DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. The chapter title comes from The Doors’ song, “Roadhouse Blues.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy, Ethan, and Kevin have run into Spike and his fans, while Lindsey has gone off in search of the singer who did the referral to Buffy…
The story begins here.
Though he was ready to use his Wolfram and Hart clout to get backstage at the Tropicana, Lindsey didn’t need it. The only staff milling out this early in the day were the few waitresses serving stragglers and a bartender who didn’t care two fucks who wanted to see the star attraction. He waved Lindsey to the employees’ door with barely a glance, turning his back on him to finish going over his inventory.
He found the dressing room with little problem and knocked, practicing his speech in his head. He wasn’t entirely sure what this was going to prove, but there were too many unknowns going around today for Lindsey to ignore. The only way to get out of this mess with his skin intact was to have as many answers for Manners as possible.
“Bring it on in!”
The cryptic call made Lindsey hesitate before turning the knob. Obviously, the singer was expecting a delivery of some sort. He hoped he didn’t get too angry when his guest turned out to be someone else.
The dressing room was an explosion of color with mirrors lining two of the far walls. Lights reflected off the glass to make it so bright that Lindsey had to squint in order to see, but there was no missing the horned, green demon lounging on the velvet couch in the middle of the room. Today’s Variety was spread out in his lap, a cocktail glass poised haphazardly between his fingers as he scanned the pages.
“Just set it over there, JoJo,” he said without looking up, waving his free hand toward the far wall. “I’ll unpack it later.”
“I’m not JoJo.”
The demon looked up, his red gaze sweeping over Lindsey appreciatively. “No, you most definitely are not.” Unfolding his body from the couch, he stood, the paper falling forgotten to the floor. “So what can I do for you, cowboy? You here for an autograph? Because I gotta say, I usually only do those after my show, but for a morsel like you, I’d be willing to make an exception.”
Lindsey frowned. His assumption that Buffy might have had something personal going on with the singer was driven even further away by the obvious innuendo in his comments. Upon seeing that he was a demon, that possibility had been slim anyway, but this was the nail in the coffin.
He cleared his throat. “I’m not a fan,” he said. “I’m here because I wanted to talk to you about my girlfriend. You referred some guys to her business the other night, and I was curious about how you heard of her.”
The demon’s eyes narrowed, and this time, the sweep was longer, more calculating. “You’re not with Rocco, are you?” he asked carefully. “Because I told him last week I didn’t know Sheila was seeing him when I introduced her to JoJo. The vibes that girl was sending screamed single or I’m not as green as grass.”
“I don’t know who these people are,” Lindsey said. “All I’m interested in is how you know Buffy Summers.”
The name made the demon straighten in surprised shock before a sympathetic moue twisted his features. “Oh, honey pie, I am sorry.” He actually stretched out a hand to pat Lindsey comfortingly on the shoulder. “What a way to find out, huh? But better now than later, I always say. A broken heart is a lot easier to put together if it’s only in a thousand pieces instead of a million.”
His head was reeling as the demon turned away to pick up his cocktail glass again. “What are you talking about?”
“Buffy being with that vampire, of course.” He was chuckling as he refilled his glass. “When I heard that friend of Nicky’s humming, I couldn’t believe it myself. It’s like an old-fashioned love story if you think about it, only heavy on the Tarantino milieu--.”
He squeaked when Lindsey grabbed him by the shirt and shoved him into the wall, the alcohol spilling over both of them. “How do you know Buffy?” Lindsey demanded. “What the hell is going on?”
Though the demon stood a good six inches taller than him, Lindsey’s anger fuelled his hold, making the demon squirm. “I’ve only met her the one time,” he protested. He held his glass high over his head, as if he didn’t want any more to spill. “She was chatting with her pit boss when a group of us went over to play some cards. She didn’t even stick around after he introduced us. The only reason I know anything at all about her is because she was singing some song by The Ramones under her breath when she walked away.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“I’m an empath demon. People sing, and I see their futures. Sort of.”
Abruptly, Lindsey let him go. “What’re you telling me you saw with Buffy?” he asked.
That look of sympathy returned. Lindsey wanted to smash the demon’s face in order not to see it again. “Listen, cowboy,” he said. In spite of the earlier violence, he threw his arm around Lindsey’s shoulder as if to soften the blow of what he was about to say. “Buffy’s got a future that would give MC Escher conniption fits. You don’t want to be mixed up in that. If she’s already left you, my advice is just mosey on. Find yourself a nice little filly without any daddy issues and forget about Buffy. Trust me. You’ll be happier in the long run. You’ll even get a long run.”
He shrugged off the arm and stepped back. “If you’re talking about her slaying, I’m already mixed up in that. I need something else to just walk away from her without any reason.”
Dropping back to his lounging slouch on the sofa, the demon sighed. “How about knowing that she would never choose you, buckaroo? Would that do it for you?”
Lindsey shook her head. “You don’t know that.”
“Maybe I don’t,” the demon conceded. “And maybe I shouldn’t have steered her and Nicky’s compadre in the same direction. But I’m a sucker for a happy ending, and all I can say is…you’re not hers.”
Though she was aware of Ethan saying something at her side, all Buffy could see were the four vampires flanking Spike. She was too late. Wolfram and Hart already caught him.
Her hand on Kevin’s chair kept him from rolling forward when she began to walk toward the other end of the hall. Her paces were even, steady, nothing overt to make them turn on Spike before she was in striking distance. As she moved, his eyes flickered to hers, but they were dark and inscrutable, filled with something she didn’t have time to consider. She just had to get rid of the threat and get him out of here.
“Wow, that worked better than I thought it would,” one of the vampires in the back whispered to his friend. “It brought the Slayer right to him.”
For a moment, Buffy hesitated. The way they were talking—.
But all she had to do was look at Spike again to know the truth. There was no way he’d turn on her. Not now. Not after everything.
She struck just a split second before Spike’s elbow smashed into the baby-faced vamp at his side. Though they looked young, they weren’t mere fledglings, and it only took seeing the dust of one of their own for the other three vampires to start to defend themselves. In the middle of a roundhouse kick, Buffy heard the demon Spike had hit first snarl something about Spike being a traitor to his kind. By the time she turned around, the vamp’s dust was floating to the floor around Spike’s boots.
Their eyes met. It was impossible not to read him now. It had been a long time since Buffy had seen Spike look so absolutely furious.
“They’re getting away!” Kevin shouted from the other end of the hall.
Snapping from her reverie, Buffy took off after the pair of vampires who had chosen that moment to flee, Spike close on her heels. Adrenaline made her veins burn, but the question about what could possibly make Spike so angry scorched hotter. By the time she reached the closest vamp, she was seething herself, not even bothering with preliminaries before slamming the demon face-first into the wall and shoving her stake through his back.
A flurry of black leather streaked by behind her. Turning, Buffy saw Spike tackle the last remaining vampire, his fist smashing into the other’s nose. Bone crunched almost painfully, but before the downed vamp could make a whimper of pain, Spike buried his stake in his chest.
Buffy was panting when Spike leapt to his feet. She didn’t know why. The fight hadn’t been that much of an exertion.
“Been awhile since we’ve had a proper bit of rough and tumble,” he growled as he stalked toward her.
She refused to move. Even when his hand fisted in her hair and jerked her head back to force her to stare up at him.
“Couldn’t stay away, could you,” he murmured. “Had to follow that nose of yours, stick it in where it’s not wanted.”
“Somebody has to watch your back,” she replied. But she knew it wasn’t just her he was referring to.
The squeak of Kevin’s chair came from the end of the hall, but before Buffy could turn to tell him and Ethan that everything was all right, Spike’s mouth was slamming against hers, teeth grinding almost painfully against teeth before her lips parted to allow him the entrance he desired. She couldn’t move from where he had her pinned against the wall, not without losing hair in the process. She could only take the punishment his mouth and hands were inflicting, pinching and biting all her tender spots until she knew she would have bruises.
So she retaliated in kind. Marking him as assuredly as he was marking her.
Her skin was singing by the time she heard Ethan’s cough. It took all of Buffy’s will to break away from where her hands had been clawing at Spike’s hips, to push Spike away in spite of the pain and tear the seal his mouth had had on her neck. His eyes were glittering as he followed her line of sight to the two men watching them, and when his hands balled into fists, she realized then just what his anger had been about.
“She’s hard to resist after a good fight, isn’t she?” Ethan said with a wry smile. “I’ll bet it’s even harder for you. You can actually smell how wet she is. I only ever got to feel it.”
Spike was moving before Buffy could stop him. By the time she reached the other end of the hall, he had Ethan shoved against the wall, his arm twisted viciously behind his back.
“I don’t care how much Buffy thinks you did for her,” Spike snarled. “You so much as blink at her wrong, I’ll tear your bloody heart out.”
“Let him go, Spike!” She clawed at his arm, but the strength he was expending to hold Ethan was enormous. It took all her power to force the two men apart.
“I told you Spike would be pissed,” Kevin commented from where he’d rolled safely away.
Hugging his sore arm to his body, Ethan glanced disdainfully at Spike before turning his attention back to Buffy. “Charming boyfriend you have there,” he said. “Just the type to take home to mom and pop.”
Her jaw clenched. “He’s not my boyfriend.”
Behind her, Spike snorted.
“Someone seems to have a differing opinion.” Ethan tried to stand straighter, but the pain in his shoulder made him wince, driving him to lean against the wall instead. “And here I thought we were all going to be the best of friends. I’m so disappointed.”
The smirk on his face tempted Buffy to finish what Spike had started, but the cool curl of a certain vampire’s fingers around her elbow cut that thought short.
“Why’s he here?” he demanded, jerking a thumb at Ethan. “Why would you be so bloody daft to come down here in the first place?”
“I’m daft?” She jabbed him in the chest. “You’re the one who ran off willy-nilly just because you heard Wolfram and Hart was involved again. Did you beat Lindsey up, too? I’ll bet he’s lying unconscious somewhere, just because your manhood got a little bit threatened.”
His nostrils flared. “Haven’t even seen the wanker. And for your information, I had a plan. A good one. Even worked this time.” Grabbing her wrist, he dipped his other hand into his pocket, spilling out the item he fished for into her waiting palm. “’Course, now you’ve buggered it all to hell. Those vamps we just dusted were some sort of liaisons for one of the suits’ clients. There’s no way Wolfram and Hart isn’t goin’ to notice they’ve gone missing.”
She stared at the fine-linked chain pooled in the center of her hand. Ethan’s sharp intake of breath behind her meant that he saw the ring, too, but all she could think was that Spike had actually done it. He’d probably been on his way out, back to her, when she found him.
“Yeah,” he said when her gaze darted to the dust that still littered the floor. “Except now they’re goin’ to know.”
Buffy straightened, her fingers closing into a fist as she shoved the chain and ring into her pocket. “We have to get out of here,” she announced. “We need as much distance between us and them as possible.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” Ethan called out when she and Spike started to walk away. “I’m sure they won’t even notice I’m around. I’ll just limp back up to my room and pray I’m not that conspicuous.”
Spike’s eyes widened when he felt her hesitate. “Oh, no, you’re bloody not!” he said to her. Deliberately, he placed himself between Buffy and Ethan.
“I’m not just leaving him here.”
“And he’s not setting a foot in my car.”
“Then I’m not either.”
She was vibrating with anger, trying desperately not to notice Ethan’s satisfied grin. But she couldn’t just leave him behind for Wolfram and Hart to sink their teeth into. The least she could do was get him to safety.
Spike stared at her like she’d grown a second head, finally throwing his hands up in disgust. “You two fuckin’ deserve each other,” he spat. “I don’t know why the hell I keep bothering when you’re never goin’ to stop bein’ Watcher’s little girl.”
For some reason, Kevin’s words in the cab came floating back to Buffy. When Spike tried to flounce past her to get away, she grabbed his arm.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
He yanked his arm free. “Looks like I’m walkin’, pet. It’s what you wanted, right?” His lips curled into a mocking sneer as his hand slapped to his chest. “And heaven forfend if Buffy Summers doesn’t get what she wants.”
“I don’t want you to get hurt either.”
“I’m a big vamp. I can take care of myself.”
“Maybe,” she conceded. “But you’ll do better with me around.” She turned to Kevin before Spike could interrupt again. “Can you get Ethan someplace safe while we get our things?”
Though he appeared infinitely unhappy about the request, his gaze shot past her to look to Spike for his answer. She held firm to keep from glancing back.
Ethan watched the exchange with narrowed eyes, but after a moment, when Kevin finally gave her a curt, “Yeah, I’ll do it,” he slumped further against the wall.
“Oh, goody,” Ethan said dryly.
Holland picked up the phone on the first ring.
“The vampires are dead.” It was the head of the security detail he’d sent to trail Gazzer and his group. He sat up a little straighter.
“I never gave you the order to kill them,” he said. “Your instructions were to follow and retrieve the ring if they passed it along. What happened?”
“It wasn’t us.” He listened as the guard detailed tracking them to the lower levels, then watching the fight with the little blonde woman and the man in black they’d met up with on the security monitors. There was no doubt in his mind that it was Buffy Summers. It was just too much of a coincidence.
“But they’ve split up now,” the guard finished. “The girl and Mr. Leather, and the other guy with the crip. What do you want us to do now?”
It required no contemplation. “Follow the girl. Bring her in. And be warned. She’s highly dangerous. Take every precaution necessary. I’m certain what you saw with our guests was a cakewalk for her.”
“Any necessary as long as she’s alive when she gets here.”
“What about Mr. Leather?”
Holland considered that. “Bring him as well,” he said. “He could prove useful.”
He hung up feeling much lighter than when he’d answered. The loss of Jocelyn’s minions was unfortunate and would require some delicate handling, but in light of the advantage they had gained, Holland considered it a fair trade. With Buffy in his custody, it was only a matter of time before he got his hands on Ethan Rayne and Jutta’s Ring.
The Senior Partners would be pleased.
To be continued in Chapter 13: The End of Laughter and Soft Lies…