With a Little Help
“Remind me again what we’re doing here.”
“I told you, Mr. Antsy-Pants,” Cordelia answered, propping her bag onto her shoulder, “there are a few things I’d like to pick up—and not that I’m all Angel-wiggy—but I figured it might be a little safer if I had someone to come with.”
Spike snickered and rolled his eyes. “What happened to me not being invited in?”
She tossed him a grin over her shoulder. “Well, since you’re so effectively neutered, it shouldn’t matter. Besides, as I said before, Dennis would so kick your ass.”
The door swung open at that without, and Spike immediately found himself thrown to the far other side of the veranda. The few drops of sunlight that had yet to dispel into the shadows trickled to vulnerable skin, and he yelped loudly.
“Now that,” Wright said as he approached, “was funny.”
Spike scowled and fought to his feet. “Ghostly types. Always gotta have a bloody sense of humor.”
Cordelia shrugged and held the door open for him. “Well, they gotta pass the time somehow.” She gestured inward theatrically. “William the Bloody, I hereby pardon every bad thing you’ve ever done and cordially invite you into my home. Consider yourself officially one of the gang.”
Spike smirked at her and hurried inward. “Ha bloody ha, love.” He ran a hand through his hair and was grinning when she finally shut the door behind them. “The day that you’re picked to reign judgment on all us poor demons is—”
“Hey, I don’t see why you’re complaining. You’re currently my favorite vamp. Wanna keep it up?”
Wright rolled his eyes. “Because the selection is so wide. I guess if you wanted to go that way, he’d have to be my favorite vamp, too.”
Spike knew better than to push it, but couldn’t help himself. “Aw, shucks, Zangy,” he drawled. “I didn’t know you cared.”
“I don’t. That being the point, in case you missed it.”
“And here I thought you boys were getting along,” Cordelia said, tossing her bag to the nearest chair. Then she lifted her head and called to no one in particular, “Phantom Dennis, meet Spike and Zack. Spike’s a vamp and Zack wants to kill him.”
“Don’t jump to conclusions,” Wright said, holding up a hand. “I only want to kill him after I get to the others. Right now, I’m just using him for his connections.”
Spike snickered. “Of course. Right martyr you are.”
“I do try.”
“Could you two save it for when I’m not around? Honestly.” Cordelia moved toward her bedroom, glancing upward as though to catch the eye of her invisible roommate. “They did this all the way over here. It’s giving me a headache.”
“Well now,” Spike drawled, “couldn’t have that, could we?”
“Hey, a healthy seer is a happy seer. Who knows? It might make my mind-numbingly painful visions all the more jolly.”
Wright smirked. “Yes. I’m sure that’s the way it works.”
“Better watch it, mate,” the vampire advised, though there was mischief in his eyes. “She was the Queen C. Near as I can recall, anyway.” He turned to survey the apartment properly, narrowing his gaze at her very feminine surroundings. There was absolutely no doubt that a lady lived here. Even the greatest poof this side of the Atlantic wouldn’t choose these themes if they had any self-respect. Nevertheless, it was cozy. Very serene. Homey.
One would never guess that its resident worked for a vampire.
“So,” Cordelia said, emerging once more from her room with a small suitcase at her disposal. She wisely ignored the blank stares her random, not to mention rapid brandishing of a home-away-from-home survival kit. “What’s the game plan? Spike’s heading over to Caritas here in about a half—”
“Spike and Zack are heading to this…whatever,” Wright said. When he received a skeptical look in turn, he spread his arms, eyes widening with incredulity. “What? Darla might show. You honestly think I’m gonna bypass a shot to—”
“Cordy, dear, do me a favor and keep Zangy nice and distracted for about three hours.” Spike tossed an icy glare to his unlikely companion.
“That’s not happening,” Wright said softly. “If there’s a chance Darla’s going to be there, I’m there, too. Deal with it.”
Spike arched an eyebrow and stepped into the hunter’s personal space. “Whatever else happens tonight, I’m not gonna let you sit by and bugger up my chances to get Buffy back safe and sound. Something tells me that you staking Darla might give the game away.”
“He wouldn’t have to know it’s me.”
“The answer’s no, Zangy.”
Wright paused and glared. “One, stop calling me that. Two, how the hell do you propose to stop me?”
There were a thousand and a half ways of answering that. Chip or no chip, Spike was not without his resources. Still, he decided it was best to hold his tongue. The past day had taught him that Wright wasn’t unreasonable, and his prejudice against vamp-kind wasn’t unmovable. While the hunter would never admit it, he had softened a bit. Was scowling less, talking more—overall, becoming more social. They hadn’t argued much, either; though their comments were barbed, it was more casual.
Up until this point.
“Look, mate,” Spike said, “I’m on your bloody side here. When—”
Wright scoffed at that, shaking his head. “On my side? You’re just using me.”
Cordelia waved a hand. “Ummm…did I miss something, Mr. Hypocritical? You are just using him too, right? Look, I know I don’t know you all that well, but I am a living, breathing person-shaped person here. And I do know Spike pretty well.” She frowned. “Well, I knew the old Spike…and when I say knew, I mean as in ‘ran from him as much as I could when I wasn’t trying to keep him from torturing my boss’…but you get the—”
Spike cleared his throat. “Thanks ever so,” he said gruffly, eyes on the ground. “But I don’t really reckon that’s gonna score me any points, pet.”
“Well, I was getting to a point.” She made a mocking face at Wright, who chuckled in spite of himself. “Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted… Buffy told me about this one time when an old friend of hers came down from, well, here—Hemery High— and made a deal with you that if he gave you the Slayer, you’d vamp him. This ring any bells?”
Spike didn’t look up. Oh, bells were being rung. This wasn’t the sort of story one told to a demon hunter. Especially if one was in the process of winning the trust of said demon hunter. “Ummm, pet, it’s all right. You don’t have to—”
“No. I’m just trying to make a point.” Cordelia pivoted to Wright, whose brow was furrowed with interest. “Anyway, this guy totally blows it, obviously. Spikey here couldn’t kill the Slayer if—”
“I don’t want to kill the Slayer, princess. Slightly different scenario.”
She looked at him skeptically. “Are we forgetting the chip?”
“No. Of bloody course not. How could we?”
“Ahem.” Zack waved a little to direct their attention back. “I believe there was a story…”
“Right.” Cordelia nodded and, very unfortunately, picked up right where she left off. “Anyway, the guy totally delivers but Spike screws it up”—she held up a hand, clearly anticipating Spike’s objection—“and even though it would’ve been just as easy for him to say no to the entire ‘sire’ thing, he vamps him anyway. Kept his word.” She paused with a frown. “I don’t really see why it did any good, anyway. Way I hear it, the kid bit the dust the next night.”
Spike smirked. “Gotta hand it to her. My Slayer knows me well.”
“Aww, now that was heartwarming.” Wright tossed a sideways glance to the vampire, and for a moment, Spike thought he might have spied a grin on the hunter’s face. “See? That story had a happy ending and everything.”
“My point was, Spike’ll keep his promise. Darla’s gonna be dust either way.” Cordelia shrugged. “Even if he promises something particularly grizzly.”
“After the Slayer’s outta harm’s way,” Spike agreed, nodding. “I don’t give a bloody damn what you do to Darla. Torch the place. See what I care. I just want her out.” He fell silent for a moment, considering. Despite however annoyed he was, Spike could certainly appreciate Wright’s need for vengeance, and how much waiting had to be eating at him. “Just work with me on this. Work with me and I’ll work with you.”
This time yesterday, Spike wagered Wright would have said no, hands down.
But this wasn’t yesterday, and though it might not seem it, things had changed.
Wright looked down and nodded. “All right. All right. For…her.”
Spike smiled—a real smile. Genuine and without snark. “Thanks, mate.”
“I’m putting a lot on faith, here. I’ve never even met this chick.”
“She’s worth it.”
“So you keep saying.”
Spike grinned and placed a hand over his nonbeating heart. “Would I lie?”
Cordelia’s brows shot skyward. “Uh, yeah,” she said skeptically. “I just vouched for your reliability, not your honesty. Stay where you’re better acquainted.”
Spike blinked at her. “Are you telling me you don’t think she’s worth it?”
Cordelia smirked. “Oh, heaven forbid! Any slayer who can get two of the most badass vamps crawling on their knees within a stone’s throw of each other has to be worth something.”
“Now, there’s all the reason you needed to give me,” Wright agreed, grinning. “Remind me that I’m doing this to save the girl that effectively got William the Bloody whipped. Any dame like that’s one I gotta meet.”
At that, Spike’s gaze darkened. “I am not whipped.”
Cordelia and Wright looked at each other and grinned. “Yes you are,” they chorused together.
“You’re not fooling anyone,” Cordelia told him, shaking her head and jingling her keys, indicating everyone should head for the door. “Didn’t we clarify this just last night?”
“Besides,” Wright added, “you’ve told me several times that you’re not expecting anything from her in return. If that’s not whipped, I don’t—”
“Oh no, buddy. What was it you said? If it annoys, it stays.”
“So you’re taking to quoting a vamp now?”
Wright shrugged. “As long as it’s a whipped vamp, I’m cool with it.”
Spike scowled and stalked forward. He was getting that buggering annoying feeling that this bloke was one he could learn to not-hate, and he didn’t know if he liked that or not. Unlike anyone else back in Sunnydale, Wright’s asides and insults weren’t laced with venom. They seemed no less acidic than the banter Spike had witnessed between others who’d call each other friends. And that was bizarre.
But he didn’t have time to worry with that now. The sun would be completely gone soon, and he had an appointment to make. “All right then,” he said. “I better be off. Wouldn’t wanna keep the sod waiting.”
Wright’s expression brightened and he made to follow. “So, to Caritas then?”
“Thought I told you that you weren’t coming.”
“Funny. I could’ve sworn that…well, you can’t stop me.”
Spike paused and narrowed his eyes. “Zangy…”
There was an amused chuckle. Cordelia cast her gaze and stage-whispered, “Lover’s quarrel,” presumably for the benefit of her ghostly roommate.
“I promised I wouldn’t try to kill Darla,” Wright agreed, opening the door with a cocky grin. “But a chance to meet the legendary Angelus? Who could say no?”
“Right. And if Darla shows?”
Wright shrugged. “Well, I’m assuming this place is sizey. Getting lost won’t present much of a problem. Besides…” It was small, nearly imperceptible, but Spike could have sworn Wright’s eyes glimmered with reckless excitement. The kind he saw on kids who had just figured out where Daddy stored the liquor. It was the light of who Wright had once been, perhaps. When circumstances had been different. Someone who sought trouble as a means of entertainment, if nothing else. “I do this for a living.”
Wright disappeared out the door the next minute, a real spring in his step.
Spike sighed and cast his gaze heavenward. “That boy is gonna be the death of me.”
“Aww, I don’t think so,” Cordelia replied, thrusting her bags into Spike’s arms without awaiting an invitation. “He’s all talk if you ask me.”
“I was speaking figuratively, you know.”
“Oh, I know. But even still…” She nodded at the door with wordless instruction that he should follow. “One measly demon hunter take down William the Bloody? Puhlease. Even if said demon hunter does have a very, very nice physique. Not to mention abs and a six-pack and…oh, and all that upper-body—”
Spike cleared his throat. Loudly.
To her credit, Cordelia didn’t miss a beat. She turned back to him quickly and flashed a bright smile. “Oh, stop. You know you’re gorgeous.”
He grinned. “Naturally.”
“Is he seeing anyone? You know?”
At that, the grin faded. “Probably best to avoid bringing it up. He just got over a bad break.”
“Oh.” The disappointment on her face was real but brief. In a flash, she had regrouped and aimed him a coy smirk. “You know I’m only asking about him because I know you’re off the market, right?”
“Besides, all that muscle has nothing against vamp strength. You could totally kick his ass.”
It was odd the way his head hurt to even think of raising a hand against a human in anger. Was that the chip or the conscience-he-didn’t-want? Did it even matter anymore? “Not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment, pet, but—”
“I meant in a fair fight, dummy. Who are you more afraid of? Zachary Wright or Joyce Summers with an axe?”
He couldn’t help it—he chuckled. “Are you kidding? Joyce all the bloody way.”
“My point exactly. Now chop chop!” She clapped her hands loudly, ushering him out the door. “You don’t wanna be late for your date with Angel, do you?”
Spike scowled. “You know, love, if I didn’t like you so much—”
“I know. Just call it charismatic charm.” Cordelia grinned and strolled for the car where Wright had, again, assumed the passenger seat. “Be a dear and put the bags in the back. And are you coming or not?”
Spike stood the curb, safely encased in shadows, even if the sun couldn’t touch him now. Her words had struck him dumb—not the words themselves, perhaps, but the way she’d said them. There was no disdain, only acceptance. Acceptance greater than any he’d ever had in Sunnydale.
Perhaps that was the change. The influx of a conscience he did not want to coincide with the support he thought he would never have.
“Right then,” he said, bouncing Cordelia’s suitcase a bit, having nearly forgotten he was holding it. “To the belly of the bloody beast. Hope the wanker’s hungry.”
It was time then. Time to get the Slayer back.
Starting with a meeting.
Assuming he dealt his cards right, Angelus would never see him coming. It was risky, but Spike had a natural hand at cards.
Even if he was known to keep the better plays up his sleeve.
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