She was crying again. In the cool dimness of the stacks where he kept the more innocuous of his Watcher books, she was weeping quietly. Any casual listener might not notice the occasional soft sobbing breath when she could no longer keep it in.
He had noticed her before. The red hair made her hard to overlook, despite all her efforts with the non-descript articles of clothing. She had been the first student through the doors, the first day of term. He had watched from the book cage as she wandered the shelves, as if visiting old friends. She had taken a few books down and flicked idly through them. He noticed she returned them to their exact places, all except one.
Frowning, he watched her remove a marker pen from her backpack and change the spine number on the book. She then replaced it a few shelves further on. He stayed silent, mostly because of the awkwardness of revealing that he had in effect been spying on the girl, but when she left he checked the shelf. The book was one of his, not exactly Watcher business, but a first edition volume of poetry in ancient Greek that was purportedly written by a demon. Checking the spine, he found that he had indeed put the wrong Dewey label on the book.
How curious, he thought, the image of her correcting his mistake staying in his mind much longer than necessary.
She was a regular visitor, spending most of what he guessed were free periods in the dimly lit stacks. He checked her library history, once. For all his unease with computers, he was fully capable of handling the limited system that ran the library loans. The list of withdrawals was impressive. There seemed to be no real pattern to subject matter, but each new interest was fully researched. Fiction choices too seemed very eclectic. All the classics were covered, as well as everything from the displayed lists of recommended reading that the English teachers sent in each semester. Some were not on any list; he had no idea what a girl like her was doing reading D.H. Lawrence, and since when had any school library had a copy of the Decameron?
Recognising a kindred spirit, he always made sure that the corner of the large library table she favoured was kept free from the clutter that usually accompanied his long research sessions. He even dug out an extra lamp and found a more comfortable chair. They never really spoke, just a simple greeting or the polite social interplay one used with casual acquaintances.
Besides which, she was that species entirely alien to his very British bachelorhood, an American teenage girl.
Then she had appeared in the wake of the Slayer. Willow, Xander and Buffy. They seemed a permanent unit that he had no idea how to separate. Thrown together, they began speaking more, and his liking for the girl deepened, for both the girls.
Now here she was, crying again in the stacks. It usually only happened once a month or so, and never really lasted long, so he had pretended to ignore it. Early training in ignoring emotional displays was hard to break. This time, though, she showed no signs of slowing down, and he felt he should try to comfort her. Besides, some of those books were hand written, in non-colourfast inks.
"Willow? Are you quite alright?"
The startled girl jumped a mile and her tears ended in a bout of hiccups. Ignoring the scattered books, Giles steered the hyperventilating red head toward his office and sat her down. He fetched a glass of water and stood patiently, cleaning his glasses nervously as he waited for her to calm down.
When her breathing returned to a more even rhythm he asked again. "Are you alright?" Willow slowly shook her head. Her large green eyes were so truly miserable that one almost felt as if one should stop breathing, if that would make her happy.
"What's the matter? Are you hurt?"
Again she shook her head. Giles was about to give up hope of ever knowing when Willow began to speak.
"Xander. It's Xander. He said--stuff."
Ah, Giles thought. How, er, enlightening.
"What kind of 'stuff'?"
This was asked gently, but Willow seemed about to dissolve in tears again. He barely contained a sigh, impatience would not help here and he really wanted to stop this distressing habit she had of weeping in his library.
"Did he give you bad news? Did he shout at you? Did he make fun of you?" Giles was floundering; these two always seemed so close.
"He didn't, ah--" Gods below, how to phrase this? "He didn't press you for, um, favours, did he?"
"F--favours?" Willow looked at him, with those big eyes. Giles hemmed and hawed and looked away, clearing his throat. He could feel the faint heat of blood in his cheeks. His meaning must have become clear because suddenly Willow too blushed and looked away.
"Oh. No. No pressing. No favours requested of any kind."
And that was more like the Willow he had come to know, except-- "Don't I just wish?"
"Hmm? What?" Was his hearing going?
"What? I didn't say anything."
Oh. Good. Also good, Giles noticed; Willow was no longer about to burst into tears again. One last try? Or would that be too awkward?
"So what did he say exactly?"
Damn! She wilted again. But not quite as much, and the tears seemed definitely gone. And in true Willow fashion she told him, exactly, what Xander had said. The words tumbled out of her, and she seemed almost angry now that she had an ear to vent on. When she came to the end of the story though all the anger seemed to drain out of her and she slumped in his office chair, swinging it slightly.
"I guess he's right. I really don't know why he's stuck with me as long as he has. I mean, who would?""
Giles reached out a hand to still the swinging of the chair.
"I really don't know what to say, Willow. Except that none of that is true. The two of you seem to enjoy a very strong friendship, and I'm sure this is just a stage the Xander is going through. Teenage boys are not the most considerate or empathetic beings on this earth. And it sounds as if Xander is also succumbing to the lure of the pack."
He took off his glasses to clean them again as a prelude to a lecture on Pack mentality, when he remembered this was Willow, and she probably already knew.
"But he has a pack! Me and Buffy and Xander. We're a team." But she understood, he could see. She didn't like it, but at least she had an explanation for his behaviour.
"You do know that none of it is true don't you Willow?"
"Yeah. I guess." But her voice was little and she had hunched even further into the protection of the chair.
Mentally Giles cursed the young idiot for causing this. Despite all her intelligence and sunny good nature, he had come to realise that Willow was very insecure. Well duh, Giles, what tipped you off? The monthly weeping in the back of the library? That little voice in the back of his mind was sounding suspiciously like Buffy these days, God help him!
He stood there, wondering what more he could do to help her, because against all reason he realised suddenly that she, and Buffy, and even the irritating Xander, had become dear to him. He had thought himself content with his solitary existence, the quiet tick of clocks in empty rooms and the unique smell of his books. Now this library always seemed the lonely kind of large without at least one of the teens in it.
Out in the hall the bell sounded signalling the end of the lunch period. Willow stood to go, scrubbing at her eyes with her sleeve. Giles immediately offered his pristinely white handkerchief. Willow took it with a watery smile and a murmured "Thanks." She cleaned her face and stood up, offering the handkerchief back to Giles.
"Keep it," he said softly, "For next time, hmm." Letting her know that he knew about all the other times she had wept quietly in the stacks. She was halfway out the door of his office when she hesitated, then turned back.
Rushing over to him, Willow grabbed him in a quick hug. "Thank you, Giles," she said against his wool-covered chest, "You're doing just fine." Giles barely brushed his hand along her smooth red hair, and she was gone. He looked at the library door, swinging shut in her wake and smiled slightly. Perhaps he wasn't as out of his depth as it sometimes seemed. Teenagers. He could do this.
Halloween. It should have been an unusually peaceful time in Sunnyhell and Giles was happily re-sorting his card index in the library. Instead everything began to come apart. Willow's appearance through his wall scared the liver out of him. It was only whilst clearing up the embarrassing shower of index cards that he noticed the way she was dressed.
The scanty top and brief skirt looked very good on her, but they were very much not in Willow's usual style and she appeared slightly uncomfortable in the outfit. Giles cringed at the tone of censure he found in his voice as he asked her whose ghost she was. He was ever mindful that the slightest harsh word from him could easily crush her. But he wished she'd find a jacket or something. Surely she was cold?
Then they had run into Ethan. Oh my dearest enemy, he thought with a sinking sadness. Must you again ruin the life I've built without you? Then he was angry. This was not just his life Ethan was messing with this time. This time he had interfered with innocent bystanders. Giles was afraid he must have scared Willow somewhat with his sharp order (and he'd never ordered her before, not with Ripper in his voice) to leave. Go far away, he thought after her. Get out while you can. And yet Ethan had been easy to send on his way this time. He seemed to have almost no defiance in him, folding nearly instantly.
Back in the library, where they always seemed to end up, the children had looked at him strangely when they found out that he'd known Ethan.
"It was long ago," Giles said wearily, "In another life. I just hope that he'll stay away for good now." But he always thought that and it never happened.
Later, after the others had left, it was just Giles and Willow picking up the rest of the index cards they'd abandoned in their dash to save Sunnydale. Willow seemed resigned now to the revealing outfit and was ignoring her appearance, except for bending from her knees instead of the waist to reach the ground.
"Are you really OK?" She asked. "You seemed kinda freaked to see him again."
Freaked. Yes, Giles thought. Freaked was the right word here.
"I'm fine Willow. There, that's finished," he placed the last of the cards in their correct drawer. "Shall I give you a ride home?"
"Nah. It's still Halloween; I think the streets will be quiet. Besides, I'm kinda getting the hang of this tight skirt/boot thing. I-it's an attitude." She said with quiet dignity.
Nonetheless she still twitched the hem of the skirt a futile quarter inch downward. Giles smiled slightly.
"Goodnight then. Thank you for your help."
She smiled up at him in return and pressed herself against his side in a quick hug. She did that a lot when they were alone. "I'm glad you're okay. He seemed like bad business." And she was gone, still ungainly on the heeled boots. Giles wondered what the children would think when they discovered that he, too, had been 'bad business' once.
"Well, Ripper, your taste has certainly changed over the years." The light, sardonic voice from the stacks spun Giles around. Ethan lounged against a shelf; his left eye already swelling and purple. Other contusions showed on his face and one arm was protectively cradled.
Giles sighed. He had no more fight left in him tonight, but Ethan was obviously in a mood for more. "She's just a child, Ethan. I'm one of her teachers."
"Oh bravo Ripper. That makes it even better. Last time I saw you mooning like this it was over some highborn Watcher strumpet. At least this time you stand a chance. Age and experience and all that. I am proud of you old man."
Giles realised that it was no use contradicting Ethan. He knew from old times that the other man would keep at him until he said or did something stupid. "Was there something you wanted, Ethan? Other than another beating?"
"Oh, just catching up on old times, Rupert. I always like to keep in touch, you know."
"Yes, but I don't." Giles wanted to begin packing for home, to make a point to Ethan. But at the same time he was very reluctant to turn his back on the slender man.
"I know. That makes it so much harder to look you up." Giles went to his office, deciding to carry on as if Ethan wasn't there. Ethan was too beaten up to try much tonight. But then his voice had always been his greatest weapon. Courage was not Ethan's strong point.
When Giles came out of his office Ethan was gone. He sighed wearily. Ethan was always an unpleasant reminder of the past. A past that he preferred to keep hidden and forget about.He tried to remember loving Ethan, as he must have done, surely, back then. All he remembered was the angry passion that had clouded reason. That and the fierce loneliness that had made him hungry for contact, any contact at all, even the harmful and dysfunctional relationship he found with Ethan and the rest of their group. It hadn't mattered that it hurt; all he had seen was someone who was willing to touch. Slowly Giles turned off the lights and headed home.
It wasn't until some weeks later that he thought again of Ethan's words about Willow.
It might have been hormonally induced. Listening to the muffled sobs and occasional sniffle from the back of the stacks Giles looked at his calendar. It was the twenty-eighth today. That made thirty days since the last time he had heard Willow crying in his Library. The time before that had been about the same interval. But, thinking back, Giles recalled some months when there had been no weeping in the stacks and some where she had soaked his books on a weekly basis. He discarded the theory, slightly annoyed at his inability to find a cause for all the weeping.
He had learned a lot about teenage girls during his time in Sunnydale. Buffy and Willow often seemed to treat him as invisible, or part of the furniture, and their talks frequently became quite frank and highly technical about the facts of teenage female life. It was an education Giles was sure he could live without.
And there were some things men nor beast was simply meant not to know. He would go to his grave trying to forget that Buffy liked Angel licking--things. But all the little factoids that his orderly brain catalogued without his conscious say so did not help him understand this periodic weeping in the back of his library.
Giles looked at his watch and took a sip of cooling tea. It was two fifteen, and Buffy would be here in another twenty minutes or so for her training session. He was sure Willow would not want Buffy to witness this--whatever it was.
He set down the tea and moved quietly to the back of the library. Giles stopped just behind a shelving unit, so that Willow was still partially hidden from his view, giving her some privacy. "Willow? Buffy will be here in a bit." He kept his voice low and gentle. "You might -- er. Maybe you should, umm--" He floundered, what exactly to say?
"Quit crying like a--a great big old thing that cries a lot and go home and leave you in peace?" Willow supplied into his awkward pause. But she had at least stopped crying.
"No! Willow you are always welcome here. I hope you know that. I just thought that you mightn't wish her to see you like this." Well this was certainly awkward.
"Thanks Giles. I do know, and I don't want. But can I stay? Will it interrupt you and Buffy if I do my homework here?" She sniffed loudly, as she tried to dry her face.
"Always a pleasure, Willow." And Giles realised that was true. The library just felt like a better place when it was filled with the children. He was about to turn back to his office but hesitated; hands in his pockets, he stood rocking back slightly on his heels. "Is-- Can I do anything, Willow? I do wish you'd let me help." And where had that plaintive note in his voice come from, he wondered. He wanted to help, but did it mean that much?
Willow appeared 'round the bookshelf, slightly soggy and looking truly miserable. "You do help, Giles. It means a lot that you let me come here. I-I'm sorry if it's awkward for you. And I'm sorry I can't tell you what's wrong." Tears began to fall again and Giles immediately held out his arms to the weeping redhead.
She rushed into his embrace, burying her face in his tweed-covered torso. He trailed a hand gently along her bright, smooth hair, abruptly aware of her tiny breasts brushing his ribs, and of how warm she seemed, how right she felt in his arms.
Suddenly, Ethan's words at Halloween came back to Giles. Oh. Oh dear. When had this happened? Gently he disengaged from Willow and stepped back. With a supreme effort he kept his voice level, "Perhaps you should go and wash up a bit, hmm." He turned and walked swiftly back to his office, shutting the door behind him, ignoring the slightly confused look Willow sent after him. Once safely away from Willow's eyes he sat down and began shaking uncontrollably.
Apparently his taste had changed. From tall, dark eyed brunettes to short, green-eyed red heads. Young, short, green-eyed red heads. Oh fuck.
But she was a child, he'd told Ethan. One of his students. Evidently that didn't make any difference to his-- whatever was leading the charge here. He sat, in shock. What exactly did he think he was doing? What had possessed him? She was a student, under his care, who respected his wisdom and judgement. Mostly.
So what was happening here? Giles sipped his now stone cold tea. Some time ago he had acknowledged his affection for the children; Buffy, Xander and Willow were a large part of his life here and he looked forward to their company. Was this Thing some artefact of that affection? A fatherly love that wished to protect and nurture? No, he couldn't fool himself into thinking that, no matter how much easier it made the whole mess. It wasn't true, not when he ached to do--things to her. But what about Jenny, a plaintive corner of his mind asked. The fingers of Giles hand twitched remembering the silken slide of Willow's hair against his palm. What was he now, that he wanted these things from her? She was a child for Christ's sake.
You stupid old fool, he berated himself. Why did you have to go and do a thing like this?
A noise out in the library startled him, setting his heart racing and his hands shaking again with misplaced adrenaline. "Giles? Time to get pounded, Watcher." Buffy was standing at his office door. Willow stood beside her, all signs of her tears erased. "You okay? Ya seem kinda jumpy there Watcher man."
Buffy didn't wait for an answer, but instead flounced off to grab the practise pads that kept Giles from life threatening injury during their training sessions. He had long ago given up on the headgear; it seemed rather futile in the face of repeated head traumas from the various demonic attacks he suffered. Besides it made his head itch.
Willow had remained in the doorway, her eyes echoing Buffy's question. Giles forced himself to give a quick smile. More a muscular exercise than an indication of his true feelings, Willow nevertheless accepted that he was fine and moved to the table to begin her homework.
Feeling slightly sickened, he took another few seconds to pull a facade of normalcy around his shaken emotions. No one must ever guess this. No one. With a heavy heart he went out and let the slender blonde teenager beat him to within an inch of his worthless life.
It was after this that the dreams began. Nightly Giles was tormented by the workings of his sub- and not-so-sub-conscious. Some days it was difficult to look Willow in the eyes; he was sure she could tell the horrible, despicable thoughts that crawled through his mind.
He was almost pathetically grateful when Jenny agreed to begin anew, their separation had left him with too much free time. He need never rationalise an attraction to her dark-eyed beauty, he thought as he threw himself into that relationship; and he did love her, his Jenny who was all that he should want and long to have.
He had felt so incredibly guilty at her death.
Oh, he had been saddened, certainly. The sight of her terribly still form arranged at Angelus' whimsy still haunted him at nights. He had been so very angry with Angelus, Ripper firmly to the fore. But mostly Giles had felt guilty. I didn't love her enough, he thought, I didn't bring her the kind of happiness I should have. If I hadn't been using her to forget my sickness, she wouldn't have died. He knew that last was untrue; her Gypsy blood had ensured her days were numbered once Angelus came on the scene. That didn't stop Giles thinking it, while watching Willow.
Then one day she came to him smelling of magic. With a sinking heart Giles tried to warn against the dangers of the Black Arts. Willow hadn't listened. She had natural power, lots of it, coupled with a determined will; one day she would be a power to be reckoned. Magic rarely left such as she untouched; he only hoped that his supervision would keep her from the worst of the mistakes he had made in his own youth, but he knew it for a lost cause.
Giles was also terrified she would find out his secret perversity and take from him the friendship that was all he could enjoy of her.
He'd been glad when Willow had begun her relationship with Oz, she meant so much to him and he wanted her happy. The laconic young man, so bright and calm, had been just what Willow needed. He had watched her blossom under Oz's attention, and the crying in the back of his library had stopped. For a while.
It was eleven p.m. and Giles was the last of the Scoobies left. The others had finally packed in the marathon (was there any other kind?) research session. The fate of the world still hung in the balance but they knew exactly what to do about it, for once. Giles left the library to use the rest room, when he returned he began turning off the lights, preparing to go home. A small sound from the stacks stopped him halfway through. With a sinking heart he walked up the stairs and searched through the shelves. In the far back corner Willow sat, her knees drawn up to her chin. Her head rested on her knees, she was crying again.
Oh, Willow, he thought.
Moving quietly, though she must know he was there, Giles went and sat beside her, just close enough for their shoulders to brush. "Do you still have the handkerchief?" He asked softly after a bit.
Willow nodded, showing Giles the wadded piece of cloth. It was slightly less than white by now and one edge was a bit ragged. "I have another if you need it, that one's looking a bit, er, worn."
"N-no thanks. If you don't mind, I'll keep this one. It's kinda a friend now." She twisted the handkerchief in her hands, looking away from Giles as she spoke.
"Willow, --" Giles started to speak, but stopped. How could he phrase this? He desperately didn't want to seem like a lecherous old creep, applicable as the label was. "Willow. I'd hoped by now that you would have learned to trust me, as I trust you. I regard you as a friend and," Here Giles sighed sadly. Why don't you trust me? "I know you don't wish to tell me what the matter is. I don't believe it's even the same trouble every time."
Every time I find you weeping like a broken hearted child in my library. "But isn't there someone you could talk to?" How many other people see this face you show me when we're alone? "Your mother? Buffy? Oz? Xander? A, a doctor?" Giles looked down at his own hands, the knobbly fingers that Angelus had rearranged ached slightly tonight.
Willow was still looking away. "Any help you need, Willow, I'd be only too happy to get. But I feel uncomfortable being the only one who knows about this. You don't think I can help, and that's fine. It's even okay that you come here to, to vent. But I-I need to know that you aren't, that you're not--I just want so much to help you. It hurts that I can't help you."
As he said this last Giles looked over at Willow. She had hunched even smaller and was shaking slightly. Suddenly she leaned into him, resting her head in the hollow of his shoulder. Giles froze for a second. He shouldn't be touching her. Not here, alone in the dark. It was too dangerous. But then his arm was around her and hers around him and any withdrawal on his part would only bring questions, which all had such ugly answers. He couldn't hurt her so, no matter the cost to his emotional control. Ah, Willow love. What troubles you?
For some minutes she continued to cry, sobs shaking her slender form. Hot tears leaked through the thin white shirt Giles wore, and he had to fiercely control the urge to kiss them from her swollen red eyes.
"I do trust you, Giles." Willow's voice was thick and ragged from crying. "You are a friend. And someone I admire very much. It's not always the same thing. At least, it wasn't in the beginning. That was mostly Cordelia and her gang, they were just so, and I was just. But that stopped a while ago. I thought the magic might help, but it didn't. And you seemed so set against it. I didn't want to go too far. And it didn't solve any of the other problems I tried to use it on."
"Willow--" Giles tried to calm her down, but the girl was well and truly going now.
"I didn't mean for this to hurt you. But I just can't talk to Mom. Or Buffy, or even Xander, though he's like my arm, or my heart. I can't tell anyone or there'll be so much with the bad that, that a new Hellmouth would be good news. But I, I don't need--I'm not sick; I don't think that medicine will fix this. And the worst thing would be for someone to be poking about in my head, which is like so messed up."
She sat silent within his embrace for a few moments, and then said again, "I didn't mean for this to hurt you. But you just make it so easy, to come here and know that you want to make it better, it helps, a lot. I don't mean to hurt you, and, and I'll stop, or try to stop this if you don't--can't do this any more." And there was a question in her voice. Kind hearted Willow, who never failed to feel another's pain, thought Giles. She was fierce as a lioness in defence of her friends, but saved none of that courage for herself. She's offering to take her pain elsewhere, to bleed on someone else's books, because she can't stand to think that this hurts you.
"Willow, it only hurts because I care. I don't mean for you to go without something you so obviously need. Whatever it takes, you can have. I only wish for you to be well." And bloody hell, now his voice was thickening. Damn air conditioning always made his eyes water. Giles swallowed against the lump in his throat. His back was beginning to cramp, sitting on the floor, but not for the world would he move even an inch. Willow squeezed her arms tighter around his ribcage for a second.
"Were you ever seventeen, Giles?" She asked in a soft voice. That would have been an entirely different question, coming from Buffy or Xander, but Giles saw the meaning behind Willow's words. She wasn't asking, "Were you always this OLD?" She was asking, "Do you remember what it's like, to want things so desperately that you can't breathe? Did you ever just sit and cry for no reason, or did you ever wish the world would just stop and you could stay right where you were forever?"
Buffy had asked him something similar, in her own way a little while ago. She had asked him if it got any better. The lies he'd told revealed more of the truth than anything else he could have said.
"Once. Long ago. Are you asking me for advice? Because if so I don't recall that my own unique solutions to being seventeen and all that entailed being very productive. Or all that healthy."
And where are you now, Ethan? My own unproductive and very unhealthy answer to seventeen. And eighteen, and nineteen to twenty three. Did we damage each other? Is that why you are what you are, and I am this--person, who can hold a trusting child, giving comfort and thinking of all the other things I want from her?
They sat silently for a long while, Willow sniffing occasionally as her tears slowed and stopped. Then at last she released her death grip around Giles' ribs, whispering, "Thank you, Giles."
"Let's go home, hmm?" Giles stood and reached down to help Willow to her feet. She clung to his hand, refusing to relinquish her hold on him. Giles didn't comment but completed his preparations for home one handed, with the small girl tucked close to his side. Such innocent trust she had in him, he thought. And he didn't deserve it in any way.
As Giles opened the passenger door for her, Willow perked up a bit. "A ride in the Gilesmobile! Can we go really, really slow?" Giles let the crack about the Citroen go without comment, but it was good to see her feeling better.
They drove through the quiet streets of Sunnydale in companionable silence, and then Giles asked a question that had often pricked his curiosity. "How do you explain all this to your parents, Willow? Late nights, strange friends, hanging around the school after hours with a teacher?"
That last ought to be enough to provoke questions from any parent; God knew he deserved to be questioned. "I mean, Mrs Summers knows about Buffy's Slaying, and before that she was well able to leap out her window. But what do you tell your parents? I should be very concerned if you were my teenage daughter." And God but he didn't need that sort of mental image. (Whose Daddy's little girl then?) Giles looked across the car at Willow to find her watching him.
She shrugged slightly.
"Mom and Dad are kinda, busy. And also very much into the 'Willow you're big enough to self regulate now, we expect your behaviour to reflect age appropriate models.' Mom's like a psychologist. One time,"
And here Willow smiled in memory, "I hid Xander in my room for a whole week before either of them noticed. That's when the whole 'not supposed to have boys in my room' thing started. His parents never even noticed he was gone. Mom kinda doesn't make rules as much as makes me aware of consequences for actions. By the way, don't ever try to balance a-a bowl of gold fish on your head. It only ends badly."
Giles was not about to ask why Willow had been balancing a bowl of gold fish on her head in the first place. He didn't need the migraine that would undoubtedly accompany the explanation. At times he understood only about one sentence in three that his hyperactive teenage charges threw at him. The Generation Gap loomed like the Grand Canyon.
Giles pulled the car up outside Willow's house. The porch light was on but the rest of the windows were dark. Her parents weren't waiting up for their precious daughter to make it home safely. Dear old Sunnyhell, the oblivious capital of sunny southern California.
"Thank you for the ride, Giles. And, and for before. It's good that I can not talk to you. You know?"
"Um. Always a pleasure Willow. I am always here if you don't need to talk." Well, here comes the migraine, Giles thought. That sentence made sense.
Willow was trying, without success to get the door open. The ancient car had many foibles that often caused Giles to curse, but it was a familiar touch of home. Without thinking he leaned across the car to help Willow with the door. Willow stayed where she was, and Giles ended up pressed very close to her as he tried pushing at the door just so, to encourage it to open.
He suddenly became aware of Willow's perfume; flowers and vanilla, like a springtime picnic. Abruptly, Giles sat up. "I'll just try it from the other side. Just a sec." Hurriedly he
opened his door and got out of the car. Forgetting about his seat belt. With a quick nervous
smile in Willow's direction he unbuckled the belt and went around to the passenger door.
Helping her out of the low-slung car, Giles tried to still the shaking in his hands and his rapidly beating heart. It didn't help that Willow pulled herself to her feet and then into a quick hug with her face pressed to the still damp spot on his shirt just above his heart. Giles carefully kept his hands to himself. "Thank you Giles. Good night."
Rupert, he thought. Call me Rupert, Willow love. "Good night, Willow. Sweet dreams."
He watched as she walked up the front path and let herself into the house; only leaving when the door shut behind her and the porch light went off. With a heavy heart Giles drove himself to his empty apartment and his half-empty bottle of vile poly malt scotch.
Shortly after that night Giles had discovered Willow and Xander kissing in the Library. They thought he hadn't seen, and he let them think so. But he had been within inches of killing Xander. What the hell do you think you're doing? He wanted to scream at the dark-haired boy, while ripping his intestines out through his nose.
You're everything she's ever wanted since she was four bloody years old.
There's no way I can compete with you.
You'll break her heart, and it will kill her.
But he didn't. He had walked past, keeping his screaming heart well hidden. He had lots of practice at that.
That episode scared Giles badly. It had been a long time since he had touched the violence he held contained. A relic of Eyghon and Ethan, he kept it tightly controlled not wanting either of them to gain a foothold in his current life. Lately though his emotions no longer seemed to respond to his will.
Deciding that Buffy could manage on her own for a short while he packed a rucksack and went on retreat, to try and firm his wavering control on the demons within. The retreat also helped Giles resolve his feelings towards Willow. He recognised and welcomed the move from philios to storge, which had been inevitable given the close association he had with all three of the Scoobies. It was the slip from storge to eros that Giles had trouble rationalising.
She was a minor, under his supervision, and as such this physical attraction he felt for her was entirely inappropriate. It should never have happened. But the attraction was there, it had happened. Giles didn't know what it was about himself that made this possible, but he knew that it would not go away. Even after all this time, though he could control his actions towards Willow, he had no hold on his thoughts and emotions.
There could be no going back to his previous blindness. Giles acknowledged sadly that he would always love Willow, and that there was no hope of a functional romantic relationship between the two of them. If he revealed his feelings, how could he be sure that any return of these emotions Willow showed was not some artefact of the respect she held him in, her deep desire for attention and approval.
He could so easily convince her that she loved him in return. The echo of Ethan's words sat uneasily in his memory: "At least this time you stand a chance. Age and experience and all that. I am proud of you old man."
And hadn't that been exactly what Ethan had done to Giles all those years ago? The age gap was not even a fraction as great, but Ethan had been so very persuasive. The words of an old song that his mother often sang came back to Giles, I didn't want to love you, you made me do it.
He couldn't do it. More importantly he shouldn't. As miserable as he was now, at least he was not ruining Willow's life as well; that would be utterly reprehensible and without excuse. Yes, well. Take that Ethan, he thought bitterly. So he would be miserable and er, frustrated (Oh God, was he frustrated!) but decent and honourable. Perhaps though he could strive toward agape, and hope for a reward in the form of Willow's continuing friendship. He had made himself this cold, rocky bed and now would have to lie in it, Giles thought. It could be worse, everyone could know.
It was worse. Everyone did know. Or at least Buffy knew, which to him was as good as the same thing. Her good opinion mattered to him. Giles didn't think he could live with hating himself as well as being hated by her.
Buffy had come to the library greatly distressed and Giles had feared that he would have another weeper on his hands. Then she'd told him what had upset her so. He didn't know what Buffy had seen in his reaction to Willow's turning. Really he didn't care. The consequences of her knowing could be no worse than knowing Willow was dead. His legs no longer seemed to support his weight. Collapsing into a nearby chair Giles tried to regain his wits.
"You're sure of this? Absolutely sure?" Maybe, please God, she was wrong. And damn air-
conditioning anyway, why did it always make his eyes water?
"Yeah, Giles. I'm sure. Kinda a Slayer here, remember?"
"Yes. Of course. Sorry." But the words came out absently, from some sort of auto-Watcher
in his back brain. Willow was dead. And worse than dead. A soulless demon walked in her
skin, stealing her memories and personality. Although a more toothless vampire he couldn't
imagine. The Willow he knew wouldn't hurt a rabid dog that had bitten off her arm. And
what would the demon make of the fits of depression that Giles alone witnessed? Willow,
the Depressed Vampire?
"Giles? Uh, you okay? You seem to be taking this a bit hard? I mean, she was my best
friend. But you're just one of her teachers."
Oh dear. "Buffy, I hope you know that none of you are 'just' my pupils, by now. You are all--very dear to m-me. A-and I-I feel responsible for you all. Especially--" He had to stop talking. A hard aching lump clogged his throat and he suddenly couldn't see. Willow, love, were you frightened? Did it hurt? He had sat with Buffy, and Xander, for a long time that evening. Buffy growing more and more suspicious. Giles didn't care. And then--
"Willow! You're alive!"
He'd been unable to control himself. Giles had pulled Willow into a hard, quick embrace. At her startled squeak he had stepped back instantly, apologising. But his arms had felt so good around her, and he was almost giddy with delight at seeing her alive.
Then there had been the entertaining sight of Willow in the vampire's leather outfit. She was uncomfortable, as she had been in her Halloween outfit before, but cheerfully determined to make the best of it. Giles tried not to think about it, but his observations of VampireWillow had disturbed him.
As a Watcher he knew that the human host's personality impacted on the vampire's behaviour, no matter what he let the others believe. Angel backed him up, thank God. This view of Willow without a soul and no care for what others thought of her was deeply disturbing to Giles. He had always thought of her as something of an innocent, without the ability to hurt anything. This vampire mirror of her showed almost childlike pleasure in hurting others. She was self-confidant and assured. The innocence was still there, but it was subtly changed to something Giles didn't recognise.
When the whole dreadful night was over, after Giles had soundly scolded a repentant Willow for dabbling with dimensional portals, Buffy had cornered him in the library.
"All right Watcher man, what's going on? That seemed a little too upset for 'one of my pupils just died'. And you were so checking Willow out. Don't think I didn't notice. Dish Giles. Or I'll beat it out of you." The slender blonde teen faced him down. Oh dear. Please don't let her guess, he sent to the Irrelevant Higher Authorities. Who were no doubt enjoying this immensely.
"First of all, so was Xander." Damn. That wasn't what he'd meant to say! "What I mean is, we've just never seen Willow like that and it was slightly ah, disturbing. Second, I believe I mentioned the fact that I've become quite, er, f-fond of the whole ungrateful lot of you, and th--Hey! None of your business, Buffy!" And that sounded so very convincing in that defensive tone of voice.
"If you hurt her, I'll kill you." Buffy said quietly, a threat he was sure she was capable of carrying through. He felt limp. He could not find the energy he'd need for this discussion to end in his favour.
"Believe me, Buffy. That is the farthest thing from my mind. Goodnight." And Giles left.
He didn't care what Buffy made of his promise or if she guessed the depth of his feelings for Willow. Her threat had only implied that Willow was not to be hurt. There had been no disgust, no revulsion at the hint that he harboured feelings for Willow. No instant scream to the authorities to expose him. Giles didn't think she would tell Willow. She too knew how Willow looked up to him, and craved his approval. Buffy wouldn't influence Willow in that way.
A soft touch at the small of his back stopped Giles in his tracks. He almost screamed and nearly staked the startled Slayer behind him. "Buffy! Don't sneak up on people like that. My heart isn't what it used to be." Sad truth there old boy, he thought.
Buffy looked at him, kindness and unshed tears in her dark eyes. "It'll be okay, Giles. I promise." So she knew. Or guessed. Everything it seemed, as she held out a ragged not quite white handkerchief. The initials RG in one corner were plain to see. "Willow dropped that when she was getting changed. It'll be okay Giles, I promise." As she left Giles called softly to her back. "My God, Buffy. Of course it won't be okay. How can this ever be okay?"
When the rain started Giles had cut short his run; coming back to find Willow sitting outside his apartment in the complex's courtyard. She was hunched on the bench with an unopened umbrella beside her. Not ten feet away the underpass to the apartment courtyard also offered shelter from the cold, drenching rain. Giles himself was wet but still warm from the exertion of his run. Willow, on the other hand looked miserable. It was hard to tell in the rain, but she looked to be crying. "Willow? Come upstairs, hmm. I can't sit out here with you today. You don't want to be responsible for an old man dying of pneumonia do you?" He moved upstairs, not looking to see if she followed.
Pushing open the door, Giles looked over his shoulder to see Willow standing at the foot of the stairs."Willow? Come on." He went down again and took her hand gently. Pulling her up the stairs. At the door she pulled away. "You're not old, you know Giles." And she walked into the apartment ahead of him, leaving Giles wondering what was wrong this time.
This summer, with a few exceptions, whenever she'd visited they had sat outside in the courtyard. The sunny weather seemed to cheer her, and Giles had found she wouldn't cry when there might be anyone but he around. She also didn't touch him quite as much in public as she had taken to doing in private. That was both a relief to Giles and a source of disappointment. Her continued visits were at once a type of torture and all he looked forward to in an empty day.
Giles was brought back to the present by her shivering. Willow stood dripping on his rug. "Here, Willow, you're soaked through. Go into the bathroom and I'll get you uh, something warm to wear." Although what he had on hand to fit the slender young woman he had no idea. He left his rain spotted glasses on an end table and went upstairs as Willow wandered listlessly to the bathroom.
In his bedroom Giles dug around in his drawers and closet searching for clothes that would leave Willow modestly covered. Finally he found an old sarong that usually covered one of the couches and selected a well-worn shirt of his. He stopped at the linen press to collect a soft towel then took the stack down to the bathroom.
Knocking softly on the door Giles said "Willow, there's a towel and some clothes that should fit out here for you. Take a shower and warm up a bit. I'll ah, I'll just make us some tea." He left the clothes on the floor and walked to his tiny kitchen. He used the familiar rituals of tea making to erase the view of Willow with her clothes clinging tightly to her tiny body. By the time the tea was ready and he'd changed into dry clothes Giles was almost completely calm.
His mother had drummed the ritual of teatime into Giles very young. Tea served in one's home required certain accoutrements: the teapot, tea strainer, milk jug, sugar bowl and carefully chosen cups all went onto a tray. Along with a small plate of rich, buttery biscuits. Or cookies, Giles reminded himself. They call them cookies here. The cups in which one served the tea were very important; taste as well as atmosphere depended on what one drank his tea out of.
Giles always preferred a large mug of tea, his fingers had never been comfortable holding the delicate bone china tea cups that his mother had favoured. For Willow he'd chosen a tea cup that matched his own in colour, it was almost translucent, thinking she'd like the way the light shone through the sides of the cup.
Behind him the bathroom door opened and Willow emerged. Turning to look Giles almost dropped the tray he was holding. She resembled nothing so much as a child dressed up in clothes from her mother's wardrobe. "F-feeling better?" He asked. "I've tea ready, come sit down."
"Do you have a comb I could use, Giles?" Willow indicated her tangled hair. Giles set the tea tray down and went to look. When he came back Willow was curled in one corner of the sofa. She had poured the tea and his stood ready with milk already added.
Noticing his look Willow said, "A drop of milk, no sugar, right? I-I did remember right didn't I?"
"Yes. That's perfect, thank you Willow. Oh, ah h-here's a comb." He offered her the bright plastic thing. Willow took it, but when she tried to raise her arm to bring it to her head, she hissed in pain. "What's the matter?" Giles asked instantly, "Are you hurt?"
"A-a few days ago. I-I was kinda wrecked, with Oz and stuff. I d-didn't look where I was going and, and there was a car--" Willow's voice was small and she was hunched into a ball. She began weeping softly again. "Riley, h-he pulled me out of the way, but he's a big guy, you know, so I kinda got a bit bruised." She touched her right arm and side, to indicate where it hurt.
Giles took the comb from her and stood behind the sofa, gently pulling the tangles from her water darkened hair. "Oh, Willow. You know, it's not worth getting hurt over." Inside he was shaking. She almost died, he thought.
"That's what Buffy and Riley said. And I didn't do it on purpose. But--but my insides hurt, why shouldn't my outsides hurt as well? I-I know that's stupid, and-and I shouldn't want to hurt, but I do. Cause without the hurt, how do I know I even loved him? I mean everyone says, "Love Hurts" but it never hurt, not till now, so maybe it wasn't love."
Giles really didn't think he was capable of listening to the girl pouring her heart out over Oz again. Not when he wanted so much what the laconic young man had thrown away. But he loved Willow and would do anything to help ease her hurt. "You do love him, Willow. And I believe he loves you. But sometimes that's just not enough. Sometimes, letting someone go is the only way to love them properly, when they need something else that you just can't give."
He finished smoothing the tangles from her hair and sat beside her on the sofa, carefully keeping space between them. "Drink your tea. It's sovereign, my mother always said. There's nothing so bad that doesn't look better with tea inside you." Giles picked up his own mug and sipped slowly.
"How do you know?" asked Willow quietly, looking over the rim of her teacup. "How do you know I love him?"
"Because Willow, it's the way you are. I've watched you. You give your whole heart, to everything that you do. Oz is no exception. That is why I'm wary of encouraging you in magic. The latest episode is a case in point. Whatever you are doing you throw your whole self into it, and magic is capable of swallowing you whole if you don't keep something back for yourself."
She set her cup down and moved closer, curling herself into Giles' side. Unthinking, he wrapped an arm around her. "I didn't know that it would affect you guys. I thought it would help me feel better, cause with the pain? I-it's no fun. A-and in the beginning I only wanted the magic so you and Buffy would be proud of me. I-I thought that I could help better, be better if I had something special. So I wasn't just the spaz the Slayer hung around with. A-and then Oz, he was the only boy ever to notice me. Except Malcolm but the whole robot thing kinda made that sorta ooky. But Oz. H-he was in a, a band. And he was smart and like way cooler than cool. And he thought I was something special. I really do think I loved him, just not enough to make him stay. He made it quiet, just like you do." She had wormed her way under his arm and her head now rested above his heart.
"Made what quiet?" Giles asked, stroking her still wet hair absently.
"My head. Usually it's all like non-stop. Like watching Amy in her wheel. It's noisy in here and I can't stop thinkin' sometimes. But you and Oz can make it quiet. Oz could do it when he was touching me, but you make it quiet just by being there. That's--that's part of why, in the library--E-even though--" Willow had been totally relaxed, leaning against him, but now she began to stiffen slightly.
"Willow, I do wish you'd tell me what the problem is. I worry about you." Willow reached up and took hold of the hand that he had tangled in her hair. She brought it to her lap and inspected it, running her fingers lightly along his. Giles felt as if he were about to explode; she doesn't mean it the way you think, he told himself. It's not...it doesn't mean anything. "You have such nice hands." She whispered. Oh God! Please stop, Willow. "Where did you learn how to do hair?" Willow looked up at him.
"When--" Giles stopped to clear his throat. "I-I once, ahem, shared a house, with, with a young woman. Deirdre. She, she was ah quite, quite s-sick, for a while. She had lovely long hair, almost to her knees, black as a crow's wing. I helped care for her while she was--sick, and she said I was the only one who could--the only one who could do her hair just the way she liked it. Her hair, it always. It always smelled of almonds."
He could feel, even now, after all these years, the slide of the long silky ropes he used to braid it into. "My mother had long hair too. It was red, like yours is, but it curled into ringlets. I used to think she was an angel, when I was a very small boy." Giles smiled at the memory. Willow had turned his hand over and was tracing the lines on his palm with a delicate fingertip.
"I-it was a very long time ago, but I can still remember her laughing, and saying that no angel could ever have given birth to the bit of mischief that I was." She was watching him now, her eyes shiny with tears. "Are you going to answer my question, Willow?" He asked gently. A single tear leaked out of one of her green eyes and dropped into the palm of his hand. "You. It's you." She whispered.
"What? What about me? What have I done Willow? I don't understand." Giles was genuinely confused. If he was the problem then why on earth had it been his library she had chosen to hole up in? Suddenly Willow sat up, bringing her face level with his. Slowly she leaned into him and brushed her lips lightly across his. One hand caressed his stubbled cheek as she kissed him again, tasting of sweetened tea.
Giles held himself still with only the greatest of efforts. What was she doing? "What are you doing, Willow?" He whispered hoarsely. She had not retreated far and he could feel her breath on his face.
"I hate this. I wish I could stop, but I-I can't. And I've tried. Please believe I've tried so hard Giles."
"What do you hate Willow?" Giles was about to move away, to put distance between himself and this dangerous woman child who all but sat in his lap.
"I hate that I l-love you!" Willow wailed, crying in earnest now. "I know that you'll never see me the way I want you to. I know that you think of me as a child. I know that I'm nothing you'll ever want, but I s-still love you! And, and even though it hurts so much to be near you, I just can't stop coming because you're Giles-y I know you'd never hurt me knowingly. And I feel so guilty because I couldn't love Oz enough because of you, and I think he felt that and that's why he had to leave. I know its wrong and I can't stop feeling this. I tried, Giles honest I did! Please don't hate me. Please!"
"Willow. Willow, stop!" The girl was almost hysterical, her words tumbling out at hyper speed. Giles himself was too confused to make sense of more than about half of it. The jumble of words stopped and Willow buried her face in his chest again, close to his rabbiting heart. "Please don't hate me." She pleaded again.
Giles sighed heavily and wrapped his arms tightly around her. "Ah, Willow love. I could never hate you. But please be sure of what you're saying. I can't just be a, a security blanket for whenever things go wrong in your life. You keep coming to me for comfort when you are in trouble, are you sure that you're not confusing gratitude with love?" It hurt him to ask these things, to push her away when he finally had her within reach. Long ago he had acknowledged that any move to deepen their relationship must be driven totally by Willow.
He could not risk influencing her. But, oh, this hurt!
"I love you. And it hurts so bad, it's just got to be real." She whispered desperately. This decided him more than any eloquent argument could. That Willow should be brought to such a plain statement of fact, with no supporting evidence and no nervous babble spoke for the depth of her feelings.
He gently lifted her chin so he could look her in the eyes. "Willow, think? Do you truly love me, old and scarred and scared? Because there can be no going back." Giles saw a brief flare of hope in Willow's teary green eyes and she trembled slightly against him.
"I love you. Do, do you love me?" Her voice was barely a whisper.
"God help me, I do. I do so love you Willow." Giles watched her brief, blinding smile bloom, then he couldn't wait a single second longer before claiming a kiss he been dreaming of for close to four years.
She tasted of sweet tea, raspberry lip-gloss and that indefinable taste that could only be Willow. Power sparkled like acid across his tongue as it begged entrance past her lips. Giles marvelled at how tiny she felt against him, how fragile she seemed; then he had no room for thought as her pink pointed tongue stroked his. He moved one hand from her jaw and trailed it down to her shoulder.
Willow winced, hissing into the kiss and he instantly leapt back out of her space. Slow down you dolt, don't scare her off! "Willow, I'm sorry. I-I--"
Willow cut him off, grasping his hand and drawing it back to her, placing it further down her arm. "I-it's not your fault. Just that shoulder's kinda bruised. Like I said, Riley's a big guy." Oh! Thought Giles, the--incident the other day. "Y-you're sure?" In answer she leaned up and took his lower lip between hers, sucking softly.
All thoughts Giles might have had about slowing down evaporated as ninety percent of his blood left his brain for somewhere that was else. He paid little attention to the acidic crackling of magic along all the points where their bare skin touched.
After what seemed like forever Giles dragged his lips away from Willow's and trailed kisses across her face and down to her neck. She tangled her hands in his hair and her soft hums of pleasure spurred Giles on as he paid close attention to one small neat earlobe.
Willow had only fasted the middle three buttons on the shirt she was wearing, and now Giles took advantage of this to brush a hand along her belly, from navel to sternum. Willow gave a loud breathy gasp. "Again. Do that again!" She ordered. Giles complied and was rewarded with another gasp and a small giggle. "Tickles. Like bubbles exploding inside. What is that?" He smiled into her neck and repeated the action, continuing up to her throat. "Oh, God!" she moaned.
"Oh God!" Giles cried, leaping back again. He retreated to the far end of the sofa, looking accusingly at his hand. The fingertips glowed slightly in the gathering gloom of twilight."W-what's happening, Giles?" Willow asked, confused. "Th-that's never happened before." There was a small, frightened quiver in her voice.
"No. No I'd be very surprised if it had." He said slowly, his heart sinking. "That's magic, Willow. Yours and mine, each calling the other out." Damn, and why had he never considered this possibility before? Perhaps because you never in your wildest dreams thought you'd ever get this far, old man.
Willow retreated to the comfort of nervous babble. "B-but, Oz, and, and with the grr, why didn't it, we were much more--and I'll stop now, cause I'm guessing you don't want to hear what Oz and I did." She sat where he had left her, confusion clear in her green eyes.
"It's okay, Willow. I think my ego can take it. But, ah, Oz didn't, doesn't possess power, as such. After the, er, accident, his nature was changed, becoming intrinsically magical, but, th-that was just a, a symptom of his, ah, disease."
"So, is it a problem? I-it felt pretty good." Willow was easing her way along the sofa towards him.
"Yes, it's a problem Willow. I'm sorry but we have to get this under control before we, ah, can, er, become closer. I told you before, your power is very unfocussed at the moment, almost chaotic. I can feel it trying to break out. We have to get that under control and we must be very careful if we're to be, ah--together."
Willow curled herself against him and Giles rested his cheek on the top of her head. "I-I can do careful. I've got lots of colours of careful, or, or do you want flavours as well?" She absently caressed his wrist, where it lay across her chest.
"Ah, n-not that kind of careful, Willow. Though that's very responsible of you. We need to keep our magic under control, keep it inside you. If it leaks out, when we're intimate, it will--twist together, for want of a better word. We may not be able to untangle it properly and could become permanently linked, magically speaking. One's magic is a uniquely personal thing and there are--problems inherent in possessing anyone else's magic. Magic also adds its own flavour to um, intimacy. There's a danger of becoming lost in the sensations its feeding you and not being able to return to reality."
Giles waited for Willow to reply, knowing she would have a million questions.
"Wow. They never told us about this in Health Class. Though I guess there's not really a teacher's manual for "Sex and the Black Arts" huh?"
"Actually--" Giles smiled into Willow's hair.
"You lie like a rug, ex-Watcher guy. I can feel that smile." He felt her giggle.
"Don't worry, Willow love. I learnt, and so can you. In fact, since we can't do anything else just yet, how about a lesson now?" He released Willow and stood up, moving to take the tea things into the kitchen.
"Okay, what do I do?" She asked.
"Just lie back. And concentrate on your breathing. Do you meditate?" At her nod Giles continued, "Good. Do that then; clear your mind and try to visualise a box, with a lock." He took the tray back to his tiny kitchen. On the way back he closed the drapes and lit a single lamp on the far side of the room giving them just enough light to avoid tripping over anything.
As an afterthought he locked the front door. Though it would serve the intruders right he didn't want Buffy, Xander or Anya to disturb them unannounced. Giles made himself comfortable beside the sofa, near Willow's head. He pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. "Relax. And whatever you do, whatever you feel happening, don't reach out with your magic. Ah, may I?" He fingered the buttons on her shirt, "I have to touch skin, for this to work." Willow nodded and Giles swiftly unbuttoned the shirt moving the edges slightly apart so that a thin line of her torso was exposed. His hands shook only a little. "What is your box like?" He asked the young woman.
"It's kind of like your door. All wood, with wrought iron bands around it. Iron's good for holding magic, right? The key is a big old brass one, like you see in old movies."
"Good Willow. That's perfect. Now relax, but keep a hold of your magic, don't let it reach out to me. You must trust me. Some of this will feel very strange. Close your eyes please."He called his magic up, bringing it to the tips of his fingers and touched the place just between Willows eyes, using his magic to open the channels to the inner map of her power.
"Ajna," he whispered. "See me." He moved his fingers to the base of her throat, calling and repeated the process.
"Visuddha, hear me." Keeping light contact with her skin, Giles moved his fingers to her sternum, between her small breasts. "Anahata, feel me." He moved back up her body and placed a hand on the top of her head. "Shahasrara. Be me."
Giles whispered, finishing the ritual. "Open your eyes slowly Willow. Don't try to move around." She looked up at him and gasped.
"Everything's different. All swirly and glowy. What did you do, Giles?"
"I opened your inner eyes so you can see power as a physical thing. I'll close them in a minute. But first I want you to look at me. Can you see that the swirls around me are different? Good. That's because my power is controlled and obeys my will. Notice how dense the colour around me is? How it's close to my skin? Now look at yourself, what do you see?"
Willow held one arm in front of her face, having first found out that moving her head was highly disorienting. "I'm all knotty and there's bits breaking off and flying away and hey, way cool! I keep changing colours! And I take up more space than you. Huh. How's that work?" She asked in confusion.
"The colour change is bad, Willow. Your moods are very changeable and at the moment your magic reflects the least little emotional blip. That will get better as you get older. But I want you to concentrate on the knots. Try to unravel some." For almost twenty minute she patiently followed Giles' instructions and at the end there was a noticeable difference in the aura of power she wore.
Just as she seemed to be reaching the end of her strength Giles called a halt and had Willow stuff her power into her imaginary box and lock it. The symbolism was crude but an effective training tool. With time Willow would be able to do this all on her own.
"Keep it in the box, unless you are actually using the power Willow. I'm sorry I never thought to teach you this before. Your casting would be a lot more accurate by now." There were two more things Giles wanted to do before he broke the working.
"Willow, give me your hand. I've a gift for you love." He placed her proffered hand on the crown of his head while he moved the fingers of his other hand to her crown. "Sahasrara. Be me." He whispered again. Opening himself to her, letting her feel all he felt. He knew she would feel all his emotions, the less than sterling as well as the deep love he had for her.
There was no other course but truth with Willow. "You love me!" The red head gasped, and he felt an echo back along the link of magic between them. She loved him too. "Willow, stop. You're reaching. Keep the magic in the box." His voice was firm, he knew, but this was no place for mistakes. "One more gift, love."
Giles placed Willow's hand back at her side and moved both his to her navel. "You've got a smile!" He commented inanely. Her neat belly button was smiley shaped line instead of a more usual recessed oval.
"My mom says its my tummy smile." Willow commented, sounding on the edge of laughter.
Giles shook off his bemusement and placed a kiss on the tiny smile. "Svadhisthana. I invoke thee." Willow cried out, her body convulsed once, then she passed out. Giles placed another kiss on her navel and swiftly made sure all the points he had activated were quiescent again.He rebuttoned her shirt and gathered her up in his arms, waiting for her to come back.
Ten minutes passed and Giles began to worry he had misjudged the amount of magic he'd used. A groan from the bundle of loose limbs in his arms eased his worry. "Willow. Wake up. Willow love?" He nuzzled her sweet-smelling hair.
"Wh-what was that?" She asked in a soft distant voice. "It felt like, like--"
"Every sensation from the last dozen times you made love all at once?" He felt her nod.
"That is why magic can be addictive. That is why you have to be careful. If you feed too much power into something you can risk activating those channels I showed you and getting caught in the sensations. Keep the magic in the box, please Willow." And his voice was so plaintive. "How do you feel?"
"Like I could sleep for a million years. I know I'll wake up hungry in a few hours, but sleep is all I want right now. I'll just--rest--for a minute, then I'll head back home." Her sentence was punctuated with yawns. Giles took one of her hands in his and kissed it.
"You, you could stay here." He suggested tentatively, almost sure of her refusal.
"Oh, could I? That sounds so much better. Then when I wake up you can feed me pancakes and mochas. And I get to kiss you good morning."
Her bright sunny smile was a huge contrast to the expression Willow had worn when she first arrived.
"You can kiss me now, Willow. I-in fact any time you feel like it, you have my express permission to kiss me." Willow immediately exercised this right, and it was another ten minutes before they stood up to go to bed.
"You go on up, Willow. I'll just lock up down here." Willow slowly went upstairs as Giles checked all the windows, and the made sure the stove was off. A soft knock on the door stopped him at the foot of the stairs. Opening the door he found Buffy waiting outside. "Yes?" He asked, making no move to let her inside.
"Hi, Giles. I was just about to head out on patrol, but I wondered if you'd seen Willow. She seemed kinda down this morning and I haven't seen her all day. Do you know where she is?"
At the mention of Willow's name Giles looked involuntarily in the direction of his bedroom. Oh dear. "Um. I have seen her. Ah. Er. Sh-she's feeling much better, I think." She had felt just perfect, in point of fact, but he wasn't going to tell Buffy so. "I, ah, do know where she is, and I don't believe you need worry anymore." He wasn't fooling anyone, least of all himself.
Buffy was certainly not fooled. "If you hurt her. I'll kill you." She promised softly, steel in her voice. "But, see? I told you it would be okay. I'm glad someone finally made a move. Uh-uh! Don't tell me." Giles had opened his mouth, about to speak. "So not a mental picture I'm equipped to deal with. I hope you're both very happy." She wrapped him in an impulsive hug then went off down the stairs.
Giles shut the door behind her and went up to find Willow in bed. "Did I hear someone at the door?" she asked sleepily.
"No. I was just checking the locks." He stripped quickly down to prosaic but pristinely white y-fronts then joined Willow in bed. As soon as he was settled, Giles found himself plastered with slender red-headed college girl. He wrapped her into his arms and relaxed toward sleep.
"You made it stop." Willow said.
"Made what stop, love?"
"My head. You made it all quiet. I love you."
"And I you. Goodnight, Willow love."