The Letter

Chapter 11:
Back in the Saddle Again

The Letter
The  Coat
The Man
The Truth
The Talk
The Visit
The Dinner
Friends Come Visiting
Epiphany
Making Contact
Back in the Saddle Again
Pennies from Heaven
The Prodigal
Revelation
Reconciliation
The Salon
A New Beginning
Tea and Sympathy
Convergence
Encounters and Interludes
Desperate Measures
Dancing in the Dark
The Vampire, the Witch and the Watcher
A Week in the Death of William the Bloody
Phoenix Rising
Picking Up the Pieces
I Love a Parade
Mr. and Mrs. Summers

It just seemed the proper cap to the day when Clem told him that Xander had been by, looking for him. Spike didn't believe for a minute that it was to welcome him back, either - unless said welcome involved a pointy piece of wood, of course. The boy never had known when to let go.

Soul or no, he wasn't about to apologize, either. As far as he was concerned, Harris had made it perfectly clear how he felt by walking out on his own wedding. He knew Anya had only intended him to be part of the vengeance she so desperately desired, but in the end there had been real solace and comfort on both sides. It was stupid, and careless, and oh, so very human. It's a sorry bunch indeed when the demons are the most human of the lot.

**********

Xander's visit was just another reason to be glad that he would have somewhere else to be most nights, he reflected the next day as he carefully built himself a peanut butter sandwich for his lunch. He would have preferred something hot, but still had to get around to picking up a kettle... or something. Hot equals kettle or stove equals money equals get off your ass and see if you can move some of that jewellery.

Loading his pockets with a few of the smaller pieces, he set off to find a middle-of-the-road jewellery store. Too high end and they'd not be interested in buying from the likes of him; too much like a pawn shop and he'd be cheated out of most of their value. And not too much at once, or there might be sticky questions of provenance. Little by little, in a number of different stores was the safest bet.

It took him several hours and three different stores downtown to find a place that met his criteria, but at least it had given him a chance to determine the selling price of comparable pieces. Spike tried not to fidget with impatience while the jeweller closely examined what he had brought. Finally, he named a figure that seemed reasonable enough, and Spike was hard pressed to not let his elation show. He agreed quickly.

"I'll write you a cheque for these three, then."

"Uh..." How to explain the lack of a bank account to accept a cheque? "I don't... I've only just moved here and haven't had a chance to set up anything with the bank yet."

"I see. Well I certainly can't offer you cash; we don't keep that amount on the premises." He frowned, deep in thought.

Entire scenarios of being carted off to jail for an attempt to pawn stolen goods flashed through Spike's mind during that pause. Then some obscure California vagrancy law would surely keep him locked up and he'd never be able to help Buffy and Dawn. "What if you write a cheque to a friend of mine who can cash it for me, and just give me a few hundred?" he suggested, hoping this wouldn't raise suspicions.

To his overwhelming relief, the jeweller agreed, and Spike walked out of the shop with a pocketful of cash and a substantial cheque made out to 'Buffy Summers'. It's amazing how much more trusting people are in the daylight. Next stop, a sporting goods store.

**********

Before setting out from the crypt again, he extracted a solemn oath from Clem that he would not blow the place up trying to set up the propane stove. Leaving his friend behind to ponder the mystery that was modern camping equipment, he set out at a brisk pace across town to Desperados.

Twenty minutes later, he was back on Roosevelt Boulevard. Seen in the daylight, the street was dingy and shopworn, a slattern the morning after. He thought it would take night and neon to make the thoroughfare even marginally appealing, but his opinion was apparently in the minority - after work crowds had already begun to swell the numbers strolling the sidewalks.

Spike slowed as he came closer to the bar. He had almost convinced himself during his walk that the entire offer had been false, a sham to get a troublemaker out the door. He'd get there, and everyone would say 'Jake? Never heard of him'. He was a right fool, to be sure. His reluctant feet brought him to a halt across the street.

Ten minutes later he was still standing there, unable to convince himself to walk into Desperados and be proved right, when he was hailed by a familiar voice. "Waiting for me, sweet? I'm sure I should be flattered." Spike turned to see Allie waving from the window of a cab that had pulled up at the corner, and an idea stepped full-formed into the front of his mind. He stepped forward to hold open the door for her.

Allie climbed out and stood in front of him, looking him critically up and down. "You've come into some money, I take it," she said. "So... same as yesterday? Or would you like to go some place a little more private this time?" She hooked one arm through his and moulded herself to him.

"Actually," he said, gently disentangling himself, "I thought I'd buy you dinner."

She looked up at him and cocked her head to one side, confused. "If you're sure that's what you want to pay for, sweet," she replied after a moment's thought. She took his arm again when he offered it and they crossed the street together, and stashed the money he handed her without comment as they entered the bar.

**********

Between the two of them they had done serious hurt to a large plate of nachos. By the time their steak sandwiches arrived there was still no sign of Jake, and Spike wasn't sure whether he was relieved or disappointed.

"One hundred and twenty years," Allie said again incredulously after the server had left the table. "That's pretty hard to believe."

"One hundred twenty two, if you want to be particular about it," he corrected. "And how is it any more difficult to accept than what happened yesterday? You didn't turn a hair when you found out that vampires actually exist."

"Well... everyone more or less knows how vampires are... sired," she looked at him to make sure she had chosen the right word, and he nodded. "You know, from movies and all. But former vampires? I didn't think there was a... a cure for that." She took another long pull at her beer before continuing. "It sounds like the kind of life where you could just up and take anything that you wanted. Why would you choose to give that up?"

"It wasn't exactly what I had intended," he admitted, his eyes losing focus as memories played out before him. "Ever fall in love?"

He hadn't expected her to laugh quite so hard, or so long.

"Ah, Spike," she managed at last between gasps. "Sweet, I'm sorry." She wiped her eyes and tried to compose herself again. "It's just that you don't strike me as the type who would be such a fool for love."

Spike managed a rueful smile. "You'd think I would have learned better in more than a century." He lifted his beer bottle to click against hers before taking a lengthy swallow. You'd think I was in love with the pain.

"That was the first thing I learned," Allie said. "Love's just asking to get hurt." She attacked her steak sandwich as though it were the one who had broken her heart.

**********

"There you are," boomed a voice behind him. "I thought I must have missed you. The wife had me off on some errand to find a climbing whatsit for her garden." Jake offered his hand, and Spike let it engulf his own. "I didn't catch your name last night."

"Spike."

Jake looked speculatively at Allie, but when she remained silent and Spike didn't bother to introduce her, he only shrugged. "Let's get you set up then, Spike."

Allie waggled her fingers at him in farewell. "See you around, hon. Thanks for dinner." She headed for the door without a single look back.

Jake led him through a door behind the bar and into a small staff lounge that seemed to double as his office. After scrabbling for some time through a cabinet, he tossed a tee shirt Spike's way. "Doesn't really matter what else you wear, so long as you've got that on," he instructed. "Cowboy hat's optional, if you want. Put that on and I'll give you the five dollar tour."

Spike held up the shirt to inspect it. Centred on the chest was a large oval bearing the Desperados logo surrounded by a lasso, with a horned steer skull cheerily positioned to one side. Not even close to being on the far side of good taste. He sighed, and shrugged out of his own to don the disagreeable shirt. I'll do it for her. But I am not walking home in this.

Leading him back out onto the floor, Jake began a string of introductions that Spike worked diligently to commit to memory. Jake seemed to know every one of his staff, even the casual employees, on some personal level, and they in turn appeared to honestly admire the big man. They met bartenders, servers and even the cooks and dishwashers back in the kitchen when Jake hauled him back through there. They finished up back at the front door, where Jake introduced him one last time.

"Corey here will give you the finer points, but basically it's card anyone who looks too young, collect the cover on weekends, and turn away anyone who looks like they've already had enough. You and the other guys can decide how you want to rotate between the door and the floor the rest of the night, okay? See me at the end of the night to collect your pay." With a final hearty smack to Spike's shoulder that almost made him wince, Jake departed back to the office and whatever managerial duties he'd assigned to himself.

The rest of the night passed quickly enough, with only a few minor incidents. Spike took his turn at several positions throughout the cavernous bar as his shift wore on, and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly he was accepted by the other staff members.

He spent no little time observing the bar from a vampire's point of view and came up with several ideas that would serve to discourage his former kin, or at least make them easier to spot, including a way to install a security mirror that would let someone surreptitiously survey the entrance. He presented his thoughts to Jake in his office at the end of the shift - without going into the real reasons behind them, of course - and was pleased when he appeared to take them quite seriously.

"I think that mirror's a hell of an idea, Spike," he said as he counted out Spike's pay for the night in faded bills that reeked of beer. "You keep coming to me with anything you come up with, hear? I may not go for all of it, but I always want to know what my people think."

Spike hung his Desperados shirt on a hook in the break room - now labelled with his name on a strip of masking tape - and slipped back into his own and his jacket. The unfamiliar feel of a large wad of cash in his pocket was exhilarating.

I've a fat stack of folding in my pocket now, and a place where I'm welcome - and even appreciated. When I see Dawn I'll find out if there's a way to deposit that cheque without Buffy finding out. Might be worth sticking around for a while after all. 

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