DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has shown up at Heaven and overheard Angel’s confession regarding the events that happened in California…
Finding the switches for the lights on the stage had been simple; using them to illuminate the face of the man she thought she knew was not.
Stall, she had said. But even as she’d crept closer to the front of the club, Buffy had been unsure as to what that might entail. She had no idea how many men sat in darkness on the other side of the curtain, nor with whom their loyalties might lie. So she had waited, hearing Spike just a few feet away as he goaded Angel into a confession she wasn’t sure he had been expecting, either. And when the wait grew interminable, hearing him utter those words that splintered the mirror she’d been holding up to her life and left her bleeding with the pieces, she had thrown the switches to see the spectacle created by the two men who claimed to love her best.
A scarlet trail dissected the dance floor, one end halting where Spike was propped up against the stage, a makeshift tourniquet bound around his thigh. The other stopped several feet short of Angel’s position at the other end of the room, his own share of wounds and blood staining his body and the floor. Somewhere out of the corner of her eye she saw the unconscious form of Drusilla Conti sprawled across a tabletop, but it was of no consequence to her awareness, riveted as she was to the disbelief blinking back at her through Angel’s eyes.
“Buffy…” Reverent. Incredulous. A hint of a whisper on the air that boomed against all its occupants.
“No, please, don’t let me interrupt.” The calm in her voice surprised even her. How could she be containing herself so strongly on the outside when it felt like her insides were being shredded? “This sounds like a very interesting conversation I’ve managed to step into.”
The mask came back, that charming façade that had fooled her for so long. “Aw, c’mon now, dollface,” Angel said, a sly smile curving his lips as he shifted his weight to get to his feet. “You can’t seriously think---.”
“That’s just it, Angel. I don’t know what to think.” The weight of her bag was heavy against her hip as she stepped sideways toward the stairs that led down to the main floor. “And seeing as I’m not…what was it?” She pretended to think for a moment before her features settled into crystallized animus. “’The brightest bulb in the box?’ Maybe you should spell it out for me. You know, in case there’s some part of ruining my life I might have missed.”
Her choice of words made his temper flare. “I saved you, Buffy. From mediocrity. From…a life of people who didn’t give a fuck about whether or not you were happy. Hell, I saved you from turning into a second-rate version of your mother---.”
“Stop it! Don’t you dare talk about my mom that way!” Her fingers were curled around the clasp on her purse now, her foot frozen from descending the stairs as she stared at him in disbelief. “Did you know that, in spite of my knowing that you were the one who hired Spike to kill your father, I begged him not to kill you, too? Because I thought I owed you something. Because I thought…you deserved better than that. God, I’m so stupid.”
She held up a warning hand to stop him from speaking. “Stay out of this, Spike. This isn’t about you.”
“Yeah, Spike…” Angel’s mouth sneered around the other man’s name. “…this isn’t about you. Except that’s not entirely true, is it, doll? Because we both know that we wouldn’t be having this little convo right now if it wasn’t for Rook’s interference.”
“All Spike has done is given me the opportunity to find out the truth.”
“The truth is, I love you. I thought you loved me, too.”
“I do.” Buffy’s voice almost cracked as she looked at him with shiny eyes. “I just don’t know who you are any more.”
“We can work this out---.”
“No, we can’t. You don’t get to just say you’re sorry, Angel. Life doesn’t work like that. You took away everyone who was ever important to me, and then you lied about it and tried to come out the hero. Well, guess what. That grand future you were always so excited talking about? Not going to happen.” Her hand was steady as it pulled the gun from her purse, and she leveled it at him.
He surprised her by laughing. “You think you can actually pop me, Buffy?” he taunted. Jerkily, he rose to his feet, his unbalance unsteady as he seemed to grimace at some unseen pain. “You might be all about worshiping at the altar of Rook these days, but that’s one trick you’ll never master. You’re not a killer.”
“I don’t have to kill you. I just have to slow you down until the feds get here.”
His eyes narrowed, jumping between her and Spike like a rat caught in a trap. “You two must have had plenty of laughs dreaming this little stunt up,” he said. “So what if Wesley’s a fed? He’s worked for us for three years and he’s never managed to get any dirt that might put us away. Why in hell should that be any different now?”
“Now, don’t be spilling all our trade secrets, luv,” Spike cautioned before Buffy could speak. “A little mystery does a body good.”
Biting her tongue, she nodded, climbing down the stairs to stand level with the others. Just because she was hurting didn’t mean she could be risking the plan. She just hoped that there weren’t any more surprises in store; at the moment, she wasn’t sure she was up to dealing with them.
The tap at his window prompted him to roll it down and Riley gazed out at Kate’s expectant face. “Well?” he prompted.
“Wood, Faith, and half of Wood’s men went down the alley beside Heaven,” she said, breathless. “The other half stayed out front with Wilkins’ men that seemed to be guarding the door.”
He glanced back at the building in his rearview mirror, watching the people in front mill around trying to look casual. “Something big’s going down,” he said, his lips tight. “I can feel it.”
“Can we call for back-up now?”
“And tell them what? ‘Hey, you know those big-time crooks we’ve never been able to nail? They’re having themselves a little party.’” Riley shook his head. “We can’t move until something happens that warrants police action.”
Kate rolled her eyes. “It could be too late by then.”
“And if we call them in and the Our Gang from Hell is just having dinner, I’ll get pulled from the case and you’ll get written up for being involved in an investigation,” he warned. “So, my answer is still no. We do this by the book, or we don’t do it at all.”
She scowled as she went around the front of the car to the other side, pulling open the door and plopping into the seat with a heavy sigh. “No wonder you don’t date, Finn. You have no idea on how to show a gal a fun time.”
“Somehow, I never thought of putting the idea of fun anywhere near guns or stakeouts.” Casting her a curious glance out of the corner of his eye, his gaze quickly reverted back to the mirror and the entourage in front of Heaven. “Keep up those kind of dares, Kate, and you’re going to make me prove you wrong.”
“As long as you’re not wrong about something going down tonight,” she replied. “That’s all I care about.”
“Tell me again why we should fucking care what your orders were,” Faith said, her arms folded across her breasts as she stared down Gino.
He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from lashing out at her. Dame or not, he’d never really liked the Mayor’s little trollop; only after what was going to get her ahead as far as he’d ever been able to tell. Only Buffy’s warning that she was going to show up, that she was on their side in spite of who she’d arrive with, kept him from saying something he would regret.
Before he could respond, Wood was reaching inside his coat and extracting a large leather billfold. “I’m sure you can see to let me just slip inside,” he said, tucking a folded bill into Gino’s palm. “You seem like a reasonable businessman.”
He had to hold his mouth tight as he glanced down at his hand. A c-note for what he was going to do in the first place? Yep. He was a businessman. No way was he dumb enough to turn down a deal like that.
“Just you and the dame,” he said, pocketing the money. “There’s only power players inside. I’ve been told to keep out all the riffraff.” He looked pointedly at Faith, but she just lifted her chin in defiance.
“I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Wood said, and turned back to his men, murmuring instructions for them to wait. It was the longest minute of Gino’s life when he pushed open the door for them, his ears straining to hear what was going on inside. All he got was silence. Either Buffy and Rook had gotten the situation under control, or everyone was dead.
It would’ve been stupid to say that his vote was for the former.
More than anything else, Spike was proud of her.
In spite of what she’d been confronted with, not once had Buffy shown weakness in front of that wanker of an ex of hers, and instead held firm to her pride, pulling out her piece in a show of power that Spike would’ve expected against anyone other than Angel. She was obviously in pain---he could see that in those emerald depths, no matter how hard she tried to hide it---and while he regretted having to be the one to expose her to it, he couldn’t help but feel just a little bit chuffed at himself for having been able to get Wilkins to spill the beans regarding California. Even if the part about his being the one who shot Buffy in the back had come out of left field.
The pain in his own leg was ebbing, the blood flow stopped enough to allow him to stand up on it without gimping along. With his gun in his hand, he kept an eye on Angel as he stepped sideways to check on Dru’s status. Still out like a light. Probably better that way. The fewer witnesses to what was about to happen, the better.
“Well, well, well.” The droll voice came from the doorway leading to the backstage area, and Spike looked up to see Wood outlined there with Faith at his elbow. “Looks like someone forgot to mail me my invitation.”
“Not that I’m not wondering what in hell you’re doing here,” Angel said, “but far be it for me to look a gift horse in the mouth.”
“Oh, are you talking about me?” Wood feigned surprise. “The man you’ve stabbed in the back more times than Caesar? You don’t really think I’m here to help you, do you?”
For a moment, Angel faltered, then slapped his let’s-just-be-pals smile back on his face. “Don’t tell me you took my little threat seriously? You know I was just blowing smoke. That’s what I do.”
“Funny how blowing smoke vaguely resembles trying to take Rook out yourself.” His brows lifted in bemused arcs when his gaze lit on Drusilla. “And dragging in the Conti family. Brilliant strategy, Angel. Piss off everyone in this town with the power to take you out. That’s the mark of a truly stupid tactician.”
“So maybe the plan didn’t go exactly to scratch---.”
“You think so? Your fiancée is standing there with a gun on you.” Wood looked over at Buffy. “By the way, I always thought you could do better than him, Miss Summers. Though William Rook seems to be a step in the wrong direction.”
Angel growled in frustration, his hands balling into fists at his sides. “If we’re about done with the lovefest here, you’ve got what you wanted, Wood. He’s right there. Take care of him.”
And it was then that Spike felt the cool gaze that had flickered over everyone else in the room settle on him. As he watched, Wood reached into his coat and pulled out a revolver, passing it back to Faith without breaking his stare. “Ah, yes. William the Bloody. Mind if I take a closer look?” He waved dismissively at Spike’s gun. “Without the benefit of cover, of course.”
“Do you think I’m that stupid?” Spike shot back, his weapon never wavering.
“No, I think you’re that in love. Faith, if Mr. Rook even blinks at me wrong, I want you to shoot Miss Summers, understand?”
“You got it, tiger.”
Wood smiled. “There’s no reason we can’t be adult about this, William. If I’d only wanted you dead, I wouldn’t have gone to such great lengths to try and get you behind bars.”
Slowly, Spike lowered his arm, though his gun remained ready in his hand. Buffy was safe---no way would Faith shoot her after following this close to the letter on the plan---but until Wes and the feds showed up, he was going to have to play along.
Several measured steps brought Wood to stand in front of him, his dark gaze sweeping up and down in such a way that Spike had to fight the urge to stand on his tiptoes. “You’re shorter than I remember,” he finally commented.
“And you’re balder. Guess it all balances out.”
“So tell me, William---oh, wait. It’s Spike now, isn’t it? New name, new life, new girl. Things are just peachy for you, aren’t they?”
Wood only nodded, as if he hadn’t expected any less of a response. “So, tell me, Spike…when you look at me, do you see Nikki? I’ve always been told the resemblance between us was remarkable. Of course, that resemblance might be a little distorted for you since the last time you saw her she was lying twisted and broken in a subway car.”
“I see Nikki every single day,” Spike said simply. Pointless trying to lie when she was staring back at him from the visage of her brother. He was right; the resemblance was uncanny. “She’s been my fuckin’ Jiminy Cricket for five bloody years now.”
Silence ensued, until Wood lifted his hands and began deliberately clapping. “Nice touch,” he commented. “Dramatic with just that hint of angry desperation. Too bad I don’t believe a word of it.”
“He’s telling you the truth!”
Though he didn’t look at her, it was time for Spike to toss back the words she’d given him earlier. “Appreciate the show of support, Buffy, but stay out of this. It doesn’t have anything to do with you.”
Wood didn’t even spare her a glance. “You always were the ladies man. How’s that cute little redhead doing? She’s usually right there in the thick of things from what I hear.”
He refused to rise to the bait, the only indication that the words had hit, a slight twitch in his jaw. “There a point to all this small talk?” he quizzed. “Not that I’m not a fan of the pun-and-run, but gotta admit, not really in the mood for it at the moment.”
“No.” Wood immediately sobered. “Neither am I. It’s quite simple, really. Miss Summers is welcome to walk at any time, while you will accompany me and my men to the police station. I hear stripes are all the vogue this year.”
“And yet, I still haven’t sussed why you don’t just plug me, once and for all. Eye for an eye, and all that cack.”
“Because death is too quick,” he replied. “I’m not interested in seeing you pay. I’m interested in seeing you suffer.”
And there was the rub. For Spike knew, even if Wood didn’t, that he’d done nothing but every day for the past half-decade. Going to jail would be butter and cream compared to some of the nightmares he’d had to endure. Still, with Buffy now in his life, he had a future that was worth fighting every step to the pen, and fuck Wood if he thought for a second he’d go along with him with his tail tucked between his legs.
“Not that it makes a sod of difference,” Spike said, “but if there was one day in my life I could take back and do over, the night Nikki died would be it. I’ve never---.”
“Don’t you dare apologize,” Wood spat. “She deserves better than that.”
“She does, and I wasn’t. Sayin’ sorry doesn’t change anything or bring her back.” And it didn’t. As if a switch had been thrown in his brain, Spike saw the clarity in his words and knew what he had to do. Making amends wasn’t about going broody and letting his past cloud his future. He took a life; payback meant saving one in return.
Slowly, Spike squatted and set his gun down on the floor, keeping his eyes on the man before him. When Wood frowned but didn’t move, he let his hand slip into his coat pocket, extracting a single key. “Here,” he said, holding it out. “This is for the black Desoto parked around the corner in front of Kelly’s. I suggest you take it and run. In about five minutes, the feds are going to be crawling all over this place with enough evidence to put you and Wilkins here behind bars until your grandkids are gray and wrinkled. You go now, you should beat them.”
“Spike!” This time he looked back at Buffy, and saw the look in incredulity on her face. “You let him walk, and they’ll nail you for breaking the contract. What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking I’ll have to renegotiate,” Spike answered, and turned back to Wood. “Well? It’s a good deal. You’ll be on the run, but you’ll still be a free man, and that’s what counts, right?”
Long black fingers curled around the key before slipping into his trousers pocket. “I gotta hand it to you, Rook. You got balls. I don’t believe you for a second about this wild goose chase, but still…it takes balls to bluff when your back’s up against the wall.” He gave his pocket a shake, the key jangling with the loose coins in it. “Thanks for the car, though. I can always use an extra set of wheels.”
Spike shook his head. “You’re making a mistake.”
“No, I think I’m just starting to get things right---.”
He was cut off by the doors suddenly being thrown open, and Wesley, Xander, and Giles appearing in the doorway with weapons drawn and a coterie of federal agents behind them. With the lack of a barrier, the distant sounds of voices and sirens from the street finally penetrated the dance floor, and it prompted the nerves of all to begin to race.
Angel was the first to react.
As he began to lunge for the nearest man, Buffy shouted in warning, followed almost instantaneously by the firing of her gun. The single shot triggered a cascade effect, a barrage of bullets flying across the room in each direction.
Spike dropped to the floor.
Wood dove for cover under one of the tables near the back entrance.
Faith pressed herself into the doorway as the gun in her hand recoiled from the shot she fired.
“Stop!” Snyder’s voice rang out and brought immediate silence to the room. He stepped past the throng of men who’d been protecting him, and it was only then that Spike noticed the display.
Two bodies were slumped to the floor, victims of the spontaneous fray. Both sets of eyes were closed, unconscious or dead he was unsure. And twin pools of blood were forming beneath their torsos. He recognized both, and steeled himself for what was to come.
Angel. Though with his luck, the wanker was probably still among the living.
To be continued in Chapter 44: The Redemption of His Name…