Wordcount: This part, 2325
Disclaimer: Not mine.
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Willow got to school early and made sure that Xander did too, which wasn't as difficult as it usually was. Neither of them had heard anything yet about what had happened between Buffy and Giles the night before, and Xander was just as anxious as she was to find out what was wrong.
Aside from the obvious, of course. Researching the Judge at home had been completely useless. Willow had never been so eager to get back to the library. She was already considering skipping one or more of her classes, but that would depend on what kind of news Giles and the others had for them.
She was at a complete loss when they entered and he wasn't there. That in itself wouldn't have been a cause for concern, as Giles was never guaranteed to be immediately visible even if he hadn't temporarily stepped out, but the real sign that something was wrong was that someone else was there: a man in an old-fashioned suit, younger than Giles but too old to be in high school. He was standing behind the counter, exactly where he didn't belong, and he looked up from the book in his hands with a friendly smile and nod just as if there was nothing unusual about the presence of a stranger here.
Willow exchanged a worried glance with Xander, both of them unsure of what to say, but he recovered faster and started walking toward Giles's office, and she followed, hoping that the answers would be in there along with the man himself.
The substitute librarian cleared his throat loudly. "May I assist you with something?" he inquired in a British accent.
"We're just here to see Giles," said Willow, pointing at the office door.
"I'm afraid Mr. Giles isn't able to come in today. I'll be taking care of his duties for the present."
Willow's heart began hammering in her chest. "Where is he? What's wrong?" she asked, her questions overlapping similar ones from Xander.
The man raised an eyebrow, probably aware that their anxiety didn't match the normal reaction of a pair of students looking for a librarian. "He isn't feeling well. I'm sure he'll be better in a day or two."
"But what happened?" Xander persisted. "The guy wouldn't catch malaria without putting it in his schedule first. He's not just down with a sniffly nose."
"As far as I know, a 'sniffly nose' is exactly what he's caught," said the stranger, irritation beginning to show on his docile features. "You can pay him a visit tomorrow, but—"
He broke off as the door to Giles's study opened, and all three of them snapped to attention at the sound of it. Willow, still half-expecting to see Giles step out, was dismayed when the occupant revealed himself to be another unfamiliar face. He was significantly older than the first one, but had the same style of clothing, and when he spoke, it was with the same accent. "There's no cause to be alarmed. I met with Mr. Giles this morning, and I assure you he'll recover in no time at all. Would you like me to pass on a message?"
"We just need to talk to him," Willow pleaded. "It's an important...school thing. And he never just doesn't show like this!"
Before his reply was even out of his mouth, she could tell that it was going to be a rewording of what he had just said, and that the conversation was doomed to spiral if they kept at it. She and Xander both tried to interrupt at the same time, but to Willow's surprise, his interruption was the one that found a new direction and silenced everyone else at once.
"Hey, you're Watchers' Council guys, aren't you?"
Once it had been said, Willow didn't need them to confirm it to know it was true. She inhaled sharply, seeing them in an entirely new light, and turned to the one who had been in Giles's office. "Are you here to help Buffy with the Judge?"
"Man, I hope so," said Xander. "To the nth power. All the research can be turned over to the experts and we'll take up the moral support duties, right Will?"
Both men were openly shocked. The older one also looked more than a little irritated. He cleared his throat. "If you would please inform me of how it is you know about both the Watchers' Council and the Judge. And Buffy."
Willow glared right back at him. "We know about Buffy because she's our friend and we know about the other stuff because Buffy's our friend. So, since we're on the same page now and everything"—-Xander said it along with her—-"where's Giles?"
The man behind the counter cast a long glance at the other. "He never mentioned that he was releasing these secrets to the local children, did he?"
"As insulting and sort of true as that is," Xander cut in, "I'm gonna opt for pointing out that it's not the issue here. Can I see a little focus?"
Just as the Watchers were looking prepared to leap down his throat in earnest, the library doors swung open and all talk ceased immediately. Willow let out a long sigh of relief. It was Buffy.
"Oh, you're alright," she said as she and Xander left the counter to meet their friend halfway. "We were so worried. Last night, with you and Giles and the big awkward silence...what happened?"
Buffy's only response was a wan smile; she was distracted by the strangers in the room, which Willow couldn't really blame her for. Even if she hadn't seen the argument happening, she would certainly be quick to realize that they were there for her, and probably not in a way she would welcome.
The older Watcher approached her and offered his hand. Buffy, predictably, didn't shake it, but he ignored her unfriendly stare and spoke as if she had. "Buffy Summers. My name is Quentin Travers, I represent the Watchers' Council."
"Uh huh. Came to see if I'm still alive?" She indicated herself with a gesture. "Voila. You want more evidence, or are you just gonna pack up your Slayer drug mini-kit and go?"
"I understand you're upset," said Travers. "There are a few more things we'll need to discuss, however. Would you step into the office with me for a moment?"
"The office?" Buffy looked around, as if a new office might have spontaneously sprung into existence to accommodate the Watchers. "Where's Giles?"
"Please, Miss Summers. I'll explain everything once we have a bit more privacy."
Buffy raised her eyebrow at Willow and Xander. Willow shrugged, knowing that arguing in favor of their inclusion wasn't going to hurry the process, and Xander crossed his arms and shook his head. Buffy turned back to Travers. "You can talk in front of them. They know what I am."
"Yes," he replied gravely. "That's another topic we'll discuss. Your secret identity is a serious matter, Miss Summers, and—"
"I trust them. The secret is still secrety, and I don't have time for this, so if you're gonna talk, talk."
Willow limited her show of support to a firm nod, but Xander couldn't help adding, "It's not like the whole school knows or anything. Just us."
His timing could have been better. At that moment the door swung open again and Cordelia marched in, sized up the situation, and said, "Are you Buffy's vampire-slaying guidance counselors or something? Because somebody really needs to get on this 'the Judge' thing. I can't keep checking in here just to see if we're all going to die tonight." She frowned and took a broad look around the library. "Where's Giles?"
Travers looked pointedly at Xander, who smiled sheepishly and held up one finger. "And her."
Nobody even had the heart to pretend to be surprised when Miss Calendar walked in and said, "Buffy, are you alright? Rupert called me last night but he didn't even explain what was going on with you and Angel. He made it sound like he was under some kind of house arrest. Have you heard from him?"
Buffy shook her head in reply, her eyes downcast. As much as Willow wanted to hear the full story on what had happened last night, she was currently more concerned about her friend's mood. Buffy had her off days from time to time, but usually they came from being overworked or faced with a problem that she couldn't solve with action. There had to be something unusual bothering her today, something that could account for her numb expression and apparent apathy regarding Giles and his whereabouts.
"The lady friend, I take it," said Travers flatly. "Willoughby told me I could expect to meet you today."
Miss Calendar gave him a dark look, and then asked "Who are you?" in a tone that could not be interpreted as respectful.
"Ooh," said Xander. "It's teacher-wrath. Here I thought I only get to see this when it comes with landing myself in detention."
"They're the Watchers' Council," said Willow to Miss Calendar. "And they won't tell us why they're not letting Giles come and be the librarian."
"I see. Willow, would you like to take over my computer class today? It's the same program we were working on last week, you should have no problem."
Willow perked right up. "You're going to go see him?"
"Enough!" Travers growled. "Before you all go taking these matters into your own hands, there is a crucial situation which needs to be addressed, and—"
Buffy cut in, her voice no louder than his but sudden enough to stop him so she could be heard. "The Judge. You're right. That's where the crucial is. Everyone shut up so I can fill you in." They did, Willow feeling her cheeks get warmer as she realized how quick she had been to turn her focus to outwitting Travers instead of helping Buffy. "Angel and I found Drusilla's lair last night. She's there, Spike's crippled but he's there, and everything they need to build their new toy is there. Actually, they've probably got it together by now, so you'd better start ferreting for weak spots. Oh, and speaking of which, it might help to do some math and give me an estimate on who's most likely to be up to full strength first, because honestly, I don't think it's me." She let that statement hang for a moment between herself and Travers, and then turned back to the doors. "I gotta get to class."
"Buffy, wait," he implored, causing everyone there, even the other Watcher, to throw him a look of pure incredulity. Willow didn't think his apologetic voice, and the sudden use of her first name, would be enough to make Buffy pause, but she did, letting him finish as she stood with her hand on the door. "I've already contacted Sam Zabuto. Kendra should be here by this evening."
Buffy's eyes widened momentarily, and then she nodded once and was gone.
"Ooookay," said Cordelia. "Well, you all enjoy your demon soap opera, then. Xander, can you help me find my Bottega Veneta bag? I think I left it in a place where nobody else is right now."
Willow wouldn't have expected Cordelia to make a specific request for Xander's company no matter what the reason, but Xander's response struck her as even more odd: instead of issuing a quick and heartfelt insult, his mouth tightened into a hard line, and then he said, "Not now."
Miss Calendar and the Watchers seemed about to get into a verbal sparring match of their own. Willow looked around at everyone, torn, and then rushed after Buffy. As the door swung closed behind her, she heard an uptight British voice asking, "And would anyone like to tell me who this 'Angel' is?"
It was always a pleasure to see Dru so excited, of course, but Spike himself was not immediately taken with the entertainment she had chosen. As soon as the lout was put together he began nattering about affection and jealousy, and Spike was sure he was looking for an excuse to fry them both. Fortunately, Spike was also sure—-almost sure—-that the act of bringing him back into the world put them in good enough standing to avoid that fate, so he ignored the complaints with good humor and offered the Judge his pick of minions.
When Dalton, the spineless idiot that Spike had been using for translations, was chosen, Spike's liking for the Judge went up a few notches. There was an amusing stream of desperate cries as Dalton was pushed forward, but just as the demonstration was about to be completed, the rear entrance doors opened and all motion ceased immediately. Spike, who had promised Drusilla there would be no interruptions, let out a long sigh of frustration which died in the middle when he looked at the new arrival. It was Angel.
"Well," said Spike to Dalton. "I think you may be off tonight's menu."
With most of their muscle present for Dru's party, it was the work of a moment to get Angel within reach of the Judge, but within that moment Spike experienced a barrage of doubts. Whatever that soul of his had done to him, Angel wasn't fool enough to step into the lair without backup. He wasn't out of practice enough to be caught so easily. And standing there as he was with the Judge's hand on him, about to be burned or fizzled or (Spike crossed his fingers) exploded from within...was he smiling?
"Gee, maybe he's broken."
The Judge, seeing that nothing was going to happen, lowered his hand. "There is no humanity in this one. Bring me another."
Dru had never looked as overjoyed as she was now. After some brief explanation, they fed Dalton to the Judge after all, and then the real party began.
Start at the beginning.