One Moment | Part Two

It was after midnight when Giles let himself into the apartment. He hadn't been able to wait until morning to make the trip back, and was wondering how he was going to get any sleep through what was left of the night. He was halfway to the kitchen when he sensed, for the first time, that he wasn't alone.

He turned slowly and scanned the room, halting when he reached the armchair. His heart thumped against his chest. He chuckled silently at the sensation. Rarely, since his youth, had he experienced such a sense of longing, of wanting to be with someone…

But now he saw not fair locks, but soft red ones, not blue-grey eyes, but witch-green ones. Now, God help him, all he wanted was red and green…

She was fast asleep, curled in his chair, her knees drawn up and her head tilted to one side, her small mouth slightly open. A few steps closer and he could also see that she'd been crying, the telltale puffiness, and the streaks where she'd scuffed at her eyes and dragged her mascara.

He exhaled raggedly. The last thing he'd wanted was to hurt her. He hunkered down next to the chair and reached out very gently to caress her cheek with the backs of his fingers.

”Willow…” he whispered.

Her eyes flickered open. “Giles…?” Awareness leaped into them. “Giles, you're here? B…But you're in Los Angeles!” she said groggily, reaching out to touch his face, his hair, as if to confirm that she wasn't dreaming.

“I'm here,” he confirmed as she threw her arms around his neck, and let him draw her out of the chair so that he could fold her in his arms while she wept.

“I thought…I thought it was her. I missed you so much,” she managed, finally.

He took her face gently in his hands, lifted it so that she was looking into his. “God knows, I missed you too, love. I had to find out. I saw her. And now I know,” he said very softly and lowered his head to brush her lips with his.

“Me?” she squeaked when he lifted it again.

He laughed and kissed her surprised mouth again. “You. Unless you've found true love while I was away braving the wilds of Los Angeles and its nightmare freeways. All that driving has given me a stiff back.”

“I'm sure we can do something about that,” she told him mischievously.

He chuckled, his gentle fingers pushing tendrils of red hair out of her eyes.

“Do you…do you want me to take you home?” he asked reluctantly.

She searched his face, drank in the tender, desire-blurred green eyes and smiled slowly. “No,” she whispered, tracing his jaw with her fingers.

He bent his head to her raised one, claimed the mobile lips as his fingers slid into the tousled locks and her hands slid up his chest. When he lifted his head again he could see his own feelings, his own desire reflected in the beautiful eyes gazing up at him, drew a sharp breath when he realised she'd undone two more buttons on his shirt and was sliding a warm hand inside it.

“Willow…? We've only just…” he whispered and closed his eyes as her fingers played with the soft hairs over his sternum, before sliding across to caress his hardened nipple.

“Giles, be quiet,” she said, smiling lovingly at his worried, aroused face, and undid the rest of the buttons, kissed the spot right over his heart, felt the tremor that went though him. “You want, I want…” she whispered, wanting so badly she was almost shaking…it had been so long…and she wanted him more than she'd ever wanted anyone.

“Willow,” he said, lifting her slender body in one swift, fluid movement, smiling as her arm curled around his neck, “be quiet.” He covered her mouth with his for several delicious moments as they moved easily across to the stairs, where she tucked her face into his neck while he took them two at a time.

When they reached the loft Willow could feel Giles' chest heaving and hear his slightly laboured breaths.

“Too much ice cream?” she teased as he lay her down on his bed as fluidly as he'd swept her up.

He shook his head. “Mostly just my battle-scar,” he replied ruefully, tracing her face with a gentle forefinger. “You've always been too thin. I can't begin to even imagine where you put all that ice cream.”

She caught the finger, opened his hand and kissed his palm. “You'd be surprised,” she told him, listening to his sharply indrawn breath and closing her eyes as he slowly began undoing the buttons on her white button-through sweater with the fingers of his other hand.

And when she felt the soft, warm caress of his lips against the even softer skin of her breast it was her turn to gasp and then sigh as they moved lingeringly across the tender, electrified flesh. She'd only been going bra-less on and off since Oz finally left: a small, continuing act of defiance against everyone's expectations. Now, however, she made a mental note to make it a full time practise.

He slid the soft, thin sweater off, Willow lifting herself instinctively as he tugged. It vanished even as his mouth followed a sweet curve to its apex, making her cry out and shudder with pleasure, burying her fingers in his hair.

Then he was looking at her again, joy, disbelief and wonder in his eyes.

She smiled, then laughed a little with sheer happiness and laid her palm against his cheek.

“I love you so much,” she said softly, with such intensity that they both knew that it wasn't so much a new declaration as the recognition of something profound and precious…something that had always been there, would have always been there, whether they had ever come together or not.

He leaned down and kissed her very gently. “And I love you…with all my heart,” he whispered, with the same resolute intensity, despite the smile in the words. He let his mouth move to her neck, trail down to her throat, across a breast and back again, his fingers tracing the other and sliding down her smooth flesh to her abdomen, brushing the top of her brightly coloured slacks before moving back to cup the softness of her bosom as he kissed her again.

Willow groaned when he lifted his mouth from hers and pushed him a little so that he sat up, bemused. She removed his shirt with ease, traced the line of the knife wound, still healing but nicely closed up.

“Does it hurt much?”

He smiled. “Right now? Not at all.”

She put her hands on his shoulders and pushed up onto her knees so that she was looking into his eyes as the fingers of her right hand traced their way back down to his belt.

“Willow…”

“Giles…” she mimicked, understanding his hesitation as she undid the narrow belt, and his button, felt for, and found, the small clip inside the band and undid it, his skin flinching with each brush of her fingers against it.

Then she stopped and looked him in the eyes again, let him look deep into hers, let him see how much she wanted him, how much he stirred her.

“Stop it,” she said softly. “I'm protected. I want you…Do I look like a child?”

He ran his fingers through her hair, trailed them down her silky throat to trace her breasts, watching her eyes close and her lips part. “No…” he whispered.

“No…?” She opened her eyes and her hand slid inside his open trousers, over the granite-hard evidence of his desire, forcing the zipper down. “Then love me,” she demanded, smiling as he gasped and shuddered beneath her touch.

And then suddenly the pants were gone and she was in his arms, his body arched over hers, his mouth crushing down on hers, demanding, wanting, seeking and delighting in her response. And when finally, his lips left hers again, Willow mourned their parting…until they touched her again, and kept touching her, deliberately provoking small moans and cries, gasp after gasp as he kissed every inch of exposed flesh until she could barely stop herself from begging him to give her what she needed.

”Giles,” she groaned. “Please…”

In response his hand moved to the button on the slacks and flicked it undone.

Willow moaned, the anticipation almost unbearable, as he pulled the zipper down and slid his fingers over the silky wisp that covered the soft warmth of her.

God…” he groaned and bent to snatch her lips again as the soft stroking of his fingers forced another tormented moan from her and she arched against them.

“Giles…” she begged again when his mouth moved to her throat and his fingers slipped beneath the silk. “Oh, God, Giles, please…!”

But Giles continued, his fingers never still, exploring, caressing her with certainty of long experience, making her cry out again and again, arching to him, wanting him, until finally the slacks were gone. He shifted slightly to bend his head to kiss the semi-transparent white silkiness, his mouth moving provocatively against the heat of the soft curves beneath, tasting, breathing her desire as she whimpered and arched again, pressing herself to him and shuddering as he continued to mouth her softness.

Then his lips were trailing up her trembling body and he was shifting over her, his briefs gone, so aroused that his aching erection was almost flat against his stomach.

Willow groaned and whimpered with frustration as his hands moved up the outer curves of her thighs, slid behind to cup tender cheeks, then continued upward searching out and finding the softness of her ultra-sensitised breasts again.

He knew they would be, untouched as they had been for several minutes now. Once again he worshipped them, small, soft, beautiful, like her, while one of his hands gently eased the soft fabric from her hips, lifted eagerly by Willow as she shuddered and cried out for what seemed like the hundredth time.

And then suddenly he was there, and they were staring into each other's eyes, breathing hard, wanting, needing, but both still looking for something. As though frightened they kissed again, hard, passionate and brief…then drew apart.

“Giles…?” Willow barely breathed the word.

“I want you so much,” he whispered. “More than I've ever wanted anything, or anyone. I need…I need you to know how much.”

She touched his face with one hand, while the other wrapped itself around him, making him buck a little and shudder. “I know how much.”
.
He shook his head, barely able to concentrate now. “How much…I never knew, never realised…Oh lord…Willow…!” he gasped when she began moving her hand absently, revelling in the feel, the size of him compared to her diminutive former, and only, lover.

She paused dutifully but refused to let go, and he swallowed and continued.

“I'm…trying to tell you…I love you, more than I ever thought possible,” he told her tremulously.

In reply she grinned, her eyes glowing, and took his face in her hands. “Then show me,” she breathed, sliding her hips up to him and moving her soft thighs around his, so that he could feel the damp curls, the heat of her, against him. “Show me…please?”

In reply he lifted himself a little, let his fingers trail over her thigh and down across the soft warmth in between, so that she whimpered again and pushed even higher. Then he was sliding his hands beneath her hips again and cupping the creamy flesh of her buttocks.

He could feel her straining to him, could feel her fire as he brought himself to her. He pushed, trembling, against the soft warmth, heard her call out his name, and finally plunged into her, revelling in her answering thrust.

Willow uttered his name again and again, overwhelmed by the sensation of being totally and completely filled by the man she loved. He was barely able to maintain control as she claimed him with the same gusto as he found himself taking her, driven by her cries and groans, the feel of her fingers raking his back, her pelvis lifting and grinding against his until, just when he thought he couldn't last another moment her hips shifted and he plunged even deeper.

She gasped and her movements became frantic. “Oh God, Giles…Giles…!”

Unable to stop himself, he went with her, each of them holding the other, pulling the other closer, as though trying to merge themselves in the frenzy of their lovemaking.

Willow screamed and clamped her thighs against his, her body bucking and convulsing as he pushed her further and further into a kind of ecstasy she'd never even imagined was possible. Then he arched and cried out as he drove into her one last time, his own orgasm exploding outward, overwhelming him with its sheer, blinding, intensity.

When, finally, they were both quiet Giles moved to withdraw, but Willow's arms, which had been wrapped loosely around his torso, moved to his neck and her eyes opened.

Her face was flushed and she was still breathing hard. Her eyes glowed with contentment.

“Don't go,” she said softly. “Not yet.”

He smiled and traced her jaw tenderly. “Okay?”

She nodded. “Just…stay.”

His smile faded and he nodded, took her in his arms, rolled both of them on to his side carefully so that they weren't separated and held her tightly in his arms.

“I love you,” she murmured sleepily from somewhere below his chin.

He kissed the top of the red head and rested his cheek against it, his eyes closing in spite of the phantoms of doubt that were beginning to tease the back of his thoughts.

When Giles stirred again it was daylight. He was alone. He sat up, blinking, and searched the room. His clothes were folded neatly on the chair…but he was naked beneath the covers.

God, it couldn't have been a dream…

He tried hard to shake the sleep from his head, his eyes, and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Her clothes were gone. His heart sank and he leaned forward, elbows on knees, head hung low.

It had all happened so fast…so damned fast…and yet, it had all felt so very right. At least it had when they were together. That 'chemistry', which he'd always thought of as a 'kindred spirit' connection between them had grown and blossomed into something that had hit him square in the face over a smear of chocolate ice cream.

He covered his own face with his hands and sighed. It was still Willow. Sweet Willow, whom he wouldn't have hurt for the world. What had he done…?

“Giles…?”

His head flew up.

She was standing in the doorway wearing what appeared to be nothing more than his old baggy grey sweater, and carrying a tray.

When she saw the surge of emotion in his face and the torment in his eyes, she put down the tray and came swiftly to his side. “Giles, what is it? Nightmares?”

“Only one…that you weren't here,” he said unsteadily. “Your clothes…”

Willow sighed. “Downstairs in the bathroom, so I can take a shower later. I haven't found my uh,” she blushed delightfully, “underwear, yet. They're probably in the bed somewhere, but I didn't want to wake you up…” Then her eyes suddenly narrowed and she stared at him. “You thought…but, why…? Why would you think I'd leave…after …after last night?”

He lowered his head again. “A hundred reasons,” he said softly. “Beginning with how fast everything happened. I should have given us more time…I just got back for God's sake…”

“You said that last night,” Willow pointed out. “Sort of. Besides, let's remember who seduced who here.”

Giles looked up at her then and laughed in spite of himself. “You are incorrigible,” he told her tenderly and wrapped his arms around her when she flung hers around his neck and hugged him hard.

“I was born incorrigible,” she told him mischievously. “It's just that nobody ever noticed before…except Oz.” She kissed his ear. “What are you scared of?”

He kissed her neck. “Of hurting you,” he confessed.

“Do you still love her?” she asked, trembling involuntarily, and felt his arms draw tighter around her.

“I will always love her,” he replied quietly. “But the moment you looked at me over that spoon I knew I wasn't in love with her any more. In fact, it started when she interrupted our dance. I didn't want to be interrupted…”

“But it was her,” Willow said softly and pulled back to search his face. “And you didn't know yet…?”

He smiled and nodded. “I know I was immensely irritated at being interrupted, despite being so easily distracted by my feelings for her. My feelings when Xander interrupted us outside were considerably more violent.”

“You hid it well,” she giggled, brushing stray, rumpled curls off his brow.

“Long years of practise with you lot,” he said dryly, then lost himself in the witch-green eyes. When she grinned again he ruffled her hair. “How can you love me?” he whispered almost forlornly. “I'm far too old for you, and I've taken you to bed with indecent haste…I, who fumbled around for more than a year just trying to tell her how I felt. And now I've—”

Willow covered his lips with her fingers. “Shh,” she said softly. “I thought you were supposed to be the wise one around here. How can I love you? I can love you as easily as breaking into school, eating ice cream…or looking into your eyes. Ever since I've known you, being with you has been where I most wanted to be.” His eyes widened. “I didn't know why,” she went on. “At first I thought it was just because we were good friends…because you were you. Then I thought it was a schoolgirl crush… Giles, I've loved you for so long without realising, that last night was probably the slowest seduction in history,” she finished dryly.

He kissed her fingers and took them in his less than steady hand. “Much faster and I would have been in jail, or had my manhood severely savaged by an angry werewolf,” he pointed out ruefully.

Her eyes grew very large and very bright. “I just wanted someone to love me,” she said softly. “I wish I'd waited for you.”

Hurt for her flickered in the soft green depths and he shifted, drawing her into bed with him, covering them both and wrapping his great arms around her as she nuzzled into his chest.

“He was a good lad,” he said quietly, and kissed the top of her head. “And he gave you a great deal of joy. Don't wish that away, even for me. Our memories are part of who we are, who we've become…therefore I owe Oz thanks for being a part of making you the woman I love.”

She kissed her way up his throat, his neck, to his jaw. “You're just loving this superiority thing, aren't you?” she teased, her voice thickened by emotion, and trailed her lips along the firm jaw to his right ear.

“Absolutely,” he chuckled, his hands sliding sensuously over her buttocks and up her soft, smooth back, lifting the sweater and making her shiver.

”Giles!” she squeaked. “Your hands are cold!”

“They are?”

Willow giggled. “Very,” she purred, pushing her hips playfully into his. “But something else isn't.”

“I wonder why,” he drawled, hooking up the front of the sweater and pulling the rest of her soft body hard against him.

“One of life's great mysteries,” she sighed and kissed him as he lifted her leg over his thigh and pushed himself against her tender heat. “But one I'm willing to let you explore,” she added impishly, pushing him onto his back and taking him inside her in one movement, before beginning to make love to him very slowly, enjoying his low, sensual growl of appreciation.

He looked gorgeous with his eyes closed, golden brown lashes fanned against his cheeks, and his lips parted slightly as she continued to move slowly and rhythmically, her own arousal springing overwhelmingly to life as she filled herself with him, revelling in the sheer size and steel of him. He opened his eyes when she changed the position of her hips and groaned when he slid even deeper into her.

Willow met their whimsical look and grinned. “You…you see,” she breathed as he began to move independently of her. “Y-you're not old at all…God…” She paused to meet his strokes and add a few of her own. “Oz couldn't do this…”

Giles took her hips in his large hands and increased his pace. “Do…what?”

“Make love again…not for ages after…he said most men can't, that it takes time…oh…oh God, do that…”

Giles obligingly continued to caress her as she squirmed against him. “Most can't,” he confirmed. “Or at least, can with sufficient time to recover… and…and…sufficient …
Christ!” he gasped when she withdrew and wrapped her hand around him, stroking him hard and fast.

“And what?” she asked, watching him arch and groan.

“Sufficient…stimulation,” he managed. She released him. “Lord, yes,” he growled as she took him back inside her, whimpering with pleasure as his bulk bullied its way into her.

And then suddenly she was beneath him, looking up. “Sufficient?” she asked, sliding her arms around his neck and squirming delightfully beneath his hips.

“Elegantly…sufficient,” he confirmed and proceeded to demonstrate, his pleasure threshold pushed to the limit when Willow raised her legs, curling them around his waist. He couldn't stop himself from accelerating, deep and fast, as her breaths shortened and her cries grew louder and more insistent.

“Deeper!” she begged, pushing against his thrust, opening herself wider and pulling his hips hard against hers.

It went through him like a charge. He drove himself deep into her with a strength he'd previously held back, afraid to frighten or hurt her. But she wasn't afraid, she was rising to him, responding to the wildness of it, electrifying his senses with her demands, with her wanton-ness, until he felt himself spiralling out of control.

“Not…yet…” he barely gasped and exploded like a ton of dynamite, his final, furious, thrusting lunges enough to turn Willow's groans to gasps of ecstasy as she imploded deep, deep inside herself, thrusting against his dying orgasm until hers flowered and exploded outward.

“Oh...Oh God! Giles, God…!” she screamed, hips arching and thrusting, internal muscles almost crushing him as they convulsed and clenched.

“Jesus,” he said, when they finally rested in each other's arms.

“Him too,” she whimpered softly, still breathless, then fell silent for a few long moments. “That was…that wasn't real.”

He chuckled, but his face glowed with both exertion and joy as he kissed the tender mouth.

“Old man, huh?” she chided as he withdrew himself carefully. “I don't even want to think about you at my age.”

Giles laughed again. “You're either going to kill me or keep me young,” he told her, still breathing hard as he opened the bedside drawer and handed her a handkerchief. “And you're right. You don't want to think about Rip…about my youth.”

A moment later Willow threw the handkerchief on the floor, rolled onto her side and looked at him, then grinned as though she'd just won the lottery. “No wonder they nicknamed you Ripper,” she guessed and watched the telltale red creep up from his throat to the roots of his hair.

“Brat,” he said lovingly, and pulled her close, kissing her with a gentleness that belied the energy of their lovemaking.

She kissed him back and snuggled even closer. Everything about being with him was different. Not only had he taken her to heights she'd never experienced before, he wanted to love her afterward, too…

Willow frowned a little inwardly. She'd liked sex, or at least the closeness, the intimacy of it, right from the beginning, but…she nuzzled into Giles' chest… nothing could have prepared her for what he'd shown her. Compared to the short, frantic sessions with Oz, often without completion for her…though Oz was awfully good at finding other ways to satisfy…loving Giles was unbelievable…decadently unbelievable. She shivered with pleasure at the knowledge of what she could do, how she could feel, when less than twenty-four hours ago she'd believed such things were for other women…and pulp novels, sighed contentedly and closed her eyes when his arms tightened instinctively around her, despite the slow rhythmic breathing that told her he was now dozing.

They both dozed contentedly for an hour before stirring and contemplating the spoiled tea tray just long enough to decide that a shower and brunch in town was an ideal alternative.

Sunnydale seemed somehow a much more cheerful, pleasant place as they strolled into the small French pastry café Giles had chosen. Willow had never been there before. Since they'd started going for coffee, she and the others had opted for either the local youth hangout or, in the evenings, the Bronze.

However, to Willow's hungry nose the aroma of perfectly brewed espresso coffee and freshly baked croissants was heaven and it was cosy inside, not too many people, since it was past breakfast and way too early for lunch, and comfortable in a subtlely lit, well furnished kind of way.

They ordered at the counter and found a table for two in a cosy nook against one of the walls.

“It's nice,” Willow said, looking at the Gaugin prints on the walls and the attractive wall lights that gave the place its ambience, and then at the clothes Giles had chosen to wear. He looked…stunning. She would never have suspected that black on black would look so amazing on him. And the leather jacket…she almost hadn't wanted to leave the apartment…

Giles smiled and shrugged. “Just a café, but food always seems to taste better if you can relax while you're eating it. I'm glad you approve. Are you…?” he a paused and she looked up curiously to find his eyes sweeping the room, looking not at the décor, but at the scattering of customers dotted around it.

“Giles?”

He looked at her again. “Are you sure you're comfortable being out…together?”

Willow slid a hand over the large one resting on the table, pushed her fingers into his. “Maybe I should be asking you that question,” she said gently.

He squeezed the hand. “It's not an idle concern,” he said softly. “I don't want you to get hurt because of other people's prejudices. There were enough subtle jibes and innuendoes about the frequency with which all of you used to visit the library. You would think men and women called to teach young people would have better uses for their fertile imaginations,” he muttered.

Willow giggled. “I thought you were talking about other kids, not the staff."

Giles snorted. “Don't get me started on Sunnydale High's charming faculty.”

“I don't know,” she said softly, looking at him with loving eyes, “one or two of them were pretty special.”

“I don't know about special; especially odd perhaps,” he observed ruefully. “I practically lived in that bloody library.”

“You couldn't help that you had to do so much Watcher stuff as well—”

He flashed her a sheepish smile. “That was only part of it. Mostly it was to escape from the stalwart denizens of the staffroom, the omnipresent Snyder and the throng of adolescent angst and aggravation outside."

Willow giggled again. “You sound just like the old Giles. I really liked him…all nervous and cute in a sexy Hugh Grant kinda way.”

He guffawed and snorted. “I was not.”

“Giles, do you even know who Hugh Grant is?”

“Of course I do.”

Willow tilted her head disbelievingly.

“During a particularly exciting portion of my enforced leisure I went to see something called Notting Hill. And I know Spike sat through a rerun of Four Weddings and a Funeral when he was staying because he kept up a running commentary.”

She giggled at the thought of the vampire being absorbed by a romantic comedy. “On what?”

Giles paused for a moment to try and remember. “Rather a lot about people with more money than brains. 'Nancy boys' was another recurring theme. And…” He stopped and sighed.

“And…?”

Giles grinned sheepishly. “And how much Hugh Grant reminded him of me…except for the language and the hair.”

Willow made a face and reached out to slide her fingers through his hair. “I like your hair, and I bet you know all the words, even if you never use them.”

He laughed aloud. “Oh I use them,” he admitted ruefully. “I just happen to think there's a time and a place…for example when one is trying to drain the sump on the car only to end up wearing most of the used oil, or when one is clever enough to be enthusiastically ironing the shirt one is about to wear and only to manage quite skilfully to burn one's navel with the iron.”

They were both laughing when the food arrived and they were still chuckling as they sipped their coffee.

“Why haven't we ever talked like this before?” she asked softly.

Giles contemplated his coffee. “Too many reasons.”

Willow frowned a little. “Let me guess: most of them have names?”

He looked up. “Yes…I suppose they have. But I was also remembering how different things were before you went to college.”

“I guess. I mean, we used to research together for hours sometimes and the most conversation I'd get out of you was 'do you want another cup of tea?' or 'can you look for this or that on the net?' At least when you started to worry about me and the Wicca stuff we got to talk in multiple sentences.”

“Terrifying,” he said softly.

Willow's eyes searched his. “What was?”

“When you started dabbling in witchcraft. I was terrified you would harm yourself or...” He trailed off.

“Giles?” She frowned. “You were always over-reacting about the spells, like you didn't trust me, or something. Was there something you weren't telling me?”

“Trust was never an issue,” he said swiftly. “No, I…” A furrow appeared in his brow and he swallowed. “…I know far too much, from personal experience, about the dangers of dabbling in things you know nothing about.”

“But…but you once said your first casting was to save Buffy from Amy Madison's mother and I kinda thought you were just caught up in Ethan's deal when you were a kid. I mean, there's been no dabbling with us; only big, necessary stuff since…”

Giles cleared his throat. “I know. I lied.” He met her startled gaze and held it. “Buffy knows some of it. I told her after the incident with Eyghon. I promise I will tell you one day…about all of it. Sufficed to say now that in my youth, along with Ethan Rayne, I made an art form of stupidity.”

“Like I said, I always thought he was the sorcerer. I don't like him. He's creepy.”

Giles laughed, but his eyes were suddenly hard. “Nor do I. And he's not creepy, Willow, he's evil. Like Faith, he allowed himself to be seduced by the dark side of his nature and has never had either the inclination or the strength of character to try and escape it.”

That reminded Willow of something she'd always wanted to know. “Why didn't you tell us you knew him after that Halloween thing?”

“For the same reason I lied about the extent of my knowledge of spell casting,” he said without elaboration, then smiled slowly. “You never told me what that costume was, either.”

Willow carefully put aside her curiosity about Ethan for a later date and grinned. “You looked. Several times.”

He reddened again. “It was startling, to say the least, to have you come through my wall in that…that state.”

“Easy, Hugh,” she giggled. “I liked it,” she confided softly. “The costume was Buffy's idea. She wanted me to loosen up, get a little wild. I chickened out, hence the ghost thing.”

“Yes, well, one can understand your…Willow, you didn't cover that costume with a white sheet or something equally silly?”

It was Willow's turn to redden. “Well, I'd never…and I didn't know I was going to like…”

He chuckled.

She made a face and smiled back. “You did that on purpose. I really did secretly like you looking at me.” The emerald eyes grew wistful. “It was nice…not being invisible, just for once.”

“Xander?” Giles asked gently.

She looked up, surprised. “You knew? I didn't think you noticed anything back then except, well, work and research, and…Miss Calendar…”

Giles sighed. “You'd be surprised what I noticed. And Xander was a fool, but then he never has been able to see what was right in front of him...unless of course he couldn't have it any more. Always too busy howling for the moon…”

Willow giggled again and rose with him, their meal done. “Wrong swain,” she chuckled as he put his arm easily around her, oblivious to the pointed glance from the woman behind the counter and some less subtle looks from a young couple just coming in.

She defiantly slid her own arm under the jacket and around his waist as they stepped out into the sunshine, felt his answering squeeze and smiled with contentment.

The trip out to the campus didn't take long and Willow was pleased when Giles decided to go in with her instead of waiting in the car.

He looked around the small room while she rummaged in the closet. With the room half empty it was no longer the cosy living quarters he remembered. It was, if anything made lonelier by the stark contrast. No doubt Willow hadn't had time to redecorate and spread her things to both sides, but still…

She emerged with an overnight bag and an armful of clothes. Most she pushed into the bag but she held up a skirt and a peasant blouse for his inspection and smiled when he nodded.

The smile widened when she turned automatically to take off her sweater and felt him behind her, his hands sliding around her waist and trailing up to hold her breasts, caressing them, teasing them until she turned in his arms.

“You're such a big help,” she murmured dreamily.

”I know,” he grinned, pushing her zipper down and sliding his hand inside, enjoying her small gasp of delight. “You didn't find your knickers.”

Willow collapsed in a fit of giggles against him.

Giles wrapped his arms around her and kissed the tousled head. “Here I am trying to create a moment and you're giggling your head off,” he complained in mock disgust.

She lifted her head and kissed his jaw. “It's your fault I lost my…knickers. Besides,” she said, brushing her hand over his distinctly not aroused manhood, “there are prerequisites to creating the kind of moment you're talking about.” She kicked off her sneakers, stepped out of her pants and turned to go to her underwear drawer.

He watched her find what she was looking for and shove a handful more of the flimsy items into the overnight bag before turning back to him, saw her eyes travel down his lean form and widen in surprise when they halted, a silly grin lighting her elfin face.

“Definitely Ripper,” she growled and came slowly toward him, dropping the underwear on the floor.

When she was pressed against him and his hands had slipped down her back and come to rest on the smooth curves of her bottom, she slid her arms around his neck and kissed him hard.

Giles kissed her back with equal fervour, a little stunned at how easily she had aroused him after their morning together, and how much he'd come to love her in such a short time. He drew a sharp breath when he felt her pull the stud of his jeans open and the warmth of her hand against the stretch fabric of his briefs.

He lifted his mouth from hers and used both hands to push tendrils of read hair out of her eyes, lift her sweet face to look at his. “You know I can't make any promises so soon,” he told her and groaned as she squeezed his already waning erection provocatively and grinned.

“I know. I took the Sex Ed' classes,” she teased, “but it's nice to know you care.”

At that he lifted her off the ground and kissed her hard. “But if I could do you justice…” he growled.

“You already did,” she told him lovingly and ran a finger around the lobe of his left ear. “Your ear is pierced,” she said, surprised. “Giles, you had an earring?”

He set her down. “A long time ago,” he admitted reluctantly. “It had closed up again…after the er…candy incident…until Olivia decided to re-do it for old times sake.”

A pang of jealousy shook Willow as she retrieved her underwear and put on the pale yellow lace.

“You two were close in England too, then?” she asked quietly as she put on the skirt and top and found some shoes.

“For a time, yes,” Giles admitted, refastening his jeans. “I was a different person, then.”

She turned from her bedside table and came back to him. “I like who you are now,” she told him, running her left hand up the soft fabric of his black pullover shirt. Then she smiled and opened her palm. “But that outfit deserves to be complimented.”

The small, engraved, beaten silver loop was beautiful, and obviously very old.

Willow saw his curious look. “I've got the other one. They were my great Aunt's. I liked her a lot and she kinda liked me. She left them to me...with some other stuff.”

He smiled then and took it from her. “It's beautiful, but I've never worn one here, outside the apartment, even for Olivia.”

“Oh,” Willow said softly and reached for it but he closed his hand and lifted it to his ear. When he was done, Willow blinked. Long and dark and impossibly sexy, he was hardly their Giles anymore, and yet he was so intensely Giles that she was overwhelmed by a surge of love that made her physically tremble.

“If you think I look ridiculous I shan't wear it,” he said softly when she hadn't spoken for several seconds.

She roused. “Oh…oh no. Giles, you look…well, wow. Please, I want you to wear it, very much.”

He tilted his head to one side and smiled, making her heart do a neat somersault. “Wow, eh? I've been a great many things including old, stuffy, eieww, a fuddy-duddy and a even a 'cross-referencing fool' but I don't ever remembering being 'wow' before.”

“You shouldn't listen to them,” she chided. “You know they just tease for the sake of teasing. You look…beyond gorgeous.”

“Then we'll be a matched pair,” he teased but she could see he was pleased. “Perhaps we should do something different, something special?”

“Something spontaneous and crazy or something planned and predictable?”

“Your choice,” he allowed tenderly.

Her smile widened. “I know. There's a place. Oz played there once and I went with him. He didn't like it much, but I loved it.”

“Where exactly?” Giles prompted.

“San Diego,” she said timidly. “It's called the Necromancer.”

Giles raised an eyebrow, making him look even sexier, if that were possible.

“Dumb name, but it's nice. They have a disco, where Oz was booked…which is kind of why he didn't like it much, but upstairs there's this wonderful kind of lounge with a big piano and a bar and a restaurant and sometimes there's a singer, sometimes one who actually plays the piano. I haven't been back in like, forever.”

“If that's where you'd like to go,” he said, wondering what was so special about something that sounded like your average five star hotel lobby.


*******

Giles looked at his companion. “Shall I put the radio on?” he asked, concerned by her prolonged silence.

In reply she reached out and switched it on, then slid a hand over his thigh and squeezed reassuringly. “I'm fine,” she told him warmly. “Just being together… It's…”

“I know,” he said, understanding exactly what she meant and covered her hand very briefly before putting his back on the wheel.

Willow smiled and listened to the music contentedly for some time until the sound of Giles humming began to distract her. He had a surprisingly good voice, confirmed when he shifted from humming to absently singing along.

For a while she closed her eyes and just listened to him enjoying the Goo Goo Doll's song, Iris, wondering how he could have smothered so much of himself under all that tweed. A sudden memory of Jenny Calendar and Monster Trucks sprang to mind, and she wondered if even Jenny had ever managed to glimpse the real Rupert Giles.

When the song finished and the DJ broke into voice, Willow opened her eyes and looked up at his profile.

“I didn't know you could sing.”

He glanced at her and half smiled. “It's been a while, but I even made a quid out of it for a while when I was younger.”

“You mean when you were in a b—?” Willow stopped, and turned beet-red.

Willow?

“W…We were researching Eyghon, or trying to, and we found a picture in your filing cabinet.”

He laughed and Willow exhaled with relief. “Lord, I'd forgotten about that thing. My one memento of my brush with a musical career.”

“Then you were in a band?”

He nodded. “We weren't half bad…but we weren't that good either. We did small gigs, rather like Oz's band, and dreamed of making it big…until one of us died of a drug overdose at a party, another became engaged and got a 'real' job at a steelworks and I…I had to decide whether to go back to school or not.”

“Oxford,” Willow guessed. “Your destiny and all that stuff?”

He nodded again, his eyes momentarily bleak. “Given a choice I would have preferred the music…but there was no real choice.”

Willows hand slid around his arm and she rested her head against the point of his shoulder.

He smiled down at her and relaxed a little. “Do you want some lunch?”

Willow looked at her watch. “We're way off today. It's more like afternoon-tea time. And a stop would be nice.”

They were leaving the pleasant little diner they'd chosen, with its white and real pot-plant décor, when Giles' eye was caught by something across the street. Willow was wondering what it was when he caught her fingers and pulled her with him.

“I don't believe it,” he said, his voice a rare combination of boyish excitement and awe. Willow couldn't remember the last time she'd heard him sound like that.

“Believe what?” she asked as he poked around a stand of motorcycles, one of which was separated from the others.

He grinned like a little boy and touched the gleaming black bike that stood on its own.

Willow looked at it. It wasn't like the others. It was in much better condition, and yet it looked sort of old. “What…?” she grinned, puzzled.

“It's called a Black Shadow. It's an English bike, a classic. To see one here, well, it's unbelievable.”

He ran a hand over the lettering on the petrol tank. “Beautiful,” he said reverently.

“Uh, Giles,” Willow said when three very large, leather clad figures emerged from the bar the bikes were parked outside. They were all men in their mid to late twenties as far she could tell.

He looked up at Willow then in the direction she was looking.

“You got a death wish?” the first, bearded one demanded.

“Actually, no,” Giles replied, still smiling and maintaining his good humour. “I was just admiring the Vincent. Beautiful, beautiful bike.”

For a brief moment the bloodshot eyes stopped scowling and looked almost taken by the Englishman's enthusiasm, but a murmur from the unshaven hulks behind him immediately brought the brow back down.

“Get away from the 'cycle,” he growled as the other two spread out.

Giles' smile vanished. “Certainly. I didn't mean any harm. Willow, go back to the car.”

“Come with me,” she said immediately, taking his arm and starting to turn. “I don't think they want to talk, Giles.”

Giles didn't think so either, and he needed to get her out of there. He turned with her.

“Nice ass,” murmured the largest.

Willow felt Giles tense. “He's not worth it,” she said softly.

But he knew their type. He'd been their type. They wouldn't stop, wouldn't give up until they'd had their fun.

They'd seen his reaction, the two gorillas snickering unpleasantly as one of them, the crude speaker, stepped out and blocked their path.

“The question is how much of it is grandad here, getting?”

Giles slid a reassuring arm around Willow and halted. “Let us pass,” he said in a low, intensely menacing tone and tried to without success to sidestep him, the biker simply grinning and blocking them again.

Willow shivered.

“That good, huh? Maybe you should share.”

“Willow, if you can, get back to the car,” Giles hissed, recognising the signs, considering his options. “Don't worry about me, and don't look back.”

“Just when all the fun was just getting started,” said a new voice behind them. The circle tightened.

Willow jumped but managed not to scream before crowding very close to Giles again. She was carrying holy water and she knew Giles had a small stake and a cross in his inside pocket. He always did, but these weren't vampires. She slipped her hand in and took the stake anyway, his indrawn breath telling her that he'd knew what she'd done.

Then Giles was pulling her behind his back, turning and backing toward the motorcycles again so that he could see both the newcomer and the others. They reeked of bourbon and it was clear that he was more than right about them spoiling for trouble.

“We've caused you no harm,” he said carefully. “There is no reason for us to fight. Now if you'll allow us to be on our way…”

“He's definitely porkin' her,” sniggered the hairy, big-mouthed one. “Maybe she'll come back and have a party with us if we teach him a lesson. Tank, you want first dibs?”

Willow felt Giles shake with rage, but he continued to shield her, trapped as they were now between the bikers and several parked cars and motorcycles. Tank took several steps forward.

“You aren't laying a hand on her,” he said through his teeth, “if I have to kill all four of you to stop you.”

Again the first paused, as though he recognised something in the green eyes that now glittered with rage and a kind of cold malevolence that would have frightened even Willow, if she'd seen it.

“Leave them. She ain't no movie star and we've got a lot of miles to cover,” he said roughly, his gaze still riveted almost hypnotically on the green one.

His cohorts and the newcomer weren't so easily discouraged. The newcomer, Tank, lunged for Willow only to wear Giles' forearm in his face. He staggered, but came again, as the two Neanderthals joined the fray.

Terrified, Willow backed away, unable to take her eyes off Giles as he fought them off, even though she knew she should run, should remove herself as a weapon they could use against him. But she couldn't, not while he was in trouble…

She made herself start a spell, only to find herself in the clutches of the most revolting of them, the stake falling to the ground.

Giles had laid out the newcomer and was working on her captor's sidekick when she shrieked. He looked for her over his shoulder and took a powerful punch in the mouth, before turning and grabbing the man by his greasy locks, bringing his knee viciously up to smash it into his groin, then slamming the man's reeling head on the same knee, and leaving him to fall bonelessly to the ground.

“Don't you come any closer,” the creep warned, locking an arm around Willow's neck when Giles spun and ran toward her. “You want your meat unbruised, you behave yourself. Arlo, get him,” he ordered.

The first, bearded man, who'd stayed out of the fighting, moved forward and grabbed Giles by the arms.

Rage rose and burned in him. Rage at himself, at them, and most of all out of fear for Willow…he needed Ripper now more than ever.

“Get your filthy sodding hands off her,” he growled in a voice Willow didn't recognize. It frightened her. “Or I'll break every bone in your corpulent, unwashed, piss-soaked carcass.”

She used the momentary diversion to gather her terrified wits and resume her spell.

The other looked at his even bigger companion and tightened his grip, despite his misgivings. “You're in no position to make threats, old man.”

“That's right,” said Willow's captor. “Not when I'm holding the honey.”

Giles saw the man's great meat hook of a hand sliding over Willow's cringing body and roared with rage. The rest happened in a blur.

All Willow could remember afterward was being flung hard into the side of a parked car as she chanted; the way the stake had flown true and impaled itself in the leg of Giles' captor, providing Ripper with a perfect distraction, and how dirty and how terrifyingly violently Giles could fight, then nothing until…

She shuddered, remembering when she came around, and how bloody the two men were when he was done with them, the larger lying whimpering on the ground from the agony of his dislocated shoulder and thumb, and the other spread-eagled, unconscious, over several fallen motorcycles, his thigh still dripping blood from the stake wound.

As Giles staggered toward her, cut and bleeding, after checking all their pulses, the terror finally began to subside, though the memory of the biker's hand on her body lingered, making her feel sick. She couldn't stop the tears as he bent down and helped her up, or the ferocious trembling as he took her in his arms when she discovered her legs wouldn't quite hold her up.

And when he silently swept her up and carried her away she could feel him shaking with reaction, his arms tightening almost convulsively about her as he strode back to the car.

They drove away in silence. Willow waited for several minutes for him to speak, aware of the white knuckles where he was gripping the steering wheel, the clenched jaw, but he remained silent.

“Giles,” she said softly, tremulously. “Turn the car around.”

He slid a glance at her.

Willow shivered at the bleakness in the normally warm green eyes. “I want to go h-home,” she said.

He made the turn and headed back toward Sunnydale, driving in silence for some time before an anxious Willow saw him begin to tremble again.

Finally she reached out and slid a worried, gentle hand over his forearm.

After a few beats he pulled the car off the road and turned off the engine, closed his eyes and let his brow rest on the wheel instead of straightening again.

“I'll take you home. I'm sorry,” he said barely above a whisper, haunted by the memory of Jenny's reproachful eyes as she'd stood on those stairs that day after Eyghon. “I should have found another way to get you out of there…” He made a noise in his throat. “My God, you should never have had to see that side of me…”

Willow stroked his hair, the back of his neck with an unsteady hand. “Rupert,” she whispered, “I love all of you, not just the tweed part or the book part or…or…the sexiest man I ever met part,” she finished in a voice halfway between a smile and tears. “And four against one is a little tough, even for Ripper.”

He straightened and took her face in his hands, the tiny flash of amusement in his eyes replaced by deep emotion.

“You are so beautiful,” he whispered and kissed her so gently she found her eyes cluttered with tears.

Giles…”

“I'm sorry I failed you,” he told her falteringly. “I'm sorry I let that bastard touch you…let him hurt you…” There was anger and despair in his voice and something else. Then, suddenly, the ferocious scowl vanished, swamped by the despair that dragged his eyes closed again. “But I…I'm not sure it's a good idea for you to go home alone…”

Willow's face crumpled. He'd misunderstood completely. “I didn't mean the campus,” she told him, stroking his face tenderly. “I meant home…with you.”

The soft green eyes opened, their clarity blurred by a fierce surge of emotion, and searched her darker ones for a moment.

“Oh God, Willow…” he whispered tremulously, his arms circling her slender body, his eyes closing when her arms went around his neck and her cheek pressed against his, each of them clinging to the other.

It was a long time before they parted, Giles bending to brush her lips with his when he pulled back. When he lifted his head he breathed deeply and looked into her emerald eyes.

“You're still trembling,” he said and folded her protectively in his arms again.

“I-I'm okay.”

“No you're not,” he said softly, resting his chin on her head. “You were wonderfully brave, but…” he paused uncertainly. “I know it's too soon, I know its wrong to ask…but I don't want you to go back to that room again, at all. I don't want you to be alone…I…I don't want to be…”

Willow understood perfectly. She smiled, colour flaming in her cheeks and her green eyes glowing as she gradually relaxed in his warm arms. “Six months, a week, a day, it'd still be too long…and I don't want to be, either,” she added softly.

It took a moment for him to really grasp her answer. When he did, Willow felt his arms tighten, heard the catch in his breath and realised how moved he was. She leaned back a little to look at him.

He looked down at her and smiled almost shyly. “We'll pick up your things tomorrow, and I'll find you something small to drive to classes, hopefully before they start again.”

She reached up then and kissed him, shuddered when his mouth softened and moulded to hers, taking her lips gently but possessively, making love to her in the subtlest, most tender of ways for long minutes until, finally, he lifted his head again and she breathed:

“Home?”

“Home,” he confirmed, smiled again and started the car.


*******

Willow blinked. The small grey-blue slip of light visible through the window told her dawn was close. She turned slightly, looking for whatever it was that disturbed her.

At the same moment Giles thrashed violently next to her and made a low, terrible noise deep in his throat. Willow had never heard anything like it, the suffering in the sound so profound that it brought tears to her eyes. He was still for a moment then he was struggling again, veins standing out on his temples, his colour so deep it was almost purple.

“Oh God, please…d-don't,” he whimpered in a gasping, agonised voice.

Willow put her hands on his shoulders to wake him and he exploded.

N-o-o-o!” he screamed and sat up, knocking her away, opened his eyes and sobbed.

Willow lay quietly for a moment. He didn't even know she was there, and the despair, the humiliation, the lingering terror in his face, his eyes, was so private, so terrible she was terrified of hurting him just by being there. She didn't know what it was, but she was certain that it was far more than just the fight with the bikers the day before.

They'd had such a peaceful evening after they got back, just being together. They hadn't even made love, just sat together at first, talking, reading, sometimes pausing to kiss or touch.

Then when they finally went to bed they both seemed to want the same thing: just to hold each other, to know that the other was there, to touch. And they'd fallen asleep like that, her arm across his chest, his hand draped over her hip, their legs entangled comfortably.

She watched a moment longer as the sobs wracked his body and he curled up, as though in pain, his head resting on his raised knees. And then she couldn't let it go on any longer.

Without speaking she got up on her knees next to him and drew his head against her breasts, felt his shudder and renewed trembling and coaxed him, unresisting, back down until she was sitting on the bed holding him in her arms while he wept. It was a long time before she realised that he'd fallen asleep again, but she didn't move him. Whatever had hurt him so had taken its toll and she didn't want to disturb the little peace he seemed to have found.

She was dozing, still sitting up, a couple of hours later, when Giles woke again, this time quietly, slowly but surely remembering why he was nestled against the warmth of Willow's soft, herb-scented body.

He extricated himself very slowly, and when her eyes opened sleepily, shifted and drew her tenderly into his arms, curled up with her and held her close until they closed again, and stayed there contentedly until they both woke again in the morning.

Willow knew he was awake the moment her eyes fluttered open and he stroked her hair gently. She smiled and reached up to touch his face.

“Morning,” she said softly.

“Morning.”

A few moments later, when she was fully awake, she drew herself onto her elbow so that she could look into his eyes.

“Are you—?”

But he touched a finger to her lips before she could finish the question.

“I'm fine,” he said wearily. “It's not new…but I haven't had one in a long time.”

Instinctively Willow curled her fingers around his. “Then you think yesterday…?”

Giles closed his eyes. “Probably triggered it, but that's all.”

Willow frowned, remembering. “Then what…?” she stopped when she looked up and saw the haunted look in his eyes. Her fingers tightened around his. “Tell me,” she said softly.

He shook his head.

“Tell me,” she repeated. “Whatever it is will only fester and get worse while its stuck inside you. Believe me, I know.”

He raised his head, saw the determined look in her eyes, too large above pale cheeks, and paused, his lips parted.

“I love you, Rupert,” she whispered. “Let me help.”

Giles sighed. “I…I don't think you can, love,” he said gently. “It was a long time ago, and I've had plenty of time to get over—” He looked down at the fingers Willow was now unconsciously crushing in her distress and determination to help.

She looked down too, and let go as if scalded. “I-I'm sorry,” she stammered, her eyes filling with tears, as the terrible sounds of his nightmare came back to her. “I-I…we didn't know. Oh Giles, we didn't know,” she whispered.

He shook his head again slowly. “I didn't want you to know. Better all of you should focus on what you could see, and watch it heal. It served no purpose to burden any of you with the other. It serves no purpose now.”

Willow's heart broke for him. “But…you don't have to be alone any more. I heard you…I saw you…last night. I know.”

He cupped her face with his hand. “No, you don't,” he said tremulously. “No one does. No one can…”

He was silent for a long moment, but Willow waited patiently. And when he started to talk again, sat silently and rigidly, without taking her eyes off him, not letting herself slip even for an instant, not even when it was so terrible that he cried as he spoke, even though his gentle voice continued the nightmare narrative without faltering.

She was still sitting quietly, white faced and dazed, when he began to describe Drusilla's part in his agony, but was unable to stop her own tears at the mention of Jenny Calendar's name, at the awful realisation of what they'd done to him after so much courage against Angelus' sadistic torture, in order to make him finally betray all that he believed in…

His hands were shaking. Willow reached out for them only to realise that hers were shaking too.

Giles stopped when he saw. “It doesn't matter any more,” he said hoarsely. “It happened. It's done.” Then he looked up and saw the tears slipping down her cheeks, the horror in her eyes and his face crumpled. “Don't, sweetheart,” he whispered. “Don't.” He folded her in his arms and rocked her as she wept.

Willow struggled to regain control. She finally pushed herself up and looked at him. “I'm sorry,” she whispered, stroking his brow, his hair. “I'm sorry.”

Giles caught the trembling hand and kissed her fingers. “Don't be,” he told her softly and smiled just a little. “I've never gone back to sleep after that particular nightmare, before.”

She stared at him for a moment, absorbing the implications of his statement, then smiled back damply.

“I love you so much…I want to take care of you,” she told him shyly.

He pulled a red tress. “You already did. More than you can ever know. Of course, if you feel really strongly about it a cup of tea and a muffin wouldn't go amiss…”

She giggled. “Who died and made you lord of the manor?” she shot back. “I'll have raspberry tea and poached eggs on toast.”

“Is that right?” he chuckled, and lunged, his large hands lethal weapons when it came to tickling. Willow screamed and squirmed and giggled but she couldn't free herself from the onslaught. And then he shifted very smartly to avoid a wild knee contacting something delicate, bringing his face close to hers.

She managed to stop giggling long enough to seize the opportunity to wrap her arms about his neck and kiss him. The tickling ceased. The playful kiss deepened quickly, and Giles rolled onto his side, drawing her hard against him as he continued to plunder the sweet lips, the tender mouth, thrilling to its response, its equally urgent plundering of his.

Willow groaned when he slid his hands all the way down her body to her hips and behind to cup the softness of her bottom for long moments, massaging the smooth white flesh slowly, sensuously, until she made a long, blissful noise under her breath. Then his hands slid slowly, gorgeously up her back to rub her shoulders briefly, before sliding back under her arms to her breasts.

She gasped with delight as he cupped them, stroking and massaging them very tenderly, smiling when her breaths shortened and turned to pants. He bent his head and took one in his mouth, felt the shudder travel through her entire body.

Giles smiled again when he felt her bend and kiss the top of his head, looked up and found his mouth captured by hers again, then found himself on his back, still being kissed. And moments later, found himself squirming and laughing against her mouth as she mercilessly tickled his ribs, swinging her leg over his hips to add weight to her attack.

“W…Willow!” he gasped between howls of laughter, only to have the attack redoubled. Finally, in self-defence, he pulled her down hard against his body, her soft breasts flattening out against his chest, and kissed her hard.

Willow lifted her head for a moment. “No fairs,” she grinned then slid down so that the warm softness of her moved provocatively against his suddenly very aroused manhood.

Giles groaned and slid a hand behind her head, drew her mouth down to his once more.

She bit his lip playfully then kissed him back even harder, wanting the taste of him, the feel of him in her mouth, moving harder and more provocatively against him with every groan from his lips, until he said something very un-Giles-like and neatly turned them over.

Willow looked up at him breathlessly, pinned beneath his body and the rock hard arousal she'd provoked as easily as her own desire. Her cheeks were flushed and rosy and her eyes flashed with fire as he grinned down at her for a brief moment. She smiled back wantonly and then cried out just as wantonly as he deliberately entered her in one glorious movement, each of them exalting in the unfettered pleasure of simply taking the other. Their lovemaking was swift and intense, Giles almost undone by the urgency of it, both of them moving, crying out, straining to the other, until he was certain he was going to leave her stranded.

“Ow…jeesss…bloody hell!” he yelled in a strangled voice as she clamped down on him one too many times, her cries lost among his, his orgasm sending bolts of pleasure to the roots of his hair and the tips of his toes, and for a few seconds, turning the world off. Then he opened his eyes swiftly, still moving, and found her looking up at him, breathless, grinning and with the definite aura of someone who most certainly hadn't been left behind.

“Wow,” she giggled.

He relaxed, smiled and tried to catch his breath. “Again…'wow'?”

She giggled again and nodded. “Wow. I've never seen…I mean usually…” She turned red.

He frowned a little. “I did let you down, didn't I?”

“Oh…oh no. I…I um…kind of let you down,” she confessed. “Kind of small, about thirty seconds before you…I just…never watched before. Usually I keep my eyes closed. Was…was it really 'wow'?”

He did laugh then and kissed her beautiful mouth. “There isn't any other kind with you, my sweet love,” he chuckled and shifted a little. “I think perhaps a shower would be the wisest move now,” he observed ruefully, then froze, as Willow did, at the sound of a door opening and closing downstairs.

Willow touched his arm. “Giles, you didn't lock up last night?”

He closed his eyes for a moment. “I was sure I did. I remember checking the back door after my last trip to the bathroom, but we did have rather a lot on our minds yesterday,” he sighed. “Stay here. I'll go and investigate.”

He slipped out of the bed, found a handkerchief for himself, handed one to Willow, then grabbed his favourite robe as he left. The moment he was gone she was up and grabbing his sweater off the floor. There was no way she was going to leave him alone to face possible demons or home invaders or thieves…

There had to be weapons in the room somewhere. Finally she opened his cupboard and found, in the back under the hanging clothes, not swords or crossbows, but a wooden tennis racquet and a worn, red stained cricket bat with a frayed grip. She grabbed the bat and grunted when she realised it was a lot heavier than it looked.

By the time she reached the landing, wielding the bat in both hands, it was too late to think about consequences.

”Willow?”

“X…Xander?” she yelled back. “You scared us half to death!”

Xander turned to Giles, stunned shock on his face. “What? Who? Do I want to know? No, I don't. Oh God…”

Willow let the bat drop to her side and dragged it the rest of the way down the stairs to stand very close to Giles.

“Why didn't you knock?” she growled.

“We never knock,” Xander retorted exasperatedly. “Why didn't you two lock the door or something…jeez. And you two…?” He shuddered exaggeratedly. “Why do I not know about this? Why do I even want to know about this?” He shuddered again.

“Because it's none of your damned business?” Giles offered in a harsh voice.

“Well that is one way to look at it,” Xander conceded, still looking from one to the other in disbelief.

”So…you two are org—?”

Xander swung around to Anya and raised a finger “Don't…say it. Just…don't even think it,” he warned then paled a little. “O-h-h…Very bad visual place,” he moaned and sat on Giles' desk, his head in his hands.

Anya made a face. “…Together now?” she finished.

A flushed Giles drew an arm around Willow, who leaned against him a little. “Yes,” he told them firmly. “Together.”

Willow slid her arm around his waist and squeezed reassuringly. “For real, Xander,” she said quietly, leaned into him a little more, and glowed when his arm immediately tightened.

The two childhood friends regarded each other for long seconds, dark brown eyes searching witch green ones, learning secrets, trading questions.

Xander finally looked up at Giles. “She's special,” he said huskily, his eyes challenging the older man.

Giles nodded slowly. “More special than I ever imagined.” He looked straight into the dark brown stare. “More special than anyone I've ever known,” he said softly, but with such steel that Xander swallowed.

He looked from one to the other. It was obvious that they were happy, which was a good. But it was Willow…and Giles.

“Look,” he said in a strained voice, “we came over to tell you we had trouble on patrol last night. First there was a demon I've never seen before. Anya knew what it was and we killed it, eventually, with…well, with salt. I had to go and buy salt from a Seven-Eleven to kill a demon,” he muttered. “Anyway, we thought we were clear after that but we ran into trouble at Heaven's Rest cemetery…you know, the new one? We couldn't do anything about it, being just the two us. There was like, a gaggle of vampires. It was like a union meeting of vampires or something.”

“How many?” Giles asked impatiently as Willow slipped away to get dressed, the cricket bat hefted onto her shoulder.

Xander shrugged. “Maybe ten, fifteen. The ringleader was the weirdest, though. He looked like a goblin or something, but he had the vamp teeth, vamp head. Man, was he ugly.”

“Can we do a little better than 'ugly'?”

“About five feet tall, a kind of weird dead colour…you know that kind of corpse white…blue…barfworthy colour? That was him. And he had big pointed ears, weird hands…and cloven feet.”

“He spoke in a strange accent,” Anya added, “and he was wearing the Seal of Vogrrath.”

Giles looked shocked. “The Seal of Vogrrath? You recognized it?”

She nodded. “You absorb a lot in eleven hundred years,” she observed off-handedly.

“So this Seal…it's a bad?” Xander asked as Willow came back down the stairs in a soft cream sweater and orange slacks.

Giles cleared his throat. It was obvious that she was once again not wearing a bra.

“Very,” he said, dragging his gaze back to the others. “It's been lost for centuries but its last appearance is well documented. They're obviously gathering behind this Ancient One because he has the Seal. It gives the wearer not only dominion over his peers and the power to unite them against the mortal realm, but the even more dangerous power of demon magic, usually only the domain of demon Mages.”

“And we don't have a slayer, or a demon hunter handy,” Xander added redundantly.

Giles scowled. “Indeed.”

“But…we've got magic,” Willow offered. “Giles knows magic, and I so do I. Maybe we can fight magic with magic. A-And we still have Riley's gun.”

Giles instinctively reached out and touched her cheek. “It still won't be enough,” he said gently. “We have to find them first. Buffy and Riley are on their cruise by now, but there is one other option.”

“Angel,” Willow guessed, her eyes filling with pain. “But—”

Giles shook his head and she subsided, despite her too-vivid memories of the previous night.

“Great idea,” Xander grunted. “Just what we need. Wes, Cordy and the vamp…the three stooges do Sunnydale…”

“Oh do shut up, Xander,” Giles growled and went to make the phone call.

Xander opened his mouth to reply.

“Xander,” Willow said quietly and met the dark gaze with a speaking one of her own. “Shut up.”

He closed his mouth again. He'd never heard Willow use that tone before and it was obvious something was distressing her. She'd turned to watch Giles make the call and was still watching him, tension in every inch of her.

Xander turned his attention to Giles and his eyes narrowed. The older man was almost white, his eyes haunted, and his hand strangling the receiver as he spoke, yet his voice was even and unwavering, his tone almost affable.

The impact of that awful dichotomy caught in Xander's throat as it blended with memories of those first terrible days after his rescue of the older man from Angelus' clutches, and flowered into revelation and terrible regret. He made a strange noise trying to suppress a half-sob. Anya touched his arm, surprised and a little frightened. It was Will, though, turning suddenly and trying to smile at him through miserable eyes, to whom he looked for comfort, even denial, to find only confirmation.

They both heard the phone click before either of them could speak and Giles came back, Willow silently going to him and sliding her arm around his waist, rubbing the small of his back through his robe in slow, comforting circles, pressing close as his arm immediately closed around her.

“They…” Giles cleared his throat again. “Angel has agreed to help us. He's going to ask Wyndham-Pryce to keep things under control up there whilst he and Cordelia join us here, tonight. “They know about the Ancient One. His name is Draxuss. They've been trying to find him for some time. Wesley and Cordelia are out looking now. Apparently he is not a vampire, but an ancient Earth Demon of the same variety we know creates and inhabits the bodies of vampires."

Xander frowned, his distress about Giles momentarily forgotten. “What the hell good is Cordy going to do?” he demanded. “She should stay up there and let Watcher-boy help out. At least he knows which end of a demon is up.”

Willow saw Anya frown and look at Xander with a puzzled, vulnerable expression and was sorry. They all knew that Xander had grown to love Anya after a long, shaky beginning to the relationship, but Willow knew that Cordy was his first real love. Buffy had been his greatest unrequited crush, she his second, but Cordelia…Cordelia he'd loved.

"A lot has happened since Cordelia left Sunnydale," she said quietly. "Sometimes... not any more...but at first, when she was lonely, we used to talk...on the phone. She would call out of the blue and want to know what we were all doing...but we'd always end up talking about what was scaring her, or worrying her or about Angel or Doyle."

Xander frowned again. “You and Cordelia? How weird is that? And you never told me,” he said accusingly.

“It wasn't anyone's business except Cordelia's and mine,” Willow retorted and slipped a hand over the one that had tightened on her shoulder. “I didn't tell Buffy either. A confidence is a confidence. Besides, who else was there for her to talk about, well, y'know…stuff…to?” Giles' hand relaxed then and Willow squeezed it lovingly.

“We're supposed to be planning a war on a small army of vampires,” Anya pointed out acerbically and slid her arm possessively through Xander's. “So why are we discussing a self-absorbed, elitist bimbo instead of weapons and strategies?”

Xander pulled away and swung around angrily, his eyes flashing, met her almost child-like gaze and saw the hurt in it, closed his mouth and surprised them all by putting his arms around her silently instead.

Both Giles and Willow observed silently that some time in the last twelve months their Xander had become a man in more ways than one.

“We're not, any more,” he said quietly and looked back at the other two. “I know we came at a bad time and I know there's stuff to do, but we're going now. We'll come back tonight, after sunset…I-I'll call first,” he added.

Giles flushed and grinned sheepishly, and Willow stifled a giggle.

Xander looked from one to the other and groaned again. “Horrible, horrible visual place,” he moaned as he turned Anya for the door.

Willow detached herself from Giles and followed them, holding the front door open as they left and then closing it behind them. When she turned back her face was sombre.

“Giles, I don't want Angel here,” she said in a quiet, determined voice.

Giles stared at her for a moment then closed his eyes in willing capitulation. “If necessary Xander will have to take him. Cordelia can have the sofa…or perhaps she'll have plans of her own.”

“Xander would…no, I know,” she said suddenly. “My room…at the campus. They can crash there. I'll give them my key. It's got everything they need, even my computer.” She came to him and touched his face tenderly. “Just don't get all soft-hearted and ask them to stay.”

He half-smiled. “Mother hen,” he chided, pulled her into his arms and kissed her lovingly. “Adorable mother hen.”

Willow buried her face in his robe and wound her arms tightly around him.

Giles looked down at her with his heart momentarily in his eyes, kissed her hair and wrapped his own great arms around her, just holding her.

Eventually Willow lifted her head, smiling lopsidedly. “Your tummy growled.”

“My stomach,” he insisted dryly then smiled back. “A lovely hot shower first, then breakfast, I think.” He sighed. “And then…”

“…Research,” Willow finished and rolled her eyes.


********

Willow and Giles were still deep in research, his books piled in neat stacks on the coffee table before them, when the door opened.

Giles, dressed now in jeans and a soft grey pullover shirt, was reading with one arm around Willow, who was using his chest as a pillow whilst deep in descriptions of known demon Mages and their various powers, and his other holding an ancient, tattered volume.

“Thank you for knocking,” he muttered sarcastically without looking up. “Get yourselves a drink then come and help.”

“Giles…?”

Both Willow and Giles sat up then as though prodded and looked over the back of the sofa.

“B-Buffy?” Giles stammered, getting up swiftly and coming around to where Buffy and Angel were standing. “But you're…?”

She stepped up to him, her eyes overbright, and shook her head. “Riley's missing, Giles. He could…he could even be dead.”

Willow watched Giles reach out and brush moisture from her cheek.

“We'll find him,” he said softly, looking past her to the brooding eyes of the vampire, “all of us…working together.”

“Like old times?” she asked tremulously.

He smiled. “Just like old times.”

Buffy smiled back and did something Willow had only seen her do once before. She hugged Giles…and this time Giles hugged back. She swallowed, unprepared for how much such an innocent gesture could hurt, and slid back down on the sofa, turned around and picked up a book. One thing she didn't have to do was watch…

The others were too engrossed in each other, but Angel saw and frowned. So Buffy's predictions about Giles and Willow were true. He slipped over almost silently, as was his wont, and sat down in the armchair.

“Hi, Willow,” he said softly when she didn't look up, or acknowledge his presence.

Her head lifted slowly, and when her eyes finally met his he understood why. His eyes flicked from her hostile ones to Giles, and back again, growing very bright. And when he couldn't face the hurt in the witch green gaze any longer, he looked away.

Willow made herself busy again with the book, so that she didn't have to look up.

Giles and Buffy joined them, Giles resuming his seat and Buffy flopping on the other side of Willow.

“Hey, Will,” she said quietly.

Willow lowered the book and faced her friend.

“Hey, Buffy. Are you okay?” she asked, in spite of herself.

Buffy sat very still for a moment then nodded. “I will be. Turns out the Hellmouth just couldn't part with me, even for a honeymoon.”

For the first time Willow noticed the lines of tiredness, the dark circles under her eyes, the shadows from long bouts of crying.

“Where's Cordelia?”

Buffy shrugged. “Keeping Wesley in line. What have you got so far?”

Willow looked at Giles for the first time and found him watching Buffy, concern in his eyes. “All kinds of stuff,” she said quietly. “Giles…?”

His eyes met hers for a moment, concern in them, then returned to the others. “We know what the Seal can do, and we know how to destroy it. There doesn't seem to be any specific reference to Draxuss in any of the main volumes…or any of the lesser ones for that matter…”

“So we don't know how to kill it?”

“One would imagine the usual would suffice. Beheading, stabbing through the heart…”

Buffy wrinkled her nose. “And if the Seal thingy protects it?”

“The…Seal 'thingy'…gives it power. It doesn't affect its mortality,” Giles pointed out acerbically. "We do know that the Seal is actually a crystal, and the right harmonic will destroy it and therefore this Draxuss' power centre.”

For a moment the Slayer was silent, then she looked up at him, looking more like a lost child than the Chosen One. “What do they want with Riley, Giles?” she whispered. “Is it because of me? Have I killed him?”

“Buffy…” Willow said softly, and took her friend's hand. Losing Giles would be like dying inside.

Buffy's smile was fragile and Willow felt the desperation in her grip as she returned the pressure of her fingers.

Giles didn't speak immediately. He couldn't just remind them that logic dictated that Riley was probably lying dead somewhere, or, at worst, risen by now as a new addition to the vampire community…

Angel, who'd deliberately withdrawn to the point that he'd slipped from the group's awareness, made both girls jump when he spoke.

“Don't,” he said harshly. “He knew what he was doing, what you were when he got involved with you.”

Buffy stared at him for a long moment, let go of Willow's hand then turned back to Giles.

“I don't know,” he said quietly. “Unless it has to do with the Initiative. It's highly unlikely, particularly since it's been some time since they were operational.” It sounded good, but Giles felt hollow as he said the words. He'd wanted so much for her to have a chance at real happiness and she was going to be so hurt…again.

The door opened again. Xander and Anya came in, slamming it behind them.

Giles whipped around. “Can't you bloody-well knock?” he snapped.

Everyone stared at him except Willow, who felt his fingers quietly wrap themselves, unseen, around hers, which were resting on the sofa next to him. She squeezed back reassuringly.

“This isn't the library and it's not a bloody café,” he said quietly. “It wouldn't kill you to at least occasionally consider the idea that I might possibly deserve to have my privacy respected.”

Xander swallowed. “Sure G-m…um…Giles. We're so used to being, y'know, family, we kind of forget that you have a life now. We'll do better next time.”

Their eyes held for a few moments, then Giles' green ones softened. It was impossible to stay angry with the boy. He supposed Xander's annoying rationale made a kind of comforting sense.

“Thank you,” he said softly. “Now,” he turned to Willow and looked at her in a way that made her suddenly feel like the only person in the room, “Xander and Anya will make refreshments while the rest of us work on a strategy for destroying this Seal, and stopping it's current owner and the threat they pose.”

They worked for several hours, even Buffy silently contributing wherever she could, including taking over from Xander and Anya in the kitchen and keeping up a steady supply of tea and refreshments while the others worked, correlating Angel's information with Xander and Anya's observations at the cemetery and Giles' and Willow's research, to come up with several probable locations in Sunnydale to search if the cemetery proved as deserted as Giles suspected it would be.

Giles remained close to Willow, who worked steadily researching demon magick from a stack of Giles' oldest volumes, and glancing up periodically up at the handsome profile, silently watchful as he worked and interacted with Angel, the embodiment of his worst nightmare.

It frightened her how angry she was with Angel, how difficult it now was to separate him from the demon that wore his face…the demon that walked Giles' nightmares. Each time Angel looked at her with that handsome, gentle face of his, those caring eyes, she wanted to hit him, to scream at him for not stopping it, for not being there when his friend needed him most. She knew she wasn't being rational, but she didn't care.

Eventually it was agreed that Buffy and Angel would try to locate Draxuss based on the information they'd found, and whatever Angel could glean from his own contacts in Sunnydale, and Xander and Anya would take Giles' car to go to the magic shop. In the mean time, Willow and Giles were to make preparations to try and counter any magicks they might be up against.

Willow could feel Giles' restlessness and worry as Buffy and Angel slipped out the door, as much in tune with each other now as they had been when they were together. She waited until Xander and Anya left noisily before turning to him.

“Are you okay?”

He looked down at her distractedly. “Of course.”

“Rupert…” she said softly.

The green eyes focused at last. “I'm fine,” he said gently, “but I am worried about what they're—what she is going to find out there.”

“Riley?”

He nodded. “I don't have to tell you, do I, what his chances are if he was in fact, taken by demons or vampires?”

Willow shook her head. “But, maybe they kept him alive so they'd have a weapon against the Slayer?” she asked hopefully.

Giles smiled and kissed her nose, then took her in his arms, though the worry in his eyes remained.

“A thought we can both hold on to for the time being,” he said into her hair as her hand slid over the stud of his jeans and up, under his shirt, doing terrible things to his concentration. “Now…er…h-how many of the spells you've book-marked are s-specific to Earth demons…?”


* * *


Part Three