Season Three - Based on Dopplegangland
Notes: Just borrowing...
On the third day, he realized he was going to have to act. She clearly would not and the inaction was beginning to take its physical toll on her as well as an emotional toll on him. Pretty eyes ringed with sadness and exhaustion, her thin shoulders drooping beneath her jumper, the crooked grin seemingly lost forever underneath the tightly pursed lips. And for him, jumbled thoughts, meaningless words falling into a sort of conversational chasm mawing between them, and the endless loop of pulling her into his arms playing over and over behind his cloudy vision.
So, he was ready for her when she wandered out of his daydreams and into the library Friday afternoon, the final bell a forgotten echo in the empty halls, a lone locker door slamming, and high-pitched squealing from somewhere out in the courtyard. The delicious hush of the finished school day, and in this case the school week, settling into the very bricks of the building itself. The door snicked shut behind her and she stood as though lost. His heart ached.
“Willow,” he said softly.
Her gaze flitted to his and then away, “That's me. Willow.”
Enough. He disappeared into his office, and reappeared with his back to her, shrugging into his coat, locking the office door and slipping the key into the potted plant that sat on the edge of the check-out counter. He turned and briskly walked over to her, “I want to show you something. Come with me.”
And just that easily she pivoted and followed him, out the doors, down the hallway, taking a side hall and through the far door that he held open for her as she ducked beneath his arm, and across a small bit of lawn and into the Staff Parking Lot. His heavy Brogues clipped smartly against the tarmac and she skipped a bit to keep up with him. He glanced down at her quickly, she was staring straight ahead. Her hair glinted gold in the late afternoon sun. The laden backpack bumping low on her back, he found backpacks for school books ridiculous and wondered briefly if she would allow him to gift her with a book bag. He shuttled that thought along, they were at his car.
“Giles? Where are we going?” she asked, as he led her around to the passenger door and opened it for her.
“You'll know that when we get there.” He busied himself with opening his own door and sliding into the seat.
She was uncharacteristically quiet with such cryptic information, and from the corner of his eyes he watched her settling herself, reaching for the safety belt.
“You can't belt up, Willow,” he informed her as he turned the key and the car sputtered to life. She raised her eyebrows critically. “I apologize. You see, it didn't originally come equipped with belts. I've installed this one, on the driver's side, but,” he paused, steering the car out of the lot and onto the street, “well, it doesn't happen that I often have a passenger.”
He looked over at her and found he couldn't quite decipher the expression on her face.
“I don't take a lot of crazy chances like this, Giles.”
He cocked his head, eyebrows raised in concern, “I promise I'll take the utmost care.”
He looked back at the road but heard her voice and turned back; she was laughing softly and shaking her head. “Crazy chances,” she muttered under her breath.
He laughed out loud and she turned shyly towards him and rewarded him with the brightest smile he'd seen her wear since the night of the doppelganger, just three days before.
His hand rested on the shift knob, between them, the ball of his thumb rubbing the side of the shaft nervously. If he extended his fingers even a bit he could brush against the pale stockings she was wearing. They rode in silence, through the suburban streets of America. He mused. How did he come to find himself in this place, in this car, with this young woman, driving to a cemetery, with a vague hope that somehow in someway through some effort on his part he could offer her a spot of comfort?
He pulled up to the curb and parked. Although he moved around quickly to her side, she was already out and standing on the sidewalk looking up at the ornate wrought iron sign over the gate. Willow Springs Graveyard.
“Giles?” she asked, her voice full of a cautious surprise, “How come we've never been to this cemetery before? I never even knew it was here.”
He was nodding and with a gentle steering of her elbow, moving them through the gate. “Yes, I know. We don't patrol it and I do think we've never discussed it.” He stopped just inside the gate, the sunshine of the suburban street bright behind them, the cool dark shadows of the silent cemetery before them.
“It's so,” she looked around. The wrought iron fence on the street side overgrown with a hedge that towered above Giles's head, the small opening they'd just passed through, man-sized with the gate propped open in a permanent gesture of twisted iron. Small hillocks and mounds of dark, patchy grass rose slightly before them before dropping down gently to a line of dark and imposing trees. Two very narrow paths wending along the edges and one wider path down the middle. The graveyard was small and she turned her head to the left, saw the rooftops of houses there and to the right, just far enough off to squint a bit, was another fence and high hedge. Her gaze followed one of the paths back to where they stood and she looked up. The headstones were weathered and grey and stoic. “It's so old.”
He nodded. “Yes, quite. And that's one of the reasons we don't patrol it. It's old and actually,” a quirked eyebrow, “full.” He stood and watched her taking in the place, bringing it to herself through her eyes, processing it in that formidable brain and he saw her features soften.
“I love it,” she whispered. She moved towards one of the markers and knelt partially before it, a slim hand reaching out and tracing the illegible words, wind worn. “These stones are so,” hesitation, “brave?” She looked up at him, “Brave? That's not what I mean; they're so,” hesitation, “part of this place.” She stood, “They belong. They're doing their job.” She announced.
“Quite beautiful, isn't it?” He walked beside her and looked down at the leaning marble. “I do know what you mean, Willow.”
“A cemetery that doesn't have to be, oooh, scary.” She looked over at him, “Who knew?” She shrugged one shoulder and crossed her arms tightly in front of herself.
He closed his eyes for a moment; he didn't want to see the open face, the suddenly too-wet eyes of this girl, and the slight tremble in her thin upper lip. He had actively refused to coddle the teenagers but now that he'd been sacked by the Council, he was gutted with the realization that although he may not have reached out to them emotionally, he had certainly made an emotional attachment. To each one of them.
And watching no longer felt like it was enough. He had watched as they turned themselves inside out trying to make sense of a world that made no sense. No logical sense, of course. He watched them grapple with the idea that they lived a strange sort of in-between life on the Hellmouth. He watched as their demon-inflicted bruises healed, watched as they readied themselves for ramped up violence, and yet he had never found a single one of them sitting and pondering, considering, examining or desiring to understand their roles and he wondered if his own rigidity had influenced theirs.
Xander coped with anger and self-depreciating humour, Cordelia with a tiresome sort of precious disbelief, Oz and his sweet tolerance borne of his own need to be tolerated.
And Buffy. Ah, his Slayer, the one most incapable of opening her internal life to her external circumstances, although the veneer she'd coated herself with had begun to crack and wear thin around the edges. Faith, the darkling girl-child, would strip Buffy of the final vestiges of the Innocence she wore like a second skin. He knew this and it frightened him and he wanted to do more than Watch.
And now, he couldn't even say he was the Watcher. No matter. It was better this way, he hadn't felt so alive in decades, so himself. The mental and emotional fall-out from the sacking had awakened something he hadn't even known was sleeping beneath the dust of thinkers now dust themselves; his soul had been buried.
But Willow. Willow was the one who seemed able to expand into the duality. Or at least she had seemed capable of it until her strange and disturbing twinned self appeared, as out of some deeply dark Jungian nightmare they all shared.
He opened his eyes, she was watching him.
“This way,” he took the central path and began the short rise. He felt rather than saw her fall into step behind him and as they breasted the small hill, he moved over and she stepped up next to him, her head just at the level of his shoulder.
The graveyard dipped gently downhill, stones leaning uphill against the grade, others broken blank grey puzzle pieces on the ground. Several graves were fenced in, a few with curving cement plot markers, cracked and tipped back into the soil. On the far, street edge of the cemetery a short line of mausoleums stood shoulder to shoulder resignedly.
And below, where the ground leveled out again, was a grove of towering weeping willows. There were more than a dozen of them, standing yards apart at their bases, but with their impossibly tall canopies braided together by the wind and time. Gnarled and thick trunks twisted up and out of a loamy earth just visible between the curtains of branches heavy and trailing to the ground in long strands of narrow leaves, greens of pale teal and darkest emerald. The slight breeze caught each leaf as the trees swayed. Roped branches tremored while a whispering hush, a deciduous melody of sound, played softly up and down the line of imposing trees.
“They don't look like that on the golf courses,” Willow said softly.
Beside her, Giles shook his head. “They're very much groomed on those courses, aren't they?”
She nodded, “Trimmed. Like a tree haircut.”
“I believe the City runs a mower over the lawn several times a year here and that's the extent of it.”
He turned towards her and watched her looking at the trees, a fine narrow line between her brows. She glanced over at him.
“Where's the spring?” she asked with a happy lilt in her voice he had forgotten she possessed. He looked at her, confused. “There are the willows but where are the springs? Willow Springs Graveyard?”
“Ah, yes, yes. Let's go and see.”
They walked down towards the grove. The whispering was louder there, the leaves rustling as though they were alive independently of the tree. A host of leafy cicadas.
He moved towards the largest tree, a waterfall of weeping limbs. Reaching out, he threaded both of his hands through the branches thick as his wrist and opened the way before them, Willow stepped up close behind him and they ducked as one beneath.
Entering a type of sanctum. A shadowy bower. The earth floor rich and dark and smelling of peat. The sunshine filtering down through the cathedral arch of trunk and limb and branch, a hypnotic swirling pattern of light and shadow, playing all along the wide trunk of the tree, over the clotted dirt, hanging in the air itself and fragmenting on his upraised hands.
Sanctum, sanctity, bower, embowered.
Giles felt his breath catch in his throat, and turned almost frantically, abruptly and Willow walked into him. He brought both his hands up to her shoulders and held her there; her arms had instinctively come up in front of her and were now trapped between them. He looked down into her face.
“Oh,” she said.
“Oh,” he answered.
She was looking up at him, her eyes very wide. His grip grew tighter and he took a single step back, away from her. Still holding her, he suddenly felt as though he were holding on out of fear of letting go, as though she had become an injured bird, a feral cat, a tantruming child, an enraged lover. Would she fly at him or collapse if he released her. Or would she turn and be gone? Her face folded into a look of confusion and he realized that it was himself he was holding back. He dropped his hands and sidestepped quickly away from her. He turned, pressing his back hard against the trunk of the tree.
She took a small tentative step towards him but he held up one hand and she stopped. He leaned back against the tree and fished the white handkerchief out of his trouser pocket, yanking his glasses off, he polished them quickly, his eyes half-masted. He shook his head and rocked himself forward on the balls of his feet back to a standing position.
He breathed in deeply and splayed his fingers through his hair, “As you see, there is no spring, or it's long since been drank dry by these incredible trees.” With a sweeping motion he indicated the ground and the trees. “Over here,” he walked away from her and ducked out of the weeping branches.
On the other side of the willowy stand, the ground rose steeply, a chain link fence running the length at the top, overgrown grasses and a rusted swing set just visible, a suburban backyard.
“There would have been water here at one time. A seasonal creek or perhaps a spring,” he turned; she was looking up at the fence, her face clouded.
“This place is unlike any place I think I've ever been.”
He cocked his head at her. “How so?”
She turned her back on the steep rise and faced the trees again. “It feels like a place out of time.” She walked to the hanging branches and brought an armful of them into her embrace. “Why are willows associated with cemeteries, anyway?”
Safe ground, he realized. For both of them. She the student, he the instructor. He looked down, up, away, anywhere but at her lithe body moving in the caressing limbs of the giant tree.
“Yes, well, it's a good question. They're tied to cemeteries, as such here, because what they are really associated with is mourning. The weeping willow represents those who mourn but more importantly, I think, the willow represents the possibility of new growth and life.” He looked at her hard. She held his gaze and then nodded. “They are in a perpetual state of mourning and it is, quite obviously, a very physical state, however, the tree still grows to these majestic heights, as you see, and this limb wood is so malleable that it's used as a beautiful wood product for basketry and a type of bent furniture. The Weeping Willow is a hybrid of the White Willow whose trunk wood is used exclusively in cricket bats,” he looked at her again, “because it won't splinter under pressure. It is,” he paused, “a very strong tree. And its strength is in its flexibility.” With a deep intake of breath, he looked down at his feet, Buffy would have been whinging vociferously at this point, Xander interrupting, but this girl, this young woman, stood entranced. He smiled at her. “What do you know about the willow?”
“Specifically? I know that the bark has Salicin in it and was medicinally used before aspirin.”
“Good girl,” he smiled at her.
“I feel funny that it's so symbolic of sadness, though.”
“There is another meaning, Willow,” he said softly and walked up beside her. He dug deep into his front pocket and came out with a pocketknife in one hand and with his other he reached out and slid a fist up the length of one of the branches she was entwining herself in. As high as his arm could stretch, he pulled the branch down and with a quick flick of his wrist opened the knife and cut through the limb neatly. “Here,” he bundled it to her as it winnowed down out of the air.
“The weeping willow is a symbol for unlucky love,” he said matter-of-factly. She recoiled. “But in saying that, it indicates cycles, rhythms and the ebb and flux.”
“Life, I suppose. Relationships?”
They stood looking at one another.
She turned and hesitated, he saw the set of her narrow shoulders, then watched as she wove her way through the willows, trailing the long limb he had cut behind her. He followed. On the other side, partway up the rise, between two low headstones, she stooped to check the moisture of a small patch of grass with her palm, folded her legs under her and sat. The slender willow branch in her lap.
He studied her under knitted brows, before approaching and lowering himself beside her. Balanced on the balls of his feet, his thigh muscles tensed and flexed visibly beneath the fabric of his trousers.
“It's not wet,” she reassured him.
He reached over, gently tugged the branch away and settled down, one long leg stretched out in front of him, the other, knee still bent, leaning towards her. A masculine angle in response to the feminine curve of her body. He looped the thicker end of the branch into a circlet and drew it tight. He handed it back to her and she began to lace the thin, longer length in and over and around the shape. He watched this, then put out a hand and she placed the thickening wreath in it and he bent the shorter end back over and into the circle, tucking it between two overlapping bits and handed it back. She turned it over in her hands, settled it onto her lap and began weaving the long piece back in again. He watched her hands, the nimble fingers, the chipped pink nail polish. He looked away.
“Giles, I don't want to be unlucky. Not unlucky at all, but especially not unlucky in love.”
He hung his head, bitter vestiges of a smile playing around the corners of his lips. “I know, Willow. Of course not. Of course, you don't.”
“Sometimes, I feel that I'm the one…” she said this quietly, her chin tucked down.
“You're the one what?”
“I feel that I'm the one who's freakish. I'm the monster. I'm the one who is going to, to wreck everything. I mean, not on purpose, of course, but because of what I am.”
He reached across and with one finger tilted her chin upwards, the rest of his fingers curling forward, beneath her jaw. “I know you think this. And that's one of the reasons I wanted to bring you here today, to show you…”
“Yes,” he let his hand drop away. “What is it that you think you are?”
“I don't know,” she whispered. “I don't feel that I'm all strong like these trees. Sometimes I feel really weak. And small. I feel all impulsive and confused. And then after, well, after the other Willow came…I got even more confused.” Her voice hitched.
He nodded. “What frightened you so badly, Willow? About the…doppelganger?”
“Giles,” she set the wreath on the grass, and knelt before him, her hands twisting in front of her. “That other Willow? I could be her.”
“But you aren't her.”
“How do you know I'm not her? Nobody knows I'm not her. Like maybe sometimes I want to be the one in charge, I want everyone to listen to me. Maybe I could hurt people, too. She and I, well, we're probably the same in lots of ways.” Suddenly she pressed the backs of her fists against her eyes, “Were the same.”
“I saw, I saw, Giles, I saw,” she was sobbing and shaking her head. He squatted beside her, reached over with both hands and gently pulled her hands away from her face. “I saw myself, the vampire me, die, killed, staked by Oz…well, that's unlucky love, isn't it?”
And then he had an armful of girl.
Sod the trousers; he went down hard, cradling her in his lap, her arms tight around his torso, her face buried in his open jacket. And he let his arms relax around her body, long-fingered hands on her, one fast against her back, the other holding her head. Her sobs were racking her body against his and he moved with her, rocking her slowly out of the tears.
And it felt just too comfortable, too easy.
He looked down at the willow trees, swaying in the breezy air, felt the cold of the ground beneath him, thought briefly of all the finished lives buried there, let his inner eye scan the landscape of his own existence and kept rocking her. She had gone still and he knew she needed his handkerchief. He brought his mouth as close to the top of her head, the glorious red hair, as he dared and hummed softly to her. She backed slowly out of his arms and up onto her haunches, her face hidden from him behind her hair. He fished out his handkerchief and held it out. She took it and he stood.
He reached down for the willow wreath and when he straightened she was looking at him, “Giles, how did you know that Buffy needed to…that she needed to tell you…How did you know that my spell worked? That Buffy killed Angel not Angelus?”
He cocked his head and resisted the urge to polish his spectacles. “Tea?” he asked.
“Tea,” she said and as he began walking, she fell into step with him, beside him. Slowly they climbed to the small hilltop and headed down towards the gate.
He was in the narrow kitchen, clattering mugs and the tea kettle, rolling his eyes as he knotted five teabags together. Brass knobs to you, Mrs. Gwendolyn Post, he countered internally and smiled broadly and dropped the bags into the warmed pot. He had left Willow in the front room, he couldn't hear her, but her silence filled the flat and he could feel her presence. The kettle was off the boil, he poured it quickly into the tea pot. As he set the lid back in place, he heard her come up from behind him.
He turned at the sound; she was standing very close to him.
“Yes? Willow?” he asked softly and moved slightly away from her, settling himself against the counter, crossing his ankles. He put both hands on the tile edge at his sides and leaned back on his arms.
“Thank you, Giles,” she was looking at his shoes.
“I'm not certain that gratitude is in order just yet. Willow, you have,” he looked down at his shoes now, too, “work that needs doing. You cannot let yourself be so pulled down by your thoughts, your experiences. I think great things are ahead of you, but you need to be prepared to see them, to understand them.”
She looked up at him now, “I want to be prepared, I want to understand and see things. All things, not just things that are my things.” She furrowed her brow and her gaze slid back down to his shoes, “Giles, I never thought before about how easy it might be to take a wrong step, do the wrong thing, let another person's destiny be erased. Or changed. Not let another person have their destiny.”
He was nodding slowly. She looked back up at him, her eyes wide and shining. “Are we really in control or are we being guided by some thing or some body else?”
“Willow, that's a very big question.” He smiled and took off his glasses, dangling them from the hand that he quickly put back on the counter, refusing to let himself reach out to her. “Do you feel that you're in control of your actions? That your actions guide your destiny?”
“That's just it. That's the thing of it. I don't know, I just don't. Not anymore,” she was swallowing her words and he couldn't help but smile, the familiar diction swirling in his ears like warm water. “It's worse even than consequences.”
“Perhaps it needn't feel so heavy? Perhaps thinking about it overly much might actually paralyze you?” She was looking at him again, “Sometimes, Willow, sometimes you just have to keep moving forward and trust that you're doing the right thing, at the right time, with the right person.”
The air between them became charged and Giles observed it and filed it away for further observation later, when he would be alone with a bottle of scotch. He wondered, briefly, why he had said what he just had just said, the words no longer words but protons to her electrons.
“Like this?” she whispered and moved up against him. Her hands slid inside his jacket and she pulled herself closer. He pressed down harder on his hands and let her move in on him, up on tiptoe.
“Giles,” she asked so softly that he wondered if she had spoken his name at all. But he answered.
He brought his mouth down on hers. Her arms slid tightly around him, and the length of her body pressed him back against the countertop, he raised his knee slightly and she ground against his thigh. He moaned her name through her teeth. She seemed emboldened, and lifted her arms around his neck, the soft insides of her elbows pressed against the sides of his head and then bringing her hands back down to the length of his neck, her fingers moving up to trace the line of his jaw as he deepened the kiss, and then she had him by both ears and his spine bucked with an electric shock that fed out of her fingertips and down every nerve in his body.
“Willow,” he said, and her small tongue darted out to lick one corner of his mouth. And finally he brought his hands up, one on each side of her face; he tilted her head a bit more and kissed her harder. He brushed his mouth across her lips and pressed against her cheek. “Willow,” he said and felt her nod beneath his hands. He pulled her forehead against his own and looked down into her eyes, her lids were fluttering and he watched as one, two, and a third tear broke free.
She brought her own hands up to her face and wiped away the tears, stepping back away from him. “Geez, I just can't seem to, I can't, well. Me and faithfulness, we don't seem to be a good match.”
“Willow, it's not that…”
“I'm sorry,” she mumbled, “Giles, I'm so sorry.”
“Willow, listen to me, it's not about that, I think you are, actually, being faithful. To yourself.” She raised her head, “And please don't tell me that you're sorry. Don't do that.”
He spied his glasses on the counter and hooked them back on his ears. He stepped around her and indicated the two mugs with a shoulder shrug as he picked up the tea pot and the milk. He set the pot down on the coffee table and she perched herself on the edge of the sofa, leaning forward and splashing milk into the bottoms of both mugs before filling them with the steaming amber liquid. She offered him one and he took it smiling down at her, nodding thanks.
He stood and sipped at his tea.
After a long moment he hummed his recognition.
She set her cup down and stood. “Can I come back here?”
“You're always welcome here, Willow.”
“No, not like that. I mean, well, can I come back here,” she clasped her hands in front of her, “like this, like today, in five years? I don't know if you'll be here, in this room here, but we can say, that five years from today, we'll meet again. Like,” she looked up at him, her face open, “that.” She gestured at the kitchen.
He bent his head and studied her.
“I have to go now, though. I have to get going, just now.” She skittered around the coffee table and towards the front door, turning around halfway and he was following her. She put one hand out for the front door handle and pulled it open.
“Willow.” She stopped. He smiled at her, “I'll be expecting you.”
She smiled crookedly and was gone, he cocked his head and listened to her skipping step across the landing. The door was swinging open. He reached over and pushed it shut. He pulled his glasses off and dropped them on the desktop as he walked past. He took the tea things to the kitchen and poured it all down the sink.
And went in search of the scotch.