Part 6

Everyone knew that Willow could have survived and recovered quite nicely at her own place, Giles realized. He wasn't fooling anyone. A small smile broke his façade. Was there any need to try? Apparently his feelings toward Willow had been transparent for quite some time and the fact remained that he wanted her with him. Hence the pile of luggage that delightfully decorated his living room and the irritated creature he'd practically tied to his couch.

His smile broadened. Tied. Now there was a lovely thought and perhaps sometime, when her body healed….

“Really, Giles,” Willow tried again. She'd been arguing with him from the moment he'd kidnapped her from her apartment. “I'm fine. You don't need to do all this –“

“Tea?” he asked merrily ignoring her pleas. “Perhaps a muffin?”

It'd been three days since she'd been given a clean bill of health and released from hospital, five days since he'd been able to hold her and show her properly just how dear she was to him, and at least, he glanced at his watch, five minutes since he'd told her how much he loved her. She'd be due for another reminder in say…thirty seconds. Giles turned to the kitchen and quickly arranged a tray.

When he returned he found her sitting at his desk typing merrily away at her laptop. He scowled. He distinctly remembered that blasted contraption being at the bottom of Mt. Luggage. That meant not only had she moved, she'd lifted.

“Willow,” he drew out accusingly. He set the tray on the coffee table to have better access to his hips. He frowned disapprovingly. “The doctor clearly stated that you were to take it easy.”

She grinned at him over her laptop. “He said that I wasn't to strain. There's a difference between taking it easy and a mandatory coma. Dad.”

Giles softened his expression at her gentle admonishment. He crossed the room and propped himself on the edge of his desk. “I've had my share of fractured ribs,” he reminded her. “I know how much it hurts.”

“I may not have super slayer healing powers, but I'm not as fragile as I look,” Willow said quietly. She lifted her sweet face to his asking for a kiss.

He moved in quickly amazed with the ease he let himself fall into her. Her soft full lips parted and she welcomed the tip of his tongue with her own. A bubble of happiness expanded in his temple. He pulled back and smiled down at her still slightly parted mouth and closed eyes.

“And I will prove to you that I am far from being your father,” he promised. He opened his palm and pressed it to her smooth cheek.

“Mmmmm,” Willow murmured with a happy smile then opened her eyes and bit her lower lip.

Giles heard a decidedly Wyndham-Pryce whimper escape him.

“I could cast a little no pain spell,” she suggested. The tip of her pink velvet tongue poked minutely through her teeth.

Giles found himself nodding then swore and pushed himself away from her and her…thrall. “No,” he said a little more emphatically than he'd intended. “No more spells –“

Willow snapped her mouth shut and raised her eyebrows.

“ – un-until you're… strong enough,” he amended weakly off her I'm about to become very very frigid and unfriendly expression.

Dear Lord, he gasped inwardly. How does Xander get through the day? “Please?” he reduced himself.

“We'll see,” she finally acquiesced then smiled and put a reassuring hand on his. “I'm not gonna break. Well… I might… but I'm definitely fixable… a-and besides, what happened isn't the worst of what I've been through…I mean, helping Buffy isn't exactly safe….”

Giles clenched his jaw. He didn't need the reminder.

“N-not that you need that reminder,” she said quickly. “But I know what can happen.”

She tugged him closer again and brought his fingers to her mouth. Giles heart softened while other areas stirred - It'd only be a small spell, he thought randomly as her warm lips barely encased the tip of his index finger in a sweet kiss. He groaned and shook his head. Blast, man. Get a hold of yourself. Five days… you've gone much longer. Much much much longer. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, hoping to stir some of that reserve that renowned him.

“Just a little one,” Willow whispered in between the excruciatingly tiny circles she drew on his palm with her tongue.

She ran her free hand down his arm then trailed her blunt but well-shaped nails back down to his wrist. Giles hissed under his breath. She wasn't making it easy. In fact, she was making it quite…hard. He shifted his weight and cleared his throat.

“No…spells,” he managed.

“But?” Her pink lips quirked at the corners and her brows arched quickly.

Giles groaned as his finger disappeared completely in her warm moist mouth. Gods, how did she do that? Just when he'd made up his mind she'd flash those doe eyes, or point out an irrefutable truth…or-or…Dear Lord, was what she doing with her tongue now even possible? Giles gripped the side of the desk with his free hand as her tiny hand gripped the tightening fabric of his crotch and molded itself to his expanding arousal.

“But … ahhhh. I-I'm sure we could…sweet Lord… improvise.”

Willow groaned and tried not to press herself into the pillows Giles had arranged around her, but it wasn't a sound of pain. Not in the slightest, not in the nearest. And, oh, goddess, if he did whatever he was doing right now with his tongue again she'd definitely have to explode. She sighed in rapture and tried in vain to wiggle her foot.

Giles growled a warning and kept it caught firmly in both his hands as his thumbs tenderly kneaded the sensitive juncture between her big toe and its friend next door. At first she'd complained that a footrub wasn't exactly what she'd had in mind when she'd started deep throating his long and manly fingers, but now…she eeped as he warm tongue followed his thumbs ministrations… now if he stopped…. Willow moaned again and felt her body melt into the bed. Was she having a thought? She felt a dreamy smile mold her face. What are thoughts?

“That's it, Luv,” Giles soothed. He lifted her leaden leg and placed it across his lap then ran either hand firmly on either side of her shin and calf. “Just relax.”

He worked each muscle, muscles she didn't know she had, with skillful palms and fingers until everything from the knee down ceased to exist separate from his bed. Willow vaguely realized that she wasn't so much turned on as much as she was totally zenning with the bed. Her feet and shins had become one with the mattress. Or, she corrected herself as the coarse denim of his jeans collided briefly with the back of her knee, Giles.

“Relax,” he repeated in a low whisper, deep and mesmerizing.

Willow complied. In the distance she felt the mattress shift as he shifted his weight, thought maybe she should feel the now familiar bite of her angry ribs, but strangely felt nothing but Giles' hands making long smooth strokes up and down the tops of her thighs. That and the distant ache between her legs that shouted out, ‘hey, being ignored here.' Willow exhaled and tried to clench her jellied thigh muscles together in an effort to relieve the mild and arousing discomfort.

Giles' low laugh rumbled through the room and he slid his hand between her legs. Willow heard herself sigh and grow instantly moist as he parted her thighs and opened her up for him. He trailed his fingertips gently along her wet folds then quickly dipped a finger inside.

Willow felt the whimper escape from the back of her throat as her walls weakly contracted around his finger begging for more. Giles didn't disappoint. Two sets of fingers toyed with her now – while he mercilessly and rhythmically slid his long index into her he used his thumb to coax her aching nub from its confines. In an endless second's time Willow called out her release, the contractions of her pelvic floor were more than a match for any pain the brief tension might have caused elsewhere.

She'd barely surfaced from the first wave when she felt the tip of Giles' excitement nudge into her wetness and then fill her. She gasped as he hit spots inside her that had yet to be discovered. She didn't care how or when he'd undressed, only that he was inside her. Willow bit her lip and tried to raise her hips to meet him. Giles grunted his disapproval and pulled out. When she lowered her hips he slid easily back into place. It only took a few more attempts before Willow's Pavlovian responses kicked in and she let him guide them slowly back to the edge without any help from the peanut gallery.

Willow sighed and let herself float along the blissful sea Giles created for them. Each long stroke he took brought her closer to another release, and just when she knew she could stand no more he caught her distended clit between his thumb and forefinger and alternately pinched and stroked it until Willow felt nothing but her orgasm and then the heat of his seed as he groaned and filled her.

“Wow,” Willow tried to say, but heard it come out sounding more like “Mmph”.

“Very mmph,” Giles agreed.

She smiled. He sounded breathless. Her smile faded into a pout as she felt him slide from her.

“Let's get you situated, shall we?” Giles asked.

Willow felt the soft cotton of pillows being slowly pulled from beneath her bottom and frowned. She pried open one eye and gingerly lifted her head. “Weren't those pillows under my shoulders when we started?”

Giles nodded but concentrated on rearranging her still flaccid and relaxed body.

“How did my feet get higher than my head without me passing out from pain?” she asked.

His smile caressed her heart and coaxed an unbidden giggle from her chest. “Pressure points, small hypnotic suggestions,” he answered with a boyish shrug. His hazel eyes flickered with mischief. “I improvised.”

Willow waited until Giles' breathing was deep and even before she gritted her teeth against the stabbing pain in her chest and pulled herself from their bed. She tugged his shirt over her naked shoulders and wrapped its front panels nearly double around her as protection against the air-conditioned apartment and slipped quietly from the room.

The bottoms of her relaxed feet met cool tile as she padded as stealthily as she could down the stairs and into the living room. It had been a close call earlier that day. Her Willow subterfuge had almost been un-subtered?… Un-fuged?…. She'd almost been caught. Giles would most definitely have flipped out had he seen the screen she'd pulled up on her laptop.

Her Cheshire grin threatened to split her face at the memory of her distraction – and later his distraction - danced through her mind. Her stomach did a backflip double twist and her knees threatened to give out as blood rushed to certain attended to parts. And his eyes, truly the windows to his soul, touched her even now. His face might be impassive and unreadable when the situation demanded but he could never hide the emotion in his eyes.

That had been the final straw in the proverbial camel, the one that had encouraged her to send that invitation, the tenderness and unguarded lust she'd seen one day …directed at her of all people. Not at Buffy, who claimed ownership over the man. Not at Anya who…Willow furrowed her brow. Well, okay, just not Anya. But at her, when she wasn't supposed to be looking.

So, quite simply she'd given herself one hell of a pep talk, started the pill, Cause looks like that eventually would lead them to bed if I had anything to say about it , Willow thought feeling naughty. She'd finagled a weekend at her parents' beach house, and put off sending the invitation for over a month. A blush warmed her cheeks as warmth spread through her belly. What a weekend it'd been.

The glow from her laptop beckoned in the otherwise darkened room. She followed its lure and gingerly lowered herself in the chair. A quick click of her mouse stopped the bad dog screensaver and in a blip the de-cryption program she'd spent a lazy few months writing presented the password she'd spent years trying to crack.

A quick giggle escaped her surprise-parted lips then in fear of waking the Giles she slapped her hand over her mouth.

Suckthis1 .

Willow smiled again. Someone across the big blue pond had a twisted sense of humor. It made the Council almost …almost… human. In one smooth gesture Willow popped her knuckles and prayed for the best.


Part 7

Giles stretched in the morning's light and smiled in spite of his habit of being…cranky was the word he believed Willow'd used, at any hour before 7:00 a.m. Yet, today was different. His love was safe in his home, she was on the mend, and…at the moment missing from her side of their bed.

He sat up and looked around the room. It was a foolish gesture. His room wasn't that big and if she wasn't in bed then there weren't very many other places in there she could be. Don't panic, he said in an attempt to sooth his racing heart. There was no reason to be this tense, he reasoned with himself. The danger had passed. He had Myop's Crown safely tucked away. Still, he breathed a sigh of relief when he heard the telltale puttering and clanging downstairs.

He grabbed his glasses from the night table and pulled a pair of pajama bottoms and a t-shirt from the back of a chair then opened the bedroom door and headed down the stairs. He paused just outside the kitchen's entrance, leaned quietly against the doorframe and allowed himself a moment of guiltless pleasure.

Willow, his Willow doing more for the shirt that hung to her knees than he ever could, puttered around his kitchen, spread jam on toast, poured coffee like she'd woken up here a thousand times before. He smiled. It felt right. It was right. And at that moment he decided it could never be any other way. He eased off the frame and took a quiet step forward.

“You're up early, my love,” Giles said as he gently pressed his sleep-warmed body into Willow's back, let his hands rest on her hips, and kissed the top of her head. “I trust you slept well?”

“I made you coffee,” Willow said.

She turned and pressed the warm mug in his hand without quite managing to meet his eyes. Giles frowned and bent his knees to get a better look at her expression. Perhaps she hadn't slept well or he'd done something that made her uncomfortable. Whatever it was, he'd make it up to her. Xander had been quite the adept teacher. An apology perched on the tip of his tongue but Willow's statement stopped it dead in its tracks.

“You're probably going to need it when you hear my confession.”

“Con-confession?” Breathe and focus.

Willow nodded and her expressive eyebrows changed position several intriguing times. “I don't suppose you'd forget I said that until after I ask you something?”

“Willow,” he started as he reached behind her and placed the mug on the counter. What has she done?

“Because, if you already know what I've found out then you won't need to know how I found out what I've found out. O-or that I even know it at all…. Which would probably be better because, hello, breaking into top secret files…illegal –“ she frowned – “At least I think it is. The laws in England are kinda different from ours.”

Giles' stomach dropped. “Oh, dear Lord.”

She nodded. “Quite.”

He closed his eyes and swallowed before asking the one question that always resulted in him hearing things he didn't want to hear. “What have you done?”

“Besides give you a raise?” she asked brightly. She leaned toward him conspiratorially and lowered her voice. “I upped your Watcher's salary fifteen percent,” she admitted and then slipped past him.

Giles watched her snag a piece of toast and cup of coffee and disappear into the living room before her words sank in. “You what?” he called out as he whirled on his toe and started after her.

He paused mid-stride and raised an eyebrow. Fifteen percent? He cocked an eyebrow as he considered it. Still less than I deserve – He shook his head clear of the greedy thoughts and continued stalking the hacker witch. “You broke into the Council's financial records?”

Willow nodded and tucked her foot under her bottom as she nestled as best she could in the corner of the couch. “Well,” she qualified after a second's thought –

“-no,” Giles interrupted softly. He didn't remember removing his glasses, but there they were in his hands and aching to be polished. Usually when Willow qualified it meant she'd started with the least of her discretions.

“-actually, I sort of came upon them after I downloaded all their records concerning Buffy. I figured you two have a right to know what they're saying and planning –“

Giles shrugged uneasily then nodded. She certainly did have a point. “That aside,” he agreed, “what you did was very…”

She continued as if he hadn't even started the patented lecture about not being prudent. “A-and then I remembered how they withheld all that information from you guys a few months ago, and now, with a few simple clicks of the mouse,” she shrugged and smiled, “what they know, you know. At least until they update – which by the looks of things is about every few weeks. And by then I'll have their new password so, still… what they know, you know.”

When at a loss Giles fell back on what he did best. “Th-thank you,” he stuttered as he reached for a tissue to polish his already gleaming spectacles. “I'm sure the information will save us precious time.”

Willow nodded but her smile faded. It took with it the serene gratitude that had blossomed briefly in Giles' person.

He frowned. “You have…but face,” he observed. “What's wrong? Did they catch you? Will they know you were there?”

Willow flicked her delicate wrist and snorted her light contempt. “I'm a professional,” she assured him. “It's nothing like that. It's just…I just took the liberty of researching Myop's Crown and there's a little more to it than phenomenal cosmic power.”

He didn't like the sound of that. He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “I don't like the sound of that.”

“Actually, it's not all bad,” Willow assured him quickly. He relaxed. “Myop's Crown is a like a giant wishbone. The wearer's greatest wish is granted. But in the extreme if the proper guidelines aren't followed. So, like the person who sank Atlantis might have wanted more power on the council…b-but secretly he had this grudge against one of the members …and – pfft.”

“Pfft again, eh?”

Willow screwed up her face in thought. “More like … bloop,” she settled on with a nod but the humor left her eyes. “And there's always a price to pay.”


Willow quietly drank her coffee as she watched the wheels in Giles' head spin. He was in watcher mode, applying the information to his slayer, looking for the advantage, seeing all angles. He pinched his lower lip between two fingers then absently stroked his chin, two actions that she could watch another million times. Augggh…sexy, sexy, sexy. She took another sip and studied the contents of her mug not wanting to give away her libidinous urges. Urge? Urge? I've got the urge…to herbal - No, Willow, stop it you naughty naughty slam hound. She cleared her throat and took another drink.

In another few minutes he straightened up considerably and put his hands to his knees. “May I see the documents?” he asked.

Already he had that glazed ‘I'm learning, yippee,' look in his eyes. Willow smiled then tilted her head toward her laptop. “You do the research thing and I'll do the sleep thing,” she said through a large yawn. Her ribs rebelled with sharp bolts of pain.

Giles' snapped his accusing eyes on her. “You didn't sleep?” he demanded.

Willow froze mid-grunt. “Ye-yesterday?” she squeaked.

He rose from the chair and towered over her looking sexy and formidable and virile…She felt the tip of her tongue moisten her lips and for a moment entertained a few very lewd fantasies. A naked Giles is a good Giles. She blushed. Stop it. Fate of the world. Big time decisions. Not time for lusty busty thoughts.

“To bed,” Giles ordered.

Willow pouted and then grimaced at the thought of climbing the stairs again. “How ‘bout to couch?”

Giles shook his head but his expression softened. “As much as I adore the idea of you being in the same area as myself, I must concentrate fully on the matter at hand. And that's something I find very difficult to do when you're near.”

The enamored laughed burped from her mouth. She blushed and lowered her head. He moved before her and helped her from the couch with a steadying arm. Willow smiled up at him when her struggle to stand ceased. His hazel eyes wrinkled warmly in their corners as he returned her gaze. Willow's placed her hand on his rough cheek. His morning whiskers busied the sensitive tips of her fingers. Manly, sleep-rumpled, boyish, sexy…a hundred more adjectives raced through Willow's busy mind.

“I love it when you say things like that,” she confessed.

“And I love you,” Giles said then placed a quick chaste kiss on the top of her head.

He turned them toward the stairs then gave her bottom a quick and intimate pat. She giggled again and stepped forward with the swat. “Now, to bed.”

Giles removed his glasses and wiped his dry and gritty eyes with his knuckles. Was 9:30 too early for a drink? He sat back in his chair, stroked his chin, and stared blindly at the screen before him lost in thought. This would certainly take more than a few minutes to process. He'd held many many rare and important items in his possession in his years as an archaeologist and Watcher, but this…Giles blinked and exhaled in disbelief.

The being who controlled Myop's Crown held the key to power. The power to grant wishes, the power to channel energy. The power to change the world on a whim. Giles shuddered at the implications and then again as once more he realized just how close to disaster they'd come almost a week before. Yet, the pull was there. Just one wish and Buffy would have the life she wanted most. It was seductive and his mind twisted and twirled to find some way to make it all acceptable.

He groaned in frustration. What he needed was an opinion of someone who'd more or less been there and done that, and, as Xander would say, bought the t-shirt. Giles doubted very much than anyone would understand how handle wielding that much power – the power to grant wishes…

Giles paused. Of course. In a rushed shuffle he returned his glasses to their rightful spot then scowled at the computer caught somewhere between being terrified of turning it off and losing his information and leaving it on and still losing his information.

See, you can always put a bookmark in a tome, he thought with some triumph of his ways over the new fangled. He granted himself a few seconds of celebration then rushed ahead with his day.

In under fifteen minutes he'd showered, changed, kissed a sleeping Willow good-bye, left a quick note explaining his whereabouts, and locked the front door behind him. Ten minutes later he emerged from Starbucks with sack of Lemon poppy seed muffins and two cups of double mocha triple late coffee (with extra cinnamon) and an idea of just how much he could afford to raise his employee's salary. Five minutes later he entered his shop, smiled at his assistant and asked her to sit down and prop up her feet.

“Muffin, Anya?” he asked with forced lightness.

The ex-vengeance demon peeled the top off the muffin, popped a piece in her mouth then frowned at her employer. Giles felt his smile falter under her scrutiny but he gave it the good fight.

“You're buttering me up,” she observed then took another nibble of her muffin. “I like it. You should do it more often.”

Giles sighed and rolled his eyes. Of all his talents, lying well wasn't one. He sank to a chair and stretched his legs out before him. Perhaps this was better, to get to the point straight away.

“Yes, well… I- I- I am,” he admitted in light defeat. He eased his smile into something a bit less macabre and grabbed a muffin for himself. How would she react? He paused again, knowing full well how tempting it would be for her.

Anya leaned forward and ripped the top off another muffin and placed it next to the almost complete one she had. “What?” she asked off his look. “I only like the tops and you're being greedy.”

“Of course,” he said with a nod and took a bite out of the one muffin he had. There had to be a way to approach this gently and tactfully.

“Is this about Myop's Crown?” Anya asked as she pulled back the safety latch on her coffee lid.

Giles blinked.

Anya took a sip and made a face. “This taste like swill. They use way too much cinnamon and the whipped cream is generic. They should use what Xander and I use.”

“Yes,” Giles agreed. “I'll be sure to spread the word. How is it exactly that you –“

The vengeance demon snorted. “You don't live eleven hundred years and not pick up a few things.”

“Then you knew,” Giles said cautiously.

“Of course I knew,” Anya reprimanded him with barely a hint of her usual scorn. “Why do you think I made such a big deal about it? Look, you own the Crown, you own the power.”

And yet here she sits , Giles thought with a tinge of self-rebuke and admiration for the spirited ex-demon who busied herself with glaring at the coffee. “It must be very difficult for you,” he whispered hoarsely. “To have your old power so easily within your grasp.”

Anya put her less than satisfactory coffee aside. Her usually tense features softened. She quickly recovered.

“I like it here,” she explained briskly. “I'm going to wrinkle and my breast will sag, I can't drink beer, and people are strange and never say what they mean, but –“ her face softened again. “-but I have Xander and… well, all you people.”

Giles hid his smile behind the dreadful cup of coffee.

“And within five years time I hope to steal this business out from under you and make a small fortune.”

Giles no longer had reason to suffer the coffee. He cleared his throat and set the cardboard cup on the table. There went her raise. “My question to you then is –“

“Destroy it,” Anya said definitively. “Nothing good can come from it.”

“Bu-but imagine how we could help Buffy,” Giles argued. “All it would take would be one wish and –“

“And life as we know it would cease to exist. Do I need to remind you about a certain leather wearing lesbian vampire? I don't think you'd find that Willow nearly as satisfying – unless of course you're into that sort of thing. If you are, I can hook you up with this Dfrean demon who –“

Giles held out his hand and Anya's expression fell into the usual ‘I was just about to say something interesting and relevant' pout.

“Thank you, no,” he declined.

“Buffy is who she is, Giles,” Anya said with another rare moment of friendliness and tactful insight. “You of all people should understand that in order for the light to continue, she has to fight. It's not fair, but it is.”

The bell sounded signaling a patron's arrival. In an instant Anya sprang up from her chair, plastered on her most practiced sincere smile and stepped forward. “Welcome to The Magic Box. We look forward to taking your money.”

Giles lowered his glasses and pinched the pressure points between his eyes. What had he been thinking?

Anya stepped back and caught his eye. “And wishing away her destiny would not in any way free you from yours.”


Part 8

Right! Right! Right! Bam! Left! Left! Left! Bam!


“Blast,” Giles swore. He shook his raw hand and barely dodged the defending punching bag as it fought dirty and rebounded toward him.

After at least an hour of non-stop sweating and fighting and overall kicking of any inanimate object's personified ass Giles still hated himself. Pillock, he goaded himself and took another shot at the offending bag. Right weak bastard, aren't you, Rupert? Didn't learn a bloody thing from Eyghon, did you? Fuckwit. He took a measured swing at the bag, grunting with the effort.

“Bad, punching bag, bad, bad,” Buffy teased from the doorway.

Giles whirled around to see his slayer drop her workout bag from her shoulder and let it slide to the floor. If he weren't already red and winded from exertion then he would have blushed. Instead he opted for a good glare.

“You're late,” he commented then turned back to the bag and steadied it before he gave it another belting.

“But in some parts of the world I'm early,” she reminded him.

In his periphery he saw her move to his side. In one quick motion she shot out her hand and stopped the bag. “What's the what, Giles?”

“Just a bit tense,” he shrugged then raised his forearm to wipe the sweat from his brow. He grabbed the towel she offered.

“How was patrol?” Always it was better to shift the attention back onto her and away from him. He'd spent seven years doing it. It was second nature.

Buffy shrugged her deceptively thin shoulders then stretched one arm across her chest. “Lots of vampires. Lots of dust. Videos with Anya and Xander after. I sooo need a sweetie.”

Giles snagged his water bottle from the window. “It's best not to train on a full stomach,” he said before taking a swig. He rolled his internal eyes. Women and chocolate.

She snorted. He shook his head as his Buffytranslator kicked in. How foolish of me to interpret her ramblings literally. “Of course. A sweetie.”

She pouted her pink lower lip and crossed her other arm across her chest to stretch her shoulder. “Everyone has a smoochie buddy but me. I'm feelin' out of the lusty loopy. Buffy needs a boyfriend.”

Giles nodded, grabbed a battle-axe from the table and tossed it to her in two fluid motions. She caught it as easily as she would a softball. “Finding a life-partner is something one falls into, Buffy,” he counseled then turned back to the table of weapons. He chose a solid metal pipe a little over half his height.

“Attack,” he commanded.

“I've fallen into waaay too many partners,” Buffy said with a disgruntled sigh as she circled him then lunged forward.

Momentarily awed by her form and style, most of it innate, her sudden and graceful blow caught Giles off guard. He rebounded quickly and countered. Metal met metal and sparks spread about the impact.

“You lowered your shoulder. A-and –“ he grunted under her latest assault but managed to stay on his feet. “A-and I dare say…had circumstances been entirely different both Riley and Angel would have made you suitably happy.”

The axe's blade stopped inches from his nose and was followed closely by Buffy's stubborn eyes. They regarded each other; his breath almost labored and hers annoyingly even. I've bloody trained for over twenty years and I'm still out-endured.

“Is that how you describe you and Willow? Suitably happy? Shouldn't you be ecstatically blissful? –“

He pushed her away and caught his footing. He tossed aside the metal bar and Buffy followed suit and crouched into attack position. He motioned her forward. “I suppose that was a bit of an …oof,” he grunted and caught a mouth full of ponytail, ”…understatement.”

Buffy buried her foot in his stomach but he was lucky enough to grab her calf and with one pull jerk her to the ground. Giles almost smiled. Not bad for someone so very very ol- doh! Buffy flipped to her side and caught his legs with a kick. Giles fell with an oomph and a groan then rolled to his back.

“I want ecstatically blissful,” Buffy went on as she rolled into a handstand. “I want sex on the beach gee there's my man goofy smiles and tingling naughty parts.”

“Ecstatically blissful goes beyond…tingling parts. Although, I must admit…”

Giles rolled to his side to hide his embarrassed grin. He very much enjoyed sharing his tingling parts with Willow.

“Gi-iles,” Buffy goaded. Her grin practically split her face. “Are you blushing?”

“I'm forty-seven years old, Buffy. I believe I've outgrown blushing,” he lied getting to his feet but making sure to keep his back to his slayer and potential tormentor.

“You are,” she continued. “You're blushing.”

He inhaled deeply. Lord help me. He grabbed his water bottle with one hand and waved away her accusations with the other. For God's sake you git, stop blushing.

“It's okay,” she assured him. “I think it's sweet. In a completely ewwww kinda way.”

Buffy circled him and plopped herself on the stack of mats before him. She sighed and slumped her shoulders obviously no longer concentrating on him. Her depression tugged at his heartstrings. Even though she was arguably the most powerful human force on the Earth she was undeniably vulnerable.

“I just want a normal life,” she said.

“Well, that won't happen,” he assured her. As her face fell he rushed to explain himself. “Even without being a slayer you are an exceptional woman. Your life would never be normal.”

Her half-smile and suddenly bright eyes helped him exhale the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.

“Really?” she asked.

He smiled slightly and nodded. “Really.”

“But I want babies and…a mortgage…and you know what? I'd like to have a dog. A little one named Shue-Shue.”

Giles cleared his throat. She ended it with a shrug then jumped off the mats. “I think you need some protection. No rest for the weary, huh?” Buffy asked.

Giles watched as his slayer walked to the corner and grabbed his padding. She launched it toward him and he caught it easily.

“Are you?” he asked holding the gear before him.

“Am I what?” Buffy asked as she retightened her ponytail.

He licked his lips and carefully watched her expression as he asked his next question. It would be so easy. “Are you weary?”

Her response didn't quite put forth the emotional fireworks he'd half-expected. Instead she dropped her arms to her side and lowered her chin just a fraction of an inch.

“Let's train,” she said quietly.

By the time Giles locked the front of the shop behind him he was more than ready to be back in Willow's arms scooping up the comfort she invariably gave like a boy loose in an ice cream shop. He'd discuss his options with her and she would help him secure the right decision. The good decision. The only decision, he reminded himself firmly. He held a protective hand over his breast pocket as the Crown thudded lightly against his chest. It was best that he carry it – for now, until he could properly dispose of it. Yes, you fool, do delude yourself. It's so comely.

Anya was right, of course, the Crown should be destroyed… and he would be the one to do it…eventually. But his talk with Buffy, and then the argument he'd witnessed between Anya and Xander about patrolling versus that ‘N Sync concert she'd bought tickets for, and not lastly, the stack of grad school acceptance letters he'd seen in Willow's flat…. Despite the warm evening Giles shuddered, it almost seemed a sin to waist the opportunity chance had provided him.

Giles frowned, gave the shop door another good pull to ensure it was locked then started across the street toward his “Tramp” as the gang had taken to calling his car. Any other time he would have grinned, but he was too pre-occupied tonight. Absently, he kneaded the aching muscles in his bicep then flipped on his stereo. Soon strains of Cream wafted through the summer air as Giles made the relatively short drive home.

He sang along absently with Eric Clapton, rubbed his arm some more and reminded himself to check into the cost of a deep massage hot tub as the familiar scenery rolled by. Buffy's workouts were becoming much more intense as her understanding of her origins grew - and I really must speak to her about her constant assault on my arm.

Blast , he swore and dug his fingers into the aching flesh in an attempt to ease the low burn of his pained muscles. Despite the now constant ache Giles smiled as his complex came into view. He flipped on his signal and turned into the lot. Willow's gentle touch would make it better. She'd make a paste of some herbs, wrap a warm cloth around it, then he would kiss her until he could only feel one thing – him buried deep inside her hot tight wet cu –

Giles jumped and blushed. What the blood hell? He demanded. He certainly wouldn't tolerate anyone else thinking such base thoughts about the woman he loved and neither would he accept it from himself. This was Willow, his pure sweet Willow, who could suck a golf ball through a garden hose.

Shocked, Giles slapped his hand across his own mouth and stomped on the break. A screech of breaks behind him and the inevitable cry of ‘Moron' followed almost instantly.

“That's it,” Giles snarled. Not caring that his car was still half in the road and half in the lot he threw the gear into park and hurtled himself over the side of the door.

“Moron?” he asked after his smooth landing. He took the few yards between him and the unfortunate driver of the other car in a few easy steps. What kind of poof drives a Neon? He scoffed.

“That's what I said, old man,” the fleshy young man challenged as he left the safety of his own vehicle.

Giles stopped short at the insult then in one impressive move grabbed the bulky man by his Tommy Hilfigger collar and lifted him a good six inches off the ground. “Are you ready to hurt?” he asked enjoying the fear that flitted back and forth between his victim's eyes.

“Lissen, buddy,” the guy stuttered as he tried to ply Giles' fingers from around his neck. “I didn't mean anything by-“

“Enough talk,” Giles decided. He balanced the man with one hand and pulled back a balled fist. By the gods this filthy pillock would pay and Giles was sure he would enjoy every – single- instant of pummeling him. He felt the momentum of his forward jab and went with it.

“Giles –“ Willow's stunned and horrified voice cut through his reverie.

He pulled the punch up short as the pansy in his grasp wilted away from the impending impact. From the corner of his eye he saw her step out from between the gates and start across the street.

“Bloody hell, woman,” he groaned as she reached his side. Couldn't a man enjoy a good street row without some woman ruining it?

“What?” he snarled.

Willow's green eyes were wide with indignation and fright. “What are you doing?” she demanded her voice a nervous pitch above her usual. She shifted on her feet nervously. She wasn't wearing a bra. “Pu-pu-put him down.”

He felt the leer tug at his mouth. He went with it and licked his lips suggestively. “What'll you give me if I do, Sweets?” he asked with a deliberate quirk of his brows. He looked pointedly at her small nipples that puckered the material of her t-shirt.

Her blush merely egged him on.

“Those look tasty.”


Part 9

Willow pulled her sweater tighter around her front and looked at him aghast. “Giles?”

Giles' leer widened into a dangerous grin and he let the man slide to the ground and left him apparently without a second thought. Willow took an involuntary step back as he flowed toward her.

“No,” he corrected. “Not Giles.”

In the background there was a hastily slammed car door, rev of an engine, and then squeal of tires as the man wearing Tommy's clothes fled. Willow swallowed. So much for chivalry. She was alone and without anything more menacing than a vile of holy water to defend herself.

Her next step was far from involuntary. The more distance between her and Not Giles – oh, goddess. She held out a hand as if that alone would deter his progress. Possession was not out of the question considering that pesky Hellmouth. “Yo-you stay right there…. Whatever you are…. I-I'm a powerful witch a-and I –“

In one swoop Giles strung his arm around her waist and pulled her body roughly into his. Willow yelped in pain as much as shock, but his hard kiss muffled the response.

“I know what you are, baby,” the Giles thing assured her when he finally let her up for air. His voice was low and husky. He nipped her lower lip and kneaded her ass through the light fabric of her skirt.

Willow's own breath came in short gasps – a twisted mixture of pleasure and pain. Much pain, she amended. She squirmed as best she could from the tight hold.

“You do?” she asked finally able to take a small step away. His hands now rested on either side of her thighs as opposed to both cheeks.

“I taught you, didn't I?”


He cocked his head toward the apartment. “What say we take this inside?” he suggested.

“No,” she insisted and shoved his hands off her hips. Her ribs rebelled. Note to self – never move again .

Undeterred he took another step forward. Again he wound his arms around her waist. Again Willow's rib cage bellowed in protest. She felt tears sting her eyes but was unsure if they were from the pain or the fear. Despite her best efforts to control herself she felt her chin tremble.

“You didn't say no yesterday,” he growled and nuzzled her ear.

“You're hurting me,” she whimpered. A fat tear splashed off her cheek and onto her wrist.

Both she and Ripper jumped at the unexpected bam of a Louisville Slugger crashing into the Tramp's bonnet.

“Get your hands off the lady,” Tommy Hilfigger demanded.

He looked much less intimidated with the well-used bat in his hand and his as equally bulky friend flanking him. Willow didn't know whether to be relieved or to wet her pants. Well, skirt .

Ripper's eyes brightened and if anything his hold on Willow tightened. “You gonna make me, mate?”

Not good. Not good. Not good. Willow's mind raced with the mantra and she looked wildly from Ripper to her white knights back to Ripper. He was outnumbered and outweaponed and definitely lacking in common sense.

“It's okay,” she stuttered to her would be saviors. She slid from Ripper's hold and held out her arms as wide as her tolerance would allow. “Really. See?”

She forced a smile and hoped it didn't look as frightening as it felt. “Everything's fine here. He's just a little –“

“Let's see what damage you and your girlfriend can do,” Ripper taunted the two men. He shrugged off his sports coat and shoved it in Willow's open arms.

“Giles,” Willow tried again. He had to be in there somewhere. She took a step forward and tried to catch his eyes but he concentrated solely on the men before him. “Please,” she tried again and put a hand on his wrist. “Let's just go inside. A-and I'll fix you some tea. You like tea…oh, and some of those cookies you keep hidden-“

“For god's sake, shut your hole, you babbling bint,” Ripper sneered.

He shook her hand off and in turn Willow managed to lose her footing and stumbled backwards. As she landed ungracefully and painfully on her rear the jacket flew in the opposite direction and Tommy and his girlfriend rushed their assault. She tried to call out but the impact combined with the sting of scraped palms, a jolted tailbone, and unsettled internal organs made any sound but a moan less than possible.

They're gonna kill him, she thought wildly. But then reconsidered as one man tumbled backwards into Giles' car and the other landed not far from her. Or … not. Tommy rebounded quickly, snagged his slugger from where it'd landed and lunged again.

In an instant Willow saw Ripper slide from Giles' face and confusion take his place. He stood stock still then tried to move out of the way. Unsuccessfully. Willow cried out and scrambled to her feet as Tommy missed Giles' head but connected solidly with his shoulder. The sickening sound of wood against skin and then the telltale pop of a dislocated something channeled its way straight to her ears. Willow charged forward as Tommy lifted the bat again readying another blow.

Acting on instinct alone Willow screamed out and threw herself on Giles fallen form. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and covered his head with her own. She cringed and held her breath and waited for the bat to split her head. Gonna hurt. Gonna hurt. Gonna hurt.

The bat clattered to the pavement a few feet away and after a moment's hesitation Willow looked out from under her bangs.

“I'm not dead,” she breathed. Giles groaned. Tommy fell to his knees and sobbed. His girlfriend remained unconscious by the car.

“What the hell was that?” Tommy asked. He swiped the back of his hand across his wet cheeks. “I just wanted to scare him. I wasn't actually gonna use the bat.”

Willow registered his shock, but could do little to help him. She could only stare as he sputtered his way through an explanation.

“You just looked like he was hurting you or something,” Tommy continued. “I mean, I didn't want to hurt anyone.”

His friend stirred then sat up and held his head. “Dude?” he asked them.

Had it been a different time, or in a movie, Willow would have laughed. But it wasn't either of those. It was here and it was now and it was weird.“Just help me get them in the car,” she finally mumbled.

Nothing made sense. Nothing at all.


Buffy and Willow sat in the most secluded corner of St. Jude's Hospital's waiting room and Willow recounted as best she could the events that led to that exact moment. Details were sketchy at best considering she'd been on her way to the corner market to pick up a container of rice milk and not at all prepared aside for sed holy water for anything out of the ordinary.

“Softball accident?” Buffy asked. “You couldn't have gone all creative and put down vampire attack?”

“So I'm a bad liar,” Willow shrugged then winced as it pulled muscles that definitely didn't want to be pulled. She adjusted her inflated donut and shifted uncomfortably. This is just so attractive.

“Somehow, ‘my boyfriend turned into Ripper and our neighbors attacked him with a baseball bat in the middle of the street' didn't sound right.”

It was Buffy's turn to shrug. “It's California. Stranger things have happened. How's your butt?”

Willow smirked and snorted. How many times in her life would she have the chance to say this? “Cracked,” she waited a second for her joke to sink in then rushed to clarify, “but not broken.”

“Makin' with the funny, Wills?” Buffy asked and rolled her eyes.

“A week or so with Mr. Nut – “ she lifted very slightly to indicate her donut, “and I should be like brand spankin' new.”

At Buffy's amused grin Willow beamed inwardly. It always felt good to make Buffy laugh. Outwardly she whined under her breath and tried to find a more comfortable position. The pain pills had mercifully eased the pain, but just knowing that she should be hurting gave Willow cause to squirm.

“And the other guys were fine with that explanation?” Buffy asked skeptically.

Willow shrugged. “It sounded a whole lot better than ‘I attacked a man with a baseball bat'.”

Buffy frowned and sat up straighter. “Where are those guys, anyway?”

“They went home with a clean bill of health, a few well-earned bruises - oh, and a ‘thank you very much for protecting my virtue although you completely wigged out batch of cookies on order,” Willow explained listlessly.

She sighed and shifted again. “Where's Giles?” she grumbled.

The doctor had assured her that aside from an incredibly nasty and painful Louisville Slugger insignia Giles had done nothing more than dislocate his shoulder. Willow rolled her eyes. Nothing more than dislocate his shoulder, she repeated. As if that's no big deal.

“I'll go check on him,” Buffy volunteered. She pushed out of the chair, took a few steps, then turned back to assure Willow she'd be right back with Giles in tow.

Willow nodded then leaned her head back against the cool tiled wall and closed her eyes in search of a happy place. Visions of a candle lit beach jumped out at her followed closely by visions of a romping Giles and Willow couple frolicking amongst the waves.

Okay, so we didn't exactly frolic in the surf, she admitted to her brain, but I miss the beach. It was a time of no fractured anything and nothing but romantic sillytalk. Plus, when he called my nips tasty there it didn't sound nearly as ewww. She frowned.


“You know this guy?” Buffy's cheery voice cut into her thoughts. “I found him wandering around the psych ward.”

“So not funny, Buffy,” Giles chastised. His voice was quiet now, reserved. No trace of Ripper.

Willow kept her eyes closed a moment longer and her heart skipped a beat. She could feel the sudden uncertainty in the air that surrounded them. Now it's awkward. I hate awkward. Awkward turns into … even more awkward and then it's nothing but sure, I'll call you and…Babbling now. After a few breaths taken not quite deep enough to aggravate her ribs Willow summoned her courage and looked up at Giles.

He raised his good arm to run a nervous hand through his already mussed hair then adjusted the blue hospital issued sling before he could meet her eyes. Willow saw his struggle to hold her gaze, his eyes full of questions and hidden tears. His shame wound itself into her soul and her heart jumped then tried to hide within itself.

“Hello,” he managed almost able to hide the emotion and subtext.

“Hey,” she said softly. I forgive you. She caught his good hand in hers and gave him a quiet smile. “Let's go home.”

Giles swallowed and blinked a few rapid times before he nodded wordlessly.

Buffy helped Willow from the chair then escorted the bruised lovers from the ER to the Tramp.

“What happened to my car?” Giles asked finding it easier to show distress over his possession than over his actions.

It was a decidedly male reaction, but he'd be damned before he turned into a blubbering imbecile in front of anyone else. No, that little spectacle was reserved for Willow. He had much to atone and fully intended to grovel for the next few days. It was the very least he could do.

“Softball accident,” Buffy said with an unladylike snirk.

Willow however frowned and touched his arm to stall their steps. “You don't remember?”

I remember humiliating you, he thought remorsefully. “Bits and pieces,” he explained carefully. “Feeling incredibly brassed off, aching for a good fight.”

“But you don't remember why?” Willow persisted. “Or when it started?”

The worry line between her eyes deepened. Giles resisted the urge to smooth it away. He doubted very much she'd appreciate his touch - Especially after you almost violated her in the middle of the street, bastard. Instead he opted to check his glasses for spots.

“Wh-when I left the shop I think,” he answered after a moment's pause. Finding his lenses annoyingly free of smudges he put them back on.

“I remember being shocked by my own thoughts,” he admitted. “They were quite… inappropriate. Dark … an-an-and –“

“Sex charged?” Buffy provided. She opened the passenger's door and flipped up the seat so that Giles could crawl into the back.”

“Inappropriate,” was all Giles would admit to. He folded himself almost in half and tried to settle into a comfortable position.

“But why?” Willow asked no one in particular. She waited until Buffy pulled the back upright and then dropped her inflatable donut onto the seat. Giles winced as her most recent fall flashed in his mind's eye.

“Did you do anything differently?” Willow asked. “Cast any spells?”

“Eat any candy bars?” Buffy added as she slid behind the wheel.

Giles arched an eyebrow at her. In response she widened her blue eyes innocently. He closed his eyes and shook his head. She was hopeless.

He took a cleansing breath and tried to think. “Nothing, really. I was bringing Myop's Crown home to…do some more research –“

He stopped mid-sentence and looked urgently around the tiny back seat. Where the bloody hell is it? “Where's my jacket?” he asked. He made sure he kept his tone as neutral as possible.

“Oh,” Willow said. Her voice rose half an octave. “In all the hustle and bustle and batting practice I kinda…forgot it.”

Giles grunted and closed his eyes. This could not be happening.

“Is this an Oh, dear Lord moment?” Buffy asked. She had the car keys poised just above the ignition.

“The Crown is in my jacket pocket,” he said through gritted teeth. Clean lenses aside he needed to busy his good hand.

“Uh-oh,” Willow eeped.


Part 10

“So, you just left the Crown on the street?” Buffy asked. She had her tiny hands on her tiny hips. She stood in the middle of the lamp-illuminated street as she surveyed the area with an expert's eye.

Giles watched Willow's fallen expression at the unintended accusation and her struggle to withhold her tears as she set her stubborn chin. If he could just hold her and erase the past week. I miss the beach , he sighed inwardly. It was safe and secluded and private – everything their life in Sunnydale wasn't. It was… he didn't have to struggle for the word. It was normal.

“She didn't know, Buffy,” he said gently. “I dare say she was more concerned with helping me.”

Buffy offered a sincere smile and put her hand on Willow's shoulder.

“Yeah, I know. I'm sorry,” she offered. “I didn't mean anything by that.”

“I know, Buffy,” Willow mumbled. She turned and looked at the bare street. There was no sign of his jacket. It and Myop's Crown were gone.

“Perhaps those two fellow's found it and returned it to my apartment,” Giles suggested half-heartedly in an attempt to ignore where they lived. Oh yes, and then monkeys would fly from my arse and carry me back to Kansas.

He glanced nervously around them. It was dark and neither he nor Willow was in any shape to properly defend themselves against any lurking evil. “I think it's best we get inside,” he suggested and put his hand to the small of Willow's back.

His heart dropped as she stepped away from his touch. He watched helplessly as she clutched her donut to her stomach, turned away from him. She walked slowly away from them, each step radiated pain. Giles frowned powerless to do much more. All this was a result of his negligence.

Buffy touched his arm. “She'll be alright,” she assured him quietly. “She just needs a little Watcher TLC. You go make things right with my best friend and the tramp and I'll check out the usual haunts. Maybe someone knows something.”

Giles nodded and after a moments hesitation started after Willow. He paused and turned back to his slayer. “Do be careful.”

“Don't worry,” Buffy said with a grin and slid behind the wheel. She patted the dashboard affectionately. “I'll keep her safe and sound.”

Giles looked ruefully at his dented and paint-chipped bonnet and then back to Buffy. He didn't even cringe when she ground the engine. “I was talking about you,” he clarified suddenly exhausted.

Buffy smiled up at him. “I know. Now, go give my Willow apology smoochies and a mail order catalog. I don't know exactly what Ripper did, but this one's definitely gonna cost you.”

He managed a wry smile. “Of course,” he said and gave a sharp nod.

Buffy revved the engine and pulled out of sight. He looked into the courtyard where Willow rested by the fountain.

“I just hope it doesn't cost me everything.”

He put his good hand in his torn pocket and slowly approached her. She barely stirred when he reached her side but he could feel her need for him to say something. It was almost more overwhelming than his own need to make things right between them. He cleared his throat and studied his scuffed shoe a moment before speaking.

“Willow, I- I'm so very sorry,” he stuttered softly. “What I did was …beyond redemption –“

“I just need to sleep,” she cut him off. She raised her head and he saw tears escape from her eyes. Her chin wobbled and when she spoke again her voice broke.

“We can do this tomorrow, can't we? ‘Cause tonight's not very good for me. I- I just wanna go to bed and feel you next to me and pretend that when I wake up tomorrow today just didn't happen. Okay?” She sniffed and took a deep breath then faltered a quick smile. “We can do that, right?”

Was that forgiveness? “Of course, Luv,” he breathed.

Willow nodded then nudged herself under his good arm. Giles quickly accommodated and settled its weight lightly around her shoulders. They shuffled like an elderly couple to his front door.

He pulled his arm away from her and fished in his pants pockets for his keys. “Blast.” They were on the same ring as his car keys and shop keys and Buffy had them.

“S'okay,” Willow soothed him. She pulled a small key chain from her sweater pocket and dangled his spare set before him. “I was going to the store, remember?”

He kissed the top of her head. “Have I mentioned that I love you?” he asked. “And that I've got an impressive collection of mail order catalogs.”

Willow surprised him with a short giggle. “Is that your version of baking cookies?” she ribbed as she slid the key into the lock and turned the handle. The door popped open.

“Buffy's version, actually,” he said letting her forgiveness wash over his heart. “Mine involves groveling, massages and hot baths.”

Willow sucked in air through her teeth as she unhooked Giles' sling and helped him ease his shirt off his shoulders and down his arms. Not only was his arm swollen, it had a very vivid black bat shaped bruise that edged into a blue one that spread out over his shoulder.

“Ouch,” she said with a sympathetic pout. Her fingers hovered over the bruise and whatever she was going to say died on her lips.

Giles one shoulder shrugged away her concern. “The shower should be hot enough –“ He stopped short at her expression. Her fear and fascination was obvious. Surely it wasn't that bad.

“What?” he asked looking down from her face to his bicep. Giles' breath caught in his throat.

“I thought it was black,” Willow finally breathed.

Giles barely heard her words as with tentative fingers he traced his now red Eyghon tattoo. He licked his suddenly dry lips and found his voice. “I guess that would explain the pain I felt while driving home,” he surmised.

“A-and…Ripper,” Willow finished. She looked up quickly. “Th-that was Ripper, right? Not Eyghon? ‘Cause we killed him. Right? I mean, we did, didn't we? Dead?”

Giles nodded despite his own fears. “I'm almost sure of it,” he said still unable to take his eyes away from that damned mark.

His mind raced with any minute detail he could recall and the only thing out of the ordinary he'd done before succumbing to his basest desires. There was only one thing that could have caused such a reaction.

“My tattoo must have- have made it easy for the power to flow through me,” he hypothesized. Being that the whole idea of the symbol is rooted in evil. Nice show, Rupert.

“Like a door?” Willow asked.

“There goes my Mr. Smiley Face tattoo,” she grumbled when he nodded.

Giles almost smiled and made a mental note to fantasize over that point at a more convenient time. “Of course, I'll have to –“

Willow sighed. “Research it,” she finished for him.

Giles read the disappointment in her eyes and paused. “Tomorrow,” he added. The light in her eyes chased away any lingering regret for not getting to her computer straight away. “But for tonight we will shower, have tea, and –“

“Watch t.v.? ‘Cause Charmed is on and that wacky Balthazar is so gonna --”

“I was thinking more along the lines of the Discovery Channel. They've been running this fascinating series on the -“

Then off her look he relented. “But, of course, that would be researching and far be it for us to stimulate our brains.”

Willow grunted her approval and gingerly pulled her sweater from her shoulders, let it fall to the floor then untucked her shirt.

“I've been stimulated enough this week,” she agreed.

Giles watched her struggle with the thin shirt then successfully, if not slowly pull it over her head to reveal bruises far more ghastly than his. Purple blotches tinged in green and yellow covered her back and somehow looked more intense than they had yesterday.

You did that, he tortured himself. In an instant he was behind her helping as best he could one handed to unzip her skirt and let it fall to the floor. The beginnings of an angry bruise peeked out of the top of her silk panties. You did that one, too. Willow stepped forward and turned to face him.

“Shower, tea, and t.v. tonight,” Willow said as if she'd read his thoughts. Her sweet face broke into a gentle smile. “Guilt and groveling tomorrow.”

If he didn't think he'd crush her with the force of the hug he wanted to give Giles would have taken her in his arms right then. His voice caught.

“I don't deserve you,” he managed.

Willow tiptoed and placed a small kiss on the side of his mouth. “Meet me in the shower?”

Willow saw Giles frown and very definitely felt him shift uncomfortably on the couch next to her. She bit her tongue as her new best friend Mr. Inflated Donut shifted as well. She arched an eyebrow at Giles.

“What's wrong? Is it your shoulder?”

Giles grimaced, resettled his long legs on the coffee table, then gestured toward the set with contempt.

“It's that Prue beast,” he groused. “She's so bloody judgmental and pig headed. A-and her spells lack clarity and cadence. Not to mention the fact that her… her… breasts are in danger of exploding. Those can't be real.”

He took another handful of popcorn and tossed it in his mouth. His eyes never left the screen. Willow grinned. She'd converted another. She shook her head and went back to her notebook.

“Are you taking notes?” Giles asked. He furrowed his brow and tried to peer around her shoulder. “Because I can assure you that you, my love, would be the one to teach the –“ he flipped his hand toward the television, “the Witches of Eastwick a thing or two.”

Willow laughed then held her notebook up to him. A guilty flush crossed her cheeks. “I know we said no to research, but I had a few ideas while we were in the shower,” she admitted.

“You weren't the only one,” Giles purred but let her sketches distract him.

Whimper. Willow cursed her broken body but quickly switched gears when she saw the intrigued set of Giles' lips.

“It's kinda like a bonding spell, only we'd be bonding your tattoo so that a sort of gate is put across it,” she explained trying to contain her excitement. She gave an expectant and tiny shrug. “Since Eyghon's mark seems to flash a neon ‘come on in' light now, it might be helpful. At least until we can find the Crown.”

Giles pinched his lower lip between his thumb and index finger. She saw the wheels in his head turning.

“But don't worry, because it won't bind you in any way… Or it shouldn't. I mean you never really know until these things are done which in no way would instill confidence in me, so let's just forget it. It was a stupid idea. Sometimes… I channel the Marx Brothers. Oh, look. Balthazar smoochies.”

Giles shook his head, put the notebook on his lap, picked it up and shook his head again. Willow suddenly felt very small. She pulled nervously at the comforter they'd covered themselves with and tried to ignore her shame and get back into her show. Damn, she thought forlornly. And I thought I was so clever.

“This is brilliant,” Giles declared.

She looked up quickly. “It is?”

She smiled hopefully at his glittering eyes then postured. “Darn tootin',” she said straightening her shoulders. “I'm not a level five Wiccan for nuttin.”

“There is no level five Wiccan,” Giles informed her absently his attention now fully into the design she'd drawn. “But you are very powerful and skilled indeed.”

He looked at her. “When can we do this?” he asked.

Willow blinked and then hurried ahead. “Well…I…If everything checks out with you, we could try it tonight, I guess, but it might be better if we waited until we were both healthy.”

“We might not have time,” he said and struggled to stand up. “And I'm in no hurry for a repeat performance of this evening's entertainment.”

He walked to his desk and pulled the thick yellow pages from a drawer. “I doubt Sunnydale has any all night tattoo parlors, but one of the nearby cities would,” he explained as he flipped through the pages.

“Giles?” Willow asked.

He held up a finger as he scanned the page. He jabbed at something in triumph then reached for his phone.


“I don't know why I've never considered this before,” he said as he squinted at the numbers and dialed. “I can't erase the damned thing but I can sure as hell bind it. Quite possibly change it into a Willow tree. Damn! Buffy has my car.”

He hung up the phone and looked for all the world like the little boy who'd just missed the brass ring. He put his hand to his hip and chewed at the inside of his mouth.

“Maybe before you get something permanent we could maybe test it with a temporary one,” Willow suggested. Giles attention snapped back to her.

“I've got some henna,” she said with a hopeful shrug.

Giles grimaced as Willow spread out her bottles and pens before him. Henna. As in henna tattoos. As in the beautiful body art that adorned thousands of Indian women, and that Madonna woman. On me. He shook his head.

“What are you so worried about?” she asked giving him a bright and reassuring smile. She studied her bottles and then her drawing and finally chose one. With agonizing precision she removed its lid and dipped in her pen.

Giles squinted then braced himself against the tickle of Willow's pen. She made one long agonizing stroke before he giggled and pulled back. That action alone earned him a frightening Willowglare.

“It tickles,” he explained sheepishly.

“It's not like you haven't already got a tattoo,” she reminded him. The tip of her tongue poked through her teeth in concentration.

“Yes,” Giles agreed. He looked down his chin and watched as the dye stained his skin. “But there's something much more macho about it being done by a bald bloke named Ivan after a bottle of tequila.”

“Wellll,” Willow said slowly never taking her eyes from her canvas. She frowned and used her pinky to erase a smudge. “You're just going to have to settle for an artist named Willow after a spot of tea.”

Giles fought his grin. Cheeky. “A proper tattoo should hurt,” he lectured more as a way to keep his mind off the torturous tickling. “It should make a mental impression as well as a physical one.”

Willow raised her large eyes to his. Her pen hovered above Eyghon's mark and her leer rivaled Ripper's. Giles swallowed and tried not to squirm.

“Do you want me to hurt you?” she asked.

Giles blanched then felt his loins stir as she cocked her brows and bit down lightly on the tip of her tongue.

“'Cause I can make you bark,” she continued. “Puppy.”

Her seductive voice sent an expectant thrill down his spine. He shivered. He raised his own brows but could form no coherent sounds. Yes, please?


Willow giggled.

“I'll bet Ivan never said that,” she gloated. “Now sit still and quit lecturing me. We're almost to the whole chanting part and I really don't wanna mess that up,” Willow chastised him. She swatted at his knee then went back to her creation.

Giles stifled a groan and endured not only the tickling but his tingling naughty parts as well. He rolled his head back and closed his eyes. After what seemed an eternity later Willow finally lifted her pen and closed her spell.

“There,” she said. She pursed her pink lips and Giles felt a small wave of cool air wash over his tingling bicep. “It's done,” she said quietly then turned to clean her supplies.

Giles opened his eyes then looked down his chin at Willow's work. It was a simple henna drawing of three ribbons laced across Eyghon's mark and then secured in a knot. Along the outside of the pattern she'd penned the latin words for… he blinked and looked up in disbelief.

“No evil allowed?” he translated.

“Just in case the evil doesn't get the whole ribbon reference,” she explained through a yawn.

His well-intentioned and impossibly humorous jibe died on his lips when he saw just how darkly her lashes stood out from the pallor of her skin. Why not just kill her straight out, Giles? Pillock.

“I will clean up,” he insisted and took the small jar from her trembling hands. “I've put you through quite enough today. It's best you get to bed.”

He silenced Willow's half-hearted protest with a librarian's glare then nodded in approval when she turned and started up the stairs. He waited until she rounded the first landing and disappeared from his sight before he finished cleaning. Minutes later he took the stairs and eased open the door to their darkened bedroom.

“Don't forget,” Willow reminded him as he carefully slid between the sheets. Her sleepy voice held a hint of humor. “Tomorrow you grovel…and massage.”



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