DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Lindsey has agreed to shelter Faith but then found out Angel was the one she was hiding from, and Buffy has told Spike of her past and why she feels she has to trust Angel…

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

Chapter 27: This Thing of Ours

He was silent as he led her up to the apartment, her hand trapped in his as if he feared by letting her go, she would disappear into the night like some phantom of his imagination.  Did she feel better having told him the whole story? Buffy mused.  Yes and no and a whole big pile of maybe. 

Yes, because now there were no more secrets.  Even knowing everything about California, about the kind of person she was, Spike remained steadfast, refusing to let her run away, caring about her regardless of the deeds of her past.  You don’t have to face this alone any more, he’d said.  It was all she’d ever really wanted, of course.  Not to have bear the burden entirely on her own shoulders.  Up until this point in her life, she’d never had anyone who she trusted enough to share it with, not anyone who wanted to help, at least.  She’d tried with Angel, but he’d been so dismissive of the whole thing, trying to make her forget and brushing her words away like an annoying gnat every time it got brought up, that she’d resolved herself to being alone with this.  And now she didn’t have to be.

But that was part of why she didn’t feel any better.  Or rather, he was part of it.  She wasn’t blind; she knew Angel’s business dealings meant he was inured to the seedier aspects of life.  But he’d only ever been good to her, done everything in his power to make her happy.  How could she even begin to accept the fact that he could be behind the hit on his own father?  He’d never seemed that interested in the family business, only in what it could provide him.  Killing Mr. Wilkins didn’t make sense to her.

And then there was Wesley.  Good, reliable, two-faced Wesley, who’d fooled her into not realizing he was a cop.  Agent, she corrected.  Investigating the family and trying to take away Buffy’s world in doing so.  Except, it wasn’t really her world anymore.  Spike was.  And he wasn’t after her, so why couldn’t she just let go of the fact that he was part of a cadre that represented pain and anger and had made her life miserable when she was at her lowest?  Spike trusted him.  Just as she had once trusted him.  But she wasn’t sure she could go back to that place any time soon.

She watched as Spike fumbled one-handed with the lock on the door, finally pushing it open and tugging her gently inside.  The murk of the apartment was broken by the orange and silver light peeping around the curtains at the window, but as he reached to flip the switch, Buffy stopped his hand, slim fingers wrapping around the power of his.

“Don’t,” she said quietly.  His eyes gleamed when he looked down at her, the whites capturing the scattered light.  “Not yet.”

“What’s wrong, luv?” he murmured.  He turned to face her, loosing his hand to push back the hair that fell against her cheek.  “We’re safe here.  But if you want me to scope---.”

“Wesley said Giles and Xander were trying to get confirmation about…Angel,” she said.  “What exactly did he mean?”

Spike exhaled slowly, his lashes lowering before rising again so that his eyes could burn into hers.  “They went to talk to some chippy Wilkins introduced Harris to the other night,” he said evasively.  “They thought she might be able to answer a few questions.”

Alarm buzzed down her spine.  “You sent them to Darla’s?” she asked, incredulous.  “What?  Are you that jingle-brained?  She’s going to gum everything up if you guys are right.”

His surprise was just as strong as hers, and his hand loosened, falling to his side as he frowned.  “How in hell do you know about Darla?”

“You don’t think I don’t know about my fiance’s exes?”

“Not when she’s a first class madam.”

“Ha.  First class, my ass.  Darla makes Drusilla look like the Queen of England.”  She shook her head.  “What were you thinking?” she repeated

“Let me get this straight.”  Before she could stop him, his hand reached out and flicked the switch, making her blink as her eyes adjusted to sudden brightness.  “You know your git of a fiancé is sleeping around on the side with a pro skirt who’s probably shagged half of Manhattan, and you were goin’ to marry him anyway?  If you’d sussed on to the fact that he was bunking with her, why is the rest of this so hard for you to believe?”

“I didn’t know until a few months ago, and that only happened because Faith told me.  She said she didn’t like me being made a fool of and thought I should be put wise to what he was doing.”  Buffy’s head dropped, exhaustion weighing her shoulders.  “It’s not like I didn’t have my own motives for marrying him either, remember,” she said, her voice low.  “I just…I figured he’d stop after the wedding.”

She was tired of thinking about it, about conflicting questions bombarding her brain in search of answers she didn’t know she could give, and now, with Spike’s disappointment in her about putting up with Darla, the only thing she wanted was to just run away.  Not like that ever really solved anything, but…

His hands came to her shoulders, pulling her against him so that he could wrap his arms around her back.  “Didn’t mean to sound like such a judgmental prat,” he murmured into her hair.  “It’s been a rough night for you.  I shouldn’t be adding to your confusion by questioning you.”  She felt him nuzzling the top of her head with his cheek, heard the sound of his breathing as he inhaled the scent of her shampoo.  “Don’t be worryin’ about Ripper and Harris,” he added.  “They know how to take care of themselves.  And we’ve got some cards to play that we think that Darla might like a tad more than she likes Wilkins.”

His fingers were doing that tracing thing down her spine again, finding the hollow of her bones and pressing just firmly enough to let her know that he was there.  Buffy’s eyes fluttered closed.  “I need to do some thinking,” she whispered. 

For a moment, she wasn’t sure he heard her, his movements never hesitating, his breathing never changing.  And then…

“Oh?”  Neutral.  Guarded.  “Don’t tell me after everything…”  Spike stopped then, and she felt his muscles tense as he prepared to pull away.  “I told you, nothin’s changed for me.  I meant that.  But…if you need…to be alone tonight---.”

“I need a shower,” Buffy said before he could move.  She straightened then, and looked up into his face, allowing her arms to lift and drape over his shoulders.  “A shower for one.  As hot as I can stand it.  It helps me clear my head.”  Tremulous fingers outlined the razor blade of his cheekbone, and she swallowed hard.  “I don’t want to ever be alone again.”

He didn’t reply, just looked down at her with midnight eyes that made her want to sink into his flesh, and then lowered his head so that his lips brushed tenderly against hers.  “I’ll be here when you get out,” he promised as he pulled away, and gave her a gentle push toward the bathroom, his hand slipping to her bottom as she turned.

The smile she shot him was a mixture of gratitude and want, but she kept her feet moving, aiming for the solitary steam that would hopefully filter her thoughts enough for her to get a grip on them.  I don’t know what lucky star brought Spike to me, she thought as she slipped inside the bath.  But I’m going to have to remember to thank it as soon as I see the sky again.

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

He moved around the bedroom, lighting the candles he’d managed to scrounge from the kitchen, his chest silvery pale in the moonlight that flowed through the open window.  The sound of the shower filtering from the other room leant the air a domesticity Spike had been without for what seemed like an eternity, and he smiled as he caught the faint note of a song underneath its rhythm.

She was singing.  That had to be a good sign.

For a moment there, when she’d said she needed to think, he had been thrust back to that awful night previous, when the mere mention of Angel’s name had been enough to devour his self-worth.  But, if she’d asked, he would’ve let her go.  He would’ve hated every second of it, and kicked himself black and blue for being such a ponce, but if she’d asked, there was no way he could’ve said no. 

Head over heels.  Time for him to admit it, once and for all.  In love with Buffy Summers, and ready to give her the world if she wanted it.

And he was going to tell her before the night was through.  No way could he keep this kind of information to himself, not when he’d only just discovered it himself.  He doubted she would run, not after everything she had said, but more than anything else, Spike wanted her to see just what a man in love with her looked like. 

Because what Angel Wilkins felt for her wasn’t love.  It was obsession.  Spike had heard enough of her story to be certain of that.

The ringing of the telephone shattered his reverie, and he jogged out to the living room to pick it up.

“I hope you’re sitting down,” Ripper said in lieu of a greeting.

Spike frowned.  “Don’t tell me after everything we were wrong,” he said.  Though he could still hear Buffy singing in the bathroom, he kept his voice low.

“We’re not wrong,” came the reply, but before the flare of righteous satisfaction could burn too brightly in Spike’s gut, he added, “But we weren’t completely right, either.”

“What’s that?”

“Wilkins has a partner.  One the skirt doesn’t know, not that she would’ve told us anyway.  But that means we have two potential targets now.  Taking out Wilkins isn’t enough at this point.”

It is for me, Spike thought grimly, but kept silent, his mind working over the implications of Ripper’s words.  “The lawyer’ll know,” he finally said.  “I’ll get the name out of him if I have to rip his tongue out to do it.”

Silence.  “So, we’re proceeding with our plans?”

“As scheduled.  Call Red and tell her to get a good night’s kip.  We’re goin’ to need everyone in top form.  I don’t want this to be a trip for biscuits tomorrow.”

“Right.”  Another pause, this one longer.  Finally, he heard him clear his throat.  “How did…Miss Summers take the news?” Ripper asked cautiously.

Spike sighed, rubbing tiredly at his eyes.  “As well as can be expected, considering she feels like she owes the prat her life.”  He hesitated before saying the next, and then decided to hell with it.  “She’s got a beef about us trusting Wesley, though.”

The snort of disgust was unmistakable through the phone line.  “I believe I told you the same thing.”

“And I told her the same thing I told you, Rip.  I’m goin’ with my gut on this one.  We’re goin’ to trust him until he gives me a reason not to.”

“And lying isn’t a good enough reason, apparently.”

“I’m not doin’ this again,” Spike warned.  “He’s saved your skin just as much as he’s saved mine.  And Red’s soft on him, which means he’s as good as family in my book.”

“Willow doesn’t understand the ramifications---.”

He was shaking his head even before he heard her name.  Resorting to his big words was Ripper’s last defense.  “Red understands just fine,” he interrupted.  “And I’m sorry she didn’t pick you, but you’ve got to start thinkin’ with your other head here---.”

“Why?  You didn’t when it came to Miss Summers.”

His knuckles were white around the receiver.  He had to give the old man credit for knowing exactly where to make it hurt, but the desire to snap back at him was overwhelming.  It took biting his tongue until his mouth filled with the coppery heat of his own blood to stop the retort from spilling from his lips.  Shouldn’t have brought it up, he thought irritably.  Should’ve just let the matter drop.

Out loud, he said, “Have I ever failed you, Rupert?”  Low, even, and using his friend’s given name…that was the best way he could think of to convey just how serious he was about this.  “Have I ever done anything that would’ve put you, or Red, or Harris, in harm’s way?”

The other Englishman sighed, and Spike could just imagine him worrying the lenses of his glasses on the other end of the line.  “No,” he finally conceded.

“I swore I’d get you two out of this mess when we got into it,” he continued.  “And I’m not about to bugger it up now.  We’re this close to sorting it all out.  We turn on each other now, we go up in flames, and trust me, the last thing I want right now is to be a big pile of dust.”

“I don’t want that, either.”

“So, we’re just goin’ to go ahead with the arrangements like we planned, and we’re goin’ to put this petty shit behind us, right?  Because you know I’ll gag and tie you up myself if you muck this up at this point.”  The last was said in jest, but the warning was still there.  And Rupert Giles was far from a stupid man.

“Promise me that I get to be the first one to sock it to him if Wesley chisels us or hurts Willow.”

Spike grinned.  “You have my word.”

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

She was supposed to be sleeping.  That’s what the instruction from Spike had been.  But no matter what she did, Willow couldn’t keep her lids shut, feeling them drift open for the umpteenth time since she’d laid down to stare up at the ceiling she couldn’t really see anyway.

Wesley loved her.  He’d practically gotten down on bended knee to profess it.  He was giving everything he knew up just for the possibility that it might one day be requited.  Did she believe him?  Her skin flushed in remembrance of his eyes as he’d said it to her, and she smiled into the darkness.  Of course she did.  She’d have to be blind not to. 

But he’d also lied to her.  OK, so maybe he had a point about it being about his job and not about him, but that didn’t negate the truth that he’d deceived all of them.  People she cared about.  People who were more her family than her own parents.  She was closer to Giles than her own dad, and Xander and Spike were the brothers she’d never had.

Brothers who, after the initial fighting was over, seemed to have no problems trusting Wesley.

Crap.

With a sigh, she sat up in the bed and stared at the closed door that led to the rest of the hotel suite.  He’d insisted she take the bedroom while he slept on the couch.  He hadn’t even risked perturbing her friends further by answering the phone when Xander called with the news of Darla.  Instead, he left it to her, and maintained his silence---and distance---while she scribbled down a few notes.  Only when she’d relayed the messages had he said anything, and then it was only to concur with Spike’s assessment of the situation.

For being the bad guy in this, he sure was acting the part of the gentleman.

Maybe some warm milk will help me sleep, Willow reasoned, swinging her legs to the floor and sliding her feet into her slippers.  Grabbing her robe from the foot of the bed, she tiptoed to the door, twisting the knob as silently as she could before pulling it open to peek outside.

Not surprisingly, Wesley was still awake as well, stretched out on the couch with only the lamp on the end table on for illumination.  A book was open in his hands, his glasses firmly in place as he read, but as soon as he heard the door open, he looked up from the page.

“Are you all right?” he immediately queried.

“Can’t sleep,” she said.  She remained rooted, watching him as her fingers played with the tie of her robe.  “Whatcha reading?”

“Remarque’s The Road Back,” he replied, holding it up so that she could see the cover.  “In the original German.”

Willow grimaced.  “Not exactly light bedtime reading,” she commented.  She took a step closer.  “I think I cried for a week after I read it.”

His small smile was amused.  “It’s the only non-English book I grabbed from my flat when we left,” he explained.  “I thought having to do the translation would tire me sufficiently to rest.”

Another step.  “Are you in pain?  Is that why you can’t sleep?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“It’s the couch, isn’t it?  It’s too uncomfortable because you’re so tall.”  Yet another step.

“Really, I’m fine.  Just…too much on my mind, I suppose.  To be expected, don’t you think?”  Picking up the bookmark that rested on his lap, Wesley marked his page and set the text aside, sitting up against the arm of the couch.  “Did you wish to talk some more?”

Willow shook her head.  Why wasn’t she getting her milk? she wondered.  Why did he only have to look at her and she felt like nothing else in the world mattered?

“You should go and rest,” he was saying, and she jerked herself from her wandering thoughts.  “Tomorrow is going to be another stressful day.”

“Anything after today is going to be cake,” she joked, but was met only with his downcast eyes, as if she’d just scolded him yet again for the events of the night.  Taking a deep breath, she marched forward and stood before him, holding her hand out.  “You need to sleep, too,” she said.  “And it’s stupid for you to do it out here when there’s a perfectly good bed in the other room.”

He was just as surprised at her invitation as she was, looking up at her with widened eyes.  Nothing was going to happen, she reasoned, and she wasn’t fooling herself anyway.  She wanted him there.  It didn’t seem right that he wasn’t.

“Just to sleep,” she reiterated.  “It’s a…big bed, and since we both need to be all alert tomorrow, there’s no reason…”  Her voice trailed away when his fingers curled around hers, but she swallowed down the lump in her throat when he remained seated on the sofa.

“Don’t,” Wesley said gently.  “You asked for time, and I said I’d respect that.  Sharing a bed tonight is hardly going to help you clear your head.”

“Maybe not, but it’ll help both of us get some shut-eye.”  Her teeth caught her lip and, after a quick glance at the cushions at his side, surprised him by sitting down, tucking her feet underneath her as she leaned tentatively against his shoulder.

“What are you doing?” he asked.  It didn’t stop him from sliding his arm around her, though, tucking her into his side as she rested her cheek against his chest.

Willow sighed, her eyes flickering closed as she breathed in the smell of his cologne.  It mingled with the distant smell of the antiseptic that had been used on his cuts, and she felt a twinge of guilt at the pain he’d incurred at Giles’ hands.  “I’ve figured it out,” she said, her muscles all of a sudden weary in satisfaction.  I should’ve done this an hour ago, she thought.  Sometimes I’m just too stubborn for my own good.  “It’s your fault.  You set a precedent.  If I hadn’t slept so well last night, I wouldn’t be having so many problems tonight.  So, if you’re going to be a poophead and stay out here, then I don’t really have a choice, now do I?”

He didn’t respond, but began gently massaging her arm as she felt sleep begin to overtake her.  Definitely should’ve done this earlier, she thought as she drifted off.  One of these days, I’m going to realize that Spike is always right…

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

“I want him dead!”  The door crashed into the wall as Angel shoved it open, a shower of plaster raining down on his shoulder as he glared at the other men in the room.

From behind the desk, Wood leaned back in his chair, eyes cold as they settled on his visitor.  “What the hell are you doing here?  We had an agreement.”

“What’s the game with Rook?” Angel demanded, crossing the distance between them, shoving Trick out of his way when the smaller man attempted to intervene.

Wood’s jaw tightened.  “The cops still haven’t caught him,” he replied.  “But they’re working on it.”

“Not fast enough.  I want to change the plan.”

“Seems like you’ve changed it already.  I thought we agreed it was best not to risk being seen together.”

Angel collapsed into the chair in front of the desk, legs sprawling.  “That was before that bastard started messing up my life.”

“Oh?”  Wood’s brow quirked.  “You got what you wanted, didn’t you?  The business is all yours now.  I’d think you’d be sitting pretty at this point.  I’m the one who should be complaining.  I haven’t even gotten the territory you promised yet.”

“Keep your pants on.  It’ll come, just like we arranged.  But this business with Rook…are you telling me you’d have a problem with killing him instead of putting him behind bars?”

“A plan is a plan---.”

“OK, let me put it this way then.”  Angel’s eyes glinted in barely controlled fury.  “You want the red district, you’re going to give me Rook’s head on a platter, capisce?  That’s the new plan.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 28: A Crook’s Romance