DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Spike has discovered just a little more about Buffy’s past in Sunnydale, spending the night at her apartment at her request, while the Mayor has asked Wesley to get more information on William Rook…

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

Chapter 11: While the City Sleeps

More than anything, he wanted to get drunk. 

He’d been good about maintaining his composure while his boss was still there, but as soon as the Mayor had left, Wesley had headed straight for the bottle of whiskey he kept hidden in his bottom drawer, pouring out two stiff shots and downing them before he could allow himself to think.

William Rook.

Distinctive appearance, complete with bleached blond hair.  Not his usual get-up, according to Mr. Wilkins, but still him, nonetheless.

Just like Willow’s friend, Spike.

Damn it all to hell.

He recognized the name, of course, even if he didn’t know the specifics about his history, but he would never have been able to pick him out from a crowd.  Mr. Wilkins, on the other hand, had known him from the moment he’d set foot in the club.

“There’s no forgetting that mug,” he’d said with a knowing smile.  “Does he really think I’m that stupid?”

It was the same thing Wesley was asking himself about Willow.  Something was going on, something she had to be involved in.  The coincidences were just too numerous for her not to be.  Friends with one of the most notorious droppers in New York history?  What did that make her?  More importantly, what did that mean about the things she’d said to him?

The possibilities made him ache, and not just inside his head.  He liked Willow.  He had actually spent time considering what it would be like to have her around on a more permanent basis.  And now to think that she had just been using him in whatever little scheme she and Rook were hatching cut deeper than anything had in a very long time.

Part of him didn’t want to believe it.  She’d seemed so genuine, an innocence about her that begged people to trust her.  Begged him to trust her.  With those wide green eyes, looking up at him in guileless amusement when she’d admitted to liking him, too, not eight hours earlier. 

The memory of her hand on his arm brought an instant heat to his body, his cock hardening just at the potential of what lay in those soft curves, and Wesley berated himself for his weakness.  Sleeping with the enemy, that’s what it was called.  Usually leading to a knife in the back.  Well, damn her if she thought she was going to get away with it.  Two could play her little game.  He’d been given a job to do, and damn it if he wasn’t going to get it done.  He’d waited too long to get an opportunity like this; a beautiful redhead wasn’t going to get in his way now.

A quick glance at his watch told him it was just shy of three o’clock.  Outside the taxi windows, the city slumbered as quietly as it ever could, lights out in the rows upon rows of windows that loomed along the side of the street.  Only the steady glow of red and green from the stoplights cast their illumination over the gray cement, keeping the shadows hidden as his cab sped lonely down the road.

He wasn’t sure why he was going, or what exactly he was going to say when she opened the door.  He wasn’t even certain she would open the door.  It was the middle of the night, and she was a young girl.  Well, not that young, but certainly young enough to be wary of strange men showing up at her hotel room unannounced.  Except he wasn’t strange.  And they had shared more than a moment together.  There had been that lunch, and last night in his office, and tonight after seeing her in Buffy’s dressing room.  And that touch…

Wesley groaned, leaning his head back against the seat.  He really, really wanted to be wrong about her.

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

Slippers had been the smartest thing she had ever come up with, Willow decided as she cinched her robe around her waist.  No swollen feet, and it was easier to do her job when it got busy.  Two big bonuses for flat shoes.

Of course, being busy had meant that she hadn’t been able to speak to Spike about the flowers.  She knew he had seen her catch his eye, but he’d never re-emerged from the main room, making the redhead wonder just what it was with her friend and his dislike of front doors.  She had watched the rest of them leave---first Buffy, then the Mayor’s date, followed quickly by Xander and Giles.  Both men had seemed distracted, offering only the most vague of explanations---Spike had danced with Buffy?---but Giles had reassured her that everything was just jake.  They had a whole wealth of information, he’d said, but nothing that couldn’t wait until morning.

“Go home.  Get some proper rest.  We’ll see you at breakfast.”

Xander’s gaze had been sympathetic as well.  “You look bushed,” he’d said.  “I keep forgetting you’re actually working here.  Giles is right.  Go take a load off.  We’ll fill you in on everything tomorrow.”

She was tired; on that, they were right.  But Willow slept poorly when she was worried, and right now, she couldn’t get the thought of Spike and those daisies---and just how many had he actually bought for Buffy?---very far from the foreground of her mind. 

When the knock came at her door, she wasn’t actually surprised.  How many times had one or the other of the guys shown up on her doorstep back in California? she thought as she crossed to open it.  It’s probably just Spike, drunk off his ass again.

The sight of Wesley on the other side was the last thing she expected, and certainly not in his current state.  Gone were his glasses and his suit coat, leaving his tie loosened, his white shirtsleeves rolled haphazardly partway up his surprisingly well-muscled arms.  A slight flush stained his cheeks, and his hair was erratically mussed, as if he’d spent hours running his fingers through it.

When his gaze crawled over her, Willow became all too aware of the inappropriateness of her dress, her robe exposing the hollow of her throat where her short nightdress was cut out, her pink fuzzy slippers suddenly seeming overtly grotesque on her feet.  She blushed, gathering the lapels of her robe together in one hand to try and draw it closed.  “Hey there,” she stammered.  “Not exactly the person I thought it was going to be.”

His brows shot up.  “You were expecting someone?”

“Well, no, not exactly, but if I was, it wasn’t…”  She blinked, shaking her head as if to clear it.  “Is something wrong?  Are you all right?”

Wesley seemed to deflate at the concern in her voice, a long hand coming up to comb through his hair as his eyes fell to the floor, confirming her suspicions on how it had gotten mussed in the first place.  “I wanted to…talk,” he managed, still unable to meet her gaze.  “I assumed…I forget about my own hours sometimes.  My apologies.”

She grabbed his arm as he started to turn away, forgetting her false modesty as worry wrinkled her forehead.  “Don’t go.  Come inside.  I’ll fix you some tea.”

He was inside and in the lone chair before he could react, leaving Willow to watch him out of the corner of her eye as she bustled with the small kettle.  It was impossible not to note the complete exhaustion in his posture as his long legs uncharacteristically sprawled out in front of him, or the shadows that darkened his face.  His eyes were almost hollow, as if he hadn’t slept in days, and she knew without him having to say a word that whatever was bothering him was eating him alive.

She perched herself on the edge of the bed opposite him, nervously crossing her ankles as she waited for him to speak.  A half-smile lifted the corner of his mouth as he focused on her feet.

“I had thought they were kidding,” he mused quietly.

“Huh?  Who?  About what?”

He pointed at her slippers.  “A few of the waiters commented that they saw you in those,” he said.  “I assumed they were just mistaken.”

Willow’s blush was fast and furious, and she hastily lifted her feet, rearranging her position so that they were tucked underneath her, not realizing that as she did so, her robe rode up on her legs so that her knees and lower thighs were now even more exposed.  “Is that what this is about?” she rushed.  “I’m so sorry.  I thought it wouldn’t make a difference if the customers didn’t pipe on, but my feet hurt so badly last night, and I was so desperate not to lose---.”

“It’s all right.”  He cut her off with a wave of his hand.  “It’s certainly not a problem.  I told you.  You’re hitting on all eight at the job.  So much better than the last girl.  I didn’t come here to scold you about your choice of footwear.”

“Why…did you come here then?”

Her fingers played with the belt of her robe, rolling it up before letting it loose again.  She didn’t get what this was about.  Something was obviously bothering him, and yet the way he was looking at her, like she was both dangerous and delectable all at the same time, was so different than how he had been in his office.  There, his interest had still been apparent, but in a guarded, almost officious kind of way.  Now, it was as if he didn’t care what she saw, letting down a mask to regard her in a brutal honesty that was both disconcerting and exciting.

And why she could read him like this, Willow had no idea.  Though she had always thought her relationship with Oz had been great, it seemed veritably tame compared to the flush being around Wesley brought to her, the way his eyes were an open book just waiting to be devoured.  Something had shifted in the last twenty-four hours between them, but what exactly it was, she was unsure.

Maybe it’s the drinking, she thought.  She had smelled the scent of whiskey on his breath when she’d pulled him into the room; there was no mistaking that aroma after all the time she’d spent with Spike.  But he was far from drunk, his gait was steady.  And the way he was looking at her now convinced her that he was more than in control of his faculties.  More like, he wanted to be in control of her faculties.

The shrill whistle of the kettle made her jump, pulling her to her feet and looking away from him for the first time since he’d come into the room.  “How do you take it?” she asked, fumbling with the cups.  “Sweet?  Black?  What?”

When he didn’t answer right away, Willow glanced back to see Wesley still watching her, eyes grave, mouth set.  “How ‘bout we go for good old milky?” she suggested when it became obvious he wasn’t going to answer her.  “That’s the way Giles takes it.  It seems to be a favorite.”

“You never said how you came to know this…Giles.  And Spike, right?  That was the other…Brit in the mix, I believe you said?”  His tone was neutral, but his eyes were not, and she felt a questioning tickle begin somewhere in the back of her brain.

Her gaze narrowed imperceptibly.  He was fishing.  For the first time since she’d met him, Wesley seemed to be deliberately looking for information that wasn’t something she could readily share.  Time to tread carefully.  “I met Giles when I was in school out in California,” she said carefully.  “He was kind of a…mentor.  And Spike just came as part of the package.”  At his quizzical look, she clarified, “They’re business partners.”

“What kind of business?”

Now she was certain, and her heart sank.  All that potential, gone to waste.  Spike had been right.  Fun could be had, but she had let herself forget who exactly Wesley worked for, that he was essentially one of the enemy.  And the time for games was over.

“Journalism.  They’re writing partners for a magazine on the West Coast.”  It was the first time here in New York she’d had to use the standard cover story that the two men utilized, and her skin crawled as the lie slipped so easily from her lips.  Years of practice made it routine, but having to do so with Wes was far from simple.  Silently, she cursed herself for having fallen for him so hard.  Stupid charming bad guy, she ranted.  Why is it I can’t seem to connect with someone on my side for a change?

She offered him the cup of tea and resumed her seat on the bed, sitting farther away from him than before, watching as he sipped cautiously at the hot liquid.  “You didn’t come all the way over here to ask me about my friends, though,” Willow said, striving for normal.

His lips pursed to gently blow away the steam that wafted from his mug, his blue eyes lowered as he appeared to be lost in thought.  “Do you ever…” he started, and then stopped, a frown overtaking his face.

“Do I ever…what?” she prompted.

More thought.  More contemplation.  Then, he raised his head, and she saw the resignation buried within the blue.  “My employer is not a very nice man,” Wesley said.  “Did you know that when you applied for your position?”

“You…already warned me about Angel,” she said.  OK, this was different.  The sudden change of topic seemed to bring a melancholy to his voice that hadn’t been there before, his shoulders slumping.  She didn’t get it.

Wesley shook his head.  “I was referring to Mr. Wilkins, Senior, actually,” he said.  “He’s been investigated by the police on numerous occasions, but they have yet to pin anything of consequence on him”

“And you’re telling me this because…?”

“You don’t seem surprised by what I’m saying.”

Willow smiled.  “I’m not stupid, Wesley.  And I’m not a little girl.  But, I work for Heaven, and that’s a legitimate operation, isn’t it?”

He seemed genuinely taken aback by her query, and straightened in his seat.  “Yes, of course, it is.”

“So, I’m going to be quiz girl and ask again.  Why are you telling me all this?”

His rising took her by surprise, and she startled backwards, eyes wide as he set down his cup and crossed to sit at her side.  The mattress shifted slightly under his weight, and she had to roll her hips to keep from pressing into him, her nostrils suddenly overwhelmed with his very masculine scent.

“If I told you I didn’t consider Heaven to be very safe for you, would you quit?”

The sharpest of worries sliced into her, the sudden belief that she had been found out and this was his way of getting her off the hook before she got reeled in overwhelming Willow until the room began to spin around her.  Not safe, he’d said.  And all this talk about the Mayor…

No no no, she intoned, it can’t be that.  I haven’t done anything wrong.  I haven’t given him any clues…have I?  She replayed everything she had said to him---everything she could remember, at least---and so, OK, maybe she wasn’t at her most graceful when he was around, but as far as she could tell, she’d not slipped.  There hadn’t been any obvious clues.  She shouldn’t be in any danger.

“Why…how…I’m not…”  None of her questions seemed to be coming out straight, and Willow swallowed, calming her racing nerves.  Buck up, she could hear Spike saying.  Don’t let the wanker get to you.

“Am I in danger?” she finally managed, sneaking a look at him for the first time since he sat down.

“You don’t have to be.”  Wesley took her hand in his, steadying the tremor that caused her skin to vibrate.  “I can protect you, but only if you come clean with me.”

“What’s…there…to come clean about?” 

He seemed to be weighing his answer, and she saw the kindness return to his eyes, the same shade of compassion that he’d worn every other time she’d seen him.  “Mr. Wilkins made Spike tonight,” he said softly.  “Now, the way I see it, either you’re on the square with me and you don’t know that Rook’s a dropper for the Conti family, or you’re in with him on whatever he’s got going down.  Either way, Willow, you’re in over your head.”

Giles had to pick tonight to not hang around for a meeting, she thought wildly, even as she struggled to keep her face as blank as possible.  Spike gets fingered by the mark the same night he decided to romance the mobster’s future daughter-in-law, and one of the family’s most trusted employees was now offering her asylum if she sold out her friends.  Talk about non-fortuitous timing.

“What was the plan, Wesley?”  Slowly, Willow extracted her fingers from his, rising to her feet to get as much distance between them as possible.  Calm.  She had to stay calm.  And god, Spike and Giles were going to kill her if she messed this up by getting dead.  “Did you think you’d come over here, offer me a deal, and if I didn’t take it up, I’d end up in a wooden kimono by morning?”  She leaned against the desk, her hand nonchalantly resting on the drawer behind her.

His confusion seemed genuine.  “No.”  He held up his hands, arms outstretched so that she could see him plainly.  “I’m not carrying.  I don’t even have my pen on me, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“So, your plan was to come in here and go all John Wayne on me?  Protect the girl because she can’t protect herself?”  She was getting angry now, her voice rising.  “Why would you do that?  Why would you think you could do that?”  Her fingers were curled around the handle, tightening to pull it out just enough so that she could reach her weapon inside.  She hated it, but for once, she was glad that Spike and Giles had insisted she keep one around.

“Because I like you, Willow.  Because I couldn’t bear to see you get hurt.”

The simplicity of his response froze her reach, and she stared at him, caught in the earnestness of his gaze.  Though her heart was thumping in her chest, accelerating all the rhythms in her body, the air around her seemed frozen in time, and she just stood there motionless.  He was serious.  Not that it made a lick of difference in the long run, but…he was serious.

“I think you should go now.”  So faint.  Her lips barely moved.

Wesley stood, taking a single step forward, but hesitated when she stiffened at his approach.  “Willow…please…hear me out…”

She turned her head so that she wouldn’t have to see the plea in his eyes.  “Spike’s due to come around any time now,” she lied.  “You should blow before he shows, or…he might get mad.”  How was she ever going to explain this to the guys?  That she’d had him in her room, knowing as much as he did, and that she’d let him just walk away?  Maybe she could make it look like a struggle or something…

His hand cupping her cheek took her by surprise, and Willow jerked her head back to see him standing directly in front of her, his other hand coming up to the other side.  Before she could react, his mouth had lowered to hers, rooting her in a heated sweep.

The smell…and the taste…and oh god he’s kissing me…all of it intensified into a swirl of color cascading behind her lids as they fluttered closed.  It took only seconds for her to respond, a tiny whimper escaping her throat as her bottom rested against the edge of the desk for support, her hands coming up to press against his chest.  She could feel the pounding of his heart beneath her fingers, the heat of his skin searing through the fabric, and realized his nerves were skittering as wildly as hers, that he wanted this just as badly as she did. 

The knowledge only heightened her arousal, and Willow’s lips parted, allowing his tongue to enter, a tender exploration that charged with more, and more, and more.  The power in his hands, however, contradicted the restraint he was enforcing in his caress, and she felt the sudden irrational urge to throw her arms around his neck and pull him closer, to drive him to deepen the embrace.

All too soon, it ended, his mouth sliding from hers to brush across her brow.  “Promise me you’ll be careful,” he murmured against her skin before pulling away.

He was doing what she’d asked---leaving, oh damn he’s actually leaving---and a wave of relief mingling with disappointment turned her muscles into molasses as she found herself unable to move from her position at the desk.  “What’re you going to do?” Willow asked.  It was as close to a confession he was going to get from her, and they both knew it.

Ducking his head, Wesley pulled open the door, hiding his rueful smile from her gaze.  “Good night, Willow,” he said, effectively evading her query, and exited the room.

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

He sagged as soon as the door separated them, leaning against the wall as he wiped tiredly at his eyes.  He had no idea what exactly had happened in there; his original intent had been to be firm with her, to demand she tell him the truth or face the consequences.  But as soon as Willow had opened her mouth---hell, as soon as she’d opened the damn door---Wesley had known that he couldn’t do it.  Seeing her in those awful fuzzy slippers, the obvious concern for him in her voice…all his resolve had disappeared on gossamer wings, leaving him at her mercy as she’d pulled him in, and not just into her room.

Some of it had returned in the face of her apparent lies, and Wes had tried again to seduce the truth from her.  That time, though, he’d lasted even less, unable to let go of the belief that there could be a way to get her out of the mess entirely.  It wasn’t in her to be involved in anything as criminal as Rook had purported to be, he was sure of it.  She just lacked the resources to extract herself from her associations.

Thus, the offer.  He could most certainly do it; protecting her would be the simplest thing he’d undertaken in ages.  What he hadn’t accounted for was Willow’s independent streak blazing brightly, refusing to be sheltered even though she could very well end up getting seriously hurt.  Kissing her had almost been reflex; the desire he’d felt for her had been mounting exponentially all day and seeing her so strong, so vibrant, had made the caress unavoidable.

He didn’t regret it.

He only regretted that he couldn’t do more for her.

In less than twenty-four hours, Richard Wilkins was going to demand to know what he’d learned about William Rook.  And Wesley was going to have no choice but to tell him.

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

She had been right.  She couldn’t sleep.  Even with the weight of his arm around her waist, the smooth feel of his chest against her back as Spike held her close, Buffy couldn’t stop the demons of the past from sinking their teeth into her jugular, forcing her to stay awake and confront them in spite of the reassuring presence of the man upon whom she was coming to rely.

So, when the clock had ticked over to three-fifteen---quarter after twelve in California---Buffy had carefully lifted his arm from her body just enough to slide out of the bed, setting it back down with a feather kiss against the sheet.  She grabbed her robe and pulled it tight around her, padding softly to the outer room. 

And now she sat on the fire escape, the metal grille pressing its lines into the back of her thighs as her legs dangled over the side, the photo album she’d snatched before climbing out the window discarded somewhere to her left, staring up into the night sky.

Logic told her that it shouldn’t hurt, but ever since Spike had touched her scar, Buffy had been feeling phantom pains in her side, sending her back to the Sunnydale hospital as if she’d never left its sterilized walls. 

Angel, hovering at her side, refusing to let her turn away from him…

The hospital staff, and their whispering outside her door, as if they thought she couldn’t hear them talking about her…accusing her…

The police and their unending questions, repeated and repeated, like she was going to change her answers if they just asked them enough times…

Thoughts of the hospital inevitably led her to the following funerals, and it was then that the tears started to fall.  Buffy lowered her head, motionless as the drops ran slowly down her nose to drip onto her robe, seeping in ever-spreading circles until they joined into one large glob, adhering the fabric to her leg.  It shouldn’t still hurt after three years, she believed.  She didn’t know why even the memories could still roil her up so.  It just wasn’t fair.

The soft metallic shick behind her jolted her head up, swiveling to see Spike lighting the cigarette that dangled from his mouth.  He was sitting on the inside of the windowsill, leaning against the frame, and she wiped hurriedly at her face before his eyes could lift to meet hers.

“I didn’t want to wake you,” she said.

“You didn’t,” he replied.  “Blame it on the call of nicotine.”  He exhaled silently, dropping the ash to the fire escape, and watched it fall through the iron mesh in a fine silt to the ground.  “And smokin’ in the window’s kind of turned into a habit of mine.”

She looked at him for a moment, savoring the planes of his face, before sliding down his pale length.  He hadn’t bothered to dress before coming out to her, the angular jut of his hip carved in sinewy splendor where he sat.  Unbidden, her skin warmed, but it was more than just a visceral response to his beauty.  It was just knowing that he was there, a feeling of security that wrapped around her in a way she hadn’t felt since moving to New York.  Not even with Angel, she realized.  And he was supposed to be the one.

“Aren’t you cold?” she asked.

Spike shrugged.  “Cold never seems to bother me.”

Buffy turned back to face the silent street.  “I’m beginning to think that nothing bothers you.”

“Seein’ you cry does.”

She felt the vibrations in the metal beneath her bottom as he stepped out onto the fire escape, softly reverberating as he approached.  The red arc of his cigarette appeared over her head to descend to the concrete below, and Buffy watched it fall as he sat down behind her, pale legs straddling either side of hers.  Without even thinking, she leaned back into his chest, and relished his arm slipping around her waist to anchor her.

“I’m fine,” she murmured.

“You’re always sayin’ that,” Spike replied.  “And yet, why am I not believing it?”

She chuckled.  “You’re a very stubborn man, you know that?”
“Fancy words comin’ from the proverbial kettle, pet.”

They sat in silence, each lost in their own musings, the slightest of breezes tickling the hair on Spike’s arms as he held her close.  When the break came, it didn’t really surprise Buffy.  In the short time she’d known him, one thing she was fairly certain of was his inability to keep quiet for any stretch of time.

“I saw my mum die, you know.”

Her initial reaction was to stiffen in his arms, fear coursing through her veins, but the combination of his gentle, almost faraway, tone, and the slow circle of his thumb along her side quickly eased the tension from her limbs.  “Spike…you don’t---.”

“She was sick.”  He continued as if she’d never spoken.  “Had been for a long time.  I did what I could, but I was only ten.  In the end, all I could do was read to her and hold her hand.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Not a whole lot could’ve been done about that, really.  Not that I knew that at the time.  And when I got shipped off to New York so that friends of the family could raise me, it didn’t do much for keeping me on the sunny side of the street.”

In spite of the subject matter, she couldn’t help the smile that rose to her lips.  “Why am I not surprised to hear you were a hellion?” she said.  “I can just imagine a little Spikey getting in dutch all the time.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” he murmured.  His cheek rested against her hair, and she could hear his inhalations as he drank in her scent.  “Spent a long time in a very dark place and then when I finally managed to get out of it, I thought leavin’ them all behind was goin’ to eat me alive.  They were the only family I’d known for a long time and turning my back on ‘em…never thought I could’ve.  And certainly never thought I’d find another.”  His free hand came down and began abstractly stroking her thigh, sending warm shivers through her pelvis that made her wish it was possible to just melt into his skin.

“But you did,” she said unnecessarily.

“In the last place I ever expected it,” he agreed.  “They’re the only reason I came back to the city.  All of this…I did it for them.”

Buffy’s hand came down, trapping his as she wound her fingers through his.  “I’m glad you did,” she said. 

His lips grazed the side of her neck.  “Me, too.”

She swallowed, the lump in her throat the last of her resolve to stay quiet on the subject.  “My mom died in a fire,” she said quietly.  “At the gallery she owned.  My sister, too.  I was the only one who survived.”

Spike didn’t say a word, just tightened his grip, his nose nuzzling the curve of her shoulder.

“Angel got me out of there.  He’d been trying to get me to try New York and then…there really wasn’t any reason for me to stay any more.  I kind of inherited a new family here, too.  Like you did.”

Only then did he pull away, and she felt the heat rise from his body as his anger boiled.  “He’s not your family,” he growled.  “Don’t be fooling yourself into thinkin’ he is.”

“Spike…please, don’t do this again.”

Roughly, he grabbed her left hand and held it up flat against the iron mesh, locking it in place by her wrist.  “Where’s the ring, then, luv?” he demanded.  “A rock like that, you should be wearing it every chance you get.  Except, the only time I’ve ever seen it on your finger is when you’re singing.  When he can see you.  Why’s that?”

“It’s…valuable.  I don’t want to risk---.”

“Bullshit.”

She tried again.  “It’s actually not that comfortable.  It cuts---.”

“You’re makin’ excuses, Buffy.  Tell me the truth.  What happened to not lying to me about the important things?”

Silence.  A long silence.  The far-off honking of a car horn filtered through the night air.

“You know I waited a week before telling him yes?” Buffy finally said softly.  “That’s what that night with you was supposed to be about.  Me and a last fling before I committed to Angel.  Probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

“So why’d you do it?”

“Because I needed to.”  As low as her voice was, there was no mistaking the plea in her tone.  “There’s so much you don’t understand, Spike.”

“I think I understand plenty.”

“In three days?”  She turned in his embrace, her weight shifting as she lifted her legs from where they dangled to curl them under her, eyes shining beneath the moon as she looked up at him.  “I’ve got things in my refrigerator that have been around longer than you have, Spike.  How can you even begin to think you understand me or what I’m going through?”

His hand came up and brushed back a lock of hair that had fallen against her cheek.  “Because I’ve been there,” he said quietly, no remonstrations in his voice.  “I’ve done that.  All this stuff you’re running from…you can’t hide from it.  I learned that one the hard way.  Sooner or later, it’s goin’ to come back and bite you in the ass.  But you don’t have to do it alone.  Not while I’m here.  I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you safe, to help you out.  Understand?”

“Why?”

The corner of his mouth lifted.  “Because I’m mad about you, you silly bint,” he said.  He leaned in, brushing his lips over hers.

She shuddered at the caress, and leaned into his chest when he pulled away.  There it was again, that sense of safety cloaking her in velvet, almost daring the dark things of the night to come up and try their best.  Here, in his arms, she had no doubt they would lose, that together---her and Spike---they could beat them back.

A lethargy she hadn’t felt since falling asleep in his arms that first night crept over her muscles, and she sighed.  “You make it very hard to stay mad at you,” she breathed, a stray hand dancing over his thigh.

“Come back to bed,” Spike said.  He rose to his feet, strong hands tugging at hers to entice her to join him.

She gave in to his pull, following him through the window and slipping in beside him when he slid back under the blankets.  The demons were still there, but tucked away for the night, banished from her thoughts by the strength of Spike’s arms around her, the force of his feelings, the knowledge that he wasn’t going to let her face them alone.  It was more than Angel had ever promised, and the irony of that did not escape Buffy. 

The sigh of contentment escaped her as she burrowed into her pillow, smiling when Spike growled in response, drawing her back into him.  Her lids drifted closed.

A girl could get used to this.

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

Giles yawned as he hurried toward the door of the hotel, rubbing tiredly at his face.  He’d been longer at Xander’s than he’d planned, collating what they’d discovered, formulating new plans of attack, going over questions they would pose to Spike when they saw him in the morning.  He probably should’ve spent the night there instead of venturing back to his own room, but the prospect of having to listen to the younger man’s snoring all night held little appeal.

The shadow of the car on the street escaped his attention until he was almost there, stopping him only when the young man emerged from the back seat.

“Mr. Giles!” he called out, waiting until the Englishman had turned to look at him.  “”Kind of a late night for you, isn’t it?  Have we been out painting the town red?”

Giles frowned, his hand slipping into his pocket and fingering his gun.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “Do I know you?”

The young man smiled, and moved closer, stepping into the streetlight to reveal his dark hair, his tailored suit.  “We’ve only spoken on the phone,” he said, and extended his hand.  “I’m Lindsey McDonald.  From Wolfram and---.”

He never got to finish the name.  Giles crossed the distance between them, grabbing his hand and throwing him against the car, twisting his arm back to pin him against the cold metal.  “You miserable son of a bitch,” he growled.  “How dare you---.”

The unmistakable click of a safety being removed from a gun cut him off, followed immediately by the hard steel pressing into the back of his skull.  “I suggest you let him go,” came the melodious voice from behind him.

Bloody hell, Giles thought, and slowly released his grip, lifting his hands away from his body.  Before him, Lindsey slithered away from the car, stepping away to look back with an amused grin.

“It’s all right, Mr. Trick,” he said to whoever was behind Giles.  “I think he’ll be just a little more cooperative now.”  He waited until his partner, a dapperly dressed black man with a neat mustache, had joined him at his side, the gun in his elegant hand aimed dangerously for Giles’ heart.  “I merely wanted to have a few words,” he continued.  “There really was no need to get physical.”

“What do you want?” Giles growled.

“The Mayor is still alive.”

“Yes.  We’re…working on that.”

“I’m afraid my client’s not very pleased, Mr. Giles.  I’ve just come from a meeting, and there has been a…change to your instructions.”

His eyes narrowed behind his glasses.  “What kind of change?

“A deadline kind of change.”  Lindsey smiled.  “If the Mayor isn’t dead in twenty-four hours, my firm will have no choice but to go ahead with our warning.  You, and Mr. Rook, and Miss Rosenberg will be in the hands of the authorities by the following morning if you don’t succeed in killing the Mayor by this time tomorrow.”

 

To be continued Chapter 12:  Cat and Mouse