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 mistake.

"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 so difficult!"

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 you?"

"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 warmer."

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 here."

"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 drink too.

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 know that."

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 lesser evil.

"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 real.

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, desperate.

"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 stop."

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 have to."

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 oven."

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 keeps up."

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 different places.

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 died."

"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 what happened?"

"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