Buffy ran her hands through her hair again. "I look scary, don't I? You cannot sleep on wet hair and not wake up looking scary."
"You look fine," Angel said absently. His lips were set in a line, and his stride as they went toward Ishak's hall was so swift and determined that Buffy found herself hurrying to keep up.
"These clothes are not of the good, either," Buffy said. Her things were dry, by now, but they were wrinkled and still bloodstained from the fight with Kean. She winced slightly as she remembered taking one particularly embarrassing stroll from Riley's fraternity house at 7 am while wearing a tube dress and 4-inch heels. "All in all, I definitely show the signs of an early-morning walk of shame."
"You don't have to be ashamed," Angel said. His voice was low.
"What?" Buffy said. She laughed out loud. "Of course not! I just want you to invest in a mirror sometime. We can put it in the closet or something if it bothers you."
He looked over at her curiously; she beamed back at him. "You're really all right," he said.
"Way better than all right," Buffy said. As they reached the doors to Ishak's hall, she pulled them open with one big sweep of her arms. "Hail, hail, the gang's all here."
Ishak was in his place, his feathery white hair somewhat mussed. Markwith, Frances and the other Watchers all looked as formal as ever, though substantially less pleasant, if such a thing were possible. "What, no parade?" Buffy said.
Angel was looking at her though she had sprouted wings or started to glow, but there was a faint smile on his face.
"We should first say thank you," Ishak said. "To know that Kean is finally gone is a great relief to this Council and to the people of London --"
"But your methods are a relief to no one," Markwith interjected.
"Bite me," Buffy said. Angel raised his eyebrows, and she waved him off. "Not literally. It's an old 21st-century expression that means that if you don't like it, you just have to deal with it."
Ishak sighed heavily. "Buffy, please don't misunderstand Markwith. We all realize that you -- no doubt -- did only what was necessary in the situation --"
"True. But you know what else?" Buffy said. "I did what I wanted to do, the way I wanted to do it. And it turns out my way works a whole hell of a lot better than your way."
"It's risky," Markwith said. Strangely, he sounded sincere. "We don't want to lose you as we did Noor. I'm sure Angel would agree with us."
"No, I don't want to lose her," Angel said. "But I think Buffy's in more danger if she ignores her instincts than if she obeys them."
"Instincts?" Frances said incredulously. "This Council does not operate on instinct. We have rules, and those rules exist for good reason --"
"Maybe you don't operate on instinct," Buffy said. "But I do. And my instincts get results, which is more than I can say for your stupid rules."
Even Ishak looked as though he might object to the Council's rules being written off as "stupid." Angel quickly cut in, "How did you hear about Kean? Runners?"
"Yes, runners," Markwith said tiredly. At Buffy's puzzled expression, he added, "We have various scouts throughout the city who can travel to the Keep with urgent information, so on, so forth. We began getting reports in from all over; I don't know how they get about at night, but it turns out they do. Kean was a figure of some renown, and your killing him -- well, it's news."
"The stories have already grown positively fantastical," Frances sniffed. "There's one version that has you working miracles. Creating holy rain to dissolve them all."
"That's actually pretty much how it went down," Buffy said. "And why are you so pissed off at the rainmaker? Kean is dead! Let's see some confetti and streamers in here. Maybe some goofy party hats."
"Will you for one moment think of your responsibilities!?" Ishak cried, slamming his hand on the table. The outburst was so fierce, and so unexpected from Ishak, that even Buffy was shocked into silence. "Think about what would have happened tonight if you'd lost. More than your own life is at stake here, Buffy. Angel would no doubt have died with you. And what of those people in the audience? Do you think Kean would have let them live after they had seen him kill a Slayer? And after that -- how do you think the people of this city would feel when they heard that we'd lost our second Slayer in one week? You girls are meant to provide more than strength. You're meant to provide hope. Little enough chance of that, if you'd squandered your life on this stunt. And all the good you might yet do in the future, all the vampires and demons you might yet kill to make this city safer -- all of that would have been negated. Look at all of that and tell me, honestly, that you think this was worth it."
"I think this was worth it," Buffy said, lifting her jaw. "I can't duck out of fights because I might be needed for another fight later. What if the important fight is the one I'm running from? A Slayer slays, Ishak. You guys talk it up about wanting to protect us, but we're not shiny trophies you can put on the shelf to make people feel better. If I'm doing anything besides killing as many bad guys as I can, as best I can, I'm wasting all our time."
Ishak sighed. "Fight as you must, then," he said. "But I warn you: If others come to harm through your behavior, you will be responsible."
"Through all your behavior," Frances said. She was looking at Angel, clearly caught between astonishment and dismay.
'Hey," Buffy said. "I expect we're going to be fighting about my Slaying for a long time. But we are never, ever fighting about me and Angel. Not once. He's still got his soul. He's going to keep his soul. After that point, it's none of your business." She glanced sideways at Angel. "Jump in anytime here."
"You're the talker," Angel said with a quick smile. "And I couldn't say it better."
Markwith leaned forward slightly, his eyes narrowing as he looked at Angel. "You've protested your loyalty to this Council many times, Angel. Are you really only loyal to Buffy, after all?"
"I am loyal to this Council," Angel said smoothly. "This Council is loyal to the Slayer. I don't see a contradiction. After all, we exist to help them -- not the other way around."
Unexpectedly, Markwith smiled. "Well said."
"If you're done bitching us out for a job well done, we do have a big news flash for you guys," Buffy said. "Kean didn't kill Noor."
"What?" This caught Frances up short. "How do you know?"
"He said so. Well, he said he hadn't killed a Slayer. And it wasn't a situation where he was gonna lie," Buffy said.
"Someone else killed one of the great Slayers?" Markwith said. "It's almost inconceivable."
"Start conceiving," Buffy said. "It's true. Besides, like Agatha told you -- it doesn't necessarily take some big thing. Even your run-of-the-mill vamp can have a good day."
"This guy wasn't run-of-the-mill," Angel said. "Not the way the body was displayed. Somebody was making an announcement."
"The question is who," Ishak said. He looked grim. "We shall have to investigate this further --"
"We're on it," Buffy said. "I have some other ideas, too."
"Buffy --" Frances' voice was a warning.
"You'll get the 411 this time," Buffy said. "But seriously, you people have to start readjusting your thinking. Sending me out there with a bow and arrow? That's kid stuff. We need to bring some grown-up action to the fight." With that she turned on her heel and walked out.
Angel followed her, and somebody slammed the doors behind them. He looked over at her questioningly, "What other ideas?"
"I don't have ideas so much as a plan to have ideas in future," Buffy said. "Because the way the Council goes about things is all wrong, Angel. You know that."
"Yes," Angel said. "I'm just not sure how we're going to do any better, with odds like these."
"I'm on it," Buffy said. "Like I keep saying, improv is my specialty."
When they got in the lift, she put her arms back around his waist; Angel returned the hug and kissed her hair. "We still have a little while to sleep," Buffy said. "Want to come up to my room and crash while I take a shower? I could snuggle up with you after --"
"The sun's coming up," Angel said with a sad smile. "And if your rooms are as nice as I think they are, you have large, open windows."
"Remind me to pick up some curtains," Buffy said. She wanted to invite herself back down to Angel's room, but she could sense already that they needed to separate. They would still have to live apart, be able to work apart, to carry on much as they had before. Otherwise, it couldn't work -- and it had to work. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him quickly on the mouth. "Then I'll see you later on today in the library."
"You now have an interest in literature?" Angel said with a raised eyebrow.
"Nope," Buffy said. "History."
"All I can say is, Thank the Powers," Xiaoting laughed, stretching out on her back in the gardens. The sunlight filtered down onto them as they lay in the bright patches of the orchard. "The frustration was about to kill ME, and I'm just an interested observer."
"I still don't understand," Agatha said, glancing up shyly from her sewing. "You -- did not have, ah, relations?"
"Well, we got close," Buffy said. "I mean, I got there. And went back there. Oughta have frequent-flyer miles for the trips I made there. But he just kinda -- stopped short. Do you see what I mean?"
"No," Agatha said. Her pale brows were knitted together as she tried to puzzle this out.
"Angel has a problem with pure happiness," Xiaoting said. "Having relations, as you persist in calling it, with Buffy leads to his pure happiness, which is really rather sweet. But he can still allow Buffy her pleasure, so long as he doesn't feel it himself. Do you understand now?"
"I understand what you said," Agatha said carefully. "But how could Angel -- how could he give her pleasure without doing the same for himself?"
Sky, leaning against a tree trunk nearby, rolled her eyes as she munched on a pear. Xiaoting laughed. "Honestly, didn't they teach you Victorians anything about sex?"
Agatha blanched and quickly looked back down at the blue cloth in her lap. "You said that word. You promised you would not say that word any longer."
"Sorry," Xiaoting said, unrepentantly.
"He's a good-looking fella, I'll give you that," Sky said through a mouthful of pear. Unlike Xiaoting's knowing humor, Sky's attitude was one of giddy curiosity. "But, Pete's sake, he's dead. Doesn't that feel a bit strange?"
Buffy shrugged. "It feels different. But to me it feels good. Angel was my first lover, so I guess I'm used to it."
"There have been OTHERS?" Agatha said.
"Have a pear," Xiaoting said helpfully. "How's Sumiko doing over there?"
Buffy looked over and saw that Sumiko was apparently asleep in the soft grass. "Conked out," she said. "Guess she had a long night too."
"Prob'ly not as much fun," Sky giggled. She ducked her wide grin beneath her hand, and for a moment, Buffy was again reminded of Dawn so powerfully it hurt. She felt her smile fade, and she rolled over again to look at the sky.
"Oh, I don't know," Xiaoting said. "Markwith's a lot less tense these days, don't you think?"
"This is a most indelicate conversation," Agatha said.
After a much-needed afternoon nap, Buffy headed down to the library. She had only the most slender ideas about what she was looking for, but, she reasoned, she would know it when she found it.
And if she needed help, there was always the librarian.
When she walked in, Angel was up on his shelving ladder. His face lit up when he caught sight of her. "Finally," Angel said. "A reader." He crossed the room and caught her up in his embrace for an enthusiastic kiss.
When their lips parted, Buffy smiled. "Your dedication to the written word is impressive."
"I'll do anything to encourage scholarship," he said solemnly. "So, you said something about history?"
"The history of magic," Buffy said. "Recent history. Like, right after the plagues."
"That's not what I expected you to say," Angel said, even as he began leading her through the stacks. "What are you looking for?"
"Exactly why they banned it," Buffy said. "Remember what we talked about the other day? Magic's too good a tool not to use these days. Whatever it is that spooked them so bad they outlawed it -- I want to know what that is. And see how we can get around it."
"Good question," Angel said. "I don't remember any one big thing -- but those were chaotic times. I think I fought demons all night, every night, for fifteen years. I didn't have a whole lot of energy left over to think about magic laws."
"Maybe it isn't one big thing," Buffy said. "Maybe it's just one of those rules that got made when people were scared, and just got set in stone with time."
Angel finally found the alcove he was seeking. "There are a few things here. We might want to start with this," he said, pulling down a slightly less-dusty volume from a high shelf. "Thibodeaux's history is fairly detailed, I think."
"Hey!" Buffy said, pulling a slim black book from the opposite shelf. "The author of this one is Tobias Earnshaw. That's Sumiko's Watcher, right?"
"The same," Angel said. "Earnshaw was a major scholar. He wrote about magic, languages, sword fighting. There's something by him in almost every area of this library."
"I should read some of his stuff sometime," Buffy said. "Maybe he talks about Sumiko in there. We could get to know her that way. But, hey, first things first --"
"Thibodeaux comes first. After that, we'll try the Quilenn," he patted some green books, then pointed at some blue ones, "and the Andrews. That's as good an overview as you can get."
"Okey-doke," Buffy said, trying to hide her dismay. She was flashing back to just how good she had been at getting out of Giles' research parties --
God, she thought, if I could have just one of those research sessions back, I'd let Giles go on and on about his boring theories all he wanted, just to hear him talk. Just to hear his voice.
"Buffy?" Angel looked concerned.
"I'm good," she said. She kissed him quickly on the cheek. "I'll call."
"You don't want help?"
"It's not that," Buffy said. "I'm just not 100 percent sure what I'm looking for. So I can't really tell you."
"Well, if there are specific names or details you want to hunt down, bring them to me."
"Trust me. I'll be back with you as soon as I think of a good excuse." She smiled slyly at him, and he ran one hand through her hair.
"Just let me know." He vanished, as quickly and silently as ever, and she set herself up on a small table to start reading.
Fortunately, it appeared that Watchers were going through a less-annoying phase 150 years ago; Thibodeaux turned out to be fairly easy reading. Easy in terms of using normal words and laying stuff out right, she thought; not so easy in terms of subject matter. Angel had warned her about the plagues, but reading about them in detail was something else. Buffy found herself sighing with relief every time Thibodeaux's attention would turn back to magic.
However, Thibodeaux's references to magic were almost all positive. Sure, he mentioned some desperate people playing amateur witches and being very sorry -- but most of the passages talked about helpful witches or warlocks who came to the Council's aid. It even turned out that one Slayer of the era -- a Senegalese girl named Penda -- had been a witch herself, apparently a powerful one. "Would not have wanted to mess with her," Buffy muttered.
After a couple hours, Buffy turned her attention to the other books Angel had suggested. A cursory check soon revealed that the general tone of these histories was the same: Magic was described as a helpful force, time and again.
"So what is the problem?" Buffy said, exasperated.
She shelved the volumes and considered calling for Angel -- then smiled and decided to find him in the stacks herself. If nobody else was in the library, then a few minutes of quality smooching between the books would fulfill a few of her old high-school fantasies.
Buffy made her way through the library, which was larger than she'd realized at first. Staircases in the far corners led to an upper level, and she went up to explore. This level was more sparse than the other; instead of having every square inch covered with books, many of these walls were bare, save for old, age-dark paintings of Watchers in days gone by. The books on the shelves were even older -- not Slayer records, or Council business, or Watcher histories. These were works of literature such as Jane Eyre, Beloved, A Remembrance of Things Past. Other things, too -- books about ballroom dancing and fashion and home decorating, all of them published for happier, sillier eras.
Strange, that all that stuff seemed irrelevant to her by now.
Buffy turned one corner and jumped. She stared for a long moment, took a deep breath, and walked forward to the portrait that had unnerved her.
The brass plate on the frame read "WESLEY WYNDHAM-PRYCE, 1970 - 2049."
She'd recognized his face not from memory, but from Angel's portrait. This man was older and thinner, his hair almost entirely gray, his glasses thicker. He held himself up straight with pride -- but not the overweening, puffed-up pride she remembered. This was a man who knew who he was, what he was on earth for. A happy man, too, she thought, remembering the pretty wife and beaming daughters.
"Angel says you got cool later on," Buffy said to the picture. "So I'm taking this as a good sign."
On impulse, she knelt at the small shelf beneath his portrait and grabbed the first book her hand touched. Buffy lifted it up to see -- Mind The Gap: A History Of The London Underground. Complete Maps Included.
"Great," she muttered. Then she looked down at it again, and she grinned. "Oh, great."
Buffy bounded down the stairs. "Angel?" she called. "Angel, come take a look at this."
No reply. She hurried toward the main area. "Angel?" she said again. "Are you --oh!"
Buffy skidded to a halt just before she slammed into Frances. Frances looked at her as though she'd never seen Buffy -- or, perhaps, any other human being -- ever before. "Frances," Buffy said, unable to keep her disappointment out of her tone. "What brings you here?"
"I -- I was hoping to have a word with --" Frances was ill-at-ease, as well she might be.
"With Angel?" Buffy said.
"No. I mean, yes, but you would do --" Frances and Buffy both jumped as the door opened. Sumiko came in, looking as placid as ever. She raised her eyebrows at the sight of Frances and Buffy, but quickly walked past them to her Watcher's diaries.
Buffy smiled a little as she saw Sumiko gently take one of the old volumes from the shelf. "Looks like Angel's going to have a lot more company these days."
Frances didn't answer. When Buffy looked back for her, she realized Frances had gone. "That was of the weirdness," she said.
Buffy jumped again, then turned back to Angel. "Apparently I will never learn to hear you coming," she said. "Frances was just here. Wanted to talk to one of us, but apparently not enough to stick around and actually do it."
Angel frowned at the door, as though he could see Frances' departing form through it. "If it's important, she'll come back," Angel said. "What's that?"
Buffy held up the Underground book and grinned. "My first big idea."
"Where are we going to get explosives?" Xiaoting said, squinting down at the spaghetti of green and blue and yellow lines that made up the Underground map. The other Slayers and Angel were all gathered around Buffy in the common room.
"Oh, we've got explosives," Sky said easily. "Not all that much call for them, but sometimes an abandoned building gets a mite too ramshackle, and they've got to blow her up. They're the easiest things in the world to make, turns out."
"We might not even need that many," Buffy said. "It's been centuries. Some of those tunnels have probably collapsed anyway, and it won't take much to make some of the others go."
"I still think it would make more sense to do this during the daytime," Agatha said.
"If we could be sure of destroying all the tunnels completely, we would do that," Buffy said. "Then we could be sure they'd be crushed or be roasted. But in reality, as long as there's even one square foot of tunnel left during the daytime, we won't get all the vampires and demons out."
"But if we do it at night," Angel said, "They'll come out in force, angry as hell."
"And out is where we want them," Buffy said. "Because that's where we can get them. It's our own version of a burnout. We drive them out of their homes so we can have our own killfest."
"What if they all come out?" Sky said. "I mean, at once? Because we may be some feisty shelias, but even we've got a limit."
"That's the other benefit of collapsing the tunnels," Angel said. "Most of the vampires will be cut off from the group we're after. They're not going to knock themselves out to run to the others' aid. And that will keep them from seeing what's really happening."
"Eventually, the vamps will catch on," Buffy said. "But there's no reason we can't keep this up until the day they do. I think we can rack up some serious damage before then."
"If we do this at night," Xiaoting said, "then who's to say they'll even be inside the tunnels? They'll probably be out seeking prey, don't you think?"
"I figure we strike right at sunset," Buffy said. "I mean, on the stroke. The very first instant they could all be up and out. Most of them will just be waking up -- groggy and stupid and ready to get dusted."
"Sounds brilliant to me," Agatha said.
Sky seemed uncertain. "The Watchers won't like this. Markwith's going to rip his hair out."
"I could live with that," Buffy said. "I might pay to watch."
Xiaoting waved it off. "We'll explain the plan to him in glorious detail. And then we'll explain that his cooperation is necessary for Sumiko's safety. That should do the trick."
Sumiko sat at Buffy's side, tracing her fingers over one railway line after another. She was smiling happily at the map as though it were simply a very pretty picture. Buffy sighed. "I don't know if we should bring her. I mean, this plan's pretty complicated, and if she can't understand the details --"
"We can do the complicated things ourselves," Agatha said. "After that, it's simply a matter of slaying vampires, and that she should understand without any explanation, don't you think?"
"True," Buffy said. "So, we're all in?" Nods all around. "We'll break the bad news to the Council tomorrow. And then, as soon as we get the explosives -- we're going Underground."