Chapter 1: Silent Night
Truthfully, Wesley hadn’t known what to expect when he received the call, but this scenario hadn’t even presented an argument. It was an assignment that was supposed to mean nothing beyond a reason to get out of the office. Something Angel sent him on to allot a breath of fresh air. He knew on some level that he should resent the notion, but couldn’t find it within him to complain. It was a leave. A task outside the place in which they had sealed their damnation, and that was all that really mattered.
One would never have thought the quarters of Wolfram and Hart to be too small. And true, while the head of the Los Angeles branch of Hell Incorporated did little to mention their inter-office conflict, no one truly bothered to hide their discomfort. There was something about the vampire that did not sit well with anyone anymore.
There was something about themselves.
In the few months since they had assumed control of the law firm fated to destroy them all, the rift between the former team at Angel Investigations had drawn to almost irreparable measures. Wesley had consigned himself to bitter acquiescence, never mentioning but no longer pretending. The entire affair reminded him acrimoniously of the tale of the man that was granted a choice between Heaven and Hell and ended up selecting torment because they had the better sales pitch. The firm was gutting him slowly. Dragging out his insides just to poke fun of the stuff he was made of. A slow form of poison selected at his hand alone.
It wasn’t one thing. It was a thousand things. He had lost count of the number of times he had arranged a meeting with Angel to discuss what had become of them only to cancel an hour prior for the hope that tomorrow would be better. And the day after that, and the day after that. He forgot when talking with his former ally required a board room and two other paid lawyers that refused to leave even at the sharpest insistence.
He didn’t blame Angel. He couldn’t. They were living in a veiled world and they all knew it. And yet he, like the rest, did nothing to break free. A force manifest within himself-a burrow that refused to leave until he was a shell of former goodwill. He tried; he really tried. Mornings bore promises spoken aloud to not get up, to not get in the shower and go kill himself a bit more today. It never worked. The hold was too great. He came to his nine to five job every day, did work for the powers of darkness through hands that were no longer his, and left the office knowing the world was a little bit worse because of him.
It wasn’t one thing; it was Wolfram and Hart. And it was destroying him.
The irony of it all was that he had known this. Going in, he knew that signing a deal with the devil could never end well.
And here he was on a detour from an ordinary day. A thankless gift from the Powers That Be. A glance at the town he had abandoned to devastate. Really, the call was beneath the concern of Wolfram and Hart. A disturbance at a local pub with a crazy man threatening to cut himself unless someone reassured his existence.
Every town had their crazies. It was difficult to remember at times that Los Angeles was not every town. Even still, Wesley was more than grateful for the lost soul. Getting away always helped in thinning the veil. In allowing him to see through what was being concealed.
He had not, however, expected this.
The scene itself was almost tragic. A picture of a wounded man standing in the midst of a scoured bar. He held a blade to his skin, slicing thin rivers of red with each scream that erupted from a tormented throat. His face was an ocean of tears, his eyes blaring in outrage. He was naked from the waist up, barefoot; the slacks he wore a picture of filth-purloined undoubtedly from one of the homeless in the back allies.
It wasn’t the picture that disturbed Wesley. He had seen too many horrible things to be bothered by shades of madmen. No, it was the hoarse, strangled cries erupting from his throat. Screams to the frightened patrons and the pub owner that was ducked behind the bar, eyes wide with terror.
“‘S that what this is, then?” the man screamed, voice thickly accented and choked with tears. “This is blood. Real blood. Am I real? Am Ireal?” A sharp titter rumbled through his throat, reminding Wesley dimly the feel of copper against the tongue. How a sound could remind him of a taste, he did not know. But there was something about this man. Something that forewarned he had stepped way over his head. This was more than anyone had bargained for.
“The dead don’ bleed, you know,” the man said as he sliced another cut into his palm without flinching. “Some dead do, but my kinda dead don’t. I’m bloody well finished here. Bloody beyond dust. No more blood for me.” He turned his face upward. “Wasn’t I finished?! Wasn’t I? Am I real? Am I-”
Wesley started forward just as the knife clamored to the ground and the man released an agonized howl, clutching at his chest as he battled for balance. A look from the bartender convinced him to stop again. He had not yet been seen.
When he stood again, the man’s chest was smeared with blood from where he had grasped at himself.
“No bloody heartbeat!” he screamed, reaching for the fallen blade. “Not s’posed to have one of those. Not s’posed to-”
The rest was instinct. Over and done with before he even registered moving a muscle. Wesley caught the glimmer of the blade as it rose slowly over the stranger’s chest, leaving little in the mind’s eye of what he was planning to do. But this was different. This was so different. This was a new game altogether. Something unforeseen, and his pulse raced at the thrill of it.
He had the man tackled the next instant, kicking the knife away and fortifying his strength against an incursion of curses, cries, and protests. There was no doubt now, if there had ever been. No doubt whatsoever. He had never met the man he was wrestling; only knew him by reputation. By photos in old books and stories told in the days of Angel’s nostalgia. He had heard of him more than ever just a few months ago; when the world was caught at a standstill. When it was reported that Sunnydale had simply vanished overnight.
Oh yes. He had heard his share about Spike then. About the vampire he had been. Personalized stories and bitter reflections over the ending. Spike’s fate sealed them all. It was the reason any of them were here. He was a vampire with a soul that had saved the world. A vampire with a soul. A vampire that had won his soul without the need of a gypsy curse. Without the need of anything besides the love of a woman.
That was when things began to fall through the cracks for Wesley. Angel’s disillusionment with his own status. His own being and purpose. And the former Watcher, not to be outdone, had spent a good week or so researching the Shanshu prophecy all over again. Wondering, waiting. There was a part of him that knew his friend was out of the running, now. A vampire that sought a soul was rumored to not need one in the first place. It was a paradox in demontalk, because such had never occurred. Such was unheard of.
He had thought when it was evident that Spike’s demise was final that Angel might remember who he was and what he was working for. What his mission was; what it had been from the beginning. But no. They were as they ever were. Working for a cause that no longer made sense. Separated by confusion, divided by avarice. Held by both.
Wesley didn’t know how he gained the upper hand, though wagered being aware of one’s settings was a good place to start. He had the man pinned to the ground after just a few minutes of struggle, his chestnut gaze swallowed by an endless sea of angered pain. There was something feral within those eyes. Something more primal, more archaic than anything he had ever witnessed.
“Spike!” he shouted, wrapping his hands around the blonde’s besieged wrists. “Spike. It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re okay.” The man stopped struggling at that, blinking once at the sound of his name. The former Watcher released the breath he didn’t realize he had been holding and offered a forced, rugged smile. “It’s okay. You’ve been gone for a few months now. My name is Wesley. I’m a.friend.”
There was a lost few seconds as the words struggled to make sense. Then, as insolent as a three year old, Spike raised his hands for inspection, presenting himself expectantly. “‘m bleedin’,” he said.
“Yes,” Wesley agreed. “You cut yourself. Just a few minutes ago.”
“I cut myself.”
“You shouldn’t do that.” He drew in a breath and glanced apologetically around the bar at the half-stunned crowd that had gathered. He wanted to tell them to move back and allow them room, but was uncertain of how the wounded former vampire would take to words not spoken to him. “Spike, do you remember Sunnydale?”
Another distant few minutes. Had he not been breathing harshly and blinking with regularity, Wesley would concern himself with the possibility of catatonia.
Then a spark. Something. A name.
“Buffy,” he gasped; sitting up with such force that it knocked the other man off balance. “Buffy. Where’s Buffy? What happened to Buffy?”
Wesley fought to his feet. “Spike, Buffy-”
“Where is she? What did you do to her?” His eyes flared and his face scrunched as though trying to burst forward into the demonic guise he had known for nearly a century and a half. A frustrated sob rumbled through his throat when nothing happened, and he collapsed against the nearest barstool in defeat. “Buffy. I need Buffy. Where is she?”
Wesley drew in a deep breath and raised his hand slowly, edging forward with more caution than he had ever exhibited. “Spike,” he said again, trying to rekindle the bond formed with the mention of a familiar name. “Spike, listen to me. I am Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. I used to be Buffy’s Watcher. I now work in Los Angeles with.” He frowned, considering. Given their history, hearing Angel’s name likely wouldn’t do him any good. Though the presence of a grandsire might be comforting.he genuinely didn’t know what to do. He was thoroughly lost; everything left to instinct. “I work with friends,” he concluded. “Buffy is in Italy. She’s been there since-”
Spike held up a hand painted in red. “Blood,” he said.
“Yes, that’s blood.”
“Used to drink. Doesn’t taste like blood.”
A low, disgusted murmur ran through their audience.
“It won’t anymore,” Wesley replied, ignoring the others as best he could. “Spike, you.you’re human.”
He blinked dumbly at that, paused, then placed the hand over his heart again. “Hurts.”
“It’s beating for the first time in over a hundred years.”
“Vampires don’t have heartbeats.”
Wesley licked his lips. “You’re not a vampire anymore.” He caught sight of the bartender rising behind the blonde, the fear having been long doused. A small revolver was in his left hand. The former Watcher’s eyes bulged and his body nearly rocked with panic. He had to get Spike out and fast. “Spike,” he said, stepping forward. “Spike, I need you to come with me.”
“Yes, my name is Wesley. I need you to come with me.”
“Need to find Buffy.”
He nodded again. “I will take you to Buffy, I promise.”
The bartender’s arm was rising.
Spike cocked his head and looked at him as though he saw for the first time. Saw the man standing just a few feet away. His eyes were alight. His breathing was labored. And there was something there that shouldn’t be there. A reason. An understanding. One of those things that Wesley no longer believed in.
“You’ll take me to Buffy.”
“Yes. I will take you to Buffy.” He tried to wave down the pub-owner, but he didn’t think the man received the message. And if he did, he didn’t care. “We must leave now.”
Spike nodded and stepped forward. “Yeh. Must leave. Gotta get to Buffy.”
“We’re going now,” Wesley said. He shrugged his coat off his shoulders and placed it on the blonde’s. “Come on. I have to take you home.”
There was pause and a second of struggle. Spike’s arm went rigid beneath his. “No!” he snarled. “Buffy.”
“I have to take you home first,” he replied calmly. “I have to help you.”
The struggles became more intense. So did the snarls. “No. No! I want to-”
“Let me help you, Spike. Let me help you, and I will take you to Buffy. You must let me help you first.” He pressed a worried hand to the former vampire’s forehead, purposefully familiarizing him with personal contact. “You’re not well. Let me help you.”
It was a miracle that they got out of the pub without inspiring a round of shots and the death of the recently un-undead vampire. Wesley guided Spike to his car in a hurry that was almost foreign, settled him in the passenger seat, then dug his phone out of his front pocket.
If he were going to do this, he would need help. And lots of it.
And after a few endless rings, help decided to answer.
“Fred. Fred, it’s Wesley.” He tossed a careful glance to the window. Spike was seated calmly, staring ahead at the bleak nothingness before him. “I need a favor.”