My Life in Red
When the Coven summoned him he feared the worst. He was not disappointed. They asked him to do it for them and he agreed, ready to kill her if it came to that. Instead when he brought her at heel, half-broken and brittle, to stand in the Circle, magical rapport still strung between them, the witches taught him a word.
She is always gone when he wakes, and for that he is thankful. It isn't every night and he has not yet discerned a pattern but there is a certain ritual to her coming; she pushes his door open a few more inches, (he never shuts it, not after that first night) and stands silently in the hall for a few moments. She crosses to the bed, her steps sure in the darkness.
At first she just lay on the covers, shivering in the chill air of autumn nights till one visit when he'd rolled over and lifted the covers allowing her to slip beneath them. Her icy cold feet had found his warm ones in silent reproach for all the nights he had ignored her. After that she had simply crawled in with him, pressing her nose to the back of his neck and aligning her body with his. He started to sleep on the left side of the bed, leaving the right side, the door-side, free.
The nights she doesn't come he lies awake listening to her dream. He learnt quickly how to close his mind but his ears are different matter. She dreams of frogs and flaying. Sometimes he hears her weeping softly and knows she dreams of Tara.
The nights she doesn't come he lies awake missing the feel of her slender body snugged against his back.
One morning he wakes and she is still beside him. Her head lies in the hollow below his shoulder, her hand curves over his ribs. They lie there for a while as the room slowly brightens and when he finally rises she curls immediately into the place he has left, seeking his leftover warmth and the heavy scent of his sleep.
That night he finds her waiting, her back curved towards the door. The bed creaks slightly as he lies down beside her and she moves closer. After a few minutes he lifts his arm and she ducks under it and her head rests against his shoulder. He strokes her bright hair and leaves his hand on the nape of her neck. The only sound is their soft, even breathing and the tap of bare branches against the window.
She lies in front of the fire he builds every afternoon. Power wasted and grief worn, he constantly fears she will sicken in the pre-winter chill that is so different from the eternal summer of the Hellmouth. She is flipping through the photo albums he unearthed for her to help along the somewhat stilted evening conversations.
She picks up the red one and he stiffens, although trying not to. Secrets and lies have covered till now. It is time that someone knows. Three drinks down; maybe he can do it. She might even find a lesson in his sordid history.
Giles knows when she reaches the one Thomas took of he and Ethan. Ethan curled, sleeping, like a creeper vine around his long, nude frame. She pauses very slightly, and while any reaction she might have is kept well hidden he feels the questions that are firmly repressed. He closes his eyes and takes a drink, thumb and index finger stealing up to pinch the bridge of his nose. The soft plastic crackle of the leaves turning stops. Four pages further. The photo, he remembers, is burned slightly at the edges.
He doesn't have to see it. Deirdre sits cross-legged on the tatty red carpet that always smelled of dust and vomit. The rare smile on her face actually lights her eyes; she is looking over her shoulder. Giles is sitting behind her with his long, skinny legs drawn up at the knees. His eyes meet hers, smiling as well. Their hands link and rest over her belly. They felt the baby move that day.
He can feel Willow pushing at his memories but he keeps them tucked tight.
"My...my wife. Deirdre. That is my twenty-second birthday." Suddenly, his courage fails him. He cannot find the words. "Look i-in the drawer on the desk. The small wooden box." She nearly drops it as the wards spring up and try to bite her unfamiliar hand. He waves them away.
Willow opens the box.
There is a curled lock of fine, baby-fair hair tied with a thin blue ribbon. A small card bearing the inked print of a tiny hand, right, and a foot, left. Willow reads the spiky left-handed inscription: "Aidan Patrick Giles, November 1, 1978."
"We argued over that. Well, Ethan did. He said there was no way to be sure whose child it was. And, really, he was right." Flat, un-intonated. Calm. He does not feel these things, but long training allows Giles to keep at least the semblance of calm. "He was furious when he found out that we'd gone and got married. Jealous, I expect. And then we kil...Randall died. We think that's where it happened."
A great lump has formed in his throat and his chin quivers dangerously. He is shaking despite the warm fire.
Giles feels the gentle, compelling pressure of her fingertips against his jaw. Willow stands before him and, at last, he meets her eyes. Lets her see.
Lets her see the squalid flop, held up by dry rot and rat saliva. Ethan's persistent, bizarre courtship. Hindsight gives him the horrible suspicion that the Mark of Eyghon, Deirdre, everything, was some form of courting gift. Like a cat leaving the neatly disembowelled corpse of a mouse upon his master's pillow. Gifts that Giles returned with bracelets of bruises and fisted refusals.
He shows her the ritual of Calling. Makes no effort to conceal the depths of depravity they plunged during the red hours that followed. He feels again the soft squash of Deirdre's breasts against his chest and the harsh rasp of Ethan's chest hair against his back. Ethan's jealous and convenient view of their relationship demanded only he and Deirdre got Giles. And he only got Giles during the ritual.
Willow teases out the memory of Randall's death. He believed, then and now, that death was meant for Deirdre. Ethan left out a limitation sigil from the summoning circle, accidentally he claimed. Randall was the only one who noticed it, and at the last minute he stepped into the circle instead of Deirdre, unprepared and still weak from the last time he'd harboured Eyghon.
He remembers the violent convulsions and raving madness as Randall tried to fight down the demon. For long hours he writhed within the circle until he was simply too weak, too drained of will and strength to hold against complete possession much longer. Giles remembers the last fading shred of sanity in the man's eyes as he begged them to end it.
Willow tries to pull away from the memory of Randall's last minutes. Thomas and Ethan holding down his legs, Phillip and Deirdre at his hands and Giles kneeling over his chest; fingers around his throat.
Giles holds her to it. //This is the way a man dies.// This is the look of a man waiting for his end. No hiding behind homicidal rage, power-crazed and grief-mad. No quick spell and clean flick of manicured fingers.
And for all his wild and wilful rebellion, for all his Watcher training and heritage, this was a virginity that Giles had not yet lost; never before had he killed. //This is the way a man dies, and it is not easy or quick.//
They all felt the jump as Eyghon left the empty shell that had been Randall. They had all thought Eyghon banished back to his dimension.
"W-we agreed that was the end of it." Giles' voice is rough as he breaks away from the contact. He pours himself more of the excellent single-malt that was hidden in the back of the liquor cabinet. Willow sags beside him on the slippery, chintz covered sofa. Trembling, wet cheeked.
"We agreed that was the end of it. Everyone but Ethan. He tried to persuade us that Randall was merely weak and there was no danger to the rest of us. We all got quite insistent in our refusals. Deirdre ended the question with a knee to his nuts and a broken nose. I doubt he regained, ah, function by the time we finally left. She could be quite vicious when provoked, she got thrown out of boarding school for doing the same thing to a master."
They sit in silence for a time, listening to the popping fire. Giles slides lower in the fat embrace of the sofa. He removes his glasses, discarding them on the end-table. The room dissolves into fuzzy light and shadow, comforting in its diffuseness. He wishes he could stop here, at this smaller sin, but the weight of the telling rolls him forwards.
"The baby came too soon. Several weeks, at least. It...He...." Three nightmarish days and nights. And then at the end such a tiny scrap of life to show for it, born onto the blood soaked mattress. "She almost died from blood loss, and shock. The h-horns you see." And the left hand, clawed and three-fingered, rosy shreds of Deirdre's insides hanging from their pointed tips.
"Eyghon...infected the baby. The possession was incomplete; we believed that to be due to his undeveloped nervous system and brain. There wasn't enough for him to get a complete hold."
Once again he takes refuge in formal language and neutral tone. "Physically, however..."
A sharp crack as the heavy crystal tumbler shatters in his hands makes them both jump. He needs another drink, clearly. He should have been too drunk to focus that much power. The bottle will do for now. "Horns, a rudimentary tail. Fused fingers on the left hand. The...the gills were nonfunctional... probably. I believed, I must believe, that his soul was intact, human."
"Wh-what did you do?"
Willow's question, though soft-voiced and expected, drives a stake through his heart. But he cannot shrink from this now, having gone so far.
"I did what was necessary," And he holds her eyes, to be sure she understands his meaning. Watching her as she realises what he's saying. "We...I baptised him. Named him. He was...dead before Deirdre woke to see him." And he had never seen Deirdre again, until the day Eyghon showed up in Sunnydale wearing her corpse.
"I brought him here. Buried him," He'll show her tomorrow the little patch of earth that is sacred ground in thirty religions, not even half of them human. "The Coven came to me here, they helped me. As they are trying to help you."
The bottle is empty and Giles is tired. His naked heart is beginning to feel cold and heavy. Wearily he gets to his feet and makes a stately progress towards the door. Where he stops, leaning against the frame, looking at his blandly human hands. Addressing the air, he says, "I did what I had to."
He sits on the edge of the bed to remove his shoes and socks, thinking that perhaps the last drink (half-bottle) was one too many. His balance is slightly off and his room is slightly fuzzy at the edges, or perhaps it is simply that his glasses lie abandoned downstairs beside the empty bottle. It seems like too much effort to stand and remove his trousers so he begins to unbutton his shirt. His fingers show no loss of dexterity, but he is tired and so works slowly.
When she comes in the shirt hangs open, revealing the soft white singlet underneath. She stands in front of him and her slim white fingers gently brush away tears he hadn't felt till now. He realises that his eyes are exactly level with her breasts and looks down quickly. She combs her fingers through his hair then pulls him forward to rest against her until she is embracing him. He relaxes slowly, leaning into her. And he's drunker than he thought because a soft, choking sob escapes his control.
She smells of lavender and comfort, and he opens the smallest of windows because he wants to know if this is alright, if this is something he can have, but all the words he knows are unequal to the task.
She is there, open and unflinching, soaking away the emotions he has given no outlet to for so many years. She is leaching away the guilt and rage leaving only the clean pain of sadness. Even the body-shock that still sometimes haunts him, the feel of a tiny neck snapping beneath his long fingered hands, even that is going. All that is left is the memory of Deirdre's hand pressing his to her gently rounded belly, to feel the quickening life within.
He should tell her to stop, she isn't ready for this with her own grief still new and raw. He should, but he can't.
Her hands are still in his hair, carding softly through the slight curl and sending ticklish shivers down his spine. Giles' arms move without instruction, one hand rests on the sharp rise of her hipbone and the other steals under her jumper to sit over the radiant warmth at her sacrum.
Giles becomes aware that were Willow any better endowed he would be in danger of suffocation. He tries to draw back, but her hands stay. "Please. Please stay. It's...it's okay." Her voice is soft in the gloomy twilight room, edged with tears. It's not okay, he wants to say. We are standing at the platform ten minutes after the last train, ever, to okay left the station. He should say this, but can't.
He owes and is owed. And as his back finds the mattress, somehow his hands haven't moved and she is pulled down with him. His lips at her throat, her jaw, the sweet well of her mouth encounter salt.
"I can't...don't let me..."
The rapport still strung between them shows him she fears to lose control. He feels Tara's heart spatter against their chest and the power-fuelled grief that swallows them whole.
"I've got you."
And he does. In this, now, in all things, they share one skin. He touches the places where they join, brushes across the small corner of himself that is also her. If her lips, tongue, oh, god! teeth at his throat were any less distracting they would cry a single crystal fucking tear at the perfect circularity of their situation.
Instead he rolls so they lie on their sides, chest to chest. He means to stop there, tries to draw his mouth away from hers. She follows him with a wordless protest, her hands still insistent on his head.
"Closer." She whispers. "I need...I need to be closer." Her knee pushing between his leaves Giles in no doubt about how close she means.
He owes and is owed. After all that is now between them, what more can this last intimacy hurt? What is there left for either of them to lose?
He removes their clothes and joins their bodies, rocking slowly into the slender cradle of her pelvis.
"Closer. Closer than this. Oh, please help. Help me." Her broken whisper leaves him confused. For a moment he is stunned that she asks and offers so much. Surely this is the bridge too far. The one that will explode as they stand upon it, looking into the undiscovered country.
Yet he owes and is owed.
Finally he reaches and touches the Tara shaped hole, with its severed connections that still bleed like the stumps of lost limbs. He binds them to the magical tether the Coven has forged, sending magic down the traumatised pathways, setting a piece of himself in that gaping hole. He cannot fill the crater but perhaps half-empty is better than broken. Healing was never his talent and he can't return her earlier gift. But he can give her this.
As Giles continues to move within her, ever so slowly, oh so gently, he ignores Willow's hesitation as she misses the soft girl-trappings that have become so familiar to her. Willow pretends not to notice his continued tears.
There is so much between them now that surely this last bit more will make no difference, Giles thinks in the last moments before sleep.
He stands in the kitchen, wondering what he's doing there. He was looking for something, something important. He feels the first pricks of panic as he fails to recall what is missing. Willow walks through the door behind him, her arms wrap around his waist and her face is pressed between his shoulders. She leans her slight weight into him.
"What were you looking for?" She asks.
"I can't recall." As suddenly as it came the panic is gone. //Here, alive, complete.// Something deep within sings.
"I-it's nothing important. Would you like some lunch?"
Half-broken, half-full. Part-healed, part-empty. He expected a sentence and instead they taught him a word.