DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. The chapter title comes from The Doors’ song, “Unhappy Girl.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Kevin took Ethan to a friend’s house, and when Buffy and Spike stopped to have a heart-to-heart, it ended with Buffy getting shot…
The story begins here.
There was a moment—a split second hanging in eternity—where everything stopped.
Spike stopped moving.
Buffy’s blood stopped dripping.
The air stopped vibrating from the echoes of the gun.
Don’t stop. Don’t pass go. Go directly to hell.
He’d never really considered her death. In the beginning, yes, it was all about killing her, drinking her down, maybe turning her if he was in the right sort of mood. Fantasies of scarlet that had been his bread and blood until that night in LA when Ripper had taken him to the club to see her. After that, they had been only that. Fantasies. Ruminations reserved for the height of his anger when she brassed him off the most.
But he didn’t want her dead. The loss wasn’t worth it.
So in that second, that forever he would have refused if given the choice, Spike revisited emotions buried since Dru’s dusting.
Utter and absolute fury.
With a vicious roar, Spike shattered the silence as he leapt to Buffy’s side. His fingers scrambled along her skin as he searched for the bullet wound, ignoring the telltale sound of her blood pinging against the fender, and found the small hole high up on her shoulder. He almost sobbed in relief when he heard her heartbeat, but it was quickly eclipsed by other rhythms closing in behind.
He rolled out of the way before the gun went off again. The bullet smashed into one of the rear lights, sending a spray of glass over his back as he bent to cover Buffy. When he tried to move her to safety, though, his heel slipped in a pool of her blood, and then meaty hands grabbed his shoulders, trying to pull him away from her unconscious form.
Spike twisted on instinct, fangs bared. In the distance, he heard one of the men shout out, “He’s a vamp!”, but it didn’t distract him from shifting his weight and tossing his attacker to the back of the car, the metal booming hollowly as it bowed beneath the added weight. Leaping to his feet, he slammed his fist into the next one’s jaw, but when he attempted a roundhouse, his boot stuck a fraction too long to the concrete ground, stayed by the blood that clung to his sole.
The hesitation gave the assailants the opportunity to get between him and Buffy.
“Back off!” one of the men shouted. “Or I’ll fucking kill her!”
Spike froze, his eyes snapping back to Buffy. A bald man with beady eyes crouched at her head, his gun pressed to her temple. Scattered behind him, half his team—Spike counted six in total—had pulled out crosses and stakes, while one had a crossbow currently aimed directly at Spike’s chest.
“I mean it,” Baldy said. “One wrong move and your girlfriend’s brains are all over the ground. From what I heard, I don’t think that’s what you want.”
Impotence made him tremble in anger. “She’s goin’ to bleed out if I don’t get her to a hospital,” Spike growled.
“I hit high on the shoulder. No organs, no major arteries. I can make sure she survives if you do as you’re told and come along quiet like a good little vamp.”
It was the first mention of going anywhere. As his gaze swept over the crowd again, it dawned on Spike there were too many of them for this to be anything but an organized hit. That left only one possibility about who was behind it.
“Suits got tired of takin’ the high road, eh?” he commented. The man with the crossbow inched closer every second Spike remained still, while another appeared with enough rope to truss an elephant. “She’s goin’ to rip your bloody head off when she comes ‘round. And I’m goin’ to stand back and laugh. Right before I have your heart for breakfast.”
But he didn’t move when they bound his wrists. He didn’t really have a choice. Wolfram and Hart likely didn’t want Buffy dead—not just yet, anyway—but he was pretty sure Baldy meant what he threatened anyway. Spike recognized killers when he saw them.
The part he hated most about getting ambushed, though, was now he and Buffy were going to have to hope they got some help from other quarters in order to get free. Kevin, he didn’t mind. The boy was smart and if there was anything to be used to help them at Gazzer’s, Kevin would find it.
It was the thought of Ethan riding in to Buffy’s rescue that turned Spike’s stomach.
If nothing else, Kevin knew bringing the Watcher to Sherry’s would keep him off his back. It was going to be a hell of a lot simpler finding out what Spike wanted if he didn’t have Ethan sticking his nose in every second. Plus, it gave Kevin a good excuse to be out of the asshole’s presence. He didn’t care what kind of history Buffy had with him, good or bad. The man had a penchant for saying anything he could to get under a person’s skin, and with an easy target like Kevin, he was reveling in it far too much.
Glancing into the living room, he saw Ethan stretched out on Sherry’s massage table, her hands working over his bare back. He shook his head in disgust. All Ethan’s grand talk about caring for Buffy went out the window when another pretty girl with a larger rack offered to touch him for free. If Buffy could only see him now. Kevin was sure she wouldn’t be so quick to jump to save him then.
He picked up the phone and punched in the number of the hotel written on the back of the Wolfram and Hart business card. Spike had slipped it to him before leaving with Buffy, explaining it was connected to some business with Wolfram and Hart that he was pretty sure involved Buffy’s presence in Vegas. Considering they had had one of their lawyers pretending to be her boyfriend, Kevin was inclined to agree with Spike’s instincts. He only wished that looking into it could wait until the lovebirds were safe and sound out of town. They deserved a happy ending for a change.
The hotel operator came onto the line. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be an answer in that room. Would you like to leave a message?”
Dust couldn’t call him back anyway. “No, no message.” He hung up the phone, chewing his lip. If he rolled over to the hotel himself, he’d have time to toss their rooms before checking in with Spike. It would be good to have something to give them as a going away present.
Grabbing his wallet, he maneuvered back into the living room, heading straight for the front door. “I’ll be back in a couple hours, Sherry,” he said. “If this guy gives you any trouble, you have my blessing to hurt him as much as you want.”
Abruptly, Ethan sat up on the table, knocking aside Sherry’s hands. “Where are you going?”
“None of your business.”
Kevin grimaced when Ethan hopped off and grabbed his chair, preventing him from leaving without a fight. “Whether you like it or not, Buffy is very much my business. And considering you’re Spike’s little lapdog, I can’t imagine this doesn’t concern her in some manner.” He came around the front of the chair, releasing his hold but effectively blocking the only way to the front door of the apartment. Kevin had to swallow the urge to roll the bastard down. “Your friend Sherry is not without her all too obvious charms, but I did not come all this way to lose Buffy again. If you leave, I do as well. I think you’ll find I’m not so easily fobbed off.”
Kevin glared at Ethan, brows drawn into a thick frown. “Spike did it easily enough,” he muttered in complaint.
“Am I wrong?” Ethan pressed. “Is this about Buffy?”
The last thing he would do was betray Spike’s confidence. “This is personal,” he said instead.
“Which for you translates into being about Spike, and in turn, Buffy.” Ethan held his hand out to Sherry. “If you could be so kind to give me my shirt, my dear, I’ll be out of your way momentarily. It’s been a pleasure.”
Sherry hung back, doe eyes darting between Kevin and Ethan. Finally, Kevin sighed and nodded.
“But the same deal holds,” he warned the Watcher, waiting as he slipped his shirt back on. “I will push you out of the cab myself if you start in on me again.”
“Yes, I believe you made that perfectly clear the first time.”
“And you’re not going in with me. You can wait outside, or in the bar or lobby or whatever. Better yet, test out your so-called invisibility and wait in traffic. That could be fun.”
“This obsession of yours with seeing people in traffic is quite disturbing. Perhaps you should talk to someone about that.”
With a frustrated growl, Kevin rolled forward, glad he caught Ethan’s toes under his wheels when the man didn’t move out of his way quite fast enough. He was almost beginning to wish Nicky’s cabaret friend had never suggested Buffy as a dealer; then none of this would be giving him a pounding headache.
But it was only an almost wish. The look on Spike’s face when he’d heard about Buffy—and every moment since—made it worth the trouble.
Maybe Kevin needed to start wishing he wasn’t such a romantic at heart. He could just roll away if he didn’t like happy endings so much.
It wasn’t much, but Lindsey knew he had to give Holland something or risk further retribution for his lack of commitment to the project. It didn’t mean he had to do it in person, though. After finishing off a second beer at a hole-in-the-wall country bar, he took out his cell phone and locked himself in the bathroom.
“Lindsey.” Holland sounded almost cheerful. Lindsey’s gut clenched. “You have impeccable timing. As usual.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“Buffy Summers was just brought in. And you’ll never guess who was with her.”
He wasn’t sure whether or not he should be glad about the news, but he knew the answer to Holland’s surprise already. “William the Bloody.”
“Well, well…and you were planning on sharing this information…when, Lindsey?”
His fingers gripped the edge of the sink, his head bowed as he fought back the images of Buffy with Spike that the cabaret singer had created in his head. “I just found out,” he said tightly. “That’s why I was calling.”
“It’s good to hear that you took our heart to heart so seriously,” Holland said. “But since I have both of them and the ring now, there’s no reason for you to continue the search. Get back to my hotel as soon as possible. As soon as Buffy’s condition is stable, I want you to try speaking with her.”
“Stable?” Lindsey snapped straight and found himself staring at his reflection in the mirror. He looked like hell, but all he could think was that Buffy was hurt. “What happened? Did the vampire hurt her?”
“No, no, just a minor altercation in our attempts to bring her in.” The response was too glib. Lindsey knew it was at least partially a lie. “She’ll be perfectly fine for our purposes,” he went on. “Jocelyn is due to arrive in a few days, and I’m certain that by then, we’ll at least have a good idea where Rayne has been hiding out for the past year.”
If they got what they wanted, it wasn’t going to be because Buffy talked, Lindsey thought as he disconnected from the call. She was an expert at keeping secrets. Thinking he could break her made Holland foolish.
It didn’t stop Lindsey from rushing out to his truck, though, or keep him from running the first red he hit in his hurry to get to Holland’s hotel. There was still the uncontestable fact that Buffy had been hurt. Whether she told him what the Senior Partners wanted to hear or not, Lindsey wasn’t about to sit back and pretend he didn’t care about her. He didn’t think he even could.
Buffy woke up feeling like she’d been gored by one of the qashnar demons Ethan had robbed in Orlando, her shoulder aching and afire. When she tried to sit up, though, her muscles refused to comply. They were heavier than what was right, her mind fuzzy. It took all her strength to turn her head to look at her surroundings.
She was on a bed in a posh hotel room, but most of the usual furniture had been stripped away. The curtains were thrown wide, the afternoon sunlight cutting a broad swathe directly across the closed door, and her blood-stained clothes were folded on a chair along the far wall. That’s when she remembered the gun shot, though everything after that was blank.
Except for some vague idea of Spike shouting.
Where was he?
Buffy’s eyes fluttered closed, trying to put together the pieces of her memory. They’d been talking, Spike had been angry, trying to get her to make a decision about how to make what they had work. She believed now that Kevin was probably right, even if Spike had done everything he could to evade answering her direct question. But he’d given up when she admitted to being just as lost as he was. She’d been relieved.
And then came the gunshot.
Maybe the question she should be asking was, who had shot her?
She heard the door open, but before she could look to see who it was, a man spoke.
“I’m aware you’re awake, Ms. Summers,” he said. “Pretending to be otherwise will be a waste of both of our time.”
Struggling, her lashes lifted, and she shifted just enough on her pillow to see a trim, middle-aged man standing at her bedside. It took her a moment for her to recognize Lindsey’s uncle.
Another piece of the puzzle fell into place.
“Wolfram and Hart,” she croaked.
Holland smiled. “We hadn’t anticipated you discovering our presence here,” he said. “At least, not until we were ready.”
“Will be joining us soon.” He pulled the lone chair in the room over so that he could sit close, his knees touching the side of the mattress. “I thought you and I could have a brief chat first.”
They had to have drugged her; that could be the only explanation for why her muscles wouldn’t work. “Fuck you,” she managed.
He chuckled. “Lindsey sold your charms short. It’s no wonder he’s so enamored with you.”
Without being able to slug him, Buffy had to settle for glaring instead.
“Do you know why you’re here?” Holland asked.
“I forgot to pay my hotel bill?” she quipped.
With a disapproving click of his tongue, he reached into his jacket pocket. “When I assigned Lilah to retrieving Jutta’s Ring,” he said, “I hardly expected the debacle that followed. We had a client who was on the cusp of greatness, and in a single night, you and your Watcher managed to set her plans back by over a year. Needless to say, the Senior Partners were not pleased.”
The sunlight glinted off a piece of metal rolling between his fingers. It took a moment for Buffy to realize that he was playing with her ring.
“You and I are about to change all that, Ms. Summers. For that, I would thank you, except…you’re the reason we’re in this pickle in the first place.”
Her skin crawled when he picked up her hand from where it sat heavily on the bedspread, but all she could manage was a slight flinch.
Ethan resigned himself to waiting in the bar of the hotel Kevin took him to. He had no idea what the boy was doing here, but he’d been adamant about going alone, and frankly, Ethan preferred not being in his company. The emanations still bothered him, and while he was certain Kevin had no magical abilities of his own, that didn’t mean he didn’t have a talent heretofore unknown. It was better to be away from it, on the off-chance Ethan got caught in some mystical crossfire. And since he was fairly certain Buffy wasn’t in the building, there really was no reason to tag along. If he couldn’t get the boy to talk about it when he came back, it wouldn’t take much to divine the truth.
“Want another, honey?”
He waved off the blowzy waitress with a shake of his head, sighing as he leaned back in his chair. He needed his wits. There was a plan lurking somewhere out there, something that would give him what he wanted without cutting off his balls at the same time. All Ethan had to do was find it.
The pained cry nearly made him fall from his seat.
For a second, he thought he imagined it. Electricity still pulsed through his body, disorienting him to the dusky bar atmosphere, and there was the distinct smell of blood in the air. When he looked around, however, everything appeared completely normal. The waitresses bustling between tables. The bartender flirting with a whore at the end of the counter. It was--.
“Don’t do this…”
The spark he’d felt the previous night had been a mere flicker of a flame, but that was because it had been a Wolfram and Hart crony slipping the ring on and not the woman it had been made for. Now, Ethan held his breath while he gathered the raging energy closer, fearful that it was the final delusion in a growing madness.
Because, in spite of his wishes to the contrary, he knew she would never put the ring back on. Not voluntarily. She made her choices perfectly clear.
Yet…Buffy was wearing his ring.
His manic laughter filled the bar.
To be continued in Chapter 15: Break on Through to the Other Side…