DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. The chapter title comes from The Doors’ song, “Break on Through.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Wolfram & Hart goons took in Buffy and Spike where Holland put Buffy’s ring back on her, while Kevin has gone to check out Gazzer’s hotel suite…
The story begins here.
The only thing Kevin learned from tossing the vampires’ suite was that one of them was a neat freak and that another had a sweet fang for fruit roll-ups. They hadn’t even unpacked their clothes, as if they didn’t anticipate staying very long. It begged the question of just what their intentions were beyond the sketchy details Spike had already gathered.
He was about to leave when he saw the light blinking on the phone. They had messages. Anybody calling them would be helpful, Kevin reasoned, and wheeled over to retrieve the voicemail. The last thing he wanted was to go back to Spike with nothing.
After the electronic voice saying that there was a single message waiting came a blast from the past.
“I hope the fact that I’ve got your voicemail means you’re meeting with Wolfram and Hart,” Jocelyn said in the message. “Because if I find out you’re fucking around at the tables again, you’re going be wearing your balls as earrings.”
Kevin smiled. It sounded like Jocelyn hadn’t changed a bit.
“I decided to get in earlier than what I told Manners,” she went on. “Don’t tell him. I want to see him piss his pants when I walk in on the next meeting.” She laughed. He was surprised at how good it was hearing such a familiar sound.
When she started reciting instructions on where to pick her up, Kevin scrambled for a pen and paper to jot down the information. This was good. This was very good. He could meet up with Jocelyn, get her to use her power over Wolfram and Hart to get them off Spike and Buffy’s backs, and everybody could get their happy ending. He just had to remember to leave out the part where Spike and Buffy were the ones who’d killed off her minions. That detail could end up being a deal breaker.
He whistled under his breath as he headed back down to the lobby. When a pretty girl in the elevator smiled at him, he didn’t care that she helped him wheel out when they reached the ground level. His mood was that good. Not even Ethan could ruin this, he thought.
Until he realized Ethan was nowhere to be found.
As he rolled around the lobby trying to find the bastard, Kevin’s knuckles ached from how tightly he was gripping his chair. He had only been kidding about losing Ethan, and in light of how desperate the man had been to tag along, Kevin hadn’t really considered the possibility that he would take off on his own. Ethan didn’t want to lose what little contact with Buffy he had.
Kevin hit paydirt with one of the waitresses in the bar.
“Sure, I saw him.” The rhinestones on the tips of her fingernails glinted in the light as she picked up her tips from an empty table. “Checked on him once and then he started freaking out. Buddy was about to tell him to leave because he was spooking the other guests when he took off.”
“Freaking out? What do you mean?”
She shrugged. “One minute he looked like someone had killed his dog. The next, he’s laughing like Jack Nicholson in The Shining and walking out. The freak even stiffed me for a tip.”
“Do you know where he went?”
She rolled her eyes. “Weren’t you listening? I said. Out. I saw him get into a cab.”
Kevin thanked her for the help, but headed back to the lobby with his stomach clenched in fear. They were back to square one in worrying about Ethan showing up at the wrong time, but he would leave it to Spike to be the one to tell Buffy. The important thing was to get them out of town first.
Lindsey didn’t have to knock at the suite. With his new “guests,” Holland had positioned guards outside the door. They took one look at Lindsey’s grim face and swiped the room key as he approached, stepping aside to let him in without hindrance.
“Where is she?” Lindsey demanded without preamble.
Holland looked up from the brief he’d been examining at the desk. Deep lines creased his features, and he looked wearier than Lindsey would have expected. “In the bedroom,” he replied. But when Lindsey redirected his path to go to Buffy, Holland stood up and blocked the way. “I wouldn’t advise speaking to her right now.”
Panic gripped him with icy claws as macabre possibilities raced through his head. “What happened?” Lindsey realized he was nearly shouting, and fought to contain his anger. “What did you do to her?”
“We took appropriate measures to get her into custody,” came the smooth reply. “She began to get agitated, so the doctors gave her a mild sedative to calm her down. Nothing for you to worry about.”
Holland wasn’t moving. Lindsey would have shoved him out of his way if there hadn’t been more guards positioned inside the suite.
“You told me to get back here to talk to her,” he tried instead. “Why do that if you’re not going to let that happen?”
“I have another assignment in mind first. I need someone to interrogate the Slayer’s vampire friend.”
There was no need for clarification. They both knew he was referring to William the Bloody.
Holland took his contemplative silence as reluctance and frowned. “If you wish to be removed from the assignment,” he said, “I can make the arrangements for you to return to Los Angeles tonight. Of course, that eliminates any way for you to redeem your lackluster performance regarding this matter. The Senior Partners---.”
“Don’t have to worry about me,” Lindsey said. “I’ll do it.”
They chained Spike up in a bathroom, leaving the curtains open so that the afternoon sun flooded the entrance. It wouldn’t be that bad to race across to get out if he was already free, but the shackles around his ankles would make his progress slow, and the lag time would be enough to make the sunlight deadly. He had little choice but to wait it out and see what exactly they wanted from him. So far, nobody had said a word.
Voices in the outer room alerted Spike’s senses. Pricking his ears, he listened to the two men exchange words, recognizing one as Baldy. The other one seemed familiar, but it took a little bit longer to place. It wasn’t until the door knob began to turn that Spike placed it.
The boytoy was shorter than Spike had thought, though he’d known all along that Buffy’s latest choice in men wouldn’t be giving her any neck aches. Begrudgingly, he realized, too, what the attraction had been. The wanker had a boy next door babyface with eyes she would’ve probably described as pretty. Having singer cred just sweetened the offer.
Right now, those eyes were dark and angry, fixed on Spike chained up in the empty whirlpool tub.
“Guess callin’ you a chip off the old block would turn out to be a literal thing,” Spike commented, sweeping a disdainful gaze over Lindsey’s short form. “Why don’t you run along and send in Flimnap, eh? Tell him Gulliver’s hungry here. Could do with something to eat. Unless you’re it, in which case I’m goin’ to need something to settle my stomach after.”
To the boy’s credit, he didn’t flinch when Spike flashed some fang to make his point clear. “We didn’t realize you were in town until today,” Lindsey said. “Did Buffy know?”
It was hard not to grin at the jealousy in the boytoy’s tone. “You really think she would’ve come to you first last night if she did?” he taunted. “’Course, I did warm her up for you. You should be on your knees, thanking me for that. She can be a wild ride when she’s that hot and bothered.”
This time, Lindsey visibly twitched. Obviously, that possibility hadn’t occurred to him. “You set the fire at my house.”
“Had to get her out of there somehow, didn’t I?”
“Normal people would have knocked.”
Spike grinned. “Now who said I was normal?”
Crossing his arms in front of him, Lindsey shoved his hands into his armpits, most likely to keep from lashing out. “Why are you in town, Spike?” he asked, his voice venomous.
His mirth fled. “Same reason you are, mate. Wanted my Slayer back. Now. Are we goin’ to muck around with twenty questions all day, or are you wankers goin’ to let me know if Buffy is OK or not? Because right now, that’s all I bloody well care about.”
Lindsey’s eyes narrowed, weighing Spike’s words. “She’s stable,” he replied, using Holland’s verbiage.
It wasn’t good enough. “Tell me they at least took the bullet out,” he countered. “Stable means squat if they didn’t do that.”
“Bullet? She was shot?”
The boytoy wasn’t an actor; his shock was very real. “Great,” Spike muttered, sinking back against the edge of the tub. “They sent in the second string.”
Lindsey was at the side of the tub before Spike could get comfortable, grabbing him by the shirt and yanking him up. Only the manacles around Spike’s wrists kept him from snapping the boy’s neck.
“Who shot her?” he hissed. The anger in his eyes had ignited into something more.
“Who do you bloody think? You really think Buffy would come in all quiet like, knowing what she knows about you people?”
The truth seemed to take the fight out of Lindsey, and he let Spike go, sitting heavily on the floor as the reality sunk in. His hands fisted in his hair, but the obscenities that came streaming from his mouth were not directed at Spike.
He let the boy rant until he ran out of steam. “Don’t know what you expected,” Spike commented wryly. “Look at the team you play for. They wanted Buffy. They were goin’ to get her one way or another.”
Lindsey shook his head, still not focused on anything but his own thoughts. “This was never about her. They’re after Rayne. Buffy was bait.”
It was the light at the end of the tunnel. “Well, why didn’t you bloody say so? This might not be a waste of both our time after all.”
His snort of derision echoed in the large bathroom. “Don’t play me for a sucker, Spike,” Lindsey said. “You can’t find Ethan any more than we can.”
“No, but I can tell you he’s in town.” He smirked at the boy’s sudden interest, his bowed head snapping up to stare at Spike. “What do you think putting that ring on last night did, you git? You set the home fires burning, you gotta expect he’s goin’ to show up. But…” He leaned forward, hungry for the shift in power. “…if you want Rayne now, I’m the only one who can take you right to him.”
“Why would you do that?”
“You mean, other than the fact that I loathe the bastard with the heat of a thousand hells?” Spike smiled. “Because I’m not goin’ to do it for free. You want Rayne? You get me and Buffy out of here first.”
The connection with Buffy was like it had never been before. In their prior lives—in their real lives, Ethan liked to think—it had been an omnipresent balm beneath his senses, like a sated whisper of satisfaction that drew them together. Buffy’s mind had always been in flux, sometimes violent, others serene, but under his guidance, it was never beyond control. He likened it to a fire he stoked to his own needs.
Now the fire burned so ferociously, Ethan almost considered severing the connection altogether.
Something was wrong. Buffy was frantic, frenzied even. Pain underscored every thought, every emotion, but it was too convulsive for Ethan to determine its origins. When he attempted to reach out to her, it was like touching a live wire, the shocks provoking him to withdraw, and he had to take a steadying breath before trying again. Which he did.
Over and over. Beating at the wall that separated them until a crack finally formed.
It happened just as they reached the hotel. Ethan wasn’t surprised the ring led him back to Wolfram and Hart; he had a strong feeling they were responsible in some way for Buffy’s state. That meant this was a trap.
It was a very good thing he was a slippery bastard. Getting out of traps was Ethan’s specialty.
Avoiding the front entrance, he slipped directly into the casino, finding a busy row of slots to sit unnoticed on a vacant stool. Bowing his head, Ethan took a deep breath and concentrated on the fire surging through him, visualizing Buffy, using it to guide his way to the vulnerability of their connection.
The denial was a sigh, soothing even as it rebuffed his advances. Gently, Ethan tested the power before answering her.
“I’m already here, my dear.”
Did he sense crying? He wanted to be wrong. Hell, he wanted this entire experience to be as before, to be simple yet again. Why would she be crying?
But he still didn’t know if it was physical pain or something else. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Ethan took a deep breath and pretended he wasn’t terrified.
“Let me help you.”
Snarling in frustration, he kicked the slot machine, ignoring the threatening looks from the old biddies surrounding him. He was not about to walk away, not when she was this close, not when he was this close. And for all his grandstanding, where the hell was Spike? His devotion to Buffy had been blatantly clear. He should have been there at her side.
Except for the fact that Buffy was back in Wolfram and Hart’s hotel. That meant Spike had to be dead. They would have no reason to keep him alive.
Ethan wasn’t sure whether to be jubilant or angry. As glad as he was that the vampire was no longer in the way of his and Buffy’s future, it would have been nice to have some real muscle for whatever fight might occur getting her free. Ethan had never been a tremendous fan of exerting himself in the face of battle, but now it appeared that he would have no choice. Buffy was worth it.
Besides, she’d be quick to pick up her own weapon and then he could just stand back and watch the show. His mood eased somewhat as his body grew hard at the possibilities.
He started. She had called him.
She. Had reached out to him.
That didn’t happen.
It was the first time Buffy had ever attempted to actively use their connection. That wasn’t its purpose, but it would seem she was changing the rules. Even better, she was changing them to reach out to Ethan.
Hope made his head buzz. He would not let her down. Not again.
In his haste to get out of the casino and get to Buffy, he knocked over the stool he had been sitting on. Ethan didn’t care.
His Slayer needed him.
To be continued in Chapter 16: Where Your Freedom Lies…