GHOSTS AT MIDNIGHT
A soft hand ran through his hair and he smiled. He floated lazily in the haze between dreaming and waking, loving the feel of her touching him. He gradually opened his eyes to stare into hers. "Love you."
She smiled. "I love you too."
He stretched and she ran a hand over his taut thigh. "Willow, you shouldn't be moving so much. You should lie back so you can get well."
She leaned down and nuzzled his neck. "I'm feeling better already."
"You're not feeling well enough for that."
They both looked up as the doctor walked in. Giles blushed and pulled away, sliding off the small bed. The doctor smiled in understanding before moving to Willow's side.
"When can I go home?" Her green eyes were determined, but she didn't have the strength to back up her resolve face.
"Tomorrow, I think. I'd like to keep you one more night for observation."
Giles' brow furrowed. "Why? Is something wrong?"
Doctor Gordon sighed mentally. He hated these people. They probably knew the inside of his hospital better than he did; they were here so much. And *him,* he seemed to know hospital and medical procedure far too well. Certainly too well for him to lie. "There has been some…concern."
"Concern? What concern?"
Something primal appeared in the older man's eyes, and Dr. Gordon flinched. So much for glossing over things. "There's been some bleeding. We'd like to watch her for the night and see if it subsides."
"If it doesn't?"
The primal was there in his voice as well. "We may have to go back to the operating room. We're going to put her back on the IV and…"
Willow squeezed Giles' hand. "Rupert? Don't." He looked down at her and the tension seemed to leave him. Her green eyes held his. "Let the man do his job."
Dr. Gordon stepped forward. "You'll need…" he stopped at the flashing green eyes. "I'll come back when you're finished here."
"No." Willow reached up to turn Giles' face to hers. "Oz will be here soon. You need to go to the library and help Buffy and Xander. Oz will take care of me, but I don't want the doctor in here poking and prodding me in front of him. So go."
"I should be here with you."
"Buffy needs you."
"Buffy. Needs. You." She managed the resolve face. "Until you find them, I won't be safe. Incentive enough?"
Giles sighed. "All right, Love. I'm going." He leaned down, stopping a breath away. He looked up suddenly at the doctor, hovering in the doorway. "Do you mind?"
"Sorry…I…" he backed away and out of the door.
Willow stroked his cheek. "You really should be nice to the man who might have to…"
"Stop it. I don't want to think about that right now. Especially if I have to leave now." He brushed her lips with his own. "I'm having a little trouble bearing the thought of you here…"
He did as she asked. His lips met hers lightly until her hand snaked around his neck and pulled him closer. His tongue pressed the advantage, sinking between her lips to the warmth of her mouth. Whatever primal instinct had fueled his anger and worry earlier translated itself into the kiss.
Willow arched her back so that his hands could slip underneath her, yearning for the contact. Being held by him while she slept had only intensified the need, not assuaged it. She moaned against his mouth and tried to pull him down on top of her.
"Willow…" he pulled away reluctantly. His heart was pounding, which he found odd, since he was sure all the blood in his body was concentrated in one, suddenly very prominent area. "Darling…"
She nodded somewhat sadly. "I know. Go." She watched him walk away after another brief but intense kiss. Trying not to sigh or flinch, she pressed her hand to her abdomen. The doctor walked in as soon as Giles was gone.
"You promised me you'd tell him."
"I didn't want to…worry him. He has enough problems."
"He has a right to know. He is going to be your husband, isn't he?"
Her green eyes were filled with tears. "I can't tell him that. He wants…so much…" Tears filled her eyes, running down her cheeks unbidden. "It would hurt him so…"
"He has to know. If you don't tell him, I will." Dr. Gordon lifted her gown to check on her stitches. He checked her over, harumphing when he noticed blood on some of the bandages. "I told you not to move."
"You moved though, didn't you?"
Willow pouted. "I didn't have a choice. You want me to tell him something like that without cushioning the blow?"
"Cushioning the blow is fine. Cushioning his body is another thing entirely." He sighed and reached into one of the drawers for bandages. "Let me fix you up."
Willow touched his hand. "You won't tell him really, would you? I promise I will, it's just…his job takes a lot from him. Besides, we don't know anything for sure."
"You shouldn't marry him if you're not willing to be totally honest with him." He smiled grimly. "I did something very much like that and lived to regret it."
"I know. I just…Hi! Oz! Hi!" She grabbed the bottom of her gown and lowered it quickly. Doctor Gordon froze; his hand buried somewhere beneath the gown. "Hi."
"Should I come back?" Oz smiled knowingly.
"That…that would probably be good." Willow blushed. "We're almost done. Are we almost done?"
"Yes, Miss Rosenberg. We're almost done." He waited patiently while she lifted the gown again and finished with the bandages. "No more activity? You'll lie here like a good girl and not do anything strenuous?"
"I'll be good."
"You said that last time." He glowered. "Don't make me limit your visitors."
She nodded sadly. He smiled and patted her arm, getting her to smile. "I'll really be good. Is that better?"
"Just don't let Mr. Giles tempt you." He motioned for Oz to reenter the room.
Willow laughed softly. "But he can't help it."
Oz sat next to Willow's bed, his guitar across his lap. He was softly plucking chords, humming an unrecognizable tune. She had her head turned to the side, watching him. "It's a new song. I haven't quite got it right."
"I'm thinking about calling it 'Come Undone'."
"Yeah. It's about how…" he looked up at her and flushed. "Never mind."
"It's about how it seems like your world unravels when what you thought was one way turns out to be another."
"It's about us?" Willow hated to see the sadness in his eyes. Oz was not, by nature, a sad person.
"It's about loving somebody even though you're not who they want. Or who's best for them. And it's about coming to terms with it."
"Have you?" She struggled to sit but he shook his head. Sighing, she lay back.
"I see the way he looks at you. And the way you look at him. And I see what something like this does to him." He shrugged. "He sees you the same way I did. He saw the beautiful woman underneath the shyness and the other stuff."
"Does that help?" Her voice was curious, but he could tell she was willing to back off if he needed her to.
"Yeah. A little." He strummed the guitar again, refusing to look at her. "I still love you. You're still my friend. And it's a little hard to be around you guys. It's tough to know he's doing…giving you things that I wanted to give you." He stared at the linoleum floor. "But I can deal."
"You know that none of us would think less of you if you didn't hang around."
"I don't, not as much. But I can help you guys and that's all good. I want to help. I can't *not* help." He looked up then and caught her gaze. "I'm moving on. Slowly, but I'm doing it. You're not an easy woman to get over, Miss Rosenberg."
"I still love you too, Oz. I'll always love you." She held out her hand for him to take. "You showed me things that I'd never noticed about myself and the world. You gave me the courage to be Willow, without being ashamed of who Willow was. I owe that all to you."
"You would have done it anyway."
"No. I would have stayed where I was. When you met me, I was stronger than I'd ever been before because of Buffy, but I wasn't strong enough. I knew I finally had friends and I was doing something worthwhile. But you…you let me see that being Willow was a great enough thing. And being Willow, Oz's girlfriend, was just icing on the cake."
He rubbed the back of her fingers with his thumb. "Thanks, Will."
"It's still hard."
"It always is." She smiled sadly. "But it's worth it, I think, in the long run."
Oz watched her sleep, surprised at how easy it was. The talk he'd been wanting to have, the talk he'd been dreading was over. Everything was okay now. Maybe things would always be hard, but it wouldn't be insurmountable. Besides, he liked Giles together with her. He liked knowing Willow would be well taken care of.
Suddenly, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He sniffed the air and growled deep in his throat. His hand hovered over the telephone for a moment before changed his mind and stalked to the door. Someone was spying on them.
Giles set the receiver in the cradle for the fifth time. Something about the night was making him uneasy. Buffy was feeling it too, he could tell by the way she was sitting, curled up in the chair.
Xander looked over at him. "You know, Angel and Cordy aren't going to be able to get through if you keep picking up the phone." He glanced at his watch. "It's after midnight. Willow is probably sleeping like a…" he swallowed. "Sleeping soundly."
A sharp pain seemed to pierce Giles' heart. He knew Xander hadn't meant anything by the comment, but it didn't change the fact that his child…their child…was now lost.
"I'm sorry Giles." The boy's brown eyes were guilty. "I never…"
"I know, Xander. Don't worry. I know. It's just still rather…"
"Somebody's outside." Buffy stood and held a finger to her lips. "Vamps."
"No, just a vamp." Angel walked through the library doors, Cordelia trailing behind him. "Hey."
Buffy launched herself at him, wrapping her body to his in a hug. Xander stood and held out his arms to Cordelia who fell eagerly into them. Giles watched the scene with a combination of relief, happiness and intense sorrow. He picked up the phone.
"Giles?" Angel disengaged himself from Buffy, although he did keep his hand against the small of her back. "We got Xander's message. I thought you guys might need some help. Sorry we're so late, but traffic was hell."
"You should know, from personal experience," Xander smirked.
Giles glared at the younger boy, who had yet to look away from his girlfriend. "You know the group that we're dealing with?"
"It's an outcast faction of the Master." He glanced down at Buffy as she shivered. "He tossed some of the more depraved - sexually depraved - members from his group. They weren't as interested in him being resurrected as they were in their own appetites. While he remained in power, they took up residence in LA"
"And they're back?"
"The rumor on the streets is that they heard that the link between the Watcher and his Slayer was weakening. When that happens, the Slayer is more vulnerable."
Buffy and Giles exchanged looks, their conversation with Quentin fresh in their minds. "Do you know anything else about them, Angel?"
"Sorry. Just that they're not…nice. They make Angelus look something like a Boy Scout." He shrugged. "They've got a new leader recently. A man named Rothach who…"
Giles coughed. "Did you just say Rothach?"
"I don't like it when Giles does that. Just so we're clear." Cordelia announced.
"You know who this guy is?" Buffy turned to her Watcher, all the others in the room forgotten.
"Buffy, I need to see you in my office. Right now."
"No. If it concerns this, we all have a right to know, Giles." Buffy insisted. She didn't want to be alone with him. Something in him had changed when he heard that name.
*Do it for Willow* a voice in his head demanded. He sighed. "Rothach was a Watcher. He's not a vampire. He's a sorcerer." He looked at all of their frightened faces. They'd dealt with a rogue Watcher before, but it didn't change the horrible feeling of betrayal that accompanied the thought of one of the good guys going over to the other side. "He had been known to…"
A commotion at the doors caught everyone's interest. Oz, slightly more hairy than normal, carrying Willow, burst in and headed straight for Giles' office without so much as a word. But the half werewolf didn't catch the attention as much as the man who followed them in.
"What in the holy Hell are you doing my library, you…"
"Shut up, Ripper." Ethan didn't even look at him. He pulled a shelving cart in front of the swinging doors and motioned to Angel. "Block them. I've got to get some things."
"You've got to get the fu…"
"Giles?" Willow's voice was weak.
"Let him work. Help him." She was still in Oz's arms, looking much worse for wear. "Please?"
Mumbling curses under his breath, he motioned Buffy to Willow's side. "Xander, help Angel. Cordelia, take over for Oz and send him out here. What do you need, Ethan?"
Ethan made a few gestures and Giles followed the instructions. Protection, guardians, goddess. Ethan was doing a spell of protection for the library, specifically the office. Giles attempted to concentrate but a scream from the back of the room tore his attention away.
"Damn it Ripper! Pay attention. Let the bloody Slayer watch over her." Ethan tossed a small bag over at him. "Spread this in front of the door."
Giles did as he said, his heart pounding harder and faster than it ever had before. He hated being beholden to Ethan for anything, but to owe him Willow's life… He stopped thinking. He recited words he'd thought he'd forgotten as he poured the contents from the bag. "Angel, step back from the door."
"If you don't, you won't be able to get inside. Do it. The spell will hold."
Xander stared at him in disbelief. "You trust this guy?"
"I trust that he knows better than to cross me when Willow's life is at stake. Angel, Xander, step back."
Ethan came back down from where he'd done the same as Giles at the back door buried in the stacks. No one questioned that he knew of it and he offered no explanations. He looked over the assembled group with disinterest, until his eyes lit on Giles.
"You have about twenty seconds to explain your presence here." Giles took a menacing step forward and Ethan laughed.
"Well, thank you kindly Ethan for saving my…" he paused meaningfully. "Woman's life. How can I possibly repay you for what you've done?"
Buffy glared at him from the office doorway. "Why were you at the hospital? Oz said you found them there."
"I was asked to watch over them. Thought it might give us a little connection, Ripper, both of us watching over the little girl. I thought maybe I'd grow to understand what it was about watching that made you hate it so when you were younger." His eyes darted to the open door of the office where Willow was lying on the sofa. "I have to say, I find watching rather…appealing."
Xander grabbed Giles' arm and led him into the office. "Don't let him get to you," he whispered. "That's what he wants. You have other things to worry about." He shoved him into the smaller room and shut the door.
Willow was awake. Frightened, shaken, and bleeding, but awake. Horror tinged her eyes as she stared up at him. "Are we okay?"
"For now. I trust Ethan will want to save his own skin too much to not do the spell correctly." He sat on the floor beside the sofa. "Are you okay?"
She shook her head, tears cascading down her cheeks. "It hurts, Rupert. An awful lot." She tried not to sob. "And it won't stop."
He fought back his own tears and scooted closer. He cradled her head and kissed her gently. "Shh. Don't cry. I'm here. We're together. That's all that matters."
A loud crash was followed by Ethan's loud curse. Giles got to his feet and looked out the office window. Vampires were falling from the skylight, catching fire as they hit the spell boundary. When they landed on the ground, Buffy or one of the others would stake their burning bodies. Ash of all kinds covered the floor.
He looked back at Willow. "I'm sorry, Love."
"Go." She sighed.
"All right, Ethan. Talk." Giles waded through vampiric ash to the table. Pushing books aside, he sat on the table. He grabbed Ethan's arms and sat him down in front of him. Placing one foot on the chair between his legs, he leaned forward. "Talk. Now."
"I told you. I was hired by the Watcher's Council to look after the two of you. I was told to keep on eye on the girl to make sure she didn't keep you from fulfilling your duties. I was also told to watch over you and your Slayer. Make sure she was getting the job done while you were…distracted." He grinned wickedly. "And I understand completely your distraction, Rupert. Your redhead's quite the sexpot, isn't she?"
He clenched his fists and inched his foot closer to his groin. "Ethan, why were you at the hospital?"
"I just found out about these vampires from my contact. He said that you would be busy performing the Ritual and wouldn't be able to look out for the girl. I was to do that for you." Ethan laughed at Giles' blush. "I was also told what the Ritual entails."
Buffy walked behind Ethan and placed her hands on his shoulders. "Now, I appreciate that you helped save Willow's life. And I know that, although self-motivated, you didn't have to help us out in here. But I can also break your neck in a second. So why don't you stop being all cocky before…" she looked down to where Giles' foot was resting so casual. "…before Giles makes you less…cocky."
Ethan gulped. "Fine. What do you want to know?"
"Who hired you?"
"What do you know about these vampires?"
"Could you teach Giles how to shop?" Everyone turned to Cordelia. "Sorry. I prefer silk to tweed. Is that a crime? I'm only looking out for Willow here."
Ethan held up a hand. "All right. I was hired by the council. I'm not sure who gave them my name or if they just know me from my association with you, Ripper."
"Stop calling me that," Giles breathed.
"But my contact's name was Quentin." He sighed. "I was supposed to do just as I said, although they really didn't care about the sex part as far as you and the redhead were concerned. Being stereotypical Englishmen, talking about sex scared them. Good thing for the girl that you're not stereo…"
"Enough of the personal asides, if you please." Giles moved his foot again.
"Fine. I was contacted the night of the attack here, but I arrived too late. It was as though I'd been called after it had taken place. I got a little suspicious, so I started hanging around the hospital. Sure enough, Quentin came by."
"The Ritual." Buffy took her hands from his neck and moved to sit next to Giles. She noticed Xander was explaining things to the rest of the gang, keeping Cordelia thankfully silent.
"Right. I confronted him with it and he explained it to me. I figured it was just a thing devised by some horny old Watcher to get into his Slayer's pants. But I couldn't figure out how or why they thought it applied to you." His eyes glinted with mischief. "Then I realized they had your number Ri…Rupert. Guilt."
"Guilt?" Buffy looked over at Giles. His head was hung forward. "Guilt how?"
"Rupert doesn't handle guilt well. He does, however, take instruction well, if said authoritatively enough. I think the old boy rather likes being dominated." His grin was like quicksilver. "So, when the council wants him in line, they lay guilt on him."
"If I had to sleep with you, Buffy, I wouldn't be able…" Giles sighed. "What does this have to do with the vampires?"
"I don't know." He held up his hands in protest of their looks. "I don't. Honestly. I'm not pulling a trick. It's not in my best interests to do so. I don't *know* anything. But I have a very strong suspicion that the Watcher's Council is behind the whole thing."
Ethan related his ideas and findings to them with minimal personal comment. He knew Ripper believed him. Had probably suspected the same thing himself. "So, what do you plan to do?"
"Find Quentin. Find Rothach." He shrugged. "Then I'm likely to beat my father to death."
"And that's the sane approach," Cordelia whispered.
Giles turned to face her. "Willow is lying in that room, quite possibly bleeding to death because the Council saw fit to try to get me to sleep with Buffy. I'm afraid I'm not quite rational right now, Cordelia."
"Okay, I grant you that." She put her hands on her hips and met his stare. "But if you do these things, find these men, beat them up, kill them…whatever, they win. Don't they? Or would you not have guilt for doing those things? Would you be able to walk away from that and back into Willow's arms? Or would it be like Miss Calendar and that Eyghon demon? So guilty you can barely see straight."
Buffy was about to respond when Giles' hand stopped her. "No, Buffy. She's right. We do this the right way."
"Jesus, Ripper. You're so whipped it's not even funny anymore." He pushed his chair back and stood, pointing to the office. "Look what they did to her. She's lying in there, like you said, bleeding. Can't you smell it? They can." He pointed to Oz and Angel. "She lost your child because of them and very likely can't have another…" he stopped short at the look on his face. "Oh, shit."
Willow struggled to stay conscious. The pain was almost blinding and she felt as though her life was slipping through her fingers. She could feel the coldness of the blood as it dried on her bandages and, she thought in an offhand manner, they'd have to replace the upholstery on the sofa.
She opened her eyes, surprised to see Jenny standing before her. "Hey, Miss Calendar."
"Willow, you have to stay awake, honey."
"I'm so tired. I've been taking good care of him, Miss Calendar. I love him, you know."
"Willow, you have the strength to defeat them. You're the only one. You have to stay awake and fight by his side."
She tried to focus, but everything remained a blur. "Jenny? Will you make sure he knows that I love him?"
"Willow, you're his life. You're the reason he goes on. You can't leave him now. You have to give him a child or two and love him until he's gone. You're not to go now."
"I don't want to go, but I'm so tired…" she sighed and closed her eyes. "So tired…"
"Willow!" Giles' voice caused her eyes to flutter open. He sank to his knees beside her and pried each eyelid open far enough to see her pupils. "Willow, darling, you've got to stay awake."
"Jenny? Jenny? Why do you sound like Rupert?" She wasn't seeing him. He felt as though his heart was being ripped out of his chest. Her eyes were no longer brilliant, luminous green; they were cloudy and lifeless.
"Willow, I don't care if we can't have another child. I don't care if you never want to see me again, but I can't live in this world without you in it. You can't leave me when I just found you."
"You've known me forever, Rupert," she sighed.
"I've loved you forever as well. But we still have an awful lot of forever left to go." He tried to keep his tears in check, but he couldn't seem to manage it. The smell of her blood was overwhelming this close. "I'm going to get you to a doctor, I swear it."
"I don't care. Nothing, no vampire, no monster, no spell, is stronger than my love for you. Do you understand me, Miss Rosenberg?"
"Yes sir, Mr. Giles." She smiled and the light seemed to return to her eyes. "I love you."
Buffy rested her hand lightly on Giles' back. He was sitting in his desk chair, hunched over, telephone pressed to his ear. Angel had done some reconnaissance and announced that there was just a small faction of vampires in the school.
"Yes, Sunnydale High. Right outside the library. Yes. Dr. Gordon. Yes. Thank you." Giles hung up and sighed heavily. "They're on their way. Once we see the lights and hear the siren, we're to get her out there as quickly as possible. Oz, Ethan and Xander will guard her. Cordelia will stay with her. You, Angel and I will go after Quentin to try to get to the bottom of this."
"Are you sure you trust him?"
"I don't have much choice. He saved her life tonight, Buffy. I owe him now."
"I say you're even." She shook her head. "He's caused you nothing but pain, Giles."
A smile quirked his mouth. "Not exactly."
"Now we're going places I don't want to be." She smiled down at him to take the sting out of her words. "I want to ask you something."
"You haven't even heard…"
"You're going to ask me about the Ritual. You're going to suggest that we carry through with it for Willow's sake. You're going to say that, even though we don't know for sure if it will work, we should try just in case it does. You're going to say that we should put our personal feelings aside and do it for her and the chance that she and I might be able to have another child." He met her eyes. "How did I do?"
"You said it much better than I could have. I was planning on blushing and stammering my way through it."
"Buffy, you're like a daughter to me. I've told you that before. I cannot sleep with you." He took Willow's hand in his and lost himself in her. "She's my life, Buffy and I cannot betray her. Not even to save her."
"It's kind of funny if you think about it. You look at me and see a child. You look at her and you see a woman. And she's younger than me."
He sensed the hurt in her voice. "No. You're wrong. When I look at you I don't see *a* child. I see *my* child. You can be a woman and still be my child. When I look at her…"
"You see everything."
He nodded, looking up as flashing blue lights shone through the library windows. "It's showtime."
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