Wednesday, December 3, 2003


She'd only caught a glimpse of him, and he had every right being here—unless you were talking to Angel, of course, who still officially maintained that even the other side of the planet, a place as far as Afghanistan, wasn't far enough for Spike to be. But the secretive hunch of his leather clad back and shoulders and the way he'd been using the huge Christmas tree for cover, stayed her foot after only four steps up. Curiosity piqued, Fred stealthily crept down the stairs again, turned left and approached him from behind

"Spike? What you're doing?"

That caused a guilty flinch, from both Spike and the wiry man he'd been talking to.

"Keep it down." The vampire shushed her, grimacing and making frantic waving movements with both hands, before cordially patting the back of Number Five's successor and stuffing a handful of crumpled dollar bills into the man's jacket pocket. Edgar, the new mail guy, gave Fred a doubtful glance but after another reassuring pat on the back he shuffled onwards with his mail cart, heading for the CEO's office to collect Angel's outgoing mail.

"Fred, what're you doin' here? Aren't you supposed to be in your lab, spending your overtime poring over some prehistoric katana breadknife?" Spike accused her.

It was late. And quiet. All day Christmas carols had been playing from hidden speakers, but that had thankfully stopped once the majority of the workforce had left the building, heading home after a long day's work. Now the only people left in the building were a handful of scientists, the cleaning brigade, and a few people working overtime.

Fred held up the brown paper bag with the green logo. "White chocolate mocha and chocolate chip cookies. I could have sent someone, I guess, but I needed a break anyway. And the place is just round the corner. So, uh, did I just see you bribe the new mail guy?"

"Bribe? Uh… you know, that's such an ugly word."

"And kinda accurate, too."

Spike pouted. "Yeah, alright, so you caught me. What're you gonna do about it?" he asked defiantly. "Smack me?" He segued neatly into a friendly leer.

"Of course not, don't be silly. But seeing that we're friends, well, kind of, at least I think we are, you know, after everything that happened and all—unless you don't want to be…?"

"No! I mean, yeah, chums… that is, friends is fine," Spike hurried to say, aiming for nonchalant but missing by a mile when his tongue stumbled over the unaccustomed word.

"Good," Fred gave him a wide smile and tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. "That's settled then. As I was saying, seeing that we're friends and all, maybe you should tell me what you're up to, so I can either act as your co-conspirator and help you plot, or I can then smack you… uh, your wrist—strictly as a friend, of course."

"Of course." Spike nodded, then frowned and lowered his voice. "Don't fancy talking 'bout this outside Mr. Grouchypants' office though; bloke’s got a knack for blending with the woodwork to eavesdrop. But if you wanna take this some place else?"

A few minutes later they were behind closed doors in Fred's office. Fred was perched on her desk, sipping her mocha, while Spike swiveled back and forth in her chair, wolfing down one of her cookies with obvious relish, eyeing Fred's mocha greedily, and prattling on about how the best cookies he'd ever had were made by…

"… Willow. Hers were the best. Dunno what the secret ingredient was, guilt maybe, 'cause whenever she was on a guilt trip? Cookies—even for the evil likes of me. I remember thinking she should have spats of evildoin' way more often, if only for all the excessive baking that went on afterwards…."

The fact that Spike had a sweet tooth piqued Fred's interest—especially in the light of Angel's utter disregard for real food—but she wasn't easily distracted. The discovery was therefore translated into the mental equivalent of a neon-yellow post-it saying 'Vampires-Food-Waste disposal?' and pinned to the big white board in that remote part of her brain that was devoted to gathering scientific data on vampires, before her mind returned to the matter at hand. "The mail guy?" she prompted, and both the swiveling and the chatter stopped.

The look on Spike’s face clearly said he'd hoped she'd forgotten and that at least half of the prattle had been a diversionary tactic. She peered at him over the rims of her glasses, unaware that it made her look like a benevolent but stern headmistress.

"'S about Buffy," Spike admitted, his rueful smile bordering on sheepish. "Just cause I don't want her to know I'm no longer a pile of dust, doesn't mean I don't care how she's doin'. Her, and the 'Bit. Don't fancy pumping Mr. Marbleface here for information, though. He's not exactly big with the sharing."

"Yeah, we kinda noticed," Fred nodded sagely. "Has he always been like that?"

Spike exasperated grimace was answer enough.

Taking Fred's conspiratorial smile as encouragement, Spike continued. "So, I asked Edgar, the mail guy, to give me a heads up when Angel gets letters or postcards from them. Apparently they're still doin' the grande tour of Europe."

"You can't open Angel's letters." Fred exclaimed, scandalized.

"Wasn't going to. I think. Just wanted to—" Spike broke off and shrugged. How could he explain to her that he simply yearned to hold some kind of tangible proof in his hands that Buffy and Dawn were indeed safe as houses? That they were buying Italian shoes and boots by the cartload and having themselves a good time, wherever they might be?

"—look at the postmarks? Know where they are?" Fred completed his sentence.

Maybe he didn't have to explain after all. "Something like that."

"Let me get this straight, you want to know how Buffy and Dawn are doing, but…"

"An' the others too," Spike interrupted, then shrugged diffidently. "Just curious."

Fred nodded. "But you don't want them to know you're still, you know, around, and you don't want to ask Angel?"

"Got it in one. Knew you're the smart one in this whole gig." Spike jabbed his index finger in her direction, grinned, and snatched another cookie.

"Right," said Fred. "I think I know just the right person to ask."

Thursday, December 4, 2003