Giles wandered through the library compulsively rechecking the shelves, drawers and desks. He was sure that all of the demonology texts as well as his personal property, had been removed safely to his flat, but he couldn't help the feeling that something might have been missed. It was barely an hour before the start of the graduation ceremony. As he gazed around the library trying to commit this portion of his life to memory, he heard Buffy burst through the door. She flung her cap and gown onto the bare table and looked around. "Is Angel here? He said he was coming in here until the festivities start."
Giles gestured vaguely toward the back of the library where a table had been placed. Angel was still recovering from his near poisoning, and had planned to rest there in the shadowed stacks.
Buffy charged in the indicated direction, obviously with some last minute details to impart to the vampire.
Giles turned back to go to the card catalog, stepping carefully around one of the bags of nitrate piled on the library floor.
"Giles!" He wheeled around to a strangled cry from Buffy. She was backing slowly away from the stacks, back toward the library table. White and shaken she leaned on the edge of the heavy wooden table.
"Giles, he's, dead." She choked out the words as if her throat had become too narrow to let sound pass.
"What...? How could…" Giles rushed toward the stacks and stepped into the shadows that comprised Angel's temporary lair. His eyes adjusted for a moment to the low light. Then he realized what Buffy had seen.
Angel lay lengthwise on a table, his feet together, his arms stiffly at his sides. His skin was smooth, waxen in the poor light, and he lay absolutely still: as inanimate as the table under him.
Angel's eyes opened. "It's not time yet. Go back to sleep," said Giles softly. Angel's eyes closed.
Giles left the dimness of the stacks, and took Buffy by the shoulders. "Come" he commanded gently. He steered her into his now-barren office, sat her on the small sofa, and shut the door firmly. Buffy looked up at him, her eyes swimming with tears. "What could have happened, he was fine when we talked…just a little while ago," She bowed her head allowing the tears to drip unheeded into her lap." The blood, my blood was supposed to cure him." Her voice took on a slightly hysterical edge. "There must be something we can do!"
Giles pulled his office chair around and sat directly in front of her. His hands on her arms arrested her frantic rise from her seat. "Buffy," he said firmly, Angel is...uh...fine."
Anger flared behind the tears in her gray eyes. "He's not! He's dead! I saw him!" her voice rose in pitch and volume with each word.
"Giles brow wrinkled in confusion. His hands slid down to capture hers, and hold them tightly. He gazed with consternation into her eyes. "Buffy," he said gently, "of course he's dead, he's been dead for more than two hundred years. You know this, yes? Vampires turn to ash when they uh…discorporate."
Buffy shook her head violently in confusion. "That's not what I mean! I saw… I saw…"
Giles eyes widened in shock. Oh, dear God. He understood. Buffy had been in denial about Angel for the better part of three years. She knew what vampires were. She had simply refused to acknowledge that Angel was, at the end, the same as the others. He bowed his head and pinched the bridge of his nose under his glasses. He steeled himself against what he was going to have to say.
"Buffy, what you just saw was Angel as he really is. As difficult as it may be for you, for all of us, to comprehend, Angel is a cor… a … a body, animated by a non-corporeal demon." He switched her small hands to one of his and removed his glasses, gazing down at her upturned face with sorrow. Reluctantly, he continued. "The uh, illusions of life, all the little unconscious movements that convey life are quite deliberate. The demon learns to move the body in ways that best imitate human beings. When you are around him he seems to breathe, either from the need to talk, or through deliberate imitation. His soul acts as a modifier, or conscience, if you will, but the man that once walked in that body no longer resides there."
Willow once asked him how he shaves, but actually he has no need to. Where there is no life there is no growth. What you saw back there was Angel minus the illusions. He has not changed since earlier today."
Giles had begun to warm to his topic and his gaze had drifted away into the middle distance as he tried to convey to Buffy what he realized she already knew. He pulled his attention back to her face, and felt his throat tighten at the look of shock that lay upon her features. He watched as the horror dawned in her eyes.
Buffy opened her mouth, but speech wouldn't come. Finally, she managed to force out a strangled word.
"Corpse" her hands wrenched free of his and covered her mouth. She drew a deep shuddering breath through her fingers. "That's the word you almost said," she whispered, "Corpse"
He nodded wordlessly, unable to look at her for a moment. She was trembling violently.
Suddenly she lunged for the metal wastebasket by the desk and vomited what little was in her stomach. She continued to retch, even after she was empty, feeling the capillary vessels around her eyes begin to rupture with the strain. A warm hand came to support her forehead and a cool moist cloth was wiping her face and mouth. She sagged back into the warm body behind her, shuddering and gasping for air. She was suddenly weightless as he lifted her, moving swiftly back around to the sofa and sitting with her upper body cradled in his arms.
"Oh, God, Giles. I… I let it touch me. It kissed me, God.. it was inside me." She fisted his sweater tightly and began to sob helplessly as she ground her face into his chest, "He was always so cold…so cold."
Giles was stunned. It had always amazed him, and, if truth be known, made his skin crawl to imagine Angel touching Buffy with his dead hands, her caressing the cold, waxy flesh. But he had never realized that she was so blind to the reality of the vampire. He now suspected that Angel was exceptionally good at holding the illusion, perhaps even using some sort of glamour to mask his reality. Now that she had been confronted with the truth, the illusion was broken. Even her memories involving Angel would gain a different perspective. He didn't know whether to feel relieved or sad. His heart hurt for her; for the shattering of her illusions.
He hugged her gently to him rocking slightly back and forth, "Shh, Shh, Buffy. It's all right, Dearest. I won't let him touch you ever again." He realized that he was babbling somewhat, not even really aware of what he was saying: simply desperate to bring her some kind of comfort in her grief and terror.
She began to relax, her hands releasing his sweater and her arms moving to embrace him around his middle. The sobbing began to taper to the occasional ragged breath. Giles continued to rock, overcome with tenderness, and a cautious joy at the opportunity to hold her, however briefly.
Her body suddenly stiffened in his arms, and he looked up to see Angel standing outside, staring in through the office window. Angel' visage shifted slightly, his eyes taking on a yellow cast for a moment. Then his human face returned as he turned and stalked abruptly out of the library.
Buffy relaxed again and lifted her head to look blearily around, her gaze finally settling on Giles' face. She reached up to touch his cheek gently. "I'm sorry, Giles. And thank you. I guess it's time to go, huh?
Giles stared into her bloodshot teary eyes for a moment, then hugged her fiercely back to him. "You run, Darling. Get the Mayor's attention, then run faster than you've ever run before." He drew back and held her tightly by the shoulders, gazing intently into her eyes “I cant do this without you, either.”
She nodded, understanding.
He helped her to her feet, draped the graduation robe over her, and they left the library together for the last time.
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