Note - Thanks to my beta, t_geyer, for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
Willow sank to her knees, and held her hand out to Giles. "Tie?" she requested when he simply looked at her empty hand.
Even as she set about turning his bow tie into a tourniquet, Buffy came bustling over. "Giles, are you alright?" she asked in a concerned tone of voice that reminded the redhead of the old Buffy, high school Buffy... before Giles had been left behind, and then he left and everything.
The watcher looked at her, his impatient glare so familiar. "Of course I'm not bloody well alright!" he yelled. "Your bastard vampire just shot me."
"My vampire?" Buffy asked, sounding puzzled, but then maybe her slayer sense kicked in and a look of awe settled on her features.
"I believe he means me..." Spike answered, sauntering up behind Buffy, waving his champagne flute to emphasise his words.
Buffy's eyes almost glowed with joy and Willow knew that, concerned as she was about the watcher, he was no longer her first priority... at least until the vampire continued.
"...But then Rupert always was a bit behind the times."
Only Willow and Giles saw the way Buffy's face crumpled before she did her brave little toaster act, schooling her trembling lip into submission and forcing her eyes to go cold.
Spike smirked behind her back. "He can't mean Angel because he was busy trying to talk the waiter into getting an ambulance."
Buffy turned, coming to stand next to the witch. "You shot Giles, Spike?" she demanded, covering the hurt with indignation, trying to tell herself that whoever these far too attractive and elegant women on Angel's and Spike's arms were, they were just friends, and stifling the urge to ask how he could be back and not let her know. She didn't even pause for breath before she turned on Angel. "And you knew what he was going to do but didn't even try to stop him?"
Both vampires tilted their heads first slightly to one side and then the other, gave identical grimaces and then shrugged and nodded in unison at her assessment of the situation.
Buffy stepped forward and swung her hand, palm open in an arc toward Spike's face, but the vampire grabbed her wrist, forcing her arm down.
"Uh-huh, slayer!" he told her, staring into eyes that seemed to burn into him with their hostility. "You gave up your free pass when you started seeing The Impotent." Then, he nodded toward the goddess. "It's her job to hit me now." Almost nonchalantly, he pushed Buffy backward as he released her arm, so she stood in the same spot she had before she had made her attack.
Willow felt her heart freeze in her chest, skipping a beat as she got her first close look at Spike's escort. Recognition and abhorrence warred inside her and the champagne and entrees in her stomach came out losers. Fortunately, she managed to make the dash to the nearest planter of ferns before the final verdict was in. For the first time she began to wonder if whatever had brought Spike, Angel and their escorts halfway across the world to shoot Giles justified the watcher's punishment.
With her head over the huge plant-pot Willow heard the strangely emotionless accentless monotone, that was so unlike the vibrant young Texan whose face the demon was using.
"Yes, I beat Spike on a regular basis. I find it most relaxing ...though less so now that Angel no longer allows us to damage the furniture."
Buffy's mask of indifference finally cracked and she glared daggers at the blue-skinned demon. "And, other than your latest sparring partner, who does she think she is?"
Ilona, CEO of Wolfram & Hart's Rome office, breezed into the no man's land between the former Scoobies and the remnants of those who had stood against The Circle of the Black Thorn.
Willow found herself wishing she had a tissue and wondering why women with incredible breasts and sexy, inordinately powerful demons only happened along when she had vomit-breath.
In a sultry Italian accent, the babe began to explain. "She would be Illyria Wyrmslayer, Old One, current godling and former god-king of the primordium. We are most honoured to have you here... You look... like a goddess, which is as it should be, si?" She executed a neat curtsey, her extra long cigarette holder waving out to one side. "Now, what is with all the shooting, bello?" she asked, getting far enough into Spike's personal space to make the lines at the corner of Buffy's mouth slightly deeper. "We are thinking that here are many many old friends who would be making with the merry... not with the bullets."
Spike gave a grim smile and a shake of his head. "Faulty intel, pet. Rupert has never been my friend, 'specially not since he tried to have me killed. That sort of thing tends to put a damper on a relationship."
Giles, looked up at the vampire in astonishment. "That's what all this is about?" he asked incredulously. "I thought that had been settled. I mean..." His voice faltered slightly, looking embarrassed.
Spike gave the man sitting on the floor a look of total disdain. "You mean that you thought your total lack of any apology had completely won me over and I'd forgiven you?" he asked in a tone dripping with sarcasm. "Yeah, right. But if you mean had I decided to let sleeping dogs lie on that one, then, yeah. No harm, no foul. Isn't that what the Yanks say?"
"We're here to settle some slightly newer scores." The voice was Angel's and he waited until everyone's eyes were on him before he continued. "By our reckoning you have as many as three deaths to account for, but we'll be generous and say that Gunn might have died anyway, so call it two."
Willow could see big trouble brewing, but in the meantime she would really rather the only thing stopping Giles from bleeding to death wasn't a tourniquet that she had been responsible for applying. She knew enough about the theory of first aid to know that you were meant to loosen these things off every so often or you were just as likely to kill the patient with gangrene, but she had no idea how long you were meant to leave it or how long you were meant to loosen it off for. The sooner some sort of trained medic took over responsibility, the happier she would be, and this sounded as if it might take a while. She lifted her hand in the air, waving it around slightly until she had the attention of at least some of the people around her. "Ehm, not to interrupt the big exposition, but Giles... bleeding... you know?"
Giles actually looked rather pale, Willow suddenly noticed. What she couldn't work out was whether it was the result of pain and blood loss... or Angel's words.
"Well, I glad someone other than me remembers," the watcher barked.
"We remember," Angel replied, giving the Englishman a smugly satisfied smile. "We could probably give everyone else a refresher if you'd like though."
"And big deal," added Spike, in a tone that said he couldn't care less. "It's a flesh wound from a .22. Count yourself lucky the guards didn't have Uzis."
Willow was beginning to have visions of Giles bleeding out on the carpet while the two groups squabbled over his corpse until Ilona spoke up.
"Why don't we all go talk somewhere else and I will send for the house doctore?" she suggested. "I have a state room just along the corridor. We will have them bring champagne and food. It will be like our own private party."
Spike tilted his head toward the orchestra, asking in a facetious tone, "And miss all the entertainment?"
Ilona made another try, turning to Buffy and looking her up and down. In half a second she made Buffy feel like the dress she had spent days shopping for had been measured and found wanting, along with the girl inside it. "Perhaps you would like me to send for The Immortal?" she suggested, adding the mandatory sigh that seemed to follow his name whenever it was spoken by any attractive, or formerly attractive, Italian female. It was a habit that Buffy found more and more irritating as time went on. Maybe Giles would give her a waiver on the not using her powers on humans if he knew Ilona was the head of Wolfram & Hart.
Illyria gave a derisive snort. "In my time so transient a being would not dare to claim such an epithet. His flesh will wither and die and I will live on."
Buffy rolled her eyes at the woman on Spike's arm. "Hello? Immortal - as in lives for ever?"
Willow winced, realising that Ilona's description of Illyria had gone right over the slayer's head. As far as she was concerned immortal was immortal was immortal. Perhaps afterward she would get a chance to explain to her exactly how powerful the Old Ones had been.
Ilyria did an even better version of Ilona's assessment and turned to Spike. "You once found this simpleton worthy of affection?"
Spike and Angel exchanged glances before they both did the consider, shrug and nod routine again.
All the distance that had gradually built up between Willow and Buffy over the years since they had left high school meant nothing. She could almost feel Buffy's pain, fresh as the day Angel had rejected her or Spike had burned up to save the world... or the day they had believed he had at any rate.
"Come," encouraged Ilona. "We will go to my room and we will talk like adults... because this is our way. Americans, they resolve things by violence, but this is a civilised country." She nodded to one of the security guys, not the one who had given Spike his gun. That one seemed to have disappeared. Willow didn't blame him, civilised country or not. The guard helped Giles to his feet and began to steer him from the room, leaving the others with little option but to follow.
"And we're not bloody American," Willow heard Spike mutter under his breath.
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