"What are you doing?"
The softly spoken words sent Willow's heart racing as she whirled around in her chair. Giles, startled by her sudden movement, backed away, tripping over a chair and ending up sprawled out on the floor.
Willow let out a soft cry and moved to his side, offering him her hand. He took it and she tugged him to his feet. Well, that was her intention, but the newly waxed floors of the library laid waste to her plan, instead sending her tumbling down on top of him.
"Well," she laughed softly. "I was researching something for a paper I have due in one of my classes, but now I thought I'd take a break atop my favorite librarian."
"I'm not a librarian anymore."
"You'll always be my favorite librarian though." She grinned down at him and, giving in to a sudden - and not so sudden - impulse, kissed his cheek.
Giles blushed a deep red that covered his cheeks then spread up to the tips of his ears. "Uh…wha…uh."
"I like keeping you guessing." Her face was filled with delight as she carefully got to her feet. He ignored her proffered hand, preferring not to find himself flat on his back again and stood on his own accord. Willow pouted slightly, trying to be hurt, but couldn't manage to hold back her laugh.
The University librarian shushed them and Willow sank onto her seat in response. Giles tugged the chair he had tripped over to her side and sat beside her. "So, what are you working on?"
"A new paper for my Demonology professor."
Giles watched sadly as her eyes lit up. The new professor was the talk of the University, seducing students into his class with his wit, charm and handsome looks. He reminded Giles strongly of Ethan, although slightly less self-serving. But that wasn't his chief concern.
It was the sparkle that filled Willow's eyes when she talked about her classes with him, when she explained how he challenged her. The words, so exuberant and excited, always left Giles feeling empty, as though a piece of himself were drifting away on her ocean of remarks.
Shaking the thoughts away, he looked over her shoulder to her carefully written notes. "You're studying Mascimotueste? An odd choice."
"We were told to find a demon writing from before the twelfth century. I located him in some of your texts." She looked up, realizing what she'd said. "I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all. As long as you're using the proper safeguards…I've come to realize when it comes to my Slayer and my…her best friend, the witch, I have very little control." He gave her hand a quick pat and stood. "I'll see you later? Buffy said you might all be coming by this evening?"
"Yes." Willow nodded and turned back to her book, losing herself once again in her assignment. Giles watched her for a moment before turning around, sadness gripping his heart. He hadn't wanted Buffy to have friends, knowing how anyone the Slayer loved was bound to be used against her. That had been his only fear when Xander and Willow, and later Cordelia and Oz had joined their circle. How foolish of him not to have realized how dangerous it would be to his heart as well when they all - perhaps Buffy included - outgrew him.
"You're stepping on my…"
Giles paused outside the door of his apartment. The sounds were softly spoken, probably coming from the open window of the flat next door. Realizing it was getting dark and he was running late, he slipped the key into the lock. They would all be here soon, demanding food - at least in Xander's case. He needed to get things done before the descended on his home like a pack of wild dogs.
The door opened easily as he pushed it with his shoulder, stopping just short of the wall. He used the hand holding his briefcase to turn on the light, jumping as he had that morning at the sight that met his eyes.
Willow sat on the edge of his couch; a party hat perched jauntily on her head. Oz and Xander sat on either side of her, both wearing the same hats though obviously under duress. Buffy stood in the doorway to the kitchen, her mother and Cordelia nearby on the stools in front of the bar. Tilting her head, his Slayer smiled at him. "Happy Birthday, Giles."
Willow nodded. "Surprise."
He shut the door behind him, discarding his jacket and briefcase on the chair nearby. "How did you…what…"
"Party invites courtesy of our resident hacker," Oz smiled at his girlfriend. "No birth date is safe."
"I'm touched." He walked further into the room, accepting his party hat from Xander. "I can't believe you went to all this trouble."
"Well," Buffy walked into the living room and proceeded to hug him tightly. "Since my birthday parties are always a huge bust filled with death and mayhem, we decided it would be safer to celebrate someone else's. You won."
He removed his glasses, telling himself that it was to clean them and not because of the tears that threatened. "Lucky me."
"There's cake. And dip." Cordelia rolled her eyes. "I can't believe that I come back to Sunnydale for one little errand and I get roped into making dip. For Giles."
"The effort is greatly appreciated," Giles smiled. "I always enjoyed your dip, Cordelia."
"Yeah," Xander smirked. "She can stir with the best of 'em."
A quick elbow in the ribs from Willow ended any verbal sparring the ex-couple could engage in. She slipped off the couch and headed for the kitchen, following Giles. He gazed at the array of goodies lined up on the counters, trying to ignore her presence behind him. "You like? Really?"
"It's a wonderful gesture, Willow. Truly." He opened the refrigerator, unwilling to meet her eyes. "And I appreciate that you gathered everyone together…"
"I hear the 'but' coming. Just tell me Giles."
Her voice sounded so sad, he instantly regretted that he had said anything. He turned abruptly; noticing that no one was nearby and took hold of her shoulders. "I'm not much of one for birthdays."
"We've all been working so hard since the Mayor's attempted Ascension, I thought we could use a break. Yours just happened to be the first birthday on the docket." She refused to look at him, her face burning with embarrassment. "I'm sorry."
He released one shoulder and captured her chin, tilting it up. "Don't apologize. You're far sweeter to me than I deserve."
"No. You deserve everything. Just for being Giles." She met his eyes, surprised by the sudden pounding of her heart. "And I should warn you…"
"Well, there are presents. As far as I know, they're all dignified, Giles-y presents, but with Xander here anything is possible."
"I appreciate the warning. Although it will be sad not to get what I really want."
"What's that?" She tilted her head, staring guilelessly into his eyes.
He copied her gesture and bent to press his lips to hers for a second that seemed like an eternity wrapped inside no time at all. When he stepped back, she raised her hand to her lips as if to catch the kiss and keep it there. "That."
"Well then," she managed, sure that her heart was going to explode from her chest. "I guess you can't be sad then."
"Well, at least not for the rest of the night." He ruffled her hair gently and kissed her again, even more fleetingly. "You should go back out there. Because the next time, I'm tossing what self control I have out the window on its ass."
Willow eeped and nodded, heading for the door. Once there, she turned to face him, her smile hinting at things he dared not imagine. "You promise?"
She disappeared and Giles groaned, wondering what he'd just done…and dreaming about what he may have just started.
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