Title: J&PG "The Call"
Author: Robin2 ( zivafemme@yahoo.com )
Rating: 18
Summary: Giles and Willow are finally together but someone's trying to tear them apart.
Disclaimer: All characters from BtVS belong to Joss Whedon.
Note: To Q.
Disclaimer:All characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer belong to Joss Whedon and Fox. I'm using them for my own pleasure. And that totally came out wrong. I'm (obviously) making no money from this. It's just my way of havin' a little fun



"The Call"

Giles ran his hand over his whiskered chin and took yet another corner without slowing. At four thirty in the morning the only ones hanging around the bus depot were derelicts, demons, and for some indecipherable reason, Willow.

Giles pushed harder on the accelerator and gripped the steering wheel. She wasn't going to spend another minute surrounded by the stench of humanity because of some bloody arbitrary speed limit. He exhaled and bounced his left knee to calm his nerves. It was a useless exercise.

An image of Willow being preyed upon shot through his mind's eye. God knew why she was there in the first place and he hadn't had the sense to ask. She'd said she'd needed him and he'd said, "I'll be there in twenty minutes." There was little more to their conversation - aside from the shaking, frightened voice that betrayed her tears.

A red light stopped his progress and Giles swore and slammed his fist on the dashboard then worked his mouth as the seconds ticked slowly away. As he waited for the light to change he reviewed their short conversation. He closed his eyes and shook his head. 'Giles, it's me... ummm.. Willow?' Giles groaned. She'd introduced herself as if he wouldn't know who it was from the first syllable.

Deciding that twenty seconds was long enough to wait at a deserted red light Giles stepped on the gas and shot into the intersection. Obviously something had happened, something bad enough to send Willow home on a bus in the middle of the night.

He flicked on the stereo and turned to the news radio hoping for some information, some special update concerning San Francisco, but the chatter grated on his already frayed nerves. He growled and turned it back

What had it been? Fire? Demon invasion? Terrorists? He ran his hand through his hand and massaged the back of his neck. A horn blasted and Giles jerked his car back into his own lane but let his attention wander back to Willow. Whatever it was, it had to have been big. He knew her. She didn't scare easily.

The blocks blurred by as quickly as Giles's thoughts. The only explanation that stood was that she'd somehow run out of money and that meant that she'd lost her purse. Or, and his stomach clenched, it'd been stolen.

And where the hell was James in all this? Why wasn't James with her? Why had that birk even let her go? Even if Willow had insisted why kind of man would let her go alone? When this was taken care of, Giles resolved, he and Mr. Pader were going to have a serious discussion. It was one thing to have late hours. It was quite another to ignore her physical safety.

Giles drummed his fingers on his knee and rolled his head from side to side trying to ease the sudden knots of tension and dread. He could have prevented all of this. He could have let Buffy watch the shop. There was no excuse for not going with Willow to San Francisco like she'd wanted. None at all. Especially considering that he'd sent her off with James.

There was on brief moment of mirth and Giles snorted. If Willow hadn't seen through that filthy bastard's disguise before then she certainly would by now. Cold dread settled around Giles and his smirk disappeared. Unless... unless James was the thing that had set her running.

Giles narrowed his eyes and readjusted his sweaty grip on the wheel. "Filthy bastard," he growled under his breath as visions of James's relentless pursuit of Willow ran through his imagination. Another horn blasted and Giles snapped to attention and glared guiltily ahead. He couldn't think about James chasing Willow, not right now. It made him crazy and he needed to drive.

Finally the depot rolled into view. Giles ignored the parking restriction, squealed to a stop and threw his care into park. He pocketed his keys and shouldered past a small group of people who blocked the entrance.

He stumbled to a halt and looked back over his shoulder as a familiar chill went down his spine. Vampires. They took no notice of him obviously intent on getting to their nest before sun up, but they struck terror inside Giles. Willow. His heart slammed forward in his chest and he bolted through another set of doors.

Anxiety jerked at him and he scanned both right and left looking for the familiar red hair, the expectant expression.... He'd expected she'd be by the door but there was no sign. He felt his chest rise and fall in rapid succession and he put his hands to his hips. Damn. Where was she?

Spying rows of bucket seat Giles pushed ahead. Of course, she might have gotten tired, decided to sit. Hurriedly he scanned the few people who sat scattered in the chairs. Old men. Dirty men. Dirty old men. Tired women young and old with too much make up or in some cases not enough. He recognized the hopeful leer of the prostitutes.

>From the corner of his eye he saw a Fykorth demon look at him, catch his eyes, and then slink around a case of lockers. Fear and anger jockeyed for position. Fykorth passed as humans - ugly ones but humans just the same. They were well known in the underground circuits for slave trade.

Giles honed in on the fat back of the disappearing demon. Thought Willow would fetch a good price, did he? Giles moved with purpose, reached the lockers, and rounded the corner ready to strike.

Someone's grandmother startled, clutched her purse to her massive chest and cut loose a seasoned cacophony of profanity. Giles sprang back. He'd been mistaken. Not a Fykorth demon. Not a lead to Willow. Without apologizing he turned away, already mapping his next search strategy. He'd already wasted too much time glaring at strangers and accosting heavy bearded women.

The blue restroom signs caught his attention and Giles started toward them. It made sense, too that she might be there. He made his way past another cluster of seats and lockers, past the rent a cop, past the runaway who sat leaning against the wall hugging her knees and wearing one tattered and familiar bunny slipper....

Giles nearly tripped over himself - relieved. Appalled. "Willow?" One slipper? What had happened to the other? And slippers? On a bus? He crossed the distance between them in three long strides and knelt next to her. If she heard him she gave no indication.

"Willow?" he said again this time he touched her arm. Willow flinched to attention, gave him a cursory glance and then clung to him with a relieved sob.

He held her close and tried to quiet her sobs and his racing heart with nonsense 'there theres' and hushes. Giles didn't realize he was trembling until he lifted his hand to stroke the silky length of her hair. He closed his eyes, exhaled some tension, and then gave her a squeeze before pulling back the slightest bit. Something was different... her face... she'd hid from him so quickly. Giles looked down his chin at the top of her head.

"Are you alright?" he asked. His chest tightened again when she shook her head and then Willow lifted her face to his.

The gentle reassurances froze on his lips and Giles eyes flew to hers demanding an explanation for the blue and red welted bruise that cut across her tear stained cheek. He took her chin in his hand and turned her face right and then left, probably rougher than he'd intended to and tempered fury tinged his voice. "What happened?"

Willow raised her chin, trying to free herself from his hold and Giles cringed when he let go and saw the red marks his fingers had made along her jaw. He shook his head as the questions rushed from his brain to his lips. "Did this happen here? Did you tell the police? Are they still here?" He looked around them wanting to find the person who did this.

"Just take me home," she whispered. Exhaustion crept into her voice and her expression begged him for no more questions.

"Someone did this to you," he continued. He saw the pleading in her eyes, but he wanted answers. He needed to know right then. He glared out at the people who were in the station and clenched his fist. Who'd done this? Which one of them?

"Please," Willow asked, she put her hand to his arm. "Home?"

Giles drew up short, licked his lips and then since finding her took in the sight she made. The glow of incandescent lights gave her pale skin a sickly blue cast, her hair mussed from one too many run throughs with her fingers.

Dirt and grime smudged the arm and shoulder of her nightshirt and where in God's name was her other slipper? He blinked and then gave into the need to crush her to him. She looked small, helpless, and broken and he wanted to make it better. His voice broke and he pressed his lips together.

"Right," he said. "Let's go home. Your bags?" He looked back to the ground in search of the cases and backpack she'd taken and then he rolled his eyes at his stupidity. If she had bags then she'd be dressed. His fists found their way to his hips again. "Your purse?"

Willow dropped her head and shook it. "Stolen," she mumbled.

Giles rubbed his forehead and then massaged his scalp with steel fingers as the words drew him another picture. "You were mugged?" he demanded. Darkness tinged with red bubbled in his peripheral vision.

She turned large green eyes to him. "Please?" she begged again. "I just want to take a shower and I want to go to bed."

Giles relented and forced what he hoped passed for an understanding smile. He needed more. The watcher in him needed answers and the rage he felt needed an outlet but Willow needed refuge and he would give her that.

Right. He could wait. "Of course," he said and hoped that his tight voice didn't betray him.

With the car ride that lasted so much longer than the actual twenty minutes behind them Giles pulled into his parking space. He exhaled and let the car idle a moment before finally reaching for the keys. Silence. He'd expected... something.... More tears? A recount of events? Willow had simply stared at her hands or out the window and now she cast a grateful glace at the path that led to their flat. At least one thing was able to take that haunted look from her eyes.

Willow hesitated and then nodded as she reached for the handle. Needing for her to let him offer at least the slightest bit of comfort or maybe the other way around- Giles reached across and grabbed her free hand. He engulfed it and once again he was struck with how delicate she was. He filled his lungs and exhaled a shuddering breath.

Willow looked up at him startled at first and then a small light glimmered in her tired eyes and she offered him a small smile. Despite the weight on his chest Giles returned it and gave her fingers a slight squeeze. It was typical, so very Willow, pushing aside her pain to make it better for him. Giles lowered his head, embarrassed that he'd asked for that from her. He wasn't sure how yet, but he had to make this better.

The move was almost imperceptible, but Giles felt her pull away and he reluctantly loosened his hold. "Right," he said. "Let's get inside."

The apartment was still dark and Giles moved to open the shades. Willow liked the light. She liked watching the dust move through the morning sun. She'd told him that early Friday morning as they'd lain together in their bed and waited for the alarm.

"Don't," Willow said. He stopped short and looked to her for clarification. She bit at the corner of her mouth and shrugged her explanation before turning away and starting toward the steps.

Giles stepped quickly from behind his desk not sure of what to say but knowing that he wasn't ready for her to shut him out. "Perhaps," he started and struggled for anything to follow it. "Perhaps we should call the police? File a report? I doubt very much they'll be able to do anything, but "

Alarm flashed through her face and at that instant she looked like a frightened doe about to flee a hunter. "I I'll make a report at work tomorrow," she said. Her voice rose and dropped with nerves. "I- I'm not so sure I want to involve the police."

"They need to know a mugger is targeting young women - " He cocked his head to the side wondering if perhaps he'd misheard her. "Work?" Giles felt the cold embrace him. He closed his eyes as the reasons she'd come back early narrowed themselves down to one. Giles's nerve ending's stung at the realization sank in and his nails bit into his palm.

When he finally brought himself to open them Willow's expression had changed from fleeing the hunter to caught in the headlights. "Someone from work did this to you?" he asked surprised that he could keep his voice even.

Pale light glinted off her throat as she swallowed and then nodded. Giles's heart broke as she licked her lips and looked to the ground. She couldn't meet his eyes. Had it been that horrible? Was she that ashamed?

"James," Willow admitted quietly and then raised her hand to her mouth with a small gasp, like she wanted to wipe everything away.

For a second the room swirled around him but he remained frozen, senses on edge.

"James did this to you?" he repeated. He wanted the news to shock him as though James was the last person he'd ever guess. But it didn't shock him. It was the bad news he'd known was on the way and that was worse. "He hit you?"

With her fingertips still at her lips Willow hazarded a glance at him. Giles saw the uncertainty in her eyes and a flash of something else as she rubbed her forehead and then nodded.

"Can we... talk about this later?" she asked, practically begged. Giles opened his mouth to protest but she cut him off. "I I just want to take a shower and go to bed."

Giles cleared his throat and then ran his hand through his hair and gripped his scalp. He heard her voice... she wanted something, but he wanted no, needed to know. Giles jerked his hand away from his head and put it to his hip as he started his pace. "What did he do to you?"

"Please?" Willow asked but he ignored her.

"He tried something, didn't he?" Giles demanded. He clenched the back of his neck and then scratched his head. Already the scene was in his mind. "An-and when you said no he hit you...."

The muscles in his shoulders spasmed but instead of slowing him down the pain fueled his indignation. His fury. "Son of a bitch," he swore and then slammed his palm down on the kitchen counter.

Willow's surprised yelp pulled him out of his zone and he looked up just in time to see her take a step away from him. Regret filled him and Giles closed his eyes. He hadn't meant to frighten her, but it made sense now.

"I'm sorry," he apologized. The words, whatever they were, stuck in his throat and he pulled his glasses off.

Willow's quiet voice covered the distance between them. "I'm not ready yet," she said. "I need to ... process... regroup."

Giles stuttered as he walked to her side. He damned himself; his fury was the last thing Willow needed. She needed his strength right now, not a production of his weaknesses. "Right... you you - you get some rest. I I'll see you upstairs."

Willow shook her head. "Shower," she said. Giles nodded.

"Of course," he said and put his hand to her back. A hot shower might revive her some. "I'll get it ready for you."

Willow arched away from his touch but gave a tremulous smile and put a hand on his forearm. "I can do it myself."

Giles raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth to protest but she shook her head. "I'm just a little shaken up," she explained. "Bruised, not broken. Really."

He pulled back and studied her, assessing her words, comparing them to how she held herself and then nodded. She could certainly run her own shower and she was telling him to back off. She needed space.

"When you're ready," he agreed softly, reluctantly and then jumped to attention. "Is there anything I can get you?"

Willow tilted her head to the side. "Tea?" she asked.

He knew she was taking care of him, keeping him occupied but Giles didn't call her on it. He'd make tea. Neither of them would touch it, but if it would make her feel better then that's what he'd do.

"Right," Giles said with a nod. He gave her one last look and then turned toward the kitchen. "Tea."

He stood for a moment and watched as Willow made her way to the bathroom. She moved carefully and paused twice between steps and Giles felt his scowl take over his face as he watched her retreat. He opened his mouth to call her but stopped himself and let her go. Soon, he assured himself and turned toward the kitchen, soon he'd know. But for now, he would wait.

The squeak of the shower faucet rang through the awkward silence that filled the room and Giles let it pull him into the present. The mundane practical things jumped up at him and his analytical step-by-step mind clung to them. She'd need a fresh towel... pajamas... there was a spare toothbrush in the medicine cabinet.... He took the steps two at a time, rummaged through their dresser and pulled out a random set of pajamas and a pair of socks then jogged back down the stairs.

He draped the towel and pajamas over his arm and paused just outside the bathroom door. It was open enough to let out the steam and Giles gave it a nudge. He'd leave the stuff on the counter for her to find and then make that tea no one wanted.

The bathroom light flooded into the dim hallway as the door swung open and Giles's took a step forward and then pulled himself to a stop, as if he'd run into a wall. Willow dropped the edge of her shirt the second she felt his presence and turned quickly to the shower, a flush went through her pale face. The soft thwump of fabric hitting the tile was the only thing Giles heard before anger deafened him.

Forgetting he was supposed to be sympathetic and supportive, focusing only on the near black and sharply angled bruise that covered what he saw of her back, Giles strode forward and grabbed her elbow. He lifted her arm and then her shirt, and then he saw the work of a man's rage.

"What the hell is that?" he demanded and put his hands to his hips. Tears of disgust and fury blurred his vision for a second and he kicked at the pile of pajama and towel. Willow cringed and pulled her t-shirt farther down her naked thighs but he continued. He jabbed his finger at her as he gestured to the now covered bruises. "Did he do that? Because I'll kill him," he swore.

"Giles," Willow whispered. Her eyes went wide.

He closed his eyes and lifted his face to the ceiling. God, she was so small, so fragile. How could anyone hurt someone so tiny? He opened his eyes and glared at Willow at the bruise, at the thought of what she'd been through. He stopped not because he was finished but because of Willow's stricken expression. She blanched and looked past him as if looking for an escape.

Giles pulled his hand down his face and gripped his chin. "Oh, God," he rasped. She wanted to get away from him. He was scaring her. Of all people, the one who she needed to feel comfort from terrified her. He rubbed his face again, feeling the stubble, in an attempt to wipe it clear of what had frightened her.

Giles forced himself to swallow, to focus. He had to approach this logically, with tact and sensitivity. And, damn it was nearly impossible. This was more than Willow being roughed up, this was more than a man's passions edging just this far over the line. Giles and tried once more to look in her eyes.

He licked his lips and then pressed them together in a tight line. "I know I said I would wait," he said taking great pains to keep his voice low and even. Despite his efforts it trembled and he cursed himself. He watched as Willow straightened her shoulders. She was preparing herself for his questions, drawing on that seemingly endless river of strength that ran through her.

"Tell me what happened." It was an order but the severity in his voice broke as Willow looked anywhere but at him and shifted from foot to foot. Her stubborn chin quivered again. Giles felt his soul drop and his teeth ached as he ground his jaw.

"Did he..." Dear God, he couldn't say the word. Giles closed his eyes and summoned the courage. He started again. "Did he?" He left it hang as a question. The word, the idea that she might have been violated was too much. He couldn't say it. He could only hope that she understood.

Giles nearly lost his footing and grabbed the sink as Willow's shoulders slumped and a cry that seemed to come from her very center reverberated in the tiled room. Oh, God, Giles bargained certain he had his answer. He stood numb, animated only when Willow stumbled forward, sobbing, and buried her face in his chest. His insides cringed and he put an automatic arm around her. Oh God. That son of a bitch.

Willow clutched his shirt, barely supporting her own weight, sagging into him and after what felt like an eternity Giles came back into his body, into the moment, and buried his head in her shoulder. He wanted to hold her, to crush her to him. He wanted to hurt James as much as Willow hurt at this moment. He wanted this to go away... a do over. Another bloody chance to follow his instincts and protect her like he should have.

"I I I'll get your shoes," he muttered. "A-and we'll go hospital a-and let them examine you " His voice broke. Why Willow? Why anyone, really, but he didn't care about anyone else right now. He cared about Willow. His life was about Willow. He'd ignored his gut, he knew exactly what James was, and he'd sent her anyway. Giles groaned and tightened his embrace. This was his fault.

He felt her soft hairbrush against his neck as she shook her head. He pulled back just enough to talk. To argue.

"I know you don't want to," he said, "but we need to. And I'll be there for every bit of it," he assured knowing full well that if he'd been there for her earlier this could have been avoid. Would have been avoided.

"I don't need a doctor," Willow mumbled into his chest. Her shoulders shook with sobs and nerves.

"We have to report this," he argued. What had he learned? Ra- no, he wouldn't say that word. Victims of violent crimes often hid? Were ashamed? "This wasn't your fault, Willow," he said. Giles's conscious jabbed at him. It was his if he'd just gone with her.

"No," Willow sobbed. She sniffled and tried to pull away from him but Giles held onto her hands. "He didn't..." she swallowed and struggled. "I mean... he might have... but... but he didn't... he scared me. "

Her green eyes shone with large tears and begged him for something. Understanding? Forgiveness? To leave her the hell alone? Giles wasn't sure. His chest heaved with effort to contain his emotions and he looked at her harder, studied her eyes, searched her face for signs of any doubt any subtle omission for the sake of lessoning his pain.

"I just want a shower," she begged quietly.

Giles took a step away not convinced and tried to be logical. If the... unspeakable had happened then she couldn't shower. He knew that. He shook his head. She'd tell him, wouldn't she? His mouth went dry again.

"Are you sure " he started to ask, but then stopped when she rolled her eyes, clearly annoyed. Strangely, he found comfort in it. Annoyed was better than terrified and... broken. Willow **would** tell him. He cleared his throat and backed away as he spoke. "I- I brought you a fresh towel a-and some pajamas I I'll go fix the tea "

Willow looked up quickly and grabbed his wrist. Timid reluctance had replaced the annoyance. "Stay with me?" she asked. "Please?"

Of course. Of course he would stay with her. Forever and especially now. He needed to hold her again and pulled Willow into his arms again.

"Of course," he rasped and then kissed her forehead. She nodded, sniffled, and brought a shaking hand to her eyes to wipe away the tears. Giles helped. Gently, with a tenderness at odds with the storm that raged within him, he used the tip of his thumb to brush away the moisture that made her bruised and scraped cheek glisten.

Steam rose above the shower curtain and Willow edged back a few inches, gave him another rueful smile, and then turned away crossed her arms in front of her and pulled the stained t-shirt over her head. Giles sucked in air through his teeth as the bruise that spanned over half the length of her back was revealed, but he held his tongue. If he spoke now he'd only frighten her again. There was nothing remotely comforting about what he had to say at that very moment.

He almost lost his resolve as she turned to the side and new bruises were revealed. Giles knew the pattern - the quarter sized imprints that stood out on her biceps. He pressed his lips together until he tasted blood. James had grabbed her, struck her, and thrown her --. Giles inhaled a shaking breath, forcing his chest to rise and he closed his eyes.

In the background he heard Willow pull back the shower curtain. The zip of the metal against the bar was the sound of air rushing as James backhanded Willow. Giles saw it all now. Her struggle, her surprise, her terror, the betrayal and it turned his stomach. He gripped the sink and then sank to the toilet. Giles buried his head in his hands and waited for Willow to finish her shower. What he wouldn't give to be in San Francisco right now.

It was less than an hour later that Willow sat huddled in the corner of their couch, covered in a blanket, alternating between strength and insecurity as she told him in the disturbing detail he'd requested what had taken place the night before. As difficult as it was for him to hear it he could tell by the way she pressed herself into the cushions and hid her face that it was ten times that for her to tell.

"A-and then he said," she swallowed and looked away. Giles's heart clenched as her chin crumpled. She tried again. "H-he said... th-that I liked it rough."

They both jumped as the glasses he'd held snapped in half. Giles looked down at them blankly and then set them on the coffee table. He licked his parched lips and cleared his throat as he raised his brow in question. Willow did not give the impression of liking anything rough. If anything, people instinctively wanted to protect her.

Willow played at her throat with nervous fingers, looking anywhere but at him, and Giles understood. His mark. Something done in a moment of insecurity and like every other sin in he'd committed it would continue to haunt him and those he loved. Giles brought a surprisingly steady hand to his forehead and then rubbed the grit from his eyes. He felt his control slipping as the rage boiled inside him. He brought his knuckle to his chin.

"Right," he said when he finally trusted his voice. He tugged at his collar and his legs seemed to shift of their own accord. He ached with conflict. It would be such a release to give into the anger that shoved him, to let loose with the indignant rage, to break something... someone. But he couldn't. Not now and certainly never in front of Willow. She didn't need that. She needed an anchor.

He opened his mouth with the vain hope of something insightful coming out but then snapped it closed as a litany of profanities deafened his internal ears. Giles shook his head and wiped his palms on his thighs and then stood. He wanted to hold her but he was afraid that she'd see through him and only be more frightened.

"I- I'll get the tea," Giles muttered and tried not to see the confusion in her eyes as she watched him stutter and shift. He nodded at her lack of response and left the room.

He didn't want to make tea. He didn't give a king's ass about the tea. But he moved, slamming open cabinets, pulling out what he needed. When in doubt.. make tea.. don't do anything of substance... send the woman you love off with a poxy bastard... mark her with your pathetic needs... oh.. but by all means.. make tea!

Christ, he'd made tea for James. Like some bloody butler he'd carried it to him on a bloody silver tray and waited anxiously ever British waiting to see if it was to the man's liking. Giles slammed another cabinet in disgust. All the while he'd watched James ogle Willow, his filthy expression telling Giles exactly what he wanted to do to her - how he wanted to violate her.

Not only wanting, Giles realized as he slammed a cup and saucer down on the tray and reached for another, James had been planning. "Never touch the stuff, my ass," Giles swore. Last night wasn't the act of a drunk man. It wasn't impulsive. It was a well-executed attempt to destroy everything Giles viewed as sacred. He threw a tin of biscuits on the tray hardly noticing the clatter.

Willow was his, dammit. She was everything good about his life and what in God's name gave a man like James Pader the right to destroy that? That bastard had tried to seduce her Giles gripped the tray tighter, hearing only the rush of blood to his ears. James had connived, played on her innocence, kissed her, tried to violate her, hit her....

His breath came in gasps now. James had hit her. He'd thrown her against a dresser, and he'd nearly raped her. Giles let go of the tray and brought his hands to his face gripping his hairline in disbelief. He let the rage fill him and blind him to anything beyond the need for vengeance and then [yelled] his frustration as he in one motion pulled the full tray off the counter. Fuck the tea, Giles's mind roared. His chest heaved at the release of shattered china and lightning of silver as the tray crashed to the floor. And fuck James Pader.

Giles's heart raced and he gripped the counter for support as the echoes of crashing glass and vibrating silver replaced the curses.

"Giles?"

He pulled up short of breath, lungs cold, as Willow's soft and frightened voice cut through his passion. He blinked away the sting of burgeoning embarrassment and cleared his throat.

"Careful of the glass," he said sounding much harsher than he'd intended. He rubbed his forehead and then pulled the hand towel from where it hung.

Giles kept his back to her and swiped at the spreading tea. "I I'll just clean this up a-and be out there in a minute," he said. "You mind the glass and "

Willow slipped between him and the counter and looked up at him, her eyes imploring. Giles inhaled a shaky breath and tried to look away. He didn't know what to do. He finally relented and looked down into the dark eyes.

"I'll be okay," she whispered. "Just... for right now... hold me."

He swallowed and nodded. Willow nodded in return and then gently as if it were their first embrace she leaned into him and wrapped her slender arms around his waist. Seconds later Giles pulled himself free of guilt's clutches and joined her in the hug. He inhaled the fresh scent of her shampoo and then rested his cheek on the top of her damp head. He could do that. He could hold her.

Without another word Giles swept her feet from under her and lifted her into his chest. The mess forgotten he carried her from the kitchen and to their bed and lay her gently on the blankets then turned away to remove his splattered sweater and shoes. He grabbed a blanket from the bottom of the bed and pulled it over them. Willow settled into his arms.

For now he would hold her... but tomorrow, tomorrow he could do so much more.

 

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