Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
Buffy made her way through from the area of the rest room facilities where they actually had toilet cubicles and wash basins, and back to the carpeted area just beyond the outer doors, where there were mirrors on one wall and a counter below them for people to put on make up and where there were also three huge sofas adrift in a sea of carpeting.
Willow was curled up into the corner of one of these sofas, her legs drawn up in front of her and the sofa's wing back seemingly all that was stopping her head from lolling off to the side.
Buffy passed her the fifteen or so yards of folded up super-quilted toilet paper that she had snagged and Willow moved the tissue box, which now held only damp crumpled tissues, from the arm of the settee to the floor and replaced it with the wad.
"It's not even so much that she's dead, you know?" the redhead sniffled. "I mean, back in Sunnydale at the end we lost a lot of people. It's that she didn't have to die."
"The pointlessness?" Buffy asked, sitting down next to her friend. Between them they barely took up a third or the seat. "The why her?"
"Well, yeah, but no... not like when someone gets really ill or gets hit by a car. She really didn't have to die. If Giles had told me... I'm pretty certain I could have stopped it... and even if I couldn't, then probably the coven where he sent me..."
Buffy couldn't offer any consolation that might appease that feeling. She could remember her grief over her mother, the way she'd tormented herself about what might have happened if she'd come home sooner, if she'd been there, but at least she'd had the doctor's word that there had been nothing she would have been able to do. To truly believe that you could have made that difference, and were deliberately denied the opportunity...
It seemed that the staff manning the buffet table had been briefed in advance about the tastes of their various guests. Spike had only to approach the tables and he was being offered his choice of well-filled wine glasses, robust Italian peasant or French bourgeoisie, both virgin the waiter assured him.
"And both still alive?" Spike asked, lifting an eyebrow.
"But of course. Signorina Costa Bianchi she insist that for you and Angelus we must find the willing volunteers. Many many beauties they compete to give their blood." The waiter gave a slight grimace and a shrug. "No quite so many for Angelus and maybe later in the night he must drink the rodents, but for you we take only the blood from the virgins and only one bottle each."
"I will have the Italian," Illyria announced. "It is many years since blood has been spilled in my honour. I would remember the taste."
"You heard the lady," Spike instructed. "Two glasses of your best Italian red." He turned to Illyria, asking, "Now what d'you want to go with that? Maybe a nice salad? Or since you've got our Fred's tastebuds, maybe we should be tracking down some tacos?"
Illyria gave Spike a look that, had he been human, would probably have made his genitalia shrivel up and try to take refuge inside his body. "I may no longer commune with the green, but I have no wish to eat those who might once have been called acquaintances."
Spike took the two proffered glasses from the waiter, passing one to Illyria. "Really? I've known plenty of acquaintances I'd eat in an instant, if it wasn't for the soul, or if I didn't think Harris would taste all sickly sweet an' greasy."
"And it sounds like they were so happy. I mean, flying car at the end of Grease happy, only it was him who had the makeover and ended up all stubbly and John Woo and heroic?"
"People change," Buffy observed. "Rumour has it you used to be a nerdy computer geek."
Willow gave a weak smile. "I'm still a nerdy computer geek. Just now and again my best bud helps me pick out Italian designer clothes." Willow twisted at the piece of tissue in her hand. "We did the right thing, right?"
Buffy shrugged. "Dawn probably isn't going to thank me when she's the new kid trying to fit in at some public school as opposed to the mysterious American in Rome, but, yeah, we did what we had to. What's that thing Xander keeps saying? With great power comes great responsibility. I guess when Giles got control of the council money, I didn't look too hard at what I was signing up for. I thought it would be like in Sunnydale where I could overrule him..."
"But you don't overrule the guy who signs the paychecks?" Willow asked. "Especially if he's hundreds of miles away and just neglects to mention that people are dying... or that your hunny is back from... Can a vampire come back from the dead? 'Cause, vampire, pretty much of the dead..."
"You know for, well, a guy who knows his way around the bedroom, you don't seem very comfortable on a dance floor," Nina whispered in Angel's ear. "You're way too tense. Relax. No one's going to jump out and bite you."
Angel looked down into Nina's eyes, an amused glint in his own. "I really haven't done too good a job of explaining my relationship with Buffy, have I?"
"Let her try," Nina assured him. "She'll find out my bite's a lot worse than hers."
Buffy sighed. "I just didn't look past the Jimmy Choos and the nice apartment and Dawn's school. It seemed like I'd earned it, when what he was really doing was getting me out of the way..."
"I'm not sure he planned it like that," Willow reasoned.
"But it sure didn't hurt that everyone that might question what he was doing was scattered to the four corners of the world," Buffy argued. "The Fred thing... I hate it. I hate that you got stuck in the middle, but after Wood and Spike... I feel like an idiot that I didn't see it coming... That was my own stupid fault but I just can't believe that after everything that happened, after what we all owe to him, that Giles would let me go on living my life as if Spike was gone."
"Buffy?" Willow placed her tissue to one side and tucked her legs under her. "What happened with Giovanelli?"
"Huh?" Buffy asked. "Who?"
Spike and Illyria took turns at leading as they performed the tango, though mostly Spike's turns lasted only long enough to support the godling in a dip or spin her under his arm before she again pulled him in a direction of her choosing. It seemed that Fred's experience in that direction had been limited to watching Strictly Ballroom, rather than trying to put any of the moves into action, and so Illyria chose her own interpretation.
"You do not seem content," she observed as Spike dropped her into a dip. "You have done that which you wished, but your sorrow still pervades the air around you like an acrid stench that cannot be dispelled. Yet did you not say that we should have fun?"
Spike set her back on her feet and Illyria chose a new direction. "Fun can't always be had to order, Blue. We did what we could, an', yeah, it helps... but I just can't help thinkin' how much better it'd be to have her here, to see her eyes light up at dancing under the stars, to watch her try to see how much of that buffet table would fit in that stick figure body of hers. Hell," he added, giving the godling one last twirl as the song ended. "I'd even put up with Country and Western if I could watch her on the dance floor, shakin' her skinny little arse."
A ballad started up, and this time Illyria did little more than sway in his grip. Spike closed his eyes, rested his cheek against Illyria's temple and let the music guide them, trusting others to get out of their way if need be. When the scent of the woman in his arms lost its demon edge, smelling only of floral shampoo, camellia bodywash and soft warm human skin, his eyes closed tighter still.
Buffy's face twisted into a grimace of incomprehension.
"Three and a half, four weeks ago maybe now. Private eye working for the LA branch of Wolfram & Hart. You and The Immortal beat him up... Put him in hospital."
Buffy's jaw dropped. "You mean he wasn't a vamp? But he was taking all these pictures... and, well, he wouldn't say who he was working for... I mean... I thought it was some new master sending out the minions to size up the competition. I thought if I sent him crawling back, well, I more stood to one side and let Immi do the sending 'cause it was kinda muddy and we had reservations for the rooftop restaurant at the Splendide, that his boss would maybe back off."
"Aren't you meant to know?" Willow asked. "Isn't that one of those slayer tingly things?"
"Usually," Buffy pouted, "but Immi kinda screws with the readings, or he did until I got used to him. Sorta like trying to find something on a radar screen when the whole thing's glowing like Chernobyl."
"Well, that kind of explains the no patrol-y, all party Buffy that Giles was so worried about."
"So creepy photo-guy was really human?" Buffy asked, her lips drawing into a tight line as she weighed the rest of the information Willow had supplied. "Do you know who he was working for at Wolfram & Hart? 'Cause it'd be kind of nice to know which of my ex-boyfriends is stalking me."
"We-ell, Giles only got as far as Wolfram & Hart... but once he told me that I managed to hack their bookkeeping system."
"Shouldn't stuff like that be kept offline?" Buffy asked.
"Even bookkeepers have email... and there's a lot you can do with computers and magic that you can't do with just computers. Do you want to know who was paying him or not?"
Buffy closed her mouth and twisted her fingers over it in a locking gesture.
"Every time there was a payment to this guy, it was offset against Angel's salary."
Buffy's eyes narrowed and she looked her friend up and down. "I think I need to have a word with Angel before he leaves town. If we do some damage control on the make-up are you up to staying or do you want me to call a cab?"
"What about Spike? Don't you want to talk to him?"
"Sure, but I'm not so sure he wants to talk to me..."
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