Spoilers: Through S6
Summary: Willow calls out to Giles, but both of them end up learning something.
Notes: For maybedarkpink for the giles_ficathon.
Part 1: Prayer for the Dying
Giles had not prayed since the last Wednesday he'd spent in England before coming to Sunnydale, Ash Wednesday, 1997. He'd been escorting a crowd of fresh Academians, shuffling in their Sunday best and chanting the plainsong more convincingly than they had their Latin protection wards the previous night. Until their fifth year, daily chapel was required of all potential Watchers. Faith, of course, was frowned upon. Giles hadn't attended chapel with any regularity in many years, but on hearing of Merrick's death, he had left his books for half a day to seek some solace in the familiar liturgy of the CoE. There, kneeling on a creaky kneeler and trying to recall the words of the daily prayer, listening to the rattling of young Watchers and the rustling of gum wrappers, Giles had prayed silently, gracelessly, fervently, for the safety of his Slayer and for the fate of the world.
Now, trembling, Giles stepped off a plane from LAX and reached out for the nearest pillar. He held onto it until he felt steady enough to go through customs, muttering, "Buffy... Willow... the children. Please God, let the children be all right." Prayer was frowned upon by the Watchers' Council, as words had power and giving power to any higher being was viewed as unwise. Nevertheless, Giles felt that as the safety of Sunnydale was out of his hands and might as well be out of human hands, it wouldn't hurt to give God a chance.
He turned a corner, trying to find his way through Heathrow. He almost bought a cup of coffee, after six years in America insisting on drinking only tea, but he longed mostly for the comfort of bed. He pressed a hand to his forehead and followed blue arrows to customs, then baggage claim, and finally to a waiting cab, which he collapsed into gratefully, noting with more relief than pleasure that he was traveling on the left side of the road through an omnipresent mist. England. Home. He said another small prayer of thanksgiving. He was just starting to nod off when a voice cut through his mind. At first he thought it was God, responding to his flimsy efforts at devotion, or perhaps Janus, rebuking him for his apostasy. As he struggled to wakefulness, though, he recognized the voice, far more familiar than God or Janus.
"Giles, wake up." Her voice was familiar, all right, but tinged with unfamiliar powers and portents. He gripped his suitcase tightly, carefully wrapped his thought with as much protection as he could muster. Willow's telepathy spells were sporadic but powerful, and blocking them had become increasingly difficult. Still, he gathered his mental capacity and responded in kind.
"Good, you can hear me. Listen up, Giles, if you think you're going to get away with leaving us like that, you'd better have another think, because, because -- we're doing just fine without you." Giles felt Willow's words like a strong, subtle flame searing his mind, a trickle of water seeping through his mental block. He felt himself reaching out to her, and along the edge of her angry words was something else -- fear fueling her magic, and weakness eroding it. "What's wrong?" he asked, and the question was deliberate, careful, lest all his concern and love overwhelm her -- lest she see him as he was.
He felt her answer, not in words, but in flashing images, in pulsing colors and deep black spaces -- emptiness. He was glad he'd put up barriers; even with them, gushes of despair, agony, sharp -- emotions he had been lucky enough not to experience since his own adolescence. He trembled, and, taking advantage of Willow's momentary weakness, he
firmly severed the connection, then muttered under his breath the Latin words that would keep Willow away from his thoughts. He made a mental note to call her as soon as he'd gotten a decent amount of sleep.
"Giles? Oh God! Hi! Are you okay? Did you get in all right?"
"I'm quite well. And, er, how are you?"
"I'm good - - things are kind of, you know, they're not so good. But I got a B+ on my geometry test? And last night Tara came over, and we watched movies, just us, and then --"
Giles clicked gently, and Dawn trailed off. He chastised himself, but taking care of Dawn had never been part of his duty. "So, did you want to talk to Buffy?"
"To Willow, actually," he replied, and Dawn hollered for Willow to come to the phone.
"Hello -- hello?" Will was breathless. "Is this Tara?"
"No -- sorry." He laughed lightly. "Are you all right?"
"Peachy," she said, then sighed. "No."
"I'm sorry. Is there anything...?"
"You could come back," she said, and Giles was struck suddenly by how much she'd grown, that she was willing to challenge him like that. It was disturbing, the realization that Willow had become a woman under his watch. "I -- I think there's something wrong about my magic." He felt his hand twitching for a book. Something very wrong indeed with her magic -- inky black and wrong. Ugly. Ugliness that had no place nestling in Willow's body.
"Wrong -- like -- I don't know. I wish you could figure out what's the matter."
"What? -- Oh, yes, of course." He opened a volume on the uses and abuses of magic, finding the passage on resurrection spells automatically. "Perhaps you'd better make a record of your symptoms -- tell me what's wrong."
"Can't I just come out there?" she asked, and Giles couldn't help but notice that, no longer confident, she was pleading with him to let her come. He weighed the request in his mind. When he contemplated Willow, words hat had long lain dormant in his mind -- sin, blasphemy, even grace -- awakened. Willow's journey, unguided and led by passion, had landed her shaking on his doorstep. He remembered a conversation he'd had with Tara a few days before he'd left. She'd asked if he believed in Gods and while he hadn't answered her, hadn't known how, the question came back to him a thousandfold. If not gods, at least the Watchers' Council had its rituals, repetitive, tedious words and movements that successfully diluted the potency of magic with their familiarity. "Giles?"
He started, stuttered, and, before ringing off, he told her, "I'll book a flight for you."
Thinking about Willow over the next few days made him twitchy, and naturally he thought of little else. She was a series of Willows in his mind, some young, from a time before he'd met her, before she was tainted with magic. He imagined her as a little girl, curled up on an overlarge chair and reading -- medical encyclopedias, he recalled. He followed this train of thought from childhood through adolescence, and he pictured her as a thriving young medical student, hair pulled back, eyes hidden behind glasses, necessary after too many textbooks, too many late nights. Pulling away from the fantasy, he felt black eyes looking at him, and he knew that Willow was watching. He shuddered and warded quickly.
When Willow arrived, she brought a suitcase full of clothes, a stack of spellbooks, and magic cascading from her fingertips. Giles hugged her and closed his eyes -- he had meant to great her briefly and let her rest, but once he had her in his arms, he was loathe to let her go. He'd left Buffy because he loved her too much, but his love for Willow was different. She was tender, collapsed in his arms, and breakable, and holy. He relaxed. He could help her, touch her, as he'd always meant to do.
The next many days were full of books. Books calmed both of them. Eventually the stack of books on the floor of his flat rivaled the dust, and Willow would sit on tomes of demonology. There was little purpose to their research, but Giles felt any reintegration, reeducation, required research. Willow's hair and fingernails seemed to grow as he watched, as if she were aging in front of him. At night he slept easily, knowing that she was safe in the next room. Some nights, she was in his room, curled up beside him. It made sense that she should share his bed, because -- because.
He slept so soundly, the morning's strange smells, the cloud of incense in the air -- they tripped him up for awhile, until the mid-afternoon when they tasted the bread she'd bought. Then things tasted right, yeast and grains and dough, and he brought a napkin to his lips and put it down again. He didn't know why Willow was there, if not to buy his bread and buy fish at the market, and since when had there been a marketplace in Bath, and since when did he keep strange girls lying around the house?
Willow smiled and said, "So tonight's still on? We'll go out to the theatre?"
"Of course-- only, I don't remember saying anything about that." He frowned. He seemed to remember so little lately, but he never forgot Willow. She smiled at him encouragingly.
"We'll go to the theatre," she affirmed, "and watch A Midsummer Night's Dream. Then we'll come back here, and dream a dream of our own."
He wished he didn't know what she meant by that, wished he could remember why he'd allowed her in his bed in the first place. It had seemed (he was sure) like the right idea at the time.
It was when they woke up in the morning and he found her smiling into his chest that he realized, from the very normality of it, that something was horribly wrong.
When he stood up that afternoon and faced her at the table, he felt Tara's counterpoint, lower, deeper, insidious and troublesome, drilling into his head. I'm under your spell. Head pounding, he grabbed Willow's hand, jerked her to her feet.
"What have you been doing to me?"
"What?" She was innocence.
"Willow." She crushed something in her free hand, and his head muddied. His eyes opened; he pried open her hand. Lethe's Bramble. He fought back the urge to slap her. He scrabbled for memories, tried to locate himself in time. Willow stood in front of him, defiant. He could punish her, but punishment wouldn't cure. When he'd been dragged back to the Watchers' Council, delinquent and shamefaced, it had been his own guilt that had urged him to his redemption. Until Willow found her own Randall, she wouldn't stop. He couldn't imagine the harm she might do if loosed on the world, but there was nothing he could do for her now.
His voice low, he muttered, "Get out."
She reached her hands towards him, put her arms around his waist, tried to kiss him. He swallowed and fought down the urge to kiss her back, to take her into his room -- but he pushed her aside, whispering apologies, then said, cold and crisp, "When you're ready, meet me at morning chapel. Then we'll see to getting you set right."
"I'm not Christian," she said. "I'm not even a good Jew anymore. I'm not anything."
"Willow," he said, and he couldn't look at her, because her fear was writ large on her face. "It might have occurred to you that we don't have many options."
"So you're trusting in God?" Her voice was pure disbelief.
"I'm trusting in whatever I can, Willow. Heaven knows I can't trust myself." To prove his point, he kissed her roughly, and wished again that he could remember their first kiss, that he could remember why he'd started down this spiral in the first place.
He waited for her to say goodbye, to give him a remembrance, but when she realized that he wasn't changing his mind, she refused even to look at him.
Hope and trust had failed him; as Giles leaned his head against the wall, he could do nothing but pray, though he despaired of anyone responding.
Part 2: Prayer for the Newly Born
Snow crunched beneath Giles's feet as he walked the streets of Bath. He cursed his cowardice, not for the first time, in not seeking her out sooner. Now, of course, he didn't really have a choice. Some things, she just deserved to know, regardless of her worthiness.
He tried a locator spell, but she'd warded, of course, and he couldn't find her energy pattern anywhere. None of the anticipated places, none of the inns or boarding houses in the area. He'd even checked the jail, but no luck.
"Damn, Willow, where are you hiding?"
He trudged through the streets, his toes delightfully numb. He had given up longing for a fire that never materialized in the grate he never cleaned, but didn't honestly think that a little success in finding his runaway was too much to ask. He shouldn't have made her leave. He could have tried harder. He should have, he could have, he --
"Looking for someone?" She had her arm around another girl her age, slim and blonde, and both of them were laughing. She'd cut her hair shorter, but she was still undoubtedly Willow.
"There's news from Sunnydale," he said.
"Tara?" The quickness with which she removed her arm from her friend's shoulder should have worried him, had be been that friend, had Tara ever been competition.
"Not Tara," he said. "But Xander -- Xander wanted you to know that the wedding's been called off permanently."
"Really? Xander and Anya?"
"Not to be," Giles said. "After you left they -- postponed it - and then after Buffy -- er-- it's really rather a long story. Would you care for some tea?"
Willow glanced at her companion. "Tess, I'll give you a ring," she said, and Giles fancied that her voice had lost some of it American twang. Then to him, "Sure."
He knew that Tess never stood a chance against the claims of Sunnydale; it had that effect on people. It had that effect on him. The urge to run back immediately to comfort Anya and to advise Xander was so strong that he'd set out searching for Willow expressly so he wouldn't have to deal with the urge to be paternal in a place where his parenting was not needed.
They ordered a plate of biscuits and Giles assured Willow that he would pay, but she smirked and asked him if he really thought her incapable of earning her own living.
"I suppose I ought to have sought you out last year, to tell you that Buffy has, uh, retired."
"From being the Slayer. Naturally, I told her that she was not allowed to retire, as I have told her since the day I met her, but I believe the trauma this time was... too great a strain for her."
"Oh God. What happened?" Willow took a careful sip of her too-hot tea.
"She killed a man in cold blood. His name was Warren Mears..."
"Yes, apparently. In any event, she insists that she is fine, but refuses to touch a weapon. Or, uh, talk to me, not since..."
"Since you tried to convince her it was okay to kill people?"
Giles cocked his head and conceded the point, and for a minute they talked of calmer things, of Dawn's schoolwork and why exactly Xander wasn't good enough for Anya, which was Willow's unswerving opinion on the matter.
"I recall," Giles reminded her, "that you once thought Xander was good enough for you."
She laughed. A suspicious man might have thought the laughter was cruel. "Hello? Gay now?"
Giles tried not to think of his memories from last year of her body twitching and curling beneath his, of breathy screams. His name, over and over... it was easier than it should have been to forget; the spells she'd used had lingering side effects; there was about a month that he recalled only as a dim fog, even when he wasn't trying to pretend it had never happened.
"In any event," he said, "I think Xander does have something to say for himself, if you'll give him a chance to tell his side of the story."
"I'm sure. Speaking of more than one side to every story, what have you got to say for yourself?"
"What do you mean?"
"Chapel? Every morning? Did you give up on me after awhile?"
"I--" he hadn't gone after the first week. Seven mornings of dry hymns, of scanning the empty pews looking for a girl he knew would never appear; it had been unpleasant at best. So he'd stopped.
"You gave up."
"After the first couple of weeks," she said, and suddenly her voice was low and confiding again, "I gave up on myself. I mean, I had money, so I could eat, and I had magic, so I could live, but then...." He waited for the moment of revelation, the confession of wrongdoing, the one spell that had backfired and sent her looking for forgiveness. "Then I realized I was being silly. That I'd come to England to get help, and there you were, being so nice to me, and I was just all 'Eww, books, eww, Giles, let's do magic!' And that wasn't fair. So I went looking for you, but you weren't there."
He folded his hands and stopped even trying to eat the biscuits. Just listened, though he wasn't entirely sure what he was listening for. She talked about relapses, so many relapses he eventually lost count, and then about the coven, the coven he hadn't thought to call till that very morning. "Haven't seen her," they'd said. "And if we had, we wouldn't tell you." He couldn't remember what he'd done to anger them, but he had, and now...
"I missed you," she said. "But I'm with Tessa now, and we've got this really great thing going. She's not as good as Tara was -- at magic, I mean -- but she understands me. We're on the same plane, you know? It's like, when she's in the room, everyone else disappears."
"Yes, Willow, I do know what it's like to be in love."
"Well, yeah, I figured. I mean, you and Miss Calendar were large with the smoochies, back in the day." When she smiled, he could almost see her, beneath the posturing and the short hair. There was the giggling, stammering glowing girl he'd once known so well, once longed to save.
"She's not the only woman I've loved," he said, and wondered what was making him so talkative tonight.
"She's... well, of course! Orgy cult in the seventies, and I mean, you're all... mature, right? Of course there've been others."
"Naturally. However, we were talking about Tess."
"Right. She's great. She never questions me, you know, like Tara did. I don't mean I'm like, controlling, just that she's got a much more relaxed attitude towards magic? It's weird, because they were both raised Wicca. I guess Tess was just a more groovy kind of Wicca."
"Yes, I imagine so," Giles conceded, and his heart sank a little bit.
"So yeah. Happiness is here for good."
He took a deep breath. "Willow. I know you hate to be questioned about your use of magic, but as your, well, your oldest friend, I feel compelled to ask."
She took a biscuit and thoughtfully broke it into pieces before answering. "I don't know what you mean."
"I think you do."
"It doesn't feel dangerous, not like when I first came over here."
"But there's still something wrong?"
"There will always be something wrong."
"Have you told Tess?"
"That's none of your business, Mister... Mister Nosy Ex-Watcher!"
He raised an eyebrow. "Defensive?"
"Giles, I thought we could be okay. You, me, out for a cup of tea and a nice chat about our dysfunctional friends. But if you're going to try to fix what isn't broken..."
"Why did you come here in the first place?" He took a hapless sip of lukewarm tea.
"Because I loved you."
"Not to be cured?"
Willow stood up, and faced away from him, looking out the window into the bleak snowfall. "Not to be cured. Not because of the magic. Not because of anything else, Giles, nothing else. Because I loved you, and you were the only person left in my life who might still be able to deal with me. Tara couldn't deal with me, and Buffy was so depressed 'cos of just coming back from the dead, and Xander hasn't been man enough for me since high school, but you're always... you've always been able to deal with me, you know?"
"And I couldn't."
"No one can. Everything I touch gets all ruined, and I try to fix things, but they fall to pieces, and I just broke the last cookie." She sat down again.
"We've been through this. Willow. Giles. Unfixable friendship number seventy-three."
"Ah, but you see, I'm not asking for friendship."
"I don't really recall much of our time together before, but I do know that the girl I took in was neither innocent nor gay. I looked you up to tell you about Xander, but if you are willing, and if you're ready to change..."
Willow was silent.
"I'm not asking for miracles. God knows, I'm beyond intervention, and I suspect you think the same of yourself." He wondered if perhaps there was something in the tea that didn't belong there, or if Willow had tried some sort of truth spell. Neither was out of the question. He hadn't realized until he was trying to seduce her that he was in love with Willow, but once he made the realization, he truly had no choice. "So will you?"
"You know how that works. Mind tricks and memory spells and 'get out Willow. You don't belong here'."
"We could try again. You just have to believe me when I tell you that it wouldn't take a spell to make me love you.
"Would there be church involved? Because I think if my father knew I was moving in with an older man who was making me go to daily mass, he'd blow the last gasket he's got left, and Mom's worried about his heart."
"No church. I might, however, require a daily prayer of thanks to the Goddess of your choice."
"That you've made it this far."
"I'm not making any promises, you know. There'll still be candles and incense and probably not a lot of getting dressed or cooking by hand."
"I'm far from perfect, myself."
"But you want to do this?"
Giles looked at Willow. Her hair really was too short, and she had never lost her tendency to babble when she was threatened, which was often. Her eyes would still gloss black when she did dark magics, and she would do dark magics. She was too old for her young body, and she had been too innocent to have grown so jaded.
But he loved her.
"I rather think it's time we stopped praying for answers and took the truth into our own hands."
She looked at him thoughtfully, then smiled a rare pure smile.