In other news; curiouswombat has posted Once More With Bagpuss on her LJ, so if you've read Midday at the Lost and Found head on over there. And if you haven't, do so.
The Good, The Bad, and Cordelia
Spike, Giles, and Cordelia entered the Bronze cautiously. Larry and Oz waited outside, protecting the rear, crossbows held out of sight but ready to bring up and fire at a second’s notice.
The club was deserted apart from one vampire bartender who was emptying the cash registers and putting rubber bands around bundles of bills. “Hey, Spike, waddya doin’ here?” he asked. “Everybody’s supposed to be at the factory. And who’re your friends?”
“Just wanted a quick drink before the shindig,” Spike replied, walking up to the bartender.
“Can’t oblige, Spike, we’re closed,” the vampire told him. “Master’s orders.” He looked at Giles and stiffened. “Hey, isn’t that –”
Spike interrupted him by thrusting a stake into his heart. “Yeah, it is,” he said. “Full marks for identification, but you failed on the reaction speed test.” He started to move off but then hesitated and turned back to the money. “S’ppose this might come in useful,” he remarked, and began to stuff wads of cash into his pockets.
“You can’t take that!” Giles protested.
Spike raised his eyebrows. “Why the hell not?” he asked. “Belongs to the Master, right? What’s it to you if I nick it?”
“I suppose that you have a point,” Giles conceded. “Very well, go ahead, but hurry.”
Spike continued to stuff cash into his pockets. He caught Cordelia’s eye and tossed one of the bundles over to her. “Buy yourself something pretty, love,” he told her, flashing a smile.
“Thanks!” Cordelia beamed.
Giles stared at her disapprovingly. Spike tossed another bundle to him. “Use it for some good cause, mate,” he suggested. “Lighten up.” He pushed the last bundle into his pockets and scanned the display of drinks. “Angelus used to like the Irish stuff,” he mused, and grabbed a bottle of Bushmills. “Okay, let’s go.”
They moved on through the club. Cordelia winced as she saw a dead body lying in a metal cage suspended from the ceiling. Giles hesitated for a moment, but then realized that there was nothing he could do, and they pressed on. They descended the stairs into the basement. There they found a cell in which a man was chained to the wall.
“Angel?” Spike called softly.
Angel raised his head. “Spike. Get out of here. If you’re caught…”
“They told you about Dru, then?” Spike tugged at the bars of the cell door to test their strength, nodded, and brought up his foot in an explosively powerful kick. The door burst open.
“They did. I’m sorry, Spike.” Angel came to his feet.
“Not your fault.” Spike examined the shackles. “You in good enough shape to fight?”
“I could do with some blood,” Angel told him. “The Master’s pets play with me most days.” He pulled open his shirt, revealing a chest pockmarked with healing wounds. “They didn’t come today, luckily, but I didn’t get fed either.”
“They’re dead,” Spike informed his grandsire. “Don’t think I can break these chains without tools.”
Giles found a sinister-looking metal spike on a bench at the side of the cell and passed it to the blond vampire. “Try this.”
“Ta, Watcher.” Spike set about the shackles with the metal implement and soon cracked them open. He held up the spike. “Ah, great days,” he reminisced, and tossed it into a corner. “No use against vampires.”
“Angel!” Cordelia called. “Are you all right?”
Angel looked at her without recognition. “I’ve seen better days,” he replied, “but I’m not too bad. Who are you?”
“Oh, yeah, you don’t know me,” Cordelia muttered. “My name’s Cordelia Chase. I’m a White Hat. Okay, let’s get you out of here.”
They drove from the Bronze towards Giles’ apartment. Giles led the way in his ancient Citroen, with Larry and Oz, and Cordelia and Angel traveled with Spike.
Angel sat in the rear seat and drank thirstily from a flask of blood scavenged from the Bronze. “I can’t believe you’re working with humans,” he said to Spike.
“Can’t take the Master on myself, can I?” Spike admitted. “He did for Dru, so he’s going down. If that means I’ve got to work with humans, well, fine, I will. Anyway, humans ain’t that bad. Some of them are right good company.” He looked meaningfully at Cordelia.
“And I suppose some vampires are tolerable,” she replied. “Good ones.” She looked over her shoulder at Angel.
Spike glared at her. “Who was it saved your life anyway?”
“You did, yeah,” Cordelia agreed, unruffled, “but you’d eat me in a heartbeat next week, wouldn’t you?”
Spike slammed on the brakes. “No. You don’t get eaten. Not now I know you.” He reached out and took hold of her, pulled her to him, and kissed her fiercely. Cordelia uttered a muffled protest, pushed at his chest briefly, and then gave in and returned the kiss. Her arms went around his neck. Eventually Spike released her. “Who’s your favorite vampire?” he asked.
“You are,” Cordelia admitted, panting.
“Guys!” Angel called from the back seat. “Can you leave this until later? The other car’s out of sight.”
“That’s okay, I know the way,” Cordelia assured him. She raised a hand to stop Spike as he lowered his head towards her again. “He has a point. Later, okay, with more space and no audience?”
“Yeah,” Spike agreed. “Later.”
“What’s going on over there?” Larry called. He pointed out of the Citroen’s window towards an open space where a van was parked. A group of people were being herded towards the van by a couple of vampires.
“Dear Lord,” Giles exclaimed, and pulled the car over. He snatched up a cross and threw open the door. “Oz, guard the car. Larry, with me.” Giles rushed towards the van and brandished the cross to drive back the vampires.
Larry followed close behind. He aimed his crossbow, but didn’t fire; his experiences as a White Hat had taught him that if he dusted one of a pair of vampires the survivor would immediately charge, to catch him before he could reload, and it was better to keep the shot as a deterrent if the immediate objective was to drive the vampires away.
“Run!” Giles shouted, brandishing the cross to force the vampires to back off. The captive humans scattered and fled. Once they were clear Giles and Larry began to back away to return to the car.
A third vampire came round the side of the van and came up behind them; Oz shouted a warning, but the vampire was upon them even as they turned. It grabbed them and knocked their heads together. The cross and the crossbow fell to the ground. The vampire pushed the two White Hats hard and sent them sprawling. The first two vampires advanced immediately and seized Giles and Larry. Instead of plunging home their fangs they dragged their fallen foes towards the van. It seemed that abduction was their aim rather than killing.
Giles struggled against his captor’s superior strength, but to no avail. He could only hope that Oz would manage to use his crossbow successfully from a safe distance, or that the other car with Spike and Angel would turn up before it was too late. Suddenly the third vampire flew through Giles’ field of vision and crashed to the ground on its back. The one holding Giles released him, causing the Watcher to fall back to the ground, and turned to defend itself. Something hit it very hard and knocked it bodily through the air.
“Spike!” Giles guessed, and then he saw the leg that had delivered the kick that had hit the vampire. Too small to be Spike’s, and clad in baggy khaki cargo pants rather than Spike’s black Levis. Not Spike, not Angel. The newcomer spun at lightning speed, bringing up a foot in a spin kick to the jaw of the remaining vampire. Now Giles could see a small figure, slim and feminine, with blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. The power evident in the kick meant that this girl could only be either a Slayer or another vampire.
One of the vampires charged the girl, growling ferociously, and ran straight into a thrust with a stake. Another suffered the same fate seconds later. The sole survivor turned to flee but by that time Larry had retrieved his crossbow and he shot the running vampire in the back. The vampire turned to dust. Giles and Larry turned to face their rescuer. There was a cross hanging at her neck and so she was definitely human. A Slayer, then.
“Buffy Summers?” Giles addressed her.
“That’s right,” Buffy replied. “Wanna tell me what I’m doing here?”
Spike’s car had caught up to Giles’ just too late for the vampires to be able to assist in the fight. The DeSoto followed the Citroen the rest of the way back to Giles’ apartment and pulled up behind it. Giles ushered Oz, Larry, and Buffy Summers into the apartment and then hesitated, unsure about inviting the vampires inside.
“There’s a ‘disinvite’ spell, you know,” Cordelia told him, correctly guessing the reason for his hesitation. “It’s in one of your books. Willow cast it in my world, not an option here, but I guess you could get Amy Madison to do it.”
“She’s dead,” Giles replied, his voice somber.
“Uh, yeah, I can see how that would be a problem,” Cordelia conceded. “What about that Goth guy, wears eyeliner, Michael somebody? Is he still alive here?”
“Yes, he is. Does he practice magic?”
“He was into it in my world. I don’t see why he wouldn’t be here.”
“Very well. Come in, then, Angel, Spike.”
They trooped inside. Spike took a moment to speak to Giles. “Thanks, mate. I won’t take advantage. That’s a promise.”
Despite his training, and his natural distrust of vampires, Giles found himself believing that this vampire was sincere but he couldn’t bring himself to say so. He restricted himself to saying “Ah, would you like to take a seat?”
Cordelia stared at Buffy. She seemed colder than the girl from Cordelia’s reality. Her eyes held no friendliness, no warmth, only suspicion. Her make-up was cursory, the bare minimum, and her clothes obviously were chosen purely on the basis of practicality. A ridge of scar tissue crossed her lip and marred her beauty. “Buffy,” Cordelia began. “You’re here.”
The answering eye-roll was familiar but the tone of the reply was not. “Yeah, I’m Buffy. Who the hell are you?” Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “Vampires,” she hissed, and slipped a stake from her pocket.
“Not gonna fight you, Slayer,” Spike said, splaying out his hands palm down. “I’ll defend myself if I have to, but I’m on your side. And Angel here has a soul. He’s one of the good guys.”
“Buffy,” Angel breathed. “Buffy Summers. I waited, but you didn’t come. I was supposed to help you.”
“You were going to help me?” Buffy sniffed scornfully.
“He tried to help us stop the Master. He was captured and tortured.” Giles frowned at the Slayer. “Spike saved Cordelia’s life and slew two of the Master’s most deadly henchmen. They are valuable allies. Please refrain from antagonizing them.”
“Look, I got word you needed me badly. I came. Fill me in on the situation, and then I’ll dust the vamps and go back to Cleveland. And I won’t dust your pet vampires.”
Spike bridled. “I’m nobody’s pet, you cocky bint. Not a tame vampire.”
Cordelia put her hand on his arm. “Let it go, Spike, okay? We have to work together. We all want to get rid of the Master.”
Spike relaxed slightly. “Okay, love, I’ll play nice. Sorry, Slayer.”
Cordelia stared hard at Buffy, who lowered her stake. “Okay,” the Slayer said reluctantly. “Sorry I called you pets.” She turned to Giles. “Look, I don’t really have time for stories and pissing contests. Give me the lowdown so that I can go do my thing.”
Giles began to brief her on the situation in Sunnydale. Spike prowled around the apartment, flipped through Giles’ record collection with a couple of low whistles of appreciation, and ignored the Watcher’s disapproving scowls until Giles called upon him for information about the Master’s gathering that had drawn all the vampires away from the Bronze.
“Don’t know a lot,” Spike said. “Just that the word is that everybody’s got to be there. If he’s got his blokes out catching humans it might be some big banquet.”
“Have you anything to add, Angel?” Giles asked.
“I know tonight is important to him, but I don’t know why,” Angel replied.
“We must stop it, of course,” Giles declared. “It might be foolish to take on the enemy’s forces en masse, but I feel we have little choice. We are at our strongest, and I think we should act immediately.”
“Damn right,” Buffy agreed.
Angel was gazing at Buffy adoringly. Cordelia kicked his ankle. “Hey, broody guy,” she addressed him. “Very important piece of advice. Don’t boink Buffy. That way lies badness and dead people and trips to Hell dimensions.”
Angel frowned at her uncomprehendingly. Buffy rolled her eyes. “Can I say ‘ewww’?” she remarked, suddenly sounding very like the Buffy that Cordelia knew. “What kind of total ho would even think about boinking a vampire?”
Cordelia glanced across at Spike, met the gaze of his twinkling blue eyes, and saw him tilt his head and look at her whilst running his tongue across the edge of his teeth. Suddenly she blushed a deep crimson. The corners of Spike’s mouth raised in an amused half smile.
Buffy’s scarred lip curled in a sneer. “Oh, that kind of ho,” she said scornfully.
“Hey!” Cordelia protested. “What’s your problem?”
Spike’s gaze turned icy. “You take that back,” he warned Buffy in a tone filled with deadly menace. “You don’t talk about Cordelia that way.”
Buffy tensed and her hand crept back towards her stake pocket. Giles moved to intervene but Larry spoke up first. “That was uncalled for,” he said to Buffy, rather to Cordelia’s surprise. “Don’t criticize her for her lifestyle choices when you don’t know the full story, okay? We all have to stick together or we’re going to get killed. Spike is good looking, you can’t deny it, so leave Cordelia alone.”
“Or we could just fight among ourselves and save the Master the trouble of killing us,” Oz suggested.
Buffy tossed her head. “What’s the big deal about this Master? I’ll just stake him. The end.”
“It’s not that simple,” Cordelia warned her. “In my world he killed you.”
“What?” Giles exclaimed, his eyebrows shooting up.
“Oh, it didn’t stick,” Cordelia explained. “He drowned Buffy in a pool, but Xander gave her CPR, she came back to life and killed the Master. Only, Xander isn’t exactly available to do that this time round, so this Buffy had better get it right first time. And there’s this thing with the Master’s bones. They have to be smashed to powder or he can be brought back.”
“What do you mean, he killed me?” Buffy frowned.
Giles took off his glasses and gave her a quick précis of the alternate reality from which Cordelia had come. Angel listened attentively; this was new to him as well. Spike went back to prowling Giles’ apartment. A poncho hanging from a coat hook caught his eye, and he went to examine it.
“We really must work as a team,” Giles went on after completing his briefing. “We have saved each others’ lives several times now. I, together with Larry and Oz, rescued Cordelia. Spike saved Cordelia, and perhaps saved me too. Cordelia has provided much useful information and went with me and Spike to free Angel. You, Buffy, saved me and Larry. Cordelia’s warning may save you. Angel has, I gather, saved Spike in the past; two years ago he fought with us against the Master and has suffered greatly because of his so doing. We owe much to each other, and I suggest that we act that way.”
“Okay,” Buffy said. “Look, I’m sorry I said that. I’ll work with the vampires. At least until after we’ve killed this Master guy, and I’ll leave them alone afterwards unless they start something.”
“I won’t start anything,” Angel said in an aggrieved tone. “I have a soul. It is my destiny to help you.”
Spike sniffed. “I won’t start anything either. Won’t turn on you lot. I’ll leave the other Happy Meals alone, too. Know that Angel wouldn’t stand for me doing anything evil, and it’d be a bit bloody pointless me rescuing him and then having to fight against him. Doubt if the lovely lady would stand for it, either. I’ll put on a poncy White Hat full time, if Cordelia makes it worth my while.” He smirked at her and waggled his eyebrows.
“You wish,” Cordelia said, tossing her head. “But, just maybe, a date might not be out of the question as long as I could be sure there would be zero biting.”
“Please, ladies and gentlemen, can we get back to the matter in hand?” Giles said. “I think we should set off for the Master’s factory straight away. Would everyone please equip themselves with weaponry?”
“Half a mo’, Watcher,” Spike said. “This poncho. Can I borrow it?”
Giles pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I don’t see why not. I only wear it at Halloween. Can we make a start, please?”
Spike took off his coat, unhooked the poncho, and slipped it over his head. “Got a Stetson, by any chance, mate?”
“I have a sombrero. Rather stylish, actually, with a decorative fringe.”
Spike winced. “Not the same at all. I’ll make do with just the poncho. See, Watcher, I have a cunning plan.”