DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Faith has gone to Lindsey after Angel’s visit, and after learning of her fiance’s involvement in the murder as well as Wesley’s true profession, Buffy has asked Spike to take her back to his place…

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

Chapter 26: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil

He didn’t even question his own response.  Something had happened back at the other hotel, something that ran deeper than not wanting to believe the truth about Angel, but Spike had let her be, guiding her down to the Desoto and driving off into the darkness toward the apartment, giving her the space for which her body was screaming.  Buffy hadn’t said a word, merely curled into the corner of her seat as she stared blankly out the window, the pale reflection of her skin the only glimpse he was allowed of her face. 

That’s all he wanted, really.  To be able to look into her eyes and know that everything was just jake.   To see the green and drown in their purity, just as he did every single time she looked at him.  Though he’d expected her accusations---just another reason why he’d insisted Wesley and Willow be the ones to tell her, didn’t need to add fuel to the fire, he’d reasoned---that foreknowledge didn’t assuage the stab of pain they’d left when she’d fired them at him.  Only her offer to take her back to his place had soothed the anger away, and he’d not hesitated to accept her peace offering.  Even if she couldn’t exactly say the words.

Now, half an hour later, they were approaching the apartment building with neither of them having said a word since leaving Wesley’s.  The street was dead, so finding a parking spot in front was cake.  When he killed the engine, though, the motion of Spike’s hand toward the door handle was stilled when he realized Buffy wasn’t moving as well.

“We’re here,” he said unnecessarily, and risked reaching out to push back a lock of hair from her shoulder, exposing the curve of her cheek to the golden streetlight that filtered through the windshield.

“You’re trusting him.”  Her voice was tiny and lost in the vast expanse of the car and Spike saw the barest flicker of her fingers as they began stroking the leather of the seat at her side.  “After everything…who you are and what you’ve done and the fact that he’s lied to you and everyone…you just walked away from Wesley and left one of your best friends behind.”  That was when she turned, eyes wide and bottomless as she stared at him.  “Why?”

“I’m goin’ with my gut,” he replied.  It was true.  Too much of what Wes had said made sense, and in the end, it was easier to set aside the disquiet of the other man’s misrepresentations and follow his own instincts.  Red was hurt, and that made him angrier than almost anything else, but on this, Spike believed he was right.

“You’re making a mistake,” she said, shaking her head.

He frowned.  “You’re kidding me, right?  Aren’t you the one who’s been tellin’ me all along that Wesley rates?  What’s with the about-face?”

“He’s a fed.  He lied to you, to all of us.  He’s…”  She fought to find the right words, and then shook her head in defeat.  “…a fed,” she finished, repeating herself.

“And normally I’d agree with you and say that’s a bad thing,” he countered.  “But this time it’s different.  He’s not been a part of the game for awhile, luv, and he’s willing to take a powder on it which says a helluva lot in my book.”  His hand caught hers, stopping the tracery against the seat, and for the first time, he felt the tremors wreaking havoc beneath her skin.  “What’s goin’ on?” he asked, the cadences of his voice no more than a whisper.  “This isn’t about Wesley.  This is something else, something that’s spooking you worse than I’ve ever seen.  Tell me, pet.  I can’t help you if you don’t tell me.”

Her lashes fell, and for a long moment, he wondered if he’d pushed too hard.  Shouldn’t have used the word help, he chastised silently.  Certainly doesn’t need my help.  Needs my understanding.

“It’s probably time I tell you anyway,” Buffy said, and it sounded as if her voice came from faraway.  Her eyes lifted then, shiny and level but astonishingly clear.

“Tell me what?”

“All of it.  What happened to me in California.  Why me and cops get along about as good as cats and dogs.  Why I can’t believe that Angel could do what you think.”

Spike’s hand went back to the door.  “Let’s get upstairs, then,” he said.  “This isn’t the place---.”

“No.”  Louder now, as if she was gaining courage.  She pulled her hand away to fold it with the other in her lap.  “We’ll do it here.  Now.”  She laughed, a dry rasp devoid of amusement.  “Who knows?  It might save us a trip back down to the car if you decide to go drop me off at my place afterward.”

“Not goin’ to happen.”

“You can’t say that.  You have no idea what I’m capable of, Spike.  You have no idea what I’m about to tell you.”

“I know it’s not goin’ to change a thing about how I feel.”  Twisting his body to face her head-on, Spike draped his arm over the back of the seat as he got more comfortable.  “Save us both the melodrama and just get on with it, Buffy.”  His choice of words was specifically harsh, somehow knowing that his urge to cradle her in his arms and stroke away the fears before they tumbled from her mouth would only push her further away in her current state of mind.  So he fought against what he wanted to do and instead affected the distance he knew she needed in order to get whatever was eating her up off her chest.

Slowly, haltingly, she took a deep, ragged breath.  “It probably all started when I was fifteen,” she began, and he felt himself already swirling in the whirlpool of her tale.  “Dad was gone, and it was just Mom, and Dawn, and me.  That was when I met Scott, remember?  And he brought a little bit of order to my life, because everything at home pretty much was awful.”

“I remember…”  Keeping his tone low, so as not to scare her away.  He could practically smell the worry emanating from her skin, and battled with the itch to just say fuck it and tell her not to bother with the story.  It wasn’t worth it seeing her like this.

“I got…I suppose wild isn’t the wrong word for it.  Doing things I shouldn’t.  Shoplifting.  Breaking curfew.  Taking about any dare anyone threw even vaguely in my direction.  Looking back on it now, part of me wonders if I had some kind of death wish with the stunts I pulled.  I don’t know.  But I didn’t stop.  Nothing phased me.  And eventually, my mom caught on to what was happening, and at the end of my junior year, we had this huge blowout.  She and Scott ganged up on me to try and get me to see some kind of reason.  Only…it didn’t go the way they hoped.  When Mom gave me her ultimatum---.”

“And what was that?”

“Get my act together or get out of her house.”  The dance had started between her fingers again, fluttering and smoothing her skirt and doing everything but settling down.  Though his eyes were intent on her, her gaze was averted, locked on the memories of her past instead of the black interior of the car.

“You left.”  It was the most natural conclusion, and knowing what he did of how headstrong Buffy was now, Spike could only imagine how being a teenager would’ve blown that up a hundredfold.

“I spent the summer waitressing in Los Angeles,” Buffy admitted.  “I didn’t even go by my real name.  I told everyone I was Anne.”  Her laugh took him by surprise.  “You know, nobody there even questioned me.  You’re the first person I used that moniker on to ever not believe me.  Why is that?”  The last was directed at him, and he let his body relax, his hand dropping to her shoulder to begin massaging the tension it found there, as he smiled softly back at her.

“Because you can’t lie to me,” Spike said.  “Because you and me…we know too much about the other, about…what’s goin’ on inside our heads and inside our hearts to try and pull the wool over our eyes.  It’s not possible.  It goes against our blood.”

She nodded, and he could see that she believed every word of it.  “That summer, it was almost too easy to fool everyone.  And life was better for awhile.  I just had to concentrate on getting through the day to day.  Get up, go to work, get my pay, go home.  It was what I needed, I think.  Then, this guy overheard me singing one day and started putting the bug in my ear about doing it professionally, and I thought…yeah.  That would be good.  I can finish school, and start getting some practice around Sunnydale at the same time.”

He had to fight to maintain his composure.  “This guy…was that Wilkins?” he asked, his voice tight.

Buffy shook her head.  “I didn’t meet Angel until after I went back.  I told you that.  No, it was some slimeball named Parker.  He was probably only telling me that because he was interested in me, but it worked.  It got me thinking about it and when the end of the summer came around, I went back home.”

While this was all good and illuminating, and hearing stories about a younger Buffy only confirmed for the blond that he’d been right about her all along, Spike was unsure what her point was in telling this.  So far, nothing she’d said was remotely terrible, or explanatory of her dislike for cops.  But he held his tongue, waiting for her to continue.

“You already know about senior year.  I started singing.  Scott and I…”  She stopped, taking a deep breath before going on.  “And then the car accident.  Mom and I were doing a lot better before then, getting along and stuff.  But when I went back to singing, it was just like it was before I’d left for LA.  The fighting.  The screaming.  And poor Dawnie kept getting caught in the middle.  Leaving for LA was a relief in the end.”

“With Angel.”  God, how he hated even having to say the wanker’s name.

“It wasn’t like that,” she insisted.  “How many times do I have to tell you we didn’t start seeing each other in a romantic way until after I came to New York?”  She fell silent again, her momentary anger receding into a somnolence that darkened her face.  When she spoke again, her voice was deliberately blank, and for the first time, Spike felt a chill creep through his veins.

“But he was there, just like he always had been.  He was the only one who stood by me, no matter what.  Stood up for me, with everyone.  With my mom.  With the club owners.  With anyone who tried to get in my way.  He got me my first job in LA.  He made sure I didn’t get fired from my second when I got laryngitis and needed a week off to recuperate.  He did that.  Angel.  Because he cared about me, so think what you want to, Spike, but it’s not going to change the past.  It can’t.”

He knew his eyes were shaded from hers by the ebony blanket of the night, but he doubted Buffy would see the thoughts that were lurking there even if she could.  This was her blind spot.  Sure, he could see why she’d choose to view her history like that, but he could also see it from Wilkins’ perspective, how the bastard had deliberately positioned her on a pedestal and done everything he could to keep everyone else from knocking her off of it.  Not that Buffy wasn’t worth adoration, far from it.  But she was just a woman, who made mistakes, and no amount of worship or money or threatening would turn her into anything else.  It was certainly enough for Spike; he just wondered why it wasn’t for Angel.

“So…was it because of the family then?” he posited tentatively.  “That why you’re so skittish around the coppers?”

Buffy shook her head.  “Angel did everything he could to try and keep me away from his business dealings,” she said.  Her voice was still distant and empty, like she had to further herself away from the facts in order to convey them without breaking down.  “Everything else is because of me.  Just me.”  She sighed and rubbed wearily at her eyes.  “Mom and I stopped talking for awhile.  The only way I kept track of what was going on back in Sunnydale was through Dawn’s letters.  After I’d been in LA for about a year, Dawn started complaining about not having enough money for school things and when I pressed her on it, she fessed up that Mom’s gallery was losing money.”

He began to drown in the sound of her voice as she regaled him with the tales of just what she’d done in order to help her mother out.  Guilt for leaving had driven her to seek out Angel’s acquaintances---behind his back---and taking on jobs that would allow her quick cash.  Messenger stuff, mostly.  Portering packages she didn’t ask to be identified.  Making odd phone calls in the middle of the night with messages she didn’t understand. 

“The money was good,” she whispered.  “And nobody ever questioned me.  Beyond reproach, that was me.  Too busy singing my little heart out to be suspected of anything wrong.”  When she lifted her eyes, the tears that had been slipping silently down her cheeks glistened in the illumination from the streetlamp, but she did nothing to wipe them away.  “Every single cent went to Mom,” she said, her voice suddenly fierce.  “I didn’t keep any of it.”

“I believe you.” 

Those three little words made her shoulders crumple, and this time, Spike didn’t hesitate to slide across the leather to scoop her into his arms.  Under his breath, he murmured the softest words he could summon, stroking her hair as her thin body trembled against him, each sob deeper than the one previous.  Buffy’s fingers clawed into his neck, trying to pull him even closer, and she wept the release she’d been seeking ever since starting her story.

“Not even Angel said that to me after,” she said quietly as her crying eased.  “He’d look at me and I’d just know he was thinking I was in it for myself, too.  That part of me wanted what the money offered.  I could never get him to understand.”

“It’s ‘cause he doesn’t know you,” Spike replied.  His lips brushed across her temple.  “It’s not in you for that.”

The breath that shook her lungs vibrated through him.  “You must think I’m a big crybaby,” Buffy joked harshly.

“Not in the slightest,” he argued, and smiled for the first time since she’d began.  “So…what happened?  You said something about…after.”

“I messed up.”  Her voice was back to being small again, only now it was muffled against his shirt.  He could feel the damp heat of her breathing, the soft in and out warming his flesh, and coiled inwardly in response to what he knew was coming.  “I got asked to slip a Mickey Finn in some guy’s drink and I said no.  I didn’t get into it to hurt anyone; I just wanted to make some extra moolah.  Then, when they tried putting the screws on me, I made some half-assed threat about going to Angel. That just made them laugh at me.  Told me…if I didn’t do it, they’d make me wish I did.”

His grip tightened.  How many times had he used those same words on one of his stoolies back in the day? Spike wondered.  Thinking of the consequences of how they might affect them had never occurred to him then.  Business, pure and simple.  And Buffy had been caught up in her own mini version of it.  He already knew what was coming.  He just needed to hear it from her own lips.

“I thought I was safe when nothing happened for a few days,” she said softly.  The tears were gone now, deadened by the pain.  “And I heard someone else offed the guy so I figured I was officially off the hook.  But then…I got a note.  I don’t know who from.  And they said my family wasn’t safe.  That…they would pay.”

The fire.  Oh god.  But not even squeezing his eyes shut could block out the images her words brought before his mind’s eye.

Buffy racing away from Los Angeles to try and stop whatever was going to happen, breaking every speed limit along the way.

Her childhood home standing empty when she’d thrown open the door, her voice echoing up and down the stairs.

Back in the car to go to the gallery, only to see the orange and red flames already licking their way up the walls through the windows.

Choking and sweating and screaming through the smoke that rolled through the door when she opened it, stumbling in the dark because the electricity was out,  to find her mother and sister bound and unconscious in the back room.

Fingers bleeding as she tried to work the rope that held them, her eyes burning, the heat scorching her skin.

And then the gunshot that had ripped into her lower back, knocking her unconscious and stopping her from getting them free.

“Angel’s the one who got me out of there,” she said, but before Spike could ask the question of how, she added, “He found my note and followed me down.  Except…he didn’t get there in time to save Mom and Dawn.  They told me later that I was lucky to be alive, but…”  Her voice broke, the tears resuming their flow.  “They died because of me.  And even when I was in the hospital, and they wouldn’t let me out to go to the funerals, I knew I had to get out of California.  I couldn’t face what I’d done to them.  Because it was all my fault.  They’d be here today if it wasn’t for me.”

He didn’t say a word, just held her close, pressing his cheek to the top of her head as his fingers tangled through the loose locks of her hair.  No wonder she was so loyal to the prat.  He’d bloody well saved her life.  Not that Spike didn’t question just how advantageous it was that he just happened to come across the note at just the right time, but now was not the proper place for those kind of thoughts.

“The cops wouldn’t leave me alone,” Buffy was saying, and he had to force himself to concentrate again, focus on her voice while she finished out the remembrance.  “Someone sang about some of the dealings I had in Los Angeles, and with the fire labelled as arson and all the fights everyone in town knew me and Mom had, plus the fact that I was at the gallery when they knew I lived out of town…I was their prime suspect, even if I did get shot.  I could hear the nurses and orderlies and doctors all talking about me when they thought I couldn’t hear.  Even when Angel stepped up to the plate and had the Wilkins’ lawyers come in to get my name cleared, they didn’t stop whispering.  And they were right.  I killed her.  I killed both of them.”

“No, you didn’t,” Spike reassured.  “You can’t be beating yourself up for gettin’ in with the wrong crowd.  Those kind of people…they’re unpredictable.  Take it from the horse’s mouth.  You had no way of knowing---.”  He cut himself off when she pulled away to look up at him, and knew nothing more he could say would take the guilt away, as much as he wanted to.  Time for another tack, he decided.

“You said they never caught the guy who shot you,” he prompted.

Buffy shook her head.  “Even when I went back to Los Angeles, complete with police supervision which is not fun, let me tell you, nothing ever showed up.  As far as the cops are concerned, it’s still an open case.  But it was Angel’s boys who I’d been working for, which means it had to be someone inside the family who did it, or someone connected to it.  So, when Angel suggested I move to New York, I figured it was my last shot.  I could learn more about the family and take out who did this.  Who wrecked my life so badly.  Other than me, of course.”

And it all made perfect sense to him now.  The self-loathing the beautiful blonde carried around.  Her faith in Angel.  The reason she’d been willing to shackle herself into a loveless marriage.  And why she’d been so frightened of him learning the truth.

Gently, Spike put his hands on her shoulders, looking at her with eyes he knew weren’t capable of hiding the truth from her.  “You don’t have to face this alone any more,” he murmured.  “Whatever it takes, I’ll help you get this mess sorted.  We can get Ripper and Red working on it, as soon as this Mayor business is wrapped up, and your heart can finally get some peace.  You deserve it, luv.  And no amount of storytelling’s goin’ to change my mind about that.”

“So…you don’t hate me…knowing the truth?”

She’d so clearly expected it; disbelief etched across features even clearer than if it had been daylight.  “Can’t,” he said with a small grin.  “Not physically possible.”  Reaching past her, he pushed open the car door.  “Now get your sweet caboose upstairs.  I plan on using what time I’ve got before dawn to show you just how physically impossible it is.”

She surprised him by leaning forward, pressing her lips to his before sliding out of the seat.  “Thank you,” she breathed, and he caught the smile of gratitude she flashed him before turning toward the building.

Nothing to be thankful for, he thought as he climbed out of the car.  Can’t very well give up on the woman I love, now can I?

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

He slipped silently from his suite and tapped on the door opposite, glancing back at his own door while he waited for a response.  Lilah was still out for the count; apparently, she rated sleep higher than any feelings of responsibility toward getting this Rook mess sorted out.  It was all well and good for Lindsey, though; this new wrinkle of Faith showing up was one he wanted to keep away from his unwanted partner in crime.  Somehow, he had a feeling his new guest was about to make his life even more difficult.

Her voice was quieter than he expected, and he pushed open the door to see her lying down on the couch.  “Everything’s all fixed,” he said, shutting out any possibility of interruption and crossing to stand before her.  “I’ve got you booked in with the front desk, so if you find you need anything, just give them a call.  They’ll charge everything back to my account.”

“Thanks.”  Faith grimaced as she tried to sit up, her body sore from the exertion.  Though her face still sported the purple and blue and blossoming green, she had cleaned up the blood and tried to make herself more presentable.  In a way, it worked against her.  Instead of reaching her usual sexy appearance, her care had only served to accentuate the damage that had been done, and Lindsey felt his sympathy for the whore rise in his throat.

“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me who did this to you,” he said, perching himself on the arm of the couch.  “This kind of action really warrants going to the police.”

The shake of her head was vehement, causing another moue of pain to wrinkle her nose.  “Coppers are useless in this,” she said.  “I just need some place to lay low until I can get out of town.  I’ve had enough of this shit.”

“What about money?”

She flashed him a brilliant smile, oddly gruesome in the beauty of her features.  “Getting dough’s never a problem for me, loverboy,” she taunted.  “It may not be a lot, but it’ll do to get me out this town.  I just can’t…”  And the smile faded, replaced by an aching anger deep within her doe eyes. 

He waited as she lowered her head, reluctant for him to see her weakness, but when her hand snaked out to touch his thigh, Lindsey froze, wondering just what it was she was thinking.

“Should probably thank you the right way,” she purred, and if he hadn’t known about her injuries, he never would’ve guessed that she was in any sort of pain.  Seduction oozed from her body as her hand slid upward, nails raking across his flesh through his trousers.

“Don’t,” he said, grabbing her hand before it could reach his crotch.  He held it until she looked up, confusion now behind the mottling.  “I’m not looking for any sort of payment,” he explained.

Faith shrugged.  “Just because you’re not looking, don’t mean you don’t deserve a little something for your efforts,” she argued.

He refused to let her hand go, knowing where it would end up if he did.  “If you think I need to be paid to make sure some creep doesn’t hit you again,” he said tightly, “you don’t know very much about me.”

Slowly, Lindsey released his grip, maintaining his position as she pulled away.  Brown eyes met blue, and he waited to see what her next move was going to be, her face inscrutable beneath the swelling.

“Angel Wilkins,” Faith finally said softly.  “That’s who did this to me.  Staking his claim on his new territory, you might say.”  She sighed heavily and leaned back into the couch, her eyes closed.  “So you see why I can’t go to the fuzz.”

Lindsey nodded, even though he knew she couldn’t see him.  It was taking all his control to maintain a stoic front in light of her naming her assailant, but he didn’t get to where he was in Wolfram and Hart for buckling under a surprise.  “You should get some sleep,” he said instead, rising to his feet.  “Leave a message with the front desk if you need me for anything.  I’d rather my associates didn’t know you were here.  You’re…safer that way.”

He didn’t hang around for her response, letting himself out just as quietly as he’d let himself in.  Once out of her presence, though, he sagged against the doorframe.

Angel Wilkins.

Fuck fuck fuck.

Not that he’d actually dealt with the other man during this whole debacle---Wood and his sideman Trick had been his contacts throughout each stage of the arrangements---but Lindsey knew enough from research to know that that was one man he didn’t want to be crossing.

And now he was hiding the mobster’s whore in the room right across from his.

Talk about a conflict of interest.  There was absolutely no way this could turn out good for him.  No way at all.

 

To be continued in Chapter 27: This Thing of Ours