One Moment | Part Three

It took some time to clear an area large enough between the sofa and the fireplace and to mark out the circle, add the required accoutrements, and to perform the appropriate rituals and consecrations.

Xander and Anya had been successful in their shopping, having scoured each of the three magic shops, and even two of the four 'New Age' stores in Sunnydale and two of its neighbouring suburbs, for some of the more rare items.

They watched in silence as Willow and Giles methodically went about their preparations for spell casting. When they were done and the circle almost vibrated with power, both Giles and Willow withdrew.

“We can't do any more until Angel and Buffy return.” Giles looked at his watch. “Until then, I suggest you all have something to eat and drink. I suspect it's going to be a long night.”

Willow watched him turn and go back to the sofa, and the books, while Xander and Anya headed for the kitchen. There was weariness in every inch of him, and she knew it was as much from the stress of being in proximity to Angel as it was from the worry and the broken night's sleep.

Giles lifted his head when he felt soft fingers on his neck. Rescher's Theoretical Analysis of the Mages of the Seven Known Realms was about the most verbose, boring, pretentious dry-as-dust tome he'd ever come across. Five pages in and he knew why he'd never finished the bloody thing properly before…

The fingers began to knead and stroke the knots from the base of his skull to his shoulder blades. He could smell the faint herbal scent of her hair, and the subtle perfume she always wore.

“Good,” he said softly and closed his eyes.

“Anything would be good after tackling Rescher's,” she teased, smiling.

He grunted. “I was desperate. The man was a pretentious, unmitigated twit who seems to have made an art form of intellectual snobbery, but his sources appear to have been impeccable, meagre as they are. Among the drivel there are actually some rare pearls, which is the only reason I kept his book.”

Willow forced her thumbs over each of his vertebrae beginning with the medial and working her way up to the base of his skull again, enjoying his small grunts and sighs.

“So was there anything specific about the Seal? Or our demon?”

Giles leaned back into the ministrations of Willow's thumbs as they thoroughly tested his trapezius muscles.

“Draxuss was last seen in Koln in 1542,” he said matter-of-factly. "It was an unremarkable appearance except that it was in the company of Almoth, a Master almost as dangerous as the one Buffy killed. Almoth was defeated by a Slayer, but Draxuss vanished without trace…” He paused and smiled when he felt soft lips tracing the top of his earlobe.

A moment later he half-turned his head and caught her lips awkwardly. She leaned further forward, greedy for his, and suddenly found herself drawn over the back of the sofa, partly by the urging of his strong arms, partly through her own enthusiasm, and onto his lap, on top of his book, her arms locked around his neck.

The kiss was long and tender, but without urgency. Willow could feel as strongly as she knew Giles did, that they were both more in need of comfort and closeness than real love-making.

They were roused from their temporary refuge by the clearing of someone's throat. Anya was standing at the coffee table with a tray and Xander had a second plate of cookies, behind her.

“Tea,” Anya said simply and pushed the tray onto the loaded table, sliding a pile of books sideways, and looked up at Xander. “But I'd rather be doing what they're doing.”

Xander, still staring at them, made a small whimpering noise in his throat. “Scarred for life,” he wailed. “Can't you two control yourselves for five minutes?”

Xander…” Willow growled before Giles could.

Giles kissed her again instead, a long leisurely salute, before looking Xander square in the eye.

“Let's recap, shall we? My home. My life. Consenting adults,” he smiled at Willow and received a glowing one in return. “Willow's free choice and our happiness. Which of these concepts exactly do you have difficulty with?”

Xander had the good grace to turn crimson, and then to truly look sorry. “I can't help it giving me the wiggins,” he said quietly. “You guys are my best friends…best friends don't…well, they don't if…” He looked down at his feet, now so red his ears were deep scarlet.

Giles' expression softened a little, despite his irritation. “Xander, Anya—with apologies to Anya—”

She shrugged and waved him on.

“—Is eleven hundred years old. I am a mere forty-six and not exactly about to relinquish my hold on this mortal coil.”

Xander didn't look up.

”Xander, look at me,” he ordered, and waited for the boy to raise his head, held the brown eyes when they finally reached his. “I…I love all of you,” he said. “But recently Willow and I discovered…w-we found out…”

Willow touched his arm, understanding how difficult it was for him. “We love each other,” she said with a simplicity that couldn't be ignored. “We need to be together. Nothing else matters.” Her large green eyes stared up at her childhood friend, begging him to understand, to accept, but Xander continued to look uncomfortable.

Giles' eyes narrowed. “There's something else,” he said.

Xander looked up almost guiltily. “I can deal,” he said very quietly. “I really can. I just…Giles, I thought…I've always thought you'd end up with Buffy.” He shot another look at Willow, but she was deliberately playing with Giles' shirt now, and pointedly not looking up. “I used to see how you looked at her, when you thought nobody was looking…I'm sorry Will…it's just…”

”A surprise?” Giles asked darkly. “I didn't realize you were so observant. It isn't actually any of your business, but in the interest of clearing the air, I grant you, it's true. I did once have very real feelings for Buffy. Sufficed to say I don't any longer, though I cannot love her…cannot love any of you, any less now than I always have.”

“You just stopped…just because she married Riley?” Xander asked suspiciously, ignoring the depth to which he was moved by Giles' admission.

The ex-Watcher's eyes became as hard as green diamonds. “I stopped because I fell in love…truly in love…with someone else…” He looked down and found Willow looking up at him, touched her face, his own suffused with great tenderness.

“Someone I cannot bear to live without; someone who has not only my heart but owns the sum of my soul,” he said softly, as though he was speaking only to her.

Their eyes still locked, Willow smiled lovingly, traced his jaw and brushed his lips with hers.

When they looked up again both Xander and Anya had melted away, only two cups and one plate remaining on the tray with the teapot and milk. They both chuckled and Willow slid off his lap and the book, to pour the tea.

It was another three hours before the front door rattled. By then everyone was on edge, Xander and Anya hovering close to where Willow and Giles had resumed their research.

They rose almost as one, though in a straggly, disorganized way, all heading for the door as it finally flew open.

To everyone's shock and amazement, Buffy and Riley supported Angel's weight as they dragged him in the door. Then Riley held him while Buffy threw the deadlock before turning and resuming her position on the other side of the vampire's barely conscious form.

“What happened?” Giles demanded as they settled him on the sofa. “Finn…?”

Riley, battered and bruised, his clothes torn and filthy, looked at Buffy's mentor and friend, saw the suspicion in his eyes and extended his hand.

Giles took it, very briefly, and exhaled, relieved to feel its warmth. He finally smiled at the boy and nodded before letting go again as Buffy straightened and came to lean against her husband.

“What happened?” he repeated.

Riley shrugged. “At first I was lost. I was tracking Draxuss and…well, I was alone and I don't know L.A. at all. Then someone—a stranger—I thought was going to help me, led me into a trap.”

Willow's eyes widened. ”Vampires?”

He shook his head. “Demons. Not working for Draxuss, but demons. They knew I was married to the Slayer. They want Buffy to stop Draxuss before he wipes out their realm. They brought me back here. There's some kind of terrible blood feud…and they're really scared.”

“And that's why they made such a mess of you?” Xander interjected sceptically.

Riley looked down at Buffy.

She shook her head. “Most of that happened tonight.” She wasn't looking much better herself. “Angel followed some information from Willy, then from the contact Willy gave him, until we found the demon lair Riley was being held in.” Her expression hardened. “We were supposed to find it. It was a set up so they could use Riley to make me help them.”

“Why didn't they just ask?”

Riley turned to Willow. “Demons don't know how to ask. Angel and Buffy fought them. They were big, and it was tough, even for Buffy. At first I couldn't help.” He looked down at his wrists, which were chaffed and torn. “And then when Angel freed me a female vamp came from nowhere and did something to him…I mean they hit him, hard, and brought him down, but she did something after…”

“Yeah,” Buffy agreed. “A spell maybe, or something.”

”A spell? How do you know?” Giles and Willow demanded immediately and almost in unison.

“There was a chant, and they sprinkled something on his face when he fell. There was an awful smell of burning…and a mark appeared on his hand,” she replied.

Giles and Willow immediately went and looked at the vampire's hands. There was the symbol of the spell, a charred brand in the shape of a stake, but what almost unnerved Giles was the symbol of Vogrrath, raised like an ornate wheal, on the palm of the same hand.

“They didn't know he had a soul,” he said, almost to himself. “The spell should have killed him by now. Normally it makes it impossible for the demon to remain in the body it inhabits, leaving it available to be taken by others. And there's a complication.” He held up Angel's palm.

Buffy moved closer to Riley. “And you think these demons want Angel dead because…?”

“Perhaps, perhaps not. If they do it's because he was a threat to their plans. They needed you, and they needed Riley as leverage to force you to do what they need you to do.”

“But they didn't need Angel threatening their success, not if they're fighting for survival,” Willow added.

Giles nodded and looked at the mark on the palm again. “But they may well have wanted his body…” He paused for a moment then looked from Buffy to the battered Riley to Buffy again and smiled. “Thank God you're safe, he said quietly, “all of you.”

Buffy nodded back and leaned into Riley when he slid his arm around her. “How do we help Angel?” she asked, her body language plainly saying that she'd much rather be telling her husband how glad she was that he was safe, despite her focus and concern for her one time lover.

“That particular spell requires three different castings to have even a chance of lifting it. Usually its effect is instantaneous. There's little opportunity for reversal under normal circumstances. That Angel has a soul is probably the only thing keeping him alive right now. As for the sign of the Seal of Vogrrath, I can't begin to guess what that means in this case. ”

“Why three castings?” Willow asked, her Wicca senses pricking as she straightened and mover closer to Giles.

“Because the spell itself is made up of three parts to stop the vampires from having any chance of developing a swift enough defence against it. The first part drives the demon from the terrestrial plane. The second binds the body so that the demon won't want to return and the third destroys it, or if the body is needed—the most likely reason for creating the spell in the first place—the third is omitted. In Angel's case that additional mark may mean, for whatever reason, that he was chosen to host a new demon, perhaps even Draxuss himself. In any case Angelus will have to be brought back to the terrestrial plane or Angel will die,” he said, and heard Willow's violently indrawn breath, touched her arm reassuringly.

“Okay, so we should start right away?” Buffy asked impatiently, watching the now inert form on the sofa. Angel was a strange, deathly colour, stranger than his usual pallor, as though any vestige or semblance of 'life' were slowly being sucked out of him.

Willow's hand immediately shot out and closed around Giles'. “We have to talk,” she said quietly. “Upstairs.”

They all heard. Buffy looked from one to the other, then up to Riley.

He shrugged. “They know what they're doing, sweetheart.”

She looked back, only to find them already headed for the stairs.

“Giles, you can't,” Willow said immediately they reached the loft.

“I can and I must,” he said quietly, but she could already see the truth in his eyes.

“Let me do it…Please…” she pleaded.

He shook his head. “I don't want you to ever have to channel demon magic, or face that bastard, on any plane. It's going to be difficult enough for me. The last time…”

“I can do it,” Willow repeated. “I did the Restoration spell, remember? You don't have to face him again...” she cried, her tone hardening into anger.

“No!” he said harshly. “It's my responsibility. There is no one else, and I won't put you in danger.” He faltered a little. “Willow, if anything happened to you…” he whispered, haunted, his eyes pleading. “Please…don't ask me to risk losing you…”

The anger died. “But you're asking me to risk losing you,” she whispered. “Rupert…”

He came to her, took her face in his hands, rested his brow against hers. “I'm sorry,” he whispered. “Forgive me...”

She watched him stride from the room and blinked back tears. It wasn't fair. It just wasn't. She muttered an obscene word that ultimately did nothing to relieve her feelings, and followed swiftly.

They had accumulated so many ingredients and other items for spell casting that they had no trouble putting together what was needed to help Angel. Willow arranged the rune stones and the candles, bowl, oils, herbs, and other ingredients, while Giles read from one of his books. She focused hard on the job at hand to keep from screaming at him not to do it, not to channel the kind of magic he hated, not to do it for Angel, of all people…not to have to face…

She scowled as she lit the last candle, and backed out of the circle.

Giles, however, was too focused to notice, as were Buffy and Riley, but Xander and Anya both looked at her strangely as her small face strove not to crumple. It struggled for several moments longer before restoring itself to its previous concentration as Giles' chant changed to the actual words of the spell.

Willow's hands clenched into fists as he gradually became engulfed in an eerie orange glow without wavering from his text. And then he stopped, the book falling to the ground, and his eyes closing. He staggered, but remained upright, and began repeating a mantra of some kind as though it might protect him.

She grabbed the second text and stepped close to his side, careful not to touch him, no matter how much she wanted to. He staggered again when he opened his eyes and took the book.

As he began the second spell the room electrified, smelling of something burning, something acrid. Willow identified it as brimstone, in answer to an unthinking question from Xander. She motioned him angrily to be quiet as Giles began to labour hard to get the words out, beads of sweat, along with the blood vessels in his temples, standing out starkly against the pale skin of his brow.

Angel began to stir, but it was to groan in pain, to arch and stiffen as though a war was being waged within his body.

Giles gasped in pain, then immediately picked up the rhythm of the spell again, his tone growing fiercer, more defiant as he continued.

When he almost fell, Willow knew she couldn't stay out of it any longer. She deliberately caught him, stopping him from toppling right over, her body immediately becoming enveloped in the orange glow.

For a moment everyone surged forward, ready to pull her free, to stop the whole thing if necessary, but one glare from her as Giles straightened halted them all.

His concentration never wavered as she deliberately joined the chant. She thought for a moment that he didn't know she was there, until she clasped his hands with hers and felt his answering squeeze, the way he continued to cling to them. And then they both gasped as they were seized by a power neither of them had ever known before.

They all felt the sudden violent surge, the intensity of the pair's combined power electrifying the room, even the air. And when Willow, still chanting in unison with Giles, stepped in to fit her body against his and the room exploded in white-gold light, it was Anya who urged everyone to withdraw to the terrace outside and leave them alone.

Angel convulsed and contorted in agony as the spell continued.

Willow looked around wildly. It was terrifying being removed from one's own reality. She found Giles almost immediately. He was locked in battle with Angelus and it horrified her to see that the demon had chosen to wear Angel's face, even here, in this non-place, this plane of existence between the real world and the demon dimensions.

As they fought, Angelus jeered and taunted, refusing to return to the warded body and deliberately manhandling the older man in intimate and invasive ways each time they clashed, despite Giles' titanic efforts to bring the other to the ground and subdue it, to force it back into Angel's body. It was obvious that the effort required to call down the kind of demon magic required to do what he was doing, was draining him badly.

Willow sobbed. She'd given the vampire back his soul, made it possible for this 'thing' to continue, for it to do this to Giles again…

“Willow,” a voice whispered in her thoughts. She shivered and turned.

“Angel?” She wheeled back to the fight between Angelus and Giles, then back to the sad figure behind her, struggling to continue the silent chant.

“What…?”

“He isn't me,” he said softly, then raised his arms as she flailed him with blows and expletives. Finally he caught her wrists. “Giles needs us,” he told her.

Willow stopped struggling. “Why didn't you stop it?” she sobbed. “Why aren't you stopping it now?”

“Because I can't,” he said miserably. “And because the truth is I don't want him back.”

“Then why are you here?” she demanded, angry again, the chant in her mind growing louder in defiance of the distraction.

“To help you. To help Giles.”

Willow swallowed and looked over her shoulder to where Giles seemed to be holding his own in the relentless struggle.

“But this is all for you. Giles is trying to save you.”

“I know. He is…extraordinary. And I can't let him be hurt trying to save me…not by that…” His voice caught. “Not again.”

“But…but if you can't help him, then how…?”

“You. You have to do it, Willow. It's in you. The answer is in you. You have to find it …for him.” Angel started to fade.

“Wait…!”

“I'm sorry. I can't…He's winning…Help Giles, Willow…”

Willow gulped down tears. Angel was gone. She turned back and saw why. Angelus had driven Giles to his knees and was trying to choke him. Enraged, she redoubled her concentration and was gratified to see Angelus stagger for just a moment. Long enough for an obviously weakened Giles to gain his feet and bring him to ground, but not long enough to stop the vastly stronger demon from rolling him onto his back and pinning him to the ground.

“No!” she screamed, forgetting the chant for the first time. She tried to throw herself at them but the moment her concentration wavered she felt their combined strength falter, heard Giles' psychic scream of 'NO…!' and remembered where she was, and what she had to do.

She resumed the silent chant, rage and anguish making her shake so violently she struggled to focus, to find him again, tears streaming down her face as she watched while Angelus once again taunted him beyond bearing, running his hands over his body, deliberately violating his private space, his dignity, asking him if wanted to do it all again for old times sake.

She could feel in her soul the humiliation, the degradation Giles was reliving, could hear him sobbing as he struggled to dislodge the demon and stop the nightmare. And then Angelus flipped him over, twisted his arm up behind his back and took hold of his bad hand. He selected the first two fingers and smirked.

As Giles' roar of rage and terror reverberated through her, every fibre of Willow's being, everything she was, reached out to the man she loved.

Somehow rage, hate, magic, love…and the pure, untapped potential within her aligned in a single flow of terrifying energy that screamed along every nerve ending in her body. It slammed into her lover's, turning his focus to her; their hearts, their voices, their very souls merging into one unstoppable, undefeatable crescendo of writhing energy that seemed to tear open the whole dimensional plane before concentrating in one superheated blue-white bolt that engulfed and swallowed the bewildered figure still straddling Giles.

The last thing Willow heard was the endless scream of a terminally enraged demon.


*******

“Willow?”

“Willow…?”

Her head ached. Her body ached. She stirred slowly, her head pounding and the rest of her feeling weak and battered. She looked up.

Rupert! “Where's Giles?” she demanded immediately. And when they didn't answer right away, she struggled to get up. “Where is he?”

“Easy, Will,” Xander said soothingly, holding her shoulders. “He's right here. He's just coming around. He's okay, truly. I know you probably don't care right now, but Angel's okay too.”

She started to cry without really knowing why.

“Xander,” Anya said swiftly, helping Willow, “help me.” Together they brought her to where Giles was now lying on the sofa and Buffy and Riley backed away.

She could see that he wasn't unconscious, but his eyes were glazed and tears were trickling down the sides of his pale, shadowed face. She pulled away from the others, swaying, but holding herself upright.

“Rupert…” she said very softly as she knelt by him, and heard the muffled sound he couldn't completely repress. Her fingers stroked a rough cheek. “Giles,” she crooned, making the loved name an intimate endearment. “It's over.”

He tried to speak but the sound came out as a strangled sob.

She rose and sat on the edge of the sofa, caught him in her arms when he reached for her and held him tight, weeping silently as all the filth and hate and horror finally drained out of him, in wracking, painful sobs; holding him until he slid down, too exhausted to weep any more and fell into a deep, still sleep in her arms. Then, after a time, she kissed his soft, silky hair and looked up.

Angel was trembling, his face twisted with grief and guilt, his dark eyes tortured.

Alongside him Buffy stared at the pair, stunned, as though she couldn't quite grasp what was happening. And then she followed Willow's accusing stare and drew a startled breath when she saw Angel's face.

Her eyes flew back to the figure held even more tightly now in Willow's arms and her colour ebbed alarmingly. Then she was turning, facing the vampire.

“What did you do?” she demanded in an unsteady but piercing tone, oblivious of Riley's hands coming to rest supportively on her shoulders. “What did you do…?

Angel stared at her. It was inconceivable to him that after all this time she still didn't know, still hadn't loved Giles enough to find out. His eyes slid back to the couch and a part of him, inside, smiled sadly, glad that sweet Willow would give the other man what he deserved, what he needed, what he should have had a long time ago.

He drew a tremulous breath, still surprised after two hundred years that he still needed to do that, to work his larynx, to appease old habits.

Shouldn't you already know…?” he asked quietly and was sorry to see how cruel a blow those words were.

Buffy reeled back almost in slow motion, coming to rest against Riley, her eyes wide, her hands shaking.

Softly at first, and then in a tone that everyone could hear, Willow began to tell them all, without looking up, repeating it almost word for word as Giles had told it to her, his words, his voice burned into her memory.

Before she was even finished, a weeping Xander launched himself at Angel, who allowed himself to be knocked down and struck repeatedly without raising even a hand to the boy.

”You bastard,” Xander sobbed as Willow continued relentlessly, and reeled away from the vampire again in revulsion. “You bastard.”

When she was done she buried her face in his hair and rocked very gently.

For a long moment Buffy simply stared and then she moved away from Riley, her movements silent, jerky, almost as though concussed, came to Willow and sank to her knees without speaking.

The two women stared at each other for a long time, the blue grey eyes grieving, shocked, but asking for no quarter, demanding none, only offering their sorrow and shame to the fierce green ones.

Renewed hurt filled Willow's eyes, this time for her friend, whom, despite her anger, she couldn't hate for her weakness.

”Buffy…” she said softly.

The blue eyes, however, looked down, closed for a moment. Then Buffy was dragging them back to the dear, familiar head in Willow's arms. With fingers trembling so violently she couldn't even have held a stake in them she reached out to touch the tousled hair, to stroke it, so gently, tears rolling down her cheeks like dew falling from a lily.

She didn't speak. There were no words; there was nothing she could offer that would ever expunge her guilt or make up to him for the pain, terror and loneliness she'd left him to endure alone.

And then, as her fingers smoothed a stray hair behind his ear, he stirred, turning his head enough to open his eyes and see her blurred silhouette. He blinked very slowly and opened them again.

Buffy choked a sob down hard and struggled against the urge to run, ignoring the primal scream inside her head as she met the gentle eyes which had never faltered, never accused, never deserted her. They were struggling to stay open.

She shifted the still trembling fingers to touch his cheek, saw warmth flicker in the green depths and sobbed again.

“I…” she began, trembling so badly now that she had to struggle to hold his gaze. “I'm sorry…”

The sound of the two words was so agonised, so desperately haunting, that it seemed to wrench the soul of everyone who was listening.

Except Willow, who was watching intently over her lover, guarding him, and was therefore the only one outside of Buffy who saw the joy that leaped into the glazed eyes, and the sadness that followed before he nodded to the other girl and shifted his gaze, as though searching for something.

Then he looked up and found her, and his whole face changed. His soft green eyes glowed with undisguised adoration, real peace in his gentle face for the first time in a very long time…

Willow caressed his cheek and smiled back at him, watched his eyes close again contentedly before turning to Buffy.

She was shocked and also, in a part of her soul that loved Giles more than life, gratified, to see that the other woman was almost as devastated by his forgiveness as she was by her failure as his friend.

Finally, she thought, closing her eyes. Finally Buffy truly understood what he was, who he was and exactly what she'd done to him….

And as Willow shifted slightly and felt his arm tighten around her momentarily, as if afraid she might go away, she found that she no longer cared. She drew him closer, content in the sudden realisation that Rupert had never told Buffy he loved her for the simple reason that she'd forfeited his love long before his loyal, tender heart had been willing to let her go…

Bereft, Buffy backed away, went to Riley and sank silently into his arms.

Willow looked up again a few moments later when Xander hesitantly touched her arm.

“Will, we've got to find this Draxuss. None of us want to leave you, but I'm taking Angel out again whether he wants to go or not. If he won't use his contacts to help us he can come as bait,” he said nastily. “Anyways, you take care of Giles and we'll come back in the morning, one way or the other.”

She half smiled at him and nodded slowly. “Thanks,” she whispered. “A-And don't forget, you guys have to get the Seal. Draxuss is just another ugly without it. I-If you do Giles and I can destroy it.”

Xander smiled back haggardly. “Got it. Find demon. Steal demon's toy. Toast demon,” he said in his best wise-guy voice, but his eyes were only for Giles. A moment of silence stretched taut and then his hand reached out and touched the older man's head for just a moment.

Love him, Will,” he told her so softly even she barely heard, turned and strode over to the others.

She closed her eyes, listening to him explaining his plan and hustling Buffy to get food and drink into Riley, and Anya and Angel to pool their resources to work out whom best to pump for information in the underworld.

Then, all too soon, the place was silent. Xander had wanted to help move Giles upstairs to bed, but flatly refused to let Angel touch the older man despite Rupert's size and weight. In the end Riley and Xander managed to convey him to his own bed, though disturbing him enough to object weakly and to reach, almost unconsciously, for Willow as he was lifted. She held his hand all the way upstairs and stayed with him until the others were gone.

When she heard the front door close downstairs she began removing his clothes, beginning with his shoes and socks. He didn't stir through those or the careful unbuckling, unzipping and easing of his pants off his long legs, but when she started to ease one of his arms out of the long sleeve of his shirt his eyes fluttered open.

“W—?” The rest of the word came out as a croak.

“Shh,” she said gently, and kissed his mouth tenderly. “You don't have to talk. You're in your own bed. We did it,” she told him, smiling and caressing his brow. “You need to rest. The spell kinda wiped you…”

“S-Spell…?” he whispered, almost to himself. “Y-Yes…spell. So tired, love. S-Sorry...”

“Don't be,” she told him gently, waves and waves of tiredness washing over her, and watched his eyes close again. “You did great.”

”Stay with me…”

Willow had no intention of being anywhere else short of a major earthquake or the mother of all Ascensions…maybe not even then. She drew the shirt off swiftly and slipped just as quickly out of her own clothes before sliding into the bed and fitting herself against him, feeling her own drained, weary body beginning to relax almost too much as she settled.

His arm immediately went around her, drawing her even closer. She snuggled into the crook of his shoulder and drew the quilt around them as one enormous, vaguely nauseating wave of exhaustion washed over her, reminding her again that the spell hadn't only been hard on him. She released a long sigh and felt his lips press tenderly against her hair.

And within seconds, knew no more…

*******

Giles stirred from a profound, dreamless sleep and blinked. Predawn light was visible through the curtains. Willow had rolled off his arm and was curled up on her own pillow, facing him, fast asleep. He smiled a little at the sight of her, his eyes drinking in the sweet face, the shadowed curves, the soft skin, until he felt a familiar stirring and shifted his thoughts to a trip to the bathroom and the effort to remember how he'd quite gotten up to his room…

By the time he'd finished in the bathroom and walked stiffly to the kitchen for a much-needed cup of tea, he'd remembered almost everything, knew why he was feeling vaguely like he'd been run over by a double-decker bus. He still wasn't really clear on whether he'd dreamed that Willow had helped with the spell, nor how he managed to get undressed. Everything else, however, was becoming clearer and clearer the closer he got to the bottom of the teacup.

When he reached the bedroom again he found Willow lying, half turned, in the hollow he had left, as though she'd been looking for him. Her body was beautiful, stretched out now, one arm flung over her head, the other hand resting unconsciously between her thighs. He let his eyes rest on it for a long moment, adjusting to the surge of desire it sent through him, the now extremely visible evidence of her affect on him hard enough so that he could feel the tension of the soft skin tightening even more as he slid back into bed.

He didn't know if it was the tea, or the result of the emotional fallout from the night before, but he no longer felt exhausted or weak. He felt energised, his mind sharp and clear, and his body very much alive. He slid his hand down and moved his erection to a more comfortable position and almost laughed when his body shivered at his own touch.

The more he tried to relax, to shut out thoughts of her, to banish the desire so that he could go back to sleep, the more aroused he became. He touched himself again. It was becoming unbearable, but he didn't simply want release. He wanted…

Willow groaned, the sensual sound making him twitch beneath the hand still resting idly on his erection. He let go and turned to her.

She was dreaming. She lay on her back now, her mouth slightly open, her legs a little apart…enough for him to realise that she was already aroused by whatever she was dreaming about. Even as he contemplated the probabilities her subconscious might have chosen…Xander, Oz…she called his name, her soft cry filled with need.

He couldn't help himself. He reached out and stroked a soft breast, tracing feather light circles around it, brushing the small point until she moaned again. He moved his fingers to the other and repeated the process, his own arousal now literally throbbing between his legs.

Then he moved a little and took a small, hard nipple in his lips, teasing it with his tongue, listening to her moans turn to gasps as he drew the tender flesh into his mouth, his long fingers teasing the other gently.

Rupert…” she sighed again and sent a shiver of delight through him. Not Giles this time. Her subconscious wanted Rupert...the man...her lover.

No, he realised suddenly…Her love. It humbled him.

Willow groaned again. He smiled at her beautiful, rosy face then trailed his lips down her belly until he reached her thighs before rolling back a little to look at her again.

She was flushed and panting a little, but she hadn't wakened. It was time. He wanted to see her eyes, to be with her…not to share her with a dream. He drew himself up and kissed her mouth tenderly, lifting his head to watch her face as she woke.

When her lids flickered open she seemed surprised, and disoriented. “Giles…?”

“You…you were dreaming,” he said uncertainly.

“A-Are you okay?” she asked, her eyes searching his face.

He smiled tenderly. “Better than I have been in a very long time,” he told her gently, no longer sure now if she was even aware…

But her eyes had gone a smoky colour and she was arching slightly. “Oh, God…” she groaned, “It must have been some…dream…” Her eyes lighted on his still overstrained erection. They shifted back to his face.

“Rupert…?”

“I became aroused…from seeing you lying there, I thought…and then you started to dream…”

Willow seemed to look into herself, to concentrate on remembering. “I was dreaming of you,” she confirmed. “We were in the library, our library…but it was us…us now…and we were doing very bad things in your office,” she added, flushing, then grinning wickedly.

For some reason that revelation shifted his degree of arousal up another ten points to almost unbearable proportions.

Willow saw it in his face and reached out to slide her fingertips along the tortured shaft.

Neither of them were prepared for the effect of the contact, Giles' ecstasy from the simple touch reverberating through both of them, their bodies as energised as they had been during the spell, to an almost painful degree.

“Oh, God, Giles,” she whispered, trembling. “Did you feel it? The spell…it's joined us in some way.” She touched him again, closing her hand around him and sliding it up and down slightly, both of them gasping and breathing hard after just a few strokes.

Willow let go, her own arousal physically aching. "R-Rupert?”

In reply he bent his head and sucked a rigid pink nipple, causing her to cry out and his own senses to reel, so that he didn't know whether to continue or to pull away.

Willow made up his mind for him, her hands sliding into his hair, holding his head as he continued to caress the straining peak and the soft flesh around it with an expert tongue, and lips that knew exactly how to please.

He could feel her physically trembling beneath him as she writhed and groaned and then realised that he was too, the soft brushing of his erection against the skin of her thigh causing ripples of pleasure so intense they were almost painful.

He lifted his head and she whimpered. “No…please…don't…stop,” she begged.

He trailed his fingers across the small, soft breasts and looked at her. “Are you all right?” he whispered.

A slow smile lit her desire-flushed features. “Oh God, yes,” she groaned. “Please…?

He smiled back and let the fingers trail over her belly, turning his hand side on and letting it slide between her thighs, the leading edge of his first finger sliding down over the throbbing ache within that soft flesh. Her scream of pleasure as he brushed the swollen, almost raw centre rang through the apartment. It blended with the exclamation wrenched from him, only to be repeated as he let his finger tips explore the dampness below, drawing them upward and moistening the hot, tender folds above, both of them breathing in staccato, half-groaning breaths. Both were unsure whose pleasure they were feeling; neither caring, as he slid his fingers over the now slippery folds, rubbing, stroking, teasing until she began to whimper and gasp and his breathing became ragged and laboured.

”N-No!” she cried unexpectedly and pulled his hand away.

He focused. “But love, you need…”

She groaned. “I know…but if I do you might too…and I want…I don't want it to be...” She took hold of him and stroked him gently. “I want us to be together when…”

“G-g-g-h-h…” he gasped, as her fingers tightened around him, her hand moving slowly, even as her thumb caressed his aching tip. Willow closed her eyes and groaned, not sure it was any better this way, the waves of pleasure from him almost as intense as her own had been. And still, as if drawn, she leaned forward and took him in her mouth.

Giles jolted and almost overbalanced as he cried out, a loud, strangled gasp.

“Jeeesssss…” he hissed, barely able to think, let alone talk as her mouth travelled down his length and closed on him.

He could hear and feel Willow whimpering as she moved up and down in a slowly accelerating rhythm that literally took his breath away. He arched as she began to move her hand in rhythm with her lips.

Eventually he made a strangled noise and put a hand on her shoulder, and they both drew back, panting.

“Oh God, R-Rupert,” she whispered unsteadily and pulled herself up to kiss him when he straightened. It became a thing of unstoppable fire, both of them offering their mouths, the delightful softness within, to each other, almost as if they were making love to each other there. Then Willow groaned, pushing him back a little, sliding a leg over his lap and rubbing her moist heat against his aching hardness, needing to do something to relieve the unbearable tension between her legs, so sensitive, so swollen with passion neither of them could keep from moaning and trembling as she continued to rub herself against him.

Giles could hardly think straight, he was so close…a fact made even worse by the heat of her rising and filling his nostrils with her scent. And then he had to move, wanted to move. He lifted her and laid her back against the covers, kissing her and making her shudder and grind against his fingers as they teased and caressed almost tormentingly.

And then he was moving down, finding that tantalising scent, touching it, tasting it with the tip of his tongue, feeling her violent jerks as her overstimulated flesh reacted to his touch and her moans filled the room, then slipping it between the folds, running it caressingly around the warm softness until he found the source of the scent that was making even his fingertips, his toes, ache now with need.

Willow felt his breath and shivered, so aroused any touch was like fire, then his lips were sucking at the dampness of her desire, making her gasp and thrash, his tongue making forays around her opening, up to her tiny, aching hardness, and back down to find new sweetness, to make her gasp again and lift herself off the bed in ecstasy.

“Giles, please, now…” she begged between gasps. “Now, ple-e-a-s-e!” she screamed and clutched at him, lifting her legs when he shifted over her and moaning as he pushed her bent knees up further and brought himself to her. She groaned and let out a gasping cry when he returned the favour, rubbing himself against the heat, the slippery dampness of her until he thought they would both go mad, and waiting only for her to ask again.

“Rupert…please,” she panted. “I need…Oh God, pl-e-a-se!” she whimpered and felt him slide down over her rock-hard arousal, down the sensitive flesh beneath and come to rest against her small opening.

She waited, trembling, for him to plunge into her, craved it, but instead he pushed into her with unbearable slowness, her pleasure threshold, and therefore his, extended almost to the stratosphere as he slid into the moist, still-virginal tightness of her, the sheer size of him making her whimper with almost unbearable pleasure, until he'd filled her completely, both of them barely able to breathe, each of them assaulted not only by their own need, but the other's as well.

And then he was moving, not in a headlong rush, but slowly, sensuously, the friction of his size combined with the restriction of hers, turning his strokes into sensations of indescribable pleasure, Willow's groans turning to short, desperate gasps as he drove her further and further toward completion.

And when they were both so intoxicated by pleasure they couldn't bear it any longer, Giles withdrew.

Willow lifted her hips higher, searching for him.

Do it now,” she groaned into his ear and cried out in ecstasy as he plunged back into her, to her very core. He began to stroke faster and faster, Willow rising to him and grinding frantically against his hips, until she felt it start. The rush began in her toes and tore along her nerve endings, feeling as though it was turning her muscles and tendons inside out as it went.

It raced from all corners of her body and exploded in the very depths of her, as though she'd discovered some new, secret place inside her where orgasms could be made. She was still thrashing when she began to shudder again.

It was Giles' reaction to her ecstasy, lunging into her uncontrollably as his orgasm crashed into hers and left him gasping and arching in relentless spasms of pleasure, which pushed her internal orgasm outward until it reached the still hard centre of her desire and detonated another incredible explosion, sending them both gasping and rocking into another hopelessly entwined maelstrom of exquisite pleasure.

She could hear him, not just in her ears, but echoing in her mind, both of them borne on a tide of bliss that took them like bodies caught in a dumping wave, churning them around, carrying them who knew where…until he called her name…and she answered…and they came to rest.

Aloud, they both sobbed at the same time, both opened their eyes together. Willow wrapped her arms around his neck at almost the same moment he gathered her in his, and for a little while they just held each other, their overloaded senses no longer coping.

When they were both quiet again, Giles drew back and touched her face, troubled green eyes searching hers.

They looked up at him, clear, loving, without reproach. “Rupert?” she whispered, still flushed and beautiful from their lovemaking. “What is it? The magick…?” But she could see it was. Nothing good had ever come of magick before in Rupert Giles' life…

She touched his face and smiled. “I'm a Witch, my wonderful love. It's a part of who we are,” she told him. “I'm not afraid. I wasn't afraid…I'm not afraid of anything when I'm with you...I love you so much I'd die if I lost you.”

His eyes widened for a moment then filled to overflowing with emotion. “I could never leave you,” he whispered. “Last night…I…I wasn't strong enough without you. You saved us both,” he told her, his voice hoarse with emotion.

Her smile widened and her eyes glowed with love. “Not alone,” she said softly. "Together. Both of us.” Their gazes held for a long moment, the truth of it blazing in both their eyes.

Then Willow reached up and traced his jaw. “A-Are you okay…? That was kind of…incredible.”

"It was…unbelievable,” he whispered. “I've never felt…never experienced anything like it before…”

“You've never mixed magic and sex before…not even with Ey—?”

Giles nodded reluctantly. “But never like this…It was wild, almost violent, and always over quickly…though terribly exciting and far better than anything a callow youth could achieve under normal conditions…” He touched her face, caressed her shoulder, her breast. “But none of it was ever like this…”

“Maybe it has to do with me being a Witch…?”

He shook his head. “I know what it has to do with.” He leaned down and kissed her soft mouth, then lifted his head again. “It has to do with how much we love each other…just how much a part of each other we've already become…”

“Oh,” she whispered. “Like when it feels like I could never be whole again without you…like if I lost you my soul would tear apart?”

“Exactly like that,” he told her. “We experienced each other tonight on levels most people will never even know exist, probably never know that the potential even exists in them.”

“So,” Willow said sleepily, a contented grin on her face, “if I can work out exactly what I did maybe we could do it again some time?” and giggled when he scooped her up into his arms and rolled back to hold her close.

“If you ever work out exactly what you did, God help us all,” he teased and kissed her lovingly, both of them more than half asleep by the time they drew apart.


*******

When Willow woke again it was broad daylight. Giles was still asleep next to her, on his back, his mouth slightly open, looking so at peace she really didn't want to wake him, but a glance at the clock resolved that dilemma.

She leaned over and kissed his brow, his eyes, the bridge of his nose and then his lips until she felt them respond, a large arm curling contentedly around her.

“Good morning—just, sleepy head,” she purred. “We have to get up. The others went back out last night. I can't believe I haven't thought about them until now.”

Giles frowned and sat up. “Out?”

“Out, as in demon hunting. Xander, Anya, Buffy, Riley and Angel.”

“Angel…? Then he's…?”

“Fine,” Willow said perfunctorily. “Xander wanted them out searching for Draxuss while everyone was still together. I think maybe it was a way to do something for you,” she added quietly. “I…afterward…I told them.”

He looked away. “I know…I heard.”

“Are you angry with me?”

He shook his head. “I never wanted…never have had the courage…but I suppose in a way I'm glad it's out.”

Willow slid her arms around his neck and laid her head on his shoulder. “It should have been out a long time ago. It wasn't right, the way we took you for granted when were kids. Not just Buffy…all of us…being a grown up can really suck sometimes.”

He laughed aloud, his body rocking with the sudden mirth. “Never was a truer word spoken,” he told her between chuckles. “Now we'd better get dressed.”

Willow turned as she drew on her last pair of clean jeans, plain blue ones for a change, and smiled at the sight of Giles in the smallest, sexiest black boxers she'd ever seen. She didn't think he even owned a pair.

“No,” she said when he reached for a sweater. “If they're back, they need to see that you're okay. And I want them to see you for who you are now…the real you.” She slid a gaze down to the boxers and back up to his surprised face and grinned. “This you.”

When they reached the bottom of the stairs they realised that the others were indeed, back.

Anya was in the living room with Giles' medical field kit patching wounds, on just about everyone, it seemed. The only person missing appeared to be Angel. At first no one noticed them, all seemingly too dazed and exhausted to notice much, though Giles confirmed with relief, that all were definitely accounted for except the vampire.

Only when they actually came around the sofa did they see why Xander was stretched out on it, why Buffy was sitting on Riley's lap in Giles' armchair and why Anya had stayed bent so intently over him for so long. He was badly bruised and cut, and there was a jagged slash on one temple that had obviously bled profusely.

“What happened?” Giles demanded hoarsely as everyone else's eyes lighted on him and grew rounder and rounder, his question remaining unanswered and the expression on their faces rather…well, the only expression Giles could think of that fit was 'gob-smacked.'

“God,” Anya growled. “Why can't Xander dress like that?”

“Hey!” came a groan from the couch.

“Wow, Giles…” Buffy croaked, eyeing the long, black-clad body, the tight line of the black jeans, the silver earring and the beautifully cut shirt.

“Told ya,” Willow teased, sliding her arms around him, and earning a sheepish grin in return.

Riley just stared, perhaps a little envy flickering in his earnest eyes. He would never have the nerve…

“Draxuss…?” Giles reminded them, hiding his amusement.

“And where's Angel?” Willow asked suddenly.

“Giles…you're okay?” Xander asked, the brown eyes searching the older man's face as he handed him the seal.

Giles took it and smiled slowly, his face, his eyes answering Xander's question long before he spoke. “I'm fine, Xander,” he confirmed softly.

“Angel's gone below to make a deal with the demons that kidnapped Riley. Besides, we were still out at sunrise…then…then he's going back to L.A.” Buffy explained quietly, her eyes shifting from Willow to Giles, asking a silent question, shadows of the previous night still lingering in them as they searched his.

He returned her gaze, his eyes warm, then nodded almost imperceptibly, so that she finally smiled back, and relaxed just a little.

“Xander was so brave,” Anya added, binding another nasty slash on her boyfriend's arm.

“He was,” Riley added earnestly. “He saved my butt.”

Xander looked at the other man for a moment and nodded silent thanks before turning back to Giles and Willow.

“We—Angel found out where Draxuss was. That part took over five hours…In some ways it was worse than the fight…anyway, we thought we could sneak up on him.”

“First mistake,” Buffy muttered. “But Riley and I took out five vamps and a squidgy looking ick-thing to clear the way, so our stupidity didn't kill us.”

“A squi—? I beg your pardon?”

Willow giggled.

“A Xolothrome.”

Buffy turned to her husband. “A what?

“An immature form of a quasi-sentient creature demons keep as pets, and at a pinch, sometimes food,” Giles explained.

Buffy's face dropped. “I killed a puppy?”

Giles snorted. “That puppy's bite has enough venom to kill most of Sunnydale and half of the next county.”

“Yay me,” she said, brightening up again.

He sighed and drew Willow easily into the circle of his arms, dropped a kiss on the top of her head as she leaned back against him. “I do hope someone is eventually going to finish this story.”

“Oh…yeah…well, we found him,” Buffy said brightly, wincing as the purple, blue and black bruise on her forehead scrunched up in her enthusiasm. “I hate fighting things that are littler than me.”

“You…you fought Draxuss?” Giles asked incredulously.

“Well, not exactly…”

He made a noise in his throat that made Buffy sit up and get on with it.

“We expected something more spectacular…more evil, you know, big threat to Humanity and all that… He was this little guy…and once we got rid of the honour guard and Xander found the Seal, he rolled over like a…well, like a puppy.”

“So you didn't kill him?”

She shook her head at Willow. “Angel has taken him to the demons who kidnapped
Riley. He's going to tell them to trade him for peace between their two realms.”

“And if they decide they really don't like him, and would rather do something nasty to him instead?” asked the other girl.

“Win-win scenario,” Xander offered.

“They didn't tell them how brave you were,” Anya pouted.

“Riley did,” Xander pointed out reasonably.

Anya stood up and turned to Giles. “He fought a vampire—one that was about to kill Riley, with his bare hands.”

“Looks like it,” Giles muttered.

“And then he nearly got killed when a lot of booby traps went off after he took the Seal off the pedestal and he—”

Giles' expression was incredulous. Willow's mouth hung open.

You didn't check—?”

Xander gave his girlfriend a filthy look then turned a defensive look to the ex-Watcher.

“Where does it say that my name is Indiana Jones™? Do I have a nameplate that says Xander Giles, Boy Watcher? Nobody said anything about booby-traps. Which reminds me…for future reference: I don't like large, sharp, swinging things, darts that shoot out of pedestals or lizardy things with lots of fangs and claws that live under floors or…well, double the not liking on the lizardy things,” he finished, holding his bandaged arm.

“Buffy killed it,” Anya said matter-of-factly

“Riley helped,” Buffy added, shifting as Riley got up. “Oh…and Xander too. He distracted it so we could get to the soft bit and stick it.”

“Yeah, by letting it use me as a scratch pole...”

Buffy's face took on a familiar 'I'm about to get it now' look from the past.
“Uh-oh…”

Giles eyes narrowed as he sat on one of the stools Riley brought for them from the breakfast counter, and Willow the other, resting her head against the point of Giles' shoulder as she listened.

“Why do I have a sinking feeling that you're about to tell me something I won't like?” he said resignedly.

“Guys, we forgot the bag.”

They all looked at Giles. “Uh,” Xander began nervously, “we needed weapons, so we took a bunch of yours with us. We, ah, lost them.”

Giles started to relax. “All in the name of duty…” he said affably. Then he thought of something and paled. “Oh, no…you didn't? Not the sword?”

“Big pointy one with the pretty gold and silver handle with symbols and little red things on it? It was the biggest one there…”

“Hilt,” Giles sulked, “and they were rubies, for God's sake…and the inscription was archaic Latin. Do you know how old that sword was?” he wailed. “No you don't, do you…?” he muttered when they all looked at him blankly.

Buffy grinned. “Chill, Giles. I know how much you love that sword. It's still in its nice, safe, case. We lost two crossbows, a bunch of crosses, about seven bottles of Holy water, enough stakes for a barbecue and two of your competition sabres. Sorry about that, but I really needed a sticker for that lizard. Talk about thick skin.”

Giles gave her a fierce look, but his relieved eyes danced. “If you didn't have your very large husband sitting there I'd take you over my knee right now…!”

“Hey!” Willow growled and punched his arm.

“Ow,” he complained, laughing at the same time, and immediately put it around her as she giggled, and squeezed mock-threateningly.

Buffy raked her eyes up and down his lean body, the long legs straddling the stool, the right one stretched out straight. “Pity,” she observed huskily and smiled sweetly.

“Hey!” Riley objected as everyone else snickered.

“Sorry lover,” she purred, “You first,” she corrected, leaning over and running a hand up his thigh until he shifted very quickly, making everyone laugh. “But next to me, Willow has it hands down in the 'Sexiest man in Sunnydale' department.”

“As long as you keep your priorities right,” he growled good-naturedly and pulled her, giggling, off the arm of the chair and back onto his lap.

Giles was still flushed to his ear tips. Willow flicked one, and said so, only to find herself sitting on his right thigh, his arms around her waist, hers around his neck.

“You can take me over your knee any time,” she whispered into the burning lobe, so that only he heard, his face flaming like a stoplight as he looked up.

“I have it more than slightly hands down, myself,” he told them, cleared his throat then grinned wickedly, and was soundly kissed for his trouble.

“And I suppose you want his body too?” Xander asked Anya grumpily.

She looked up from the cut she was cleaning on his left leg and blinked. “What for?” she asked guilelessly and broke everyone up.

“That's my girl,” Xander grinned and pulled her onto his lap. “Ow, ow…oh God… Ow!”

“Serves you right,” Anya told him, getting off quickly as Giles and Willow rose to go and make tea. She stopped to watch the tight fitting black jeans disappear into the kitchen before turning back to her boyfriend.

“Do you think we could get you an outfit like that…?”


*******

Willow closed the door and blew out an exasperated breath. “I can't believe they've gone.”

Giles laughed. “It was starting to look as though those two were settling in for the duration.”

Willow made a face. “I always knew Xander didn't like being home much, but they've got their own place now, even if it is kinda small.”

Giles slid an arm around her as they climbed the stairs. “I rather suspect he might have been worried about me,” he said quietly, “in between all the moaning and groaning.”

Willow groaned.

“Mm?” Giles enquired.

“I can't believe I have to go back to school in a few days.”

“I thought you loved college?” he asked as they reached the loft.

Willow turned to him at the bedside and ran her hands up his chest. “Yeah, but I've found something I love a whole lot more…and advanced calculus just isn't anywhere near as cute as you are.”

“I can live with cute,” he grinned, and bent his head.


********

Giles hung up the phone with a sense of foreboding. He hadn't gotten a thing done all day, he missed Willow so much…more than he would have ever believed possible. He knew it would pass, the ache, the emptiness, he'd been feeling without her these last few days, that it was more or less a kind of withdrawal after the joy of being together every day, but all his senses were telling him that this time something was very wrong.

It wasn't unusual for students to assist professors, even to handle classes in their absence, but it was normally the province of seniors, which Willow was not. He knew nothing about this Professor Allenby, who suddenly needed her to help prepare a series of upcoming lectures during her free periods, and now, well into the evening…but Willow did, and it wasn't his right to interfere…

He prowled restlessly for the longest time, before pouring himself a whisky and downing it. After staring mindlessly at the barometer on the wall for a time, he looked at his glass and made a face, took it to the kitchen and put it in the sink with every indication of disgust at himself.

She would call if she needed him…

He flopped in his armchair and picked up the paper he'd left alongside it and began rereading it article, by article, column by column, until he reached the sports page. After the third article about baseball and the second about football, he closed it with a slap and dropped the whole thing beside the chair again.

The nagging sense of foreboding had reached a crescendo. He should have arranged to pick her up. It was as simple as that. He stalked into the kitchen and set the kettle going, methodically laying a tray without any real interest in it all.

By the time he'd settled on the sofa with it and started to slowly consume the hot liquid and the cookies, he was almost resolved. By the time he'd washed up the empty teapot, the cup and plate, and stowed the tray, he was sure…


*******

Willow stretched in her computer chair. She'd managed to assemble a great deal of the Professor's material into something beginning to resemble a presentation. It needed a lot of work to really polish and refine, but she knew it was going to be good.

John Allenby was working quietly nearby, researching still more material for his lecture circuit, cross referencing it all and trying to make sense of the copious notes in his personal journals.

She stood up, hands on her back, and stretched again, unaware of the picture she made in the low-cut brown batik blouse and tight black three-quarter pants.

“You want tea…uh, I mean coffee?” she asked, with a pang at the realisation that she hadn't thought about Rupert for at least an hour.

“Oh certainly, coffee,” he agreed affably. “And there's some fruitcake in there in a box,” he added absently.

Willow brought the refreshment and slid it onto the table next to him. He looked up and grinned brilliantly at her. He was maybe eight to ten years younger than Rupert and attractive enough in an average looking way…average height, average weight, average brown hair and brown eyes and an unremarkable but pleasant face.

“Thank you, Willow. Did I mention how much I appreciate your help?”

“About three times—four if you include now,” she replied dryly.

His grin widened. “I could never get through this without your help. I seem to have a love -hate relationship with computers: I love them and they hate me. You, however, seem to have Mozart's touch with them.”

Willow rolled her eyes. He was laying it on a little too thick. “Yeah well, I better go play some more tunes,” she drawled. “I have someone waiting for me and it's getting late.”

His face dropped. “I was rather hoping you'd allow me to take you to dinner to show my appreciation…for all your help.”

Willow's eyes widened. “But…but today's just the first day…there's like about a week's work just organizing your notes, without even getting into the graphics and charts for your presentation.”

“Of…of course,” he stammered, “but I thought it was a good opportunity to get to know each other…to discuss the work, your ideas for the presentation.”

“It's really nice of you to offer,” she said quietly, “but I really have to get home…I promised…”

“You couldn't call and tell your parents you'll be a little late tonight? Surely they wouldn't worry about you having a meal at Alessandro's with a staid, tweed-wearing college Professor?” he wheedled.

Willow almost choked on her cookie. “Uh…no, I guess not, but I-I'm not living at home. I have someone…and he's going to worry.”

She might have imagined it but she could have sworn she saw a look of real anger cross the bland features before he looked up, to all intents and purposes, mildly aggrieved.

“Well, you tell him from me that it's my great loss. Perhaps if you mention it to him, he'll be amenable to our having dinner on Thursday.”

“Thursday?” she squeaked. There hadn't been any mention of working more than one day a week after classes.

He nodded slowly. “This all has to be finished in less than three weeks. I can't afford to waste any more time after all the time I lost during spring break, being dragged to Florida.”

“Florida?”

“My kids…they wanted to see Disney World,” he muttered. “All this work and she says take them to Florida or take them permanently.”

“Oh…you're divorced?”

He looked up, a strange, feral look in his eyes for a moment. And then the bland was back. “Very,” he said with satisfaction. “But I didn't get a shred of real work done over the break. So will you help me, Willow?”

She didn't want to. All her senses were on edge and she suddenly wanted Rupert very badly. But that was stupid…she could defend herself against demons and fight vampires …not too great, but then a girl did what she could without super strength…and now, suddenly, she was afraid of Mister Mild here?

“I'm available during my free periods in school hours and one night a week after school,” she offered. “More than that I can't help you with.”

She saw the colour rush into his face, his hands tighten on the book in them, but he grinned again. “Thank you,” he said with studied calm. “A pity about Thursday, but I'm sure we'll make up for it on the other days.”

Willow nodded, still concerned, and went back to her workstation.

And it was Willow who pointed out that it was time to go home when the alarm she'd set up in the computer chimed whimsically at her about an hour later.

Allenby agreed almost too readily and accompanied her out of the building to the parking lot. She had to cross it to get to the bus stop and it was some distance to his Blazer™.

“See you tomorrow,” she said, tired and so looking forward to getting home to Giles, and turned to cross the wide expanse of deserted parking lot.

“I'll drive you,” he said mildly. “It's not really safe for someone as small and helpless as you to be out by yourself.”

Willow struggled valiantly to contain the giggle that threatened to burst out. If only he knew…but it relaxed her a little so that she acquiesced and walked alongside him in silence until they finally reached the Blazer™.

She turned and opened her mouth to say thank you, and found herself staring at a stranger…or at least at the man she'd only glimpsed back in Allenby's office. His eyes glittered and the look on his face was pure predator.

“Th-Thanks,” she managed. “But it such a nice night, I think I'll walk. I can take it from here.”

“I'm sure you could take it anywhere I chose to give it to you,” he drawled. “I've been watching you for so long…God, you're gorgeous. And I'm not stupid, Miss Rosenberg. I know you have no intention of continuing to help me, much less go out to dinner with me. What I do know is that you value your grades, which brings me to the next thing I know: I know that you will go out to dinner with me tonight, and you will come home with me afterward.”

Willow's frightened face hardened into rage. “What decade did you escape from?” she demanded. “Nobody sleeps with anybody for a grade. I can drop your class tomorrow and pick up any one of a dozen other courses if I want.”

A mistake, she realized, as his face slowly turned puce.

“You can't talk to me like that,” he sputtered.

“Oh yeah, well be glad you're not a vamp…er, I mean…something worse, or I'd do more than just talk,” she shot back, sliding her hand into her bag and grabbing her stake, comforted by the feel of it in her hand.

“I had plans for tonight,” he persisted. “We had plans. It was going to be so very romantic. After the reservations at Alessandro's, I was going to take you dancing, then a walk on the beach…then back to my place…”

“That's an awful lot of planning without even finding out if I like you first,” she pointed out, clenching her hands to try and stop them from trembling.

“I didn't think I needed to ask,” he said sulkily. “I could tell you liked me from the first time we met…I knew it was meant to be.”

Willow frowned trying to remember the first time she'd met him. It took several moments before it came to her. It was about the third week of the first Semester, about two weeks before he took over Professor Steinman's classes.

He was sitting on a bench in the sun as she walked across one of the grassed areas. All she'd seen was a tweed coat almost identical to one of Giles' and the light brown hair shining in the sun. Back then it had even been cut like Rupert's. Of course she'd seemed enthusiastic…she thought he was Giles…Then, after the surprise of finding out he wasn't, she'd been interested because he'd been charming, and Giles-like.

She shivered. He was nothing like Giles. He was horrible and slightly unbalanced and she knew she had to get away from him.

“I have to get home before my…friend comes looking for me,” she said evenly. “Goodnight.”

She had gone several paces before he recovered and caught up with her.

“Willow, wait. I don't want you to go,” he crooned and his eyes turned puppy-dog. “I need you, Willow.”

She kept walking, and he kept pace. “You don't need me,” she told him. “I have someone who does need me, someone I love, and who loves me. Go home, Professor.”

She yelped when a hand clamped on her arm and dragged her to a halt. “This isn't how I planned it,” he half-growled, half-whined.

“Me either,” she muttered. “Let go of me, or I'll do something you'll regret.”

But before she could do anything she found herself falling backwards, her face throbbing from the impact of a back-hander, her purse and its stake flying out of her hand as she landed badly, knocking the wind out of her and jarring her hip.

In spite of her distress she turned and lunged for the purse, but he kicked it away and grabbed her by the wrist.

Willow flailed punches at him. “Let me go!”

He laughed. “Not for any money,” he cried jubilantly and started to drag her toward his car. “You're wonderful.”

“You're insane.”

“I'm in love.”

“You're sick.”

He stopped and slapped her again, this time making her sob in spite of herself. “There's no need to be insulting,” he said mildly. “You're starting to sound just like her…and you were so much sweeter, so gentle and kind before,” he added almost pathetically.

“Your wife?” she ventured tremulously.

He looked confused. “Carol?”

She shrugged warily.

“She hated Carol,” he whispered and started dragging her again.

Willow began to struggle, trying to dislodge his hold, even trying to scratch his knuckles with the nails of her other hand, but his grip was convulsive.

“No,” she cried, her face pale, fear beginning to overwhelm her. Demons and vampires were one thing, but his tenuous hold on sanity was infinitely more frightening. “You can't do this. You have to know this is wrong.” Her voice had risen almost to a shriek.

“She'd love you,” he muttered. “You're perfect. You look just like her.”

He was definitely insane. “Who would?” she demanded, trying to control rising panic.

“Who…? Oh. Mother,” he crooned. “Mommy would adore you.”

Willow shuddered and redoubled her efforts, swinging in front of him this time and managing to connect a knee with his most vulnerable spot, though almost pulling her arm out of its socket in the process. He screamed, let go and bent double, his face turning a violent shade of purple and red before blanching white.

Willow ran. She was almost at the school gates when the Blazer™ screeched to a halt in front of her. She turned back across the grass, but he was there, still in pain, and yet single minded in his pursuit. She dodged but he tackled her like a football player.

She screamed as they went down, partly from the pain and partly from sheer terror. The last thing she wanted was to be trapped under the full weight of a psycho.

But she was and he knew he had her, her tiny form pinned by his sheer weight and strength, his mad eyes glittering in the half-light of the college security lights.

She was helpless. “Giles!” she screamed as he shifted, hurting her arm and trying to push her legs apart with his knee. “Giles!” she cried again, too terrified to think about or want anything but the safety of Rupert's arms, his strength…his love.

Allenby's face was within millimetres of hers when it was suddenly wrenched away. Unexpectedly freed, Willow turned and started to crawl away like a frightened animal, not even looking to see what had saved her, hoping it was a demon or a vampire or anything that would make him suffer, but knowing only that she had to get away. Even a vampire was preferable to another second near him.

It seemed to take forever just to crawl a few yards, the sounds of the fight loud in her ears. She'd staggered to her feet and stumbled several more yards before tripping and falling again, when out of the darkness, two hands reached down and grasped her upper arms from behind. She screamed, fighting them as they started to turn her, but they were too strong.

“Sweetheart, it's me…”

Her eyes opened wide. “Giles!” she cried as she was swept into his protective arms. “You're here. You came,” she sobbed, winding her fists into his shirt, burying her face in his jacket.

“I'm here, love,” he whispered tremulously. “I'm here. I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner...”

He picked her up and carried her back to his car, not even looking at the crumpled heap of bloodied tweed now spreadeagled across the grass and whimpering satisfyingly. He drove home at a speed far in excess of the speed limit and carried her straight into the apartment.

When he tried to put her down at the foot of the stairs she continued to cling to him like a child.

“It's all right. You don't have to let go,” he said gently. “I'm not going anywhere, love. Just tell me what you want me to do...what you need.”

“Just…you…” she whispered, trying to focus her shattered thoughts, then seemed to calm a little. “Shower…please…” she added in a near normal voice, though her eyes shouted otherwise.

He understood. He took her to the bathroom, helped her undress as well as he could while she continued to cling to his shirt, freed one arm and set the water going. Willow looked at it.

Giles felt her trembling, worried about the whiteness of her face, and began removing his own clothes. Eventually all that was left was the shirt. It took several moments for her to finally relinquish her hold.

When she did, he slid it off, lifted her into the tub and stepped in after her, holding her as she closed her eyes and let the water flow over her. A little while later she let Giles wash her very gently with soap and a sponge, until she started to cry. He dropped the sponge and folded her tightly in his arms, cradled her until she'd cried herself out, then turned the water off.

“Willow, love…” he whispered, “it's time to get you out. Let me dry you off and we'll get you to bed and make you some tea.”

She nodded slowly and allowed Giles to towel her off completely before drying himself swiftly, scooping her up again possessively and carrying her upstairs. Once there he put her down and opened the drawer, where her nightwear now nestled next to his old flannelette pyjamas and newer silk ones. He reached for one of her brightly coloured nightshirts, but his hand stayed by hers. Instead she drew out his old dark blue and white striped pyjama top and wrapped herself in it before looking up at him and smiling just a little.

He drew a jagged breath and forced himself to smile back, before lifting her into bed and tucking her in.

“Better?” he asked, his gentle smile unforced this time.

She nodded silently, her face still pale and shocky, but there was real lucidity in the witch-green eyes now.

“W-Would you like some tea?”

She nodded again, trying to smile reassuringly at him.

He brushed her hair back with loving fingers and kissed her brow very softly before turning and heading swiftly down the stairs.

He only just made it to the kitchen before the first silent sob was wrenched from him. He kicked the refrigerator viciously, then the stove and the wall for good measure, strangled choking noises punctuating each assault, then, in spite of himself, he sagged against the bench, unable to stop the frustrated rage from shaking his body.

He'd failed her again. Why couldn't he have just followed his instincts? Why did he have to over-think every bloody thing? He made an angry noise and forced himself to go through the motions of making the tea, unable to stop the trembling of his hands as he struggled through each step. By the time he put their mugs out he could barely see the words on the one she'd given him so long ago.

Kiss the Librarian.

He tried to laugh, but only a soundless sob came out, and then another, until all he could do was lean against the bench and weep silently, though he still shook with anger at himself.

By the time he returned to Willow with the tray there was no sign of his lapse.

She drank very little tea but what she had brought colour back to her cheeks. She put the mug down, the emerald green eyes searching his face.

“I'm okay, Rupert,” she said softly. “Really. He didn't do anything…”

His expression faltered and he touched the nasty bruise already colouring brightly along her right cheekbone.

“He didn't do anything,” she persisted, her voice wavering. “He…he w…he wanted to… but you stopped him.”

“He did enough,” he managed brokenly, barely recognising his own voice.

Tears trickled down her cheeks and she looked up at him. “I'm sorry,” she whispered.

He made a noise in his throat and gathered her in his arms. “You have nothing to be sorry for,” he croaked.

Willow felt calm pouring over her like a warm wave. She was back in the arms of the man she adored, and who adored her, safe, secure and loved. For a long time she stayed there, hiding in the protective hollow of his embrace.

When they did move, it was so that he could shift from the side of the bed to the centre, next to her.

“I'm going to get you a car as soon as possible; tomorrow, if I can,” he said vehemently as she tucked her head into the crook of his shoulder. “And there's to be no more extracurricular work for faculty, unless I meet them first and personally collect you afterward.”

She tilted her head against his arm, to look up at him.

“Yes, Rupert,” she said meekly, leaving him speechless.

He looked down at her. She was still pale, and the bruise stood out horribly, but the glow was back in her eyes, and the mischief. It was a good sign.

“Just like that?” he teased. “Just: Yes, Rupert?”

She nodded. “I'm officially unavailable for any extracurricular activities …indefinitely …unless of course they happen to involve impossibly sexy ex-Watchers…”

He smiled and drew her closer. “I can live with that.”

Willow closed her eyes and nuzzled into the warm spot beneath his jaw, enjoying the male scent of him, the thump of his heartbeat and the reassuring circle of his embrace. She could live with that too…

Giles looked down tenderly at the red head. She was even more courageous than he thought…and even more precious than he'd ever believed possible.

…It was bad enough being away from her each day…but to have lost her forever…

The green eyes closed against the thought, a part of him still afraid. She was so young…so much still ahead of her…if she chose to leave, he loved her too much to stop her…and too much to survive it.

“Rupert?” she murmured sleepily as he shifted slightly so that he could hold her even closer.

“I'm here,” he whispered. “I won't leave you. Sleep now. I promise I'll be here when you wake up.”

He felt the shadow of a nod against his neck and the further relaxation of her small body against him and exhaled slowly before kissing the soft, herbal-scented red hair and resting his chin against her crown.

When the first rays of the morning sun filtered through the loft window, they found the two unmoved, the gentle rhythms of their breathing very nearly in unison, the aura of love and contentment around them almost tangible…


*******


Willow sipped her drink contentedly.

Neither she, nor Giles, had had a nightmare in over a month. The demon world had apparently decided to take a vacation after the Draxuss incident and Buffy and Riley had rebooked and gone on an even better cruise. As promised, there had been no more extra-curricular evening work, nor had Allenby approached her again. He, himself, had been absent from classes for over a week after the incident. The story through the grapevine was that he'd fallen from a ladder while pruning a tree, and had returned, still bruised and battered, to keep a very low profile for a few weeks before suddenly being replaced without explanation…

Also Giles had finally found her an English Mini to drive to classes. He hadn't meant to. The Used Car lot had been advertising cheap Japanese imports all that week and they'd gone, without confidence, to see if they could find something in their price range. Giles, who was surprisingly knowledgeable about cars, had inspected and dismissed out of hand the half dozen or so on offer even before the salesman reached them. And then he'd spotted the small blue Mini. Someone had obviously taken care of it. Both the paintwork and upholstery showed no sign of the true age of the little vehicle.

She'd fallen in love with it the minute she saw it. It was so cute, and so…her. When Giles pronounced it roadworthy with a little work on the steering, a new timing chain and two new tires, the salesman had dropped the price immediately to well below their budget limit.

She let her glance slide around the room. Giles hadn't come back from the men's room and it had been several minutes. The trip down this time had been heavenly. And so had the evening so far. The pianist reminded her of Harry Connick, Jr. in a fresh-faced, fifties lounge lizard kind of way, but his enthusiasm was fun, even if Giles had been gently mocking him all night, teasing her about his youthful, earnest exuberance with the old ballads and Cole Porter standards.

She closed her eyes. It was one a.m. and the place was deserted, except for the singer. She let the sounds of 'I've got you under my skin,' caress her as she felt herself relax into a soothing, sleepy trance.

It finished and she heard the young man say 'thank you and goodnight' quietly as he lingered on the final notes. Before she could open her eyes, however, he started another tune. She smiled to herself when she recognised the notes. Only a few days ago she'd teased Giles about singing it in the shower and he'd started exaggerating the chorus to annoy her, because he knew how much she liked the song.

He'd rolled his eyes when she first found the CD in his collection the previous day, one of several by the same artist. She had played it just because it seemed at first to be out of step with the rest of his music, and because she didn't know the artist, but all he would say was that he'd liked a track off the first album and had bought it on impulse. The others had simply followed because he'd liked rest of the album too.

She had liked that track too, and all the albums, but one song captured her more than any of the others. It wasn't because it was bright or loud or stirringly anthemic, or even because the words fitted their relationship exactly, because they didn't. It was because there was a breathtaking honesty and passion about the way the singer sang it, and how he obviously felt about the person he wrote it for, which did touch the bond between the two them.

The vocalist started to sing. A shiver went down her spine and her breath caught. And when he reached the chorus, sang: 'Burn for you…' his voice reached down to the core of her soul. He sang beautifully, hauntingly, so that she stopped listening to the words and concentrated on the sound of his voice.

She smiled and opened her eyes when he reached the second verse, rose and went to the piano, slid her arm around his neck and kissed his ear, earning a grin, before resting her cheek against his hair, closing her eyes again and listening to the rest of the song.

“I love you,” she said softly after the last note had faded. “How did you convince him let you touch his piano?”

He turned and caught her lips for a moment, drew her onto his lap.

She rested her forehead against his.

“My natural charm and a fifty dollar note,” he said ruefully. “I hope it was worth my last fifty and the possibility that the gentleman coming this way is going to ask us to leave.”

Willow giggled and slid a sideways look at the approaching stranger in the white dinner jacket and black tie.

The 'gentleman' turned out to be a quietly inebriated senior patron who'd gravitated from the restaurant to the bar when the former closed, and now had a yen to hear Giles play 'As Time Goes By'.

Willow, waiting for Giles to apologise quietly for not knowing the words, was surprised when he slid her onto the stool next to him and played the opening notes.

She watched the pleasure on the bucolic old face as Giles' beautiful voice caressed the lovely old lyrics, then rested her head on the point of his shoulder and closed her eyes again while he sang.

When he was done the old man smiled at him. “Thank you,” he said softly and nodded his head when Rupert smiled back. They watched him make his way purposefully to the exit and disappear before Willow turned back to him.

“How—?”

“Too many reruns of Casablanca,” he said ruefully. “And I improvised just a little where the memory failed.”

“But you made him happy.”

”I suspect he has a lot of memories invested in that song,” Giles said softly.

She ran her fingers through his hair, grazing his ear. “Maybe we should be making some of our own…?”

He grinned and kissed her again before sweeping her, giggling, off the stool and heading for the door.

“I have just the place,” he told her as he toed the big glass door open.


*******

"This isn't exactly what I had in mind,” Willow pouted playfully. “No piano, no waves crashing on the shore, no flowers…”

The boulevard ice-cream parlour was larger, brighter and nicer than the one in Sunnydale, but just as deserted in the early hours of the morning.

“I get the picture,” he laughed as their waitress arrived and set his order on the table.
“Will this do instead?”

“How…how did you get them to make it exactly the same?”

“Wouldn't you if it meant selling this much ice cream?” he asked, dipping a long handled spoon into the breath-taking chocolate confection in front of them.

Willow watched him lovingly, memories of that first evening together bringing rosy, contented colour to her cheeks.

When he was satisfied that it wasn't going to drip he leaned forward and offered the spoon to her tender pink lips.

Her glorious witch-green eyes looked into his over the top of it, just as they had once before.

She smiled at him as though nothing, no one on the planet existed except him, and when he grinned back, his own colour just as warm, she slid the ice cream, chocolate and cream confection off the spoon as slowly and provocatively as she could.

“That was special for you too?” she asked softly.

“One moment in a life time,” he told her, his eyes filled with tenderness. “I knew, right then, that I could never love anything or anyone as much as I loved you in that single instant. I found you, recognised you and loved you, all in just one moment,” he said, wonderingly.

Willow picked up her spoon, filled it and offered it to him, watched him slide the decadent confection off it, then grin. They took turns feeding each other ice cream, until they'd both had enough; enough ice cream, enough small spills, enough of the giggling that accompanied it, and enough being separated by the table.

*******

The roaring of the ocean, the stiff sea breeze and the smell of the salt made Willow feel as though every nerve in her body was alive as they ploughed, barefoot up the beach, hand in hand, angling down to the compacted sand near the water.

“You wanted crashing waves,” Giles told her as they finally left the soft sand behind and walked to the water's edge.

“It's wonderful,” she said, turning to him, the brilliant moonlight catching the sparkle in her eyes, the breeze ruffling her hair.

He was smiling down at her, the wind catching his hair too and blowing it into the same curls he always ended up with when it was wet or sweat damped.

“Tell me it's not going to end,” she said softly, suddenly serious.

His eyes filled with tenderness. “It's not going to end,” he told her equally softly. “Not unless the day comes when you want it to. And if that day comes, you must tell me, and you must go. The best years of my life are done. I'm not a boy, Willow, and the time will come when you'll wish I was.”

“No,” she said vehemently. “We're a part of each other. You felt it, the same as me. Don't you dare try to tell me I can't love you just because you've been around longer than me…Why don't you just tell me I can't love you because you're British, or tall or because you have green eyes…?”

Giles took a step toward her. “But this is different…”

She stepped back. “How? You're not a used car, Rupert. You can do things most guys half your age will never be able to do…never be good enough to do. You're better than they are…you're all I want…all I'll ever want.”

She turned away, trembling, whether with rage or fear she didn't know...perhaps both.

For a long time all she could hear was the crashing of the waves. And then it came to her that she wouldn't have heard him leave on the soft sand if he had gone. She wheeled around, frightened.

He was still there, his hands in his pockets, looking up at the stars. “Cassiopeia is particularly bright tonight,” he said quietly and turned his face a little to look at another constellation.

Willow caught her breath at the silvery glints on it. “I like the Pleiades best,” she said softly. “We should get a telescope, a big one.”

“I love you,” he whispered, barely audibly.

Willow swallowed. “Then marry me,” she said, biting her lip when his head turned quickly, his eyes bright as they searched her face.

Willow…

She stepped closer. “Tell me that you can live without me, that you don't need me just to live and breathe and feel!”

“…I need you…”

She sobbed and went to him, wrapped her arms around him and felt his envelop her as the wind died away.

“God, I need you,” he moaned. “Every minute of every day...I just want you to be happy. I can't bear the thought of you being unhappy because of me.”

She lifted her head. “Then just love me…and let me love you, because I need to keep living…and breathing…and feeling too.”

Giles caught her to him again. “Then I won't ever let it end,” he told her hoarsely. “I can't give you castles or crowns, or even three bedrooms and a mortgage…but I can give you a ring…” He felt the tremor that went through her and held his breath.

Willow leaned back in his arms and looked up at him. “A ring…will do very nicely,” she whispered.

For a long moment they just looked at each other, contemplating the future, their future, then Giles was sliding his arm around her and they were turning up the beach again.

“I guess I have to tell mom you're more than just my landlord now,” Willow mused. “I can't believe how much like Mrs. Summers she is…their rationalizations hurt my head sometimes.”

“It isn't your mother I'm worried about,” Giles said ruefully as they splashed through the wash of an incoming wave.

Willow giggled. “As long as you don't ask me to convert and our kids are raised in the faith he's not going to care if you're eighty-six, twenty-six, French, Hindu or Swahili,” she told him whimsically. “Besides, you wimp, you're like five inches taller than he is.”

Giles lifted her off the ground swung her around and brought her to rest against him again.

“'Wimp', is it now?” he growled as their eyes met again.

“Wonderful, brave, incredibly sexy wimp,” she qualified softly.

“Better,” he grinned as she pressed herself against him and reached up to kiss his chin.

“So where are you taking me on our honeymoon?” she teased.

He gave a shout of laughter. “Anywhere you want, my love. Anywhere you want,” he said softly.

Willow looked up at him, love shining in her eyes. “Anywhere is just fine, as long as it's with you.”

For a very long moment he just stared down at her, as though awed that anyone could love him so much.

Then he touched her face and smiled, the joy radiating from his face matched only by hers, and bent his head, their bodies merging into a single dark silhouette against the moonlight that was scattered like silver shards across the brooding ocean waves…


* * *