DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Lilah has gone to Angel to tell him about Buffy’s involvement with Spike, Giles has learned of Wesley being a federal agent, and both couples---Buffy and Spike, Willow and Wesley---are ready to move on to California after getting the issue of who hired the hit sorted…

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

Chapter 23: Three Black Eyes

“Nobody else is on the floor with them---.”

“Why’s that?”

“Dunno.  Just know they’re all by their lonesome there.  It makes it easier for us, though.”

“Easy is good.  I like easy.”

“Easy just gets us up there.  We still have to get the dame out of the suite so we can get to McDonald.”

From the chair he was lounging on in the adjoining room, Spike piped up, “Don’t worry about her.  I’ve got her all sorted.”

Xander and Willow both looked up from the hotel floorplans that were laid out on top of the dining room table.  “Do we get to hear this grand scheme of things?” she quizzed.

“No big mystery,” Spike said with a shrug.  He shifted his weight, the leg he had thrown over the arm of the plush seat bouncing in agitation.  Between his fingers, he rolled an unlit cigarette, the energy he was being forced to contain leaking out in the tiniest of gestures.  Sitting around talking about getting their hands on the lawyer was the last thing he wanted to be doing at the moment.  Of course, what he wanted to be doing was impossible since Buffy had already left for Heaven…“Just goin’ to offer her what she’s tryin’ to get.  Me.”

Two sets of eyes widened.  “You’re pulling my leg here, right?” Xander said.  “No way are you getting anywhere near this site.  There’ll be coppers crawling all over the joint---.”

“No, there won’t.”  His wolfish grin, though unexpected, was infectious, and his friends found themselves matching it in spite of themselves.  “They’re goin’ to be too busy off at the funeral lookin’ around for me because Red here’s goin’ to tip ‘em off that I’m goin’ to show my face there.”

“Ooo, I like that,” Willow chirped.

“Well, I don’t,” Xander countered.  “And neither will Giles.”

“Well, Ripper’s not here to vote on it, now is he?  All in favor?”  Spike held up his hand, his blue eyes dancing when the redhead put her own up as well.  “Two to one,” he said, lowering it again.  “Looks like snatching him during the funeral wins.”

“Where is Giles?” Willow asked as she turned back to face the young man at her side.  “Did he tell you how long he was going to be?”

Xander shook his head.  “Just that he had an errand to run and that he’d get here as soon as he could.”

“It’s his own fault then if he pokes his mug in and doesn’t like the plan,” Spike said casually.  He stuck the cigarette between his lips and rose from the chair, pulling his lighter from his trousers pocket as he sauntered over to the window.  “What could be so bloody important to miss out on his favorite part of our process?”

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

From his vantage point across the street, Giles saw the familiar dark head in the car that passed, pulling into the alley that ran alongside the club.  Since when did he have a car? the Englishman mused, but quickly dismissed the query, rising from his seat as he dropped a couple bills onto the table.  It didn’t matter.  In fact, it made it easier.  He wouldn’t have to try and explain anything to a taxi driver when he dragged Wesley out of the alley.

Traffic was on his side, allowing him clear passage across the road without having to wait, and he gave his side one last pat before following the car’s route.  Gun still in place.  Not that he really wanted to use it, especially with the night starting to come to life around him, pedestrians beginning to find their paths along the walk.  If circumstances dictated it, though, Giles was more than prepared to use whatever force was necessary.  There was absolutely no way he would allow an undercover federal agent to destroy the lives of people he cared about.

He heard Wesley before he saw him, whistling as if he didn’t have a care in the world.  Bile rose in the back of his throat, but he swallowed it back as he affected his most casual face, hurrying forward to catch him before he actually entered the club.  Backstabbing, seducing pillock, he silently raged.  How dare he think he can so cavalierly do such things to Spike and Willow?  Garner their trust and then destroy them without even blinking an eye?  He took a deep breath.  Must calm down.  Can’t let him see just how furious about this I actually am.  At least, not yet.

“Wesley!” Giles called out as he stepped around the car.

The other man stopped by the back entrance of the club, his face brightening for a moment when he saw who was approaching.  Quickly, though, he frowned as he glanced at the doorway, and hurried forward to intercept him from getting nearer.

“It’s rather risky for you to be showing up around here, don’t you think?” Wesley commented as they faced each other.  “Not that I think Angel has connected yours and Xander’s presence here the other night with the Mayor’s death, but really, don’t you think you should exercise just a tad more caution?”

In his pockets, Giles’ hands balled into fists as he fought to control his anger.  “It couldn’t be avoided,” he said tightly.  “I needed to see you.”

“You could’ve called.”

“I didn’t have time.”

Small lines appeared between Wes’ brows as he frowned.  “It’s not Willow, is it?  I just left her with Spike at the hotel.  She was fine---.”

“It’s not Willow.”  How he wanted to wipe the false concern from the bastard’s face, pretending to care about what happened to the sensitive redhead.  His face remained neutral, though, as flints of steel flashed in his eyes.  “It’s about you, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce.”

The sudden formality forced Wesley back a step as his gaze narrowed in assessment.  Giles could see the thoughts working behind the spectacles, but before any sort of connection could be made, he took the initiative, his fist whipping out and crashing into the other man’s face.

Wesley went reeling back against the brick, his forehead scraping against the serrated edges, but before he could regain his balance, Giles grabbed him by the lapels, slamming him into the wall.

“Were you laughing when you convinced her you were one of the ‘good guys?” he growled, his forearm pressing into Wes’ neck.  “Did it amuse you to see her believe you so implicitly?”

“What are you…talking about?” Wes gasped.

“Don’t play me for one of your fools.  I know who you are.  Who you really are.”

Their eyes locked, bodies tense.  For a long moment, the only sounds in the alley were the metallic cadences of the traffic filtering in from the street, the ragged rasp of the pinned man’s breath.  Then, his lids fluttered shut, his lips thinning into a tight line as he sagged against the brick.  “It’s not what you think,” he murmured.

“Oh?”  Giles feigned surprise, but his tone was glacial.  “So you’re not a federal agent?”

When Wesley opened his eyes, a drop of blood slid along the curve of his brow, arcing along the outer edge to catch in his lower lashes.  “I’m not a threat to you.”  His voice was low and steady, resolve steeling his words.

“That’s why you lied to us.”

“I never lied.  I had every intention of telling---.”  He was silenced when Giles’ fist shot out again, not even wincing as he closed his eyes again to the pain.

“You have no idea just what you’ve done, do you,” Giles said.  The skin had split on his knuckles, but he was oblivious to the discomfort as his lividity surged within his muscles.  It was taking every ounce of his control not to beat the man to a bloody pulp, the spectre of her smile as it would disappear in the wake of the truth fuelling his fury.  “Willow trusted you.  She deserves better than some half-assed, two-faced Munchausen whose heart seems to reside between his legs to play with her emotions by offering her half-truths and idle promises.  Lucky for her, she has friends who care about her wellbeing.  Friends who will be more than happy to make you answer for what you’ve done to her.”

A long pause.  Then, a small snort from the dark-haired man.  “And here I thought your primary concern was Spike,” Wesley said quietly.  “Or is the fact that I’ve been in a position for over thirty-six hours to expose him and see him behind bars for his plethora of crimes and haven’t, now secondary to the fact that I truly care for Willow?”

“If you expect me to believe that you have no intention of fingering Spike, you’re even more foolish than I thought.”

“And you’re ignoring my question.”

With his forearm firmly in place against Wesley’s larynx, Giles reached inside his jacket and extracted his gun, training it on his captive.  “Spike and Willow are my family,” he said.  “I refuse to see either of them get hurt.”

“So you’ll commit murder in order to protect them.”

“If that’s what it takes.”

“It’s not.”  He held himself stiffly as Giles stepped back.  “You don’t have to do this.  I want the same thing you do.  To see the man responsible for the Mayor’s death held accountable for his actions.”

“By my estimation, your employers would consider that man to be Spike.”  When Wesley began to reach into his coat pocket, Giles cocked the revolver, levelling the muzzle at the other man’s head.  “I suggest you stop moving.  Right now.”

The brunette froze.  “My employers believe I’m dead,” Wes said.  Only his eyes moved as his gaze followed every infinitesimal movement of the gun aimed at him.  “And my estimation considers the responsible party the one who blackmailed a man into returning to a life of crime just so that he could protect his friends.  The same man I was prepared to offer my support to this very night, in fact.  Just ask Willow.”

The slight pause in his response was the only indication that Wesley’s words had hit a nerve.  “As much as I respect her,” he said, “I also know how deeply she needs to believe in people.  So my apologies if your attempts to capitalize on her innate goodness won’t work to sway me.”

“Then perhaps you should trust Spike’s judgment.  He proffered a rather interesting bargain.  It would seem that he trusts me to be on his side.”

“Because he doesn’t know you’re a fed.”

“So let’s tell him.  Let him make the call.”  Though he still wasn’t moving, Wesley’s words were coming quicker now, Giles’ weakening resolve in the face of his arguments enough impetus for him to try.  “You have the gun.  You have the power.  Let me drive us back to my hotel, and we’ll let Spike be the one to judge whether I’m to be trusted or not.”

He could kill him.  He knew he had it in him to do so.  Yet, standing in the darkening alley, with Wesley’s crystal blue gaze so steady on his, listening to his rationale, Giles questioned for the first time since discovering the truth from Olivia whether it was really his place to do so.  Not that he trusted Willow’s assessment.  He wasn’t blind.  It was apparent she was head over heels, and Giles was not going to be put into a position to hold faith in such a distorted opinion.

On the other hand, he didn’t dare fool himself into believing that his own opinion might not be a trifle warped as well.

He lost nothing by leaving the decision up to Spike.  Of course, he would have to witness the devastation hearing the truth was going to wreak on Willow, but she was young and surely this was just a crush; it would only be a matter of time before she understood how she’d been played.  Taken advantage of, really.  Used as a pawn in Wesley’s game to get closer.

Except…he hadn’t put himself into her path.  It had been the other way around.  And it had been almost two days since Wesley had learned enough to turn Spike in to the authorities.

Giles gave his head a quick shake.  Let Spike decide.  That was the answer.  Don’t think about the other unless he had to.

Taking a step away, he angled his body so that his gun remained trained on Wesley while his body faced the front of the car.  “I would suggest you not try anything,” he said calmly.  “I don’t plan on putting my piece away.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to,” Wesley said.  Carefully, he stepped away from the wall, reaching into his pocket to extract his car keys.  As he rounded the front of the vehicle on the way to the driver’s seat, he added, “I’m sorry it came to this.”

“So am I,” Giles muttered once the other man was out of earshot.  He walked toward his side of the car.  “So am I.”

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

From the shadows of the backstage area, Angel watched as Buffy hurried from her dressing room, her head tilted as she fumbled with the back of her earring.  Black.  She’d chosen to wear black.  Fitting, considering everyone was in mourning.  Except it was a slim-fitting satin number that outlined her curves rather than hid them.  Funny how she still managed to look provocative when he knew she wasn’t even trying.

Except…not funny at all.

His muscles growled in want as his hooded eyes swept along in the path of her wake, lingering on the softly swishing curtains as she stepped through them long after she was gone.  He’d love to be out there right now seeing the show, but with Lilah’s words still ringing in his ears, Angel knew that he had to take what time he could steal to try and disprove them.  He had to.  The notion of his Buffy entangled with the likes of Rook brought back too many memories of California, voices that weren’t his trying to tell her what was good for her and what wasn’t.  Trying to distract her from the things he thought were important.

Her singing.

Her career.

Angel.

He waited until he saw Jonathan disappear into Wesley’s office, briefly wondering what could’ve possibly made the Englishman late for work, before slipping out of the shadows and climbing the metal stairs.  He would’ve preferred to take them two or three at a time, such was his haste to get there.  But an artificially enforced patience kept his pace measured, his step sure, until he was standing outside her dressing room and letting himself into the dark room.

First glances showed nothing amiss.  Her perfume still hung in the air, and closing his eyes, Angel inhaled deeply, losing himself in the scent of his Aphrodite as he lost the cadence of her voice by shutting the door behind him.  It smelled like her, only her, but when his lids opened again, the first thing he noticed was the small wash of dead flower petals that had fallen to the side of her dressing table.

When was the last time I sent her flowers? he wondered as he crouched to pick up a faded bloom.  Not recently, been too distracted.  The fact that his fingers now curled around dead daisies didn’t escape him, either, and Angel’s brow was drawn in a thunderous frown as he straightened.

Could be from a fan.  A fan who knows what her favorite flower is.  Possible, if not exactly probable.

Her make-up looked like it always did, haphazardly scattered across the tabletop, but it was the heavy lines of her bag propped against the mirror that he noticed next.  He knew as soon as he picked it up what he was going to find inside; he’d held too many over the years not to recognize its weight when he felt it.  But as Angel pulled out the small revolver that she had tucked inside her purse, checking the chambers and noting the absence of all but one of the bullets, ice settled around his heart.

Since when did she carry a piece?  Since when did she even know how to use a peashooter like this?

He’d worked so hard to try and keep her safe from the dirtier side of his life, and yeah, so maybe California had been extreme but it hadn’t been meant to instigate the type of behavior where she felt it necessary to carry a loaded weapon.  Though he knew that one of her primary reasons to come out to New York in the first place was so that she could seek out the source of all the violence that had curled around her life, Angel had hoped that the passage of time---and the fact that Buffy had stopped talking about those years---had meant she’d finally let it go.  Obviously, she hadn’t though.

Had she hooked up with Rook because of his ties with both California and the Big Apple?  Had she never stopped searching for the answers she wanted?

None of it was making Angel feeling any better about what the Morgan bitch had had to say.  Anger, and frustration, and hate lay waste to the vestiges of his mood, and violently, he tossed the purse back onto the table, ignoring the small crack the force of it made in her mirror.  He had to get out of here before he did something he regretted.  It wouldn’t do if Buffy was the one around when his rein over his control burst; as mad as he was at her, he’d never forgive himself if he ever actually hurt her.

Time to get out.  Time for a little R&R.

Time to get a little Faith.

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

She caught up to him just as he was leaving the building, but when Riley turned around to face her, Kate was startled into silence when she saw the bruise along the corner of his eye.  “What happened to you?” she asked when her tongue decided to start working again.

He shrugged.  “Just a collar resisting arrest,” he explained.  “We got a tip we thought was going to lead us to Rook, but no cigar.  Just a drifter in yet another flophouse.”

“So you’re still not getting anywhere in finding him?”

“If by anywhere, you mean nowhere, then…yeah.  What about you?  Did you get a chance to swing by Faith’s like I asked?”

Kate frowned.  “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” she said slowly.  “Don’t get me wrong here but…what in hell did you guys do to her to make her lawyer up?”

He seemed genuinely surprised by her question.  “What’s that?”

“Faith.  She’s got herself a lawyer, a Lindsey McDonald, who by the looks of it, knows what he’s doing.  I’d lay odds he’s not a family man, either.  He didn’t look local.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.  I’m not exactly born and bred, but that doesn’t mean I don’t take working in this city serious.”

“Well, whoever he is, he wouldn’t let me within five feet of Faith, so I got dust on why she might’ve given you so much trouble when you questioned her.  If you’re that serious about it, you might need to bring her in now because I just don’t see her mouthpiece inviting you over for tea any time soon.”

With a grimace, Riley scratched at his head.  “Thanks anyway,” he said.  “I appreciate you going to the effort.”  He turned to walk away, and then stopped.  “This lawyer…could you just write down what you remember about him and put it on my desk?  I’ll give him a check when I get in, in the morning.”

“Sure.  Not a problem.”  She watched him push his way out of the precinct building, and frowned.  Not that Finn wasn’t an excellent cop, but she didn’t understand his plan of attack on this one.  Records showed that Rook had been one of Conti’s guns back in the day; why wasn’t he going down that road in trying to find him?  Unless he honestly believed that Faith had answers she wasn’t sharing.  For some reason, Officer Finn struck her as the bulldog type---get a bone between his teeth and refuse to let it go, no matter what the cost.  Hopefully, that wouldn’t cost him the entire investigation.

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

She felt like hell, and if she took the time to bother with looking in a mirror, Faith was pretty sure she’d see that she looked like hell, too.  Even Wesley had commented on her appearance, and if there was one thing she knew about the club manager, it was that grace and tact were two things he had in abundance.

A long, hot bath was probably in order, but every muscle in her body was screaming for sleep, desperate to climb between her sheets and bury herself in the remnants of Richard’s scent that still clung there in ghostly motes.  She was glad the cops weren’t insisting on kicking her out, considering it was a crime scene.  The last thing she wanted right now was to be surrounded by the unfamiliar.  A stiff shot and maybe a spritz of Richard’s cologne on the pillows, just to freshen up the idea that he had been there.  Sometimes, a little smell could go a long way.

She almost ignored the knock when it came to the door, the silky slip sliding over her hips.  It was only the possibility that maybe it was Wesley, come to maybe talk about their little meeting or to tell her that he knew what she’d been talking about and was doing the right thing, that drove her feet to answer it.

Faith’s stomach dropped as soon as she saw the gleam in his eyes, but pushing the door closed back on Angel was impossible.  His hand shot out, catching the edge, and he shoved against it, the wood parting a glancing blow along the side of her head as she tried to clear its passage.  “Whaddaya want?” she demanded irritably, retreating to the bar.  She needed that shot now.

He was fast all over tonight, and his fingers curled into her hair before she’d even realized he’d moved, jerking her to a halt before she could reach the liquor.  “That kisser’s going to get you into trouble, you keep talking like that to me,” he growled as he used his grip to wrench her head to the side, exposing the curve of her neck so that he could bury his face in it.

She winced as he bit against her jugular.  “You’re in, aren’t you?” she said as coldly as she could manage.  “And since when do you care about what comes out of my mouth?  I thought the only thing you were interested in was what went in it.”

His frustrated snarl wasn’t what she was expecting, but as he pulled her tight against him, there was no mistaking the hard line of his erection pressed into the curve of her ass.  “Don’t talk,” Angel muttered as the hand at her front reached up to viciously pinch her nipple through her nightgown.

“Or what?” she challenged.  If she hadn’t been so tired, maybe she would’ve remembered her lessons from the previous night, the stinging slap of his hand on her face.  Maybe she would’ve kept her yap shut because daring Angel Wilkins?  Not the smartest thing for someone to do.

The blow to the side of her head made stars dance behind her eyes, and Faith twisted against his heavily muscled arms as she tried to escape his clutch.  “Told you not to talk,” Angel repeated.  She looked up just in time to see his fist descend again, and ducked her head so that it hit her temple instead of her mouth.

More stars.  And this time, she was on the floor.

He was on her in a second, rough hands tearing at her slip, exposing her skin to air that suddenly seemed too stifling, too cloying with memories.  Turning her head to the side, Faith squeezed her eyes shut, forcing the tears that welled there to stay inside, and deliberately shifted her thoughts to anywhere but her current situation.

Just like the old days, she thought as somewhere deep inside she felt him enter her.  Turn off the head, let the body do its job.  Disappear for the time the john wants what he wants.  Vanish for minutes at a time and pray you’ve got the moxie to come back when he’s done.

The pounding of his flesh into hers burned the carpet against her bottom.  God, Wes, she thought, you better fucking use that brain of yours fast because I don’t know how long I can live like this.  Not this time.  Just…do what it takes to get me out of here…

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

He hadn’t felt this relaxed since they’d hit the city, Spike decided, and smiled as he watched Red and Harris finalize the last of the plans at the dining room table.  In spite of still not having the answers he needed, the pieces were all there for him; he just needed the time to put them all together.  It didn’t seem as rushed to him anymore, not with such a team of friends around to help him with it.  And with Buffy at his side, knowing she’d be coming back to California with him, anything seemed possible.

When the knock came, Red was the one to break from what she was doing to go and answer it, moving through the hotel suite as if it was her actual home.  All because of that Wesley, Spike mused.  He’d practically laughed himself silly watching her put away the manager’s suits, like it was a job she’d done for years.  He’d never seen her so happy, and thinking that it was all because he’d taken a risk with accepting the job---not that he’d had much choice in the end run, not with the blackmail and all---gave Spike a small sense of satisfaction.  He just wanted her to enjoy life, like she deserved to.  It was about time it happened.

The sight of the two men on the other side of the door was all that was necessary to pull the blond to his feet, his blood chilled as his gaze swept over them.  Except for looking pissed as hell, Ripper looked just like Ripper---too stiff, too tense, eyes blazing behind his glasses.  It was Wesley standing in front of him that gave him pause.

His clothes were in disarray, his collar stained in hardening scarlet from the blood that had evidently dripped down his face.  A nasty scrape coarsened his brow, while blue and purple mottling around his left eye and cheekbone promised a beauty of a bruise come morning.

“What happened?” Red said as she reached forward to try and draw Wesley into the room.

Everyone noticed when the brunette sidestepped her touch, his eyes ducking in almost embarrassment.  Immediately, Spike’s hackles went up, and his lids narrowed as he stepped closer to the entryway.

“Tell them,” Giles ordered.  For the first time, the blond saw the gun almost hidden in the small of Wesley’s back, the unmistakable pressure it was exerting against his shirt.

“I’m so sorry,” Wes said, and his gaze lifted to lock on the redhead before him.  “This isn’t how I wanted you to find out.”

“Find out…what?”  She was pale, all the color drained from her skin, making her hair flame even brighter than normal.

“Who I…what I do…did…”  He was stumbling over his words, and an increasingly frustrated Spike closed the gap between them.

“Spit it out,” he ordered.

With a definitive swallow, Wesley straightened, lifting his chin.  “I’m a federal agent,” he said calmly.  “Assigned to expose Richard Wilkins’ felonious activities and to see that he got behind bars for them.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 24: The Shadow of a Doubt