Giles hurries up the stairs to catch Willow before she leaves, Wood's words ringing in his ears. I just need you to keep Buffy away for a few hours.
He's still reeling from the series of events of the last few minutes: Spike refusing to cooperate in removing the trigger, even after injuring Dawn. Buffy unchaining Spike, who could be triggered to kill again at any moment. Buffy refusing to discuss that decision in a rational manner. And to top it all off, Willow deciding that this was the perfect time to leave for a few days.
Wood's proposal was the least insane behavior in the basement.
Willow’s nearly out the door, duffel bag slung over her shoulder, when he asks, “Willow, where are you going?”
“Like I said. Just--away for a little bit.”
A vague answer might be enough for Buffy, but he won't let Willow get away with that.
He decides silence is the most effective tactic.
She caves almost instantly. "I'm not bailing on Buffy. I'll be back as soon as I can."
He believes her. Still, there are so many other ways Willow could run into trouble. For one thing, Amy's still out there somewhere.
Willow glances nervously around the room. Giles follows her gaze. Most of the Potentials are watching television, oblivious to anything else. Except for Amanda, who is watching Giles and Willow with poorly-disguised interest.
"Ok," Willow says, "but can we go someplace a little more private to talk about this?"
They walk to Wilkins Memorial Park. Willow stops for a moment and trails her hand along the railing of a bridge, seemingly lost in some private memory. Though it's late afternoon, the park is deserted. Citizens have started abandoning Sunnydale. Yet another sign of the gravity of the current threat: it's managed to break through the fog of obliviousness and denial that has kept this town populated for decades.
Willow sits on a bench, fiddles with the strap of her bag, and avoids eye contact.
Giles sits beside her, thinks about the best way to approach it. “Willow, the reason you left the coven early was to help Buffy, not to go haring off on your own.”
She flinches at that, but still won’t look at him. "I'm going to LA to help Angel with a problem. It’s important, and it’s not the kind of thing anyone else can do.”
“It’s so important that you won’t tell me or Buffy what it is?”
He’s trying to control his frustration. Her evasions are poking an open wound.
Willow buries her face in her hands. “Can’t you just trust me on this?”
He trusts her to make her best efforts to control her magic; he wouldn't have sent her back to Buffy if he didn't. He’s not sure he trusts her to decide whether a task is important enough to justify leaving Sunnydale, even for a day or two. She doesn't seem to grasp the magnitude of the threat The First poses. None of them, not even Buffy, seem to recognize that, no matter how many times he's tried to make them understand.
He’s still trying to think of an answer when she sighs and says, “It’s ok. I wouldn’t trust me, either.”
She finally looks him in the eye. “Giles, Angel lost his soul again and his team asked me to re-ensoul him.”
Shock, fury, fear, and horrific memories are all clamoring for his attention at once.
“I see,” is all that he can manage to say while keeping his voice level. He needs to stay calm. He focuses on the brook in front of them, watching the water tumble over rocks, trying to breathe normally.
When the tightness in his chest subsides, he asks, “Are you sure that he’s still in Los Angeles? He might be headed here.” Giles clenches his fists, digging his nails into his palms, wondering how to break the news to Buffy.
“The woman I talked to, Angel’s friend, she wasn't entirely clear about it, but it sounds like they did it on purpose--”
He almost wants to laugh. Five years. That’s what Jenny’s death was worth. Five years of caution before Angel risked his soul again. That’s all.
“--and he's been really focused on his team in LA. They're trying to catch him and bring him back."
Lovely. They've managed to make this into an even bigger debacle than he could have imagined. “Do they have any idea if he’s trying anything like Acathla?”
“She didn’t say, but I figured Angelus had apocalypse-y plans the last time, so it was probably safer to assume he still does.”
He can't help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. “Wouldn’t that be a blow to The First? Thousands of years of planning to destroy the world, and one histrionic vampire beats them to the punch?”
There’s a small smile from her, but it quickly disappears. She’s clearly waiting for an answer from him.
“Are you sure there isn’t someone else who can do this?” The soul restoration is a dark spell, but it doesn’t necessarily require someone as powerful as Willow to perform it.
"I know that my magic's been kinda unstable, but I think it's getting better. I thought the Prokaryote Stone thing was calm and control-y.” An anxious look crosses her face. “Do you think something went wrong, and that's why Spike freaked? Did I go dark and veiny there and not notice it?"
"No, the spell worked exactly the way it should have. The problem was with Spike, not your magic." But they're off track now. "I'm concerned about whether you should do the spell, not whether you can do it. I'm not sure it's a good idea for you to leave when things are so chaotic here."
"Right, 'should' versus 'can'. It's just things have been so spectacularly iffy on the 'can' part, I just figured that must be what you were worried about. So. Wesley hired a mystic to put Angel’s soul in a jar, they lost the jar, and then the mystic told them he couldn’t find the jar or re-ensoul Angel without the jar. Now they need someone who can help them find it and restore Angel’s soul.”
Wesley. That berk is one of the last few surviving Watchers, while dozens of the Council's gifted scholars and brilliant strategists are lost forever.
Giles rubs the back of his neck. He'd wrenched it badly falling from the ceiling last May. It had healed, mostly, but it flares up from time to time. "Hang on a minute, I need to think about this."
He's engaged in a tug of war with Angel's team over Willow. It doesn’t help that none of the Devon witches were willing to go to Sunnydale to fight on the front lines, even though they all know exactly what's at stake. None of the local Wiccans have offered to share Willow's burden either. Willow isn't the only witch in the world, but sometimes it feels like she is. He needs to decide which apocalypse is more imminent, or which one of Buffy's murderous vampire ex-lovers is more dangerous at the moment.
The bottom line is that even with her struggles, he trusts Willow more than he trusts that merry bunch of idiots in LA to handle Angelus. And he can deal with the Spike problem without her.
"I suppose we could spare you for a day or two," he says.
"Oh, good. I also thought, once everything's calmed down, that maybe we can see if Angel's team can help. Not Angel, because he got kinda thrashed the last time The First got to him. But his team might have some vision-y insight about The First, or maybe one of their demon hunters can come help Buffy."
He can see flashes of the old Willow, the one who helped Buffy with brainpower and ideas as well as her spells, peeking out. He's missed that part of her.
"Just don't take any unnecessary risks. If it comes down to you or Angel, protect yourself. You're far too valuable to us."
"No problem. I’m not gonna get up close and personal. And Giles, I'm sorry I got all avoidy back there. I didn't want Buffy to know because she can't do anything about it, not with so many people to protect here. All she could do was worry, and it would be extra layers of worry because it’s Angel."
If there's one thing he understands right now, it's needing to take action when Buffy can't. "You could have talked to me about it."
"I didn't tell you because you're having a hard enough time right now without dredging up all that Angelus stuff. You’ve just been so weird and distant ever since you got here."
"I'm taking this war seriously. What we're up against can’t be defeated, just beaten back for a time."
She puts a hand on his arm. "I'm not criticizing. It's just, Althenea keeps telling me how many Potentials they’ve been locating, and how many get here, and I can do the math. I can’t do anything about The First hunting down Potentials, or most of the stuff Buffy is dealing with right now, but this spell is something I can take care of on my own. I thought I'd get in there, get it done, and I’d let you both know once all of this is over. I just have a feeling about this. It's the first major magic I ever did, and I'm much stronger now.“
The more he thinks about it, the more inclined he is to give her a pass on the attempted deception this time. It’s not the ideal way to handle it, but he can understand the appeal of swooping in to LA to manage this Angelus crisis without making it Buffy’s crisis too.
He'll let Willow help this time, but Angel is running out of second chances. If by some miracle, they survive these next few months, Giles will need to think about the prioritizing the use of Willow’s magic. They can’t risk burning her out with non-crucial tasks.
Willow gathers up her bag, and they walk back towards Revello Drive. "I was just thinking how weird it will be to see Wes, Cordy, and Angel in LA again. It’s kinda like Sunnydale High in exile. It seems like a million years ago that we were all hanging out in the library working together."
The sense of deja vu is overwhelming: Angelus is running amok. Willow is trying to restore Angel’s soul. Someone Buffy cares for is endangering everyone around her, and possibly the world. He’s trying to advise two powerful and headstrong young women as best he can.
In the end, we all are who we are, no matter how much we may appear to have changed.
Willow will handle Angelus. He and Wood will handle Spike.