Refuge | Epilogue to Wild at Heart

Giles frowned. He wasn't expecting anyone and Buffy had been intent on getting back to the campus to wait for Willow.

His eyes widened in surprise when he finally opened the door.

"Willow?"

"I…I can't find Buffy. Do you know where Buffy is?"

Her eyes were reddened and unfocused, almost shocky, and her face was devoid of colour.

Giles' heart constricted. For all the background Buffy had given him, none of it defined as eloquently the suffering Willow was going through as did the huge eyes staring past him at that moment, or the sudden unwelcome memories that besieged him. He swallowed.

"Come inside," he said gently. "Buffy was here, but she's gone back to the campus …you must have missed each other."

Willow frowned dazedly. "I…should go. I'll find her…"

Giles took her hand. She wasn't fit to go anywhere alone.

"We'll call her," he said gently. "But right now I think some tea, don't you?" He eased her through the door and closed it before she could object.

He seated her silently on the sofa and looked down at the small figure. She'd drawn her knees up and wrapped her arms around them and was staring at the fireplace.

"I'll be back in a moment," he told her softly.

When he brought the steaming mugs back he discovered that she hadn't moved. Nor did she make any effort to take the cup he offered her. In the end he set both down on the table and sat next to her.

"Would you like me to take you home?"

Willow stirred slightly, then turned her head slowly. "Home?" she whispered. "N…no…I don't know…" She closed her eyes. "Why does it hurt so much?"

Giles wasn't expecting the question, or the stab of recollection that it caused.

"It's…it's the nature of things…If we didn't love so deeply, it wouldn't hurt so terribly," he whispered.

Willow turned slowly and looked searchingly into the soft green eyes, remembering. "I forgot," she said softly. "H…how…did…?" but the words refused to be formed. She dragged a trembling hand over her face.

It was some time before Giles' finally reached out and touched her hand silently to bring her back from the painful place she'd wandered to. She looked up, her eyes haunted, gradually focusing on him enough to form thoughts. She spoke haltingly.

"I'm sorry, Giles…I didn't mean…"

"It's all right," he reassured her. "You see, it does get better. In time. I survived…and so did Buffy…and so shall you."

Willow closed her eyes and shook her head, tears sliding off her jaw like rain off a metal roof.

Giles lifted a hand in frustration, then dropped it again. "Willow, listen to me…"

It took several moments for her eyes to open and look slowly up to his.

"…You know what I said was true. All those reasons you had for visiting me after Jenny died…sitting in the library studying for hours when you could have been off with the others…all those cups of tea. And Buffy told me how much it meant to have you as a friend after Angel told her he was leaving. You know what it was like, how much it…" He trailed off. The memories, so close again to the surface, still had the power to hurt.

She swallowed "I…I remember. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how you survived," she whispered. "I still don't."

He looked away. "Sheer bloody-mindedness," he muttered, and heard Willow's watery giggle. He faced her again and smiled a little. "…And very special friends," he added softly.

Her eyes grew distant again, the dark circles under them accentuated by the paleness of her face, and, along with the red rims and the tired lines, made her look almost more ill than exhausted.

"This is different," she whispered. "Angel didn't l—leave Buffy for…someone else."

"Nor has Oz," he said matter-of-factly. "Veruca is dead. She was, in a sense, his Drusilla. Oz is afraid of what he is, of putting you in danger. There are distinct parallels—"

She looked up at him again, a flash of something, perhaps even anger, flickering in the brown eyes. "You didn't have your trust screwed up in a little ball and thrown at your feet. "

For a long moment Giles stared into those eyes, then he looked away, but not before Willow had drawn a sharp breath at the depth of the pain that lanced across his gentle green ones.

It took her grief-clouded mind a few more moments to understand, to remember. She closed her eyes and clenched her fists. He was the last person she wanted to hurt.

After a beat Giles gathered his thoughts and turned back to her again.

"Willow? Are you all right?"

She looked up into his face, which was filled only with concern for her, his own feelings already forgotten.

"You should have someone," she said softly.

He tilted his head a little, his eyes asking the question.

"You…you don't deserve to be alone," she qualified, her voice wobbling, the emptiness of a hundred tomorrows stretching out before her. "Nobody should have to be…alone."

He took a slender hand in both of his, moved, and desperate to ease her suffering, even a little.

"But you're not alone," he said gently. "You have Buffy and Xander…and you have me. We'll always be here when you need us, you know that." A hollow platitude, even to his ears, he knew, but it needed to be said.

She looked up at him with eyes that seemed even bigger now if that were possible.

"I w…I want Oz," she whispered in a broken, fractured little-girl voice.

Giles squeezed the hand tighter, his own trembling now. "I know," he said gently. "I know…"

How many nights had he lain awake…after, telling himself to get on with it… only to have a tiny voice cry out inside him that exact same way?

"I wish I could end this for you," he said in an emotion-deepened voice. "I don't know how to help…"

The slender fingers finally curled around one of his hands, clinging tightly for a long moment.

"You already have," she whispered hoarsely, pulled her hand away and flew down the corridor.

He rose quickly and watched her disappear into the bathroom, his brow furrowed.

Options poured through his normally analytical mind without rhythm or rhyme: Chocolate? Ice-cream? A sedative? Chocolate ice-cream…or an all night drunk…? Mochas, perhaps…or aspirin? Late night movies and jelly donuts…?

Giles made a noise in his throat. Useless bastard…! The girl is barely able to form cohesive thoughts, let alone…

He thought back to those first weeks after Jenny had died, to Willow's quiet but persistent presence, the cups of tea, the gentle but deliberate overtures to involve him in her projects, in her growing interest in witchcraft, just at those moments when he was most alone…

Quiet Willow, always gentle, always there, a small breath of sanity at a time when he thought he was slowly losing his mind.

He looked down the corridor again, his mouth clamped in a hard line. A part of him wanted to tear Oz's head off, another to drag him back by the hair…for her.

After what seemed like an eternity, Giles looked at his watch. She'd been gone almost twenty minutes. After a moment's hesitation he walked down the hallway and raised a hand to tap on the door, then paused again, seized by indecision, half turned away, stopped, and made a strangled noise in his throat.

A split second later he turned before he could change his mind again and thrust open the door, his mouth open to apologise for bursting in. He closed it again. Willow wasn't in sight. Alarmed, he crossed the tiled floor to the glass shower stall.

She was sitting on the floor, curled up in one corner like a frightened, wounded animal trying to hide.

Giles swallowed and stopped thinking at all.

He stepped into the shower and knelt on one knee next to her.

"Willow…" he said with infinite gentleness. When she didn't move he reached out and stroked her hair. "I'm sorry," he said unsteadily. "I'm sorry I don't know what to do."

The slender body began to shake and a sob wrenched itself from her before she turned suddenly. "Oh God, Giles…" she choked and buried herself in his arms, to be enveloped and cradled there until she was too exhausted to cry any more.

When she finally grew quiet, Giles opened his eyes and blinked away the moisture in them, shifted his weight and simply scooped her up, felt her fingers clutch his sweater as though frightened he might go away.

"I'm here," he said softly and tightened his hold reassuringly.

He carried her back to the living room, where he bent to set her on the sofa before calling Buffy, and looked down, surprised, when her hand wound itself even more tightly in his sweater.

"Willow?"

In reply she clung to him.

He straightened to ease his back, momentarily at a loss. And then the memory of the first nights after Jenny's death pierced him like a sword. He closed his eyes and drew her closer. Willow's grief was just as real, and just as agonising…and just as lonely…


*******

Buffy paid the cab driver and almost ran to Giles' door. She'd called Xander, Willow's house and even the magic shop, and they'd stopped at Oz's place, but Willow was nowhere to be found, on campus or off…

The place was silent. She couldn't hear the television or Giles' music playing, and when she opened the door, only the glow of the desk lamp lighted the room. She was halfway to the kitchen when she saw them. She turned and moved silently to the sofa.

Giles was propped against a bunch of cushions at one end, his long legs stretched out along it. Tucked in between the back of the sofa and his side, and still held protectively by a large arm, was Willow, her head resting on his chest, one of her hands still clutching his sweater.

Buffy stared at them for a long moment. There was colour in Willow's cheeks, and the harsh lines of grief had smoothed out. And Giles…

Her gaze flickered for a moment, then she shook her head, surprised at the sudden pang of jealousy. She shook her head again, looked at Willow's face, and smiled before creeping away. They hadn't stirred when she returned. She covered them both very gently with Giles' quilt.

Willow moved just a little as Buffy drew it up to her shoulders. She watched Giles' arm tighten protectively around her, even in his sleep, and smiled again, her eyes shining with affection and not a little moisture.

For a long moment she stared at the handsome face, the lashes fanned across his cheeks, the sensuous mouth parted just slightly, and then let her gaze slide back to Willow.

She reached out and touched the red hair with the back of her hand. Somehow, Giles had found a way to fight a demon even she hadn't found a way to defeat. Buffy turned back to him, eyes bright with emotion, and grinned.

"Way to go, Bookguy," she mouthed, bent and kissed the top of his head, waited a beat to make sure he didn't stir, turned and headed for the door, already making a mental list for their supper.

Ice cream, chocolate, jelly donuts for Giles…


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