Buffy sipped her O'Doul's and meandered through the crowd at the Bronze. Only medium-crowded tonight, she mused; weird, seeing as how Macy Gray's on stage, which is a totally good get for the Bronze.
Macy Gray was wailing out "I Try" as Buffy continued on her way. She didn't bother heading to the dance floor -- he wouldn't be out there, in the center of things. He was always in the shadows, at the sides.
I told him I would probably show up, she thought. How long has this guy been dating anyway? 580 years or something? He should know what a girl means when she says she'll probably show up.
And this time, she wasn't all tired and dirty, with straw sticking out of her hair. Buffy looked down with pride at her shapeless, pale-gray garments. "See, I checked the dress code," she said happily.
"What does that matter?" Buffy looked over, startled. Noor was next to her, hovering, her feet several inches from the ground. She didn't seem to notice that she was floating, and it seemed only mildly odd to Buffy. For once, Noor's hair was not covered; it hung long and shining and free down her back. However, her expression was as grumpy as ever. "What does it matter, what you are wearing?"
"I want to look right," Buffy said.
"Do you think it matters?"
Buffy considered it for a minute, then smiled. "Don't guess it does. Angel's seen me looking pretty scary. He won't care."
"Angel, Angel, Angel," Noor mocked, tilting her head from side to side. "Why are you looking for your boyfriend? You should be looking for the door."
"The door? Excuse me, I've spent about half of my life in this place. I know where the doors are."
Noor gestured around the room. "Then find one."
Buffy sighed, put her fake beer on the table, next to the monkey, and looked around. "I don't think you get out a whole lot, so here's a helpful clubbing tip: Wherever you see one of those glowing exit signs, there's a door --"
She stopped and frowned. No glowing exit signs.
"I told you," Noor said.
Buffy ignored her and pushed her way to the main entrance -- at least, what was usually the main entrance. Now it was just a wall. She kept going, moving around to the side entrance; that, too, was sealed over as though it had never been.
"Weird," she said. "But no big. I don't need to leave, so I don't need the doors."
"Yes, you do." Buffy turned around and saw Frances standing there. She was holding a large, ornate key. "If you haven't got a door, how will you use this?"
"Uh, paperweight?" Buffy ventured.
Frances rolled her eyes. "Well, then, we just won't let you out."
"You have to," Buffy said. She didn't want to go out, but it was important that she could, if she wanted -- "You have to!"
Frances turned away. Buffy started to run after her. "Frances!"
Buffy awoke suddenly, almost certain she had actually called her Watcher's name aloud. The word seemed to be echoing in her ears.
She shook her head and sat up. The view from her window showed that the sun was low in the sky, but an hour or two of light remained. Her pre-slayage nap hadn't gone on too long, then.
Angel had called her earlier; chatty as ever, he had simply told her to meet him in the library at sundown. Other than that, another thrilling bout of archery practice and her Slayer brunch-and-fashion-emergency-meeting, the day had been fairly empty.
Strange, to have so much time on her hands. Just a few weeks ago, it seemed as though the pressure on her would never cease. Getting up early to get Dawn's breakfast and drive her to school -- trying to pay the bills and balance the checkbook on her own (but usually calling Giles or Anya for advice once or twice an hour) -- cleaning the house -- running to class late, all the while denying that dropping out was becoming inevitable -- and at the end of it, she knew she would pick up her stake and head out into the cemeteries.
It had seemed so hard, then. And now she'd give anything to have just one day of it back.
Buffy closed her eyes hard. She was getting better at dealing, but every time she thought about them all -- about how she took for granted the miracle of being able to just pick up the phone and hear Giles' voice --
She shook her head and got up from the sofa. Buffy picked up the telephone before thinking that she didn't actually know anyone's number -- but there was a buzz and a click, and then a woman's voice, asking primly, "Your connection?"
Edna May, Buffy thought. "Uh, Frances Keeling, please."
A moment later, Frances picked up; she sounded surprised to hear from Buffy, as well she might. "Is there anything the matter?"
"No. I mean, yes, but not like, come-running-to-save-me the matter. You know?" There was a brief pause, and Buffy said, "Don't answer that. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about something."
"And what's that?"
"I need a job."
"Buffy -- your duties are the most important --"
"My duties fill about four or five hours a night, tops. I need something to do during the day. I mean, maybe not full-time or anything, but there has to be some way I can help out."
"Well, that's a very laudable impulse, Buffy," Frances said with what sounded like genuine approval. "But we want you to conserve your time and strength and attention. Devote them to what's most important. And that's Slaying."
"I'm gonna go nuts just staring at the walls all day," Buffy said. "I was thinking maybe I could help train the little maybe-Slayers. I don't have much in the way of resume-worthy skills, but I could help them go through their paces --"
"Buffy, no," Frances said, and by now she sounded a little shocked. "Your free time is a mark of honor. Of respect. And it's important that you not be burdened by the cares of the world. You should just enjoy that. I'm sure you'll get used to it after a time."
Much later, long after Frances had hung up, Buffy was still standing there, thinking about the cares of the world.
Buffy came bounding into the library, taking a good look around as she did so. To her surprise, it was fairly familiar -- wooden bookshelves, old musty books with old musty book smell, chairs and desks to sit and study in. The lighting was the same flat, bright glare as the rest of the Keep (save Angel's rooms). Except for that, she decided, the place was fairly cozy. "Angel?" she called.
"You know, some people whisper in libraries." Buffy whirled around to see Angel behind her, shelving a few volumes.
"You are way too stealthy," she said, more quietly. "Sorry about yelling -- I'm not used to a library other people actually use. Like, for its actual intended book purposes."
"Then you should feel right at home here," Angel said. "I'm afraid the standard of scholarship in the Council isn't what it used to be."
"So you're the only one still cracking the books?" Buffy asked. "Where's the librarian?"
Angel smiled. "You're looking at him."
"You're kidding." When Angel shook his head, Buffy laughed out loud. "Following in Giles' footsteps all the way, huh?"
"I'm sure he'd appreciate the irony," Angel said. "After -- after what happened forty years ago, I needed something else to do to earn my place here. I was familiar with the collection; about half of these books were mine, originally. So they put me here."
"Alone with the books."
"Most days. I don't mind it."
Buffy grinned and stepped into the narrow aisle with him. "I tried to get a job myself today."
"Besides slaying? I bet they didn't go for that."
"Too bad nobody gave you odds on that one, because you would've won. I was hoping they'd let me help train the young girls. The Slayer wannabes." Angel's face fell, and Buffy furrowed her forehead. "Angel? What's the matter?"
"Nothing," he said. "It's just -- I used to do that. Fifty or sixty years ago, now."
"Why did you stop? Didn't you like it?"
"I loved it. But I'm not exactly the role model the Council wanted for them," Angel said. He slid the last book into place with a thud, then turned to her, disappointment wiped from his face. "Ready to get started?"
Buffy opened her mouth to go back to the earlier subject, but she stopped when she heard the door open. Angel seemed surprised. "Of course, today's the day I get a guest who proves me a liar," he said. "Can I help you --"
His voice trailed off as he looked past Buffy; she turned around to see Sumiko standing there. Sumiko was looking at Buffy and Angel with no small degree of suspicion, but -- Buffy was relieved to see -- she had no weapons with her. So apparently she hadn't come to hunt them down.
Buffy gasped. "Oh, wait a minute! Angel, do you speak Japanese?"
As soon as they'd begun, her hopes died when Angel shook his head. "I used to know a handful of phrases. No more. And I don't think I recall any of it now."
"I thought you spent all this time in the Far East."
Sumiko shifted uneasily from foot to foot. She was still watching Buffy and Angel carefully.
"If you want me to speak in Cantonese, Mandarin or Korean, I can help you. But I only spent a few weeks in Japan. Sorry -- oh, wait. Hold on."
Angel pushed his way past Buffy and hurried into the back. After just a moment, he came out, bearing a few aged books in his hands. "Never thought we'd have any call for these again --"
Buffy realized that the bindings bore lettering in Japanese. She saw the realization reflected in Sumiko's eyes as she eagerly reached out for them. "Angel, that's great," Buffy said as he handed the books to Sumiko. "What are they about?"
"God only knows. Probably Slayer history, but they could be anything -- herb lore, prophecy --" Angel stopped again, then looked at Sumiko. "Why did you come here?" he said, making a circular motion with his hand to encompass the place, then pointing to her, then looking at her questioningly. "What do you want?"
The makeshift sign language apparently worked. Sumiko patted her chest with her hand. Buffy was mystified, but Angel seemed to get it right away. He jogged over to a far corner of the library. "Okay, for those of us who were never won at charades, what's going on?"
"I figured she came here for these," Angel called, his voice muffled by the shelves of books between them. "Her own records. Her Watcher's diaries."
"Doesn't her new Watcher have those?"
"Probably has computer access to the electronic versions," Angel said. "But I have the originals."
He came out bearing several slim volumes bound in faded red cloth. Sumiko's face altered as soon as she saw them; Buffy could see recognition, sadness, excitement --
Sumiko stepped forward and quickly lay the Japanese books down. She held out her hands and accepted the diaries almost reverently. Placing them on a long table, she pulled out a chair and untied the fragile ribbon holding one of them shut.
Buffy stepped closer, standing with Angel to look over Sumiko's shoulder.
The writing was fine and spidery, the elegant script of another age. Almost all the writing was in English, but Buffy could see the odd notation in Japanese here or there. She read the signature aloud: "Tobias Earnshaw."
Sumiko started at the name -- at the few words in English she understood, Buffy realized -- and looked back at Buffy. Her eyes were filled with tears.
Buffy took Sumiko's shoulder in her hand. "Hey. I'm sorry. I -- I miss my Watcher too."
Sumiko looked at her for a moment more, then turned to look at Angel. After a moment, she half-bowed her head.
Angel returned the bow. "Take them if you want," he said, gesturing at the books and then at the door. "For as long as you need."
Sumiko made no move to leave; she remained in her chair, tracing her fingers gently across the writing on the page. Buffy touched Angel's arm. "Let's go."
Angel hopped out of the transport first, double-checking the horizon before he stepped aside to let Buffy out. "Fairly quiet. Strange. The West End has a reputation for being particularly rough."
"Maybe when the bad guys heard this big armored tank coming, they ran," Buffy pointed out.
Angel was unamused. "Buffy, I don't ever want you trying to travel more than a mile or so on foot after dark. I'd rather have a few of them put on their guard than have you caught off yours."
"I'd forgotten how protective you are," Buffy said, double-checking her array of weaponry. Angel was more simply armed with a single crossbow. "And you've forgotten that I don't need it."
He looked at her darkly as he sealed up the door, and she sighed, relenting. "Okay. We take the transport for the scenic country drives. But Frances was right. We're not here to watch out for each other. We're here to kill stuff. So let's find stuff to kill."
"Got it," Angel said.
"And don't tell Frances I said she was right about something."
Though Buffy would've died before admitting it, she could see the effects of his years of inaction during her and Angel's first kill. His reflexes were too slow; his instincts not as sharp as they ought to have been. She polished the first demon off largely on her own. But by their third kill of the night, she could see it coming back to him already; he had a vamp spotted, in his sights and dusted in a matter of moments. "You enjoyed that, didn't you?" she said.
"Not as much as I'd enjoy a real battle," Angel said. "Do you think the Council's new fighting rules apply to me, too?"
Buffy scowled. "If I don't get to play, neither do you. Keep looking. We can bring in a higher head count than this."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, not unhappily.
Within a few minutes, Buffy sensed a vampire close by and motioned to Angel. The two of them moved quickly down a side alley to get a look at the next street.
Buffy peered around the corner and saw a vamp, a skinny little guy in a green jacket, sauntering down the street. In one hand he had a big, nasty-looking hammer. In the other, he had a big, nasty-looking nail.
"Don't like to think what he's using those for," Angel whispered.
"He ain't Bob Vila," Buffy replied.
The vampire walked to a boarded-up window on an abandoned building. He used two fingers to take something out of his jacket -- Buffy tensed up, ready for anything --
And the vampire put a poster on the board, put the nail to the poster and pounded it in with one quick stroke. He looked at it for a moment, then, apparently satisfied, continued on his way. Buffy could see the edges of several posters sticking out of the jacket's pocket.
She looked down at Angel, who shrugged. They waited in silence for a few minutes, then ran to the poster.
Angel got there first and ripped it off the wall. Buffy panted, "What does it say?"
Angel recited: "Presenting the latest tragical and comedical shows by the esteemed theater company of Mr. Kean. Beginning next Saturday, our featured performance: William Shakespeare's renowned spectacular 'The Tempest.' See the rains fall! Feel the winds blow! Marvel at the hideous and strange beast Caliban, and wonder at the beautiful creature Ariel. Skits and japes to begin the evening and ease the price of admission. All should attend this wondrous event. Escorts home provided. Coming next month: 'Charley's Aunt.'"
"You're telling me this guy -- puts on plays?"
"Of course," Angel said, a slow smile appearing on his face. "Of course he does. I'd heard that this sort of thing was going on -- I should have realized."
"Why would anybody go see vampire actors? I mean, who's going to be alive at intermission? Or is this for vampire entertainment only?"
"Vampires wouldn't need escorts home," Angel pointed out. "I don't know why humans would go. But he must set them free at the end."
"And why would he do that?" Buffy said, staring at the elaborate, hand-lettered poster.
"To be seen."
Buffy opened her mouth to argue with this reasoning, then asked herself: Would Spike do this? Yeah, he would, she thought. Hell, Cordelia would do this. "Okay, so he's not just a creepy master vampire, he's also an egomaniac," she said.
"These qualities often go together," Angel said.
"The poster doesn't say where the theater is."
"I have a good idea," Angel said. "We can get the exact address back at the library, check it out on opening night. If Kean's set up shop where I think he has, we can gather all the Slayers together. Maybe get rid of this guy once and for all."
"How do you know where he is?"
"Helps to have been around for 600 years."
"Still with the cryptic," Buffy said.