DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Both Riley and Kate are onto Wood; Angel has had a note delivered to Gino regarding Drusilla, leaving the bodyguard wondering how to get a hold of Spike; Faith has left Wesley’s hotel and sought out Wood; while Spike and the others are trying to get his predicament sorted…
Outside of Spike perched at the open window, a lit cigarette dangling from his fingers, Lindsey was the only person in the room standing, and he gaped at the others as his gaze swiveled around. “Is this really the way you people work?” he demanded. “You’re insane. The lot of you.”
“You’re only now sussing that out?” Though his tone was dry, the amusement glinted in Spike’s eyes at the lawyer’s consternation. “Seems to me, you’ve been the only one all along with the lowdown on what we were, and you’ve been the one who’s been our chump most often on this particular job. My thinking says you should’ve rated this on the more mundane side of that scale compared to the rest.”
“The rest, as you so casually put it, didn’t put me directly into the line of fire,” Lindsey countered.
Xander raised his hand. “Actually, that’s not entirely true,” he said. “You stood just as much of a shot getting plugged yesterday as the rest of us.”
“And this time, the bullets will be purely metaphorical,” Giles added. “I should think you’d consider that a valuable advantage.”
“Unless, of course, you keep nattering on about how we’re all daft, in which case, I might just shoot you myself just to put you of my misery,” Spike said nonchalantly.
Lindsey paled at the threat, but didn’t move, steeling his jaw instead. “Look, Rook,” he said, “I’m not one of your little toadies. Any type of arrangement between us is purely professional, so pardon me if I’m not just a little worried about coming out alive on the other side of all this.”
“Perhaps allying yourself with Spike is the one sure way you can count on that,” Wesley commented coldly.
“And perhaps that’s a sentiment you should share with Miss Rosenberg,” Lindsey shot back.
“Stop it!” Buffy’s voice rang out even as she saw each of the men in the room tense to rise, stilling its occupants in spite of their mounting desires to act. Her eyes flashed as she waited for the friction to ease, finally turning to face the lawyer herself. “Not that I’m exactly on the isn’t-this-swell wagon with this hare-brained plan either---.”
“---but considering what we’ve got to work with, I don’t see any of us having much of a choice here,” she finished, ignoring Spike’s indignant outcry.
“Faith got a choice,” Lindsey said.
Spike’s eyes were flint. “Faith’s a big girl. And we’re not goin’ to bring her up again, hear?”
“Besides…” This was Jenny, speaking up for the first time from her position on the couch. “…you said yourself that you haven’t even been into the New York office. That all your dealings with them have been via telephone. So, it’s not like they can recognize you, right?”
She had a point, though he would never admit it to the group. “Lilah could be there.” It was Lindsey’s last attempt to force their hand into finding another way; he was out of arguments after this one.
“She won’t be.” The line of Giles’ mouth was drawn tight, the barely repressed anger twisted inside his body held frighteningly in check. “I’ll see to that.”
And that is the proverbial that, the lawyer thought in resignation. “Fine,” he said. “But we better get moving if you want it done today. A little bit of shopping is in order if we want to pull this off. I’m not going in wearing Harris’ castoffs.”
She let herself sleep in a little. In spite of the fact that she was due to go into the office for an afternoon telephone conference with Holland, Lilah was indulging in just a taste of sloth as she rolled over between the sheets. Considering how she’d spent the last twenty-four hours, between Rook’s car ride through hell and Wood’s relentless interrogation regarding the status and future progress of the case, she felt she had it coming. So what if she didn’t wear any make-up for the call? It wasn’t as if Holland could see her anyway.
But everyone else would. Damn it.
She sighed and kicked back the covers in frustration. Just once she wished she could muster the nerve to say to hell with it and look less than perfect. Besides, if word got back to the LA office that she looked like death warmed over, Lilah had no doubts that Holland would question her capabilities in handling a case such as this. And if she wanted to succeed in this world, she needed to pull it off.
Staying alive would be good, too, of course.
When the knock at her suite door echoed into the bathroom, she briefly considered ignoring it. Wouldn’t it be nice just to forget that the rest of the world exists for a little bit? she mused as she stared at her wan reflection. Except it could be Trick again, ready to take her into round two with Wood. Or it could Wilkins deciding to finally throw his cards into the game.
It might even be Lindsey, deciding that he was ready to come crawling back. The bastard.
“Just a minute!” she called out, grabbing the skirt that hung over the back of the nearby chair. She stepped into it as she walked to the door, tucking the back of her blouse in as she hesitated on her side of the egress. A quick pinch of her cheeks to give her just a little bit of color in lieu of make-up, and Lilah fashioned her widest fake smile before pulling the door open.
“Can I help you?” she asked brightly as her gaze flickered over the tweedy appearance of her visitor. Older, late forties probably. Attractive in a bookish kind of way. And oddly familiar, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
He fumbled with his glasses, straightening them on his nose, although they looked perfectly fine to her. “Yes, quite,” he said. As he cleared this throat, he switched the briefcase that dangled from his right hand into his left. “I’m looking for Miss Morgan.”
“You’ve found her. What exactly can I do for you?” British guy. Huh. Why did it seem that she should know who this guy was?
“Oh, splendid,” he said, and before she’d realized it, he’d pushed his way past her and entered the suite. “I’m afraid that I confused the floor numbers and spent the last half hour knocking at half the doors downstairs. My apologies for being so late.”
As she watched, he propped the briefcase on the sofa table and opened it up, revealing sheaves of paperwork inside. “Excuse me, but do we have an appointment?” Lilah asked, stepping forward.
“Well, yes, for…” He looked down at his watch and grimaced. “…half an hour ago, I’m afraid. Again, my sincerest apologies. Mr. Manners will be most distressed that I---.”
“Hold on.” This was slipping from odd to just outright wrong, and she folded her arms across her chest as she tried to stare him down. “Why would Holland send some paper-pusher over here when I’m supposed to be in the office in less than an hour to talk with him on the phone?”
His hands hesitated, and then dropped from the briefcase, slipping into his coat pockets as his shoulders slumped slightly. “Why would he indeed?” the man parroted. When he lifted his eyes to hers, though, it was paralleled by his arm and the gun that he’d just extracted from his pocket. “Please have a seat, Miss Morgan,” he instructed, gesturing with the revolver toward the straight-backed chair against the wall.
She remained where she was, eyes probing his until the connection was made in her brain. “Rupert Giles…” she said out loud. Damn. I should’ve been paying closer attention to Lindsey’s photographs.
“Have a seat,” he repeated. Gone was the fluster of the new arrival, replaced by the cool muzzle of his gun and his no-nonsense attitude. “I’d really rather not have to explain the body, if you get my meaning.”
Slowly, Lilah backed toward the chair he indicated, never taking her eyes from his as he matched her step for step. “So what is it you and Rook have against me?” she joked as she sat down. She jumped slightly when he reached down and pulled the seat away from the wall. It wasn’t until she saw him pull out the handcuffs that she understood what he intended.
“You have this unerring habit of getting in our way,” Giles said. One silver bracelet was snapped around her wrist before she could stop him, and she had to blink when she realized that he’d managed to cuff her to the chair without ever having to fumble with his gun. Maybe Lindsey didn’t have a choice yesterday, she thought. It’s so hard to remember how professional these guys really are until they’re cuffing you to your own furniture. And not even in a fun way.
“I could scream,” she said, though the threat was hollow. They both knew he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot if she did something like that.
Ignoring where she was now bound to the chair, Giles crossed to the telephone and quickly dialed a number. “It’s safe,” he said after a moment, and then hung up without another word.
“If you’d rather not have your mouth taped,” he said, settling himself into the couch in a position where he could keep the gun trained on her, “I suggest you clam up. I’m really not in the mood.”
Fuck, she thought. Something’s going down they need me out of the way for. So much for my brilliant idea of sleeping in.
It could’ve been worse, though. She could’ve been handcuffed in Rook’s car with the maniac tearing through the streets of Manhattan. At least this time, she seemed to draw the civilized one of the bunch.
“I still say you’re all crazy,” Lindsey muttered as he watched the numbers tick over above the elevator doors.
“And if you want this to stand a snowball’s chance in hell of working, you’re not going to say anything else until we get into the record room,” Buffy warned.
She fidgeted with the glasses Spike had insisted she wear. “Makes you look more intelligent-like,” he’d said.
“Does that mean you think I normally look stupid?” she’d retorted.
“Not touchin’ that one with a ten-foot pole,” he’d smirked and bolted from the room with a laugh when she’d thrown her shoe at him.
So now here she was, riding in an elevator with Lindsey and Xander, on her way to Wolfram and Hart’s Manhattan office. Behind her, both men fidgeted, Lindsey because of his trepidation regarding getting caught and Xander because he swore that his tie was too tight. Neither was doing anything to calm her racing nerves.
“Normally, we’d have Red pullin’ the secretary spot,” Spike had explained. “But seein’ as she’s out of commission…”
“Why do they need a secretary at all?” she’d argued. She hated doing the acting thing; she’d hated it when she’d pulled it on Spike the night they met, and she hated it whenever she was thrust into a situation where it was warranted. She hated feeling so false.
“Because no receptionist is going to believe that we’re showing up for a deposition without a paralegal of some sort,” Lindsey had explained.
“But how do we know there’s even a deposition scheduled for this afternoon?”
He’d rolled his eyes at that. “Because this is Wolfram and Hart,” he’d said. “There’s always a deposition scheduled.”
The doors swooshed open in front of her and she exhaled the breath she hadn’t even realized she’d been holding. This is easy, Summers, she told herself. First your right foot, then your left. Make nice with the receptionist. Get inside and be friendly and then stand the hell back.
And just as it had been predicted, the receptionist called after them when they breezed through the front doors and past her desk. The two men hesitated, but it was Buffy who stepped forward, smiling down at the other woman.
“May I help you?” the receptionist asked.
“We’re so late, I’m so sorry, we must’ve really thrown your schedule off,” Buffy rushed. She didn’t have to pretend to be breathless; she actually was. “We’re supposed to be sitting in on the deposition this afternoon, and the traffic was just awful getting across town. Would you believe that one guy actually---?”
“There’s no deposition scheduled for this afternoon.”
Crap. So much for your theory, Lindsey, Buffy thought as her mind raced for some suitable explanation.
Before she could open her mouth though, he’d stepped up from behind her. “If you want to be the one to explain to Linwood he’s going to have to miss his weekly dinner with the Senior Partners just because we’re running late, you be my guest,” he said. The receptionist blanched. “Me, I’d rather get my ass in there so I don’t have to worry about losing my head because some dumb hack turned left instead of right. I’m sure you understand.”
He didn’t wait for a reply, merely pivoted on his heel and began stalking down the hallway, Xander right on his heels.
“I better…catch up,” Buffy managed, and hurried after them, hoping against hope that the receptionist was startled enough by how much Lindsey knew not to question anything more. She drew level with them when he stopped in front of a closed door and hissed as they slipped inside, “What happened to keeping your mouth shut?”
He pulled the blind that covered the window overlooking the hall and locked the door. “I’m more interested in staying alive and you sure as hell weren’t doing it for me,” he said. Gesturing toward the nearest of the filing cabinets that lined the walls, he added, “You better get started on finding those files. We’ve got ten minutes tops to get what we need and get out of here. Any longer, and someone’s going to start asking questions.”
She stopped talking then, fingers flying over the folders tucked away like paper prizes inside the drawers. Anything on Wood or Wilkins, she’d been told. Just grab it all. They needed all the evidence they could get their hands on if the deal Wesley was making was going to hold.
“You’re a very brave man.”
Wesley blinked. Not the words he’d been expecting to hear after making his proposal to his old employer. Still employer, he corrected. For as long as Willow needs care.
At his side, Jenny shifted in her seat, leaning forward to touch the edge of the desk. “It’s really in your best interest, Mr. Snyder,” she started, only to be cut off by the lifting of his hand.
“I don’t believe I was addressing you, Miss Calendar,” he said, his beady eyes never wavering from Wes’. “Like I was saying, it takes a very brave man to suggest we wipe the slate clean for one of the most notorious gangsters in New York history, just because you think he’s…redeemable, I believe was your word choice.”
“That’s not the only reason, sir,” Wesley argued. “With Rook’s aid, we can put two of the city’s family heads behind bars. It will decimate their ranks. Crime will---.”
“---go on, just as it always does,” Snyder finished. “The other families will pick up the slack. That’s the way the game is played.”
“You were eager enough for me to pursue the Mayor. Why is this different?”
“If you can’t see that Rook’s just as dangerous as Wilkins or Wood, you’ve been away from us too long, Wesley. I don’t cut deals with criminals.”
“Spike’s been straight for five years---.”
“Which would explain why he offed the Mayor on your watch, of course.” Snyder sighed, shaking his head. “What happened to you, Wesley? You had so much potential. And now you’re using government resources to save common grifters?”
“She’s not common!” He’d jumped to his feet in his exclamation, leaning forward to put his face into his employer’s as fury danced behind his glasses. “And you’re a fool if you don’t see the value in this arrangement. If you don’t take it, you walk away with nothing. Not Wilkins. Not Wood. Not Rook.”
“I’ll have you. In jail, most likely, for obstructing justice. Unless you hand Rook over right now.”
“What if we were able to toss Wolfram and Hart into the kitty?” Jenny interjected.
Both men froze, staring at her for a long minute before exploding at the same time.
“You’re not suggesting Lindsey---.”
“You can do that?”
“Spike would never allow---.”
“They’re huge. They represent a massive---.”
“You’re not answering my question,” Jenny interrupted, ignoring her friend’s confusion. “If Rook helps us deliver Wilkins, Wood, and Wolfram and Hart---,” she glanced at Wes, “---minus one Lindsey McDonald---,” and then back to Snyder, “will you clear his record?”
The air was suddenly cold as Snyder leaned back in his chair, fingertips tapping against their opposite in a steeple in front of him as he regarded her words. “I suppose this means you’ll be wanting to leave the organization if I agree to this,” he finally said to Wesley.
He held his chin high. “It would be my first choice, but I’ll do whatever you deem appropriate, sir.”
“Three for the price of one…”
“In writing, of course.” His mouth was firm while he regarded Snyder. “We’ve already drawn up an agreement for you to sign. This only happens if you guarantee with your signature that once Spike’s done his part, you’ll do yours.”
Against his will, the corner of Snyder’s mouth lifted. “You sound like you don’t trust me.”
“I don’t. Is it a deal?”
“Wilkins, Wood, Wolfram and Hart,” he repeated.
“And the New York police look like patsies because Rook will slip through their fingers again,” Wesley added.
Snyder’s eyes gleamed. “Ooo. I like that.” A long pause. “Fine. I believe something can definitely be arranged for Mr. Rook. We’ll have to amend your contract to include Wolfram and Hart, of course.”
He couldn’t resist sharing a smile of satisfaction with Jenny. “Of course.”
She felt like a child waiting for the minutes to tick by to Christmas morning as she paced in front of the closed interrogation room door, her nerves thrumming bumblebee wings up and down her arms. There was plenty of paperwork waiting for her back in her office to distract her, an avenue she’d tried when she’d first hit the precinct, but after half an hour of staring at the same evaluation, Kate had given up, seeking out Riley only to learn that he’d been grilling Meers for the better part of the morning already.
She knew she couldn’t actively participate. She was a victim liaison, not a criminal investigator, and while she loved her job, part of her wished that she could get into the thrill of the hunt with Riley and his partners. The taste she’d had, in spite of the mind-numbingly boring tail of Lilah Morgan, was proving a greater exhilaration than anything else she’d ever experienced professionally.
Maybe Riley would let her help on his next case, too.
She jerked to a halt when the door opened and the cop in question stepped out, face solemn. Their eyes met, and for a fleeting second she felt her stomach drop. He didn’t get anything, she thought. How did he not get anything?
“What happened?” she blurted, and then bit her lip when he glanced with a frown at the door that was still open in his hand. She waited until he’d pulled it closed, the latch resounding down the empty corridor, and inched closer. “What happened in there?”
His eyes remained downcast as he stayed silent, intent on her shoes, and the sudden urge to just grab his shoulders and shake the information out of him surged through her. “It’s not good,” he said in a low voice, shaking his head.
Her throat constricted. All that work for nothing. Damn it.
When his gaze lifted, though, there was a strange twinkle dancing in the clear depths. “We have to take another trip out to Harlem, and I know how much you hate that place---.” Riley laughed as her hand shot out and slapped his forearm, straightening then with a smile. “What?” he asked innocently. “You hate Harlem. You told me so this morning.”
“You’re a pig, you know that, Finn?”
“It’s not going to be anything exciting,” he warned, sobering. “It’s not our jurisdiction, so we can’t do anything official without some connection to Wilkins. But if you’re interested in coming along and helping me keep an eye on everything, you’re welcome to join me.”
Kate smiled as she began walking with him down the hallway toward her office. “With that stunt you just pulled, the least you owe me is to let me drive.”
“You’re kidding, right? You drive like a girl,” he teased.
“Better than shooting like one.”
“Ooo, low blow, Lockley.”
“Just keep it up, Finn. You’ll see how low I can go.”
“That a promise…?”
Their laughter floated back down the corridor, dissipating into nothing as they rounded the corner and disappeared
Spike’s fist crushed the empty cigarette pack, the crunching of the paper too loud in the empty hotel room. In the two hours everyone had been gone, he’d managed to finish off his last deck of smokes and his muscles were still screaming for more, for the sated release nicotine usually gave him from his stress. Make that wailing, he amended as he began to stalk the perimeter of the lounge. Banshees, the lot of them, and experience told him they wouldn’t quiet until everyone was back, safe and sound.
Logically, he understood why he was currently confined. Couldn’t show his mug around the lawyer’s office for fear of being recognized. Couldn’t do anything about the Lilah dame for the same reason. Couldn’t tag along with Wesley and his aide on the off-chance they decided to nail him then instead of taking the deal.
Couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t.
He was going to be glad when his life returned to can, can, can. Dancing into the sunlight with Buffy on his arm. That was going to be good.
What had McDonald’s knickers in a twist, he really had no idea. It was the simplest of plans. Walk in, take the files they needed to give the feds their ammo, walk out. Duck soup.
So long as no one shot the duck.
But he trusted the lot of them. Spike’s escapade the previous day with Lilah confirmed for him that Ripper would have an easy time of it. Calling ahead had told them that she was still in the suite; it was really a wonder how easy it was to get a dame to talk when you had a silver tongue and an accent to match. And Harris and Buffy could more than hold their own if it resorted to violence at Wolfram and Hart. He wasn’t so sure about McDonald, but the shyster’s reluctance to take a less than easy route to save his own skin was all Spike needed to confirm his dedication to the task at hand.
It didn’t make waiting any easier, though. Perhaps a shower to ease the tension---.
The knock at the door brought him up short, and he was across the room, pulling it open before whoever was on the other side could rap again. Spike frowned when he saw Mickey’s face smiling back at him, and then frowned even further when Clem appeared behind the man’s shoulder.
“You are the hardest gee to track down,” his old friend commented. Turning his head, he lifted his hand and waved someone in the corridor closer.
When Gino’s mammoth form filled the entrance, Spike stepped back, allowing the three men to enter the suite. “What is this about?” he demanded once the door was shut behind them.
Silently, Gino held out an envelope, waiting to speak until Spike had scanned it over. “You see I had no choice,” he said quietly. “Wasn’t sure I’d find you in time, neither. Wasn’t for Clem here…”
Why it surprised him, Spike didn’t know. He’d had his suspicions about Angel all along, how far he’d gone and how far he would go to manipulate Buffy’s past and present and future. And she’d already told him about Dru’s interest in the wanker. Anyone worth their salt in the business knew about Spike’s past with the Conti family; this was the perfect manipulation.
So why did it stun him so?
“Fucking hell…” he muttered as the words swam before his eyes.
“You’re goin’ to help me out on this, right?” Gino asked. “I mean, I know you’re dizzy for that torcher dame now, Clem was just givin’ me the lowdown on what’s been goin’ on when he recognized her name in the note. But…this is goin’ to put everyone in dutch if he follows through on that threat. Not just me. I can take care of myself. This is goin’ to mean a knockdown, dragged out war if it goes down.” Silence. Only the harsh rustle of the paper as Spike handed back the envelope filled the room. He tried again.
“It’s Drusilla, Spike. In spite of everything…you’re not goin’ to just let him get away with this…are you?”
Even as he said the words, Buffy’s face rose before his mind’s eye, glowing and strong and his, and Spike shifted his shoulders, the audible crack of his back as he did so punctuating his voice. “Bastard’s goin’ to roll,” he said. When he turned back to look at his friends, his face was a brittle mask of loathing and icy wrath. “Who wants to watch the show?”
To be continued in Chapter 40: Unto Those Who Sin…