DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Angel has shown up at Drusilla’s in the middle of the night, Giles and Wesley have come up with a scheme they think will help Spike, and Kate has followed Lilah…
Kate gripped the banister with the weary hand of the walking dead as she climbed the last few stairs, stopping at the landing and sighing heavily as she leaned against the wall. She didn’t need to look at her watch to know that it was five o’clock in the morning; the strains of Mr. and Mrs. Bird having their ritual pre-breakfast sex drifted down through the ceiling to announce the time better than any clock. That also meant she had only two hours of potential sleep in front of her before she had to get ready to go back to the precinct. Two hours wasn’t going to be anywhere near enough.
Lifting the lids that seemed too heavy for her face, she trudged the few feet into the hall, rounding the corner and aiming herself blindly for her apartment door. She immediately tripped over the outstretched feet of a waiting Riley, and cried out in surprise as her hands scraped against the worn carpet, only barely catching herself from a fully compromising position across his lap.
“Oh, god, I’m so sorry!” Riley said, tensing and trying to stand with his hands beneath her armpits.
Kate grimaced as she teetered on her broken heel. Well, at least I’m awake again, she thought as she looked down at her ruined stockings. “Care to spill on why you’re camping out in my apartment building?” she said ruefully, not even sparing him another glance.
“Waiting for you.” His hands were warm as they steadied her, lingering just long enough for her to regain her balance before vanishing back to his sides. “Where have you been?”
“Out deciding you can keep your detective work,” she retorted, and wobbled the remaining feet to her doorway. “In fact, I’ve come up with a few ideas on where exactly you can stick it.” Digging around in the depths of her purse for her keys, she scowled as her fingernails sank into an open tube of lipstick. Perfect. What a great way to end my day.
“What’ve you been doing?” he asked.
“Keeping an eye on that Lilah Morgan like you asked. Aha!” She exclaimed the last as she extracted her key ring and held it up proudly, not even caring that at least two of the keys on it were coated in Simply Scarlet. The sanctuary of her pillow was infinitely more important than a vanity item that really didn’t do anything for her complexion anyway.
Hovering behind her as she fumbled with the lock, Riley’s frown was confused. “When did I ask you to stay out all night for that? You know that’s not what I meant. It’s not safe---.” His mouth clamped shut as she shot him a dirty look over her shoulder, pushing open the door at the same time to let him follow her inside.
“First of all,” she said, kicking off her shoes as she dropped her purse and keys on the table by the door, “I spent most of the night in a taxi. A very expensive taxi that you will be getting a receipt for reimbursement in the morning. Or in a couple hours, as the case may be.”
The light she flipped on revealed the tidy apartment for his inspection, a worn divan in the center of the room with an orderly desk along the wall and far too many books opposite it. “At least you were safe,” he commented. “Not like you went anywhere dangerous, right?”
“Unless you count the streets of Harlem high on the Our Town ratings guide.”
He brightened, eyes shiny with the glee of a young boy at Christmas. “Tell me you went there because of Miss Morgan.”
“Yeah. I thought that was obvious. Why do you sound like this little bit of rumble fills you with sunshine, detective?”
Riley’s grin was wide, and he settled himself on the couch with a proprietorial air, arms stretched out along the back of the cushions. “Because I pinned a whole stack of phone calls from a certain Warren Meers to various places in Harlem just an hour ago,” he boasted.
Her mouth gaped. “You’re pulling my leg here, right?”
“Nope. Even got him locked up in a holding cell until we can get back to the precinct to grill him this morning.”
All of a sudden, she didn’t feel so tired anymore, his excitement contagious. “We could go do it now,” she rushed and almost sprinted for her bedroom door. “Just let me get a new pair of shoes---.”
“Hey, hold up.” She stopped when he rose from the couch. “You haven’t slept, and I’m not going to be the reason you’re ornery when we do go back in. I just didn’t stay on top of how late it really was. I guess I was just so excited about where this is going, I let my manners slide.” He gestured toward the bedroom. “You go sleep. I’ll let everyone know you’ll be in a little late.”
“What about Meers?”
There was something unexpectedly mischievous in his smile. “A few extra hours in the clink aren’t going to hurt him,” he said. “It might even make him more prone to talk when we get around to questioning him later.”
The fact that he’d only managed to get a couple hours of sleep meant nothing to Wesley as he pushed his way through the front doors of St. Augustus. In many ways, the events of the past few week harkened back to his time at uni, long days leading into shorter nights, getting by on gallons of tea and the drive to succeed. Need, rather, he amended. Now even more so than then. Willow’s future depended on it.
Hope didn’t even bothering checking his ID when he began fishing it out of his pockets, nodding toward the doors that led to the waiting room. “Someone will come and get you to take you to her room if you wait where you were earlier,” she said.
His murmured thanks drifted back as he tore through the hallway, stopping short when he nearly plowed over the young man who’d kept him updated during her surgery. Neither said a word, the orderly turning on his heel to begin walking back into the direction from which he’d come, leading Wesley through the bowels of the hospital to Willow’s room.
His hands were shaking as he reached up to push open the door, and for a moment, Wes hesitated, inhaling sharply to quell his racing nerves. He’d nearly crashed twice on his way there; his concentration was being flogged into threadbare ribbons by his haste. He just needed to hear her voice for himself, see that smile to reassure him that all of this was worth it.
Only a single lamp was lit within the tiny box of a room, illuminating the array of equipment that sat at the side of the single bed. Spartan in its utility, but spotless and functional as only government-issued property could be, the dark green of the blanket wrapped tightly around her small form only served to heighten the pastiness of her complexion, the scarlet corona of her hair too vivid in spite of the dim lighting.
Her head was turned away when he entered, but the soft click of the latch closing behind him was enough to draw Willow’s gaze, the movement inexorably slow, forcing time to crawl in direct opposition with the beating of his heart. The blink of her lashes when she faced him made him desperately wonder if she could see him properly, and he stepped forward into the light, arms rigid at his sides.
“Hey there,” she said. It was more of a whisper, really, barely louder than the breath it took her to utter the greeting, but it was enough to make him smile, to allow himself to sink into the steady green of her eyes.
“Hello,” he replied, and couldn’t help but muse on why he was so formal all of a sudden. “How do you feel?”
She stopped, seemingly focusing her awareness inward, before saying, “Kind of icky. I think I got shot.”
The bluntness of her response punctured the strain within Wesley’s torso, and he laughed as his head dropped, his shoulders slumping. They had said she’d woken up coherent and strong, considering the dosage of the sedative she’d been given and the extensive damage done to her internally, but believing it was a luxury he hadn’t been willing to give himself until he had the proof before him.
“Did it work?” Willow asked softly. “Did everyone get out all right?”
Everyone, as in everyone other than her, he thought erratically, but nodded anyway, his hysterical amusement abating. “They’re all quite worried about you,” he managed to say. Stepping closer to stand directly at her side, he allowed his hand to drop to where hers rested on top of the blanket, stroking the back of it as if any pressure he might exert would crush it. “You’ve even managed to scare Giles into being reasonably polite to me.”
Her grin was wan. “So, when do I get the bad news? Because with the way everyone keeps skulking around this place, and you being the first person to really talk to me, something’s telling me there’s a big, black shadow just waiting to be all…shadowy.”
For a moment, he thought she knew something he didn’t, but quickly realized the truth of the matter. “Oh, no, no bad news,” he assured. “It’s just…you’re not the normal clientele this hospital sees. It’s merely a precautionary measure on their part.”
“Where am I?”
“A facility the government uses when they don’t wish the police to get involved. Someplace discreet. I pulled a few strings to get you in here so that Spike’s safety could be maintained.”
“Strings…” Her smile faded, and he could see her thinking. Getting shot had done nothing to suppress her cognitive reasoning, and he braced himself for what he knew was about to come.
“But…they think you’re dead,” Willow said. “Isn’t that what you told me?”
“They did. But it was the only way to get you treatment in time and avoid the detection of the local police. I thought that you’d want Spike to remain out of harm's way.”
“I do, and it’s not that I’m not grateful for being all not-dead, but…” She swallowed, and he felt the tremor begin to vibrate through her hand beneath his touch. “What does this mean for you?”
“That’s irrelevant.” He wasn’t going to worry her about his own predicament, or the plans they had organized in an attempt to get him out of it. “I did what had to be done. The important thing is that the doctors say that you’re going to be all right.”
“No, that’s not the important thing,” she argued. Where before her complexion had frightened him with its remarkable mimicking of impending death, now twin spots of color were rising in her cheeks, her body’s response to her mounting disquiet. “What about---.”
“I did what had to be done,” Wesley repeated, this time his tone pointedly more firm. “And you are in no position to debate this with me in your current condition. You need to rest---.”
“Why? So I can dream about what my life will be like in California without you?” Hoarse, and hurting with the same ache that had threatened his own soul since she’d been shot.
His hand tightened around hers. “It won’t be like that,” he said. “I’m doing everything in my power to sever my ties with the government. You have to trust me, Willow. Whatever happens…trust me.”
The gleam in her eyes faltered. “You…have a plan?” she asked feebly. “You and Spike?”
“Would I make such promises if we didn’t?” Said with a soft smile, hoping that she would drop the matter once and for all.
It worked, and he watched as she melted into the mattress, exhaustion creeping back into her face. “I think that gunshot put a couple holes in my head, too,” she joked. “I’m sorry. I need to stop thinking so much.”
“You wouldn’t be Willow if you did.”
“Do…you know how long I have to stay here?”
Though he wanted to lie, Wes knew that doing so would accomplish nothing. “A few days, at the very least,” he said. “Traveling will be out of the question until they can be assured that you won’t start bleeding internally from the exertion. They’re very good here, though. You should want for nothing.”
“And I guess…asking if you’re going to be around for those days is out of the question. What with…helping Spike and all.”
He nodded. “My assistant from DC is here, though, and she’s going to be checking in on you when I can’t. I think you’ll like her. You two have a lot in common. In fact, I believe she was even able to get Giles to smile before I left the hotel.”
When her eyes fluttered shut, he knew that he’d overstayed his welcome, tiring her out when she needed most to be harboring her strength. Carefully, he withdrew his hand from hers and took a step backwards.
“Don’t go.” She didn’t open her eyes, but instead reached for him, hooking her slim fingers around his. “Please don’t leave me alone right now.”
“Of course not,” he said, and stretched to pull the lone chair in the room close enough for him to sit at her side. “Just…rest, Willow. It’s important that you rest and get well again.”
“Easier with you here,” she murmured. Though her lids remained closed, her head tilted in his direction. “Love you, Wesley,” she said under her breath.
His soft smile beamed brighter than the light within the room. “I love you, too,” he replied, just as quietly, and settled back in his seat to watch her sleep.
The pounding at his door roused Gino from his slumber, and he grumbled as he grabbed the robe that was draped over the end of the bed. I should’ve figured having a night free was too good to be true, he thought as he trudged toward the door of his apartment. Not even dawn yet. Bet Drusilla wants me to take her out so that she can count the stars again before they turn in for the night.
“Who is it?” he barked, hovering on the inside of the door. His gun dangled from his hand, but he seriously doubted he was awake enough to use it if it came down to a fight. It just felt good to have its weight in his palm.
“I’ve got a message from Angel Wilkins.”
“Then you’re barbering at the wrong guy because I work for old man Conti.”
“It’s about Drusilla Conti, so if you’ve got half a brain in that thick noggin of yours, you’ll open the door and take it before I plug you and go to the next guy on my list who might be interested.”
Gino frowned. Wilkins was not someone to cross, even if Gino did have the protection of his own boss to be sheltered by. And it was entirely possible it was a valid message. Drusilla had spent the better part of the Mayor’s funeral doting and hanging on Angel when the opportunities arose. The absence of the fiancée had scored points for her, though Gino sincerely doubted anything would come of Dru’s little crush. Wilkins was too obviously dizzy for the torcher to give anyone else the serious time of day.
Cocking his gun, he pulled open the door and leveled the weapon at the gaunt messenger on the other side. “What is it?”
An envelope was thrust forward into his other hand. “Everything’s explained in that,” the courier said. His grin was sour as he tipped his hat and stepped away from the door. “Have a nice day.”
His first readthru of the note made Gino wonder if maybe the whole thing was a joke, if one of the boys was having an early April Fool’s Day at his expense. When he read it the second time, more slowly, pondering every word as he let it sink in, he decided that it was better to be safe than sorry, and hurried over to the phone. It took only a couple minutes for him to get Gracie to confirm that Drusilla wasn’t in her bedroom, and he swore her to secrecy as his eyes scanned the note yet again. He didn’t want to be the one responsible for starting a new war between the Manhattan families, which meant doing exactly what the note said before old man Conti got wind of something being off.
The only problem was…how in hell was he going to find Spike before sundown?
Too many years spent either sleeping through or passed out during the dawn had made Spike forget just how beautiful the sunrise could be, or how rejuvenated walking down the sidewalk with everything outlined in gold and orange around him could make him feel. The tickle of heat on the back of his neck was almost arousing, his shaft semi-hard already. But that could’ve been the delicate scent of jasmine wafting from the small blonde beside him, or the way Buffy let her thumb outline the side of his palm as they walked hand in hand. Hard to separate the two pleasures at the moment, he decided.
An early start to what was most likely going to be a long day, but Spike was confident that some kind of plan would be reached fairly early, if Ripper and Wesley didn’t already have something lined up. Buffy had made a suggestion or two on the ride over, and he was reminded yet again that there was a more than capable brain inside that pretty little head of hers, silently grateful that she hadn’t run the previous night when he’d given her the opportunity.
Not that he doubted her feelings for him, or that he wanted her to go. But he’d been down too many rough roads not to appreciate the courage making one’s own choices instilled, and that was something he would never strip away from her. Still, the fact that she’d chosen to stay was all he needed to boost his good mood this morning.
He was whistling under his breath as they rode the elevator up to Wesley’s room, silent but not uncomfortably so. It was just early, and they had had a very late night. A very, very late night, he amended with a half-smile.
It was only when they were standing outside the door, waiting for someone to come and answer their knock, that Buffy spoke up. “Would you mind if Faith and I went out for some breakfast?” she asked.
“Why didn’t you say something earlier?” he said. “We could’ve grabbed a bite before showin’ our mugs around here.”
She shrugged. “You guys have to work, and frankly, I’m going to bet Faith’s climbing up the walls after spending the night with Giles and Wesley. Academic pursuits are not exactly her forte, you know.”
He knew she didn’t want to have to be around while they talked about how to take Angel down, but Spike held his tongue, nodding in agreement instead. “Probably a good idea,” he said. “Unless Ripper’s already knocked her out for annoying him too much.”
Buffy grinned. “I’m not so sure Faith wouldn’t win if it came down to a fight between her and Giles.”
They were both chuckling when the door opened, and Spike immediately fell silent at the dark-haired beauty that stood before him. Who in hell is that? he wondered as her eyes swept over him, and stole a glance at the room number to make sure he’d knocked at the right one.
“You have got to be William Rook,” she said. “Though the bleached hair is new.”
“Not that new,” he growled. “Where the bloody---?” He cut himself off when Ripper appeared behind the woman, pulling the door open further to let them in. “I realize we’ve taken on more stowaways in this job than is probably smart,” Spike said to his friend, “but now’s not the time to be surprisin’ me. Not when my trigger finger is just itching for a little action.”
It took a moment of bewilderment before he realized what Spike was saying. “Oh,” Giles said. “Yes, of course. Spike, this is Jenny Calendar. Wesley’s assistant.”
“Wesley doesn’t have an assistant,” Buffy said slowly.
“Wrong,” Jenny said. “I’ve been his liaison with the government since he went undercover three years ago.” Her inspection of the blonde was curious, but friendly. “So…who are you?”
Her brows shot up as both of them walked past her to enter the room. “Looks like Wesley didn’t tell me everything then,” she commented.
“Speaking of the bloke…”
“We got a call about Willow,” Ripper said in explanation, prompting a single nod from Spike. “And Xander called a few minutes ago to let us know that he and Mr. McDonald are on their way.”
“Where’s Faith?” asked Buffy. “I was hoping we could go get some breakfast.”
Spike was in mid-straddle of his chair when he realized that the room had gone silent in anticipation of a response to her query. “Well?” he said. “She out for a smoke or what?”
“Um…no. Actually, she’s…not here. When we woke this morning…” Giles sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, Spike. Faith is gone.”
He’d long been up when the knock came to his door. Just because the sun had yet to rise was never a good enough excuse for Wood to waste the hours it protected. “Come in!” he called out as he straightened his tie in the mirror.
“You got a visitor,” Trick said before he’d even stepped into the room.
“If you tell me it’s Wilkins, I’m docking you a week’s pay for spoiling my breakfast,” he retorted. “I am not in the mood to be staring at his ugly mug this morning.”
“I’ve been told my mug’s just a little bit prettier than Angel’s. Although, the way he messed it up last time, maybe I should just count on my other talents to keep you entertained for awhile.”
Wood’s eyes narrowed as he watched her saunter into the room like she owned the place, yanking her arm free when Trick tried stopping her from approaching. “This is…unexpected,” he said noncommittally, and turned back to his reflection, making it appear as if he was busying himself with his tie rather than watching her run her fingers over the mahogany chair against the wall. “It’s Faith, right? Shouldn’t you be out doing the hokey pokey with my lawyer? Or is it Rook’s man that’s got your interest? What was his name again?”
“His name means squat, and if your boys had done their job yesterday instead of going down in a blaze of not-so-much-glory, you’d’ve realized that I was being hustled by Rook.” She dropped into the chair, legs crossing to expose her curvaceous calf and half of her thigh as her skirt rode up. “Kind of like how you’re being railroaded by Angel.”
That made him stop, and Wood turned to stare down at her, thick arms folded across his chest. “There is no railroading being done here.”
She shrugged. “Just call ‘em like I see ‘em, tiger. From where I’m sitting, you seem to be minus one lawyer who knows all your dirty little secrets, and the man you want behind bars for offing your sister. And we both know that Angel’s a cheap bastard who’ll get out of paying for something if there’s any way he can help it. How am I doin’?”
“You’d be doing a lot better if you hadn’t gotten two of my men killed yesterday.”
“Like I had a choice in the matter,” she spat. “In case Mr. Trick here didn’t make it clear, I had a fucking gun to my head at the time. Kind of puts a damper on a girl’s inclination to run like hell.”
“And you’re here now…why again?”
She leaned forward then, doe eyes gleaming with barely repressed anger. “Because you and me got two things in common. The way I figure it, we can help each other out. Tit for tat, as they say.”
“Your tit for my tat? No thanks. If I wanted a pro skirt to make my life more interesting, I’ve got a whole stable I could pick from.”
Though his tone was condescending, she held her chin high, confident in what she was about to say. “You find me another filly who can tell you exactly where you can find William Rook, you be my guest.” She grinned at the sudden hungry glint in his eyes. “Thought that might perk you up.”
“Fine. Consider me perked. What is it you’re proposing?”
“A partnership. To get what we both want.” Rising to her feet, Faith closed the distance between them, lifting her hands to adjust the slightly askew knot of Wood’s tie. “Take Angel down, and make Spike pay for killing someone we love. Sound like a deal?”
When her hands fell back to her sides, he turned to look at his reflection in the mirror, noting the perfection of his tie before meeting her eyes where they gazed back at him in the glass. “You’ve got yourself a deal,” he said.
To be continued in Chapter 39: Finders Keepers…