Secrets & Lies


by: Lynn
Continuation of The Chains Series



Willow opened the balcony doors and stepped out into the cool, night air, casting a backward glance at her bed, and the body-shaped lump beneath the covers. Her parents had finally stopped checking on her during the night, but just in case, she figured it would fool them at a glance. It had to, because she couldn't resist the call of the moon even if she'd wanted to. It drifted between the clouds- barely visible- but there nonetheless.

Her nighttime restlessness had started on the evening of Oz's funeral, the night of the full moon. She'd stood on her balcony and stared up at the glowing orb, feeling its pull as surely as he would have, held in its thrall like one of the Hellmouth's night creatures. Under its power, she'd been overtaken by an inexplicable urge to strip naked and run off into the dark, to feel the grass and earth beneath her feet, the fragrant air moving over her skin. She had wanted desperately to be out there, consumed by the dark, swallowed by the cacophony of night sounds.

For three nights she gazed longingly into the inky blackness surrounding the house. For three nights she lay in bed pretending to be asleep each time one of her parents came in to check on her. For three nights she felt like a caged animal, trapped by invisible bars that were almost as tangible as the real ones that had contained Oz each month.

On the fourth night, her parents failed to come to her room. On the fifth, she waited until she was certain that they were sound asleep, then slipped out of the house...and was filled with wonder at the vibrant beauty of the night, beauty that she'd missed during the last couple of years. It made her yearn for Oz, filled her with an intense desire to have him by her side, seeing everything that she saw.

That first night, the pain had been its sharpest, cutting deeply, right through to her soul. She'd swallowed it, embraced it, and endured, returning to her bed at dawn feeling a certain kinship to Oz's wolf. Feeling as though she'd viewed the night through his eyes.

The following night was easier. The pain less intense. But her hunger for him still burned as brightly as it had during their last dance together.

Hunger that now would never be satisfied.

The soft breeze caressed her as she walked to the railing, raising tiny goosebumps on her arms. It felt good- clean- the damp mist covering her skin as if she'd just stepped from the shower. She took a deep breath, and for the first time in days didn't feel the aching hitch in her chest that occurred every time she tried to breathe.

Willow swung her leg over the railing and dropped to the ground, her hands clutching the wet grass for a moment, letting the soft blades slide through her fingers. All around her she could hear the night come alive- crickets, frogs, the occasional buzzing of a June bug, the distant whoosh of a car several streets away. After just listening and smelling the air, she started walking, her face raised up to catch the moisture that shimmered above her head.

It had been a long time since she'd been able to really 'listen' to the normal sounds of nature. Years, perhaps. Once she'd learned that vampires and other demons were real, the dark had only housed nightmares, and its sounds were those of terror. But now, tonight...

Tonight, she knew that the monsters were dead, but even if they hadn't been, she somehow thought that it wouldn't matter. The feeling of restlessness was too strong and the night was filled with a music she hadn't heard since childhood, when she, Jesse and Xander would lay in their backyards, staring up at the sky. Transported by their imaginations into the legends of Orion, Pegasus, and Andromeda, the boys listening raptly as Willow recounted every myth out of her copy of Bullfinch's.

*Such a long time ago.*

Willow sighed and continued walking, her footsteps echoing in the deserted street. She wished more than anything that Oz was there to share the night with her, to breathe in the smell of wet leaves and jasmine blooming in the flower gardens. She'd often thought it sad that he couldn't run free on nights of the full moon, to feel the wind in his fur and roll in the grass with utter abandon. He hadn't had a chance to explore the wolf inside, to taste and feel and hear with all of his senses, the way that he was meant to. Perhaps in time he would have learned control, and would have been able to run without being afraid that he'd kill a human being.

Perhaps. There would be no finding out now, though, would there? No way to know if he would have reconciled his two halves, found peace with the wolf. No way to know if he would have embraced the change and reveled in it, instead of facing it with dread each month. Now that he was gone...

He wouldn't be claiming her as his mate either. Not now, not ever.

Today would have been the day of their picnic at Breaker's Woods. They would have spread a blanket on the ground and let the sun warm their bodies as the tension built between them, perhaps feeding each other slices of fruit, sharing teasing smiles and brief kisses. Maybe Oz would have played his guitar, and she would have sprawled next to him, watching his eyes darken with love and lust. And when he finally touched her, it would have been perfect.

All of it.

Willow brushed the tears from her eyes and broke into a run, trying to escape from the turmoil raging inside. When she thought of Oz, she didn't know which feeling was worse- the pain in her heart, or the hunger that felt like a ravening beast inside her.

The hunger, perhaps? The pain she could deal with, it was expected when you were in mourning. But to ache with wanting for someone who would never be there? To know that her virgin body would never again feel his touch...his kiss? Pain would lessen with time, but hunger? Hunger needed to be fed.

At least Buffy had known physical pleasure with both of her loves. She was able to carry that memory with her, always and forever, no matter what happened. Buffy could be assured that she'd experienced all that love had to offer, not once, but twice. All Willow had was a lot of near misses, and the assurance that what she wanted most would never come to pass.

Her feet pounded on the pavement and before long she realized the direction they had taken her in. And she understood that her nighttime wanderings had been leading her here, to the one person who could understand how she felt. The one person...

She turned down the street that housed the Spanish styled condos, her heart pounding from the run and the knowledge of what she was about to do. As she approached his door, a strange calm settled over her, a feeling of complete certainty that what she was doing was not only right- it was necessary. A feeling very similar to the one she'd had when she'd gone to the mansion to see Spike.

Squinting into the glare of the light shining over the door, she knocked on the heavy wood with a trembling hand and waited. Several moments and a few more knocks later, she heard what sounded like a thud, and muffled cursing. A small panel in the door opened and surprised eyes stared out at her before Giles flung open the door.

"Willow!" He stepped out and looked around, then pulled her inside, closing and locking the door behind her. He turned to face her, running a hand through his hair in consternation.

"What are you doing here? Why were you out by yourself at this hour?" It made him angry to know that she would deliberately put herself in danger. "What could you possibly have been thinking?"

Willow stared up at him with wide eyes, taking in his sleep rumpled form. He was wearing a pair of drawstring pajama bottoms and a tee-shirt, and without his glasses he looked ten years younger. His hair was mussed, his chin stubbled, and deep-set sea-green eyes looked back at her with a mixture of anger and concern. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him that the streets were safe for the time being, but she caught herself before revealing anything about Spike. "I couldn't sleep," she said, simply.

Giles blinked at the absurdity of her statement, then exploded. "Bloody hell, Willow! Drink warm milk, watch television...count bloody sheep, if you have to...but don't try to cure insomnia by walking the streets of Sunnydale!" He couldn't believe that she'd done something so utterly stupid and only two weeks after her boyfriend had been murdered on one of those very same streets.

"It's quiet now, Giles. You said so yourself. And I couldn't stay inside anymore, I just...couldn't."

At the anguish in her voice, his expression softened. He remembered the restlessness he'd felt after Jenny died. But he was a full-grown man, able to defend himself, and Willow was... Willow was what? A child? He shook his head. Not bloody likely. Looking at her lithe figure standing there- her eyes large and dark, hair glimmering with droplets of mist, lips full and moist- he couldn't in all conscience call her a child. Unfortunately for him, at the moment she was everything female, and very, very desirable. He felt himself stir traitorously at the thought. Giles struggled to maintain his composure. "I suppose I can understand why you needed to get out, but that still doesn't explain why you're 'here'."

Willow looked down for a moment, taking one step forward, then another, raising luminous eyes to meet his. "I'm here because you're the only one who knows- the only one who understands- how I feel," she whispered as her hand touched his chest.

Giles started as her touch sent a shock through him. As he tried to move back, her hand clutched his shirt, holding him in place. "Willow-" He reached up to pry her fingers away, his strong hand covering her own delicate one. "I think that I should take you home."

"No." Her voice was soft, but firm. "Giles...I came here because I need you...I need 'this'." Her other hand came up, pressing flat against the muscles in his chest. "And something tells me that maybe...maybe you need it, too."

His body felt warm beneath her hands, warm and hard. Willow breathed deep, smelling soap and mint, and...something else. A light musky scent- almost reminiscent of Oz- so uniquely male that it made her head swim.

"Please, Giles..." came her soft whisper. "It hurts so much..." Her eyes pleaded with him, glistening with tears. "Make it stop...please..."

Her obvious pain struck a chord within him, dredging up memories of Jenny and everything he'd lost. It reminded him of the ache that he'd thought would never go away, the hunger that would never be satiated, now that she was gone. Reminded him too much of the loneliness of the past months, of nights spent with his head buried in books because there was nothing -no one- else for him.

His attraction to Willow had seemed like temporary insanity- a midlife crisis- brought on by the stress of dealing with the Hellmouth. Her resemblance to Meredith, the first woman he'd ever loved, had driven him to distraction, and her intelligence drew him like a moth to a flame. They had so much in common and were so similar in so many ways. It was a dangerous combination, considering the circumstances.

He wanted to be there for her, to help alleviate the pain. She was grieving and confused, and understandably in need of a shoulder to cry on. He told himself that he could do this, comfort her like a friend, just hold her, and nothing more. "I'm sorry, Willow," he said, softly, pulling her close. "I know that it hurts. I remember all too well." He held himself stiffly as one hand stroked her hair, concentrating on keeping his voice neutral and trying not to notice her softness pressed against him.

Willow felt the stiffness in his arms around her- felt his awkwardness- and thought she understood the reason for his resistance. She tried one last time to persuade him. "I know that I'm not Jenny, but maybe..." She swallowed, fighting back the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks. "Maybe you could pretend, just for tonight?"

Giles could feel Willow's slender body so close to his, the heat of her hand through his shirt. His hand tangled in her hair and he tugged her head back so that he could see her face. Her scent was intoxicating, tempting him beyond all reason, and her eyes... He was lost, drowning in their liquid depths. Her lips parted, and he sank even further, going down for the last time. The last fragile thread of control snapped, and with a low groan, he muttered, "Bloody hell," as he lowered his head down to hers. "I don't need to pretend, Willow," he ground out hoarsely. "The reality will do just fine."

He covered her mouth with his, kissing her with all of the pent-up desire that he'd felt over the past few weeks. His hand gripped the back of her head as her lips opened beneath his, allowing him to sweep his tongue inside, tasting her sweetness. The voice in his head shouted for him to stop, to think- TO USE HIS FUCKING HEAD- but he barely heard it above the rushing in his ears.

Willow clung to him, arms reaching up to wind around his neck as Giles continued his assault on her mouth. Her knees went weak with the force of his kiss and the feeling of his erection pressing against her stomach. She finally understood what the romance books meant when they said the heroine's mouth was "plundered". There was none of the sweetness that she'd associated with Oz's kisses, no gentle stroking of tongues. Just bruised lips and the wet, searing heat of Giles' mouth consuming her, engulfing all of her senses.

Giles broke the kiss, breathing heavily as he stared down at her. His finger brushed a strand of hair from her forehead then followed the curve of her face before coming to rest under her chin. "Are you sure about this?"

She nodded, arching into him so that there'd be no doubt about her decision. "I need you, Giles. I need you to make it go away." Praying that he understood her reasoning, she stood on tiptoe and brushed her lips across his. "Please...just for tonight."

Calling himself every kind of fool, Giles swept her up in his arms and headed toward the stairs, moving quickly before he could change his mind. Willow hadn't been wrong, he 'did' need this- needed the release, needed to feel her warmth wrapped around him. It had been so long- *far, far too long*- since he'd allowed himself to give in to any of these feelings.

At his bedroom door, he stopped, unable to cross the threshold. Willow followed his gaze to the large bed, and knew the reason for his hesitation. Her small hand came up to caress the side of his face. "Giles," she whispered, drawing his attention back to her. "It's all right." She kissed his chin, trailing her lips down over his neck until they lingered in the hollow of his throat. "There's only us, no one else," she murmured against his skin. "Just you..." Her hand tangled in his hair. "And me."



******************


With a low moan, he crossed the room and lay her gently on the bed, amidst the rumpled covers. They were still warm from where his body had lain and as she turned her head to the pillow his masculine scent filled her nostrils, making her feel safe, protected. Giles slipped off her shoes and moved to join her on the bed. Willow raised her arms to him, letting her fingers trace his care-worn features before linking them behind his neck.

Giles stared for a moment at the bright green eyes looking up at him, the deep russet hair spilling across his pillow. Just as had happened in the doorway, thoughts of Jenny once again intruded. Her image as he'd last seen her- lifeless, in this very same bed- flashed through his mind, sending a chill down his spine. *Jenny...* She'd been the first woman since Meredith to touch his heart. Dark and beautiful, earthy and mysterious, Jenny was everything he could have hoped for- the perfect mate- not only for him, but for Ripper, as well. And she'd haunted him every night since her death, invading his dreams, making him long desperately for a life that would never be. And now...

Now he had another woman in his bed. Vastly different from Jenny, but beautiful in her own right. A woman who wanted him- who needed him- as desperately as he needed her. A woman who was real and alive, but not his for the keeping. Another tortured soul, seeking respite from the pain of loss. And perhaps- just perhaps- they could find it together. *Just for tonight...*

Driving Jenny from his thoughts, Giles focused on the girl in his bed. He captured her mouth again, kissing her tenderly at first, then with increasing intensity as he felt her heated response. He pulled back long enough to tug the tee-shirt over his head, then began unbuttoning her blouse, his eyes darkening as they took in the creamy expanse of skin that was slowly exposed, inch by inch.

Willow sat up and he slipped the blouse from her shoulders, brushing his lips over the freckles dotting her flesh. Her white cotton bra quickly followed and he caught his breath at the sight of small, perfect breasts, tipped by rose-colored nipples that puckered under his ardent gaze. She felt a flush move across her skin and fought the urge to cover herself with her hands. The hot look in Giles' eyes both embarrassed and thrilled her, promising things she'd only dreamt about. Things she'd dreamt of doing with Oz. *Oz.*

Closing her eyes, she saw spikey red hair and a crooked smile, and felt her heart give a painful lurch. It should have been Oz looking at her like this, touching her breast, lightly rubbing her nipple with his thumb...

Choking back a sob, she pulled Giles' head close, meeting his mouth with hers, trying to banish the image of Oz's face from her thoughts. She fell back on the pillow, bringing Giles with her, letting her hands slip down over his chest. Willow wondered if Jenny was looming as largely in his mind as Oz was in hers, and told herself a second later that she'd already known the answer before the question had even formed.

Giles let his tongue rub lazily against hers for a moment, before trailing his lips over her chin, following the slender column of her neck as her head fell back on the pillow. He teased the sensitive skin with his tongue, sucking at the pulse point, and was rewarded with a small whimper from deep in her throat. As her hands tangled in his hair, he moved downward, gently kissing the curve of one breast while his thumb teased the nipple of the other. "So beautiful," he murmured against her skin, burying his face in the hollow between the soft globes.

Willow moaned as his tongue traced circles around her areola, feeling the liquid heat travel straight to her groin. He lingered there, his mouth and hands working their magic until her center throbbed with unreleased tension. When she thought she couldn't take another moment of exquisite torture, he began kissing lower, firm hands caressing her sides as they followed his mouth to the top of her pants. He hooked his thumbs in the waistband and slid both pants and panties down over her legs, brushing his lips over her exposed thighs.

Giles sat back and stared at the vision before him. Her skin was lightly freckled and glowing, her coloring reminding him of strawberries and cream. The hardened buds of her nipples glistened in the lamplight; the taste of them lingering on his tongue. The stomach muscles that had nearly driven him to distraction on Halloween were trembling from his touch, drawing his eyes to the copper-colored curls resting at the junction of her thighs. His gaze drifted over long, slender legs that tapered to delicate feet, before travelling back up to meet her eyes.

Shyness and passion warred within the green depths, and Giles almost chuckled as he saw her 'resolve face' emerge. Bravery under pressure had always been her strong suit and he imagined that it had taken a great deal of it to come to him in the first place. He knew that she didn't see herself as desirable, that she thought he was only doing this out of pity, or out of his own need for comfort. She couldn't possibly know how often he'd thought of doing this with her, how often he'd dreamt of touching her, tasting her, feeling her writhe beneath him in ecstasy. Her presence in his bed now had him painfully erect, the pajama bottoms doing little to conceal his arousal.

"You are...so very beautiful," he whispered in a voice rough with desire. He ran a hand down the length of her body, sliding it between her legs to cup her mound. His finger slid into her slowly, preparing her for his girth. Willow gasped at the sensation as his finger moved steadily inside her tight, wet core, stretching her, his thumb circling her clit with a light touch. He pressed a kiss to her stomach, then moved his head between her legs, gently spreading her thighs so that she was open to him. His tongue darted out to lick her folds, sweeping up her slit to seek out the throbbing nubbin above.

At the first touch of his tongue in her most private place, Willow came off the bed with a startled shriek. It was too much, too intimate, and although the pleasure was incredibly intense, she didn't want it. She knew that she needed to be somewhat aroused in order for Giles to enter her, but she hadn't planned on this, hadn't planned on feeling this way. Her face burned with shame at how easily her body had responded. She grasped the ends of his hair and pulled.

"Giles, no!" she urgently cried out. "Please, don't..."

He reluctantly looked up from his ministrations and saw her embarrassment. Giles debated with himself about trying to overcome her inhibitions, but realized that she wouldn't appreciate his efforts. With a sigh of disappointment, he kissed her inner thigh and continued upward, capturing her mouth again. Back on familiar territory, Willow relaxed, and reached for the drawstring of his pants.

As her small hand slipped beneath his waistband, Giles groaned, involuntarily thrusting forward. Together, they pushed the pajamas down over his hips and he kicked them off, then resumed the kiss. Her fingers threaded through the hair on his chest, lightly scratching as her body arched against him. She tentatively reached down and grasped his cock, surprised at how soft and silky the skin of his shaft felt in her palm. Its size worried her-so long and thick that she could barely get her hand around it. She expected pain, welcomed it even, but she didn't see how something so big was going to fit into such a small hole.

Giles wasn't sure how much longer he could hold out. Her innocent teasing was driving him out of his mind, making him harder than he'd ever thought possible. Somehow, though, a rational thought about protection entered his brain, and after a gentle kiss, he rolled to the side of the bed, reaching for the nightstand. Pulling open the drawer, he fumbled for the box of condoms he'd purchased several months ago, when hopes of being intimate with Jenny had occupied his every waking thought. Removing one, he tore open the package with shaking hands and quickly put it on, then turned back to the redhead sprawled beside him.

Willow stopped worrying about size when his fingers found her center again and the pleasurable sensations rippled outward. Whimpers and moans sounded in her throat as the tension built once more, her body stiffening as it sought its release. A part of her resisted, not wanting to betray Oz by climaxing, but Giles applied a steady pressure on her clit and before she knew what was happening, wave upon wave crashed over her in a blinding orgasm.

As she lay there trembling from the aftershocks, Giles moved between her thighs, letting the tip of his penis rest at her entrance. He rubbed it along her slit, coating it with her juices, then slowly slid inside, only to be stopped by the barrier of her hymen.

Caught off guard by the evidence of her virginity, his startled gaze flew to her face, finding her eyes squinched tightly shut. "Willow?" Realization struck him like a slap in the face, and he started to pull away. "Christ, I'm sorry-"

"NO!" She pressed her hands flat against his buttocks. "Don't stop...Giles, please..." Wrapping her legs around his thighs, she thrust upward as hard as she could, letting out a scream as he pierced through the membrane. White hot pain lanced through her, obliterating everything else, and she clamped her teeth down on his shoulder, muffling the sobs that tore from her throat.

Giles froze, sheathed to the hilt in her tight warmth. Fighting the urge to move, he swore softly, his face buried in her hair. "Dammit, Willow! Are you all right?" A high pitched mewling sound was coming from her lips and he felt her body begin to fight him. "Don't move, luv, it'll only make it worse," he soothed.

Willow forced herself to stay still, trying to will away the burning between her thighs. "It's okay, it's okay," she babbled softly, while inside her head she was screaming, "NO, IT HURTS, TAKE IT OUT!" Her breath was coming in short pants and her legs trembled uncontrollably as she desperately tried to calm herself. Dimly, she felt Giles stroking her hair, kissing her face, trying to get her to relax.

After several long minutes, he felt the tension leave her body and pulled back to look at her face. "I'm going to try to move now, all right?" At her hesitant nod, he began to thrust in a slow, careful motion, watching her expression for any hint of more pain. She was pale, but breathing evenly, so he continued, keeping his movements shallow.

The burning had receded to a dull ache, and Willow let out a shuddering sigh as her walls stretched to accommodate him. She threaded her fingers through his hair and brought his mouth down on hers, trying to recapture the passion she'd felt from his earlier kisses. Their tongues met and a warmth spread to her groin, easing the friction of his thick shaft rubbing against her delicate tissues. The sensation was tolerable now, uncomfortable rather than excruciating, and she awkwardly tried to move with him, in order to hasten his orgasm.

Giles moaned low in his throat and struggled to maintain his control. It had been so long since he'd been inside 'any' woman, and the feeling of her incredibly tight channel was threatening to send him over the edge. He kept up the slow pace until Willow's tentative movements let him know that it was okay to set a faster one.

His hand snaked down between their bodies to finger her clit and she caught his wrist, shaking her head. "No," she panted. "Just do it. I want you to come."

"Willow, let me try to make it good for you..." He wanted to bring her pleasure again, especially after the pain she'd already experienced.

"No, I... I'd rather you didn't..." Her eyes pleaded with him. "Giles...It's okay, really..."

It wasn't okay with him, but her insistence told him that she was anxious for it to be over. Her refusal to let him make it enjoyable for her bothered him, but instead of trying to force the issue, he acquiesced, realizing that she needed to feel some measure of control. He let her tug his hand away and laced his fingers with hers, kissing her hard as he gave up to the pleasure of being inside her. After several strokes he felt his balls tighten and he came with a shout, his entire body shaking with the force of his climax.

Willow closed her eyes as she felt Giles' cock swell inside her, conjuring up Oz's face one more time, remembering the twinkling green eyes, the impish grin and the sweet, sweet taste of his lips on hers. She said goodbye to his image, praying that wherever he was, he would understand her reasons for having done this, with Giles. Praying that his spirit would find peace, and hoping to find some of that peace for herself. She felt Giles' body collapse heavily on hers, his breath in her ear, before he slipped out of her and moved to her side.

"I'll be right back." He left the room and returned a couple of minutes later with a washcloth and small towel. He spread Willow's legs and gently began cleaning the blood from her sex and inner thighs, hearing her hiss in pain as the cloth came in contact with her tender flesh. "I'm sorry," he murmured, looking up at her.

"It's okay," she whispered. "It doesn't hurt that bad." She reached for the cloth. "I can do that, you know."

"I know," he replied, moving the cloth out of reach. "Let me take care of you.

She met his eyes briefly, suddenly feeling embarrassed at his close scrutiny. His tenderness toward her made her feel guilty for using him and she thought about making him stop, but the warm washcloth had felt good- soothing, even- now that the initial soreness had lessened. She nodded and looked away, staring at the ceiling until he was done. Feeling the bed move under his weight she rolled, eyes still closed, so that she was facing away from him.

Giles fitted himself against her back, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her close. He felt the silky strands of her hair beneath his cheek as he dropped a kiss on her shoulder. "Are you all right?" His arm tightened across her breasts as his hand curled up around her shoulder. "I hadn't expected...I-I thought that you and Oz..." His voice trailed off and he felt her let out a shaky breath.

"We were going to..." came her soft reply. "Today." Her small hand came up to grip his forearm. "A picnic in Breaker's Woods, just the two of us..." Twin tears slipped down her cheeks as Oz's words echoed in her head. They'd been among the last he'd ever spoken to her.

Giles felt her start to shake. "I'm so very sorry, Willow." Another picnic flashed through his mind, the one he'd taken with Meredith early on in their relationship. He remembered how young they'd been, how she'd looked at him with so much love and lust in her eyes that he'd thought he'd combust. How the sun had warmed their naked bodies as they lay there, basking in the afterglow. How perfect it all had seemed. The same perfection that Willow had most likely dreamt of with Oz.

"I just wanted...I don't know what I wanted. I'm just so tired of being scared, tired of being so helpless." She was silent for a moment. "Do you hate me?"

The words were barely spoken, but he heard them anyway. He sighed and pressed another soft kiss where her neck and shoulder met. "Of course I don't hate you. If anything, I hate myself for hurting you."

"Don't. I wanted it to happen...and I didn't leave you much choice, did I?"

"I'm an adult, Willow. I could have said no," he answered, without much conviction.

"I'm glad you didn't." She took a deep breath. "I'm glad that it was you, Giles. Thank you."

Giles lay there stunned for a moment. He'd just painfully taken her virginity, and she was thanking him? Her complexities had always surprised him, now they astounded him. He had the feeling that he could spend eternity trying to figure her out, and not even come close. "I should be thanking you, Willow. You.. made me feel something...I hadn't felt in months. You made me feel...alive again." He adjusted his hold on her, and positioned himself more comfortably. "You're an extraordinary girl- an extraordinary 'woman'- Willow," he murmured. "And much stronger than you realize." He closed his eyes and they lay there together, silently, until sleep finally claimed him.

Willow listened as his breathing became even. She was still wide awake, her mind unwilling to shut itself off. Too much had happened, too much had changed in such a very short time. She felt different, but wasn't sure if that was a good thing. And she didn't know what would happen when she and Giles had to look at each other in the light of day. She didn't want what had happened to change their relationship, but how could it not?

Needing to use the bathroom, she extricated herself from his embrace, gingerly easing her body off the bed. She grabbed her panties and his tee-shirt from the floor and quietly left the room.

Once in the bathroom, she stared at her reflection, trying to see what Giles had seen. He'd called her beautiful, had referred to her as a woman, but all she saw was the same old Willow. A little rough around the edges, with a sadness in her eyes, but no different, really, than the plain girl with no fashion sense that she'd always been. The difference that she felt inside had obviously not transferred itself to her exterior. She turned away from the mirror and sat down to relieve herself, biting her lip to keep from crying out at the stinging sensation as urine came in contact with lacerated skin.

After wiping carefully and cleaning herself with another washcloth, she went downstairs in search of something to keep her occupied until Giles awoke. Her mouth was dry, so she headed to the kitchen first. Filling a glass from the tap, she downed half of it immediately, then carried it with her to the living room.

Giles didn't own a television, which left her with the option of looking through his books. She scanned title after title, but nothing sparked her interest until she turned and spotted the journals lying on his desk. He'd brought them home, rather than leaving them at the library, probably hoping to work on them on nights that he couldn't sleep.

Her hand automatically reached for Anne's journal, anxious to pick up where she had left off. Her mind felt clearer than it had in days, and she was sure that Giles would appreciate her help with the translation. Spotting a legal pad, she grabbed it and settled herself in the chair, eager to begin reading.

Two hours later, she looked up from the freshly translated pages, her face deathly pale. "Oh my god," she whispered. "Buffy."


**********


Continues