|"Slayer brought by a letter for you, Spike," Clem said as Spike arrived home after another night's work. "It's over on your bed."
A letter? From Buffy? he wondered, and hurried to discover what she might have left him. She'd put some effort into it, he saw; the stationery was probably one of the nicest she could find at the corner drugstore. She had even attempted to duplicate the seal he'd put on his letter to her of months ago, but hadn't realized that there was a difference between candle wax and sealing wax. He cracked open the thin seal that she'd scratched her initials into and pulled out a sheet of floral patterned paper.
Dear William, the letter began. The handwriting was uneven, as though she had never had to write very much before - his love was too impatient for some things, he thought, and smiled before reading more.
Did you have a sister? If you did, you'd know how incredibly annoying they can be. Dawn isn't speaking to me because I won't let her see you alone anymore. She says she'll forgive me if I invite you over some time when I'm at home.
So I guess this is an invitation. Can you come over for dinner on Sunday, about seven? Leave a note at the house or at work if you can - I know you don't have a phone there. Dawn promises some great new recipe. Maybe you should eat something before you come, just in case.
"Any interesting news?" Clem wanted to know.
"Slayer's invited me to dinner," Spike said, tucking the letter under his pillow to dream on later. "Sunday night."
Clem's face was suddenly wreathed in smiles. "You see? I told you you were worrying too much. Now that she knows about your soul, she won't be able to help falling for you."
Spike was suddenly gripped with chill. For me... or for William?
The next day he stood outside the aesthetics salon for some time in indecision. His reflection in the window revealed a narrow-faced, bookish man with dark and light streaked hair curling behind his ears and over his collar. All I need is the glasses to complete the picture. It's no wonder it doesn't bother her to be near me - I might as well be someone else entirely.
He gripped the door handle and pulled it open resolutely, settling his most charming smile in place as he greeted the receptionist, an elegantly dressed, matronly woman, impeccably coiffed and turned out. Just seeing her made him realize that this place was several orders above the hair salon he'd taken it for. No doubt the prices would be equally stratospheric. Still, in for a penny, in for a pound. I need to have everything right and proper for Buffy. He turned up his smile by several watts. If nothing else good, years as a vampire had at least taught him how to do charm.
"Good afternoon. I'm interested in getting my hair looked after today - a cut and a bleach job. Any chance I can just walk in without an appointment?" The woman at the desk surveyed him critically up and down, taking in his worn tee shirt, jeans and jacket. He could practically hear the gears turning in her head as she evaluated him and the probable state of his funds before deciding to send him on his way.
"I don't think we have anything available right now..." she began, but he cut her off.
"Please," he said gently. "A woman - the woman - that I've been away from for months has asked me to join her for dinner. Everything has to be perfect." Inside, he willed her desperately to bend.
"Well... perhaps late this afternoon..."
"Oh don't be such a prune, Dinah," a voice said from somewhere behind her. A dark haired woman emerged from somewhere in the depths of the shop and smiled at him. "I think we can squeeze him in," she added with a conspiratorial wink over the rim of her dark-framed glasses. "After all, men who would actually worry about looking good for their lady friends should be encouraged whenever possible, don't you think?"
Dinah turned a sour eye at this interruption, but offered no more protest. The woman came forward and took Spike gently by the arm, leading him into the shadowed and perfumed depths of the salon. "I'm Natalie," she said by way of introduction as she led him past ranks of women ensconced under colossal metal helmets. Pairs of eyeballs could practically be heard clicking as they followed his progress closely across the room.
"Spike," he replied.
"Spike," she repeated with a smile. "Welcome to Heaven's Gate." She directed him to a chair amongst several women who looked as though they were vying for the title of 'best satellite signal reception', they had so much foil in their hair. "This is our main level. Hair, nails and makeup are down here. Upstairs we've got massage therapy, aromatherapy, waxing, body wraps... you name it, we probably do it. My specialty is colours and highlighting."
He settled into the chair and let her drape a monogrammed wrap snugly around his throat. "I take it you don't get many blokes in here."
She snorted laughter. "Are you kidding? Most of them would rather have their fingernails pulled out with pliers than venture in here. They're too afraid their buddies would think they were queer or something."
Spike just wanted to sag bonelessly in the chair when Natalie raked her nails lightly over his scalp, combing his hair roughly back. He'd always been one for the touch - the simple hedonistic pleasure of physical contact - and he had been starved of it now for some time. His attention was so focused on her hands in his hair that he almost missed what she was saying.
"You've let this go for some time," she tsked over him thoughtfully.
"Nearly five months," he felt compelled to admit. "I... left town for a long time, and it just wasn't important."
"Well, we'll get you fixed up properly then," she said.
After donning a set of protective gloves, Natalie set to work mixing the bleaching solution. The sharp scent of it carried him back in memory nearly twenty years to when he had first done it himself. But he didn't remember using those small pink packets of powder.
Natalie must have seen him frown. "It's just Sweet 'n Low," she said, holding up one of the packets for his inspection. "Seven or eight of these in the bleach mix help keep it from stinging too much. I learned it from a customer a few years ago when I was working over at The Funky Punkster. He probably changed his hair colour ever month - and to get the best results, you really should bleach the old colour away before you re-do it. I think he was in a band." She smiled fondly in memory. "He was such a sweetheart. I miss working there sometimes."
She dabbed lotion around his hairline and ears before smearing the thick blue goo all through his hair. Once she had worked it in to her satisfaction, she covered his head with a thin foam cap, twisting it up and securing it with a couple of bobby pins. "There we go. Now we'll just let that process, and I'll be back to check on you in about twenty minutes."
Spike had just settled himself more comfortably into his chair to wait when Natalie was back at his side, touching his shoulder gently for his attention. Another shorter and plumper woman stood at her side.
"Spike? I know you didn't mention it, but I was wondering if you would like a shave as well? Shelby's next client of the afternoon has cancelled, if you're interested."
He was about to protest that there would be no point since his dinner wasn't that day, but some vain part of himself weighed in with the opinion that having two pretty women looking after him was, after all, better than one. "Sure," he agreed. "Why not?"
"Terrific," the other woman - Shelby - said. "I'll get my stuff."
"You won't regret it," Natalie said. "She does great work."
Moments later she had Spike reclined in his chair and was draping a hot towel over his face. He hissed at the first contact, but was soon luxuriating in the heat against his skin.
"This will be a treat," she said. "I haven't had a chance to give a man a shave since young Mr. Hope was in a few weeks back. Usually it's all facials, extractions and moisturizing masks." Her words were accompanied by mysterious clatters and clinks as she rearranged unseen supplies in a rolling cart she had positioned nearby.
After removing the towel several minutes later, Shelby spread warm shaving lotion liberally over his face and throat. From her cart she then revealed a gleaming straight razor of the kind he hadn't seen in over a century. "It gives the closest shave," she explained. "Don't worry, I've kept in practice. I haven't killed a customer yet," she added, on seeing his surprised look.
Shelby kept her word, trailing the naked steel delicately and with unusual finesse over his skin. For his part, he did his best not to tremble as the razor came close to his jugular. She used subtle touches with the fingers of one hand to turn and direct his head so she could reach both sides of his face without having to move around the chair. But Spike didn't think that she had quite intended the move that directed his gaze down into her generous cleavage. He simply smiled and kept looking down past the straining buttons of her smock as long as she had him turned that way - and was grateful for the concealing drape over himself.
"So, Natalie tells me that tonight's a big night for you," Shelby said as she worked on him. "She must be somebody really special; it takes a lot to get a guy to come in here."
It would be too much effort to explain that his dinner with Buffy was actually scheduled for Sunday, so Spike simply agreed. "The one girl in all the world," he said.
"Wow. You've got it pretty bad. She's a lucky girl, whoever she is." She clucked her tongue, suddenly wistful. "I must always be looking in the wrong places. I wish I knew how to get a guy to feel that way about me."
Let's see. Let him threaten to kill you. Help him when he asks you to stop your current boyfriend from destroying the world. Let him point out how unsuitable said boyfriend is. Let him try to kill you again. Save him when the government puts a chip in his head to try to control him. Let him fight by your side. Trust him with the lives of your family and friends. Die and leave him behind to try and carry on your life's work. Be restored to life and let him be the only one you can tell about how you feel. Sleep with him because you want to hurt yourself. Don't kill him like he deserves when he attacks you like the monster he is...
Spike trembled, grateful that Shelby had finished with the razor. "I'm afraid I can't help you there," he said, managing to keep the tremor out of his voice.
After she wiped the last traces of shaving cream from his face with the towel, Shelby's fingers lingered a little longer on his face than was strictly necessary as she applied a soothing aftershave balm.
"There you are," she said at last. "I guarantee you'll be completely irresistible."
"She's something else, isn't she?" said a new voice from behind him as Shelby returned his chair to an upright position. Shelby gave him a wink and a wave as she rolled her cart away. The mirror revealed a slim woman with curly dark hair standing behind him, and his confusion must have shown in his face.
"Oh, sorry. I'm Judy." Her gloved fingers untwisted his cap and pulled out a lock of hair to examine it. "I think that's about enough time," she said, tucking the curl back into place. "Natalie asked me to take over for her. One of her regulars just came in with a bit of a crisis. It seems she spent a little too much time in the hot tub and turned her hair green."
Judy led Spike to a free chair in front of the row of sinks and settled him there. With brisk efficiency, she took the cap from his head and leaned him back over the sink to rinse the bleaching solution away. He closed his eyes in pleasure as the warm water sluiced through his hair. Something brushed his cheek and he started, opening his eyes to the sleek pink expanse of her tank top.
"Sorry," she said. "I had to reach farther for the conditioner than I thought."
"Think nothing of it," he replied, resolving to keep his eyes open from that point on.
Judy had exceptionally strong hands and spent several minutes massaging his scalp after she had applied the conditioner. He was hard pressed to decide whether the sensation or the view as she leaned over him held more appeal, and felt an almost physical sensation of loss when she took her hands from his head and rinsed the conditioner away. She briskly towelled his hair then wrapped a towel snugly about his head before settling him in one of the chairs before the mirror that ran nearly the entire length of the salon.
"Can I get you something to drink before I start?" Judy asked as she adjusted the chair's height. "Coffee, maybe?"
"Tea, if you have it," he replied, not expecting
"Sure. We've got... Earl Grey, Oolong, Lapsang Souchong, Darjeeling, green tea, lemon, cinnamon, chamomile... um... I know I missed some."
Spike mentally adjusted the price he was going to pay for his hair upwards by a double-digit number before replying. "Oolong."
"Did you want milk or sugar with that? We just ran out of cream a while ago, though, sorry."
"Milk and sugar - one lump - will be fine. Cream is for cats - and you have nothing to apologize for," he observed mildly.
"So--" She flushed. "I'll be right back."
Despite the salon's obvious pride in their service, Spike steeled himself for a styrofoam cup - or at best a thick ceramic coffee mug - so he was pleasantly surprised when Judy returned with a delicate china teacup complete with saucer. He sipped at it reverently.
Judy's sure fingers tilted his head this way and that as she wielded scissors first to trim his long locks. She followed the scissors with a set of electric clippers that buzzed pleasantly against his skull, vibrating deep into his bones.
Spike tried to relax and enjoy her attention as she cut his hair, but was distracted again by memories of visiting similar shops with Drusilla. A touch of her mesmerizing power so that no one would notice they had no reflections, and then he would watch while his dark princess would run the girls ragged, making them set her hair in half a dozen different styles. She always left looking the same as when she had entered, though. And they had always left the bodies in the back room where they wouldn't be discovered until some time after the two of them had gone.
Judy held the mirror up behind him so he could see the final result, breaking into his unpleasant reverie. He dragged himself back into the present, noticing too that his cup was empty. A stranger stared back at him from the mirror, white blond hair cropped close to his neck and slicked severely back.
He still wasn't used to being able to see his own reflection, so he checked his hair the way he always had; he set the cup down, closed his eyes and ran both hands over his head. Too slick. Buffy likes it...messy. He used the fingers of one hand to tug some of the curls loose.
"Girlfriend likes it curly, hey?" Judy asked with a wink. "Me too." She tousled his hair thoroughly, and then held the mirror up behind him again. "How's that?"
Spike left the shop with a tube of overpriced hair gel in his pocket and considerably less cash in his pocket. Hope I'm not going to make a fool of myself. It's not in the plan, but my plans always seem to go a little pear-shaped after first contact with Buffy.
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