They both stared as his glass slipped from his hands and landed with a muffled thud on the carpet. Ice and Scotch spilled across the rug and the glass rolled sideways until it stopped with a crystal ding at the chair's wooden legs. Giles tried to form the words. He didn't know. He'd had no idea. Idiot that he was in all these years he'd never considered… been so bloody intent on making amends. Almost relieved that they'd welcomed him back into the fold.
He rubbed his chin and then brought his hand to his eyes to wipe away the sting of tears as long suppressed images of a white bundle barely old enough to smile lay in the little white coffin. Aside from the priest and two or three other faceless people he'd been the only one at Heath's service. Somehow he hadn't made it to Melinda's farewell gig.
Giles sniffed and focused on the ceiling. He'd killed a woman and couldn't summon an image of her to his mind. He'd killed a baby, his baby he'd held her fewer times than he'd held the mother. He blanched with shame.
It was his instinct to reach for the carafe, but he withstood and let the guilt bite into him. How conveniently he'd forgotten them. It sickened him
He licked his lips and managed to return his gaze to Willow. Gods, what she must have thought – what she must think now. What kind of man brought a child and woman into a place like this? Twice? A cold cramped his gut. He'd led them all to their slaughtering block; first Melinda and Heath and now Willow and their baby.
“We've got to get you out of here.”
“And go where?” Willow asked.
He looked up. Her voice was too quiet, too guarded. Giles almost bent to better see her expressive face but stopped. It was too much to know that any second she would turn her green eyes to him, that she'd raise her sweet tear-stained face to him and for the first time he wouldn't see the love.
He saw the tremble of her chin and watched as another tear trailed down her cheek and dripped off her chin. He followed its journey until it splashed on the top of her naked feet then forced himself to look up, to face her questions.
“Where can we hide, Giles?” Willow demanded. The strain in her voice, the way her tendons stood out in her neck, the tilt of her head all of it told him she already knew the answer. “Is there any place that they won't find us?”
“I- I'll make this right,” he stuttered and took a step toward her. He held out his hand but let it fall to his side as Willow flinched and backed from his touch. “I swear –“
Still with her hand on her belly Willow took another step away. The snap of his heart was nearly audible. Giles pulled in a stale breath then opened his mouth with the hopes that the right words would tumble out. He managed a quiet grunt.
“Willow,” he started. “Willow, I promise. I – I – I-“ He squeezed his eyes shut and balled his hand into a fist. “I'll find somewhere for us. For all of us. I'll protect you – somehow.”
Giles pinched the bridge of his nose as information about the past and present collided. Later he would mourn the murder he'd never be able to prove but now he had to prevent another. He inhaled sharply as a small rage pulsed through his veins. He would protect his.
“This bloody well isn't happening,” he commanded and put his hands to his hips. “These- these bastards,” he spit out the word, “are not going to hurt you. We- we'll meet with this Blessed Order. We'll teleport you if we have to. But no one is going to hurt my family.”
“Order of the Blessed,” Willow corrected him. From the corner of his eye he saw her slumped shoulders and more tears as they fell off her cheeks. “And Jarren was our link”
She raised her swollen eyes to his. For the second time in his life a young woman pleaded with him, “I don't want to die, Giles.”
He would move heaven and earth and all the spaces that he knew existed in between to try. A broken sob jumped from his lungs and protest or not, he gathered her into his chest and wrapped his arms around her shoulders as if that act alone would protect her and his child. “Forgive me,” he whispered into her hair then punctuated his hope that she would with dry and nearly frantic kisses on her forehead. Her broken and shaking voice stopped him.
“I'm tired,” she said and eased from his hold. She shoved both hands under her bangs and paused before letting them fall back. “I- I need to sleep. I need to process.” She started forward then seemed to realize that he stood between her and whatever it was she'd wanted and backed off another step. She tried to advance from another angle but stopped again.
Giles jumped and nearly tripped over himself to get out of her way until he realized it was her suitcase she'd wanted. He opened his mouth.
“Away from you,” she cut him off.
He almost gasped He wanted to shout, to beg, to plead. If he thought it would do any good he'd fall to his knees and weep on the hem of the shirt she wore. “Where will you go?” he demanded and grabbed her arm. Willow whimpered her distaste and lifted her elbow to squirm from his hold. Giles let go and pulled his hand back afraid that his touch would sear her.
Willow pulled her case off the chair. Her arm jerked with its weight as it fell to the floor. She glared up at him then lugged her bag past him and hefted it onto their bed.
Giles's mind whirled with a frustrating excess of nothingness. There were no pretty words, no poetic pauses, just the maddening skipping recording of him begging. Willow struggled with the combination to her case. When she finally set her betrayed gaze upon him Giles froze at the accusations he saw in their depths.
“You should have told me,” she whispered hoarsely then struggled once more with the lock. She swore and jerked her hands away.
Giles saw them tremor and had to turn away in fear of touching her again. The click of her lock as it flipped open reverberated through him like a gunshot. Habit forced him to look over his shoulder.
“Didn't you trust me?” Willow asked through her tears. She lifted her shaking hand to her collar and twisted the button.
“I thought I'd made my peace with it,” he managed, unable to stop his search for some light of understanding and compassion. “It wasn't an issue of trust –“
“To me it is,” she interrupted then turned back to the suitcase and rifled through it. “I've given you every part of me and you've held back…and now people I don't even know are after my baby-”
Her balance faltered as she stepped into her panties but she managed to catch herself and simultaneously flip out a pair of well-worn jeans. Giles could do little more than watch.
More tears fell and he watched her struggle to make sense of whatever it was she'd learned. Her red hair fell across her face and she looked up at him through it. Her eyes begged him for answers.
Giles shook he head. He had no defense. Willow inhaled through her nose and clenched her jaw. Disappointment radiated from her. He did the only thing he could do.
‘You stay here,' he'd said and pulled a shirt from his suitcase. ‘I'll go.'
And that was that. He'd slipped into the navy silk shirt she'd chosen for him just two weeks ago and slid his bare feet into the worn but still presentable loafers. Then he'd left the room.
That had been – Willow stretched to see the clock – a little over three hours ago.
Willow rolled to her side and tried once more to push his voice from her mind. The gentle yet wounded pride had tainted its usual soft richness. Giles was out there somewhere, probably not too far, probably not as far as the hallway. She felt him near – giving her space but guarding her to the best of his ability.
Jarren, the blonde “watcher”, had tried to protect her. The illness on the plane – it made sense now. It'd been him trying to break through the protection spell she'd woven before stepping foot on the plane – that and probably the small tin of Vienna Sausages she'd downed on the way to the airport. He'd tried so hard to warn her. Another wave of remorse flowed through her and she mourned his death.
She closed her eyes once more, bone tired but unable to rest. Images, things Jarren had given her the instant he'd died, played before her mind's eye in a disjointed montage of warnings. She'd seen the baby –Giles's son – Willow's heart stuttered and she clutched her pillow closer to her stomach. She'd seen the pillow. She'd felt the tiny soul's struggle and then its release. She'd seen the tainted needle Melinda had injected herself with. She'd felt the prick.
An involuntary shiver went through her. What gift did Giles pass on that would cause so much fear within such a strong organization? And that they'd kill her child. Any child for that matter…. Willow's teeth chattered with nerves.
Willow groaned inwardly and clutched the thick blankets to her chest. She felt like a coward. The room that had been so impressive in the afternoon sun was now too big. It had too many corners, too many spaces for lurking evil. She slipped easily into the roll of the little girl who needed the light but couldn't bring herself to let her feet touch the floor for fear of the very real monsters that lurked under the bed.
Mommy, turn on the lights. I'm scared. She flopped to her belly, vaguely aware that she didn't have too many weeks left to do that comfortably, and squeezed her eyes closed against the rational and irrational fears that poked and prodded her soul.
A light knock sounded and then the door eased open. Willow froze as cold fear crackled up her spine.
“You awake?” Buffy whispered.
Willow sagged into the mattress in relief as her pulse pounded in her ears. She twisted to her side and turned on the bedside lamp. Light, however dim, stung her overly sensitive eyes.
“Hey,” Buffy said and took an uncertain step inside then closed the door.
“Hey,” Willow repeated. The sheets and covers rustled loudly as she pushed them back and sat up. She drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.
Buffy clasped her hands together and shrugged. “I know that I'm not the best person to talk to about things like this,” she started quietly then looked up with a wavering grin. “I mean, I hear angst and I immediately start thinking about me.”
Despite her tired misery Willow smiled.
“But if you want someone to talk to, I'm right here,” Buffy continued. She indicated the room. “Hopefully. Because D'mitri and Giles are working up a Russian hangover and I'm not gonna have anywhere else to sleep.”
“We're in mortal danger and they're getting drunk?” Willow repeated. “That sounds about right.” She shook her head but pulled back the covers in invitation to her closest friend.
“I wouldn't be too hard on him,” Buffy grunted as she climbed onto the mattress and plopped next to Willow.
Willow cleared her throat.
Buffy looked up, her green eyes wide. “Not that I'm taking his side,” she assured Willow quickly. She swallowed. “It's just that… he's a little upset. A lot upset, actually. Monumentally sorry in fact.”
Willow held up her hand and shook her head. “Buffy,” she said. “I'm not ready for this.”
She felt the prick of unshed tears and rolled her eyes and lunged for a tissue. “I'm either crying or throwing up every time I turn around,” she tried to laugh and then blew into the tissue. I-I'm so upset I can barely pick one thing to concentrate on,” she faltered. “I mean, which one should upset me more? That he's been holding back? Or that some man was killed because of me?” Unable to sit still any longer she slipped off the bed to pace. “Or the fact that my baby's got some gift that makes the Council want him dead?”
She nearly bellowed the last word. Buffy jumped. “I don't even know what that gift is… and there's nowhere I can hide, Buffy,” Willow implored her friend. She lowered her voice to a harsh whisper. “I can't stop any of this.”
Buffy crawled off the bed and put her arm around Willow's waist. Willow allowed herself to be lead back to bed.
“I'm not going to let anything happen to you,” Buffy reiterated firmly. “And neither will Giles.”
She stopped their progress and turned Willow around by her shoulders until they stood nearly eye-to-eye. Willow blinked at the steely glint of resolve that glittered back at her.
“We're going to find out what's going on,” Buffy assured her. “And we're going to have a plan. And we're gonna win.”
Giles assaulted his forehead with his new fingers of steel then tossed back another glass of Scotch. He lifted the bottle and squinted at the fine and blurry print. Well over 100 years old, imported, insanely expensive Scotch. Across the way D'mitri killed his first bottle of Vodka. The men stared at each other – drunk in solidarity.
“Tell me again what you and Buffy found,” Giles asked. He took great pains to keep his words measured. Slurring was unseemly – a sign of weakness, and he'd been far too weak in life.
D'mitri nodded and brought the lip of his bottle to his mouth. He swallowed then exhaled loudly. “Nothing.”
Giles closed his gritty and heavy lids for a second as he processed the intricacies of that single word. Nothing. “Of course,” he said with a sigh then stifled a burp. “That would be too simple. And life is never simple,” he continued. He stretched his legs out before him and studied his bare feet. Long and slightly bent toes wiggled back at him. “Not for Rupert Giles it isn't.”
D'mitri grunted his commiseration.
“I am just a man, after all,” Giles said. “Prone to mistakes. Colossal ones, granted –“
“Mistakes are part of life,” the sage Russian provided. “B-but it seems that I've been elevated to an infallible status,” he paused and repeated the word status liking how it felt on his tongue. State-us. How utterly pompous. “– I-I suppose I welcomed it. Who wouldn't? A man my age… fortunate enough to somehow catch the eye of someone so young… and beautiful….”
He closed his eyes again then leaned his head against the back of his chair. A delightful Willow montage played in his mind's eye. Gods, but he loved how the sunlight danced and shimmered in her hair. And the smile she gave so generously. Giles groaned.
Good show, he congratulated himself. Forget that she's the best thing that ever happened to you. And while you're at it, betray her love and trust. Well done. Fuckwit.
“Not only her eye, my friend,” D'mitri said his accent thick.
Giles nodded and looked up to the ceiling. Intricate woodwork and chubby angels stared back at him. “Ah, yes,” he agreed. “Let us not forget her heart. Filled with so much love.” He squeezed between his eyes in an attempt to relieve the strain that even an entire bottle of Scotch couldn't erase.
He set the bottle on the floor next to his chair then looked up at his confident. “But I managed to rip that out, didn't I? Because everything I touch turns to utter crap.”
D'mitri pushed out his lower lip and shrugged in consideration. “You did well with Buffy,” he concluded. Giles gripped the sides of his chair and stopped mid-forward lean.
“Yes. well, Buffy is another story all together,” he said with a grunt and pulled himself up. What monster genius decided to put the bar so far across the room, anyway? He steeled himself to make the journey.
“Where matters o-of strategy and… training are concerned, I excel. It's matters of the heart that rear their ugly heads twenty frickin' years later and decimate any chance I thought I had for a normal life–“ he stopped. “How this must look to you,” he said hoarsely –ashamed of himself, of the way he lurched forward.
D'mitri shrugged. “It looks to me like a man in love.”
Giles grabbed the remaining bottle and twisted off the lid. He paused before taking a swig –glasses were for the weak – and held it up to his new best friend D'mitri. “To the queen –“
“And capitalism,” D'mitri agreed.
Their perspective bottles paused mid-journey to their mouths as a scream and terrified cry shattered their fuzzy alliance.
Giles heard the cries from the wrong side of the door. The terrified scream of the woman he loved sobered him up in an instant. Again he tried the handle and swore when now it would barely jiggle. Anxiety wound through his soul and he hammered on the door while D'mitri threw his weight at it oblivious to the sting of black magicks that projected through the natural material.
“Willow,” Giles bellowed and forced his hand back to the handle. He would endure an eternity of scorching metal to save what was his. “Buffy?”
“Oh, God,” Willow cried. “Help us.”
The men shared a glance then lunged at the door that now seemed to be made of stone.
“This is not happening,” Giles swore through gritted teeth as once more he jolted his shoulder into the wood. Not again.
D'mitri grunted whether in response or effort and they both continued to work.
Buffy's voice sounded through the door and they felt her struggle with the handle.
“I can't do this alone, Giles,” she yelled as Willow's scream faded.
Giles felt the click go through him as inference of time rushed past his soul. Once more he saw himself in the ceremonial robes of his misspent youth, toying with the black arts, manipulating the elements. If it was the only way to save what was his then it was what he would do.
“Stand back,” he yelled above the women's cries. God, he prayed. Let this work.
With an uncertain pause D'mitri stepped away and Giles muttered the spell that lay in his subconscious for over twenty-years. He felt the energy pull from him and then jolt into the door. Both men shielded their eyes in expectation as thunder sounded.
Stunned they stared at the door. Giles' heart sank.
“You broke the handle,” D'mitri accused when the lack of fireworks had cleared.
Willow's wail snapped them into the present. “Buffy. It's got me – oh, god. Buffy… oh…..no –“
Buffy's voice once so close to the door faded and as it did the wood shattered before their eyes and disappeared into a bright nothingness. Both Giles and D'mitri gasped at the black that filled the room but neither hesitated.
“Willow?” Giles called. He stumbled blindly over whatever obstacles lay in his path. In the back of his mind he heard Buffy and celebrated the fact that she lived, but did not stop his search. He called again.
A small voice responded. “Giles?”
It was Willow. She sounded close enough to touch. He felt blindly around him eager for any part of her soft body to be in his grasp. He whirled to his right and then left as her voice touched his other side.
“Willow?” He squinted in the velvet blackness and reached toward the sound before he realized that it was wrong. Willow's voice even when battered and defeated was full. Now it was tinny – a bad cellular connection.
“Where am I?” she asked. Her voice reverberated in his mind.
He felt her fear and cold rolled through him. “Oh. God,” he muttered as his knees hit the carpet. She wasn't there. He felt her but she no longer existed in this world. “What have I done?”
The room whirled past him in instant migraine as he tried to discern Willow's graceful form from the overturned chairs and disrupted bedclothes. “Where is she?” he demanded through his groan.
“She's safe,” D'mitri supplied. “For now. But we must hurry.”
Giles squinted as D'mitri's came into and out of focus. His classic shaped forehead was etched in lines of… what? Concern? D'mitri grunted and squinted at the light. Pain.The man was in pain.
Buffy helped ease Giles to his feet. He frowned as he leaned too heavily on his slayer. Willow needed his strength and it wouldn't do for him to… not have any. He pushed away from Buffy's hold and with some trepidation pulled his hand away from his forehead with the hope that his brains would somehow stay within his skull.
D'mitri and Buffy wore twin expressions. Expectation. Soldiers that they were, they expected orders. Giles' thoughts swam through his muddled mind and he struggled for a plan. He looked to Buffy.
“What exactly happened?”
The slayer shrugged. “I dunno, really. We were sittin' on the bed trashing you –“ Giles looked up. “ – and then this….” She wound her hands expressively in the air. “…this… black swampy icky smoky thing just oozed around the room until we couldn't see anything.”
Giles shook his head and processed black swampy ickysmoky thing. “Any particular noises? Smells? Feelings?”
“Aside from terror?” Buffy asked. She shook her head. “Nothing. I tried, Giles,” she apologized. “But whatever it was, it was too strong. It wanted her too badly –“
He waved away her apology. An apology meant failure and failure meant that Willow was dead. That was inconsiderable. He turned to D'mitri as pieces of the puzzle scattered before him.
"You were equally sick on the trip here, and now you can hear her. There seems to be some sort of connection between you, but Willow has never exhibited the signs of telepathy.”
He hazarded a glance at Buffy but could scarcely afford to consider her fragile heart. Not now. “Have you always been empathic?”
D'mitri hesitated, then gave a slow nod.
“And you say she's still alive?”
D'mitri nodded again.
Giles rubbed his forehead and closed his eyes as he tried to reach out to Willow. She'd spoken to him, he was sure of it. But now… he swore internally… now it was all he could do to feel her energy and even that waned.
“She doesn't happen to tell you where she is, does she?” Buffy asked. The strain in her voice spoke volumes.
Giles opened his eyes and looked up hopefully. Dare I hope? he wondered. D'mitri shook his head. Of course not, Giles chastised himself.
All three of them jumped in unison as the chair closest to the vanished door shot across the room and shattered in ten or so pieces as it slammed into the wall and slashed an original [insert snobby artist here].
“Sorry,” Giles muttered with barely contained fury. He hadn't lost his touch after all and why wasn't Travers there to take the punishment he obviously deserved? The antique chair and the priceless painting he had just destroyed were poor substitutes.
He leaned his weight forward across the round table that had once housed a fresh cut floral arrangement but now – he squinted down and saw eight long scratches carved across the top. He stopped as evidence of Willow's struggle to remain jumped at him. Another chair flew across the room.
Giles inhaled deeply and balanced himself on his knuckles. For once he welcomed the rush Ripper gave his spirit. He looked up under his brow. Buffy and D'mitri took a step closer together.
“Get me Travers.”
Willow lifted her head from her arms and tried again to make out something – anything. She wasn't picky. She slumped her shoulders and lowered her head again. It was as if she was in the bowels of the big black ick. She could see nothing but darkness. Not even her hands which burned and bit each time she moved registered in the black that encompassed her.
Panic pushed another inch closer and another tear slid down her cheek. Willow didn't bother to brush it away. There was no point in expending the energy, really, when another would replace it. Besides, she needed to concentrate on the connection she shared with Giles. He had to know she was alive.
The skin around her eyes tightened as Willow squeezed them closed to focus on that one point of light she saw as Giles. If anyone could find her, it would be he. Willow pulled at the small comfort and warmth his fading essence provided and then recoiled as satin tendrils of someone else brushed against hers.
Its tentative strands threaded in and out of hers and she tasted the familiarity. Willow frowned and concentrated. Who was it? Buffy? Her hopes rose and she reached for it again. No, not Buffy – but someone she knew.
Think, Rosenberg, she chastised herself desperate for anything that would ground her.
The instant she thought his name the essence surrounded her in the psychic equivalent of a bear hug. For a moment the cold vanished. She didn't know why they were connected and right now, it didn't matter. She had two lifelines and two was better than…none.
Willow jumped and backed away from the voice that sounded just above her head. Hadn't she been leaning against a “wall”?
“Jarren?” she asked and squinted at the darkness. She turned to her knees and put her hands out before her searching the darkness for something tangible. “What's going on? Where am I?”
“Don't be afraid,” the full and harmonized voice said.
Willow almost laughed. “Yeah. Right.” A Charlie Brown Christmas played in her head. Fear not, for I bring tidings of great joy. For a moment she considered guilty thoughts but then waved them away. She was already in hell. What did one little Christian slip up matter?
“We don't have much time. The council's lost you, but not for long,” he warned. “We can only keep you here for so long.”
She snorted. “You couldn't have found a pretty field? Or – or an enchanted glade?” she grumbled then immediately felt contrite. This was better than dead. She hoped. “Not that I don't appreciate… whatever this is. But why am I here?”
Giles paced the room looking for signs… a residue of some sort that he could follow to Willow. All magicks left trace elements and if he could just get a hold on one tendril, one…
“ Blast,” he swore and swiped the contents off the dresser.
“She will be back soon,” D'mitri asserted.
Giles glared. “Can you hear her?” he demanded. He barely gave the man a chance to answer before he pounced again. “Willow? Can you hear her? What's happening to her?”
Despite his own agitation he could read the struggle in D'mitri's eyes. There was something… “Dammit, man,” Giles swore as fear raged inside him. He clenched his fists to his side. “What is it?”
“Someone's with her,” D'mitri said. His eyes took a far away cast of concentration and then he frowned. “It's not right,” he frowned. “I… can't explain.”
“Is she hurt?” Giles demanded. A million other questions fought for position.
D'mitri opened his mouth but then stopped short as Buffy cleared her throat at the door.
Both men turned to see her usher Travers into the room. Giles was on him in an instant.
“Where is she?” Giles demanded nearly out of his skin with the effort to stay in control.
He felt the struggle inside him rage as the crisp and irate man before him blandly surveyed the room. On one hand all he wanted to do was hurt someone… to repay them for the pain he feared Willow was suffering. Yet the other side of him knew he'd just make matters worse if he followed his urge to maim.
“Let's talk elsewhere,” Travers suggested. He looked down his nose at the mess of scattered chairs and general chaos. “Somewhere more civilized.”
“I should think you'd be comfortable here,” Giles managed. “As it is your doing.”
“Giles,” Buffy warned. Her green eyes appealed to him. “We don't have time for this.”
He looked to D'mitri who nodded and then back to Travers.
Though he was loathe to leave just in case Willow should return, Buffy was right. There was no time to argue and the room across the hall was close enough should anything happen in his room.
“Fine,” he conceded his jaw tight. “We'll use Buffy's room.”
“I'll come with,” Buffy suggested. She crossed her arms over her chest. Giles recognized the dare in her eyes as she locked gazes with her long time nemesis. “Just in case.”
Willow tried, she really did, but there was no way in a frozen heck that she could ‘just relax'.
“It'll be over soon,” Jarren promised. The timber of his voice warmed. “Just close your eyes and let go.”
She sighed and squinted her eyes as tightly as she dared. Even though she couldn't see past her eyelids she felt too vulnerable with them completely shut.
“That's right,” Jarren's gentle voice encouraged. “Concentrate on your breathing.”
“Um,” she interrupted and raised her finger as if she were in lecture. “Could we maybe first concentrate on a light or something?“
“Impossible,” Jarren discouraged her quickly. “ It won't be long until the Blessed have you where you belong. Now, relax.”
“How can you tell me to relax after what I've just been through?” Willow snapped. “You're all… great mystic know it all being-thing now an-and.. I'm… I'm…sorry you got shot… but the least you can do is tell me what's going on.”
Her adrenaline raced with conflict and she gave a short emphatic nod as her hands flew to her hips. Then she added, “Please.”
Willow felt the air around her charge and then roll as if someone had thrown a pebble into an otherwise smooth pond. Had she been in Sunnydale she would have looked for the closest doorway and braced herself for an earthquake. Yet here, wherever here was, all she could do was throw her arms out and hope to balance.
“There is no time.”
Panic tinged Jarren's usually dulcet voice – and there was something else. Willow closed her eyes and let her essence reach for whatever it was that she'd missed. There before her was D'mitri's silver strand that brightened as she brushed it. Just past D'mitri the small and threadlike connection to Giles glimmered its steadfast light.
She frowned and pushed forward. Surely a presence as strong as Jarren would be there – wouldn't it? His voice droned in the corners of her head but his words made little sense. A few Latin phrases popped out at her now and again as she searched for his aura or essence or… something, but otherwise, his chanting left her cold.
Another wave, this one not shy, rumbled through the abyss and lifted the hair from her face. Magicks tingled through her and tugged at her womb with invisible fingers. Instinctively Willow crossed her arms over her belly and crouched.
“What is that?” she asked and then repeated herself as Jarren's chants increased in intensity.
“Open yourself to me, Willow,” Jarren said. “Time is running out and the task must be finished.”
“What?” she demanded as the air shimmied and swirled around her. “Open myself? What are you talking about?”
“Remove the bonds that tie you to the others,” Jarren ordered. “I can not protect you when you are grounded to –“
Willow took a step back. Sever her ties to warmth and sanity? She shook her head. “No way.”
The invisible hand that had gently tugged at her earlier now gripped her womb as Jarren's voice took on a frightening insistence. Willow gasped at the intrusion and instinctively murmured a protection spell. The hold lessened but remained.
Tears stung her eyes as the assault continued despite the second spell she tried. In her mind's eye she saw her baby struggling against the magical tug of war she waged against…. What? “What's happening to me? What are you doing?”
“Quit fighting,” Jarren ordered and another wave spread around her.
“Okay,” Buffy said and crossed her arms over her chest. “Let's make this simple. You give us Willow and you get to live.”
Travers, for his part, blinked and raised a groomed brow. “Your friend,” he let the word sink in then smirked, “is gone?”
Giles stopped pacing long enough for the lack of concern in Travers's voice to sink in. Blood pounded in his temples and red tinged his vision as he rushed the old man and slammed his tweed bound body into the wall.
“Bring her back,” he demanded.
Travers's breath, tainted with the scent of chicken and hot sauce, came hard against Giles's face. “Considering that I don't know where she is,” Travers managed. “I'd say that's impossible.”
All too aware of just how close he was to homicide Giles pushed himself away from Travers and stalked across the room. He wanted to hit someone – to punish them until they screamed as she had, until they trembled with terror. Giles pressed his nails farther into his palms and felt the satisfying pops as his skin gave way. Anger tightened the muscles of his neck until all he could do was glare and gesture his rage. “I won't let you get away with it,” Giles swore. “Not again.”
“Again?” Travers repeated his expression nearly a caricature of indignant confusion. The next moment he nodded. “Ah, yes. I remember now. One of your lady friends. Had a baby, didn't she?”
He grimaced and shook his head mock regret surrounded him. “Tragic. But I don't see how that can be blamed on the Council. The amusing thing about heroin, Mr. Giles, as I'm sure you remember, you never know which high's going to be your last.”
“Willow,” Giles managed through his gritted teeth intent on only one thing. “Give her back to me.”
“Ah, yes,” Travers said with a nod. He crossed the room to the bar and held out the crystal carafe in offering. At Giles's glare he shrugged and poured only one glass. “The witch,” he continued. “Lovely young girl. I must admit that your taste in women is improving.”
Giles quirked his brow and froze in place. Steely glares met, one in dare and the other in rage. “No more games,” Giles demanded. He cut a slice through the air and slammed his fist on the table. The writing lamp and frames jumped and rattled. “Willow. Now.”
“And again I tell you that I have no idea where she would be.” The teasing light in the old man's eyes faded. “Now. If you don't mind, it is late and I have an –“
The rest of his sentence ended with an ‘oomph' and then the sudden gag of constructed wind pipe. The crystal glass Travers held seconds before clattered against the marble counter. Giles pinned Travers to the wall and leaned in closely. Already chaos screamed for him to pull out the reserves and end the sick little man's existence.
“Find her,” he ordered as he drew his fist back. Just a few well-placed blows and the bastard would be eating baby food from a blender for the rest of his miserable life.
Buffy's cry and hold on his arm jerked him into the moment. He swung his head to the side. Hazel eyes flashed in warning. “He's no good to us dead,” Buffy said. “If we want to get Willow back, we need him.”
His chest heaved with effort and adrenaline and he jerked his attention back to the old man who stood stoically before him, daring him. His hand ached for the follow through. This man, Quinten Travers, was responsible for Willow's suffering and he would pay. The switch of self-restraint blew and Giles roared as his fist shot forward.
A small voice pulled him up short. Unwilling to believe his ears Giles dropped his fist and whirled toward the sound. His heart leapt within his chest and for one brief instant he considered tears of relief. Before him, in the doorway, stood Willow.
Travers forgotten Giles dropped his hold and took a step toward his love. Messed hair and pallor aside, she'd never been more beautiful to him. Straight down to her blood soaked legs, Giles couldn't remember a time he'd more…. He stopped and cold fear stung his nerve endings.
“Giles?” she asked her voice hoarse and barely audible. She lifted her hand from the doorframe and held it out to him.
Unsure of what it was he actually saw, Giles stared at the bloody handprint she left behind. Their eyes met for one brief moment and then in slow motion Willow's eyelids fluttered and she lurched forward. Red hair fell over her face and the thud of her body as it hit the floor reverberated through his brain.
“No,” he whispered as the impact with the plush rug forced Willow to her side.
“I'll call the infirmary,” Travers offered. Air pushed past Giles as both Travers and Buffy rushed in opposite directions.
“Willow.” Buffy's cry jerked Giles into the present.
Shaken from the zone where he'd found a momentary respite Giles blinked and sprinted to the door. He tugged Willow from Buffy's hold and pulled her limp arm from under her body and searched for a pulse.
This should not be difficult, he chastised himself as the rhythmic beat eluded him. Where is her bloody pulse? He grunted and adjusted her over his knees. Willow's head fell back. Blood spread through the crotch of her shorts.
“They're on their way,” Travers announced. In his periphery Giles saw the useless man flutter about. “We have excellent physicians. She'll be in good hands.”
Giles snapped his head up. His glare stopped Travers in his tracks. “Like hell,” he growled then gathered Willow's slight weight in his arms and stood. “Get D'mitri,” he ordered Buffy as he adjusted his load and started from the bedroom. “We're leaving.”
Giles rushed down the hall with Buffy's familiar footsteps behind him then pulled up sharply as he and Willow nearly collided with a breathless D'mitri coming the other way.
“Hurry,” D'mitri ordered. He put a hand to Giles's back and pointed down the hall. “The car is waiting.”
Giles paused only a moment unable to grasp how D'mitri had known and acted so quickly and then nodded and pressed on.
The car squealed and swerved as Giles barked directions from the back seat. He pulled Willow closer and stroked her hair as D'mitri followed his orders and took a sharp right turn on the road that lead away from the compound.
Buffy shifted in the front seat and glared out the back window then looked to Giles. “It doesn't look like we're being tailed,” she said.
He watched as her concerned gaze slid to the sticky red mess that spread out on Willow's pajama shorts. He'd only looked once, seen the evidence of what his mind still refused to accept, and then couldn't bring himself to look again.
“There's too much blood,” Buffy worried. “Giles… this isn't good.”
He answered her with a glare. Didn't she think he saw that? He adjusted Willow in his arms and mumbled apologies into her hair. Her body was deceptively limp but her aura vibrated with the magic that had taken her away and brought her back. Magic that her body couldn't handle magic he'd tried so hard to shield her against since they'd battled Myop's Crown.
“We need to get somewhere… soon,” Buffy continued. “A hospital…”
“No,” Giles snapped. The car jerked dangerously to one side. “No hospitals. Too dangerous.”
“Then where?” Buffy demanded. Dark circles of fatigue and worry shadowed her face and she no longer disguised the strain from her voice.
Giles paused. Buffy faded into the background. Had Willow moved? He searched her face for a sign of – what? That this had all been a horrible dream? That he hadn't lead his family to their slaughter? That any moment he and she would wake up in their bed in Sunnydale and make love? He leaned closer. Nothing. No change. Was she cold? He rubbed her arms.
Buffy's voice slapped him to attention. “Giles?”
Giles's heart clenched in his chest and he looked back to Willow. Her dark lashes stood out against her sallow cheeks and her mouth usually curved in smile now hung slack. He leaned his head against the back of the seat and closed his eyes in concentration. Where could he take her? He didn't know. It'd been too many years – his contacts and the favors he'd been owed had been repaid throughout his time abroad. Anyone else couldn't be trusted to protect them – except for…. Giles inhaled deeply and squeezed his eyes until starlight burst behind the lids.
“London,” he conceded. “East end. Bradbury Street.”
If Ethan Rayne was shocked by his front door being knocked off its hinges he hid it well. Not that Giles gave him much of an opportunity to react.
“Get someone," Giles ordered as he maneuvered Willow's body through the lopsided door and headed to the back room with a prayer that it'd be void of… whatever it was that Ethan was into these days.
“Now,” he called over his shoulder as the rest of the apartment disappeared behind him.
Willow whimpered and mumbled incoherently as he stepped around a heap of God knew what and lowered her to the unmade bed. His heart strings tugged and he knelt on the floor next to her hellbent now on her comfort – or, he thought as he noted the ‘nude' Ethan still had on the wall, as close to comfort as she could get.
He clasped her hand in his and brought it to his mouth. Her ragged nails scraped his lips. I've done this to her , he thought as she creased her brow and turned her head to the wall. A short knock at the door interrupted his guilt and he quickly cleared his throat.
“I – brought towels… and water,” Buffy said. She held out a red bowl covered with a small stack of neatly folded linens and paused uncertainly just outside the room. Giles nodded and she stepped to his side and put the towels and bowl on the nightstand. “I sent D'mitri with Ethan – to make sure he comes back –“
“That was… very wise, Buffy,” Giles managed as he pushed a sweaty lock of hair from Willow's cheek. He frowned. Strong magic had done this to Willow… her own? She knew the risks. He exhaled and closed his eyes against visions of what might have driven her to such extremes.
“And Ethan said you could use one of his shirts,” Buffy prattled on. She picked a shimmering silk shirt from the back of the chair and held it at arm's length. “Not that that's such a great gesture, really.”
“What?” Giles asked.
“Your shirt,” Buffy fumbled. She stopped short and blinked but she couldn't hide the tears.
Giles felt his jaw tighten and looked down at himself. Smears of dried blood stared back at him. Willow's blood. His baby. He pulled a shaking hand over his face and then ran it through his hair in a vain effort to gain some sense of…reality.
“Yes.” His voice broke. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Yes, thank you.”
He managed a quick look in her direction. “You should rest….”
From her expression he knew she wouldn't sleep, but she was a smart enough girl to read that he wanted to be alone with Willow. She nodded and started from the room but stopped just before the door. Her pointed chin trembled. “I'm sorry… that I …couldn't protect them –“
“It wasn't your job,” Giles interrupted. He turned back to tending Willow and ground his teeth. It was his job. And he had failed. Again.
Lord knew when Ethan would return. His… connections weren't exactly rooted in the community. Until then, Giles had done all he could do except for wait.
He exhaled loudly then caught sight of the bowl and towels she's supplied. There was at least one thing he could do for Willow. Warm soapy water dripped down his cuff as he squeezed the excess water from the washcloth then dabbed gently at the bloody smear that marred her cheek.
“Don't you worry, Luv,” he murmured as he worked. Her voice comforted him, he could only hope his would have the same effect on her. “We'll go home soon… an-and when you feel up to it I'll take you to the abysmal Thai restaurant you like so much.”
Giles nodded. Though the food had been barely edible Willow had fallen in love with the restaurant's atmosphere of candles and music. Not to mention and the antique waiter who spoke no English. At Willow's insistence Giles had tipped the wizened little man more than half the total of their bill. That night had cost a pretty penny, but the delight in her eyes had been worth every cent.
He dipped the rag back into the bowl and tried not to notice as the water swirled pink Careful not to drip he brought the rag to her forehead and carefully smoothed away the tiny lines that creased her brow. “Or we can hole up in the beach house for… a couple of years, maybe?”
What he wouldn't give for the serenity of that first weekend they'd spent together. He didn't remember exactly when her gentle spirit had captured his heart, but he knew precisely when she'd taken his soul. Nothing grand, just pure Willow holding her hand out to him, eyes wide with hope.
He smiled. “And when you're ready,” he whispered as the tension in her brow seemed to fade, “we'll try again….”
His voice caught in his throat. It was as near as he'd come to admitting that she had lost the baby. Giles caught his glasses and wiped at his gritty eyes with his knuckle. Willow had been thrilled to be pregnant and the dream he'd all but given up had been presented to him in the prettiest package he could imagine. He stroked his chin and held the damp cloth loosely in his other hand . Dear Lord, what would he say to her?
Giles shook his head and dampened the cloth again. She'd come to soon and it wouldn't do for her to see all the blood. It would only upset her. He cleaned her arms then paused at her wrists.
Tiny and delicate, a child's sized watch fit her better than most adult sizes…and, being Willow, she took advantage of it. Giles made a mental note to replace the now broken Tinkerbell watch enveloped her clenched fist between his hands.
“Relax, darling,” he breathed and he turned her palm upward. “I'm nearly finished.”
As gently as he could he smoothed her fingers straight. Willow winced in her sleep and tugged weakly at his hold. “Willow?” he asked.
He frowned and looked down at the hand within his. Her nails, usually so neatly kept, were now blood encrusted jagged edges. Her raw fingertips still weeped with fluid and housed coarse splinters. Giles flinched and ran one hand over his eyes and forehead as memories of her screams echoed in his brain. It still sent a shiver down his spine. ‘Giles, Buffy…. Help me.'
But he'd been powerless, with barely enough wherewithal to remember a simple spell that might have saved her. Only it hadn't. Giles blinked back the angry tears that closed his throat and stung his sinuses. For a moment he'd been able to talk himself into denial, he shook his head as the image of the clawed tabletop in their room rushed to the forefront. There was no way to deny this. Willow had been fighting for her life.
No longer caring about dripping or spilling Giles plunged the rag into the bowl carelessly brought it to her hands. Water flowed over her wounds and soaked her top, but he didn't register the mess. He had to get rid of the blood… wipe it away just as he'd wanted to erase what she'd faced. He fumbled once more with her hand and then dropped it back to the mattress and pushed away from the bed in disgust.
They would pay he vowed and paced the length of the mattress. He pressed his hands to his hips then turned glared at the remnants of magic that sparked around Willow's broken body. Giles swore and gave the chair a vicious swipe. It wavered on two legs then toppled to its side.
Hurried footsteps sounded from the other room and Buffy pushed open the door.
“It's fine,” he answered tersely. “Go back to sleep.”
“Didn't sound fine –“
“Go,” he bit out. He didn't want to share his rage. For now it kept him warm.
“How is she?” Buffy sounded closer now. Giles sighed and rolled his eyes to the ceiling before he turned to his slayer.
“How does she bloody well look?” he strained and cut his hand toward the bed. He felt the sweat pop out on his brow.
Willow's lips moved with the remnants of whatever haunted her sleep and she moved her legs restlessly.
Buffy's chin quivered and she looked back to him with big eyes. “We'll make them pay, Giles,” she promised.
He startled then paused then looked at the tiny warrior who stood at Willow's side. “No,” he said with inarguable finality. “I will.”
When Buffy mercifully left him to his fury Giles pulled the chair back and resumed his vigil. The tension in his jaw ached but kept him focused. The list of those he would destroy grew with each minute that passed. If he had his way, each and every one of the members would beg him for mercy. He stretched his legs before him and stroked his stubbled chin. They would pay. Dearly. Just as Willow had.
It was fine he was their whipping boy. He'd accepted that and in fact, at times embraced shaking things up in the geriatric unit. But the fact that they'd targeted Willow... Giles closed his eyes.
He leaned forward and braced his arms over his knees all too aware that he'd been the one to put her directly in harm's way. He should have known, he tore at himself… He wasn't paying attention… he was a damn fool to think that he could have anyone that the Council couldn't touch.
It'd been his omissions that had driven her away. If he'd just been with her instead of getting pissed with D'mitri then perhaps he could have done… something.
He inhaled deeply, the exhaustion of the overseas flight coupled with the ill-nomered excitement of an evening at the Watcher's compound finally seeding itself in his soul. Giles frowned and checked his watch again. Where was that damned Ethan and his doctor, anyway? She needed treatment and she needed it soon. He couldn't be sure, but the bleeding seemed to have slowed, yet still he wondered just how much trauma could she withstand before her body called a halt?
Giles leaned forward and adjusted her covers making sure to keep her arms unencumbered and easily accessible to his need to touch. A wave of protective heartache rolled over him when he sat back and studied his love. Tiny and near gray in the double bed Willow appeared much younger than her twenty-three years. She looked nowhere old enough to have experienced what life with him had thrown at her, let alone old enough to be planning a nursery.
Not that we need do that, anymore , he thought bitterly. He closed his eyes and pulled off his glasses. What would he tell her, he wondered as he massaged his forehead. What could he do to make it better? One thing for certain, Giles thought as he replaced his glasses and gently cupped her hand in his, I'll not give anyone a chance to hurt her again.
Like someone surfacing from the deep end Willow gasped for breath her entire body tense with the effort. Startled Giles fell to his knees next to the bed. Her eyes, deep and dark against her pale skin jerked around the room until they connected with his. Her terror radiated into Giles and he pulled her now trembling hand to his lips.
“Quiet Willow,” he quieted her and pushed the hair from her forehead. “You're safe.”
Willow pulled in another ragged breath. “The baby,” she managed. Her hoarse and quiet voice cut through him. Giles blinked away the tears that stood at the ready and tried to smile.
“Hush now,” he whispered. He couldn't tell her. Not yet. He struggled to keep the shaking from his voice. “You're going to be fine.”
Heavy lids closed and then fluttered open and Willow rolled her head almost imperceptibly from side to side. He saw the muscles at the corner of her dried lips twitch with the effort to speak. Giles rushed ahead. He murmured nonsense syllables, cupped her cheek, nearly anything he could think of to postpone the inevitable. She couldn't know yet. It would destroy her.
Willow grasped his sleeve and raised her head. Her thin chest rose and fell with the effort. “The baby's fine,” she managed. “Right? I saved her, didn't I?”
Giles hesitated then ran his hand up her cool bare arm. His best bet was to keep her quiet until she was deemed well enough to deal with the truth. He leaned down and kissed her forehead. The poor thing had been through so much – that she should have to suffer more was unthinkable.
“The doctor will be here in a bit,” he assured her. “You musn't talk.” Just as the words left his mouth he heard Ethan's voice in the other room. Giles nearly deflated with relief. Finally.
“Had a hell of a time tracking him down,” Ethan announced as he escorted a small bitter looking man into the room. “But it was fun watching the Mad Russian convince the good doctor to join us.”
“How long has she been unconscious?” the doctor asked skipping the formalities. He crossed the small room and set his bag on the edge of the bed.
Giles looked back to Willow – she was out again but breathing. He exhaled. Breathing meant she was alive, and alive was acceptable.
“Almost three hours?” he asked unsure of just how much time had passed. He swore at himself for failing to keep time, he should have remembered the importance of – the doctor interrupted him.
“Is she on anything?”
“N-no,” Giles answered. Willow? Good Lord. He shook his head. “Of course not.“
“What spell did she do?”
Giles startled and looked to Ethan unsure of whether to be frightened or grateful that his friend had found a physician familiar with the mystic. He returned his attention to Willow and studied her a second, looking for signs of anything. “I'm not sure,” he admitted. “B-but she's nearly four months along –“
“Knocked up the little witch, Ripper?” Ethan smirked. Giles tore his gaze from Willow long enough to glare up at… whatever Ethan was to him.
The doctor jerked the blankets off Willow. He took one look at the crimson stain that had spread across her clothes then smirked at Giles. “Tried to do a number on herself, did she?”
Without waiting for a response he riffled through his bag until he came out with a pair of wrinkled surgical gloves and scissors. Giles felt the white heat of anger envelope him and clenched his fist. “What the hell kind of doctor…”
Ethan's hand on his shoulder stopped him from doing anything further. “He's the best on the street, Ripper,” Ethan said.
Giles hesitated then gave up a quick nod. He looked back to Willow and squeezed her palm. He had no choice. There was nowhere else to turn.
Ethan's cheery, ‘Now this looks interesting….' jerked Giles to attention and turned to see the doctor spread Willow's legs then push her knees in the air. The slack limbs bent and landed frog-style with a plop. Her shorts lay in an unceremonious heap on the floor. Giles fought against every instinct to throttle any man who would dare….
“She works out, doesn't she?” Ethan observed.
Giles jerked his head up but his wily associate had already positioned himself out of striking distance. “Shut up, Ethan,” he growled aching for just one good punch.
“Both of you shut it so I can do my job,” the doctor ordered. He pulled a gaudy silk shirt from the floor and draped it over Willow's thighs effectively blocking both men's views.
“No fun in that,” Ethan pouted.
“Get out,” Giles barked. He'd have gladly snapped Ethan's neck but to do so would have meant severing physical contact with Willow and that wasn't going to happen.
Ethan crossed his arms over his chest and raised his eyebrow in a dare. Giles stared straight ahead. “All Buffy needs is my blessing,” he said.
Ethan's smug expression rolled into startled. “Fine,” he capitulated and escorted himself from the room.
Free from Ethan's distraction Giles watched while the doctor worked behind the privacy shield. Occasionally the little man would search through his bag then return to whatever it was he was doing. Giles scowled and strained to see beyond the makeshift privacy curtain. Moments later the underground's finest glanced up.
“The baby?” Giles asked. He braced himself for confirmation of his darkest fear
The doctor shrugged but his hands moved busily behind the shirt. “This amount of blood loss could create complications.”
Willow winced and groaned as she was poked and prodded but she remained unconscious. Giles bent to whisper words of comfort into her hair but kept his eyes on the doctor.
“I'm no obstetrician, but,” the doctor continued, “as far as I can tell everything's as it should be.”
Giles squinted and cocked his head not certain he'd heard correctly. “As it should be?”
He lowered Willow's legs and smoothed Ethan's shirt over her thighs. “Just tell your girlfriend that the next time she slices herself she might not be so lucky.”
“How is she?” Buffy asked. Giles looked up from his thoughts. He caressed Willow's soft arm.
“Fine,” he said with a distracted nod. Dear Lord, using magic was dangerous enough, but to deliberately… He shook his head. No. Willow would never do anything as foolish…
“I'm… so sorry about the baby,” Buffy said her voice quiet with the tone usually reserved for someone who didn't know what to say.
Giles licked his lips and a small smile tugged at their corners. “Yes, well,” he said. There was indeed a point to celebrate. “The baby's fine.”
Buffy looked up. Confusion dug into her brow. “But there was so much… I mean… that's great –“
“Tomorrow, Buffy?” Giles interrupted. He rubbed the back of his neck. He would explain as soon as he understood. Until then there was no point in expending the energy. Fatigue pulled at his muscles. “Please?”
“Sure,” she said with a nod then pointed toward the door. “D'mitri's taking first watch.”
Giles managed a small smile of appreciation. “Thank you.”
“Try to rest,” Buffy suggested. Her tired eyes shone down at him in maternal warning then she pulled the door closed.
The small bedroom echoed Willow's soft breathing and Giles carefully released her hand from his and onto the covers. He needed to see her, to see what had been done. Feeling almost guilty he eased the blanket and sheet down her small body. He paused at her still flat belly long enough to warm the skin with his opened palm. Their baby was fine. He had to repeat it to himself another three times before he would allow himself to examine anywhere else. Safe and sound in its mother's body his child lived.
He frowned. Blood, though very little of it fresh, stained and encrusted her thighs. So much for a sterile environment, he thought bitterly. Dear God, how many different diseases were on Ethan's sheets alone? Giles made a mental note to procure a bottle of penicillin then reached for the bowl and linens off the nightstand. Willow didn't like blood and it wouldn't do for her to have any idea of how much she'd lost.
Cautious, so as not to wake anyone Giles opened the bedroom door and stepped into the living area. D'mitri leaned with his back against the rigged front door. Buffy snored softly nearby and Ethan was every bit like the cat who ate the canary as he sprawled on his couch. D'mitri looked up sharply as a floorboard creaked.
“You need me?”
Giles glanced over his shoulder reluctant to leave Willow alone for any amount of time then nodded. He held out the bowl and dirtied linens. “If you wouldn't mind? I- I need to clean her up a bit.”
Minutes later Giles was back at Willow's side with fresh soapy water and the last of Ethan's fresh towels.
When he'd erased every trace he could off her thighs and calves Giles modestly arranged the flat sheet over her exposed curls and gently parted her legs. He sucked in air through his teeth. Three surprisingly tight and neat rows of stitches closed deep and irregular gashes that ran front to back across her upper inner thigh. Giles sat back and inhaled deeply as helpless rage twisted his stomach.
How had she withstood the pain? Surely, the doctor had been wrong. This had to have been done to her. Perhaps a ritual of some sort? A bloodletting? Witch's blood was not an uncommon tool…. He looked again – the random length and spacing – she'd obviously been attacked and kicked at her assailant as he'd tried to… Giles closed his eyes.
Would this be her breaking point, Giles wondered as he dabbed carefully at the fresh sutures. He'd admired for years her steel resolve and had watched with some measured amount of awe, as she'd come back again and again after being knocked down. But this? He shook his head and dropped the rag back into the bowl. How did a woman recover from nearly having her child cut from her? Where was the blasted Codex on that?
Shaking hands made it nearly impossible for him to finish his task, but he pushed on. Cleaning the wounds as best he could, wincing for her when she groaned. It was small, he realized, but right now it was the only thing he could do to help her short of turning back the clock and never accepting her invitation to the bloody beach house in the first place.
He stood up and gazed down a moment at her face, pale, but gentle in its repose. Not that he'd ever been able to deny her anything she wanted. She'd wanted to join in on the crusade to protect the world and he'd relented. She'd wanted to help him catalogue and scan every last volume in his collection even though it'd meant no free evenings for either of them, and he'd agreed. She'd wanted to repaint his bedroom lavender and Dear Lord, he now had matching shams. He cleared his throat in an effort to stop the tears that stung his eyes. She'd wanted him and selfish bastard that he was he'd given in.
Careful not to spill or clatter too much Giles set the bowl and towels on the nightstand then eased himself on the bed. Common sense told him to leave her have the entire bed to herself, but that wouldn't do. He needed to touch her, to feel the reassuring rhythmic rise and fall of her chest as she slept. And, he rationalized, if the Council should return to finish their work, he would be the one they'd have to go through.
No, Giles decided as he left his shoes neatly by the bed and eased himself around her. If she was going anywhere, he was going with. For one selfish moment he wished it would happen – that they'd come again for her, because then his vengeance would start.
As if she'd read his mind Willow whimpered. Giles hugged her tighter and murmured nonsense syllables until she calmed, but his thoughts were much less comforting than his actions. It would not happen again. Giles turned off the lamp. The Council would not destroy the life he'd built.
Giles dozed off and on waking with a start, counting her breaths, and then settling back into plans of pain until a short and fitful sleep claimed him again. The pattern continued until the first light of the new day shone its gray light through the closed blinds. He looked at his watch and then to the clock on the nightstand to confirm.
In the four hours of off and on sleep he'd had Willow hadn't moved. Common sense told him that he body was conserving energy – using it to heal itself, but the human in him tried to panic. Under normal circumstances he would have let her sleep. But there was nothing normal about what had occurred the night before. Not to mention how much better he would feel if she would just open those luminous green eyes.
“Willow?” Giles whispered.
He adjusted the slight weight of Willow's head on his chest with the hopes of rousing her. He looked down at her forehead as it wrinkled into an annoyed scowl and felt his chest expand in relief. He kissed her hairline then tried once more to ease her into the day. “Are you in there?”
She groaned and tried to nestle her head further into him. Giles smiled. Typical Willow, and next she would mumble her morning catch phrase. ‘Five more minutes?' He jiggled her again. If she'd just open her eyes again, he'd ensure she could spend the rest of their life together sleeping in as long as she wanted.
Reluctantly he slid her off him and kneeled next to the bed. Perhaps if she weren't so comfortable. He removed a few stray strands of red hair from her eyelashes then tried again. His reward came in the package of slightly unfocused sleepy jade eyes.
“I hurt,” she murmured.
Giles swallowed and traced her jaw with the tips of his fingers. She'd come back to him. “You'll be fine,” he whispered too afraid that anything above that would wake him from this dream. “You and the baby are both safe.”
She nodded weakly and pushed her cheek into the pillow they'd shared. The white of the case looked rich next to the pallor of her skin.
“So much blood,” she murmured as her eyelids dropped then fluttered open again.
Giles pursed his lips in concern and cast a quick glance to the bedroom door. Perhaps he'd made a mistake about hospital. They could check her in under a pseudonym, or if she was strong enough, drive her elsewhere….
“Fooled them,” she breathed. A small smile played on her lips and then it faded as her breathing became deep and regular.
Giles sat back and pushed his hand through his hair in worried disappointment. He'd hoped for… To be honest he'd hoped for a well-rested and vibrant young woman. But he'd staked a claim in reality and knew that was a long time coming. He shook his head. It was a combination of magic and blood loss, he assured himself. This was normal… for a pregnant young woman who needed attention that there was no way in hell she'd get.
He shook his head. In a few hours he would see to it that Ethan brought back that doctor. Surely there was more to be done that a few dozen stitches. Maybe he'd recommend a facility – “He's a doctor to the underground, pillock,” he chastised himself. “Not to the stars.”
Either way, Willow would receive the best attention they could… dig up in Ethan's twisted world. He would just… monitor her carefully, keep the wounds clean, make sure she rested – Christ, but he was pathetic. There was no “up side” to this. Reluctant to leave her side but no longer able to put off nature's call Giles kissed her forehead and slid from the bed. “Won't be but a minute,” he promised.
He stopped just outside the door and looked at the very people who'd sworn to hold the fort until dawn's first light. Ethan still hogged the couch, but the angle of his neck would ensure a much less smug expression when he awoke. D'mitri still blocked the front door only now prone and snoring and with Buffy curled into his side, head bobbing, but still awake keeping to her post.
They were exhausted. No one had slept since they'd left Sunnydale; Giles squinted at his watch again. Had it really only been twenty-four hours ago? As quietly as he could he took care of business then veered off to the kitchenette to fix a cup of tea. No doubt Ethan would lack the proper items, but Giles had been known to use the microwave in a pinch.
Buffy's sleep raw voice broke his morning quiet. “You didn't sleep, did you?”
“I got in a good six or seven minutes,” he quipped not feeling even half as witty as he knew he didn't sound.
Buffy nodded and pushed her shoulder off the doorway. Makeup smudged around her eyes made the dark circles nature provided all the more prominent. The microwave beeped and Giles pulled open the door and took out what he hoped to be Ethan's favorite mug.
“How is she?”
Giles considered the question as he carefully unwrapped the teabag and dipped it into the bubbling water. “I'm not sure,” he finally admitted.
“But she'll be okay, right? Just a few quarts low?”
Despite his reservations Giles nodded. “Still, to be safe when Ethan wakes up you or D'mitri can accompany him while he fetches the good doctor.”
Buffy smiled. Giles managed one of his own. He knew that look. It was her happy to annoy face. “I'll get him up,” she offered brightly.
Giles cleared his throat and brought his mug to his mouth and took a sip. He grimaced. Lipton. Was it possible Ethan had found a lower level at which to sink? “Has D'mitri said anything to you?” he asked. “Anything at all?”
Buffy's smile disappeared and she shrugged her thin shoulders. “Nope. I am completely out of the loop. If he knows anything, he ain't sayin'.”
Giles bit at the tender flesh in his mouth and tried not to let the paranoia surface. D'mitri had been nothing but loyal in the months they'd known him. He'd given Giles no reason to suspect…until now. He nearly dropped his mug in his haste to at least get it on the counter as he rushed by Buffy. Dear Lord, he'd left her alone. It wasn't beyond the Council to plant a mole. If plan A failed then D'mitri could very well be their plan B.
He ignored Buffy's questioning call and walked through the living room that was now short one occupant. Panic rose in his throat. Intent upon only one thing Giles grabbed a poker from the fireplace and stalked into the bedroom.
At the clatter D'mitri dropped Willow's hand and looked up with a jump. Slowly he raised his hands over his head.
“Get away from her,” Giles raged. In one fluid move he had the poker directly and firmly over the soldier's heart.
“Giles?” Buffy cried following him into the room. “What are you doing?”
“It's not good enough for you people just to kill her,” Giles said. He lowered his voice in distrust. “You have to destroy her spirit first? Is that the game?”
“I do not understand,” D'mitri stuttered. He looked to Buffy.
“Well, I won't have it,” Giles stated. He pushed the poker in deeper until D'mitri had no choice but to move away from the bed. Giles stood between Willow and the would be assailant.
“Giles,” Buffy said again. She wedged herself between the poker and her boyfriend. “I asked him to stay with her. I saw you in the kitchen and knew that you didn't want her to be alone.”
It took a second for the words to sink in and then Giles bowed his head and stood down. Had he really sunk so far that no one was to be trusted? “Of course,” he mumbled in both shame and embarrassment. He hazarded a glance up at D'mitri's guarded yet honestly confused expression then took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I'm sorry,” he apologized. “I – I ….”
He sank to the chair and buried his head in his hands. The arm of his glasses dug into his palm. Finally he looked up at his alarmed slayer and her boyfriend and then to Willow who'd barely moved during the loud altercation.
Buffy's small hand on his shoulder was a small comfort but he patted it anyway and felt very much the old man. “What happened?” The question hung in the air. He looked to D'mitri. “You were there…you must have seen something?”
D'mitri's jaw tightened. He looked back down to Willow as if considering what he could share and then sighed. “The doctor was right,” he admitted reluctantly. “She did it to herself.”
Willow watched Giles for quite some time trying to decipher his expression. She remembered the worried cast of his eyes from… when was that? Willow tried to remember. Today? Or was it yesterday? It was all so fuzzy. Yet from the set of his jaw and the way he scowled at the wall – something was wrong.
He startled then looked to her. The urgency in his eyes frightened her. Something had gone wrong. Ignoring the sharp tug at her thigh she struggled to sit up. Tears spilled over her lashes. Maybe it'd been a dream, before when she'd awaken safe in his arms and he'd said the baby was fine. That everything was fine. She raised a shaking hand to her lips afraid to ask. “Oh, God… our baby….”
Giles closed his eyes and his large warm hand enveloped her wrists while he brushed the hair from her cheek. Willow grabbed his hand leaned into his caress. What had she done? She'd just wanted to get them away from the compound.
Giles's tucked his finger under her trembling chin and turned her to face him. For that moment the steady gentle gaze returned. “The baby's fine.”
“Really?” she managed.
He nodded and relief washed over her insides. It'd worked. They were alive and they were out of the compound. She relaxed into his hold, more than ready for quality cuddle time. They weren't out of the woods yet, but his arms around her….Willow blinked in surprise as Giles slid from their embrace. Concern replaced relief as he sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed his neck. She reached a tentative hand toward his back but let it fall to the mattress when he stood and put his hands to his hips.
She saw him swallow and look to the ceiling and braced herself. It was she. Something she'd done. Her thigh throbbed a reminder. Finally he dropped his hand to his side and turned to her with a sigh.
“I don't understand, Willow… to deliberately hurt yourself….” The low accusation in his quiet voice punched the air from her lungs. “What the bloody hell were you thinking?”
Her temples pounded as the reprimand tore through her and embedded itself in her heart. “You're mad at me?” she managed fresh tears fell over her cheeks.
“Scared. Terrified,” Giles listed. “Confused –“
“Join the club,” she whispered then unable to meet his disappointed glare she looked back to the bedspread. “I thought that if everyone thought that the baby was…dead… that they'd….”
“They'd what?” Giles yelled. Willow jumped and felt herself crumble even further. She pushed herself back in the pillows when he advanced. “Did you think they'd send you flowers and forget the whole thing ever happened?”
“No,” she whimpered, frustrated and weak. Sleep would be a sweet escape – if only he'd quit… blaming and just hold her.
His expression softened and his glasses found their way to his hands again. He sat in the chair. Willow watched the struggle work its way across his haggard face. Finally he sighed. “The Council doesn't work that way,” he relented.
“I had to do something,” she whispered.
“I would have gotten us out,” Giles said. He leaned forward and cupped her cheek. A gentle smile played at his lips.
“I didn't know that,” she tried to explain and then bit her lip.
Giles froze mid-caress then slowly pulled back. She felt the thin wall slide between them. “So that's it?” he asked his voice hoarse. “I've let you down.”
“Giles -“ Willow tried. That wasn't what she'd meant at all… well… entirely… exactly.
He licked his lips then nodded. He put his hands to his knees and stood. “No,” he cut her off and forced a smile. “Now's not the time for this. You… you need your rest,“ he said as he picked up the bowl and towels. “ I'll send Buffy in with a tray in a few minutes.”
Willow watched his retreating back through her tears and then, when the door closed with a quiet click she turned toward the wall and sobbed. This was not how it was supposed to have turned out. She dug her raw fingers into the covers. This wasn't what she'd planned at all.
Giles shook the bottle of pills he'd managed to lift from the “doctor's” flat then shoved them in his pocket and pressed on. Antibiotics. It would help guard against infection. He inhaled deeply and glared at the seedy streets. God, but this was insane. Willow should be in hospital getting a transfusion and whatever else she needed.
That's right you bastard, he berated himself. Think of her needs now… after the fact.
“I don't see why we couldn't use that shiny black car –“
Giles growled under his breath as Ethan's grumblings interrupted his self-flagellation. Could a man not brood in peace? If all went as planned the car would be long gone by the time he and Ethan returned to Ethan's flat. He'd sent D'mitri to dispose of it… sell it… sink it. He didn't care, just as long as nothing gave away their location.
“Or why you just didn't send Rasputin to get the medicine. He almost as good with his fists as you are.”
“Do shut up, Ethan,” Giles muttered. He shouldered through a small crowd in front of them. It was true, he could have sent any of them for it. But he didn't. He'd needed some space, time to clear his thoughts. Not that it'd worked. He was still as conflicted as he'd been an hour ago.
“Really, Ripper,” Ethan said finally matching his stride. “All this brooding for one little girl. You've gone soft –“
Giles clenched his fist around the medicine but forged ahead and pretended not to notice the leer. Bloody marvelous that his sex life could amuse so many.
“-or, obviously not. The witch, eh? Still have a thing for the magic, don't you, old man?”
Giles stopped suddenly and shoved Ethan into the wall. It's not like that, he wanted to yell. It's her. It's everything about her. But he knew such sentiments were lost on Ethan. Ethan understood two things: chaos and pain. The other pedestrians filed around them pretending not to notice. Sometimes seedy was good. “Say anything like that again and I'll –“
Ethan rolled his eyes and relaxed into the hold. “Yes, yes. You'll kill me. You do repeat yourself,” Ethan muttered. Giles watched him struggle to stifle a smile. “Don't you?”
Flashes of his past blinded him for a second. Giles blinked away the pictures then let go of Ethan's lapels. There was no point. It was the truth, and he couldn't fight the truth.
“I said shut up,” Giles repeated quietly. He turned back to the sidewalk and joined the flow of traffic.
“I mean look at you, Ripper,” Ethan continued. He dropped into step beside him and tried to smooth the wrinkles from his shirt. “The family man. You tried it once and it didn't work out. For someone supposedly so intelligent, you're quite an ass.”
Giles glared straight ahead and kept walking. Yes, he supposed he was an ass. In fact, that very term absolutely summed him up. To fall in love – to give into his selfish want to be with someone who made him feel the way she did? Hadn't he learned? Not even with Jenny? He scowled and pressed on until Ethan grabbed his arm and jerked him to a stop.
“Don't you get it, Ripper? Men like us don't have families. They make us weak. And in our line of work –“
“Last time I checked, my line of work didn't involve selling infants to demons,” Giles interrupted coldly. He shrugged from Ethan's hold and started across the street expertly dodging the oncoming vehicles.
Ethan's voice rose above the traffic and then faded as he called, “Potatoes, potatos. I'll meet you at the flat. Don't you worry.”
Giles scowled. How could he not worry? He let that point gnaw at his conscious as now alone and grateful for it he found his way to the market. Gauze, witch hazel, he made his list as he browsed the aisle gathering basic first aide supplies and sundries that Ethan failed to stock. It did little to improve his mood and by the time he returned to the flat he'd run through every last bit of patience he had.
Buffy looked up from her magazine as he nudged open the door. “Hey, Giles,” she said casually.
He glared. He left her to guard his soul and this is how she did it? Reading… he squinted… Dear Lord, Ethan still kept those?
“The choices were limited,” Buffy explained. “It was either this or Hustler.”
She noticed the bag and tossed aside the magazine. “You bought food?”
“Supplies,” he said quickly and sat them on the nearest chair. He pulled the antibiotics from his pocket. At least he'd done this much. “Is D'mitri with Willow?”
Buffy grabbed her magazine and studiously stuck her nose in its binding. “He's not back yet –“ she started but a giggle from the back room cut her off.
Giles snapped to attention. Willow? The familiar deep rumblings of a man's voice soon followed. Giles put his hands to his hips and looked to his slayer for an explanation. Damned if that didn't sound like… Ethan? Giles checked his watch. Christ, it'd only been a little more than an hour since they'd parted ways.
Another round of laughter floated to the living room and Giles bristled. He wasn't the only one with ‘a thing' for witches and it'd be just like him to try to move in.
Giles double-timed it to the bedroom and paused just outside the opened door. What he saw sent a wave of fury to his soul. Willow, so weak this morning, so ashen, now had a touch of color in her cheeks and smiled to Ethan as if he himself had been responsible for the alignment of the moon and stars. Giles felt the blood heat under his skin. That was his smile, one he had to earn, granted, but it was his.
For his part Ethan lay sprawled out next to Willow, propped up on one elbow, long legs stretched the length of the bed and crossed casually at the ankles. He returned Willow's smile and tore and end off the croissant she nibbled on. “…and that, my love, is how Ripper and I got out of the whore house alive… and intact.”
Willow snorted. Ethan popped the bit of croissant into his mouth. Giles glared. Just who did that poncey bugger think he was? Willow didn't need to know about that. It was the past… and embarrassing.
“You're making that up,” Willow said. Her eyes twinkled. “Giles would never say ain't.”
Giles crossed his arms over his chest and cleared his throat. Willow jumped at the intrusion but Ethan merely twisted in a poor imitation of curiosity. He glared at Ethan brooking no argument. “She's supposed to be resting.”
“She is, Ripper,” Ethan assured him. He stretched lazily and a cat that ate the canary grin stretched his face. “I've had her in bed the entire time. Haven't I, luv?”
He reached out and stroked her chin. Willow blushed. Giles thought his head might explode. That such a man would touch her… in front of him, no less… and that she would allow it. It was Ethan Rayne for Christ's sake. Had she lost all her sense? He strode forward, eyes narrowed.
“Keep your knickers on, Ripper,” Ethan taunted him. “We were just havin' a little girl talk.” He arched a dark brow and tilted his head condescendingly. “Someone's been naughty.”
The words were barely from his mouth before Giles hauled him from the bed. Ethan's toes barely touched the floor. “I don't know your game yet,” Giles said quietly making sure that Ethan looked nowhere but into his eyes. “But Willow is not a part of it. Understood?”
Willow's voice and the vague rustling of sheets sounded behind him, but Giles focused on Ethan. The bastard had ruined enough for him in the past – Giles wouldn't give him another opportunity.
“Don't worry, Ripper,” Ethan said he reached to straighten Giles's collar. Though his toes barely touched the ground his demeanor remained unruffled. “I'll be happy to step in when you fuck this one up.”
There wasn't more needed in the way of provocation and Giles did the one thing that felt right. Ethan landed with an ‘oomph' and then cries of, ‘No, Ripper. Stop' filled the air. Each punch that landed fueled Giles's rage. God, but it felt good. Someone needed to pay, and for now, Ethan would do. He probably deserved it, anyway. Another punch landed with the satisfying smack of skin on skin.
In the far reaches of his mind he felt Willow's hands on his shoulders, tugging him, begging him to stop. And then he felt the undeniable strength behind his slayer's grip.
“What are you doing?” Willow yelled at him. Dark emotions clouded her face and she clutched the headboard in a white knuckled grip and tried not to stumble forward.
“Looks like he was havin' some fun,” Buffy quipped, although the joke didn't quite reach her eyes. She offered Ethan a hand up.
Stunned and winded Giles's chest rose and fell deeply and quickly. He pulled the back of his hand across his mouth wiping away the remnants of spittle and then pointed to Buffy and Ethan's retreating backside.
“What the bloody hell are you thinking?” he raged. “It's Ethan for Christ's sake.”
He pulled his fists to his hips and kicked at the floor. Had she learned nothing? Had any of them? One had the bastard in her bed and the other was playing nursemaid to him. “Do you know what he's capable of? You can't trust him.”
Willow's chin crumpled but she kept her head high. “What do you know about trust?” she asked quietly.
He paced in front of her, stopped and then started again. So many things clouded his mind. “You can't even fathom how incredibly naïve that was –“
“Naïve?” she demanded.
“God, yes,” Giles roared. “You have no idea how men look at you – what you do to them.… Do you honestly think he was here to amuse you?”
Willow's mouth dropped and she narrowed her eyes. Whether Willow's gasp was from pain or at his words he wasn't sure. Her chest rose and fell rapidly. Disgust and hurt radiated from her eyes. Giles felt another door inside him close. One more thing he would not be able to take back.
She leaned against the mattress's edge. “At least he was here.”
Giles flinched as the barb met its mark. He forced himself to step back both physically and mentally before he was too far gone.
“I was only a few hours,” he said through gritted teeth. He pulled the bottle of antibiotics from his jacket and held them up. “Getting you these – which, may I remind you, you wouldn't need if you hadn't mutilated yourself.”
A voice somewhere in the back of his head pleaded with him to stop, but he shoved past it and continued.
“I did not mutilate myself,” she spat at him and brought her small fist to the mattress. Her hair fell over her face and she glared up at him through it.
They stared at each other, breathless, shaking, and hurt. Giles's hands found his hips again and he looked to the ceiling. What was he doing? Dear Lord, she hadn't deserved that. But there was no taking it back. The repercussions were his to suffer now. How could he make her understand?
A stifled sob pulled his reluctant attention back to her. He met terrified eyes and Willow held up a trembling hand. Giles's stomach revolted and his heart slammed into his chest nearly strangling him with the pressure.
His stomach rolled and he reached for her. “You're bleeding….”
The accusation and betrayal that had fired her eyes slid into confusion and her chest heaved. Her face, just seconds ago red with adrenaline, paled as he watched but she never took her eyes from her glistening red hand. Giles rushed forward grabbing her as her legs gave way.
“Buffy,” Giles bellowed over his shoulder as Willow sagged against him. His voice shook as badly as his hands. She'd done this trying to stop him.
“I'm so sorry,” he rambled and pushed the hair from her face in a desperate gesture. “I'm so, so sorry.”
“I'm bleeding,” she repeated weakly.
“Buffy,” he bellowed. “The bag.”
Giles growled under his breath and grabbed a handful of sheet and pushed it to what he hoped was the source of the bleeding. It had to be the stitches, he prayed. It couldn't be anything else – after all she'd gone through… what he'd put her through….
“Oh, my god,” Buffy's stunned voice joined Willow's. She rushed forward and dumped the bag Giles had brought from the market on the bed. She turned her frantic face to Giles. “What have you done?”
“Just help me get her back in bed,” he grunted. Fear and guilt warred.
When finally she was back to bed he pushed her shirt aside and spread her legs just wide enough to reveal the cuts. He looked again at the puckered and pulled skin and sucked in air through his teeth. She'd popped stitches. Nearly an entire row. He felt a queer mixture of relief and regret. It wasn't the baby, but how in God's name did he handle this?
He shook it off and felt himself slip into his first-aid hat. Priority one was to stop the bleeding. Right. He could do that – if he had a suture kit.He forced a smile up at Willow and hoped it wasn't nearly as frightening as it felt. “We'll have you fixed up in a bit, Luv.”
He turned to Buffy and lowered his voice. “Search the kitchen and bathroom for a suture kit… a needle and thread… anything….” He grabbed a box of gauze pads and tore into it. Willow flinched and hummed a broken song.
Buffy's eyes went wider. “You're gonna sew her?”
“Now,” Giles ordered seconds away from his last bit of patience.
“There isn't any,” Buffy said. Hazel eyes clashed. “I looked for Ethan.”
Willow screwed her face up into a ball of pain. Her legs twitched and bounced with nerves. Her eyes pleaded with him.
“What about these?” Buffy offered. She held up a box of butterfly bandages that had slid under a rumple of cover.
Giles bit his lip and eased back the gauze. New blood bubbled to the surface with each jerk she gave, but otherwise it wasn't entirely desperate. The results wouldn't be pretty or neat, but with enough butterfly bandages he could close the wound. He nodded. They would do.
“Won't take long, Luv,” he said calmly but casually felt for Willow's pulse. Her eyes were so distant. Her blood pounded through her veins strong and steady.
Giles nodded. He held out his hand for the first bandage. Willow hissed and tensed as he squeezed the skin closed and maneuvered the butterfly so that the wound was sealed as tightly as possible. By the third one tears coursed down her cheeks but she kept still.
“I know a nice fellow who has a ready supply of morphine,” Ethan offered. Startled Giles looked over his shoulder. Ethan hung on the doorway and held an ice pack to his eye. Giles struggled for control. “Get him out of here,” he said through clenched teeth. Enough of the cut was bound that he could handle the rest on his own.
Buffy dropped the box on the bed and muscled the protesting Ethan from the room.
Giles worked quietly. With each wince and hiss of pain that snuck from her his bag of shame grew. This was his fault. All of it.
“It hurts, Giles,” Willow whimpered.
“I'm so sorry.” All he could do was repeat himself and it wasn't enough. “You don't deserve this,” he whispered. “Any of this.”
Her leg twitched as he pinched another bit of skin together. He grimaced and looked at her face. It was pale and pulled into a mask of concentration. “Why are you so mad at me?” she pleaded. Another tear slipped from the corner of her eye. She winced and closed her eyes. “I did the only thing I could –“
Giles paused and closed his eyes. His own breath sounded ragged as he tried to force the words. “I'm afraid,” he finally admitted.
“I'm afraid of losing you – to this,” he gestured at the cut and then blinked back his tears. “To anything really.”
He sighed wearily and reached for another butterfly. He hazarded a glance at Willow's face. She swallowed and blinked up at the ceiling. Her silence encouraged him. His breath caught in his throat as he searched for the right words.
“When you told me about… the baby – my baby… I couldn't believe my luck. I had another chance – I could make right what I did to Melanie and – and Heath –“
He pressed his palm to his forehead to relieve the throbbing and then grabbed another bandage. “Not that there's a comparison between then and now…. I'm ashamed to admit it – and I didn't want you to ever find out, but I never loved her. I used her and in the end, I left her.”
He willed Willow to look at him and by some miracle she rolled her head to the side and their eyes met. It probably came out sounding much harsher than he intended, but he needed to say it. She needed to hear it, no matter what.
“No matter what you decide – if you forgive me or not,” he said. “I will always be here for you and the baby. There's no reason for you to stay with me,” he managed as tears constricted his throat.
He looked back down at the wound. There'd be a scar, but he'd stopped the bleeding. “I've humiliated you, taken you for granted… underestimated you – I'm a jealous, possessive, and selfish man.”
Willow bit her lip and then looked back to the ceiling. Giles felt his heart stutter and forced himself to breath. Panic wound its way around his soul. Was that her answer? Had he lost her?
Slowly she held out her hand to him and her soft voice caressed his raw ego. “I'm not goin' anywhere.”
Though hurt lingered in her eyes Giles saw forgiveness. Gently, not feeling worthy, he encircled her hand with his own then leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her cool forehead. He pulled back. He needed to see her face, to look in her eyes once more just to be certain.
Her nod was nearly imperceptible but he saw it and it filled his soul. He nodded in return, but rather than risk an unseemly show of unrestrained sobbing he cleared his throat. “I'll get you some water,” he said when he was certain he had control of his voice – even then it broke. “For your pills.”
Willow nodded again though her eyelids fluttered with the effort. Reluctant to end the contact Giles slowly pulled away from his hold and slipped from the room.
Buffy's glare followed him as he made the short trip from the living room to the kitchen. He ignored it and then he ignored it on his return trip.
“What should I do?” she asked as he reached for the knob.
Giles stopped short. “Call Xander,” he said. Weariness ate at him and he pushed his free hand through his hair. “Bring him up to date.”
Giles looked over to her, small and determined, Buffy's expression withheld nothing. He'd hurt her friend and she was determined that he would pay. The chill in her voice stopped his progress.
“I meant for Willow.”
“Right now, the best thing we can do is protect her,” he said.
“Funny,” Buffy said. She pushed herself from the couch and sauntered toward him. “I never thought it'd be from you.”
Giles had the decency to blush. He looked down to the knob and then back to his slayer. “Neither did I.”
Whether it was the shame in his eyes or intuition Giles wasn't sure but her expression softened. He exhaled in relief.
“Go be with her,” she relented then pointed to the phone. “I'll make that call.”
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