DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. The chapter title comes from The Doors’ song, “My Wild Love.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike took Buffy to her place to get her things…
The story begins here.
It was after four before they left her flat. She wouldn’t speak while she threw her meager belongings into the worn black suitcase, leaving Spike to hover near the doorway to watch. She wouldn’t even talk to him once they were in the car. He was left wondering if he’d missed some clue about what was going through her head.
When they pulled into his parking spot, she was out of the car before Spike could get her door, waiting on the walk so that he could lead her in the right direction. The starless night and low eaves turned her face into a death mask, black hollows where he should’ve seen her eyes, and the doubt in his gut twisted further. Wherever she was, it wasn’t with him, he realized. He guided her silently along the concrete path. Hopefully, her absence was only temporary.
Only the light of the television illuminated the living room as Spike held the front door of the flat open for Buffy. She pulled her suitcase in slowly, assessing her surroundings, but when she saw the wheelchair parked next to the couch and Kevin’s form stretched out along the couch cushions, she came to an abrupt halt.
“That’s the guy from the poker game tonight,” she said, not bothering to lower her voice.
Spike scowled and marched across the room. “No, that’s the freeloader who needs to get his ass home,” he replied, kicking the end of the sofa.
With a groan, Kevin shifted slightly against the cushion, his baseball cap falling to the floor from where it had been covering his face. He squinted up at Spike and then frowned just as grumpily as the vampire had. “What’s your fucking problem?” he grumbled, groping blindly for his hat. “You woke me up from the harem dream again.” He froze when he saw Buffy lingering near the door, his dishwater brows shooting up into his hairline. “Oh. That’s it. Fuck. Sorry.”
Twisting his upper body, he leaned over to grab his cap, his motions now wide awake and urgent. With a put-upon sigh, Spike nudged the wheelchair closer to Kevin, all the while keeping Buffy in sight out of the corner of his eye.
“This is how you found me tonight,” she said. “I thought you said you weren’t looking for me, Spike. I can’t believe you’ve got guys hanging out in the casinos to see if I show up.”
Spike saw Kevin’s startled glance in his direction and stepped forward to block Buffy’s view of the couch. “This is the mate I told you about,” he said quickly. “The one I gave a ride to Vegas? He came to me…” He hooked a thumb at each of them as he spoke, emphasizing the difference. “…and told me he saw a blonde bird calling herself a Slayer. All I did was go check it out.”
“Nice try.” Her eyes flashed as she grabbed the handle of her suitcase again, poised to leave. “I don’t go by Buffy at work, and I sure as hell don’t go around advertising I’m the Slayer. Try selling me another one.”
“He’s telling you the truth.” Behind Spike, Kevin had managed to get himself into a seated position and was leaning to the side in order to see Buffy. “Playing cards tonight was purely a Nicky thing. Spike had nothing to do with it.”
“How’d you know I was the Slayer?”
Spike listened to Kevin’s explanations, punctuated by Buffy’s sharp questions, with lessening fear, chewing on his tongue to keep from saying something that would bugger up the détente. If anyone could sway her, it was going to be Kevin. The boy could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo when he set his mind to it.
By the time they were done, she’d relaxed enough to let go of her suitcase again. Spike slid it back against the wall before she could stop him.
“I still think it’s a weird coincidence,” she said, “but I believe you. For now. It’s just…” For a second, her eyes flickered to Spike, narrowing slightly. “…I know how he can get.”
Kevin laughed. “Yeah. I think the clinical term for it is obsessive. Try traveling across the country with him. There’s nothing he loves more than a captive audience.”
She shared in his amusement, and the smile on her face lit her up for the first time since the fire. “I’ll see that and raise you an Arizona Motel 8 without any power in the middle of the day. Nothing says cranky Spike like being stuck inside without a television to watch his soaps on.”
Spike snorted. “Like someone else didn’t turn into a raging bitch ‘cause she got a little hot under the collar without her AC.”
“It was a hundred degrees!” Whirling to face him, she stepped forward to jab him in the chest. “And you were being the opposite of helpful with all those jalepenos!”
He couldn’t hide his grin. “That was funny.”
“It was hot!”
“Didn’t hear you complain when I dropped you in the shower. In fact, if memory serves, you couldn’t do much of anything with your mouth full of my--.”
“And on that note…” Kevin’s voice startled the pair from their bickering, and Spike turned in time to see him stretch to get his wheelchair. “I can see you two have some catching up to do,” he continued. “So I’ll just pack it up and leave you to that, OK?”
“Right--,” Spike started, only to be cut off when Buffy brushed past him to go to Kevin’s side.
“You don’t have to go anywhere because of me,” she said.
“Yes, he does,” Spike argued.
“I’m only crashing here for the morning anyway,” she went on, pretending Spike hadn’t interrupted. “As soon as my pit boss shows up for his shift, I’m going in and getting my things. Then I’m out of this town.”
Kevin’s gaze jumped between her and Spike, but he wasn’t the only one confused here. “Won’t I…be getting in the way?” he asked carefully.
“There’s nothing to get in the way of.” Buffy rose to her feet, cast a cursory glance around the room, and then nodded toward one of the closed doors. “Is that the bathroom?”
“Yeah.” Spike’s mouth was open to say something else, but her swift departure snapped his jaw shut again, leaving him to frown at the door she shut behind her.
“What’s that about?” Kevin asked. “She’s leaving town? You two just hooked back up. Don’t tell me you scared her off already.”
“Bit of a story there.”
“Well, it doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere. Want to fill me in?”
“Not really.” He straightened when Buffy emerged from the bathroom again. “What do you need, pet?”
“I was thinking…” Casting a surreptitious glance toward Kevin, she closed the distance between her and Spike, standing near enough for him to feel the rise of heat from her skin. Exhaustion left her face pale. “As long as Lindsey has my ring, he’s not safe,” she said, lowering her voice so that Kevin couldn’t hear. “I can’t just leave him for Ethan to play with.”
Personally, Spike thought the idea of Rayne messing with the boytoy was the best thing he’d heard all day. No way could he vocalize that, though.
But there was another, more potent, argument he thought she would listen to.
“Rayne knows the ring’s still out there now,” he said. “If you go after it, he’s goin’ to find out you’re not so dearly departed. That what you want?”
The shadow in her eyes told him she hadn’t considered that. “But I don’t want Lindsey getting hurt.”
Spike wondered if she’d ever sounded that distressed when talking about him. Probably not.
Rubbing a thin hand over her eyes, Buffy sighed. “I can’t think straight,” she complained. “I need to get some sleep, but I can’t, worrying about Lindsey.”
On the couch, Kevin cleared his throat to get their attention. “Not that I’m eavesdropping or anything,” he said when both turned to him, “but if you want, I can get rid of this ring you’re so worried about. There’s a million and one ways to lose something in this town, no strings attached.”
When Buffy looked to Spike for confirmation, he nodded. “He’s got his fingers in more pies than Little Jack Horner. Why do you think I let him stick around? It’s not for his good looks and sparkling personality, I’ll tell you that.”
“You give me what you know about this Lindsey, and I can make sure the ring never comes back to either him or you,” Kevin added. “Scout’s honor.”
If there was one thing Spike knew about Buffy, it was that she hated having to give over control. She needed that comfort as surely as she needed to breathe. But she wasn’t stupid, either. The struggle over the choice she had to make was making her shiver.
“I find out about a single string,” she finally said, her voice flinty, “and I will personally come back to this town and hang you from it. Do you understand?” When Kevin nodded, she visibly deflated. “All right then. This is what I know.”
Lindsey’s nostrils flared as he marched down the plush hall of the hotel. At his sides, his hands were balled into fists, knuckles bone-white against the soot that stippled his bare forearms. Only his eyes were completely still.
When he reached the door at the end of the corridor, he paused. He wanted to pound on it—hell, he wanted to kick the damn thing in. But anything uncivilized would have him reprimanded before he could leave the hotel. There would be no chance for offering his side; Holland had made Lindsey’s status in this operation perfectly clear by not coming to his aid directly. If he wanted to survive long enough to be of any use to Buffy, he needed to play this smart.
His knock at the door left black streaks on the faux antiqued wood. He wasn’t entirely sure if Holland would be up, but at this point, he didn’t care.
“Come in, Lindsey.”
As he entered the suite, he kept his chin up, eyes cold as they darted around the room in search of his boss. They found Holland lounging on the plush white leather couch, a spread of briefs surrounding him. The man didn’t even bother to turn around to greet him.
“I would’ve expected you to be tucked away in Ms. Summers’ bed,” Holland commented. “At the very least, I would’ve hoped you’d shower before coming to see me. You smell like you’ve been at a bonfire.”
Lindsey didn’t say a word. Circling the couch, he came to a stop opposite the table, then reached inside his pocket. He waited until Holland glanced up to toss the chain into a liquid pool onto one of the far briefs.
Their eyes met, and slowly, Holland leaned forward to pluck the ring from where it had fallen. “This isn’t Jutta’s Ring,” he said.
“We both know you didn’t really expect it to be.”
The corner of Holland’s mouth lifted. “Of course I didn’t. Because then we never would’ve found the Slayer, now would we?”
Lindsey hated hearing her referred to by her title. But this was the way the game was played. “Are you going to tell me why you wanted it?” he asked. “Or do you expect me to continue pretending that the Senior Partners are worried about a single Slayer interrupting their plans? Because, for the record, I don’t believe Buffy Summers is a threat to them. In the month I’ve known her, she’s never exhibited any inclination to follow her calling. She gave all of that up when she faked her death in Los Angeles.”
“Is that so?” Turning away, Holland pushed aside a folder to extract a stack of photographs buried underneath it. Without looking at Lindsey, he tossed them onto the coffee table. “These were taken tonight at the casino she works at. The one located just across the street from where you’ve been working at, to be exact. Are you still so certain that you know the Slayer as well as you claim to?”
The fight portrayed in the pictures was graphically clear. The Fyarl demon nearly twice Buffy’s size. The silver knife in her hand as she slid it into its hide. He could even see the outline of her ring beneath the stiff collar of her shirt.
“She’s played you for a fool, Lindsey.” All of a sudden, Holland’s voice was that of a father’s, worried and sympathetic. “I don’t blame you for getting wrapped up in the fantasy. She’s a lovely young woman, and Las Vegas is the town where dreams seem to come true. You thought you could have it all, but you see, it was never yours to have in the first place. One way or another, the Senior Partners will get the Slayer. Your misguided attempts to protect her have only been prolonging the inevitable.”
“But why?” He tossed the photos back onto the table, black fingerprints marring the white edges. His hands were shaking, the rage he’d been shoring for Manners all of a sudden swerving in unexpected directions. He’d not even suspected that Buffy was still slaying; they’d spent too many nights together for him to think she had any time left over to hunt. Being played for a dupe made his blood run cold.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he continued. “Even if she is actively killing again, why on earth are the Senior Partners interested in Buffy?”
“They’re not.” Holland smiled in the face of Lindsey’s confusion. “But that doesn’t mean she’s not important. It just means she’s not the queen in this particular chess match. But we will capture her. Make no mistake about that.”
He faltered. His entire purpose for coming to the hotel, beyond delivering the ring, had just fallen apart. “I thought…” he started, but couldn’t finish, his throat closed with an icy chokehold.
“You thought what?”
Lindsey swallowed. “The fire at my house,” he managed. “I thought…after what you said earlier…I thought you’d started it.”
“And why would you think something like that?”
“Because after I got Buffy out, after I took care of the police and the fire department…” He glanced down at the soot-covered photos and then rubbed self-consciously at the black along the backs of his hands. “I thought you’d staged the whole thing to distract me from Buffy. So that you could get the ring yourself. Because when I went to get her afterward, she was gone.”
Some of the papers fell off Holland’s lap from the speed at which he sat up. “Gone? You just let her get away?” Without waiting for a response, he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and punched in a number. “Yes, this is Holland Manners,” he said. “I want every possible resource made available to locate the Slayer in Las Vegas as soon as possible. She’s gone missing.”
“Sir, if Buffy’s your target---.”
But Lindsey was interrupted by an uncharacteristic growl from his boss. “She’s not,” Holland said, tossing the phone aside. “She’s bait.”
To be continued in Chapter 8: With Silver in His Smile…