“And then Charlie boy here, he walks right up to her…”
“Okay, first off, it was dark, and secondly, Spike is leaving out the part where he bet me a round of shots I wouldn’t.”
“Are you going to let me tell this story?” Spike shifted his axe to the other shoulder so he could drape his arm around Gunn. “So he toddles drunkenly across the dance floor and that’s when we all notice the tart’s a good head taller than him, and Charlie…”
Angel, who was leading the way down a long alley, spun on his heel to face them. “We are hunting vampires. Right now. In case you both forgot.”
Spike rolled his eyes extravagantly. “Lighten up, Peaches. Charlie’s heart is loud enough to warn them we’re coming.”
“Oh, and your big, overcompensating boots aren’t?” Gunn straightened to his full height, head tilted back to peer down exaggeratedly at Spike. “Come to think of it, weren’t you about two inches shorter before you put them on?”
“That’s low!” Spike poked Charles in the ribs, but Gunn just danced out of his reach, laughing.
Angel stopped walking. One night on the town together, and Spike had made Gunn as obnoxious as he was. He heaved a heavy sigh. “This area’s dead. Let’s head back toward…”
“The vampire with a soul shall never serve evil!”
All three turned with confused expressions at the black-cloaked figure that dove at Angel from a corner fire escape, a wicked curved dagger brandished high.
Angel deftly stepped aside just as the dagger would have plunged into his chest. “I’m not working for evil! Why does everyone think that?”
Spike and Gunn moved instinctively to have their backs to each other as black-cloaked figures rushed into the alleyway. “Vamps?” Gunn asked.
Spike shook his head. “Heartbeats.”
“Yeah. Hell of a lot more fun when you can actually kill people.” Spike grimaced as he dodged a kick and pushed an adversary away.
The cloaked humans were un-armed, oddly enough, and just kept coming at Gunn and Spike, doggedly and with grim faces, grappling for their arms or legs. Gunn was the first to realize the pattern. “They’re keeping us from Angel,” he said.
The only armed assailant continued to attack Angel, swinging his large curved dagger wildly while Angel deflected attacks, looking annoyed, but still being backed toward a dumpster. Gunn could tell he’d be cornered then, and perhaps lose the upper hand. He ducked under a kick and rolled along the gritty pavement, coming up between Angel and his assailant. He punched the man in the face.
Rather than hit back, the dagger-wielder checked his strike, windmilling his arms comically as he stared at Gunn with open horror.
Gunn stepped toward him and said, “Boo!”
He dropped his knife, then scrambled to pick it up, and nearly grasping it by the blade-end, shied away from it like it was hot.
The cloaked figures scattered, one coming up and carefully taking the dagger by its handle before running off. The original wielder crawled and then staggered to his feet and followed.
“Well,” Spike said. “That wasn’t strange. Should we follow them?”
Angel shook his head, though he was frowning in the direction they’d run.
Gunn shook his jacket out. “Who the hell were they?”
“Just another suburbanite afraid to meet a black man in an alley?” Spike offered.
Gunn froze, eyebrows raised. “Are you serious, blondie?”
“What? ‘S funny. Wanker wouldn’t know you’re scarier in a suit.”
A strange look crossed Gunn’s face, but he shrugged it off. “Yeah,” he said, and pulled his stake back out of his waist-band, where he’d stashed it as soon as he realized they faced humans.
“Let’s get back,” Angel said. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Oh there’s a surprise.”
“Seriously, man, you do need to lighten up.” Gunn patted Angel on the shoulder, and they turned back toward the way they’d come.
“Do you remember anything else about them?” Wesley sat back in his chair, fingertips pressed to his lips in thought.
Angel shook his head, and then frowned thoughtfully. “They smelled normal. No incense or cloying oil like most cultists.”
“Are we about done here?” Spike asked from his post leaning against the wall. “Some of us have a sunshine allergy and a commute.”
Wesley shot Spike an annoyed glance, but straightened. “Well, it could be just another splinter of the vampire worshiping sects, and not worth our…”
“Wait, guys! This is it.” Gunn jumped up from the couch, a large tome in his hands. He hurried to pass it to Wes. “That’s the knife.”
“Are you sure?”
“It was waved in my face enough times, yeah.”
“I suspected it might be in Goodwin’s Mystical Armaments,” Wesley said, smugly, turning the book to regard the picture. His smile faded quickly. “This isn’t good.”
“The Soul-Drinker,” Spike peered at the title and smirked. “So? Not impressed. They weren’t going to call it ‘The Daisy Trimmer.’”
Wesley looked up with grave seriousness. “Spike, this blade, quite literally, steals the soul of whomever it cuts.”
Spike winced away from the picture.
“They were after Angel’s soul,” Gunn said.
“So it would appear.”
“Then why didn’t they try to cut me?” Gunn frowned. “I stepped in the way and they broke off the attack.”
“Well, it might be they didn’t wish to kill you. The effects of soul-loss on humans is immediate death.”
“Yeah, but if they pulled Peaches’ soul out of him, a lot more people would have died.”
“That may be so, but I’m not convinced they meant ill.” Wesley pointed at Angel, “You said they shouted something about the vampire with a soul serving evil?”
“You think they were trying to take me out in the name of the Powers That Be?”
“I think they might have been acting on the sanshu prophecy.” When three pairs of confused eyes stared at Wesley, he pursed his lips. “Not the ‘sanshu’ part of it. I’m talking about the Scroll of Aberjian - and how it says the vampire with a soul will play a crucial part in the apocalypse, for good or ill.”
“Take the soul away, take away the chance of ‘or ill’,” Gunn said.
“I don’t serve evil!” Angel said, with the air of one tired of repeating himself.
Spike raised his hand. “Can I point out that that’s complete bollocks because there are two vampires with souls now?”
Wes shrugged. “They probably haven’t heard of your soul, Spike.”
Spike shoved his hands in his pockets. “Bloody hell. I’ve got to get a publicist.”
“There are more things at stake than your popularity,” Wesley replied dryly. “If my theory is correct, and they believe the fate of the universe is in question, they will attack again.”
“So Peaches stays in the bat cave.” Spike shrugged. “And those of us who don’t have more rep than pep will go find these boys and straighten them out.”
Angel started to object, but Wesley interrupted. “As much as it pains me to say it, Spike is right. That’s our most logical course of action.”
Angel’s face was sorrowfully petulant. “You’re saying I have to stay in the office?”
“In your suite, preferably. We don’t want to risk the release of Angelus.”
Spike smirked. “Later. Think I’ll go for a nice stroll. Enjoy being grounded, grandpa!”
Gunn followed him out of the meeting room. “Do you have to bait him like that all the time?”
“Someone has to.” Spike winked. “Besides, they’re so cute at that age, aren’t they?”
Gunn’s somber face cracked into a warm smile. “Yeah. Angel’s gotta be like a hundred, and he looked about four when Wes told him he was grounded!”
“I’m ‘like a hundred’. Angel’s ‘like’ two-fifty.”
“That much worse, right?”
“I’m not going to argue that,” Spike smiled, and clapped Gunn on the shoulder. “Drink?”
Gunn squinted. “It’s four in the morning.”
“Sunshine allergy? Commute?”
Spike shrugged. “Bar’s on the way.”
Gunn sighed. “Think I’ll just go to bed, man. I have a client meeting tomorrow morning.”
“You need a drink, Charlie.”
“No, I need to be alert when I discuss legal issues with demons.”
Spike leaned against the corridor wall, blocking Gunn’s escape route. “Doesn’t it give you a thought, that these blokes attacking us want to save the world? Doesn’t that say something about what we’re doing here?”
Gunn shook his head. “Everyone’s the hero of their own story, man.”
“Then maybe you want to tell me how it feels to be the gentrified, suit-wearing arse you used to despise?” Spike smiled at the shocked expression on his friend’s face. “Come on, I’m not brood-boy back there; I can notice something that doesn’t involve myself. You hate that suit, couldn’t wait to go out in sweats tonight, but then you missed it, the way people respond to the suit, see you as a different sort of man in it. Come on, I’ll buy you a pint and you can try to disprove my case, counselor.”
Gunn managed to regain some of his composure and smile. “You are so full of bull.”
“Yeah, funny story…” Spike trailed off with a smirk and turned to lead the way down the corridor.
“You’re shitting me.”
“Poetry?” Gunn snickered, then, covering his mouth with a fist, he shook his head, caught a breath, and momentarily appeared calm. “Uh… I’m sure it was very cool, dark, avant-garde…”
“Will you just take the embarrassing past as a given and stop asking for details?” Spike tossed back his drink. “Pathetic. Heroic couplets. ‘Thy beauty is like the dawn’ bollocks.”
Gunn shook his head, mirth crinkling the corners of his eyes. “I just don’t see it.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the point. Reinvention of the self.” He shrugged.
“It’s not the same.”
“No one’s bloody the same. I’m just saying… know how it feels, to wonder if they notice the strings holding on the mask.”
Gunn smirked. “But unlike you, I’ve always been cool.”
Vampire-quick, Spike had his elbows on the table, his brows drawn low. “And if you ever breathe a word of this to anyone, I’ll come up with novel uses for all your internal organs.”
Gunn snorted, not looking nearly intimidated enough. (Or, actually, at all.) Spike sighed and fell back in his chair, picking up his now-empty glass and frowning at it as though confused where the liquid had gone. “I’m serious. Guts for garters.”
“Sure man.” Gunn snickered. After a long drink from his beer, his expression sobered. “But no offense, your identity crisis, member of the evil undead and all, is lame.”
“What’s at stake, besides your own opinion of yourself,? It’s narcissistic. I’m talking about people, good people I knew and watched die, who the rest of the world dismisses as dumb-ass thugs, and having the opportunity to show the world… I dunno, something. And I’m not doing it. People see me in my suit, and that’s all they see. Like I was born in it. And this reinvention? I didn’t earn it. They zapped it into me, so I could serve their purposes. They bought me, man. Bought me with a fake law degree.”
Spike blinked. “Well,” he said. “No, you win.”
“Come on. Don’t just blow this off. It’s a serious… thing.”
Spike shrugged. “No one, in this culture, is going to use me as a representative of my race. Thank fuck. Unless it’s vampires, in general, but those tossers deserve a negative image.”
“Man, you really do have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Spike grimaced. “I grew up in a time and place where a bunch of lily-white people, who were all basically the same, got their noses bent out of shape over the precious difference between upper-upper and upper-middle middle-class.”
Gunn smiled. “So, in conclusion: I’m right, you have no idea what I’m going through.”
“I said ‘you win’. Bloody lawyers.” Spike raised his empty glass and waggled it at a waitress. “But there’s always been that feeling, like everyone knows I’m a big upper-class faker, even though I’ve now spent much more time living…” Spike’s expression froze, his eyes fixed on a figure at the bar.
Gunn’s smile waned. “What?’
“The green jacket, over there by the quiz machine.”
“What? That guy? He doesn’t look familiar.”
“You vamps and your noses.” Gunn adjusted his collar. “Can make a man anxious about his deodorant.”
“Yeah, go easy on the old spice, will you? My nostrils are bleeding.” Spike slipped out of the booth, not taking his eyes off the rather ordinary-looking guy in the green windbreaker. He had that dark tan “ethnically indistinct” look of a movie extra, his dark hair salt-and-pepper speckled and cut so close you couldn’t tell if it was kinky or straight.
Gunn stood, unsure whether to follow Spike, stop him, or provide backup, so he just hung back, watching Spike close in on the guy, who jumped about a foot off his bar stool when the vampire clamped a hand down on his shoulder and in a voice like water dripping off ice, whispered, “Hello, mate. Want to ask you a few questions about a mutual friend of ours.”
The man stumbled back, over the adjacent barstool, waving his hands helplessly to ward off the vampire. “Vampire… soul…” he gasped, as though reminding himself, “We’re on the same side!”
Spike grinned wolfishly. “You recognize me! That saves time.” His eyes flashed yellow, and there was the familiar sound of bones shifting.
The guy bolted for the door, leaving Spike with a green windbreaker in hand.
“Well, that was…”
Spike cut Gunn off with, “Come on, Charlie!” and tossed the windbreaker at him, walking leisurely to the door.
Gunn frowned as Spike stopped on the sidewalk, eyes closed, face tilted up into the streetlight. “You’re letting him get away.”
“Step back,” Spike said.
“What? Seriously, it’s not like you’re going to turn into a bat or something.”
Spike turned to him with one eyebrow raised. “The jacket. I’m trying to follow his scent. Step back.”
Gunn balled the offensive thing in his fists, feeling like he was holding a purse outside the ladies’ room. Spike raised his nose to the air again, breathing slow and steady, and then, with a wink and smirk, started down the street.
They jogged across an intersection and ducked down an alleyway. Gunn felt for his stake and pocket knife, eyes instinctively seeking out the darkest corners, the likely ambush locations.
Spike stopped in front of a wooden door. “Well, well. The rat wasn’t too far from his bolt-hole, was he?”
Gunn stepped up to the side of the door, shoulder to the wall. “On three?”
Spike stared at him, plainly gobsmacked.
“What?” Gunn asked.
“You aren’t going to talk me out of this, tell me we should get Angel or ask his permission or some bollocks?”
Gunn squinted. “Why would I?”
A beat passed, and then a grin broke out on Spike’s face. “Right. On three.”
Gun held up three fingers, than two, and when he dropped his third finger, Spike kicked the door in and they entered, immediately moving back-to-back.
They needn’t have been so careful about their entrance. The room was filled with men and women – thirty or forty of them, all ranged facing the door, in an arc, weapons drawn. Some wore brown robes like their attackers in the alleyway, though most just had them tossed on, open to expose t-shirts and dresses. An ominous creak led their eyes upward, where two young men with crossbows knelt on a catwalk, bolts pointed dead center at Spike’s chest.
Sighing, Spike raised his hands.
Hollowly, Gunn asked, “Hey, Spike? How about we go for backup?”
The line of warriors parted slightly and a distinguished gentleman stepped forward. His neatly-trimmed beard had just a touch of brown mingled in the grey and his robe was firmly fastened and tied with a rough hemp belt.
He raised his hands, and there was a portentous silence. “I hope, dear friends, that you can pay for that damage to our door.”
Spike tilted his head. “I’m feeling generous, so I’ll give you lot a chance to surrender.”
“This violent conflict is pointless. Are you not the William the Bloody who closed the California Hellmouth?”
“I’ll tell you what’s pointless: unleashing Angelus.”
Gunn nodded, and stepped cautiously forward. “Just give us the dagger, and no one gets hurt.”
“And you!” The spokesman pointed. “Charles Gunn. Well is your tale known to The Order of Light.”
“Well am I known?” Gunn scowled at them. “I doubt that.”
“You fought for the light against darkness, many years. Your fame has spread to all the tri-county area.”
“Man, who are you guys? We fight evil.” He gestured between Spike and himself. “Me and him. I don’t know what the hell you do, but don’t tell us we’re on the same side. You tried to steal a man’s soul. That’s evil.”
“Only to prevent an even greater evil!” He spread his arms wide, pleading, “The vampire with a soul must not serve the Wolf, Ram and Hart, come the apocalypse!”
“Oi! Vampire with a soul, right here.”
“We have no fear for you, William the Bloody. You have yet avoided the temptation of working for the enemy.”
“And some people think I’m not that smart.” Spike rolled his eyes. “Look, Obi-Wan, Angel may be an idiot, but you’re even thicker if you think he’s at Wolfram and Hart just to throw them a ‘happy apocalypse’ party. ‘Attack from within’ isn’t a new concept, you self-righteous pea-brains.”
Gunn silently observed that as long as he hung out with vampires, he was always going to be relegated to “good cop” duty. “Look, we’re sorry about your door, and it’s obvious we aren’t going to reach a consensus standing here with weapons drawn. If you could just sit down with us a moment…”
The spokesman, who, now Gunn thought about it, did look a bit like Alec Guinness, shook his head and tucked his hands into the sleeves of his voluminous robe. “I’m afraid you’re mistaken if you think we can be swayed from our just cause. Take them away. They’ll serve well as prisoners to draw the one we seek.”
All around them, the rag-tag army advanced.
“Great lawyering, Charlie,” Spike muttered, moving to a defensive stance as a woman with a sword stepped between them and the door.
“Like you were helping.” Back-to-back again, they were being herded further into the room.
Suddenly Spike froze, and pointed across the warehouse. “There! It… go get it!”
Gunn had enough time to turn in confusion and Spike was barreling through the cultists, screaming and waving his arms in as much of a distraction as anyone could possibly make. And not in the direction he had pointed. Crossbows started twanging, bolts flying through the air and skittering on brick. Gunn belatedly turned in the direction Spike had pointed.
A woman stood just inside a doorway, holding the soul-drinker dagger close to her chest, presumably having been left with the task of guarding it but unable to resist the temptation to see what was going on.
“‘Go get it!’ The vampire says!” Gunn ducked under the arms of a cultist grabbing for him and ran for the girl with the dagger.
It was chaos in the warehouse; Spike was doing a good job of freaking out as many people as possible. Gunn was very, very aware of his own non-supernatural body and its vulnerability to everything, but fortunately, the cultists had been expecting them to break for the door, not run deeper into the building.
Ahead of him, the lady with the dagger ducked out of sight, a wooden door shutting behind her. Fortunately, she seemed to be the only one aware that Gunn was running for her. He was tackled. He squirmed and kicked under the weight of two people holding him down, and was just thinking, “Well, there went that plan,” when the weight was lifted off of him and strong hands were helping him up, propelling him forward.
Spike had a crossbow bolt through his shoulder and a huge grin on his face. Gunn got to his feet just in front of the wooden door. He kicked as close to the door-knob as he could and it gave easily.
The girl – she really wasn’t much more than a girl – backed up, the dagger in front of her. The room was an office strewn with papers and maps on the walls. Gunn held his hands up. “Easy there, I’m not going to hurt you. Just give me the…”
The girl screamed and lunged at him.
“Charlie!” Spike cried.
And then Gunn wasn’t quite sure what happened, just that he was knocked aside and looked up from his position against the wall to see Spike stagger back, the dagger embedded in his sternum halfway to the hilt. The girl jumped back, hands up and twitching like she wasn’t sure if she should pluck it out or just run.
The dagger flashed with white light. Spike looked down at his chest as though just noticing it. “Oh,” he said. “Bollocks.”
Gunn turned on his heel and ran.