Title: Life, the Universe, and Everything

Rating: PG

Pairing: None. Giles and Willow friendship.

Spoilers: Nothing outright, unless you count Willow's little confession in the season 4 episode "Where the Wild Things Are." But that was actually somewhat obvious, wasn't it? And who could blame her? Anyway, story takes place somewhere mid-late first season – in early 1997.

Author's Note:

I may have played with the timeline a bit in this. I mean for it to be set mid to late in the first season, but in the interest of publishing it on Anthony Head's birthday, and because I decided to give Giles the exact same birthday (only one year later, because apparently someone somewhere decided Giles was born in 1955 and not 1954 like Anthony himself, but whatever), the dates may be a bit off. My thought was that Buffy transferred to Sunnydale sometime late fall, since in the early episodes you can see "1996" written in various places, and I think maybe that's when the episodes were filmed and what was intended…but the airdates of the first season run March – June. So, I guess, forget about the dates the episodes aired and just pretend that this fits perfectly in whatever timeline you consider canon. You're probably not reading this anymore anyway. I really can't seem to write short author's notes.

Title is a reference to Giles' age. But you already knew that.

Written for the Anthony Head Birthday Party on Tumblr. Happy birthday, Tony!

And, as always, they all belong to Joss. I'm just playing with them, but I'll put them back when I'm done, I promise.

"Tell me again why we thought the mall would be a good idea?" Buffy asked with a frown. "I forgot how depressing shopping can be when you don't actually have any money."

"Speak for yourself!" Willow cheerfully rebutted. "I've still got some Hanukkah money just a burnin' a hole away in my pocket. But, not literally, because that would be bad. I like these jeans."

Buffy smiled at her friend and casually draped an arm over her shoulder. "All right, then, moneybags! I shall assist you in your quest to spend! Onward!"

The two giggled as Buffy playfully steered Willow through the mall hallway, weaving her drunkenly around potted plants, benches, and baby strollers. Then something caught her eye.

"Oo! New store!" Buffy cried in glee, pleased to see that the previously empty storefront spot had been filled. "Let's check it out!"

The store was full of novelty items designed to amuse and embarrass - everything from whoopee cushions to t-shirts with slogans that were little more than cleverly disguised innuendo.

"Oh, wow," Buffy grinned. "Xander would love this place."

"I don't think we should tell him about it," Willow replied with a wary frown. "Can you imagine what we'd have to put up with?"

"Ugh, I'd rather not." Buffy agreed. "We'll let him find it for himself and breathe easier in the meantime."

The two browsed through the store, giggling at the immaturity of it all, when a display of "kiss me I'm Irish" (and "kiss me I'm NOT Irish," Buffy pointed out with a laugh) items progressed down the aisle into a display of other "kiss me" and "kiss the" odds and ends going into far more diverse occupations than just "kiss the cook." Something caught Willow's attention and she grabbed at an item with a half giggle, half gasp of surprise.

"Look!" She held the item up for Buffy to see. "We should get it for Giles!"

Buffy stared at the item in Willow's hand. It was a garish yellow mug with the words "kiss the librarian" printed on it, and she crinkled her nose in disgust. "Will, I'm not sure I want to think of the words "Giles" and "kiss" in anything resembling the same sentence," she said with a frown.

Willow's face fell. "But...it's funny, see? Because, how often do you see anything for librarians?"

"There's probably a good reason for that," Buffy replied. "Because librarians are old and stuffy. Like Giles. Nobody wants to kiss them. It would just be a cruel joke."

"Oh, c'mon Buffy, that's not fair!" Now Willow sounded peeved. Willow didn't often get peeved. "Giles isn't that stuffy, or that old!"

"Are you kidding?" Buffy responded, surprised that Willow was being so adamant about it. "He's totally ancient!"

"How old do you think he is, really?" Willow asked, sounding a bit curious about it herself. "Forty-ish?"

"At least!" Buffy replied. "Old. Face crinkles are coming into play. Middle-aged."

"Well, there you go, that's it exactly!" Willow said in a tone that sounded like she was trying to make a point.

"Huh?" Buffy rarely understood Willow's attempts at point-making.

"Middle-aged! Buffy, he's got half his life ahead of him still...you've pegged him as being halfway in the grave already!"

"Well..." Buffy was trying to come up with a convincing argument, and was a bit floored that Willow wasn't agreeing with her. "But...face crinkles?"

Willow glared.

"What?" Buffy got defensive. "He's not exactly a spring chicken, Will!"

"Well, no." Willow agreed, somewhat reluctantly. "But he's not ancient. And have you seen the way Miss Calendar looks at him sometimes? They pick on each other a lot, but I bet she probably wouldn't mind kissing him."

Buffy's nose crinkled again at the mental image. "Ew, why?"

"Why?" Willow sounded genuinely surprised. "Buffy have you actually looked at him as anything but your stuffy Watcher? He's kinda old, yeah, but he's still pretty good looking."

"Giles?" Buffy exclaimed, wide-eyed. "You think Giles is good looking?"

"Well," Willow squirmed. "Kinda, yeah. I mean, he's probably not going to win People's Sexiest Man Alive anytime soon, but...he's kinda...okay. For an older guy."

Buffy was staring.

"Well...he's got that distinguished gentleman thing going on, and I've seen him train with you. He can keep up, most of the time. He's gotta still be in pretty decent shape."

"I don't know how anyone could tell under all those layers of tweed. I've never even seen him strip down to a t-shirt. He's always still in the dress shirt when training, and I think the only reason he lets himself be that uncovered is because he covers back up in pads." Buffy snorted. "But anyway, pretty decent shape does not equal kissable."

"Well, no, not always, but he's...I don't know, Buffy, he's just...kind of attractive for a guy his age. You really don't see it at all?"

"Nope," Buffy shook her head most emphatically. "Really don't. I am not at all on board the Giles kissage train."

"I'm not either!" Willow squeaked. "I never said I...I mean...he's Giles. I don't see him like that either! All I'm saying is that he's a pretty okay looking guy, and you're treating him like he's ninety and all shriveled up and gross!"

"I never said he was repulso-man," Buffy defended herself, "I just don't think of him as attractive at all. I can't even imagine thinking about him like that. He's all 'sacred duty, blah blah, consult the books!' all the time. I can't picture him in any sort of romantic situation. And I think I might toss my cookies if I try."

"So much for 'not repulso-man'" Willow mumbled.


"Nothing." Willow set the mug back on the shelf. "So you don't think we should get it for him?"

"Are you kidding?" Buffy raised her eyebrows. "Giles? You've met Giles, right? There's no way he'd find that amusing. He'd probably stare at it in horror and then clean his glasses a few thousand times out of sheer humiliation."

"Yeah." Willow frowned sadly and let out a sigh. "You're probably right."

"C'mon," Buffy grabbed Willow's elbow and pulled her out of the store, "let's go look at the puppies at the pet shop."

"Oo! Puppies!" Willow grinned and followed Buffy, forgetting, for the moment, all about the mug.

When she walked into the library Monday morning, Willow was surprised to find it empty. It was early, but Giles was usually at the school before any of them, even if there wasn't an impending crisis. She glanced at his closed office door, then at the calendar, and realized that it was monthly staff meeting time. She smiled in amusement, knowing how much Giles hated having to be an actual member of a high school faculty. The meeting must be running late if he wasn't back to his office yet. He'd undoubtedly be in a bad mood when he finally made it in. He probably hadn't even had breakfast yet, or his morning tea, which would make him even more cranky. Willow hoped Buffy wouldn't be too difficult to him today.

His office door was locked, so there was no chance she could get his tea ready for him for when he arrived. Too bad, she'd hoped to be able to cheer him up a little - give him a nice surprise when he got to the library. Oh well, she thought as she headed over to the row of computers. At least she could boot up and log on, and maybe check the web for any possible demon-related news. Something to take Giles' mind off of the staff meeting, maybe.

As the computer groaned and beeped, she thought of the conversation she'd had with Buffy while at the mall. Willow wasn't quite sure how she felt about Giles, entirely, but she would never try to deny that she thought he was pretty good looking for a guy old enough to be her father. But it wasn't...she wasn't...she wouldn't allow the c-word to enter her brain. She didn't have a crush on him...not really. Not like that. It wasn't the same as the way she felt about Xander. That was a crush. She liked Xander. She wanted to date Xander; to hold his hand and dance with him at the Bronze and kiss him under the stars...she sighed wistfully. When she thought of Xander she got warm fuzzies. Even though he'd probably never think of her as more than a friend, she still felt comfortable with her crush on him. She liked daydreaming about a romantic future with him, even knowing those dreams would likely never be reality.

But Xander was young. A boy still. Giles was a man. He was older, wiser, more mature, extremely intelligent, and he had experienced so much in his more advanced lifetime. Willow found him fascinating. And he was good looking, even if Buffy didn't see it. Sure, he had some wrinkles, but they made him look distinguished, and the ones around his eyes appeared because of his sweetly adorable smile. He had a boyish smile, even though he was long past boyhood. She thought it was cute how his face could go from annoyed and angry to gentle and youthful with little warning sometimes. He often wore emotion plainly, and sometimes when he was lecturing Buffy Willow would find herself just watching his face as it went from exasperated to affectionate and back to exasperated as Buffy challenged him.

She knew Buffy was his favorite. There was no hurt or jealousy behind that knowledge, it just was. He was her Watcher, she was his Slayer, and they all knew he cared for her in a way that the rest of them could never completely understand. His whole life was devoted to protecting and helping her, it was only natural that she would be his top priority. Sometimes Willow wondered if Buffy had any idea just how much Giles cared about her. She could see it in his eyes, but Buffy didn't seem to think to look. To Buffy, Giles represented the part of her that prevented her from having the life she wanted. The duty she'd never asked for. But Willow thought there was probably more to how Giles saw Buffy - more than as just his duty and responsibility. There was genuine affection there, on both their parts, but maybe neither of them realized it. She thought it was sweet.

The way Giles treated all of them - not as nuisances, not as children, but as...friends, almost...and as allies - made Willow's respect for him grow even more. She'd respected him from the moment she walked into the library on the first day of school. She was the first student he'd met, he'd told her with a bit of surprise, amazed that nobody ever seemed to use the library. She'd heard his accent and had excitedly pointed out his being English, which he'd confirmed with an amused smile. That smile. They'd chatted some about the library and about the books he'd brought with him, and she'd been surprised at how pleasant and friendly he was. She'd never really chatted with a teacher before, not about anything other than schoolwork, but he'd talked to her almost like an equal. Like a grownup, not a silly kid. It had made her like him instantly.

It had also made her notice his looks. Yes, there was something about Giles that Willow found interesting and fascinating. And sexy, though she'd never admit to that. Saying he was attractive was one thing, sexy was something else entirely. She didn't have a crush on him, really she didn't, but something about him made her insides flip flop when he'd smile at her, and her heart would speed up just a little when he'd lean over her and invade her personal space to look at something on the computer screen. Sometimes she'd catch a whiff of his aftershave when he did that. He smelled manly. Not like a boy. Like a man. And no, she didn't want to date him, no way, because he was much too old and he was almost like a teacher...he was Giles, she didn't see him as dateable, not at all, that wasn't...that wasn't something she wanted, not even a little bit. But maybe, just once or twice, maybe she had let her mind wander to idle thoughts of what it might be like to be kissed by him. He had nice lips. Sensual lips, she thought with a giggle. He probably knew how to kiss slowly and passionately like the people in movies, not like the gross sloppy groping the other students did in the halls. He was probably the type to whisper sweet nothings in a woman's ear, and with that gentle, reverent, sexy voice, and that accent...

Just thinking those thoughts made her blush. But idle thoughts weren't bad, were they? It wasn't as though she wanted it to actually happen. If he were to ever come on to her like that she knew she'd be seriously wigged and would never be able to respect him again. But he wouldn't, she knew that. Giles was safe. He was kind and a gentleman and sweetly protective - almost paternal. Knowing he didn't think about her like that was part of the reason she liked him. He wasn't sleazy. He was nice. Not full of rampaging hormones like so many of the boys her own age.

And as she sat at the computer, Willow again thought of her conversation with Buffy, especially the part about Giles' age. He'd never told them how old he was, and none of them had ever asked, but Willow was suddenly overwhelmed with curiosity. Not enough to come right out and ask, of course, but there were other means. Her fingers clicked over the keys rapidly. Sunnydale High had the worst network security.

A few minutes later, she'd hacked into the personnel files. There it was. Giles, Rupert. She clicked the file and smiled as she was greeted with a photo of Giles looking as though he'd rather be getting his teeth drilled than having his picture taken. And there, just under his name and photo, was what she'd hoped to find.

Date of birth: 2-20-1955.

February 20th? That was the Friday after this one! Not even two weeks away! And he'll be...Willow quickly did the math in her head...forty-two. Not so ancient then. She wondered if she should tell the others. Her first thought was that it would be a great idea to surprise Giles with a birthday party, but on second thought...he didn't seem as though he'd entirely appreciate that, though he'd likely appreciate the thought behind it. Giles wasn't a guy who liked being the center of attention. Willow understood that, and empathized. But she couldn't possibly go without acknowledging his birthday at all.

And then she remembered the mug.

She'd just begun planning out how she would present it to him, and if she should even tell the others about his birthday at all, when the subject of her thoughts pushed through the library door, rubbing at his temple and mumbling that he'd never thought he'd miss Principal Flutie so much.

Willow stuck her head out from around the computer monitor and gave a little wave. "Hi, Giles!"

He jumped a bit, startled, but then smiled at her as he bent to unlock his office door. "Good morning, Willow."

"Staff meeting, huh?" Her mouth quirked in a sympathetic half smile.

"Unfortunately," he sighed. "Intolerable, pointless things." He disappeared into his office momentarily, then reappeared, empty tea kettle in hand. "I'll, uh, be with you in a moment." He held up the kettle as explanation, and stepped out to fill it.

As soon as he left, she hurriedly closed out of his personnel file and brought up the local news sites in an effort to disguise her invasion and appear to have been doing something useful all along.

He returned and disappeared into his office again to get the kettle going, then emerged a moment later, banana in hand, and strolled over to her to glance at the computer monitor.

"Ah. Checking the, uh, net?" he asked as he peeled the banana. "Anything interesting?"

"Nope. All quiet on the Hellmouth. It's a mayhem free day so far."

"Oh," he replied with what seemed to Willow to be just a hint of disappointment. "That's...that's um...good. I suppose."

The whistle of the teakettle interrupted the silence. "Excuse me," he said as he went to answer it.

Willow smiled to herself conspiratorially. "Yes," she whispered under her breath. "I found something interesting. Something very interesting indeed." It was time to start plotting Operation Giles' Birthday Present.

Two Fridays later...

The last bell of the day had finally rung. The day always seemed to drag when it was Friday.

"So," Xander began as he leaned in against the locker next to Willow's, "TGIF, am I right?" Buffy nodded emphatically from her position next to him, and Willow smiled in agreement. "Are we Bronzing it up tonight, ladies?"

"Yep!" Buffy replied perkily, and then frowned. "But I have to patrol first. Giles wants to go with me so we can work on my energy conservation while fighting. He keeps going on about using my opponent's energy against them, or something. Should be a thrilling way to spend my Friday night," she said with a dramatic roll of her eyes.

I'm sure he feels the same way about spending his birthday working, Willow thought to herself, but didn't say anything out loud. She snuck a peek into her backpack, making sure the brightly-wrapped box was still there, and zipped it up quickly before the others could notice.

"You ready, Will?" Xander asked as they moved to join the last of the students in exiting the building.

It was time to put her plan into action. "You guys go on ahead," she began giving them the cover story she'd thought up, "I need to return a book to Giles, and I want to discuss it with him a little bit, so I might be a while."

"Ugh," Xander made a face. "Count me out of the mystical magical G-Man book club."

"Yeah, me too," Buffy added, crinkling her nose in disgust. "I get enough of that as it is."

"Well, I find the books interesting," Willow replied with a pseudo-haughty air before cracking into a grin. She knew her friends were just teasing.

"Have fun, you wacky nerds. We'll see you later?" Xander asked.

"Sure. I'll call you when I get home. We can meet up and go together. See ya!" Willow waved to Buffy and Xander as they walked away, then turned and headed toward the library.

As she walked, she wondered if she should go through with the gift-giving. Maybe Giles didn't want anyone to know when his birthday was. Maybe he hated his birthday. Maybe something horrible had happened once on his birthday and he didn't like to celebrate it or even talk about it. Maybe he'd think the mug was stupid. Buffy had. Maybe he'd think she was trying to tell him that she wanted to kiss him and wouldn't be able to look at her again. Maybe he'd hate it. Maybe he'd hate her. No, not Giles. Even if he hated the mug and his birthday in general, he'd still be polite to her. He was too...Giles...not to be.

Taking a deep breath, Willow pushed the library doors open and entered. She looked around, but didn't see Giles anywhere. Maybe she'd missed him. Maybe he was somewhere else in the building. Maybe she should just leave the present and run. It could be anonymous that way. He'd never know she'd been the one to give it to him.

Just as she was considering the merits of pulling a Sir Robin and bravely running away, Giles stepped out from behind a shelf, book in hand, and noticed her.

"Oh! Willow. Hello," he said with an easy smile as he gracefully gallumped down the stairs. "Something I can help you with?"

"Um..." she began, still battling her fight or flight response to the situation. She was beginning to sweat. "I just wanted to...I mean, I..." With a shaky hand, she slid her backpack off her shoulder and reached inside to pull out the gift. Exhaling with a slightly nervous giggle, she held the package out to him. "Happy birthday, Giles."

He was momentarily stunned, flummoxed at first by her nervousness, and then caught off guard by the sudden presentation of the gift that had been thrust in front of him. He looked to the colorfully wrapped box and then back to her. "How...how did you...?"

She smiled shyly. "Oh, I have my ways." She flicked a quick glance at the computer before catching herself.

He noticed, and raised his eyebrows at her in disapproval. "I'm sure you do."

Willow thought it was funny how he pretended to disapprove of her hacking skills when in reality he didn't seem to be very concerned about it, and had even encouraged it on occasion when she'd proven herself useful.

"Um, this is...a surprise. Thank you." He took the gift from her, fumbling it a bit as he tried to keep his hold on the book in his hand as well. "Let me just..." he motioned her toward his office as he headed in that direction.

Giles dropped the book down on his desk with a dusty thump, and then considered the package, turning it over, inspecting every angle, even putting it toward his ear and giving into the childish urge to shake it slightly. Willow smiled at that, and he returned the expression.

"Are ya gonna open it, or do you need to weigh it and measure it and take its temperature first?" Willow asked, grinning bashfully.

He chuckled and ducked his head shyly. "I always was one for the suspense of anticipation."

True to his word, he unwrapped the package with such deliberate precision that Willow found herself beginning to bounce on her heels in frustration, and not entirely because she was eagerly curious to see his reaction. The man could even make unwrapping a gift seem sexy. It was like he was undressing it. He considered the ribbon and bow, taking a tail of it between his thumb and index finger and gently feeling the texture, allowing it to curl around his thumb before finally tugging it loose. As the ribbon fell away, his fingers slowly rasped over the planes of the smooth paper searchingly, seeking out the creases and folds of the wrapping and assessing where best to begin. His decision made, he gently slid the tip of his finger under a flap of paper and slowly, delicately, ran it down the length of the fold, popping the strip of tape free while managing to keep the paper completely intact. He carefully unfolded the creased paper from the end of the box he'd revealed, and then paused, assessing his next move.

"Boy, Christmas morning at your house must've taken hours."

Giles looked up and met her eyes before looking back down and grinning shyly. "I'm sorry," he said self-consciously, "I don't get many gifts these days, and I like to, uh, savor the moment."

Despite his light tone, Willow felt suddenly morose that this was such a rare occurrence for him. Maybe she should've told the others about his birthday. If she had, there would have been more presents, and probably cake.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

He looked back up at her with surprise. "Whatever for?"

"For not thinking. I don't think any of us ever even considered that you have a birthday, and that you probably like to have it acknowledged just as much as we do. Sometimes I think we forget that adults are people too," she said with a remorseful half-smile. "I never even would've thought about it if Buffy and I hadn't been talking about how old we thought you were, and how I didn't think you were as ancient and stuffy as she..." Suddenly realizing what she was saying, she clasped a hand over her mouth, eyes wide.

His eyebrows and mouth both quirked upward in amusement. "Yes, thank you, I'm well aware that Buffy thinks I'm old enough to remember the Civil War, and I don't mean the American one."

He looked at her, smiling warmly in that way he did where it showed more in his gentle eyes than on his lips. "My birthday is, as you lot would say, not a big deal. I'm getting too old to need, or frankly to want, parties with all the fuss and trimmings. But," he said as he met her eye, "that doesn't mean a little acknowledgement isn't welcome a-and appreciated. And speaking of..." He gestured to the gift in his hand, and then, without further preamble, slid his finger along the seam on the side and unfolded the paper, revealing a plain brown cardboard box. With great care and great lack of speed, he gently pried the flap closure open and pulled out a bundle of tissue paper, which he spread open one piece at a time, as though opening a flower petal by petal, until the mug was finally revealed to him. Setting the tissue paper aside, he held his gift, looked at it, and turned it around to expose the text. And stared.

An awkward silence settled over the library for several very long moments.

"You hate it, don't you?" Willow finally blurted. "Buffy said you would. But I thought, hey, what does Buffy know? I thought it was funny, and not because of the kissing thing that librarians apparently don't do according to movies and TV, but because you never see things for librarians and I thought it was unique, and I thought you'd appreciate that and maybe find it a little bit amusing. But Buffy told me you wouldn't, and I should've listened, and I wasn't even going to get it until I found out your birthday was coming up and I went back to the mall to get it for you as a present, but you hate it and now I'm standing here making even more of a fool out of myself by not shutting up, and I..."

"Willow, Willow! Breathe!" Giles gently commanded with a bemused look. She stopped talking, but stared downward at her feet, face flaming.

"I don't hate it," he gently reassured her, "I was just rather...caught off guard." He set the mug down in order to remove his glasses and began cleaning them vigorously. "I...I don't quite...I'm not sure what to make of it."

"It's just, um, you know, a joke. Like, you know how they have those aprons that say 'kiss the cook'?"

He gave her a blank look.

"Oh. Well, um...it's a thing. I don't know why, or where it came from, but uh...the mug is kinda playing on the same idea. They had a bunch of them with different jobs and stuff. But I saw that one and thought of you."

Giles raised an eyebrow at that, his expression warring between amused and slightly alarmed.

"Oh!" Willow realized how what she'd said could be taken. "I mean, because you're a librarian! And you drink a lot of tea! That's why!" She could feel her face turning redder. "I don't know many librarians. And I've never seen novelty stuff for them before. I get that it's not really your sort of humor, but I thought it would be funny."

"Yes," he said as he slipped his glasses back on and held up the mug. "It's, um...quite whimsical."

Willow looked down at her feet and sighed. "I should've gotten you something that was more...you."

He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, encouraging her to look at him. "Willow, you didn't have to get me anything at all," his kindly voice soothed. His hand left her shoulder to run through his hair absently, something she'd seen him do before when he was nervous or searching for words. "Just...just the thought that you went to the trouble, that's - that's very sweet." He smiled at her, eyes sparkling. "Thank you. A-and I do like it, really, it's rather amusing for...for the very reason that it's not something I'd be likely to have."

"So you don't hate it then?"

"No, I don't."

The smile he'd been giving her suddenly turned into a frown, as his brow furrowed in thought. "Um, Willow, you...you will understand if I don't, uh, use it here? At the school?"

She frowned in return, crestfallen. "Oh. Um...sure, I guess, if you're, you know, embarrassed by it..."

"It's, it's not that, exactly," he struggled to clarify, "just that I shudder to think of what, uh, some students might say about it."

Willow's face turned less glum as she began to understand. "And by "some students" you mean "Xander.""

"Mainly, yes. The boy does seem to take great pleasure in tormenting me."

She grinned. "That's because he likes you! He'll never admit it, but he does. He picks on you so you'll give him attention - doesn't really matter if it's positive or not. At least, that's what I think is going on." She shrugged. "I'm taking psychology this year."

"Yes, I can see that," Giles replied with a somewhat amused look. "But, um, back to the mug. I - I will use it at home, I assure you. I just...hesitate...to use it here."

Willow thought to herself that the whole point of it being a librarian mug was for it to be used in the library, but she did understand his hesitation. "It's okay," she smiled. "I understand."

"Thank you," he replied softly. "For understanding, a-and for the gift. I'm...touched, that you would think of me."

"Well of course I would, silly!" She gave him a goofy lopsided grin. "You're my friend." Her words were soft, shyly spoken, and she lowered her head sheepishly as she spoke. She wasn't sure if he shared her feelings about their relationship, or if he only saw her as a student. But when she looked up at him, she could see genuine affection in his glimmering eyes and gentle smile, and she felt reassured.

"Thank you," he said again, almost in a whisper. "A-admittedly I often feel a bit...out of place with you lot, what with the, uh, generation gap and all. Your friendship and esteem is, is most appreciated. And reciprocated."

They shared a fond smile, but the moment broke as he caught sight of the clock on the wall. "Oh," he said, frowning. "I'm sorry, Willow, I have to go. I'm supposed to meet Buffy in a few hours, and I need to run a few errands and make a stop home for some weapons and things first."

"Watchers don't get a day off for their birthdays, huh?" She flashed him a sympathetic half-smile.

"Vampires don't rest just because I'm another year older."

"No, I guess not."

A curious and slightly wary look came over his face as he stood there thinking. "Uh...Willow? Just - just out of curiosity, am I to expect any, um, surprises, later?"

Willow's face fell with such quickness that it was a wonder she didn't need to pick it up off the floor. "No," she whispered. "There won't be anything."

"Oh," he sighed. "That's...that's good, I don't really wa-"

"I didn't tell them," she blurted, cutting him off. "You never mentioned your birthday, and I didn't know if you wanted anybody to know. I didn't tell them anything. You won't have a party, or any other gifts, or anything, because nobody else knows it's your birthday." Her voice wavered - she was close to tears - and her expression was that of one who felt horribly responsible for all the sadness in the entire world.

"Willow," he called gently, waiting until she looked up at him. "It's perfectly all right. I told you I don't need any of those things." He smiled reassuringly and continued. "My birthday is no great secret, it's just that it's never come up in conversation, and I'm not one to bring it up myself. You can tell the others if you'd like, but, please, no surprises that might catch me unawares?" He forced a small, self-deprecating grin. "This old heart of mine is yet another year older; it might not be able to take it."

"Stop that," she scolded. "You're not that old, I don't care what Buffy thinks."

And then, without giving it enough thought to cause her to lose her sudden burst of courage, she stepped up to him, placed her hands on his shoulders to pull him down, and stretched herself up to give him a swift yet firm peck on the cheek.

She stepped away to find him blushing as furiously as she herself knew she must be. "Happy birthday, Giles," she grinned and quickly made a hasty retreat out of the library.

As she left, she turned to sneak a quick peek through the round window of the swinging door, and found him standing in the doorway of his office, a hand to his cheek and an affectionate smile lighting up his crimson face. She grinned.

As she walked away, she vowed to tell Buffy and Xander about his birthday. He said he didn't want a party, but that was just Giles being Giles. Everyone liked being remembered and acknowledged on their birthday. Everyone. Next year there would be a small, quiet celebration for him. Next year there would be more presents. And next year, Willow vowed, there would be cake.