“I still don't see what's wrong with Alexander,” Xander said. “It's a good name!”
“Aw, come off it already, you little ponce. Don't see me going around telling him to call it William, huh?”
“Actually, you know, unsavory associations aside, I kinda like William,” Buffy put in.
Giles was feeling mellow from the slight overindulgence on cake and ice cream, so he was simply watching all of this with a slight smile. Buffy, Dawn, Xander and Anya were squeezed onto the couch, he was sitting in the armchair by the door, Joyce across the room from him in the other. Spike sat on the hearth of the fireplace.
He wasn't quite sure why the vampire was here, but, to his surprise, Spike was being, relatively speaking, perfectly cordial. Almost likable.
And then there was Willow, of course, sitting at the desk. Her earlier tension had faded as the sugar kicked in, and for the first time in a month, she really seemed herself again, smiling and watching the conversation bounce around the group.
“If you'd been a boy, you would have been named William,” Joyce said, and Buffy stared.
Then said, “How'd you get from William to Buffy, anyway?”
“You were born and... it was just you.”
“What were you gonna--” Dawn began, then stopped suddenly, her face clouding. “Never mind.”
Joyce answered anyway.
“You were always Dawn. From the moment I... realized I was... I knew.”
Dawn's brow furrowed ever so slightly, but before the silence could grow too deep, Willow said, “I was gonna be Jethro.”
The room universally “ewwed.”
“Where'd they come up with that?” Buffy asked.
“I didn't want to know...”
Giles was still hearing Joyce's words about knowing. He'd thought he'd known. To be honest, he'd mourned a little. The little girl who'd been living in his head for a few days was not the child that grew inside him, and it did hurt to let go of her. He didn't know why he'd been so convinced that his child was a daughter. In the end, he knew that all it really had been was hope.
Not that he was devastated. A son was as much a miracle, but it had simply been harder at first, to connect with the idea.
“So, come on, Giles,” Buffy's voice shook him from his reverie. “You must have, like, some ideas.”
Name ideas... After he'd learned it was a boy he had gone through the same ritual as before, naming relatives and friends, and discarding each name one by one, but deciding to use his father's name as a middle name. Then he'd started going by ear, names that he simply liked the sound of. None seemed right.
“I really don't know.”
He really didn't.
“Ok, then. We agreed to forgo the humiliating and occasionally downright disturbing baby shower party games, so the least we can do is get this baby a name,” Xander said. He snagged the little baby name book off the table, and opened to a random page, and, before anyone could begin to protest, began reading off names.
“Ok, Enrique, please god no. Ephraim, what? Epifanio? Ok... Eric. There, that's a normal one. And then, Ermin, back into the land of names to give a child you hate...”
But Giles wasn't really listening anymore. Xander's voice had fallen to a distant mocking cadence.
It meant powerful ruler. And if there was anything that this child was, powerful was it. And it was simple and smooth, and it just...
It just clicked.
“Uh, hey, Earth to Giles? I mean, I know ‘Erv' is pretty awful, but is it really checking-out-of-reality material?”
Oh. Right. Xander.
“Hmm? Oh. Sorry. I-- Eric.”
“Huh? No... Xander,” Xander said, carefully.
“No, I mean. Eric. I... I like it.”
“You do?” Buffy said, instantly abandoning the war of sarcasm she'd been having with Spike instead of listening to names.
“You do?” Willow echoed.
“Like, you like it in that ‘now the baby's got a name' sort of way?” Dawn said.
Every moment it seemed a little more right.
“I... I believe so.”
An awed silence fell over the room.
Until Dawn said, “Woohoo! This calls for presents.”
Giles was still quietly marveling when a wrapped box landed in his lap.
“Open mine first!”
Eric. Eric Edwin Giles.
And so long as he never spoke his middle name aloud, well, it wasn't even the sort of name that would get one's lunch money stolen. He tore away the wrapping paper distractedly, and opened the box within.
The contents only grabbed a little more of his attention, but he did manage an appropriate response apparently, because Dawn immediately began babbling on about the cuteness of the little baby shirts and little baby shoes. In all honesty, he was still rather baffled by the entire notion of going “gooey” over baby clothing, as Buffy put it. But he did have to admit that the tiny little things did have a certain charm.
The next gift plopped down as soon as the first was off his lap. Buffy's this time, and she was smiling as he opened it.
His fingers met soft fabric as he reached in. Warm sea green, like Caribbean waters. He pulled the blanket out and it fell around his arm and brushed his skin, like feathers.
“I looked, like, everywhere for that. It's pretty much exactly like the one I had. Only, mine was pink. And is now not in nearly such good shape. I dragged that thing around until I was five.”
He was smiling and rubbing his thumb over it.
He would have said more, but suddenly, Anya appeared between him and Buffy.
“Ok. Gratitude has been given and acknowledged. Time for my gift.”
He had to get up to get to her present, which was bulkier than Buffy's or Dawn's. Getting out of the chair was, as it had been lately, rather distressingly more difficult than it should have been.
Once unwrapped, the gift revealed itself to be a car seat.
“I researched thoroughly and found this is the seat rated most safe by several surveys. Which is good, as it would be quite distressing to go through all of this emotional turmoil and physical discomfort only to have your offspring flung through the windshield in a minor fender bender.”
“Good lord,” he said, as the rest of the room was silent in horror. But. Well, she did have an excellent point, if he thought about it. “That is, er, thank you. I truly appreciate the effort.”
And he did. Researching car seats had been one of the larger baby-related headaches he'd been trying to avoid. Although, seeing the thing in front of him now did bring up a small twinge of oh-god-my-poor-leather-seats. Ah, well. Parenthood was about sacrifice.
“Me next,” said a surprising voice.
“Spike? You brought a gift?”
Spike tried to look wounded.
“Course I did. Kind of the point of this whole deal, innit?”
There was a pause, and the Giles said, “Well?”
“Oh. Yeah.” Spike reached into his jacket and pulled out... a bottle of Scotch. He plunked it down on the table.
“Scotch?” Giles said.
“Well, yeah. Supposed to buy you stuff you'll need when the baby comes. Don't kid yourself, mate. That there's what you're gonna need.”
It was even his favored brand.
“Thank me later, Rupes. When you really mean it.”
Spike sat back down and Joyce was up next. Her gift was an assortment of baby stuff: powder, formula, infant tylenol, a small package of diapers.
“It's all the brands I used with Buffy and Dawn.”
His thanks to her was easy and heartfelt, and with it came a rush of relief that at least someone he knew here had actually been through all of this before.
“It's an adventure,” she said, “but it more than pays off.”
And then everyone, lead by Xander, was getting up.
“Gotta take a little field trip for mine,” Xander said.
“Well,” he added as they trailed the group up the stairs, “Not just mine. Everyone kinda chipped in on this one. But I.... well, you'll see.”
Everyone was gathered around Buffy's bedroom, and he felt a rush of nerves. What could they have gotten him that was--
He nearly gasped when he stepped through the door.
It was a crib, made of dark wood, polished to a shine. When he touched it, it was solid under his hand.
“It's beautiful. You--”
“Yup. One hundred percent Xander-made.”
He slid his hand back and forth over the rail. No rough spots, no splinters.
Xander could only hold his gaze for a fraction of a second, before ducking his head and saying, “Well, you know, nothing but the best for our favorite man who is with child.”
As was the intent, the mood was broken and they all headed back downstairs.
A little while later, the party wound down. Spike left, and Anya dragged Xander out the door, and Buffy and Dawn made Giles stay in the living room as they went to clean the kitchen.
And he was left alone. With Willow.
She got up suddenly, silently, and came over to half-perch on the end of the couch beside him, not quite meeting his eyes.
“I-- I couldn't think of what to get you.”
As it did, his body tingled to life at her nearness. He could feel her heat, her aura across the intervening space. She was so far away, though, even as she was near him, drawn so deep inside herself.
“It's all right,” he said.
“No... I should have... but...”
His hand literally itched with the urge to touch her, soothe her.
“Willow, this... this charm... it's invaluable. If you owed me anything, which you don't, this would more than compensate.”
She looked at him, a little, from behind her hair.
“Who's E. R. G.?”
So she had gotten the note.
“My father,” he said, and saw a small smile.
“I thought so, maybe.”
Then things were quiet between them. Uncomfortably so. He didn't know quite what to say to her. What she wanted. What he could have.
She spoke, suddenly, with a tinge of desperation in her voice that was intimately familiar to him.
“Giles, I... I know that I messed up. Really bad. But... I've... I've been trying. I understand now, what I did wrong, and, and I'm so sorry. For all of it.”
“I know. I know it was wrong to do that spell, I do. And I know that you can't just forgive me for the way I acted with Tara. But... but... couldn't we at least... maybe... someday, be friends again?”
“I--” But still, he wasn't quite sure what to say.
All he knew was his heart was breaking all over again.
“Willow, I-- I don't know... if I can trust you. I want to. I do. And you have been making a great deal of effort, I can see that--”
He heard himself talking down to her, saw her turning her head away to hide tears and stopped himself.
“There's a lot that I... need to think about. My child... *Eric.* He's my priority. I need to be sure I'm... doing what's best for him.”
“Yeah. Yeah, ok. I get that.”
She stood up, started to walk away. That wouldn't do. Not like that. He grabbed her hand.
It was like being kicked in the gut.
Her skin against his, after so long apart. She felt it too, her spine suddenly pulling straighter. They let go of each other, but he could still feel her.
He opened his mouth to say “I miss you,” but at that moment, Dawn burst into the living room, armed with a garbage bag, and began to gather up cups. Willow slipped out of the room and out of the house.
Three days later, three days of not speaking to each other again, of everything staying exactly as it had been for the past month, he stopped her as she was about to leave the shop.
“Oh, um, Willow. I need to talk with you.”
For a second, she half-expected it was a mistake, that he'd slipped up and would remember that they weren't speaking. She gave him an out as best she could, saying, “Me? Oh. Ok. Sure. Now?”
She took a few steps towards him, and hugged her books to her chest, and he didn't quite look at her, kept half his attention on the money he was... well, supposedly counting, although he didn't seem to be paying quite *that* much attention to it.
“Um, no actually. Could you stop by my place, a little later? Say sevenish?”
Her heart leapt. His place? He was letting her come to his house? This... this was big. She forced herself to play it cool.
“Uh. Sure. I mean, not like I have *plans* or anything.” Seeing as it was *Valentine's Day* and she was well and truly dumped. She thought for a moment, her mind buzzing from Giles to Valentine's Day and back again, then she added, oh so calmly, oh so subtly, “So... what's this about?”
He was frowning at the money now, and reshuffling it, obviously realizing that he hadn't actually counted any of it.
“Oh. Glory,” he said, distractedly, “A spell I found. It may be able to hurt her. I'd like to go over the details with you. See how plausible it sounds?”
She was disappointed. For a moment. Then realized what this meant.
“A spell? I mean, you'd want me to... do a spell?”
He looked up, really saw her this time.
“Of course. There's nothing wrong with magic, Willow. So long as you control it and understand it. And... I believe you have been making sincere efforts in those regards.”
“Yeah! I mean, I have. I really have.”
“Wonderful. Seven o' clock, then? Oh, and, um, don't bother eating. I'm sure I can find something.”
Dinner. At Giles's. Talking about magic.
It wasn't everything, but it was a start, and that... that was all she could really hope for; all she even needed, for now at least.
“Yeah, I'll-- I'll be there.”
But then there was nothing to do but go back to the dorm and wait.
She agonized for an hour over what to wear, finally settling on khakis and a tank top with a cardigan over it. Something soft. Touchable. Even though she knew that chances of *that* were... pretty much nonexistent.
Then, she had another hour to kill. It loomed before her like the vast Sahara desert.
She sighed. She was too wound up to do homework or read or even sit still. So she wandered around her dorm room until her roommate glared at her once too often, and then she left the dorm and drifted around campus until finally, her watch said it was fifteen ‘til. She might be a little early, but she couldn't wait any longer.
He'd bought her daisies. When he'd gone into the shop, he'd fully intended to buy her red roses. The past was the past, after all, and it was silly to let it continue to affect him so deeply. But the moment he'd stepped in the door and the scent of them hit him, it was like he was living it again. The horror was fresh as yesterday.
The air outside had been a sweet blessing, clear and cool and three years removed from the day he'd found his lover murdered. He'd gone home, and called in an order.
The daisies were on the table now, the one he'd wrestled out of storage and shoved the desk aside to make room for. They were lying between the good china plates and the wine glasses, petals brilliantly white in the half-light of candles.
Their message of absolution was too strong and he half-regretted them, but he had them now, and he would give them to her. Partly because at least some of their symbolic purity was telling the truth, and partly because this time, he was--*they* were--doing this right. No more hiding in the dark. Doing it right, or not at all.
Because they couldn't be friends now. Not when every time he touched her, he could *feel* her.
He knew he was too solemn as he pulled the chicken out of the oven, but the weight of thoughts on his mind was too heavy, and the burden was spilling over into his heart. So much could go wrong.
He shut his eyes, and breathed in deeply, pushing aside the doubt, and the tears that were too close to the surface. Told himself not to count the battle lost until it had actually been fought. Then he carried the chicken and the vegetables out to the table.
Checked the clock and saw it was still early. But if he knew Willow...
Sure enough, before the minute hand had even moved to the next tic mark, the door rattled and swung open. Something inside him leapt like a startled rabbit, and a distant part of himself was still calm enough to be embarrassed that he was more nervous now than he had been before a few apocalypses he could recall.
She stepped inside. Stopped. And gaped.
And he smiled and, just like that, was perfectly relaxed. Because this was Willow, and she was here, and they could make this work. He *knew* it, deep inside, even as he was still perfectly aware of the obstacles.
She finally managed to speak, then, saying his name, so choked full of emotions none of them came through quite clearly.
He fell apart again, suddenly not knowing what he was doing, what he was thinking. Throwing together this Hallmark card romance. Being fool enough to think that flowers and candles and all of this meant anything. This... this was not the sort of thing he should have sprung on her. It was unfair. Manipulative, really. Forcing her, perhaps, into something she maybe didn't even want...
Or worse, something he might not even be able to offer her, because what had happened a month ago was not so easy to forget. Was not something that should be forgotten.
But then he saw tears in her eyes, and the panic eased like a shadow before dawn, and he reached for the flowers and walked to her. Pressed them into her hands, white blossoms saying everything that needed to be said. She fell against him, the flowers just out of the way enough to avoid being crushed, her face against his chest. When he hugged her, tightly, he could feel her tears in the shaky breaths expanding her chest and pushing out against his arms. He ducked his head down and inhaled the scent of her again.
They held each other.
Then she looked up at him, with red eyes and tears in her lashes, and laughed a very small laugh, and he smiled down at her and pushed her hair back behind her ear. So soft. Thin strands tingling against his knuckles.
“Have I ever told you how beautiful you are?” he said, and her shaky smile grew a little stronger and a light danced behind the sheen of tears.
“Maybe a few times,” she said.
They were kissing, again, finally. She was really here. In his home, in his arms. The kiss tasted like tears and relief.
Then she giggled, interrupting them. When he opened his eyes he found her looking down at his stomach between them, where it bumped up against hers.
“Wow, he's getting big, huh?” Willow said, still looking. He didn't let go of her, even as she wriggled her hand between them to lay flat over his stomach.
“He should be weighing about a pound this week,” he said.
Having another person's hand there didn't feel so strange now, since Buffy and Dawn had hardly let him alone at all the past couple of weeks, but it was still strange having *her* hand there. This girl, this woman, who might, maybe, someday, if things went exactly right, which they seldom to never did... be this child's mother one day.
Even having that thought now, though, was enough to kick up another flurry of doubt, and he gently pulled away from her, said that the food might be getting cold, suggested they eat.
It wasn't right, and it wasn't fair to her, or himself, to be thinking that far ahead. Especially not right now.
So instead of thinking, he served the food, and blushed appropriately at Willow's jokes about his ability to cook and how this somehow made him the perfect man, which set the tone for the rest of the meal. They shared lighthearted banter, not touching on any of the heavier issues between them. Simply talking and even laughing, and... god, she was perfect by candlelight.
When they'd both finished, though, the mood shifted as she slipped her fingers between his on the table. Their skin was pale against the dark grain, and in the flickering half-light, it was hard to see where she left off and he began. Just two hands, interlaced, flowing together.
“Willow, I can't just forget what's happened.”
“I know,” she said.
Although here and now, it felt like he could. Felt like he nearly *had*, already. He stared as she traced their woven fingers with her other hand, and felt the need to ask what they were talking about.
Then shook himself, lifted her teasing hand away, and said, “No more lying. Hiding what we had... it was killing me...”
“I know,” she said, again, and was pulling her hand away, folding it away in her lap and drawing inside herself again. “I mean, I knew. And... I'm so--”
He touched her lips to quiet her, said, “Don't. Don't. Not tonight. That's over.”
And then, oh, his fingers were still on her lower lip, touching lightly, warm damp skin, and she was looking up at him through her lashes with wide tragic eyes, and all he could do was lean in and kiss her. He just touched his lips to hers, and pulled away, just slightly, still close enough to taste the champagne on her breath.
Felt her hand curl around his shoulder. Saw her close her eyes, and closed his own. Felt her cheek brush up next to his, felt her turn her face into his neck, her breath tickling him.
A cold teardrop rolled from her to him, curled down around his jaw.
Her scent was working its way through him, making him feel more alive, more aware, than he had in a month. Sweet perfume, shampoo. And her magic, still so much a part of her. Technically, not a scent, but somehow that was the easiest way to define it.
Which reminded him...
He sat back in his chair and said, “Dessert?” as she blinked at him.
He smiled when she smiled.
“Go sit down,” he said, inclining his head towards the living room. Already his body was warming in anticipation, his blood gathering in his groin. He took the plates into the kitchen and left them to soak in the sink, and then picked up the wine glasses and the half-empty champagne bottle in one hand, and the pièce de résistance, a tray of chocolate-covered strawberries, in the other.
In the living room, Willow had caught onto the plan already, sitting with her legs tucked up under her on the nest of bedding he'd arranged in front of the hearth and leaning in to light the logs in the fireplace. He paused for a moment there, beside the couch, with his breath caught in his throat. Struck again by how gorgeous she was as she sat back, tucking her hair behind her ear and watching the fire catch.
His Willow. His. No more lying awake at night, knowing she was in someone else's arms. No more fretting that they'd be found out, no more waiting, wondering, who would win her.
She looked up and saw him, and warm affection changed her face and her posture.
“Y'know, technically, you giving me alcohol is illegal. Which is fairly ironic when you think about it, what with all we've done that's not actually illegal.”
He laughed softly and set everything down on the coffee table, and then carefully eased himself down onto the floor. He wasn't quite to the point where things were physically difficult, but the added weight and changing center of gravity did make things different enough as to be noticeable. The moment he'd gotten himself seated, cross-legged on the blankets, she flowed up to him, curling her arms around him and settling herself against his side. Her nearness sent a thrill through him. Then she peered back over his shoulder.
“So what is-- Oh. Wow. Chocolate-covered strawberries. Giles, if I wasn't in love before--”
She jostled around and a moment later she was back beside him and the tray was on the blankets in front of his knee. He stopped her hand before she could reach for one, then picked one up himself. Cool, damp, fuzzy stem an interesting sensation between his fingers. His arm was around her back, and she was a warm solid presence against his side as he lifted it up to her. Could not tear his gaze away as her eyes drifted closed, her lips folded around the fruit. A drop of juice caught on her lipgloss in a perfect hemisphere and glistened in the firelight.
He tasted that drop and chocolate as he kissed her deep and slow. She moaned and moved against him, her hand on his leg shifting, sending small sparks up his thigh. Her breast brushed against his ribs, and he groaned softly. Aching, but in the best ways.
“Oh,” she said, as their lips slipped apart. Her eyes were so dark. He felt a rush of heat, hard want.
Her hand moved from his thigh to his chest, rubbed him there as she kissed his cheek, his jaw. Then she reached down, and a moment later, cool chocolate was pressed to his lips. He reached for it, but she pulled it back at the last moment, teasing him with just a hint of sweetness on the tip of his tongue. Caught up in the moment, a sound of frustration escaped him and she laughed softly and relented, letting him catch it with his teeth. Sweet dark chocolate and cool juice on his tongue.
And then her hot mouth was on his, just as sweet, twice as powerful, especially as she got up over him on her knees, as much in his lap as she could get now. He held her, supporting her, his hands on her small waist, her sweater soft under his palms. Loved her. Wanted her. Couldn't move in this position and already was nearly desperate from it.
He gasped her name, and she sat back on her heels, started unbuttoning his shirt. He let her unbutton it, push it off, peel off his undershirt next. The heat from the fire, burning well now, played across his bare skin but her eyes taking him in made him hotter. So amazing to have her looking at him like this. Never thought he'd really have her. Never thought he'd have her again. But he did.
He reached for her, pulling off sweater and tank top, feeling skin against his forearms as he unclasped her bra. She shook it off and climbed over him again, kissing him. Her hair fell around them both, brushed his throat, and even that small thing was enough to tighten the grip of lust on him. Was enough to make him realize, all over again, that she was *here*, she was with him, and he wondered how he'd lived without her.
His hands went back to her waist at first, just wanting to touch her, be connected to her. Her skin was far softer than the fabric, and warm. After a moment, he slid one hand up her back, pressed between her shoulder blades, moved the other between their bodies, found the peak of one nipple, the soft weight of her breast. She made a small sound against his lips that went straight down his spine, straight to his cock.
Now he was fully hard, and when her hand dropped down into his lap and gripped him through his pants his whole body jolted with want and need.
“Oh, wow, baby,” she whispered, obviously feeling it, understanding it. How much he wanted her. She seemed about to move away, and that wouldn't do, so he grabbed her arms, firmly and quickly, just above her elbows, held her close.
Saw her small gasp, saw her eyes change a little more. Saw in her face a dark appreciation that he never would have guessed existed in that shy high school girl. Never, at least, until he'd seen her turned; her raw essence, stripped of soul and humanity. Horrifying. Fascinating.
“Tell me you want me,” he said, feeling how rough his voice was, like waking up after a night of not enough sleep.
“I want you,” she said, softly, but with feeling, the words echoing in her eyes, in the way she was squirming just slightly in his tight grip. “I want you a *whole* *lot*.”
And what should have sounded childish just sounded unbearably good, and he let go of her, just for a moment, to move the strawberries up onto the coffee table and out of the way, then pushed her down on her back, into the piles of blankets and pillows. He lay half beside her and half on top of her, her right side pinned by his body, her left arm still held tight. She relaxed completely, and her willing submission made him that much harder. He pressed himself against her thigh as he whispered against her temple, “Say you love me.”
“I love you,” she said. Her arm flinched as she spoke, as though she wanted to reach for him.
But he didn't let her.
Her body was too tempting in the firelight, all curves and shadows. Nipples dark and hard with desire. He kept holding her as he slid lower, leaned over her and found one nipple with his mouth, circling his tongue on her, tasting her skin. Feeling her tug against his hand, her leg brushing against his cock, teasingly light and unintentional as she arched her back, pressed up towards him.
Sighed his name.
“Rupert...” Felt so good, saying that name again, saying it like *this*, with his mouth on her, and his hand painfully, wonderfully tight on her arm. Torn between the pleasure of being restrained and the desire to touch him. She was dizzy, a little high on the feeling, his solid weight beside her all that grounded her, that reminded her that this was real.
His tongue flicked lightly against the side of her breast and she gasped and surged against him. His arm held her down. The feelings made her tremble, everything so mixed up and crazy inside of her. Love and loneliness and joy and sadness and oh, he felt so good, touching her like he'd found some kind of roadmap to her body, knew every place to stop, every place to touch, to kiss. Spent what had to be hours on her nipples and breasts, tongue and teeth on her skin, driving her out of her mind.
Her hips were rocking now, and she was wishing for his hand on her, between her legs. Couldn't find the breath or redirect her concentration enough to ask, though.
He was hard, she could feel him through his pants as he subtly humped her leg. Ready for her, like she was ready for him. He nipped her, then, a little sharper than he had been, and the breath it forced out of her carried a word.
He looked up, the firelight playing over his face, highlighting cheekbones, jaw, catching on his eyes and making them glow. He was beautiful in that moment. Ethereal, and it stopped her breath, made her heart stumble as she was overwhelmed by the emotions of the night. She'd thought that, maybe, this would be her chance to make things up to him, to start to rebuild things. Instead, she'd found this waiting for her: flowers and candles and near-redemption. It was all so sudden. She was still half-expecting to wake up.
Still felt alone.
The tears came back suddenly, flooding her eyes before she could think to hold them back, and exasperation added itself to her mix of conflicting emotions. Tears, tears, so annoying, just getting in the way, she shouldn't be *crying* now.
But it didn't seem to phase him. He came up beside her again, and kissed her softly, and his hand moved down, unbuttoned, unzipped her pants. She kissed him back, even as the tears fell down her cheeks, got in her hair and her ears. Her arms were free now, so she wrapped them around him as he tried unsuccessfully to push her pants down one-handed. She just wanted to hold him.
After a futile moment, he abandoned his efforts and put his arm around her, hugged her close. They were on their sides, and she tucked her face down between them, where it was warm from their bodies, damp from her breath. His scent was a powerful presence, tied to so much in her mind; everything from moments when he'd snatched her back from danger and she'd found herself briefly but tightly clasped against him, to that night when they'd first touched each other, when he'd first been inside her. The scent, his arms, his body, their bare flesh pressed together. She could feel him breathing, his chest slowly rising and falling, his breath moving her hair. Slowly, the reality of it began to seep in, as her tears ebbed and she relaxed by degrees against him, until she felt like she was a part of him, drifting on the rhythm of his breath and the warmth of their bodies and the fire. He was stroking her back, slow and even.
She flinched awake, and pulled back a little.
“Hush, love,” he murmured, “Sleep if you want to. We have time.”
But she didn't want to. Not now. She rolled onto her back, and pushed off her pants and underwear. Turned her head to the side and saw him propped on his elbow, looking at her. Still so amazing in the firelight: shirtless, all skin and rumpled sexiness.
He reached across the space between them and touched her, palm flat and fingers spread. Ran his hand down her chest, over her belly, then edged a little closer so he could reach further. Slid his hand over her pubic hair and down, his fingers brushing along her labia. She laid her hand on his arm and watched his muscles shift as his fingers pressed into her. Yellow firelight on his smooth skin, where it was soft on the inside of his forearm. And, there, on his wrist, was the bracelet she'd made for him.
Woven by hand, as she'd chanted and watched American Idol. It wasn't his style, this handmade earthy jewelry thing, but it seemed so... comfortable there on his wrist, moving with the slow rhythm of his hand inside her. She touched it, where it lay on his arm, feeling his skin and soft, broken-in hemp. She'd given it to him, and he was wearing it.
Somehow, that touched her even deeper than his hand. Did something funny to her insides. She watched his faced as she said, “Hey. If I bought you an earring, would you wear it?”
Trembling in anticipation of his answer, in pleasure as his thumb caressed her clit.
“Why?” he asked, but not in a way that said ‘no.' He seemed intrigued.
She rolled up on her side, wrapped her leg over his. Her hand still on the bracelet.
“'Cause it would be sexy,” she said. Dead serious, so much so it made it kind of hard to breathe. “Really sexy.”
“I have earrings,” he said.
That wasn't the same.
“I want you to wear mine,” she said. She knew, in the way his eyes flashed, in the way that he pressed deeper inside of her, rubbed her hard with his thumb, made her buck at the sudden pleasure, that his answer was yes.
“Giles,” she said, as he eased off again, just teasing her again, light quick strokes inside her, “Take off your pants already.”
He grinned, and did, and while he was still on his back she straddled him, dropped down on him. Quick enough to send a bolt through them both, heard his cry match her own. So good, so hard, so full. She panted, felt him touching her deep inside.
“Willow,” he gasped, a warning in his tone.
All she had to say was, “It's ok. Got on the pill, finally, last month.” Even as she hated having to say that, to say anything, when all she wanted was to just feel him.
“Oh, god,” he said, relaxing, and then she began to move, and there was nothing else they had to say.
When it was over, they'd straightened up the place, just enough to feel they'd done something. Folded the covers, did a few dishes, made sure the fire was out, working together in quiet synchronicity. Then they'd gone up to his bedroom, settled down in his bed.
His body was still loose and content and his mind at ease. Perhaps that was why he was able to work up the nerve to say, “There's a house I've been looking at. It's near campus. Good neighborhood. I was thinking, perhaps, if you wanted--I know this is rather sudden, and, feel free to say no, it's really just an offer--you and I could possibly--”
She sat partway up.
Shit. And things had been going so well.
“Are you asking me to live with you?”
“You don't... we don't have to...”
But he let his voice trail into silence, because she was bouncing a little on the bed, kind of quivering, and her eyes were bright, and she was talking fast, saying, “Wow. I mean, I'd love to. That would be just... the most amazing thing *ever*. I mean, if you want me to. Wow.”
His heart surged with joy as she dropped back down on the bed and hugged him.
“I want you to. Very, very much.”
Then, he had to add, “We have to tell Buffy, and the others. As soon as possible. Tomorrow.”
“Ok,” Willow said, quickly, still maybe distracted, because she kept talking, saying, “Wow. A house. That's... that's so cool, Giles.”
He kissed her.
“I missed you. I love you.”
“Me too,” she murmured against his chest. He let himself think that everything would be all right, and slept better that night than he had in years.
But the best thing of all was waking up the next morning with her beside him.
Of course Mr. Allergic-To-Late Giles would choose today to discover the power of antihistamines. Today, when here she was first thing in the morning, bright and early, definitely needing some Watcher-ly advice, and needing it *now*. She would have gone by his place, but she'd figured he'd already be here.
But he wasn't, and so she was standing around in the front of the shop, and waiting. And Anya kept shooting her pointed annoyed looks because apparently, she was frightening the customers.
When he finally *did* show, forty-five minutes late and looking way too chipper, she grabbed him immediately and dragged him back to the training room.
“We need to talk,” she said, once she'd firmly shut the door.
When she turned back around, she found that his chipper-ness had completely abandoned him. In fact, if anything, he looked... panicked. Odd.
“We... we do? A-about what?”
“Spike,” she said.
He seemed quite taken aback by this.
“Er. Spike? What about--”
“He hit on me last night.”
All of Giles's contriteness vanished in a moment, replaced by a where's-my-stake gleam in his eyes.
“He *what*? How? Why? What happened?”
“Hey, whoa,” she said, “Like, a few weeks ago, you were all like, ‘Spike could be a useful ally, maybe he has a higher purpose.'”
“What?” He blinked, and seemed to scan back in his mind. Then he whipped off his glasses and all but slapped his forehead. “Oh, for god's sake. That was what that was all about. Please tell me you didn't--”
Ok, confession time.
“I kinda kissed him.”
Ok, she'd seen that look on Giles's face before. But usually it was directed at Xander. When he'd said something particularly... dumb.
“You... kissed him.”
“Um. Yeah. Kinda.”
“Well, it was just sort of a brief kiss, and he was actually a... gentleman about it.”
Damn it. She was fond of him. When the hell did that happen? It was just, he'd been so charming over the past few weeks, and... and...
“He nearly staked Drusilla!” she said, because Giles was still just sort of speechless. He continued to be speechless, so she continued to be... speeched. “Oh, yeah, she was the vamp who was on that train by the way. Anyway, she showed up, attacked us, and Spike was fighting against her right alongside me, and it wasn't just for show Giles, I mean, I'm a Slayer, I know slaying, he was really trying.”
“What on Earth does Drusilla have to do with anything?” Giles said, finally managing to speak again.
“Well, it shows that... that he's on our side now, Giles. He could have gone back to her, but he didn't.”
Giles's mouth opened and closed a couple of times, and then, he said, firmly, as he gathered his wits back about him, “Let's sit down, shall we? I--” he lost his momentum for a moment, then regained it. “There's something I should... tell you... before this conversation goes any further.”
And that really didn't sound good. So, they sat and then she waited, as he looked at the floor, and the walls, and his hands, and pretty much anywhere except actually at her. Her heart sank. When Giles got like this, good things rarely resulted.
“It's not... something about the baby is it?” she asked, finally, though she didn't even like saying that out loud. But the suspense was worse.
“What? Oh, no. No, he's fine. It's... it's about me, actually. It's--” He closed his eyes for a moment then, and then forged ahead, “I know... why Willow left Tara. Um. In fact I... I'm... I'm rather the reason that... Willow left Tara.”
Yeah, well, Buffy thought, you're pretty much the reason I kissed Spike last night, too. But she didn't say that.
“Oh? Really? That's weird. What did you do?”
He was looking away again.
“I... she and I... Buffy, we... I know it may seem odd to you at first, but...”
No. Way. He was not saying that--
“We're... in love. At least, I believe that we are. I-- I love her. Very much, and--”
She fully expected the grossed-out feeling to hit at any moment. But... it didn't. And watching him stammer out this confession, tensed up as though half-expecting her to order him out of Sunnydale...
She didn't feel angry. Or repulsed. Because he was just Giles and Willow was Willow and after everything they'd all been through... she couldn't even contemplate begrudging someone the right to be with the one they loved. To be happy.
In fact, it really wasn't a bad match.
“Giles,” she said, gently, reaching out to touch his arm. He looked up, finally meeting her eyes. “It's ok. I'm... I mean, that's great. If you're both happy. I mean, yeah, if you hurt her, I'll have to kill you, but, other than that...” She smiled to make sure he knew she was kidding.
“Well,” he said, “That, um... that went better than I expected.”
She grimaced a little, regretting her younger, stupider self.
“I know, I know, I used to be pretty... tactless. Sorry. I'd like to think that maybe I have managed to grow up at least a little.”
He was smiling at her now, a soft smile.
“You have. Very much. You never cease amazing me, Buffy.”
He squeezed her shoulder, gently, and she had to admit that the thought did cross her mind that perhaps his touches weren't quite as chaste as she'd always assumed, but it was only a superficial thought, not one that came close to touching her true beliefs. He'd always looked at Willow differently than the rest of them.
And then he was sitting up straighter, looking stern.
“Now, about this situation with Spike...”
Willow had asked Xander to meet with her at the Bronze that night, and he was late showing up. She sighed and stirred her coffee. She could be with Giles right now, but no... Xander was wasting her precious cuddle time, here.
Her gaze swept over the room. All these people. High schoolers and college kids. Out on the dance floors with their sweeties, dancing to the steady pulse of the band onstage. Kissing and hugging and... undulating. Her eyes were drawn to one couple, off to the edge of the dance floor, near the stage. They were lost in each other, dancing as close as a single body, fused into oneness by the dance and the darkness. They were unconsciously drawing in magic, focusing it and flaring it back out in a wave of sensual heat that she could feel across the room.
The heat flushed through her and she squirmed in her chair. Looked to the door again to see if Xander might by some coincidence be walking in at that moment.
No such luck.
She wondered if she could talk Giles into dancing with her here.
Ok, so, he was a bit older than most of the crowd, and she was a lot younger than him, and they'd probably get *looks*, but then, she'd danced with Tara here often enough, so a few looks weren't going to scare her.
And it would totally be worth it to be able to wrap herself around Giles like that couple was. Be one with the beat and the crowd and each other and just move.
She was breathing a little harder suddenly, imagining it. His body in her arms, all against hers, and holding her. Desire made tangible.
Someone touched her arm and she nearly jumped out of her skin. And did spill a bit of her coffee.
“Whoa, hey, Willow. Big with the jumpy tonight. That's not that double shot stuff is it?”
He was mopping up the spill with a napkin and then sitting down.
“So, what's the big news? I got the feeling you were asking me here for A Reason, y'know, the kind with capital letters? Is this about Tara? ‘Cause if so, Comfort Guy is in the building and totally ready to be a sympathetic listener.”
He was putting on his bartender face. Willow sighed. Ok, she appreciated the effort, but, also, it was kind of annoying.
“It's not... well, it's kind of about Tara. But not exactly.”
Xander patted her hand.
She took a deep breath. Xander waggled his eyebrows and then waited, wide-eyed and expectant.
“It's about Giles,” she said, in one quick rush of breath.
“Giles? He's not thinking about jetting off to England again, is he? ‘Cause if so--”
She didn't wait for him to finish.
Xander blinked. Then looked blank.
“Giles and I? We're... we're a couple.”
“A couple of whats?”
And, sadly enough, the question seemed in earnest.
“He's, like, my... boyfriend.”
“Who is? Boyfriend? Willow, you're--”
“Bi. I'm bi. And Giles. Is my boyfriend.”
Xander's brow was furrowed.
“Giles can't be a boyfriend. He's, like, forty.”
“Forty-eight. And, ok, pick your favorite term then. He's my SO. My lover. My cuddle-bunny.”
Willow waited. That couldn't possibly be it. Xander was still frowning, and he had a distant look in his eyes, like he used to get when he was trying to figure out French vocabulary.
Finally, he said, “Ok, ok, wait. I get it. This is a joke, right? Ok, funny. Yeah, ok, Xander's an idiot, everyone laugh now, he fell for it for a minute there.”
She sighed as he searched for the hidden camera.
“Not a joke, Xander. I know it's kinda strange, but... I really love him. And he loves me.”
There was, for a moment, a disbelieving stare. Then Xander was on his feet.
“Ok, that's it. Where is he? I need to kill him.”
“Xander! Not funny.”
“So not joking.”
“Xander!” she said again, and grabbed his arm as he seemed about to head for the exit.
“God, Will, he's like a million years old. This is... is... illegal or something!”
“No, it's really not.”
“Well, it *should* be. What the hell is he... what are you... No. Forget it. Just-- I'm leaving. I need to... Bye.”
And then he was gone, disappeared by the crowd. Willow stared after him, numb inside.
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