TITLE In a Different Light
DISCLAIMER These character aren't mine. They belong to Joss Whedon and his ‘Mutant Enemy' clan.
SUMMARY Something horrible happens, and everyone tries to deal with it. <g>
DISTRIBUTION Nicki, Andrea, Emilie. . . anyone else who asks. . .
AUTHOR'S NOTES Hi! This fic goes out to Z. It was her ‘dorky' idea and I loved it.
SPECIAL THANKS To Angela and Fennec, who were kind enough to sift through my rantings and help me find the story. THANKS!
The sterile, white clock on the waiting room wall broke the silence exactly once every second, but it seemed much longer to Giles. He rubbed his hands over his forehead. < How did this happen? > he thought < And where the hell are Buffy and Xander? > These same two questions had run through his mind hundreds of times in the half hour he had spent sitting alone at the hospital. Giles hadn't been able to think of anything else. He even had to remind himself to breathe. It was all too much to take in.
He glanced up at the clock for what seemed like the millionth time. 11:35. < It's only 11:35. > Giles slowly shook his head in a vain attempt to clear his brain, but it was no use. His mind had been perpetually clouded for over an hour, ever since that dreaded phone call. The phone call that shattered his world. . .
He was sitting on his living sofa, reading the new mystery he had picked up at the bookstore that day. Giles thought it was about time he did a little recreational reading for a change. He spent so much time hunched over dusty tomes, that he often forgot that reading used be a task he did for fun.
When the phone rang, Giles was mildly annoyed at the intrusion. Still reading he rose and went to the kitchen to answer the phone.
“Hello,” he said absently into the receiver.
“Hello. Is Mr. Rupert Giles there?” It was a woman's voice and sounded rather tense and rushed.
Giles put his book down on the counter top, instantly at attention. He knew that tone. “This is he.”
“Do you know a Willow Rosenberg,” the voice continued in the same tone.
“Yes. Who is this? What has happened?” he asked concerned.
“I'm Catherine Green with Sunnydale General. There has been an accident.”
“What kind of accident? Is Willow all right?” he shot back, beginning to panic.
“Willow Rosenberg,” the woman's voice had turned suddenly cold and professional, “was brought into the ER at 9:50 PM this evening. She had been stuck by an automobile.”
“What?” Giles exclaimed and was going to inquire further, but Catherine cut him off.
“She's alive,” she said quickly, “but in critical condition. She was hit rather hard. We attempted to call her parents, but we got no answer.”
“No, you wouldn't. They spend a great deal of time out of the country.” Giles couldn't mask the contempt in his voice. The Rosenbergs had a wonderful, beautiful, and amazing daughter, who they often chose to forget about and go flit off to foreign lands at a moments notice. Giles had only met them a handful of times, but that was enough, as far as he was concerned. He knew they didn't have to cross the Atlantic to see precious works of art. They had one waiting for them at home that they had never bothered to notice.
Catherine continued, “We found your name and number in her wallet as an emergency contact. Could you please come down to the hospital right away?”
“Of course,” he replied automatically. “What happened to her?”
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line. “I'd rather not talk about this over the phone. Come to the hospital, and I'll discuss it with you here.”
Giles hung up the phone without bothering to say good-bye, grabbed his keys and ran out to the car. He flew though every stop sign and broke every speed limit on his way to the hospital. The knowledge that Willow was lying in a hospital bed all alone, kept his foot firmly planted on the accelerator.
When he finally reached the hospital he ran into the ER, and went straight to the desk.
“I'm Rupert Giles,” he told the middle-aged woman behind the counter. “I'm here about Willow Rosenberg.” The woman's face filled with compassion.
“Hello, Mr. Giles. I'm Catherine Green. We spoke on the phone earlier.”
“Yes, I remember.” < As if I *could* forget > “Tell me what has happened to Willow.”
“Let me page the attending physician, and I'm sure she'll be happy to explain.” Her hand reached for the phone but was stopped short by Giles' grabbing her wrist.
“Tell me,” he demanded.
The nurse looked into his eyes and was worried. Worried not for the young girl, as before, but worried about the bones in her wrist. Before she had a chance to explain, a tall uniformed police officer approached them and addressed Giles.
“Are you here about the Rosenberg girl?” he asked.
“I'm here for Willow Rosenberg, yes,” answered Giles, and slowly released Catherine's wrist. She immediately finished her page, anxious to have someone, anyone, take this guy off of her hands. The eyes, alone, told her all she needed to know. This guy was a loose cannon, and she didn't want to be in charge when he went off.
“Come with me, sir,” said the policeman and led Giles to a pair of empty chairs in the corner of the waiting room. “Please sit.” Giles did but only because he wanted answers. “Are you a friend or family?” asked the cop.
“Friend,” snapped Giles. “What has happened?” He was trying very hard not to get angry but it wasn't working very well.
“Willow Rosenberg was the victim of a hit and run accident on Main Street and Tenth, this evening just after 9:30. A local shop owner called 911 and she was brought here for care. According to eye witnesses, the car was going well above the limit and did not stop after hitting the victim,” he rattled off unemotionally.
“Her name is Willow,” Giles said between clenched teeth. “I would prefer it if you would stop referring to her ‘the victim.' She is quite more than that.”
The policeman looked at him quizzically for a moment, and then went on, “How well are you aquatinted with the--Willow?”
“I've seen her almost everyday for the past five years.” Giles then realized what a constant presence Willow had been in his life for that amount of time. She was always around, willing to help however she could. Giles didn't know what he would do without her. He had grown used to her constant smile and inquisitive mind.
“Does *Willow* have any enemies you know of?”
“Enemies?” Giles replied shocked. “Why would you ask that?”
The officer shifted nervously in the uncomfortable plastic chair. “From evidence we gathered at the crime scene we suspect there may be a possibility Miss Rosenberg had been targeted. Do you know of anyone who might want to harm her?”
“Harm Willow?” The idea was completely foreign to Giles. < How could someone ever want to harm a mere red hair on her head? > However, reality told him that with everything they had been through, living on the Hellmouth and all, he couldn't count the undesirable people or things that might hold a grudge against any member of the Scooby gang. . .even Willow. “No one that I know of,” he finally answered with what he thought was certainty.
Just then a tall woman in a white lab coat with a stethoscope hung around her neck approached the men. She held her hand out to Giles. “Hello, Mr. Giles. I'm Dr. Myers. I was the attending on duty when Miss Rosenberg was brought in.” She nodded slightly toward the officer as she shook Giles' hand. The officer vacated his chair, so the doctor could sit down.
“We'll be in touch,” he said and handed Giles one of his cards.
Giles stuffed the card into his pocket and, not giving the cop another thought, focused on the doctor. “Doctor, how is she?”
“I'm not going to lie to you,” Dr. Myers began in a confident yet gentle voice. “Willow was hit very hard. She sustained some internally bleeding--”
“Which we were able to get under control,” she finished quickly. “What I am more concerned at this point about is the head trauma.”
“Head trauma,” Giles repeated terrified.
“Yes, when the car struck her, the force of the impact with the car and the street put tremendous strain on her skull, which resulted in some swelling around her brain.”
A few moments went by as Giles tried to register what the doctor was saying. “But she will recover?” he asked hopefully.
“I certainly hope so, but there is no way we can tell how much damage was done.”
“Can I see her?”
“No,” Dr. Myers shook her head. “Willow was brought into surgery. They are attempting to release the exess fluid around her brain to relieve some of the tension.”
Giles was trying his best to stay calm. “When can I see her?”
“The surgery will take a couple of hours. I'll tell Dr. Wright to come and get you as soon as he's done. He'll know more then.”
Giles nodded, unable to think of anything to say. Dr. Myers reached over to give his hand a reassuring squeeze. “She is a strong, healthy girl. You have every reason to be hopeful.” She waited for him to react, but he didn't. Since there was nothing else she could do, Dr. Myers returned to her rounds, leaving Giles alone with his fear.
Giles had sat there in a state of shock for fifteen minutes, before he gathered himself enough to go to the pay phone. He dialed Buffy and Xander's numbers from memory, cursed slightly when the answering machines picked up, and left messages for them both to come to the hospital immediately.
After this task was complete, Giles slumped back into the same waiting room chair, and began to watch the clock. Two hours, that what the doctor had said. Two hours and they would know more. Giles knew these would be the longest two hours of his life.
An hour and a half later Giles was still alone in the waiting room. He had called Xander and Buffy repeatedly, but never got any answer. It was nearing one in the morning, and Giles found himself yearning for the days when his slayer and slayerettes had curfews and parents to get home to. < Where are they? >
Giles tried pacing, watching television, badgering the nurses for information, but none of it worked. The minutes continued to slowly creep by. Giles was in the pacing phase when a tall man in green scrubs approached him.
“Mr. Giles?” he asked.
“Yes,” Giles answered exited to see anyone who actually *wanted* to talk to him. “Dr. Wright?”
“Yes,” said the doctor with a slight nod. “I'm Willow Rosenberg's neurosurgeon.”
“Is she all right?” Giles asked.
“She's as well as could be expected considering the severity of her injuries.” He sat down on one of the chairs and motioned for Giles to join him. “From what we've gathered the force of the car threw Miss Rosenberg onto her back. When her head hit, she landed very hard and in such a position that caused significant trauma to the posterioninterior and exterior horns of her brain.”
The words were flowing through Giles' mind trying to find something to connect with, to make sense of it. “But what does all of that mean?”
“It means that your friend has sustained serious trauma to her brain. We were successful in our attempt to drain some of the fluid and release the pressure, but it will be a while before we know the extent of her injuries. She could be fine.”
“Or,” Giles prompted.
The doctor sighed, “Or she may not wake up.”
Giles slumped back in the chair. The sheer force of the doctor's words made him unable to move, even blink. He couldn't even imagine his world without Willow. “Can I see her?” he finally whispered.
The doctor nodded. “Yes, I don't see why not.” Dr. Wright rose and guided Giles through the halls of the hospital and into a small room. Giles immediately began searching for Willow, but a white curtain blocked his gaze. Dr. Wright grabbed the curtain with one hand about to pull it back but paused.
“I want to remind you, Willow was badly hurt. You might not recognize her,” he said gravely.
Giles was getting impatient. He wanted see Willow. After all they had been through, vampire, demons, the Hellmouth, ascensions, he had seen her pretty beat up. “I very much doubt that will be a problem,” he snapped.
The doctor shrugged and pulled back the curtain.
In the first instant Giles understood why the doctor had tried to prepare him, but in the next instant he knew there was no way he could be prepared for what he saw.
Willow was positioned slightly upward, laying deathly still on the bed. Her face was covered in black and green bruises. One of her cheeks was fiercely swollen. Her left arm was wrapped in a splint and her ankle in a brace. A bulky white bandage was wrapped around her head. All the skin that could been seen beyond her slip of a hospital gown was covered in the same dark bruises that marred her face. Several different machines beeped and pinged all around her, monitoring her heart and lungs. Sensors were fastened to her chest, and a tube looped around her ears and under her nose. An IV was inserted into the unsplinted hand. If it had not been for the tuft of red hair peeking through the top of her bandage Giles would *not* have recognized her.
“Oh my God,” he said under his breath. Giles' legs suddenly failed to hold him up. He struggled to a chair beside the bed.
“She has sustained head trauma before,” the doctor said matter-of-factly.
Giles pulled his eyes away from the tiny battered girl to look at him. “Yes, about three years ago. How did you know?”
“This hospital has evidently seen quite a bit of your friend in the past few years. Her file is extensive.”
“Your point would be?” Giles asked harshly. He was well aware Willow had been to this hospital before, but most of the time he didn't allow himself to think about it. Giles knew his Scooby gang's extra curricular activities had proven dangerous in the past. How could he live with the knowledge the young people around him were in mortal danger most of the time? The answer was simple, he couldn't. Generally he blocked the thoughts from his mind, because if he let himself focus on it he would go insane.
“My point is,” the doctor said gently, “she has sustained trauma of this kind before and walked away unscathed. It could happen again.”
Giles reached out to Willow and gently ran his finger across the top of her hand, one of the only parts of her body that wasn't discolored by bruises. Tears filled his eyes. “Do you think it will?”
“I don't know,” Dr. Wright answered honestly, “but that's no reason to give up hope.”
But when Giles looked at Willow's wounded body, hope was the furthest thing from his mind. She just looked so, so. . .broken.
“You can stay with her for a few minutes, but then we'll need to perform some more tests to see how much brain function she still has,” and with that the doctor left.
Giles continued to stroke Willow's hand, careful to avoid the IV, long after the doctor was gone. He concentrated on the softness of her skin and studied the light blond hair that covered her arm. The warmth he felt under his fingers was the only proof he had she was alive.
Slowly Giles lifted her hand off the bed and surrounded it with his own. He brought his head down to kiss her fingers. “I am so sorry,” he whispered into them. “They say when people are unconscious, they can sometimes still hear people talking to them. Willow, if you can here me, wake up. Come back to us. We need you.” Giles wiped away his now free falling tears from his face. “You have to wake up.”
Giles sat crying into Willow's hand until the doctor came back into the room to tell him it was time to leave. Giles left Willow's side and went to restroom. He threw some cold water on his face with the hope it would shock him back into reality and help him regain some composure. His hands rested on the sides of the sink and he stared up into his reflection.
< Get yourself together, old man. When Buffy and Xander finally get here, they'll be hysterical, and you know it. They'll need you to be strong for them, to comfort them. Buck up and be the adult they need you to be. > Giles quickly shook his head and made his way back to the waiting area, just in time to see Buffy, Xander, Riley, and Anya burst through the doors.
Buffy immediately caught sight of Giles and ran over to him. “Giles, what is it? What's wrong?”
Giles took a deep breath and started to explain. He spoke quickly, subconsciously thinking that if he if he got through it faster it wouldn't hurt so much. “There's been an accident.”
“What kind of accident?” Buffy asked horrified.
“Willow was hit by a car and hurt rather badly. The doctors don't know when or if she'll wake up.” As the words came out of his mouth he was wrong. There was no way to make any of this less painful, but he wasn't allowed to concentrate on his own grief for very long.
Buffy eyes filled with tears, “What?”
Xander clasped onto Anya's hand as if he would no longer be able to stand without her support. Anya put her hand on his forearm and gently stroked it in an attempt to comfort him.
“I know it's difficult Buffy,” Giles said trying to be comforting as well.
She frantically wiped away her tears. “Who hit her?” Her voice was now cold and distant.
“It was a hit and run accident. The police are looking into it.” Giles' hand absently went to his back pocket where the policeman's card rested.
“You know the police in this town are useless,” Buffy snapped. “I'll find whoever did this myself.” She turned as if to stalk away, but Giles grabbed her arm.
“And where do you think you'll begin?” Giles asked attempting to remain calm and reasonable. He understood Buffy's reaction and had even considered it himself for a few moments, but logic told him that if he went roaring out to find the guy now he would most likely cause more problems.
“I'll. . .I'll go back to where the accident happened and look for clues.”
“And where would that be?”
“OK. I'll go to the police then and find out what they know.” Buffy was getting more panicked and upset by Giles' questioning. < Didn't he know she *needed* to do something? >
“And they will divulge their information to you?” Giles countered.
“Then. . .then. . .” Buffy was rapidly loosing the battle with her emotions. “Then you think of something, DAMN IT!”
“Buffy,” Giles said gently. Buffy looked up into his gentle eyes and saw all the pain he was trying to keep hidden. It was the final straw. She broke down, throwing herself into his arms and seeking comfort from the man she had come think of as a father. Giles held her and stroked her hair while she sobbed. “I know, I know,” he whispered.
Giles felt arms fold over his back. He looked over Buffy's shoulder to see that Xander had embraced them both and was now weeping openly into Buffy's hair. Giles untangled one of his arms from Buffy and placed it on Xander's back. < We've been though so much > he thought < But how could we ever get along without her? > Then Giles' own eyes began to water, no longer able to keep his tears or his feelings in check.
Anya and Riley stood back from them, not knowing what to say or do, watching the trio cry into each other's arms.
Xander, Buffy and Giles traded off staying with Willow. . .well, at least that was the plan at first. Giles took most of the shifts, insisting that Buffy still had school and slaying and if Xander got fired from this job he would never get another one. Most days Buffy and Xander found themselves forcing Giles home to get some rest. He would be absent for two hours at the most and return to Willow's side. The bags under his eyes got darker and darker, but every time they tried to make him get more sleep, he would protest that he couldn't get any rest at home knowing Willow was here. Soon they gave up.
The police had managed to turn up less than nothing in Willow's case. Giles had tried to persuade Buffy not to take action until after Willow had woken up and could tell them what happened, but as the days went by Buffy's frustration grew. Giles was sure she was out there doing her own investigation and had neglected to tell him about it.
With all the time Giles was spending at the hospital he got to know Willow's doctor rather well and knew every shift's nurses by first name. Once the hospital's staff figured out there was no way to get rid of him, they began to let him assist in Willow's care. The nurses showed him how to exercises her legs and arms to keep the blood circulating and make sure her muscles didn't atrophy.
And this was how Giles spent the next two weeks. During the day he did Willow's exercises, interrogated her doctor on her progress, talked with Buffy, Xander, and even Riley, Anya, and Joyce, as they popped in and out, and spent the remaining hours holding Willow's hand and talking to her. Giles reminisced about their past adventures and kept her up to date on what everyone was doing with their lives. On occasion the sight of her still and motionless on the bed would overcome him and he would cry, begging for her to wake up. Every night Giles would sleep in a rocking chair the nurses had taken from the maternity ward for him. And he waited.
Today Giles was feeling especially weary. His conversation with Willow's doctor had been particularly infuriating. He told him the same thing he had told him every day for the past week: there was nothing more they could do but wait, and they wouldn't know how severe the damage was until she woke up.
He rose from his chair to begin Willow's exercises. He took one of her legs gently into his hands. Giles could feel the softness of her skin as he began to push it from the foot toward her stomach.
“Buffy's taking her calculus mid-term today,” he said conversationally while continuing her reps. “You know how she feels about math. She was positively lost without you to guide her.” He rested her leg and the bed and picked up the other to work it as well. “But I'm sure she'll do fine.” Giles' voice caught in his throat. This was getting harder and harder every day. “Xander has decided to take a second job.” Finished with her other leg, he turned her attention to one of her arms. “I told him he should try to keep one job for over a month before he tried having two, but you know how much he listens to my advice.” He worked her wrist back and forth a few times. “Anya has decided she wants to go to college. I have no idea what she plans to study, considering her only real interest seems to be Xander, but we'll see.” Giles started to bend her fingers gently back and forth. “Joyce came by to see you yesterday. She brought you flowers. If you would just open your eyes you. . .you. . .you could see them for yourself.”
Giles sunk back into his chair, still holding Willow's hand, and tried to regain his composure. “You have to wake up Willow,” he pleaded. “We all need you.” He reached up smoothed her hair back away from her face. Most of her bruises had faded and no longer hid the beauty there. < Even like this she's breath taking. > “What are we supposed to do without you?” he asked, furiously fighting off the tears that had made an appearance far to often lately. “Without your smile, your laugh. . . You keep us together, Willow. You make us a family. Buffy and Xander love you, and. . .I love you.”
As the words came out of his mouth their full force bore down on him. < I love Willow. > He didn't love her the way he loved Buffy, as a mentor or a father figure, but he loved her as equal or a peer. . .or a lover. < I'm in love with Willow. > He looked on her still form and knew it was true. What to do with this newly acquired knowledge, he had no idea, but it was still true.
“I love you, Willow,” he said thickly, “and you have to wake up.”
Just then he felt Willow's finger's twitch underneath his own. Giles' gaze shot up to her face and he cradled her cheek with one hand. “Willow?” he asked hopefully.
Slowly Willow's head began to move from side to side. Her eye lids shook rapidly for a few moments, and then she opened her eyes. Giles could feel his smile nearly split his face as he looked into her gray-green irises. “Good morning.”
“Giles?” she rasped.
“Yes, it's me.”
Willow moved her head and arms a little more. “What's covering my eyes?” she asked.
“What?” Giles asked confused. “Nothing's on your eyes.”
Willow slowly brought one hand shakily to her face and let it run lightly across her eyes. “Giles?” She now had a definite sense of panic in her voice.
“Why can't I see?”
Everything was black. Completely. No color, no detail, no texture, nothing.
Willow began to panic. “Giles?” She felt his hand tighten around her own.
“I'm right here,” his voice assured her. It was still the same voice, deep, smooth and calming.
“Why can't I see?” she asked for the second time. Willow heard Giles take a sharp breath.
“I. . .I. . .I don't know. I'll get the doctor.” He started to pull his hand out her hers, but she refused to let him go.
“Don't leave me,” she begged grabbing his arm and ignoring a sharp pain that shot up her side.
Giles gently stroked her arm and stopped pulling away. “Then I'll buzz the nurse.” Willow could hear the strain in his voice and was glad for a moment she could not see the worry she knew would be in his eyes. They sat in silence for the next few moments waiting. As they waited Willow noticed how stiff and sore her body was. Her stomach and the back of her head felt strange and tense, and her wrist and ankle seemed to be responding slowly. Willow wanted to move and explore what was so wrong with her, but her fear of the unnatural darkness kept her frozen.
“What did you need, Rupert?” an older woman said. Willow could hear her voice come closer as if walking in the door as she spoke. “My goodness! I'll get the doctor right away.” Her foot falls increased rapidly as she scurried out of the room.
“Do you know her?” Willow asked quietly.
“The nurse, she called you Rupert.”
“Most of your nurses call me Rupert. They stopped calling me Mr. Giles after your first few days here.”
“Few days? How long have I been here? What happened?” She was trying hard to not start panicking again.
Giles started to move his hand uncomfortably. She could feel the deep groves and calluses of his palms. “You have been in the hospital for two weeks and two days,” he answered. “You were hit by a car.”
Visions triggered by his words flooded her mind. She was walking home from the magic shop, and when she looked over her shoulder she saw a sleek black car. She remembered her head hitting the pavement and a sharp bolt of pain. Then there was a sudden blackness, the same blackness she was feeling now. “I remember,” she murmured. More silence leaked between them.
“Everyone has been here to visit you,” Giles said trying to fill the void. “Buffy, Xander, Anya, Riley, Joyce, everyone has been worried sick about you.”
“No, Willow,” Giles interrupted. She could feel the heat of his body before his hand reached her cheek. “You have nothing to apologize for.” Willow leaned into his touch, closed her eyes and concentrated on the rough feel of his palm against her cheek.
She broke away from him a few moments later when she heard some harder and more definite footfalls coming closer.
“Look who's awake,” she heard a pleasantly masculine voice say. “Good morning, Miss Rosenberg.”
“Willow, this is Dr. Wright,” Giles introduced.
Willow heard the doctor come closer to her and jumped as he picked up her wrist to take her pulse. “How are you feeling?” the doctor asked.
“I. Can't. See,” Willow said feeling her eyes fill with tears. The doctor quickly dropped her hand. Willow heard a click and felt a soft heat over her face and eyes. Something, a light, she guessed, clicked again.
“How much have you told her?” Dr. Wright asked Giles.
“Only that she was struck by a car,” he answered somberly. Willow heard a faint whir and she recognized it as the rollers of a chair or tray.
When the doctor spoke again he was very close and on the opposite side of the bed from Giles. “Willow, you were brought into the hospital over two weeks ago after, as Rupert said, you were struck by a car. You sustained some relatively minor internal injuries, which we were able to control or repair. You have fifteen stitches along your left side, where we went in to correct the damage.” Willow lightly felt along her stomach. Sharp prickles stuck up through the flimsy hospital gown. As she did so, she also felt a strange tenseness in her wrist. “You twisted your wrist and sprained your ankle.” Giles' grip on her hand increased as the doctor went on. “The most severe of your injuries, however, was the head trauma. Liquid gathered around your brain. To relieve the tension we made a small incision at the base of you neck to drain the fluid.”
Willow leaned her head back slightly and felt the same type of prickles she had felt before. The more the doctor talked, the more Willow became aware of every ache and pain in her body. The realization of just how badly she was hurt flooded over her. “But why can't I see?”
“Most of the fluid in your brain was concentrated in the posterior lobes and horns, which contain much of the visual pathway.”
“You knew this would happen!?” accused Giles, his grip increasing almost to the point of pain.
“We had no way of knowing what any of the long term damage would be, but yes I knew it was a possibility.”
“Long term?” Willow squeaked. “Are you saying I'm going to be *blind*!”
“At this point there's no way of knowing if the damage will be permanent. It may be a temporary side effect or it may be. . .” he trailed off.
“Permanent,” Willow finished for him as a few tears spilled out of her eyes. She made no effort to wipe them away.
“Yes, that is a possibility,” the doctor said gently, “but it's only a possibility, not a certainty. We'll do some tests and then we'll know more.” He patted Willow's hand. “I need to check your stitches and muscles reflexes now.”
“Would you like me to leave?” Giles asked.
“No,” Willow shot back pulling his hand to her chest. “Don't go anywhere. He doesn't have to leave does he?”
“No,” the doctor reassured her. “Rupert can stay as long as you'd like him to. I've gotten used to him always being around.” The doctor's fingers began to poke and prod all over her body. His hands examined her stitches and wounded joints, and rapped on her limbs sharply checking for reaction. Willow started when a cold stethoscope touched her chest. Throughout the entire examination Willow desperately held Giles' hand to her chest. She felt if she lost his touch for even a moment, she would lose it all together.
“All in all, you have recovered remarkably,” Dr. Wright said after he finished his exam. Willow scoffed. “I being serious, Miss Rosenberg. It may not seem like it, but you are a very lucky young woman. I'll be back to check on you again in a bit.” Willow heard him leave the room.
“Lucky,” Willow spat out. “How can he say that? I'm blind!”
“I think the doctor was referring to the fact you are still alive,” Giles pointed out.
“Yeah, I'm alive,” she replied with an unusual hint of cynicism in her
voice. Then a thought struck her. “Where are my parents?” she asked.
“We tried to reach them,” Giles answered. “Buffy called the number they left for you, but who ever answered said they had never heard of them. She thinks they left the wrong number by mistake. Xander emailed them, but they never answered. We didn't know what else to do. Joyce left a message on their answering machine, so they would know as soon as they got back.”
“They're supposed to be gone for a eight weeks, so it will be awhile before that happens,” she said fighting back sobs. “I'm not only blind, but I'm alone.”
She felt the bed adjust as Giles sat down beside her. He enfolded her in his strong arms. “You're not alone, Willow,” he said. “You were never alone.”
Willow finally gave up and sobbed into his arms. She closed her eyes to somehow try to shield out the darkness, but it was no use. Giles rocked her back and forth gently, whispering soothing words to her.
“Giles, I'm so scared,” she managed to say.
“I know,” he murmured. “I know.”
He continued to rock her until her sobs evened out, and he knew she had cried herself to sleep. Giles gently laid her back onto the bed, careful not to disturb her stitches, and picked up the phone.
“Buffy, it's Giles. Willow's awake. Yes, it is wonderful-- Buffy-- There's something you need to know before you talk to her, and you should tell Xander as well. . .”
“Hey,” Buffy said from the doorway to Willow's room with Xander standing close beside her. She looked at Willow sleeping peacefully. The only difference between this Willow and the coma-Willow, that Buffy could see, were the tear stains down her cheeks.
“How is she?” Xander asked.
“Come on in,” Giles motioned to them. “The nurse said she would probably sleep soundly for a few hours from the trauma and shock.” Hesitantly they both entered the room, but only barely. “Stop being childish,” he chided them. “Willow needs you both to be adults at a time like this.” They hung their heads guiltily and came a few more steps into the room. Giles stood to confront them. “The next weeks and months are going to be hard on all of us, but what we need to keep in mind is no matter how much we think we are going through Willow is going through quite a great deal more. She will need us to lean on and depend on. We need to be there for her.” He glanced over his shoulder at her sleeping form. “The way she has always been there for us.”
Buffy nodded and wiped her eyes and Xander stared blankly at the floor.
“Is there any news on the whereabouts of her parents?” Giles asked.
Xander finally raised his eyes. “I got a hold of her Aunt Dawn a couple days ago. She said Will's parents called her just before the accident and said they wanted to extend their vacation a few weeks. She said she'd let them know about Will if they contacted her again.”
Giles wanted to scream in frustration and fury. Willow's parents were out gallivanting around Europe while their daughter laid in the hospital just a few brief steps away from death's door. “No, matter,” he snapped. “We can take care of her.” < I will take care of her. >
“We're more her family anyway,” Buffy pointed out.
“Yes, we are,” Giles agreed and he returned to Willow's side, once again taking her tiny hand in his own.
“Should we get gone?” Buffy asked, shifting uncomfortably.
“Yeah,” Xander piped in, “we don't want Will to get freaked out by having three people staring down on her when she wakes up.”
Giles sighed, “I hardly think that's an issue, considering she won't see you.”
“Oh, yeah,” Xander said guiltily.
“You should stay,” Giles said. “It will be comforting to her to have familiar people around, even if she can't see their faces.”
“OK,” said Buffy, summoning her strength. “Come on, Xander. Let's go steal some chairs from the waiting room.” Xander followed Buffy out the door and into the waiting area. She tried to pull one of the chair from its place. “All of these chairs are nailed into the floor!” she exclaimed out of frustration. “Where are people supposed to get chairs!”
“I'm sure we'll find some,” he answered looking around.
“I don't see any.” She grabbed one of the fastened down chairs and tugged. It gave sharply and knocked Buffy over. Xander knelt down beside her to see if she was all right. Buffy hit the chair with her fist causing it to nearly fly across the room. “Damn chairs!” she yelled irrationally, her eyes flooding over.
Xander scanned all around them to see if anyone had seen the display. Of course, some one had. A large male orderly started to run over to them, but Xander held up a hand to stop him. “She's OK,” Xander told him. The orderly didn't look convinced, but he kept his distance anyway.
Xander put a hand on her shoulder. “Buffy,” he said quietly. She turned to him and they embraced each other. The pair sat on the floor for several minutes crying into each other's arms, not knowing what else to do with their grief. Eventually, they both lifted their heads to face one another, but left their arms intertwined. “Will needs us,” Xander said and Buffy nodded in agreement.
“And we'll be there for her,” she said.
“Yes, we will.”
“And we're going to kill whoever did this to her,” Buffy stated adamantly, looking into his eyes.
“Yes, we will,” Xander said again, never letting his gaze leave hers. They hugged each other tightly for a moment and got to their feet. Both glanced over at the now destroyed chair in the opposite corner of the waiting room. “Who needs chairs,” Xander announced. “That's what the floor is for. We're young.”
“Definitely,” agreed Buffy. They clasped each other's hands tightly and headed back into Willow's room, knowing they were completely unprepared for the challenges that lay ahead.
Three Weeks Later
“Hey, Dr. Wright,” Willow said when she heard footfalls accompanied by a familiar scent.
“Good morning, Willow,” said the doctor. She felt his clipboard drop onto the foot of her bed. “How did you know it was me?”
“You always wear the same after shave,” she replied with a shrug. “Do I still get to leave today?”
“Definitely. You're lucky Rupert agreed to take you in. I would never be allowed to release you back to the dorm.”
“Yeah, I guess I am.” Willow nearly shuddered every time the doctor used the term ‘lucky,' which was often. Dr. Wright seemed to like reminding her that things could always be worse.
“He'll take good care of you,” the doctor said gently.
“I know.” Willow knew this was the only solution that made any sense, but that didn't mean she liked it. She hated the idea of being anyone's burden, especially Giles', but there weren't any other choices. The only contact she had from her parents was a postcard Buffy had read to her. The said they were enjoying their trip so much, they had decided to extend it even more. They would be back before the end of the school year and she moved home. (Which meant they would be gone for at least another eight weeks.) They sent their love and told her to call her Aunt Dawn if she needed anything.
Willow didn't want to stay with her aunt. She had three small children of her own, and didn't have the time to take care of Willow. The dorm was out of the question. The bathroom was all the way down the hall. How would she find it without some one there to guide her? Buffy had too many responsibilities to be around every time Willow needed to pee. Their room was also on the second floor. That would be impossible. There was barely enough room in Xander's basement for him, he was working two jobs, and Willow had no desire to hear him and Anya have sex nearly every night. Joyce was going to New York for an art conference for a few weeks, so she was out. Giles was the one who made any kind of sense. He didn't have a job, had is own apartment, and. . .well, he wouldn't take no for an answer.
“Speaking of Rupert,” Dr. Wright interrupted her thoughts. “Where is he? I think this makes the third time I've ever seen you without him.”
“He went to get my room ready for me.”
“So, everything's ready then?”
“I think so,” Willow said sulkily. “Not that I would really know. Everyone is taking care of everything for me. I'm just along for the ride. Buffy is even picking up some clothes for me to go home in. Who knows what she'll pick out? You have to promise to tell me if I look too trampy.”
Dr. Wright laughed. “I promise. Willow, since we are alone, I want to take the opportunity to talk to you without everyone underfoot.”
“Talk to me about what?”
“A lot of things,” he answered and took a deep breath. “I know that the loss of your sight has been hard for you.”
“Yeah?” <Was it supposed to be easy?>
“I think it's time you began to prepare for the worst eventuality.”
“You mean, that I'll be blind forever?” Willow asked concerned. “But I thought you said that brain takes time for heal itself, and. . .and. . .” she floundered.
“The brain is an amazing and wonderful organ with incredible restorative abilities. We have every reason to believe that you will one day regain your vision, but there is still the possibility the damage will be permanent. I think it's time you started preparing for that possibility,” the doctor said seriously.
Willow didn't even want to think about it, but. . . “Prepare how?”
“I'll leave the phone numbers and names for some therapists for the California Institute for the Blind with Rupert. They'll help you get counseling to deal with the emotional issues, and an occupational therapist to help you with the everyday issues. You can start learning Braille and how to walk with a cane.”
“So, your saying I should give up hope,” said Willow, her chin quivering slightly.
The doctor took her hand. “Never give up hope, Willow. Always prepare for the worst, but that doesn't mean you should stop hoping for the best.”
Willow sighed hugely. “Fine. I'll contact them.”
“Should I come back later?” she heard Buffy say from where Willow knew from experience was the doorway.
The doctor got up from the bed. “No, we're finished here. I'll come and see you before you leave, Willow.”
“OK.” She listened to him walk out of the room. Only after he was gone did Buffy jump onto the spot on the bed the doctor had vacated.
“I went through your stuff and found the most Willow-y clothes I could. A fuzzy sweater and overalls. Now, I know you haven't been wearing the overalls a lot lately, but all of your skirts are so long, I didn't think it would be good.” Willow felt the clothes flop onto the bed as Buffy spoke. She reached out towards them and felt the soft fabric of her favorite green sweater. She smiled.
“The green one?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Buffy sounded surprised. “How did you know?”
“I bought it because it was so light and so soft. I might not be able to see it, but it still feels the same.”
“That's good,” Buffy said quickly. Willow noticed that every time her blindness came up, Buffy tried to change the subject. She didn't blame her. What was she supposed to say after all? ‘I'm sorry your blind, Will, but at least you won't know it when you're having a bad hair day.' “I brought the blue striped tennis shoes you like so much too. I figured they had good traction and stuff.”
“They'll be great,” Willow assured her. She felt Buffy getting off the bed.
“So, do you need me to help you change?” she asked.
“I think I can put on my clothes, even in the dark,” Willow snapped.
“I know,” Buffy replied more than a little hurt. “But the doctor said you'd be weak after being in the hospital for so long, and I don't want you to hurt yourself after everything else that has--”
“It's OK,” Willow cut her off. “I'm sorry. I just hate everyone thinking I can't do anything for myself any more.” Buffy didn't reply. Willow knew her well enough to know she was trying to think of something non-offensive to say. She decided to throw her a bone. “You can do something for me though.”
“Anything,” Buffy said eagerly.
“Close my door. If I'm going to be changing in here, I don't want an audience. I might not be able to see anyone, but that doesn't mean they can't see me.”
“Sure,” said Buffy, grateful to have something useful to do.
Willow listened to her walk to the door and after she heard it click shut, she swung her legs of the edge of her bed. She paused for a minute and tried to get her barings. Willow's doctor hadn't let her move around a lot, except for some limited physical therapy once a week. When she was allowed to do something other than lay down, she was always shocked at how off balance she was. It was almost as if she didn't know her own body anymore. Willow felt around the bed to be sure where her clothes were laying and then attempted to stand. Her knees felt fluid and her legs shook. She stayed in that position for a few moments until they calmed down. Willow then pulled her overalls to her and leaned over to step into the legs. Her head swam and she was forced to bring herself upright again.
< This shouldn't be this hard > she thought to herself frustrated. “Damn it,” she muttered out loud. Willow felt the overalls being gently pulled from her hands.
“Hold onto my shoulder and step into them,” Buffy said quietly. Willow did as she was told. Buffy pulled them all the way up her legs and Willow fastened the buttons, so they wouldn't fall down, and sat back down on the bed.
“Here,” Buffy said as she handed her a small t-shirt. “I brought you this instead of a bra. Is that OK?”
“It's fine.” Willow finished dressing herself from her seated position, only needing Buffy's assistance to re-lace one of her shoes.
“This is weird,” Buffy said as she handed Willow back her shoe.
“That's one word for it,” she replied sardonically.
“Not the. . .the blind thing, the me taking care of you thing. It's usually the other way around.”
Willow head shot up in surprise. “When have I ever taken care of you?”
“There was Angel and Scott and Angel and that whole thing with Faith and Angel and Parker and Angel. . .you get the drift. You're always there when I need you,” she stated and took Willow's hand. “It feels good to be here for you now.”
Willow smiled. <At least something good is coming out of this.>
The next few hours were hectic. Xander stopped by on his way to work to congratulate Willow on her release and promised to visit her at Giles' later. Nurses stopped by to have her sign some forms and make an appointment for a check up in a few days. Signing her name on a line she couldn't see provided Willow with a new challenge, but soon everything was set. While Willow and Buffy waited for Giles to arrive, Buffy filled her in on what had been going on with her and Riley in the past couple of weeks. With Giles always around they hadn't had a lot of time for the girls-only conversations. Willow listened intently as Buffy described how they went to the beach for a picnic on their last date. Both young women seemed to relax into the conversation, happy they could talk about something other than Willow's lack of sight.
Soon Giles arrived. Buffy announced she had to get to a study group and left. A nurse pushed Willow in a wheel chair out to Giles' car. Once inside, Willow was happy to note that she could at least put on her seatbelt by herself. She listened to Giles' door open and close, his keys rattle, and the car start.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Definitely,” Willow replied with certainty. “I'm ready to be anywhere that's not a hospital.”
Giles chuckled softly. “Good, let's go home.”
As she felt the car pull forward, the word ‘home' stuck in her mind. Her parents' house had never felt like a very ‘homey' place to Willow, especially in the past few years. Her parents were strangers to her now, and she to them. There was too much they didn't know about her, too much she couldn't tell them or they wouldn't accept. In high school the only place she ever felt at home was the library, Giles' library--that's how she always thought of it. But after the whole thing with the mayor, the library was out of the picture.
Since she started college, the only place she always felt welcome was Giles' apartment. She knew they all must be a great nuisance to him, always popping in and out without any invitation like they owned the place. But Giles didn't complain. . .much. Whenever Willow was in his apartment, she always felt like it was the place she was supposed to be. She never had to play the good daughter, like at her parents', or hide what was really going on in her life, like in the dorm. Willow could just be Willow and it was a good feeling.
Giles said they were going ‘home.' Maybe he was more right than he knew.
Willow was oddly silent on the way home, but Giles let her be. He was logical enough to know he couldn't fathom what she was going through, so he didn't want to pretend did. Any attempt Giles made to be comforting and understanding would sound fake or contrived, so he didn't say anything at all.
Soon, they arrived at Giles' apartment. He went around to passenger's side of the car to help Willow out, but by the time he got there she was already standing outside of it hanging onto the half open door. Giles took her hand and placed into to the crook of his arm. “Come on, let's go inside.”
Willow stood still for a moment, one hand on the door and the other on his arm, just staring blankly. Giles would never get used to that stare. The Willow he had grown to love watched the world with a child like fascination and wonder, absorbing everything around her. These vacant eyes seemed wrong to him. < But then again they must seem even more wrong to her > he reasoned.
Willow took a deep breath, let it out, and loosened her grip on the car door. She shut it and took a step forward. “Lead on,” she said quietly. Giles led her into his home as carefully as possible.
“Everything is the in the same place as the last time you were here,” Giles said when they finally got inside. “I was going to move things around to create more open space, but Dr. Wright advised me against it.”
“Hmm,” was Willow's only reply even more distant that usual, so Giles kept talking.
“He said that if I changed anything, I would probably make things more difficult without meaning to.” Willow still said and did nothing. “Do you want to try to make your way around for a bit to re-familiarize yourself?”
She shook her head, “No, not right now. I'm too tired. Could you please just lead me to bed?”
Under other circumstances those words would have sent him flying, but when they were spoken with the defeatist tone Willow used the only thing he felt was sympathy. Giles patted her hand on his arm. “That's quite all right,” he said forcing a cheerful tone. “There will be enough time to explore tomorrow.” Giles led her to the foot of the stairs and stopped. “Step,” he informed her. Tentatively Willow raised her foot to settle on the upraised wood. Together they slowly and carefully made it up the first five steps. Giles felt her get more sure of herself and confident with every new stair.
But when Willow tried to make her way to the sixth step the tip of her shoe hit the edge of the stair, twisting her foot onto its side and throwing her back and off balance. Giles quickly pulled her towards him, so she wouldn't fall. He could feel her entire body shaking in his arms. Slowly Giles moved them to a seated position.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
Willow stomped her feet in frustration. “All right?” she asked incredulously. “How I am supposed to be ‘all right'? I'M BLIND GILES! Nothing is ever going to ‘all right' again.” She collapsed against him and burst into tears. Giles kept him arms around her and rubbed her back not knowing what to say. “I just want to go to bed,” she said between sobs.
“Then that's where you shall go,” Giles said. He removed one of his hands from her back and placed it underneath her knees. With little effort her picked her up off the stairs. Willow buried her face into Giles' shirt as he carried her into her new bedroom. He laid her down gently and covered her with an afghan he had set at the foot off the bed. “Call me if you need anything,” he said as he turned to leave.
“Giles?” Willow said lifting her teary face.
“Would you stay with me?” she asked tentatively. “I don't want to be alone right now.”
Giles shifted uncomfortably. After his recent revelation he didn't know how much he trusted himself cuddled up with a sleeping Willow. . .alone, but as he down at her fearful expression, he knew he couldn't deny her anything. “Of course,” he said.
Willow scooted over as much as she dared to make room for him. Giles tested a few different angles, then nervously and awkwardly laid himself down next to her. As soon as he was comfortable Willow threw one arm across him and laid her head on his chest. “Thank you,” she murmured and promptly fell asleep.
Willow slowly drifted back into consciousness. She crooked her neck from side to side trying to work out the kinks that had formed there. She had slept hard, so hard the awkward positioning of her body failed to wake her. The bed was lumpy, and hard, and uneven, and heated. < Heated? > Willow couldn't remember ever turning on an electric blanket. In fact, Willow even couldn't remember ever owning an electric blanket. < Then what. . .? >
She spread her hands out over what she had slept on, trying to figure out what it was. It was covered in a material thicker than a sheet, but not thick enough to be a comforter. Pressing her fingers down further, she couldn't help but notice that the bed was also moving. < What the hell is going on? > She reached the edge of the covering and slid her hand underneath it. Her finger tips sifted through what felt fine hairs. < Hairs? Oh, my God! Giles! I am laying on Giles! >
Willow jerked back her hand from underneath Giles' shirt. She remember laying down on the bed and Giles laying down next to her, but she couldn't, for the life of her, figure out how she got on top of him. < I should really get off of him. This can't be comfortable > she reasoned, and slowly tried to slide off of his chest. Willow had rolled one leg of Giles' body, when an arm wrapped around her waist and fastened her where she was.
“Giles?” she whispered, but got no response. “Giles,” she tried again a little louder. She did get a response and at the same time found out a brand new fact about her one time librarian. Giles snored.
< Great > she sighed. < Should I wake him? > Willow considered this for a moment. < No > she decided. < He lost enough sleep waiting for me at the hospital. He's probably exhausted and needs all the snoozing he can get. >
Resting her head on Giles' chest she lost herself in the sounds and gentle rhythms of his breath. Willow missed this. She and Oz had spent many a night sleeping like this. Willow snuggled into him, trying to draw comfort from the familiar position. < Well, not exactly ‘familiar' > she had to admit to herself. Oz wasn't nearly are large as Giles. When she slept in this position with him, her arms and legs hung off to either side, but with Giles she wasn't even touching the mattress.
She could feel the muscle of Giles' chest underneath his shirt. Oz wasn't nearly this well built either. < All those hours of training with Buffy during high school must have really paid off. > She inhaled deeply and could smell the faint hints of after shave and soap. Oz never wore aftershave.
Strangely enough, no matter what differences she found, Willow still felt safe. She somehow knew nothing could harm her when she was in Giles' arms. He would never let anything happen to her.
Willow flexed her fingers against his shirt and inhaled deeply.
The past few weeks had been terrifying for Willow, lost in a sea of blackness. Every noise made her jump. The constant stream of new face-less voices of hospital staff coming in and out of the room kept her on the edge.
After everything she had been through in the past few years with Buffy and the whole slaying thing Willow was exceedingly uneasy in her defenseless form. She knew what was really out there in the world now, all the scary creatures that lurked in the shadows. What was she supposed to do when her entire world was in those shadows? Any matter of icky-ness could be in the very same room with her and she would never know it. It was nerve wracking. But here in Giles' arms she felt safe for the first time since she had woken up.
Willow was flooded with the sudden urge to burrow herself into Giles' body. She wanted to be completely surrounded and protect by him. These feelings caught her off guard. Why did she know she was safe with him? Was it was because he was familiar? Would she feel the same way if she was curled up with Xander or Buffy. She thought about it for a moment. Willow couldn't even picture being cradled by Buffy or Xander. Her life had grown too far from both of them to feel this kind of security, but not Giles. Giles was safe. Giles was home.
Her last thought floated her around in her mind. Home. The only places she had ever felt at home were the library and this house, but now she was beginning to doubt if the places had anything to do with it. Maybe it was Giles, himself, that symbolized home to her? Maybe where ever Giles happened to be was her home?
Willow tentatively ran her hands up Giles chest to his face. She could feel the sharp hairs of his five o'clock shadow over his chin. She scooted herself up his body as much as she could, so she could run her cheek along them. Her fingertips trailed lightly over his lips. Willow was shocked to discover how soft they were. She let her hands, travel up even further to brush over his closed eyes. < He must have taken off his glasses to sleep > she thought, quickly becoming mesmerized with every inch of Giles' face. Her hands journeyed up more, until her fingers combed though his hair.
Yes, this was most definitely home. Willow snuggled her body deeper into him. She could feel herself get more and more aroused as she touched him. < Aroused? Where and the hell did that come from? > she thought aghast. < This is Giles! > Yes, it was Giles. It was Giles' arm the surround her. Giles who had stayed day after day and night after night at the hospital with her. Giles who never made her feel like she wasn't good enough for anything. Giles who always made her feel welcomed and loved. < Giles makes me feel loved. > It was obvious to her now, as well as a little bit intimidating. She loved Giles, and that's why he was her home.
She crept up his body, letting her hands lead the way, until she was once again fingering his unbelievably soft lips. Cautiously, she lowered her head to her fingers and slowly slipped them away, so her lips covered his. She gently kissed him, and just when she was about to pull away when Giles' arms tightened around her. She jumped slightly when his other arm came around her and his hand grasped the back of her head.
“Willow,” he murmured sleepily as he pushed her head towards him. Their lips touched again, but this time there was nothing soft or gentle about their kiss. Giles' mouth moved hungrily over hers. Willow let herself be taken away by his kiss, enjoying every nuance. Giles forced her mouth open and curled his tongue around hers. Willow welcomed this and ran her teeth over it. She was lost in the sensation, wanting their kiss to last forever.
Giles jumped underneath her. She felt his hands go to her shoulders and roughly pull her away from him.
“Willow?” he said shocked. Willow could almost feel the stunned expression on his face.
“Good morning, Giles,” she replied quietly and smiled.
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