|Harbingers of Beatrice by Holly|
|Chapter #14 - Chapter Thirteen|
Thou Art the Man
There was a bloody annoying song stuck in his head, and that was the least of Spike’s troubles. For a man who had traveled the world several times over, he had the sinking suspicion that he was lost.
Granted, there hadn’t been much to go on since leaving Caritas. He had stopped once at some second-rate novelty shop where a Mahayle demon—wearing its human disguise—fed him some rot about men never asking for directions before proceeding to get him more turned around than he’d been already.
It was easy to see why Angel had relocated here. A dark city crawling with beasties and poor sods needing help. Not to mention it was a stone’s throw away from Sunnyhell—enough distance to pretend he’d moved on from Buffy all while remaining a phone call away. Los Angeles pulsed with enough despair to make any creature of the night feel right at home. If it wasn’t the demons and their victims, the impoverished and the beaten, the stink of shattered Hollywood dreams was enough to choke a normal man.
What was worse, all of this sparked the inner poet Spike had thought long dead. Suddenly, his mind was filled to the brim of enough new ideas to fill a thousand hapless sonnets. He hated it. Reduced again to what he had thought he had escaped. Though if he were being honest with himself, the old muse had been singing a right tune since the morning after the dream that had changed his life.
After all, Buffy had redefined effulgence for him.
Spike forced the thought away. He had a city to explore.
He also needed to ring Giles. The old man would be aching for an update, and Spike needed to know what the Council of Wankers had told them—if the Scoobies intended on staying in Sunnydale or not.
And if he couldn’t cross mysterious rendezvous off his list, he might as well get the phone call behind him.
Spike spied a payphone at a corner that separated two virtually identical pubs, and, without realizing it, started digging change out of his pockets and nearly pulled out Wesley’s business card along with it. The former Watcher had passed it on to him before he’d left Caritas, just in case he decided he needed help and didn’t know how to reach them.
“Dressed up like a million-dollar trooper,” Spike sang absently, making a distant note to rip the spine out of whatever unholy creature insisted on singing such an overused oldie. Not that he didn’t appreciate the oldies, mind you. He just didn’t fancy them stuck on repeat in his cranium. “Tryin' hard to look like Gary Cooper—super-bloody-duper. Come let's mix where Rockefellers walk with sticks or um-ber-ellas in their … Hello? Rupert? Yeah, it’s me.”
“I don’t suppose this is a call confirming that you have Buffy in the safety…well, not safety, but—”
“I’m callin’ from a dingy alley near midnight in a city where Angelus is king. Do you really want me to answer?”
“Point taken.” There was a sigh. Spike could nearly hear the old man polishing his glasses. “So, what have you discovered?”
“Right now, a blessed-bloody-little.” It was more than difficult to keep his bitterness about this out of his voice, though he gave it his best. Giles was already more than suspicious at Spike’s enthusiasm to do something altruistic. Perhaps it would have been better if he’d asked for a cash payment before he’d left, just to keep up appearances.
“Explain ‘little,’” Giles said.
“Well, Cordy, Wes, and this bloke called Charlie dragged me to some demon bar, and—”
“You’ve been wasting time gallivanting at a bar?”
He nearly dropped the phone in shock, his ears ringing. Bloody hell, Spike swore that the bloke sitting on the stools of the neighborly bar flinched at that. By the time the buzzing had worn off, Giles was in mid-tangent about how he’d foolishly trusted Spike with this endeavor. It took several seconds to cut through the Watcher’s embittered ramblings, but finally, Spike got a word in that cut Giles off in mid-scolding.
“…a karaoke pub?”
“Right. You sing, this green wanker tells you your fortune or what all, and I guess in my case, he sends blokes down random alleys to find their guides.” Spike paused and shook his head. “This is beginning to sound like a very bad Japanese film.”
He had to credit Giles; it didn’t take much to change his tune. The Watcher switched from infuriated to intrigued in two seconds flat. “A demon that can patch into one’s psyche. How fascinating. I’ve never—”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m sure you and the faithful Scooby patrol will have oodles of fun researching that after I hang up. The Council still there?”
At that, Giles’s voice grew softer. As though he had forgotten about the presence of twenty tweed-donned people surrounding him. “Quite. And none too happy with the absence of the Slayer.”
“She’s on bloody sabbatical.”
There was a sigh, and without any prompt, Spike knew a very personal, very difficult question was on the horizon. He felt in stirring in his gut. The same that the lot of them had been dancing around since he’d revealed that Dru and Darla had their sights set on Buffy. And no matter how much it hurt to consider, he knew it needed to be asked. They had to make it real.
That didn’t make hearing it any less painful.
“Spike,” Giles began, “what…you would know better than anyone. What do you think our chances are…of seeing her again?”
He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes, teeth clenching. “I wish I could say something to reassure you, mate,” he replied after a silence, “but I really don’t know. As you know, Angelus is one to fuck his food…but he likes ‘em fresh. Bloody enough to—”
He was glad the old man had stopped him. The thought alone had his insides raging.
“I’ll do my best by her, Rupert.”
Another respective silence. Shorter this time, but no less significant.
“I…” Giles swallowed audibly. “I know. Don’t ask me to explain how or why, but I know. It’s the strangest thing.”
You’re telling me.
“Yeah, well, we can talk over the particulars later. I don’t know if whatever I’m meeting or finding in the alley’s on some sorta schedule.” Spike sighed into the phone. “I’ll give you a call come morning.”
“I don’t trust you. I believe you’re helping, but I want to be perfectly clear—I don’t trust you.”
That statement was so abrupt it made him grin. “I know,” Spike replied with a short chuckle. Then he hung up.
It was time to get this over with, even if there wasn’t much to go on. No scents that struck him as remarkable. No sights he wouldn’t see anywhere else. But after he took a few steps down the alley proper, Spike became aware of something important.
He wasn’t alone.
Not only that, but he was being watched. And he couldn’t see who by. All he knew was that the peeper was a human male.
That was curious. The only human Spike knew who could sneak up on him was Buffy.
There was no fear in the air. Another oddity. Spike might have been out of practice, but he knew when humanly types were unsettled. His new friend was not. This brought a smile to his face. He was tempted to allow his bumpies to emerge and see if that earned a response, but something told him it didn’t matter.
Whoever was here already knew who he was.
On any other day, Spike would have played this out and had some fun. But fun was not something Buffy could afford. Fun meant time, and he had precious little of it.
“Right,” he said, his eyes taking another tour of the alley. “Give it up. Who’s there?”
A few beats of silence. Nothing.
“Notice how I said, ‘who’s there’. I know I’m not addressing the friendly neighborhood dumpster.” Spike stalked forward slowly, gesturing to the dumpster in question. “No point in hidin’, mate.”
“Come on. I’m getting bored talking to myself.”
There was a rustling then, and Spike whirled just in time for his eyes to become level with the wrong end of a crossbow.
“I find that rather doubtful,” said his new friend.
Then he fired the arrow.
Pain jolted through him, sending Spike to his knees, a roar ripping off his lips. He burst into game face before he could help himself. “Oi, mate!” he snarled, grasping the end of the arrow, now buried in his left shoulder. “That supposed to be funny?”
“No.” More shuffling and the crossbow lowered, revealing a pair of very stern chestnut eyes, molded into a war-weathered face. “That was your warning shot. You have ten seconds before I fire again. And trust me, the word miss is not in my vocabulary.”
Spike rolled his eyes and clamored to his feet, grip on the arrow tightening before he yanked it free. The scent of dead blood hit the air and prompted an untimely growl from his stomach—he hadn’t eaten since leaving Sunnydale.
“If this,” he said shortly to no one in particular, “is that green maggot’s idea of a joke, I’m gonna rip his innards out.”
“And yet you’re still standing here. I think the count’s down to three.”
Spike snarled. “Right. Real intimidating. You know who I am, boy?”
The man’s whiskered jaw tightened. “Well, the face suggests vampire,” came the retort. “Everything else screams William the Bloody. And I’m willing to bet that even if I am wrong, there isn’t a single person who would care.” The man raised his crossbow again, cocking his head to the side. “Okay, time’s up.”
Another arrow flashed in his direction. Spike was prepared. He caught the small projectile before it could do any damage and tossed it to the pavement.
“Love the attitude,” he snapped. “I take it we’ve met? Lemme guess… Once upon a time, I killed your sister. Or your uncle. Or your missus. Or—”
Spike arched an eyebrow. Bloody hell, maybe he had.
This was not good.
He was really going to kill Lorne.
“Listen, mate,” he said, hands coming up before it occurred to him that leaving his heart vulnerable was likely not in his best interest. “Whatever I did, whoever I killed…well, it’s not like killing me’s gonna bring them back. And frankly, I have better things to do than rassle this out.”
“Touching as that is,” the man replied, “you’re not the one I’m looking for.”
Spike looked pointedly to the crossbow.
“That doesn’t mean,” his new friend continued, “that I’m not going to kill you anyway. Your existence is crime enough as far as I’m concerned.”
“And yet,” Spike said, “I’m willing to bet that I was here first. Look, I got no quarrel with you, so if you’ll just—”
“You’re actually trying to barter your way out?”
“What? This not a time for diplomacy?”
“A diplomatic vampire. I thought I’d never see it.” The crossbow lifted a bit, but it was more in gesture than in threat. “You’re not living up to your reputation, William.”
Spike hated to admit it, but he was impressed. Whoever this bloke was had obviously done his homework. Enough to know him without a proper introduction. That likely meant one of his family members was responsible for the chip on his shoulder, which could work to his advantage. “The name’s Spike. And for someone who seems to know so much about me, you might look into your more recent chapters.” He pointed his temple. “Can’t fight, have to be tactful. Got me a handicap.”
“Is that a fact?” The man shrugged. “Well, I usually try to refrain from killing a man with glasses. Unfortunately, your vision’s fine and you’re not a man. So excuse me for not caring, but I don’t.”
Well, that had backfired spectacularly. If killing him was the hunter’s intention, Spike was struck with the radical realization that he could. The bloke was human and had a weapon he had proven he knew how to use. And as quick as Spike might be, he wasn’t so daft as to think he could evade those arrows forever.
And if he died, Buffy died.
It was better to try and keep the man talking.
“Who was it?”
“Who was it? You’re sprouting off way too much fact and not enough fiction, not to mention a little testy about my relatives. You know about the Order of Aurelius and I’m guessing have a few clues as to its key members. So who was it? Dru? Grand-pappy Angelus? Hmm?”
“That hurt you.”
A pause. “Why do you care?”
Spike looked pointedly to the crossbow. “Do I really need to clarify?”
The man snickered. “Of course. You think you have a chance of talking me out of this?”
“Now, there’s a thought.”
“You don’t. Give it up, blondie.”
“Oh, name-calling, are we?” Spike’s gaze traveled briefly to the hunter’s strands. He had a head of chestnut hair to match his eyes, but even the darkness of the alley could not blind his vampiric eyesight to the bleached tips. “Doesn’t seem like you have much room to talk.”
“Gave it up. It was a bit too high school for my taste.”
“Look, I don’t wanna—”
“What, hurt me? First of all, you couldn’t. Second of all, bullshit.”
That was it. Spike pounced, forcing the crossbow’s aim to the ground with one hand and socking its holder as hard as he could with the other. The chip fired before the hit even had a chance to connect, but that didn’t stop him from knocking the man off his feet and into the wall on the other side of the alley.
“Bloody hell!” Spike shouted, bringing his hand to his cranium. “See? This is what I’m saying. Jump to conclusions and people get hurt.”
“You’re not people,” the man snarled.
And then lunged.
Where the crossbow had gotten off to, Spike hadn’t the faintest, and he wasn’t sure if he preferred an all-out fists and fangs brawl that he couldn’t participate in without triggering his neurological bug-zapper or a date with arrows. He was buggered no matter which way he turned.
The chip had to go.
The face-off quickly became a game of dodge. Spike located the discarded crossbow and tossed it into the dumpster he had seen earlier. Before he could turn around, however, two masculine hands grasped by the shoulders and he was on the ground the next instant.
“Come on, you bastard,” the man snapped. “Drop it.”
“Me?” Spike repeated. “You’re the one with a sodding attitude problem.”
“I wasn’t aware that there was a Vampire Awareness Week. See, by my book, you can’t dust too many.”
That was it. He was tired of playing nice—especially when this was evidently the bloke he had been sent to find. What good was he going to do anyone if he was dead? “All right. That does it. Who the hell are you? Some kinda slayer wannabe?” Spike rolled to his feet. “Brassed ‘cause you have a pair too many to qualify for the job? You’re in over your head.”
The hunter paused at that. “What the fuck is a slayer?”
Oh. Sod. All.
With a huff of frustration, Spike pivoted, every frustration he’d managed to keep at bay pressed against his chest. And fuck, this time, he couldn’t hold himself back. Rage in its purest concentrate coursed through his veins. In all his years, he couldn’t remember being so angry. Not when Angelus had taunted him. Not when Dru had left him. Not even after he’d realized he was in love with the enemy. This was fury of a different breed. His jaw fell open and then he was screaming into the dark. “What the bloody fuck am I doing out here? I don’t have time for you to fuck with me! I don’t have time to be pointed in a bunch of novelty directions while you sit on your less-than-holy arses and have a bloody good laugh. She’s gonna die if you—”
“Who the hell are you talking to?”
“The filth. The smog. The roaches. The wankers who are having a right jolly old time while he tears her apart. Take your bloody pick.”
There was a beat of hesitance. “You’re just trying to distract me. It won’t work.”
Spike rolled his eyes and turned back to his adversary. “I’m not trying anything, mate. But it looks as though you’re already distracted.”
The next thing he knew, he had been forced to the ground once more, and he saw his own fury and despair reflected back at him through eyes that had known pain. Pain that another of his kind—perhaps his own family—had placed there at some point. But that only held the Spike’s attention for a second.
There was a stake in the hunter’s hand, and the hunter’s arm was pulled back.
Spike’s eyes went wide.
It was time for one of those distractions. Something completely random, wholly unexpected, and the last thing anyone would think to hear from a vampire. His mind raced to an image of Xander playing some insipid James Bond video game in the days where they had been roommates, and without giving time to reconsider, he held out a hand and cried, “Stop in the name of the British government!”
Yeah, that had to be the dumbest thing that had ever crossed his lips.
But bloody hell, it worked.
The man’s arm faltered and his face fell, utter bewilderment soaring behind his eyes. “What?”
Spike flashed a grin and rolled to his feet. In an instant, he had the hunter stranded without a weapon and was effectively putting his technique of ‘hitting without the intention of hitting’ front to good use. The same he had pulled on the Slayer several weeks ago outside the Bronze, which worked like a bloody charm until he mimicked the act that had gotten him on the pavement in the first place. He tossed the man to the ground with unrestrained hostility and, again, blinding pain exploded behind his eyes.
And that was it. He was over and he knew it. This bloke, whoever else he was, was the type to learn from his mistakes and take advantage of the mistakes of others. Spike was down for the count, unable to blink as the chip spasmed. The stake would be coming any second now.
Any sodding second.
Spike opened his eyes.
The hunter was standing a few feet away, his gaze fixed on something in his hand.
A business card.
“Wesley Wyndam-Pryce,” came the soft murmur.
Spike shook his head, forcing the last of the chip’s shock away, and stared at the man in disbelief. “You can read that?” he demanded, climbing to his feet. “Bloody hell, I never thought I’d find a human with eyesight better than mine.”
“Years of practice. How do you know Wes?”
“Just an acquaintance, really.” Spike realized he was panting needlessly, as though he had just given his all at a track meet. It had been more than a long time since he’d had a good brawl with anything. He missed it with such fervor that it nearly broke him on bad days. In different circumstances, Spike would have been the first to admit that a fight like this—one he wasn’t sure he’d survive—was just what he’d needed. He hadn’t had this since…
Well, since Buffy and the Gem of Amara. Since Buffy period.
For now, it occurred to him that perhaps Lorne might not have been playing him a fool. Spike studied the man intently before moving forward. Not close enough to open himself up to an encore, but to let other details set in. An unshaven chin, dark used-to-be-bleached hair, a set jaw, and he already knew the eyes. Eyes that had known death at a vampire’s hands.
“Wes would,” the hunter continued, shaken, “associate with vampires?”
“Depends on the vamp. He was one of Angel’s for a while.” The look he received was clearly stunned. “Before the wanker went out and lost his soul again. From what I know of him, Wes doesn’t fancy siding with demons that’re out…well…demonizin’ every night.”
“So he’s one of yours now?”
“No. He’s just helping me.” Spike hazarded another step closer. “Listen, mate. I don’t know who the hell you are or why you seem determined to shove a stake in my chest, other than the obvious. But you know who I am.”
“Yes. I’ve done my research.”
“You a watcher, then?”
Well, that hardly followed. If he was a watcher, he would sure as hell know what a slayer was. One would think. Dumb question, Spike.
Yet the answer he received surprised him.
The man snickered. “Hardly.”
“But you know what one is?”
A shrug. “Wes was one. That’s all I know.” The man paused a moment, then glanced up. “I’m a vampire hunter”
“Sussed that much out for myself, funnily enough. Any particular reason?”
“Okay. We’ll work up to the personals, then.” Spike decided to go for broke. The stake was immaterial at the moment and there wasn’t much that his opponent could do to harm him without a weapon at the ready. “So you have it in for vamps specifically.”
“Gee, whatever gave you that idea?”
“The Order’s being reassembled. My own sodding family tree. Angelus, Darla, Dru—the whole bloody works. I take it you’re familiar with them, too.” He didn’t need a reply to confirm that theory. “And they happen to—”
“You’re William the Bloody.”
“Well, yeah. As we’ve established.”
“Why aren’t you with them?”
Spike had reached his limit on how many times he could stand to hear that question, especially from people who didn’t know him particularly well. “It’s complicated,” he replied gruffly. “Let’s just say, there’s this girl.”
“Ah. Always about a girl.”
“Not just any girl. Chosen bird. Slayer. Killer of evil things.”
“Evil things like you, you mean? Sounds like a really bad episode of Passions.”
Spike smirked. At least the sod had taste.
“Let me guess,” the hunter continued. “You’re the big bad monster tripping over himself for a chance at the one girl he’s never supposed to have.”
“Something like that.”
“And you want me to help you?”
“No. I want you to help her.” He sighed. “This particular slayer has a bit of bad history with vamps belonging to the Aurelius clan. And now they have her. Don’t wanna picture what they’re doing to her. What they’re—”
“Wait, wait, wait. Please speak into my good ear. You’re against this? You’re willing to go against your…” The hunter trailed off, having evidently read the answer in the vampire’s eyes. “Wow. Now there’s something I’d never expected to find in a vampire, even for a girl. She must be a hottie.”
Spike smiled. There was simply nothing to say to that.
“And you want me to help you?” It didn’t sound nearly as incriminating this time. Cautious, yes, and still a bit skeptical, but open, too. Like he might believe him.
“I want her back, mate. Safe and sound. Whatever it takes.”
“Whatever it takes? You understand this sounds completely ridiculous, right? I know vamps. Vamps aren’t typically the type to pull all this righteous bullshit. I—”
“You know vamps,” Spike agreed, his temper rising in spite of himself. “You don’t know me. If you did, you’d know I’m not one to follow the rules. Guess you missed that part of your history lesson.” He sighed and nodded at the scrap of paper in the hunter’s hand. “You can keep that card. Look up the white hats if you get around to feeling particularly heroic. In the meantime, dreadfully sorry, but I gotta be off. Need to see about a girl.”
It wouldn’t take a phone call. They both knew it. Spike had only managed five steps before the man called after him.
“Hold up. I’m coming with you.”
A wave of relief crashed hard against Spike’s chest, but he did his best not to let it show. Instead, he turned and watched his new friend fish his crossbow from the dumpster and gather up his stake. The crossbow went over the man’s shoulder, the stake in his back pocket. Then he was moving forward, his steps slow but deliberate.
“You understand that if I get a whiff of a trap, I’ll—”
“Stake me good and proper.” Spike rolled his eyes, though he couldn’t keep from smirking. “Something tells me you’re gonna fit right in. You got a name, mate, or should I just call you—”
Spike nodded. This felt a lot like progress. “Zack Wright, killer of my kind, I’m William the Bloody. Or Spike. Just Spike, preferably. Begrudgingly reluctant to make your acquaintance.”
Wright smirked a bit at that, and soon they were chuckling together.
If anything else, it was a start.