Title: Sometimes, It's Just About Surviving
Summary: The First Evil visits Giles and Willow in England. Takes place post-Lessons, Pre-Same Time, Same Place. Assuming Buffy and Co. knew about the First early in Season 7.
Pairing: Giles/Willow (friendship), Giles/Jenny, Willow/Tara
Disclaimer: I own diddly squat...
Giles stood against the doorframe that lead into the back of the grounds near the coven, his concerned eyes lingering on the redhead who was currently curled up against her favorite tree, her own eyes staring blankly in front of her across the meadow. His heart broke for the girl. Despite her fears that everyone hated her after what happened back in Sunnydale, he knew no one was as mad at her as she was at herself. Granted, she had a long way to go before he would fully trust her with her powers, but he knew the pain of taking a human life, and he knew his words would never be enough to ease that pain.
Sighing, he slowly walked over to her and stood leaning against the tree, unsure of her desire for company at the moment, but not wanting to leave her victim to her own thoughts.
"I think I'm hurting it." She whispered.
"What are you hurting?" He asked compassionately as he knelt beside her.
"The grass, the earth." She ran her fingers gently through the green blades. "It's like the world is trying to heal, but I'm standing in the way, like I'm blocking it."
"Willow…" He started.
"What if I am, Giles? What if my energy is so dark and angry still that I'm destroying the good energy around me?" The genuine grief in her eyes nearly broke him.
"Willow, listen to me. You are not hurting anyone. You made some horrible decisions, and yYou're suffering now from guilt and grief, but you are not hurting anyone."
"I killed a man."
"I've not forgotten."
They sat in a moment of thoughtful silence.
"Does it ever get easier?" She asked half-heartedly.
Giles suppressed a nostalgic laugh at the memory of Buffy asking him the same question many years ago. "Letting go? Acceptance?"
"Letting go? Acceptance?" She nodded.
He sighed. "Not really." Her face fell. "It gets bearable. Eventually, you will stop thinking about it every moment of the day and you'll be able to live you life, but easier…I don't think the consequences of taking a life are ever meant to feel easier."
"Do you still think about him?" He knew she was referring to Randall, the first fatality of his ignorance.
"Not everyday, but it was a very long time ago." He paused, and then continued, not wanting her to get the wrong impression. "But that day still effects everything I do. Every decision I make, every precaution I put in place is because I couldn't bear to lose anyone else."
Willow turned to comfort him, but he shied away.
"Come, let's go inside., it's It's starting to rain."
Sure enough, as Giles helped Willow up, the clouds opened and it began to pour. Throwing his jacket over their heads, Giles rushed them back into the house. It was a futile effort, though, and by the time they were safe in the warmth of the living room, they were both soaked through.
"Go sit by the fire., I'll make us some tea,." Giles instructed and gestured to the couch. Still too emotionally numb to protest, Willow complied and Giles headed into the kitchen.
Giles turned on the stove and leaned back on the counter as he waited for the familiar swirls of steam. Watching the kettle, he could hear his mother's voice in his ear.
"Never underestimate the power of a strong cup of tea, Rupert. Your father will tell you your strength lies in your slayer, in the power of diligence, control, and concentration." She grinned down at her son. "Well, he's wrong. Your strength, Rupert Giles, will forever be accompanied by lemon and honey."
"But mum, I don't like tea." Rupert scowled at the cup placed in front of him. His mother's laugh rang clear through the kitchen.
"Oh love, just you wait, soon some young woman will be teasing you because all you can offer her to drink is bay leaves."
Rupert made something akin to a vomiting sound at the idea of girls, and reluctantly sipped at his cup. His mother sighed at him from the counter as she fixed her own tea.
Giles smiled wistfully as the kettle began to sing. His mother wasn't entirely wrong, but were she still alive, he wouldn't have the heart to tell her that his strength these days came from a strong glass of scotch. He missed her dearly. He'd never told anyone, but she'd been the first person he'd lost because of his family involvement with the Watcher's Council and the occult. Vampires had come for his father's slayer at the house and found her instead. It was the only time he'd ever seen his father grieve. He was in London when that slayer had died. He imagined that broke his father as well, but the truth was, he'd never know.
As he placed calming herbs into Willow's mug, another memory flitted across his mind.
Giles grimaced at the overly sweet taste of hot cocoa with marshmallows.
"I'm sorry, it's all I have right now."
He smiled at the caring voice.
"I can run to the store if you'd like something else" She leapt up, prepared to drive around the world to find his forgiveness.
"No! No, Jenny, it's fine, really." Giles tried to hold back his pained expression as he took a big gulp, but failed miserably and sent himself into a coughing fit as the hot liquid scorched his tongue. "See?" He offered between spatters. Jenny finally let a smile sneak through for the first time since they'd left the hospital.
"Shoulda known anything but tea would be poison." She slowly sat back down next to him and ran her fingers gently over the bandages where she'd shot him earlier. "Rupert, I'm so sorry, this was never how I wanted any of this to go…"
"I know." He stopped her. "And if anyone should be sorry, Jenny, it's me…"
"I shot you, Rupert…!"
"I shot you, I treated you like crap, I ran away when I should've been there for you…"
"Jenny." He said firmly, placing his finger over her lips. "You have nothing to be sorry about, do you hear me? All right, this is nothing."
"Will you at least let me take credit for ruining your night?" She added with a bit of edge back in her voice.
Giles laughed heartily.
"No, darling, however, I may never forgive you for not having tea. This bloody chocolate is going to kill me."
They stared at each other, waiting to see if the other took the comment seriously, but they soon fell apart. Giles chuckled at Jenny's mock offense at his insult as she picked up his mug.
"Snobby." She playfully whacked his shoulder.
Willow sat on the couch waiting for Giles to return with the tea. She'd been in Bath with him for over a month, but she still didn't fully trust how he felt about her. Hell, if she was in his place, she would have simply killed her and been done with it. She didn't deserve his care. Willow felt a tear escaping her eye at the thought, and quickly reached up to wipe it away. She felt bad enough as it was, she didn't need the guilt of Giles catching her having a pity party.
She reached onto the side table for a tissue when she noticed there was a message on the answering machine. With anyone else, she would've left it alone, but given Giles' line of business, she figured they were better safe than sorry. She pressed the button and waited for the voice on the other side of the beep.
"Giles, it's Buffy. I know you're probably with Willow right now, but when you get this message, you need to call me back immediately. We've got an old visitor. Call me."
Despite her current circumstances, Willow felt worry bubble instantly inside her. Buffy's tone was harsh, direct, like she was about to go into battle. No loving salutation or goodbye, no inquiry as to how either she or Giles was coping, just simple instructions. Against her better judgment, she decided to call Buffy back.
"But what if she still hates me?"
"What if they all hate me…?"
"What if something already happened to them…?
"Hello?" Xander's voice on the other line calmed Willow.
"Xander! It's me!" She hadn't realized until she heard her best friend's voice just how much she missed everyone back in Sunnydale.
"Wil?" Her heart leapt at his hopeful tone.
"Yeah, it's Willow! Oh, Xander, I miss you guys so much! Please don't hang up!"
"Wil, why would I do that?"
"Oh, um…no reason." There was a lengthy pause. "How are you?"
"Well, things are always sunny and fabulous here on the hellmouth…how 'bout you? Has Giles gone all Yoda on you?" Willow laughed.
Willow laughed. "Yeah, he has. I kinda like it though. It's like all the things about Wicca I always wanted to learn, but was afraid to ask about."
"So, no more veins, then?"
"No more veins. I promise. No more ever."
"That's great Wil." More silence filled the air. Despite Xander's reaction, Willow was still hesitant about asking for Buffy, but she knew it was important.
"Um, Xander, is…is Buffy there? She, um, called for Giles earlier, but he's busy, so I figured…"
"Yeah, hold on one sec." Willow heard shuffling on the other side of the phone. "Oh, and Willow, don't worry about Buffy. She misses you too."
She smiled, and held her breath when she heard the phone changing hands.
"Willow?" Buffy's asked. For a moment, Willow said nothing. "Hello? Are you there?"
"This is ridiculous" , Willow thought,
"Yeah, I'm here. Hey Buffy."
"Um, hey." Not the enthusiastic response Xander had given, but definitely better than unbridled hatred…
"Listen, Buffy, I – "
"Look, can we save the apologies for later, Wil?"
"Can you put Giles on the phone?"
Willow felt a tear start to roll down her cheek. She'd expected anger, but that didn't make it any easier that her best friend apparently never wanted to speak to her again.
"He's busy, can I take a message?" She prayed Buffy wouldn't ask to call back later…
"Sure. Make sure he gets it immediately, though, got it?" Willow winced at her bite, but conceded.
"All right. Tell Giles that…"
Giles shook himself from his reverie and gingerly picked up the mugs. He turned a little too quickly towards the living room, though, and sent a splash of burning liquid onto his hand.
"I always warned you not to fill to the brim, Rupert, don't you ever listen?"
Giles turned towards the voice and dropped the mugs, ceramic shattering.
Willow wrote feverishly as Buffy told her everything they knew so far about The First Evil.
"Right, non-corporeal, be wary of ghosts… I got it… Don't worry, I'm sure Giles will know what to do… Okay Buffy… Okay… I'll talk to you soon. Bye."
Putting the phone down, Willow sighed and sat in awe of the information she'd just been given. A being that could look like any dead person was extremely dangerous – especially to her circle of friends. She had no idea how she would cope if it came to her. She wasn't sure she could bear to be teased with the hope that Tara was alive…
"Right, I have to tell Giles."
Willow started to get up off the couch when she heard a crash from the kitchen.
"It can't be…" Giles whispered.
"But it is, Rupert. I've come home." His mother's voice sounded lifelike enough.
"But…you died. I saw your body…I buried you…" His voice cracked a bit at the memory. Suddenly, his mother's body morphed into another.
"Did you think death would keep me away?" Giles felt his heart sink.
Giles felt his heart sink. "Jenny." He could barely say her name. "Stop this. Please stop, this isn't you."
"Shh, love, you're in shock. It's me, I'm right here."
"Don't you still love me?" She moved closer to him. Seeing the clothing he'd found her in, he could almost smell her perfume. The scent haunted him and blurred his vision with hideous remnants of candles and roses.
"Don't tell me to go Rupert, not after everything." She reached out to caress his cheek.
"Jenny, stop!" She pulled back. "Please, it hurts too much."
"It should." She replied coldly.
"What?" Giles' eyes turned to confusion. "Jenny, what are you saying?"
A flash, and Jenny was gone, replaced by Randall's accusing façade.
"You killed me."
Giles' face paled, but he had little time to react to Randall as Willow came barging through the door.
"Giles! Are you okay?"
He was pale, shaking, and seemed to be completely terrified. Giles was never scared.
"Giles, what's wrong?"
"They…I can't…they're not…" He stammered.
"Giles, I don't understand." Willow tried.
"It's okay Willow, he's just in shock."
Willow screamed at the sight of her old teacher.
"You're not real."
"Of course I'm real, Willow, I'm standing right here."
"What did you do to him?"
Jenny smirked, making Willow even angrier.
"What did you do?"
"Oh, we just took a little trip down memory lane, right Rupert?" Jenny cocked her head and stared almost menacingly down at Giles. Willow turned to Giles, who had backed himself up into the wall, gazing helplessly at his lost love.
"Giles, don't listen to it!" Willow yelled. Giles didn't hear her. Jenny transformed into Giles' father.
"You were always such a disappointment. You never deserved to become a Watcher."
"Father, please…" Giles pleaded.
"Giles, look at me!" Willow screamed. She knew he was crumbling. Giles' father turned into Joyce.
"I always knew you'd destroy her. You lead her to her death…twice. You failed at your duties."
"No!" Giles covered his eyes, trying desperately to see anything but his innermost demons.
"Leave him alone!" Willow screamed. The First morphed as it turned to her, and Willow nearly fainted when she saw Tara's eyes looking back at her.
"Or you'll do what, love? Destroy me? Kill me? You've already done that."
"No…" Willow whispered. "No, Warren killed you, oh God, Tara, I'm so sorry."
"No, Willow. You killed me. You betrayed me. You nearly destroyed the world in my name. Because of you, the only thing my friends will see when they think of me is your anger."
"That's not true, I was just trying to…" Willow tried to justify.
"Get revenge?" Both Giles and Willow gasped as the First turned back into Jenny. "Well, we all know how well that worked out for the both of you." She laughed and turned to Giles, "You cut me out of your life and I wound up dead. Oh, and then, you actually tried to make yourself feel better by going after Angel, and you wound up on your back. What a shocker, eh? Giles the brave getting knocked unconscious after two seconds in a fight. And you," She turned to Willow, who obviously forcing back tears, "magic couldn't save your girlfriend, so you tried to end the world? You're pathetic."
"What do you want from us?" Willow asked threateningly.
Jenny smiled wickedly and finally let her features change into Buffy's.
"To let you know what's coming, of course. You think this was hard? You're weak. I'm about to go up against the biggest evil we've ever faced, and you're cowering in a corner 10,000 miles away from where I need you most. You think you can stop it?"
Buffy turned to Angelus.
"I'm not a demon, little humans, I'm something you can't even conceive. I know your fears, your nightmares, your most devious thoughts. I know what makes you cry out in the darkness at night when you think no one can hear you."
Angelus turned back to Jenny, who walked slowly up to the pair and knelt down beside Giles.
"I'd love to stay and chat more, England, but I've got a date with your little slayer." She stood and sent one last challenging look towards the grieving couple. "Be seeing you." And she was gone.
Giles and Willow sat in stunned silence on the kitchen floor. Willow fought hard not to burst into tears. Knowing her loved ones weren't real was slightly comforting in the moment, but it hadn't made it any easier to see Tara and Jenny again. She wouldn't fall apart though, not now. She couldn't heal if she fell into despair again, especially with danger on the horizon. Putting her resolve face on, Willow stood up and moved to help Giles.
She braced herself against the counter and slowly walked across the kitchen. She'd never him like this. Giles crumpled against the wall, tears streaming down his face, his fingers clutching Jenny's rose quartz necklace that he hadn't taken off in five years. Willow felt a surge of guilt. Even after the Eyghon incident, she'd never really given much thought to what had happened to Giles before he'd come to Sunnydale. Seeing him now, though, it was clear how much he'd sacrificed, not only for them, but for his duties. In many ways, he was stronger than all of them. He'd lost his family, his love, his friends, and even his slayer to his promise to protect the world, and yet here he was, still committed, fighting to help Willow rejoin "the good fight".
She sat down quietly next to him and gently pulled his hands away from the necklace. He seemed to finally register her presence at the contact and fell, sobbing into her arms. Willow held him tight and felt herself break seeing her stiff-upper-lipped friend fall to pieces before her eyes. She finally understood. Giles was right; it wasn't going to get easier, but maybe…
"It'll be okay." She whispered into his hair. "We're going to be okay."
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