Rating: PG-13 (hee~!)
Word Count: 5,245
Disclaimer: I lay no claim on Giles – take him as you will. Give me D’Hoffryn. Please. Joss owns all.
Author’s Notes: Some of these passages have been posted previously in my journal as sketches. They are now incorporated into the whole of this fic.
He glanced over at the bedside table, squinting myopically at the clock face, musing for a short moment, was he the only man left on Earth who read an analog, that dastardly hand ticking away, a resolute soldier in Time’s army. He closed his bad eye, ah, the Witching Hour, returning to his back, one hand lazily sprawled across his chest, the other dangling off the edge of the mattress, fingers clenching and unclenching, but wasn’t every hour in Sunnydale the witching one?
He shunted that thought and turned an inward gaze to the dream, playing it forward and backward, slowing at the particularly good points and speeding through the rest, over and over again, wearing the thin film of it to a near transparency and then, yes, there, it was gone and she became the wavering ghost of a memory, the wafting scent left on the air after the feast devoured, the wispy smoke of the candle flame extinguished.
The Summers’ foyer, he and Willow stand apart, squared mathematically forever by what was it? Over twenty years between them? She looks up into his face earnestly, the slight blush rising from behind her ears, over her jaw line as she asks him if he knows…being a Librarian…and all. He does not cock his head and purse his lips and nod bewildered at her. No, not this time. Yes, he knows about sex, thank you. He steps across the decades that divide them and takes both her hands in his, pulling her slight frame up and into his embrace.
It was the Librarian comment. He was sure of that. Well, obviously, quite, that comment and the nearly year-long side-long askance type of watching he had been doing of her. A child, he admonished himself. A girl. A young woman. With plaited ponytails and the delightful hesitating catch in her diction, almost a lisp. He had found himself, more than once, wanting to reach out a long, square-tipped finger and place it on her lips as she spoke, so enamored of that voice was he, feel it resonate down the length of his arm, into his chest and echo off the sidewalls of his heart. And then, this part over and over in dreams, reach out another hand, feeding fingers like licorice into her mouth, bringing his own trembling lips down onto hers, crushing her to him and the small tremors of that voice racing along their wedded ribcages as she swallowed word after word she would whisper through his teeth.
He pressed a forearm over his eyes hard, sparks ricocheting behind his lids. The dream had wakened him, sweat falling off his skin like rain.
He groaned aloud and turned, arching his back a little, pushing himself down into the tangled sheets and damp pillow. He bit his lip to keep from crying out her name. A long moment. He dared to whisper it and then fell silent in the dark.
He was so alone.
He closed his eyes and summoned her back into his dreams.
He fell back into some sort of slumber, a restless tossing and exasperated exhaling, but he slept. And woke to the sweated dream not forgotten but diluted in the light of the weak morning sun. Exhausted and clammy, he gifted himself with a long and languorous shower; the warm water washing him clean of any untoward sinning on the part of his subconscious, he would have to flagellate the conscious bits with a cool demeanor and that damnable pose of distance. Running a towel perfunctorily over his body, across his chest and across his hair, sopping droplets off the back of his neck and then delicately drying the soles of his feet he stepped out of the tub onto the tiled floor. He bent over the sink and swiped at the steamed mirror, looking hard at his face, brushing away a bit of shaving cream he’d missed in the shower right below his left ear. He pursed his lips and looked away, away from his eyes that held veiled vestiges of the dream.
Dressed but still barefoot, he stood lost in the narrow kitchen, “Oh, bad show, old boy. Really bad show.” He berated himself aloud. “You’ve got to get a handle on this,” he mused. “And you’ve got to stop talking to yourself.” He smiled and began moving into his morning routine. Water on to boil and then socks and then his heavy Brogues. He eschewed entirely the drip coffee in the teachers lounge, brewing instead his own French-pressed drink at home, pouring the scalding black liquid into one of those dreadful commuter mugs, but it did go a long way towards keeping the drink hot.
Long-legged strides, an elegant sidestep here around a gaggle of girls, and then a pause and stepping with slanted shoulders through another knot of teenagers. He ducked past an opening door and matched the quick, measured steps of the Maths instructor, giving him a cursory nod in answer to the man’s conspirational look of a kind of shell shocked long-sufferingness which Rupert decidedly did not share. The teacher seemed to melt into the crowd and Giles slowed as he recognized the backs of Willow and Buffy and Xander ahead of him in the wide hallway. He turned his face away and cleared his throat as he gained on the group. Buffy and Xander turned in unison and this made it easier to look anywhere but at Willow.
He took in Buffy, even her flawlessly applied foundation couldn’t hide the tired circles under her eyes, and there was that shoulder slump that was becoming all too familiar.
“Things do look better in the morning. I trust this is true for you?”
She raised only her eyes and shrugged slightly.
Xander inhaled with a growl and in his best Joyce Summers, if Buffy’s mother had sounded anything like a sixteen year old cut-up, intoned “Now, Buffy, no dillying or dallying after school, we want to get over to Chastity-Belts-R-Us before they close.”
Even Rupert blushed, Buffy shot Xander a withering look but before turning on him completely, spoke to Giles, “I want to run a few ideas past you after school.”
He nodded his assent at her and finally relented and looked down at Willow. Her head was turned away from him but with her body angled in towards his own, the outline of her profile seemed very still. “Willow?” he asked softly, concern edging the sound of her name in his mouth, on his tongue.
She startled and he marveled at this, watching her recompose herself as she raised her face and looked into his eyes, her brow furrowing furiously, and then she looked away just as quickly.
His lungs were burning, burning and he breathed out with a quick huff of air that was muffled in the sound of the metallic clanging of the period bell. The chaos of mingled students coalesced into intent and the group of four were caught up in movement and purpose and began walking towards various destinations. Giles shifted the heavy leather case into his other hand and cradled the warm commuter mug in a crooked elbow, he wanted to reach out.
But instead he looked down again at Willow who was now staring straight ahead, her eyes opened unnaturally wide and he considered everything he could say to her, everything he wanted to say to her, but her hair was pulled back smoothly into two French braids patterned down the curve of her head. His gaze followed the twisted hair winding past one ear and he was hit with a body memory from the dream. He looked down into the whorling velvet shape of her ear and he mumbled something entirely unintelligible and he stopped walking and he watched her walk away from him.
She seemed to sense he was gone and she veered up against Buffy, he watched her turn towards the other girl, her eyes locked to Buffy’s face and her lips whispering something.
He stepped out of the crowd as though stepping off a moving sidewalk and watched the two girls disappear into a doorway. He shook his head and scowled; Jenny, Xander, Oz, what sort of miscast role-playing were they tormenting themselves with? What sort of mad arithmetic expression was the variable sum of himself part of? Why was this mere slip of a girl, yes, yes, a brilliant girl who didn’t even recognize her own power, but why was this particular girl at this point in time calling to him in the voice of the woman she would become? He turned and entered the sanctum of his library.
The head of the slight girl tilts first to one side then the other as she studies the computer screen in front of her, jagged cut locks of ginger and gold move against the slightly freckled skin on the back of her neck, over her shoulders. Her laptop on his desktop. He is standing behind her, just to the side of her, watching her. But he is talking to Buffy and Spike.
“We want you to officiate, Giles,” Buffy breathless, giddy.
“That’s right, old boy. You know all the rules and such. And being wound as tightly as you are will have to act in your favour, wouldn’t you say?”
He tears his gaze away from Willow’s bare shoulder and looks at the couple standing beside him. “Rules?” he asks the blonde vampire. “Wound tight?”
“Rules, Giles,” Buffy rolls her eyes. “The laws? The things that keep everyone in their places? We want to be married legally. Spike and I,” she brings the vampire’s hand up to her mouth and kisses his fingertip ends, “don’t want to live outside the law. Man’s laws.”
“Man and demon, it’s not all the same, you know,” Spike mutters.
Willow looks up, “Witches can’t be legally married. There are laws about it.”
He sighs, “No, Willow, that’s incorrect. There are no laws regarding witches and marriage. Lesbians, however, cannot legally marry in most of the United States.”
She looks over at him, frowning. “Lesbians?”
“Spike, are there laws that govern homosexuality amongst vampires?” he asks cheerily.
“Homosexuality? Heterosexuality? Bisexuality? Trisexuality?” Spike leers at him. “Vampires, well…most demons…don’t carry on the way you non-demon types do about that sort of thing. Sexuality is sexuality. Love is love then, isn’t it?”
“Vampires are emotionally incapable of love, Spike,” Buffy lectures. “Unless they have a soul.”
“Don’t you bloody well say his name,” the vampire growls.
Willow stands abruptly. “Where’s Oz? Has anyone seen him?” Her voice rises an octave and Giles goes to her. He grips her tight by the shoulders. “Where is he? I’ve lost my lunar calendar and I can’t remember…oh, Giles…I can’t remember her…is she full tonight? Is it tonight? Where is she?”
“She’s right there, Willow look, right there. And she’s horned.”
He takes one hand from her shoulder and points up through the trees at the sliver of moon in the sky, with his other hand slipping to her back he pulls her towards him, up under his arm. “See? Just there. Not full.”
“Yes, Willow, she’s waning.”
They stand alone in a dark woods that smell of moist night, the decaying leaves a bed beneath them.
“Come, come here, just here,” he pulls her down to the floor of the forest and wraps her in his arms.
Brief shining moments – he had shone for moments – in his life as a Watcher. And he had shone in their lives, slayer and friends. And although those moments were important, a life wasn’t made up of such things, was it? A life was comprised of that which stretched between the glimpses of greatness, the days of living shared, the workload shouldered, the hand offered, the hand taken. He had been a beacon, he had guided the way but he had also betrayed, dimmed the light. He had been given chances, he could never claim otherwise, and now the path behind was strewn with the broken parts of each opportunity not taken. Shattered.
He pulls off his glasses and sets them on the countertop, pinching the bridge of his nose and simultaneously brings the cup of tea up to his lips. Lukewarm. Grimacing, he sets it back down again with a small thump and bends closer to the monitor screen. Pages and pages of overdue books scroll past and have been doing so for some long minutes now. How in the name of Fiddler’s Green had so many books gone overdue? He reaches behind him and pulls the tall stool beneath him and sits, hooking one Brogue heel over the bottom rung, the other leg stretched out straight, one elbow on the countertop and a palm on his forehead. The words are blurry. Oh, spectacles. He leans back on the stool, fishes the white handkerchief out of his pocket and begins polishing the lenses.
He looks down; the handkerchief is stained dark red. With a start he drops it and it flutters down to the linoleum floor of the library. He hooks the glasses back onto his ears and hunkers down to poke at the handkerchief; it unfolds like fabric origami, revealing splotches of spattered red, dried and crusty in places. He picks it up gingerly by a corner and straightens to his full height, holding the handkerchief out in front of him. And notices that it’s his hands that are covered in blood, he sops at them, but they won’t come clean. It’s not his blood and it won’t come off.
With a swooshing snick, the swinging doors to the library open in and he quickly stuffs the handkerchief back into the front pocket of his trousers. And wipes his bloody hands together.
“Ah, Willow,” he murmurs.
“Hi, Giles” she says with a small nervous toss of her head.
“We, uh, seem to have a slight problem at the moment,” he indicates the computer with an incline of his head, but his gaze is fastened on her and his brows furrow deeply. “Willow?”
She smiles at him, her lips closed.
“You, you’re all grown up then?”
She ducks her head, nodding, and her shoulder-length red hair swings closed across her face like a curtain.
His heart sings, “You were able to grow up, Willow. I’m so very, very pleased.”
He steps out of the checkout corral and approaches her. He comes in very close and gently reaches out and brushes the hair back away from her face, first on one side, then on the other. He catches her chin between his thumb and forefinger and coaxes her face up looking down at her womanly features. Wondering at her closed eyes.
“Willow,” he whispers and her lids flutter. “I have been waiting for you. You know that?” Her eyes are still closed, he indicates the computer futilely, “I need help with all these overdue books. We’ll need to contact hundreds and hundreds of people.”
As he watches, her lashes began to glisten, teardrops jewelling each one, precious liquid gems falling from her eyes, down her cheeks, trailing through his fingers holding her chin, and pool in his palm.
He slides one wet hand out from under her chin and cups the side of her face; he brings his other hand up and winds his fingers through the thick red locks at her neck. With an aching slowness, time stretches out over years of waiting, he brings his mouth down to hers. She tastes of tears, and mown grass on a summer day, bitter icicles and dry leaves. She tastes of all that.
Beneath his lips she asks him, “Do you think we should, Giles?”
He steps back, his hands dropping uselessly to his side.
“They all die, don’t they? All the women you love? Everyone goes away. Into the ground. It’s dark there. And wet.”
“Is that, is that true? Is that a true thing?”
She nods, her eyes open now, but the tears still run like water.
“Oh, Willow. I am so sorry. So terribly sorry. Here,” he pats at his pocket, it feels damp and he looks down, the front of his trousers sodden red. He pulls out the handkerchief and it drips gore. “Here, here.” He wrings it out, blood spatters his shoes, the floor, splashes onto her pale-stockinged legs. He begins to wipe her tears away with it, red smudges painted across her face, smear across her lips.
And the dripping dripping dripping sound of tears and blood hitting the linoleum, splashing against their legs…
It was the rain. With a start he opened his eyes, hopelessly unfocussed in the hazy early morning light. It was raining, drops hitting the open window pane and dripping down onto the sill, pooling over the edge and onto his bedroom floor, splashing back up against the baseboard, dark splotches of it. A slight damp breeze from the window wafted across his face and settled on his skin like a thin sheen of blood, chilling him to the bone.
An early summer rain – the gods were crying for her.
Buffy gone forever, buried that morning, how alone she was now. She had tried to tell him, no, Rupert, he admonished himself, she didn’t try, she had told you. She loved you. And you could only stammer and feel terribly uncomfortable. What is wrong with you? What on God’s green Earth above and the Devil’s hot core beneath is wrong. With. You?
And why, in the unending hours of this longest night of your life, are you dreaming of Willow? He rises from the bed and walks to the window. He slams it shut and stands there looking out at the wet, dark early morning haze and wants nothing more than to sob but the tears catch in his throat and he’s left gasping for air.
The huge turbine engines whirred into industrial-sized life just feet away from where he sat beside her inside the plane. The strange plastic window trembling, their fragile human bodies resonating with the roar of man’s astonishing invention of metallic spark and cinder. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply through his nose and repressed a shiver as the quick feeling of vertigo rushed through him and they cleared the tarmac at knot speed and left the ground. The impossibly heavy machinery was airborne. Flight.
He smirked bitterly, eyes still shut tight against the black night, the lights of Sunnydale retreating down below them, earthbound city falling away as they rose above. Vampires, demons, prophecies, all of this and still he feared flying the most. Had he really just made this trip two days before? It seemed surreal. His reality was a sur-reality. Sir Reality, knighted reality. Night and reality. He played with it and wished she was awake so he could suggest the pun to her.
He let his head fall back on the distastefully scritchy poly-blend cushion behind him and slit one eye open to gaze down at his charge. She lay curled around herself, burrowed as deeply into the seat as her forgiving spine and the stiff upholstery would allow, the back of her head pressed into the cold laminated wall beneath the window and her backside up hard against the long length of his thigh. Knees pulled nearly to her chest, hands balled in fetal fists, her mouth slack. Still drugged. The stewardesses had been surprisingly accommodating to this medicated posture when he boarded with her and he used every ounce of British charm he had left, which he rued wasn’t much, but they allowed him to lift the armrest and buckle her in, each one of them uncomfortably watching as the girl retreated physically. Her eyes had been so vacant he knew the small tangle of stewards felt as relieved as he when her thick auburn lashes fluttered them closed.
And how had he, himself, looked to the crew. Much worse for wear, he supposed. A cheekbone swollen, one eye partially blackened and a definite and discernible twist to his back that spoke of pain to anyone willing to spend a moment or two visually inspecting a middle-aged bachelor. Why would they, at that. They wouldn’t. On his best days he got glances, certainly, but he knew that on this day every year of his age was etched into his face, every guilty bit of conscience weighing down his shoulders and each welt of recrimination and regret raised on his flesh. Although Buffy and Xander, Anya and Dawn had seemed beyond grateful that it was he who had brought the answer from the coven, he who had set averting the Apocalypse into motion, he detected the edges of distrust in their words, the hints of wariness on their faces. He had betrayed them in the worst possible way. He had left them to the care of one another and on this terrible return realized quite clearly that he had abandoned them to themselves on the Hellmouth.
“That way madness lies, Rupe old boy” he mentally admonished himself. Time for that sort of soul searching later. His stomach resettled itself, the plane steadied in the Heavens and England was but a half a day away.
The seatbelt light blinked off and trolleys began to rattle in the galley. He breathed deeply again but made not a single move to unfastening his safety belt although he heard the audible clicks around him, felt the collective uncoiling. He punched off the two overhead domes, and tentatively across kilometers of road littered with bodies and an empty gun, shards of windowpane glass, two shattered hearts and a single man flayed alive, he reached out to her and let his hand drift down through the blood and bile, the tears and the raging roar, slowly but with intent until it rested upon her thin shoulder. She flinched and he pressed down firmly, rounding his square-tipped fingers over the curve of her bone and she stilled beneath his touch and he laid his head back again, tilting his face downwards and watched her. His eyelids heavy but his heart heavier.
He stands on the darkened edges of the vast plain, watching as she approaches. She is stumbling through a desertscape of bodies, each one flayed, each one naked down to the gristle, skinless. He wants to wave to her, catch her attention, but that would be impulsive. He resists and urges her on with his longing instead. Then she looks up and he knows she sees him and she seems to hurry towards him. His heart beats hard against his ribs.
She grows closer and surprise washes over him, she is wearing a purple robe, it indicates an order of some sort, she belongs to an order. How had he not known that?
“Did you bring it?” he asks her as she approaches him breathing hard, but smiling the crooked smile he remembers so well from her girlhood.
She nods and reaches up to untie the cording at her neck, the robe slips from her shoulders and she stands before him naked. He inhales deeply and knows she smells of fire. Her skin radiates white heat, living sunshine.
“You are so beautiful,” he whispers. And feels himself instantly harden.
She holds her arms up, opens them outward. Beckons him. Him. He steps forward and the air cracks with the sound of something ripping. His flesh tears away.
A light touch on his shoulder and he jerked awake, his hand coming up quickly. He looked up into the face of a flight attendant, the colour draining from her cheeks and he realized he had a tight and probably painful hold on her fingers.
“Oh, pardon me, I’m, I..oh, sorry. So sorry,” he was stammering, his heart trip-hammering behind his ribs. Breathe, breathe, he told himself. He smiled apologetically at the woman and quickly let go of her, straightening up in the seat.
Her eyes narrowed. “A drink, sir? Would you like a drink?” She held up the tell-tale red can and he shook his head, but then reached for it. She handed him a plastic tumbler.
“Do you have any rum then? Please?” indicating the small airline bottles with a gapping of his fingers.
She nodded and reached into one of the lower shelves of the drink cart and stood up again with two small bottles. He leaned back in the seat and fished out his wallet; the stewardess took the proffered bills and pulled down the seat tray, deposited the two bottles there and moved on. As he leant back again to replace his wallet, he felt Willow’s head loll on his thigh and he looked down surprised, trying to remember when she had turned herself away from the window and towards him. He had dozed off. On his watch.
Slowly he reached down and brushed the coppery strands away from her face, she was still out cold. But he noted that her eyelids were flickering with dreams unseen. “Dream sweet dreams, my girl,” he whispered.
He poured both bottles into the plastic tumbler, filled it halfway with the cola and drank it down. Thirteen hours left and he was exhausted. He closed his eyes again, just for the briefest moment, trying desperately to set his sights, get his bearings, on the distant horizon that beckoned with an elusive white sand beach, deep blue waves, and the drenching Californian sunshine. But in the dark and frightening place where he stood, he felt himself fall to his knees, the horizon fading away beneath a burnt out sun and into a forever night.
He muttered under his breath, the driver wasn’t getting out but the boot had been released and he put her bags inside and dropped the lid back down, heavily. She was standing, holding the umbrella, on the kerb and he felt his world tilt away from him as he looked over at her. Her eyes were shut, her lips moving, what was she comforting herself with, he wondered. An invocation, a prayer, a bit of a modern pop melody, or perhaps the recitation of her itinerary printed on the paper ticket he had seen her shove into her handbag?
He came up beside her and finally allowed himself the touch he knew they had both been waiting for; his arm moving behind her and he pulling her up under it. She pressed herself into his arms quickly but awkwardly, the open brolly, her bag, his leather coat. He grabbed at her but she backed out, blinking back tears. With a swift movement, he opened the taxi door and bustled her in, then stepped back, shutting the door with a solid, resounding clunk. She waved, the shape of her, her hand moving, already indiscernible behind the curtain of light rainwater on the glass. He stood beneath the umbrella, and yet could not wave, the taxi pulling away. The indicator light blinked and the auto began its turn out of the lane and onto the road.
The taxi gone. He collapsed the umbrella and waved goodbye.
“I don’t understand why you seem to be completely without luggage,” he says this quietly. She is staring far off into the distance. “Willow? Are you trying to see the future or looking back into the past?”
She looks at him, just a movement of her eyes, “I’m looking for the taxi, Giles.”
“It’s here, just there, see,” he turns back towards the lane and points but the lane is empty. “That’s odd.”
“You must have sent it away. You want me to stay. Here, in Westbury, with you.” She turns to him completely. And he feels everything empty out of him, he is a bell that she is tolling.
“Yes, Willow. That’s it exactly. Please stay. With me.”
He can hear them, through the walls, lovers, whispers in the air ducting, moans moving between floors and ceilings, muffled yet distinctly arousing. Tonight he is in Buffy’s room, a young girl’s pink and white ruffles with a decidedly American twist and testament to teenaged years still lingering around the softened edges. He closes his eyes and wonders where that girl has gone. Not the woman, he knows she’s in the basement and part of him recoils from the knowing. Not the carnal knowledge of her intimate life, but the carnality of a slayer and a vampire. Despite himself, he shudders.
And in the room that was once Joyce Summer’s bedroom the two women lay entwined, he buries his head into the pillow and reaches over for another and pulls that over his face. How has it come to this, how have they all come to this.
It is the meadow of his boyhood, a place he found by accident, an early morning escape, past the edges of the lawn, down and through the small woods, over the furthest allowance of a wander, the creek. And then up the small rise and there, into a small opening, grassy and patched with dirt in spots, ringed with trees, this side his family home, that side, ancient leaning, twisted forestscape forbidden to him. And yet it beckons to him. He stands in the middle of the clearing. He is no longer a boy.
She moves out from the darkness and into the light and his breath catches in his throat. He. Cannot. Breathe.
“Giles,” she smiles, the beautiful bow of her lips lifting, parting slightly, he sees this and his heart races. For him, for him.
“Willow. Is it really you?”
“Of course it’s me. Really me.” She reaches out and takes his hand and he nearly swoons from the warmth of her skin. “Come with me, I want to show you something. Something Important.” She turns and begins walking back into the darkness of the woods. He stops.
“I can’t. It’s not allowed. I’m not allowed. To enter.”
“Silly, you are allowed to enter here. Come,” she tugs on his hand but he cannot move. “Alright, Rupert, have it your way. Always your way.” She kneels down and clears the dirt and a trapdoor appears, she begins to lift it with a giant iron ring. “This is heavy.”
“Here let me help you.” He bends down and grasps at the ring and together they pull it open. Stairs wind down and Willow smiles at him and he follows her into the earth.
They step off the last step and are standing in the middle of the Summers’ basement.
Spike and Buffy lay in one another’s arms on the small army cot.
“Willow,” he turns to her, his voice edged with outrage.
“Giles, who are you to judge? Who are you to be angry? With anyone?”
Willow is shouting at him. And he feels his heart breaking. “Please, don’t. Willow, please don’t. I love you.”
“Do you, Giles? Here,” she opens the clothes washer and hands a sopping bundle to him.
He’s repelled. “What is it?”
“Look!” she whispers.
And he looks down, he’s holding a mourning dove in both his hands, he can feel its heart beating in the cup of his palms. The bird is wet, dripping water onto his good suit trousers.
Behind him, he can hear the sound of love-making. It is the sound of doves crying.
And he wakes. He fumbles in the dark for his wristwatch, fingers skittering across the unfamiliar top of the bedside table; he knocks the clock off, finds the watch and pauses.