Many thanks to Thomasina
and Mahaliem for beta reading this fic and
making so many helpful suggestions.
She didn’t shut up on the flight from Sunnydale to L.A.; murmured, innocuous trivialities in his ear; bitterly gleeful digs in his mind, until his head was full of gibberish.
“Don’t you just love these cute bags of you’re still bruised, aren’t you? Going to strip and show me later? Oh, getting bumpy! Hold my do you think I don’t know how hard you were when you were hurting me with your magic? Bad Giles...but I’m the one getting a drink? I’d love one. Look, we can see the ocean!”
He ignored her, trying to concentrate enough to block her from his mind, vaguely aware that he was getting annoyed looks from the people around them, who couldn’t see why he was being so rude to the sweetly smiling young woman beside him.
Just as he thought he’d retreated far enough into calm that he could shut her out, she spilled her juice over his leg, drenching him with cold stickiness.
She returned his glare with a gasped flood of apologies, laughing eyes contradicting penitent lips. “Giles! God, I’m so sorry! I don’t know why I’m so clumsy today. It’s like my hands are bewitched or something.” Dark eyes widened and invited him to share the joke, as she reached, hands moving together, for a paper napkin, dabbing at the stain with an anxious assiduity.
Giles let her do it, staring down at something only they could see; the twisted blue sparkle of air bent and hardened around her slender wrists. Cuffed hands, linked with just enough play in the chain to allow her to do basic tasks, but designed to prevent her performing dark magic.
They worked because his will was strong enough to make them unbreakable. She’d created that inflexibility within him, crafting it with pain, humiliation and abuse in the long hours she’d spent torturing him in the ruins of the shop. Hours that had ended when the magic she’d stolen from him finished its job, working within her and neutralising every scrap of darkness, returning to him in a flood of dirty light, leaving him sick with the taint of it.
He’d done all he could, in the two days that followed, to deal with it, losing himself in long conversations with Buffy and Xander as they poured out disjointed, horrified accounts of what had happened, blaming themselves for blindness, lack of caring, neglect – until Anya, standing at a careful distance from Xander, had delivered a cool, offhand summation of the situation that dwelt heavily on Willow’s inability to deal with loss but wandered into an attack on Xander’s equally irritating inability to, well, be anything but a coward.
Then Willow had woken, eyes hazel, hair red, yes, but with the icy anger still encasing her, still possessed of an innate power he couldn’t strip from her without leaving her as good as dead, still not Willow as they’d known her, the shy sweetness soured to citrus.
Her friends hadn’t protested when he’d given up trying to reach her and activated the arrangements to take her to England, to the coven, to the possible intervention of the Council. Dawn and Buffy hadn’t even come to the airport and Xander had driven them there in a silence that for Giles was illusory, as Willow’s voice was sibilant and strident in turns in his head.
And now she was scrubbing harder at the stain she’d made, and letting her fingers stray without even trying to disguise what she was doing. Giles felt the caressing touch move lightly along his thigh as she carried on babbling excuses, but he only hardened under her delicately stroking fingers when she choked, the small, pained sound providing the perfect stimulus. Her hand flew to her throat, the napkin fluttered down, orange and white, wet and dry, and he smiled, breaking his long silence.
“Did something go down the wrong way?” He pursed his lips in mock concern, eyeing the collar he’d just created as it drew tighter around her neck, each blue mote of enchanted air glinting darkly. “I think you’ll feel better if you just sit still and be quiet.”
The extra surge of power he sent on the final word wasn’t needed to reinforce his meaning, but watching her lips part, with nothing emerging but a silent gasp, after the hours of chatter, was worth the effort. He still felt pity for her; a dying echo of the emotion at least, but each time she forced him to react with harshness it quieted a little more. When it had been hushed and stilled, the only restraint on him would be the mercy he was willing to show to the woman who had destroyed friendship – and his fucking shop – in a grief that went so far beyond reason he was still shaking deep inside just thinking about it.
The small plane landed in L.A. and he walked off it, not looking behind him. The leash of power he’d attached to the collar tautened and then quivered as she fought it.
He pitched his voice for her ears alone. “I’ll drag you if I have to, Willow, and you might get to kick, but I won’t let you scream.”
She must have believed him – no reason not to – because the tension left the link, and she came up beside him in the corridor, following him through the terminal, matching her pace to his. “You have to sleep eventually, Giles, and when you do, I’ll be in your dreams and I’ll make them nightmares.”
“I’m fairly frightened by sharks, have a dislike of enclosed spaces, and I’d scream like a girl if a large spider ran down the back of my neck.” He glanced at her and quirked his lips in a small smile. “I’d hate for you to waste time working it out.”
“You won’t think it’s so funny when –”
“It’s not going to happen, you silly girl. I’ll sleep warded, as I have done the last few nights, and you’ll be watched continually.” Giles glanced up at a board announcing departures and then at his watch. “Good. Plenty of time before the London flight.”
“For what?” Willow turned and placed herself squarely in his path. “It’s not too late, Giles. Taking me to a bunch of little old English ladies who’ll teach me to cast spells with my finger crooked just so isn’t going to do anything. I’m still gonna be leaking magic and leaving a slimy trail wherever I go – oh, don’t look like that! You think I can’t see the way your eyes change when you look at me? You think I’m disgusting, don’t you? Think I’m –”
“Making entirely too much noise? I certainly do. Giles. Willow.”
Giles smiled over Willow’s head at his former colleague. “Wesley. Good to see you. No problems collecting the tickets?”
“No. Nice of you to upgrade us; I wasn’t looking forward to that trip in economy.”
“Hello?” Willow said pettishly. “I don’t need one babysitter and now I’ve got two? Or is he here for your benefit, Giles? Should’ve told me you needed your hand held. Or isn’t that what Wesley gets to hold? I always wondered-”
Giles had watched her glance between them as he greeted Wesley. He could see the precise moment when she decided to play them against each other and he allowed her to get two thirds of the way into her sentence before bringing his hand up in front of her face and slowly curling his fingers into a fist. Theatrical, yes, but she was rather fond of that herself; the dramatic gestures that were completely unnecessary, because if he wanted to take the air away from her, all he had to do was will it, connected as they were, and watch as her face, still pale, flushed with blood.
He slackened his hand when Wesley reached up to tug at the neck of his sweater, his lips tight as if the sight of Willow fighting to breathe bothered him in some way. Willow caught both the action and his reaction and looked between them, a speculative look that held no kindness. “Don’t like watching me suffer, Wes? You here to protect me, then?”
Her linked hands moved fast enough that they hooked into the rolled neck of Wesley’s sweater and tugged it down before either of them could stop her. The scar was ugly against Wesley’s skin, stark and raw. He stepped back, not in retreat, but as an alternative to touching her, and Giles saw Willow’s face pinch with something that might have been hurt. Interesting.
“I’m here for many reasons, Willow.” Wesley’s voice was slightly hoarse but had lost none of its precision. “But though I’m loath to deprive you of your evident pleasure in picturing Giles and me together, I think he asked for my assistance more because he remembers that I was once willing to let you die for the greater good – and that was before you let your little hobby get out of control.” Wesley’s gaze flickered over Willow and back up to her eyes. The Wesley Giles had once known might have cleared his throat as this point; twitched his tie, shot his cuffs...this Wesley shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of the casual suede jacket he wore and said softly, “Your boyfriend saved you from me that night, Willow. Somehow I don’t see that happening again, do you? Because you don’t have a friend, boy or girl. You don’t have anyone who loves you now.”
Giles felt her power tear through the restraints and spat out a warning, too late to do any good. His eyes went to the expanse of windows that had been showing planes silhouetted against a clear blue sky. The sky was darkening like Willow’s eyes now; clouds tumbling and jostling for position, rain spilling from them. More drama; more symbolism. Why couldn’t she just bloody well do her own crying?
“Get her back,” Wesley said, raising his voice over a squeal of static from the announcement speakers. “Giles – control her, damn it!”
Lightning flashed down in a silver zigzag sizzle and struck a plane. He could feel her power seeping through the cracks, like sand through a wall, and tried to seal them closed with a growing sense of futility that only served to widen them. Beside him, Wesley cursed and stepped forward, bringing his hand swinging around to smack hard against Willow’s face, the flat crack of it jolting Giles more than he’d expected. Linked as they were, he felt the mundane pain break her concentration and scrambled to contain her.
“Well, wasn’t that fun,” Wesley said, his words emerging in a rasp due mostly to irritation. He stared at Willow, puppet-held and helpless, and shook his head. “I thought you had her safe.”
“You provoked her,” Giles said tiredly. “She can’t do dark magic and she can’t harm directly, but weather magic is neutral. It owes a lot to Chaos, but it’s a natural magic.” Resentment at having to defend her even that much sharpened his words as he leaned in close to Willow’s face. “But it was still uncontrolled, Willow. Still an over-reaction. That’s what you’ll be taught; control. And by God, you need it!” The loudspeaker spat out something he didn’t grasp, but Wesley’s sigh translated it. On the announcement board, flight times were all flicking over to read, ‘Delayed’, including their flight to London.
He didn’t have to join the crowd besieging the information desk to know which plane had been struck.
“Thousands of people inconvenienced, thousands of dollars of damage, all because you can’t –” He bit off the rest of that and turned to Wesley. “We’ll need a place to stay; this isn’t going to be sorted out quickly and I’m not hanging around for hours with this many people watching. It’s too risky.”
“I know somewhere close,” Wesley said. “I’ll make arrangements while you talk to the airline people.” He hesitated. “It’s possible we’ll have to fly out tomorrow now; should I get two rooms for the night, or three?”
Giles tapped a finger against the fading mark on Willow’s face and watched her eyes as he touched her, seeing something that might have been relief, couldn’t have been gratitude. “One.”
“I don’t care what it looks like. I don’t care if she’s young enough to be his daughter, my sister, or any other relation I’m not allowed to fuck. You will give me the room key, you will take that supercilious sneer off your face, and you’ll refrain from speculation when the screaming starts.”
Giles watched Wesley with interested appreciation, wondering if it was the cold, level voice that was making the desk clerk flinch or – he moved to the side slightly to get a better view – the fact that Wesley had snatched the pen from the clerk’s hand and was using it to pin the man’s hand to the counter, gripping it tightly, and grinding it against flesh and bone with every word.
“Yes – I’m sorry – didn’t understand -please, sir.”
Wesley released him, and then waited until the man had lifted the key down, capitulation utter and complete, before remarking idly, “I got the impression from Miss Morgan that the management here wasn’t quite as scrupulous as your behaviour seems to suggest.”
“Miss Morgan? Oh!” Relief, understanding and resentment mingled on his face. “You didn’t say you were with –”
He wilted under Wesley’s glare. “I’m not. And I sincerely hope that’s the last witless assumption you make. The key.”
“I –I can show you to your room...”
“Did you like working here?” Wesley asked curiously.
“’Did’? I – yes, I – please, I’m sorry.”
The man was all but wringing his hands, Giles thought, sparing him some sympathy, but not much, as Willow was getting restive beside him.
“The key. Oh, and I want a bottle of single malt, and a selection of sandwiches delivered to the room and I expect them to arrive before I’ve finished sneering at the pictures on the wall.”
Wesley came back to Giles’ side looking satisfied and they entered the elevator with Willow walking between them, as the clerk began to babble instructions into a phone held in a shaking hand.
“Was that absolutely necessary?” Giles asked, torn between guilty amusement and a slight feeling of pique that Wesley had taken charge of the situation so decisively.
“Here? Yes. Any hotel Lilah recommends isn’t going to respect weakness; though I don’t give that man long before he’s fired. It works both ways.” Wesley snorted. “Objecting to three of us in a room on moral grounds was just too much, though. Angel and I once broke up a ring of demons who were sacrificing young boys in a room on the fourth floor and doing it every third full moon.”
After taking a surreptitious look at the key Wesley had, to make sure they weren’t headed for that floor, Giles asked rather pointedly, “Lilah? I don’t think I know the name?”
Willow snickered. “Somebody’s feeling jealous?”
Ignoring her, Wesley wrinkled his nose, looking mildly uncomfortable. “She’s...well, she’s evil. Undoubtedly evil. An evil lawyer working for an evil law firm who’s trying very hard to recruit me, now that she sees my loyalties as being questionable.”
A bell pinged and the elevator doors slid open, allowing them to step out into a hallway thickly carpeted in green and filled with a hushed, almost reverential silence that spoke well of the soundproofing in the rooms.
“And are they?” Giles asked. “Because if you’re planning on a double cross, I’ll be most disappointed in you.”
Wesley gave him a grin. “I’m unswayed by her lures, I promise you.”
“But you’re fucking her,” Willow said.
Stupid of him to feel shock at Willow’s choice of verb. She’d flayed a man alive and he expected her to still mind her mouth around him?
Wesley didn’t seem to share his discomfort. “Yes. She’s very good at it; I’d be a fool not to.” He paused at a door, slid the key into the slot, and stepped aside for them to enter the suite, giving it a cursory, appraising look. “Oh, well, as it’s only for one night, I suppose it will have to do.”
The condescension was more for the benefit of the two hotel employees, who arrived laden with food and drink that they assured Wesley was on the house. He reached for his wallet to tip them and they scuttled backwards, uttering protests that rang sincere enough to make Giles raise an eyebrow.
“Well, whatever the lady’s like –”
“Most definitely not a lady,” Wesley said, uncapping the whisky and pouring some for them both.
“ – the combination of your threats, and her influence, seems to work.”
“It’s a lovely little prison cell,” Willow said, wandering over to inspect the bedroom that led off from the main room. “And, ooh, just one bed. Big enough for an orgy though.”
“There’s a couch,” Giles said, more for Wesley’s benefit. Tiredness was starting to tug at him, even though it was still early evening. He accepted the glass Wesley held out to him and shuddered as the spirit burned its welcome way down his throat.
Wesley sat down in one of the wide, soft armchairs and gave Willow a speculative look. “You weren’t too detailed on the phone, Giles,” he said, without taking his eyes off Willow. “What exactly is it you want me to do when it comes to helping deliver this little baggage safe and sound to the witches?”
Spite caused by a stab of pain from his recent ordeal, as he sat down in a chair opposite Wesley’s, made Giles say mendaciously, “Oh, they don’t care what state’s she’s in, Wesley. They’re going to be breaking her after all, so I don’t think they’ll mind if we start the job for them.”
That got him a thoughtful look from Wesley and the expected sneer from Willow. “Can’t fool me, Giles. You might be mad at me, but I’m still sweet little Willow, all earnest and keen. Can’t see you hurting me. Best research gal you ever had, that’s me. Bright and perky – or is that just my tits? And don’t think I didn’t see you looking, or notice you touching –”
“Be silent, Willow,” Giles said. “I’m not interested in the delusions you dreamed up when you had that embarrassingly obvious crush on me. Nor am I averse to hurting you if needed. You’ve shown no remorse for your actions, no regrets. You can’t trade on past... affection. We’ve exhausted that.”
She raised her hands and tweaked at her hair. “See? All red again. You drained that pesky black magic clean away. I’m me again, Giles. Just me. No power, no homicidal impulses. Why, if those two loser friends of Warren showed up right here and now, I’d offer them a sandwich and a smile. Promise.”
“Somehow, I’m inclined to doubt that,” Wesley said dryly, refilling his glass and raising an enquiring eyebrow at Giles, who nodded and held his own glass out to be replenished.
“She’d rip them to shreds,” Giles agreed.
“But she’s got a point,” Wesley said. “I’m guessing the lack of guilt’s tied into the belief that she’s untouchable. Guilt is based on fear of consequences, and for her there’ve been few that matter.”
“I lost Tara,” Willow said in a voice flat enough to make Giles glance at her as she finally sat down, lounging on a sofa with an elaborate unconcern for the consequences of boot-clad feet on striped satin.
“That came first,” Wesley pointed out. “It can’t be seen in any way as a punishment for what you did. And, though I never met her, I’m sorry for –”
“You don’t get to say that,” Willow snapped. “Not ever.”
“Oh, yes, he bloody well does!” Giles said. “You didn’t own Tara. Other people besides you are allowed to mourn her and to miss her. Wesley’s sympathy might fall more into the realm of polite and impersonal, but I knew her. I’m entitled to grieve.”
A sticky silence fell. Wesley stood up and wandered over to inspect a bookcase with some carefully chosen – for the colour of their spines – books and Giles stared, stony-eyed, at Willow until she looked away.
“That’s always been your trouble, Willow,” he said. “Your major flaw. Where you love, you want to possess, and you don’t take kindly to people you love leaving you. I wonder how long it would’ve been before Tara went for good.”
“She came back to me and she would’ve stayed. I wouldn’t have let her go again -”
Willow’s voice was vicious as she swung her feet down to slam against the carpet. Giles tightened the collar she wore in a warning he almost hoped she’d ignore, and watched her slump back against the cushions.
“I see. Arrogant really doesn’t begin to cover it, does it? Our memories are yours to tamper with, our free will non-existent...and those you love aren’t allowed to leave you, ever. Buffy bloody died and it wasn’t enough to save her from your meddling.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Willow said sullenly.
Wesley laughed, rejoining the conversation. “You did, you know,” he said. “Come on, Willow; you can tell us. By the time we’re through with you, we’ll know every nasty, dirty little thought crawling around in your head. No point in being shy.”
She turned and fixed her eyes on Giles and he met her gaze calmly. “What are you going to do to me?” she said.
“I told you –”
“No. What are you really going to do, Giles?”
In a voice that never turned gentle, even when she flinched, he began to recite the appropriate passage from the Slayer’s Handbook. “ ‘– when a Watcher deems a Slayer to have committed acts that bring her calling into disrepute, or endanger those she is sworn to protect, he is authorised to use any force necessary, up to and including execution, to chastise, rehabilitate or punish his Slayer.’ It’s been done more times than we like to admit, Willow. And the traditional method of execution isn’t pretty, though it’s not been used for centuries.”
“Sick, sadistic...English...” She took a deep breath. “But I’m not a Slayer, Giles. Doesn’t apply to me. My unrepentant ass is going to stay all unchastised, sorry. There are lines, you know? Lines you can’t step over.”
She parroted the words he and Buffy had said to her as they tried to reason with her madness with a triumphant smile and he shook his head as Wesley began to speak.
“’In certain circumstances (see Appendix 4b), a Watcher is allowed to exercise his authority on any human who has committed acts of a nature that make it inadvisable for the normal course of human justice–‘ Oh, Giles, she doesn’t need to hear this tedious, English crap.” Wesley walked over to her and smiled. “Let’s move from the theoretical to the practical.” His hand lashed out across her face. “I can do that, and worse, with no one to stop me, until my arm gets tired, Willow, and I would if I thought it would work. Do you believe me or shall I do it again?”
Was it his imagination, or had her eyes flickered to him as Wesley told her no one would stop him? She couldn’t seriously expect him to rescue her...
Blood trickled from a cut lip as she smiled up at Wesley. “For my own good, right?”
Wesley looked amused. “I can’t believe you’re naive enough to think that’s still a factor,” he said. Crouching down beside her, he patted her knee. “No one cares if you die, Willow. They just want to make you safe because you scare them. Oh, Giles did a good job of neutralising you, for now, but he knows, and I know and you know, too –”
“I’ll break free eventually,” she finished. “And then I’ll be impossible to kill if I get my mad on again.”
“’Difficult’, not impossible,” Giles corrected. “If you live, you can die. And you will, if you’re seen as a danger or a risk.”
“And who’s gonna do that, Giles? Who’s going to kill me?”
There was no taunt or challenge in her voice now; just a curiosity that seemed almost academic. Giles didn’t bother answering her with words; just tapped his fingers against his chest, then watched, with detached interest, as she gave him a horrified look.
“Why would you agree to that, Giles?” she said. “Why do you have to be my executioner?”
Giles shrugged. “Because I volunteered?” he said, striving to sound indifferent. Was that pity in her voice? Did she really think it mattered to him? It did, of course; he’d not quite reached the point where he could contemplate killing her with equanimity, and he hoped he never would, as it’d mean more died than her body. “Besides, Willow, I really doubt it’ll come to that.”
Some of the tension left her and he smiled. She’d done that to him in the shop; taken the pain away for long enough that he began to hope, then ...
“I made them agree to a lesser penalty,” he said in a confiding voice, inviting approval. “Not death, unless it’s inevitable, but something a little more...merciful.”
He stood and went to join Wesley, standing above them both. “Now this hasn’t been done for a long time,” he said. “First they take the hands –”
“’To hinder the gathering of divers noxious herbs...’” Wesley said softly, reaching out to circle Willow’s wrists with his long fingers.
“Then the tongue –”
“’That it shall speak no words to call forth evil...’” Wesley’s fingers rose to brush against Willow’s lips, parted on a protest, and tapped them lightly.
“Finally the eyes.”
“’In mercy that they see not the world they hate, not their reflection.’” Wesley gently closed Willow’s eyes and chuckled as she pulled away from him.
“You wouldn’t do that either! None of it! It’s all tales to scare me.” Willow nodded, as though the vehemence of her reaction could make it truth and then smiled in triumph as she played a winning card. “Buffy would never let you.”
“Buffy?” Giles said. “This would be the Buffy whose sister you tried to kill twice, would it? The same Buffy who swore to kill us all if we came near Dawn to end Glory’s ritual?” Giles shook his head. “She’s far from forgiveness right now, Willow. You’re perfectly correct in that I’m sure she’d protest my course of action, mind you, but then, I don’t propose to tell her, so it’s scarcely an issue.” He folded his arms and glanced at Wesley. “Wesley? Were you going to mention this conversation to Buffy?”
“I think I’ll be too busy assuring her that Willow was most well behaved on the flight to have time,” Wesley said.
“I thought so.” Giles watched unease flow across Willow’s expressive face and then harden into scorn. Oh, she was fighting to the end, wasn’t she? A flicker of pride burned inside him for an instant, fed by a dozen memories of her – of all of them – refusing to accept the inevitable...though in this case she was going to lose. He would not permit his – no, not his, not now – he wouldn’t permit Willow to remain in this limbo, twisted out of true. If he had to break her to mend her, he would.
“She needs a taste of it, perhaps,” Wesley said, tilting his head and studying her thoughtfully. “She doesn’t seem entirely convinced. Can you do that?”
Giles considered what it would require and nodded. Truthfully, he was a little worried at his own reactions to the borrowed magic he was using. Tempting to keep it...God, yes it was...
“No, Giles, don’t!” Willow’s voice was shrill with sudden panic and Giles savoured that reaction with a grim satisfaction. That’d reached her then. Good...
He raised his hand, cut the magic that tied her wrists, then spoke three words and watched Willow’s arms flex as they tried to control the hands that, for all intents and purposes, were no longer there; bound her tongue before she could scream, and blinded her.
Wesley’s hands came up to fend her off as she blundered into him, mouth working frantically, eyes blank and wet with panicked tears yet to fall. “Is she in pain?” he asked.
“No.” And she wasn’t going to be. Not yet. “She’s better off lying down,” he said, reaching out to grasp Willow’s arms and guide her to the bed. She struggled, writhing in his grasp and he pitched his voice low, speaking into her ear. “An hour, Willow. Just an hour. Behave and I’ll release you after that. Show me you can be good and I’ll –”
She twisted, frantic and desperate, and fell to her knees, mouthing his cock through his trousers, wrapping her arms around his legs with an unexpected strength,
“No, Willow,” he said, sliding his hand into her hair and wrenching her off him with a shudder, feeling his body respond to her again and hating himself because of it.
“Interesting interpretation of your words,” Wesley said, keeping his distance.
“She’s frightened,” Giles murmured, smoothing Willow’s hair back as she crouched at his feet and wondering why he was trying to soothe her.
“It’s still an odd reaction,” Wesley insisted. “Or perhaps not...”
“Meaning?” Giles said tightly. God, Wesley was starting to irritate him profoundly. “She’s attempting to bargain using her body. It’s...distressing, but scarcely an unusual action.”
“You’re talking about her as if she’s not there,” Wesley said. “She can still hear us.”
Giles looked down at Willow who was trembling, blind eyes squeezed closed. “I know. Willow, please stop that. Just get on the bed and wait.”
He hauled her up and pushed her onto the bed, watching her roll into a tight curl, small and defenceless.
“You’re not going to leave her like that are you?” Wesley said softly, as Giles backed away. “Alone in the darkness?”
“I’m not going to fuck her, if that’s what you mean,” Giles snarled. “And neither are you.”
Willow’s head snapped around at his words and she whimpered, going to her back and spreading her legs, hips arching up in an invitation as blatant as it was pitiable. Giles shivered. He’d hoped this would work to shatter her defences but now it had, with a speed that suggested she’d been close to surrender, he wanted nothing more than to end it.
Wesley’s face twisted. “Trust me, I don’t think I could.” He gave Giles a pointed, downward glance. “You, on the other hand seem more than up for the task...”
“By God, Wesley, if you don’t –” The anger that rushed through him was a blessed distraction but no less real for all of that. Only the need to keep a united front saved Wesley from a fist against his sneering mouth.
His eyes cold, Wesley tapped against his ear, nodded at Willow and then drew a finger across his throat, tracing the line of his scar in a macabre mimicry. Giles shook his head violently, some part of him he’d thought dead revolting at the idea of thrusting Willow further into the isolation he’d created as her prison.
Two steps brought Wesley to Willow’s side and he bent over. “Willow, Giles and I need to talk. We can’t leave you, so Giles is going to take away your hearing –” She froze for an instant and then her head went back as her lips split open in a scream that emerged as a breathless gasping whimper. “Not for long, I promise you,” he said, keeping his voice low and calm. “And we’ll hold your – we’ll be touching you the whole time.” As Giles watched grimly, Wesley pushed up Willow’s sleeve and wrapped his hand around her forearm. “Feel that? It’s my hand and Giles will be on your other side –”
Forced into compliance by an uncompromising glare from Wesley, Giles sighed and obeyed. Willow’s arm was warm under his hand and at his touch her struggles slowed, as they hadn’t done for Wesley.
“Now, Giles,” Wesley said.
Giles stopped up Willow’s ears with one angrily muttered word and met Wesley’s look. “Make this fast, Wesley. I’m not sure this is wise, any of it. She’s reacting badly.”
“By coming onto you? And I disagree; this is exactly what was needed. She needed a shock; she needed to be forced to give into her emotions rather than shielding them behind hostility, as she has been doing.”
“Wesley, besides giving me the urge to thump you, where’s this going?” Giles said with a bluntness forced on him by the need to hurry.
“I’m serious. You seem to think it’s perfectly normal for Willow’s first reaction to be an attempt to placate you sexually; I don’t.”
“She’s been...teasing me like that since – no, even before I drained her magic. When she was hurting me, it was – look, I don’t want to discuss it.” Giles felt himself flush and bit down hard on his lip, welcoming the minor pain.
“I’ve been tortured by someone who thought it was terribly amusing that at various points in the performance I was so hard it hurt more than what she was doing,” Wesley said. “I don’t think I ever told anyone that, but sadly Faith wasn’t quite so reticent when she confessed her sins and wept on Angel’s shoulder. I don’t think it surprised him though; he’s probably well aware of such a reaction.”
“I’m sorry,” Giles said. “That’s –”
“Irrelevant,” Wesley said, his voice harsh. “Willow’s what we need to focus on, Giles. Nothing else.”
“Agreed,” Giles said.
“So, focus. From what you’ve told me, she seemed disappointed by your lack of praise for the spell that raised Buffy.”
“Bloody furious,” Giles corrected.
“She was hurt,” Wesley said. “She’d done a trick and you didn’t give her a treat; you kicked her and she snarled.”
Giles rolled his eyes. “Neatly put, Wesley. Would you like to explain the Theory of Relativity in similar soundbites for your next trick?”
He got a long, level look from cold blue eyes. “I thought you wanted me to be quick? Giles, Willow’s fixated on you. Always was. You never noticed her looking to you for approval, waiting for a pat on the head? Please note my continuance of the dog metaphor. It’s going to allow me to call her a rabid bitch later on.”
Sighing, Giles ran his free hand through his hair. “I’m aware of the crush she had, yes. Hard not to be. It was flattering but I put it down to no more than –” He hesitated, unwilling to share his thoughts. He’d been more than aware of it and flattered wasn’t accurate either.
He’d watched Willow yearn hopelessly, helplessly after Xander, fall into a sweet, doomed relationship with Oz – and then stood silently watching as Tara’s adoration soothed the scars left by what had gone before and gave Willow a precarious confidence.
To have that snatched away, first by Tara herself – which, ironically given the reasons for her departure, had pushed Willow further down the path that had led to her current condition – and then by Warren, was clearly more than Willow could deal with, but he’d come back to help her.
He couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
He’d watched her fall in love with other people, but he’d never doubted – conceited though it might sound – that if he’d given into the temptation she posed he could have driven all three of them from her mind with one kiss.
That he hadn’t, that he’d buried every fantasy, every stray, wanton thought, ruthlessly disciplining flesh and mind to see her as the child she’d never been in his eyes, well, it had seemed the wisest course at the time, and as the years went by, he’d grown accustomed to denying his feelings for her.
Now he was regretting all of it; the repression, the avoidance - and the anger and disappointment were crumbling as he began to comprehend her actions and wonder how many of her threats had been attempts to ensure he came back to deal with her.
“She thinks I hate her,” he said softly. “And she’s trying to make sure I can do nothing else by being like this, so she can blame me, not herself when I reject her. And I’ve done nothing else the last few days. No one’s touched her, hugged her, held her...she’s been utterly alone. And now we’ve made that immeasurably worse.”
“You don’t hate her?” Wesley asked. “After all she did?”
Giles gave him a pained look. “I’m not exactly overjoyed with her behaviour, no; even after all possible allowances for grief have been made. She needs to learn control, needs to learn that love isn’t blind worship or –”
He paused and Wesley tilted his head. “She does? And are you going to become her tutor rather than her jailer? Her saviour, not her nemesis?”
Giles turned his head to look at Willow, quiet now, an intent look on her face as if she were trying desperately to winnow words from the aching silence around her.
“I’m going to do what I should’ve done a long time ago,” he said. “You can go, Wesley – oh, just out of the room; I’m not going to take any chances...but I think I can handle this alone.”
Wesley pursed his lips and then nodded, sliding off the bed after one reassuring, surprisingly gentle, pat on Willow’s face. Giles waited for the door to close and then restored Willow’s hearing.
“Wesley’s gone, Willow,” he said. “And you’ve got fifty minutes more like this.” Her headshake was vehement but he ignored it, moving to lie down on the bed and propping himself up on the pillows. “Come here,” he said casually.
She tested the space between them until her wrist brushed his leg and then crawled into his lap, rubbing her head against his shoulder as his arms tightened around her. He could feel the tremor that ran through her as he kissed the silk of her hair, could feel it die away as she sighed and fell asleep with the sudden, complete surrender of a child.
He didn’t allow himself to sleep. Not until Wesley tapped gently on the door without opening it, startling him out of a reverie that held no thoughts. Murmuring the words to release her, he watched as she flexed restored hands and then clutched at his shirt in a grip that left her knuckles white.
Practicality overcame sentiment and he called Wesley’s name softly.
“You look cosy in a terribly uncomfortable way,” Wesley said, walking in, book in one hand, drink in the other. “Anything I can do?”
“Are you tired?”
“Hardly. I take it you are?”
“God, yes,” Giles admitted. “I think – oh, I’m sure, it’s safe, but even so...watch me? While I sleep?”
Wesley pulled up a chair beside a small table, gave Giles a small smile and reached behind him, taking out a gun from wherever it had been concealed and placing it next to his drink. “Sleep tight. I’ll make sure nothing bites.”
“You’ve been here for far too long, haven’t you?” Giles said.
She walked in his dreams and stalked through his nightmares, leading him through every encounter; showing him every mistake he’d made and mocking him for what she perceived as cowardice. He watched himself reject, lecture and ignore her; each dismissive, absent minded smile darkening her hair, strand by strand.
As metaphors went, it had the virtue of simplicity, but even sleeping he retained enough common sense to see the flaws of her logic – and when Wesley woke him, a few hours later, his face concerned, Giles was able to give him a reassuring smile and a nod of thanks.
Willow’s hand was still tangled in his shirt but her eyes were open. “You saw how it was,” she said without preamble.
“Can’t have been pleasant,” Wesley said. “You were both a little...restless.”
Giles rubbed at a knot in his shoulder muscles and sat up straight. “Willow, if you’ve got anything to say, I’d much prefer you said it aloud rather than in my dreams. I dislike sleeping warded, but I will if I need to.”
Wesley rolled his eyes. “You mean you didn’t? No wonder you were wriggling like a worm on a hook.” He gave Willow an appraising look. “That was rather impolite of you though, Willow, no matter how wide open he left himself.”
“It’s the only time you listen, Giles,” she said, ignoring Wesley. “The only chance I have to make you see.”
“A twisted, warped version of events? Why would I want to experience that?” Giles said with a rising exasperation. “Willow, since we first met I’ve been there for you. I’ve ...loved you, I’ve wanted – Wesley, now would be an excellent moment to withdraw tactfully, you know.”
“Really. Well, I can take a direct order as well as the next man, I suppose,” Wesley said, sauntering out of the room without a backward glance.
“You left me! Don’t you dare say you loved me when you don’t.”
“How can you say that? How can you even think it, let alone believe it?” Giles asked, disbelief boiling up inside him. “Because I didn’t take advantage of you? Because I stepped back and let you fall in love again and again with people who weren’t right...oh.”
“All the pain, all the loss...because you decided I wasn’t ready, I was too young.” Her voice was high with anger as she knelt beside him, hands in tight fists by her sides.
“I’m...sorry?” As apologies went it was pathetic he decided. And not entirely heartfelt which probably explained why. He tried again. “Willow, I got so used to waiting, I didn’t notice when the time had passed that I had to. For that, yes, I apologise. For not becoming intimate with a teenager who knew as well as I did what the ramifications could have been were we caught – no. No apologies for that.
“For leaving you after Buffy died...if I say I thought it was for the best; that you seemed happy with Tara – that I couldn’t bear you being so close and so unattainable – do I have to apologise for that?”
“No.” Her voice was flat. “I suppose you don’t. Giles, it doesn’t matter. We can go through every mistake and decide whose fault it was, but none of it matters. We missed our chance.”
“We bloody well didn’t,” Giles said. He pushed the hair back from her face, letting his hand cup her cheek, stroking it gently with his thumb. “Do you still trust me?”
She frowned. “Well, as you weren’t the one all big with the torturing friends and ending of the world, I’d have to say I trust you more than I do me right now.”
“Good. Then trust me on this, Willow; we haven’t missed a thing.” He kissed her, a brush of lips that held a promise. “It’s all waiting.” He smiled. “I’m good at waiting and if you aren’t now, you will be when I’ve finished with you.”
A gleam of mischief sparkled in her eyes. “That sounds as if you’re going to be teaching me a lesson, Giles.”
“I am,” he said, letting his voice retain an edge. “Several, in fact. Control, an awareness of consequences...Willow, stop pouting. It never worked when Buffy did it, and I can assure you...”
He heard Wesley snort, shamelessly eavesdropping, but Willow’s lips had started to smile and he couldn’t look away for long enough to administer a rebuke.
He didn’t, even then, with a quiet, hopeful happiness filling him, really think she was better. He didn’t expect there ever to be a moment when he didn’t notice the cracks in what he’d mended and regret that it had been broken.
But as she continued to smile, her hand warm in his, he allowed himself to think that perhaps, just maybe, he wouldn’t have to kill her after all.
And that allowed him to smile back.
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