Oddly enough, he didn’t stand out from the crowd. With a tumbler of whiskey in his hand, elbows resting on the edge of the bar as he leaned back against it, he knew he was likely one of the oldest people in the room. Age, however, was not a definitive line to be drawn in this particular club. Patrons of La Muerte Pequeña were more concerned with mien than maturity. Attitude was all.
They hadn’t called him Ripper for nothing.
Most of the room writhed around him. Bodies undulating to the noise they called music. Lovers coupling in corners, oblivious to eyes that didn’t see anyway. The stink of sweat and perfume and alcohol thickened the atmosphere just as effectively as the pounding bass from the speakers, and he was of half a mind to hold his glass out and see if he could literally scoop the scents from the air.
That might’ve been an effect of the whiskey. It was his fourth since stepping into the club. Until she showed up, he had exactly three choices if he didn’t want to be kicked out. Dance, drink, or fuck. Since this wasn’t real music and the only other person he knew in the place was the last creature he’d want to stick his cock into, that left only a single option. Thankfully, it was a good one.
He was certain this was not what the Council had intended when they’d approved the mission. If Quentin Travers were to see him now, he was convinced the old man would have more than one vein burst from the sight. Rupert Giles in jeans? And…was that an earring in his left ear? Preposterous. Watchers didn’t comport themselves in that manner. It wasn’t dignified. It wasn’t proper. It didn’t matter that it was the only way to satisfactorily complete the job he’d been assigned. They would consider him an abomination, from head to toe.
It was a good thing they weren’t here, then. They were having a difficult enough time accepting the magnitude of what they were trying to accomplish. Best to leave them back on the other side of the pond, away from the life that pulsed in this country, away from the risks and peril and half the things in this world that made the fight worthwhile. Giles had learned a lot from his Slayer before she’d been killed defeating the Mayor. Sometimes, the philosophy of want take have was what made life so bearable.
Just sometimes, though. It could kill one, as well.
She walked into the club as he was picking up his fifth drink from the bar. For a moment, Giles froze, the napkin stuck to the bottom of his tumbler as he stared at her sauntering across the floor as if she owned the place. The pictures he’d been given were nearly eight years old, taken by Merrick from when she was first called. While time and circumstance had chiseled away the baby fat that had rounded her cheeks, they had also carved out an amazingly beautiful young woman he would’ve recognized in a heartbeat.
Buffy Summers. The Slayer who came back from the dead.
She breathed power. Frenzied and fierce, captured and bound in golden skin and red leather. More than one head turned as she walked past, but she ignored all of them, weaving amongst the tables until she came to the end of the bar where Giles lounged. He immediately brought his drink to his lips, tearing his gaze away so she wouldn’t catch him staring. He could still feel her, though. Hear her. It would take very little movement on his part to touch her. Just a few inches to the left…but no. That would be suicide. He was dauntless, not stupid.
The sound of her voice made him jump, and some of the whiskey splashed over the side of the tumbler as Giles glanced down to see her hovering at his elbow. She seemed smaller this close to him, her shoulders lithe and graceful. Even the tiny cross that rested in the hollow of her throat seemed tenuous, but he was well aware that it was all fallacy. One had only to look down at her hands to see the danger that she possessed.
“Just visiting,” he replied, dismissing the immediate fear that she would sense his disquiet at her approach. She wasn’t a vampire. She couldn’t smell it on him, or hear his heart speeding up. That, at least, was something in his favor.
Her finely arched brows shot up at the sound of his voice. “I guess so, with that accent,” she said. Then, she was leaning toward him, her slim fingers coming to rest on her forearm. It was barely a feather touch---the only weight he could feel was that of the single ring she wore---but its imagined strength made him flinch.
“Leave the guy alone, Buffy.”
The bartender’s chastising voice behind the counter surprised them both, but it succeeded in drawing Buffy away, a small pout on her lips. “I was just messing around,” she said in protest. “It’s not like I was actually going to jump the guy.”
In spite of his earlier trepidation, Giles scowled. “Thank you ever so much,” he muttered before downing the last of his drink.
Her kohl-lined gaze was back on him when he lowered the glass. “No offense, but you remind me way too much of someone else I know. But I give all the newbies a hard time, so I couldn’t exactly leave you out of the fun, too, now could I?” The smile she offered was brilliant, meant to disarm, but Giles was too tense to fall prey to her tricks again.
“I’d imagine you have a very selective definition of…fun,” he said, and bent closer so that only she could hear his next comment. “And I do hope the local demon population doesn’t factor into that in some fashion. After all, if you’re not going to slay them, it’s hardly fair to just play with them so. That’s just…tacky.”
Walking away without looking back was the hardest thing he’d done all night.
She couldn’t help but stare at him as he disappeared among the crowd. There had been a moment when she’d first heard the accent that Buffy had thought he might be connected to the Watchers, but she’d dismissed the notion almost as quickly as it appeared. Watchers didn’t look like that. The guy had don’t fuck with me written all over him.
But then he’d mentioned slaying, and that was just too much of a coincidence. Old English guys didn’t just show up in her life willy-nilly; they showed with purpose, usually of the kind that meant they wanted her to risk their life for them. Only one had ever treated her like a human being, but then again, he was just as much of an outcast as she was.
Distracted, Buffy twisted the ring on her finger, her eyes narrowed as she scanned the club for the mysterious Englishman. She wasn’t a big fan of the cryptic. She needed to find him and see exactly what his deal was.
The sound of Javier’s voice again made her turn to face the bar, her golden hair swinging lightly around her bare shoulders. Her glass of water was in his hand, ready for her to take it from him, but there was no amusement in his face.
“I thought you were here for business tonight,” he said, his voice tight.
She took the water and drank it down before answering, knowing he was watching her throat as she did so. It didn’t matter that Javier was part owner of La Muerte Pequeña, or that their business arrangement had been sealed in magics too strong for either of them to break. He was still a vampire, and she got a kick out of taunting him like this. A girl had to get her fun somehow.
But then…the Englishman’s words came back to her---it’s hardly fair to just play with them so---a barely contained murmur that had sent a frisson of worry down her spine. The reprimand was different than others she’d received, that tinge of disappointment almost hidden by his smugness. It carried with it an instinct, a faint memory of a more halcyon time, that made her hesitate.
Quickly, Buffy lowered the glass and handed it back. “I am,” she said. She wasn’t going to let that fraction of indecision splinter her control. “Where’s it going down?”
He nodded toward a door at the side of the dance floor, nearly invisible among the heavy tapestries that lined the walls. “There’s four of them,” he said. “Two Fyarls, a vampire, and a human.”
Her head whipped around at the last. “Human?” Her voice was brittle, her eyes like green shards of glass. “You know the deal, Javier. I don’t kill humans.”
“Well, you’re out of luck, then, because he’s the one with the little trinket Ethan’s so hot for.”
She froze at the mention of his name. “Why didn’t he tell me that?”
Javier shrugged. “What goes on between you and your Watcher isn’t any of my business,” he said. “I’m just telling you what I know.”
Buffy turned away from the bar with newfound tension in her shoulders. This wasn’t what she’d had in mind for the night. A little fight, a little quipping, and her work was supposed to be over enough for her to party until the sun came up. She couldn’t do that if she was worried about how to not kill the guy she was there to deal with.
All thoughts of the strange Englishman fled as she contemplated her dilemma. Maybe it was another of Ethan’s tests. It had been awhile since he’d last put her into a situation where her morality went into direct conflict with her duty. Had she been slacking off lately? Did he suspect that she wasn’t doing what she needed to? She always did as he asked, even when it felt wrong. How dare he start to think that she wasn’t loyal to him?
She sighed, suddenly feeling decades older than her twenty-two years. She was thinking about this too hard. Ethan respected her abilities. There was an easy solution to this someplace. She just had to find it.
The fight was a blur.
As soon as the door opened, both Fyarls turned away from the gaming table to see who had dared to interrupt, and Buffy leapt into action. The silver knife she kept hidden in her boot was in her hand, slitting the throat of the first Fyarl before the second could even react, and her heel lashed out to slam into the chest of the nearby man. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the vampire slink away into the darkness, swallowed quickly by the smoke and ebony. Didn’t matter. He wasn’t the reason she was here.
The second Fyarl was a little harder to dispatch, but after being knocked to the ground by one of his mighty hands, Buffy was on his back, driving the dagger into his gut and slicing upward. That left only the man she’d come to see.
“I don’t want to kill you, you know,” she said as she approached where he cowered against the wall.
He was young, younger than she expected, probably barely older than her. Lank blond hair fell across his brow, and he kept blowing upward to clear it away from his vision.
“That’s good,” he said. His voice was almost a squeak. “I don’t want to die.”
“I just said I didn’t want to. I didn’t say I wouldn’t.”
She spotted the ring Ethan had sent her after. It was on the guy’s left thumb, with some string wound around the band to keep it from sliding off. Idiot, she thought. He obviously didn’t realize what he had.
“I have friends,” he stammered. “Powerful friends. If you let me go, I can make sure they give you whatever you want.”
“See, the problem is you already have what I want,” she replied. She continued her lazy pace forward. “And unfortunately, the only way for me to get it is to take it from dead flesh. It’s just the way it works. Sorry.”
She kicked at his feet, shutting him up. “Stand up and face the wall.”
It was hard not to grow impatient with his clumsiness, but Buffy held back until he’d done as she said. Grabbing his left wrist, she slammed his hand flat against the plaster.
“What’re you going to do?” he asked, watery blue eyes wide.
“Kill the flesh,” came the taut response.
The knife cut through the bone in a clean swipe, severing the thumb from the hand in one slice. It fell to the floor, the metallic ring of the jewelry as it rolled to a stop nearly getting drowned out by the man’s shrill scream of pain.
“Stop being a baby,” Buffy scolded. “You’re alive, aren’t you?” Letting him go, she crouched to pick up the bloody appendage with a folded cloth she pulled from her boot. “I so deserve time off for this one,” she muttered with a grimace.
Clutching his injured hand to his chest, the man scuttled back to a far corner, his eyes wide with fear. “What…what’re you going to do with…my thumb?” he asked.
“Hopefully, throw it away,” Buffy said. Turning on her heel, she blocked out his whimpers and pleas. The job was done, and she just wanted to unload this thing while there was enough left of the night to have fun.
It was time to go see Ethan.
From across the street, he watched her leave the nightclub, the faint spattering of blood across her neck the only indication that she’d been in any kind of a fight. A plastic sack dangled from her fingers, swinging lightly against her leg as she walked determinedly down the street, and he couldn’t help but stare at her ass until she disappeared from view. He’d been hard ever since she’d stepped into the back room, and more than a little disappointed that she’d allowed him to slide away from the ensuing fight so easily. He would’ve loved to take her on then and there.
“Well?” The Watcher emerged from the shadows, coming up to stand beside him as they both stared off into the direction the Slayer had vanished. “Have you seen enough? Do you think you can do it?”
He laughed. “Bloody stupid question, Ripper. ‘Course, I can do it. Think the better thing to ask is…now that you’ve seen her, do you still want me to?”
He’d expected a quick assurance as to the execution of their arrangement, but when the Watcher hesitated just a moment too long, he turned away from the spectral memory of the golden Slayer in the moonlight and faced off with the man responsible for bringing him back to this godforsaken state.
“Don’t be throwin’ a spanner in the works at this point, mate,” he said tightly. “Thought you said this one was dangerous.”
“So, what’s the problem? Suddenly grow a conscience that’s makin’ you feel bad?”
His mocking tone served its purpose. The Watcher stiffened, throwing his shoulders back, his blue eyes going steel.
“Of course not,” he bit out. “It must be done. I merely regret it wasn’t possible to get to her sooner. If the Council had known she was still alive---.”
“Save it. I’m not interested in your namby-pamby politics. So long as you’re ready to stick to your half of this little deal, I’m ready to stick to mine. One dead Slayer, comin’ up.”
He began to saunter across the street, heading for the front of the nightclub.
“Wait!” the Watcher called out from behind him. “Where are you going?”
“Night’s young,” he tossed back. “And I’m feelin’ a bit peckish. Run along, Ripper. The Slayer’s left the building. No fun to be had tonight.”
He ignored the continued protestations from the man across the street, and stepped back into the swelter of the club, pausing for a moment in the doorway as the rush of blood and sweat and pounding heartbeats flooded over him. He wasn’t kidding about being hungry; ever since the scent of the Slayer had hit, his mouth had been watering, the anticipation of his fight with her bringing his body to an edge he’d not walked since Drusilla’s death. He’d have a quick drink, and then find someone else to pound into the wall. Human, preferably.
Spike had a sudden craving he wanted to satisfy.
To be continued in Chapter 2: Pirate Prince at Her Side…