"Do you think we should throw a birthday party for Buffy?" Willow asked. She'd just finished reading a chapter of her European history textbook, and Giles looked up from the Sunday paper as if he'd forgotten she was there.

"What? Buffy's birthday?"

"Her dad's taking her to the ice show, but maybe we should do something too. She doesn't seem to want a party. I can see that a surprise party would be out, after what happened last year." She smiled. "Bet you wish it were my eighteenth birthday already."

But he didn't smile. "Quite," he said abstractedly.

"Giles, is everything okay?" she asked, for perhaps the third or fourth time in as many days. Lately he'd seemed distracted, absent - except when they made love, when he was, if possible, more passionate than usual, as though he wanted to blot out everything with the feel and taste of her. Not that she was complaining about that, but he hadn't smiled much in the past few days, and when he did, it looked like it hurt his face.

"I'm fine," he said, and began to lift the paper again.

She set her book on the table. "You sure? You seem...I don't know."

He folded the newspaper and placed it on the table. He picked up his cup of tea, doubtless stone cold by now, and took a sip.

"Giles?" He always talked to her. She didn't know what to do if he wouldn't, and she felt panic rise in her chest. "Please. I know something's wrong."

He took off his glasses and cleaned them with his shirt - first meticulously, then furiously. Finally, glasses back on, he gazed gravely at her for a full minute or more. "Yes," he said finally. "There is something." He got up, walked over to where his briefcase was propped against bookshelves, reached inside and pulled out a small brown case.

He returned to the couch and opened the case. It contained a syringe and a vial of yellow liquid. For a moment, she thought: what, he's taking drugs now? But that couldn't be it. Was he sick, taking medication? She couldn't help but think she was still wildly off base, and she waited for him to explain.

He put the case on the table, faced her. "The Cruciamentum is a test given to the Slayer when she... if she reaches her eighteenth birthday. The Slayer is disabled and then entrapped with a vampire foe whom she must defeat in order to pass the test." He spoke in his most reserved tones - not the way he usually spoke when the two of them were alone.


"A Slayer's strength and coordination...they're blocked by the drug." He gestured at the case. "It's an organic compound of muscle relaxants and adrenal suppressers. The effect is temporary."

"So you're going to tell Buffy about this test, and then give her the drug?" Buffy wasn't gonna like this. So much for a happy birthday. But if Giles explained it to Buffy, she might go along with it.

He was vigorously cleaning his glasses again. "I shouldn't have told you. Please, you mustn't tell anyone, especially Buffy. She mustn't know." His face had gone ashen.

"What do you mean? She shouldn't know about it until you tell her?"

He was still cleaning his glasses. When he put them back on, he didn't look at her - he kept his eyes on that case with the needle and the drug in it. "She can't know. That's part of the test. There's a large blue crystal, with a flaw at its core. I'm to hypnotize Buffy with the aid of the crystal, administer the injections and direct her to the old boardinghouse on Prescott Lane, where she will face a vampire named Zackary Kralik. As a mortal, he murdered and tortured more than a dozen women before he was committed to an asylum for the criminally insane. Robbed of her powers, Buffy must use cunning and resourcefulness to - "

" Giles. "

He looked at her, and she could see the misery in his face now, making him look years older.

"Giles, the Council wants you to drug Buffy without her knowledge, and put her in danger?"

He nodded.

"But that's awful. You can't do that."

"Naturally I don't want to do it, but..."

"This is crazy! I know you. I don't believe you're capable of such a thing."

His jaw tensed. "Willow, in matters of tradition and protocol, I must answer to the Council. It's my duty - "

"It's your duty to Buffy not to drug her and put her in danger, Giles. I should think that would be obvious."

"My role in this is very specific." His voice was maddeningly quiet and restrained.

"Will you quit being so British for a second?" Her voice rose. "Happy birthday, Buffy - let me jab you with a needle and take away your Slayer powers. Here's a nice criminally insane vampire for you, just to make sure your eighteenth birthday is as horrific as your seventeenth. Giles, you can't - "

"Do you think I don't realize it's a barbaric ritual?" Finally he was yelling too, and that was almost a relief. Still, they rarely fought, and she hated this. "It's an archaic exercise in cruelty. But what can I do? I'm her Watcher. This is expected of me. My hands are tied."

"What, you're just following orders?"

His eyes widened as if she'd slapped him. "Did you just call me a Nazi?" His accent had slipped a bit, and she heard a trace of Ripper.

"I'm sorry," she said. "But come on, Giles, you know I'm right about this."

"You simply don't understand the complexity of the situation."

Suddenly she didn't feel so bad about calling him a Nazi. "Oh, I see. I'm good enough to be your semi-secret girlfriend, good enough to have sex with - but when it comes to the big decisions, I'm still just a kid who couldn't possibly understand. You get to express your reservations about my Wiccan studies, and I'm supposed to listen, but apparently my opinions don't matter. And neither do Buffy's, if you can consider doing something like that to her without telling her."

He just stared at her, and strangely, he didn't look so miserable anymore. "You're quite right," he said at last.

"You mean, you're admitting our opinions don't - "

"No, Willow. What I mean to say is, you're absolutely right. I can't do it. I won't."

"You won't?"

And there it was, finally, that glorious open smile. How she'd missed the way the corners of his eyes crinkled when he smiled like that. "To hell with tradition and protocol. It's wrong, and I won't harm Buffy." He gave a laugh. "What a relief."

She laughed too, and put her arms around him. "I knew it. I knew you wouldn't do it." She let out a big breath. It was such a relief. "God, I hate fighting with you, Giles."

He took off his glasses and tossed them on the table. He kissed her.

"I'm sorry I called you a Nazi. Still love me?" She gazed into his beautiful green eyes, and he regarded her with such tenderness and yes, such respect.

"More than ever, dearest. You've stopped me from making one of the biggest mistakes of my life."


When Giles came back to the library in the afternoon, after his little excursion to the old boardinghouse on Prescott Lane, Willow and Buffy were sitting at the table, books in front of them, but chatting instead of studying. "...the ice show," Buffy was saying.

"You and I can go together if you want. I know it's not the same as going with your dad, but..."

"That'd be nice. Thanks, Will."

"Hi, Giles," Willow said with a big grin. Ever since their quarrel, and his decision not to go ahead with the Cruciamentum, she looked at him as if he were her knight in shining armor - when, in fact, he felt she was the exemplary one, for making him see how wrong it would have been to follow the Council's orders.

"So did you tell Quentin Travers I didn't want my birthday present?" Buffy asked. That was what she'd taken to calling the test, after he explained what they'd had in store for her.

"First I said I wanted to inspect the boardinghouse. They had no objections - until I staked Kralik. Then I told Travers there would be no test."

"I'm so proud of you," Willow said.

"Thanks, Giles," Buffy said. "How'd he take it?"

Giles sank into a chair. "He fired me."

"What?" they chorused.

"It's all right," he murmured. "It's not like I'll be going anywhere. But there will be a new Watcher."

Buffy slowly shook her head. "I don't know what to say."

"Now when you say fired, do you mean fired ?" Willow asked.

He smiled. "I realize it's a bit of a shock."

"A bit? I'm reeling. How can you be fired? That's so wrong."

"What about me?" Buffy asked. "I'm not fired too, for not doing the test?"

"The Council talks a good game, but you are the Slayer. Faith too, of course, but you're infinitely more reliable. The Council needs you, test or no test."

"Lucky me." She gazed at him steadily. "Giles, you really came through for me. I'm sorry it cost you your job."

"I'm ashamed to say that I probably would've gone through with the test, but Willow put things into perspective."

Her eyes shining, Buffy turned to Willow. "Then I guess I owe both of you."

Willow allowed herself a proud little smile. "It's not like you haven't saved our lives about a zillion times, Buff."

"That's just what we do for each other," Buffy said.

After Buffy had gone, Willow said, "Don't get me wrong, Giles - I'm thrilled you didn't do the Cruciamentum, and that Buffy didn't have to go through all that. But I feel sort of responsible for you getting fired."

"Love, please don't. You were right to say the things you did. Had I gone through with the test, who knows what might have happened? Buffy might not have survived, and I don't think I could've lived with myself." He felt strangely light. He hadn't abandoned his calling, after all - he would still guide Buffy, but without the strictures of the Council. Perhaps later it would sink in and he would feel worse about it - and it's true he would not take kindly to a new Watcher hanging about - but he didn't regret what he'd done.

Willow still looked a bit glum.

"It's all right, sweetheart. Please don't feel badly."

"Well, it's just...you've been fired! You're unemployed! You're...between jobs."

"I do still work here in the library."

"I wouldn't count on that. Chances are I'll come up with some bright idea to lose you this job, too." But a smile spread across her face. "Speaking of which, you wanna go fool around in the stacks?"

He chuckled. "I thought you'd never ask."

In the stacks, she flung her arms about him and stood on tiptoe to kiss him. This adorable girl in the pink skirt and yellow sweater, yellow tights and white sneakers, and on her head a multicolored knit hat with a pompom on the top - she was fully his partner, and he relied upon her, trusted her, more than anyone. He could well imagine what Travers would think if he knew how much influence Willow had over him - he'd think him insane. But she had helped save the world more than once, which was more than Travers could boast.

"You're so wonderful," she whispered between kisses. "So brave, defying the Council."

She was so light in his arms, and yet she had power, a considerable strength of will, even as she yielded to him so sweetly, tilting her head back as he kissed her.

"Hey," she breathed, "you know that Buffy's birthday is also the anniversary of the first time you and I..."

"I know. I'll never forget." All at once he had to have her. He pulled her close and began thrusting against her. Then he reached between her legs and rubbed her, already wet, always so wet for him.

Her eyes heavy-lidded, she unzipped him, and he yanked down her stockings and panties. He thrust into her hot wetness, took her hard against the shelves.

"Always need this," he whispered. "Doesn't feel like a year, does it? I can never get enough of you, of being inside you..."

She gasped, and he felt her clench around him. He moved faster, plunged in deeper, and her open mouth trembled.

"Yes," he whispered, "darling girl..." With one last thrust, he came hard and long, biting his lip to keep from moaning.

"Yep," she said as they adjusted their clothes, "that's another good way to get you fired. Or worse."

"Just a little while longer, and it will be your birthday too. And after all, there may be an up side to my being fired as Watcher."

"I didn't want to say it," she whispered. "I hate to think of abandoning Buffy. But yeah."

He couldn't quite imagine leaving Buffy in the care of another Watcher, to go to another city with Willow. They would have to see what the next few months would bring.



"Boy, you're lucky you weren't at school last night," Willow said. "It was crazed." She turned to look at Giles, his bruised face, the gashes on his cheek, ear, neck. She wanted to put her arms around him, gently stroke his face and kiss him - but they were sitting outside at school, at the lunch table. Willow had a paler bruise on her face, a gash on her eyebrow. Buffy had bruises, her arm in a sling. Only Oz was bruiseless, though she and Giles had shot him full of tranks last night when he was all wolfy. Oz had almost pounced on her before she could shoot him again, and Giles had grabbed him just in time.

"You guys look pretty thrashed," Cordy said. "I'm glad we gave it a miss."

"I don't know," Xander said. "I wish I could've helped. Sitting it out makes me feel like Useless Donut-Buying Guy."

"On the bright side," Buffy said, "the donuts are always much appreciated."

"And on the even brighter side," Cordy said, tucking her arm into Xander's, "you're my Useless Donut-Buying Guy."

Xander looked as if he weren't sure if she'd complimented him or insulted him. "All this talk about donuts is making me hungry," he said quietly. "I'm gonna grab a snack. Anyone want?"

"I could eat," Oz said.

Willow wasn't hungry, didn't need anything except to sit there and look at Giles, and know they were still here, still alive. Sometimes she was afraid they weren't going to make it. That she'd never turn eighteen or graduate high school, that she and Giles wouldn't get to be together, she wouldn't go to college or become a full-fledged wicca.

Partly it was wanting it all so much that made her afraid she wouldn't have it. Part of it, of course, was the apocalypsey stuff - like the Sisterhood of Jhe who opened the Hellmouth, plus the side order of reanimated juvenile delinquents they'd had to contend with. She and Giles had been at the Restfield Cemetery last night, and while he was asking the Spirit Guides for some clue about how to stave off the end of the world, she'd spotted that bully Jack O'Toole hanging out with a couple of guys whose faces didn't look so good. "Hey, Giles," she'd said uneasily, "I think there are a couple of dead guys over there."

"What?" he'd asked, as the Spirit Guides gave him the brushoff in Latin. "Dead guys? You mean, vampires?"

"Well, vampire faces are usually well-preserved. These guys are sorta rotting away."

"That's not good," he said, opening his bag and pulling out his axe.

"Maybe we should go get Buffy." But the guys were walking towards them. Giles got in front of her.

"That you, Mr. Giles?" drawled Jack O'Toole. "Whatcha doin' hanging out with a young thing like Willow?"

"Some hanky panky going on," one of the guys, whose face was mostly gone, screeched happily.

"I might ask what you're doing spending time with what looks very much like two reanimated corpses," Giles said.

"You got something against dead people?" a burly dead guy asked. He looked vaguely familiar. Was his name Bob?

"We need a girl in our gang," Jack said. "Wanna join, cutie? All you have to do is die." He brandished a large knife.

"Yeah, we could use a girl!" the guy with the really decomposed face enthused.

"Uh, no, thank you," Willow said. "But hey, Jack's not dead."

O'Toole lifted his shirt - there were bullet holes across his stomach. "Drive-by three weeks ago."

"Thank you," Giles said. "That's all I needed to know." He lunged forward, swinging the axe. Jack O'Toole's head rolled on the ground. His body toppled. Willow wished the guy would go poof, but he didn't.

"Hey!" the burly guy yelled. "You killed our buddy! We're gonna kick your ass !"

Willow felt almost bad for the dead guys as Giles made short work of them.

"Come on," he said, "let's get out of here."

"Should we bury them?"

"We'd better get inside. The Sisterhood of Jhe might be at large."

She stared down at the dead guys' now extremely dead corpses. "I wish they would go poof, Giles."

He briefly put his arm around her, squeezed her tight. "I know. I'm sorry you had to see that. I couldn't let them hurt you."

"I've seen so much," she said. "But there's always something new, isn't there?"

It turned out the end of the world was scheduled for that same night. They gave Oz a mickey, and she half-dragged, half-led him into a little room near the boiler room. When she got back, Giles had moved the library tables and chairs out of the way and painted an inscription on the floor for the binding spell from the Hebron's Almanac. They began lighting the candles.

"Once it's ready," he said, "you're to stay back and let me finish the recitation."

"Giles - "

"Don't argue. I want you safe. Who knows what's going to come up from beneath us."

What came up was that three-headed monster, which had gotten a lot bigger since the first time the Hellmouth opened. Willow cowered by the door as much as she could, while the others chopped away at the creature and fought the Sisterhood of Jhe. Please let us not die, she kept chanting to herself, amid the shrieks of the monster and the shouts of her lover and friends.

Afterwards she and Giles went back to his place and patched each other up, applied alcohol and antiseptic, bandages and ice packs. There was no way she going home that night. Her parents wouldn't notice her absence anyway. She and Giles slept curled in each other's arms and tried, during the night, to avoid bumping each other's sore places. No sex, just holding each other, glad they and the world hadn't died.

In the morning they were a lot sorer, their bruises darker, but they turned to each other without a word, kissing cautiously so as not to hurt each other, touching and stroking, her hand on his cock, his fingers playing with her slippery folds. As they lay side to side, he eased into her, and they looked into each other's eyes, doing that memorization thing of how it felt to be alive and together, for however long they managed it. The lesser worries of her underage status seemed just that, so much lesser, compared to the danger, the violence they faced. But while they had breath, they could wring pleasure from each other's bodies, could get sloppy wet and loose with ecstasy. They could love each other, and so they did.



Willow burst through the library doors. "Giles, look - early admissions packets!" Giddily she waved a fistful of envelopes and brochures. "I got into Harvard and Yale and hey, how do you feel about Germany?..." Then she saw he wasn't alone, and her smile faded.

He was surging with love and pride - and the certain knowledge that he wasn't about to move to Germany, not even for her. "Willow, that's wonderful."

"Sorry," she said. "I didn't know you were busy."

"That's quite all right..." He had to bite back the word darling . He wanted to tell her he loved her, wanted to hold her close. He could hardly wait to discuss the various schools she might attend, plan where they might live together, come autumn. Instead he said: "The Council has sent a new Watcher."

She glared at the interloper. "Does Buffy know he's here?"

"Not as yet."

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce stepped forward. "And this is...?"

This is the brilliant and beautiful girl with whom I hope to spend the rest of my life. "One of Buffy's best friends. She's been invaluable in the fight against evil."

"Indeed," he said. "And she knows about Buffy's...role?"

"She's the Slayer," Willow said stoutly, and the new Watcher flinched. That made Willow grin a little. "You want me to tell Buffy he's here?"

"Thank you. That's marvelous news, Willow," he added, "and I'm not at all surprised."

She smiled broadly then, turned and made for the door.

"Do you think it's wise to involve outsiders?" asked his replacement.

"Willow's not an outsider," Giles said, and then wondered if he'd betrayed himself by his tone. No, the berk was too absorbed looking through books in a box on the table to have noticed. Giles had a feeling that would prove to be generally true about the fellow. Nonetheless, he was happy. Not that he wanted to abandon Buffy to this arrogant novice, but the future looked wide open to Giles. He and Willow might soon live together in new surroundings, and the prospect pleased him unutterably.


Now there was a new Watcher to take Giles's place (which was impossible, because no one was like Giles), and Willow was starting to feel like she'd been replaced too. Buffy was spending all her time with Faith. She'd blown off their study session and even waltzed right out of the chem test to hang out with her new best friend. Well, that was just fine. Clearly Willow could leave town with Giles after graduation and have nothing to feel guilty about. Buffy would have Faith and the new Watcher to keep her company, and forget all about her. Maybe she already had.

Giles got kidnapped by the demon Balthazar (who was supposed to be dead according to the stupid new Watcher, who got kidnapped too). Willow didn't find out about it until after Buffy and Angel saved them. Every time something like this happened - apocalypses or vampires or kidnappings - Willow was so afraid this would be it, that they were going to lose each other, and she wouldn't get to be with him always like she wanted more than anything. Just a few more months, and she'd be eighteen and she'd graduate. Just a few more months, but it felt like forever.

Then everything went kablooey with Faith. She accidentally killed somebody and tried to blame it on Buffy. The Scoobies got together after school - in the cafeteria, so Wesley wouldn't know - to discuss the situation. "Maybe we should all talk to Faith together," Willow said.

"You mean, like that intervention thing we did with Buffy?" Cordy asked. "That went well."

"Hey, I'm right here," Buffy said, glaring at her.

"See what I mean? She's still crabby about it."

"Faith is too defensive for a confrontation like that," Giles said. "She'll respond better to a one-on-one approach."

"Well, I can be the one...on her one," Xander said. Cordelia raised her eyebrows at him. "Let's rephrase. I think she might listen to me."

"Why would you think that?" Buffy asked.

"Are you forgetting that I'm the one who convinced her to keep quiet about that secret situation?"

"You mean the secret situation about Willow and Giles that you blabbed to her in the first place?" Cordy asked.

"But if she's such a loose cannon," Willow said, "maybe she might not keep quiet about us, Giles."

"I wouldn't worry about that right now," he said with a reassuring smile. "I suspect we're the last thing on her mind."

Willow figured that was true enough. Faith had never said a word to her or Giles about their relationship, and she always had the feeling that Faith didn't find them that interesting (despite her initial flirting with Giles), and that Buffy was the only one she thought worth her time.

"The point is," Xander said, "she listened to me, and she did keep quiet."

"I don't know, Xand," Buffy said. "It sounds like a long shot."

"I agree," Giles said. "If you still want to be of assistance, Xander, I need some help with research. There's still the business of the Mayor and Mr. Trick to attend to."


Xander went to see Faith anyway, and she probably would've killed him if Angel hadn't intervened. Then Wesley and some of the Council guys tried to take Faith back to England, but she escaped. Still, she killed Mr. Trick and saved Buffy's life - so she was more or less back in the fold. Giles and Buffy were determined to help her, though Willow figured she was probably unhelpable. She'd murdered someone and accused Buffy. She'd hurt Xander. Willow kinda wished the Council had locked her up.

And in the midst of all that, Xander and Cordelia broke up.

"You slept with Faith?" Willow asked as he moped on a bench outside school.

"Could you say that a little louder, Will?"

"Sorry. But - you slept with Faith? What were you thinking?"

"It was wrong, I know. It was just that one time, when I went to her place and asked her to keep quiet about you and Giles. She'd just gotten in from patrol, and she was kinda wired. It just happened. I was gonna tell Cordelia, but it was a one-time deal, so I thought, what's the big?"

"What's the big?" Willow shouted down at him. But Xander looked so shamefaced - and his poor neck was all bruised. She sat next to him on the bench. "So Cordy found out, huh?"

"She was asking about what happened the other night, when Faith was, you know, strangling me on the bed. I guess she thought it was strange that there would be...bed-like activities, out of the blue. Cordy figured Faith would've just killed me, not made it all sexy and stuff. Or maybe I just looked really, really guilty. You'd think almost getting killed would be enough punishment."

"She feels betrayed." Willow felt badly for Cordelia. She thought she would die if Giles ever cheated on her - but she felt sure of him. Still, Cordy had probably felt sure of Xander too. It had to really hurt.

"Hey, maybe you can talk to her on my behalf?"

"I don't know, Xander. You tried to kiss me that one time. It seems to me you just were in a cheating frame of mind or something."

He ducked his head. "Maybe. Maybe Cordy and I just aren't right for each other."

Willow felt bad for him too. Not that he was blameless, but Faith seemed to leave a trail of mayhem wherever she went.


Cordelia looked pretty miserable at first, too, though she hid it behind loud laughter and perfect sunny smiles. Her old friends like Harmony didn't seem to want to hang out with her anymore. "Great," she told Willow at the lockers. "The stigma of Xander Harris is still with me, even though I've come to my senses."

"So there's no chance you guys'll get back together?"

"Not a chance. He cheated, and then he lied about it. And he cheated with that skanky murdering Faith."

"Well, to be fair, she hadn't murdered anybody back when they..."

Cordy's face fell - and sad Cordelia was pretty much the saddest thing Willow had ever seen.

"Okay, not helpful. Sorry." Willow closed her locker.

"Tell me this," Cordy said. "He says he only cheated the once. You're his best friend - did he tell you anything? Did he ever hit on anybody else?"

"I didn't know about the Faith thing. But..."

Cordy nodded. "Go on. I need to know."

"He tried to kiss me once. He was helping me pick out an outfit for the Homecoming dance. It didn't happen, though - I stopped him."

"Because you're not a lying, cheating worm like he is." They walked down the hall and out the front door. "Thanks, Willow. For being honest about it."

"No problem." It seemed like they were actually friends now. She never would've expected that.

As they walked across the lawn, that new girl Anya joined them. "How's it going?" she asked.

"Just discussing the lying, cheating worm I used to date," Cordy said. Poor Xander, Willow thought.

"Don't you just wish guys like that would - " Anya said, but Cordy cut her off.

"The only thing I wish for is a date with Wesley, as soon as possible."

" Really ." Anya sounded underwhelmed - she must've met him.

"Really?" Willow asked. "You really like him?"

Cordy smiled - a smile that said the Dating Slayer was back in action. "Oh, yeah. He's like Pierce Brosnan or something. That accent..."

Giles has an accent, Willow wanted to say, but not in front of Anya.

"Who is that Wesley guy anyway?" Anya asked. "He doesn't teach here, does he?"

"He's...a friend of Mr. Giles," Willow said. "From England."

"Whatever," Anya said. "The point is, he's a guy. And guys are all lying, cheating worms. Don't you wish - "

"It's obvious Wesley is nothing like Xander," Cordy said. "And moving on with a much hotter guy is the best revenge."

"That is not the best revenge!" Anya said.

"You really think Wesley is hotter than Xand - " Willow said, but Anya interrupted her.

"Boy, are you a glutton for punishment," she told Cordy. "You think the answer to your man problems is another man? I can't be bothered with you."

"Hey, what's with the 'tude?" Cordy said, but Anya went poof - just vanished.

They stared at the spot of lawn where she'd stood, then at each other. "Where'd she go?" Willow asked.

"Yeah, I was about to tell her off." Cordelia shrugged. "Speaking of Wesley...now I understand that whole Watchery English guy thing you're so into. Of course, Wesley's not all old like Giles, and he's still an actual Watcher, again not like Giles."

Willow drew herself up indignantly. "Hey! Could we have less with the dissing of my boyfriend?"

"Sorry. I was thinking we could double date or something."

"Cordelia, Giles and I can't go on dates until I turn eighteen and graduate."

"Oh, right." Cordy grinned. "Well, that doesn't stop me from dating Wesley!" This was gonna be one spectacular rebound, Willow thought.


"I can't believe Cordelia likes Wesley," Willow said.

"I can't believe I just kissed you and you're talking about Cordelia and Wesley."

She smiled. "Good point. Sorry."

He kissed her again. He tasted so good, like tea and...was it possible to taste like books? He didn't eat them, after all, but somehow he tasted like words and knowledge and...she stopped trying to figure it out beneath his wonderful mouth.

All the early admissions packets were spread out on the table next to the couch, but she and Giles had gotten a little sidetracked. "So sweetie, what do you want to do, when we move...wherever it is we move to?"

"I've given that some thought," he said, though the way he was nibbling on her ear, thoughts were not high on her list of priorities. "Perhaps I could work at a library...not at the school you're attending, of course, but another one in the area."

"Good idea..." She caressed his hair, drew him in for another kiss. The idea of the two of them actually living together in a new city where she was going to college made her so excited she could barely stand it.

"Or I might start a business. Perhaps an antiquarian bookshop, or even a magic shop..."

Her eyes widened. "A magic shop? Oh, I like that idea, Giles."

He grinned. "I thought you might."


"Something else you should know," Faith told the Mayor. They were meeting in her motel room, though he said he was gonna set her up at a swankier place. "Something maybe you can use."

"I'm all ears," he said. "Well, not literally. Knew a demon once, was all ears. Must've been hard to keep 'em clean." He was seized with laughter. For someone so evil, he was kinda goofy.

"The ex-Watcher, Giles - he's screwing Buffy's friend Willow. Been going on a long time."

He shook his head. "What's that man thinking? He's old enough to be her father."

Faith cupped the side of his face. "Givin' you any ideas?"

He took a few steps back, shook his head. "Now Faith, I'm not that kind of man. Unlike Mr. Giles, apparently."

"You could get him thrown out of the country for that. Or thrown in jail. Then where would they all be? The new Watcher is a joke."

"Yes, I suppose I could have Mr. Giles deported or arrested. But since I'm going to end up having him and all the rest of them killed, it seems slightly redundant. Still, it's dandy information to have, Faith. I can tell I hired the right girl. You're not just strong. You're smart and resourceful."

Faith smiled. She'd always envied B. her relationship with Giles - which seemed a lot better, clearer, than whatever he was doing with Willow. Faith could always get sex, but the rest of it was another story. It felt good to have a fatherly type to make with the praise.


"Jealousy clearly is the tool that Iago uses to undo Othello," Ms. Murray said. "But what's his motivation? What reason does Iago give for destroying his superior officer?"

Buffy heard Nancy thinking: Cassio has my place. Twix my sheets, he's done my office.

"Well, he was passed over for promotion," Buffy said. "Cassio was picked instead, and people were saying that Othello slept with his wife." This telepathy thing was great.

Discussing this play is making me all hot and bothered, Willow thought. The things Giles did to me the other night when I was trying to study...well, I suppose if I'd really wanted to study, I shouldn't have tried reading in his bed...

Buffy glanced over at Willow, who sat there looking perfectly demure in her T-shirt with the cartoon cat on it. Buffy tried to block out the disturbing Giles-sex-thoughts and listen to what the teacher was thinking about Iago's spurious motives.

Making me read Othello aloud while...god, his mouth on me... Willow thought. And every time I stopped reading, he stopped...he got me so excited...

Buffy turned and looked at her again. Willow sent her an innocent little smile, though her cheeks were flushed.

Need to concentrate on class , she continued. But I wonder what Giles is doing right now. Think I'll go pay him a visit after class...

Nancy was talking about Iago, and Buffy couldn't catch the teacher's train of thought. Now Willow was remembering how she'd turned the tables on Giles, making him read a scene from Othello while she...okay, that was a mental picture she'd really never wanted to have.

And when he'd stop to moan, I'd take my mouth away...drove him crazy...

This telepathy thing sucked. And suck was a word Buffy wasn't going to be using again any time soon.


Later that day, after Buffy visited Angel and discovered she couldn't read his mind (though she'd really wanted to, what with the recent kissing of Faith and all), she came back to school and found Willow and Giles having a heated discussion at the library table. "I'm only saying that you need to be extra careful," he said. "If anything had happened to you..." I love her so much, he was thinking. I need to keep her safe.

"I am careful. And I can't believe you're still all upset about that." He's so sweet, she was thinking. But I don't want him to worry.

"I'm sorry, but I don't take kindly to you being attacked. And what with Faith working for the Mayor now..."

"But Buffy killed those vamps," Willow said. "It was fine." It was scary, she thought. I don't wanna die before I even graduate high school.

It had happened a couple of weeks before. They'd just left the Bronze, and Willow had been walking a bit ahead of Buffy and Xander. Then a vamp appeared and actually said, "Willow Rosenberg?", before lunging for her throat. There were only two vamps, and Buffy had easily taken them out. They thought it might've been the Mayor's doing - which seemed especially likely when they found out he was Faith's boss.

I couldn't stand it if anything were to happen to her, Giles was thinking.

"It's okay, Giles," Buffy said. "I'm not gonna let anything hurt her."

Giles did a double take. "I must say, this new ability of yours is most disconcerting."

"Giles told me what the aspect of the demon turned out to be," Willow said. "I guess it could've been a worse aspect." She's really telepathic, she thought. I sure hope she can't hear me thinking about how Giles and I just had sex in the stacks...

"You had what?" Buffy asked.

"Sorry, sorry!" Willow said, and began to think frantically: Need to not think about sex with Giles. Even though he was so amazing in the stacks just now...uh oh... She ducked her head.

Meanwhile, Giles was thinking, How beautiful she is. And how wonderful she felt just now when we...

"Hey, you guys, get a room!" Buffy said. This just couldn't get any yuckier.

The two of them looked guiltily at her. "Sorry," Giles said.

"Sorry," Willow said. "I...I better go anyway. I'm supposed to tutor Percy."

"I wish that odious little man weren't forcing you into tutoring," he said, clearly glad of a change of subject. "It's taking up far too much of your time." I'd like to throttle that twisted little homunculus, he thought.

"Aw, it's not so bad. I kinda like tutoring." Oh good, Willow thought, I'm not thinking about having sex with Giles. I sure wouldn't want Buffy to hear me thinking about those times he "fucked my beautiful arse"...

"Stop that!" Apparently it really could get yuckier. Buffy's skin was starting to crawl. "Willow, you're wigging me out!"

Willow blushed furiously. "I'm just gonna go find Percy..." She leapt to her feet.

"I...I'll be back," Giles told Buffy, without really looking at her, and followed Willow. "What were you thinking about?" he asked her.

"Naughty, wrong thoughts," Willow said, and both of them smiled ruefully as they went through the double doors.

Buffy sank into a chair. She so didn't need to know about their apparently rip-roaring sex life. Maybe Willow could come up with an amnesia spell when this was all over.


She spread her legs wider for him, her small hands moving in his hair. Kissing and licking her, he looked up: she was resplendent in the red-pink silk nightgown (one of his birthday presents), though it was hiked up to her stomach, and her head was thrown back against the pillow. His fingers moved inside her silky wetness as his tongue teased her.

"God...don't...stop..." Willow said through gritted teeth. He would gladly never stop, stay as long as possible between her milky thighs, her spicy smell and taste enfolding him, loving her with fingers and tongue. He stroked her inner thigh, so soft, and she whimpered and clutched at his hair. He licked her faster and just slightly harder, his fingers stroking into her. She cried out, squeezing his fingers hard, more of her delicious wetness seeping out onto his hand as she thrust up with her hips and pushed his face into her.

"Darling," he murmured as the last spasms wracked her, "oh, Willow..." He climbed up her body and lifted the nightgown. "Time to take this off," he muttered, and her arms lifted as he pulled it over her head. He tossed the bright silk aside and thrust into her. Kept his face close to hers as he fucked her, looked into her beautiful eyes, big and green, the pupils dilated. She reached up and pulled him down to kiss her.

"Does it feel different?" she asked.

"Different?" He was half out of his head with the feel of her, so tight and wet around him, her body soft and warm beneath him.

"Now I'm...you know...of age."

He had completely forgotten, but remembering made him smile. "It's always just you, Willow. It's you." He said the words in time to his fucking. "It's you, you're so beautiful, it's you and I love you, I love you completely..."

"Oh..." she breathed, and tears sparkled in her eyes. "I love you, Giles..." She pulled him closer, she kissed him and he was almost there, pounding into her, there.

When he came back to himself, she was smiling at him. "Really, isn't it a little different, now you're no longer arrestable? I mean, you're still fireable, from the library, but just for a little while longer."

"It is nice to know the police won't be bursting in at any moment."

She giggled. She was kissing his chest, and the giggling tickled. He smoothed her fiery hair.

"Happy birthday, Willow."

She looked up, still grinning. "I guess you've been having a pretty happy birthday, too."

Like last year, there had been a small party at the Bronze, but this year Angel was present. Oz made an appearance, as did Cordelia, though she and Xander seemed unable to stop sniping at each other. This year Giles saved his gifts to give Willow when they got back to his place - the nightgown and matching wrap, the bracelet, the spell book. He had a feeling she liked the last gift best of all, but she'd tried on the negligee, and that had led promptly to bed. It was a happy birthday indeed. "You're eighteen," he said, and now he was grinning too. If they could just make it through graduation, just stop the Mayor's Ascension, everything awaited them, everything they'd waited over a year for.


A couple of days later she came into the library waving her acceptance letter into Oxford. "Willow, that's wonderful," he said, and they would have immediately discussed the possibility of moving to England, if Wesley hadn't been hovering. It was rather amazing that Principal Snyder had never asked what this man who was not a member of the faculty was doing spending all this time in the library. It was, on the other hand, a testament to Wesley's obliviousness that he hadn't figured out he and Willow were involved. Giles was glad of this, as he feared Wesley might report him to the Council - who, in turn, might have him deported.

"I'm gonna go find Buffy and tell her," Willow said. "Just think - I could learn, and have scones!"

When she'd gone, he remembered himself at her age, how unenthusiastic he'd been about Oxford, and how he'd dropped out. She made him feel better somehow about his own wayward youth, as if he got to experience it again through her. Not that he was trying to recapture his youth, because god knows he wouldn't want to go through that again - but her happiness was his happiness.

"So Willow might be going to Oxford," Wesley said, looking up from his reading.

"Possibly." Giles tried not to sound overly enthused.

"As for Buffy, she'll remain in Sunnydale."

He was probably right about that, but his officious tone always got Giles's back up. "She has applied to other schools, you know. It isn't fair that her opportunities be curtailed."

"It's her duty."

Giles sighed. He didn't want to abandon Buffy to this prat. But the idea of moving home to England with Willow - or, for that matter, moving anywhere with Willow - made him irrepressibly happy.


Then the Mayor had her. All his fault. He'd thought Willow had stayed with Buffy and Angel. He and Wesley had driven off in the van, distracting the vampires - distracting them from Willow, he'd thought.

How his heart had sank when they reconvened at the library, and she wasn't there. "Where is Willow?" he'd barely dared to ask.

"We thought she was with you," Buffy said, the dismay on her face but a fraction of what he felt.

"They must have grabbed her when she hit the ground," Angel said.

"I swear I won't let them hurt her," Buffy said. Even now, she didn't look at Giles when she said it - because Wesley was there. God, he was tired of the deceit. It was idiotic.

"We go back," Xander said. "Full-on assault."

"They'll kill her," Giles said, yanking at his tie to loosen it. He couldn't breathe. He should never have let her go tonight. It was too dangerous - but she'd looked so pleased at the chance to use magic to help them get the Box of Gavrock. How she'd smiled at him before she'd walked away from the van. She'd worn her sheepskin coat over her favorite new dress, long and dusty rose, with the sun and stars on it. She loved it because she thought it made her look like a real witch, and because he liked to run his hands over its velvety material when she wore it. She was the sun and the stars to him. Why had he let her go?

"Giles, you know I'm right about this," Wesley was saying. They were arguing about making a trade - Willow for the Box of Gavrock. Anything, he thought, anything to get her back. "You'd sacrifice thousands of lives?" Wesley asked. "Your families, your friends?"

Giles walked towards the vessel that contained the twice-blessed sage and the essence of toad. Willow had left instructions for Xander and Oz to prepare the Breath of the Atropyx. Some down and dirty black magic , she'd said, rolling her tongue over the word black , and she'd smiled.

"It can all end right here," Wesley said. "We have the means to destroy this box."

Giles took the vessel from the pedestal and smashed it on the ground. Wesley goggled at him.

"I'm making the call," Giles said.


Willow was scared, yes, and she knew how worried Giles would be, and Buffy, and Xander - and yet this was exciting. To leaf through the Books of Ascension, to tear out the pivotal pages and tuck them into her boot, to stand up to Faith - all made her feel strong and useful, as if she was doing exactly what she was meant to do. In the midst of the danger, she felt a stillness, a confidence.

"Waiting for your geriatric boyfriend to ride to the rescue?" Faith asked. "Seems kinda unlikely."

"I'm not afraid of you," Willow said.

Of course, when Faith put a knife to her throat, she was terrified. But she was used to fear by now.


When Giles saw Willow with Faith's knife at her throat, it was all he could do to stop himself from crying out her name and begging them to let her go - which, he was fairly certain, would only lead to Faith killing her in front of him. The cafeteria was dark, but he could see how Willow grimaced each time Faith tightened her grip. "Unless you want Faith to gut your friend like a sea bass..." the Mayor said, and Giles clutched the baseball bat he wished he could use to bash the Mayor's head in - and yes, Faith's too. He'd never felt so helpless.

"What kind of a life can you offer her?" the Mayor asked, and through the buzzing in Giles's ears, he became aware that he was speaking to him as well as Angel. "I see skulking in the shadows." Mayor Wilkins glanced at Giles. "She's a blossoming young girl, and you want to keep her from the life she should have until it has passed her by. My God! I think that's a little selfish."

He knows, Giles thought, and cared not in the slightest. He didn't care what happened to him, so long as Willow was spared. Then the Mayor said, "Make the trade," and Faith pushed Willow forward, and Giles could breathe again. He was about to put his arm around her, when the door opened.

"Nobody moves!" Snyder said.


Afterwards in the library, Willow sat cross-legged on the counter with Buffy and chattered excitedly about her adventures. "So Faith was like, 'I'm going to beat you up,' and I'm all 'I'm not afraid of you,' and then she had the knife which was less fun. And then I told her, 'You made your choice, Buffy was your friend...'"

"But you're all right?" Giles interrupted.

"I'm fine, Giles. And aren't you thrilled that I took a gander at the Books of Ascension, volumes one through five?"

He knew he should be - but he was too overwrought. But she looked so pleased with herself. "Is there anything you can remember that could be of use to us?" he asked.

"Well, I was in a hurry, and what I did read was kind of over-involved. If you ask me, way over-written. There were a few pages that looked kind of interesting, but I didn't have a chance to read them fully." She produced some folded pages and handed them to him. "See what you can make of them?" She grinned proudly, and he smiled.

"This is your night for suave, Will," Buffy said. "You should get captured more often."

"God, no," Giles said.

"Well, let's hope there is something useful in those pages," Wesley said frostily. "The Mayor has the Box of Gavrock. As of now, we are right back where we started. Wouldn't you say?"

That was true enough, but Giles didn't care. She was safe.

He took her home with him that night. Her parents seemed to pay less and less attention to what she did. By the time they reached his place, it was already very late, and her adrenaline had worn off. They went straight to bed, and she quickly fell asleep, her arm flung across his chest. He stayed awake and listened to her breathe until it was nearly dawn. Finally he slept.

When he woke, she was already awake, and looking so fresh and happy. "How long have you been awake?" he asked.

"Awhile. I've been thinking serious thoughts, Giles." But she positively glowed.

He kissed her. "Tell me."

"Not until you're really awake." She cuddled against him. He was fully awake now, though his body had other ideas than a discussion - which Willow quickly noticed and took full advantage of, stroking his prick, making him moan. She mounted him with a grunt, and he forgot all about serious thoughts until they lay damp and spent in each other's arms.

"So there was something you wanted to tell me?" he asked, and they began to laugh.

"Giles, this is serious," she said - but neither of them could stop laughing. Finally she composed herself as best she could, considering her hair was tousled and she was naked, and wet between the legs. "I've been thinking...this is something we need to decide together, but I feel very strongly that I want to stay in Sunnydale."

His desire to laugh left him abruptly. "You're not serious." But she nodded. "After what happened last night, I'm inclined to think I should take you as far away from here as possible."

"I know it was scary, for both of us. But Giles, that's not who we are - to run away from scary stuff. That's not who I wanna be. Besides, without us to stop apocalypses and all, who knows how long we'd get to be together? The world might get sucked into hell or something, and then where would we be?"

"In hell, apparently," he said, and she smiled.

"You know what I mean. I want to help people. I want to fight evil. UC Sunnydale's a good school - and besides, I want to continue my study of witchcraft, and what better place to learn?"

"Those are all excellent points," he said.

She peered at him. "What do you think?"

This is the life she wants, he thought, and who am I to stop her? "I think you're an amazing woman - and a very brave one."

"But Giles, I don't want you to be disappointed. You were looking forward to leaving Sunnydale. I don't want to take that away from you." She gazed at him with such tender concern, her fingers stroking his shoulder.

"Willow, I agreed to leave with you because I didn't want you to stay and limit your opportunities for my sake. If this is what you really want, we'll stay." The idea frightened him rather a lot, after what they'd just been through, and yet it felt right. They would stay in Sunnydale and do the work they were meant to do.

She kissed him. "We'll keep each other safe, Giles."

"Bloody right, we will." He held her close.


Later that day, Willow came into the library. "I just told Buffy. Then we went and had mochas. She's really happy that we're...that I'm gonna stay." Her eyes flicked over to Wesley, who was sitting at the table and appeared lost in contemplation of the pages she'd torn from the Books of Ascension.

"I'm glad to hear it," Giles said. He was exhausted from last night's ordeal - but here she was in her red overalls, alive and well, and grinning about the future. That was all he really needed.

"Buffy and I are gonna go to UC Sunnydale together. It's gonna be great."

"I hope that makes up somewhat for her being unable to attend Northwestern," he said.

"So you're good with the plan?"

He smiled. "I am."

Just then the bell rang. "Oh, I have to go to class." Beaming fondly at him, she went.

Wesley looked up. "Mr. Giles," he said, "is there something going on between you and the Rosenberg girl?"

Giles sat on the edge of the table. He lifted his cup of tea to his lips. Finally he said, "I might well ask the same about you and Cordelia Chase."

The fellow blanched. "Touché, Mr. Giles." With alacrity he lowered his head and resumed reading.

Giles took another sip of tea. If we can only make it past graduation, he thought, there will be no more skulking in the shadows.





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