He lays in the dark. He cradles the phone in one hand, tucked up between shoulder and chin, and in the other arm, he holds Willow, quiet and asleep at last. Tonight was hard, but once she's out, she sleeps deeply and soundly for a few hours before the nightmares begin.

Buffy's voice is in his ear.

"I miss you, Giles," she says. She's an ocean and a continent away, sitting somewhere in sunshine.

"I miss you, too," he says, trying to pretend he doesn't understand her meaning. "How's Dawn?" he adds.

"She's fine," Buffy says, "Happy, actually. More than she has been in a while. Or maybe ever, technically, you know."

"That's wonderful," he says. Willow moves in her sleep, settles against his side and sighs softly.

"But I miss you," Buffy says, again. "So much. I wish..."

"Buffy..."

"We'd be good for each other, Giles," she says, and her voice is tight and fast and urgent.

"We wouldn't," he says. His body draws tight at the memory. Wrong. God, it's wrong. Was wrong, is wrong, always will be-

"But we know each other. We know all about the, the Slaying and the demons and the destiny..."

Before, he couldn't refuse her when she begged him. When her tears wet his shirt and she said she needed. Needed to feel someone. Needed to feel alive. He believed her, and so he'd-

He'd never thought that it would come to that. Never thought he'd see her let her skirt drop to the floor, never thought he'd see her naked, never thought he'd touch her skin. Once, he'd nearly hit a man even for suggesting such a thing. Because it was wrong.
And, in the end he'd figured out that it wasn't what she needed.

Buffy is still speaking, saying, "You were so-- you always touched me like something in one of those stores, you know, with the signs that say 'you break it, you bought it.'"

"Buffy..." he says, "those things, they aren't meant to be touched."

She's silent.

He continues, "You don't need me to be your lover, Buffy. I couldn't give you what you needed if you were my lover."

She couldn't give him what he needed.

Reciprocity. He cannot take from her. And lovers must be able to take from each other. Lean on each other.

The same night she'd told him he made her feel safe, said she felt like her mother was alive when he was there, she'd come back from showing Dawn the check he'd given her, and crawled into bed beside him, and kissed him, and he had-

He'd never come, when he was with her. Never let himself. Rarely even wanted to, except once or twice, when he'd shut his eyes, and been swept away by the raw physicality.

Willow stirs again, and murmurs in her sleep. She sounds unsettled.

"I have to go," he says, "We'll talk later."

She pauses, and he waits for her to protest, but instead, she only says, "Later. Ok. Bye, Giles."

He thumbs the phone off and sets it on the night table. Willow whimpers, and in the half-light of the moon coming through the gap in the window shades, he sees her brow furrow. He strokes her arm and speaks to her, low and gentle, until her eyes open and she gasps and grips his shirt, white-knuckled tight.

"Shh, it's only a dream," he says, and she relaxes, a little, at least, and presses herself into him, turns her face into his side. She's shivering.

"God, Giles," she says.

He kisses the top of her head, smells the sleep-warmth of her hair. Against his side, he can feel her heartbeat slowing, can feel the soft swells of her breasts. Her hand loosens, releases the fist-full of shirt she was clutching, and then spreads out flat over his ribs, pressed against his body.

"It's not just a dream," she says.

"I know."

"I..."

"I know," he repeats.

He strokes her hair back, enjoys the silk softness of it teasing between his fingers, the warmth of her scalp under his fingertips.

He hadn't expected this, either. It had happened, though, just the same. But different. Born out of passion, not concern or obligation. A few days after they'd arrived in England, they'd fought. Shouted at each other for a thousand things, from the trivial--the mess Willow'd made of the kitchen--to the earthshaking--Willow's anger at him for leaving her for England, twice--and then, anger had turned to something else, and they'd ended up somehow on the floor, making love.

He doesn't know where this is going, or what this is, but she lays down beside him every night, now, and she smiles a tired smile at him over breakfast in the mornings.

She's not his daughter, nor his student. She's not even a girl, anymore. No one can do what she did and walk away still a child. She's a woman, and she's tired and scarred and hurting, and that is something he understands. They are so alike.

She leans up over him and kisses his lips.

"What's wrong?" she says.

"Nothing."

She doesn't accept that. She holds herself over him on hands and knees and looks expectant. Her knee is sunk into the mattress between his legs, and her thigh is just barely brushing against his boxers, and it stirs an interest in him, makes his stomach clench for entirely different, good reasons.

He pulls her head down and kisses her, and she warms the cold spots inside him.

Maybe this is no more real than the mockery with Buffy. Maybe she will be gone at summer's end, but for now, she's here, in his arms, in his bed, in his heart, and in the midst of everything that's wrong with the world, he's content.