Wordcount: This part, 2623
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Boss Whedon.
Notes: Forget beta'd, this hasn't even been proofread. I finished it two minutes ago and my tentative plan is to come back later and shriek at the mess and fix everything.
The reason I'm posting it now anyway is because today is the birthday of someone really fantastic and special, janasbangel, and I didn't have anything prepared for her. I still wish I could do better than a hastily completed fic chapter, but I thought it might brighten her day - at least this gives me a space to tell you it's Janas's birthday so you can wish her a happy one.
So, to a beautiful soul and great friend, I hope you find some enjoyment here!
Something was wrong. Something aside from everything - Buffy could tell as soon as Giles hailed her in the hallway and asked for a word with her in the library. It was still unusual for him to be seeking her out anyway; he had been standing off and letting her come to him lately, so it must have been important.
Before following him she cast a glance at Willow and Xander, who both managed to give the impression of a shrug without really moving their shoulders. They had been talking about Amy, who Xander swore he had seen working a spell of deception in the class they had just left. Buffy didn’t disbelieve him, but the dilemma couldn’t quite penetrate for her when she already had so much to worry about.
Her worries increased exponentially the moment she walked into the library behind Giles. A tall man with a prim English accent was rolling out thinly veiled boasts to Cordelia, who was responding with the rehearsed laughter that she used to attract older men. When he saw Buffy he cast her a smile, took a few brisk steps toward her, and held out his hand. “Ah, this must be the real Buffy!” he said, to the backbeat of another phony laugh from Cordelia. “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. It’s very nice to meet you.”
Buffy ignored the hand until he gave up and lowered it. “Okay no. Watchers in this room who aren’t Giles are never good news. Go back and tell the Council I was too much of a brat and you gave up.”
He smiled indulgently and she made up her mind to hate him forever. “That won’t be necessary. You’ll find I don’t readily admit defeat.”
Cordelia hopped down from her carefully posed seat on the table. “Well, Buffy doesn’t readily admit that she needs help, so this should be a match made for reality TV.”
“Cordelia, I believe your boyfriend was looking for you,” Giles said pointedly. Buffy was impressed. This was clearly not the moment that Cordelia wanted a public reminder that she was dating Xander.
She managed to exclude Wesley from the glare she had for Buffy and Giles, but didn’t bother masking her sarcasm when she answered. “Fine. I should go see if he’s off killing people. Oh, no, wait. Mine doesn’t do that.” After one more sugary smile at Wesley, she flounced out of the library.
Buffy flinched and tried to hide it by crossing her arms and leveling a hard look at Wesley. “I can handle Angel.”
“And I’ll expect you to do just that,” he replied, forefinger in the air. “But for our greater goal of restoring him to his former beneficence, we will need to work as a team.” He pronounced team with exaggerated clarity, as if introducing a new word to her vocabulary, and her eyes narrowed.
“They told you to use him against me, didn’t they? I’m supposed to do whatever you say because otherwise the Watchers’ Council won’t share its secret recipes with me to save my boyfriend.”
Giles was clearing his throat in an apparent attempt to defuse the situation, but Wesley didn’t miss a beat. “Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re supposed to do what I say because I’m your Watcher. Now, if we’re finished with introductions, why don’t you tell me about your patrol last night?”
Magic was the magic word, Xander mused as he trudged past the lockers, Harmony’s laughter ringing in his ears. Half of his friends were now host to some magical gift or curse, and the other half couldn’t talk about anything except using magic to restore Angel’s soul. Xander didn’t know what the latest news was on that front, but Buffy had seemed pretty upset when she rushed past him a moment ago.
Never mind that. He couldn’t help her, and he had problems of his own. He reviewed the facts:
Cordy had dumped him.
Cordy had dumped him on Valentine’s Day.
Cordy had dumped him for a Watcher.
Xander cornered Amy that afternoon. “You’re a witch.”
He wasn’t sure that she’d be capable of what he wanted, but he put on a show of confidence to back up his threat to blackmail her. In spite of her objections, she didn’t seem to have many doubts about her own ability to cast the spell, especially when he explained that his motivations were strictly revenge.
All that Amy needed from him was a personal item from each of the spell’s targets. That couldn’t be too hard.
“I suppose someone thinks this is a terribly amusing prank,” Wesley snapped, pulling open drawers all over the library and feeling around in them.
Giles groaned. “Good Lord, man, you’ve lost your glasses, it happens to all of us, there’s no need to call in a jury.”
“I haven’t lost them! I set them down here quite deliberately yesterday while using my reading pair, and I certainly didn’t move them myself.” He squinted across the room at Buffy. “Your friends were in here last night; do you suppose one of them may have, oh, turned them into the lost and found?”
Buffy was scrutinizing him, rocking slowly in her chair, though she guessed he couldn’t presently see her well enough to make out any details. She could see him all too clearly, and she was beginning to think she had missed a lot at her first impression yesterday.
“Buffy?” he repeated when she didn’t answer, and Giles turned toward her too.
She decided she may as well play her hand now. “Are you in league with the Sunnydale vampires?”
“What?” spluttered Wesley.
Giles jumped to his feet, whipping his own glasses from his face. “Buffy!”
She fished the note from the roses out of her pocket and slammed it onto the table. “Soon what, Wesley? You want me good and scared before you turn me over to Angel? It’s not gonna work. Maybe I’m not ready to face him, but I’m more than ready for--”
“That’s enough!” barked Giles. “I understand you’re upset, but this is an absurd, groundless accusation. Wesley is no more a mastermind than I’m a country singer.”
Before Buffy could reply, the doors swung open and Xander and Cordelia entered, arguing as usual. Buffy knew that it couldn’t quite be usual, though, since word had it that they’d broken up yesterday. And indeed, their tone with each other sounded especially vicious today.
“Fine,” Xander was saying, “if you’re still that into him, all blessings upon you and your ultra-posh children.”
“Gee Xander, I’d wish you the same if you could have children with your hand.” Cordelia stopped as she sensed the tension in the room. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing, nothing!” Wesley said hurriedly. “Come in. We were just, ah, discussing Angel’s latest threatening gesture.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “We were discussing the Watchers’ Council planting a spy to follow up on their attempt to kill me.”
“There was no attempt to kill anyone!” insisted Wesley, but his face was getting redder and his movements jumpy.
When Amy came into the library at that point, everyone looked to the distraction with relief, but she went straight to Xander and asked if she could talk to him.
He agreed and was about to leave with her when she did a double take at Wesley and hissed, “That’s the guy?”
“Uh.” Xander looked as confused as Buffy felt. “Yeah?”
The glare that Amy cast at Wesley as she and Xander left the library could not be interpreted as anything but pure hate, and everyone saw it.
There was clearly a lot going on under the surface here, and Buffy could readily admit that she had no idea what it was. She did know one thing, though, and it put a devious smile on her face even as she watched Cordelia sidling up to the evil Watcher in their midst.
Amy was on her side.
Giles wandered up to the stacks, grateful to be alone at last. He felt that he’d spent all morning defending Wesley from Buffy, which never would have crossed his mind as a side he wanted to take if Buffy had been acting at all rational. He supposed she had reached some kind of breaking point with the combined stress of her Cruciamentum and the loss of Angel, but he wasn’t yet ruling out the possibility of something tampering with her mind.
He had been in his refuge of books for a few hours, splitting his attention to research various topics at once, and was beginning to feel more relaxed when Jenny and Willow came in together.
He smiled as he came down to sit at the table with them. Willow was brimming with excitement over covering another of Jenny’s computer classes, and Jenny herself had progress to report in her mission to recreate the spell that her ancestors had used to restore Angel’s soul.
“You don’t have an Orb of Thesulah by any chance?” she asked, and he was pleased to answer that he did, though she said he could keep using it as a paperweight until she needed it.
His good mood evaporated when Wesley returned, wearing his spare glasses and intent on taking over whatever research there was to be had. Giles dutifully moved a few books to give him a space at the table and began to introduce him to Willow and Jenny.
“Another drone from the Watchers’ Council, huh?” said Jenny in a tone of unmasked disgust. “Well, I’m sure this is going to be riveting, but I didn’t make room in my schedule today for an inane lecture, so I think I’ll get some…fresh air.” With the last words she rubbed her nose, as if implying a certain stench in the room.
Giles watched her stalk out of the library, and then, perplexed by what he had just seen, looked at Wesley for clues. There were none; Wesley was simply fumbling for something to say in the gaping silence.
Surprisingly enough, it was Willow who filled it. “Oh my God,” she murmured. “I thought Buffy was just being paranoid, but...it’s true, isn’t it? You’re not here to help her at all.”
Giles slammed his book shut. “This has gone too far. Wesley, with all your resources you must have some inkling of why our allies have formed these unsavory preconceptions of you. Unless they’re right, in which case you’ll have quite another variety of explanation to offer.”
“No!” Wesley stammered. “They’re not, that is, I’m only, ah…” He trailed off, looking ashamed and cornered and a little afraid of Willow. Finally he took a deep breath and made a confession that must have been especially difficult for him: “I don’t know what this is about.”
“I think I do.” The three of them looked up as Xander came in. He looked rather ashamed himself, and without preamble he went right up to Wesley and held something out to him. “Here’s your glasses. I sort of borrowed them.”
Wesley looked irritated as he replaced the glasses he was wearing with the pair he had just regained, but Giles feared there was more behind this than a half-hearted prank. “That was highly immature, Xander,” he said.
“Not nearly as immature as what’s coming next,” Xander sighed. He pulled out the chair next to Willow and sat down. “I asked Amy to cast a spell. We think it went wrong.”
“Why would you do that?” Willow asked, momentarily relaxing the evil eye she had been holding on Wesley.
“Because I was angry! Five minutes with this bozo and Cordy decided to break up with me. I thought if I could make her hate him, she’d want me back. Only, today it’s like every woman except Cordelia thinks Wesley’s the devil, and I’m still kind of riding the heartbreak rage wave so I wouldn’t really care, except I overheard Buffy and Amy talking and I think...maybe…” He faced Wesley with an apologetic shrug. “Your life is in danger.”
Giles stood up quickly enough to clatter his chair. “I should think so!” he snapped at Xander. “You’ve set some incredibly powerful women against an innocent - relatively innocent - man, and there’s no possibility of them acting rationally while under the influence of a spell. Any harm that comes to Wesley is expressly your--”
“I know!” Xander answered at a yell. “I came here for help!”
“Pardon me, but I believe I am Buffy’s Watcher!” Wesley cut in. “The Council takes care of its own business, and I will handle this myself!”
“Now there’s a frightening scenario,” Giles grumbled, but he was talking over both Wesley and Xander and had no idea what either of them were saying at this point.
Suddenly the argument hit a wall in the form of Willow’s sudden outburst of, “QUIET!” It worked. All three men went silent and gave her their full attention, and she continued in a calm, collected voice. “Whatever Xander did, it’s not going to help if we all just keep barking at each other over it. We need to get our priorities in order. Right?” She paused to receive nods, then said, “Obviously Wesley is some kind of demon impersonating a Watcher, and we need to figure out how to kill him dead.”
Cordelia spewed insults and struggled as she was half-dragged down the hallway between Buffy and Amy, but to no avail. Amy had an iron grip on her right arm, and on her left, Buffy was, well, the Slayer.
They were pulling her in the direction of the library, but that was the extent of her understanding of their plans. One moment, she had been telling Buffy why she had broken up with Xander - as if she had to explain herself to Buffy! - and the next, Buffy and Amy had exchanged a nod and taken her prisoner.
The library already seemed to be in a state of chaos when they got in there, but Buffy added to it by announcing, “She’s part of it. She said she wanted to date him.”
“Cordy!” Xander exclaimed. “Buffy, let her go!”
“Where is he?” Amy demanded.
Willow tried to answer, but Giles clapped a hand over her mouth. “I need to speak to Cordelia. Alone. This instant.”
As Giles led her to his office, Cordelia could see Xander fighting a losing argument with Buffy, Willow, and Amy, and for some reason she couldn’t identify, she felt a pang of fear on his behalf. “Has everyone lost their minds?” she asked Giles as soon as he had shut the door behind them.
“Not quite everyone, I’m relieved to see,” said a voice behind her. She turned to see Wesley, standing stiffly in the corner. He removed a handkerchief from his pocket with a flourish and began to clean his glasses. “Of course, in this line of work, one must expect the unexpected, and I’m certain everything will be back to usual form by morning.” He then lowered his voice and asked Giles, “Are they still making plans to erect a gallows on the lawn?”
“Cordelia, this is very important,” Giles said to her. “I’m about to create a diversion in the library. You and Wesley must slip by and get to your car. Take him home and don’t leave until I call you. Can you do this?”
If her impromptu kidnapping in the hallway hadn’t convinced Cordelia that a true crisis was afoot, the urgency in Giles’ voice did. She looked from him to Wesley, who smiled meekly. “Not exactly my typical courtship strategy...but I would be grateful.”
Start at the beginning.