DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Faith has gone to Lindsey after Angel’s visit, Angel has figured out Buffy is lying to him, and Spike and the gang have figured out Angel is behind the hit on the Mayor after speaking with Wesley…

*************

Chapter 25: The Beautiful Sinner

One of these days, she was going to have to ask Mickey how come he knew so much about sneaking around.

When Buffy emerged from Heaven, she would’ve walked right past his parked car if he hadn’t stepped out of the shadows and grabbed her attention.  Literally.  Well, actually, it was her elbow that he grabbed, and it was just so that she wouldn’t head for the taxi that was waiting for her a little further along.

“There’s someplace else you have to be,” he’d said cryptically.

The question of where sprung to her lips, but when she caught the quick dart of his eyes back toward the club, she recognized his request for secrecy and instead just smiled and nodded.  It wasn’t until both of them were settled in his car that she ventured to ask.

“Spike’s at the room your club manager’s set up for himself and the redhead,” Mickey explained.  “He called and asked me to take you over there.”

He hadn’t known any other details, so Buffy had finished the trip to the hotel lost in her musings.  It had to be important if he wasn’t hiding, and by the time she was knocking at the door, she had managed to convince herself that they’d finally found the answers they’d been searching for.

Willow answered the door, and immediately the blonde knew something was wrong.  The other woman’s face was pinched and drawn, a sad film darkening her green eyes.  The smile she offered was meant to be reassuring, but instead left Buffy with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.  Bad.  Something was bad.  Oh god, please don’t be Spike.

When she saw him lounging on the windowsill, the pane of glass thrown up to allow the smoke that filtered from his cigarette to waft out into the midnight, the knot within her eased only until he turned his face toward her.  No move in her direction.  No emotion flickering across his face.  He was deliberately keeping himself away from her, masking whatever was going on inside his head. 

“What is it?” she asked, dropping her purse and coat to the side and stepping into the living room of the hotel suite.  “What’s wrong?”

Only then did she see Wesley sitting on the couch, but when he rose to his feet to stand before her, all other thoughts scattered when she saw the injuries inflicted to his face.  “I think you should sit down, Buffy,” he said, sidestepping her approach when she neared him.

“Someone better tell me pretty quick what the hell is going on here,” she demanded as she stood her ground.  She folded her arms across her chest as she stared up at Wesley.  “Why does your face look like something from the meat market?”

“This might be better if you’re sitting down,” Willow said, coming up beside her to try and press her into the couch.

The look she shot all of them was icy.  “If any one of you thinks I’m the fainting type, I’m going to turn around right now and go back to my apartment.  Whatever happened, I can take it.  I’m a big girl.”

Wesley’s nod was one of understanding.  “We believe we know who hired Spike to kill the Mayor.”

There was no quelling the exhilaration that thrummed through her veins, in spite of everyone’s dour expressions.  “But that’s good news!” she protested.  “Why is everyone acting like they just found out Santa Claus isn’t real?”  Buffy glanced over at Spike, but his face was turned away again, gazing down over the street, the street music from the paths of life below underlying the tension within the room.

She turned back in time to see the look exchanged between Wes and Willow.  “Because…” the redhead said.  “…we think, although really we’re not sure yet but everything seems to be pointing in that direction, or maybe just generally waving.  Pointing is a little too definitive, don’t you think?”  The last was posited to the man at her side, and Buffy had to grit her teeth in order not to yell at the girl to just get on with it.

Wesley took a deep breath.  “Every indication seems to suggest that Angel is the one who ordered the hit.”

“Angel?”  For a moment, she thought she was hearing things, but when Willow turned from her gaze, leaving Wes the only one able to meet her eyes, disbelief overwhelmed her excitement, and she began shaking her head.  “No.  No.   You’re wrong.  It’s not Angel.  It can’t be.”

“Part of me hopes I am.”

It was what he left unspoken---and part of me hopes I’m not---that loosed the bonds that had rooted her feet.  Buffy stumbled back, into the unsuspecting chest of Mickey, and jerked away when his hands came up to steady her.  “Angel wouldn’t have his own father killed,” she managed to say.  “It’s not in him.”  Her head whirled when she heard the nearly silent snort of derision from the sill, but Spike still had his head turned away.

“Giles and Xander are doing what they can now to get us confirmation,” Wesley said.  “But we won’t know for certain until after we’ve spoken to that lawyer tomorrow---.”

“Was this your brilliant deduction?”  Faster than a cheetah after prey, Buffy twisted to face off with her manager, the color high in her cheeks as she brought up an accusing finger.  “You’re also the one who was convinced Spike was trying to kill me, remember?  Why on earth do you think you’re not wrong about this, too?”

“It was a group deduction,” Willow intervened.  “Using the information Wesley provided us.”

“And you got this information from where?”

He lifted his chin.  “From Faith.”

Her laugh was a guffaw that cleaved the air.  “You’re pulling my leg here, right?  Faith?  Miss Unreliability herself?  I mean, don’t get me wrong, most of the time, Faith’s just jake, but figuring out who killed Mr. Wilkins?  She’s not exactly invested in the brain trust, Wes.  You should know that.  There’s no way she could’ve---.”

“Just listen to him, Buffy.”

They were the first words to come from Spike’s mouth since she’d arrived, and they drew her like the magnet he was.  His smoking over, he’d shifted his weight so that he faced the room, and his blue eyes were level on hers, boring into her with a gentleness that surprised her, considering the gravity of the situation.  Before she could prevent it, though, the question bubbled to her lips.

“This was your brainchild, wasn’t it?” she asked softly.  “Are you so jealous of Angel that you cooked this up in order to make me turn against him?”

His only response was a tightening of his jaw.

“Spike had nothing to do with it,” said Wesley behind her.  “It was all my doing.  Willow just wanted to make it appear a group effort considering my last conclusion regarding this situation was so drastically wrong.”

Instantly, remorse made her gnaw at her lip.  Though he wasn’t saying anything, Buffy knew her accusation had cut Spike deeper than he was showing, and fervently wished she hadn’t said it out loud.  I’m sorry, she thought at him, hoping that he could see it in her eyes.

But there was no change in his demeanor.  Not even when he spoke again.  “Doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s true, though.”

He’d known how she was going to react, she realized.  Hence, his silent act.  Torn between discovering the truth that would liberate him from his blackmail and his consideration for her feelings, he’d chosen to abstain from getting involved.  To avoid hurting her.  To allow her to draw her own conclusions.

And she’d failed him by jumping to the worst.

The arms folded over his body meant apologizing now was out of the question.  He wasn’t ready to hear it, and truthfully, Buffy wasn’t sure she was ready to say it.  Shame still burned within, so instead of having to see the disappointment mirrored in those blue depths, she turned back to face the other two.  “Faith’s playing you for a rube, Wes.  What kind of angle could she possibly have to think you’d turn on Angel like that?”

“Because she knew I would.  Apparently, Faith fingered me a long time ago.”  He took a deep breath as if that would somehow make whatever came out of his mouth next easier.  “I’m not who you think I am, Buffy.  I’m a federal agent.”

“You’re…what?”  A night of surprises.  Angel being odd back at the club.  The group convinced that her fiancé---OK, so maybe in name only, but still---had put out a hit on his own father.  And now…Wes…

Her skin was ice, and she shivered as she took a step away from him.  Eyes wide in a mixture of disbelief and suspicion, every instinct that she’d ever had regarding the Englishman came screeching back at her, taunting her with the thought that she should’ve known it all along, that a right gee like him had to have an ulterior motive to working for the family like he did.  Had she learned nothing in California?  After everything that had happened, she should’ve been able to spot him from a mile away.  And yet he’d slipped under her radar, ingratiating himself into her trust.

How could she trust anyone anymore when she couldn’t even trust herself?

“You’re a cop,” she finally murmured.

Wesley shook his head.  “I work for the federal government.  I was assigned to take down the Mayor.”

Her gaze jumped to Willow.  “And you’re all right with this?”  Her voice was more strident than she would’ve liked, but her rising nerves were making the bile burn in the back of her throat.

“I’ve only just found out,” the redhead said softly, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye.  “We’ve all only just found out.”

That explained the bruises then.  Spike had probably had a field day laying into him.  Not that she probably wouldn’t have done the exact same thing if she’d been the one to discover the truth.  Hell, Wesley would’ve been lucky to escape with his life if she’d been around when he ‘fessed up.

“I need to get out of here,” she breathed, and turned toward the door.

“Buffy, wait.”

Only Spike’s voice could’ve stopped her, and her shoulders sagged slightly as looked back at him.  He’d risen from his perch, brows knitted together as the cant of his head conveyed his confusion.  “You can either take me back to your apartment,” she said to him, not allowing herself to look over at the other occupants of the room, “or I’ll get Mickey to take me back to mine.”

He didn’t even hesitate, long strides bringing him to her side.  When his hand lit on the small of her back, Buffy fought the urge to collapse against him, using his touch instead to gird her resolve.  She offered Mickey a tight smile, saying, “Thanks for the ride,” before walking determinedly out into the hall.

Spike paused before following.  “You goin’ to be all right, Red?” he asked, his eyes jumping between her and Wesley.

She nodded.  “We’ll be fine.  You go be with Buffy.  She needs you right now.”

“I’ll walk out with you,” Mickey said to the blond.  “I’m pretty sure my job is done here.”

When the door closed behind them, the silence settled over the room like cotton wool, thick and too hot and suffocating in more ways than one.  Willow could hear his breathing, drowned out only by the pounding of her heart that she was alone with him---truly alone with him, no friends waiting in the other room kind of alone---for the first time since discovering the truth.  Her assurances to Spike to the contrary, she wasn’t completely certain that she’d done the smartest thing in letting him go.  Not that she didn’t believe Wesley was going to hurt her.

She just didn’t believe she wasn’t going to hurt him.

“That was…not what I expected,” he finally murmured.

“I think she was just as bothered by finding out you were a fed as she was about Angel.”  Her laugh was more of a bark.  “What?  Did you sleep with her, too?  Is that why she gave us the duck and run?”  The withering glance he shot her made her blush at her caustic remark, and as quickly as she could manage, she turned away from him, walking toward the kitchen.  “Sorry,” she mumbled.  “I’m just…just.  Sorry.”

His hand had wrapped around her upper arm before she reached her destination, gently pulling her to a halt.  “Is asking to discuss this---us---some more…too much?” he murmured when she looked up at him.

“I didn’t think we had anything more to say.”

“We do if it’s still in you to make such uncharacteristic comments.”

Willow was convinced her face was as bright as her hair.  So, yeah, maybe she was still smarting over being played for such a fool.  She had every right to be.  He’d lied to her, and just because he supposedly had halfway decent intentions, didn’t make it right.  And neither did the fact that Spike seemed so jake with the new information.  Oh, sure, he’d been upset at first.  Furious, really.  But after listening to Wesley talk---and god, he could be smooth, no wonder she’d been such a sucker---and coming to the conclusion about Angel, Spike had pulled him back into the circle just as if he’d never left, seemingly believing his protestations that he meant the ex-hitman no harm.

Giles had been livid, but with the discussion turning to the problem at hand, his distraction had been sufficient for Spike to defuse him slightly, turning his attention away from the agent and toward the more critical threat to the group.  There was some unspoken dynamic going on between the three men that she didn’t understand, and it left Willow wondering if she really knew any of them at all.

Only Xander had reacted as she’d expected, going along with Spike’s acceptance and treating Wes like he was one of the gang right up until the time he’d left with Giles.

“I said I was sorry,” she argued.  “It just slipped out.  Words have a tendency to do that around my mouth.”

“I’m not trying to tighten the screws on you or anything,” he assured, and dropped his hand to accentuate his point.  “I just want to know where we stand.”

“It looks like a hotel room.”

“Stop being so literal.”

“And stop trying to force my hand.”  She took a deep breath, each of his words turning her muscles into jelly.  “What do you expect to happen, Wesley?  Do you honestly think I can just forget about all the deception?  OK, so maybe I work with guys who’ve managed to turn sneaking around into an artform, but that’s work.  That’s not personal.  Friends don’t lie to each other.  You just can’t do that to people who care about you.”  When the corner of his mouth lifted, she frowned.  “What?  What’s so funny?”

“You admitted you cared about me.”

“That was so not the point of what I just said.” 

“Maybe not to you.”  His hand lifted, knuckles brushing like feathers across her cheek as his sapphire gaze drank her down.  “I’m not some bunco artist, no matter what you want to believe.  I just think I have to do what I can to make things better for people.  And until two days ago, that meant nailing the Mayor.  Everything I said to you, about how you make me feel, about what I wanted my future to be, that was all true.  I’ve never lied to you about anything important, Willow.”

She shook her head in denial.  “No, you’ve only lied to me about who you are.  That’s not important at all.”

“Not who I am.  What I do.  There’s a difference.  And don’t tell me you can’t grasp that concept.  Not when you work for Spike.”

He was still touching her, each caress a breath along her skin, and Willow could physically feel her resolve begin to melt in the face of his reasoning.  The urge to reach up and kiss away the hurts adorning his face swelled inside her, threatening to rampage over her common sense like a forest fire burning out of control.  His logic was impeccable.  She liked logic.  Normally, it worked in her favor.  She just wasn’t used to being the one on its short stick.

“You’re not playing fair,” she murmured, and forced her body to take a step back, away from the heat of his fingers, the promise of his eyes.

“And how many different ways must I tell you that I’m not playing games here,” he countered.  He took his own step back, lifting his chin.  “You have to stop blinding yourself to the truth, Willow.  Sooner or later, you’re just going to have to accept the fact that I’m in love with you and be done with it.”

“Huh?”  Speaking was suddenly a chore, a vise wrapping around her chest tighter and tighter, forcing her eyes to pop in surprise.  She was hearing things; she had to be.  He did not just tell her he was…

“…in love with you,” Wes repeated.  “Do you really think I’d be willing to give up everything I’ve worked toward for anything less?”

“But…we just…we only…we never…”  OK, finishing sentences looking to be a problem here, she thought wildly.  She’d mastered the subject all right; it was getting around to any viable verbs that was proving impossible.

She was helpless when he took her hand in his and led her back to the couch, pulling her down to sit next to him without a word.  “I’m not going to force you,” he said quietly.  “I understand this is a lot to take in right now.  But I rather hoped that the time we’d shared meant you’d grant me a stay of execution and allow me to try and explain some things.”

“I thought you’d already done with the explanations.”  It was annoying to her how faint her voice sounded, like someone had just knocked the wind out of her sails and left her floating on a calm sea without a paddle.  Somewhere deep inside, there was a furious girl itching to rip her way out and tell Wesley just exactly what she thought of him, how angry he made her for doing this.  But that same girl was trying to hold back the tears of hurt, holding herself together like the brave little soldier Xander always called her.  At the moment, neither seemed to be winning.

“Some of them.  But I’ve been wanting to tell you my feelings for some time now.  Normally, I’m not so…upfront about them, but I thought you…it appeared that you might reciprocate them, so I was willing to take that risk.”  He turned away from her then, tearing his eyes away from her to stare down at the carpet, his back hunched as he rested his forearms on his knees.  “I’ve spent a lot of years alone, and frankly, I’d rather resigned myself to the fact that I would be married to my work.  Not that I was bothered by that.  I love what I do.”  He had to turn his head slightly in order to glance at her properly, the swelling around his eyes making any small movements there impossible.  “I love you more.”

“Then you know why this hurts me so much,” Willow said.  “You think you have a monopoly on feelings?  That you can play abracadabra with three little words and poof!  It’ll just make everything all better?  Think again, Wes.  You’re such a wise head, this should be a cakewalk for you to figure out.” 

“I understand you’re in pain---.”

“Then why do you insist on rubbing salt into the wounds?  This hurts.  Believing one thing about you and finding out you didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth.  How can you even think we can build any sort of future together if you can’t be straight with me?”  Her fingers were twisting in her lap, itching to tear away and touch him in spite of the emotion washing through her body, but she held back the impulse, staring at him with shiny eyes.  Not going to cry, not going to cry, she intoned silently.  Darn it all, he better not make me cry again.

“Tell me what you want.”  His voice was so gentle, achingly soft as he looked away again, coaxing the sympathy to rise within her like a balloon on a hot day.  “Anything you want.  I don’t wish to be the source of your pain, Willow.  You tell me what to do…and I’ll do it.”

She said the first thing that came to her head.  “Get Spike out of this mess.”

“I’d already planned on it.”  A long pause.  “That’s it?  Just…clear Spike’s name and move on with our lives?  You…me…walking our separate paths into the sunset?”

She didn’t like that word “separate.”  In spite of everything, the thought of him not being there felt oddly empty, and this time she didn’t resist the urge to reach for him.  “And time,” she said softly, her fingers settling like a small bird on his forearm.  She waited for him to look up at her, and sank into the intensity of his gaze.  “I want time.  To sort this all out.  To…see how this all ends up.”

If it was possible, his eyes burned brighter, lit by what she could only assume was newfound hope.  “I can be a very patient man,” he replied.  Carefully, he lifted his left hand to place it over the one she had resting on his arm.  “Especially for things that matter.”

Her lips quirked into an unbidden smile.  “Then I guess we kind of balance each other out,” she said.  “Because I’m generally of the not-so-willing-to-wait type.”  Her temporary jollity faltered.  “I don’t want you to think that it’s not that I don’t care.  It’s just…that I care too much.  It’s scary, and painful, and I really want the silver lining…but I don’t know how to see it when there’s so much swirliness going on inside my head.”

It was his turn to smile.  “Swirliness?” he teased.

“Get used to it, buster,” she teased back.  “You want me to end up somewhere in your life, you’re just going to have to get familiar with my choice of vocabulary.  It ain’t going anywhere.”

“Of course not.”  The smile faded, but the hope in his eyes did not.  “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

*************

For some reason, stopping his frenetic pacing was out of the question for Xander.  “You do realize I’m deader than dead when Anya sniffs this out, don’t you?” he asked of the other man in the room, not really expecting a reply.  “And then Spike will be dead, and then most likely you and Willow, purely on a just because basis.”

Giles sighed from his seat near the door.  “Then perhaps you shouldn’t have reminded Spike of the connection,” he chastised.  “We could’ve waited until tomorrow for confirmation regarding Angel.”

Xander laughed.  “Yeah, right, like that was going to happen once Spike got the bee stuck in his bonnet.  Once Wesley spilled the beans about what Faith said, I didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of coming out of this with anywhere near clean hands.”

He missed the darkening of the older man’s face at the mention of Wes’ name.  “I do hope Willow knows what she’s doing,” Giles murmured. 

“Eh, Spike was acting like Wesley was just jake, so I’m sure Will will be fine,” he said dismissively.  He stuffed his hands into his pockets, his step quickening.  “Me, on the other hand, I’m an entirely different story.  Yep.  Me and all the swimming little fishies.  Living at the bottom of the sea in harmony.”

“Ooo, talking about me already.”  Her voice at the door grated him to a halt, and Xander jerked his head around to see the blonde hooker standing seductively in the doorway.  A baby blue peignoir set floated around her curves, leaving very little to the imagination, and he blushed in remembrance of how she had felt pressed against him.  Think of Anya, he reminded himself.  Who’s sexier and smarter in her little finger than this ditzy dame is in her whole body.

“I just knew you’d be back, Xander Harris,” Harmony gloated as she stepped inside.  Nudging the door closed, she was oblivious to Giles’ presence in the room behind her as she slowly stalked toward the young man.  “Told you we could have fun together.  Ready to take me for a ride?”

The pink deepened to crimson, and he stumbled backward to get away from her outstretched hands.  “I’m not here for riding you,” he rushed.

“Then I can ride you.”  Her smile sweltered as she grabbed his tie and yanked him toward her.

“No!  There will be no riding!”  He pushed her hands away, scrambling to put the couch between them, tripping over the ornate chair that blocked his path.

Harmony laughed, clapping her hands.  “Oh, I like this game!” she squealed, and darted forward.

He wriggled out of her reach, crawling along his hands and knees until there was sufficient furniture to block her path, and then struggled back to his feet.  “This isn’t a game, girlie,” he warned with a shake of his finger.  “I just paid for a little of your time so that we can talk.”

Jutting out her lower lip, she crossed her arms over her breasts.  “You’re no fun.”  Only then did she notice the other man in the room, and her pretend pout vanished at the potential.  “You didn’t tell me you brought a friend this time.”  She affected her best sexy pose, aiming it directly for Giles.  “Do you want a ride?”

“No,” he replied calmly, and pulled out his gun from inside his jacket, pointing it directly at her.  “I want you to take us to see Darla.”

If he hadn’t been so much in hate with having to come back to the whorehouse for a second time, Xander would’ve laughed out loud at the visible blanching that made Harmony’s overdone face even whiter.  For someone in her line of work, she sure isn’t too familiar with the darker side of the street, he thought.  He bit his lip to keep the grin from emerging, and instead stepped aside to let the Englishman take charge.  Essentially, his job was done.  Get them into the house to see Harmony.  It was now up to Giles to finish the route to Darla.

“Darla doesn’t see customers anymore,” Harmony said.  Her voice had reverted to a little girl’s, and Xander could see the beginnings of a tremor starting to overtake her limbs.  “If that’s who you’re interested in fucking, you’re out of luck.”

“That’s not our purpose here,” Giles said smoothly.  “We only want to speak to her.  And if you wish to remain so pretty, I’d suggest you take us there.  Right.  Now.”

“I could scream, you know.”

“Then you’d be dead before you could open your mouth.”

It always amazed Xander when he slipped into Ripper mode.  That’s what he called it, at least.  Spike might be willing to overlook the softer side of Giles, but he quite preferred it.  Ripper made his blood run cold.  Like now.  Pretty much like he had all night.  You didn’t fuck around with him when he was like this.  You risked losing your head.  Literally.

Thank god Harmony seemed to have enough brains to see just what she was dealing with, he thought as he saw the decision settle her features.  “You’re going to have to put your piece away,” she said.  “You can’t just be waving a gun around in here.  Someone’ll call the cops.”  Too late, she realized that that was probably exactly what she wanted to happen in the face of what looked like a madman, and she scowled, shaking her head at her own stupidity.

“It’s not going anywhere.  So I suggest you find a route to Darla that will keep it from anyone’s prying eyes.”

She sighed, rolling her eyes as she headed toward the door.  “Fine.  Be that way.”  She shot the brunette a dirty look as she passed him.  “And I don’t care if you have pretty peepers.  You have really mean friends, Xander Harris.”

*************

Her back was to the door when they slipped inside, her lithe form standing before the open window, gazing out over the twinkling lights of the city.  Long blonde hair flowed down the graceful column of her back, and Xander couldn’t resist the thought that at least Angel Wilkins had a type.  Petite blondes, he noted.  When she turned around, his eyes widened.  Gorgeous petite blondes.

She didn’t even seem bothered by the fact that there were now two strange men standing in her office, or that one of them had a gun aimed at her heart.  Cold blue eyes jumped from them, to the closed door behind them, to the telephone that sat out of her reach on the desk across the room, and then back to their faces.

“Well, this is an interesting situation,” Darla said with a small smile.  “I have to say, it’s been awhile since I’ve entertained men who were quite as…forceful as you.”

“We’re not here to be entertained,” said Giles.  His voice was just as cold.  “We’re here for information.”

“From little ol’ me?”  She laughed.  “That’s not usually what I sell.”

When she began to move away from the window, the audible cocking of the gun’s hammer filled the room, followed immediately by Giles’, “Don’t move.”

Her faux mirth vanished, and Darla squared her shoulders.  “You really are amateurs, aren’t you?” she taunted.  “You want information?  Then think about it.  I’m a whore, fellas.  You can pretty much buy me.  So unless you brought the scratch to pay for what you want, you can count on this canary keeping her song to herself.”

Giles surprised him by reaching into his inside coat pocket, extracting a thick envelope and holding it up for the blonde to see.  “I’ve got two thousand dollars in here,” he said.  “It’s yours if you answer one yes or no question for us.”

There was no mistaking the greedy glint that shone in her eyes, or the slight curl of her mouth at the corner.  Xander almost expected to see her lick her lips at the prospect of what was in the envelope.  “Two grand for one word?” she said.  “Now that’s the kind of song I like to sing.”

“Angel Wilkins.”  The name took her by surprise, and the light dulled in her aspect as her lids narrowed.  Giles went on.  “Did he order the hit on his father?”

The quiet that descended over the trio thickened to lava bubbling around their skin as Xander waited for her response.  Thirty seconds later, he realized he was holding his breath, and exhaled as quietly as he could, brown eyes never wavering from the blonde across the room.

“You have a lot of moxie to come in here and expect me to sell out Angel,” Darla finally said softly. 

“You’re the one who suggested a bargain involving cash,” Giles countered.  “I was content to barter with your life.  Now.  Answer the question.”

“No.”

The two men were silent for a moment before Xander’s brows knitted together in a confused frown.  “Wait,” he said.  “Is that, no you won’t answer the question, or no is the answer to the question?”

She rolled her eyes.  “No, I’m not answering the question.  You couldn’t pay me enough to turn over anything on Angel.  We go too far back.”

“Ah, yes.  Your…history.  This would be the same one he’s turned his back on so that he can marry Buffy Summers, correct?”

Nostrils flaring was the only sign that the singer’s name meant anything to Darla.  “He’s only getting hitched to the little bitch because his father told him he couldn’t marry me without losing everything.  Trust me.  I’m still up there in his books.”

“But his father’s dead now,” Giles continued.  “Surely that would mean he was free to marry whomever he pleased.  And yet, I do believe he is continuing his plans for the wedding with Miss Summers.  I saw the ring on her finger this very night, in fact.  Quite lovely.  And large.  I’m assuming outrageously expensive.  They seemed very happy.”

The last was a lie, even Xander knew that.  They hadn’t even seen Buffy since the diner, but no way could he spill on that around Darla.

The almost infinitesimal dropping of her shoulders was all the Englishman needed to know he’d created a chink.  “It’s one word, and really, what harm will you be doing?  The police are after the shooter, not the one who paid him.  And you’ll be two thousand dollars richer without him ever being the wiser to our being here.”

This last made her contemplate the offer yet again, but this time when the gleam returned to those icy blue depths, Xander was convinced it was just as much anger as it was avarice.

“Fine,” she finally said.  “We have a deal.  Except you asked me the wrong question.”

Giles’ brows lifted behind his glasses.  “Oh?” he asked, for the first time since his arrival exhibiting a note of surprise.

Darla nodded.  “The correct question is, is Angel the only one behind the hit on his father?”  She smiled, a cold, deadly curl that made Xander grateful that he wasn’t Angel Wilkins right now.  “And the answer to that question…is no.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 26: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil