Please see Prologue and additional parts here for information and disclaimer.
This Part Rated R - Dark Themes and Language - Please be warned.
Summary: AU; Buffy and Angel are teens and from the opposite sides of the tracks with very different circumstances that come to light over a school project.
Buffy sat slumped in her chair in English, her head resting on her pointer and middle fingers as she listened to the monotonous tone of her teacher. It had been a few classes since the incident in the hallway and she had yet to hear a word about it from anyone. More importantly from Snyder and she hoped it stayed that way. The bandage was still secure and mostly hidden under her hair.
Willow sat next to her, taking notes eagerly about the requirements of the project being dissected to them. Buffy sighed, half in tediousness and half in exhaustion, wondering how Willow could sit in class and not be bored out of her mind. Buffy would love nothing more than to shut her eyes and take a nap, which would be the extent of her enjoyment for this day.
Xander sat behind Willow and when Buffy glanced back to see if he was paying attention, she snickered. He was asleep. It looked like he was slipping the way he was seated, slowly but very surely. His palm was the only thing holding his head and it was hard not to watch; wait for the inevitable.
Turning around to face the front, Buffy noticed Liam sitting on the other side of Willow, talking softly with Spike. Their voices were hushed and they laughed silently every few seconds; Buffy couldn’t make it out, they were too far - and she was obviously too far gone because she wanted to know. She rolled her eyes at herself.
Her attention drifted back to the teacher as she wrote something on the blackboard behind her. She mindlessly copied what she saw on the board. A research project on the poets and their poems, their meaning... something, Buffy wasn’t sure. It was quite possible it involved what they were supposed to have read the night before, which she had not done. Come to think of it, she wasn’t even sure if she had her textbook for this class anymore or not... it had to be hiding in her locker somewhere.
She switched her pen to her left hand, doodling randomly in the margin of her paper. Why not, she was probably already going to fail that one anyway. Sarcasm made everything easier.
“Alright, now that I have talked you all into boredom... Xander being the best example.”
Buffy turned to see if he was really still out of this world and she reached over and shoved his notebook into his arm. Xander’s eyes snapped open and his elbow slipped, making him stumble and almost fall out of his chair. The class laughed in unison and Willow turned to look at him; she more looked ready to scold him for the teacher.
“What? Why... What?” he asked, looking around before smiling sheepishly. “Thank you, thank you.”
Ms. Murray looked bemused, continuing on, “The project is simple but complex at the same time. I’m handing out a list to each group of specific names and I want you to pick one and create a ten-minute presentation - no shorter, no longer - and a ten-page report based on that person’s life, their work and how the two correlate. In this I want you to choose three poems from that person and interpret each one using the skills we’ve been going over the last week: annotate and decipher, not just finding the meaning they wanted but what the poem means to you. This will be a chance for you to not only understand the creator of the poems but how they have related to people over the generations. Easy right?”
A few in the class groaned, some yawned and the others stared blankly.
“I want the presentation to be visual: use pictures, use the metaphors, use your poems, it doesn’t matter. The main thing is I want some creativity and some thought going into these projects, people. It will be the partner to your written report. Think of it as an excuse to not have to read your report in front of the class but it doesn’t mean you get to skate along too easy. The two need to work together and you do need to explain your visual aid to the class. Keep in mind I will be timing you and that will be counted as a part of your grade.”
Ms. Murray turned to her desk and collected a pile of light pink pre-printed papers ready to be handed out. “This will be due in one month. This will be part of your final grade. This is to be taken seriously as this will affect your passing grade for the year.” She paused once more for effect.
“I had the computer randomly put everyone in two-people groups and that will be your research partner. There are no ifs, ands or buts about who you’re working with. We will spend the remainder of the hour with everyone meeting and discussing your choices.” She paused, looking around to catch every eye that was looking at her. She held up the sheaf of papers in her hand and waved them slightly. “No debates and no switching. I want everyone’s decision written on the bottom half of one of these papers. Please tear that half off and return it to me before you leave class today. Do not lose the top half of that sheet as it has what is required laid out and what you will need for a passing grade on this.”
Ms. Murray picked up a list stuck to a clipboard. “Alright, people, listen up: Xander Harris and Willow Rosenberg. Harmony Kendall and William Rosen.” Spike scoffed, turning to roll his eyes at the blonde sitting across the room next to Cordelia. She sneered in return, flipping her hair. A few chuckles were heard. “Cordelia Chase and Jonathan Levenson.”
‘What?” Cordelia snapped incredulously, turning around to look at her would-be partner offensively. Cordelia shot daggers at Ms. Murray. “I don’t want to be with him.”
“No debates, Miss Chase,” Ms. Murray said without a pause, ignoring the strangled “but” slipping from the brunette’s lips as she went on, “Liam Angelus and Buffy Summers.”
Buffy felt her heart stop and jump up her throat before it slammed into her stomach before rinsing and repeating. Her eyes widened in shock. She turned to Willow, waiting to hear she was imagining things but she only got a sympathetic look in return and a little shrug, almost a ‘what are you gonna do?’ Her eyes switched to the boy she was assigned to the project with and got nothing for her efforts. He was acting like he hadn’t heard their names in the same sentence; he was continuing on in his conversation with Spike.
Buffy thought she heard Cordelia behind her saying, “Now I know this isn’t right,” but she didn’t stop to confirm it.
“Percy West and...”
The words faded and Buffy turned to look at her notebook. Shock, this was shock. Surely the universe wasn’t that cruel. She felt like she had been sucker punched and she frowned hard. No. She may make her heart do this stupid flutter thing but... he was Liam Angelus. She needed a good grade in this class - she didn’t exactly allow herself the adequate studying time for all of the smaller assignments and now she needed to kick ass on the one large assignment to save herself. She felt her stomach tightening at the prospect of possibly failing because of this project, possibly because of her partner... and the consequences that would follow. She knew she would do the work to the best of her ability but she needed her partner to help her out. She was not nearly as academically friendly as Liam Angelus and if he wanted to jack around and leave her hanging? Damn it. It didn’t help that she was secretly giddy and doing some sort of dance of idiocy inside her head at the prospect of being near him for more than five seconds...
She was a stupid, stupid girl.
The teacher continued on and Buffy just sat staring at her notebook, waiting for her to finish and get the list of choices to them so they could choose and she could get out so she could properly digest this new bit of information.
“Alright, let’s use this time wisely, people,” Ms. Murray said, talking over the loud rumble of voices as they discussed their partner choices. She began passing out the pink papers. “You only have a few minutes before class is over and I want your choices in before you leave! I should mention that this will be a first come, first serve basis so if you find the poet you want, get it up here to make sure you get your choice.”
Taking her paper, Buffy scanned the choices and stopped on Emily Dickinson. Easy choice; done, bam. She smiled inwardly at the thought of the boy she’d had a crush on the first week she came to this school... Owen what’s-his-face and his obsession with the poet. How she’d poured through any book she could find on Emily Dickinson in order to get an in with him. It actually turned into the beginning of many things as it was how she began spending more time in the library where she’d met Giles and then Willow and through her, Xander.
A definite plus was that she felt like she already knew enough about the poet to give her a little edge over the project. Take that.
She didn’t bother to check to see if her partner was waiting for her to come to him. Instead she grabbed her copy of the paper and slid through the desks over to his where she saw Cordelia had migrated over.
Glancing at the back of the class she saw Spike had taken Queen C’s original seat and was leaning close to Harmony; he was looking much more interested in being somewhere else non-class related with her. Jonathan had made his way up and was tapping Cordelia on the shoulder.
She turned around and glared at him. “I’m in the middle of a conversation that actually matters.” She was looking at him as if he were supposed to know this to be common knowledge. “Shoo.”
Jonathan looked stricken. “But... we have to pick someone for the project.”
“That’s nice,” she said and turned back to her boyfriend. She was about to speak when she saw Buffy standing behind Liam. “And what do you want?”
“Nothing with you,” Buffy retorted with amusement; she waited for Liam to turn around and when he didn’t, she tapped him on the shoulder, although much rougher than Jonathan had with Cordelia. He turned to look at her, his shoulders slumping as Cordelia huffed behind him. He looked at Buffy like she was a leper and it pained him. Right. She sure wasn’t any Cordelia ‘Whore’ Chase.
“Well?” She waited. He raised an eyebrow and Buffy noticed Cordelia in the background, waving her hand at Jonathan when he tried to get her attention once more. At least she was faring slightly better.
“Well what?” But only slightly. “Just pick someone, I don’t care,” he said as he turned his back on her.
Buffy’s face hardened and she stared down at him before tapping him again, impatiently. He sighed dramatically and turned around fully in his seat but she didn’t give him a chance to speak. She placed her copy of the assignments on the desk in front of him. “If you think for one second that I am doing this project alone, you are sadly mistaken. We’ll meet in the library after school. We’re doing Emily Dickinson.”
“Whatever,” he said, annoyance lacing his tone, “And we’re not meeting in the library after school.”
Liam smiled. “Screw you, Summers. I’m not meeting you anywhere.”
Buffy could already hear the laughter starting in her head as he began the lovely trail down ‘Buffy Humiliation.’ The urge to cry, scream and punch him in the face flooded her system. She leaned down towards him. “Screw you, King Dick. Either you meet or you fail. Take your pick.”
Liam smiled petulantly. “Fine.” As if he were doing her a favor. “But not tonight.”
“Well then when do you want to do this?” Buffy demanded.
“Tomorrow,” he said with reluctance and Buffy watched him deflate as he turned his full attention to the piece of paper. “In your creepy library where no one will see us,” he added softly but Buffy heard it and felt a little ping in her chest. He was a damn jerk.
“What’s wrong with today?” Buffy asked impatiently, unable to keep herself from saying anything. At least he was meeting with her, she should be happy about that but what was wrong with today that he couldn’t meet with her for one hour and then they can go on their merry ways. “Get it over with so you can go along on your merry little way.”
Well hello there, lack-of-filter.
“I have stuff to do, it’s none of your business,” he said with finality. “Emily Dickinson?”
“Yeah.” Buffy crossed her arms. “I know a bit about her already.” She saw Cordelia staring at her before turning towards Jonathan. She rolled her eyes before adding with a little huff, “If that’s alright with you.”
Liam finally turned to look at her and she met his gaze for a split second before turning away, blushing. She fucking blushed. Where was the inflamed anger from a moment ago? Now she was blushing because he looked at her for longer than a split second. Stupid. Yes, very stupid. He looked back to the paper.
“That’s fine, I don’t care. We’ll meet tomorrow, in the library?”
“Yeah, I already know where the books are for her.”
He squinted at her and she wanted to both swallow her tongue for prolonging her exposure to his jerk-ways and then poke him in his squinty eyes. She glared at him. “Problem with that?”
“No,” he said with a small saccharin smile. “Nothing.”
“Fine.” She snatched the paper from his hand, ignoring the little thrill in her chest at how close she had come to touching him. No, he’s King Dick. He only deserved angry thoughts. Angry thoughts.
She didn’t wait for his reaction before turning and walking back to her desk. She scribbled their choice on the bottom half, adding their names in the top corner. She tore it off as neatly as she could without ripping it to little bits. The sound of chatter was all around her as she took the slip up to where Ms. Murray sat at her desk, marking off something or other; it looked like homework. She periodically was looking up to make sure everyone was staying on task.
“Here, Ms. Murray.”
The teacher looked up and smiled. “Thank you, Buffy.” She set the slip down in front of her. She looked at the young girl. “You turned your homework in today, right?” Ms. Murray made a show of flipping through the rest of her stack. “I haven’t run across your name yet.”
Buffy blinked, a false smile popping onto her lips. “Yeah, of course. It should be in there.”
Ms. Murray pursed her lips, nodding. “Alright.” She glanced at the pink sheet she had just handed in and smiled. “Emily Dickinson? Lovely choice, you’ll have a great deal of material to work with; I can’t wait to see what you two come up with.”
“Me too,” Buffy replied, backing away, her smile falling away as she turned. Homework... right. Shit.
She stopped short when she saw someone sitting in her seat and she frowned at the faceless person, moving to grab her bag and notebook. She felt a reminding stab come from her side and she gaped, holding her breath for a moment until it melted into a dull throb. See? she thought to herself. It was already going down a little... She saw Willow’s seat was vacant and she looked around for her friends, noticing them in the corner near Ms. Murray’s small bookshelf. Willow was pulling out a couple of books and gesturing while Xander stared at a large globe, nodding his head, only pretending to listen. One corner of Buffy’s mouth lifted in a smile as she slid into her friend’s empty desk, opening her notebook to a page at the end.
“Go away, Jonathan,” she heard to her right. “We’ll talk about it later!”
Buffy could hear the pout in the little man’s voice as he stammered a limp comeback. Buffy actually felt a little bad for him and she turned to see him going back to his seat, shoulders slumped. There was a reason Cordelia was recognized as the cattiest bitch at Sunnydale High.
“So who did you two choose?” came the deep liquid voice of her project partner.
“I don’t know, William Boros or something.” Cordelia flipped her hair. The way she pronounced it made it sound like William Burroughs was a clown. Even Buffy knew who William Burroughs was - she must have paid attention somewhere. “It doesn’t matter. Who are you doing?”
“You,” Liam said slyly and Buffy felt her stomach turn. Cordelia scoffed but giggled. “No, Emily Dickinson.”
“I hope you know enough about her since she,” the scathing note in her voice didn’t go unnoticed to Buffy’s ears and she felt her face grow hot, “probably doesn’t know how to spell her own name.”
“She’s not going to make you do all of it, is she?”
“I don’t know; she did want to get started today. Meet in the library.”
“Uh, hello, we have plans.”
“Yes, thank you, Cordelia. That’s why I said no. We’re meeting tomorrow.”
“Who’s to say you won’t have plans tomorrow?” she asked demurely.
Buffy couldn’t see his face but judging by Cordelia’s, she was pleased with the response she got.
“I do want to get it over with though. I don’t want to be spending more time with her than I have to.”
“I don’t want you spending more time with her than you have to! She’s a disease, Liam. She needs to be removed, like, ASAP.”
Buffy felt like a rock had slipped into her stomach, a wallop of grief at the realization of what Liam actually thought about her. It was one thing to have it floating on the edges of her mind but to hear the actual words… It mixed bitterly with anger that she had to be privy to this conversation, to the stupid thoughts of people who weren’t supposed to matter. She squeezed her eyes shut, the pain of their words caused tears to well up. It shouldn’t matter, why did it hurt so bad? How did he have so much power over her?
“So what time are you coming over tonight?” Cordelia asked.
Buffy didn’t wait to hear his response as the bell rang. She shot up out of her chair, not waiting for Xander or Willow as she darted to the door, her notebook and bag clutched in her hand. She could feel the strain in her hands where she gripped the notebook.
None of it mattered.
The last thing she heard before she escaped was Ms. Murray saying, “Liam and Cordelia! I have told you multiple times none of that in my classroom!”
Buffy felt like punching a wall.
“So... you and Liam... ?” Willow started, trying to look and sound thoughtful but failing, “I’m so sorry you have to be paired with him,” she ended in a rush.
Buffy smiled, shaking her head. “It’s no big, Will. It is what it is.”
It was the end of the school day and they were waiting outside the school doors for Xander near the large oak tree. Buffy forced a bored, completely non-caring look on her face. She didn’t care, she didn’t need to fucking care about it. He agreed to meet her tomorrow and they would... and they would get what they could done and go their separate ways. There was no reason for her to spend more time than she already had after English thinking about all the ways she could pluck his hair out with tweezers and then immediately delve into thoughts about what his lips felt like. Annoyance flooded her chest.
Get a grip, Buffy. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you... So why do you care?
Willow opened her mouth to start and Buffy stopped her. “It’s fine. We’re meeting tomorrow, gonna do a little work and then probably work separately. It’s probably better that way anyway.” Yeah it’s better so I don’t accidentally smack Cordelia Chase in the mouth.
“Still Buffy... I know you like him and-“
“It’s a little crush, Willow, come on,” Buffy said, joking, leaning back against the tree. She ignored the small crack in her voice and looked away.
Willow just smiled patiently.
“Hey, hey!” The girls looked up as Xander bounced to a stop next to them, his hands in his pockets. “What are we talking about?”
“The library,” Buffy said immediately. Xander frowned at this and Willow picked it up.
“Yep, the library. Home of the books.”
Buffy followed, “Where the books live.”
“We’re going to the library?”
“No, tomorrow,” Buffy said. “Work on the project.”
“What project?” Willow smacked Xander’s shoulder and he flinched, whipping his head over to her. “Ow! What was that for?”
“Xander! Our English project?”
“Oh yeah, that thing...” He rocked on his feet, his hands shoved in his pockets. “It’s not due for, like, a month right? We can leave it alone for a while...” Willow jabbed him in the chest and he shrugged at her with a knowing smile. Buffy chuckled.
“We need to go to the library anyway.”
“What?” Xander’s face morphed into what could only be described as horror. He looked to Buffy. “Does she have to go too?”
“My day’s tomorrow, Xand, sorry.”
“That’s not fair. If I have to go, you have to go,” he said, grabbing her hand and tugging her towards him. He gestured to her as if he were showing her off to a crowd. “My sweet Buffy-shaped friend, come on. I need my fair smart blonde chick to protect me from the freakishly-smart redheaded one.”
“You could get a head start, Buffy,” Willow added. “And you won’t have to spend that long with Liam tomorrow.”
Buffy signed. She wasn’t sure whether that was a good idea or not. No, she was sure. Her head said yes, prepare what you will talk about, divvy out the separate assignments and then get out. Her heart argued the opposite. Take as much time as possible for him to stick around...
“You were both going to meet in the library tomorrow?” Xander asked, dropping her hand. She frowned unwittingly; she was frowning because she agreed with him. Yes, let’s call it that.
“Yeah; he is my partner.” Unfortunately. For a brief second, Buffy marveled at how much easier this project would automatically be if she didn’t have to deal with Liam Angelus. Or rather, her feelings for him.
“So he does have something akin to a brain inside that oddly-shaped forehead?”
Buffy couldn’t help the snort of laughter. “Geez, Xander, how do you really feel?”
He shrugged. “I’m not trying to be mean... well, I am.” Buffy shook her head, smiling. “But I just don’t want you to do all the work... he’s in the jerk squad, Buffy.”
“That seems to be the popular opinion.” Despite the fact that Buffy agreed with them - Liam was and always would be an asshole; not only to her but to everyone - she couldn’t help that small voice in the back of her head that whispered ‘what if...’ over and over - but what if... what? Buffy felt like she was watching a tennis match between the rational and the irrational battle inside her head. “Besides I can just kick his ass if he wants to try that crap.”
“No, I’ll kick his ass if he tries anything.”
Buffy smiled. “That’s sweet of you to say but please, Xand, don’t oversell me. I sincerely doubt that will happen and trust me on that.”
It was Xander’s turn to snort.
She waved her arm. “But you’re right,” she interrupted. Subject-change time. “Let us be library-bound.”
She grabbed her backpack and turned around before the discussion of Liam Angelus could continue. It was just a project and one which Buffy was sure would require minimal contact until what she would now affectionately refer to as Doomsday a.k.a. the day of their presentation. “I just need to run to my locker and then I’ll meet you guys there.”
Buffy put the word ‘brisk’ to shame as she walked away. She didn’t turn to see if they heard what she said or acknowledge it; she could feel their eyes burning into her back.
As she entered the school, she slowed her hurried pace, taking smaller steps and a deep breath. That wasn’t obvious at all, turning and running away. She didn’t really need anything in her locker besides the homework she obviously dropped the ball on - great, all the more reason to make this project work as best she could - there wasn’t anything she needed from her English class to start doing a little research.
What she had wanted to do was get away from the sad and piteous looks being shoved down her throat by Willow. She loved her but there were just some things Willow couldn’t understand about her life.
Turning around a corner, she headed towards her locker anyway. She could get started on the homework she had failed to do in her other classes. Pursing her lips, she thought back on how one of the teachers had called her name, asked her to stand up and explain to everyone why she thought she didn’t have to turn in any homework. It had been so humiliating that Buffy had simply grabbed her bag and left the classroom. Why couldn’t she do what normal teachers did and just fail her? And she did turn in her homework, when she worked on it. Most of her time outside of school was spent constantly avoiding confrontations, never staying in the same spot for too long unless she was sleeping. The only time she got a real chance was when she spent time in the library.
She remembered the last time she had done that and she flinched. He had railed her for coming home late that night and she hadn’t stayed that long after school since. She felt the heat of tears in her eyes at his harsh words echoing in her head but she forced them down, swallowing her irrational tears. Irrational wins again.
It wasn’t worth it.
She signed. A lot of stuff seemed to be falling into that category lately.
Buffy paused outside the library doors, looking through the rounded windows to see if her friends had beaten her there. They sat at the large table in the center, Willow on a computer and Xander looking through a book before getting up and placing it on the shelf. He was talking to someone sitting behind the checkout counter in front of him.
She looked at the clock just outside the book return cage on the left and saw that school had been out for 30 minutes already. She bit the inside of her lip. A few more minutes wouldn’t kill anyone. And it certainly wouldn’t kill him; he probably wasn’t home quite yet either way - he preferred a torn barstool any day.
It wasn’t a half bad suggestion to get started today, get a head start on some information... spend less time with the King of the Jerk Squad. It was also a good idea so she didn’t have to spend too many days after school too; either waiting for Liam or doing all the work by herself.
Annoyance streamed through her following the trail of her thoughts. Besides, she thought, what’s waiting at home?
She entered the library.
Chatter immediately met her eats and even though her doom and gloom thoughts were ever present she couldn’t help but smile. This was home; that was the feeling the library gave her. She always loved the library despite her scholarly advantages not being that great. But it wasn’t the books that brought her here. It was Giles.
He was standing behind the counter; large piles of books were stacked around him as he stamped the inside cover of one and moved it to the ‘done’ pile. He had graying hair and large round glasses atop his nose that he was constantly adjusting. He was wearing one of his customary tweed suits that he never went anywhere without - it matched the sad excuse for a car sitting out in the faculty parking lot, his Citroen. The car had followed him from his native somewhere-over-there, England to Sunnydale, California. The first time Buffy had met him, he had eloquently told her she abused the English language to the point that his ears might start bleeding.
Mrs. Hatchkins may be the sweetest to her when it came to the Sunnydale High staff but Rupert Giles was the closest thing she had to a parent besides the two people who claimed that right outside of school.
He didn’t glance up at her entrance as he continued his banter with Xander about... Buffy stopped, listening with amusement.
“This isn’t what I came in here for, you know. I’ll have you know that I am not enjoying this,” Xander said. He dragged a book off the table and stared at the cover, almost daring it to reach out and slap him for manhandling it.
“Well, if you’d shelve them correctly, it would be much quicker,” the librarian said without pause, not bothering to look up at Xander’s activity. He stamped another book.
“I don’t get your crazy system!”
“System?” Giles looked up, his hand pausing in mid-air. “It’s called the alphabet, Xander.”
Xander paused, looking down at the book in his hand and then at the books he’d already shoved into the small space. “Huh,” he said and Buffy chuckled. “Would you look at that.”
“Buffy,” Rupert Giles said by way of greeting, a smile replacing the tone of disbelief in his voice. “A project in English is it?”
“That’s the rumor,” Buffy said, crossing her arms and leaning against the counter. “Emily Dickinson for me.”
“Ah, yes,” Giles said with a hint of a smile on his face. Buffy quirked an eyebrow at him.
“No need for a trip down memory lane, Giles,” she said wryly. “I just like her poems.”
“Yeah, it was her poems,” Xander said mockingly from behind her and she turned to glare. “It had nothing to do with the gangly boy candy attached.”
“It wasn’t just Owen that got me into Emily Dickinson, thank you very much.” Buffy had a sudden memory of flying into the library, startling the frazzled librarian when she demanded all the Emily Dickinson books he had. Stat! Although it was startlingly sad that her love life - or lack thereof - seemed to revolve around the poet...
Notice any pathetic themes here, Buffy?
“What happened to your forehead?”
Buffy shrugged, turning away from Giles’ inquiring eyes and walking to the table where Willow sat.
“A little tiff in the hallway earlier,” she said lightly, pulling out a chair. “My head made out with a locker,” she continued sarcastically. That was one way to put it. She wished she had worn a hat or something into the library, she didn’t want Giles to know about more of her fighting.
She could practically hear the frown on his face and she turned around to meet his gaze. She saw the wheels turning in his head. “Well it looks like you’re bleeding through your bandage.”
Buffy felt the overwhelming urge to tell Giles to forget about it and possibly to screw off at the continued talk about her forehead. The feeling bubbled in her chest and she felt her face growing how as she pushed against the sticky bandage. Instead of the sharp stinging pain from earlier, she felt a dull throb - but no more blood.
“Let me get some more, Buffy.”
“It’s no big, Giles, really,” Buffy yelled after him, waving her hand as he disappeared. The edge in her voice only grated her nerves more. “No blood.” There was no response from within his office.
It was no big deal. Why was he making it into a big deal? It was done and over with and she wanted to tell off everyone who suddenly reminded her of it. The fire in her chest felt too hot for a moment when the thought that she was ashamed to have Giles see her like this popped into her head.
It only served to remind her that she had so much more going on that made her scratch look tiny and so much more to hide. Amazing how it took the right person concentrating on the wrong thing for her mood to turn to shit.
“Seriously Giles!” Leave it alone.
“It doesn’t look good, Buffy,” she heard Willow say from behind her.
“Well that’s kind of what a wound looks like, Will,” Buffy snapped in reply as she yanked her notebook out of her bag and dropped it on the table with a loud slap. Thank you for stating the obvious.
“And she comes out swinging,” Xander said. Buffy looked up, her eyebrows furrowed. Willow’s face was puckered with hurt as she turned to her computer, failing to pretend that she hadn’t just bit her head off for no reason. Xander continued to shelve books, not looking at her... almost like this was a common occurrence. Probably because it was. She sighed.
She may have the best friends she could ask for but she sucked at showing them, well, anything but an asshole in return.
“I’m sorry, Will.” She smiled apologetically. She pushed her frustration down and she was rewarded with silent smiles. “I’m just cranky; it’s been a long day.”
“Sit down, Buffy,” Giles said gently as he came up behind her. She did as he said, watching him set the battered First Aid kit on the table and open it up. “Now how exactly did your head, uh... ‘make out’ with a locker?”
“It was nothing.”
“Lift your hair back, please.” Giles slowly peeled back the blood-heavy bandage. “Good Lord, Buffy, this looks like more than nothing.”
“Ok, it was a little serious.” She noted neither Willow nor Xander were adding to the story for which she was grateful although they likely had different reasons than hers.
Giles looked down at her pointedly before taking a cotton ball to the dried blood around the still oozing wound. Nobody elaborated and he lifted an eyebrow. “I take it I’m not going to get the story behind this?”
Buffy shrugged. “There’s nothing to tell.” She played with her fingers, no longer flinching when he applied more peroxide. “Stories are overrated anyway.”
Especially hers. If she started on one, why wouldn’t another come out and then... things would unravel. It was better when they were alluded to and even if she was an asshole some of the time... it was better that all stories stayed out of the light. It was those kinds of things that she needed to keep to herself. Willow, Xander, Giles, Mrs. Hatchkins... they didn’t need to know the extent of her home life. Hell, she was glad it was only Willow and Xander that knew about how her parents acted outside of the vicious rumors that barely touched on what her actual reality was. It wasn’t anybody’s business and she wasn’t about to go around sharing it with anyone. Even Giles.
“So putting Xander to work with the books, eh, Giles?” Buffy gestured to her friend. “Isn’t that a little cruel and unusual?”
“Ha ha... ha ha ha.” Buffy grinned at Xander’s response, his face close to the shelf. “I read.”
“Comics in the newspaper don’t count.”
“Actually, madam,” he said with flourish, standing and turning to face her. Buffy watched him with a pleased smile. She couldn’t explain how glad she was that he had melted back into his normal self... “They do. I have it on good authority that they contain words that make my thinking good.”
Willow stared at him. “Thinking good?”
“Well... think well.”
Willow scrunched her nose.
“There we are,” Giles said, pressing the new gauze to her forehead as they bantered in the background. “That should hold until you’re home.” He picked up a piece of her hair that had been sticking to her old bandage. “Unfortunately you had a little blood in your hair.”
Brushing her hair back over the bandage, she waved him off. “It’s good!” She smiled brightly at Giles. “Thank you.” She proceeded to throw her bag on the floor and moved to the Poetry section. “I’m off to Emily Dickinson Land.”
“Buffy.” She felt Giles’ hand on her shoulder and she turned to face him. Uh. Oh. She knew his look... only too well.
“You know if there is anything you need to talk about, you can come to me. I’m always here.” He was looking down at her gently, his eyes telling her everything she didn’t want to see. ‘I know, I’m here, let me help...’ She swallowed, forcing a smile. “To talk. Or anything you might need.”
“I’m fine,” Buffy said quickly. It occurred to her long ago that her close relationship with the librarian was something of the strange. So few people entered the library at all that any relationship with Mr. Giles would be strange but it didn’t feel that way. His fatherly attitude towards her was more than enough to make her cry because she didn’t have a father... he just treated her like the shit he occasionally stepped on outside.
The feeling of regret and hate towards Hank Summers bowled into her mind and the feelings warred with each other as she thought about the possibility of having a man like Giles as her father. Someone who loved her, who treated her the way a daughter was supposed to be treated. Who didn’t abuse his wife and corrupt her into thinking that the only way to get rid of her pain was to turn to alcohol and ignore their only child. She bowed her head.
But it didn’t change anything. Giles didn’t need to know her ugliness any more than anyone else did.
“But thanks,” she said in a low voice, turning away awkwardly and leaving him standing there as she rushed up the small staircase and into the stacks, unwilling to open that trapdoor.
The sky was darkening when Buffy approached the doorstep of her home. She could see the faint glow of the sun as it was setting against the dark blue of the coming night sky. It was beautiful and frightening because she could see the living room lights were on in her house. She slowed her steps.
By the time she had left the library it had already been 7:00 p.m. and Buffy had hurriedly grabbed her backpack from where she had left it on the lower level of the library, said a quick goodbye without pausing to elaborate and booked it home. She had almost wanted to say thank you that neither Willow nor Xander had followed her up there but she didn’t. She had spent nearly three hours up in the stacks by herself, unwilling to go back down and have to look Giles in the face. Her hurried escape away from the soft and pity-filled look in his eyes made Buffy want to sneak out the back and just run away from it. The fact that her life - something that was so out of her control - made the people she loved around her feel bad made her sick. They didn’t need to be exposed to any more than they already were just by knowing her.
She hated it.
The good news about running to the stacks was that she had gotten some interesting poems written down and some good ideas about what they could connect to. She had poured through books of her poems, thinking back to her days of Owen crushage and her current days of Liam crushage and wondering the entire time what the hell was wrong with her that she couldn’t stop just liking people and man up and do something about it.
She cringed at the thought. She was better in the distance, away from normal people. They didn’t need to be tarnished by her. The only reason Willow and Xander were so close to her was because she had control - they still didn’t see the worst of it. And they hopefully never would.
So do something about it as in turning off that treacherous feeling switch. Easier said than done.
Buffy paused at the front door, listening for a moment; she wasn’t sure if she was waiting for the sound of a television or the sound of someone’s scream as their head slammed into a wall. She swallowed thickly before opening the door.
And she stopped.
The disaster she had left this morning was nowhere to be seen. The furniture had been put back into place as it had been when they had first moved into the house and the long lamp that had settled into its rut on its side was now standing in the corner and on. It created a warm glow in a place that had no warmth. The illusion was shocking.
Entering the room, she closed the door softly. It was empty. Taking a closer look, she saw the large stain from a whiskey spill on the carpet where it had sat for two days after a particularly unhappy encounter between her parents. Buffy was disturbed that it calmed her; made her realize that this wasn’t her world turning upside down - again - but instead a worthless attempt to hide what was a glaring reality.
“Where have you been?”
Buffy jumped and spin, dropping her bag, her hand flying to her chest. Hank Summers stood behind her and Buffy instinctively shrank back. He stood tall, a shadow in the otherwise lit room and she looked down. She noticed his hands were balled into fists.
“I was at school... I-I had a project due for English. We just lost track of time-“
She didn’t get a chance to finish as his hand shot out, grabbing her t-shirt, yanking her closer to his face. She let out a small sound of resistance, the flame of bravado she carried so confidently at school distinguishing immediately. “We? Who the fuck were you with, your fuck buddy Harris?”
“Let me go,” Buffy said, her throat suddenly dry. It sounded more like a hoarse whisper as she fought back tears. The grasp he held on her shirt was closing the material around her neck and the more she struggled, the more it tightened around her. “Please.”
“Please,” Hank said, his voice mocking. In response he dragged her with him into the dining room and Buffy saw her mother sitting at the table, staring down at the pathetic excuse for what looked like dinner. Lumpy mashed potatoes sat in a cracked bowl and what could barely pass for meatloaf was in the center of the table. Both her parents’ plates looked used. There was a candle in the middle of the table, flickering madly as the disturbed air reached it. Joyce didn’t look up; she seemed to be in a staring match with the fire, the fork in her hand hovering with forgotten food.
“You missed dinner,” Hank spat, forcing her to sit in the chair closest to his. She fought for balance as the chair tipped, biting her lip. She didn’t say anything, staring at her own empty plate. “You’re always fucking late, always out fucking around.” He slapped the table and both women jumped. “I’m so fucking sick of your lack of generosity!”
“You’re father found a new job.” Buffy looked to her mother. She was talking to the candle more than her. She could see a dark shadowed area across the side of her face, barely visible by the lack of light in the dining room. It hadn’t been there before. Buffy swallowed, bitter anger and fear roiling in her chest.
“That’s what you have to say? Nothing?”
Buffy didn’t look up.
“That’s what you are, nothing.” Hank reached over and snatched her plate, tossing it to the other side of the table. It rolled off and slapped into the floor with a dull crack. “You don’t get any fucking food tonight, you ungrateful little girl. Get out of my sight.”
Buffy didn’t have to be told twice, standing up quickly and turning to leave the room. For a split second she thought about opening her mouth, telling her father to burn in hell but she couldn’t, an innate fear stopping her. She didn’t get far. Hank moved to follow her, his hand finding the base of her skull and grabbing a chunk of her hair. Buffy cried out, fighting against his hand as he pulled her back. She felt her feet slipping as she fell, her scalp burning where he’d tugged. She landed on the floor with a loud thud and she rolled into a ball as he towered over her.
“No!” she shouted. He pulled her arms away from her face, kneeling next to her.
“No... leave me alone!” she yelled, struggling against him. He yanked her closer and his knee jabbed into her already bruised ribs and it knocked the breath out of her, the pain instantly blooming. She fell limp in shock and she thought she saw stars for a moment. All she could breathe was pain... She closed her eyes, feeling like the floor was falling from underneath her. She only wished.
“If you’re ever late for dinner,” he said harshly, leaning across her. She turned her head away from his hot breath, tears falling from the corners of her eyes. “You won’t ever walk out of this house again.”
A sob escaped from Buffy’s throat and she shook her head. No, no... get away from me... Her mind was full of broken thoughts, racing in crooked circles. The tears that leaked from her eyes were painful on her skin.
Buffy gasped as Hank cuddled the sides of her head, his thumbs wiping her eyes and cheeks roughly. “Don’t you fucking cry, you have nothing to cry about.”
Buffy bit her tongue, her tongue finding blood, and she kept her eyes closed as he squeezed her head painfully. Every inch of her body told her to run, get out, get away but she couldn’t move. The ache in her side was the only part of her body that she was aware of and she felt paralyzed.
Suddenly his fingers were grasping the taped gauze on her forehead and he ripped it off. Buffy let out a cry, the sensation of her skin being pulled and her hair being ripped out along with it coming out of nowhere.
“What the fuck is this from?” Hank asked angrily. Let me get out... let me get away... “Look at me, Buffy, look at me right now.”
No, just hide... Hank slapped her cheek and Buffy’s eyes flew open, Her sobs coming more forcefully now. He jerked the bandage in front of her face, seeing only the dried blood.
“You better not be getting into more fights, young lady,” he said in a low voice and Buffy cowered down. “What the fuck is this from?”
“I... I tripped, I’m sorry,” Buffy babbled, her words slurred slightly from her tears. “I just fell, I swear.”
“You better not be lying,” he said with a quiet rage, shoving the bandage back against her head. “If I find out you’re lying to me, I’ll do more than cut your head.” The tape landed on her cut and rubbed into it and Buffy closed her eyes against it.
And then the pressure was gone; his looming presence disappeared as he stood up.
“Make yourself useful and clean up this mess,” he said with derision. “Joyce.”
All Buffy could hear was the soft footsteps of her mother as she stood and followed her husband. When they entered the hallway, she heard a soft cry, the sound of flesh being slapped gently before their bedroom door closed. She heard muffled words as her mother tried to calm him. He didn’t need to be calmed... he needed to be...
Buffy held her breath, curling into a ball, a sob bursting free. She hated him, she hated her... she hated her life. She hated it all and she wished there was a way - any way - she could stop it. The sound of her mother’s pained cries became her morbid lullaby as she squeezed her eyes tighter.
Please save me, please save me... get me away... make it go away...