Rating: PG-13
Pairings: Giles/Willow unrequited, Willow/Tara, Ethan/GIles, and inexplicable Anya/Oz in a dream sequence
Season/Episode: 4/between Yoko Factor and Primeval
Spoilers: Dark Age, Yoko Factor, Primeval
Summary: Giles twists and turns in his waking and sleeping, remembers, hopes, and gives up for good what he could never have had.

(This is Not) the Ballad of John and Yoko

Xander: …Tara's your girlfriend?
Giles: Bloody hell!
--"The Yoko Factor"

He stumbled up the last steps, which was allowed, as he was out of sight now. He permitted himself to stumble, then. He was very, very inebriated. But he could walk to his bedroom without falling. If they heard him falling, they would doubtless come upstairs, put him to bed. And that could not happen. None of them was going to mount those stairs, not tonight, not ever. He got himself into his bedroom. There was another bottle of Scotch next to his bed. Only a quarter empty. He knew he shouldn't have any more. He had a corkscrew in his hand. No. He decided very determinately. No more. Bed now, and more Scotch tomorrow. Sleep now.


Only when his head was on the pillow, when he'd gotten the room to stop swarming his already overloaded senses, then he thought her name. Willow. He heard doors slam somewhere beneath him. Gone. All gone now. Very good. He could think in peace. Get another drink. He'd said he wouldn't, though. Perhaps it was better if he simply slept it off. With coffee and morning, it would all look much brighter. He was sure of it, and gave himself a reassuring pat on the back.

Then he collapsed into dark sleep. He didn't dream. He never dreamt when he was drunk. It was sometimes one of the best reasons to open the next bottle of Scotch.

Dark tunnel, underground, books stacked to the ceiling. Staircase, which he climbs. Up, up, and away. Watching cartoons again, Ripper? Don't call me that. What would you rather I call you? Daddy? Would that make you happy? The voice is coming from one of these speakers. Which one? He needs a new amp. He'll ask Oz about that. If he can find Oz, who's in one of these speakers. He looks at them all carefully. Red, blue, green, ticky, tacky, tactless. Well, I certainly don't see what I have to do with anything. Please, let me go. I don't like it here. Remove me from this speaker at once. I insist upon it. Anyanka, what are you doing in my sound system. I'm looking for an album. Oz said you had it. Please, I need to find your album, so that Oz will love me again. He likes your albums, you know. I know. Get out of there, please. It doesn't make any sense. He flips through some albums, trying to find one for Anya, so she can win back Oz. It's very important that Oz love Anya again. If he doesn't, then it's quite likely the world will end. One of these albums. He tosses them like Frisbees, and one of them whirls off into the distance of the dreamscape and decapitates an innocent demon.

He rolled over, tossed the blanket off. It was not morning yet, and he was not sober yet. He could still see the delirium at the edge of his field of vision. One of the girls had told him that Professor Walsh said women's peripheral vision is better than men's. He believed this quite firmly. So if (say, just for an example) Willow were there, she'd be able to see the monsters lurking under the bed. She would also see morning. Morning, exuding its own peculiar energy, which Willow surely could read. Peculiar. Exactly the word. Morning. Sunshiny, bright, morning, with no demons to worry about, and Buffy would come home to him (please?) and he would Watch, watch the sun rise with the rest of them.

The sun is rising higher and higher, so quickly, and it is noontime before it is midmorning, and soon it will be teatime and they've had nothing for breakfast except potato chips. If these children were only capable of learning what a balanced diet is. He lays out the ingredients for a healthy meal, American foods, the kind they'll like, the kind of food Mrs. Summers (Mrs. Rosenberg) would approve of. Thanksgiving, and they've left empty places for Oz and Olivia and Miss Calendar and no place at the table for Angel, Angel will never sit at table with them. He's a known murderer, he will never be permitted in this house. Christmas last year… the lights in the sky are very bright. Bethlehem. Bethlehem is in his living room and Willow and Xander are kneeling by the manger. Isn't he beautiful, Ripper? We've named him Jesus. I thought you were Jewish. For his sake. Whatever you say, isn't that right, Joseph? XanderJoseph nods, silent assent. He certainly is a darling little boy. He looks like you, Willow. Madonna. Call me Madonna, and I'll call you Daddy. It certainly is a very pretty little child.

He shook his head when he woke up again. He couldn't shake the image of Willow, kneeling contritely (submissively?) by Xander's side. Rupert. Get a grip, old man. He was far too sober now. He felt it, memories and wistful fantasies seeping to the surface, and he didn't feel tired anymore, just ugly and lonely and old and like he was about to be sick. He made it to the commode in time, vomited, and stared into the ceramic bowl, deep in thought. The bottle of Scotch was tempting. Oblivion lay there. The smell nearly overwhelmed him, but he couldn't muster the energy to flush the toilet.

"Good morning, uh, say, you aren't Ms. Patricks."

He's flustered. He stutters. Yes, stutters, and she's only a sophomore in high school and he is here by order of the Watcher's Council of Britain, esteemed by his comrades, prepared to meet his charge, and here she is, and he is flustered. "Uh, Rupert. Rupert Giles. You must be-"

"Looking for a book! Exactly. I don't know how you guessed. I'm Willow. Rosenberg. And I'm looking for a book, for class, Ms. Patricks said it would be on reserve but, if she's not here…"

"She's been, uh, replaced. Rather permanently, I'm afraid. I think your book is here in the uh, cage."

"Exactly it, thanks. Nice to meet you, Mr. Giles." She smiles at him, ducks her head, leaves him alone in his library. He is flabbergasted.

He didn't fall in love with Willow (full stop) He considered that. No, he didn't fall in love with her immediately. Nor while she was a minor, nor while she was in his care, no matter how limited, in a professional capacity, nor while she belonged (yes, belonged, didn't she) to Oz. But there had been hope. Miniscule hope, yes, and hopes he'd never dreamt of putting into words, of course, but hope, nonetheless. He was nothing but an empty, lecherous old man, and it was very, very bad of him to be thinking like this of Willow, who was the best witch and the brightest girl he'd ever known.

He had been a young man when he'd met Ethan. A young man, like Willow was a young woman, and he'd found magic, and the magic and Ethan had loved him back.

"Mum'd go off on you if she knew, Ripper, that it? Scared of Mummy?"

"Tease as you like, I won't. Not tonight. I've got to study, or Dad'll wonder why the Watch-er, rather, why the firm won't take me. He's dead set on me being an accountant, you know."

"And you'd do that, you, become the father of Rupert Giles the third, heir to the firm and all that, when you've tasted magic, when you know what it's like to have the whole world in the palm of your hand, ripe and sweet and ready to be eaten?"

He considers. There are Council texts, diaries and treatises and endless pictures of demons to be looked at and traced over and memorized. And then there's Ethan, who knows where to find real demons and real vampires and can summon real magic that he feels tingle in the back of his spine. "Well, magic tonight, then, and tomorrow for Mum and Dad and the firm."

They join hands, start chanting, each word doubly sibilant for there being the two of them here. It tastes like fire going down, the magic, and feels like whisky coming up, and here it is, Ethan's flat full of strange smoke and odd odours and in the midst of it all, Ethan, changed somehow, transformed.

"C'mon, mate, touch my hand. It tingles a bit at first, then-it's better than acid, really. Better than beer. Better than the Beatles and Pink Floyd."

"Now you're having me on, man."

But he isn't. And the magic (not to cast out evil or to discover truth, not for personal wealth, not for anything but the thrill of being in Ethan's thrall) feels like every drug he's ever smoked and every riff he's ever strummed and every single person in London he's convinced to shag him.

He knew it must feel like that for Willow. She was so young, and he'd done nothing but encourage her, and he knew that for that he was liable if not for any darker designs. She'd been in his care and he had, inexcusably, allowed his own interest in her progression in the arts to blind him to the real danger she faced. It had been such a short leap from homegrown whiskey substitutes to Iyghon, to death. But he had hoped.

He realized he was being irrational, that Tara was a charming girl, quiet, bright, much like Willow herself. She was no Ethan Rayne, at least. It was absurd for a man his age to be jealous of a girl like her. But jealous he was. Not fear, then, but envy, gripping at his heart and making his head spin.

She sits primly, legs crossed at the ankles, and lights the first candle. He lights the second one, and she smiles and remarks on the brightness.

"Quite right. Bright arts, not dark. Besides, the fire will kill a vampire, in a pinch."

"But we aren't expecting any unexpected visitors tonight, are we? Just you and me and the old magic, right?"

"Precisely," he says in his most reassuring tone. "Will you begin?"

"Shekinah, we beseech you,"

"whisper low, whisper high."

"Shekinah, we beseech you,"

"remember us."

"Shekinah, we beseech you," her fingers land on the table, and she begins to draw circles. Her eyes are closed, and he can see that she is concentrating all the forces of good that lie within her. He must concentrate too, must think of the spell, but she is lovely, sitting there, so composed, so enthralled with her own powers, that he cannot take his eyes off her, even as he lifts the cross and moves it in the proper fashion.

"Burn, beryl," and a green flame shoots from her candle, "drown, daisy," and the flowers that she has gathered are enveloped in a gentle mist. Her command of the elements is astounding for one so young, due, no doubt, to his careful tutelage. They join hands again, and hers are soft and gentle and small. A current of protection passes between them.

"Well, that seemed to go well."

"Yes, it did. Did we save Buffy?"

"I daresay we did. If it weren't for you…"

"Oh, it was mostly you. I just did the background chanting. But when all the elements came together, that was just amazing, wasn't it? It was so pretty!"

"Astounding, really. And Buffy will be grateful."

"She's always grateful, though, when you save her like that… she needs you. She needs us, Rupert. She needs us to be together, supporting her, seeing her through, burning candles to light her way in the dark."

She cleans up the remnants of the spell with a wave of her hand and kisses him with airy delight.

He had always meant to allow her to progress at a natural rate, and if he allowed her to go too fast, perhaps he had depended on Oz to slow her down, to anchor her. When that relationship ran its course, it was only natural that he should step in, that he should guide her through her training. He had not foreseen Tara. He should have. He'd seen her, shaken her hand, suspected nothing.

He crawled back into bed, not tired, but aware that further contemplation would be useless, tiresome.

He dreamt of nothing but hedgerows and amber.

He wasn't a weepy, maudlin drunk, would not allow himself to be. Somewhere in the swirl of "you can't deal with the fact that Tara's my girlfriend" and "Tara's your girlfriend?!" and his own "bloody hell!" he thought he remembered someone saying he was the funny drunk. Hilarious, he thought dryly. A grown man whose love for the supernatural has brought him no friends but college freshmen, whom he encourages in delinquency, mentors in magic, and is ultimately unneeded by. The convolution of the sentence mirrored perfectly the total convolution of his thoughts. But better to be funny than to weep, to be sad, to allow negative energy to cloud his thoughts when he should be sharp as crystal should Buffy decide she needed him after all.

When Willow returned for her laptop he hid the long night behind befuddlement and the unfeigned agony of a hangover. The girls skipped off into the daylight, and he thought he saw Tara whisper in Willow's ear, and both girls giggled.

Anger battled with defeat, and defeat, knowing the value of irony, triumphed, and he sat on the couch and resolutely did not touch a drop of alcohol.

An hour passes, another knock on the door, Willow alone this time.

"Hey, Giles, sorry, just stopped by to see how you were doing and because, you know, I wanted to explain about last night? I kinda think you got the wrong idea about me and Tara. We're close friends, but not… not like that. It's complicated, but the thing is, I thought you might've been upset about it, so I wanted to let you know, and I don't want you to worry, because the thing of it is, it's you I love, Rupert. You're smart, and sexy, and funny, and I love you."

He thought about Spike. Spike, who overheard everything, who knew who was needed and who wasn't. What would he say. Schoolgirl, he'd probably say. Rupert Giles, mooning like a schoolgirl over some redheaded tart. He could hear Spike's caustic tones mocking him, could almost taste the first sip of Scotch.

Instead, he would allow himself one sob before he clenched his jaw, bit his tongue, and reminded himself that he was old, too old for Willow, and wise, wise enough for Buffy, and mature-but not too mature for tears.

Giles wept.

The End
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