Act Of Nature - Chapter 2
written by Jane Davitt & WesleysGirl
We are on the brink
We are floundering
Spinning in this dark and rising tide.
Xander was dreaming.
He had to be dreaming, or more accurately having a nightmare, because
otherwise what Giles had just said was actually what
Giles had just said, and there was no way that could be true.
The rain started up again, harder, and with the way the wind was
blowing, around the building and toward the hill, it almost
was raining up, instead of down, and a minute ago
Xander had been joking about the way Wednesday didn't mean anything,
and now Willow was dead.
Only not, because this was just a dream.
Giles waited a long moment without saying anything and then repeated,
"I'm sorry," in a tired whisper that was still loud enough to be heard
over the rising wind.
For almost another minute they both stood there, kind of looking at
each other and kind of not, while the rain fell heavily. Xander tried
to remember, just as an exercise in futility, or maybe denial, what
he'd been planning on doing for the next half hour, and discovered that
he had no idea. It was like the rain had washed everything away.
"We should go in," he said, and walked past Giles to the front door.
The door wasn't locked of course - nothing ever was up here - and that
was a pity because it meant that in a very short space of time Giles
and his luggage were inside, the door was closed and someone had to
speak. Giles cleared his throat and said, "Is this - shall I put these
somewhere, or -"
His voice broke off and he looked helplessly down at the cases as if
deciding what to do with them mattered more than admitting he'd made a
"Just leave them for now," Xander told him, and his own voice sounded
rough and strange too. "You want to sit down?"
Giles nodded, but didn't move. "Xander, I shouldn't have just told you
like that. Are you - no, of course you're not all right. God, this is
Xander almost laughed. "Of course you had to tell me like that. What
else were you going to do? 'I had a nice trip, I hear this is gonna be
quite a storm, oh, and by the way, your best friend's dead?'" Okay,
sitting down sounded like a really good idea. He realized he was still
wearing his dripping coat and peeled it off, hanging it on the coat
rack that never held anything but his own stuff. "Here, take that off,"
he said, gesturing at Giles' jacket.
Giles took it off, moving slowly and fumbling with the zip, and once
his hands were free cleaned his rain-smeared glasses. He put them back
on and blinked, looking tired. "Where can we go? I think I would like
to sit down, yes." He glanced around. "There's no one else here with
"No, just me. Colm went home about an hour ago." Xander was starting to
feel something, finally, and he thought it might be shock. He was cold,
and his lips were kind of numb. "Come on back to the kitchen - it's
He'd left a light on in there earlier, and he automatically moved to
the stove to put the kettle on now, gesturing at a chair wordlessly to
tell Giles to sit. Facing the wall, with his back to Giles, he forced
himself to ask for information other than the actual details.
"How'd Buffy and Dawn take it?"
He got the impression that Giles was reluctant to answer because there
was a long silence. Finally Giles said, "I phoned them last night, as
soon as I heard. Dawn was asleep. I spoke to Buffy and she was - she
didn't believe it was final. Kept asking questions, wanting to know
what she could do... she couldn't accept that it was over. That there
was nothing any of us could do. Then she started to cry, and I just sat
there listening to her, and it was unbearable."
Xander felt his stomach twist in sympathy, for Buffy and for Giles
both. He wanted to say something to Giles, something comforting that
would make him feel better, but he had no idea what that might be.
Instead, still with his back to the room, he reached for the container
he kept the tea bags in. "I hope you don't mind that it's not real
tea," he said. "I mean, the loose kind. Did you know I have to -" His
breath hitched in his chest suddenly, painfully.
"Xander -" A chair scraped along the floor and he heard Giles walk over
to him. "Would you prefer to be by yourself? I can go upstairs for a
while." He felt a hand touch his shoulder and then move away. "It's
just - when I heard, I wanted someone to be there with me and there
wasn't anyone. I wanted to spare you that, at least."
The last thing Xander wanted was to be alone, and didn't like the
thought that Giles had been. He brought a hand up and ran it through
his hair, trying to settle himself down enough so that he could turn
around and look at Giles without losing it. "You shouldn't have been
alone," he said gruffly, finally turning to meet Giles' eyes.
"I'm not now," Giles said quietly. "And I can't tell you how much that
helps. Even if I don't deserve to feel better."
"Hey," Xander said, his gut doing that twisting thing again in the face
of Giles' obvious misery, and that was okay. It was actually easier to
focus on Giles than on what had actually happened. "You weren't even
there. This wasn't your fault."
Giles flinched. It wasn't anything obvious, but it was there in the way
the skin around his eyes and mouth went tight for just a second. "You
don't know what happened. I'm not sure I do, not completely, but I know
enough to be sure of one thing." His voice was remote and uninflected.
"Willow died because I failed her, Xander. I'd love to be able to blame
someone else, but it was my fault. And the only excuse I have is that
I've been very busy. Somehow, that's not making the guilt go away."
"Okay, I think you need to tell me what happened," Xander said, still
not really wanting to hear it, but seeing how it was eating Giles up
inside. He'd worry about his own reaction later.
Giles looked at the kettle and his mouth twisted. "I think I'm going to
need something a little stronger than tea to do that. I've got whiskey
in one of my suitcases, even though it's coals to Newcastle bringing it
"There's some in the cabinet," Xander said, moving over and getting it.
"I've been told it's the good stuff, not that I'd know the difference -
one of the guys left it, the first night I was here. I think it was
some kind of housewarming present." He offered the bottle to Giles and
turned to get some glasses. "'Coals to Newcastle?'"
"What? Oh... coal came from Newcastle; it had mines
and it was the biggest exporter of the stuff, so taking it there is the
definition of pointless. It's a town on the border - and perhaps I
should keep in mind that you're American and stop babbling." He studied
the label on the bottle. "You must have made an excellent first
impression; this is a single malt. Was it from John, by any chance?"
"Actually, yeah." Light dawned. "That's how you got out here. Yeah,
that makes sense." Since Giles seemed determined to just keep standing
there with the bottle of whiskey, Xander held the glasses out at
pouring level, not realizing until right then how much he could use a
Giles raised his eyebrows. "You're going to join me? Well, why not?" He
tipped up the bottle over each glass in turn, pouring out generous
measures, and then walked to the table and put the bottle down with a
careless thud. "You haven't asked how she died. I suppose after all
we've gone through, one does tend to dismiss the mundane, and you'd be
quite right. It was a spell. One I should have told her was dangerous."
He sat down and drank from his glass. "She might even have paid
attention to me this time. Isn't that ironic?"
Going over and sitting down across from Giles at the small table,
Xander took a decent sip of the whiskey and barely managed not to
choke. He was more a beer kind of guy. "I don't get it - a spell? How
could a spell kill her?"
"In this case, mercifully quickly. I don't think she would have felt
any pain... though there must have been a moment when she felt her
control slip, when she knew -" Giles tossed back the rest of his drink
and refilled his glass. "In general, you know damn well how." His voice
was angry now. "It's magic, Xander. It's not all sparkly lights and
fairy dust. It's power, taken and used, and it's dangerous. You
Starting to feel pissed off - because who the hell was Giles to talk to
him like that? - Xander put his own glass down. "Yeah, and I also know
how powerful she is. Was." He hated that he'd made the slip, and that
just fueled his fire. "She almost destroyed the
world. And you're telling me that one little spell
had the power to take her out?"
"But it wasn't ‘one little spell', Xander! Far from it. It was the
enjoining spell we used - all four of us - to defeat Adam. If you've
forgotten how that one ended, I can assure you I haven't." Giles looked
down at the table and rubbed at a smear with his thumb before glancing
up. "I'm sorry. It's hard for me not to feel angry, but I shouldn't be
taking it out on you. Only myself."
"Okay, hang on. Back up a minute here. What you mean it was the spell
we did to stop Adam? That was..." Xander had to pause and count back in
his head, "almost four years ago!"
"Yes. And it resulted in a Slayer with unimaginable power. Can you not
see how that idea would be attractive to Willow? She's - she was in
love with someone who is still, like every other Slayer, unlikely to
live for long if she's doing her job correctly. Willow had lost one
lover. She was desperately worried about it happening again." Giles
picked up his glass, studied it, and placed it back on the table,
centering it precisely and then pushing it away. "So she changed the
spell. Tweaked and twiddled at it and poured her power into it." Giles
rubbed his forehead. "I think if the spell had worked, it would have
killed Kennedy. Luckily - no, that's really not the word I need, is it?
- Willow's death cut off the transfer of power before that happened."
As what Giles had said started to sink in, Xander felt anger flare up
again. He slapped his hand down flat on the table, hard. "God, how
could she be so stupid?" He pushed his chair back
and paced to the other side of the kitchen just as the kettle startled
to whistle, then stalked over there and jerked it off the burner. "She
should have known better."
"I should have known better," Giles said quietly.
"As head of the Council, I should have forbidden it. I didn't. I
accepted her assurances that it was safe, trusted her when she told me
she'd researched it thoroughly - delegated research she asked me to do
instead of doing it myself, in fact. I should never have allowed it in
the first place, but I was so pleased to see her confidence restored
that I gave her too much freedom. Don't waste your anger on her,
Xander. Not when I'm sitting right here."
Xander responded to that quickly and firmly. "Bullshit. You think
forbidding it would have done any good?"
Giles finished his drink and refilled his glass at once. "We'll never
know, will we? Because I didn't even fucking try." He looked up.
"Sorry. Not supposed to swear in front of you lot, am I? Supposed to be
a good influence. I don't seem to be any better at that than I am at
keeping you alive."
Leaning back against the countertop, Xander rubbed his hand over his
face. "Jesus, Giles. Willow's dead - I think you can swear if you want
to." He wasn't unaware of the amount Giles was drinking, but he could
get why the other man would want to do that too. Swearing seemed like a
"Oh, I want to all right. I want to swear, I want to hit things, I want
to wake up and not have Willow gone." Giles stood up and gripped the
edge of the table. "I'll settle for being able to forget it's all down
to me that she's dead for longer than thirty seconds, but I'd have to
drink more than this to get that blissfully out of it, and then I'd be
imposing on you even more than I am now." He moved towards the door. "I
can't imagine having me here is helping. Where - which room were you
going to put me in?"
Xander followed him wearily out to the foyer. "Come on - I'll show you
what you need to know. We can skip the full tour until tomorrow." He
brushed past Giles to pick up the suitcases - they were heavy, but not
anything he couldn't handle pretty easily - and that was when it
happened, the thing he'd known was coming.
'Willow's dead' stopped being words and started being
He straightened up, one arm wrapping around his own waist like that
could keep the hurt in, like it could keep him from falling apart.
"This can't... there must be something we can do," Xander said,
"There isn't." Giles' voice had lost its bitter, angry edge now. "The
spell might have been the conduit for the power, but the damage that it
did to her body was very real. No loopholes, no second chances. And,
God forgive me, but if there were a way, I'm not sure I'd take it, and
you know why."
Xander wasn't sure right then if he cared about the reasons not to do
it - he didn't want to be reasonable and practical and all those words
that ended with an 'L' sound, he just wanted Willow to be okay. "You
don't know that for sure," he argued, his voice rising. "You haven't
seen her. Maybe we could - "
The hand that came out and grabbed his arm hurt. Giles' eyes were
glittering now, the way they did when he'd forgotten he was supposed to
be reassuring and grown up, with all the answers right there. "No, I
didn't see her - but Kennedy's description left me profoundly grateful
for that. The magic ripped through her, Xander. Literally. She's dead,
I killed her, so just stop going on about ways to bring her back. Just
Fighting the instincts that told him to pull away from Giles' hand, and
refusing to let his mind show him the pictures of Willow's body that it
tried to conjure up, Xander stayed still. Gently, he said, "You didn't
kill her, the spell did." That, at least, he firmly believed.
"I wish I could accept that, Xander." Giles was still holding onto his
arm, but his grip had relaxed so that his fingers were clinging, not
digging in. "Wish I could feel no responsibility, and that you all
weren't going to end up hating me once the shock wears off." His face
twisted. "I spoke to Buffy a second time, very early this morning.
Asked her not to call you until I'd had a chance to get here. She
was... inclined to agree with me, not you, I'm afraid."
"She's upset," Xander said, thinking that if Buffy had been able to see
the look on Giles' face, she would have been at least a little bit
understanding. "You've got to cut her some slack under circumstances
like this." He put his other hand over Giles', just resting it there,
hoping it would be comforting.
The hand underneath his turned and clasped his fingers gratefully, as
if the small gesture had done more to convince Giles he didn't blame
him than anything he'd said.
"Hey," Xander said gently, and pulled Giles into an awkward one-armed
hug. "Will it help if I promise not to hate you?"
Giles nodded, his head close enough that the small movement made his
hair brush against Xander's face, and tugged his hand free so he could
return the hug.
"Should have done this when I saw you," Giles said, his voice rough.
"Not retreated into self-pity and a bottle. Sorry."
"It's not your fault," Xander said. He wasn't stupid enough to think
that would be enough to convince Giles - well, maybe if he said
it a hundred times, but that could take days - but it seemed like the
thing to say. He closed his eyes and pulled Giles closer. "I don't want
to believe she's really gone," he whispered.
Giles' arms tightened around him at that last word. "I wish you didn't
He was tempted to stay like that - just holding onto Giles - but after
another few seconds he let go and stepped back. "Let me show you
upstairs," he said. "Then maybe we should get some food into you.
Otherwise you're going to feel like hell in the morning."
"Feel like that now, but it probably would be a good idea to eat. I
don't think I have, actually." Giles frowned as if he was having
trouble remembering. "There was food on the plane, but that was hours
ago, and two slices of bread that managed to be both stale and limp
aren't going to soak up the rest of the bottle." He rubbed his hand
across his face. "I want to talk about her, Xander. To you. Remember
her, mourn her..." He turned away abruptly and picked up one of the
suitcases before moving towards the staircase. Following behind him
with the other suitcase, Xander waited until the hallway at the top of
stairs widened to pass the other man, leading them to the right where
most of the bedrooms were and then turned into the room he'd figured
Giles could stay in.
"I was going to turn down the bed and air the sheets out. Not that I'd
think of that on my own, but Mrs. Stewart said she'd tan my hide if I
didn't remember." The little Scottish woman would have been scary if
she hadn't been such a good cook, and the fact that she did the laundry
was a godsend.
Giles followed him, dropping the case and then wincing at an ominous
crash from inside it. "Lord, I hope that wasn't the one with the
whiskey in it. Don't worry about the bed; I'm so tired I wouldn't
notice if it was wringing wet. She sounds as if she's got you
well-trained though; did she recover from the time you scaled a fish in
the kitchen, and she was finding the scales for days after? I half
expected you to be looking for another housekeeper after that. Or have
you charmed her as much as you have the other islanders?"
"I had to agree to let her teach me how to make toast," Xander
admitted. "After that she stopped complaining about the scales.
Mostly." He glanced around the room, then went over and turned on a
lamp that was on the dresser. "You want to get changed into some dry
clothes while I go down and see if I can rustle us up some dinner?"
"Is that a polite way of telling me that I've arrived before you had a
chance to shop and I'll be lucky if I get beans on toast?" Giles said,
kneeling down to unfasten a case. He turned his head and smiled up at
Xander, clearly making an effort to sustain the lighter mood, no matter
how little they both felt like joking. "Seriously; anything will do.
Don't go to any trouble."
"Don't worry - despite what my Sunnydale pizza box collection might
have indicated, I can actually cook. Not to mention make toast in the
Heading back down, Xander had just reached the foyer when there was a
knock at the side door leading into the kitchen. He quickly went and
opened it, revealing a rain-soaked John, who looked, as usual, totally
happy no matter what the weather.
"Jeez, come in," Xander said, backing up to make room.
John hesitated, looking past Xander. "No; you've got company. I don't
want to intrude. Just thought you might be glad of a few supplies." He
lifted up a bag he held. "If this storm gets worse, you'll lose your
power. Wasn't sure if you had any candles. And... well, your friend's
turned up a bit earlier than you expected, hasn't he, so there's a wee
bittie salmon in there. He's English; he'll like that."
Xander backed up another step and gestured with his hand. "No, come in.
You want some tea? It's getting cold."
The innate good manners of most of the islanders, a formality it had
taken Xander a while to get used to, made John hesitate a moment
longer, but as Xander turned away to get mugs, he stepped inside,
closing the door behind him.
"Tea, aye, if it's no bother." John's eyes flicked to the whiskey
bottle on the table, but he didn't comment.
The water in the kettle was still hot enough for tea, so Xander poured
it and handed a mug to John as the other man set the bag on the table.
He left the other mug to steep for Giles - he really wasn't in the
mood. "Thanks for the candles. I hadn't even thought about that. The
power going out, I mean."
"You're lucky it's not happened before this." John sipped at his tea
and glanced over at Xander. "And your friend's lucky he took a notion
to come a few days early. The ferry isn't likely to be running if this
Any semblance of a good mood Xander had been managing vanished. "Yeah,
well, turns out there was some bad news from back home." It was still
'back home,' even if Sunnydale was gone and they'd all moved on to
John pushed back his chair and stood, walking over to Xander and
resting a hand on his shoulder. "You'll not be wanting company then and
I'll be on my way. Unless there's anything I can do?" There was
sympathy and concern in his voice, but any curiosity was well hidden.
"Well, you could drink the perfectly good tea I made you," Xander said,
trying to sound like his normal self and totally failing. He couldn't
help but feel like John deserved to know, especially with the way
things had almost gone between them.
But he knew if he wanted to say it, he needed to get it out fast.
"Willow? The wee lassie you grew up with? Och, Xander, that's just
terrible!" There was no reserve in his shocked voice, no attempt to
disguise his horror. The hand on Xander's shoulder moved up to cup his
face gently. "You'll be missing her, I know. Will you be telling me
"It's kind of a long story," Xander said, his voice cracking. It was
too hard to keep the pain at a distance when John was so warm and
understanding. "Basically, there was an accident."
"A car crash, was it? No, never mind. That'll keep." John didn't even
hesitate, but pulled Xander to him, stroking his hair as Xander's head
dropped to rest against his shoulder. "There's no shame in grieving,
lad. I'm thinking she was worth your tears."
Xander hugged John tightly, grateful for the comfort from someone he
didn't have to worry about comforting back. He felt real tears
threatening for the first time, his eye socket behind the patch
prickling in sympathy, but he didn't want to cry.
Until he cried, he could still pretend it wasn't true.
Read: Chapter 3