Title: Saving Giles
Summary: When a mystical amulet is stolen the Scoobies must find it and destroy it before it destroys Giles.
Disclaimer: Standard I guess. Buffy et al are property of FOX and Joss Whedon and whoever else... blah blah blahdon'tSueMeCakes
Willow chewed nervously at the inside of her mouth and furrowed her brow at the horizon. It was a trick and she knew it. She was dishonest, and desperate…a-and any other “d” word that would fit. Once Giles got to the beach house and discovered that surprise! No one else had been invited, he'd most likely do the decent thing and turn his sporty little two-door car around and head for the nearest library. Unless – he didn't.
The evening breeze that skittered off the ocean chilled her and Willow ran her hands over her bare arms then turned to go back inside. The deception aside there were things to be done if tonight was going to turn out remotely resembling what she'd planned.
Giles frowned at the lack of cars parked outside the small bungalow and checked his watch. It was half past eight. The invitation Willow'd sent had specified that they arrive by seven, but damned if he hadn't run into a little snag he liked to call being burgled. But that was in the very immediate past, and being taken care of by Sunnydale's, he cleared his throat, finest, so Giles saw no reason to put off the much-needed break Willow's invitation offered.
It would do him well to see her. Very well, in fact. A certain red haired witch had taken quite an affect on him. Not that he'd let her know that. Willow's life was complicated enough. He sensed a crossroads with her, but couldn't be certain. She'd been strangely quiet lately; a bit more introspective, and several times she'd approached him only to turn straight around and head in the opposite direction. Maybe this weekend between the inane board games Anya insisted they play, constant doughnut runs, and, hopefully, non-demon banter, he'd have a chance to probe the situation. He put his car in park, turned off the engine, and grabbed his bag from the back seat.
In the glooming he saw Willow's delicate silhouette as she stood on the front porch and watched him. A familiar warmth spread across his chest and he smiled and raised his hand in greeting. He waited to actually talk until he climbed the short sandy incline that led to the porch.
“Sorry I'm late,” he apologized. Gods, but she looks incredible. “Have the others gone for snacks?”
“I was afraid you weren't coming,” Willow said. She smiled at him… shyly? Giles blinked.
“Yes. Bit of a problem with the shop,” he faltered an explanation. At her concerned expression he hastened to add, “But it's all taken care of. Entirely of human origins I assure you.”
He stopped and looked around again. Where was that ghastly lot? “And the others?”
“Not coming,” Willow said.
Giles bristled. She'd obviously gone to great lengths to get the weekend together and the whole rude lot of them had, as he'd taken to saying, blown her off. He shook his head and mounted the steps. Bloody typical, people taking her for granted. He smiled brightly for her benefit. “Then it's just the two of us. We'll have a nice dinner and then I'll -.”
“I didn't invite them.”
The words hung in the air. Willow bit her lip and watched him with wide eyes. Even in the enclosing dusk he could see the blush on her skin. The night breeze picked her hair off her slender neck and twisted the loose cotton of her skirt around her ankles. The picture she made was very very enticing and Giles swallowed. Speak you imbecile, he ordered himself.
“You- you didn't?”
Willow shook her head. “Nope.”
“Why ever not?”
She clasped her hands behind her back and tilted her head to the side. A slow sexy smile tilted the corner of her lips. She descended the steps, walked a few more feet in the sand then turned back and held out her hand to him.
He didn't remember letting go of his bag, but must have because he heard it fall with a thud next to his feet. His Willow was playing the seductress? Giles took her small cool hand in his and nodded. The role suited her.
He allowed himself to be led almost twenty yards away where dunes and wind and – his skin tingled – magicks had created quite a little oasis. A large circle of candles flickered their light over the blanket, boom box, and basket that awaited them. Giles felt his breath catch in his throat. Her intent was perfectly clear. He swallowed and tried to slow the blood that now raced to his groin.
He and Willow paused just outside the circle she'd cast.
“The magick is just to keep the wind from blowing out the candles,” Willow answered his unspoken question. “Anything else that happens here will be because we want it to.”
“And what is going to happen?” he asked his voice hoarse.
“Whatever you want,” Willow said. Her eyes never wavered from his.
“Are-are you quite certain?”
Willow nodded and stepped into the center of the candles, bent and pressed play on the CD player. Strains of a popular love song lifted to the air, Giles smiled. He'd heard that song on the way over and remembered thinking it some hormonal angst ridden waste of air. But now, with Willow gently swaying to the music, the song took on a new significance entirely. He moistened his lips, prayed his heart would stay safely in its ribcage, then went to her and rested his hands on her slender hips. She wrapped her arms lightly over his shoulders.
“Dance with me?” she asked. Her gem colored eyes glittered the reflection of the candles and moon.
“I can't promise you more than tonight,” Giles whispered. But gods if he didn't want to. He cursed his age. Willow deserved a younger him, someone she could grow old with. Anything more than tonight wasn't fair to her.
“Listen to the words, Rupert,” Willow whispered. She rested her head on his shoulder and he inhaled the honeysuckle scent of her hair. “Tonight's all I'm asking you for. One night and then we'll go from there.”
Giles captured her hand in his, pressed his lips to her knuckles, and placed it to their chests as he drew her closer into him. They swayed together, lost in the feel of each other's body heat and the sound of the surf. He lifted his head and gazed down at her. Willow smiled and looked up.
“This is nice,” he said quietly unable to focus on anything but her glistening lips.
“It gets nicer,” Willow breathed. The swaying stopped and she rose to her tiptoes and brought her free hand to his cheek.
Her warm breath caressed his mouth a mere second before their lips met in a soft open-mouthed kiss. Her velvet tongue darted quickly into his mouth and then retreated. He followed her lead of hide and seek then won the game with a slow sweep of the sweet tasting recesses. With deliberate slowness he slid his hand under the half shirt she wore and finally cupped the silken underside of her bare breast. She sighed. He groaned. Could this really be happening?
He smiled mid-kiss as her hands butterflied over his chest and worked the buttons of the casual silk shirt he'd chosen. Giles broke the kiss and pressed his cheek to her forehead.
“If I'm dreaming… please don't wake me,” he murmured keeping his eyes shut and focusing on her cool light touch as another button came undone.
Willow quieted him with another kiss then slid loose of his hold. She stepped backwards, gently gripping his tingling fingertips and pulling him with her onto the blanket. She let go his hand and Giles felt it drop to his leg but could only stare as Willow's jade gaze took in every inch of his exposed torso. He felt as much as saw her shaky intake of breath. Desire. Her desire. He felt it and repressed a moan. The gods were being kind tonight.
Willow smiled, the familiar uncertain one of her childhood, and then suddenly blushed. Giles watched, momentarily helpless as the goddess before him flinched then retreated. He raised an eyebrow in question.
She stuttered and twisted her hands. “I… I kinda didn't count on this going this far,” she explained.
This far? Giles raised the other brow and brought his hands to his hips. Tempered anger fought with desire. A joke? Am I a pawn in a child's game?
“I mean… I want it to,” Willow continued looking more and more flustered. “But, I…kinda ambushed you and – “
Giles suppressed a smile. She wants me.
“-And I'm not real good at the seduction thing – “
Giles swallowed and arched his brow. “As the current…um…condition will attest, you are more than adequate at the …seduction thing,” he said.
“Go me?” Willow asked. She lifted her eyebrows and bounced once on the balls of her feet.
She paused a beat and then her brow creased. “I ruined a mood, huh?”
“It's salvageable,” Giles assured her suddenly understanding the true reason behind her sudden drop of confidence. He moved forward the few steps that separated them and took her back into his arms.
“This woman with wants and desires and needs is a part of you,” he said as he pushed her hair away from the cheeks that looked as if they'd taste of cream. “Don't be afraid of her. You wear her beautifully.”
She blushed and looked humbly away. Giles bent his knees so he could watch her expressive face.
“Well… I only bring her out for special occasions.”
“And I'm a special occasion?” he asked already feeling the answer in his heart.
She nodded, then in an instant he saw the goddess return, confidence restored. She brought her lips together to moisten them, leaned up to his ear, and whispered. “You, Mr. Giles, are the event of the century.”
She pulled back a bit, let her eyes twinkle, and then captured his lower lip between her teeth. Giles closed his eyes and willed himself not to throw her onto the sand and ravage that delectable body. This was her night and he would follow her lead. He felt his knees threaten to give as the love bite she'd given his lip melted into a full opened mouth kiss. Hadn't he comforted himself just last night with image?
He grabbed her hips and pulled her into his erection to let her feel just what she'd done to him then slipped his fingers just inside her skirt's waist. Willow broke their kiss and nudged his head to the side. Helpless to do much else he accommodated.
Giles gasped as she traced his jaw line and side of his neck with her tongue and then cooled the blazing trail with a stream of air. She caught his ear lobe, swept her tongue around his ear, and then whispered things both naughty and delightful… in French. He groaned, grabbed her hand and pulled it to the straining bulge in his pants. In an instant she conformed her hand around his shape, gave him a squeeze that almost sent him over the edge, then dropped to her knees.
“I- I don't know I-if that's such a good idea,” he said half-heartedly as she unbuckled his belt and button and then lowered his fly. Would coming right now ruin an otherwise perfect night?
The look she gave him told him in no uncertain terms that she thought very highly of her idea. Willow grabbed both his pants and boxers and with one smooth jerk brought them to his ankles. Giles stepped out of the trappings, the anticipation of seeing her full red lips wrapped around him almost too much to bear.
He jumped as Willow brought her small hand to him, encircled his width, then began her silken torture. She stroked his length a few times, eased back the foreskin, then leaned forward and flicked her tongue across his tip. Giles closed his eyes and forced himself to remain still and not thrust himself down her throat. As tempting and primal as that thought was he let her study him and take tentative tastes of what awaited.
When he thought he could take no more he felt the warmth of her mouth engulf him. He gasped and entangled his fingers in her soft hair and subconsciously set the pace lost in the velvet warmth of her mouth and the sight of her dark eyelashes that fringed her cheeks. He felt the stirrings of his impending orgasm thrust deeper than he probably should have then reluctantly eased from her hold.
“Shhh,” he quieted her confused expression as he sank to his knees before he could pass out. He leaned forward and kissed her swollen mouth, drew her tongue into his in a mimic of what she'd just done to him, then gently eased her back. He held himself over her then lowered his head and kissed her taunt stomach. Each kiss earned him a giggle and a jerk away from him. He quirked a brow and looked up.
Willow shrugged. “Ticklish,” she explained.
Giles' grin widened. He made sure she saw it then lowered his head once more, this time making sure to take his time. As he made his way up the giggles turned to sighs and soft moans and by the time he nipped through her blouse at her already hard nipple he could have sworn he heard a purr. He straddled her waist supporting his weight on his thighs so she wouldn't bear the brunt. As he worked the few buttons of her blouse Willow raised her hand to his chest, trailed through his hair, and scratched her dull nails over his nipples, while the other snaked over his thighs and stroked his length.
Caught between wanting to explode right then and the desire to see and taste what she had hidden beneath the suddenly insurmountable layer of cotton Giles closed his eyes and begged for strength. Finally he conquered the last of the buttons, stretched his long form out beside her and carefully eased each side of her shirt to the side making sure to graze the already straining pink tips.
“Tease,” Willow murmured as she arched her back in obvious invitation.
A low moan escaped him when in one smooth motion she brought her hands to her breast and teased. He didn't miss the smile in her eyes.
“If you keep doing that, this will end much sooner than either of us want,” he warned.
“Then you'd better stop me,” Willow challenged.
Never one to back down from a direct challenge Giles growled and pinned her hands over her head with one hand. He eased in between her thighs and kissed her lips solidly while with his free hand he massaged and tortured her exposed breast.
Willow gasped for a breath as he tore his lips from hers then lowered himself and drew one hardened nipple into his mouth while he rolled and gently pinched the other between his thumb and pointer. Her groans and arched back urged him onward and downward, only this time as he nibbled and sucked past her belly she didn't giggle. If anything, he heard himself laugh as she pushed his head down in a not so subtle way.
He caught the string that served as the skirt's belt with his teeth and pulled it. She writhed and he smiled again as he deliberately slowed himself. It was torture, true, but judging from the rise and fall of Willow's chest and the sound of the blood that pounded through her body, she liked it.
When the knot gave and the skirt fell aside to reveal a small pair of cream-colored lace panties that tied on the side with a thin matching silk ribbon. Giles swallowed at the outward symbol of the woman she'd become then reverently pulled the ribbon that hid her from him.
Willow's sweet gasp and the taste of musk honey were his reward as he darted his tongue into her hidden wetness. He licked and teased until she called out and knotted her fingers in his hair. Giles sucked her swollen nub and slid his finger into her wet tight folds intent upon her release. Willow's body jerked upward as she cried out and he felt the warmth and tightness increase tenfold as she pulsated around his finger.
Her voice filled him and he could not deny her. He welcomed Willow's embrace as her body welcomed his. Her whispered encouragement floated around his ears as soft as her breath and Giles knew he could do little to control himself. The urge to fill her was feral and he gave into the primal need and thrust his entire length in her awaiting passage. Willow raised her hips to meet each thrust with an expression of raw desire. Giles caught her knee between his elbow and his side and pushed up opening her even more for him. He plunged in deeper then pulled back in a vain attempt to stop his orgasm. Gods if this could go on forever.
But it couldn't and it didn't and at his most vulnerable and potent moment Willow pulled him down to her and cradled him to her chest. Their bodies rose and fell in sated synchronicity as Giles slowly collected his senses. When his vision returned he lifted his head to smile at his lover but her tears caught him by surprise.
“Happy tears,” she managed as fresh ones coursed their way down her already moist face.
Giles heaved a sigh of relief glad to feel the dread leave his belly. He brushed his lips across the tears until they faded then kissed her lightly. In a deft move he rolled to his back and pulled her into his chest.
Willow snuggled into his chest then reached behind her to draw the edge of the blanket over them. Giles tightened his hold on her shoulders then decided that wasn't close enough and pulled her slight body over his. The cool ocean breeze blew his hair back but her warmth shielded him.
“I'm afraid that this,” he punctuated each word with a kiss, “is much more than a one night thing.”
To his surprise Willow pressed her finger to his lips in an effort to stop whatever would come next. He frowned and lifted his head.
“Don't say that,” she whispered. “Not now.”
Giles nodded though he didn't quite understand but at that moment he lived to keep her happy. He dropped his head back to its sandy pillow and pushed his questions aside content to hold her.
A few more minutes passed until she propped her elbow on his chest and leaned across him. Giles raised his head and smiled at the delightful opportunity her breast near his mouth presented and kissed it greedily.
“Giles,” she chided him with a playful slap to his chest. A lovely and endearing blush crimsoned her face.
“What?” he teased unable to hide his laughter. “I'm hungry and there was a berry just ripe for the picking.”
Willow giggled and pushed him back. She started to lean forward again then obviously thought better of it and crawled off and over his body. She stretched the blanket against her chest before she finished her mission. Giles rolled his head to the side and watched as she pulled the basket the short distance to them.
She sat back on her heels and smiled proudly. “Dinner is served. And I think you'll find the berries in the basket much more edible than…mine.”
Giles rolled to his side and propped himself up on one elbow. He couldn't help but tease her, seeing that delicious blush had become his quest.
“I sincerely doubt that,” he argued as he reached for her again.
Willow stretched against the morning light that filtered through the wooden shades and snuggled her back against the warmth she knew would be there. Giles mumbled something incoherent and threw a sleep heavy arm over her hip and pulled her tighter into his front. His semi-firm erection nestled securely on her backside. Still on the cusp of sleep she felt herself melt into his hold and allowed an indulgent moment of security to lull her.
For one secret moment she entertained the fantasy that this was how it was going to be the rest of her life. She'd awaken every morning in Giles' strong arms, his gold and gray chest hairs giving her back silky tickles, his warmth and life force around her. Then, they'd make love, talk about fixing breakfast, make love again…. Willow smiled.
“You're smiling,” Giles' sleep raw voice cut into her moment.
Willow widened her existing grin and turned into his chest. She felt it rumble through her as he spoke.
“Indulge a vain old man and tell me it's because of something I did,” he teased. His hot breath ruffled across her hair and scalp.
“Maybe,” she whispered in the morning. “Or maybe I was thinking about the light and fluffy pancakes you were about to make me.”
They adjusted themselves into a more comfortable position Willow rested her head on his shoulder and he twisted her hair between his fingers, neither of them particularly interested in pancakes.
“I could very easily get used to this,” Giles breathed. “In fact, I think I already have.”
Willow raised her brow and blinked back the unexpected tears that sprang to her eyes. That was twice he'd implied something more than the weekend. Except this time, he'd let his words rise in question. He wanted confirmation. She'd stopped him last night but moonlight and 101 creative uses for strawberries and chocolate had been on her side. She sighed and he tensed beneath her.
“Tell me that when the weekend is over,” she finally said. “When we've cleared sand from out shoes and scrubbed down the bathroom and you find out that I…”
Merriment sparkled in his hazel eyes and the corners of his sculptured lips twitched. “That you what?”
“Fart? Good heavens.”
Willow giggled and pushed at him playfully. He gasped in feigned shock and threw his arm to the side.
“Tell me,” he asked as he rolled to his side and propped his head on his hand. “Do you fart often?”
“Giles.” Willow blushed to her core. Even his accent couldn't put dignity into the word.
He leaned forward and kissed her mouth then threw the covers back. “I'm sure, my love, that it smells of roses,” he assured as he rolled to his back and then sat up and put his feet on the floor.
Her embarrassment faded as he raised his arms over his head. She was dimly aware of her bottom lip being drug through her teeth as she studied his body. His back muscles rippled smoothly under his skin and she reached out to trace a scar. In the six years she'd known him he seldom spoke of his past and it never really mattered. The glimpses he'd afforded her had been enough.
Giles snagged his robe from the floor, arranged it deftly around his shoulders then stood and let the soft and worn material hid him. He tossed a playful grin over his shoulder.
“I am assuming though that you don't fart very often.”
Willow nodded and opened her eyes innocently. “Uh – huh. And one time,” she lowered her voice and slid her gaze around the room in mock movement of checking for privacy, “one time… I even burped.”
Giles stopped in his tracks, straightened to his full height, and cleared his throat. “Well,” he said with a frown. “A burp is another thing entirely.”
He busied himself searching around the room. “I'm sorry, Willow,” he teased as he dropped to his knees and pulled his overnight bag from under a chair. “But a burp I can never forgive.”
He stood then climbed back on the mattress and crawled across it until he once again loomed over her. They smiled into each other's eyes. Willow automatically brought her hands to his waist and pulled at the sash that secured the robe.
“I hear what you're saying, Luv,” Giles said let his arms rest on either side of her head. He raised a hand and pushed her bangs from her forehead. “And I'm well aware that you are far from perfect.”
Willow pouted and he caught her lip then drew it into his mouth. Liquid heat flowed through her and she tugged again at the sash. Sex now, she thought wantonly. Serious talk later.
“But,” he continued after he slowly released her mouth. “I don't want perfection.”
“I'm not that far from perfect,” Willow protested against his cheek.
She tried to resume her pout but found it nearly impossible when he swirled his tongue around her nipple at precisely the same time he slid his hand between her thighs. Pleasure rolled upward and out under his ministrations and she stretched under him.
“Now,” Giles purred in her ear. “About those pancakes….”
After a day spent making love, eating pancakes, and a quick trip into a nearby town to check out the newest apothecary shop Willow and Giles sat on their front porch and took in the sunset. Giles watched the setting sun's glow wash over her face and wondered exactly how long it'd been since he'd been this relaxed.
He reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear then tugged at her arm until she took the hint and nestled herself between his legs and leaned into his chest. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and leaned forward so that his head rested on hers. It felt so good to have this time with her unfettered, no smelly books or pretense of research was needed to make the time together acceptable.
And he wanted it to last. Forever. “I've fallen in love with you, Willow,” he whispered in her ear.
“I've always loved you,” she answered softly then lifted her mouth to his and gave him a gentle kiss.
“Then whatever are we to do about this?” he asked closing his eyes and smiling as she nuzzled his cheek and nipped at his ear. He dropped his hand to her breast and squeezed it firmly through her blouse. Already he had several very interesting ideas in mind.
“Tell me I'm not seeing this.”
They froze at the familiar voice and an instant later he felt Willow tense as if she were going to run like hell. Giles opened his eyes, managed a very straight face, and gripped Willow's arms to keep her still.
“Good evening, Buffy,” he said as casually as his raging hard on would allow. “We didn't hear you drive up.”
So bloody typical, he swore. “What brings you to these parts?”
“Umm, a broken into shop and you nowhere to be found?” Buffy answered flippantly. “Had Anya wave a crystal over a map and viola. Here I am.”
She smiled proudly and then cocked her head to the side. Giles steeled himself. He knew that look.
“Did I just see you grope my best friend?”
Before he could stutter out an answer Buffy turned her shrewd gaze to Willow.
“And… you were frenching my Watcher.” She smiled suddenly. “Go, Wills.”
Giles and Willow shared a stunned expression.
“You-you're okay with this?” Willow asked.
Giles watched Buffy's reaction carefully, suddenly all too aware of why Willow had reservations about them beyond the weekend. It was his sworn duty to keep Buffy alive and…well…as happy as he could. But could he give up what Willow offered him? Would his destiny as her watcher demand yet another heartbreaking sacrifice?
“Please,” Buffy said with an indignant snort. “It's not like you two were Mr. and Mrs. Stubble –“
Giles smiled and shook his head. “Subtle,” he corrected. “And I thought I hid my feelings rather well.”
Willow smiled proudly up at him. It was most definitely her ‘yea, Giles,' face. He gave her hand a squeeze in reply.
“I was a little wigged at first. I mean… you're –“
Giles sighed. This wasn't going to be a revelation. He knew exactly what was going to come from her mouth.
“Yes, I know, very, very old.”
“Not so old,” Willow groused.
Buffy turned her gaze to Willow. “And you're gay. Which, by the way, I am totally cool with.”
“Bi-sexual,” Willow corrected. “And thanks.”
“Oh yeah. The longing looks. The seat squirming. The way you always managed to spend just a little too long with Willow. Real covert. You're a regular emotional stealth guy.”
Giles held out his hand. “At this point,” he quoted her, “You're abusing sarcasm.” He smiled internally. I finally got to use that one.
“Anyway, I've had a few months to get used to the idea. Seeing you two happy makes me happy,” Buffy said.
The three stared knowingly at each other for a beat and then it eased into an uncomfortable silence before Buffy brought her hands together.
“So, now that I know you're not dead, I'm gonna go home. You two carry on –“ she waved then turned to go. She stopped a few feet later and turned back. “Just don't do anything icky in front of me. I'm lookin' at a millennium of therapy as it is.”
With that she flipped her hair over her shoulder and balanced herself down the incline.
Giles smiled down to Willow and then leaned to kiss her. It had gone much better than he expected.
Buffy's voice floated over the dune. “Geez, can't you guys wait until I'm at least in my car?”
“Wow,” Willow said sounding for all the world like a person who couldn't believe her luck. “That went better than I expected.”
Giles kissed her cheek. “Yes, well, Buffy is an adult,” he answered more concerned with the state of Willow's ear than with his slayers reaction – or lack thereof. “And she said so herself that she's had a while to get used to the idea.”
“But still,” Willow persisted despite his best efforts to keep her mind otherwise occupied. “It just seems anti-climactic, you know. She's all, ‘hey guys, I thought you were gay and old, but it's cool.' I at least expected something about how as her watcher you've always got to put her first and how are you going to do that when you've got Willow taking up precious time that should be devoted to me?”
“Is that you or Buffy talking?” he asked and then pulled away enough to see her face.
She twisted her mouth to the side and furrowed her brow. “Both, I guess. Because…I want to come first in your life, Giles. I accept that I can't, but it doesn't make me want it any less. It's always going to be Buffy before me…a-and anyone else.”
“You don't know that, Luv,” he soothed despite the tug at his conscious.
“Isn't that what happened with Jenny?”
Giles felt a dull ache in his heart at the memory. He'd done what Buffy had needed him to do. But she had been so young and frightened that there was no way for him to do otherwise, despite what his heart wanted. Low blow, but a fair one.
“If you'd posed this situation years ago, then yes, I would have agreed with you. She needed me to guide her, and support her and train her. There really was no alternative and it was quite selfish of me to try to have a life outside her.“
“But you don't feel that way, anymore?” Willow challenged him. She turned and now faced him. Her green eyes searched his face. “What's changed or are you being selfish again? Because, I opened myself up for this weekend but I haven't volunteered for a lifetime of never really having you.”
Tears bubbled from her eyes and she wiped them away hastily. Giles wiped away the ones she missed then took her chin in his hand.
“I will always be a Watcher,” Giles said after a moment's thought. “And Buffy will always, hopefully, need me. But the days of giving her my life are past us. To let us fall back on that old habit would help no one. She is a warrior now and has learned to stand alone. My role is to provide support, minimal guidance, and let her beat the living snot out of me on a regular basis.”
He relaxed some as his attempted humor succeeded and Willow gave up a genuine smile and small laugh. She eased back into his arms. Giles closed his eyes and inhaled not only the shampoo scent but the entire Willow image. This was one time where reality was a thousand times better than fantasy.
“I'm at a point now where I can give myself to someone else,” he said after another quiet moment had passed. “And I'd like very much for it to be you.”
"Oh, look," Xander said as Giles and Willow entered the Magic Box. "The honeymooners are back."
"How was the sex?" Anya asked quickly. She nodded and looked quickly to Xander. "I know they had sex this weekend." She furrowed her brow. "Although, I doubt it was good. First time sex with a new partner is rarely as exciting as the movies make it sound."
Willow felt rather than saw Giles straighten his back and reach for the armory his stuffy upbringing provided and shot Anya the least overt dirty look she could summon. After how many years as human and Anya still hadn't caught on to the tact thing? And did everyone know that she'd seduced Giles?
"This weekend was pleasant," Giles answered with a businesslike nod. He crossed the shop foyer, took the steps to the main floor and stored his briefcase behind the counter. "Made all the much more so simply because I escaped your inane chatter."
Anya's expression rolled from informed to indignant. She turned quickly to Xander and put her hands to her hips. "Xander. Tell Giles that my chatter is not inane."
"And as soon as I figure out what that means, I'm all over it, An," Xander reassured her.
Willow smiled and stepped forward and linked fingers with Giles. How sweet. He's protecting my virtue ... in a very British and sort of 'I'm avoiding the entire conversation' way. Her smile faded. Or is he just avoiding the idea that we're a couple? An entire litany of 'you should have known better' chorused through her brain. She forced a few more watts into the waning smile . Positive thoughts bring about positive results. If I can dream it, I can become it. Her confidence stumbled but she tried to pull herself back up. No! I refuse to play this game. He's not going to get by with denying what happened.
Willow lifted her chin and willed her smile to give them all sunburns. We're a couple. Couples are not ashamed of their coupling ...er...couplehood. Or coupling for that matter. So, there.
"Our weekend was very nice, Anya. Thank you for asking," she said proudly. She leaned forward conspiratorially and lowered her voice to a stage whisper. "Oh, and that thing you said about Giles probably having the stamina of a field hors-"
"Willow," Giles exclaimed. Horror etched his face.
"Way too much information," Xander chimed in.
"I knew it," Anya exclaimed triumphantly.
It grew silent. Willow beamed. I think I handled that rather well. She dropped Giles' hand, lifted her brow in a pointed look, put that in your proverbial pipe and smoke it, Mister, she thought then turned on her heel. "I think I have an elsewhere to be."
"A-an elsewhere?" Giles stuttered after her.
"Yes," Willow answered then let the door close behind her as she left the shop.
Giles took his monogrammed hanky from his trousers' pocket and wiped his forehead free of the sudden sweat that had broken out. Damned if he'd ever understand women. He'd done something wrong, but considering he had a penis, that was pretty much a given. The question was, what?
"Wow," Xander said when the dust settled.
Anya nodded in agreement. "You're in trouble," she stated simply.
Giles managed to tear his gaze away from the door. He licked his lips and turned to the only two who seemed to know what was going on. Such a sad state of affairs when an ex-vengeance demon and an imbecile are my only means of research . "Y-yes. It does appear that I - what exactly did I do?"
Anya crossed her arms over her chest and appeared to size him up. Giles shifted uncomfortably but held his ground. "Well, if I were still open for business you would have just earned yourself a severe case of festering penile boils -"
Giles held up his hand while Xander cringed. "Anya, I'm terribly sorry about the inane chatter comment, but if we could just concentrate on the problem at hand."
"Let a master intervene here," Xander interrupted. He put his hand to his chest. Giles rolled his eyes. Anya smiled proudly.
"Oh yes," she said with a nod. "Listen to Xander. He's messed up several times."
Xander closed his eyes and nodded. "Thanks, Hon," he said with a decidedly pained look. He turned to Giles and emoted. "It doesn't matter if you know what you've done. The point is you've compounded the problem."
Giles put his hands to his hips. This could never do. "Dear Lord," he whispered. "How?"
Both Xander and Anya gave him their classic 'duh' looks. "By letting her leave."
"I- I should go after her."
"Run," Xander corrected. "You should run after her."
Giles nodded, stutter-stepped in either direction before finally remembering where the door was. "You-you take care of the shop," he called over his shoulder just before the door slammed shut. "I'll go find Willow."
He looked either way down the street and cursed. Where did women go when they were upset? He put his hands to his hips and forced himself to think. More importantly, where would Willow go? Gods, if I've messed this up -
"I'm right here." Willow's soft voice sounded just over his right shoulder. Giles whirled around.
"I thought you ran away," he explained abruptly very much feeling the need to let his legs give out.
She shrugged. "I tried, but these shoes? Not very good for running. They're more of a 'hey, look at her legs' footwear. Not very good on the track."
"Yes," Giles agreed absently. He pulled off his glasses and started to polish them. "Much more decorative than functional." He took a deep breath and replaced his spectacles. "I must admit Willow, I'm more than a bit puzzled by your behavior."
Her eyebrows shot up and her mouth snapped closed. It was not, Giles had learned, a happy surprise expression.
"Well, me too," she stuttered and then drew herself up to her full tiny height. "About your behavior, I mean. Pretending that we didn't...do what we did... several times."
Oh. Giles struggled to find the words.
"I was merely making it known that our sex life is none of their business," he defended himself as he replayed the seemingly innocuous scene in his head. He glared at a passerby's interested glance. Yes, that's right. I have an active sex life , he thought snidely.
When he spoke again he made sure to lower his voice, "I said nothing that should have led you to believe that I was pretending it didn't happen."
"And while we're on the subject," he said as he walked forward and intentionally popped her personal space bubble. He smiled when Willow jumped and pressed her back against the wall. For a moment he felt dangerous. "I will thank you to leave my endurance out of future conversations."
Willow's slow smile and quick raise of her brows stole dangerous and replaced it with horny. She reached out, snagged his belt loop with her finger and pulled his dress-slack covered groin to hers. He put his forearm on the wall over her head for balance. Parts of him still reeling from a weekend at the beach stirred.
"You know, you're kinda sexy when you're all worked up. Wanna go make up?" she asked.
He smiled and pressed himself more firmly into her belly. When had he grown so fortunate?
"Mr. Rupert Giles?"
Giles exhaled loudly then closed his eyes and brought his hand to the bridge of his nose. "Who wants to know?" he growled and turned slowly around to face the idiots who would dare interrupt his...foray into public lewdness. Giles cleared his throat at the thought and straightened his tie. "Ah. Yes. Detective."
"This is basically a follow-up visit to tell you that we don't have any leads," the sturdy looking man informed them.
Giles rolled his eyes. Where was Scotland Yard when you needed it?
The detective reached into his hind pocket and pulled out a notebook and pen. "Is there anything else you remember? It could help us. No detail is too small."
"Detective, as I told you, my assistant Miss Emerson and I closed the shop early on Friday. I was at home showering when the security service phoned and informed me of the break in. I arrived to find the exact thing you did - the jimmied alley door and a few broken display cases -"
"And the cash register?"
"Empty. As it usually is when we close the shop for the day. You don't know how thorough Miss Emerson is about protecting the money," Giles explained realizing how grateful he was to his associate. I will have to give that girl a raise.
Willow snorted. "That's an understatement," she said just loudly enough for him to hear.
Giles tried to hide his smile.
"And was there anything else missing -"
Giles shook his head. "No, Detective. Anya was quite thorough with her list."
The detective nodded and put his pad and pen away. "If you come up with anything, give me a call."
Giles nodded then leaned against the wall. He and Willow watched the stocky little man cross the street and get in his car.
"I almost forgot about the breaking and entering," Willow said after a moment's reflection.
Giles watched the car pull into the minimal traffic then nodded. He leaned down and kissed her cheek, enjoying one of the many perks of a relationship with his soul mate.
"Believe it or not," he said turning so that he had her pinned against the wall again. His body quickly reinstated the arousal. "I did too."
"Well, I didn't," Anya's irritated voice shrilled through his skull.
Giles growled and knocked his forehead on the brick above Willow's head in frustration. Did anyone in this town have anything but bad timing? "Of course you didn't, Anya," he sighed willing a migraine so he could claim dead and go home for the afternoon. Preferably with Willow to nurse him to health.
"And, while you and Willow were out giving each other orgasms I discovered something else that had been stolen," Anya informed him. She put her hands to her hips and waited expectantly.
Giles hand automatically went to the pressure points on either side of his nose. Had he actually apologized for the inane chatter comment? "What is it?" he asked.
"Actually, I wanted to phone you at the beach house, but Xander told me that it would be poor form, so I waited until you returned from your weekend of -"
Giles gave in to the urge to clean his glasses.
"Anya?" Willow interrupted her gently. "What's missing?"
Giles knew without a doubt that his heart had lodged itself in his big toe. He felt suddenly light headed. This could not be happening. In an instant he was through the front of his shop and on his way to the back room. This was not happening .
“Oh, Dear Lord.”
Giles' cry of doom drifted over his shoulder and back to Anya and Willow as he disappeared into the shop. The women looked to each other and shrugged. Dear Lording was not an unusual verbal activity on the Hellmouth. It meant anything from, “I've scalded my tea” to “The world's ending in fifteen minutes”.
Anya and Willow followed him back into the Box and found Giles pacing back and forth from the shop to his personal office pulling book after book off shelf after shelf. He muttered furiously to himself pausing only occasionally to bark some incoherent order to a very confused Xander.
“What's Myop's Crown?” Willow whispered too intimidated by Giles' current state of fluster to ask him.
“Well, alone, it's nothing but this gaudy necklace,” Anya explained keeping her voice equally as low as Willows. “But when it's combined with Jax Tail and the Womb of Etheria –whoa! Look out!”
Giles returned from the backroom. His mood hadn't improved. He slammed the wrinkled sheet of paper he'd brought with him onto the counter and glared out at the room daring anyone to move.
Xander, Willow, and Anya remained still.
“It's all there,” he said to no one in particular. “The Jax Tail, Etheria's Womb. Both of them on the list of stolen items.”
“I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say it's all bad,” Xander quipped, although seriously. He licked his lips and rocked back and forth on his feet.
Giles barely acknowledge he'd spoken. “Myop's Crown is rumored to be what destroyed Atlantis.”
Willow frowned. “I thought it was a tidal wave, earthquake thing … oh…oh, boy.” Her stomach sank.
She turned to Xander. “It's all bad.”
“Y-yes,” Giles agreed flipping into lecture research guy mode. He paced around the counter and ran his fingers through his already ruffled hair.
Despite of the impending cataclysmic event in the town of Sunnydale Willow's tummy butterflies stirred at the gesture she'd loved for seven years.
“Why would anyone want to wipe California off the map?” Xander asked.
“That's sorta a ‘why did the man climb the mountain' kinda question,” Willow said absently. She went to Giles' side and studied the list of missing items with him.
They both looked up at the sudden quiet.
“Um… Will?” Xander asked. He spread his arms and looked confused. Anya raised her eyebrows and nodded expectantly.
“Because it was there,” Willow explained. She shrugged. “I mean... it's meanness for the sake of meanness.”
Giles nodded. “Xander, call Buffy. Tell her we'll meet here tonight around seven. Anya, watch the store until then –“
“I get off at five,” Anya interrupted. “Xander and I are renting pornography from the hidden room at Blockbuster.”
“Sweetie?” Xander said. He raised his finger in his usual let me explain how life works pose.
Willow coughed. Blockbuster has a hidden room? Wow .
“Time and a half,” Giles offered.
Giles stopped his rifling through his books. He looked indignant. “Anya,” he argued.
Willow rolled her eyes. Even facing an end of life as she knew it crisis Anya kept her priorities. Still, they didn't know how much time the had and precious little of it could be spent haggling over wages. Willow inhaled deeply.
“I'll see if I can find a spell of some kind to track the thieves,” she interrupted their battle of wills. “I'll probably need something they touched. So, Anya if you and Xander could check around for…something the thieves touched….”
“On it,” Xander said. “I've got my Detective Dan fingerprint kit at home. I'll call Buffy and have her pick it up on her way.”
Willow nodded. It felt good to assume control. I am empowered. I am… she `lifted her chin … Super Willow . “And, Giles, I might find something in The Book of Hydran. So try to find that - oh!” Her excitement grew. “And Valacious's Book of Truths might come in handy.”
He repeated her requests and hurried off to his personal shelves returning moments later loaded down with far more books than she'd specified. “Right,” he nodded to Xander and Anya. “Willow and I will go to her apartment to research –“
“They'll probably have sex,” Anya said not quite so under her breath.
Despite her earlier bravado concerning Giles' endurance all empowerment slipped from Willow's being and she blushed to her roots. Super Willow has left the body. Maybe while she was researching she'd come across a mute spell.
Only Giles' glare gave any indication that he'd heard Anya. “- on the internet and through these books.”
His expression softened noticeably when he met Willow's eyes. He quick grin replaced the fierce scowl he'd sported. Willow felt her heart flounce.
“And, Anya. Yes, when we've done all we that can tonight Willow and I will most definitely make love.”
Willow closed another book, added a few more lines to her notes then pushed her hair from her forehead. Her mind stretched what felt like a hundred different directions as she tried to grasp that elusive bit of information that would pull the pieces together. She frowned and stretched her head to see if Giles was having better luck. For one indulgent minute she took in the pensive way he held his lips when he concentrated. Then she scooted her chair back and walked to his side.
“Ready for a break?” she asked as she slid her arm around his solid shoulders and leaned her head next to his. “We've been at this for hours.”
He barely took his eyes from the text but rubbed his warm hand over her arm. She closed her eyes. Why had she waited so long?
Giles pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead. He sighed. “Remind me first thing tomorrow to call about a security system. Did you come across anything useful?”
Willow shook her head. “Nope. Not really. But on the bright side we've got all the stuff I need at the shop and the spell to summon the intruder isn't nearly as dangerous as the translocation spell.”
She straightened up and smiled. “Maybe we got lucky and it was some kids with no nasty intent – aside from breaking and entering.”
“Yes, because that's exactly the kind of luck that follows me,” Giles answered sarcastically but somehow managed a smile.
It softened into something more genuine and he pulled her around his side and into his lap. “Actually,” he amended. “My luck has improved immensely.”
Embarrassed and charmed Willow ducked her head and chewed her lower lip. Despite the impending apocalypse her life was just so good lately. “Mine, too,” she agreed softly.
“And after we summon the pillock who took the crown,” he said and buried his head into her neck, “You and I will have the rest of the night together.”
Willow smiled and felt the tingles start. She wiggled deeper into his lap. She fought the worried frown but it won. “Um, Giles?”
“Yes, Luv?” came his muffled reply.
“What happens if he's already used the crown?”
“So,” Buffy said with her hands to her hips. She'd stopped pacing and picking up items long enough to ask her question. “What happens if he's already used the crown?” She looked expectantly to Giles.
Willow looked up from mixing herbs her expression a mixture of curiosity and vexation. Giles knew that he couldn't put off the inevitable.
“Of course,” he started, “There are vague references and theories – all of it quite fascinating - “
“Giles,” Buffy interrupted she set down the fertility statue. “Cliffs Notes?”
He stared at the slayer a moment stunned that anyone would not want to know the whatfors and whys then shook his head. Of course, she was a slayer. She was action. And right now she was actioning all over the shop and it set him on edge.
He sighed. “Th- that person or persons becomes a vessel for cataclysmic power and, um… in theory California will cease to exist.”
He waited expectantly for the worried gasp. It never came. He scowled. “Since when has saving the world become passé, people?” he asked with a sigh.
“Why California?” Anya chimed in curiously. “Why not Ohio?”
Giles closed his eyes.“Because, to my knowledge, Ohio is not coastal.”
“And, when you say cease to exist, is that in the most final sense of the word?” Xander demanded. He leaned his chair back on its two hind legs.
Migraine, Giles thought. I'm having a migraine. Or a stroke. Either one's fine. Willow's voice brought him back. Ah yes, dear sweet Willow. The voice of understanding and reason.
“Since you guys couldn't find anything that belonged to the thieves I'm gonna have to improvise a little,” she explained then quickly held her hand in front of her to ease their untrusting expressions. “No biggie,” she said quickly. “Just gotta change a few words here and there.”
Even Giles joined in the collective sigh of quasi-relief.
“Each of you need to stand at an element,” she instructed as she handed each of them a candle. “Anya, you're the North, Xander, you're the West, Giles, you're the East, and Buffy, you're the South.”
They took their positions. Buffy and Willow shared a quick goofy smile and then quickly sombered as Willow cut into the outer circle and took her place within the inner circle. Giles took a deep breath and closed his eyes. When calm overtook him he re-opened his eyes and watched as Willow meditated.
Her creamy skin seemed to glow from within as she found her balance and a small smile bent the corners of her lips. Giles mimicked her expression then let the quiet power of her voice call the power through him.
“I gently stir the East's Watchtower, Whose message is clear and filled with power,” she said as his candle flickered to life.
He managed to keep a straight face but inwardly he praised how accomplished she'd become with the Craft. Willow turned to Xander. “I gently stir the West's Watchtower, To direct the Water of emotional power.”
Giles almost laughed at the shock on Xander's face as his candle fluttered to life. Yet, Willow had chosen the young man's position wisely. For all his assertions that he wasn't much more than a bumbling fool, Xander's emotional stability kept them grounded.
Willow turned to Anya. “I gently stir the North's Watchtower, Encompass us with nurturing power.”
As had the others, Anya's candle shot to life. Giles raised his brow. Anya? Nurturing?
Finally, Willow turned to Buffy. The slayer repositioned her feet and straightened her back as if ready to take on whatever came to her and waited as Willow invoked her element. “I gently stir the South's Watchtower, stretching across us with flames of power. Guard this circle with strength untold, protect us from harm with courage bold.”
That said, and the final candle lit Willow sank to her knees before the materials she'd spread before her. She spoke Latin, added a few herbs to her mortar, and chanted over them as she ground them to powder. When the chant finished and she'd pour the fine talc into her open palm Willow stood and looked to the ceiling.
“The ones who took what belonged to them not,
with careless mind and malicious thought
return them here so we may see
As I will so mote it be.”
With the last words she tossed the handful of ground herbs toward the door. Instantly the particles glowed, hovered above the ground then disappeared through the shop's door.
“Way to make with the rhyming, Will,” Buffy said then blew out the small flame and handed the smoking wax to her friend.
Willow beamed. “It's a gift.”
“What if it brings back everyone who ever shoplifted from us?” Anya asked. She blew out her candle.
“I-I'm sure Willow took that into account,” Giles said as smoothly as he could. I hope . He looked hopefully into her forced grin. For what wasn't the first time in his life his heart deflated.
“Um… sure?” Willow asked. A blush crawled up her neck.
Her wide eyes looked hopefully to the quiet group that surrounded her. Giles relented and put his hands on her shoulders and gave a slight squeeze. Warmth spread through his stomach as she her back against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her neck and rested his chin on her shoulder. She tries so hard.
“I'm sure we'll be able to handle whatever it brings,” he said and then placed a quick kiss on her temple.
Buffy gave up a gentle smile and put her hand on Willow's forearm. “You did great,” she assured her best friend. “It's a start and maybe we'll get a lead.”
Giles smiled at his slayer.
“How long is this going to take?” Anya grumbled. “Blockbuster's only open until 10:00 p.m. and I received a buy one get one free coupon in this morning's mail.”
Good Lord, are all ex-vengeance demons this randy? Giles cleared his throat and released his intimate hold on Willow.
“As soon as the glittery stuff finds its target they'll have an irresistible urge to return to the scene of the crime,” Willow explained. She moved about the room collecting her supplies. “It all depends on how far away he …or she…or they are.”
“Soo,” Xander drew out the word. He stared out the front window. Giles frowned and craned his neck in an attempt to see what Xander saw. “The closer they are the faster it works.”
Willow nodded and pulled a pack of gum from her pocket. She, Buffy, and Anya each grabbed a stick and huddled together in girl talk. Giles went to Xander's side. He felt his eyes bulge from their sockets at the same time Xander clenched his arm.
“This spell wouldn't make anyone's eyes glow white, would it?” Xander asked with forced calmness. “Or float?”
In an instant Giles clicked into battle mode as three men in robes floated closer to the shop. A near blinding white light surround them and shot through where he assumed their eyes should have been. What had they summoned?
“Buffy,” he called over his shoulder. “Weapons.”
Already on top of it Buffy ran to the training room. Anya and Xander raced after her. Willow reinforced their protection circle.
“Crossbow,” Buffy called as she tossed one to Giles and the other to Willow. Anya and Xander entered the room each carrying a battleaxe. The five worked as one mind and settled within the circle and faced the door. Waiting.
Behind him Giles heard Willow's voice rise in chant. She'd gently awakened the Guardians of the Watchtower and now she was invoking their protection. Smart, he thought as a heat wave grew upwards from the lines of the circle and extended to the ceiling. The room hummed with energy.
The hum increased to a sonic wale and Giles winced. The front door blew off its hinges and splintered across the room. They yelled out in surprise and fell to the floor as jagged pieces of door shot toward them. Except, Giles noted somewhere in the back of his mind for Willow. She stood in the center. Her lips moved in continual chant. The blue of the field she'd created buzzed a brighter blue and the shrapnel seemed to dissipate around their circle and lodge itself instead in the bookcases he'd just had repaired.
“What the hell is that?” Anya demanded over the din. She pushed on Giles shoulder to help herself up then edged closer to Xander. Giles grunted then pulled himself back into position.
Buffy already her cross bow aimed at the door. Ever the warrior.
“I think we interrupted something,” Xander said as the three human flashlights floated into the shop and turned their blinding eyes on the five who had summoned them.
“Giles?” Buffy's question hung in the air. Her eyes never left the figures that now floated as a specter would above his bed. “Giles, this is creepy. Can I shoot ‘em?”
“Not just yet,” he said hesitantly. They were safe now within Willow's protective circle and the less they did to compromise its integrity the better off they were.
“I thought you said the intruder was decidedly human,” Willow reminded him. “Th-these guys don't look very human.”
Giles shrugged. So he'd assumed that with the lack of glowing blood, his shop still in tact, and nothing more than beginner's merchandise gone (aside from Myop's crown) the intruders had been human. He squinted through the haze and studied the demon that now floated before him. Aside from the robes and unearthly glow they looked like any other psychotic that lived in Sunnydale. And I've been right how many times?
“Shouldn't you be chanting or something?” Anya asked. She whimpered and pressed into the group as one of the intruders floated to her side of the circle. It brought its face as close as it could to the field and studied Anya with contempt.
Xander stepped between the demony-thing and his girlfriend and held up his axe. “Hey, back off, buddy,” he threatened.
Nonplussed the demon pressed closer to the shield. Anya screamed and Buffy whirled and fired.
Giles waited expectantly for a pained and indignant howl. He felt all their shock as the arrow whizzed through the being and impaled itself in a fertility statue without so much as pulling blood from its intended target. Willow gasped and resumed her chanting.
“That's no good,” Buffy quipped with a worried frown. She turned to the second danger and shot again. It was a repeat performance. They glowed brighter.
“Buffy,” Giles interrupted. “Let's not incite the strange shining men.”
“Well, this is just great,” Anya exclaimed. She put her hands to her tiny hips. “Did anyone think to have a plan beyond calling them here?”
“We were counting on them being human,” Giles said. He cursed himself and their situation. If only he hadn't been in such a hurry to get to the beach.
He didn't have to look to know that Anya rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah, ‘cause we're so used to dealing with that.”
“Guys,” Buffy bellowed. “Focus. And come up with a plan. Stat.”
“Run like hell?” Xander suggested although he looked none too eager to leave the safety Willow's circle provided him.
“Cower like minions?” Anya offered. She cringed as another summoned one pushed the limits of the circle.
Think you fool, Giles closed his eyes and searched for something, anything that might give them an advantage. Surely you learned something from Eyghon, you useless prat.
“On the bright side,” Buffy said. “While they're here with us they're not makin' waves.”
Giles opened his eyes long enough to glare at his slayer, but even he couldn't argue the truth in her statement. The room shook, more glass spewed around them and Giles watched in awe and horror as the three shimmered then combined in a disgusting show to form one creature. Heads, eyes, limbs, and who knew what else, glowered and waved at them from as the robes they wore fell away.
Giles' mind raced furiously. Combined bodies, combined powers? If possible his heart pounded harder. They would target their most powerful obstacle. Buffy.
He lunged just a moment before a stream of fire shot from the being. With an ungraceful grunt he knocked his slayer to the ground just as the first wave of fire weakened the shield. Buffy would not die this way, he vowed. Before either he or Buffy could scramble to their feet both Anya and Xander cried out.
Giles rolled to his side and started to ask if they were all okay but the question died on his lips as another rocket of fire launched toward them. It took only one terrifying instant too long to realize that Willow, not Buffy, was the summoned ones' most powerful obstacle. He strained his arm toward her and called her name.
Willow's wide green eyes shone with terror and stood out on her pale and sweat sheened face and for a moment her chant faltered. Their shield wavered just enough and the summoned ones met their target.
Giles' yell and Willow's scream conflicted, then faded as the flame engulfed her tiny body and shoved her into the wall behind them. The sickening thud of bone against wood resounded through the demon-made storm. He watched in horror, the summoned ones forgotten, as Willow bounced from the wall, rebounded off a table, and then lay sprawled, unmoving face down on the floor.
Xander and Anya were first to her side, but Giles shoved them aside. Heedless of any first aid training he'd had Giles gathered her limp body in his arms. Blood gushed from a hideous gash on her forehead and trailed over her unnaturally pasty skin.
Breathing, he assessed. Still breathing. Good. Erratic pulse. Bad . Did she hit her head? A million thoughts raced through his head. Gods, how could I be so stupid? “Call an ambulance,” he barked over his shoulder. A scurry of feet answered his order.
“Don't worry, Luv,” he soothed the unconscious woman more for his benefit than hers. Her life force stained his hands as he gently pushed her hair away from the wound. “Help will be here in a minute.”
Damn. What was I thinking letting her do this spell? I should have been prepared for this. He felt Anya drop to her knees beside him and vaguely registered the first aid kit.
“They're on their way,” she said as she calmly opened a sterile gauze pad and pushed it to Willow's cut. She pressed Giles hand firmly to the wound.
Giles nodded, grateful for her uncharacteristic calm. He blinked and looked around his destroyed shop. Gone. The Summoned and Buffy and Xander were gone. “Where are the others?”
“They went after the …things,” Anya explained as she flittered her hands in description. “Keep the pressure on the cut.”
In the distance a siren whined its impending arrival. Willow's eyelids fluttered open for a brief instant, a low pained moan escaped her lips, and then she lost consciousness again.
Black, with momentary flashes of green light and dull pain were the first sensations that registered with Willow's injured body. That and movement. She gagged as she launched too and fro, barely able to hold back the bile that threatened to escape her throat. Head wounds and roller coaster rides do not mix, she thought somewhere in the recesses of her brain. Strong arms, familiar smell, a soothing murmur in her ear. No coherent words, just sound. Lovely Giles' sound. He held her. I'm safe.
Her body protested the slightest movement. I'm hurt. Willow heard her own groan and struggled to open her eyes. Giles. For a mere second, his worn, worried, and beautiful face came into bleary. The effort of concentrating was more than her stomach could handle. Despite the twist of tubes and wires and Giles' arms wrapped protectively around her Willow lunged up and forward and promptly lost whatever had been in her stomach.
In the distance there was a scramble of feet and telltale rumblings of voices and suddenly icy cold embraced her. Pain stabbed through her back and hot tears of humiliation and fear stung her eyes. Another wave of nausea hit, followed closely by what surely had to be her feet. When the last wave passed Willow clutched her ribs and fell to her side. Ick, she thought weakly.
“Giles?” she managed as he pulled a cool cloth over her face and shaking hands.
“The doctor's on his way, my love, be still.”
Willow was vaguely aware of hands, none to gentle, poking at her, prying open her eyelids, and then rearranging her. Sensations collided and none of them were particularly good. Hard pillow, unfamiliar sheets, broken something in her body - Willow whimpered and focused on Giles' voice.
“…side affect of the pain killer…”
“Then you shall have to find another,” she heard Giles say in the voice he used that left no room for argument. “And get us another gown and fresh linens.”
“…have a nurse get one…”
“Just so it's done,” Giles said. His strong warm hands engulfed hers.
“…vitals look good…tests came back fine….”
Oh, goody. I passed, Willow thought in incoherent relief.
“Find Buffy and Xander,” Giles ordered. He sounded…suppressed.
Willow frowned. I can't move. You get ‘em, she thought then slowly recognized that someone besides her, Giles, and Dr. I'm Not Gentle, was in the room. Anya? She frowned and tried to make sense of her situation. Obviously in hospital. Not good.
“Willow.” His warm breath caressed her cheek. Giles is good . With great effort she opened her eyes.
“No,” he instructed then brushed his lips across her forehead. “Stay still. I'll explain it all when you're stronger.”
She would have nodded but Willow had always prided herself as a fast learner. If she'd learned anything in the last few minutes it was that movement of any sort was a bad bad thing. Sleep, however was very very good.
Giles didn't bother to hide his glare as the obviously incompetent nurse and orderly changed Willow's gown and sheets. “Bloody hell,” he swore in frustration as the orderlies pulled and tugged at the injured love of his life. “She not a bloody punching bag.”
He suffered their raised brows and pointed glares and when he thought he'd absolutely have to go against all British propriety and pummel them both they finished and left. Giles sighed heavily and sank back into the chair he'd moved to the bedside when he'd started his vigil almost five hours ago. His girlfriend was in hospital and his slayer and Xander were Gods knew where facing something even more powerful than he'd expected. And here he stood powerless to help anyone.
I should have been the one in the center, he berated himself. Willow was a strong sorceress, but by sheer physical strength alone, not to mention his experience, he … Giles sighed. You what, you prat? Even his self-depreciating mind couldn't lay all the blame on himself. He shook his head then rested it on the fresh sheets. It was a risk Willow'd embraced long ago when she'd realized her potential in the black arts. Besides, who could have known?
I should have known, Giles thought. But I was too enamored, too taken with her to… The feel of soft fingers through his hair quieted the guilt that valiantly fought to fester. Without raising his head he captured Willow's weakened hand in his and held it to the nape of his neck. Giles smiled and raised his eyes to hers. They were swollen and not quite focused, but to his heart more beautiful than ever.
“Any word from Buffy and Xander?”
“I sent Anya to find them,” he said and pushed that stubborn stray lock of hair from her eyes. “And you shouldn't be talking.”
She managed a weak laugh. “Xander would be congratulating me on my distance and precision.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “I will say that the… ick factor was off the charts. But it's to be expected and you should in no way be embarrassed.”
She nodded and closed her eyes as she rested her head back against the pillows. A small smile lightened her face. “Off the charts, huh?” She nodded again, proudly, Giles suspected.
“I guess this means we won't be making wild monkey love tonight?” she teased.
He kissed her fingertips gingerly. “I'm so sorry, Willow,” he finally said. “I underestimated you and you're the worse for it.”
“Hey,” Willow said with the hint of mischief in her voice, “who knew I was good enough to want out of the way? Besides, it wasn't your fault. I was so out of research mode and so into – our weekend – that I sort of let a few things slide. Big mistake on my part and next time I'll definitely avoid the whole thinking about you naked in a bath while I'm writing spells.”
Giles shook his head, he would not let her joke away his guilt. And - “Naked in the bathtub?”
Though her large eyes remained closed Willow smiled. “I'd give a sexy nod but the whole head falling off thing might ruin the effect,” she murmured. Her tone jumped considerably. “And, hey, we're still here, so I musta done something good.”
Giles opened his mouth to assure her that she had indeed done very well but the storm that was known as Buffy whirled into the room.
“How's Willow?” she demanded. She put her hands to her hips and pivoted toward the narrow hospital bed.
Blue eyes that still glittered from battle lightened when they met with Willow's groggy smile.
“How are you?” Buffy insisted and took the few steps between the door and the bed in seconds flat.
“Where's Xander?” Willow asked.
Giles watched the concerned slant of his slayer's mouth crook into a demi-smile. His heart relaxed.
She nodded as she spoke. “Xander's fine,” she assured them. She placed herself gingerly on the side of the bed.
Giles' heart tensed again as he saw Willow try not to grimace with the movement.
“That extra hand to hand practice you've been giving him has really paid off,” Buffy informed Giles. “He kicked some major demon ass –“ she frowned and the familiar line between her eyes deepened. “ – asses? Anyway, the combined demon ass was suitably kicked by our man Xander.”
Giles lifted his brow. “And where is our man Xander now?” he prompted knowing that Willow (and he) wouldn't rest until they knew all were for the moment, safe.
“Down in the emergency room –“
Willow eeped and Giles pushed his chair back as he stood. Bloody hell, another one I couldn't protect. Buffy held up her hand.
“Totally un-battle related,” she assured them. “He tripped over his shoelace and cut his forehead. Not to worry, Anya's with him.”
Giles put his hands to his hips and paced the room. “I-I'm assuming the creature was… destroyed?” He watched his slayer's face carefully. He could decipher her expressions more often than he could her command of the Queen's language.
“Not so much destroyed as knocked on its ass and then poofed.” She brought the heels of her palms together and flowered her fingers in demonstration.
“Poofed?” That's a new one.
Buffy nodded and repeated herself. “Kinda like when you wake up from a dream and your dream self is… poofed… and you're left wondering where you are and what happened to George.”
“Clooney,” Willow explained.
Giles nodded. “Ah, yes. The man who narrates the books on tape.”
He caught the knowing grin between Willow and Buffy and shook his head. The women in my life are so strange. Despite his resolve to wallow between guilt and self-hate Giles smiled and stopped at Willow's bedside. Strange, but whole. He clasped her hand in his and his heart warmed as her green eyes locked onto his. “And the three?”
Buffy frowned. “Kinda…dead.”
“Bu-but you said poofed,” Willow exclaimed as best she could. “Poofed and dead are entirely different things.”
“Quite,” Giles agreed.
“First they poofed and then they died and then they kinda pffted.”
“Pffted?” Giles repeated.
“Disappeared,” Willow translated.
“A-and Myop's Crown?”
Buffy shrugged. “We searched. They were fresh out of tiaras.”
Giles pulled off his glasses and pressed the heel of his palm to his forehead. He hadn't described what she was to look for. Nice show, Rupert. “Not a crown, Buffy, no…”
Buffy's toothy grin stopped his migraine and she shoved her hand into her pocket (A feat in itself, Giles thought absently) and pulled out a thick tarnished chain. Myop's amulet dangled over her palm. Giles sighed in relief and extended his hand.
“Gotcha,” she said and then winked at Willow. “Rule to live by? Things that glow are generally not of the norm.”
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