So I guess when I said this chapter would be shorter and be up quicker, I actually meant the exact opposite of both those things. But I finally finished it! The next chapter is genuinely going to be a lot shorter, but since I have a terrible track record with this thing, I'm not even going to guess at an update date. Anyway, enjoy!
“I couldn’t do it.”
“I couldn’t do it.”
“ I knew all the reasons I should and I just…couldn’t.”
“I know. I understand. I’m just glad you’re not…I’m glad you’re okay.”
Buffy picked at her nail polish, trying to avoid looking at her Watcher. She wondered what he had told Snyder and the other teachers to be able to come in to school looking like that. By some miracle he had escaped with no major injuries, or at least no broken bones, but his face was bruised and swollen, and the way he moved tentatively made her suspect the rest of him wasn’t much better.
God, what was she even thinking? He was lucky just to be alive.
Buffy wasn’t sure if Giles would even have told her what happened if his appearance hadn’t make it impossible to hide. She couldn’t tell if he was ashamed, relieved, angry or just plain tired. It was strange; she was still getting used to the idea of her Watcher as…well, as a person. Seeing him like this made her feel strangely helpless. Giles had always been so sure of himself, the one with the plan. Now he just seemed lost.
“She loved me, you know,” he said suddenly, breaking Buffy’s train of thought. She looked up to see Giles has sat down on the other side of the table, and was talking almost as if to himself.
“She told me. The day before she died.” He shook his head slightly and gave her a tight smile. “Sorry. This isn’t helping, I know.”
“You shouldn’t have gone after her,” said Buffy, quietly. “I’m the Slayer, it’s my responsibility.”
“It shouldn’t have to be.”
“But it is. She could have killed you, Giles. Worse, she could have…” Buffy trailed off, and took a deep breath. “No. I’m not going to let this happen. I’m not going to see everyone I care about taken out one by one. I said I was ready to kill Angel, and I was wrong.”
“Buffy, you can’t blame...”
“Angel’s already dead,” broke in Buffy. “I should have seen that. I’m going to go after Angelus, and I’m going to stake the son-of-a-bitch who took the man I loved from me and keeps hurting my friends. No more empty promises and speeches. I’m going after him tonight, and every other night until he’s dust.”
“Her too. And Spike, and Drusilla, and anyone else who gets in my way. I’m sick of being on the defensive and I’m not gonna stand by and see anyone else get killed.”
She looked Giles seriously in the eye.
“Can you do it? If it comes to that again? Can you kill her?”
“I mean it Giles, I need to know, one way or the other.”
“No,” he said resignedly. “No, I don’t think I can.”
“Fine, I understand,” said Buffy. “I’ll do it myself.”
Giles opened his mouth to reply, but at that moment the library doors swung open and Willow and Xander walked in.
“Hey,” said Xander. “Sorry we took so long coming, we figured we should try and take in a class once in a…woah. Giles man, what happened?”
Giles hesitated for a moment, and Buffy cut in: “Angel.”
Xander scowled. “That son of a…”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Buffy. “What matters is that we stop him from hurting anyone else. We’ve…I’ve been putting it off for too long. ”
She squared her shoulders, got up from her chair and strode to the middle of the room, turning to address them as Willow and Xander joined Giles at the table.
“Ok, silver lining time. We know more about what Angel’s planning. We know he’s building up his forces by siring new vampires, so there are certain places he’s likely to be. We know that Spike is pretty much out of the game at the moment, so Angel is our biggest threat right now. We deal with him, maybe the others will figure out that it’s not worth their while hanging around this town.”
She turned to Giles. “We know making Ms Calendar one of them was his way of getting to us, and it worked. We can’t let that happen again. We’ve agreed for now that our priority is to take them both out. Angelus we know is going to be tough, physically, but how much of a threat is she?”
“She’s new at this, so she isn’t…she won’t be any stronger than a normal vampire,” said Giles.
“Well, both of the times we’ve seen her, she hasn’t been far from Angel…Angelus,” said Buffy. “So do you think we’ll have to deal with both of them together? Or if I kill Angelus, will she abandon him to save herself?”
Giles shook his head slightly. “He sired her. She’ll be…” He clenched his fists reflexively and continued in a voice of forced calm. “She’ll be subservient to him, at least at first. She’ll fight by his side of he tells her to.”
“But he said Drusilla wanted her to be part of their family,” said Buffy. “So she’s more than just another minion to them. I mean if they’re going out feeding together…”
“You mean she’s like Angel’s protégé or something now?” said Willow.
“God, this is so messed up,” said Xander fervently.
“But it’s useful to know,” said Buffy. “I can take Angel but only if he’s by himself. So we need to separate them. We also need to find out where they’re staying now, because once I take out Angelus, I’m gunning for Spike and Drusilla too. They’ve had us running scared for too long.”
There was a brief silence as they absorbed this information. Xander looked slightly stunned, Willow just looked concerned. Buffy felt a small quiver of uncertainty, seeing at her friends’ faces turned towards her, expecting her to…she took a deep breath and released it slowly. No turning back now.
“Guys, she said, “are you with me on this?”
“Yeah,” said Xander instantly.
“Of course,” said Willow. “What do you need us to do?”
“I want you to do a sweep of the town before it gets dark. Try and scope out anywhere they might be staying. It’ll probably be big and fancy, judging by what Giles has found out about Angelus’ style in the past, and it’ll be off the beaten track. Don’t take any risks and don’t stay out after dark.”
“If we find something?”
“Just come back and tell me. Xander, could you ask Cordelia if she’ll help you? You’ll need her car. After it gets dark, if you guys drive around town, you’re more likely to see vamp activity. Maybe you can follow them and see where they go. If you’re in a car you’ll be safer, and less likely to be noticed.”
“Sure, I’m on it.”
“See if Oz wants to help too. The more of you there are, the safer you’ll be. And I’m serious about not taking risks – we’re not losing anyone else.”
“What are you gonna do, Buffy?” asked Willow.
“I’m going to Willy’s Place, see if I can get any info out of him. He hears most of what goes on in the underworld of this town, and he might know where Angel’s holed up. After that I’m going out on patrol. If I’m lucky, I might even run across a vamp who can tell me something before I stake him.”
Willow and Xander got up and headed for the doors. As they left, Buffy heard Xander muttering to Willow: “At least it beats research. I’ve seen enough of the library recently to last me a lifetime.”
Buffy watched them disappear, trying to swallow her sense of foreboding. If this was going to work, she needed all the help she could get, and her friends had never let her down before. She’d just have to trust them to look out for each other. She turned to see Giles watching her with a faint smile.
“Oh, nothing,” he said. “It’s just that you’re rather good at this.”
“Slaying vampires? Kind of my job. Though, if you’d hadn’t noticed, my track record recently hasn’t been great.”
“I meant taking charge.”
“Oh,” said Buffy. “Well I don’t really have a choice.”
Giles winced. “Sorry. I suppose I’m rather useless at the moment.”
“That’s not what I meant,” said Buffy gently. “I mean because it’s my responsibility. My mess.”
“And you’re not useless,” cut in Buffy. “I need you to stay here and research Angelus, like you started before. I need to know as much as possible about his past, about his habits. I can’t afford to be squeamish about this stuff now. I need to know everything I can about him if I’m gonna take him down.” She hesitated for a moment. “I need you with me on this Giles. I can’t do this alone.”
He flinched slightly at her choice of words, but didn’t look away, giving a slight nod of agreement.
“It’s not as easy as you think,” he said quietly.
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy,” said Buffy. “I know I’m going to do it anyway.”
She held his gaze fiercely for a second, and he gave another small nod. Buffy turned and strode towards the library doors.
She stopped, the door half open, glancing back at him inquisitively.
“I…be careful,” said Giles.
Buffy gave a small smile, feeling older than she ever had before. “Always am,” she said, and then she was gone.
Giles turned another page of his book, stifling a yawn. Angel’s life would have made for fascinating (if somewhat morbid) reading under most circumstances, but right now his exhaustion was getting the better of him. For the past couple of hours, accounts of endless past atrocities had swum before his eyes. More than anything he wished he could just go home and sleep for a week, lose himself in unconsciousness. But Buffy and the others were risking their lives, and if this was the only thing he was useful for now, then by god he was going to do it.
As if it would do any good. The problem was, right now Angel knew more about them than they did about him. He had known exactly what to do every step of the way, exactly how to hurt them the most. That had always been his style – hurt people first, let them suffer before he finished it. He had done the same to Drusilla. Take away the people they love; friends, family. Take away everything that makes life worth living.
She loved me, you know. She told me, the day before she died.
Why had he told Buffy that? It was hardly relevant, and it could only make her feel worse about what had happened. As if she needed more guilt. Perhaps he had just wanted some kind of witness. Someone else to know.
I didn’t know what would happen. I didn’t know I was gonna fall in love with you.
He shouldn’t even have been talking to her, not really, but just seeing her made him miss her so terribly he couldn’t help it. A brief conversation, he promised himself, just keeping her up to date on what was happening (because she deserved that much, at least) and then somehow it had turned into something quite different and she had said the words before he could even think of stopping her. As if he would want to.
She had turned to face him and it had hit him in that moment just how powerfully, how completely he loved her. The determined set of her jaw, the way her hair fell around her face. The look in her eyes, a mixture of despair and stubborn pride. He was wholly, helplessly in love with her, and she was just a day away from her death.
Oh, God. Is it too late to take that back?
Do you want to?
That was the moment he kept coming back to, when he thought of her in the days after. Not her smile, her laugh, her kiss, not one of a thousand happier memories. But that image of her face, turned towards him defiantly, meeting his eyes for a split second and refusing to take it back. Refusing to lie to him as she had before.
I just wanna be right with you. I don't expect more. I just want so badly to make all this up to you.
Angel had killed her to get to them. Angel had killed her to hurt Buffy. Angel had killed her to hurt him. There it was, the undeniable truth that had been circling in his head like a stuck record ever since he saw her lying there on his bed. The roses, the music, the note; all set up to twist the knife in deeper, as if anything mattered but that she was gone. But the meaning was clear – you did this. Angelus had used her in death as a pawn in his obscene games, and he was using her still, to shock them, to cause them pain. Jenny meant nothing to him. Her life, her death, meant nothing. She was dead only because they had cared about her, and that was enough. The worst part was…she knew it too.
Dust me. Turn me into ashes. Kill me again.
Perhaps it had only been a meaningless turn of phrase. Perhaps he shouldn’t put any stock in what a demon said to him, anyway. But how could he allow himself to forget his role in this?
She deserved nothing but joy, and he had brought her nothing but grief. She had been so alive, and she had died alone and terrified in the dark. What brief time she had left now would be spent as a monster, a twisted mockery of her former self, fighting alongside the very thing that killed her. How could he ever hope to redress that balance? What could he possibly do to atone for the appalling price she had paid on his behalf?
Kill me again.
Giles realised he had been staring at the same page for several minutes, without taking in a word. He looked at his watch distractedly - it was getting late, Buffy would be out patrolling by now. He felt a brief tightness in his chest, something like grief, as he thought of her out alone, walking through the graves she was so familiar with. Waiting to kill the people she used to know. Perhaps she had already found them. Giles realised he honestly didn’t know whether he wanted that to be true or not. He reached for another book.
Kill me again.
When Giles woke up, it took him a few seconds to work out where he was. It was obviously after dark, the room was lit by artificial light. The fact that he appeared to be sleeping on a pile of open books was another clue. He raised his head with a groan and surveyed the silent library. It wasn’t the first time he’d fallen asleep here after long hours of research. He supposed all those nights standing vigil, waiting at her grave had caught up with him.
He got up from the table, stretching stiffly, and pushed the books to one end. It went against his instincts to leave them out there, but he could come in early tomorrow morning and sort them out before school. Sleep was a good idea, but sleeping here was an extremely bad one.
As he exited the library and walked swiftly down the dark corridors, he wondered where Buffy, Willow and the others were right now, whether they had gone home yet. At least most of them were together. He had told them that it was no longer safe even to be here in the school after dark, especially alone. Foolish, really, to ignore his own advice. Maybe there was some small part of him that wanted…no. He wouldn’t take that path again, not now. Buffy needed him, and however much he wished for it all to simply be over, one way or another, no part of him would desert her in her hour of need. It would be a sensible idea to get home as quickly as possible.
He realised he had been walking to Jenny’s old classroom, without quite meaning to. He was just about to turn back down the corridor, when a faint noise made him stop. With a slight feeling of unease, he moved cautiously towards Computer Lab, and opened the door carefully.
Jenny. Of course she was here. The way his life was going, he shouldn’t have expected anything else. Her head whipped around at the sound of the door, and she leapt up from the desk, where papers and books were scattered in haphazard piles.
She scowled at him. “You! What are you doing here so late?”
“I was going to ask you the same question,” he said, releasing his hold on the door handle and taking a cautious step back.
He knew he should be afraid, but it was hard, even now, to summon up the feeling when he looked at her human face. Standing there beside her desk, she could just have been working late, as she had done so often before, finishing up some work for class tomorrow. The sight was achingly familiar.
That was when he saw the body.
It was crumpled on the floor of the classroom, between rows of desks, a man wearing overalls, skin chalky white, with an obvious bite mark on his neck.
Giles stared in horror. “George.”
“Hmm?” Jenny followed his gaze. “Oh the janitor? Yeah, he was working late too, I guess.” She laughed at the expression on his face. “Come on Rupert, you’ve got to stop being so sentimental. I did the guy a favour, the faculty death rate at this school is even worse than the student one. Something would have gotten him sooner or later.”
“You killed him.”
“Slow on the uptake tonight, aren’t you? Yeah I killed him. Vampire, y’know, it’s sort of what we do. He didn’t put up much of a fight, though. He seemed too surprised to see me.”
“He always liked you,” said Giles softly, unable to drag his eyes away from the sad heap on the floor.
Seeing movement, he turned back and saw Jenny slip something into her pocket as she moved away from the desk, walking deliberately towards him. Giles backed away slowly, matching her steps.
“You know,” she said. “Angel’s really into this whole ‘drag it out as long as possible’ thing, but I’m not sure that’s really my style. In fact, I’m kind of getting sick of seeing your face everywhere I go, Rupert, and honestly? You’ve looked better. So if it’s OK with you, I’m just gonna kill you.”
She raised her eyebrows expectantly. “You’ve really got nothing to say for yourself? You’re not gonna try and talk your way out of this? I admit I’m a little disappointed, I didn’t think beating the crap out of you would just make you roll over and give up.”
“Why do you keep doing this?” Giles said, his voice heavy with exhaustion. “You can clearly see I’m unarmed. If you’re going to kill me, just do it. What do you want from me?”
She stopped in the doorway, him now out into the corridor. There was a brief silence.
“Run,” she said, softly.
Giles blinked. “What?”
“Run,” she repeated. “I want to see you run. I want you to know what it feels like, to run for your life and know, know, that there’s no-one coming for you. No-one to hear if you scream. No-one to care if you die.”
To his amazement, she crossed her arms and stood there, making no move forward. He stared at her, and she looked steadily back, her face expressionless. Giles took half a step towards her.
He jerked back as her face morphed into it’s vampire form, yellow eyes narrowed malevolently. She bared her fangs in a wide, vicious grin.
Buffy entered the school wearily, crossbow at her side. She didn’t really expect to find Angel here, of all places, but it was a public building at least, and one he was familiar with. If she was honest with herself, she just really didn’t want to go home with nothing to show for her efforts. Patrol had been a total bust. All this time with Angel showing up when she least expected it, and now she was looking for him, he was nowhere to be found. Why couldn’t they just get this over with?
For some reason the school at night seemed far creepier than any of the cemeteries had been. Every footstep echoed slightly around the walls. Buffy was just about to turn back and leave the way she had come, when the sound of running feet made her pause. She frowned slightly as the sound grew louder, raising her crossbow cautiously towards the short flight of steps leading to the higher level. Suddenly a familiar figure burst into view at the top, running in from the side corridor.
The reason became suddenly apparent as a another person came sprinting after him. A person with a less than human face.
Buffy ran up the steps towards them. The vampire had caught up with Giles and pulled him roughly to a stop, pushing him against the wall. Buffy swung up her crossbow and fired instinctively, but the bolt went wide and buried itself into the wall beside Giles’ head with a solid thunk. The vampire whirled around to face her, eyes widening at the sight of the Slayer.
There was a split second of indecision on both sides, and then Ms Calendar yanked Giles by the collar and pushed him bodily towards where Buffy was standing. Caught completely off guard, she was knocked off her feet by the impact, and the crossbow went spinning out of her hand. Buffy shoved Giles to the side and leapt to her feet, but the attack she expected never came. She peered down the corridor, but couldn’t see any sign. One way or another, Ms Calendar was gone.
A movement out of the corner of her eye made her remember Giles, and she hurried over to him.
“Are you OK?”
“Yes. Yes, I’m fine,” said Giles, scrambling to his feet. “Did you…?”
“No,” said Buffy. “She got away.”
“I promise you this time our meeting was entirely accidental on my part,” Giles said quickly, obviously noticing the question on her face.
“Don’t worry, I believe you. But how did she know you were going to be here?”
“She didn’t…” said Giles slowly. “She was surprised to see me. No, not even that. She was…” he frowned, staring absently at nothing. “She was shocked to see me.”
“Then what was she doing here, alone?” said Buffy.
“I don’t know. Have you seen Angel?”
“No sign,” said Buffy. “But maybe the others had better luck.” She frowned. “This could be a distraction, but I don’t see how, if they didn’t know anyone would be here…weird that she’d be by herself, after what we’ve seen.”
Giles nodded. “She’s more vulnerable alone. Perhaps this was a personal thing, and Angel either isn’t interested or isn’t aware of where she was going? It could be that he’s having more trouble controlling her than he expected.”
“Maybe. It’d make things a whole lot easier if they started fighting among themselves.” Buffy gave herself a little shake. “Anyway, we shouldn’t wait around here. You need to go home and get some sleep, and I need to—”
“Do the same,” said Giles firmly. “I know a lot of things have changed very quickly, but I’m still your Watcher and what I told you before still stands – you’re no good to anyone without rest. They’ll have gone to ground for tonight after this, and you can find out whether Willow and Xander discovered anything tomorrow.”
Buffy nodded compliance and started down the stairs towards the front entrance. She heard Giles start to follow her and then stop as his foot accidentally kicked something clattering across the floor and down the steps towards her. Bending down, Buffy picked up a little yellow floppy disc.
“What’s this?” she asked, handing it over to him.
“I don’t know,” he said, peering at it. “It’s certainly not mine.”
“You don’t think Ms Calendar could have dropped it?” Buffy said. “Maybe this is what she came back to school for.”
“I don’t see why,” said Giles. “I can’t imagine what vampires would need with lessons plans or computer…whatever it is.” He slipped the disc into his pocket. “Still it’s probably worth a look.”
“Yeah,” said Buffy. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
To Be Continued…