He waited until the Slayer disappeared inside the tall apartment building before turning to face the vampire behind the wheel.
“What in bloody hell is going on here?” Giles demanded.
Spike sprawled back in the seat, taking a deep drag on the cigarette he’d just lit up. “You heard the girl,” he said. “We’re off to save the wizard.”
“I know that part.” His jaw hurt from how tightly he was clenching it. “I was referring to your sudden rapport with the Slayer. I hired you to kill her, not become her bosom buddy.”
“Oh, but have you seen her bosom?” The grin he shot was Giles was sheer lechery. “’Course, you have. No way you weren’t starin’ at her tits when she was pinning you to the wall. You’re a pathetic prat, but you’re not blind. I’ll bet you even got a hard-on for her, thinking of all that soft Slayer flesh---.”
“Enough!” Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Giles stared out the window, watching the rain run in rivulets down its exterior. His breath steamed the glass, obscuring his view, but he refused to turn his attention back to Spike. With each passing day, he hated their unfortunate alliance even more.
“Why didn’t you kill her when you had the opportunity?” he asked instead. He had to focus. The situation was far more grim than the Council could’ve ever envisioned, and if he lost sight of the mission at this point, his entire purpose for being in California would be decimated.
“Wouldn’t have been a fair fight,” came the nonchalant reply.
Giles’ head whipped back around, and he gawped at Spike in disbelief. “You must be joking. I saw the way she fought the bartender. If anything, you’re the one who’s likely to be handicapped in that particular confrontation.”
“You saw the raw, uncensored Slayer,” Spike said. “The one I saved was under the influence, and it was a tad more than just the drugs.”
“More than…wait. Did you say…saved?”
He listened to the tale of watching the Slayer on the dance floor, how Spike had followed her afterward, and how he’d interrupted the brawl in order to have the kill for himself. The details were spare, the telling casual, but the tone of respect that undercoated the words was undeniable.
Giles narrowed his eyes in speculation. There was more that Spike wasn’t sharing.
“What happened when you got her away from La Muerte Pequeña?” he queried. “And why did you bring her back?”
Rolling down his window just enough to toss his cigarette, Spike kept his eyes on the apartment building visible through the windshield as he replied. “Slayer needed to beat the hell out of something. I tagged along for the show.”
“’Cause that Watcher of hers is a twisted fuck who thinks he can put a leash on a Slayer. Not that I don’t admire his creativity, but he’s a fool if he thought he could keep it up without losing at least one of his balls. Not with this one.” He glanced at Giles out of the corner of his eye. “But you knew who she was talkin’ about. He an old friend of yours, maybe? And don’t try lyin’ to me. You called him by name.”
Spike wasn’t going to get his answers so easily. “What do you mean by a leash?” Giles asked. “Was Ethan drugging her?”
“Nah, that was Javier’s daft plan. Stupid git.”
Digging into his jeans, Spike pulled out a small ring, and in the fluorescence of the streetlights, Giles recognized it as the one he’d seen on Buffy’s finger earlier that night. When he tried to reach for it, however, Spike closed his hand and shoved the ring back into his pocket.
“Don’t think so,” he said. “Slayer might not appreciate another Watcher tryin’ to yank her chain.”
“And yet, she allows you to safeguard it in her stead.”
“Well, can’t say that I gave her much of a choice about it either.”
They lapsed into silence. There was more in what Spike wasn’t sharing than in what he had, fodder for darkening what was already a bleak commission. Memories of how ruthless Ethan had been in their youth mingled with Giles’ conjecture about the present, and the Escher canvas it created made promises of nightmares for days to come.
His flesh felt like stone. Doors opened and closed before him with random deliberation, but the power to choose the proper path slipped through his unfeeling fingers. This was more than he’d prepared for. This was---.
“Snap out of it, Ripper.”
He forced his muscles to comply with his command, lifting his eyes to see Spike gazing at him in thinly veiled disgust.
“You saw a lot worse in those files the Council had,” Spike continued. “Hell, the pictures you showed me from when the Slayer was in Tijuana made that business back at the club look like a tea party.”
“I’m beginning to think that perhaps it wasn’t entirely the Slayer’s doing,” Giles admitted. “If what you say is true, it doesn’t seem…right to exact punishment for crimes that were not her responsibility. Ethan’s culpability merits discipline as well.”
Spike snorted. “Well, if you have delusions of your Council ridin’ in with some grand tribunal to set him to rights, you’ll probably have to stand in line. Why is it you think she’s so fired up about finding him? There’ll be no more fellowship of that ring, you can be bloody sure.”
That possibility had yet to occur to Giles, and his blood chilled as he contemplated what sort of revenge the Slayer would have for Ethan. For a moment, his palms tingled in anticipation of joining in, but he quickly balled his hands into fists to stifle the desire, hiding them from Spike’s probing gaze by stuffing them into his lap.
“So…why is it you’re helping her?” Back to the interrogation. In the absence of having Ethan or the Slayer present, Giles had little recourse but to attempt to get the answers from Spike.
“You’re kidding, right?” He jerked a thumb toward the apartment building. “You saw her fight. Poetry in motion, she is. You think there’s any way I’m not goin’ to have a ringside seat for the grand finale? This has been the best bloody fun I’ve had in years.”
“Killing the Slayer is not supposed to be fun.”
“Speak for yourself, mate.”
Giles frowned when Spike opened his door and started to climb out into the rain. “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.
“Twenty questions with you, or a wound-up Slayer lookin’ to let loose a little steam?” He grinned, a macabre leer made even more eerie by the rain dripping down his cheeks. “Not even a contest.”
Giles had never heard a car door slammed quite so gleefully before.
She broke the lock on the apartment door in order to get in. She had a key. She just didn’t want to use it. That would be admitting that this was her home, too.
Crossing the threshold was another matter. It took Buffy more than five minutes to quell the butterflies in her stomach enough to take the first step, and then another five to close the floodgates on the memories that came rushing back.
“Do we really need a place this big?” she asked, her fingers trailing over the back of the leather sectional in the middle of the room. Her footsteps echoed on the wooden floor. “I thought you said we weren’t going to be here that long.”
“I fail to understand why that means we should be uncomfortable.” Cornering her against the couch, Ethan rested his hand over hers, guiding her strokes of the soft leather. “Don’t we deserve the best? Besides…” He laced their fingers together and lifted her hand to press a kiss to her palm. “…I owe it to my Slayer to banish her personal demons when I can. How better than with utter decadence?”
The doors to both bedrooms stood open, and the cloying smell of perfume that wasn’t hers lingered in the air. Buffy had to resort to short, shallow breaths in order not to start retching on the spot, but when she moved a few feet into the apartment, the perfume dissipated, to be replaced by the muskier scents of Ethan’s cologne and body wash. He must’ve taken a shower before he’d left, she realized, and her eyes strayed to the bathroom. The edges of the door still gleamed from moisture that clung to the wood.
He was covered in blood, his face barely discernible beneath the scarlet streaks that ran from beneath his hairline, down his cheeks, around his neck to pool in the dirt below him.
“Tell me…you ripped out his…tongue,” Ethan rasped. Spasms wracked his chest, and he began coughing, trying to roll onto his side to spit out the blood that now filled his mouth. Buffy slid her arm beneath his back, helping him effortlessly, and pressed the jacket she’d discarded earlier to the open wound moving him exposed.
“What the hell were you thinking?” she raged. Anger was easier. If she was angry, the images of him stepping between her and the spiny demon, of the demon’s sword suddenly protruding from Ethan’s stomach, weren’t quite so vivid.
“Obviously, I wasn’t,” he managed with a weak smile. “An error in judgment. And you…haven’t answered my question.”
“He’s dead.” He didn’t need to know the gory details; though he loved the idea of torture, she knew Ethan’s stomach usually had other notions.
Turning her head to scan the Mexican horizon, Buffy squinted into the rising sun, barely able to make out the approaching jeep. “The cavalry’s on its way. Just hold on.”
“The horses aren’t…white, I hope. That would be…remarkably trite.”
In spite of her fear, the corner of Buffy’s mouth lifted. “Next time you suggest a vacation in Tijuana,” she said, “I’m tying you up and shipping you to Hawaii.”
Another cough, though this one wasn’t nearly so wet. It was followed by a brittle grin. “Promises, promises…”
He made her swear not to pry into his Watcher stuff. No matter where in the world they were, there was always a drawer that Ethan kept locked, and she knew without having to be told that this was where he stored details he didn’t want her to have to shoulder. Buffy walked unerringly to the desk. This was where she’d find out the specifics of Jutta’s Ring. She was certain this was where she could learn who it was Ethan had threatened this time.
Even through the press of bodies on the dance floor, she felt his eyes boring into her. Slowly, Buffy twisted in the arms of the college guy who’d spent the night buying her drinks, and saw Ethan standing at the end of the bar. He was unsmiling, his eyes glittering in the dim light. It could’ve been a trick of the disco ball, but Buffy knew better.
She broke away without a word, weaving through the crowd until she stood in front of him. Her lips parted, and the explanation she had ready bubbled forth, but nothing changed in the frost of his gaze. He just turned on his heel in the middle of her speech and headed for the front door. He didn’t even look back to check to see if Buffy was following.
She was, of course. She knew she’d disappointed him by sneaking out of the apartment for a little fun; it was not a mistake she’d make again for a very long time.
What she didn’t expect to find were all the photographs. Snapshots of her life over the past eight years. Candids. Long distance pictures. A string of shots from when she’d been goofing off in Atlantic City.
Something inside Buffy started to flutter. She’d thought Ethan was in New York then. How could he have gotten these photos of her?
The fluttering turned into a gale when she got to the nude pictures. Even Playboy would think they were too explicit.
And even with the ring off her finger, she couldn’t remember when half of them were taken. She wasn’t entirely sure which half upset her the most.
All he had to do to find the Slayer was follow his nose. Twelve floors up, Spike stepped from the elevator and immediately heard a crash come from the far end of the hall. A sliver of light slashed across the carpeted floor from the open door, and he hurried his pace when another clatter resonated through the building.
He heard her before he saw her. Wracking sobs were muffled by the continued smashing of flesh against wood, and the scent of blood floated back to greet him like an old friend. By the time Spike reached the apartment, the noise and smells were making him dizzy with desire, but everything froze when he saw the tableau through the opening of the door.
The living room was a shambles. A leather sectional was overturned, foam padding strewn across the floor like it had been gutted by an amateur. Near the doorway, a heavy mahogany desk was smashed into pieces, legs broken into jagged pieces, papers and books and envelopes scattered every which way. One scrap near the doorway caught his attention. It revealed a younger Slayer stretched like a whore over the end of a large bed, the tips of her golden hair trailing across the floor, her jaw slack and her eyes empty. If it had been any other person, Spike would’ve dismissed it as simple porn. Knowing what he knew now about the ring and her Watcher, he realized it was really much more than that.
The Slayer was in the midst of the chaos, looking around the room as if in search of something more to destroy. Her hands were ribboned in scarlet, blood seeping from paper cuts and gouges. Fear radiated from her flesh like a narcotic to the brain.
“Slayer!” Spike called out automatically. He launched forward, only to bounce back against the invisible barrier of the threshold, and stumbled to catch himself from falling.
When he looked into the apartment again, though, he saw that she hadn’t moved. She didn’t even seem aware that he was standing there. She was lost in her own little world.
“Slayer!” he tried again.
Still, no response.
All Spike could do was watch as she turned in circles, surveying the room with a wild child’s gaze. He began to match her movements, pacing back and forth before the open door, his eyes never leaving her inside the apartment.
Coming back to the supposed scene of her Watcher’s crimes had subverted what progress she’d made since losing the ring. Her strength was working against her, driving her to crush every revenant within her grasp, blinding her to the will she possessed to take what had happened to her and move beyond it. Spike knew it was there. He’d seen it in her eyes once she was free of her Watcher’s spell.
Bracing his hands on either side of the jamb, he leaned as close as the barrier would allow him. “Slayer,” he said, pitching his voice lower to attempt to gain her attention that way. Nothing in her changed, and he was about to try again when a different possibility suddenly suggested itself.
“Buffy?” Spike said.
That worked. She froze in her circuit and turned her head slowly to gaze at him.
Their eyes locked. “Buffy,” he said again. “What’re you doin’?”
“I…he had these…” Now that she wasn’t moving, the blood from her hands was dripping onto the floor, splattering against her toes. She was oblivious to it all.
“He’s not here,” Spike said. “Remember? We just came back to suss out where they took him.”
“Wolfram and Hart. That’s who…it was in his desk.” Her gaze left his and slid to the broken pieces of wood that lay scattered near the door. “He had pictures. So many of them, and I…I don’t even know when he could’ve taken them all. Why would he do that? He said he loved me. He said…he said it was just the two of us, that nobody else cared about…”
She was starting to lose it again, her hands shaking as she lifted one to push back the hair that had fallen across her cheek. A bloody palm smeared a line of warpaint over her jaw.
“Invite me in, Buffy,” Spike coaxed. “I can’t help you if I’m stuck out here. You’ve got to say the magic words.”
“You don’t want to help,” she muttered. Crouching down amidst the rubble, she picked up a broken leg of the desk, nestling it in her hand as if was carved just for her. “Nobody can help me but me. I know that now---.”
The makeshift stake made him nervous, but he didn’t move from his spot. Keeping his voice level, he said, “Well, that doesn’t make any bleedin’ sense, now does it? If I wasn’t interested in helping, why in hell did I save you from Fangy Gonzales? And why would I have brought you back here? Think about it, Buffy. Be smart. I know you are.”
He was so good at the lies, the convincing words that had drawn more than one victim into his arms. They were even better when they were laced with truth.
“You helped because you want me for yourself. That’s what you said.”
“True, but doesn’t that already put me a step ahead of your Watcher? Haven’t pretended to be anything I’m not, Buffy.” He paused. “And I didn’t just take without askin’, either. Didn’t do anything you didn’t want. Now. Invite me in.”
He saw her muscles tense around the stake, knuckles as colorless as her face was flushed. The rise and fall of her chest matched the throb of her pulse as it echoed throughout the room, but all he was concerned with was whether or not he’d just made a bad situation even worse.
“Come in, Spike.”
Someone human probably wouldn’t have heard it. Didn’t matter. The barrier gave way just as effectively as if she’d shouted it from the rooftop.
She didn’t move as he stepped carefully through the rubble, his boots heedless of where they tore at the photographs strewn across the floor. He reached her side and knelt down, hands curling around her biceps to pull her up and away from the memories still rampaging around her.
“C’mon, pet,” he said quietly. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
To be continued in Chapter 7: Drown Myself in Mystic Heated Wine…