The Letter

Chapter 18:
Tea and Sympathy

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

Oh misery! Oh, misery!
Tell me why does my heart make a fool of me
Seems it's my destiny
For love to cause me misery...

I still hate it... but fuck, does it make sense when you're drunk. Spike set down his glass, unsure of exactly when it had become empty again. He looked from one end of the bar to the other, trying to find someone who could explain what had happened to it.

"Spike, I'm going to have to cut you off unless you give me your keys."

"Don't have keys," he mumbled. "Didn't drive here." He looked up at a tall, broad, dark-haired blur over the bar. Joey, he identified. Works weekends only because he's taking that cabinet-making course at the community college. Was ready to quit school when his girlfriend thought she was pregnant... Joey was the one who had helped him install some of the mirrors he had suggested, once Jake had okayed the idea.

"Even so, I think you should step outside for some air and take a break from the bottle for a while - or you'll be in for a world of hurt tomorrow."

World of hurt? What kind of people talk like that? You've been working here too long listening to this music, mate. He couldn't find the proper words to protest and so instead found himself rising unsteadily to his feet.

"I'll keep your place for you. And Spike? If there's anything you want to talk about..." he offered.

"Yeah, sure," Spike replied non-committally as he wove an unsteady path through the other dedicated drinkers to the patio doors.

**********

Three cigarettes later, his mood not at all improved though he was slightly steadier on his feet, Spike leaned over the rail of Desperados' patio, surveying the passing throngs. The fact that it was Sunday hadn't noticeably reduced the size of the crowds making their way from bar to strip club to blissful oblivion.

"Those things will kill you, you know," a familiar husky voice observed from the sidewalk below. He looked down into Allie's smiling round face.

"Was better off when I was dead," he muttered. "I think I'm the only man who can say that, and actually know it's true." He laughed bleakly. "At least then I didn't care what I did."

"Ouch," she murmured, not without sympathy. "Sounds like a bad day." She rummaged in her bag for a cigarette of her own. "Got a light?"

Spike reached down and snapped his lighter open in front of her. Allie steadied his hand with hers and directed the tip of her cigarette delicately into the flame. Her skin glowed golden in the flickering light.

"Come up and have a drink with me," he said suddenly, gripped by an emotion he couldn't name.

Allie paused and drew again on her cigarette. "You know I don't do bars, Spike," she replied, gently chiding him. "I don't like misunderstandings."

"It's one drink, I'm buying, what's to understand?"

After a moment's thought, she shrugged and waved acquiescence. She squeaked in surprise as Spike leaned out over the railing of the low patio and took hold of her by the waist, lifting her until she found herself seated on the rail.

Her nails were wine red this week, he noted absently, as she clutched at him to steady herself. She swung her legs over the railing and for a lunatic moment, Spike wondered if wondered if she had chosen her nail polish to match her underwear.

"Hey, you can't--" Spike turned to deal with Corey, who was advancing on them from his post at the front door. "Oh, hey Spike. Sorry, I didn't know it was you with that hair." He smiled engagingly at Allie, and Spike reluctantly introduced him to her. "Just let her use the front door next time, okay?"

"Well, I like the hair," Allie said with a grin when Corey had gone. As they walked back into the smoky darkness of the bar, she clearly also enjoyed all the male attention turned her way, right up until the moment Spike steered her to a secluded corner table. He waved over the nearest cowboy-hat-and-boot-clad server.

Tina smiled and rested her tray on one cocked hip. "Hey Spike, what can I get you?"

He dropped a twenty on the tray. "Tell Joey to set me up same as before, and..." he looked at Allie.

"I'll have a 'vampire's kiss' please," she said, with a wicked smile at Spike.

"You'll have Joey checking the Mr. Boston's on that one, that's for sure," Tina said as she turned away. "Be right back."

Spike just raised his eyebrows. "What?" Allie asked, laughing. "It seemed appropriate. And I never could resist those fruity girly drinks."

Tina was back in a few minutes to set their drinks in front of them. "Spike," she started, with a look of concern, "Joey thinks you should take it easy--"

"Yeah? Well tell Joey for me that he should mind his own bloody business! " Spike roared, turning to look back over his shoulder at the bar. Heads turned towards them from all around, and Tina recoiled. "I don't need a damn nursemaid either," he said to her. "Just do your job."

Allie raised her glass silently to toast this performance, and waited until Tina had retreated across the bar before she leaned forward. "So. Tell me about her."

"About who? Tina?" Spike asked, confused.

"Oh come on, Spike, don't play stupid with me because I won't buy it. The girl who made you end up here tonight. Look at you: new hair, new clothes - and new shitty mood. Of course it's a girl." She took a long swallow of her blood-red drink and then stirred the ice with the straw. "You didn't buy me a drink for the pleasure of watching me drink it. Just because you don't want what my... customers... usually want doesn't mean you don't want something. So talk."

He tossed back his whiskey and exhaled a long sigh as it burned its way down his throat. "It's not a one drink story," he warned.

Allie folded her hands around her glass and leaned forward. "So keep buying, and I'll keep listening as long as I think it's interesting. You won't get a more honest offer than that."

Spike looked down and watched as his fingers trailed abstract patterns in the condensation on his beer bottle. "All right then. Drusilla and I blew into town in the fall of ninety-seven..."

**********

The crowds had thinned and dispersed by the time Spike finished describing everything that had led up to the events of that night. Allie pushed her latest empty glass away and flopped back in her seat, shaking her head. "Boy, Spike, you sure don't screw things up just halfway, do you?"

Spike didn't answer. Retelling the events of times past and present was like reliving them, and he shook, fighting hard to control his emotions. No more for him the cool detachment of a mature vampire's emotions and knowing you had potentially centuries in which to contemplate your actions. No matter what he had claimed in the past, they had been pale imitations of the feelings coursing through him now. Hot blood, yes, and the curse of even hotter emotion, everything magnified a thousand times from what he recalled. Urgent hormones surged in his blood, crying fight! flee! destroy! run! in endless cacophony. He bit his lip and tasted blood.

He pressed his palms against the scarred tabletop, fingers splayed. "It's no wonder I horrified her," he whispered. "Right now, looking back, I horrify myself."

"I don't know, Spike," Allie said, matter-of-factly. "If I didn't know any of that, I would think you were an ordinary guy. I did, in fact, when I met you. A little intense, maybe..." She laughed and tipped a last ice cube from her glass into her mouth, crunching it energetically.

He lowered his eyes, and a broken laugh escaped him. "I was such a thing as to make the very angels in heaven weep." He nodded. "She was right to tell me no. To tell me go. I was stupid not to see it."

"I can't connect all of what you told me with the decent guy sitting here in front of me," Allie countered. "It sounds like something out of a melodrama - a bad melodrama."

"You haven't lived on the Hellmouth long enough," Spike said darkly, but was denied further commentary by the sight of Tina approaching the table.

"It's last call, you two. Is there anything else I can get you?" Tina eyed Spike warily - as she had all evening - as though he were a volcano that might erupt again at any moment.

"We've had enough," he said; words that would gladden Joey's little interventionist heart, he was sure. "I'll settle up." He pulled a much-reduced stack of folded bills from his pocket. Peeling off a few, he handed them to Tina. "Keep whatever's left for your troubles, love."

She offered him a hesitant smile before turning away, and he rebuked himself and tallied one more relationship that would need rebuilding.

Allie's warm fingers closed over his on the last of the folded bills. "I'd never tell you no, Spike," she said softly, holding his gaze. "Would you like to... take a walk with me? Have that good time I promised you the first time we met?"

I couldn't drink her away. And talking about her only makes me want her more. I just want to blot out my memories... Be that decent guy Allie thinks I am... He didn't reply, but his eyes closed and his fingers released their hold on the cash. Allie swiftly stowed it in her bag before he could change his mind. She took him by the hands and pulled him up to stand next to her. She slipped one arm about his waist and they made unsteady progress out into the night.

They made it across the street in a stumbling, three-legged progression and leaned heavily against the wall of the alley. Spike took a deep breath and pulled away. "You don't have to do this," he said, looking away.

"You're right, I don't," she replied. Spike's head snapped up again to look at her in disbelief. "I don't have to do anything I don't want to do. So maybe I want to."

"I can't... I'm not a good man," he insisted. "I don't deserve--"

"Oh, Spike," she sighed. "You're as good a man as any I've ever met, and a damned sight better than some, let me tell you." For an instant her professional demeanour seemed to slip and reveal a weary, frightened woman behind the mask - but the moment passed before Spike could be sure of what he had seen. "I don't see anyone else around this part of town who gives a damn whether we live or die. But you... I've seen you out on the streets after work, or even on your days off, looking for vampires."

He nodded, acknowledging the truth of her observation. "That's what I do best." While it didn't - couldn't - begin to pay back the debt he owed, it was the one thing he'd trained decades for and knew he could do well - he could kill. If now he was on the side with the good guys, so much the better.

Allie took advantage of his moment of introspection to slip her arm around his waist again, drawing him close. "I'm sure there are other things that you do just as well." He surrendered to the sensation and let his arm slide around her in return. Perhaps he didn't deserve it, but it suddenly seemed an offence against his new-won humanity to refuse the comfort being offered him.

Some of this last he must have said out loud, because Allie laughed abruptly. "Yeah, a regular comfort woman, that's me." She tightened her hold on him and dropped the fingertips of her free hand to rest lightly on his belt buckle. "I know a place..."

But as though her movement had been the permission he had been waiting for, his body was suddenly seized with a raging need and desire, and he crushed her rounded form tightly against his, clutching at her as though fearful she'd be taken away.

Allie laughed again, but this time husky and low in her throat. "Well. Somebody's impatient. Let's at least get out of sight of the street."

Together they drew back into the shadows. When they had found a darkened doorway alcove, she pulled a small, square foil packet from her bag before she let it drop to the ground and handed it to him. He just looked at it, uncomprehendingly.

"It's a condom, Spike." She raised her eyebrows questioningly. "You know, condom?"

"I know what it is," he replied, stung. "Just never had much use for one before."

"Well if you don't, you won't now, either," she said, pulling away. Spike caught her around the waist and drew her back.

"B'fore this, I was dead," he reminded her, running an unsteady finger of one hand from the point of her chin down her throat. "Wasn't really a concern."

She considered this. "What about before you died?"

Spike just shook his head mutely.

"You mean you died without ever...?"

He nodded then, feeling an unreasonable vague shame. It hadn't been for the lack of opportunity, but rather because young William had striven to be a gentleman's gentleman, to whom such things were anathema. No, he corrected himself with brutal honesty, because such things were terrifying.

After the informal, he'd refused cousin Henry's offer to share a hansom cab, claiming that he preferred to walk in London's night air in order to fire his creative muse. It wasn't that far to where he was staying in town, so with a sheaf of papers in one hand and his fountain pen in the other, he walked for blocks first along Warwick Street and then down Rochester Row. He was quite oblivious to his surroundings as he racked his brain for a rhyme for 'effervescent', in order to advance his latest ode to Cecily's beauty. Having quite recently successfully rhymed 'orange' with 'door hinge', he was confident that he'd have a solution shortly.

He was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he didn't look up until loud laughter broke into his reverie. Startled, he looked up to realize that in his distraction he must have missed the turn that would have taken him onto Victoria Street, and was now on a street he didn't recognize. The bulk of Millbank Penitentiary loomed in the near distance, and the row of well-to-do homes had given way to somewhat more squalid properties, interspersed with shops and pubs. He looked around to see where the laughter had come from.

A laughing group of men and women were emerging from a doorway deeply recessed in the soot-darkened brick frontage of the building opposite. The men had the appearance of labourers, judging by their coarse clothing, while the women's bodices were cut rather lower than modesty or current fashion would dictate. As he watched, one of the men pulled his escort into his embrace and kissed her roughly, and he was shocked at the wanton public display. Their companions, however, laughed and cheered them on. Against his better judgement, he felt himself irresistibly drawn to follow them into a shadowed lane.

It took his eyes a few moments to adjust to the dimness, and then even longer to comprehend the sight before him. The man had his partner pressed to the wall. Her skirts were lifted high to reveal bare legs, and he could see the man's pale, fleshy buttocks above his rumpled trousers, bobbing against her obscenely in the gloom. Horrified, he reeled back, but caught his heel on a protruding paving stone and fell gracelessly to the ground in a flutter of paper and spatter of ink. His predicament drew the attention of more of what he now realized were 'fallen women', who advanced on him.

"Ooh, 'ere's a live one," one said, drawing near. "Fancy a go, do you, ducks?" she asked with a snigger, lifting the stained hem of her skirts suggestively. He scrabbled backwards into the filthy street, desperately snatching up his papers. Staggering to his feet, he ran, pursued by their laughter that burned his ears, and not stopping until he reached the Thames.

He stood at the river's edge for some time, shaking and panting, breathing in great lungfuls of the reeking river air until his heart had slowed once again to something approaching its normal rhythm. Far down the river to his left, the lights of Westminster Bridge twinkled, mocking him. Gathering himself together, he headed north towards the Parliament buildings, hoping that he'd be able to flag down a cab to take him back to Cousin Henry's.

"I wasn't ever very successful with the ladies," he admitted. Or with anything else, when I was alive. "Since there were so many things I didn't think a gentleman of breeding was supposed to know about." Oh, but I made up for it afterwards, I did, shagging and slaughtering my way through the ranks of London's whores. What else could I do, when Angelus kept both Darla and Dru for himself, leaving me to watch?

"So it's almost like I'm your first, then," she said, her voice lilting with unreleased laughter. She leaned forward into his embrace and nipped at his earlobe. "In that case, I promise I'll make it really special for you." Her warm breath at his ear was dizzying, and he suddenly knew he would do anything for her, if only she would keep on touching him.

Sure fingers tore open the foil covering the condom. "Here, let me help you with that." Allie reached for his zipper, and his flesh jumped at her touch.

He slid his hand down behind her knee and lifted her leg, then let his hand glide up her thigh to lift her short skirt. She turned her face away when he would have kissed her, so instead he rained kisses down her neck to her shoulder, pushing aside the strap of her top.

She didn't smell at all like-- Don't think. Don't think. He braced his hands against the coarse bricks of the alley wall, feeling the gritty brick dust abrade his palms, and lost himself in her.

"Ah, sweet... that's so good," she sighed, as her fingers raked his hair. Blood thrummed hotly in his veins. They rocked slowly in time together in pleasure against the rough wall, but under his lips the pulse in her neck forcibly reminded him of just how many other throats he had left torn and bleeding.

Human senses and human desire warred with conscience, and lost. How could she possibly want him, knowing what he had been?

Allie sensed the change in him, and she tugged his head back until he was looking into her eyes. "You think you want her to touch you like this. Gently." She trailed her fingers softly down his face. "Because she loves you."

He flinched as though her fingertips would sear his skin. "Please, I..."

"But I know what you really need, Spike. I'll always know what you need." Under his shirt, her nails suddenly dug into his skin, drawing blood. He hissed, and lost all semblance of control, exploding into her. "Pain and pleasure, sweet. There really isn't anything else."

But he still held her close for some minutes, after. 

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