Disclaimer: the characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER ©2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. ANGEL ©2001 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The ANGEL trademark is used without express permission from Fox.In Bloom
The ‘Wolfram and Hart’ logo was gone from the outside of the building. The sign now read ‘Costa Bianchi S.r.l.
’ in a softer, rounder, more feminine font than the angular capitals of the previous owners. Giles had never been inside a Wolfram and Hart building before but he was fairly sure that, had he done so, the entrance lobby would not have been dominated, as this one was, by a giant poster portraying Valentino Rossi. Things had, undoubtedly, changed.
Not completely, of course. The staff inside the building still included beings who were obviously demons. If you looked closely, that is; at first glance they were simply Italians, dressed casually yet with an emphasis on style and cut that would be absent from the clothes of their equivalents in England, all talking at once while their hands gesticulated along with every word. It was quite easy for Giles to imagine them making their way home on the Metro each evening, blending into the crowds, and attracting only an occasional curious glance from the human passengers.
Unlike the CEO. Giles couldn’t really visualise her travelling on the Metro, nothing less than a Ferrari would be an adequate mode of transport for Ilona Costa Bianchi, but if she had done so then fifty per cent of the passengers would have been able to look nowhere else. Assuming, that is, that gay male and gay female passengers would be equal in numbers and would cancel each other out, and that there would be few children on the Metro in the evening, and that blind passengers would also be few and far between. Giles sought to concentrate on such statistical speculations to keep his own gaze from drifting to her décolletage; he failed ignominiously. As spectacular as the Grand Canyon, and twice as beautiful, her cleavage drew his eyes to it as inexorably as the gravitational pull of Jupiter drawing in a comet.
Giles summoned up every ounce of his willpower and managed to look her in the eyes. They were twinkling with amusement.
“Ah, it is easy to tell that you are a Watcher,” she said. Giles felt his cheeks burn. “Roopert Giles, no? I ’ave ’eard so much about you. And this is the famous Weellow Rosenberg, is it not? You ’ave not brought with you the bootiful Spike? I am crushed.”
“Ah, no, actually,” Giles corrected her. “Miss Violet Jacobs.”
“Maledizione! I am ’umiliated. Not to recognise the one and only Vi, she who fly like the eagle and sting like the ’ornet, renowned everywhere that demons crawl on the floor searching for their severed ’eads. Forgive me, please.”
“Uh, of course,” Vi muttered.
“Ah, quite,” Giles said. “Vi, this is, no doubt, Ilona Costa Bianchi. She who lays on flattery with a trowel.”
Ilona laughed. “Si. You ’ave ’eard of me also.”
“Our lawyer, Dominic Chetham, and his secretary Suzanne Warwick,” Giles introduced.
Ilona spared them barely a glance. “Ah, you Eenglish. An Italian, for such a meeting, would ’ave brought a dozen avvocati at the least. Yet one should be enough, I think, for this will be a discussion most simple. We want the same things, you and I. Pietro, show our guests to the conference room. I meet you there.”- - - - -
Much to Giles’ surprise the meeting did indeed go smoothly. Ilona’s clients wanted to be left alone by the Slayers; in exchange they were perfectly willing to refrain from eating people, starting Apocalypses, or any other activities traditionally regarded by the Watchers’ Council as rendering them liable to termination with extreme prejudice. Giles wanted to make sure that none of them signed up to such an agreement and then abused the immunity that it provided. Working out the mechanics and small details of the agreement was tedious but, as Ilona said, ‘for that, we ’ave the avvocati’, and Giles’ part of the meeting soon became as much social as business.
Even so, Giles was still taken somewhat by surprise when Ilona invited him to her house for an evening meal and drinks. The invitation extended only to Giles and Vi; Ilona seemed to regard lawyers as being on the same level of importance as photocopiers. Necessary to the running of the business but you wouldn’t want to socialise with them.
“I guess I need a dress,” Vi said, after the meeting. She looked down unhappily at her sweatshirt and cargo pants.
“Yes, you can hardly go to a dinner party dressed like that,” Suzanne drawled. Her eyes crackled with suppressed jealousy. The legal secretary, a former Head Girl of Cheltenham Ladies’ College and a fluent Italian speaker, wasn’t used to being treated as part of the office furniture and overlooked in favour of a scruffy American girl who thought that a striped woollen hat was the epitome of fashion. “Didn’t you bring a dress? I’d lend you something suitable, dahling, but there is something of an irreconcilable height difference.” She was five foot ten; Vi was five foot five.
“Well, I wasn’t expecting to go anywhere,” Vi said. “I was just tagging along to kick ass if it turned out to be, like, a trap. I didn’t think it would call for formal wear. Just somewhere to keep my stake. I’ve got a skirt in my suitcase for dinner. Not that I was planning on eating my skirt, but you know what I mean. That’s pretty much it.”
“I think that perhaps some shopping might be in order,” Giles said. He considered his own suit. It was a fine example of Saville Row tailoring, and had more than held its own against the Italian competition in the offices, but was it suitable for a social occasion here? “Perhaps you could give us some advice, Suzanne, on the correct apparel and conduct for such an occasion? You are the expert, after all.” He dipped his head to her to acknowledge her primacy in the field.
“Of course, Rupert,” Suzanne said, her expression lightening. “First, you must take a present for your hostess. Chocolates, perhaps, or flowers, and if you make it flowers there has to be an odd number. Don’t leave the table during the meal for any reason short of the house catching fire, and even then not unless the hostess has left first…”- - - - -
Suzanne had told Giles that the most important guest would be seated in the centre of the side of the table to the hostess’ right. That was exactly where he was placed. Was Suzanne in error? Or had she deliberately given him bad information out of pique at not receiving an invitation of her own? It was, apparently, bad form to ask other guests their professions, but two of them were internationally famous enough for Giles to recognise them on sight. Vi’s eyes opened very wide when she was introduced to the young man who appeared to have been invited as her partner for the occasion. A skier of some sort, Giles gathered, and obviously well enough known to be recognisable to the young Slayer, although the name meant nothing to him.
The nine red roses that he presented to Ilona were received with delight, however, and the conduct of the other diners during the meal was exactly as Suzanne had described. It appeared that her briefing had been accurate. He must indeed be being treated as the foremost among the guests. He wondered why, and suspected some hidden agenda. She was, after all, the woman who had taken control of Wolfram and Hart’s Roman office after the exclusion of the Senior Partners from this dimension, and by all accounts she had done so by ruthless and efficient direct action. She was not someone to be lightly taken at face value.
The conversation was along neutral lines. The topics included art, Roman history, and the overwhelming dominance of Ferrari during the current 2004 Formula One season and their prospects in the next year’s championship. No mention of demons, vampires, or Slayers. Most of the conversation would have gone over Vi’s head, and left her bored and isolated, but the presence of the young skier prevented that. The two young people became engrossed in a discussion of physical training that kept them occupied throughout the meal.
A delicious meal, of course, Giles had expected nothing less. It was a pleasant evening, with stimulating conversation, and he was quite sorry when it came to an end. He had spent a goodly part of the evening, when not directly involved in conversation, trying to work out what Ilona’s hidden agenda might be, but he had completely failed to see anything untoward. On reflection, of course, that was the whole point of a hidden agenda.
He had spent the remaining part of the evening trying to stop himself from staring into Ilona’s cleavage. Once back at the hotel he was able to let his mind’s eye wander freely and sleep came somewhat harder to him than it had done in quite some time. And in his dreams his hands wandered as freely as his eyes.- - - - -
It was a couple of months later that Giles once more had a reason to visit the Rome office of what had been Wolfram and Hart. His presence was, perhaps, not absolutely necessary, but neither was it frivolous. Were it not for his previous meeting with Ilona he would have found some excuse to avoid it, and to send someone else in his place, but now he accepted the mission unhesitatingly. Even eagerly.
This time Giles planned to be the one to extend a dinner invitation to Ilona. He prepared in advance by picking the brains not only of Suzanne but of Spike, who had frequented Rome in the 1950s, to find a restaurant that would be suitable for the occasion. Only one of Spike’s suggestions still existed, and that had come down in the world since the days when it had been one of the chic hangouts for trendy Romans, but Suzanne knew of somewhere suitable.
Spike did, however, mention something that Suzanne had overlooked; red roses were a gift suitable only when there was a romantic interest. Giles remembered his choice of gift on the previous occasion and realised that, unless customs had changed significantly since the Fifties, he might have sent a signal that he hadn’t intended. Ilona had accepted them enthusiastically, however, and Giles was not too upset about what might have been a faux pas. Not that such an attractive and successful woman could possibly be seriously interested in a clapped-out old Watcher, of course, but he guessed that a degree of flirtatious conversation might not be entirely unacceptable.
Giles began the business meeting by presenting Ilona with a gift. A bottle of Isle of Jura 21 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Parting with it was something of a wrench, and he wondered if it would be truly appreciated, but Ilona accepted it reverentially.
“Grazie,” she said, gazing at it with big round eyes. “A treasure, I think. This I shall keep for some occasion truly special. When Italy win the World Cup, perhaps.”
Again the business part of the visit went smoothly. Ilona was cooperative and helpful; wanting the best for her clients, certainly, but willing to compromise in the interests of smoothing out this bump on the track of peaceful co-existence between the Slayers and those Italian demons who were willing to live in harmony with mankind. If not for altruistic reasons, then so that conditions could be restored to normal, as quickly as possible, so that everybody could get on with the business of making money. She followed the common Italian practice of throwing in an unexpected demand at the last minute, just when everything appeared to be settled, but the demand in question was perfectly reasonable and Giles conceded the point without argument.
He almost lost his nerve when the time came to invite her to dinner. Yes, she had invited him the last time, but that had been to a social occasion with plenty of other guests. An unusual move so early in a business association, he gathered, but not unprecedented, and it was after all important for her to stay on the right side of the Council of Watchers. This would be just the two of them, a tête-à-tête, and it was, as they said in California, a whole different vibe. He could picture her head-shake, hear her words of refusal, her insincere ‘Ah, ’ad I known, I would not ’ave arrange to wash my ’air and watch television tonight’, and he cringed inwardly. Yet he had faced demons, vampires, a hell-goddess, and more than one deranged witch; was a refusal of a dinner invitation really such an intimidating prospect? He gathered his courage and asked.
“Oh, Roopert, that is so nice,” she beamed. His mind raced ahead of her words, filling in the blanks with ‘but I ’ave already…’ and it took a moment for her real words to register. “Si. We go. You ’ave chosen the restaurant already? Ah, so practical as well as so charming.”
She had said ‘yes’. And, Giles thought to himself, he was at least as pleased to hear it as any poor Mexican fruit farmer could ever have been to hear a ‘yes’ from the Man from Del Monte.- - - - -
“I approve,” Ilona said. ‘I am surprise you know of this place. Ah, of course, your Boofy she ’as told you. She come ’ere sometimes, I think, ’er and Tomasso.” A frown creased her forehead briefly. “’Ow is it you do not stay with Boofy when you are in Rome? And why is it you send away young Andrea to Tierra del Fuego? Brrr! So cold, so far from Rome.”
“We don’t regard contact with The Immortal as safe,” Giles said reluctantly. “His effect on Andrew was, shall we say, deleterious, and I posted him to Tierra del Fuego to remove him from The Immortal’s influence.”
Ilona’s frown returned, more pronounced this time. “I do not understand this dislike of Tomasso. ’E is a playboy, perhaps, but that is no crime. Allow your Slayer to ’ave fun, to be with the man she choose. Where is the ’arm?”
“He’s highly dangerous and I’m not convinced that Buffy’s choice was entirely her own,” Giles replied, a hint of sharpness entering his tone.
Ilona laughed. “Again there is this suspicion. From Angeloos, God rest ’is soul, and from the bootiful Spike, and now from you. You ’ave listened to Spike, I think. I say to them, and now I say to you, there is no spell. We know, for we ’ave checked. ’E needs no spell to enchant the ladies.”
“No spell,” Giles said, “just pheromones. A handy little by-product of his immortality process, or so we believe. Better living through chemistry. Alchemy, rather, as he appears to have discovered the process during the fifteenth century.”
“Pheromones?” Ilona repeated.
Giles began to explain to her what pheromones are, but she cut him off short.
“I know feromoni, si,” she said. “But they are, ’ow you say, subtle, no? You mean, Tomasso ’as made them powerful? Like the vampires in the story?”
“Exactly like that,” Giles confirmed. His eyebrows climbed. Was she referring to the ‘Ringworld’ stories? He wouldn’t quite have thought them to be Ilona’s style, but she certainly had hidden depths.
“So, when you are near Tomasso, you are arrapato, ’ow you say, you wish to make the love?”
“Very much so, I gather,” Giles said. “It’s the secret of his success. He is, quite literally, irresistible.”
“Lo pòssin'ammazzàllo!” Ilona exclaimed. “To me also! Faccia di stronzo! I will ’ave ’im smooshed!”
Her tirade was interrupted by the arrival of a waiter. By the time that the food was in front of them, and the waiters had departed, Ilona had calmed down.
“I ’ave pity for ‘im,” she said, very much to Giles’ surprise. “’E will never know if ’e is truly loved.”
“Well, yes, there is that,” Giles said.
“And always ’e will lose those ’e loves, for ’e does not age,” Ilona went on. “Immortality, it is a curse as well as a blessing. I do not miss it.”
Giles had heard from Spike about the immortality that was offered to senior executives at Wolfram and Hart, but this was the first intimation that Ilona had been one of the beneficiaries. The spell had been broken, presumably, when Willow’s spell had sealed off the Senior Partners’ access to Earth. He wondered just how old Ilona was; it wasn’t the kind of question that one asked a lady, of course, and he kept his mouth closed.
The question must have been in his eyes, however, for Ilona gave him an enigmatic smile and gave him an answer. “We are the same age, you and I, more or less,” she told him. “Sixteen years I am executive for Wolfram and ’art, and for me the clock ’e stands still, but now the clock ’e tick again. It is good.”
That was not an easy revelation for which to come up with an appropriate reply. “I’m relieved to hear that it isn’t something that you miss,” Giles said. “There were unexpected ramifications to Willow’s spell. There wasn’t exactly time to give due consideration to them all, of course.”
“No, there would not ’ave been,” Ilona agreed. “I am sorry. I ’ave made us to talk about things not so light. I spoil our evening.”
“Not at all,” Giles said. “It has been, ah, interesting.”
“But not so much fun, no? Mannàggia! It ‘as make me forget something important. I bring for you a gift. In fact I ’ave for you two gifts, for this is our way.” She picked her handbag up from beside her chair, rummaged within it, and produced two packages.
One was a quite beautiful Aurora fountain pen. The other was a tie decorated with images of the mechanical designs of Leonardo da Vinci. It occurred to Giles that the tie was the type of present that custom dictated, according to Suzanne’s briefing, but that the fountain pen was probably significantly more expensive. His forehead creased as he pondered the meaning behind the gifts.
“You do not like? Oh, I am a fool. Again I ’ave put in my foot. Tomasso again, for of course you know ’e was apprentice to Da Vinci, and it bring back the bad thoughts. I do not think. I am crushed.”
“Oh, no, my dear, it isn’t that I don’t like them,” Giles hastened to assure her. “It hadn’t even occurred to me that The Immortal was Da Vinci’s apprentice. The tie is quite delightful. It’s just, well, I feel that my gift to you rather pales into insignificance beside the pen.”
“You give one of the finest things of your country, I give one of the finest things of mine,” Ilona said. Her face was illuminated once more with a beaming smile, although Giles wasn’t quite sure why. “You write to me, maybe, then the gift it keep on giving.”
“I will,” he promised. “So few people appreciate letters these days. It’s all e-mail and texts and instant messaging.”
“The writing by ’and, it has a beauty,” she said. “For business, yes, the e-mail, for it is quick, but there is no, ’ow you say, intimacy?”
“Quite,” Giles said. “Indeed I will write to you.”
“That is good to ’ear. And the tie, you will wear?”
“I shall,” he confirmed. “Only with certain shirts, of course.” The crease returned to his brow again. “I wonder. Da Vinci was the genius, and no doubt it was he who discovered the Fountain of Youth rather than his apprentice. I wonder why he did not make use of it himself?”
“As you say, ’e was the genius,” Ilona said. “Too wise, I think, to do such a thing. Unlike Tomasso. Ptah! ’E is a filthy creature. We will speak of ’im no more. Come, we will talk of more pleasant things. The bootiful Spike. ’E is ’ooman, now, is ’e not? Tell me, ’ow is it for ’im, with so great a change?”
“He seems to be managing rather well, actually,” Giles told her. “He’s living in South America now.” His heart sank slightly. He had deluded himself into thinking that he detected signs that Ilona was interested in him for himself, but it seemed that he had been mistaken, and the attraction lay in his connection to Spike.
“Ah, si, with ’is Weellow,” Ilona beamed. “She must be a special girl, to ’old the ’eart of the bootiful Spike, ’oo for so long dreamed only of Boofy. One day I must meet ’er. You bring them to Rome sometime, maybe. I promise, I will not call ’er ‘Vi’.”
Giles laughed. “There is a certain superficial similarity between the two girls,” he conceded. “Perhaps one day the opportunity will arise for you to meet.” ‘And hopefully,’ he added mentally, ‘without any Apocalypse being involved.’- - - - -
Giles kept his promise and wrote to Ilona several times over the next couple of months. He was perhaps more eloquent on paper than in conversation and the tone of the letters, and of Ilona’s replies, grew steadily warmer. They were, Giles sensed, alike in many ways. Both separated from conventional society by their knowledge of a world that was outside the experience of normal people. Both heads of powerful organisations, bearing great responsibility, and compelled on occasion to be ruthless. There were, of course, things that Giles could not mention in his letters, and no doubt the same applied to hers, but they still grew more and more revealing.
Eventually Buffy broke up with The Immortal. There was drama, and moping, and an awkward reconciliation with Dawn, and a potentially explosive confrontation between Buffy, Willow, and Spike. Giles inevitably was drawn into the affair, although much against his will, and trying to resolve things without appearing to take sides required a fine balancing act. His letters to Ilona at this time became something of an escape, and he came to await her replies more and more eagerly.
Ilona came to England for a visit. Giles would have loved to invite her to stay with him but didn’t quite dare to take that step. Also Buffy had descended on him, taking her invitation for granted, and he could see infinite potential for awkwardness there. He contented himself with making a trip to London, for the weekend, and two evenings with the Italian beauty. Very enjoyable evenings, certainly, but which ended with both parties returning chastely to their own hotels.
Then, a year after their first meeting, Giles visited Rome again. There was a small amount of business to go over, but certainly not enough to require a visit. It was the chance to see Ilona again that drew Giles, quite definitely, although he was reluctant to admit as much to anyone but himself.
Once more Ilona invited him to dine at her apartment. Giles was slightly disappointed. He would have preferred to have her to himself at a restaurant rather than to be one of a crowd of guests at a dinner party. The conversation could hardly take an intimate turn in company.
Only, when Giles arrived at her apartment, she was alone.- - - - -
His gift of red roses this time was meant, not an accident, and Ilona’s kiss when she received them was on his lips rather than his cheek. Despite that, he was still unsure about taking any kind of a step towards moving their relationship onto a more physical plane, and he did not try to deepen the kiss.
During the meal they talked of subjects outside their relationship. ‘Of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings’, Giles thought. Again Ferrari was a primary topic.
“They are doing decidedly less well this season,” Giles remarked.
“Of course,” Ilona told him. “Their contract with Wolfram and ’art, it ’as expire. I would not renew it, for you might ’ave feel it break the spirit of our agreement.”
“Contract with Wolfram and Hart? You mean Ferrari was using supernatural means to dominate Formula One?”
“Si. You think the McLaren engines they blow up by themselves? No, it is the work of the gremlins. Räikkönen is not so much unlucky, ’e is cursed. And ’oo but Wolfram and ’art could ’ave made it that Schumacher could win the race while ’e serve the penalty in the pits?”
“So there really are such things as gremlins?” Giles muttered. “I’ll be blowed.”
“Perhaps,” Ilona said, her eyes sparkling wickedly. “It is over now. The Scuderia they must compete on the level terms, and they do not do so well. This season will be bad for them, I think. Still, they ’ave much money, they will cope. Next year, we shall see.”
“I hope there won’t be any supernatural interference in the World Cup,” Giles said.
“Not for the Azzurri,” Ilona assured him. “Brazil, perhaps. There is much voodoo there.”
“I might get Spike and Willow to check that out,” Giles mused. “Hmm.” He filed that thought away and brought his mind back to the present time and place. “Thank you for the tip, my dear.”
“My pleasure,” Ilona said. “Now, I think we open the bottle of whisky. It is a year since we meet. I think that is occasion enough.”- - - - -
They sat side by side on the couch and sipped at the exquisite golden liquid. “It is, ’ow you say, sublime?” Ilona judged. “As if summer was put into a bottle.”
“I am flattered that you regard the anniversary of our meeting as a cause for celebration,” Giles said. He set down his glass and touched her hand. “I hardly dared think that it mattered to you.”
She set down her own glass and took his hand in hers. “Of course it matter, Roopert,” she said. “You are most special to me. My own ’andsome Eenglishman, si?” She parted her lips.
Giles bent towards her, slowly, giving her plenty of time to object, and pressed his lips to hers. She leaned into his kiss and released his hand, moving her grasp to his shoulders. Their tongues met and intertwined. Giles put his hands on her shoulders and then moved them gradually down her back.
She broke the kiss and pulled back slightly. “Your kiss, it is better even than the whisky,” she said, and moved in again.
Their hands caressed, fondled, explored. Buttons were unfastened and fingers touched flesh. Brief words were spoken between kisses. Words of affection, of desire, of need. The floor in front of the couch became strewn with clothes. “To the bedroom,” Ilona panted. “I want you much.”
“And I want you so very much, my dear,” Giles told her, and kissed her again.
They moved to the bedroom, shedding the last of their clothes on the way, and sank down upon her bed. Giles explored every inch of her body with his mouth, tasting, stimulating, worshipping. Ilona matched him kiss for kiss, taste for taste. At last he sank into her, bringing a long shuddering gasp of pleasure from her lips, and they moved together in a rhythm as old as time.
Giles held himself back, fought for control, and maintained a steady pace until Ilona shuddered in release and cried out in sheer unrestrained joy. She squeezed him in a way that no amount of control could resist and Giles’ cries rang out to join hers. Ilona hugged him tightly and began to giggle.
Giles panted hard and rolled aside from Ilona, so that he could allow himself to slump down without squashing her, and then embraced her lovingly. “Dear darling Ilona,” he said.
“Mmm, my lovely ’andsome Roopert,” she said. “I ’ave waited for this for long time.”
“And I,” he said. “I just couldn’t really believe that such a beautiful and charming woman could be interested in a worn-out specimen like me.”
“It is I who is worn out,” Ilona said. “Of course I am interested in you. Since you say the thing about the trowel, and you give me the roses of red.”
“I had no idea,” Giles told her. He decided not to mention that his initial gift of roses had been a mistake. “I still find it hard to believe.”
“You underestimate yourself, I think,” she told him. “You are kind, and brave, and you ’ave the wit, and you are truly most ’andsome. ’Ow could I not fall for you?”
“But you could have almost any man you wished,” Giles said. “I accept that I don’t exactly shatter mirrors, but you really are beautiful. Talented, intelligent, entrancing.”
“We ’ave a saying in Rome,” Ilona said. “It is ‘ésse come la sóra Camilla, che tutti la vònno e nisuno se la piglia.’ ‘To be like Miss Camilla, who everyone wants but nobody marries.’ That is me, I think. The men, they can see only these,” she put her hands to her magnificent breasts, “or that I am the person of importance. It is only you who ’ave made me feel that to you I am the whole person.”
Giles kissed her again. “Of course you are.”
“And you to me.” She returned his kiss. “You waited a long time, and you write me the nice letters, and my feelings for you, they grow. Very much.”
“And mine for you.” He trailed his fingers down her belly, making her giggle and squirm. “You are perfect. Beauty incarnate.”
“I think you look at me with the eyes of a lover,” she said, “or with the eyes of the Scotch whisky. But you make me very ’appy.”
“I try,” Giles said.
“You try very well.” She laughed. “I ’ave the great pleasure. You ’ave give me, ’ow you say, ‘the good seeing-to’?”
Giles felt himself stirring, growing hard once more, and he trailed his fingers further down her belly and into the dark triangle of hair below. “I shall give you two,” he said, “for this is our way.”