Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
"So..." Nina's gaze flicked briefly to Spike before she returned to interrogating her boyfriend. "What you're trying to say is that you guys are going to go to Rome for the weekend?"
"Well, not really for the whole weekend. The plane picks us up on Friday. We get to Rome more or less in time to check into a hotel for the day. We go to the party and we're on a plane back as soon as it's dark on Sunday... Assuming that it isn't all a trap and that they're not planning to leave us stranded in Italy. It's not like we're going to be going sightseeing or anything. It's just one party."
"Like I was saying, you're going to Rome for the whole weekend. You're going to this high society party?"
"Well, it's Wolfram & Hart so more like dregs of society really." Angel did his best to make it all seem reasonable, despite Spike smirking at him over Nina's shoulder, his smile saying more clearly than words, 'I told you so!'
"You're going to an expensive party, with movie stars and opera singers and millionaire playboys?"
"Okay, yeah, I guess."
"A party where your 'forever love' is just going to happen to be there?"
Angel sighed. "It's not so much that she just happens to be there. And I'm over Buffy. I'm moving on... I'm moving on with you." The vampire threw his hands in the air. "Look, Buffy is so not the issue here."
"You're going to a party that this girl you're so over is going be at... and even though your invitation says 'and guest', you expect me to just stay home? Me, an art student. Rome? Galleries galore? And you're telling me that you want me to stay home? The last chance I'll probably get for a free ride to Rome?"
Spike stepped forward so that he was standing shoulder to shoulder with Nina. "The girl does have a point, Angel."
"Shut up, Spike!" Angel rounded on his companion. "This is meant to be a private conversation. What are you even doing here?"
"You want private, then you'd be better talking in your room instead of in the office of this supposed private detective business that we're meant to be running," the blond grouched back. "'Sides till you actually find some detecting to do, this is all the entertainment there is."
Angel scowled back but knew if he got diverted into an argument with the other vampire he was lost. So ignoring Spike, he tried another tack. The puppy dog eyes. "Look, Nina, it's not that I don't want to take you. It's just that we're not going to this party to have fun-."
"What?" Spike asked sounding horrified. "You're telling me that getting hold of that officious prick and making him pay for what happened to Fred isn't going to get that shrivelled little walnut you call a heart racing? ...Well, metaphorically, anyway. 'Cause I call that fun. I call that heaps of fun."
"Really not helping, Spike!" Angel ground out through clenched teeth before he turned back to Nina and resumed his plea. "Things could get really ugly. This whole thing is probably some huge trap. We could be attacked the minute we arrive."
"Things already got pretty ugly, 'round about when you tried to cut me out of the invitation. Last time you went rushing off to see her we weren't officially dating. I let it slide. You say you're moving on with me... but if you get on that plane to Rome without me, you'll be moving on alone when you get back. If it's as dangerous as all that, why's Spike taking a date?"
"Spike's-." Angel started, about to argue.
"I'm taking someone because Buffy and I are over," Spike stated with grim determination, as if this were something that he repeated to himself a dozen times a minute. "Buffy's moved on, I've got a life here that doesn't revolve around her and I'm not going to put my libido on hold while I wait to see if she changes her mind. I'm going to show her that I can get a bird, who could not only wipe the floor with her skinny arse if it came to a fight..." Just for a second, Spike's eyes glazed over as he pictured the goddess and the slayer wrestling each other in a swimming pool... with bubble bath.
Angel cleared his throat loudly.
"Yeah, right, well... Not only could she kick slayer arse, but she could make her look like Cletus the slack-jawed yokel. Hell, she could make her little witch friend look dumb and she can give Buffy a run for her money in the looks stakes as well. I don't want to look like some sad bastard who can't tell when to call it quits and move on."
All of a sudden Angel pictured how it would look if he bumped into Buffy with The Immortal and he was there at the biggest social event of the Rome year on his own. "Maybe you should come," he answered in an abrupt about face. "And you should buy yourself a really nice dress... or I should. Get whatever you want. I'll pay you back... but if we run into The Immortal, no fornication, right?"
The Immortal leaned forward and pressed a kiss against the back of Buffy's neck.
The slayer stirred gently in her sleep but didn't wake.
Willow glanced over from the armchair where she'd been watching the TV as the demon began to lever himself out from behind his girlfriend as carefully as possible. "Long day with all the sightseeing and stuff," she said in an apologetic tone.
"Is o-." the demon stilled in his efforts to extricate himself from his horizontal position on the sofa as Buffy whispered in her sleep.
"Spike? Don't go."
Willow's gaze dropped to her feet unable to meet The Immortal's eye as he finally stood up.
"I'll see you in the morning, bella," he told the witch, keeping his back to her as he made for the door, his tone very carefully neutral.
"You wish for me to modulate my form?" Illyria asked Spike in a supercilious tone.
"I just thought it would be nice for you to receive the worship and adoration you deserve." Spike tried gamely to convince the former god-king. It wasn't that Spike really thought he had much chance of pulling it off, and turning up as the escort of a goddess was going to stir up the green-eyed monster inside the slayer whatever way you cut it. Turning up with a goddess, in an evening dress that would put Liz Hurley to shame would be a damn sight more fun and if Buffy was with that git, The Immortal, then having some fun at her expense was the least he could do.
Illyria tilted her head to one side, staring into the vampire's face as if she would read his mind. "You care nothing for the regard of the rest of these vermin or the honour they may pay me. You grant me little respect. You care only for the glory that may be reflected upon you."
Spike gave a gentle shake of his head and matched it with an equally gentle smile, raising a finger to brush aside the strands of mingled brown and blue hairs that obscured her face and tuck them behind her ear. "That's where you're wrong, bluebird. Us vermin ," he said with a half chuckle, "when we stand together in a fight like we did the other week... When there are just a handful of us against what seems like the rest of the world and we fight shoulder to shoulder and we buck the odds and make it through, then we give the ones who fought alongside us our respect... And more."
Illyria's head tilted a little further.
"For us vermin, it's times like that make for bonds that last a lifetime. A few years from now we might all have gone our separate ways... or maybe not," he added with a flirtatious grin, "but when we need some help from someone we can really depend on, those will be the ones we trust. And that's why we're doing this, because Fred was one of us, the best of us. She probably wouldn't approve of what we have in mind, but we don't take it lightly when someone hurts one of our own because it hurts us all. Maybe the witch wouldn't have been able to do anything, but it's just possible that she could have. Now we'll never know and that's down to the watcher.
Can't help thinking if Wes had had Fred to come back to, then he'd have found a way to make it back from Vail's. Part of him died with Fred and he was still grieving when the shit hit the fan. He didn't want to go on without her, but I kinda think if he was still here, then he'd be the first one on that plane. So since he can't be here to do it, we're gonna do it for him."
The vampire walked to the door, opened it and turned to say one last thing. "Look how you want, pet. We'll still knock 'em dead."
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