Spike leaned up against the outside wall of the gallery, smoking a cigarette. It's not like he needed the nicotine rush. It was just a habit he picked up in the early 1950's and it kept his hands busy.
If someone were to look closer at him as they passed, they would notice a fairly young man, with bleached blond hair, ice blue eyes, sculpted cheekbones and a thin, but muscular figure. He was dressed in his usual black jeans, black t-shirt and leather duster.
Spike inhaled deeply, allowing the smoke to curl into his empty lungs. He was nervous and he didn't like that feeling. If anyone were to ask why, he'd probably kill them.
Stamping out the cigarette, Spike whirled and re-read the sign posted outside.
For one night only, the Art Gallery is proud to present "A Lover's Tale," by Willow Rosenberg.
Ms. Rosenberg has recreated her work on large canvas and the Gallery has set them up to mimic the originals, which are painted on the walls of her home.
"A Lover's Tale" was inspired by "a thief from the night, who stole my heart."
Spike wasn't quite sure if he wanted to enter the Gallery or not. When he had seen the announcement in the newspaper, he was both shocked and thrilled at the same time.
He ran his hand through his short hair. If he went in, he'd be doing something he had never done before - recognizing that someone, some human, had captured his heart.
20 years earlier
Spike adjusted his collar of his tuxedo again and sighed. **The things I do,** he thought as he gazed around the room, sizing up his prey.
It was opening night at a small art gallery in Los Angeles. There were very few things that he liked about humans, besides their blood. He liked Manchester United, he liked Piccadilly Square and he liked art.
Sunnydale seemed like a distant memory to him, although it had only been a few years since he left with Drucilla. Drucilla, of course, was long gone. She had been furious with him for helping the Slayer against "her Angel." She left for Europe as soon as she could get passage on a ship.
After Drucilla left, Spike had gotten into the habit of feeding early, then taking in all the night life Los Angeles had to offer, including its women.
If asked, his lovers would sigh and get a far off look in their eyes, remembering the night of exquisite passion with a stranger. They would say that he had left a single rose on the pillow and that they only knew his nickname - Spike.
Spike was at the gallery that night for that very purpose. He eyed the women present thoughtfully, as if he were choosing a steak at a butcher's shop. Then he saw her.
She was a vision in red. Her long, red hair was swept up in a loose chignon and curled seductively around her face. The material of her demurely cut red dress caressed her body like a lover's hand. Her feet were encased in low heels, setting off trim ankles. She wore no jewelry save a pair of diamond stud earrings.
She was standing before a large painting done by the artist of the evening, studying it as if she was going to be quizzed about it at a later date. Spike saw her tilt her head one way, then the other. Smiling to himself, he watched as she scrunched up her nose, whether in disgust or concentration, at the painting.
Spike slowly made his way over to her, grabbing two champagne glasses from a passing waiter. He walked silently up next to her and pretended to study the painting.
"Do you like?" Spike asked.
"Do you like the painting?" Spike asked again, turning to the redhead. She still hadn't looked at him.
"Oh, the painting. Well, I'm not sure. I was looking at it from a surrealist perspective, but then I noticed the neoclassical images..."
Spike laughed delightfully as she went on to analyze the painting. He hadn't been this amused in a long time. When she finished speaking, she finally turned and looked up at him.
"You!" she said with a gasp, grabbing at her neck reflexively.
Spike furrowed his brow and looked at the young lady next to him. "Do I know you?"
"I...um... that is...," she stuttered. "Oh, boy."
Spike watched as her eyes darted around the room as if looking to make a quick exit. That's when he realized who she was. "You're one of the Slayer's friends, aren't you? The computer hacker."
The vision in red swallowed visibly and nodded her head, her face becoming pale.
"What's your name again?" Spike asked.
"Uh...W-Willow," she answered fearfully.
Spike sighed. **Of all the bloody people in this room, I would have to pick one of the Slayer's friends.** Not that he was interested in killing her. No, he came to the gallery for a different type of pleasure.
"Look, I'm not gonna hurt you," Spike said. Willow looked at him with disbelief. "I'm not. If it's any consolation, I've already fed. I only came here to enjoy the exhibit," he partially lied. After all, he did like art.
"Right," Willow mumbled sardonically under her breath. "And I'm Miss America."
Spike's enhanced hearing picked up what she said. He threw back his head and laughed. Willow stopped fidgeting and glared at him angrily as he laughed. He calmed down and noticed her glare. "What?"
"I know that I'm not Miss America, or anything, but you didn't have to laugh as if it were the funniest thing you've ever heard!" Willow said through gritted teeth.
Spike had the sense to look admonished. "Sorry."
"Well, you should be. Wait, what am I doing? Yelling at a killer? I have to be out of my mind," she said, smacking her forehead with her hand.
"If it were some other night, I would agree with you," Spike said, offering her a champagne glass. "But tonight, I am here to enjoy art and now the company of a beautiful woman."
Willow accepted the glass with a wary look in her eyes.
"Listen, why don't we view the rest of the exhibits together?" At the shake of her head, he quickly added, "That way, you can keep an eye on me. Make sure I don't try to snack on the guests."
Willow smiled slightly at his joke. Seeing this, Spike broke out into a huge grin and offered her his arm. "Shall we?"
Willow inhaled deeply, then nodded. "Ok. But this is only so I can keep an eye on you. Remember, I have a stake and I know how to use it."
"I'll be on my best behavior."
Several hours and glasses of champagne later, Willow and Spike looked at the last painting on display.
"By far, I think this is the best one," Spike said, gesturing. "The color, the flow of the figures..."
Willow stopped his analysis with a loud laugh.
"You don't agree," Spike said with a smile.
Willow shook her head no. "I think you're making up stories. This is a horrible painting. The others were much better," she said.
"Oh, really? And when did you become such an art genius?"
"It's obvious to anyone that this painting was done last minute as a filler. It doesn't even match the artist's previous works at all!"
Spike struck a thoughtful pose, one his elbow resting on his other arm, chin in his hand. "Hmm."
Willow took one look at him and burst out laughing again. She slapped him on the arm, the champagne making her more courageous than normal.
Spike pretended to be hurt, and Willow pretended to care. They both dissolved into a series of giggles rivaling schoolgirls on the playground.
Spike then surprised both himself and Willow by kissing her.
Willow looked at him with a large, owl-like stare. "Wh-what was that for?"
Spike shook his head as if to clear it. "I'm not sure, luv." Clearing his throat, he took her arm. "C'mon, let's get you home."
Willow nodded and allowed herself to be led out of the art gallery and into a waiting cab.
Spike looked to Willow expectantly.
"205 Wilshire Avenue," Willow replied. She looked nervously at her companion when they arrived at her small house. "Do you want to come in?"
Spike glanced at her in surprise. "Are you sure, luv?"
Willow shrugged. "I can always uninvite you. I did it before with Angelus."
Unexpectedly pleased, Spike followed Willow into her home. It was a modest, two story dwelling. The foyer was rounded, like a turret, and was open all the way to the ceiling of the second floor. There was a small living room, kitchen and office on the main floor. The second floor had only two bedrooms and a bath.
Willow offered him some wine before they settled onto the plush couch at opposite ends. They sat and talked about everything and nothing for the rest of the night. Spike left a very sleepy Willow just before dawn, asking her to accompany him to another art exhibit that was opening the next night. She agreed.
Spike saw Willow every night for the next four weeks. They went to art exhibits, plays, concerts and cafes. Each night they ended back at Willow's house and sat and talked until dawn. Not once did Spike try to kiss her.
It wasn't that he didn't enjoy kissing her the first time. It was, once he admitted it to himself, that he had enjoyed it entirely too much. His previous lovers had been a distraction, a way to spend a pleasant night. But he was afraid, with Willow, it might be much more.
That was why he was unprepared for what happened.
The night started off innocently enough. Spike picked up Willow in a taxi at nine o'clock precisely. They were going to a midnight concert and wanted to get there early to get good seats.
When they arrived, Willow grabbed Spike's hand and ran through the grass, dodging people already spread out on blankets in the park. They collapsed on the ground, laughing like children.
Spike spread out the blanket he had brought with and then laid down upon it, gazing up at the stars. Willow laid next to him, using his bent arm as a pillow. She began to point out the different constellations in the sky.
"...and that one is Cassiopeia," she said, using her arm to guide his eyes.
But Spike wasn't looking at the stars.
Willow turned her head to see if Spike was listening and saw him staring at her. "What?"
Spike shook his head and smiled. "Nothing. I was just listening to you."
The concert started, to Willow's thankfulness, and the unlikely duo sat and listened to the haunting music of the flute and strings.
The music overwhelmed Spike, its notes hitting a chord within him that he had not felt in a long time. Unknowingly, bloody tears ran down his cheeks as the music wept for lost lives and loves.
That was when Willow kissed him.
Spike didn't see her coming, he had been so involved with the music. Her lips pressed gently against his, soft yet firm. She led the kiss, flicking his lips with her tongue before invading his mouth with it.
Spike's undead heart began to pound in his chest. He moved one of his arms and captured the back of Willow's head, holding her to him. The kiss deepened as the music swelled.
**Sweet mercy,** Spike thought as he kissed Willow back. He purposely inhaled her scent, smelling the subtle perfume mixed with shampoo and soap on her body.
Willow pulled back and smiled down at him. She reached one hand up and gently wiped at the bloody tears still staining his cheeks. Wordlessly, she stood and held out her hand.
Spike accepted her hand, and the two walked off into the night.
Spike followed Willow up the stairs and into her bedroom. He liked the softness to the room, as contrast to his own dark chambers. The delicate off-white walls blended with the light pink carpet. Her canopy bed was laced with ruffles, a pink and white comforter on top. Two small dressers and a night stand completed the room.
"Are you sure, luv?" Spike asked, repeating the same question he uttered what seemed to him to be a lifetime ago.
Willow nodded shyly, then reached her arms up around his neck, pulling him down into another kiss. This time, with more passion.
Spike groaned in his throat and wrapped his arms around Willow, gathering her to him. Lifting her off her feet, he walked over to the bed and gently laid her down with him, never breaking kiss.
Long after both of them were spent, Spike pulled Willow to his side, holding her close. His mind was racing as she drifted off into a satisfied sleep.
**What have I done?** Spike asked himself, as he lay there with Willow in his arms. He tried to rationalize, thinking that this was his goal all along. But he knew it was a lie.
And it scared him.
He quietly disentangled himself from her arms and got dressed. He found some paper and a pen and wrote:
Most women, when they wake up in the morning, find me gone with only a single flower as a reminder.
You're not most women.
And because of that, I must leave. I am a monster, remember? I am the one who has to kill in order to survive.
One day, it might be you.
And I don't want that. This is good-bye, my siren-headed love.
It is time to uninvite me.
Willow sat and read the letter for the umpteenth time, the tears finally drying up. Then she picked up a paintbrush and began to paint.
"Oh, bloody hell," Spike cursed. He grabbed the handles to the art gallery door and went inside quickly before he changed his mind. He barely noticed the other guests in the gallery as he followed the signs. He also didn't notice their stares and quiet comments to each other as he passed.
He walked through the final doorway and he felt as if he had been transported back in time. The room was set up like Willow's turret-like hallway, down to the coat rack in the corner. But what was different was the paintings.
They were on the wall, at least twenty of them, from eye level up to the second level. Done in black, with a hint of color here and there, they told a tale.
A lover's tale.
Each painting was a portrait of Spike.
Spike's mouth hung open as he saw himself for the first time in two hundred and thirty-odd years. He saw one of himself with his head thrown back in laughter. Another one showed blue eyes sparkling with merriment.
Before he walked up the stairs to the second level, he saw himself over and over again. Happy, sad, serious, playful, hungry, lustful - the images bombarded him. He still did not hear the people around him as they gasped and pointed, recognizing him from the paintings.
The final painting hit him the hardest. It was the center of attention from the second floor balcony. He saw himself, eyes closed, laying on the grass that fateful night of the concert. The only color was the blood red tears on the portrait's face.
Spike put his arms on the banister and leaned against it, staring at the painting before him.
He felt a tap on his shoulder.
"Excuse me? I don't mean to be rude or anything, but are you the same person in the paintings?" a woman asked. She was surrounded by three of her friends.
He barely looked at the woman before nodding his head. He ignored the women as they began to excitedly chat amongst themselves before moving off.
Word had rapidly spread around the gallery that Spike was indeed the person in the paintings. People moved in and out of the exhibit, staring at him as if he were the last drink of water on a desert island. Several tried to speak with him, but when their efforts were rebuffed, they left him alone.
Spike shifted his position at the railing and realized he kicked something. Looking down, he saw a program. He quickly picked it up and began to read.
A Lover's Tale
Artist: Willow Rosenberg
A Lover's Tale was originally painted on the walls of Ms. Rosenberg's home. She has recreated the paintings on canvas to be shown at various art galleries throughout the world.
When asked about the subject of the paintings, Ms. Rosenberg would only smile sadly and say they were inspired by "a thief from the night, who stole my heart."
"Do you like?"
Spike heard the familiar voice behind him and his heart started to pound. "W-what?"
"Do you like the painting?"
Memories washed over him like a wave at the beach. He staggered slightly, dropping the program. He watched as it fluttered down to the floor below.
After gathering his courage, he slowly turned.
Willow stood there, still beautiful at forty-one, with a slight smile on her face. She was also reminiscing about the day they had met twenty years before.
Spike tried to speak, but nothing came out of his mouth.
"Cat got your tongue?" Willow asked devilishly.
He shut his mouth with a clack, then turned back to the painting. "It's beautiful," he finally said.
"Modest, aren't we?" she asked with a bemused chuckle. He glared at her and she burst out laughing.
"And what, may I ask, are you bloody laughing at?" Spike said. He stared at her still-beautiful face as she calmed down.
"Nothing. Just memories," she said. She leaned her back against the railing, ignoring the stares the other guests were giving Spike and her. "I didn't think you would come."
"I didn't think I would either," h said. He smiled slightly at her, then gestured to the paintings. "Why?"
"Why? Because my heart told me to," Willow said with a shrug.
Spike ran his hand through his hair, much to anyone's amusement who saw him do this then look at the portrait of that very thing. She stood there watching him and he grew uncomfortable. "I'm sorry," he finally said.
He shrugged. "I don't know." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette, then put it back. He was about to say something else when he heard it.
The music from that night.
Spike once again felt the music overwhelm him. He closed his eyes and leaned against the railing next to Willow, letting the music flow into his body and heart. He felt her take his hand and squeeze gently. Opening his eyes, he gazed down at the redheaded woman standing before him. That's when he knew, this time, there was no escaping the fact that he loved her. He felt the bloody tears rolling down his cheeks, mimicking the portrait behind him.
And, once again, like that night from long ago, Willow kissed him.
He gathered her up in his arms and feverishly kissed her back, putting all his feelings of fear, nervousness, admiration, attraction and love into it.
They stopped when people started to applaud.
Both of them blushed bright red. He grabbed her hand and ran out of the gallery through a back entrance. Once there, he swept her into his arms again and spun her in circles.
"William!" Willow cried with delight. "I love you!"
Spike stopped suddenly when he heard what she had said. Setting her down before him, he looked deep into her eyes. "What did you say?"
She smiled shyly. "I love you, William."
He began to stutter. "But...why?...H-how?..."
She placed a finger against his lips. "Shh." She stood on tiptoe and kissed him gently.
After a moment, Spike broke the kiss and put his forehead to hers. "I'm sorry I left you all those years ago. I was afraid. Afraid of feeling. Afraid of wanting to be needed. Afraid of love."
Willow stared silently into his eyes, not saying anything.
"What I'm trying to say is I love you, Willow. I have for twenty years but was afraid to acknowledge it."
Spike waited while Willow took in what he just said. He began to get nervous when she continued to look into his eyes, not saying anything.
"Willow?" he said quietly.
"I knew you loved me when you signed your real name, William. I just had to wait for you to realize it," Willow said finally. "And I still love you. I have for twenty years."
Spike's face lit up like a child's on Christmas. "Really?"
"Yes, really," she said laughing.
Spike let out a whoop in joy and hugged her tightly.
"Well, it's done," Willow said, climbing down the ladder. She dropped her paintbrush in the turpentine then joined her love on the second floor. "What do you think?"
"I think you look cute with paint on your face," Spike said, tapping her nose.
"Hey!" Willow said with fake anger. She smacked him on the arm.
"You're on dangerous ground, young lady," Spike said menacingly. She laughed at him, then stuck out her tongue. "That's it! You're going to get it!"
"Ut-oh!" Willow said. She turned and ran out of the hallway, with Spike chasing after her. Laughter could be heard echoing in the house.
And the portrait added to the hallway echoed the sentiment. Two recognizable faces, one male and one female, gazing at each other with love.