swishing. The Winged Monkeys swirled after. Spike stared after her for a long, bemused minute, then glanced down at his verse-in-progress.
In our eternal dance we rise
And turn our backs on Paradise
And Hades both - to neither bound;
For here on Earth our Heaven's found.
Bollocks. Had a nice Miltonian ring to it, but it wasn't exactly romantic. Spike X'd out the lines with a snarl. Underneath the death-battle between Joe Strummer and April Lavigne, he could still hear whispers and giggles if he cared to concentrate. Which he didn't. He didn't give a toss what they were up to in there, so long as they kept it in there. There hadn't been any gunshots and he couldn't smell any illicit substances (which if they had, they'd bloody well better share) and that was good enough for him. What had been the point of all those daft questions, anyway? Surely they'd learned their lesson about chatting up fledges last summer. Megan might be thicker than a Doublemeat Palace milkshake, but Dawn wouldn't make the same mistake twice.
"Bloody hell," he muttered. He tossed the half-finished poem onto his desk, muted the CD player and slipped out of the office, ghosting down the hall with all the predatory stealth at his command. He stood motionless and breathless outside Dawn's doorway, head cocked, and one by one tuned out every noise he didn't need to listen to.
" - no, that's just gross!" That was Janice.
"But Dawn's right, that's really what it would really look like," Lisa said. "All raggedy-looking. Like a dog bite or something. You couldn't hide it with a slinky little diamond-studded choker."
"Oh, I know!" said Megan. "He's got preternatural self-control, even though she drives him insane with desire! So he just uses, like, the very tips of his fangs."
"Lame," Janice complained. "Look, do we have to make him all lumpy when he bites her? Can't he just have two little sexy, photogenic fangs and look like Brad Pitt?"
Dawn sighed. "Do you want this to be accurate, or not? Besides, Spike's kind of sexy when he's all grr-face."
"Ew! I swear, sometimes you're as freaky as Buffy is!"
"Excuse me? Who's writing this story, me or you? And speaking of which, typing fingers languishing here! Can we get a biting consensus?"
"Read us what you've got so far," Lisa directed. "From the beginning of the scene."
Dawn cleared her throat. "'An icy breeze stirred the curtains of her bedroom window....'"
Aurora turned, feeling a sudden thrill along nerves exquisitely sensitized to the presence of her demon lover. Though only shadows moved in the courtyard beyond, she knew in every fiber of her being that he was near: the Master Vampire who haunted her dreams - and her nightmares.
One ebon shadow rose up, darker than all the rest, and suddenly Aurora knew - it was him! In one lithe, swift, fluid, powerful leap he was at her window. But wait - was that a hesitation in his movements? A dark stain upon the flawless linen of his shirt? A look of anguish on his high-cheekboned, impossibly handsome face? "Dirk!" she cried. "You're wounded! I told you it was far to dangerous to come to me here! As you know, my sister is the Destroyer, granted the power to slay vampires by the mystic amulet only she can wield, and she is sworn to your destruction! If she knew that you and I were lovers - "
"But she does not know," Dirk expostulated. "Nor does my sire, the vicious, evil Seraph, who stole my former vampire love Camilla from me and even now would submit me to unspeakable torment should he ever discover that I have defied his commands to love the one mortal he has Claimed as his own chattel! For I would risk both my immortality and the soul I no longer own for you, my dearest Aurora!" And with these words he staggered, clasping her hands, and sank swooning to the floor in a pool of blood and moonlight!
"Oh, Dirk! Let me tend to your grievous wounds!" Tenderly, Aurora stripped the blood-soaked silk away -
"Wasn't it linen in the last paragraph?"
- revealing the breathtaking sculpted marble of Dirk's chest and six-pack abs, pierced with her sister's silver dagger! Dark blood welled up from the wound even now, and his stillness terrified her, for even though his dead heart was silent within his muscular chest, Dirk was aflame with a vitality beyond both life and death - and yet now that flame guttered lower and lower with every breath he didn't take. Was it too late? Had the enchanted dagger done its work all too well? But wait! Even now, there was a way that she could save her beloved - if only she dared! Aurora raised her hand to the twin pinprick scars at her throat where Seraph had branded her unwilling flesh with his Claim.
Spike wrenched the door open.
Dawn was seated cross-legged on the bed, the second-hand laptop she'd gotten for her birthday balanced on her knees. Around her the other girls were gathered, listening raptly. "'If only she could rouse Dirk to bite her,'" Dawn declaimed. "'If only she could convince him to save himself with her precious blood, and at the same time break Seraph's loathsome...' Eeek! Dirk!" She slammed the laptop shut. "I mean, Spike!"
Spike let his eyes go yellow and took a menacing step towards the bed. "Fancy," he growled. "Wouldn't think you'd recognize me without the moonlight glancing off my chiseled bits."
The other three had the sense to look terrified, but Dawn's eyes narrowed and her jaw took on a stubborn set. "Look," she squeaked. "Spike. It's not what it sounds like."
"Yeh?" Spike said in tones which could definitely have been described as a purr, provided that the purring thing were extraordinarily brassed off. He let his fangs descend (just the canines, a trick of which he was justifiably proud.) "What is it, then?"
"It's a, a literary project," said Janice, cringing back against the pillows. "For, um...female empowerment via intertextual appropriation. And smut."
"We have forty-two reviews on bloodandroses.com," Megan said, puffing out her chest. "And seventy-six on VampireDiaries.com!"
Spike turned on her, morphing into full game face. "You mean people have seen this crock of shite?" he roared.
Megan, Lisa, and Janice shrieked in unison and scrambled behind the bed. Dawn flung the laptop aside and leaped to her feet. "Yes, they have!" she yelled, jabbing a forefinger into his chest. "And they like it! They like it lots! And don't tell me it's not really like that and vampires are dangerous blah blah Afterschoolspecialcakes, because I know that! I live that! This isn't real life, it's a story! My story! And - "
But Spike was grinning a big loopy, fangy grin. He grabbed her hands and lapsed back into human shape. "People are reading it, then? Why didn't you say so? That's brilliant, pet! How many chapters is it? You got an ending yet?"
"Um... that's as far as we got," Dawn stammered, slightly dazed at the literary volte-face. "Then we started arguing about whether the bite marks would be pinpricks or not, and decided we needed to do some research..."
"Dirk's mortally wounded!" Lisa said. "You already decided he'd never bite her otherwise. He's not going to be big with the self-control. And by the way, 'six-pack abs' is totally not period."
"Well, I vote for pinpricks anyway," Janice said. "Big gross scars aren't sexy." She rounded on Dawn. "Your sister's been bitten about six million times and she doesn't have a big gross scar."
"Buffy's got super healing!"
"We could give Aurora super healing!"
"Nah, you give Aurora powers and it ruins the dramatic tension, dunnit?"
Megan clapped her hands with an overjoyed bounce. "You mean you'll help?"
Spike rescued the laptop from a sudden bounce-induced suicidal floor-plunge. "I'll think about it." He scrolled through the file with a frown. "Here, when's Rodrigo and Nanette getting out of Seraph's death-trap? They've been stuck in a well full of acid slugs for three chapters now!"
"Hah! I told you people would notice when we dropped the acid slugs!" Dawn crowed. She re-appropriated her computer and wriggled her fingers over the keyboard. "All right, everybody. Rescue ideas?"
Janice sulked further. "Nobody cares about that plot stuff. Everyone's waiting for the vampire smoochies. People are starting to leave bitchy feedback asking where the next chapter is, and if we don't give them hot bitey sex fast, we're gonna lose half of them!"
"Acid slugs first," Dawn said firmly. "Then hot bitey sex." She glanced at Spike, hiding a smile behind a curtain of glossy brown hair. "Assuming our reference material has no further objections."
"Well, pet," Spike said thoughtfully, "I can do that trick with the fangs. Don't see why this Dirk bloke shouldn't be able to manage it."
Dawn's smile got wider, and she started to type.
"So," Spike said, some considerable time later. He fanged the bottle top off his beer and cocked an eyebrow. "Dirk and Aurora?"
Dawn groaned and tipped her head backwards over the edge of the couch, sock-clad feet pointed at the ceiling. "Do not start. And don't worry, it's just..." She waved a foot, indicating the general emotional state of the entire tri-county area. "Vestigial. Like an appendix. Over it. I love Buffy, and I've always known you loved her, and I'm really glad you guys got together. I'm completely OK with that." She thwapped his shoulder with a Red Vine. "And we're never going to speak of this again. Clear?"
"As crystal." Mightily relieved, Spike slouched down a bit further into the couch cushions and aimed the remote at the TV. Funny. He'd spent most of his life honing a persona meant to reel in girls Dawn's age, but the thought of Dawn being reeled in made him faintly ill. "Not so bad, is it? Thinking of you as my sis? I've had lots of lovers--"
"Three is lots now?"
Spike glowered and snitched a Red Vine, speed-surfing past three soaps and a salad shooter infomercial. "Four. You want me to count up the ones I killed after I fucked them, or the ones I paid for the privilege in my breathing days? Ups the total considerable. Point is, I've never had a sister."
"Oh." Dawn's expression went sour as she considered that--possibly mulling over the identity of Number Four, or possibly revolted by the reminder of his less than savory past. After a long, Oprah-infested silence, "I was never...pathetic about it, was I?"
Or possibly just focused entirely on her own teenaged pride. Spike chuckled. "You, pathetic? Never."
"I still get chaste, brotherly hugs?"
"Wouldn't miss 'em for the world."
Dawn nodded. Her eyes brightened. "Hey. Did you see the reviews we got for this chapter? They loved it!" She flipped over and righted herself, leaning forward excitedly. "I was thinking, for next chapter? Suppose Seraph discovers that Dirk's erased his Claim, and comes seeking revenge?"
"Could work," Spike allowed. He really ought to get back upstairs and work on Buffy's poem, but the thought of all that blank paper was intimidating. Most of the calcium in his spine appeared to have been replaced by licorice. Feeling unaccountably shy, he snuck a look at Dawn across the couch. "Actually, pet... I've been thinking, since we're in the way of being colleagues now, like..."
She met his glance, curious, Red Vine lengthening between her teeth.
Spike straightened, jaw firming with determination. "You think you could take a look at this thing I'm writing for Buffy? Got a feeling it needs a lot of work."
Her grin was all the light the room needed. "Yeah. I can do that."