Warning: Character death
Nothing Like A Prayer
The clock said 7:34 like it always did when she walked in after work.
Toss the keys and the mail on the counter, pet the cat hello, flick on the lights. Boring. Normal. Everyday.
Next she would turn on the radio, just for the sound of human voices, and stick a frozen dinner in the microwave.
Willow sighed, and detoured towards the living room instead, where she kicked the high-heels off her aching feet and flopped down on the couch, staring past the dark TV out through the sliding glass door that lead to the balcony. Cleveland, in all of its tired, hazy glory, lay in the very last traces of watery evening light just beyond the low brick wall.
Goddess, she was bored. So very, very bored.
She could only stand to sit still for a few seconds, so she stood back up, returned to the counter and picked up the handful of mail. Junk, junk, bill, junk, bill... and oh, a letter from Dawnie... Dawn, right. All grown-up now, and not wanting the baby-names anymore.
Opening the envelope earned her a paper-cut, but oh well. She leaned back against the counter and read the short note. Bright and cheery, as usual, with a little heart dotting the i in the Sincerely. The kids were fine, the husband was fine, Buffy was fine, everything was fine.
It should have been a smoke screen, should have been false cheer covering demons and darkness and pain.
But it wasnt. Things were fine. Totally fine.
She left the letter with the rest of the junk. With a sigh, she gave into routine: into the kitchen, on with the radio, into the microwave goes the tasteless, low-fat dinner of the day. She sat down at the table to wait. Hmm, the message light was blinking on the phone.
She was too tired to deal with it now.
The microwave beeped, three loud shrills into the false silence of the apartment. False, because the DJ was rambling away on the radio, traffic was rumbling and honking beneath her window, and the neighbors were thumping around upstairs.
Silence, because all this noise was... empty.
She thought about standing up. The microwave beeped again. Impatient appliance, demanding her attention. But, really, what was the point, anyway? Wasnt like the food was really appealing. Even now, the scent was turning her stomach.
Someone knocked on the door.
Well, that, at least, was different. Even though it was probably the Jehovahs Witness or something. Hey, at least she could work some Wicca mojo in front of them and send them running in mortal terror for their souls. That would be fun.
She pushed herself up to her feet and went to open the door. And blinked. Not Jehovahs Witness. Not at all.
Willow, he said, breathing her name, almost like a prayer, but... not... not at all, actually...
He was loose and at ease, propped against the door frame with one elbow, dressed in black: leather and silk and denim. Every fantasy shed been too young and naive to have in high school. He smiled just a bit, an upward twist of the corner of his lips, and gestured into the apartment.
She looked up, into his eyes, finding that amber patch shed first noticed when she was just fifteen and besotted with a high school librarian. Those eyes... familiar but different. Years of developed instincts kicked in, and Willow suddenly knew what the flashing light on her machine meant. Saw the missing spark of life, the missing depth of a soul. He held her gaze steadily, not even trying to hide what hed become.
She didnt speak and he didnt move. For a moment, they were a still life, though nothing concrete, more like one of those paintings that had no real name, just a number, like Apples #5. For a little while she ached inside, wondering who? what? how? But then, that pain faded.
Looking at him, all she could really see was Giles. Giles, who shed lost a long time ago after their common ground had crumbled into a rocky sinkhole. After the greatest feat of her life. After the forces of evil had been beaten back by the countless fists of newly-called Slayers and they had suddenly found themselves out of a job. Out of a destiny.
After the simplicity of normal life had torn asunder what legions of evil had failed to destroy.
Ive missed you, he said.
Willow stepped back from the door, pulling it open wider.
And he did, sliding past her and into her home. She shut the door and turned her back to it, watching as he stopped in her living room and looked around slowly. And, as though her old friend had brought with him her old self, she could feel the babble pressing against the back of her throat... Can I get you anything? No, probably not, seeing as I dont have anything youd want to eat, and what should I call you? Giles? Ripper? Rupert? Is it you at all, or is it just like we always told ourselves, a demon in your body, nothing to do with you but your memories, your eyes, your hands...
She still didnt speak.
He turned around, suddenly looking at her with as much intensity as he had once devoted to *not* looking. His gaze was soft as silk--too tender, it seemed--drinking in every detail from her bare feet to her tweed skirt to her long hair, pulled back. It made her skin tingle and her nipples hard.
That didnt slip his notice, and that small smile touched his lips again. She walked forward a few paces and he took a step towards her.
Then she reached out and tapped the button on her answering machine.
He froze, and doubt tensed his brow for a moment. Buffys voice, broken with tragedy that shed lost her tolerance to, cut through the air.
Oh, god, Will, if youre there, pick up. Please, pick up, this is so important. God. Ok, fine, youre not there. I dont... look, I dont want to say this to an answering machine, but its... its important. I said that. Its... Will, its Giles... He... The... God, I dont know how to say this...
There was a long pause and Willow could feel her heart hammering in her chest. Giles was still motionless, halted nearly in mid-step, as though hypnotized by the voice of his former Slayer.
Hes dead, Will. The Council guys... they found him. It was a vampire. And... theres more... his body, its gone... they think... they think hes... you know. So... if you see him... just dont invite him in, ok?
Willow couldnt stop a small, wry smile.
Look, call me, all right? Were gonna... you know... get the gang together. Do... something... something memorial-y, not something slay-y, I mean. So. Yeah, call me.
The machine beeped and reported that the message had been received at five thirty-two, and then, it was quiet.
Giles watched her, waiting.
Just so were both clear, Willow said, I know. You know I know.
He relaxed and nodded once, just enough to convey his meaning, then he finished his stride and reached for her. His hand touched her cheek. She shut her eyes, turned her face into his palm. Her nose brushed against the swell of flesh at the base of his thumb as she nuzzled him. He smelled like leather and cigarettes, but also like old books, and his cologne, and maybe a hint of scotch, and just... him. An old scent, familiar, bringing back in full color the old library, drenched in sunlight, warmed with laughter.
He stepped up closer and the scent of leather drowned out the rest, and his arms were around her, pulling her close, and she went willingly, resting her cheek against his chest and sliding her arms around him inside of his jacket. His body was too cool, too still, but his hands were a miracle, running slowly up and down her back, her sides. Strong hands, that had been broken by Angelus, that had pulled her back from danger more times than she could count, that had clenched in rage when shed fallen to the temptations of power, that had been so tender as she struggled her way back. Now, they were touching her, learning the curve of her waist, the sharpness of her shoulder blades. His lips touched her hair.
The night after the first day shed met him, shed dreamed of kissing him. She could still remember it now, how in her mind that night, shed walked into the library--she in pigtails and a plaid dress, and he in tweed and owlish glasses--and hed smiled down at her, and theyd been surrounded by light, and hed pulled her close, rough woolen sleeves scratching her arms, and hed kissed her, softly, almost chastely, all warm lips and tenderness. She remembered being afraid that her mother would find out, and then waking up, tingly all over, and alone.
In the present, pressed against him, she gasped, harshly, suddenly sure she was going to cry. He pushed her back to half an arms length, and looked down, and she looked up, through a blur of tears.
The first kiss was like biting into an apple, cool and oh so sweet, but also tinged with the salt of tears in the back of her throat. His tongue moved against hers, dominant, sensual, and she began to move her own hands, trapped between leather and silk, over his back. Unquestionably male: broad shoulders, strong muscles. She hadnt been with a man... ever, really, since Oz was still just a boy the last time. She dropped her hands down to his ass, and he clutched her tighter, kissed her deeper. She moaned slightly, half from the ferocity of his grip and half from desire, and felt the first interested twinge between her legs as her pelvis dragged against his crotch.
Then the kiss ended, as he shifted his head to the side, nuzzling along her cheekbone, then taking her earlobe between his lips, sucking gently, teasing the tender flesh with the tip of his tongue. She made another soft sound and he pressed in, pulling her close again, right up along his body, strong chest, long legs, hard cock. He sucked harder. It was cool and wet and softer than the silk of his shirt.
Oh, Willow, he whispered, the words carried on illusionary breath that tickled her ear, We could be so good together, you and I. You know that, dont you?
Mmm, she said, distracted by his hands sliding down around her own ass, squeezing a bit and holding her near him. She tilted her head up and found the skin of his neck against her lips, opened her mouth and tasted him. Rough skin against her tongue. She laid a trail of wet kisses along his collar, silk brushing her lower lip as she went.
This world, its lost its edge.
He pulled her against him in a slow, rolling rhythm as he spoke, with his head bowed down beside hers. She took her hands out from behind him and undid the top few buttons of his shirt, exploring each inch of newly exposed skin with lips and tongue. His chest hair was a new and interesting experience, and she took a moment to nuzzle into it, breathe his scent.
No ones afraid anymore, he said, Humanity will suffer for it.
She finished unbuttoning his shirt and pulled back abruptly, then pushed his shirt and jacket off his shoulders and down his arms, off onto the floor. He blinked down at her as she looked him over as he had looked at her earlier. He was pale, possibly because of the vampire thing, or possibly because he always wore so damn much clothing. Fuzzy, with all that intriguing silver chest hair. Just plain big compared to every lover shed ever had: tall and solid. His eyes were dark and dilated and his nipples were sharp peaks and his erection was pressing against the fabric of his tight black jeans. All this for her.
She couldnt tear her eyes away from the bulge in his jeans. Finally, she just stepped forward again and touched it, finding the shape of it with her fingers. He caught her hand in his, pulled it up to his lips and kissed her palm.
Without the lion, the antelope forgets how to run.
She took her hand back and shoved him gently towards the living room.
Less talk. More sex.
That summer, after Tara, after Warren, shed stayed with him. It had all been so confused in her mind, then: the loneliness, the guilt, the self-hatred. Some of it had spilled over to him, and shed hated him as she hated herself, and loved him as shed loved Tara, and shed wanted to kill him, or maybe wanted him to kill her, and shed wanted to fuck him, or maybe wanted him to take her in his arms and hold her, like a small girl, and tell her everything would be all right.
In the mornings he would sit in the kitchen, with his tea and the paper, lit by the yellow glow of the kitchen light that pushed against rainy, early morning gloom. He would be dressed in a T-shirt and in sweatpants, his hair still damp and curled from the shower. She would be tired, because he made her get up in the mornings, never let her sleep like she wanted to. Shed sit in the other chair, pushed back away from the table and turned a bit towards him, and she would watch him, and sometimes, all she could think about was what might happen if she just got out of the chair, got down on her knees on the linoleum, and put her mouth on him.
Mostly, she thought he would push her away. Sometimes, she thought he might let her.
She was on her knees now, and he was on the couch, and he *was* letting her. His hand was in her hair, and hers was unbuttoning his jeans, unzipping his fly. She wasnt entirely surprised to find bare flesh beneath. She wrapped her hand around him, drew him out. Looked up at his eyes on her, and breathed, Rupert...
His hand tightened in her hair, and pulled her to him.
His cock was smooth and hard and tasted like the nothingness of clean skin, except at the very tip, where there was a drop of something, salt and bitterness. She didnt know this, had never done this, except once, with Oz, and then only for a few minutes. When he lifted his hips and pressed in deeper, she felt her throat tighten in rebellion and had to pull back.
Took a deep breath through her nose and then pressed forward again. Wanted this. Wanted *him*. Wanted to know what it felt like, doing this. To *know* how hed sound as she moved her tongue against him. Know the taste of bitter pre-ejaculate, and the scent of him here. So male. So *Giles*.
Hard flesh, warming in her mouth, even as she herself grew hot and wet. Felt herself tense and relax inside, low in her stomach, as she leaned in, let him slide deep inside of her throat, a small push of magic easing the way.
Oh, yes, he said, above her, broken-voiced, and his hips echoed his sentiment, moving restlessly, small strokes, fucking her...
She trembled suddenly and felt cold chase over her skin, leaving goosebumps in its wake. Moved her tongue against him as he moved inside her, just to hear him groan again. So good. So close to him.
Shed dreamed, once, a few months ago, that she was with him. No context, no plot. It was just him and her, together, somewhere. The where didnt matter, the how didnt matter. Nothing mattered but his body, his voice, and his cock inside her. Hed taken her, hard, and it had been so good...
Shed woken suddenly in the night, a hairs breadth away from orgasm and all alone, with the cool impersonal light of Cleveland seeping between the blinds. Could have touched herself, brought herself off. Could have gone out into that false night, found a bar, found someone. Her body was screaming for it. But she hadnt.
Shed rolled over in her empty bed and shed cried for all shed lost.
She was aching now, as she had then.
She pulled away from him and rocked back on her heels, shook her hair back and looked up at him. He looked down and seemed to understand. Slid off the couch, knelt in front of her. They were so close together, his body such an unavoidable physical presence, touching her in so many places--her thighs, her stomach, her arms--leaning in close enough that every breath brought in the scent of him, so it was like he was literally a part of her, inside of her.
He kissed her temple, and then pushed her backwards, lowering them both down to the floor, holding himself over her on one arm. Her tears were cold on her cheeks as he unfastened her skirt and pulled it off of her. As he pushed aside her panties and his cock touched her opening.
It hurt when he slipped inside, and it made her gasp, but it was good. The pain was good.
Yes, she said, lifting her body up to him, More.
So, he met her, motion for motion, deep and hard, filling her with pleasure and pain and lust and tears. Leaned forward, close to her and whispered to her.
Be with me. You and I. Together.
Fresh, hot tears, like buttery movie-theater popcorn, and tingling pleasure tremors in her gut, her heart, her breasts. She found his wrist and wrapped her hand around it tight, and felt where there was no pulse.
Ripper, she said, and then she felt him change. Felt him nuzzle her shoulder, and then turn his head, just ever so slightly. Lips moving against the skin of her throat.
No more pain. No more loneliness. Just us, forever. Eternity.
And then there was pain, far sharper and brighter than that other deep, internal ache.
His mouth against her throat, and she could feel his fangs shift in her, even as his cock still moved inside of her. A drop of blood that he missed rolled down her throat, warm as the tears.
Heard her heartbeat in her ears, like the ocean pounding on stones.
His wrist was still in her hand, warm where she touched him but otherwise cool. And still.
She gasped, a shuddering sob, even as the pressure of him inside her became too much, as it gripped her and dragged her over the edge, like a tiger with its prey. Her orgasm: blinding, wrenching, dizzying as blood loss.
She wanted to say his name. But couldnt, because she didnt know what it was.
And because... it wasnt him.
The floor was hard beneath her back, dragging against her. Painful.
She shut her eyes.
All it took was one small magical push, childs play, and it was over.
She felt him go to dust inside her, tasted graveyard on her tongue.
Lay there, still and silent, legs still bent and open, for a long time. Trembling. Bleeding.
Then she got up, finally, and the room spun a bit around her. She went to the kitchen. Picked up the phone and called Buffy, agreed to fly out there. They would hug and reminisce and let go.
Hung up the phone and then picked it back up again. Called a number shed had in her purse for months. A coworker.
Asked if she wanted to meet up sometime, have coffee. Smiled, a real smile, when she accepted.
She walked back out to the living room when she was done, and looked out. Cleveland. Sparkling city lights, shimmering in the night. She leaned up against the cool glass, and felt, again, the tears. But different than before. Not sharp, not burning. Clean and cool, sliding easily down her cheeks, curling around her jaw.
There was a Hellmouth out there, she knew, buried under the office that she worked in everyday.
But no vampires. No apocalypses.
A quiet city. A quiet world.
Shed been waiting and waiting, for so long, and finally, for the first time, she understood. For the first time, she could relax.
Giles was wrong. She had been wrong. This was no calm before the storm.
This was victory.