The Cup That Cheers
Giles pushed open the library doors, glancing at his watch. Just after ten...the appointment at the dentist hadn't made him too late. Good. He ran his tongue over teeth that felt as if they'd been extracted, dipped in acid and shoved back in at random. But clean. Oh, yes, he supposed they were clean.
Finding Willow in his office was a surprise, but a moment's thought reminded him that she had a free period. She liked using the library to study and he encouraged her, finding her company to be soothing and her conversation entertaining. Away from the others her babbling and shyness seemed to lessen, as though she felt relaxed with him. Giles found that oddly touching. They'd had some fascinating discussions about magic too, ones that had left him eying her with a mixture of trepidation and respect...and had led to him hiding certain volumes. No need for her to read them just yet, he told himself.
A stray beam of sun lit up her head, bent over a book, and Giles felt his breath catch in his throat. Her hair was so beautiful...silky and strong and so bright and alive. He'd been sitting in front of the computer last week, baffled and angry, and she'd come over to help him, leaning low, with her hair spilling forward to brush against his face. He'd wanted to touch it, let it curl around his hand, wanted to push it aside and kiss the nape of her neck, pale and hidden. Instead he'd pushed back his chair, stood up, muttering something about computers that made her deep brown eyes look reproachful, and retreated to his office.
“Giles!” Willow looked up and smiled at him. “How did it go? I made you a cup of tea. You can have it, right? Not, not too ouchy or anything? Because the hot might help, I mean, a hot water bottle does, and yes, sure this isn't exactly the same but -”
Giles held up his hand, bewildered by the flow of words. “I'm fine, Willow. A cup of tea would be very nice, but you really didn't have to, you know. You should be studying.”
He squinted sideways at her book, an automatic check he'd made ever since the day he'd come in to find her reading about the mating rituals of the Frexin demons, with Xander standing behind her, mouth open as wide as his eyes. Reassured by the lack of pictures and the dense text, he returned her smile and accepted a cup of brown liquid, trying not to anticipate the taste of lukewarm, stewed tea. Freshly made seemed to be an alien concept over here when it came to tea.
He took a large gulp to get the ordeal over with as soon as possible and turned a grimace into a swallow. “Tastes a little...different,” he said tentatively, not wanting to hurt her feelings.
“Probably reacting with all the goop they make you rinse with,” she said.
Giles noticed that she'd relaxed again and smiled, taking one more sip and then placing it down beside him. The office began to spin slightly and he sat down. “Goodness, I feel...Willow? Did you – was there anything in that tea?”
“What?” Willow asked, laughing in what he couldn't help thinking was a rather unconvincing way. “Honestly, Giles; did you think I'd slipped you a love potion or something?”
The room steadied and Giles castigated himself for his swift accusation. “Of course, not; I do apolo – a love potion?” She met his eyes without speaking. “Why would you want to, I mean, well, you wouldn't, would you? Would you?” Because you really wouldn't need to, you know, he finished silently.
“There's no love potion in the tea, Giles,” she said, her voice firm and calm.
“Of course there isn't,” he said, striving to match her tone. To prove he believed her, he took another sip and glanced at the cup as he replaced it in its saucer. “It does, however, seem to be green tea, not PG Tips. Green as in it is has unidentifiable shreds of herbs floating around it it. Willow?”
Willow sprang to her feet and he stood too, blocking the doorway. Folding his arms, he gave her his sternest, most implacable glare, the one he usually saved for Xander. She looked back, her eyes tragic, her lip caught between her teeth. “It's...it won't hurt you, Giles, I promise. Just a teeny spell...it'll wear off in no time.”
Giles clenched his teeth and felt a tremor of pain quiver through his abused jaw. It made his voice harsher than he'd intended. “I demand to know what you've done.”
“It's a truth spell! I wanted to know...something, and I knew you wouldn't tell me and this seemed like a good way of finding out and practicing magic, sort of a twofer, you see and I didn't think you'd even notice your tea tasted weird because it always does anyway.”
“It tastes perfectly fine when it's brewed correctly,” Giles snapped. “A truth spell? What could you possibly want to know that would require such extreme measures? Haven't you lived here long enough to know the dangers of magic used for personal reasons? Haven't – oh, what's the use?”
“I'll tell you, Giles! I will. Trust me, I didn't –”
“But I don't, Willow.” His tone was brutal. “I don't trust you at all right now. In fact,” his gaze fell on the half –full cup of tea, “I think the only answer I'll trust is one given after you've consumed the rest of this devil's brew.”
Willow's eyes widened. “No! Giles, please...”
Giles held the cup out and said softly. “I can get it down your throat in several ways, Willow, none of them pleasant. Please don't make me demonstrate.”
She looked wretched, but she took the cup, stared down at the liquid inside, and then shrugged, took a deep breath and gulped it down, making a face as she did so. Giles watched her until he was sure she'd drunk it then took the cup from her. She staggered and he remembered his own fleeting dizziness and reached out to support her. It seemed to have affected her more strongly, because she lurched forward into his arms, small hands clutching at his jacket. For an instant, he wanted to cradle her to him and brush a kiss on that shining hair, but he resisted. Time to test this...
“Willow, do you really need to use me as a prop, or are you exaggerating your reaction to the tea?”
“I'm exaggerating it,” she replied immediately. Her jaw dropped and she started to struggle free, but he held her in place.
“Because I wanted to touch you, to get close to you.”
Giles paused to think about that for a moment, his thoughts chaotic. It was a mistake. Willow tilted back her head and said quickly, “Why aren't you letting me go?”
“Because I may never get a change to hold you again,” Giles replied. He gasped. The sensation of having words taken from his mind and forced into the ambient air was both disconcerting and strangely exhilarating. It should have been an invasion of his privacy, resented and disliked, but he found himself hoping she'd ask him more questions...but if she didn't, he had to know...
“Why did you –” he began.
“What would you do if I told you I'd done this to find out where you'd hidden the magic books?”
“Put you over my knee! Willow, they're hidden for a reason and –oh. Was that the reason?” Giles felt deflated and sad.
“No. I was just curious about that. I found them last Wednesday and I was worried in case I hadn't put them back in the right order and you'd noticed. But as you haven't spanked me or anything, I guess I'm safe.”
“Well, you were...” Giles said grimly. He looked down at her. She was making no attempt to struggle free now; in fact, without him being aware of it happening, her arms had slid around his waist and her body was pressed against him. “Would you like me to spank you?” he asked casually, feeling the quiver that ran through her.
She tried not to answer and he grinned rather heartlessly at her futile struggles. “Yes, I would. Giles! That wasn't fair!”
“I rarely am,” he murmured, “and as they say, ‘All's fair in love and war.'”
“Which is this, Giles?” she said quickly, with a triumphant little twist to her lips that made him long to kiss her into a proper contrition for her sins. Truth spells, indeed.
“Both,” he answered, getting away with it because it was truer than he'd realised, but the war was within him, not with her. “And now it's my turn. Why did you do this?”
“I wanted to ask you a question.”
“I know that,” he reminded her. “If you don't answer me properly, I'll be most displeased.” He opened his mouth to refine his question into one she could not possibly sidestep and she forestalled him.
“What do you do to people who displease you, Giles?”
“I sometimes kill them, or hurt them,” he said. Her eyes were wounded and concerned and, truth spoken, he hurried on. “Not you, Willow. Never you.”
“So what would you do to me?”
She had a dimple, he thought, a dimple and he'd never noticed it before, just to the left of that entrancing smile... “I think we covered that under the penalty for reading books, Willow.”
She blinked slowly. “That was an evasion, Giles. The spell must be wearing off.”
Panic hit Giles. “Willow, I love you. Tell me, before it does, I have to know...do you love me?”
It was blurted out, blunt and bare but he was past caring. She'd drunk after him; it had to still be working...
“Yes, of course I do. It's why I did the spell.”
Giles closed his eyes, stroking her hair with his hand, as silky beneath his hand as he'd known it would be. When he opened them again, Willow was looking at him anxiously. “Giles? Ask me something else.”
“What's your name?” he said dully.
“Uh, Cordelia. Buffy. Xander! Guess it's worn off.”
“Yes.” He looked away, moving out of her embrace. “All back to normal now.”
Willow shook her head, her eyes desperate. “No! Giles, look at me! Do you love me?”
He turned and stared at her, face blank. “No. It would be inappropriate and absurd.”
She made a sound like a sob and his heart broke a little within him. When he said nothing, her lips firmed. “Ask me, Giles. Go on. Ask me.”
“No. I won't do it, Willow. Don't ask me. You owe me that much at least.” He couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice.
“I still know, Giles. You can't take that away from me.”
He watched her walk away from him, her steps swift and angry. “Oh, I could,” he whispered, “and as soon as I can, I will.”
He looked down at his hand. The strands of hair he'd need for the spell wound around his fingers, clinging tightly.
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