To the Innocent
In the course of his long unlife, Spike had accepted there were guidelines that one saved for a rainy day. He had those long memorized, as well. Among the lesser-known stanzas were: there were slums, and there were slums.
And Zack Wright’s motel was in the middle of a slum.
“I’m a creature who lives in a graveyard,” Spike said as they approached the building. The majority of the word vacancy had burned out, so every that it read NO CAN every time the neon light flickered. “But this, mate, is godawful.”
Wright tossed an irritated glance over his shoulder. “I wanted to keep a low profile, all right?”
Spike favored the building with a long, appraising look and rocked on his heels. “Good job.”
“Look, would you mind waiting out here?”
“I just need to grab a few things and we can get going.”
Spike’s eyes narrowed. “Afraid to let a bloodsucking fiend see the grime inside your grime? Come on, Zangy. It’s not like I have standards.”
“I’d really rather you wait out here.”
“Well, I’m not gonna.”
Wright sighed in exasperation, caressing the bridge of his nose. “Why?” His voice was strained, as though he were holding on to the last of his control.
“’Cause it’s bothering you and now my interest is piqued.”
“Well, it’s going to remain unsatisfied.”
Spike was practically bouncing now, his boylike fascination triggered. If Wright didn’t move aside, he’d plow him down, chip be damned. “Come on, mate!”
“What’s there to hide?” At that, Spike stopped and his eyes narrowed. “You got drugs in there?”
Wright stared at him. “What? No!”
“You do so!”
“Leave me alone!”
“You got a stash in there, and you don’t wanna share.” He held up his hands. “Well, don’t worry. I gave up the psychedelic buzz back in the 60s. Made me see things even wonkier than usual.”
“That being the point, I can see why.”
“So, there you have it. I’m not gonna lay a hand on your goods.”
“Yes, I know. Mainly because you won’t be seeing them.”
Spike pouted. He was on the verge of whining like a three year-old. “Why not?”
“Because I said so.”
“That’s the lamest excuse ever.”
Wright grinned. “You’ve been hanging around Cordelia too much.”
A chuckle rumbled through his throat. Spike shook his head. “Bint does have a way with words,” he said. “And from how she was talking earlier, she seems to think you’re her type of fella.”
Wright paused at that, a shadow of what might have been a smile crossing his face. “Is that so?”
“Only ’cause I’m unavailable.”
“Oh. Right.” Wright began wrestling with the lock. “And by unavailable, you mean ‘hopelessly in love with your mortal enemy,’ I take it.”
“Not funny, mate.”
Wright cocked his head, apparently giving up on the lock and standing by to study the door with a long sigh. “It is if you’re me,” he said before throwing himself against the door.
“I’ll find time to laugh when she’s back safe and sound,” he decided. “Then it’ll be tragically funny. Besides, Cordelia’s cute, but she’s as daft as a table lamp. More your type.”
“Oh, so you think I’m cute?”
Spike snickered and rolled his eyes. “Right. Bloody adorable.”
Wright laughed in turn, which nearly covered the fact that he’d managed to get the door open at last. He made a mad dive into the room before turning around to slam the door shut. Spike, having caught on, all but threw himself at the threshold. He wasn’t fast enough.
“Give it up,” Wright snapped from the other side of the door. “You’re not getting in.”
“You right bastard.”
Spike heard the chain lock slide into place.
“Sorry,” Wright said singsonged.
The bloke must have really forgotten he was dealing with a vampire. Spike wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or annoyed at this. Either way, he didn’t give himself much time to consider before throwing his full weight against the door hard enough to splinter the lock entirely. The next thing he knew, he had stumbled into a dank motel room under the glare of a pissed off demon hunter.
Spike fought to his feet, dusted himself off, and flashed another grin. “Sorry,” he echoed.
“If I ever find the idiot that decided vamps could enter public accommodations without an invite, I’m going to tear his spleen out.”
“That’d be the PTB, mate, and good luck.”
Zack snorted; Spike chuckled.
Then took a look around.
The room was pretty much that—a room. A telly, two beds that had been semi-made by room service, and a sparse collection of things that one could likely manage to live without forever, much less however long Wright intended on staying in the Hyperion. There was nothing lying around that seemed remotely incriminating.
Spike turned to Wright. “You were trying to hide the roaches, is that it?”
To his surprise, however, Wright looked equally confused at the anticlimactic reveal. Confused and irritated in the same beat.
“I’m a bad housekeeper,” Wright said lamely, gathering his belongings. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
“I have to…” Wright nodded at the bathroom.
“Use the loo? Thanks. Didn’t need a sodding diagram.”
He frowned. “I didn’t…” But whatever he didn’t, Spike didn’t know. Wright seemed to give up, instead, turning and marching toward the bathroom. On the way, he snatched something off the dresser too fast for Spike to see what it was. “Never mind. I’ve given up trying to argue with you.”
“Given up? Already?” Spike flashed a grin. “It’s so early in the game, mate.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not playing.” That was definitively that—like a toddler determined to get the last word, Wright slammed the door to the restroom and locked himself inside.
Spike snickered. That bloke was more than a little strange.
And then, for no reason whatever, he found himself overwhelmed with the notion that he needed to call Rupert right then. Likely because he hadn’t kept up to his word at all like he’d intended.
Well, like he’d intended to intend, anyway.
Like he said he would.
“Zangy!” he called. “I’m using your phone. You mind?”
There was a muffled response that he didn’t exactly know how to translate but took it as the go-ahead.
The call was likely the wisest thing he had done all day.
“It’s about bloody time!” Giles roared into his ear as soon as Spike announced himself. “And you better have a damned good reason for not calling sooner.”
“Look, Rupes,” he replied, “if I can, I’ll give you a ring, but from here on out, you’re just gonna have to trust me, all right? I’m not gonna be in the position to pick up the bloody phone every five minutes.”
“Yes, that would be quite the accomplishment,” Giles fired back, “considering your contact with me has been at a very minimal of what we agreed upon before your leaving.”
“Things change, mate. I think you of all people should appreciate it.” Spike tossed a glance to the closed door. Wright was still in the loo. “Anyway, it’s not like I’m flying in solo. Angel’s merry band of superheroes are all on board and…I got help in other places.”
Spike nodded, then remembered that Giles couldn’t see him nod and said, “Yeah. There’s this hunter, a demon hunter. He’s an all right git once you get passed the attitude and bias, but that’s right up your alley, innit? This guy’s big on the wronged-out-for-vengeance gig. Seems Darla pulled a nasty before she joined up with the Master in SunnyD. Completely ruined this bloke’s life. It’s a sad story.”
“You’re telling me that you give a damn about whatever she did?”
Spike blinked, confused, then remembered who he was speaking with. It surprised him how quickly he’d adjusted to the lesser prejudices of the Los Angeles crowd. He could picture himself saying the same to Wesley or Cordelia and neither of them questioning him at all.
But Giles had questioned him, which made him question himself.
And he found he did feel. He felt more than even he thought he could. He felt because, last night, he’d experienced what Wright must have felt, at least a little. If any of his so-called family even thought of torturing Buffy in that manner, he would have all their heads on stakes before they could explode into dust.
“I can’t believe you’re bringing freelancers into this. Do you have the slightest idea—”
“Oi! Wait a minute! Zangy’s no bloody freelancer, mate. He’s one of us.”
“One of you?”
Oh. Of course. One of you. One of Spike’s kind in the eyes of Rupert Giles.
Of all the fucking nerve…
“How did this man know that Darla was back? How did he know where to find her at all?”
Spike opened his mouth to reply, then paused and realized he didn’t know.
Huh. Well, that was odd. He remembered Wright mentioning that he’d received word, but he never identified a source.
Still, that was not important. It didn’t mean anything.
Only it could mean the world.
“Wes,” he invented quickly, tossing another glance to the bathroom door as it opened again and Wright stepped out, his eyebrows perked. “He’s a friend of Wes’s. Blokes know each other from the way-back-when. He’s the one that brought him in.”
Wright frowned, not following.
Spike waved and turned his back, though watching the other man carefully, fresh with new suspicion. It was likely explainable. Why he was here. How he knew about Darla. How he knew so much about the Order of Aurelius. How he knew everything.
But dismissing it was dangerous. No matter how much Spike had started to feel, no matter that he was becoming more and more human by the day, and it would eventually lead him to a dead end. He wanted to believe Wright was legit because, in the time they had spent together, he had grown rather fond of him. And that wasn’t something that happened Spike every day. Hell, it wasn’t something that happened every century. Angelus was the only other bloke in his life that could even begin to qualify as a friend, and that was only because they had tolerated each other for twenty or so years. He’d never liked the wanker and he knew the feeling was mutual. There was Giles and Xander, of course, but who the bloody hell was he kidding?
And while Wright would likely deny it with every fiber of his being, they were as close to becoming friends as Spike had ever been.
“Look, I’m being careful,” he snapped, turning his attention back to the receiver. “If anything important happens, I’ll give you a ring. But that’s it. All right? I can’t be running off to the phone ’cause you want me to. There are things in motion that—”
“We’re leaving town, Spike.”
Okay. Out of the blue, much?
He willed his eyes shut. God, he missed her.
“The Watcher’s Council shared some rather dire news with us pertaining to Glory and I refuse to risk more by sitting around here. Buffy’s family—everything is in danger, more than just her life.” There was an edge to the Giles’s voice that Spike didn’t want to place. “I cannot put Dawn in that much peril. Joyce is beside herself enough with worry…”
Spike released a long sigh at that. He hadn’t even allowed himself to think how the Slayer’s mother was reacting to all this.
“And her condition…” There was a long pause. “Her condition might be worsening as well. We—”
God. Everything was falling apart.
“Right,” Spike agreed hoarsely. “How do I reach you?”
“I will leave my cell number with Wesley. If that doesn’t work, contact me through the Watcher’s Council. I won’t disclose anything now.” Another silence, not quite as long. “Please, Spike,” he said softly, his voice ringing with desperation. “Please get her back. If you do…I’ll…”
“Don’t make promises, Rupes,” Spike replied. “I’m not here to barter or trade. I’m here because she’s gonna make it. You get me?”
“I get you,” Giles said. Though it sounded like anything but.
Spike sighed again. “Good,” he replied, then hung up before the Watcher could go on. There was nothing more to say.
Wright arched an eyebrow and heaved his bag over his shoulder once more, nodding for the door. “I take it your friends back in Sunnydale don’t know about your little Slayer infatuation?”
“Oh, they know I have a slayer infatuation,” Spike replied. “They just don’t know it’s gone from ‘wanna kill’ to ‘wanna shag.’”
“Is that all you wanna do?” Wright ventured softly, as though afraid of the answer. “’Cause last time I checked, grown men didn’t cry when a potential cum-bucket kicked it.”
The punch hit through the still of the room like dry wood smacking against a steel bin, punctuated with Spike’s consequential yelp of pain.
Wright was on the ground, his nose bloody. “What the hell was that?”
Spike reeled, his fangs bared, hot anger pulsing through his body. If the chip had been out, there was every chance he’d have ripped Wright’s innards out through his nose. But the chip wasn’t out, so all he had at the moment were his words. “Don’t ever talk about her like that,” he all but snarled. “Ever. Do you understand me?”
There was a long pause.
“Yeah.” Wright nodded, finally, before moving to climb to his feet. It was earnest. He turned to absently slide a scrap of paper to the dresser, eyes shining. “I’m sorry. That was beyond uncalled for.”
“You’re bloody right it was.”
A few beats ticked by, the air filled with their mingled breaths. Finally, Spike nodded and moved to the door. “Right then,” he said, casting a quick, curious glance to the discarded note but unwilling to allow his eyes to linger. “Get everything you need?”
Wright nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”
Another glance to the note. The markings were comprehensible this time. “Right then,” he agreed. “Let’s be off.”
Wright edged out the door, and Spike turned fully to the dresser. After all, curiosity killed the cat.
The final glance sealed it.
On the paper, very legibly, was the word Hyperion.
They didn’t outside a stone’s throw of Wright’s motel room before something went wrong.
Spike was more than accustomed to being in danger with every step that he took, and had long ago conceded the same knowledge that he’d warned Buffy about a few weeks prior. Every day might be the last. Of course, from Spike’s perspective, whatever came his way was ultimately avoidable. There hadn’t been a situation yet that he had not managed to talk himself out of, even if he couldn’t fight, but that didn’t mean he didn’t know that day might still come.
He wasn’t Angelus. He knew that his tale would likely have a dusty ending. He knew he wasn’t invincible.
However, he would be damned even more than he already was if the lot of wankers surrounding him now were the ones to do him in.
“Friends of yours?” Wright demanded. They were back to back—surrounded by seven or eight vamps that could have passed as a wandering street gang had Spike not known what to look for.
Spike arched an eyebrow, still attempting to gauge the situation. Each of the sods surrounding him was wielding something wooden and pointy, and while some eyed his companion’s jugular hungrily, it was more than obvious that he was target.
Not bloody good.
And as if to clarify this point, one of the vamps suddenly launched forward, his fangs bared and the stake aimed at Spike’s chest. Disarming the attacker was simple. Punch to the nose, twist of the wrist, and the duster became the dustee.
It wasn’t difficult to label these wannabes as babies of a larger world. He had been around the block enough times to know who was and wasn’t of the old blood.
No. They were mercenary vamps. He hated mercenary vamps.
“I’d say an emphatic no,” Spike retorted.
“I’m agreeing.” Wright exhaled deeply and withdrew something from the lapels of his jacket. Another stake, most likely, or a weapon of similar nature. Spike wagered that he kept something that would kill vampires handy at all times, just in case he happened to run into a certain blonde with fangs.
“What do you think?”
Spike snickered. “I think I’ve made more enemies in this town than friends. Bloody Angelus. Weren’t we supposed to be pulling one over on him?”
He wouldn’t mention the other option—the one where this was all Wright’s doing.
“No. I mean, you take the three over there, I get the four over here?”
“Why should you get four?”
Wright glanced over his shoulder and flashed a cocky grin. “Because I called it.”
Spike smothered a smirk. There was more of himself in his companion than he had ever encountered in another individual. “Not if I beat you to it, mate.”
“Loser buys drinks?”
“You’re gonna be outta money if you keep on like that. But you got a deal.”
They broke apart at the same time, launching headfirst into a dance that both had long ago memorized and mastered. Spike felt the familiar rush of unbridled excitement tackle his senses, and he whooped in merriment. Too long. It had been far too long since he’d indulged in a true decent spot of violence.
There was one perk to living in Los Angeles, he supposed. There would never be any of the slow nights that had befallen Sunnydale the days leading up to Buffy’s kidnapping.
It was series of low blows and high punches. All too soon, Spike had dispatched the three he’d been after and turned his attention to Wright, catching a glimpse of the man’s fighting skill for the first time. And despite however much he hated to admit it, the hunter knew what he was doing. He moved musically, almost as though he had been designed to be the first male Slayer.
It was almost difficult believe that he hadn’t been doing this longer than seven years. His technique was almost as good as Spike’s, and that was something that Spike didn’t take lightly.
But that didn’t mean he was going to buy the wanker drinks.
Wright had set and aimed to kill the last. Spike got there first.
“And that,” Spike said, tossing the stake to the ground with a grin, “is how it’s done mate.”
“That wasn’t fair,” Wright complained.
“Life isn’t fair, Zangy.”
“I’m so not rewarding you for stealing my kill.”
“Oh, you’re a welcher, then?” He shrugged. “Right then. I can live with that if you can.”
“I am not a welcher.”
“Well, you wanna pick the pub or should I?”
Wright rolled his eyes. “I might not be a welcher, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I’m not buying your drinks, Bloody. Not for that. Deal with it.”
“You know…‘William the Bloody.’”
“Not very original.”
“Don’t like it? Stop calling me Zangy.”
“Not on your—”
A horrible, overly dramatic growl sliced through the air before Spike could complete the thought. Immediately, both men whirled in time to see a vamp that had somehow escaped their notice launch itself into the air. It took a fraction of a second for Spike to realize he had abandoned his stake in the last he dusted, and though Wright was quick and had better aim than Spike would ever admit, even he wasn’t that fast.
But then something happened.
Something very, very unexpected.
The attacking vampire exploded in brilliant shower of dust.
It took several seconds to register that the true bombshell wasn’t the sudden end of their haphazard attacker.
It was the source of his demise.
A small girl with dirtied blonde hair, holding a model of what looked to be the same brand of Wesley’s handheld crossbow. The girl and the woman behind her.
There was nothing for a long minute. Spike just stared.
He knew those eyes.
And it stunned him into submission.
“What…” Spike barked, unaware that he was panting. “What the hell is—”
“Nikki!” came from over his shoulder, and then Wright was storming forward, his face distorted in rage. “Where the fuck have you been?”
The young blonde spitfire that was all too familiar shrugged. “Well, if you had bothered to call to tell us where you were, you might’ve found that we’ve been sitting ducks for the past day and a half. Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been?” She gestured to the child at her side. “And don’t use that kind of language in front of her!”
“It’s okay,” the girl replied. “I’ve heard it before.”
“That doesn’t make it all right, sweetie.”
This only seemed to infuriate Wright further. “Stop parenting—”
“Well, I’m sorry. If I don’t, who will?”
“And what a fantastic job you’re doing. It’s almost one in the morning! She should be in bed!” Wright broke into a pace, having seemingly forgotten that he had an audience. “You take her out like this again, and I’m going to—”
“What?” Nikki spat, arching an eyebrow. “No really, let’s hear it. Drop your little righteous mission? Actually try to be a father for once? Be home at night to tuck her into bed and read her actual bedtime stories? Any of these sound good, or am I speaking a foreign language?” Without awaiting a reply, she glanced over his shoulder and gestured broadly at their confused bystander. “And when did we start associating with vampires? Huh? Especially ones that—”
It was the first word to come from the child’s mouth, and it took that for Spike to realize that she had been staring at him the entire time.
The girl. The girl. The same girl from the alley.
This wasn’t…it couldn’t be…
“Yeah,” he replied with a weak, still bewildered grin.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Wright abandoned his spat with Nikki without prompt and stalked over to Spike. “What the hell is this? How do you know—”
“He saved us,” the girl responded, her eyes not leaving Spike’s. Small captivating orbs of knowledge. “He saved us from the Kraelek the other night.”
“Not saved,” Nikki huffed. “I would’ve taken care of it.”
“Enough!” Spike threw his hands in the air. God, the alley was spinning. “Will somebody please tell me what the bloody fuck is going on?” He paused and glanced once more to the child, wincing slightly. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she replied.
Wright sighed and placed his hands on the girl’s shoulders, holding her to him. “Fine,” he said, glaring at Nikki. “Why do I even bother to try and keep you two out of danger? You practically go on a danger scavenger hunt!” A moment’s pause; he cleared his head and looked back to Spike. “This is Rosalie,” he said. “My daughter.”
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