Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
"Bella, I did not mean-."
"No," Buffy agreed, pausing at the door to the ladies' room that Willow had already entered. "I know you didn't, but think about it... I can't even speak Italian. So how much does an au pair make these days? I'm guessing board, lodging, maybe enough for a cappuccino in a nice piazza once in a while."
"Buffy," the Italian tried unsuccessfully to interrupt.
"Say, what about a chauffeur? How much do you pay Paolo? Hmm, nice suits so I guess he must pull down a decent paycheck, or maybe you provide the suits... Of course, you'd have to can him first. No... wait, I knew that thing about not wanting to learn to drive in a city full of suicidally reckless maniacs was going to come back and kick me in the ass.
Guess that only leaves two reasons why you would want to pay me that much and since I'm not about to quit the council so that I can become your hired muscle - slayer strength is meant to be used for the benefit of humanity, not so you can trade in your goons for someone in a size six evening gown - the remaining option wouldn't be very flattering."
"But you like to live in Rome," the Immortal tried reasoning.
"Yes, I liked living in Rome. It's been great, but now I have to go back to the real world." Buffy sighed and straightened in her high heels to look him square in the eye or the closest approximation she could manage, which still wasn't all that close.
"Don't try to make this into something it's not," Buffy cut in before he could go any further. "You're an okay guy. You've taken me all sorts of places and it's been fun. We've had a good time, but you know I'm not in love with you and I know that the only thing you'll ever be in love with is the chase and we both know there's only one reason why it's lasted this long. Your pride might be hurt, and I'm not saying you won't miss me, for a day or two at least, but I doubt you'll be heartbroken for any longer than it takes to find Ilona or some other woman to sigh every time she mentions your name and give you a consolation screw.
Now, I've got a friend in here that I need to check on. Feel free to go find the next ex-girlfriend-to be."
The doctor coughed loudly and turned to speak to Ilona in a rush of Italian.
"The doctore, he say that he must take the Englishman to our medical facilities for the bullet to be removed."
"After Spike's earlier reference to 'the profiteroles of evil', I assume that by our medical facilities, you mean those of Wolfram & Hart?" the watcher asked.
"Si, signore, but do not worry. There are no finer doctors in all of Roma. You will be taken care of like an honoured guest."
"I'm sorry, madam, but if you could just phone for a normal ambulance, I'm sure-."
"I spit on the normal ambulance and the normal hospital," Ilona replied, matching actions to words. "You must have the best."
"I must insist-."
Spike grinned widely. "I think you misunderstand, Rupert. Ilona has a reputation to protect. We're her guests and anything nasty that's going to happen to us here, it'll be down to her and her bosses, not the local police turning up because some local quack's reported a gunshot wound. She's not offering. She's telling. That right?"
"Si, Signor Spike, but you should know that since your little battle The Senior Partners have been silent... Even to The Maybe Not Quite So Immortal and their other liaisons. Perhaps they wait, grow strong again. Perhaps they use too much power." She gave an eloquent shrug and the sort of grin you might expect from a sixteen-year-old whose parents have gone for the weekend and left the liquor cabinet unlocked. "Perhaps they never come back."
Suddenly, Ilona was bombarded with questions from all sides.
Spike sprang to his feet, abandoning his seat on one of the suite's staircases, and stalking forward as he spoke until he was almost nose to nose with the W & H exec. "You saying the only reason The Immortal was immortal in the first place was because he had some damn contract with The Senior Partners?"
"The Senior Partners have gone?" asked Angel.
"You weren't actually working for Wolfram & Hart?" a slightly shell-shocked Giles enquired of Angel, who only glared back at Giles by way of reply.
Ilona looked from Spike to Angel and then back to Spike again. "Si, The Immortal he is like Roma's Marcus Hamilton. He has served the Senior Partners for many many many years but they speak to him no more."
"We should have bloody known!" Spike nearly growled. "It was all down to him, right from the bloody start, that whole run around."
Ilona seemed to consider for a couple of second and then made a slight grimace. "Is simple misunderstanding, and The Immortal he must save face. He promise if you return to Roma then he kill you but you return under protection of The Senior Partners, so he string you along a little to save face... but no one is hurt. No one die and you all get your head."
"And if he was immortal because The Senior Partners made him immortal," Angel surmised, "and now The Senior Partners aren't around, then what does that make him now?"
"A little greyer than he was a few weeks ago," Ilona replied, with a flick of her fingertips to the hair at her right temple.
"Alright, then, if we're not here because your bosses on high want to stomp us into little tiny pieces for wrecking their LA operation and wiping the floor with their pet monsters, then why the bloody hell are we here?" Spike wanted to know.
"The Immortal he ask if is possible to invite you both, but is better if he explain." Ilona gave a sigh. "But this is for later, now the doctor, he must take the watcher to our offices."
Spike turned to Illyria. "We done with the watcher yet?" he asked. "Or do you want to get your licks in, pet?"
Illyria tilted her head to one side and considered Giles. "His loss is like a shroud that enfolds him," the godling proclaimed. "It does not cause me discomfort as Wesley's pain did. I believe you would call my feeling satisfaction."
"Let him go," the elder vampire replied to his grandchilde. "He's lost Buffy and he's lost Willow and if that isn't punishment enough, then maybe, now that he's beginning to get a hint of the real picture, his conscience will make up the difference."
Spike lifted his elbow, holding it out to Illyria.
Catching the gesture, Angel turned to Nina and held out his hand, surprised when his girlfriend seemed to hesitate before she slipped her fingers into his. Together they made their way to the suite's double doors and Spike and Illyria fell in behind them, leaving the watcher, the doctor and the Chief Executive Officer of Rome's Wolfram & Hart branch alone. If that meant that the only way for Giles to satisfy his watcherly curiosity about the events in LA, which had only been alluded to so far, was for him to make nice with someone he had made it council policy to despise, then neither Spike nor Angel had a problem with that.
Nina waited until they were most of the way along the corridor leading to both the ballroom and the elevators before she broke the silence. "So what now?"
Angel shrugged. "We've done what we came for. It doesn't help Wes or Fred, but at least we can hope that Giles will think a little more carefully before he refuses help to anyone else."
"I wish to attend the party," Illyria informed them as if this settled the matter. "I require sustenance and the white-haired one promised that if I attended garbed in this way that I would receive the adoration that is my due."
"Looks like me an' Blue will go to the ball." Spike grinned.
"Spike," Angel gave a sigh. "Only you could think it was appropriate to turn this into a night of fun and frolics."
"An' only you could think it's appropriate to drag your woman halfway 'round the bloody planet, let her get all dressed up to watch you make a complete tit of yourself running after another woman, an' then drag her back to the hotel to watch you brood all night without so much as taking her for a spin round the dance floor," Spike retaliated. "Just because you told her we didn't come here to have fun doesn't mean you've got some duty to make the poor bint miserable."
"I'm not making her miserable," Angel replied reflexively, "and I was not running after..." His gaze drifted to Nina, remembering her hesitancy. "Buffy." For an eternity his eyes met those of his date. "Another time, another day, I'd love to... but it just wouldn't seem respectful."
Nina lifted her chin and let her hand drop from Angel's. "You have to do what you believe is right..." she told the vampire. "And you might think Wes would want you to go back to the hotel and stare at the walls, but I think Fred would want us to enjoy ourselves while we can, so go if you feel you have to. Spike probably won't object to doing double duty on the escort front for the rest of the night."
Spike raised an eyebrow, but also held out the arm that Illyria wasn't holding.
"Nina-a-a..." Angel cast a last glance toward the elevators before he reached out and took Nina's hand again, and when they reached the elevators he kept on walking.
Nina let her gaze drift to the ballroom's emerald green carpet as they made their way through the tables toward the dance floor. "Angel?" she asked. "What colour are my eyes?"
"Huh?" Angel stopped dead, but Nina kept her head angled downward.
"I just wanted to see if you knew."
"They're grey... but why?" The vampire's brows knitted together and his lips twisted into a grimace... until Nina tugged him back into motion and then wrapped her arm around his waist as she pressed into his side.
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