Chapter Six

Tara was already off to class by the time Willow got back to their dorm room. She'd left a message on the white board on their door: “Missed you last night. Hope things are good with Mr. Giles. - Tara. P.S. Will take good notes in class today” The message was followed by a quickly sketched heart.

Willow felt her lips tighten in a painful smile, and she reached out and touched it. Her fingers smudged away a section of the red line, and something in her ached horribly. She'd messed up Tara's little heart. It wasn't perfect anymore.

She sighed and pushed open the door, walked into their room, and started gathering together her shower stuff.

She spent a long time in the shower. It was midday, and no one was around. Most everyone was either in class or studying or sleeping. The water pressure, as always, left much to be desired, but at least it was hot. Hot enough to steam up the whole room, even, and to turn her skin all pink. She scrubbed herself determinedly with her little blue bath puff, and stared at the tired, yellow tiles.

Bad. That's what she was. Very, very bad.

She loved Tara. Tara was her girlfriend. Tara was *a* girl, and she was supposed to like girls now. Not boys. Her mother had been so proud of her when she came out. Excited, even. She'd joined PFLAG the very next day. She'd hung a rainbow flag next to their front door. But then, the next time Willow saw her, she'd called Tara “Tamara”.

Which was totally beside the point.

The point being... she'd just cheated on Tara.

With Giles.

Who she really... Well, it was hard to define how she felt about Giles. She knew she loved Tara. Loved a lot of things about Tara. She loved her shy smile, and her gentle voice. She loved the soft curves of her body, and the way she smelled, and her kitten-soft hair. She loved, most of all, the way Tara looked at her... like she was perfect, like she was wonderful, like she could do no wrong.

Oh, but she *had* done wrong. Big wrong.

She should tell her. That was the right thing to do. Sure, she had done a bad thing. But it was Tara. And Tara loved her. She'd forgive her. She'd just tell Tara that... that things had gotten a little out of hand.

But then... that would work, maybe, to explain the first time. The second time? Not so much. And sure, she could say that Giles had started it, because he had. But that didn't really explain why she hadn't stopped it. She hadn't wanted to stop it. She'd just wanted to *do* it. And so she had. Even though she'd known that it was wrong.

No. No, she'd just been in the moment. That was all. It was a mistake. A big mistake. A fluke.

She swept a soapy hand between her legs, and her body twitched in response, still achy and tender. She lingered a little longer than strictly necessary. The hot water, slick foam, and her own fingers combined with the echoing sensations of that morning's sex sent little electric tingles all through her.

Fluke, right. That's what it was.

Maybe it would be best to just not say anything. It wasn't going to happen again, after all. Ok, so, Giles maybe wanted it to happen again. Maybe. But... that didn't mean it would. She was strong. She could say no. And she loved Tara.

So, really, there was no reason to even mention it. It would just dredge up all sorts of issues and stuff. And really, that wasn't necessary. What Tara didn't know... wouldn't hurt them.

She made her decision as she shut off the water. She wouldn't mention it. She and Tara would continue on, undamaged. And the next time she saw Giles, she'd just gently break it to him that that whole sex thing was never ever happening again.


He could feel her approaching, as though his body were a taut guitar string that had just been plucked. Thrumming.

He'd gone still, for a moment, at the counter, a customer's purchase in his hand and halfway to the bag. Evening sunlight was slanting in and landing in crooked rectangles on the front floor of the shop, fluorescent orange. The Scoobie gang was grouped around the research table, clowning around as usual.

He had to shake himself to bring himself back to the present, finish up with the customer and send them on their way.

Then, he wandered towards the front of the shop, justifying the action to himself by straightening up a few shelves, brushing a bit of dust off a few of the statues. When the bell jingled over the door, he managed to keep himself fairly calm when he turned, and to keep his smile level and normal as he greeted her.

“Hello, Willow.”

“Hey, Giles,” she said, but when she looked at him, her eyes jittered a bit, like a flighty horse, and he felt a tightening in his chest. God, no.

She scurried to the back of the shop, and sat down quickly between Xander and Buffy, and the cheerful greetings from the rest of the group floated over to him. He found himself standing still again. Listening as the others' voices mingled with the dust that drifted in the sunlight.

He was a fool. An old fool, at that. Thinking that he could ever have her.

But, he was also, apparently, a glutton for punishment, because after a moment or two, he walked over and joined the group at the table.

“So,” Buffy chirped, “What did you two *do* last night?”

“What?” Willow yelped, and Giles groaned inside. Yes, dear, and shall we sign a written affidavit confessing to our actions as well?

“Hey, chill Will,” Xander said, “Sheesh, another reaction like that and we're gonna think you and Giles are having a torrid love affair or something. And can I just say: ew.”

“No, no love affair. Not at all. We went to bed. Early. Separately!”

Anya spoke up, at that.

“I can't imagine why. Giles is quite physically pleasing. I would have sex with him. If I didn't already have Xander, who's much better, of course. But he's mine and you can't have him.”

As usual, Giles was left wondering whether to be pleased or offended.

“So, really, you two just went to bed? That's boring,” Buffy said.

“We were tired,” Willow said, and Giles could still see the panic in her eyes. “Ooo, but hey, Giles felt the baby move.”

Bloody hell. Yes, let's just bring that whole issue up again, shall we?

“Ooo!” Buffy said, “ Really? Is it moving now? Can I feel?”

“No,” he said, dourly, “But I do have a rather bad case of heartburn. Feel free to pop by the drug store and pick up a package of Rolaids if you are indeed concerned about my physical well-being.”

Buffy pouted.

“Fine, be that way. Geez, Giles. You need to lighten up a little.”

“Yeah, really,” Xander said, joining in, “I mean, think of it as a demonic possession. Only without the demon. Or the mind control.”

There was, he'd learned a long time ago and the hard way, such a thing as being too jaded. Things lost all meaning, then. Things lost all sense of balance, and proportion. The end of the world could feel as dreadful or as trivial as stubbing one's toe, if one had developed the right frame of mind. Sometimes, that was a good thing, a useful thing. Sometimes it meant that you could completely miss the things that were truly important, that were truly meaningful.

The things that were truly painful.

Except, at that moment, with the heat of rage rising through him to match the physical pain in his chest, he would never have been able to explain that to them. So instead, he excused himself and walked away, measuring his step until he was safely ensconced in the basement stock room.

He leaned back against the wall, shut his eyes, and slipped his hand between two buttons on his shirt and pressed it flat, his fingers touching the skin of his stomach. Truth be told, now that he knew what the sensation felt like, he'd been feeling it on and off all day. It was like ants marching in his intestines: a trembly little flutter.

A baby. Good God, it really was alive in there. Moving.

It was horrifying. He had always had the utmost respect for mothers, truly he had. He'd even assisted at a birth, once, part of the extensive first aid training he'd received in preparation for being a Watcher. The Council was nothing if not thorough.

But this? It was wrong on so many levels, he couldn't begin to count them. It was humiliating. Emasculating. It was like a cancer. Like a parasite. Like a horrible mutation. All he wanted was for it to be gone, for it to be over. The worst part of last night's nightmare had been waking up to the knowledge that it wasn't a dream. It was real.

This time, he didn't feel her until she was right beside him. He even flinched when she touched his arm.

“Oh... sorry, didn't mean to startle you,” she said.

He opened his eyes, looked at her.

Beautiful girl. Eyes so big you could get lost in them. Of course she would be the one to come down here. She would understand. She could never be jaded. She felt everything, all the time. He couldn't imagine it. But it amazed him.

She shouldn't be in the dark like this. She was meant for the light.

“You ok?” she asked.

He couldn't stop his ironic snort, and she smiled a little in answer. Because she understood him. She'd always understood him. God, from the moment they'd met in that library, she'd looked right into his soul.

He hurt inside, looking at her. And then decided, what the hell? He had faith in her. He knew she'd never let him harm her. She was stronger than that.

So he curled his hand around the curve of her skull pulled her closer and stepped towards her, and kissed her, because there were no words that he could say then. Words were far too dangerous, far too precise. Bodies only knew how to speak in broad terms. Bodies could say “I want” or “back off,” but not “I want to, but we shouldn't, I have a girlfriend.”

And for a moment, hers was tense, stiff. Her lips were locked tight as he kissed along them.

And then her hands were on his back, and her body melted like warm butter, and her lips parted beneath his, and he could breathe again. Thank god, thank *god*, was all he could think as he pulled her roughly against him, as her mouth opened wide, as she invited him inside her.

He knew that on some level, this was escapism. That he was burying himself in physical sensations to escape that freak show his life had suddenly become. But she wasn't just a convenient bystander. She was Willow. And he'd loved her for far longer than was socially acceptable. He wasn't passing this up, his one shot. He was tired of being lonely. Tired of stepping aside and letting people go, or losing them to death or fate or fear.

He pressed her back against the wall, and she squirmed against him. She wanted him.

For the moment, that was all that really mattered.

They kissed for a little while, their bodies undulating gently together. But even as they did, Giles could feel the seconds bleeding away. Eventually, someone would come down here, try to figure out what had happened to them.

He kissed her hard, and then reached down, unbuttoned her jeans.

She groaned a “yes” against his cheek, so he unzipped her fly, pushed her pants and underwear down, hiked her up against the wall and held her up there.

“Whoa,” she said, but not at all in a restraining way. It was encouragement.

His hands gripped her thighs, holding her up, and she kicked her jeans off one foot, wrapped her legs around him, and hooked one arm around his shoulders. Had to hurry. God knew, Buffy was paranoid. She could be appearing down the stairs any minute now. His cock surged harder in his slacks and he almost laughed at himself. He'd lived long enough to accept the fact that public sex was one of his ironclad kinks.

“Unzip me,” he said, his lips near her ear, “Take me out, put me in you.”

“Oh goddess,” Willow gasped, and it thrilled him and aroused him to hear the wild abandon in her voice.

“Condom's in my right jacket pocket,” he added, as her fingers touched his zipper. “Quickly.”

And then he lost himself to the feeling of her small, perfect hands on him. Loved the way she handled him, with sharp quick movements, fumbling a little from unfamiliarity and the constraints of their position.

And sliding inside of her was heaven, hot and slick and tight, moving around him. She grasped his shoulders hard and he bowed his head beside hers, panting against her shoulder as he fucked her. So good. So fucking good. That was all he could feel, or think, or comprehend. It was good. It washed up and down and all through his body, fiery waves of lust and satiation. He could taste her skin, smell her hair, hear her breath, and feel her. God, could he feel her. Clenching hard around him, drawing him deeper.

And he could feel her magics, too, reaching out from somewhere deep inside her and touching him, warming him in a way that wasn't tangible, but was still so physical. She tasted like strawberries. He'd always assumed that was her shampoo, or her perfume, it was so strong around her. But it was magic. Oh god, she was powerful. He'd never even realized...

He stifled a groan against her neck, and she shuddered, wrapping her legs around him tighter, and pulling him up into her.

“Yes. Rupert, baby, yes, please,” she was saying, her voice still mercifully quiet, but taking on an edge of desperation, “Just a little more, please, more...”

More. A little more. Yes. He was gripping her thighs hard now, could feel his fingers digging into her skin. Prayed it wouldn't leave bruises, and then forgot all about it as he hammered into her, deep, powerful thrusts that drove her inches up the wall, that made her squeak, and then bite her lip to keep quiet.

“Yes, darling, yes, come for me, come on,” he coaxed, watching her. Her eyes squeezed shut, her head thrown back against the wall, lost in the feeling, lost in *him*, dear god. He loved her. Loved her, loved her, loved her.

“Love you,” he gasped, hardly able to find the breath for the words.

And she came, her head thumping back against the wall, her whole body tightening around him: her arms and her legs and her hot, flinching channel. He buried himself in her as deep as he could, pressed his face into the hollow between her shoulder and neck, and his own orgasm took him, wracking his whole body, shoving him a few degrees over from reality, leaving him breathless and spent and sweaty.

And then, Xander's voice came down the stairs: “Hey, you guys get et by vamps or something?”

She startled in his arms, and he let her down onto her own feet, and she called up, “No- Nope. We're fine. Be up in a few.”

“Already was, actually,” Giles murmured into her ear and she giggled and poked his arm.


“Ok,” Xander said, and the door whumped shut.

They went limp in relief against each other.

“Ok,” Willow said, “That was... really good timing.”

He grinned and kissed her.

“That it was.”

Then she reeled away from him, looking a bit drunk, and stopped a few feet away. Then she just stood there, naked from the waist down, with her jeans and panties caught around one foot and the other leg bare but for a sock. She glanced down at herself, and seemed momentarily taken aback, and she was just... simply the most adorable thing he'd ever seen. He marveled at his own capacity for sappiness as he dealt with the condom and then went over to help her get her jeans off so that she could get them back on again properly.

And then, when they were both properly clothed, he stepped back, and held out his arms for inspection. She looked him up and down, and nodded, then mirrored his posture.

“You look perfect,” he whispered, nothing but the truth, and kissed her one more time, letting the moment linger as long as he could.

They went back upstairs, studiously not touching, and he understood that this was the way it would be, for a time at least. A secret. He decided he could live with that.


Chapter Seven

One week passed.

Giles's car was parked at the top of a rocky bluff, snugged up against the matte grey roadside barrier, a shock of red against the washed-out blue of the evening sky and the dense charcoal black of the rocks. The surf was wild, and wind-whipped, capped with foam and roaring against the small strip of sand. They were huddled together on a blanket, her back to his chest, his arms around her, and her arms crossed over her own chest against the chilly breeze. It was nice, though. The cold wind was something they could shelter each other from, made the warmth of their bodies that much more attractive.

His chin was resting on her shoulder, his face turned slightly into her neck, and his nose was brushing her jaw. It was cold, like a puppy's.

They'd made love earlier, after feeding each other a picnic dinner of fruit, crackers and cheese, and a bottle of wine. She'd always figured that sex on a beach would turn out to be much more romantic in theory than in practice, but it had surprised her. With the cool sand shifting under the blanket under her back, the howl of the wind, and the pounding crash of the waves, it had all been so primal, so powerful. It was like they were connected to the earth, moving with some universal rhythm, and like the forces of the earth were moving in time with them, as well.

She shivered, remembering, and Giles pulled her a little closer, maybe mistaking it for a chill... or maybe knowing exactly what she was thinking. He nuzzled her with his cold nose and pursed his lips against her throat, a quick, glancing kiss. She rolled her head back onto his shoulder and looked up at the darkening sky.

“Are you sure you really have to go? Can't you just call them?”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him smile.

“I wish I could. But I'm afraid this is my best hope for getting the Council to speak with me at all.”

She sighed. She knew. And the whole Glory thing was more important than her sex life. But... but...

“This stinks. A lot,” she said.

He licked her neck, and she squirmed and giggled.


He just moved on to nibbling the shell of her ear. She sighed again, happily this time, and let the issue go. So, he'd be off to England tomorrow. Wasn't permanent. He'd be back. And then they could do this all they wanted, provided they could continue to find good excuses for slipping away from the rest of the group for a couple hours. His hand moved to her breast, squeezing gently. She turned her head towards him, and they kissed, deeply and slowly. The wind whipped her hair around their face and into their mouths, but they just laughed and kept kissing.

She felt the words inside her a moment before he spoke them aloud: “I love you.”

Something twisted in her chest, and fluttered at the back of her throat. Maybe it was habit, because whenever Tara said the words, she said them back, almost as a reflex.

In any case, thinking about it made her head hurt and her heart feel funny and panicky, so she generally tried to avoid it. Instead, she thought about how warm and solid and alive Giles's body was, like a living wall behind her, and how nice his arms were, wrapped around her, making her feel so loved, so cherished, so... “Precious,” he whispered.

That thing inside her heart moved again, with an insistent lurch, and she had to say something, so she finally just said his name, because *that* at least, she was sure of.


Then she relaxed in his arms and just watched the stars come out over the ocean and let him hold her.


Mr. Giles had left for England that morning and Willow was spending the evening at home for what seemed like the first time in at least a week. Tara didn't begrudge her the time spent with him, of course. Far be it for her to try to get between any of the Scoobies. She knew that they cared about each other, and she knew that they leaned on each other. And she knew that Willow really cared about Giles, and things were weird and probably scary for him right now.

Still, if she were being completely honest with herself, she was kinda glad he was gone for the moment, and that Willow was actually here. Even if they were just studying.

Tara was at her desk making a spreadsheet on her laptop. Willow was on her stomach on the bed, tapping a highlighter against her lips and reading a textbook. Her knees were bent up, and her feet were hooked together at the ankles, swaying back and forth over her back, vaguely in time with the beat of the music on their stereo.

She smiled, warmed by the sight of her love, here with her and at ease.

And, ok, not all of that warmth was entirely platonic. After all, with all the distractions of the past week they hadn't really had any... alone time. Her smile widened a little, took on a wicked edge, and she decided that her spreadsheet could wait.

She shut her laptop and slunk over to join Willow on the bed, quiet as a cat, so that her hands on Willow's back came as a surprise to the other girl. Willow jumped a little, making a cute little squeak, and then looked over her shoulder at Tara.


Tara just continued to smile, and started to rub her shoulders.

Willow arched into the massage and tossed her highlighter aside.

“Mmm,” she said, and then, after a moment, “Hey, Tara, I heard once that 95% of all back rubs lead to sex. Do you think that's, like, really accurate? Cause it seems to me like that's- ooo, that was a good spot, right there... mmm...”

Tara leaned down over her and into the massage, like a jockey coaxing a thoroughbred to run just a little faster.

“This one might,” she murmured.

And Willow rolled over under her then, and reached up to touch her face, her hair, grinning all the while.

“Yeah, kinda looks like,” she said.

Tara let herself down over Willow, covering her like a blanket, and they were kissing, slowly, without urgency.


Willow couldn't help but compare them. Tara's kisses and Giles's. Neither of them came up lacking in her mind, but there were differences. Aggression, maybe, being the big one. Here was Tara, a warm weight over her, with her tongue slipping gently into her mouth as it did, soft and light. Giles could be gentle. Often was. But there was always something more there, something hard to define, something wild and maybe just barely leashed.

Willow slid her hands down Tara's back as they kissed, tracing her soft, feminine curves. Different, very different. But not in a bad way. She loved Tara's body. She loved the shape of it, the softness of it. It felt good under her hands, always had, even the first few times they'd touched. She could remember the joy of it... the relief of it. The freedom of being able to admit how much she loved women's bodies.

But she loved Giles's body, too. And she'd loved Oz. And Xander. She liked male muscle, and broad shoulders, and... heck, Giles's chest hair.

Tara pulled them over onto their sides, and Willow's hand moved, almost automatically, to Tara's breast. There was nothing in the world like those. She was endlessly fascinated by them, the way they moved in her hand, a heavy, living weight, and the way Tara's nipples would peak into sharp points when she handled them.

Tara hummed softly into their kiss, moved her hand down to Willow's waist, and pulled them a little closer together, wrapping her leg around Willow's.

Maybe it wasn't fair to compare them. After all, she'd been with Tara for more than a year. Giles, she'd been with for a week. He still had the flush of new... whatever... working in his favor. Plus, the whole secret romance thing? Kinda sexy all by itself.

It wasn't until she was on her stomach between Tara's legs, with her tongue slipping into her folds, that the real epiphany hit her. What Giles had that Tara didn't. Hardness. And she wasn't talking about the physical sense.

Tara was kind, and gentle, and soft... malleable. And that gentleness defined her, filled her, through and through. It wasn't a bad thing. It was what made her so beautiful, so wonderful. Honest compassion, deep-seated agreeableness.

Giles, though... there was a darkness in him. A violence. Not something he was proud of, or something he showed very often. But it was there.

And the thing was... it was in her, too. She felt it sometimes. And when the two of them were together... it was like striking flint against steel. Sparks. Passion.

It wasn't a *guy* thing, it was a *Giles* thing.

Later, with Tara's tongue on her, and Tara's fingers inside her, she had to press her arm over her mouth, had to bite back the words that wanted to come. Silently moved her lips, shaped words against the skin of her arm, “Goddess, yes, please, harder... Rupert...”

Then she was arching her back up, biting her arm to stop any incriminating cries, and digging her heels into Tara's back, lost in the black-red haze of orgasm.


Chapter Eight

Willow had driven him to the airport, partly to spare him the cab fare, but mostly so they could spend another few minutes together before he had to leave. She'd followed him to the gate, and when they'd called for pre-boarding, and he'd stood up and reached for his carryon bag, she'd jumped up as well, and hugged him. Not a quick, desperate hug. Just a slow, easy hug, the kind where you moved together as though drawn by gravity, and your arms wrapped tight around each other, and your bodies seemed to melt together into one being. And then she'd just held him, and he'd held her, there at gate A3, with the rest of the LA-bound crowd flowing around them, a distant, unnoticed blur.

And instead of letting go, they just seemed to bond a little tighter with each passing minute. He could feel her heartbeat, her breathing. Her head was tucked under his chin, and he could just barely feel her breath, warm and damp, through his sweater. He inhaled deeply the scent of her hair, knowing full well how much he resembled an addict who knew his next fix may be a long time off.

She seemed to be doing the same thing.

Inhaling him. Absorbing him.

They called his row, and he just pulled her closer, feeling the warmth, the mass, the shape of her body, and memorizing it. Loving it. Just trying to get his fill of touching her for long enough to let go and board the damn plane.

They'd finally pulled apart when the last call came, and they were both a little unsteady on their feet. His eyes were a bit unfocused, and her pupils were widely dilated. There were no words he could stand to say, so he simply touched her cheek, and then finally picked up his bag and walked to the gate. The attendant gave him an inscrutable look, checked his boarding pass, and waved him on. He didn't look back as he walked down the long, grey corridor to the plane. As he stepped onto the plane, he smiled and shook his head, amused at himself. It wasn't as if he were leaving forever. He'd be back in a few days. And yet, leaving her, even for that long, was sweet agony.

He'd miss her. Her soft touch, her smile, her voice. He'd always adored her, but over the past week, he'd become completely besotted with her. She delighted him, amazed him, set fire to his body and spirit.

He was in love, and it was utterly thrilling.

Five hours later, though, the elation had long faded. He hadn't even spared a thought to what it might be like to fly in his condition. All that had been on his mind was getting in touch with the blasted Council. Now though, after a rough takeoff and landing in a tiny puddle-jumper, and then another takeoff in a jet shortly thereafter, he was somewhere over Colorado, and all he was thinking about was...

Not. Throwing. Up.

The nausea had originally started a few months earlier. It was worst in the mornings, generally, and certain tastes and smells would set it off. It was bad, too. Not enough to be incapacitating, but more than enough to make him miserable. He'd assumed, though, that it was simply a very bad case of flu, and therefore, nothing a doctor could do anything about. He'd bucked up and dealt with it, drank plenty of fluids, ate mild, inoffensive foods, and tried to avoid even thinking about coffee.

It had mostly settled down recently. But now... now it was back. Oh, yes. The little parasite did *not* like flying, and it was making its feelings on the matter abundantly clear. He'd been clutching the little white airsick bag ever since they'd crossed the Nevada border.

A flight attendant had been hovering around since then, as well, half-sympathetic, half-annoyed. Her early attempts at conversation had only made things worse, so she would just silently walk by every few minutes. His seatmate was shooting him constant nervous glances, and had turned her body until her little glowing laptop was as far away from him as possible.

Willow had mentioned that the nausea would settle down, he realized. And then he'd snapped at her. Because if a website could tell him what he would be feeling, it meant that this was... essentially normal. And that was a thought that was quite unacceptable.

But now he was wondering. It occurred to him that he hadn't felt any movement since takeoff in Sunnydale. This wasn't normal. The little thing was generally active. Hyperactive, even, bouncing around like a teeny-tiny billiard ball in there. Personally, Giles thought that its ultimate goal was to cause him as much discomfort as possible in however much time it had.

He shut his eyes and leaned his head back against the seat, praying sleep would find him before the plane hit another patch of turbulence.

He could barely even keep his eyes closed for a second. Sleep didn't appear to be an option.

He risked a glance over at his seatmate and noted her laptop was a PC running Windows. An instinctive little twist of distaste stirred in him, and even through the nausea, he had to smile a little. Between Willow and Jenny, he'd apparently inherited a distinct side in the Mac/PC debate. Jenny had once spent nearly an hour trying to explain all the ways that Macintosh computers were apparently superior to Windows machines. Almost everything she'd said had been utterly lost on him, but it had implanted some kind of seed, apparently. Then, of course, there was the conditioned association between the little glowing apple logo and Willow, and that alone was enough to make him partial to the brand.

She was *in* him, deeply and irrevocably. If he lost her, it would hurt. It was a danger. A liability. And yet... he believed she was worth the risk. He knew she was worth the risk. The elation, the joy that she stirred in him... that alone was worth it. That she'd given him herself, let him touch her... that was a gift he'd never expected to receive.

Now his eyes closed smoothly, his body relaxed, as much as it could, into the seat. Willow. Sweet Willow. Big green eyes and soft red hair. Small perfect breasts. She wasn't his type, really. He'd always gone for dark hair and eyes. But she defied type. He loved her small body, loved that he could pick her up, hold her down, loved that she let him.

Her kisses were so honest. Open. She never hid her desires. Her tongue against his said things she couldn't vocalize. They'd had whole conversation that way, wrapped around each other naked, or half-naked or fully clothed, just kissing each other, deep and slow or hard and fast.

Her hands... small hands... but amazing. She was surprisingly confident. She liked touching him. He knew, partly because she'd said it, but mostly because she did it, as much as she could. Little things sometimes, like brushing against him in the Magic Box, or touching his hand or his arm or his back or his shoulder to get his attention or emphasize a point. She'd sit near enough to him as they researched to let her knee brush against his whenever she moved, to turn the page, or lean in to see an illustration, or sometimes just so that their knees would touch.

When they made love, her hands were always on him. She would card them through his chest hair, or trace his jawbone. She'd touch his lips, let him suck on her fingers. She'd curl her hand around his cock, cup his balls. When he was inside her, she would have her hands on his shoulders, or a sweaty palm resting on his ribs, or both hands gripping his ass, and once, she'd reached down between them, touched his cock, slick with her own juices, felt the place where their bodies joined, and got such an amazed look on her face. It drove him out of his mind, sometimes, but only in the best ways.

He knew her fascination with his body stemmed at least partly from confusion. He understood her feelings, on a very personal level. He'd found men around the same age she had found women. He'd found that he still loved women as well a few years later. He knew that feeling well, and knew that the best thing to do was let her figure things out for herself. And he was, of course, perfectly content to be her guinea pig.

A few days ago, they'd gone back to his place during lunch hour, and ended up in his bed. He was naked, but she was still dressed from the waist up. He couldn't quite remember exactly how that had happened, and it wasn't really important. She had pressed him onto his back, kicked away all of the covers, left him completely bare, spread out across the sheet. Then, apparently satisfied that she had him where she wanted him (and he certainly wasn't about to complain) she'd straddled his thighs.

Her expression had been a mask of studious concentration, and she'd leaned forward a little, and touched his face. She started with his eyebrows, then his nose, and his cheekbones, his jaw and his hairline, walking her fingers over him like she was blind and he was Braille. He'd shut his eyes, and her fingertips had grazed his eyelashes, touched his eyelids, and the corners of his eyes, where he knew his skin crinkled when he smiled. She ran her hands through his hair, and then fingered the whorls of his ears. One fingertip lingered for a moment at his piercing, and he'd shuddered at the sensitive, questing touch.

She'd continued her exploration, touching the cleft in his chin, the skin of his throat, pressing hard enough to feel his pulse, feel his windpipe, hell, even feel his lymph nodes. This was Willow. She was thorough.

He'd shivered when she reached his collarbone, and she'd noticed, and paused there, drawing her fingers back and forth along the circlet of bone there, just lightly enough to be felt, sending fiery tingles all over his body. And then she'd moved on, touching the muscles in his shoulder, maybe silently naming each one. He'd gasped in a deep, shuddering breath, clenched his hands into fists, and he'd wanted so badly to grab her, roll them over, slam himself balls-deep inside of her and fuck her until they were both raw. But he didn't. He resisted, lay still and let her look, let her touch. But he couldn't stop his breath from quickening, could stop the sheen of sweat that cropped up on his skin, or the goosebumps that followed.

She'd pushed his right arm up, about 20 degrees above his shoulder joint, and leaned in a little closer. Ruffled the hair in his armpit, and then dragged all her fingers up the underside of his upper arm, leaving sensitive skin burning in her wake. When she'd reached the inside of his elbow joint, she'd paused, lingered over the thin skin there. It would be warm in that spot, he knew, and a little bit tacky with sweat right now. The difference seemed to intrigue her. Her fingertips caught on the sticky skin, and staggered a little. Then she moved on, up his arm to his wrist, then to his hand.

His hand. Dear god. She'd started out simply touching it, as she had been, with her fingertips. Traced its outline, up and down his fingers, and then doodled across his palm, and then across his knuckles. Then she leaned forward, on her knees and one hand, and she'd pulled his hand to her lips, kissed his palm. First, just a dry, soft kiss. Then several. Then her mouth had opened and her tongue had poked out, a small, sharp point, tracing the shape of his hand, the lines on his palm. And then she kissed the center of his palm, deeply, mouth open wide, tongue pressed flat over his sweaty skin. She'd made a soft sound then, and licked up along his fingers. Then tickled his own fingertips with the tip of her tongue, feather-light, teasing. He'd groaned, deeply, desperately, and then she slid his middle finger into her mouth, as deep as it could go. Hot, slick, wet. Her tongue had curled around his finger like a cat, and he'd actually cried out, softly. She'd sucked, strong and hard, he could feel the ligaments pulling just a little, feel the pressure. Then she'd pulled back, and then gone back down again, three of his fingers in her mouth now, her hands gripping his wrist, holding him where she wanted him. Sucked on him again. Pressure, friction, her tongue flexing against the undersides of his finger joints, the ridges of her palate hard against his knuckles.

”Dear god, Willow,” he'd gasped, and he'd wanted so much.

Wanted her to do to his cock what she was doing to his hand. She sucked his fingers a bit deeper and he felt her throat twitch, just for a moment, a mild hint of a gag reflex. It didn't seem to bother her. And god, how she looked at that moment, eyes shut, long dark lashes, her cheeks hollowed, her lips sealed around his fingers. His cock was hard as steel, flat on his belly, and wet, drooling on his skin.

“Please,” he'd said.

She'd let his hand slide out of her mouth, looked at his face with drowsy eyes. A drop of her saliva had found its way down to his wrist. She smiled, a slow, sleepy smile, and then she knee-walked backwards on the bed, and dropped her gaze downwards.

Her smile pulled a little wider, and she'd reached out and touched his cock, with the same light, maddening, fingertips-only touch.

He'd grasped crumpled fistfuls of the sheets, almost physically restraining himself. The light touch inflamed him, almost infuriated him, dragging the beast inside him far closer to the surface than he'd normally be comfortable with. He wanted to lunge at her, slam her down on her back. Wanted to, but didn't. Because right now, it felt so good to feel the beast rage inside of him.

He panted hard, clenched his fists white-knuckled tight.

She'd been investigating his foreskin, pulling and pushing it, experimenting with how it moved. Then she'd pulled it back with one hand, and touched the head of his cock with a few fingers on her other hand.

“This is killing you, isn't it?” she said, and he looked up at her. Her eyes were dark as night, dark as black magic. Her voice trembled, just a little. Not nerves, not at all. Power. She knew she had power. And she was loving it.

There was nothing he could say. Nothing he needed to say. He was hers.

She'd rolled a condom down over him and moved off of him, but her eyes had never left his. Slowly, deliberately, she'd laid back on the bed, spread her legs and drawn her knees up. He could see her then, perfectly, pink and open and wet, her dark curls clinging damply to her skin. His heart was leaping against his ribs, every breath felt like breathing rarified air.

“Com'on,” she'd said, just softly, and it was like a sudden axe blow, severing his bonds, and he'd pounced on her, shoving her legs back, sinking into her with one thrust, no warning, no waiting. She'd shouted, an incoherent sound, and rolled her head back, her long, pale throat bared to him. He'd held himself over her with one hand planted in the bed on either side of her, her legs hooked over his shoulder, and he'd taken her, hard, fast, deep, his eyes on her, watching her, as her head rolled from side to side, as her own hands gripped the sheet, as she'd shuddered through three orgasms in quick, breathless succession. Her body was shining with sweat, her chest heaving, and she'd made more noise that one time than she'd made the rest of the week combined, sharp, garbled, strangled sounds.

His own orgasm had been a relief, almost painfully intense, like a rake dragged up his spine. His vision had even darkened for a moment. And after it was over, he couldn't bring himself to pull out of her, so he'd stayed inside, grinding against her, and she'd looked up at him with wide eyes, and then dropped her head back again, squeezed deliberately around him.

He'd wanted to try to go a second time, see if he even could, without pulling out... but it was too much, the sensation was too strong, pleasure segued to pain, and he'd pulled away, and fallen to his side on the bed, panting and halfway curled up. She'd sat up after a moment, and he'd raised his head a bit, smiled at her, and she'd smiled back, and gently stroked his hair.

Back in reality, the plane jolted suddenly, and all thoughts of Willow fled abruptly on a new wave of nausea.

He groaned and pressed a hand to his stomach. His layover in Washington DC loomed somewhere ahead of him, like one beacon of hope in a sea of dark despair.

Bloody Council bloody well better have some bloody information.

Because now he was not only on the verge of throwing up, he also had an erection he could drive nails with. Two things which, by all rights, truly should not exist simultaneously.

And he had to pee. Which was absolutely nothing new. He urinated about every ten minutes. Yet another of the parasite's exciting new contributions to his life.

The parasite which still, as far as he could tell, had not moved since leaving California. And, oddly enough... he was a little concerned. What was wrong with it? Was it possible it really *didn't* like flying? Was it at all advanced enough to even be affected by such things? Was it maybe that the vibrations of the plane were simply making it hard to feel the little flutters?

He stood up and made his way down the aisle, grateful for his long jacket, and stepped into the tiny airplane lavatory. The plane rocked as he shut the door, and his stomach clenched in protest.

He leaned back against the small sink and slipped his hand into his shirt, over his lower abdomen... over his newly acquired womb. And he pressed down there, gently. Held still in concentration.

“What are you up to?” he murmured. This simply wasn't like the parasite. Honestly, the little thing would probably make one hell of a hyperactive child, were it ever to be born.

He waited, holding as still as the plane allowed, his head bowed a bit, his brow furrowed.

*Come on, then,* he thought.

But there was nothing. Not a twitch.

And then, just as he was about to draw his hand away... he felt it... a tiny shiver.

He let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding.

“Right, then. Of course you're still there.”

He huffed a small, self-deprecating laugh. Well, at least the waiting had given his hard-on sufficient time to wane, and he was able to take a rather unsatisfyingly brief piss, wash his hands, and return to his seat.

It was only when he'd refastened his seatbelt that something occurred to him. Hyperactive child. If it were born.

Born. Good lord.

His mind skittered nervously away from that train of thought... but there was a horrifying fascination to it that he could avoid. A child. Baby. Infant.

His hand went back to his stomach again, rubbed back and forth.

His child. Son or daughter. It could grow up. Be a person someday.

He pulled his hand away. Placed it firmly on the armrest of his chair.

Pipe dream. That's all it was. Ridiculous. Out of the question.

The nausea had subsided a bit, so he reached for the in-flight magazine, opened it to the crossword puzzle, and folded down the tray table. He concentrated on 1-Across and gave no more thought to the small corner of his mind that was murmuring, “Why not?”


Chapter Nine

So, here he was. Inevitable, he knew. They always found each other. A whole wide world out there, and yet, they ended up in the same pub at the same time. Ethan smiled an ironic smile, realizing he was channeling Bogart, and then he picked up his drink and walked over. Because it was what was in the script. It was what he did. Would always do.

That night he'd gone back to Sunnydale. The blood still fresh on his hands, but only metaphorical. Only incorporeal. He had destroyed them. All of them. It was better than they deserved, they who had put a shovel in his hands and told him to dig. It took more than what they'd done to break Ethan Rayne. They would never break him. Could never break him. There was only one man who could break him. And that man was in Sunnydale. So, Ethan went. Back to Sunnydale. Felt the trembling tingle of the Hellmouth on his skin.

That man who was here now. Didn't matter why. Ethan knew why. Because it was meant to be. Because fate had a heavy hand, and pushed them all around like a young girl playing with rag dolls. Giles-Rupert-Ripper. Sitting at a table in a dark corner of a London pub, crouched over a clear glass that he held like a lifeline. Candle flame on his glasses.

If he hadn't looked so damn old, it would have been a flash straight out of their youths.

Except Ripper had never abided the glasses.

Ethan slammed his own drink down on the round table, and that was the first notice he got. Affronted green eyes jumping up to his face in the gloom. And then, recognition. And then, like clockwork, there was the anger.

He wouldn't say that what they'd done hadn't hurt. Because of course it hurt. It hurt to have needles jabbed into your skin day in and day out. It hurt when they shocked you with increasing voltages of electricity, from a small, almost pleasant tingle, up to triple digit screaming agony. But they couldn't touch him. Not really.

Ripper's fist in his gut hurt. It always did. But he barely tried to evade it. Let the blow come, let the force drive him back into the neighboring table, let Ripper catch him by the collar and haul him to his feet.

This was his greeting. This was the script. When he'd knocked on Ripper's door that summer, back from the desert and still soaked in all that metaphorical blood ol' Shakespeare was so very fond of, Ripper's fist had been the first thing he'd really felt. The first sensation that had registered. In hours. No. In months. So he'd let him. Let him hit him. It was his utter silence, in the end, that stopped the blows.

Here in the pub, held close enough to kiss him, he could feel Ripper's body. Feel the curve of his stomach, too pronounced for middle-age alone to account for. And he smiled, feeling the blood on his lip.

“Come to demand child support?” he said, knowing that all Ripper would hear was ‘Hit me again.' Because that seemed to be all Ripper ever heard. Could say, ‘Nice day we're having,' or ‘Your mother wore army boots,' didn't make a bloody bit of difference. It went the same every time. Ethan knew why, Ethan was a man, himself, and knew that Ripper had his pride. But then, he also knew that what it truly was was cowardice. Deep, childlike terror. Ethan was everything Giles denied in himself. His very existence was a threat.

Except, this time, Ripper shoved him backwards. And then walked away.

Six months, naked in a sterile white cell. Food came from the ceiling, every day, on schedule, the only way to keep time. Was drugged, of course, but then, Ethan had always been partial to a bit of controlled substance. Time passed easier while tranquilized. The humiliation was only distant and far away. Like it was someone else. He liked to pretend it was Ripper.

He followed him out into the street. Around the corner to an alley.

The blows had stopped after his silence. Ripper had looked down at him, and Ethan'd simply stood up, dusting himself off, feeling the pain. Beautiful pain, bright and sharp. Like freedom. Like hatred. Hatred. Oh yes. Rupert had looked so taken aback. So guilty. As though he'd done harm to an innocent. Wearing the same mask of regret. A lie. Such a lie.

But this was good. Guilt was the collar around Ripper's neck, and now Ethan had the leash.

“I suppose you want to know what-” he began, rounding the corner into the alley.

But couldn't finish speaking, because Ripper hit him. Hard, across the jaw, driving him back into a brick wall. And then grabbed him by his coat. *Slammed* him against the wall. Crack of skull against brick, world suddenly dark around the edges, stomach suddenly clenching. Another fist, hard right hook, cheekbone cracking like a twig. He would have fallen, but Ripper'd grabbed him again. Then thrown him to the ground. Hard. Hand catches on asphalt, trying to break his fall, skin shredded on the uneven surface. Blood in his eyes, everything's red, blood in his mouth, tastes like copper, blood on his hand, wet and cool. Too dizzy to get up. Not in the script. Not this.

They were trying to quantify magic. Trying to put it in their neat little boxes. Because they liked boxes. Soldier boys, oh so brave. But terrified. Terrified of anything that didn't fit in their boxes. They really liked boxes. Kept all of them in boxes. Literal boxes. Flat white, with one glass wall, so they could see them. Trying to put Chaos in a box.

Stupid. So, so, so stupid.

Chaos couldn't live in a box. Ethan couldn't live in a box. Ironic, really, that it was their boxes that kept them alive so long. Chaos couldn't live in a box. Ethan was powerless.

Guilty Ripper, looking at him, battered and bloodied. One tug on the leash, and they were upstairs. Ripper folded like a deck of cheap playing cards. Always did. Thought he was the one with the power. Always thought that. Believed it, even at that moment, flat on his back with his cock in Ethan's mouth. Giles liked boxes, too. But his boxes weren't going to save him. Ripper was in Ethan. Always, always, like the metal bits in the brain of a bird, he navigated by him. He'd give anything to get him out. Would never happen though. Ripper was a cancer that was deep inside him, tendrils reaching into all parts of him. Couldn't cut him out without destroying himself.

So... second best thing. Put a part of himself... in Ripper. Show him just how much power he didn't have. Leave a piece of himself inside him forever. Or at least a few months. Something Ripper would notice. And never forget.

Like he'd never forget. That he'd spent the whole evening. Warning him. About the sodding soldier boys. And yet...

Ripper had handed him over, with a smile on his face, and a song in his heart.

It was a game, he wanted to say. Are you mad? It was a game. It was always a game. He was supposed to know that. Had always known that, before.

The soldier boys, they didn't play games. Nothing was a game to them. Deadly serious, they were. So perfectly uptight. So perfectly convinced that they were doing the Right Thing. So utterly and completely sure that they were serving humanity. So equally sure that Ethan and the others did not and never had belonged to that particular camp. Because of their damn boxes. He, they all, could do things, things that weren't on the label of the box for “humans”. So, he was cast aside, into the junk box, the one labeled “other.” An animal? A demon? Didn't matter to them.

The kick came a heartbeat after he was expecting it, sinking into his stomach. Pain radiated, as it did, and he groaned, curled in on himself on the cold pavement. Another kick, hard against his ribs, hard enough to bruise, or maybe crack, definitely hard enough to roll him over on his back. Then Ripper was on him, his knee pressing into Ethan's windpipe.

“Undo it,” he said.

Ethan knew he couldn't kill Giles, much as he wanted. Just couldn't do it. But he could hurt him. He could show him just how much of an illusion that power he thought he had was. A drop or two of blood and semen, an appeal to Diana, goddess of fertility, a sacrifice of an actual goat. Ethan always crafted his own spells. Like works of art, everything in its place. He had a binder of them, neatly typed pages with neatly drawn sigils. There was a place for order even when one was a chaos mage. Every spell he'd done, every chant he'd written, was in that book, from the time Ripper left. From the time Randall'd died.

But he couldn't remember how he'd killed the soldiers. He just remembered them dead, scattered about on the hard desert sand, still as the dusty rocks, rifles fallen from their hands. And all the other, witches and werewolves and sorcerers. He'd been standing alone, by his own half-dug grave.

Then he'd walked to the road and hitched a ride back to Sunnydale.

“Can't,” he'd croaked, around Ripper's knee in his throat.

“Wrong answer,” Ripper said. Knee dug deeper, vision narrowing, pain, pain, pain.

“Swear I can't.” He'd mostly mouthed the words.

“Why the bloody hell not?”

All the spell had done was supply the necessary equipment, set things up. The conception itself, cellularly? Perfectly natural. It was ingenious, smoothly skirting around the difficult issue of using magic to create life from nothing.

“No reason not to kill you, then.”

Yes, Ripper. Kill me. You owe me that much, you bastard. And it's the worst thing I can do to you. Make you live with it, all your life. You destroyed me, Ripper. I'll destroy you. I'm not playing anymore.

Everything dark, pain faded away, lungs burning for lack of air. And in all that, he's hard.

And then the pressure was gone. And the first thing he sees as his vision returns, slowly, like a photograph developing, is Ripper's back. And then Ripper is gone, and he's alone on the ground in an alley, nothing but pain and vertigo. And loss. How much more could he lose?

He dropped his head back on the asphalt and stared up at the night sky, tasting blood.


Chapter Ten

His internal clock was staggering from the flight, but it was still fairly convinced that it was early evening, all evidence to the contrary. He was lying on his back on the bed in his sister's guest room, staring at the dark ceiling and wide-awake. The obnoxious ticking, glowing clock beside his head cheerfully informed him that it was, locally, 2:12 in the morning.

His little encounter with Ethan earlier was not helping him relax at all.

Finally, as the clock ticked another minute deeper into the night, he gave up.

If he recalled correctly, Tara had an evening lab course today.

He kicked the covers off and headed out to the living room, got the cordless phone and carried it back into his room. He was on the ground floor, so as long as he kept his voice down, he wouldn't wake anyone.

He dug out his international calling card, dialed, and lay back on the bed, the phone cradled against his ear. It rang three times, a distance purr, and he feared that she wasn't home. But then, there was a click, and her voice came on the line, slightly crackly over the long-distance: “Hello?”

He smiled, and finally felt himself relax a little.

“Hello, Willow.”

“Giles! Hi, hon! How's England?”

The warm pleasure in her voice and the endearment made his smile widen a bit more. But then, it faded, and the first thing he thought of to say was: “I... found Ethan. Well, actually, he found me.”

“Oh... Uh oh. He's not, like, dead or anything now, is he?”

Disturbingly close, actually.

“No... no, he's alive,” was what he said. But then he felt compelled to add, “A bit battered and bruised, of course.”

“Yeah...” Willow didn't sound too surprised. “Hey, um. There's something I should tell you.”

That didn't sound good.


“I... I slept with Tara.” His heart clenched tight. “I mean,” she continued, “you know, in the euphemism way, not the literal, cause, yeah, obviously I-”

God, stop. Please, stop.

“Yes. Thank you. I caught that.”

“Oh. Ok.”

A silence fell over the line, and he wondered why it bothered him so much. He knew perfectly well that Willow was still with Tara. He'd never really said anything about wanting them to be exclusive. In fact, he was fairly well aware that pressing the issue would no doubt only cause him to lose her. Eventually, he decided to ask the most pressing question.

“And? You're telling me this... why?”

“Cause... I mean, I haven't, since we... you know. And I felt guilty afterwards. It's like... like I was cheating on *you.*”

Well. That was... interesting. Possibly... promising. In spite of himself, his heart was beating a little faster.

“I... see.”

“I don't know what to do, Giles.”

*Leave her* he wanted to say, so badly he could feel the words sticking in his throat. Couldn't say that, though.

“... I'm afraid I can't console you on this, Willow,” he said, finally. “I'm sorry. I'd like very to tell you that I... just want you to be with whomever you choose, to be selfless. But... I can't. I love Buffy dearly, but I'm afraid she's about tapped me out in that regard.”

“... Oh. Wow. I... didn't really... I didn't know.”

“I love you, Willow,” he said, firmly, wanting to be absolutely sure that every word, every nuance, made it all the way across the ocean and continent between them.

“What do you want, then?” she asked, her voice a bit soft, almost hesitant.

“You have to ask?” he said, his voice gentler, now. “I want *you*. I want you with me. All of the time.”


There was a long pause. He didn't know what else to say, and apparently, neither did she. But really, even having the sound of her breathing in his ear, knowing that they were together, at least in some small way, still made things... better.

She was the one who eventually broke the silence.

“Uh. So. Ethan. Did he, you know, fix things?”

He shifted in the bed, restively. He wanted to discuss Ethan even less than he wanted to discuss Tara.

“I'm afraid not. Apparently the spell only... set things in motion. The, ah, conception itself was more or less natural. Reversing the spell now would... probably kill me.”

“Oh. That's... not good. But also... so that means it really is just... human. Right?”

“Human.” *Human,* dear god. “Yes. An offspring of myself and Ethan Rayne. A truly frightening concept.”

It was easiest to be flippant, even as his free hand went almost unconsciously down to his stomach, rested over that spot.

“Huh,” Willow said, clearly contemplating said frightening concept.

“How is everything?” he said, desperate to change the subject, “Any difficulties with Glory?”

“Nope. Stuff's pretty quiet. So, what else is going on there with you? Where are you staying?”

“Uh. My sister's.”

“Wow. I didn't even know you had a sister.”


“Nope. Not a clue. You got any other siblings you haven't been telling us about?”

“Um. Two others, in fact,” he said.

“Giles! What's up with never telling us this?”

“It... never really came up.”

“Well, it's coming up now. Spill, Buster. I want the whole story. Well, ok, I don't need to hear about the, like, second cousins and stuff. Unless they're particularly notable for some reason.”

“My life story, then?”

“Yup. Rupert Giles, unabridged. I've got time. Start with ‘I was born...' and go straight on up to ‘And then this crazy witch person demanded I tell my life story.'”

He found himself laughing, softly. Then, obediently, he began, “I was born...”

He got up to his late twenties before the conversation wandered off to other things, like the weather in Sunnydale and England, and computers, and airplanes, and dog breeds, and various and sundry other topics of varying degrees of randomness. It was wonderful. Her voice, her laugh, her utterly unique outlook on life. He felt the tension of the past few days fade away completely.

Everything faded away, really. Everything but her voice, a soft vibration against his ear in the dark. He could almost feel her. See her, on her back in her own bed in the fading light of evening.

“Man, hearing your voice,” she said, suddenly, “It's like you're here with me. Touching me.”

He chuckled.

“Shall I ask what you're wearing?”

She giggled, a light and happy sound that made him feel a little bit thrilled for having provoked it.

“Silly. Although. I've never done the, you know. Phone sex thing. When are you coming home?” She added, quickly, and he knew she was blushing, which, given some of the things they'd done together over the past week both amused and touched him.

“I'm leaving the day after tomorrow, if all goes well with the council.”

He regretted the subject change even as he spoke. Would have been nice, whispering to her in the dark, telling her how to touch herself. Hearing her soft gasps, her bitten-back moans.

“Good. I miss you.”

“I miss you, too, darling.”

Silence again, but this time a comfortable one. He was at ease now, his body feeling warm and heavy, his eyelids drifting half-closed.



“I think I'm maybe in love with you.”

So much for being half-asleep.

“You still there?”

“Ah. Yes. I'm... I'm here.”

“I think maybe I'm gonna tell Tara. Today maybe. I think... I think she might already know. At least a little bit.”




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