Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
Note the second: It's mostly post NFA with just a couple of bits set pre GiQ. I know the timeline might not quite fit with canon but, you know Andrew... He might have seen them snuggling once and be exaggerating and Angel's spy could have been unconscious for days...
"Willow, this is Giles. I'm sorry to be rather abrupt but I'm calling from the office and you know what the international call rates are like."
Willow suppressed a sigh and wondered if it was worth trying, yet again, to explain to her technophobic boss that they could talk just as easily using an instant messaging program for the price of a local rate call. Instead she decided to stick to the basics. "What's up, Giles?"
"Ehm, well, actually, I was wondering if you had heard anything from Buffy lately?"
"Buffy, not so much," Willow admitted reluctantly, but then Buffy was always the same when there was a new guy on the horizon. "Dawn drops me an email most weeks." Over the crackle of the line she could hear Giles taking a deep breath.
"Has Dawn mentioned anything about Buffy acting strangely, at all? Anything about say a new demon boyfriend?" the watcher probed.
Willow gave a sigh. "No. She hasn't. Giles, you tried interfering between Buffy and Spike and it sooo didn't end well. Maybe this time you should let Buffy make her own choices? She might make mistakes..." Like I did with Kennedy, the little voice inside her head added. And where was Giles and his over-protective father routine, then? "But she's got to make them on her own."
"If only it were so simple," Giles answered. "I received a report today from one of our junior slayers in Rome. Some of the girls were patrolling last night when they saw Buffy and her new boyfriend. They didn't want to intrude, but..." Giles voice seemed to fade away, as though he couldn't bring himself to say what was needed.
"Buffy and her new paramour beat up someone... rather severely."
Willow shook her head. It just couldn't be. "Buffy wouldn't-."
"Ordinarily, I would wholeheartedly concur, but I have the word of three slayers and a doctor's report to prove it. I was wondering if perhaps..."
"Giles, I'm booked solid for the next three weeks." He should know, since he was the one who had filled up her schedule so completely.
"August will have to do then... I'll have my secretary arrange the flights. Why don't you get in touch with Dawn or Buffy and see if they'll be able to put you up? If I book myself a hotel, that should allow you and Buffy ample time for all those important best friend chats and I should be able to bring one of the others up to speed by then. At least enough to hold the fort for a couple of weeks."
And again with that twinge of envy. "You're going to leave one of the geriatrics in charge?" She would have to turn all evil and veiny again before Giles would pack his bags and leave one of the retired watchers running the show. Buffy just had to... Okay, maybe turn evil.
"They may not be in the first bloom of youth, Willow, but they're all we have right now... Would you rather I put Andrew in charge?"
"Look, Andrew!" Giles bellowed down the phone line. "I really don't care how you do it. Tell her you're decorating and you're allergic to the paint fumes. Tell her the exterminators are there. Burn the damn building to the ground if you must, but find a reason why you have to leave your house and move in with Buffy for the next three weeks."
"You've got to go, Giles," Buffy replied with a pout and a couple of subtle bats of her eyelashes, wafting the invitation in its heavy envelope between Giles and his copy of The London Times. "It's the biggest social event in Rome in all August."
Giles remained resolute. "That's because the population of Rome goes on holiday for the entire month of August and moves en masse to Ostia."
"Okay, so all the nightclubs and everything are shut. More reason to make sure you enjoy yourself while you can and I know you're thinking you'll be the oldest guy there... well, except for Immi and he doesn't count, but I'm sure there'll be lots of... mature people there, maybe even a mature babe or two. You can't make Willow go without a partner 'cause she doesn't speak Italian and her ass would end up black and blue and you look way handsome in a tux. Ple-ease, Giles. You can't make her go with Andrew..." The slayer finally took a breath. "Actually, you really can't make her go with Andrew since you shipped him off to California for the duration of your visit, so you're so totally under a moral obligation to save her from having to go alone."
"I did not send him to California for the duration of my visit. I just sent him off to investigate what happened in LA. The reports were confused enough to possibly indicate something of supernatural origin." Giles gave a snort of disdain. "Some of the newspapers even had eye-witnesses claiming that there was a dragon. I mean to say... A dragon in downtown Los Angeles?"
"I still say we should just have rung Angel and asked him what the sitch was," Buffy answered screwing up her face slightly. "Not that I'm not glad to have Geek Boy out of my hair for a while..."
Giles' back stiffened noticably. "The firm that Angel is working for is notorious in demon circles. It is responsible for some of the most heinous events of the last millenium. We can't have any truck with them. First it's a phone call, then it's a favour and then you find yourself doing business with Beelzebub himself. No, Buffy. So long as Angel and his associates remain in the employ of Wolfram & Hart we cannot have any dealings with them."
Buffy's cheeks burned at the idea of the name at the top of the embossed invitation in her hand. They couldn't be that bad. What Giles didn't know wouldn't hurt him... and these guys dealt with the rich and famous. There were opera singers, fashion designers, soap opera stars, some of those boy bands chosen for their ability to dance that Dawn liked so much... Everyone who was anyone and who hadn't done the annual trek to the sea for August was celebrating Ferragosto at the Wolfram & Hart ball.
"Okay, so, no talking to Angel..." Buffy sighed in mock submission. "But you'll come, right?"
Giles rolled his eyes. He knew that Buffy was deliberately using her reluctant agreement to cut off communication with Angel as leverage, but that didn't make him feel any less obligated. "Alright. I'll go."
Angel slit open the expensive envelope with some puzzlement. It was the first mail that they had had, other than utility bills, since they moved back into The Hyperion. No one else knew where they were.
"Ilona Costa Bianchi on behalf of the Rome offices of Wolfram & Hart
would like to invite Angel and guest to attend their
Annual Ferragosto Ball
at the Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi on August 15th."
Spike raised an eyebrow in his direction, sitting down in the chair opposite Angel and putting his boots up on the antique desk. "So?" he asked. "What's up?"
Angel tossed the envelope to Spike, who was surprised to see that it was addressed to them both rather than just Angel. The blond pulled out Angel's invitation and an almost identical one with his name on it. "Trap?"
"Trap," Angel agreed.
"Senior Partners a bit pissed off at you nicking their mojo, I reckon," Spike suggested.
"Probably. Might as well put them in the bin-." Angel paused, noting the expression of consideration on Spike's face as he looked at the back of his invitation.
"Oh no, Angel Cakes," the younger of the two vamps ground out as he placed his invitation, reverse side up, on Angel's desk and turned it so that the inscription in Ilona's handwriting was plain for his grandsire to see. "I don't know about you and the cocker spaniel, but me and Blue are going to Rome. We've got some unfinished business to attend to."
Angel looked at the other vampire and then back at the invitation and back up again. "It's still a trap, you know," he reasoned.
"I know," Spike assured him with a bitter grin. "They just came up with some bait that I don't particularly want to resist."
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