Surrender

The Espresso pump was unexpectedly jammed with people. Willow frowned. It wasn't working out the way she'd planned. She should have known. Giles had sung there twice since that first time and each time both the audience, and the number of songs, had grown.

"We're never going to be able to get a table," Xander muttered.

"I vote we go for ice cream," Anya piped up unhelpfully.

Willow scowled. She had wanted it just to be the three of them...but Anya and Xander pretty much came as a boxed set and short of being hurtful there was no way to get rid of demon girl. She blew out a breath. At least Riley was working...that was something, and Tara had understood...

"If you guys want to go that's fine, but I'm staying. Someone will leave. We'll get a table eventually. It's at least half an hour before he does his first number."

"I want to go for ice cream, Xander," Anya insisted. "I've already seen him sing."

Xander looked from Willow's stormy face, to Buffy's amused one and back to his guileless girlfriend.

"Tell you what, An', why don't you go ahead and get yourself a big sundae, and I'll be along in a little while?"

Anya frowned. She knew she was being got at somehow, but since she didn't have to stay and be bored, it wasn't important enough to bother with.

"Fine," she said, pushing past the other girls. "Just don't be too long and tell them to keep their hands to themselves."

Xander watched her go. "My An'," he sighed. "Okay, Will, are you ready to tell us why we have to be here?"

"You know why," she growled.

"Just because Giles singing majorly wigs us out doesn't mean we need desensitisation therapy."

"You guys owe it to Giles to at least watch him work." She scowled again at Xander. "You were so busy wigging and doing the jealous male thing you probably don't even remember what he sounded like."

"Me, jealous?" Xander snorted. "Now who's living in fantasy land? Me jealous of Giles? Come on, we're talking majorly old dude here; 'Mister dusty books and tweed, no life, get me another baggy sweater, Giles'. Me jealous? I don't think so."

Buffy's smile had grown wider and wider. "Over reacting, much?" she teased.

"Yeah," Willow added. "Overreacting because you know I'm right. He looked good...really good...and who knew he could sing like that? And play...and, well...wow. I mean, even Anya acknowledged how sexy it was...how sexy Giles was. And you didn't like that, did you?"

Buffy, watching Xander get redder and redder in the face before opening his mouth to launch a counteroffensive, interceded.

"Uh, guys, there's a table clearing just over to the right."

They edged over to where a group of teens were slowly getting to their feet and moments later claimed the table before someone else beat them to it.

"That wasn't so hard was it?" Willow muttered.

"I'm not jealous," Xander repeated sulkily.

"Much," Buffy added helpfully.

Sometime later, someone finally took their order and they started to wonder where Giles was. It wasn't like they wouldn't have seen him if he was there, in the open-plan, warmly lit café.

Xander and Buffy had just begun another argument about Xander's jealousy, Giles being the one who got the supermodel and Xander the clueless vengeance demon, when Willow, who'd been watching the entrance like a hawk, spied Giles hustling through the groups milling outside waiting for a table.

She didn't know it, but colour had rushed to her cheeks and her emerald green eyes sparkled at the sight of him. With the warmer weather his look had become even more casual. She flushed even deeper when she realised he was wearing the new black shirt she'd given him for his birthday to replace the one he'd ruined when Ethan turned him into a demon, under his new leather jacket. This one was a little more contemporary... and way sexier. He'd forgone the usual t-shirt underneath because of the warm day and balmy evening and the first two buttons were undone. It was cut to fit and it did...

Giles passed their booth without seeing them, intent on getting to his usual position with as little fuss as possible.

"Whoa, nice butt." Buffy's eyes went like saucers. "I can't believe I just said that," she squeaked as he stopped in his tracks and turned.

"Hi Giles," Xander said sheepishly.

"Hello you lot," he growled, removing his glasses and putting them in his shirt pocket. "Got nothing better to do tonight?"

"Will-Oww!" Xander started again, rubbing his shin where the slayer's boot had connected. "Um...we thought we'd come and see for ourselves why the 'Pump is always packed these days," he amended sheepishly.

Giles regarded him for a moment then let his gaze slide to Buffy, who was glowing like a stoplight and looking extraordinarily uncomfortable, and finally to Willow who was a picture of innocence, except for the two bright patches of scarlet in her cheeks.

"Break a leg, Giles," she squeaked.

He harrumphed. "Thank you," he said, turned and headed for his stool.

"Smooth," Xander muttered. "What's his problem anyway?"

"He did originally tell us not to come here," Willow said quietly. "I thought since we'd already seen him once, he wouldn't mind so much. I thought he might even like it."

"Don't worry, Will," Buffy said easily. "He'll get over it. I know my Watcher and he's just embarrassed. I mean..." Her eyes narrowed. "You didn't tell him what Xander said, did you?"

"Hey, what I said? What about what you said?" Xander objected strenuously.

"I didn't tell him anything," Willow interrupted. "Why would I want to tell him how infantile two people who are supposed to really care about him, can get? He really doesn't need to hear stuff like that right now."

Buffy scowled, then brightened. "You think maybe the butt thing was a good, then?"

In spite of herself Willow giggled. "I would lean that way, yeah. You got his attention all right...and it was very nice, wasn't it?"

"Uh...yeah," the slayer admitted, squirming while Xander made 'gag me' faces. "All this time and I never knew he had buns like that under all that tweed and corduroy. Who got him into designer jeans anyway, and black ones, for God's sake?"

"Olivia maybe," Xander said idly and didn't see the looks of hostility on both girl's faces. "You know, like supermodels have gotta have clothes sense, right? You gotta admit he's been looking pretty smooth this year...when he's not schlumping around in those sweaters that look like a linebacker borrowed 'em for a month first."

"He looks cute in those sweaters," Willow objected, then looked down at the coffee that had just been placed in front of her when the others stared. "Well he does."

A strange expression momentarily crossed Buffy's face. "Okay, Will, you want to tell us what exactly is going on here?"

"Uh...we're having mochas and Giles is about to start his first set...?" she offered uncomfortably, raising her mug to her lips without looking up.

It worked, at least for the time being. The other two both looked toward the cosy corner in which Giles had settled himself. He'd been tuning the guitar for the last several minutes. Now he shifted the instrument on his lap to a comfortable position to play, and ran his fingers over the strings to signal that he was ready.

Immediately the general clatter and murmuring died away to near silence.

Within just a few bars of his song he had his audience captivated.

Willow tore herself away from watching Giles, to watch her friends as they watched him. It was clear that Xander's envy of the older man was still evident, but even he was subdued by the power of Giles' voice and the obvious appreciation of the crowd. Buffy was staring, her mouth open, eyes wide.

The song wasn't one Willow had heard Giles play before...a Lynard Skynard song she only recognised thanks to her time with Oz. She frowned. The more she listened, the more the lyrics seemed vaguely disturbing. She stole another glance at Buffy and saw the recognition in the other girl's expression.

When Giles was done the crowd cheered and whistled until Giles looked down sheepishly. Willow grinned. It was one of the things she loved best about him...his absolute lack of conceit.

The others had turned back and were looking at her. "It is just a song, isn't it?" Xander asked tentatively. "I mean, he's not thinking about...?"

"Well I don't know why he hasn't," Willow returned pointedly. "It's not like there's anything to keep him here these days. We haven't exactly made him feel needed or wanted for a big long while."

"Some of us less than others," Buffy said uncomfortably and looked up from contemplating the bottom of her coffee mug. "But it is just a song, right?"

Willow rolled her eyes as soft, haunting notes filled the air, and turned back to Giles without answering. The song was one she'd listened to endlessly after Oz left her, wallowing in its melancholy lilt. She held her breath. In her heart she didn't believe anyone else could sing that song the way it needed to be sung...

And then Giles was singing the opening verse. Her eyes slowly widened further and further, as he not only performed the song, he took command of it, conveying the soulful mood exactly and infusing it in every note. Unprepared for the true extent of the ex-watcher's range, she marvelled at the power he was able to project into the lovely, searching lyric.

As he held the final notes of the song, Hallelujah, in the same haunting fashion as his late predecessor, Willow shivered. The whole room was completely hushed. No one even whispered, or clinked a spoon in a cup or coughed.

And then he looked up from the old guitar and for what seemed like an eternity their eyes met and held. In reality it was barely a second, and then Giles was flushing again and grinning as the crowd erupted into boisterous, appreciative applause. Next to her Xander and Buffy were whistling and clapping along with the rest, unaware that their friend was sitting silently in her seat trying to rationalize the warmth that had spread over her entire body.

Giles took a small break to drink some water and stretch then sang Blue Eyes again, much to the delight of the regulars.

To Xander's chagrin, he was forced to admit that Giles was indeed good, and that he'd barely heard the tune the first time. Buffy said very little but when she turned it was obvious that the lyrics and the very real empathy Giles showed for them as he sang had cut deeply; more deeply than Willow expected. Buffy rarely wept; almost never in company, but she could see the moisture glistening in the grey-blue eyes, even as the Slayer shrugged and tried to grin.

"Who knew?" she offered, her tone forced. "He must have been good back when he was in that band. No wonder he loves music so much. I thought all that vinyl was just Giles trying to hang on to his lost youth."

"Not so creepy?" Willow demanded, a part of her rebelling against letting her friend off too easily.

Buffy turned the brightest shade of red Willow could ever remember, and shot a glance at Giles, who was about to start his last number. "Not creepy," she said quietly. "Look, I rag on Giles a lot...I always have...but you know I care about him...what he means to me..."

"Yeah, but does he know?" Xander interjected quietly. "We're both guilty here, but I think you know which one of us has given him the most sleepless nights...the biggest craving for substances for to abuse...sometimes leading to getting himself turned into large green scary things..."

"Xander!" Willow growled.

Buffy shook her head as Giles launched into a request from the audience. "It's okay, Will. Xander's right."

"Well, sure he is, but that doesn't mean he has to be mean about it...oh...sorry."

Buffy frowned and her eyes flashed as the colour rose again. Then she sighed deeply and shrugged before rolling her eyes. "So I deserve it. My bad. Remind me to get you later, okay?"

"I'll make a note," Willow promised.

The two girls giggled at each other as Giles' brought his unplugged version of the Beatles classic, Help, to a close, much to the appreciation of the 'Pump's patrons.

Moments after the applause had died away and the normal hum of activity had returned to the café, Giles arrived at their table and slid in beside Xander.

"Well, that was bracing," he said when no one else spoke.

"Bracing!" Willow squeaked. "Giles, it was wonderful. I didn't know you listened to Jeff Buckley. I love Jeff Buckley."

He chuckled. "Yes, well, one often discovers things unexpectedly. I'd never heard it until quite recently."

Buffy stopped toying self-consciously with her teaspoon and looked up. "Giles, you were great. You should know I was kinda wigged and I ragged on you to the guys when they told me about...you know...the first time...but I didn't know how good you were...I mean you are really good."

His smile widened, lighting up his face and making him look years younger in the sexy clothes, the beaten silver hoop earring and his hair, for once, left to its much tighter natural curl on top.

The same warmth flooded through Willow's body again as she watched him and she ducked her head to hide her burning cheeks.

"Thank you, Buffy. Coming from you, I'm not entirely sure it's a compliment, but I will take it as such until such time as you try to do your callisthenics to my music."

She rolled her eyes. "You're lucky you're over that side of the table Mister, otherwise you'd have such a bruise on your arm tomorrow."

"How fortunate for me," he replied dryly and ordered tea when a waitress passed by. The others asked for repeats of their earlier orders and she sailed away to get them.

"Yeah, Giles, pretty cool man," Xander added when Willow kicked him under the table. He flashed her an irritated glance. "And I'm not jealous...uh...I mean...you were great and I really should go now." He started to rise and Giles let him out. "I have to meet a vengeance demon for ice cream and great sex," he rushed on sarcastically, still glaring at Willow and Buffy. "She might even wear something supermodelish just for me," he added with a flourish and strode off toward the ice cream parlour.

"I don't suppose I want to know what that was all about?" Giles asked, nonplussed.

"Nope," Willow and Buffy said in unison.

Then Buffy looked him up and down again. "You know if you get any more with it, pretty soon you're actually going to be sexy and that's just scary," she teased. "Like how am I going to concentrate on Slaying when my Watcher has cuter buns than my boyfriend?"

Giles chuckled self-consciously. "Silly girl."

"Speaking of boyfriends..." Willow said suddenly.

They all looked toward the front of the cafe. Riley, Forest and Graham were just coming in, obviously off duty now, and probably looking for Buffy.

"Oh," Buffy said, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, "look who's here." She turned back to Giles again. "Sorry," she said, genuine regret in her voice. "I'm glad Will made us come. I am officially no longer wigged by you singing in public," she told him fondly and added very dryly, "I am however scarred for life by my unexpected appreciation of your spectacular derriere."

They all laughed and Buffy slid out of the booth, rolling her eyes and sighing. "I am sorry, guys. They did kinda cover for me. I'm guessing they've been busy and Riley's probably hyped, otherwise he'd have remembered that I was otherwise occupied tonight."

Both of the others spoke at once.

"Fine, go, have a good time."

"No problem."

Buffy smiled again, still reluctant, then shrugged when Riley saw her and called her name, and went to him.

"And then there were two," Willow said whimsically. "I should let you go home. You probably have a million things to do..."

Giles smiled gently. "Not really," he confided. "Why do you think I started singing here? It certainly wasn't in the interest of pursuing a new career."

"Oh," she said, then smiled tentatively. "Then can I finish my mocha first?"

He downed the last of his tea. "If you like. I take it you aren't exactly burdened with plans for your evening either?" he asked in a kindly voice.

"Oh, no...I mean, this...here...is my plans for the evening...are my plans. I came see you," she finished in a small voice.

"And I'm very flattered," he said softly. "I saw you here last time I played, tucked away in a booth by yourself, clutching one of your interminable mochas and hoping I wouldn't see you."

Her eyes widened. "H-How did you know? I didn't want to get in the way...you said this was grown-up stuff and I thought, well, I'm nineteen. I'm grown up. I'm allowed to be here." Her eyes dropped to her coffee. "Then, when I saw you come in, I chickened out."

"Willow, I'm flattered that you like my work enough to want come here. It's just that my whole life seems to revolve around the three of you and this was a way of finding a balance...something I can do where I can be myself..."

She looked up at him. "Giles, you've always been able to be yourself with us—" She stopped when he shook his head.

"On the contrary," he told her. "With the three of you I have had to constantly be on guard in almost every aspect of my life, from simple things like my language and my temper, to complex issues like familiarity and decency."

Willow frowned. "Decency? You're the most decent man I've ever known," she declared.

He smiled. "It wasn't a matter of what the three of you thought. It was a matter of propriety...a middle-aged man spending so much time, night and day, with three teenagers. It isn't done, Willow...and wouldn't have occurred at all if it wasn't for Buffy's destiny."

"But we're adults now. I know we don't act like it sometimes...but we really are."

"I know," he acknowledged gently, "but you're all still so young...and you have your own lives to lead. It just happens that right now I don't exactly have a life...and it's taken me until recently to find the motivation to actually do something about it."

"Singing? You love it, don't you?"

He nodded, watching the way the witch-green eyes glistened in the warm glow of the café as she stared back at him, the way her skin had goose pimpled above the line of her pretty blue peasant blouse as the balmy evening gave way to surprisingly damp night air, the coolness invading the outer edges of the open air café, where their booth was located.

"I always have. You're cold. Perhaps we should go?" He almost smiled at the disappointment that chased across the mobile features despite her valiant attempt to smile and nod.

"Sure," she said with studied cheerfulness. "I should go back to the dorm, anyway. I've got an assignment due by Friday."

"Oh, well, certainly." He contrived to look even more disappointed than she had. "I rather hoped you might join me for supper."

"You haven't eaten yet?" she asked, immediately concerned, despite her stomach doing flip-flops at the very idea of having supper alone with him.

"You have?" he replied gently.

"Well...no. I wasn't hungry before and I kinda figured we'd all go for ice cream...all us ki...young people, I mean."

Giles laughed. "I'm well aware that you're a young woman now, Willow. You don't have to remind me and you don't need to spare my feelings. I harbour no aspirations to share ice cream sundaes with Xander and Anya."

"What you said," Willow agreed, concentrating on her breathing and resisting the urge to grin like a Cheshire cat. "Where did you have in mind...for supper, I mean?"

"Truth be told I have a perfectly good ratatouille simmering in the oven at home."

"You were expecting someone?" she asked, unaccountably disappointed.

He shook his head. "I freeze what I can't eat for nights when I can't be bothered cooking...which is rather a lot of them, I'm afraid, although I'm not entirely sure how successfully ratatouille freezes..."

Willow brightened again. "Can I get anything for us to have with it?"

"Well I don't have any dessert in the house..."

Her eyes sparkled. "I know the perfect thing."

"Not exactly up to the standard of your ratatouille," Willow observed as they came out of the warm, aromatic store and wandered down street.

Giles sniffed the generous sack of warm jelly donuts she was carrying with visible greed. "Oh sod the ratatouille," he grinned. "It's been a dog's age since I've bothered with donuts."

"Yeah, well, I don't guess you'd bother much for one person, and we haven't exactly been beating your door down lately," Willow said quietly.

He snorted. "Even when you lot do invade the place, all you do is clean me out. I don't think any of you will ever grasp the concept of bringing something with you. It isn't as though I have a wealthy benefactor to help support your rather voracious appetites."

"Oh, like you're a sparrow when it comes to food," Willow shot back, "and besides it's not Buffy and me who eat everything that's not still moving...it's demon girl and her Viking stud."

Giles all but guffawed. "I beg your pardon?"

"Anya and Xander. I never knew anyone who could eat like those two. In some ways they really are made for each other."

He frowned. She was shivering. "Willow, why on earth didn't you bring a jacket tonight?" he asked softly, stopping to put down his guitar case and take off his leather jacket.

It was redolent of cologne, leather and Giles and it still radiated his body warmth. She hugged it to herself as he picked up the guitar case and shifted the donuts to his other hand.

"You'll catch a cold," she said as they moved more quickly down the street.

"Better me than you. At least I won't miss any classes."

"I could bring you chicken soup," she offered brightly.

"I'd rather have brandy," he said dryly, then stepped onto the road suddenly, his arm outstretched.

Willow blinked as the cab slid to a halt. "How did you do that? They never stop at this time of night."

Giles shrugged as he handed her into the car and climbed in after her.

They were turning into Giles' street when the cab suddenly slid to a halt.

"Is there a problem?" Giles asked, immediately on edge, his hand sliding unobtrusively inside the jacket she was wearing and retrieving a stake from the inside pocket. She instinctively put her hands in the side pockets and found a small wooden cross in one, and a scent-sized bottle of holy water in the other.

"No sir. Just waiting for someone."

Giles tensed. "We didn't ask you to stop and we didn't agree to share the cab with anyone."

"Sorry, but I have my orders," the driver drawled and turned, its predictably hideous game-face still making them jump despite their suspicions.

They immediately lunged for their doors, which were also predictably locked. Giles hefted the guitar case, which was between them, and used the narrow end to smash his window. He bashed out all the jagged bits with it before handing Willow, thanking the gods that she was wearing jeans, through the window, followed by the guitar case. At that point he was forced to kick the vampire in the face as it lunged over the seat.

He'd drawn himself over halfway out, turning to face the cab as he pulled his butt and legs out, when the others arrived. He made it to Willow's side just as she threw the tiny amount of Holy water in the face of one vampire and whipped out the little cross to ward off the others.

The battle immediately descended into a hand-to-hand tussle of street fighting and fisticuffs. It was obvious that they were hunting in a group because they were newly made and inexperienced. Giles wondered in passing, as he was thrown across the grass to where Willow was wielding his guitar case like an oversized club, what had happened to their sire or sires, to have left them blundering about like this.

At that moment Willow swung the case viciously and connected with a vampire head. Giles threw her the stake as the other two came after him again. Before the downed vampire could shake the stars from its eyes, she staked it and watched the dust fall before rushing to his side as he now grappled with the other pair, a man and a woman, both smaller than he and obviously not much older than Willow when they were turned.

Only their superior strength had prevented the Ripper from kicking the crap out of them. Giles could feel the rage building as they pinned him and the male tried to reach his throat, neither of the vampires aware that the redhead had survived.

She lunged, putting all her bodyweight into driving the stake through the back of the male, who was about to sink his teeth into Giles' neck. His arm freed, Giles growled in disgust, grasped the female and flung her over his head. She landed in a sprawled heap on her back only to have Willow stake her before she could gather enough wits to get up.

At that moment the cab drove off at high speed.

Breathing hard and sobbing a little, Willow rushed to the side of a still prone Giles.

"Giles! Are you okay? They didn't...?" But there were no wounds on his neck, and no visible blood.

"I'm all right, Willow. Just getting bloody old. My back feels like I've been slammed by one of those Neanderthal wrestlers on the television."

She giggled and helped him to his feet, giggling even more at his grunting and groaning and thinly disguised swearing.

"I've been reading Gaelic for three years, Giles. I know the words. You can swear in English, you know. We've already established that I'm not a kid any more, and I spent a lot of time around the Dingoes. You of all people should know that musos are born potty mouths."

He was still leaning on her, and the contact was doing terrible things to her body. She was afraid she'd hear the hammering of her heart or notice how ragged her breathing was, but he didn't seem to, though neither had he removed the arm across her shoulders.

"Besides, it's not so bad. It isn't often we get to tell Buffy we dusted more vamps than she probably has all week...and we didn't have to pay for the cab."

In spite of himself Giles laughed, his arm tightening around her. "You are the most extraordinary ch...girl...climbing out of cab windows, fighting vampires and rescuing old crocks like me without even turning a hair."

...And that was quite possibly the worst thing he could have said because Willow was a past master at disguising her real feelings, as Xander discovered the last time they visited a morgue, along with Cordelia, to prove that Oz hadn't murdered anyone.

Giles caught her as she started to fall, swearing as his bruised back jarred, but clutching her close nonetheless, and was relieved moments later to feel her finding her own feet again.

When she drew back she had no colour to speak of and her eyes reflected the reaction that had set in. "Sorry," she said shakily. "I guess maybe I was just a little scared."

"Nonsense," he said immediately. "You were wonderful. I'm just relieved I don't have to carry you home, guitar case and—" he looked around. "Oh, bollocks..."

"Giles?"

"The bloody vampire got the donuts," he growled.

Willow started to giggle. After a beat he joined her and their giggles turned to full blooded guffaws. Moments later she had her arms wrapped around him, and he around her. She never knew quite exactly how it happened, but it had been instinctive and natural and they hugged each other tightly, still laughing.

When their laughter finally subsided, Willow found that she really didn't want to lift her head from his warm chest, that she wanted his arms to stay where they were forever, and found herself in dire peril of bursting into tears when he did remove them, the cold night air rushing to chill her where his warmth had enveloped her moments before.

"Let's get you home," he muttered hoarsely and picked up the guitar case.

It wasn't far and the living room of the apartment was a welcoming site when Giles flipped on the light. A moment later he went upstairs with the guitar and came down in a warm, thick sweater, another over his arm.

"You can take that jacket off now, Willow. This should be much warmer and, one would hope, rather more comfortable.

Willow hung up the jacket reluctantly. It had been kind of like wearing Giles and she was loath to part with it. The clean sweater, on the other hand, bore almost no trace of anything remotely reminiscent of him. She drew it over her head, surprised how soft the cream coloured cable knit felt as she pulled it down.

"I've never seen you in this."

Giles shrugged as he headed for the kitchen. "Too good to muck about the house in and not really the thing these days for wearing out. Perhaps if I was going skiing, or hiking in the country..." he added dryly.

Willow rolled her eyes. "I'd like to see you on skis..."

A snort was the only response she got from the kitchen.

He would look very cute in ski gear. She dragged her thoughts back from the direction they were headed in. "Can I help with anything?"

"Not really. You'll be happy to know, however, that the meal survived. It seems I had it down a little too low, but in half an hour we should have a perfectly serviceable ratatouille. Pity you're not old enough yet for that bottle of chardonnay in the refrigerator," he grunted.

Willow went to the kitchen and sniffed the delicious aroma hungrily. "It's table wine, Giles. The French have wine with their meals right from when kids are small. Open it for yourself and I'll just sneak a glass here and there."

"I don't think—"

"Giles, I dusted three vamps tonight. I almost got killed. You almost got killed...we lost the donuts...I don't think there's any crime happening here if I share a bottle of Chardonnay with you."

He tried to scowl, tried to look fierce, but in the end he chuckled. "I hate it when you make more sense than I can counter without looking a right churl."

She shook her hair from her eyes and grinned radiantly. Again, their eyes held as they had in the Espresso pump. Willow swallowed and her dazzling smile calmed to a warm glow.

"Will you ever see me as anything but a child?" she asked softly, amazed that she'd actually spoken aloud, and unnerved when she felt the colour run up into her face.

His soft, sea-green eyes flashed. "Willow, you haven't already been at the brandy?" he teased.

She giggled.

"You're not a child, love, any more than the other two are, but to me you are all so young, so alive..."

"And you're so old and decrepit," she snorted. "Giles, you are...don't you know how sexy you are? How...not old?"

His eyes widened in surprise. "Willow?"

She stepped closer to him. "You're not old," she said softly.

Again that tension crackled between them. Giles reached out and caressed the unruly red hair from her face, pushing it back with gentle fingertips.

"Old enough," he said, a mixture of regret and wistfulness in his voice.

Willow traced his jaw before she became truly conscious of what she was doing, and felt the tremor that went through him. It matched the one that went through her.

"G-Giles...?"

He stepped back, dropped his hands to his side. "Sorry."

"No, I'm sorry," she said sadly. "I thought...never mind." She turned and ran from the kitchen, but Giles had caught up by the time she reached the front door and was fumbling with the knob.

He turned her and held her shoulders as he bent his head to look into her eyes. "I thought I'd frightened you," he said very gently. "Please don't go."

She looked up very slowly, her great emerald pools searching his soft jade ones. "What...? I mean...you're not mad?"

He shook his head. "You...?"

Moisture made the green eyes glisten like polished stone. "I'm not mad either," she told him tremulously and tried to smile a little. "But..."

It was a 'but' full of wistfulness and questions, none of which were lost on Giles.

"What do you want, Willow?" he asked finally, gently.

His nearness, his scent, and the warmth that radiated from him, were too much. "I want you..." she whispered.

He stared at her for an interminable time, rubbed the bridge of his nose, put his glasses on, then whipped them off again and put them away, as though annoyed with himself.

"I don't...w-what...H-how...when?" He managed finally.

A light of amusement blended with the concern and the fear in her eyes.

"When...forever..." she said emphatically. "How? When I saw you in the 'Pump the first time, I realised some other stuff going on in my life was so not what I want...and I realised that the reason it's not what I want is because I want you, because that crush I had on you when I was sixteen was my way of not dealing with how much I—"

Her eyes widened and she turned away, suddenly mortified at what she'd already said, and what she'd almost admitted, wishing she could slide through the floor to somewhere dark and hide there forever.

For a moment there was silence, then Giles gently took her by the shoulders and turned her to face him, tilted her chin up so she was looking at him. His smile was tender.

"I take it that was the 'what'?" he teased and watched her already red face turn crimson again as she nodded. "Are you mad?"

He shook his head. "Flattered, perhaps. Never angry."

"Only...flattered?" she ventured, figuring she had nothing left to lose.

He caressed her burning cheek with the backs of his fingers. "I care a great deal for you, Willow. More, probably, than you'll ever know, but I could never take advantage of your trust...for exactly that reason."

"Sure you can," she squeaked, then cleared her throat. "I mean I'm not sixteen any more, Giles. I'm...me. Remember, I was there through all the yucky stuff, just like you. I haven't been a child for a long time...and I'm not your responsibility. I'm your friend."

"My friend," he repeated, taking her face gently in his large hands.

She nodded within them. "Your adult friend," she repeated.

Giles sighed and then nodded. "My friend, whom I've wanted to do this to since she almost drove me mad at Thanksgiving."

A rush of heat spread through Willow's body when she realized what he was going to do.

The kiss was tender, seeking, loving. She didn't want it to end.

When Giles finally raised his head, it was his turn to be flushed.

"I made you crazy?" Willow asked breathlessly. "Me?"

He half grinned at her ingenuousness. "You and your bloody India—Indigenous persons."

"Yeah, well I still think I was right and you were wrong," she retorted. "You were such a—" but she didn't get any further because she was being kissed again, this time very thoroughly. Her arms slid around his neck, and his lifted her off the ground, crushing her against him. It went on endlessly, neither of them wanting to break the spell.

When they finally did, because breathing was becoming just too difficult, Giles let her down gently and they looked at each other, both panting, both faces glowing.

"I love you," Willow said softly.

After a moment of stunned silence, he laughed, a tender, breathless laugh.

"Sweet Willow...I'm too old, too worn out and not nearly good enough for you, love."

"Good enough for me?" The look of disbelief on her face was genuine. "You're better than good enough, you're perfect," she rushed on. "I don't care about your age, or any of that stuff. We've been friends for so long, none of that matters! All that matters is..." The colour drained from her face. "You aren't...Giles you aren't just humouring me, trying not to hurt my feelings...?"

His amused expression turned to one of concern and he stepped forward to take her hands in his. "Willow, I would never hurt you. Of course I'm not humouring you. You've just told me that I'm the most important thing in the world to you and I have no idea how I can be that person...I-I just...I'm not. I'm just a bloody old librarian going nowhere, while you are a beautiful, gifted young woman with her whole life ahead of her. You don't need me holding you back..."

The colour returned to Willow's face. "Then...it isn't just me...it's you too? I mean ...Giles, just kiss me again!" she finished breathlessly.

He couldn't stop himself. He didn't want to. Her mouth was soft and sweet and the kiss, like the one before it, electrified his soul. Their bodies merged and they sought in each other what they couldn't say in words. The kiss became an exploration, a proposal and an acceptance, Willow's hands sliding down his sweater-clad back to rest on his firm buttocks as his mirrored hers, their groans lost in the deepening passion of their kiss.

It was Giles who lifted his head first, his eyes burning with desire. "Willow?" he rasped.

She nodded, her beautiful eyes as bright as his, and put her arms around his neck as he swept her off her feet and carried her up the stairs.

When they reached the bed Giles looked at her and she shifted, letting him know she wanted to be put down. When he did she looked up at him and lifted her arms. The sweater came off swiftly.

Then they stopped again and looked at each other after Giles removed his, his eyes widening, as Willow began to unbutton his shirt. When she reached his belt she tugged it out and finished unbuttoning it so that it fell open.

"Oh God," she said softly. "You are so..." then gasped as he lifted her blouse and drew her against his chest so that her small breasts were pressed against the heat of him, tilted her chin up and kissed her again, very gently. Ripples of desire coursed through her body and ran up her spine as she moved against the gold and grey hairs that tapered from his chest down into the black jeans, her arms sliding under the shirt and around him as he lingered over the kiss.

And then the top was gone, and his shirt with it. Willow's heart was beating so fast she gave a little gasp when his fingers slid inside her jeans while he undid the button, and then a shiver as the zipper was lowered and they slid down to cup her very softly.

"Ohh," she sighed and leaned against him as they moved slowly for a few more moments, before drawing her jeans off her hips so that they fell to the ground. "Giles," she moaned, her fingers fumbling with his belt until it was finally undone, then the button, and finally the zipper.

And then, for a beat, she stopped, the enormity of what she was doing suddenly almost too much. Her body trembled with her need for him, her love for him...but the wave of doubt threatened to overwhelm her desire...

"Willow?"

She looked up at him slowly. "I want you so much," she whispered, "but I'm scared."

His expression was a little puzzled, a lot concerned. "But you've been with...?" he asked uncertainly.

"Oh, yeah," she said quickly. "Me and Oz, for a long time. That's not...that's not what I mean. Giles, everything's going to be different...between us...after all this time...and even though I want it so bad...it's still scary."

She couldn't bring herself to mention Tara, probably never would, now that she knew that she and Tara would never truly have worked.

"Too scary?" Giles asked, a dark cloud passing over his features the moment he'd said it.

Willow couldn't stop the moisture that pricked her eyes at the bleakness in his. "Not with you," she whispered and slid her arms around him. "Never with you."

After a beat his arms closed tightly around her and she felt his lips against her hair. "Are you sure?"

In reply she kissed the point on his chest at the end of his sternum and drew her hands back to finish what she started, slipping her fingers inside the open zipper. He wasn't hard any more but she felt his response to her touch. She pushed the pants off his hips and stroked the soft fabric of his black briefs, her fingers exploring and caressing the shape of him until the ribbed material strained to her touch.

"I'm sure," she whispered, touching her lips to his chest again and trailing them down his stomach, over his navel until he drew a sharp breath when her mouth played over the now rigid bulge in his underwear.

Then, suddenly, he was lifting her and laying her on the bed, drawing her silk undies off expertly and throwing them away. Then his hands gently caressed her thighs open and it was Willow's turn to gasp as he found ways to pleasure her that she didn't know were possible.

As she groaned and arched for the dozenth time, her breath coming in short pants, she reflected on the difference between being made love to by a boy...and a man.

"Please, Giles," she rasped as he brought her close.

"Yes love?" he asked, smiling as he raised himself over her.

"Don't tease," she pouted, spoiling it by grinning, then moaned raggedly as he pressed himself against her. "Oh God, Giles..."

"No teasing," he said gently.

Willow gasped again and slid her arms around his chest, lifting her hips and curling her thighs around him as he sank into her, both of them crying out as they were joined. The exquisiteness of their union forced short, ragged, breaths from each of them as they moved together, Giles bending to capture her lips for a moment as he made love to her.

It was almost more than Willow's senses could cope with. Giles was making love to her, filling her in a way she'd never known before, slowly, tenderly worshipping her and sending her body into a sensual maelstrom of ecstasy. She moaned with pleasure as his strokes increased and shifted to trying and take more of him, opening herself as she never had to Oz, for all that she had loved him.

This was different...this was surrender...

Giles gasped as he felt her move, felt her thighs open even more before he buried himself so deeply inside her that he felt himself hitting her cervix. Her gasping, demanding moans told him how much she wanted him, and inflamed his own desire so that they rose to each other, straining and thrusting until Willow suddenly began to writhe, clutching at his back as her body contorted.

"Giles...!" she gasped as her orgasm pushed him over into his own sensual abyss and he arched into her, shuddering and crying out in ecstasy as they clung to each other.

It was some time before they both quieted, their breathing still ragged as Giles finally raised his head and their eyes met again. She was looking at him with such love, such trust that he slowly reached out and touched her face with trembling fingers, tracing her jaw, her soft lips, and caressing her brow, unable to form words.

"I love you so much," she whispered when she saw the depth of the emotion in his eyes.

They grew warm and glistened before he bent his head and brushed his lips against hers. "And I you, " he told her hoarsely, brokenly, "my beautiful little love." Then they were holding each other fiercely, jubilantly, shifting so that they were tangled together, Giles on his side, enveloping her in his protective arms.

When the first golden fingers of morning light crept through the window, it found the two of them still holding each other, his face still buried in her hair, hers still pressed against his chest.

And when she moved restlessly in her dreams and whimpered into the warmth of his body, he stirred and looked down at the precious form in his arms, smiled contentedly to himself, gathered her closer and closed his eyes again...


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