A/N: Awards this story has won and is nominated for. Thank you for all your support! Fang Fetish R8: Best Alternate Reality, Best Angst, Runner Up Best WIP. Rogue Poet R4: Best Plot, Runner Up Best WIP. Spuffy R14: Best General Saga Reader's, Best General Angst Judge's, Judge's Pick, (nominated Best General Romance). Rogue Poet R5, 'Best Round': Best Plot Readers Choice. SunnyD R15: Best New Author, Best Spuffy Angst, Best AU, Best Drama, Best Unfinished. Rogue Poet R6: Runner Up Best Characterization. Spuffy R15: Most Original Plot Judge's, Judge's Pick. Running with Scissors R4: Runner Up Best WIP. Spark and Burn R5: Runner Up Best Alternate Reality, Best Alternate Reality Reader's, (nominated Best WIP). Spark and Burn R6: Currently nominated for: Best Plot, Best Angst, Best Spike Characterization, and Best New Author.
Buffy was not happy.
But then, kidnapping attempts tended to put a person on edge.
"This is getting ridiculous," she said, slumping into the sofa with her arms crossed. "Ridiculously scary, that is."
Her mother was hovering behind her. "Hank, you've got to do something. She was nearly killed!"
"Not so much killed," Buffy put in, "as kidnapped. So hey, look on the bright side. Could have been worse, right? Nothing to worry about at all. I must be imagining things," she finished with a fake smile.
"This isn't a joke, Buffy," her father said.
He glared at her from his seat. Apparently sarcasm wasn't appreciated.
Buffy sat up straighter and scowled slightly. "I know that. I was there. I was the one who had people grabbing at me, not you. I know it's not a joke. You're the one who's been treating it as unimportant."
"It's been unimportant."
"Yeah. People following me, watching me—completely okay. Gotcha."
"You meant you thought I was blowing things out of proportion. Well, now you know I'm not."
"The point," Joyce interjected, "is that we need to find out who's behind this, at least get someone on it. Right, Hank?"
Buffy tilted her head to glance behind her. Her mother had her arms folded, with one finger absently tapping her elbow. Across the room, her father was doing that thing with his eyebrows. Definite squaring off stance.
The room was suddenly thick with tension, and Buffy sullenly wondered which of them was going to break it first, or whether this would erupt into another full-scale argument over nothing. Well, maybe not nothing this time, but a parental shout fest was the last thing she was in the mood for.
"Fine," her father said after a minute. "I'll go make some calls." Then he went into his office and shut the door. Rather loudly shut the door.
It was silent for a moment, and Buffy craned her neck up, looking over the back of the sofa. "Mom?"
"You believed me, didn't you?"
Joyce moved to sit down next to her. "I believed you when you said that you were being followed. Unfortunately, that sort of thing happens sometimes on campuses. But I never expected this could happen."
"Yeah, neither did I. And of course Dad didn't. He doesn't even care," Buffy said. "Not really. It's just a big inconvenience to him, something else he has to deal with."
"He does care, sweetheart. Maybe he wasn't worried before, but he is now."
"Yeah, takes a kidnapping attempt for him to notice anything."
"You know his job—"
"Please, Mom. You argue with him all the time about the job. Don't use it as a defense."
"All right, honey, I won't. So how about this? Maybe his having some connections will pay off, hmm?"
Buffy ventured a small smile. "Yeah, maybe it will." She paused. "God, I feel awful. I think maybe I need a bubbly bath to recharge my Buffy battery."
After going into his office, Hank sat down at the desk and stared out the window for several minutes. Once he felt collected, he opened a drawer and pulled out his private rolodex.
He dialed the number he needed and a moment later, a girl answered.
"Bryce Agency, how may I help you?"
"Yes, I need to speak to the person in charge."
"Hold on a moment, please."
After a short silence, a cultured voice spoke. "This is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, how may I be of service?"
"I've got a problem," he started. "And I hear that you're the people to go to for difficult problems."
"Well, we are discreet. And we have the means to handle some of the more…problematic situations that can arise. What, specifically, is your dilemma?"
"My daughter is being followed. Today, she was almost kidnapped."
"Ah." The voice sounded more relaxed. "Well, we could certainly handle that. How old is your daughter?"
"I see. Now, Mr.…?"
"Mr. Summers. We can help you, but as a professional courtesy, I must inform you that there are people who would take care of this for less. This generally isn't the sort of case we specialize in and—"
"I don't care. I was told that you're the best, and I want the best. No matter what."
"As you wish. May I inquire who referred you to us with such a high recommendation?"
"A…contact of mine."
"I see. Of course. Now, may I ask what the police had to say about—"
"I haven't told the police."
Wesley paused, noticing a catch in the other man's voice. "Surely it would be best if you employed all possible resources?"
"I know how the police work. They'll put a car outside the house for a night or two, and that'll be it. She needs protection. Real protection."
"Very well, Mr. Summers. We're a small staff of two and don't employ bodyguards ourselves, but I contract with many highly recommended—"
"I don't need highly recommended," he cut in. "I need the best."
"I understand your—"
"No, you don't! My little girl is in danger and I demand the best—"
"I happen to know the best," Wesley interrupted in turn, feeling slightly provoked. "However, he doesn't come cheaply—"
"I'll pay anything."
"—if he agrees at all."
"Doesn't he work for you?"
"No. As I said, we contract for these things. He takes contracts from whomever he wishes. In some instances, he simply isn't interested; in others, he doesn't think the money worth his time. He is very well compensated, but those who hire him are always satisfied. Of course, in addition to his price, you'll have my fee as well."
"I'll pay anything."
"Of course. Though you must realize that he may not be available. In which case, I'll be more than happy to arrange any of our other reliable associates."
"The best. Yes, I know." Wesley slowly exhaled. "Give me your number, Mr. Summers, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible," he said shortly. "Also, it would be helpful if you would fax over any other information you feel is relevant."
An hour later, Wesley had the faxes in hand. He had also talked to Mr. Summers again, gathering what relevant information he could. Wesley reviewed the sheets, pausing for a long moment after he was finished.
Then he picked up the phone and dialed. It rang several times before a clipped voice answered. "Yeah?"
"I've got a job you might be interested in."
"So what is it?" Spike asked.
A pause. "Not exactly my game, Watcher."
"You've done it before. Not for any of my clients, but you have. And very well, I daresay."
Wesley could practically hear him shrugging as he said his next words. "So let's have the rundown."
"College freshman at UCLA. She says she's been followed and watched for the past week or so. Today someone attempted to abduct her in a van. Naturally, she's upset."
"What'd you think of her?"
"I've only spoken to her father on the phone," Wesley said, glancing at the faxes. There was a miniature photo of the girl in one corner of the page. "She's small, blonde—your typical California girl. She lives with her parents, goes to class on weekdays, has no job, and likes to go shopping and clubbing on the weekends. No enemies known, and only one ex-boyfriend. Her father was…adamant about having nothing but the best for her, yet gave no reason why she would need such extreme precautions." He paused. "On the surface, it appears to be your average ransom plot."
"Her parents are well off, yes."
"But you don't think it'll be a ransom?"
"I'm not sure. Something seemed off."
"They hire you to watch her or go after the ones chasin' her?"
"Her father was very specific that he wanted a bodyguard. Naturally, my first inclination was that he needed her protected until the problem was solved, but for whatever reason, he doesn't wish to inform the police. He was insistent yet evasive, and obviously used to throwing his money and weight around. As it stands, he wants the best bodyguard possible and will pay, quote, anything."
There was a long silence. Then, "Fifteen hundred a day. That's my price for babysittin' Barbie."
Wesley was silent.
"Not my game, like I said. They'd better make it worth my while. He'll pay; he sounds like the type."
"Then I presume I can inform Mr. Summers of your terms?"
"That you can."
"Very well. Come by my office later tonight to get the details."
The line went dead.