Monday. 5:28 AM
There was a time that Lindsey McDonald could remember laughing at Lilah Morgan for her rigid punctuality to match her early mornings and late departures. However, seeing her darkening his office doorway now, the last thing he felt like doing was laugh.
Lindsey looked at her a long moment, doing his best to keep his expression blank. If she was here for a reason, she’d reveal as much quickly. So he decided to ignore her, not feed into her game, and instead resumed flipping through paperwork.
"So, that's it, then?" she asked. "No 'good morning'? No 'nice to see you'? Really, after all we've been through together, that hurts."
"I thought it best not to lie."
"Then you're in the wrong business."
"Is there something you want, Lilah?"
"Is that a trick question?"
"It's a statement with a question mark tagged on the end. Answer however you like."
A shadow of a smile crossed her face as she stepped forward. "They know," she informed him. "The Senior Partners. They know what you've been up to."
Lindsey’s heart skipped as he looked up. "Whups."
"You signed your own death warrant."
He offered an apathetic shrug, trying and failing to muster up fear. "So what if I did?"
Lilah’s mouth formed a line. "You gave up everything to prevent the unpreventable. I hope it was worth it. I hope you don’t have any regrets."
"There are many things I regret." He dropped his pen and leaned back, folded his arms across his belly. "This will never be one of them."
"Positive." He grinned. "Oh, come on, Lilah. Don't tell me you're disappointed. You look like your dog died."
She crossed her arms and walked a pace across his office. "I don't think you've considered the consequences of your actions, Lindsey. I really don't. Yes, the Order has been a disaster, but the Partners would have eliminated them if that was what they wanted. Your taking matters into your own hands is going to make you a hostile liability."
"Say that again then ask me if I give a damn."
"You doing this because of her?"
"Do you care?"
Lindsey glanced down. "I'm doing this because what's happening to her, what he's done to her, what we did to her is wrong," he said. "I would tell you to not pretend to worry, but I know that's not necessary. Once Spike and his demon hunter arrive, it'll be over. And you won't see me again."
Lilah's eyes sparkled. "Pity." She turned then and made for a haughty exit. At the door, however, she paused and turned to him again. "There is just one more thing."
"Those tapes you were so interested in...well, I had to take a peek, myself."
Lindsey went very, very still. "And?"
"Something very interesting happened, oh, ten minutes ago. Seems Drusilla's let the cat out of the bag." A nasty smirk crossed her lips. "Angelus was...well, the term 'madder than hell' comes to mind. He's going to kill her. Well, not to be hasty, he's going to torture the shit out of her, then kill her. About time, too, if you ask me. Oh, don’t worry. The Partners stepped in. Not to prevent her death, of course, but they are interested in making sure Spike reaches her. They want him to see what happens to clients who break contract. Of course, Angelus wasn’t happy about that, but that wasn’t anything a little sedative couldn’t fix." She gestured over her shoulder. "Some of the guys from real-estate and I are going to make some popcorn and watch the show. If you hurry, you can join us."
For a moment, Lindsey thought she might be speaking to him through a tunnel. The words seemed long and distorted. One minute he was sitting there, listening to her like a rational person, and then raw impulse overwhelmed him, and he bounded for the door.
He didn’t get him far. The next thing he knew, Lindsey was on the floor with Lilah hovering over him, stun gun in her hand.
"I thought you might try something stupid."
Lilah gave Lindsey a swift kick, which felt damn good, so she did it again, and one more time for good measure.
She tossed the stun gun onto his desk with a sigh, keeping her eyes on him, prepared to respond in case he stirred. But he didn’t. He was out.
In more ways than one.
“Stupid Lindsey,” she muttered, dragging her cell phone out of her pocket. A few punches, then she raised the device to her ear. "Lilah Morgan here. Lindsey McDonald is going to require some very minor medical attention as soon as possible. You will find him on the floor in his office. Be cautioned, his injuries might leave him temporarily delusional, so do not allow him to leave until he has clearance from myself or the Department Head." She nodded, fighting the temptation to kick her stupid colleague again for putting her in this mess.
Hell, maybe she was the stupid one for saving his life—she didn’t know. But she couldn’t not try. There were few lines Lilah hesitated to cross, but this was one of them.
"One more thing,” she said into the phone, “do not be alarmed if the vampire monitors detect something unusual. I had Spike's authorization stripped last night—we want to know the minute he enters the building." A small smile quirked the corner of her mouth. "No. The Senior Partners want him to reach her. Angelus and the others are not permitted to intervene. Just make sure the deed done before Spike arrives. We don't want him interrupting anything."
The first beads of daybreak broke the sky before they reached the building. Cloud cover, plus a few well-placed buildings and shadows, prevented this from being an issue.
Even so, Wright figured someone out there was watching out for his friend because Spike sure as hell didn’t seem to notice or care.
"You all right?" Wright asked, even if he knew it was unneeded.
Stupid, stupid question.
Spike didn't answer. He hadn't said a word since leaving the Hyperion. Instead, he barreled forward with single-minded intent through the doors of Wolfram and Hart.
"We following the plan?" Wright asked. But he knew the answer. Spike didn’t give a shit about plans, and Wright couldn’t say he blamed him.
Inside now. The quiet lobby of a building that was never quiet. Stillness.
That was it. All the solid evidence he needed to confirm what Rosalie had said was true, even if he had known it from the beginning. Rosalie was never wrong.
Spike tossed Wright and tossed him a Colt .45. "Kill anythin' that moves," he said coldly. "That's the soddin' plan. Savvy?"
Zack stared at the gun as though it would bite him. It felt awkward in his hand. "I...you want me to shoot people?"
"Not people. These aren't people. They're butchers."
"Well, Angel never had a problem with it before he went bad. And trust me, if you find a magical loophole in that warped sense of logic, these blokes must be anything but human." Spike's eyes were afire. He was dangerous to anyone in this state. "They have Buffy. Don' stop shooting until I have her out."
"It's too soon," Wright protested. "We can't know that Lindsey'll be ready. That the Gregori guy you mentioned—"
"I get to Buffy. That's all that matters."
"That's. All. That. Matters." Spike threw a menacing glance over his shoulder. "Aim for the kneecaps if it makes you feel better. But if you decide to get stake happy for people who don’t matter, I swear, Zangy, I will snap your neck in two seconds and you can't do a damn thing to stop me."
A long pause settled between them. Only days ago, had someone told him that a vampire would threaten him to his face and live, Wright would have scoffed and whoever had been dumb enough to make that prediction would have limped away with a broken nose. But it wasn’t days ago. It was now. And Wright knew, watching the vampire, that had time turned itself around and it was Amber's life on the line, no man could have prevented him from rescuing her. From taking her from that horrible fate.
He would have killed to get her back. He would have spilled human blood and not regretted it. How could he begrudge Spike for feeling the same? How was he supposed to tell him that it was wrong to murder those who stood between him and the woman he loved?
These lawyers were only biologically human. That was where the line ended.
"We'll get her out," Zack agreed. "Without having to snap any necks...except those that don't belong to me, naturally."
At that, Spike’s eyes softened. "I mean it, Zangy. I like you and I don’t wanna be the reason that you don’t go home…but I will if it comes down to it. If it’s you standing between me and her."
"I'm not going to stand between you. Beside you, maybe, but not between." He offered a small smile. "That's what friends are for, right?"
Spike stilled a second longer before a heartfelt, however pained grin rose to his lips. "You have the worst timing ever," he muttered. "Picking now for our sodding Full House moment?"
Wright shrugged. "Better late than never. Just wanted to let you know that I've got your back."
"So whaddya say we go get your slayer?"
Spike flashed a grateful grin. "With pleasure."
Their eyes met with latent understanding. And that was it.
The first steps into alien territory went surprisingly well. Too damn well. While Wright hadn’t had the pleasure of strolling through Wolfram and Hart before now, he figured that a company built solely to manage evil on earth would at least leave someone manning the front desk overnight. But the lights were off. Everything was off.
"It's so quiet," Wright muttered.
Their steps were not. Spike could not be deterred for any reason. With a crossbow astride his shoulder and a firearm curled in his fist, he only had one purpose. And Wright understood, but the curling sensation in his belly had every natural instinct in his body on high alert.
Ahead of him, Spike stopped abruptly. "This isn't right."
"Thanks, Captain Obvious."
And then he felt it.
Spike's eyes went wide. "No."
No. It wasn't possible. They weren't too late. They couldn't be too late.
But he felt it. An unnamable thing he hadn’t realized lived in his belly but did. A thread drawn between them—a thread he’d carried with him every time he had to leave this miserable place, just so he knew the way back. The thread was vanishing. At the same time, the pulse of her heat that he’d carried with him, the heat he'd felt after pouring his blood down her throat, began to flicker and fade.
Then it was gone altogether.
Wright grasped his shoulder. "Spike?"
He didn't answer. Couldn't. He was barely aware he was there at all.
"Oh god, no."
Thought abandoned him then, and he was running, legs pumping, dead heart lodged in his throat. In those last few minutes—the longest and shortest of his life—there were very few things that he understood. He knew that Wright was behind him, running against the strain of time. Screaming at him, demanding what was wrong. Spike blocked him out. He couldn't think—couldn't feel but for her. The primal stirring that found that connection with her was screaming its agony. He wouldn't listen; couldn't. It simply couldn't be real.
Not too late. He would not let them be too late.
Angelus's scent poisoned the air so thickly he felt he might choke. It was everywhere, but it wasn’t alone. There was something else. Something worse. Spike’s ears began to ring as though his thoughts could be blocked out. As though the awful thing he knew could be unlearned, undone, and everything made right again so long as the words didn’t solidify in his head.
He needed to smell her. Feel the burn she’d left in him when she’d taken his blood.
But it was gone.
And then he knew. It was horrible, knowing. Understanding. Realizing that Angelus's scent was not alone. In its company was blood. Her blood.
The scene was so still when he first looked and saw her. Lying on the floor, dead as night. Abandoned in a pile next to the chains that had been her prison. There was nothing then but that realization.
And then a terrible sound filled the air and bounced off the sound of his weapons hitting the floor. A piercing, guttural wail that pained his ears, striking unerasable marks into his heart. He could not think. Could not breathe. Could not stop himself from racing to her. At her side, he nearly slipped and fell once more, bringing her body into his arms. And breaking.
The room might as well have been unoccupied. He gave no thought to anyone. Not to Wright. Not to the cameras that had captured their stolen moments in time. He held his slayer to his chest, sobbing relentlessly into her hair, screaming madly and cursing himself for being too late. Cursed himself for killing her.
He had killed her.
And then he was on the floor with Buffy lifeless in his arms, rocking her back and forth as unintelligible sobs and broken promises spilling from his lips. She was warm. She was still warm. Still warm. They had only failed her by seconds. He peppered kisses along her faces and felt the taste of her dried tears as they clashed with his own. His hands skimmed her skin, clutching at her, begging her to return. To come back to him. To not be dead.
But it was too late. She was gone.
And he was shattered.
It was seven years ago. Seven years ago all over again. That horrible sickness in his gut, climbing up his throat, spreading like venom through his veins.
Not fair. Not fucking fair.
Wright sucked in a deep breath that damn near made his bones ache. Experience mingled with despair. And in that moment, Spike's pain was his own.
But, the devil on his shoulder whispered, it doesn’t have to be like this.
No, it didn’t. Amber had died but Buffy didn’t need to. Why else, then, would he have heard about the Slayer’s everlasting soul? Sometimes the world handed you what you needed, just as the world punished you for taking those you loved for granted.
Maybe his having learned about the Slayer’s soul, how it survived where normal souls did not, was the world’s way of forgiving him for throwing Amber in Darla’s path. For begrudging her even for a second. For letting her die. It made a strange sort of sense, really. One life for another. That had to be his lesson—the thing the universe had been trying to tell him when Amber died. When their son had died.
Hell, more than that. The universe had done all it could to educate him. First by taking away the woman he loved more than life for being an idiot, then by shoving him in Spike’s path. Every step he’d taken since burying his wife had led him here. The universe wanted to see what he had learned. What decision he could make now that might undo the damage done before.
Hadn’t that been the lesson?
Not again. Not twice.
Slowly, carefully, Wright approached. Spike was still rocking Buffy’s lifeless body, murmuring prayers into her hair. Pleas. Whispers. Promises.
"I'm sorry. Oh god oh god oh god I'm so sorry. I’m so sorry, baby. I wasn't fast enough. I wasn't..." His voice broke again, trembling as he clutched her closer, another hoarse cry clawing at his throat. "Don't leave. You can't leave. I never got to tell you. My fault. It’s all my fault. Buffy, baby, please. Please don't leave me. My fault."
Wright pursed his lips. "Spike—"
Spike shook his head, trembling, and buried his face in golden locks of bloodied hair. His hands had curled around her shoulders. "Forgive me. God, Buffy, forgive me."
There it was. A decision. A dangerous decision.
If Wright had ever doubted the validity of Spike's feelings, it was all washed aside. And he could not allow this. He couldn't allow someone who was not a demon to suffer as he had. Not if there was a choice. Not if there was a way to make things right.
He didn’t know what it was, maybe the way he said his name, but Spike looked up.
Wright raised the hand holding the gun and shot him square in the chest. He watched as Spike fell back, his eyes a mess of confusion and grief and shock. Zack paused, then fired again, this time sending a bullet to the heart, and the vampire was down for the count. It wouldn’t keep him out long, but Wright didn’t need long. He just needed enough.
The gun dropped from his hand, which, while clammy with his nervous sweat, didn’t waver when he pulled out one of the many blades he kept on his person at all times. Then he was kneeling over his friend, one booted foot keeping Spike on the ground as he seized the vampire’s wrist. The vein opened with a bloom of red, and then he had Buffy in his arms, Spike’s bleeding flesh pressed to her lips.
He hadn’t saved Amber. Couldn’t. But the Slayer’s soul was still alive. It had to be alive. This was his chance to make it right.
Spike stirred after a few long moments, his eyes pressing open. Wright kept his gaze on him, even as he gently stroked the Slayer’s throat to encourage her to swallow. Through his years of practice, of hunting and research, he had absolutely no idea if this would work. If it was too late for her or not. But there were truths to be reckoned with; if there was a way to save her, this was it. And he would not rest until he knew that he had done everything he could to keep her here.
“Wha…Zangy?” Spike blinked dazedly, then winced as Zack added pressure to his chest.
“Just a bit longer now,” Wright said. “I’m fixing it.”
Spike looked confused for a second. Confused, pissed, and then he understood.
“What the bleeding hell—”
But then Buffy was moving. No longer limp in Wright’s arms. She lurched forward, seizing Spike’s wrist and holding it to her mouth as she began drinking in earnest.
A horrible roar tore from Spike’s throat and his fangs descended. He shoved at Wright, but Wright shoved back, digging his boot into the place where the bullet had pierced the vampire’s heart.
Spike roared again, a strangled sound somewhere between fury and pain. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
“Saving her,” Wright replied calmly.
“This isn’t saving her, this is—”
“Wes told me.”
Spike snarled again. “Wes told you to vamp her?”
“He told me that slayers keep their souls,” Wright replied. “She won’t be a monster. And she won’t be dead. She’ll be…”
But his confidence was waning, chased off by the horror flooding Spike’s face. He didn’t understand it. Life was better, right? Life was always better. And there had been too much death. If he could keep Buffy alive…
The next time Spike shoved him, Zack didn’t fight. He stumbled back, but Spike came with him, his arm still trapped in Buffy’s grip as she feasted on the blood pouring from his open wrist. Then she started wiggling, moaning, and Wright couldn’t hold onto her anymore. Buffy met the floor and all but crawled into Spike’s lap, her eyes glued shut and her mouth fused to his skin.
But she was pulling at him in earnest now, and Spike seemingly lost the power to speak. His head rolled back, his mouth going slack. And Buffy drank and drank and drank.
And Wright didn’t know what to do, so he watched. Pools of uncertainty churned in his gut, but he did not wish to consider his actions now. Not now. There would be time for regret when it was over.
It seemed hours passed before Buffy yanked herself away, falling back into Spike’s arms in a caricature of death. As though the exchange had been a mirage. Wright breathed slowly, steadily. Bloodstains marked her mouth. Fresh and alive. And even though he wasn’t against her, he could feel it. Her body burned with newfound warmth.
And slowly, slowly, Spike seemed to return to himself completely. The somewhat dazed look that had filled his eyes faded, and then the horror was back.
"No." He stared at her, the body in his arms that was soaked through with blood. "God. God. No."
Wright cleared his throat, tried to find his voice. He needed him to understand. "I'm sorry. For shooting you. I…just…"
"What have you done?"
Wasn’t it obvious?
"What I had to."
"No, Zack." Spike looked up, his eyes perfectly clear. "What have you done?"
In that moment, Wright wasn’t sure, himself. The path had seemed so clear. No more would die.
Yet he’d shot Spike to keep him down. Because he’d known that he would object.
He had no answer. He had nothing. No apologies, even, because he wasn’t sorry.
If Amber could have been saved like this, he would have taken it. He would have done anything to keep her alive.
Spike would see that. He was a vampire, himself. He had to understand. It was the shock. The grief. The pain.
He would understand.
Wright hadn’t had a choice.
Buffy had to live. And now, thanks to him, she would.