DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike has evaded Lilah’s trap by losing her escorts in a car chase and then dumping her in the Bronx, while Xander has managed to bluff their way free from Trick. Trick, on the other hand, didn’t trust them not to leave and left two men with orders to shoot if anything out of miss occurred. The ensuing shoot-out left Willow bleeding and unconscious…
With the frantic nerves of a man possessed, Wesley crouched and began searching for the wound, tugging at the hem of her uniform blouse when he saw the blood staining its front. The two bottom buttons popped off in his haste, skittering and rolling forgotten across the marble tile.
He didn’t have to raise her top any further. There, on her left side, was a small hole, the blood seeping down her angled side to drip onto the floor. As carefully as he could manage, Wes slid his hand around her body, gently probing, but was met only with the smooth skin of her back.
“We have to get her to a hospital,” he announced, and slipped his arms beneath her, relieving Faith of the weight as he straightened.
Lindsey blocked his path from the doorway. “Hospitals mean police,” he said. “That’s a gunshot wound, which means there’ll be a report. And if there’s a report on a Willow Rosenberg injured at this particular hotel, you can be damn sure that Lilah will find out about it.”
“I don’t care,” Wesley gritted. “There’s no exit wound, which means the bullet is still inside. She could have internal bleeding, or develop an infection, and if you think for a moment that I’m going to let that happen---.”
“We’ll have to make other arrangements,” Giles interrupted, stepping up. “McDonald’s right. Her hospitalization will provide the police with leverage to get to Spike, and you know as well as I do that Willow wouldn’t want that to happen.”
“I’m not about to let her die!” His shirtfront was getting sticky from the blood that was soaking through, but Wesley ignored it, concentrating on not jarring her further. At least she was unconscious and unaware of the pain, although unconscious in his eyes was still not a desired thing.
“And we’ll do everything in our power not to have that happen, but right now, hospitals are not an option.”
The two Englishmen stared at each other, neither willing to budge on the issue. While he understood that Giles was the last person to want anything to happen to Willow, Wes wasn’t prepared to give up as easily as him.
“Go get the car,” he barked to Xander, who was hovering in the alleyway. He stepped forward and held her out to Giles. “Stretch her out in the back seat and give me five minutes to make a phone call.” The pause between his order and the release of her weight from his arms seemed interminable, and he silently swore at the older man for stealing precious seconds from Willow’s recovery. “Trust me,” he added.
Giles turned cold eyes to Lindsey. “You have two options, Mr. McDonald. Stay here and deal with Trick on your own, or come with us, keep your mouth shut, and pray that Spike believes that what you can contribute is worth Willow getting shot.” He didn’t wait for an answer, just pivoted on his heel and followed Xander toward the end of the alleyway.
Wesley turned to Faith. “Are you all right going with them?” he asked.
She nodded. “I’ll even help keep Lindsey boy in line if you want,” she replied with a grin. She brushed past him, and then hesitated. “Not that I’m one for pitching stones, you know, since I live in my own glass house, but is it worth it? Giving it up for…her?”
He didn’t even hesitate to nod. “It’s more than what you think, Faith,” he said. “There are…extenuating circumstances.”
“Oh, I bet.” She jerked her head at Lindsey. “C’mon, counselor. Let’s go wait for our ride.”
Turning around, Wesley started pushing open doors in the back hallway until he found an unoccupied office, then slipped inside and shut it closed behind him. Two steps took him to the desk, and the phone was in his hand, his fingers flying over the dial.
He glanced down as he waited for the other end to pick up. Scarlet flowered across his shirt, clinging to his skin, and abstractly he plucked at it, its scent itching his nose. Would he ever be able to get the smell of her blood out of his head? Somehow, he doubted it.
Her voice brought his history rushing up in a torrent. “Jenny Calendar. Can I help you?” she said.
He didn’t even bother introducing himself. “I need for you to do something for me, Jenny,” Wes said. “Now.”
Giles hugged the shadows of the wall, away from the mouth of the alley as he watched the people walk by on the sidewalk. If it was possible, Willow’s skin seemed even paler, and her breathing tore and rasped in spite of her unconscious state. He was desperately hoping the bullet hadn’t managed to nick one of her lungs, although the entrance looked too low for that. Still, who knew what kind of trajectory it followed once it entered her body. For all he knew, she was dying in his very arms.
Xander pulling up the car coincided with Wesley’s spectral appearance behind him, and both men hastened to get her into the back seat with as little fanfare as possible, ignoring the occasional curious glance from a passerby. He was about to say something when Wesley pressed a piece of paper into his hand before pulling open the driver side door.
“It’s a private hospital,” Wes explained as Giles scanned over the scrawled print. “It gets used for more of the agency’s…delicate procedures.”
“I’m coming with you,” he said, but was stopped short by the door being shut against him.
“You can’t get in. Only those with proper federal identification are allowed inside. My assistant’s made special provisions for Willow to be seen as quickly as possible, but I can assure you, I’ve had to pull every string I have in order to get that to happen.” Tiredly, Wes rubbed at his eyes. “I’ll leave instruction that you and you alone are to be given updates on her condition if you call, but anyone else will jeopardize Spike’s safety. You need to exercise caution.”
“If they find out about Spike---.”
“They won’t.” His gaze flickered to Lindsey. “Just make sure you get what Spike needs to know. I’d hate to think that this was a waste of time.”
Pressing his lips together, Giles watched the car pull away from the curb, melding with the traffic in normalcy as if it wasn’t rushing a wounded young redhead to the hospital. Godspeed, he prayed silently.
“I’ll get a cab,” Xander murmured behind him. “Are we going to the warehouse or are we doing something else?”
“Let me call Spike,” Giles replied. Action. Something positive he could do. Although…he dreaded being the one to relay the news.
He’d thought they’d beat him there, but when Spike let himself into the warehouse and was greeted with the hollow echo of empty walls, he was slightly annoyed at their lateness. What in bloody hell could be taking so long? he thought as he lounged in the office chair, feet propped up on the desk. Hopefully the lawyer didn’t muck things up for them.
Ten minutes later, he’d smoked through two cigarettes and had a third on its way to his lips when the phone’s shrill ring pierced the air. “Lemme guess,” he said when he picked up the receiver, “Harris talked you into stopping for donuts.”
“Spike.” There was no mirth in Ripper’s voice and Spike immediately stilled.
“It’s Willow. She’s…been shot.”
It was the last thing he’d expected to hear. Red was just back-up; it had been Harris’ job to be the front line. How had the lawyer managed to sneak past him?
“Where’s she at?” Dropping his cigarettes and lighter back into his coat pocket, he stood, body tense and ready to bolt as soon as he got the information he wanted. “Is she all right?”
There was a sigh at the other end. “Wesley’s taken her to a place called St. Augustus. It’s an abdominal wound, but she was unconscious.”
Spike frowned. “Where the hell is St. Augustus? I’ve never heard of it. Is it new?”
“No, apparently it’s the government’s answer to not having to answer to the local authorities. And Willow’s been taken there by the man you insisted we trust.”
He didn’t have time to deal with Ripper’s issues. “Who shot her? If you tell me it was McDonald---.”
“It was one of Trick’s men.” And quickly, he relayed the events of the hotel, starting with his initial sighting of Trick and ending with Wesley’s departure. By the time he was done speaking, Spike was back in the chair, his head resting in his free hand, his eyes closed.
“And we’ve got the contact information to check up on Red?” His voice was flat. No exit for the bullet and lots of bleeding didn’t bode well for the young woman he’d always regarded as a younger sister, the strong but vulnerable force that had kept his world centered back in California.
“Yes.” Pause. “Are you saying…you’re comfortable with Wesley’s decision? This could very well be a ruse to get to you---.”
“Don’t you fuckin’ say it, Ripper.” Probably too harsh, but at the moment, he didn’t care. “If this doesn’t finally prove to you he’s on the up and up, I don’t know what the hell will.”
“He’s blown his cover by doin’ this, you know. You told us yourself the word with the higher ups is he’s dead, but he’s goin’ in anyway. For Red’s sake. Just like he refused to stay behind when you saw Trick go up to the hotel. And he’s right about the other. Keeping me out of the loop keeps me from behind bars, which is what Red would want regardless of how I might feel about the issue at the moment. So, if this doesn’t clinch it for you…”
He could hear the sounds of traffic in the background as he waited for a response, finally relaxing slightly when he heard the deep sigh. “What is it you’d like us to do?” Ripper asked quietly, and with those few words, Spike knew that the issue would never be brought up again. Not even Rupert could delude himself that much.
“Is the lawyer there?”
“Put him on.”
The beginning of a headache was pulsing behind Spike’s eyes, and he rubbed at them, trying to keep at bay the images of a pale Red stretched out in a coffin. She’s not going to die, he tried assuring himself. Not with Wesley on the ticket. But somehow, the words lacked conviction, leaving him feel more drained than he thought possible.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t tell Ripper to plug you right now,” Spike snarled. He was tired of messing around, and in his current mood, nothing would give him more pleasure than seeing someone pay for Red’s injury. He’d just find out what he needed another way.
“I thought…I was under the impression you needed me for something.”
He had to give the lawyer credit for one thing. Even faced with the threat of possible death, he wasn’t showing any fear, and he wasn’t begging. Maybe this was salvageable after all.
So maybe he’d try another tactic.
“That Lilah dame doesn’t like you very much,” he commented, this time a little calmer. “She tried one-upping you today by takin’ me in herself.”
“Fuck…” Lindsey muttered.
“So, I’m goin’ to ask you again. What good does it do me to keep you around long enough for another of mine to get hurt?”
“Because I’m sick of this shit. You name what you want and it’s yours. No questions asked. Just tell me that it means Lilah burns.”
His lips twitched. Good answer. “Put Ripper back on.” He waited for the handover, knowing that each second was precious for them and wishing they’d hurry it up.
“Take him back to Wesley’s hotel and keep an eye on him. I’ll be there in a couple hours.”
He knew the slight hesitation before the reply was his friend’s attempt to curb his doubts regarding the decision, and closed his eyes in silent relief when a different question was posed. “What about Faith?”
“Give her the choice of goin’. Dame’s been through a bit of bad luck, none of it she asked for. If we can help, I’d feel better about it all.”
“Right.” Pause. “I’m sure she’ll be all right, Spike. We have to believe that.”
There was no doubt he was referring to Red again, and Spike sighed. “I know,” he said, and this time did nothing to hide the ache in his voice. “Just wish…well, you know what I wish.”
He didn’t linger after he returned the receiver to its cradle. No reason to dawdle around the warehouse when the others wouldn’t show. Ghosts lurked in its corners, and he didn’t have the strength right then to try and ward them away. It was rough enough savaging the ones from his past; the possibility that Red might be joining that number was more than he was prepared to deal with at the moment.
He needed to be reminded of life. He needed that now.
Lindsey ignored the curious stare from the cab driver in the rearview mirror, and allowed his eyes to glaze as he leaned back into the seat, the firm pressure of Xander and Giles’ arms on either side of him pinning him in place. Not that he needed impetus to stay put. After the ruckus with Trick and Spike’s revelation about Lilah---old client, his ass---his mind was made up. Sticking with Wolfram and Hart was only going to get him killed, and his mama did not raise a stupid boy. Time to pull up his stakes.
“Isn’t it almost lunchtime?” Xander asked.
“You can wait until we get to the hotel,” Giles replied tersely.
Food. Which required money. And the planning began to coagulate inside Lindsey’s head.
“Can we make a detour?” he asked of the Englishman.
His request was met with an immediate frown. “You’re in no position to be asking anything. You’re not so thick not to see that, are you?”
“I’m also not currently in a position to be paying for anything. If you swing by my bank, I can empty my account before my employers put a freeze on my assets. They’ll do that once they find out, you know. And I’m not really looking forward to being on the nut.”
The only sound was the honking of a car behind them. Finally, Giles said, “Five minutes. And you’re not going in alone. I’m not in the mood for monkey business right now.”
As he directed the driver, Lindsey kept his relief from showing on his face. He had enough saved up to last him for awhile; maybe it was time to go home, set up a private practice. Be his own man. Nice thought.
They took her from his arms as soon as he stepped through the doors, stretching her out on the gurney, and Wesley felt the hollowness continue to creep through his body without the reminder of her weight pressed against him.
“Registration is over there,” the orderly at her feet said, nodding at the counter to Wes’ left before starting to push Willow away.
“Wait.” He stepped forward so that he was level with her head, and reached down to brush back the hair from her face. She’d never woken up, which he knew wasn’t a good sign, but he couldn’t allow himself to dwell on those ramifications, not when there was work to be done. “Be strong,” he murmured. So pale. So small.
Trick was going to pay. Slow disembowelment would be too kind of a punishment.
And then she was gone, disappearing down the antiseptic hallway in silence, only the soft padding of the orderlies footsteps echoing to his ears. With his lips pressed tight, he turned and walked to the counter, pulling out his identification for the woman who sat behind it. He glanced at her nametag. Hope. Maybe it was a sign.
“My assistant called ahead,” he said, showing her his card.
“Yes. Miss Calendar said it was a gunshot wound with no exit evidence, so there’s an operating room all prepped and ready to go.” She pulled a thin file from the top of a stack, as if she’d had it waiting for him. “Name?”
“Your relationship to the patient?”
How did he answer that one? Not like he wanted to. “Friend.”
“I don’t know.”
“Was she shot in the line of duty?”
“She’s not a federal employee.”
“But were you conducting business when she was injured?”
Not the kind I can tell you about, he thought. “No.”
Hope frowned. “Then why didn’t you take her to one of the local hospitals instead?” She paused, suddenly wary. “You weren’t the one who shot her, were you?”
“No!” His vehemence made her jump, and she quickly looked back to her paperwork while he fought to regain his composure. “Will that make a difference on whether or not she’s treated?” he said, knuckles white where they gripped the edge of the counter.
She shook her head. “It’s your call, sir. The only ones able to question the authenticity of your claim for her treatment would be your supervisors.”
Exhaling, Wesley’s tension eased slightly. That was a bridge he’d cross when the time came for it. His bosses he could deal with; the cops, he could not.
She looked up from her paperwork when the knock rattled her door. “Come in!” Kate called, and smiled when she saw Riley poke his head through. “You’re looking better this morning,” she said, and gestured toward the empty chair.
“No time,” he replied. “I thought you were going to leave me the information on the lawyer Faith hired.”
“It’s not on my desk.”
“But I left it there last night.” Frowning, she thought back to the previous evening, reliving walking up to his desk…setting her notes carefully on the middle of his blotter…walking away to go home. “Ask the officer who was there. He saw me do it.”
“Who was it?”
Kate shook her head. “I can never remember his name. Dark hair, kind of creepy?” She brightened. “Oh! He was the one whose girlfriend fell down the stairs last year.”
Unconsciously, Riley straightened, stepping inside her office. “Meers?” he said.
“That’s it,” she replied, smiling. “I don’t know why I can never remember his moniker. But he was at his desk. Maybe he saw the cleaning people clear it off or something.” Picking up a piece of paper, she scribbled down the notes she’d left for him and held it out. “Here it is again, though. His name, where he’s staying. There’s not a lot.”
His first glance at the paper was cursory, but when he looked up at her, he hesitated, his gaze slowly returning to the sheet to read it more thoroughly. “Word’s out that there was some shooting at this hotel just a little while ago,” he finally said. “Kind of a coincidence, don’t you think?”
She was already grabbing her coat. “I’ll check it out,” Kate said. “It’s probably got nothing to do with Wilkins but you can’t show your mug down there until we know for sure. It’s not our neighborhood.”
“Thanks. Let me know what you find. I’m going to go have a word with Meers. I don’t like this case information going missing. If we’ve got a mole, I want to know about it.”
Kate laughed. “You’ve been watching too many movies,” she teased as she stepped outside. “I’m sure it’s nothing, and you’ve got it now, right?”
“Right.” But something in his tone said that it wasn’t.
Standing in the shadows at the side of the altar, Buffy watched the priest address the throng crammed into the seats of the church, unexpected tears pricking her eyes. They weren’t for Richard Wilkins. They were for the buried bodies of her mother and sister back in California, for the funerals she hadn’t been able to attend because of her own hospitalization.
It wasn’t a response that she hadn’t anticipated as a possibility. Dealing with the idea of death was one thing; seeing it staring you in the face was another entirely. It was different when it was a stranger. They allowed distance, the ability to close the door on her emotions and pretend that it was just a body, that it hadn’t been a real person.
But Mr. Wilkins had been real. And her mother and Dawn had been real.
And now they weren’t.
I can’t lose it now, she thought, and blinked rapidly in an attempt to clear her vision. I have to sing. I have to make it good. I have to make Mom proud.
It was a breath on the air, hushed and haunting and for a moment she thought she’d imagined it. When it repeated though, this time slightly louder, she frowned, and glanced back over her shoulder at the door that led to the priest’s offices.
Where before it had been closed, now it was ajar. And in the crack stood Spike’s unmistakable shadow.
Pulse accelerating, Buffy glanced at the front row where Angel sat and watched the service. His attention appeared to be rapt, and slowly, she inched herself backward, ducking further into the murk that clouded the edges of the altar, closing the two feet that separated her from Spike silently.
As soon as she was in touching distance, his hand snaked out and curled around her wrist. “Come with me,” he whispered.
She never took her eyes off Angel. “Are you crazy?” she whispered back. “I haven’t sung yet, and do you know how many people are out there right now with guns in their belts? Do you have a death wish that maybe I should know about?”
Silence, but his hand never let go. Instead, it dawned on her she could feel the slightest of vibrations of his grip shaking, as if he was trembling. Is he scared? she wondered. Why did he show up here if he was worried about being caught?
“Come,” he repeated. “I…need you. Please.”
His voice was still barely audible, but the need in it made her muscles weep. “What’s wrong?” she asked, and dared to look back at him.
Eyes still in shadow, she could’ve sworn that they were gleaming. “Red’s been shot.”
The announcement sluiced through her. Willow? Shot? The bright memory of the redhead’s smile flashed across her mind’s eye, and she stole one last look at the congregation.
I’m sorry, Angel, she thought, and slipped through the doorway, taking Spike’s hand and following him out the back of the church.
Because there was only one man who truly needed her, and right now, his soul was breaking. She wasn’t about to turn her back on that.
To be continued in Chapter 33: Through Stormy Weather…