Chapter Four: Helping the Not-Helpless
Spike spoke first. "No flipping way."
Angel shot him a glare.
"It was self-defence," Buffy added, albeit lamely.
"Self-defence, that's different," Angel said. "It's perfectly defendable."
Buffy gave a hollow laugh. "Only if I have a believable explanation of why I was in Mayor Hudson's office in the first place."
"Well, why were you there?" Spike asked.
Buffy sighed. "I was stupid. I was young and stupid. I was barely seventeen and I thought I knew it all." She took a deep breath. "Look, I'm good at detective work. And I've been doing all types of self-defence and martial arts since I was a kid; I thought I could handle myself. I'd always wanted to be a detective and I got involved in stuff, doing my own private investigations."
"At seventeen?" Spike sounded believably incredulous.
"Yeah, I know. But I managed it. I used my age to my advantage. There was a short piece on the local news about me once, after I got evidence for a murder that the police hadn't been able to get a warrant for. Red-tape stuff, you know. Then a while later, two guys knock on my door claiming to be from the FBI. I mean, they had ID and that, how was I supposed to know it was fake?"
"You weren't," Spike said. "You couldn't have known."
"Thanks," Buffy replied, "but it doesn't help the guilty feeling."
"What did they want?" Angel asked.
"They said Mayor Hudson was up to something unscrupulous and they needed me to get the evidence. They armed me and everything, as a precaution they said. I ended up in Hudson's office, with him aiming a gun at me." She swallowed. "I just pulled my trigger first."
"Self-defence," Spike said.
"Wish it were that simple," Buffy said with a small smile. "I panicked and hid his body, then contacted Trick and Leland. They told me to just go home and stay there, and let them sort it out. So I did. Then, two weeks later, Trick appears on the news as Richard Wilkins' representative."
"Who's Richard Wilkins?"
"Hudson's political rival. Elected the Mayor after Hudson was out the way."
"So you were set up," Angel said. Buffy nodded.
"Did you try telling the police what -" Spike began. Buffy shook her head.
"Couldn't. I panicked and tried to run – but Trick and Leland got my mom first." Her voice cracked and she took a few deep breaths. "I ran for it with my sister and ended up at Lady Luck. That's about it."
"I'm sorry," Spike whispered.
Angel was staring into a corner of his office, his brow furrowed, obviously thinking hard. "You can't be blamed for running away. That sounds like a pretty tough situation."
"Hence the crappy career," Buffy said. "Can you help?"
He seemed to jolt out of his thought process. "I don't see why not. We're here to help the helpless, after all."
"Buffy's hardly helpless," Spike muttered. "A deadly weapon more like." Buffy shot him a glare, and he hastily added, "but in a good way."
"Let me rephrase that," Angel spoke a little louder. "Help people who need it."
"Are you speaking as a detective," Buffy said, "or the head of a law firm here?"
"Both. Either. It all depends on what you need. For the moment -"
"I'd say a job," Spike interrupted.
There was a short pause. Angel frowned at his brother. "Spike, could I speak to you for a moment outside, please? Excuse us a moment, Miss Summers."
Once they were outside, Angel closed the office door and turned on Spike. "What exactly did you mean by that? Because if you meant what I think you meant, then you shouldn't be suggesting it without discussing it with me first."
"Meant by what?"
"Offering her a job here. At least, if that's what you meant."
Spike shrugged. "Yeah, why not?" As Angel's frown deepened into a glare, he continued, "Look, she's good. She's really good."
"At what, sex?"
It was Spike's turn to glare now, although the effect was ruined by the reddening face. "No. Well, yes, but that's not what I meant. I was talking about all the assets you look for in employees. Determination. Ingenuity. Resourcefulness. She's proved all of it. Martial arts skills. Plus she's got a photographic memory. That's got to be a clincher in any kind of detective work, surely?"
"She's a wanted fugitive, for crying out loud. Not to mention a -" Angel stopped himself, but Spike knew exactly what he meant.
"Well, so what? It's not like she's had much choice in the matter. She can hardly walk into a job centre and present her resume; if all the people she thinks are after her are still actively looking, she'll be dead within a week."
"And it's not like she deliberately went out and made herself a criminal. It was a mistake. You remember what a mess Gunn was in when you met, and yet you employed him."
"Come on, Angel, it's not just about Buffy. She's got a family too. A baby, like Conner."
"You could do a deal. We give her a job, protection and security for her family, and she helps us bring down the Lady Luck owners from the inside. She'd know how to get evidence."
"If you would just let me get a word in edgeways, Spike?" Angel finally snapped. Spike stopped talking. "Yes, I agree."
"I said yes. You've convinced me. You don't have to keep rambling on."
Spike grinned. "So you do listen to me sometimes. I should bake a cake for the special occasion."
"A job here?" Buffy repeated, stunned.
"Wow," Buffy whispered. "That's – are you serious?"
"I wouldn't be offering if I wasn't," he replied, giving what Buffy suspected was a rare smile.
"I'm guessing detective work, right?" Buffy laughed slightly. "Since I'm no lawyer."
"Well, technically, there's a bunch of different jobs round here on offer," Spike spoke up from Angel's chair. "But yeah, he means a detective job."
"I can answer for myself, thanks," Angel muttered. "Anyway, yes, Buffy, a job in Angel Investigations. You said yourself you're good at investigative work, and my brother here thinks you've proved it."
For a moment Buffy felt a warm sort of glow, similar to the kind she remembered from being praised by a schoolteacher.
"You would also be a valuable addition to one of our current cases – that is, the one you met Spike on."
"Oh," Buffy said, remembering what Spike had said about the hotel owners. "Yeah, the games are fixed. All the staff knows it."
"This is my proposal." Angel cleared his throat. "You return to your current place of employment temporarily, and see if you can find any evidence that will stand up in court, while we sort out a place for you here."
Buffy nodded, unable to believe this was really happening. "Sure. I can do that. How long do you think it would take to sort out a place for me? 'Cause I assumed as you offered, there was a position available -"
Spike cut her off before Angel could. "There's no problem staff-wise hiring an extra detective, he means paperwork stuff. Your identity and everything."
"Is that going to be a problem?" Buffy asked, biting her lip. "I know I haven't got anything official -"
"That's what we'll be sorting out for you," Angel assured her. "We have the contacts and resources to set you up with a new identity, and your family too, as well as a background that checks out – school records, medical notes, you know. It's virtually undetectable as forgery."
"It's undetectable," Spike corrected. "He's only got to say 'virtually' to stop you suing him if someone finds you. The only way anyone could is by tracing somebody you were supposed to have known in your fake past and talking to them, which they would only be doing if they knew who you are already, so yeah, it's undetectable."
It took a moment for both Buffy and Angel to wrap their heads around his statement. "Well then, definitely yes," Buffy said, a genuine smile breaking out. "I accept, totally. This is more than I expected – hoped for – I don't know what to say -"
"Thank you works," Spike said helpfully.
"Dawn!" Buffy could barely contain her bubbling-over excitement as she rushed into the diner, spotting her sister and son at the corner table. "You're never going to believe it!"
"What? What happened?" Dawn asked. Buffy took a deep breath, reminding herself that she was in a public place and people were staring at her.
"It's good news," she said breathlessly, to calm her sister, and sat down. "Mind if I have some of that?"
"Sure." Dawn pushed the Coke can towards her and rescued a ketchup bottle from Maxie's grasp.
Buffy took a gulp of the drink and turned her attention to her son. "There's my boy! Guess where Mommy's been?" she cooed, picking him up and sitting him in her lap. A pang briefly occurred in her heart at the memory of his first word, but she pushed it aside. That wouldn't happen again. Everything was changing now. "Mommy's been checking out her new job."
"A new job?" Dawn echoed, her eyebrows raising. "You're kidding! What job? What happened?"
"You know that building a few blocks away from us; the law firm Wolfram and Hart?" Buffy said, and Dawn nodded. "Well, the guy that runs it, he's also got his own detective agency. It's not separate. They're kind of assimilated into each other. Anyway, it was his brother I met at the hotel."
"Go on," Dawn urged.
"Turns out they're after the hotel owners, about the fixed games? Anyway, they knew nothing about me, 'till I pulled a gun on Spike – the brother. The story all came out, and Angel – that's the boss – he's offered me a job at the agency."
"What's the catch?" Dawn frowned. Buffy understood. It did sound too good to be true.
"It's not instant, I've got to go to the hotel and get them something on my bosses first. But come on, Dawn, it's way more than we ever expected. And I haven't even told you the best bit."
"A clean slate."
The detective opened the thin file and stared at the photograph for a moment. "Pretty girl. I can see why you want to find her. But I'm sorry, we don't really do domestic cases."
"It's not a domestic case, Mr. Stevens." The potential client was fairly young, mid to late twenties, with brown hair clipped short, camouflage trousers and jacket, and an expression that conveyed having heard it all before. "Buffy disappeared the day her home was blown up, by an unknown party. The police confirmed that the only fatality was her mother, Joyce. Buffy and her sister Dawn escaped the explosion and the only lead is an abandoned car they were seen driving off in."
"Look, pal," was the reply. "My heart bleeds for them, it does, but you haven't supplied anything that can be of use. I mean, one photo, her last school record and a bunch of eye-witness statements that were collected months after the event?" He dropped the file onto his desk. "Where's the police report, the crime scene photographs, the explosion evidence, missing persons details?"
"I haven't been able to get anything out of the police. All they ever did was identify what kind of bomb was used, which they wouldn't even disclose. If anybody ever reported sightings of Buffy or Dawn, they were never followed up."
"So you think they botched the case."
"Buffy and Dawn were never found, and nobody was ever arrested for the bomb. Ever. If they knew what kind it was, they would at least have had leads in the suppliers, but no." The client leaned forwards and looked Calvin Stevens straight in the eye. "I think it was more than botched."
"I'm sorry." The file was pushed back across the desk. "If it were a simple case of finding your girl and the bomber, I would help. But second-guessing the police is no longer my territory. Last time I took on a case for a client saying they screwed up, my client was set up for a crime that a corrupt cop committed, and I ended up shot in the backside. Straight-up criminals are my game. You want to accuse the police of corruption or pure incompetence? Try a detective who's come out of one of those cases triumphant."
"Call yourself a detective." The man, who had not even given his name yet, snatched the file back and turned to leave. "At least the other agencies I've been to tried."