Yes, we’ve left Stars Hollow, but not forever – a future story will feature a major Buffy/Gilmore Girls crossover that germinated here.
Xander's Job, Chapter 7: Pieces of the Puzzle
Willow tried to make some small talk on the way to the airport, but by the time the jet had reached cruising altitude even she gave up. Xander felt bad for her and took a seat beside his friend, while Giles chose the rear-most spot in the small passenger compartment, and Angel a place nearest the front.
When the seatbelt light went off, Giles rose and headed straight for the private jet’s wet bar. It was the Watcher’s fourth drink of the day; Xander had been counting. He’d learned to keep track of such details in his younger days, as a form of self preservation. What was going on with Giles? As far as Xander knew, the older man hadn’t had a single alcoholic beverage since they moved into the Chicago headquarters, but today he was hitting the sauce hard.
Today? Had it really been just one day? It was – what? – not long after noon when Angel appeared in Chicago. Thanks to Wolfram & Hart’s high speed transportation and special privileges, they’d collected Giles and Willow by nightfall, and it wasn’t even midnight as they soared over the Atlantic. By the time it was over, they’d have the mother of all jet lags.
Willow leaned over to whisper, “Was Giles always so … drinky?”
Xander looked at her, but saw no sign that she was doing any mind reading mojo. “Not so much. I don’t know what’s wrong with him.” Or any of them, he thought, looking around the cabin.
Giles sat with a drink in his hand, staring down at the goldish beverage between sips. Angel was hunched forward, wringing his hands together, occasionally glancing toward a clock over the cockpit door. Willow alternated between nervousness and being unnaturally chipper.
This wasn’t all about Cordy. They were involved in some kind of big, interlocking puzzle, something that may or may not be related to why they’d gathered together. People kept saying Xander had a reputation for “seeing”. What did he see? He leaned back in his seat, pondering everything that had happened in the last twelve hours. For a long time he thought, until his eye started closing, lulled by the quiet and the gentle feeling of movement.
Then, in that moment before sleep, when the mind is freed from the routine work of voluntary muscle movement, Xander saw.
“Oh my God!” He leaped into the aisle, causing everyone to jump, and jabbed a finger at Angel. “You knew!”
“I knew --?”
“You knew Buffy was in Italy. You didn’t come to Chicago expecting to find all of us – you knew.”
Looking puzzled, Angel nodded. “Andrew told me when he came to get Dana. I didn’t know it was supposed to be some kind of secret.”
“Oh, sure … but I know you, Dead Boy. You didn’t just know. You’ve been there.”
The vampire’s eyes widened. “Um …”
“You went to Italy?” Willow gasped.
Gile’s reaction was more extreme. He leaped to his feet, face red. “You were spying on Buffy? You bloody peeping tom –“
“Wait a minute, it wasn’t like that. She never even knew Spike and I –“
“Spike?” Willow repeated.
“Spike was with you?” Giles flung the now empty glass aside, making Xander wince, but it bounced off a seat without breaking. “Why can’t you leave her alone? She’s done with you, Angel, she’s done with all of us. Leave her in peace!”
That was when the second piece of the puzzle fell into place, causing Xander to turn his attention to Giles. “Done with all of us?”
“She – I mean –“ Giles took a faltering step back. “I mean, she’s taken -- a holiday -- and she deserves that. She doesn’t need to be worrying about Angel, or you lot, or anything else.”
“You mean, retirement?” Willow considered the idea, her brows furrowed. “I thought she’d be coming back someday.”
Xander shook his head. “Giles didn’t. Did you, Giles? When’s the last time you talked to her about slayer business?”
“I told you, she –“
“When’s the last time you talked to her at all?” Beside him, Xander heard Willow gasp, and turned to see a mortified look on the witch’s face.
The third piece fit itself into the puzzle. “How about you, Willow?”
“I’ve been … busy.” She settled back into her seat, avoiding his gaze.
“Okay, I got that. Busy doing what?”
She continued to look away. “We have … we were …”
“Fighting evil, I know,” Xander lied, with a glance toward Giles. “But you couldn’t have checked in with the rest of us? Willow …” He laid a hand gently on her shoulder. “Were you planning to come back? Ever?”
Finally, she looked at him, her eyes full of guilt. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t understand,” Giles said. “Were there monsters, or not?”
“Yeah, there were,” Xander said, not adding that they weren’t the literal kind. “But Willow was also cutting herself off from the rest of us – making a new home – just like Buffy. That’s your decision, Wil, but – remember when we used to talk?”
She nodded, and a tear ran down her cheek. “I haven’t been a very good friend. I hadn’t thought about Cordelia … I didn’t check in with Giles … and I haven’t talked to Buffy since last fall.”
“Neither have I,” Xander admitted, and he realized his own piece of the puzzle was right there. Maybe it even explained why Cordy’s death hit him so hard. “Seems like everybody kept dying, for awhile there. I got into the habit of just going day by day, and not thinking about what wasn’t right in front of me. But you know, we’ve gotta turn into human beings again – dead company excepted.’
Angel crossed his arms, but didn’t rise to the challenge, so Xander turned again to address Giles. “Are you upset that Angel went to Italy, or that you didn’t?”
Giles yanked a handkerchief from his pocket and began vigorously cleaning his glasses.
“How much does Buffy know about what’s been going on, Giles? Does she know about Buffybot? Dana? That the government knows where the slayers are? Does she even know Richard got sick, or that Kennedy broke her leg? Or have you been holding every single bad thing from her?”
“Xander …” Giles paused to take a breath. “If you were on vacation, would you spend all your time reading the newspaper?”
“Maybe she wants to know what’s going on.”
“Maybe she doesn’t. And I might add, unless you want to start running this operation, it’s my decision to make.”
“Not any more.” Xander shook his head as still another space in the puzzle was filled in, with a piece he kicked himself for not seeing before. “You used to train girls to fight evil. Now all you want to do is protect them. So, who protects everybody else?”
Giles recoiled as if struck, and Xander knew he was right.
“That’s it, isn’t it? This new thing, with all these slayers at once -- there should be working slayers in Europe, and everywhere else in the world, instead of everyone being huddled inside a fort in the Midwest. Buffy would realize that -- she’d decide to help, and that’s why you can’t take the chance of telling her when things go wrong. She’s the only slayer to reach retirement age, and you can’t bear the thought of losing her.”
Slowly, Giles sank back into his seat, and pulled his glasses back on. “Yes. I had that revelation myself, just today. I’ve turned from a warrior into some nancy-boy grandfather.”
Feeling Willow’s hand on his, Xander looked down to see a pleading look on the redhead’s face. “Xander, we get the idea. We made mistakes. Now we all have to face them, but can’t we get through the next few days, first?”
“I don’t think so, Wil. We have to come clean with Buffy, and the sooner the better.” He turned to Angel, the only one of them who’d seen Buffy since she came to Italy. “She didn’t see you, did she? I’ll bet she doesn’t even know Spike’s alive.”
The vampire shook his head. “She doesn’t know I’m alive either, not anymore. She’s seeing someone else. And she’s happy.”
The others were silent for a long moment, until finally Giles said, “Are there any other secrets anyone would like to bring up? Because once Buffy finds out we’ve been holding one thing back from her, she’s going to want to know it all.”
Angel started to speak, closed his mouth, then opened it again. “I’ve been dating a werewolf.”
Looking unsurprised, Willow grinned. “Can’t stay away from the special ones, can you? Not the same werewolf I dated, I hope.”
“No. This one talks more.”
Xander sank back into his seat, wondering if any of this would ever have been settled, without Cordelia’s death to bring them together. Angel turned away from them again, while Giles, looking embarrassed, retrieved his glass and put it away. After a moment, again seeming to read Xander’s mind, Willow spoke:
“Cordy would tell us we’re all being idiots. That we should have just come out with it, and said what we thought a long time ago.”
“Maybe she’s doing that now,” Giles murmured. “If anyone had the sheer force of will to send a message from the beyond, it would be her.”
Angel turned to look back, his face twisted, and for just a second another puzzle piece seemed to fall into place. But Xander, sight or no sight, couldn’t quite figure out what that piece might be.