He shoved him into the wall again, just for the sheer pleasure of hearing Ethan’s grunt of pain. “It hasn’t been nearly long enough,” Giles replied tightly.
He’d only come in search of Spike. The vampire hadn’t been in his hotel room, and so Giles had come to the last place he’d seen him, hoping to prevent whatever carnage in which he was certain William the Bloody was luxuriating. The last person he’d expected to find was Ethan, though in hindsight, it made such perfect sense that Giles felt like an imbecile for not seeing it prior.
“How’s tricks?” Ethan asked. He still managed to keep his tone light, in spite of the fact that Giles could see the blood already starting to trickle from a cut on his cheek. “Talk to any cute Slayers recently?”
“I’ll wager you’ve spoken to her more recently than I.”
“Oh, I’ve done more than that, old friend. Far more.”
Another shove, more forceful this time. Giles heard something crack in Ethan’s arm. “We’re not friends.”
A chuckle escaped Ethan’s throat. “I tell you I’ve potentially sullied the Slayer’s honor, and you put on your best righteous indignation at merely being called my friend? Oh, Ripper, I do think I like you even more now.”
He hadn’t changed. Lines might now weather his skin, and the voice wasn’t quite as silky as it had been in the old days, but the core of the man remained the same. He was still Ethan Rayne, and if he was involved with the rogue Slayer, that couldn’t mean anything good for the Council’s plans.
“Where is she?” Giles asked. “Were you the reason she was here earlier?”
“My, but we are full of questions tonight.” Ethan squirmed within his grasp, seemingly attempting to gain a more comfortable stance, but Giles refused him the opportunity, tightening his grip even further. “What do you say we catch up over a pint or two? You can’t hold me like this forever, and I daresay the vampires who own this particular establishment might not care to see me being manhandled so roughly.” Giles caught the glimmer of a smile. “Although frankly, if I had to choose the man to do the handling, I couldn’t have made a better choice than you.”
A roll of thunder in the distance broke Giles’ concentration, and he glanced up to see the clouds rolling in the sky. There was a storm brewing, and while he wouldn’t normally like to conduct his business in the rain, it would help in breaking Ethan’s resolve. The man had little tolerance for his own pain or discomfort; getting soaked to the skin could likely make the interrogation process faster.
“I think I prefer staying like this for just a bit longer,” Giles said. “I rather like having the upper hand.”
“If it’s hands you’re interested in---.”
“Enough. Tell me what your collusion with Buffy Summers is.”
“Oh, I like that word. Collusion. Sounds tawdry, doesn’t it?”
“If it involves you, it must be.”
“You wound me, Ripper. For all you know, I could be a new man now. Turned a new leaf. Seen the error of my ways---.”
“Save it. We both know that’s not true.”
“Well, yes, because that would be boring. And why should any of us settle for less when we could have the whole world at our fingertips?”
He didn’t like Ethan’s tone. It was too easygoing, too amiable considering the pain he knew the other man must be feeling. It carried just too much confidence, like he expected the cavalry to arrive any moment to save his sorry skin.
Lightning illuminated the street in a sudden momentary flash. With it came the realization of just what Ethan was waiting for.
He expected the Slayer to come to his rescue.
Giles’ blood ran cold. He wasn’t prepared to take on a Slayer, not without Spike’s aid. But he couldn’t just let Ethan go free, either.
“You’ve grown silent,” Ethan commented, amused. “That means you’re thinking. That can’t be good.”
“Shut up,” Giles barked. He had to make a choice. Most importantly, he had to make it quickly.
The limo sped through the LA streets, sluicing across the cement with an elegance that Lilah always found comforting. Now, however, she was less than at ease. Now, she had a sticky situation on her hands and she wasn’t entirely sure how she was going to handle it.
“You realize it’s your own fault,” she said nonchalantly to the young man sitting opposite her. “You were just supposed to keep the ring safe, not put it on. You’re very lucky she didn’t kill you outright to get it away from you.”
The kid was a mess, but at least the doctors at Wolfram and Hart had wrapped up his bloody stump so that he wasn’t dripping on the fine leather any longer. Wild eyes watched Lilah with more than a little fear, his hair hanging over his brow like a small child’s. Her assumptions that he would be the last person to be suspected of holding such a powerful piece of jewelry had apparently been wrong.
“You’re going to take care of her, right?” he blathered. “Losing body parts was never in our contract.”
“Of course,” she assured. “I’m sure La Muerte Pequeña’s owners will be able to give us the information we need to locate her. Don’t worry. Wolfram and Hart takes care of their own.”
There was silence. Then…
“Do you think she still has my thumb?”
With a sigh, Lilah turned her gaze away to stare out the blackened window. Large raindrops were starting to splatter across the glass, the occasional flash of lightning in the sky testimony to the storm that was approaching. Damn it. She’d thought the weather reports had been wrong again and left her umbrella at home. Now, she was going to end up getting a bit wetter than she liked resolving her current problem.
She had to find the girl who took Jutta’s Ring. Certain people higher up would be very disappointed in Lilah if she managed to lose it again. It would be very unlikely she’d be able to get off this time with just a verbal warning.
And she kind of liked her head exactly where it was.
The Slayer had her head bowed, sitting back against the building with her knees pulled up against her chest. Though he knew she was still shaken from whatever taking the ring off had done to her, Spike found it difficult to keep his gaze from jumping to the flash of hip that her scrunched up skirt exposed. Powerful thighs merged with one of the tightest quims he’d ever had the pleasure of fucking, her legs long and lean and golden and just as delectable as he’d imagined when he’d seen her fighting the Fyarls. The problem was, getting a taste of her only made him want more.
Spike was more than aware that his best shot at killing the Slayer had already come and gone, but somehow, taking her life when she’d asked him so clearly to help her had seemed beneath him, even when he’d been swallowing down the first luscious pulls of her blood as they both came. This one deserved better than that. Hell, he deserved better than that. How much honor could come from striking when she was at her weakest?
OK, it was a flimsy argument. But he needed it. Because it was hard enough to explain away the moment of weakness on his behalf when she’d crumpled afterward, and why he now paced the ground in front of her, watching her with more than a little worry. Something was off with her, and it all came back to the ring he’d stuffed into his jeans pocket.
“You ever goin’ to tell me who this Ethan character is?” he finally asked, breaking the quiet.
A flash of lightning illuminated her face just as she lifted her gaze to look at him. The refrain that had gone through his head earlier---lost, lost little girl---echoed again at the sight of her hollow eyes, and he felt the edge of his euphoria from fucking her wane even further.
“My Watcher,” she said. “And you still haven’t told me who you are, either.”
“Call me Spike.”
The corner of her mouth lifted. “No, seriously.”
“Dead serious, luv.”
“Are you sure it’s not some desperate attempt to convince me of your manhood? Because gotta say, you’re a little late for that.”
“All part and parcel. It’s a nickname I got back when I was turned. Got it because---.”
She held up her hand to cut him off. “Don’t,” she said. “Those kind of gory details, I don’t need. There’s enough Technicolor going through my head right now without your added commentary.”
Coming to a stop in front of her, Spike crouched down so that their eyes were on the same level. “Must be some serious shit if it’s got you spooked so bad,” he said. “The Slayer I saw tonight at the club didn’t look the sort to go down on a single punch.”
“It’s---.” But then she stopped, and the slight amusement that had brightened her face when he told her his name dissipated into a calculating hardness. “You know who I am,” she said. “You knew in the car. And you saved me from Javier and his gang anyway. Why?”
Spike tensed, but didn’t move. “Already told you,” he said, his voice even. “Wanted you for myself.”
As he watched, her fingers fluttered up to the bite mark on her neck, and he saw the tanned reminder of the ring she’d worn. “Some vampire you are,” she replied. “You didn’t finish the job.”
“Not as much as I am, I’d wager.”
The way she stared him down, thoughts flitting behind those shrewd eyes with purposes only she could fathom, dared him to back down. Don’t fuck with me, they said. It was a challenge he’d seen her issue back at La Muerte Pequeña, and not once had Spike seen someone stand up to her for it. Not even the wankers who’d been so determined to get into her pants on the dance floor had had the stones to meet the Slayer on her own terms.
He grinned, in spite of knowing it would probably piss her off.
“What’s so funny?” the Slayer demanded.
“Just appreciating the irony,” he replied. “But if you want me to finish off the job---.”
Her fist shot out and smashed into his jaw, knocking him off-balance so that he fell backwards onto his ass. It was stronger than her hits had been earlier, and Spike turned a sharp eye to her appearance, noting the rising color in her cheeks, hearing the leveling rhythms of her body. Whatever drug she’d been given was wearing off; he’d half to tread a bit more carefully from this point on.
“What did you do with my ring?” she asked.
He cocked his head. “Finders, keepers,” he said warily.
“Finding it on my finger doesn’t count.”
“You sayin’ you really want it back? Didn’t look to me like wearing it had you on the good ship lollipop, pet.”
That made her hesitate. “I didn’t say I was going to put it back on,” she managed. “But it’s mine. I…need it.”
Spike shook his head. “I don’t believe that for a second,” he said. “You just don’t fancy me havin’ it instead. Thinkin’ about whatever power it has bein’ in my hands instead of yours. Makes you nervous, doesn’t it?”
“You want to be Ethan’s vampire puppet, you go right ahead. Just don’t forget that given the choice, he prefers oral to handjobs.”
It was the bitterness in her tone just as much as the words themselves that brought clarity to Spike’s suspicions. The Watcher taking advantage of his own Slayer, doing so without her consent, probably doing a hell of a lot more than the simple acts she’d already admitted to. No wonder her behavior had been so erratic.
No wonder her eyes had been so haunted.
For a moment, Spike was no longer sitting on the cold sidewalk of a barren Los Angeles street. He was in Angelus’ London dungeon, just days after he’d been turned and Drusilla had flitted off with Darla for some party that promised plenty of young, beautiful girls with unblemished throats. The teacher had had plenty of lessons to instruct his pupil that day, and in spite of William’s screams and pleas for mercy, Angelus had never stopped, taking glee in the fact that each new exercise left the fledgeling vampire bleeding just a little bit more.
Spike had been born that night, deep in the recesses of William’s mind, gaining strength with every atrocity so that he could someday emerge and be the one to have the control, rather than the other way around.
Both Spike and William understood completely what the Slayer was going through.
Rising to his feet, Spike took a step forward, holding out his hand to the Slayer in an offer of aid to help her stand. “I know what you need, luv,” he said.
Her gaze jumped from his hand to his face. “What?” she asked, unmoving. “And if you say another go with you, I’ll stake you just for the principle of it.”
The corner of his mouth lifted. “Not that I’m averse to another taste, but I was thinkin’ more of givin’ that Watcher of yours a bit of what you’re feelin’. How does he look in black and blue?”
Her eyes widened. The notion obviously hadn’t occurred to her. Slowly, she reached up and clasped his fingers, using his strength to balance as she stood up. “I can’t do that to him,” she said. “I just…I can’t.”
He didn’t let her go even after she was upright. The feel of her skin, even in those few inches of contact, was too pleasurable to relinquish just yet. “It’s the best medicine you’ll ever have,” Spike said. “Trust me on this.”
The Slayer shook her head. “I can’t,” she repeated. “Not…yet. How about we go beat up Javier instead? I think he might’ve put something in my water tonight. There’s no way I shouldn’t have been able to kick his ass when he grabbed me.”
He laughed. He couldn’t help it. “Sounds like a crackin’ idea,” he said, leading her back to the car.
When he held the door open for her to slide onto the passenger seat, the Slayer paused, lifting her bright eyes to his face. She took a moment to search it before saying, “I’m Buffy, by the way.”
Spike released her hand. “I know.” With a light swat on her bottom, he jerked his head toward the car. “Now, let’s go.”
It had been a long time since Ethan had tasted panic. With a Slayer at his beck and call, very little could shake him. Most of the time, it was just too easy to assert a little will and have his problems disposed of with a flash of leg and a powerful right hook. Even realizing that Ripper was the Englishman Buffy had encountered hadn’t fazed him.
Not being able to feel Buffy through the rings did.
Ripper was still stronger than Ethan, and he had the might of years of hatred to help fuel his anger. More than one cut and bruise stained Ethan’s body, but it was nothing compared to what he thought could be coming. He had to get away. He had to find some means to break free from Giles and figure out what had happened to Buffy. If he couldn’t reach her, Ethan feared that it could only be because she was dead.
That was unacceptable.
From where he lay bleeding in the alley, Ethan heard the distinct purr of an expensive car come to a stop out on the street. A door opened and shut, and women’s high heels clicked on the concrete. It couldn’t be Buffy. The length of the stride was too long.
Ripper only cast a cursory glance toward the road before returning his attention to Ethan. “I should just kill you now,” he said. “The Council has no idea who it is working with the Slayer, and it would give me great pleasure to be the one to end your miserable existence.”
“Actually,” Ethan said, with far more jocularity than he felt, “it’s really not all that miserable.”
His smart mouth was rewarded with another kick to the ribs, and this time he felt bone move distinctly against bone. Much more of this, and he’d be unable to even crawl away. It was time to make the only move he could muster.
Curling his fingers into the ground, Ethan pushed himself up, keeping his face averted from Ripper’s so that the other man couldn’t see his lips moving as he chanted the confusion spell beneath his breath. It wasn’t much, but it was the only weapon he had at his disposal. All he needed was to get inside the club. Once he was there, Ripper would have Javier to contend with. Hopefully, that would be enough.
The flash almost blinded Ethan as well, but he stumbled to his feet, pushing past Giles and half-running, half-walking to the front of the club. The rain that had just started to fall made him slip more than once, but he kept going, stopping only when he reached the doors. His bloody fingers slithered on the cold metal of the handle, unable to get a good grip, so he leaned his shoulder against the heavy steel and shoved with his remaining strength, falling to his knees one last time when it gave way.
“…got away,” he heard Javier say.
“How is that possible?” The question was posed by a woman whose silken alto made Ethan half-hard in spite of his discomfort.
“We got jumped by another vamp. Spike.”
“Spike?” That voice, Ethan knew. It was the kid who’d been keeping Jutta’s Ring safe for Wolfram and Hart.
“Yeah,” Javier said. “He helped the Slayer get away.”
The relief at hearing Buffy was safe made Ethan sag against the wall, but in the process, he bumped a chair left by the bouncer, capturing the attention of the occupants inside. Footsteps hurried to the front foyer, and the door opened to reveal a bruised Javier glaring at his supposed intruder.
“I don’t suppose I could trouble you for a drink,” Ethan said with a bloody smile. He winced when Javier grabbed him by the shirt collar and dragged him into the main room of the club. It wasn’t exactly the greeting he’d hoped for.
“I might not have the Slayer,” Javier said, “but now I got the next best thing.” He shoved him to the floor. “Her Watcher.”
The first thing Ethan saw when he lifted his head were an exquisite pair of Jimmy Choos strapped to the most gorgeous pair of stockinged feet he’d seen in years. Sliding his gaze upward, he was rewarded with shapely legs, disappearing beneath the hem of a black skirt, and then full hips, accentuated by the fitted jacket covering the woman’s torso. Only when his eyes met her disapproving ones did his delight falter.
“Oh, bugger,” Ethan muttered when he recognized Lilah.
It was absurd. She knew it. Buffy didn’t care. If she started to think too much about any of the events of the past few hours, she’d end up bouncing off padded walls, trying to poke out her own eyeballs to get rid of the images that seemed permanently burned to her retinas.
The only time she’d been able to block out any of it was when she’d been wrapped up in Spike’s arms. Too bad she couldn’t permanently affix him to her body, but that soulless undead thing he had going was pretty much the best buzzkill for anything long-term.
Short-term, however, seemed more than doable.
He hadn’t made any more overtures about killing her, and in fact, had said very little since they got back into the car. While he kept tapping out some imaginary beat on the steering wheel while he drove, Spike seemed as lost in his own head as Buffy was in hers. It was disappointing, in a way. In spite of his being a vamp, he was probably the most interesting person she’d met in a long time; she would’ve liked hearing him talk a little bit longer before he turned into Marcel Marceau on her.
She wasn’t even going to think about the sex. If she did, she’d probably end up forcing him to pull over so that she could climb onto his lap for another ride. She didn’t have time for that right now.
Which was why she almost lost it when he pulled to a stop half a block from the club.
“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded. “If we need to get away---.”
“Think we might be a little late for the party,” he said, gesturing toward the front of the car.
The wipers were barely clearing away the driving rain from the glass, leaving the night murky. Sliding forward in her seat, Buffy peered through the windshield, focusing on the light pouring from the open door of the club. Bodies sporadically blocked the illumination, moving quickly from the building to the car parked on the street, but when they passed beneath the streetlamp, her heart began hammering inside her chest. Even though she didn’t really want it to.
“What is it?” Spike asked. His dark brows were drawn together as his eyes flickered between Buffy and the growing crowd on the sidewalk.
She swallowed. She couldn’t breathe very well. “Not what,” she said softly. “Who.” Her fingers curled around the arm rest on the door, and it broke off in her grip. “That’s Ethan.”
To be continued in Chapter 5: Rage in Darkness By My Side…