Eye-Catching and/or Fuzzy
Principal Flutie had assigned a student to assist Rupert in settling into the Sunnydale High School library, inserting his own volumes into the collection and familiarizing himself with what the school already owned.
“One of our finest students,” the principal had said. “Volunteered to help out, just loves the library. She was sad to see Mrs. Webber retire, but I'm sure you two will get along.”
And here she was. It was a month before the beginning of term, a boiling California late July, and Rupert was sweating in a tweed suit but refusing to relax in his new role as librarian. He wondered whether he was overdoing it all, both hiding his true purpose as a watcher and attempting to erase his rebellious past in the guise of a stereotypical uptight Englishman.
He inserted a finger under his collar, trying not to suffer in the heat, not looking up when he heard footsteps, and the library doors swinging open. Willow Rosenberg, he remembered being told, was the student's name. He assumed she was bright, from Flutie's glowing commentary, but hoped that she wasn't so inquisitive that she wouldn't accept the explanation he'd concocted to account for the extensive occult library he'd had shipped from Council headquarters in London: personal interest, a research project he hoped to undertake in his spare time while in Sunnydale. In fact, this was not entirely untrue.
As he finished making notes about the book he'd been skimming, he looked up. He'd noticed in the week he'd been there that California girls all seemed to dress like streetwalkers. Of course, Londoners weren't much better, and considering the unrelenting heat and sunshine, Californians had a better excuse. By comparison to many others he'd seen, this girl looked positively demure. She wore a pink sundress – short, but not indecent – printed with flowers, and entirely the wrong color for her hair and complexion. It left her little white arms bare, and exposed her legs from just above the knee down to her feet in their orange rubber flip-flops, her toenails painted a cheerful yellow. She looked at him, eyes wide, worrying her lower lip between her teeth.
“Hello, I'm Rupert Giles. You're Miss Rosenberg?” he asked.
“Hi Mr. Giles. Yeah, um, Miss Rosenberg. Willow. Is me,” she said, looking down at her painted toenails and blushing.
He glanced again, and noticed that the biggest toe on each foot had a smiley face painted on it. Californians, he thought. Still, he smiled at her and watched her blush even redder. Then she smiled back, a shy smile, but absolutely charming.
“I'm, uh, just here to help you out,” she said.
“Have a seat,” he replied, “and we'll get started on these books. We can work for a bit, and then perhaps you can tell me about Sunnydale's existing collection. I've already had a bit of a look.”
She sat, and they worked all morning.
* * *
They spent longer at the task than Rupert had anticipated. The collection he had imported was very large, and he also had to account for the filing system at Sunnydale High School being different than the system used by the Council of Watchers. He either had to separate the collection, or reorganize the entire library. He chose the former, but it was still a major task. The other factor which contributed to the extended duration of the project was that Miss Rosenberg (or Willow, as she had finally insisted he call her) had told him that all of the new books had to be added into the electronic system. He was fully prepared to add them all to the card catalog, but all of the books in the existing library were also indexed on the library's computers and their loan was recorded electronically as well. Willow had promised to show him how to check books out to the students who came for them, but first she was assisting him by adding the books he'd brought from London to the computer's database.
She seemed to have accepted his explanation regarding his interest in demon myths and his upcoming research project, and in fact she had offered to assist him with it. He politely declined her offer, because when term began and the Slayer arrived, he wouldn't want Willow involved, and thereby injured. He declined her politely, but regretfully. He'd come to enjoy Willow's company a great deal. After the first few days she began staying afternoons as well as mornings to assist him, and they had lunch together, eating outside in the courtyard to be, as he insisted, well away from any books. Willow laughed at him for being so protective of them, but he knew she understood. He respected her intellect, even admitting that she knew many things (mostly related to the dreaded computer) that he did not, and he enjoyed spirited discussions with her once she had mostly overcome her shyness towards him.
These discussions with Willow over sandwiches and tea engendered his respect, but also sparked his desire, though he tried to repress it. One side of him was engaged by her lively intelligence and thirsty curiosity. But the side of himself he thought of as “Ripper” was more interested in her physical charms: the long silky hair, the milk pale flesh exposed in her little outfits… And oh, those little outfits. Completely ridiculous, and wrong for her, but they didn't keep her from being beautiful. Her lack of interest in fashion, choosing as she tended to the eye-catching and/or fuzzy, was refreshing. It differentiated her in Rupert's eyes from other girls her age. Not that the clothing was adult or sophisticated, because it certainly wasn't. It just made it seem somehow that Willow was above caring about this sort of thing.
And Rupert wanted her.
* * *
She was wearing purple shorts and a violently teal sleeveless button-down the day that Rupert first let himself be ruled by his attraction to her. He'd been prudently keeping his distance, though still being friendly, and Willow hadn't seemed to notice anything amiss. But that day she was showing him how to use the computer check-out system to lend out the books to students. She stood at the counter near the entrance to the library, and Rupert was behind her, looking over her shoulder at the computer. He watched as she double-clicked a picture on the screen, which started the requisite program. The program window came up, and she half-turned, her right hand still on the mouse, to face Rupert.
“You see the search box in the top left corner?” she asked. “Just type in the numeric code that we've written into the inside front cover of the books. For those older volumes we didn't want to write in, I've put in keywords for the author, or title if there wasn't an author, so you can type that. Here, let's try – “
She paused as Rupert raised a hand and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “I'm sorry, Willow, please continue.”
She blushed and turned, flustered, to face the screen. As she stumblingly continued to explain the program, he moved in closer behind her, peering over her shoulder.
“Like this?” he asked, brushing his arm against her waist as he reached past her to take the mouse and click on something she'd been explaining in the program.
“Yeah! Cool, okay, so you've got this computer thing. I'm gonna, um, go to the bathroom.”
* * *
The day he kissed her, Willow was wearing a lime green dress with strappy bits that didn't really cover her shoulders, and a ridiculous purple hat. She and Rupert were in the stacks shelving books, and she was standing on her tiptoes, trying to reach the top shelf, a heavy book in her hand, and the strap of her dress falling down her right shoulder. He took the book from her and put it into its place on the shelf. She turned to thank him, and he replaced the strap on her shoulder, letting his hand linger there.
“Thanks,” she said, and he kissed her.
* * *
Three days later and the day Willow kissed him, she was wearing a lavender blouse and a white skirt, which would have been reasonable-looking if it weren't for the embroidered ducks. It was a week before the beginning of term, and looked to be the last day of their library organizational project. They straightened up, shelving the last of the books, and then Rupert went into his new office to make tea for the two of them. Willow followed him in, and stood shyly, waiting for him to put the kettle on. As he turned back from putting it on the stove, she took his hand. She kissed him as the kettle heated, until it boiled. They drank their tea, and she kissed him again before she went home.
* * *
With a week left before the beginning of term and all the organizing done, Rupert had a bit of leisure time. The next time he and Willow kissed, it was in his flat. He turned to her where she sat next to him on the sofa, and kissed her without haste. Or, it began without haste. By the time they came up for air, the two of them were slightly horizontal. His hair was mussed, and the top two buttons of his shirt undone. Willow's skirt was a bit disarranged, and she was smiling widely.
* * *
He told her on the first day of term when she came to the library that he couldn't do it anymore. She looked at him with wide shining eyes, but didn't cry. She nodded.
Honestly, he would've kept on. He trusted Willow to be discreet. But he had met the Slayer that morning, and knew he had a job to do, and Willow couldn't be a part of that.
* * *
When Buffy brought Willow and her friend Xander to the library the next day to explain to them what was happening, Rupert discovered that Willow had become a part of the fight anyway, in spite of his efforts. He was upset to see her in danger when he'd tried to keep her out of it.
But perhaps there was a bright side. When Willow wanted to help save her friend, Rupert asked her to stay in the library and help him research.
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