Possession
By Jacqui

Title: Possession (for want of anything creative, or halfway decent)
Author: Jacqui
wily_one24@yahoo.com.au
Rating: PG, you watch the show, you can read this.
Spoilers: None, really.
Disclaimer: Joss you own them, so close your eyes while I play (somewhat) nicely.
Comments: B/G implications, W/X implications… and that’s all they are, implications, damn it.
Feedback: Yes please.


The creature loomed above them menacingly, it’s tail swung around faster than any of them thought possible and Willow gasped in pain as she hit the far wall. Xander raced to her, Giles turned back and looked the thing straight in it’s three yellow eyes. The words he mumbled were ancient and old, and in a language that few people in the world remembered existed. That was fine, he only needed the demon to hear and understand them. Buffy kept it at bay, swinging the hefty sword back and forth, occasionally making contact, keeping it from truly hurting them, but her strength would not last forever.

"Giles? Any time now, okay?"

His words became louder and he felt the all too familiar surge of power within him, if he wasn’t careful he could lose control. Hurriedly he chanted, taking care not to mispronounce anything, a mistake here would be less than fortunate. The air swirled and eddied, dredging up litter and debris from nearby and throwing it around their heads. They squinted in the force of the wind.

Before he knew it, all was quiet again. In relief, he watched the demon fall and turned back to Willow. She lay, breathing hard on the ground, she’d been winded, but that was about it. Giles crouched by her, making sure she was okay.

"Wow, issues much?"

Xander’s words distracted him and he turned to see Buffy demolish the still moving body, if one could call it that. Her arm heaved the sword up and down repeatedly, her anger at the thing attacking Willow obvious. She was too engrossed to see the gray mist creep out and encircle her ankle.

"Buffy! No! It’s dying, leave it alone."

"It’s not dead." She grunted back as she lifted a sword high and then plunged. "Yet."

"Damn it, Buffy, get away from there!"

A blast of blue-white light scorched their eyes and a blistering wave of heat washed over them. When they looked back, the demon was most definitely dead, its body shrunken and shriveled, fast becoming less than solid.

"Is… is it dead now?" Xanders voice shook.

"Buffy?" Willow’s voice was small and weak.

Giles didn’t speak, however, as he stared at the limp form that lay on the ground. All his curses were said inside, deep and damning. How could he be so foolish as to let this happen? He walked over, slowly, and lifted Buffy into his arms. She drooped limply, like a rag doll, her body loose and seemingly shapeless as if it had no bone structure left.

"In the car, both of you."

His voice left no room for argument, it was cold and hard, and they followed his orders. Xander sat in the front passenger seat, next to him, and he set Buffy in the back, in Willow’s care. The petite red head cradled the listless form and brushed hair from its forehead, soothing what, she was not sure.

When he stopped outside the boy’s house, Xander made as if to refuse to get out. Giles just looked at him, his eyes would have spoken volumes if they weren’t clouded with a worry and pain that scared Xander more than he liked to admit. Giles was their steady, calm, no panic guy. If he was panicking, there must be something seriously wrong.

"We don’t have time to argue." The sigh that interrupted his words seemed to come from a bottomless pit. Though not as hard and cold as his previous words, Xander knew he wouldn’t argue with Giles. "I can’t take Buffy home like this, Joyce wouldn’t be able to handle it, and you, Xander, may just do more harm than good."

Xander got out and mouthed the words ‘call me’ to them, before glancing at the form of Buffy who had begun to whimper. He let his shoulders droop and turned away. Giles felt like a heel, the boy was only worried about Buffy, after all. But it was that deep emotion that may make Xander a hindrance rather than a help. Willow’s voice came from the back as he started the car again.

"It’s bad, isn’t it? Whatever it is."

"I need to know, really, are you up to this? It’s going to get… well, ugly isn’t the word, but it will have to do. If you don’t think you can handle it, tell me now."

The fact that he hadn’t answered her question, and the quiet, forceful way he spoke scared her. If he had come right out and told her the worst, Willow would be more at ease, but as it was, she felt her nerves begin to stretch and she was getting the strangest vibes from Buffy. They made her tingle, and not in a good way. She gulped, but nodded.

"That thing, that demon," His voice shook with anger and bitterness. "It must have transferred when she struck the sword in its heart. We’ll have to fight it out of her."

"Transferred? Fight it out? You mean like an exorcism?" Willow’s brain flashed to that time, a few summers ago, when the school had been haunted by ghosts. "I’m with Cordelia on this one. I saw that movie too, and she was right, even the priests died!"

"This isn’t a movie, Willow."

He stopped the car just outside his front door, not bothering with any foolish notions of drive ways, and raced around to carry the whimpering form to his room. Willow fluttered by his arm as he lay her down on his bed.

"Stay with her, I have to get a few things."

Willow nodded and knelt by the bed. Buffy lay, her eyes glazed over and shiny, her voice barely audible as it whimpered pitifully. She didn’t know what to do, she’d never really seen Buffy like this, helpless and suffering. Helpless, that was a word that could describe the way she felt herself, right now, trying to soothe her friend and knowing that no hand brushing away her hair, or running smoothly over her arms, would ease Buffy in the slightest. But the whimpering stopped.

"Willow?"

The voice was Buffy’s, only higher in pitch. Willow looked up to see a clear, focused Buffy looking at her. Relief flooded over her like a welcome blanket.

"You stayed with me, Will?"

"Yeah, we all…"

"I knew you would. You’ve always been the best of them." Buffy’s words confused her, they rang some small alarm bells in Willow’s mind. One of Buffy’s hands came to rest on her arm. "Come here."

Willow tried to pull away, something was wrong, Buffy’s skin was reaching fever pitch, and it burned her. The hand closed tighter on the sensitive flesh above her elbow and she winced.

"Buffy, you’re hurting me!"

"Am I?" The confusion that furrowed her brow seemed false to Willow. "I don’t mean to. Only come here, closer Will, I want to tell you something."

It began to hurt beyond anything Willow had imagined, the fingers that pinched cruelly, doubled with the fiery heat of her skin. She felt as if Buffy’s hand was branding her and it took all of her strength to push away, propelling herself backwards.

"Stop it! What’s the matter with you?"

Buffy sprang up to a squatting position, bouncing lightly on her feet and hands, looking as if she were about to strike. That wasn’t what scared Willow the most though, it was the look in her eyes, hatred and hunger, venom and spite. They were tinged with green.

"Willow. Pretty little Willow. Stay still, you’re not making this easy."

"That’s not you, Buffy."

The form fell back to rest on her ankles, a sudden look of pain and misery crossing her features.

"It hurts Will, it hurts so much. I can barely stand it."

It broke Willow’s heart, so much so she took a step forward, reaching out to stroke the top of Buffy’s head. It was all it took.

* * * *

Giles stood in the kitchen, rapidly emptying ice cube after ice cube into the container. He hoped they wouldn’t have to use them, that somehow he could stop the process before it got that far. He hoped, but knew in his heart that it was inevitable, he’d known the moment he’d seen that gray mist touch her skin. If he lost Buffy now, he didn’t know what he’d do. A silent prayer was said, pleading for the strength to do what must be done, and for Willow too. The girl was innocent, but probably the only one who could help him in this. She’d need an inner fortitude she hadn’t called on before. As he cracked the last cube, he heard it.

"Giles?!" Followed by a loud crash.

Damn! He’d hoped to have a little bit more time than this. He shoved the container roughly back in the freezer and grabbed the supplies he’d gathered on the bench. His feet thundered as he ran up the stairs.

The door to his room slammed shut moments before he got to it. When he reached out, it was locked. This surprised him, mainly because he didn’t have a lock on his bedroom door. His shoulder slammed hard against the wood and still it would not budge.

"Willow? Buffy? Can you hear me?"

"Giles?"

Willow, it was Willow’s voice. Scared, small and weak, struggling, but still Willow.

"Willow? Willow, the door’s jammed. I can’t get it open. Are you okay? Is she…?"

A loud crash, some feminine swearing, and the sounds of a struggle ensued.

"Giles?" Willow sounded extremely scared, worn out and scared. "I really don’t think it’s Buffy anymore. You have to do something."

"I’m trying!" He nearly dislocated his shoulder when he tried the door again. "Can you open the door from your side?"

"Just a…" Giles heard the sound of skin slapping skin, a growl, and then a thud. "… minute."

There was a scrambling just on the other side of the door, accompanied by several grunts, growls and gasps of pain and surprise. Then the knob turned and the door opened inwards an inch. It was all Giles needed to push his way through. He gasped at what he saw.

Willow sat, leaning against the wall, out of breath. A large gash ran down the side of her cheek and blood flowed from it, a purple-green bruise was beginning to flower in her right eye. Her eyes looked to him in desperation, her mouth hanging open. Her shirt hung off her left shoulder, torn.

Buffy, or at least, the form of Buffy lay momentarily stunned on the floor, inches from Willow. He raised his eyebrows at Willow, who shrugged and answered in a jittery voice.

"I… uh… I broke your lamp. Sorry."

Giles had to stop himself from giving an hysterical little giggle.

"Here, help me get her back on the bed before she wakes up."

"Will it… will it get worse?"

He didn’t answer her, just grabbed an elbow and gestured for her to do the same, they heaved the body back on to the bed just as her eyes opened and glistened with a thing akin to delight when they focused on him.

That Giles hadn’t answered her, said more than she wanted to know. She should have known that Giles’ version of ugly hadn’t meant just a momentary session of wig. Willow shuddered as she saw the look in Buffy’s eyes.

"Giles?" Her voice was small and a little too sweet. It sounded false. He didn’t answer. "You’re going to help me, right? You won’t let it win?"

He closed his eyes, not wanting to listen, he knew the voice wasn’t Buffy’s, he knew it. All his senses told him that, they were buzzing at a mile a minute, electrified by the demon. But his mind was failing, it heard the plea that sounded too much like Buffy to ignore. Damn the thing, it knew his weakness and would exploit it.

"You can’t let it win, Giles, you can’t let it."

Pain, she sounded so much like she was in pain, that his grip on her arm weakened and he made to bend over her, to smooth away her hair and tell her it would be okay. He wanted to make it all better. Willow’s voice broke through his thoughts and brought him back to reality.

"Giles, don’t!"

He looked down and saw the green tinge of her eyes, grinning up at him, her mouth was twisted into an evil grimace. Giles shuddered and turned to get the bag of supplies he’d dropped in the doorway. He gestured for Willow to join him. She did, with a backwards glance at the form on the bed.

"This is scaring me, Giles."

"We’ll fix it." He sounded less confident than he’d hoped. "Whatever we have to do, we’ll get her back."

A growl sounded from behind them and Giles fell to the floor when a figure jumped on top of him. He felt his head hit the ground with a thud, and a hand picked it up, only to drop it harder on the floor again. Willow screamed in surprise and then came forward to pull the figure off him. Together they managed to propel her backwards.

He landed on top of her on the bed, his hands pinning her wrists to the mattress, his feet holding fast to her ankles, his body pressing hers down. She bucked and twisted, growling and grunting at him, her face inches from her own.

When she found she couldn’t move, the figure closed her eyes and a wind blew up in the room, blowing papers and books in circles, moving furniture and disturbing the frames that sat on the wall. Giles screamed at Willow to get the book from the bag. She rushed to place it in front of his face. With all his focus, he forced his mind to turn the pages to the one he wanted and began to memorize the words in front of him.

"Willow? Get the candles, lay them in a pentagram around the bed."

"Gi…?"

"Do it now!"

Willow ran to the bag and began to dispense the candles as told, somehow she knew instinctively which color to place where, and that the golden one should lay at their heads. As she lit the match over the first one, she felt a force knock her sideways.

"Don’t do that, Bitch!"

She shook at the sound of Buffy’s voice, the bitterness and anger. But Giles’ voice followed, assuring her, telling her not to listen, it was hard though, not to hear the words coming from her best friend’s mouth. Willow sat up again and lit another match, this time she was ready for the blow and kept her ground long enough to light the candle. The flame hissed and a light exploded before her eyes, the wick took on a life of its own.

"You don’t know what you’re doing! You’ll be sorry."

"Hurry Willow." Giles sounded more desperate than she’d heard him before.

"I’m, trying Giles." She was near tears.

When she bent down next to the third candle, lit match in hand, she heard a loud screech of wood against wood, and turned to see the bed coming straight for her. She managed to touch flame to wick before jumping out of the way. Just as the flame exploded into a bright light, the bed stopped, unable to go further. Willow saw that once the flames were lit, the demon’s power was encased. She hurried to the other two, lighting the golden candle last. By the time they were lit, Willow herself had gained more scratches and wounds than she liked to count. A scream, more deep and guttural, and primal than Willow had ever heard, rose in the room.

"Are we hurting her?"

"No." He sounded tired and small. As tired as anyone can sound when they’re physically restraining a demon. "It’s not…"

"Her." Willow filled in for him, finding the smallest piece of comfort in the fact that it wasn’t really Buffy suffering this.

"Us." He corrected, his voice sounding extremely pained. "It’s not us that’s hurting her. Sprinkle those herbs, in a circle."

She did as she was told automatically, his words bouncing around her head. So she is feeling this? Does she know what’s going on? Gods, she hoped not. Could she do this? Could she stand to finish this ritual knowing that it was hurting Buffy so much? She wasn’t sure.

"Now come here, say these words with me."

Willow came to kneel at the head of the bed, she could see Giles’ face, red and straining. When she got close enough to read the words in the book, she looked up and gasped. She saw teeth marks on his right cheek, blood oozing out, he looked at her as if to say, never mind, get on with it.

"Giles? Why all this? Why can’t you just say the ritual you said at the docks?"

"Because," He grunted. "That was a ritual to bind the demon in the host body so it would die with it. At the moment, I’d prefer to break the demon from Buffy’s body, and I’d really prefer it if she didn’t die."

"Okay then."

She leant over the book, which was now facing her, and cursed as she saw the latin words. She reached out and grasped Giles’ wrists, and Buffy’s. Her and Giles began to chant the words, the winds in the room picked up and more objects were tossed. Willow felt herself rise from the floorboards and nearly broke the words. She willed herself downwards with as much energy as she could without stopping the chant.

Suddenly the form beneath Giles stopped thrashing about and became very still. A soft and honeyed voice rose.

"You’re really getting a kick out of this, aren’t you watcher-man?"

Willow glanced at Giles’ face, he closed his eyes and wouldn’t look up. She suspected that he was desperately trying to close his ears as well. They spoke the words louder.

"You’ve thought about this, haven’t you?" Giles felt the hips under him shift slightly. "I’ve seen you watching me. You want it, don’t you?"

Giles faltered in his chanting and the bed rocked, laughter broke from the form.

"You’ll never win. You’ll never finish the ritual."

Willow looked up again and saw, from Giles’ look, that yes, they’d have to start again. She looked down, breathed in deep and they began to chant. Buffy tilted her head back and glanced at the red head who was fervently speaking the words.

"And you? You think those words have any meaning? They’re not a religion, they won’t replace the faith you’ve lost. The faith you’ve lost in your parents, in the good world around you. There is nothing to believe in. They won’t save you."

The words cut a little too deep to the bone. Willow hadn’t thought about it before, hadn’t really ever known why she’d so desperately needed to believe, to find solace in the hypnotic art of wicca. But she realized that Buffy must have seen it, must have known. She breathed harder around her words.

"Do you think that swapping one set of words for another is enough? No amount of belief will make others believe in you. No one believes in you, lost little girl. You think these words obey you? They obey him, they respect him. As it’s always been."

Willow felt her defenses break down, crumbling into dust, her breathing came in ragged gasps and she struggled to keep the words up. Giles’ hands tensed beneath hers and she realized he was trying to send a message of comfort to her. She looked into his eyes and saw him pleading with her, to ignore, not to believe, to stay on track.

"You need us, Willow, but how much do you think we need you? We could do just as easily, if not better, without you. Don’t you ever get tired of being a burden? Of getting in our way?"

Willow knew it wasn’t Buffy, she knew it couldn’t be her. But it sounded too much like her for comfort, and the words were too painful. The sobs came unbidden and the chanting was broken once more. The laughter was longer and louder this time.

Giles and Willow looked at each other, and the message was clear. Don’t let her get to you, don’t let the words mean anything, look at my eyes and ignore the rest. That’s what they did. For over an hour they looked into each others eyes and ignored the words, the pleas, the threats and curses that came from the form that was Buffy. Willow felt the power that surged up through her hands from Giles’ wrists, knowing that somehow he was giving her the strength and knowledge to complete this.

By the end, the threats had become uglier, the shouting louder and meaner, and they both found this easier to deal with. The real Buffy would never say anything like that, it just wasn’t in her, it had been the gentle accusations, the little confides that had been so true, that had been the hardest to deal with.

A long, last, shudder passed through the body, and then it lay still and quiet. Giles paused for a moment and then got up. He looked breathlessly at Willow, who looked back. They could barely believe it was over, that the helpless form that lay on the bed would be Buffy once more. It had been an ugly thing, uglier than Willow had suspected, but she’d survived. She smiled.

"Whew, that was something I don’t want to see again. We made it, G-man, we won."

He looked at her with sadness and something she couldn’t quite identify.

"We did win? Didn’t we?" He didn’t answer. "Giles? Tell me."

"Go downstairs, in the freezer is a large container of ice cubes, in the fridge a jug of cold water, and a cloth. Bring them up here, quickly."

"Giles…?"

"Please, do it, then I’ll talk."

She raced down the stairs and did what he wanted. It was over, wasn’t it? What did he need these for? Why did he look so apprehensive? Willow didn’t know whether she could take any more. She entered the room cautiously, Giles stood at one side of the bed, watching Buffy who lay still. She shifted once and Giles jumped, it was if he expected her to attack again.

"Giles? What is it?"

"The demon didn’t get control of her body, we made sure of that." He spoke quietly, as if he was afraid of waking Buffy, though she was already awake as far as Willow could tell, lying there with her eyes glazed over, breathing deeply, unable to move as if she were too weak.

"Which is a good thing, right?"

"But it’s still there. And it’s not happy." He sounded way too calm.

"Oh. What…" She wasn’t sure she wanted to know, but she had to ask. "What will it do?"

He looked up at her in surprise, as if he hadn’t known she was there. He sighed and then looked back.

"Willow, I want you to go downstairs, make yourself a cup of tea, get something to eat. Tend to those wounds as best you can. You might want to call Xander, and probably Joyce. Tell them things are okay. Don’t tell them the truth, just tell them things are fine."

"But, I should stay here… I don’t want…"

He sighed again and looked at her.

"You’ve been hurt and you’re weak. I need you at your full strength. The others will be worried. Best tell them now when nothing is happening. I’ll let you know when I need you, believe me."

She was about to argue again, but saw that he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and as she thought about it, she suddenly realized just how hungry she really was. It felt lousy, to be thinking of herself at a time like this, guilt gnawed at her, but she knew he was right. She was weak and hurt, and if things got any worse than they already had, she’d need her strength.

"Okay, but what about you? You’re not exactly Mr. Strong right now."

"I’ve never been a big red square, Willow, but I’ll survive this, if there’s time, I’ll take a break, but you need it more than I do."

* * * *

"She’s doing fine, Xand. It was touch and go there for a while, but really she’s okay. You’ve nothing to worry about."

Her voice shook as she spoke, and over the telephone it sounded weak and unsure, as if she were trying to convince herself as much as him. He could tell she was lying.

"Willow? Do you want to tell me the truth now?"

"That is the truth, really."

"Can I speak to Giles?"

"He’s… uh… he’s busy."

He heard her hiss with pain before she could cover it up, and knew she’d been hurt. The fact that she wouldn’t, or couldn’t, let him speak to Giles also told him that things weren’t as fine as she was saying.

"What about you, Will, are you okay?"

That was when she broke down and cried.

* * * *

She’d called Joyce, who had accepted the story of a night long research party easily, having had such excuses many times before. Then she had called Xander, and had broken down, it had taken all her energy to convince him to stay where he was. If only she hadn’t tried to sterilize the gash on her face at the time, he’d obviously heard her and figured out she wasn’t as okay as she’d said.

Half a tuna salad sandwhich stared up at her from the plate and now that she’d eaten some, and had sipped at some tea, she didn’t feel so hungry, or weak. She felt stronger. Boiling the kettle again, she steeped some more tea, the way that Giles liked it, done properly, without bags. Tried to make the half sandwhich look a little bit more appealing, then began to carry the whole thing upstairs. The man had to eat too, and Willow figured he wouldn’t take a break, no matter what the promise. He wouldn’t leave if Buffy was in trouble.

Her mind raced around the things that the demon in Buffy had said, they’d been so true, so insightful, that it made her wonder whether or not what it had said to Giles was true. Willow had often suspected it, that Giles saw Buffy as more than the girl under his charge, but she’d never asked him. Had always, and correctly, suspected that it was a subject he wouldn’t talk about, and would be embarrassed to discuss with her. Tact and sensitivity kept her quiet, and most of the time she convinced herself that she was imaging it. But did Buffy suspect? Did she see something that the rest of them hadn’t? Willow wondered how Giles would feel, knowing that Buffy knew.

She entered the room with the tray, saw him glance at the food there and noticed a small, wistful smile cross his features. Buffy still lay still, though she was asleep.

"You don’t stop do you? Thinking of others?" He picked up the tea and smelled it, taking in the scent as if it had reviving qualities she’d never noticed before. "Thank you. For everything." She just nodded.

"How is she?"

"Okay, so far. Worn out. It takes a lot out of a person."

Willow left the room and returned with a chair, which she gestured for him to sit on. He didn’t seem in much of a mood to argue, though he looked as if he wanted to. Some misguided attempt at chivalry, she supposed. As he lifted the sandwhich and looked at it as if he was deciding whether he was hungry or not, Willow knelt next to him and cleaned the wounds on his face and shoulders. Then covered them up, gently pressing the gauze to the flesh.

"Tell me, Giles, how bad is it going to be? Will she… it… attack us again?"

"No, no, we’re quite safe, so to speak. It’s Buffy that will suffer now. This thing, it will turn her on herself. And we’ll have to make sure no real damage occurs. Her body temperature will sky rocket, and her systems will most likely attack her from the inside."

"Can we stop it?"

"Not directly, but we can make sure no real damage is done. But it will hurt her, and we’ll have to be strong."

As if on cue, Buffy sat up straight and let out a pained cry. Her eyes flashed with agony and she couldn’t breathe as she doubled over, her arms wrapping themselves around her waist tightly.

"Oh God, stop it. Giles? Stop it."

He let the plate fall to the floor as he rushed to the bed and took her shaking form into his arms.

"I’m here, Buffy, I’m here."

"It hurts, Giles, it hurts so much. Do something."

He cringed as he smoothed the hair off her brow, he couldn’t do anything to stop the pain and he felt useless. She leaned into him and pressed her face into his shoulder as if the answer was found there. He could feel, under his skin, the heat that already radiated from her, and saw the sweat as it pooled.

"Willow, the water."

She brought it over and Giles dipped the cloth in the jug, wringing it out before bringing it to Buffy’s face. She turned her head so that he could smooth the cool water over her burning features. Her skin was bright red.

"Willow?"

"I’m here too. What do you want?"

It sounded silly, even to Willow, she just didn’t know what to do. If she could do anything to help Buffy, she would.

"Giles!"

Willow hissed in a whisper, not wanting to alarm Buffy, he looked at where she pointed and gasped. From Buffy’s left ear, the one that wasn’t pressed to his coat, blood poured down her neck. Willow grabbed the left over gauze and tried to stem the flow. Buffy jerked back as if hit, the pain obvious.

"I’m sorry… I…"

"It’s okay. I’m okay, I’m ready." Buffy buried her head in Giles’ shoulder and held her breath. Willow gently replaced the gauze and tried not to notice the muffled cry.

That was when the convulsions started.

Giles laid her gently back on the bed and cleared the way, making sure there was nothing to harm her. His shoulders drooped, but his hands clenched and unclenched into fists as he stood by, not being able to do anything. Willow alternately watched Buffy with horror, and Giles with fear. The way he was now scared her.

"Shouldn’t we…?"

"What?" He glared up at her, sparks of unrestrained anger shooting at her. "What do you want me to do? There’s nothing! Not a damn thing I could do."

Willow took a step back without even noticing she’d done it. She didn’t take her eyes from his though and when he blushed in regret, she nodded her understanding. He hadn’t meant it, she knew that, and had to let him know that she knew. A sob from Buffy caught both their attention.

She was no longer convulsing, instead she was tearing at the flesh on her own face with her nails. A wild look of panic in her eyes.

"What’s happening? Stop it!"

Before he knew what he was doing, Giles had both her wrists in his hands and kept them from her face. She thrashed and looked as if she were doing battle with herself. Tears flowed freely from her eyes.

"Willow? My legs!"

Buffy’s voice sounded hurt and pained. Willow was about to respond that she wasn’t doing anything to her legs when she looked down and gasped. She saw what Buffy had been referring to. Her legs had squirmed to the side of the mattress and were scratching against the wooden frame, her right leg was already bleeding and her left was red and raw. Without realizing what she was doing, Willow grabbed them, she was kicked once for her troubles, but managed to force them down and sit on them. She tried to be gentle with them, not to hurt Buffy more than was necessary. Another pained sob escaped from Buffy.

"I’m sorry Willow, I didn’t mean…"

"It’s okay Buff, it’s okay. I know."

"Giles? I’m sorry, I’m trying…"

"Shhh, not now. We know. Just try and get through this, we’re here. Shh, don’t worry about us."

Giles wanted so badly to reach up and caress her face, to brush away the hair that stuck to her brow with sweat, he wanted to smooth away the furrows, reassure her that everything was going to be okay. But he couldn’t let go of her hands, if he did, they’d be back to scratch away at the already healing wounds that had just been placed there.

He could think of nothing now, except trying to get Buffy through this, and the only way he knew, the only way he could think of now, was to place his face close to hers, and whisper to her, unintelligible words that meant nothing to either of them, but seemed to calm her. His cool breath wafted over her features and she leaned into it, he blew softly on her flushed skin and she looked up at him with grateful eyes.

"It’s so hot, Giles, so hot."

She hadn’t needed to tell him. He could feel the heat of her skin building up to boiling point, it burned him where he touched her, but he didn’t let go. He turned his face slightly, he’d almost forgotten Willow was there.

"Willow? Get the water, the ice."

"Her legs…"

"Leave them, they’ll heal."

Willow was almost grateful to stand up, her hands, where she’d been holding Buffy, were bright red and stung with the heat. She wondered how Buffy was managing. One look at Giles as he leaned over and comforted her, told Willow all she needed.

"Buffy? We need to do this, okay?" She looked at him with glassy eyes, not sure what he meant. He transferred one of her hands to the other, and held them both with one, freeing his right hand. "I’m letting go, I need you to fight this thing, okay?" He waited for her to nod. "I know it’s hard, and that it hurts, hurts more than I could possibly imagine, and the easiest thing to do would be to slip away and not know what’s happening. But I need you to fight it, try not to let it hurt you more than you can."

Buffy’s lower lip trembled as she nodded slowly. Her eyes looked up at him, as if pleading, begging him not to let go, but they also said, ‘I trust you’ and Giles nearly broke down. He rinsed out the cloth one handed and held it to her forehead, letting a trickle fall down her neck.

A hiss sounded and he jerked back, his mind immediately thinking it was her skin, but then he realized she had breathed in suddenly at the feel of cool water. He washed her face, gently covering the healing scratches, before cooling off her neck. The red skin cooled somewhat under the cloth, but remained hot to the touch.

Willow removed Buffy’s boots, followed by her shredded stockings, she held an ice cube to the skin and it melted almost immediately. Giles reached under the bed and felt along the underside of the paneling, he muttered something as he pulled hard, and bought a sharp and dangerous looking knife to the surface. He noticed Willow’s raised eyebrows.

"We live on a hellmouth. I may be stuffy, but not stupid."

Willow blushed.

"What are you going to do with…?" She stopped her questions when Giles cut through the fabric of Buffy’s shirt.

"Don’t worry, my intentions are honorable."

He brought the cool cloth over her skin. Buffy’s eyes were closed, but her mouth was set as she struggled against something they couldn’t see. Giles felt the vibrations in her arms as he held them down, they shook violently, and he knew she was trying not to let the demon fight them. Her body went still and limp beneath them, and seemed to lose the heat almost instantly. They sat back.

"Buffy?"

Her eyes flipped open and her knees drew up to her chest. Suddenly she pushed off with her feet and threw her head back against the head board. It hit with an almighty thwack and her neck snapped forward with alarming speed. She fell to the bed limply.

"Buffy!" Giles and Willow cried in unison.

The person in question rolled over and stared at the ceiling, she could feel something was wrong, she just wasn’t sure what. She took stock of all her parts, <oh, there it was>. She groaned. Giles saw something pass in her eyes and wasn’t sure quite what it meant.

"Buffy? What’s wrong?"

She couldn’t answer, only rolled over again and leant over the side of the bed. Luckily Willow had seen the same look and had known what it meant, she found a container in time and held it under Buffy as she threw up. Over and over.

Giles held her and wiped her brow, whispering into her ear. She felt so shamed, she barely had enough strength to breathe, let alone hold herself up. What must he think of her? And Willow, what was she going through? How they must hate her. Another wave of agony rose in her stomach and she almost sobbed out loud. Surely there was nothing left? A burning sensation hit her throat as the blood and digestive juices left her. Why didn’t the hellmouth ever open up and swallow you when you actually wanted it to?

Eventually she felt her stomach subside. Buffy let herself drop into Giles arms and barely noticed the violence with which she began to shiver. It felt so good to let everything go black, to just let go and float in the fuzziness. She knew Giles wanted her to stay and fight, but she was so tired and it was so hard.

Giles shrugged out of his coat, it was torn and bloody, but it would do for now. He wrapped it around her shoulders and leaned against the headboard as he cradled her in his arms. Willow sat on her ankles at the foot of the bed, watching the two of them.

"Shouldn’t we keep her awake? I mean…"

"It doesn’t matter now." He said it softly, sadly, and didn’t look up at first. When he did, he saw the stricken look on Willow’s face. He realized his mistake. "No, no. We’ve won. She should rest."

"The demon’s gone?"

"Not quite, but it will."

Willow desperately wanted to ask what he meant, but something told her that this was a moment for quiet. She silently got up and began to clean the broken dishes on the floor, the scattered items, the candles. They’d made a hell of a mess.

As she walked around, tidying things up, putting them back where she thought they’d belong, she took the time to study the room. She’d never been in Giles’ bedroom before. Somehow it hadn’t occurred to her to imagine it. It surprised her that there were no books, tomes or readily visible weapons. If she had thought about it, Willow would have imagined Giles’ room as an extension of the rest of his house, cluttered in an organized way, references handy. This room was elegant, the softest, pale green of his curtains and bed clothes offset the light beige walls nicely.

He was a different man in this room. The thought struck her, that’s what it was. In this room he was a man, not a watcher, not a librarian, but an actual human being. She blushed in shame when she thought of this. For how long had she admonished the group for always picking on him as a stuffy old watcher? She’d always been the one to remind them that he was more than that, and yet, deep down, she’d been just the same, if not worse.

Buffy had begun to murmur and she twisted and turned in Giles’ arms. It was as if she were fighting demons in her sleep. Willow looked at Giles, saw him motion for the water once more. The ice had melted, but the water itself was still cold. She brought the container up to him and he rinsed off Buffy’s face, her neck and shoulders. His touch was so gentle it made Willow smile, such a contrast, those large men’s hand, the backs covered with a touch of wiry curls that escalated in thickness up his wrists, and the feathery care with which they moved. It was sweet.

"The temperature, it’s back?"

"Mmmmm" It was barely a whisper.

"Giles? Is that bad?"

"No, no. Not yet."

"What does that…?"

Willow never got to finish her question. Buffy’s eyes flew open and her mouth stretched into a loud scream. Her body stiffened into a board of pure agony. Giles turned her around and buried her head in his shoulder, he held her to him.

"It’s okay. Scream, scream as loud as you want. We’re here."

Buffy’s hands pounded the board behind them and she stopped screaming only when she buried her teeth deeply into the flesh of Giles’ shoulder. He cursed but didn’t remove them.

"Giles? Oh my God."

"It’s okay Willow, this is the last of it. It’s okay, isn’t it Buffy? It’ll be fine now."

Willow couldn’t decide whether the last part of that statement was reassurance or a plea. It sounded like both. Buffy’s only answer was a muffled whimper and more pounding on the head board. Her body shuddered, went limp, and they all felt a cold wind blow through the room. Giles looked at Willow and gave a nod.

"It’s over."

Willow breathed. Deeply. She didn’t feel as if she could move, which didn’t bother her, because she didn’t really think she wanted to. Ever again. Her muscles seemed to melt as she felt tension flow away, she hadn’t really noticed how tight her body had been.

"Will?"

"I’m here Buffy."

"Help me?"

It seemed to take all Buffy’s strength to get the words out, and the glassy sheen in her eyes looked anything but good, but Willow nodded. She knew exactly what Buffy wanted. Giles looked confused, and somewhat hurt.

Not that Willow ever considered herself weak, anything but, she wondered exactly how she would support the slayer when she could barely hold up her own head, let alone stand. She draped Buffy’s arm over her shoulder and heaved her up. Somehow they managed to make their way into the bathroom. By this time, Giles had realized what was happening and made himself busy elsewhere.

Buffy had thought she was going to die. She wasn’t sure at the moment whether this was any better. Not once in her life had she ever felt so weak, so helpless and useless. She knew exactly how much Willow was supporting her, and how much it took out of the petite red head, she could barely keep her head up let alone move one foot in front of the other.

In the blur that was her mind, she had realized two things, she was in Giles’ room, and she was icky. Tired, weak, thankfully alive, but so grossly icked that she could barely be in the same room with herself. She leaned forward, resting on Willow as the water cascaded over her body.

Willow stood with towels covering her, but they were soon soaked through. Buffy tried to formulate in her mind a proper way to thank her, to repay her for everything she’d done for her that night, but at that particular moment it took all her energy not to pass out on the bathroom floor.

Looking at the pile of soiled clothes on the floor, Willow knew she would burn them before putting them back on Buffy, she covered the shivering girl with towels and led her back to the room. She noticed with a small smile that Giles had managed to change the bed clothes and lay out an oversized man’s shirt for Buffy.

Before long there was a knock on the door. It struck Willow as funny that Giles was knocking at his own bedroom door, she recognized this as pent up nerves, most probably.

"Uh… come in? I guess."

He entered nervously, as if not quite knowing what to expect. His eyes went straight to the form lying weakly on the bed. Buffy gave him a small smile, it was the only thing she could rustle up enough energy for. Giles nodded to her, glad for the grateful look in her eyes. He went to her and took her hand, she closed her fingers around his and let her eyes flutter closed as he sat down.

"I… I should probably go. Tell the others what’s happening, get cleaned up."

He looked up at Willow who was hovering nervously near the door, he took in the bags under her eyes, the wounds all over, the soiled and sodden clothes she wore. Standing up, he was about to offer some help, when Buffy muttered something in her sleep and pulled his hand closer. He looked at Willow with apology.

"There’s… Buffy has spare clothes in the other room," He didn’t miss Willow’s raised eyebrows. "for after slaying. Sometimes things get nastier than we like." Giles coughed at that, realizing what he’d just said after their horrific night. "I’m sure something will fit you."

Willow left the room quietly, not missing the loving glance that Giles gave Buffy as she slept, she’d have to keep an eye on the two of them after this. In the spare room she found a few items of Buffy’s that would do until she could get home. She sat on the bed and stared at the floor, too tired to move, or think. Breath came and Willow concentrated on each inhalation and exhalation, it felt good, the rise and fall of her chest. Eventually she had to get up and get moving, Xander would be out of his mind, and Joyce should know that Buffy wouldn’t home for a while.

She poked her head around the door to Giles’ room and coughed lightly to get his attention. He’d lain down on the bed, next to Buffy, she’d curled herself up to him and held one of his hands in both of hers, closely, to her chest, as if it were a teddy. He looked up at her.

"Giles?" Her voice was little more than a whisper. "I’m going to go. Call me if you need me. Otherwise I’ll be sleeping for the next few days."

"Thank you so much Willow. I don’t know what I would have done without you."

He made to stand up again, his instincts telling him to be polite enough to see her out, but Buffy stirred. Her eyes opened a crack.

"Don’t Giles. Just stay here. Hold me. And Willow? I love you, thank you."

Willow grinned at Buffy and closed the door, as she walked out of the house she told herself that when Buffy was feeling better, they would definitely have to talk.

Giles lay back against the bed, cradled Buffy and smiled at the closing door. Willow, beautiful, intelligent, and wonderfully, wonderfully wise Willow had shown more maturity than most people twice her age.

* * * *

She stood outside her front door, knowing the house would be empty, her parents, surprise, surprise, were out of town for the week. Willow felt weary to the bone, and all she wanted to do was curl up and fall asleep, but she didn’t want to do it alone. Sighing, she knew that she’d have to make the phone calls and relieve everyone’s minds before she could even think about herself. She slipped her key into the lock and opened the door.

As tired as she was, as much as she felt that she was walking in a cloud and that her heart was working at about a tenth of its normal speed, Willow found her pulse quicken as a figure on the sofa jumped up and called her name.

Xander rushed to her and took her in his arms, he’d almost stopped short when he could clearly focus on her. She’d never looked so hurt, and weak and tired. It shocked him to the core, but he scooped her up and sat her on the sofa as if nothing was wrong.

"How’s Buffy? Is she…? What happened?"

Willow let herself cry again, but she wasn’t sad and hopeless as she’d been before, it was a cathartic release and she let the sobs flow forth in waves, as she reassured Xander that things would be fine, sooner or later. She should have known that he would be waiting for her, she should have known that he’d know.

Xander wiped the hair from her brow and let her speak, though most of what she was saying didn’t make any sense in the sane world. He could tell that things were alright. Willow talked herself to sleep in his arms. He couldn’t help but delight in the way her words would peter out, softly disappearing and then return in a rush as if she’d just remembered where she was. Eventually she lay still and her breathing came in regular rises and falls.

He let her fall softly against the sofa, brought her a pillow and a blanket and then made his way into the kitchen to see if he, Xander Harris, could actually make something that resembled breakfast.

* * * *

Buffy found herself fighting to get through a large, hazy cloud, something was forcing her to the surface, and she couldn’t quite place it. As her eyes opened, she wasn’t sure if she believed where she was, and with whom. Whom? Way too much time with Giles. That thought nearly sent her over the hysterical edge, considering the position she’d woken up in.

She was in bed with Giles. In his bed. In his house. Granted, she was under the covers, and he wasn’t, but she found herself pressed right up against him. She also found that she wasn’t exactly making moves to get away. It felt nice, and safe, and right. Buffy also noticed what had roused her.

Giles snored.

His hand was encased firmly within her own and she could feel a faint, tiny pulse in the webbing between his thumb and forefinger. It was reassuring. She’d never known you could feel a person’s pulse there.

Softly, slowly and gently, without knowing why she did it, she bowed her head and kissed the end of his thumb, not wanting to wake him. He had such a gentle soul, and he’d proven last night, beyond any doubts, what she meant to him. She only wished that she could prove to him how much he meant to her.

Lying there, close to him, Buffy felt relaxed and tried not to remember all that had happened. She was glad for her accelerated healing powers, she hated to feel weak and powerless. Slowly, she extricated one of her hands and ran it along his chin. There was the beginnings of a rough beard, and she let the bristles scratch the pad of her finger. Still trying not to wake him, Buffy ran her hand over his face, learning each curve and hollow like a blind person would. She grimaced when she came to the now crusted over bite marks on his cheek.

A thought occurred to her and she pulled his shirt away from his shoulder. The wounds there were deep and weren’t healing as well as the others. She’d bitten deeply. Guilt rose in engulfing waves as she remembered all that he, and Willow too, had taken to save her. She should at least tend the wounds.

Apparently she had overestimated her healing powers, as soon as her head left the pillow, the room began to spin and shapes blurred. A sharp pain blinded her and she found it hard to breathe. She lay her head against Giles’ chest and let the rise and fall of his breath soothe her spinning head. Maybe she could lay here for a while longer.

* * * *

Giles woke with a start. He chided himself in falling asleep. What if something had gone wrong? What if it hadn’t worked? What if…? A soft sigh distracted him from his fears. He looked down at the blonde head that nestled into his chest, and the small hand that had come to rest beneath his shirt, tangled in his chest hair. It felt good.

His shoulder, now exposed, though he didn’t know how, stung like the devil, but he didn’t mind it. He would have endured that and more to keep this moment just the way it was. To keep Buffy in his arms, to know that she was safe and, most of all, content. He would have done anything.

But what would happen when she woke up? He could see that her physical wounds were healing, and her breathing was already stronger. What would she think? How would she react to their situation? For a few moments he had let himself believe that she had truly wanted, needed, him. But in the stark light, in the clear headedness that morning always brought, he couldn’t pretend any further. He’d die before causing Buffy any discomfort.

Very, very softly, he lifted her head and replaced it on the pillow, the same with her hand, and shifted himself away. She sighed softly again and turned over, murmuring something unintelligible. Giles let himself watch her for a moment longer, then left the room.

* * * *

Three Weeks Later.

Buffy shivered under the covers although she’d already piled the bed with two extra blankets. She stared at the ceiling and tried not to think of the real reason she couldn’t sleep. The reason she hadn’t been able to sleep for three weeks. If this kept up she’d go crazy. She could see, herself, that she hadn’t fully recovered since that night and things were getting worse.

Large, dark circles had permanently moved in under her eyes, her skin had taken on a gray color and her hair had lost its shine. Her appetite had all but vanished and she got exhausted all too easily. Joyce was beginning to go into ballistic mother hyper drive. Buffy thought about the conversation they’d had that evening over dinner.

It had started in silence, as had so many of their meals in the last few weeks, with Joyce forcefully spearing her food as if she had a personal vendetta against it, and Buffy moving pieces of food unenthusiastically about her plate, occasionally lifting it to her mouth and chewing slowly. The room had been so quiet that when Joyce dropped her fork they both jumped.

"Buffy? What’s wrong? Tell me."

"Nothing… I…"

"Don’t give me that! I’m not stupid. I am, however, extremely tired of being treated as if I were. Something happened that night and you’re not telling me."

There’d been a pause in which they’d looked at each other and Joyce must have sensed she was about to get another one of Buffy’s Big Brush Offs.

"I can’t do this anymore Buffy. I can’t watch you go out of this house night after night and not know…"

"Mom… I…"

"No, you listen to me. In the middle of the night I get a barely coherent Willow calling me up to tell me you’re okay. That in itself was bad enough, but do you know what her voice was telling me, behind her words? Don’t call me on this, please don’t call me because I can’t lie to you further without breaking down. Do you know how much that scared me? And you couldn’t come to the phone yourself, or Mr. Giles, for crying out loud, Buffy. I thought you were dead, or being killed by some terrible demon, or worse. Do you know what that did to me? Do you have any idea? And now you sit here and lie to me as if I can’t see with my very own eyes that something is wrong. Do you think I’m blind?"

"Mom…"

"The truth, Buffy."

She’d paused and then it had all come out in a rush, the demon, the possession, the exorcism and the subsequent fall in health. Joyce had been suitably shocked and worried, and didn’t seem any happier at all now that Buffy had told her the truth.

Stretching under the covers Buffy knew she hadn’t told Joyce the full truth, how could she? Joyce already resented Giles for so much, how would she react knowing what had truly happened? That, when she was closest to death, the person Buffy had needed, called out for and clung to, had not been her mother, but Giles? Buffy barely understood it herself, but she knew she needed Giles now more than she’d ever needed anyone before.

She also knew what a fool she’d made of herself. Waking up later that day, she’d reached out and found herself alone. When she had finally gathered enough courage to go downstairs, she’d found him in the kitchen making breakfast. He could barely look at her, let alone meet her eyes. Buffy could only imagine what he’d thought when he’d woken up. How foolish and young he must think her. He’d barely said three words to her since that day and studiously avoided being alone with her.

Buffy knew if she had to turn into her pillow and cry herself to sleep for one more night, she wouldn’t want to wake up. She’d had enough, no matter how humiliating, no matter how much he thought her an idiot, no matter how much he was about to hurt her, Buffy was going to confront Giles, once and for all.

* * * *

A plan which sounded all well and good at three in the morning, in the dark of her sleepless bedroom, but after a hurried walk the idea seemed less than brilliant. Buffy hesitated outside his door, but took a breath and moved on, knowing that if she didn’t act now she never would. The house was eerily still and silent.

"Giles?" She called out softly, walking up the stairs.

<It’s almost four o’clock in the morning. What did you expect, a party? You’re an idiot, go home>

Her mind screamed at her to leave, her limbs itched to turn around and flee, but her eyes had caught sight of the open door and all was lost. Giles lay on his back, his left arm thrown out across the bed, his right arm bent and covering his face. His chest rose and fell and his breath narrowly escaped being the soft, rumbling snore she remembered.

"Giles?" It was barely a whisper as she stepped forward. "Giles I can’t sleep."

She knelt on the bed, leaning forward and stopping just inches short of actually touching him. Being this close to him made her want to cry out in frustration. What right had she to expect him to understand, especially after all she’d put him through?

"I’m sorry Giles, I know you hate me, but hold me anyway."

Buffy lay next to him, resting her head on his outstretched arm. She almost cried out in surprise as his arm curled in towards her, his other arm coming down to snake around her waist, she turned with him so that they now lay spooned. Breathing in the scent she remembered so well, Buffy closed her eyes and fell into the deepest sleep she’d had in three weeks.

* * * *

Giles was having the most lovely dream. It involved, as did most of his dreams lately, blonde hair, blue eyes, a brilliant smile and situations never likely to come to pass. This one was exceptionally vivid, it was like he could smell her, touch her, feel the heat of her skin and her cool, trusting gaze. He was waking up, but the dream wasn’t fading away. Giles opened his eyes.

<Good Lord!>

There she was, in his arms, asleep and trusting. He was pressed up against her back, his knees tucked up underneath hers, his left arm was supporting her head and bent just below her neck to come up over her chest and hold on to her shoulders. Her arms clasped his forearm under her chin tightly. His other hand rested lightly on the soft, sensitive skin of her belly, her breath making the muscle and tissue under her skin shift beneath his fingers. His head was bent forward to nestle in the back of her neck. He really didn’t want to move, ever.

Buffy sighed and shifted in her sleep, the movement of her buttocks against his hip made him acutely aware of a rather embarrassing situation. He’d have to get up before she woke up and was terrified to death. His mind drifted back to the content of his dream and he hoped, prayed fervently may be a better description, that he hadn’t done anything in his sleep, unaware it wasn’t just a dream. That thought cooled him, but not enough and he found himself, once again, reluctantly disentangling himself from her sleeping form, careful not to wake her.

He let the water of the shower wash over him as he tried to gather his thoughts, a futile attempt as he had lived in a constant state of confusion since that day. Giles had thought he’d become quite adept at pushing his feelings for Buffy down, hiding them from himself and others. Apparently not as Willow had noticed, and now he couldn’t ignore them. When he’d woken up that day he’d allowed himself to feel the possibility that she felt the same way, but it was a foolish thought. He was a stuffy older man, and in Buffy’s own words, "ewww!"

What had he been thinking? He could almost hear her voice telling the others disgustedly about… but he was being unfair. Buffy may have been many things, but she certainly wasn’t petty or viscously cruel. If she knew or suspected anything of his feelings, she’d most likely keep them to herself. If? A tiny particle of his brain asked, what do you mean ‘if’ you great hulking heap of denial? How could she not know?

He toweled himself dry, got dressed and then knocked lightly on his door. There was no answer, he assumed she was still asleep. Pushing it open gently, so as not to wake her, Giles stepped through the door and nearly jumped to see Buffy sitting up straight in the middle of the bed. Her legs were crossed in front of her, the sheet pulled up around her waist, tears streaming down her face. Her eyes were shining with water and they were crystal pools of pure pain. Her bottom lip trembled and she didn’t look at him as he stood there.

"Oh God Giles. You must hate me."

"Hate you? No, Buffy, I…" Giles could not, for the life of him, finish what he was going to say. He could feel all his courage drain away as if someone had pulled the plug.

Buffy sat on the bed and looked down at her hands twisting furiously in the sheet, she waited for him to finish. Every nerve in her strained towards him, trying to will him into saying what she wanted, needed, to hear. No words came. There was only one conclusion to draw and it filled her cheeks with embarrassment and her heart with shame. A painful sob broke through her and she fled past him, not even noticing his attempt to stop her.

The front door sounded loud to his ears in the silent house and it echoed cruelly. Giles let his shoulders droop.

"… love you."

* * * *

Buffy sat on her bed, trying to keep from crying but failing miserably. Great, she chided herself, now not only does he think you’re a foolish school girl, he thinks you’re a foolish, schizophrenic basket case of a school girl. She was more confused now than before, she hadn’t known exactly what she expected from him, but it hadn’t been his silent disapproval. He must have been trying to think of a polite way to tell her to get out of his bed and his house, and most probably his life. What she needed was someone to tell her what to do, someone was. Her fingers dialed the numbers automatically.

"Hello?"

Buffy paused.

"Xander?"

"Yep, that’s me. What’s up, Buff?"

"Oh nothing, I meant to call Will. Um, look, I’ll call you back, okay? I really wanted to speak to her."

Buffy pressed the button and the dial tone echoed in her ears. Funny, she could have sworn she’d dialed Willow’s number. This time she paid attention to what her hands were doing and Willow picked up after two rings.

"Hey Will."

"What’s up?"

"Um, nothing much. I was just wondering," Buffy hoped that Willow couldn’t see through the too light tone she was using, or if she could she didn’t push it, "you haven’t noticed anything… uh.. weird with Giles lately? He seems of the odd."

"Giles? Hang on Buff."

There was some frantic, intimate whispering, muffled giggles and somebody else pretending to grumble, then a door closed.

"Will? Who’s there?"

"What? Oh no, no, just the TV. What was that about Giles?"

Buffy sighed. She could tell Willow’s heart wasn’t in the conversation and she was pretty sure who was there with Willow, and it certainly hadn’t been the television.

"That’s okay, doesn’t really matter. I’m just gonna go. And Willow? Tell Xander I said hi."

"Okay… hey!"

But Buffy was already hanging up the phone. It wasn’t just the call, Willow had been distracted ever since that night, and Buffy had thought it was her, but it wasn’t. She should have known, should have seen, but if the truth be told, Willow wasn’t the only distracted one around.

What was she going to do? She couldn’t unload herself on Willow or Xander, not now, and the only other person she felt like talking to was Giles, and he was most likely changing his locks at that very moment. It was several hours until patrol, after which she’d have to go report to Giles. There was nothing else to do, she supposed, except train.

* * * *

Willow hung up the phone and glowered at the doorway.

"Okay, you can come back now. She wasn’t fooled by the way. I think she knows."

"What gave it away?"

"When you couldn’t help yourself and had to answer my phone this early in the morning."

"Aw, come on Will, your phone’s so cute. Just like your nose."

"Hey watch it."

"And your neck."

"That tickles."

"Meant to."

"I mean it, stop it now."

"Make me."

"Oh don’t worry, I’ll… hmm, a little lower, no, there, yes… I’ll make you stop alright."

"Sure you will. What did she want? She sounded wigged."

"I think she’s finally noticing Giles."

"About time. They’re worse than Ross and Rachel."

"Hey Xand?"

"Yeah?"

"Can we NOT talk about other people right now?"

"Fine by me."

* * * *

The thought occurred to Buffy that she was beginning to make a habit of standing outside Giles’ front door, usually when it was dark. If she kept it up the neighbors would start to talk. She was trying to decide how to get through this with the most dignity. What she wanted to do was breeze inside, announce the night’s slaying events and carry on as if nothing had happened, but she knew that was the last thing she could do.

She opted, instead, for reaching out and knocking. It surprised her. She had a key, but it seemed wrong somehow, to just walk in unannounced, after all that had happened. He answered the door and seemed slightly surprised to find her standing there.

"Buffy? Did you lose your key?"

"No, I, uh…" Suddenly she was very shy, instinctively she crossed her arms over her chest and shivered, her voice came out fast and jittery. "Two vamps, I dusted them pretty easily. Nothing out of the ordinary."

He looked at her, hesitated and then sighed.

"We need to talk."

His arm held the door wide and she ducked beneath it to walk inside.

Once inside Buffy shivered again, the night was warm and his apartment walls had stored the day’s heat and was giving it back, making the apartment warmer, but she didn’t notice this. What she did notice was the many scattered books, thrown down as if he’d looked at each of them briefly and tossed them aside in frustration. She saw the half empty glass of an amber liquid that suspiciously looked as if it weren’t tea of any kind, the plate of toast that had had one bite taken out of it and then left to go cold and stale. She could almost see him pacing the room for the whole day. Speak, her mind screamed at him, you wanted to speak, so goddamnit, tell me what a hopeless little fool I am and get it over with.

"It can’t go on like this Buffy."

And here it comes. She had her back to him, preferring to look at the wall, not wanting him to see the pain he was about to cause her. How in the world did she expect to survive this? And yet she would, she’d listen to him to tell her that her recent actions had been inappropriate, that she was in the grip of some silly school girl crush that would fade, that he looked on her as a child and a child only. She would listen to him say all of this and then she’d go home, tomorrow she would carry on as if nothing had happened. She’d slay the demons, she’d save the world and nobody but her would know the constant torment she was in.

"What happened this morning… I… I need to know…"

<Damn it Giles just break my heart and stop hesitating!>

She hadn’t looked at him, she’d walked inside and faced the wall almost immediately. Even her back looked fragile, with her arms crossed like they were, the bones showed through like never before and he suddenly noticed the weight she’d lost. Her shoulders were shaking and he thought for a moment she was laughing at him. He’d convinced himself that morning that she’d felt something, that she’d actually been crying for him. It occurred to him suddenly that she was crying. The strongest girl he’d ever known was crying.

Stepping forward, he gently placed his coat around her shoulders, letting his hands rest there for support. He could see her relax and noticed the little shift of her head as it bent sideways, he heard her breathe in deeply. Buffy twisted around to face him, but still didn’t meet his eyes. Her face was streaked with tears.

"I… I need some tea."

With those very rushed words, Buffy sped past him and into the kitchen. He followed her and stood in the doorway as she filled the kettle and set it to boil, then began to pull things from the cupboards. Her hand shook and the cups rattled as she set them on the bench. She seemed glad to have something to do, a distraction of sorts.

"Buffy, look at me."

She hesitated.

"This isn’t going to resolve itself."

Buffy closed her eyes, wished vainly that she could have been facing another unkillable demon instead, and then opened them to look straight into Giles’ whirling pools.

"I think we’re both very confused. This morning, and that morning three weeks ago, I thought I had reason to suspect you had feelings for me."

"It’s okay Giles, you don’t have to worry about it. What happened this morning, and before, it won’t happen again. I promise you, you can just forget what you thought, because…" She couldn’t finish her words as her head dropped again and she was staring at the tiles.

"What if…" She felt a finger beneath her chin, lifting it up so that she was face to face with him. "What if I don’t want to forget it? Tell me what you feel."

Buffy suddenly felt trapped, he was too close, too close for comfort and he was being cruel. He was going to force her to say it out loud, when it was painfully obvious that he knew exactly how she felt. She stepped back, he stepped forward.

"No, Giles, I…"

"What do you feel?" His voice was calm and devoid of any emotion. She, on the other hand, was a trembling mess of nerves. She took another step back and shook her head, indicating for him to drop it. He ignored her, stepped forward again.

"Buffy?"

With the third step backwards her back came into contact with the bench, she had nowhere else to run. He took one more step, placed his hands on the bench, one on either side of her and ducked his head down so that it was squarely facing hers no matter how she tried to avoid it. Buffy felt his hot breath on her face and closed her eyes. Did he realize what he was doing to her?

"Tell me you don’t want this, Buffy, tell me and I’ll never bring it up again."

"I… I don’t." The words sounded final even to her ears, though all her organs were shaking and she felt as if her bones were melting. His hands disappeared from her sides and she opened her eyes to look at him.

What she saw almost took her breath away. The look on his face told her everything she needed to know. As he walked away from her, facing her, never turning his back, the past three years came to play themselves in her brain and she saw it all from a different perspective.

She saw him confront a part of his past he never wanted to see again, to save her from the blood stone vengeance spell. She saw him prepared to lay his life down to save her from the Master and her own destiny. She saw him watch from the shadows, supporting her, being there for her, throughout it all, never saying a thing. She saw him watch, pained and hurting, as she flaunted Angel in front of his eyes time and time again. Even after he’d turned, when he had so many reasons to blame her, to accuse her, he was never anything but supportive.

That time in the car, after she’d killed the judge, he sat offering his respect, when now she could see him struggling not to offer more. She saw him kneeling outside the burning factory, clinging to her, and she realized he hadn’t attacked Angel for what he did to Jenny, at least not wholly, but for what he’d done to her. She saw him after she’d sent Angel and Acathla to hell, as she’d watched them all, he’d stood there, beaten and broken. And Angel had done it all, and he’d not broken down, he’d stayed alert for her.

She saw his hurt and betrayal as he realized that she’d kept Angel hidden upon his return, she saw him die a little every time he saw them together. And she’d had the gall to ask him to help Angel, time and time again, knowing what he’d done to Jenny, knowing that Giles must see him in his nightmares. But he’d done it, for her, all for her.

In an instant she saw all of this and her heart nearly broke with the cruelty of it all.

But what scared her was the look in his eyes as he backed away from her now. In all the times she’d hurt him, with her carelessness and thoughtlessness, he had always shown emotion in his eyes, even as he tried to cover it up. Now he was totally closed, everything had disappeared, a veil had come down and he looked lifeless.

"Giles?"

He didn’t answer. Her knees began to disintegrate and she felt herself falling.

"Giles! I lied… I do need…"

She never got to finish her words as the floor rushed up to meet her. Buffy anticipated the loud thump as her head would hit the tiles. What she didn’t expect, what she thought she’d lost the right to expect ever again, was to feel his hands at her waist, lifting her up, sitting her on the bench. He wiped her hair from her eyes and tried to stem the flow of tears.

"I’m so sorry! I’m so…"

"Shhh." His voice was soft and gentle, but his hands were fast and shaking. His head was leaning forward, keeping her from falling as their foreheads touched, she could feel him shake his head from side to side. "Don’t… not now."

Repeatedly his hand came down on the side of her head and through her hair, again and again, as if he wanted to both comfort her and make sure she was really there. As if electrocuted her body sprang into motion, her hand jumped to his face, her thumb exploring the feel of the paper thin skin over his eyelid, the shape of his nose, the corner of his lips, the bones of his jaw, her fingers spread over his cheek and her nails lightly brushing his ear. Her legs placed themselves on either side of his hips and hugged him to her, her whole body screaming to feel him.

"Giles? I don’t deserve…"

He raised his chin so that their lips met, silencing her.

"Anything but perfection."

"But I’m nothing but…"

He kissed her again.

"The most beautiful person I’ve ever met."

"But you deserve more than…"

This time, when he kissed her, it was deep and hungry and took her breath away. When he broke, he grinned into her mouth and whispered.

"A lot more than to sit here while the thing I want more than anything is in front of me day after day just beyond my reach. Buffy, I’ve heard enough. Will you just let it happen?"

She didn’t have any more arguments. But the kettle did, and when it whistled loudly they broke apart in nervous giggles.

"Ah yes, tea. I was making some." Her brows furrowed. "I think. Hm. Want some?"

"Tea?" Something glistened in his eyes she’d never seen before. "It’s not really what I had in mind."

He’d come back to the bench and stood between her legs again, his hands grasped the bench, but she could feel his fingers brushing her thighs through her tracksuit pants and she could barely think.

"Tea? Who said tea?" She let her hands roam up his shirt, feeling the muscles of his chest. She wasn’t quite sure she believed this was happening, but even if it wasn’t, it was a good hallucination and she would play along. "I’ll race you?"

Buffy grasped the collar of his shirt, pulled herself forward, kissed him full on the lips, slipping off the bench and rubbing herself down the front of his clothes as she slid to the floor. She took advantage of his shock and utter incoherence of thought to get a head start as she ducked out of his grasp and began to run to the stairs. When she heard his footsteps fall in behind her, she turned around with a serious look on her face.

"Uh Giles? You do realize that if I wake up alone this time, I’m gonna have to kill you."

* * * *

Willow felt extremely guilty as she dragged Xander to Giles’ front door. Sure, she’d been distracted lately, but that was no excuse to brush off her best friend that way. Buffy had sounded particularly wigged and her worry for Giles had been real. What if it wasn’t just the two of them finally realizing what they all knew and had known for a long time? What if it was something hellmouthy and they’d ignored Buffy’s pleas for help for the sake of a little smooch session? She’d never forgive herself.

She and Buffy had had one big session of apologies and admissions and guilt after that night. They’d cried for each other, had instantly forgiven each other and reassured the other that everything was as before. But Willow knew that Buffy still harbored the world’s biggest guilt ball in the pit of her stomach, it was inevitable, and Willow had studiously ignored most of Buffy’s attempts at reconciliation, because she’d busy with her own revelations, and they’d been pretty big.

They knocked and waited. With every second that they got no answer Willow panicked a little more. By the time, a few minutes later, that Giles answered the door, she had worked herself into such a state that she was barely coherent. He stood before her with a robe tied around his waist and bare feet.

"Uh hi Giles. We were just wondering if you were okay, and obviously you are, because look at you. I mean, Buffy called me yesterday and she sounded worried about you, and I thought we should check just in case. ‘Cause, you know, beasts from hell and all that. We tried to call Buffy but she wasn’t answering her phone. Have you heard from her? Should we be looking… what? Why are you looking at me like that? Giles? Are… are you laughing?"

"Uh Will?" Xander from his place behind her, placed a hand on either side of her head and moved her line of vision until she was looking at the top of Giles’ stairs. What she saw made her gasp. Buffy stood there in nothing but a large man’s shirt. A look of peace on her face that they hadn’t seen in a long while. Willow’s eyebrows shot up and disappeared underneath her hair, but a grin slowly spread across her face, and she was thinking what Xander managed to say out loud.

"Well, it’s about time Buffy. Way to go, G-man!"

"Don’t call me that."

END