They found the Hyperion virtually deserted when they arrived, and being that it was nearly two-thirty in the morning, this was of little surprise.
“They really must trust you,” Wright commented, coming down the stairs. “Leaving you with Angel’s digs alone?”
Spike glanced up. “I’m not alone. Got you and your merry band, don’t I?” He dropped his eyes to a hastily scribbled letter from Cordelia that welcomed him to all the blood in the fridge—apparently she had restocked—and that she wouldn’t expect money back, this time. He chuckled in spite of himself and poured a glass of crimson goodness. “Though I guess trusting you wouldn’t be in the best interest, either.”
Wright sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “Look, would you have told you? Especially with…with what you know about what happened to us?”
“I wouldn’t hurt your people, Zangy.”
“Yeah, I know that. Now.” He shook his head and sank into one of the plush couches in the foyer. “So, you helped them?”
Spike snickered and took a deep swig of blood. They had skipped the explanation in the alley for a reason. The child needed sleep, it was getting later than any of them reckoned was appropriate, and Nikki had looked a good shake from dropping, too. There had been very little exchanged on the way back. Most of the talking had been done by Rosalie, who had very childishly tried to prove that she wasn’t sleepy. She had sat curled in her father’s lap, asking Spike various questions pertaining to who he was and, more importantly, his past. Some of what she asked was so above and beyond the telling signs of her biological age that he had to stop and remind herself that she had yet to blossom into adulthood. Other questions, however, had bordered on adorably ridiculous.
Though he would never admit that.
“On the way to Caritas,” Spike replied, hoisting himself onto the counter. “Cordy got snagged by one of her wonder-visions. Took us to some ruddy alley where your girlies were battling a big nasty.” He stopped and shook his head with a slight chuckle. “Nikki’s a bloody pistol.”
Wright nodded. “Yes, she really is.”
“Who is she?” Spike took another long sip of his blood, cocking his head curiously. “I’m guessing she’s not your—”
“No!” Wright’s eyes went so wide they nearly popped out of his head. “Good god no. Nikki’s…well, she’s my sister-in-law. After Amber…after that happened, I needed someone to watch Rosalie. She learned everything I learned. She’s been with me from the beginning.”
“You let her tag along?”
“I wasn’t about to let my daughter out of my sight. Not after what had happened.”
“Kid looks like she can take care of herself.” He chuckled again. “Even if she is a tiny person. How old is she?”
“She’ll be nine soon.”
Spike nodded. “Older than I thought. She’s small for her age.”
Wright offered a smile. “Takes after her mother in that.” He sighed and leaned back. “Rosalie’s been through more than her fair share. I know she doesn’t deserve a lot of what I’ve made her do or learn. Some of what she does, she’s picked up along the way. Other stuff, Nikki or I have taught her. Made her learn…in case something happened to one of us.”
“No wonder she’s so bloody mature for her age.”
“Oh, she’s always been like that. She’s always known things. It used to scare the piss outta me.” Wright shook his head. “Now I can’t… She’s very gifted. More so than I reckon even I’ve credited. She knows when things happen. Always has.”
There was a long pause.
“Kid’s a seer? Is that what you’re saying?”
“If you wanna call it that, I guess. I’m not sure how Cordy handles it, but Rosalie… It’s not so much seeing things as knowing things. On the few nights that we’re actually together, she’ll be talking about something she saw or read or something to that effect, and stop suddenly to tell me that the phone’s about to ring or a glass is going to fall. Little things like that.”
Spike was silent for a long minute. “All right…little creepy.”
“You’re telling me. Amber and I used to not know what to do with her. Once she started talking… It was like an adult trapped in a child’s body.” He shook his head. “She knows too much for being as old as she is.”
“She how you knew Darla was here?”
The question was unneeded. Silence spoke for all just as well. Wright glanced away and nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “We were in Vegas… Well, we were leaving Vegas. There was some…” He trailed off with a frown. “I don’t know the technical jargon for demons, but this one liked lights. It liked lights in a way that should be illegal in forty-seven states. And you know Vegas….”
“Well, we were leaving and Rosalie just sort’ve blanked. And she said, very calmly, that Darla was in Los Angeles. Just like that. ‘Daddy, Darla’s in Los Angeles.’” He exhaled deeply. “I’m not even sure if she knows who Darla is, really. She’ll say things like that all the time. ‘Frank bought a new car,’ ‘Paullina got her hair done today,’ ‘Darla’s in Los Angeles.’ I’m sure there’s a reason for everything, but I…I follow leads. Real, firm leads. I’ve already fucked Rosalie’s life up enough to drag her into it any further. After Amber was murdered, I shutdown. I turned all my attention to finding Darla and just…lost myself. Rosalie’s probably the only reason I maintained anything.” Wright sighed, squeezing his eyes shut. “I don’t even know if I’m the type of person that Amber would love anymore.”
Spike shrugged. “You’ve dedicated yourself to something you believe in.”
“For the right reasons?”
There was a long beat at that. Spike shifted slightly and reached for his cigarettes. He lit up and inhaled, his brow furrowed in consideration. “Way I see it,” he said, “there’s no such thing as the right reason for anything. Why should it matter why you’re doing something so long as you’re doing it?”
“So says the vampire.”
“Yeah, so says the bloody vampire. I might never get why I started having all these sodding touchy feelies. And if I get…when I get Buffy back, she might never know why, either. Rupert and the sodding brigade of white hats’ll never understand why I’m here.” He shook his head and tapped the end of the fag lightly. “Don’t see why it matters. I don’t have the wiring to do the right thing. The fact that I’m making an honest effort at it should be more than enough.”
Wright snickered. “Yeah. Enough for you. I’m supposed to be above it. I guess that went away at some point.”
“You fancy a spot of violence, Zangy. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“There is when I neglect my daughter.” There was a long beat of silence as he gazed off in thought. “Nikki’s great, don’t get me wrong. She’s been with me from the beginning, wanted to learn everything I learned. She loved her sister, despite all the changes she’s gone through, she’s still so much like Amber sometimes that I can’t breathe. And Rosalie… I never wanted to become one of those parents who can’t look at their child because it reminds them of someone they lost. But Rosalie is her mother incarnate. People say that she has my eyes, but I don’t see it. I can’t see myself anywhere on her. All I see is…”
“I get that, mate.”
“I just can’t stop. I’ve dragged Rosalie this far and she’s a hell of a sport about it. She’s never complained. Never…really, never been any trouble at all. Even when she was really little.” He sighed and shook his head again. “But she deserves more than this.”
Spike indulged another puff on his cigarette. “You ever reckon maybe she was made for it?” he suggested. “Sure seems like you were, whether or not you wanna admit it.”
“What? You mean like a slayer?”
“No. God, I hope not. With ugly beasties out there who spend their lives hunting and killing slayers? Creatures like—”
The vampire snorted, but nodded all the same. “Yeah. Once upon a time. Never fancied I’d ever change. Slayers are a nasty business, Zangy. They live, they fight a while, then some muck like me comes and ends it all for them. I’ve seen the end of two…can’t say I’m sorry, ‘cause really, I’m not. Not like I oughta be, anyway.” Spike paused meaningfully and glanced upward. “If I never know another slayer again, it’ll be too bloody soon. Your kid…I’d never hope that for her.” He glanced up. “Means more of the same for you.”
Wright shrugged. “Always has. What I do…I’m too deep in to stop. Even for her.”
“Many ways to raise a kid, way I figure it. I’ve been all over the world, mate. Ruined my fair share of happy homes and the like. Done things I…I wish I could regret.” He sighed. “Don’t know if that means anything…wishing I could regret it.”
“I think it means you do, on a level. You regret not regretting, and therefore regret.”
Spike snickered. “You a philosopher, now, or just specialize in therapy for the undead?”
“You’re beyond therapy.”
The vampire chuckled and raised his glass to his lips. “I’ll drink to that.” He finished off his makeshift supper and wiped his mouth. “Kid’s got potential,” he murmured a minute later. “Real potential.”
“We made sure of that. In my line of work, I wasn’t going to let her be in the face in danger every day and not know how to defend herself.” Zack sighed. “Amber wouldn’t have wanted this for her.”
Spike arched an eyebrow. “Even if it had been the other way around?”
“Especially if it had been the other way around. She would’ve…she would’ve been above it.”
“I don’t see how what you’re doing is below it.”
“And again, we’re back to you wouldn’t.”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t. Just because I’m a vamp doesn’t mean I’m wrong in everything I say and think.” He shook his head, billowing out a pillar of smoke. “You’ve just met the worst of us.”
Zack’s eyes narrowed. “I didn’t realize there was a best.”
“See? That’s what I’m talking about.”
“Spike, you’re the first vampire I’ve met who has any ambitions that aren’t one hundred percent selfish.” He held up a hand. “And I’m still trying to figure you out.”
“Not much to figure out, mate.”
“Yes, there is.”
The conviction behind the hunter’s tone caused Spike to stop and consider him, realizing what was being offered. That blessed break that had previously been denied. That acceptance. That want of trust, even if they hadn’t made it that far.
With a chuckle, Wright aimed his gaze at his hands. “You’re a strange guy. I don’t want to believe anything that you say and I don’t want to… You’re a vampire. You’re the reason my life’s the way it is. Not you per se, but your kind. I’ve hated vampires for so long. Not demons, vampires. For what you are. For what you do, or have done. And now you’re all with the noble save the woman you love crusade.”
“It’s not a crime to not hate me, Zangy.”
“I feel like it should be.”
Spike sighed. “Well, I feel like I should rightly be staked for what I’ve turned myself into. For starting to feel again. For loving her like I do. And it’s not just her. When I saw your kid in the alley being attacked, I…I felt for her. And that’s not right. Not from where I’m standing. I’m not supposed to feel. Not for humans, not for kids, and certainly not for slayers.”
Wright nodded as though he understood, but Spike didn’t see how that was possible.
“Well,” the hunter decided after a minute, “for what it’s worth, I’m glad you do.”
There was a brief pause at that, and Spike found himself smiling. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Me, too.”
And the truly horrific thing was he meant it.
It wasn’t the most nutritional breakfast in the world, but there were some sacrifices every parent must make. Especially a parent living on Zack Wright’s income. The past few years had seen a tradition of fine dining at whatever local fast food chain was available, and because of the readily low prices everyone in his crowd was more than accustomed to McDonalds.
He had left the Hyperion before sunrise alongside Spike, who was too antsy to wait another day without making the first leap into Wolfram and Hart. They had taken the back alleys in case the sun decided to show up early, and Wright had spotted the vampire one Egg McMuffin that he’d demanded be compensated for whenever they saw each other again. Spike had chuckled, waved his farewell, and disappeared before he could call him on it.
When he arrived back at the hotel, Nikki and Rosalie were awake. That did not surprise him. Over the years, they had all adapted to the radical hours that a vampire hunter lived by.
Breakfast was a tense affair, since Nikki couldn’t let the subject of Spike drop.
“Spike’s a good guy,” Rosalie said before shoving a hash brown into her mouth. She didn’t say anything more, but it was enough to convince her father once and for all. If the years had taught him anything, it was that his daughter’s senses ranged beyond impeccable. Her unspoken blessing banished all remaining doubts.
It didn’t surprise him when Nikki failed to bend that easily. After Amber’s death, she had retreated within herself almost more than he had. Her bloodlust was nearly as intense, if not as refined. She hated all things of a subhuman nature, and nothing short of divine intervention would change that.
The first few years, Wright had questioned the wisdom of dragging her along with him. It was dangerous enough having a daughter that he refused to leave in the care of his parents. His parents had never supported his marriage, and Amber’s weren’t any better. Despite the fact that he knew they loved Rosalie, he would rather have cut off his ear than leave her for what could be years at a time.
Nikki’s presence, while at times problematic, had solved the issue of what to do with his daughter when he was on the hunt. While Nikki could never have filled Amber’s shoes—not as a partner nor as a mother to Rosalie, and she had never tried—she was good for them. And she had learned the tools of the trade with more enthusiasm than he ever could have predicted.
“I still don’t see why he won’t just kill everyone once he gets there and have it over with,” she mused.
Wright quirked an eyebrow, chewing thoughtfully. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“Is it really? Please tell me how.”
“These aren’t run of the mill vamps, Nic.”
“Yeah, and neither is he, right? He’s one of them.”
“God, would you listen to yourself? You’ve turned into one of…” She shook her head with a heavy sigh, poking at her food. “You were gone for…what? A day? Two days? What happened? What could have possibly happened that—”
“I’ve gotten to know him. All of them. They’re good people.”
“Vampires aren’t people, Zack.”
“Spike’s the only vamp here.”
“All the same.”
“You said yourself that he helped you the other night when he didn’t have to.”
She narrowed her eyes. “And that…what? Makes it all right? Atones for all the other people he’s killed? Jesus Christ, what’s happened to you? They brainwash you? Put you under some crazy empathy spell? Make it so—”
“Dad’s right,” Rosalie piped in. “This one’s different from the others.”
Nikki’s gaze didn’t falter. If anything, she looked even more disgusted. “And you’ve dragged your daughter into it, too.”
“Dragged her into… I haven’t even seen her all week! I’ve been tearing this town apart looking for Darla and you two. Spike was a lucky break.”
“And you’re just gonna let him walk after all this is over?”
At that, Wright quieted. He had nothing to say.
“Oh my god, you are, aren’t you?”
“I will not calm down! This…this is crazy! You, being…” Nikki threw her arms into the air and jumped to her feet. “He’s one of them, Zack. He’s killed people just like Amber. And you’re gonna let him get away with it.”
“And what do you know about vamps, Nic? They kill because they like it. Because they don’t feel. Because the kill to them is more important than everything else.” He shook his head. “You know what I taught you. You think this is any fun for me? I know what he is. I know what he’s done. I’ve fucking memorized every documented kill and it makes my insides turn to think of everything that didn’t make the books. But what I’ve seen of him these past couple days defies everything I’ve ever read up on him. On vampires. He’s in love with this chick.”
“That shouldn’t matter!”
“Well, it does!”
Rosalie’s eyes went wide. It had been a long while since she saw them fight like this. “Dad…”
Neither acknowledged her. They were both on their feet now, glaring.
“You’ve lost it,” Nikki decided. “This guy’s not you, Zack.”
“I fucking know it.”
“And this girl, whoever she is, isn’t Amber. Saving her’s not going to bring Amber back.”
“That doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve a chance to live. That doesn’t mean we can leave her there in the hands of these things.”
Nikki’s eyes blazed with anger. There was no talking her out of it. “This isn’t about her at all!” she screamed. “Not to you! It never was! You look at your new best friend, all you see is yourself. Amber’s dead, Zack. She’s fucking dead and if you let yourself turn into one of them, you might as well have killed her yourself.”
A very long, very cold silence swept through the lobby of Hyperion. Wright clenched his fists, trying to prevent himself from throttling her. From hitting her. From doing anything.
It was the wail at first—the piercing scream of a child before Rosalie fled from the room. That shook him out of his stupor. With the dying whimper of his daughter tickling the air, shivers sprouting up and down his arms, he knew no other truth.
“Get…” he said slowly. “Get out of my sight, Nikki. Now.”
Nikki glared at him for a few seconds before her emotions got the better of her. Before he could blink at the tears threatening to burst, she had turned and raced for the stairs.
Wright closed his eyes and hissed out a long, breath, hands going instinctually to his head to ward off an impending headache. He pivoted without thought and returned to the table where the lingering smell of processed food still haunted the lobby.
“Wow,” came a voice from behind. Wright turned on his feet and caught sight of Cordelia who stood in the entrance. “I take it that I really missed something.”
He inhaled deeply, a smiling itching his face. “Morning, Cordy.”
She returned the smile and walked in slowly. “You wanna talk about it?”
She pursed her lips and nodded. “Well, I’ll let it slide, then. For now. ‘Cause, buddy, I totally need details later.” A pause. “Hey, was that the girl that—”
“You and the others helped the other night? Yeah.”
“Okay. I really missed something then.”
“I’ll fill you in later.” Wright glanced up. “So…how was your night?”
Lindsey froze over his work when the door to his office opened. He knew who it was without needing to look up. And his stomach dropped somewhere in the vicinity of his feet.
They hadn’t even bothered to inform him that an untamed—not to mention unapproved—vampire was in the building.
Things were getting worse by the minute.
“What can I say?” Spike said in manner of greeting, leaning against the doorway. “Couldn’t wait.”
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