Duty and Despair



Willow lingered after the others had left, after the spell had sent her vampire double back to a Sunnydale that made this one seem positively friendly. Giles was fussing around in his office, moving books, rustling papers, finally swearing, using language that sent a shocked shiver down her back. He came out looking tired and tense, until he saw her and an embarrassed smile swept across his face.

“Willow! I thought you’d gone with the others. Just tidying up in here. It’s very late; you should be off home. I’ll give you a lift, shall I?”

“Yes, sure, but Giles...I need to talk to you first.”

He bit his lip. “About tonight?”

“Yes, of course. Giles, it was so...it must have been awful for you all.”

“For us? For you, most of all, I would think.”

“Well, yes, but you thought I was dead, didn’t you?”

He nodded slowly, his gaze moving over her, his eyes tender. “When you walked in...I can’t tell you how it felt.”

“I wish you would.” The words burst out of her. “I want to know.”

His smile was puzzled as he walked towards her, where she sat on the steps leading up to the stacks. Their heads were level and he rested his hand on the railing, almost as if he was stretching out to embrace her but not quite daring. “Know how we felt? That’s a little morb...well, I can understand it I suppose. You don’t often get to hear how people react to your death.”

She gave him an impatient look. “No, Giles! I don’t want to know all the nice things you said...although, well, yes, maybe I do because, yes, it is kind of – but that’s not what I meant.”

He leaned a little closer until she could see the fine lines around his eyes, the ones that deepened when he laughed. “I’m sorry. Then what -?”

“I wasn’t dead, Giles. I was a vampire. It’s not the same thing. There had to be one thing you were thinking. Not Xander, maybe not even Buffy, but you, you’d have thought about it right away.”

He stood up straight, moving away from her so suddenly that she was left wishing she’d done something while he was close, while he was near to her. His hand went to his glasses, in an action as familiar to her as Buffy’s eye rolling. Before she thought about it, she jumped up and grabbed his hand, stopping him.

“They don’t need cleaning, Giles!”

She didn’t think she’d ever touched him like this before, her hand wrapped firmly around his skin, feeling the strength and warmth of his body spread through her, making her want to ...

“Willow. Please.”

His other hand came up and took hers, pulling it away, gently but firmly and she blushed. “I’m sorry, Giles. It’s just – you do that all the time and it’s –”

“A habit of mine when I’m faced with something awkward. Yes.” He tucked his hands into his pockets and looked her in the eyes. “I would have done it, Willow. I would have hunted you and staked you, sent you to dust. That’s what you wanted to know, isn’t it?”

She nodded, her mouth twisted as she tried to keep back the tears. When he’d hugged her, it had felt as if everything she’d wanted had been coming true but this - “Not Buffy?”

He glanced off into the shadows that seemed so friendly when he was in the room, less so when she was alone there. “It was her duty as the Slayer, of course, but I would have spared her that. It would have been...hard for her to stake you, her closest friend.”
 
He moved away and she followed him, catching at his sleeve for a second. “And it wouldn’t have been hard for you?”

His voice was so low that it took her a moment to understand his words and then he turned back to face her and said it again.

“It would have been my duty too.”

She felt bitter disappointment. “As a Watcher?”

He turned on her, and she shivered. The look in his eyes...would she have seen that look as he raised the stake? Implacable and determined? “As many things, Willow. It doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t have let the thing that took – that killed you – live.”

She felt as if there was something glittering just out of reach of her groping fingers, something she wanted very much. Stepping closer to him, closer than she’d ever dared to be, she said carefully, “What things, Giles?”

He stepped back and she reached out and grabbed the sleeve of his shirt. The cotton felt soft and she spread her hand and laid it flat against his forearm, feeling the warmth of his skin seep into her. “Stop moving away from me! Please?”

Giles bit his lip and looked at her. “You’re not making this easy, Willow.”

“I wasn’t trying to. I was trying to get you to answer me, you ...idiot.”

“Willow!”

His shocked voice would have had her spilling apologies like books tumbling down from a tottering stack spill onto the floor any other time, but not now. Not when she’d seen what she could do and what she was capable of. It shouldn’t take a demon to give her a backbone, should it?

Taking a deep breath, she hooked her thumbs inside his collar as a way of holding him in place, and kissed him, stretching up slightly as he was so much taller this close. She felt him react, felt him try to jerk free but once her mouth touched his, he stopped and his arms swept around and pulled her in close.

Sighing, she relaxed her hold on him and let her lips part, anticipating the moment when he kissed her back. It didn’t happen. Giles did something – she replayed it later in her mind and realised that he’d kept one hand around her shoulders and moved the other down to her hips, before swinging her up into his arms as if she was a toddler in a tantrum. The room spun and her head fell back, making her squeak with pain as her neck muscles were jerked hard. He was tight lipped and angrier than she’d ever seen him.

“Willow, I’m tempted to spank you but I’m going to restrain myself and put you down if you promise not to do that again.”

“What if I won’t?” Willow said, feeling a quiver at the thought of Giles – no, he wouldn’t. He’d just been joking...she looked at him again. Maybe not.

He indicated the book cage with his eyes. “It held a vampire; I think it would hold you.”

She sighed in defeat. “Put me down, Giles. I promise.”

He let her slide to the floor and took three hasty steps, putting a table between them.

“I’m going to answer you, Willow and then you’re going to leave here, let me drive you home and we’re not going to speak of this again.”

Willow folded her arms. “Didn’t promise that,” she said.

“I would stake you as a Watcher, and as a friend. It would be my duty and it would be the last act I could perform on your behalf. Is that clear?”

She nodded and his face relaxed, the stern lines mellowing a little. “It would also be the most difficult, heart wrenching thing I can imagine. Buffy’s death would equal it, of course, but she is the Slayer; it is, God forgive me, almost inevitable that she will ...” He paused and slipped off his glasses again, using the moments it took to clean them, to regain his poise. “You’re different,” he finished, the words flat and containing more than he realised.

“You love me.”

“What? I’m very fond of you, Willow, you know that.”

“Love. You love me. You don’t threaten to spank people you’re fond of.”

Giles flushed and she walked towards him. “I promised I wouldn’t –”

“Attach yourself to me like a limpet?” Giles said dryly.

“Giles! Yes. But I’m not talking to you from half way across the room.”

He let her get within arms reach and then sighed. “Why did you do that, Willow?”

“Do I have to spell it out?”

His eyes sharpened and he looked dangerous. She liked that look on him more than she’d ever admitted before. “Yes.”

“I love you. Have done for ever. I guess I’m feeling all kinds of brave about saying it after seeing...her, because I wouldn’t have said anything, ever.”

“I’m not sure we shouldn’t have staked her,” Giles muttered. He looked at Willow who was pouting. “Oh, come here and stop doing that.”

She let him pull her close and tilted her head back. “This is how you kiss someone you love, Willow,” he said softly. “With your love and your longing and your wanting right there to be felt and tasted.”

“Show me.” He kissed her, his mouth warm and alive against hers and then stopped. “I can do that,” said Willow.

“Show me,” said Giles.


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