Giles watched helpless as Anya and Xander rushed Willow. There was no way to warn her. Anya managed to trip herself and skid head first into the sand but Xander's momentum was too strong. He saw Willow regain her footing. He watched the emotions run through her face and then settle on horrified a mere instant before all of Xander crashed through her and set her fragile body into the air.
He tried to scream her name but could only manage a whimper as for the second time he was forced to witness her impact into a wall and bounce to the ground. The clouds parted and spotlights of moonbeams illuminated her struggle to get at least to her hands and then fall shoulder first with a broken sob.
“Oh, God, Willow,” Giles moaned. He pulled himself to his feet and ignored the sticky wetness that bathed his stomach and thighs.
Xander groaned and pulled his wrist into his stomach as he too scrambled to Willow's side.
“Don't move her,” Anya yelled. She stood above the two and wrung her hands. “All the books say not to move her.”
“Willow,” Xander called. He ignored Anya's advice and pulled her into his lap.
Giles saw her limp pale hand fall to the ground. It took with it his heart. He fell to his knees unable to see anyone but Willow and scooped her from Xander's arms. He groped for her wrist and searched for a pulse.
“I can't find it,” he heard himself mutter. He pressed harder on the wrist. Her cartilage shifted under the force. “I can't find it,” he yelled. Someone else was there, he remembered. The girl an- and Xander.
“It's there, Giles,” the girl assured him. She kneeled before him and held Willow's wrist in her hand. What is her name? Anna? No. Anya. Yes, of course, it was Anya.
“But we've got to get you both to the hospital,” Anya explained calmly.
Vaguely he took in the blood that flowed from her knees then looked to Willow and nodded.
He didn't remember walking to his car. He was just crying on the beach one minute then in his back seat, naked with his Willow curled in his arms. He remembered thinking that to anyone they might have passed on the freeway that they were quite the show, four bloodied and bruised adults all in various states of dress. He remembered Willow's groans as she rolled in and out of consciousness. But he didn't remember when the world had lost its color. He saw shades of gray and glaring wet red.
Xander leaned over the front seat and pushed a white t-shirt into Giles' stomach. Giles' hissed in pain and barely beat a wave of nausea. Sometime that night he'd been stabbed – he guessed. But it didn't matter. It was Willow who worried him. The raw scrapes across her back already encrusted with wet sand bubbled droplets of blood that coursed over the swollen and angry skin. Anything could be wrong from internal injuries to paralysis.
Giles rolled his eyes at that thought then squeezed them shut against the hot tears that fought to escape. He bent over her head and pulled her closer to him while he sobbed.
The car bobbed and weaved recklessly between traffic and with each bounce Giles became more and more aware of his own physical pain. By the time Anya jumped the corner and squealed to a halt in front of the emergency room Giles had been reduced to clutching his stomach and Willow with such ferocity that the orderlies and nurses who rushed out the doors had to fight to get Willow from him. He felt a distinct loss as they were separated and he was lifted to a gurney.
“Forget about me,” Giles argued with the doctors. “Are you idiots? Can't you see Willow's the one who needs help?”
He pushed away the probing hands and struggled to get off the table. Willow needed him and he couldn't let her down again. He could see another staff working vigorously over her still quiet body. He growled dangerously as a plump and stern looking woman got in his face and pushed his shoulders firmly back against the vinyl covered foam.
“She's being taken care of, sir, but we can't help her if you don't calm down,” she said loudly. It was then that he felt the straps tighten around his shoulders, shins, and wrists.
With a frustrated growl he dropped his head and clenched his fist. The night sky disappeared and was gradually replaced with cold glaring lights of the hospital. People spoke over him and to him but he couldn't answer their questions. He didn't know what happened. He came to and Willow was hurt.
“Ask the other girl,” the doctor ordered. Giles groaned and rolled his head to the side.
Anya, her dress still half buttoned, her knees scabbed and dirty, stood with a group of nurses and talked rapidly. Her face was drawn in an angry and confused scowl and her attention kept wandering to Xander's huddled form. The boy sat shirtless in an uncomfortable looking chair and cradled his arm. Giles doubted if either of them remembered what happened. The only one who was sure to have a clear memory of the night and its obvious atrocities was now being wheeled to another room.
Giles protested and strained against his restraints to follow her gurney around the corner, then swore in pain as a gloved doctor pulled the bloodied t-shirt off his stomach and probed the jagged cut. Giles bit into the side of his cheek to keep down his scream. His control slid away from him with the same ease his body lost blood.
“Calm down, Mr. Giles,” the plump nurse bellowed at him again. “When you calm down I'll check the status of your friend.”
He closed his eyes against the egg salad sandwich she no doubt had for a snack.
Of course, he told himself. They want you to calm down when you have no bloody idea what you've done. He took a few labored breaths in an attempt to regain control but he couldn't still the questions that ran through his mind.
Why had Willow looked so frightened and worn when he'd come to? Why were Xander and Anya hell bent on taking her down, and why in the gods' names were they all naked?
“You gonna behave now?” the nurse asked sternly.
Giles gritted his teeth and nodded. Yes, he would behave. If it meant that he could find out any information about Willow he'd bloody well stand on his head and recite the Magna Carta backwards.
Another person in scrubs loomed over him. She smiled down. “We're gonna wheel you into surgery now, Mr. Giles, okay?” she drew out the last word. “The doctor needs to make sure no vital organs were punctured, okay?”
No, it is bloody well not okay, he thought but forced himself to nod. He had to behave or he wouldn't find out about Willow.
Willow groaned. The smell of antiseptic, the feel of well-washed sheets beneath her, and the beep of a monitor told her exactly where she was. This can't be good for me, she thought and then forced her thick tongue through her sealed lips. She wasn't ready to open her eyes and face whatever there was to face. Dark oblivion had been nice.
“Willow?” Anya's familiar voice broke the quiet. “Xander,” Anya said urgently. “Xander, she's waking up.”
Willow opened her eyes to the ex-vengeance demon's frantic gesturing. Xander and his sling hurried across the room to her side.
“Giles?” she croaked. She remembered blood – his blood. Images of the Crown protruding from his belly flashed in her mind's eye and her pulse monitor sounded.
“Relax,” Xander said quickly he stepped forward and grabbed her hand with is free one. “He's okay. They had to do a little sewing on him but he's fine.”
Willow felt her lungs struggling against her misplaced ribs as she gasped for a calming breath. If Xander said Giles was okay, then he was okay. Still she looked into his eyes for more confirmation.
Before she could ask any more a nurse pushed aside the curtain and barked orders for Anya and Xander to stand back. A doctor soon followed. Willow knew the drill. She told them her name, recited the date, identified the current president. She followed the little penlight the doctor shone in her eyes and she answered his questions as best she could. She and her friends were at the beach and jumped by a gang crazed on PCP.
She looked hopefully to Xander and Anya. They gave a collective sigh of relief and nodded.
The doctor shook his head, mumbled something about Sunnydale drug abuse, admitted her for overnight observation, then left.
Xander shuffled next to the bed again.
“Hey.” She tried to smile. She managed a twitch.
He ducked his head. “Hey.”
Silence. They studiously avoided each other's gaze.
Willow tried to wet her lips again and searched for something profound to say. The familiar fire of broken ribs shot through her body.
“Ouch.” That about covered it.
“I remember Giles said you had a reaction to the pain medicine they gave you last time, but I couldn't remember which one,” Anya said in a rush. “So I made sure they didn't give you anything.”
Willow mumbled her thanks. Words were a little hard to come by, let alone form.
Xander nodded and twitched the fingers of his casted wrist. “I don't know what happened, Willow,” he said after a moment's pause.
“I mean, one minute Anya and I were –“ he shifted uncomfortably.
“Playing naughty milk maid,” Anya provided.
Willow blinked. Xander grimaced but continued, “and the next thing I know I'm charging you like a naked bull.”
“Yes,” Anya agreed. She cocked her head to the side. “Why were we naked?”
Willow shook her head. They truly didn't want to know and she definitely didn't want to talk about it. She wanted Giles. She wanted to look in his eyes and see his soul. She needed to make sure.
“Not now, An,” Xander quieted his girlfriend. “Why don't you go check on Giles?”
Willow saw Anya's hesitation and couldn't miss the hurt that crossed the ex-demon's eyes.
“But we just came from there,” she argued. “He's still unconscious. Besides, Buffy and D'mitri are with him.”
“Then go get Willow a drink.”
“There's water right there,” Anya said. She pointed to the plastic pitcher next to the hospital bed.
Willow rolled her eyes.
“Then go warm up the car,” Xander said through his teeth.
Anya crossed her arms over her chest and for the first time Willow saw the bandaged elbows. Guilt battled jealousy. Willow pouted.
“I'm not going anywhere, Xander,” Anya declared stubbornly. “The last time you were alone with Willow in a hospital you told her you loved her.”
“Never mind that you had your paws all over Giles,” Willow mumbled unable to stop the petty jealousy that nudged its little head above the surface. It might have been Ripper, but it was still Giles' body Anya had practically devoured.
“What?” Xander asked. He looked accusingly to his girlfriend.
She stared at Willow appalled. “What?” Anya clipped. “Paws? I have hands,” she said indignantly. “Not paws.”
Her jaw trembled. Willow relented. It wasn't Anya's fault. She sighed. It wasn't anyone's fault. “It was the Crown's thrall and Ripper's magic,” she explained. “It wasn't you. Entirely.”
She narrowed her eyes. “But when I get out of here, we're going to have a talk about kissing boundaries.”
Anya curled her lips in confusion. “Kissing boundaries? Xan-“
Xander put his good hand to his girlfriend's shoulder and started to usher her from the room.
“Xander?” Willow asked. He stopped and looked over his shoulder.
Her voice broke. “You're not a useless sidekick. Don't ever think that. Your power's in your heart.”
Xander blinked and looked away for a second before he could answer. “Thanks, Will.”
“And, Anya?” she added. “The binding? Not cool but I forgive you.”
Anya perked up considerably. “I bound you?” Her grin threatened to split her face. She bounced a little on her toes, then pulled aside the curtain. “Cool.”
Willow shook her head but waited until her guests disappeared before she let it fall back on her pillows. A minute of silence passed and then Willow felt her face crumple. It was over. Or as over as it could be considering she hadn't destroyed the Crown, and she could give herself the outlet of tears. She wasn't sure how long she'd cried before she realized that Buffy stood at the edge of her bed with tears of her own.
“Oh God,” Willow swore between hiccups. Buffy never cried. Giles .
“Is it Giles?” Despite her ribs Willow struggled with the neat blankets that secured her to the bed.
Buffy shook her head and sniffled. “No,” she assured her. “He's fine. All major organs in tact.”
Willow nodded and more tears rolled down her cheeks. The mere thought of losing him was… nothing you want to think about, she told herself firmly. She settled back in her bed.
Buffy rounded the bed and sat next to Willow. She laced her strong fingers through Willow's. Then looked up. Her eyes were bright with tears and her mascara now ringed both her cheek and brow bone.
“It's you,” she admitted.
Willow's blood froze. I'm dying.
“You did my job,” Buffy continued.
She felt her heart jumpstart and the blood continued its course. Confident that she wasn't in mortal danger at the moment Willow pushed the fear from her. She strained to hear Buffy's soft and guilt laced voice.
“I let you down,” Buffy said.
Willow shrugged then leaned her head on Buffy's shoulder.
“But you kicked ass,” Buffy said with her typical manic swing of attitude.
“You totally would have kicked their asses a lot better than I did,” she said and gave the slayer's thigh a comforting pat. “And I'll bet you wouldn't have had to stab Giles to do it, either.”
Buffy pulled back and the two shared a smile.
“Go, Xena,” Buffy rooted.
“Damn tootin',” Willow agreed.
The gray morning light cut the gloom of Giles' hospital room and Willow shifted uncomfortably in her wheel chair but kept her eyes trained on the even rise and fall of his chest. The nurse said the anesthesia would wear off soon. Willow looked to the clock. She'd been there fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes was longer than soon. She frowned then looked back to Giles.
His eyes rolled under his closed eyelids and his breathing changed. Willow rolled closer and humbly and reached for his hand. A soft moan escaped his dry lips and she saw the edge of his tongue poke through.
“I know the feeling,” she whispered and lay her head next to his.
“Wh-“ Giles muttered. Willow raised her head. His lips pursed and he tried again. “Wh.”
“I'm right here,” she soothed him. Her heart burst. She was the first thing on his mind.
“Water,” he managed.
A self-effacing smile crossed her lips. Of course. Water. Reluctantly she released his hand and wheeled back a few inches: just enough to reach the pitcher and flimsy plastic cup that matched the one in her room.
“Here you go,” she said and tilted the cup to his lips.
Giles's fuzzy eyes focused briefly on her. He smiled. Water fell out the sides of his mouth.
Willow rang for the nurse but kept her eyes locked to his. “Right as rain,” she assured him and then used the edge of the sheet to dry his chin.
The heavy door opened and a slender and tired woman came in. She smiled sympathetically at Willow. “Don't look so scared,” she admonished gently. “It takes a few minutes for the loopiness to wear off.”
Willow rolled herself out of the way but kept an eagle eye as the nurse pulled back Giles' covers and examined the bandage.
“Your man came through just fine,” she announced. “No worries. No cares.”
“Speak for yourself,” Giles mumbled. It was slurred but coherent enough.
The nurse grinned and rearranged the covers.
“What'd I tell you?” she asked with a wink, then lifted his wrist and studied her watch.
Willow nodded and relaxed a few more muscles. Her man. He'd come through just fine. Giles accepted the thermometer under his tongue then rolled his head to face her. The torment in his eyes cried out for an explanation. Willow smiled and let her love flow through her eyes.
When the nurse finally announced him alive and left the room Willow wrapped both hands around his and brought it to her lips.
“I was so very frightened,” Giles whispered. “I thought…”
He stopped and regrouped. “I'm so sorry I hurt you,” he continued.
Willow put a finger to his lips and shushed him. A tear slipped from his eyes. She wiped it away with her thumb.
“It wasn't you,” she soothed. Her own tears threatened. “You would never hurt me.”
Green eyes dueled; hers full of compassion and his full of guilt.
“Resolve face,” she pointed out. Her voice shook.
Finally, Giles nodded. Relieved Willow rested her head on her arm and enjoyed the feel of his hand in hers. A happy sigh escaped her when he ran a weakened hand through her hair.
“Of course,” she teased, “this does add to your grovel and massage penance.”
“But you stabbed me,” Giles argued weakly.
Willow lifted her head and laughed as best she could. “Do you really wanna go into that?”
“Grape thingy for the Watcher,” Buffy announced as she appeared over the sandy hill with a tray of drinks balanced on one hand. She stopped in front of Willow and held out the tray. “Virgin fruit smoothie for the Willow. Can I get you two anything else?”
Willow returned Buffy's bright smile and accepted her the chilled glass adorned with a jaunty umbrella. It's good to be queen, she thought and sucked the creamy green drink through a twisty straw. She hurt like hell in places she never knew she had, but it was a good hurt. An ‘I saved the world' kind of hurt.
Giles grunted at the interruption to his siesta and pulled the Star tighter over his face. His muffled voice came out from under the rag mag. “A new body perhaps? Mine seems to be falling apart at the seams.”
She bit back her reply that his body was functioning just fine, thank you very much and instead adjusted her old lady floppy hat. She squinted to see between the gaps in his open but bloused shirt. A smooth white bandage peeked back at her.
As usual Giles had ignored the doctor's orders and gone back to work almost immediately after the short stint in the hospital. Naturally he'd busted his stitches. That little stunt had earned him a week at the beach house under Willow and Buffy's watchful eyes. He'd grumbled and complained but with a twinkle in his eyes.
Willow took a sip of the expertly prepared smoothie and then broke into another grin. She couldn't help it. She'd been smiling all morning, enjoying a relaxed Giles, enjoying a Buffy Buffy who'd forgone her slayer duties for the week, enjoying the news her doctor had given her yesterday. Her secret. She looked across the blanketed aisle at her man.
Giles frowned up at Buffy as she flicked his “paper” from his face but his expression brightened considerably at the drink she held out to him.
“Ooh, a grape slushie. Thank you very much, Buffy.”
“Don't get used to it,” Buffy said with mock severity. “My Watcher Witch duty ends in ten minutes.”
Giles took another slurp and nodded sagely. Willow hid her grin in an article about Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman. She'd tell him later that his lips and teeth were purple.
“So I've heard every day for the past week,” he teased. “As I recall you and your Russian are going flat hunting.”
He took another drink. “I don't know if I'm the pot or the kettle,” Giles said after a moment's pause.
Willow looked up from the Enquirer. That was his gentle lecture voice.
“But I'd hate for you to rush into anything.”
Buffy rolled her eyes but a small reassuring grin played the edges of her lips. She shrugged then reached to adjust the large beach umbrella that shaded them.
“When you have lives like ours you gotta grab the normal when you can,” she explained simply.
Giles' face creased in a slow smile and his large hand enveloped Willow's. She returned the squeeze and the smile. “Yes,” he agreed with a nod. “Yes, you do.”
Willow watched the gentle light fade from his eyes and his mouth tightened. She followed his irritated gaze to the excitement at the surf's edge and swallowed. This was not going to be good.
“Bloody hell, Buffy. Your dog has another of my shoes.”
The slayer gasped and sprinted across the beach. “Shue Shue,” she called out to the golden lab puppy. “Bad, Shue Shue. Bad.”
“That's the third pair this week,” Giles grumbled as he settled back in his chair.
“Who brings leather oxfords to the beach?” Willow asked with an innocent shrug.
She bit her lip and turned another page. Giles grunted in response then took another drink. It seemed to soothe him and he settled back under his magazine. They sat in companionable silence, fingers loosely linked across the foot abyss that separated them. Willow closed her eyes and rested her head against the back of the chair. Shue Shue's young bark and Buffy's laugh mingled with the sound of the surf. It was all very normal.
Willow opened her eyes to Buffy's call and waved her farewells. Buffy lifted her arm and started toward the house with Shue Shue nipping at her heels. She watched the pretty picture a moment before turning her attention back to Giles. A good secret had to be shared. Life was too short to leave anything to chance.
“Do you have any theories why the Crown didn't affect me?” Willow asked.
“It will remain forever a blessed mystery,” Giles said from under his magazine.
She bit her lip and looked up shyly. “I have a theory.”
Giles' pulled the magazine off his face and struggled some to sit up. “You do? I'd love to hear it.”
She gave him a slow nod and tried to put it in terms he would appreciate. Just coming out and saying ‘I'm pregnant' seemed anti-climactic considering what they'd been through. “Are you familiar with the physic's law that no two things can fill the same space at the same time?” she asked
Giles nodded. “Of course.”
Willow waited while he processed it. He wrinkled his brow as he tried to make the connection then shook his head when he came up short.
“I'm afraid I don't understand.”
“My theory is that I couldn't host Myop because I'm already hosting something else,” she explained. Her stomach jumped with nervous excitement. “Someone else, really.”
Giles blinked. She saw his neck muscles move as he swallowed and then the smile that started with his eyes and lastly touched his purple lips. “You –“ his voice broke so he licked his lips and tried again. “You're certain?”
Willow nodded and inhaled deeply. His shining eyes brought tears to her own. She pulled herself from her chair and knelt next to his. Cool sand cushioned her bare legs. “The doctor told me yesterday. Sometime around May twenty-fourth we get to meet the little soul who saved the world.”
Giles brought her hand to his mouth. As his soft lips touched her knuckle a shiver rolled through Willow's shoulders. He closed his eyes, peeled open her fingers and pressed them to his cheek.
“I already have,” he whispered.
Willow perked up and cocked her head to the side. “You have?”
Giles pushed a lock of hair behind her ear then let his fingertips slide over her cheeks.
“I'm looking at her.”
Sequel: Saving Willow
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