Part 11

He was looking for socks. Warm and fuzzy and comforting. There was nothing like a good pair of quality socks. They meant comfort. They meant home. The world could be coming to an end and a fresh pair of socks would make it better.

In the distance Giles saw two familiar figures strolling toward him. Willow and Buffy, both in freshly pressed spring dresses – although Buffy's a bit low cut for Easter. Both, he noted, were engrossed in an animated conversation and they pushed matching prams. The set up felt so oddly familiar. Déjà vu? Vaguely. It didn't matter. There were demons afoot and socks to be found. If only the demons would leave him alone long enough to find his socks.

Giles raised his arm in a slow motion wave and ran the lengthening road to the two women in his life. He must warn them. Prepare them. The girls stopped to chat with Willow's father and her mother hopped by with a basket of candy. Really, the Easter bunny in high heels. He huffed indignantly.

“Willow,” he said as he floated above her. “You celebrate Easter?”

“It's all about the chocolate. Everything's about the chocolate. And I've got socks.”

He took a sip of tea, told the vampire to keep his boots off the coffee table, then stepped into the garden. Lavender and roses filled the yard and in the middle of it stood Willow. She was alone save the pram and yipping puppy that nipped at her bare toes.

“Come here, silly,” she called. “You have to see this.”

She pulled back a pile of socks that lined the pram. An embryo pulsed its hello. Giles leaned over the pram and waved. Love filled his heart.

“Hello, pumpkin, Daddy's here.”

“She can bend spoons and immolate demons with the blink of an eye.”

Giles cradled the infant girl in his arms. “Of course you can,” he cooed. “Can't you?”

“She needs socks,” he informed Willow. “Can't fight a war without socks.”

“I've got socks,” Willow assured him.

“I've got Shue-Shue.,” the baby spoke.

A terrior poked it head out from under a bush then floated away on a cloud of jello.

“I told you, Buffy, I'm allergic,” Giles chided his daughter. He carried her through the garden and across the water.

“Can I have a cookie after I slay?” she asked.

She'd grown. Time flew. Next year she'd be in kindergarten. Giles ruffled her blonde hair.

Willow rowed by. “You'll spoil her dinner,” she clucked.

The demon chorus stopped their medley of commercial jingles and nodded.

In the distance someone hammered. Giles glared at him. Xander? His hammering invaded the rest of the dream. Giles tried to turn away and focus on his family but the hammering wouldn't let him.

“For God's sake, Xander, some of us are sleeping.”

“Answer the door, G-man,” Xander said. “Something's up.”

Giles nodded then put down Shue-Shue. The door. Of course .

He sat up with a start and looked around his room. A dream. A nightmare with Xander . Socks? There really is nothing like a good pair of socks, he thought sleepily. His breath came a bit easier.

“Willow?” he asked his mind still fuzzy from… whatever it was he'd been dreaming? It would be much more convenient if dreams came already interpreted. He looked quickly to her side. She snoozed contentedly and Giles almost settled back down beside her before more pounding ensued. The door. Giles groped the nightstand for his glasses and made his way downstairs.

“Buffy,” he greeted still wiping sleep from his eyes. He stood back from the door in a silent invitation and she brushed past him.

He rubbed his tingling arm and tried to form a sentence. “Is anything the matter?”

“Asleep already?” she asked. “Geez, you two really know how to live the nightlife. Unless, you were… living the nightlife. Which I really don't need to know.”

She squinted. “Is that henna?”

Bloody hell. He crossed his arms over his bare chest and waited. She had a point. She would find it – eventually. In the meanwhile, where had he put his robe?

“Yes,” he said then looked down at his arm. It itched now. “And I think I'm having an allergic reaction to it.” He scratched the design then looked up at his slayer. “How was patrol?”

Buffy smiled and held out Myop's Crown. She dropped it in his hand. Giles breathed a sigh of relief as its weight seemed to curve into his palm. Disaster had been averted for another night.

“Productive on all fronts,” she reported. “I found your necklace, got a date for tomorrow night, and saw a really great pair of pumps completely compliment my new dress.”

“Yes?” Giles tried to be interested but could barely get past the stinging around his tattoo. “Cor, but this hurts.”

Buffy raised to her tiptoes and peered down at Willow's handiwork. “You can always wash it off,” she suggested. “That's the beauty of un-inedible ink.”

“It's indelible and there's no such word as un-inedible,” he corrected her automatically as he turned toward the kitchen. “But it is an excellent suggestion.” Those blasted kits should carry a warning of some sort.


He tossed Myop's crown on the counter as he passed and tried to forbid his cringe. That was no way to treat such an object despite the fact that he was going to take a sledgehammer to it in a few hours.

“Stop right there.”

Giles froze at the matronly command. He turned his head just enough to see Willow, in his robe, poised at the top of the landing. He arched an eyebrow. I like. He scratched his arm very nearly drawing blood. But I hurt.

“Can we talk in the kitchen, Luv? I've got to get this off before I start gnawing on my arm. I'm having some sort of reaction.”

“Is it kinda burn-y and tingly?” she asked.

Giles opened his mouth to tell her just how burn-y and tingly it was but her squeal of delight cut him off. He frowned and went back to scratching.

“Oh, Buffy,” she exclaimed. Her formerly sleepy eyes now danced with excitement. “The guy at the pet shop…did you ask him out?”

Buffy glowed. “I totally did. And he totally accepted. We're doing the coffee thing tomorrow.”

Willow wobbled down the remaining steps as quickly as she could. “That's so great,” she celebrated. “'Cause doing the coffee thing often leads to doing the smoochie thing.”

“And you know how I was looking for the perfect shoes to go with that red dress?”

Willow's eyes grew wide and she hobbled into the living room. “Where?”

“April Fools.”

“On sale?”


They joined hands. Buffy bounced and Willow rose a few inches on her toes. They wore matching and triumphant grins.

Giles blinked. “So, the plan is to let this acidic henna eat through my arm, is it?” Giles asked feeling rather peevish. Shoes, sales, and chocolate. He rolled his eyes. Perhaps it's their ability to multi-task that makes them the stronger sex.


“It's not a reaction,” Willow said obviously still reeling from the sale at April Fools. “I mean, not an allergic one, anyway. Tingly and burn-y means that the binding's working. Which means that something's trying to—“

Three sets of eyes turned to the counter. Myop's crown glowed. Giles took a step closer then stepped away. Its brightness ebbed and flowed with his proximity.

“Freaky,” Buffy observed.

“Quite,” Giles agreed. He took another step forward. Fascinating. It's speaking to me. It wants me to use it. He didn't know whether to be horrified or honored.

“Where did you find it?” he asked but found it difficult to take his eyes off the Crown. Buffy buzzed in the background.

“A homeless guy had your jacket on,” Buffy explained. “I traded him the Tramp for the Crown.”

“Y-yes,” Giles agreed. Incredible. I move forward, it lights up. I move back and it lessens. “Good thinking on your part.”

“But that wasn't enough for him, so I gave him the keys to the shop. He's moving into the training room tomorrow morning.”

Giles nodded. “We'll train tomorrow as usual, yes.” Closer, brighter. Away, dimmer.

“Then I told him that Willow and I would show him a little girl on girl action.”

“It's always good to keep up with community service,” he approved. Amazing. All that power. And it wants me. A life so ordinary was just within his grasp. He stepped forward again. He'd have a family he could keep safe, Buffy would get her dog, Xander and Anya would… probably go on shagging every chance they got. He reached out his hand…and it was all. There. For. The. Taking.

Buffy's eyes were bright and uncertain. “What's his deal with this Crown thing?” she asked. She wrinkled her nose.

Willow lowered her voice and leaned toward her friend. “I think he has a soft spot for possession.”



They watched, transfixed as Giles did his two-step with the glowing amulet.

”What's he doin'?”

Willow shook her head. She'd been wondering the exact same thing. Thank the goddess we did the binding. Self-doubt raised its hideous head. She frowned and worried. I'm pretty sure I did the binding correctly.

“Darned if I know,” she mumbled then stepped toward Giles.

At that moment he looked very much like a dog intent on its food bowl. Not that she'd ever had a dog. All she'd ever had were fish and really, to compare Giles to a fish was…weird. Willow shook her head. Easy boy.

“Maybe the binding's not working as well as it should,” she admitted. Off Buffy's confused expression she rushed to explain. “Spells work better when you're whole and healthy –“

Buffy nodded. “And neither of you are either,” she finished for her.

Willow nodded then lifted her shoulders in an apology. “I tried to tell him. Giles?”

Buffy waved her hand over his glazed eyes. “I think he's thralled.”

Willow felt her lip pout of its own volition. “I hate thrall,” she muttered. She shook her head and put her hands to her hips. There was only one way to handle thrall.

With her resolve face firmly in place Willow stepped in between her man and the whorish jewelry that seduced him.

“Rupert,” she said just as sharply as she smacked his cheek. “Snap out of it.”

“Yes, Buffy, you say you found my jacket on a homeless man?” Giles questioned his slayer. And, bugger it all, the henna's sting had somehow spread to his cheek. He frowned. That was the last time he let Willow have her way with him.

He cleared his throat and corrected himself. The last time he let her draw on him with henna, he meant. “I trust it wasn't too difficult to convince him to return it?”

Buffy and Willow exchanged what he'd come to know as “the look”. He could decipher ancient text, but “the look” was out of his expertise. The both stared at him expectantly. They all blinked.

“I meant the amulet, of course. You did let him keep the jacket, yes?”

Instead of answering Buffy grabbed Myop's Crown from the counter and shoved it in her coat pocket.

Giles frowned and looked to Willow. Had he missed something? “Have I missed something?”

Willow pursed her lips and rocked back on her heels. “Aside from the whole thrall thing?” she asked then shook her head. “Nope.”

“We gotta get rid of this thing,” Buffy said. She crossed the room and sat on the far arm of the couch.

What? Giles snapped his head up. No. Fresh socks and babies.

“And we gotta do it soon,” Buffy interrupted their moment. “It makes you majorly weird.”

“Per-perhaps not yet,” he faltered. He looked to Willow for understanding. Her eyes shown compassion, but she shook her head. .

“I think Buffy's right,” she nearly whispered. “That whole wish thing probably isn't as cool as it's cracked up to be, anyway.”

Giles hesitated a moment then nodded in defeat. Willow was right, of course. Just as Anya had been. There really was no choice but to destroy it. The sooner the better. He looked from his love to his slayer then mentally apologized for the kind of life that would never be theirs, despite his greatest wish. He sighed feeling the weight of the world.

“Yes,” he said with a nod. He forced himself back in Watcher mode. “The way to destroy the crown is very similar to how Angel destroyed The Ring of Amarra. You must crush the stone.”

Buffy perked like a curious bird. “That's it?”

He nodded wearily. How many disappointments could one man handle before he was allowed to crack? Willow took his hand in both of hers and gave him a gentle smile. If she didn't entirely understand his conflict, she offered to be his touchstone until he could let his regrets go. He smiled down at her then caressed her smooth cheek with his knuckles.

“That's it,” he confirmed.

He heard Buffy hop off the couch and make a punny about how she'd ‘get crackin' but he didn't remember her leaving. Time always seemed to stand still when he had Willow's undivided attention.

“That…that was very difficult,” he admitted after a few moments of silence.

She nodded and kissed the tip of his chin. “I know,” she said. “The right stuff usually is.”


Part 12

“But you're not listening,” Willow said again. She double-timed it so she could be a step in front of Giles. Sometimes he was just as pig headed as…as a…mule. Yeah, that was it, a mulish pig headed Giles. “It's a great spell.”

Again he stepped ahead of her and glanced down at his watch. Willow squeezed the air by her head and aughed in frustration. If you would just give me five minutes, she thought. It's not like the shop's going anywhere.

“Sunlight, Giles,” she tried nearly tripping over her skirt. “A nest of vamps gone – “ she snapped her fingers, “just like that. A-and with nothing more than a few words. No mess… well, dust – but like… no –”

Giles stopped. Finally she breathed.

“Yes, Willow, it is a great spell,” he patronized.

She frowned at the irritation he hadn't bothered to disguise.

“But it is not one that you will be doing. I'm sorry, but I can't allow you to do anything you're not ready for. Now, if you'll excuse me –“

He kissed her forehead readjusted his briefcase and walked past the fountain.

Willow reeled as his mental slap and then backhand sent her ego to the pits of anger. Her temples pounded as her meeker side tugged at the woman she'd liberated at the beach.

“No,” she stated hoping that he couldn't hear the shaking she felt.

Giles stopped in his tracks. She swallowed and squared her shoulders to face him as he turned slowly back to face her. His face clearly spelled out his surprise. “What did you say?”

Willow's feet tried to turn and run but she quieted them with a few in place steps and straightened her spine. “I said no,” she repeated.

“I won't excuse you. Just because I – I sleep with you and… because I- I did a load of your laundry with mine – which, I will not do again, because there are just some things about you that I don't want to know… doesn't mean you can ju-just give me orders like some inbred hilljack.”

She watched his sculptured lips repeat the last two words of her tirade but jumped in before he could argue. “A-and I am an accomplished Wiccan, so, if I want to try a spell or any-anything else then you're just gonna have to find a way to cope. A-and you can't order me around… since I got here it's been Willow, sit down, Willow, don't stretch, Willow, where's your donut? And I'm getting' a little sick of it –“

“Yes, how remiss of me to look out for your best interest,” Giles replied he looked at his watch again. “I promise you, if you let me leave now so that I may catch the bus, I will let you –“

Willow narrowed her eyes and held up a warning finger. Let?

Giles cleared his throat and tried again. “-I will stand back quietly while you proceed to enflame this apartment complex and all its inhabitants. Would that make you happy?”

Willow felt her lips disappear as her fury grew. It was so like him to twist things around so… so…Gileslike. Goddess she could just turn him into a…. Willow closed her eyes and inhaled. Harm none less ye be harmed. She sighed .


“Fine,” she said. “Go to work. And I'll go back inside and sit on Mr. Donut and watch Springer.” She could hear the appalled screech of his argument.

“You wouldn't.”

“Oh,” she assured him, “I would. I most definitely would. A-and while I'm watching Springer I'm gonna tape Ricki and possibly Judge Judy.”

He closed his eyes. Willow fought a smile. She'd won.

“Five minutes. And, for the record, why are you doing laundry when the doctor specifically said you weren't to strain?”

She shrugged. “I'm almost better,” she argued weakly but not missing the fact that they both turned back toward his apartment.

“And that would have nothing to do with me making sure you don't over-exert yourself, would it?”

Willow's selective hearing kicked in. “You've been awfully cranky,” she pointed out as he opened his front door for her. “Is it something I did?”

“Aside from setting my kitchen on fire while I took a shower?” Giles asked innocently. He shook his head and stepped in the flat after her. “Nothing at all.”

Willow bristled. Sure, bring that up. “I've burned candles with bigger flames,” she groused.

“Entirely not the point.”

Willow crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him. He was just damned lucky he was cute, and sexy, and hell on the ol' aching muscles…and other parts. She concentrated on how tightly she could purse her lips instead of on the “other parts” she enjoyed so much.

“Four minutes,” he reminded her.

“You're cranky,” she pouted.

“Indeed. Willow, really, I've got an important shipment coming in this morning, – and Buffy didn't check in after last night's patrol again –“

A drop of compassion diluted her temper. “Hence the crankiness.”

“Amongst other things,” she heard him mutter.

“Did you call her?”

“Yes, and I even attempted an IM on that cantankerous machine of yours,” he said as he took off his jacket and folded it neatly over the chair.

Despite the argument Willow smiled. How cute was it that he'd tried to instant message someone. Then she frowned as all to clearly she remembered how many hours it'd taken to reinstall her programs the last time he'd attempted to join the age of technology.

“She told you that she had a date after,” Willow reminded him. She couldn't help but let her eyes wonder to her beloved laptop. Would he be offended if I just checked? She wondered, but the urgency in his voice pulled her attention back to the fact that they were indeed having a slight contest of wills.

“Two nights in a row?” Giles asked. “I mean, one night with that D'mitri chap I can understand, but two nights in a row? Really, they haven't known each other long enough to - to – to -”

“Hump like bunnies?” she supplied then quickly sucked in her lower lip at Giles' glare.

“I was going to say...,” he sighed. Then ran his hand through his hair. “It's just that Buffy tends to lose focus when a man enters her life.”

“Not this time,” Buffy said from the doorway. She smiled her good mornings and sailed into the room. “Color me focused.”

Giles' relief washed over Willow and despite her earlier annoyance she smiled.

“Color me irritated that I lost some very much needed sleep,” Giles retorted dryly. “Really, Buffy, do remember to check in tonight.”

Buffy turned to Willow, her excitement painted across her face. “I am so in love,” she announced.

Giles' sigh and voice echoed in the background of their happy squeaks. “Oh, dear Lord.”

Willow squealed as she grabbed Buffy's hand and pulled her to the couch. “Spill,” she ordered. “I need my vicarious –“

Giles cleared his throat.

“-tales of hand holding and bible study,” she finished lamely. She saw Buffy struggle to suppress a grin.

“I am assuming I am, for the moment, off the hook?” Giles asked. He grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair then walked to her. He stood just at the tip of her toes and looked down. Willow looked up. Buffy looked away.

Willow tried to put on a severe frown, but the way his eyes crinkled at the corners and looked into her soul… She could do little but melt into the couch as far as her bruised tail would allow.

“You'll have to make it up to me,” she informed him trying to remember that someone else… who? Xander? Buffy? …was in the room.

“No spells until I get home?”

Willow grinned. She'd won. Again. “Not even a little one?”

This time she loved the way he narrowed his eyes and set his mouth.

“Willow…” he warned.

“Oooh,” she teased. “Watcher man's all grrrr.”

He cocked his head to the side. She raised an eyebrow. Buffy gagged. Giles blushed. Willow giggled.

“Right,” Giles said with a decisive nod then flicked a questioning look at his slayer.

“My car?”

“Corners like it's on rails,” she assured him.

“Ha, bloody, ha,” Giles said blandly. “I've seen Pretty Woman.”

Buffy sighed. “It's where you normally park it.” She turned to Willow and flopped back on the couch. “Two nights of driving a sports car. I'm spoiled.”

“Keys?” he asked.

Buffy dug in her pocket and seconds later set them aloft. Giles caught them mid-air and twirled them around his finger. He gave Willow a very uncharacteristic wink.

“No smoochies for your Willow?” Buffy asked as he turned to the door. Willow smiled happily. Buffy'd taken the words from her mouth.

“Right,” Giles amended, looking nothing if not flustered.

He held his tie to his chest as he leaned forward and planted a quick chaste kiss on Willow's waiting lips. Willow grabbed the end of his tie as he tried to pull back. He wasn't getting off that easy. She teased the seal of his lips and as a reward he relaxed his mouth and granted her an all access pass. A warm tingle throughout her groin reminded her that it had been way too long since they…

Someone whimpered.

Buffy cleared her throat. “Um…guys?”

Willow felt the cushion sink and Giles' knee brush the outside of her thigh. The pressure of his kiss increased and Willow opened her mouth wider. He dipped his tongue just inside then pulled back enough to make her miss it.


Shhh, Buffy, she thought irritably. She popped her eyes open. Buffy. She pulled back reluctantly.

“Lunch?” she breathed.

“And dinner,” he assured. He ducked for one last kiss then crawled off her lap.

Both girls watched as he casually crossed the room, shrugged into his jacket and grabbed his briefcase. Willow brought her hand to her throat and absently fingered her necklace. Lunch. And dinner. Oh, goddess, and desert?

Giles turned to them. His hazel eyes glittered and the corners of his mouth twitched in a repressed smile.

“Mouths look better closed,” he informed them. He directed his gaze to Buffy.

“You'll report later this morning? Say –“ he checked his watch. “In an hour?”

Willow and Buffy nodded in stereo. It was at least a full minute after he left before either of them spoke.


Willow nodded knowing full well that her grin was goofy, starry, and large.

“Very,” she sighed.

“Who knew?” Buffy asked.

“I did,” Willow answered softly.

Giles slid into the Tramp slowly and easily. He glanced over both shoulders and then toward his flat. The coast was clear. Slowly he ran his hands over the soft leather interior – not quite as soft as Willow's skin, but pretty darned close.

“She didn't hurt you, did she?” he asked once he was certain no one was around to observe the exchange. He smiled. “Don't you worry,” he assured, “we've got an appointment at the body shop. That dent will be gone soon enough.”

In response the engine turned over easily and purred its greeting. Giles smiled. He'd never admit it, but he loved his car. He loved the easy way it took corners, the gas mileage, the way the honies drooled as he motored about the town. Giles caught his reflection in the rearview.

“This will never do,” he muttered contemptuously under his breath. “Bugger off,” he told his glasses. With one easy motion he pulled them from his face and tossed them over his shoulder and into the back seat. The tie followed and then his jacket.

What had he been bloody thinking dressing in all those layers? It was hotter than a whore's ass on a Friday night and sod all if his rash wasn't back. He pushed viciously at his sleeve and scratched. It was his witch's doing. His mouth curled as he conjured several delightful ways to teach her a lesson, most of them involving silk scarves and blindfolds.

He pushed the gas and the engine revved. Giles grinned. Seemed a waste to spend a day like this in some forsaken shop… although that Anya creature had a tight enough ass to see him through a few rounds.

Anya? Giles stopped. “Anya?”

Ripper grinned. Now, Anya, if she'd just shut her hole, was a fine bit of meat. She was no Willow, but she'd do in a pinch. Not that he needed be in a pinch with the red headed temptress around. Without looking either right or left he pulled the Tramp into traffic leaving a trail of squealing tires and blaring horns in his wake. His laughter and raised “V” answered any disparaging calls that followed him.

It felt good, the sun on him, the wind in his hair, and he grinned, plans for lunch. He was half-tempted to turn the car around and have an early lunch, but his slayer was there and he had a few things to do.

In the search for a cigarette Ripper flipped open the glove compartment. Any self-respecting man would have a few fags tucked…. helllooo, he purred and added another task to his mental list.

He pulled his hand free of the glove compartment and held it up. So much for slayers keeping their word. The dangling amulet reflected his bemused smirk. Today was going to be fun.


Part 13


Ripper smiled.

“Where were you?” The spunky and obviously irate ex-demon demanded. “There were boxes, lots of boxes… that I had to move…by myself. I need a raise.”

He leaned his elbow on the counter and studied his fingertips while she ranted. Slowly he raked his gaze up her figure. Cute, compact, curvy.

“Fine,” he said then flicked away the invoice she'd handed him the instant he'd entered The Magic Box. What did he care? It took money to look as good as she did. He circled around the counter and leaned his torso across the glass.

“Has my lady called?”

“Fine?” she repeated. Her uncertain smile blossomed. “Really?”

It faded. “Your… lady?”

“That's right. Willow? Sexy red head. Long legs? Breasts so firm you could –“

Anya held up her hand. “I know who Willow is. And no, she hasn't called. And what's wrong with you? You're acting very strangely.”

He licked his lips enjoying the squirm she gave, and motioned her closer. Anya took one small step. He motioned again. Another step. This is too easy. When she was just at the edge of the counter he whispered,

“I've got a secret.”

For this to work he needed her. Instinct told him that Willow, the only other one near strong enough would laugh in his face if he brought her into it. Yet. He had time. He had a plan and he knew Willow's weakness.

He could smell Anya's perfume and more intoxicating than that, her curiosity. When she was close enough for him to touch, he did. He twisted a strawberry colored curl between his fingers, kept his voice low, and looked up at her from under his lashes. It was a cheap move, but he'd used it enough to know that it worked. Every time. Despite what she'd told him earlier, her eyes lit up when he said,

“I've found a pretty bauble.”

“Whoa,” Xander said upon entering the shop. He stopped short at the door and put his hands over his eyes. “Geez, get a roo-“

Ripper smiled as the man's animated embarrassment screeched to a halt and backed up to disbelief. With a wicked and challenging grin he wrapped his hands possessively Anya's tiny waist and wedged himself tighter between her legs. He knew exactly what it looked like.

“Anya? Giles?”

Ripper heard the anger close to tears in Xander's voice. Such a boy playing at a man's game.

“Hi, honey,” Anya said brightly over Ripper's shoulder. “Giles and I are plotting world domination.”

Ripper tsked.

“Really, Luv,” he scolded with a playful cuff to her delightfully pointed chin. “We must work on our secrets.”

Anya giggled and leaned back on her straightened elbows. Ripper smiled with her but kept his eyes on the boy. He would make his move soon.

“Giles is very humorous today.”

“Not lookin' so funny from where I'm standing,” Xander commented darkly.

Ripper watched as he sized up the situation then took a few steps forward. His dark eyes flashed dangerously and the struggle to keep his temper in check was visible. For kicks Ripper massaged her sides through the thin blue dress she wore.

“You wanna let go of my girlfriend?” Xander asked, although it very clearly wasn't a request.

“I think she likes it just where she is,” Ripper challenged.

Anya frowned. “Xander,” she exclaimed. “Don't be rude. Giles gave me a raise and a is going to give me my powers back.”

Xander nodded and edged carefully toward the newly replaced fertility statue. “And what else did you give her, Ripper?”

Ripper smiled. The boy's not as imbecilic as he looks. He shrugged and pushed himself back from the desk. He winked at Anya's pout. “Just a spot of tea,” he said casually.

He turned to the pot and poured another cup. When he turned back he found Xander right by Anya's side, trying to coax her off the counter. Ripper held out the fresh cup. “Would you like some?”

Xander shook his head just the slightest, his hand tightly encircling his girlfriend's. “Thanks, but I had enough psychotropics in the womb. I'm good.”

Ripper almost laughed. It'd been too easy. He hadn't lost his touch. He set the tea aside and with one hand grasped Xander's wrist and with the other held Anya's thigh. It didn't matter where he touched her, actually, but those firm things had been begging for him all morning.

Xander had barely time to look surprised before the spell was spoken and Ripper had backed off enough to look as innocent as the day he'd been born. Both Xander and Anya blinked confusion muddied their faces.

“Anya?” Ripper asked in shock as he unrolled his sleeves. “Please remove yourself from my counter. What you an-an-and Xander do when you're not working is entirely up to you, but while you're on the clock you'd do well to remember that this is not the back room at Blockbuster.”

He pretended to occupy himself with silliness while Anya blinked a few more times then blushed a furious red and smoothed down her skirt.

“Sorry,” Xander mumbled barely able to look up from his feet. With an ungraceful plop he helped Anya to the floor.

Ripper offered a forgiving smile. By the Gods, would Ethan be proud. “Y-yes well, it's alright, I suppose. One does tend to get carried away when one is in love –“

As if on cue the shop door opened and the bell signaled the arrival of Willow and Buffy. They walked arm in arm laughing like giddy schoolgirls. Ripper spared a moment for a quick fantasy. Perhaps, that'd be one of his wishes. He cleared his throat and glared pointedly at the clock.

“I said an hour, Buffy.”

“Awww, leave her alone,” Willow teased as she left Buffy at the door and crossed the room. She stood expectantly before him and rose up to her tiptoes and kissed his mouth. Her small perky breasts brushed against his chest. “She's been keeping me out of trouble.”

Ripper caught himself before he could growl. It wouldn't do to blow his cover too soon. He tucked his finger under her chin and held her gaze a moment longer than necessary then swooped down for another kiss, this one slower and promising.

“Oh, sure,” Xander quipped effectively ending the kiss. “What's good for the goose isn't good for the gander?”

“The gander doesn't own his own shop,” Ripper reminded him without looking away from his Willow.

“But I will,” Anya reminded him. She nodded to the gang. “In five years. Possibly less if he keeps spending money on obscure relics that no one wants to buy.”

Ripper's smile froze and he bit back a telling retort. “Yes, Anya, thank you.”

He cleared his throat again then looked straight into Willow's confused frown.

“Where are your glasses?”

Damn . He scratched his ear and then his nose. “I- I- left them in my car. Got something in my eye and took them off. I guess I was in such a rush… I – I- I forgot about them.”

Buffy's impressed voice came from the front corner of the shop. She turned and held out an imposing fertility statue. Ripper had to close his eyes. The Gods were being just too kind.

“Wow. I'll bet you sell a lot of these.”

Anya nodded vigorously. “Yes. They're popular with divorcees.”

An uncomfortable silence filled the shop. Buffy raised her brows in distress and gingerly returned the impressive and realistic statue back to the shelf. She wiped her hands primly on her skirt. Anya looked curiously from person to person.

“Anyone else at a scary visual place?” Xander asked.

He, Buffy, and Willow each raised a hand.

Ripper shook his head and inhaled deeply. The full moon could not come soon enough. He looked down at the soft curve of Willow's behind. Neither could he.


Part 14

“How was patrol?” Ripper asked Buffy.

He wrapped his arms across Willow's chest and rested his head on her shoulder while he waited for his slayer to give her report. He couldn't help but grind his erection into her backside.

“Giles?” Willow eeped under her breath.

He hid his grin in her silky hair and tightened his hold.

Buffy looked up guiltily. “Fine,” she said a little too quickly. “Fine. And – the vampires? Wow.”

Her nervous smile faded and she looked to Xander and Anya.

“You didn't go, did you?” Ripper asked.

“I totally meant to –“

“Buffy,” Willow said in disbelief. Her genuine shock and disappointment amused Ripper. Little Willow, so eager to see the good in people, he thought. It would be so fun to corrupt his goddess.

“I mean…” Buffy shifted nervously and wound her hands together. “Tonight I will definitely be there.”

“But you destroyed the Crown, right?” Willow asked.

Buffy nodded and smiled. “Sure. Gone… I think.” She frowned.

Ripper let go of Willow and approached his slayer. It was all in the proximity.

“Did you or didn't you Buffy?” he asked calmly careful to let just enough ire show through. “It is not a difficult question.”

Suddenly her smile brightened. “It is of the…decimated,” she announced proudly. “Pfft.”

That's a good bird, Ripper nodded approvingly.

“So, I can go now?” Buffy asked. She edged back toward the door. He could see her attention was already gone. “'Cause, D'mitri's waiting.”

“She's having orgasms,” Anya said knowingly then turned accusingly to Xander. “I want orgasms.”

“We all want orgasms, Hon,” Xander said. He pulled Anya's pelvis into his and rested his hands on her hips.

Out of the mouth of babes, Ripper thought. He freed Buffy with an annoyed wave of his hand toward the door.

“Go… meet your young man,” he instructed making sure to insert just the right amount of pout.

“Can we go too?” Anya chimed in eagerly.

Ripper sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Y-yes. Do go. Please.”

The words were barely out of his mouth before Anya had crossed the room, snagged her purse, then pulled the just as eager Xander toward the door.

As the exiting whirlwind calmed Ripper turned back to Willow. Her innocent hands clasped behind her back almost sent him over his careful edge.

“Seems we're alone, Luv,” he announced. He raised his brow and bit his lip. It was about bloody time. With deliberate slowness he closed up shop. It would take more than a beginner's spell to pull her in. He couldn't wait to start. “Did you bring lunch?” he asked.


Willow frowned. It was one thing for Giles to be so…demonstrative at the beach or in his flat. But here? In public? She rubbed her tingling arms. Something was off. She'd felt it when she and Buffy had come in. The shop felt different. Giles felt…different. His aura was less…cushiony.

“Have you been doing magicks?” she asked.

He nodded. “Just a small casting,” he affirmed and pulled her into his arms again. He pushed her hair off her neck and lowered his head.

She relaxed. A small casting wasn't a big deal. Probably tried some new herbs, that would explain the… “You aren't angry are you?” Giles asked between nibbles and kisses. “After how atrociously I behaved this morning?”

Willow closed her eyes and whimpered. This morning? That was so long ago…. She didn't remember losing the power to stand on her own two feet, but somewhere between here and then she had and now leaned weakly against Giles.

Her muscles protested as his strong fingers dug into her bottom. “I-I – don't know how we're gonna – “ she breathed as pleasure quickly overrode the discomfort of her bruised…everything.

“You leave that to me,” Giles said huskily. He inched her skirt up her leg as he captured her mouth with his own.

Willow didn't bother to play coy. She thrust her tongue against his then dueled for control. She lost. She didn't care. It was all of it yummy and… wicked …and, her hooded gaze caught the very clear shop windows, public.

“No more bloody long skirts,” Giles growled as he tore his mouth away from hers then fell to his knees.

Willow forgot about the window as he tore at the button and zipper. The cool shop air caressed her bare thighs as the denim slid to her ankles.

“No panties?” Giles asked.

She tried to form a coherent thought but even that effort was trivialized when he lifted her t-shirt to expose her belly.

“Naughty girl,” he whispered then pressed a kiss to her belly.

Willow laced her fingers in his hair and looked blindly up at the ceiling as his tongue tickled and teased her navel. Vaguely she registered that Giles slid one warm and muscled one arm around her waist and nudged her left leg over his shoulder. But there was nothing subtle in her reaction when without hesitation he buried his head between her legs and sucked her clit into his mouth.

“Oh yes,” she yelled and dug her fingers into his hair. If she had any say in this at all he wasn't going anywhere for a nice long while.

It only took a few expert moments of sucking, licking, nibbling, and pulling before the first telltale spasms of her release made themselves known. She leaned over him now, mindless of the pull in her side and along her bottom – intent on one thing…. And it was there, so close…so very very…. What? Hey. Where'd he go? No…not yet. Willow opened her eyes.

“Huh?” she whimpered.

Giles stood before her and if there were a word stronger than smug but that still meant smug, she'd have used it to describe his expression. She blushed and felt much more naked than she was.

“No, Luv,” Giles soothed. He pulled her hands away from the shirt she tried unsuccessfully to pull down over her thighs and brought them to his belt. “My turn.”

“That wasn't nice,” Willow pouted. She hooked her finger in his waistband and tugged him a little closer.

He lifted a knowing brow and slid his hand between her thighs. She closed her eyes and rolled her head to the side as he dipped one finger between her moist folds.

“Oh,” he countered and brought his finger to his mouth. “I think it was. Now,” he said and put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed. “My turn.”

Willow sank under the solid pressure until she found herself on her knees eyeball to eyeball with the large bulge in his slacks. She licked her lips anxiously and lifted her eyes to his trying to disguise her discomfort.

This isn't new, Rosenberg, she scolded herself. You've done this before. Yet a voice niggled in the back off her head, she'd always volunteered or he'd always hinted or suggested, never had he gone all Nike on her before. Giles pushed her hands away and hurriedly unbuttoned and unzipped. His erection sprang loose and bobbed lewdly in front of her.

She chalked it up to the already sexually charged air and pushed the doubt to the back of her mind. It wasn't like she was never above demanding…this. And after all, this was the man she loved. A slow accepting smile crossed her face. If he was experimenting she could deal.

Giles groaned as she dragged her tongue slowly up the underside of his shaft and then gently eased back the foreskin before concentrating on the glistening head. Giles hissed and pushed further when Willow put her hand to the base of his shaft and stroked upward to meet the sudden downward thrust of her mouth. His hiss turned into a groan of pleasure when she relaxed her throat and took him in as far as she could. If she could, Willow would have smiled. Manners aside, pleasuring him pleased her.

She pulled back again, released him from her mouth and rubbed his smooth wet erection against her cheek before taking a few delicate licks at the drops of pre-ejaculate that formed. She remembered, he liked this teasing, it made him squirm. It made him wiggle. It made him… grab her head and shove himself back in her mouth?

With her oxygen supply suddenly limited combined with surprise Willow gagged and pushed herself away. She threw her arm out to catch her fall and then grabbed the shelf and pulled herself up dragging her skirt with her. Her ribs screamed in protest.

“What the hell are you doing?” she sputtered as she backed away and swiped her hand across her mouth.

“I think you know,” Giles said. He grinned and tucked himself away. His voice was low and dangerous. “What's the matter, Pet? Not in the mood for games?”

No, Willow argued with herself. She shook her head. No. She knew that voice. She knew that…that sneer. Her stomach rolled in disgust.

“Oh, God,” she swore. And then once more in disgust. “Oh, God. I- I went pantiless for you… you,” she spit out the word.

“Remind me to thank you - later.”

Willow raised one shaky leg and stepped into her skirt. Damn, damn, damn. Where was Giles?

“Oh, no,” she assured him in a voice that shook more than her knees. She raised her chin in defiance. “There will be no later.”

Ripper grinned and stepped forward close enough to make her press into the bookshelf. She flinched away from his touch as he drew the back of his knuckles across her cheek.

“Kitten's got her claws out,” he purred.

Willow jerked her head away from his touch and willed herself not to cry – too much. He grabbed her chin and pulled it back so that she breathed in his breath. A hot tear escaped her eyes and rolled down her cheek. This isn't Giles, she told herself repeatedly and steel herself for whatever Ripper could throw at her.

“Don't be frightened,” Ripper soothed. He ran his thumb over her lower lip.

A sob bubbled from Willow's throat. He could do anything and she was nearly powerless. Fear knotted her stomach. Physically she was no match. The self-defense techniques he - Giles, she corrected herself – had taught her were useless. He knew her every trick. Even in magicks he could and would overpower her.

Her survival instinct kicked in. Logic. Logic was her only weapon. Giles might be her equal when it came to critical thinking but Ripper ran on instinct. She hoped. She'd have to keep him talking.

As he trailed his fingers down her chin and onto her throat Willow forced her mind to process. “The tattoo didn't work,” she managed.

He shrugged. “Itched a bit.”

Itched? Her breath caught in her throat as a piece of the puzzle locked into place.

“But… Buffy…she destroyed the crown,” Willow argued. “I-I heard her.”

Ripper cocked his head to the side then pushed himself from the wall. Willow sucked in her breath when she saw his hands go to his pants. A fleeting look of disgust crossed his stubborn face. “I'm not going to rape you if that's what you're afraid of,” he grunted then reached in his pocket.

Willow sagged against the wall in relief and brought a shaky hand to her bruised lips as he pulled the now familiar trinket from deep within his pocket. How'd I miss that? She wondered half-heartedly.

Ripper held the Crown up to a beam of sunlight and watched the reflections. “Seems our slayer wanted something more than some time with a sledge-hammer,” he noted.

“Why would she lie?” Willow asked.

Ripper shrugged again and held the Crown out to her. Willow shook her head and edged away. The further away she got from both bad influences, the better.

“My guess is she wanted it to be done with so she could go shag her new man and with a little mojo…” he let the sentence trail.

Willow raised her chin and pulled on her severest resolve face. “You can't use it.”

This time Ripper laughed. Its cold hollow sound reverberated in her skull. “Not without the proper precautions. I know. I've done the required reading.”

“It-it'll destroy you,” Willow stuttered.

Ripper turned his head. Willow wanted to close her eyes against the frightening lack of empathy she saw but couldn't.

“Yes,” he agreed. “Every bit of me that you adore. Unless you help.”


Part 15

He'd let her go, Willow was more than aware of that. She'd threatened, no, promised to get Buffy, and he'd invited her to do so. It added to the game, he said. Willow's lungs cried for air. The game. That's what it was to Ripper. One big game. One big high. The ultimate high. And it would destroy them all.

Oh, by the gods, she couldn't process. She stumbled and grabbed a brick façade to regain her balance but kept up her sprint. The pet shop was around here somewhere. Buffy would know what to do. She crossed the street and turned a corner. If she'd had any more breath Willow would have sighed in relief when a fat fluffy puppy pressed its paws against the thick pane of glass and gave a muted bark. The pet shop. Thank goddess.

Willow saw the dark haired owner's greeting die on his lips when she pushed open the door and leaned against the counter to catch her breath.

“Miss,” came his Russian accent. He knelt by her side and took her hand. “Are you okay? Should I call police?”

“Buffy?” she asked. “I n-need Buffy.”

Buffy strayed in from the back room. Her makeup and hair looked freshly touched up. “Did you say police, honey?” she asked then stopped short.

Willow's racing heart jumped.

“Oh my God, Willow,” she exclaimed as she rushed forward. “What's wrong?”

Willow welcomed the strong arm around her shoulder. “Giles,” she whispered and then her voice got stronger. “No. Not Giles. Ripper. He's here.”

She saw the slayer light in Buffy's eyes ignite.

“Ripper?” D'mitri asked. His dark eyes begged for a definition.

Buffy looked up at him. “Not of the good.”

Willow recognized the quick and efficient movements of a man trained for battle as he rose from kneeling beside her and closed up shop, but it all registered in a cream soup kinda way. Muddled, uncertain, but warm. He felt safe.

“Myop's Crown,” Willow whispered as D'mitri locked the door and put a closed sign in the window.

Buffy squinted clearly not understanding. “Yeah. I destroyed it.”

Willow shook her head. “You didn't, Buffy. You think you did, but you didn't. I - I don't think it let you.”

She accepted the glass of water D'mitri offered and downed half of it eagerly. She started to explain but then looked uncertainly to Buffy's newest boyfriend.

“It's okay,” Buffy assured her.

“The Crown, from what I've seen, is like one big id thingy –“ Willow looked up. “You know, l-like Faith --want, take, have?”

Buffy nodded knowingly.

“So, I'm thinking it's bringing out the id in whoever's around it. So, you wanted to be with D'mitri, so,” Willow shrugged. “You were. You didn't destroy it. It made you think you did because you wanted to be with D'mitri more…. Not that I'm blaming you. ‘Cause this is totally not your fault… it's no one's fault, really… just one of those wacky hellmouth things…”

“Hellmouth?” D'mitri repeated. He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and shook his head. “Why is it I can never leave Hellmouths?”

Distracted Willow looked to him. “There's more than one?”

Buffy grabbed her arm and attention. “What about Giles?”

It was then that Willow broke into to tears. She hadn't wanted to cry. She wanted to be strong, like Buffy, but…an image of what she'd done with Ripper flashed before her eyes.

“I-I don't know where he is,” she managed. “It's like Ripper's totally taken over. A-and we… we did things… I,” she looked up guiltily seeing only her best friend's compassion. “I did…things… He, he…did things.”

Buffy's compassionate exterior crumbled and was replaced with ice. She stood. “Where is he?”

“At the shop,” Willow said through her tears. A terrible thought crossed her mind and she grabbed Buffy's sleeve. “Don't hurt him, Buffy. Giles is in there.”

“Oh,” Buffy assured her. She clenched her fists at her sides. “I'm gonna hurt him alright. And I'm gonna get that Crown.”

She crossed the small shop and pulled at the door. The bravado of the moment ended. She looked to D'mitri, her grand exit thwarted. A few puppies whimpered. “It's locked.”

Giles pulled the heavy chair out from the table and sat to wait. She would be there soon and he would take whatever his Slayer decided to dole out. He deserved it. He welcomed the beginnings of penance her beating would allow. He'd seen what Ripper had done to Willow. That bastard part of himself had let him surface long enough to see the humiliation and fear and tears that streaked her face as it seemed she'd fled for… her life? He groaned and covered his face as the betrayal and disgust in her eyes played before him over and over.

He cursed his past. His heritage. All of it. It had led to this very moment in his life. Where he sat full of self-loathing and disgust. Try as he might he could never leave Ripper behind. He tainted every part of his existence, ruining any chance of good. Giles pinched between his eyes. Blast.

The bell sounded, its merry jingle at odds with the ferocity of the kick that sent the door open. “Hello, Buffy.”

He'd barely pulled his hand away from his nose before a sharp and blinding pain exploded in his face. He and his chair toppled backwards and landed loudly on the floor.

“Yes. I did deserve –“ he said and rolled to his side. A drop of blood splashed on the hardwood. He cried out as her foot landed solidly in his back. He'd trained her well.

He'd just managed a small breath when Buffy grabbed his collar and hauled him off the floor then almost immediately backhanded him back into a shelf.

“That's for Willow,” Buffy said smartly.

He turned in time to see her tiny and self-assured ass-kicking image stalking easily toward him. Giles winced. He knew that look.

“And this,” Buffy said pressing her forearm against his throat.

Giles gagged and grabbed helplessly at her arm. He felt the blood rush to his head and his lungs strained for air. His vision faded and the last words he heard were,

“and this is for Giles.”

When Giles came and found enough courage to open his swollen eyes he found himself nose to eyeball with a white skinned man with shrewd dark eyes. He grunted and closed his eyes again. Surely this had to be some brain damaged induced…what was the word?

“Your man,” the man said to someone. “He is awake.”

I've been kidnapped and I'm in Russia, Giles thought. Thank God. Russia was acceptable. Far away from the people who probably most wanted him dead. Far away from the Crown. He'd been meaning to pick up another language.

Buffy approached him from the corner of the training room eyeing him curiously. Her Russian had her back.

“Where's Willow?” Giles managed through parched lips then almost instantly wished he hadn't. The sting of cracked skin brought an involuntary hiss through his mouth. “What did I do?” He dreaded the answer but needed to hear of his sins.

Buffy came within a few feet of him then paused. She crouched to look into his face and frowned again. “Giles?”

He nodded. Her distrust, though entirely natural and… wise, unnerved him.

“How do I know?”

Good Lord, she could see through a Fyarl visage, but she can't figure this out?

“Buffy,” he started. If his arms hadn't been bound to his sides he would have pinched his nose. Without his comforting action he felt even more insecure. “If the Crown's not here, then he's not here. It's the proximity.”

He tried to lick his lips but could barely manage enough spit to coat his tongue. Buffy's eyes drilled into his. He heaved a sigh of relief when she turned to her guard and ordered him to be undone.

“Where is Willow?” he asked as the tall dark man, D'mitri, Giles guessed, slit the ropes that held him.

“Back at your place –“

Giles sighed in relief.

“--packing her stuff.”

He put his hand to his forehead and massaged his temples. Finally he gathered the courage to look his slayer in the eyes. “What have I done?”

Buffy smiled gently and put her hand to his knee. “Ripper did it,” she said. “Not you.”

Giles grabbed her hand. Buffy started and D'mitri was one step behind her with a training staff hoisted.

“What did I do?” Giles demanded. When he saw her fright he loosened his grip. “I'm sorry,” he stuttered out an apology. “It's just that I need to know.”

Buffy shook her head. “You'll have to talk with Willow about it. But right now we need to find the amulet and destroy it. ‘Cause I kinda…didn't.”

Despite the situation Giles cracked a wry grin. “Yes. I'm aware. But it wasn't your fault the…the Crown seems to –“

She interrupted him again, “Yeah, yeah, we know. Willow told us. Brings out the Faith in ya.”

Giles rolled his eyes. Even the thrill of dispelling cataclysmic information had been taken from him.

“Did your Ripper tell you where he put the amulet?” D'mitri asked. “Because that would be helpful, yes?”

Buffy smiled up at her new man and made her introductions. She leaned into Giles. “They have a Hellmouth in Moscow.”

Giles nodded. He'd long ago suspected they did. Then he shook his head.

“When Ripper comes out I'm still the one in control, usually. But these past few times I've only been able to catch glimpses of…my behavior, and even those are opaque at best. I'd categorize it very much like a possession. Sadly, I don't know where he's hidden the amulet.”

Oh, for his glasses to polish, Giles wished. Anything to do with his hands.

“Then that is a no,” D'mitri asked. He looked to Buffy for confirmation. “Yes?”

“Yes,” Buffy affirmed. She frowned and pursed her mouth to the side and then explained, “I mean, yes, it's a no.”

“The best course of action is to make sure that the amulet stays as far away from me as possible,” Giles said. “Un-until we can find it.”

“That would include me as well,” Buffy said. “While it doesn't necessarily bring out cave girl Buffy, I'm pretty susceptible to its thrall, too.”

Giles stood, put his hand to his kidneys reminded himself to schedule an x-ray, and paced the room. “Xander can't resist infomercials and it would be too tempting for Anya,” he processed.

“That leaves Willow,” D'mitri concluded. He looked at Buffy and Giles. “Unless there are more in your Scooby Doo Gang?”

Buffy flashed Giles her “inn't he great?” smile then flipped back into serious mode.

“Willow?” Giles bristled. “Absolutely no,” he insisted. “She has been through too much as it is.”

“Again with the telling me what I can and can't do,” Willow said from the doorway.

Giles' heart leapt into his throat and he whirled around to face his love. Words failed him.

Buffy supplied them. “You've been through too much,” she said firmly. “You're broken.”

Willow stepped into the room Giles noticed, empty handed. No bags. Dare he hope? She pulled his glasses from her sweater pocket and walked to him.

“You need these,” she said quietly then tiptoed and slid them over his ears. She slid her fingers down his cheeks and jaw line.

Close to tears Giles took her hand in his and pressed it to her lips. He searched her eyes and saw only forgiveness. He hazarded a hesitant smile and she returned it then stepped back to face them all.

“For one reason or another I seem to be the only one the Crown doesn't affect so that makes me the most logical choice.”

“Asinine choice,” Giles argued at the same time Buffy said, “No way.”

“Resolve face.”

Even D'mitri understood.

“I don't like this, Willow,” Giles grumbled.

She had him by the hand and pulled him shirtless from room to room and corner-to-corner of his apartment.

“It's degrading. A-and I'm feeling quite…naked.”

Willow narrowed her green eyes but kept them focused on Eyghon's mark. “Do you really want to open up that can of worms?” She asked quietly. Without missing a beat as she made him inch-step the width of the bookcases.

Giles stopped and rested his palms on her shoulders. “Will you tell me what I did?” he asked. He could get not one word from either Buffy or she and when he broached it with D'mitri the stoic Russian had only glared.

Willow refused to meet his eyes and instead nudged him over another inch. “Let's try by the fireplace,” she suggested.

“Did I hit you?” Giles asked. He had to force the words from his throat.

“Please,” Willow begged, but he shook his head.

“I need to know. I need to know how to make it up to you,” he gripped her shoulders and then pulled her in for a hug. “Please.”

The guilt was the worst. Ripper had none, so Giles took the brunt, the responsibility for the man who had very little conscience. Next came the pain of knowing that whatever had happened could not be erased. It was very… Mac Beth. Yet he struggled to amend what every wrong he'd done. For well over twenty years he'd struggled.

“You scared me,” she said simply and quietly. “Ripper scared me. A-and he tricked me…a-and it felt good but it was wrong because it wasn't you.”

For a moment Giles felt a light-headed rush and swayed on his feet. Before he could fall he eased from Willow's slight embrace and slid into the nearest chair. Willow stood before him, meek, her spirit injured, and he was the culprit. Hastily, so she wouldn't think he cried for himself, he put his palm to his eyes and ground away the tears.

Willow licked her lips. “I was going to leave here, and go back to my place, forget all this happened between us.”

Giles blinked and looked to the ceiling. “I – I shouldn't blame you if you did.”

She shook her head. His heart shattered at her trembling chin. “I can't leave you. I never could because I knew that one day, if I were patient enough, you'd see me,” her voice broke and a large tear fell from her cheek and splashed on her hand. “And I'm not giving you up without a fight –“

A million words flew across his brain, all of them poetic, but none doing justice to the love that raced through his veins.

“I'm not going anywhere,” he said hoarsely.

Willow smiled through her tears. “Well… if you do, I'm goin' with ya.”



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