Wordcount: This part, 2512
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Boss Whedon.
Notes: Okay no but seriously WHAT.
It's a long story.
Buffy’s fingers probed the edges of the tear in the roof of Cordelia’s convertible. The material felt thick and tough under her hands, not something that would easily give way to a natural creature’s claws. She asked anyway: “And you’re sure it was a werewolf?”
Xander was sure, and his description of the creature that had attacked while he and Cordy were in the car drew a fair picture of the classic mythological beast. “Not to mention it was a full moon!” Cordy added.
Oz and Willow gave her a side-eye, perfectly in synch with each other, and she crossed her arms. “What? Everyone knows the full moon is a werewolf thing. You don’t have to be a total nerd to know that.”
“Actually, the full moon is tonight,” said Willow. “Last night was the night before the full moon, traditionally known as...the night before the full moon.” She unrolled a newspaper she had tucked under her arm and pointed to a feature in the corner of the back page.
Oz lifted an eyebrow. “So it’s not a werewolf?”
“Or the werewolf is using last year’s almanac,” suggested Xander.
“Or the whole legend is a crock,” Cordelia put in.
Buffy rubbed her brow, trying to ignore her instinct to take this debate straight to Giles. He would have been positively grateful to straighten it out for them, but she wasn’t ready to talk to him yet, let alone work beside him. “Willow, did you find anything else in the paper?”
“Yeah.” Willow’s shoulders drooped. “There were some wild animal, um, bodies found this morning...well, they used the word ‘mutilated’...” She shuddered.
“We can use the word ‘askew’,” Oz offered, and Willow perked back up.
Xander was looking at Buffy, expectant optimism written all over his face. “So, our beastie gets the coveted award for No Dead Humans in Sunnydale. What do we do to make sure he keeps it?”
The truth, at least for the moment, was that Buffy had no idea. She tried to string a rudimentary plan together as she answered. “Well, I’ll patrol tonight. If it’s a werewolf it might be out again. If it’s not...well, it might still be out, and if it isn’t, then we’ll know that it’s...a werewolf, or it’s not…”
“Are you kidding?” snapped Cordelia. “Giles needs to research this! Get him!” A thought seemed to strike her, and her eyes darkened. “Don’t tell me this is some kind of grudge thing. Okay, he poisoned you. Get over it! Xander and I almost got mauled by a hideous monster and do I need to remind you that Daddy just got this car detailed?” She waved expansively at the torn roof. “Obviously there’s only one person around who can do better than ‘may-or-may-not-be-a-werewolf’, and you haven’t even told him what happened?”
This might be a good time to practice being patient with Cordelia, Buffy acknowledged, but she could save that for the full moon. “You know, Giles is the school librarian,” she said.
Willow picked up the thread immediately. “Library’s open to all students.”
“It’s that way,” Oz added, pointing.
After a few seconds of silent glaring, Cordelia lifted her chin and said, “Fine. I will.” She stalked off toward the library.
Xander looked torn, and Buffy sighed in exasperation. “Oh, go with her,” she said, and Xander bounded away with a grateful smile as Buffy muttered to the others, “Match made in heaven.”
Willow was alone the next day in the computer lab when Buffy found her, typing away at some complicated formula on the monitor that could have meant anything. “That’s a lot of numbers,” Buffy remarked, and then, noticing the laptop balanced on Willow’s knees, added, “Too many to fit in one computer?”
“Well, I’m trying to help Miss Calendar with her class,” said Willow, as if it were an apology. “So she can concentrate on...you know.”
“Angel,” Buffy nodded. She set her bag on the floor and slumped into the chair beside Willow’s. “Has she said anything about how that’s going?”
“A couple things that were non of the committal. I mean, I can tell she’s serious about trying, but I guess with the spell being lost to the ages and all, she doesn’t have a lot of hope.”
Neither do I, Buffy wanted to say, but she knew that would be a lie; she couldn’t be feeling so afraid of Miss Calendar’s ultimate failure if there wasn’t some hope of success behind it. She had only spoken to her once since the day the secrets had come out, and the conversation had been much like the one that Willow had just relayed. Buffy doubted that Miss Calendar, whatever Romani connections she had, would even be attempting to restore Angel’s soul if she hadn’t been put up to it by the Watchers’ Council, with Buffy and Giles listening.
“You think she and Giles are still dating?” Buffy asked.
The laptop having apparently served its purpose, Willow closed it as she answered, “Yeah. They’re a little more hush hush about it now, but I saw him kind of touch her hand today when -- eep!”
Miss Calendar had just entered from the door at the far end of the lab, Buffy saw with a glance over her shoulder. She turned back to face the powered-off machine in front of her without saying any words of greeting, but Willow, frantic with embarrassment that their conversation might have been overheard, began stuttering out an explanation of what she had been working on for the class.
Her jitters might have been incriminating if Miss Calendar had actually cared whether the girls were discussing her love life, but she merely set down a few books that she was holding and stilled Willow with a gesture. “That’s great. Thank you. I won’t bother you, I just came to make sure you weren’t planning on killing the werewolf tonight.”
That got Buffy’s attention. “What? We weren’t even sure if it is a werewolf.”
“Rupert is convinced it is. And he says it’s most likely an innocent person who doesn’t even know what he or she is doing. So if you’re going after it tonight...don’t slay.”
Buffy restricted her response to a curt, “Alright,” but she felt alarmed. She was always careful about administering killing blows only after she knew she was dealing with a legitimate evil, but she hadn’t even narrowed down the candidates for this threat yet, and she wouldn’t have put it past herself to assume it was a witless beast. Willow would have done a better job with the research, but Willow had been busy with the workload inherited from Miss Calendar, who in turn was busy trying to save the town from Buffy’s ex-boyfriend.
I should talk to him, Buffy thought, and then realized, with genuine dread, that she didn’t know if she had meant Giles or Angel.
Aside from making it known to Sunnydale’s vampire populace that they had a new master, there wasn’t much that Angelus had to change once he took over from Spike. He was actually impressed by how his grandchilde had handled himself in the leadership position, though he was careful not to say so in front of him or Drusilla. Up until Spike’s debilitating accident - Angelus smirked, remembering it - he had kept everyone more or less in line, and the evidence of it was that they remained obedient even now. Angelus could leave them to their duties and spend more time with his family.
Of course, it never hurt to bring all of the minions together for the occasional reminder that they were minions. He stood at the center of the walkway where he had once tried to spy on Spike, the highest point in the factory, and looked down at the vampires gathered below. “One missing,” he remarked. “Where’s that misborn brat Ford?”
Drusilla, the only one accompanying him on the upper level, answered with a pout. “His roots went walking. What we plant won’t grow for us this time. Didn’t like the soil in our garden.”
“Your soil’s not the problem, Dru. The boy thinks he’s his own. Listen,” he said, raising his voice to address everyone, “if you find Ford, you bring him here to me. We’re gonna have a talk about where his hands belong.”
Spike was playing wallflower, confined to his wheelchair, but he sounded more amused than sulky. “Not on your Slayer, is the point you’re making here?”
Angelus grinned back at him. “Exactly. And as for her, well...I’ll be busy tonight.”
She wasn’t exactly alone in the park, but all that Buffy could see of the other students here was the occasional pair of silhouettes inside a fidgeting car, and they could see nothing at all of her. Nevertheless, she felt a flush creeping up her neck. She wasn’t embarrassed by the familiar faces she glimpsed sucking greedily at each other, but the memories they triggered were humiliating enough for anyone. She had brought Angel up here, just once, knowing that it didn’t suit him at all but unable to resist the lure of exhibitionism. As soon as she was sure that at least one girl in her class had seen her making out with a smoking hot college-age guy, she told him they could continue their embrace in a nice private cemetery.
He had known exactly what she was doing, and had raised no complaint. He had teased her just enough to show that he was a willing participant in her games. Her secrets had always been safe with him.
They weren’t anymore.
Buffy kept walking among the trees, shining her flashlight to the ground now and then, looking for werewolf prints or whatever other clues the park might offer up. A sound came from deeper into the wooded area, and she froze - a couple would have been whispering together, but the footfall of one creature moving on its own, like she was, caught her attention immediately.
Silence followed, for a few long seconds. Cautiously she stepped forward into a small clearing -
- And her feet flew up in front of her, the ground dropping away as she was hoisted up to branch level by a sturdy net. She caught her breath after one sharp squeal, but her hands discovered quickly that she was securely trapped. The thud of boots drew her eyes downward, and she found her predicament emphasized by the barrel of a long shotgun pointed her way.
“What the hell?” The gun’s wielder was a middle-aged man whose apparel seemed to come straight from a fashion show for big game hunters.
“Don’t shoot!” Buffy replied, but further conversation was cut off by the sound of someone blundering toward them through the woods, calling, “Buffy! Buffy!” Her stomach turned over. She knew that voice.
The hunter turned with his gun to face the newcomer, who presently appeared and threw his hands up as if the scene was a complete surprise to him. “What’s going on?” said Angel through puffing breaths, gazing up at the crumpled heap of her in the net. “Are you okay? Who’s this guy?”
Buffy couldn’t believe it. In just a few seconds, the vampire had crafted a perfectly convincing portrait of himself as a hapless boyfriend, innocently running to her defense. There was no possible way she could unmask him now - the ruse would go on for as long as he found it entertaining.
“Name’s Cain,” said the hunter to Angel, finally lowering his gun even as he shook his head in reproach. “Your sweetheart here took a walk in the wrong direction, but she’s not what I’m here to bag, so you kids can just go on your way.”
“Easier said than done,” Buffy snapped, but he had already pulled out a large bucknife and was cutting the rope to release the net.
“Better be careful out here, missy,” he asserted with infuriating nonchalance as she dropped to the ground. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you what kind of monsters are on the loose.”
Buffy lurched to her feet. “What,” she said dryly, swatting dirt and dead leaves from her clothing, “like werewolves?”
She thought he looked interested, but Angel hadn’t yet given up his game, and the hand he placed on her shoulder at that moment chilled her entire body and distracted her fully from the conversation. He picked up where she left off: “We’re looking for the werewolf too. Any idea where else we might find him?”
Cain nodded and stooped to collect his net. “Wherever the boys and girls like to get together. Werewolves are suckers for that whole sexual heat thing, sense it miles away. Better if the two of you let me take it from here, though.” He gestured disdainfully at Buffy. “Or at least leave your cheerleader behind. Be a shame to see that pretty face get bitten off.”
Angel murmured an abashed agreement, but Buffy couldn’t bear to play the part in which he had cast her, and she firmly took a step away from him.
“Look,” she said, addressing only Cain. “You can’t go after the werewolf with that gun. You’ll kill it.”
“Uh huh. Just like the ones that these came from.” He hooked a thumb under the strand of apparent fangs that he had around his neck. “This next one will bring the total to an even dozen.”
Buffy was livid, beyond caution for the tense situation that this had become. “Twenty-eight days of the month a werewolf is a--”
She flinched as Angel put an arm around her once again. “I think he’s right, Buffy,” he said quietly. “We should probably just go home.”
After that, there was nothing to do but stand by meekly as Cain tipped his hat to Angel and set off with his net and shotgun. As soon as she could no longer hear him, Buffy whirled and pushed Angel away. She meant to shove him off his feet, but to her chagrin, he merely took a step back and regained his stance with his newly trademark smirk.
“What was that about?” she hissed.
He shrugged. “I told you, Buff, I’m not done with you yet. Not about to let some jungle creeper have this dance, that’s for sure.”
“I don’t need any help from you.”
That made him grin broadly and hold out his arms. “So stake me.”
As long as she didn’t call his bluff, she knew, he would hold onto his assurance that she didn’t have the heart to kill him, and it would make him that much more dangerous. For now, though, she had to accept the standoff. “I’m busy,” she informed him.
“Right, you’ve got that werewolf to capture.” He stuffed his hands in his coat pockets and turned to stroll away, pausing to look back at her and say, “Better figure out where the sexual heat is, aside from here. I wonder if you’ll get there before the extermination specialist does.”
Start at the beginning.