Wordcount: This part, mysterious
Disclaimer: No claim.
Buffy couldn’t prevent herself from shivering as she walked into the library. Her hair was still wet, but it was the near miss at the docks that really gave her the chills. If Angel hadn’t acted so quickly...
“They got the arm,” she said without breaking stride. Willow and Xander were there, still researching with Giles; Oz and Cordelia must have gone home. The three of them all looked up from their books and the unrelated conversation that Willow and Xander seemed to be having.
“Buffy, are you alright?” asked Giles, clearly alarmed. “Where’s Jenny?”
“She took Angel to get some clothes. I had some here. Giles, we have to find out what happened to me! If they get the Judge together, I’m going to have to fight him, and tonight I couldn’t even take on a single garden-variety vampire!” She dropped into the nearest chair and leaned on the table in front of her. The last time she had been this tired, she had just spent hours in combat. Tonight she had only had to do some running and swimming. It just wasn’t right.
“You were attacked at the docks?” Giles inquired at the same time that Xander said, “And we were needing clothes because...”
Buffy’s nerves were frayed enough that her impulse to snap at Xander came before the one to answer Giles: “Because we got wet.”
Xander didn’t try to take it up, and Buffy decided to ignore him and refocused on business. “It was Ford and two others. I don’t know how they knew we were there. What did you find on the Judge?”
“Nothing, ah, nothing good. The, ah, texts are...well, we’ll need to...” Giles seemed to get stuck there, and took off his glasses instead of finishing. He was being unusually tongue-tied, and Buffy didn’t understand it. He was her best chance of finding solutions to tonight’s mysteries, and she needed him at full speed.
“Never mind that,” she decided out loud. “First I want to deal with my power break. It could be related, right? And whatever is going on with the Judge, I have to be ready for it. Everyone change your research gears.” She made eye contact with Willow and then Xander and got a nod from both, and then turned back to Giles.
He didn’t nod. “Buffy, I’m afraid our problems here are...not related.”
“What do you mean?” She waited for more information, feeling completely clueless. “Giles? Got a fact or two to follow that?”
She was cut off by two pairs of footsteps coming up behind her; Angel’s soft tread and the click of Miss Calendar’s shoes. “Answer her, Giles,” ordered Angel as his hand landed on Buffy’s shoulder and gave it a tight squeeze. His voice had an edge of menace in it that she had never really heard before. “Tell her what you know.”
Giles took a deep breath, displaying none of the confusion at Angel’s words that Buffy would have expected. He glanced around the room at each one of them, then said, “I need to have a private word with Buffy.”
Willow and Xander hesitated, both looking a little stricken, and then gathered possessions and stood up. “Call if you need me,” Willow murmured as they walked past Buffy on their way out, and Xander added, “We’re here for you, Buffster.”
Miss Calendar hesitated a little longer, but some kind of signal seemed to pass between her and Giles, and she followed the others through the door. Angel didn’t move. Giles gave him a pointed look, and Buffy lost her patience for nonverbal cues and said, “Angel is the reason I’m alive right now. Anything you have to say to me, you can say to him.”
“Very well.” Giles turned away from them and went into his office. When he emerged, he was holding a flat wooden box, which he placed on the table in front of Buffy and opened it so she could see its contents.
The explanation that followed was a nightmare that surpassed anything Buffy had imagined the Judge doing to her. After a few moments of being numb with shock, she was vaguely aware of herself screaming at Giles, throwing things at him, swearing that she would never have anything to do with him again. She knew that there were details to his story that she missed entirely; there was only one important part. She knew that there was more at stake here than the trust between them, but Armageddon made no sense to her when she couldn’t rely on Giles to guide her through it.
When her throat was sore from yelling and her eyes were stinging with tears, she turned to Angel. Without a word, and with no final look at Giles, he wrapped one arm around her shoulder and loaded the other with books, and together they walked out of the library.
“We’ll make it,” he whispered when they reached the sidewalk. “We’re gonna be okay.”
When Giles spent time in the library after school hours, which was often, he never played music or had any kind of machine running. The only sounds were those he made himself: pages turning, the scratch of a pen, the muted tick of his watch. He never noticed the silence.
He noticed it now. Buffy had made her exit long minutes ago, under the supportive arm of Angel, and the library had never seemed so empty. Giles sat stiffly at the table listening to his ticking watch and mentally replaying the scene that had just occurred. Some of it, he had expected, though the magnitude of the pain showing on Buffy’s face was beyond anything the imagination could produce. He had known she couldn’t take this with any kind of tranquility. What he hadn’t know was that Angel would also be present.
The vampire hadn’t spoken a word during the entire ordeal, but his opinions on it were all too clear. Buffy’s distress was kinetic; she moved around the room constantly, embellishing each of her accusations by pacing or thrashing her arms or whipping her body around, and wherever she moved, Angel was right beside her. Giles made a few attempts to approach her, but every time he took a step forward, she took one back, and Angel insinuated himself between them. Once Giles saw the pattern forming, his first reaction was outrage—-how could anyone, least of all Buffy’s boyfriend, imply through such body language that she needed to be protected from her own Watcher?
He was so disgusted by the thought of Angel operating on the idea that he would hurt Buffy that it came as a fresh shock to remember that he had already done it. One thing was suddenly as clear as day. Buffy might someday forgive this betrayal, but Angel never would. The vampire’s undivided loyalty had come out on top, and Giles had made himself the lifelong enemy that he deserved. And the dance around the library went on, as if all three of them were on pulleys: Giles advanced, Buffy backed away, and Angel put a shoulder in front of her. His blank expression only served to reinforce the impression of an unbreakable wall.
The two of them were most likely in each others’ arms even now, sharing whispered words and finding that their mutual attachment was growing ever stronger. Giles winced. Only that morning he had been wondering if it was time to talk to Buffy about her peculiar romance. Now he had no choice but to accept it as it was, for there was surely no chance of severing them anymore, even if he had retained his influence in her life.
He wondered when he would be able to even talk to her again. Quentin Travers would be there the next day expecting discussion about the Cruciamentum, but if Giles knew Buffy at all, her reaction to this added insult would be to ignore it. He wasn’t even sure of how he was supposed to approach the threat of the Judge, since he could hardly call her up and tell her it was time to get back to business when she might not want to share her business with him ever again.
That was another consequence he had anticipated, and another that seemed much larger now that it was real. The Council had assured him that Slayers always felt disillusioned with their Watchers after the test, and that it was only a matter of time before things returned to normal, and Giles had fooled himself into believing that they knew what they were doing and gave half a damn about it. He told himself that the traditions were in place for a reason. He told himself that if he were fired, Buffy would be assigned a new Watcher who might be a disastrous match for her. He told himself that she had assets that no previous Slayer shared, including one completely smitten ensouled vampire who could be hovering conveniently nearby when the test took place, and the Council would never know.
All of that reasoning sounded so flimsy now, a coward’s excuses for taking the path of least resistance. His Slayer’s trust was gone to him now along with his career, and there was nothing he could do to ease her pain, let alone rebuild their partnership.
No. There was one thing. Giles stood up and found his keys, locking up his office for the night before he left the library. He knew where the Council had imprisoned their vampire, and if he had already invalidated the test, there was no reason for them to keep it alive any longer. He would drive a stake into its heart himself, and tell Buffy to her face that the Cruciamentum planned for her was definitively over.
Angel boosted Buffy into the tree outside her bedroom window, feeling relieved when she accepted his aid without making a token attempt to do it by herself first. Learning about the source of her weakness seemed to have dispensed her need to keep trying to deny it, which was one small silver lining in this catastrophic night. He followed her up after she had reached the roof and opened the window, and both of them crept inside as quietly as possible. It was early enough that Buffy’s mother wouldn’t expect her home yet, especially with it being her birthday, and avoiding interaction was easier for her than concocting stories about sudden headaches and wanting sleep.
Buffy moved listlessly around the room until Angel took off his coat and shoes and sat down on her bed to serve as an example, and then she followed readily enough. He didn’t have the opportunity to feel her resting her body against his as often as would have liked, and their situation tonight wasn’t dire enough to stop him from appreciating that opportunity now. He had half-expected another barrage of tears once they were inside, but it seemed she was too exhausted even for that. When her heartbeat began to relax, he opened one of the books he had brought from the library, setting it on his lap and keeping his arm snug around her shoulders.
“Are you getting anything out of that?” she asked a few minutes later, in the low murmur that they customarily used here whenever her mother was home. It was the first time either of them had spoken since the walk home.
“Not really,” he whispered back. “There isn’t much information on the Judge that we haven’t seen already. Most of it is just the same thing in different words. Nobody wrote anything helpful.”
“Then why’d you even take Giles’s books?”
He shrugged the shoulder that wasn’t supporting her head. “Spite.”
That earned him a soft chuckle, but her eyes closed before the conversation had a chance to progress any further. Good. Sleep was probably the only thing that could help her at the moment. He kissed her brow and went on reading by the dim moonlight coming through the window, as the night ticked slowly on.
It couldn’t have been more than two hours when her body gave a wild jolt, completely without warning, and she cried out his name in desperation. Her voice was loud enough that he almost clapped a hand over her mouth to prevent her from doing it again, but his need to calm her overrode his fear of being discovered and he could only embrace her and tell her that he was there.
Thankfully, that was all she needed. She was fully revived before she tried to make any other loud sounds, and there were no ominous footsteps in the hall resulting from the first one. What she said when she looked into his eyes, though, was not reassuring: “I know where Spike is.”
Her description of her dream, along with their pooled familiarity with Sunnydale, was enough to give him a clear mental map of where to find the abandoned factory now turned vampiric base of operations. What to do about it was a much more difficult matter.
Buffy was completely against the idea of him going alone. She listened to all of his arguments in favor of it and was still completely against it. She agreed outright that he was capable and she wasn’t, and was still completely against it. Finally he reached for the only compromise he could think of and told her to put whatever terms on him that she wanted, and gradually they came to an agreement that neither of them liked—-which was appropriate enough, seeing as neither of them had liked anything that led up to it, either.
“So what do you do if they have all the pieces to the Judge?” she drilled him as he got ready to go.
“I run,” he answered dutifully.
“And what do you do if they don’t have all the pieces to the Judge?”
She nodded, her face stern and her voice firm even while maintaining a whisper. “And what do you do if someone sees you and tells you to surrender or he’s going to push this big red ‘Armageddon’ button and simultaneously release the dogs on you?”
“...I run?” He frowned. “Is that still the right answer?”
“Close enough.” She looped her arms around his middle and sighed into his chest. “Just keep the heroic manliness at a low simmer, okay? The last thing I need tonight is...”
There was no need for her to finish that thought, though he realized with a twinge that it would be eating at her for the entire time he was on his mission. “I’ll come right back here. It’ll be quick, I promise—-I just need one good look at what they’re up to, and then we can make a real plan.”
“Okay. I’ll...I’ll be good and wait here, then.”
“You could get some more sleep,” he suggested.
She glared. “Don’t push it.”
They shared a long kiss before he made his exit. If it was a little excessive for a short-term farewell, he didn’t care. Judging from the way she smelled, she didn’t either.
Start at the beginning.