In Which Willow Falls Down on the Job
Having hitched a ride with Oz as far as downtown, Buffy actually reached Town Hall before Nathan. While the spot behind the dumpsters would have been a much clearer view, Buffy chose to hide in a tree across the street. If anyone were to question her choice, she would have said that her slayer-senses tingled from the wards around the dumpster, but in reality she just wanted to avoid the icky, yucky, dumpster grossness. She had just settled into the tree branches when a black SUV pulled up into the parking lot.
Nathan got out of the car and walked up to the front door looking for all the world like he had some sort of important business to attend to. Even knowing the building would be closed, Nathan went through all the motions of being a clueless citizen; peeking through the windows into the dark hallways, tapping the glass on the off chance that someone would hear him. Buffy was sure he was going to try and break-in, but instead he headed back to the car, climbing into the backseat this time. Adjusting her position, she saw him take out something that looked vaguely like a cell phone.
He sat there for several minutes pushing random buttons on the phone. Buffy was beginning to wonder if it would be safe for her to get close enough to see what he was doing with his phone, when suddenly her own phone rang. Lovely, she grumbled, “Hello?”
“Hello Houston, we have a problem…” As Xander’s assessment of the situation got direr, Buffy realized she’d have to leave her mark. Of course, given how boring Mr. Rosenberg was being at the moment, she figured that wouldn’t be too big a loss.
If she had stayed for five more minutes, she would have heard Stark’s “Gotcha, suckers!” followed by a few short sparks along the building perimeter, shorting the network of security cameras on the spot. She might have also been able to warn Mr. Rosenberg that conventional security only went so far in a town like Sunnydale. But she wasn’t there, so Nathan had no idea anything could be wrong as he tripped the wards and entered the Town Hall lobby.
Fargo couldn’t help but feel like someone was watching him. He had caught several people staring at him oddly as he walked through the town. Of course, that could have had something to do with the massive portable water testing kit he was wearing on his back. In Eureka, people never looked twice at someone carrying a chemistry set around, but Fargo was in the real world now among people who could never hope to understand half the tools in his backpack.
“Water, water, everywhere…” he mumbled as he finished testing the last public water fountain on his route, “… and not a drop of unidentified amino acid residues to drink.” He threw away the final pH test strip. “Well, that was a bust. I guess that’s everything above ground, which just leaves the sewers. Damn, I knew I should have called dibs on the library.”
Across the street, Xander was sitting on the bus stop bench, reading a newspaper upside down. “Okay, you’ve checked every public spigot and water fountain in downtown. Surely it’s time for you to report back to base or whatever.” Xander mumbled as he peered over the front page. “Oh no, don’t even think about it.” He watched as Fargo glanced both ways before ducking into a blind alley that led to a sewer entrance.
“He could just be looking for a back entrance to the movie theater or just ducking into the alley to tie his shoelaces.” Xander tried the power of positive thinking to no avail. “Oh, who am I trying to kid. He’s totally going down to the sewers.” Xander pulled his cell phone and called Buffy. “Hello Houston, we have a problem.”
“Xander, remember when we talked about how being sneaky meant not using cell phones?” Buffy whispered back.
“Yeah, well, wonderboy here is trying to go into the sewers.”
“Yeah, that was my thought, too.”
“I don’t suppose you’re armed?”
“Oh yeah, me and my water pistol and cross will totally strike fear in the hearts of that nest living under the movie theater.”
“Of all the sewers in all the world, he had to walk into that one.” Buffy grumbled. She glanced up to check on Mr. Rosenberg, a.k.a. Stark, who was still playing with his handheld device in the back of the Jeep. On the one hand, nerd in broad daylight sitting in a car; on the other hand, nerd walking into a demon infested sewer. “Alright, I’ll be there in a few minutes, just stick close to him.”
“Thanks, Buffy. If you have any problems finding us, just follow the girly shrieks.” Xander hung up the phone, set the newspaper back down on the bench, and followed Fargo into the alley. “Damn, I knew I should have called dibs on the library.”
“Hey dude!’ Oz kept walking, hoping he could feign ignorance. After all, how many ‘dudes’ were walking around UCSunnyD’s campus? “Hey, Oz, dude!” Unfortunately, there probably weren’t that many other Oz’s.
Oz paused long enough for the President of Upsilon Sigma Delta to catch up with him. “Hey, Ty.”
“Dude, you guys were excellent last week.”
“Have you seen Devon, like recently?”
“Sure.” Oz peered around the frat boy, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mrs. Rosenberg’s red hair turning down one of the university paths.
“Sweet! I think he left something at the house. Can you ask him to swing by, like soon?”
“Oh, and I wanted to ask you guys about this party we’ve got coming up. Well, it’s not our party. We’re sort of co-throwing a party with the tri-nu’s and you know how girls are. So Mandy, she’s the president over there, was saying that they really want a safari theme, and I thought dude, dingoes are like totally safari animals, so I was thinking…”
“Hey, Ty, don’t mean to be rude, but I’m kinda late for a meeting. How about I send Devon over later and you guys can discuss the tri-nu’s then?”
“Thanks. That would rock.”
Oz realized he had completely lost Beverley by this point. “Hey, I don’t suppose you know where the psych building is?”
“Second arch on the left. Dude, please don’t tell me you’re playing a gig for the psych grad students. That’ll totally kill your rep.” Ty advised.
“Nah, just meeting someone.”
“Cool. Catch you later.” Oz was running across the quad before Ty had gotten the first word out of his mouth.
When he reached the front door, Oz caught a whiff of a Willow-like scent that had to be her mother. Walking a bit more sedately he followed the scent to the door of Professor Margaret Walsh’s office. He stood a few doors down the hall where he could just make out the conversation.
“And you’re sure Nathan doesn’t know?”
“As far as he can tell, the program is solely GD funded, but I don’t see what the point is. All your mice keep frying, it’s not like he’ll care if you’re picked up by DOD, DOE, or even NIH.”
“Oh, the mice sure, but I’ve found a new model organism to test this on. Once I found specimens that were responsive to command signals from necrotic tissue, it was like child’s play to get the chip configured and installed.”
“Are you telling me you actually have a working prototype?”
“Of course I can’t publish on it, given my funding sources, but I’m telling you I’m on the edge of a breakthrough.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but are you also on the edge of a break-out? Nathan is in town investigating some anomalies. His current theory is radiation, but there’s some evidence of behavior modification, and you’re the only GD project in town.”
“Is this about what went on downtown last week? You know that’s completely unrelated to what we’re doing here.”
“Is it?” Beverley asked in that mildly accusative tone that only psychologists could make convincing.
“You want proof? I can take you to my lab. Believe me, if my specimens were involved, you’d know.”
Whatever Beverley was going to say was cut off by a phone ringing. “Damn, I need to take this.” Oz had just enough warning to pretend to be engrossed in the Dilbert cartoon on the next door down, when Beverley stepped out into the hall.
“Willow, honey, your mother’s working right now. Is this really important?” Oz heard Willow’s response but couldn’t believe it. Evidently, Beverley couldn’t either. “What?! What do you mean, your father’s been arrested?”
Willow peered out from some branches, watching her target peer through the darkened windows of the town library. “Duh, of course it’s closed. It’s Sunday.” Willow muttered. The man started to walk away and Willow turned to follow, only to find that her tights had gotten snagged in the holly bush she was hiding behind. As she bent down to unsnag herself, she missed the sight of a familiar figure jogging up.
“Hello, you look a bit lost. Can I help you?” Willow jerked up at the British accent.
“I hope so. I’m visiting the area and was hoping to look at a few local maps. I figured the library might have what I’m looking for, but it looks like they’re closed. I don’t suppose you could direct me to a bookstore nearby?”
The only bookstore Giles knew of in Sunnydale proper focused on occult texts and grimoires. There was always the college bookstore, but that was quite a long walk away. “Um, no not a bookstore.” It was only due to Giles’ nosy nature that came from his years as a watcher that made him offer the following. “However, I happen to be the librarian of the local high school and have my keys with me. If you’re willing to walk the few blocks to the school, I could help you find a few maps I suppose.”
“Are you sure? I wouldn’t want to make you go out of your way.”
“No worries. I was planning on heading over there after my run anyway.”
“Then that sounds great. Thanks! By the way, I’m Henry Deacon.”
“Rupert Giles.” As the gentlemen shook hands, Willow yanked on the bush. The branches gave way, causing her to stumble out of the bush and fall down on the sidewalk in front of the two men. “And this would be one of my student aides, Willow Rosenberg. Are you alright, Willow?” Giles arched an inquisitive eyebrow as he offered her a hand up.
“Um, yes?” More than just her hair was bright red. “This probably looks really bad, me falling out of the bushes like this, but it’s totally not bad, I swear. There’s this history paper due in a couple of weeks and I thought I’d get ahead, only not, because hello, library closed on Sundays, but I totally forgot it was Sunday, and as I was leaving there was this bird-squirrel thing in the bush, and, and, Giles, you’re supposed to stop me before I say something stupid like, oh my god, you’re wearing running shorts! I didn’t know you had legs!”
The two men tried to hide their grins at the babbling teen. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Willow Rosenberg.” Henry offered, studying the girl in front of him. She looked eerily familiar; was she the same girl from the video-call with Nathan yesterday? “Wait, Rosenberg? I’m staying at the Rosenberg house. I thought they were out of town.”
“No, they’re…” Giles grimaced as Willow squeezed extra hard on his hand under the pretenses of standing up.
“Mom and Dad are out, so I’m staying with Buffy.” Willow shot Giles a look.
“Oh, right, of course. Far be it from me to pry into the lives of my students.” Giles sighed. Clearly there was something going on, and it probably had something to do with her parents, but until he got her alone to talk he wouldn’t know what. “Well, Mr. Deacon and I were just heading to the school library. You’re welcome to join us and pick up a few books for your history paper.”
“Thanks. I think I will join you.” Willow tried to smile, but it came out more as a grimace as she considered her utter failure at going undercover. How could her parents hide secret identities for fifteen years when she couldn’t even hide in a bush for fifteen minutes?
“So, Mr. Deacon, what brought you to Sunnydale?” Giles asked as the trio started out on their walk to the high school.
“I guess you could say my friends and I are just exploring the area. I’m something of an amateur geologist, and I had heard there were some interesting formations around here.”
Willow couldn’t help the snicker turned cough- interesting formations was probably the nicest euphemism she’d heard to describe the Hellmouth.
“Are you alright, Willow?” Giles glanced at her. Was her anxiousness only due to the news she told them yesterday about her parents, or was there something else going on concerning this new stranger?
“Peachy.” Willow choked out.
The walked a few more blocks, Henry carefully quizzing them about the neighborhood, while Willow and Giles were trying to give the vaguest but most plausible explanations they could find. “Ah here we are.” Giles’ opened the door to the library, reflecting once again on how pathetic security was for the gates of Hell. “Maps are all located at this table. It looks like the students who were here last didn’t clean up after themselves.” He shot a knowing look at Willow, who shrugged. She had no idea what spots Xander and Buffy had marked as ‘sort-of, almost, maybe if we get lucky, safe’, but it wouldn't hurt if Mr. Deacon found those spots. “Will you need any more assistance getting started, Mr. Deacon?”
“No, this is great.” Henry was already pulling a topographical map out of the pile.
“Excellent. Ms. Rosenberg, would you care to follow me to my office. I believe I’ve got a book you’ll need for that history report.” Willow dutifully followed Giles into the small room, shutting the door behind her.
“This probably looks really strange.” She began.
“A strange man is staying at your house, but has no idea who you are and you both happen to show up at the closed library at the same time? Yes, I can see how that looks strange, but I assumed it has to do with what you said about your parents yesterday.”
“That too. I was actually referring more to the whole high school librarian and teenage girl being alone in your office on the weekend thing. Whatever you do, please don’t hand me anything by Nabakov for my book report.”
“Oh, good lord, you Americans with your heads in the gutter…” Giles muttered. “So, speaking of teenage girls at the library, what exactly were you doing there this morning?”
They were interrupted by a phone ring followed by a knock on the door. “Ms. Rosenberg, the phone’s for you.” Mr. Deacon called out.
“It’s probably Buffy. She was supposed to follow my dad.”
“Well, I guess you should answer it. Bring it in here if you must.”
The pair left Giles’ office to join Henry at the circulation desk. “That’s not my cell phone.” Willow observed. “Why would Buffy call me on the library phone?”
“I don’t think the caller is named Buffy.” Henry added helpfully.
“Hello?” Willow answered.
“Yes, that’s me. Who is this?”
“This is Detective Walter Jones at the Sunnydale Police Department. Your father, Ira Rosenberg, has been arrested and is being held at the station. Do you accept his phone call?”
“She’s all yours.” The detective handed over the phone for Nathan’s sole phone call out.
“Willow, I need you to do two things for me. First, can you call your mom and tell her to come down to the station to bail me out? Second, can you tell her to tell Henry and Fargo to look for elemental sulfur?”
“Right, tell Mom to get bail and Henry and Fargo should look for elemental sulfur; will do. Is there anything else I can do?”
“No, that will be it. Well, you may need to start looking for a good lawyer around here.”
“A lawyer?” In the background, Willow could hear the bailiff shift, “Time’s almost up, Mr. Rosenberg.”
“Yeah, that should just about cover it. Take care, and be sure to finish your homework by the time I get home.”
“Sure?” Willow got out just as the line went dead.
“I wonder what your father wants with brimstone?” Giles got out at the same time that Henry asked, “By any chance, was that Nathan Stark?”
“Oh boy.” Willow gulped.