Either that, Spike thought, or he needed better beer.
In what felt like three centuries of watching the Hyperion Hotel, he had discovered that they basically didn't have any damned fun at all, except for Cordelia, who had either had lots of fun, or very little, judging by the pram he'd seen her pushing about. Based on his brief glimpse of the little ankle biter, it didn't appear that the young black guy on the premises was the father, but he just couldn't picture the weedy-looking accountant-type guy as the proud papa either.
Nor the green demon who periodically took up walking duties. And the mick was nowhere in evidence.
There was another woman on the premises, although 'woman' appeared to be the wrong word; she looked barely older than Dawn, if taller, and possibly even thinner. She had something of Dawn's gawkiness, too, but based on the fact that there seemed to be no sulky body language in evidence, he guessed that she was a bit older than the late teens.
He didn't see Angel once.
He seriously wondered how he was going to do this.
Plan? Why bother? It wasn't as if he'd ever been able to stick with any of his plans any way, so why try? He was definitely better with inspiration, which was why he was still sitting grumpily in his car, glaring out the windows at the hotel, waiting for the muse. At least that's what he told himself. Inspiration, dammit. He needed an idea. That was all; he certainly wasn't dreading what would definitely be, even with rampant lying on his part, the most uncomfortable conversation of his life, and that included most of the nail biters he'd had with Buffy.
Except, no doubt, for the one awaiting him on his return.
He toyed with the idea of finding the safe and breaking into it, but tossed that idea aside. Angel had money, he knew, but he didn't exactly keep it in his mattress; he'd kept a fair amount of it in the form of small, portable things that were easy to carry.
That was a good possibility, too, except damned if he'd know how to recognize something valuable unless it was gold and had a big huge price tag with numerous zeros slapped on it. He and his grandsire definitely didn't share the same idea of value; Spike had always been the one to take a nice couple of well-bound volumes, aged and worn from generations of reading, but Angel had always gone for the shiny stuff, like a crow -- at least when there was nobody around. With an audience, he always turned into Mr. Sensitive Literature.
Besides, much as he dreaded the thought of Revealing All, part of him actually liked the thought, the build up, the anticipation. It would definitely be a rush, squaring off after such a long drought. Dru had passed on some interesting tidbits by way of explaining those nasty burns on her face, but he rather suspected she hadn't returned to Daddy after he'd set fire to her.
And it wasn't as if he himself were in much of a position to criticize. His eye hardly hurt any more. Hardly at all.
For a brief and rather disturbing moment, irritation flashed through him; at Dru, for being so attached to Angel no matter what; at Angel himself, for general principles, for somehow, despite all his torment, still displaying that wonderful knack he'd never lost, that of hurting other people even while he ever so picturesquely brooded over his own torment. And, well, lastly, at himself, for being irritated all over again, when it looked as if his irritation was accomplishing nothing more than keeping him here and away from Buffy.
That last was the biggest step. He suspected they wouldn't believe him if he blurted out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but in an odd way, they'd not have a problem believing Buffy would shag him almost blind. And they'd think the less of her for it. Something told him that bringing that into the conversation would result in many vivid mental images of Buffy-boffing for the LA gang, when there was also the inevitable panicked dash to Sunnydale after he broke the news.
He was thinking of finding the least-secure bank in LA to rob, when a black convertible pulled up to the front of the hotel, and... who was it? Oh, it was -- could it be? Was it... Angel? -- Who got up and opened the passenger side door for Cordelia, who was carrying a car seat. Why yes, it was Angel. How nice, how very bloody nice. Funny Angel had never displayed that solicitude toward Buffy, he fumed. He knew her mother had died, he knew she'd died, and he'd never so much as sent a card or...
Him. Ahem. Hm again. So the Brooding One was going to help Cordy with the kid? Interesting. And opportune.
He'd been sitting in the bloody car too long, that was it, that was all. Too much time sitting here, thinking about Buffy, thinking about what he was doing. Time to get out and wreak havoc, or at the very least see what was going on. There was a payphone in front of the Hyperion, excuse enough to get out and stretch a bit. He couldn't stand sitting in the hot car anymore, alone with thoughts he'd rather not have, and a body that didn't belong to him anymore. Somewhere along the way, it had switched sides, going over to the enemy, becoming more hers than his. He got up and stretched like a dog, hearing bones and joints cracking as never before. Guess I'm not a hundred any more, he thought dryly. Time's wasting. He flipped throught the ripped-up Yellow Pages, and found the number for Angel Investigations. Angel Investigations. How cute. Just the right note of the divine. He fumbled for change, and then managed to dial the number, cursing Pac Bell for switching to ten-digit numbers. Always forgot some of the numbers by the time he got to the last four digits. Always. Bloody bastards.
"Angel Investigations. We help the helpless. Can I help you?" English voice, perhaps West London, he thought.
"What sort of help is it that you provide?"
"We do the sort of work most other investigators can't."
"Sir, may I ask what the problem is?"
"Uh." Spike thought about it. "Vampires."
"What, in particular?"
Well, I'm one, and I'm in love with the Slayer. But she doesn't love me, or at least, she just won't admit it. And it scares the crap out of her if we even get close to talking about the R word. See this eye? But see, she wouldn't even have given me the time of day if she hadn't died and her friends brought her back. The sex is amazing. We've done everything I can think of that doesn't involve battery-operated devices and scary hillbillies. Got any Vampire Viagra? He actually wanted to say it for a minute, then stopped himself. "It's rather difficult over the phone. How late do you schedule appointments?"
"We could take you now, if you're close by."
"I might be able to make that," Spike said, as if he had other concerns draining away his free time. "Where are you located?"
"It's..." He tuned out the rest of the conversation, wondering what in hell he was doing. Then he thought of Buffy, and he swallowed his impatience. There just had to be a way of doing this. There just had to be. "Thanks then. I'll be right there."
He walked around the block a couple of times to kill time, then presented himself at the door of the hotel and knocked. As he'd expected, the door was answered by the guy he'd pegged as an accountant, who identified himself as Wesley Wyndham-Price, and who barely glanced at his eye before politely beckoning him across the lobby toward a small but tasteful office. He settled himself behind a desk, leaned back in his seat, and crossed his hands on his mid section. Then he gave Spike a look that was jarring coming from behind those librarian glasses, and asked, "So what sort of problems does one vampire have with other vampires?" He glanced at Spike's eye quickly, then, and rearranged the pens on his desk.
"Wasn't sure if I should mention that." He realized that the fellow was looking at his eye and he glanced away himself so he wouldn't have to pretend he didn't see it.
"We can't help you unless you're honest with us."
They studied each other across the desk, and it occurred to Spike that Wesley's body language wasn't that of a proper corporate minion. He'd had minions before, he should know. Hell, he'd briefly been one. All of them had certain minion-like traits, off the job and on. A certain submissiveness, perhaps, which was why he'd not lasted long in the ranks; ironic, really, because as a human he'd practically been born with a "KICK ME!" sign already in place. But this guy? He was the boss.
He tried to look properly bewildered, instead of calculating, stalling till he came up with a good explanation. "What sort of stuff do you do?"
Wesley sighed and looked thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Protection. Extermination, in some cases. Exorcisms, astral projections."
"Love spells?" He asked slyly.
"I'm sorry, Mr.—ah?" He glanced at Spike curiously, waiting for the name. Spike froze for an instant.....
"Ah--" Vampires didn't have last names; they weren't human; they didn't hand out business cards. He covered his hesitation by extending a hand for a shake, and after a moment, Wesley reached across the desk and took it, giving it a firm shake and dropping it after only one iteration. Hm, Spike thought. Maybe the guy was more nervous than he looked; then again, maybe he just wasn't used to shaking hands with vampires.
"We just can't afford to keep a witch on retainer for that, that, ah, type of thing." Spike could have sworn the guy blushed. "However, I can recommend you to certain—"
"No, just checking." He smirked. He didn't believe in love spells -- it certainly hadn't worked with Dru -- but it was amusing to see that Wesley might, if he was giving recommendations.
"So, what sort of problem is it that brings you here to us? Might I ask how you found us?'
"Word of mouth," he said, then wondered what sort of problem he actually had. Yeah, I need lots and lots of money, because my girlfriend is going to wither away from over work, and her worthless friends ought to be helping her instead of pressuring her to make happy. "I've heard interesting things about Angel."
"Oh." Now the human was shifting uneasily in his chair. "Really, may I ask what?"
Oh, you know the usual gossip; that he snapped and went bad, but not in an Angelus kind of way, although he did set fire to Dru and Darla. Plus there's definitely been some odd stuff floating around the past while about him and Darla, but I never could get a handle on that area. So you wanna confirm or deny? Enquiring minds want to know, especially if it gives me some ammunition.
"So, this problem you have with other vampires is...?"
"It's kind of complicated."
"You did come to us for help."
"Who's us, exactly? How did you choose the name of the company?" Aha. Another uneasy shift.
"Well, there's myself, of course..."
"How did you get into this, anyway?" Last time I was here, you weren't around, Angel was large and in charge, there was that belligerent little leprechaun, and I didn't have a chip in my head. And if Angel still has the Gem of Amarra, I'm in deep shit, he suddenly thought.
"I'm a former Watcher."
Spike started to laugh, and turned it into a cough. Angel had a Watcher on the payroll! At that, the former Watcher -- who was he kidding? The Council of Watchers thought they were like the bloody Marines, once a Watcher, always a Watcher -- --frowned and glanced at his watch. Then he looked at the vampire thoughtfully, and after a brief hesitation, continued. "Well, you know, aside from my experience as a Watcher, I have of course an extensive knowledge of ancient texts and languages, plus many years of training with weapons and tactics. All of the staff members have -- "
All of the staff members? There'd been a grand total of three the last time. Then at that thought he perked up. They were making a go of it. Got to be some money somewhere. Then he thought: More obstacles to get around. "How many staff members?" He asked weakly.
"Well, as I said, there's myself; there's Cordelia Chase, who has the gift of the Sight; there's Charles Gunn, who is a very fine investigator, Winifred Lewis, another fine investigator, and there's Angel himself, who is the founder of the company.."
"He's the founder of the company?" Spike gestured to the nameplate on Wesley's desk that said, "Wesley Wyndham-Price, Director."
"Ah, yes, well, family concerns," Wesley said with a shrug.
Such as setting your offspring and mother on fire, Spike thought, but brushed it aside. Then there had been something about lawyers, but he hadn't been able to make sense of what Dru had been babbling by that point, bless her heart. If it upset her, he could only imagine.
"Now, really, what is it I can help you with?"
Spike swallowed. Bloody hell, he'd managed to hold him off this long. He looked into the Watcher's eyes and wondered how one became a 'former Watcher.'
"Who was your Slayer?" He blurted out.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Your Slayer? Who was she?"
Wesley glanced down at the desk. "It was a young woman named Faith. Why do you ask?"
"I suppose every vampire has some sort of curiosity about the Slayer, but, still, that's not why you're here, is it? I realize this must be difficult for a vampire to do, but what is it that you've come to us for help with?"
Spike looked up at the man and wondered again what had brought a former Watcher to the aid of the Vampire With a Soul. How did he deal with it everyday, the brooding, the noble self-sacrifice, the heroic jaw-clenching -- oh, wait, that was the Industrial Size Ken Doll. He saw someone who was younger than he had been when he was turned, but far, far, wearier, saw sorrow lines where there should have been smile lines, and wondered if it had been his Slayer that Dru had offed. Giles had had irritation lines on his face, surprisingly rigid lines that said, "I actually do know how to operate a chain saw, thank you."
Why had he decided to walk into the office, anyway? Case the place? Get the lay of the land? Criticize the décor?
"I'm in love."
He couldn't figure out who'd said that, and glanced away, as if looking for the culprit. Wesley looked down at the desk for a long moment.
"She doesn't love you back?" He asked quietly.
"No, it's not that, well, really, it's just a matter of time..."
"But not just yet?" Wesley flinched, and took off his glasses. In a gesture eerily like Giles' he wiped the lenses with the tail of his shirt, and then breathed on them and scrubbed them again. He sat up straight, and looked out the window over his desk. Spike got the distinct feeling that he was uncomfortable, and it was not with him. This he became absolutely certain of when Wesley sighed deeply and swallowed what was obviously a frog in his throat. "I don't know that there's anything we can do for you, sir. There's nothing more impossible than being in love with someone who doesn't love you back."
"Well, I know she feels something for me..."
"Has she told you that?"
"It's not like that."
"But she has to love you back herself of her own accord. " He continued in a low voice. "Otherwise, it's nothing. You may think you want anything from her, but if you really think about it, you'll realize that casting a spell to make her love you isn't enough, because actually, she'll just love the magic. Not you. It's not you she loves; it's no good. For her or for you. You just can't force it."
They looked at each other across the desk, for precisely one second too long. It occurred to Spike that there were a lot of things that a man could think when presented with a lovesick vampire who had a fading black eye. A rival perhaps? But instead he'd leapt to the truth. Just my luck, Spike thought. It really does take one to know one. Finally, he asked, in his talking-to-Dawn voice: "Who was she?"
Wesley froze, then licked his lips nervously, and with a great show of Giles-like calm, replaced his immaculate glasses on his nose. The effect would have been better if his hand hadn't shaken. "What? Oh, I'm sorry, it's just that, well, it's a subject we see often here, so we've developed a policy on it. I've gotten quite used to the lovesick."
No witches on retainer, Spike thought. Sure.
"It's, ah, William." He said quietly.
"Uh, look at the time," Wesley said suddenly. He had the slightest flush across his face, just like a schoolboy, Spike thought. "You know, my forte is really weapons and research, perhaps I could refer you to..."
If that s true, it explains a lot, Spike thought, not unkindly.
"Could I make an appointment for more time?" He asked. "Perhaps tomorrow? This company has come so highly recommended...."
"Ah, Mr.-- " Again, Spike noticed. Twitchy much?
"William. I just don't think we can do anything for you."
"You don't know what it is I want done." Spike pointed out. "I'm afraid I do go on and on. But I can't help talking about it. And you're such a sympathetic listener; most people don't listen to vampires."
Wesley looked down at that. "Ah, well, I'll tell you what. I'll consult with the staff, and see what they think."
"At the very least, you need all the particulars of my case."
"Yes, that. Mr., uh, well, our rates, I must tell you..."
"Oh, I quite understand." Spike said. "And once you hear all about it, you can tell me then whether you can help me or not." They're charging an arm and a leg! He thought. I can do this!
Continued in Chapter 16