I take Giles’ left arm and sling it across my shoulders.
“Agh,” he says, in that stupid, British, ‘It’s fine, I know I almost died – let’s not make a fuss, but ow, I think I might have a bruise coming, or possibly major internal injuries’, way of his.
We hold still for a few seconds, and then he leans on me heavily and we both almost go over. We get some forward momentum going and slowly weave our way through the debris and out of the shop. I can’t believe how sweet and familiar the car fumes smell, and how loud all the ‘shop-opening’ and ‘people-going-to-work’ sounds are. How warm the sun feels on my face. I never really noticed it much before. As we pass a gift shop, I hear a cash register drawer spring open. I wonder how long it’ll be until I get behind a cash register again. Willow killed the Accountmaster Five Hundred in the Magic Box. I loved the soft, satisfying click-clack of those keys; the crash of the drawer as it shot towards me, almost spraying nickels and dimes all over the floor; the smell of warm paper as the receipt roll heated up after lots of people bought things all at once. Not so long ago I opened the cash drawer and found a fluffy bunny keychain had been glued into one of the compartments. I turned around just in time to see Giles disappearing out the back door, laughing his head off. I spent the rest of the day not filling out orders in triplicate.
Giles makes a collect call to the coven from a public phone, and then I hail a cab. “Sixteen-thirty Revello Drive,” I tell the driver. At last Giles seems to snap out of his daze, and he shakes his head.
“Make that Kingman’s Bluff, please,” he says.
The whole way there, Giles keeps asking me if I’m sure I’m all right, as if I was the one Willow tried to hollow out. It’s sweet at first, but he keeps asking, and after a while it becomes annoying and I get the feeling that maybe he’s just looking for an excuse to work a little vengeance himself. I’ve become familiar enough with the phenomenon over the last thousand years, but I never expected to see it in Mister I’m-So-Rational. Good for him. Go, Giles.
When the cabby drops us off, I ask him to wait. You never know when you might need a quick getaway around here. Giles stops talking, and he doesn’t lean on me anymore as we make our way over the clifftop towards Xander and Willow. Although I detest every single part of Xander, from his perfectly square-trimmed toenails to his improbably-shaped head atop a neck so muscly it must restrict the flow of blood to his brain – probably the reason it flows to the smaller head so often, not that I complained – it really does shock me to see him kneeling in the dust with Willow in his arms like that. I want to yell at him to get away from her, but Giles gets there ahead of me and crouches down beside them. He doesn’t acknowledge Willow right away. He puts a hand to the rips in Xander’s shirt and asks him if he can get up. Xander nods and gently disentangles himself from Willow. Giles helps him to stand, and Willow is left kneeling in the dirt by herself.
Giles towers over her. “You’re coming with me,” he says flatly.
Willow doesn’t look up, but she stiffens, and I know what she’s thinking, because I’d be thinking the same. Giles is going to give her what she’s got coming, as it’s pretty clear that nobody else is up for it.
Willow doesn’t move, and neither does he.
“Get up,” says Giles.
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” says Willow, in a voice that carries more than a touch of fear. “Please just go away. It’s over. I’m sorry for everything. You’ll never know how sorry, but it’s over. You’re not my Watcher, and I’m not taking any orders from you.” Oh boy, was that the wrong answer. If Willow had looked up since we got here, she wouldn’t be doing the defiant thing.
“It’s not even close to being over,” says Giles. His jaw is clenching and unclenching, but whether it’s from pain or anger I can’t tell. “We’re going to check in at Buffy’s, and then you and I are going a coven in England. I have some friends there, and they’ve made it clear that I must take you to them immediately. I won’t ask you again, and I hope to God you won’t test my patience any more today. The taxi’s waiting, and we need to get Xander to the hospital. Time to think about someone else for a change.”
She still doesn’t move.
“Willow, if you and I don’t arrive at the coven today, they’re going to come looking for you,” says Giles, a little more gently. “Believe me, it’s for the best.”
Not a flicker as Willow shakes her head and winces at this, seeming to sink even deeper into herself. “I’m not going… please, Giles. There are things I have to do. I’m not ready.” She starts crying, but Giles isn’t backing down.
He’s looking paler and angrier by the second. For once, he’s not going to let her wrap him around her finger. Can’t say I blame him – Willow’s not really in a position to make demands, and the first rule of vengeance is, don’t dish it out if you can’t take it. Did she really expect Giles to just let her get away with all that? She’s an amateur all right, whatever she might think.
“I’d do what he says, Will,” ventures Xander, still in peacemaker mode. Xander and I glance at Giles, then back at each other; and as one we decide to spare Willow whatever he has in mind to do if she doesn’t get moving. Xander stretches one hand down to her, and I reach out as well. I can’t help but flinch a little as her cold hand slips into mine and we pull her up. As we start walking back to the cab, Giles trailing along behind, I push away the thought that she might still have some power left.
Back at the house, Giles holds up his hands to stop Buffy from flinging herself at him – I bet it’s because Willow’s imploded his pancreas or something – and instead places a hand either side of her face and touches his forehead to hers, murmuring something I can’t hear. There’s a questioning look in Buffy’s eyes, but she nods. Then he pulls away and orders Willow to get packing in a tone that has Buffy staring at him as if he’d suddenly peeled off a human mask, and revealed a less cuddly critter beneath. I don’t know why everyone’s always so surprised when Giles shows some spine. Willow’s backing away, shaking her head as tears spill down her face.
“Willow, now,” Giles says harshly, and takes a step towards her.
She shakes her head and runs upstairs, then we hear the bedroom door slam.
“Giles, take it easy – ” Buffy starts; and stops, as Giles’s eyes flash and he barges past Xander and me, clomping up the stairs in those black boots that must be new, and enhance his manliness quite nicely. Giles is one sexy capitalist. And I can say this because Xander made his choice, and decided he didn’t want to be Mister Anya Christina Emmanuella Jenkins, so I’m a free agent, and can ogle sexy old Englishmen all day long if I want to.
There’s a whole lot of yelling going on upstairs. Giles is yelling at Willow to open the door before he knocks it down; Willow’s yelling at him to leave her alone; Dawn’s barricaded herself in her bedroom, but she’s yelling through the door at Giles to stop pissing Willow off in case she decides that Giles would look better with his insides on the outside. We’re all afraid of the same thing – no one knows if Willow’s evil-free yet.
“Uh… feeling a little woozy here,” says Xander, grabbing onto the back of the armchair. Buffy and I steady him. “We need to get you to the hospital,” says Buffy. “I’m gonna go tell Giles and Dawn where we’re going. Hold on.” And she runs upstairs. The volume decreases by a third or so as Buffy talks to Giles. She comes downstairs with her brow so deeply furrowed you could plant potatoes in it, as Xander’s grandfather once said. I didn’t know humans could do that.
“I’ve never seen Giles like this,” says Buffy. “He’s picking the lock on Willow’s door.” She shakes her head. “He said he doesn’t want to kick the door in and make me have to pay for a new one.”
“Well, you have to admire his efforts to save your dwindling financial resources, even at a time like this,” I allow. “Although when he cools down, he could probably write you a check for it. Out of his own account. Not the one for the Magic Box.” You always want to qualify these things.
“Yeah,” says Buffy distractedly, and the furrow’s back on her brow. “He’s taking Willow to England now, like right now, and I don’t know what he’s gonna do with her once they get there. He says he can’t teleport both of us.” Buffy’s pacing around, looking for something to do with her hands. “I’m actually afraid of what Giles might do to her if they’re left alone.”
“You should be,” I say. “Not everything Willow did was about Tara. Or the magics. She was in it for the vengeance as well, and Giles knows it. If she meant business, she should’ve made his head explode the second he came in the door. He’s about to show her why you don’t leave someone only half killed, and good luck to him.” They’re staring at me. “Oh, come on! Are you two seriously telling me there’s no part of you that feels exactly the same? You can be as self-righteous as you want, but the fact is, when someone hurts you that much, you want to hurt them back. Even if it’s only for an instant. Even if you still love them.” I can feel Xander’s stare, and my face is all hot. But we’re not talking about me, we’re talking about Willow. “How do you think I’ve stayed in business for the last millennium? I’m with Giles. In fact, I’m gonna go up there right now and ask him if he wants to make a wish.”
“Anya!” Buffy and Xander say together. I shrug. Fine. Giles doesn’t look like he needs any help right now anyway.
Xander groans, and Buffy starts towing him towards the door. “Giles wouldn’t really hurt Will,” he says. “Would he?”
Xander doesn’t appear to have learned anything from our time together. “Of course he would,” I say patiently. “Who wouldn’t, after what she did?”
Xander shuffles from foot to foot for a moment, then says, “Anya, will you go with Giles and keep an eye on him and Willow? It would be kind of stupid for them to kill each other at this point.”
Oh, great merciful Snarzon. “You may have stopped a fiery evil from consuming us all, but I haven’t forgiven you, Xander. You don’t get to ask me for favors.”
“Please, Anya. Just this one time.”
Xander looks at me with those big dumb eyes and I wonder if he’s delirious, but finally I give in. It has to be more entertaining than staying here, and I guess I do kind of owe the jerk, seeing as he’s just helped to save the world. Xander smiles at me, which makes me feel all twisty inside; then they’re out the door and gone. That cabby’s going to be able to fix his kids’ teeth and put them through college on what he must be making off of us today.
Suddenly I’m aware of how quiet the house is. I go upstairs, and Giles is leaning in Willow’s doorway, watching her pack. She’s sniffling, and he looks grim. His hands are at his sides, but half hidden in the sleeves, so Willow probably hasn’t noticed how much they’re shaking. I put my hand on his back and he winces and stiffens up, so I take it away again. He doesn’t look good. ‘I’m coming with you’, I mouth at him, and he shakes his head. I nod, and he gives me a warning look. I shake my head, and he shakes his. ‘Who’s going to deal with possibly-evil Willow, if you die on the way?’ I mouth at him. Logic doesn’t seem to work, so this goes on for a while, until he rolls his eyes and waves a hand, ‘whatever’. I win. I usually do.
Willow finally finishes packing her bag, and I take it, so that Giles doesn’t have to use up any more energy teleporting that as well as her.
“Right, then, we’re off,” says Giles.
“Be nice to each other,” I say brightly, because I know Xander would want me to.
Giles goes up to Willow and she turns away, so he stands behind her and reaches around to clasp his hands together in front of her. That pulls Willow up against his ribs. He hisses in pain, and what little colour was left in his face disappears. His eyes meet mine for a second, and he shakes his head at me, like that’s going to make any difference. I’m coming. He mutters the incantation, and they’re gone. Where did he say the coven was again?
I’ve teleported to Salisbury, Oxenbury, Norbury, and Canterbury before I finally remember it was Westbury. It’s one of those places you have to really want to get to. The coven has a big Regency house and grounds in the countryside, and they’ve protected it well. There are guard bunnies everywhere, and I run up the hill to where the grass is cut shorter and Giles and Willow are standing under an oak tree not far from the house. There are benches and garden furniture tastefully arranged around the property.
It doesn’t look like a coven. There should be gothic doors, bats, and tendrils of smoke curling from crooked chimneys... oh, and turrets. I know most covens don’t look like that, but they should. This looks weirdly normal and surprisingly domestic. I glance around, still feeling beady little bunny eyes all over me. Giles grins in a not very nice way, and mutters something about the patron saint of lost luggage. He’s snared a big handful of Willow’s jacket, and his knuckles are all white. Willow’s looking off into the distance. Two witches come out of the house to take her off Giles’ hands. One is youngish, with long blonde hair; the other is older, with shorter, chestnutty-coloured hair. It’s dyed.
“Hello, I’m Julia Harkness,” says the younger, bespectacled one, holding out her hand. “Welcome to Westbury. Blessings on you all.” Giles and I shake her hand. Willow doesn’t. Miss Harkness smiles at her anyway. Although she looks friendly enough, there’s something about her that suggests this woman is someone you’d want to stay on the right side of. “Right, Willow,” she says. “The first thing we’re going to do is try to gauge the extent of your powers after what happened last night. I’m afraid that this won’t be particularly pleasant for either of us, but I feel it’s warranted.”
“Don’t worry,” I say encouragingly. “We think she’s impotent now.”
Miss Harkness’ eyes twinkle at this bit of good news, and she gestures for Willow to go on into the house. Willow’s fidgeting, her body practically humming with adrenaline, and I can tell she’s ready to sprint. Giles murmurs in her ear, then gives her a light shove in the right direction. We all watch silently until she and Miss Harkness are safely inside the house. When they go through the doorway there’s a slight shimmer. Willow’s not leaving there without anybody knowing. Can’t say I’m sorry to see the back of her for a while.
The older witch stays, looking Giles up and down. “And how about you, then, Rupert?” she says accusingly.
“He’s not impotent,” I inform her. “At least, not as far as we know.”
The witch grins and winks at him. “I’m glad to hear it.”
Giles stares at me in that utterly annoying, long-suffering way of his. “Thank you, Anya.”
I shrug. “Just here to help.”
“Your mystical energies are a mess,” the witch tells Giles. She eyes his battered cheek and temple, pale face, and scraped-up hands with a frown. “As, I suspect, is the rest of you. You’ll be letting us have a look at you, then.”
Giles shakes his head. “Ah, no, that won’t be necessary. Really, Megan, I’ll be all right in a few days. There are some things I have to take care of in Sunnydale, but I’ll be back soon.”
“What’s your hurry?” says Megan. “We need you to stay for a bit, Rupert. Willow needs you here.” She touches his arm lightly. “And if you’ll excuse my saying so, you look like something the cat left on the doorstep.”
“That’s because he was dying a little while ago,” I interject.
“Well, I’m not now,” Giles sputters. “And Willow’s probably better off without me for a bit.”
Megan looks at him curiously. “I doubt that very much,” she says. “Touch your toes,” she orders him.
Giles blinks at her. “Oh, for God’s sake, Megan, mind your own bloody – ”
“Do it or you’re not leaving,” says Megan, tossing her hair. “You know I don’t make idle threats.” I like her. She doesn’t mess around. Efficiency is a rare quality in humans. People should say what they mean.
He tears his gaze away from her and looks at me. What’s he looking at me for?
I nod. “Get on with it. I’m tired. You were out of it half the time, but I was awake for the whole thing. Stroking your hair… holding your hand… bringing you juice.”
Giles frowns. “What? You never brought me juice,” he says pedantically. How ungrateful can you get?
“Well, I would have… if you’d been conscious… and asked for it.”
He rolls his eyes. “Stay out of this, Anya,” he huffs.
“You can’t order me around,” I say. “You’re not the boss of me.” Gods, that sounds like something Xander would say. Why is he still in my head?
Giles gives me that look. “I think you’ll find I am, actually.”
Why is he being so stupid? Who knows what’s happened to his insides? He looks terrible, and if he goes back to Buffy’s, he might just go to sleep on the sofa and never wake up. I’ve seen it happen before. We’re not ready to lose him, even if he was ready to give it all up to save us. Giles is one of those people you have to get to know, and then you want to kill him less, not more, and I don’t say that about many people.
“Let’s make it more interesting,” I say. “I’ll bet you fifty dollars you can’t touch your toes. Oh, and straighten up again.”
He glares at me, and his shoulders slump ever so slightly. “I’ll stay for a little while, but then I really must get back to Sunnydale,” he says irritably, looking unhappily at the house.
He knows I never make a bet I won’t win.
Megan takes us into the Wedgwood-blue hallway, and I help Giles up the winding staircase and onto the big double bed in one of the high-ceilinged spare rooms. It’s a pleasant room; there’s a dresser, a chair with some clean clothes neatly folded on the seat, and some tables piled with books. I prop up some pillows and sit down next to him, and it’s so comfortable that we both start to doze off. A few minutes later Megan strides in and sits beside him on the other side of the bed. She glances from me to Giles and smiles, but doesn’t say anything. Then she pushes his sweater and t-shirt way up before he’s with it enough to stop her. She seems to know him pretty well. Quick, decisive movements are most effective; no chance for him to get all stuttery and flustered at the idea of a grown woman and a vengeance demon gawking at his naked English chest.
Megan and I sit back and take a good look at the nasty, oozing burn where Willow sucked the energies out of him before moving on to the mass of contusions, bruises, and wrong-looking angles of his ribs. I didn’t know humans had it in them to turn so many different colours. My eyes are getting all wet, because if I hadn’t let Willow put the whammy on me back in the shop, maybe she wouldn’t have been able to hurt him so much.
“So what did Willow do to you?” Megan asks him as she roots around in her bag. It’s stuffed with the usual supplies, like bandages and antiseptic, but there’s lot of other, more interesting stuff in there, too. “Was she actually trying to kill you, or did she just not realise how dangerous it was to take someone’s power like that? Because if she did it on purpose, to do you in, there are steps that need to be taken.”
“She didn’t realise,” says Giles. I open my mouth, and his left hand closes around my fingers very hard. I resist the urge to hit him, and glare instead.
Megan looks doubtful. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” says Giles, his eyes closed.
She doesn’t look convinced. “Really sure? Tell me the truth, Rupert. Let’s hear it right now, because I have to let Julia know what course of action we need to take with Willow.”
“She didn’t know,” he says firmly, avoiding my eyes.
Megan’s not buying it, but she gets up and leaves the room; probably to tell Miss Harkness to douse the flames on the stake or something. Sand works better than water for that.
I look down at Giles. “That was nice of you,” I say. “But you shouldn’t have done it.”
“Perhaps,” he mutters.
Without thinking, I pick up a piece of cotton wool floating in a bowl, aiming to dab gently at the cut on his forehead the way they do on ‘ER’. He chooses the wrong moment to turn his head towards me, and gets an eyeful of antiseptic instead.
“Oww,” he whines, rubbing the eye, which is only going to make it worse. “Please, Anya, I beg of you, stop helping.”
“Fine,” I say, dropping the cotton ball. Giles is looking pretty dazed and unfocused, but he smiles in a pained sort of way and takes my hand in his, gently this time. It makes me want to smack him less. In fact, it’s kind of sweet.
Megan’s back. She puts a big book down on the bed beside them and says, “Sorry, Rupert, this is going to hurt a bit.” She places her hands on his chest where the power outage has taken off the top layers of skin, and begins to speak a healing incantation as she presses down on it. Giles’ eyes water, and he’s holding his breath.
Megan’s eyes go from Giles’ chest to his face, and she lets up for a moment. “Breathe, Rupert.” He takes a few shallow breaths, and she starts again.
I wince sympathetically, but he’s obviously determined not to make a sound. He’s glaring over Megan’s shoulder.
I follow Giles’ line of sight to the doorway, and Willow’s standing there, wearing jeans and a blue sweater now. He struggles up on his elbows to talk to her, but Megan pushes him back down.
“Willow, get away from here,” Giles grates out.
She looks like she wishes the ground would just swallow her. I’ve seen that look on the faces of many women who’ve made a wish for vengeance, and changed their minds when it was too late.
“Willow, do you want to… ” I begin, but suddenly I’m distracted by Giles’ face, which is getting redder and sweatier. He gasps, and so does Willow, and so do I. Giles now has my hand in an iron grip. Willow drops to the floor in a faint. Several witches come running to scoop her up and carry her off.
“What was all that about?” I say, but Giles just shakes his head.
“Almost there,” says Megan, fifty minutes later, and I thank the gods for all our sakes. He lets go of my hand and my fingernails are blue. I look over, and Giles’ burn is fading from dark red to pink. “Well done, babe,” Megan says softly, as if speaking to a small human. It’s annoying. She wouldn’t be patronising him like that if she’d seen him when he arrived at the Magic Box, all spiky-haired and commanding. He was pretty cool. Even Buffy had had that “Whoa” look then. She wasn’t with us the time Willow and Xander and I caught Giles moonlighting at the Espresso Pump, but if she’d been there, that’s the look she would have had.
Megan’s moving away to open a jar of some sort of salve. While she’s doing that, I tentatively rest my hand on Giles’ chest ever so lightly, just to see if it’s still hot – like an experiment – and he sighs a little. I think he likes the coolness of it. His heart’s slamming away in there, and suddenly mine’s going faster too. I’m sure it’s just a sympathetic reflex. Megan grins like she knows a secret, and hands me the salve. I smooth it on, feeling him relax for two seconds, before Megan speaks again.
“Ribs now, and not for the first time,” she smiles at him. “Remember this one?”
Giles nods and shifts his position for her slightly, but he’s obviously not looking forward to this, and I wonder if it might be an idea to keep my hands out of reach this time; but his eyes flick over to mine, and before I know it, he’s got my hand again. I guess nobody wants to feel alone right now.
This one doesn’t take so long, but it’s worse, and Giles is unconscious by the time Megan takes her pain-inducing hands and gives his ribs and everything else a final prod to make sure it’s all back where whatever god he believes in intended.
“Well, that went well,” she says with a rueful smile. “He seems to like having you around. You’re more than just an employee to him, aren’t you?”
“Darn right I am,” I say, making sure she knows how it really is. “I’m his partner. Long-distance, of course. I do all the actual work.”
Megan nods and grins. “I thought so.” How did she know? Probably a witch thing.
“And you?” I say politely, as Xander would want me to. “What exactly is the nature of your relationship with Giles?” Since when do I care?
She grins. “Just good friends.”
Her answer makes me happier than I expected, and that makes me… confused? Angry? Two and a half years as a human, and I still can’t figure out what I’m feeling half the time. What I feel for Giles is nothing like what I felt for Xander, but still, he’s the kindest, smartest, most financially adept man I know. Not that there’s been a lot of competition. Mostly, my encounters with human men have been brief; just long enough for their wives or lovers to decide what to wish on them. Giles is the only man I know who makes me feel safe, even though I know I’m not. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but when he left, everything got really bad, really fast.
When I saw him in that doorway, I felt safe, even though I knew I wasn’t, and I know Buffy felt it too. But dumping all our screw-ups on Giles is just pathetic. He’s generally a big old pain in my ass, but when he was dying, I realised that his loss would burn beyond anything I could imagine, and not just because he keeps us all from flying apart. Or tries to. I still don’t get why I feel… something… so strongly for Giles. I don’t want anyone right now. I don’t even want to have wild monkey sex with him to make Xander cry and see the fireworks afterwards, which is something that, were he anybody other than Giles, I’d find pretty darn satisfying.
While Giles is all passed out, Megan takes the opportunity to pull his shirts all the way off. “I think we can do his back now,” she says. She tapes a big square of gauze over the sticky salve to stop it going all over the bed, and then we heave him over onto his stomach. His back is just as colourful as his front, and if it had been a vengeance demon that had done this, I’d have to say they did beautiful work. Lots of attention to detail.
“Wow, Giles,” I say, tracing the random patterns of scars with my index finger.
The witch nods. “Quite a mess, isn’t it? He came here after Angel tortured him,” she says. “That was a bad night.”
Megan’s trying to be gentle as she does whatever it is she’s doing, but even so, Giles is trying to push himself farther down into the mattress, squirming away from her touch. Unthinkingly, again, I put out my hand and let it rest between his shoulder blades. Megan’s been there and done that, so it shouldn’t hurt him, and it doesn’t seem to, because he sighs again and stops moving around so much. I don’t know why I should find this strangely pleasing, but I do. There’s a comforting smallness to it that seems to make us both feel better, like nothing bad has happened, and everything else has gone away except for this simple, tangible connection between us. It’s okay, anyway; this is Giles, after all; not Xander, may his tonsils fly halfway out his nose and get stuck there. I don’t want to think about Xander, so I begin rubbing little circles on Giles’ back, which is broader and more solid than I’d have given him credit for. The heaviest thing I’ve ever seen him lift is a daemonic encyclopaedia. After a little while, Megan turns and nods at me. “I think we’d better stop there for now.”
I feel the muscles in Giles’ back tense beneath my hand, and I ask the question for him. “What do you mean, ‘for now’?”
“Well… Rupert’s channelled ten times more mystical energy than a human being is built to withstand. He did similar things in his youth, but he was a good deal more resilient then.” Megan looks down at him. “Sorry, kiddo; fact of life. And there wasn’t the added complication of having all that energy taken away so quickly or forcefully. It should have been a very gradual, carefully monitored process. I’m afraid there’s no way to tell quite yet what after-effects Rupert might suffer, physical or otherwise. This is a first for all of us.”
Giles grunts into the pillow.
“Same old Rupert,” says Megan, shaking her head. “Never one to do things the easy way.”
Giles has a few glasses of orange juice and dozes off, which is boring, and I don’t want to go outside, what with all the guard bunnies running around, so I wander down to Willow’s room. She’s sitting on the window seat when I come in.
“Hey,” I say.
Willow doesn’t look at me. “How’s Giles?”
“Okay, apart from the near-death experience,” I say. “Do you want to go and see him?”
Willow looks down, twisting a piece of blanket in her hands. “Not right now. I can’t face him, Anya. He must really hate me.”
“Well, you did try to kill him,” I point out.
Willow nods. “Do you hate me?” she asks.
“Not so much. Inflicting violent retribution on the people that hurt you and those you love has always been a natural and effective means of venting anger and getting even. Besides, Warren was going to come to a bad end sooner or later; you just made it sooner. You wanted to make yourself feel better by making other people feel worse, which is how it always starts. What you did was pretty impressive, considering it was your first time; but you’d have scored higher if you’d called it quits before turning on all of humanity. Don’t you watch movies? You should never stop to gloat before you’ve actually won. You should’ve just killed us all and got on with it.” Willow’s looking at me with a very strange expression. “I’m glad you didn’t though.”
“Yeah,” she says quietly, looking back out the window.
“Are you still evil?” I ask.
She sighs. “Miss Harkness doesn’t think so. She’s trying all kinds of different tests to see how much magic I have, and when my control of it starts to get wobbly. She thinks the power’s still there, but it’s changing. Becoming something different. She’s not really sure what’s happening yet.”
“Okay, so that’s what Miss Harkness thinks. What do you think it’s doing?” I say.
Willow shakes her head. “I don’t know. I can’t really focus on anything right now. My mind’s all over the place. I keep thinking about Tara. That was the worst of all, because it was just… random. I asked for what I got. Tara didn’t.”
“Nobody asked for what they got,” I say.
“You’ve been hanging around Giles too long,” Willow smiles. “That sounds like something he’d say.” Her smile fades. “Though I doubt he’d agree with you right now.”
I nod. “Probably not. But he is Giles,” I qualify, “so you never know.”
“Do you want to go downstairs and get something to eat?” I suggest, trying to perk her up with something simple. “Ice cream?” Ice cream would be good right now.
“No thanks. I’m not hungry. My chest burns, and I feel really weird.”
“Is that why you fainted before?”
“I think so.”
“Do you want some of that stuff we slathered on Giles? I’m not putting it on you, though. No offense.”
Willow’s mouth quirks up, and her eyes fill with tears. I’m so stupid. Of course that would remind her that Tara would be only too happy to rub her chest, if she was here. But she’s not here. Poor Tara. She was smarter than all the rest of them put together. I’ll miss her. We had some good talks.
“Anya, would you mind leaving me alone for a while?”
“Sure,” I say. “I’ll see you later.”
Willow doesn’t say anything, and I back out the door. I’m not turning my back on her. As I leave, one of the witches goes in. I guess they have the same idea.
I pass the day reading back issues of ‘Modern Pagan’ magazine and watching the witches brewing up stuff for Willow and Giles. After dinner, Megan tells me the bed’s made up. Finally, someone’s attending to my needs, and I’m plum tuckered out. I can hardly think straight.
We get upstairs, and Megan turns into the same spare room where Giles is lying.
“I thought we were going to my bedroom,” I remind Megan. She looks perplexed.
It was a pretty simple question.
“You’ll be sleeping in here, Anya. We thought you’d want to be together.”
“Why?” Giles and I ask at the same time.
Megan’s going all red. “I just presumed...”
“I don’t want to sleep with him!” I hiss at her.
Megan scowls. She takes my arm and leads me out into the hall and down a little way. “I thought if you were partners, you’d want to be with him,” she says, her expression shifting from confusion to enlightenment in the space of like five seconds. “Oh. Unless you meant partners… in business?” I raise my eyebrows and nod, ‘yuh-huh!’ Megan blushes. “Oh, God, Anya, I’m sorry! How embarrassing!” We both smile, and then she looks all serious again. “But Rupert really shouldn’t be left alone for a few days. We don’t know what’s going to happen to him, and I’m guessing that Willow’s about to have the first of what’ll probably be quite a few rough nights, so we need to focus on her, but someone has to keep an eye on him as well. It would help us a lot if you could do that. Just let us know if he…” She waves her hands vaguely.
“Freaks out?” I supply. “Drops dead?”
“Basically,” she nods.
“Fine,” I say. “I can do that.” Sure. Why not. I’ve been around eleven hundred years, made countless men’s lives a living hell; then had lots of orgasms with Xander, and one and a half with Spike, who between them reminded me that being nice to men, living or dead, is a mistake; and so reclaimed my former power. So of course it makes perfect sense that I now exist only to hold Mister Snobby’s hand and say, ‘there, there’. “I don’t think he wants me to, though.”
“What he wants isn’t really as important as what he needs. Just ask him if it would be all right if you stay with him tonight. I’m sure he’ll say yes. If he doesn’t, I’ll explain to him why his wishes were ignored. All right?”
“Why does it have to be me? Isn’t there someone better qualified?”
“No,” she smiles. “You may not be partners as such, but I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”
“So have I, and I don’t like it.” Well, sometimes I do. Gods, this is confusing. I wish I’d never been human.
Megan just doesn’t get it. She says to call if we need anything, and heads off down the hall to Willow’s room. With a heavy sigh, I go back to our room. Giles should’ve requested a twin. With ensuite.
Giles is lying on his left side with his back to me. I creep into the room and bend down close to his ear.
“Giles, do you want me to sleep with you?”
He jerks, practically breaking my nose. “Do I… what?”
“Ow!” I slap his shoulder.
“You hit me first,” I point out, rubbing my nose.
“I didn’t hit… Quite right. What was I thinking.” He frowns. “Sorry… I-I… think I must’ve misheard you, Anya.”
“I said, do you want me to sleep with you? I swear, you people can’t answer the simplest questions.”
“That isn’t a simple question.”
“Well, actually it wasn’t a question at all,” I admit. “I know how you enjoy the illusion of control, so I asked you; but really that was just a formality. I’m going to go get ready, and when I come back you’d better have made room for me and not messed up my side of the bed. And you’d better not drool on me this time.”
As I leave the room I hear him say, “Oh, God,” very softly. Then he groans. Poor Giles. He must be in a lot of pain.
When I get back, I’m glad to see that Giles has left me plenty of room. Even more than I expected. But suddenly I’m not feeling so good about just slithering into bed with him. Giles may be Giles, but he’s still a man, with all of those unruly man-parts; and still my friend. I sit down in the armchair and stare at the back of his head, trying to figure out what to do. I suppose I could sleep in the chair, but I’m so tired, and the bed looks so good.
“What are you doing?”
“Sitting in the chair. Staring at the back of your head.”
“Wouldn’t you rather get into bed?”
“With you?” After all I’ve seen and done in eleven hundred years, I’m stalling on getting into bed with this guy?
“Many women would jump at the chance.”
“Somebody thinks a lot of himself.” What will he think if I get in there? What will he think if I don’t?
“Oh, just get in,” he says, not unkindly. Oh, fine.
I get under the covers and snuggle down. Nothing feels as good as lying down in a comfy bed when you’re exhausted from helping people save the world. Then I have a thought.
“Are you all naked under there?”
He laughs softly. “Not bloody likely. You’ll have to buy me dinner first.”
“Ha bloody ha,” I say.
“That sounded very English… almost worthy of me,” he says approvingly. “I’ve trained you well.”
“Well, at least I know what knickered means now.”
His laugh is quickly followed by a groan. “Ooh… mustn’t laugh. I think you mean ‘knackered’. Don’t we all. And speaking of knackered, Anya…”
“Yes, fine, I’ll shut up and let you go to sleep. Again.”
“Actually, I was going to ask you if you’d be so kind as to take my socks off for me.”
I sit up and look at him. “Please tell me that was just another example of your hilarious British wit.”
“I only wish it was. Please, Anya? I just can’t quite… move.”
His eyes have turned all jade green and imploring, and I become the first vengeance demon in the history of the universe to get up, go to a man’s bedside, pull the blankets out from the bottom of the bed, toss them back, and…
…peel a pair of Gap socks from his feet. At least he doesn’t have perfectly square-trimmed toenails.
“Do you usually wear jeans in bed?” I ask.
“Yes, I find it saves time in the morning.”
“Would you like me to take those off as well?”
He looks mildly startled. “No. Thank you.”
“But you’ll be uncomfortable.”
“No, I won’t.”
“Yes, you will. C’mon, it’ll only take a second.” I give the cuffs of his jeans a good yank, and his eyes get very wide.
“You might want to unbutton them first,” I suggest. “No sense doing any more damage.” We have another staring contest for a few seconds, before he fumbles around beneath the blanket.
“Go on, then,” he says, closing his eyes and rubbing his temple.
“Lift up,” I tell him. And to my utter amazement, he does, just a tiny bit. Enough for me to tug them off while he holds the comforter in place. I take a pair of navy sweatpants and a white t-shirt from the chair by the door and hand them to him.
He looks at me and raises his eyebrows. I don’t get the obscure Giles-code. He rolls his eyes. “Turn around,” he orders. I do, but not before heaving a theatrical sigh.
“You haven’t got anything Xander hasn’t,” I say over my shoulder. “Have you?”
“That’s not the point.”
“You’re pretty shy for guy who made his youthful body and soul the vessel for otherworldly evil,” I say.
“Fine, then. Turn around and prepare to be dazzled,” he snaps.
“No, I don’t want to now.”
He pauses, and says in a soft, puzzled voice, “Did you want to earlier?”
There’s really no good answer to that. It’s one thing to admire someone in the privacy of your own brain; quite another to admit it while they’re gazing at you with kind, searching eyes. “Aren’t you done yet?” I say.
He’s quiet for a minute; then more puffing and groaning ensues, and finally he grants me his gracious permission to get back in bed.