His head felt like someone had stabbed thousands of red-hot needles into his brain through every open orifice, his eyes stinging, his ears ringing, his mouth an eruption of pulsing ulcers. Giles clung to the wall of the building, his nails grappling with the coarse texture as the rain made it slick and dangerous, and silently cursed the name of Ethan Rayne. It wasn’t the first time he’d done so. It was, however, the first time he’d done it in over two decades.
If he’d known that it would be Ethan he’d find, he would’ve been more properly prepared for the spell. There had been hints that the Slayer wasn’t traveling alone, but they had been only that. Hints. Nothing to be taken seriously by either the Council or himself. Why would they think anyone could be more powerful than a rogue Slayer, making deals with the devil himself?
That arrogance could very well prove their downfall. In spite of the beating he’d taken, Ethan had still summoned enough strength to cast the confusion spell and escape. That did not bode well for his capabilities when he was in full form.
As Giles waited out the effects of the spell, more thoughts began to swirl and solidify deep in the recesses of his mind. Dangerous thoughts. Traitorous thoughts. Thoughts that would see him thrown off the Council if they were to come to light.
Of course, hiring a vampire as renowned as William the Bloody could do the same thing, but for whatever reason, Giles was less fearful of that knowledge. What terrified him currently was the possibility that he’d been wrong. That they’d all been wrong.
If Ethan had some sort of partnership with the Slayer, could it be possible that the acts the Council had recorded were not entirely her doing? Giles thought yes. Travers and the others might not be aware of the depths of Ethan’s efforts, but experience gave Ripper an edge they didn’t have. He’d appreciated firsthand what it was like to plumb the chaos Ethan created; he’d drowned in its scarlet eddies more than once. Nobody else on this destructive rock had ever been as intoxicated by the power Ethan Rayne wielded as Giles.
Some of the vertigo began to fade as a counter to that statement started to congeal.
Nobody, perhaps, except Buffy Summers.
Fear gripped his gut just as the worst of the confusion spell wore off. His hair was plastered to his head from the rain, and vagrant drops slithered beneath his collar to chill him even further, but those were palatable compared to the dread that drove him back to his feet. If Ethan got to the Slayer, and if they were really in as close an affiliation as Giles suspected, things could get very sticky for him here in Los Angeles. He needed to warn Spike about the added player to the mix. The vampire was prepared for a brawl; he would be caught completely unawares by Ethan’s magic.
Stumbling to the end of the alley, Giles stopped short when he saw the limousine pulling away from the curb, its blackened windows preventing him from seeing its occupants. He had little doubt about who was inside, though. It reeked of Ethan’s style.
He sagged against the corner of the club, his head bowed as he attempted to recall everything he’d managed to drag from his old acquaintance. It hadn’t been much; for some unfathomable reason, Ethan had proven tight-lipped about specifics regarding the Slayer. If Giles didn’t know better, he would’ve said Ethan was protecting the young woman, though the absurdity of that almost made him laugh out loud. Buffy Summers needed protection from no man.
The sound of approaching footsteps made him look up, and there, emerging from the midnight rain, was the very object of his ruminations. She looked a bit worse for wear, golden hair now glued in wet lanks to her cheeks, her perfect make-up smeared just enough to give her the appearance of a madwoman. The red leather skirt she wore was torn along one toned thigh, and the halter top had gone sheer from the rain, leaving her hardened nipples all too visible to anyone who cared to look. Even like this, though, Giles couldn’t help but stare. Fury made her even more beautiful.
Recognition flared in her bright eyes, and he saw her lips move, but what she said was lost to him as she flew forward and slammed him into the wall.
“What did you do to him?” she demanded. Her forearm was pressed against his windpipe, and one tiny hand was shoved into his solar plexus, keeping him in place as effectively as if it was a straight pin and he a butterfly.
“I don’t…” he rasped, but the lack of air made it difficult to respond.
“Don’t even try to lie to me. I know who you are. He tried to tell me you weren’t one of them, but I knew.” She shoved again, and the back of Giles’ head hit hard enough into the wall to make him see stars. “Now tell me. Where are they taking him?”
It was then that the flash of white out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. Risking a glance sideways, Giles saw the grinning countenance of the reason he’d come back to the club in the first place, and his eyes widened.
“I don’t think he knows, pet,” Spike said casually. Too casually. As if he and the Slayer were…friends.
“Like hell,” Buffy growled. “There’s no way his showing up is just a coincidence.”
“He’s…right.” Giles tried to swallow, hoping that it would make it easier to speak, but the effort made his throat lock even further. “I have…no idea…where Ethan is.”
Her lips thinned. “Then how did you know it was Ethan I was talking about?” she asked, her voice dangerously low.
He was saved from answering by Spike’s hand wrapping around Buffy’s bicep.
“This wanker’s not why you’re here,” he said.
Her eyes never wavered from Giles’ face. “I thought I was here to beat something up,” she said. “A Watcher out to get me and Ethan sounds as good a choice as any.”
With a familiarity that bordered on possessive, Spike leaned in, his mouth just millimeters from Buffy’s ear as he murmured, “He’s not the one who put the ring on your finger, though, now is he?”
He had no idea what was going on, but with the vampire’s closer proximity, it focused Giles’ attention on the fresh bite mark on the Slayer’s neck. Spike had sought her out after all, had fought her, had even got a taste. But…why had he not finished the job? And why were they now acting as if they’d known each other for years?
The sudden release of her grip had Giles crumpling to the ground, gasping for breath and choking on the rain that he accidentally swallowed as he did so. Spots of black and gold danced before his eyes, but before he could say anything, he heard the hard click of the Slayer’s shoes on the pavement and then the slamming of the nightclub door.
Black boots took the place of the strappy sandals. “No wonder you need me,” Spike drawled. “That was bloody pathetic.”
Giles was hauled to his feet, and then quickly dropped to slump against the wall. Spike was already turning away, following in the Slayer’s footsteps, before he could speak up.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on here?” Giles called after him.
“Nah,” Spike replied, and tossed back a smirk as he pulled open the club door. “It’s more fun watchin’ you twist in the wind.”
He had no choice but to go after the pair. If he wanted answers, they wouldn’t come via more traditional methods. He should’ve realized that already.
The sight that greeted him was better than watching her take down the Fyarls.
Stopping just inside the main room, Spike leaned against the wall, digging around in his coat pocket for his fags and lighter as he watched the Slayer slam the other vamp’s head through the rungs of one of the bar stools. Javier was bleeding from a long gash down the side of his neck, and his left arm hung uselessly at his side, white bone poking through the thinner skin of his wrist where she’d broken it. The Slayer, however, was untouched.
“You…fucking…asshole!” she said, punctuating each word with a blow to his face. Javier’s lip split, the blood spraying across her knuckles, but she continued, oblivious to the new stains. “Nobody…does that…to me. Understand? Nobody!”
The Watcher’s limping shuffle came up behind Spike, and he held out his arm to block the path into the main room. “Pull up a chair,” he said around the cigarette in his mouth. “Something tells me this is goin’ to be one hell of a show.”
“What on earth is she doing?” the Watcher breathed.
“Lettin’ off a little steam.”
A table smashed under Javier’s weight when the Slayer threw him against it.
“Why isn’t she killing him?”
Spike exhaled, the smoke curling around his head. His body was thrumming from the adrenaline of her fight, his cock hard as he watched her skirt ride up and expose the lower curve of her bare ass. Tilting his head in order to get a better view, he replied, “Don’t know. Don’t care.”
“We have to stop this.”
When he felt the Watcher start to move forward again, Spike grabbed his wrist and yanked, forcing the man to the floor. “This is the Slayer’s fight,” he said, squeezing just hard enough to make Ripper wince. “You won’t be muckin’ it up for her, or I just might let her finish up what she started on you out there.”
Though he saw the disbelief in the Watcher’s eyes, Spike let him go, too eager to turn his attention back to the fray. “Damn,” he muttered when he saw the Slayer straddling the downed vampire. “You made me miss the best part.”
“Stop!” Javier spluttered. His mouth was in ribbons, his words more of a gurgle than anything else. “Whatever it is you want, tell me. I’ll get it for you. Just stop! C’mon, Buffy! After everything---.”
“Shut up!” she spat. “You think you have rights in this? Newsflash. You’re a vampire. I’m the Slayer. There’s only one way for this to end, and trust me, it’s not going to feel very good. For you, that is.”
Her fist slammed into his jaw again. This time, Spike winced in sympathy when he saw one of the demon’s fangs break loose and fall out of his mouth. That one had to hurt.
“Fine,” Javier said. “Kill me.” He didn’t even cringe when she grabbed a broken table leg from the floor nearby. “But you do that, and you’ll never know what happened to your Watcher.”
Her arm stopped in mid-arc, and Spike saw the pain glittering in her eyes. “What did you just say?” she whispered.
Javier laughed, a wet, burbling sound. “Did you really think you could get away with stealing Jutta’s Ring without pissing its owners off? You and Ethan are two of a kind, you bitch. So sure of your own longevity. Thinking nobody can touch you, even when you lay yourself open like a Christmas turkey. He got what he had coming to him, and so will---.”
The stake moved faster than Spike could see, Javier’s dust swirling around the Slayer’s legs as she collapsed to the floor. Her head remained bowed, her lithe body suddenly seeming very small in the near-empty club, and her shoulders shook from sobs Spike was certain only he could hear.
“What on earth just happened here?” Ripper murmured at his side.
Spike flicked away his cigarette butt and pushed away from the wall. “Grief therapy.”
She didn’t move as he approached, and he slowed his step as the yards narrowed to feet. His eyes darted over the knobs of her spine, the beads of rain that clung to her back where her shirt exposed it, and then settled on the stake that she still clutched with white-knuckled ferocity. “Slayer?” Spike asked warily. He wasn’t entirely certain that she wouldn’t turn like a she-devil on him. That wasn’t a fight he was prepared to have just yet.
“They’ve got him.” Her voice was a ragged sway in the air, the words barely formed. “He told me they’d never know, but…they got him anyway.”
“Who’s that, pet?”
She lifted her head. The tears were already drying. Only the iron will he’d seen in her earlier remained.
“Whoever it was Ethan stole Jutta’s Ring from,” she replied. Slowly, she rose to her feet, and though she weaved slightly as she did so, her chin stayed high and strong.
“Thought it was you who did the stealing,” Spike said.
“Semantics. It was always about what Ethan wanted, not me.”
She seemed to become aware of the stake she still held in her hand, and her eyes dropped to stare at it, as if not believing that she could wield such a weapon. While Spike watched, she glanced up at him through her lashes for a moment that stretched to the point of discomfort.
Then, she tossed the stake away.
“I need a ride,” she said, and her voice was already stronger, reflecting the growing resolve emanating from her flesh.
Spike cocked his head, his tongue tapping against the back of his front teeth as he regarded her. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he said carefully, “I have a car.”
“There’ll be a fight. Lots of danger. And knowing the kind of people Ethan usually pisses off, that’s probably mortal danger.”
This time, he grinned. “My favorite kind.”
“You cross me, Spike, and I’ll dust you.”
“You can try.”
Her lips twitched, and for a second, he thought she was going to smile. She shook it off, however, and shifted her attention to straightening her disheveled clothing, inadvertently drawing Spike’s attention to the ripe breasts he’d been palming less than an hour earlier.
“At least I get to change,” he heard her mutter.
“Listen, Slayer…” He waited to continue until she glanced up at him. “You sure this is what you want? This is the same bloke who…” He remembered the other man standing behind him, and chose the better part of valor. This time. “…made you want to forget not too long ago. Seems to me---.”
“I’m not asking you to come with me because of your Mensa card,” she snapped. “So stop thinking about what doesn’t really concern you. If you can’t do that, I’ll find someone else to help me out. You’re not the only one in this city with a car, you know.”
She didn’t wait for a response, marching past him to face the Watcher who still hovered near the entrance. “You,” she demanded. “What’s your name?”
He had to give Ripper credit. He faced her like a pro.
“And you know Ethan.” Not a question. Statement of fact. “Are you a Watcher, too?”
“I was. My Slayer died a number of years ago.”
That seemed to startle her, like she hadn’t considered that there could be other Slayers in the world beside her. “Give me one good reason why I don’t kill you, here and now.”
“Actually, I can give you two.” He took a step closer, his eyes flashing. “One, you know I’m not a threat to you. Killing me would be a waste of your time and resources, and it would appear that both are of the essence to you right now.”
Her hands balled into fists at her sides. “And the second reason?”
“Nobody knows Ethan Rayne like I do. If you truly wish to get him back---alive---I’m the best ally you’ll ever find.”
She weighed his words with a seriousness that surprised Spike. For a second, he worried about being left behind, but then she spoke up again, and his insides untwisted from the knots they’d been forming.
“Fine,” Buffy said tightly. She jerked her thumb back to Spike. “You ride in front with him. I can keep an eye on both of you that way.”
The three were nearly out the door when the Slayer stopped in her tracks and turned to face the two Englishmen.
“I’m Buffy, by the way,” she said to Ripper.
A snort of disgust accompanied the angry whirl on her heel. “Jesus,” she complained, shoving the door open so violently that one of its hinges fell off onto the sidewalk, “is there anybody in this town who doesn’t know who I am?”
Every muscle burned, every inch of his skin felt like it had been lacerated with the finest of leather cords. His wrists were already rubbing raw from where the manacles worried his flesh, and his head throbbed from the inside out.
And still, he tried.
Over, and over, and over again, Ethan attempted to establish his connection with Buffy. Even after Wolfram and Hart’s mindreaders declared it impossible to break through the barriers he’d long ago put into place in the advent of such an attack, Ethan was desperate to find out what exactly had happened to his Slayer. She lived, of that he was certain. Javier had been incensed that she’d escaped the set-up he’d had for her. But why she would now be able to resist the call of his will, Ethan had no idea.
He wasn’t ready to accept the most logical of answers. It was impossible to consider that she would remove the ring of her own volition.
Ripper’s presence wasn’t even a blip in comparison to Buffy’s disappearance. As long as Ethan was in Wolfram and Hart’s custody, he was safe from whatever vengeance his old friend was here to exact. Granted, he wasn’t too keen on being on the receiving end of Lilah Morgan’s preferred torture devices, but at least her punishment was that of duty.
Ripper’s would be personal.
And when he was done with Ethan, he would go after Buffy.
Perhaps ignoring Ripper’s presence wasn’t his best decision after all. Without Ethan there, there was no telling what Giles would do or say to her, whether he’d attempt to draw her back into the Council fold or whether he’d try to use her as a weapon against all Ethan had accomplished over the past eight years.
He sighed. He felt rather like Damocles at the moment.
He just wasn’t sure yet who was wielding the sword.
To be continued in Chapter 6: The Scream of the Butterfly…