When Ira Rosenberg opened his front door, Giles found himself at a complete loss. The two men stared at each other for several long seconds until Ira, somewhat impatiently, finally asked: “Can I help you?”
Giles snapped to attention. “Oh, er, I’m here to s-see Willow.”
Ira frowned – puzzled rather than suspicious. “You’re a bit long in the tooth to be one of her tutees, aren’t you?”
“Willow hasn’t tutored since high school,” Giles said softly.
Ira rearranged his shoulders. “What did you say your name was?”
“Oh!” Giles held out his hand. “I’m Rupert Giles.”
“Ira Rosenberg.” Ira gave no indication he recognised the name. Releasing Giles’ hand, he said, “Just a minute,” before turning around and going upstairs. A few seconds later, he returned with a wary Willow, who gestured Giles inside.
Despite the palpable awkwardness, Giles felt a sudden burst of pride that no one had even come close to inviting him in. Willow had clearly managed to teach her parents something.
Another silence passed, excruciatingly slowly, while Giles and Willow looked at anything and everything but each other.
Finally noticing the tension, Ira peered at his daughter suspiciously: “Is this why you’re doing independent study now? Your mother told me you were through experimenting with inappropriate relationships.”
“Daddy!” Willow squawked.
Giles’ ears turned pink. “M-Mr R-Rosenberg—”
Ira waved one hand dismissively, reassured by their reactions and immediately losing interest again. “You talk.” He turned, calling out, “I’ll be in my office,” over his shoulder as he disappeared further into the house.
“Um,” Willow said, “so my dad’s kinda….”
“Quite,” Giles said.
“Did you want tea or something?” Willow asked brightly.
“Oh, yes please!” Giles said. “Tea would be lovely, thank you.”
Willow guided him through a cold – almost clinical – hallway and into the family kitchen. It looked like it had never been used, despite a generous size and what looked like all the paraphernalia for a small restaurant. Watching her, Giles thought she seemed … lesser … here, in her parents’ home: younger and more fragile.
“How are you?” Giles asked carefully.
“Oh, I’m just dandy,” Willow responded, equally carefully. She still hadn’t met his eyes.
Giles tried to slip into a chair at the gleaming metal counter, but it was too upright and slick and he only just avoided falling straight out of it again.
Willow giggled, and the tension between them lessened a little. “Don’t even try to sit there!” With a nod towards a door leading off the kitchen, she added: “The TV room is better. My bobeshi always made sure she had somewhere comfy to sit when she visited.”
“Right,” Giles said, clumsily extricating himself. He passed through the doorway to a closet of a room crammed with two overstuffed armchairs draped in bright crocheted blankets and a tiny TV set that still had rabbit ears and manual dials. It was the first part of the house Giles had seen that looked like someone actually lived in it.
As Giles was sinking gratefully into one of the chairs, the kettle clicked off, and he watched Willow make tea through the doorway. It was an exact mirror of his own movements when he did it. Had she learned that from him?
“Thank you,” he said, his tone warm for the first time.
A smile flickered across Willow’s face – weak, but genuine. “You’re welcome.” She passed him his tea and sat down in the armchair opposite, although she held herself as if she were in one of the kitchen chairs.
Just as the silence was approaching uncomfortable again, Willow spoke: “So why’d you come over here, anyway?” she asked finally, her voice as cold and clinical as the kitchen.
“I have need of your technical expertise,” Giles replied, straightening up and matching her tone.
Willow pushed down the desire to scream that he was the worst kind of hypocrite for asking her to hack something when he thought she was too irresponsible to practice magic.
“Spike’s chip may not be working any longer,” Giles said gravely.
Willow gasped, recoiling – in precisely the way Dawn had not.
“Is everyone okay?” she asked. “I mean, has he tried to—”
Giles shook his head quickly. “I am reasonably confident there is no immediate danger. But there are too many variables…. I need to know. We all do.”
Willow nodded, in full agreement. Any tension between them was immediately gone: this was saving-the-world stuff, and that took precedence over everything else.
“We’ve also found the bot.”
“Where was she?”
“Warren Mears has, er, reclaimed her.” Giles’ lips curled in distaste. “He’s been sending her out to rob and kill demons as a money-making scheme.”
Willow’s mouth fell open. “But that’s just so … so … I mean, sex bot and all. It’s … it’s almost a let-down?”
Giles’ lips twitched despite himself. “It’s not funny.”
The tension lessened even more; it felt almost like old times.
Giles opened his jacket to pull out the sheaf of papers he’d liberated from Warren. “We scanned Spike’s brain – well, at least I believe that’s what happened. But at any rate, I’ve got the results – here,” he passed them over to Willow. “It’s just, er….” Giles trailed off. “I have absolutely no idea what any of it means.”
As soon as Giles and Spike left, Dawn had gone upstairs to watch Buffy sleep. In her head, she was pretty sure there wasn’t anything really-really wrong – Spike had woken up just fine, and everyone had sworn up and down Buffy’d had a much smaller dose than him. But she couldn’t quite stop herself from imagining that Buffy might never wake up again and for the next however-many years it would be just like all the nights she’d crept into her dead sister’s room and slept next to the bot, pretending with everything she had in her that Buffy would wake up and be alive again.
Dawn had brought the book she was reading for English – assuming she’d get bored just sitting there – but it was surprisingly compelling just listening to Buffy breathing; watching her chest rise and fall like the bot’s never had; seeing her twitch and shift in her sleep like the bot never could. It felt peaceful and safe in a way nothing else had since their mother died.
But it was also an unmissable opportunity to snoop without fear of Buffy waking up and stopping her….
Giles slumped back against the cushions. “It’s not the chip, then,”
Willow shook her head. Her face was white and pinched with worry.
“What did you do to her, Willow?”
It didn’t matter that she’d been asking herself the exact same question from the moment she’d understood what the scans were telling her. His question just brought all their previous arguments straight back to the surface. “I did everything right!” she snapped. “Everything!”
“You made substitutions,” Giles snapped back. Part of him knew he should be more conciliatory, but the events of the last twenty-four hours had depleted his capacity for compassion. “Whatever possessed you to believe that a fawn could possibly compensate for a human life?”
“So I should’ve killed someone instead?”
“I’d rather you hadn’t done it at all!” Giles shouted. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I taught you better than that.”
Her mouth dropped open. “You—” Willow sputtered. “You spent, what, two months teaching me after Miss Calendar died? Then Buffy came back from wherever she was and you dropped my lessons like a hot potato!”
“I’d run out of things to teach you!” Giles said, more sharply than he’d intended.
Willow just stared at him. He’d never, ever said a word to her to indicate that was why he’d stopped. Why hadn’t he ever told her? She’d spent years trying to figure out what it was she’d done…. She felt as though she’d just aged a thousand years and she hated that Giles still had that kind of power over her; her parents certainly didn’t.
Giles, still largely oblivious, muttered, “I had so hoped everything would be Spike’s fault.”
Derailed entirely from her own feelings, Willow said, “Wait – you thought there was something wrong before?”
“Buffy’s changed, Willow. Surely you’ve noticed.”
“Well, sure, but, hello, Hell? It changes a person.”
“And how, precisely, do you know she was in Hell?”
“Why won’t you trust me anymore?!” Willow desperately wanted to be self-righteously angry, but somehow she was still fighting tears.
“You didn’t do any of the proper research! Only five books, Willow? I taught you better than that.”
“What?!” Willow had no idea what he was talking about, but Giles had yet to notice.
“Anya told me all about your ‘process’.”
“Anya?” Willow couldn’t tell whether anger at Anya or betrayal by Giles was stronger. “She wasn’t there, Giles! Not when I was reading the online demon database. Or tracking down all the books you took with you when you abandoned us or just never had in the first place. She has no idea what I did!”
“Perhaps I was a trifle hasty in my assumptions.” Despite the backtrack, Giles’ eyes were hardening. “But you admitted yourself you never checked where Buffy went after she died.”
“I’m still stuck on you asking Anya.”
“You were hardly forthcoming when I asked you about it before,” Giles replied coldly.
“How dare you judge me! And since when do you trust Anya over … well, over anyone?”
“It’s not about trusting Anya, Willow. It’s about not trusting you.” He hadn’t realised it was true until he said the words. He passed a hand over his mouth, shocked at himself.
Willow crushed the hurt and reached for the anger with both hands. “At least I never sold my soul to a demon,” she sneered. “That puts me a few steps ahead of you, doesn’t it?”
Not for the first time, Giles wished he’d been able to keep that particular piece of his history buried. “And I hoped you would learn from my mistakes and not try to cheat a god on the price of a resurrection! What happens when Osiris comes to you, demanding a human life in exchange for Buffy’s? Who will you sacrifice then?”
“But he accepted the price!”
Giles grimaced. “Do you know that?”
Willow shrugged. “We killed one god. We can kill another.”
“Buffy died killing that god!”
“And I brought her back!”
“So you’d just do it again? Keep bringing her back? Have you even spoken to her about this?”
“About what? I saved her from Hell!”
Giles would not be deterred: “If you’re so sure of that, how could you assume I wouldn’t want to help rescue her?” To him, this was the unanswerable argument, and, ultimately, why he’d stopped trusting Willow.
Spots of colour appeared on Willow’s cheeks; her eyes were pitiless. “Gee, I dunno, maybe ‘cause you wouldn’t lift a finger when we asked you to help with Dawn?”
A cloudy memory resurfaced, of Willow asking him – begging him – to do … something. But he’d brushed her off, unwilling to sober up enough even to understand what she’d wanted.
Giles squeezed his eyes shut. “Don’t bring her into it.”
“Why not? She’s – whatever Dawn is, she’s part of Buffy. And Buffy…” Willow’s lips trembled with a grief that still felt fresh, even though all the reasons for it were gone. “Buffy sacrificed everything so she would be okay. We owe – owed – it to her to make Dawn happy.”
Giles had finally found his answer as to why Willow and Xander’s priority had been Dawn rather than patrolling. But it was the merest flash of intellect in an otherwise overwhelming tumult of emotion at quite how badly he had handled, well, everything in the immediate aftermath of her death.
Willow shrugged, feigning a nonchalance she couldn’t feel no matter how much she wished she could. “You left, Giles. Even before you went back to England. You made it very clear you didn’t care about any of us without Buffy.”
Giles drank down the last of his now-stone-cold tea while Willow watched, debating whether to just ask him to leave.
To Dawn’s bitter disappointment, there was nothing cool or young-mind-corrupting in Buffy’s room. All the weapons had been moved downstairs months ago, and the only signs of the cohabiting evil vampire were clothes that were his – ‘cause black – folded almost apologetically in little piles on the chair and the vanity, plus a couple of brighter men’s dress shirts hanging from the knob of the closet door.
Then she noticed that there were honest-to-god towels on the towel-rail – something Buffy had never once used because hers always got dumped on her bed or the floor until Mom picked them up and put them in the bathroom.
Suddenly confronted with the fact that someone other than their mother would be picking up Buffy’s towels for the rest of their lives, Dawn lost interest in snooping. Gingerly, she sat down on the side of the bed, then curled carefully onto her side next to her sleeping sister. The bed was warm, like it hadn’t been any of the nights she’d snuck in to sleep in it over the summer. And the pillows, which had always smelled of must and laundry soap while the bot had been charging, were now slightly sticky from hair gel and stank of too many competing hair products. Less hygienic, certainly, but so, so much better.
She closed her eyes and just focussed on Buffy’s breathing. She wasn’t her mother – Dawn didn’t care what anyone said, Buffy just wasn’t – but she’d come back and for right now that was enough.
“I should leave,” Giles said quietly.
Willow started to argue with him out of habit, then stopped herself. “Yeah. We’re done, aren’t we?”
Giles frowned. “Willow, I hope that we are never ‘done’.” Even to him, it sounded sanctimonious.
Willow’s eyebrows went up. The desire to cry was completely gone now – she just felt numb. “Why? You don’t trust me. You think my powers should be bound. Why wouldn’t you want us to be done?”
Giles looked stricken. “With your powers, you cannot afford to be complacent. You cannot isolate yourself.”
Willow laughed, shocked. “You’re the one isolating me! You’re the one telling anyone who’ll listen that I’m dangerous. That I would hurt Tara!”
“You know, Jenny Calendar always said that what most impressed her about you was that you wielded almost infinite power and yet it never occurred to you to use it for mischief or personal gain. She was talking about computers, but I always assumed that it would be the same with magic.”
The words ‘I was wrong’, hung heavily between them, despite Giles’ choice to leave them unsaid.
“I guess we know where we stand, then,” Willow said quietly. She stood up. “I rescued Buffy from Hell. You go on thinking that’s ‘mischief or personal gain’ if you like. I think you’re just upset you didn’t think of it first.”
Giles stood up slowly. “And hiding Tara’s memories? Who else but you gained from that?”
Willow tensed. “That was a mistake. Tara did the spell; she’s safe now.”
Giles nodded. “At least we agree on that much.” He picked up the readouts of Spike’s brain. “Thank you for this.”
And then he left.
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