DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Gino has shown up at the hotel to deliver the note to Spike, enlisting his aid in helping Drusilla; Faith has gone to Wood; Wesley has managed to snag an agreement regarding Spike; Riley has learned from Warren about Wood in Harlem; and Buffy, Lindsey, and Xander have walked into Wolfram and Hart’s offices to steal files as ammo on Wood and Angel…
She almost didn’t see him.
If Xander hadn’t laid on the horn when the cab cut him off, Buffy would never have grabbed her armrest and turned her head to look out the window. She wouldn’t have seen the dark-haired moose of a man dart between the parked cars to cross the street---and why did he look so familiar?---and she certainly would never have seen Clem disappearing into the shop just ahead of him.
“Stop here,” she ordered, a frown creasing her brow.
“I’m just going to park around the corner,” Xander said. “You can’t wait an extra two minutes before seeing Spike again?”
“I need to get something from the drug store,” she said, reaching for her seatbelt. “I’ll be upstairs as soon as I’m done.”
Her fingers were poised on the handle even before he eased the car to the side of the road, and she had hopped out into the traffic before Xander could complain any further. Good thing he didn’t press, she thought as she waved at a black sedan that slowed enough to let her pass. She wasn’t sure how she could explain being unsettled by seeing Spike’s friend so near to where he was currently hiding. That would lead to necessary explanations on how she recognized him in the first place, and by the time those were out of the way, he’d be gone. Right now, with everything still so up in the air, that was the last thing Buffy wanted.
It wasn’t difficult to spot him once she was inside. Pushing the glasses she was still wearing up her nose, she strode down the aisle opposite him, watching as he picked up tube after tube of cream before replacing them back on the shelf. Her hand fell to the clasp on her purse, silently unlatching it so that she could slip her fingers inside and curl around the butt of the revolver tucked there. Not that she would ever do anything like that in a public place---well, not if her life didn’t depend on it, at least---but maybe he’d remember her from their previous encounter and be more willing to talk to her if he thought she was a threat. The silent thrill of that was almost intoxicating.
“If you’re looking for the good stuff,” she said brightly when she was stopped opposite him, “there’s a much better shop over on Madison Avenue. They’ve got creams there that’ll make your face look like a baby’s bottom.”
His doubletake almost made her giggle out loud, but Buffy retained her composure as Clem hurriedly dropped the tubes that were in his hands. “Oh, hi there,” he said in a rush. His small eyes darted around the room, and when he sidled sideways toward the front door, she matched his movement. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“You know, I was just thinking the same thing. Not exactly your neighborhood, is it?”
“Oh, no, this is totally my neighborhood. I hang out here all the time. I’ve got…friends, you know…” Clem froze when Buffy casually adjusted her bag so that he could see her hand sitting inside it, visibly swallowing past the lump that had obviously formed in his throat.
“Like Spike?” she asked, still cheery.
His confusion was genuine for a moment. “Spike? Who’s---?” Then it clicked, and the small beadiness of his gaze turned into huge saucers just waiting for a big cup. “Oh, you mean William. Oh, no. I haven’t seen him since, well, you know---.”
“Hey, we got time to grab some grub before we take off for Heaven with William---?”
She’d never seen Clem move so fast, darting forward to stand between her and the tall man she’d seen follow him into the store. “Ixnay on the eavenhay,” he hissed, and jerked his head behind him.
“Huh? What’s that?” the other man said. His gaze only momentarily flickered over Buffy before turning back to his friend. “What’s got you so tied up in knots?”
“That would be me,” she offered, and waited for both men to look at her before speaking again. “So. Do we want to try this one again, Clem? Because with the kind of week I’ve been having, you really don’t want me to get sore at you, too. My trigger finger is just as itchy as Spike’s is.”
Huge, massive bluff on her part, but they didn’t know that. This was Spike’s friend, and she wouldn’t go so far as to actually hurt him. If he didn’t tell her what she wanted to know, she’d just have to take it to the hotel room and wring it out of a certain bleached blond. She couldn’t shake the feeling, though, that she’d get the truth and more of it a helluva lot sooner here than with Spike.
“You’re the torcher,” the dark man said, eyes suddenly wide. “Shit.”
“Hence, the ixnay,” Clem muttered, and sighed.
They weren’t running. Bonus points for her that they more closely resembled deer caught in headlights than the gangsters she knew them to be. She was about to ask them again what was going on when the frown on the dark man’s face suddenly told her exactly who he was, flashes of his grim visage scrambling for recognition inside her brain. She didn’t know his name, but what he was---and, more importantly, who he worked for---screamed at her for attention.
“What does Drusilla Conti have to do with Spike and Heaven?” she asked. Each word splintered with ice shavings, her eyes flashing emerald-bright, and Buffy’s fingers curled reflexively around her gun. Fear boiled inside her stomach, burning her esophagus as it threatened to rise, and she struggled to not let any of it show. Believe in him, her heart kept whispering. He wouldn’t do this to you, you know that. Spike won’t hurt you.
“You’re not supposed to know,” Clem said slowly. “It’s better if you don’t. Trust me.”
“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that?”
“Because he’s only doing it to protect you,” the other man---Drusilla’s bodyguard---interjected. “It’s the only reason he’s not taking you like the note said to---.”
He flushed a deep crimson at the slip of his tongue, and actually shrank behind Clem’s smaller form. “You didn’t hear that,” Gino said to her hurriedly. “I didn’t say nothin’ about a note.”
“So don’t tell me. Show me.”
“The note.” Her eyes caught the guilty glance the two men shared, and she felt her patience begin to fray. “It’s either that, or I drag the two of you back to the hotel at gunpoint so that Spike can see up close and personal how you guys have managed to spill the beans.”
It was out of the bodyguard’s pocket before she could blink, and Buffy stifled the tremble in her fingers as she extracted it from the creased envelope. She couldn’t hold back her widening disbelief as she read it over, though.
No. He wouldn’t. Not Angel.
Except…he’d done other things she’d thought unimaginable. All of a sudden, this almost seemed like small potatoes.
And she knew exactly why Spike had wanted to keep it silent. To keep her out of the loop, though the note clearly demanded that he bring her along if he wanted Drusilla to remain unharmed.
So much for promises.
Spike was the only one who looked up when Buffy slipped inside the hotel room door, the frown that had been wrinkling his brow smoothing somewhat when she shot him a small smile. A sheaf of papers was in his hands as he leaned against the mantle, and she quickly noticed that Wesley and Jenny had returned in her absence.
“Thought you needed to pick something up,” Spike said, glancing at her empty hands.
“They were out,” she replied automatically, and dropped her purse on the side before approaching the group. “How did it go for you?” She tossed the question to Wes, standing before him as he glanced up from the stack of files they’d retrieved from Wolfram and Hart.
“Oh, splendidly,” he said. “Snyder agreed to the contract---.”
Spike’s snort cut him off. “Only after your girl Friday here tossed the lawyers in for good measure,” he said.
“Can we do that?” Buffy asked. “Does that fit in with the plan?” Deliberately, she avoided Spike’s gaze. She wasn’t ready to let it slip just yet that she knew he’d already tossed the plan out the window.
“With these records, there should be no problem implicating Wolfram and Hart in any number of shady dealings,” Wesley said.
“Except for the fact that it’s my name over most of the documents,” Lindsey complained.
“That’s temporary,” Jenny interceded. “We’ve got Lilah’s signature on at least one of them. It shouldn’t take me any time at all to copy it over and replace all yours with hers.”
Buffy’s eyes widened. “And again, I’m going to go with the, can we do that?”
Wes was the one who replied. “It’s done. Or it will be. Combined with the files you guys took, there’s no way Snyder can complain about the contract with Spike.”
“Which is givin’ me a soddin’ headache reading,” the man in question complained, tossing the papers down onto the coffee table before taking long strides toward the door. “You lot have your fun. I’m goin’ to get see about sortin’ out these lungs of mine and grabbin’ some fresh air for a change.”
She stepped into his path, her heart thumping in her chest. “Where are you going?” Buffy asked.
The tension in his jaw eased, his knuckles lifting to brush against her cheek. “Just goin’ a bit stir crazy in this room, pet,” he said softly. “Fancy a bit of a walk is all.”
“I’ll come with you.”
Her stomach plummeted when he shook his head. “You’ve had a bitch of a day already. You should rest up, eat with the others when they get something in.” His lips dipped to glide across her jaw, stopping to caress the hollow of her ear. “And then,” Spike continued, his voice like raw silk against her skin, “when you’re good and sated, I’ll be back to take care of any other hungers you’ve got rumbling around in there.”
She felt his smile rather than saw it, the air around her suddenly clammy and close as he skirted around her and walked out the door. He was actually going. And he was lying about it on top of it.
She wasn’t entirely sure if she was hurt or angry.
The door slammed harder behind her than she intended, and Spike stopped in his tracks midway down the hall. “What is it?” he asked. “Don’t tell me I forgot something.”
“You did.” She folded her arms under her breasts, trying to still the shaking in her hands. “Me.”
With a tilt of his head, Spike smiled and closed the distance between them. But when he lifted his fingers to touch her this time, Buffy took a definitive step away back away from him. “Don’t tell me you’re goin’ to be all piss and vinegar about this,” he said. The slight flash in the sapphire coincided with the twitching in his jaw. “I’m just goin’ to be out and about for a few hours. You’re not the one who’s been holed up in that bloody hotel room all day, reaching the end of your tether because everyone else is pulling their weight and all you’re doin’ is hiding with your tail tucked between your legs.”
“No, you’re right. I’m not. But I am the one Angel said for you to bring along to Heaven.”
All movement in his body stopped, and before her very eyes, Spike became a stone statue, eyes hard and distant as he looked down at her. “Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, luv,” he said, his words brittle.
“Don’t lie to me!” That question of how she felt about his actions? Settled. Angry won by two lengths. “I saw the note, Spike! And that friend of yours…Gino? He made it pretty clear what you were going to do. Don’t make this worse by pretending not to know what it’s all about.”
“Then why ask? You have such a handle on it…why play out your little Gloria Swanson melodrama in following me out? You should’ve just laid your cards out on the table when you came in---.”
“Like you were all Mr. Upfront and Responsible?” She shook her head. His gall was mindboggling. “I thought we had everything out in the open between us. I thought…I thought we were better than this. You want me to love you, and to trust you, and to believe in you, but…how can I do that when you don’t believe in us?”
Her accusation pricked his wall of defiance and visibly deflated Spike’s shoulders, his head sagging as he tore his eyes away from hers. “You don’t understand,” he mumbled. “I can’t lose you, too.”
“You should’ve thought of that before you lied to me.”
His gaze came up at that, blindingly blue and aching and almost shiny enough to make her wonder if he was going to cry. “You don’t get it, do you?” he asked, though it wasn’t really a question he was expecting an answer to. “I don’t show up, and Dru dies. Dru dies, and this entire city will be in chaos because there’s no fucking way old man Conti is goin’ to sit back on that. He’s not the Master of New York for nothin’, Buffy, and she’s pretty much all he’s got. The game we’ve got staged in there…” He gesticulated toward the hotel suite behind her. “..will be over before it even begins, because there’s no way in hell he’s goin’ to let me walk out of this city alive if I let Dru die.”
“That doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell me about it. Or why you’re hiding the truth from all those people in that room back there who are doing everything in their power to save your skin, Spike. They can help. They want to help. Well, maybe not Lindsey, but the others, definitely.”
“Because that’s not the way Wilkins wants to play it,” he replied. “Somehow, he’s sussed on to the fact that there’s something between you and me, and he’s none too pleased to find out there’s another rooster in his henhouse. This is all about power, pet. And if I show up with you in tow, I might as well sign over all of mine.”
“I’m not some trophy the two of you can just…wrestle for,” she protested.
“Tell that to your beloved ex. He’s the one who built that pedestal you were perched on when we met.”
It felt like all the air had been sucked from her lungs. “Is that…really how you think of me?” she asked, hoarse.
“Bugger,” he muttered, and before she knew it, he’d swept forward, pulling her against him before she could respond otherwise, clutching her to his chest so tightly she could feel his heart pounding beneath his skin. “We’ve had this conversation before, Buffy,” he murmured, his face buried in her hair. “But I’ll keep sayin’ it for as long as it takes for you to believe it.” He pulled away just far enough to look down at her, his hands sliding up to cup her face, palms warm and soothing and vibrating just enough to convey his own nerves.
“I love you. You. Not some songbird on a stage, or some make-believe woman I’ve built up in my head. You. But me and love…” His head dropped, forehead resting on forehead, and her eyes fluttered closed as she drank in the heady scent of his skin. “…it’s not something I can do halfway. I’ll fight, and I’ll scrap, and I’ll promise the world to do what it takes to make someone I love happy. So you can’t expect me to just sit back and take what he’s dishin’ without puttin’ up some kind of a fight. This is all about gettin’ to me, and damned if I’m goin’ to let him take down everyone I give a fig about by dragging them into this mess.”
She almost didn’t want to ask, but the words escaped before she could net them back in. “You’re going to kill him, aren’t you?”
His lips met hers then, soft and sweet and gentle without demanding anything in response. “I’m goin’ to do what it takes to stop him,” Spike finally said when he broke away. “I owe that to Dru.”
When he stepped from her for the second time in so few minutes, Buffy’s arms came up to huddle around her body, hugging herself tight as he stole her warmth with every foot that led him further and further away. “What happened to your keeping your word?” she called after him, and hated the sound of her voice.
Spike paused, and then glanced back at her over his shoulder. “Made a promise to a lady,” he said. “Not about to break it now.”
It wasn’t until he’d disappeared around the corner of the hall that it occurred to Buffy that she wasn’t entirely sure which lady he might be referring to.
Dark hair spilled over her pale cheek, lashes like ebony webs clinging to her skin as she slept. Pretty, Angel thought dispassionately as he looked down at Drusilla. But nowhere near as vital or beautiful as his Buffy. Where the Conti princess wore the work of her family like a death shroud, somehow even after all this time, Buffy still deflected any hint of the murder and mayhem that surrounded her, pulsing and beaming with a life that made him want to just stand back and bask. He was a better man for just having known her; of that, Angel was certain.
He couldn’t fault Rook for his taste, though. Or his unerring accuracy in knowing just how to make it hurt the most.
Was she sleeping with the bastard? he wondered. He couldn’t even use the word “fucking” in conjunction with her when it was someone other than himself; it belittled her and everything she stood for. He wanted to believe not, but he knew about Rook’s history, about what he was. The man was a wildcat, running free through the streets of the city, with the sly charm and elegant grace that attracted the most vulnerable of prey. A few choice words, and Angel wasn’t sure that Buffy wouldn’t fall for the act, tumbling into his bed with an ease that made Wilkins want to heave.
Abruptly, he rose from his chair, heedless of it falling behind him, and began stalking the perimeter of Heaven’s dance floor. The club was empty, closed on the pretext of his father’s funeral, leaving him to entertain Drusilla until the sleeping powders he’d put in her wine had taken effect. He had every intent to fill his end of the bargain if Rook showed up---when he showed up---so he’d merely played the role of attentive suitor during the day, lying in wait until sunset when the two blonds would arrive. Oh, he was prepared to plug her if it came to it, but from what he suspected about Rook, this was a threat he wouldn’t be able to walk away from. Surely the life of his all-consuming love was worth more than a dalliance designed merely to provoke Angel? It was a risk he’d been willing to make, and one he was convinced would pay off.
All he had to do now was wait.
Her body arched against his as she stretched, muscles singing in pleasant release, a surprised smile curving her lips. That had been…unexpected, Faith thought, as she began to push the heavy blankets away from her recumbent form.
Wood growled at her shoulder, large hands reaching out to grab her waist. “And where do you think you’re going?” he asked as he pulled her back into the sanctuary of the pillows, naked flesh pressed to naked flesh.
Faith laughed, slapping at his grip. “Hey, down there, big boy. A dame’s got to take care of her needs, you know.”
He pressed his rising erection into the cleft of her ass, hands sliding up to cup the fullness of her breast. “I thought that’s what we were doing.”
“There’s more to life than just sex.” She shook her head, glancing down at him as she extracted herself from his arms. “And trust me, I’m well aware of how ridiculous that sounds coming from me.”
His eyes were hooded as he watched her grab her clothes from where they’d been tossed haphazardly to the floor, sliding into them with a practiced ease. “I have to say, I’m surprised we haven’t been interrupted. I was fairly certain that you were here to distract me from something.”
She didn’t let his words register in her movements, continuing her dressing as if they held no import. “And you fucked me anyway? Someone likes to live dangerously.”
“What’s the point of being in charge if I’m not allowed to have fun when I want?”
“Fun?” It was more brittle than she liked, and she softened it with a smile. “Glad I could oblige then.”
She was halfway to the door, doing up the button her skirt, when he spoke again.
“So…should I be suitably warned now?” Wood asked. Faith looked back to see him leaning against the dark headboard, all chocolate and bulky muscle that sent tingles down her thighs. “Is this your way of telling me you’re dangerous?”
There was no hesitation in her reply. “That’s for me to know, and you to find out, tiger.”
The hallway was empty when she slipped out of the bedroom, and Faith kept her leisurely pace as she headed for her destination. Why Trick hadn’t interrupted with something work-related, she had no idea, but she wasn’t going to question her good fortune right now. She didn’t have time for that, not after having spent most of the afternoon in the sack with Wood.
Getting him there hadn’t been nearly as hard as she’d thought it would be. Some footsie at lunch, some small talk about what a bastard Angel was, and he’d been tripping over his tongue to get at her.
What had been unanticipated was how much she’d enjoy being there, once she was in bed with him. Sure, Richard had been attentive, but she’d loved him for more than what he did behind closed doors. And Angel’s attentions didn’t count.
Wood had been…almost reverent in his treatment of her, power caged within every stroke of her skin, unleashed at the most unexpected moments to ravage her in pleasure. She’d forgotten how much fun sex could be.
She almost felt guilty when she picked up the phone she’d spied in the small study earlier that day. Fingering the scrap of paper that had been tucked into the pocket of her skirt, her gaze remained locked on the closed door that led to the rest of the house, waiting until the ringing stopped on the other end of the line. “Hey,” Faith said, when it was answered. “It’s me.”
To be continued in Chapter 41: In the Kingdom of the Blind, the Man with One Eye is King…