One Moment | Part One

Willow smiled as Giles and Xander came in, both breathtakingly handsome in their grey morning suits. They had both managed one way or another to convince their respective employers to give them time off. They were laughing and talking and Willow again thought how handsome, in fact…devastating…Giles looked.

She turned back to Buffy and whispered that the men had arrived.

Buffy turned and smiled radiantly, and waved to both.

Xander grinned and waved back, while Giles tilted his head a little, then finally smiled and nodded.

Willow helped Buffy gather the half train on the very pale coral pink dress, with its tight bodice and full skirt, and they crossed to where the guys had assumed their positions.

“Wow,” Buffy said, looking Giles up and down. “Am I marrying the right guy? You look good enough to eat.”

Giles snorted and kissed her cheek. “You look beautiful, Buffy,” he said softly, looked over his shoulder and grinned at Willow. “And so does the bridesmaid.”

Willow curtseyed. “Thank you, kind sir,” she twinkled, the full skirt of her deeper rose coloured, calf length dress swirling around her slim legs. Her long neck was shown to perfection by its neckline and her upswept hairstyle, was held in place by a miniature version of the clasp that held Buffy's.

“Knock it off,” Buffy told them good-naturedly. “I'm the bride. I get the compliments.”

“That's our Buff,” Xander chimed in. “By the way, where is the groom?”

Willow's brows drew together at the shadow that passed over Giles' face. Then it was gone, and he was joining in the good-natured banter about Riley's tardiness.

A few moments later the music started and Giles stepped close to Buffy's side, extended his arm and placed his hand over hers when she took it. Willow and Xander took their places behind them. It was an unusual service, convention and innovation mixed haphazardly together in typical Buffy fashion.

“I feel like an overgrown page boy to Willow's flower-girl,” Xander muttered as Joyce arrived and handed Willow her flowers: fat white rosebuds nestled in baby's breath in a teardrop bouquet.

Xander,” Joyce chided, then turned to her daughter with her flowers. The tight, dusky pink rose buds interspersed with baby's breath and soft green fern were perfect against the almost white dress, picking up the soft, shell pink highlights as she moved.

The ceremony went off without a hitch, Riley looking magnificent in his charcoal grey suit and seventy dollar haircut and Buffy breathtaking in her dress, swept up hair held in place by the jewelled clasp her father had given her. Even Hank Summers, waiting at the chapel altar with Riley and his Best Man, to stand by his daughter, looked handsome in his grey morning suit.

She hadn't wanted a veil, a white dress or any number of the trappings of a traditional wedding. She'd simply wanted this, to be brought to the man she loved by the people she loved most. The rest was for her mother.

Willow smiled to herself. Buffy was the only person she knew so able, so often, to have her cake and eat it too…

The reception was comparatively small, but nice. Once the formalities were over the music started and people had begun to dance. She watched Buffy and Riley move around the floor oblivious to everyone and everything in the room and was glad for her friend. Her gaze flicked to Xander and Anya, their bodies entwined, eyes closed, swaying in a world of two, and a small flame of jealousy leaped to life. It had been so long since she'd known that kind of closeness. She sighed and picked up a breadstick. It really wasn't the day for wallowing in self-pity again. It snapped clean in two. She looked down at it, blinked, and then giggled. Well, maybe a little, she told herself soothingly.

The music changed. Hank Summers cut in on the groom and Joyce took the floor with Riley. Willow frowned suddenly and looked around the room, stopping when she finally found what she was looking for.

Giles had started the evening at the main table, while she, Xander, Anya, Cordelia, Angel and Wesley had been placed a little further away with others their own age. Angel's group had slipped away as soon as they decently could. Willow rolled her eyes. Well, it was Joyce's day as much as Buffy's.

Now, however, Giles was sitting on his own in one of the small lounge areas in the reception room, in a peacock blue suede armchair with a glass of champagne on the chrome-and-glass coffee table in front of him.

“Hey,” she said softly, as she came unnoticed to his side.

He looked up slowly and smiled. “Hello.”

“It went well.”

He nodded. “Very,” he agreed. “I hope she's going to be happy. He seems like a decent chap.”

“Oh, he is,” Willow assured him. “He'll take good care of her.” She bit her lip the moment she said it, watching his gentle green eyes cloud and a shadow of sadness settle on his face.

“Yes…I suppose he will,” he agreed.

Willow looked over her shoulder when the music changed again, then back to Giles.

“Giles? You—you wanna dance?” she asked timidly.

His eyes narrowed and he searched her face.

“Nobody else has asked…?” he guessed wearily.

She scowled. “Lots. I just didn't want to dance with them. But if you want to sit here in the corner and sulk…” she snapped.

He was up and towering over her in the blink of an eye.

“That came out appallingly badly, Willow. I'm sorry…and for your information I don't sulk,” he added.

Her face cleared and she smiled up at him. “Yes you do, but I forgive you.”

He smiled back, his eyes warm with affection. “In that case,” he indicated the dance floor, “shall we?”

Willow was surprised when he took her hand rather than offering an elbow, but not disappointed. His hand was warm and strong and she found that she liked that he felt that relaxed with her. When they reached the floor he pulled her gently into his arms and moved smoothly into the rhythm of the music, swinging her around the floor with a fluid grace she couldn't help but be caught up in.

Willow closed her eyes. This was nothing like dancing with Oz. There had been bliss and pleasure in being close to Oz, and a lot of fun…but there was something very different about dancing with a man who could hold you in his arms, make you feel protected and cared for, just by his sheer size and strength, and the gentleness that contradicted it.

After a while she looked up tentatively, to find him looking down at her. He smiled again as they swung past Xander and Anya who were trying out new steps.

“Okay?” he asked softly.

She exhaled and grinned. “Way,” she told him. “You never said you were this good.”

His smile widened to a grin. “Another then?” he asked as the music faded and couples began to leave the floor.

Willow nodded, surprised but delighted, as they moved off again to the strains of Bryan Adams' 'Everything I do…' This time Giles slowed almost to a gentle sway, as the floor grew crowded. It was so nice, the rhythm, the warmth, the feel of his arm around her, that without realising it Willow rested her cheek against his chest, leaning slightly against him as she moved to the music.

Giles stirred from his music-induced brown study and looked down, smiled tenderly and tightened his arm around her protectively. Of all of them, she was the one about whom he'd always worried the most. For all his fears about Buffy, he'd always had the reassurance lent by the knowledge that she was the Slayer…with her superior healing, superior strength. Willow, however, had always been just…Willow…small, sweet, vulnerable…and far too courageous and plucky for her own good.

They drifted past Hank and Joyce Summers and then Anya and Xander, slow dancing contentedly once again and Giles considered what a pity it was that Willow was still alone. He understood only too well Oz's motives for leaving, but it had broken his heart to see her suffer the way she had, even after the others had grown impatient with her. Since then, it had continued to worry him, the way she'd withdrawn socially, despite the relatively brief interlude with Tara, a little of the old, bubbly, innocent Willow they all loved seemingly gone forever.

The song slowly drew to a close and Willow finally stirred as they came to a halt.
When she looked up at him with those huge emerald eyes there was contentment, pleasure and affection in them.

“That was nice.”

He couldn't help smiling. “Yes, it was,” he agreed.

The strains of another slow tune rose in the background and Willow's smile widened expectantly as the remaining couples happily resumed doing what they were doing before the music had changed.

Giles, eyes twinkling, was about to respond, when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

“Can I have this dance, gorgeous?”

He experienced a stab of disappointment, then the leaping of the pulses he'd been experiencing whenever Buffy was near, since the prom, when she slid a hand onto his shoulder.

“Sorry Will,” she said brightly. “Can't hog the best looking guy here all night, and besides, Riley and I will be leaving soon so you'll have him all to yourself then.”

Willow contrived a lopsided grin. “He's all yours,” she said brightly. “I'm thirsty anyway.”

Giles frowned a little when she left without even looking at him, but not for long. He gathered Buffy in his arms, grinning, and allowed himself for just one time, to be to her what he never could before. He held her close, absorbing the happy glow in her eyes, the rosy flush in her cheeks, the relaxed laughter as they passed Xander and Anya yet again and she exchanged good-natured jibes with the former.

Somewhere deep in his soul a small ache started as he held her, smelled her…listened to her. She was someone else's now. Never again would he be her last line, her real protector. Now he truly was just 'hanging around like a big loser' in Sunnydale. He sighed very deeply and was surprised when a hand reached up and brushed his cheek.

"Hey, big guy,” she said softly. “Weight of the world?”

He looked at her then and her smile faded.

“Oh,” she whispered, and her eyes grew very bright. “I won't stop loving you,” she told him and let her gaze flick across to Riley, doing his duty dances with yet another of her Aunts. “It's just…”

“There is your future,” he guessed, hiding the pain of her words with his usual efficiency, “and I am,” he borrowed a phrase from her vocabulary, “of the past.”

Hurt flickered in Buffy's large blue eyes. “No you're not. Don't ever say that. I don't know what the technical term is for what we are…all I know is I love you more than I've ever loved anyone except for Mom…”

“And young Finn,” he added and was surprised when she shook her head.

“You think you know so much,” she teased, moisture collecting in her eyes. “Well, you don't.”

Before he knew what was happening she reached up and drew his head down to hers, brushed his lips with her own and was gone.

His heart racing, Giles looked after her frantically. She was already across the dance floor pulling her father onto it, resolutely not looking his way. After several frustrated, lost moments, he pulled himself together and headed back to where he left his drink.

Halfway there he realised there was someone in his chair. Willow. She was curled up in the seat with a drink of her own, seemingly in a world of her own. The two other chairs in that group had been shifted elsewhere, to add to another, leaving just that one and the table and he didn't want to disturb her. Instead he turned, suddenly in need of some air, and took himself out of the building, unaware that Willow had looked up, and had seen him looking at her at the last, before he wheeled and strode toward the exit.

She watched him go, puzzled, and more than a little disappointed. She wanted to dance with him again and hadn't been able to talk herself out of being meanly annoyed with Buffy for taking him away from her, despite it being her big day. It had been hard, too, watching the pleasure on Giles' face, as he danced with her. She'd been seeing that look for months, ever since the prom, in fact. At one time she even thought he might one day do something about it. But he hadn't…

Several minutes later she frowned again. Giles hadn't come back and Buffy and Riley were due shortly to leave for their honeymoon. Willow took another sip of her drink. He will, she thought. He will…

When, in due course, the pair did emerge from a side room in their travelling clothes, and there was still no sign of Giles, Willow made her way across to kiss the pair goodbye with everyone else. And after the excitement was over, Anya had caught the bouquet and the happy couple had driven away in their hired sports car, Willow's eyes searched the hall and the remaining sea of faces, but there was no Giles. She'd seen Buffy looking for him, the hurt look in her eyes when she realised he wasn't there. But Buffy was Buffy, and she'd let it go, and gone with her new husband without raising a fuss, as Willow…and probably Giles, knew she would.

He was outside the fire exit, hands in pockets, staring up at the night sky. He looked awfully alone. Willow walked slowly to his side and stopped, her shoulder almost touching his, raised a hand holding a glass.

He looked down at it, then at her. Willow saw despair in his eyes, just for a moment, and then it was gone as if it had never been there. He half smiled.

“I sneaked it off the refreshment table,” she confided in answer to his questioning look.

His smiled widened and he took the glass, ice rattling, and downed its contents before sitting it on the flowerbox he was standing alongside.

“Thank you,” he said softly, straightened and looked up again.

“Are you okay?” she asked, as his eyes returned to the bright moon.

He shook his head very slightly. He rarely lied to her and when he did it was usually by omission rather than outright, and for her own good.

Willow's heart constricted. She slid her arm slid around his waist and tightened it, and leaned silently against him.

Giles' eyes closed. Her simple act of kindness was almost more than he could bear. When he was able to move, he drew his arm around her shoulders and squeezed.

In reply she rested her head against him and lifted her eyes to the night sky. “Tell me again which one is Cassiopeia?” she asked very gently, her mouth trembling a little at the tremor in the hand holding her shoulders as he began a gentle dissertation on that particular constellation and its location.

Their discussion had blurred into Greek and Roman mythology, and had become quite animated by the time Xander came looking for them.

“There you are. I've been trying to find you guys for the last twenty minutes. I was getting really wigged, what with your car still in the parking lot and all.”

Giles cleared his throat and let his arm fall to his side. “Yes, well, it was quiet out here.”

“Yeah,” Willow added. “We were discussing astronomy and how a lot of stuff is named from Greek and Roman mythology.”

“Sounds about right for my two favourite book people. Giles, can Anya and me get a ride with you into town?”

Giles relaxed. “If you like,” he said easily. “I'll see you in the parking lot in about twenty minutes.”

Xander grinned. “Cool.”

When he was gone Giles looked down at Willow. “Can I drop you somewhere…the campus, perhaps?”

She shrugged. “I guess.”

He half turned, but for some reason he was put in mind of the dorm room, and how alone Willow had seemed in it last time he was there. He remembered assuming it was because Buffy wasn't there, but now he looked back at the other girl. She was looking up at the sky again but her face betrayed her.

“Not looking forward to rooming alone?” he asked softly.

Willow's gaze whipped back to his. “I…how…no, not really. I used to be alone all the time, then I had Oz…and afterward there was at least Buffy for company. I…”

Giles' gaze softened. “I know,” he said gently.

Her eyes widened. Of course… “Oh, I…you…do you get lonely?”

He nodded. “But one gets used to it after a time. You know, we have to drop Xander and Anya in town. There's no reason why we can't find something to do ourselves, if you really don't want to go home yet.”

Willow blinked, then smiled. “Really? Giles…really? You're sure it wouldn't be too boring for you? I mean, I'm not—”

Giles touched her cheek. “Don't underestimate yourself,” he said softly. “I wouldn't have asked you if I didn't want to. I know I'm not Buffy or Xander and I'm not much of a consolation prize for young Tara, or Oz or any of the young men who should be flocking around you, but—”

Willow slid a hand over his. “You're way better than any of them,” she told him, and meant it. “You're Giles. You know, now that I'm out of school and you're not like a teacher or anything anymore I guess I can tell you I had the biggest crush on you for years.”

He laughed softly. “I'm flattered,” he told her, genuinely touched. “But I'm glad you didn't tell me before. You were a charming child and I very much enjoyed that time and our friendship. If I'd known we might have missed out on a great deal of that.”

“Then I'm glad I didn't tell you.” They turned together toward the door. “Giles, do you still think I'm a child?”

Giles was startled by the question. After a pause he cleared his throat. “I suppose it's a relative thing,” he said carefully. “To me you are very young, but legally you are now able to vote, to make love, to wage war and die for your country. I think that qualifies you as an adult.”

Willow was disappointed with his answer. “You don't see Buffy as a child,” she said softly as he pushed open the exit door.

He sighed. “In many ways Buffy hasn't been a child for a very long time. In fact I think I can almost pinpoint the day she lost her childhood…”

”Angel,” Willow guessed, thinking of Buffy's seventeenth birthday.

Giles shook his head as they passed the dance floor. “It was the day she died. The Master stole her childhood long before Angelus tried to take the rest.”

Xander and Anya were waiting by the burgundy coloured Altima™ to which he'd only recently upgraded. Giles unlocked it and went around to hand Willow into the passenger seat.

“Hey, thanks for the ride, Giles. You can leave us at the Bronze,” Xander announced gleefully. “Anya and I haven't done dancin' yet.”

Giles nodded wordlessly and backed the car out of its slot.

He and Willow watched the pair stroll arm and arm into the Bronze and both sighed silently at the same time, then Giles looked down at his companion.

“Where would you like to go?” he asked, watching her gaze wistfully at the other pair and waiting for her to look up at him.

“Well, there's always ice cream…or…is there a movie you want to see?” she mused without turning.

He sighed again, audibly this time.

She turned then to search his face.

“You are going to have to start believing a little more in yourself,” he said gently. “Is there a movie you would like to see? Or somewhere special you would like to go?”

Her eyes lit with affection. “Why didn't someone marry you a long time ago?”

He chuckled wryly. “That is probably a question best not pondered too much.”

Willow's face grew serious. “Giles, was there ever anyone…you know, anyone else, besides…?”

“Oh, a long time ago I fancied myself in love,” he admitted quietly. “But she wanted more than I could give her, being homeless, jobless, rootless…God, I was a fool.”

“Ripper…” she guessed softly. “That was a long time ago,” she repeated then sighed. “You're not him.” She frowned again. “And she was a bigger fool to choose him over you.”

Dark emerald met soft green and held. They both knew she was no longer talking about the long lost love from the past.

He looked away. “She made the only possible choice,” he said thickly.

“Why?” Willow said disbelievingly, “Because he's younger than you are?”

He closed his eyes. “Because it's the only choice I gave her,” he said, took the park brake off, pushed in the clutch, and put the car in gear before opening them again.

“The school,” she said suddenly as the car pulled out into traffic.

Giles flashed her a puzzled glance.

”I…I want…I want to see what they did with the library. I just never wanted to go alone…”


*******

The Altima™ slid to a halt in the Citroen's old parking slot, though the surface and the markings of the lot were all new. Giles' hands tightened on the wheel for a moment before he spoke.

“I don't know if we'll be able to get in,” he told her.

She was already half out of the car. “We can try. And there's always your handy-dandy lock-pick.”

He shook his head and followed her. The gleaming new exit doors were solidly locked, as were the access doors into the main building.

“It's not fair,” Willow said plaintively after they'd tried every door, and smacked her hand against the one in front of her.

Giles sighed heavily and opened his wallet. “You'd better check whether they have an alarm system or not,” he muttered and made a choking sound when she briefly threw her arms around his neck as he bent to the lock, before dancing off to look for signs of an alarm.

It took him five minutes to pick the standard deadlock, by which time Willow had returned to report no signs of wiring, warnings or external fixtures that might indicate the installation of a perimeter alarm system.

Inside they discovered that, like the old school, most of the lights had been left on, but unlike the old school the fittings were all gleaming and new, even still had lingering 'new' smells about them. Little of the character of their old school had been taken into consideration in the modernizations, at least until they reached the entrance and the trophy cases.

Willow's eyes glowed. “Its nice, they made it the same. New, but the same.”

Giles smiled, but said nothing. The generations of children and teachers that had gone into the wear and tear, the patina on the old polished timbers and the chips out of the walls and floor could never be replaced. He was glad she wasn't old enough to mourn their loss as he did.

“Are you still certain you want to see the library?” he asked softly.

She nodded.

The swing doors were gone, replaced by a heavy glass one. Giles pushed it open sadly. Together they stood inside and looked around wordlessly.

Gone was every splinter of polished timber. Grey heavy-duty carpet covered the now single-level floor and the study tables had been replaced by booths with headphones, reading stands and computer terminals. Even the bookshelves were light-coloured and compact, gleaming in the fluorescent light. The book-cage was gone, and Giles' office. The new librarian's office was behind a clear Perspex booth with an almost 360 degree view of the library.

Willow stared at it. Common sense had told her that it would be different, but…not one thing…nothing remained as a testament to the time they'd spent there, the emotion, energy and terror they'd known in it. She closed her eyes, remembering the first time the Hellmouth had opened. Cordelia had turned heroine…she half smiled, then her lip trembled. Miss Calendar had been a hero too.

Cordelia was gone…Jenny was gone, Angel…and now Buffy…it was all gone. Moisture trickled down her cheeks. It even smelled wrong. It should have smelled like old furniture polish, dust, books and Earl Grey tea. Xander should have been lurking reluctantly, pretending to research whilst ogling Cordy instead. And there should have been Giles, and tweed and glasses and his book cage full of crazy weapons…

She made a small noise, turned and buried her face in his waistcoat. He put his arms around her wordlessly while she wept. And when she was done they both turned silently and left.

Only when she slid into the passenger seat of his car, did she finally speak.

“I'm sorry,” she whispered. “It was stupid, going back. A part of me wanted it to be exactly the way it used to be…our library…”

He covered her hand with his. “We can't go back,” he said softly.

She lifted sorrowful eyes to his. “But it was better then. We were all together. It was…”

”No it wasn't. It was just as frightening and precarious as life is now. We never knew from day to day what was going to challenge us next, which is still the case. What we wanted from that room we could never have again, even if it had been replicated in perfect detail…”

She searched his face then, his eyes, then nodded in understanding, all the faces, all the moments flashing by in a blur of joy, tears, memories and regrets.

She half laughed, half sobbed. “Do you think it's too late for ice cream?”

He too, chuckled damply. “One would hope not. A Triple Chocolate Rage would be rather in order right now.”

Willow giggled. “You've been there before.”

He nodded. “Occasionally, after particularly nasty patrols, especially in the first year. She has always been prone to nightmares. Doing something normal and ordinary…afterward …seemed to reduce their frequency.”

She tilted her head to one side. It made perfect sense. “But a Triple Chocolate Rage, Giles? Do you know how many calories there are…?”

He grinned. “Just enough to make it worthwhile, particularly when shared by a fellow connoisseur.”

“Let me see…chocolate chip, double choc chip, chocolate mint, chocolate cookie dough, hot chocolate fudge sauce, whipped cream, with melted white chocolate drizzled on top and Belgian chocolate flakes…I think I qualify as a 'fellow connoisseur,'” she mimicked in his best Oxford tones.

He chuckled and they drove away without looking back.

The ice-cream parlour was still open but it was after midnight and the place was all but deserted.

“Giles, your suit,” Willow said suddenly as they got out of the car. “You can't. You'll ruin it.”

In reply he opened the trunk and put his waistcoat, tie and jacket in it carefully, unbuttoned his immaculate shirt and removed it, then drew out a folded sweater that had been in there since his last patrol with Xander and Anya.

When she was able to draw her thoughts away from the vision of Giles, as she'd never seen him before, Willow nodded approval as he pulled the band of the dark, charcoal grey polo neck down over the band of his trousers.

He'd looked so different… different from anything she'd imagined. His shoulders were wide and smooth and his chest was still firm and contoured, not soft and succumbing to gravity like her father's, or Mister Donnelly, the gym teacher's, was. And there was chest hair, kind of light and close to his skin, but like it belonged there.

A tremor went through her as he closed the trunk and came toward her, the sweater not loose and baggy like his others, but hugging his hips, which in the tailored grey trousers seemed far leaner and more lithe than in his thick jeans and cord pants with his silly baggy sweaters bunched up over them.

Willow felt herself go hot all over when he touched her shoulder as they turned toward the shop. It was crazy, this sudden overwhelming…what...? She stole a glance up at him and felt another flush sweep over her. It was insane. He was her best friend…that gave her pause for a moment, but it was true. She and Xander hadn't been true best friends for a long time, and Buffy had had other priorities for some time. But Giles…Giles had always been there, the truest of all her friends; her best friend, not someone to suddenly begin having…well that didn't even bear thinking about

She jumped when he put his fingers on her forearm to guide her to her seat at the table he'd chosen in the ice-cream parlour.

”Willow?”

She looked up at him guiltily, her face red. “Sorry. I was thinking about something else. You surprised me.”

The lone, uniformed waitress arrived at the table before he could reply. Giles ordered the ice cream and drinks and the young woman wandered off again.

He turned his green gaze back to Willow. “Now,” he said firmly. “Are you going to tell me what's wrong?”

She shook her head. “Do you mind, Giles? Please? I promise it's nothing serious…just really private. I'm fine, really.”

“Not at all. I'm not trying to pry. I …I was just worried.”

She smiled. Just for a moment he was so much like the old, tweedy Giles she wanted to cry almost as much as much as to smile. “Thanks,” she said softly. “Can…can I ask you something?”

His head tilted to one side curiously and he nodded just a little.

“What happened…to the tweed?”

Giles half smiled and sighed. “It was the uniform of a me whom I came to not like very much.”

Willow frowned, trying to work that one out.

He watched her and wondered if she would.

And then she looked up, her eyes darkened almost to brown. “The Council. That test. That wasn't your fault, Giles. Even Buffy said so.”

He stared at her for so long Willow thought he was angry, then she realised that his eyes had grown very bright.

“She said that?” he whispered.

Willow's eyes widened in surprise and mortification. “She…she never told you?”

He shook his head slowly.

“She should have. She should have,” she repeated in a hoarse whisper. “She forgave you a long time ago, Giles.”


He looked down and blinked a few times but before he could speak again the waitress was back with their ice-cream sundae, the chocolate mountains impressive in their miniature replica of a kitchen sink.

Willow blinked and stared at it for a long moment. “I can't believe you ever ate this. It's…it's just not Giles food.”

He looked up slowly and smiled sheepishly. “I never have,” he admitted. “I always wanted to, but she always has the same revolting pink confection, so I've always contented myself with something a little smaller. And it is too Giles food.”

Willow all of a sudden felt about three feet taller, and about forty pounds lighter. And she like him being silly.

“Okay: it is too Giles food. You just never said anything about chocolate around us. Jelly donuts, definitely, but not chocolate…or ice-cream either.”

He picked up a spoon and dove it into the wicked looking confection. “I don't have to tell you lot everything, do I?” he pointed out, lifting the spoon and offering it to her surprised mouth.

She looked up as she opened her mouth and he put the spoon into it. For a moment their eyes met and she saw the same surprise and confusion in his as she felt must have been in hers. She closed hers quickly and slid the ice cream off the cold metal of the spoon, picked up her own and began on her side of the sundae without looking up again.

They ate in silence for some time, until a glob of fudge covered chocolate chip ice cream fell off the bottom of Giles' spoon and landed on his sweater.

“Bugger,” he said softly.

Willow looked up at the sound and saw the mess. “Good thing you changed out of your suit,” she exclaimed. “I'll get some napkins.” She was back in seconds with a fistful, the waitress looking daggers at her. Without thinking, she started cleaning where he'd scraped the glob off with his spoon.

For a moment he let her work on it, then spoke softly, “Willow, it's fine. I'll go to the men's room when we finish and wash it off.”

She looked up at him and found her face only inches from his. Her heart clanged in her chest and then galloped off without her. She'd never been that close to his face, his eyes…his mouth before. And his chest was as hard as it looked…

With the greatest difficulty she forced herself to straighten. “O-Okay,” she breathed, and backed away, Giles staring at her as she slid back onto her chair, a look of surprise, curiosity and something else on his handsome face.

Just as she thought she was going to explode from the tension he grinned ruefully. “I feel about six years old,” he told her, “what with you fussing and me with ice-cream down my front.”

Willow grinned back. “And on your cheek, and your sleeve,” she pointed out playfully.

He looked swiftly at the underside of the sleeve she pointed to. “Oh, bloody hell,” he muttered, making her giggle. He looked up, his eyes dancing. “All right for you to giggle, smarty. You've got chocolate sauce on your temple where you scratched it earlier and on your top lip, which looks rather adorable I might add.”

Willow snatched a napkin and scrubbed at her mouth. “There's nothing adorable about a grown woman with a chocolate moustache,” she told him irritably.

“Well I liked it,” he argued, still amused, and picked up another napkin to wipe off the residue she'd spread across her face in her blind efforts to scrub it off.

She sat very still while he dipped it in her lemonade and removed the last remnants very gently from her cheek. “There,” he announced when he was done. “Now you look like my Willow again.”

Her eyes flew up to his. It was just a figure of speech…

Again he stared back at her for a long moment, an almost stunned look in the soft green eyes, then they both looked down self-consciously at the ice-cream. The moment was over. He was picking up their spoons again, handing her hers. They ate in silence until neither of them could fit another mouthful in.

Giles put his spoon down and grimaced as he wiped his mouth and fingers again. “I hope I've got some Alka-Seltzer at home.”

Willow looked up innocently. “Tummy ache?”

He scowled. “Six year olds get tummy ache. I have upset digestion.”

She giggled, the underlying tension between them finally broken. “Maybe walking would be better than Alka-Seltzer? Settles things down…usually,” she suggested, not admitting even to herself that she was looking for any reason at all not to go home, or the reason why she didn't want to go…

He leaned back in his chair, stretching his abdominal wall as if to make more room. Willow thought he looked like a big, contented cat after a kill. “You're probably right,” he decided. “Did you enjoy it?”

Willow focused. “Mm? Oh, the ice cream. Oh, yeah. It was perfect,” she said as her eyes finally met his again.

So many times she'd looked at him in the past and seen…Giles. Seen the glasses, the worry, or even sometimes the laughter lines, the tweed…but she'd never really seen those eyes, the way they could shift from being angry to being so gentle, so tender, the way the green seemed to darken and lighten with his mood, or to twinkle or dance when he was amused.

“A…Are we going to walk home?”

He shook his head. “Better not to leave the car here.”

“Oh…okay.” She smiled. “Well, cemeteries are out, so don't even ask.”

He chuckled. “Actually I was thinking more a long the lines of a quiet stroll along a suitably quiet beach. Vampires aren't known for their affinity for sand and surf and there are at least three beaches known to be without fire demon nests, all within reasonable proximity to Sunnydale, ” he added wryly.

Willow beamed. “It sounds perfect…”

*******

The sand was cold underfoot. Willow was still finding herself occasionally looking down at his feet. Giles with his suit pants rolled up and barefoot was not a sight she'd expected to see today, if ever. As she expected, he had very large, masculine feet, not wide, but strong.

She looked up again. There wasn't much light, but the moon was higher now, and reflecting brightly on the inky waters. The beach was deserted, due in part, probably, to the hour, and also to the briskness of the breeze blowing off the surf.

They ploughed their way down past the high waterline, where the sand was packed down and easier to walk on.

Willow made a squeaky noise when her toes dug into the dampness as they walked and Giles chuckled alongside her.

“Too cold?” he asked, more as a matter of form than real concern.

“Oh, no,” she grinned. “It just…tickles. How's your tummy?”

“My stomach is fine,” he retorted pointedly. “Lord it's been a long time since I was on a beach.”

“Not even patrols?”

He shook his head. “We weren't even aware of the fire demon nests until Angel pointed them out,” he said quietly.

“Oh. So when was the last time you were on a beach?” she asked, suddenly wanting to change the direction their conversation was taking.

He thought about that for a long moment then halted. “I was a small boy and it was high summer in England, which if I remember, wasn't anything to shout about. My mother took me to Blackpool for the day.”

Willow turned and looked up into his face. It had a far away look on it, and she wished she could see his eyes better.

“You miss her?” she said softly.

“Sometimes,” he admitted. “Back then, all the time. When she died I thought my world had collapsed.” The faraway look intensified. “You must understand; my father was not a tactile man, not demonstrative in any way, and a strict disciplinarian. As an adult I was to realise that he placed my preparation as a Watcher above any emotional need I…or indeed he, might have had, but as a child and for years after I simply thought he was a prize bastard.” Giles shook himself and started walking again, as if he'd realised that he'd said more than he wanted to.

Willow fell in alongside him again, silently slipped her hand into his and squeezed. A moment later he squeezed back.

They'd wandered about half a mile down the beach when it happened. But this time it was neither demon nor vampire.

Willow grabbed a handful of white sand as Giles rolled over and over, struggling with their attacker, the blade glinting only when its edge was caught by the sparse moonlight. It took only a few more seconds for him to pin the lighter man long enough for Willow to cast the sand in the sallow face.

He howled with rage and discomfort and Giles seized the opportunity to punch him unconscious and to snatch the knife and throw it away. He rose, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth and breathing hard.

”Willow? Are you all right? Did he hurt you?”

“N…no, he only had hold of my arm for a moment.”

Giles looked down at the scrawny, ragged, unconscious heap.

“Drug addict,” he said distastefully.

“Giles, you're hurt,” she said suddenly, when she realised there was far too much blood on his sweater.

“It's nothing,” he told her, subsiding adrenaline revealing that to be something of a white lie.

“G-i-iles,” she growled and lifted the damaged sweater before he could object. The slash across his ribs wasn't life threatening, but it was deep enough to need stitches in places and it was bleeding fairly profusely.

“Willow,” he muttered, pain in his voice now. “Leave it. I'll dress it when we get home.”

“Yeah. Right. Your pants are already ruined,” she scolded. Have you got a clean handkerchief, or anything?

He rolled his eyes and winced as he dove his hand into his pants pocket and drew out a shabby but clean men's handkerchief.

Willow flicked it out then screwed it into a ball and pushed it into the wound. “There, hold that,” she ordered, her hands beginning to shake with reaction.

“Willow, are you hurt…?” he asked suddenly.

She shook her head. “I…I'll get the knife. A-are we turning him in to the police?”

Giles shook his head and winced again. “Poor sod needs help, not a jail term. He took out his wallet from the other pocket and, with a painful groan, bent and pushed fifty dollars into the man's hand just as he started to stir. “That should stop him from needing to mug anyone for a good long while,” he explained at Willow's startled look.

The emaciated addict squinted up at Giles, still blinking sand from his eyes, looked at the cash in his hand, scrambled up and was gone faster than a startled rabbit.

After a five minute argument Willow drove them to the local ER, where the middle-aged nurse on duty grinned broadly and welcomed them like old friends. She asked after Giles' skull fracture at the hands of Gwendolyn Post and his sprained wrist at the hands of the Hellmouth demon, as well as teasing him about one or two old injuries she'd been on duty for, including their first meeting over a crossbow bolt in the butt…or near enough to it. By the time they were done with him Willow didn't know whether to laugh or feel sorry for him. She admired the good spirit with which he took their teasing and familiarity but couldn't help wondering if he really appreciated it very much.

“No stitches?” she asked when they headed slowly back to the car.

He shook his head. “Whatever else our Nurse Findlay is, she's good at her work. Some butterfly dressings to hold the nasty bits closed and a waterproof dressing, and Bob's your uncle.”

“Not mine,” Willow shot back dryly. “But I'm glad we came.”

He smiled at her, touched by her concern.

She grinned back, her eyes lighting on the bloodied sweater. “Okay, I think I need to get you home now. Your sweater needs to be soaked, that is if you think we can fix it.”

He looked down at the bloodied six-inch slash. “I think not,” he said ruefully, “and it was my only tidy one.” He sighed. “I hate shopping for clothes…”

It didn't take long to drive back to Giles' apartment. Willow walked with him to his door after parking the car in its usual place.

“I'm sorry our evening was spoiled,” he told her as he unlocked the door. “But you really should have allowed me to drive you home. I'm cut, not disembowelled.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Eiewww, nice imagery.”

“First thing I thought of,” he grinned as the door swung open. “But you get the point.”

“Yeah, I do,” she agreed reluctantly. “Except shock is a weird thing. I don't think Nurse Findlay would have liked you to drive, either.”

Giles sighed. Checkmated again. “Well then, come in and have some tea. If I show no signs of passing out or bleeding to death by the time we've finished I expect you to allow me to drive you home.” When she would have objected he tilted his head to one side. “Please?” he added and smiled, like a small boy asking for another cookie.

Willow giggled. “Okay, but only if you actually get some colour back in your face and it doesn't hurt too much.”

He grinned at that and nodded. “Done,” he said, as she laid his jacket, tie, shirt and vest over the back of his writing chair, and headed for the bathroom.

“After you,” she called after him as he disappeared into it. “I'll put the kettle on while I'm waiting.”

She had a tray assembled and the kettle boiling by the time he'd finished, slipped up the stairs and resurfaced in jeans and an unbuttoned blue shirt.

“What did you do with the other pants?”

“They're in the living room. I'll explain what happened and cover the cost. Don't fuss, Willow.”

The kettle started to whistle and Willow drew her gaze away with the greatest reluctance.

“Okay,” she shrugged, tipping the hot water out of the teapot and adding the leaves before scalding them with the boiling water from the kettle. “But it's going to cost you a small fortune. Will you be okay to go back to work?”

Giles shrugged. “I have another week of my annual leave to recover and I don't think my wound is going to be a serious impedance to my sitting behind a desk, signing documents and delegating work to others, do you?”

Willow's eyes searched his for a moment. He'd been with the big research laboratory for almost twelve months and had already told them he only took the job because the managerial position paid well but…

“You're not happy there are you?” she asked softly.

He returned her gaze for a long moment then smiled a rueful half smile and shook his head.

After she returned from the bathroom, and the tea had drawn, he followed her into the living room and they settled on the sofa. Neither had the appetite or the space for any of the cookies she'd automatically put out.

They were sipping their drinks in companionable silence when Willow spoke.

“Giles, can I ask you something…something really personal?”

“It depends,” he said carefully, and curiously. “How nosey are you intending to be?”

She half smiled then grew serious again. “Very,” she said softly. “It…it's about Buffy.”

He looked away. “Then I reserve the right not to answer, but I won't stop you asking,” he said equally softly.

“Why didn't you ever tell her?”

He stared down at his teacup. “A very good question,” he said, almost to himself, wrapping both hands around the mug.

For a few minutes Willow thought he wasn't going to answer and then he began to speak, almost to himself.

“At first there was Angel…and the Ascension…and then the aftermath of Angel. She was in no frame of mind to be told that her trusted mentor and friend was now to all intents and purposes little better than a randy old man,” he said bitterly. “And then I convinced myself that she didn't need the complications with college starting…and Olivia came to visit, complicating things even more…”

Willow frowned. How did she manage to forget about Olivia? What a tangled mess that turned out to be, and how hurt Giles must have been…again.

“I should have told you a long time ago, but…I'm really sorry about Olivia, Giles.”

He shrugged, and winced again. “Don't be. We all have to live with the choices we make. It seems to be our lot, here on the Hellmouth, to fair poorly in love. I just hope to God Buffy has better luck this time.”

“At least Xander and Anya seem to be happy,” she pointed out, once again not liking where the conversation was headed.

He nodded. “But you see why I couldn't tell her. No sooner had Olivia left the first time than Buffy was mooning around over that Parker berk…”

“And then Riley happened…” Willow finished, her eyes narrowing. “Is that why you and Olivia…?” As soon as she said it she could have bitten her tongue out.

Giles didn't answer for a long time. “That makes me sound rather a bastard, doesn't it?” he finally said softly.

Tears rose in Willow's eyes. “It didn't matter in the end, because she turned out to be rather a bitch,” she pointed out.

He laughed hollowly. “Too true. And it did work out for the best. Buffy is happy…”

“And that's all that counts,” Willow muttered, surprisingly bitterly.

Giles looked sharply at her. “If you really believe that, then I'm disappointed in you,” he said, genuine hurt in his voice.

She looked up and bravely held his gaze. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be harsh. It's just…it always seems like it doesn't matter how hurt you get, as long as Buffy gets what she wants, Buffy is safe, or Buffy isn't hurt. You matter too,” she said softly.

His eyes gentled then and his shoulders dropped in exasperation. “I thought you were implying that I didn't care about the rest of you.”

She blinked. “Oh. We know you care about us, Giles. We've always known. That's why we love you so much. That's why I was so angry just now. It's old, saved up angry. I won't do it again, I promise.”

He looked at her then, at her soft red hair still mussed from the incident on the beach, her huge emerald eyes and adorable smile. She'd had a mortgage on his heart, along with the others, almost from the moment he met her and had grown into a lovely young woman in just about the blink of an eye, simply continuing to mature and blossom despite the disaster with Oz. For the first time he allowed that he'd often found himself watching her in recent months, unconsciously enjoying the fluid way she moved, the elfin beauty of her limbs, her slender neck, when she was curled up on his sofa reading or sprawled on the floor near his bookcases looking for a new spell or an old reference to something she was researching to help with the slaying…

He shook himself mentally, focused again on his companion, who was watching him curiously. He regretted that the pitiful creature at the beach had ruined their evening. He hadn't enjoyed himself so much in a long time and he was sharply aware that he really didn't want it to end.

“I think I like you being angry in my behalf,” he told her. “And as much as I'd like to go on sitting here like this, I think it's time I took you home. I know it's spring break, but you've had a big day and…”

Willow let her eyes wander to the chest visible between the edges of the open shirt, the hair on it that seemed sexier every time she looked at it, and the blue jeans he'd pulled on after taking the suit pants off…the ones that hugged his butt and fit in all the right places. She could still remember the first time she'd ever seen him in them…

“I like being here too,” she said eventually and raised her eyes purposefully to his again, searching them. “Do you really want me to go home?” she asked softly.

Giles swallowed. They knew each other too well to play games and he knew exactly what she was asking.

“Yes,” he said softly, before the coward in him had a chance to succumb to what was suddenly an incredible temptation. “Because I love you dearly, Willow, and I would be worse than a bastard if I asked you to stay,” he added as she leaped up and walked toward the fireplace, obviously hurt and embarrassed.

She didn't turn.

He rose and went to her, put his hands on her shoulders. “You already know my heart,” he said softly. “And you deserve better than an old man mooning over the past. In fact you deserve better than an old man, period,” he added bitterly.

Willow turned slowly and looked at him, wisdom beyond her years in her eyes. “You felt it too, didn't you?” she guessed.

He stared back at her. “Yes,” he admitted, as surprised by the question as by her implicit admission. “But I'm still taking you home.”

Willow held his gaze for a moment. His voice had dropped to a husky whisper and she recognized the look his eyes. Then, wordlessly, she stepped into his arms, slid hers under the shirt and very carefully circled his waist before raising her face to his.

“Then kiss me goodnight, first,” she said softly, her whole body electrified by the heat, the feel of his skin beneath her hands.

She could see him struggling with his better judgement and the worry that flashed in his eyes as he looked down at her. “Giles,” she said softly, “I won't bite.”

The laugh was torn from deep within him, the release of tension almost palpable. He touched her face in wonder, then bent his head very slowly and covered her mouth with his own. It went on almost endlessly, beginning with a tender question and becoming an exploration of each other, then a declaration of an attraction that both were in danger of being swept away by.

It was Giles, eventually, who gently took her shoulders again and eased her away. When she looked up at him, puzzled, he brushed her cheek with a trembling hand.

“I…we have to go,” he said huskily. “Please, Willow…for both of us.”

She was breathing heavily and her pupils were dilated alarmingly. “I don't want to, Giles,” she said in a tiny voice.

“For me then,” he begged. “I need time. I need to know I'm not hurting you by being with you when part of me still wants her,” he admitted in a rush.

Tears welled in Willow's eyes. It hurt, but it moved her even more to know what it was costing him to admit it.

“I'll wait,” she said tremulously. “If you want me to…”

Unable to stop himself, he touched her face again. “Of course I…My God, Willow, aren't you angry...appalled… that I could feel this way so soon? It's…God, it's insane…”

She reached up and laid the back of her fingers against his cheek. “Yes. Yes. And I don't care,” she listed softly. “And the same goes for me. It's insane that I could know you for three years, work with you every day almost and then today…”

He closed his eyes. “I know…and you're still so young…I feel as though I've betrayed a trust…it's not right…”

“And being in love with Buffy was? I'm not the Slayer, and I'm not sexy and strong and…and…kick-ass…like Buffy, but the bottom line is she's still just another one of your 'kids,' just like Xander and me.”

He turned away. “You're not children any more, Willow.”

“And you're not an old man, Rupert,” she shot back. “And the past has nothing to do with now. You're right. I'm not sixteen, or innocent any more. We're both entitled to make our own choices and to hell with what anyone thinks.”

She left him then to walk over and pick up his car keys, took one of his coats off the coat rack and opened the front door.

“Come on then,” she said dryly. “Take me home.”

When the car slid to a halt in the student parking lot and Giles turned the ignition off they just sat for several moments, as though neither was sure what to do next.

Willow felt as though she'd lost something. Until today saying goodbye to Giles was as easy as saying hello. Until tonight she could say anything to him, tell him anything. Now she didn't even know how to say good night…

“You were wrong, you know,” he said, finally breaking the silence.

“I-I was?” Willow asked, turning tentatively toward him.

“I told you not to underestimate yourself. You are beautiful and desirable, and strong in a dozen different ways that she isn't.”

Colour flooded into her cheeks and a part of her wished he would just start the car and take her home with him. Instead she reached out and slid her fingers inside the shirt, rested them against his heart as she lifted her face to his.

The moment he realised what she was doing he knew he was going to kiss her again, wanted to kiss her again. The touch of her hand against his skin was doing all kinds of things to him as he kissed the tender mouth, responded to her demands with more of his own, trembling as her arms slid around his neck, his circling and enveloping her slender body, pulling her against him.

And when at length, they finally drew apart it was Willow who'd separated them, flushed and trembling with desire. “Choose,” she whispered. “Take me home or tell me to go.”

He withdrew his arms, torment in his eyes. “Go…” he whispered.


*******

Willow went through the next few days in a daze. There was no word from Giles, and she was afraid to call him, afraid that he'd tell her that it was impossible, that it couldn't happen. Meanwhile her dreams were filled with him. Some were good, some bad…and some impossibly sensual and erotic.

She went home, visited Xander and spring-cleaned the dorm room but nothing took her mind off the waiting, the wanting...

On the third day they spoke on the phone, Giles calling to see if she was okay, to tell her his wound was healing well, before the conversation took a right turn into oblivion and they both hung up, frustrated and unhappy.

Giles stared at the phone. All he'd wanted was to hear her voice, to at least let her know he hadn't deserted her. Deserted her? She was all he could think about, dream about…want…and yet there was still Buffy. He knew there was only one answer, one way he could know once and for all if it was what he thought it was, or if he was just chasing dreams.

Twenty four hours later Buffy had agreed to have lunch with him, bubbling with excitement about the cruise they were waiting at her father's home to join in a couple of day's time. It did him good to hear her sounding so normal, so relaxed…so carefree. Something he'd never been able to give her…

Los Angeles hadn't changed a whit. Giles parked in front of the home at the address Buffy had given him, impressed by the obvious prosperity Hank seemed to be enjoying these days and wondering why Buffy hadn't benefited more from it. And when the front door opened and she stood there in a powder blue and white sundress, tanned and grinning up at him, his heart automatically did a flip-flop and he grinned back at her.

”Hello Buffy,” he said softly.

“Hey big guy,” she said equally softly and stood aside to let him in. “You going to tell me what's wrong, or are we going to play twenty questions over the moussaka I made for you?”

He followed her wordlessly through the expensively appointed house and out to the back onto a sundeck where Buffy had set a small table with the food and glasses of white wine.

”Riley's out hunting with Wes and Cordelia. They're chasing some kind of uber demon, in case you're wondering. I was supposed to help, but they figured you wouldn't be here unless it was important so…”

“It is important,” he told her. “Demons on your honeymoon?”

Buffy giggled. “Yeah, story of my life, but the cruise is the real honeymoon. We're just marking time and relaxing here. Dad's away most of the time so we have the place to ourselves…”

He half smiled. “It's good to see you looking so well, so happy…”

“Wish I could say the same for you,” she retorted dryly. “When's the last time you slept properly?”

He looked away. “That's one of the reasons I'm here. I had to see you…there's something…something I never told you—”

“That you love me? Giles, I've known since Travers shot his mouth off, that you had feelings for me. And I knew for certain they weren't Travers' 'fatherly' feelings when you found out that Angel was leaving me. For a while I hoped you'd say something, but you never did, not even…and then Olivia was there and I knew you weren't going to.”

Giles closed his eyes. He'd been a bloody fool. Her face that day, just after she'd started college, when she came to see him and discovered Olivia wandering around in one of his shirts…he should have known.

“I'm so sorry, Buffy. I wanted to say something…you don't know how much, but it never seemed to be the right time, the right moment. There was always something…”

“You were scared,” she guessed softly.

He opened his eyes and nodded. “Terrified that you'd think I'd let you down, that I was just a foolish old man.”

She covered his hands with her own. “Giles, I love you. I know you. And God, you're not old, no matter how much I teased you about it. And I could never think something like that about you. I wanted so badly for you to tell me, but I waited too long. I should have come to you, but I didn't. And I lost you.”

“And I lost you,” he whispered. “Are you happy, Buffy? Really?”

She smiled slowly, almost beatifically. “Yeah,” she said. “It just happened. After Angel, then rebounding from you through Parker the poop-head, I really thought I was making another huge mistake, but it turned out to be the one thing I ever did right…staying long enough to find out that he's the love of my life.”

He looked down at the hand covering his and drew a sharp breath when she lifted it to lay it against his cheek.

“You're still my best friend, and I'll never stop loving you,” she told him. “I can't. You're a part of me, forever, but I'm truly in love now, and I'm happy.”

He took the hand in his, kissed the palm. “And I will always love you,” he told her tenderly, “but I know now what I came here to find out.”

Buffy looked puzzled but Giles simply grinned enigmatically.

Her eyes narrowed. “You've found someone,” she guessed, her face lighting up even as her bottom lip thrust out. “I'm jealous already.”

“Don't be,” he said softly.

“Are you kidding?” she beamed. “As long as she's good enough for you…”

He smiled again, very slowly. “It's so new that the one thing I can tell you is that she's far too good for me.”

Buffy searched his face. He was so obviously about to fall in love and he hadn't even realised it himself, until this minute…because she'd been in the way…but with whom? She knew Giles. He wasn't the type to jump in at the deep end with anyone in a hurry…much less someone he'd just met. And it couldn't be her mother, because Joyce had a new arty boyfriend who kept taking her to exotic places and telling her she was the most beautiful woman on Earth with as much Latin gusto as she could handle…

Of all his long-term female acquaintances in Sunnydale, that only left…

“Willow?” she said aloud.

He nodded. “That's why I had to know. I had to be sure that from now on she's going to be first, last and always…I owe her at least that, if…”

“Willow?” Buffy repeated, ignoring the stab each of those words had caused. “You and Willow?”

Giles tilted his head to one side, wondering what Buffy was thinking. “Not yet,” he said softly, trying to read her thoughts. “Something happened…over ice-cream,” he added dryly when her eyes dilated alarmingly, “after your wedding. We weren't expecting it, didn't quite believe it at first…but …”

“But it won't let go of you? It invades your dreams, ruins your appetite and makes you want to do crazy things you know you shouldn't?” Buffy asked quietly. “Sounds like my life up until Angel left. You're definitely in trouble, big guy. I just didn't see…you and Willow …but then you guys have always had that chemistry thing…more even than us, really,” she mused.

Giles watched her, pleased that she wasn't angry or disgusted. “I have always loved all three of you,” he said carefully. “Only until recently I didn't see Willow as anything but a friend whom I cherished as I cherish you.”

“And Xander,” Buffy reminded him impishly.

He chuckled and rolled his eyes. “And she didn't see me as anyone but the 'tweed guy' as you and Xander used to refer to me when you thought I wasn't listening. This is so new for both of us that it may not even be what we think it is.”

”But you have to find out,” Buffy said softly, watching the glow, the spark in his eyes as he talked. “You both owe it to yourselves to be sure. I don't have to say 'don't hurt her, Giles,' because I know you won't…but I am, because I thought that about Oz too.” She frowned. “I guess what I really mean is don't hurt each other.” The frown cleared and she grinned impishly again. “Go tell Willow I said so, okay…?”


*******

When she couldn't stand it any longer, Willow decided to take matters into her own hands, and to reclaim their old friendship. She wanted to know if the wound was still healing properly, if he was okay and most of all if they were still okay.

Once upon a time she didn't even have to think about it before going over there…

The door was locked. She tapped on it, but there was no answer. She frowned and circled around the back. The car was gone.

“He said he'd be back tomorrow,” an elderly voice said quite close to her.

Willow turned. “Back? Do you know where he went?”

“Away,” she said. “He had a suitcase.” The elderly voice belonged to a kindly face beneath a shock of red hair and the softest looking skin Willow had ever seen. She had to be pushing eighty, but was obviously not bowing gracefully to age, her straight back and mischievous aquamarine eyes testament to that. “He said if I saw anyone to tell them he had urgent business in Los Angeles and not to worry.”

Willow went cold inside. Los Angeles

“Th-Thank you,” she whispered and crossed the terrace to the potted palm under which Giles kept his spare back door key. Still in a daze she let herself in and automatically went to the kitchen to make tea, before stopping herself from lifting the kettle from the stove and shaking her head at the extent of her preoccupation. Instead she wandered back into the living room and stood, wondering what she was going to do next. She shouldn't have been in the apartment while he wasn't there…shouldn't stay…but… She stared at his armchair, the paper and an empty teacup still standing, abandoned, alongside it.

A moment later she was curled up in it, letting the aroma that was Giles surround her and soothe her while she tried to un-jumble her chaotic thoughts.

It was no good. The words: 'Los Angeles' kept repeating themselves over and over in her head and all they brought was pain. She would have to go home…when she was finished crying…

* * *


Part Two