DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Faith has gone to Wood’s, and Buffy has learned of what Angel has done, confronting Spike about it only to be left behind when he goes to Heaven alone…

*************

Chapter 41: In the Kingdom of the Blind, the Man with One Eye Is King

“You all right?” Xander asked as soon as Buffy stepped back into the hotel suite.

He was standing directly inside the door, as if he’d been waiting for one or the both of them to come back in, and she felt her throat tighten as her gaze flickered around the room.

Jenny looking sympathetically back at her from the couch.

Lindsey, with his nose buried in the files, not even aware that she’d come back into the suite.

Wesley, on the phone, his voice low as he spoke with whoever was on the other end of the line.

Gone were Giles and Willow, though Giles’ absence was only temporary as they waited for him to return from Lilah Morgan’s hotel.  Their absences didn’t change the fact of their devotion, though. 

These were Spike’s friends, his comrades-in-arms.  These were the people who were laying their lives, and their careers, and their futures, down in order to help him.  In spite of how incongruous it seemed, they cared, and in that single moment, Buffy’s mind was made up.

Spike was wrong.

“There’s been a change of plans,” she announced as she stepped further into the room. 

Her words made Wesley’s head snap up, staring at her intently behind his spectacles.  “Hang on,” he said into the receiver, and then asked Buffy, “What did Spike say?”

“We’re moving everything up to tonight.”  Her mouth was firm, the shaking gone from her limbs.  He was going to be pissed, but she’d just deal with Spike’s feelings after this was all over.  Better to help him than to see him get killed.  “Please tell me that that’s Faith on the phone.”

“Yes.  Why?”

“Because it saves us trying to figure out how to tell her to get Wood to Heaven tonight.”  She turned to Jenny.  “Can you get the feds there on such short notice?”

“Well, yes, but---.”

“Which just leaves coordinating the rest of us.”  She couldn’t let anyone else break her train of thought.  She was right about this; she knew it.  And whether Spike liked it or not, he wasn’t taking Angel on alone.  Not while there was a breath left in her body to help him fight.

*************

He was silent as the Desoto wove its way through traffic, Mickey at his side while Clem and Gino followed along in the car behind him.  Every time he glanced into his rearview mirror, he half-expected to see Buffy’s smiling face shining back at him from the backseat, but every time he did so, it only caused the acid in his stomach to churn all that much harder.

She shouldn’t have found out.  This would all be so much simpler if she hadn’t known about Angel’s threat.

Gino and Clem had been appropriately apologetic when he’d confronted them at the bar they’d agreed to meet at.  “I told you before, that dame is scary,” Clem had argued.  “Plus…packing?  No way am I going to be the one to say no to her.”

“You could’ve bloody lied,” Spike had argued.

Clem rolled his eyes.  “Oh, because I’m so good at that.  The jig was up the second she saw me.”  He’d smacked Gino’s arm at his side.  “Why didn’t you talk me out of buying the skin cream?”

“Don’t be putting the finger of blame on me,” Gino declared, and downed the shot of whiskey in his hand in a single gulp. 

“No, you’re just the one who showed her the soddin’ note,” Spike had growled.  Narrowed eyes glared at Mickey.  “And where were you during this whole mess, Curly?”

“Waiting for them back in the car,” came the reply.

Which was the only reason Spike let him ride along after they left the bar.  Mickey was the only one of the Stooges he wasn’t thoroughly brassed off with at the moment.

“I think that’s the only shade of green it turns,” the man in question now said quietly.

Snapping from his reverie, Spike flipped off the driver who passed him honking, and pressed the accelerator to continue through the intersection at which he’d been stopped.  “Thanks,” he muttered, and then risked stealing a glance at him.  “You’re bein’ awful quiet.  Fingered you for a talker.”

“Funny.  I fingered you the same way.”

Long pause as the exchange digested.  Then… “She thinks I’m goin’ to kill him.”

“Aren’t you?”

Spike shrugged.  “Figured I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.  More concerned in hurtin’ the wanker at the moment than anything else.  Killing would be too quick.”

“Did you tell that to Buffy?  She’s hardly a dumb dame.  I’m sure she’d understand.”

He didn’t reply.  He had told her, if not in so many words…hadn’t he?  But still, she had to know that he couldn’t just let Wilkins get away with it.  All the reasons he’d given her…each and every one of them was valid, but the biggest one of them all was the one he hadn’t voiced.

He wanted to make the bastard burn for hurting Buffy like he had.

“I mean,” Mickey was saying, “I completely savvy why you’re not taking her along.  She shows up, and you lose your bargaining chip.  But, y’know, maybe she wouldn’t have been so rough with it if you’d been straight about the whole situation before she called you on it.  Easiest way to piss her off is not be on the square with her.  You got to have figured that out by now.”

He had.  Before his brain had short-circuited in scarlet fury at Angel’s little stunt.

“Me and Buffy…we’re still…sorting this whole thing between us out---.”  Mickey’s snort of derision more effectively cut him off than anything the other man could’ve said, and he turned a thunderous gaze to look at him.  “What?” he demanded. 

“Nothing.  None of my business.”  Pause.  “OK, that’s not true.  Buffy’s been my business for way too long to just let this go.”

“So?  Spill it.”

It took even longer for him to decide how exactly to say what he was so obviously itching to say, but when it came, it came without any lingering traces of hesitancy  “You’re full of shit, Spike, if you think for a second you can play Buffy like any other skirt out there.  She’s a lot stronger than you’re givin’ her credit for---.”

“You don’t think I know that?”

Mickey held up his hand.  “Let me finish here, all right?”  He waited, watching as Spike’s knuckles went even whiter around the steering wheel, until a curt nod from the driver bade him continue.  “Like I said, she’s a helluva lot stronger than you think, but turning that around, she’s not as put together as all that either.  She’s taken a lot of knocks, and she hides it well, but each and every one of them is still there, waiting to bleed.  The thing is, she expects them to, or she did, until you came into the picture.  Don’t be making her wish she hadn’t started hoping.  She deserves better than that.”

The only sound in the car was the music of the distant honks and whistles from the traffic outside, and Spike stared at the road ahead of him, seeing not the concrete and steel rising from the ground, but the darkened interior of a not-forgotten hotel room and the silhouetted body beneath him as she begged him to make her feel beautiful.  Regret washed over him, flushing his cheeks as the plaintive ache of her remembered voice made the compulsion to swerve the wheel around to head back to Wesley’s suite tremored throughout his body.

God, Buffy.  What’ve I done to you?

The clarity of a red light spurred him to glance again at his companion.  “What is it you suggest then?” he asked, his voice low and expressionless.

Mickey’s tone was gentle.  “You said you had a plan to take ‘em all down tomorrow?”

“Wasn’t my plan, but yeah, it’s there.  They sent Faith off first thing this morning to tether Wood, Wes got the feds lined up, and Buffy was goin’ to help us corner Wilkins.”

“So…I say you stick with it.  Consider getting Drusilla Conti outta that club the pre-show and leave Wilkins for the big game tomorrow.  Isn’t getting her safe the point of going there in the first place?”

He hated it when everyone else had the right point and he didn’t.  Keeping his tone as neutral as possible, Spike said, “Easier said than done, mate.”

“But possible.”

“Anything’s possible.”

“So do it.”

Fuck.  There was no way he was going to win this one.  Not with Buffy’s ghost haunting his every thought, and not with Buffy’s friend hovering at his side with words he couldn’t logically argue with.  Could always go the illogical route with him, he mused, but quickly dismissed it as childish and time-wasting.  Too many people had already been hurt---and fuck if the picture of a bleeding Willow didn’t rise up to slap him in the face, too---and he couldn’t afford not to be smart about this anymore.

“Tell me you got an idea how to do it,” he finally said as he eased through the green light.

*************

“On the scale of one to ten for bright ideas,” Kate said, crumpling up the sandwich wrapper and stuffing it into the grease-stained sack, “this rates about a minus two.”

“Aw, c’mon, it got us out of the office all day,” Riley said.  Through the windshield, he watched the house across the street intently, though he shot her an apologetic smile as he spoke.

“Yeah, out of the office and stuck in your smelly car for hours on end.  Without a bathroom, eating the most god-awful---.”

“Mario’s is not god-awful.  And it didn’t stop you from eating the whole thing, even if it is.”

“Like I had a ch---.”

“Sshhh!”  His hand shot up, quieting her even as it obscured her view, and Kate grimaced as she reached up and shoved it down.

People were finally emerging from Wood’s house, a string of suited men fidgeting with unseen weapons as they climbed into the row of cars along the curb, but it was the woman who followed after them, hanging on the arm of Wood himself, that made Kate sit up and take notice.

“When did she get here?” she said breathlessly.

“Obviously, before we did,” Riley replied.  His eyes glittered in excitement, and he was barely able to suppress his smile of delight.  “You think she came here straight from the hotel yesterday?”

Kate frowned.  “Maybe.  But weren’t those Wood’s men that got shot?  If Faith was in on the whole thing, why would she have been hanging out with McDonald?”

“Don’t know.  Don’t care.”  Riley’s hand dropped to the ignition when the last of the group had disappeared into the waiting vehicles.  “I hope you didn’t want to be stretching your legs any time soon.  I’m planning on going for a little ride.”

As the unmarked car eased into the traffic, several lengths back so as to avoid detection, she adjusted the seatbelt that had long been undone.  “Should we stop and call for back-up?”

“We don’t know where they’re going yet.  We could just be following the dinner rush.”

“At least we’ll get a decent meal if that’s the case.  One without grease stains, preferably.”

“Very funny, Lockley.”

*************

“I’m just saying, Willow is going to be very upset we didn’t fill her in on the details prior to executing this plan---.”

“Which is exactly why we shouldn’t tell her.  She needs to concentrate on recuperating, not worrying about whether we’ll succeed or not.”

“You haven’t known her as long as I have, Wesley.  I’m telling you, she’s not going to be happy.”

Each uttered syllable was making it increasingly difficult for Buffy to tune out the bickering between Giles and Wesley, and she bent her head to more meticulously clean her gun in an attempt to block their words.  So, when Xander’s shadow fell across her lap, she was grateful for the distraction, smiling up at him as he settled onto the couch beside her.

“Listening to Tweedledum and Tweedledee back there is making me wish I was laid up like Willow,” he joked.  He nodded at her weapon.  “You need any more ammo for that peashooter?  We’ve got quite the stash, you know.”

“No, I’m set.”

There was a moment of silence---well, between them anyway, Giles and Wesley were still going at it---and then Xander cleared his throat.  “Listen, I know it’s not my place, but…you sure about this little scenario?  I mean, not that I’m not all hot and bothered to take a poke at the guys who set Spike up, but…are you sure this is the best idea?”

Her eyes were clear as she looked at him.  “Positive.  And besides, it’s a little late to be backing out from it now.  Faith’s probably already left with Wood.”

“Right, right.  It’s just…now, don’t get me wrong here.  I think you’re swell, and I haven’t seen Spike this happy in…well…ever, but if he wanted us storming into Heaven with all barrels blazing, shouldn’t he have said something to us himself?”

“Do you think I’m lying about this?” Buffy asked.  Her hands tightened instinctively around the weapon in her lap.  “I love Spike.  The last thing I want in this world is to do anything that will jeopardize him.”

Xander held up his palms in a truce gesture.  “No, no, that’s not what I’m saying here.  It’s just…you gotta trust him, Buffy.  He’s been in the business too long to do something stupid.  Not that he hasn’t on the rare occasion, but that’s usually the result of a few too many shots or those Barbara Stanwyck weepies he swears he’s not addicted to.  You should’ve seen him after Stella Dallas came out.  We were cleaning up the mess from that for weeks.”

“This is the right thing to do,” she reiterated.  “I know it is.”

He only nodded, brown eyes kind.  “That’s not what Spike said, though, is it.”  Not a question, more of a statement of admission.  Because it was obvious he could see through the front Buffy had been braving since re-entering the hotel suite.

“It doesn’t matter.  We have to do this, Xander.  If Angel’s serious about this, he’s not going to be all on his own.  He’s going to have men waiting for Spike to show, and he’s going to hurt him.  He killed his own father.  Do you really think he’d hesitate to take down the man he hired to do it?”  Her words came faster, her need to convince him overwhelming.  “Spike can hate me all he wants when everything’s said and done.  I don’t care.  But he’s too angry right now to be thinking this through, and I’m not just going to stand back and let him destroy himself like this.  One against a lot are not the greatest of odds, and damned if I’m not going to help him even those out any way I can.”

Covering her hand with his, Xander patted it gently.  “You’re lying, you know,” he said.  “You do care.  But I get what you’re saying.  Just do me a favor, OK?  When we walk away from all this…when you and Spike get your riding into the sunset moment, just remember what I said about trust.  You have no idea yet just how important that is to him.  He’s been to hell and back, Buffy.  He’s seen the worst, and he’s done the worst, but he’s not that man anymore.  He needs you to have faith in who he actually is now.  It’s the only way you two stand a shot at working.”

They both jumped when Giles called out Xander’s name, and the young man rose from his seat with a smile to leave her sitting alone.  She wasn’t wavering in her decision, but his words were prompting all sorts of questions and feelings about her future with Spike to course through her veins.  She had a lot to learn about Spike and his friends; she just hoped that he would be willing to give her a chance to do it after she showed up at Heaven tonight.

*************

“This assignment’s bullshit.”  The heavyset man leaned against the wall of the club, staring up into the streetlamps that were just beginning to flicker into life.  “Rook ain’t goin’ to show his mug around here.  He’s too smart for that.”

“Angel said he’s goin’ to show, so he’s goin’ to show,” his partner in gray said.  “Just be glad he’s not hearing you spout off at the mouth.  You’d end up with cement shoes.  He’s not as nice as the old man was.”

“I miss the Mayor,” Heavy said wistfully.  “Them’s was the good old days.”

“Them’s was just last week.”

“Doesn’t mean I can’t miss ‘em.”  He straightened when two lurching forms appeared from nowhere around the corner, a giant of a man being held up by another, both of them singing loud and offkey.  He grimaced when the smaller of the men stumbled against him, knocking his gun to the ground.  “Hey!  Watch where you’re going there!”

“Sorry, sorry.”  Both of them bent at the same time to retrieve the weapon, their heads knocking together with an audible pop, but when they tried to straighten, the smaller man jammed the back of his head into Heavy’s jaw, snapping his neck backwards.

“Watch it there,” Gray warned, pulling out his own weapon.  “Why don’t you two just move it along?”

The giant stepped forward then, and leaned into Gray’s face, the fumes of alcohol that surrounded him almost palpable in the air.  “Why don’t you make us?” he said, poking a meaty finger into Gray’s chest.

“Yeah, Gino,” the smaller man said.  “You tell him.”

“Don’t make me use this,” Gray said, pressing the muzzle of his gun into the giant’s---Gino’s---abdomen.

“What?  This?”  And before he could react, Gino had twisted the revolver from his grip, hanging it high over his head by the trigger, before laughing and tossing it into the street.  “Little boys shouldn’t play with big boy toys,” he taunted, and then pulled out his own gun from inside his jacket.

“Fuck,” Heavy muttered.  Inching back toward the club, his fist snaked behind him and began pounding on the club’s front door.

*************

Sunset.  Time for Rook to show his face.

The sound of Angel’s footsteps echoed through the silence of the club, his heels too loud against the dance floor as he added circuit upon circuit onto his total.  Any minute now, his men would haul Rook and Buffy inside.  They’d do the exchange, he’d send Buffy home, and then Angel would shoot the bastard in the back before he could leave Heaven.  It was a good plan.  It was a plan that made him want to roar with pleasure.  It was a plan that---.

A furious pounding from the front of the club snagged his attention.

Fuck.

It was a plan that was going to get screwed up before it even got started because he hired imbeciles to do his dirty work.

Decisively, Angel whirled on his heel and marched into the lobby, heading straight for the front doors.  One of these days, he was just going to have to clear out the entire stable of men left over from his father’s time.  They were just too unreliable.

*************

Spike ignored the unconscious bodies on the ground as he watched Clem appear around the corner of the club.  “Well?” he demanded, his hand already on the back door’s knob, ready to let himself in once he had the word.

“Angel just came out to see what Mickey and Gino are doing,” Clem panted.  “You only got a couple minutes.”

“Only need a couple minutes,” Spike muttered, and pushed his way inside.

He didn’t wait for his eyes to adjust before ploughing through the darkness.  Find Dru, get her out, and get the hell back to Buffy.  That was the plan.  Taking out the men who’d guarded the back entrance had been simple, but he had a feeling that finding his ex in the miasma of the backstage area of Heaven wasn’t going to be.  And there were likely more men inside.  He had to be careful.

Sneaking a peek through the curtains, Spike had to blink more than once to adjust to the artificial lightness that flooded the dance floor.  The space was empty, the doors that led to the lobby thrown wide open in Angel’s haste to see what the hell was going on outside.  He was just grateful the diversion had worked.  A quick scan of the interior, though, quickly revealed that the room wasn’t quite as bare as he’d thought, for there, head down on a corner table with an open bottle of wine in front of her, was a sleeping Drusilla.

He skirted around to the other side of the stage, only daring to come through the curtains when he was as close to her as he could manage.  Spike stiffened when she moaned in her sleep, but quickly resumed his task, scooping her gently into his arms before turning back to the heavy velvet blocking his path.  Her long hair fell over her shoulders, trailing in ebony waves down his sleeve, and he swallowed as he allowed himself a cursory glance at her face. 

So pale, almost ghostly.  That flawless complexion wiped expressionless by whatever drugs Wilkins had slipped her.  She was still breathing, though, slowly and evenly, so as much as it bugged him to see her this way, Spike knew she’d be all right.  He just had to get her to the car.

“Not one for following directions, are you, boy?”

Angel’s voice rang out through the room, but Spike refused to let his agitation in being caught show, turning slowly to see the larger man standing in the entrance, a gun nestled in his palm. 

Sorry, Buffy.  Really did try to do this the right way.  Wanker’s not givin’ me much of a choice now.

 

To be continued in Chapter 42: Angels with Dirty Faces