DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Wesley has taken Willow to a private hospital for treatment, Giles is taking Lindsey back to the hotel at Spike’s request, and Spike has picked up Buffy from the Mayor’s funeral to take her away…
He only released her long enough to shut her door and walk around to the driver’s side of the car. As soon as Spike had swung the Desoto out of the alley behind the church, his hand was outstretched, searching for hers, trembling fingers lacing through hers as he stared straight ahead of him and guided them through the traffic.
All thoughts of the funeral were banished from Buffy’s mind as she watched him drive in silence. Shadows seemed to have sprung from nowhere under his eyes, hollow and spectral, making his chiseled features almost ghoulish in their gauntness. Like a ghost of himself already, she thought, and unconsciously tightened her grip, as if that would root him in her reality instead of fading away.
“You have no idea how badly I want a drink right about now,” Spike said quietly. “Get myself smoked and just tell everyone they can go climb their bloody thumbs. Sod the lot of ‘em.”
He didn’t mean it, she knew. Well, he didn’t mean the last part of it. From what he’d told her, getting drunk had been his answer to everything in the five years he’d lived in California. Carefully, her gaze flickered to the floor, scanning for any signs of brown paper or the edge of a whiskey bottle, but came up empty.
“Don’t need it, though,” Spike said, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye, catching her faint blush at being seen. Gently, he squeezed her fingers, the heat of his palm forging with hers. “Got you instead.”
“We should go to the hospital,” she murmured. “Even if we can’t see Willow, the others---.”
“Can’t.” His eyes were back on the road, the ache back in his voice. “Wesley took her to some private place to keep the coppers out of it. I show my mug around there, and everything’s a bust. This whole trip’ll have been for biscuits and I’m not about to let Red down that way.”
“So…where are we going then?”
They coasted to a stop at the red light, and he fumbled in his pocket for his cigarettes, tapping it against the steering wheel to jar one loose and raising it to his lips. “Someplace from the old days,” he said around the filter, and dropped the pack between them before fishing for his lighter. The flame jumped, making his eyes a transient amber, and Buffy’s throat tightened at the bleakness that briefly mirrored there. “Someplace where I can just…where we can…get a spot of peace for a few hours.”
She only nodded. If he’d told her they were hopping on a plane and flying to Africa, she would’ve followed if it would mean easing the sorrow and self-directed anger simmering beneath his skin. Whatever it took to help him deal with Willow’s injury, she would be there for him.
Praying that it didn’t destroy him in the process.
Angel held the bowed position for a few extra seconds than he normally would, not even deigning to sneak a peek out of the corner of his eye to see if anyone else was watching. He knew they were. After all, he was the grieving son. A couple more moments for him to finish his prayers for his dead father were to be expected.
And made him look good at the same time.
Lifting his head, Angel tightened his lips in an attempt to refrain from smiling. The one part of this whole charade that he’d actually been looking forward to was coming up next; he didn’t need to look at the program folded in his hands to know that. Casually, he allowed his gaze to slide from the priest at the lectern to the shadows at the side of the altar, where he knew Buffy was waiting to go on.
Except…she wasn’t there.
Immediately, he frowned. That wasn’t right. She’d just been there; he’d seen her standing there himself. But now, the door to the priest’s offices stood slightly ajar, darkness from the hallway beyond masking any closer inspection.
When he’d turned back to the front, he caught the clergyman’s eye, knowing that he was just aware of Buffy’s non-presence as he was. Discreetly, Angel shook his head, and sighed as he leaned to his left, turning his head just enough to whisper into the ear of the man sitting next to him. “Go find Buffy,” he instructed, not waiting for him to rise before settling back in the pew.
This wasn’t like her. Then again, she’d been very unlike herself for the past few days. Ever since she’d accepted his proposal, in fact. Ever since…
Not a granule of emotion showed itself on his face, but inside, his blood curdled with the connection his brain had made.
Ever since Rook hit town.
Teaming up with Robin Wood had seemed like a genius arrangement in the beginning---someone on the outside to keep the suspicion away from him, making only a small concession in territory to pay for it---but the other man’s obsession with using William Rook for the job was costing far more dearly than Angel had ever reckoned, and the supposition that Wood was going to have to pay for that vendetta was becoming more truth with each passing hour. After this was all over, something fatal was going to have to happen to the Harlem mob boss to make up for the nightmare that was developing.
But he had to get rid of Rook first, and he was beginning to believe that Wood wasn’t up to the job. As much as he hated to do it, he was going to have to put a man or two on Buffy. Angel had a feeling that she would lead him straight to the bastard.
Riley’s fingers flipped through the photographs taken at Faith’s apartment as he cradled the phone in the crook of his shoulder. Nothing, nothing, and still more nothing. The hit was as clean as anything he’d ever seen, and as much as he hated to admit, he had a grudging respect for Rook for being so efficient about it. Not that he condoned murder, far from it, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate a professional when he saw it.
The ringing on the other end of the line was strangled mid-third, and a sleepy voice came through. “Hello?”
“Meers?” he queried, dropping the pictures to the top of his well-worn desk. “This is Finn.”
“Oh.” Was that an edge of wariness that had crept into his voice? “Is there a problem? It’s my day off, you know. I kind of had other plans if you needed me to---.”
“No, it’s not anything you have to come in for,” Riley assured. “I just had a question I needed to ask.” He began doodling in the corner of the paper he’d taken from Kate, tracing the lawyer’s name. “Last night. Did you see anything…funny? Odd? Maybe…cleaning crew poking around where they shouldn’t?”
Pause. “Nah. Last night was dead quiet. Not a peep.”
His pen froze in mid-stroke. “Nothing? Anybody other than officers poke their mug in?”
“Nope. It was just me all night.” Meers laughed. “Trust me, I would’ve killed for a little company. I was so bored, I ended up talking to my mother half the night on the phone.”
“Yeah. I’ll…see you when you get in tonight.”
His face was creased into a frown as he replaced the phone in its cradle. Someone was lying to him, and given the choice between Meers and Kate, he’d peg Kate as the truthteller any day of the week. It was just the question of why Warren would see the need to deceive Riley that had to be answered now.
Slowly, he picked up the nearest of the photographs again, staring at the black and white and shades of gray until the edges started to blur, the texture of the carpet began to bleed through the paper. He was missing something here; he could practically feel it itching around the edges of his awareness like a cockroach scuttling away from the light. A detail from the crime scene maybe. Something forensics had overlooked.
Except forensics never overlooked anything. Meers was too damn smart to---.
At the crime scene.
The one Graham had left in charge of the missing witness.
The one who’d just claimed Kate had never showed her face last night.
Might be nothing. Then again…it could very well be everything.
Picking up his phone again, Riley dialed the extension he wanted before picking up the photos, squaring the edges before sliding them neatly back into the file. “It’s Officer Finn,” he identified when the other line was picked up. “I need a report on all the incoming phone calls to the precinct last night.” He paused, glancing over at Meers’ empty desk. “Toss in the outgoing, too. And keep this on the QT. It could be crucial to an ongoing investigation.”
The fact that he was the only one in the small waiting room was perfectly fine by Wes. Solitude afforded him the luxury of debating his options, most of which left him cold and wondering how in the world he’d managed to drive himself into such a tight corner. The events of the past few days blurred in a frenzied rush of laughter, gunshots, and scarlet, leaving him both exhilarated and exhausted, but it was the time that was ticking by in an operating room only a few feet away that was proving the most draining.
His time in New York was over; there was no escaping that fact now. And while he’d hoped that his decampment would lead crosscountry, the events of the morning most likely predicated a return further south instead. Back to his office in DC. As a failure because he’d wasted three years and a good portion of his resources trying to catch a man who was now beyond his reach.
I’ll most certainly be buried in paperwork, he thought grimly. Fieldwork will be considered beyond my capabilities, and Jenny will likely be laughed at for having associated with me for so long.
But the thing of it was, if it meant Willow would walk out of this facility whole and healthy, it would be worth it. How she’d respond to his change of status, he had no idea, though he didn’t believe she would care. He didn’t think she’d walk away from Spike, though, and provided Rook walked away from this current debacle free and clear, it was inevitable he would return to California.
Which meant Willow would go there as well.
The obvious solution was to quit completely. Follow her wherever she went for as long as she let him. Before his decision to bring her to St. Augustus, that would’ve been possible. Now, it bordered on the fantastic.
Treatment required payment, and Wesley held no illusions that his employers would demand it in full. In that world, remuneration didn’t necessarily need to be cash, but in light of his failure to bring the Mayor to justice, he had no other bargaining chips with which to jockey for his freedom. A small voice in the back of his head whispered Spike’s name, but he swiftly silenced it. Absolutely not. Not even a consideration. Not after everything he’d done to promote his allegiance to the man, and certainly not with how Willow felt about him.
Which left only one other option. Himself.
The soft swish of footsteps in the hall caused him to lift his head just in time to see the door whisper open. “Mr. Wyndham-Pryce?” the young man standing in the entrance said.
He immediately stood. “Is it done? Is she all right?”
Holding up his hands to prevent Wesley from speaking more, the young man said, “Your friend’s still in surgery. I was just sent out here to give you an update. They said…you were a little upset.”
That would be an understatement, Wes thought, but inhaled deeply to calm his rising temper. “So?” he finally prompted. “What can you tell me?”
“Well, first of all, good news is, she seems to be stable. The bullet was a twenty-two, and clearly shot from a distance, which is why it wasn’t powerful enough to punch through the other side---.” He abruptly stopped at the flare of anger in Wesley’s aspect, and cleared his throat. “It did, however, do a fair amount of damage internally, perforating her small intestine in several spots. That’s what the doctor’s attributing her bleeding to. There looked to be some risk that it had nicked the lower lobe of her left kidney, but that proved to be false.”
Briefly, his eyes fluttered shut as his head dropped. Stable. That was good news…and his head immediately shot back up. “You said that was the good news. That infers there’s bad.”
The young man thrust his hands into his pockets under Wesley’s direct stare. “If she comes through the operation---.”
“If? What do you mean, if?”
“She’s lost a lot of blood, and stitching her back up is proving…tricky. Extracting the bullet was difficult without incurring further damage, so the doctors are taking their time with it. She’s most likely going to be in there for several more hours, and then under intensive supervision in post-op for a lot more after that.” His dark eyes darted over Wes’ bloodstained shirt. “It would be understandable if you wanted to go home and clean yourself up. We can call you when---.”
“No.” He held himself straight, jaw squared. “I’m staying. She has no idea where she is. She’s going to need a familiar face when she wakes up.”
His use of the word “when” did not go unnoticed by the young man, and he nodded as if in agreement, though doubt lingered in his eyes. “Of course, sir,” he said, and stepped back. “If you find yourself needing anything, just let Hope at the front desk know. There’s a small kitchen if you get hungry, or Hope can make arrangements to get something delivered in if you want.”
“Good.” Wes had half-turned away when he stopped, glancing back to add, “And thank you.”
Alone again, the hope that had flared at the news dissipated in the light of the entire story, and he sank into his seat, his face just as grim as before. Concentrate on the fact that she’s stable, he pushed himself, but the ghost of her blood’s scent still tickled his nose, and his eyes drifted shut, his head falling back onto the cushion. The frenzy had just frozen into a chilling collage, and now all he could see was her wan face cradled in his arms as her blood stained his clothes.
Stable stable stable…
Perhaps I should call Giles, he thought. He’ll want to know what’s going on.
And tell him what? a small voice argued back. There’s nothing definitive, and you’ll only cause him to worry more. And you don’t know the phone number for the warehouse anyway. He and Spike may be there for hours yet.
I’ll wait, he decided. Giles will call, and I’ll be able to tell him what I know then.
And hopefully…it’ll be good news.
Buffy didn’t say a word as he led her past the sprinklings of flowers, her eyes jumping from the looming angels, to the tidy urns, to the occasional chipped headstone angled in the soil. It wasn’t until he came to a stop before a large mausoleum, standing on tiptoe to feel around the upper lintel, that she spoke up.
“When you said someplace peaceful,” she said, “I figured, a park…a museum maybe. Could even have been the library.” She shook her head, a small smile on her lips as his fingers curled around a key and he unlocked the crypt’s door. “You will never cease to amaze me, Spike.”
The door squeaked from disuse, screaming out in the still of the cemetery, sending chills down Buffy’s spine. He seemed oblivious to the dissonance, stepping into the gloom as if it was home, leaving her no choice but to follow after. She sneezed almost immediately upon crossing the threshold, the dust their steps kicked into the air clogging in her nose.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” Spike murmured. He was a breathing shadow when he paused to look back at her. “Guess I’m the only one who ever bothered to come in here. And I haven’t been here in a very long time.”
“And here would be…where?” she asked. Blinking against the dark, her eyes quickly adjusted, and she saw the pair of stone biers housed within the ten-foot square, the varying stone plaques set into the wall opposite. She couldn’t read the names, but quickly decided she liked it better that way. If he told her this was the resting place of one of his victims and he came here for penance, she didn’t know what she would say.
He was standing in front of the placard-covered wall, staring at a small marble inlay a few inches above his head. “Found this place when I first came to New York,” he said quietly, as if raising his voice would somehow disturb the dead. “It was before Dru stepped into the picture. A group of scabbies took to chasin’ me through the streets and I managed to lose them by hidin’ in here. Stayed in here overnight that first time, and caught hell with Old Man Conti when I turned up the next day. After that, I started comin’ down when I needed someplace to sort my head out, or fancied a few minutes away from Dru’s prattling.”
She didn’t know what to say to him, could only watch as he seemed to float in front of the wall, his pale head snagging what little light filtered through the dirty, stained glass windows. The far-off scritching of insects---spiders, probably---raised the hair on the back of her neck, and Buffy took a step closer to him, hugging her arms close to her body.
“Is that why we’re here now?” she asked.
Her question seemed to draw him back from whatever dream plane he’d been walking, and Spike looked back at her over his shoulder. An apologetic frown marred his brow. “Sorry ‘bout that, pet,” he said, and crossed the distance to wrap her into his chest. “I get these ideas, and I guess I’m just not used to the notion that there’s someone who might be interested in hearin’ them now.”
He was so warm against her cheek, his heart a reassuring cadence that resonated through her entire body. Buffy’s eyes closed, forgetting where she was as she let her arms steal around his back. He didn’t think Willow was going to die, did he? she wondered. Is that why we’re hanging out in a graveyard?
It was as if he sensed her thoughts. “Never really thought of it as a cemetery after a bit,” he said. One hand was stroking the side of her neck, tugging at the pins that held her chignon in place. “But then, that was because of Dru.” He pulled away then, taking her hand and leading her to the place before the wall where he’d been standing.
As she felt her hair falling against her shoulders, Buffy followed the line of his sight to look up at the marble plaque half-covered in dust. It was hard to read in the dim light, but when she squinted, she could just make out the surname.
She turned wide eyes up to him. “Who is it?” she asked.
Spike shook his head. “It’s not actually anyone,” he explained. “Just the plaque.” Reaching up, his long fingers brushed aside the worst of the cobwebs, exposing the first name to the musty air, and he waited as he watched her read it again.
“Anne was your mother’s name,” she whispered, transfixed by the small rectangle.
His hand had dropped to the small of her back, strong and soothing as his thumb traced the base of her spine through her dress. “For the first few years after, I used to fly back to England on the anniversary of her death to visit. Once Dru and me became an item, she saw that as too much time spent away from her, so she had the plaque made up and suggested I put it someplace local so that I could visit it more regular-like.” Every word was heavy, though his voice was barely above a whisper. “This seemed like the only proper place to put it.”
It was all too much. The tears slipped down Buffy’s cheeks, silent remembrances of too many dead that day, silvery trails left in their wake. The Mayor. Dawn. Anne Rook. Mom.
When her head dropped, though, Spike immediately looked down at her, his hand deserting her back to brush away the damp from her cheeks. “Don’t cry, luv,” he said. “Wasn’t s’posed to be about makin’ us feel worse.”
In spite of herself, she laughed at the absurdity of his statement. “We’re in a crypt, Spike,” she said. “After leaving a funeral and getting news about Willow being shot. How is this not worse?”
“I never saw this joint like that,” he said. “This was about freedom, and not bein’ afraid. I used to…” He looked away then, as if afraid of how she was going to construe his words. “Know it sounds daft, but I used to come and talk to her. When things got…bad. And it always made me feel better somehow. And today…today’s a good day for lookin’ for better, in my book.”
For a long moment, she just watched him, studied the aquiline sculpture of his profile, the muscles twitching in his jaw, and in the long shadows of the mausoleum, with the smell of yesteryear lingering on the air, saw the ghost of the child he had been, the young adult he’d grown into…and the man he now was. The tears stopped, banished with the understanding of just what he’d done, and Buffy reached forward to grace his cheek with the lightest of touches.
“You’re a good man, William Rook,” she murmured, and was rewarded with a tilt of his head, his eyes glinting curiously in the dim illumination. “Your mother would be proud.”
The corner of his mouth lifted. “She’d’ve loved you,” he commented. “Though she probably would’ve fussed about you bein’ too thin.”
Her gurgle of surprise was accompanied by a playful slap to his arm, prompting his chuckle to echo throughout the crypt. Taking her by the hand, he led her over to the nearest bier, wiping off the dust from the end and laying his coat over it to protect her from being further mussed. “Do you mind?” he asked, hesitating. “I thought…it would be nice to just…talk.”
She answered him by hopping as gracefully as she could onto the stone, crossing her ankles as they dangled over the side. “Am I going to get to hear more stories about young William?” she teased. Now that she understood, it seemed perfectly natural to be where they were. For him, this was about safety, about shelter, about…home. And her heart was swelling with pleasure at being included in that circle.
“Only the good bits,” he replied, and settled himself next to her. In the chill of the crypt, his hand was warm as it laced through hers. “And if you’re real lucky, maybe I’ll get maudlin enough to tell you some of my bloody awful poetry.”
Buffy smiled. “I could think of worse ways to spend my afternoon.”
To be continued in Chapter 34: The Turning Point…