DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Spike has decided to stick around NYC to try and figure out who set him up, Buffy has returned to the Wilkins fold to try and maintain appearances, while Wesley is trying to figure out how balance his career with his feelings and involvement with Willow…

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

Chapter 16: The Girl Who Came Back

Fifteen minutes.  That’s all she got for her break.  She hadn’t actually done anything with it her first two nights on the job, but tonight, Willow had other plans. 

She had arrived at Heaven a scant ten minutes before she was due to start.  Knocking at Wesley’s office had yielded no response, so when she’d spotted him talking with Jonathan near the main entrance, she had waited patiently for him to finish so that she could speak to him.  The opportunity never really came.  Though he shot her a cursory smile, he’d followed his assistant back to the rear of the club, leaving her standing there, alone and confused and wondering what in hell had just happened.

She already knew that the lawyer had gone missing; Giles and Xander were working on locating him.  But that didn’t explain why Wesley was acting so distant around her.  Maybe it’s just because of the mood with the other employees, she rationalized as she slipped out of her slippers and back into her heels.  Frankly, she was getting the impression that everyone was surprised and more than a little dismayed that Angel had insisted business ran as usual, even though news of his father’s death had spread like wildfire.  Everyone was on tenterhooks, a sobriety dampening the air before one even stepped through the front door.  Even Buffy’s set was more serious than it had been the last two times she’d heard the blonde sing.

It didn’t make her heart beat any slower, though, as she hurried to his office.  Please be there, please be there, she thought.  You’re the one who suggested I work as normal.  Don’t bail on me now.

He answered on her very first knock, and when Willow pushed open the door, she was greeted with the sight of him sitting behind his desk, his suit jacket draped over the back of his chair, his sleeves rolled up as he scribbled in the ledger before him.  A half-full tumbler of whiskey rested just off to his side, and she felt her mouth go dry as the potent scent of his aftershave assaulted her senses.

“Got a sec?” she asked, and inwardly grimaced at how squeaky her voice sounded.

Wesley started as soon as she spoke, his head jerking up to see her standing framed in the doorway.  There was no mistaking the flagrant dance of emotions that rippled across his face, and Willow felt herself blush under his scrutiny, wishing she had more than the two evening dresses and wasn’t forced to wear the green one in which she’d first met him.  He probably already regrets getting involved, she thought.  He’s had time to think about what’s happened, and now he’s regretting it, and wondering what he ever saw in me, and he’s probably getting ready to go to the police and snitch on us, and why isn’t he answering me yet?

She saw him swallow once, and then again, before actually clearing his throat, his blue eyes darkening before returning to the pages in front of him.  “Of course,” he finally said.  “But only a few minutes.”

Quietly, Willow eased the door shut.  He wasn’t looking at her.  Not a good sign.  “Really, if it’s a bother, I can come back after we close,” she said.  “You’ve probably had your fill of seeing me today, anyway.”

Each word she uttered seemed to deflate him, until by the time she was done talking, Wesley had rested his pen onto the desk and looked up at her again.  “Hardly,” he said softly.  His gaze flickered to the chair before returning to meet her wide eyes.  “Is this a standing sort of discussion or would you like to have a seat?” he asked.

She folded her hands awkwardly in her lap as she perched herself on the edge of the chair.  She hadn’t been this uncomfortable in his presence in, well, ever.  All thoughts of filling him in on what had been discussed with Giles and Xander vanished in the face of reality, and she couldn’t stop the question from tumbling out of her mouth.

“Are you OK?” Willow asked.  “You’re not…mad at me, are you?”

“Now, why would I be mad at you?”

“Because of the…non-talkiness, and…you just seem…avoidy right now.  Did I do something?”

“Do you think you’ve done something?”

Willow frowned.  “OK, not that I’m all gung ho for a good old Socratic method session, but you answering all my questions with more questions isn’t helping me here.  Or is all this just your polite way of saying, ‘Nice to know you.  Have a good life.  Make sure you drop me a line from the big house because I plan on turning you and your friends in.’”

“Why would I…”  He stopped, realizing he had been about to answer her with another question.  Taking a deep breath, Wesley stood and crossed to the front of the desk, sitting on the edge so that he could look at her without anything between them.  “Today has been very…trying,” he said.  “My apologies if I seem out of sorts.  But, trust me when I tell you, I will not be informing the city police about your involvement in Rook’s adventure today.  Nor will I be turning him over to them myself.  I’m not about to let any harm befall you, Willow.  I meant that when I told you.”

Her exhalation was one of relief, and she ventured her first smile to him since entering his office.  “Good, good.  Not that I thought you would,” she was quick to add, “but, you know, you’ve been …you’re right.  It’s just been a long day.”

“What arrangements have been made?”

“Giles is convinced our best shot at finding out who’s behind this is Lindsey McDonald, so they’re concentrating on finding him.  As soon as he and Xander get settled into their new places tonight, they’re going to do what they can to give him the buzz.  He’s legit.  He shouldn’t be that hard to find.”

“And you?  Have you found someplace else to stay yet?”

She blushed, shaking her head.  “We got so wrapped up in bouncing theories back and forth that I barely had enough time to get dressed, let alone move.  I’m going to do it in the morning.”

Wesley’s frown was immediate.  “That can’t be a plan the others have agreed to,” he said.  “It leaves you in far too much danger.  They came after you once, they could very well do it again.”

“Well…”  Her flush deepened, and Willow ducked her head to avoid meeting his gaze.  “They kind of, sort of, think that I’m going to spend the night with Buffy.  I told them I’d hit her up for a bed.”

“You must realize that she’s most likely going to have family obligations, don’t you?  Angel has been quite…focused today.”

She looked up then, anxious to convince him that it was all right.  “But I’ve got my gun,” she assured.  “And now that I know someone might be not so friendly, I should be just jake at my place for a few hours.  Really.”

“And what if that not so friendly someone is already in your room when you get there?” Wesley countered.  “What then?”

She had no reply to that, and just looked at him, green eyes luminous.

Don’t do it, his head warned as he contemplated his next words.  You’ve been sitting in here, writing out list after list of the pros and cons of getting yourself in deeper with this dame, and every single one of them has told you the exact same thing.  Don’t do it. 

His heart, however, was another matter.  He’d been so determined to play it aloof, to keep her at arm’s length until he either reached a definitive answer or she left town.  Then, finding out what he had in his search for more answers…every custodial instinct he possessed had been drawn to the fore, making it impossible for him to continue maintaining the distance once she’d started speaking.  It certainly didn’t help that the privacy of his office lent him an artificial haven in which to lower his guard and see the vulnerable yet strong woman standing before him as merely that, and not some potential threat to everything he’d worked for.

“I promised Spike I’d protect you,” Wes said.  “I can’t do that if you refuse to help yourself.”  He rushed on before she could interrupt him, or before he lost his own nerve.  “Perhaps it would be wisest if you were to stay at my place tonight.  It’s quite comfortable, and I assure you, you’d be perfectly safe”

Willow’s eyes widened.  The offer was the last thing she’d expected, and though the temptation to accept it was almost overwhelming, propriety reared its head and dragged her to her feet.  “I-I-I can’t,” she stuttered.  “It…wouldn’t be right.”

As she tried to slide past him, Wesley’s hand shot out and grabbed her elbow, staying her from exiting.  “Don’t be a fool,” he said, standing to tower above her.  When she looked back at his face, she was startled by the intensity of his eyes on her, vibrant and glistening in blue.  “You go home tonight alone,” he continued, “and that little pea shooter of yours will be useless.  These people after Spike.  They mean business.  They don’t care who gets hurt, or how it happens.  You’re just an…inconvenience to them.  And I refuse to be the one responsible for having to tell your friends, ‘Ever so sorry but she was stubborn as a mule and I’m afraid you’ll have to collect her body from the city morgue.’”

“How do you…we don’t know who’s after Spike.  How can you possibly know?”

His mouth tightened.  “I don’t.  I was referring to Wolfram and Hart.”  At her obvious surprise, he explained, “You do realize that I’m just as much of a target as you are now, don’t you?  Mr. McDonald escaped and he’s more than aware that I killed one of his men.  That places me in just as much jeopardy as you, or your friends, although perhaps not Spike.”

She hadn’t realized.  She’d been so wrapped up in the repercussions of the day’s events on herself and the others that she’d totally overlooked just how much Wesley had committed himself to this by stabbing Lindsey’s associate.  The tension that had been wound through her body suddenly dissipated as she stepped back toward him, closing the gap between their torsos.  “I’m so sorry,” Willow said.  “I wasn’t…I didn’t…”

His grip on her relaxed, and he eased himself back to perch again on the desk.  “It’s all right,” he assured.  “You’ve been more than distracted today, and I’ve had years more experience in dealing with these types of scenarios than you have.  When I realized Mr. McDonald was gone, I took the liberty to do some digging around on his firm.  I didn’t get much, but I must say, you’ve elected to work for a rather…colorful organization, to say the least.  Most of their clientele is quite notorious.”

“We didn’t elect.  We were co-opted, remember?  Something about a little unfriendly squeeze?”  It didn’t escape her attention that he was still touching her.  In fact, his thumb had begun an almost hypnotic circling of her inner elbow, inveigling her upper body to sway closer to his.  Willow could feel the shivers racing up and down her spine, and swallowed in an attempt to clear its tightness.  Steady on, she thought.  You’re only on your break here, and you still have no idea what he has in mind.  OK, well, you do, but considering he hasn’t really made any direct move since kissing you, you have to keep a level head.

Somewhere deep inside, a little voice snickered.  Uh huh, it said.  Because inviting you to stay at his place tonight isn’t direct at all.  Right.

“I’m not asking you to share the sordid details of whatever it is they’re holding over your head,” Wesley said.  “I am asking that you allow me the opportunity to maintain some sort of presence within your investigation.  What you find out could very well affect me, too.”

His request was legitimate, and they both knew it.  “I guess…I did kind of…drag you into this whole mess,” she said.  “But…staying at your house?  I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”

“Actually, it’s a flat.  A rather nice one.  With two bedrooms.”  When she didn’t respond right away, Wes sighed, and dropped his hands to his side.  “I thought you trusted me, Willow,” he said.  “My offer is perfectly honorable.  And it would only be for the one night…right?”

The stab of disappointment surprised her.  One night.  She would be looking for somewhere else to stay first thing in the morning.  And he had two bedrooms.  Why was she being such a prude about this?

Because one night didn’t seem like nearly enough.

“You don’t think it would get complicated?” Willow asked.  “I mean, it was just last night we were standing in here, talking about…me liking you and you liking me.  Unless that’s all changed now, because if it has?  I totally understand.”  No, she didn’t, but no way was she going to be slapped around like an unwanted puppy if everything had changed for him in the last twenty-four hours.

He smiled, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes.  “I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t make things more difficult,” he said.  “Because it does.  My…feelings for you, I mean.  Because they’re still there.  Very much so.”

What was she supposed to say to that?  The pleased smile that creased her face conveyed her relief at his admission, but Willow quickly tempered her enthusiasm, hesitant to shatter the renewed faith between them.  “Mine are still there, too.  Although, there’s kind of a hop, skip, and a jump feeling going on in my stomach right about now.  I’m not exactly the queen of experience when it comes to this kind of thing.”

Her naivete still managed to charm him, in spite of the whirlwind of his other emotions. “Lucky me then,” he murmured.  His gaze flickered to her mouth, his own softening, and the desire to kiss her again swelled inside his chest.  It didn’t help that she looked utterly scrumptious in her gown, or that the smattering of freckles across her nose made her seem more real than if she’d been pressed into him.  And those kind of thoughts certainly weren’t helping him maintain his self-control.

“Have you eaten?”

His question took her by surprise.  It had looked so much like he was going to kiss her again, and she’d been preparing herself for the feel of his lips against hers, trying to contain the shivers that wanted to take over her flesh.  Now, though, his eyes were back on hers, and he was leaning back slightly, separating their bodies further to scrutinize her reaction.

“Does tea count?” she asked with a blush.  Willow frowned as he quickly stood and walked past her to the doorway, watching as he opened it and called out for Jonathan.

The small assistant immediately popped up.  “Yes, sir?”

“Miss Rosenberg is unwell,” Wesley said.  “I’m escorting her home so that she can rest.  Could you please make arrangements so that the coat room is covered?”

Jonathan’s eyes jumped to the redhead, seeing her flushed cheeks and the slight sway in her body as she held tightly to the edge of the desk.  “You didn’t eat any of the shrimp from the kitchen, did you?” he asked her in a rush.  “Because Stefano swore to me they were still good.”

“Oh, no,” she managed.  “I’m just…”  She looked at Wesley quickly for confirmation and saw the almost imperceptible nod of his head.  “…unwell,” she finished, opting for the word he’d originally used.

“I won’t be returning after I’ve dropped Miss Rosenberg off,” Wes continued.  “I’ll take the books with me.  If you need me, you can reach me at home.  That means you’re in charge, Mr. Levinson.  I expect you can handle that?”

The small man straightened with pride.  “Oh, of course, sir,” he vowed, and scurried back out into the club.

When the door was shut again, Willow said, “What was that all about?  Why am I going home?”

“Well, you need to pack, first of all.  And considering the day you’ve had, I’m assuming the sooner you get some sleep, the happier you’re going to be.  And of course, there’s food.”  He strode behind his desk, grabbing his jacket to slip it on, oblivious to the fact that she was watching him in utter confusion.  “I’m sure we can arrange some sort of late supper.  That’s one thing I do love about this city.  No matter the time of day, you can always find something to eat.” 

He was halfway to the door before he realized she wasn’t behind him and stopped to look back at her quizzically, adjusting the ledgers underneath his arm.

“Did I miss a memo or something?” Willow asked.  “When did we decide what’s going on?”

Wesley’s smile was more relaxed than she’d seen all night, putting her at ease even if she didn’t understand exactly where it was coming from.  “We both know my flat is the best solution,” he said.  “And we both want you there.  Now, we can stand around here and argue some more while you try to hide behind some modicum of propriety, which frankly, is absolutely charming, or we can just agree to agree and get out of here so that we have more time to eat and properly discuss what exactly we’ve both learned today.”   He took a deep breath, hoping his directness wouldn’t backfire on him.  Once his decision had been made, following its path had been simple.

Heart one, head zero.

She hesitated only a moment longer.  If anything, she was logical and his argument made perfect sense.  Besides, he’d called her charming.  How could she even think straight after that?

“I don’t suppose you know a good, all-night deli?” she asked as she approached him.  “Sandwiches are really the best for this kind of research party.  No worries about it getting yucky if it sits too long.  Unless of course you get something with loads of mayo.  Then…”  Though she continued talking, her voice faded as she went out the door, and Wesley shook his head as he slipped out after her.

It was most definitely going to be an interesting night.

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

She’d never been so glad to finish a set in her life.  The club had been packed, but most of the crowd were friends of the family, showing up to pay Angel their respects and to offer their support in making the transition a clean one.  From her place onstage, Buffy had watched as he’d held court at a table in the back of the room, barely paying her any notice as she performed, preening and smiling as if his father hadn’t been killed that very afternoon.

She was surprised then, when he materialized before her, blocking her path to her dressing room.  “I’ll only be a few minutes,” Buffy said tiredly.  “Let me just freshen up and I’ll be right out.”  It wasn’t what she really wanted, of course.  Coming back to Heaven and pretend that everything was the same when it really, really wasn’t had been almost as hard as watching Spike bolt from the warehouse, the hurt and betrayal etched across his face.  But, it was for the best she knew.  Until he was completely safe, it wouldn’t do to draw unnecessary attention to the Wilkins family by disappearing.  There was going to be enough police around as it was.

“No,” Angel said.

“No what?  You don’t want me to freshen up?”

“No, I don’t want you to come out.”  He pulled her into the shadows under the stairs, giving them just a little more privacy from the scurrying employees backstage.  “The fuzz is doing a drive-by later on and I don’t want you around for that.  They’ve put that Finn in charge of the investigation and you know how he gets around you.  I don’t like it.”

Buffy smiled.  “He’s just a fan, Angel.”

“And he’s also a cop, dollface.  You want him to start nosing around in your past?  You think he’ll be such a fan once he finds out about California?”

She paled at his reference.  They didn’t talk about it these days.  Though the specter of the fire and everything else shadowed her every waking moment, Buffy had long ago stopped bringing it up around her fiancé, knowing his propensity for wanting to dismiss the whole thing and pretend it never really happened.  Besides, no matter what he said, he always reminded her of just how much of it was her fault, and she didn’t need any more shame in her head than what she heaped there already.

“Why would he do that?” she asked.  “I didn’t have anything to do with it.”  Panic was beginning to set in.  This was exactly why she’d told Spike she needed to be here.  Appearances.  Nothing could lead back to him.  If she was the reason he ended up getting caught, she’d never forgive herself.

“Normal cops wouldn’t,” he agreed.  “But this is Finn.  By-the-book Finn?  He’s so clean, he squeaks.  Plus, with him having such a thing for you, this’ll give him an excuse to cozy up when he doesn’t need to.  And no one puts you on a pedestal but me, got it?”  His hand went around her waist, yanking her tightly against him.  The kiss he gave her was bruising, possessive, and it was all Buffy could do not to struggle against his hulking frame.  Only the cold steel of his gun tucked into the waistband of his trousers was able to freeze her muscles.

“So…what do you want me to do?” she queried breathlessly when he finally let her go.  “I’m not hiding in my dressing room all night.”

“Go home.  Don’t answer the door for anybody.  Just lay it low until either after the funeral or they nail Rook.”  He tucked a loose strand of her hair behind her ear.  “I’m afraid I won’t be around much until this all dies down,” Angel added.  “I’ve gotta make a strong show of it with taking over.  One sign of weakness and everyone’ll be all over me.  You understand, right?”

She nodded.  This actually made things easier.  Lay low.  She was good at that.

Buffy watched for a moment as he strode confidently away, then climbed the stairs to her dressing room.  She was lost in thought when she pushed the door open, but jolted out of it when she saw Faith sitting at her dressing table, fixing her face in the mirror.

“Hey there, B,” the brunette said as she caught her eye in the reflection.

She didn’t look like someone who’d spent the afternoon listening to her lover get killed and then undergoing police interrogation.  Dressed immaculately in a black crocheted dress that clung to her curves so that it almost looked painted on, there weren’t even shadows under her eyes indicating any stress.  Buffy’s gaze darted to her wrists, noting the thick bracelets that she was sure covered the marks left over from the rope Spike had tied her up with, and then remembered she wasn’t supposed to know that detail.

“I didn’t expect to see you here tonight,” she said, crossing to the screen to begin changing.  “I’m so sorry to hear about what happened.”

“The luck of the draw, I guess,” Faith replied.  Her eyes followed the blonde in the mirror.  “It’s not like I didn’t know that was a risk when Richard and I hooked up.  He played a dangerous game.  He just lost this time.”

There was an artificiality to her voice that bothered Buffy, but behind the screen, she wasn’t able to see the look on her face to read her accurately.  Too bright.  Too chipper.  Not the voice of a woman who’d lost the man she loved.  Maybe she didn’t love him, she reasoned.  Except she knew that wasn’t true.  In spite of her bravado and blatant flirtations with other men, Buffy knew that Faith was more devoted to Richard than anyone else in his life.  This should’ve crushed her.

“Still…I am sorry.  If there’s anything I can do, you’ll let me know, right?”

“Actually, that’s why I’m here.”  Faith’s head popped around the side of the screen, startling Buffy into dropping the blouse she’d been about to slip on.  “Those idiot cops are never going to catch the guy who did it.  He’s too smart for them.  Hell, they had half their squad in the fucking building and he still managed to make a clean sneak of it.  What chance have they got now that he’s loose in the city?”

“Angel says that Officer Finn is in charge---.”

Faith laughed derisively.  “Right.  Like that’s supposed to make me feel better.  The asshole lost his other eyewitness.  You think he’s going to nail Spike?”

Buffy visibly started at her use of his nickname, an action that didn’t go unnoticed by the other woman.  Faith’s smile turned into a sneer.

“Betcha didn’t know Blondie and I were on such friendly terms, did you, B?” she asked, and this time all mirth was stripped from her face, leaving behind a glittering mask of anger and hurt.  “Did he tell you he tied me up?  I offered him a little show but he turned me down.  After Drusilla Conti, I would’ve thought he had a soft spot for brunettes.  But no.  Turns out he’s only got you on the brain.  Didn’t stop him from shooting Richard, though.”

There were tears now, shining unshed in the brown, but Buffy forced herself to try and remain neutral.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Faith,” she said.

“Stop the act.  I know Rook’s got a thing for you.  And you obviously knew him last night.  So, I’m only going to ask this once, friend to friend, B.  Tell me where he’s at.  He and me got a score to settle.”

 Buffy concentrated on her dressing, perching herself on the edge of her stool as she rolled her stockings up over her legs.  Time to test that loyalty she vowed to Spike, she thought.  Although, not really very hard here.

“I don’t know where he is, Faith,” she said calmly.  “So we had one dance.  So what?  It’s not my fault he’s a fan.  And if you’re so sure I’m the way to get to him, why aren’t you talking to Angel?  Or to Officer Finn?  Because you’re grasping at straws, that’s why.  You’re hurt, and grieving, and you’re feeling helpless, but I’m not the one who can help you with this.”  She stood up and looked the other woman in the eye.  “Besides, think about it.  He’s a hired gun.  If the cops are right and he did do it, all he actually did was pull the trigger.  Someone else was the one who set it all up.  That’s who you should be angry at.”

For a moment, Faith faltered, tiny lines forming between her perfect brows as her red lips set into a frown.  “You’re making a mistake,” she finally said, and backed away.  “William Rook is bad news.  Next time you see him, try asking him about why he left New York in the first place.  See if the picture he paints for you is really as rosy as you want to believe.  But take my word for it, it’ll be red.  Bloody red.  He’s the Pied fucking Piper, except instead of the kiddies, he’s got death following him around.”  She paused and reached for the purse she’d left on the dressing table.  “Give me a call when you’ve opened your eyes, B.  Maybe if you ask real nice, I’ll let you help me settle the score.”

And with that, she was gone.

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

Leaning heavily against the closed door, Faith closed her eyes as she waited for the hammering of her heart to ease.  She hated having to do this to the other girl, but going to Buffy had seemed like her best shot.  Too bad she wasn’t going to talk.  Either she was telling the truth, or she was so dizzy for Rook that she wasn’t going to betray him.  That garnered a begrudging respect from her---just another reason why she liked Buffy so much---but it didn’t do her any good in finding Spike.

One thing she’d said, though, stuck out.  Spike didn’t kill for fun.  He killed for profit, or defense, or revenge.  Defense was out.  He’d been planning on killing Richard as soon as he’d knocked at her door.  That left revenge or money.

Revenge was harder to define, but the fact of the matter was, he’d been out of town for years.  What could’ve happened that would motivate him to come after him now?  All his affiliations had been with Conti prior to leaving.  The Wilkins family wasn’t nearly as powerful then as they were now.  Plus, he’d said he was working for himself now.  That made the most obvious choice money.  A hired hit.

If that was the case, she had a good idea who was behind it, but no way could she say anything, not if she wanted to stay alive herself.  Someone else would have to find it out for sure, and someone else would have to do something about it, because that kind of power exceeded Faith’s own resources.  One on one, she could do.  Maybe even two or three on one.  But if she was right about who it was, she would be seriously outnumbered, and if anything, she wasn’t stupid.  She would survive this.  That’s what she did.

She just had to figure out who she could coax into finding out the whole story.

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

He heard her voice before he opened his eyes, and lay as still as he could as he strained to hear her conversation.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Trick.  You can assure your boss that our firm is more than ahead of the ball on this.  Lindsey’s error today will be corrected and you can count on Rook being behind bars as soon as possible.”  Pause.  “Again, our sincerest apologies, but casualties really are to be expected in an operation of this magnitude.  Not only is Rook extremely dangerous, but he’s proving much more wily than I think even you anticipated.  Didn’t he escape from the building you were watching today?” 

Lindsey knew if he looked, she’d be wearing that smug smile that made him want to wrap his hands around her throat.  So damn sure of herself.  So determined to take over his position in the company.  Over his dead body.  For some reason, though, he didn’t think she’d actually have a problem with that stipulation.

When the click of the telephone being replaced in its cradle reached his ear, Lindsey opened his eyes, seeing her standing at the other end of the hotel suite, an array of files open on the desk before her.  “When did you get here, Lilah?” he croaked, his voice raspy from hours of disuse.

She wasn’t surprised by his sudden awakening.  “Took you long enough,” she said, ignoring his question.  “You’ve been unconscious ever since I got you out of that club.  That must’ve been some knock you took.”

Gingerly, he sat up, wincing at the pain in his head.  “I’ve had worse,” he lied.  “And you haven’t answered me.  Did Holland send you out here to keep an eye on me?”

Lilah shook her head.  “Holland was just worried about you.  You’ve been so distracted lately, he just wanted to make sure that you didn’t have any problems staying focused.  You weren’t even supposed to know that I was here.  Well, unless you screwed up.  Which you did.”

He felt his stomach drop.  “Did the hit not happen?”

“No, it happened.  The Mayor is very much dead.”

“Then what’s the problem?”  He knew the answer even before the question came out of his mouth.  “Rook got away, didn’t he?”

“Got away, disappeared, vanished, escaped custody.  Pick your euphemism, Lindsey.  They’re all true.”

Leaning forward, he rested his head in his hands, staring at the plush carpeting on the floor.  Damn it.  This was the last thing he needed right now.  How was it possible his life could go from bad to worse so quickly?

“When do we go back?” he asked, resigned.

Lilah sat in the chair opposite his couch, flashing him her shapely calf as she crossed her legs.  “As soon as the job’s done,” she replied.

Lindsey frowned.  “You said Rook was gone.”

“We think he’s still in the city.  We can’t find him or the men he’s got working for him, but I’ve had word that Willow Rosenberg showed up at Heaven tonight.  Rook wouldn’t leave her behind.”  Her smile was cold.  “Which means you have a chance to redeem yourself.”

Somehow, he had a feeling that she was there just to see him fail, or at the very least, do everything she could to take credit for anything he might accomplish.  But with Rook still around, there was still a chance he could come out of this without losing his life.  Because the thing about the men who hired lawyers like him?  They hated losing.

And they loved scapegoats.

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

Spike prowled around the edges of the living room, his cigarette dangling from his fingers.  He hated being cooped up, but until he got news from Mickey, he was stuck in the tiny apartment with nothing to do but think and twiddle his thumbs.

It would’ve been better if he could get Buffy off his brain, but her perfume hung in the air, reminding him of her face in the warehouse, those words coming from her mouth.  She didn’t have to go back.  She could’ve stayed with him.  Instead, she’d chosen her wanker fiancé and the life she had at Heaven, using his safety as a feeble excuse to bolt.  Not that he could really blame her.  What could a guy like him offer?  On the run, a life on the edges of the law.

And why had she bothered to save him from the police if she was just going to run away after? he wondered.  Seeing her in that alley when he’d emerged, golden and shining and offering an escape when he’d been convinced he was going to get nailed before hitting the street…all of it had only made him believe even more deeply that they were meant to be.  She’d come to himShe’d offered her hand in help.  And then she’d taken it all away by saying she was going back to Heaven.

The hurt that wrenched at his heart now was his own fault for getting his hopes up.

Spike had never been more grateful for anything when the knock at the door sounded throughout the apartment.  Bless Mickey and whatever distraction he comes bearing, he thought as he crossed to answer the door.  Only the diner owner knew where he was, and his arrival could only mean that someone somewhere had gotten some answers.

Still…didn’t hurt to be careful.

He stood poised on his side of the door, one hand resting on the knob, the other on his gun.  “Who is it?” he called out.

“Spike?  It’s Buffy.  Please…let me in.”

He didn’t stop to consider the consequences before he ripped the door open to see her standing on the other side.  Time stopped; he didn’t even see the small bag that sat next to the door, or the way her hands were twisting in knots in front of her.

Only her.

The shine in her eyes.

The silent pleading.

He’d gathered her into his arms, his lips crushing against hers, before she could speak again, kissing her with an abandon and relief as he drowned in the essence of her, everything a tangle of heat and tongues and hands and hearts as the same thoughts kept racing through Spike’s head.

She came back.  God help me, she came back.  Here.  To me.

She came back.

This time, I’m not letting her go again.

 

To be continued in Chapter 17: Kiss Me, Killer