When Spike arrived at the Hyperion, he found it had come to life. Lights were on and people were gabbing. It was the complete opposite of what he’d walked in on earlier. The once-abandoned space now looked like it actually could double as a detective agency.
There was a new person, too—an icy blonde woman lurking near the entry who looked about as sociable as an enraged porcupine. She eyed Spike with the cool meanness of a lawyer about to reveal the smoking gun as he approached, but didn’t say anything or try to prevent him from entering the premises.
Spike found the lobby much as he expected—Cordelia and the others were standing amid the fancy chairs, talking excitedly. The conversation, however, died as soon as Gunn caught sight of Spike.
“Well, look who’s back,” he drawled.
Spike nodded. “Evenin’, all.”
Cordelia whirled around, her eyes blazing. “Don’t ‘evening all’ us!” she snapped, though he could tell she wasn’t genuinely upset. “You have some explaining to do, mister!”
Spike arched a brow. “Can I do it over a mug of pig’s blood? A vamp’s gotta eat, you know.”
Gunn snickered and shook his head. “Man oh man, are you ever in for it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you could sing like that?” Cordelia had stormed over and was currently treating his arm to several hard slaps, and it didn’t look like she was calming down anytime soon. “I used to have connections! You could’ve made it big!”
“Like that vampire from what’s-her-face’s novel,” Gunn added.
Spike rolled his eyes. “No. I didn’t tell you ‘cause I don’t sing…often. Or voluntarily, unless it’s for something special.”
Without awaiting a response, he turned on his heels to usher in the vampire hunter, who passed the anonymous blonde with a polite, if not uncomfortable smile. It was more than obvious that despite surroundings, he wasn’t entirely at ease with the set up. And that was reasonable. The walk back had been tedious and silent. While there had been some reluctant camaraderie, it was clear he wasn’t going to go out of their way to make nice.
Which was fine by Spike, so long as he recovered the Slayer.
“Anyway, let’s make around the room with the introductions,” Spike said, motioning for Wright to step forward. “Cordy…” He turned to the woman standing at the door and appraised her with another nod, “bint I don’ know, and Charlie—” Gunn offered a throaty cough at that, but he earned little more than a cocky smile in turn. “—meet Zack Wright. Bloke who wants me and all of my kind dead.” He nodded to Wesley, who was staring slightly agape. “Wager you two need no introduction.”
The former Watcher finally snapped back to himself and moved forward, breaking into a wide grin. “Well, I’ll be damned. Zachary! How are you?”
At that, Wright’s stern expression softened a little. “Wes. Good to see you.”
“What on earth brings you all the way to Los Angeles?”
Wright sighed, looked at Spike, then said, “I was dropped a lead a few weeks ago, about Darla. I had to come.” He stepped closer to Wesley at that, eyes narrowing. “The last I heard, she was eating dust.”
“Yes, well…” Wesley glanced down. “Wolfram and Hart have powerful means of getting what they want. Evidently, she managed to wheedle her way to the top of their list.” He nodded at Spike. “He’s all right. We have an…associate that has a way of seeing into the intentions of others.”
Spike arched an eyebrow. “You had Lorne spill the beans on me?”
“Of course,” he replied. “We had to be sure. After all, we were taking a lot on faith.”
“And here I could’ve sworn that was your sodding motto. You are the goody good guys, right?”
“Ahem?” Cordelia said from her corner, waving a little. “Hello? You guys mind filling us in because I really think we missed something.” She pointed to the hunter. “Who’s this and how do you know him?”
“I just gave the introduction,” Spike grumbled. “Doesn’t anyone around here pay attention?”
“Zack Wright,” Wesley supplied helpfully. “A vampire hunter I met in San Antonio. This is the man who inspired me to engage in the practice of rogue demon hunting before I joined the Angel Investigations team last year.”
Gunn chortled. “That must’ve been a picture.”
“I’m afraid your arrival couldn’t have come at a better time,” Wesley told Wright. “We have a situation on our hands that—”
“Yeah, Spike told me.” Wright nodded, shrugging his crossbow off his shoulder and setting it on the ground without blinking. “The Order of Aurelius. And something about a…slayer? Whatever that is.”
“Oh, they’re kinda like you,” Cordelia offered, moving forward. “Only female and Chosen. And they have this super-strength thing going for them. And it’s a part of this larger thing… Anyway, Wes used to be in the mix, so he can fill in the blanks.”
“Excuse me,” came a voice from the doorway.
“Oh, so she talks, too,” Spike said, eying the blonde. “Here I thought she just glared.”
The blonde aimed one of those glares at him. He just smirked. As far as threatening looks went, he’d had much worse.
“Not that I’m not sure this all very important,” the blonde continued, tearing her gaze from Spike, “not to mention interesting, but there are more imperative things right now. Cordelia, I—”
“Right, right,” Cordelia agreed sharply. “Spike, this is Detective Kate Lockley. You’ll like her—she hates Angel. Anyway, she’s here on behalf of Wolfram and Hart.”
“Spike?” Lockley repeated, her voice pitching up a notch. “As in, one of them? More vampires?”
Wright gave her an appreciative look at that.
Spike rolled his eyes. “Oh for crying…twice in one night. Yes, I’m a vampire. There, it’s out. Everyone stop making a big thing outta it. I’m a vampire. A bad, evil, scary, vampire—”
“Not really helping the cause,” Cordelia warned through her teeth.
“And I would reconsider the scary,” Gunn suggested.
Wesley stepped forward, his gaze on Lockley. “You know about Spike?”
Kate nodded, glowering. “Yes,” she replied. “After the truth about Angel came out, I spent quite a few days becoming very acquainted with his family tree.” She took a few bold steps toward the vampire, accusing eyes refusing to falter. “I know all about you. William the Bloody, right? For impaling people with railroad spikes?”
Spike’s throat tightened and he took a step back. “Erm, no. That’s where the nickname comes from. Spike. William the Bloody is a very dull. Not worth mentioning, really—”
“So, two nasty monikers,” Wright muttered. “Great.”
“The other one’s for butchering something a little less human, mate.” Spike turned back to Lockley. “Not that it matters for rot now. I really don’t give a damn what you think of me, pet. You say you came here on behalf of Wolfram and Hart? Have you heard her? Seen her? Is she—”
“What are you talking about?”
Gunn snickered. “We never got to tell you. Spike here’s a little preoccupied with a heroic rescue mission. Seems your favorite vamp snagged his favorite slayer. Trust me, you’ll have the full story soon. Damn Brit can’t talk about anything but.”
“I haven’t heard anything about a slayer,” Lockley replied. “Only that you mentioned one a minute ago. What is that? Another demon?”
Spike rolled his eyes again. “You did all your vamp homework but never bothered to look up the Slayer? Wow. Nice work, Detective.” He turned to Wesley. “Well, go ahead. This is your territory, right?”
At that, the former Watcher straightened his shoulders. He looked like a schoolboy about to recite a speech he had long ago memorized and grown bored with. “In every generation there is a Chosen One,” he said. “She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.” He shook his head. “God, I never realized how much that sounds like some deranged fraternity chant.”
“You actually have one in custody,” Cordelia said. “Remember Faith? The fugitive that Angel was harboring last year that you pulled a major wig over?” She paused at that. “Oh wait. You do that over everything. Anyway, never mind, she was a slayer.”
Lockley frowned in confusion, gesturing to Wesley. “But he just said there’s just one in every generation,” she replied. “How—”
“Something about how Buffy died for like a second. It called the next slayer, even if she didn’t formally kick it,” Cordelia explained. “It’s a screwy, flawed system. What can I say? Anyway, she and Angel had this torrid love affair that went to hell—”
“—so, naturally, as Angelus, she would be one of the first people he’d wanna target. Wolfram and Hart decided to take it a step up in that direction. They had Darla and Drusilla—you’ve read about Dru, right?—snatch her up from Sunnydale. Spike here has, for whatever reason, developed the major Buffy-boner, and—”
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Puhlease, Spike. You’re not fooling anyone.”
Gunn shook his head, smothering a smile. “You’re really not.”
“Hell,” Wright offered, grinning broadly now. “I’ve only known you for an hour and I could tell that right off.”
“Other than the fact that I told you right off,” Spike retorted. Then he was sulking. “Right. It’s not like the lot of you have to rub it in.”
In an odd moment of unity, the three locked gazes and smirked. “Yes we do,” they decided.
“Regardless,” Kate interrupted, dragging everyone back, “Lindsey didn’t tell me any of this. All he said was that Angel had turned and that I should—”
“Lindsey told you as much as he could without incriminating himself,” Wesley interjected. “I know he’s in trouble for warning us before Angelus could tear us apart. Bringing you in is not going to help him, and Wolfram and Hart does not tolerate negligence on the company line.”
“He’s doing as much as he can without getting himself sacked,” Gunn agreed. “And that’s the literal sort. Sacked and dumped somewhere.”
Spike sighed, caressing his brow. He felt a headache coming on. “So, this bloke didn’t mention Buffy?”
“Is Buffy this slayer person?”
“No,” Kate replied. “Just that…I should come here.”
“Well, that was right considerate of him.”
“How are you hoping to get close to her, anyway?” Cordelia asked. “It’s not like you can walk in there and say, ‘Oh, by the way, you know that blonde that you snatched from Sunnydale? Well, we’d really like her back, if you don’t mind.’ Honestly, have you thought this through at all?”
Spike’s eyes widened. “I’ve done all I can! Came to you sods, let you drag me to some demon pub, bloody sang, and nearly bit the big one ‘cause I thought it’d be of some sodding use. What was that? A bloody rouse? I’m not used to playing a white hat! This is the best I can do. A little help would be appreciated.” An irritated string of profanity perturbed the air, and he began pacing. “God, this is all so buggered up. If I had just kept my big mouth bloody shut in SunnyD, I could’ve gone with ‘em and gotten her out that way. But oh no. Darla the Fucking Herald has to bloody blab after she’s so bloody sure I’d decline and… God, I wanna rip her innards out.”
A shadow flickered over Wright’s face. “Get in line,” he said quietly.
“Can’t you just contact them and say that you’ve changed your mind?” Cordelia asked.
Spike’s gaze narrowed. “Yeah, ‘cause that won’t look suspicious at all.”
“Well, sorry! I’m just trying to be helpful.”
“Wait,” Wesley said, stepping forward. “Angelus’s pattern is to torture his victims extensively. If Buffy has been in his hands this long, it is safe to consider that she has already…”
He caught Spike’s eyes and abruptly stopped talking, going somewhat pale. A very still, very cold note rang through the room. Spike’s hands formed fists at his sides, his bumpies threatening to emerge. “Finish that sentence,” he growled, “and I’ll make you wish you were never born.”
Wright inched toward his crossbow—not enough to do more than warn, but enough to catch Spike’s attention.
Cordelia was quiet for the moment. When she spoke, her voice was considerably softer than before. Meek and, if possible, frightened. “Gee Spike,” she said with a slight titter. “Cliché much?”
It was silent for another long moment.
“Okay,” Gunn said loudly, rubbing his hands together. “And we’ve established that Spike can still be scary. I stand corrected. Either way, man, chill. It was nothing personal. I think Wes was just trying to make a point.”
“I was,” Wesley agreed. “Admittedly, I have never encountered Angel in his…darker state…I don’t believe that he would have…” He glanced up with obvious hesitation. “I don’t believe he would have killed Buffy yet. With a slayer, I believe he would…”
“Make it as painful as possible,” Lockley voiced from her corner. She earned a glare for her observation but matched it all the same. “And that means as long as possible. Right?”
“Precisely.” Wesley nodded before turning back to Spike. “But you wouldn’t know that. If you approach the Order now with the front that you seek penance for your…transgression without Buffy involved, then—”
“Why would they believe that Spike wouldn’t know this slayer chick is alive?” Wright demanded. “I’d think that a vamp that knows them as well as he does would have figured all this out sooner than two people who’ve read up on it.”
Spike pointed at the vampire hunter appraisingly. “The boy’s gotta point. Theory doesn’t fly, Wes.”
“Because you know Angelus’s mannerisms better than anyone.”
“He’s not gonna be too keen on believing me as it is. Last time I was face-to-face with him—and by him, I mean Angelus in all his evil glory—I tried to knock his head off with a crowbar.”
Cordelia’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Remember that whole Acathla thing? Yeah. Pulled a truce with Buffy then, too.” Spike snorted. “For the ‘good of humankind.’”
“You didn’t have a thing for her then, did you?”
He widened his eyes, appalled. “Of bloody course not!” A pause. “Well, it wasn’t what I feel for her now. More like mutual admiration as well as raging hatred for my mortal enemy, all right? Sure, I woulda…” He trailed off and cleared his throat. “Truthfully, I sided with her then to get Dru back. Dru didn’t take kindly to that. And…well, the rest isn’t important.”
Wesley pursed his lips. “My point was this,” he continued. “If you call or contact Angelus, Darla…whomever it is that you would…to see if their offer still stands. Play like you are surprised when the Slayer is mentioned, then—”
“They’ll still find it suspicious, mate,” Spike retorted. “Trust me. No one makes for a sudden change of heart of that bloody magnitude. Not where they’re concerned. And I was much too forthright with my…feelings for the Slayer when Darla popped by, ‘cause I’m a right wanker.”
“How forthright?” Cordelia asked.
“She mentioned Dru was attacking Buffy and I bolted from my crypt to stop it.”
“Wow. You’re dumb.”
“To say the least.” Then he frowned. “Oi!”
Wright ducked his head, and Spike had the horrible thought that the bloody vampire hunter was laughing at him.
“Regardless,” Wesley continued, holding up a hand, “does anyone here have a better idea? If we cannot get Spike to work from the inside, then getting Buffy out and to safety is going to take a measure of cunning that she might not have time to sit around and wait for. Angelus will eventually tire of her.” He looked to Spike. “Won’t he?”
There was nothing to say to that. Spike’s silence spoke for all the things that he could not.
“If Darla refuses to honor what she offered in Sunnydale, then we need to know now,” the former Watcher decided firmly. “Otherwise we are simply wasting time…and that is something that Buffy cannot afford.”
Another quiet beat settled in the lobby. Spike turned away, afraid his eyes would betray the weight of his concern—something that, despite whatever jokes had been made at his expense, had only been explored in tip-of-the-iceberg sense. A fraction of what he experienced in a sea of uncharted feelings.
The wrong decision could cost the Slayer her life.
And he would never recover. Never forgive himself.
Too much was riding on a simple yes or no.
“Spike,” Wesley said softly. “If this fails, we will find another way. I promise. We’re going to put up a fight. We just need to know where we stand.”
And that was that. Spike nodded, realizing for the first time that he truly wasn’t alone. A notion that struck deep. It was unlike any sense belonging that he had ever felt with the Scoobies. The dawn of new reason.
These people were going to help him. Trust him. Because they wanted to.
“Right,” he agreed, closing his eyes as he reached the end of this particular tunnel. One of them. The first of many. “So how do I go about this? Waltz into Wolfram and Hart and schedule an appointment with Angelus between torture sessions?”
“Call Lindsey,” Cordelia offered. “He’s our best bet right now.”
“Great. Leave it in the hands of the lackey.”
“He has a thing for Darla. She trusts him.”
“Even with all the running around behind their backs that he’s done?”
At that, Lockley spoke up. “I don’t think they know about that. From what McDonald told me, the firm is trying to keep the Order as secluded as possible from their outer dealings. They want them at their disposal if and when the time comes…but Darla made it clear that they’re not going to be working for the firm—the firm would be working for them.”
Wright bristled and turned. “Some things never change.”
“I have the number to McDonald’s private line,” Lockley continued, stepping forward and digging out a business card. It was to the dry-cleaners, Spike noted with some amusement, but the extension to Lindsey’s line was scribbled on the back. “He wanted…well, he wanted me to keep in touch. In case things got out of line.”
“What were you gonna do?” Cordelia demanded skeptically. “Throw stones at Angel? Hon, he’s not exactly gonna be a pushover. The only reason you got close to him in the past was because he was Angel. Angelus is a completely different matter.”
Spike nodded but snatched the proffered card anyway. “Yeah,” he murmured. “Pet, you can read up on us all you bloody well want to. Didn’t do much good for Zangy over here.” He gestured to Wright, who looked both confused and slightly affronted at the nickname. “I’m not the bloke I’m depicted to be throughout history—though some of the stuff they’ve jotted down is right complimentary. I did a lot of bad, but I wasn’t as…” The vampire stopped again when he realized he was the center of several accusing glares and held out his hands again. “All right, I was a mean, nasty bastard. But Angelus? Much as I hate to admit it, you can’t start to even compare. The stuff I’ve read up on him for laughs paints a monster, but not a legend. And that’s what he strove for. The bloody legend. Had to be the best at everything. When it came to being a nasty bugger, he beat out the lot of us.”
“I think the best option is to call Lindsey,” Wesley maintained. “Establish contact. Claim that you have rethought your position and now wish to rejoin your family. If they don’t buy it, at least we know where we stand.”
There was a heavy breath. Spike looked down, his eyes fixed on unmoving spot etched across the marble. When he spoke again, his voice had dropped several degrees. “I’m hesitant to do anything,” he admitted softly. “I’m…what if they just kill her? Because of me?”
Silence flooded the room.
“It’s a bad situation,” Lockley finally said. The statement in itself was more than obvious, but her observation was somehow soothing.
“They’re not going to wait around for you to make a move,” Wright added. “It’s not like they know you’re in town.”
Cordelia arched a brow. “Actually, they probably do. It’s hard for a pin to drop in this city without Wolfram and Hart being all over it.”
“But that doesn’t mean they’re relaying the information to Angelus and Darla,” Wesley continued. “Chances are, if Lindsey is in charge—”
“I don’t know that he’s in charge,” Lockley interrupted. “He’s just the one who contacted me.”
“Be that as it may, I don’t believe he would have gone out of his way unless he thought that things were slipping from the firm’s control. Wolfram and Hart might be a powerful, deadly force, but the Order of Aurelius has older blood working at its side. Darla is four hundred, and her sire was the oldest in recorded history.” The former Watcher stroked his jaw in thought, breaking into a segmented and more sedated pace that mimicked Spike’s in stride if not in speed. “Lindsey’s warning to us came out of civility. It wasn’t because he thought that the situation had exceeded their control. His move to use you, Detective, as a bargaining tool, confirms this. He doesn’t want to be directly implicated. If his pattern has shown anything, it’s that he is deliberately taking baby steps, attempting to keep Angelus from the loop of what is going on in the corporate office.” He stopped and glanced up. “And in doing so, I believe they will try to keep Buffy alive as long as possible.”
Wright frowned. “Why?”
“To keep them occupied,” Gunn concluded.
Spike shook his head, unconvinced. “I still don’t see how that’s gonna amount to rot. If Angelus finds something he wants done, he does it. Sod the wankers in charge and all that. And yeah, she’ll keep him busy for a while. Doing things…to her…” He stopped once more and his eyes went dark. It didn’t take as long as he expected to regain control. Rather, he drew in a deep breath and nodded after a few seconds. “Right. Right. It’s better to know now where we stand. If they touch her, I’ll—”
Everyone immediately tensed again at the sign of an impending tangent. Gunn seized the initiative, stepping forward sharply and placing a neutral hand on the vampire’s shoulder. “Save it for the baddies, man. I think I speak for everyone when I say, we know what you’re going to do them isn’t pretty.”
“Yeesh,” Cordelia agreed, nodding. “I can only imagine. Have I told you recently that you’ve got it to a degree of bad that I thought couldn’t be achieved before?”
Spike snickered but didn’t reply, turning instead to Lockley. “Right then,” he said. “Looks like I got me a phone call to make.”
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