Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
Angel was right where he liked to be, centre stage, and Spike didn't begrudge him the odd exaggeration of his heroic efforts on Fred's behalf. It was the way he seemed to be splitting his attention equally between drilling home the message to the watcher, who was now being tended to by the doctor that Ilona had summoned, that he had done a very bad thing and puffing like a rooster in front of Buffy that was making him want to punch the git's lights out. More especially, it was the effect that all that preening was having on Wolf Girl. The Poof could be such a total idiot.
With a whispered word to Illyria, they slipped sideways around the perimeter of the lower half of the split level suite, their movement making it awkward to maintain their former arm in arm pose so that Spike held Illyria's hand instead. They brushed past Buffy and The Immortal in the process. Spike gritted his teeth to help him resist the temptation to look the slayer's way when her head pivoted in his direction as he did so. One plaintive look and he knew he'd want to throw away everything he'd achieved in the last year. He'd had enough of being dangled on a string. Second best had been bad enough. He sure as hell wasn't about to hang around on the sub's bench now that he was even further down the order. He couldn't watch her try out yet another guy, especially not this guy... whether or not she thought she was ready for him to not be there. For once, he was damn well going to do what was right for him.
When he was behind Nina, he settled a comforting hand on her left shoulder as he leaned forward to whisper into her right ear. "He's not in love with her."
Nina's head twisted round, and her eyes locked with the vampire's, asking as clearly as if she had spoken the words out loud whether Spike knew something that she didn't.
Spike nodded in the direction of her boyfriend and she turned her gaze back toward Angel, though Spike was sure that she was now listening only to him.
"Oh, he's moron enough to think that he is..." he whispered, "but just wait until he's finished his little story and, then, when she has her back turned, you ask him what colour her eyes are... There's a chance, given the way he's making himself look like a complete tosser by playing to that particular section of the audience, that he might have realised his mistake, but a month ago he was making inquiries about a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. And I don't care if all he's got to remind him is an eight by ten, black and white glossy, that's just not the kind of mistake you make when you really love someone."
Nina flicked a sideways glance. She got a very good look at Buffy's eyes, just the same, because the slayer was staring straight at the tableau that she, Illyria and Spike formed. Sometimes, Nina gauged, they might look hazel, but for now, jealousy made them appear emerald green.
Spike gave her shoulder one last squeeze and taking Illyria's hand again, he led her to the nearer of the two short staircases, one either side of the room that led up to the bedroom area of the suite. He climbed to the seventh or eighth step, before he turned and sat down, pulling out his cigarettes and a lighter.
Illyria hesitated slightly, and Spike patted the carpet at his side. In a hushed voice, so as not to interrupt Angel's narration, he pointed out, "Know you're not much for sitting down, prefer to be up an' hitting, but there's a way to go before grandpa gets to the Wes part of the story. Rupert's a tough old git. Shooting him got his attention, least long enough to make him sit still and listen, but if we really want him to hurt he has to understand... and the best way to do that is to let His Lardy Wideness keep talking."
Illyria's eyes swept the area next to Spike as if searching for the smallest speck of dust that might make it unfit for her to rest upon. Apparently the hotel cleaning staff must have been sufficiently industrious, for she took her seat.
Willow listened to Angel's story with a growing sense of horror. She didn't know if ultimately she could have saved Fred. She was, however, pretty sure that she could have created a temporal bubble around her that would have slowed the transition and bought them more time, and maybe that time might have allowed her and Wesley between them to find a way that they could alter the spell that would have returned Illyria's sarcophagus to The Well of Souls.
Since she didn't have the specifics of the spell Drogyn had spoken about, she didn't even dare to suggest that it might not even have been necessary to modify the spell at all. It obviously hadn't occurred to any of the LA crowd that had they done the spell from the centre of the well, they might have been able to summon the coffin through the earth, rather than around the earth. By taking the tomb to an abandoned mine or something, and surely with the connections of Wolfram & Hart they could have easily managed that, it could have been summoned straight down into the centre of the earth without risk of infecting anyone.
Logic insisted that there might have been any number of obstacles, but the further Angel got with his tale, the more that sense of connectedness which Willow had with the earth told her that she should have been able to help. Illyria didn't belong in this time. She was no longer part of their world, no longer a part of the natural order, and powerful as she was, Willow's intuition told her that during that critical transitional period, someone channeling the almost limitless power that connected all living things might have been able to force the goddess out of her friend's body.
Fred was dead and, whatever logic might say, in her heart Willow believed that Giles was to blame.
"After that Wes started drinking," Angel explained. "He was a different person. It was as if without her nothing else mattered to him. We knew that he took chances he probably shouldn't do... like diving through a portal after Illyria, but if he was a little reckless, that didn't mean he wasn't an intelligent man. Then, when things went down, the only way we could cover all the angles was for us to split up. He got the mage. We thought with his knowledge he'd be best able to defend himself. The guy was old... frail. We never thought Wes would go up against him spell for spell. It made no sense. I've never seen anyone better with a gun or pair of guns than Wes... He just needed to get a foot in the door and wait for a chance to take his shot and he would have had him. He had to know that, but all he took with him was a knife. He'd been carrying a pair of semi-automatics as more or less routine by that point, but that night he chose not to take them with him."
The vampire stared straight into Giles' eyes. "You took away his reason for living."
Giles glared right back. "I don't see how you can say that," he argued, but he didn't sound entirely convinced. "I assume he went into this situation on your say so. You didn't provide him with any backup. Even if he had been more appropriately armed there is no guarantee..." He sounded like a man striving to hold on to his last delusions.
Willow couldn't take any more. "Giles, shut up!" She looked up and for the first time the watcher saw the tears that streamed down her face. "Just shut up. You don't even believe yourself."
The witch looked around from Angel to Nina and on to Spike and Illyria as she continued. "I didn't know Fred all that well... or Wes, even. It's not my place to get revenge or to decide what either of them might want. That's down to the people who loved them." She looked straight at Spike, the only one of the LA crowd who she knew had heard all about her magic problems, as she gave a watery, self-deprecating smile. "And I think I might just end up going all veiny and undoing all that stuff I learned after Tara died, if I tried."
She turned again to Giles for one last time. "...But I'm not going to get in their way, either. I don't know what's happened to you, Giles... and it's not like I'm giving up on you as a friend. I owe you more than that, but I can't work for you any more either, not when I can't trust you."
"But-." Giles tried to interrupt, but Willow put her patented 'resolve face' to good use.
"You'll have my letter of resignation first thing in the morning. You're the one who helped to teach me that magic has to be used for good reasons, not selfish ones. Thing is, that isn't just an option you can pick up when it suits you. It's a duty. You betrayed that duty and, doing that, you betrayed me and I can't risk that happening again." She gave a sigh. "I can understand you not wanting to help Angel. I mean it must have looked like the perfect chance to get your own back for Jenny... but you're meant to be better than that. You were meant to make the council better. It was going to be about giving the slayers more respect. It was meant to be about ideals and doing what was right. We were meant to be getting rid of all the crap that Quentin Travers stood for and doing it right this time. You used Wolfram & Hart as an excuse. You said that no one could work for it without being corrupted. From here it looks more like you should have been worrying about the council instead."
The witch fumbled with her purse, searching for her tissues so she could do at least some repairs before she braved the hotel corridors.
"Willow?" the watcher tried to reason. "Alright, I made a bad decision... One bad decision. The council needs you."
Willow gave a resolute shake of her head. "I have to do what's right for me, Giles, not what's right for the council."
Suddenly, another voice joined the debate, a sad, lonely voice. "And it's not one bad decision. It's one more bad decision..." Buffy pointed out. "Didn't you learn anything from that whole mess with Wood? You're not the boss of us... or, well, you are, but I guess you shouldn't be, so I guess you get my resignation, too." Anyone could tell that the decision was one that pained the slayer. Considering in her year in Italy she hadn't actually managed to learn much more than how to read a menu, it wasn't as if she was going to find another job in Rome. In fact, it was all too likely that she was going to find herself back in California, working at another branch of DMP, but there were times when you had to take a stand.
"Si, bella," The Immortal chimed in supportively. "It will all be okay. I will make employment for you. I pay you plenty so you can keep Dawnie in school."
Buffy's eyes darted instinctively to Spike's, his low opinion of the suggestion and what that made her clear for all to see. Her own eyes flashed with anger, though she wasn't sure whether it was aimed more at Spike or The Immortal and she pulled away from the demon, striding toward the door. "There are some services that aren't for sale."
She was almost there when she felt a hand on her arm. She looked down and recognised the manicure she had done for Willow earlier. She reached over to place her other hand over Willow's in a gesture of solidarity and the friends made their way from the room, with The Immortal already rushing after them.
If you are under the age of 17, please use your head and do not read fics that are labeled "NC-17". Parents, I cannot control what your children are reading, so please be advised that the majority of the fics archived here are NOT suitable for those under the age of 17.
I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I am in no way making any profit from this site. This is for pure entertainment purposes only.
Concept: (c)bringonthebloodshed.com (2004), Code & Design: (c)Diabola (2006), Graphics: Selene & Always