DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Another encounter between Buffy and Spike has only confirmed for the ex-hitman his interest in the singer, though she was adamant about being engaged to Angel.  Willow met Wesley, the manager at Heaven, while Xander spent time with Angel at Spike’s request…

*************

Chapter 5: At the Hour of Three

His fingers drummed along the top of the desk, his eyes bleary behind his spectacles.  Ten to three and not one of them had shown up yet for their first night debriefing.  No calls, no messages.  Nothing.  He felt like the suspicious father waiting for the children to sneak in past curfew, and damned if that didn’t make him angrier at the trio.  He wasn’t their bloody parent, and it was hardly fair that they made him feel this way.

Although it was behavior he could expect from Xander and Spike, Giles was surprised at Willow’s tardiness.  Normally, she was quite obsessive about being early; just that evening she had scolded him unmercifully for not getting her to Heaven in time to do her paperwork.  Their meeting place was even here in her hotel room, the time her idea.  It was peculiar that she would not have arrived hours ago, let alone so close to what they had deemed their cut-off time.  Of course, they had agreed that three would be the latest they should show up, and there were still ten minutes left.

He glanced at his watch.  Correction.  Nine minutes left.

Where in blazes were they?

*************

Carefully, she set the pen down and placed her hands in her lap, lifting her head to wait for him to notice her completion.  At his insistence, Willow was seated at his desk, while Wesley sat in the chair opposite, a stack of papers balanced precariously on his knee, his head bowed as he squinted at the rows of numbers.  Occasionally, he would scribble a notation, but his absorption in his work was complete, his awareness of her presence nonexistent.

Their conversation after the misfire of their introduction had been brief, ending in his departure for his office at the rear of the club, but minutes before Heaven was set to close, Wesley had reappeared, an apologetic smile brightening his tired eyes.

“I’m aware you’ve already made arrangements to come in tomorrow to do your necessary papers,” he’d said, “but I thought, perhaps, if you weren’t too fatigued from your first night, you might prefer to do them now.  It’s completely your discretion, of course,” he’d rushed to add, but she had cut him off with a beaming smile.

“No, that would be great,” she’d said.

“You’re certain?  You have no…other engagements?”

His words had been cautious, his gaze speculative, and briefly, Willow remembered the meeting set for three back at her hotel.  It’s only paperwork, she’d thought, shaking her head in denial to his question.  How long could that take?

A surreptitious glance at the clock on Wesley’s office wall told her exactly how long it had taken.  An hour and twenty minutes.  It wouldn’t have been so bad except Wesley insisted on having three copies of everything and had spent the first ten minutes after getting to his office apologizing for having run out of carbon paper.  So, she had set out to transcribe everything in triplicate, grateful that she had refreshed her memory on the statistics she was using for this particular assignment so that she didn’t have to waste any more time wracking her head for details.

He still hadn’t noticed she was done.  Chewing at her lip, Willow debated how best to get his attention, finally settling for a simple throat clearing as the least disruptive method.

It could’ve been a gunshot for the reaction she got.  At the sound, Wesley’s knee jerked, sending the papers in his lap scattering in every which direction, his eyes widening as his head snapped up.  Willow straightened reflexively in her chair, watching his arms flail as they fought to catch his work before it settled to the ground, only to bite back the giggles that rose to her lips as he instead tangled in his chair and landed on the floor in a heap.

“I’m done,” she said unnecessarily, rising slightly to see him poke his head up from the other side of the desk.

“Good, good,” Wesley replied.

“Do you…need any help down there?”

His head disappeared again.  “No, I’ve got it,” he said, his voice muffled.

Willow sat back down in the chair as the rustling of papers filled her ears.  In so many ways, he reminded her of a young stallion unaccustomed to his own legs as he took his first sprint of the spring, lanky yet sleek, powerful yet slightly clumsy within his own frame.  A very well-shaped frame, she couldn’t help but adding, and blushed at her audacity.  He’s your boss, she thought.  A potentially evil and murderous boss considering who he works for.

But as he stood up, his work clutched to his chest, he couldn’t have looked less threatening, smiling awkwardly down at her as a faint stain colored his cheeks.  “I get rather absorbed,” he explained in apology, and dumped the papers on the filing cabinet against the wall before turning back to face her.  “Did you have any questions?”

She shook her head.  “Just your everyday, run of the mill, boring paperwork.  A cakewalk compared to what I’m normally used to.”

“Normally used to?” he queried, his brow slightly furrowed.

Oops, Willow thought.  I’m a coat check girl here, not fact finding girl.  Think, think…

Before she could respond, Wesley had picked up the top copy and immediately smiled.  “You have lovely penmanship,” he commented.

She still needed to distract him from her mistake.  Seizing the pen she had just set down, she held it out to him.  “Only because of this,” she said.  “It’s a Mont Blanc, right?”  Their fingertips grazed the other’s as he took it from her, causing Willow to hesitate in its release, holding the contact for a fraction longer than was necessary.  What had she been thinking about?  Oh, right, the pen.  “I’ve never used one before,” she went on to say.  “But it writes beautifully.”

“Yes.  It’s a Meisterstück.  Award-winning design, I believe.  I got it as a gift from Mr. Wilkins for exemplary service.”

The mention of the Mayor drove all romantic notions from Willow’s mind, and she stiffened in her seat.  “Does he ever come to the clubs?” she asked casually.  Now was as good a time as any to start digging to get any information that might actually be useful for the hit.  “You know, so I know to be on my best behavior and not accidentally flirt with him, too.”

This last earned her a smile, and Wesley nodded.  “I’m quite proud to say he and Angel both prefer Heaven’s atmosphere to their other holdings’,” he said.  “Their patronage is quite frequent.  Angel was here this evening, in fact.”

“Oh, I know.”

“You do?”

Darn it, she’d done it again.  She was normally so good at this---posing as whatever Spike or Giles wanted in order to gather information---so why all of a sudden was she having problems keeping her mouth straight with Wesley?

“He…talked to me,” she managed to stammer.  That was something he wouldn’t think to check up on.  It certainly sounded plausible.  She hoped.

“Oh dear.”  Behind his spectacles, Wesley frowned, and he perched himself on the corner of the desk, pulling off his glasses to gaze at her in apology.  “I was hoping I’d get the opportunity to discuss this with you before anything…unseemly happened.  Now I’m really sorry I wasn’t here when you arrived this evening.”

“Huh?”

He seemed oblivious to her confusion as he continued.  “I suspect that his attentions were why the last coat check girl left,” he mused.  “Angel has quite the eye for the ladies.  I was rather hoping his engagement to Buffy would temper that.”

She had heard about the engagement, and only the fact that it had just happened today tempered the redhead’s dismay at missing that particular detail in her research about his personal life.  Upon Willow’s initial arrival at Heaven, she had briefly met the other staff, including Buffy, but had heard nothing more until the blonde singer had left for the evening.  It was then that she’d discovered the fiancée connection.

Angel had come chasing after Buffy, grabbing her arm as she’d attempted to leave.  She had been flustered, much less composed than she’d been at the start of the night, and her words to the tall young man had been sharp.

“I have a headache,” she’d complained.  “You got your little show and tell, Angel.  What more do you want from me?”

His hand had slid around her waist, meaty fingers digging into her narrow waist.  “I thought we could go out and celebrate,” he’d crooned.  “Big night for us, you know.  It’s not every day an angel agrees to marry an Angel.”  He’d laughed at his own joke, and it had been all Willow could do not to roll her eyes in disgust.

“Well, this angel needs some shut-eye, so you’ll just have to do the celebrating on your own.”  Buffy had yanked herself from his grasp then, turning on her heel to march out the front door of the club, leaving her bewildered fiancé fuming in the foyer.

Willow hadn’t seen Angel again until he’d emerged an hour later with Xander full in tow.  Her eyes had widened when she’d caught her friend’s gaze, complete with his what-can-I-do shrug that said he was going along for the ride, wherever that might be, and she’d waited for Spike to come out after.  He never did.  Even when the club was closed, he was nowhere to be found, and she found herself wondering just how he’d gotten out without her seeing him.

Remembering her partners drove Willow to her feet, as a quick glance at the clock confirmed just how late it really was.  “I have to go,” she said quickly.  “It’s late, and…”  What else to say?  She’d already told him she didn’t have anything else scheduled, and she couldn’t really admit that she had to get back to her friends so that she could dish on everything she’d learned tonight, now could she?  “…and…it’s late.”

Concern immediately darkened his eyes, and Wesley stood, looking down at his watch.  “I hadn’t realized,” he said, but by the time he’d looked up again, she was already standing at the door, her hand on the knob.  “Let me call you a cab.”

Willow shook her head.  “I’m fine.  I’ll just get the train.”

“At this hour?  I don’t think so.  I’ll call a cab.  You can wait in the foyer until it arrives.  It’s hardly safe for a lady to be wandering the streets of New York at this time of night all on her own.”

She watched as he picked up the phone, punching in a number from memory, and smiled in spite of the inconvenience waiting was going to cause.  Spike and Giles were going to kill her, but right now, all Willow could think about was how nicely her employer’s shoulders filled out his crisp white shirt as he stood with his back to her.  A gentleman, too, she mused.  Definitely too good to be true, which means he’s most certainly on the side of the bad guys.  I’ve got a feeling I’m going to have to keep reminding myself of that.

“Five minutes,” he announced proudly as he set down the phone, as if he’d just made an appointment for her with the Queen.  “And I promise that tomorrow night, I will not keep you so late.”

She smiled.  “Thanks.  I guess I’ll…see you tomorrow then.  G’night.”  And with a waggle of her fingers, she was gone.

As soon as the door clicked shut behind her, Wesley’s smile faded, his eyes growing serious as they flickered down to the paperwork she’d left sitting on the desk.  Picking up the copy with which he’d noted her penmanship, he began scanning over the text.  “Who are you, Willow Rosenberg?” he mused.  “And just what are you doing here at Heaven?”

*************

He was in hell.  There was no doubt about it.  He was in hell, and he was going to burn there for eternity because as soon as Anya found out where he’d spent the night, she was going to kill him. 

Saying it wasn’t his fault wouldn’t work either.  Spike had told him to stick to Angel, and that’s what he’d done.  How could he have known he’d bring him to this kind of place?  He was engaged to be married, to that incredible Buffy Summers, so why Angel felt the need to frequent a joint like this was beyond Xander’s understanding.  OK, so it did look to be more of a high-class knocking shop than he’d seen from other assignments with Spike, but that didn’t change the fact that it was still a brothel.

He was dead meat for sure.

A tinkle of laughter cascaded down his spine, and he held himself rigid as a small hand curled around his wrist.  “Someone’s being a stick in the mud,” the feminine voice singsonged, and Xander looked up to see the pouting face of the blonde he’d been left with gazing down at him.  “Come on,” she coaxed.  “All you’ve done is sit there and mope all night.  I want to have some fun.”

He pressed himself back into the chair, feeling the ornate curves cutting into his skin through his coat, as she slid herself onto his lap.  “Look, I told you,” he said, and lifted his eyes up and away from the stocking-clad legs that were suddenly bared to him.  “I’m just waiting for my friend.”

“Oh, he’s going to be awhile,” she said, sliding her arm around his shoulders.  “Him and Darla can go all night.”

Great, he thought.  Just great.  Not only is he a cheating son of a bitch, but he’s a cheating son of a bitch with the stamina of a horse.  Tell me, where’s the karmic balance in that?

Out loud, he said, “I don’t suppose I can get a cup of joe?  I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open here.”

She laughed and straddled him, the curve of her breasts poking out over the top of her translucent dressing gown.  “I like your peepers,” she said, pushing back the hair from his forehead to look down at them.  “Like melted chocolate just oozing---.”

She landed with a thump to the floor when he stood abruptly up.  “Coffee,” Xander said.  “I just want some coffee.  No nooky.  No chocolate fantasies.  Just coffee.”

The pout she affected at his brusque behavior lasted for only as long as it took her to rise to her feet.  “An Irish coffee?” she suggested.  “It might…relax you a bit.”

“I don’t need to be any more relaxed than I already am, thank you very much.”  He sighed.  “Just make it black, OK, toots?”

“The name’s Harmony,” the blonde said with a small stamp of her foot.  “How many times do I have to tell you that?”

“Harmony.  Right.  Got it now.”  He waited expectantly for a minute, but when she didn’t move, he prompted, “The coffee?”

He fell into the chair when she’d left, his head banging against the wrought curve of the seat’s back.  Chat him up, Spike had said.  Keep him distracted so I can talk to the songbird, Spike had said.  Don’t pay any attention when I disappear without a trace, leaving you without a clue as to what is going on, but stick to your orders because that’s what I asked you to do.

Xander’s chest heaved as he exhaled loudly, staring at the boudoir-dressed room around him, hearing Anya’s voice inside his head announcing her wedding vows, smelling Harmony’s cheap perfume that still hung cloyingly in the air.

Friend or not, Spike was a dead man.

*************

Sliding down his throat in a lethargic burn, the whiskey eased the knots within the swell of his shoulders, loosening them to molten waves that slumped as Spike sat at the bar.  Its amber magic succeeded in its assault on his body, but it did nothing but exacerbate the tumult inside his head, honing the memory of the golden outline of her body as she stood beneath the stage lights, sharpening the sweet tang of her tongue as it swirled with his as he thrust inside her.  Bloody figures the drink would make Buffy more real to me, he thought irritably, and took another swig of the alcohol, draining the glass this time.  So determined not to look at what’s goin’ on here between us, running me out so that she can hide behind the poofter’s soddin’ family.  This one’s for you, pet, he silently toasted as he poured out another shot from the bottle the bartender had left for him.  This one’s for you.

Harris was probably furious with him for taking a run-out, leaving him to fend for himself with Angel, but going back into the club, knowing she was insisting on marrying the git, would’ve been too dangerous for Spike and he knew it.  Seeing that smug face would’ve been the only incentive he needed to provoke him into a fight, or worse, pulling out his heater and drilling the guy right in his own club.  Then, it wouldn’t have made a difference what kind of blackmail material those shyster lawyers had on him.  The cops would’ve shown their mugs in minutes, and Spike’s ass would’ve been hauled down to the clubhouse faster than a whore could spread her legs, leaving Red and Ripper defenseless in the hands of whoever wanted this job done.

Couldn’t have that.  Wouldn’t be right.

So he’d ducked out the back, nearly knocking over that little Jonathan in the process, and spent the next three hours wandering from bar to bar, drinking as much as they would let him before giving him the boot.  A brisk walk in the cool night air would lend an air of sobriety to him long enough for him to get served in the next watering hole, and thus the evening ran, until here he was, hiding away in the mangiest joint he’d seen in years, all because it was after hours for any legal establishment to still be open.

He glanced at his watch, the hands slightly blurry.  Three o’clock.  Wasn’t something supposed to be happening at three?

“Think you’ve reached your limit, bub,” the bartender said as Spike tipped the empty bottle over his glass, watching the last remaining drops trickle from its mouth.  “Need for me to call you a ride?”

Staring at the light filtering through the dark whiskey bottle, Spike turned it over and over in his hands.  “You got a girl?” he asked, ignoring the bartender’s query.

The barkeep shook his head.  “Figures that this is about a dame,” he commented, and gently extracted the bottle from Spike’s hands.  “All my heaviest drinkers come in here because of some dame.”

“She keeps tryin’ to make me take it on the heel and toe,” he said, his voice somber.  “Like what we have doesn’t mean anything to her when I know it does.”

“Is she pretty?”

The separate memories rose together, juxtaposed as only the mind can do---her freshly scrubbed face from her dressing room looking back at him as she laughed and argued with him about the merits of Sonja Henie’s acting.  The corner of Spike’s mouth lifted.  “Beautiful,” he murmured.

“Maybe the better question is…is she worth it?”

The memories were a deluge then, pouring over his skin like a warm maternal embrace---her body curving into his as they slept, molding to him as if they were specifically made to match; the naked pain in her eyes as she’d begged him to say she was beautiful; the arch of her words as she sung to the unseen suitor at the back of Heaven’s dance floor; the peace that had seeped through his enervated muscles when he’d woken at St. Christopher’s just that morning.

“Yeah,” Spike said as if it was the easiest decision in the world.  “She’s worth it.”

“Then my advice is, don’t give up.  Sooner or later, the dames always come around.  I don’t peg you as some kind of rube, so I don’t think I have to tell you not to be stupid about it.  Just do what it takes to get the job done.  She’ll see the light.”

That’s when it clicked.  He didn’t have to take this sitting back, getting smoked, crying over his drink about the woman who had just tried wrenching out his heart with her bare hands.  He was William the Fucking Bloody.  He had power.  He had connections.  He could do this with one hand tied behind his back and a gun pointed at his temple.  She’d been lying about things being over between them; both of them knew it.  Time for him to make sure it stayed that way.

Tossing a couple of bills onto the counter, Spike rose to his feet and gave the bartender a jaunty salute.  “Thanks for the tip, mate,” he said and turned on his heel to weave his way to the door.

The bartender waited until the door had groaned to a shut again before picking up the money.  His eyes widened at the amount.  Two hundred dollars for the same advice he shilled to anyone complaining about woman troubles?  Not too shabby.  He almost hoped the bleached guy would get the girl; no reason why everyone that night shouldn’t have a happy ending.

*************

He stopped at the first payphone he came across, digging into his pockets for change before leaning heavily against the thick glass, exhaustion beginning to take over his mind.  Just have to keep up with it long enough to get this sorted, Spike thought.  Then, I’ll get myself back to the hotel, have a good kip, and wake up tomorrow to my usual hangover.  Sweet, blessed routine.

It took him three attempts to remember the number, and as the phone rang at the other end, Spike focused on the image of Buffy staring back at him in her dressing room mirror, using it to root himself in his task at hand.

“Hello?”  The voice was groggy, but familiar, and something inside the blond leapt in excitement.

“Well, well, lookie what the cat dragged in,” he drawled, unable to refrain from smiling.

There was a pause.  “William?”  The voice was more alert now, an edge of enthusiasm already beginning to tinge it in red.  “Is that you?”

“The one and only.  How’re you doin’, Clem?”

From the other end of the line, Spike could hear the faint rustling of sheets being thrown back, a light being turned on.  “It’s three o’clock in the morning, William,” Clem said, now fully awake.  “Where the heck are you?”

“Would you believe it, I’m in New York.”

“No!”

He couldn’t but smile at the gusto behind the single word.  “’Fraid so,” he replied. 

“Does Dru know?”

“No, and I’d like to keep it that way, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh, sure, William, not a problem.  Whatever you say.  My lips are sealed.”  There was a pause.  “If you’re not in town because of Dru, why are you here?”

“Just a job, but that’s not what I called you about.  I need to ask a favor.”

“Hey, for you, anything.  Just say the word.  You need a place to hide or something?”

“I need you to keep an eye on a girl for me.  Tell me where she goes, who she sees during the day.  I can do it at night, but this other job’s goin’ to take a good part of my sunshine time.”  He didn’t doubt what the response was going to be.  They went way back to his days in the family, and if there was anyone Spike trusted with something as delicate as this, it was his old pal Clem.

“Is that all?  You don’t need me to do anything else, like…talk to her, right?”

He almost laughed at the nervousness that suddenly appeared in his friend’s voice.  It was nice to know some things never changed.  Dealing with the fairer sex in an interpersonal way had never been Clem’s strong suit; too many years of being looked upon as a freak had scarred the gentle soul’s psyche beyond offering anything more than the eager hand of friendship.  “No, mate,” he said.  “Just follow her around.”

“OK.”  There was the sound of a drawer being opened, paper being pulled out.  “What’s the skirt’s name?”

Spike sighed.  “Buffy Summers.”

*************

She wanted to sleep, but every time she closed her eyes, all Buffy could see were those blue eyes staring back at her in her dressing room mirror, willing her to see what she refused to admit.  It was her own fault.  She knew that.  If she’d just left well enough alone and not tried to find an escape before she gave Angel her answer, everything would be just jake right now.  She wouldn’t be lying in her bed, staring at her ceiling, incapable of getting thoughts of a certain blond out of her head, wondering what in hell she was doing in going through with this stupid scheme of marrying into the Wilkins family.

It hadn’t been her original plan, but when Angel had proposed, the opportunity it offered her seemed too good to refuse.  She could be so much more effective if she was that much deeper in, and if it got the results she wanted, did it matter if she had to sell just a little bit of her soul in order for it to happen?

Only problem was, now she wanted that part of her soul back so that she could give it to Spike.

It was the first time in three years that she’d considered backing out.  That’s what scared her more than anything.  So much had driven her to get to this point, and all it seemed to take was two nights with a relative stranger to have her thinking maybe it was time to pack it in.

Two amazing nights, she hastened to amend.

Still…amazing or not, was it worth it?  How could she sacrifice everything she had been working for, all on a whim with the eyes of the devil himself? 

No, she had to set it aside; it didn’t matter what she wanted.  The only thing that mattered was the mission.  She just had to remember that.

When she rolled over onto her side, the streetlights through her window bounced off the alarm clock that sat on her nightstand, illuminating its face, and Buffy did what she always did when she saw what time it was.  She calculated what time it was in California.

Midnight.  Everyone would be sleeping in California right about now.  I would wake them if I picked up the phone and called.  Not that it matters anyway.

There’s nobody left there for me to call anymore.

*************

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Lindsey muttered as he tightened the belt around his robe.  He rubbed at his eyes as he picked up the phone.  “Hello?”

“The Mayor is still alive, Mr. McDonald.”

The sound of the other man’s voice drew the breath from the lawyer’s lungs, and he fell into the chair behind his desk, eyes closed.  “Do you have any idea what time it is here?” he said.  “Unlike you, I work during the day.  Generally, I try to be sleeping around this hour.  And what the hell are you doing calling me at home anyway?”

“Just checking up on our deal.  Rook’s been in town for two days and hasn’t made a move yet.  I’m concerned he may back out on our arrangement.”

“He won’t renege,” Lindsey assured.  “But if it makes you feel better, I’ll call tomorrow and light a fire under him.”  He stifled his yawn.  No need to piss this guy off even more.

“Make sure it’s a very hot fire, Mr. McDonald.  My partner and I are beginning to get anxious.”

“That’s why you pay me the moolah, right?”

“Hm.  Right.  I’ll call back tomorrow to find out how it went.”

When the other line went dead, it took a moment for Lindsey to return the phone back to its cradle.  He knew why he’d gotten this particular case; he had a certain way with this type of client.  But for once, he was beginning to wish that he could just hand it over to one of his colleagues and take a long vacation from it all.  A clean break.  That’s what he needed.

Maybe once this Rook business was sorted.

 

To be continued in Chapter 6: The Pursuing Shadow