Welcome to the Jungle by Niamh
Summary: On the trail of a killer, Spike finds more than he expected
Categories: NC-17 Fics Characters: None
Genres: Romance, Action, Angst
Warnings: Violence, Adult Language, Sexual Situations, Rape
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 24 Completed: Yes Word count: 65878 Read: 39256 Published: 02/03/2008 Updated: 01/17/2012

1. First by Niamh

2. Second by Niamh

3. Third by Niamh

4. Four by Niamh

5. Five by Niamh

6. Six by Niamh

7. Seven by Niamh

8. Eight by Niamh

9. Nine by Niamh

10. Ten by Niamh

11. Eleven by Niamh

12. Twelve by Niamh

13. Thirteen by Niamh

14. Fourteen by Niamh

15. Fifteen by Niamh

16. Sixteen by Niamh

17. Chapter 17 by Niamh

18. Chapter 18 by Niamh

19. Chapter 19 by Niamh

20. Chapter 20 by Niamh

21. Chapter 21 by Niamh

22. Chapter 22 by Niamh

23. Chapter 23 by Niamh

24. Chapter 24 by Niamh

First by Niamh
Author's Notes:
When I can figure out how to upload the banner for this, I will.
[A/N: This is for the Spuffy Fantasy LJ Community Art-Before-Fic-Athon (oi, say that ten times fast!), and the banner I picked (way before anyone else could snag it) was made by my fantastic beta (she’s sooo multi-talented) Spikeslovebite. The banner is here. (Isn’t it purty?). Anyway, I think she sort of picked it with me in mind. . . at least that’s what I’m telling myself. Title is from the song (yeah, by Guns N’ Roses) of the same name. Quotes are as attributed (coz I may be witty, but I’m no Oscar Wilde). Disclaimers in full force and effect. And just for the record, overall rating for this story is NC-17. Enjoy]


Welcome to the Jungle

First



Welcome to the jungle
We've got fun 'n' games
We got everything you want
Honey, we know the names
We are the people that can find
Whatever you may need
If you got the money, honey
We got your disease
In the jungle
Welcome to the jungle
Watch it bring you to your knees, knees
I wanna watch you bleed
Welcome to the jungle
We take it day by day
If you want it you're gonna bleed
But it's the price you pay
And you're a very sexy girl
That's very hard to please
You can taste the bright lights
But you won't get them for free
In the jungle
Welcome to the jungle
Feel my, my, my serpentine
I, I wanna hear you scream
Welcome to the jungle
It gets worse here everyday
Ya learn ta live like an animal
In the jungle where we play
If you got a hunger for what you see
You'll take it eventually
You can have anything you want
But you better not take it from me
And when you're high you never
Ever want to come down, YEAH!
You know where you are
You're in the jungle baby
You're gonna die
In the jungle
Welcome to the jungle
Watch it bring you to your knees, knees
In the jungle
Welcome to the jungle
Feel my, my, my serpentine
In the jungle
Welcome to the jungle
Watch it bring you to your knees, knees
In the jungle
Welcome to the jungle
Watch it bring you to your
It's gonna bring you down-HA!



Rain pelted against the hard glass, flattening into thick rivulets of dirty water running down and across the thick panes. Multicolored lights flared and swirled in blinking patterns, brightening the otherwise gloomy, dark streets, highlighting the grey shadows everywhere. The streets were empty, devoid of the usual late-night partygoers and restless souls, belying the image of a city that never sleeps.

Five days into the New Year, and already it was filled with regrets and broken resolutions. Six dirty shot glasses stood at parade rest across the polished wood bar, catching the twinkle of Christmas fairy-lights and tasteful decorations. Cinnamon and wood-smoke, the remnants of the last dinners served lingered in the air, undercut with the thick smell of malt, barley and the sharp tang of whiskey. The stereo piped in bluesy holiday tunes, and three of the four occupants chatted softly, the clink and hum of a dishwasher softening the harsh consonants. The last occupant sat listening, not contributing anything at all to the good-natured argument, his mind far away.

Memories flooded his mind, laced with bitterness and regret. He’d thought, once upon a time, that this time of year would be filled with all the things his childhood had held – love, laughter, and family. Instead, he was here with his erstwhile friends and colleagues, heading into a bender.

Will sighed, the sound going completely unnoticed by his companions, and stared at the rain sliding down the painted glass. The phone at his hip buzzed insistently and he ignored it, tempted to switch off the damned thing. He let it go, pouring himself another shot of Macallen single malt. Twice more the phone buzzed and the third time, he finally grabbed it and lifted it to his ear.

He listened after a terse, spare greeting, the lines in his face deepening. This was not what he wanted to hear at – he quickly glanced at his watch – three forty in the morning. Fuck.

Waving off the concerned looks, he dropped a handful of crumpled bills on the bar, ignoring the bartender’s ‘your money’s no good in here, you stupid bastard’, and heading for the front door.

He was through it before anyone but the bartender knew he was gone. The rain had tapered off, only the soft breeze coming off the river carrying the hint of moisture now. Will rubbed a hand over his tired and no doubt bloodshot eyes and glanced around. Subway was four blocks away, but he’d probably sit down there for an hour just waiting for one to rumble by. He could take the bike, but he was just this side of drunk and not in complete control of his facilities. His other alternative was one he didn’t want to even contemplate.

Headlights loomed in the darkness, bearing down on him as he stood under the awning, and, in a split second decision, he walked out into the middle of the street, his hand raised to stop the vehicle. It wasn’t until it rolled to a stop beside him that he realized his luck had changed. A wry smile crossed his lips and he snickered as he walked over to the patrol car.

It wasn’t until the cop rolled down his window and got a good look at who had flagged him down that Will realized his own good fortune. “Finn, you fucking wanker, need a ride.”

“Excuse me?” It took the patrol cop a moment or two of blinking before he realized who had flagged him down. “Yes, sir.”

Will strolled leisurely around to the passenger side, listening idly to the sounds of Finn scrambling to clear off the seat and radio in at the same time. “Where to?”

“Midtown. The Peninsula.”

When Finn did nothing but whistle, Will rolled his eyes and leaned his head back against the bullet-proof divider, closing his eyes in an effort to stave off the blooming headache. “Just drive.”

He moved to flip on the sirens, but Will’s tired voice stopped him. “No. No sirens, just lights.”

Six minutes later – the fastest he’d ever made it from the Bowery to Midtown – Finn angled the patrol car behind two unmarked cars parked haphazardly on Fifty-fifth. Before he rolled to a stop, Will was out, waving him off. “Go back to patrol.”

“You’re welcome!” Finn yelled sullenly out the window, to which Will just flipped him a two-fingered salute that he had no doubt Finn didn’t understand.

Two uniformed cops tried to look discrete at the side of the front entrance, though they were doing a piss-poor job. Will shook his head, lifting his shield from beneath his shirt and his credentials from his wallet as he slid past the balking doorman.

“What floor?”

“Presidential suite, sir. I’ll lead you to the private entrance.” The doorman actually looked somewhat solicitous, pointing the way and sniffing down his nose at the uniforms.

“This the only way in and out?”

“No, sir. There’s another entrance from the Fifth Avenue side of the hotel.”

“Who’s got access to this?” Will stepped inside the plush private elevator, noting there were only two buttons. Up. Down. He pointed to the wood-grain buttons, “Same set up in the other lift?”

The doorman never missed a beat, hearing the English term. Nor did he make mention of Will’s obvious non-New York accent, though he had paused upon hearing it for the first time. “Exactly the same, sir.”

Bloody wonderful. That narrowed down access . . . “Who’s got keys to the suite?”

“Only the resident and the Concierge.” The doorman paused, then shared, “Of course the maids and butler also have keys, in addition to myself and the dayshift.”

“So how many?”

“A total of sixteen, at any given time.”

“Right.” He knew the staff had to have access, though no doubt the resident paid them no never mind. Will knew he’d have to . . . “I need a list of who’s allowed to work in this suite.”

“Yes, sir.”

He eyed the doorman, wondering if the man was just being officious and efficient, or if there was a trace of disdain lacing his responses. Deciding he didn’t really care either way, Will focused on asking the right questions. “Who called it in?”

“I did, sir.”

“You did.” It wasn’t a question.

“Mr. Reilly indicated his companion wasn’t,” he paused delicately, making it more than obvious to Will what he thought of Reilly’s companion, “staying the night.”

“How long ago did you call?”

“It’s only been a half hour, sir.”

“Good. Let me know when the forensics team arrives.”

“Yes, sir.”

Will fixed him with a laser bright blue gaze. “I want the suite staff assembled. And no one’s going home until I’ve said so.”

“Yes, sir.” Finally, he could tell the doorman had had enough of his attitude. “Detective, who said you were in charge of this case?”

Will stared him down, not flinching from the doorman’s assessing look. “I did.”

He stepped off the elevator, his long leather duster swirling behind him, ignoring the insulted doorman.

Four more cops stood inside the suite, two in uniform and the other two in plainclothes, photographing everything. One of the photographers, a sandy-haired, nerdy-type looked up as his boots thumped on the marble and wood flooring. “Spike? I thought you were off duty?”

“Not for this, I’m not.” Will swept past him, pointedly ignoring the hero-worship. “Where’s the body?”

“Master suite, down the hallway to the left.”

Following the directions, Will kept going. He needed to see for himself that Reilly was dead before they cleaned him up and hefted his sorry carcass to the morgue. Needed to know the bastard was finally caught.

The distinct metallic odor of blood filled his nostrils and Will braced himself for the first glance of the crime scene. He cleared the door, stepping immediately to his left and looked around. Blood splattered the otherwise tasteful cream-colored walls, thickest around the headboard. Reilly – Liam ‘Angelus’ Reilly – lay flat on his back, sightless eyes staring up at the ceiling.

Will exhaled softly, drawing the attention of the three people in the room. “Would you look at that.”

Two neat bullet holes marred his broad forehead, another his chest. . . but that wasn’t what had his attention. It was the mutilation lower down that had everyone’s focus. His stomach had been ripped open, his intestines exposed to the air.

“Pretty nasty.” Charles Gunn, his sometimes partner looked over at him. “Looks worse than it really is.”

“No, that looks pretty bad.” Will almost felt sorry for the dead bastard. Almost. But he’d spent too long tracking this man’s activities to feel anything but satisfaction and relief. Finding him like this was almost as good as nailing the fucker himself. “What happened?”

“Angelus checked in two days ago, alone. Brought a companion in sometime after nine this evening, told the doorman she’d be leaving at three.” Gunn talked as he collected evidence, “When he came up to escort her off the premises, he found him like this and her,” he pointed to the other side of the bed, where Sam Lawson and a medic were working on a figure he couldn’t see clearly, “in that condition.”

Will stepped around to peer over Lawson’s hunched shoulder. “Holy fuck.”

She was tiny, looking barely old enough to be in high school, and delicate. Golden blonde hair spilled over the side of the gurney, slender, naked limbs barely covered by the thin sheet. The medic hooked up an IV while Will’s eyes swept over her again. Bruises marred her face, swelling her eye shut. Ligature marks stood out on her neck, reddened and ridged, while what appeared to be defensive wounds covered her forearms. There was a rounded bruise at the top of her breast, and he lifted the sheet to get a better look.

“Sam? See that?” Will pointed out the darkening purple, tracing the air above it. “Looks like teeth marks.”

“Yeah. I see it. I’ll have them do a rape kit when we get her to the hospital.” Lawson stripped off his gloves, then rose to his full height. “She looks like she’s barely sixteen.”

Will shifted his gaze from the girl to the corpse, fighting the urge to brush his hand over her distorted cheek. “She come to?”

“Nope. Been out since before we got here. Doorman says she never moved.”

Making a split second decision, Will ordered, “Keep a guard on her. She’s our only eye-witness.”

“Eye-witness? Fuck, man, she’s our only suspect.” The words exploded from Gunn and his tone clearly indicated he was fully prepared to pin the murder on her.

“This little chit couldn’t’ve done that.” Will met the taller man’s gaze, waiting until he agreed. “Too easy to make her. ‘Sides, you an’ I both know Peaches had more than his fair share of friends.”

“Yeah, yeah.” The agreement was grudging, at best, though Will knew eventually Gunn would back him completely. “The list is long and illustrious.”

“That it is, mate. On both sides of the pond.” Will stepped back as the medic and Lawson prepared to lift the gurney. “On second thought, I’ll go with her. You stay and wait for Lehane.”

Both of the other detectives stared at him. “Whot?”

“You’re gonna let me and Sam clean this up?”

Will shrugged. “Bastard’s already dead. Nothin’ else I can do around here but clean.”

He’d already invested enough of his life trying to pin a crime on Reilly, an obsession which had ended up costing him his marriage and very nearly his career. There wasn’t any reason for him to mop up this scene. He’d nail the bastard’s killer. . . but only because he had too. Angelus deserved to die much slower than he had and much more painfully. Will wasn’t certain if he wanted to arrest the killer or throw him a tickertape parade down Broadway. Or Piccadilly.

Scotland Yard was going to be over the moon, so long as the rest of his organization disintegrated. Angelus had earned his nickname in the sectarian violence of Belfast as a particularly grisly assassin for the IRA, moving swiftly through the ranks until Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein negotiated a peace treaty. At that point, he’d split away from the Provisional IRA and gone out on his own, supplying arms and training for various terrorist groups, both in Europe and the Middle East. Recently, though, he’d been nearly untouchable because of his American wife’s political connections. . . and it had irked Will fiercely that he’d been unable to pin something on him, despite knowing about all of his activities.

He wondered just how young the girl was and whether she worked for Reilly or had just been unlucky enough to have encountered him on the street. For her sake, he hoped it was the latter. Will didn’t want to think what Angelus’ second in command would do to her if she actually did work for the bastard. Which reminded him. . . “Find any ID for her?”

“So far, not a damn thing.” Lawson’s voice followed him down the hallway and Will just barely suppressed the urge to yell for him to find something soon. “Girl looks barely old enough to be out by herself.”

Gunn looked over the corpse. “She fits his type, though, doesn’t she?”

“Think we can get the wife to turn on him if we show her pictures?”

Will snickered at Lawson’s question. “Doubtful. She’s got brass ones, an’ I don’t think any of us’ll get close enough to even smell her perfume.”

“Baby girl kinda looks like her.” For the first time, the three detectives fell silent. The girl did look like Reilly’s wife, though Will thought she might be prettier. Hard to tell under all the blood and bruises. If she survived, eventually her features would show.

The paramedic secured her to the gurney and asked for Will’s approval to move her. “She’s stable. The ambulance is waiting.”

“Right. Let’s get her out of here.” Will swept out of the room, letting the paramedic steer her out into the hallway. “Comin’ through, boys. Someone get the bloody door.”

Andrew’s high-pitched, ‘ohh, got it!’, set Will’s back teeth on edge, but he said nothing, just helped guide the gurney through the doorway and to the elevator.

The ride to St. Vincent’s was over before they really got settled, since it was only a couple of blocks away. Will easily jumped down from the bay, then stepped back, letting the paramedic and ER nurses get the girl inside. She hadn’t moved, hadn’t made a sound and he was beginning to wonder if perhaps something had been missed. Maybe she’s hurt worse than we thought. . .

Will kept out of the way while they worked feverishly around her – running IV lines and slapping on an oxygen mask, taking x-rays and CAT scans – doing everything they could to fix her. Pictures were taken of her bruises and the rape kit exam was performed. Now all he had to do was wait until she regained consciousness.

“Detective?” A nurse stood before him, her purple scrubs covered in dark stains. “Her lab results are back. She’s got abnormally high concentrations of Gamma hydroxybutyric acid and methylenedioxymethamphetamine in her blood stream. They doctors are going to try and detox her, starting tonight. It doesn’t appear she’s a habitual user, since her reaction is unusual.”

GHB and Ecstasy. God help the chit. “Is she gonna make it?”

“She should come out of this in a couple of hours or so. We have no idea when she took the drugs or how much she took.” The nurse handed him the report. “If you want to get some rest, you probably could.”

“No, I’ll stay here. Girl’s our only witness.” Will cursed a blue-streak in his head, wondering how much of a witness she would actually be.

“Suit yourself. She’ll be moved to a private room shortly.” She started to move away when he called her back.

“Any idea on her age? Any tattoos or anything we can use to identify her?”

“One of the doctors pegged her as being no older than eighteen.”

“How’d he manage that?”

“Head x-rays. She’s got no wisdom teeth.”

Fuck. Just his bloody luck. . . probably a runaway. Which meant no identification, no nothing. . . Bleedin’ Jesus. Spike scrubbed his hands over his eyes, suddenly feeling the effects of all that whiskey and no dinner catching up on him. He was tired. So very tired.

The area around her was quiet, only one nurse checking her vitals, and the sound of machinery beeped and blipped. The regular noises of the ER hovered in the background as he moved forward, standing sentinel at the foot of her bed. She looked so small, so fragile. Covered in a hospital gown and blanket, her face marred by bruises, scratches and cuts all over her forearms, she looked like the victim of an accident. . . not a beating.

A chair appeared mysteriously behind him, brought in by an orderly on silent feet and Spike finally sat down, his eyes focused on her, willing her to recover.



feeback is welcome
Second by Niamh
Author's Notes:
Thanks everyone who left a review. . . even the person who told me chapter one was boring. Oh well. Can't please everyone. Or sometimes anyone.
[A/N: I wanna write. . Really. I do. But nothing seems to be . . . I’m struggling again, sort of with everything. Nothing is. . . I’m just gonna stop whining and hope that the feedback from all these things actually makes the muse happy, because otherwise, I’m at a real loss and I just don’t know what to do anymore. This is for Tam, because without her, I’d have been bogged down months and months ago, and not a damn thing would be finished. Nothing. This is all for her. I hope she likes it. Lyrics are from Siouxsie and the Banshees – Lullaby off the album Tinderbox. Disclaimers prove this none of this is mine. I have nothing. Does having nothing mean you are nothing?]

Second

The lunacy will leave the day
Luminous in flight
As the moon spits out
In jagged beams another night
Wrap around this brilliant veil
Tranquil and unbroken
As you spiral down
A world of clay and taut convulsion
The dream swan spins
And cartwheel turns
Down deep within your violet side
The sun begins to rise
Skating down its morning swords to thaw your frozen eyes
The dream swan spins
And so conceal the heart that aches and yearns
Hush awhile
Sleepless child
I'll be watching over you




There was a muffled sort of buzzing in her head, wiping out all other sounds. Everything seemed so far away, distant, like her body was disconnected from everything. Her head there. . . her arms somewhere else, and her legs gone some place very far away. Her mouth was dry, cottony yet metallic – like she’d bit down on a piece of tin foil. She wasn’t dreaming, that much she knew, because her dreams were always full of warmth and sand, and right now all she felt was cold. Cold fingers and toes, which was odd, because they didn’t feel connected to her arms and legs. She tried opening her eyes, tried to focus on something that felt familiar. Nothing worked. Her eyes refused to follow her brain’s urgings.

Sighing heavily, she slipped once more into the depths.

Will sat in the chair, his eyes flicking from the monitor to the girl, gauging her progress. Five minutes ago, he swore he saw her move, but with his eyes on the monitor, he convinced himself he’d only seen what he wanted to. The clock on the wall outside the nurse’s station ticked steadily toward noon. He wondered, not for the first time, what kind of evidence Gunn and Lawson had managed to gather and whether it would make a difference at all.

Ten years of his life had been blown away by some anonymous assassin. Someone close to Angelus had to have done this; only that theory made any sense in his head. The man had been too paranoid, too careful for an outsider to have penetrated his elaborate defenses.

Spike dropped his head, closing his eyes briefly. Two discarded cups of acrid coffee sat on the bedside table, the dark liquid beginning to stain the white paper. The hangover that had threatened earlier had burned away under the harsh hospital lighting, leaving behind nothing but a nagging, aching pain in his neck and upper shoulders.

Ten fucking years. . . .

What a long, strange road his career had taken. He’d started out in the London Metropolitan Police, quickly advancing through the ranks, and through a twist of fate, landing himself in the Counter Terrorism Command. Thanks in part to his linguistic abilities, he’d been recruited by the Intelligence Service, otherwise known the world over as MI-6. He’d deluded himself, as a much younger man, into believing he was going to roam the world like James Bond. The reality was so much uglier.

Liam Reilly had been the bane of his career. Some days, he grimly thought the man had been the bane of his very existence – put on earth for the sole torment of William James Pratt. . .

He’d spent so much bloody time on the bastard that his wife had left him, just before he’d been loaned out to the NYPD. Drusilla had stayed in London, refusing to travel and leave her home. Will, on the other hand, had known exactly what he’d been offered. A chance to get away from the stifling rigidity of British Intelligence and to really make a name for himself.

And he had. His reputation with the NYPD and with Counter-Intelligence of the CIA and Homeland Security forces was nigh untouchable. It very nearly made up for the loneliness.

Nearly.

Low voices in the hallway caught his attention and Spike stood up, stretching and fighting a yawn. He ducked his head out, catching a glimpse of Gunn striding toward him.

“English, we got something.”

“What’s that?”

Gunn stopped at the door, glancing over his shoulder at the bed. “Rape kit came back positive. She’s bruised all over, man.” He grimaced and then pulled Will further away from the door. “Got no name yet, but Lawson’s flipping through missing persons.”

“Hell.”

“We didn’t run a physical to see if she’s got any tats or scars.” The admission came under his breath and the bigger man braced for the verbal abuse. When none came, he glanced over at the shorter man. “Dude, what’s up?”

“Got a weird feelin’, tha’s all. Like maybe we shouldn’t be . . . maybe we should just keep her quiet, you know?”

He thought this over, trying to follow the convoluted logic the Englishman sometimes employed. Gunn never pretended to understand the intuition Will had, but he’d learned, over time, not to underestimate his hunches and gut feelings. “What’re you thinking?”

“She’s not out of the woods yet. Could be she might not make it. ‘D rather keep Harris and McDonald off her tail.” Will ran a hand through the thick curls on his head, leaving his hair even more disheveled.

“You think it was one of them.” It wasn’t a question.

“Could be.”

“Could be.” Gunn paused, slapping his hand against the surface of the wall behind him. “Anything else you want us to cover up?”

Spike stared at him, his blue eyes suddenly burning in his tired face. “Charlie, ‘s not like that.”

“What is it like? I’ve been working my ass off since three this morning, I’m tired and you’re making no kind of sense at all. Wanna share with me what you’re thinking?”

Spike blew out a breath, trying to piece together his jumbled thoughts. “Where’s Lehane?”

“What? That’s what you’re thinking? Dude, you – ”

Before Gunn could start on a tirade sure to get them noticed, Will pulled him into the girl’s room and shut the door. “Listen to me. I got a dead terrorist and a chit ‘m dead sure isn’t legal as my only witness. There’s any number of possible suspects. An’ she’s the only one to have seen the shooter.”

“So why you asking about Lehane?” Spike remained silent, his eyes no longer watching Charles, but on the girl in the bed. “Oh. I get it.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah. I’m seeing the picture now. What’re you gonna do?”

They were standing on opposite sides of the bed, Will’s focus still on the girl, while Gunn watched him carefully.

“Not sure. For now she’s safe, since no one’s been here but you.”

“How long you gonna stay here?”

Will shoved his hands in his pockets, itching for a cigarette he no longer smoked. “Don’t know that.”

With a deep sigh, Gunn headed for the door. “Don’t go to ground unless you let me know where, right?”

“Yeah.”

Charles was gone before Will could think better of letting him go. If his real partner hadn’t shown in the last couple of hours, that meant she wasn’t going to, which didn’t sit well with him at all. She’d been working surveillance on Lindsey McDonald, Reilly’s right-hand and been out of contact for the last eighteen hours. She wasn’t due to check in until noon, which was barely an hour away, although he had expected her to show at the murder scene.

Spike blew out a heavy sigh, idly smoothing a hand over the girl’s bruised cheek, before sitting down in the chair. Reilly’s death had to have been spreading like wildfire through the news. Grabbing the remote, he flipped on the television, heading right for CNN. And there it was, on the rolling ticker, just like he’d expected. . . without any mention of the girl.

Which was exactly what they wanted at the moment. The last thing the hotel wanted to admit to was the presence of an underage prostitute on the premises, no doubt the family hadn’t even been advised of her existence. When he’d left with the girl, Gunn and Lawson had been about to start questioning the staff, though he doubted they had anything but helpful information. Though how the shooter got up to the suite was an interesting question.

The clock creaked steadily toward the noon hour and he had to fight to keep his eyes open. He was tired, drained from hours of hovering over the unconscious girl, muscles screaming for a spot where he could lay down and just surrender to sleep.

She started twitching steadily the closer the clock ground down, no doubt the fluids the hospital was pumping into her system doing their part to flush out her system.

Will was waiting for her doctor, for Gunn, for anyone with some information on the tiny girl. He kept playing a guessing game with himself about her age, flipping between a barely legal seventeen and something he really didn’t want to contemplate. She was probably a runaway from somewhere in the Midwest. He wondered if a missing person’s report had been filed – or if she was one of those that ran because no one cared.

CNN and Fox were still only running ticker information, which meant the wife’s family had gotten to the media. For once he was grateful and his grudging respect for Darla Mondale Reilly grew. She was a hell-bitch worthy of her husband.

His cell phone vibrated at his hip as a doctor entered the room. Will motioned the man to wait, listening as Gunn fed him the information he’d been waiting for.

“Girl could be Buffy Summers, a fifteen year old reported missing from California more than six months ago. Fits the general description. Blonde, green eyes, puncture scar on her lower right abdomen.”

“Right. Bury that file.”

“What? You want me to lose the file after spending all fucking morning looking for it? How the hell am I supposed to do that?” Gunn’s irritation got the better of him, anger and fatigue bleeding through.

“Pull up all missing blondes and bury her in the numbers. Keep looking.” He waited while Gunn spluttered angrily. “Use your head, Charles.”

Gunn breathed heavily into the phone, obviously not pleased with the turn of the conversation. Spike held on for a moment, asking, “Sam dig up anything with the staff?”

“Not a damn thing. Only the doorman saw the girl, no one else was in and out of that room on his shift. Got Oscar working on the dayshift. I’m thinking the shooter had to be already in place. What I don’t get is why shoot and then rip out his guts.”

“If it was one of his boys, that bit makes no sense.”

“You’re thinking someone else?”

“Dunno what ‘m thinkin’ just yet, Charlie.”

“Right.” He could hear Gunn grumbling a bit, then he dropped his voice, “How long you gonna pretend that girl isn’t our main suspect?”

“She’s not. Not now and still won’t be in a week.” Before his partner could get started on a diatribe Will wasn’t ready to hear, he growled out, “Call you back.”

Will turned to face the doctor. “Sorry, doc. What can you tell me?”

“Her vitals are better and her pupils are responding to light. She should be waking up soon.” He was testing her reflexes, frowning slighting at the lack of response.

Running a hand through his already disheveled hair, Spike sighed. “When can I take her out of here?”

“Normally, I’d be reluctant to let her go, but,” the doctor hesitated, his eyes on the barely concealed weapon at Spike’s hip and the black and gold shield around his neck. “I’d say as soon as she’s awake and stable.”

He fiddled with the IV drip, adjusting the rate of intake. “Do you have an ID?”

Not liking the way the other man avoided his eyes, Spike followed his instincts. “No.”

“Too bad. She’s very young.” The doctor looked at him then, his smile smarmy and not reaching his eyes.

Spike’s intuition went into hyper drive and he suddenly felt the urge to get the Doctor away from his witness. “Yeah. Thanks, doc.”

“I’ll be back in a couple of hours to check on her.” He didn’t wait for a response from Spike, heading for the door.

“Yeah, you do that.” Spike muttered uneasily to the man’s back.

Gotta get her out of here. . . before anyone notices I’ve done it. Thankfully, he had his duster with him, which could cover the girl from prying eyes. He just needed a slight distraction, something to keep curious eyes away from them. How the hell am I gonna manage this?

Trying to gauge how heavy she was, Spike lifted her off the bed, surprised at how little she weighed and just how small she actually was. Chit barely weighs a stone. Doubt she’s even a hundred pounds.

Putting her gently back down on the bed, he stared at her blindly. The easiest way to get her out would be through the Emergency Room, or out the service entrance. Trickiest part would be getting her from where she was now, on the fifth floor, down to either of those places.

He thought about calling Gunn or Lawson to have either of them run interference, then changed his mind. While the paranoia engendered by the doctor’s seemingly innocuous visit might be excessive, his instincts told him otherwise. Something about the whole murder scene wasn’t right; from the girl’s presence to her survival, it rang of a set-up. He was supposed to find the girl, to believe just by proximity alone she was the number one suspect.

Will didn’t like set-ups. Didn’t like the conspiracy angle his brain was forcing him to contemplate. The girl was a McGuffin. Just who was the puppet master?

Decision made, Will flipped open his phone, quickly dialing a little used number. When the call was answered on the third ring, he spoke before the other person had a chance. “It’s me. Need a favor. Need a distraction, an’ a car waiting.”

“Spike? What’s up?” The voice was deep and sultry, the promise of sex and other vices readily apparent.

“Listen, luv, don’t wan’ to get into details jus’ yet. Can you do it?”

All business now. “How soon and where?”

“Right away. St. Vincent’s Hospital.”

A husky chuckled sigh sounded in his ear and he forced himself to keep from pleading with her. “Give me an hour. Car will be waiting in the ambulance bay. Has Jersey plates. Ditch it when you’re done.”

“Thanks, pet.”






Feedback is a drug. Feed my addiction, Please?
Third by Niamh
[A/N: Okay, so this is sort of moving forward. I’m not entirely sure this is the way I intended it to go, but this is what the characters are calling for. So who am I to argue? *shakes head* I’m just the poor writer. I’ve gone back to a band I’ve quoted from before – and this one just seemed so appropriate. Anyway, the song is from Arcadia, a little side project from some of the members of Duran Duran – title is Lady Ice. Disclaimers in full force and effect.]

Third

Lady Ice slips into her soul
Lady Ice leaves a house so cold
Lady Ice did you know
That the world was lonely too
Drifting snows
Searching plains and high
Turning stones as she looks
For the heart somebody stole
She knows the violation
In lovers arms without occasion
But who knows where to find
A true heart for Lady Ice
Mesmerized
In the candle flame
Compromised by the cruel bands
Of steel around her breasts
She knows the desolation
Of lover's arms their isolation
But who knows where to find
A true heart for Lady Ice
Lady's eyes slip away
To the part she plays in school
She knows of roles and hideaways
Suppose she knows but turns away
She knows where to find
A true heart for Lady Ice
Lady Ice
Step outside your soul
lady Ice do you know
That the world is frightened too




There were only a few people he trusted, beside his partners, and Nikki Wood was one of them. Retired from the job now, she’d been working a street detail the first time they’d met. He, lonely and missing his wife, Drusilla, had been walking through the Village and stumbled across Nikki, posing as a hooker.

In a moment they’d both laughed over later, each had tried arresting the other.

Their professional paths never crossed – he was too high profile – yet they never failed to back each other. They’d bonded over unfaithful spouses and for a while they’d been an item. But only for a while. Nikki wouldn’t commit and Will wasn’t entirely ready for an instant, inter-racial family. The spectacular sex hadn’t been enough to outweigh their friendship and when Nikki tried for the third time to reconcile with her husband, Will had stepped aside and wished them the best. And miraculously, that time, it had worked.

He always knew, though, if he needed her, she’d be there for him. He just hadn’t figured he’d need her for this.

Their escape sorted, Will needed a way to get the girl – Buffy? – down to the ER without arousing too much suspicion. Peeking his head out into the hallway, Will scoped out the quickest route to the elevator.

Her room was the furthest from the nurse’s station, right next to a connecting ward. Will opened the bulkhead door, almost laughing when he spied a service elevator twenty feet away. It would be easier if he had a wheelchair, but he wasn’t about to test his luck any further. Finding an empty, unwatched elevator was far important than having to carry the girl.

Knowing his window of opportunity would only last so long, Will grabbed her meager belongings and stuffed them into one of the duster’s interior pockets. The IV bag he unhooked and dropped onto her belly, rolling her slight form gently into the swathe of black leather. A wry smile crossed his features as she all but disappeared underneath the folds. While he had not a real expectation of going completely unnoticed, he fully expected no one to remember her.

He lifted her easily into his arms. Christ, she’s such a tiny thing.

The connecting door was still open and he only paused long enough to kick it closed. Thankfully the elevator ride was uneventful, making no stops save the one he wanted.

Twenty minutes later, he was holed up in an empty examining room in the ER, ears tuned for the disturbance he needed.

Nikki was as good as her word. Barely ten minutes went by and the noises of a ruckus reached him. Raised voices, indistinct and muffled, rang through the hallways; Will didn’t waste the opportunity Nikki had given him. Gathering up the still unconscious girl, he headed for the exit.

Walking boldly past where Nikki was arguing with both her daughters, Will stifled a laugh. The girls were playing it up, almost coming to blows, while Nikki played ‘peacemaker’.

An older model Ford with Jersey plates idled boldly in the only available ambulance spot. For a brief moment, he wondered why Nikki wanted him to ditch it, but he didn’t dwell on the thought for long. He needed to get his witness away from prying eyes and possible danger.

Taking her to his apartment would be too obvious, but taking her anywhere else wouldn’t work either. His appearance was far too memorable to go unnoticed for long. The color of his hair stood out and once he opened his mouth, any chance of hiding would be gone. He’d rather be on familiar ground. Nothing for it, have to take the chit home.

Shifting the car into reverse, Will backed out into mid-afternoon traffic.

He parked the car next to St. Mark’s Church, keys in plain sight. Once more he lifted the girl into his arms, this time carrying her easily across Second Avenue. Jose, the doorman, was busy signing for packages and didn’t see him head up to his sixth floor apartment.

For now, they were safe.

Will refused to speculate how long that might last.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



She was still out cold when he laid her down on his bed. Somehow in all the jostling and movement, the IV line had been dislodged from the shunt. Luckily for them both, he’d remembered to shut down the IV drip before moving her, and he’d had just recently been recertified in his emergency medical training, so he at least knew how to reconnect the line. Hooking up the bag to something so that it would hang was more problematic. There was nothing in his bedroom, no freestanding lights, no lamps, no. . . Will looked up over his head and laughed.

The previous tenant must have used the bedroom for a different purpose, because up above were ceiling brackets, the kind that were mainly used for bicycles or other heavy objects. Ten minutes later, after balancing precariously on a chair he’d dragged in from the living area, he’d rigged the IV bag through a shower curtain hook and it was hanging from one of the brackets.

His witness hadn’t moved a muscle during the whole noisy operation, and he sat on the edge of his bed, watching her. Seen in the more natural light streaming through his east-facing window, Will could glimpse how young she really was. She’d lost none of her baby curves, her cheeks still rounded and soft despite the bruising and shadows around her eyes. Her roots and eyebrows were dark and he wondered, not for the first time, what her story was. Why she’d left home. Why she’d done her best to change her appearance. What made a fifteen – was she even fifteen? – year old girl leave the security of her home?

He had no idea how long he just sat and watched her, though the shadows on the building behind his were lengthening, indicating it was heading toward late afternoon. While he was once more focused on her, she stirred, muscles twitching and jerking while her body detoxified. They hadn’t catheterized her, probably because of the sexual assault, and he realized he was going to have to monitor her closely, so that she didn’t soil herself and his bed.

Will ran a tired hand over his face, wondering if he’d be better off putting her in the tub. Whimpers and then a guttural groan emerged from her, drawing his eyes. The shaking worsened, her body jumping and twitching and Will grabbed her hands before she could start to scratch herself.

He wasn’t sure what it was, whether it was the touch of his hands on hers, or the sound of his voice, but she shied away, finally opening her eyes. Mossy green shot with gold and terribly bloodshot, her eyes darted about, her fear easily communicated.

“Shhhhh, it’s all right, kitten. You’re safe. ‘M not gonna hurt you, promise.” Will kept his voice even and his hands gentle as he eased away from her a little. She settled down slowly, her eyes never straying from his. “I promise, not gonna hurt you.”

“Gonna throw up,” was the only thing she said before she did. Vomit, mostly bile, spewed from her, soiling the bed and his clothing. He didn’t flinch, having expected something like this to happen. She kept vomiting, her body curling up into a fetal position, legs drawn up to her mostly empty belly and fingers clenching his in a death-grip.

He waited her out, letting her get rid of as much before he tried moving her, though he never let go of her hands. It took a long time and yet no time at all before she stopped, her legs stretching out and her fingers easing their hold on his. Will let go of one, his hand brushing back sticky strands of hair from her face. “You okay now?”

The only answer she gave him was a whimper, which he took for acknowledgment and he waited five more minutes before speaking again.

“I’m gonna pick you up and we’re gonna head into the bath, okay? Need to get us both cleaned up.”

When she didn’t respond, he realized she’d fallen back into a state of unconsciousness. Shaking his head, Will stood up and assessed the damage. He couldn’t leave her alone, not with her body actively rejected all the toxins she’d ingested and her slipping back into unconsciousness. He needed to get them both clean and to get the linens off the bed.

Working quickly and efficiently, he stripped the sheets and pillowcases. Figuring since the bag was almost empty and he had no other way of getting more, Will disconnected the IV line from her arm. Removing the shunt would have to wait, at least until they were both clean. That was the priority, since neither was smelling sweet.

Deciding it would be easier to just lift her and the dirty sheets, Will scooped everything up and nearly laughed at the sight. She looked like nothing more than an over-sized baby, curled up and sleeping in daddy’s arms. He sobered quickly, though, realizing the reality was something altogether darker and different.

Keeping up an inane litany of his actions, he walked the few steps from his bed to the bathroom, weighing his options. They had to wash and he couldn’t leave her alone. While she was obviously working the streets, the last thing he needed was for a hint of impropriety to appear in his investigation. Will knew it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, springing her from the hospital to hide out in his apartment without another person, but he thought it would be safer for her.

If it was an inside job and one of Reilly’s own men had whacked him, then the girl’s cover was already blown. His only hope lay in the fact that whoever had murdered Angelus had also drugged the girl and thought she’d died of an overdose. It was his only advantage. Keeping her alive and safe was his priority.

There was nothing for it. He’d have to get in and shower with her. Will sighed and laid her down in the tub, pulling away the soiled linens and her hospital gown. She looked even tinier without clothes, though she was nicely shaped. Nicely shaped was an understatement. Despite the marring of bruises and cuts, there was a delicate lushness about her body that sent a flash of heated desire through him. Spike caught his breath, trying very hard to keep his libido under control. She’s a mite young, not t’mention she’s a witness, you blighter. Hands off . . .

Which was easier to think than it was to do. He had to wash them both, since her vomit covered nearly everything, including his boots. Stripping out of his clothes, he grimaced at the smell. Steeling himself to ignore his attraction to her, Spike turned on the shower, angling the spray away from her face. Grumbling to himself about towels, he padded back into his bedroom and grabbed a couple of oversized towels.

In the short time he’d been away from the bathroom, she’d moved. Her body was curled up, her cheek resting on the side of the tub, her legs tucked up against her belly. She whimpered and he could see the telltale track of moisture leaking from her eyes.

“Cold,” was all she said, and he saw the goosebumps and tremors working their way through her body. A particularly harsh tremble ripped through her and she choked, which galvanized him to movement. Instantly, she was up in his arms, her head bent over as once more her stomach rejected its contents.

Vomit splattered against the dark green tile lining his bathroom walls. Spike held her against him, his arm around her convulsing belly, and his other hand holding her hair back away from her face. He never stopped talking, letting his words drown out the sound of her retching, all the while hoping his voice would help soothe her. Wasn’t hard to figure out she was scared and hurting, he could feel the trembling rushing through her muscles, could almost smell the scent of fear clinging to her.

She was barely coherent, but as suddenly as it started, the vomiting was over. He held her still, letting the vomit wash down the drain before he attempted to clean them both. Her body started shaking harder and her nails raked across the arm around her belly.

“No. . . no. Don’t touch me.” The words were little more than garbled whimpers, though he heard her clearly. “Please, don’t.”

“It’s all right, ‘m not gonna hurt you, kitten. Jus’ calm down. You’re safe, you’re safe.” Spike kept repeating that last bit, until the words no longer made any sense. She fought him for a while, longer than he expected her to, but in the end, her strength gave out and she clung to him. Great heaving sobs wracked her and she groaned, curling into his hold. “You’re safe, kitten, safe.”

She was calm enough for him to release her. Will let her sit under the shower spray, huddled in on herself and weeping softly. There was nothing more he could really do for her, just get her clean and keep her safe, not until she was a bit more together.

If Gunn and Lawson were right and this girl was Buffy Summers, she hadn’t been on the streets all that long. Six months or so. There was still a chance she could get help, turn her life around and do something instead of turning tricks.

Forcing himself to the reality instead of dreams of saving the girl from herself, Will grabbed the shampoo and dumped some on her bowed head. She flinched and he cursed himself for being a fool. “Relax, sweetheart, it’s just shampoo. Gonna help you get clean an’ then we can get you dry and warm. How’s that sound?”

Not really expecting an answer or her help, Spike was surprised when she spoke.

“Why?”

He knelt down behind her, running his fingers through the slippery strands of her hair. “Warm and dry? Or help you?”

“Help.” Her voice was raspy, and he had a feeling it was as much from screaming as it was from the aftermath of the drugs.

A sigh rippled from him, and Will gave her question the consideration it deserved. Why indeed? “Coz, kitten, I think you could use it.”

His honesty must have been enough, because her hands unclenched and she relaxed, going almost boneless. “I’m scared.”

“I know, kitten.” No sense lying to her. Even if she had vague, drug-addled memories of the night before, she had to remember some of it. And he knew something like that – rape and murder – stuck with a person, no matter what the conditions. “Gonna do m’best to keep you safe.”

They lapsed into silence, the only sound the patter of water on bare skin.




Feedback is welcomed.
Four by Niamh
[A/N: I’m having issues again. Time constraints and stresses at work really wreak havoc with the muse. Throws off my whole game and whatnot. After a while it gets really old. Oh well. I started out to write one thing, but I think that’s not gonna happen, so I’m actually gonna focus on the first thing that comes to mind. Just to give you all a head’s up, I’m moving before the end of the month, so this might be it for a while, but rest assured, when I do start posting again, I’ll have plenty stockpiled. Quote is from Godsmack, One Rainy Day from the CD entitled Godsmack IV, released April of 2006. The disclaimers still tell me I own nothing. Phooey.]

Four

Oh man, I'm tired and lonely.
Again, why must it be?
A man is drowning slowly.
And he can't keep above, gone way to deep.
Open skies are falling, tears are coming down.
Like a drop of rain falls to the ocean and comes back around, one rainy day . . .
Oh so many times I should have crawled when I went running by.
And since then I've been left feeling traumatized.
Raped and drained of an innocence, a gift we've lost over time.
And still I gaze through this one rainy day, alone with no one by my side.
I swear I've given, I've given you all I can.
Never will you ever make me feel this way again, on this one rainy day.





She was asleep long before he cleaned up the sheets and dirty clothing strewn in his bathroom. Luckily, he used a laundry service and all he had to do was call them and someone would be there in less than an hour to pick up the stuff that needed washing. He’d bundled her in one of his tee-shirts and a pair of shorts, laying her gently on the couch in his small living room.

Twenty minutes later, after checking his refrigerator and finding new and interesting life-forms not meant for human consumption, Spike made a series of telephone calls. The first was to the laundry service and the second to the local mini-mart on the corner that delivered and the last was to his doorman, letting Jose know he was home and expecting deliveries. Jose and the other guys were all very good doormen, not letting anyone up past the second set of doors without calling the tenants. He’d avoided more than one unwanted visitor that way, and he fully expected that to be the case for the next couple of days.

Priorities settled, Will stared at the girl curled up on his couch. Nothing had changed. She didn’t look any better, or any older or any less vulnerable. Bruises still marred her skin, darkening as more time passed, reminding him vividly of how he’d found her. The tape holding the IV shunt had come loose in the shower and he’d ripped it off her, only to hesitate when faced with removing the needle from her hand. Figuring now was better than never, he dropped down to his knees beside her, cradling her left hand in his right.

“All right now, kitten. Don’t yell at me when this hurts. ‘M doing my best here, but I’m no medic.” Will blew out a derisive snort, wondering why he kept talking to the girl, when she was obviously out cold.

“It doesn’t hurt.” Or maybe not.

Started enough to nearly drop her hand, Will glanced at her face. Just the hint of green peeked through her dark lashes and he got the feeling she was finding his reluctance to hurt her further a little amusing. “You’re okay with this?”

She tried shrugging, but the gesture was more implied than actual. “Dunno.”

“Fair enough. ‘M gonna take this out.”

It took more time to tell her what he was doing than to actually do it, and before she blinked, the needle was gone from her hand. A tiny rivulet of blood dripped from the wound, but that was all. She never even flinched or reacted in any way. Will shrugged and slapped a small band-aid over the puncture, then pulled a clean comforter over her. “Go back to sleep, kitten.”

“Kay.”

Surprisingly enough, she did.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~@



There were numerous home remedies for getting rid of the effects of drug use, and Spike knew most of them. He’d ordered cranberry juice and some other things from the corner market, then ordered chicken soup from the health food store, along with a health-shake designed to purge anyone’s insides. It was his favorite choice for hangover recovery and, while he’d never experimented with some of the newer drugs, he figured it would help her there as well.

After putting clean linens on the bed, he debated about putting her back and decided against it, at least until she was more coherent. He flicked on the stereo in his room, wincing when Godsmack’s I Stand Alone blared from the speakers. Lowering the volume, he switched the CD player to Diana Kroll and let the music soothe his jangled nerves.

He was tired, but he’d worked longer hours on less sleep, so this wasn’t a real stretch for him yet. What set off his nerves he couldn’t – or rather didn’t – want to readily admit. Something about the vulnerable little girl sleeping on his couch touched upon a part of himself that he’d shut down since he’d parted ways with Drusilla. Protecting her felt natural and nothing Gunn or the others thought would sway him from his initial assessment – she was innocent. At least of Angelus’ murder.

Working the streets was another matter.

The intercom buzzer rang, pulling him from his thoughts. Grabbing his wallet, Spike headed for the elevator, telling himself he was doing it for her safety rather than his own paranoia. He wouldn’t put it past Harris or McDonald to have a tail on him, even though he’d always been alert. Angelus had tried it once, ambushing him and his handler. Quentin Travers had barely survived the shooting and Will had sworn to himself he’d never get caught like that again. The shooting had blown his cover and he’d been forced to take a backseat in the Angelus investigation, although it had led him to his current assignment in New York.

She woke up while he puttered around in his tiny galley kitchen, her eyes darting about nervously as she visibly tried to make sense of where she was. “I thought I was dreaming.”

“Why’s that?”

“Dunno.” She huddled under the blanket, eyes on his back. “Who are you?”

His soft chuckle sounded in the air and he turned to look at her. “Name’s Will or Spike, doesn’t matter much which one you use. I’ll answer to both.”

“Where are we?” Her voice was soft, a bit raspy still and she barely spoke louder than a whisper. “What happened?”

Will grabbed the shake and the cup of tea he’d made for her and rounded the wall separating kitchen from living room.

“Here, drink this.” He held out the shake. “How much do you remember?”

She looked at the pink concoction in his hand and wrinkled her nose, but took it anyway. “Why?”

“Why do I wanna know what you remember or why are you here?” Will leaned against the kitchen wall, facing her squarely. He kept his distance, not wanting to scare her or give her the impression he was threatening her.

“Yeah.” She sipped the drink warily, letting the taste roll on her tongue before slurping it down in nearly one gulp. “That was good.”

“Glad you liked it. Now drink the tea.”

Another puzzled look, though this time she didn’t even question him. It was still hot, so she was forced to take her time and sip it. “So?”

Will reached a decision as he was watching her, one that would possibly backfire on him, but he thought she might be the kind of girl that appreciated the unvarnished truth, no matter what it was. She had a stubborn tilt to her head and, despite the pain, a glint in her eyes that told him more than she realized. “I’m a cop.”

“Yeah. Figured that.” She leaned her head back, resting it on the curve between the arm and the back. “And?”

“Found you at a crime scene, drugged and beaten. Didn’t figure you for more than another victim.” Will was pacing by the end, unable to stay still. “What do you remember?”

Her eyes opened and he was struck by their color and the emotions swirling in their depths. “Couple came and got me. He was tall and dark. Kinda creepy, said he wanted me because I’m young. They took me to a swanky hotel. We partied – “ Her voice trailed off and he realized there were tears trailing down her cheeks.

“It’s okay, kitten. You don’t have to remember everything.”

She looked away, her eyes staring at the brick building behind them. “He hit me a couple of times when I tried to leave.”

“Why did you try to leave?”

“Don’t remember. Something felt wonky.” She lapsed into silence and closed her eyes. Will gave her the respite from questioning, knowing from past experience there was a possibility she’d remember more if he didn’t push her. It was harder this way, but the results were usually more reliable.

“Why don’t you try and rest some more? You’re safe here.” She nodded, rustling around a bit to get more comfortable. “Want a pillow or two?”

“Yeah.” As if remembering manners ingrained by habit, she softened a bit. “Thank you. For everything.”

“No problem, kitten.”

And it wouldn’t be a problem, so long as he remembered she was a witness and nothing more.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




She was once again sleeping when his cell phone rang a little after eight, though she stirred at the sound of his agitated voice. Will glanced at her as he was arguing with Gunn, trying vainly to hold onto his temper. He’d ignored an earlier call from him, preferring not to get into how much he’d complicated the investigation by removing her from the hospital. Technically, he still had her in custody, but no judge in his right mind would dismiss the impropriety. She was an underage girl and he was alone, without a female cop as his partner. And while he was pretty certain Nikki would cover for him, he didn’t want her to jeopardize her own career.

Not over this.

Explaining his motives to Gunn was akin to shouting into a gale-force wind. The man refused to give or compromise, which made him the best and worst of partners. Whenever Will tried bending the rules, Charles Gunn was there with a reason why he shouldn’t. It tried his patience at every turn. Not that he had a whole lot to begin with; patience was not one of his virtues. Will knew he aggravated Gunn just as much. The truth was, he didn’t like the constraints of working with a partner, hadn’t liked them since he’d been in uniform in London.

The sound of his name being called made him pause. He stopped mid-argument, telling Gunn to hold on, his eyes riveted on the girl. She was attempting to get up, her feet tangling in the blankets and her less then coordinated efforts making her more frustrated. Will clicked the phone shut, stepping toward her in the same motion.

“I’ve got it, kitten.” He pulled the blankets off, dropping them unceremoniously on the floor. “What’s wrong?”

“Gotta get up.” She tried scrambling to her feet, only to be thwarted by her own body. “I need to pee.”

Distressed green eyes flashed at him and he couldn’t figure out what was wrong until she tried once more to stand.

“Gotcha.” Will lifted her easily, carrying her to the bathroom in spite of her protests. “Should have said so.”

“Who were you fighting with?”

Will dropped her at the doorway, pushing her inside the green and white room. “Oooh. Pretty room.”

He laughed, because that was invariably the reaction everyone had to his bathroom. It was pretty, with dark green marble walls and all white fixtures and had actually been the selling point to his renting this particular apartment. That and the location. “Yeah, it’s a nice enough loo.”

She shot him a funny look and he backed away from the door, closing it as he went. He had no intention of telling her who he’d been arguing with – or why. Girl doesn’t need to know all the particulars.

The sound of water reached his ears and he headed back into the kitchen, grabbing his cell and hitting re-dial. He’d much rather have it out with Gunn when the girl wasn’t eavesdropping.

“You could be a little less rude, English.”

He sighed, knowing this conversation was going to head into areas he didn’t want it to. “Couldn’t be helped.”

“Right. Rudeness is always a plus.” Gunn paused, then pointedly asked him, “Where are you?”

“Told you not to ask me that. We’re safe. If I think we need to change locations, I’ll let you know.” Will tapped a pen against the counter top. “Just tell me what else you’ve found.”

“Nothing. No one heard or saw anything. Hotel staff doesn’t remember seeing the girl or anyone else. I’m thinking Angelus’ people got to them first and nothing we can do is gonna make them talk.”

“Wonderful. Right then.” Spike whirled around when he heard a noise behind him, and he blanched at the sight greeting his eyes. The girl was slumped on his floor, her eyes dark and pain filled. “Keep me posted.”

He was at her side in seconds, the cell phone forgotten. “Fuck. What happened, kitten?”

She managed to whimper out, “It hurts” before curling in on herself. She tried twice to lift herself up on her arms, only to fail.

“Oh, sweetheart.” Spike dropped down to his knees, his hand smoothing her hair away from her face. “I’ve got you, kitten.”

She whimpered and sniffled, weakly wiping the tears from her cheeks. “It hurts.”

“What hurts?” Easily lifting her up in his arms, Spike got to his feet and headed for the bedroom.

A deep red blush covered her features and he stared at her, not comprehending her at all. “What is it?”

“When I peed. It hurt to sit and,” She buried her head into the pillow, refusing to look at him. Whatever she said next was muffled by the feathers and down, and he didn’t understand it at all.

“Say that again?”

Groaning a bit, she barely moved her head, whispering in a voice filled with shame, “It hurts down there. And there’s blood.”

“Oh, hell.” Spike was at a loss. He didn’t know what to do for her or what to tell her. She had to be in pain, but the fact. . . “How much blood?”

“Not a lot. I’m not bleeding or anything.” She hid her face again, refusing to look at him. The bed squeaked as he got up, the sound loud and obnoxious in the suddenly quiet room. Spike stared at the mirror on the back of his bedroom door, not really seeing his reflection, instead focusing on the small girl huddled in on herself, wrapped up in all his blankets.

“What happened to me?”

Spike dropped his head, unable to look at her. His voice was barely more than a whisper and he had to force the words out. “I’m so sorry, kitten. When we brought you to the hospital they. . . The doctor had to use a rape kit for you.”

She was silent for so long he thought she hadn’t heard him, until a noise, something between a sob and a whimper emerged from her. He cursed himself for an insensitive fool, moving quickly back to her side. “I’m sorry, kitten, so damn sorry.”

After a moment’s hesitation, she curled into his embrace, head resting against his chest.





Thanks to everyone who's reading this story. I hope to update everything else before we actually move, so keep an eye out for that. You're all the best.
Five by Niamh
Author's Notes:
And now, for the story no one is waiting for. . .
[A/N: This is a long time coming, I know, and I’m sorry, but work has been kicking my ass, literally. Also it’s really hard trying to balance this, Safe in my own Skin, and Resolutions all that the same time, and work. Which sucks. Did I mention that work sucks? Anyway, thanks to both Addie and Tam, who does a spectacular beta for everything I write. I’m nothing without her. Quote is as attributed, and is from one of my favorite bands of all time, Yaz (or Yazoo if your in the UK); lyrics are by Alison Moyet, music by Vince Clarke and it’s from the album Upstairs at Eric’s, one of the seminal albums of technopop. Totally made of awesome. Disclaimers mean I own nothing, not even the roof over my head.]

Five

Green in your love on bright days
you grew sun blind you thought me unkind
to remind you how winter kills
lost in daydreams you drove too fast and got nowhere
you rode on half fare when you got too scared
how winter kills
tear at me searching for weaker seams
pain in your eyes make me cruel
make me spiteful tears are delightful welcome your nightfall
how winter kills
I’ll tear at you searching for weaker seams
how winter kills




Though it was closer to midnight than morning, the sounds from the streets below didn’t alter. Trucks and cars still rolled across the pavement, and the distant rumble of subways echoed almost silently beneath the buildings. He was comfortable here, in the city that never slept, partially because it reminded him so much of home, of another city across the ocean that rarely settled down. The buildings and accents were different, but the thrum, the beat was nearly identical. Will looked up through his window, out into the patch of dark sky, his mind more on the past than he’d like. He should be focused on suspects and reasons why Liam Reilly was finally in a morgue; instead he was thinking about London.

It had been almost six years since he’d moved to New York, arriving in the aftermath of the attack on September 11th. He’d volunteered for two reasons – the first was intensely personal – and he’d never once looked back. Regrets he had; parting from Drusilla hadn’t been part of his plan, but now he was almost relieved to be free. She hadn’t wanted to leave, he hadn’t wanted to stay.

The girl beside him shifted, her bruised and battered body seeking a more comfortable spot. Almost without thought, he reached for her, brushed his hand over her back and sighed when she settled closer. Usually the plight of working girls didn’t even affect him, knowing the system and problems most of them had. He didn’t give much thought to the witnesses either, using them only for information and not caring beyond that. Will was a master at holding his empathy back, at not connecting with anyone but his targets; the masterminds, terrorists and criminals were more than enough for him to focus on.

Until her. Part of him blamed the damn target. Angelus was a bastard and his own personal shadow and he’d long since given up any hope of perspective when dealing with him. Knowing the girl had been his last victim and that he’d in all likelihood performed the violent acts himself had affected Will.

But that wasn’t the whole of it. And Will wasn’t self-delusional. Something about her, bruised and bloodied, lying vulnerable and unconscious, touched him. He hadn’t even known her name or anything else about her and his protective instincts, the ones he was usually able to suppress, roared to the surface. It wasn’t her age either. It was just her.

She moved again, tremors wracking her slight form and soft, barely audible whimpers sounding in her throat. This time, when he reached for her, he knew exactly what he was doing. His hand, which had been resting against the middle of her back, snaked around her waist, anchoring her to his side.

Will realized a split-second later he’d made a huge mistake. She froze, then erupted into convulsive, defensive movements, legs and arms flailing and kicking, pushing him away from her. Hoarse cries filled the air and she scrabbled away from him, curling into a ball against the headboard.

“Don’t. Touch. Me.”

“Christ!” He eased back, wincing when he flexed his jaw. She’d caught him with a fist just below his nose and he could feel the swelling start. “Easy, kitten, ‘s just me, Will. Remember?”

He flipped on the bedside lamp, shifting so that she could clearly see his face. “Look at me, kitten.”

She tried making herself smaller, not registering his voice for long minutes. Will got off the bed, moving further away from her. “Kitten. . . . Open your eyes and look at me.”

“Buffy.” Their eyes met and she made a face. “It’s my name.”

“Okay, sweetheart.” He crouched down, dropping so that he was eye level with her. “You all right?”

“I’m sorry.” She reached out a tentative hand, brushing it over his bruised lip. “I didn’t mean – I’m sorry.”

“No worries, yeah?” Will shook his head, capturing her fingers in his warm hand. “Guess I surprised you. Weren’t ‘xpecting me, an’ you got scared. Understandable, really.”

She looked away from him, staring out into the night sky. “I forgot for a few minutes.” Her gaze dropped down to the blankets, hiding her expression behind the fall of her hair. “I forgot what he did and then you touched me, and I . . . “

“It’s okay. Really.” He started to get up, to ease the pressure on his knees, but stalled as she reached for him. Will shifted, trying to get a better look at her face. “What do you need?”

His first answer was a sniffle, then a whimper. “C’mon, kitten, I promise I won’t bite. Or yell. Jus’ tell me what you need.”

Buffy shook her head negatively, then whispered, so low he barely heard her, “A hug. I really, really need a hug.”

“Oh.” He hesitated, then eased onto the bed, his arms going round her slight form. “I’ve got you, kitten.”

Buffy molded herself to him, her head resting against his chest and her hand still clasped in his. Will knew she was still crying, could scent her tears and feel them wetting his dark tee-shirt, but he didn’t try to stop her. If anyone deserved to cry, it was her.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



He thought she’d fallen asleep, she was so still, her breathing so steady and even; so when she started to talk, he was momentarily surprised.

“Her voice was husky, kinda like smoky?” She paused, gathering her thoughts. “She had dark eyes. That much I remember.”

Will brushed a hand over her hair, running it down her back and then up again. “Anything else?”

“He. . . I don’t know.” She tensed, her whole body going stiff. “They picked me up in an Escalade. Big white one. Had Connecticut plates.”

Cataloging that information for later, Will sort of hummed his response, letting her believe the information wasn’t important. Buffy smoothed her hand over his shirt, rubbing the soft cotton between her fingers. “I was working by the Piers.”

“Were you?” He playfully tugged on the ends of her hair. “Why over there?”

“It’s close to where I’m staying. And well, the Japanese tourists are there a lot. Get a couple of those guys and I don’t have to work much at all.” There was more than a tinge of bitterness in her voice and he finally broached the subject he’d been curious about from the beginning.

“Wanna tell me ‘bout why you’re doing that, pet?”

It was a sore spot, that much he could tell by her body language alone. Once more she stiffened, then just as abruptly deflated. “My parents split when I was ten. And my mom remarried when I was fourteen. Ted – my mother’s husband, didn’t really like me. Stuff changed after they got married.”

He really didn’t like the message he was inferring from her statement, and he leaned back a bit, so that he could look down at her. His voice was low, the words emerging from him very deliberately. “What changed?”

“He just. . . I know everyone else said I was just being a spoiled brat, but he’d look at me really funny, like I was a toy or something he owned. And he’d walk into the bedroom and bathroom when I was alone, and just. . . he was creepy.” She wouldn’t look at him. “He never touched me or anything. I didn’t give him the chance. I . . . he came into my room once and I started locking my bedroom door after that. He took down the door and then put a lock on the outside, so he could lock me in.”

She sighed, staring at her fingers spread over his chest. “That’s when my mom starting taking his side. I got grounded for everything, even stupid stuff like forgetting to wipe the counters and . . . he hit me. Once.”

“What happened?” He practically growled out the question, the words rumbling from somewhere deep in his chest.

“I pushed him. He followed me into the bathroom and I didn’t like it. So I pushed him away.”
Will could feel how tense and upset she was, how much confessing what drove her away from her home affected her. He’d thought briefly about sending her back there, for safety, but quickly changed his mind listening to her story. He wasn’t going to send her into that kind of a situation. No doubt, the bastard would have touched her, probably molested her or beaten her, and her mother wouldn’t have done a damn thing to help her. “You did the right thing. Shouldn’t let anyone touch you like that.”

He hugged her, then let her go. “What made you come to New York?”

“It was the last address I had for my dad. But he wasn’t . . . I couldn’t find him. He’d moved. I don’t know where he is. And I’m never going back to my mother’s.” Defiance colored her tone, for a moment, then she added, in a very soft, small voice, “I’m not really sure she’d want me back, anyway.”

“Why’s that?”

“Coz, when I pushed Ted, he fell down the stairs and broke his leg.”

An involuntary laugh escaped him. “Good on you, kitten. Wanker deserved it.”

She laughed with him. “Yeah, I guess he did.” Her laughter disappeared quickly though, when something crossed her mind. “You aren’t gonna make me go back there coz I’m underage, are you?”

“We’ll figure somethin’ out, kitten. No sense puttin’ you back in harm’s way.” Will surprised himself with just how much he meant that. While living on the streets wasn’t an option, because he could still sense the innocence about her, he wasn’t going to let the courts decide she belonged back with her mother. “Jus’ how old are you?”

“Sixteen. Nearly seventeen.” He pulled back to look at her, disbelief clear in his eyes. “Okay,“ she sighed. “I’m almost sixteen.”

“How long you been out on the streets?” Will wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answers to these questions, but he had to. If he was going to help her, he needed the truth. Just like she eventually needed to know how dangerous things really could get, but he’d wait until she was a bit stronger for that.

“Not very long. I had . . . I took money when I ran away.” He raised his eyebrow, waiting for an explanation. “I took it out of the money my dad sent for me, and I took a lot of it. I’ve really only been working for a couple of weeks.”

“How much money, kitten?”

She didn’t want to tell him. Buffy wasn’t sure which was going to get her into more trouble, breaking Ted’s leg or stealing her own money. “Over five thousand.”

“Jesus Christ, kitten,” he exclaimed, whistling low. “That’s a fair bit of dosh for someone your age.”

“Well it was really mine anyway.” The defensive tone was back in her voice and he smoothed a hand over her shoulder, letting it rest against the small of her back.

“Relax, sweetheart, ‘m not gonna run you in for stealin’, ‘specially not your own money.” He didn’t bother to mask the relief he felt, knowing she wasn’t too far gone for him to help. “Jus’ wanna help you, keep you safe.”

Buffy sat up straighter, looking at him in the eyes for the first time. “You know, I really think I believe you.”

“Good. ‘Coz I do mean it.”

He watched as her shoulders drooped and a yawn overtook her. “Go back to sleep, kitten, I’ll be here.”

“Will you stay with me?” She settled into his arms, taking for granted his agreement.

Will chuckled, “You gonna slug me again?”

“I said I was sorry about that.” He could almost hear the pout in her voice.

“Know you did. I’ll just keep one eye open, yeah?”

“Sure, you do that. Never know what might happen while I’m sleeping.”

He laughed again, then pulled the blanket up, covering them both. “Go to sleep, kitten.”

“Yes, Spike.”


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




He woke up, to find himself curled around the girl, her back to his front, and a handful of warm breast cupped in his hand. Spike cursed under his breath, then gently moved away from her. He didn’t remember falling asleep, and judging by the shadows growing on the wall in front of him, he slept longer than he’d wanted. Ignoring the phone for few more moments, he headed for the bathroom, then the kitchen. The need for something caffeinated and strong hit him and Will gave into the urge before dealing with the messages on his phone.

The first was, as he’d expected, from Gunn. No progress had been made on witnesses from the hotel, which was not surprising. Reilly’s in-laws were pretty powerful and one of the wealthiest families in the country, so it came as no shock at all that the hotel staff preferred to keep their mouths shut.

The second call was entirely different. That one, he couldn’t ignore. He’d asked her assistance, and making her wait more than a couple of hours for an explanation was more than enough time. Nikki wasn’t known for her patience, and he was somewhat surprised she hadn’t shown up at his apartment, demanding answers. Checking the time of her call and realizing it was the last one, Will hit speed dial and waited for her to pick up.

“Bout time you got off your lazy white ass and called me back.” Nikki never wasted time on greetings, just dove right into the heart of the issue. “What was so damned important that you had to hide?”

“Better you don’t know, pet.” Will caught his smile, almost laughing out loud at her next comment.

“When have I ever listened to you, or any other man for that matter?”

“Point taken.” He sighed, almost dropping the phone when he fumbled with teapot and muffins. “Though I think keepin’ you in the dark’ll turn out better for you in the end.”

“Will, you’re an idiot.” When he started to argue with her, her strident tones overrode his comments. “Did you think I became a cop because I liked the hours?”

This time he did laugh. “How about we agree that I’m bein’ overly cautious and that’ll give you the right to tell me you told me so when it all falls to shite.”

She practically purred at him. “Oooh, I do like that idea. Fine. You know where to reach me.”

“That I do, pet. That I do.”

Closing the phone with a snap, he looked to his left, to see Buffy leaning against the door, her eyes fixed on him. “Was that your girlfriend?”

“Ah. No.” He fought the urge to pull her into his arms by reaching into the cabinet for cereal. “You hungry?”

“Sounded like you were talking to a girlfriend.” Buffy shifted her feet. “Lucky Charms? Dude, how old are you?”

“Old enough.” Will opened the box, shoved a handful of cereal in his mouth and grimaced. “It’s stale. Don’t have much else.”

She shrugged, looking away. It was clear she wasn’t happy with something and he found himself explaining the phone call. “Was a girlfriend. Isn’t anymore. Now she’s just a friend.”

“Oh.” A tentative smile bloomed across her bruised face and he smiled back. “Can we make pancakes? I miss those.”

“Don’t know if I’ve got the makings.” Will dug through the cabinets, looking for something he could use and coming up empty. He wracked his brain, trying to remember which of the local spots had pancakes on the menu. The sight of her disappointment was enough to spur him to action. “How ‘bout we head to the corner market an’ pick up the stuff ourselves?”

Instead of making her smile, the sad look worsened. “I don’t have anything to wear.”

“Bloody hell.” He dumped the cereal box into the garbage, banging his head against the cabinets. “Brought your stuff with us when we escaped from hospital.”

“It’s not exactly what I’d wear for breakfast. Or shopping.” Buffy rubbed her hands over her arms, exposing more bruises. “I don’t exactly look presentable. You’d probably get arrested for beating me or something.”

He had to concede that point. She still looked like hell, a raw cut over across her forehead standing out starkly against her skin. Bruises marred her neck and arms, most of them defensive wounds, and he knew there were others underneath the tee-shirt. Poor girl was just one big, massive bruise and he couldn’t ask her to go out looking that way.

“Yeah, that could be a problem.” Making a split-second decision, Will grabbed his wallet and jacket. “Be right back, sweets. Gonna kip down to the market myself. Anything else you want?”

She shook her head, but he could see longing for something in her eyes. “Is it okay if I watch teevee?”

“Sure.” Will started to say something, hesitating when she shuffled a few feet into the living room. She made such a forlorn figure that he didn’t want to add to her misery. Telling himself it was better that he leave her alone and not push things, Will headed out.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~@



Urban Outfitters was between his apartment and the market. Will walked past, then backtracked. Trendy clothing was draped over eclectic furniture and accessories, making a very colorful display in the huge windows. He’d been inside a couple of times, finding the place had off the wall merchandise running the gamut from punk rock memorabilia to designer wear, and knew the place had women’s clothing. Guessing quickly at Buffy’s size, Will scooped up a pair of jeans, then some socks, underwear, sweaters, and a pair of sturdy looking boots; everything she might need for the next couple of days.

Feeling a bit better about the situation, Will ducked into the corner market.

Twenty-five minutes later, Will emerged into the mid-morning sunlight, laden down with six bags of groceries and the bag from Urban Outfitters. Buffy’s remark earlier about missing pancakes – of all things – goaded him into purchasing other things she might be missing. Like strawberries. And bacon. And chocolate.

Everything he could think of that smacked of comfort and home and . . . Will had no idea why he’d bought some of the things, until he was unpacking everything. Feeling her eyes on his back, he turned around to find her leaning over the counter, watching him.

“Hey, kitten. Still hungry?”

“Ahuh. Whatdidya buy?” The words ran together, and he could tell she was feeling a little better, because there was more animation in her eyes, and her coloring – aside from the bruises – had returned to almost normal.

Continuing to unload his haul, Will answered off-handedly, “Bit of this an’ that. What’s your fancy?”

“You got stuff for pancakes, right?” She bounced up on her toes and he ducked his head, smiling at the sight.

“I did. Got syrup and bacon. Strawberries, too.” He held them up to show her and was rewarded with a huge grin.

“Ohhh, I love strawberries. What else did you get?”

Will looked down at the bag on the floor. A slightly teasing smile pursed his lips and he grinned at the girl. “Bought something else.”

“Oh?” She tilted her head, confusion wrinkling her forehead. “What else did you buy? I thought you were only gonna get stuff for pancakes.”

Will presented her with the bag. “Here you go, kitten. Thought this might make you feel better.”

Buffy stared at him for a minute or two, trying to figure out what he meant. She didn’t reach for the bag until he gestured at her a third time, and when she did, she dropped her gaze and mumbled softly, “You didn’t have to do anything else for me.”

“Wanted too. Go ahead an’ take a look.” Spike turned away, focusing on the pancakes and bacon while trying not to think about the girl behind him. He could try and fool himself into believing what he’d done was because she needed the help – shielding her from Reilly’s thugs wasn’t that much of a hardship – but fixing breakfast? Buying her clothes?

Those were not actions of a man who cared only because she was a witness.

Rustling noises signaled she was at least looking through the bag, which made him smile, but it was the deep sigh that had him turning around to look at her. “Buffy?”

She was trying so hard to be strong and not show any weakness, he could see from the set of her shoulders. But he could also see the tightly clenched fists holding the bag and the harsh bite she had on her lower lip. He glanced from her hands to her eyes and what he saw had him around the counter faster than his conscience could caution. “Buffy?”

Teary greenish-hazel eyes peaked out at him from scraggly blond hair. “This is . . . I can’t take these from you. You so didn’t have to do this.”

“Yeah, I did.” He brushed her hair back, tucking it behind her ear. “You need it, sweetheart an’ . . . “ His voice trailed off when she gave a little shudder and nearly collapsed against his chest.

“How come you’re being so nice to me?” The words were muffled by his body, though he didn’t have any trouble hearing her.

“It’s nothing, kitten.” Will hugged her then stepped away, trying to keep some distance between them. “Let’s get some nosh, an’ then we’ll see how you’re feeling.”

“Kay.” She was quiet for a few moments, then asked him, “Is it okay if I shower?”

“Sure. Towels are in m’bedroom, in the closet. Jus’ be careful, yeah?” He glanced over his shoulder at her, his eyes tracking her slow movements across the floor.

“Yup. I’m careful girl.” Her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes, though, and her steps were measured.

@~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~@



Twice – at least that’s the number of times he was admitting – Spike found his mind drifting to his witness while he fixed their breakfast. Her being gone from the kitchen wasn’t the help he’d expected it to be. He had no idea what to do with her, or why he felt such a need to protect her.

Bacon sizzled in the pan, the fat crackling and popping sharply, forcing his attention. Will ran a hand through his curls. Focus, mate. Breakfast. Then worry about the girl.

Too soon for his liking, breakfast was ready and he reluctantly made his way to the bathroom. “Kitten? You okay in there?”

“Yup. Almost done.” He could hear her moving around, the noises muffled through the door.
“Right. Pancakes are done.”

“Oohhhh. Be right out.”

True to her word, Buffy was out of the bathroom before he cleared the kitchen doorway.

“Yum.” She reached around him, snagging a pancake. Spying the sugar bowl, Buffy grabbed it and one of the spoons he’d set out. Sugar got sprinkled over one side and she rolled the pancake, neatly shoving it into her mouth.

He watched as she repeated the action a couple of times, then did the same with a handful of strawberries. A happy grin crossed her features, marred only by the fullness of her cheeks. Will didn’t bother hiding his laughter. “Guess you really were hungry.”

“Been awhile since I’ve had pancakes. Or strawberries.” Buffy stole a piece of bacon from him. “Or this.”

He didn’t want to dwell on what she had been eating, or in what kind of dives she’d been frequenting, almost afraid to find out that she was skipping meals and sleeping on the street.

They ate in companionable silence, both unwilling to disturb their peace. Buffy was confused by his actions; he was the first person in a long while to actually care what happened to her. She was afraid if she brought up the subject, he’d stop being so nice – or worse, expect something from her. Though as she looked at him again, Buffy realized she’d have no trouble pretending with him. Lowering her eyelashes, she took another, longer look at him. Nope, won’t have to pretend at all. He’s a hottie.

At that moment, she realized again, just how lucky she was. Will could have been a total asshole, turned her over to Social Services or locked her up.

But he hadn’t.

He’d protected her, gotten her out of the hospital, brought her to his home – fed and brought her clothes. Unexpected tears flooded her eyes and Buffy choked on a strawberry.

“Thank you, Will. For all this.”

Spike picked up his head sharply, watching her with compassionate eyes. “No problem, kitten.“





I know. I suck. I'm sorry it's been so long since this was updated, but real life intervened and I wasn't able to stay on track. I'm hoping that the last couple of weeks have been a way back to normal, but I'm not sure. Though I do promise to keep updating everything. And just to keep me on the right track, be kind and nice to the author and leave her a nice review. Nice reviews mean more incentive to write. Thanks! Nia
Six by Niamh
[A/N: First off, I’d like to apologize for the gaps in posting. It’s been really stressful the last couple of . . . well, let’s just say, that since we moved in the middle of May, everything’s been really hectic. And then, in July, I lost my grandmother and my aunt, within ten days of each other. Hasn’t made for much motivation to write or post. So, there it is, reasons why I’ve been slack, not excuses. I humbly apologize to everyone that’s still reading this story with me. Don’t really have much to say here, at least not right now. I’m not sure how long this is gonna be, nor how graphic the relationship between Buffy and Spike is gonna get, considering their age difference. But you know trying to keep those two apart is like keeping peanut butter away from jelly (or marshmallow fluff, if you prefer); two sticky things that just want to be together. Or have to be together. Anyway, I’m working on all this stuff. Maybe someday, I’ll actually finish something. Hah! Lyrics belong to Sarah McLachlan, (song is Fear, off the album Fumbling Toward Ecstasy, released in 1993) Disclaimers, those pesky legal clauses, prove that I own nothing but the plot. Everything else belongs to the other guys. But I’d soo treat them better (no imaginary brothels, no cheap lesbian encounters) *coughs* Never mind.]

Six


Morning smiles
like the face of a newborn child
innocent unknowing
Winter's end
promises of a long lost friend
speaks to me of comfort
but I fear
I have nothing to give
I have so much to lose
here in this lonely place
tangled up in our embrace
there's nothing I'd like
better than to fall
but I fear I have nothing to give
Wind in time
rapes the flower trembling on the vine
nothing yields to shelter it
from above
they say temptation will destroy our love
the never ending hunger
but I fear
I have nothing to give
I have so much to lose
here in this lonely place
tangled up in our embrace
there's nothing I'd like
better than to fall
but I fear
I have nothing to give
I have so much to lose
I have nothing to give
We have so much to lose...





The insistent ring of his cell phone preempted whatever he was about to say in response to Buffy’s heartfelt thanks. Will couldn’t have asked for a more timely interruption. For one thing, he really didn’t know what to say to her, and for another, he was afraid of the conversation taking a turn he didn’t want it to.

Glancing at the number he knew right away it was bad news. “Yeah?”

He listened intently for a moment, then motioned Buffy away from the window. “Shit.”

The intercom buzzer rang as he was disconnecting. Instead of answering it, he herded her into the bedroom. “Grab your things and some clothes for me.”

“Why? What’s wrong?” Buffy didn’t hesitate, shoving the new clothes into the duffel bag he thrust at her. She didn’t flinch either, when she saw him loading his gun and shoving ammunition clips into the pockets of his leather duster.

“We’re about to have some unwanted company. Need to get out of here as quickly as possible.” He pulled open a few drawers, tossing her another pair of jeans and a couple of shirts. The intercom sounded again, and this time he headed for the door to answer it.

Buffy could hear his muffled voice, stalling the doorman, and she knew they had very little time. Grabbing a pair of his socks, she pushed her feet into the new boots he’d gotten her, then grabbed one of the over-sized sweaters. It was big and bulky, a soft white knit that very nearly covered her from her neck down to her knees. She reached for the bag, only to squeak when he took it before she could. “We’ve got to head down the stairs. You up for it?”

“Got no choice, right?” At his affirmative nod, she braced herself. “I’m fine.”

Will snapped up the rest of the clips, slipping into his coat easily. He caught a glimpse of what she was wearing, and knowing it was cold out, he handed her one of his jackets. She looked like a waif in clothes that were much too big for her, but he figured it gave her something of an advantage. If nothing else, she’d be warm.

Will opened the door a crack, thankful for once that he was in the far corner of the floor. The stairs were directly to his left, and the bank of elevators was down the hallway and around a corner. They’d have an advantage there. Waving Buffy on, he pushed opened the door and urged her down the stairs. “Go on, kitten, I’ll be right behind you.”

He thought he heard the elevator bell when he was between the sixth and fifth floors, but he couldn’t be sure, since the sound was muffled through layers of concrete and steel; not to mention the volume of some of his neighbors. It didn’t matter though, Gunn had been pretty explicit, and he didn’t want to take the chance that whoever was waiting for him in the lobby was friendly. He hadn’t bothered to get a description from the doorman, just started Buffy on this trek down the stairs.

She was holding up pretty well, all things considered. She was half a floor ahead of him, moving as quickly as she could, given her injuries. The soft panting of her breath was still even, but he knew it would only be a little while before she started having trouble. A couple of floors above him, a door opened, but it was just one of his neighbors, because he could hear the snick-click of a dog’s claws on the steel. So far, so good.

Twenty minutes later, and between the first and second floors, the story wasn’t quite the same. Buffy was hunched over the railing, breathing heavily through her nose. He jumped down the half a flight separating them, his hand curling around her waist. “You okay?”

She couldn’t manage to get enough air to speak, and Spike knew it was bad. “All right, baby, hang on.”

He didn’t have time to think, since he was positive whoever was after them wouldn’t be hesitating. “Can you hold onto me?”

Buffy looked over at him, the question forming in her eyes. “Think it would be easier if I gave you a piggy-back ride. Can you do that?”

“Yeah. I can.” She straightened up, and he had to admire her tenacity. It was clearly obvious she was using will power alone to stay upright. “Let’s do this.”

“Hang on, sweetheart, it’s gonna be tricky.” Will took two steps down, so that all she had to do was lean forward and wrap her arms around his neck. “Here we go.”

It was tricky balancing the extra weight. She wasn’t very heavy, but it still caused a problem. The echo of a door slamming and the sound of more than a single pair of feet pounding on the stairs got him moving though, and Will hit the basement level within moments. The hidden door was on the Tenth Avenue side, away from the service entrance and underneath an adjacent building. Will didn’t bother looking for the light switch, making his way across the basement by memory.

With some luck, there wouldn’t be anyone watching this far away from his building, and they’d be able to sneak across the street into one of the shops. Between the older tenement buildings and the free theater, there was an alleyway where they could slip through to Ninth Avenue. From there it would be safe to duck behind some of the buildings where he could make his way to First Avenue, or bide some time and figure out how to get to safety.

He wasn’t going to involve Nikki any further. And he was no longer sure if he could trust anyone else in his squad. Gunn was the only one who knew he had the girl. Will was aware of the thread of paranoia running through his thoughts, but he couldn’t help it. Someone had given up his location, someone knew the girl was alive and a witness; whoever it was had sold him out. He really didn’t believe it had been Gunn, though the only evidence he had led to that conclusion.

Easing the door open carefully, Will looked up and down the street. No one was hanging around, lurking, so he took that as a good sign. The sky was overcast, with low clouds, which either meant snow or rain. He thought briefly about heading over to the bar to get his bike, but the conditions meant he couldn’t take the chance. Alone, he could manage. With Buffy, who’d likely never been on a motorcycle and being as exhausted as she was, he couldn’t take that chance.

Will ducked into the antique shop run by Mrs. Szilagyi, Buffy still clinging to his back. She’d been quiet, her head resting in the middle of his shoulders, her breathing soft and even. If it wasn’t for the tightening and relaxing of her hands, he’d suspect that she was asleep.

“Hullo, Mrs. S. Mind if we use the back door?” Will leaned down to brush a kiss across her weathered cheek, smiling when the old lady playfully slapped his arm.

In broken English she answered, pushing him to the back. “Go, William. You know the way.”

They were gone in the next moment.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



The alleyway, as he suspected, was deserted.

His back was beginning to ache, though he paused only briefly. The phone in his pocket had been vibrating since they’d entered the basement, but he hadn’t cared enough to worry about it. Buffy’s feet were banging against his sides as he picked up the pace. Will didn’t want to stop moving until they were in a cab, heading away from his apartment. Where they were going to be heading was a different matter altogether.


Will had no clue where to go. He didn’t have much cash on him; and tracking his credit cards would be far too easy to someone with the technology. They couldn’t risk going to wherever Buffy had been living. It would be easier to stay somewhere here, downtown, since neither of them would attract much attention, and if they kept moving around, the chances of discovery would be lessened. There was one other place, but he would only use that as a last resort.

He closed his eyes, leaning against the cold brick of the building. Either way, he needed cash. His hold on Buffy loosened, and she started to slip down his back. “Kitten?”

“I’m too heavy,” she whispered against his ear, then let go. “You don’t have to carry me anymore.”

She leaned against his back and he could feel the tremors wracking her body. “Let me worry about what I have to do. You just do as I tell you.”

He turned around to face her. Tears stood out in her eyes, threatening to spill over. Her lower lip trembled, moving Will to pity. He enfolded her in his arms, dropping the duffel bag behind her. She wrapped her arms around his waist, giving in to the tremors coursing through her.

“It’s all right, sweetheart. I’m gonna keep you safe.” Will absently dropped a kiss on the top of her head. His hands wormed beneath her jacket, holding her closer. “I promise.”

The scent of her tears was faint, a bare wisp of salt through the smells of the city just before snowfall, the feel of them stinging his thin shirt. She wobbled again and he eased her back against the building for support. Buffy looked up at him, her nose all red and tears dripping down her cheeks and Will realized he’d never seen a woman look so beautiful and so vulnerable. His left hand brushed away strands of her hair, thumb smoothing over her skin. He knew the second he leaned in to kiss her he shouldn’t; he also knew he had to.

Her lips were soft, tasting of her tears, and her mouth opened easily to his.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



He left her there, hidden between two buildings, while he went and removed as much cash as he could from the nearest ATM. Buffy watched him walk away, her lips still stinging from his kiss, the memory of his taste – syrupy sweet yet strong – filling her mind. She’d had a feeling when he’d brought home the clothes and had gone a bit overboard with the food purchases that he’d had some kind of feelings for her. What kind had her guessing and confused, but the kiss. . . that kiss removed any doubt from her mind why he’d done the nice things for her.

She hadn’t been able to detach her mind from it, from him. It wasn’t like any other kiss she’d had before. Nothing like the fumbling kisses she’d shared with the boys back home and definitely nothing like the ones she’d had since she ran away. Demanding, insistent and incredibly sweet, he kissed her like he owned her . . . or wanted to. Like he knew she belonged to him.

Buffy leaned her head against the cool brick, waiting for him to return. She wasn’t normally this passive about things, her independent streak had always been a problem for her. With Spike, though, she didn’t mind him taking control, didn’t mind letting him take care of her. Maybe it was the trauma, the injuries, or maybe she was just so tired of relying on herself. Some days she felt decades older, alone and lonely, lost without anyone she could even call a friend. Her old friends and old life were behind her. Even if she were able to return to Sunnydale, she would be different. Life and circumstances had changed her considerably, made her less trusting, less forgiving.

Until yesterday.

Until she woke up after being beaten and raped.

Until she looked into the eyes of the man who’d rescued her.

Hope was something she was slowly losing her grip on. Without anyone to support her, to listen, to even care if she lived or died, hope was seeping away. In the course of one day, somewhere between opening her eyes and pancakes, her entire life had changed. There was someone now who knew she was still alive, who cared enough to make sure she had breakfast and something warm to wear, and who had . . . kissed her.

Her eyes drifted closed and a soft smile bloomed on her face.

Will had kissed her.

“Hey, there, kitten, don’t fall asleep on me just yet.” His voice was close, rumbling in her ear. Buffy looked up at him and the smile she wore got just a little brighter.

“I’m not sleeping.” She blinked a couple of times, to prove she wasn’t, and all he did was chuckle at her.

“Not doing anything to help your case. That just makes you look like you’re tryin’ not to fall asleep.” Spike grabbed the duffel bag, swinging his free arm around her waist. “Can you walk for a bit?”

“I think so. How far?” She fell into step beside him, trying not to lean too heavily.

He took a right turn onto First Avenue, heading south, and when he didn’t answer she glanced up at him. “Gonna catch a cab, sweetheart.”

“Oh.” Buffy didn’t know what else to say. She wasn’t sure where they were going, or what his thoughts were. He hadn’t told her much, just that they had to leave. For the moment, she was okay with not knowing too much, but eventually she was going to demand some answers.

Maybe after she felt better.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~@



It wasn’t much as far as hotel rooms; they were pretty much the same unless you were in some high-end, four-star or better hotel. Buffy didn’t care. She was tired and sore and barely keeping her eyes open when they got out of the cab. The ride, though a fairly short one, was enough for her to let down her guard and relax.

Will hustled her through the hallways, aware he was pushing her. He was so proud of her, despite the shuffling feet, drooping shoulders, and exhausted air.

Once inside the room, Buffy sank down on the bed, every inch of her throbbing in pain. She tried twice to lean over and undo the laces on her boots, and both times the broken ribs screamed in protest, preventing her from doing so. Instead, she just leaned over and laid down, her head on one of the pillows as tears once more leaked from her eyes.

More than half asleep in moments, Buffy barely registered Spike removing her boots. It was only when he tried to wrestle her out of the coat and big sweater that she tried helping him, grumbling at him when he batted her hands away. “C’mon, baby, let me do most of it.”

Will easily got her tucked into the bed, and she promptly lapsed into sleep. She was completely unaware when her savior stripped off his own coat and boots and climbed in beside her, his body curled around hers as he finally allowed himself to rest.
Seven by Niamh
[A/N: This was what the muse wanted to work on last week, so that’s what I did. Hopefully there will be more, since I’m kind of free at work now, since my summer intern is back and will be working with me for until August. Yeah! That translates to lots of story writing (with some luck). And obviously, you see when I first started this chapter – life has taken a complete downturn. Hopefully 2009 will be better. Title and quote are from the album (and yes, it was in fact an album first and not a CD) Violator, released in 1990 by Depeche Mode, arguably the best techno band to ever record (okay, so there are some other good ones Like Yaz and New Order). I’m really not sure if the song fits, but it was the one that I kept coming back to, so obviously some part of me does believe it belongs here. Or at least with this story. I don’t know.Disclaimers are in full force and effect. I own nothing.]

Seven

I'm waiting for the night to fall
I know that it will save us all
When everything's dark
Keeps us from the stark reality
I'm waiting for the night to fall
When everything is bearable
And there in the still
All that you feel
Is tranquillity
There is a star in the sky
Guiding my way with its light
And in the glow of the moon
Know my deliverance will come soon
I'm waiting for the night to fall
I know that it will save us all
When everything's dark
Keeps us from the stark reality
I'm waiting for the night to fall
When everything is bearable
And there in the still
All that you feel
Is tranquillity
There is a sound in the calm
Someone is coming to harm
I press my hands to my ears
It's easier here just to forget fear
And when I squinted
The world seemed rose-tinted
And angels appeared to descend
To my surprise
With half-closed eyes
Things looked even better
Than when they were open
Been waiting for the night to fall
I knew that it would save us all
Now everything's dark
Keeps us from the stark reality
Been waiting for the night to fall
Now everything is bearable
And here in the still
All that you feel
Is tranquillity.






He didn’t sleep very long. They’d gotten into the room just before four in the afternoon, and now it was just a little after six. She was curled up against his side, snoring softly, her nose nestled into his chest. Will stretched, trying hard not to disturb her, though he realized it was futile when he couldn’t get her to move.

Will studied her features for a moment, his eyes skipping over the cuts and bruises, looking for the real girl beneath. Her right cheek was swollen, the bruise darkening her golden skin and he brushed a gentle hand over it. The white sweater he’d bought had covered nearly everything, although he knew he was going to have to check her injuries again. Angelus had done a number on her, using his fists. Not for the first time, he wondered about the other party with him. Buffy had said earlier that his companion was a woman with dark eyes and a husky voice. Neither was much to go on; more than half the population of New York had dark eyes and the husky voice could have been nothing more than an act to disguise the speaker’s real voice.

That angle was one he could investigate, though he doubted Buffy knew either of her attackers. Angelus had probably picked her for two reasons – her youth and her resemblance to his wife. Both were petite blonds with light eyes, and while the resemblance pretty much ended there, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Angelus using an anonymous hooker as a substitute. Will had met the illustrious Darla once, and although it hadn’t been the best of circumstances, he was convinced the woman was a she-devil. He wouldn’t rule her out as a suspect until he had an airtight, solid alibi, preferably signed by her family’s political rivals; otherwise he wouldn’t believe it. Paparazzi evidence wouldn’t hurt either.

Moving away from Buffy, Will rolled off the bed. Sooner or later he was going to have to call Gunn, get some more information from him. And he was going to have to find a way to contact Lehane.

But right now, he needed food and caffeine.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@



The soft snick of the door closing woke her and it took Buffy more than a moment to get her bearings. Once she realized where she was, and why she ached so much, Buffy was on her feet, looking for Spike. He wasn’t in the bathroom. The only other logical place was the hallway and she moved as quickly as she could, hobbling to the door. A brief moment of panic surfaced, though she swallowed it down. He wouldn’t have left her alone. . . He wasn’t like that.

Buffy gathered her courage and stuck her head out the door, looking up and down the hallway. She couldn’t see the elevator from their room, so she called out his name.

Heartbeats later, he rushed around the corner, heading for the door at a near run. “What?”

She backed away from the door, fear making her nervous. “Nothing. I woke up and you weren’t here and I thought you were . . . I’m sorry.”

His breath gusted out in harsh pants, “Are you okay?” Will reached for her, closing the door behind him. “You sure you’re alright? You aren’t hurting anywhere?”

“No, Will, I’m fine.” She batted his hands away. “I’m okay. I was just . . . I was just scared, that’s all.” Buffy hugged herself, not daring a look at his face. “I’m okay.”

“Buffy. I’m the one should be sorry. You were asleep and I thought I could get some food and,” he caught sight of the look on her face and Will lost whatever anger he might have had. “C’mere, kitten. It’s okay.”

His arms circled around her, holding her against his chest. She held herself stiffly, not relaxing in his hold. “I’ve got you, it’s okay.” Will smoothed his hand down her back, refusing to let go. “I didn’t expect you to wake up, sweetheart, figured you’d be safe while I got us something to eat. I should’ve woken you.”

The seconds ticked off, until she collapsed against him, one hand tightly grasping his tee-shirt. “I was scared.”

“I’ve got you, baby. I’ve got you.” Will held onto her, lifting her up into his arms when her legs gave out. “It’s okay.”

He maneuvered them to the bed, sitting down heavily with her in his lap. “Gotta move a bit here.”

She sniffled something in response, though he couldn’t make out the words. It didn’t matter to him, whatever she said, she was his responsibility and he’d let her down. Will was supposed to be watching over her, guarding her. . . protecting her. Her distress was directly his fault.

The crying subsided, though he didn’t let her go. He didn’t, not even after her breathing evened out and she fell back to sleep.

He didn’t fall asleep, he couldn’t. His brain was working, turning over scenarios and second-guessing himself. Moving her to a hotel was a mistake. They needed someplace safe and out of the way, somewhere protected. Realizing this, Will also came to another conclusion. He was going to have to ask Nikki for help. She was the only person he trusted right now.

Maybe . . .


@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



“You want me to what?” Nikki’s tone was full of disbelief, and Will figured he deserved at least a bit of her anger as well. “Now, all of a sudden, it’s okay to tell me what you’re up to?”

“I know, I should have told you something earlier.”

“You are a damn fool, William. Give me one good reason why I should help you.”

He sighed, knowing he was going to have apologize, if not now, at least at some point. “Because you can’t resist me?”

“Shit. I’ve resisted you plenty of times. Have to do better than that.”

“She needs your help. I can’t . . . Look, I was wrong. I thought by staying in a hotel it would be safe.”

Nikki laughed at him. “You’re an idiot.” The phone went silent, as he waited for her answer. “Fine. I’ll do it.”

“Thanks, Nik, I owe you.”

“Yeah, you do. Be downstairs in an hour.”

Will snapped the phone closed, momentarily allowing his temper to get the best of him. Buffy was still sleeping, her arms curled around one of the pillows, her hair covering her face. He could pretend to himself that he wasn’t attracted to her, but the moment Nikki set eyes on her, she’d know. And probably call him on it. He just wasn’t quite ready to face it, or her, but he’d had little choice. His earlier phone conversation with Gunn had been less than satisfactory, and he’d also thought – though it could just be his own paranoia – that he’d heard the barely audible click of a recording device.

Which could mean that Gunn wasn’t the mole, but that his phones – possibly all of them – were being monitored. Faith was also still among the missing and her continued absence didn’t please him either. Gunn said her last known whereabouts was with Lindsey McDonald, but that she’d also been seen recently with Xander Harris. Either way, her lack of communication could mean she’d been compromised.

There were still too many loose ends.

He dropped back on the bed, his hand brushing over Buffy’s side, his fingers tangling in the ends of her hair. She must not have been sleeping deeply, because the slight touch woke her. Pain-filled dark green eyes met his and she edged closer.

“Didn’t mean to wake you.” His voice was gruff and raspy.

She shrugged, dismissing his apology. “Wasn’t really sleeping. I’m just really sore.”

“Not surprising.” Will moved aside some of her hair so he could see her better. “Angelus hurt you pretty badly.”

“Angelus?” She picked her head up. “That was the guy’s name?”

“Well, that’s what he went by.” Spike cursed himself for a fool. He didn’t want to give her anymore information, preferring to keep her ignorant of just how much danger there was. “Gonna have to get up soon, kitten, we’re leaving here in a bit.”

“Why? Where are we going?”

“Moving to a less conspicuous spot. Somewhere quiet.”

She looked at him as if he were crazy. “You do know you kinda stand out.”

“Yeah, but won’t be so bad where we’re going.” Her skeptical look said it all. “I think it’ll be fine.”

“Okay.” Between the look and her tone of voice, Will knew she didn’t believe him. But if Nikki thought the area was safe, then it wasn’t really in him to argue the point.

“Think you can walk out of here?” He changed the subject again.

“Maybe. How far do we have to walk?”

“Around the corner to Christopher Street, about two blocks.”

Buffy rolled over and sat up. “Yeah, I think I can do that.”

“Good.” Will got up, retrieving the duffel from the closet.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@



Buffy barely made it around the corner. She was hobbling along, swaying on her feet and Spike fought every instinct he had to just swing her up into his arms. He wasn’t sure which would garner more unwanted attention, for one thing. The other reason he hesitated was the girl herself. She’d fought him off, pushing him away just a few minutes ago, insisting she could do it on her own, but the effort was beginning to tell.

They slowed to a pace that resembled a creep and he kept sneaking glances down at his watch. Time was ticking away, and they had only a few minutes before Nikki would be there. He didn’t want her waiting long but it looked like he had little choice in the matter. Buffy wasn’t giving an inch.

“Let me help you,” he pleaded with her again.

She glared at him, then grimaced. “You shouldn’t have to carry me.”

“Not anything you need to worry about.” He pulled her to a stop. “It’s fine, really.”

“Okay.” Her capitulation was less than gracious, but he counted it as a victory of sorts anyway.

“You are one bloody stubborn chit, you know that?” Will handed her the duffel bag, easily lifting her into his arms. “Letting someone else take care of you doesn’t mean you’re weak. Just means you need help for a bit.”

She didn’t respond, though just by the set of her jaw he could see she was fighting tears again. For such a tiny, little thing, she was fierce and feisty, two traits he supposed had driven her to run away. Admiration surged through him and he grit his teeth. The last thing he needed were more reasons to like the girl. She was already spelling trouble.

It was late enough that the crowd on Christopher Street wouldn’t pay the least bit of attention to them, although he still kept a wary eye out for anyone looking completely out of place. Nikki was double parked, partially blocking the intersection with Waverly, and she obviously didn’t care. She was leaning against a dark SUV, her eyes focused on anything but them. Without any conversation, she opened the rear passenger door, and Will placed Buffy down on the back seat.

“Keys,” he brusquely said, his hand out to Nikki.

“This is my brand new ride, you dumb ass! What makes you think I’m just gonna hand over the keys?” Nikki fisted the keys in her hand, edging away from Will.

“Because I know who we’re hiding from.” Will smiled unpleasantly. “And we both know I drive better than you do.”

“What?” Nikki tried for outrage, then smiled brightly at the look on Will’s face. “Fine. Drive.” And as she walked around to the passenger side, muttering, “Asshole,” under her breath.

His chuckle warmed Buffy’s insides.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~@



The low murmurs of their voices and the smooth ride lulled Buffy into a semi-sleeping state. She had no idea where they were going, but her trust in Will was bordering on absolute and she didn’t question him. He’d introduced them, then directed the majority of his conversation at the other woman. Part of Buffy minded, since she quickly picked up on their familiarity and wondered what kind of a history they might have had. They definitely had history. She wondered if this was the former girlfriend he’d been talking to earlier and when one particularly strident comment reached her ears, Buffy knew it was her.

She didn’t like the idea that it bothered her. Buffy had no claim on Will or his affections. He was just a cop and she was just a victim. Will felt sorry for her because she was so young, and so beaten, but there was nothing beyond that. At least from him.

Buffy knew what she was feeling. And it wasn’t just admiration. Or gratitude.













I know this story isn’t getting much love from people, well, this one and Great Balls of Fire, and I just wish I knew why. Does it suck? Is it horrible? What’s the deal? Could someone give me some feedback? I just really need to know, because if it’s that bad, then I’ll take it down and won’t waste any more energy on it.
Eight by Niamh
[A/N: I know I haven’t been updating regularly, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve had a lot on my plate since the beginning of May and while this doesn’t appease those of you who wait patiently, I hope it goes a long way to making up for that. All these chapters I’ve been posting have been written for a while, though I just haven’t been able to get them on the archive sites. Please forgive me. Quote is “Somebody Got Murdered” by The Clash, first released in 1980 on the album Sandinista! Disclaimers prove that I own nothing but the plot. Which I hope is a decent one.]


Eight


Someone lights a cigarette
While riding in a car
Some ol' guy takes a swig
And passes back the jar
But where they were last night
No-one can remember
Somebody got murdered
Goodbye, for keeps, forever
Somebody got murdered
Somebody's dead forever
And you're minding your own business
Carrying spare change
You wouldn't cosh a barber
You're hungry all the same
I been very tempted
To grab it from the till
I been very hungry
But not enough to kill
Somebody got murdered
His name cannot be found
A small stain on the pavement
They'll scrub it off the ground
As the daily crown disperses
No-one says that much
Somebody got murdered
And it' left me with a touch
Somebody got murdered
Somebody's dead forever
Sounds like murder!
Those shouts!
Are they drunk down below?
It's late, and my watch stopped
Some time ago
Sounds like murder!
Those screams!
Are they drunk down below?





Spike resisted the urge to drive through his neighborhood. It was a near thing, since he wanted to know which of Angelus’ minions had his apartment staked out, but the need to get to safety was paramount. Instead of heading across town to the Manhattan Bridge, he headed west, toward the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

It wasn’t long before he realized they had picked up a tail, though he didn’t say anything to either of the women. His eyes flicked between the rearview mirror and the slick road ahead. He had two options – he could continue through the tunnel to Brooklyn, or he could cut off onto one of the side streets, into the deserted financial district, hoping to lose the tail. Making a split second decision, Spike eased the truck into the far right lane. When the tail angled to follow him, he hit the gas and made a hard left, cutting across all six lanes in a wide, arcing U-turn, weaving in and out of the other vehicles.

“What the hell’d you do that for?”

“What happened?”

Spike drove, not answering either of the females. They continued to squawk at him and he ground his teeth in irritation. “Gimme a minute, ladies.”

The screech and squeal of tires on wet pavement reached them and Spike headed down one of the tiny streets, hoping to lose the tail before they had a chance to recover. He drove east, then turned onto Broadway, heading toward the Seaport. A glance in the rearview and side mirrors gave him a moment to breathe and answer the questions. “Had a tail. Didn’t want to get trapped in the tunnel, figured this would be better.”

Headlights flared behind them and his curses were colorful, filling the SUV’s interior.

Spike swerved left, turning onto Water Street, then down to William Street. He was trying to reach the FDR Drive or the Brooklyn Bridge, hopefully losing their tail on a wild-goose chase through Brooklyn and Queens. There were too many one-way streets in Manhattan for that game. In the outer boroughs, there was more opportunity to hide.

Whoever it was – and Spike had his suspicions – either had access to very sophisticated equipment or they’d had a tail on him for days.

Either scenario was unsettling.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



Somewhere in the streets of Brooklyn, between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, Spike lost their shadow. Breathing heavily, his heart pounding in his chest, he slowed the SUV to a crawl, cruising down Prospect Park Boulevard.

Nikki had stopped asking questions, keeping her eyes glued to the side mirror. “You’ve lost them.”

“Not takin’ any chances. Don’t know who it is, an’ ‘m not ready to find out just yet.”

“This is one prime piece you’re protecting.” Nikki peered over her shoulder at the sleepy girl huddled on the back seat.

He didn’t respond at first. Then, his voice lowered to a bare whisper, he told Nikki why he was protecting her. He kept his eyes on the street, not wanting to see the censure he could feel rolling off Nikki in waves. After he finished speaking, Spike focused on driving, slowly making his way out of Brooklyn in search of an unexpected route back into Manhattan.

It was only a matter of moments before Nikki started speaking, and, from the tone of her voice, she wasn’t buying all of his story. “Tell me again why you snuck her out of the hospital?”

When he didn’t answer her, she swung around in her seat. Taking a good look at the girl before leveling her gaze on him, her chocolate eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Don’t play me for a fool, William.”

“I’m not.” At her snort of amused disbelief, he turned briefly to face her. “She’s got no one else.”

“And that just pushes all your buttons.” Nikki sighed, shaking her head. “What’s special about this one?”

Spike’s eyes flicked to the rearview mirror, landing on the curve of Buffy’s cheek. “Wish I knew.”

Even as he uttered the words, Spike knew there was more than just his professional interest at play, but he was reluctant to confide in Nikki. He wasn’t even entirely sure what he was feeling, which fueled his reticence. And although he trusted Nikki, he wasn’t about to let her start second-guessing him or his motives. He was doing enough of that on his own.

Once more he glanced in the mirror, his eyes lighting on Buffy’s features. She was awake, that much he could tell by the tension in her narrow shoulders, and she’d probably heard most of what he’d told Nikki. Her eyes opened, meeting his in the mirror and he could see the effects of pulling her out of the hospital and running had on her. She was exhausted, barely holding on and he needed to get her to safety so she could rest.

Buffy’s eyes haunted him.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Will could feel the censure wafting off Nikki in waves, which was one of the reasons he’d kept quiet for so long.

The drive back into Manhattan gave him time to think; to focus on how easily their tail had managed to follow them and who might be calling the shots. It finally dawned on him as he drove north on the FDR Drive that he’d been traced via his cell phone. It was the only possible explanation. And whoever had his number hadn’t started tracking him until after his second call to Gunn.

Spike was reluctant to suspect his partner, but all evidence was leading him to that conclusion. Gunn had called him twice. The goons had come after him the second time and then again after he’d called Nikki. If their equipment was sophisticated enough, they now had Nikki’s number as well.

“Fuck.”

It was the first word any of them had uttered for the better part of an hour and it startled both his passengers. Nikki swung around, gun already palmed and aimed at the back window over Buffy’s head. The blond shrieked, ducking down below eye level.

“Nikki! Stand down.” Spike reached over to cover her gun hand with his own. “We’re safe.”

“Then what the hell you yelling like that for?” Nikki glared at him.

“Figured something out.” He waited until she turned back around.

When she was settled and her seatbelt right again, Nikki sent him a baleful glance. “So? What did you figure out?”

“Our tail must’ve gotten my cell number and tracked me that way. And now – “ He stopped when she flinched.

“Now they’ve got my number now, too.” The tall African-American woman grimaced, then pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. “Get into the right lane.”

Will had a feeling he knew what she was planning. “Wait until we hit the bridge.” He handed her his phone. “Here.”

Buffy listened to their exchange, confusion clouding her mind. “Will?”

He could hear the confusion and fear lacing her voice and knew she needed reassurance. Chancing a backwards glance, he caught her eyes. “Gonna be alright, kitten. I promise.”

He was grateful when Nikki made no contradiction.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Halfway over the Triboro Bridge, Spike eased into the far right lane. He flicked on the hazards and slowed to a crawl. Giving Nikki a nod, he waited while she slipped out of the seatbelt. Window down, Nikki sat on the door, upper body completely outside the SUV. Her left hand wrapped around the panic handle and before he could blink, she had lobbed both cell phones into the murky waters below. She slid down into the seat, whooped once, then groused at him. “I hope to hell this works. And don’t think you ain’t gonna reimburse me for that phone!”

“It’ll work.” It bloody well has too.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Twenty-five minutes later, Spike headed north again, then took the first exit into Washington Heights.

He’d been living up here when he and Nikki first met and he still owned the apartment. It had been empty since his last tenants moved six weeks ago. Though it was bleak and sparsely furnished, it was the only safe place he knew. The only person who knew its location was Nikki. Not even the NYPD had this address. None of the utilities were in his name, in fact, nothing for the apartment was in his name. He’d bought it using his mother’s maiden name, a trick he’d learned while hunting Angelus and others like him. Travers, his first handler, had always told him to have a safe place, a place no one knew he had; a bolthole in case something went majorly wrong with a job.

He figured this current cock-up counted as something going wrong.

It was the safest place he could think of.

Hell, it was the only place he could think to bring Buffy.

Pulling to a stop just outside of Fort Tryon, Spike glanced at Nikki, then at Buffy. He’d already involved Nikki more than he wanted to, and now she was in danger. “Might be a good idea to hide the truck for a bit. Or change the plates.”

She eyed him again, exasperation on her usually placid features. “I used to wonder why we never made a go of things.” Undoing her seatbelt again, Nikki growled at him. “But then I remember whenever you act like this, you can be one serious dumbass, William.”

Will didn’t bother responding, instead he lifted his eyes to the rearview mirror, catching Buffy’s tired gaze. “You okay, kitten?”

“I guess.” She shrugged, wincing from the pain. Her face sported a massive bruise and a ring of equally bad bruising marred her throat. “I’ll manage.”

“Almost there, just a little bit further.” Will drove slowly up Broadway, then turned onto Arden Street.

The apartment was in the second building in from the corner, within walking distance – through the park – of The Cloisters museum. It was secluded and out of the way, and while it was somewhat world famous, the park and museum had a charm that reminded him of home.

“Here we are.” He smoothly pulled to a parking space between buildings and cut the engine.

Buffy had only managed to unhook her seatbelt, before he was out of the SUV and at her door. Spike reached in, sliding his arms around her and gently lifting her out. The poor girl wobbled on her feet, only steadying when he wrapped his arm around her waist. “Steady on.”

She smiled up at him, gifting him with a look so full of trust enough that it gave him pause. No one, not even Dru had ever trusted him the way she did. Buffy gazed up at him and Spike was hard pressed not to promise her things he’d never be able to deliver. Promises to always keep her safe, to move mountains to keep her looking at him that way. He wanted to be worthy of that look.

But the sinking feeling in his belly caused him to look away.

He’d never been a hero. He doubted himself at every turn and knew there was no way she wouldn’t be totally disillusioned when all was said and done.

Will would fail. Just like he’d failed Travers, like he’d failed Drusilla and Nikki.

He wasn’t anyone’s hero.







Yeah, I know. It's been a really long time since I updated this one. I'm so sorry. Sorry for the delays in posting everything, sorry for the lack of timely updates, sorry for a lot of things. I'm the one to blame. I'm the slacker. So I will understand completely if everyone's stopped reading this story and no one cares. I will. I'm sorry. I'll try to pick up the pace, on this and on Resolutions. Thank you for even reading this. I appreciate it. Thanks. Nia.
Nine by Niamh
[A/N: So, now that Boy Wonder has his own computer, I’m slowly tackling this massive amount of handwritten notes that I have, trying to make something coherent out of the mess. With some luck (and assistance from a nameless internet provider) he’ll stay the hell off my computer and use his own. At least that’s what I’m hoping. And hey, shortly my WordPerfect should arrive and then I can stop using this free stuff. . . LOL. Quote is a song written by Lindsey Buckingham and recorded by Fleetwood Mac, on the White Album (released in 1975), entitled “I’m so Afraid” and the disclaimers are always in effect, because otherwise someone with more money than I have would object.]

Nine


I been alone
All the years
So many ways to count the tears
I never change
I never will
I'm so afraid the way I feel
Days when the rain and the sun are gone
Black as night
Agony's torn at my heart too long
So afraid
Slip and fall and I die
I been alone
Always down
No one cared to stay around
I never change
I never will
I’m so afraid the way I feel
Days when the rain and the sun are gone
Black as night
Agony's torn at my heart too long
So afraid
Slip and fall and I die





Hot, irrational jealousy flared within her every single time Buffy thought about Nikki Wood. While Spike insisted whatever they had was long over, to Buffy’s eyes they clearly still cared about each other. Nikki was cool, sophisticated, chic and had legs that . . . even Buffy could see she was attractive. In contrast, Buffy knew she resembled a raggedy, lost waif. She was nothing more than just another beat-up, under-age hooker.

There was nothing about her that was appealing. At least not at the moment. She could feel the swelling in her face, and though she couldn’t see any of the bruises, Buffy knew she looked horrific. Every time she took a deep breath or tried to move at her usual pace, her body rebelled, letting her know she just wasn’t ready. And despite the fact Will was right there every time she faltered, Buffy didn’t dare hope it was because he cared.

At least not the way she wanted him to.

She wasn’t going to trust that again.

No one cared about her that way, not even her mother. After her father split when she was nine, her mother, Joyce, had lost all interest in parenting. Buffy was often left at the babysitter’s for long hours and when she outgrew that need, left to her own devices. It wasn’t long after her mother started dating that she met Ted, and everything worsened. Once he moved in, it all fell apart. Buffy’s fears increased and nothing her mother or Ted did had alleviated them. She felt like an outcast in her own home.

The loneliness, oddly enough, abated the minute she’d run away. She was alone, but she wasn’t nearly so isolated. Buffy had no expectations of caring or emotional attachment from anyone, so therefore, she didn’t feel the lack.

It was only now, after she’d woken up to find a pair of startling blue eyes that hope had flared again.

Buffy didn’t want to care about him; didn’t want to feel attached. Didn’t want any connection to him at all.

Though as she looked at him from under her lashes, she feared it was already too late.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Spike watched Nikki drive away, a grimly determined expression troubling his features. His brain was tired, far more than his body was, but he knew he needed sleep. And Buffy literally looked dead on her feet.

There were things he had to do first, though. He had to get Buffy settled and they both needed food. “C’mon, kitten, let’s get you upstairs.”

She didn’t answer, letting him guide her into the building and to the elevator. The silence between them wasn’t oppressive, neither one willing to talk, nor wanting to. Twice on the way to the elevator, she stumbled, nearly tripping over her own feet. Spike grabbed her the second time, wrapping his arm across her shoulder. “Lean into me.”

The apartment was on the ninth floor, in the north-west corner, with a fairly decent view of the park and a small terrace. It was almost devoid of furniture, sporting only a set of stools, one couch and one king sized bed. Spike barely wasted enough time to show Buffy where the bathroom was before shepherding her into the bedroom.

“I need to go out an’ get some supplies, sweetheart.”

It was a measure of how exhausted Buffy was when she didn’t even flinch. “Kay. I’m just gonna sleep.”

He suppressed the grin, because he knew she’d be out before he locked the door. “You’ll be safe. I shouldn’t be gone that long.

Buffy watched him head for the doorway. “Wake me up when you get back.”

He had no intentions of waking her, and had even fewer qualms about lying to her. ‘Sure thing, kitten.”


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





He loved New York City.

Even in this relatively quiet neighborhood, enough stores were still open at nine o’clock at night that he could get just about everything he needed. It wasn’t quite as wide-awake as either the Village or Midtown would be, but it was still hopping enough for his current needs.

Spike made it through the Century 21, getting new sheets, towels, and a small radio. D’Agostinos was open twenty-four hours, so he detoured back to the apartment, careful not to disturb Buffy at all. He took his time with the groceries, knowing he had to make their cash reserve last.

Nikki had brought a fair amount of cash with her and he’d promised to pay her back; it was enough to support them for a couple of days. He also had quite a bit left from his own foray to the ATM machine. So he loaded up all enough food to last them a couple of days; mostly breakfast makings, since that was the only meal he was qualified to successfully prepare.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





The weird, overly loud hum of the refrigerator woke him sometime in the middle of the night, jarring him completely. Spike got up, padding through the nearly empty apartment, unnerved by the lack of furniture and other noises.

His nerves were frayed, worry for the girl clouding his judgment. Spike knew he was too close, knew he’d invested too much already. He’d crossed a line he shouldn’t have. He could have handed Buffy over to Nikki, but when she’d made the offer, he’d turned her down flat.

She was his witness. His responsibility.

He couldn’t hand her over. Wouldn’t.

After plugging in the radio and tuning it to classical music, Spike settled back on the bed. Buffy curled into him, nudging against him softly. The radio deejay segued into the news and Spike listened, hoping the notoriety surrounding Angelus’ murder had died down, but realized it was unlikely. His wife’s famous family made that a remote possibility.

At least Buffy’s involvement was still a secret to the masses. Only Liam Reilly’s real killer knew differently.

Spike closed his arms around her and tried to go back to sleep.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





He hated doing it, but their continued safety actually depended on it. If it was just himself, he wouldn’t care. However, the fifteen year old girl relying on him changed his mind. She had no one else. No one who would protect her, no one who would even understand.

The longer he kept her anonymous – the proverbial unidentified witness – the longer she stayed alive. And out of the system. Child Protective Services would step in, no doubt, and demand she be returned to her parents or placed in a foster home. Or worse, juvenile detention. Despite her six months on the street – and sometimes he doubted that was the truth – a girl like Buffy wouldn’t last in a place like that.

No, this was for the best. And if he had to sacrifice his hair for the cause, well, it was only hair. It would grow back. Eventually.

As he surveyed the results in the mirror, Will had to admit the newly darkened hair gave him a bit of gravity, though now he looked every one of his thirty-three years.

Eyeing the second box of hair color on the vanity, he wondered how much coaxing his young charge was going to need. He’d opted to purchase semi-permanent dye for both of them knowing how he felt about the color change, figuring she would also.

Soft noises sounded in the hallway and he looked up, catching her still pale features in the mirror. “Hey, kitten, get enough sleep?”

Rubbing her eyes, Buffy grumbled something unintelligible. When she finally focused on him, her gasp of surprise filled the bathroom. “What did you do?”

“Changed the color a bit. It’ll help.”

“The blonde is way hotter.”

They both froze, their eyes meeting in the glass. Will was at a loss, completely unsure how to approach the sudden elephant in the room. It was Buffy, though, who took charge, quipping, “Well that thought bubble exploded, didn’t it?”

“Rather loudly, sweetheart.” Watching her visibly relax, he handed her the box. “Your turn now.”

Buffy looked down at the box, not registering the color until he’d slipped out of the bathroom. Her shriek of protest had him chuckling all the way into the kitchen.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




There was a long, nasty looking cut on her forehead, still red and raw. Her lips were swollen, and small lump had formed under her right eye, accentuating the dark circles beneath both of them.

The new color gave her dull, tired eyes some life, but Buffy doubted anyone looking closely enough would be fooled. She was exhausted and the change from blond to brunette wasn’t helping much. The darker shade did have one benefit; it made her look far older than her not quite sixteen years.

But that might just be all the bruises.

Giving in when she finally couldn’t stay on her feet any longer, Buffy left the bathroom. What she found surprised her, Will was in the kitchen, sitting on one of the stools, sound asleep.

She’d expected him to be cooking, and judging from the smell, he’d done some. Buffy walked past him, bare feet nearly silent on the cool tiles, drawn to the oven. Whatever he’d fixed smelled delicious. Buffy swallowed hard, stomach rumbling loudly.

French toast, bacon and sausages were warming in the oven and Buffy didn’t wait to start picking. Munching happily on a slice of bacon, she hummed along with the radio, looking for plates.

There was a stack of paper plates and plastic utensils next to the sink. Making easy work of opening both packages, Buffy piled her plate high with a little bit of everything and sat down next to Will. Her eyes trailed over his sleeping form, a slight smile playing on her lips. He was so weird, sleeping almost sitting up, his chin dipping down toward his chest and soft snores emerging every couple of breaths. She waved a hand in front of his face, shrugging when he didn’t react. Oh well, I so can’t wait for him to wake up. Looks like he needs to sleep. With another shrug, Buffy focused on the food.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





Exhaustion must’ve crept up on him, because Will didn’t realize he’d fallen asleep until long after Buffy had finished her breakfast. The oven was still on, but the lights were all out. He squinted at the time on the oven, shaking his head. He hadn’t even heard her and she must have been sitting right beside him, unless she sat on the floor to eat. Will turned around, half expecting her to still be on the floor. She wasn’t. Nor was she in the living room.

She was back in bed, curled up, snoring softly. A wry grin crossed his face and Will debated on joining her. She looked so very young and innocent. He couldn’t imagine what kind of – it was so hard to picture her working the streets, fair game for any of the predators out there, alone and vulnerable. Had she sought protection with a pimp? Or had she resisted, preferring to take her chances alone and . . . Will couldn’t picture either of those scenarios. Buffy was just too innocent.

It may be that she was on the run for six months, but he had serious doubts about her being on the streets all that time. She just didn’t fit the profile. And yeah, she’d just been violated, raped and beaten, left for dead; but she didn’t shy away from him. Didn’t hesitate or flinch when he touched her.

Yet the wounded eyes told a different story. Those great, big glorious hazel-green eyes stared at him, starved for affection, for acknowledgment. For recognition.

She wanted to be seen. Wanted someone to know she was still around; wanted to matter to someone.

He was so afraid she was beginning to matter too much.

She was . . .

Will caved into his impulse and crawled onto the bed next to her.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




He didn’t sleep very long; his mind was too preoccupied with puzzles. Who had killed Angelus and left Buffy for dead? Who was after her now? Who had given up his location?

Who had betrayed him?


While he’d only spoke to Gunn since liberating Buffy from the hospital, Spike knew suspecting the other man was flawed. For one thing, it was too obvious. There were others he suspected; any one of the team could be the mole. Hell, it wouldn’t even have to be knowingly. Lots of people had his cell phone number, everyone from his team to snitches and countless others in between. Even the little forensic geek Andrew Wells had it.

Cursing the lack of foresight on his part, Will searched the nearly barren apartment for something to write with. The search turned up an old, half-filled notebook and a nearly dry pen.

This wasn’t going to help him order his thoughts. He needed to head out, get more supplies anyway. Even as the though crossed his mind, Will realized he was just making excuses. He hated being cooped up, hated confinement of any kind.

Maybe, if Buffy was feeling better tomorrow they could venture out to see the Cloisters. The Christmas decorations were still up, and he doubted if she’d ever seen anything like it. It was too cold and nasty to stay outdoors, but the short walk shouldn’t pose a problem. He’d love to see her reaction to the old stones and candlelight, fresh greens and medieval chants. Maybe she’d find a small measure of peace in the place, the way he always did.

Shaking off the melancholy, Will ran a hand through his curls, cursing at the tangles. His hair was unruly; tight, wild curls covering his head. He usually tamed them with gel, straightening them as much as possible, but without the gel it was hopeless. Another minor irritation that was likely to become a major issue.

He’d already cleaned the kitchen, and now he was faced with the prospect of pacing the floors until Buffy woke up, or leaving her a note. Tapping his foot restlessly against the floor wasn’t helping.

Unable to sit still any longer, Will wrote a note and propped it against the bathroom sink.

He needed to do something.

Anything.








My thanks to everyone who so thoughtfully left a review. I read and appreciated every single one, and I hope you'll all continue to stick with me on this one. Updates on this and the others will be shortly forthcoming. I promise. Thanks! Nia
Ten by Niamh
[A/N: This story waxes and wanes, sometimes I’ve it all in my head, and sometimes not. It’s a terrible thing – and mainly I think it stems too much from situational writer’s block – meaning I’m not sure how to move the action to the next pivotal moment. I think I have this particular bridge crossed, but we’ll see how it works out. I think it’ll be okay. The lyrics belong to James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Cliff Burton and Kirk Hammett (Copyright © 1984 Creeping Death Music (ASCAP) International Copyright Secured All Rights Reserved); the Song title is Fade to Black from the 1984 album The Lighting and all the disclaimers are still in full force and effect. I own nothing.]

Ten

Life, it seems, will fade away
Drifting further every day
Getting lost within myself
Nothing matters, no one else
I have lost the will to live
Simply nothing more to give
There is nothing more for me
Need the end to set me free
Things not what they used to be
Missing one inside of me
Deathly lost, this can't be real
Cannot stand this hell I feel
Emptiness is filling me
To the point of agony
Growing darkness taking dawn I was me, but now he's gone
No one but me can save myself, but it's too late
Now I can't think, think why I should even try
Yesterday seems as though it never existed
Death greets me warm, now I will just say goodbye






This time, when he ventured out, Will aimed for the nearest bookstore, looking for ways for both of them to pass the time. He’d left the note propped up on the bathroom sink, figuring that would be the first place she’d visit upon waking.

There was an express bus to midtown waiting at the corner when he stepped out of the building. Acting on instinct, Will got on board. He needed to make some phone calls and though he doubted anyone except Nikki knew exactly where they were, going to midtown Manhattan would keep the hounds at bay just a little longer. From any location in midtown, there were easily twenty to thirty avenues of escape – from the commuter train hubs to subway lines not to mention the ridiculous number of bus lines available. Anyone able to trace the calls would be hard pressed to follow him once he disconnected.

Besides, who would remember another average guy on the street?

Scarcely forty-five minutes later, he cut short the last of three phone calls. No one had any better answers for him, though Gunn had basically told him to stay hidden since – and he had trouble wrapping his brain around this – there was chatter about the witness and the Post was threatening to leak her information.

Who the hell? Too many people had seen her, from the hotel concierge to the cops and EMTs and anyone of them was capable of dropping information.

Will ran a hand over his face. He debated about calling Nikki again, but she was already more involved than he wanted her to be. This wasn’t her case; wasn’t her problem.

The time flashed on the huge ticker circling around the building to his right and he suddenly realized he’d been gone too long. Buffy was probably awake so he needed to make his purchases and head back uptown.

On foot, Will headed in that direction, stopping at various shops on the way, including Barnes & Noble. The uptown bus stopped at Grand Central and it would take him right up to Fort Tryon. With luck he’d be back there within an hour.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




The first time Buffy woke up, she blearily glanced at the alarm clock, groaned, then rolled over to cocoon herself within the blankets. She was cold and alone, but that didn’t bother her. Will would be back soon and she felt safe here, safer than she’d felt in either of the other two places he’d brought her.

When she woke up the second time, it was full dark out, and there wasn’t a light on at all in the apartment. The only light came from the glowing green numbers on the clock, which flashed the incredible time of six thirty. No way did I sleep that long. But the insistent throb of her bladder told her otherwise and Buffy could only ignore it for so long.

Not only was the apartment dark, it was cold as well, and Buffy shivered on her way into the bathroom. There was a note on the sink and she held it up while she peed, reading it over twice before her tired brain made sense of the words. Left at three, should be back soon.

Three? Soon? He was gone almost four hours, just what did he think was ‘soon’?
Two hours was more than enough time – at least she thought so.

Emerging from the bathroom, Buffy dropped the note on the counter, then flipped on the kitchen light. At least with the lights on, she didn’t feel as scared. She could clearly see the apartment door from the kitchen, and the bedroom was just down the hallway, beyond the bathroom. Twenty steps took her into the living room and Buffy stood at the big windows, looking out at the park. Just through the trees she could make out the lights of the George Washington Bridge – brighter because of the darkness shrouding the park. Where are you?

She wrapped her arms around her waist, holding onto her fears, keeping them trapped inside. He has to come back. He won’t leave me here alone. If . . . no, not thinking about if. There is no if. He’s going to come back. He won’t let anyone stop him from coming back.

Muted sounds drifted in from the street below and the adjoining apartments. Buffy tried to let the sounds calm her, but the fear began to overwhelm her. Instead of standing there staring, she moved away from the big windows, back toward the bedroom. At least in there she could sit or lay down and stare out the bare windows.

It didn’t help. Mere minutes later, she was back in the living room, blankets wrapped around her, sweeping over the wood floor. She felt as small as she must look, a little girl swathed in blankets looking for her parents to come cuddle and keep away the monsters of her dreams.

Only there were no one, and the monsters that inhabited her nightmares were real. Real flesh and blood, out for hers.

Buffy crouched on the floor next to the balcony windows, her eyes trained on the bridge lights, but not really seeing them. Please, Spike, please come back. . .



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




He cursed himself for being twenty times a fool. Traffic at this time of day was brutal, everyone on their way home from their nine-to-fives, and no one cutting anyone else a break. The bus, which should have been closer to an express, was stuck somewhere around Eighty-sixth street, since every other route uptown was blocked because of some accident. Spike banged his head on the window, wondering whether he should take the chance and get a cab.

Except he knew that would be stupid. He was already on the bus – it wouldn’t be much longer. He knew it. Traffic ahead was finally moving, and while it seemed like hours, in reality it was barely a half hour they’d been stuck here. Still, he knew he’d been gone too long. His watch didn’t lie. He’d left the apartment before three and now it was pushing on seven. No doubt, Buffy was going to be upset when he got back, upset and worried. There wasn’t much he could do about it. Even if he did have his cell, the apartment was devoid of telephones.

Will cursed himself again for being so foolish. Taking the chance to go downtown had been dumb. He just as easily could’ve made the same phone calls from anywhere in Manhattan – after all, the escape routes were just as accessible uptown – and been back in the apartment before she woke up. Because she had to be awake. There was no way she could’ve slept this long. He didn’t get that lucky.

Traffic finally started to clear and the bus made it to the end of the park without catching any other lights. The apprehension riding his gut started to ease. Buffy’s okay. She’ll be fine until I get back.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





Snow flurries drifted down slowly, disappearing into the darkness as they meandered past the huge picture window. Buffy stared out into the distance, not realizing the moisture on her cheeks mimicked the scene outside.

Fear gripped her, insidious, chilly tendrils curling up and wrapping around her belly, creeping upwards toward her heart. Will was the only person on earth who cared if she was safe – he was the only person who even knew where she was. If he left her – or worse, if something happened to him because of her – Buffy swallowed hard, sniffling back the tears she’d just noticed.

What if he doesn’t come back?

The cold seeped through the blankets and into her bones.

Buffy leaned her head on the window, letting her breath fog the glass. The bridge lights almost disappeared and she brought up her hand to wipe away the condensation. Fresh tears slipped from her eyes, though she didn’t bother to wipe them away.

So lost in her misery, Buffy never heard the door open behind her.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Will got off the bus, still cursing his own stupidity. He hadn’t banked on the bus being full of commuters heading uptown and the bus making nearly every stop north of the park.

It was now well after seven and he couldn’t count on Buffy’s exhaustion keeping her asleep this long. She was probably awake and scared witless. No way had he expected to be gone for over four hours.

He struggled into the building, juggling all the bags while he headed toward the elevator. The battle was lost the instant he stepped in the elevator; the packages all tumbled from his arms.

Throwing his head back in frustration, Will barely suppressed an accompanying growl. His temper was beyond fractured, nerves strung taut and strained. Realizing that most of the blame was his own did little to ease the tension. He never should have left her alone and unprotected like that.

Reluctantly, he picked up the bags, trying to control temper. The apartment was thankfully only steps away from the elevator and Will managed to get the door open without losing his grip on the slick plastic again.

The apartment was still, only the muted strains of the radio breaking the silence. Will dropped the bags inside the door, pocketing the keys. He didn’t call out, hoping she might still be sleeping. Instead, he headed down the hallway toward the bedroom. A slight noise in the living room caught his attention and Will changed direction, moving toward the noise.

He stopped short in the doorway, his eyes riveted on the figure huddled in front of the window. Her hand was on the glass, and he could make out the drawn lines of exhaustion on her features. She looks so lost, so alone.

His heart broke. Any anger and frustration he’d been feeling melted away, dissipating into the chilly air of the room.

“Kitten?” Will kept his voice low and soft, hoping not to scare her too much.

She jumped anyway, her head swinging round to see him standing behind her.

“Oh!” Buffy swiped at the tears, streaking her face with dirt from the window, making the exhaustion stand out. “When did you get back?”

“Just now.” He moved closer, crouching down to her level. “I’m so sorry, kitten. Didn’t mean to be gone so long.”

She shrugged, trying to brush off her fear and concern. “No biggie. I’m okay.”

Will chuckled a bit, then shook his head. “Don’t look so okay.” He leaned closer, gathering her into his arms. “Shh, kitten, don’t cry.”

It wasn’t until he’d touched her that Buffy realized she was openly weeping. Her fists grabbed his shirt and jacket, holding on tight. “I was scared. I – .”

Her sniffles got louder and Will held her against his chest, rocking her back and forth. “My fault, sweetheart, ‘s all my fault.”

She burrowed closer to him, nuzzling against his chest. “Nope. Not all your fault. I’m just a big scaredy-cat.”

He laughed outright then, cupping the side of her head with his hand. “Don’t think there’s much you’re afraid of, Buffy. You don’t back down from anyone.”

“I run away.” She pulled back to look at him. “I ran away from home, I ran away from . . . I just run.”

“Think of it as strategically retreatin’ to regroup.” He stood up, holding out his hand to help her to her feet. “Not really runnin’ if you haven’t got the ammo to fight with.”

She struggled to get up, hampered by the blankets swathed around her form. Tangled all around her, they hindered her easy movement and Will, worried she’d fall over and hurt herself, lifted her up into his arms. “Have you eaten?”

“No. I only woke up a little while ago, around six.”

Will carried her into the kitchen, putting her down easily on one of the stools. “Let’s see what we’ve got then.” He rummaged though the cabinets and refrigerator, quickly going through the meager larder. He listed the contents for her. “Don’t have much. Pancakes and bacon. Eggs.”

At her disinterested grimace, Will asked, “Could pop round to the nearest chipper or some such.”

“Chipper? What’s a chipper?” Her scrunched up nose was adorable, and he flicked it just because.

“Right. Keep forgettin’ you yanks don’t speak proper English.” He scratched at his scarred eyebrow. “A take-away place. In England we get fish an’ chips there, or sometimes burgers. Fast food, I suppose.”

Buffy shook her head. “Do we have soup? I’m not really all that hungry.”

“Don’t have any soup. There’s a Chinese place down the block. Want that?”

She thought about it for a half a second or so, then nodded vigorously. “Yup. That’d be good.” Until she realized he’d have to leave again, in order to get the food. “Do you have to go get it?”

“Should go. Don’t really want anyone knowing you’re here. Would be safer if I did.” He looked away from her, knowing how upset she’d be. “‘Sides, don’t have a phone here to call it in.”

“Oh. Right.” Buffy could feel the disappointment flooding her, and she knew the tears were threatening again, but she fought them back. He’d told her she was strong and brave and so she was going to act like it, and not be a frightened little girl anymore. “I want soup. And fried rice. And maybe some chicken?”

“Right then. I’ll just be right back.” He leaned down, kissed her forehead and was gone in a moment.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




He wasn’t gone nearly as long. Only little over a half hour and he was back, brown paper bags smelling deliciously of wonton soup and chicken and other things she’d missed. Her belly growled, welcoming him home and Buffy blushed, trying to hide from his too-knowing eyes. She’d taken the time to wash her face, and though most of the evidence was gone, Will could still see the effects of her tears. Her eyes, normally a clear, bright green, were murky and dark, red-rimmed from all the weeping she’d done. Her bravery tugged at his heart. Despite her injuries and fear, she trusted him to keep her safe. Watching her pick at the egg rolls, Will hoped he didn’t disappoint.

“Brought some things back.”

Buffy didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “Like what?”

“Cards. Couple of books, a few magazines. Got Monopoly.” Her eyes lit up briefly, rewarding his efforts to cheer her up.

“And here I thought you were gonna keep us here without any entertainment.”

Will pressed a hand over his heart. “Ouch. You wound me, princess.”

Getting into the spirit, Buffy quipped back, “Guess you must really be an ogre, since you’re keeping me locked up in a tower.”

“Somehow I knew I’d never get to be Prince Charming.” Will hung his head in mock chagrin.

“Hhmm.” Buffy pretended to consider him, waiting until he raised his eyes to look at her. “Well, you’ve got way more in common with him than the evil stepmother.” She laughed softly. “And you’re way cuter than Shrek.”

“Thanks.” Will huffed. “I think.”


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Will was cleaning up after they finished while Buffy showered. He was humming along with the radio, occasionally breaking into song. For the first time since this whole fiasco began, he was content, almost worry-free.

Which was why, seconds later, the change was so shattering.

“Police are seeking witnesses to a shooting in Queens. A retired detective was shot and killed, execution style inside her home earlier this afternoon.”

Will froze, unable to breathe.

No. No. Couldn’t. . .

Can’t be.

Just don’t say –


“Sources inside the Department report that the detective, who retired in 2004, left behind three children. No word as of yet on a suspect or motive. Anyone with information – “

Will reached for the radio, flipping it to an all news station.

“Retired detective Nicholette Woods was a twenty-two year veteran of the NYPD. A much decorated officer, she spent most of her career undercover, working both Vice and Narcotics Squads.”

His brain blanked.

Nikki. . .

Will didn’t hear anything until he felt Buffy’s hand on his back. “Will? What’s wrong?”

He had no words. He couldn’t think of anything to tell her. Will stared at the wall, unaware his hands were shaking, squeezing rhythmically, destroying the paper carton in his grip.

“Will?” The voice sounded so far away. “Spike?”

Spike turned blind eyes toward the sound. A hand reached out – “Spike?”

“They killed her.” He was barely able to choke out the words.

“What?” Her confusion didn’t register. “Killed who? Spike, you’re scaring me.”

“Nikki. She’s dead.”

Buffy withdrew her hand. “Oh, no. No.” She backed away, repeating the same thing, over and over. “No. No. . . Will?”

The fear in her voice snapped him back and Will grabbed her before she collapsed. “Shhh. ‘Ve got you.”

Somehow he managed to steady her, calming himself in the process. He couldn’t think. Logic told him there could be any number of reasons why Nikki had been murdered. Any number. His gut instincts were telling him a different tale.

Nikki had been murdered because he’d contacted her.

Because of Buffy.

He wanted to hate her.

Did, for more than a few moments.

Until he realized none of this was her fault. He’d chosen to involve himself, to involve Nikki – not Buffy.

He’d exposed Nikki.

He alone bore the responsibility.

So instead of hating Buffy, Will hated himself.








Sorry about the short lag in updating this story, but RL issues got in the way, and somethings just a tad bit out of control. Everything is starting to settle down, and in honor of my parents' 48th anniversary this week, I figured I'd celebrate. Next week, I'll switch off and post a chapter of Origins, so keep an eye out for that. So muy mucho thanks to all of you are keeping up with this story! Enjoy!
Eleven by Niamh
[A/N: I’m trying to get some work done on this, and possibly on a couple of other things. While this one gets some love, there seem to be way more people interested in Origins – and I suppose that’s rightfully so. I’m just wondering though, is it because of the subject matter or age difference, or because this story is crap? Just curiosity on my part, and I figure as the author, I’m sort of entitled to know. And why does the age crap not matter in a vampire/slayer story and it does in an all-human one? Do we already suspend our sense of disbelief in a slayer/vampire story or is it because the all-human one is a bit too close to home? *shrugs* Oh well, I’m just thinking out loud, so to speak. But I would appreciate some feedback on that issue, if any of you readers don’t mind sharing your thoughts on the subject. Song lyrics belong to the song Cry by Siouxsie and the Banshees off the album Superstition (1991) and the rest of it all belongs to the short guy and everyone else that has a piece of the Buffy pie. Disclaimers in full force and effect.]


Eleven

Cry for the bird with broken wings
Cry for the world that will not spin
Cry for the loss of innocense
Cry for a love, turned loveless
Sometimes I think of you, when I'm alone
Oh no Cry ...
Nothing will ever be the same
all is ruined and put to shame
tears and stars are one and the same
when I look up through my focused lens
But sometimes I think of you, when I'm alone
Oh no Cry ... tears and stars confide, collide then die
Deep inside tears run dry, but I cry and cry.
Tiger skins and elephant tusks
in guilted mountains seep disgust
I look at you and I want to speak
for once in a while be a man and weep
'cos all the dolphins and whales have gone
all good tidings and hopes have blown
all our nightmares are flying home
and it's too late to do anything but ...
Cry ... tears and stars confide, collide then die
deep inside tears run dry, but I cry and cry
Cry ...




How they ended up in the bed, Will couldn’t begin to guess. Buffy was clinging to him like a limpet, her head tucked under his chin, her arms curled about his waist. Their feet were entangled, her toes worming their way inside his socks.

His eyes were burning, dry despite his grief. Will couldn’t bring himself to let down his guard. Couldn’t get his brain to stop thinking. Whoever had killed Nikki had to have a good idea of where they might be. If they traced their cell phones, GPS might have worked long enough to pinpoint a heading.

Their only hope lay with the possible breakdown of Reilly’s infrastructure. With luck, Harris and MacDonald were too busy jockeying and fighting for position and power to worry about his witness. Although now, with Nikki dead, Will had serious doubts about that theory.

Whoever was running the show – likely the same one who’d killed Angelus – needed his witness dead. His money was on MacDonald, the former lawyer was a backstabbing, conniving, lying son-of-a-bitch, who’s rapid rise through Reilly’s organization was a testimony to his ruthless ambition. Spike’s intelligence had pegged him as the Brutus against Reilly’s Caesar.

Harris was too loyal, too bound through family ties to Angelus. He had been married to Liam’s sister Cordelia. . .

MacDonald was the logical suspect to betray his boss, which was why they’d planted Faith in his path.

He had a thing for women, though there was various rumors about MacDonald sleeping with the peripatetic Mrs. Reilly – And if that was true, Will had his second motive.

Kill Caesar. Take his empire and his wife.

But where the hell is Lehane?

Gunn said she still hadn’t checked in – had MacDonald gotten to her? Or had Harris? Faith was Harris’ type – brunette bombshell with a body made for sin and an attitude to match.

Was she in danger?

Will’s mind raced from one outlandish scenario to another, each successively crazier than the last. But he couldn’t stop thinking.

Because if he did, he’d have to admit Nikki was dead.

Which was the last thing he wanted to admit.

His thoughts were interrupted when Buffy pulled away from him, her eyes focusing on his. “I’m sorry. This is all because of me. If you hadn’t come for me, none of this would’ve happened.”

“Not true, kitten.” He could feel his throat tightening up, so Will paused for a moment.

That hesitation gave Buffy the opening she needed. “It is true. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be in this mess.”

Her insistent belief that she was the root cause of this irked him. “Don’t say that. Don’t even think that.”

Will held her face, forcing her to keep eye contact. “I’ve been chasin’ after that bastard for the better part of five years, since before I left London.” He paused to calm the sudden flare of anger.

“He’s the reason for all this. Angelus is the – “ At her bewildered look, Will paused again. “Tha’s what he’s called, sweetheart. Angelus. He’s spent years working for the IRA and when that went soft, he switched to providing guns to terrorists.”

Buffy’s eyes widened as he listed all of Angelus’ crimes. Liam Reilly had started early, making a name for himself in the Provisional IRA while still in his early teens. His baby face had led to the ridiculous moniker of Angel, and when he’d objected by killing those who called him so to his face, the name had stuck. “He nearly killed my handler when I was still with MI6.”

“You were a spy?”

There was a bit of enthusiasm, a sort of awe-tinged admiration in her voice that he didn’t quite like. “Not the way you’re thinking.”

He let her go, rolling over onto his back. “Wasn’t James Bond.”

Her face appeared in his line of sight. “It’s still very cool.”

The twinkling in her eyes was enough to make him smile faintly. “I’ll let you think that.”

“Oh, c’mon. It’s very cool. Can you do all those crazy things? Drive a boat over the road?” An infectious giggled worked its way from her and Will couldn’t help but respond.

“Never done that. But I have chased someone on the tube.”

“Tube? What’s that?” Scrunching up her nose made her look about ten years old, and Will was suddenly struck with the realization that they probably shouldn’t be laying in the bed together. He eased her away again, this time sitting up on the bed.

“London’s subway system.”

Buffy sat there, watching him as he stalked from the room.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




His mood swing had completely baffled her. She had no idea why the reminder of London made him all grouchy. Nor did she understand why he hadn’t spoken to her in hours. He was still in the living room, listening quietly to the news, an unread book clasped in his hands. Whether he was conscious of it or not, he’d taken the same spot she had hours earlier, when she was waiting for him to return from his insanely long shopping trip.

The snowfall had continued and now the city was blanketed in a soft white. Through the dark glass, Buffy could see the muted bridge lights, and the park gleaming in the darkness just in front of it. It was a gorgeous view even in the dead of winter. It had to be breathtaking in the summer with all the trees and the bridge in the background.

It suddenly dawned on her, as she watched him pretend to read, why he’d been so adamant that none of this was her fault. He must be blaming himself for it. For getting involved – maybe too involved – with the whole case. He’d said he’d been chasing after Angelus – what a stupid nickname that was – for more than five years. Why wouldn’t he blame himself for getting Nikki involved?

Buffy hovered in the doorway, holding her breath. He thinks this is all his fault, because of him.

She moved on silent feet, edging closer and closer to him. It wasn’t until she was within arm’s length of him that he registered her presence. And by the look on his face, he wasn’t all that happy about her proximity. “What is it?”

“Are you mad at me?” She was chewing on her lower lip, apprehension in her eyes.

He sighed, then tossed the book away, almost throwing it across the room. “No. Not mad at you.”

She shifted from foot to foot, obviously wary of approaching him further. “Wanna talk about it?”

“No.” He got to his feet, turning his back on her. “Just go to bed.”

“Are you gonna sleep?”

He could hear the confusion and hurt in her voice, but Will didn’t care. She was just a witness. A young, under-age witness, and he couldn’t afford to forget it. He completely ignored the part of the equation that said she’d been selling herself on the street for a couple of months. That wouldn’t matter. Not to the brass – MI6 or the NYPD – if he was caught in a compromising situation with her, it would mean the end of his career and the end of his freedom. And while he might need the comfort and the release to forget, Will couldn’t do that. Wouldn’t do that.

She was just a witness.

She was young enough to be his daughter.

“Go to bed, Buffy.” Will resolutely kept his back to her. “Go.”

It was the first time she could remember him using her name. Buffy stared at his back for a few minutes, hoping he would change his mind and . . . She realized it was futile when he refused to turn and look at her. With a deep sigh that ended in a choked sob, Buffy retreated to the bedroom.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



Not for the first time – just not since her parents split for good – Buffy cried herself to sleep. There was no noise from the other room, save for the faint strains of the radio and she tried very hard to keep her tears quiet. The last thing she wanted was to make him feel more guilt. Though he might’ve denied it had she been bold enough to ask, Buffy knew that was the reason for the change in his mood. It couldn’t be anything else.

Without his support, she was alone. Her mother didn’t care and although she harbored the thought her father would, if he knew of her circumstances. Buffy didn’t dare put any reliance upon it. She needed to make William like her. Needed to make sure he didn’t dump her on the streets when this was over.

If pressed, Buffy wouldn’t have been able to explain why she trusted him so explicitly. After all, she didn’t remember how she’d ended up in his care, and all she knew about the situation was from what he’d told her.

What he hadn’t said, had avoided saying, was why he cared about her. Buffy had heard him. She wasn’t stupid. He’d been following Angel for years, trying to catch him, but that didn’t explain at all why he’d been keeping her safe. Nor did it explain why he’d been worried about her. She wasn’t that good a witness. Buffy knew that. Her memories of that night were hazy, confused and disjointed. Every time she tried to focus it just worsened and the little she could remember wasn’t much help. So why is he keeping me safe? Why did he care?

That was the thing Buffy couldn’t figure out.

Why is he so hell-bent on keeping me safe?

It was a puzzle that followed Buffy into her sleep, along with her tears.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



He couldn’t face her.

Couldn’t dare to look at her. Not at this moment.

He was feeling like a caged animal. He was trapped here with Buffy, unable to do anything. Incapacitated by circumstances, Will could do nothing. He couldn’t help search for Nikki’s killer, or even mourn her properly.

There wasn’t a damn thing he could do about anything.

His hands were tied. Stuck waiting for some kind of a break on the case, Will was forced to rely on
others. For the third time in as many hours, Will looked over the crime scene notes. Without any pictures, Will had to rely on his memory of the scene itself. He flipped a page and stopped.

The stark description of Buffy’s injuries looked far worse on the page. Listed one by one, they catalogued hours of abuse at the hands of Angelus.

Four broken ribs.

One lateral slash to the forehead, requiring thirty-four internal stitches and finally closed with dermal glue.

Numerous defensive wounds on hands and forearms.

Contusions and bruising around the neck, breasts, thighs, and posterior.

Extensive vaginal bruising and tearing, consistent with a violent attack.

One deep bite mark on her left breast, skin broken in two spots.

DNA had been collected from her nails, the bite wound, and the rape kit.

Fingerprints had been found on her bag and one bloody palm print had been found on her torso.

Not all the evidence from the scene itself was included in his report, there was still unidentified trace elements to be identified. And once that was done someone had to analyze it all. Not that he needed some lab geek to tell him what he already knew.

Angelus and an unknown woman had picked up Buffy sometime before nine o’clock, which was when the concierge had noted their arrival. Why there was no mention of the other woman, Spike didn’t know, but he’d get Gunn to question the concierge again.

What happened in the hours between – he’d gotten the call just after three-thirty in the morning . . . Had they drugged her first thing? How long had she suffered? How long had she lain beside Angelus’ dead body?

Had Angelus been the only one to touch her?


The tox screen in the hospital had revealed fairly high levels of GHB and Ecstasy and Buffy couldn’t remember all the details. How had they drugged her?

Will pushed away from the wall, ignoring the stiffness in his bones and the fatigue pulling at his muscles. Standing in the bedroom doorway, he contemplated the sleeping girl.

He could just make out her features in the muted light. Somehow in her sleep, she’d kicked away the blankets, exposing one shapely leg and arm. A whimpered groan escaped her and Will drew closer, drawn to her despite his misgivings.

He admitted to himself, standing there in the darkness, that something drew her to him. Some ineffable quality she possessed kept him hovering in her orbit. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d known her forever, would know her forever. She was scared and alone, and had no one in the world but him. Will stepped closer to the bed, pulling the blanket to cover her completely. His gaze traveled the length of her, resting finally on her sleeping features. The swelling was disappearing by the moment, though the bruising still remained. With some luck, the nasty slash wouldn’t scar, and her. . . Tears. Silvery tracks curved over the swell of her cheek, and he watched with growing guilt as another made its way from her eye.

She’d cried herself to sleep.

She was still crying. . .

Will felt like the biggest jackass in the world. She had no one. No one to hold her, no one to comfort her when the fears overwhelmed – she only had him for support and . . . he’d been a jackass and left her alone.

Before he could change his mind, Will untied his boots and padded around the bed, determined not to wake her. The bed dipped beneath his weight and Buffy unconsciously moved, adjusting to the intrusion. Will laid down, his arms reaching for her, pulling her close. He brushed a kiss over her forehead, hovering over the wound, not daring to breathe until Buffy relaxed against him. She murmured something in her sleep that sounded suspiciously like “sorry” and snuggled closer.

A deep sigh broke from him and Will could feel the anger drifting away.

He’d keep his distance. Starting tomorrow.

He would.








I know, I haven't updated this one in so long I'm sure you've all forgotten it even existed by now. My only excuse is that I've been pretty sick for the last couple of months, and haven't had the energy to do much of anything. I seem to be on the mend now -- thank gods for the marvels of modern medicine and surgical techniques -- so hopefully the muse will resurrect itself and I'll be able to get more chapters out. Thanks for baring with me during this. I appreciate you all.
Twelve by Niamh
[A/N: I’m slowly drawing all these stories to a close, and once one of the active WIPS is finished, I’ll focus on Great Balls of Fire. After that, I’m not really sure what’s going to happen. Only time will tell. Thanks all of you who have stuck with me through this, for all the reviews and kindness and well, just everything. And now that I know how some of you are thinking of this story, that solves a couple of issues. Not that I’m going to change things, but it’s nice to know what the readers are thinking. Quote is Spiral, from Godsmack’s second album Awake, which was released on 31 October 2000, music and lyrics by Sully Erna and Tony Rombola, and disclaimers are still in effect. Unfortunately that means the other guy has control over Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and all its canon incarnations. Frankly, I sometimes wish he had stopped at the television shows. At the moment, this is un-betaed, because Spikeslovebite is swamped with school and life, and well, I figured I’d post this and see how it floats and then when she gets back to me, I’ll post the edited version. If you see any glaring errors, let me know and I’ll fix them right away. Sorry for the delay, but RL sucks sometimes.


Twelve


Sometimes we only live for the here and now
Sometimes we're lonely
Sometimes we feel we need a place to be grounded
Or fly away again
I will fly away again
Oh, I will fly away again
Why are we feeling something's familiar around us?
Are we just dreaming?
Always we search for the answers but nothing is found
We'll fly away again
I will fly away again
Oh, I will fly away again
I feel rain pouring down
I wait to run away
Live again
Here forever
The spiral never ends
Run away
Live again
Here forever
The spiral never ends
I feel rain pouring down
I wait to rot away
Live again
Here forever
The spiral never ends
Run away
Live again
Here forever
The spiral never ends
It never ends
I will fly away again
Oh, I will fly away again






Neither one of them slept well. She, plagued by nightmares, slept fitfully waking him every time she tossed and turned.

Pale pink light wove through the grey predawn when Spike finally gave up pretending to sleep. He thought removing himself from the bed would let her rest more comfortably, but the opposite seemed to be true. He wasn’t gone from the bed more than twenty minutes when she bolted upright, shrieking, “NO!”

He was back inside the room before the cries died off, scrambling through the doorway. “It’s all right, kitten. I’m right here.”

It took more than a few minutes before she calmed enough for him to reach her. Long minutes, while she sobbed in his arms, crying and whimpering.

And the whole time he talked, using his voice to soothe and calm her, although he was worried she’d react differently.

Her tears tapered off, and Buffy’s head rested on his shoulder, her arms curled around his neck. Soft hiccups countered her inhalations, interrupted every couple of heartbeats by ladylike sniffles. Spike rubbed her back gently, cradling her close.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. Keep breathing.”

Throat clogged with tears, Buffy could only nod her head in acknowledgment.

She was so petite, feeling little more than a child in his arms, but sweet curves and the delicious scent of her skin sent different signals to his brain. Spike had to keep reminding himself, every time he touched her, that she was too young. Too innocent, even after all she’d been through to fully understand.

And he was too old.

Nearing mid-thirties, he was more than twice her age.

He couldn’t get more involved than he already was.

Couldn’t afford to care.

Once this was all over, she’d be gone, off to live her life.

And he’d be alone.

So he couldn’t give her any more of his heart.

But as he held her close, Spike fought the realization that it was already too late. When she left, she’d take whatever was left of his heart.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Buffy wasn’t really the cuddly type. She didn’t cling to anyone for strength, not even her mother. And she hated to appear weak; to give in to tears and helplessness.

She didn’t want anyone knowing she was vulnerable.

But right now, Buffy couldn’t hide behind a bright smile and false bravado; indifference and pretending to be impervious. Couldn’t hide the fear and despair.

Six hours with Angelus had done more damage than the months she’d spent living on the streets. Those hours drove home – in a way she’d never experienced before – just how much of a lie she’d been living. How vulnerable she really was.

For two – almost three months – she’d managed to hide herself, sleeping in homeless shelters, finding a place to spend a night, or two, staying only long enough to keep herself from being noticed. She’d scrounged every penny she could once her money had run out finally resorting, after she’d exhausted all other possibilities, to turning tricks.

The first time she’d thrown up. And cried herself to sleep. But she’d gotten sixty dollars for one night’s stripping and she hadn’t done anything else.

That hadn’t happened for another month or so – but she’d walked away with five hundred – and hadn’t done it for another two weeks.

Which was how she kept surviving, how she managed to live with herself.

She’d been existing in a weird sort of bubble, where she was someone else whenever lack of money forced her back out onto the street.

It still made her want to vomit. Still made her want to cry, but Buffy didn’t let the emotions out. Didn’t dare let them out.

No one got to see her cry.

No one.

Until Spike.

She couldn’t hide from him. Couldn’t pretend.

Something about him touched her, some quality that no one else possessed answered a part of her that she hid from everyone.

Not even her mother had been able to break through that wall.

Spike had smashed the wall, reducing it to rubble.

Pulverized it.

Reached through and caught her hiding, cowering in fear.

And instead of battering her again, he’d used his strength to shore up the holes he’d made.

Buffy gave in, surrendering completely to him. Waved a white flag and yielded.

She rested her head against his heart and gave up her own.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





More and more details began to emerge as the ferocious news reporters ferreted out the story surrounding Nikki’s death. Right now the focus was on a couple of drug dealers and pimps she’d busted over the years. Luckily for him, no one made the connection between Nikki’s murder and the Reilly case.

Yet.

Will knew it was only a matter of time before Roosevelt, Nikki’s husband, spoke to the press. Or one of the girls or even their son Robin. Someone would talk and his name would come up and that proverbial cat would be well and truly out of the bag. Which could lead to Buffy.

That couldn’t happen.

So far, he’d managed, probably from sheer dumb luck, to keep the identity and whereabouts of the mystery witness unknown. How much longer that would last wasn’t clear. But Will knew, the moment one reporter – just one – had the scoop, all advantages were gone.

Buffy would be removed from his control and he’d likely only see her again at the trial, if there ever was one.

Rationally, he knew that was for the best. Was safer for her and for him. And yet he couldn’t resist the pull, couldn’t fight his own emotions.

The gulf separating them was enormous. Their ages alone precluded anything but a professional interest.

Will rolled from the bed, leaving her finally sleeping quietly. He couldn’t pretend any longer, at least not to himself, that he only cared because Buffy was a witness.

It wasn’t only that.

She was also Liam Reilly’s last victim.

Needing something to do with his hands, Will headed for the kitchen. Cooking, although he didn’t do it often, always distracted him from whatever was preying heavily on his mind and so Will set out to make breakfast.

Very quickly, he was immersed in the cooking, his mind blissfully blank, his thoughts concentrating on the meal.

It was barely eight, and though he’d fixed enough pancakes to feed five people, Will was still restless. He needed to do something, to move around. Buffy was still sleeping so he took a chance she wouldn’t wake while he was gone.

There had to be an open bakery or deli close.

He never saw Buffy standing in the shadowed bedroom doorway.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





His restlessness wasn’t hard to spot. The clatter of his movements in the kitchen woke her, though Buffy didn’t get up for long minutes. Instead she lay there listening to him talking to himself and the food, commenting on the news, and singing along with the radio.

At first it annoyed her, his noisiness, but as she listened, the deep rolling accent warmed her. He wasn’t talking just to hear the sound of his own voice, no matter how wonderful it was. He talked because he couldn’t contain his thoughts. Everything was there, out in the open. His emotions, opinions, everything.

There were no deep secrets to Will, because he couldn’t contain them. Not about himself anyway.

Buffy watched him, bouncing unconsciously to the beat of the music, while he flipped pancakes. The stack at his side kept growing, though for every couple of pancakes that landed there, one ended up in his mouth. Her eyes swept over his form, taking in his lean back and the riotous curls on his head. The curls fit him somehow, though she had to admit she preferred the bleached blond look.

He wasn’t tall, though he towered over her. He was lean and well muscled. She knew that because of the hours spent cuddled in his arms.

He must not have been happy with the amount of food, because after he finished, he’d stared at the pancakes for a couple of minutes and before she could let him know she was awake, he’d grabbed his jacket and was out the door.

His disappearance took her by surprise. He’d fled without a backwards glance, almost as if he couldn’t trust himself to check on her.

Why would he do that?

Doesn’t he – stop it, Buffy. He’s just a cop, keeping you safe for now. This isn’t going to last.

He doesn’t love you, Buffy.

He doesn’t.


A choked off sob escaped from her before she could stifle it.

Just don’t let him know.

He can’t know.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Across the Hudson River, Xander Harris was preparing to meet with his ex-wife, Cordelia, and Liam Reilly’s widow Darla.

In midtown Manhattan, Charles Gunn was debriefing Faith Lehane, while six blocks away, Lindsay MacDonald was setting up his surveillance.

And in Queens, Nikki Woods’ body lay in the morgue while her family mourned.










Trust me, okay? >/i>
Thirteen by Niamh
[A/N: I have no idea how much time I’m going to have in the coming months, because my life at work is about to change drastically. It could be for the better or it could be really busy, leaving me little, if any time at all, for writing. I’m actually hoping I won’t be all that busy and I’ll be able to get this wrapped up. Shouldn’t be long though, at least I hope so, because Resolutions will be finished very soon. Quote is as attributed (Snow – Music by Loreena McKennitt, Words by Archibald Lampman) which first appeared on her CD To Drive the Cold Winter Away; and disclaimers mean that I own nothing.]


Thirteen

White are the far-off plains, and white
The fading forests grow;
The wind dies out along the height,
And denser still the snow,
A gathering weight on roof and tree,
Falls down scarce audibly.
The road before me smooths and fills
Apace, and all about
The fences dwindle, and the hills
Are blotted slowly out;
The naked trees loom spectrally
Into the dim white sky.
The meadows and far-sheeted streams
Lie still without a sound;
Like some soft minister of dreams
The snow-fall hoods me round;
In wood and water, earth and air,
A silence everywhere.
Save when at lonely intervals
Some farmer's sleigh, urged on,
With rustling runners and sharp bells,
Swings by me and is gone;
Or from the empty waste I hear
A sound remote and clear;
The barking of a dog, or call
To cattle, sharply pealed,
Borne echoing from some wayside stall
Or barnyard far afield;
Then all is silent and the snow falls
Settling soft and slow
The evening deepens and the grey
Folds closer earth and sky
The world seems shrouded, far away.
Its noises sleep, and I secret as
Yon buried streams plod dumbly on and dream.




The new snowfall was already melting, most of it gone in the early morning light. Dark shades shielded his eyes from the harsh glare, letting him hide behind the anonymity. He was glad he’d decided to cover the distinctive color of his hair, knowing it would give him away.

Reilly’s men would be looking for him. The change in looks only bought him more time. Eventually, they’d be discovered.

Spike deliberately pushed those thoughts aside, unwilling to dwell on them. Instead, he shifted gears, trying to come up with something he and Buffy could do without too much physical contact. He honestly didn’t think she’d be well enough for a walk, but it was the best he could come up with; the park was only across the street. They actually wouldn’t have to go far at all.

Paying for the rolls and pastries, he decided going out, even for a little while, would be a good idea.

And if they made it to the museum? So much the better.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



Just before eleven in the morning, Will and Buffy left the apartment. Once he’d pitched her the idea of getting out, Buffy was all for it.

Like him, she wasn’t comfortable being so confined. She liked being able to come and go as she pleased, liked having no rules. This constant supervision was wearing on her and Buffy chafed at the restrictions of her own injuries.

So when he asked her about going out, Buffy agreed.

They were crossing the street, heading for the park when Will started talking. “At the top of the hill is a museum. If you’re game, we could try for it.”

He held her arm, walking at her pace, not his own. “What kind of museum?”

“The Cloisters. Medieval art ‘n whatnot.” Will paused, glancing up at the sky. “Nice place. Peaceful. ‘S one of my favorite places here.”

Buffy wasn’t big on history, wasn’t big on any schooling, but she wasn’t stupid. She shrugged, not sure it would be interesting. “I guess.”

Her less than enthusiastic response had him rethinking the idea, but Will had a feeling she might benefit from the serenity inside those stone walls. True, it wasn’t all that exciting if you weren’t a fan of medieval art or old buildings, but the building exuded peace, especially some of the side chapels.

And the garden would look enchanted in the snow.

So instead of trying to persuade her with words, Will just let their feet guide them.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Robin Wood was angry.

His mother had been murdered, gunned down by some unknown dirtbag and he wanted revenge.

He wanted someone to pay.

So when his sisters blurted out what happened the day before, he immediately knew who was partially responsible.

That English bastard, William Pratt.

And Robin was going to make him pay.

The first reporter that shoved a microphone at him got an earful.

Within minutes, the NYPD knew about it. And hours later, at a press conference, so did every television and radio station.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





For once in her life, Buffy was glad she’d listened to someone else.

He’d said the place was peaceful, silly her for not believing him.

It was like being in a church, only not.

Almost like being in heaven, only not.

The steps through the park and up the hill to the museum were endless and more than once she thought about giving up, but the look on his face kept her quiet.

There was – Buffy wasn’t sure what that look was – anticipation? Expectation? In his eyes that she couldn’t turn back.

And when they finally reached the courtyard, she was glad she’d kept silent.

The museum was practically empty, only a few people braving the cold weather and snow to visit. They very nearly had it all to themselves.

A carpet of snow covered the dormant garden and the hustle of New York City was lifetimes away. This was like being transported back in time, when everything was simpler, when no pain or hurt or danger existed.

Buffy paced through the covered walkway, unable to tear her eyes away from the central monument.

Will leaned against one of the ancient pillars, his eyes on her.

Holly and ivy were laid out on nearly every flat surface, spilling over the walls, softening the stone. Winter fruit arrangements added brightness and their aromas mixed with the heady scent of beeswax candles and the mulled wine the concession stand was selling.

She’d never imagined New York could hold such a place.

It was cold, but Buffy didn’t notice.

The snow, the cold, the holiday greenery combined to create a miracle. And though she couldn’t explain it, didn’t even bother to try, somehow she knew everything was going to be okay.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Trying to get Faith to open up wasn’t easy, especially once Internal Affairs had gotten involved. He knew she was hiding something, thought Gunn couldn’t put his finger on what exactly it might be. His first and most persistent thought was that Faith had been sleeping with one or the other of Reilly’s lieutenants, but she clammed up when he’d tried broaching the subject.

Some lucky patrol officer had found the Escalade in a parking garage not far from the hotel and Faith’s prints were on the passenger door, along with prints from both Harris and MacDonald.

Which wasn’t necessarily definitive since Faith was trying to gain access to Reilly’s organization through MacDonald. Though it didn’t look good.

Forensics results were also trickling in from the original crime scene and Gunn was able to get a look at those before anyone else. As he read the first report, Gunn’s understanding of William’s reasoning became clearer, as well as belief in the witness. The girl wasn’t lying.

There had been another female in that hotel room.

DNA was still trying to find a match, but Gunn was confident they’d get one soon.

Everything was coming together.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Peace settled around him like a warm, comforting blanket and the taut tenseness of his muscles eased.

This building had a magical effect, no matter what the season. Perhaps it was all the prayers that had been said between the walls. Will didn’t know. But as he watched the slight form of his charge drift through the semi-enclosed walkway, he could almost see the peace descending on her.

She’d been a real trooper, hardly complaining at all as he dragged her from one place to the next. No doubt she was in a considerable amount of pain, even with her age and the resiliency of youth, there was no way all of her injuries were healed. He wondered if some of them ever would be.

Even after their long talks where she’d managed to share a little bit of her story, she hadn’t once asked to get in touch with either of her parents. That struck him as both odd and sad, because if ever a girl needed someone to just stand by as support, Buffy was it.

He leaned against the stone pillar, his gaze following her slow progress around the enclosed garden. Unlike other museums in the States, the building itself was the most important piece of the collection. And equally unlike most other museums, touching the ancient stones and walls wasn’t forbidden, unless it was covered in artwork. Buffy’s fingers trailed across the stones and pillars and every so often she would stop to smell the decorations. She was beautiful, all bundled up against the cold, the sunlight bringing out the hidden gold depths in her hair beneath the newly dyed light brown color, her eyes picking up every stray sunbeam and reflecting them back.

She turned to look at him and his breath caught in his throat. Buffy was luminously backlit by the winter sunlight. She was beautiful and he could see the woman she was becoming. His heart thumped wildly in his chest and Will finally admitted to himself what he’d been fighting since the moment he’d set eyes on her.

He loved her.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Buffy could admit, at least to herself, when she was wrong. She didn’t like to, though, so she avoided it whenever possible.

But she’d been wrong about this place.

Really, really wrong.

The steep stairs had seemed endless, whatever meager strength almost faltering more than once. Yet every labored step had been worth it.

Will had been right.

This place wasn’t just about the art or the piece of jewelry or the tapestries. It was everything – all of it. From the stone and brick walls to the snow on the ground, covering the garden.

Peace had settled into her bones almost the instant they’d stepped inside the walls. It had only grown the longer they stayed. Buffy hadn’t ever thought of anything connected to the ancient past remotely interesting. Until today.

Maybe it was the Christmas decorations, but Buffy didn’t think so. And it honestly didn’t matter any more. Because this place was magical.

Buffy felt better than, well, since before she’d run away. Actually, it was even longer than that. Since her parents had split up.

Buffy trailed her fingers across the stone, ignoring the cold. The snow was blindingly white, drawing all the sunlight. She had to blink continuously, shielding her eyes from the intense light.

The air was sweet, smelling like Christmas and Buffy realized she’d completely missed the holiday. She’d spent the day hiding in her room, pretending she was okay. It hadn’t been easy and she’d very nearly gone home that day, but something had held her back, kept her huddled in that dark, dank room.

She inhaled deeply, drawing in more peace as she did. Her feet paced the old stones, following a path thousands before her had walked. Two turns around the inner courtyard and she was facing Will, who was leaning against a column, hands in his pockets. A slight smile played about his lips and his eyes were twinkling. The bright blue stood out sharply, doing funny things to Buffy’s insides.

“What?” She bit her lip, ducking her head to avoid his pointed gaze.

“Nothin’, pet. Just watchin’ you.” His grin widened. “So what do you think?”

Buffy looked around, her eyes drinking in everything. “I’m really glad we came. This place –“ She hesitated, looking around again. “This place – you were right. It’s great. And I see why you love it.”

He nodded, slipping his hands out of his pockets. “You should see the garden in spring. An’ it’s even better in the summer.”

Two steps brought her right in front of him. Buffy looked right up into his eyes. “Thank you.”

She rose up and brushed her lips over his.







I know, it's been a really long time. I'm really, really sorry. Work has been completely hellacious. Life with a teenager is hellacious. I can't express how sorry I am. Please let me know I'm forgiven. Next week is another chapter of this. I promise, because it's all ready to go. Thank you all for your patience.
Fourteen by Niamh
[A/N: This is the first time I’m sitting down to write anything since my little stint in hospital. My brain has been everywhere but on writing, but I’m hoping that by forcing myself into this, I’ll actually get it working again. I think it’ll work. Hey at this point, I’m willing to try just about anything, short of drinking – doing that would probably send me back to hospital, thus backfiring completely. Anyway, I’m going to see how this works before I move onto more drastic measures. Let me know what you think, kay? As you can see, it’s been a while since I finished this, but it was off with my beta, who was suffering from her own RL issues, but I finally got this back and now I’m ready to post. My thanks to Spikeslovebite, for all her love and support, and as always, her stellar beta skillz. Lyrics? Geez, do I really need to go there? Does anyone not recognize this song? Disclaimers in full force and effect – which means I own nothing.]

Fourteen

I wanna run, I want to hide
I wanna tear down the walls
That hold me inside.
I wanna reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name.
I wanna feel sunlight on my face.
I see the dust-cloud
Disappear without a trace.
I wanna take shelter
From the poison rain
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name.
We're still building and burning down love
Burning down love.
And when I go there
I go there with you
(It's all I can do).
The city's a flood, and our love turns to rust.
We're beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled in dust.
I'll show you a place
High on a desert plain
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name.
We're still building and burning down love
Burning down love.
And when I go there
I go there with you
(It's all I can do).





Gunn watched Faith Lehane pace through the squad room, trying to gauge what she wasn’t sharing and why. Lehane had never been one of his favorite people and the feeling was entirely mutual. Her attitude irritated him.

She never followed any rules, always doing things her own way.

Yet she was a good cop.

He just didn’t like her methods.

Which explained his skeptical response to her very timely reappearance after close to ninety hours off the grid.

Even though her intel was solid and the tip about Cordelia Harris arriving at Newark was good work, Gunn still wasn’t convinced Faith was being completely honest with them.

Something wasn’t right.

Gunn rarely relied on his instincts, preferring to trust hard evidence – except this time his gut wasn’t letting him trust the hard evidence. Instinct was making his belly roil and the skin at the back of his neck crawl.

Lehane knew something.

And the only reason she’d come in was because she wanted something.

Gunn only hoped she wasn’t about to get someone killed.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





His lips burned.

All through the long, slow walk back to the apartment, his lips burned where hers had touched his. He kept an eye on her, making sure she wasn’t hurting, while his mind focused on what had just happened.

Will wasn’t sure how to react. The kiss had been quick, no more than just a bare meeting of lips. Too quick for him to make an issue of it, yet he was affected enough to keep reliving it.

He tried ignoring the fact he’d wanted to sweep her into his arms and kiss her senseless. Tried ignoring it, but given that he couldn’t stop thinking about it, Will realized that was fruitless.

He wanted her. Wanted to keep her safe, wanted to keep her in his bed. But he couldn’t.

She was a witness.

She was an underage runaway.

He couldn’t keep her, but God how he wanted to.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





Buffy knew exactly why she’d kissed him. There wasn’t any point lying to herself, so she didn’t bother. She’d never felt this way about anyone before. Before she’d run away, there had been a few boyfriends, but it had all been so innocent. Stolen kisses here and there, nothing more daring than that.

This was different.

Running away had changed her, forced her to grow up and deal with life in ways she’d never expected. Buffy hadn’t planned on having to fend for herself. Never believed she’d have to fight off dangerous guys in shelters or worry about whether one hiding place was safer than another.

All those endless hours of karate and gymnastics had paid off, just not in the way her parents had planned. Even then, they hadn’t helped when Angelus had drugged her.

Innocent stolen kisses hadn’t prepared her for what she’d had to do to survive the streets. Nothing had prepared her for that. Buffy had been so naively innocent, trusting – childishly so – that everything would be okay once she got to her father’s.

But that hadn’t been the case.

Though now she knew those innocent kisses she’d shared with Owen had been so very tame. Now she knew what it was like to have a man, though she still wasn’t certain she was in love. Buffy knew her feelings for Will ran very deep.

And at that moment, standing in the snow-covered cloister, Buffy needed to show him how she felt.

Even if it was only just a small part of it.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





Halfway down the steps to the street level, Spike knew Buffy wasn’t going to make it any further. She’d stopped, panting shallow breaths, her face pale and drawn. Leaning heavily against him, he could feel her entire body trembling.

“Easy now, kitten.” He brushed a hand down her side. “I’ve got you.”

Buffy was unable to speak. Instead of responding, all she did was shake her head.

“Do you wanna sit?”

Again she shook her head.

“Alright, pet. What do you need?” He crouched down in front of her, his eyes boring into hers. “Can you tell me, sweets?”

A little gasp broke from her and Buffy clutched at his shoulder. “Hurts. Can’t breathe.”

“Right then.” Spike didn’t waste anymore time. He reached around her, scooping her up easily. “Hang on, pet. We’ll be home in a tick.”

He barely struggled, even though she was weighed down by layers of clothing. Buffy closed her eyes, resting her head against his shoulder. Small tears of pain seeped from beneath her lashes though she tried to hide it from him.

Spike blamed himself for her current predicament. In the interest of distracting himself, and a now futile attempt to create some distance, he’d pushed her too hard. Buffy was barely recovered from the beating Angelus had inflicted and by rights she should be still tucked up, safe and sound in hospital.

Instead, he’d taken her away from that safety and dragged her all over the city.

Once more, Will cursed himself for his stupidity.

Will stopped at the park’s entrance, leaning against the stone wall. Thankfully, the apartment building was directly across the street. Not so luckily was the sight of two parked patrol cars and an FDNY EMS unit parked right in front.

Chances were that the call could be for any one of the buildings surrounding the park, but given their location, it seemed likely they were responding somewhere in his building.

Could just brazen it out, go right up and risk running into the uniforms. . . but with my luck. . . He huffed out a deep sigh, thinking deeply. What to do. . .

The decision was taken away from him a moment later when Buffy whimpered.

“Hold on, kitten, gonna get you home right now.” Shifting her weight a little, Will waited for the light to change.

“I’m cold.” Buffy tried to snuggle closer to him. “Really cold.”

“Just a bit longer, then you can sit in a warm bath. Hold onto me now.”

They very nearly made it. The doorway was empty, though the glass doors were open to accommodate the emergency personnel and the building super was nowhere to be seen. Ducking inside, Will headed straight for the bank of elevators.

An itch developed at the back of his neck, the longer they waited at the elevator. This isn’t good.

Watching the floors tick away, the feeling of unease kept building. “You all right to stand?”

“Yeah.” He eased her down to a standing position, keeping her close to his side, his arm holding her up.

He’d just looked up as the elevator doors opened and Will inwardly groaned. Standing there, staring directly into his eyes was one of the last people Will wanted to encounter – and one of the few who would be able to see through the flimsy disguise.

Alanna Gunn had followed her big brother’s footsteps, joining the NYPD straight out of college.

Will wasn’t happy to see her.

To her credit, though, Alanna didn’t give anything away. Her only reaction was a slight widening of her dark eyes and a quick glance at his companion. She side-stepped around them, leading the other cops from the elevator.

His arm tightened around Buffy, trying to shield her from anyone else’s scrutiny. When she looked up at him in surprise, Will knew his answering smile wasn’t at all reassuring.

As the elevator closed, Will let loose. “Bloody, buggering fuck.”

His voice was barely audible, though Buffy had no trouble at all hearing him. “What’s wrong?”

He didn’t want to lie to her. “I know the female cop. She’s my partner’s sister.”

“Oh.” Buffy pulled away, resting against the wall. “What does that mean?”

“It means, kitten,” Will ran a hand through his hair, ruffling the curls, “Our cover is blown and we’re screwed.”
















Thanks to all of you still sticking with me on this. I totally appreciate it. And to the person who asked if the Cloisters really do exist? They do as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, here in NYC. And yes, it really is that magical.
Fifteen by Niamh
[A/N: I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been so under the weather, it’s crazy. Hopefully I’ll start to feel better soon, and I won’t be such a damn slacker anymore. Can’t make any promises, though, but we’ll see. This is one of my favorite songs, though the weird thing is I always forget to mention it when people ask. It’s one of those secret things – that don’t really mean anything to anyone but me, and well, sometimes I think John Rzeznik or Robbie Takac actually lived my life alongside me. Or at least peaked into my soul a time or two. So anyway, this song is Name by the Goo Goo Dolls – off the album A Boy Named Goo, released in 1995 (lyrics and music by the boys). They’re awesome, but then everyone probably knows that already. Best thing to come out of Buffalo besides those chicken wings. Seriously. Disclaimers prove I own nothing but the plot, which translates to um. . . I own nothing anyway. Damn.]

Fifteen

And even though the moment passed me by
I still can't turn away
Cause all the dreams you never thought you'd lose
Got tossed along the way
And letters that you never meant to send
Get lost or thrown away
And now we're grown up orphans
That never knew their names
We don't belong to no one
That's a shame
But if you could hide beside me
Maybe for a while
And I won't tell no one your name

And I won't tell em your name

Scars are souvenirs you never lose
The past is never far
Did you lose yourself somewhere out there
Did you get to be a star
And don't it make you sad to know that life
Is more than who we are

You grew up way too fast
And now there's nothing to believe
And reruns all become our history
A tired song keeps playing on a tired radio
And I won't tell no one your name

And I won't tell em your name

I think about you all the time
But I don't need the same
It's lonely where you are come back down

And I won't tell em your name





“What are we gonna do now?” Buffy waited until they were back inside the apartment, unable and even a bit unwilling to figure out what he was thinking.

“Not sure, kitten.” Spike couldn’t lie to her. He really didn’t know what to do at this point. He never would’ve brought her here if he’d had any inkling they’d run into something like this. Some perverse part of him was almost glad they’d been discovered. Almost.

Truth was, better someone from the good guys found them before Harris or MacDonald did.

Pushing gently passed her, Will headed straight for the kitchen. He flicked on the radio, impatiently waiting for the sports report to end so that the real news would be broadcast. By now, either of Nikki’s daughters had probably spilled to their father or their brother Robin, and more than likely the brass wanted to talk to him. He just wasn’t sure whether he’d be talking as a witness or a possible suspect.

Seconds later, he had his answer.

“A family spokesperson stated earlier today that retired Detective Nicholette Wood spent her last day doing what she’d always done – investigating crimes. Sources in the NYPD said Detective Wood was working with an unnamed undercover officer, who has since gone missing. The Department is now conducting an exhaustive search for the missing detective.”

He breathed a sigh of relief, absently pulling Buffy into his arms. The next words from the reporter, though, had his blood running cold.

“While the NYPD isn’t naming any names or suspects, sources state the murder of Detective Wood could be connected to the brutal slaying of former IRA operative Liam Reilly, who was killed three nights ago in Manhattan. Police are also looking into reports that a young girl who witnessed Reilly’s murder disappeared from Roosevelt Hospital within hours of Reilly’s murder.”

“Fucking hell!” Will dropped the arm he’d wrapped around Buffy’s shoulder, whirling out of the kitchen in a rush. His heavy boots thumped ominously across the floor, accompanied by an endless incomprehensible rant that blistered Buffy’s ears.

“Who the fuck gave you up?” Will stomped his way around the living room, leaving scuff marks on the floor. “Who? Bleedin’ Christ! Don’ they bloody well understand what kind ‘f danger this – aargh!”

Buffy watched from the doorway to the kitchen, her eyes focused on the crazed madman in front of her.

“Screwed! This whole bloody situation is – God fuckin’ damn it all to bloody hell!” Spike punched the wall twice. “God damn it to hell! I wanted to keep you safe! Somebody’s got to take care of you!”

Another series of blows punctuated his statements and he kept ranting, his angry voice filling the apartment, letting his rage get the best of him.

He didn’t realize how far gone he was until Buffy’s hand captured his before it hit the wall again. “Will, please.”

Beautiful green eyes brimming with tears stared up at him and he inhaled deeply, feeling the edges of his temper recede. He swept her trembling body into his arms. She was so vulnerable, alone with no one to protect her. No one to watch over and take care of her. And she needed it. Needed someone. Needed him to protect her.

“Oh, kitten.” He held her tightly, arms wrapped completely around her. “‘m so sorry.”

Buffy’s response was muffled into his chest, the words nearly unintelligible. But what he could hear, he understood. “Oh god, Will. Don’t.”

She pulled back, wiping away her tears. “You have taken care of me.”

“No, ‘ve just put you in more danger.” He couldn’t look at her any longer. It hurt to look at her.

“What? No! A whole heaping world of no, Will. You’re the only person in the – in forever who’s really cared what happened to me.” Buffy tentatively reached out to touch his cheek, to run her fingers over the muscle ticking in his jaw, but she drew back, afraid of his reaction.

“Will, look at me, please?” Her voice was a soft whisper, thick with unshed tears. When he glanced down, her smile nearly blinded him. “I’m safe, because you’ve kept me that way. I feel safer with you, right now, than I’ve ever felt in my life.”

She could see he wasn’t really listening. That he didn’t believe her. He narrowed his eyes, preparing to convince her otherwise when Buffy realized it was up to her to convince him.

“I am, Will. I’m safe.”

Then she did the only thing she knew would keep him from arguing.

She pulled him closer, lifted her mouth to his and captured his lips in a deep kiss.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




“Charles?”

“Hey, girl. What’s up? Why you calling me now?” Gunn shifted through the paperwork on his desk, trying not to interrogate his sister too much.

“You’ll never guess who I ran in to earlier.” Alanna paced the bland precinct hallway, almost whispering into her cell phone. It had taken hours for her to get away, since the victim hadn’t survived the trip to the hospital, and there had been even more time spent processing the paperwork.
“I really don’t have time for this.” He was about to hang up when his sister emitted a bark of laughter.

“Yeah, you do.” She paused, then asked far too casually, “How’s your partner?”

Gunn hunched over, his eyes darting around to make sure no one was in earshot. “Where?”

“Way the hell uptown.” Alanna moved, putting her back against the wall so she could see anyone approaching.

“How far?”

“The Heights.”

“Shit.”

“And your boy wasn’t alone. Had a pretty little thing all wrapped up tightly.”

Sensing someone behind him, Gunn cut off the flow of words from his sister. “Right. Thanks. I’ll see you at Mom’s in the morning.”

He flipped his cell phone shut, spun around on his chair to catch Faith Lehane inches away. “Fuck, Lehane, back the hell away.”

“New squeeze?” Her teasing had an edge he didn’t like, though his response wasn’t much better.
“No. And it’s none of your damned business anyway.”

“Really? Coz it sounded like you were all growly and sexy.” Faith’s leer matched the evil twinkle in her eyes.

Because she was getting under his skin, and thinking on the fly, it was easier if he stuck to the truth, Gunn snapped out, “That was my sister.”

Faith’s expression clearly said she didn’t believe him at all, but wouldn’t press the issue. Her words, though, bought into his explanation. “Gotta love it when family rags.”

Gunn shot her a disgusted look, getting up from his desk. He really needed to get away from her. “Yeah. I’m heading out. Catch you tomorrow.”

She watched him go, then trailed after him.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




It was only her full body shiver that broke their kiss. Will reluctantly pulled back, his concerned eyes checking her carefully. The hem of her pants was wet, small puddles of icy water forming beneath her feet. Her cheeks were unnaturally red, while the rest of her was far too pale.

“Hell, kitten. You need to get into somethin’ warmer.” He realized for the first time she was still wearing his jacket and Will shook his head at their own stupidity. “Go on into the bathroom, a warm bath ‘ll warm you right up.”

“I’m fine.” Buffy shrugged out of the too big jacket, hanging it over a kitchen stool.

“Right. Sure you are.” Will sighed, watching as she rubbed her hands together. “Go on, Buffy.”

When she hesitated too long for his liking, Will pushed her toward the bathroom. “If you aren’t in there in ten minutes, ‘ll put you there myself.”

The words were no sooner out of his mouth when Will realized his blunder. Buffy was staring up at him over her shoulder – her eyes wide and full of knowing vulnerability – her mouth tugging up with an impish smile.

He was intensely aware of her fragile femininity. Will crowded her, stepping closely, his breathing heavy. He wanted nothing more than to touch her, to watch her while she soaked, skin glistening in the water – but he couldn’t.

He knew he couldn’t.

Yet that didn’t stop him from wanting her. Nor did it stop the multitude of images assaulting his brain.

A low, rumbling sound emanated from his chest, possessive and strong. “Better go now, kitten.”

With one look up into his eyes, Buffy fled.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




The warm bath had done wonders for her sore and tense muscles, though it left her mind free to wander. It didn’t take long for the wandering to focus on her companion. He confused her, scared her, set her heart thumping and yet, for all that, he made her feel safe.

More than an hour after she’d gone into the tub, Buffy emerged, wrinkled and warm, every inch of her relaxed. Even though her body was eased, her mind was still in a whirl, still perplexed by her guardian and his latest actions. Unable to pigeonhole him into merely the guardian label, to think of him as just a cop doing his job, Buffy mulled over how to describe him.

If he was just another cop doing his job – watching her – Buffy was certain he wouldn’t have gone out of his way to worry about entertaining her. He wouldn’t care that she was bored and had nothing to do, wouldn’t worry about how she was feeling. He wouldn’t have taken her to his favorite place in New York.

So he wasn’t just doing his job.

That didn’t mean he had deep feelings for her. Didn’t mean he really cared. Though he had responded both times she’d kissed him, she’d been the one to initiate. She’d been the one to pull him closer and press her lips against his. He’d reacted, but he was male. And obviously straight, so it was understandable that he’d react.

His reaction didn’t mean he was emotionally involved. It didn’t mean anything other than he liked her kisses.

And none of it would mean anything in the end. Because no matter how he felt, in the end, he would probably let her go. He would. She knew he would. Even if he wanted otherwise, he would let her go.

Buffy didn’t – couldn’t convince herself – believe otherwise. No one wanted her.

Using one of the two towels to dry off, Buffy tried to recapture the peace she’d found in the Cloisters, but it was too delicate. That momentary respite from the craziness of her life was merely a tiny band-aid on a still bleeding wound.

Maybe someday it’ll be better. Maybe.

But life, reinforced by recent events, only proved that she couldn’t rely on anyone. The brief moments of peace she’d found today would have to last her for years.

Instead of approaching him about food, Buffy left him alone and toasted one of the bagels he’d gotten earlier that morning. She ate in silence, waiting and listening for some sign that Spike’s temper had dissipated.

There was nothing.

She checked on him one last time before making her way to the bedroom. He was standing with his back to the kitchen, staring out into the night. Buffy could barely make out his reflection in the glass. His face was set, his eyes unfocused and distant. His anger – the frustration – was obvious in his stance. He was stretched to the breaking and Buffy sighed softly, wishing she had the courage to reach out to him.

She wished she could show him what his caring had given her.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





He needed to focus. Needed to pay attention to what was happening. To try and figure out what would be the best next move.

Hours had passed since they’d run into Alanna in the elevator. She’d probably called Charles the minute she was free. Their window of safety was slipping. Will had no trust in some of his fellow officers and some of them had little love for him.

An outsider, he’d had to prove himself to the rank and file officers, while he’d been the darling of One Police Plaza. Until now. Will wondered if this mess would be the final straw, the one that finally sent Scotland Yard reeling. Though he knew his intelligence and facility for languages would always be an asset, it might not prove enough of one to save him if this all went belly up.

He’d made a colossal mistake spiriting Buffy Summers out of hospital, though at the time it hadn’t seemed so. The danger had been real and imminent. There had been someone after her and whoever it was knew him. Which only pointed to someone on the inside.

Ruling out Gunn made sense, at least outwardly. But Will wasn’t entirely sure of anything, much less his current partner’s loyalty. Can I trust Charles? Can I trust anyone? He had complete faith in his current handler – Rupert Giles – but did he have the same amount of trust in the rest of his team?

Will was no longer certain he could trust anyone.

Not now.

Not since someone had gotten to Nikki.

Who had known about my connection to Nikki?

Who?



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




“He’s been spotted.”

“Where?”

“Still in Manhattan.”

“How long ago?”

“Less than a day.”

Silence greeted that statement for long minutes, then, “Tail the other. Eliminate on sight once contact is made.”

“Who?”

“All of them.”











So sorry for the delay in posting, but life has been incredibly stressful, so for that I apologize. I'm going to try and push to get these stories done, coz I know the patience with me is pretty much at an end. Happy New Year Everyone and may it all prove fruitful and full of good things. Blessings, NiaI/i>
Sixteen by Niamh
[A/N: I have the beginnings of this chapter, and know exactly where I want to go with this (and really, the whole story including the ending) but it’s the getting there that seems to be the problem. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been sick, or because I’m seriously missing my beta; but either way, my motivation is going the way of the Do-Do. I had most of the day to myself and what did I do? I re-read this story from beginning to this point, I played lots of Solitaire and mostly just avoided putting written word to screen. I’m a sad, pathetic excuse for an author. *sighs* I wish I could quit my job and do nothing but write. Maybe soon. Quote is from Tears for Fears, “Woman in Chains”, written by Roland Orzabal, off the album “Seeds of Love” released in 1989. And the disclaimers are still working, so no, I don’t own any of this. More’s the pity. I would’ve at least treated them right.]


Sixteen


You better love loving and you better behave
You better love loving and you better behave
Woman in Chains
Woman in Chains
Calls her man the Great White Hope
Says she's fine, she'll always cope
Woman in Chains
Woman in Chains
Well I feel lying and waiting is a poor man's deal
And I feel hopelessly weighed down by your eyes of steel
It's a world gone crazy
Keeps Woman in Chains
Trades her soul as skin and bones
Sells the only thing she owns
Woman in Chains
Woman in Chains
Men of Stone
Men of Stone
Well I feel deep in your heart there are wounds
Time can't heal
And I feel somebody somewhere is trying to breathe
Well you know what I mean
It's a world gone crazy
Keeps Woman in Chains
It's under my skin but out of my hands
I'll tear it apart but I won't understand
I will not accept the Greatness of Man
It's a world gone crazy
Keeps Woman in Chains
So Free Her
So Free Her






He was no closer to an answer hours later.

Buffy slept fitfully in the bedroom while he paced through the nearly empty apartment, his mind running through different scenarios. He couldn’t risk staying here, but he didn’t dare move. The longer things were quiet, the better their chances were. If Alanna hadn’t been able to notify Charles right away, then they could still be safe.

But for how long?

The more he focused on their situation, the more the idea that Charles Gunn had been the one to betray him became absurd. Gunn didn’t have it in him to run that way. If he was going to come at you, it would be from the front. There was no subterfuge there. The man was nothing if not a straight arrow.

That left a few other suspects. None of which made him happy.

Spike stopped his pacing outside the bedroom door, his eyes on the still figure huddled in the bed. He couldn’t shake his feelings for her – he hadn’t felt like this about a woman in a very long time. And though her age said she was barely sixteen, the weight of the world was on her shoulders and he could see the stress within her. Even in sleep she barely rested, her limbs twitching occasionally and soft muttering sighs breaking her slumber. He wanted to believe he’d done the right thing. Wanted certainty that he’d made the right choices when it came to her. But he wasn’t sure. Didn’t trust his own instincts anymore. She’d twisted him up in knots.

From the first moment he’d laid eyes on her, something had stirred in his blood.

Some fiercely protective instinct reared its head, and William could do naught but surrender to it.

And try as he might, he couldn’t convince himself it was even remotely paternal. He was far too aware of her scent, of her fleeting, vulnerable smiles to fool himself that way. Despite every inclination otherwise, Will knew he should keep his distance. Stay far away from Buffy.

With a deep sigh, he turned away, once more resuming his circuit through the apartment. He thrust his musings on Buffy away, letting his considerable attention focus on the real problem.

Who’s betrayed me?

Unlike Charles Gunn, Rupert Giles was one who could play games. With more than thirty years experience in the field, the spymaster was adept at changing and flowing with the situation, though his loyalties were always with the Crown. But Spike was well aware the Crown’s interests – not to mention Downing Street’s – didn’t always coincide with what constituted the ‘right thing’. All that aside, Spike trusted Giles the way he’d trusted Travers. With his life. Even if he sometimes was a stuffed shirt.

Besides, Giles had suffered mightily at the hands of Angelus and his organization. His wife, Jenny, and their two daughters had been caught in a bomb that had been planted by Angelus. The only survivor of the blast had been their daughter, Daisy, who’d been only six at the time. So no, Giles would not have sold him out to anyone from Angelus’ organization.

That left Faith, Sam Lawson, and Andrew Wells. Wells was a mostly harmless techno-geek, who worshiped the ground Spike walked on. Which was disturbing, Will thought, but didn’t make him a traitor. Lawson was quiet, a former Navy Seal who’d done more than his fair-share of tracking and eliminating terrorists. He didn’t seem the type to betray his ideals, or his country. He was a less cynical version of Giles.

His eyes were caught by the lights from the bridge, idly noting that traffic seemed to be slowing down. Glancing down at his watch, Spike was surprised to see the time. Well after midnight, he’d been pacing and lost in his own thoughts for hours. No wonder his eyes were tired and achy, or that he was fighting a headache. He needed to sleep. Needed to be able to rest, knowing they were safe for a little while longer.

Should I? He looked longingly toward the bedroom, fighting fatigue. He set his jaw, moving away from the living room window, heading for the bathroom. Maybe a hot shower will take my mind off . . .

Maybe it should be a cold one.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





Gunn watched the flickering television screen, ignoring the drama unfolding between the actors in favor of deciding his next step. He needed to find Will before anyone else did. The feeling of unease – an itch between his shoulder blades – had only worsened since his sister’s phone call hours earlier. And now, he could barely contain his apprehension.

Something was about to go wrong.

That feeling had goaded him into heading to his mother’s place, avoiding his own apartment or his girlfriend’s. Alanna’s precinct was six blocks away, though it was still too early to head over there, Gunn could no longer fight the urge to go. A glance down at his cell phone had him grimacing. Four thirty-three in the damn morning. Shift change wasn’t until eight. As a detective with the covert anti-terrorism unit, Gunn pretty much could go wherever he wanted to, whenever he wanted. The fact that he could wasn’t much help. He needed to fly under the radar, at least until he figured out what the hell was going on.

He needed more information. All he had to go on was this weird itch between his shoulders and an unswerving belief that Will knew what he was doing. Gunn didn’t always approve of his partner’s methods, and he didn’t always understand his thought processes, but in the eight years he’d known William Pratt, Gunn couldn’t think of one time he’d been wrong. Especially when it came to Liam Reilly.

He had to trust that his partner knew what he was doing by hiding way the hell uptown. Gunn didn’t even know Will knew what Manhattan looked like from above Central Park, but if Alanna said it was him, then it was. She’d had the hots for him for so long that he figured his sister could pick Spike out in the dark. Not that his hair wouldn’t be a dead give-away.

Gunn flicked the television off, checking his watch again. Barely five minutes had passed, but he needed to do something. Sitting here watching the television wasn’t helping the unusual anxiety. Slipping quietly from his mother’s apartment, Gunn headed out to find something to occupy his time.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




The shower hadn’t helped. Neither water temperature was able to distract him from his thoughts. Under the hot water his mind had drifted back to thoughts of Buffy and under the cold, those same thoughts had circled round to the idea of someone betraying the unit. So nothing had been solved, except now he was incredibly clean. And still not relaxed enough to sleep.

Three hours later he was still wide awake, only this time he was staring up at the ceiling. Six hairline cracks intersected above his head, trailing off into the molding and he’d spent far too much time contemplating each one of them. Try as he might, Will couldn’t shut off his brain. He’d dwelled on each member of his unit, dismissing them in turn.

Now he was just at a loss. His brain was blank, his emotions numb. The living room floor was cold and uncomfortable, but he didn’t want to confront the temptation of Buffy. It would be too easy to slip into bed beside and let her body c-url against his. He had to start thinking smarter. Which meant keeping some distance.

It wasn’t ideal. Hell, he wanted nothing more than to get up off the cold floor and snuggle next to her. But he stayed put.

Once more contemplating the ceiling cracks, Spike tried focusing his thoughts on something else. Anything else.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





It was bitterly cold and the definite hint of impending snow was in the air. The sky was low, filled with gray clouds, falsely lightening the sky and Gunn hunched his shoulders against the whipping wind.

Why the hell am I out here? I must be six kinds of crazy walking around at five in the damn morning, trying to get info on that crazy, mo-fo Englishman I call a partner. Shaking his head at his own insanity, Gunn half-turned to head back to his mother’s apartment. Ain’t no reason for me to be out here like this.

At the very periphery of his line of sight, Gunn spied a slow moving truck. His cop’s brain immediately searched for markings or something to indicate why a truck – a late model expensive American brand – without headlights, was on this street. Truck like that got no good business being . . .

Charles didn’t bother finishing that thought. Those long-dormant instincts kicked in and he nonchalantly pulled his jacket tighter, reaching for his shoulder holster. Deliberately turning his back, he headed right for the precinct, no longer bothering to waste time. Need to get inside, before that big-assed truck gets any closer.

Too far. . . Damn building is too effing far. I’m not gonna make it.


He ducked inside the next doorway, pressing himself into the dark shadows around the window, his eyes scanning the street. Barely two minutes passed before the truck was even with him, and though he tried, Gunn couldn’t make out the number of inhabitants. The SUV slowed to a crawl. Gunn inhaled deeply, easing his nine millimeter from the holster.

Sirens wailed in the distance and the distinctive flash of blue and white lights lit up the street. The SUV lurched into gear, turning the corner too quickly for his liking. This is not good. What the hell did that freaking limey get his ass involved with now?

Gunn moved away from the door, sprinting the final distance to the precinct steps, taking them three at a time. The desk officer was at the top of the stairs, nodding when Gunn flashed his credentials and ushering him to go further up the stairs to the detective division.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Can’t stay here any longer. Gotta move. Will threw off the light blanket, gingerly getting to his feet. He hadn’t slept more than ten minutes at a time, the little rest doing nothing to ease his growing apprehension. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing at attention. He couldn’t shake the feeling that time was up. He’d better get moving if he wanted to save his ass, as well as Buffy’s.

Lightly stomping his feet to warm them up, Will headed for the bedroom. He wasn’t at all surprised to see her awake, big eyes shadowed in the darkness.

“Get up, kitten.”

“What’s wrong?”

They spoke over each other, harsh whispers of sound echoing in the nearly empty room. When he didn’t answer her, Buffy asked again as she slipped out of the bed. She was fully dressed, something else Will wasn’t at all surprised to note.

His answer, when it came, was gruffer than he wanted. “Want to head out before it gets light.”

“Where are we going?” Buffy followed him into the kitchen, her voice muffled by the thick sweater she was pulling over her head. “Will?”

He wolfed down day-old pastries, handing her a few. “Don’t know.”

She took them. “So why are we going?”

“Got an itch. A hunch. Can’t sleep. Best we be movin’. Been here too long any way.” Will tied his boots, then looked around, avoiding her eyes.

Watching him from the corner of her eyes, Buffy tried making her tired brain connect the dots. He wasn’t telling her everything, that much she knew. There was something going on that she didn’t understand, and it frustrated her because she knew if she focused for a moment, the answer would be there. “You don’t trust – you think someone’s going to find us.” She paused, the cinnamon roll halfway to her mouth. “You think it’s a cop.”

The look he shot her wasn’t at all nice, though carrying more than a hint of respect for her deductive skills. “Yeah.”

No sense keeping her in the dark. Chit’s gotta know what we’re facing. Will breathed out heavily through his nose, then he focused his eyes on her face. “Yeah. Could be one of m’team, an’ that’s not somethin’ I like thinking about.”

“So you think that girl would tell?” Buffy sat on the floor to tie her boots, wincing at the awkward position.

“No. ‘M thinkin’ that whoever is the rat, will get the information without anyone bein’ the wiser.”

“Oh.” Will grabbed her foot, raising it so she wouldn’t have to put more pressure on her broken ribs and quickly tied the laces.

“Yeah. Oh.” Helping her to a standing position, Will looked down at her up-turned face. “Think you can make it?”

Buffy thought about asking him for more details, thought about pushing him to tell her more, but the look in his eyes was frosty and the color had changed to a startling flame-light blue. Knowing he needed her to try, she answered the only way she could. “Yeah.”

Only seconds later they were out the door, heading for the elevator and eventually, the street.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




There wasn’t going to be much, if any, sunlight. The sky was heavily-laden with snow clouds, hanging low and ominously over their heads. Building tops were obscured and even the Cloister hill was little more than a darker blur against the low sky. Spike took a moment to make sure Buffy was bundled up, carefully tucking her hands inside the too big sweater.

“If somethin’ happens, you run. An’ you keep running ‘til you can hide. Don’t answer if anyone calls you an’ it’s not me.” He brushed a hand over her hair, a grim smile on his lips. “Understand?”

She didn’t want to answer him. Didn’t want to lie, because there was no way she was going to leave his side, especially if something happened. He was the only person in the world she trusted – why would she leave him? Buffy bit her bottom lip, nodding her head in agreement. When she hesitated, he shook her slightly. She resisted answering him until he forced her chin up, his eyes boring into hers. “Promise me, kitten, if somethin’ happens and the situation gets tight, you’ll run. Promise me.”

“Yeah.” He knew she was lying. The defiance and determination were there in her eyes. She wasn’t going to leave him. But Will let it go, knowing that he’d just waste time arguing about it. Time they might not have.

“C’mon, kitten, let’s go.”


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




The squad commander waved him through, pointing to his sister and shaking his head. Alanna had her head down, fingers flying across her keyboard, her attention focused on the monitor in front of her.

“Girl, you work too hard.” He played it for their audience, no longer certain he could trust anyone, even if they were wearing blue. There was a reason Will had gone to ground and even more of a reason why he’d chosen to do it where no one knew him.

“Look who’s talking like he’s ready to retire.” His sister was no dope and for once, Charles was glad they were still close.

“You got time for breakfast with your brother?” Gunn parked himself one desk away, his big feet resting on the desktop. He listened to his sister fake groaning and grumbling about his timing, aware that his heart was thumping madly in his chest and the sweat on his bald head was standing out. The hat he’d pulled on before leaving his mother’s was itching horribly, but he didn’t pull it off, ignoring the sensations. Too many eyes were on them and he couldn’t risk anyone else’s life.

Will might have thought his relationship with Nikki Wood was under the radar, but his sister had a nose like a bloodhound for that kind of shit, and when the two of them had ‘accidentally’ bumped into each other at NYPD functions once too often, Alanna had spilled her theory to Charles. He’d never had the balls to ask the Englishman outright, but Nikki’s murder, right on the heels of O’Reilly’s, had only cemented Gunn’s belief that Alanna was right.

Which meant that there really were no secrets. And he couldn’t trust anyone else but his sister. And Spike only had them. And his handler. Gunn had a number for Giles, but he didn’t dare risk calling him. At least not from a cell phone. Not when the bad guys were looking to be right outside the door, and no doubt had tails on everyone Pratt knew.

Alanna looked over at him, sensing his barely-leashed tension. “Yeah. I could eat.”

He rose to his considerable height, almost daring her squad commander to stop him. “Let’s go.”





Thanks to all of you that are still with me on this, it means a lot. I have to thank both Spikeslovebite and Dawnofme for their beta skills and wonderful feedback. You are both awesome.
Chapter 17 by Niamh
[A/N: I have been so busy, I can barely think outside of work. The pace has been horrific – working late every night, working weekends, and the stress has been killer. The addition of the holidays hasn’t helped any either, since that’s just more stress in my life that I don’t need. There are some days when I wish I wasn’t on my own, that I had a partner, someone to take just a tiny bit of the burden off me. . . Hell, I’d settle for a damn housekeeper at this point. But oh, well, that ship has sailed a long time ago. Disclaimers mean I own nothing but the plot. Believe it or not, this is winding down to a finish! Who knew I could actually get to that point? I was doubting it myself for a bit. NOTE: As you can see, I’ve been holding this for quite a while, something that I hadn’t realized until now. This chapter was betaed by Dawnofme and Spikeslovebite, and I thank both ladies for their support and assistance. The song belongs to AudioSlave and all credit goes to them (The Last Remaining Light – Audioslave, Eponymous album, 2002 lyrics by Chris Cornell, Music by AudioSlave)]

Seventeen


Roll me on your frozen fields
break my bones to watch them heal
drown me in your thirsty veins
where I watch and I wait
and pray for the rain
curl like smoke
and breathe again
down your throat
inside your ribs
and through your spine
and every nerve
where I watch and I wait
and you too the herd
and if you don't feel me now
sun will rise
still I'm in grief of the coming night
in the last remaining light
seven moons and seven suns
heaven waits for those who run
down your winter and underneath your waves
when you watch and you wait
and pray for the day
and if you don't believe the sun will rise
stand alone and greet the coming night
and in the last remaining light
and if you don't believe the sun will rise
stand alone and greet the coming night
and in the last remaining light
light
light
light






Gunn followed his sister down the steps, his dark eyes scanning the street below. It was quiet, almost too quiet, but that boded well for them. Anyone tailing them would be easily heard if they were on foot and a vehicle would stand out, since barely anything was moving. Lights were flickering on in apartments up and down the block, and there was an occasional pedestrian out, but for the most part, they were alone.

He let her guide their pace, knowing without asking where she was leading them. There’d been no discussion between them, nothing anyone could overhear and draw conclusions from. But he knew. He’d loosened the Velcro on his shoulder holster and unsnapped the second weapon at his side. Two additional ammunition clips weighed down his pockets, and Gunn had to hope his sister was similarly armed.

Each footstep was muffled, the snow that had been threatening all night finally starting to fall. The air wasn’t as cold, which eased only a very little of his tension. Their strides lengthened, both of them hearing the rumble of a powerful engine behind them.

“Don’t turn around.” Gunn spoke in a bare whisper, the first words since they’d left the precinct. “Keep going.”

“Do I wanna know?” Alanna didn’t break stride, didn’t even acknowledge his words by looking at him.

“No. Not really sure I wanna know.” He eased his hand inside his jacket, sliding the zipper up from the bottom. “Just keep going.”

They passed the entrance to the park, angling away to cross over the street and into the eastern part of the park. The museum and circular drive were now on their left, and Alanna led them down the hill, heading further east. “He was on Arden, just off Broadway.”

“Yeah. And the girl?” Gunn knew who it was, just wanted to be certain that she was still with him.

“Couldn’t get a really good look. But she was small.” Alanna paused, daring to shoot a look at her brother. “She was all up in his business.”

A low chuckle broke from Gunn and he shook his head. “Girl, you know he isn’t gonna even look twice at you. You’re off limits.”

“And why the hell is that?” She rounded on him, her hands on her hips and her dark eyes flashing at him.

“Because you’re my sister. And he’s a one-woman man.” He caught her arm as he slipped past her. “We don’t have time for this. Keep moving.”

“We’ll lose the truck in here.”

Gunn didn’t bother answering. They would lose the truck, but if their pursuers had any sense, they would get out and follow on foot. It would only take a moment for them to be followed; theirs were the only footprints in the newly fallen snow. Arden was still three or four blocks away, though once there, they still had to find which apartment Pratt was using.

The odds were not in their favor.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




The LED display on the new bank on Broadway caught his attention as they hurried past it. So bloody fucking early. Good Christ. Five thirty-eight in the morning.

Snow had just started falling again, the flakes drifting lazily down to add to the slush already gracing the sidewalks and streets. Tracking them – if his instincts were right and someone was – would be too easy. He was serving them up on a silvery, snow-laden platter. But he didn’t stop leading Buffy onward. His instincts were far too developed for him to start ignoring them now.

Spike grasped Buffy’s hand, his fingers tightening on hers. They were exposed, walking on Broadway, but he wanted to get them into a cab as quickly as possible, heading downtown and away from their current location. At the moment, he couldn’t think of anything else but to get them to relative safety. Where that might be kept eluding him, though he tried to shield that from Buffy.

As he stole a glance down at her, he realized she wasn’t buying his silence as clarity. There were questions in her gaze; questions he couldn’t answer. Spike wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to answer them.

“It’ll be fine, pet.” He tried sounding a bit more assured than he felt. When she smiled up at him, his heart constricted. No matter what the situation, Buffy always tried. She never gave up; never surrendered to the badness all around her. Just seeing her looking up at him was enough to believe they were going to make it, that he would be able to keep her safe.

“Where are we going?”

Up until that moment, Spike hadn’t a clue. He’d tossed aside the idea of going to the nearest precinct in favor of heading downtown to One Police Plaza, but he was afraid even there they wouldn’t be safe. Looking at her, Spike could only think of one thing. “We’re going home, kitten.”

“Home? How’re we gonna do that?” She bit her lower lip, eyes trained on his face. “Where is home anyway?”

“Well, not exactly home. The next best thing to home.” He tugged her close, letting go of her hand and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “British Embassy.”

Her nose wrinkled and she tilted her head, obviously deep in thought. “How is that gonna keep us safe?”

“Once inside, pet, neither one of us has to come out until everything’s safe.” A black SUV slowly passed them, Spike idly noted its passage, tracking it over Buffy’s shoulder.

The SUV stopped at the corner, then slowly turned onto the one-way street. His nerves, already humming, ratcheted up another notch. Without saying a word to Buffy, Spike angled them toward the street, heading toward the wooded area of the park. While it wasn’t ideal, they’d been on the street nearly ten minutes without seeing one cab go by, much less an empty one. He couldn’t take the chance of returning to the apartment – they were already out – because if that had been the bad guys, they’d been spotted. He had to keep them going.

Had to get Buffy somewhere relatively safe. Backtracking to the apartment was out. Backtracking even further to the Catholic Church around the corner wasn’t an option either. The only safe places were forward – to the Cabrini Convent on Ft. Washington Street and the nearest precinct was easily another ten blocks from there. However, there were security guards on duty at the museum around the clock.

There at least, Buffy would be safe.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





Trampling through the snow, with Alanna tagging along behind him, brought back so many memories of childhood that Gunn had trouble remembering why they were out in this weather, at such an ungodly hour. The light flurries had given way to a heavier, wetter mixture and Charles began mentally berating – and second-guessing – himself.

Got no business being out here. For sure isn’t any good reason. Probably every fucker on this case but me is warm and dry. Damn that dumb-assed, pale-faced, limey sonofabitch. Should’ve listened to me the first time, when I told him to stay away from the girl.

But no. So now here I am, out here in this shit, freezing my butt off and he’s all warm and shit.

Freaking motherfucker –


A low muffled noise sounded in the air, the snow masking the direction, but Gunn knew that sound. Motioning Alanna to halt, Charles drew his nine millimeter, reflexively checking the clip. Catching her brother’s actions, Alanna did the same. They shifted slightly, angling so their backs were covered by the other. After scanning the area, Gunn moved forward, leading the way down the steep hill.

Neither one breathed.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





If he hadn’t been so attuned, all his senses on alert, Spike was positive they would already be dead.

Their saving grace had been his instincts.

Once the truck turned the corner, Spike quickly guided Buffy across Broadway, looking for a spot where the two of them could head into the park. Unfortunately for them, the only breaks in the wrought-iron fencing were at each of the pathways. He could hop the fence easily, but with her broken ribs and bruises, he didn’t think Buffy would be able to.

He didn’t hesitate at the next gateway. Spike urged her into the park, heading straight for the first set of steps up the hill. “C’mon, pet, need to hurry.”

“What’s wrong?” Her voice was a bare whisper of sound in the snow, more felt than heard, but to Spike it was still too loud.

“Gotta move, kitten. Got a bad feeling.” Instead of staying on the pathway, he guided her to the right, almost backtracking. Angling them up the hill, he pushed her ahead of him. “Just keep moving, no matter what happens.”

“Spike?” She struggled for a moment, her feet slipping on the snowy grass. “Was it the truck?”

“Yeah.” He pushed her harder, his hands on her hips. “Careful.”

Too close. Still too fucking close to the street. Spike waited while Buffy warily pulled herself up and over a piece of natural granite, his eyes on the pathway. They were barely forty feet from the paved area, close enough to be seen if someone were looking carefully enough. Weak sunlight barely added to the mottled illumination from the streetlights, but it was enough to highlight the two figures moving in formation toward the pathway.

Spike pushed Buffy behind the boulder, his hand covering her mouth. “Stay put.”

In the next instant he was gone, leaving her alone.




@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





He’s not fooling me. He’s worried. And that’s scaring me.

Buffy had looked up at Spike the instant he’d swung his arm over his shoulder and known something had just gone very wrong. And the sinking feeling in her gut was telling her it was connected to the black SUV that had just crawled past them.

She hadn’t really want to ask him, so she’d kept her mouth shut, letting him do all the talking. Until they were inside the park, when she couldn’t help herself anymore. Buffy had to know, had to understand what was pushing him, just to make sure her own instincts weren’t off.

Lying in the bed all alone earlier hadn’t given her the peace she’d needed. The elusive, ethereal peace she’d found inside the Cloisters had completely dissipated, leaving nothing but wariness and fear behind.

Spike’s apprehension and frightening display of temper hadn’t done much to help her either, and though she felt safe with him, Buffy wasn’t entirely sure he was safe. She trusted him, trusted him more than she trusted anyone else, but he was dangerous. The emotions he was evoking in her weren’t good – especially since she was fairly certain he didn’t reciprocate them. She was just another witness, just another underage hooker . . . but how she longed to be something else.

Too many jumbled and crazy thoughts had careened around inside her head for her to rest easily. Sleep had been fitful and full of horrible dreams, each one worse than the last. Eventually she’d just given up on sleeping, content to listen to the faint sounds of the city and the hush of the night lull her into some sort of quasi-sleep state. Buffy couldn’t pinpoint the moment when she’d become aware of him in the other room, instinctively knowing he wasn’t asleep either. She could feel him thinking about her. Feel his presence through the plaster walls, her nerves on end from his agitation.

The soothing sounds of the shower hadn’t eased her mind any.

She’d gotten up and dressed while he’d been in the shower; his restless agitation communicating itself to her, awakening her own fairly-well developed instincts. Buffy wanted to run, to get away and she could feel that same desire in Spike, even through the walls and space between them.

Buffy had counted the minutes after he’d left the shower, knowing that sooner, rather than later, he’d be coming to get her. She knew it the way she knew her name. They weren’t spending another night in the apartment.

He pushed her forward, urging her up the steep hill. The tensile strength of his grip kept her steady, kept her from falling to her knees on the slippery slope, and Buffy was grateful for his support.

“Spike?” The shift of her attention cost her, as her feet began to slide precariously on the grass. His fingers dug in, holding her upright and Buffy dared to glance back at him before moving again. “Was it the truck?”

His grimly voiced answer was enough. Buffy didn’t want to know anymore, so she clamped her jaw tight and pulled herself up and over a huge rock that was blocking the way. She was out of breath and a sharp pain in her right side let her know that the ribs weren’t nearly healed enough for this excursion. Buffy panted, fighting the groan of pain threatening to emerge from her lips.

He pushed her down, nearly smashing her face against the rock, his hand covering her mouth, cutting off her gasp of surprise. “Stay put!”

In the next instant she was alone.

The thumping of her heart was the only sound she could hear, the pulse beating strongly at her throat and Buffy realized it was straining so hard because she’d stopped breathing. Spike was halfway to the street, and though she couldn’t see clearly through the snow, Buffy thought she could see him draw his weapon. Movement to her right at the park’s entrance had her gasping in fear, when she caught sight of two figures hovering there.

Oh god. He . . . oh. Be careful. Please, be careful.

Buff watched as Spike got level with the figures, though it appeared they were unaware of his presence. Her fingers gripped the cold grey stone, as she dared to inch her way forward to get a better visual.

The moment seemed frozen, the three men less than fifty feet down the hill from her, and Buffy didn’t realize what had happened until the air shook with the echo of a single gunshot.







I know, I know. Feel free to berate me all you like. I deserve every word of it. But thank you for sticking with me all the same. More will follow. Hopefully soon.
Chapter 18 by Niamh
[A/N: I think this one is winding toward an ending, though there will be an epilogue. With this one done, that means there’s only two more stories left that I have open – three if you count the one-shot I have semi-started in the Originsverse. Whether or not that ever gets posted depends on whether there’s any interest in it, and whether I actually ever get it finished. Once this is done, I’m going to concentrate on finishing Great Balls of Fire – and then, I think I’m done. I’ve covered pretty much anything I’ve ever wanted to say in the Buffyverse and frankly, my support system has broken down and I’d like to refocus my energy on original fiction, to try and get something ready to be sent to an agent and *crosses fingers* see about getting published. I’m going to miss the support I’ve found here, and all the friends I’ve made. Each of you has impacted my life tremendously and I don’t often say it, but I am eternally grateful for all of you. I’ll still be around, but I won’t be as active in the fandom, though I will still judge for Fang Fetish. Those ladies mean more than I can say, and I’d never turn my back on any of them. Much love and hugs to all of you who have read this and much thanks to those of you kind enough to leave a review. Disclaimers in full force and effect. I own nothing. Most especially the lyrics and music, and those belong to Martin Gore and Depeche Mode (the single most underrated techno band), from their seminal album Black Celebration, released 1986. They should totally have a spot in Cleveland!]

Eighteen


I've got to get to you first
Before they do
It's just a question of time
Before they lay their hands on you
And make you just like the rest
I've got to get to you first
It's just a question of time
Well now you're only fifteen
And you look good
I'll take you under my wing
Somebody should
They've persuasive ways
And you'll believe what they say
It's just a question of time
It's running out for you
It won't be long
Until you'll do
Exactly what they want you to
I can see them now
Hanging around
To mess you up
To strip you down
And have their fun
With my little one
It's just a question of time
It's running out for you
It won't be long
Until you'll do
Exactly what they want you to
Sometimes I don't blame them
For wanting you
You look good
And they need something to do
Until I look at you
And then I condemn them
I know my kind
What goes on in our minds
It's just a question of time
It should be better
It's just a question of time
It should be better with you
It's just a question of time




Buffy didn’t wait to see what happened. Scrambling to her feet, she backpedaled quickly, climbing higher and higher. She didn’t realize she was crying until she couldn’t see anything, and she abruptly wiped away the tears. Oh god.

Oh. Oh god. Spike!


She rounded on a small tree, too fast to stop her momentum and landed heavily on her butt, sliding down several feet. Not giving herself time to give in to the fear and despair, Buffy hopped to her feet, staggering when her ankle gave way beneath her weight. Shit. Oh shit.

Not good. Spike said to go. I can’t . . . I can’t leave him. I . . .


Buffy leaned heavily against large evergreen tree, shielded from the pathway by its snow laden branches and thick trunk. Her breath gusted out harshly, ending in a startled hiccup. The backs of her jeans were soaked, only her butt protected from the snow by the long sweater and over-sized jacket Spike had forced her into earlier.

There was no noise, no sounds but the soft falling snow. There was no indication that someone had just been shot and Buffy began to doubt what she’d seen and heard. Maybe he . . . it wasn’t him. He didn’t get – NO! He’s fine.

Hobbling from tree to tree, Buffy started to make her way down the hillside, heading for the boulder she’d hidden behind. Her ankle protested every step, but she clenched her teeth and slowly moved forward.

I can’t leave him.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



The siblings froze, and then circled slowly, covering each other’s flank. This was familiar, moves and tactics they’d practiced from the moment Alanna had graduated from the Academy; and now the unconscious synchronous movements paid off. Slowly they eased down the hillside, Gunn at the point, while Alanna watched behind them. Almost breathlessly he counted off the paces, letting her know when the ground dropped, ensuring she wouldn’t lose her balance and cause an additional problem.

“Three targets. At ten, two, and three.” Gunn dropped down, using a wide evergreen for camouflage. He peered intently at the figure standing at his ten, and realized that it was Pratt. “Ten is friendly.”

Alanna crouched beside him, peering around and through the spiky leaves. “You sure that’s him?”

“Yeah.” Gunn leaned further to his left, inching slowly around the snow-laden pine tree. “He’s got no cover.”

“Let’s give him some.” She crab-walked away, moving to a bunch of climbing ivy clinging stubbornly to a dying oak, keeping low and out of sight. Easing further to her right, Alanna sighted along her gun and shot a round at the unknowns.

Cursing her impulsive move, Gunn hunkered down on his belly and let off a follow-up round, avoiding the area around his partner. “God damn it, girl!”

Casting a furious glance back at her, Gunn kept up his litany of expletives, trying to keep both his sister and his partner covered, so neither of them got hit with gunfire.

A quick succession of shots answered their first rounds, causing Gunn to roll further away from Alanna. He re-oriented himself, eyes scanning the scene to make sure all the players were still visible. His sister had edged closer to the three, and she was now almost level with the shooters. Pratt had disappeared, though Gunn thought he spied his still form crouched behind one of the boulders that dotted the entire park. His breath gusted heavily in his ears, sounding too loud in the sudden stillness.




@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




The advantage of seeing his adversaries before they managed to spot him was exceedingly short-lived. Partially to draw their attention – and keep it – away from where Buffy huddled against the boulder, Will deliberately made enough noise to alert them to his movements.

He’d been expecting it, so when the muffled shot echoed in the air, he was already moving, ducking behind a snow-dusted boulder. What he hadn’t expected was the succession of shots following. Crouching down, making the smallest possible target, he leaned around the boulder. Their pursuers had split, finding cover from the volley of shots that spluttered from nowhere. Will wasn’t sure who was shooting, and whether his tail had picked up a tail of their own. The eerie pre-dawn light wasn’t helping visibility and the snowfall had inexplicably picked up, which was to his benefit. Or he hoped it was.

Movement to his left drew his attention and he squinted, trying to identify the source. It was uphill from his current position and he shifted, deliberately leaving himself open. Have to protect Buffy. She was up there, a good distance from whoever was there, but he couldn’t – didn’t dare – believe that whoever was behind that tree was friend and not foe. Another round of shots peppered the air and he took the opportunity to get a better look at the figure hiding behind the low pine. Despite the piss-poor visibility, Will was fairly certain that it was Gunn. His partner was tall, and broad, and with his bald head, fairly recognizable. Though he couldn’t see clearly enough to get a facial identification, the fact he hadn’t shot at him was a clear indicator.

Okay. Gotta be him. So if it’s him, he’s probably not alone. Another round of shots going off drew his attention and Will squeezed the trigger of his nine millimeter in response. There was a weird noise, something between a shout and a groan and then nothing. But how the hell did he get here?

Cautiously he stood up, peering over the top of the boulder. Bullets thunked against the blue stone, shards of rock pelting him. Blood splattered the snow and Will cursed his own stupidity. “Fuck!”

His hands were covered in blood and he could feel it chilling on his face. He hadn’t taken a direct hit, but there were shards embedded into his cheek and he pulled a fairly big piece from his forehead. Oh, bloody hell. I hope to Christ Gunn isn’t alone. Fuck. He inhaled deeply, trying to push aside the pain. C’mon, Pratt, gotta protect the girl. Gotta save the girl. Can’t do it if you’re face down in the snow.

Will leaned heavily against the boulder, resting his bloody face against the snow, hoping the cold would slow the bleeding. Three minutes. Just give it three minutes an’ then move. That’s all.

Mentally counting off the seconds, Will wiped his hand on his jeans. Time to go.

Sliding around the boulder, he moved to his left and ran for the closest trees.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





Buffy made it five steps before she landed on her butt again. This time, she didn’t think she could stand, because the pain in her ankle was blinding and she couldn’t gasp in enough air to stop the pain. “Ow, ow, ow. Crap, this really hurts.”

Her voice was a bare whisper of sound, since she was deathly afraid of gaining someone’s attention. She was reaching for her foot when the round of shots went off and Buffy jumped, then curled into a ball. Oh no!

What’s going on?
She tried rolling onto her side, keeping her injured foot above the other. The pressure eased a little, but the whumping gunfire kept her on edge. Buffy eased down hill, crawling forward inch by inch. Using her elbows and her hips, she wiggled closer to the action. She couldn’t see anything and because of the steadily falling snow, she couldn’t even be sure she was facing the right direction. Will could be anywhere now.

More shots rang out and Buffy curled up, making herself as small as possible. If I stay here like this, maybe I’ll be okay. The snow will cover me . . . and I’ll be safe.

I’ll be safe.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Gunn watched as his partner bobbed his head up over the boulder and let loose with an unspoken string of expletives. You stupid motherfucker! What the hell is wrong with you?

He pivoted around the pine, squeezing off a burst of shots that thunked into the surrounding trees. Gunn wasn’t trying to miss his targets, though from the returning fire, he realized he had. And in the same instant, he was rolling to his left, heading away from his last position. The movement brought him closer to the action, though still slightly uphill.

There was no way to tell where anyone else was, given the conditions. Chance, and fate were now the only things keeping all of them on the winning side of the column. He could make educated guesses, and he had the advantage of being able to place his partner, but that was all. Alanna was somewhere off to his right, on the other side of the field of fire. Gunn had to trust that she would make it through. Coz if she doesn’t, Mamma is gonna boil my ass in the roasting pan.

“Pratt!” He hissed out, calling to his injured partner. “Pratt!”

A muffled, barely audible response was all he got, and Gunn crab-walked closer to where he thought the sound originated. “Pratt!”

This area of the park was littered with big bluestone boulders, large evergreen pines, and very old elms, oaks, and birches. In the summer, it was almost a primeval jungle, covered in green and providing large shaded areas. That same landscape in the winter snow was treacherous. The rocks, hidden by snowdrifts were slick surfaces incapable of giving safe footing. The ivy and lower shrubs tangled up boots and laces, snagging on jeans and making it nearly impossible to run. Gunn slid and tripped his way through a particularly rough patch, ending up almost at Spike’s feet, his head nearly buried beneath a couple of inches of snow.

Jesus Christ, Charles!” Pratt leaned down, awkwardly pushing the snow away. “You trying to get us both killed?”

“Nah, man. I figured your sorry ass could manage that on your own. I’m just here taking notes.” Gunn heaved himself up, hunkering back down when a couple of shots whizzed past his head. “God damn it! What the fuck did you get yourself into now?”

Spike stared at him, shaking his head. “You volunteered for this shit.”

“Right.” Readjusting his hat, Gunn rolled his eyes, then poked Will in the shoulder. “You look like shit. How’s your aim?”

“Fair to middling. How’s yours?” Will leaned his back against the tree they weren’t hiding behind and blinked furiously.

“Fair to – what the fuck is wrong with you, man?” Gunn stretched himself out, trying to make a smaller target. “Dumb ass.”

A low chuckle shook Will and he glanced down at his partner. “You say that like you don’t love me.”

“Are you ever serious?”

While Spike appeared to be contemplating his answer, Gunn fired off another round, then fumbled for another clip. “Where’s your girl?”

“Up there. Hopefully where I left her.” Spike leaned around, rolling over his partner. “You bring back up?”

“Alanna.”

There was no returning gunfire and Spike took advantage, moving further away from Gunn, closer to where he’d left Buffy. “Call it in.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Lifting his cell phone, Gunn hit the numbers, bypassing the switchboards. His report of the situation was clear and given softly. “Two minutes out. Shots were already called in.”

“Gotta love this city.” Will cracked a maniacal grin. “Cover me.”

He got to his feet, hunched almost horizontally and clambered back up the hill. Gunn let a stream of bullets go, not letting up until Will was out of sight. “Crazy-assed sonofabitch. . .”



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Until Gunn had mentioned her, Spike hadn’t let himself think of Buffy. He had to concentrate on keeping them away from her, and if that meant keeping his brain shut down, he did. But Gunn’s question hadn’t helped. He had back-up, in the form of his partner and his sister, and that just opened the floodgates. Will closed his eyes, gulping in cold air. It steadied him a bit, swept aside his panic and allowed him to gather his wits. She’ll be there, safe and sound, tucked up and freezing. But safe.

She’ll be there. . .


The falling snow had obliterated his footsteps, nearly covering Charles’ more recent ones and Will ran from one rock to the next, his breath huffing and heart thundering each time he didn’t trip over her. Muffled gunfire sounded behind him, and though he was tempted to return fire, he didn’t. They hadn’t spotted him, at least not yet, which gave him added hope. The longer he went unnoticed, the safer Buffy would be. At least that’s what he kept telling himself. Will wasn’t holding out much hope though. He had no idea how many people had been in the SUV. Nor did he know if the back-up Gunn had requested was on the way. There were too many variables for him to relax completely. He wouldn’t until Buffy was within his care.

Will ducked behind another boulder, hoping to find her waiting for him.

C’mon, Buffy, where the hell are you?

There. That’s the damn rock . . .


She wasn’t there.

She’s not here . . .





See, that wasn't so long a wait, right? You all still love me don't you? Reviews are gratefully received and wonderfully welcome after the week I've been having. Next chapter is half-written, so shouldn't be long before that's posted also. Enjoy!
Chapter 19 by Niamh
[A/N: I had this prepared for a while, nearly ready to post and then wham! I lost everything. Within a couple of weeks, I got hit with a host of viruses and my computer nearly imploded. Luckily, I had a lot of printed backups and I’ve been able to piece it all back together. Well, that and I had to copy and paste stuff from the archives because even my CD backups got zapped. I wasn’t a happy camper. I’m still not a happy camper, but I’ve at least gotten this portion of my life on track. So, here we go. Song is We Die Young by Alice in Chains and it first appeared on the eponymous EP, released in 1990. It also marked their first studio release. Disclaimers, as always, are in full force and effect. I own nothing but the plot.]

Nineteen


Scary's on the wall
Scary's on his way
Watch where you spit
I'd advise you wait until it's over
Then you got hit
And you shoulda known better
And we die young
Faster we run
Down, down, down you're rollin'
Watch the blood float in the muddy sewer
Take another hit
And bury your brother
And we die young
Faster we run
Scary's on the wall
Scary's on his way
Another alley trip
Bullet seek the place to bend you over
Then you got hit
And you shoulda known better
Faster we run
And we die young




Alanna sighed, as she absently listened to her brother count off the steps. She could see, as clearly as the conditions permitted, the pitch of the ground beneath their feet. What she could also see, were the three figures they were following. And the only reason why she’d questioned her brother was because he was always acting like an old woman.

Seriously, bro, get a move on it. Alanna crab-walked away from him, taking aim at the other two men. Coz if you don’t stop acting like Nana, your boy is gonna get his ass shot. And that would be a real tragedy. He’s got one fine ass.

Not to mention the rest of him.


Shaking her head at her own foolishness, Alanna fired. Damn it!

With visibility so poor it wasn’t hard to miss and she’d done exactly that. Now the two following Pratt knew there was someone following them, which didn’t bode well. Shots echoed dully, sounding more like muffled engine backfire and she breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Bout time you got your ass in the game, Charles. Momma shoulda named you Creampuff . . .

Hampered by the cold as well, Alanna did what she could to keep their quarry pinned down. After the last volley, she tucked her gun into her jacket, then rolled downhill, below the direct line of fire. She could barely see her brother in the snowfall, but that wasn’t yet worrying her. They’d practised maneuvers so many times that she could predict his location without thinking. If he was sticking to their routine, Charles would be rolling to his left, which meant she should go right. Provided this worked, their opponents would be pinned down in a crossfire, almost like monkey-in-the-middle.

If it worked.

Alanna watched while a blurry figure – she was guessing it was Pratt – scrambled uphill, toward her brother’s last position. While it was difficult to identify the figure with any degree of certainty, Alanna had to assume it was, because the shots were coming from the other figures. Sid Vicious is gonna get his ass shot. She cursed under her breath, urging him “Stay down, stupid!”

From the first moment she’d seen him, Alanna had been smitten. He had been teaching part of the anti-terrorism seminar while she was in the Academy and his looks, charm, and killer accent had her inner vixen sitting up and taking notice. She’d tried every trick she could to get his attention, without much success, even after he accepted the offer from NYPD and became her brother’s partner. Alanna had thought the constant contact would kick-start something, but it had the opposite effect. Pratt had seen her as non-touchable, first for being a student, and secondly because she was his partner’s sister.

It burned her when she suspected he’d been dating someone, worsened when she’d seen him with Nikki Wood.

Not that there had been anything to see. Not really. Evidently, they were more careful than that. But it was the sidelong glances. The raised eyebrows. The shared laughter. It was a hundred little things that two people who shouldn’t know each other – and claimed they didn’t – hid from everyone around them.

What made it doubly more difficult to deal with was that Nikki had been married. Separated true, but she was still married. New York wasn’t a small place – not by any standards – but when you traveled in small circles, it was hard to hide things. Alanna was just surprised that her brother hadn’t known. Or if he did, he did an excellent job of pretending otherwise. And claiming she was out of her mind when she’d asked him about it.

Hot, searing pain dragged her back to the present, and Alanna stared down at her arm.

What the fuck?

I’m bleeding. How the hell did that happen?


Her hand went numb, her fingers unable to tighten around the gun’s handle. Distractedly, Alanna tried flexing, attempting to make a fist and grumbled when nothing happened.

Oh.

I’m shot.




@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Muttering imprecations about his partner, his partner’s parents, and all his other ancestors, Gunn absently returned fire. Twice, he’d thought he hit one of them, but neither of his targets was down, so either he missed or he’d only wounded. Either way, it was only a matter of time, since back-up wasn’t more than a minute or two away. Just gotta hang until then, and then we’ll be outta this mess and. . . “FUCK!”

The tree trunk just to the left of his head exploded, chunks of wood splinters flying in every direction. Not giving himself time to catalogue any injuries, Gunn slid down on his back, then rolled to his side. Squeezing off a couple of rounds, he rolled to his right, trying to find shelter behind a boulder.

He was close enough to the targets to hear labored breathing, although that might have been deceptive, given the falling snow. Gunn kept straining his ears for the distant wail of sirens, but couldn’t hear anything. He’d lost track of his sister. Somewhere in front of him, she was unprotected and alone. It made no difference to him that she was twenty-seven years old. Or that she qualified as a sniper; or that she even carried a gun, and several clips. Alanna was still his little sister and his mother and grandmother would have his ass if anything happened to her. Especially if she was backing him up.

Grumbling again, Gunn peered around the boulder, firing with his left hand. It wasn’t his normal shooting hand, but some cover was better than nothing. “Gonna boot his limey ass from here to freaking Albany when this is over.” His muttering got louder when a shot thunked into the stone. “I have about had enough of this shit.”

On his feet, Gunn leaned over the top of the boulder and fired.

“Gotcha, mother-fucker.”


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



“Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?” The voice was dispassionately concerned, efficient yet crisp, calm and conciliatory.

“I heard shots fired.”

“What is your location?”

“The Heights. Broadway and Dongan. Just outside the park.”

There was silence on the phone for a moment, then the dispatcher came back. “Can you see who fired the shots? Or the direction of the shots?”

“No ma’am.” The caller cursed then, using words the dispatcher had heard more than once.

“Can you tell me if anyone is injured?”

“Ma’am?”

“Ma’am?”

The only response was a dial tone.

Relaying what little information had been given to her immediate supervisor, the dispatcher marked her suspicions on the screen and bookmarked the file for later.

Less than thirty seconds later, a second call came in; oddly enough to the same dispatcher. The second call confirmed the general location of the shots, but nothing else. Following the same procedure, the dispatcher logged the date and time.

Before the dispatcher hung up on the second caller, units were sent from the nearest precinct and only the dispatch supervisor knew that the first caller had used police protocol and language when giving the information.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Tha’s where I left her. I know it.

Spike was positive he’d left Buffy behind that particular rock. Could even, if pushed, swear it so. But with the amount of snow falling, and the cold, he couldn’t be certain. There were no tracks leading away from the area and nowhere else to hide. A small copse of bushes was off to his right and though it could provide decent cover, no footprints were hollowed out other than his own.

“Geezuz . . . Christ, Buffy, can’t you bloody stay put?” A deep, heavy sigh gusted from him, clouding the air and further hindering his ability to see.

“Bloody buggerin’. . .” His voice trailed off. Where the hell could she be? Chit is so damned headstrong, won’t listen to a bleedin’ thing I say an’. . . Oh balls. Spike circled around, realizing his mistake within seconds. He’d left the girl further up-hill, close enough to a path for her to find one if the worst happened, yet far enough away for her to stay hidden. And, casting his mind back, he’d marked the tree adjacent to the rock. There’s no tree next to this rock. Shaking his head at his own stupidity, Spike took off running.

She’ll be right where I left her, wondering what the hell is wrong with me. ‘M an idiot.

Only his luck – or distinct lack thereof – was still holding.

Twenty or so feet upward and leading a bit southerly, he skidded to a halt in the snow. Buffy really wasn’t there. And he had the right spot, because the tree branch was cleanly broken, and a huge hollow of snow was barely beginning to fill.

Buffy’s gone.






I know it's been a while, but hopefully you'll all forgive me and leave some words of encouragement and kindness. And believe me, they will be greatly appreciated. Happy summer!
Chapter 20 by Niamh
[A/N: Please accept my apologies on the delays between chapters. My life has been beyond hectic, between the stresses at work (which are numerous) to the partial stresses at home have all compounded to make my health, which is sketchy at the best of times, get even worse. I seem to be mending somewhat, and I’ve been working on all of my stories. So perhaps I’ll actually get to finish them and then I can really rest. Or focus on something original. I’d like to say I’ve been doing that, but that would be lying and I really don’t do that well. Anyway, this is the next update for this story, and hopefully I’ll have something before another year has passed. Joking. Seriously, though, I’m going to work on a chapter a week, and this is nearly done, so that won’t take long, right? Right. Took me forever to find a damn song, and I’m still not completely satisfied with it. Doesn’t fit totally with this chapter, but it does fit the story. So that’ll have to be good enough. Song is “Somebody got Murdered” by the Clash, song and lyrics by them, off the Sandanista! album, released in 1980 (can’t believe it’s that bloody long ago) Disclaimers, as always, are in full force and effect. I own nothing.]

Twenty

Someone lights a cigarette
While riding in a car
Some ol' guy takes a swig
And passes back the jar
But where they were last night
No-one can remember
Somebody got murdered
Goodbye, for keeps, forever
Somebody got murdered
Somebody's dead forever
And you're minding your own business
Carrying spare change
You wouldn't cosh a barber
You're hungry all the same
I been very tempted
To grab it from the till
I been very hungry
But not enough to kill
Somebody got murdered
His name cannot be found
A small stain on the pavement
They'll scrub it off the ground
As the daily crown disperses
No-one says that much
Somebody got murdered
And it' left me with a touch
Somebody got murdered
Somebody's dead forever
Sounds like murder!
Those shouts!
Are they drunk down below?
It's late, and my watch stopped
Some time ago
Sounds like murder!
Those screams!
Are they drunk down below?







Sirens wailed in the distance, muffled by the low clouds and falling snow. They sounded close, closer than was considered comfortable, that wasn’t what had Enrique Martinez worried. The sirens weren’t that much cause for alarm. What was alarming were the muffled noises coming from the surveillance microphones located at strategic points and the motion-detecting CCTV cameras also discretely placed throughout the park. Post September 11th, security at all major tourist attractions had been increased, and while The Cloisters wasn’t necessarily a hot-spot like MOMA or the Met, it got its fair share of tourist attention. And therefore, security had been increased. Cameras, microphones, and motion-detectors were all part of the package now.

Usually, everything was quiet; especially during the winter. Not many people braved Ft. Tryon’s steep trails in the winter, and those that did, he’d learned to identify through the monitors.

The people moving around weren’t regulars.

For one thing, none of them was dressed for the strenuous hike. For another, Enrique didn’t believe that hikers normally carried guns. Not even in the wilds of upper Manhattan.

He was out of his seat and on the radio as the first shots were being fired. Mobilizing his small cadre of guards was primary, and once that was accomplished, he notified the NYPD. His security clearance allowed him to bypass dispatchers and 911 – so he did. Getting the precinct commander directly on the phone, he quickly relayed his visuals and what limited descriptions he could discern.

Within moments of his phone call, the precinct commander had sent two units to The Cloisters. Barely minutes later, both the Borough Commander and the Chief of Department had been notified.

But Martinez wasn’t concerned with any of that. What had his attention was directly in front of him, playing out on the monitors. The microphones picked up shots, but weren’t sophisticated enough to capture voices, at least not in this snow. He couldn’t deplete his security team to face whatever had prompted the gunfight – but what he could do was rescue the person attempting to make her way up the steep hill. Though she appeared lost and frightened, he could also tell she was injured. She was more than halfway up the hill, though for every five feet of ground she gained, she lost half as much slipping and sliding on the ice and snow.

The motion sensors were flaring with every moment. The NYPD could handle the gunfight. There wasn’t much his team could do in that area, but the girl. . . Dark patches of shadow followed her progress and Enrique realized, almost belatedly, that they weren’t ordinary shadows. Martinez directed his team to her location.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Flexing her fingers didn’t work.

Raising her arm and holding it hard against her side didn’t really ease the pain either.

Alanna switched the gun from her right hand to the left, cradling the wounded limb against her side. Harsh, panting breaths emerged from her mouth and she cursed softly under her breath. “Damn, damn, damn. Momma’s gonna have my hide.”

Yeah, but Charles is gonna be murdered. She’s gonna blame him for this. Struggling to stay awake, Alanna unzipped the heavy down and gingerly tried removing her arm from the sleeve. Twice she nearly blacked out, both times slowing her movements until they were non-existent.
This isn’t working. But I gotta make it work, coz I can’t. . .

Her thoughts were growing sluggish, and she was aware of her mind drifting. Pain surged through her when she listed sideways, bringing her back into herself. Ohkay, gotta focus, girl. Stay with it.

Shots whizzed past her and Alanna belatedly realized she was out in the open, presenting an easy target for Pratt’s attackers. While she was glad she was proving a distraction, she really didn’t want to chance getting shot again. She lurched sideways, to her left, ducking behind a large oak tree.

Safe. Safe is good. With her back against the trunk, Alanna was finally able to free her arm from the sleeve. She tucked it against her side, reversing the sleeve so that it wrapped around the wound, staunching the blood flow. Gritting her teeth against the pain, she managed to rezip the jacket, holding her arm steady. Good. Good. Now just gotta wait for help. Which should be coming.

Soon.

Soon.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Where the fuck is she? Blasted female. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Spike crouched low, looking for signs of her passage through the heavily falling snow. The area around where he’d left her was trampled, and at first it looked as if she’d gone closer to the action. A second look at him peering uphill, trying to make out her figure in the snow. Nothin’. I got nothin.

Breathing heavily through his nose, Will darted uphill, gaining about fifty or so feet before a shot thunked into the tree about three feet behind him. Pivoting on his heel, he returned fire, then moved another thirty feet to his right. He was about to shoot again, when the relief inducing shouts of “NYPD! Hold your fire!” Came through, muffled and barely distinct, but welcomed all the same.

He held up his hands, yelling back, “NYPD! NYPD! Officer needs assistance!”

While not entirely sure he was actually correct, Will figured that it would at least get him some attention and he could direct the uniforms to Gunn and Alanna’s last locations. He rose to his feet, calling out again, “NYPD!”

Two uniformed officers materialized out of the snow, slipping and sliding on the rocks beneath the snow. “You okay?”

Will fished inside his jacket for his shield, brandishing it for their perusal. “Yeah, I’m good. But my partner is down there and he could be hit. I couldn’t tell.” He waved downhill, indicating general location. “Two unknown shooters, and two other officers. Detective Charles Gunn and his sister, Alanna Gunn from the Three-four.”

“Sir, are you hit?” The second uniform relayed the information into his radio, while the first questioned him. “Sir?”

“No. ‘M fine. Got a witness that’s gone missing. She’s five-one, blond hair, hazel eyes. Name’s Buffy Summers. She was here an’ now she’s gone.” He growled out her description, waiting while the officer continued the information stream. “Those are pro’lly Reilly’s men.”

He waited while the information seeped into their awareness, watching with hard eyes when the second officer said, “Suspects are heavily armed. Be advised – suspects are heavily armed.”

Will nodded, knowing that they would switch frequencies to a secure channel and then relay the information regarding the suspects’ identities.

The frequency switch happened quickly and the next thing he knew, the radio was handed to him and Borough Command was on the line. “Pratt. What’s the situation?”

The debriefing took less than five minutes, all of which Will spent trying to maneuver his way to the path, searching for signs of Buffy. When he’d finished there was silence on the radio for a moment, then, “Your team is on the way. ETA is approximately four minutes. Hold the scene, if you can. You have the com until I arrive.”

“Yes, sir.” Will handed off the radio, finding it easier to have the go-between. “Set a perimeter and have a unit locate the vehicle. It has to be close.”

Without waiting for the radio to crackle to life, Will headed for the pathway. “Any word on the girl?”

“Nothing.” At the look on Will’s face, the officer verbally backtracked. “Not yet, sir. We’ve got all available units looking for her.”

“Good.” He studied the snow-covered ground. “She’s injured so she can’t have gotten far.”

Not without help. . .









Despite the delays in getting this chapter posted, I hope some of you are still with me and still reading. If you are, I'd love to know that. Any word of kindness will make my day. Thanks! Nia
Chapter 21 by Niamh
[A/N: In an effort to get my muse enticed, I’m listening to some of my favorite “writing” music. And while it’s not generally considered everyone’s cuppa, it certainly seems to please me. And my muse. So while it’s cooperating somewhat, I’m going to try and get some more written. If this is incoherent, lay the blame on the Benadryl and my allergies. This story is winding down, believe it or not, and there’s not much left to this. And there will be an epilogue, just in case anyone’s wondering. Song is from one of my favorite bands, A Perfect Circle and is off their debut album Mer de Noms, track is 3 Libras, written by Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel, and it was released in May of 2000. Disclaimers are in full force and effect – and I own nothing. Not even my shoes.]

Twenty-one


threw you the obvious and you flew
with it on your back, a name in your recollection,
thrown down among a million same.
difficult not to feel a little bit disappointed
and passed over
when i've looked right through
to see you naked and oblivious
and
you don't see me.
but i threw you the obvious
just to see if there's more behind the eyes
of a fallen angel,
the eyes of a tragedy.
here i am expecting just a little bit
too much from the wounded.
but i see through it all
and see you.
so i threw you the obvious
to see what occurs behind the eyes of a fallen angel,
eyes of a tragedy.
oh well. apparently nothing.
you don't see me.
you don't see me at all.





Gunn heard the muffled sirens and pulled his credentials out from beneath his jacket. Bout freaking time the calvary got here. . . slow-assed uniforms.

Two shots thunked into the tree above his head and he returned fire, then rolled to his right. God damned mother-fuckers.

Where the hell is Pratt? Am I the only sucker out here? Damn him.
Charles inched to his feet, coming up into a low crouch, then crab-walked his way closer to the last known location of the shooters.

He couldn’t figure out how Reilly’s men kept finding them. The only way it made any sense was if they’d been tailed – or bugged. Or betrayed.

But who the hell would do that?

Who?

And why?




@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



“We found her.”

Will turned sharply to face the uniformed cop. “Where is she?”

“Museum security picked her up.” He leaned forward, one ear listening intently to the radio. “She’s injured. EMTs are on their way to pick her up.”

Thank god. “Good.” He started uphill, his attention focused on getting to Buffy.

“Sir?”

“The perimeter is secured, correct?” Will paused, glaring at the officer through the falling snow.

“Yes sir.”

“So then what’s your issue?” His tone was curt and clipped. He did not want to stand here debating protocol of a crime scene with a lowly police officer. Brass were on their way, the uniforms could hold the scene until then. He had a witness to protect. An’ that’s all . . . just a witness.

“You’re the ranking officer on the scene.” The cop looked at him, his dark eyes daring him to refute the truth.

“Yeah, well. . .” He ran a hand through his hair as he heaved out a sigh. “Gunn’s just as good. That’s my witness.”

To his credit, the cop didn’t flinch or falter in his staring. Will knew what he was supposed to be doing, but every instinct he had was screaming at him that he go and protect Buffy. She was only going to be safe as long as she was with him. He didn’t trust anyone. Not the uniformed cops hovering, not the command structure. . . he had no idea if he could trust all of the members of his team, and that was not leaving him with good feelings. He should stay, make sure the perimeter was secured, the shooters in custody and wait until the Brass arrived so he could hand things off. . . he should do all that.

But shoulds wouldn’t keep Buffy safe. Duty and protocol weren’t going to save her from the goons stalking her. They wouldn’t protect her . . . and it was slightly irrational and a deliberate breach, but at the moment, Will couldn’t give a rat’s ass. He’d most likely get chewed out about his actions over the last week, and he’d probably get suspended for a day or two. And yet none of that seemed to matter. Every instinct, every superstition, every itch-on-the-back-of-his-neck was telling him to get to Buffy.

“Detective Gunn is with the shooters.” The cop relented a bit, finally seeing something else in the Brit’s eyes that he understood.

“So he’s – right. Cover the shooters and I’ll talk to him.”

Will cursed the delays, but part of him realized the other cop was right. He had a responsibility to perform the job correctly. And he had been put in charge. The Brass had been clear on that. It didn’t mean he couldn’t delegate it to someone else – and Charles was technically higher ranked than he was, since he was really NYPD and not just a liaison officer.

Gunn was standing over the shooters, who were trussed and resting against a tree and a boulder. His pose was deceptively calm, but his eyes kept shifting left and right, constantly scanning the area.

“Gunn.” He glanced over at Will as he slogged his way through the snow. “You okay?”

“Fine.” Just by the tone, Will knew he was furious, though he gave no other indication. “What’s up?”

He drew him away, out of hearing range of the prisoners. “I’m going after Buffy.”

“What?” Gunn reared his head up, looking Will in the eyes. “Where is she?”

“Museum cops picked her up. She’s there, with them. She’s hurt though, and I’m guessing the EMTs will be taking her to hospital.”

“And?”

The suspicious look in Gunn’s eye wasn’t going to dissuade him. “I’m going with them.”

His partner blew out a deep sigh. “You’re crazy.”

Will shrugged. “I’d feel better if I went with her.”

“You know you can’t watch the girl forever.” When Will didn’t respond, Gunn kept talking. “This is not the smart thing to do. You got two shooters we could probably tie directly to either one of Reilly’s boys. . . and you’re gonna go off and watch a girl? What the hell is wrong with you, man?”

He was shaking his head. “Got a feeling.”

“Oh.” Gunn huffed out another breath. “You got a feeling.”

“I know. . .” But before he could finish his thought, Gunn was staring down at him, dark eyes blazing. “You got a feeling? Your feelings have been nothing but trouble with this one. Every damn time I turn around your feelings have gotten you and this girl in shit. What the fuck is wrong with you, dude? What?”

Will tried again, but once more Gunn cut him off. “No, I am not listening to this shit again. You take those feelings and bury them damn deep, you hear me? We are not going through this . . . this case is done. We can let the lawyers deal with this crap now. Let Social Services handle the girl. We are done. Do you hear me? We are done.”

“No, Charlie, we’re not done.” Will turned on his heel, ignoring the spluttering and cursing coming from his partner. “I can’t leave it. I can’t leave her. I made a promise.”

“A promise. You made a promise to a hooker. An under-age hooker. What do you care?” The anger was blazing now, without an outlet, because Will was yards away by now, and everyone could hear them.

“Can’t explain it, Charlie-boy. Just . . . you’ve got the com until the Brass gets here. I’ll be with the witness.” Will waved a hand behind him as he trudged off through the snow. He couldn’t look at his partner right now. Didn’t want to deal with his by-the-book attitude. It wasn’t what Will relied upon – which often made his actions inexplicable, but he wasn’t going to stop and try to explain the itch. Gunn often dismissed his hunches and ‘feelings’ but so far, they hadn’t once let Will down.

Besides, he had made a promise. And the fact it was to an under-age hooker wasn’t the important part. He’d made the promise to Buffy – and no matter what she was forced into – she was still important. And he never forgot his promises.

He’d keep this one too.

Even if it killed him.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Rupert Giles rubbed his tired eyes and sighed deeply. He’d been waiting for days from some word from his operative William Pratt. Ever since word of Liam Reilly’s demise broke, every ring of the telephone, every time he’d checked voicemail or his text messages – but there was nothing. Three days now – nearly four and there had been no word at all.

Which wasn’t like Pratt. At least once a week he checked in, often more than that. But no word in so many days didn’t bode well. When the news had broken, Rupert half expected a triumphant phone call, with William crowing about the divine justice, but as the hours – and then days – passed, Rupert’s concern grew.

Pratt would only stay underground if the situation was dangerous. As the time slipped by, Rupert feared the worst. By turns exasperated and fond of his charge, more often than not, Rupert despaired of his methods and habits.

The message he’d been waiting for finally came. On the morning of the fourth day, William finally called him. He was uninjured, which was good news, but he was in decidedly hot water with his NYPD colleagues and superiors.

Knowing his presence would be required at Pratt’s debriefing, Rupert dressed quickly. As the ranking security chief for the British Ambassador to the United Nations, Rupert Giles was well versed in protocol – and when it was prudent to by-pass the normal channels. Believing the situation urgent but not dire, Rupert made his way through the Embassy to his customary morning meeting with the Ambassador.

Once he was done there, he fully intended to meet William Pratt at One Police Plaza.












Look! Aren't you all proud of me? I got another chapter out before the month was over! Hell, even if none of you is proud, I am. It's been beyond hectic and stressful, but I'm working on this. It's nearly done, and I've got a couple of chapters just about ready to post. . . so maybe more in a week or so? Still with me? Awesome. Thanks to all of you that were kind enough to leave a review! I love you all. Nia
Chapter 22 by Niamh
[A/N: So, apparently for this story, the muse likes grunge. . . I’m not complaining, just observing. Interesting though, for me, what types of music my muse responds to. So I wonder, if I’m writing smut, what will make the muse happy? I know what angsty is, I know what happy is. . . hhmm. Anyway, I’m nearly done with this story. I thought the last chapter was going to be it, but there’s a bit more story to go. . . so if anyone’s still reading this – have you got any ideas who is betraying Will and why? Track is Pearl Jam’s Immortality, off the Vitalogy album, released 22 November 1995. Lyrics by Eddie Vedder and music by Dave Abbruzzese, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, and Vedder. Disclaimers in full force and effect. I own nothing but the plot.]


Twenty-two


vacate is the word...vengeance has no place on me or her
cannot find the comfort in this world
artificial tear...vessel stabbed...next up, volunteers
vulnerable, wisdom can't adhere...
a truant finds home...and a wish to hold on...
but there's a trapdoor in the sun...immortality...
as privileged as a whore...victims in demand for public show
swept out through the cracks beneath the door
holier than thou, how?
surrendered...executed anyhow
scrawl dissolved, cigar box on the floor...
a truant finds home...and a wish to hold on too...
he saw the trapdoor in the sun...
immortality...
i cannot stop the thought...i'm running in the dark...
coming up a which way sign...all good truants must decide...
oh, stripped and sold, mom...auctioned forearm...
and whiskers in the sink...
truants move on...cannot stay long
some die just to live...
ohh...





Will stalked into the emergency room at the Allen Hospital, furiously angry. The EMTs hadn’t let him ride with the ambulance, making him follow behind. And since he didn’t have his own vehicle, he’d wasted precious time commandeering a ride from one of the guys from the Anti-Crime Squad. Now his instincts were really screaming at him and every moment wasted put Buffy in even more danger.

He didn’t know where she was, but the credentials hanging from a chain around his neck gave him entry without any further hassles. The nurses at the admitting booth waved him through and one, a young male, with curly dark hair and of mixed heritage pointed him to where the other officers were gathered.

Peeking past the curtain, Will fully expected to be greeted by Buffy’s tired features. Instead he was faced with Alanna, Gunn’s sister, who smiled tiredly. “Hey, Will.”

“Alanna?” Will stepped around the curtain. “What’re you doing here?”

She lifted her arm. Blood covered the sleeve of her shirt, which the nurse was in the process of cutting away. ‘Got clipped by the bad guys.”

Concern flooded him. “Your brother know?”

“Nope. And I’m not gonna tell him.” She grinned. “I’m gonna let you do that.”

He shuddered theatrically. “Great. Now I’m really a dead man.” He paused, looking around. “You the only one?”

Alanna didn’t hide the grimace as the nurse started washing her arm. “No. Girl’s in one of these rooms.” She looked down at the wound. “Hey, that hurts.”

“If you’d hold still, it won’t hurt as much.” The nurse patted her arm. “It won’t be long before the morphine kicks in and you won’t feel anything.”

“Morphine?” Alanna questioned the nurse.

“Doctor’s got to get the bullet out. You’re lucky, because it missed everything, but it’s still going to be painful. You should be up and around in a week or so.”

“A week? No, that’s not good.” She was shaking her head, and Will backed out of the room to give them a bit of privacy, and to find Buffy.

He stopped at the group of officers, not waiting for a break in their hushed conversation to interrupt. “Where’s the witness?”

“She’s in x-ray.” A cop with a sergeant’s bars answered, pointing with his hand to the left. “They just took her in. They think her ankle’s busted.”

“Thanks.” Will headed in that direction, shaking his head. He didn’t care enough to berate the uniforms for not guarding her closely, since he doubted anything would budge them from where they were. Not considering one of their own had been shot. Granted, she wasn’t in any danger – barring any infection – but still, the NYPD tended to look after their own.

Will leaned against the wall, head lowered, but eyes watching the hallways. His brain was on over load – and he was almost regretting his earlier phone call to Rupert, but there was nothing to do about it now. He’d called and the old man had actually sounded relieved and happy to hear from him, which was a switch from his usual exasperation. Will knew they sometimes clashed, but Giles was a good man, and despite their sometimes different approaches, they were very much alike. Both chafed at the restrictions placed on them by their chosen professions, though they realized the restrictions were necessary.

It wasn’t long before the technician was wheeling Buffy through the door and she looked so small and forlorn, that Will had to force himself to maintain a professional distance. As it was, the technician is the one who noticed him first and he stopped, pausing at the scowl on Will’s face.
“Detective?”

“S’all right.” Will motioned them forward, not daring to meet Buffy’s eyes, but his hand brushed over her arm as the technician wheeled her forward and a brief smile lit her tired features.

Together, he and the tech got her settled back on the gurney, and Will waited patiently while the nurse repositioned an IV line and checked her vitals again. “When’s the doc due in?”

“We called the orthopedic resident. As soon as the x-rays are ready she’ll be in to talk to you.” The nurse didn’t bother to address Buffy, directing her comments at Will instead. “It shouldn’t be too long.”

“Thanks.” He watched her go, trying to think of a way to stay with Buffy – as long as it was going to take to put away the remnants of Reilly’s organization. Will didn’t turn until Buffy had called his name, and from the tone in her voice, she’d been trying for a while.

“Will? What’s going to happen now?” She was picking at the light blanket covering her, watching him from beneath her lashes.

“Dunno, kitten. ‘Spect my bosses are gonna want my take on all this, plus whatever you can remember.” He shrugged. “After that? ‘M not entirely sure. Could be they’ll call your mum.”

“What?” She looked up at him. “No. No. I don’t want anyone calling my mother. I won’t go back there. I’ll leave again. I swear.” Buffy could barely hold her head up, everything was so achy, but she wasn’t ever going back to her mother’s house. Not as long as Ted was still there. “You can’t make me go.”

A short bitter bark of laughter emerged from him. “Don’t kid yourself, sweetheart. They can make you do whatever they want. If the Powers that be send you home, home’s where you’re going.”

He didn’t want to disillusion the girl, but if Social Services felt she was safest back home, then that’s where she’d end up.

“Why can’t I stay with you?” She was pouting, something he suddenly couldn’t tear his gaze from.

“Ah. . .” Stop looking at me with those big eyes, pet. I can’t handle it. . . “Well, for one thing, I’m not married.”

“What the hell does that have to do with anything?” Her eyes were a mossy green, and he found himself staring into them.

“The only way they’d let me take you, kitten, is in a parental capacity. An’ . . .” He couldn’t finish the thought. Daren’t finish the thought. As it was, he shouldn’t have even been thinking the thoughts. She was barely sixteen. And he was far, far too old for her.

That effectively sucked the wind from her sails. “Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh.” He was picking at his nails, refusing to look at her.

The enclosed area was quiet for long minutes, and Buffy fought tears – angry, pain filled – tears that she didn’t want to let slip. But she couldn’t fight them, along with the pain and fatigue pulling at her and finally she just gave up. Her hands came up to cover her face and Buffy hiccuped once, suppressing the sobs. She didn’t give in until his hand brushed her hair back and dropped lightly on her shoulder. “It’s alright, kitten, go ahead.”

“I’m scared.” She sniffled. “And tired. And everything hurts.”

“I know, sweetheart.” He pushed her back gently. “Put your head down an’ close your eyes. I’ll be right here.”

“You promise?”

Oh sweetheart. . . don’t . . . “Yeah. Already promised you I wouldn’t leave you.”


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



“Columbia Presbyterian.”

“Which one?”

“Allen Hospital.”

“Fuck. Uptown.”

There was a pause on both ends, then the second voice asked, “How many?”

“Right now? Six. Including Pratt.”

A second pause while the information was digested. “Do it.”

“Done.”



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Buffy was just drifting off to sleep when loud voices penetrated over the soft hum of constant machinery and beeps of monitors. At first Will didn’t register the noises, because he was sitting next to Buffy, watching her, her hand tucked in his, and his mind was miles away. She looked so small and young, her hair a dark brown against the pale sheets and her bruised skin. Poor chit’s been through so much. . . how can we put her through any more? Can’t see it doing her any good ‘t all.

Damn Angelus. Damn him to all the hells for getting her – for picking her out of all the hookers he could’ve picked up that night. Why was it Buffy? Why her?


Was it because she looked like his wife? Was that the reason? Or was it something darker, something nastier? Because she barely looked old enough to have a babysitting job, much less be out walking the streets. Will tilted his head, checking to make sure her eyes were closed. Good. She’s sleeping.

Gently extracting his hand from hers, Will moved his chair back. Wouldn’t do to be caught holdin’ hands with the chit. Not good form, William. He snickered, hearing the last bit in Rupert’s clipped, precise tones. Not good form at all, old man.

So lost in his own head, Will paid no attention to the noises beyond the quiet curtained area he and Buffy were behind. It wasn’t until the noises intruded on his thoughts did he think to check out what was happening. He quietly slid between the curtain, eyes scanning left and right. Spike stopped short, his breath deep and hastily indrawn. Holy fucking hell. . .

He knew she did know him, couldn’t know him. But there was no mistaking the look of concentrated anger in her dark eyes.

Cordelia Reilly Chase Harris was one pissed off lady.

And yet that wasn’t what had him drawing his weapon.

The person stalking behind Cordelia Harris had him palming his weapon, preparing to aim and fire without warning. His partner – Faith Lehane – was right behind her, eyes scanning the emergency room restlessly. If. . . Will couldn’t think. All leads, all his intuition had led to this moment, and he wasn’t entirely surprised.

Faith raised her head, catching his eye and she blinked, once, and then slowly, imperceptibly shook her head.

“You know, I pay you better than this. The information you gave me said my husband – ex-husband – was here. Why the hell would you bring me here if he wasn’t?” Cordelia rounded on Faith, her tone acerbic and rushed. “I don’t even know why I care. Except that perhaps it was the same bitch that murdered my brother.”

Without waiting for a response, she continued her diatribe. “So far, Faith, you haven’t proven to be much of a bodyguard. And why the hell those idiots think I need a bodyguard is beyond me. I’m not involved with my brother’s business. Never have been.”

Will watched, his heart thundering in his ears, as Faith drew Cordelia further away from where he and Buffy were. He’d thought. . . He couldn’t believe Lehane was in this deep, and nor could he believe she’d just saved his ass. Feeling like he dodged a bullet, he exhaled deeply and watched them round the corner into another corridor.

The tension between his shoulders relaxed, but only minutely. That itch between his shoulders and on the nape of his neck was still throbbing and even the near miss with Cordelia Harris hadn’t eased it. He was missing something. . . something vital. It was clear now, that whoever was supplying the information to Reilly’s organization was well placed. Very well placed. And despite Faith’s apparent diffusion just know, Will wasn’t prepared to rule her out. But labeling Faith as the double was too easy. Almost as if. . .

He was being played. The sudden realization made him grit his teeth. Someone was deliberately placing Faith in front of him as the mole. But who?














See, that wasn't so long, was it? C'mon guys, show me just a little bit of love, please? I've got the next chapter just about ready to go, and the next after that. Should be posting again sometime next week, if everything goes according to plan. Blessed Samhain, (Happy Halloween) Much love and thanks for the reviews you've all left me so far.
Chapter 23 by Niamh
[A/N: Yeah, I know that was a cliffhanger, but how the hell else am I supposed to keep people’s interest? *sigh* This is the last chapter of this story. For a lot of reasons, many of which have to do with the distinct lack of interest this story has garnered, and because if no one is reading and caring, then there’s no point in my continuing to beat myself up to get this story finished. So yeah, while I had a bit more to add to the story, I’m not. I’m going to finish it now, with the epilogue to follow shortly. Now I can focus on Great Balls of Fire again, and maybe finish up the two ficlets I still have in the Originsverse, but I’m honestly not holding my breath for any of it. The muse is so stressed (as am I) that it’s a wonder I can even think straight. Work is f*cked beyond the telling, and I barely have a moment to myself, much less any time to give over to the muse. But I am trying. And these last couple of days have proved beneficial. I got rest, and I got some housecleaning done. Go me. But tomorrow is back to the grind, though I am hopeful that I might have some more during the week. Or next weekend. Hopefully. Keep your fingers crossed. It’s what I’ve been doing. To those of you that have stuck by me and agonized over this story along with me, you have my infinite thanks and gratitude. As always, you are the reason why I post. I wish you all nothing but the best. Lyrics are from one of my favorite singers, from one of the best albums of the nineties. Fell On Black Days is by Soundgarden, off the album Superunknown, released in 1994, words and music by Chris Cornell. Disclaimers in full force and effect, and I still don’t own a damn thing.]

Twenty-three

Whatsoever I've feared has
Come to life
Whatsoever I've fought off
Became my life
Just when everyday
Seemed to greet
Me with a smile
Sunspots have faded
And now I'm doing time
Cause I fell on
Black days

Whomsoever I've cured
I've sickened now
Whomsoever I've cradled
I've put you down
I'm a search light soul
They say but I can't
See it in the night
I'm only faking
When I get it right
Cause I fell on
Black days
How would I know
That this could be my fate

So what you wanted to
See good has made you blind
And what you wanted to
Be yours has made it
Mine
So don't you lock up
Something that you
Wanted to see fly
Hands are for shaking
No not tying

I sure don't
Mind a change
But I fell on black
Days
How would I know
That this could be
My fate





Cursing violently under his breath, Will ducked back behind the flimsy curtain and glanced down at Buffy.

There was no way out. Cordelia and Faith – of all people– no doubt with more than one back-up soldier, were systematically searching the emergency room and he had no one to call to create a diversion. No one to back him up, although the six cops were still within shouting distance. But he couldn’t rely on them. Not with Alanna still needing protection. Will’s mind raced with possibilities, with probabilities and nothing, short of picking Buffy up and making a futile run for it, crossing his mind as a reasonable plan.

But maybe. . . if Faith didn’t get a decent look at his face, maybe he could bluster his way through, since he’d changed his looks – at least superficially. Will shook his head, knowing that he couldn’t risk the same ploy twice. Gunn knew where he was, knew he had Buffy with him and if it was Gunn who’d betrayed him, William knew there was no escape. They more than likely had his description, and it wouldn’t matter how far he tried to go.

Harris, McDonald, and the rest of the goons would find him.

Inhaling deeply, he brushed a hand over Buffy’s arm and whispered softly, “I’m so sorry, kitten. I tried.”

He stepped away from her, sliding out between the curtain and the wall, his weapon in hand and a grim determination flooding his body.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




“Nah, you guys can go. I’m gonna call my brother and he’ll come get me.” Alanna looked from one concerned face to another, her dark eyes clear despite the drugs injected into her system.

“Not happening.” The sergeant motioned three of the officers from the room. “You know the rules. Someone gets shot, we gotta stick around. Orders and paperwork. Besides, IAB will be here shortly to question everyone involved in the shooting. You know that.”

Alanna rolled her eyes, trying for patience that wasn’t coming. “I know. But there’s no reason why anyone has to wait with me.”

“No can do, sweetheart.” His tone was both professional and condescending. “Those are the rules. And I ain’t breaking ’em for you.”

“Whatever.” She fidgeted on the gurney, trying and failing to get more comfortable. Her arm was starting to throb and Alanna knew there wasn’t much time before she would be out for the count. She wanted to at least be awake until IAB showed, because she had a few things to say. And she did know that the sergeant was right. The rat squad would want to question all of them, and then the bullet removed from her arm would be tested against all the weapons . . . and then, only after they deemed it a clean and necessary shooting, would she be out from under their scrutiny. This was exactly the kind of shit she didn’t need or want.

Knowing when a woman dismissed him, the sergeant shook his head and exited the cubicle.




@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





He was still standing at the curtain opening when a wounded Xander Harris was wheeled past him, bleeding profusely from his leg and shoulder. Will barely glanced at his face before averting his. The last thing he wanted was a revenge-driven Xander Harris recognizing him. Even if he was injured, Harris was a dangerous man to have as an enemy. Especially when he was injured.

But how was . . . Harris hadn’t been one of the shooters, that much Will knew. They were flunkies, not big fish. At least not by Reilly’s standards. So who shot Harris?

And why bring him here, to this hospital?


It all stank of conspiracy. Harris just happens to get shot in the same area that a gunfight breaks out? Upper Manhattan wasn’t the usual stomping grounds of the Reilly organization, so what had brought them all here?

Who had tipped them off? And who was systematically trying to kill them all?

So far, the only faction not heard from were those backing Lindsey McDonald.

Circumstances certainly seemed to indicate a coup was taking place, and that McDonald was finally making his play to take over Reilly’s organization. But that only explained Harris’ injuries, not Reilly’s murder. . . unless. . .

Will looked over his shoulder at Buffy, his eyes losing their customary hard glint. If McDonald had plotted Reilly’s murder and arranged to have it done, using Buffy as the fall, then who was the other person – woman – in Reilly’s suite that night. Buffy could only remember dark eyes and a husky voice. . . which might describe more than half the women in New York. She couldn’t remember anything else. There could have been half a dozen people in that suite, and given the amount of drugs in her system, she wouldn’t remember any of them.

So he had to do the thinking for her. It couldn’t have been Darla, because her breathy, little-girl voice didn’t fit. Cordelia had the dark eyes, but her relationship with Reilly precluded the evidence of sexual play. Faith, with her dark eyes and deeper voice, fit the bill perfectly. But would she have done that? Could she have cold-bloodedly murdered the target? And not just murdered, but mutilated his corpse? Unlikely. The damage done to Angelus wasn’t random. Wasn’t impersonal. It was deeply personal.

Which brought him back to Darla. Dark contact lenses and a deliberate effort to change her voice would bring her right back into the field of suspects. He’d always thought she harbored a dark streak that echoed in her husband. She hadn’t struck him as the typical wife that ignored her husband’s illegal and immoral lifestyle. No, rather, she seemed to revel in it.

Could it be that Darla and Lindsey McDonald had joined forces? Would it be that difficult to believe?

No.
William could see the alliance forming in his mind. Darla, angered by her husband’s recent infidelities, foolish business dealings, and recent reduction in income, would definitely reach out to one of his top generals. Harris was too close to the Reilly family, which left him out in the cold. McDonald had never hidden his ambition or his ruthlessness. He’d worked his way up through the ranks, starting out as just an errand boy and eventually making his way into Angelus’ inner circle.

Has to be the two of them.

But who’d they manage to get to?


Which one of his team had betrayed him?



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@





“Sir?” Giles barely acknowledged the voice calling out to him, in his haste to depart the embassy. “Giles, sir?”

He snapped his head up, and clenched his jaw in anticipation of an unnecessary delay. “What is it, Tennyson?”

The efficient blond woman glanced sideways, then pulled her superior to the side. “Our surveillance on McDonald picked up some chatter, sir.”

“What sort of chatter?” Giles shifted his credentials from one pocket to the other, then removed his glasses from his face.

“Nearest we can decipher is that someone took out Xander Harris, evidently on McDonald’s orders.” She paused, watching his reaction. “We are unable to determine if Harris’ injuries are fatal.”

“Bloody hell.” Giles grimaced. “What else?”

“They’ve also increased their surveillance on Pratt, and,” Tennyson delivered the bad news sotto voce, “they’ve managed to discover the witness he’s protecting.”

Giles replaced his glasses. “Is there anything else?”

“We believe we’ve narrowed down the list of possible moles.” Before he could ask, she pressed a piece of paper into his hands. “This should help the Americans.”

He glanced down and nodded. “Very good, Tennyson.”

“Thank you, sir.” She started to walk away, aware that his eyes followed her. “Your car’s ready.”

“Yes. Yes.” Giles shook his head and refocused his attention on Pratt and his latest headache. As he was making his way to the driveway entrance, he paused. “Tennyson? Keep me apprised of any new developments.”

“Sir.” She nodded once, then continued on her way back to the security offices.

Emitting a deep sigh, Giles left the embassy.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@




Spike was still standing at the curtain, his eyes scanning the emergency room. The confusion brought about by Harris’ arrival was still ongoing, and he watched with wary eyes the comings and goings of several doctors and nurses. Any one of them could be another assassin, and he wasn’t taking his chances. The moment Buffy was cleared, he was taking her away from this place, and getting her straight to the British Embassy. The unease about which of his team had been compromised was gnawing away, tightening his belly and the spot between his shoulders. It had to be someone he knew. Someone with an axe to grind against him.

Shaking his head, Spike eased back inside the curtains, smiling slightly as Buffy shifted with restlessness. Whatever drug they gave her wasn’t working as well as it should and she gasped in pain when she rolled to her side. He was about to help her, when a discordant noise from behind him caught his attention. Reeling about, Spike pushed aside the curtain.

Standing at the nurses’ station was Lindsay McDonald.

There was another rustle behind him and Spike half-turned. It took him more than a moment to register what his eyes were seeing. Alannah had her arm wrapped around Buffy’s shoulders, a gun pressed to her temple. Buffy’s eyes were wide and panicked, her fingers scrabbling to pull the arm away from her. “Don’t.”

Alannah glanced for a second at the gun in his hand. “I said, don’t.”

It wasn’t her voice, though, that made him stop. It was the one from behind him. “You should listen.”

Spike relaxed his shoulders, then turned to face the second speaker. “Take it slow, Pratt. Wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt all these nice people, would you?”

McDonald’s voice was deceptively soft, his tone mild and bland. He smiled. “Just ease back, away from the ladies.”

He waited, poised to move either way, should an opening present itself. His gaze met Buffy’s and he watched while Alannah slipped her hold to a choke. It was only then that he took a step backward, away from where the girls were.

“That’s good.” Lindsay eased away from the counter, his gun trained on Spike’s head. “One more step.”

“Not the best idea you’ve ever had, Texas.” Spike didn’t dare let out a breath of relief, not when he wasn’t sure who was playing by a different set of rules, but he was grateful to hear Faith’s voice nonetheless. “You’ve got a real Mexican stand-off going on.”

Spike could hear the shifting behind him, but he kept his eyes trained on Buffy. “So now what are you gonna do? You’re surrounded by cops.”

Ignoring McDonald for a moment, Faith addressed her question to Spike, without shifting her gaze. “You okay there, Spike?”

“We’re good.” He raised his gun, training it on Alannah’s forehead. It was the only shot he had, since she was now using Buffy as a shield. “Drop it, Alannah. Let her go.”

He could see the tension in the arms holding Buffy, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. Alannah would either listen or she wouldn’t. He had to focus on her, and not on the hazel green eyes boring into his. “You really wanna throw away your life for this piece of shite?”

She didn’t answer him, which was exactly what he expected.

The situation couldn’t last. Spike took a step closer to the girls, ignoring the stand-off behind him. His priority was Buffy, and only Buffy. Faith could take out McDonald, and the others could handle the clean-up. But he’d made a promise to her, and he was going to keep it. He shifted his gun to one hand, holding out the other. “C’mon, Alannah, let her go. She’s done nothing.”

A bitter laugh ripped from her. “Right. She’s just Little Miss Innocent.” She tightened her hold, moving the gun from Buffy’s temple down to her side. “She’s just a ten-dollar hooker. What the fuck do you care?”

“I care about both of you. Don’t do this, Alannah.” Spike took another step closer, motioning with his free hand. “Just gimme the gun.”

“Don’t move, Pratt.” McDonald’s voice was tense.

Ignoring him, Spike moved forward again. He didn’t realize his mistake until Buffy’s eyes widened, and she started wriggling in Alannah’s hold. The bullet slammed into his side, just under his upraised arm, and he reflexively reacted, his shot going just a bit wide, grazing Alannah’s head. It knocked her back and away from Buffy, who dropped to the floor. Shots fired behind him, and Spike rolled to his back, his gun fixed on the last location of Lindsay McDonald.

Buffy scuttled forward, her fingers reaching out for him and Spike half sat, shielding her with his body. “Keep down, kitten. Don’t move.”

Lindsay was slumped over the counter, unmoving. Faith moved quickly, grasping the gun away from his hand. Two uniformed officers hovered behind her, waiting orders, but with guns drawn. She checked McDonald for a pulse, then stepped back. Emergency personnel watched warily, but she nodded them forward. “He’s still breathing.”

She looked at the uniforms. “Make sure he doesn’t leave this building.” She eased over to where Spike was on the floor. “Get him up.”

Two more cops appeared at the opposite end of the nurses’ station. “Check out the girl.”

Faith crouched down at Spike’s side. “You okay?”

He removed his hand from his wounded side, grimacing. “Should be. What the fuck just happened?”

“Your mole wasn’t me. Never was.” She stood up, reaching for Buffy to help her up. “Been in constant touch with G-man.”

“What?” With the help of two orderlies, Spike got on a gurney. “Yeah, blondie. Been working with him all along.” The brunette shrugged.

“Your girl there is outta her fucking mind.” She motioned to Alannah. “She’s been sniffing after Reilly for months. Apparently, she’s got a taste for the wild side.”

Faith looked at Buffy. “She’s gotta go to into the system, you know that.”

He started to protest, but the words wouldn’t come. He grabbed for Faith’s arm, trying to keep her attention, though he suddenly had no strength. He tried again, but the pain in his chest was too much. Spike coughed, struggling harder to sit up, hoping that would ease the pain, then slipped into unconsciousness.

His last thought was for Buffy.



















I know I don't deserve any kindness or anything, but I hope you can find it within you to leave a review, especially if you haven't done so already. I'd love to hear what you're thinking about this story, whether you love it, hate it, or think it's utter tripe, any feedback is better than no feedback at all. And believe me, I can take the critiques. I'm a big girl, after all. Won't hurt me, and who knows, it just might make me a better writer. So spare some love this time around, and let me know. Happy Holidays, one and all. I'll try to get the epilogue up before the new year. Slainte, Nia
Chapter 24 by Niamh
[A/N: This is it. The epilogue for this story. I’d like to thank Spikeslovebite, who betaed the beginnings of this story – who actually gave this whole story its start. She created a banner in an Art-Before-Fic challenge, and the result was this story. I know it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I realize it left a lot of you wondering about the relationship between Buffy and Spike, since there was such a huge age gap. I know there wasn’t any sex, but that was for a lot of reasons, and yes, partially it was because of her age – but more of it had to do with the timing. I wanted to highlight Spike’s protective tendencies, and to see if they could interact without any anger or angry sex. In my head it all worked. I’m not sure how the plot played out, because I knew where I was going all along, so I can’t really tell if you were all surprised by the last chapter. I’m hoping you were. I guess the only way I have of knowing is if you tell me. For now though, this is over. Thank you all so much for reading. It was a bit of a learning experience for me, to see if I could write a mystery (you’ll let me know how I did, right?), but a good one. My thanks also go out to both Spikeslovebite and Dawnofme, who kindly betaed parts of this story. Thanks to everyone who left a review, and even those of you who didn’t. Special thanks to Cordykitten, who never failed to leave a review, and this last bit is dedicated to you. I hope it makes you smile. The song is The Ghost in You, by the Psychedelic Furs, off the album Mirror Moves, released in 1984. It’s always been one of my favorite songs. Music and lyrics by brothers Richard and Tim Butler. Disclaimers, as always, are in full force and effect. I own nothing.]


Epilogue


A man in my shoes runs a light
And all the papers lied tonight
But falling over you
Is the news of the day
Angels fall like rain
And love is all of heaven away
Inside you the time moves
And she don't fade
The ghost in you
She don't fade
Inside you the time moves
And she don't fade
A race is on I'm on your side
And hearing you my engines die
I'm in a mood for you
For running away
Stars come down in you
And love...you can't give it away
Inside you the time moves
And she don't fade
The ghost in you
She don't fade
Inside you the time moves
And she don't fade
Don't you go
It makes no sense
When all your talking supermen
Just take away the time
And get in the way
Ain't it just like rain
And love...is only heaven away
Inside you the time moves
And she don't fade
The ghost in you
She don't fade
Inside you the time moves
And she don't fade





The wind whipped the water, driving it heavily against the piers, creating whitecaps. It was bitterly, bitingly cold, and wet and there was more than a hint of snow in the air. Bright lights blinked and glistened, contributing to the cold, rather than warming it.

One more Christmas season come and gone. One more year spent wandering and alone. William raised the collar on his coat, cursing the bitter northerly winds. He could barely feel his fingers and his ears were frozen chunks of flesh hanging from his head. His nose, no doubt, must surely rival Rudolph’s. His side ached and breathing hurt.

There was no good reason for him to be out. None at all. He’d stopped drinking two years ago, when it became evident he was hiding behind the bottle, trying to drown his guilt and insecurities in the amber depths of Jack Daniels and various other strong liquids. Coming to grips with what he’d done and what he’d been unable to do gave him a fine appreciation for atonement. Except he didn’t allow himself to believe that all the good he’d tried to do outweighed his failures. They were far too spectacular to recover from.

Although the four years since his colossal fall from grace hadn’t been entirely wasted. While he was no longer on loan to the NYPD, he’d risen through the ranks of MI6, an irony that wasn’t lost on him.

It still ate at him – the guilt over Nikki’s death haunted him and he still blamed himself for her murder. Even the fact he’d been cleared of all misconduct hadn’t eased his own self-recrimination. Added to that colossal failure had been the sorrow of watching Gunn’s family implode over the whole Reilly fiasco. Gunn’s career with the NYPD had very nearly ended and only the glowing recommendations from both Giles and to a lesser extent himself had managed to save the other man’s career. Charles now was on loan to MI6 as their liaison. The irony was not lost on him.

He’d failed them – all of them. But mostly he’d failed Nikki and Buffy.

Oh, blast it. First time I’ve thought of her today.

He tried to stop his mind from focusing on her. It’s been nearly . . . Will looked down at his boots, then sniffled hard. ‘S been three years, seven months, and forty-eight days since the last time I saw her.

Twice after the trial he’d tried to see her and both times he’d been refused. Social Services had custody of her while they sorted out the situation. It was only because of his persistence that he’d finally discovered that she’d been sent to live with her father, who had relocated to Spain. He’d lost track of her after that. He wondered many times over the last three years, whether she’d recovered completely from her ordeal. Whether she remembered him. . . whether she even wanted to remember.

He, on the other hand, couldn’t forget her. Couldn’t shake the sight of her big hazel eyes staring at him with complete trust. Couldn’t forget the way she’d curled up into his arms those nights she’d been too scared to be alone. Couldn’t forget the lost and frightened girl who’d carved out a piece of his heart and taken it with her.

Will supposed it was his curse. His penance for failing, that when he couldn’t sleep, it was her eyes that haunted him.

It could well be why he was here, after all this time.

The dark silhouette of the Cloisters rose up against the late winter sky, the clouds almost touching the tiled roof. Every year, in the four years since then, he’d come here on this day and roam the exhibits. He remembered the look on her face when they’d walked into the first chapel, the wonder, the awe, the peace that had gleamed in her vivid eyes. It was the only thing he’d managed to do correctly. He’d given her those moments. That peace.

William knew he was torturing himself. Knew it and yet, here he was, once more mourning the loss of a girl he’d never really had. He didn’t fool himself into thinking that she still thought of him, that she, like he, was haunted by that short time. No, William knew better. Buffy had moved on, forgotten him.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~@




It was marginally warmer inside the walls of the museum, but the bitter cold still penetrated the small chapels. The cold was only offset by the atmosphere, with the holly and mulled wine smells permeating the air. William sat in one of the chairs, contemplating the ancient altar in front of him. These stones had seen so much, heard so many prayers. Sometimes in the quiet, he wondered if this was more than just a museum, if the walls and floors were still hallowed, despite the many feet trampling through each day. Did the many visitors detract from the holy atmosphere, or did they enhance it? He supposed he would never know and he doubted that any god heard his prayers.

He settled in, shoving his hands back into his pockets and closed his eyes.

The shuffle of feet and whispered voices faded away and he was lost in his own thoughts, his memories of not just Buffy, but everything he’d left behind. He was still a few years shy of forty, but he felt every bit as worn and ancient as the stone walls sheltering him. Every dream he’d once had, every hope for love and family had been shattered, in one way or another. Drusilla had left him. Nikki had opted to stay with her family. . . and then she’d had her life shattered. Buffy – Buffy had never really been his to begin with, but he’d loved her too.

He’d dated, here and there, in the years since, but none of the women had lasted more than six months. Most barely lasted a couple of weeks. Will realized he was too tired, too angry, and too broken to do right by anyone – sometimes even himself.

Sunlight flared, making the stained glass windows glow in the late afternoon sunshine and William felt it warm him. A bittersweet smile twitched about his lips and he opened his eyes, watching the play of light over the brilliant glass. It was breathtakingly glorious and it lifted some weight from him, some indefinable sin had been expiated by this moment and he let it wash over him. His smile widened and he leaned back against the chair, his feet stretched out in front of him.

Peace, elusive and ephemeral, settled into his bones and Will felt the pain in his chest ease.

He could almost pretend that Buffy was wandering the chapel behind him, her eyes wide and awed by the windows. He could practically hear the tones of her excited chatter and the feel of her lips on his.

Will didn’t understand why this girl, of all the women he’d ever known, and some he’d loved, why she haunted him. Why her ghost wouldn’t let him go. Why, even all this time later, he could still see her face, feel her. . . why her?

A deep sigh shook him and once more he closed his eyes. ‘M wallowing, an’ it’s not doing me a damn bit of good.

He resisted the urge to jump to his feet. Instead he watched the light play over the windows and forced his mind to blankness.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~@




He hadn’t meant to fall asleep and now he was disoriented and out of sorts. One of the museum security guards had woken him up, gently but firmly reminding him the Cloisters was closed. It was well after five and darkness had descended upon the city. It was colder than it had been earlier and finally tiny snowflakes danced in the air. Spike hunched his shoulders and groggily made his way down the stone steps to the busy street below.

Fatigue made his steps slow, lethargy overcoming the cold. A shiver fought its way down his spine and he sighed, looking over the steep hills leading away from the Cloisters. If he tried hard enough, he could trace his steps from that night, four years in the past and find the spot where he’d left her. An ironic chuckle caught in this throat. He knew exactly where he left her. He knew where she still was, even if she didn’t. Something about Buffy had captured his soul and he couldn’t free himself from her hold. Spike wasn’t even sure anymore if he wanted to be free. She’d left an indelible mark and he’d carry the thought of her with him to the grave. Regrets and recriminations were what flayed his thoughts, things he should have done and didn’t. . . things he should have admitted to her, but at the time it had seemed wiser to hold his tongue.

Second-guessing himself hadn’t helped then and it did worse now. The truth of it was, she had been untouchable. Too hurt, to damaged by life, and far too young for him. He couldn’t allow himself to give in to the emotions he had felt. It wouldn’t have been fair to her and would have complicated everything.

But the truth was still there. Still harbored in the depths of his old, broken heart. He’d fallen in love with the girl and he had let her go. He’d had to. She was too young. And while their age difference wouldn’t have mattered at this point. . . it had then. Though now, four years later, he still carried her with him, Spike doubted that she even remembered his name. . . or spared him a thought.

It was his fate to be alone.

His fate to yearn after a girl he could never have. Never hope to touch.

Rubbing a hand over his tired face, Spike shook his head. His footsteps weighed heavily on the thick concrete and he could hear the sounds of people rushing home all around him, but they were distant, not enough to break through his melancholy.

A brief flare of anger surged through him, warming him for a moment. Being pathetic, mate. Need to shake out of it. No sense being dog-in-the-manger when the chit doesn’t even know you still exist. ‘Specially when you haven’t seen her for four bleedin’ years. Carrying the torch just a bit too far. . .

Gotta let the girl go. . .

‘Cause she wasn’t ever yours to begin with, so let it go, old man. Let it go.


Even as he warred with himself, Spike knew it was futile. Buffy Summers was the one that got away, and he doubted he’d ever forget her. Even when he was old and gray. . .

His fingers closed on his keys, eyes squinting in the dark for the right ones. Someone was waiting in the lobby and he barely acknowledged the figure, not wanting to make pleasantries to a complete stranger. Heading straight for the elevator, he ignored the recently hired doorman, deciding against checking for mail. Spike wanted nothing more than to sit alone with his thoughts and watch old movies.

“I tried calling the NYPD, but no one would give me any information.” A small sigh escaped the person behind him, and Spike stiffened, not immediately recognizing the voice. “At first they wouldn’t even admit they knew who you were. But I kept calling.”

He froze when the figure stepped up beside him. “I even called the British Embassy. They really didn’t want to admit they knew who you were.”

Spike looked down, and found himself staring into sparkling hazel eyes.

“You really are hard to find.”

His heart thumped wildly in his chest, though he tried to school his features. “Didn’t know I was lost.”

She laughed, her whole face lighting up. “Just temporarily misplaced.”

“Really?” He turned to face her, his eyes fixed on hers. “And how did you find me?”

“Well, there was one place I remembered. One place I couldn’t forget.” She tilted her head, trying to read his expression. “So I’ve been going there, trying to jog my memories. It finally worked.”

“It did?” Feeling like a complete idiot, Spike tried not to keep repeating everything she said. But he was finding it hard to believe he wasn’t still stuck in the Cloisters, dreaming the whole encounter.

“Yup.” She popped the ‘p’ on the end and the happy tone in her voice finally reached him. A tentative smile played about his lips and he shook his head.

There was one thing he had to know, before . . . “You hungry?” Fool! William, you fool! His brain screamed at him, but all the young woman in front of him did was laugh.

“Are you gonna try and give me stale cereal again?” Her smile brightened and once again he found himself shaking his head.

“Ah, no.” Spike jingled his keys, betraying his nervousness. “We could go grab something, or. . .”

She bit her lower lip, gazing at him with a look he couldn’t decipher. “Nah. I’d rather have pancakes.”

“All right.” He gestured her into the waiting elevator. “C’mon up, kitten.”

She unwound the scarf from her throat, then stuffed her mittens into her pockets. He watched her out of the corner of his eyes, dying to ask her why she’d tried hard to find him, but afraid of her answer. He didn’t want to know if all she wanted was to thank him. Spike didn’t think he could handle that. If her feelings were platonic, then . . . This was worse than not seeing her, because now his wayward heart was running away with possibilities and he didn’t think – No, mate. Stop thinking. Just go with it, see what the lady wants.

Just before the elevator stopped at his floor, she spoke. Her head was down, her eyes trained on the tips of her boots. Buffy’s voice was soft, barely above a whisper, “I wanted to see you, but they wouldn’t let me. And my dad thought it would be better if we just pretended nothing bad had happened.” She paused, closing her eyes. “My mom died last year, just before I turned eighteen. We never really made up. I didn’t forgive her.”

She turned, looking up at him. He could see the tears pooling in her eyes and he wanted to reach out and comfort her, to hold her close. “I . . . it got me really thinking. I didn’t want to lose someone else I loved. So that’s when I really started looking for you.”

Buffy looked so scared, so tentative, that his heart clenched for her. He started to speak, but his voice choked up, so he cleared his throat, and said, “I asked to see you, too, kitten.”

Spike was done. He couldn’t resist her any longer. His finger traced the line of her jaw, brushing her wispy hair away from her face. He took a step closer, then slid his hand around her neck, holding her in place. “I missed you too, sweetheart. Pro’lly more than I had a right too.”

Her eyes stared up into his. “You did?”

“Yeah.” They were separated by barely an inch. “I’m gonna kiss you now, kitten.”

“Kay.” She leaned into his embrace, their lips crossing the scant distance.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~@




He didn’t remember picking her up.

Barely remembered losing his keys in front of his door.

He remembered laughing, when Buffy innocently asked, while she watched him fumble to open the door, “You’re not married, are you?”

Spike didn’t remember pulling her into his flat, or getting their coats off, or asking her about food. . . all he could remember was the feel of her lips on his, the scent of her filling his senses. He remembered staring at her briefly as they sat on the couch. . .

Which was why, he supposed, he was so surprised now. They were lying on his bed, half undressed, both of them panting for breath. “Kitten?”

“Spike?”

He couldn’t formulate any more than that. Words had escaped him. Rational thought was beyond his capabilities. He could only stare at her, moonlight obscuring her features. Spike switched on the dim bedside lamp, his eyes drinking in the sight of her, bare, except for her sweater. “Kitten?”

A smile broke out on her face, and she traced her fingers over his bare skin. “I wanted. . . I . . . you should know, I fell in love with you, back then.”

“Really?” He slid his hand under the heavy wool, gripping her waist, his thumb sweeping over the soft skin of her belly. “Have a confession of my own, pet.”

“Do you?” Her eyes had gone soft and dreamy, and he kissed her, just because.

His voice was low, growly and deep as he whispered against her throat. “Fell for you then, too.”

Buffy eased back, looking at him. “Would you have looked for me?”

“Didn’t think I had the right. Thought it . . .” Spike gathered his courage and confessed his insecurities to her. “Didn’t think you felt the same, an’ if you didn’t, then what right did I have walking back into your life? Figured you deserved a chance to find happiness.”

She rolled them over, her legs trapping him beneath her. “You’re such a dope. Couldn’t you, like tell that I was all googly-eyed?” When he started to speak, she placed her fingers over his mouth, forestalling his comment. “You so could’ve kidnapped me then and I wouldn’t have minded.”

Buffy pulled the sweater over her head, baring her tanned skin to his gaze. “I’ve been waiting four years for this, William.”

“Oh hell, kitten.” Spike wasted no more time on words. He rose to her, his mouth on her breasts before she could blink. “Christ. ‘M not letting you go.”

She threaded her fingers through his curls. “That’s the plan.”

He flipped them over, barely undoing his jeans before he was thrusting into her. “You’re not going anywhere, kitten.”

Buffy laughed, holding him close. “If that’s a proposal, it sucks.”

He laughed along with her, then thrust hard, causing her to gasp. “Wait ‘til later. ‘Ll do it right then.”

“Kay.” She shivered. “Don’t let me go.”

He stopped moving, his free hand cupping the side of her face. Spike could see the pooled tears in her eyes, making them sparkle and glisten in the low light. She was beautiful. And now that she’d found him, he wasn’t going to ever let her go. “Don’t plan on it. Gonna keep you here til you’re tired of me, and even longer than that.”

She was trembling, slight tremors wracking her slim frame. “How ‘bout if we keep each other? How’s that?”

“Like that plan, kitten.” He kissed her, brief, barely touching her lips, then rained gentle kisses over her features, murmuring softly, “Love you, Buffy. Love you.”














So, there you have it. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who read, reviewed and emailed me about this story. . . you are all wonderful people. Hopefully, I'll have something else for you soon. Slainte, Nia