An Educational Day
And we're back. Sorry about the lack of update last week, things got hectic and something had to slip. As it stands right now, I'm working on building a bit of a buffer on my posts so that this sort of thing will happen less frequently. I've borrowed quite a bit of dialog more or less directly the Buffy episode 'The Harvest' for one of the scenes in this chapter as well, because Giles is, well, Giles.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Willow opened her eyes a few short hours later when her alarm went off, and was shocked to discover how good she felt. Despite everything that had happened the night before, she felt… better than good. She felt great. Looking over at the balcony doors, she saw that it was early, the first cheerful rays of the newly-risen sun peering through the panes of glass to create bright spots on her carpet.
She rose from her bed and stretched, cautiously at first. After last night she'd expected to be covered in a mass of purple and black bruises, punctuated by the slowly healing marks of scrapes and scratches. The vampire that had attacked her had been far from gentle, after all. And yet to her great surprise, the only sign that her brush with death had left on her was the bandage at her throat. Lasciel clearly hadn't been kidding or exaggerating when she said she could restore her body. Physically, at least, she felt better than ever.
Smiling, she made her way to the bathroom and carefully removed the bandage from the most serious of her wounds. It had been a nasty injury, one that by all rights should have resulted in a trip to the emergency room and several stitches at the very least. In fact, even with a skilled surgeon to do the stitching, such a vicious tear in the skin should have left a truly ugly scar. Much to Willow's amazement, though, the injury was simply gone. She ran her fingers over the place where she could still vividly recall the vampire's teeth piercing her skin. She shivered slightly at the sensation, the intense sensitivity of new, untouched skin sending tingles through her. She found the a thin, faint line of scar tissue that was almost invisible to the naked eye, detectable only by its unnatural smoothness beneath her fingertips.
Tracing along the smooth scar, she frowned darkly. It didn't match up against what she recalled of the bite mark. Not even remotely. She ran her fingertips along it again, her eyes going wide as she realized what it was. Three thin lines of nearly undetectable scarring formed a pattern she recognized almost instantly. The mark on her flesh exactly matched the symbol on the back of Lasciel's coin. A sigil shaped vaguely like an hourglass that wasn't closed on one side. "Lasciel…"
"Yes, my host?"
Willow spun toward the voice, startled. Lasciel stood leaning casually in the open doorway that led to her bathroom, a small smile curving her lips. It abruptly occurred to Willow that Lasciel looked exactly like she had the night before, down to the smallest detail. Not even a hair on her head appeared to have moved. Which rather made sense, seeing as Lasciel was some sort of eternal being. An eternal being who was staring at her expectantly while she was meandering over a largely pointless observation. Damn. She needed to focus. "You're still here." She kicked herself mentally even as the thought escaped into words. It was an epic statement of the obvious, one that was worthy of Xander… or Jesse.
Even thinking the name brought the dire reality of the situation crashing down on Willow. Jesse had been taken by those… monsters. There was no guarantee that her friend was even still alive, and it was decidedly unlikely that he was feeling quite as well this morning as she was. Anger, not sorrow, grew in her chest as she considered that. Jesse, for all of his myriad faults and failings, had been her friend. One of her only friends. Something precious and to be cherished, something she never should have taken for granted the way she had. And these creatures had taken him away from her. They had stolen something from her that mattered. That was… unacceptable.
She focused her attention back on the here and now. She noticed that Lasciel's smile had changed somewhat, seeming as if she was almost pleased with what she saw in Willow's face. She pushed that thought aside and focused on the more pressing matter. "Lasciel, what can you tell me about vampires?"
Her companion was silent for a long moment, to the point that Willow became worried that she wasn't going to speak. Just as she was opening her mouth to ask why, Lasciel replied with a question of her own. "True vampires or the demonic, blood-drinking, animated corpses that you encountered last night?"
Willow blinked. That certainly wasn't something she had expected to be asked. "There are different kinds of vampire?"
Lasciel nodded at her host. "There are no less than five primary species of vampire common to this planet, four of which frequent this continent, as well as a number of other species that are much rarer." She paused as though considering her next words for a moment. "Of the five major types of vampire, the demonic variety - those you encountered last night - are the weakest and least dangerous species, though they are also the least restrained and most savage. The other four species of vampire are organized into 'courts' and are both far more sophisticated and far more dangerous."
Willow frowned again, more deeply this time. The creature last night had certainly been more than dangerous enough for her tastes. Something worse wasn't something she was ready to think about, at least not at the moment. "Let's focus on the ones from last night." Her eyes drifted a bit to the right, staring past Lasciel into the bathroom. Considering her companion had been with her for months now, there wasn't a part of Willow she hadn't seen by now. So while it would have been weird with anyone else… "Do you mind talking while I get a shower and start getting ready for school?"
"Not at all, my host."
By the time Willow stepped into the school library, she knew a great deal more about the type of vampire they'd killed in the crypt then she had before. Ok, so Lasciel had actually killed it, but only because Willow had asked for help. So she had contributed. Sort of. It was a bit troubling to Willow that this particular type of vampire was the sort that Lasciel had encountered least often in the past and - accordingly - knew relatively little about. Apparently the circles she normally moved in were so much more powerful than this form of vampire that to them, the breed of vampire Willow had encountered were widely regarded as nothing more than vermin. Lasciel had been able to tell her how to kill them easily enough - fire, sunlight, beheading - but knew little more about the full extent of their abilities or limitations.
What Lasciel had known a tremendous amount about, however, was Sunnydale itself. She had told Willow that the entire region was situated on a convergence of ley lines that had once been used in an attempt to open something called the 'Outer Gates'. Apparently, the Outer Gates were a barrier that kept some truly horrible things from intruding on this reality at will. Things that would be right at home in one of H.P. Lovecraft's stories. The Old Ones. Elder demon gods. The sort of truly unimaginable monstrosities that broke the very minds of those who beheld them. That kind of thing.
That attempt to breach the Outer Gates had created an infinitesimal crack in the barrier that had never been fully sealed, a crack that now served as a point of weakness that attracted demons and evil whack jobs who thought they would be rewarded by the outsiders if they managed to throw open the gates and allow them back in. For her part, Willow expected the only reward the outsiders would feel inclined to bestow would be a quick and painless death… if you were really really lucky. Such beings as these might be just as inclined to keep you alive and gibbering while they forced you to watch them unmake the mortal world. Helping them really didn't seem like a winning proposition. On the other hand, however, it was suddenly no surprise that Sunnydale had a higher missing person rate than some war-torn third world countries. Bad things liked it here.
"Do not fret, my host." Lasciel's reassuring words drew Willow's eyes toward where she stood, unseen by anyone but Willow. "I am here, as I promised I would always be. I will not allow you to be deceived or led astray by Buffy or her Watcher." Willow nodded in appreciation, a small smile spreading over her face as she drew in a deep breath and bolstered her resolve. As long as she was careful she should be able to keep Lasciel's presence a secret. Lasciel favored Willow with a warm smile. "They are waiting, my host."
Willow pushed through the door into the library to find Buffy and Xander already standing there, waiting for her, along with a thin, older man in a tweed suit. The man was gaping at her, as though he thought she might be some sort of monster herself. The redhead paused to consider that for a moment, looking down at herself. She was dressed rather conservatively, really, at least for her. No leather save for her collar and minimal amounts of lace. Just a long, flowing skirt, a brocade corset top, and a light, waist-length velvet jacket with tails. She slipped her closed, black silk parasol off her shoulder and held her arms half out to her sides, staring down at herself for a moment before looking back at the man, her eyebrow arched at the expression on his face. "What?"
The man visibly struggled to regain his composure. "May I help you, miss?" He spoke with a very prim and proper English accent that easily managed to convey entire volumes of complete disapproval. Willow rolled her eyes behind the cobalt blue lenses of her sunglasses, despite knowing that none of the others could see the gesture. Well wasn't this just off to a lovely start?
"Giles, this is Willow Rosenberg." Buffy introduced her in a calm, bemused tone. "The girl who was bitten last night."
"And you're quite sure that they didn't, uh, turn her?"
Willow bristled at the question. This was the man who was supposed to answer her questions and help her save Jesse? "Considering they spoke to me at an ungodly hour of this morning and I was still alive then, and I'm standing here now - standing in the light coming through your sunlight, might I add - I think it would be obvious I'm not a-"
Always the peacemaker, Xander leapt into the fray to try and diffuse her anger. "Be fair, Will. You're dressed like an extra for one of those historical romances you keep trying to get me and Jesse to watch with you. And a particularly gothy one at that. I'm sure to someone who knows about… vampires… that's bound to draw some suspicion."
She found it interesting that Xander had trouble mentioning vampires, but Willow put that aside for the moment. Mostly because… "Yes, because someone wearing a tweed suit that the '50s or maybe the '60s forgot to take with them when they left has so much room to critique my wardrobe." She turned a flat look on Xander. "As does someone whose sense of fashion is limited to managing to wear matching socks most days." Her gaze slid over to land on Buffy. "Or whose entire look can be summed up as 'future hooker chic'." Buffy opened her mouth to protest but Willow waved her hand dismissively at the bottle blonde, turning her attention back to Giles. "So, now that we're finished with this morning's fashion dissection, can we maybe get on to the promised explanations and figuring out how to rescue Jesse?"
"Ah yes. Explanations." Giles frowned darkly at the word, as though he found the thought of explaining anything to teenagers distasteful. "The world is far older than any of you know. Contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons, demons walked the earth. They made it their home, their Hell. But in time, they lost their purchase on this reality. The way was made for mortal animals, for man. All that remains of the Old Ones are vestiges; certain magics, certain creatures…"
"And vampires." Buffy's interjection drew all eyes back to her.
"Okay, this is where I'm having a problem," Xander's voice was decidedly on the skeptical side as he spoke up, a fact which made his earlier difficulty in saying the word 'vampires' somewhat easier to understand. "See, because we're talking about vampires. We're having a talk with vampires in it."
"You didn't have any problems accepting that last night." Willow fixed him with a hard stare, trying to understand his sudden reticence to admit what they'd all seen.
"Well, yeah, but that was last night. With the fighting and the people with the faces that terrified me and the nearly dying." He threw his hands up in exasperation. "Now, in the morning, without the rush of adrenaline? Much, much harder to believe."
"No. Those weren't vampires last night, Xander. Those were just guys in thundering need of a facial. Or maybe they had rabies. It could have been rabies. And that guy you saw turn to dust? Just a trick of the light." Buffy let out a sarcastic bark of laughter as she eyed Xander critically. "But if you want to go back to not believing, that's fine with me. Means I don't have to give explanations I don't want to give you."
For all his flaws, though, Willow felt the need to defend her oldest - and now possibly only - friend. "Be nice, Buffy. This isn't exactly an easy thing for most people to believe." Well, unless one had a… whatever Lasciel was in a coin hanging around their neck, she added in the privacy of her thoughts. That thought drew her eyes unerringly toward Lasciel as the spirit woman cocked her head and examined a number of books that were spread across the surface of the research table Giles was clearly using. She really did need to remember to ask Lasciel what she was. Of course, that had sparked a rather philosophical discussion when she tried it last night, but that was beside the point. She had managed to eliminate the possibility that Lasciel was some kind of ghost at least, seeing as by her own account she predated humanity, but there was so much that Willow didn't know about her. And now was really not the time for this particular train of thought. She forced herself back to the matter at hand, tearing her eyes away from Lasciel and back toward Buffy as the blonde prattled on.
"…well, after I was done with the screaming part." Buffy shook her head slightly, clearly finished with whatever she had been saying. As it didn't seem particularly relevant, Willow didn't bother to ask what she missed while she was wool-gathering.
"So vampires are demons?" Xander at least seemed to have kept the thread of the conversation.
Giles opened a book, one of the really old ones that hadn't been part of the school's collection before he arrived. "The books tell us that the last demon to leave this reality fed off a human, mixed their blood. He became a human form possessed, infected by the demon's soul. He bit another and then another, so they walk the Earth, feeding. Killing some, mixing their blood with others to make more of their kind. Waiting for the animals to die out and the Old Ones to return."
"The Watcher has at least that much more or less correct. It was a bit more complicated than that, and the expulsion of the Old Ones was a good bit more violent than he's implying, but the essentials are there." Lasciel added, her voice causing Willow to glance toward her again, even though no one else in the room appeared to hear anything. "Of course, I rather doubt they're just waiting patiently. Its far more likely that they're actively working to return their masters to this reality. Or at least some of them are, and I rather expect that the Watcher knows more than he's letting on."
Willow considered Lasciel's words for a moment, easily seeing the implication she was making and deciding it was a point worth making. "Except that they aren't just waiting. If they were just waiting, they'd be bad enough. Killing people and ruining lives. But humans already do both of those things so much that vampires wouldn't even be noticed. People like you and Buffy, who know about them and seem inclined to stop them wouldn't really be necessary if they were just being predators. So what is it that they're really doing?"
"When these… creatures… gather together in numbers, like they appear to have done here, they always do so for a specific purpose." Giles conceded. " And whatever that specific purpose might be, it usually furthers a very singular goal: hastening the Old Ones' return to this plane."
"And that would be bad?" Xander's expression as he asked the question made it fairly clear that it was mostly rhetorical.
"Apocalyptically bad." Buffy's voice made it equally clear that she missed the rhetorical part.
"And where exactly does Buffy fit into all of this? Because I've got to be honest with you, Mister Giles, she doesn't exactly strike me as the sort to take up vampire hunting for fun and profit. Let alone for the betterment of mankind." Willow almost managed to keep her increasingly poor opinion of the girl out of her voice. Almost.
"Hey! 'She' is standing right here. You could at least not talk about me as if I wasn't here."
"Buffy is the Vampire Slayer." Giles said it as though that should somehow explain everything. It didn't.
"And that would be a what?" Yet again Xander was quick to ask the questions that the librarian seemed to be avoiding answering directly, which proved that he did have his uses. Sometimes.
Giles cleared his throat. "For as long as there have been vampires, there's been the Slayer. One girl in all the world, a Chosen One, gifted with the physical prowess necessary to face the forces of darkness in battle."
"He loves doing this part." Buffy complained with almost believable modesty.
Giles clearly missed the nuances in Buffy's complaint and got snippy in response. "Alright then. The Slayer hunts vampires. Buffy is the Slayer. While I don't think I should have to tell you how important this information is, given the apparent intellect of the average American teenager, I will anyways: her identity is a secret and should not be shared with anyone for any reason. Now, I think that's all the vampire information that you really need."
"Like hell it is." Willow countered, her voice growing icy as she looked from Giles to Buffy and back again. "You haven't told us anything we need to know yet. Like how to recognize them, how to kill them, or even just how to protect ourselves when your precious Slayer is too busy sucking up to Cordelia to do her job."
"Hey now!" Buffy snapped angrily. "I tried to save you!"
"This may or may not be news to you, Buffy, but you failed. You failed on every conceivable level last night. I've been thinking about this and I accept that you couldn't have done anything directly to the vampire in the middle of the Bronze. You know what you could have done? Lied to me. 'Hey, I knew that girl before she got thrown out of Hemery too, she's really bad news'. Or what about 'Psst, Rosenberg, Cordy doesn't want me to tell you but there are some pretty nasty stories going around about what that girl does to her girlfriends, just thought you should know'?" Willow crossed her arms over her chest as she glared at the smaller girl. "What do you do instead? Let me leave with her. Allow Xander to come with you to follow me. Get distracted by Jesse and forget about me until long after I would have been dead. Oh yeah, and you lost Jesse to boot! If it wasn't for La… whoever it was that saved me, you wouldn't just have lost Jesse last night, I'd be a corpse! So given your stellar record so far, excuse me if I'm not willing to trust you to protect me from here on out." After letting Buffy stare at her in stupefied silence for a few seconds, Willow turned her gaze back to Giles. "How do we defend ourselves from them?"
Giles spluttered angrily. "Uh, well, now, see here…"
"Willow!" Xander's voice cut across the stammering Englishman with a whip crack of displeasure. "Come on, don't you think you're being a little harsh? It's not like she intentionally let them take you and Jesse."
"Is Jesse here with us, Xander?" If possible, Willow's voice grew even colder with the question. "Because unless you two found him on the way home last night and he's hiding in the stacks as part of a really tasteless joke? Then no. No, I'm not being too hard on her. What she intended to do doesn't matter. What matters is that out of the three of us, she only managed to keep one of us safe last night. The one who wouldn't have been in any danger if she hadn't brought them with her to begin with. Intentions aside, that's a fairly pathetic outcome."
Lasciel smiled approvingly at Willow, intentionally moving to where Willow could see her without a significant shift in her gaze. "Well said, Willow."
Giles drew himself up, finding his composure suddenly only to be cut off by Buffy herself. "She's right." The guilt and self-loathing in Buffy's voice was enough to make Xander and Giles wince, but to Willow it only meant that the girl was finally seeing just how badly she had messed up. Buffy turned to meet Giles's eyes. "You're the one who told me I wasn't prepared enough. Understatement! I lost track of a vampire in a crowded club and the vamp wasn't even trying to blend in. Then in the crypt, I thought I was on top of everything and that monster, Luke, came out of nowhere…" She trailed off suddenly, as though remembering something.
"What?" Xander gave Buffy a questioning look, seeming to realize that she had stumbled onto something important.
"He didn't come out of nowhere." Buffy turned to Xander and stared at him for a long moment, as though willing him to remember and reach the same conclusion she had just reached. "He came from behind me. I was facing the entrance and he came from behind me. And he didn't follow me out when I ran. That means there has to be some kind of basement or tunnel access in the mausoleum! The girl must have doubled back with Jesse after I got out. God! I am so mentally challenged!"
"And again I say, huh?" Xander's confusion was written clearly on his face. Willow had already figured it out, but since Buffy was willing to explain it to her friend… well, less work for her.
"Xander, look, go with me here. Vamps really jam on sewer systems and underground tunnels, you can get anywhere in the entire town, without catching any sun. There must have been some kind of sewer access or something like it inside that mausoleum." Buffy smiled tightly as he nodded. "That's how he surprised me… and that's where they took Jesse."
""Alright then, so what's the plan? We saddle up, right?"
"Xander, how many times do I have to say it? There is no we, okay? I'm the Slayer and you're not. You're involvement in this ends here."
"I knew you'd throw that back in my face."
"This is deeply dangerous, Xander. You could get killed or turned and I don't want that on my head." Buffy's face might have been carved from unyielding stone and it still wouldn't have matched the absolute resolve in her voice.
"I'm inadequate. That's fine, I'm less than a man."
Willow rolled her eyes again. "It's suicide Xander. You're human. You have no training in how to fight other humans, let alone monsters that are much stronger than you. If you go after them unprepared, all you're going to accomplish is getting yourself killed, and probably Buffy and Jesse as well."
"You don't understand!" Xander practically growled the words out in his frustration. "Jesse is my best friend. I have to do something!"
Willow closed her eyes as the words ripped a piece of her heart out. Sure, she'd known, rationally, that Xander had been closer to Jesse than he had to her for years now. Ever since puberty really. But hearing it from his own mouth hurt. It hurt a lot. She felt Lasciel's arms wrap around her, supporting her as she swallowed the bitter, angry words that sprang to her tongue in response to Xander's declaration.
It was Giles who stepped into the tense silence that followed Xander's outburst. "Well, then help me. I've been researching this Harvest affair. It seems to be some sort of preordained massacre. Rivers of blood, Hell on Earth, quite charmless really. I am, however, a bit fuzzy on the details. It may be that the two of you can wrest some information from that dread machine."
For a long moment, all three teenagers stared at him in nearly dumbfounded silence. He did, at least, have the good grace to look embarrassed. "That was a bit, um, British of me, wasn't it?"
Buffy gave him a bemused smile. "Welcome to the new world."
"I want you to get on the 'net." He clarified with a rueful smile of his own. "Perhaps you can find information to help me make sense of what the books have to say."
Willow considered the request for a moment, trying half vainly to ignore the pleading look Xander was giving her. The problem was that Xander could barely find Google, let alone do any serious research, so any commitment to help meant she would be doing the heavy lifting, intellectually-speaking at least. She pursed her lips. "If you want our help, you're going to give me something in return. I want to know how to protect myself against vampires. Quid pro quo."
Lasciel smiled and squeezed Willow approvingly even as Giles stared at her, clearly aghast at what she was proposing. "The very fate of the world could well hang in the balance, and you're trying to blackmail me for information?"
She considered the accusation for a moment and then shrugged. "Looks like. Seems to me that its a very small price to pay for keeping the world turning. Besides, the information I want will help to insure that we're here to help the next time 'the world hangs in the balance'. It seems like a win-win to me."
"Fine." His voice was tight with not quite anger. "After the Harvest is dealt with, I'll answer your questions to the best of my ability."
"Then I'm outta here." Buffy looked at Willow and Xander. "If Jesse is alive, I'll bring him back."
"Buffy?" Willow called after the Slayer had turned and walked several paces toward the door. "If anything happened to Jesse, I'm holding you responsible. He is my friend, and I don't exactly have friends to spare." The ice in her voice sent shivers down the spines of everyone who heard it. "So don't mess up again."
Willow sighed in exasperation as she watched the students filing out of Xander's computer class. A class that Xander had apparently cut, most likely so that he could follow Buffy into the vampires' lair in an attempt to help her rescue Jesse. It shouldn't have surprised her. Not really. Xander had always been pig-headed, stubborn, and entirely too overprotective of his friends to do the smart thing. Unfortunately, there was little she could do about it now. He and the Slayer had almost an hour's head start, making catching up to them virtually impossible at this point. She'd just have to trust Buffy to keep him safe again, like she had last night.
"Your friend, Xander, is a most stubborn young man, my host. It would seem he rather unwisely ignored all of the warnings that were heaped on him." Lasciel's sighed, seeming sincerely upset by the turn of events. "I only hope that his impetuousness doesn't get him, or anyone else, killed before this is over."
As the last of the morose-looking students filtered out of the classroom and into the hall, Willow stepped through the door. The teacher, one of Willow's favorite faculty members - and one of the very few who hadn't treated her differently since she had embraced her inner goth - looked up from the computer screen she was working on and favored Willow with a broad smile. "Hello, Willow. I hope you're not here looking for Xander and Jesse. The terrible twosome appear to have had better things to do today then make it to my class."
"Actually, Jesse never came home last night, Miss Calendar." Willow did her best to smother her irritation with Xander and sound as fearful and worried as possible at that. "And knowing Xander, he went to look for Jesse." Actually, she knew for a fact that Xander had gone after Jesse but that was information Miss Calendar didn't need at present. Especially since it would help her get what she wanted…
A pained grimace twisted the woman's expression. "I'm sorry Willow. I didn't know. Is there anything I can do?"
Willow hesitated a moment to try and judge the woman's expression, hoping Miss Calendar hadn't seen through her less than truthful words, before nodding and plunging in. "Actually there is. I desperately need to do some research online… if you've got an open machine in your next class?"
Miss Calendar raised a skeptical eyebrow, considering the request. "Don't you have gym this period Willow?" Willow nodded disappointedly, only to watch as Lasciel pushed off the wall - so to speak, seeing as how she was incorporeal - and moved to stand beside the teacher, leaning in to whisper something so softly that Willow couldn't pick up the faintest sound. Miss Calendar stiffened infinitesimally before taking a deep breath and staring thoughtfully at Willow. "This is somehow related to Jesse's disappearance?" Willow nodded and Miss Calendar seemed to consider it for another long moment before reaching a decision. "I'll write you an excuse. If anyone asks, you're helping with some prep work for the digital library project. You can use one of the machines in the back." She couldn't help but smile at the relieved look on Willow's face. "And Willow? I hope you find him."
Smiling gratefully, Willow headed toward the machines that Miss Calendar had indicated, muttering softly under her breath as Lasciel followed her and hoping that Miss Calendar couldn't hear. "I thought you couldn't directly affect the world around us?"
"I can't." Lasciel confirmed, sounding incredibly smug and pleased with herself. "However, there are things at play in what you just saw that you are unaware of. There is far more to your Miss Calendar than meets the eye and the eye does not go wanting. For the time being, suffice it to say that Miss Calendar is a rather pointed exception to the rule, one which made it possible for me to make her aware of the urgency of your request."
"Are there many such exceptions?" There was an archness to the question which made it clear that Willow disliked being kept in the dark.
"There are currently two such exceptions in all of Sunnydale, my host. And they are exceptions that will be fully explained to you, far sooner than you might think. For now, however, there are more pressing matters to attend to."
Willow pursed her lips and spooled yet more of her results off to the printer next to Miss Calendar's desk before beginning yet another set of searches. There was almost too much data to go through. All of her searches showed that the influence of the Hellmouth had been slowly but steadily growing since the aftermath of the big earthquake in 1937 and showed no indications of slowing down. If anything the rate of presumed supernatural incidents was worsening faster than ever.
It was disturbing.
Almost as disturbing as the realization that Miss Calendar must be something more than human. In the time since she started teaching back in November, she had managed to become one of Willow's favorite teachers. She was always quick with an encouraging word or a bit of friendly advice whenever Willow seemed to need it. She was the closest thing Willow had ever had to a mentor until Lasciel had come along last night. The fact that her mentor clearly had a secret, and a big one apparently, had caught her completely off guard.
"She's very proud of you and of the progress you've made these last few months, Willow." Lasciel's words startled Willow from her thoughts and caused her to glance toward the spirit. "She has a particular gift for seeing who someone can be, as opposed to merely who they are right now, and knowing that her influence is having a positive effect on you please her greatly."
Willow shook her head slowly, a slight blush tinging her cheeks. "So you read minds now too?" Her words were half-muttered under her breath.
Her words evoked a shrug from the spirit and then Lasciel gestured in Miss Calendar's direction. "You were staring at her for most of the past ten minutes. Since you weren't blushing furiously, I doubted you were lusting after her, which made your train of thought somewhat simple to discern."
Willow couldn't help but smile at Lasciel's dry tone of voice and focused her attention back on the task at hand. She could only hope that Miss Calendar hadn't heard the rumors flying around about her today, or the teacher was quite likely to reach an embarrassing and entirely wrong conclusion about why she kept staring. It wasn't that Miss Calendar wasn't attractive, she just wasn't someone Willow felt she could think about that way. Besides, even if she did harbor some secret desire to have Miss Calendar bend her across that desk and… and she so wasn't going there. She shook her head and focused back on the task at hand.
She mostly managed to ignore what was going on around her in the class and get the research she needed to do accomplished, until Harmony's whiny voice managed to intrude on her awareness. She looked away from her monitor only to discover that Harmony and Cordelia had ended up sitting a short distance away at a set of workstations where they wouldn't have been likely to notice Willow's presence. "Are we going to the Bronze tonight?"
"No Harmony, we're going to the other cool place in Sunnydale." The sarcasm in Cordelia's reply might have peeled the paint off a locker, but it was clearly lost on Harmony. "Of course we're going to the Bronze. It's Wednesday, so there's no cover even."
"Even if Rosenberg is there?" Harmony sounded almost distressed by the thought. "I mean, what if she tries to like… hit on one of us? We are the hottest girls in Sunnydale." Willow had to bite her lip to avoid laughing in Harmony's face at the revulsion in the blonde's voice. To quote Cordelia? As if. "And after that disgusting display on the dance floor last night…"
"Wait, what?" Percy West - one of the more popular jocks and one of the people Willow had tutored up until recently - cut into the conversation as all other chatter in the room died.
"You haven't heard?" Cordelia's voice was almost gleeful at the chance to spread some more gossip about her least favorite person in Sunnydale. "Willow Rosenberg totally came out of the closet yesterday. It's been all over the school. She told her loser friends that she was a lesbian after school yesterday, and then she was all over some girl on the dance floor at the Bronze last night. I mean, like, practically having sex on the dance floor."
Willow snorted loudly at that, intentionally drawing looks toward her. She shot a smirk toward Cordelia, who's wide-eyed look made it clear that she really had been completely unaware of Willow's presence. The redhead stood up with a slow, languorous grace, making sure that every eye in the room was on her before she spoke just loudly enough to be sure no one could mistake what she had to say. "Cordy, honey, if you think what I was doing on the dance floor was anything at all like having sex, then you've been doing it wrong. However, in the interest of furthering your education, I'd be happy to demonstrate the difference for you." She puckered her lips sensually and blew Cordelia a kiss before strolling over to the printer to retrieve her latest batch of research.
The silence of the moment vanished into a veritable storm of half-audible whispers. As Willow stood next to the printer, separating out the other students' print outs from her own material, Miss Calendar moved to stand beside her with an amused smile on her face. "Everything okay, Willow?" Her voice was low enough that no one but Willow could hear the question.
"I just came completely out of the closet. I think." Willow grimaced slightly now that only Miss Calendar could see it. What on Earth had she been thinking to say that to Cordelia? At least here? And now? Verbally sparring with the girl when she was alone or with her Cordettes was one thing. A comment like that - in front of an entire class - was something else entirely.
"Willow, you didn't just come out of the closet. You nuked the closet from orbit." Miss Calendar smiled warmly. "I suppose that was certainly one way to handle the rumors that have been going around today."
Willow shrugged in response. "If nothing else, it'll give them something else to talk about now."