Reason number one was he would be sixty-five years old before the child could even vote.
Of course, it wasn't unheard of for grandparents to raise their grandchildren. He glanced up, saw a break in the stream of deplaning passengers, and started to stand. But he misjudged his altered weight and center of gravity and just ended up dropping back into his chair. He cursed, mostly silently, as the two children who had been kicking his seat on and off ever since they'd boarded the plane in Los Angeles jumped up and stood in the middle of the aisle, directly beside his seat, completely blocking his planned escape route as their mother struggled to get her luggage out of the overhead compartment.
Reason number two was he didn't have the time. He ran the shop, he helped Buffy train, he researched long into the night. Whatever free time he did have left over in all that he treasured far too much.
“Hi!” said one of the children, leaning on the arm of his seat. Lovely. The boy had big brown eyes, a gap-toothed smile, and straight dark hair in need of a trim.
“Hello,” he said, reluctantly.
“I'm five!” the kid informed him, holding up five fingers, widely spread.
“Are you now?” Giles said.
“Mooooom,” said the taller child, “Jake's talking to strangers.”
There was a heavy sigh from above him, and the woman, who had finally wrestled her bag out, grabbed the little boy by the arm.
“Jake, what did I tell you?” She glanced at Giles for a moment, forced a strained smiled, and said, “I'm sorry.”
“No bother,” he said, because it was expected, and then the woman and her two boys made their way down the aisle.
Reason number three, he didn't even particularly care for children. At least, not the younger ones.
Teenagers were, in spite of their reputation, not so bad.
Close on the heels of that came reason number four: He would, quite possibly, be a single parent. Granted, things were going well with Willow now, but... it seemed unwise to make such assumptions.
Although it wasn't as though he didn't have the resources. He had family money, and income from the shop, and savings left over from his career as Watcher. And as for the time issue, well, Willow had been correct in pointing out that a child could most likely stay with him in the shop. Magic shops were more or less expected to be family businesses anyway. An infant wouldn't be out of place.
The crowd that had been unleashed when the woman and her children had left finally passed by, and this time he successfully made it out of his seat, grabbed his bag from the overhead compartment, and fled towards the front of the plane.
His stomach rolled in protest at the movement, a recurrence of the airsickness, and that, of course, reminded him of reason number five. He was a *man*, he couldn't carry a baby to term. It was *ludicrous*. Well, given the nature of Ethan's spell, he *could* carry a baby to term. Physically speaking. But. He couldn't. Could not. Would not. It was out of the question.
He stepped off the plane and into the passageway to the airport proper. His footsteps reverberated dully in the enclosed space.
Reason number six was this child would be half Ethan. God knew that was a set of genes that was never meant to be passed on.
Reason number seven was lost to the ages, however, because the moment he was about to define it was the same moment he stepped out into the gate, and the same moment he saw Willow, waiting by the check-in desk with a big grin on her face.
Fifteen hours on a plane or no, just seeing her put a smile on his face and a spring in his step. Not to mention certain effects on other aspects of his physiology.
He dropped his bag and caught her as she flung herself into his arms, and for a moment, he let himself get lost in the simple pleasure of holding her close again. Then he loosened his arms a bit and smiled down at her smiling up at him.
“Hi,” she said. “How was your flight?”
“Um. Long. Fortunately, I was able to sleep for much of it.”
She cuddled close to his chest again, tucking her head under his chin, and wrapping her arms around him a little tighter.
“That's good,” she said, her voice muffled by his shirt.
He shut his eyes and dipped his head forward, breathing the scent of her hair. Feeling her magics. He ran his hand up her back to her shoulder, and his body thrilled at the feminine curve of her, the familiarity of her warm, slim body. He'd missed her. He loved her.
And she loved him, apparently.
Her hand was moving on his side, rubbing up and down just a little. He could feel her body moving as she breathed, and how she relaxed into him a little more with each breath.
She felt so good.
He kissed the top of her head, and pulled, reluctantly, away from her. Wouldn't do to get himself all worked up in the middle of Sunnydale Regional Airport.
She looked at him with drowsy, bedroom eyes, a small crease of confusion in her brow.
“We should. Um.” He gestured towards the exit with his head.
“Oh,” she said, and seemed to snap awake. “Right.”
So, he picked up his bag and they walked out to the parking lot, with her chattering away beside him about the events in Sunnydale over the past few days.
Then, just as they reached his car in the bright morning sunlight, she said, “I, uh, told everyone your flight was coming in tonight. And that I would be out and around campus all day.”
It actually took him a moment to grasp the significance of this statement. And then he did. Well, he thought, at least he wasn't actually in the airport anymore. All the blood in his body took a quick detour to his groin, and suddenly he wanted her. Badly. Far more than the low-level desire he'd been feeling for hours now, in anticipation of seeing her.
She saw the moment he caught the implications of what she'd said. Saw his body go still and his eyes go dark and intense. Something tightened low in her stomach, and suddenly his hand, that had been resting loosely on her shoulder, gripped her, pushed her back, her butt bumping back against the side of the convertible. And then his other hand was around the back of the neck, tilting her head back so he could... kiss her.
He was straddling her now, his pelvis pressed close to her stomach, his tongue in her mouth, his hand moved down from her shoulder to her *ass*, or at least what he could reach of it, what with her being pressed against the car, and all this right there in the middle of the *parking lot*. For a moment, she was shocked, then she remembered that this was the same guy who she'd had sex with in the basement of the Magic Box.
So instead of being shocked, she just ran her hands down his back to his own ass, and pulled him closer to her, opened her mouth wider and leaned her head back, letting him devour her, trembling at the sensations. Goddess, it was powerful. A whole four days without him and she was suddenly *dying* to have him, never mind that before all this, she'd somehow managed to go for years without him.
She pushed her hips against his and she could feel his erection through his jeans and her skirt.
She wasn't wearing underwear. Figured it would make things easier. Plus, she wanted to see the look on his face when he realized.
He was kissing her deep and hard, tasting so good and Giles-y, one hand cradling her skull, holding her in place, while his other traced small circles and lines on the side of her hip, her thigh, her sensitive spots, making her body draw tight with want. She could feel herself getting wet and hot. Ready for him.
Wanted *something*, *anything* to just *touch* her, her vague attempts to rub herself against him coming to no good at all. She had to settle for squeezing her thighs together, squirming a little against the cool metal of the car.
Then he pulled away *again*, and he wouldn't let her follow him. She opened her eyes and saw his were darker, but fiery. He was looking down at her. Only touching her with one restraining hand on her shoulder. She squirmed again, not even intentionally for his benefit, but he smiled, a slow, dark smile, and his eyes lifted up to meet hers.
“Shall we go somewhere a little more private?”
She loved the way his voice got rough and deep when he was turned on. Loved that now she *knew* that his voice got rough and deep when he was turned on.
She grinned suddenly, ran one playful finger quickly over the bulge in his jeans and said, “Think you can drive?”
He grabbed her hand, even though she was no longer touching him, pulled it up and kissed her fingers, and then smiled behind them.
He tossed his bag in the back seat. Would have just vaulted into the car himself, but he seriously doubted he was still that maneuverable. Instead, he got in the normal way. He hit the gas the moment they hit the freeway, his dick hard agony, crammed against the seam of his jeans. He rather wanted to just unzip his fly, but he was already speeding, and he hardly wanted to be pulled over with his pants half-off. In a convertible with the top down. With his barely-legal lover beside him.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her, leaning against the door. She was shifting on the seat every few moments, and it made him smile. There was no better cure for jetlag in the world than Willow, beautiful and aroused and *his* all day, no interruptions, no one expecting them anywhere.
Which lead his mind to the question: “You spoke to Tara?”
“Uh.... What?” she said, over the roar of the wind.
“Tara,” he said, raising his voice. “Did you speak to her?”
He threw a glance in her direction, and saw her eyes were wide.
“No...” she said.
“No?” he said.
“But I will! I really will, Giles, I swear!”
His heart tightened a little. He kept his expression neutral. Do not react. Do not. Push her and you lose her.
“It's just... I want to wait, you know, for the right moment. And, and figure out what to say, exactly. You know?”
“Of course,” he said, and slipping into the mode of soft-spoken librarian was easy and comfortable. “I understand.”
He was silent and hard-edged for the rest of the drive. She half-expected him to drop her off at her dorm, so even simply pulling up in front of his place was a huge relief. He was still wordless, though, as he put the car in park and got out, stopping only to pick up his bag before heading for his door. She wasn't even sure if he wanted her to follow him. But... well, it couldn't hurt. So, she got out and walked slowly through the courtyard to his front door, feeling a bit like a little kid expecting to be scolded, and really not liking the feeling.
What was his deal, anyway? She said she'd talk to her. And she *would*. Really. These things take time. And *tact*. She'd have thought he'd understand that.
By the time she reached his door, she'd worked herself into a pretty good state of righteous indignation. She slammed through it and banged it shut behind her, and just as she was drawing a breath to speak, something slammed her into the wall behind her.
It was Giles, which was mostly not a surprise, but given that this was the Hellmouth--
He pinned her there, one arm across her upper chest, pressing almost painfully against her collar bone, and he laid one hand over her lips, leaning in close enough that she could feel his breath as he whispered, “Don't say anything.”
She drew in a hard breath, her heart hammering in her chest. She wanted to ask what he was doing, but somehow, she didn't want to disobey. So she was silent and still as his hand dropped off her lips and trailed down her side, found the hem of her shirt and then slid up under it, over the silky fabric of her bra, cupped around her breast. His other arm still holding her firm against the wall, his eyes on hers, as inescapable as his restraining arm.
Her breathing was still hard. She could feel the pressure of his arm with every breath. Feel his hand, moving just slightly on her breast. Feel her nipples growing hard. Feel the fear change to something else.
Relaxed against the wall, completely, and the moment he felt that, he smiled, mostly with his eyes, only a small twitch at the corner of his mouth.
“Good girl,” he said, low and purring. She shuddered all over, shut her eyes, dropped her head back against the wall with a soft thunk.
His hand shifted on her breast, and he caught her nipple between his thumb and forefinger. He tugged on it a little, rolled it, gently, and little sparks of pleasure flitted through her. His lips touched her neck. Tongue traced her jugular. Then he pinched her. Hard.
She gasped, her whole body jolting, her sex clenching tight.
Her eyes snapped open, and he stared straight into them, his finger and thumb still painfully tight on her. Goddess, she was shivering. Hurt. But felt good.
He let go, abruptly, and the cessation of pain was almost as intense as the pain itself.
He stepped away, not suddenly, just easily, gently. She felt the loss of his nearness acutely, though, wanted him back against her. Holding her down. She didn't move away from the wall.
She could see approval in his eyes as he looked at her. She laid her palms flat on the wall behind her. Let him look. Loved him looking at her, with his eyes dark, trailing his hand lightly over himself through his jeans.
“Beautiful,” he said, then suddenly pulled his shirts off, cast them behind himself on the floor. Left his jeans on and stepped up to her again. Unbuttoned her soft pink sweater, pushed it off. Then pulled her shirt over her head. She let him, moving only when necessary, letting him strip her, one article of clothing at a time. Her bra next, adeptly unclasped. She shivered a little as the cool air of the apartment hit her bare skin, and her nipples peaked sharper. He touched them, lightly, with the pads of his thumbs. She looked down, watched him touch her. His hands: male, strong hands. Callused from swords and other medieval weaponry. The index finger on his right hand that was bowed a bit, badly healed after Angelus. The ring on his left pinky that was cool against the side of her breast.
Then he unfastened her skirt and let it fall to the floor. For a moment, she saw him lose his momentum, startled, then he smiled slowly.
“Someone's being naughty,” he said, very softly. Slipped his hands around her waist, his thumbs resting in the hollows of her hip bones, his fingers warm on the sides of her ass.
It was strange, being naked with him still half-dressed. Being naked right here, downstairs, by the door. But good. Made her warm in all the right places. Made her skin break out in goosebumps, and not from a chill.
He tugged her a step away from the wall, and then pulled away from her, keeping just one hand on her side.
“Upstairs,” he said.
This, too, was weird: walking up the stairs, naked, feeling his fingers touching the small of her back, and knowing he was watching her. But still good. Trembly and interesting. And it made her wonder what it would be like to be on the other side of this. Her dressed, him naked. On his knees maybe. Doing whatever she told him to. She wondered if he would. She thought maybe.
Then they reached his bed and he was telling her to lie on her back, so she did, and he crawled on the bed over her, straddled her waist and took her wrists in his hands and pulled them over her head. Told her to keep them there, and got off the bed, pulled something out from under it.
She heard a clink, and when he stood up and then sat down on the side of the bed again, with a pair of padded handcuffs in his hand, she wasn't exactly surprised. But the reaction of her body shocked her, simultaneously relaxing and tensing. And wanting. She was wet, enough to feel herself: heat and liquid, a drop running down her perineum and into the crack of her ass.
He leaned over her again, his bare chest close to her face, and she could smell a trace of his sweat, his skin. Her seemed to be searching for something over her head. As she twisted her head back to look, he found it: a loop of rope, attached to the bed somewhere under the mattress. He looped the cuffs through the rope, and then reached for her wrist.
She almost pulled her hand away. For a split second, terrified. Not of him. Never him. Herself. Her reactions to this. This, that she'd never let herself think about. Ok, she had, but not in relation to her actually *doing* anything like this.
But she didn't pull away. She heard the cuff click as it locked. Unyielding loop, not tight, but enough that she couldn't slide her hand out. Enough that she could *feel* it there. Couldn't avoid the knowledge that she was naked in Giles's bed--a moment later, and the second cuff clicked around her other wrist--in handcuffs.
And then, at that moment, it was as though a string had been severed inside of her. As if some tension she'd never even known was there was suddenly *gone*, and she could truly relax. She actually sighed from it, the relief of it.
He moved back along the bed, sat down, his hip resting against hers, and he gently stroked her cheek.
“Feels good, doesn't it? Freeing.”
Her throat was too dry for words, all she could do was nod.
He reached up again, took her hand in his own and guided it to the cuff.
“There's a clasp here, if you need to get out of them.”
Mildly disappointing, that, knowing she could get out of them herself. But also comforting.
“Would you like to be gagged as well?”
She blinked at him.
“I think you might appreciate it. Not feeling the pressure to speak. Not that I don't love the sound of your voice.”
“O-Ok?” she said, thinking that she could barely speak now, anyway.
He reached off the side of the bed again, came back up holding a rather disturbing-looking gadget.
“Uh. Does it hurt?”
“No. It is a little uncomfortable. But it doesn't hurt.”
She was still eyeing it suspiciously, but she nodded. His hands were tender as he lifted her head, and gently fastened the gag in place. She worked her tongue around it for a moment, realized she had to breathe through her nose. He was looking down at her.
Her attempt to answer in the affirmative resulted in nothing but a muffled grunt. He smiled again: soft, nonjudgmental amusement. She waited a moment, rolling her eyes at herself, then nodded.
“If you ever want me to stop, for any reason, just cross your fingers. I'll be watching. All right?”
She nodded again.
He leaned forward, and placed a tiny, soft kiss in the center of her forehead, and then he backed down her body and knelt next to her hips again. Looked at her, and his lips parted, his breath moved faster.
“My God, Willow. Do you know how amazing you look right now?”
And he was right. It was a relief. Not to have to say anything. Not to have to move. Just to give herself over to him, let him lead.
Her whole body was loose, relaxed, trembling. When he touched her, running both of his hands up her sides and then down again, it was like her skin was one live, raw nerve, the sensations burning her like a brand.
She moaned, a high, silken sound behind the gag, and she loved the pressure of it on her tongue, loved the hard metal around her wrists, loved his hands, massaging her breasts now. Then, he reached down, between her legs, and she spread them quickly for him, and his fingertips brushed over her, barely enough for her to even feel.
She lifted her hips, tried to press herself against him, and he pulled his hand away, ignoring her groan of frustration. He laid his palm flat over her stomach, sticky warm skin.
“Shh. Let me, precious.”
The gentle motion of his hand on her stomach was anything but soothing. It aroused her, inflamed her, made her body break out in cold sweat. She found herself gripping the chain of the cuffs tight enough to feel the links digging into her palms.
This time, when he moved his hand between her legs, he didn't tease. All he did was slide that ever-so-slightly crooked index finger inside of her.
And to her intense shock, she came.
He smiled at the look of surprised pleasure on her face. Continued gently moving his finger within her as she drifted down a bit, panting. So beautiful. Flushed all over, writhing on the bed, clinging to the chain binding her to the bed.
His cock throbbed painfully in his jeans, again, wanting to be where his finger was, inside her, where she was slick and hot and still quivering from her orgasm. But this, this was about taking his time. About exploring every inch of her body, finding the spots that made her sigh and giggle and sob with pleasure. He didn't know when, or, god, even if, he would have a chance like this again, and he wasn't about to waste it.
He leaned down, brushing his nose up under her hair, breathing the damp scent of her there: her shampoo, her sweat, her arousal and her magic. He started there, then moved on, slowly, methodically, as she had with him before. Only he wouldn't let himself be sidetracked.
Touching her, with hands and lips and tongue. Starting from her neck and working his way down, noting every gasp, every sigh, every twitch. Like learning a new text, finding every nuance, committing it to memory. One never knows what might be needed someday, must remember it all.
Looked up now and then, checked her eyes, her hands. Her body was moving constantly now, as he reached her waist. Over-stimulated, every nerve burning, pleasure all she could feel. He knew the feeling. Had, in his younger years, all but *lived* for that feeling. Letting go of everything, and just *being*, not doing, just letting yourself be done to, and riding the sensation.
He was harder than he'd been in years, aching and desperate, and as he lay down on the bed between her legs and ducked his head down to her sex and she came, almost immediately, under his tongue, he began to move his hips against the bed, just a little, just enough to satisfy the desire, just a little.
His jeans were more torturous than any bondage device he could remember using, but taking them off would necessitate pulling away from her and that... was simply unacceptable.
Her scent here was like a physical presence, like a liquid he could drown in, and her taste was thick on his tongue. Licking, sucking, biting gently, then not so gently, until her orgasms were blending into each other, until her legs had gone limp and slipped from his shoulders to the sheets.
And god, it was pure hell to pull away from her long enough to take off his jeans, to find a condom, but then he was above her, looking down into her eyes, so dark and so *drugged*. He pushed inside of her, finally, *finally*, and her body still rolled up to meet his, still wanted him, still shuddered through another small climax just from his entry. Bloody well nearly dragged him over the edge with her, and he had to hold perfectly still, not moving, not breathing, until the incipient orgasm backed away just a little, just enough for him to begin to move inside of her.
And then he reached behind her head gently, unfastened the gag and pulled it away. Knowing she was probably mostly beyond speech now, anyway. Just wanting to see her.
He lost all track of time, moving inside her languidly, looking into her eyes. When his climax came, it wrapped around him gently, rising through him like a slow tide, deep and strong and inevitable. Long, long pulses, dragging out of him, like he was leaving a piece of his soul inside her. Except, he knew, he'd already done that, long ago.
And when it was over, he let her out of the cuffs, and she curled against him immediately, a small creature, seeking warmth, and he pulled the comforter up and wrapped it around them both, and they slept.
They slept, and she woke before him, got up, and read for awhile, then ordered them something to eat around two and woke him when it came. They ate dinner in his bed, with her wrapped in his too-large robe, and him sitting across from her, cross-legged, naked but for his glasses. They were close, her knee pressed against his. They couldn't seem to exist without touching each other in some way: a hand on an arm, fingers brushing lips... halfway through the meal, he untied the robe, let it fall open, and reached inside, laid his hand between her breasts, over her heart. She held still, on the outside, but inside her body was flying into motion. She'd read all the books recommended for outside reading in psychology, and she knew: love was real, was physical. Fast heartbeat, rising temperature, flushed skin, shaking. Estrogen, testosterone, endorphins, adrenaline. Fever, love bug. Not so far off, chemically speaking.
Which was utterly ridiculous, because nothing, just nothing, was anything like this.
She closed her eyes, and felt the tips of his fingers on her breast, circling her nipple. Felt it draw taut and hard. Felt heat, and love, and want.
His hand dropped away and they continued to eat, not speaking. What they had done, earlier, still lingered between them. She felt connected to him, like a cable hooked somewhere behind her heart, binding her to him. And him to her.
And gradually, their casual touches lingered a little longer, came a little more often, until the food was done and set aside, and there was nothing but each other. They were sitting directly across from each other, her on her knees, him still cross-legged, and looking into each other's eyes, and his hands were running over her slowly under the robe: up and down her sides, around her back, her shoulders; always moving, touching her, learning her. She curled her own hand around the nape of his neck, felt the fringes of his hair tickle her skin, and pulled him closer, and pressed her lips to his, and he wrapped his arms around her back, kissed her hard.
Then suddenly, she turned her head aside, tucked her forehead in his shoulder.
Her heart clenched with some feeling, so powerful, she couldn't tell if it was joy or grief, all she could feel was just a massive Something.
When she looked up again, she saw him through burning tears.
“Please don't be mad at me,” she said, even though she hadn't really known she was going to speak at all.
“Oh, Willow,” he said, gently, “I'm not-”
“You are,” she said, because he was, she knew it, she'd seen the way he reacted in the car when she'd told him that she hadn't told Tara.
“It's just... I love you, and I love her, and I want to be with you, but I don't want to hurt her, and I don't know what to say-”
But then she had to laugh a little because he was literally kissing the tears off her cheeks, and she'd only ever read about anyone doing that. She felt his lips smile against her skin.
“Hush, precious,” he murmured.
She sniffled, and then said, “I do, you know.”
And then, suddenly, she was alone.
But only because, as it turned out, he was going for a condom, and she thought to herself, even as she admired his sleek back and nice ass through the fading blur of tears, that she really should just get on the pill.
Then he was back with her, kissing her, pulling her into his lap, and soon, all she was thinking about was his cock, moving inside her as she slowly undulated against him. His stomach, rubbing against hers. His powerful shoulders, his hazy eyes, his gentle smile.
The robe curled around them both, soft and warm.
It was dark in the bedroom, and they were alone. She loved him, he loved her, and at that moment, that was all that mattered. Nothing bad could enter here: not confusion, not guilt, not doubts.
By the end of it, she was on her back and he was over her, driving into her, and they were both lost in it, in each other. She came, and he followed, and they held each other for a little while.
Afterwards, they got up, and they showered together, got dressed, and then settled down in the living room with sandwiches and tea and a game of Scrabble. At eight, he dropped her off in front of the student union on campus.
Kissing him goodbye felt deeply wrong.
She watched his taillights until he turned out of sight. Her arms were crossed against the light chill of the night as she started walking, slowly, back towards her dorm. As she walked, her mind toyed with conversation openers.
‘Hi Tara, we need to talk.' ‘Sure, sweetie. About what?' ‘I've been sleeping with Giles.'
No. Too abrupt, clearly.
‘Tara, you know I love you, right?'
No. Maybe... ‘Tara, you know I care about you...'
‘Tara, I have a confession to make. And it... it's bad. Very bad.' ‘O-ok...' ‘See, lately I've... I've been... doing something bad. The kind of bad that's... bad.'
Ok, that was leading nowhere fast.
‘Tara, I think maybe I need some... space.'
No. Way too generic. Plus, again with the way-too-abrupt.
Willow sighed again, more forcefully. How about just: ‘Hi, Tara, wouldja please hold still for a second so I can just rip your heart out and tear it into a million pieces and maybe stomp on it a few times, too? Thanks. Oh, and by the way, I've been shagging Giles for about two weeks now.'
Yeah, really, that was looking like the best of the bunch.
She remembered the betrayal in Oz's eyes. And she remembered how her world had crumbled when she'd realized that the one person who made her feel special, made her feel *wanted*, had apparently traded her in for a better model.
What on earth could she say?
She still didn't know by the time she reached her dorm. So she set it aside, wrapped up in a nice little coat of denial on a back shelf in her mind.
Tara was at her desk when she came in, and she looked up.
“Hey, Willow,” she said, softly.
“Hey,” Willow said, pushing a smile onto her face. “How was your day?”
She set her backpack over by her desk, and when she turned back around, Tara was standing up, with her hands clasped in front of her, looking down at the carpet.
“Yeah?” Willow said, feeling a trickle of cold fear begin to run down her spine.
“I- Is everything all right? B- Because lately, you've... you've been a little... distracted. Like, like maybe you're working a little too hard or... or something, you know?”
It was the perfect opening.
This was her chance.
But when she opened her mouth to speak, what she said was:
“What? No! No, everything's fine!”
“You know, you can tell me anything, right? I mean... if something's wrong... if... if *I'm* doing something... something that's bothering you? Please, I want to know. I'd really rather you told me.”
She looked so sad, so.... afraid. Going to her, putting her arms around her, melting into her embrace was so easy, so natural. Hurting her... that was unnatural.
“Oh, Tara, baby, of course not. I've just been... you know, school and stuff, that's all. I'm sorry.”
But even as she felt the relief in Tara's body, a part of her mind was screaming at her. Because this... this was just going to make things worse. But that thought seemed far away as Tara kissed her throat, and hugged her a little tighter. Her body twitched in tired protest, but she still let Tara lead her over to the bed, helped her get them both out of their clothes.
Then she took over, pressing Tara down on her back, and kissing her, touching her, going over every sensitive spot she'd found on her lover's body over the past year or so.
And when Tara looked over at her, later, her eyelids heavy with satiation, and said, “You never-” Willow just smiled and said, “I'm fine, go to sleep, hon,” and held her until she did.
As she was lying there, with Tara beside her, she happened to look over at the bookcase, and something caught her eye.
It was an old book, bound in cracked, dry leather. She slipped out of bed quietly and pulled it off the shelf, let it fall open in her lap. It had once belonged to Jenny Calendar. Willow had sorted all of her things after she'd died, and no one had ever asked for them back. So, now they were hers.
This one was a book on magic and midwifery, passed down through many years and generations, handwritten in many different hands and languages. Willow flipped past the Rumanian and German sections, but stopped when she got to a part written in French.
Mostly, it was simple things, like charms to ensure the unborn child's health and long life. A couple of spells to determine paternity and legitimacy. Many, many potions to help ease the more unpleasant side effects of pregnancy.
And then, she found it.
It was a dark spell, the kind that called for blood and ash and some minor dealings with some minor demons.
But it would do what Giles wanted. It would end it. Give him back his life, some trace of normalcy. No surgery, no risk of unwanted publicity.
She slipped a piece of paper between the pages. She'd show him the spell at the Magic Box tomorrow after class.
It was a quiet morning in the Magic Box. There'd only been two people in all morning, and neither had bought anything. In fact, they had come in together, looked around, laughed at the merchandise, and then left, joking audibly about the freaks who actually believed that stuff was real.
Their naivety provoked, as it always did, conflicting feelings of annoyance and a kind of longing in Giles.
Ignorance seemed so blissful at times. In their world, no ten-year-old boys were told that their whole lives boiled down to a handful of years in the service of a single, too-fragile teenaged girl. In their world, no one had to behead a friend to stop a homicidal demon.
As he watched them go, as though to punctuate his thoughts, he felt a small shifting inside of him.
Somewhere, in some other world, Anya was ranting about the dying consumer spirit, and how it heralded the end of life as all good Americans knew it. Distractedly, he suggested that she take an early lunch, in case things got busier in the afternoon.
The prospect of future customers seemed to cheer her, and she buzzed out the door a few minutes later, leaving Giles alone.
Well. Not alone.
He sat down heavily in one of the chairs beside the Scoobies' table. He realized a moment after he'd done it that he'd placed his hand over his stomach again.
He suddenly regretted sending Anya away.
It was in these moments, these quiet moments, that it all seemed so hard to ignore.
He looked down at himself, at the slightly-too-pronounced curve of his abdomen. He ran his hand back and forth over it. Really, it still just felt like his stomach always had.
Except... it didn't, exactly. He did feel different. Most likely it was hormones. God knew, he must have some uncharacteristic ones floating around in his bloodstream at the moment.
But he did feel different. Aware of it. That same awareness that had prompted him to buy the damn pregnancy test in the first place.
He shut his eyes, and felt a cold wash of fear roll up and over him, icy cold and paralyzing. His heart was hammering in his chest, frighteningly hard, and his chest felt tight, felt like he couldn't quite breathe in deep enough. Couldn't move.
Odd to know that to anyone looking at him, he'd probably appear perfectly calm.
Under his hand, he felt it shift again, as though it sensed his anxiety.
It was so easy, when he was with Willow, to forget it for a little while. Block it all out.
Too easy. And, much as he loved her, he knew he was using her.
He tugged his glasses off. Heard the clatter as they fell onto the table, and realized only then that his hand was shaking too hard to hold them. He watched it, for a moment, with a distant sort of fascination. Felt his heart, still doing a four-minute-mile in his chest.
The light was too bright, like a drugged hallucination, filled with creatures made of fire.
He understood that what this was was a panic attack, and a part of him wondered at that. He hadn't even been entirely aware that... that it was really that bad.
He knew that he could get out of the chair he was in. But it seemed like an extremely bad idea. Like after waking from a nightmare, lying in the dark, trying not to even breathe for fear of summoning demons from the darkness.
The bell over the door jingled, and he wished he'd thought to turn over the closed sign. But then, he really hadn't exactly been planning on... panicking.
Willow's voice. He'd like to have been able to say that just hearing her voice made things better. But, really, it was more making things worse.
She stopped in front of him, and set the book she was carrying on the table.
“Are you ok?”
“Um. No,” he said, eventually. “Not... not really.”
Her brow creased with concern as he tried to concentrate on just breathing. She folded gracefully down onto her knees in front of him. Lovely, that was really helping his heart rate. She laid her hand over his on his knee.
“Whoa, your hands are cold. What... what's wrong? Is it... is it demonic?”
He managed a small laugh.
“No. Er. No.”
Then, he saw understanding in her eyes, and she touched the hand that he was still holding on his stomach.
She paused a moment, her fingertips light on the back of his hand, and then she pulled away and stood up.
“I- I think I can... help.”
She picked up the book and held it out to him. He saw her watching his hand shake as he took it.
“God, Giles... I.. I didn't know it was that bad...”
He laughed again, softly, feeling a self-deprecating blush rise to his cheeks. *Good lord, man,* he thought, *pull yourself together.*
“I actually just had that precise thought myself.”
He looked down at the book.
At first, he didn't realize what he was looking at. Then, gradually, in fuzzy bits and French-accented pieces, it began to sink in.
“My god,” he whispered.
She had sat down in the chair beside his, and was turned towards him, her knees near his own.
So? *So?* This was hardly the sort of thing to be summed up in one-word questions. His stomach rolled in the kind of threatening-with-intent way it had developed over the past few months. He managed to get a breath deep into his lungs, and used the calming rush of oxygen to set the book aside and stand.
“I'll... I'll be...”
He gestured towards the training room, and then went, grateful that Willow actually did somehow catch his meaning and stay put.
Everything still had a haze of dizzy unreality to it as he walked through the training room and into the small employee washroom in the back. Hitting his knees in front of the toilet on the neat blue and yellow tile Xander had laid felt far too familiar. Flu. He'd thought it was the flu. Why couldn't it have been the flu?
The porcelain was cold and smooth under his hands, and he waited, silently conversing with his body. The nausea flickered low in his gut, flaring and then fading, and then flaring again. A little lower in his gut, something else stirred again.
For a moment, he was positive that, yes, he was going to vomit.
But then the feeling faded again, and was gone. He rocked back onto his heels, and sat, silently, there on the floor. Everything looked strange from this angle: the shining white curve of the bottom of the sink, the walls too tall and seeming to tilt inwards. The sense of strangeness was almost comforting. It felt right, like it matched the strange whirl in his mind.
He'd wanted to end this, from the moment that he knew about it. It still terrified him, on a level that was deep and primal. And it had never been his choice. It had been thrust upon him, an act of hateful vengeance.
It was alive. It moved inside of him. It had hands and arms and a head and legs. It had a gender, albeit one unknown to him.
And it was his. Much as it was half Ethan, it was also half him.
Willow was about to go in after him, when he finally emerged from the training room. He still looked pale and shaken, like he had when she'd come in, and she worried about him.
He stopped beside the table and stood there for a few moments, looking at the book.
She fought the urge to say anything, wanting him to speak in his own time.
He didn't, for quite awhile. Just continued to look down at the page, with his neck twisted at an uncomfortable-looking angle, so he could scan the text.
And then, finally, he reached out, and gently folded the book closed.
“I can't,” he said, just a breath of a whisper.
And then Anya swept in through the door, a one-woman hurricane of excessive enthusiasm, and she dragged a bemused and helpless Giles away on a mission to do some sort of inventory, and Willow was left, by herself, at the table with the book.
And a staggering revelation to contemplate.
“Whoa,” Willow said, finally, to the empty room.
Three days after he'd made his decision, and things were the same, and were different, than they'd always been. The world went on around him, unchanging, in that way life always had of not marking major events. Rain on a wedding day, sunshine at a funeral. The damn bell still jingled merrily over the door to the shop, Anya still chattered brightly about money.
But things were different. Every time he sat down to a meal, there was suddenly a nagging presence in his mind asking if it was good for the baby. Every time he reached for a drink and stopped himself, it was suddenly because it would harm the baby, not because it would unsettle his stomach. Every time he laid down to sleep at night, he suddenly wondered if sleeping in certain positions was better than others.
It was driving him around the bend.
And he'd hardly seen Willow since.
Which, of course, only made things that much worse. And the fact that most of the time he did see her, she was with Tara... well, none of this boded well.
Like now, he was organizing a new shipment of charms, and they were over at the table, chattering and giggling... sitting close together, touching hands, ducking their heads together conspiratorially. Some men, he supposed, or even most, perhaps, would not see this as a hindrance. A woman, bisexual, with a female lover. The thought would be arousing, the sight of them, more so.
But Willow and Tara... the only heat they raised in him was anger. Futile, unjustified, impotent wrath. Because what the hell could he do? What ground did he have to stand on?
Tara couldn't steal something that had never been his to begin with.
Couldn't turn the anger on them. Could easily turn it on himself, though. Idiotic old fool that he was, thinking she'd ever... his fault. All his fault. He'd started it, he'd kept it going, always made the first move. Swept her along in something... something she'd maybe never even really wanted. Buried himself in her, mind and heart and soul. Used her.
He couldn't stop a soft sound of disgust as he turned back to the shelf after glancing over his shoulder at them yet again.
“We both know what they've been up to, eh, Rupes?”
Startled at Spike's voice, as he appeared out of nowhere beside him. Hated himself for the show of weakness, for the moment off-guard as Spike chuckled at his expense.
“Surprised *you* can't smell it on them,” Spike continued, leaning against the shelf, boxing Giles in, deep inside his personal space.
“Do shut up, Spike,” he said, in a tone pleasant enough to reek of threat.
“Heh. You wish, Rupert. Gonna take more than that to keep me quiet.”
A small alarm bell tinkled in the back of Giles's mind.
“And what, precisely, is that supposed to mean?” he said, gently setting down an amulet, and then leaving his hand there, on the shelf, not moving a muscle of his body.
“Come on, now. You're a Watcher. You know all about us vampires and our... gifts.”
Spike leaned in even closer, undead breath cool on Giles's ear.
“I know Glinda's not the only one been dipping into that particular honeypot.”
Giles's breath caught in his throat, even as Spike pulled infinitesimally away.
“Also know you're preggers. Can't quite figure that one, but I'll say this: no such thing as safe sex with a Wicca, mate.”
“That wasn't Willow,” Giles said, before he could stop himself.
Spike tossed his head unconcernedly.
“Yeah, well, here's the thing--”
“Go away, Spike.”
“The thing is,” Spike continued, blithely unconcerned, “Way I see it, I have some information here. Information that certain other parties--say, a certain girly witch type--don't have. Information you don't want certain other parties to have.”
And suddenly, he was fighting off a laugh. He forced a (mostly) straight face, held up a hand, and said, “Hold off, just a moment, are you *blackmailing* me?”
Spike looked a bit derailed.
“Uh. Well, yeah.”
“By threatening to tell Tara that Willow and I are involved.”
”Um. Yeah. That's the plan.”
Giles just turned towards him, crossed his arms and looked at him. Watched as understanding slowly began to dawn in Spike's eyes.
“Oh. Oh! Oh... How ‘bout this then? You do what I want... I tell the witch for you... everybody wins.” He paused, frowned, then said, “Well, ‘cept the witch. Guess she kinda loses.”
“No, thank you,” Giles said, drily, turning back to continue organizing the shelf, feeling the threat passing.
“Hey, hold up, then. That won't work, then how ‘bout this. You do what I want, or I tell the Slayer ‘bout your little indiscretions. How about that?”
In an instant, his blood ran cold. Dear god. Buffy. In all honesty, he had truly not spared a thought to her reaction. True, they'd been as discreet as they could, mostly, in his mind, for Tara's sake. But Buffy? Knowing?
That was terrifying.
He knew he should have said, “be my guest,” should have blown it off. But he also knew that now was far too late, and knew that Spike had seen the way his body had drawn tight.
“What do you want?” he finally said, softly, admitting defeat and hating it.
“Ah, that's more like it then,” Spike said, and his cheery tone grated hard on Giles's nerves, and he felt his fist curl.
“Just tell me, Spike.”
“All right, then. Very simple really. Just a small thing.”
Giles waited, agitation growing.
“Put in a good word for me.”
“With the Slayer.”
“I'm sorry, what?”
“Put in a good word for me with the Slayer. Tell her what an all right kinda guy I am. Give her that speech, you know? The one you gave me a while back about how maybe I'm destined for great things and all.”
“You blew me off after I made ‘that speech,' Spike.”
”Yeah, well, don't tell her that part. Besides. I've changed.”
This was all far too bizarre for Giles's taste, but it seemed harmless enough. Buffy would simply not listen to him, as she always did, and everyone could move on with their lives unmolested.
“All right,” he said, finally.
“Right then. Great.”
Then, he didn't leave. After a moment, Giles had to ask, “Why are you still here?”
Spike looked wounded.
“I'm making conversation. Hey, by the way. You and the witch. What exactly do you think is going on there? I mean, do you really think you're gonna win her back to our side of the fence with, what, the magical powers of your prick?” Spike paused, looked thoughtful, and then poked Giles's stomach, “Or maybe she's just attracted to the whole androgynous deal.”
Ok. One step too far.
Well, actually, as usual, Spike had gone many steps too far, but that was the proverbial straw.
“Out of my shop,” he said, pouring every bit of malice he possessed into the words.
And Spike went.
And sadly, the main thing he felt was a burst of relief that at least some level of his masculinity was still intact.
He looked over to the table, and was suddenly sure that Willow and Tara had heard every word, but the two girls were still conversing quietly.
He watched them for a moment, as Willow was speaking and gesturing at something in the book they were looking at. She was so beautiful. Always. Her eyes glowing with enthusiasm, her whole body infused with it, every movement so joyful and alive. As always, she called to him, drew him.
He stopped resisting, and went to her, and when she and Tara both looked up, eyes still bright with laughter from some private joke, he found himself spinning some fantasy to them about needing Willow's help setting up the old laptop she'd left at his apartment.
Bold move, snatching her right out from under her girlfriend's nose. Stupid move. Desperate move.
But Willow was agreeing, was telling Tara that it would be dull, best that she just head back to the dorm, reminding her of her evening lab, asking him if it was all right if she stayed and studied a bit at his place afterwards, where it was quieter than the dorm.
All he had to do was call down to Anya that he was leaving, that she could count out the cash register. His hands trembled a little as he turned the sign to closed. His palms slipped a little on the steering wheel, warm and soft with a hint of sweat. He dropped off Tara, pretended he didn't see their goodbye kiss, and drove himself and Willow back to his place, amazing himself by managing not to run any red lights or stop signs or speed.
He had her in his arms, had his lips on hers, the moment they were in the door. Finally. God, too long. Her arms were under his jacket, holding him. Her hands on his back. Her tongue, pressing his.
Hitched her up the door, held her there, kissing desperately, like drowning. Her small whimper was like a spark of bright sunlight, shining on water. Her voice, gasping his name as he kissed down her neck, smelled her hair, tasted her skin. God, he was so hard. Wanted her so bad.
Wondered, suddenly, if sex would hurt the baby.
“Bloody hell,” he spat, suddenly shoving away from the door, from her, from everything. Buried his face in his hands and silently screamed, “SHUT UP!”
“Giles?” Willow's voice said, breaking through the haze. “Giles? What? Did- did I-”
He dropped his hands away, and his shoulders slumped.
“No, no. Not you,” he said, then pulled out the desk chair and sank down into it.
“Uh... what then?”
She was approaching him cautiously.
She touched his shoulder, shyly, and he reached up and laid his hand over hers, felt her relax a little.
“I just- it seems ever since I decided to... er, to carry this... um... to term... all I've bloody been able to think about is, uh, what's good for it. And, what's not. And, uh. I'm not entirely sure which is which.”
“Everything I eat, everything I do, I keep thinking, ‘is this good for... for...' well, you know.”
“Uh. Well, I can hook you up with some websites, if you want? And, and we can call Ben back and ask him, too.”
Two excellent suggestions. Also, frightening. Facing up to this as a reality. As something that there were websites on, and that doctors had pamphlets about. It was somehow easier to face it as a great unknown, as something no one had dealt with before. Because that was how it felt. In a way, that was truly what it was.
But, his reason was stronger than his subconscious in this case. Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
“Yes, of course. That would be wonderful.”
She reached up with her free hand and touched his cheek.
“We could, you know, actually set up that laptop, if you want.”
He shut his eyes and turned into her hand, kissed her palm, smelling the faint scent of sweat there. With a solution in sight, his panic was easing away, leaving behind only want.
“Later...” he said, softly.
“Yeah...” she said.
So they went upstairs, stripping each other gently along the way--with maybe a little help from Willow's magic, he wasn't sure-- and then they stood, naked and kissing, at the top of the stairs.
She always felt so good. Always sent warm shivers through him. Always pushed away the darkness, left behind only light, only pleasure. His cock brushed against her stomach... skin there so soft... he pushed closer, felt heat trickle up his body as his shaft slid against her.
“Oh, darling,” he whispered.
She pulled away from him, then, and backed up to the bed, sat down on the edge. Looked at him, and her gaze came to rest on his stomach. He shifted, self-consciously.
“Don't,” she said, softly. “Don't try to...”
He forced himself to hold still, although her gaze felt like an unscratched itch.
“You're... beautiful,” she said, finally, and he had an uncomfortable moment wondering if maybe Spike hadn't been so far off after all, but then she amended quickly, “But... but not in a girly way! Not at all. It's... I dunno, maybe it's the whole guy-with-a-baby thing, only more so. It's like you... you're so brave, Giles. And... and you're... I dunno. I can't... think of the words, really.”
He walked to her, and she put her hands on him, over the spot. First person to touch him there, like that, besides himself. He had to shut his eyes under the onslaught of emotion: passion, from the intimacy; fear, as the whole thing became ever that much more real; love, for Willow and her gentle hands; tenderness, and something like pride, for the child that was within him.
And then Willow's hands slid down lower, both curling around his cock. He sighed, and opened his eyes as things got simpler, as the lust and the love took over.
“Sex is ok,” she said, as she let go of him and moved backwards to the middle of the bed.
“What?” he said, as his mind was still working on dealing with the sudden lack of her hands on him.
“For the baby,” she said.
He crawled on the bed over her.
“I checked,” she added.
“Ah,” he said, and he did feel relieved.
He kissed her as she continued speaking, sneaking words in as their lips parted briefly.
“I did hear that... high levels... of... ooo... testosterone... in the womb... might be... related to... homosexuality.”
“Hmm. Really? That's fascinating.”
She was flushed, and breathless, grinning up at him.
“Yeah. But... well, we're probably not the best control group, y'know?”
He laughed softly, and kissed her some more, until they were both breathing heavy and moving against each other. A moment apart, and then he was on his back, and she was over him, sinking down on him, her eyes fluttering shut, her head rolling back. Beautiful, god, so beautiful. His breath rushed out in a shuddering gust, and he pressed up into her, feeling her, tight hot slick, around him, and so soft.
“Rupert,” she near-whispered, looking down at him as she rocked on him. He loved the way she said his name, how intimate it felt, spoken by her only in these moments, when they were together, alone, touching.
“Oh, my love,” he whispered back, mourning, for a moment, in the back of his mind, how hopelessly lost he was, and then found her hand and clasped it in his own.
Then they were quiet but for gasps and soft groans, moving together towards the fall, and then over it, with two soft cries in the darkened room.
They held each other afterwards, murmuring meaningless pillow talk to each other, until one of their stomachs rumbled, and they laughed and got up.
He put on his robe and she put on his T-shirt and they went downstairs and ordered Chinese, and then they settled down in the living room so Willow could work her mojo (of the non-magic variety) on the old laptop.
He couldn't even express what a simple joy it was, sitting there together, cuddled close, just holding each other, talking and laughing softly as she attempted, patiently, to guide him through the intentionally unfamiliar world of computers and internet.
“... But what if it freezes up? It's always freezing up for some reason or another.”
“Well, if it freezes, and you haven't saved your work...”
“You cry,” she said, with cheerful finality.
“Oh, wonderful. Thank you, Willow.”
“No, see, the moral of this story is save early and often.”
He smiled and kissed her hair.
“Ah, I see. A cautionary tale, then.”
“Yup. Heed well, my friend.”
There was a knock at the door.
“Ooo, food!” Willow said, bouncing up and down a little in a supremely distracting sort of way.
“Ah, yes. Keep doing that and we're not going to be eating anytime soon.”
“Oh! Oops,” she said, grinning back at him unapologetically as she leaned forward and put the laptop on the coffee table. He quickly hopped up and skirted around the table before she could actually get him into a state unfit to answer the front door in. The fact that he was wearing nothing but a robe was quite bad enough.
She was a few steps behind him as he opened the door, carefully back out of the line-of-sight, given her state of dress, and he was half-turned towards her, about to comment on her lack of decorum.
But his comments died on his lips when he glanced briefly towards the delivery man.
Or, rather, the person at his door.
Who was not actually a delivery man.
“Oh god,” Willow gasped, after they'd all stared at each other for a bit, “Tara!”
She could hardly remember the scramble to get her clothes together, could hardly remember running out the door. She wasn't aware of much at all, really, until she'd caught up with Tara, grabbed her arm, pulled them both to a halt.
Oh, goddess, tears--
And: “Don't touch me!”
And Tara was pulling away, stumbling backwards, crying and shouting, “How could you? How could you?”
“Tara! God, Tara, I'm so--I--”
Her world was spinning, everything off kilter, only a few words really cutting through it, like “trusted” and “loved” and... and all the accusations, all true... “With Giles? God, Willow--”
“I thought-- I asked you if anything was wrong-- I don't... I don't understand.”
Tried to touch her, her hand, her arm. Had to... but Tara was still pulling away, like she was made of fire.
“Tara... I'm so sorry!”
Anger now, flashing in those teary eyes, “Sorry for what, Willow? Sorry you did it? Or sorry I found out?”
Too many feelings, too much everything. Too many lies and half-truths and hopes and wants...
Tara was backing away again, a few slow steps, shaking her head.
“Too long, Willow. Wrong answer. I-- I'm not... I can't-- I thought... I thought we had something. Something special.”
“We did! We do! Tara... baby, I... I love you.”
Tara's arms wrapped around herself, like a shield, blocking her out. Like a cross warding off a vampire. It burned.
“Then why? Why?”
What answer was there? What to say to erase that pain, bring down those barriers?
And in all this, her body was still trembling, still flushed with the reaction from him. Still remembering his lips, his warmth, his arms... the tinge of desperation in his voice, always there when he said he loved her.
“I don't know!” she cried, suddenly, because it was the only truth she could find. “I don't... I'm so... I don't know anything. I don't know... I don't know what I am, who I am... I don't know what I want.”
Saying it aloud was like opening the floodgates, feeling it all rush in, and she could suddenly barely breathe through the sobs, was suddenly holding herself tight, arms wrapped around her middle like if she held on hard enough maybe she wouldn't come apart at the seams.
“I'm so scared, Tara. I'm so confused. I just-- I just wish... I don't even know! I love you and... and I love him... and it's all so--”
“You love him?”
Tara was quieter now, calmer, as though Willow's own breakdown had eased her own.
“I--” Willow sniffled, breathed deep, tears still flowing, but slower, “I think so... I... I know I do. But... Tara, I love you, too.”
But now she wasn't looking at her. She was looking away, at the sidewalk, at the cars, at the trees, but not at Willow. Willow's tears dried slowly, she couldn't move, couldn't cry anymore. Something was happening, something dreadful.
When Tara did look at her, finally, her eyes were dry.
“I told you a long time ago, Willow. You should be with the one you love.”
And then she was walking away, leaving Willow frozen. Horrified.
The sight of her retreating back burned across her retinas. Something deep inside was being pulled along with her, stretching to the breaking point as she walked away.
Then Willow knew what she had to do. It was so simple.
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