Giles looked up, startled. The dense silence in the library had muffled the brief burst of sound from the corridor as the door swung open and then shut again and the hesitant greeting was as disconcerting as a scream would have been.
Forcing a welcoming smile to his face – this wasn’t his Slayer but there was no need to be impolite – he nodded. “Good morning. May I, uh, help you at all?”
Huge, dark eyes widened a fraction. “You’re working here?”
Giles swept off his glasses and fumbled for his handkerchief, a flush mounting. His first encounter with a student and it was so important that he blend in.
“Yes. I – this is my first day. Not been in the country all that long as it happens. Quite a lot to get used to and I can see I have a lot of work to do organising the books.” Stop babbling. Why am I babbling? Why is she just – looking at me? Oh, God, have I done something wrong already? Shit.
“You’re English! That’s so cool.”
“What? Not in the summer, I assure you. Not saying it’s a myth that it rains, but – oh. Oh, I see. Well, well, thank you.”
They exchanged smiles; his as tentative as her greeting; hers a wide beam that made him wonder if his Slayer would smile like that, would know such unaffected joy before she ...
Gathering his wits, he extended a hand. “Rupert Giles. I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Too formal and not what he planned to do with every student, but somehow he felt she was different.
She glanced at his hand and then back up to his face and he froze. God, this was America. Was a handshake inappropriate touching? Was she going to –
A small, warm hand slid into his and she blushed a charming, clashing pink. “Willow Rosenberg.”
“What an unusual name, Willow. It suits you.”
Willow...they’d had a willow tree on the lawn...large enough that its curved over branches swept the grass and formed a cave. He’d hidden in there, peering between the greenery, observing without being seen. Watching.
He realised that she was looking puzzled. “Anyway, I’m not quite sure where everything is yet, but I’m sure I can help you find what you need, Willow. Or are you returning something from last term?” He tried a small laugh, hoping to lift the deepening frown on her face. “I think I might declare an amnesty on the fine, if so. Clean slate, yes?”
“You called me ‘Willow’.”
“You said it was your name.” He couldn’t help sounding a little terse but the quiver of her lip punished his impatience. God, he was such a brute!
“M-Most teachers – they say, ‘Miss Rosenberg’. Are you sure you’re English? ‘Cause, you know, aren’t you guys all formal and stuff?”
“Cor, luv a duck, blimey. And we tend to save it for conversations between adults.”
“I’m sixteen,” she said, indignation making her stand a little straighter. “Don’t I qualify?”
“In England, I could marry you,” he said without thinking. “So I suppose you do.”
She made a sound that he lay awake replaying without managing to decipher it, and then burst out laughing at his horrified expression as what he’d said registered in his mind.
“Good Lord! I really am most – I’m so sorry, Miss Rosenberg.”
She gave him a smile sweet enough to have bees humming around her head in a dizzy, drowsy dance, and said softly. “I liked ‘Willow’ better.”
A bell rang, the clangor tearing holes in the hush that lay between them and she murmured something about needing to find zander – whatever that was. Giles made a mental note to search for a slang dictionary in the stacks. If Buffy – he was not going to call her Miss Summers! – spoke like this, they’d need an interpreter....
The door swung shut behind Willow before he had chance to say anything in return – probably just as well, as he’d done such a wonderful job of making a complete prat of himself. He realised that she hadn’t got what she came for – whatever that was. That meant she’d be coming back.
Anticipating that let him keep smiling, even when he discovered the sad state of the card index.
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