DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Willow is being operated on at a private hospital with Wesley waiting to ensure she’s all right, Lindsey has been taken to Wesley’s hotel to wait for Spike, and Spike has taken Buffy to one of his thinking places to help sort out his feelings about Willow’s getting shot…
As Spike leaned against the wall of the elevator, instead of watching the numbers tick by over the closed door as he normally would, his gaze was riveted by the slender line of Buffy’s neck as she stood nestled against him, the tiny golden hairs that still managed to escape the chignon she’d redone in the car making his fingers itch to pull out the pins again. Though he was far from being content about the current situation, his mood was improved, his head clearer. Funny what a few hours of just talking could do for a bloke.
It was better than getting drunk. No hangover. No waking up in clothes that really should’ve been washed three days prior. No aversion to daylight piercing his eyeballs. ‘Course, he couldn’t really say those kind of thoughts out loud to her; somehow, as big of a deal as it was to him, he wasn’t convinced Buffy would be as charmed by the comparison.
Still, she hadn’t turned into a bluenose about spending her afternoon hanging out in a crypt. That scored even more points in her favor. As many years that he’d spent spilling to Red, Spike still thought she’d go all queasy at the prospect of chatting around dead people. The fact that he could spend time with Buffy and just be, without it ending with them in bed together, convinced him even more that they were meant for each other.
Unbidden, his hand came up and brushed aside the stray tendril curling down her nape. “Next time, I take you someplace a spot more romantic, luv,” he murmured. “Someplace where you don’t have to pull the cobwebs from your hair after.”
She sighed as she leaned back against his chest. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “It has its own Bela Lugosi kind of charm about it. I’m glad you shared it with me.”
His head dropped, his nose buried in her hair. “Maybe Italy,” he mused. “Haven’t been there in a blue moon.” Images of Buffy basking in the Italian sunshine---wearing something white, he decided---brought a smile to his face, a warmth surging in his belly. Europe was sounding better and better every minute.
“Spike.” The playfulness was gone from her voice, and he felt her fingers begin tracing random patterns across the back of his hands where they were looped around her waist. “I still have to deal with Angel, you know. Me running was not good.”
As effective as a bucket of cold water. “Don’t s’pose askin’ to go a day without bringing up his name is so much,” he joked, though his grip tensed around her.
“There’s going to be…questions. Why I left. I really don’t want to face him about this. He’s going to be hurt I blew the funeral.”
“So don’t go back.”
“I still have his ring. I can’t just keep it.”
“Could sell it. A rock that size could finance half a world tour, methinks.”
In spite of herself, she giggled, and Spike relaxed his arms. Around them, the elevator glided to a stop, the doors sliding open to reveal the hotel’s elegant hallway. He had a feeling her decision about what to do with Wilkins was about to be made a helluva lot easier. Only a few feet away, Ripper waited with the lawyer, and Spike was going to get the answers he needed to put an end to this mess.
He just hoped it didn’t break her heart to hear the truth.
It was a motley group that greeted him when Spike stepped through the door. On the couch, Lindsey sat uncomfortably with Harris perched on the coffee table opposite him, acting as a guard dog with a gun dangling from his fingers. Ripper’s frown was expected, but the bruises and cuts that adorned Faith’s were not, and he filed away the question on finding out what had happened to the brunette for later consideration.
Right now, he had more important things he wanted to talk about.
“Well, lookee what the cat dragged in,” he drawled, coming to stand before Lindsey. Quickly, Xander rose to his feet, passing over the gun while Spike took his place on the table.
“Funny,” Lindsey commented. “I thought I came on my own accord.”
Cool eyes flickered over the lawyer. Smaller than he’d expected, for the balls he’d imagined him having for being behind such an arrangement. Then again, he’d had his own share of “You’re not as tall as I thought you’d be” over the years. “You’re here because I want you here,” Spike replied. “And you’re breathing because I let that happen.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Buffy circle around the furniture to stand behind him, and bit back his smile when he saw the first flash of surprise on McDonald’s face. So, still capable of being on the defensive. That was good.
“I’m sure we can come to some sort of mutual understanding,” Lindsey said. “One that’s beneficial to both of us.”
“Yeah. You tell me what I want, you get to live. Sounds mutually beneficial to me.”
Lindsey’s face hardened. “You told me Lilah would pay for what she’s done.”
“Actually, I believe you’re the one who mentioned that Lilah dame. Burning, was it?” He smiled, raising the gun to his face and pretending to sight down the barrel. “Got a bit of a nasty streak in you, McDonald, don’t you?” He held the weapon level for a long moment before lowering it back to his lap. “I think I like that.”
His composure was cracking, and he risked leaning forward to stare into Spike’s eyes. “And I don’t think I like you,” he bit out. “You always struck me as man of action, Mr. Rook. Why waste your time with all the talk?”
“Entertainment’s not always a waste,” he shot back. Spike’s grin widened. “You got moxie. That’s why you’re still kickin’.” Carefully, he opened the chamber and emptied the bullets onto the carpet with a soft thud.
From the doorway, Ripper warned, “Spike…”
“Just showin’ the mouthpiece here I’m more interested in business than pleasure at the moment,” he replied. Tossing the gun to the side, he didn’t even acknowledge Xander’s easy catch, his eyes locked with Lindsey’s. “You want action? Fine. You tell me who you’re workin’ for. I’ll show you all the action you want by slitting his throat and then stringin’ him up by his toes to let him bleed to death. And just to make it worth your while, I might even be able to swing setting that Lilah up for the fall.”
“You could do that?” Lindsey blurted, and then closed his eyes, shaking his head. “What the hell am I saying? Look who I’m talking to. Of course, you could do it.”
“So? We got a deal?”
Spike frowned, when the lawyer hesitated and opened his eyes to glance at Buffy hovering behind the blond. “Maybe…this might be better if it’s kept private,” Lindsey said slowly.
“There’s nobody in this room who doesn’t have my complete trust. Well, ‘cept for you, that is.” Briefly, he considered the fact that Faith was somewhere behind him as well, and mentally shrugged. She’d gone to Wesley for help, right? The enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that rubbish, he decided. Just leave it be for now.
This time, his eyes remained glued to Buffy. “Then you’re not nearly as smart as I thought you were, Mr. Rook.”
“She’s good. Now spill. Who set me up?”
The silence that followed his query itched across his skin, and Spike leaned back on his hands to fight the urge to clench them into fists and smash them into the tosser’s face. “You’re asking for trouble,” Lindsey finally said.
“No, I think I’m asking for a name. Stop. Stalling.”
With a heavy sigh, he leaned back into the couch. “What you want is two names. You were hired by a partnership.”
Spike’s eyes flickered to meet with Ripper’s, and the note of satisfaction he saw gleaming there was all he needed. Guess Angel’s little tart was right about that particular fact, he thought. Let’s hope we’re right about the other.
“Partners just means double my fun,” he said. His tongue curled under his teeth, delight gleaming in his aspect. Reluctance to want to speak in front of Buffy was almost confirmation of their suspicions. He just wanted the name out there for real so that he had every right in the world to take him down. Buffy would just have to understand.
“I’ve only ever dealt with one of them,” Lindsey continued. “And even then, usually only through an intermediary.”
“Mr. Trick,” offered Ripper.
“Don’t tell me that means you don’t know their names,” Spike drawled.
“No.” He took in a deep breath. “The names you want are Angel Wilkins and Robin Wood.”
It wasn’t the first that lay waste to his mobility; he’d long ago accepted hearing that one as a given. No, it was the latter, the unforeseen revenant from his past, that guillotined his spirit, fixing him to his seat as he gaped at the lawyer in disbelief. He barely even heard Buffy excuse herself, or saw her scurry to the bathroom with her purse in hand. Wood. Fitting, that. The symmetry of it was almost beautiful.
“OK, Wilkins? Not so much of a surprise, but that other guy…” Xander scratched at his head, puzzled. “I’ve got this funny feeling that there should be bells a-ringing, but this noggin of mine is pretty much bell-free. Anyone care to share?”
Ripper’s voice was muted. “Nikki Wood,” he prompted as he strode forward to stand by Spike.
“Nikki…?” Harris started to question, and then stopped, understanding smoothing his brow. “Oh. Wow. That’s just…wow.”
“Are you all right?” Ripper asked. His query was directed at Spike, his tone concerned.
“I’m assuming this Robin Wood means something to you then,” Lindsey commented.
“Yeah.” The word was scarcely a breath. “Big brother of a dame I knew back in the day.”
“But Wood doesn’t have any family. Not by blood, anyway.”
Spike’s eyes were bleak. “Not any more.”
Letting out a low whistle, Lindsey shook his head. “I’m beginning to think I chose the wrong side here,” he said. “Because with two family heads after you and one of them with a vendetta like that? You’re a dead man, Mr. Rook.”
“Two?” Giles frowned. “You never said anything, Spike.”
“Well, didn’t rightly know the topic of Nikki’s familial associations was something that was goin’ to come up, now did I?” He stood abruptly and began pacing the length of the room in front of the fireplace, kicking at the edge of the alpaca rug when it tangled in his feet on his first pass. “Fuck, Ripper, it took me two bottles of scotch just to get the nerve to tell you the bare bones of the story. You think I was ready to go into the whole whys and wherefores of how the hell I ended up out there in the first place? Besides, the Woods were only minor players back then. One tiny corner of Harlem.”
“Well, that’s changed,” Lindsey said. “Robin Wood is now the primary force behind the scenes of almost every Harlem business, legal or otherwise. And partnered up with Wilkins, they’re a formidable team. You’re going to have your work cut out for you.”
He didn’t have the capacity to argue with him at the moment. The thought of taking on Angel had been surprisingly simple, but tossing Wood into the mix left him adrift in the guilt of why he’d left New York in the first place. Eye for an eye. How could he begrudge the man his revenge when he might’ve done the exact same thing in his position?
Especially when part of Spike thought he just might owe Wood a piece of himself to make up for what he took away.
He stopped his pacing, gripping the edge of the mantle to stare into the fireplace, memories of cocoa skin and laughter and blood wafting back from its bowels to slap him in the face, as if to remind him---no, to scold him for ever truly forgetting. He didn’t deserve it. He should never have thought he could.
Ripper’s hand came down to rest on his shoulder, a warm weight that radiated down his back to shield his spine. “We can do this,” he said quietly. “We’ve faced tougher situations before.”
“Right,” Spike drawled. His eyes closed, but it did nothing to block out the images. “Everything will be just fine and dandy.”
She almost wondered if anything was ever going to be fine again. Though Spike and Wesley had both tried to tell her, and though she’d been trying to cope with the possibility for the better part of the last twenty-four hours, hearing it confirmed by an independent third party---one who’d obviously not trusted saying it in her presence without Spike’s insistence---made Buffy’s stomach rile, driving her feet to flee to the privacy of the bathroom.
She was stupid. How could she have let herself get in so deep that she couldn’t see the kind of man Angel had become? How could she be so blind?
Her hands were shaking as she splashed water onto her face, lifting her head to gaze at her reflection in the mirror. Portrait of a fool, she thought, staring at her pale skin. That would be me. Capital F, capital ool. Just give me a jester’s cap and the picture will be complete.
A small knock at the door rattled her nerves, and she steeled herself to whatever wanted to spy on her. “Luv?” Spike called out softly. “You all right in there?”
“Just fine,” she replied, and turned to blindly fumble with the knob, pulling it open enough to allow him to slip inside. Their eyes met, desolate twins seeking to share their pain, and before she knew it, she was nuzzled against his chest, her cheek pressed so tight against him that she could hear his heartbeat. He was so warm, singeing and burning into her, and she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the rampaging images of Angel that kept threatening to overtake her.
“I’m sorry I didn’t believe you,” she whispered.
“Ssshhh,” he soothed. A strong hand came up to caress her exposed cheek. “Doesn’t matter.”
“Here.” Tearing tore away from him, Buffy grabbed her purse from the counter and yanked out a small ring box. “My decision about this just got a whole lot easier.” She pressed it into his hand, avoiding meeting his puzzled eyes. “Just…don’t tell me what you do with it. I don’t want to know.”
He didn’t even look inside---not like she really expected him to---and just tucked it into his pocket, concern darkening his gaze to a stormy blue. “You want some more time alone?” he quizzed.
Time alone. It sounded like a gift from heaven at the moment.
Mutely, she nodded, turning back to the refuge of the sink, but before he could disappear back out into the living room, she called out, “Spike?”
“What is it?”
“Promise me something.”
“Anything you want, pet.”
“Don’t kill him.” The sound of the door closing again drew her head back up, and she saw Spike’s reflection staring back at her in the mirror, heavy brows drawn.
“You’re kidding…right?” When she shook her head in denial, he stepped forward, strong hands coming up to grasp her upper arms. “There’s no other way, Buffy. He’s not the sort to just give up. He’s goin’ to keep after me until it’s done---.”
“Then you find another way. I owe him my life, Spike. I can finally repay him for that.”
“You don’t owe him a dime.”
“So nice to see you valuing my life less than a skinny piece of silver,” she snapped.
“That wasn’t what I meant---.”
“You said anything. That’s what I want.”
For the longest of moments, he stared at her, almost as if he were viewing a stranger. She knew he didn’t understand, but he hadn’t been there, he hadn’t heard Angel arguing with the police or been the one he’d sheltered from even more harassment from the newshawks. She may not like what Angel had done now, and she may be too apprehensive to face him again for fear of buckling under the emotional blackmail she was convinced he would try, but she couldn’t see him dead. It would mean all those things people had said about her back in California were actually true.
“What about Red?” Spike asked quietly. “You expect me to just turn the other cheek about that?”
“That wasn’t Angel,” she argued.
“Might as well have been. He’s the reason we’re in this bloody town in the first place, and if you think I’m not goin’ to make sure someone pays for hurting her, you don’t know me at all, Buffy.”
“So kill the other one. The one Mr. Trick actually works for.”
His eyes flashed, and she felt a stab of fear in her stomach. “Did you hear who the other wanker is?”
Truth was, she hadn’t. She’d heard Angel’s name come out of the attorney’s mouth, and everything else was a blur as she rushed to get out of the room. Mutely, Buffy shook her head.
“Robin Wood. Nikki Wood’s brother.” He paused, swallowing as if speech was difficult, and she was suddenly thrust back in time to the darkness of their bedroom when he’d first confessed to killing the young dancer. “So, what you’re really askin’ me to do here is spare the bastard who ordered the hit on his own father and didn’t even have the balls to do it himself, but clip the man who actually deserves his taste of revenge?” Shaking his head, Spike seemed to pale as he stepped away from her, the distance chill and looming although it was only a few inches. “Not even you can be that blinkered, Buffy.”
Her heart was lodged in her throat when he slipped silently back through the doorway, closing it shut behind him and leaving her in the solitude of her racing thoughts. But you promised, the small child inside her whispered in desperation. The only thing she was glad for at the moment was that she hadn’t actually voiced such a thing out loud; in his current mood, she wasn’t sure that she wouldn’t find herself out on the street for being so unyielding on this issue.
But she couldn’t let Angel die, and Spike wouldn’t let Angel live. How in the world would they ever get past this?
The single word floated through the ether to penetrate his rest, and Wesley blinked against the brilliance of the overhead lights, straightening in the chair as he turned his head to the doorway. “Yes?” he replied. His voice was hoarse from disuse and briefly he wondered just how long he’d been asleep, but more importantly, how he could’ve slept when Willow was still not completely out of danger.
“There’s a telephone call for you,” Hope said. “A Mr. Giles.”
Immediately, Wesley rose to his feet and followed her out to the front desk. “Has there been any word regarding Miss Rosenberg’s status?”
“She’s out of surgery and under observation in post-op. The doctors don’t expect her to wake until morning. They sedated her to ensure she gets as much rest as possible.” She reached for the phone and handed it to him, returning to her paperwork to allow him some privacy.
“Tell me Red’s all right.”
He remained impassive at the sound of Spike’s voice. “You didn’t already ask for an update?”
“I’ll believe it when I hear it from your lips, Wesley.”
He was still trusted. The observation was a small balm to his frayed nerves, and he silently thanked the ex-hitman for the favor. “She came through surgery and is resting. All signs are looking favorable.”
“Good.” Spike sounded weary, and Wes knew this was weighing heavily on him. He’d be feeling responsible, even if he hadn’t actually been there. “Feel like puttin’ that intellect of yours to work for a few hours? I got a puzzle here in desperate need of puzzling. Could use a noggin like yours to help sort it out.”
“You didn’t…” He glanced at Hope, and turned his back to her. “…find out what you needed to know?”
“No, we got it. The problem is now…what do we do with it.”
“Eliminate it. I thought that was simple. ”
A deep sigh, one that carried the weight of the world in it. “Wish it was, mate. We’re at your hotel. You comin’ or not?”
“If I go, it’ll mean leaving information here as to where I can be reached.”
“Do it. The risk is worth it to make sure we stay on top of Red’s condition.”
Handing the phone back to Hope, Wesley pulled his pen from his pocket at the same time. “I’m going to my hotel to rest and shower,” he explained, scribbling down the details. “If there is any change whatsoever in Miss Rosenberg’s status, I want to be called immediately. If she talks in her sleep, call me. If she sneezes, call me. If she---.”
“Yes, sir. I get the picture.” Her eyes were kind as she took the paper from him. “I know it isn’t my place,” she faltered, and then took a deep breath to steady the slight quaver in her voice. “I hope you get whoever did this to your…friend. She’s very lucky to have someone who cares so much about her on her side.”
She’s got a lot of someones on her side, Wesley thought as he nodded in gratitude and walked away from the counter. Let’s just hope it’s enough.
To be continued in Chapter 35: Unholy Partners…