They ended up in a dilapidated warehouse down at the docks, Spike’s Desoto tucked away deep within its bowels from the midday sunshine. The building had once been used by fishmongers, and the residual stench of rotting fish still coated the air, the interior alternately fevered hot and icebox cold depending on where one stood. Giles sealed the door with magics, praying that the spell he’d used along the way would mask their trail, and listened as Buffy went storming off.
“Well, she’s in a right snit,” Spike remarked. The metallic click of his lighter opening was followed by his sharp inhalation. “You’d think she’d be a tad grateful ‘bout us savin’ her ass.”
“It rather looked to me as if she was saving yours,” Giles said. His eyes were as cold as his voice when he turned to glare at Spike. “And if she chooses to dust you after all, I, for one, will personally hand her the stake.”
“What about our deal?”
“Yes, what about our deal?” Giles closed the gap between them, ignoring the insolent way Spike exhaled the smoke right in his face. “You were supposed to kill the Slayer, not sleep with her.”
“Never saw the clause in our contract that said I couldn’t do both,” came the reply.
“Then consider your contract null and void. Your services are no longer required, Spike. Now, do be a good little vampire and go to hell.”
For a long moment, Spike stood there and stared at him, meeting his gaze with unrepentant scrutiny. The sound of footsteps echoing from the depths of the building betrayed the Slayer’s lingering presence, but they didn’t near, didn’t divert the two men from staring each other down.
Finally, Spike shook his head.
“You can’t do it, you know,” he said, dropping his cigarette to the ground and tamping it out with the toe of his boot.
He knew he shouldn’t, but the condescending tone of Spike’s voice prompted Giles to ask, “Can’t do what?”
“Put a leash on the Slayer so that you can take her back to the motherland and parade her in front of the Council of Wankers,” Spike said. “She’s not some prize you won at the county fete, Ripper. Try it, and you’ll lose her, just like that Ethan did.”
“That was hardly what I had in mind---,” he started to protest, but the sound of Spike’s mocking laughter tore into his assurances and cut him off.
“Don’t be such a git,” Spike scolded. “Isn’t that what your whole Watcher gig is about? Savin’ the world and all that nonsense? You’re so hard for savin’ this one girl, you can’t even see what she really is.”
“And you can, I suppose.”
“Didn’t say that.” He grinned, and his face became a sickening death mask. “But it’s been a hell of a lot of fun tryin’ to suss her out.”
Giles’ fist shot out, cracking against Spike’s jaw, but the vampire did nothing more than take a single step back to keep his balance. “Get out,” Giles ordered. “Buffy doesn’t need your type of aid to get Ethan out.”
“Actually, yes, I do.”
So intent in their argument, neither man had heard the Slayer approach, and their heads turned simultaneously to see her walk up to their sides. Her face was calmer, the anger that had bubbled and boiled during their exodus from the hotel now gone. Clear eyes met theirs, and Giles had to fight the urge to duck his head as if he were a child caught in some secret shame.
“I have a plan,” she said. “And it needs both of you in order for it to work. Now, would you rather go on with your pissing contest, or can I count you in?”
The shamans were useless. The team she’d sent out to the hotel was useless. Lilah was fairly convinced everybody was useless, except for her.
And her estimation of her own capabilities was rapidly starting to slip.
Buffy Summers had dropped off the face of the planet. The shamans squealed and protested that there were only two epicenters where they could locate her presence, and the Slayer wasn’t at either of them. For a while, Lilah had debated as to whether Buffy would return to Ethan’s apartment, but then dismissed it as a suicidal move for the Slayer. Someone with her kind of survival instincts would assume the apartment was still under surveillance and steer clear of it. The girl was sneaky, but not that much. She thought with her fists, not her brain. That gave Lilah the advantage.
It was a small comfort, however. She was running out of ideas on how to find the ring, and the clock was ticking. There had already been a phone call from upstairs, asking why Lilah had felt the need to cancel her morning appointments. Though she’d been able to excuse that away, the circumstances with the ops team she’d sent to the hotel were going to pop up soon, and those would be much harder to explain. Not without giving away her problem. If they discovered the truth---.
They wouldn’t. Lilah wouldn’t allow it.
She still had one thing in her favor. Ethan Rayne remained under her control. There had to be a way to manipulate that to her benefit.
On her way to the holding cell, Lilah mused on whether or not the hallucinogen would still be in effect. The science department would only guarantee its efficacy for twelve hours, but tacked on the codicil that it would be more potent in weakened victims. It was still well within their pledged range, but she wanted to be prepared in case it had worn off. How would she approach Ethan if he recognized her for who she really was? Would he have any recollection of what had happened when she’d come in earlier?
Taking a deep breath outside the door, Lilah put on her best smile as she pushed it open. She hadn’t bothered to check with security first to see how Ethan was doing; if something amiss had occurred, they would have already contacted her. This gave her the element of surprise that made her attacks even sharper.
He appeared much as he had when she’d left him that morning. Slumped against the wall, the wine burns that streaked his chest had faded to pink ribbons, the skin white and puckered at the edges like leathered scars. Dried blood flaked from his wrists, indicating the cessation of his struggles, and his hair was matted close to his skull, darkened by the bodily fluids that had been driven to escape through his skin.
But when he lifted his head, ebony eyes gazed up at her, sparkling with the same intelligence that had been present long before the hallucinogen. Lilah hesitated, her smile faltering. Surely the blackened eyes were her best clue that the wine was still in effect. She just didn’t remember seeing such cunning during their first little charade.
Then he spoke. And her doubts flew out the window.
“I hope you tore that security guard limb from limb, my dear,” Ethan said. “Show these stuffed shirts where the true power lies.”
He still thought she was Buffy. Lilah decided she must’ve been too tired the first time around to notice the gleam in his eyes.
“I promised you I would, didn’t I?” she said, stepping closer. She pulled the keys to his manacles from her pocket and jangled them in front of her. “And look what I got as first prize.”
His head lifted just a little bit further, eyelids narrowing as they zeroed in on the slivers of metal. “Well, aren’t you a clever little Slayer…” he murmured. He seemed hypnotized by the keys, watching them for a long moment before letting his gaze slide back to her.
“Did you kill him?” Ethan asked. In spite of his less than ideal appearance, his voice was much smoother than it had been earlier, his words almost overly articulated. It was almost as if he was trying too hard, but the observation didn’t mesh with the patient expectation in his face as he waited for her to respond.
Quickly, her thoughts flew to the guard who’d been the one to put the Watcher in chains. He was big, but he was just human. It was more than feasible that the Slayer could take him. Also, if Ethan thought security was dead, he would be more likely to lower his guard with her.
“I had to,” Lilah said. She crouched in front of him. “It was the only way I could get the key.”
He sagged within his bindings, his chin dropping. “The only way. Of course. I’m just grateful that you weren’t hurt, Buffy. These lawyers have such a penchant for pain.” A low chuckle escaped his throat. “Normally, I would admire them for that, but nobody hurts my girl, do they?”
He was watching her again, and Lilah lowered her gaze to his left manacle as she slid the key into the lock. “Nope,” she agreed. God, she hoped she didn’t sound too young.
His wrist came free from the iron. This was part of Lilah’s plan. If she could give him some semblance of his encroaching freedom, she believed he would be more inclined to tell her what she needed to know. It wouldn’t be permanent, of course, but the Watcher wouldn’t know that. Plus, he was right-handed. Freeing the left wouldn’t be empowering him too much.
The speed at which his arm moved belied his obvious injuries.
Lilah gasped when his fingers coiled in her hair, tugging her head back so that her throat was savagely exposed. With more strength than she’d thought he possessed, Ethan pulled her against his chest, his arm a steel band around her back, and lowered his mouth to her neck.
“You left too soon before,” he said against her skin.
His tongue ran down the slender line to the hollow at the base, and his lips closed around the soft skin to suck it into his mouth. She felt him hardening against her hip and instinctively began to struggle, dropping the keys so that she could push at his shoulders.
“That’s it,” Ethan chuckled. His teeth took over, biting hard enough to make tears sting her eyes. “I do so love it when you fight me, Buffy. It makes winning all that much more delicious.”
Her nails raked across his chest, across the swells and valleys of the burns, and Ethan hissed in pain. His grip loosened enough for her to break free, and Lilah fell back onto the floor, scrambling to lengthen the distance between them.
“You son of a bitch,” she spat.
In spite of his obvious discomfort, a smile stretched across his features. “I don’t know why you’re so surprised,” he said. “I’ve been dreaming of this. Of you coming back, welcoming me with open…” His gaze flickered to her hips. “…arms. You certainly seemed agreeable to my touch when you visited me before, Buffy.”
She felt like a mouse in a trap. Nothing he said wasn’t true, and if she didn’t want this last resort to fail before it had even started, she was going to have to continue the pretense.
Without taking her eyes off him, Lilah edged back forward until she was within touching distance yet again. Ethan reached and stroked her cheek, so gently, that for a moment, she forgot the force which he’d exerted just a few seconds previous. Her muscles actually started to relax as he trailed his fingertips across her lips, along her cheekbone, as if he was trying to memorize her face.
“It’ll all be worth it,” he murmured. “You’ll see. The world will be on its knees, worshiping us as we deserve. All because you were a good little Slayer and protected the ring.”
She tried not to stiffen at his casual mention of the ring. “About that,” she started, but his hand returned to her mouth to silence her.
“Let’s not talk of such unpleasantness,” Ethan said. “Let’s talk of…oh, I don’t know. How about how we’ll torture that Lilah Morgan when we’re rid of this place?”
Hearing her name and the word “torture” in the same sentence had an uncanny way of throwing Lilah off-balance. But with his hand over her mouth, there was nothing she could do but shake her head.
“Don’t go all shy on me now,” he chided. “If there’s anyone who deserves to be knocked down a peg or two, it’s the lovely Ms. Morgan. I think we should start with those gorgeous feet of hers. Break her toes, one at a time. Remember what we did to that vampire in San Francisco?” His thumb was caressing her lip, but she couldn’t be sure if it was a conscious gesture or not. “Of course, we won’t actually cut off Ms. Morgan’s feet. It’ll be much better if we just scar her badly enough to make all those open-toed heels of hers useless.” He laughed. “I think she’d hate that more than the pain of the broken bones.”
She lived under the threat of pain every day, but under normal circumstances, Lilah saw it as a motivational tool, pushing her to do her best, encouraging her to rise like cream to the top. Then, it was sufferable, wanted even. It had put her in Special Projects by the time she was thirty, and as long as she didn’t screw up too badly, she’d be a partner within a year.
This, however, was different. This was immediate. Unpredictable. Volatile. This was the monster underneath the bed that only came out when you least expected it. The one that waited for you to finally stop believing in the boogeyman before choosing to strike. This made her sit up and take notice, set her teeth on edge until the grinding gave her a headache.
“You look surprised,” Ethan commented. He moved his hand away from her mouth, catching her bottom lip before leaving altogether. “I can’t imagine why. I know how wet you get over a good bit of torture.”
She saw it then. Saw the sly glance he shot toward the keys on the floor. Saw the too-casual way he regarded her, unwavering and ingenuous, pretending he hadn’t done what she’d just witnessed. He looked like a snake feigning sleep.
They moved at the same time, but Lilah had desperation feeding her pace, snatching the keys up from the ground before Ethan could reach them, curling the cold metal into her palm as she skittered beyond his reach. Her heart pounded in her throat, her ears burned, but her face was cold and calm as she rose to her feet.
“You almost fooled me,” she said. “Nice try.”
Ethan sighed in resignation. “It was the torture bit, wasn’t it?” he said. “Too over the top?” He shook his head as if seriously contemplating his error. “I never know where to draw the line.”
“Were you pretending the whole time?” she asked. “Was telling me the ring was back at your apartment just one big goose chase?”
“Oh, no, that part was true.” He smiled. “But considering you came back, I’m assuming you didn’t find it. Good for Buffy.”
“And reveal my secrets to the fair Delilah?” He clicked his tongue in reproof. “I’m a far more intelligent man than Samson, you know. Suffice it to say…” His eyes glittered with icy loathing. “…you could never be Buffy.”
He was laughing as she backed out of the room and hit the button for security. She lingered long enough outside the cell to watch them struggle chaining Ethan back up, the fight so vigorous that by the time he was secure, fresh blood gushed from his temple. Lilah hoped he bled to death. Considering he was now useless to her in finding Jutta’s Ring, his welfare no longer mattered. As soon as she got back to her office, she would have to make the necessary arrangements to have him killed as discreetly as possible.
Her skin crawled, fingers of disquiet making her nerves jump and dance in desperate attempts to spur Buffy to action. She wanted to get out there and do it, not stay cooped up in a smelly warehouse with a vampire who hated being confined almost as much as she did, but Giles was adamant about staying inside. The magic he’d used to protect them wouldn’t work on her once she left the safety of the building, and if she wished her plan to succeed, they needed to mask her presence for as long as possible.
When he’d left to get his part of the plan underway, Buffy had had to sit on her hands in order not to stop him. She knew it was childish, but she couldn’t shake the feelings of unfairness that he got to leave and she didn’t. It was her plan, damn it. She wanted to be the one to see it begin rolling into action.
Spike was circling her, taking a wide berth and pretending not to watch her out of the corner of his eye. He was still annoyed about her so-called double standard in regards to killing the team Wolfram and Hart had sent, but Buffy didn’t care. He should just consider himself lucky he was still alive.
“Doesn’t have to be like this,” he commented out of the blue. He was still pacing, his duster swinging around his legs in his agitation. “You’re just as wound up as I am. We could be unwinding together.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I’m not fucking you, Spike.”
“Again, you mean.”
“Whatever. I’m not doing it.”
He came to a halt in front of her, though his circuitous path kept him at least ten feet away. Buffy had to stop herself from smiling. She knew there was a part of Spike that was wary of getting staked, even now.
“Relaxed you good and proper this morning, didn’t it?” he said. “And it’s not like there’s anything else for us to do in this hellhole before Ripper gets back.”
“If I remember correctly, you’re the one who picked out this hellhole in the first place.”
“And if I’d known I was goin’ to get stuck in it for the better part of a day, I would’ve picked differently.” He took a tentative step forward, his head tilting as his gaze swept over her. “C’mon, luv, why all the fuss?” His voice was softer, more cajoling. “Not like you didn’t know I was a killer before you fucked me the first time.”
Her lips thinned at the reminder. She wouldn’t say the temptation wasn’t there, but if ever there was a more wrong time for fooling around, she didn’t know what it was. “We can’t,” she said, her tone firm. “I have to be on my game if I want to get Ethan out of that place, and being with you will just…put me off my game.”
There was a pause. When he took a small step away, she thought he’d finally given up on the idea, and she curled back into herself while she concentrated on the plan.
“What about a bit of a scrap, then?”
Her head snapped up at his voice to see he was still standing there, still regarding her with expectancy. “What?” Buffy asked.
“I’m ‘bout ready to jump out of my skin here,” Spike said. “Need to do something before I go bug-shagging crazy. If you don’t want to fuck, how ‘bout sparring instead?”
Her mouth opened to tell him exactly where he could shove the suggestion when Buffy stopped. What about sparring? She was tense, and it would work off some of the stress while she waited for Giles to return. Plus, Spike would be a challenge. The vamp had style; she’d seen that firsthand.
“OK,” she said, rising to her feet. “But if we’re going to do this, we’re going to have some rules.”
“Whatever you say.” He was already slipping his coat from his shoulders.
“You don’t go for the bite, and I won’t go for the stake.”
“All right.” Hopping up and down his toes, Spike rolled his neck, loosening his muscles with audible cracks while Buffy began her own stretches. “What else?”
“That’s it.” The smile she shot him was brilliant, her excitement about the impending fight unexpectedly taking over. “Think you can handle that?”
He didn’t say a word. He just lunged forward, closing the gap between them with a glint in his eye and a smirk on his lips.
To be continued in Chapter 14: Speak in Secret Alphabets…