DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Lilah’s plan to catch Spike behind Lindsey’s back backfired but not without her finding out that Buffy is somehow involved, while Lindsey has gone to see Faith in an attempt to get more information about finding Spike…

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

Chapter 20: What Price Safety

As their adrenaline from the successful ambush waned, a cheerless silence settled over the group, nobody seemingly willing to speak up and address the issue of what should come next.  Wesley’s gaze kept jumping around, from Willow’s pinched face, to the blood beginning to seep from the gun-riddled bodies on the floor, to the deadly determination glinting in Spike’s eyes.  What was on his mind was the same thing that was plaguing everyone else.

Wolfram and Hart. 

The same attorneys who had tried to hurt Willow, trying to hurt her again, it would seem. 

Never before had he felt such a rage for someone supposedly on the good side, churning with fervor within his gut, and Wesley had to struggle not to empty the rest of his bullets into the lifeless intruders around the room, as if making them even more dead would pacify his surprising fury.

“We need to get out of here,” Giles finally said, and his voice seemed hollow in the expanse of the back room of the club.

“What about the…them?” Willow asked, gesturing abstractly at the corpses around them.  As she turned to look at the one behind her, her heel stepped into a pool of blood, skidding her foot out from underneath her.

Wesley’s hand shot out and grabbed her elbow, steadying her as he pulled her against his side.  “Go on without me,” he said.  “I’ll take care of the clean-up.”

“Are you…equipped for such an undertaking?” Giles asked, frowning.

“Yeah, what about the coppers?” Xander interjected.

“Trust me.  They won’t be a problem.  I work for Richard Wilkins, remember?”  Wesley grimaced, shaking his head.  “Well, I did.  But my point is---.”

“They get it,” Willow said softly, her hand a warm weight on his arm.

Looking down into the emerald of her gaze, a measure of the strain clenched within Wesley’s muscles eased.  Everything always seemed easier when she was around, he realized, whether it was or not.  “When I’m done here,” he said, “I’m going back to my flat to pack your things.  Then I’ll drop them by the diner.  You need to find someplace safe to stay, someplace other than…around me, and I…I don’t think you should come back to work here tonight.”  He hated to have to say it, but her safety was paramount to him.  Spike would make sure she was protected; Wes would just have to settle for clandestine meetings until this mess was resolved.

Willow’s eyes widened.  “What about you?” she demanded.

“I’m not the one they’re after.”

“And what makes you so sure about that, Mr. Smartypants?  You’re the one who flattened Lindsey McDonald, and you’re the one he saw bop his partner yesterday.  You could just as easily be on their list now, too.”

“I don’t think---.”

“Red’s right.”  Spike’s interruption was cool and even, but when Wes looked over at him, the blond had already turned away to address the others.  “Get out to the car,” he instructed.  “Keep your heads low just in case someone’s still out there.  If it looks like we’ve got more tails, get back in here and let me know.  Otherwise, wait for me.”  He jerked his head at Willow, who was glued to Wesley’s side.  “That goes for you, too, Red.”

It was obvious she didn’t like the order, but years of listening to Spike won out as the redhead slowly peeled herself away, eyes skipping between the two Englishmen.  Letting Buffy take her by the arm, she began walking away, glancing over her shoulder until she reached the door.  At that point, she gave them a half-hearted waggle of her fingers and disappeared.

Wesley watched as the blond squared off with him, his hands thrust deep into his pockets.  “I got some things to say, and then I got some things I want to ask, so just bear me out here,” Spike said.  He met the taller man’s gaze with his own temperate one.  “I only risked my neck comin’ back to New York to do this job because of what those shysters threatened to do to Red and Ripper.  They’re my family, and I’ve never been a big one for expanding that circle too wide.  Now, I trust them with my life, but just because Red said I had to include you in that list, didn’t mean I had to like it.  I did it for her and only her.”

“I know,” Wesley replied.  “I respect that.”

Spike nodded.  “I’m not blind,” he continued.  “I can see what’s goin’ on between you two, and I’m glad for Red, really I am.  She’s spent enough time on her own and she deserves to be treated decent for a change.  I was ready to just let everything slide because of that, but now…I’m not.”

A trickle of fear crept down Wesley’s spine.  It hadn’t occurred to him that Spike might use this opportunity to clear the ranks, so to speak.  “Oh?” he said out loud, maintaining the professional calm he’d mastered over the years.  Don’t show your true feelings, he could hear his mentor intoning as if he was standing right behind him.  Don’t betray your hand.

“No.  I want you to know…what you did today…it wouldn’t matter if Red was stuck on you or not.  And it doesn’t matter that Buffy keeps yammering in my ear about how you can be trusted.  You’re a good man.  I’m…honored you chose to help.”

He couldn’t help the dropping of his jaw as his surprise overtook him.  It was apparent that “honored” was not a word William Rook used very often, unless it was in conjunction with Willow or one of the others.  Would he be so willing to bandy about such terms if he knew the truth about who I am? Wes wondered.  And then again, does my real employment actually matter in this case?  If I were serious about it, I would’ve told Jenny when I called that I could hand Rook over on a silver platter.  Yet, at that exact moment in time, Wesley knew he would never do that.

Spike might be a killer, with a history as dark as any blackheart gracing the department’s books, but one would have to be blind not to see how he had fought to escape from that.  Killing Wilkins had been a desperate move for him, only done to protect those he loved, and Wes couldn’t say that he wouldn’t have done the exact same thing if he were in his shoes.

“Thank you,” he said simply.  “I’m sorry, though, that our…meeting has been under such unfortunate circumstances.”

His lips quirked at that.  “Unfortunate doesn’t even begin to cover it,” Spike said.  “But that leads me to my next.  I want to know…what’s your plan?”

“Plan…?”

“The way I see it, Red’s hit it right on the nose.  Those shysters can finger you in a second for takin’ out her attacker yesterday, and now with this clean-up today…”  He stopped to survey the bodies still littered around them.  “Every time you help us, you dig yourself in even deeper.  What I want to know is…what are you plannin’ on doin’ about it?”

Wesley shook his head.  “I’m…not sure I understand.  I thought I’d made myself clear.”

“Are you stayin’ on here?”

“At Heaven?”  At Spike’s nod, he said, “Well, I’d fully intended to.  Angel has made it clear my services are still considered valuable.”

There was no mistaking the derision in his snort at the mention of Angel’s name.  “What if I was to offer you a job with me?” Spike said.  “When we get this sorted, you come with us out to California.  I can’t pay you the same kind of moolah that you’d get here, but I’m sure there would be other perks.  Like a certain redhead bein’ around.”

The proposal chilled Wesley’s veins.  “I…I…I don’t know what to say.”  That’s an understatement, he thought, his mind racing.

“Sayin’ yeah would be a start.”

“I…I’d have to…think about it.”  Another understatement.

Spike nodded, as if he expected nothing less.  “A big change, I know.  Even if you don’t, I think it might be a good idea if you took a little vacation until this blew over.  Go under with Red so that you’re safe from bein’ tailed again.  Not that I don’t think you can’t take care of yourself, but I’d hate for something to happen to you at this stage of the game.”

“I…I’ll need to speak with Angel tonight.  I…appreciate your concern, of course, but certain…appearances must be maintained, or Angel will become suspicious.”  He smiled at an attempt at levity.  “I’m rather known as a workaholic around here.  Taking time off could be…tricky.”

“Do what’s best.  I trust your judgment.”  With a nod, Spike began sauntering toward the door, stepping carefully around the blood that was staining the floor.  Before he could reach the exit, though, Wesley called after him.

“About Wolfram and Hart…”  He waited until the blond had turned to regard him.  “I have certain contacts.  It would be very easy for me to have them investigate those lawyers and see if there is anything we might be able to use.”

“Do that,” Spike said.  “And thanks.”

In for a penny, in for a pound, Wesley thought as the other man left.  I have no idea how I’m going to justify a background check on a law firm I’ve never mentioned before to Jenny, but I’m going to have to find a way.

His nose wrinkled as he finally became aware of the scent of blood permeating the club.

As soon as I get this mess cleaned up.

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

He was cute, and obviously intelligent, but Faith had decided early on that Lindsey couldn’t really do anything for her.  Still, it didn’t hurt to have a lawyer on your side, she thought as she poured him another drink.  No telling when a girl like her might need some protecting from the law.

“So how’d you get your mitts on the police report so fast?” she asked as she handed him the tumbler.

“Let’s just say I’m resourceful,” he replied with a grin.

“That was a neat trick you pulled with the cop bitch,” she commented, draping herself across the chair opposite him.  “It’s the dames you’ve really got to watch out for, you know.  They’ll stab you in the back, every single time.”

“Should I consider that a warning?” he teased.

“Consider it a lesson,” Faith countered. 

“Not to be playing devil’s advocate, but that one didn’t really seem all that bad.”  Lindsey took a sip of his drink, gauging her reaction.  “Not every cop psychologist makes house calls.”

“I don’t need a headshrinker.  I need them to get off their asses and nail Rook to the wall.”

“You don’t think they will?”

She shrugged.  “Let’s just say, Faith’s faith in law enforcement is a little shaky,” she said with a half-grin at her pun.  “In case you didn’t know it, Rook’s the best.  Did their report say he scrammed out of here under the noses of more than thirty cops?  Or that Finn lost his other eyewitness before anyone even got a chance to question him?  Of course it didn’t.  ‘Cause that would make them look like the idiots they are.”

“You don’t sound too fond of Rook.”

“Gimme one good reason why I should be.  Just because I’m not exactly sporting a wedding ring doesn’t mean I didn’t care about Richard, and that bastard went and killed him.  So, yeah, I won’t be inviting him around for tea and crumpets any time soon.”

Setting down his glass, Lindsey leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees.  “This is why it would be advantageous for you to work with me in trying to catch him, Faith,” he said.  “Your desire to see him punished is just as strong as my client’s, and together, I believe we could see it through to the end.”

“And what makes you think I’m so valuable?” she quizzed.

“Because he knows you.  And more importantly, you know him.  I’m more than aware of your little conversation with him in the alley behind Heaven the other night.  Care to share what was so important you had to follow him outside?”

Her eyes narrowed.  “How’d you know about that?”

“Like I said.  Resourceful.”

Whoever he was representing must’ve been after Rook for awhile, Faith decided.  Following him.  That could be the only reason she’d been spotted talking to him.  Maybe she should tread just a little more carefully around this guy.

“I recognized him,” she said.  “From the old days.  I wanted to know what he was doin’ hanging around Heaven.”  No way was she going to spill on the details about Buffy.  That was her ace in the hole.  She was going to keep that one close to the vest.

“Did he give you any indication that he was going to be killing the Mayor?”

She shook her head.  “Just said he was in town on business.  Even promised to stay away from the club.”

“Now…why would he do that?”

Her smile was more of a leer.  “Because I asked him real nice.”  She rose to her feet and crossed to the door, not bothering to look behind her.  “I think it might be time for you to go now.  I’m tired of playing twenty questions and I’ve got a nail appointment in half an hour.”

He hesitated before standing, his gaze steady on her waiting form in the open entrance.  “You’re missing a valuable opportunity here, Faith,” he said.  “My client is very wealthy.  He’d be more than happy to reimburse you for any troubles or expense you may incur in helping us.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, Linds,” she replied, “I’m not exactly hurting for dough right now.  Money isn’t going to motivate me when I trust you about as far as I can throw you.”  She was lying through her teeth.  What she needed right now more than anything else was money if she wanted to get out from under Angel’s thumb.  But, better the devil she knew than the devil she didn’t.

“I have a suite at the Plaza,” he said as he picked up his briefcase.  “Please.  I want you to call me the second you change your mind.”  Lindsey paused in the doorway.  “I’m the smartest person you’ve got on your side, Faith,” he said.  “And I don’t lose.  Just…remember that.”

She held the door open long after he was gone, his words echoing around among her thoughts.  Her side.  The only one on her side was herself, regardless of what the mouthpiece had to say.  Spike had made sure of that, by stripping Richard away from her and leaving her in Angel’s hands.

Faith’s eyes fluttered shut as she finally closed the door, leaning heavily against it, all her pent-up energy suddenly sapped.  An hour in the shower and scrubbing her skin raw with her nailbrush still hadn’t eradicated the memory of his hands on her, pinching and poking and scratching and hitting, hurting in ways she knew Buffy had never known.  Not his perfect princess.  B was on a pedestal and all those destructive needs that the new head of the family had were too shameful to be exhibited in front of his golden girl.  Leave those for his whores.

She’d never really liked him, but now, with every demeaning thing he had said to her the previous night, the words he’d whispered in her ear that had made her skin crawl, Faith hated Angel with even more passion than William Rook.  What she wouldn’t give to see him suffer for everything he had done, staked and skewered like the monster only she seemed to realize he was.

But no.  That was beyond her at the moment.  There was no way she could take him on her own.  And besides, she already had her sights set on Spike.  Only one target at a time.

No, she’d leave the bigger fish for someone else to catch.  The question had always been, though…who?  Something Lindsey had said niggled at the back of her mind---smartest person on your side­---bringing the answer into sharp relief, flashing as if in neon before her eyes.

Lindsey McDonald may potentially be the smartest person on her side, but he wasn’t the smartest person she knew.

And that other one would be thrilled to be able to net this baby, she thought.  He’s waited too long for a break like this to pass on it now.

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

“So the only question remaining is, when?”  Giles looked around the table, as if searching the other faces would somehow provide him his answer.

“What’s wrong with ten minutes ago?” Xander asked.

“Because we don’t even know if they’re currently at the hotel,” Willow said patiently.  “We need to grab him when we’re certain he’s there.”

“Plus, if he’s hanging around with the same types who showed up at Heaven today---.”

“Or yesterday,” Willow interjected.

“---or yesterday,” Buffy went on, “we need to assess what our firepower is going to be.  How many need to go in.  What they need to be packing.”

All four of them looked at her curiously.  “And you’re sure you’ve never done anything like this before?” Xander asked.

“Look at who I’ve been hanging out with for the past three years,” she offered in explanation.  “You don’t think I picked up a trick or two from Angel?”

“Think tomorrow’s probably the earliest we’ll be able to do it safely,” Spike said, drumming his fingers along the tabletop.  “I’m not prepared to lose anyone on this for bein’ sloppy.”

“I’d say that’s an accurate assessment,” Giles agreed.  “That will afford us plenty of time to gather the information we need and finalize our plans.”

Xander reached for a pastry from the plate in the middle of the table.  “Tell me again why we’re snatching the guy lawyer and not the girl.”

“Because Lindsey McDonald is the only one who’s ever been in contact with us,” Willow explained.  “We have to assume he’s the one with all the cards on who he’s working for.”

“Why do you think they brought the other one in?”  This was posed around a mouthful of donut, and the brunette wiped furiously at the crumbs that fell onto his lap.

“Don’t know, don’t care,” Spike said.

The group was silent for a moment, and then Buffy cleared her throat.  “Not to have everyone thinking I’m on the wacky juice,” she said, “but…I’ve got this theory.  About who might be behind all this.”  She squirmed as all attention became focused on her.  She’d been debating all day whether or not to bring it up, but now that they had decided their next course of action was going to be kidnapping Lindsey McDonald---another crime to add to their growing list---she couldn’t hold it back any longer.  Not that she wasn’t in this up to her neck already, but if it could be resolved without any more lawbreaking, Buffy was going to pursue that route until she was blue in the face.

“Who?” Willow asked curiously.

“Well, Spike told me about the blackmail.  That the lawyers knew all this stuff about all three of you, but especially details about his past, things he’d done that he thought nobody knew about.”  She waited for assenting nods from the others.  “I started wondering about where’d they get that kind of information, who might know those kind of details, and I kept coming back to the same name.”  She took a deep breath.  “Drusilla Conti.”

Spike’s frown was immediate, and the hand that had been stroking the back of hers pulled away.  “Dru?  Why in bloody hell would Dru want to set me up?”

Buffy shrugged, her stomach suddenly in knots.  Damn.  This was how she thought he’d react.  He might be long over the dark-haired beauty, but that didn’t mean he didn’t still have a blind spot where she was concerned.  “It was just an idea,” she backpeddled.  “It just made sense to me.  She was there for a lot of it, you said.  Plus, she’s got the resources to hire a high-class operation like Wolfram and Hart.”

“She has a point,” Giles said.

“I don’t care if she’s got a fleet full of points,” Spike snapped, rising so harshly to his feet that his chair fell over backwards.  “There’s no way in hell Dru would’ve set me up.”

Buffy’s eyes were shiny as she watched him storm from the storage room, slamming the door so hard behind him that a jar of pickles tumbled from a nearby shelf to shatter on the floor.  This was the reaction she’d feared.  I should’ve just kept my big mouth shut, she thought miserably.  He trusted me with the story of him and Drusilla, and I just turned around and threw it back in his face.

She was barely aware of Willow’s hand on hers, patting it reassuringly.  “It’s all right,” the redhead said softly.  “Spike just has a tendency to get weird when she gets brought up.  It doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

“I know,” she replied.  “I just…I want to make sure we’ve explored all our options.  And she seemed like one.”

“As she should.”  Giles straightened his glasses as he rose from his seat.  “I’m going to have a word with Spike.”  Once at the door, he hesitated, glancing back at the table.  “It was an excellent suggestion, Buffy,” he said.

She didn’t answer him.  Yeah, excellent, she thought bitterly.  Especially if Spike ends up hating me for bringing it up in the first place.

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

He didn’t even look up when the door opened, staring instead at the cigarette between his fingers, watching as the ash fell to the ground to scatter with the slight breeze.  “Buffy’s wrong about Dru,” Spike said softly.  She had to be.  How could his savior also be his damnation?

“Maybe.  Maybe not.”  Leaning against the wall beside his friend, Giles held out his hand.  “I don’t suppose you have another of those,” he asked, gesturing toward the cigarette.

Spike’s laugh was more of a bark as passed over the pack.  “Didn’t realize you were wound up that tight about this,” he said, watching the other man light up.  “You only smoke when you can’t relax any other way.”

“It’s remarkable how tense plotting a kidnapping and gunning down three complete strangers can be,” Giles replied before taking a deep drag.

The two men stood mute, the smoke billowing around their heads, two sets of blue eyes dark as the world vanished around them and they lost themselves in their thoughts.

For Spike, it was a maze of memories.  Flashes of Dru’s face…the scent of her skin…her willowy form pressed to his…her fickle behavior and how many times he’d tried to please her.  And then the worst.  The last.  Seeing her in bed with the other man.  Hearing her scream someone else’s name.  Ripping out his heart and then telling Spike he wasn’t good enough.

For Giles, the world was California, and the changes that had been wrought in his life ever since hooking up with Spike.  His path could’ve been a lot darker had the other Englishman not stumbled across it, and for that, he would always be grateful.  The last thing he wanted was for Spike to suffer because of his own delusions about his history.

“I think you should go see her,” Giles suggested quietly as he dropped his spent cigarette to the ground, stubbing it out with the toe of his shoe.  When he felt Spike stiffen, he hastened to add, “Just to talk.  If you’re right and she’s not connected to all this, she still might know something that would prove helpful.  She’s never left the city.  She could be aware of circumstances that we aren’t.”

“I can’t, Rupert.”  His voice was so low, Giles had to strain to hear it, sighing inwardly at the use of his Christian name.  He only used that when he was feeling particularly morose, or particularly drunk.  “I haven’t really seen her since…since…”  He couldn’t even say it out loud.  “I see Dru now, and it’ll kill me.”

Even as he stated the next, Giles hated himself for resorting to such tactics.  “If you don’t see her now,” he said, “it could kill us all.”  He felt the energy leech from Spike’s shoulders, sagging as his head dropped, and rushed to add, “Besides, now you have Buffy, and she’s worth ten Drusilla Conti’s.  I know I was…suspicious of her before, but today…she’s…she cares for you.   I’m sorry I ever doubted her.”

He’d lost.  He knew it.  “What if it is Dru?”  His eyes were bleak as he lifted them to stare at his friend.  “What’ll I do?”

“You’ll deal with it.  Just like you always do.  You’re the strongest person I know, Spike.  You’ll get through this.”

Silence again, but this time, it wasn’t the past each was dwelling upon.  “I’ll get it over with now,” Spike said, pushing away from the wall.  Though his step was heavy, his tone was calm, back to business.  “Make sure the birds are safe, and leave a message with Mickey when you want to meet up to go over the plan.  If I don’t hear from you by midnight, I’ll give you a ring.”

“Do you need Xander?” Giles offered.

Spike shook his head, walking away from the diner.  “I’ve got some people I can call,” he said, his voice floating back.  “You lot just stay focused on the lawyer.”

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

Everything had taken much longer than he’d anticipated, but looking over the now-clean backstage area of the club, Wesley was just grateful that nobody had shown up while everything was being cleared out.  One of the advantages for working for someone who routinely had to worry about this sort of thing, he thought as he locked the door of his office.  Though it had never been his direct responsibility, finding the people to do the job had been simple, and the police would never be the wiser.  He doubted even the bodies would ever show up.

The call was done to Jenny, as well.  She had been surprised to hear from him so quickly, and though he thought he detected a note of hesitation on her part, she had agreed to find everything she could on Wolfram and Hart.  Now, he only had to wait for the information to come in.

Spike’s offer was still giving him pause.  Though the prospect of being in such close proximity with Willow was tempting, the fact of the matter remained that, really, they had only just met.  She didn’t even know the truth about his position.  How could he commit to something on such a scale while still being dishonest with her?  He was prepared to leave the department, but would she even want him, knowing he’d lied to her?

Spike was right about his safety, though.  It was compromised by his actions with the attorney.  Something would have to be done about that and quickly; laying low with Willow at his side while they attempted to solve her friend’s current conundrum was actually quite appealing.

Wesley was startled from his reverie when the back door of the club twisted under his grip, seemingly opening of its own accord.  He frowned, wondering just which employee was showing up so early for work, only to be met with the smiling face of the last person he expected to see at the moment.

“Hey there, Wes old boy,” Faith said.  “Just the devil I’m looking for…”

 

To be continued in Chapter 21: The Tip-Off