DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Everyone missed the first meeting---Spike because he was getting drunk and then arranging for his old pal Clem to follow Buffy during the day, Xander because he was stuck at a brothel all night waiting for Angel, and Willow because Wesley asked her to stay after and fill out her paperwork…

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

Chapter 6: The Pursuing Shadow

His head was resting on the doorjamb as he knocked at the door, his eyelids mostly closed as his exhausted arm fell uselessly to his side.  From inside the room, Xander could hear the distant rustling of papers, followed immediately by light footsteps, but as the door opened before him, he didn’t even have the strength to look up and see Willow’s waiting face.

“You better have coffee,” he complained, a sleepy slurring making his words sound like something coming out of a broken victrola. 

“I have tea,” Willow offered, trying to sound more helpful than she felt. She grimaced at his wrinkled suit, the wafts of cheap perfume clinging to his clothes assailing her nostrils as he stumbled past her. “You look awful.  What happened to you last night?”

“What happened?”  He stopped just inside the doorway and gaped at his friend.  “Our friend Spike decided to breeze off, leaving me with Mr. Personality and his quest for the all-night orgasm, that’s what happened.”  When her eyes went wide, Xander realized what it sounded like he’d said and shook his head.  “Don’t be a bunny.  I didn’t mean with me.  I spent the night at some high-class whorehouse.  And when I get my hands on Spike---.”

“Have you slept at all?  Why did you come here instead of going to your place?”

He blushed and rubbed tiredly at his face.  “You’re going to think I’m a real boob, but I’m too tired to remember which hotel I’m booked in at,” he admitted.  He began stumbling back down the narrow hall that led to the main area of her room.  “Where’s that tea?  Because as soon as I’m awake enough, I’m going to find Spike and---.”

Xander came to a halt as he stepped into the room, eyes settling grimly on the sprawled form of his bleached friend on the bed.  At the desk, Giles slept as well, his head resting solidly against the wood, his glasses pushed crookedly onto his forehead.  “Well, at least I found Spike,” he said, his voice automatically dropping in volume.

Willow came up beside him.  “I haven’t had the heart to wake either of them,” she said, matching his tone.  “I found Giles like that when I got in, and then Spike showed up, drunk off his ass, and passed out before I could get two words from him.”  She waved towards the open door of the bathroom, and the paperwork that was spread throughout its floor.  “I’ve been working in there so I wouldn’t disturb them.”

He rolled his eyes.  “Well, I’m not above disturbing them,” he said, and kicked at the bed as he collapsed onto the mattress next to Spike.  An elbow that was meant to be swift but moved more like fish flopping out of water poked the blond in the ribs.  “Hey, Rip Van Winkle.  Get your ass in gear so that I can kick it to hell and back.”

A muffled groan escaped Spike’s throat, and a tired hand batted back at Xander.  “Sleeping,” he mumbled, but his head turned to blink groggily at the other man in the bed with him.  “Bugger off.”

“What is it with people wanting me to have sex tonight?” he complained.  “First Harmony and her nighttime nooky.  Now Spike and his damn English euphemisms that, frankly, threaten my heterosexuality just a little bit here---.”

“Who’s Harmony?” Willow asked.

“The skirt I got shackled with when Angel went off to play pickle-me tickle-me with that Darla dame.”

“Xander!”  Her flush of embarrassment disappeared into the roots of her hair, and she backed up, away from the bed and toward the desk.  “I’m going to put the kettle on for some tea.”

The mention of Angel’s name drove Spike upward, propping himself up on his elbow to look at Xander through narrowed, glittering eyes.  “What’s this?” he asked.  “What happened last night?”

He gestured toward the desk.  “Wake up Giles,” Xander said.  “I’m not doing the floor show on this twice.”

Willow had reached over, ready to shake the older man awake, when Spike leapt from the bed, all signs of his fatigue gone, and crossed the few feet to grasp him firmly by the shoulder.  “Rise and shine, Ripper,” he said.  “No more rest for the wicked here.”

Blinking against the sunshine streaming in through the window, Giles frowned, fumbling to replace his glasses as he straightened in his chair.  “What time is it?” he asked, and squinted at his watch.

“Time for that meeting we all seemed to miss last night,” Spike said, pulling the crushed pack of cigarettes from his pocket before going in search of his lighter.

“Spike.  Window.”  Willow pointed from his smokes to the glass, her resolve face firmly in place.

“Where in blazes were all of you last night?” Giles erupted as Spike perched himself on the sill.  “Do you have any idea how late I stayed up for you?  Are we not professionals here?  And not one of you had the decency to call, or show up, or even send me a message about why you thought our first real conference was something you could afford to miss.”

Around the cigarette that was stuck between his lips, Spike smirked at the vehemence in his friend’s voice, tugging at the sash to let in the sounds from the street.  “You about done there, Rip?”

Giles’ shoulders sagged, his energy spent in his tirade.  “Yes.  Is someone making tea?”

“That would be me,” Willow said.  She set to work with the cups and kettle.  “So who’s going to start?”

Spike pointed at Xander’s inert form on the bed.  “I want to hear what Harris has to say.  Something tells me it’s going to be a doozy.”

“Doozy, floozy, ring around the roozy,” the brunette mumbled.  “Courtesy of the let’s abandon Xander brigade, headed by our nearest and not so dearest Spike.”

“Couldn’t be helped, mate.”

“Try using that one on Anya when she’s eviscerating you for landing me in a brothel all night.  My guess is she’s not going to be interested in hearing your excuses.”

“Wait.”  Giles sat up, peering from one man to the other.  “You two were separated last night?  What happened?”

Rolling on to his side, Xander briefly outlined Angel’s appearance, the engagement announcement, and Spike’s subsequent orders.  “But he never came back,” he finished, shooting his friend a dirty look.  “And I was stuck trying to entertain Junior all on my little lonesome.”

“That singer had me kicked out,” Spike said.  He’d already decided the others didn’t need to know the details about what had happened, and settled on the slight distortion of the truth as a means of covering his true involvement with Buffy.  They would have a thousand questions he wasn’t ready to answer, and Giles would most likely posit more than a dozen arguments about why he shouldn’t get involved in someone so closely linked to their case.  Better they didn’t know.  It would be easier all around until he figured out how to get Buffy out of this mess.

“Are you the reason she was all upset?” Willow asked the blond.  “I was wondering why she didn’t want to go with Angel when he came after her.”

The sudden thought that Buffy had refused her fiance’s attention because of him caused Spike to smile, and he turned his head toward the open window to hide it, expelling the smoke in his lungs as the grin played on his lips.  Over, is it? he thought, remembering her parting words.  Not bloody likely. 

“She didn’t like some of the…questions I had to ask,” he said to no one in particular.  “Threatened to have that Jonathan call the cops on me.”  That part was true, at least.  No reason to make the entire story one big lie.

“Well, Buffy’s disappearing act didn’t sit too well with Angel,” Xander said.  “That’s when he dragged me out to that Darla’s place---.”

“Darla?”  Willow was busy scribbling notes as he spoke.  “You mentioned her before.  Who is she?”

“Darla Hoyle.  She’s the one who owns the joint.  Harmony---.”

“And who’s Harmony?”

“A chippy who works for Darla.  I spent the night trying to keep her hands off me, but at least she knows how to talk.  I got more information from her about Angel and this old girlfriend of his than if I’d been stuck with him all night.”

His casual use of the term “girlfriend” snapped Spike’s attention back to the room, his smile vanished.  “Wanker’s engaged,” he spat.  “What’s he doin’ with a girlfriend on the side?”

“Apparently, scratching the itch Buffy refused to,” Xander replied.  “According to Harmony, the pair of them have been seeing each other for years.  He wanted to marry Darla, but the Mayor put his foot down.  Didn’t want his son getting hitched to a hooker.  It goes to show that Angel’s got a type, though.  She’s a pretty little blonde thing, too.”

Willow frowned as she heard the unmistakable growl rumble from Spike’s throat.  “What’s wrong?” she queried.  “It’s not like it’s not something we haven’t heard a million times before.  How many cheating husband cases have we handled?”

He whipped his head back around, staring blankly out the window at the teeming populace in the street below, before more of his fury became evident across his face.  It was one thing for her to be getting set to marry the prat; it was entirely a different matter to have him playing her for a fool.  “Deserves better, is all,” he managed to say without betraying too much of the emotion in his voice.  “She doesn’t seem the type to be mixed up with his sort.”

“We’ll have to do some more research then,” Giles said.  “This Buffy, and Darla.  Perhaps they will give us more information on how to best get to the Mayor.”  He turned to the man behind him.  “You haven’t told us where you were all night yet, Spike.”

“Thought it was obvious.  The dame pissed me off when she kicked me out.  I was out gettin’ drunk.  Forgot all about our little tete-a-tete here.  End of story.”  No reason to tell them about Clem, either.  Though his old friend was loyal to a fault, his connections to the Conti family were not to be ignored, and any hint from Spike that he’d contacted someone from the old days would not go over well.  Besides, that was personal.  It had nothing to do with the hit on the Mayor.  Well…almost nothing.

The older Englishman knew better than to press the issue.  “And you, Willow?” he asked, shifting his gaze to the redhead. 

“Paperwork.  Of the employment variety.  Wesley gave me the opportunity to do it last night instead of having to go in today.  We kind of…lost track of time.”

Giles’ eyes narrowed at the stain that was spreading over her cheeks at the mention of Wes’ name.  “This…Wesley,” he said.  “I assume he’s---.”

A knock at the door silenced him, and each of the quartet stiffened, looking to the others in confusion.  Even Spike turned away from the window, tossing his cigarette butt out onto the street, as Willow rose and took a hesitant step toward the door.

“Who can that be?” Xander asked, pulling himself up.  “Everybody we know is here in this room.”

“Maybe it’s the front desk or something,” she said.  “I’ll just get rid of them.”

The three men watched in tense curiosity as she disappeared down the narrow strip that led to the door.  Only Spike from his vantage point in the window could still see her as she approached the door, and he craned his neck to see who would be revealed on its other side when she pulled it open.

“Wesley!” she said in surprise, unconsciously straightening her shoulders.

His smile returned as Spike watched his friend pull at the bottom of the white blouse she was wearing, smoothing it over her hips even as the tall man in the entrance smiled down at her.  Lost track of time, eh, Red? he thought devilishly.  Methinks the lady doth understate this too much.

“Well, well, speak of the devil,” he drawled out loud.    

The implication of the stranger at the door spurred Giles to action.  “Xander!” he hissed, gesturing toward the bathroom.  “The files!”

The flurry of the two men as they hastened to conceal their work brought a chuckle to Spike’s lips, and it was that sound that caught Wesley’s attention, lifting his gaze to meet that of the blond perched in the window.

“Oh,” he said, his good will fading.  “My apologies.  I assumed…you would be…I didn’t know.”

“Don’t mind us, mate,” Spike said, rising to his feet and sauntering to stand behind Willow.  He ignored the look of fear she shot him over her shoulder.  “We’re just havin’ us a little visit with Red here.”  He stuck out his hand in greeting.  “The name’s Spike,” he said.  “And you are…?”

“Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.  Willow’s…employer.”  His blue eyes slid over the now-visible forms of Giles and Xander hovering at the end of the small hall, his discomfort growing.  “I really should have called first, I can see.  I didn’t mean to interrupt anything---.”

“Did you need something?” Willow asked, regaining her voice for the first time since seeing him standing there.  She ignored the little flip-flops her stomach seemed to be doing and affected her brightest smile.  “Don’t tell me there was a form I forgot to fill out.”

“Uh, no.  Actually…”  His head ducked and his hand automatically rose to straighten his glasses.  “I thought…perhaps…considering you are new to the city, that I would…take you to lunch.  Only if you’re free, of course,” he rushed to add.  “I don’t want to intrude if you have other arrangements.”

“Oh.”  Her bright gaze turned back to Spike, and there was no mistaking the thrill rippling across her easy-to-read face.  “Well, you see---,” she started, but was cut off when he stepped forward.

“We were just leaving,” Spike said.  “Just stopped by to make sure Red was settlin’ in all right.  Can’t have our favorite girl feelin’ lonely her first day in the big apple, now can we?  And seein’ as you’re here to take care of that, we’ll just be on our merry way.”  His head jerked toward the others, his eyes inscrutable.  “Let’s leave her to it,” he said.  “I think we’ve played big brother here enough now.” 

The slight emphasis on the words “big brother” didn’t go unnoticed by Wesley and his features relaxed slightly at the admission.  “It was nice meeting you,” he said as the three men trooped past him into the hall, completely oblivious to the fact that he hadn’t even obtained the names of the other two who were leaving.

“See you later, guys!” Willow called after them.

When they were alone, Wesley turned his gaze back to her.  “I assume that…Spike is one of your English friends you were referring to last night,” he said.

“Yeah.  And Giles is the other one.  He’s the one with the glasses.”   She smiled.  “Did you say something about lunch?”

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

His stomach was rumbling, but Clem knew he didn’t have time to stop and grab some more donuts before she started moving again.  This one was just too fast.  Never stopping.  Shopping like her life depended on it.  Going from one store to the next with more determination than a greyhound after a bunny.

Scribbling a quick note in his pad, Clem noted the name of the most recent shop as he caught her disappearing through the front door.  She had taste, though, he had to give her that.  Except why she’d bought that orange dress instead of the black one was beyond his understanding; any fool could’ve seen that it washed out her glorious skin.

Although he didn’t have a clue as to what William wanted with this Buffy, he had to admit that as usual, his friend had excellent taste.  Beautiful.  Like Drusilla was except in a blonde, smiley way, instead of a dark, definitely psychotic way.  And smart.  That was one tongue he didn’t want to get on the wrong end of.  He had caught her argument with one of the shopkeepers when they’d tried to lie to her about the price of a dress she’d picked out and had to refrain from laughing when her words sent everyone in the store scurrying like she was the Queen of England.  No wonder William liked her; she had a way about her that kept people on their toes.

And she was off again, leaving the store packageless for a change.

Clem sighed.

It was going to be a very long day.

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

“What was that all about?” Xander asked when the three were out on the sidewalk.  “Why’d we have to go?”

“Because Red’s feminine wiles work a lot better with a little less testosterone surrounding her,” Spike said, digging out his cigarettes again.

“What does she have to be wily about?”

Giles shook his head at the younger man’s naivete.  When it came to Willow, Xander definitely had a blind spot.  “Do you really think she’ll be able to get anything from him?” he asked Spike.

Spike snorted.  “Didn’t you see the puppy eyes the two were giving each other?  Ten bucks says there’s more than a spot of interest there on both of their parts.  Hell yeah, she’s goin’ to get the information from him.”  Taking a deep drag on his cigarette, he peered into the sky, noting its position almost directly overhead.  “Don’t know about you two, but I think I’m goin’ to head back to my place and take a shower.  Get myself scrubbed up before heading back to Heaven tonight.”

Xander groaned.  “You’re going to make me hang out with Angel again, aren’t you?”

“Only if the Mayor decides not to show.  ‘Sides, I think I might want to meet the man myself this time.”  His distaste had hardened into a cold lump in his gullet, his anger fuelled white-hot.  That was manageable, though.  That, he could deal with.  Knowing Buffy had refused her fiance’s advances, in spite of her earlier protestations, gave him just enough fortitude to face the man without ripping his throat out.  He was going to get her out of this sham of an engagement, one way or another, and if it meant keeping his cool in the meantime, then that’s what he’d do. 

Besides, he’d have Xander there to pull him off before he did anything really stupid.  Which, knowing himself like he did, was very likely to happen.

“I’ll start seeing what I can find on this Darla Hoyle,” Giles said.  “And while I’m at it, I’ll see what comes up on the fiancée as well.”

“No.”

Spike’s voice surprised all of them, and Giles frowned as he regarded the glower on the younger man’s face.  “And why not?” he asked carefully.

“Already got her sorted,” he replied.  “Leave that one to me.”  And without another word, he spun on his heel and walked away.

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

Doesn’t this dame ever eat? Clem thought irritably as he watched her stop before yet another hat shop.  A quick dash into a delicatessen had satisfied the worst of his tummy rumblings, but that had been almost an hour earlier.  The body required food, and damn if this broad wasn’t determined he wasn’t going to get any today.

Maybe she’ll go home soon, he thought as he watched her glance at a car that screeched past.  You can’t shop all day in shoes like that without needing to take a break sooner or later.  Then, I’ll call William, tell him what I found out and ask if he really needs me to tail her all day.  Kind of hard to find anything interesting in someone who spends all her time shopping.

Clem frowned as he saw her glance again at the street before angling her body to step into an alley between a couple of shops.  Well, now, this is different, he thought.  What’s she doing now?  He wasn’t familiar with this part of the city; for all he knew, that alley led to another store, and if he went the next year without seeing another stuffy sales assistant try to hoist off an ugly evening gown on a pretty lady, he’d be a very happy camper.  For a moment, he debated about waiting for her to emerge on her own, then shook his head as his feet continued to carry him in her direction.  William asked him to do a job, and he wasn’t about to do it half-assed.  Not even if his stomach was going to implode from hunger.

The alley was empty when he stepped into it, and Clem’s frown deepened as he scanned over the scattered debris on the ground, the overflowing trash cans melding into the brick walls.  Where’d she go? he wondered as he edged forward, tucking his notebook into his pocket.  He’d only gone a few feet though, when he felt the slim muzzle of a gun press into his back.

“Are you packing?” a female voice said.

Inwardly, he groaned.  He’d only heard it from a distance, or through glass windows, but there was no mistaking who it was behind him.  Buffy Summers.  William was going to kill him.

When he didn’t respond right away, Clem felt a small hand run expertly down his sides.  “Look, I don’t do guns,” he said.  “They’re not my style.”

“No, but you do notebooks,” she replied, just as her search stopped at his coat pocket.  With a quick yank, she’d extracted it from its holder, giving him a quick shove at the same time.

He stumbled forward, turning and righting himself to see her begin flipping through its pages, the gun still trained neatly on him.  “They’re nothing,” he tried to dismiss.  “Just some scribblings.”

“Scribblings about every place I’ve been to today,” she muttered.  Her hazel gaze lifted to glare at him.  “Did Angel put you up to this?” she demanded.  “Is he that insecure that he’s having me followed now?”

Clem held up his hands in denial, violently shaking his head.  “No, I don’t even know---.”  Then it dawned on him, the name she’d used registering.  “Angel Wilkins?” he squeaked.  “You’re connected to Angel Wilkins?”

For the first time, she hesitated, a shadow of a frown darkening her face.  “He’s my fiancé,” she said slowly.

Any wider, and his eyes would’ve popped out of their sockets.  His jaw dropped to suit.  Holy shit, Clem thought.  What the fuck has William gotten himself into this time?

Her involvement with Angel was clearly not what he’d been expecting to hear, and Buffy’s eyes narrowed as another possibility popped into her head.  “You’re not from…California, are you?” she asked.

Another shake of his head.  “New Yorker, through and through.  Born and bred.  My mom---.”

“Who do you work for?”

He’d known she was going to ask; it was inevitable.  It didn’t mean he had to answer though.

After a minute of silence, she held up the notebook, gesturing with her gun to something scrawled across the top of the page.  “Who belongs to this phone number?”  Still no answer.  “You know, I can keep finding places to shoot you without you dying until you tell me,” she threatened.

He knew she didn’t mean it.  Not in broad daylight.  Not with hundreds of people walking past the entrance to the alleyway every minute.  It still didn’t mean he was going to tell her.

Carefully, Buffy began backing up, eyes glancing around more and more as she neared the sidewalk.  “Guess you won’t mind if I just give it a ring then,” she said.

The look on his face was panicked, but he didn’t move, not even when she turned to dart for the phone booth just at the curb.  Oh god William, he thought as he bolted for freedom.  Please don’t be home.  And don’t kill me for fucking this up.

She saw the guy run as she dropped the coin in the telephone, but by that point, Buffy didn’t care.  He was harmless; she’d already decided that when she’d spotted him tailing her mid-morning.  He was persistent, though, and if she’d had to go into one more hat shop, she was going to scream.

However, just because he wasn’t dangerous, didn’t mean whoever he was working for wasn’t.  And she just hoped that this number scribbled next to his notes wasn’t his dry cleaners.

She had almost decided to hang it up when the audible click of the other end of the line interrupted the fifth ring. 

There wasn’t even a greeting.

“For fuck’s sake, Ripper, give a bloke a chance to get in the soddin’ door, why don’t you?  And I thought I told you I wanted to take a bloody shower first.”

There was no mistaking that chocolaty baritone or the accent, even as irritated as he was.  As she felt the air being sucked from her lungs, Buffy grabbed at the side of the booth, steadying herself as the surprise washed over her.  “Spike…?”

 

To be continued in Chapter 7: Catch As Catch Can