parts seventeen and eighteen
“What the hell is going on, Graham?”
The man in question looked up from his laundry and raised his eyebrows at his friend. “That, of course, is the best way possible to get the information you want. Yell and try to look mean. Works every time.”
Forrest glared at Graham, then sat down on the bed. “Fine, okay, you’re right. Nastiness does not become me. But the fact of the matter is that you’ve completely screwed this assignment. And you kept things from me. We’re supposed to be friends, man.”
Graham paused in his folding and met the other man’s eyes. “What do you know about it?”
“I know that little Willow Rosenberg saved your sorry ass the other night, and I know you left the Bronze with her - and Cordelia Chase, I might add - last night. Fraternizing with the people you’re supposed to be watching isn’t exactly conducive to retaining your cover.”
“Look, Forrest, I ran into her last night. Quite literally, in case you didn’t witness it. How could I ignore her? She did save my life, as you so eloquently pointed out.”
“Damn it, Graham. This is serious,” Forrest said as he stepped closely, stopping only when he was in the other man’s face. “You could blow your cover. You could blow Riley’s cover. If you’re not careful, and it turns out that these are bad people, then you could get Riley killed. You could get us all killed.”
“They aren’t bad people,” Graham said, enunciating each word carefully, thinking about what he had witnessed the night before. He may not understand everything that had happened, but who knew one thing for certain: Willow and her friends were not evil.
“How can you be sure of that?” Forrest asked.
“I just am, okay?”
“No, it’s not okay! I want some answers!”
“Well, what I’ve told you will have to do for now. Now, get out of my way. I have to get to class, and, if I’m not mistaken, so do you.”
“This isn’t over, Graham.”
“No, I don’t suppose it is.”
Willow walked into the library and sat down, sighing. Things were definitely... weird. She managed to convince Xander, Amy, and Cordy to come to her house that evening to meet Graham, but she had no idea what she was actually going to tell the man. She knew Angel had said he could be trusted, but she still had her doubts. Plus, she wasn’t sure how the others would react to Graham.
“Hello, Willow. I didn’t know you were in here.”
Willow gave a little start of surprise at the sound of Giles’s voice, and she tried to hide her reaction. The Watcher, however, caught it immediately. He studied Willow for a moment, taking in her tenseness.
“Is something wrong?” he finally asked. He had overheard Xander saying something about that new teacher, Riley Finn - what kind of name was that, anyway - and he wondered if it had something to do with that.
Willow but her lip, wondering if she should tell Giles about Graham and all that had happened over the past two nights. The redhead reached into the pocket of her jacket, surprised to find a postcard there. With a jolt, she realized it was the postcard Buffy had sent to her. In all the excitement, she had completely forgotten about it. She smiled slightly, realizing she could get out of explaining about Graham for a little while longer. She pulled the postcard out of her pocket and handed it to the older man.
“It’s from Buffy.”
Giles looked at the postcard in his hand, once again overwhelmed with relief as he saw the Slayer’s handwriting on the back. The message was short - not much more than a hello and wishing Willow luck on her first day back to school - but it gave the man hope. He truly didn’t know if Buffy ever intended to come back to Sunnydale or not - he hoped and prayed that she would - but seeing her handwriting reassured him. It let him know she was alive. With a quiet sigh, the librarian looked at the postmark on the card.
“She sent this from Phoenix.”
Willow nodded. “The last one was from Lubbock, and the one before that was from Huntsville. She’s getting closer to Sunnydale again, Giles. Do you think she might be making her way back here?”
“I sincerely hope so.”
Willow bit her lip. “Are you going to go after her again?”
The Watcher sat on the edge of the table, looking down at the girl. “It hasn’t done any good as of yet, has it?” He sighed, feeling much older than he really was. “I want her to come back, Willow. I really do. I want to go and get her and make her come home.”
“You really miss her, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. I’d venture a guess and say I miss her almost as much as you do. But I’ve learned that I can’t make her come home. She leaves wherever she is before I can get to her. She, quite honestly, doesn’t want to be found. And she won’t be found until she chooses to be.”
“So you’re not going after her?” Willow asked, trying to keep the relief from her voice.
“No, I’m not. I take it you’re pleased about that?” Giles asked, letting Willow know that he had indeed heard the tone of her voice.
The redhead smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, I guess I am,” she admitted. “I agree with you... you know, about Buffy being found when she wants to be found. I just don’t think she’s quite ready yet. I wish she was... I wish there was a way that I could tell her that Angel’s back, and that he’s doing okay, or better than he was, anyway, but I can’t. I’ll just have to wait until she gets back. And I hate how disappointed you get when you go off somewhere, and you can’t find her. It’s not fair, and you shouldn’t have to keep going through that. Plus, we need you here.”
“Oh, you do?”
“Darn tootin’,” Willow told him with a smile. “You’re our tweed-clad semi-fearless leader. And you know way more languages than the rest of us do. Face it. You’re invaluable to us.”
Giles smiled softly, warmed by the girl’s words. He considered her to be like a daughter to him, and it meant a great deal to know that he was important to her, too, even if she had put it somewhat irreverently. “Thank you, my dear girl.”
“Am I interrupting something?”
Giles and Willow turned as one, surprised to find Riley Finn standing there. Giles bristled slightly at the implications of the man’s comment.
“May I help you?” he asked, a slight edge to his voice.
“I was just looking for Miss Rosenberg,” Riley told them evenly, cursing himself for his careless comment. He couldn’t let them know he thought any odd was going on.
“May I ask why?” Giles asked. Willow sent a glare in the librarian’s direction, letting him know that he needed to back off and let her speak for herself. She didn’t want Mr. Finn to get the wrong idea. Of course, given the way he was acting, he already had.
“I was having problems with tomorrow’s lesson plans. I was wondering if Willow would help me with them. I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do.”
“Sure, I’ll help,” Willow said as she stood up, sending Giles a quelling look before heading over to Mr. Finn, who graciously held the door open for her.
After Willow had exited the room, Riley turned to find Mr. Giles studying him intently. Riley merely raised his eyebrows and gave the man a slight grin, hoping that it would throw the man off. Of course, if the librarian actually was up to something, he hoped that the gesture would make the man think that he was on to him and cause him to back off.
Giles watched as Riley Finn headed off with Willow, his eyes narrowed. He hadn’t missed the looks Riley had given him, and he had also seen the way the man had looked at Willow. He was obviously far too interested in the petite redhead for the Watcher’s comfort. Giles grimaced as he thought of exactly what this Finn character could be up to.
He’d have to keep an eye on him.
Graham made his way to Willow’s house that evening around six. He’d managed to avoid both Forrest and Riley for the majority of the day, something he was grateful for. He knew that they would just ask questions that he couldn’t answer. He didn’t even know the answers. And even if he did, he knew he wouldn’t share them with the others. There was no way Forrest would ever accept the fact that Angel, a vampire, had saved both Graham and Willow, and truthfully, Graham wasn’t even sure that he would be able to convince Riley of it. Because of that, it was far too dangerous to tell his friends what was going on. The Initiative would probably go after the vampire, and Graham wouldn’t be able to live with himself if something happened to Angel.
Plus, he was pretty sure Willow would beat the crap out of him.
Graham was so involved in his thoughts - scattered as they may be - that he didn’t even notice the others until he nearly ran into Xander.
“Sorry,” he muttered as he stepped back. His eyes widened as he realized that both Amy and Cordelia were with the young man. Apparently, he was going to meet the whole damn group. Wonderful.
“No problem. You’re certainly not the stealth guy, are you? And I mean that as a good thing,” Xander told him with a grin. “You’re less likely to be able to sneak up on me that way.”
“Where’s Willow?” Graham asked.
“Already inside, I hope. She came straight home to check on Deadboy-”
“That would be Xander’s oh-so-charming nickname for Angel,” Cordelia informed Graham.
“-and sent us out to get blood for him,” Xander finished without missing a beat, obviously used to being interrupted. He lifted the nondescript bag he was holding as proof that they had indeed been to the butcher shop to get food for the vampire. That, however, wasn’t Graham’s primary concern.
“Angel stayed here last night?” he asked. He felt a feeling that was much like disappointment - tinged with a little sadness - settle in his gut. Was Willow involved with this vampire in a more than friendly manner? They had seemed awfully close the night before...
“Yeah. Deadboy was out like a light, apparently,” Xander told him, oblivious to the turmoil the other man was in. “Willow, the incredibly sweet human being that she is, didn’t have the heart to wake him up and kick his undead ass out of her bed.”
“Her bed?” Graham repeated, feeling his throat constrict slightly. He so did not want to hear this, but he had a perverse need to.
Amy studied Graham intently, a small smile coming to her lips as she noticed the dejection on his face. She was pretty sure she knew what he was thinking, and she also knew how to alleviate his sadness.
“They’re not involved,” she told him quietly as the group near the front door of Willow’s house. Both Cordelia and Xander stopped short as the blonde witch’s words registered. Xander turned to face Graham, a slightly stunned look on his face.
“You think Willow’s hooking up with Deadboy?”
“Well, um, well, you see...” Graham trailed off, flustered and angry at himself for becoming that way.
“It’s the whole he stayed over at her house thing, Xander,” Cordelia told her boyfriend. God, he was so oblivious sometimes. Even more oblivious than she was. “Any guy would assume that something was going on after the whole ‘kick him out of bed’ statement.” Cordelia looked at Graham, a smile evident in her eyes if not her face, as she realized that the young man really did have a thing for Willow. If it wouldn’t have been completely undignified, she would have turned a cartwheel from the sheer happiness she felt. “There’s nothing between Willow and Angel besides friendship.”
“How can you be sure? I mean, he did stay the night at her house...”
“Trust me, I’m sure. Nothing happened last night.”
“Yeah, because if it had, Angel would have probably killed us all by now,” Xander commented without thinking, earning simultaneous slaps upside the head from Cordelia and Amy. “What?” he asked, indignant, as he rubbed his stinging ears.
“Excuse me when I say ‘huh’?” Graham said, his face blank.
“It’s a long story. You may want to sit down while we tell it,” Amy said, still glaring at Xander. She had been friends with Xander since elementary school - she’d met him through Willow - but his ability to say exactly the wrong thing still amazed her sometimes.
“You might also want a stiff drink,” Cordelia said brightly as she took Graham by the arm and led him to the Rosenberg’s porch, quickly knocking on the front door before turning to glance at Xander. “Do Willow’s parents have a liquor cabinet?” she asked. “We might need it before the night is through.”
“Yeah, they do, but it’s not exactly well-stocked.”
Cordelia turned at the sound of her friend’s voice, smiling when she saw Willow standing in the open doorway. She could see Angel off to the side, standing in the shadows. It was the first time she had seen the vampire since his return from Hell, and she felt a small shiver of fear at her memories of Angelus before she pushed them away. She stepped forward, meeting Angel’s eyes and seeing the guilt and sadness that were so much a part of the Angel she had known since sophomore year. Smiling slightly, she gave the surprised vampire a swift hug.
“Welcome home, Angel.”
The stunned vampire simply stared at the brunette cheerleader for a moment before managing to muster a smile. “Thanks, Cordelia.”
“Yeah, and to show you how glad we are that you’re back from your unplanned vacation, we brought you some food,” Xander said with an offhand grin, waving the container of blood a bit wildly (which caused Willow to thank God that the container was shut tightly - the carpet was white and how would she ever explain bloodstains to her parents?) and easing the vampire’s discomfort with his usual irreverence. As much as Angel appreciated - no, cherished - the acceptance he was receiving now that he was back, he was still uncomfortable being the center of attention, and he always would be. Because of that, the vampire was grateful for Xander’s antics.
“I’ll just go, uh, put this in the fridge,” Willow said as she rescued the container from Xander’s grasp, which was growing more and more precarious. The lid may have been on tight, but she didn’t think it was strong enough to handle being dropped or accidentally tossed against the wall. “Does anyone want anything to drink?”
The others quickly placed their order, and Willow, Cordelia, and Amy headed into the kitchen to get the drinks while the men sat on the couch in what was quickly becoming an uncomfortable silence. They were all thankful when the girls returned with the drinks.
“I told them about you,” Willow informed Graham as she handed him his drink. She had seen the question in his eyes, and she knew it was best to get that little bit of information out of the way as quickly as possible. Sighing, Willow sat down on the couch, perched between Angel and Amy, and directly across from Graham, who was watching her intently. With a small sigh and not a large amount of nervousness, Willow finally spoke again.
“I guess it’s time to tell you about us.”