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Wesley reached for the phone, cradling it between shoulder and ear as he dealt with the unexpected side effects of murmuring an incantation under his breath as he tried to translate it. It wasn’t easy, but the magic that compels one to answer a ringing phone or a knock on the door, no matter how inconvenient the timing, was one against which there was no effective counter spell.

“Wyndam-Price here.”

“Who?”

“Wesley Wyndam –”

“No, I know it’s you, Wesley, just expected...never mind.”

“Buffy?”

It wasn’t just astonishment that kept him from giving her a less terse response but once his fingers curled around the hilt of his letter opener...ah, yes. Much better. The tentacles digging into his neck had made coherent speech difficult but they shrivelled nicely at the touch of silver.

“Is this a bad time, Wes? Because I can...well, I’d rather not call back. It’s taken me all my time to – well, is it?”

“Not a,” slice, “bad time,” chop, “at all.” There was a final quiver and he hurled the letter opener, watched it thunk satisfyingly deep in a gelatinous eye, and settled back in his chair. “Just a little paperwork to clear up. How can I help you?”

The silence was thick and sticky and Wesley answered his own question. “You’ve found out then?”

“Yes, I have, Wesley.”

Her voice was full of frustration and pain and Wesley felt sympathy stir. “I’m sorry. If it had been up to me, I would have told you much earlier. Having said that, I can understand why both of them felt –”

“I should have been told! It concerns me. At least I thought it did...”

“Buffy, believe me, you’ve been very much on their minds.”

“Whose minds? Does everyone know about this?”

The tortured shriek had him wincing, both for his pain and hers. Cautiously moving the phone away from his ear, he said, “Well...”

He got no farther than that. “Wesley, that is unbelievable! I cannot believe it.”

“That’s generally a given with something unbelievable,” Wesley pointed out absent mindedly. The calm silence in his ear was strangely ominous and he played back his last words. What had he -?

“Wesley. Will you try, for a moment, to forget that you’re English and born to be pedantic – yes, I know big words too – and tell me where Angel is and why you’re answering his phone?”

Grateful for the opportunity to be able to answer without the necessity of choosing his words carefully, he said, “Angel’s in a meeting with the heads of three local demon clans.” And I hope the heads are still attached to bodies, he thought. “I’m using his office for some research as it’s bigger than mine.” And when he sees the carpet...

“Connect me. Get him. Put him on the line.”

“Can’t, I’m afraid.” Wesley smiled. His former Slayer was formidable, but she was many thousands of miles away and he was far from being the insecure, self-conscious...

“I’m waiting.”

Chills chased up and down his spine. Buffy could pack an avalanche of ice into a sentence. “I’m sorry, Buffy, but I really can’t disturb him. These negotiations are crucial. Lives depend on them.”

He was pleasantly surprised by how resolute he sounded. Perhaps he had changed...

“Wesley...” Was that a sob?

“Please, Buffy...if there’s anything I can do to explain this, to make you see how it happened...possibly I’d be a better person to do that. Less involved?”

“I thought he loved me!”

“He does. I know he does.”

“Then, why would he...oh, I can’t –”

“I know,” Wesley said, cutting in hastily. “I’m finding it a little hard to grasp myself. We all are.”

This time the silence seemed puzzled. “I know why I’m ready to slide and dice a certain someone,” Buffy said, “but what’s it got to do with you?”

Wesley found himself flushing. “There have been times...perhaps I read too much into them...I had hoped. Never mind. It doesn’t matter now. Some things are just fated. Destiny. Their history alone...I’m resigned, truly I am.”

“Wes? Are you making any sense? Because one of us isn’t making any sense. Please let it be you.”

Wes paused, regrouped and said cautiously. “What, precisely, are you angry about?”

“My Christmas card.”

“He forgot to send you one? I think you have to appreciate that to a vampire –”

“Oh, I got one.”

“Then?” Wesley probed delicately.

“Want me to read it to you, Wes?”

Did he have a choice? Possibly not. “Of course!”

“The staff of Wolfram and Hart would like to take this opportunity to wish all their customers, staff, friend and  –”

“Yes, I got that one too,” Wesley interrupted. “The demons get different ones, of course.”

“ – a profitable new year in which we will be delighted to assist you in any way we deem necessary within negotiable limits, up to and including -”

“Carefully worded, yes. I really don’t see –”

“Signed ‘Angel and Eve’. Who is she? Who is ‘Eve’?”

Wesley was stunned. “Ah...she’s...that is –”

“His secretary? Too dumb to know how to sign something on behalf of someone else?”

“No; that would be Harmony. Eve’s more in the nature of –”

“’Harmony’? You don’t – tell me you don’t mean –”

“If you interrupt me one more time, Buffy, I’m ending this call.” Wesley counted to three and then continued. “Yes, it’s that Harmony, No, she’s not souled but she is drinking animal blood these days. Cordelia, thank you for enquiring, is still in a coma –”

“Wesley? I’m sorry.”

He allowed that to go by, “- and Eve is a troublemaking, annoying, irritating young woman who no doubt knew exactly the effect that card would have on you and now I’m starting to worry. Since she slept with Angel she’s become rather more –” He paused but Buffy seemed beyond speech. “It was a spell and he’s still himself, don’t worry. Since then, however, she may have had expectations that have been...thwarted shall we say. Knowing how they both feel about you – and they do, they really do – she may be just taking a childish revenge. I’m sorry. I’ll speak to her, but you can be sure that Angel had nothing to do with it.” He waited and then said gently, “I’m finished.”

“Wesley? Willow can teleport me into your lap anytime I ask her to. And after I’ve sorted you out, I’ll go looking for Angel.”

“Delightful,” Wesley managed. Did she mean it? Was Willow really that powerful these days?

“I’ll do it if you don’t tell me everything that’s going on.”

Wesley thought quickly. Angel hadn’t actually forbidden anyone telling Buffy...she deserved to know...he could always emigrate...

“He and Spike have become lovers.”

The sound she made wasn’t a word.

“Buffy? You did know Angel was inclined – oh, you must have!”

She made the sound again and this time he understood it. “Did you say, ‘Spike’? You did know Spike was back? Buffy? Buffy? They told you, didn’t they? I’m sure they must have done...”

She didn’t teleport into his lap after all, but Angel said later that her sudden appearance in the centre of the table, stake in one hand, axe in the other, was the turning point in his discussion with the demons.

At least, that’s what Wesley thought he was trying to say. He’d clarify it once the bandages were removed...


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