Wordcount: This part, 2088
Disclaimer: The usual not-owningness.
Notes: My brain is getting really sluggish when it comes to this 'verse. Please poke it with sharp sticks so that I can keep going.
There was a knock on the door that afternoon, and Giles thought it might be the best sound he had heard in two days. As humiliating as it was to allow Willoughby to answer his door, squabbling about it would be worse, so he kept to his chair and waited to hear who the visitor was.
"Jenny Calendar?" said Willoughby with overdone courtesy. "Please pardon me, but I'm obliged to ask if this visit includes any intention on your part to interfere with the business of the Slayer."
"This visit includes the intention of soup," Jenny replied crossly as Giles rose to meet her. She stepped past Willoughby, brandishing a white paper bag at him as evidence that she spoke the truth, and then ignored him entirely.
Giles automatically moved to relieve her of the bag, which smelled of chicken and radiated warmth, but she held it away from him as she laid one hand on his shoulder and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Chicken soup is for sick people," she said, "and you're not. Are you?"
"I'm afraid not. But I've been told I won't be leaving here until school hours are over, so I may as well be. Will you sit?"
She did, and he told her everything. He had anticipated objection from his Council watchdog, but word about Jenny's involvement in Sunnydale's supernatural defense seemed to have been passed on, and Willoughby requested only that she keep the necessary secrets. While she was there he remained in the room with them, or the next one over, but was respectfully silent while they talked, keeping his attention on the paperwork he had brought for himself.
It was hard for Giles to tell Jenny the shameful story of what had led him to this, and it was made worse by his nagging sense of déjà vu. He knew that in truth she was hearing it now for the first time, but her intent expression made her so identical to Drusilla's illusion of her that he had to stop and steady himself a few times before he could continue talking.
"It hardly matters that I'm prohibited from seeing her," he concluded bitterly. "I don't expect she would have anything to say to me. Or that there's any way I can help her now."
Jenny squeezed his hand in sympathy, but her own concerns seemed slightly off-center. "Have you heard from Angel?" she asked in a voice low enough to avoid catching Willoughby's attention.
"He knows what I did to Buffy. Why would he come to me?"
"I don't know. But when I saw Buffy this morning she didn't say anything about him except that he found the lair with her. I'm just worried about—-about both of them."
Giles removed his glasses. "Yes. Well." He thought again about the way Drusilla had manipulated him, and how his imagined Jenny had shown such interest in Buffy's weakness. Was he ever going to be able to cleanse himself of that memory, or would he forever hear her voice in his head telling him that he couldn't win? He sighed. "Jenny. You must understand the choice I've made in this, however much I may wish I could take it back. My role as Buffy's mentor is removed; she and Angel see me as an outsider now, and I've little doubt that her friends will follow suit. If you disregard my betrayal of her, you'll be taking a side."
"I know," said Jenny with a diffident shrug. "I think Buffy's old enough to decide for herself who she will or won't forgive." She pressed her forehead into her fingertips, a weary gesture from an overburdened woman. "There's someone I need to talk to. If they let you go back to the school soon I'll meet you there, okay? Otherwise I'll be back here soon."
Buffy made a token attempt to attend her classes. She made it through the first one, without comprehending a word spoken or a figure drawn on the chalkboard, but halfway through History, she recalled with alarming precision the way that Angel's lips had fluttered against her collarbone. Without a word she stood up and left the classroom as the teacher's stern voice followed her and then faded away.
She tried his apartment first and found it empty and unchanged from how it had been when she left. While making the rounds to every place in town she could conceive of him taking shelter, she returned there twice more, to no avail. Willy swore he had no information no matter how she threatened—-she didn't dare hit him, for fear that he would notice her weakened strike—-and there was no sign that he was lying. Angel really had just disappeared.
Willy was kind enough, or more likely, nervous enough, to let her use the bar's phone. As she expected, Travers picked up at the library, but when she would only respond to everything he said with repetitions of "Let me talk to Willow," finally he relented and passed off the phone.
"They won't even let us touch some of the books!" were Willow's first words, delivered in a hushed fury. "I don't know who they think they are! These aren't their books! They're school proper—" She cut off there, listening to another voice that buzzed in the background, and then continued, "Okay, apparently some of the books belong to the Council, but still! Here we are trying to help save the world, and they're cutting off our resources!"
"Yeah. Kind of a theme, with them."
Willow's outrage immediately gave way to sympathy. "Oh, Buffy, I'm so sorry. I can't believe they put you through that. We'll get everything back to normal though, you'll see. Did you find Angel?"
Buffy tried to keep her voice normal, but it was hard to speak around the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. "No. And I looked everywhere. He's gone, Will. I don't understand."
"Well, he's probably trying to protect you, and he's got some kind of plan..."
The desperation in Willow's efforts at solace was growing, but she continued gamely. "I don't know, I'm not in on the plan. But he must have had to lay low for a while or he would have called you, right?"
"Or he's dead." Buffy noticed a pair of vampires sitting at the bar and staring at her, and she glared back viciously until both dropped their eyes and went back to their drinks.
After letting Willow talk her out of that possibility, she promised to get to the library after stopping at home, and then she gave the phone back to Willy. As she leaned against the bar, pondering her next step, it occurred to her that any one of the patrons here tonight could make short work of her if they chose to attack. There was currently too much on her mind to really let her care about putting herself in danger so casually, but she knew she didn't have the luxury of keeping that attitude for long. Last night's events had been enough to alert Spike to her weakness, and the news would soon spread to every demon in Sunnydale.
She was right outside her own door before something told her, without warning or reason, that it was time to check Angel's apartment again. The sun had gone down; maybe he had returned from his cover. There was nothing that important to do at home, really. She was off in a hurry, trying not to let herself hope for much.
But then she found a shirt on his bed and hope flared, and then she turned around and saw him, real and solid and present, and hope turned to fireworks within her.
The next thing that happened to hope was a death that went unnoticed. She couldn't examine what was going on inside her, or why seeing him safe was no longer the only thing she wanted. Her comprehension of events was only enough to cover the bare facts: he wasn't dead and he hadn't been trying to protect her. He just wasn't interested.
In the space of the few minutes that she spent in the apartment with him, Buffy considered any number of conclusions that she could take from this. It was her fault; she had insisted when she should have been demure, and now he thought she was a slut. It was her fault; waiting this long to do it was stupid when they could have started last year, and the right moment had passed. It was his fault; he should have shown her what he liked, so that he could have enjoyed himself more. It was the Judge's fault; too much pressure was on both of them to make this count before the world ended. It was nobody's fault; they just weren't sexually compatible.
She had never believed any one of those thoughts. She might have spoken all of them out loud if she had been able to find her tongue.
Instead she put her heart on the line with the greatest truth that mattered to her, and told him she loved him. He turned the words back on her and left. He just left. Numbly Buffy sat down on the bed and folded her hands on her lap, afraid of the sensations that her sense of touch could bring back to her here. Angel had gasped out her name as his body rippled in ecstasy. Teardrops had fallen from his face and splashed onto hers. Could she really have imagined that? Was she just desperate enough to make herself believe that she meant as much to him as he did to her?
The periodic chime from her laptop alerting her to a new message from Oz was about the only thing that had made Willow smile all evening. Fed up with the Watchers' restrictions on which books she was allowed to handle, she had retreated to the haven of the internet, where the demonology sources were harder to verify but free from interference. As she had hoped, Travers didn't put enough stock in electronic research to even look over her shoulder, so she sat undisturbed in a corner of the room, quietly rebelling by filling Oz in on everything that he had missed since last night.
She clicked on his latest contribution to their conversation and read: There are two Slayers? Find out if they're looking for a theme song. I already have a few chords coming to mind.
Willow covered her mouth to hide a giggle, and then looked around and realized that nobody was around to notice anyway. Travers and the less important Watcher (she was having the hardest time retaining his name) were in Giles's office (which burned her up even though she was still horrified by what Giles had done to Buffy). Xander and Cordelia must have needed a break from looking through the same two books over and over again; they were nowhere in sight. Probably working out their frustrations on each other, Willow thought, judging from the way they had recently been arguing. She hoped Xander would return soon, though. Nights like these were always easier when she had him on hand.
She was relieved when Buffy called—-Buffy had been through so much that day that it was hard not to worry about what she was up to—-but by the end of the conversation things didn't feel any less bleak. Willow sighed, closed her laptop, and went out to the hall to tell Xander that Buffy was on her way.
He wasn't immediately visible, which scared her a little. Clearly nothing too terrible had happened, though, since Cordelia was in plain sight, necking with some guy against the lockers in her usual shameless display. Willow looked away in disgust. She could have at least shown some respect for Scooby secrecy and done this a little farther away from their base. Why was her boy toy even at the school at this hour, anyway?
As Willow turned on her heel to go back into the library, Cordelia apparently heard her footfall and looked up, and let out a little gasp that elicited the same reaction from her boyfriend and made Willow look back over her shoulder at the same moment.
Her heart lurched. The face that had been blocked from view by Cordelia's hair...that wasn't some guy. This wasn't Cordy's usual shameless display. This was against all laws of God and man.
Start at the beginning.