“But it's been two weeks, Giles! And he won't even talk to me.”
“He's... working things out, Willow.”
He gently caught her arm and steered her *around* the hood of the car, diverting her from her apparent planned course, which seemed to involve plowing straight through it. She bumped up against his side and distractedly slipped her arm around his waist and he smiled and hugged her shoulders, keeping her close as they made their way up to the dorm and she continued to angst.
“But, but! He needs to, like, get over it already! I mean, it's not like you're some skanky old man I met in a bar or, or, online or something! You're you!”
He kissed the top of her head and didn't comment. It was a beautiful day, and almost all was right with his world, aside from one Hellgod and one obstinate young man, and he wasn't letting any of that drag him down at them moment. Her hair smelled wonderful, her arm was holding him tight. And today, they were moving her things from her dorm to their new home.
“Stop patronizing me,” Willow muttered, but without much heat.
“I wouldn't dream of patronizing you, dear,” he said, cheerfully.
They reached the door to her dorm and she slipped out from under his arm long enough to unlock it with her student ID card and open the door.
Walking into these buildings was always a strange experience for him. So much youth. This was their world, and these were their peers, and they all looked so *young*. Oddly, the high school hadn't provoked nearly the same feelings. On the other hand, back then, he hadn't been *sleeping* with any of them, he supposed.
Willow bumped back up against his side and hugged him close as they walked.
Giles didn't miss the disgusted look they got from a boy they passed in the stairwell. He pretended it didn't bother him.
“Whatcha thinking about?” Willow asked as they reached her floor. “Deep thoughts?”
“You,” he says, because it was as close to the truth as he felt like getting, and because he knew it would make her happy.
“Aww!” she said. “That almost makes up for the patronizing thing earlier.”
She unlocked her door and tilted a skeptical brow at him.
“All right, perhaps a bit.”
“See?” she said, as they walked into her dorm room, “I told you things would be easier once you just started admitting I'm always right.”
He kicked the door shut gently and then grabbed her arm, pulled her to him. Held her a bit tightly and mock-growled, “Always?”
She just grinned up at him.
“Ok, maybe eighty-five percent of the time?” she offered.
Her body was close and warm and he felt himself beginning to react. Let go of one of her arms with one hand so he could slide it down to the small of her back, press her against him.
“Make it seventy-five and we'll have a deal,” he said.
Her arms curled around his back.
He let her go abruptly, stepped away.
“No. No, that will never do.”
He took the moment of mock-rejection to look around the room. Good lord, but she wasn't kidding about her roommate. Crosses and angel figurines and bible quotations. Amusing to think of a Wiccan sharing a room with her. Although he could see why Willow might be uncomfortable.
Willow's half of the room, in fact, barely looked lived in. Which made sense, since she'd been spending most of her time at his place.
Then she was back against him, cuddled close.
“I guess I can settle for seventy-five,” she said, as his own arms went around her again, almost automatically.
For a while, he just held her. Thrilled, all over again, that this amazing woman was his. God, he loved her so much. He held her tighter, tucked his head down to kiss her hair. Whispered his love to her. Felt her happy sigh move them both.
“You too, baby,” she said, into his chest, like she was speaking directly to his heart.
The emotion, the closeness, stirred his cock, and for a moment, in a way he hadn't in a while, he hated the entire pregnancy thing. Damned the way his swelled stomach held her away from where he really wanted her.
But then, as though she'd read his mind, she slipped one of her hands between them, curled it around him.
“Mmmm,” she said, and he dropped his hands down to her ass, her thighs, rubbing her where he knew she was sensitive.
“You know my roommate could come back at any time,” she said, still stroking him.
He grunted softly as his cock got a little harder.
“Somehow, I knew that wasn't going to deter you,” Willow said, sounding amused.
“Well, from what you've said,” he said, as he ducked forward, held her by the shoulders and kissed her ear, her jaw, and she giggled, “Might do her some good.”
“Giles!” she said, still grinning.
“Get on the bed, pull down your jeans,” he said, right beside her ear, then he considered what he'd said and added, “But not in that order.”
She was still laughing breathlessly as she unbuttoned and unzipped, and pushed her pants down to her ankles. And, god, no matter how many times he saw her like that, no matter how many times she proved she wanted him... it would never, never get old.
She draped herself over the bed, knees bent over the side, and looked at him. One of her hands was rubbing circles on her stomach and he could see the peaks of her nipples, poking out against her shirt.
The surge of desire shoved him a few steps across the room, close to her, standing between her legs. Her gaze was steady on him as he went down to his knees. He watched her eyes until he closed his own, leaned in and nuzzled her heat through the thin cotton of her panties.
She made a complex, wordless sound, and her hips tilted up a little.
He licked her, tasting salt, smelling musk. God, he loved her. Loved this.
He pressed in hard, teeth and lips and tongue, until the fabric was soaked and she was moaning, rolling with a hard, desperate rhythm against him. Until she groaned, “Rupert, please, please...”
And he yanked her underwear down, gasped, “Hands and knees,” and then staggered to his own feet, cock aching with every movement. He watched her scramble into position as he yanked his own clothing just out of the way enough.
The mattress squealed and shifted alarmingly as he crawled on, but then it steadied and he was on his knees behind her, her hips in his hands, and nothing else mattered because he was burying himself inside her and her back was arching and she was crying out in pleasure. Pressing back against him.
“Yes, god, yes,” he gasped.
When he glanced to the side he saw her bookshelf, with texts for classes like Psychology 101, Introduction to Drama, C++. And the thought hit him, then, that he was fucking her in her bed in her college dormitory, and bloody hell, there had to be something extremely kinky about that.
But apparently, it was a kink that worked for him, because he bowed over her back as much as he could, and pressed in deeper, speeding up his thrusts.
She'd always come easily in this position, and he didn't even have to touch her before he felt her shudder, tighten, gasp.
“Love you,” he said, “I love you.”
She felt so damn good.
For a while, he slowed his pace, just felt her around him. Looked at her, slatted sunlight falling through venetian blinds across her pale back.
He had to close his eyes as he came, too afraid that if he didn't, it would kill him.
Then they eased down onto their sides, facing each other, her body folded around his, their legs tangled together, just to be touching. Her eyes were bright, looking straight into his own, and she was gently stroking his hair with her fingertips.
Then, even as she looked so sweet and so harmless, she dropped the bombshell.
“Hmm?” he said, still running his hand happily along her side, counting all the colors in her eyes.
“You wanna marry me, right?”
Shock did not even begin to cover it. He stared, and went numb.
“I- I mean, do you? Want to marry me? You do, right?”
Her eyes were wide and hurt, and he dug deep into his strength reserves and found the ability to speak. Or at least, to stammer.
“What- what brought this on?”
She propped her self up on her elbow, and rubbed his chest as she spoke, but didn't quite meet his eyes.
“Well, nothing, really. I mean... I mean, I just thought... I love you, and... you love me, and we're moving in together, and there's the baby, and stuff. I thought... why wouldn't we? I mean, you do love me, right? You keep saying you-”
God, he never wanted her to doubt that.
“Of course I do. With all my heart, Willow. But-”
“Willow, are you sure?”
“Why wouldn't I be?”
“I simply mean- have you even given this any thought? Before this precise moment?”
He would love to know where this came from. And if it was a who, who it came from, so he could kill them.
“Well, yeah. I mean, a little. I- I used to write ‘Willow Rosenberg-Giles' all over my notebooks in high school. Well, that and ‘Willow Rosenberg-Harris.' And sometimes ‘Willow Rosenberg-Cusack.' But that's all over now, I swear!”
“That- wasn't precisely what I meant.”
That *really* wasn't what he meant. And was, in fact, slightly disturbing.
“What's there to think about?”
“Good heavens, Willow. There's scads to think about.”
Now she was simply beginning to look annoyed.
“Such as? And don't even start with the age thing, ok? I'm sick of hearing about it, already.”
He struggled to find a place to start, to organize his spinning thoughts.
“Willow, we've only been... involved so to speak for about two months. And even in that time... things haven't exactly gone perfectly smoothly.”
“Well, yeah, but... we've known each other for five years. And all that not-smoothness is in the past. It's done. Not going to be an issue anymore. It's over between Tara and me, you know that.”
“That's not all that I'm... referring to. I simply mean... marriage is a very intense, long-term commitment. It's about spending the rest of our lives together. That's decades, with any luck, of just the two of us. Are you positive that's what you want? Are you sure we're even prepared for that?
“Not to mention how your parents might react. Aside from the obvious fact that they'll probably not be overly enthusiastic about your choice of partners, there are also very real social and legal factors involved in marriage. You'd no longer be their dependant, and you'd be an independent adult, which means they'd be perfectly justified in no longer paying your college tuition, for one thing.
“And the fact that I'm so much older than you *is* a factor, Willow, much as you may be ‘sick of hearing about it.' There's a very good chance I will leave you a widow at a relatively young age. Or, worse, that you'll be forced to spend some of the best years of your life caring for a senile old man.”
Her face had fallen during this speech, but she managed a comeback, albeit a weak one.
“Oh... oh really? Well, if this is all such a bad idea, why are we even together now, then, huh?”
“Because, god help me, I can't resist you. But, please, *please*, Willow, give this some serious thought.”
“Well, couldn't we at least, you know, be engaged? While I think? I don't even need a ring or anything.”
She sat up, suddenly, kneeling beside him, looking somewhere between adorable and obscene half-naked the way she was. There was an edge of desperation in her voice as she said, “Come on. Look, see, I'm on my knees and everything. Rupert Giles, will you marry me?”
“I don't know. I don't- Willow... Willow, don't. I just-”
“Fine!” she shouted.
She was stumbling out of the bed, nearly falling on her face. She jerked her pants up, and zipped them, and began to shove stuff into a box. Then she stalked out the door.
He flopped over onto his back.
She managed to keep up the hurt and angry routine for almost three days before she finally gave in and things went back to normal. He felt terrible about it, of course. A part of him that sounded very much like his father was berating him. After all, the woman he'd been shagging for weeks, whom he loved and whom he shared a home with, had asked that he marry her, and it seemed, if nothing else, incredibly rude to turn her down.
But at the same time, their relationship *was* new, and was still shaky, and rushing into a lifetime commitment just seemed terribly unwise.
He was convinced he'd made the right choice.
And then, two weeks later, Joyce Summers died.
She was tucked under his arm on the couch, and they were both staring into the empty fireplace. These past few days had been a nightmare, and being near him sometimes seemed like the only way to find an oasis of sanity in the chaos.
“Yes,” he said, suddenly, apropos of nothing.
“Huh?” she said.
“Yes, I'll marry you. If you'll have me.”
This was the kind of statement that should have knocked her clean off the couch. She supposed it was the cushioning of days of numbing shock that made her hardly react at all. She pulled back, enough to look at him, but he was still just staring.
“Really? Wait. No. This is one of those... grief-does-weird-things-to-people moments, isn't it?”
He finally looked at her, and reached up and touched her face, very softly.
“No, actually, I think it's more of a suddenly-realizing-life-is-short moment.”
“Oh. Ok,” she said, softly, watching him watch her, “So... like... like, when?”
Because weddings took time, and there was the whole thing with Buffy and Dawn and how it would seem disrespectful to their grief to announce it too soon, and then there was the whole birth-of-the-baby thing, and the whole Glory thing, not to mention figuring out how the heck she was gonna tell her parents-
“Tomorrow?” he said. “I'd say today, but I doubt there's anywhere short of Las Vegas we could get a license at this hour.”
The clock ticked loudly in the silence, and neither of them moved.
Finally, she spoke.
He woke early the next morning.
He still hadn't quite adjusted to the new house. Its rhythms were different, the ambient sounds were off. Even the way the air flowed through this enclosed bedroom was noticeably different from his loft.
He lay awake, quietly. He was on his side, and Willow was back to back with him, leaning against him. He could feel her warmth through her soft nightshirt, and her weight was comfortable. Outside, birds were twittering at each other, and the traffic passed steadily on the nearby road.
He was getting married today.
His first reaction, lying there in a golden haze of near-sleep, was simple joy. He smiled, and reached back, touching Willow's arm. She'd be his wife.
His smile widened to a grin. Then Eric shifted inside of him. Felt like a stretch, maybe. Whatever it was, it reminded him quite firmly that he had to pee. Right now.
He eased out of bed. Willow murmured something sleepily, but knowing her, she could well be speaking to a character in a dream. He checked to see that she was still sleeping, pulled the sheet gently over her shoulder. Eric shifted again.
He padded quietly down the carpeted hall to the bathroom, idly rubbing a hand over his stomach.
“Feeling active this morning, are we?” he said to his stomach once he was the door was shut and he was sure he wouldn't be bothering Willow.
Apparently, Eric was feeling active, because he continued shuffling around all through Giles' morning routine.
Giles slipped back into their bedroom, and stopped just inside the doorway. Beautiful Willow, still asleep, her hair tousled on the pillow, yellow morning sunlight kissing her shoulder. For a moment, he couldn't breathe. Love squeezed his heart until it hurt. These past four weeks, with her, were wonderful.
He'd never realized how alone he was, until now, when he wasn't anymore. When he knew that every day, he would come home to someone, to her.
Her bright chatter in the afternoons, her sleepy murmurs in the mornings, her grumbles when she was tired or bored, all of it was precious to him. He hadn't loved anyone this much since...
In a very, very long time.
And, god, yes, it was too fast. But he wanted this forever, so much it brought tears to his eyes.
He walked to the bed, leaned down and kissed her cheek, and then climbed in next to her, lying beside her to watch her wake.
Her eyelids fluttered, and she made a soft sound, almost a word. He gently brushed her hair back behind her ear, and her face turned into his touch, just slightly. He let his fingers drift down to her lips. Then her eyes opened, and she said, “Hey.”
He felt her word, felt her smile. Smiled back, and then kissed her softly, his finger making way for their lips.
“Morning,” she said, then she blinked, and suddenly her eyes were wide. “Oh. Oh, hey. Are we... are we still gonna...”
“As long as you still want to,” he said, and tried not to feel panicked.
“Of course,” she said. “Silly.”
Then she kissed his nose.
“Guess we should get dressed, huh?”
She could barely calm down enough to eat two slices of toast and an egg for breakfast. She was all jittery inside, now, in his car, like she'd drank way too many mochas. She looked over just to see him beside her. And because he looked really sharp in his suit. He, at least, looked calm, watching the road impassively.
She reached over and put her hand on his knee, just to see him react.
He smiled, and she smiled, and then he turned off the road into the parking lot at the mall.
Rings. They were going to buy wedding rings. She was so excited, she could hardly breathe.
“So, so, what kinda rings do you think we should get?”
The question burst out before she could do anything about it as she walked around the car and met Giles on the other side.
“Like, gold? ‘Cause it's all traditional. But, but platinum's pretty, too. And are we gonna get something with diamonds? We really don't have to, of course, ‘cause jewelry's not even really my thing, and I don't think we should buy anything that we have to, you know, have a financing plan for, cause-- I'm babbling again, aren't I?”
“Just a bit,” Giles said, but his eyes were kind and loving, just the way she loved to see them. “I think you're entitled.”
His arm was around her shoulder, and she loved that, too. She just loved him, up and down and backwards and forwards, and all over, and yeah, she was feeling *really* sappy today, but then, she was kind of entitled to that, too. Plus, it was really so nice to be thinking of something other than death right now. Although, even thinking *that* made her feel guilty.
Because what right did she have to be all happy when Dawn and Buffy would never get to see their mom again?
“I wish we could do a spell, and fix things,” she said, and then realized that she hadn't really given Giles any actual segue to work with. “I mean, for--”
“I know,” Giles said, quickly, “And you know we can't. It isn't--”
“Right. I know. It's not right. But, still. This stinks.”
He hugged her tighter for a moment, and rubbed her arm.
They were silent the rest of the way to the jewelry shop, and she felt bad for even bringing it up. When they stepped inside, now surrounded by all these glass cases full of shiny stuff, he kissed her, just beside her ear, and whispered, “Anything you like.”
And ok, she was pretty sure he hadn't meant it that way, but those words sent a dark and sexual shudder through her.
He let go of her, but she didn't want to move away. She felt kind of like a shy child, hovering back away from the other kids. Wanting to go, wanting their company, knowing that good things lay ahead, and yet, afraid of stepping away from familiar comfort.
Rings would make it real. Physical.
She was still beside him, close enough to feel his body against her, her shoulder bumped against his side, the swell of his stomach against her flank. She turned towards him and looked up at him, and he looked down at her, calm and cool.
She touched his face.
Freshly shaven, smooth, except his upper lip, where her fingertips caught on short stubble, and another rough patch on that spot just beneath his chin. Hands moved down, across broad shoulders, powerful biceps.
She knew this was a public place and a private moment, knew it must be making him uncomfortable, reserved as he was, but he bore it quietly, without complaint, without even shifting away from her.
He even carried this child like a male, sometimes rolling his body back a bit as though trying to take the weight on his shoulders. The extra bulk sat uneasily on his unsuited frame. He'd hardly breathed a word of complaint until one day his back hurt so much he could hardly get out of bed. Ever since then, backrubs had become a part of their routine, but she could still read silent pain in his stance more often than not.
He attacked the situation like a battle plan, making strategies and executing strikes. He had lists and tables and even diagrams and watched his diet and exercise with the same scrupulous intensity he devoted to Buffy's training.
He was a man, no question, and she asked herself one more time, there in that jewelry store, if it bothered her. She knew she wanted him, but she couldn't lie. Couldn't pretend it wasn't true that, more often than not, it was women who caught her eye. Even today in the mall, just walking in the door, she'd noticed someone.
As she stretched her hands around the firm muscle of his arms, she thought about soft curves and long hair and hot, slick heat clenched around her fingers.
But as she took a deep breath, she could smell his cologne, and all it ended up coming down to was him. Giles. Rupert. The one she loved.
“All I want is you,” she said.
He smiled, too.
“Well, you already have me. Surely there's something else in here you'd also find attractive.”
So they looked around, and ended up settling on a pair of simple gold bands.
But there was something else that did catch her eye, and before they left the mall, she said, “You know, we're getting married. I think we should buy gifts. For each other. Don't you?”
And as soon as he'd agreed and they'd gone their separate ways, she'd slipped back to the shop and made another purchase. Then, she'd settled down on the bench they'd chosen to meet back at and pulled out the other small box, flipped it open and stared down at the glint of light on gold rings until he showed back up, and they were ready to go.
“You know,” she said, “the last time I was here, I was being held hostage.”
He peered up at the imposing City Hall.
“Well. Hopefully, this experience will be... a bit more pleasant.”
She snuggled against him.
“You know it will, silly,” she said. He pulled her closer. They were just standing next to his car. Technically, they should be walking across the street. Into the building. Down to the county clerk's office.
Neither of them were actually moving however.
His voice of reason cheerfully informed him that he was completely off his rocker insane.
“I mean,” she said, “It would kinda have to be, right? Pretty much anything better than being threatened by Faith at knifepoint.”
He loved her. He truly, truly did. But god, his relationships... they really never worked out as he planned them. This whole idea suddenly seemed dangerously optimistic. Naive, even.
“Although, um, don't tell anyone, but... that whole Faith thing? Kinda sexy, actually.”
He chuckled, startled, and hugged her tighter. Kissed her hair. Took a deep breath, both to fortify his courage and simply to breathe in her scent, and then said, “All right, then. Shall we do this?”
He felt her grip a handful of his shirt and was actually relieved at the sign that she was as nervous as he.
“Yup. Yup, let's do this.”
When they reached the steps, she said, “Giles? Are you scared, too?”
They stopped again.
“We... we don't have to do this, Willow. If you're--”
She gave him a Look.
“Wuss,” she said.
But they stayed there, at the foot of the steps, facing each other, holding hands between them. The wind teased her bangs loose and a lock fell over her eye. He reached up to push it back in place. She tilted her face into his touch.
“I love you,” she said, “And... I want this. Even if... it's big and it's scary.”
And all there was to say to that was, “So do I.”
Waking every morning as he had this morning, with her beside him.
So they climbed the stairs.
And they bloody well did it.
Giles and Willow had been late. They'd said they'd be here by three. Probably they'd been off somewhere having sex.
Disgust twisted his gut, and he shoved aside that particular mental image. Wonderfully nice of them. Abandoning Buffy and Dawn in their time of need for their own icky pleasures.
Xander scrubbed the dish he was holding with a bit more vitriol than strictly necessary.
Out in the living room, Dawn and Anya were arguing over the validity of a Scrabble word, and Giles' deeper tones were cutting in now and then, and mostly, it seemed from the escalating volume, being ignored. Or making things worse.
Scrabble was a dumb game anyway, in Xander's opinion. Totally skewed towards losers who spend their way too long lives reading way too many big books.
And stupid vampires who knew words like “effulgent.”
And what the hell was up with Willow and Buffy and their whole thing with dating completely inappropriate guys? Why hadn't she *learned* by now not to date the evil undead? And Willow was supposed to be all gay now. So why was Giles so special, anyway?
In the other room, the game apparently broke up. Dawn stalked though the kitchen near tears.
Xander was about to go after her when Spike followed, pushing him aside and saying, “I got it, stay here.”
Anya's voice came through clearly over the running water for a moment. “It is *so* a proper noun!”
He finished up the last dish and walked into the living room, to find that everything had gone disturbingly quiet. That is, except for Buffy. Who was crying. Clutching Giles like a lifeline and sobbing.
Anya was staring, taken completely aback, and Willow was sitting on the other side of Buffy on the couch with her hand on her back, leaning in and adding her own murmurs to Giles' litany of comfort.
Xander froze and swallowed hard. What the hell happened?
Giles looked up for a moment, and his eyes silently flicked from Xander to Anya to the kitchen.
Hurting and a little scared, seeing Buffy like this, he took the silent cue and said, “Hey, Ahn, wanna help put the dishes away, maybe?”
“What happened?” he asked, once they were back in the kitchen.
“I don't know. One moment we were arguing about whether Kleenex was a proper noun, which it is, of course, because it's a brand name, and the next thing I know, Dawn was running away and then Buffy was crying...”
She stopped and looked at the plate in her hands.
“This is all very confusing and distressing.”
“Yeah,” Xander said, “You can say that again.”'
After a while, Giles and Willow came into the kitchen.
“Buffy's resting until dinner's ready,” Giles said.
Willow had her hand on his shoulder, where his shirt was wet. God, did they have to be all over each other like that all the time? Xander looked away pointedly.
“You can go if you'd like,” Giles added.
“Yes, let's,” Anya said, quickly.
He had to agree with her.
“Yeah. I'm gone. Better than watching the two of you hang all over each other.”
The next five weeks, Willow was convinced, were some of the worst of her life. Which, given some of the months she'd had, she felt was really saying something.
Buffy didn't seem to be getting any happier. Xander was snippy and obnoxious. And Giles was growing increasingly crabby and short-tempered.
Not that she blamed him. Ok, not that she felt like she *should* blame him. He was in pain and hormonal and Ben hadn't shown up for his last appointment and... when Buffy hurt, he hurt. Especially when it was like this and there was nothing he could do.
But still, if she were honest with herself, she was getting tired of it. All of it.
Spike and Anya were just about the only people she could stand to be around at the moment, and how weird was that?
She mused on that as she sat at the table in the Magic Box with her homework and watched Giles and Xander bicker over something. She didn't know what they were talking about. She didn't want to know. She wished she were somewhere else.
She sighed, and suddenly Anya plopped down in a chair beside her.
“Obnoxious, isn't it?” Anya said.
“Mmm-hmm,” Willow said, finding no energy to form real words.
“I mean, Giles is always on Xander's case these days. Whatever did Xander do to him? It's just wrong!”
Willow blinked at the injustice of this, and turned a tired glare on Anya. Who was oblivious.
“You know, this wouldn't even be a problem if you'd just stuck with women.”
Willow shook her head in complete defeat and buried her face in her hands. So much for Anya. Guess she was left with Spike.
Giles and Xander's shouts rang through the enclosed space, and she was really about ready to just slap her hands over her ears and start singing. But before she could, the shouts ended abruptly with a sharp crack.
And then a clatter.
Her eyes snapped open, and Giles was on the floor, and Xander's fist was still clenched.
*Oh, goddess,* was her first thought, and then she was out of her chair, heading for Giles.
But he was on his feet before she got halfway there, and then Willow saw Xander's eyes go wide, a split-second before Giles hammered him back against a wall.
“You sodding idiot!”
She tried to call his name, but he wasn't hearing anything. Not hearing Xander's panicked, cut-off pleas, or Anya's outrage.
“You have a problem with me, that's fine,” he was saying, hands buried in Xander's shirt, pinning him. “But you hit me, and it's not just me you're hitting.” Pulled away, just enough to slam Xander back again, hard enough to make the charms rattle. “Hurt my child and you will be very, very sorry. Do you understand?”
And Xander was already nodding, frantically.
Giles just sighed, and then he was stepping away, looking away.
“I need some air,” he said, vaguely directing the comment back at her. Stay away, it meant, and it hurt.
He stalked out the door without another word.
He woke to find himself on his feet. Odd position to wake in. His arms hurt.
Somewhere nearby, a voice, female, said, “Wakey, wakey. Argh! These humans. They're just so fragile! It's so inconvenient.”
Denial surged through him like nausea, and fell from his lips in a word.
He opened his eyes, and it was true, anyway. Glory.
“Yes,” she said, “Yes, yes, yes. And it's about time, too. You have something that's mine, and you've had it way longer than you deserved to.”
He jolted against the chains holding his arms over his head, but they were solid. His heart hammered.
“No, no, it's not--”
Glory rolled her eyes and shook her head. Rolled a few steps closer, all sneering eyes and shiny red silk. Touched him. He shuddered at her slim finger on his jaw. Too familiar. Too horrifying. The denial still pulsing in him, begging for this to be a nightmare, begging her to just leave him alone.
“Oh, silly, silly human. You really think you can convince me this isn't my shiny key? I mean, it's not even like you hid it all that well. I know it is. Innocent. Human. Can't get much more innocent than never born, can you?”
Her finger trailed down his throat. Turned and pressed, and he felt her nail slice through skin, felt warm blood and brighter, hotter pain.
“Don't much care, hon. Now, be a sweetie and hold still for me, will ya? He's not much use to me all wrapped up in your innards.”
His shirt ripped, easy as tissue paper. Her finger again, sliding down, drawing a line of chilled horror from his sternum to his navel. And it isn't until her nail slips into his skin like a scalpel that his reeling mind stumbled over the only answer.
“He'll die,” he gasped.
She stopped, and relief made him weak and cold.
“He can't--” he's gasping for air, for reason, for calm, “can't live outside of me. Not yet. Too... too young.”
It's a lie, he thinks, but he needs it to be true, to convince her, so much that there isn't a trace of deceit in his voice.
“Oh,” she said, “Oh... OH!” With rising frustration. And then, with an air of forcibly regained poise, “Fine. Fine. We can work with that. We'll just have to... keep you around a bit longer.”
But he doesn't have time to be relieved. Because then her hands flash up to his temples, and for a moment, there's a horrid sensation of something squirming in his brain, and then...
It wasn't until Willow got home and Giles wasn't there that she began to panic.
Time stopped when she saw him.
Buffy dangled in the middle of a kick, the scabby minion at whom she aimed frozen with an expression of horror and resignation. Xander grimaced as he gripped his axe, grappling with another minion, both of them still as statues. Spike's mouth was wide in a roar, fangs bared.
Glory's eyes were stopped, mid-roll.
And he hung in the middle of it, arms over his head, suspended by a chain from the ceiling. He looked around, vaguely. His eyes empty and confused. Far too untouched by the chaos. Dried blood on his jaw, and down his stomach, but otherwise unhurt.
She dropped to her knees.
“Oh, god, baby. Oh, god. No.”
She lost sight of him, in a blur of tears, but heard him say, softly, almost mournfully, “Too dark. Not time yet.”
Senseless. She gasped a sob and staggered to her feet. Stumbled to him, and was horrified when he flinched at her touch.
“Can't!” he said, sharply, with the tone of voice he used to train Buffy. “Not yours... not... mine--I... there's... it's strange,” he said, his voice growing softer as he grew more confused.
She reached up along his arms, touched the chains and they turned to vines and fell away under her hands. He fell too, and almost sent them both to the floor, trying to put too much of his weight in her hands. She stumbled, trying to hold him, trying to coax him towards the door.
He resisted. He looked back to Glory.
“I need to be here,” he said, words that sounded almost lucid, but no less insane.
“No, no, baby. Come on, please. Please!”
But he shoved her away, hard enough that she hit the floor. His look of disdain melted her.
“Here,” he said.
Her control shattered, and the room burst back to life around them. Shouts and crashes and clanging weapons. Buffy's kick landed, and the minion staggered back, tripped over Willow and went down.
Glory took two steps towards Giles, and Willow screamed out, throwing all her life into one word, “Thicken!” And Glory was stopped. For a moment.
It was enough. Spike got hold of Giles' arm, and Buffy kicked another minion out of the way, and they fled.
This was what failure felt like, Buffy decided, hours later, as she sat in an abandoned gas station in the middle of nowhere, beset by an army and tracked by a Hellgod, with an insane Watcher, and a half-dead Xander.
She watched Ben take Xander's pulse, feeling the whole thing just get a little unreal.
Willow sat down beside her. Her eyes nervously tracked Giles as he prowled along the perimeter, peering out between the boards over the window.
“He wouldn't have liked it. The magic I did,” she said. “He doesn't want me...”
“You had to, Will,” Buffy said, gently. Aching.
“Yeah. I still... have to. But all I could find to fix him was this thing... have to be right next to her. And...”
Buffy reached for her hand and gripped it as a tear slid down Willow's cheek. Giving comfort was, at the very least, something to do. Even if there was so little comfort to give. So little hope.
“I'm so sorry, Willow. So--” Her voice broke. “God.”
Willow looked down at their hands in her lap and sniffed.
Then she raised her free hand and gently tugged on a chain around her neck, pulled it up out of her blouse. A ring of gold bounced down to hang over her chest. Glimmered in the dull light. Willow's fingers dropped down to caress it.
“He... we... god, Buffy I have to get him back.”
Buffy's breath was caught in her throat.
“Oh. Oh, god. Willow, you--”
Willow pushed on, through tears. “We didn't want to tell anyone yet. Not while things were so--but we.”
Then she was reaching in her pocket, fumbling something out. Her driver's license.
“See? It... every time I see it, I--- it makes me smile.”
Buffy took the card with numb fingers and stared at the name. Willow Giles. They were... And then they were both startled to their feet as Giles attacked one of the boarded windows, shouting his latest mantra about needing to be somewhere.
Willow ran to him, but he only knocked her away. Spike dragged him back and tussled with him, until Giles gave up and settled down, glaring at Spike.
And then, *Ben* freaked out, for no apparent reason.
And then Glory was there, out of nowhere.
Giles was shouting, pointing at Dawn.
Glory was laughing.
Grabbing her sister.
He blinked, and found himself in the middle of a battlefield.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of Buffy running towards a tower that stood like a skeleton against the sky.
Willow's hand gripped his arm and she leaned over him. Her ring dangled down and traced over his sleeve, and it was all so real, so sane, so quiet, even in the chaos.
“Couldn't let you stay gone.”
He gripped her hand and looked into her eyes, so glad to be able to truly see them again.
“What the hell is going on?”
After she told him, he went to the tower, and found Ben lying in his own blood, coughing weakly.
“Hey, Rupert,” he said, smiling slightly.
He knelt beside him, this good man, who'd helped him when he'd been nearly hopeless. He felt cold inside. Glory is Ben. Ben is Glory.
“Can you move?”
“Need a-- a minute,” Ben said. “She could have killed me.”
The cold spread a little further through his chest, hurting.
“No, she couldn't,” he said, softly.
So, Buffy was dead.
Spike had lifted her from the rubble and carried her, cradled like a child in his arms, back to her home, and they had laid her on the couch where her mother had died. Then, they'd found somewhere quiet and secluded and dug a grave for her.
Then he and Willow had simply stayed with Dawn, their house, recently bought, standing empty.
And life had somehow gone on. The sun rose and set. They cooked and cleaned and paid bills and made love, and just... didn't fade away. It seemed, often, to Giles, though, that they should have. That maybe, in some ways, they had. That he had.
The others went out every night, fighting the vampires, trying to clean up the demons that had spawned from the brief opening of the portal.
He couldn't fight, of course. Not now. Walking or standing for long periods of time was about as energetic as he could currently hope to get.
He was at the dining room table now, with a collection of texts before him. Dragon-slaying, he was finding, was rivaled only by fishing for tall-tales. Unfortunately, tall-tales did very little to aid him in figuring out how one actually goes about slaying a dragon in a practical manner, with an eye towards safety.
He was tired, and he was aching with all of his being for a drink. Just one drink. God, this was killing him.
He groaned and rolled his shoulders back, reached behind himself to press his thumbs into the small of his back. Pain was his most constant companion lately. The fiery tangle that centered over his spine just above his hips, and snaked up either side of his back, settled into a low, constant tension in his neck, an ache that never faded from his temples.
The door opened.
A few moments later, Willow walked in. She was dangling a stake and a cross from one hand, and she utterly *reeked* of magic. But what could he say? It was necessary.
“One dead dragon,” she said, and her voice carried the same exhaustion he felt.
“Dead?” he said.
He should have felt exultant, or at least relieved, but instead what he felt was something like anger. Like jealousy.
The dragon had been his. Should have been slain by the knowledge he'd give them. It was all he had left.
All he said was, “The others?”
”All ok. I'll... I'll tell you about it later, ok?”
She pulled out one of the other chairs and turned it towards him, and then dropped into it, her limbs splayed with the disregard of one too tired to have the energy to arrange them.
They were silent. They sat, facing each other, not really looking at each other, in the pale yellow light. Then, she slipped out of her chair, down to her knees on the floor, and inched forward until she was between his legs. He breathed in sharply, deeply not in the mood, but then, instead of touching him, she merely leaned against him, her head turned to the side, resting on his stomach.
And then, Eric shifted inside him, and she slipped her arms around him, and he saw a small smile on her lips, and he understood.
Understood several things, actually. He understood that she was listening to Eric, and he understood the peace she was drawing from it.
He slid his hand into her hair, gently held her close, and loved the warmth of her skull under his hand, the softness of her cheek against his stomach. Loved the child inside him, and loved her arms around him.
And he understood then that everything would not be all right.
Because everything already was.
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