Willow and Xander walked to the car and turned to wave at Mike and Kate as they stood watching them from the front entrance. "We should probably drive round the block and wait for Buffy and Dawn" Xander suggested.
They only had to wait for about five minutes before the two girls arrived at the back doors and jumped into the car, giggling. "You are terrible" Dawn sighed and leaned forward to tell the others. "She told them that dad was a sixty year old ex convict who needed to be kept under observation in case he started stealing women's underwear again"
Xander and Willow stared aghast at Buffy who shrugged and tried to look innocent. "Hey, I've never denied I had issues with him. And it's not as if he'll ever come back here to retire anyway"
Willow raised an eyebrow at Buffy "And you thought I was vindictive and out for revenge?"
After a quick stop for groceries they all returned home to go over their notes. "It just seems like they are picking up psychic vibrations from something that happened many years ago" Willow suggested. "It could be that the land used for the residential home was originally something more sinister"
"Color me surprised" Buffy smiled. "But you guys have most of the historical data on file?"
Xander nodded and raised his hand, finishing his mouthful of pizza before answering. "Willow and I scanned all of the street plans and building blueprints a couple of years ago so we should be able to track it down pretty easily"
"Go team!" Dawn smiled at all of them. "I love it when we can find and sort the easy ones"
"I don't know" Willow shook her head. "I just can't really seem to get any enthusiasm up for much less than an apocalypse these days"
Buffy smiled at her friend and started to clear empty pizza boxes from the dining table. "I would have thought that three months in England would have gotten you used to the quiet life Will?"
"Not really" she smiled back and handed round some drinks. "Mostly I miss the changes in weather, all this sunshine kind of gets to you eventually"
"Now you even sound like Giles!" Xander pointed at her. "Did he brainwash you with his wicked English ways?"
"Xander, do shut up" she said in an almost perfect imitation of Giles' world weary tone of voice.
"Dawn, please start the video before we're all channelling Giles" Buffy suggested and slumped into the chair while Willow and Xander were still arguing about the weather.
The next morning Xander arrived early to go over the town plans with Willow.
"Buffy's sleeping in, she said to give her a call about 10 if she isn't up" Dawn shouted as she left for school.
"Looks like it's just you and me kid" Xander said in an awful Bogart impersonation.
"Now who's acting like Giles?" Willow asked and smiled at his astonished look. "Even he would have used a Bogart pop culture reference" she smiled even more sweetly and took the coffee mug that he offered her.
"I think I've taken over the `old man of the group' role since he left" Xander mumbled and sat down next to her to stare at the laptop.
"I miss him too" Willow patted his hand and quickly found the folder containing the scanned street maps and building plans. "Okey dokey, I think I can overlay the existing street map with earlier ones to try and get the best orientation"
Xander smiled as he saw her tongue peeping out from the corner of her mouth as she manipulated the data on the screen. He turned his attention to the laptop and watched as they went back over the various generations of street map. The strange thing was that, before the residential home, this area had been left empty for two hundred years. "But it's right in the middle of a residential zone" Xander mumbled.
Willow shrugged her shoulders. "I guess we were right that something weird happened and people just didn't want to build there while they remembered it" She opened another file and smiled slightly. "I think we've got something this time – look" and she pointed at the screen.
"That's an old plan?" he asked and waited for her nod before checking the screen again. "It looks like the exact same building floor plan, same size and orientation and everything"
"Maybe they had a nursing home in…" she checked the id at the bottom of the screen. "1792?" Willow turned to gauge his reaction to this and shook her head as well. "OK, not much chance of that is there – perhaps we should try to find out what this building was used for?"
Xander looked at the screen for a few more seconds then sighed. "Don't tell me, we need to check out the records archived at City Hall?"
Willow smiled at him as she shut down the laptop and stood up to take their mugs to the kitchen. "You get started and I'll wake Buffy and meet you there?"
Willow heard him shut the front door as she headed for the kitchen. She spent a few minutes clearing up the breakfast dishes and tidying things away. It wasn't until Buffy coughed to get her attention several minutes later that she realised she was standing staring at the pan Tara had used to make pancakes. She had been a million miles away, thinking of the last time they had made breakfast together, she smiled to herself as she closed her eyes and breathed in the smell of food burning as they had kissed instead of flipping the pancakes over.
"Hey Will, you okay?" Buffy asked quietly as she poured herself some juice.
"Yeah, its just……" Willow paused to gather her thoughts. "Memories come from the strangest things don't they?"
"Oven mitts" Buffy sighed and sat down at the counter.
"Oven mitts?" Willow asked her as she sat down next to her.
"Yeah" Buffy nodded. "After Mom died I was in a bit of a zombie thing for a while" Willow looked sceptically at her friend. "Not a real zombie thing, just out of it you know?" Willow nodded her understanding. "Well a couple of weeks later and the whole Glory thing was really taking over and I thought I was kind of over the worst when I came home one night and went to cook something for Dawn and I… I picked up the oven mitts and, suddenly, Mom was standing right next to me and telling me to be careful of the hot stuff" Buffy remained quiet for a moment or two then took a deep breath. "After about twenty minutes of sitting in that corner sobbing, I finally managed to pull myself together but I'll always think of her when I use those damn oven mitts"
Willow put her arms round her friend and hugged her. "Thanks" she whispered into the blonde hair.
"This is usually when Xander asks if he can join in" Buffy smiled as she sat back from Willow. "Where is he anyway?"
"Oh" Willow suddenly remembered the results of their research. "He's gone down to City Hall to find some old records. The last building we can find before the residential home was in 1792"
"That's strange" Buffy agreed. "What was it, a prison or something?"
"Not sure, but I said we'd meet Xander and help him check the records" Willow used her best beseeching look. "I was supposed to come and waken you to ask if you wanted to join us before I got waylaid by cookware"
"Give me five minutes to change into something more suitable for getting dusty and bored in" Buffy smiled at her and headed upstairs.
They picked up coffees on the way and smuggled them past the records clerk. Xander grumbled a little about being left on his own for so long but the caffeine bribery worked its magic and soon all three were trawling through a large pile of papers to find the deeds for the property.
"I think this is it" Willow said quietly after about an hour. The others slowly flexed tired backs and necks while waiting for her to finish reading the paper in front of her. "It seems to have been a house of worship of some kind" she said finally and wrinkled her brow.
"A church?" Buffy asked as she stood and walked round to look over Willow's shoulder at the manuscript.
"Not really, it doesn't seem to have been used by any recognised religion but some sort of sect" Willow pointed out some parts of the text and stood up to stretch herself as Buffy took her seat and began studying the document.
"So these guys worshipped some scaly demon and it ate them?" Xander said. "That seems kind of obvious for Sunnydale, doesn't it?" he seemed almost disappointed at the anti-climax.
"We'll take the details and do some more research on the laptop" Willow sighed. "Maybe we've just seen everything that the Hellmouth had and now its on repeat?"
Dawn returned from school to find two of the three supposed adults of the house taking part in a heated argument.
"There is no way they could ever make a live action movie of Scooby Doo!" Xander proclaimed.
"Who made you the expert?" Buffy asked as she pointed at Willow's laptop. "Will could probably put together good enough special effects on her laptop without too much effort – why wouldn't a studio be able to do any better?"
"Hey, trying to work here" Willow reminded them as she looked up to see Dawn. "Hey Dawnie how was school?"
Dawn sat down next to her and tried to ignore the other two's continuing argument. "OK, I guess, what's that all about?" she asked as Xander stood up to pace.
Willow smiled a little and returned to study the screen in front of her. "They were getting bored and when I went to the bathroom they surfed for upcoming movie projects and, well, it kind of went down hill from there. By the time I came back down they were deep into arguments of sub text and I was barely able to wrestle the laptop back from them"
Xander delivered what he felt to be the coup de grace of his argument. "Anyway, you're a girl and you wouldn't have any idea about the importance of staying true to the original vision" Unsurprisingly, this was met by a stunned silence from his three, female companions. He quickly realised the error of his ways as he shuffled towards the door. "Now that we've sorted that out I should go and help Anya at the shop"
Dawn stared at Buffy as she heard the door click shut. "You're going to let him get away with that?" she asked in a stunned voice.
Buffy just turned and smiled at her. "Nope, he's now going to have to pay to take us all to see the movie when it comes out and spring for super sized popcorn and drinks"
Willow shook her head. "You would think he would know better by now"
Buffy smiled at her then turned back to Dawn. "Hey sister of mine, any homework?"
Dawn sighed and pulled her books out of her bag. "Some French that I should manage OK but I could do with some help from Willow with my science project" she looked pleadingly towards her target. "It should only take half an hour or so"
Buffy snorted. "Once you get Will started on science stuff it takes her half an hour just to sort out her coloured pens"
"Hey" Willow huffed at her "Sitting right here you know" She turned to the younger girl. "Can you give me twenty minutes to finish up with this then I can give you my undivided attention?"
"No problem" Dawn smiled and craned to look at the screen. "Is this about the `golden ghosts'?" she asked.
"Yep" Buffy replied and settled back into her chair looking a little guilty. "We were all tracking down a strange sect that were the last ones to build on the land before the home was put up"
Willow typed a few more words before looking up again. "We found out that the previous building was knocked down sometime between 1792 and 1830 because the land was vacant from that time until about fifteen years ago when the home was put up in exactly the same place"
Dawn nodded and glanced at some of the text as it scrolled onto the screen. "Isn't that a bit strange for a piece of land in the middle of town?" she checked the other's faces to see if she was right in her assumption.
"Exactly" Willow smiled at her perception. "We checked the title deeds and tracked down the previous owners as some kind of religious sect and now we're searching to find out everything we can about them to see what was so terrible that the land was unused for such a long time"
Dawn looked up at Buffy. "So you and Xander were just providing the light relief to stop Willow from getting bored during the tedious searching and finding of information?"
"Hey" Buffy replied in her best huffy voice. "We were totally team-searching right up until Xander and I needed to debate the other topic" she put on her `Buffy knows best' face. "And I seem to remember someone mentioning French homework?"
Dawn sighed, moved her chair back round the table and started leafing through one of her textbooks.
Willow shook her head and saved some more information to a growing file on the activities and members of the Guilen sect. Once she had collated the last pieces into some sort of chronological order she prepared the email to send the information to Giles. Although she had been able to find out a surprising amount in the short time she had been looking, she was a little confused by the content of many of the reports of the sect activities. They seemed to have been well respected by those who came across them and generally welcomed into communities. It was not uncommon for demons to be welcomed with open arms by their intended victims but she couldn't find any records of burning villages or terrible tragedies following their arrival. It almost seemed as if they were peace loving, well meaning, useful members of society.
Although this was a little unusual in itself, Willow very rarely found herself researching the good guys, it made the sect's sudden and complete disappearance from all of their communities at practically the same time seem even more unusual. She had decided that Giles may be able to either get his hands on more information concerning the destruction of the sect or he would know where else she could look.
Dawn was quietly working on her homework, occasionally mumbling French verb conjugations under her breath and Buffy had gone into the basement to check on the laundry situation. Neither of them was aware of Willow's soppy smile as she brought up his email address or the slight blush that rose to her cheeks as she typed his name at the beginning of the message.
Giles had a similar soppy smile when he checked his emails later that day. He would never admit it to anyone but he was very glad that he had thought to bring his laptop to the Watcher's Compound as he didn't have to rely on the Royal Mail to track him down to deliver Willow's missives. There was something special in receiving a proper, hand written letter once a week but he admitted to himself that he was a bit of a Willow junky and had become used to her particular style of rambling every day. It amazed him that she could replicate her vocal meanderings so completely in the electronic format and he chuckled as he read her, no doubt, wickedly accurate report of the recent Buffy/Xander movie debacle.
Once Willow had finished the personal news she moved into a brisker tone for the business part of the communication. Concisely she laid out the problem they had encountered and the information they had found so far. Then she detailed what her thinking on the problem was and asked for his advice on where they should turn next and whether he agreed with her judgement. Giles shook his head and reached for his coffee as he picked up her uncertainty and insecurity despite the medium. "Willow" he mumbled to himself as he prepared to compose his answer. "When will you ever trust yourself and the knowledge that you have?" He began typing his opinion on the particular circumstances they were currently facing, suggesting various areas for research and a few local contacts that may prove useful. After half an hour or so he stretched and consciously slipped into non-watcher, friend mode to bring her up to date with the friends she had made at the coven and ask her for more details on his Sunnydale family. When he had finished, and checked the entire document for spelling, he never trusted spell-checkers!, he glanced at his watch and quickly made the appropriate calculations to guess what she would be doing right now. Hitting the send button he hoped she would check her mail first thing in `her' morning. It was one of the major benefits of electronic information sharing that they could send and receive answers in real time, not replacing the magic of face to face communication but numbing the pain of separation a little.
Willow yawned and mumbled "mornin" to Buffy when they passed in the hallway the next morning. Buffy had insisted that she stay with them on her return "Where are you going to go, your parents? We are more of a family to you than they ever were and we've all missed you too much to put up with you not being here any longer" she had stated matter of factly and grabbed two of Willow's suitcases from the car.
Xander carried the other suitcase and several plastic bags filled with gifts for all of them. "What I want to know is how someone who teleported to England with only the clothes she stood up in, manages to bring this much luggage back with her three months later"
Willow had giggled a little. "I had to buy some stuff while I was there and the coven arranged the uplift of some of my things when they got my passport"
Now, three months later and she felt as if she had never left the house. She had insisted that she have her old room back despite Buffy and Dawn both offering to swap. The first few nights had been difficult but there were so many happy memories that they had crowded out the atrocities. Her training at the coven allowed her to meditate and she could still feel the peace generated by Tara in the room with her.
While getting dressed she automatically checked her mailbox and was delighted to see a reply from Giles waiting for her. Without realising it, she mimicked his actions in checking the time difference and sat down to try and catch him still on line.
The laptop's soft tone indicated an incoming message and Giles smiled to himself as he put down the large book he had been reading and flexed his fingers in preparation.
"Thanks for the local contacts, we'll make a start on some of them today. Are you still around?" he read and quickly pressed the reply button.
"Of course, I was hoping you would get back to me today. Are Buffy and Xander over their difference of opinion?" he typed and could almost hear her small giggle as she read it.
"Not sure, Xander's got to go to work today so we won't see him till dinner time. They usually get over these once he admits Buffy was right!" Willow smiled to herself. "How is the weather over there? You won't be surprised to hear it's sunny here!"
Giles nodded his agreement at her assessment of Xander's chances of ever winning an argument with Buffy. "It was raining a little earlier today but brightened up in the afternoon and everything was fresh and clean looking the last time I was outside. Unfortunately I'm stuck with the final piece of research for averting the outcome of the prophecy I told you about. The counter-spell is quite tricky and I want to be sure I know everything about it before I let anyone undertake it. If it works though, I could be free of my obligations here in about a week" He hadn't meant to admit the last piece of news to her yet but he realised, with a shock, that he was actually getting excited at the prospect of seeing them all again. "Perhaps, if you weren't all too busy, you wouldn't mind a visit from an old friend?"
Willow "eeped" loudly enough for Buffy to hear as she passed the bedroom door. "You OK Will?" she asked and nudged the door open a little wider. She saw Willow sitting with a huge smile on her face, staring at the screen in front of her.
The young woman finally picked up Buffy's question and jumped out of her seat to hop excitedly in front of her. "Giles is coming to visit" she practically shouted and clapped her hands.
"When?" Dawn asked, just as excited, from the doorway.
"In a week or so" Willow smiled at Dawn and then realised Buffy hadn't responded yet. "Aren't you excited?" she asked the slayer.
"Yeah, that's great news Willow" Buffy replied, obviously preoccupied.
Dawn and Willow decided to ignore her and do an impromptu dance of joy in the hallway. This lasted for a couple of minutes until Willow suddenly shouted "Giles" and headed back to the bedroom at speed.
"What?" asked Dawn and followed her, looking over her shoulder to see the screen. "Oh, is he online now? Can I talk to him?" the youngster asked.
"Give me a minute" Willow smiled apologetically. "I haven't replied to his last message, he must think I'm ignoring him"
Giles was getting a little worried. He had checked that his connection was still working by accessing some internet sites and then had made sure he was looking in the right place. He had now completely run out of troubleshooting ideas to explain her lack of response and had just convinced himself that she was trying to word a rejection to his suggestion when her answer appeared. "OK, just read it you silly old fool and then you'll know what she wants" he mumbled to himself as his fingers hesitated over opening the mail in case she had asked him not to come.
"Sorrrreeeeeee! But Buffy and Dawn just came in and I gave them the great news and then we were celebrating and dancing and hugging and I forgot you were waiting for an answer and you must have been thinking all sorts of terrible things because I hadn't replied, but I hope you spent some of the time thinking it was a technical booboo and not that we don't want you here, because obviously we are soooooo excited over you coming home and you can have my room and I'll bunk with Buffy and I can't wait to tell Xander, he really misses you and Anya will be delighted to show you all of the improvements she's made to the shop and perhaps we could have a party to celebrate and invite everyone ………."
The message ended abruptly and he finally took a deep breath. He was exhausted just reading through the stream of consciousness that was an excited Willow. "Willow remember to breathe!" he sent and waited for her reply. Several seconds later he realised he was holding his own breath and sighed, shaking his head. He stood to get himself a whiskey and told himself to calm down when he heard the tone indicating a reply.
"Giles, it's me, Dawn" he read and smiled tenderly. "Buffy had to drag Willow away from the keyboard and make her have some tea. She'll be fine once she stops hyperventilating. It's great news that you are coming home and we are all really looking forward to seeing you again. I don't know if Buffy told you but they have reopened the school again and it would be neat if I could show you round and point out the classes I'm in and stuff. But if you didn't want to spend time doing that it would be OK too, cause I know that you will be busy with some big bad or other but it will just be nice to see you no matter what brings you back"
He winced at the assumption that the only reason he would be visiting was a `business' one and tried to remember a time when he hadn't been protecting Dawn or trying desperately not to be her father. He decided to take a new tack with her. "Dawn, I'm glad you are there and I trust that Willow has calmed down a little? Perhaps a camomile tea would be best for her. I would love to spend time with you, but it might be a bit of a busman's holiday for you to show me the school. If you could face being seen out with an old man, perhaps we could go to a movie together or something similar? I'll let you decide what our itinery will be. Perhaps I was a little remiss in my original message to Willow but I am looking at my impending visit as a holiday from work and would be seriously put out if I had to deal with even a tiny bad while I was there. I should be able to stay for a month or so and will hopefully have time to see all of you. Please tell Buffy that I'll stay at a hotel as I don't want to disrupt your household arrangements"
Dawn was now bouncing and twittering excitedly and Buffy shook her head at the delight on her sister's face. Willow was sitting on the bed looking a little sheepishly at her friend as she sipped at a cup of hot tea. "Do you want to send him a message?" Dawn asked her sister and stood up to take her place next to Willow on the bed. "A whole month, isn't that great?" she asked of nobody in particular.
Buffy sat in front of the keyboard and stared at his last message. She had missed him terribly and the last time they had been together she had left him to what she imagined was certain death. She was glad that he was returning simply for personal reasons but found conflicting emotions warring within her, if he came home for a short visit then she would have to say goodbye to him again and that only ever got harder every time she did it.
Although, she corrected herself, the last three times he had left they had never had the chance to say goodbye and she realised that this was causing her more pain than she had ever admitted to herself before. It wasn't all his fault of course, she had died the first time and she was sure that he had said his goodbyes at her graveside, but she was nevertheless scared to get used to having him around again when she knew that it would inevitably end.
She noticed that the other two were staring at her, wondering at the delay in her sending a message to him. Pulling herself together she carefully typed her reply. "Glad to hear about your visit, I think the whole street now knows if Dawn and Willow's screams are anything to go by! Dawn is now off planning your entire trip, be warned that the mall will play a large part in this! Of course you can stay with us, we need to maximise our Giles-time if you are only going to be here for one month and will probably have to fight Xander for the right to house you. Let us know what flight you are on and we will meet you, unless you are planning on making another, ticket-free, dramatic entrance? Love B,W&D"
He smiled at the last and quickly typed a reply. "Thank you for the offer, we can decide sleeping arrangements once I am there? I wouldn't mind going to the mall – even shoe shopping! It will be nice just to spend time with all of you again. I'll confirm flight times, etc.. once I have them and I was planning on bringing some luggage this time so I think I'll take the normal route. I need to go now, have to find the answer to the last piece of this puzzle before I can be free to see you all. Missing you, G"
Although he would read the messages several times over the next few days it wasn't until he was making his flight arrangements that he noticed they all referred to his visit as him coming home. He wondered about his not noticing that before and decided that it was simply missed in his excitement about the trip. However, this realisation made him think of his inevitable departure from Sunnydale to return to his true home and he felt a shiver sweep over him at the prospect of seeing them all again and then leaving them all again. He took a walk round the garden in the late afternoon and allowed the rapidly cooling breeze to clear his thoughts and tried to recapture his pleasure in the forthcoming trip.
Willow was studiously poring over a notebook when Buffy finally arrived downstairs. "Did Dawn remember her note for P.E.?" Buffy asked as she got herself a glass of juice and went to sit beside her friend.
"Uhuh" Willow mumbled and finished writing down some information before looking up at Buffy. "She also said that she might need another note for later in the week as the bruise might not be gone by then"
Buffy looked a little sheepishly at her friend then stared into her juice. "It's not my fault that she didn't inherit the slayer healing along with everything else. And I did try to tell her that she was too young to be practising with the larger swords"
Willow got herself some more tea. "She's more annoyed that she can't wear her new skirt because the bruise will show and she doesn't want to have to explain it to Martin"
Buffy looked up quickly. "Who's Martin?" she asked. "She's never mentioned him to me before, do we know him, have we seen him outdoors in a sunny place?" Buffy was in the middle of a rant and Willow thought it best not to interrupt her before she ran out of steam. "How short is this skirt if it would show the bruise on her upper thigh and what's this boy doing looking at her legs anyway?" she finally stopped to draw breath.
"Buffy, she's fine and Martin's OK too" Willow reassured her. "I checked his school records and did some background work on his family and he just seems to be a normal teenage boy" she grinned at her friend. "Which just leaves you with the normal teenage boy type stuff that could go wrong!"
"Willow!" Buffy shouted. "You are not helping. Can you even remember the danger contained within the body of a `normal' teenage boy?"
"I'm not that old" Willow responded. "I do remember what they were like but I've met Martin and he seems nice, a bit quiet and he's in the science club"
"Oh and that worked out so well for you" Buffy said before she could stop herself. A look of embarrassment took up residence on her face and her hand flew to her mouth as if to stop the words.
Willow looked at her, grinned and raised her eyebrows. "OK, well perhaps I should be giving Dawn some lessons in how to deal with the opposite sex in high school since her sister can only cover the `getting dumped' and `one night stand' sections of the class"
Buffy smiled and tried to look affronted. "Hey I didn't always get dumped…" she ground to a halt as Willow tried desperately not to laugh out loud. "OK, but I didn't do the one night stand thing until…."
"Skanky?" Willow suggested and drank some more of her tea.
"Witch" Buffy retorted and pulled the notebook from under Willow's elbow. "So what are we working on today?" she pretended to take great interest in Willow's colour co-ordinated notations.
"These are some of the contacts that Giles suggested we talk to about the sect and also some ideas of my own on possible descendants still living in the area" Willow gave her tacit agreement to dropping the subject of Dawn's extra curricular activities. "I thought we could spend the day trying to see as many as we could before we send another email to Giles"
Buffy nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me, let's hit the sidewalks" she stood up and took her glass into the kitchen. "Willow" she said quietly as she watched her head for the stairs. "Thanks for looking out for Dawn, I really appreciate it"
Willow smiled over the bannister at her. "What else would I do for my little sister?" she asked and ran upstairs.
They sat in the Espresso Pump, drinking mochas with extra whipped cream. "Who knew there were so many experts on ancient sects in this area?" Buffy asked. "I always thought Giles just knew this stuff, turns out he had people feeding him the answers all along"
Willow smiled and sipped her drink. "I met some of his contacts but the ones we visited this morning were new to me" She looked thoughtful for a minute. "I guess the weird thing is that we all thought he sat in his apartment waiting for us to come to him with the monster of the week, but he seems to have had all these other people he kept in regular contact with and we didn't even know"
Buffy nodded. "I just assumed I was the only oblivious one where his private life was concerned but he got pretty good at keeping you guys out of the loop as well"
"I don't think it was him excluding us so much as none of us being interested enough to find out about him as a person" Willow suggested and frowned. "We were all equally guilty, except maybe for Tara"
Buffy looked a little surprised. "I didn't know that Tara was especially close to him"
Willow nodded. "In the last six months or so they were getting closer because of their concerns about me and also when she was new to the group she made the effort to get to know him"
"We made the effort when we first met him although, we were all kind of thrown together at the beginning" Buffy suggested.
Willow interrupted her "And we were sixteen years' old and too selfish to be interested in an old fossil like him. Parts of his past kept leaking out, like when we found out about Ripper, but he kept the rest to himself and by the time we were older he was like a piece of the furniture and we thought we knew him. When Tara met him for the first time she understood that he was an important part of the group, even if we didn't treat him as such at the time, and she instinctively knew that he could teach her about the things she needed to know to survive" Willow took another sip of her coffee and stared at the foam for a few seconds.
Buffy gave her a moment or two before putting her hand over her friends. "You OK Will?"
"Yeah" Willow smiled a little weakly at her. "It's just, sometimes I don't think about her for a few hours and then I suddenly remember her and what happened and it's like losing her all over again" She took a deep breath and finished her coffee. "Let's go and we can try to see some of these possible descendants before we meet up with Dawn at school"
Buffy nodded. "OK, but let's make sure we get to school in time to see Martin" she suggested and took the list from Willow to work out the nearest address. Willow just shook her head and followed her friend outside.
The gang were sitting around Xander's table, finishing off a pizza, and discussing the results of their day's findings. "So we know that the Guilen sect were actually the good guys. Everyone we spoke to said they were renowned for the care they took of those within their community and they genuinely battled evil in all of it's forms" Willow passed round pieces of kitchen paper while Dawn removed the empty boxes to the kitchen. "They seemed to have some sort of unknown power to vanquish the minor demons that were around at the time, mainly annoying things like fear and mischief demons, but there aren't any records of how they managed this or of what happened to wipe them out"
Buffy took over "This Professor Jennings seemed fairly certain that something happened and wiped out all of the sects at once. This must have been something big because there were ten or twelve groups spread throughout the state at the time and they all disappeared overnight"
Willow nodded and took over the story. "The strange thing is that there aren't any records of a big bad taking over Sunnydale at the time and you would expect whatever had wiped them out to be all gloaty and take overy"
Xander handed round some drinks. "Maybe they self destructed, you know, tried to get rid of a little demon and it back fired on them or something?"
Willow nodded. "Perhaps, but I don't think that sort of accident would eradicate all of the sect communities"
"How about the people who still live here, don't they have any family stories to tell?" Dawn asked.
"Not really, it was a bit of a long shot, we are talking about family folklore surviving for over 200 years" Willow looked a little discouraged. "I keep thinking that this is just a case of the residents of the home picking up on whatever happened all those years ago and, although it's frustrating not to be able to find out what it was, it's not really that serious?"
Xander looked a little uncomfortable. "I know this isn't end of the world stuff but those old ladies were really wigging about this and I'd like to clear it up for them"
Buffy smiled at him. "Xander, you looking to be a toy boy again?"
"Not unless you're looking for a new flame Buff?" he joked back and ducked as she threw her paper towel at him.
"Perhaps Giles would know some way we could desensitise the home?" Willow suggested. "I know he spent quite a lot of his spare time a few years ago researching poltergeist and hauntings so maybe he could come up with a cleansing spell that would at least tone down the events"
"Sounds like a plan Will" Xander suggested. "Are we going to wait until next week when he visits or try to sort this out before he gets here?"
Dawn looked a little worried. "He did say he was coming for a holiday and didn't want to work when he got here"
Willow looked a little uncomfortable. "I don't really think I could do the necessary spells and he would probably be able to clear this up in a day or two"
Buffy looked a little surprised. "Perhaps we could give him a heads up on the situation tonight and he can let us know the best way to deal with it?" Willow seemed a little relieved and Buffy knew that her fear of undertaking any serious magic was at the root of her discomfort, however, she wasn't sure whether to agree with her friend in this situation or force her to `get back on the horse' by doing the spell. Perhaps she would call Giles later and speak to him about Willow's progress and the best way forward.
Giles jumped a little when the phone rang and took a moment to mark his place in the book on his lap before reaching for the table beside him. "Buffy, how nice to hear from you, is everything alright?" He could hear her sigh a little and found himself smiling at her slightly petulant tone. "No, of course I don't think you only phone when something is wrong. Perhaps you were calling to give me a suggestion list of presents for next week?"
Buffy smiled despite her grumpy mood and decided that a little one-on-one Giles time was probably just what she needed right now. "I'll get to the presents later but first I need to ask a quick question about the golden ghost stuff we've been working on" She could almost imagine him putting his glasses back on and moving the phone to his other ear as he picked up a pen to note down any salient points. "The contacts you gave us were all quite helpful and agreed that the Guilen peeps were of the good so we're all a bit stuck on where to go with this. Xander would still like us to try and interrupt the ghostly goings on because they seemed to be freaking out the wrinklies but Willow's not too sure and is suggesting we wait till you're here"
Giles frowned slightly. "Does Willow think this is something serious?"
Buffy found herself shaking her head before she answered him. "Nope, I think she's just a bit wigged about doing her mojo without you here in case she gets her bad self back again"
"But she has handled magic before now and everything has been OK" he suggested. "Is she there, perhaps she just needs some advice on the best spell to use?"
Buffy again shook her head. "Nope, she's out shopping with Dawn for some more macho bed linen. Apparently you shouldn't have to put up with snoopy pillow cases" He could visualise her broad smile and chuckled at the memory of the last time he had been staying with them. "Anyway" Buffy continued "Will said you are guru guy about this kind of thing and wants to wait till next week so you can deal with it but I think that she's just using that as an excuse"
Giles thought for a moment or two. "Perhaps it would be better to wait until I can talk to Willow about this" he finally suggested.
Buffy was a little surprised at his suggestion. "But we don't want you working while you're here, it's supposed to be a holiday"
Giles chuckled again. "And you weren't going to train with me or let me patrol with you?" he asked in a disbelieving tone of voice.
"That's different, it would be fun and I've been practising this new kick and you are laughing at me, I can tell, even at this distance" she tried to pout a little but could feel her smile overcoming her. "OK, you can talk to Willow when you get here but this had better not eat into the planned quality shopping time"
Giles sighed. "Tell Willow I'd rather have a chat with the people experiencing the events before you do anything and I'm sure she'll be fine"
Buffy felt a small sense of relief wash over her and identified it as the feeling that always hit her when Giles took control of the situation. "Damn" she mumbled to herself, "I'm never going to get rid of that"
"Did you say something, I couldn't quite catch it?" he suggested, although he was sure he had heard her curse under her breath. That wasn't like Buffy at all and he felt a little concerned that he wouldn't be with them for another week but then he heard her clear her throat and knew everything was going to be OK.
"About those presents" she began and he pulled his notepad towards him as he cradled the phone between his shoulder and ear.
Willow was busy discussing flight arrivals with a harried looking airline employee while Xander and Dawn argued over the best position for the "Welcome Home Giles" banner.
Buffy was sitting nursing a coffee, occasionally glancing at the arrivals board. Willow seemed to have finally run out of questions and moved to sit next to her. "Hey" she said quietly. "You OK?"
Buffy nodded and took another sip of her coffee. "Just a little tired after patrol last night" she made the excuse without any thought.
"But I thought you said there was only one newbie?" Willow asked.
Buffy sighed. "Yeah, but I didn't sleep too well when I got home – sometimes the lack of a good fight is worse than a busy night"
Willow looked a little confused then a grin lit up her face. "Oh I get it, I remember Faith telling us.."
"Not the same thing" Buffy quickly interrupted and tried to send forgetful thoughts directly to Willow's memory centre. "Shouldn't Giles be here by now?" she asked in a shameless attempt to change the subject.
Willow smirked a little. "You lie really badly sometimes, you know?" she suggested and met Buffy's startled gaze for a few seconds before nodding towards the airline desk. "The check-in clerk said they had some bad weather mid Atlantic but they should be here in about twenty minutes"
Buffy settled back to wait and eventually Xander and Dawn moved to sit next to them. "I hope he doesn't get airsick" Dawn suggested and looked at the others a little worriedly. "Perhaps we should have left the welcome home dinner till tomorrow"
Willow patted her knee. "He tries to sleep on most of these long haul flights and usually misses all of the meals. He'll be starving by the time he arrives"
Xander nodded and held up a brown paper bag. "Hence the munchies for the car journey" he stared into the depths. "Twinkies, Oreos everything he must have been missing"
The three of them chatted inconsequentially and Buffy was glad to let their conversation wash over her. She was relieved today had finally arrived and wasn't lying when she told Willow that she hadn't slept very well, although her friend wasn't entirely wrong about the reasons!
However, a large part of her discomfort had been worrying over his return and how they would react to each other. She was the one who had complained that he only ever came back to them when some apocalypse was threatening but at least they all had their well defined parts to play in those scenarios. Now that he was here purely for pleasure and the Hellmouth was quiet, she wasn't sure how they would all interact, or rather how she would react. She glanced at the others as they laughed at something Xander had said, they all seemed confident and happy about his return, why couldn't she concentrate on the good and let the bad stuff sort itself out?
He politely let the large family group move ahead of him and took a moment to stretch his cramped legs and lower back before thanking the air stewards and heading towards the arrivals lounge. No doubt they would all be waiting and he wasn't sure what the dominant feeling was – embarrassment at the inevitable public displays of affection, relief that they were all well or excitement at being back with them. He shrugged his shoulders and rounded the final corner, not realising that his face had decided that a slightly jeg-lagged smile would be the emotion of choice to begin with.
He tried to argue with Xander but the young man was insistent and Giles finally gave up and put an arm round Dawn as Xander carried his bags. Willow moved up to his other side to walk next to him, and the three moved slightly ahead as Xander smiled his thanks at Buffy and handed her the biggest suitcase. "He probably only brought two suitcases filled with books this time around, after all it is a holiday" she suggested.
Xander hefted another bag and sighed. "Someone has got to tell him about paperbacks"
Willow pushed open the door of the Summer's home and headed towards the kitchen to put the kettle on. Dawn was busy filling him in on her progress at school and Xander helped Buffy take the luggage upstairs. "I'm quite happy to sleep on the sofa" he smiled at Buffy on her return.
"I know how uncomfortable that sofa is and I've got slayer healing and younger muscles to help me cope" she smiled sweetly. "Besides, Willow and I are treating the whole thing like a marathon pajama party"
He raised his eyebrows and smiled at Willow as she came into the room with a tray. "Makes me wish I had brought some decent pyjamas" he said quietly under his breath and moved some magazines from the coffee table to give Willow the space to put the tray down.
"Xander could probably lend you some" Dawn smiled at him and nodded towards Xander as he came downstairs.
Xander looked a little puzzled. "You couldn't possibly have forgotten anything – I think the closet is in the suitcase along with the clothes"
Giles sighed and tried to remember that he would inevitably be overheard if it would cause him embarrassment – that's just how the powers that be worked for him. "It's OK" he smiled at the young man. "I think I do remember packing some after all"
He spent the next hour or so regaling them with stories of the work he had been doing for the Council. Buffy looked more than a little grumpy when he mentioned Travers' name but she soon perked up when he explained exactly where the demon had slashed him and the number of stitches required. Eventually he couldn't stop the yawn from surfacing and Willow looked sheepishly at her watch. "It must be about one am in London, perhaps you'd like to rest for a couple of hours?"
He shook his head. "No, I'll be fine. I usually try to stay awake until normal bed time when I come over, it makes the changeover pass more quickly" he yawned again and was sure his jaw was going to crack. "However, a shower might be helpful before we discuss the Guilen information"
Buffy stood up "I'll just show you where everything is"
"I'm sure I'll remember" he began but she had already started up the stairs. He smiled at Willow as he turned to follow her. "When I come back down perhaps we can go over the information you have collected since our last email?"
"Are you sure you want to work, perhaps it could wait till tomorrow?" she suggested.
"It will take me a few days to get used to `tomorrow' as a useful concept, I'd rather get started right away if that's OK with you?" he didn't wait for her answer, heading upstairs to the bathroom.
Buffy waited for him outside the room he was using and glanced behind him to make sure he was on his own. "Did Willow seem OK to you when you mentioned the research?" she asked in a fierce whisper.
"She seemed a little concerned about tiring me but I think she was comfortable enough" he seemed a little perplexed. "In fact she seems happier than I remember her for some time – do you detect something I should be worried about?"
"Nope" Buffy shook her head but was obviously not entirely sure. "I'm just worried she's getting a bit freaked about the magic stuff"
He moved past her and opened one of his cases. Gathering his toilet bag he headed towards the bathroom "I'll know better once I've had a chance to talk to her, perhaps you could take Xander and Dawn out somewhere and give us some time to ourselves?"
Buffy nodded and started to follow him into the bathroom. "Good plan but you'll need to be quick because I've got to be back at six to get dinner started" He stared at her for a minute with one eyebrow raised and his glasses in his hand. "What, you don't trust me to cook dinner?" she said defensively and put her hand on her hip.
"Actually I was just wondering whether you were going to stay there while I showered or if you needed anything else before you left?" he smiled as she glanced around the bathroom and blushed a little.
"I think you can manage from here, I'll see you later" she mumbled and pulled the door behind her as she left.
He came downstairs feeling much more clean and awake. By the complete lack of noise he was fairly sure that Buffy, Xander and Dawn had left and he instinctively headed for the kitchen to find Willow. She was busy making more tea and he leaned against the door frame watching her for a moment before sighing. "Do you need a hand?" he asked as she turned to look at him.
"Nope, I'm doing fine" she smiled back at him. "Buffy and the others went to the Magic Box to help Anya close up so that she could join us for dinner"
He nodded and took the tray from her, putting it down next to her laptop on the dining room table. "I only hope I can stay awake long enough to enjoy the evening"
"If you are too tired we can do this tomorrow" she suggested again.
"No, I think I would rather do something with my brain to help me forget the disgruntled children and appalling airline movies" he poured them both tea and then pointed towards the laptop. "I asked a colleague of mine to gather some final pieces of information and email them to both of us, perhaps you could check if you have received anything yet?"
"You are really getting into this electronic age, aren't you?" she said, trying not to laugh at him. "Remind me to show you how to use net-meeting while you are here"
"You can check to see if it will work on my laptop, I brought it with me" he sipped his tea and tried not to look smug. "I do get quite a few emails and, as I refuse to get a mobile phone, it is the only way the Council can contact me when I am on my travels"
Willow pulled up some information and turned the screen so that he could read it as well. "Maybe you'll be showing me a thing or two before your holiday is over?" she asked and then saw the look of astonishment on his face. She replayed her remark in her head and felt herself blush as she realised the connotation. "Oh, goddess I only meant with the computer and stuff and I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you and anyway, gay now, so no showing of things required, in either direction and.." she ground to a halt as he started to laugh. "First you turn into a computer geek and now you are mocking me?" she asked a little indignantly.
This only caused him to laugh some more and eventually he had to put his tea down. He reached across and put his hand over hers where it was drumming on the tabletop. "I'm sorry, I'd just forgotten your babbling and the complete innocence with which you make these pronouncements" He pulled her chin round to make her look at him, he could tell she was desperately trying not to smile. "Willow, do you forgive me?" he asked quietly.
She looked straight into his eyes. "Perhaps we should ignore the inappropriate sex talk and get back to work?" she very nearly finished before starting to giggle.
He looked at her in astonishment, she had captured his wounded tone of embarrassment perfectly. "Perhaps that would be best" he grinned at her and nodded towards the screen. "Has George sent the information through?"
Willow studied the screen for a moment and nodded. "It's coming through right now, we could catch up on what we've found so far and look at it once it's transferred?" She picked up a folder containing all of the information they had found to date. She turned to the back of the pile. "Everyone we've spoken to agreed that the Guilen were a peace loving sect who occasionally rid their local communities of minor demons and curses. Nobody is sure how they managed to escape the witch hunts, although I would guess that a fairly easy memory spell would be enough to make people forget whenever the witch finders were in town" she paused and took a moment to catch her breath.
He knew she was remembering her own forays into this type of spell and waited patiently for her to pick up where she had stopped.
Willow sighed and picked up another piece of paper. "The sect set up home in Sunnydale on the site currently used by the Residential Home and they seemed to live there quite happily for about ten years"
He nodded in agreement, "Some of the information George has pulled together for me relates to their other properties but they all seem to have been set up in a similar manner and to a similar design so perhaps there was a ritual significance to certain parts of the building"
Willow lifted up a notebook and flipped through several pages. "When we talked to the residents they seemed to remember the voices as shouting at each other across a large hall, so perhaps there was a central gathering place in each property?"
Giles took the notebook from her and read a couple of pages. "Perhaps it would be best if I met with these people and spent a little time in the Home. I may be able to pick up some of the residual energies"
Willow poured herself another cup of tea. "The residents all tell a similar story and, although it is obviously distressing for them I don't think they are in any danger. Perhaps this is just a few sensitives picking up on the history of the building?"
"Perhaps" he agreed, "but it would be best to rid the residents of even this minor irritant, you know how these things can grow out of control this close to the hellmouth"
They fell into an easy silence as Willow glanced at the screen. "He seems to be sending quite a large file, perhaps he has scanned in some documents"
"Let's use the time to catch up" he suggested and moved towards the sofa. "How have you been coping since your return?" he asked and signalled her to sit on the nearby chair.
"OK, I guess" she said a little reluctantly. "I think Buffy and Xander were quite happy to see little old me and not scarey, veiny me and the spell to rid the Magic Box of the infestation helped to reassure them that I was able to control the magics I used"
"Did it convince you?" he asked quietly and leaned back, crossing his legs and getting comfortable. "Your correspondence at the time seemed to suggested a lack of confidence but that has slowly waned in recent weeks and I assumed you were finally accepting your place within the normal scheme of things"
"Kind of" she agreed. "If I wasn't sure I could control myself I wouldn't be here at all and sometimes I get a little panicky and have to meditate but mostly everything has returned to normal"
He waited a moment to see if she would continue but when it was obvious that she wouldn't he quietly asked "Why does that bother you?" and met her gaze when she looked up at him abruptly. "You seem almost disappointed that everything has gone back to normal"
She took a couple of deep breaths and nodded slowly. "Perhaps I just feel that I haven't really paid for what I did and it's wrong that I can go back so easily to a happy life with friends and laughter"
"I hardly think that the initial treatment at the Coven could be described as easy and you will pay every day for the rest of your life, even if you don't realise it yet" he leaned forward and rested his arms on his knees. "You took a human life and that sits within your soul and darkens your innermost thoughts and feelings, it's not something you can ever get rid of by undergoing physical punishment of any kind, that's the easy way out"
"I know" she mumbled and twisted her hands together. "I just seem to be able to forget everything for hours at a time and then I remember and I feel terrible at being happy"
"So you feel bad forgetting about Tara and what you did?" he suggested. "Perhaps you need to speak to a counsellor and try to get past the grief because I'm sure Tara would want you to remember her but not at the expense of everything else. I know you have come a long way but there is no shame in still needing help to get through this" He paused and considered his next words carefully "As to forgetting about what you did to Warren, you need to believe me that you will carry that with you for the rest of your life and nothing you do will ever make it go away"
She sat quietly a moment and thought through his advice. Slowly she raised her head and looked at him, "You know, don't you?" she asked quietly. "You know what this is like because you've gone through it?"
He nodded slowly and took his glasses off, rubbing his face with his hands. "I still go through it, and although my reasons were more than revenge and it saved many other lives at the time, I still have to live with the guilt" he looked towards her. "I don't relish the years you have ahead of you because it can be very difficult. Sometimes you just want to deaden the pain in any way you can but you must try to resist the urge because it's still there in the morning and it's never easier to deal with while suffering from a hangover"
She smiled at him and stood up to pace. "I remember seeing you the morning after the big fight we all had. Tara and I came round to pick up my laptop and you were so hungover that I thought your head was going to explode. I was still angry with you but Tara wanted to get you some jelly doughnuts and stay with you to make sure you were OK"
"She was a good person and I'll miss her terribly but it does not serve her memory well if you choose not to use your gifts for the benefit of those around you" He moved back towards the dining room. "Tara was a very talented witch but she didn't have your power and she knew that she would always be the one to anchor you. She had accepted that role before you began abusing your talent and I think she would have been very proud of the steps you have taken in your recovery so far" He leaned over the laptop and began looking through the files that had been sent.
After five minutes or so Willow joined him at the table and he noticed that her eyes were a little red and her nose was still running. "What did we get from George?" she asked.
"Perhaps you would like to freshen up before the others get home, I don't want Buffy or Xander to blame me for upsetting you?" he smiled at her and she sniffed again and nodded her agreement.
When she came back downstairs he was concentrating on the folder of information she had gathered. She slipped into her seat and looked through the information that had been sent to them. "Did any of that help?" she asked.
"It certainly confirmed my opinion that the sect built all of their properties to a similar design and it also firmed up the dates for the end of the sects throughout California" he seemed to consider his next words carefully. "I think what we are looking at is a demon that took all of their strength to defeat and it finally took them with it when it was overcome"
Willow nodded "That would kind of make sense but they only ever took on small demons and curses, why would they suddenly move up to the big league?"
"Needs must…." Giles began and smiled as he realised how appropriate the rest of the cliché was. "Perhaps the threat wasn't centred in Sunnydale but they tried to use the combined power of all of their communities to overcome a demon who was threatening a little more than nuisance value?"
"And that's why they all disappeared at the same time" she nodded.
He pointed to the laptop and took his glasses off to clean them. "A confrontation of that magnitude must have left some records or accounts" he smiled at her as he replaced his glasses. "Perhaps a few hours on the Internet would dig up some mention from one of the other sect locations?"
She shook her head a little and flexed her fingers. "Some things never change" she began scanning through her favourites list. "If I'm to resume my role as chief surfer you'll have to prepare the vegetables for dinner. Buffy left strict instructions and I wouldn't want to be the one to upset her, you know how picky she gets when she's hosting"
"At least I can make a mess of her kitchen this time around" he grinned and headed towards the kitchen.
"The dinner was a great success" he smiled at her as he carefully measured coffee into the pot. "You really are quite a good cook"
Buffy finished taking down the good coffee set from a top shelf and turned to look at him "Watch it with the enthusiasm or you'll end up with the dishes" she smiled. "But it was OK, you had a good time?"
He helped her lay out the coffee things on a tray. "Of course, how could it not go well when I have my extended family around me?" he thought about what he had said and ruefully shook his head.
"Actually that is usually the very time when things go wonky" she agreed and started to laugh. "You must have been away too long this time Giles, you would think you would remember all of the disastrous get togethers"
"Some of them were quite non-disastrous" he suggested strongly. "Thanksgiving was usually relatively quiet and Xander's birthday video marathons were usually only painful because of his awful choice in movies"
"Hey" the young man in question glared at him as he entered the kitchen. "I assume that means you are taking yourself off the invite list for next weekend?" he took the tray from Buffy as Giles lifted the coffee pot. "We've just decided that a movie night is what we've been missing recently"
"Only if I get to choose at least one of the films" Giles said to his retreating back.
"Only one and it's not allowed to be educational or worthy in any way" Xander laid down the ground rules. "Oh and that means Shakespeare is definitely out" he added as an afterthought.
Anya pouted. "But I was going to suggest that one where Denzel Washington wears the leather trousers" she looked towards Buffy for agreement.
"Oooohhh" Buffy nodded. "That was Shakespeare?" she asked and winked at Willow as she heard Giles groan beside her. "I wasn't really listening just watching" she smiled and followed Anya into a happy place dream.
Dawn looked on a little sadly and then perked up. "Wait, that had Keanu Reeves in leather pants too, right?" she suddenly looked radiant and gazed off into the distance as well.
Willow glanced at Giles and Xander and smiled broadly. "Perhaps we should let them have at least one chick-flick?"
Giles looked towards Xander. "OK, but that doesn't count as my choice?"
Xander thought deeply and finally shrugged his shoulders. "Alright but one final thing" he paused to build the sense of anticipation, glancing across to see Willow grinning at him. "It has to be a talky, none of your boyhood silent favourites"
Willow phoned ahead to arrange another visit to the Residential Home. Mrs Wayne was waiting in the foyer as they arrived and looked towards Giles as Willow shook her hand. "Mrs Wayne, I'd like to introduce you to one of the foremost experts on residual spiritual activity, Professor Rupert Giles"
Giles tried to look professorial and vowed to speak severely to Willow when they were alone, she hadn't mentioned his promotion. "It's a pleasure to meet you Mrs Wayne" he smiled politely.
The older woman seemed to take a long time to release his hand and Willow was sure she noticed a slight blush as she held Giles' gaze.
Willow finally coughed. "Perhaps we could meet the residents from our last visit and then I believe the professor would like to take some readings in the areas where the occurrences have been most frequent?"
"Of course, we'll use the same room as before if that was OK for you?" she finally looked towards Willow and unconsciously ran her hand through her hair. "Can I get you some coffee?" she looked back towards Giles as she opened the door and motioned them to enter the room.
"Not right now thank you" he replied and smiled at her again.
Willow tried to hide her grin as the older woman mimicked his smile for a few seconds before gathering herself. "I'll just go and tell the residents that you are here" she finally said and turned rather abruptly to leave the room.
"Willow!" he said in a quiet undertone. "Why on earth did you decide on the title?"
"It just seemed to fit, what with the stuffy old tweed suit and everything" she pointed vaguely at his attire, tried to look apologetic but couldn't carry it off. "I thought it would impress the matron but I didn't allow for the older woman, killer charm working its magic"
"What on earth are you talking about?" he asked and started to pace a little.
"Oh please, she was practically falling over herself at your smile and the extra English accent didn't hurt either" she nodded her approval. "I'd forgotten how sexy that could sound when you first come across it"
He stood speechless in the centre of the room and was finally gathering his wits to ask exactly what she was talking about when the smitten Mrs Wayne returned with two older women and a suspicious looking man in tow.
Willow moved forward to meet them and directed everyone to the chairs she had rearranged into a semi circle. "Where's Mike?" she asked and realised the truth as she looked at the sad faces of the others. "I'm sorry, I didn't know" she mumbled and Giles saw her physically returning to the awkward school girl from the professional woman who had entered the home with him.
He stepped forward and introduced himself to the three residents, giving her time to recollect herself.
"Am I to understand that one of your friends is no longer with us?" he asked Ernie.
Ernie nodded and looked towards Willow with some trepidation. "He died last week" he seemed a little reluctant to share the details.
"Was he ill?" Giles asked gently and was aware of Willow pulling herself together and getting her notebook out of her bag.
Kate shook her head. "He was fine right up until he went to bed" she seemed to pause for a moment as if deciding whether or not to go on. "When they found him in the morning he was crouched in the corner and the room was freezing cold."
Willow looked up sharply. "You think he had another episode?"
Ernie shook his head. "I don't think Mike was the kind of guy to get scared enough to up and die on us" he looked severely at the two women. "But he might have imagined anything if he took unwell during the night"
"This puts rather a different complexion on things" Giles sighed and removed his glasses. "I'm afraid I'll need you all to go through your accounts again and I'll need to see your rooms and the room where Mike was"
Sheila sniffled a little into a lace handkerchief "It all started a few weeks ago and it has happened to all of us twice" she looked genuinely scared now and Giles leaned across to put his hand on her arm. She smiled a little weakly at him. "If it came to Mike again that would have been his third visit, do you think that has anything to do with him passing like that?"
Willow started to shake her head in an automatic attempt to allay their fears when Giles leaned back and looked at all three. "I'm not sure and I'm sorry for the loss of your friend but perhaps after today I will be able to put your minds at rest. I'll certainly do all I can to work out what has been happening here and, with Ms Rosenberg's help, I'm sure we'll be able to put a stop to it"
The two women looked a little reassured about this but Ernie seemed to get a suspicious look on his face. "What exactly are you a professor of?"
Giles looked towards Willow and raised his eyebrows in an `I told you so' look, before turning back to the old man. "I'm a Professor of Ancient History and my doctorate was completed at Oxford many years ago. My specialisation since then has given me an insight into the workings of residual spirit activity of this kind and Ms Rosenberg has had occasion to call upon my expertise on several interesting cases over the years"
Willow kept facing the three residents while her mind tried to work out whether he was lying or not. It was perfectly feasible that his Watcher training had actually resulted in some kind of qualification, she must remember to ask him about it later. "I'm sorry, perhaps this isn't the best time for us to be here?" she asked and started to put her notebook back into her handbag.
Kate scowled at Ernie and handed Sheila another handkerchief. "Please don't go, Ernie just finds it difficult to forget his background and treats everyone like a suspect in an interrogation"
Giles waved his hand in the air as if to forget the entire incident. "You were a policeman in Sunnydale?" he asked the older man and knew by the wary look in his eyes that the answer was going to be yes. This was confirmed when Ernie nodded his head slightly, but he was obviously not going to discuss it any further. "I've spent some time here in the past and I think you would agree that it is best to face the unusual things that happen here or they will generally just get worse?" Giles suggested.
Ernie nodded his head again and seemed to sag a little, as if the fight had gone out of him. Kate noticed the exchange and turned to Willow with a puzzled look on her face. "Has this kind of thing happened here before?"
"Not exactly this but sometimes unusual events have been known to happen in the Dale that is Sunny" she tried to keep her tone light and was relieved to see both women relax a little. "Perhaps Sheila could get us started by running through what happened to her?" she asked and turned to look at Giles.
He nodded and turned his full attention to the older woman. "Please, anything you can remember, no matter how insignificant, would be helpful"
After two hours the three residents stood to leave and Willow was relieved to see Mrs Wayne hovering outside the room. "Is everything alright?" she asked anxiously.
Giles finished cleaning his glasses and turned his best dazzling smile on her. "Everything's fine, I just need ten minutes with Ms Rosenberg to sort through some details then we would like to have a look at the affected rooms if that is suitable?"
She simpered "Of course, is there anything I can get for you, coffee or tea perhaps?"
"A mug of your tea would undoubtedly help the brain cells" he suggested and heard Willow snort behind him. He watched the older woman walk away, noticing the decided sway that she appeared to have suddenly acquired, before closing the door and turning to Willow. She was sitting watching him with a large grin on her face. "What is it now?" he asked, unable to keep the smile from his own face.
"I've never seen you do that before, it's just kind of weird" she shook her head. "At least now I know what Buffy meant when she said you were her rakish uncle"
"Perhaps we should collate the information and finish up here before we continue this ridiculous conversation later?" he asked and sat down next to her to look at her notes.
Two cups of tea later they were directed to the east wing, the area where the disturbances had been reported. They found Ernie keeping a lookout for them and he signalled them to follow him when they turned the corner. "I didn't want to say anything when the ladies were there earlier but I'm not so sure that Mike didn't get another visit that night"
"Did you hear something?" Giles asked as he followed the man into what was obviously his room.
"Heard some groaning but that could just as easily have been old Mr McFadyen in Room 26" he suggested and turned to see Giles' reaction.
"Giles look at this" Willow said before he had a chance to answer. She was standing in front of some pictures hanging on the wall behind the door. "Recognise this one?" she asked as she pointed to a picture of Ernie in his uniform shaking hands with the Mayor.
"Did you know him well?" Giles asked in as neutral a tone of voice as he could manage.
"Pretty well, up until he changed into a giant snake and tried to eat the graduating class at the high school" Ernie replied matter of factly and sat down in a large chair beside the window.
Willow frowned and put her hand into her pocket to check the stake she always carried there.
Giles shook his head slightly and placed his hand on her arm. "I thought you seemed unfazed by the subject of unusual events" he said in a quiet voice that Willow recognised as dangerous to whoever was on the end of it. "Do you want to tell us exactly how much you know of what has been going on here?"
The old man took a deep breath and puffed his cheeks out as he exhaled. "I've seen some pretty strange things over the years, there were nights when vampires were the least of my worries, but I've never come across anything like this" he said and met Giles' eyes. "I know some of what goes on in this town and I recognised you the minute you walked in. I've seen you around too many crime scenes to think you are just a visiting Professor" he waited to give Giles the chance to refute this allegation.
"Actually I am, technically, a Professor and I am just visiting but you are correct in thinking I used to be a little more involved in this town's problems" He nodded towards Willow. "Willow is a member of a group of people who are concerned with making sure that the demons and vampires don't win the day and they picked up on the occurrences here and asked me to have a look because it is something of an interest of mine"
Willow came to stand next to him. "He's the best chance we have of getting rid of whatever is causing this trouble" She lifted her chin a little and brought out her resolve face to prove her sincerity.
Ernie flinched a little and started to smile. "OK, I believe you but I don't really know much more than I told you earlier"
"Do you think it was Mr McFadyen that was groaning or was it Mike?" Giles asked as he sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Was his room quite near to this?" Willow asked as she glanced around then sat down next to Giles.
"Next door that way" Ernie motioned. "It was Mike all right but there was no way in Hell I was getting out of bed to see if he was OK" he seemed to get a little belligerent again. "I only heard one groan and then it all went quiet so I just assumed he had heartburn and turned over"
Willow looked towards Giles but he was deep in thought. "Perhaps you did the right thing, if it was another episode you might have been attacked as well if you had gone in there"
He didn't look much happier at her attempt to salve his conscience. "Spent my life knocking down doors to help other folks, didn't used to matter that I was putting myself on the line" he said and sank into silence.
Willow seemed about to say something else when Giles put his hand on her arm and led her out of the room. "I'll let you know what we find" he said quietly as he closed the door to the old man's room behind them. "Not much we can do to help his guilt but let's try to sort out the rest of this mess, shall we?"
Willow nodded and took the key Mrs Wayne had given her, fitting it into the door next to Ernie's. They both stood in the doorway for a moment and took in the contents of the room. It had obviously been cleared of any personal effects but Willow could still feel the presence of the self assured man she had met some weeks before.
Giles stepped into the room and she followed him, closing the door behind her. He stood in the centre of the room and pulled a small notebook from his jacket pocket. Flipping through the pages he finally found what he was looking for and glanced up to make sure Willow was ready.
She had taken a small candle from her shoulder bag and lit it. She mumbled a few words under her breath and then nodded to Giles that she was ready.
He smiled to reassure her and then slowly read out a phrase in Latin from the book in his hands. Willow didn't recognise all of the words but she knew he was calling forth the spirits of those who had inhabited the room to help him in his search for whatever was causing the problems.
She let her gaze travel around the room as her mind expanded to try to sense any spirits who may heed Giles' summons. As her eyes finally reached him standing in the middle of the room, his eyes closed and his hand holding the notebook at his side, she smiled at the reaction he had gained from the older women. She realised with a jolt that she was missing his close presence in her mind and, although they had never discussed it since his return, she finally admitted to herself that she wanted him to be that close to her all of the time. She felt his mind as it reached out to the rooms on either side of the one they were in and shivered a little as she was overwhelmed by the gentleness he could convey, even in these situations. Perhaps she was more aware than anyone of the steel that ran through him as well but had to admit that she was lucky to have been the recipient of his loyalty and affection on such a personal level.
Giles slowed his breathing and relaxed as he reached out to contact any spirits who were trapped within the confines of the home. He had come across many occasions where institutions like this played host to more than the paying residents. What was curious was that he couldn't sense any other presence and he decided to widen the search a little. Still mumbling the Latin phrase under his breath he expanded his search to take in a slightly larger area, however the same results frustrated him. The only souls he could recognise were those of the living and this was so unusual that it took him a moment to notice the bright spark that was Willow within his mind. He smiled and began to withdraw from the surrounding rooms. He admitted to himself that it would be a wrench to cut the connection between both of them again but she had seemed quite relieved when he had returned and they had not regained their mental link. Slowly he opened his eyes and squinted slightly as the afternoon sun was now streaming in through the window. He turned to ask Willow if she was OK and caught his breath. She was standing directly in the sunlight with a smile of sheer contentment on her face. He couldn't remember ever seeing her looking so beautiful and almost dropped his book.
After a few minutes Willow had closed her eyes to better concentrate on her search. Strangely, she had found it difficult to focus her mind on the task at hand while watching Giles. Rolling her shoulders slightly she relaxed a little more and followed his lead in expanding her search. She smiled unconsciously, thrilled that she still had access to a power that might have been denied her and that she was using it to help people.
"Willow" he said quietly, unwilling to startle her. "Willow, can you hear me?"
She took a deep breath and opened her eyes, momentarily blinded by the sun until he stepped in front of her. "Oh" she sighed. "Hi, are we OK?" she smiled up at him and he couldn't help smiling back.
"We are fine but I don't think there is much else we can do here today" he pocketed the book and cupped his hands around the candle she still held, gently blowing the flame out. "We should return home and continue with our internet search" he suggested.
She caught her breath as he leaned in closer to her to blow out the candle. She could feel his breath on her shoulder and shuddered a little. Her mind snapped back to full clarity and she took a step backwards. "Oh" she felt herself blushing. "Home sounds good" she glanced at her watch. "In fact, if we hurry, we could meet up with Dawn and walk her home from school"
He stepped back as well and shook his head slowly. He could have sworn that she was almost afraid of the closeness they had just shared and he immediately heard alarm bells go off in his head. "Are you sure you are feeling alright, perhaps the search was a little too much for you?" he asked and moved to open the door for her.
"Nope, everything is just fine, just felt a little spaced out at the end there, what with all the relaxing and flamey candle and everything" she assured him but seemed in an awful rush to leave the enclosed space of the room. "Just fine" she muttered to herself, "only if just fine can be translated in some weird language to mean going off of my head" She strode behind him to the front door and let him make the polite leaving noises to Mrs Wayne. When she heard the older woman try to delay their departure and saw her holding onto his hand as before her patience finally snapped. "Professor Giles" she said in a sharp tone. "We have the other meeting to attend and we are already late" She headed out the front door without even waiting to see if he followed her. "What the hell was that?" she asked herself.
"What the hell was that?" Giles asked her as he lengthened his stride to catch up with her. "Willow, stop" he ordered and put his hand on her shoulder. He noticed the slight shudder that went through her at his touch and took a step back again. "Please, tell me what is wrong and we can fix it together, did you sense something back there?"
She shook her head and took a couple of deep breaths. "Honestly it wasn't anything to do with the spell, I would tell you if it was" she was finally calming down and rerunning the events in her mind to try to sort through her feelings.
"Something must have happened for you to react like this" he suggested quietly and began walking again.
She moved to walk next to him. "I'm not sure" she admitted. "One minute we were doing the floaty mind thing and the next I'm getting really fed up with that woman pawing you" she shrugged her shoulders. "Perhaps it's just a reaction to the spell after all but I don't feel any magical after effects" she stopped again and he turned round to meet her gaze. "Can you check me out?" she asked plaintively and smiled a little at the surprised look on his face. "I mean inside my head" she sighed and then felt an almost physical sense of loss. She shook her head again and said "You know what, let's just walk for a while and we'll see if this weird mood lifts any"
As they headed towards the school in silence Giles tried to surreptitiously stretch out his mind to calm hers but he was tired from the earlier spell and eventually decided to wait until they were both back home before trying anything too invasive. He sighed as he remembered the days when he could wield his magics for days on end and never have anything more than a headache to show for it. The coven had suggested that he would build up his stamina again but they weren't sure how long it would take and he had suggested that he used magics so rarely these days that it hardly mattered. Now, when it did matter, he was annoyed at his weakness. He knew that something had spooked Willow earlier but he hadn't sensed anything and wasn't sure if she had the power to see beyond what he had found.
They had walked for several minutes before Willow squinted up at him and smiled a little. "Sorry about my snappiness back there, I don't know what came over me"
He shrugged his shoulders "Either you were attacked by a demon who had the ability to hide its presence from two of the most experienced practitioners of magic in this hemisphere or.." he turned to smile down at her.
"Or?" she asked a little nervously.
"Or" he said, dragging the word out "You were genuinely afraid for my virtue with that awful woman and decided to sacrifice your natural good manners and remove us from her presence forthwith?"
She started giggling and playfully punched his arm "You were being a complete tease back there and anything that she had tried on you would have been your own fault" she finally managed to get out.
"You said that earlier, about my woman killing charm, what did I do?" he asked, seemingly genuinely puzzled.
"Actually I said older woman killer charm" she smiled sweetly at him as she stressed the `older'. "You were all `ooohh charmed to meet you ma'am' and British and you must know what that does to American ladies of a certain age?" she started giggling again.
He shook his head. "Are you telling me that my particular brand of charm doesn't work on anyone under the age of 55?" he stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets. "Older women used to be a bit of a goal but now I'm nearly there myself I think I'd prefer a younger model"
"At least Anya's safe from your evil machinations" she suggested and cocked her head to look at him more closely as he blushed and ducked his head to avoid her gaze. "What is it, don't tell me you have a thing for her as well?" she asked in an exasperated tone. "Why is it that all of the men in my life go for the 1100 year old demon thing?" she sighed.
"I do not `go' for her" he said in his defense. "It was just you reminded me of a rather embarrassing incident and what do you mean all of the men in your life?" he thought he had neatly segued into another subject but she was not willing to let this drop.
"Incident?" she raised her eyebrows and put her arm through his. "Ooohhh tell all to your agony aunt" she giggled and felt his sigh from deep within his chest. Suddenly she felt uncomfortable and pulled her arm free but tried to keep a smile on her face to encourage him to share.
He felt her tense against him before removing her arm and quickly tried to make a comparison with her previous strange mood and jumpiness. Shaking his head he filed it in his memory for later and ruefully shook his head as he resigned himself to telling her some of the story. "……and when we came back to ourselves we were kissing and then we cleaned the shop" he finished in a rush.
"You kissed Anya!" she asked incredulously as he tried to quiet her voice. "Are we talking `fatherly' or `rakish uncle' with the lip action?" she asked and practically bounced as they continued to head for the school.
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "If you must know we thought we were engaged and were making up after a row so it was…" he cast about for the word least likely to provoke another noisy outburst as they neared the school grounds. "Appropriate" he finally settled and ignored her when she stopped walking and stared after him. "Does this mean I will finally get to meet the evil Martin?" he asked as she started walking again and caught up with him.
She shook her head. "We will continue this later" she waggled her finger in front of him. "That's Martin there, holding Dawn's bag" she motioned towards a small group of youngsters. "Hey Dawnie" she shouted and turned to Giles. "Behave yourself, he's already had the third degree from Buffy and he doesn't need the `father figure' stern talk, OK?" she asked.
"I am not her father" he insisted and then realised that this probably wasn't the best place to make such stern pronouncements. "Hello Dawn" he said as the youngsters came over to meet them "We thought we would take you for some coffee before we headed home for dinner" he said in a milder tone and looked expectantly at the embarrassed young man standing next to her. "You must be Martin?" he held out his hand. "I've heard a lot about you" he smiled and was sorry that their first meeting had to happen when he had deliberately worn his stuffiest tweed suit to impress Mrs Wayne.
"Hi" Martin replied nervously before turning to Dawn. "If you need to go I'll see you tomorrow, we can do the other thing another time"
Dawn had an agonised look on her face and turned towards Willow for help.
"Martin, why don't you join us, we were just going to grab a couple of mochas with the extra frothy cream" she motioned with her head for him to join them and smiled.
"OK" he shrugged. "If you're sure I won't get in the way"
Dawn mouthed "Thank you" over her shoulder as she walked in front of her friends to catch up with Martin.
Giles hung back a little and bent down to speak quietly in Willow's ear. "Does he remind you of anyone?" he asked and inadvertently caught a whiff of her perfume.
Willow practically jumped out of her skin as she felt his breath against her ear and neck and had to take a deep breath herself before answering. "If you are planning on mentioning a shy child genius of your recent acquaintance you will be paying for the coffees"
"It's a deal" he smiled at her and remembered the first time he had met her. She had been so young and eager and he couldn't even begin to understand the changes within her to bring him to the present day young woman. This was probably just as well as he was rapidly becoming infatuated with the present day version and he had to constantly remind himself that he was her friend and she didn't need that kind of complication in her life, even if she hadn't made her sexual preference so clear. It made his own internal struggle a little easier if he managed to separate the innocent young child he had met only six years before from the confident, far from innocent woman who was walking in front of him right now. He gave himself an internal shake to stop himself from admiring the view as she caught up with the others and leaned down to whisper something in Dawn's ear. He still had three weeks of close confinement to get through and he tried to drag his mind back to the matter at hand to give himself some breathing space.
Dawn slid into a booth and looked a little disappointed when Martin chose the seat facing her. Giles sat next to her and smiled his thanks as Willow deposited his drink in front of him.
"I thought you would drink tea" Martin suggested shyly as Giles blew some of the froth from the top of his mug.
Giles smiled as Willow giggled into her froth, getting some on her nose. "I spent six years here, on and off, and I grew accustomed to the awful local beverages" he smiled as he leaned over to run his thumb over her nose. "You don't want a froth moustache" he suggested solemnly "The girls don't find that attractive for some reason"
Dawn started to giggle and Martin stared in astonishment between Giles and Willow.
Willow had tensed as he had reached out to her and was so concerned at the intimacy of his actions that she had to replay his remark in her head before she caught the meaning. "Giles" she squeaked. "Not in front of the young adults"
Dawn kept laughing as she leaned over and explained to Martin in a stage whisper. "Willow is gay and we're trying to get her a girlfriend" Martin just blushed a little and nodded in a wise manner as if he came across this sort of thing every day.
"Dawn" Willow squeaked again and looked aghast at the youngster. "First of all I don't think Martin wants to know and secondly I can find a girlfriend all by myself, I don't think you guys are going to be much of a help"
Giles looked a little hurt. "I'm hurt that you don't want to learn from a master" he waggled an eyebrow and waited to see how she would react.
Willow checked herself just before she launched into a detailed discussion of his success with the ladies, including Dawn's mother! "I don't want a girlfriend so this discussion will resume along normal, safe, teenager type lines for the duration or I will make it my business to tell Buffy before your next training session"
Dawn sighed and leaned towards Martin again. "Giles taught Buffy some karate when she was younger and they still train whenever he comes to visit"
Martin nodded but didn't look convinced that this explanation covered all of the undertones in the conversation.
Giles took pity on the young man and started a discussion on their science projects to get him back onto familiar territory. He tuned out a little as the three became animated about some sort of enzyme reaction and he ran through the previous conversation, realising that he was trying to push the boundaries of his relationships to fit into the mould of their current situation. He didn't want to continue only as the `go to guy' whenever something evil reared its head in Sunnydale, he wanted to foster more adult relationships with all of them. He acknowledged that Willow was going to prove quite an interesting challenge as his relationship with her had changed beyond his wildest imagination but he was also aware of a need to have a serious conversation with Buffy. She had been quite jumpy since his return and he had put this down to her concerns over Willow and the problem they were investigating. However, the more he thought about it, the more he came to the conclusion that she was also not quite sure how to react to him as something other than a Watcher.
Dawn nudged him with her elbow. "Giles?" she said, obviously for the second time. "Are you finished, we need to get home soon or Buffy will start to worry"
He came back to the present and looked around the others. "Sorry I was miles away" he smiled. "Did you sort out your science project?" he asked politely as he held out his hand to help Dawn escape the clutches of the faux leather seat.
Martin moved next to him to take Dawn's bag from her and nodded. "Willow came up with some neat ideas, I think I'll head straight home to start work on them"
Dawn pouted a little and moved a few steps away to retrieve her bag and make her goodbyes.
Willow sighed and turned to Giles as he laughed at her. "I know, I always get all nostalgic for that time in my life when I should just run screaming from the memories of high school" she smiled a little and moved ahead of him to leave the coffee shop.
"Willow those were some of the best years of your life, you finally realised that you weren't an ugly duckling and that being smart could actually make a difference in many important ways, not just keeping your mother and father happy" he reassured her.
She nodded and turned to make sure Dawn was behind them. She grinned and nudged Giles as the youngsters quickly shared a chaste kiss before heading in opposite directions. She was still grinning when Dawn joined them and nudged her as well. "Was Martin OK with meeting the olds?" she giggled.
Dawn put her arm through Willow's and pulled her closer. "He really likes you, especially after the project thing. Thanks for including him in the invite" She turned to look at Giles. "He also said he thought you were quite cool after we told him about the sword fighting and stuff"
Giles looked a little confused. "I know my mind was on other things but what exactly did you tell him?" he asked, unsure if he wanted to hear this or not.
Willow giggled as Dawn explained. "Just that you were an old family friend who was a fencing master at Oxford and you were visiting to make sure we were all safe and well and that we had plenty of new shoes for the upcoming winter" Dawn smiled sweetly at him.
"Am I to take it from that, that the Mall trip is planned for this weekend?" he asked with a resigned sigh. When they both nodded he shrugged his shoulders and put his hands in his pockets. "Martin must think me very brave and dashing if you told him about the shoe shopping" he smiled and walked a little ahead before turning with a wicked smile to deliver his coupe de grace. "However, when Buffy finds out you were kissing a member of the science club in the coffee shop I suspect you will be grounded for about ten years"
"Hey, nobody ever bothered when Tara did it!" Dawn exclaimed and then held her breath. She didn't normally mention her friend when Willow was around but hoped that the time was right to start doing so. She carefully watched Willow's face and saw the initial pain cross her face to be replaced with something a lot more welcome.
Willow was shocked by the casual use of Tara's name out of the blue but then she registered what Dawn had said. "Hey, wait a minute, I wasn't a science geek by the time I met Tara, I was all cool and at college and sophisticated and how come my love life comes back into the discussion again anyway?" She paused for a breath and couldn't help but join in the laughter of the others.
Giles headed for the kitchen when they arrived home, to find Buffy preparing dinner. "Do you need a hand?" he asked as he moved to wash his hands at the sink. "Willow and Dawn have gone to catalogue their current wardrobes and cross reference their requirements for the Mall weekend"
Buffy smiled at him. "You shouldn't let Dawn get carried away, she'll max out your cards at the first shop"
He took over the preparation of some vegetables and she leaned against the counter watching his hands. "I don't mind and it makes up for the times I can't be with her" he concentrated for a moment on slicing and dicing. "Anyway, it's not just Dawn, you and Willow are to be allowed to join the great shopping trip as well"
Buffy smiled at him. "I don't need any more shoes, I'm just glad to have you here and for everyone to be happy instead of in mortal danger"
He looked incredulously at her and held up two knives in a crucifix formation. "You don't need shoes???? Get away from me you fiend!" he mimed pushing her back towards the door.
She swatted him with a dishtowel. "OK, perhaps I was exaggerating a little, but you know you don't have to take us shopping, you just have to be here"
He put the knives down and pulled the dishtowel from her shoulder to dry his hands. "I know Buffy but I just want to do things that we don't normally get the opportunity for. Shopping trips to the Mall may seem a strange way to clutter up my holiday but I never got to do any of that with you when you were Dawn's age"
She watched him as he leaned against the worktops and crossed his arms. "You were too busy teaching me to save lives and protecting mine" she suggested and pulled open the fridge. "Besides, how would you have explained shopping for clothes with two of your students?"
"Good point" he nodded and accepted a glass of juice from her. "But it doesn't mean that I didn't miss having a closer relationship with any of you than we were able to achieve. I never wanted to be your father, although god knows you could have used one over the last few years" he allowed the anger at Hank's lack of interest to show a little more than usual. "But I think we have all reached the stage where we can take a step back from the constant worry over the next apocalypse and try to reconstruct our relationships as adults?"
Buffy nodded. She had never before seen his anger over her father's disappearance from her life and felt a little reassured that she wasn't the only one who thought it worthy of simmering resentment. He had also touched on some of her own feelings over the last few weeks, when she had been aware of his visit as causing a strange presentiment of change in their future dealings with each other. They stood quietly drinking their juice for a few moments, both running through their current situation in their minds. "I think I know what you mean" she finally suggested. "I've been feeling a bit weird for the last few weeks, I was scared we wouldn't have anything to talk about when you weren't here for business" she looked up and met his eyes, catching the pain that flitted across his face. "But I knew that something was wrong with me for thinking that way and I was trying to let go and be one with the fun even before you came in here and got all Buddha with the veggies"
"Buddha?" he asked a little worriedly. "I remind you of a bald, plump little god?"
"Well you are getting on a bit old man" she started to giggle. "Actually I was meaning all self aware and holistic" she smiled, quite proud that she had come up with the big word in the end.
He shuddered slightly and took his glasses off before vigorously polishing them. "Even after all these years you're innate ability to mangle the English language amazes me. I was never able to teach you to improve your vocabulary but you have taught me to understand yours and I don't know what is more upsetting" he replaced his glasses and shook his head. "Before you ruin this moment, can I just say that I am enjoying this trip more than I had dared hoped and I include the upcoming weekend plans"
"Oh good" she sighed and carried some dishes towards the table. "Cause you know I was joking about the shoes and the not needing thing, don't you?"
He shook his head and followed her with some more plates, shouting for Dawn and Willow to join them for dinner.
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