DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Buffy has suggested Drusilla might know something about what’s going on so Spike has decided to go see her, while Faith has dropped in at Heaven to see Wesley…

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

Chapter 21: The Tip-Off

At least he knew he hadn’t been tailed.  Coming out of the alley behind Heaven, Faith had watched him in amusement, scarlet lips cocked into a wry smile, as Wes had quickly scanned the street before hailing the first cab that passed by them.  A circuitous route, some off-color remarks from the brunette, and fifteen minutes later, he was satisfied enough to have the taxi pull up to a dive he’d never frequent in a million years during his normal life.

Except he’d pretty much chucked normal out the window the second he’d hooked up with Willow.

Holding the door open for his companion was automatic, and Wes waited as Faith walked in with a wiggle that suggested she owned the place, head held high, a knowing curve on her lips.  Over the past few years, his interactions with the brunette had always been in a professional capacity, seeing her with the Mayor, speaking with her at social engagements.  To this day, he still could not figure her out.  There was no doubting she lacked any sort of proper breeding or manners, and it would’ve been easy to quickly dismiss her as just another floozy for Mr. Wilkins to distract himself with; many people had done just that.  Yet, her devotion to the older man had been complete, and more than once, Wesley had witnessed a surprisingly tender scene between the couple, leaving him to wonder if perhaps there was more to her than met the eye after all.

Her words had been brief back at Heaven.  “Need to talk to you,” she’d said.  “I think you and me might have…stories that could interest each other.”

His first instinct was that she knew about his connection with Spike.  That would be disastrous.  Nothing she did, however, indicated any ill will toward him.  In fact, if Wesley didn’t know better, he would rather think she was very amicable toward him.  A quick look at his watch, and he admitted to being able to spare a few minutes, as long as their conversation didn’t happen at Heaven.  Her brows had lifted at that, but she’d not challenged him, following him to this tiny booth in the corner of the bar.

“Wanna drink?” she asked as she waved for the bartender to come over.

Wesley shook his head.  “My time’s rather limited,” he said, and waited as she ordered a whiskey sour for herself.

Pulling out a pack of cigarettes from her purse, Faith held them up in query.  “Mind if I smoke?”  There was no mistaking his amused glance around the room, and she laughed with him when she realized he was actually the only one in the joint not smoking.  “Guess not,” she said, lighting up.

Steady blue eyes regarded her for a long moment as her lips pursed around the cigarette.  “How are you doing?” Wesley finally asked.

She turned her head to exhale away from him before answering.  “Snug as a bug in a rug,” she quipped.

Her tone was artificially light, and his lips thinned.  “Really?  Because you don’t exactly look like you’re doing very well.”

“Gee, you really know how to cheer a girl up, don’t you?”  The light was gone from Faith’s gaze as she reached for the ashtray, and he frowned when he saw the scarf she wore around her neck slip to reveal the beginnings of a mottled bruise.  “I think you missed your calling, Wes,” she joked coldly as she settled back into her seat.  “Something warm and fuzzy’s more your style, I think.”

“What happened?”  The question was out before he could think not to ask, concern for her darkening his face.  When she looked at him blankly, he gestured toward her neck.  “How’d you get hurt?”

“Oh.  That.”  Another long drag on her cigarette, and all of a sudden, her nails seemed incredibly interesting to her.  “It’s nothing.  Went looking for a pair of shoes that I’d stashed and ended up pulling the whole closet down on top of me.  It’s nothing.”

He didn’t believe her, but the look on her face told him there was no way she was going to shift on her story.  Any other pro skirt and he would’ve immediately assumed it was just a hazard of the trade.  But in the time he’d seen her with Wilkins, not once had she ever sported as much as a paper cut.  Theirs was not that kind of relationship.

“You still look tired,” he said as gently as he could manage.  “Were the police gruelling?”

“You can’t possibly be talkin’ about the Keystone coppers,” she spat.  “They’re a fucking joke.”

“You…don’t think they’ll…catch who did it?”  He had to be careful.  Although details of the murder had made the morning press, specifics were being withheld as to the identity of the shooter.  Nobody was supposed to know that Spike was the one who’d done it.  Oh, except of course, that Angel had tipped him off immediately afterward so he could always use that as an excuse should he let something slip.

Faith’s eyes were wary as she took a long drag on her cigarette.  “What do you know about Rook?” she finally asked.

“Not a lot.  Just that Mr. Wilkins asked me to look into his presence in the city.”  That much was true.  No reason to lie about that, especially since it was likely she already knew.

She didn’t.  Immediately, the brunette tensed, sitting up from where she’d been sexily slouching.  “When?” she demanded.

Wesley’s brow furrowed.  “The night before he was killed.”

Her eyes shifted, focusing somewhere off to the side while her head did the calculations to place the time.  “When I was in the damn car,” she muttered, not even looking at him.  “Fuck, Richard.  What the hell did you think you were doing?”

Every word from her mouth was only unsettling him further, augmenting his curiosity to drive him forward, his fingers lacing as he locked his gaze on her.  “What is it you wished to speak to me about, Faith?” he queried.

Her chin lifted, brown eyes fixing on blue.  “Payback.”  She didn’t even look down as she stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray.  “I don’t know what you found out, but William Rook’s a gun for hire.  I know that, the cops know that.  The thing of it is, though, the cops don’t care.”

“And you do…”  Slowly, understanding was beginning to dawn, and his mouth tightened even as his heart began to pound in ferment.  Easy, he silently soothed.  She hasn’t said anything real yet.  “I still don’t understand why you’re telling this to me.”

“Two reasons.  One, you’re the smartest guy I know, so if anyone can figure out who the bastard is who paid off Rook, you can.”

“Are you saying you know?”

She hesitated just a fraction too long.  “If I knew, don’t you think I’d be doing something more than just sitting here, jawing about it?”

His face was implacable, but behind the mask, Wesley’s mind was a tumult as the permutations of what this could mean began to tally.  If Faith could be persuaded to talk, Spike could have the answer he was seeking all that much sooner, and this entire escapade could be concluded with little more fanfare.  Draw it to a close, and he could more realistically consider his future with Willow, free from the fetters of whatever was shackling her to Rook.  The possibility was exciting.

He showed none of this, stating instead, “You said there were two reasons.”

Her drink arrived then, and she regarded him in silence while she waited for the bartender to leave them in peace again.  “I’m going to be on the square with you, Wes,” she said calmly.  “You and me…we’ve never really had the chance to just sit down and chew the fat, so what you know about me is probably just what you’ve seen with those blue peepers of yours.  Am I right?”

His reply was a slow nod.  Where was she going with this?

“I’m not such a mystery girl, you know.  Spent most of my life on my back in one way or another until Richard got me out of it, and then just made sure I had a really soft pillow for my head while I did it just for him.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not complaining here.  It’s just the way life goes.”

“What are you going to do now that Mr. Wilkins is…dead?”

She took a sip of her drink.  “Not important.  What is important is that I know there’s a lot more to you than meets the eye.”

It was Faith’s nonchalance that was most chilling.  No cracks in her façade, no raising of her voice.  She just sat there, scarlet-tipped nails running along the edge of her whiskey tumbler, watching his reaction.

“I’m assuming…this has something to do with your second reason,” he said evenly.  No reaction.  He’d spent too many years under the scrutiny of people far more dangerous than Faith to fail now.

“Betcha didn’t know I’ve never been busted,” she announced proudly.  “Not a single time.  That’s because I can spot the players a mile away.  For both teams.”  The corner of her mouth lifted.  “I consider that my own little gift.”

“Quite a…valuable one, considering your vocation of choice.”

“Didn’t you ever wonder why you never got sucked into the family until right there at the end?” she asked.  “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, the king of squeak.”  Another sip of her drink.  “That was all me, baby.  I’m the one who convinced Richard to keep you out of the loop.  How helpful it would be to have someone to hold up to the cops, who wouldn’t be able to give anything away ever.”

“Why?  Why would you do that?”  Fingers of dread crept with icy certainty beneath his shirtsleeves, raising his skin in gooseflesh as the first indication of an outsider gaining a foothold in destroying everything he’d tried to create started to leak into his awareness.

“Because the last thing I’ve ever wanted was for someone to try and take Richard away from me,” she said simply.  “And you would’ve done that, given half a chance.”  Faith’s gaze bored into his.  “I don’t know who it is you work for, Wes, but if you’re not hooked into some type of do-gooder group with delusions of trying to clean up the streets, I’ll eat my hat.”  She smirked.  “Hell, I’ll even eat your hat if I’m wrong.”

He’d never even suspected.  All his time at Heaven, and the possibility that Faith of all people would recognize his true identity had never occurred to him.  But if she’d known… “You never told Wilkins,” he murmured.

Faith shrugged.  “What was the point?  As long as you were leashed, you weren’t doing any harm.  And Richard liked you.  Besides, I always like to have a little insurance policy tucked away, for those rainy days, you know what I mean?  And doll, today, it’s cats and dogs out there.”

It made sense to him now.  In spite of her bravado, she was terrified.  She’d have to be.  Knowing who he was, knowing who she was, it could only be desperation that would drive her to ask for his help.  She was running scared, a little girl playing dress-up, hiding behind the make-up of her profession, and though an unexpected pang of sympathy for her leapt into his heart, Wesley was convinced she knew more than she was saying.  She knew who was behind the hit in the first place, and that was the exact thing he needed to get Willow to safety.  Take care of the bad guy and see to it that they couldn’t hurt her again.  Spike’s safety was just a side effect of that.  He had no delusions that he was doing this for any other reason than for the redhead who had somehow wormed her way into his soul.  Only for Willow.  For whatever future they might have.

“Tell me what you know, Faith,” Wes said firmly.  Carefully, he reached forward and placed his hand over hers in an attempt to reassure her.  “That’s the only way I can do anything to help you.”

She shook her head, and he saw the shutters drop over her eyes.  “I already told you, I know from nothing.”

“You do.  You wouldn’t have tried this if someone wasn’t scaring you.  Are you in some kind of jam?”

Anger flared then, and she yanked her hand away as if his touch scalded.  “Don’t you be trying to headshrink me, too,” she snapped.  “I’m just jakeloo.  I just want to see the bastard swing.”  Grabbing her purse, Faith slid from the booth, cold fury seething in her muscles.  Twin spots of color uncharacteristically flushed her cheeks, and he watched as she swallowed hard, staring down at him as she hesitated.  “You’re a smart gee, Wes.  You’ll figure it out.  You have to.”

His limbs were frozen as he watched her stride confidently away, ignoring the various sets of eyes that turned to follow her exit.  Have to.  Like he actually had a choice about it.  Well, technically, he probably did, but not really.  Not with his heart now belonging to a certain redhead, and his loyalties lying god knew where.

He was on his feet before he even realized it, long legs crossing the distance to the door, his hand wrapping around Faith’s elbow as she stood in the open entrance.  “Give me something,” Wesley said, blinking against the brilliance of the sunshine as she looked up at him.  “Anything.”

Slowly, she extracted herself from his grip, but didn’t move, brown eyes unwavering as they searched his.  “Follow the money,” she finally said.  “Just…follow the money.”

And with that, she was gone.

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

“You OK there, pal?”  From the driver’s seat, Clem’s voice was chipper, but Spike knew without even having to look over that his friend sensed something was wrong.

“Be better once I get this over with,” he muttered.  Pulling the hat down further over his bleached curls, he watched the pedestrians strolling past, oblivious to the man in the waiting car near them, and felt a stab of envy for anyone and everyone who had a simpler life than he.  Figuring out who ordered the hit wasn’t so much what was bothering him.  What ate at Spike’s heart now was being forced to confront the woman who’d started that spiral of destruction he’d travelled before leaving the city the first time.

He’d never seen her again after that night of her betrayal.  Somehow, the idea of facing Dru, knowing how she felt, the memory of her voice calling out the other man’s name still ringing in his brain, had never been a route he’d desired.  Didn’t stop him from ruminating on it when the drink took control of his mouth, though.  Poor Red had been the brunt of more than one diatribe about the dissolution of his past.  Even Harris had been roped in once to listen to him rant and rave.  Their patience had been silent, offering a shoulder to cry upon or a quiet pat on the back for assurance.

But it hadn’t given Spike the closure he so desperately needed to let go of that chapter of his life.

What Dru had done---betraying his hopes, his faith, his belief that he knew his place in the world---had ripped him apart just as effectively as seeing Nikki Wood’s dead body at his feet.  It had taken him five years to find someone he thought he could trust again like that, and the irony that he’d found it by coming back to his old haunts didn’t elude him.  If nothing else, losing Dru had helped him discover Buffy.  He guessed he should be grateful to her for that, at least.

“Who’s she got minding her these days?” Spike asked when the car started moving again, desperate to distract himself from ugly cogitations.

“You’ll see,” Clem replied with a wide grin.  “Then you’ll know why this wasn’t such a big deal to set up.”

“I appreciate it, you know.”

His friend waved him off.  “It’s not like it’s any different to the old days.  But I guess that’s why you were interested in that Buffy dame, huh?  Because of whacking the Mayor?”

“I didn’t even know she had a part in the story ‘til I hit town.  I’m considering her a perk.”

“A perk whose fiancé is now head of the Wilkins family.  Maybe not your brightest move, William.”

This subject of conversation wasn’t turning out any better than the other, and Spike pressed his lips together in order to hold back the angry retort that automatically sprang there.  No reason to drag Clem even more into his mess.  It was easier for the poor guy to cart his sorry ass around while he tried to clear up this hit business than it was for him to try and dissect the ins and outs of Spike’s maze of a lovelife.  Not that Spike considered it all that difficult.  Well, except for the Angel part of it.  And the less he thought of that, the better it was.

He glanced out the window as the car eased to the curb, remembering the building that shone brilliantly beside him from the days of his past.  “Some things never change,” Spike mumbled.

“You remember how to get there?” Clem asked.

“Couldn’t hardly forget.  Only brought Dru to these damn spa days for a decade myself, if you recall.”

“I’ll be at Lucky’s around the corner when you’re done.”

Giving his friend a small nod in thanks, Spike climbed from the car and strode quickly into the building, keeping his head ducked to avoid being recognized by anyone who might wish the cops had actually managed to snag him at Wilkins’.  A lot of family types came to this place for the treatment, so he wouldn’t have stood out under normal circumstances.  Today, though, was far from normal.

Every inch of his skin felt like it was racing to be free of his body as he stepped off the elevator and onto the twenty-third floor.  He didn’t even look at the main entrance of the spa; he knew exactly how to get to where she was without having to face off with a bunch of snooty dames who probably hadn’t been laid since Wilson was in office.  Pulling open the unmarked employee entrance instead, he hurried down the long corridor it led in to, bypassing all the doors until he reached the one he wanted at the end.

Almost immediately, Spike was stopped short by a black barrel chest, his gaze raking upward to see the thick neck, the black eyes, the closely cropped black hair.  His mouth spread into a grin, and his hand shot out to clap the man on the shoulder.  “Well, bugger me,” he said with a laugh.  “Now I know why Clem was being so tight with the information on who Dru’s bodyguard was.  I guess life’s lookin’ good for you, Gino.”

A meaty hand came up to mirror the blond’s greeting, and Gino’s answering smile was just as amiable.  “Tell me what else a dumb mug like me’s goin’ to be doing with his life,” he joked.

A long time ago, in a lifetime he sometimes tried to forget, Spike had called Gino one of his best friends, often partners in whatever work needed to be done for old man Conti, more often drinking buddies while they commiserated about anything that caught their fancy.  Gino, with his polite manner and staunch loyalty, had been one of the few that Dru had actually liked Spike hanging around with, so it really came as no surprise that the gentle giant was now acting as her bodyguard.  He may not have been bright, but he knew how to use his fists, and was fierce in his old-fashioned need to protect anyone who held a vaguely feminine form.  He and Spike had had a lot in common in that way.

“You’re looking…different,” Gino commented as they parted, black eyes flickering to the bleached locks that poked out from beneath the brim.

With a wry smile, Spike took off the hat and ran his hand through the unruly curls.  “Think you’d be amazed what it does for the dames.  Speaking of which---.”

“Don’t.”  Gino cut him off with a wave of his hand.  “Me and dames is not a good thing right now.”

“Too bad.  You know, it’s a shame we didn’t hook up when I first blew into town.  I’ve got this associate who’d knock your socks off---.”

“You’re gettin’ my hopes up here, Spike.  Stop messing around.”

“---except she’s already hooked herself with someone else,” the blond finished.

“You tell me she was smart, too, I’ll knock your block off for bringing it up in the first place.”

“OK, I won’t.  Except she is.”

“Figures.  Good ones are always taken.”

For the first time since entering, Spike saw the sterile waiting room in which he stood, everything still all in white just as it had been five years ago.  His gaze settled on the other door, and his mouth thinned.  “She alone?” he asked quietly, all mirth gone from his voice.

“As alone as someone who hears voices can be,” Gino joked.

Spike’s lips quirked, in spite of his growing trepidation.  “That’s my Dru,” he murmured, and with a deep breath, stepped forward.

Entering the adjoining room was like taking a step back in time, and Spike felt the years melt away as he stopped just inside the entrance, blue eyes sweeping around the luxurious interior.  One wall was lined with the cupboards that housed the spa’s supplies, while the others were painted a soft white, impressionist prints in gilt frames breaking up the expanse.  The plush couch opposite was a deep red, and there, in the middle of the room, was the lounging bed on which the clients rested during their treatment.

She was there now, stretched against the black leather, her skin deathly pale compared to the ebony it rested against.  A white sheet was draped over her body, leaving her shoulders, arms, and feet exposed, and Spike knew from experience that she would be nude beneath it, a lump settling in his throat as the last time he’d seen her unclothed came unbidden to his mind’s eye.  He was saved from completely reliving the memory, though, when he noted the cream mask covering her face, her lashes dark, her eyes closed.  Even if he tried, he wouldn’t be able to see how time had treated his first love, wouldn’t have to witness the tiny lines that would most likely be collecting at the corners of her eyes.  He wasn’t sure yet if that was a good thing or not.

“And so he comes, riding in on his black steed, burning brightly in the sun.”  Though her voice was barely a murmur, Spike had no trouble discerning her words, a wave of nostalgia overriding the wrench tightening around his heart as her lyricism carried with it memories of more pleasant times.  She smiled, but her eyes never opened.  “Hello, William.”

“Drusilla.”  He’d always loved the way her name felt on his tongue, and had to shake his head to loosen the thrall it invoked, prowling around the edge of the room so that he could sit facing the door.  “You don’t seem surprised to see me.”

She remained perfectly still, no muscle anywhere in her sleek frame acknowledging that he’d changed position within the room so quickly.  “Miss Edith told me you were back,” she said.  “It was only a matter of time before you came.”

Spike snorted.  “Is that old biddy still alive?”  It didn’t surprise him that she knew about him; the old woman had always been the first to know everything.  Miss Edith had been a fixture of the Conti household when he’d first shown up, technically labelled as the housekeeper, but more like Dru’s personal assistant than anything else.  She’d been ancient then; it was hard to believe she could still be around without being a big pile of dust.

“I hear William has been a naughty boy.”  There was no mistaking the glee in her voice, a sound that had once driven Spike to distraction, living in a state of perpetual debauchery as the world swirled dangerously around the pair of them.  Now, though, it made his blood run cold, the song long abandoned within to be replaced by death knells.  “Have you come to share your fun?”

“I came to get some answers.”

He knew she was pouting, even though he couldn’t see her face.  “Answers are trivial,” she said.  “It’s the questions that are fascinating.  Remember when Daddy asked you to interrogate that dreadfully dull accountant with the harelip?  That was a joyous night.”

He remembered.  He remembered how the wanker had refused to talk, how Dru had grown frustrated by the wait and made the first slice herself.  He remembered how the blood had trickled from the man’s bound limbs, pooling onto the warehouse floor, and he remembered how she had danced around them as Spike tried to get the information old man Conti wanted.  He also remembered that it had taken forever for the git to die, and he never did get what he wanted. 

Funny she calls that joyous, Spike thought.  Even then, though they’d spent hours in bed together afterward, he’d been left feeling empty and unfulfilled, trying to replace the sense of discontent with almost anything else.  That she would remember that as one of their good nights only made him think that perhaps their parting was inevitable.

“What do you know about my fun, pet?” he asked, keeping his eyes on her in the possibility that she would actually move.

“Only whispers.  Daddy’s insisting we go to the funeral.  I’d get out of it if I didn’t know that Angel would be there.”

The sigh when she said his name confirmed for Spike what Buffy had said, and he bit back the bile that rose in his throat at the notion of coming up second to the tosser yet again.  First Buffy, now Dru.  Red washed before his eyes, his fingers clawing into the cushions, and he had to force himself to remain seated.  Don’t let her see how it still hurts, he ordered, but the bite of tears threatening to spill made his teeth grind in frustration.

“I’m sure it’s going to be an awful ceremony,” Drusilla was saying.  “That torcher trollop will most likely sing as well.  Fingers down a blackboard.”  She laughed.  “You should really go.  Wouldn’t it be funny to see Angel’s face if he saw you?”
Yeah, bloody fucking hysterical, he thought.  He inhaled sharply, steadying his nerves.  Focus.  Buffy chose you, remember?  And if Dru wants to play the princess and try to take Buffy’s place, then who’re you to try and stop her?  Grown woman there.  Free as a bird, capable of making her own decisions.  She’d certainly proved that much in the past.

“So’s this Angel the new conquest?” he asked glibly.  “Heard tell you haven’t been able to keep anyone in your bed for more than month or so.  In fact, I believe the phrase used was… ‘like fucking a bloody corpse.’”  Not exactly true, but all he wanted at that moment was to hurt her, and the fact that she was panting around Wilkins was all the ammunition he needed.

She moved then, sitting up and swinging her long legs over the side of the lounger, the sheet dropping to pool at her waist.  Oblivious to her nudity, Dru stared at him, blue eyes drilling into blue, and he saw her fingers wrap like talons into the cotton at her sides.  “I believe you’re the expert on corpses, William.”  Every shred of the façade she’d worn was stripped away, leaving the brittle core of the woman he’d once loved left to face him.  “How warm has your bed been?  Met any nice dancers recently?”

The air seemed to be sucked from the room, and Nikki’s face wavered over Dru’s as Spike’s gaze tunnelled.  Why was he so surprised she knew?  Miss Edith probably found out and whispered it in her ear, sharing the laugh between them, the sick bitches.  Yet, being confronted with the truth, hearing her callous tone burn his ears, he stung in the deadly needle pricks that only the unexpected could elicit.

She laughed at his consternation.  “Big Bad William’s lost his bite,” she gloated.  “Did you lose your teeth when you left her body to sway with the dead?”

“How do you know about that?” he growled.  “How do you know that was me?”

“Silly.  Everybody knows.”  She brought a finger to her lips as if to quiet him, and then said,  “Mustn’t spill the secrets, though.  Not done.  It’s just not done.”

With a predator’s grace, Spike rose to his feet, eyes hooded as he sauntered to stand before her.  Slowly, purposely, he lifted his hand, spreading it so that it lightly clutched the front of her throat.

Drusilla didn’t move.  As the tips of his fingers pressed into the soft flesh of her neck, she smiled instead, cold eyes glittering, the mask that covered her face breaking into spidery cracks along her cheeks.

“What do you know about secrets, Dru?” he asked, his voice a silken whisper that dripped in promises of blood.  “What is it you want to tell me?”

“I know William’s been a bad boy,” she said.  There was no indication in her tone that she was suffering from his grip, but her body was rigid before him.  “And I know all his dead are crying out for vengeance.  Can you hear them?  So lovely, so painful.  They sing with the stars, you know.”

He froze when she lifted her hand and ran the back of it along the slope of his cheek.  As tenuous a caress as he’d ever received from his dark princess, and his own hand faltered, his hold on her weakening.  “Tell me who it is, pet,” he said, and hated the entreaty that softened the cadences of his words.  “Who’s behind all this?”

“The only thing behind you is the past, William.  And you can’t kill what’s already dead.”

“Is it you?  Are you the one who sold my soul to those lawyers?”  He had to ask, though why he bothered, Spike had no idea.  He couldn’t even bring himself to make her hurt beyond the superficial wounds he’d created with his words.  How could he trust anything she had to say when she could still manipulate him so?

Slowly, Drusilla shook her head, raven locks falling about her shoulders.  “It’s not mine to sell,” she said.  Lissom fingers began swirling in curls above the front of his shirt, bewitching and confusing all at the same time.  “It was, once upon a time.  And then it burned from too much passion, and went whimpering and fearful off into the dark.”  She smiled.  “I’m glad you found it again.  Glowing, and glistening.  It’s where your wealth lies, you know.”

Transfixed.  Like the spider before the snake.  Yet he tried to break the spell she’d woven anyway.  “Stop with the rubbish, Dru.  I don’t have time for your riddles.”  No strength in his voice, though.  No conviction.  Just blue eyes caught by blue eyes, and his heart pounding inside his chest.

It didn’t stop her.  “Every knight should have a champion.  To rally the crowds and inspire greatness.  I tried to give that to you, but I failed, and I shattered you in the process.  My heart has always wept for that.”

“No, you didn’t.  It…didn’t.”  Spike was hoarse, his denial rasping in the too-silent room, but he couldn’t tear himself away.  How dare she try to make what happened between them be about her?  She’d been the one to cheat, not him.  He was the one to be left bleeding in the streets, wracked and beaten like the lost child who’d first arrived in New York, stripped of every ounce of strength he’d earned over the years.  “Sometimes I think you were never capable of love.”

“Oh, but I am.  I can love quite well, thank you.  Just…not wisely.”

“Then why, Dru?  Why did you do it?  We had…Christ, you saved me from mediocrity, you did.  I loved you with everything that I was, and you still said it wasn’t enough.  Why?”  Spike didn’t care any more about getting so-called answers on who was behind the hit.  At that moment, all he cared about was learning the truth about their split.

“I don’t know.”  It was the first unambiguous thing she’d said since he’d arrived, and looking into her eyes, there was no mistaking the belief she held in it.  “Does it matter?  You’re free now.  The locks were picked and the door thrown open.  Why would you come back to your cage when you finally managed to escape?”

“Don’t try telling me you did this for me.  Don’t you dare do that.”

“Fly away, William.  Let it all go and fly before the net closes.”  Her hand returned, this time to cup his cheek.  “Too many people wish to clip your wings.  You’ve even managed to upset Daddy, and he’d written you off as a loss long ago.  Don’t let them win by catching you.”

“I won’t.”  The promise was out of his mouth before he could stop it, and he stepped back, cutting himself free from her touch.  His time here was done; she didn’t know anything.  Not about the hit, nothing specific at least; her ramblings only indicated the general malaise she was aware of amongst the criminal community about his presence within the city again.  Not about her actions five years previous, either.  He was foolish to ever think she had the savvy to try her own affairs, even though her acumen for others, especially himself, could be so deft.

She was right about one thing, though.  She had freed him.  And he wasn’t leaving here empty-handed.  As he straightened his shoulders, the agitations that had lit his flesh quietened for the first time since he stepped through the door.  He’d let the wounds she’d inflicted fester, picking at the scabs just enough so that the continual bleeding would remind him he was still alive.  He didn’t need that now.  He had Buffy.  Seeing his old love like this, listening to her as she tried to draw him back into the madness that had been their lives by alternately teasing and taunting him…it finally quelled the doubts that had lingered for so many years.

He was better than this. 

“Goodbye, pet,” Spike murmured, and sauntered out of the room.

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

He didn’t even speak to her when he returned from Faith’s, just shot her a dirty look and headed straight for the bedroom, slamming the door behind him with such force that Lilah actually flinched in her spot on the couch.  Someone’s not happy, she gloated silently.  Poor Lindsey got himself a whole big pile of nothing from little Faithy.  Though it had been what she’d been expecting, knowing he’d failed just as miserably as she had brought that extra glow to her mood.

It hadn’t been a complete bust for her, though.  Her nugget of information had already been passed along, planted as she waited for it to combust and help her reel in Rook.  Not with Trick, though.  The black bastard didn’t deserve to know about Buffy Summers.  Besides, someone else could use that tidbit more effectively than Trick or his boss.  Someone who’d flip his lid when he knew.

Someone who had flipped his lid.

 

To be continued in Chapter 22: The Man Who Found Himself