DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Wesley has deduced---incorrectly---that Buffy is Spike’s mark and gone to tell her, while the truth about Spike’s relationship with her has come out to his friends, leaving things tense as they work on finishing their assignment as quickly as possible…

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

Chapter 13: Danger By My Side

They didn’t like his plan, but then again, what else was new.  Ripper had, of course, spent half a bloody hour delineating all its flaws, while Harris had just sat on the bed, watching him in the half-awe, half-jealousy that had been all over his mug ever since he’d heard of Spike and Buffy.  Only Red held her tongue, but he knew she was lost in her own pain.  That Wesley had gotten to her just as deeply as Buffy had to him, only in her case, there was no chance of putting the pieces back together when this was all over.  She was going to have to suffer, long after they were back in California.

Though he hated the idea of this deadline just as much as the others, Spike alone saw the silver lining it presented.  He was still alive.  The sooner this job got done, the better his odds at escaping New York City with his heart still beating, and for that, he was grateful to the damn lawyers for their immutable cut-off date.  Of course, he still had to actually do it, and not get himself killed in the process, but in the grander scheme of things, that seemed almost irrelevant.  The past was rearing its ugly head, starting to spread its claws, and the sooner he was free from the tether of the city, the happier he was going to be.

Giles already had the tickets to go home.  If everything went as planned---no, he hastened to amend, when everything goes as planned---they would be on a flight to LA within two hours after it was over, away from the threat of exposure and back in the lap of the lawyers and their files.  There would be five of them going back, though; of that, Spike had been adamant.

“She’s coming if I have to chain her up and stuff her in a soddin’ suitcase,” he had growled.  “So you will get Buffy a ticket, too, Rip.”

No way was he leaving her behind.  Not after everything.  She had some strange sense of loyalty to Angel Wilkins that he didn’t understand, but Spike didn’t care.  This wasn’t her home.  Her place was with him, back in California.  Away from nightmares and crying jags and the need to know how to protect herself.  Singing and doing what would make her happy.  Because she deserved it after the pain of her past.

He’d tell her everything then.  Make her understand.  She’d be able to see past the vestiges of his own colorful history, Spike was certain.  Hell, she’d been about to marry into one of the most dangerous crime families in New York City; no way was she going to go squeamish when he’d actually gone straight.  Well, mostly straight.  It felt too good not to be just a little bent.

With the few hours he had before things got set into motion, Spike was packing, arranging what needed to be arranged before blowing the city for good.  He’d briefly considered contacting Clem and asking him to go keep an eye on Buffy, but he’d soon dismissed it, almost smiling as he remembered the last conversation he’d had with his old friend after getting back the notebook.

“You’re messing with fire with that one,” Clem had said, shaking his head.  “Angel Wilkins doesn’t like other people playing with his toys, if you know what I mean.”

“She’s not a toy, and she doesn’t belong to the wanker,” Spike had retorted.

“Still…she’s kind of scary, if you ask me.”

“I didn’t.”

“And skinny.  Don’t you think she’s a little skinny?  Personally, I like ‘em to have a little meat on their bones.  Like that actress---.”

“She’s beautiful just the way she is.  And since when are you noticing what a dame like that looks like?  Usually, you’re too busy burying your head in the sand because you think they’ll notice you.”

“Since she pulls a gun on me and pats me down faster than anyone I’ve ever seen.”  He’d blushed at Spike’s raised eyebrow.  “Oh, except you, of course.  Like I said.  Kind of scary.”

So that crossed Clem off the list. 

Harris was another possibility, but in light of all the revelations of the day, having him near Buffy right now probably wasn’t the brightest idea.  Besides, Spike needed him for the plan to work.  No, he’d just have to play his odds and hope that Buffy actually did what she was told this time, staying put so that he could find her when this was over. 

If she left her apartment, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do.

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

As much as she liked the guy, Wesley’s hovering was starting to grate on her nerves, and Buffy had to literally sit on her hands to keep herself from pushing him out the door.  “For the last time,” she said, “I’ll be fine now that Mickey’s here.”  She watched as the two men squared off with each other.  “Please, Wes.  You can go now.  Go…do what you said you were going to do about Spike.  The authorities, right?”

Wesley’s mouth was grim.  “Right,” he said.  “I just…I’d feel better knowing someone was taking care of you.”

In spite of their proximity, Mickey laughed, his blue eyes dancing.  “You don’t know Buffy then,” he snorted.  “That dame’s a sharper shooter than me.  Why just the other day---.”

“I think he’s got it,” she interrupted, unwilling for more details about her lunch with Spike to come out in the open.  This was going to be hard enough to explain once the dust was settled as it was.  At her friend’s curious stare, though, she shrugged.  “So I learned how to protect myself.  A girl’s got a right, doesn’t she, Wes?”

After a pause, he nodded, suddenly weary as his shoulders slumped.  “Do you want me to try Angel again?” he asked as he turned toward the door.

Buffy shook her head.  It was pointless, she knew, but she didn’t want to say it out loud, not when both of them knew exactly where Angel was.  Darla’s.  He always went there when Buffy turned down his physical advances.  Some habits were hard to break.

“I’ll…call you when I have more definitive news,” Wesley said, stepping outside the small apartment.  “I’ll be at Heaven if you need anything.  Just…be careful.”

“Always,” she vowed and closed the door behind him.

“He’s wound up a little tight, ain’t he?” Mickey commented as he strolled into the tiny living room.  It was the best he’d been able to scrounge up for Buffy on such short notice.  A friend of a friend of a friend was out of town, and the place was free for a few weeks, leaving it all right to stash the singer there until whatever smoke had blown up her skirt went away.  Hefting his overweight frame onto the couch, he watched her standing by the entrance, looking worn but still radiant as only Buffy Summers could.

“It’s been a rough morning,” she said quietly.  “For both of us.”

“You going to tell me what this is all about?” he asked.  “I haven’t seen you get this upset about something since you first showed up at my diner three years ago.”

Sighing, she began pacing listlessly around the edges of the room, fingers running along the wall as if their support would somehow keep her from falling over.  She was exhausted.  Faced with the very real threat of Spike, she’d automatically switched off, just as she had learned to do so over the past few years, making the calls necessary to get the job done, holding her own until the last door was closed.  Now, here she was, tucked safely away, just waiting for the cops to do what her taxes paid them to do, and she could feel the last of her resolve crumbling away into dust.

Tears stung the back of her eyes, and Buffy rapidly blinked them away.  More than anything, she felt betrayed.  Not just by Spike, though that was bad enough.  But also by her own instincts.  Everything about him had screamed truth, safety, and she’d believed him when he told her he was mad for her.  Yet, she’d been wrong.  They’d lied to her.  And that ached with a tenuous weight that pulled at her very soul.

“You remember that guy I was in the diner with the other day?” she asked, stopping at the lone chair and sitting herself down to face Mickey on a more even level.  He nodded.  “Turns out he’s William Rook.”

The name immediately registered, and Mickey’s jaw dropped.  “William the Bloody?”

“The one and only.”

“You called him Spike.”

“I guess that’s what he’s going by these days.”

His mouth closed, opened, and then closed again, as the words failed to arrive.  Meaty fingers scratched at the back of his head as he digested the information.  “So, is someone after him?” he finally asked.  “That why you’ve stashed yourself here?  To keep yourself safe until he takes care of whoever it is?”

“No,” she replied.  “He’s after me.”

There was a moment of silence, and then the loudest guffaw erupted from Mickey’s lips.  “No, really,” he said through his laughter, sticking out his foot in her general direction.  “Try pulling the other one now.”

“I’m serious.  I don’t know why, but I’m his mark.  He’s even put people in at the club I work at uptown.”

His laughter slowly faded, and when it did, Mickey was left with a look of disbelief on his face.  “Did he just tell you this?” he asked.  “’Cause I’ve gotta tell you, I’m not buying it.”

“No, Wesley found out.”  Buffy shook her head.  “It’s a long story.  One that will get you into a lot of trouble if you find out about.”

“It’s jake.  You don’t have to say a word.  But…”  His voice grew somber.  “…if all you’re going on is the word of English there, I think you might be barking up the wrong tree.  I get that Spike could be William the Bloody.  I mean, did you see how he took out Bobby the Bear?  But there’s no way in hell you’re going to convince me he wants you dead, Buffy.  Not with what I saw.  Hell, not with what he said after you left.”

“What?  What’re you talking about?”

“He stuck around after you dusted out.  Helped me a bit with the clean up.  You should’ve seen the look on his face when he was talking about seeing you with the gun.  Just busting out with pride, like he was expecting his first kid to take a step and she ran the fucking marathon instead.  He asked me a couple questions about you and me---.”  At the alarmed look on her face, he held up his hand.  “---but I didn’t say anything, don’t you worry.  But, Buffy…I’d stake everything I’ve got to say that that’s not a man who wants to kill you.  That’s a man who wants to whisk you away to a tropical paradise and forget the rest of the world even exists.  Unless you can tell me you saw him take a shot at you with your own eyes, or heard him say it with your own ears, you’re not going to convince me otherwise.”

His words left her feeling hollow.  Any other time, and she would’ve listened to anything that came out of Mickey’s mouth and trusted it implicitly.  When she’d first wandered into his diner, he’d almost immediately taken her under his wing, listening to her talk about her past---nothing about her present, that came later---and then offering to help in the way of learning how to defend herself.  She had quickly surpassed him at the range, but that only cemented their friendship even further; his respect for the beautiful but tough singer grew by leaps and bounds as her ability to help herself expanded.

And now here he was, saying that given the choice, he’d believe the Conti’s best trigger man over an upstanding club manager, merely after having had a brief conversation with him.

“Wesley wouldn’t lie to me,” Buffy said slowly.  “He’s a good man.  He’s seriously concerned about my welfare.”

Mickey shrugged.  “Even good men make mistakes.  Have you tried talking to Spike about any of this?”

“No, that’s…”  Her voice trailed away, her gaze sliding to her abandoned purse near the door.  She still had his number, stuffed somewhere at the bottom of her bag on the pages she’d ripped from Clem’s notebook.  Could it really hurt to call him? she wondered.  It wasn’t like she was going to tell him where she was, and he couldn’t actually kill her through a telephone line.  He might not even be there for that matter.

“What does your gut tell you, Buffy?” Mickey asked quietly.

It was screaming at her, furious at being denied by these so-called irrefutable facts.  It wanted to be unleashed, back in control, just like it had been in control of so many other aspects of her life for so long.

More than that, it wanted to believe in Spike.

Tremulous fingers pulled the paper from her purse, and she turned her back to the room as she slowly dialed the number that was written there.  He’s probably not even there, she thought wildly.  And if he lies to me about one single thing, I swear I’m going to hang up. 

Please don’t lie, Spike.

“Yeah?”

It was him.  God, he was actually there.  Breathe.  Don’t let him hear how scared you are.

“Hello, William.”  First test.  Pass or fail, Spike.  Pass or fail.

She heard his sharp intake of breath.  “Buffy?  What’s wrong, pet?  Why’d…”  He stopped then, and she realized he heard then what she’d said.  There was silence, and then… “You found out.”  Not a question.  Statement of fact.  Like he wasn’t even surprised.  “Please tell me that prat of a fiancé of yours isn’t there.”

“No, he’s not.  I’m not, actually.”  She swallowed hard.  “You really thought you could keep the fact that you work for the Conti’s a secret, Spike?”

“What?  I don’t work for the Conti’s.”  She would’ve sworn that was genuine confusion in his voice.  “Well,” he added, “not anymore.  Haven’t since I left the family five years ago.  Is that what this is about?  You’re not hurt or anything, are you?”

Yes, I’m hurt, she wanted to scream into the receiver.  I’m ripped apart inside because everything about you is a lie.

But he hadn’t lied yet.  At least, she didn’t think so.  Wesley hadn’t been sure he was still working for the Conti’s, only that he had until he’d disappeared a few years earlier.  What he was saying could be true.

“Why are you in New York?” she asked instead, maintaining that superficial calm that belied the turmoil in her stomach.

She heard him sigh through the receiver, and could almost see him running his fingers through his hair.  “This was a conversation I was hoping we’d be havin’ tonight, luv,” Spike said.  “Your timing’s a little off here.”

“Was this going to be before or after you knocked me off?”

And there it was.  Atta girl, Summers, she commended herself.  Face the attacking enemy head on.  Don’t let him squirm his way out of this one.

“What?  Why in bloody hell would you think I’m here to kill you?” he demanded.

There was no mistaking the righteous indignation in his voice, nor the speediness of his shotfire response, and for the first time since picking up the phone, Buffy felt the tingle of fear creeping along her spine.  Fear, and…hope?

“Wesley said---.”

“Wesley?  Red’s Wesley?  How the hell did he find out about you and me?”

“He didn’t.  He figured out I was the one you were after with all your manpower at Heaven, and came to tell me.”

“You’re not the one who’s marked, Buffy.  Get that out of your head right now.”

The understanding that he wasn’t denying his job, only his target, didn’t escape her attention.  But would he tell you about it anyway? she wondered.  “So, if I’m not the one, tell me who it is you’re going to kill,” she said.

He took too long to respond, each second a weight upon her flesh.  “It’s too dangerous,” Spike finally said.  “I’m not letting you get in that deep.”

She couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled from her lips.  “A little late for that, I think.”

“Look, pack a bag.  I’m sending Red over to get you right now.  I’ll explain it all---.”

“I’m not at my apartment.”

Pause.  His voice came back harder.  “I thought I told you to stay put.”

“So you could kill me?  I don’t think so.”

“I already said---.”

“And then I said, and then you said, and I said…”  She sighed.  “We could do this all day, Spike.  You’re a killer.  That’s who you are.  Not exactly the type to inspire confidence, if you know what I mean.”  The irony of her words didn’t escape her attention, but she shoved aside the guilty feelings that rose in her stomach to plow onward.  “If you don’t trust me enough to tell me what exactly is going on, how in hell do you expect me to trust you?”

“Damn it, Buffy…”  Through the phone line, she heard the squeak of a mattress creaking, and knew he had just sat down, could practically see him bent over with the phone to his ear, long fingers worrying those white-blond curls.  When he spoke again, his voice was softer, almost pleading, and it rubbed its salt tears in the wounds within her heart.

“Don’t you think if I wanted to kill you, I would’ve done it by now?” he asked quietly.  “I could’ve done it when you were asleep in my arms, or when I was kissing away your tears because something inside you hurt so badly you couldn’t keep it in anymore.  Or maybe I could’ve just pushed you from the fire escape instead of holding you.  People fall from fire escapes all the time.  Would’ve been eggs in the coffee to make it look like an accident.”

“Spike…”

“Don’t think you haven’t thrown a spanner in my plans, pet.  Meeting you…fallin’ for you…you think I wanted that to happen?  I just wanted to do the job and get the hell out of town with my skin still intact.  No way was I interested in losin’ my head over the most amazing woman I’ve ever met.”

“Spike---.”

“I’m not finished.”  A deep sigh, and his voice came back stronger but no less heartbreaking.  “You don’t trust me, I can’t do anything about that.  But I’d never in a thousand lifetimes hurt you, luv.  Never.”  Pause.  “We’re blowin’ town as soon as I get the job done today.  I’m not goin’ to ask again where you are, but…I bought you a plane ticket, if you want it.  We’re flyin’ out of Municipal at six.  I…it’d be…bugger…” 

The last was almost a snarl, and Buffy flinched as if he was standing right before her.  His frustration bled through the line, and she knew that if he’d actually been in the same room as she, she would’ve forgotten everything in less than the space of a single heartbeat.  She would’ve believed him.  She would’ve done exactly like he’d asked.

But he wasn’t.

And she couldn’t.

Could she?

“Made a promise to myself that I’d get them out of this,” he was saying, more in control now.  “And as much as I’d like to say fuck it, I can’t.  Not when…I just can’t.  So I’m seein’ this through, and hopefully I’ll come out alive on the other side of it all.  It’d be…nice if I saw you there waitin’ for me, Buffy.”

It took almost thirty seconds of dial tone for her to realize he had hung up on her.

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

She didn’t really have a place in the actual execution of the plan.  For some reason, Spike had been unyielding about that.  “You’ve done your part already, Red,” he’d said.  “Now it’s time for mine.”

Not that she was arguing.  She didn’t have a stomach for the actual killing, never had.  Spike and Giles had had to do a few hits over the years, and though she always used whatever reason she could to rationalize their actions, it wasn’t easy to realize that she could be capable of being involved in such things.  It was simpler to be slightly shady when the bodies didn’t come floating back up the river to haunt you.  Safe behind the anonymity of her research and machinations.

No, her contributions to the effort rested in the getaway, making sure she was there with the Desoto afterward so that Spike could make a clean sneak of it.  With Xander and Giles necessary on other fronts, she was the only one remaining who could have the car in place.

He’d asked her to do something else first, though, and it was with trepidation that Willow now approached the back door to Heaven.  It was harmless, really, she silently reasoned, easing the entrance open and slipping into the velvety darkness of the club’s backstage area.  Just grab some of Buffy’s things in case she doesn’t get a chance to pack her own bag, and hightail it out of there until it was time to get the Desoto.  Duck soup.

So why couldn’t she shake this feeling that something was terribly wrong?

It had been clinging to her skin ever since she’d left Giles’.  He was in a strange mood, jumping from irritation with Spike to anger over the details of the plan to ingratiating compassion toward her, so agreeing to Spike’s request had been remarkably easy.  Anything to get away and clear her head.

Hailing a cab, she had taken as quick a route to Heaven as possible, but with every passing block, the sense that something was…off, forced her head to turn, to look behind her as her eyes scanned the throngs on the sidewalk.  Nothing ever raised its head, but even as she crept up the stairs to Buffy’s dressing room, the feeling refused to go away.

Inside, it was dark, and Willow fumbled with the overhead light as she eased the door almost shut.  The click it would make if she shut it completely would be too loud in the deafening silence of the club, so she was just going to have to be satisfied with leaving it mostly closed, she decided.  A quick survey of the room, and she was at the dressing table, sorting through the bits before stuffing what she considered essentials into the bag she’d brought for the purpose.

“Curious,” came a voice from behind her, and Willow whirled in her spot, clutching the bag to her chest to see two men standing inside the room.  The larger of the two, a gruff-looking black man, pushed the door shut, heedless of the noise it made, while the younger, suited brunette advanced toward her with a small smile on his face.

“I didn’t think petty theft was part of your repertoire, Miss Rosenberg,” he went on to say. 

“It’s not.”  She held her shoulders straight.  “Wait a minute.  Who are you?  How do you know who I am?”

The abashed duck of his head made him look even younger, and he shook it slightly as he stepped closer.  “I keep forgetting that none of you actually know what I look like,” he said, and stuck out his hand in greeting.  “Lindsey McDonald.  Wolfram and Hart.”

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

The slamming of a door from somewhere in the back of the club was what alerted Wesley that someone else was around.  Usually, Heaven was fairly deserted during the day; that was why he’d opted to come around to his office there to clean up and do what could be done about Rook.  The few phone calls he’d managed to get done already had been fruitless, however, and he was beginning to feel the tinges of failure crisping his mood.

Now, though, he was no longer alone, and caution made him open the door to his office and step outside, waiting for his eyes to become adjusted to the dark before scanning the interior.  No one on the main floor.  When he lifted his head, though, he saw the yellow outline of illumination coming from inside Buffy’s dressing room, and he frowned.

Why would Buffy come back here? he wondered as he headed toward the stairs.  She was so worried about being safe.  Could she have forgotten something she needs?  Why wouldn’t she just call me?

His hand was almost on the doorknob when he heard the voices trickle through the wood.  Wesley froze as Willow’s words became clear.

“Can’t you damn lawyers just leave us alone and let us do our job?” she was saying.  Her voice was strident, her anger apparent, and Wes leaned closer to better hear the conversation.  Lawyers?  And why was Willow in Buffy’s dressing room?  What possible purpose could it serve for anyone involved?

“Our intervention wouldn’t be necessary if you’d completed it in a timely fashion.”  A man’s voice.  Midwestern with a hint of education trying to hide that fact.  Obviously the lawyer Willow was referring to.  “My clients aren’t happy with how slowly Mr. Rook is moving on this.”

“Gee, I never would’ve guessed,” Willow replied sarcastically.  “Funny how that twenty-four deadline kind of made this whole thing crystal clear for us that you wanted it done quickly.”

“You gave us no choice.  You were hired---.”

“We were blackmailed.”

“You’re being paid, aren’t you?  Quite handsomely, I might add.  Fifty large is not the kind of money you turn your nose up at, Miss Rosenberg.”

“Look, Mr. McDonald.  We both know that that’s just to keep your books looking all nice and pretty.  You know there’s no way Spike would’ve taken this job if you hadn’t threatened to expose all of us.  To me, that’s blackmail, and none of your fancy lawyer-talk is going to convince me otherwise.”

“To-may-to, to-mah-to.  I’d say, let’s call the whole thing off, but then that wouldn’t make my clients very happy now, would it?”

“You keep talking about your clients.  Are we ever going to find out who wants the Mayor dead?”

The lawyer responded immediately, but his words were lost on Wesley as the realization of what Willow had just said sank in.

The Mayor.

Dead.

Not Buffy.

How could he have made such a grievous error?

And she was sitting in some dank apartment, on the other side of town, scared out of her mind, and it was all because of him and his misplaced logic.

It had made sense though, he argued with himself.  Why else would Rook have been paying so much attention to Buffy?

Regardless, she would have to be told.  She needed to know that she was safe.  Well, as safe as she ever was considering who she was engaged to.

He’d started to turn away, ready to return to his office before his presence was noted when Willow’s voice came to his ear again.

“What I don’t get is why you’d be following me around town,” she said.  “The hit’s going to happen this afternoon, no thanks to your deadline.  Then we’re all gone, and everyone should be happy, right?”

“Wrong.”

“Not everyone’s going to be happy?”

“Not everyone’s going to be gone,” he clarified.

Silence. 

Then…

“I don’t understand.”

Her voice had changed, the fear that was creeping into it making it tremor.  Wesley’s blood chilled, his body tensing as his instinct to protect the redhead reared its head again.  Some of it was more clear to him now.  Yes, she was involved in this hit, but for all intents and purposes, it looked as if it was reluctantly, this blackmail she was referring to a coercive attempt by whoever had hired the lawyers to get their compliance.  It didn’t make things better, he knew, but it certainly made it more understandable.

“We know you’re Rook’s escape plan,” the lawyer said.  “I’m afraid we can’t let that happen.”

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

She gaped at him, a flush creeping up her neck.  “How could you know that?” Willow demanded, not even noticing the way the other man in the room was opening his jacket.

Lindsey shrugged.  “We have our ways.”  He nodded toward his companion.

Her hand was already sliding into the purse hidden by the bag in her arms when the knock at the door surprised all of them, freezing them in their places.

“So sorry to interrupt, Buffy,” Wesley said as the door opened and he stepped inside.  “But I saw your light on…”  He stopped, frowning in confusion as his eyes lit on Willow.  “Oh.  I thought…”  Quickly, his blue gaze darted from Lindsey to the third man, and he straightened, assuming the mantle of authority as the manager of the club.  “May I ask what you’re doing here?” he said of the others.

The next few seconds were a blur for Willow.

One moment, Lindsey’s bodyguard was facing off with Wes. 

The next, a flash of something metallic gleamed in Wesley’s hand, and the two men were pressed chest to chest as they grappled, both faces grim.

Her fingers flew to her purse and pulled out the gun she’d been carrying since leaving her hotel room that morning, lifting it with a shaking stance to aim at Lindsey.  “Make him stop!” she ordered the lawyer.

Briefly, he seemed to consider her words, but before he could turn to face the pair behind him, the bodyguard’s body slumped against Wesley, sliding down his length to crumple into a heap on the floor.

She watched him fall, but as her gaze traveled back upward, it followed a scarlet path, one that sucked the breath directly from Willow’s lungs.  Blood.  A trail of it, all the way up Wesley’s leg…his hips…his torso, stopping just below his chest.  There was more of it, on the knuckles of his still-curled fingers, and she saw for the first time what exactly he held.

His pen.  The same Mont Blanc she’d used to fill out all that damn paperwork.

His face was grim, but he seemed oblivious to the bleeding man at his feet, his blue eyes locked instead on Willow’s wan face.  “Are you all right?” he asked, and she felt her heart skip a beat at the concern in his words. 

She nodded.  “Neat trick,” she said shakily, nodding toward the pen in his hand.

Wesley glanced down at it, and she saw the corner of his mouth lift.  “Yes, well, it most definitely is multi-purpose,” he replied.  “It must be that award-winning design I told you about.”

“Is he…?”  She looked down at the body.

“Dead?  I certainly hope so.  I was aiming for his heart.”

It was only then that it dawned on her that Wesley was actually there.  That after all his words of warning to her in her hotel room, he still managed to be where she was.  The exaltation she’d initially felt at his entrance faded as she swallowed hard, steeling her grip on her weapon so that he couldn’t see her nervousness.  “Don’t tell me you’re following me, too?” she said calmly.

His eyes narrowed.  “I work here, remember?” he replied cautiously.  “And this is not your dressing room.”  His gaze slid to Lindsey.  “And you still haven’t told me who the hell you are.”

“Trouble with a capital T,” Willow said, answering for the lawyer.  “But I’ve got bigger problems on the horizon right now, Wesley.  Can you help me tie him up?”

“Hey!” Lindsey protested, backing away from both of them.  “Let’s not get excited now.  I’m sure we can come to some kind of agreement---.”  He was silenced when the other man’s fist shot out, sending him reeling into the wall, collapsing unconscious to the floor.

“I hate lawyers,” Wesley muttered, and then turned back to Willow.  “I don’t suppose you would put that away now?” he asked, motioning toward her gun.

She didn’t move.  “Buffy said you were one of the good guys,” she said.  Gone was the strength in her voice, to be replaced with a confused indecision that begged to be placated.

He tossed his pen aside and took a step closer to her.  “I am.”

“You just killed a man.  With a pen.  That’s something…that’s something Spike would do.”

He didn’t deny it.  He only took a step closer.  “Why didn’t you tell me they were blackmailing you into killing the Mayor?” he asked gently.

“Would it have made a difference?”

“Yes…well, no, not exactly, but---.”

“That’s why then.”

Another step.  Closer now.  “I asked you to be careful.”  Wesley indicated the two bodies in the room.  “You call this careful?”

It was when she glanced away, following his gestures with her eyes, that his hands closed over hers, gently prising the gun from her grip.  Her gaze jumped back, drowning in the kind blue looking back at her, and while she stiffened at the sudden burning along her skin from his touch, her fingers relaxed so that he could take the weapon safely.

“You heard all of it, didn’t you.”  It was a statement of fact, not a question.  She already knew the answer.  “And you still came in?”

He seemed genuinely perplexed by her question.  “They were going to hurt you, Willow.  Why would I offer to protect you, only to let some…mouthpiece hurt you now?”  Automatically, his hands reached up to touch her face, but when he saw the blood still staining his fingers, he stopped, hesitating as both of them just looked at the scarlet.  “Buffy…” he murmured, and turned away.  “I need to call Buffy.  She needs to know about this.”

Willow’s hand shot out, grabbing his arm, ignoring the blood that tainted his crisp white shirt.  “What does Buffy have to do with anything?” she demanded. 

Wesley actually blushed.  “Well, it would appear that I…wrongly deduced who your intended target was,” he admitted.  “And now she’s hiding, believing that Spike is on the lookout for her.”

“But that’s ridiculous.  Spike wouldn’t…”  Oops.  She’d totally forgotten about Spike.  And everything Lindsey had said right before Wesley had come charging in.  She blanched, letting him go to rush past him toward the door.

It was his turn to stop her.  “Where are you going?”

“I have to get to Spike before he does anything.  You heard them---.”

“It’s not safe.  I’m not letting you out of my sight again.”

“Then you can come with me, but I’m still going.”  She tugged at her arm, but his grip remained firm.

“I must call Buffy, and…”  His gaze flickered down to his ruined clothing.  “…change before going out in public.”

“We don’t have time for that!  I thought you heard what they said!”

“I did, but---.”

She wrenched from his grasp then, her heart pounding.  “You’re still not getting it, Wesley.  They were trying to keep me from getting him out of there.  Whoever it is that hired us to off the Mayor is setting him up.  Spike’s about to walk into some kind of trap.”

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

The knock at the door made her lips curve into a suggestive smile, and Faith rose from where she’d been sprawled along the unmade bed to grab the robe that lay draped over the chaise.  That certainly didn’t take him very long, she thought as she slipped her arms into the silk, not even bothering to do up the belt as she padded her way through the luxurious apartment.

“Guess that bubble bath sounded better than you thought,” she said as she pulled the door open, and then froze when instead of Richard’s face, she was met with the lounging form of a smiling William Rook.

“Well, hello there, cutie,” he drawled.

 

To be continued in Chapter 14: A Slight Case of Murder