DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from The Doors’ song, “Peace Frog.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Lilah has learned the ring isn’t at the apartment, while Buffy has spent the night with Spike…

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

Chapter 12: Blood on the Rise

Spike knew before he opened his eyes that she wasn’t there.

For one thing, all that gorgeous body heat was missing from where it had been nestled against his chest for the past few hours. It wasn’t long gone; his skin still radiated a certain glow from her contact. All he had to do was brush his fingertips across his chest, down his stomach, to catch the latent heat. He’d forgotten how bloody fantastic it felt waking up warm.

The deafening silence was the other hint. No heart beats, no rushing blood, no bodily noises to betray a person’s presence. With the Slayer, there was also the added bonus of the breathless talking she did in her sleep. He’d lain awake far longer than Buffy had and listened to her murmurings for minutes on end, convinced she didn’t have a clue she knew what she did. There was no conceivable way she would’ve stayed and made herself so vulnerable to him if she was aware of the secrets she divulged in her sleep.

It was too bad she’d run off so early. He’d hoped to make the fantasy he’d had of waking up with his cock in the Slayer’s hot little mouth come true.

Rolling onto his back, Spike stretched across the top of the comforter, relishing the invigorating burn in his sore muscles. He could smell the sun just outside the window, locking him away for the duration of the day, but somehow, couldn’t muster the strength to care. It had been an exhausting night. Catching a few more hours of sleep would get him sorted for another go with the Slayer come nightfall, and then they could head off to do her little trade for her Watcher, weapons in hand.

He was hard as he drifted off to sleep again, images of Buffy slicing her way through a crowd of suits already coloring his dreams.

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

She looked younger. Watching Buffy through the Denny’s window, Giles’ mood eased as he drank in her appearance, the long hair pulled into a loose ponytail, the clear eyes devoid of heavy make-up. Though the bite on her neck was still visible, she wasn’t drawing attention to it with a low-cut blouse. Instead, her plain blue t-shirt was more utilitarian than her attire the previous night, a look more conducive to how he perceived most Slayers dressed. Her posturing at the club and afterward had reminded him all too vividly of those first few months with Faith, and though he wasn’t so blind not to see the implications such a comparison drew, he was doing his damnedest not to let it affect him further.

He waited by the front entrance for Buffy to come out, allowing her the luxury of finishing her breakfast in the peace she’d obviously sought. At least she hadn’t run. When he’d knocked on her door and received no response, Giles had automatically assumed the worst. She was used to such clandestine behavior as an every day occurrence; fleeing in the face of danger was classic Ethan. It had been merely lip service on Giles’ part to check the restaurant across the street, but when he’d caught sight of her, his relief had been almost palpable. He didn’t really wish to surrender his growing certainty that she was not the danger the Council construed her to be. He had little else to cling to these days, it would seem.

When the door swung open and Buffy stepped out into the morning sunshine, Giles rose from where he’d been sitting, forcing her to come to an abrupt halt. Her freshly scrubbed appearance was even stronger up close. Faded blue jeans sat low on her slim hips, revealing the taut muscles of her stomach where her t-shirt was cropped short, and the sinewy lines of her legs were elongated by the heeled boots she wore. Only the faint outline of a sheathed knife beneath the denim on her calf spoiled the effect, but even then, Giles felt his body warm. He swallowed, Spike’s taunts suddenly too loud in his ears, and he tore his eyes away to see her gazing at him in annoyance.

“FYI,” she said, crossing her arms underneath her breasts, “the lurky thing is an excellent way to get yourself killed. I don’t react well to people popping up at me out of the woodwork.”

“My apologies,” he said. “I didn’t wish to disturb you.”

Her careful regard lasted only a moment before she started walking again, brushing past Giles to head across the street, back to the hotel. “I thought the Council was already convinced I was pretty darn disturbed.”

He hurried to keep up. Though her stride was shorter and her demeanor outwardly calm, there was an urgency to her pace that made his heart start beating faster. “I’m not the Council,” Giles said.

“Close enough for Slayer work.”

She didn’t look back. She didn’t wait for him. Only when she reached the bottom of the stairwell did Buffy stop and give him another stabbing stare. “Is there a reason you’re following me around like that little annoying dog from the cartoon?” she demanded. She held up a warning hand before he could speak. “And don’t avoid the question by asking me what I’m talking about. Accept the fact that I can slam-dunk you on pop culture and move on.”

Clearing his throat, Giles held out the folder he’d been carrying under his arm. “I did the research we need---.”

“No, it’s the research you need,” she interrupted. “I already had everything I needed to get this job done.”

His lips thinned. “Did you know Wolfram and Hart has a special security measure to alert them when a vampire is on their premises?”

He was rewarded by the slight widening of her eyes. “Oh. No.” She suddenly grinned. “I guess it’s a good thing for Spike he didn’t go in last night with both fangs blazing then, huh?”

“This isn’t the time to be glib, Buffy.”

Just as quickly, her amusement vanished. “And see,” she said, “I’ve learned that these are the perfect times to be…what you said.”

She whirled on her heel and started marching up the stairs, though Giles noted that she turned left toward his room rather than right toward hers. “I’m not the only one who sounds like Ethan, it would seem,” he murmured as he followed. But she didn’t hear him. She was off inside her head again.

They stayed quiet until they reached his room, and he ignored her gaze as he unlocked the door and pushed it open. She hesitated for a moment when he waited for her to enter first, but then slipped inside, hovering near the entry while he went straight to the table he’d been using as a desk.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked before he could say a word. Her eyes were hollow when he finally met them. “You want me dead. Why are you trying to help me get Ethan out?”

“Because I’m not entirely convinced you’re a valid threat,” he admitted. “My orders to…remove you from where you can do harm were made before I knew the full story.”

“The Council has the full story.”

“I can’t believe that.”

“Really? So, the fact that they’ve wanted my notch on their belt since Mr. Tighty-Whitey in Cleveland means absolutely nothing to you?”

Her certitude was contagious. “What exactly happened in Cleveland?” Giles asked with a frown.

She turned toward the window, fidgeting with the sheer curtains as she stared out over the parking lot. “Doesn’t matter.” Her voice was flat; that was almost more telling than if she’d been upset. “He showed up, I kicked his ass, Ethan and I skipped town. End of story.”

“Why didn’t you kill him?”

“That’s a stupid question. He was human. I don’t kill people.”

He nodded. “That’s why I’m helping you,” he said. “And then afterward---.”

“I’m not letting you kill Ethan,” Buffy announced. “This isn’t about the Council finally getting their hands on him, and if that’s how you see this playing out, you might as well pack up your tea cozy now because it isn’t going to happen.”

“Buffy---.”

“Hear me out, Giles.” She sighed, and in her profile, he could see her features soften as she spoke. “I know you think it’s cut and dry…that Ethan’s the bad guy here so that means he gets punished. Or…maybe you don’t. Maybe you think I have some sick Stockholm Syndrome thing going on with him, and you hope that you can get me into rehab and turn me into your version of the Stepford Slayer instead of his.”

He kept his face calm. Those were exactly the thoughts that had been going through his head.

“But this isn’t about that,” Buffy went on. “What he did…you have no idea how it makes me feel. I loved him, and he…” Her voice started to break, and she coughed, covering it up. When she resumed speaking, it was clear again.

“Regardless of what happened, one thing is for certain. Ethan gave me my life. I’m not about to repay him for that by taking away his.”

“Buffy…” He had to be delicate about this. He wasn’t sure entirely how she would react to hearing the words actually spoken instead of danced around like the deep, dark secret everyone was afraid of sharing. “I’m sure you’ve realized that it was likely Ethan who orchestrated the events that killed you in the first place. He killed you, and then he brought you back as his own personal---.”

“I know. But don’t you get it?” When she glanced at him then, Giles was startled to see the lack of recrimination in her pale face. “Slayers live…what? A year? Two, maybe? I’ve lived eight. And I’m going to live a hell of a lot more once I get out of this town. Just wait and see.” She must’ve seen his disbelief in his eyes because she added, “How long did your Slayer go between the time she was Chosen and the time she died?”

Having someone else mention Faith still managed to twist the dull blade that skewered Giles’ heart. “Sixteen months,” he said. “But you can’t say that you wouldn’t have survived this long without Ethan’s intervention in the first place.”

“And you can’t say that I wouldn’t have died even sooner,” she countered. Turning back to the window, she squared her shoulders, visibly returning to the forthright Slayer who’d walked into the room with him. “Let’s just agree to disagree, OK? Tell me what you got on Wolfram and Hart.”

He began relaying what he’d learned, starting with the big picture before honing into more specific details that would be of importance for any potential plan of attack. In a way, it almost felt good going back and forth with Buffy, answering the questions she posed and curtailing her enthusiasm when it was inappropriate. She was not his Slayer, and he wasn’t so foolish to think she ever would be, but, in many ways, she reminded him of Faith.

Sometimes, the pain of the past could be a good thing.

He was describing the firm’s localized security measures when she stiffened, her body leaning imperceptibly forward against the gauzy curtains to frown at something outside.

“Go back,” she ordered. “Those special ops teams you said they hired. Any ideas on what their wardrobe of choice is?”

He frowned at her odd question. “No. Why?”

“I’ll bet you twenty bucks it’s black commando gear with ammo strapped to their backs. And really ugly boots.”

Rising from his seat, Giles crossed to stand behind Buffy, pushing aside the edge of the curtain to peer out into the parking lot. A group of six men dressed as she had just described were skulking along the upper balcony, weapons poised and ready.

“I hope you brought weapons,” she said, moving from the window. “Wolfram and Hart just brought the fight to us.”

“How do you---?”

“Because they’re headed straight for Spike’s room.”

She was gone before he could ask how she knew which room belonged to the vampire in the first place.

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

She didn’t think. Taking the time to stop and consider the full extent of a situation was the best way to get herself killed. That was one lesson Buffy had learned outside of Ethan’s training, and it would be one of the few she would cling to long after she’d left him behind. She had no desire to die any time soon.

They didn’t see her coming. Five of them were already in the room by the time Buffy reached Spike’s door, and though she could see the naked vampire snarling and fighting inside, she didn’t stop to watch. She just grabbed the one who seemed to be standing guard and tossed him over the balcony railing, hearing the crunch as he landed on the parked vehicles below. The blare of car alarms filled the air, screeching and swelling to make the attackers inside hesitate.

“There she is!” one of them shouted.

Their attention immediately shifted. The man holding Spike dropped the vampire to the ground and vaulted over the bed to join his partners in rushing Buffy, but he only got as far as the TV before Spike tackled him from behind, grabbing the assailant’s neck and giving a vicious twist.

That left four.

The knife strapped to her calf was out and in her hand before the others could descend on Buffy, but it took only one swipe of the blade across the nearest’s windpipe for her to realize that they weren’t demons like she’d assumed.

They were human.

“Don’t kill him!” she shouted just as Spike was about to sink his fangs into one he’d managed to grab.

The look he shot her was of pure disbelief. “You’ve got to be fuckin’ kidding me!” he snarled. “You just threw one of ‘em over the bloody wall!”

“That was before.” Grabbing the rifle from one of the assailant’s hands, Buffy slammed the butt into the guy’s chin, sending a spray of blood from the teeth that broke splattering across his partner’s cheek. Both men went down in a heap, and she kicked the still-conscious one in the face in order to knock him out as well.

“Sod this,” she heard Spike mutter. Before she could stop him, he ripped into the man’s jugular, the blood gushing out and staining his full mouth as he sucked greedily at the viscous fluid.

Buffy was at him before he could take two gulps, yanking the wannabe attacker away and slamming Spike against the wall. “I told you not to kill him,” she said, her hand an iron vise at his throat.

He grinned down at her in a scarlet leer, the glee in his golden eyes unmistakable. “And I don’t take orders from anybody except me,” Spike replied.

“No, you just sell yourself to the highest bidder.” Her nose wrinkled when his tongue darted out to catch the few drops of blood that clung to his lips. “Tell me why I’m not staking you right now.”

His hands found her hips, tugging her closer so that she could feel his erection prodding into her stomach. Before either could speak, however, Giles’ voice rang out from the entryway.

“Enough!” Their heads turned in unison to see the Watcher outlined in the door, a battleaxe dangling from his hands. “Your posturing is costing us precious time. Unless, of course, either of you wants to deal with the police, in which case, please continue.”

Buffy let Spike go. Giles had a point, and she couldn’t afford to waste any more time dealing with bureaucratic red tape.

“Get your things,” Giles ordered. “Have the car by the lobby doors in five minutes. That’ll give me enough time to set up a spell to stall the police and to hide our presence here.” When they didn’t start moving right away, he added, “Now!”

She moved. This wasn’t a time to think, either.

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

Lilah could only stare at her phone, as if that would change what she’d just heard. “You have got to be kidding me,” she said into the receiver. “I handed her to you on a silver platter!”

“No, you handed us a vampire on a silver platter,” the team leader said. His voice sounded thick, as if he was talking with his teeth clenched. “And now I’m down three men, with another in the hospital with a snapped spine.”

Her fingers drummed against the edge of her leather desk pad. What had seemed like the answer to her prayers was devolving into a nightmare of gargantuan proportions. Lilah had been able to pinpoint Buffy Summers at the hotel, and though the Slayer’s essence had been in several locations, it had been strongest in that particular room. The odds had been in their favor that she would actually be there when they arrived. The last thing Lilah would’ve expected was that she’d be traveling with a vampire.

“Someone needs to give that girl a copy of her job description,” she muttered. Louder, she said, “I assume she’s no longer at the hotel. Is there any chance you can follow her?”

“Not a snowball’s. She covered her tracks beyond any scope we can figure out. She even got to the police, somehow. They didn’t even see the blood in the room until one of them slipped in it and fell on his ass.”

Suddenly weary, Lilah discharged the team leader from the assignment, thanking him for his efforts before replacing the phone on the charger. The first thing she was going to do was see if the shamans could find the Slayer again, but Lilah wasn’t going to hold her breath that that tactic would work in her favor again. Buffy Summers was on to her now; she would take every means necessary to protect her position. Under other circumstances, Lilah could almost respect that sort of diligence.

These weren’t other circumstances.

And she couldn’t afford to lose sight of who her enemy really was.

 

To be continued in Chapter 13: Let Me Jump in Your Game