DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’,
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike have spent a night of lovemaking and sharing, Wesley and Willow have consummated their relationship, while everyone else is still trying to figure out who set Spike up…
The morning sun poured through the window in a blinding swell that burned white around the edges, lighting the fading carpet of the hotel room so that every flaw became visible to anyone paying attention. Perched on the bed closest to the door, Xander set down the bronze brush, lifting his gun to his eyes so that he could more closely peer at the empty chambers. “That was probably the quietest I’ve ever heard you when you’re barbering with Willow,” he commented as opposite him at the room’s desk, Giles replaced the phone on its cradle. “She find something so exciting she wouldn’t let you get a word in edgewise?”
“No.” The Englishman’s voice was low, his brow wrinkled. “In fact, we have more new information than she does.”
Xander laughed. “That’s a switcheroo. Usually, we’re the ones trying to catch up with her. She must’ve had a really bad night.”
For a moment, the only sound in the tiny hotel room was the metallic swish of the gun brush. “Willow spent the night at Wesley’s, as a matter of fact,” Giles finally said. “Apparently, he was reluctant to let her out of his sight in light of what happened with the lawyer at the club.”
“Knew there was a reason I liked him.”
“You don’t think it was…perhaps, a trifle rash on her part?” He hated sounding like he did, but hearing the excitement in his protégé’s voice, the background noises of breakfast being made, had struck the domesticity of the arrangement like an arrow through his heart. Foolish and totally uncalled for, he knew, and the distaste his response left in his mouth made him fervently wish he’d brought his favorite whiskey. Grown woman who has never seen you as anything more than a mentor, Giles scolded himself. Time to stop acting like the put-upon father and behave like an adult. “After all,” he went on to say, in spite of his rational chastisement, “we know very little about him, other than the superficial details Willow has gleaned.”
“I know he saved Willow’s life yesterday, so that’s enough for me,” Xander announced. “Besides, she told us Buffy said he’s a right gee, too.”
“And yet another person we know next to nothing about,” Giles muttered.
“She’s a good dame, well, except for the being engaged to Angel part. And Spike trusts her. That’s got to be enough for us, don’t you think?” Holstering his now-clean gun, Xander rose from the bed. “So, all that aside, what’s the plan? What did you and Willow come up with?”
Giles cleared his throat, straightening his glasses. “Right. Well, we need to meet up with Spike, so we can determine as a group how to proceed. We have the location information on the attorney, and though Willow didn’t reach any new conclusions, it’s possible Spike might have a new angle on this. Now, according to Willow, that Mickey who helped him with the getaway from Faith’s is the only one who knows where he’s at, so he’ll get him to the pre-arranged location.”
“Which would be…?”
“The diner Mickey owns. We’re to go in through the back. She gave me the address…” Fumbling with the papers on the desk, Giles tore a page from his notepad and handed it over to Xander. “Why don’t you go get us a cab? I just want to organize these notes quickly before we go.”
He waited until he was alone before reaching for the phone. Straightening the files that sat before him, Giles worked through the crackle of the line, the long distance making it seem tinny. This was for the good of the group, he reasoned. This is not me being selfish.
When the sleepy voice came through, he berated himself for a moment about forgetting the time difference before saying, “It’s Ripper. I need you to do something for me. A background check on a Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.”
“She’s where?” Lilah’s voice rose, her knuckles tight around the phone, and she watched the door to the bathroom with a steady eye as she listened to the man on the other end of the line. “I’d say it looks like our little coat check girl checks more than coats.” The sound of the toilet flushing, and she quickly ducked her head, lowering her voice at the same time. “Stay there,” she instructed. “I’m going to call you back in five minutes.”
“Who was that?” Lindsey asked as he emerged from the bathroom.
“Holland. Checking in on our progress.” Her gaze was cool as she casually strolled away from the phone to sit on the edge of the couch. Lying to her co-worker was pathetically simple; how on earth he had ever risen as far as he had was beyond her. “He had an interesting suggestion. I think we should take him up on it.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
She waited for him to sit down, but when it became apparent he wasn’t going to, choosing instead to lean against the table opposite her, she said, “Holland believes Faith knows more than she’s telling the cops. He recommended you go talk to her.”
“And find out…what exactly? The police report says she wasn’t even in the room when Rook did the job.”
Lilah shrugged, frowning as she noticed a jagged nail on her left hand. “Don’t ask me. It was Holland’s idea.”
“Well, it’s a bad one.”
“Are you going to be the one to tell him that?” Her challenge went unchecked, and Lilah had to fight to keep the triumphant smile from her lips. Lindsey was a sap. Though she knew he wasn’t thrilled with his current workload, she also knew there was no way he would stand up to Manners about anything, not unless he was assured he was right or could win. And on this point, he could only lose. Well, he would lose if it was actually true.
Tiredly, Lindsey ran his fingers through his hair. “Did he happen to have any ideas on what I’m supposed to say to her?” he asked. “The dame’s a pro. She’ll know in five seconds I’m not a cop.”
“You’re a lawyer. Do what you do best. Lie.”
He just stared at her in frustration, eyes stormy as his lips pressed into a severe line. She never flinched, merely matching his gaze with an icy reverence, until he snorted in irritation, and grabbed his jacket, marching for the front door of the suite’s room.
She was back at the phone as soon as she was alone, slender fingers dancing around the dial. “It’s Lilah,” she said when it was picked up on the first ring. “I want you to send one of your teams after Miss Rosenberg. She should lead you to Rook.” Pause. “As long as he’s alive, casualties are not an issue.”
He couldn’t bear to stop touching her. Even sitting at the rickety table in the cramped storeroom of Mickey’s diner, Spike maintained the contact---his knee ghosting along hers, his fingers tracing the sinew along the back of her hand. He would’ve much preferred to languish with her in bed all day, taking turns between whispering their secrets and breathing life into each other’s flesh, but the call from Mickey had meant setting aside the ghosts of the past in order to continue the search for the present-day spooks out to ruin Spike’s life.
Not for the first time, Buffy looked at her watch and frowned. “Not that I’m always Little Miss Punctuality,” she said, “but what’s taking everyone so long? This is your life that’s getting played with here. Don’t they---.” She broke off when the door opened, and Giles and Xander entered the small room.
“So sorry we’re late,” the Englishman said, shifting the files under his arm to squeeze past a shelf of canned goods. “I’m afraid that’s my fault.”
“You beat Red, so technically, she can be the one who’s late,” Spike commented. He nodded at the blonde at his side. “You remember Buffy.”
For a moment, Giles hesitated, an echo of a frown flitting behind his eyes before a courteous smile spread across his face. “I believe we owe you a debt of gratitude, Miss Summers,” he said, stretching out his hand in greeting. “Willow explained how it was your fortuitous arrival that kept Spike from getting rounded up by the police.”
“It’s Buffy,” she replied with her own warm smile. “And no thanks are needed. I was just doing what needed to be done.” She shook her head. “I’ve gotta tell you, I would never have fingered you for a redhot when I met you the other night at Heaven---.”
“We’re not criminals, Miss---Buffy,” Giles said.
“But you work with Spike.”
“And just yesterday, he killed Mr. Wilkins.”
“Well, yes, but---.”
“And last time I checked, murder was still a crime.”
“And you guys helped him organize everything. That’s what you do, right?”
He kept his mouth shut this time, prompting Spike to chuckle.
“Told you she was a cracker,” he said.
“Still…” He was flustered, taking off his glasses to begin cleaning them with the handkerchief he extracted from his pocket. “Yesterday’s job was not our usual province. Most of our responsibilities fall far short of actually breaking the law. Yesterday…was an exception.”
“He’s right, pet. Usually, we just bend it around a bit to suit our needs.” He grinned at Giles’ effrontery. “Aw, c’mon, Ripper, relax. We go into this without a bit of a humor about it, it’s goin’ to eat us alive.”
Leaning across the table, Xander said to Buffy, “Can we bottle you?”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Pardon me?”
He grinned. “If you’re what’s turning Spike here into the Good Ship Lollipop, you’re the best drug I’ve ever seen. I’m beginning to think I never really knew the man. Not like this.”
She blushed under the obvious compliment. “Are we going to wait for Wesley and Willow before we start?” she said, changing the subject. “The sooner we can get whoever it is after Spike taken care of, the happier I’m going to be.”
“Yeah, Rip, show me what you got. We can always fill Red in on the details of it later. It’s her own fault for---.” A knock on the door quieted Spike. Four heads swivelled to see it open and Wesley step inside.
“Ah, you’re all here,” Wes said, but remained in his position in the doorway. “Good.”
“Where’s Red?” Spike asked, his gaze darting past the arrival to see the empty entrance behind him.
“Not here. I’m afraid there’s been a bit of a hiccup.”
All three men rose to their feet, but it was a glowering Spike who spoke. “If something’s happened to her…” he menaced.
Behind his glasses, Wesley’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, nothing like that,” he rushed. “Willow is perfectly safe at the moment. What I meant was, it appears that someone has followed us from my flat.”
“How do you…wait. Your flat? What was Red doin’ at your place?” The blond turned to glare at his friends. “Thought I told you lot to get yourself stashed in new scatters. What the hell are you doin’ lettin’ Red put herself up where people can find her?”
“That was my fault,” Wes said, and lifted his chin as Spike’s gaze swung back around to stare at him. “She was going to spend the night in her old room and search for someplace new this morning. I wasn’t willing to risk anything happening to her merely because she insisted on being stubborn.”
The muscles in his jaw twitched, his eyes steel as they locked with the bright blue of the other man’s. “So you kept her safe for the night only to lead whoever’s out there to our rendezvous.” Gone was his good humor. He had trusted Wesley at Willow’s insistence, the fact that he’d saved her life enough to garner a small measure of respect for the time being. But this was too much. Not with everyone’s lives at stake.
“When we left, it became obvious very quickly that we were being followed,” Wesley explained. “I tried losing them, but, well, that didn’t work. So, I rather thought we’d take the bull by the horns, so to speak. I had Willow drop me a few blocks away and told her to drive around in the cab for half an hour before heading to Heaven. It was the only place I could think of on such short notice that would be unoccupied this time of day, and that we could reach relatively quickly.”
“You want to ambush them,” Giles said speculatively.
“With Red as the bait?” Spike snorted. “What kind of protection is that?”
“The kind of protection that ensures Mickey remains anonymous, you don’t lose your hiding place, and puts Willow in a place that’s secure,” Wesley countered. His nostrils flared. “We don’t have time to argue about this. It was the best I could do on such short notice. Now. There were four men in the car. There are four of us. If we leave now---.”
“Five.” Buffy rose from her seat. “You’re not going anywhere without me.”
“Whoa, Nellie,” Xander said, raising his hands as if to ward her away. “No offense, but we don’t have time to be worrying about protecting a dame at a time like this. Well, we’ll be protecting Willow, but we don’t need to add another one into the mix.”
“Yes,” Giles said. “Everyone will be much safer if you stay here until we’re through.”
“Actually, you’re wrong on both counts,” Spike drawled, cocking his head as he regarded Buffy. “Not only can she hold her own, but she’ll be an asset if there’s a fight.” The glance he shot Xander twinkled in amusement. “She’s a better shot than you are, Harris. She’ll probably be the one to protect your sorry ass. I say she goes.”
When she shot him a brilliant smile, he grinned back at her, reaching to entwine her fingers with his as he turned back to the doorway. “Right then,” Spike said. “’S’pose we should be moseying along to Heaven now, shouldn’t we?”
If it wasn’t for the fact that it was Holland’s idea, there was no way in hell Lindsey would’ve ever considered approaching Faith for help in catching Rook. What on earth is this going to accomplish? he wondered as he neared her apartment. Total waste of time.
Shifting his briefcase to his left hand, Lindsey knocked at the door, squaring his shoulders as he debated his options on what he was going to say. Lie, Lilah had said. Right. Not as easy as it sounded. And if she was gung-ho for this idea, why in hell wasn’t she here doing it herself?
Oh, yeah. Because Holland said for you to do it.
The scrabble of a lock being undone on the other side made his skin crawl, and he steeled himself with a smile as the door opened to reveal Faith. Though she was immaculately dressed in trousers and a clingy black sweater, her make-up flawlessly applied, dark circles shadowed her eyes and he could see the beginnings of a series of bruises disappearing beneath the scarf she wore tied around her neck.
“Good morning,” he said.
The corner of her mouth lifted as doe eyes jumped from his briefcase to his face. “Kind of the wrong neighbourhood to be peddling your wares, shoe boy,” she said, and began closing the door.
Lindsey’s hand shot out and grabbed its edge to prevent it shutting. “I’m not a salesman, Faith,” he said.
She froze at the use of her given
name. “Who are you and what do you
“My name’s Lindsey McDonald. I’m an attorney representing a party who has a vested interest in seeing William Rook jailed for his crimes. I was hoping I could talk to you about what happened yesterday.” Best to go with the truth, he decided. Well, at least as much of the truth as he could reveal. No reason for her to know that his firm was the one who’d contracted Rook to perform the hit in the first place.
“So the coppers decide to go the shyster route to get to me. Nice.” Her voice dripped in sarcasm, but as his grip on the door stopped her from closing it in his face, Faith opted instead to stretch herself out along its edge, her right arm snaking up as she pressed her side against the wood. The fact that this meant her breast was now caressing the back of his hand didn’t go unnoticed by either of them, but Lindsey remained indifferent at the contact.
“I’m not in any way associated with the police,” he said. “Like I said, my client is an independent party who merely wishes to see justice prevail.” He smiled. “I’m one of the good guys, Faith.”
“Then you came knocking at the wrong door, buddy.” Her eyes were cold. “Because I’m not.”
He was about to retort when he saw her gaze slide past him, and turned to see the tall blonde striding toward them. A cop, he immediately identified, though she wasn’t dressed in uniform. Instead, she wore a dark suit, with shapely calves peering from beneath the hem he decided was far too long. Intelligent green eyes, a little too wide and trying to be ingenuous when he suspected there was more to her than she wished to reveal, met his briefly before leaping to the doorway.
“Well, if it isn’t Grand Central Station this morning,” Faith said. “Now who the hell are you?”
“Kate Lockley.” Her hand came out in greeting, staying there for a full thirty seconds before she realized it wasn’t going to get shaken. “I believe Officer Finn mentioned me yesterday. He told me he passed my details along to you.”
“More like shoved them at me,” she said. “What? I didn’t--.”
Removing his hand from the door, Lindsey held it up to cut her off. “Let me handle this, Faith,” he instructed her.
“And who are you?” Kate asked.
“Lindsey McDonald. Faith’s lawyer.” Offering his hand, he shook hers firmly, noting the satiny touch of her fingers as she pulled away.
Kate’s eyes narrowed. “Why does she need a lawyer? She hasn’t done anything wrong.” For some reason, though, her voice lacked conviction, as if she believed the exact opposite.
“No, she hasn’t,” he agreed. “But she does deserve to have her rights protected. And after Officer Finn’s treatment yesterday, I merely want to ensure that she is accorded the proper respect she deserves for being the primary witness in such a high-profile murder investigation.”
“Officer Finn didn’t do anything wrong.”
Behind him, Faith snorted in disgust, but Lindsey ignored it. “Then why your presence here today, Miss Lockley?”
“I’m a victim liaison with the police,” she explained. “I provide counselling for witnesses who exhibit symptoms of being traumatized by the events.”
This time he looked back. “Do you feel traumatized, Faith?”
“Only by punch-drunk cops who only live to tighten the screws,” she replied.
The air was thick with tension as the trio stood in silence, waiting for the first to back down. It had been a gamble, Lindsey knew, but given what he had, gambles were all he had right now.
“You have my number,” Kate finally said. “Please. Call me if you ever feel the need to talk about what happened. I really do only want the best for you.”
They watched as she turned and walked away, maintaining their silence until she had disappeared in the elevator.
“So,” Faith said, releasing her hold on the door and pushing it wider so that there was room for him to pass beside her. There was no mistaking her invitation to come inside. “What’s your pleasure, lawyer boy? Whiskey straight up or something else?”
OK, not so much on the side of liking this plan anymore, Willow thought as she glanced furtively around. They were still behind her somewhere; she’d made sure her cab didn’t lose them in the morning traffic, and had watched them pass by when she’d pulled over in front of Heaven. Probably going to circle the block one more time before coming in to try and bump me off, she reasoned. And please let try be the operative word in that sentence.
Not that she didn’t trust Wesley, but as she pushed open the back entrance of the club, sliding the extra key he’d given her into her pocket, the fact that the only noises she could hear came from the street out front and not from within was seriously making her reconsider her options. Stop now, and try and make a run for it on her own, knowing that the quartet of doom was somewhere behind her just waiting for her to settle someplace so that they could swoop in. Or, bite the bullet and go in, trust in Wesley to be there, and find someplace really good to hide.
Hiding sounded very appealing.
Didn’t I just do this yesterday? Willow
wondered as she stepped into the darkness, hearing the door swing shut behind
her. Except yesterday, I didn’t know
that the shyster was on my tail. And
yesterday, Wesley and I were just a pipedream, or, OK, maybe a wet dream, but
still, not a reality yet. And
The hand clamped around her mouth stifled her scream when she felt the male body pressed against her back, and Willow clawed at the powerful forearm latched around her waist as it pulled her into the shadows.
“Bugger!” she heard as a hiss and instantly froze.
“Spike?” she tried to say, but his tight fingers over her mouth made it sound like a squeak instead of anything intelligible.
“Not a word, Red,” he growled in her ear. “They still tailing you?” At her nod, his arm relaxed to release her from his hold.
Scampering behind him to press herself against the brick wall, Willow watched as he pulled out his gun, and motioned with it to somewhere further along the wall. A faint scuffle, and she caught the gleam of metal as a stray light was captured, the unmistakable cocking of another weapon audible in the close air.
Relief was a warm rush through her body. She wasn’t alone. Wes had done it. Spike was here, and Spike would save the day just as he always did when his people were threatened.
Before she had any more time to contemplate just where everyone was, sunlight came streaming in through the back entrance as it was pushed open again, the outlines of first one man, and then a second blurred before her eyes. She held her breath, nails digging into the brick behind her in a prickling pain she wasn’t even cognizant of. Two? she thought wildly. There had been four in the cab following her. Where were the others?
She saw them too late, their shots ringing out from the stage end of the room, and sank to the ground, her arms over her head as she curled into a fetal position for safety. The noise was deafening, coming from every direction, and she couldn’t help but wonder how any of them could see well enough to actually hit something. Someone did, though. More than one scream pierced the air, though in the din, it was impossible to tell who they belonged to.
“Stop the prat!” she heard Spike shout during a lull in the gunfire.
“I’ve got him!” she heard from Xander.
The sound of running feet.
A metallic crash.
One last shot.
Counting to ten, Willow tried to quash her racing nerves, her breathing still ragged when she finally lifted her head. Someone had turned on the overheads, and she had to blink more than once for her eyes to adjust. Everyone seemed fuzzy, too bright around the edges.
The motion down the wall had been Giles, now emerging from behind a stack of chairs, his waistcoat atypically undone and exposing the holster beneath his arm.
A clatter overhead, and she saw Buffy on the balcony outside her dressing room, her gun still in her hand. Willow’s eyes widened. Buffy? What was she doing here? And with a gun?
“Where’s the other one?” Spike’s voice was a bark from the middle of the room, and she staggered to her feet to see him standing there with Wesley, looking at the three suited bodies lying on the floor around them.
“More to the point,” Giles said as he approached them, “where’s Xander?”
Everyone looked around, as if by doing so the brunette would magically be revealed. “I’m here,” they heard from the stage door, and it opened to show the young man stumble in, holding his left arm close to his body, a bright crimson stain spreading down his sleeve.
Spike was the first one at his side, ripping the shirt to expose the blood flowing down Xander’s arms. “It’s just a scratch,” Xander said as he tried to bat away the prying hands of his friend. “It looks a lot worse than it is.”
“There’s a first aid kit in my office,” Wesley said. “I’ll go get it.”
“Hold that there,” Spike instructed as he pressed the torn fabric of the garment to the wound. He stood back and looked past him. “Where’d he go?”
Xander shook his head. “He got away. I’m sorry.”
“Bloody hell!” Furiously, he began prowling around the edges of the room, at one point kicking at the lifeless body of the nearest intruder in frustration. “So much for leaving one alive to put the screws on.”
“I’m beginning to think that perhaps we don’t need to,” Giles said. Once Xander’s wellbeing had been determined, he’d crossed the room to crouch over one of the bodies. “These are nothing like the men who followed either Xander or myself.”
Spike stopped in his tracks. “What makes you say that?”
Giles pointed at all three of them, indicating their pasty complexions. “For one thing, they’re all white,” he said. “Both men who were tailing us were not.”
“And the suits,” Xander said. “Our other guys looked like Joe Average off the street. These are high-class trigger men.”
“You know who they look like, don’t you?” Her heart had finally returned to a normal beat, and Willow stepped forward to join her friends. “Like that lawyer who came after me yesterday.”
“So what you’re saying…” Buffy started as she strode forward from the bottom of the stairs to meet them.
“Wolfram and Hart,” Giles finished.
She had to bite her tongue to keep herself from screaming. With a trembling hand, Lilah replaced the phone back on its cradle, taking a deep breath. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.
“That didn’t sound good.” There was a clink of ice hitting a glass, and she could just imagine Trick standing before the suite’s bar, debating which alcohol to pour into his tumbler. “Not good at all,” he said again.
“It was worth a try,” she said, and the steadiness of her voice belied the tympani of her nerves. So much for trying to one-up Lindsey by catching Rook herself. Too bad she had to lose three men in her attempt.
“You should’ve called me,” Trick said. “My guys wouldn’t have gotten themselves ambushed, and we just might have Rook in custody at this very minute.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” she said, finally turning around to look at him. The best whiskey. Should’ve known. “But wasn’t it your guys who lost all three of them yesterday? In fact, I could’ve sworn that you were the one who got knocked out by Rook himself.”
“Details.” He took a deep swallow of his drink, cold eyes assessing hers. “My boss doesn’t like fuck-ups, you know. Especially when they come from the people he’s paying very good money for. How do you think he’d react if he found out his legal team wasn’t actually a team? I don’t think he’d be happy to know his mouthpieces are working against each other.”
“We’re not. We’re merely pursuing different lines of attack. We have only his best interests at heart.”
He set down his glass and began walking to the door. “You just go on thinking that,” he said. “But you can be sure that if something isn’t done soon, my boss and his partner will be taking their business elsewhere.” He didn’t even look behind him when he sauntered out of the room.
Exhausted, Lilah collapsed onto the couch, closing her eyes as she leaned back into the cushion. It could’ve gone worse, she thought. I could’ve lost all of them.
And I wouldn’t know now that Buffy Summers is in this now just as deep as that club manager…
To be continued in Chapter 20: What Price Safety…