Note - Thanks to my beta, t_geyer, for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
Giles put down his cup of Darjeeling, his expression becoming more serious as he paused until the waiter had taken away the plates from his and Willow's lunch.
"You still haven't really said what you think of him," he finally prompted, after the man was far enough away not to easily overhear.
"That's because I don't know what I think," Willow admitted. She swivelled her cup on its saucer with one finger. "He's charming, sure. And I guess for a guy, he's okay in the looks department, but the whole good-evil thing? I don't know."
"Have you asked her yet about what happened with Mr. Giovannelli?"
Willow raised her eyes to the heavens before she looked sceptically at her employer. "Sure, Giles. It was the first thing I did!" She switched to a sing-song aggressively cheerful tone of voice. "Say, Buffy, pass the cornflakes... and by the way, we were just wondering about that guy you put in hospital and whether maybe you've gone all evil?" She sighed her frustration. "We've been here three days, Giles, and before that we've hardly spoken in a year. It's going to take a little longer."
"Maybe I should ask her about it... in my official capacity, of course," Giles suggested, running a slightly nervous hand through his hair. It was plain to see that this was in complete opposition to his natural inclination.
Willow couldn't blame him. The relationship between him and Buffy had never really recovered after he had returned to England the second time. Her mother would have said that it was Buffy's abandonment issues that prevented her from trusting the watcher after that. The way Willow saw it, Buffy might eventually have forgiven Giles for leaving. It was Giles' conspiracy with Robin Wood to kill Spike that kept them apart. Their conversations were brittle things these days. They tried not to hurt one another, tried to pretend that if they went through the motions often enough that they'd eventually be able to act like father and daughter again. Every time there was an expectant silence, every time the subject was swiftly changed, the jagged little secrets that Buffy kept, ripped at the watcher for all to see. The slayer never went so far as to tell Giles to mind his own business, or that he wasn't welcome, but the time when he was the one with whom she shared her confidences had long since passed.
Before they got here, she had envied Buffy her place in the watcher's affections. She had always compared Giles' attentiveness to the slayer with her own parents' neglect and thought that Buffy was the lucky one. Now she was almost thankful for her parents' perpetual absences. If Giles used the authority of his position to force Buffy to provide the answers they wanted, then, as far as Buffy was concerned, he might as well change his name to Quentin Travers.
She gave him a little smile, hoping it looked more optimistic than she felt. "Why don't we save that for a last resort? Maybe I'll do some background checks on Mr. Giovannelli. Could be if we know a bit more about him... "
"Mr. Giovannelli is a private detective," Giles broke in. It seemed he had already done his homework. "The first number he dialled on his mobile phone when he got out of hospital was the offices of Wolfram & Hart in Los Angeles. The firm had been Mr. Giovannelli's only client for more than six months when he was hospitalised but the cheque he received this month was less than half the normal monthly amount, suggesting that he is no longer under contract to them. All this may explain why Buffy would look on him with disfavour. It is a very long way from explaining why he was beaten so badly."
"We'll work on that, Giles, after the party."
Nina had taken Angel at his word when he had told her to buy what she wanted. The bill for her little shopping trip had made the vampire look positively ashen, but she knew that he'd hoarded plenty of cash while he was in charge of Wolfram & Hart and while he might not like it, which had been part of the point, it wasn't as if he couldn't afford it. Her floor-length bias-cut satin sheath was somewhere between silver grey and palest beige, making her newly highlighted hair seem positively bright in comparison. Diamond studs glittered in her ears and in a sparkling tear at the hollow of her throat. Walking into the hotel on Angel's tuxedo-covered arm she was the picture of understated elegance.
Spike, naturally, had ignored the 'black tie' on the invitation and gone with black shirt and no tie instead, the outfit very similar to what he had worn to Anya and Xander's non-wedding, though since it had gone on Angel's tab at the tailors' he'd upped the quality a few notches.
There was only one word for Illyria and that was resplendent. She wore a choker of clear blue, square-cut sapphires, each surrounded by bands of diamonds. Sapphires also dotted the sheer iridescent cobalt blue fabric of her dress, a fabric that Spike, for all his years of dressing Dru, was unable to classify and probably one that didn't belong in this dimension or possibly any dimension. The dress was lined with pale silk in the exact shade of her skin but only so far as midthigh, and its skirt flowed as she moved, to provide tantalising glimpses of her shapely legs. Yet, when she wasn't moving she seemed demurely swathed. Fred would probably have looked awkward and ill at ease. Despite the medium-height heels she had affected, Illyria strode into the room as only a goddess could. Even amidst the reception area's overblown opulence, its highly polished panelling, moulded ceilings, marble columns and crystal chandeliers she shone. She turned impatiently when she reached the front desk, waiting for Spike to catch up and take her arm.
The vampire produced his invitation and was directed toward the lift and the building's top floor. Holding out his arm, he matched his stride to Illyria's when she took it.
"You have a plan for when you meet this person who offended you?" Illyria asked in that curiously flat way of speaking that she had, so different from Fred's animated ramblings.
Spike grinned. "The way I look at it I can't go too far wrong so long as I keep asking myself, 'What would Wes do?' So, yeah, I guess you could say that I've got a plan."
Angel and Nina joined them in the elevator just as Spike finished talking but it was obvious that the elder vampire had heard every word. "You're not going to get arrested are you?"
"Anyone get charged with anything after all the carnage at your last Halloween party?" Spike asked, lifting an eyebrow.
"Well, no, but..."
"Wolfram & Hart will have their own security. They're not going to get the police involved in anything and, since it's most likely a trap anyway, we might as well have some fun before they get their licks in," Spike gleefully overruled his grandsire.
The lift doors opened and an elegantly dressed functionary inspected their invitations before he gestured to a nearby set of double doors. Even Angel had the good sense to shelve the dominance issues between him and Spike and let the former god-king and her escort be announced first.
The room was spacious, but far longer than it was wide. The ceiling was gridded by heavy timbers of reddish stained wood, dividing the roof into hundreds of massive skylights. In daylight the room would probably be almost as bright as your average greenhouse. Currently, lights set around the edges of each window made it only just possible to catch a glimpse of the night time sky.
It had been more than half an hour since The Immortal whisked Buffy off to introduce her to some opera diva, leaving Willow and Giles alone in a room full of strangers. Giles had been grouching about it on and off ever since, which was sort of understandable since he'd actually known who the woman was, even owning one of her recordings, whereas Buffy had rolled her eyes like the dutiful girlfriend being coerced into being nice before she strolled off in The Immortal's wake.
"I'm sure they'll-." Willow paused midsentence in her efforts to pacify the increasingly irate watcher. It was impossible. She could not just have heard the steward announcing William the Bloody. There was no William the Bloody. Her eyes locked on the couple emerging from the farthest doorway even as she heard Angel's name.
She knew that she couldn't really be seeing the vampire. There was no way. Buffy had said that the amulet was burning him up before she left and even if he survived that, either his skull would have been completely crushed by the weight of rock coming down on him or he would have burned up in the sunlight if he was at the surface... but there was Spike, and behind him Angel with quite the doll... if you went for the petite blonde type which Angel obviously did, but it was Illyria who left the witch with her jaw hanging open.
At first Willow thought that the group had seen her and Giles and was heading towards them but the blond seemed to curve off too soon. She had taken the guy standing by the wall as security, but it seemed that Spike, if it was Spike, knew him. Maybe he was just another guest after all. Angel held back, sweeping two glasses of champagne from a tray, passing one to Nina and then seeming to exchange words with the waiter.
"What on earth...? Willow?" the watcher asked irritably before he gave up on getting an answer and turned around to look for himself.
Angel began to get a bad feeling when he saw just where Spike was headed. What would Wes do? The vampire took two glasses of champagne from the nearest waiter and then tried out his phrase book Italian.
"Scusi. Dobbiamo telefonare per un'ambulanza." The waiter stared first at him and then seemed to search the room with a look of growing incomprehension.
Nina leaned in to whisper in Angel's ear. "You do know that you just asked him to call for an ambulance?"
Angel rolled his eyes and began again. "Parla inglese?"
Spike gave the security guy a deceptively friendly smile. "Parla inglese, per favore, signor?" he asked in an accent so perfect that it gave the lie to his claim not to know any of the language.
"Yes, sir. How can I be of help?" the man asked, returning the compliment.
"You're one of Wolfram & Hart's security, right?" the vampire asked.
The man nodded. "Si. Is there a problem?"
"No, no, nothing like that. My lady friend and I were just having a discussion about what sort of guns you would be carrying. She thought you'd most likely have the same standard issue as the guys the firm uses in The States. I reckoned either a nine mil Baretta or a twenty-two."
The guard caught the edge of his jacket and pulled it out slightly to allow Spike a brief view of the butt of a twenty-two calibre pistol in a shoulder holster. The gun, Spike knew, was reputed to be favoured by the Mafia as its small calibre meant that, fired at close range, it had the momentum to enter the skull but not come out the other side, with the result that the bullet would bounce around inside the brain until it came to rest.
Faster than the guard's eyes could follow, Spike had removed the piece from its holster and balanced it in his hand. "So is there a safety catch on this or do you just cock it like they do in the movies?" he asked, matching words to motion, as if he had never handled a gun. He turned away slightly as if to try to catch the light better, but really getting Giles in his line of sight and blocking the guard's attempts to get his gun back with his shoulder.
For a small gun, it still made a lot of noise when it went off.
"Ooopsie!" Spike gave an embarrassed grin and passed the gun back to the guard, holding the butt between his thumb and index finger as if it were a poisonous snake.
Twenty feet away Giles' leg gave out under him and when he pressed his hand to his calf it came away bright with blood.
Spike took Illyria's arm, led her back to where Angel's waiter was rooted to the spot in shock and helped himself to drinks for Illyria and him. "Good job I didn't damage any hotel property," he remarked to his grandsire. "Everything about here looks pretty damn pricey."
Angel tilted his head on one side and screwed his face up as if having difficulty reaching a decision. "Wes would have taken out the kneecap," he finally pronounced with a mixture of admiration and disappointment.
"Wes wouldn't have to listen to the slayer bitch about it afterward," Spike countered, his eyes following the wake of people who seemed to have been pushed to one side or another as Buffy made her way towards them.
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