Rating: PG
hermionesviolin who wanted the summer in England.
Summary: England suits her, he thinks, in a way that California did not.

Life As A Killer

England suits her, he thinks, in a way that California did not, and he is suddenly struck by a memory of his first day in America; he arrived early at the school library and she was there already, head bent over a book and her face hidden by a curtain of brown-red hair. He had thought all Californian girls would be blonde, tanned and overly confident - a preconception for which he somewhat blames The Beach Boys - and so it was almost a relief to meet this shy, sweet girl first.

In Hampshire, she looks like just another young student, home for the weekend. When she was sitting her SATs she used to talk about going to Oxford or Cambridge, Giles offering biased opinions of both while he alternately looked up another reference to the Ascension and tested her on her vocabulary list. He wonders whatever happened to that dream. She'd be sitting her finals now, keeping herself awake at night thinking about exam questions instead of her dead lover, worrying about getting a First and not that her friends will never forgive her.

She would never have met Tara, and he's not sure whether she's past the stage of grief where this would sound like a fair trade.

His family's home is large enough that they can go most of the day without seeing one another. Giles is careful to give Willow the run of the house. She's a guest, not a prisoner, and when he says this she gives him a wan, sad smile.

"Faith's a prisoner." The question obvious: why her and not me?

There's no pat answer to that. Both of them killers, both of them potentially very dangerous, both of them harbouring an inner darkness that could one day destroy them. But Faith is in a Los Angeles prison cell, and Willow is curled in the window seat of his library in England looking like an illustration from a children's book. She's been spending a lot of her time here. As far as he knows, she hasn't even looked at the shelves.

"You're not Faith," is all he can say.

"Kinda knew that." She wraps her arms around her knees. Props her chin on them. "Lack of slayer-strength? Always a giveaway."

He draws a chair away from the table, places it far enough away that he won't crowd her, close enough that he won't seem distant. "Faith is receiving the rehabilitation that she needs. As are you."

"When she gets out we can start a secret club." Any irony in her voice is gentle. Almost resigned.

"It's hardly a secret if you tell me about it," he says in the same tone. She tips her head to one side, and her smile this time is a little more genuine. It gives him hope that the girl he knew is still there beneath the grief and pain. "Will you be taking applications for membership?"

She blinks, twice, and then her face shadows. No way to know if she's remembering, as he is, the night that they defeated Glory. Tara called him a killer, and at sunrise the next day Ben and Buffy were both dead and he'd wondered which of them she'd meant.

Willow says, "I forgot about Eyghon."

For a moment, so had he.

"Randall - the boy who died - his parents were old friends of my father's," he says, thinking of childhood outings that in hindsight seem like some rose-tinted, Enid Blyton ideal of bike rides and picnics. "We came up through school together, studied the same subjects at Oxford."

Willow looks troubled, but she's listening, and at least her attention is momentarily on him and not the spectre of Tara.

"Did his mom and dad blame you?"

He suspects that part of her reluctance to return to Sunnydale is the fear of running into Warren's mother.

"No, actually. I was sure they would. I was terrified of coming home to face them. When I finally did, they said they were sure I'd done everything I could." He can't stop the twist of bitterness that edges into his voice. Everything he could? He was still coming down, so far in the clouds he hadn't known anything was wrong with Randall till his friend hit the ground.

"It was an accident," Willow argues. "Giles, you never meant to hurt anybody."

"But I didn't care if I did." He considers pointing out that young men who go around calling themselves Ripper are not, on the whole, volunteers for CND. He thinks of Ben struggling weakly beneath his fingers. Willow killed Warren with a wave of her hand. She wasn't touching him, has never felt someone's last breath on her skin and known she was the cause, and he's sure that she at least regrets the deaths on her conscience. Ben was an innocent. He was also a liability.

"I think the club only accepts actual murderers," she mutters, twisting her fingers around her wrist and turning her face away. The conversation, it seems, is over.

Not for the first time, he wishes there was some easy description he could fit their relationship to. He's not her father (Ira Rosenberg thinks his only child is at an English summer school, and he is affectionately indifferent). He's not a mentor (the doubt creeps in, again, that he should have been, that he saw the signs and knew where her power was leading her and he should have taken it and her in hand). They're not friends, not quite (the difference in their ages is against them, and he thought of her as one of the children for too long).

So he is just Giles, and she is just Willow, and it comes back to where it started, with the two of them in a library. He stands, and lays a hand on her shoulder, and doesn't tell her that it will get easier.

One murderer to another, it never does.

The End
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