The Letter

Chapter 20:
Encounters and Interludes

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

There was a certain rhythm to his work, Spike decided, that helped the time to pass quickly. If the bar were busy enough, the buzz of conversation and the pounding music could almost drown out the endless cacophony of voices in his head. It was a good night, then, when he didn't think of her more than four or five times an hour.

Spike finished his sweep around the depths of the bar and around the perimeter of the sunken dance floor. He seldom had to intervene; the presence of Jake's boys in black was usually enough to deter would-be troublemakers. Not much different from being a master vampire controlling the minions, in fact, he reflected. Ninety-five percent of the control was just putting on a good show of presence. It was the other five percent that erupted into ninety-five percent of the trouble. But tear off a few minions' heads - or give a belligerent drunk an obvious bum's rush to the door, he amended - and that usually would take care of it.

Corey moved to meet him as he headed back to the door. His eyes were bright with excitement. "Man, you just missed the weirdest thing! These two guys walked by, and I swear it looked like they didn't have any reflection. I don't know how they--"

"What two guys?" Spike interrupted. The short hairs on the back of his neck lifted, a sensation that unnerved him. He followed the line of Corey's outstretched arm to see two men moving into the crowd towards the back of the cavernous bar.

"What's the big deal?" Corey called after him curiously, as Spike hurried off in pursuit.

Hope you never find out, mate.

As he followed the two men across the floor, Spike realized that they must have some sophistication and experience. Many vampires never developed enough control to learn how to adopt a human face, yet these two were moving amongst what must seem like an unlimited buffet without so much as a growl or a flash of fang. He drew closer in an attempt to overhear their conversation, while simultaneously trying to maintain the guise of being on his regular rounds.

They'd even gone so far as to dress with some thought to blending in to their environment, Spike noted. Both wore jeans and tee shirts, to which one had added a pair of worn snakeskin cowboy boots. The other sported a sleeveless red plaid flannel shirt over his tee, though he'd left it unbuttoned.

"...such a good idea," Boots was complaining to his companion as Spike caught up with them. "There's all that blood back at the clinic, if you're so hungry."

"You ever actually taste that stuff?" Flannel retorted, echoing Spike's thought in memory of the chemical tang of bagged blood. "All those preservatives ain't good for you, either. And it's cold."

"Doc won't like this," Boots warned.

Flannel's fist shot out suddenly and snatched a handful of Boots's shirt, drawing him close. "He won't ever find out, though... will he?" he hissed. "Because no one's going to tell him." Boots stammered his agreement. "Besides, when did we start taking orders from humans? They're supposed to be food."

"It's not him I'm worried about, Leroy," Boots choked out as best he could with his shirt twisted tightly at his throat. "It's the ones he's working for - didn't you see what they did to Manny?"

For a moment Flannel's - Leroy's - grip on his partner's shirt slackened as he contemplated this, but his hunger overcame whatever good sense he might have had. He gave the other vampire a shake, and dropped him. "They're not here now, Spencer - but I'm hungry now."

What self-respecting vampire still lets himself be called Spencer? Spike wondered to himself, giddily anticipating the fight to come. It's damn near as bad as William.

"Now let's split up - I don't feel like sharing."

Spike hesitated for only a moment before electing to follow Leroy; Spencer's uncertainty, he hoped, would keep him from acting too quickly. Leroy had vanished around one of the dark-panelled corners in the labyrinthine recesses of the bar down by the dance floor. Drawing the stake from the sheath at his back, Spike approached as stealthily as he could manage, but he was almost certain his own heart pounded audibly in his chest.

He eased slowly around the corner, keeping his back to the wall and hoping to catch sight of his quarry again. His eyes flicked over the crowd collected in the dim alcove, but Leroy seemed to have vanished as though Dracula weren't the only vampire who could turn to mist. And I'll never get my eleven pounds from that ponce now, will I?

Both Spike's thought and his breath were unexpectedly cut short by the sinewy bulk that seized him to spin him around and slam him face-first into the wall. His arm was viciously twisted up behind him, forcing him to drop the stake.

"What are you doing, meat?" Leroy hissed in his ear, his face only inches away. His words were carried on the reek from a charnel house and distorted by jutting fangs. "Did you think I couldn't hear you? Did you think I wouldn't smell you?"

Spike's heart pounded in this throat, and he was paralysed with fear. Seconds ticked brutally by while the vampire applied even more pressure.

Then as though something had abruptly shattered inside him, the fear vanished, leaving only a cold, clean anger in its wake. Spike snapped his head back into Leroy's face, catching him in the nose with a satisfying crunch that released a torrent of dark blood. He followed this move with his free elbow to Leroy's solar plexus, which, while not able to knock the wind out of him, at least stunned him momentarily and drove him back.

Before he could recover, Spike spun around and leapt for him, driving him to the ground. Patrons scattered, snatching up their drinks as their struggle toppled tables and stools around them. They rolled, thrashing, up against the wooden railing around the dance floor, and Spike found himself momentarily on top, pinning the vampire to the floor - though he knew he couldn't hold him without drastic measures.

Forgoing the throat as useless, Spike drove his thumbs violently towards Leroy's eyes instead. Even though they were somewhat shielded by the bony brow ridge, he soon felt the soft orbs rupture, spurting jelly-like fluid. The vampire screamed in pain and outrage under him, and Spike clung desperately to maintain his hold.

He was reaching for the railing to break a piece of wood free when a familiar voice cried "Here!" and tossed him his mislaid stake. Spike plunged it home gratefully, and collapsed to the floor amidst gritty dust. Getting to his feet, he looked around to thank his benefactor - but a commotion near the fire exit drew his attention. Spencer - having seen his companion's fate - was trying to make a break out the back door. Alarms shrieked as he forced it open.

Spike raced for the open door, heedlessly knocking people aside in his flight, and plunged into the darkened alleyway. His prey was only a few yards ahead of him, having stumbled over some garbage cans in spite of the advantage of his heightened senses, and was struggling to regain his footing.

A wordless scream and a leap, the feel of the stake grating between Spencer's prominent ribs, and the second vampire, too, exploded into dust beneath him.

The whooping alarms cut off abruptly. Movement by the exit caught Spike's eye and he scrambled to his feet, panting for breath. Jake stood there, filling the doorway, an unreadable expression on his face.

"There are things about this town..." the big man began, then shook his head. "I think we both need a beer. C'mon back inside, and I'll draw you one myself - and then we'll both agree that I didn't see a thing."

Spike just grinned assent, and followed him back into the bar.

**********

When he left the bar, he was still giddy at the after effects of dusting the two vampires - and the fact that Jake had added what felt like a substantial amount of extra cash to his pay envelope. Sleep seemed a million miles away. Buoyed by his fey mood, he wandered the emptying streets, looking for confrontation. He felt like nearly howling in frustration when nothing more came his way than propositions from the few prostitutes - of both genders - still working the street at this late hour.

Salvation emerged in a tight skirt, crop top and heels from the door of the Orange Grove strip club. Allie's round face was creased in anger and she muttered to herself as she walked. She almost ran into Spike before she saw him. He caught her up about the waist and spun her about until she smacked at his arms to make him set her down.

"At least one of us is having a good night so far," she said, her frown traded for a smile he longed to believe was only for him.

"Maybe we could go by your place," he ventured, emboldened by his adventures and her brilliant smile. "And I could tell you all about it."

"I think we can make an arrangement," she replied, taking his arm. As they walked, she listened to him describe his evening, murmuring in awe and praising him in all the right places.

"So you think the two of them were part of this blood theft operation?" she asked some time later, when he had finished his account. She steered him around a corner and down a side street.

"Stands to reason," he replied. "I'm just sorry I wasn't able to get anything more out of them, but I didn't really have a chance."

"There's a free clinic not that far from Desperados," Allie mused. "I go there sometimes. I wonder if that's the one they meant? 'Doc' could be any one of the doctors working there, though, though."

Spike stopped walking abruptly and took her by the shoulders, seized with investigative fervour. "You know the place? Can we go by there and check it out?" His gaze became thoughtful. "I have to let Bu-... I have to let Dawn know."

Allie eased herself free of his grip and tried to bring him back down to reality before he took off running down the street. "It's three in the morning, Spike. I'm sure they'll be asleep by now - even the Slayer. Can't you just go tell them in the morning?" She frowned slightly, looking up at him. "And why should you be the one who does all the work for her - for them?"

He looked down, weighing her words, and she continued - "Besides, we're here."

Spike glanced around. Instead of the apartment building he had imagined, they stood near a dingy motel nestled under a freeway off ramp. Mot-l C-lif--nia, buzzed the decrepit and flickering neon sign.

"You live here?" he asked, confused.

"I'd never live where I work," she replied brusquely. When he didn't comment, Allie looked up to catch his puzzled expression. "Oh Spike, sweet, you didn't think..." He looked away, setting his face like stone. "You did. Oh hon, I... I'm sorry. You're a sweet guy, but..." She reached for his chin to turn his face back to her, but his fingers closed gently on her wrist and pulled her hand away.

"My mistake," he said coldly.

"I did kind of wonder," she admitted. "A guy like you should be able to get any girl he wants."

"Apparently not."

"Look, we don't have to--"

"No. No, I want to. I'll just try not to jump to any more conclusions." He laughed, without much humour. "This is something of a new experience for me."

Inside the motel office they were met by an elderly Asian man whom Spike thought could be anywhere from sixty to over a hundred; he'd achieved that look of wizened age that probably wouldn't change until the day he dropped.

"Hey Donnie," Allie carolled cheerfully. "This is Spike. We need a room."

Donnie dropped a broken plastic key tag holding a single key onto the counter. "Twenty dollar for hour," he said, in a heavy accent. "Forty deposit."

"You won't ever get much more conversation out of him than that," Allie confided in a whisper as Spike reached for his cash. "He ran this place for nearly forever, but his son Vincent's taken over most of the day-to-day operations now. Donnie just takes the occasional shift to give him a break."

Key in hand, they headed for the upper level to find their room. Despite the overall state of disrepair, the room itself was in passable condition. Spike tried not to reflect on how many bodies might have coupled on the lone bed, or on how many times one of them had been Allie's. He didn't have long to think, though, because as soon as the door closed behind them, Allie was pulling his shirt over his head and reaching for his belt. He found that he needn't have worried about whether he'd be able to respond under such adverse circumstances; it seemed that even a cold imitation of love was sufficient to get his body going through the motions. She was more than skilled enough to see to that.

Physically satisfied at least, he simply lay on the bed as Allie used the bathroom to retouch her appearance. Finding him still sprawled on his back when she emerged, she threw his jeans over his naked form. "Better get a move on, lover, or old man Tranh will charge you for another hour. There's no grace period here." He only closed his eyes, and she shrugged. "Suit yourself. I gotta go."

Only once she was gone did he let the tears leak from his eyes to run back into his hair.

**********

He returned with her the next week for what would quickly become a regular assignation, once or twice a week as his funds permitted. On one occasion, they had found a couple of vamps trying to shake down Donnie in order to get some space to establish a new nest. After he had taken care of them, Vincent had offered them a room near the office that he guaranteed would be only theirs, available any time they wanted it. The offer didn't include a discount, however - gratitude only went so far on the Roosevelt strip.

Allie never allowed him to kiss her on the mouth during their trysts, but let him do anything else he could pay for. She would even do to him such things as he felt he deserved, from time to time - though she did make him cover the cost of his own condoms at last, claiming with her characteristic breezy laugh that he would break her financially.

It was enough, for the present, that she was his friend, sharing any number of laughing conversations with him on the street corner after he got off work. If it made him uncomfortable that she'd often come from a bed somewhere with other men to be with him, he fought to not let it show - who the hell was he to judge?

The sex was never anything but business between them, but they grew close enough that sometimes they would lie in bed for hours, after - just talking. Over time, he told her everything there was to tell about his first human life - his terminally ill mother, schoolmasters who beat him bloody, and the mindless authoritarianism and repression of Victorian England. He even managed to tell her about Cecily and how her cruel words had made him almost grateful for his death at Drusilla's hands. He found being able to share it with someone somehow reduced that old pain further, until he thought he might almost be free of it. Quite often the emotional release he got from trusting her with himself gave him more pleasure than the sexual.

In return, she gifted him with the drunken father, the sister who had run away from home, the uncle who had abused her, and the junkie lover who had abandoned her to the streets. But she never cried in front of him.

On more than one occasion, he found himself whispering endearments to her - words that he had originally meant for someone else. But he never made the mistake of calling her by that someone's name.  

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