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The clock struck five in the Magic Box, closing time. Willow, Tara, Xander, and Anya glanced at each other in silent communication as Giles quietly donned his jacket to leave. He was already headed for the door when Willow gave Dawn the nod.

“Umm… Giles?” Willow called after him. “Tara and I still have a few things to finish up here. Could you please take Dawn home on your way?”

The teenager ran up to him as he turned to respond and wrapped her warm hands around his arm. She gazed up at him, flashing her brightest smile. “Please,” she beamed. “It’s been a while since I’ve had you all to myself. We can go get some ice cream. I could do with a little cheering up.”

Giles looked down at her with his kind, green eyes. “Of course,” he said softly with a small nod, as if defeated by the young lady’s enthusiasm. Then he simply turned and made his way out the door.

As they left, Dawn looked back at Willow and gave a sad shake of her head. “Darn,” the red-headed witch muttered. “If Dawn can’t even get a smile out of him, this is going to be harder than I thought.”

The four remaining in the magic shop sat down around the research table to discuss the problem they had all begun to worry about.

Xander stared across at his best friend. “I haven’t seen him so much as crack a smile for months. Especially, not since… you know. He doesn’t even try to correct me when I say something stupid anymore. And believe me, I’ve tested him with some real doozies.”

“His mood is so depressing that the regular customers have started to prefer being served by me,” Anya announced bluntly. “It’s making more work for me and it’s really annoying. You have to fix him.”

“An,” Xander sighed, “hard as it is to believe, this isn’t about you. Giles needs our help. That’s why we’re here. To figure out what we can do… for him.”

“W-Well, he’s depressed,” Tara said softly. “It’s n-normal. We all are, really.”

“Yes,” Willow frowned. “But we’re all getting through it. He just seems to be sinking deeper everyday.”

Anya cocked her head. “Makes sense. We were just her friends. He was her Watcher. It was his job to keep her safe. He failed.”

“He didn’t fail!” Willow shouted with much more defensiveness than even she expected.

Tara put a hand over her girlfriend’s. “W-What if he thinks he did? What if he’s torturing himself because he thinks he l-let it happen?”

“Willow, you’ve read some of the chronicles. What do the Watchers normally do when they lose their Slayers?” Xander grasped for any help.

“It always gets a little cryptic at that point. But, as far as I can make out, one of two things usually happens. Either the Watcher was only with the Slayer for a short time and returned to the Council when their duty ended, or they had grown very attached and… Well, let’s just say they sent the chronicles back and never…” Willow sighed, not knowing how to finish.

Anya was the first to respond. “So, Giles hasn’t gone back to the Council, and he hasn’t offed himself. What’s wrong with him?”

Tara winched at the pain that shot through the other’s eyes at the thought. “Nothing is w-wrong with Mr. Giles. He’s different than other W-Watchers because the Slayer wasn’t the only one he chose to c-care for here.”

“He stayed because of us,” Xander muttered. “What he needs is someone to talk to. That’s what we all have that he doesn’t. Even Dawn has Spike to talk to.”

“He won’t talk to us,” Willow sighed. “Sometimes I think he looks at us and still sees his high school students.”

“And he would never open up to a stranger. Most people would probably think he’s crazy anyway.”

“Thank you, Anya,” Xander sighed

“Maybe we could find him some kind of release,” Willow mused. “Something to put his energies and emotions into that would make him feel better.”

“Oh!” Anya shouted. “We could get him a hooker.” Three sets of eyes blinked at her in disbelief. “What? Sex is Xander’s favorite kind of release. And, from my experience as a vengeance demon, most men are the same.”

Xander let a half smile form on his lips. “She’s not wrong there. As far as releases go…”

“Um…” Tara interjected shyly. “I r-really don’t see Mr. Giles as one who’d go for a… p-prostitute.”

“No,” Willow whispered thoughtfully. “It’d have to be someone he already has feelings for. Someone who already has his trust. Someone he knows cares about him.”

“Ah… Wills,” Xander let out a nervous chuckle. “I think you’ve just narrowed it down to someone at this table.”

A determined look spread over Willow’s face. “Exactly.”

“I’ll do it,” Anya offered flatly. She raised a questioning eyebrow at Xander’s exasperated features. “What? If it fixes him, he can get back to working like he’s supposed to. Also, as examples of the older male form go, Giles really is quite nice to look at.” The other two girls nodded in agreement.

“Plus, given his personality…” Willow egged her on, finding Xander’s reactions amusing.

“Yes, I think he’d be a most tender and attentive lover.”

Willow couldn’t help a giggle as she added, “He probably knows how to do things, too.”

“Have you all thought about what it would be like to have sex with Giles?” Xander forced out when he found breath.

“I do like the way he sings,” Tara blushed, just to torture the boy a bit more.

“Oh please,” Anya slapped his shoulder. “Are you telling me you haven’t imagined sleeping with anyone else since we’ve been together?” She indicated the pair across the table with a glance.

“Well… Come on… It’s every man’s fantasy.”

“B-Besides,” Tara’s brow creased. “I don’t think it could work that way. Mr. Giles knows we’re all in relationships. He would n-never let one of us cheat. Especially with him.”

Willow smiled. “You’re right. It’ll have to be as a couple.”

“Ok, not trying to sound like jealous-guy here, or even freaked-out-guy… And I assure you I’d be happy to share Anya if I thought it would help the guy out. But, to tell the truth, An can be kinda… rough. And I’m not sure he can take that at the moment.”

“Are you saying I hurt you during sex,” Anya huffed.

“It’s a good hurt, Baby, a good hurt.”

Anya muttered, “Bet I wouldn’t hurt Giles.”

“Anyway,” Willow rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t talking about you guys.”

“Oh, thank god,” Xander breathed.

“Not this time at least,” she added, just to keep him on the hook. “Xander said it before. Every man’s fantasy.” She leaned in close to Tara. “So, what do you think, Sweetie? Wanna help me seduce my friend?”

Tara gulped. “Y-You know I care about Mr. Giles as much as the r-rest of you. But I-I’ve never… you know, with a man before.”

“Seriously?” Anya squeaked with surprise.

“You guys have seen the type of men I grew up with…”

“Doesn’t matter,” Xander grinned. “We’re easy. Just show us some skin and you can do what you want with us.” Anya nodded knowingly.

“But h-how will we get him to…”

Willows eyes sparkled as she plotted. “I know this spell to loosen inhibitions…”

*

Giles had just finished up the last of the dishes from his dinner for one. He stretched his back and ran an eye over his library, hoping a title would catch his attention. But nothing sparked his interest. That seemed to be the normality in his life now. His weary body seemed to drag along as he poured himself a nightcap. The heavy muscles of his limbs begged him for rest, for sleep. With a sigh, he resigned himself to their will. He knew the alcohol wouldn’t bring oblivion anymore, and anything more drastic would compromise his ability to be there for the children, though he knew they didn’t really need him. There would be no escaping the nightmares. Might as well go to bed and let them start having their way with him.

At the foot of the stairs, he was stopped by a knock on the door. He set his glass on the desk and slowly tugged the door open.

“Hello,” he said with mild surprise as the faces of Willow and Tara stared back at him. There was a time when his flat buzzed with the activities of his makeshift family, but that had ended long ago. “Have I forgotten my night to patrol with you?”

“Oh no,” Willow smiled reassuringly at him. “Spike and the Bot are out tonight. I’m sure they’re doing fine.”

“Is Dawn all right?”

“S-She’s fine Mr. Giles. She’s having a sleepover with Xander and Anya.”

Giles gave a sigh of relief. “What can I do for you?” he asked softly, motioning an invitation to his young friends.

“Well, this will probably seem silly to you,” Willow tried to set a serious face as she enter, passing so close she could feel his warmth. “But the door was accidentally left open earlier, and we think Miss Kitty got out. We can’t find her anywhere.”

Giles ran his fingers through his hair, his face never changing from its tired expression. “I’m sorry. I am sure she hasn’t shown up here.”

What should have made Willow laugh almost made her cry. The sarcastic remark would have come from the old Giles, but there was no twinkle in the eye to go with it, no playful smile to make everything all right. It was like this man she had admired so much had been hollowed out. She was looking at the shell of her friend and it hurt deeply.

“No, Mr. Giles,” Tara said softly. “Willow remembered seeing a spell in one of your books. It’s supposed to ask the g-goddess Flidhais to help find lost creatures.”

“We shouldn’t be long,” Willow offered. “Just a quick spell and we’ll be out of your hair.”

Giles nodded. “Please, make yourselves at home. I was just off to bed, but if you’d like my assistance…”

“We’ll be fine, Giles. If you’re tired, you should go to bed.” Willow smiled. That would be perfect. “We know how to show ourselves out when we’re finished.”

“Of course… Thank you.” The Watcher picked up his glass and headed up the stairs. He knew they didn’t need his help. Why would they? They were two confident and powerful young women. He should be proud. His students had grown into kind, mature adults. In time, these two would even surpass him in knowledge and ability. He’d taught them well. But, at that moment, all he could muster were feelings of uselessness and loneliness. Perhaps, it wouldn’t be so bad if one day he wasn’t there for them after all.

“Are you sure we should do this?” Tara whispered.

Willow sighed, “Just look at him. That’s not the man we all know and love. If getting him back to us takes drastic measures, I’m willing to go as drastic as I have to. Are you having second thoughts, Sweetie?”

“Well… N-No. It’s just… It doesn’t seem right to put him under a spell. What if we kinda m-make him do something he doesn’t really want to?”

“Don’t worry, Tara. The spell is just to loosen him up a little. It can’t force him to do anything he doesn’t already want to.” Willow smiled at her girlfriend’s concern. “Why don’t you go pick out some music while I set this up?”

*

Willow couldn’t help a small smile as she watched her girlfriend carefully position herself along side the relaxed form of the man in the bed. The lovely and soothing strains of the classical guitar album Tara had chosen drifted up to the loft. Willow remembered how impressed Oz had been with Giles’ collection of ‘70s rock, but leave it to Tara to find something so perfectly relaxing for the occasion.

She let her eyes roam over the man she had come to help. He was wearing a set of maroon cotton pajamas, loose fitting pants and a button up top. But it was a warm summer night, so he hadn’t crawled under any covers. Willow suspected that the only reason he had bothered to put on the full set of pajamas in the first place was because the two girls were downstairs. A warm, gentle breeze brought the smell of night-blooming jasmine through the opened window. Willow inhaled deeply as she lovingly gazed at the sight of her girlfriend in bed next to Giles. They were beautiful. Any doubts she might have had melted away in that moment. Two of the people she loved most in the world were waiting for her, and she was about to show both just how much she cared.

Tara propped herself up on an elbow so she could watch his sleeping face. It made her sad to see many of the worry lines he carried still there, even as he should be at rest. She had only been part of his world for less than two years, but she had come to respect and care for him as she had no other man in her life. Sometimes she imagined what her life would have been like if someone like Giles had been around when she was growing up. But it didn’t matter because he was there now, and had accepted her into his bizarre, little family as readily as all of the other young strays he’d collected.

Her brow creased with worry as she followed the subtle movements in his kind face. She didn’t think he was dreaming yet, but it was as if he was preparing himself, anticipating horrible nightmares. Tara almost cried as she began to realize. Even in sleep, when he should be at peace, this good man was plagued by the horrors that whatever cruel fates had decreed his life should consist of. If there was anyone on Earth who deserved a share of peace and joy it was this man, and as the sweet sent of jasmine filled her lungs, Tara was resolved to help in any way she could to give him whatever he needed.

The bed jostled the tiniest bit when Willow crawled up on the other side of him. She gave Tara a bright smile, then proceeded to start unbuttoning Giles’ top, placing light kisses in the wake of the parting material as she went. The blond witch couldn’t help chuckling to herself as she watched her girlfriend give such loving ministrations to someone else. Whatever it was in her that should have been jealous didn’t trigger. All she could think was how sweet it all seemed.

A small shudder and a moan from Giles brought her gaze back up to his face. She put on a caring smile as his eyes fluttered open and slowly focused on her.

“Tara?” he murmured. She could only smile brighter. Giles chucked lightly at the sensation of soft lips and a hot tongue playing around his navel. He sighed, “This is decidedly not one of my usual dreams.” His eyes turned sad as he brought his hand up to stroke her hair. “It would be less cruel if you just skip to the part where I have to watch you die,” he whispered.

A sob caught in Tara’s throat as she saw the truth of his dreams in his eyes. She turned to her lover. “Willow, we have to stop!” The pout that crossed Willow’s recently occupied lips as she looked up was adorable and caused her to soften her tone. “He really thinks this is a dream. It would be like taking advantage of him.”

Willow blinked for a moment, and then began to giggle. “I’m sorry,” she managed between bursts of mirth, “It’s just the thought of me taking advantage of Giles…” At this Giles began to laugh too, and Tara couldn’t stop a smile.

When Willow composed herself, she looked up at a sniggering Giles and sighed. “You’re right. Maybe I made the spell too strong. I think there’s a way we can tone it down a little.”

“Willow put me under a spell,” Giles chuckled. “Of course… You really shouldn’t have done that. You’re a naughty girl.”

Willow crawled up to lie beside him and looked him in the eye. “It was for your own good, and you know it. We’re tired of you wallowing in misery all by yourself. It was the only way to get you to let us help you, Giles.”

The arm she was lying on came up to stroke delicately along her back. “My Willow,” he murmured. “I’ve never told you how proud I am of you, have I? Never told you that I love you. Of course not… That kind of praise and affection might be overstepping the bounds of propriety. But you were always so kind to me.” He leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, “And you were often my favorite student.”

Willow blinked a tear from her eye at the sudden admission. She whispered back with a grin, “Don’t worry, I think the bounds of propriety were pretty well crossed when I decided to bring my girlfriend and climb into your bed.”

“You have such rare gifts,” he continued. “So eager to learn and help, so naturally talented. I’ll never let the Council get their hands on you… Never let them do to you what they did to me…” Willow ached to ask about the things he was hinting at. She wanted to know the details of his past that he was never willing to share with anyone. But she decided this was not the time. Better to let him keep going and reveal what he needed to get out now, and hope another opportunity would present itself. “The self-righteous bastards. Not you, Willow. Even when I find a way to fail you just like I have everyone else, they won’t have you.”

Tara looked across at the red-head. There it was, just as they’d feared. She tentatively ran her fingers through his hair and gently asked, “Who did you fail, Mr. Giles?”

Moisture began to gather in his eyes as he turned his head towards her. “Who haven’t I?” he rasped. “All the innocents who died on my watch… The ones who trusted me to keep them safe… The ones I loved… Randall… Jenny… Buffy...” His voice fell so low they strained to hear him.

“But, Giles,” Willow said sadly. “Think of all the people who are still alive because of the work you did and what we all accomplished together. And I know you where defiantly not the only one to blame for Randall. And Jenny was sent to watch Angel by the Gypsies. It was a risk she took for her people. At least she found you to love before… And Buffy…”

“Buffy made her own choice,” Tara continued. “She made her own sacrifice for the world and the people she loved. That’s the hero she was. We all know, if you could have, you would have given your own life to save her.”

Giles let out a dark, sad, chilling chuckle. “My life would have been the easiest, and the least important.” Willow opened her mouth to protest, but lost her words as Giles stared strait into her dark green eyes. “To save Buffy I would have willingly put you to death, my sweet Willow. And Xander, both of you dearer to me than my own family. I would have given Anya, my dear friend, and even Tara, so innocently brought into our dark world and still happily risking everything with us. And Dawn, the most innocent of all. A child, made by men to be always in danger, nothing more than an instrument. I was ready to end her young life with my own hands… All just to save one Slayer.”

Willow’s eyes widened as tears began to flow freely from him. Not so much from the admission as the fact that she had never truly seen him cry before. Instinctively, Tara pulled his head into her chest and he rolled, wrapping his arms around her, as he released long, heaving sobs. She held him, running soothing fingers through his hair and Willow soon began to caress along his back.

As he continued to let go of pent up pain and guilt, Willow couldn’t help joining him with her own tears of sorrow and empathy. She scooted forward to wrap her arms around him and press her small, warm body to his, burying her face in his broad back. Tara extended her reach to hold them both. A small smile crossed her lips as her two would-be lovers of the night wept in her tender embrace. This was the kind of release she knew he truly needed, they both did. And it gave her joy to be trusted with their secret weakness, to be there to help in this necessary part of healing. Perhaps, after this, things could start to get better.

Time passed slowly and eventually the tears ran dry. When he finally composed himself enough, Giles lifted his head to look into Tara’s warm eyes. “I am so sorry,” he whispered. “I really don’t know what came over me.”

Tara shook her head and couldn’t help placing a tender kiss on his forehead. “It happened because you’re a stupid man,” she smiled kindly. “You all think you have to be so strong for everyone else. You keep things bottled up inside until it all rushes out at once.”

“Oh… Well, if it’s just us ‘stupid men’, how do you explain the giant wet spot on my back?”

Willow squeezed him tight and chuckled as she finished with her tears.

“I think Willow was just trying to help you with whatever you were doing, as usual,” Tara whispered. “I remember watching you at the funeral. We all knew you’d escaped from the hospital because no doctor would have let you go with your side as bad as it was after the fight. You must have been in excruciating pain, but you stood there like a statue, letting Dawn cling to you for dear life.”

“It was the least I could do,” he mumbled.

“No, it wasn’t,” Tara told him. “But, I think taking care of others is all you know how to do.”

The red-head moved away to let Giles return to his back. When he was settled with an arm around each girl, she rested her head on his shoulder and absently played a hand along his chest. At first he tensed under her intimate touch, but she soon felt him relax with her soothing caresses.

“You don’t have to feel guilty, you know,” she eventually murmured. “You were her Watcher and we know all your training and instincts told you to think of her before everyone else.”

“That doesn’t make how I felt right,” he whispered. “I remember wishing that you all died instead of her.”

Willow propped herself up and gazed into his sad, green eyes. “Giles, I forgive you. And I’m willing to bet that all of us do.” Tara nodded. “The only thing left we really need you to do is forgive yourself. Because, you may have been trained and sent here to be Buffy’s Watcher, but you became all of our Watcher. And we need him back. Giles, we need you.”

Giles closed his eyes tight and let her words soak in. God, how could she be so kind after his betrayal? How could he ever hope to forgive himself? He felt the tears begin to leak from his eyes again and start hot, salty trails down his cheeks. Then he felt something else join them. Two sets of tender, feather-soft lips placing light kisses on his cheeks, trying to take his tears away.

“Please, Giles,” Willow whispered. “Every one of us loves you, and we just want you to be all right again. We would do anything to see you smile just a little.”

He opened his eyes to see the two hopeful and beautiful faces hovering just above his. So many thoughts rushed through his mind, so many things to say. But none seemed to express enough of what he felt, the gratitude for still being relevant, still being needed, and even wanted. Finally he let his lips curve into a small smile.

Both girls beamed down at him. Willow sighed, “There’s our Giles.” They squeezed him in a tight hug until his smile grew to light up his whole face.

Tara propped herself up on an elbow and grinned, “You know we’re really here, don’t you?”

Giles nodded, “I do.”

“Wow,” Willow laughed, “You sure played it cool, what with the waking up with two pretty women in your bed and all.”

“What makes you think it hasn’t happened to me before?” he winked playfully.

A shocked look spread across Willow’s face, but it was soon replaced by a wicked gleam in her eyes. She couldn’t remember the last time Giles had been so playful and, after all they had just gone through, she wasn’t going to let the joyful mood get away.

“Oh?” she grinned. “In that case I guess you know what we really came here to give you.”

“Yes,” Giles ran his fingers through her fiery hair. “And lucky for you my self-control has survived that little spell you did, or you might have gotten more than you bargained for.”

A shiver ran up her spine at his dangerous tone. Her hand stroked his chest as she confessed, “I think that spell might be working on me too, because I didn’t expect you to feel so good.”

“Willow…” He warned as she attempted to expand her exploration.

Tara let them play for a bit, knowing this was as needed as anything else. “No one is expecting us anywhere,” she quietly offered, “But if you’d like us to go now, we’d understand.”

Giles laid his head back on his pillows, soaking in the feeling of being surrounded by soft, warm, feminine curves. “I will admit the young man I once was is giving me a good swift kick for even considering expelling two lovely ladies from my bed.”

Tara noticed her girlfriend’s lips join the exploration of his chest. “Willow,” she scolded, “At least give him a chance to decide what he really wants. Let up a minute so he can use his brain.”

Giles groaned as Willow laughed against his skin. “I don’t want to,” she admitted. “He might send us home, and I really don’t think we should leave him alone tonight. You know, for his own good.”

“You’re a terrible liar,” Tara laughed. “And we’ve accomplished even more than we sent out to do tonight. He’ll be fine now.”

“Do you want to go, Tara?”

“That’s not it. I’m just saying…”

Giles stroked her blond hair. “You are right. You have both given me more than I ever thought possible tonight. And I promise you’ll see me start to join the living again. If you’d like to go now, Tara, I’ll be just fine.”

“That’s not…” Tara sighed in surrender. As she looked down at him, a wicked gleam sparked in her eyes that almost seemed out of place in the girl. “You wanna know what I want?” She then cupped a hand around her mouth and whispered into Giles’ ear.

“Dear lord,” he breathed.

Willow watched in amazement as the center of his chest turned beet-red and the color spread in all directions.

“Wow, Baby,” Willow laughed. “Whatever you just told him got a full body blush. Wait, let me check on that.”

“Willow!” Giles practically screeched as she went for his waistband.

“Of course, I’d understand if you didn’t find me-”

“Tara, dear,” Giles placed a hand on the side of her face. “You are a beautiful young lady. And if you did choose me to give you that experience, I would consider it an honor. But it should be on a night that is devoted to you. And one where there are no questions about what might be affecting our behavior.” The last part was pointedly directed at Willow.

“That means he’ll be all proper again and nothing will ever happen,” Willow teased.

“Wicked girl,” Giles retorted lovingly.

“Although, Tara,” the red-head grinned. “Whatever you suggested did seem to peak his interest.” She glanced at the growing bulge at the front of his pajamas.

Tara blushed. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been the cause of that before. You are a very sweet man.”

“Don’t call me sweet,” he groaned. “I shouldn’t be at all fine with thinking about you girls in such a way.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Willow giggled. “We kinda gave you permission when we came up here in the first place.”

“You know, if he isn’t up to playing, maybe he’d just like to watch us,” Tara continued to tease.

“All right, that’s bloody well enough,” Giles sat up. “You two are hell bent on trying to make me completely lose my mind, aren’t you?” He chuckled at the sight of their suddenly worried expressions. “Thank you both for caring so much, but think about the consequences for a moment.”

“It’s okay, Giles,” Willow sat up next to him and rubbed his back. “We did bring protection. And we were ready to do anything you needed us to tonight. It’s a free offer. No consequences from us.”

He shook his head. “I meant consequences for me. I have to go back to my real life tomorrow. Do you really think I could watch you two make love and then be able to function at all when you come into the shop together? Or I could experience what both of you felt like and tasted like and be able to sit next to you and have anything but desire in my mind? I am only a man. I’m afraid you give me credit for more strength than I have.”

“I’m sorry,” Willow sat by him and whispered. “I guess I’ve spent so many years fantasizing about you that I didn’t think knowing what it was really like would make much difference. I should have thought more from your point of view.”

Giles smiled at her, then gently cupped her chin and pressed his lips to hers in a sensual, loving kiss. When he left her breathless, he turned and did the same with Tara. “I love you both very much, and you will never know how you have brought me back to life tonight. Now, I am going to go down stairs to wash up a bit and make some tea. You are welcome to join me and welcome to stay the night. On one condition, that the only future activity for this bed will be sleep.” With that, he got up and headed for the stairs.

When she had recovered from the kiss, Willow looked at Tara and mouthed the word ‘Wow’. Tara nodded in agreement. With a mischievous grin Willow whispered, “He didn’t say we couldn’t try to attack him on the couch.” Both girls laughed as they headed down for their tea.

*

The next day at the Magic Box things seemed to run a little more smoothly. Giles noticed that Anya was smiling at him more. Obviously approving of and trying to encourage his improved mood. Willow and Tara had also joined them mid-morning to help with the inventory they were trying to get through. The Englishman did have to admit that letting himself notice how much the people still around him cared for him made life feel more worthwhile.

It was after lunch when the bell above the door chimed. Xander went to greet his girlfriend, but Dawn just stood at the entrance, watching Giles and waiting. Willow walked passed him with an armful of books and whispered, “You know what she wants to see.”

Giles turned his full attention on the teenager and pleasantly said, “Good afternoon, Dawn.” Then he let his lips stretch into a genuinely joyful smile.

On seeing the sight, Dawn rushed forward and collided with him, squeezing him in an enthusiastic embrace. He winced at the twinge that crawled through his side, but made no effort to escape from the hug.

“It worked,” Dawn squealed into his shoulder. A sudden fear overtook him and he sent a questioning glance to Tara. The blond witch simply grinned and shook her head. Not noticing, the girl in his arms turned her head to Willow. “Whatever it was you guys did to him last night, I approve. And I think you should keep it up.”

Giles fought the blush from his cheeks as he gently pushed the girl back to look into her bright face. “I’d like to apologize to you, Dawn. It seems that lately I haven’t been able to give you everything you needed from me. But, I want you to know that from now on it will be better. Whatever you need, just ask and you will have it from me.”

The teenager beamed her brightest smile at him. “You just did. All I needed was to know you were going to be all right. I’m not ready to lose you, too. Now I know things can get better.” Giles ran his fingers through her hair and gave her a loving peck on the forehead.

For about the next hour everyone worked together in a happy silence. However, the older man couldn’t help noticing that Xander kept stealing glances at him. It was just after Tara and Dawn had set out to get drinks for everyone that the boy finally made his move. As Giles tried to make his way to the back of the store, his path was blocked by the dark-haired, young man.

“Okay, I can’t take it anymore. You gotta spill the beans. Tell me, Watcher-man!”

Giles blinked at him. “I beg your pardon?”

“Oh come on. You touched the fantasy last night. You lived the dream. The holy grail of a single man’s life. Just give me something. What did they do to you? What did they do to each other?”

The older man felt the heat rising in his cheeks. He slowly removed his glasses to give them a polish and sighed, “Xander, if you must know-”

Suddenly, Willow was beside him with her arms wrapped around his shoulders and cut him off. “The truth is this guy was just too much for us, Xand. Tara and I couldn’t keep up. Next time, we’ve decided that we’ll need to take along more of our girlfriends. Hopefully that will satisfy him.”

Passing, on her way to serve a customer at the register, Anya announced, “Count me in” without even breaking stride.

Giles let go of a flustered breath, “Willow…” as Xander collapsed into a chair with his mouth gaping.

The witch pulled the startled Watcher away from her stunned friend and giggled, “Think of it as my reward. I don’t know about you, but the idea of Xander thinking you’re some kind of love-god just strikes me funny. You can tell him the truth later if you want.”

“You really are a wicked girl.” She grinned at him. “Fine, but I will tell him.”

“I have no doubt,” Willow sighed.

“By the way, may I ask you a question while we’re alone?” On her nod he continued, “I noticed that for a time last night Tara entirely lost her stutter…”

Willow’s smile was radiant. “I know. That only happens when she’s completely focused on someone else.”