Wordcount: This part, 2336
Disclaimer: It's Joss's dance floor, I'm just grooving on it.
Notes: Holy crap what is this is it a new chapter of Older oh my word I think it is! First update since March. That was six months ago. FAIL. What else can I say?
Giles didn’t feel better by the time he got to the library. The sun had just barely set, but the ordeals of the last two days made him feel as if he had been awake for much longer than he had. Willoughby had at least allowed him to drive his own car, but refused to stop shadowing him until they were reunited with the other Watchers. Jenny hadn’t called. Giles hadn’t counted on hearing from her yet, but his anxiety over her was still eating at him.
The first relief he felt was at the sight of an animated, composed Slayer standing at the library’s table, engaged in a discussion of strategy with two Watchers. “Kendra,” he greeted her. “I wasn’t expecting you to make it here so soon.”
“Zabuto moves quickly,” said Travers, as self-satisfied as if he had produced Kendra out of thin air by himself. “As can we all, provided our lines of communication are open.”
Giles ignored the barb, and Kendra didn’t seem to notice it. “I weel be of sarvice while Buffy recovers,” she said with her usual formality, but her expression revealed a hint of worry. “She weel recover?”
“Of course. It won’t be much longer.”
Travers gestured at an empty chair across from himself, which Giles reluctantly took. “And she’ll be joining us here shortly,” he said.
“Where are—“ Giles hesitated. The Sunnydale civilians who knew about Buffy’s secret would probably be a sore spot among the Watchers’ Council for a while; it was best not to mention anyone by name. “—-The other students?”
“Willow went to her special hyperventilation place, wherever that is,” came a cynical female voice from the steps. Giles blinked; he hadn’t seen Cordelia sitting there, which in itself gave him a start. Ordinarily she was the first to make her presence in a room known to everyone. “Xander went to check on her.”
Giles took off his glasses. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing that’s going to put the world in peril any more than it already is.”
Feeling that he wasn’t going to get anything concrete out of her, Giles looked at Kendra, who shrugged one shoulder in a clear indication that such matters were beneath her. And, Giles supposed, they were. Kendra’s sometime friendship with Buffy was the most exposure to the life of an ordinary teen that she was ever likely to have. She was a living weapon, the Slayer that the Watchers’ Council had always aimed to create through their specialized training program.
Of course, now they would be forced to inform her about the Cruciamentum, if they hadn’t already. Kendra’s loyalty might be in jeopardy. A fierce jolt of triumph went through Giles-—let them fire him. Their entire system might be coming down along with him.
Travers set down a few books on the table, none of which belonged to the library collection, and Giles wondered, not for the first time, how many crucial texts had been kept from him for bureaucratic reasons. “We’ve been studying the history of the Judge,” said Quentin in a voice that almost sounded like he was trying to make peace. “If you’d like to participate, you might start with these.”
Giles returned his glasses to his face and opened the book at the top of the stack. It didn’t look like a promising source, but there was little he could do but accept it. “What do we know so far?”
“No weapon forged...” Travers began, and Giles stifled a sigh. As he’d expected, nothing of substance followed.
“Well then,” Giles inquired after the facts were laid out, “shall we concentrate on how to acquire an army on such short notice?”
“Not precisely. It was, after all, an army of humans. We may be able to compensate with some of our other assets.”
Giles looked across the room at Kendra. She was inspecting the weapons that had been selected for her, hefting each one with effortless competence and testing its weight, ready to be the asset that they needed. “One Slayer is not an army,” he replied darkly.
Before Travers or anyone else could reply, the double doors swung open and Buffy marched in, followed by both Willow and Xander, and then Jenny. Everyone turned to them with greetings and questions on their lips, but the newcomers were already engaged in a fast-paced, disjointed conversation of their own, and hardly acknowledged anyone else as they entered.
“But he didn’t try to hurt you!” Willow was saying to Buffy, distress painted plainly on her face. “I mean, yeah, there was threatening, but he had you right there and he could have—“
Xander interrupted before Buffy could answer, if answering was her intention. “Could have what, killed all of us? The only reason we all walked away from that is Miss Calendar and her cross.”
“We don’t know that yet,” Jenny said. “Let’s just not make any assumptions until we talk to—“ She stopped in her tracks, seeming to notice everyone in the room for the first time. Her eyes passed over the Watchers, Kendra, and Cordelia, and then landed on Giles with an unspoken question in them.
Having no way to answer her, he addressed Buffy instead, who had retreated to the farthest corner of the room without saying anything. “What happened? Who attacked you?”
“Angel!” Willow burst out, evidently too upset to let Buffy answer for herself. “Giles, you wouldn’t have believed him, he was so—“ She cut herself off there, just as Jenny had done, but with an added expression of sudden animosity that reminded him of his current precarious standing with Buffy’s friends.
Heart in his throat, Giles turned back to Buffy for confirmation. “Is this true?” he asked, but his question was lost beneath Cordelia saying ”What?”, Travers saying, “Angelus has returned?” and Kendra saying, “Ahn-gel? He t’reatened ya?”
With all eyes pointed at her, Buffy seemed to realize that she had to make some kind of response, and she chose to do so with a brief nod before fixing her eyes on the floor in front of her.
Travers cleared his throat. “I was informed this morning that ‘Angel’ is the current handle of the vampire Angelus, and that he has somehow obtained a soul and has been aiding you, Buffy. Is this the same...person to whom you are referring, now?”
“Yes,” said Buffy tonelessly, but she was looking at Willow and Xander.
Willow, taking the hint, explained, “We told him about how you and Angel are friends. You know, coworkers. War buddies.”
“Right,” Xander agreed. “On account of Angel being good and conscience-having now, which I guess was a little premature.”
“But this is remarkable!” Willoughby burst out. “A vampire with a soul? There isn’t any such thing described in any of the records, and they go back for millennia! How is it possible?”
Giles shot a glare at the young Watcher, but Jenny spoke first. “How is it important? We’ve just lost a powerful ally and we have the Judge at our back door. This isn’t the time to investigate Angel’s history.”
“It may be precisely that time,” Travers countered. “The more we understand about how his soul was granted to him in the first place, the better our chances of duplicating the effect and correcting his allegiance, as it were.”
A desperate gleam of hope struck Buffy’s expression, making Giles ache for her even more than he already had been. “You can do that?” she asked Travers.
“We’ll certainly give it an attempt. As Willoughby said, this is an entirely unique situation, and it presents us with an opportunity to unveil some old mysteries about the nature of our enemy. Of course, it’s by no means guaranteed that we can restore Angelus’s soul, to say nothing of doing it in time to enlist his help against the Judge. But we have little enough information on the latter, and since Angelus could soon become a matter of some urgency, I think you should tell me all you know about him.”
Buffy looked numb. “Like what?”
Travers rotated his chair to face her and placed his hands on his knees. “Well, let’s begin with the present and work backwards. He was with you last night, yes? Do you remember anything happening that may have triggered the transformation?”
“No,” Buffy answered immediately, but it was obvious that she didn’t like the question, and the looks she was getting from around the room showed that Giles wasn’t the only one who could tell.
“It wouldn’t necessarily be something inherently magical,” Travers continued patiently. “We’re looking for any kind of anomaly—“
“No! I don’t know!” Buffy cried, just as Jenny said something that sounded like a warning about getting their hopes up and Willoughby took up a one-on-one discussion with the other young Watcher. Another conversation was buzzing around the steps leading up to the stacks, and everyone was unconsciously getting louder to make themselves heard.
Giles himself knew better than to step in at this point, but he did anyway. “Buffy, I understand how difficult this is for you, but we can’t afford—“
At hearing his voice, she stood up swiftly and rounded on him. “What? What can’t we afford, after we could afford to lie to me and cripple me for the sake of the Slayer Aptitude Test? If I leave now is it going down in my permanent record? Do you all have your red pens ready?” She stalked across the room until she was standing directly in front of Kendra. “I really hope you can help us,” she said gravely. “And then I hope you can get the hell away from all of this before your eighteenth birthday. I hope you find someone to trust.”
The younger Slayer’s serene façade had cracked visibly. “I am sorry about yar boyfriend,” she said in a voice pitched so low that Giles could hardly hear it.
Buffy nodded her acceptance of the meager consolation. “Thank you for coming, Kendra. Good luck.”
Everyone fell silent as they watched Buffy exit the library. Giles scanned the room, checking reactions, and realized that Willow, Xander, and Cordelia were all gone as well. They must have slipped out together before Buffy had delivered her final comments, although he couldn’t see why, especially when Cordelia’s words earlier had suggested such tension between the three of them. He sighed deeply. He had never realized how close he had grown to all of them until these rifts began to appear.
“What should we do?” Jenny asked, not seeming to direct the question at anyone in particular.
“Buffy appears to need some time to herself,” said Travers. “That’s fine; we’ll see how she’s doing tomorrow. Kendra, I’d like you to be as informed as possible about Spike and Drusilla, considering that they’re the ones pulling the strings of the Judge. Perhaps Mr. Giles has some insight to share.”
Giles struggled against a new wave of bitter weariness. “I do,” he said, hardly hearing himself. “Both were sired by Angelus.”
As good as it was to be back in his rightful place with his true people, Angelus had to admit that he had forgotten how quickly Spike could become a nuisance. Power struggles weren’t the issue; both he and Drusilla had automatically accepted their elder’s return to leadership, but acceptance didn’t necessarily entail respect and it certainly didn’t entail silence.
“Listen, mate, I know you’ve been out of the game for a while, but we do still kill people. Sort of our raison d’être.”
Drusilla, with her eminently reasonable style of madness, knew better. “He doesn’t want to kill her. He wants to hurt her.”
There followed the first fight of their new beginning together. Angelus had expected it, in truth, but he wasn’t willing to let go of his plans for Buffy just for the sake of domestic harmony, and given the circumstances he could hardly invent a justification for his actions that would satisfy Spike’s contrasting priorities. At first he replied to all accusations with a shrug—he was the one in charge, he didn’t need to explain himself—but when Spike began to suggest cowardice he got fed up and entered the quarrel.
“She’s harmless, Spike. She’d hardly give you a fair fight even if she feels like getting out of bed. The road’s clear for tomorrow, so just sit tight and let us make it happen.”
“Oh, good, right, the road’s clear for tomorrow. And for the day after that we’re counting on the world being destroyed already, are we? After all, what’s one sizeable threat when you’ve got a hypothetically sound plan working for you…”
Angelus slammed his hand down on the nearest crate. “The plan’s gonna work. And if it doesn’t, I’ll take care of Buffy. Happy?”
“Not in the—“
“Shhh.” Drusilla had come to kneel beside Spike’s wheelchair and was pressing a fingertip to his lips. “She’s a bird without wings. Fallen from her nest and full of such sweet sorrow. We won’t see her again til the end of all the living.”
Her words seemed to pacify him somewhat, and Angelus couldn’t help but smile. “That’s right. Show some compassion, Spike. Would you really want her to miss out on this?”
He knew the answer, of course: Spike didn’t care about how Buffy felt, as long as she wasn’t winning. For now, though, he could suck it up and deal with the doubt. Angelus cared very much about how Buffy felt. He probably wouldn’t get the chance to see her fall to pieces when she saw how many people she had failed to save, but he could imagine it clearly and that was enough. Her last few hours on earth would be of grief, and rage, and helplessness.
Offering a hand to Drusilla to bring her to her feet, he led her from the room and away from Spike’s mutterings. His head was full of music, and he needed time to think in the company of madness.
Start at the beginning.