"Make it a double," Giles corrected after he'd just ordered a scotch and seven. Willow just looked around the room, pretending not to care that she was driving Giles to drink. Make it a double isn't a casual libation statement, it's pretty clear that you're trying to drown your sorrows or mask your pain. She ordered a petite little glass of wine, though she was tempted to ask for something of the 'pain masking' variety.
"I think I should explain," Willow said.
"No, I don't think you should. I'm not certain I want to know. Willow, it's obvious you've spent some time with Ethan. And, judging by the way you tore after him this morning - he clearly means something to you." He reached across the table and took her hand. "I know that you and I can't pick up where we left off, but I'm going to be honest with you. I won't share you with him. And if you're feeling something for him that you want or...or need to explore, then I think it's best if I leave town and let you do so without further confusion."
"Giles..." she said softly, "It was ONE night. I just saw him last night out on the street narrating a story for a bunch of kids...and I was lonely and it was Christmas and...he let me read him, he insisted that I read him so that I would know for sure that he had changed...and there was snow falling and Christmas music...and Dr. Seuss...you know how I love Dr. Seuss...it was crazy and it all happened so fast."
"I'm not blind, love - I saw the way you were looking at him, walking with him, resting your head on his shoulder. Are you going to tell me it was nothing? That it didn't mean anything to you?" He let go of her hand when the waiter brought their drinks. Giles ordered for Willow and himself and then as soon as they were alone again, he looked into her eyes.
She took a deep breath and sighed. "Look, I don't know what to say. It happened, yes, but...I can't forget about it, I can't hide it. It's a part of me, now. But..." Though she tried to say that she wouldn't see Ethan anymore, that she didn't want to see Ethan anymore, she couldn't speak the words. It was as if every time she opened her mouth the words were frozen in her thoughts, spinning wildly trying to fire the neurons in her brain to speak them, but never succeeding.
" It is a part of you...or he is a part of you?" Giles didn't want to hear the answer. He had no idea why he even asked. Glutton for punishment, he supposed.
Willow just shook her head dismissively and said, honestly, "I don't know." Their food arrived just in time to quell the conversation for a few minutes. But neither one of them felt much like eating. They picked at their plates, pushed the food around a lot...ordered a few more drinks. "Giles, it's been two years - two years. Are you telling me that you haven't been with anyone in two years?"
"Well, first of all we're not talking about anyone , we're talking about Ethan Rayne. You remember what he did to me? To you? Turned you into a bloody ghost. And, second - I never said I haven't been with anyone, but if you must know...no." He wasn't proud of his no , it sort of just eeked out softly.
"Nobody? No dinners? No dates? No handholding? No goodnight kisses? No morning breakfasts? No sidelong glances at the local library? Nothing?" Willow knew that Giles wasn't much for dating. In the fifteen years she'd known him she'd seen him with three women: Jenny, Olivia, and Buffy's mother. But the whole thing with Buffy's mother was attributed to Ethan just like the other wackiness in Sunnydale. Including herself - his track record was pretty much squeaky clean. The little drummer boy got more action than Rupert Giles.
"I saw Olivia once. I'd been home about a year and we ran into each other at the market. She asked me to dinner and I went. It was pleasant, dinner was nice. But when I was walking her to her door she reached for my hand...and..." He was lost in the thought, reliving it in his mind. "...I flinched. I'd never seen someone so hurt before by such a small thing, such a tiny gesture."
Willow reached across the table through a maze of plates and flatware, glasses and candlesticks and covered his hand with her own. He didn't stop her. "Why did you pull away when Olivia touched you?"
"Because it wasn't you." He laced his fingers through hers. "That was a year ago...but I was too damned foolish to come back to you then. I knew, I knew it right down to the marrow in my bones that you were the only person I wanted to be with, needed to be with. My pride kept me away, foolishly. But now, love...Willow... I don't care about the money anymore, it's so bloody infuriating that I fucked up again...I ruined the only thing that's ever...truly mattered." He looked deep into her eyes. "Leaving you was the hardest thing I've ever had to do...I can never do it again, do you understand? Never. So if what Ethan Rayne is offering is something you're looking for...please tell me now."
"You can't do this to me, force me to choose. I mean...I thought you were gone. I didn't think you'd ever come back. Giles...Rupert...I haven't been with anyone, not one person. It's been two years of waiting and hoping. I could have cast a spell to bring you back, but you know I don't do that anymore. I waited. Every time the phone rang I thought it might be you. Every time I saved someone I wanted to call you and tell you that I did something good. Every second of every day for years, Giles, years. And then last night I got lost in the city, in the music and the decorations and the whole Christmas-y feel of New York. And I was lonely. But when Ethan appeared last night...it felt like..."
"If I say yes you'll take it the wrong way."
"I don't think fate can be taken as right or wrong - fate by its very definition is devoid of judgment and circumstance. Fate is what is meant to be." Giles looked exhausted. He had had too much to drink, but he was, as always, articulate and precise.
“Maybe it happened so that you and I would talk about things that we never talked about before. I mean – if you just showed up here and I fell into your arms – we might be right back where we left off.” She was trying to justify the night she'd spent with Ethan. If for no other reason than to please herself. “I'm not saying it's good or bad...but maybe…”
“Yes,” he said softly, “Maybe.”
They spent the rest of their late lunch / early dinner catching up. Something in the air changed their moods and after an hour or so they were old friends again, comfortable and secure. Perhaps it was the liquor. Neither knew for sure.
When they left the restaurant they strolled down Broadway, the daylight fading around them into the grey of winter. The street was quiet but soon it would be full. When they reached the corner Giles stopped and took in his surroundings. He inhaled a deep cleansing breath and reached out for Willow's hand. “Come with me,” he said.
She melted when he touched her. She wished it wasn't so damned cold and that they both didn't have gloves on. Still, the contact was invigorating. They hadn't even hugged, let alone kissed hello.
Willow followed, walking close to Giles whenever they passed a grate in the sidewalk oozing rolling steam. She didn't want to push her luck, though and, honestly, Ethan wasn't completely out of her mind. He had intrigued her. But their goodbye was dramatic and romantic – it was an appropriate ending. Nothing much left unsaid or undone.
Giles walked her through the streets and finally down an alley. They stopped in front of a storefront, but it was dark inside and she couldn't make out the words on the window. He looked into her eyes for a second and then he said, "Merry Christmas, love. I hope you like it."
Willow just raised her eyebrows, unsure of what he meant.
Giles brought their entwined hands to his mouth and placed a gentle kiss on the crest of her gloved knuckles. He let go and then unlocked the door. Willow was about to follow him inside, but he stopped her, "No, no...you stay right there."
She had no idea what was going on, why he had taken her to this shop that looked abandoned. It was getting late, well past dinner time. She could make out the sounds of the crowds beginning to pack the streets again. There was even a choir singing, though she doubted it was the same as the night before.
"Ready?" Giles sounded like he was a million miles away as he called to her.
"Yeah." She instinctually felt as though she should correct her grammar, but the immediately smiled at the realization that she didn't have to be so proper with him anymore. She was relaxed around him again.
Willow's eyes grew wide as her face was illuminated by a warm yellow glow. The lights inside the store came on revealing an expanse of books and magical supplies through the window she was looking through. A shadow passed across the room and Giles finally emerged from the store.
"Well?" He stood next to her and crossed his arms over his chest, observing his handy work.
"I don't know what to say." She was speechless. "You did this for me?"
Giles smiled and nodded toward the printed name of the store on the window in front of them. Willow just smiled. The Willow Tree .
"What does this mean?" She turned to him and looked into his eyes.
"Well, I suppose it means that I'll be staying in New York, but..." He rested his hands on her shoulders and then, after a moment, slid them slowly down the length of each arm until he held her hands in his.
"But?" She spoke the word tentatively, afraid of what might follow.
"I don't have anything to add," he said and reached up to stroke the side of her face. But before he touched her he took a look at his hand and then slowly, methodically, removed his glove, one finger at a time.
Willow trembled, quivering from the cold as well as the anticipation of his touch.
He reached up again, his fingers warm and soft when they met the surface of her frozen face. She leaned into his touch, the heat radiating off of him like a beacon. She closed her eyes and sighed, images of their life together playing like a movie in her mind. It was good - their life together. Full of death and destruction, too many secrets to count, but their love was grand and majestic.
Giles read her serene expression and wrapped her in his arms, seeking the comfort that only she could give him. The comfort only she had ever given him. He held her tight, his face buried in the folds of her scarf, her perfume tickling his nose. He wrapped his arms around her even tighter and lifted her off the ground forcing their bodies to conform to each other.
"Don't ever leave me again," she sobbed into his ear, "I'll hate you forever."
He lowered her to the ground and, for the first time since he'd been back, kissed her hello.
~~end part 6~~
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