Antenna (antennapedia) wrote,

  • Mood:
  • Music:

FIC: Breathing 3/3

Title: Breathing 3/3
Pairing: Giles/Buffy
Rating: FRM
Warnings: A few four-letter words, some non-graphic sex, an unusual fate for a core character.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership and am making no money.

Continued from part 1 and part 2

They’d been in England for three weeks. Dawn had been spending most of her time with Giles’ sister and nephew. She’d chattered endlessly about Michael on the phone with Buffy until one day she’d clammed up. Buffy knew what that meant, and told Giles to remind his sister what Slayers could do if their sisters lost their virginity one minute before the age of twenty-one.

Giles and Buffy had spent about half their time at the coven. They had, without needing to discuss it, chosen not to be apart. They still weren’t lovers. In one sense, anyway, Buffy thought. They were lovers in all the other senses. Giles was waiting for something. Waiting for her.

They meditated in the morning. Cleaned house. Went shopping. Cooked together. Read novels. Trained, with emphasis on the more esoteric and mystical topics. Buffy had told Giles all about her new sense for magic power, and they explored it deeply together.

Buffy hadn’t Slain since she left Sunnydale. There were no vampires to Slay. When she practiced extending her senses, she felt nothing, nothing for miles.

She hadn’t had this kind of peace since she’d woken up as the Slayer.

They were at the coven again, visiting Willow. They walked with her over the fields, in patchy sunlight. To Buffy’s eyes, darkness clung to Willow. She sensed the hot abrasive power circling around Willow’s head, like sand blown by a stiff wind. It was wiggy, as before, on the plane. Even when Willow was talking about how she’d learned to make tarts, treacle tarts, and was burbling about the Dormouse, something had Buffy nervous. Maybe it was the way Willow complained about being forced to do it mundane-style.

When the rainclouds blew in, Giles turned them back to the house. They made it inside scant minutes before the clouds burst. Willow went off to the kitchens, where she would be assisting with dinner. Giles went off to consult with Miss Harkness. Buffy, left to her own devices, decided to go up to their room and think.

The coven had put them into a little room under the roof, at the top of the house. Buffy loved this room. Spattering rain on the windows made it feel cozy. Buffy pushed up the window. The wood had swelled in the wet, and it stuck in the runners for a moment. A cautious application of Slayer strength, and it squeaked up. She knelt at the window for a long time, arms laid along the sill and her chin on her arms. The rain blew in, now and then, and dampened her arms and face. It smelled wonderful outside. Summer rain, and wet grass, and flowers she couldn’t identify. It was so green out there. Life bursting everywhere. So unlike the scorched brown of her semi-desert home. How had Giles stood it, when he’d moved to the Hellmouth? To unforgiving sun and dust and eucalyptus and dead grass on the hills? To freeways and strip malls?

Because he’d had to stand it, just like she had to stand it. The brutal reality of the calling they shared, that they would go where they needed to go and fight until they were dead. At least in her case. Giles would be allowed peace when she was dead. Though she suspected, from what he’d said of last summer, that her death had brought anything but peace to him. His time here at the coven, over the winter, he had described as spiritual recentering. But Buffy would have called it intensive therapy. He’d been broken.

It was this place, the time he’d spent here, that had recentered Giles. From the moment he’d found Jenny Calendar dead in his bed, to the moment she’d stormed out of the training room, and the moments of hell in between. He’d laid them all aside here. England, this coven, this house, here, and he’d finally recovered.

The twilight lasted forever, long hours of slow sunset under rainclouds. Buffy was thinking of moving, of maybe going to seek out Giles, when someone tapped at the door. It opened immediately. Giles, stepping through from the yellow-lit hallway. Buffy blinked in the light. He closed the door behind himself and came over to her. His step was noiseless, his stance contained, right hand in his pocket. Buffy recognized it as the posture he used when he wanted to minimize his height, and the breadth of his shoulders.

Buffy turned back to the window. He laid his hands on her back. His thumbs brushed over her, softly massaging along her spine.

“How’d it go?”

“As we expected. There is a deep wellspring of resistance in her. Surface compliance. Her control has improved, which would ordinarily be encouraging. But in this case—”

“Better control of rogue powers.”

“Mm. She will not cease the petty uses of magic, even to demonstrate that she is trustworthy. We are asking her to stop using her right hand, when its use has become nearly unconscious. And she cannot understand why. Or will not.”

“Conclusion is… obvious, I guess.”

“Yes. They’ll convene next week, give her one last chance. It will be, well, as wrenching as losing her right arm would be.” He stilled his hands on her back.

“Will you help?”

“Yes. I must. I owe it to her to be with her. I gave her the books. I failed to supervise her.”

“Rupert, you weren’t sent to be her Watcher.”

“No. But I was voluntarily something else to her, and to Xander.”

They fell silent. Buffy thought carefully about how to say what she wanted to say next.

“It doesn’t hurt me to breathe any more. Does it hurt you?”

Buffy felt him shake against her back, a few quick silent laughs. He’d laughed so much, since that moment when he’d come through the Magic Box door.

“Shall we go to bed, then?” he said. Buffy knelt up and slid the window most of the way down.

There were few mysteries left about Giles’ body, for Buffy, after weeks spent in such intimacy. She knew that he had muscle in his shoulders and arms. She’d seen his chest, and knew about the scattering of graying hair there and on his soft belly. She’d been kissed by him more times than she could count. But it was a revelation anyway, to see him at last, to see him looking at her with breathless appreciation. To touch him, and feel his warmth and his pulse. The sweat on his forehead, on his chest, between his legs. The scarring on his body. Such contrast with the icy dry perfection of her demon lovers, the statues.

Giles, alive, a thousand million little fires alight inside him.

“Now,” she told him.

Giles rolled onto his back, carrying her over with him. “Here,” he said. “Like this. We can stop, any time you wish to.”

Buffy rose up and let him gently guide her downward. Until the moment she felt him deep inside, she realized, she’d been tensed, waiting for the pain. But there was only pleasure. His eyes were nearly closed, and he had an expression she’d never seen on him before, and never imagined she would see. Her Watcher, her best friend, in ecstasy. Buffy rested atop him, enjoying that expression, until he opened his eyes and smiled at her. He laid hands on her hips and encouraged her to move. She lifted then sank down onto him again, slowly, then again. He made a little sound.

“Is this right?”

“Lovely. Perfect. Wonderful.”

“Never done it this way before.”

He made the sound again. “Why on earth not?”

“They, uh, didn’t like it.”

“Unimaginative louts. You need an entirely better class of lover.”

“Working on that right now,” Buffy said. This was new, talking and making little jokes while making love. Giles slid a hand down her hip, circling her thigh around and in, and grazed his thumb against her. Speech became impossible. He was lifting his hips to meet hers, matching her deliberate pace. Slow, soft, building gently but inevitably. Buffy’s breath came short, but it was difficult. The last time…

Giles started talking, then, whispering to her. His voice was soft and husky. “Show me, Buffy. Show yourself to me. Let yourself feel it. Yes, like that.”

When Buffy was still again, she looked down to see Giles smiling up at her. His face was sweaty and flushed. He gently urged her off, then got out of bed to fetch a handkerchief. Buffy hadn’t even noticed him coming, she’d been so carried away by her own moment. Something to look forward to, then, the sight of Giles’ face. When they made love again. And they would.

Giles returned to her, and wrapped himself around her.

Buffy worried that everyone could see it on her face, the next morning, because she was unable to stop grinning. Or maybe it was written all over her aura. She helped Alex make breakfast for fifteen people, and burbled at him the whole time. He didn’t say anything, though, just lined up waffle batter for Buffy to cook.

When Buffy finally carried a plate out to the dining hall for herself, it was just the four of them there: Willow, Giles, Alex, and Buffy. Giles and Willow had finished already. She slathered on the butter and the syrup and dug in. She felt a touch on her foot: Giles, nudging her. She smiled at him, and he blushed.

Willow glanced up from her empty plate, at Buffy’s face and at Giles’. Buffy saw the moment she added it up, and snapped: Willow left the building. Eyes black, hair black, and the crackle of power in the air Buffy remembered from the night Willow went crazy.

“Daddy nailed big sister last night,” Willow said. “She wants to be the mommy, but that was Joyce. And he fucked her, too. Who’s next? Anya? No, I know who! Little Dawnie. Fresh, untouched, a sweet strawberry for the corrupted to corrupt.”

And then whoosh, veins, eyes, hair, back to normal: Willow again, collapsed onto the floor and sobbing that she didn’t mean it, she didn’t know what had come over her. Giles was white in the face, and his hand was clenched into a fist.

He spun on his heel and stalked out. Buffy stood watching Willow sob, in the arms of her counselor, then left to find Giles. He was in their room. The suitcase was open on the bed, the drawers pulled open. Buffy sat on the window seat and watched him throwing clothing into their bag. Then she got up and helped.

“Where to?”

“How would you feel about London for a few days?”

“You owe me shopping.”

“That I do.”

London was exciting at first. Giles got them into a hotel he knew, right on the same block as the British Museum. He gave Buffy the extra-special insider-knowledge tour, with extra details on the mummies and the Babylonian stuff. And the Assyrian stuff. He managed to make the difference interesting to Buffy, which nobody else had managed. His drily witty explanations to her attracted a little audience of tourists, who followed them like ducklings from exhibit to exhibit. They eventually made him self-conscious. When he started stammering, she threaded her arm through his and made him take her off to the cafe in the central courtyard. Which, he confessed to her, was new to him, and vaguely upsetting. His home country had changed while he was away from it.

He took her to see a play, something set in a drawing room that made her laugh, and then to dinner. They walked back to the hotel room through finally-dark streets, a little lit up from the wine.

Back in the tiny hotel room, Buffy brushed her teeth, and tried to think about settling into bed, but couldn’t. Restless. She at first tried to blame coffee in the late afternoon, then remembered her lessons from Giles. Look inside. Trust her Slayer instinct. Trust herself.

Buffy extended her senses, probing out into the city spreading far around her, and almost quailed.

“Rupert, the Council is here, right?”

“Yes,” he said, from his position sprawled across the bed. “In this part of the city, even.”

“And they train Potentials here, right?”

“Yes. What’s the matter?”

“Why are there so many vampires here? So many. My God, Rupert. Hundreds, probably. Don’t they kill any in training?”

“I— They’re supposed to. But remember, Potentials aren’t the same as full Slayers.”

“Useless jerks. Sorry, but wow. They’re nearby. This place needs a good cleaning.” Buffy went to her suitcase and began pulling out Slay-clothes. Boots, jeans, dark jacket with pockets. Giles watched her silently for a moment, then got up to put on his boots. “You don’t have to—”

“Yes, I do. I’m your Watcher. And besides, I know the city.”

And thus began a hard night of Slaying. Buffy found the urge to hunt was strong in her, possibly because of how many there were. Her Slayer instincts battered at her, telling her to keep going. Find the one in the next block and stake it. Extinguish it. Scatter its dust like cigarette ash in the air. A policeman stopped them, once, as they ghosted through Coram’s Fields on the prowl. Giles showed his Watcher identification, and the man silently saluted them and vanished.

They killed an even dozen, and hadn’t managed to stray more than a mile from the hotel. Giles said there’d be more in the seedier areas, the docks, the older sections of town. Whitechapel, where the memory of past horrors was thick. But even here, in Bloomsbury, hard by the Council building itself, there were vampires.

They fought three at once by the fountain at the center of Russell Square. They had only stakes with them. Giles with a sword was formidable, but Giles did not have a sword. They stood back to back and fought. Buffy took on two at once; Slayer’s privilege.

She fought in a holding pattern at first, while she evaluated them. The usual moderate skill, with typical vamp strength and speed. The only tricky bit here was handling the numbers.

Opening to stake the first. Buffy spun in and punched with the stake. Bullseye. But it left her off-balance, unable to follow through with any kind of grace. The second vamp didn’t waste her opening. Her high kick caught Buffy in the head and sent her hard into a bench. Buffy tried to catch herself against the back, but missed. Her wrist popped, and she fell to the ground. Just then she heard the implosive crunch and fading scream that meant Giles had staked his. Buffy flipped to her feet and launched herself over the benchback toward the last one. Giles kicked it from behind toward her, and her arc ended in collision with the vamp, stake-point first. She sailed through dusty air, hit the pavement rolling, and came on her feet again stake at the ready.

Giles was bent over, breathing hard. Buffy paced around him for a moment, checking for further threats. Nothing nearby. Then she stopped and pulled up her right sleeve. Her wrist was already swollen and discolored. She gritted her teeth. It hurt. Nothing she couldn’t deal with. She got this sort of injury once a week.

“Allow me.”

Giles laid his hands on her arm and closed his eyes. Buffy felt a breath of air, the scent of water in it, and she was healed. She’d have healed by the morning, anyway, but to heal in minutes?

“Nice trick, sweetie.”

He was probing her wrist, checking his work. “Boost to already boosted healing. I can’t do that with an ordinary human being. I merely nudge things along.”

“Huge help anyway. We make a good team.”

Giles flashed her a little smile. He looked tired, though. Buffy grasped his wrist and craned to read his watch. Four in the morning, and the sky already looking a little white in the east. She led him back to their hotel, and they slept like the dead until noon. Woke up ravenous, with hair and skin itching from demon-dust.

That was how it was every day they were in London. In the afternoon, Giles played tour guide. Buffy bought clothes. Giles watched her at play in the shops, and smiled. Their evenings started with a play or a movie, followed by dinner, followed by a frantic struggle with each other back in the hotel bed. And then it was hunting until dawn. They had to range farther each night to find what Buffy was driven to hunt. At no time did they see any sign of other demon hunters in action, of the Watcher-Potential pairs that Giles said were usually to be found. It was beginning to piss Buffy off.

The city smelled of gasoline, asphalt, bricks, vampire dust. Even the parks, with their black swans and lush greenery, were veneers over the stench of vampire to Buffy.

After four nights of this, and more than thirty kills, Buffy begged Giles to take her back home. To Bath. He sighed with relief, and began packing their bags. They took the train from Paddington. Buffy watched the city roll away and the countryside sweep into view. Trees, hedges, green fields. She felt herself relaxing. No fighting, not for a little while. But Buffy knew where her duty lay.

“Giles, if I stay here with you…”

Giles looked up from his paperback. “Hmm?”

“I’ll need to clean up London. Not at that insane pace. We’d get ourselves killed if we tried to keep that up. But it has to be done.”

“You’re the Slayer. If you say it must be done, we’ll do it. Might arrange some backup, though. Or perhaps simply bring Potentials along to watch and learn.” He shrugged slightly.

“Staying here would be okay?”

Giles’ eyes crinkled. “Of course. We’ll have to sort out your visa, but the Council will help.”

“The Hellmouth will be okay without me?”

“If you’re drawn here, Buffy, you’re drawn here. The Slayer always goes where she is needed.”

“Trust my instincts.”

“They’re well-trained instincts, love. Worth trusting.”

“Huh.” Buffy looked out the train window again, thinking not about London and vampires, but about Westbury and Willow.

They returned to Avebury for a few days, to catch up with their families and be where the air didn’t smell of vampires.

Dawn and Michael were indeed an item, though an innocent one under Maeve’s watchful eye. Horse-riding, trips to the cinema with groups of local friends, and kisses stolen when no one was watching. Dawn confessed the kisses to Buffy in a sister bonding session, with nail-painting and fashion-magazine sneering. Buffy had to suppress the urge to forbid all of it. But she remembered what she’d been like at sixteen. Kisses would be as far as it went, and forbidding them was the fastest way of ensuring that more happened.

She drew the line at giving Dawn advice on the best way to kiss, though.

“Why not?” said Giles. They were walking hand-in-hand through a field, shin-deep in wet grass and wildflowers. And mud, but they were dressed for it. The morning had been wet, but the sun was out now. Buffy never tired of this weather. It changed so often she never knew what to expect. And the flat Salisbury plains were lovely. Sun and bees and flowers and birds, and something scurrying away from their feet in the tall grass.

“What? Are you going to tell Michael how to do it?”

“If he asks. Though he’s not likely to. He’s still in shock at our violation of Council regulations.”

Buffy giggled. “How many have we violated?”

“Possibly all of them, except the ones about sacrificing infants to Ba’al.”

“That was Lurconis, and I Slayed it. No thanks to you, candy-man.”

“Hey!” The chase was on, across sodden fields. Buffy let Giles catch her at the boundary line of oaks. He seized her and bore her down to the grass, then rolled with her.

“You’re getting me muddy!”

“Slay me! I’m a mud demon!”

She flipped them and pinned him. The giggle fit was as bad as it had been in the back of the Magic Box. Giles was stretched on his back, pointing at her, laughing. Buffy leaned over him and kissed his muddy face. The kiss grew and was wild in moments, open-mouthed, hungry. Giles rolled over her. His hands dug deep into the grass at her shoulders.

“God! Can you feel it?”

Buffy could: power, magic power, in the air, grounding itself through them. Giles’ power, if he knew it, the complement to hers.

They wriggled damp clothing out of the way and took each other there, in the grass. They lay together in the grass afterwards, holding hands, just staring up peacefully. At last Buffy could ignore the mud no longer. She sat up.

“Your back is all grass.” Giles’ hand brushed over her shirt.

“So are your knees. Not just your jeans. Your knees.”

“Bloody hell.” Giles began giggling again.

They dripped mud as they walked back to the house.

The coven had convened again, over thirty of them this time. Every man and woman who’d been associated with them over the last decade. Buffy and Giles joined them in their meeting. It had the feeling of a trial, with Willow arguing for her right to retain her power. But she argued in vain. When Giles stood to add his voice to those arguing against her, to say that he was convinced she would walk the path of destruction if left alone, Willow caved. Her choices were to be bound by the coven itself to live her life isolated on the grounds here, or to surrender her powers. She agreed to yield her powers, all of them.

This was not a group given to ritual and ceremony. Once agreement was given, they stood and cleared the workspace of chairs, and ranged themselves around her in a circle. They cast the binding sphere again.

“Wait,” said Willow. “Don’t I get a last meal or anything like that? You’re just gonna do it?”

The sense of heated oppression Buffy had felt before was back, redoubled. The air in the room was hard to breathe. Her lungs were burning. The coven joined hands. They began a murmured chant.

“You can’t do this. I need more time!”

“You agreed,” Buffy told her.

“Not to having it done right away, I didn’t!” Willow blackened and her voice changed. She floated into the air. “I knew I should have seduced you, Rupert. I knew I should have gotten over the nausea and just done you. That’s all it takes with you, I guess. You’d be fighting on my side now if I had.”

This time Giles was untouched. He was again the man who’d swept into the Magic Box and knocked Willow back. Stern, unreachable. Buffy couldn’t say the same; she was ready to haul off on Willow. Or run out. But she forced herself to hold still and just watch.

Something exploded outward from Willow and slammed into the binding sphere. It held. Then Willow laughed, and did it again, and the sphere shattered outward. Shards of power sliced out and into people. They fell. The circle of hands was broken. Giles and Miss Harkness stood, however, still holding hands. Together they sent power slamming into Willow. She countered with a bolt that sent Giles flying back into the wall. Buffy heard something snap when he hit.

He slid to the floor and didn’t get up. Buffy caught his look, and stayed back, out of Willow’s sightline.

“Giles, Giles, are you okay?” Willow was human again in an instant. She ran to him.

Giles lay where she’d thrown him. He pushed himself up with his right hand. His left arm hung at his side. He wasn’t moving it at all. He was also showing no signs of pain. He held out his right arm to Willow. She collapsed against him and wept into his shoulder. Buffy saw his hand moving in Willow’s hair, his mouth bent to her ear.

The room exploded into activity, people running out to call for medical help, people running in to tend to Giles and the other injured people.

Miss Harkness led Willow away. Buffy moved carefully, staying behind the incoming medic, still out of Willow’s sight. The second the door closed behind her, she was in motion to Giles’ side. She stayed out of the way of the medic, holding his right hand while the man worked. Questions, temporary splint, then her shoulder under his arm, helping him up. And another trip to another emergency room, this time a British one. Just like the American ones she’d seen too much of, except that there were different names for everything.

“This is becoming tiresome,” said Giles.

“How bad is it?”

“Not at all. Simple fracture of the ulna. A couple of weeks in this. Hurts like the devil. Can’t afford painkillers.”

Buffy examined his plastic cast: left arm, from elbow to wrist. She handed his cellphone back to him. “Three calls while you were getting rayed and splinted. All three from coven people, one from Miss Harkness. They sounded pretty grim. Miss Harkness wants a call as soon as you can.”

Giles held the phone in his right hand, eyes closed for a moment. He looked defeated.

A coven member drove them back from the hospital. Buffy sat in front and talked to the man, who told her about what was involved in making magical artifacts. It sounded interesting. Buffy thought that maybe she should commission a sword from this guy some time. She asked him more questions. She was desperate to have something to think about that was not Willow, and the tone of Giles’ voice as he spoke into his cellphone. He was on the phone the whole drive, hanging up only when they turned into the coven’s driveway.

But when they went in, he didn’t go in search of anyone, not even Willow. He silently led Buffy up the creaking narrow staircase to their little room in the eaves. The windows were open to the late afternoon glow. It had been a lovely day; sweet-scented warm air pushed at the curtains.

Buffy sat in the window and watched him pace. The plastic cast was wrapped in red strapping. He wore a baggy black shirt; his sleeve was rolled up above the cast. He held his arm across his body as he walked. It obviously hurt him. He couldn’t heal it. If somebody else’s arm had been broken, he could have sped the healing process along. But the magic couldn’t be used selfishly, he’d said. He’d surrendered it to Willow once to shock her back to humanity. That trick wouldn’t work a second time.

Giles stopped and knelt on the window seat next to her. He stared outward, at the afternoon skies. Buffy look at the fine lines at the corners of his eyes, at the corners of his mouth, across his forehead. His hair was starting to gray at the temples. And yet there was something in him stronger and more vital than she’d ever seen in him, not even that first year they were together. Power in his hands, in his eyes. He had always been a striking man. She’d admitted that in private moments even when she’d thought him the oldest, driest, stuffiest man on the planet. Now she knew him entirely, and she didn’t have words any more for him.

She’d found someone strong enough to be with her. Strong enough all on his own not to be threatened. Strong where she wasn’t, as she was where he wasn’t.

“They’re going to have to kill her,” he said.

“I know.” Buffy had been tensed and ready to Slay that afternoon. If Willow had kept fighting after she’d broken Giles’ arm, Buffy might have done it. Willow sent her inner Slayer into overdrive.

“They tried knocking her out, drugs in her tea. She nearly killed Jane when she detected it. Too much power. No conscience. One person dead already. How many more if we don’t act?”

Buffy said nothing.

“Why? Why can’t we just lie back and let someone else deal with it? Why does it always have to be us? Are we never granted any peace?”

Buffy didn’t like to say it, because she didn’t entirely like to believe it, but they didn’t get vacations. Not really. They were who they were, all the time. And when the world needed them to act, they acted. She thought Giles knew that as well as she did, though.

“Buffy, could you possibly… I should like… I know it’s a dreadful time, but I should very much like to be with you now.”

“Come on, sweetie.”

She drew him with her to the bed. They undressed each other slowly. Giles didn’t say anything, just pulled her down onto the bed alongside him. He tugged her leg up over his hip, and slid himself home.

They were on their sides, facing each other. Buffy had never made love this way before, but she liked it. Giles moved slowly, taking his time, caressing with his good hand, making it last. When she came around him, he groaned, and began moving more urgently. Buffy watched his face, head thrown back, eyes closed, his body tensing as he approached his moment. The gasp and shudder, then the warmth of his release flooding into her— she came again when she felt it. He leaned his sweaty forehead against hers, breathing hard. His arm shook where he’d wrapped it around her shoulders. It took Buffy a while to realize it was because he was weeping.

Buffy wasn’t happy either, but she also wasn’t ready to just break down about it. Her mind turned the problem over and over.

“Sweetie, there has to be something we can do. Something that isn’t just sitting here waiting for the end.”

“What? What’s left to try?”

“We have to call Xander. He needs to know, and he needs a chance to be here. Willow gets one last shot, and he’s it.” She ought to have insisted on this weeks ago. Trusted her instincts.

Giles leaned over her to rummage on the nightstand. He punched at his phone; the lights from the buttons and screen glowed green on his face.

“Xander, it’s Giles. I— I have some bad news. Nothing drastic, not not yet, anyway. No, Buffy’s fine. She’s right here. Willow is, well. Let me explain.” He did so, with the clear phrasing that Buffy recognized as Giles in deep Watcher mode. No stammering, no flinching; all duty and detachment. Later he would allow himself to feel for the woman he’d thought of as his daughter.

“We can delay for a day or so,” he said. “She’s not an active threat. Yet. But she will be when she figures out what we’re planning. We have enough time for you to get here. Don’t worry about the money. Just get yourself on a plane, and we’ll take care of the rest.”

He silently handed the phone to Buffy. “Get on the next flight, Xan,” Buffy said. “Get over here now.”

It still took him eighteen hours to get there.

Buffy went with the coven driver sent to Heathrow to pick up Xander. They held onto each other hard throught the entire drive. Buffy told a longer version of the last few weeks, with as much detail as she could manage. Maybe Xander would know what to do. Xander knew Willow better than anybody else, still.

Giles met them at the door. He kissed Buffy, then held Xander close. “They’re waiting for you. They’re getting impatient, however. Can only hold her inactive for so long. It’s taking the entire coven to do it.”

They gave Xander an hour with Willow before their last attempt would begin. Xander closed his eyes and held Buffy close before going into the room where they had Willow waiting.

“No stress, huh? Nothing big riding on this. Well, I guess it’s no end of the world deal. Just a Willow deal. Kay. Here we go.” And he went in.

After a while he came out holding Willow by the hand. “We’re ready to try power draining again,” Xander said. Back to the meeting space, the circle convened again. This time Xander and Buffy were together with Willow inside the binding sphere. They started, and the power once again flowed out. This time it diffused among the coven members. Most of it was discharged into the air. They weren’t holding onto what they were taking, for reasons Buffy couldn’t guess at.

“I’m scared, Xan,” Willow said.

“Does it hurt?”

“It’s not that. It’s… hard to explain. Just hang on. Buffy, hold me down. Can’t tell you why—”

Willow shifted then, to black hair and black eyes mode. She thrashed. Buffy pinned her, and was shocked to realize it was taking Slayer strength to do it. Buffy extended her new, improved senses, brushed them all over Willow, and finally figured it out.

“Giles. Giles. She’s possessed. There’s something else here.” Buffy held on to Willow’s arms, thrashing with more than human strength.

“Slayer sense?”

“Trust me.”

“Bind her! Now!” The coven obeyed. Willow hung suspended, immobile.

Giles turned and looked at Miss Harkness, then at the coven members grouped behind him. “Holy water, crosses. Sword. In my duffle upstairs. Now!” Two people left the room at a run. They came back with bottles and a selection of crosses. He hung one around his neck, took another in his hand. Miss Harkness made as if to take the holy water from him, but he stopped her.

“This is Watcher business,” he said. He handed the sword to Buffy. “Buffy, stop anyone who attempts to interfere. They don’t understand this, this… And Buffy, if this fails…”

“Right. I’ve got your back,” said Buffy, crisply. She wouldn’t hold back if it came to it. She drew the sword and inspected it. She knew this one; one of Giles’ better weapons. Wickedly sharp. She spun it, getting used to its weight. It would take a demon’s head in a single blow, if she needed it to. There’d be time to freak later, after the world was saved. Again.

Five candles, hastily placed. Chalk lines on the floor. Holy water sprinkled over all, drawn into crosses on their foreheads by Giles’ trembling fingers. Xander stepped inside the pentagram and stood where he could catch Willow. Giles lit the candles and spoke a brief plea to the Christian God for containment of evil. Buffy’s power-sense tingled. A barrier was in place, with Giles, Willow, and Xander on the inside.

“Release her,” said Giles. The coven’s casters relaxed, and the energy bonds faded. Willow slumped into Xander’s arms.

Giles closed his eyes and stood for a moment with the cross pressed to his forehead. Gathering himself. He had to be thinking about the exorcism on Randall, how that had ended in blood on his face and a severed head in his hand. He drew one last deep breath. Alex, Giles’ counselor, stood against the wall. His eyes were on Giles, not on Willow. He had to know as well as Buffy did, possibly better, how rough this was going to be for Giles.

Giles opened his eyes, and spoke.

Exorcizo te, omnis spiritus immunde, in nomine Dei Patris omnipotentis, et in noimine Jesu Christi Filii ejus, Domini et Judicis nostri, et in virtute Spiritus Sancti.

Giles knelt over her. He wet his fingers with a lick, then touched them to her ears. “Ephpheta, quod est, Adaperire.

Willow thrashed and swore. Giles went on, relentless, reciting Latin and holding the cross over her even when she screamed.

Buffy scanned the room. Alex was standing back against the wall, still with his eyes fixed on Giles. Miss Harkness stood next to him, biting at her fingers. She turned her attention back on the three people inside the containing pentagram: Giles stiff with strain, his right hand holding the cross high; Willow prone; Xander kneeling over her, clasping her hands.

“Will, come on Will, you gotta help us. You gotta want it gone.”

“Xander? Is that you?”

“Yeah, it’s me. How many times do I have to keep talking you out of this stuff, Will?”

“Xander,” said Willow, with an odd voice. “Goodbye.” Then she closed her eyes and went very still, rigid almost. She didn’t fight any more. At the very end, she opened her mouth and screamed almost too loud to bear. Somebody ran at the circle, then, and Buffy cold-cocked him with the sword hilt.

Giles finished his prayer. The candles went out.

Willow’s head fell back.

The room went quiet.

Giles slumped to his knees. Alex was there, holding him up, giving him water to drink. Buffy ran in toward Willow. Xander was kneeling next to her her. She was on her back, unmoving. Blood trickled from her nose and mouth.

Buffy checked Willow’s vitals. “Breathing,” she said.

Xander patted her cheeks, then looked wildly up at Giles. “Should she be conscious?”

“Yes, I think so. That was… that was difficult. But successful. I felt it leave. Dead human. Severed soul. Romany. Revenge… So strong.”

“C’mon, Will.”

Giles crawled toward them. His hair was drenched with sweat, and his shirt stuck to his chest. That had been nasty, toward the end. He rested a hand on Willow’s chest. Buffy felt the power flow.

Willow blinked. “Huh?” she said. She tried to push herself up, but fell back again. Giles knelt behind her and helped her sit.

“Thanks, Giles. Hey, what are you doing here? Hold it, where is here?” Willow looked around herself, then started scrambling backwards, away from Buffy and Xander. She pushed right back into Giles’ arms. He embraced her loosely with his uninjured arm. She stopped struggling for a moment.

“Something is way wrong. Way way way wrong and I’m starting to freak out here. Xander? You look weird. Fatter? Buffy got skeletal and you got fat? What’s Buffy doing here? Where’s Oz?”

“Ssh, Will, hang on a sec. One question at a time. And I’m wounded, wounded, that you would comment so callously on my physique.” Xander grinned at Willow, then let it die as he looked at Giles. He took Willow’s left hand, and Buffy took the other, trying to be reassuring.

“Willow, sweetheart, what’s the last thing you remember?”

Willow twisted around to give Giles an odd look, then looked down at her hands, still clutched by Buffy and Xander. “I was in the hospital, with Oz and Cordy. We started the spell to re-curse Angel and I was having a hard time continuing it. I kinda got dizzy, and… and then here I am. Wherever here is. Which is where?”

“Okay. We’re in a house in England, in a place called Westbury. We’ve just finished, well, exorcising something out of you. It was a bit rough at the end. I think you’ve got a bit of amnesia.”

Buffy watched Willow process this. A few blinks, and that mind Buffy loved had worked it through. “How long? I know you guys look older, but…”

“Four years,” said Giles.

“Oy vey,” said Willow. Buffy nearly cried at that. Willow had been swearing Wicca-style for so long. “I’ve missed three years of college! And high school graduation!”

Xander hugged her close. “And a bunch of other stuff, too, Will. Some of it good, some of it pretty sucky. I wouldn’t say you missed graduation, exactly.”

Buffy grinned. The mayor’s commencement address had been totally missable. “It’ll come back, though, right, Rupert? Amnesia is usually temporary.”

“I— Perhaps. It depends on the cause. This one springs from mystical causes. I can’t be sure. Willow, sweetheart, can you stand up?”

Willow gave him a look again. “I’m guessing we’re all good friends these days. ‘Cause you were not so much with the sweet-talk last I checked. And, uh, woah, look at you in jeans and an earring. And what am I wearing? Long skirts? Oh my Gawd. Xander…” Stress began to crack through Willow’s voice. Xander gathered her close.

“I’ll fill ya in, Will.”

“Let’s get a bit of tea in you. You haven’t eaten in a couple of days, I believe. And allow me to introduce you to Miss Jane Harkness, who’s been your, um, instructor here at the coven.”

Then the bustling began, and Willow was sheltered in the gentle hands of her best and longest friend, and Buffy could relax.

Later, they had tea, the four of them, around a table in the kitchen, huddled together. Willow clung to Xander, who patiently gave his unique version of the story of the last four years. Giles put in a word here and there, along with careful soft questions that were designed to nudge Willow’s memory. If it remained. Buffy had to admit that she was suspicious of Willow, still. Things had gotten bad enough that Buffy was willing to entertain the notion that Willow was shamming.

But it didn’t appear to be the case. She had no memories of Dawn whatsoever. She was from before the time the monks had tampered with all of them. She cried when she heard the story of Buffy’s death, and was disbelieving when she heard Xander’s description of the resurrection.

Buffy extended that Slayer magic-sense, and tasted only a shimmer around Willow. Lemony, faint. She had power, but less than Tara had had. And no more wigging. That’s what convinced Buffy more than anything. She met Giles’ eyes and raised her eyebrows and shrugged just a little. He nodded, and stopped the questions. He excused himself to go meet with Miss Harkness. Probably to report what he’d observed about Willow.

Willow watched him leave the kitchen, then turned to Buffy. “You and Giles? When?”

“Yeah, me and Rupert. Way recently.”

“This one is news to me too, Will,” said Xander. “I am way past the point of being wigged by it. You want to know what I feel about it, Buff? ‘Cause I can tell you. It makes me happy. God, I think about you two, and I feel relieved. It means you’re with a good guy, a decent guy, not with another vampire. And it means that Giles is gonna come back. And I’ll take both those. Anything but what it’s been like the last year.”

Xander broke off. He was in tears. He turned away from them. Willow looked at Buffy, puzzled. “I take it things got pretty angsty.”

“To say the least. Things just weren’t same after… after I died and you brought me back.”

“I’m still having a hard time with that. I was that powerful? And dark?”

“It wasn’t you, Will. Rupert thinks you were possessed, and toward the end you weren’t entirely in charge.”

Willow shuddered.

In their little room under the eaves, later, Buffy held Giles close and let him talk. Relief and painkillers made him voluble.

“The best theory we have is simple possession. Willow and some unknown entity were sharing her consciousness for the last four years. Willow’s self was dominant at first, but gradually became swamped out by the other. At the end, she was only able to reassert herself with great effort. I have new respect for her, how strong she must been.”

“You’re talking as if she died.” Buffy looked down at Giles, where his head rested on her chest. Slayer night vision showed her his face clearly. His eyes were closed.

“The Willow we’ve known for the last four years did die. During the exorcism. She understood what was happening and sacrificed herself.” He was silent. Then, “I’m ashamed that I treated her badly. I was angry.”

“You were angry at the thing inside her, not her. A Romany. That’s a gypsy?”

“Yes. If I had to guess, a member of Jenny’s clan. Hopping aboard to help with the re-cursing, then staying. Perhaps Willow even invited it in, unawares. Powerful magic often opens channels we must guard, and Willow wouldn’t have been experienced enough to know how. Obvious in retrospect, but our usual means of detecting it failed. It… he? she? cloaked itself well. Gradual personality changes, ending in radical behavioral changes. Dammit! I should have seen.”

“I could sense it. Since our big fight. I just didn’t know what I was sensing. And I felt guilty about wigging. She was my friend. I thought… I thought I was just feeling guilty about you.”

“Oh, my Buffy. Never feel guilty about this.”

“No. Not any more. I’ve figured it out.”

“Knew you would,” he said.

He tightened the arm he had laid across her bare waist, under the soft sheet, his broken arm. He was sprawled across her, heavy and warm, a little sweaty. Messy, imperfect, and alive. Buffy watched Giles’ back rise and fall with his breath, evening out, slowing, as he eased into sleep.

About the game: Rules and previous ficlets
Next up: First responder to this post gets to pick the Giles-related prompt for the next. You can either invent something new you want to read, or prod me to work on the next part of any of my serial things. Or you can ask me to work on anything I have in progress. Whatever! Some requests will take longer than others, though I hope none of them take 3 months again.

Edit Jan 2012: While I cherish all comments from human beings, unfortunately this story is being hit hard by spam comments. I'm disabling new comments here. If you wanted to comment, please do drop by on one of my more recent posts!
Tags: daily ficlet, fic:giles/buffy, fiction, story:breathing

  • Moving in slow motion

    I am putting around rather than getting this thing finished & driving toward shipping. As you know, Bob, it's ship or die. Shipping is preferable to…

  • It werfs flammen.

    Today's workout was one of those bread-and-butter workouts. I did exactly three lifts, but I did each of them a lot. The details: 5x5 (means 5 sets…

  • My favorite musical genre is "untouched by human hands".

    Wrote some stuff. Did some programming. Lifted some weights, carefully, without involving my shoulder (harder than expected given that your shoulder…

← Ctrl ← Alt
Ctrl → Alt →
← Ctrl ← Alt
Ctrl → Alt →

Comments for this post were locked by the author

  • Moving in slow motion

    I am putting around rather than getting this thing finished & driving toward shipping. As you know, Bob, it's ship or die. Shipping is preferable to…

  • It werfs flammen.

    Today's workout was one of those bread-and-butter workouts. I did exactly three lifts, but I did each of them a lot. The details: 5x5 (means 5 sets…

  • My favorite musical genre is "untouched by human hands".

    Wrote some stuff. Did some programming. Lifted some weights, carefully, without involving my shoulder (harder than expected given that your shoulder…