The dragon-hunting manual was a complete mess of unbound, unnumbered pages, stacked in no particular order. Giles thought he had most of the pages in the correct order, but a few stray pages seemed to defy any logical placement. He felt his frustration building, and decided perhaps the task might seem less daunting after he'd had some tea.
Clea was in the kitchen, making a huge stack of sandwiches. "They're for my partner."
"Ah, I see," Giles said, as if that explained everything.
"Are you ok, Rupert? You seem a little quiet since your day off."
He was about to say that he was fine, but it occurred to him that this was a chance to confide in someone his own age, someone who wasn't an idiot or in denial about the supernatural world.
“It’s. Um. Well, there’s this remarkable young woman that I’ve known for years. And she--and I--there’s a mutual attraction. And it never should have happened and I don’t know how to get out of it now without hurting her.”
Clea listened to the whole saga as Giles made tea, and said, "So it's the age difference that's the problem?"
"Yes, mostly. It seems wrong to ask her to waste the best years of her youth on someone so much older.” It was such a relief to finally unburden himself.
"Well, I'm probably the worst person to talk to about this kind of thing--"
A tall, dark haired woman walked into the kitchen, grabbed the plate of sandwiches, and said, "Just here for the food, don't mind me."
She moved with sinuous grace, and something about her made his Eyghon mark burn for just a moment. Giles finally put the pieces together. "Good lord. You--your partner is a demon."
"Lili's half Suped demon and half human, actually,"
Giles knew of only six races that could interbreed with humans; Supeds were not among them. He couldn't resist indulging his Watcherly curiosity. "If you don't mind me asking, how did you meet her?"
“It was back when Gwendolyn Post went rogue. The Council got a lead that she might be in Sonora, and sent me to investigate. Post wasn’t there, but there was a fairly bad demon dog infestation. Long story short, Liliokali helped me drive out the demon dogs, and we hit it off pretty much right away.”
"She's the reason you needed someone open-minded to help you."
Clea nodded. "I think Travers and his stooges would want to lock her up and study her. Or interrogate her about history. She's more than five hundred years old. That’s why I’m probably the worst person to talk to about your age difference worries. They seem rather—quaint in comparison.”
It took a moment for that to sink in. “But surely you had some reservations about it, about whether it was fair for either of you.”
Clea picked up their now-empty teacups and started washing them. “Well, sure. But I figured that neither of us have any guarantees about waking up tomorrow. Lili understands the supernatural world and can hold her own against whatever it sends our way. I decided that was a lot more important than anything else.”
Willow was distracted all week by thoughts of Giles and what had almost happened. She wasn’t sure what to think of it.
She had a few moments of wondering if she was super-skanky for kissing Giles so soon after Oz. But Oz had made it clear that he didn’t want anything more to do with her, and aside from Technopagan meetings about Oz-related spells, she hadn't thought about Oz since she arrived in Cupertino. Thinking about Oz now didn't hurt nearly as much as it had before. Maybe Buffy had been right and Willow really had just needed time to get over him.
Giles seemed to think the age difference was a big deal, but she didn’t agree. Giles was smart and kind and funny and handsome, and it wasn’t like the guys her own age were such great prizes, anyway. She’d thought Oz was different from the jerks her own age, but he’d gone chasing after some hot superbitch just the same.
Of course, that didn’t settle the whole Giles issue. Sometimes Willow thought that she’d had enough of chasing guys who didn’t really want her, and she was going to hold out for someone who wanted her so much that he’d chase her. But the more she thought about it, the she thought it could just be Giles being his usual cautious self, rather than him using caution as an excuse to let her down easy.
She could be direct, say that she was interested in a relationship, despite the obstacles. But that would mean risking her heart getting stomped to pieces again. She didn’t know if she could survive that again.
Giles sat on Willow’s couch, trying to calm his nerves for an uncomfortable discussion, trying to ignore the memories of the last time he’d sat on this couch, kissing Willow, her body pressed against his. Perhaps she’d make things easy on them both by telling him she wasn’t interested. It wasn’t like he was any great prize, after all.
Willow took a deep breath, and said, “I really like you. I think you’re smart and funny and kind. I know you’re scared about the age difference, but it really doesn’t matter to me. I know you might not feel the same way--and if you don’t, that’s ok. I’m used to liking people more than they like me. I just wanted to let you know that I’m interested. If you are.”
There was something about the way she looked at him, so open, so vulnerable, that made something inside him snap. He knew all the reasons that it shouldn’t work, couldn’t work, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell her that he wasn’t interested. He wasn’t Buffy’s Watcher any more, which meant that he could start thinking about what he/ wanted for a change. “Willow, I--I am interested, but there are things we should talk about before we do something rash. Like the distance between us. I’ll be in San Francisco and you’ll be in Sunnydale.”
She shrugged. “I always figured that with grad school and all, I’d have to be in a long-distance relationship at some point. I’ll find a way to deal.”
“And the most important thing is that I don’t want you missing out on anything that life has to offer because of me. If there’s anyone you want to pursue, you should do it, and not worry about my feelings.”
Her eyes widened. “Are you saying you want me to date other people?”
He said, “Only if you want to. It would set my mind at ease to know that I’m not holding you back.”
“I don’t see that happening, but I guess I can agree to that.”
“And there’s the matter of the others, and how they’ll react.”
She looked pained. “Can we wait on telling them? I mean, this is really new for us, and there isn’t any real reason they have to know right away.”
“I can’t think of any reason either,” he said. It would be nice to reclaim some privacy; having his relationships subject to scrutiny by Buffy and the others was rather excruciating.
“So is there any reason I can’t kiss you right now?” she asked.
He shook his head, and gladly surrendered to her.
Willow gasped as the kiss grew fierce, and Giles pulled her onto his lap. She’d felt so ugly and undesirable for months; knowing that Giles really wanted her made her ache, in a good way.
The getting undressed part felt a little awkward; being naked in front of someone she’d known for so long as a friend made her feel self-conscious. But once they were on the bed and started kissing again, everything felt completely natural. Like they were always meant to be together.
As they brought each other closer and closer to oblivion, she could feel her magic brushing against his. She’d never felt so close to anyone before. She wrapped her arms and legs tightly around him, and shuddered as her world turned inside out. The boundary between her magic and his started to blur, and completely disappeared as he reached his climax.
As they kissed and caressed each other gently, Willow felt like the luckiest woman in the world.
The rest of the summer passed by in a blur for Giles, between preparations for his departure in Sunnydale, archiving and indexing work in Clea’s library, and visits with Willow.
Their relationship was something he’d never expected, something he’d tried to deny himself. But after just a few short months, he couldn’t imagine life without her. He’d always admired her bright and curious nature, and he loved their discussions about the library, magic, and whatever other topic had caught her interest. But the physical intimacy--something he’d never imagined would happen--had only intensified his feelings for her.
While he loved the anticipation and excitement of his visits, each time they parted, it hurt a little more. He knew there were good, sensible reasons for Willow to return to Sunnydale and for him to move to San Francisco, but it still pained him to think of being so far away from her for so long. It was obvious to him that he was falling in love with her. But he shouldn’t say anything to Willow about it. He didn’t want her to feel compelled to reciprocate. Being with her was more than he deserved; asking for anything else would be selfish.
Willow was buying some textbooks and plays from her drama class when she saw Tara. She waved and Tara came over, and listened with interest to about the telepathy spells Willow had learned with the Technopagans.
Willow was so excited, she just had to tell someone about the other new thing in her life. And Tara didn't know Giles, so Willow didn't have to worry about Tara freaking out about that whole part of it.
"So the other part that's exciting is that I'm dating again! I've known him for a long time, but he's a little older than me so I never really thought he'd be interested, and it’s going to be long distance for a while but we hope not forever--and I am babbling, aren’t I?”
‘No, you’re just happy. I’m happy for you.” Tara was smiling, but she didn’t look happy.
Willow knew that kind of forced smile; she’d plastered one across her own face enough times back when-- “Oh!” she blurted out. She'd been so stupid--the way Tara looked at her, the doll's eye crystal, Tara asking if Riley was Willow’s boyfriend--all of that stuff added up in her head, finally, but she'd already managed to hurt Tara's feelings.
Tara shifted her backpack onto her shoulders. “I, um, have a m-meeting I need to get to,” and she was off before Willow could stop her. It was just as well, since Willow had no idea what to say to make things better.
If only she could do a spell so Tara could forget having a crush on Willow. Or at least forget Willow’s gushing about Giles. It seemed so unfair. It wasn’t Tara’s fault that Willow had been oblivious and insensitive to Tara’s feelings, but Tara was the one who got hurt.
The thoughts gnawed at Willow for weeks, until she finally told herself that Tara was a witch herself, and if Tara wanted to forget about Willow’s thoughtlessness, or even forget that she'd ever met Willow, Tara could do the spell herself.
Willow knew it wasn’t exactly the way the Technopagans would want her to think about it. But it would shut her brain up when she’d run into Tara on campus and things were awkward. And shutting her brain up was a major step in letting things play out on their own, the way she knew they should.
Giles had just packed the last box when Buffy came by, and nervously started talking about Dracula, the darkness of her power, and feeling like she needed to know more, to do more as a Slayer, and that she wanted him to return as her Watcher.
He felt a pang as he thought of the library and all of the work yet to be done on it. But Willow was here, and that made up for everything.
He smiled, and said, “I would be honored to be your Watcher again.”
“You sure you’re not mad? Even about all this?” she asked, gesturing at the boxes that filled the room.
“No,” he said. “But if you still have a guilty conscience, you could give me a hand with the unpacking.”
“We could get everyone to help, and make it into a festive-y welcoming back and unpacking party. Wait, not a party. Those never go well. We’ll just call it an event.”
“Buffy asked me to come back and I agreed,” Giles said.
“Really? That’s wonderful.” Willow felt a little twinge of worry that he’d come back to be Buffy’s Watcher, but not for her. But that was silly. Being a Watcher wasn’t just a job for Giles, it was a sacred calling, and she knew how important it was to her. His dedication to his job, and to Buffy was one of the things that she loved about him.
Loved. She’d felt it for a while, had wanted to say it dozens of times, but always chickened out. What if he didn’t feel the same way? What if saying the L-word scared him off?
“We’ll have to tell the others soon,” he said.
“Ok, maybe at the unpacking part—I mean, event.” As much as she worried about what Buffy and Xander would think, she knew that keeping secrets always seemed to go badly for all of them.
“But what about the library?” she asked.
“I’ll try to think of people who might be able to help Clea.”
“I can call Jocelyn and see if the Technopagans can help. We’ll think of something.”
The grand box-unpacking project was underway. Xander and Anya were bickering about whether a particular vengeance demon masterpiece was too repulsive to discuss before dinner. Buffy and Riley were debating the merits of swords versus Tasers for handling Polgara demons. Giles and Willow were exchanging glances every now and then, silently trying to decide when to interrupt with their big announcement.
Giles was carefully returning a set of 14th century spellbooks in proper order, so their magical energies wouldn’t leak into other books, when he heard the door open. He thought it was Joyce and Dawn bringing snacks, but the room suddenly went silent.
He turned around, and saw Oz. Giles could see the love for Willow in Oz’s eyes. In that moment, Giles could see everything he'd hoped for falling apart.
"Oz?" Willow said, hesitantly.
Oz moved closer to Willow and breathed in. He looked confused for a moment, and blurted out, "You--you slept with Giles?"
Willow said, "Um--" and looked at Giles. He couldn't think of a bloody thing to say at this moment, either.
"I need some air," Oz said, and stormed out of the apartment.
"Oz, wait!" Willow followed.
And then of course the whole lot of them were looking at him, expecting some sort of explanation.
He cleared his throat, trying not to stammer, because that would just make things much, much worse. "So, Willow and I, er, were going to tell you--"
Buffy said, "Then it's true? Oh my god, Giles. That's just so--ick."
"Maybe Willow just wanted to have sex with someone who wasn't a werewolf. And she knew she couldn't with Xander because he's mine." Anya looked pleased with her deductions, and looked around the room for confirmation of her theory.
Riley said, "Wait, who's a werewolf?"
Buffy said, "Oz."
"Oh, so that's why they broke up. No wonder she was so upset--"
Buffy was clearly growing impatient. "No, she was fine with him being a werewolf. The breakup was because Oz cheated on Willow."
Riley looked deeply confused. "Willow dated a werewolf on purpose? I thought she was smarter than that."
Here we go.
As Buffy and Riley started quarrelling, Giles was momentarily grateful for the distraction. But that just left him alone with his thoughts. He was about to lose Willow. Oz had left and it had nearly wrecked her; now he was back, and it was inevitable that they would get back together. It was probably for the best for her, but that didn't make it hurt any less. He'd known this moment would come, sooner or later, but he'd selfishly hoped for a little more time with her.
Xander said, "I know! It was a spell, right?"
"We weren't under a spell."
"No, I mean one those spells where you have to get groiny to make the magic work."
Giles glared at Xander with utter disdain. Leave it to Xander to rememberthat from all those research sessions.
"And then you both were super embarrassed about the whole thing, and that's why it was a secret."
Good God, couldn't anyone let him mourn this loss in peace?
Willow caught up with Oz near the quad, and put a hand on his arm. "Oz--"
He shrugged it off and kept walking. "Willow, this is really not a good time." The only other time she'd heard that tone from him was the argument in the cage with Veruca.
"Well, that's too bad. Because I have something to say, and you haven't been big with the communication, so I have no idea if I'm ever going to see you again." Her voice was shaking, and she was wondered if she'd gone too far.
But oddly enough, he looked less angry after her outburst, maybe even a bit chastened. He sat down abruptly on the lawn. She sat beside him.
"What happened?" Oz asked. "Are the two of you--involved? Like a relationship?"
"Well, it's kinda new, and we're still trying to figure things out, but I'd call it a relationship."
"I'm sorry." Oz stared down at the grass. "I came back to tell you that I'd learned how to control the wolf, and I thought maybe we could--"
She shook her head. This was everything she'd wanted last fall, but now, things were so different. Why did the universe keep handing her the things only when it was too late, and she didn’t really want them anymore?
Oz said, "I would have waited for you, if it had been the other way around."
Willow sighed. "Oz, I tried waiting. But I felt so hurt and lonely and empty. I could either move forward, or keep waiting, and I didn't know if you were ever gonna come back. And feeling like that might go on forever--it just led to badness. Lots of badness."
Oz said, "Yeah, it was probably unreasonable to expect that. So are you happy?"
"Yeah, I really am."
He hugged her. “Then be happy.”
After the Buffy/Riley hostilities had ceased, Buffy approached Giles.
"Hey, are you okay?"
"I'm fine." He had no idea what to say to her. Even before Oz had showed up, he'd had only the vaguest idea of how to break the news to the group. Now, he was completely at sea. Buffy, I shagged your best friend all summer. But don't worry, she'll be back with Oz and we'll all pretend this never happened. Yes, that would go over well.
"Don't get all stiff-upper-lippy. I can tell you're worried."
Sympathy was the last thing he'd expected, and somehow, that just made things worse. "I appreciate the concern, but there’s no reason for it."
She stared up at him, apparently determined not to let it go. "So not convincing. Is Willow the reason you wanted to leave?”
"No, it's not the reason I wanted to leave. We---became involved after I made that decision.”
“And was it a secret because you thought I'd be weirded out by this? I mean, I am, but that doesn’t mean you guys have to stop doing things that weird me out."
“Thank you, Buffy, but I expect it’s a moot point now anyway.”
"Because of Oz? I don't know, Giles. She was looking really happy today, right up to the point where Oz showed up, and then she got all weird and conflict-y looking. I don't think they're going pick right up where left off, you know? He did some really awful stuff before he left."
"Well, perhaps you're right," he said. But he couldn't escape the thoughts that consumed him. He’d practically demanded that Willow keep her romantic options open. Oz had shown up with his love for Willow written all over his face. Giles had known going in that there was a risk of Willow leaving him for someone younger, but he hadn’t thought it would be this soon.
By the time Willow got back to Giles’ apartment, all of the boxes had been unpacked, and everyone except Giles had left.
Which was good, because she wasn’t ready to be all explain-y about the whole relationship thing with anyone except Giles. Guilt gnawed at her as she realized she’d left Giles to do all the explaining.
“You spoke with Oz?” he said, and his tone was really distant. She looked at him, standing very stiffly, his arms tightly crossed over his chest. Oh, god, he really is worried I’m going to leave him for Oz. Her heart hurt a little. She hadn’t realized that she meant so much to him.
“Yeah, I did. He wanted to get back together and I told him no.”
“Willow, you shouldn’t feel obligated on my behalf.”
She knew he was going to say that, but it frustrated her all the same. “I didn’t. The reason that I didn’t get back with Oz is that I’m a different Willow now than I was when he left. And this Willow--” she faltered for a moment, then gathered up the courage to say it, “--this Willow is in love with you and wants to be with you.”
He was quiet for a moment, watching her, maybe looking for a sign that she was telling the truth. She looked him in the eye, hoping that he’d see in her face what she felt in heart.
Then he wrapped his arms around her, in one of those oxygen-depriving hugs. Then he loosened his grip on her a little, and kissed her forehead. “God, I love you. I’m so glad you came back to me.”
She pulled him down for a kiss, and when they finally came up for air, her brain picked absolutely the wrong time to have an epiphany.
Giles looked down at her, “You’ve got an idea, I see.”
Willow said, “I was thinking about the library. I know we can’t move the books from the room, but maybe we could do a spell to teleport the room here. I could ask the Technopagans about it, and maybe Tara could help--”
Giles said, “It’s a brilliant idea. Let’s talk about it later,” and pulled her into another kiss.
Willow pulled away just long enough to say, “Yeah, later is of the good for me too.”