About two weeks after Ms. Calendar’s resignation, Buffy began to get the sense that there was something Giles wasn’t telling her. It started small—him missing a patrol here and there, then looking bedraggled and sleepy the day after as though he’d been up all night doing something else. But then it started to manifest itself in things like him turning the library upside down to find three extremely specific books on locator spells, and then shutting down the library for three days straight to repeatedly cast the locator spells, and then locking himself in his office for a whole day after that while absolutely refusing to talk to anyone.
It was kind of a weird reaction to a breakup, Buffy thought, but she really didn’t have a whole bunch of time anymore to deal with anyone’s weird post-breakup feelings. Hers included. Once Angelus was neutralized, then she could go back to crying and eating ice cream and telling everyone who would listen how she just didn’t understand how everything had gone so wrong. Obviously Angel hadn’t been her soulmate, but so what? They’d been happy. They’d been making it work.
Whatever. The point wasn’t Angel. The point was that Giles needed to get his head screwed on right, because Buffy had never needed her Watcher more than she did at the moment. Steeling herself for whatever Giles’s brand of crazy was today, Buffy strode into the library—and stopped.
Giles was sitting at the table in the center of the library, shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbow as he methodically bandaged one of his arms. The other arm was wrapped similarly—tight and precise—but what really got Buffy’s attention was how badly Giles’s hands were shaking. She’d never seen him like this.
“Giles?” she said.
Giles jumped. Like, literally jumped out of his chair. Taking two steps back, he said in a strange, flat voice, “Buffy, I’d appreciate you warning me before—”
“This is a public school library,” Buffy reminded him. “You’re probably lucky it wasn’t Snyder. Giles, what is going on?”
“It’s not your concern.”
“I think it is my concern if you’re a total mess literally every second of every day!” Buffy countered as gently as she could. “Look, I—I just need you to get your head in the game again, okay? Just because Angelus has been lying low—”
“He hasn’t,” said Giles.
Buffy blinked. “What?”
“He hasn’t been lying low,” said Giles acidly, and swept past Buffy, striding into his office to slam the door behind him.
Okay. That wasn’t what Buffy had been expecting. “Giles!” she said with exasperation, following his path to the office and tugging at the door. Giles had locked it. “Shouldn’t I be the one who’s all angsty and secretive? We’re all dealing with Angelus—”
“Buffy, just leave,” said Giles without opening the door.
“What is going on?” Buffy demanded. “The last time you shut me out like this was Eyghon—”
Giles yanked the door open, eyes flashing. “To be very clear,” he said, “none of this is any of your business.”
“It is my business if you’re making it my business, which you are, because your business is taking care of my business!” Buffy blinked, replaying the sentence in her head. “Wow. How many times did I say business?”
“Just go,” said Giles. “All right?”
And that was when Buffy noticed a piece of information which she would later label as Clue Number One: Giles’s fingertips were stained with ink. That seemed pretty unusual, Buffy thought, and was about to ask Giles about it when he shut the door in her face. Again.
“Are you SERIOUS?” Buffy demanded of the closed door. “How am I suddenly the adult here? I am seventeen, Giles, I am legally still a child—”
“LEAVE,” said Giles from behind the door.
With a furious huff, Buffy turned on her heel. At least with Eyghon, Giles hadn’t been behaving like a complete and total dick.
“Ink?” Xander repeated. “Like—like what kind of ink? Printer ink? Paper ink? Soulmate ink?”
“Giles doesn’t have a soulmate,” said Buffy. “He told me.”
“Well, you said he covered his arms,” Willow pointed out. “Maybe he’s getting messages from his soulmate. Oh no.” She went very pale and set down her carrot sticks.
“Oh no?” Buffy repeated. Willow shook her head and pressed a hand to her mouth. “Oh no? Willow, what oh no?”
“Nothing!” Willow squeaked.
“That is so not a nothing kind of face.”
“Only—” Willow removed her hand from her mouth, looking a mixture of terrified and repentant. “You said he told you that Angelus hasn’t been lying low, right? Well, what if Angelus is his soulmate?”
Buffy blinked, then let out a weak, tired laugh. “That’s really ridiculous, Willow,” she said. “I’d sooner believe that Angelus had his soulmate than—”
And then an equally horrible possibility occurred to the three of them at the exact same time.
Clue Number Two: the only thing that Ms. Calendar had left to confirm her resignation was a neatly written note. They found out this information from Principal Snyder’s secretary before Principal Snyder came out and gave them both detention for asking too many questions, at which point Willow decided that alternative measures needed to be taken. “We need to see that note,” she informed Buffy, quiet and steely. “I knew there was something weird about Ms. Calendar not answering my emails—”
“You’ve been emailing Ms. Calendar?” said Xander with surprise.
“She resigned really abruptly,” said Willow simply. “I thought it was just because she was hurt about the breakup with Giles, but she left right before a test and she has this extremely specific grading system, and Snyder put me in charge of her class, so—”
“Okay, I get it,” said Buffy uneasily. “But do we even know where that note is?”
“I think I might,” said Willow. She looked a little nervous.
“Wait, really?” Xander grinned. “Way to go, Willow.”
“Don’t way to go me just yet,” said Willow unsteadily. “The only reason that a note like that would still exist is if someone held onto it. And if anyone was going to hold onto Ms. Calendar’s last goodbye—”
Buffy saw where this was going. “Oh, no,” she groaned. “How are we supposed to get a note like that away from Giles? He probably sleeps with it under his pillow or something.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of a problem,” Xander agreed. “Is there any way we can—I don’t know, distract him?”
“Have either of you seen Giles lately?” Buffy countered. “He’s totally un-distractible. We’d be lucky if we manage to get him out of his office for longer than twenty seconds.”
But Willow had her Resolve Face on, which almost always meant that something semi-scary and very smart was about to be suggested. “Someone’s going to have to ask him about Ms. Calendar,” she said.
“Look, whether or not we’re right about this—and I don’t think we have enough information to decide yet—it’s the only thing that’ll distract Giles long enough for us to figure out where he put that note!” Willow fiddled with the ends of her sweater sleeves. “I know we don’t know how we feel about Ms. Calendar leaving the way she did, but we have to figure out what’s been going on with Giles. And if this is what he’s been hiding from us—”
“He said he didn’t have a soulmate,” Buffy pointed out.
“Maybe he didn’t know he had a soulmate,” Willow countered. “Ms. Calendar told me that she never wrote on her arms when she was little, and she doesn’t want to start now.”
Buffy filed that away as Clue Number Three. “Okay,” she acquiesced. “Fine. I can ask Giles about Ms. Calendar. Willow, you can try and find the note in his office.”
“What about me?” asked Xander.
“Um.” Buffy considered. “Xander, maybe check his house? I think he’d keep the note from Ms. Calendar pretty close to him, but it never hurts to make sure.”
“Roger that, Captain,” Xander agreed. “Is that what we’re gonna do right now?”
“No time like the present.” Buffy hesitated, then added, “And there’s always the chance that we’re wrong, right? It might be some weird apocalypse thing that Giles isn’t telling us about.”
Clue Number One, said the voice in the back of her brain. Ink on Giles’s fingers and bandages on his arms.
“It might be,” Willow agreed, but in that way she did when she was trying to make Buffy feel better. “You should probably go ahead and talk to Giles.”
Giles was sitting at the table again when Buffy showed up in the library, poring over a new and completely different book on locator spells. When she knocked on the table, he jumped—straight out of his seat, just like before—then straightened up and glared at her. “Buffy, really—”
“Giles, about Ms. Calendar,” said Buffy.
Something in Giles’s eyes…shattered. Buffy wasn’t sure how else to describe it. The steely Watcher gaze gave way to something hurt and broken—but only for a moment. Then the icy cold professionalism returned with a vengeance. “What do you want?” he said, his voice short and clipped.
Buffy honestly wasn’t sure. “Do you think she’s okay?” she asked carefully, testing the waters.
“Why would you care?”
The bluntness of the question took Buffy off guard. “Snyder’s secretary mentioned that she only left a note—”
“No,” said Giles. “She did not.”
Buffy blinked. “What?”
“She did not.” Giles fished out a crumpled bit of paper from his pocket, shoving it across the table to Buffy. “This,” he said, “is not Jenny’s handwriting. Strikingly similar to hers, yes, but it is quite easy to see the dissimilarities if you know where to look.”
“Buffy, I don’t wish to involve you in Jenny’s affairs.”
“If it’s impacting you this much, I think I should be involved!” Buffy burst out. “Why are you shutting all of us out? We need you!”
Giles’s eyes flashed. “I am quite aware that you need me, Buffy,” he said coldly. “Over and over, I have been made aware that you need me. Over and over, I have chosen to help you, to stand by you, to make sure that your needs are the ones that are met. I chose you one too many times. This time, I will not make that mistake.” Without waiting for Buffy’s response, he moved past her—or tried to. Buffy caught his arm. “Buffy—”
“Well, maybe you need us,” said Buffy fiercely. “Ever think of that one, smart guy?”
The impassive expression on Giles’s face flickered. “I—”
“And maybe Ms. Calendar needs us too,” said Buffy. “All of us.”
Willow chose this moment to open the door, moving quietly and carefully in Buffy’s peripheral vision. When she saw the crumpled-up piece of paper on the table, her eyes widened, and she froze where she was standing.
“Willow, it’s fine,” said Buffy. “It’s fine. He showed me the note and he said it’s not Ms. Calendar’s.”
“What—” Giles’s eyes landed on Willow. “Have you two been conspiring to—”
“We’re working together,” said Buffy. Her voice caught. “Because we’re worried about you, Giles. You won’t tell us what’s wrong, you won’t tell us how we can help, you won’t tell us anything. You don’t have to tell us everything, but you could at least tell us something!” She was crying a little bit by the end of her sentence; she felt Willow’s hand on her shoulder. It helped, but only a little bit. “What does it take for you to—”
Giles swallowed. His eyes were wet. Quietly, and sounding a little bit more like Giles, he said, “Buffy, I made a choice to turn my back on Jenny for your sake, and Angelus took advantage of that. Until she is safe again, I don’t want to make any choices that don’t put Jenny first.”
That should sting more than it did, Buffy thought, but it…kind of didn’t. It was hard to want Giles to put her first when Ms. Calendar was clearly in some kind of serious trouble. “Okay,” she said. “I’m fine with that.” At Giles’s skeptical look, she huffed. “I am! Or at least I will be, if you tell me what’s going on.”
Giles considered this, then said, “Get Xander. Cordelia and Oz too, if you’d like them involved. I only want to explain this once.”
Buffy felt a rush of relief.
By the time everyone was sitting around the table, Giles had started to look a little bit more like the weird, cold, semi-crazy guy who had locked himself in his office multiple times over the course of the last week. He seemed to be doing his very best to pull himself together, though, and as he shifted from foot to foot in front of all of them, Buffy was weirdly reminded of all the guest speakers who had visited them in the auditorium. Don’t do drugs, kids, she thought, and fought down the bizarre and deeply inappropriate impulse to burst into giggles. Now wasn’t the time for that.
“Right,” said Giles. “I feel that there is really only one way to explain things.” He hesitated, then rolled up his left sleeve, carefully unwrapping the bandages to reveal his bare arm.
Buffy’s stomach turned. Half-smeared, mocking messages in Angel’s neatly sloping cursive covered Giles’s arm like a thousand and one obscene tattoos, snaking up his forearm and disappearing under his sleeve.
Your fault, Watcher. You don’t even want to know what’s been done to her
The messages still go through if she’s dead, you know. Ever done your research?
She’s a good fuck. I can see why—
Buffy didn’t want to read any more of them after that.
“As you can see,” said Giles thinly, “I have been working myself to the bone attempting to figure out a way to get Jenny back.”
“How do you know it’s Ms. Calendar?” said Cordelia, her voice shaking. “I mean—no one wants it to be Ms. Calendar, obviously, so—how do you know this isn’t just—”
Without a word, Giles slid the uncrumpled resignation note across the table. The handwriting matched the messages on his arm exactly.
“And we don’t know where she is,” said Buffy, her voice shaking. “Or where Angel is. Have you tried—”
“Everything,” said Giles. His voice was hollow, his eyes empty. “Absolutely everything. Every contact, every demon informant, everything. The Council has refused to extend their help to me; they say that it is nothing short of irresponsibility to become romantically involved with a civilian, and that hopefully this will make me…” He trailed off. “Learn my lesson.”
“That’s awful!” said Willow tearfully. “What about Ms. Calendar? How is that fair to her?”
“I expressed a similar sentiment,” said Giles. “They didn’t seem very interested in hearing it.”
Buffy felt sick.
“My only comfort,” said Giles unsteadily, “is that Angelus is lying about at least one thing. Messages on soulmates are not able to be transferred if the soul is no longer within the body—which means that as long as I keep receiving these messages, Jenny is still alive.”
“Are you sure?” said Xander.
Giles nodded crisply. “Positive.”
“And are you still getting them?”
Giles’s face twisted a little. “Yes.”
Buffy squinted at Giles’s arm again, trying to make out any new writing—
“They’re not,” Giles swallowed, and had to try again. “They’re not in places visible w-when I’m fully dressed.”
Disjointed images flashed across Buffy’s mind, most of them inspired by the kind of things she’d read about when it came to Angelus. The kind of things he had done to women. The kind of things he’d almost definitely done to Ms. Calendar and bragged about to Giles through their soulmate connection. “Is Ms. Calendar your soulmate?” Buffy asked timidly. “Like—are you sure this—maybe he’s just—”
“No, I’m quite sure,” said Giles. His voice broke in the middle. “I suspected for—for a little while before now. This only confirms it.”
“God, and in the worst way possible,” said Cordelia shakily. No one said anything about the tactlessness of her statement; the sympathy in her eyes took all the bite out of it.
Oz, who was frowning intensely, tugged a crying Willow into his side. “Giles, if you don’t know how to find her, how do we find her?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” said Giles. He sounded small and tired in the same way he had during the whole Eyghon mess, only a thousand times worse. “If I knew—”
“If you knew, she’d already be out of there,” Buffy finished, sitting down heavily. “Have you tried—sending messages back?”
“I won’t give him the satisfaction,” said Giles thinly.
“So what, you’re just gonna ignore him?”
It took Giles a moment to speak. Then he said, “Angelus is trying to put me out of commission. If he receives a thousand and one pleading messages from me, he has leverage. So long as I do not respond, he cannot make further threats or decisions—he is reduced to communicating via Jenny, which means that she must remain alive.”
“But how long till he gets tired of that?” persisted Buffy. “What happens if—”
“Do you think I don’t know that?” There was no real fire behind Giles’s words—only that same flat emptiness that spoke to complete and utter despair. “I have done everything I can possibly think of to get her back—”
Giles flinched as though he’d been hit. Slowly, he turned to look at Cordelia. “What would you have me do, then, Cordelia?” he said tiredly.
“Write her back,” said Cordelia, and flipped out her own wrist in emphasis. Xander’s sloppy algebra notes trailed up her forearm. “All of you are always talking about how Angelus has a reason for everything, right? Well, there’s gotta be a reason that he’s keeping her alive, and she probably knows what it is.”
“She’s likely under constant supervision—”
“Thing is, Giles, you don’t know that for certain,” Cordelia countered, a determined glint in her eyes. “And even if he does see your messages, he’s been trying to get your attention, right? He won’t kill Ms. Calendar if he can still use her in a deal with you.”
Giles didn’t say anything. He sat down again, instead, staring down at the smudged writing on his forearm as though it held some kind of secret message.
Buffy wasn’t sure if she could bring herself to look at them again, so she directed her attention up towards Giles’s face instead—and caught a smudge of ink on his neck. Her stomach turned. “You should have told us,” she burst out. Giles, startled, looked up, and Buffy found that tears were tumbling down her face. “You should have—Ms. Calendar’s hurting and she’s been hurting for weeks and you didn’t even think of telling us?”
“It wasn’t your business,” said Giles crisply.
“Of course it is!” Buffy sobbed out. “Whether or not I’m mad at her doesn’t matter! No one should be going through what she’s going through right now, a-and I can’t believe you’d even think that I’d—that I wouldn’t want to help her! Do you think that little of me?”
“Buffy, it had nothing to do with you.” Giles’s voice shook. “I simply couldn’t waste time. A single second spent not working towards Jenny’s rescue is a second longer that she remains trapped with a monster.”
“I don’t care!” Buffy was crying in that ugly, frustrating way she had after Angel had gone evil. “I don’t! You should have told me! I’m the Vampire Slayer, I can help—”
“No one can help Jenny right now,” said Giles, in that bleak, empty way that made it sound like something inside him had snapped.
“Oh my god,” said Cordelia suddenly, sharp and furious. Pushing her chair back, she grabbed a pen from Willow, stalking over to Giles. Before anyone could stop her, she’d scrawled a messy, glittery message on the back of his left hand: What the FUCK do you want, you big, dumb undead asshole? Leave Ms. Calendar alone!!!!!!!
Giles yanked his hand back, face pale, and did his best to wipe away the ink. “Don’t!”
The damage, however, had still been done. Over the remnants of Cordelia’s words, black ink bloomed on Giles’s skin.
Took you long enough, Watcher. I think you know what I want.
“Do you know?” Buffy asked Giles.
“I’m sure I can’t pretend to guess,” said Giles weakly. Cordelia grabbed the pen again and proceeded to scribble at least seven impassioned and angry question marks before an irate Giles snatched the pen back. “Really, Cordelia,” he said, sounding a little more like himself, and wrote in neat cursive on the back of his right hand: For my own sake, please elaborate.
The black ink on Giles’s left hand smudged and vanished, leaving new words in its wake: Your little secret project. Give it up and I’ll give her back—and don’t even think about trying to use it on me.
“My secret what?” said a bewildered Giles.
“Now’s not the time to play coy, Giles,” said Xander, a tense laugh in his voice.
“I-I’m not!” Giles stared down at the writing on his hand with growing horror. “He clearly expects something from me, but I don’t know wh-what I can possibly give him!” And then he gasped, like someone had punched him, and tears sprung to his eyes.
Buffy followed his gaze down to the words; they’d been smudged and changed one last time, but the handwriting was different now. Messier, and shaky in places that couldn’t be attributed to simply untidy handwriting, and print instead of cursive—
Save me, Snobby.
Pretty much almost exactly after Giles had received Ms. Calendar’s message, he’d once again locked himself in his office. The concept of Ms. Calendar—proud, stubborn Ms. Calendar—reduced to the point of having to beg for help kind of made Buffy want to do the same thing, but if her Watcher was so thoroughly out of commission, she couldn’t afford to be too. “Okay,” she said unsteadily. “So we know—we know that Angelus wants some kind of secret project, right? And we know that Giles doesn’t know what it is, but Angelus thinks he’s involved and took Ms. Calendar as retaliation.”
“What kind of secret project would make Angelus pull something like this, though?” pointed out Oz. “If he wanted Giles’s secret project that bad, why didn’t he just go and get it himself?”
“Because it’s a threat to him,” Buffy responded immediately. “He made it clear that he doesn’t want us using it on him.”
“Which makes it something that’s worth a lot both to Angelus and to us,” Willow added with a sniffle, “because Angelus took Ms. Calendar, a-and she’s—”
“Worth more than anything to Giles,” Buffy finished. “I’m pretty sure he’d give himself up on a silver platter if he thought it would bring her home safe.” The thought made her feel a little nauseous. “So whatever it is, Angelus knows that it would take the concept of losing Ms. Calendar for Giles to even consider giving it up to him.”
“Which means that it’s probably something we want, right?” said Xander.
Buffy and Willow shot him furious looks. “Don’t you even suggest—” Willow began fiercely.
“Hey, I’m not suggesting anything!” Xander shot back. “I’m only saying that we should know what we’re giving Angelus before we send it his way! If there’s even a chance that there’s some kind of Angel-killing death ray, I’d say we take it and run, ‘cause Angel being dead means Ms. Calendar might have a chance to get out of there.”
“We don’t know what kind of condition she’s in, Xander,” said Buffy grimly. “And Angelus isn’t our only worry. If Ms. Calendar’s his leverage, he’ll have her surrounded by vamps. Going against what he wants right now isn’t a risk we can take until we know the situation better.”
“But we don’t know anything about this secret project—”
“Yes, we do.”
Buffy and Willow jumped a little. Giles had come out of his office, a strange, semi-manic glint in his eyes. “Giles,” said Buffy a little uneasily. “How’s it going?”
“Jenny stopped calling me Snobby after Moloch,” said Giles. “Very specifically after Moloch. We had a conversation about it in the faculty meeting; she said she didn’t feel comfortable calling me a snob when I’d been so openminded about the demon in the Internet.”
“…okay?” said Buffy warily. This sounded a little bit like crazy talk.
“And as for save—she wouldn’t say save me, she hates asking for help. She only uses save if she’s talking about her computer,” Giles continued, as though this information meant anything to anyone and didn’t just sound like he was completely losing it over Ms. Calendar begging for his help. “It’s a message. She’s sending me—” He was shaking. “She’s sending me a message. It’s in code so she won’t—”
“Giles,” said Buffy, moving to steady him. Seeing him like this was somehow the worst part of all of it.
“No, Buffy, she—”
“It’s okay, Giles. We’ve got this.”
“No, you don’t, not if you’re not listening to me!” Giles snapped, jerking away from her hands. “Damn all of you, don’t look at me like I’ve gone mad! I know Jenny Calendar well enough to know that she was trying to tell me something—”
“Giles, sh-she was trying to tell you something.” Willow’s voice was wobbly and soft. “She wants you to help her. B-but you can’t help her if you’re—if you’re not okay enough to help her.” She sounded near tears. “You need to be okay enough to help her, Giles. She needs you to be.”
That seemed to get through to Giles. He took a few staggering steps back to lean heavily against the wall. “I-I suppose you’re right,” he said weakly. “I—I shouldn’t—”
“No, Giles, it’s.” Buffy swallowed. “We’ll check the computer lab, okay? Maybe there’s something there that might help.”
“Buffy, don’t humor me—”
“It won’t hurt,” said Buffy, and crossed the room to place a hand on Giles’s shoulder. “And worst-case scenario, we still might turn up something useful of Ms. Calendar’s, right? She was always working on weird theoretical witchy stuff. Maybe she’s got a hidden locator spell that you missed.”
Giles almost smiled. “You are…a remarkable girl,” he said quietly. “I am sorry I kept you out of this.”
Buffy shook her head. “You don’t need to apologize,” she said, and wanted to hug him more than ever. “This…is so messy and scary. If it was Angel—” She swallowed. “Well. It’s been Angel before. I remember how I felt.”
At the mention of Angel, Giles’s ghost of a smile vanished.
“I’m sorry,” said Buffy again, her voice breaking. This whole mess felt like her fault. Without waiting for Giles’s reply, she hurried out of the library and into Ms. Calendar’s classroom.
The room was pristine and organized; Ms. Calendar’s cardigan was even hanging from the back of the teacher’s chair, as though she’d just stepped out for a coffee break or a smooching session with her boyfriend in the library. Suddenly and powerfully, Buffy missed Ms. Calendar—her tilty-sweet smile, her sharp, laughing way of reprimanding students that made you feel abashed without feeling embarrassed, the way she could always distract Giles and abused that power hugely. And now Buffy’s boyfriend was keeping Ms. Calendar prisoner in some weird dungeon, probably, and—god, Buffy couldn’t even let herself think the words for what Angelus had done to Ms. Calendar. As long as she didn’t think them, they weren’t real. That was how it worked, right?
“Found anything?” asked Willow from behind her.
“I’ve only just come in,” said Buffy, trying to laugh as she let Willow past her. “Maybe you’ll be better than me at finding…I don’t know. Something.”
“Well, nothing in here looks a whole lot like a vampire-killing weapon,” said Willow a little shakily, “but I’m gonna turn this place upside down anyway. Giles could be right about Ms. Calendar trying to send him a message, if we’re really lucky.”
Willow bent over the desk, peering at each item on it with an almost comical amount of scrutiny. “He’s right about her not saying things like save me, though,” she said. “Checking her computer…I don’t think it could hurt, could it? Oh!”
“Oh?” Buffy echoed.
Willow squinted at the tiny gap between Ms. Calendar’s desk and the wall. “No, I just thought I saw…” she mumbled, leaning awkwardly down to pry a floppy disk free. “Huh. That’s weird.”
“What’s so weird about a floppy disk in a computer science classroom?” said Buffy skeptically.
“Ms. Calendar always labels her floppy disks,” said Willow, frowning down at the flat yellow diskette. “Why wouldn’t this one have a label?”
Buffy shrugged. “Check it out and see? I’ll look through her desk.”
Hurrying over to one of the lab stations, Willow turned on a computer.
Buffy decided to focus in on Ms. Calendar’s desk. A framed photo of Ms. Calendar, a handful of witchy-looking people Buffy didn’t know, and—Buffy’s heart clenched—Giles, looking nervously, happily out of place with Ms. Calendar’s hand on his elbow. A crumpled-up Post-It reading hey Jen, it’s Jen, PLEASE don’t forget to eat breakfast today. A receipt from a gas station for a scary amount of candy bars. A little note, this time in Giles’s handwriting, tucked almost lovingly into the frame of another photo—
“Buffy!” Willow gasped from her position at the computer. “Buffy—oh my god, oh my god!” She was almost sobbing. “I found it! I found it, I found it, we can—”
“What?” Buffy whirled.
“It’s—” Willow was crying now, tears of bright, happy relief. “It can’t be anything but this! It wasn’t Giles’s secret project Angel was after, Buffy, it was Ms. Calendar’s! I think he thinks it’s Giles’s but it’s hers—”
Buffy raced over to the computer, peering over Willow’s shoulder—and a horrible, leaden feeling settled in her stomach.
“What’s the hesitation?” said Xander savagely. “He’s got Ms. Calendar, remember? Are all of you seriously going to tell me that giving Angel back his soul is going to do anything useful here?”
“Xander—” persisted Willow shakily.
“He raped her,” Xander spat. “You didn’t see that one on Giles’s arm, huh, Buffy? Your precious little boy toy pinned Ms. Calendar down and—”
Buffy saw it coming before anyone else did. Just as Giles lunged forward, she yanked him back with all of her Slayer strength—and it was taking a lot more than she expected to continue to hold him back. “Xander, that’s not what this is about,” she said firmly—or as firmly as she could when she felt like something big and heavy had set up shop in her chest. “What this is about is figuring out the best way to get Ms. Calendar out of wherever she is—”
“You saw what Angelus said,” Cordelia countered. “He said don’t even think about trying to use it on me. He knows what it is. What happens if we try to use it and he kills Ms. Calendar before it takes effect?”
“That’s not a risk I’m willing to take,” said Buffy quietly.
“Exactly!” said Cordelia fiercely. “So you—” She faltered. “Wait. What?”
Buffy swallowed, eyes wet. “I don’t think Angel could live with himself after this,” she said. “I don’t want to put him through that. The best thing I can do in this situation is—”
“Give him back his soul.”
All eyes went to Giles. “…what?” said Buffy weakly.
“Buffy, Angel is a competent and capable fighter,” said Giles shortly. “If he can get a message to us via Jenny, he might be able to tell us where he is—and we might be able to help him get her out.”
“But he said that we shouldn’t—”
“He won’t know,” Giles shot back. “He doesn’t know a damn thing about magic. And quite frankly, I don’t trust Angelus not to renege on his deal and kill Jenny as soon as he has what he wants. This eliminates a potential threat—”
“Are you serious?” Xander exploded. “You’re willing to let Ms. Calendar die just to—”
Giles tried to yank himself free from Buffy’s grasp; it didn’t work. Furiously, he snarled, “Don’t you dare stand there and accuse me of being anything close to willing to let Jenny die, Xander, not when you’re using her life as a fucking chess piece in an attempt to fuel your vengeance-driven crusade—”
“Like it’s not justified?” Xander exploded. “Like he’s not a monster?”
“Don’t even think of trying to take the moral high ground with me!” Giles shouted.
“STOP!” Buffy sobbed, and let go of Giles to cover her face with her hands. She expected to hear the sounds of a painful brawl, but when she finally managed to look up, she saw that all her friends were looking at her as though they expected her to have changed her mind. “Xander’s—Xander’s right, Giles,” she said. “We need—we can’t risk Ms. Calendar’s life like that. We have to play by his rules.”
Giles swallowed, shaking his head. “She’s suffered—unendingly, and for no just reason,” he said, almost sobbing himself. “In no possible world am I all right with giving up her hard-earned gift to Angel as a sacrifice to that—that monster.”
“We don’t have any other choice,” said Buffy quietly.
But Giles’s eyes glittered. “We have one.”
Angelus met Buffy on the hill by their old makeout cemetery. There was something particularly perverse about that. “Where’s the Watcher?” he asked coolly. “I’d think he’d be here to pick up his girl.”
“Giles isn’t in any condition to negotiate,” said Buffy, “and I’m pretty sure he’d just kill you on sight. We agreed it would be me.”
“Not trying any funny business, are you?” said Angelus, giving Buffy an easy, toothy grin that didn’t look like Angel at all. Something—everything—about this hurt too much to bear, because no matter what happened, there was no way Buffy could even look at Angel the same way again. He wouldn’t be Angel, anymore—not her soft, sweet, silly boyfriend who she had loved so much it had felt like rainbows exploding inside her sometimes. You couldn’t do something as horrible as what Angelus had done and come away with clean hands.
But then again, Angel had done much worse before, and for much longer. It just hadn’t felt real until it had been Ms. Calendar in place of one of his faceless, nameless victims.
“Nope,” said Buffy, popping the P, and handed him the printed copy of the ritual, as well as the Orb of Thesulah they’d found in Ms. Calendar’s desk drawer. “This is the only copy we have.”
Angelus kept smiling, big and smug, as he carefully folded and pocketed the ritual. Then he said, “You didn’t really think this would work, did you, lover?”
The bottom dropped out of Buffy’s stomach. “What?”
Taking the Orb of Thesulah, Angelus threw it violently to the ground, smashing it into little bits of glass. He moved forward, quick and fluid, to grip Buffy’s face, pulling it close to his. “I think I like having pretty little Ms. Calendar on retainer,” he whispered, game face on. “I think it means that you Scoobies are gonna think twice before going up against me—because who knows what I might do to her if you don’t stay in line?”
“You—you can’t—” Buffy gasped. This part wasn’t in the script.
“Oh, I think I can and I will,” said Angelus, giving Buffy a fanged grin. “And I think I’m really looking forward to spending some quality time with your Watcher’s girlfriend tonight. I’m not the kind of guy who minds sloppy seconds. I mean—” He laughed. “They can’t all be sweet little virgin Buffy, can they?”
Buffy staggered back when he let go of her face, watching him go with a feeling of dizzy horror. This was part of the plan, she knew, but some part of her had been so sure that he’d make good on his promise. Why had she been so sure? Why had she been so fucking convinced—
“Buffy,” said Xander, stepping out from behind a nearby mausoleum. He moved towards her, placing a steadying hand on the small of her back. She leaned into him, shaking. “It doesn’t matter, remember?”
“I—” Buffy swallowed. “I know. But what if—what if it doesn’t work, a-and he’s still—and he’s still—”
“That’s why we’ve got Giles, remember?” said Xander grimly. “He’s on Angelus’s tail.”
That didn’t comfort Buffy all that much.
What Buffy had told Angel was true: they’d only printed one copy. They didn’t really need to print out a ritual more than once when they had it ready-made on the computer—and Buffy knew enough about her boyfriend to know that Angelus didn’t know a single thing about backup disks and translation algorithms. Hand Angel a printout and he would ask you, very seriously, if you’d made it on a typewriter.
“I’m glad he wasn’t my soulmate,” she told Cordelia when she got back to the library. “I’m glad—” She looked down at the awkward doodles on her wrist—a whole bunch of weird skulls and a few scribbly places where her soulmate had clearly been testing their pen. “Whoever it is, I’m glad it isn’t Angel.”
“Dodged a bullet there,” Cordelia agreed.
“You didn’t,” said Buffy, playfully nudging Cordelia’s shoulder.
“Whatever,” scoffed Cordelia, grinning a little tiredly as they watched Willow prepare the ritual. “Do you think this’ll work?”
Buffy thought of Giles, his grim face, his tote bag of weapons. “I don’t know what’ll happen if it doesn’t,” she said, trying to keep the wobble out of her voice. She couldn’t stop thinking about the way Angelus had said pretty little Ms. Calendar. She had been told by everyone that thinking Angelus was her fault was irrational, but the same couldn’t be said for what had happened to Ms. Calendar. If Buffy hadn’t kicked her out of the group—if they’d known what she was working on—
“Then don’t worry about it just yet,” said Cordelia softly, and nudged Buffy’s shoulder back. “Okay?”
Buffy felt strangely comforted. Which was seriously weird, because this was Cordelia she was talking to. “…okay,” she acquiesced, and settled back into her chair.
The ritual felt strangely anticlimactic. Most of it was just chanting, and the only noticeable part was when Willow abruptly switched from Latin to Romanian halfway through—which was weird, but not weird enough for Buffy to feel any sense of confidence. The Orb glowed at the end, which was something, but how could they possibly know—
And then Willow looked directly to Buffy, her eyes no longer clouded with a mixture of magic and concentration. “It worked,” she said simply. “He’s gotten his soul.”