A/N: Who missed me? I know it's been a while, a really really really long while but here's another chapter. Don't blame me - blame my classwork for the short hiatus.
It took some time for Xander to realize that Willow had been gone far longer than a jaunt to the bathroom could excuse.
He was the first to notice, as Cordy and Faith were deeply absorbed in a conversation concerning the Indian soap opera. Smiling gently, he stood and left them to it, looking first to the stairway and then to the kitchen. Gathering the various empty soda cans that littered the living room, he decided to check the kitchen first. It was entirely possible that she had decided to get more refreshments.
No such luck.
After depositing the cans in the trash can, he grabbed a couple more for the girls in the living room. He doubted the two brunettes would notice his or Willow’s absence for a while. They were having fun and he finally had the alone time he wanted to talk with his bestest bud. Ever since her return from D.C., they hadn’t had time to talk everything out: her feelings about the new dad and Faith and the Mayor. Now, there was this talk about a vision from the future. What did that mean about everything?
Passing through the living room again, he set the cans down in front of Cordelia and Faith and moved toward the stairs with a purpose. Despite his earlier assumption that they wouldn’t break out of her interaction long enough to notice his movements, he was proved quite wrong before he could take his first step.
“Xander, what’s up?”
Faith may have been the one to speak but when he turned to look at her, he was faced with the brown gazes of both the dark Slayer and his ex-girlfriend. “Checking on Wills. She’s been gone a while.”
Cordelia shifted into a movement that he knew from experience that she was about to stand, her piercing brown eyes focusing past him. “Do you think we should…?” She trailed off, not entirely sure what she was going to ask.
Xander shook his head immediately. “I got it. Best friend, remember?”
The tall cheerleader opened her mouth, the look on her face promising snark and acid, when Faith touched her arm and pulled the girl’s attention to her. “I’d totally wrap around him like a tree,” she commented, nodding at the television screen.
Cordelia rolled her eyes at the Slayer. “He’s the bad guy, Faith.”
“I don’t know,” she said with a seductive purr. “I kinda got a thing for the bad boys.”
Xander took that as his cue to hurry up the stairs before he could be interrupted again. A quick glance at the second opening on the left revealed that Willow was definitely not in the bathroom. That left a single venue: her bedroom. And if she was in her room with company present, that probably meant brooding and quiet Willow, a version of his friend he always felt ill-equipped to deal with.
Peering around the doorframe, he was only slightly relieved to find her French doors wide open and the girl herself standing out on the balcony. While she wasn’t being utterly pensive on her bed, staring unabashedly into the Hellmouthy darkness that was Sunnydale couldn’t be much better. Stepping into the room, he knocked on the wall lightly, calling attention to his presence.
“Wills, whatcha doin’?”
The redhead in question half-turned to smile at her friend, moving back through the doors into her room and closing the doors behind her. When the doors met on the path to closing, Xander saw runes light up for a second before fading into the white of the doors. It caused him to take a step back, glancing furtively between the now invisible magic symbols to his best friend who was so much different than she was two years ago.
“What was that!?”
Willow glanced back at the doors and grinned sheepishly. “It’s just something I was trying out. Some of the knowledge from the future me.”
Xander’s brow furrowed deeply, pulling his expression into a frown. “But what is it?”
“Keep-out sigils. There’s a demon outside.”
“What?” The brown-haired boy surged forward and pressed his face against the glass of her doors. “Where?”
He felt her approach him before he saw her hand come into his line of vision. “Down there. Lower corner of the bay window.” She laughed a little. “It has wings.”
Focusing slightly, Xander finally saw the dark brown creature peering into the living room window. His skin crawled at the thought of that… thing spying on them for God knows how long. “It looks like a… like a…” He snapped his fingers three times, trying to remember the term.
“A satyr,” Willow answered softly. “But slightly different. Satyrs don’t have wings.”
“I don’t get it.” Xander pushed back from the French doors and looked at his friend searchingly. “Why’s a satyr spying on you?” She merely arched an eyebrow, waiting patiently for him to get it. “This is a Mayor thing, isn’t it?”
“Well, Faith’s backup shield screws up and we’ve got a flying satyr watching us just a couple hours later? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist,” she commented. Huffing slightly, she plopped down on her bed, lying flat on her back.
He eyed the thin line of flat abdomen that showed between her shirts and jeans, idly remembering when the sight of her flesh causing him to have abnormally lustful thoughts about his best friend. Shaking his head of the memory, he sat down next to her. “Wills, you doing okay? Ascension aside, you’ve been dealing with a lot lately.”
Willow laughed dryly, the sound echoing around her room. “That’s an understatement.”
Xander shrugged. “I don’t really understand the whole ‘vision from the future’ thing but I’ve got enough comic book lore under my belt to sort of get it. Maybe. You have all the memories of the future you?”
The redhead nodded, looking very tired. “About five or six years’ worth of knowledge.” She sighed deeply. “It got so out of hand! I didn’t want to alienate Buffy and Giles but something had to change.”
“Why?” Xander could feel his forehead furrowing deeply in confusion. He would follow Willow to the ends of the earth itself but he still didn’t get what this whole thing with Buffy was about.
Willow sat up then, looking Xander in his eyes. “In a world where I stay here, where I go to college here and stay on the Hellmouth, I get pretty dark. Magicky dark.”
“How dark?” he asked apprehensively.
“I almost kill you,” she admitted softly in a quivering voice. Clearing her throat, she continued. “But it’s not just being here, it’s them. Buffy and Giles will get down on me about using magic but they’re the ones that push me to do bigger and darker things. And the way I am…” She trailed off, her green eyes staring at something in the middle distance.
“I know,” Xander murmured, rubbing comforting circles in her back.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re just tools to them,” she admitted. “I don’t want them to break me.”
Though he remained silent, Xander finally understood his friend’s side. He knew that Willow herself was probably partially to blame for her future actions but he understood how Giles and Buffy could push her to such lengths, things she would be unlikely to try under her own volition. Buffy was the Slayer at heart, despite her insistence for a normal life, and her mind was concerned for the greater good much of the time. (Unless, of course, it had to do with Angel, which was still a bone of contention with Xander.) Giles, Watcher that he was, was willing to sacrifice a lot for the world, making him a little bit of an end-justifies-the-means kind of guy.
He took solace in the fact that, one way or another, the end of all this was nigh.
Giles looked at the vial of dark vampire blood in his hand and looked to his Slayer. Her hair was a mess, a result of running her hands through it over and over again. Her eyes were bloodshot and moist and the ex-Watcher knew that she had been crying before he showed up. He understood the reaction but the British man in him still disapproved of any sort of romance with a vampire, especially… this one.
Blinking the memories of torture out of the forefront of his mind, he shifted his gaze to the blood in his hand. He couldn’t say that he was an expert on vampire blood but the liquid seemed a little darker and thicker than he was comfortable with. If it was a human, this level of viscosity seemed to be somewhat dangerous, maybe even fatal.
But then again, Angel was definitely not human.
Clearing his throat, Giles stepped back from the vampire after untying the tourniquet around his arm. “Very well. I’ll get this to the school, shall I?”
Buffy took a deep breath, the sound shuddering and weak. “He’s going to be alright, right?” She turned to look at her Watcher with big hazel eyes. “Tell me it’s going to be okay, Giles.”
After a long moment, Giles bowed his head in order to look away from his Slayer. “I can’t. I can’t tell you anything of the sort but we can hope.” He attempted a smile but felt his face twist into a skewed version of the real expression. Turning away, he slipped the vial into his jacket pocket and headed out of the room. “I’ll examine this in the laboratory.”
The blond Slayer didn’t respond but he didn’t expect her to. She was now fully engrossed by Angel’s condition.
He was glad that his Slayer had faith in him because he knew there was no way he could identify the pathogen in time. The blasted vampire was so under the weather that he didn’t move or flinch under their ministrations, just scattered low moans under his laboring breathing. Whatever it was, there were no witnesses, no clues as to what had happened to the souled vampire. While Giles felt zero sympathy for Angel himself, he was extremely worried what losing him – again – would do to Buffy.
He couldn’t fail her again. He had “dropped the ball”, as Americans put it, so many times already. Failing her so completely yet again might be more than he could take. As Travers had said, he had a father’s love for Buffy and it was unlikely that would ever change. In his mind, it shouldn’t have to. But this problem with Angel had him at a loss.
For a moment, just a moment, he wished for Willow.
However, then he remembered with brilliant clarity. The thing she had said to him when she had been it achingly clear that she was cutting the cord, that he only needed her when he was at a loss. Didn’t that describe the exact situation he was in now? He didn’t understand what was happening to Angel and it was something he was unlikely to ever discover. While he understood it pretty clearly, chemistry had never been his strong suit.
The ex-Watcher was so involved in his inner turmoil that he didn’t realize he had reached the high school again until he heard someone softly clearing their throat. He looked up to see that Wesley was staring at him from the center of the library, surrounding by cardboard boxes that he seemed to be filling with books.
Sadness and uncertainty quickly pushed aside, Ripper-like anger burned at the front of Giles’s mind. “What in the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?”
The younger Watcher looked from his elder to the rather large tome that he was about to methodically place in one of the five boxes that bordered his person. “I am removing my property from this library. I felt that it was quite obvious.”
“I can see that,” Giles growled. “Why are you doing that? You’re a Watcher, you have to guide Buffy.”
“I believe Miss Summers has made it quite clear where her loyalties lie.” Sliding the book into one of the boxes, Wesley stepped forward, clipped grace evident in his movements. “As have you. I must go where my talents can be appreciated.”
Giles’s eyes widened comically. “You’re quitting?” he asked in disbelief.
Wesley scoffed immediately, derision clear in the sound. “I have another Slayer, Mister Giles.”
“But she’s evil,” he countered. “She’s gone rogue.”
The younger Britishman looked like he was about to say something before shaking his head silently. “That is as much my fault as it is yours. I must try to fix my mistakes and make amends, even if I must rehabilitate Faith myself. I suggest you do the same.” He hefted a box into his arms and headed toward the door. “I ask that you not touch these books. They are property of the Watcher’s Council, after all.”
Giles watched Wesley, a numb feeling spreading through his limbs. At what point had Wesley Wyndham-Price, of all people, been granted any measure of maturity? He was a gangly, stammering mess, almost shockingly incapable of the responsibility that had been laid on his shoulders. He wasn’t strong or brave or overly flexible, figuratively speaking. And yet…
Yet, he had made a clear point. Giles had made many mistakes in his life but the only ones he had ever worked to fix were those involving his Slayer. It was his relationship with her that kept the world spinning and ignorant of the threat in the dark, after all. But that kind of thinking was arrogant and selfish, more suited to someone of Wesley’s age than his own.
So, what was he going to do?