He was waiting. He hated waiting. It was, he was sure, one of the worst feelings in the world. Waiting, and not knowing.
And then there was guilt, yet another shining example of hell on earth.
And humiliation. That one was good, too.
He'd watched her, how she was, after Tara had fled. How panicked, how desperate. How she hadn't even looked at him on her way out the door.
And, yes, he realized, as he trudged up the stairs, found his slacks, his shirt, that she hadn't had much time. That she had to go to her, had to say something... but at the same time... he almost wished she hadn't. Had a fantasy, somewhere in her mind, that she'd let her go. Sort things out later, maybe, but that she'd be...
Relieved, on some level.
Like he had been.
Horrid as it was, taking comfort in another's agony... when he'd seen her there in his doorway, when he'd realized there was no way around this one, he'd felt... something almost like joy. Like a heavy burden had been lifted.
He'd had no idea how heavy it had been, until it was gone.
Now Tara knew.
Where would that lead?
He sat down on the couch, dressed now, and waiting.
The silence was thick around him, and seemed like a blanket, cutting him off from the rest of the world. There, on his couch, in the comfort of his home, he felt more completely alone than he'd ever felt before. It brought back, suddenly, the dream he'd had a few weeks earlier, of embracing darkness, and cold, and distances far too long, separations far too great.
He thought of scotch, of the warmth of it, artificial though it was, and for a moment, he ached for it, like it was the embrace of a lost lover. Shut his eyes, bowed his head. Remembered the life inside of him, and resisted, though one drink probably wouldn't hurt it. One thing lead to another. Always did. Remained on the couch, instead, in the silence.
Until the door opened softly behind him, and he could breathe again. Twisted around and saw her there. And she was smiling.
The twist of hope in his heart was by far more painful than anything else, and even as he stood crossed the room to her, saw the tear tracks dried on her cheeks...
He was still alone.
She was still smiling. Reached for him and touched his cheek. Smiling, with salt crystals in her eyelashes.
“That's settled,” she said.
Crushing pressure of not-enough-air in his lungs, world still slightly off-base. Half-convinced that maybe this truly was just a dream, or a fantasy, come a little too close to life. His heart hammered, ready for when the other shoe would drop.
“Oh?” he said, because it was all he could manage.
Touching her, so lightly, like she was fine china, his fingertips just skating over her arms.
“Yup. All better now,” she said.
She tugged on his hair, pulled him down and kissed him, and he felt it to his toes, even that phantom brush of pink lips. He pushed in closer, kissed her back, harder, deeper, feeling the pressure of teeth, tasting her breath. Tasting the salt of tears.
He pulled back, just enough. Saw her, her heart shining in her eyes.
And knew. Knew something wasn't right.
“Giles?” she said, and her brow drew in just a bit, a flicker of doubt moved behind her eyes.
“You told her?” he said. But even as he spoke, each word grew harder to force out, like watching a horror movie, every instinct screaming not to open that door. “About us?”
Then he didn't need to hear her words. Didn't want to. Couldn't stand to. Reeling was the only term to describe what he felt. Falling, freefall, no bottom in sight. Staggering back away, suddenly needing space, suddenly, again, still, unable to breathe.
Words--excuses, ridiculous excuses--echoing in his mind. And with them, rage. And this time he couldn't hold that rage on himself. Never again wanted to hear her say:
“Well, not exactly. I mean... not at all... Giles, what--”
And then, then...
“But it's better. I mean, I fixed things! I just, I just did this little, teeny-weeny memory charm--”
Time didn't stop. The clock on the desk was ticking. Steady. Slow.
But they didn't move. She didn't speak, didn't finish the sentence.
He couldn't speak either. Could hardly think, anything beyond: memory charm.
Then, she did speak. Foolish child.
Foolish child speaking to a far more foolish man.
“I'm still gonna tell her...”
And he had to laugh. Because that was so utterly incidental to the true issue as to be meaningless. So he laughed. Half-hysterical, he knew, could see the fear and confusion written across her face, and wasn't that priceless? Didn't even know what she'd done.
Where the hell had he been? What the hell had he been thinking? How had he never bothered to teach her the slightest thing about magic? About *ethics*? Maybe he'd truly been fool enough to think she'd understood them already.
He stumbled onto control of himself unexpectedly, and was suddenly straight-faced, dead serious.
“What?” she said, and looked honestly surprised.
He repeated his statement, slowly, for her benefit, feeling the rage swell again, and just barely battling it back, even as he found, preemptively, the closest inanimate object for if the need to hit something became a little too powerful.
“Why? Come on, Giles, it's better this way.”
Impressed himself with his control when he said: “You can't just erase someone's memory because it's convenient, Willow.”
“Well, I didn't, like, completely erase--”
“That isn't the point! Willow, you altered her *mind.* Without her knowledge or consent--”
And suddenly, like a spark, his anger seemed to jump to her, and she shoved close to him, shouting, “It's not hurting her! Seeing us like *that* was hurting her!”
Trembling now, fists clenched, just a moment away from an act he'd regret, hating the feeling but hating this whole damned situation more. Felt his control slipping even as he ground out the words:
“Undo it. Now.”
She pulled back sharply, and glared up at him, a petulant, child's glare. Spoke with the quick, sharp tones of annoyance. Mere annoyance, so entirely missing the point, as she said:
“Ok. We've been sleeping together for, like, two weeks now, Giles. Doncha think it's about time you stopped actin' like my father?”
One breath, and then, he lost it.
“*Damn it,* Willow, do you not understand? What you did--what you did to *Tara,* whom you claim to love--it's like rape, Willow.”
She recoiled, sharply enough that she bumped back against the door, eyes wider than he'd seen them in a long time. And he pulled away, horrified. Turned away, had to reach out to touch the desk, something solid, anything solid.
“Wha- *What?* Giles-- it-- I-- It's *nothing* like... like... *that.* What the heck are you--”
He could speak calmly now, like the calm in the eye of a hurricane, staring down at the floor, feeling the words pour out like a recitation of memorized texts, “It is an assault on one's body and mind against their will. It's very much like--”
“Oh, fer crying out loud!” were the last words he heard before the door slammed shut behind her.
She came back, hours later. It was late, and the night was well and truly dead, but he was still awake, still sitting, quietly, in his living room, letting music wash over him in lieu of the alcohol he was craving. He heard the door open. Stood up and turned around in place, let her come to him. Shifted restlessly when she got closer, silently warned her to keep her distance. Then waited.
“I'm sorry,” she said, and he knew she meant it.
She really was beautiful. He hadn't cried since Jenny died. But he could feel tears now, hot and roiling just below the surface.
“You undid the spell,” he said, but couldn't find the energy in him at all to give the words intonation or feeling, not even enough to put a questioning rise at the end of the sentence. The words fell flat from his lips, only given texture by the roughness of his voice.
He saw her answer on her face a moment before she spoke, saying, “Um. No, not yet, but--”
Something stirred tiredly inside of him, that may have once been an emotion, and he said, drily, “You know, those are rapidly becoming my least favorite words.”
Her protests drifted past him unnoticed, and he responded, automatically, “When will you?”
Couldn't look at her, could barely stand to hear her, saying she'd undo the spell once she figured out what to say. He ached, all over, and deep inside.
So beautiful, but not his. Never truly his.
He sat down again.
“I can't do this anymore,” he said, because it was only the truth.
She questioned him, he knew she would.
“I just can't, Willow. This-- this was never meant to be to begin with.”
“But... but it is, it was...”
She sat down beside him, and he felt the couch dip beneath her weight, felt himself shift towards her an infinitesimal inch. And so he edged a little farther away. Kept looking down at his hands and feeling vertigo.
“Go back to Tara, Willow.”
“But, Giles... Giles, I... I know I haven't-- I'll do better, I swear, I just... I love you, I want to be with you--”
He shut his eyes.
“Willow, I'm not offering. I'm telling. This is over.”
He listened to the sound of his own breath, one in, one out, steady, slow.
Ten more breaths. And then.
It was when she got home... got back to the dorm... that she first began to really understand. When she pushed the door open and walked in, shaky and sick inside, and there was Tara, sitting at her computer, waiting up for her to get back from her alleged trip to the chem lab, and smiling, and so completely unaware.
So different from the girl that had been sobbing only a few hours before.
The feeling was so strong, Willow couldn't move away from the door, couldn't even pull her key out of the lock. The *wrongness* of it. Of Tara being so oblivious.
All the feelings she'd been having that night, all directed at Giles: the anger, the fear... suddenly turned around, surged inside herself, about herself. She'd done this. And he was right. Of course he was.
“Willow? What's wrong?”
Strange, because she knew she could leave it this way, no one but him the wiser. She could stay with Tara and Tara would never know.
But she could hear his voice, still, and see the... the betrayal on his face. And she knew, that really... she couldn't.
Tara was reaching for her, so she caught her hand, held it in her own. Felt, for what she knew was the last time, the slender bones, soft skin.
Tears welled in her eyes as she said, “Tara... I did something really bad tonight.”
“Oh?” Tara's voice was small, but gentle, “Ok. Here, let's... let's sit down, ok?”
Willow let herself be led over to the bed, and sat down on it, beside Tara, her hand still wrapped around hers.
She looked down, and confessed.
“You know, how you asked me, the other day, if something was wrong?”
“Well... something... something kinda is. Kinda... was. Is. Whatever.” She paused, reached for breath, and continued. “I-- I've been... having an... I've... been with... someone else.”
She could *feel* Tara's reaction. Could feel her stiffening, feel her freezing over.
“It's... it's Giles,” she said, staring down at her hands, feeling a teardrop well and fall over her eyelashes.
Now Tara was standing, was pulling away.
“Oh god... I-- You-- I thought you were spending... just too much time with him... but... oh god.”
Tears falling freely now, but her voice was steady.
“I'm so sorry, Tara. So sorry. I should have told you, right away. But I... I didn't know. Anything.”
“How... how could... I thought...”
“I did, Tara. I love you. I loved you. But... he's... I've loved him for a long time. And... and I wish there was an easy way to say this, but... there's not. There's just not.”
“Oh god,” Tara said again, and she could hear her sitting down suddenly, in the chair at Willow's desk.
“More? How could there be more? What, are you married? Pregnant?”
“No... no... it's... Tara, earlier tonight, you... you caught us.”
“You came to Giles's apartment. He opened the door ‘cause he thought it was the Chinese delivery guy. But it wasn't. It was you. And we were all... not entirely dressed.”
“Willow, what are you talking about? I never--”
“You did. You did.”
“No, I didn't, I'd remember-- oh. Oh no.”
Willow stood up. She felt empty inside as she murmured the words to end the spell. Then she said, “I'll get my stuff. I can move back home for awhile.”
And so he was alone. Again.
Day three without Willow, and here he was, in his empty apartment. The first few days without Willow had been made--almost--easier by the arrival of Quentin Travers and the Watcher's Council. Seeing Buffy put them firmly in their place had even drawn an actual smile from him... and having an official job as Watcher again truly warmed him more than he'd expected it would.
Not to mention that with the... with his current condition, an extra source of income was nothing to be scoffed at.
He had to laugh, though, at the thought of what the Council would make of all of that. And especially of his decision to actually--
To actually have this baby.
He furrowed his brow and concentrated, rolling the word over in his mind. Imagining the babies he'd known. His first nephew, just born, tiny and red and scrunched and just about the ugliest thing he'd ever seen. And yet, strangely alluring.
He remembered the first time they'd placed the baby in his arms, how he'd grinned down at it and bestowed the benediction, “may you grow up to be nothing like your father,” and how his brother had glared and his sister and sister-in-law had laughed.
Such tiny little things. So fragile.
He moved, suddenly, leaning forward and grabbing the edge of the laptop that had been lying dormant on his coffee table ever since that night. He opened it, and touched the power button with a cautious finger.
The machine obediently purred to life. He watched with a kind of nervous fascination as it ran through its start-up routines.
He managed to get online on his first try, and typing in “pregnancy.com” got him immediately to a bright, text-heavy website.
It was an utterly and completely overwhelming excess of information.
He closed the window, and stared for a few minutes at the plain blue wallpaper of the computer's desktop.
Then he took a deep breath and tried again.
This time, he read a bit of the text. The first link that drew his eye was one titled “is it safe?” Since that was the big question in his mind, he clicked it.
Only to find that this page, too, was a sea of too-much-information. Questions that had never occurred to him at all were present here, such as “Is it safe to get a manicure while pregnant?” and “Is it safe to eat soft cheese while pregnant?”
His mind was spinning, and he found himself hoping, desperately, that the answers to these bizarre questions were yeses. Otherwise, this whole pregnancy thing truly was far too dangerous. It would be a miracle that anyone was born normal.
He retreated from that section and tried the pregnancy calendar, instead.
After he'd entered the date of conception and assumed that, were he a woman, he'd have a normal cycle of 28 days, the website cheerfully informed him that he was on week 19 of his adventure. One week shy of halfway.
The baby, the site said, was six inches long now, and 8 and a half ounces. It was working on developing sensory areas in the brain.
He was captivated.
Especially by the next line: “If your baby is a girl...”
He reached out and actually touched the screen, trailing his fingers over those words. A girl. It could be a girl, he didn't know.
He let himself think about it. A baby. His baby. His child.
He touched his stomach, and for the first time, it was with a sense of wonder rather than terror. True, the fear was still there, lurking just below the surface, surging now and then. But for the moment, it was different. For the moment, he could close his eyes, and think what it might feel like to hold this child in his arms.
For a moment, he actually felt excited.
He hadn't thought he'd ever have children. He wasn't adverse to the idea, if the right woman had come along, but he'd just never thought it very probable.
He smiled, rubbed his hand back and forth, and then held still, waiting, until he felt one of the telltale shifts inside of him.
Even as he felt a certain warmth in his heart, and as he forced himself to think about it, to make it true in his mind... it wasn't entirely real. It still seemed rather like an exceedingly odd dream, or like a misread passage of a text. Like when you hear a song, and are half-convinced the lyric was “pickles in my head,” although you know, deep down, that of course that wasn't truly what it was.
So he thought: it needs a name.
Or possibly *she* needs a name.
His only niece was named Brianna, although she preferred to go by “Bri” like the cheese, a preference which he'd never entirely understood. His sister's name was Maureen and his mother's was Margaret. Much as he loved the people, neither name really appealed to him.
Oddly, or possibly not so oddly, the first name to follow on the heels of those was Buffy. And honestly, that was not a name he'd inflict on a child, either. Elizabeth, though, had its charm. But then, he also wasn't quite sure how Buffy would react to having a child of his named after her. She'd probably find it odd. Or possibly even morbid.
He set aside that line of reasoning.
Willow's mother's name was Sheila.
That really didn't have any bearing on anything.
And then, he thought:
His breath caught for a moment, and he found himself shutting his eyes. No. Could no more name a child Jenny than he could name a child Randall. An innocent baby didn't need such dark connotations.
So he changed tactics, moved away from names he knew.
Catherine, perhaps. A good name, with inoffensive nicknames: Kate or Katie or Cathy.
Amanda, maybe, which, for some reason he couldn't begin to comprehend, he could imagine quite clearly stitched in script on a pastel baby blanket.
Hmm. A blanket. He supposed she, it, would need one of those. And clothing. And a crib. And... a rocking chair?
Then it stuck him.
Where on earth was he going to put all of that?
He suddenly had that feeling, that kind that feels like ice water sinking through your insides, that kind the dims the lights in the room, and suddenly focuses your mind on one thought and one thought alone, like a single spotlight on a dark stage.
This apartment was not big enough for a baby.
Then his door burst open and Xander and Buffy blasted in.
In a panic, he lunged for the button to close the browser window, but at the last minute, he stopped himself. No reason to hide it, he supposed.
Xander apparently hadn't missed his startled jolt, though, and made a point of leaning in towards the computer.
“Surfing the web for internet porn again, Giles? For shame.”
“Wait a minute. That's not demons. That's babies.”
Buffy, who had already made herself at home on the other couch, now sat up to look at them.
“Baby humans,” Xander said.
“What?” Buffy said.
This time, Giles really did close the window, and turned towards Buffy, and shooed Xander back a bit.
“Yes. Um. There's... something I should tell you both.”
They both just looked at him, with almost matching expressions of “I'm all ears” on their faces.
“I've... er... I've decided to. Um.”
He found the words were harder to say than he'd anticipated, especially with Buffy's attention so riveted upon him. After a scant moment of silence, Xander began tossing out suggestions.
“What? Move to Tahiti? Sell the Magic Box and run away with a tramp half your age?”
Giles's brow furrowed, but no more, he hoped, than it ordinarily would in response to Xander's idiocy. However, in Xander's favor, the annoyance did make it easier to get the words out.
“Keep the baby.”
Silence fell over the room.
Then, Buffy squealed.
“Giles! That's awesome! What are you gonna name it? When's it gonna be born? Huh? Details!”
He couldn't even explain, though, that he had no real details, as she'd bounded over to him and was currently squeezing the breath out of him, and possibly breaking his ribs.
“Buffy,” he gasped, and she let go, looking contrite.
“Oh. Sorry. It's just... this is so cool! A baby! A little baby Giles! It's gonna be so cute!”
He looked over to Xander and found the boy simply staring at him, mouth slightly open, and an obvious vacancy behind his eyes.
“Wait. You. Uh. But.”
“Yes. I... realize it's a bit much to, um, wrap one's head around. I myself haven't entirely, well, managed it yet...”
“But you're a guy!” Xander yelped, coming back online with a snap. “Guys don't... Guys can't... It's just... It's against all known laws of nature! It shouldn't be allowed!”
“Actually, yeah, Xander kinda has a point.”
“What?” he looked back to Buffy, who was now looking concerned.
“I mean, can you? Won't it, like, screw you up or something?”
“Oh. Well, no. Not physically, in any case. The spell is designed to... completely provide all of the necessary... organs and, um. Hormones. For a normal pregnancy.”
“Uh. All?” Buffy looked suddenly extremely grossed out.
“Well,” he amended quickly, “All, um. Internal. Organs.”
She still looked... unsettled. But then she brightened.
“So! You know what this means?”
He dreaded her next statement, but it came, nonetheless.
“This means shopping!”
So, the next day, Buffy dragged Giles out to Sunnydale's major hub of suburbia, a shopping center across the street from the mall, home of the only Starbucks and McDonald's in the town, as well as several chain stores, including one of those massive baby superstores.
Ok, not the most creative place to go, but definitely large.
Dawn hopped out of the car first, practically vibrating with energy at the prospect of “cute baby stuff!!!” Giles was the last out, and he was regarding the store with undisguised horror already. She'd seen him look at mucus-y demons with more affection.
So she just grabbed his arm and tugged, dragging the poor guy along in pursuit of her sister.
“Come on, Giles, it's not that bad.”
“I... don't think I can do this,” he said, weakly.
She rolled her eyes.
“See, this is why men don't have the babies. You know, I think I explained my policy on this subject a few years ago.”
Then they were walking in the door, feeling the rush of the building's climate control wash over them. Giles froze on the spot.
“Breathe, Giles. This is supposed to be fun.”
His look ranked an 6.5 on the skepticism scale.
“Yeah. I mean, it's exciting! You're shopping for stuff for your baby! Your offspring! You should be experiencing awe and joy, and going completely unnecessarily gooey over stuff like--”
At that moment, Dawn ran up to them, clutching a teeny-tiny yellow jumpsuit with rabbits all over it.
“--that,” Buffy finished.
“Isn't it the cutest thing ever?” Dawn was gushing. “It's so little! And it has bunnies on it! We could totally traumatize Anya. It'd be funny!”
Giles's gaping lack of response apparently didn't slip Dawn's notice, because she flipped the jumpsuit around and frowned at it.
“What? You don't like the color?”
Years of training with him had Buffy fairly attuned to how Giles telegraphed his movements, and right now, his body language was screaming that he was plotting to bolt off in the direction of the exit any second now. Concern broke through her amusement.
“It's great, Dawn. Why don't you go see what else you can find for a minute.”
Dawn gave Buffy a look, and Buffy looked back more firmly, and then Dawn frowned again, but obediently, for once, headed back to the clothing racks.
Buffy turned her attention back to Giles, who was eyeing the high rafters of the store as though in awe of its size.
“Hey... this is really bothering you, isn't it?”
“Hmm?” he said, then looked at her. “Oh. Well. No more than any, um. Expectant parent, I suppose. Well, possibly a little more... It's all just... a bit overwhelming. More than a bit, actually.”
And then she realized something. She'd been so caught up in the rather amusing novelty of a man, pregnant, that she'd never even really thought about it in terms of just a person, pregnant.
“Yeah,” she said, sobered now, “I guess it would be.”
They stood together for a few minutes, then Buffy said, “Well, here's what we could do. We can look around a little, no actual purchases. Focus on the fun stuff. Not think about the whole issue of, like, cribs and diapers and stuff. You know, we look at, like, cute yellow suits with bunnies on them. And... baby booties! And, you know, stuff like that. Baby blankets.”
And for some reason, though he'd been looking doubtful up to that point, something seemed to shift in his expression at that last bit. He relaxed a bit, enough for her to see, at least, and said, “Well. I suppose... I could handle that.”
So they started towards the clothing department, with Giles looking only slightly panicky.
“So... do you know if it's a girl or boy?”
“Uh, no. Not yet. I was thinking of calling Ben today or tomorrow, actually.”
“Cool. Which do you want? I know you've gotta have a preference.”
He smiled, then, a real smile, and stopped in front of the first rack of baby stuff, little sleepers in pastel pinks and yellows and greens.
“A girl, I think.”
“Hey, all right. You could name her after me.”
He'd picked one of the sleepers off the rack, a pink fuzzy number, and had cocked his head to the side to eye it uncertainly. At her words, though, he grinned.
“Believe or not, the thought crossed my mind.”
“Really? Wow. I'm touched.”
He put the fuzzy thing back, and said, straight-faced, “Well, of course, I then came to my senses and realized Buffy was no name fit for a human child.”
She punched him, and he said “ow” between chuckles.
“Loser,” she said, then noticed a little purple shirt with pictures of various sweets under the title ‘Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice.' She snagged it off the rack.
“Ooo, look, Giles, I think that's a jelly donut. How appropriate.”
“Oh, so you two dorks did decide to join the party after all, huh?” Dawn said, walking up with her arms crossed. “Hey, Buffy, did you give him the thing?”
“Yeah, you know. Willow's thing.”
Giles did an odd twitchy thing at the mention of... one of those words. Willow, or thing, or possibly the combination of the two. Whatever it was, Buffy quickly dug into her purse and found said thing.
“Oh, yeah. Willow asked me to give you this. Told me to tell you that she did this... ‘before.' Something. She didn't say what. Said you'd know. Anyway. It's a charm.”
He took it from her and looked at it uneasily. It was a small stone, polished and green and veined, woven into a hemp bracelet.
“See, apparently you told her about the whole baby thing before us. We're hurt, by the way. But, anyway. This is supposed to make it so anyone who doesn't know you are... you know... can't tell.”
He pulled his head back in mild surprise, and then looked more closely at the stone.
“Oh, and, since you two are apparently so buddy-buddy now... did she tell you why she broke up with Tara? ‘Cause she just won't tell us at all.”
“No way you didn't know,” Dawn broke in, “It was like, days ago. She didn't tell you?”
He looked way more shocked than the situation warranted, Buffy thought, although it was kinda weird.
“No... No, she... why?”
“Uh, Giles. That's what I just asked you.”
“Yeah, it's totally weird how much she's not talking about it. I mean, like, remember Oz? And how she made you blind, and made Buffy marry Spike, and made me into a five-year-old? That was so annoying.”
Giles had folded the bracelet into his hand.
“Is she all right?”
“Yeah, actually. I mean, not great, but... she's coping a lot better than that other time.” She paused, then added, “And how about we don't talk about depressing breakups. And ugh, marrying Spike. We're supposed to be shopping.”
But he still seemed off. He even spent a little while talking about, of all things, Spike's redeeming features. Finally, in desperation, Buffy did the only thing she could think of to cheer him up.
She found the book department.
And then stood back and nodded with satisfaction as he dove in like a fish out of water suddenly finding the sea.
“Good call,” Dawn said. “Shall we go and squeal over the cute little booties now?”
“He'll be here a while, so... let's shall.”
She'd just moved back to the dorms today, after all the administrative stuff had been sorted out. Her roommate seemed like a nice girl, but resentful, because for the first few weeks of the semester she'd had the room to herself.
Also, her major decorating motif seemed to be... crosses. And it didn't seem like she was going for the vampire-repelling aspect. So, yeah, that might be a bit awkward. On the other hand, though, it might make going easy on the magic and the Wicca stuff a bit less of a challenge.
Right now, said roomie was away, at her bible study group, and Willow had the place to herself.
It was quiet. And empty. And she was... lonely. Just lonely.
She sighed and looked back down at the big book she'd bought at the Magic Box yesterday, when Giles was out on his lunch break.
“Magical Atrocities: A History of Magic From An Ethicist's Standpoint”
Tiny text, pretentious tone, dense language. She groaned, and her eyes hurt. But she forged onwards. She had to.
Because she had to get him back.
A few days later, he had an appointment with Ben.
They'd agreed to meet in the waiting room of the ER, because he figured that a single man in the waiting room of the OB/GYN ward might be a little odder than he would like to appear. He was early. He'd spent the better part of the morning wandering aimlessly about his apartment, and finally decided he might as well just come in. He'd been here for about a half-hour now, perusing the local real estate listings.
He noted that, in spite of all their efforts over the years, houses in Sunnydale were still disturbingly affordable.
Well, at least that worked out in his favor.
He'd just circled another possibility when Ben appeared through the typical Sunnydale ER crowd.
“Ah, Mr. Giles. Hi. Come on back.”
So they made their way back through the ER into the hospital proper and on into the OB/GYN ward, exchanging the usual pleasantries, comments about the weather, about the health of Buffy's mother.
The closer they got, the more agitated the flock of butterflies in his stomach became. He felt like he was going to meet his child for the first time, and he wasn't quite sure if he was ready, if he could face up to that level of reality, yet. Actually “seeing” the baby, actually receiving the pamphlets and the lectures and the... gender.
“You doing all right there?” Ben asked.
Giles sighed inwardly. Honestly, he was a trained Watcher. This propensity for panic he'd picked up lately was highly uncharacteristic and rather humiliating.
“Fine,” he said, shortly, then immediately regretted his harsh tone. “Sorry. This is all still... rather odd.”
“Yeah, I can imagine. Having someone else in your body. It's... I mean, I'm sure it must be a little unsettling.”
He managed a tight smile as they walked into the exam room, and he changed into a gown and sat down on the table while Ben left for a few moments to go and get some files. When Ben came back, they went through a quick physical which involved bloodletting and uncomfortable abdominal palpation.
When that was over, Ben gave Giles a moment to change back into his own clothes, and then started in on the lecture portion of the event. Sure enough, there were handouts and charts and a list of suggested reading (most of which were books Giles had already purchased).
Giles had spent most of his life learning how to best find and internalize information, so listening and absorbing everything was actually easy, and even comforting in its familiarity. Having the knowledge was also a vast improvement over facing the unknown.
And then, Ben picked up the last manilla envelope.
“So, basically, everything looks good. You seem to be in remarkably good shape, and the symptoms you're telling me about sound perfectly normal. If we could meet about every two weeks or so, that would be great, just to keep tabs on everything. The baby looked healthy when we did the ultrasound. So... you wanna see the pictures?”
The nervous butterflies were back, battering their little bodies against his insides.
“Yes-- er. Yes. Please.”
Ben tugged the film out of the envelope and leaned in, so they could both see. Giles had to look at the first picture for a moment, not seeing anything, but then Ben pulled out a pen and waved it over a part of the image.
“Here, we've got a hand. You see it? The bone structure?”
He did. A hand. How incredible.
The next image showed a curl of backbone, and the next, two feet. He'd seen this before, of course, but he'd been trying hard not to at the time. Trying not to acknowledge any of it, just desperately wanting it all to go away.
But now, he couldn't look away.
A profile shot showed a clear outline of a face, with a nose and lips and a chin and a forehead. He traced the line lightly with his index finger.
“Amazing,” he said.
“Yeah. It always is. Even when it's not quite as... extraordinary.”
Giles smiled back. Ben flipped to the next slide, and then swiftly pulled them out of Giles's line of sight.
“Now you gotta make a choice,” he said, “You want to know the gender?”
He didn't even hesitate.
Ben laid the slides down again, and pointed to a seemingly random area of gray and white and black.
“This one may be a little hard for you to see, but... if you look right around here you can see.”
Giles looked, but couldn't make heads or tails of it.
“Congratulations,” Ben said, “You've got yourself a little boy.”
It had been two and a half weeks since she'd lost Giles. And Tara. She hadn't spoken to either of them beyond a few short words in passing since, but she had been watching him. The Wicca stuff had, as she'd expected, seriously freaked out her roomie, so she'd finally just given in and gone back to studying at the Magic Box. It was a comfort, being near him, even if they didn't speak.
He wore her charm, she saw, and a good thing, too, probably, because it seemed like his stomach grew a little more everyday. You could still look at him now, maybe, and not guess, but in a little while, she was thinking it was gonna be pretty obvious.
She ached inside, though, watching him. He talked to Buffy, with a certain spark in his eyes that just hadn't been there before. He spent every spare moment reading books ranging from What to Expect When You're Expecting to Grey's Anatomy (which even Willow thought was a bit towards the overkill side). A small ultrasound photo appeared, subtly tacked up on the corkboard over the coffee maker. She had to make excuses to Buffy about why she couldn't go with them as he house-hunted.
She got her Giles news from Buffy, in conversations where she pretended to know more than she did, where she let her believe they still spoke to each other. From Buffy, she learned that the baby was a boy, learned that Giles still didn't have a name for him. She learned that there was a house in Buffy's neighborhood Giles was eyeing, and that he was trying to figure out exactly how to explain this all to his family.
She watched as Xander reeled in denial for about a week, and then suddenly, as he was wont to do, got over it and started discussing plans for a baby shower.
Which would be in one week.
So, here she was, at the mall, clutching the list that Giles had made of stuff he needed to buy. Buffy had absconded with the list, made copies, and handed them out to Xander, Willow, Anya, Joyce, and even Spike, oddly enough, saying something about how Giles seemed to like the guy or something. Xander had already claimed responsibility for his gift, as had Buffy.
The mall boasted a small rare books store, which catered mostly to the occult crowd. She'd seen Giles here often, and came by a lot herself. It was run by a little demon named Nej'k who looked human most of the time, except when he was revved up about something, and then he tended to revert to his true form, which looked something like a cross between a fetal pig and a fledgling eaglet. He deeply resented all jokes revolving around when pigs flew.
She stopped there first. Not for baby stuff, though. Nej'k had called her earlier, saying he'd gotten in a couple of volumes of the diaries of Jacob Hills, who had been referenced in one of the ethics texts as a classic example of a sorcerer falling from grace. She'd read an excerpt of his writings in that book, and the words had oozed regret like blood, talking of the loss of family, friends. The needless death and suffering of those he loved.
Reading these things, she'd found, was like watching the videos in driver's ed. Blood and pain and shattered glass and twisted metal. All of it horrifying, heart-wrenching, and yet, so necessary.
Driving was power, magic was power. Both could be misused, both could backfire.
She was beginning to understand Giles's reactions to her magic use. What she'd thought of as condescension or jealousy, she now was beginning to suspect was more like fear.
The more she read, the more she wanted to ask him about Eyghon.
She chatted with Nej'k for a little while, then paid and left the shop.
And then, the whole mall sprawled before her, and she knew that somewhere in here, or possibly across the street at that baby place, was the perfect thing for Giles and the baby. She looked around at all the stores and despaired of ever finding it.
“I'm worried,” Buffy said.
“Hmm?” Giles was distracted. Was that a water spot up there in the corner, or just a trick of the light? He tilted his head and squinted.
“Giles? Attention for a moment, maybe?”
The light, he decided. Or perhaps not. It took him a few moments to pull his attention away and turn it onto his Slayer.
“I'm sorry, what were you saying? And does that look like--”
“Giles, forget the funky ceiling. This place still has disturbing vampire tingles, anyway.”
“Does it really?”
She threw up her hands.
“So not the point I'm trying to raise here!”
“Sorry. I rather like it, is all.”
It had personality. And a sense of history... something sadly lacking in most dwellings in these parts.
“I'm worried about Willow. And ew, Giles, three people just died here, like, a week ago. It's morbid.”
A nice den downstairs, with bookshelves already built in, and an actual, if small, dining area.
“Well, the same can be said for most--” Then he really heard what she'd said, and forgot all about the house. “Worried about Willow?”
“And finally, his train arrives at the station.”
“What about her?”
“Well, it's just, she's been really... withdrawn lately. I'm wondering if she's taking the whole Tara thing harder than she's letting on. And she's been reading some really odd and disturbing books. You should, like... talk to her or something.”
“Me? Why me?”
“Geeze, Giles. What are you, two? Anyway, because the rest of us, Anya included, already tried to talk to her, and she won't say anything.”
“Odd and disturbing?”
“Yeah. Like, I took a peek in one of ‘em, and it was like, a whole thing about this nutty guy, like, sacrificing his firstborn child or something. Which would make me more concerned if Willow had a firstborn child, but she doesn't, so I figure we're ok for a little while at least.”
“Dear lord,” he said, his head spinning. What was Willow getting herself into? “I should--”
He headed for the door, a surprised Buffy trailing after him, protesting his haste.
By the time he reached the Magic Box, his heart was hammering in his chest. He nearly knocked the bell off its hinges on his way in the door, startling Anya and a few customers, but paying them no mind, just hurrying to the back of the shop and the table where Willow sat. And finding her not there.
“Oh, hey,” Buffy said, “that's the book.”
It was lying open, in front of the chair Willow normally occupied. He reached for it, turned it towards himself.
And then went limp with relief, after reading only a few words.
“Jacob Hills's diaries,” he said.
There was a pause, and then Buffy said, “And... that's supposed to mean?”
“They're... more or less an ethics text.”
“Ethics? So, what? The message is ‘I sacrificed my son for fun and profit, but it didn't work out, so I don't recommend it?'”
He was staggered for a moment, then pulled himself together and said, “Well. Um. More or less. Although, he never actually--”
And then, a soft voice came from the direction of the training room.
Willow, standing just beneath the loft, hanging back like a shy child. He pulled away from diary and table. Formed his lips into a smile for the benefit of Buffy and Anya.
“Just, um, looking for a book. Which, ah, isn't here. At home, I believe.”
He left the shop then, and drove home, his head still spinning slightly as he began to understand.
He'd been watching her, the past few weeks. She had stayed away from him, she'd left Tara. She'd been reading, more than usual, and now... now he knew what it was she was reading. Jacob Hills. And probably others. Maybe Milo Jennings, Annette DeCanto. The histories, the accounts, that she'd avoided or maybe ignored. The books he'd never given her when he should have, perhaps, about powerful magics, gone horribly wrong. People dead, lives destroyed, realities thrown out of balance. He'd feared exposing her to even the idea of such dark magics... but how could one know the risks if they had never been shown them? If they'd only seen the light, how could they truly know of the darkness?
He should have shown her, when she'd been so young and earnest, and only wanted to learn.
Now, he knew, the books would bite like whip lashes. Knew every word would tingle with the power of potential autobiography, the guilt within them internalizing and turning on her own self.
Even for him, they had been like a gauntlet of fire, and his heart had never been as open as hers.
He pulled up to the curb in front of his apartment and dropped his forehead on his hands on the steering wheel, eyes shut, heart aching.
Willow. Oh, poor, dear Willow.
The next day, she left her books on the table when she went to class. When she came back, lying atop the rest of her stuff was a book she hadn't seen before. Volume twelve of Hills's diaries, which Nej'k had been unable to find.
She slipped it into her bag, but she didn't read it. Not right away. Couldn't stand to. Couldn't stand any more of it: the horror and then the anguish. Plus, the next day, Dawn found out about being the Key, and everything went a little nuts for awhile. She finally picked it up again the night before the baby shower. She figured she should read it, and then give it back to him.
She noticed the difference immediately.
Hills had turned himself over to the Watcher's Council and his spirit had been imprisoned in a mystical dungeon in a neighboring dimension for one hundred years, where time passed differently. He'd written the diaries there, when he'd had nothing to do but regret. Five years had passed in the “real” world when he was returned to his own dimension and body.
This diary was written fifteen years after that.
In it, he spoke of the son he had nearly destroyed growing to strong adulthood. He spoke of forgiveness from his former wife, of being accepted back into his father's house. He spoke of the joy of watching his sister's children playing, and feeling the summer breeze, and listening to the waves at the ocean.
The last entry was a few pages from the end of the book. He said he prayed others would learn from his mistakes, never see their loved ones in pain because of their actions.
But what was most remarkable about the last entry was an old, folded sheet of paper, tucked in between the pages.
She laid it flat gently and saw writing in a hand very different from Hills's. The text made her heart stagger.
“Redemption is the most vital part of punishment. There is a word for punishment without redemption.
“Such a thing is not of any use to anyone.
“- E. R. G.”
She traced her finger over the letters in his name, up there at the top of this note, and felt a small shimmer of hope.
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