Willow and Giles stood and joined Kennedy to greet the demons who had appeared to welcome them. At the base of the near-by cliff was a smallish creature flanked by two taller ones. Each of the humans took a moment to remind themselves that what they where seeing wasn’t really what was before them. In fact, it wasn’t even what those standing with them were seeing. The demons defenses were at full force, presenting each visitor with a vision pulled from their own fears.
Kennedy faced the great, hairy beasts from her childhood nightmares and smiled her greeting to the gentle beings she knew lay hidden inside. Willow fought the feelings of guilt and regret stirred by once again facing the manifestations of the dark witch she still feared was hidden somewhere inside herself. And Giles looked unflinchingly into the eyes of the vampire… Angelus.
‘Elders awaiting. Follow.’
The slayer repeated the message, knowing they preferred to communicate through one visitor. Having unwavering trust in ones companions was something they saw as essential to all understanding. The visitors nodded and followed as their hosts turned and walked through the solid stone of the cliff face.
They quickly emerged into a valley that was warm and green. Though the harsh Andean winter could be seen on the surrounding peaks, it did not creep into their home. The atmosphere was one of complete peace as small demons played with the animals that would otherwise be fighting to survive in the deep snow of the time of year. Spread throughout the valley were little huts that seemed to be grown rather than built.
“I’d forgotten how powerful they are,” Willow whispered as Giles walked along beside her.
“Yes,” he breathed. “It really is quite fortunate for us that they’ve chosen to be so peaceful.” The redhead smiled at him. She could feel the peace of the valley working its way into his tense muscles. Soon he might even relax a little.
The three humans were led to a small hut that seemed to be a central point in the community. Kennedy chuckled as her two companions excitedly speculated about whether it could be a temple or a simple meeting hall for the village. Whatever it was, from the outside, it looked like it wouldn’t be able to handle a group much bigger than their own.
On the inside, however, it was a warm, welcoming, and surprisingly large hall. Much of the community was sitting together at short tables around a central gathering area. There, the tribe elders sat and waited for their guests.
‘Welcome, Friends. Our greetings, Thoughtful Warrior, Fire’s Sister, and Steel’s Daughter.’
Kennedy opened her mouth to repeat, but Giles stopped her. “We can hear. Foundation’s Stone is the oldest among the Hora’Quan, with the skill to communicate with all of us at the same time.” He smiled and dipped his head in reverence to the elder.
‘Please sit. Tea?’
The demon motioned to three comfortable cushions set out before the assembled elders. Giles sat with the two girls flanking him and opened his bag. From it he pulled a small, but beautifully painted, teapot. “A gift, my friend. Not much, but I hope you will enjoy it.”
‘Grateful. A pleasure learned from Mountain Walker and missed now gone.’
“We’ve all mourned his loss.”
Willow took a sip of tea. “You seem to communicate in English amazingly well.”
‘Yes. Much practice. More time with human friends than any other.’
She smiled, “I would be honored to spend time here and learn from you as well. That is, once we solve this current crisis of ours.”
Giles hid a grin behind his cup. He had not wanted to seem rushed and ungrateful by broaching the subject too soon and was pleased that Willow had found a graceful segue.
‘Yes. Children under attack.’ The demon frowned deeply.
“They are,” Giles nodded. “We are hoping you have the means to help us, as your message seemed to indicate.”
‘Ancient magick. Very dangerous.’
“It’s like nothing we know of,” Willow answered. “Even I couldn’t touch it. Would you be willing to teach me how to seal the rift?”
‘Cannot. You are not enough.”
“I assure you, Willow is the most powerful witch in the world right now,” Giles said earnestly. “If you don’t think she can do it, I fear we have no one else who can.”
‘No doubt of Fire’s Sister’s power. But more are needed. Wisdom and Strength.’
Kennedy smiled, “Still sounds to me like Will’s your girl. She has all of that in spades.”
‘Not understanding. Too dangerous. Will damage child. Not bonded. Only bonded can wield.’ The demon drew their attention to an ornate triangle carved into the floor. They were sitting along one edge of it.
After a moment Kennedy let out a breath. “I get it. The magick needs three, like how three sides make a triangle such a strong shape. Power, wisdom, and strength. They needed a witch, a watcher, and a slayer. That’s why there are always three of them. It’s why they called for all of us.”
‘Three become the same. Bonded.’
Giles slowly pulled off his glasses. “You mean for us to perform a bonding ritual. To become as one, the same.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what it all entails, but what I do know is that I can’t be a part of it. I won’t do that to these girls. Perhaps Xander, or one of the young female watchers would be better suited.” He whispered in a slight panic, “You yourselves have identified them as my children.”
The demon smiled sympathetically. ‘The young must grow. All are children until bonded. Thoughtful Warrior is child.’
With the two girls placed slightly behind him, Giles didn’t notice the hurt that flashed in Willows eyes, or the anger that rose in Kennedy upon seeing it. He didn’t notice the slayer silently communicate with some of the others, or three of the younger demons lead Willow away with the promise of showing her some of their magick. What he did notice was Kennedy roughly grabbing his ear, politely asking they be excused to discuss the situation, and hauling him to his feet and then to a smaller alcove off the main hall.
The slayer paced angrily before him as he rubbed at his sore appendage, too shocked by her behavior to be as upset as he knew he should be. She stopped and glared at him as he exhaustedly sank into a chair.
“If I pull his arm off and beat him almost to death with it, you guys could fix him, right?” she asked a startled looking demon in the room.
Giles sighed, having faced an irate slayer too many times to be intimidated. “What have I done this time, Kennedy?”
“You know, for being such a smarty-pants, you sure are blind and stupid sometimes!”
“Believe it or not, you’re not the first to say that to me. Or something to the same effect.” He frowned when she began pacing again. “Will you at least tell me what I’ve done to earn your sudden ire?”
“How could you do that to her?” she hissed at him. “How could you hurt her like that?” Giles shook his head with raised eyebrows, still lost. “How dare you reject Willow?!”
“Kennedy, I don’t know what you think you heard me say, but rejecting Willow was not meant to be any part of it.”
“Oh I heard, and so did she. You were scrambling to think of any way someone other than you can do this bonding thing.” She stopped to stare down at him and frowned. “I also know that all Willow took away from your little freak out was that you would do anything not to have to be attached in any way to her.”
Giles sat straight, now feeling his anger stir. “You have no idea what I would be willing to do and have done for Willow. The fact is that we have no indication of what this ritual entails. With just a glance around, I can see that this bonding ritual is something these demons do for life. I don’t even know if they can function without one another. How are we to know what effect it will have on humans? Can it be undone? Will it wear off? How might it change our behavior?” His anger faded as he could see her follow his reasoning. “I know this has to be done for the safety of the slayers and the world. But, what I don’t have to do is subject you girls to years of being stuck with the likes of me.”
The slayers face fell into a look of what Giles could only guess was sympathy for him. “You really have no clue, do you?” She knelt down to touch his arm and look him straight in the eyes. “Willow loves you, Mr. Giles.”
“As I do her, but that doesn’t change the fact that it would be unfair to anchor her to such an--”
“You’re so not getting me,” Kennedy shook her head. “Willow is in love… with you.”
The Watcher was quiet for several moments, trying to work out what she was really trying to tell him. “Impossible. First of all, I am not exactly her type. As proven by her very relationship with you.”
She giggled at him and stood again. “I don’t think she would care what kind of package you came in. Believe it or not, Will is one of those rare people who can love you just for being you. They do exist in the world you know. And you’re right, she loves me, too. But I’ve always known there was one person on Earth I could lose her to at any time. I just never had to worry because he was always too dense to realize all he had to do was tell her that he loves her, too.”
“Kennedy, what you’re suggesting is…” he pulled off his glasses and began to polish. “Well, it wouldn’t be proper for a start.”
“Proper has nothing to do with it,” she snorted. “As far as I’m concerned, anyone who doesn’t fall in love with Will is just plain stupid. But you,” she stuck her finger at his chest, “You are everything she’s ever wanted.”
He ducked his head and whispered, “But there’s nothing I’ve ever had to offer her.”
“All right,” the slayer plopped down on the floor in front of him. “Let’s go through the great loves of Willow Rosenburg’s life, shall we? First there was Oz, the only boy to notice her. When she describes him, he was thoughtful, stoic, loyal, and very smart. Then came Tara. An angel of a woman. She was quiet, caring, magickal, and full of empathy. And now there’s me. More devil than angel, but with a fierce need to protect those I love and a willingness to rush into trouble so others won’t have to. Now,” she crossed her arms, “put all of us together and who does that sound like?”
Giles shook his head slowly, but moisture began to gather in his eyes.
“You, you big ass,” Kennedy blurted out. “She’s trying to find a substitute for what she could never have.” The Slayer sighed, “And then there’s you. Whenever Will is around you’re just plain happier and more relaxed. Anyone can see it. Willow is all you want and you’ve convinced yourself that what you want should never matter. But it does, Mr. Giles. You’ve earned your right to be happy, too.”
“Kennedy, Luv,” Giles swallowed hard. “Even if everything you’re saying is correct, this is not a matter of merely working closer with each other, or even possibly being drawn to each other in, well, physical ways. This is mixing our thoughts and our hearts, even possibly feeling one another’s pains. I have done things in my life, horrible things, and no one should have to be burdened with the wounds of my psyche but me.”
“Sounds to me like you and Will are a pretty good match on that count. The oddball here is me,” the Slayer chuckled.
“And what of you? Even if you can convince me that Willow would willingly be bound to an old sod like me, why would you? You’re even younger than she, and, as you said, have no dark deeds in your past to suffer for.”
“Simple,” she smiled. “I’m a slayer. Saving the world is what I do.” His dubious frown drew a small chuckle from her. “There’s also a kinda selfish reason. Willow loves you, and I know you care an awful lot about her. Fact is, I’ve been having dreams, Mr. Giles. Slayer type dreams. And if they turn out to be true and this is my last fight, I want Willow to have someone who’ll take care of her.” She smiled at the shock in his eyes. “And, even if you are only a man, I can’t think of anyone who will make her happier than you.”
He reached out to put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s not going to happen. I will not lose any more slayers to this evil.” Caressing her cheek as he pulled his hand away, he murmured, “I still think you two deserve better than me.”
Kennedy threw her head back, blowing a frustrated raspberry. Noticing a demon that had been watching the exchange curiously, she called to it. “Hey, you guys have a shared memory thingy going on, right? You all remember watching what happened when we found him in that cave last year?” The demon gave a small nod. “Is it possible for you to shove those memories into his thick skull? I want him to see what was going on while he was having his little nap.”
‘Possible. Power of elders.’
“Nothing you show me is going to make me feel any better about--” Before Giles could finish the thought, three large demons, including Foundation’s Stone entered the alcove and surrounded him. Without preamble, one reached out and touched his head. The Watcher’s eyes rolled back, he convulsed once, and fell into a heap on the floor.
“Why can’t bad the guys ever open a portal to where little fluffy Bambis jump around, not slime spitting, giant slugs?”
Faith grinned, “Because they would probably be evil fluffy Bambis and they wouldn’t be as much fun to kill!” At that moment a blob of slug mucus flew at them and soaked Faith’s jacket. “Oh… gross!”
Buffy started laugh so hard she almost fell over. When she glanced back at her fellow slayer her face twisted with disgust. “Um, Faith, your back is smoking.”
Quickly shedding the garment, the brunette growled, “Shit, acid slime! And I liked that coat, too.” She called up to Xander and his team. “Hey, my watchers. These things are pissing me the hell off. Mind showing them some of your toys.”
Xander and Gerald glanced at each other and grinned. “Fire!”
When Giles slowly opened his eyes, he found that his head was resting in Kennedy’s lap. The Slayer stroked his hair with more tenderness than he had ever seen from her. Wet streams lead back from the corners of his eyes where his tears had leaked as he watched his own rescue unfold.
“Do you see now?” she murmured down to him.
He nodded and swallowed hard. “Even unconscious, I’m excellent at causing Willow pain.”
“Don’t make me hurt you again,” Kennedy smiled, hearing the teasing in his voice.
“I… well, I knew Willow was still felling pangs of guilt for what she had done. But I didn’t know all you both went through for me. I don’t know she saw me in such ways.”
The Slayer helped him sit up. “Now you see. Willow and I, we accept each other with all our faults and weaknesses. Neither of us are the easiest to live with. But, if we get stuck with someone for however long this lasts, I know you’d be the right one. The grouchy, old watcher is something we can handle.”
“Perhaps… Yet I don’t know if I can handle…” he chuckled at her defeated sigh. “Kennedy, yes, I will do anything I must to defend my slayers and my school. And if you think I am the best for this, I’m done arguing. However, I think we should put it to Willow and let her decide. After all, it will be her power she trusts in our hands.”
Kennedy grinned. “Agreed.”
They found Willow in the hall, sitting at a table and talking to a small group demons. She spied them coming and stood to greet them.
“So,” she chirped with a forced smiled. “Have you guys decided who the third should be? I mean, I know it has to be me because the whole power thing is kinda the point. And Ken’s a no brainer, because slayer, and already attached in a bonded sorta way. So, that just leaves a watcher-type person that doesn’t mind being…”
Her two companions could tell that she kept up her babbling because she didn’t really want to hear the answer. Giles sighed sadly at the confirmation that she had taken his reluctance as being about her worth and not his own. He stumbled a bit as Kennedy nudged him forward.
“Yes?” the witch answer in a small voice, tears glistening in her eyes.
He slowly took her hand in both of his. “I… I would consider it an honor if you would allow me to be your wisdom.”
Willow looked up at him, eyes wide. “But, I thought you didn’t want to… with me. I mean, I know you of all people know what can happen if I…” Her tears began to pool. “You know how much I can hurt you.”
“My dear girl, I assure you my reluctance had nothing to do with you. It’s only that, I cannot fathom why two such vibrant young ladies would want to risk getting stuck with an old fool like me. Kennedy has informed me that she would be willing to put up with me in order to complete this mission. So, I put it to you, Willow. Will you have me?”
The fire-haired witch flung her arms around him in a tight hug. She glanced around the hall. “Hey! When can we get this bonding ritual started?”
Foundation’s Stone was there. ‘Tomorrow.’
“But, we’re ready.”
‘No. All exhausted. Sleep tonight. Begin training tomorrow.’
To Chapter Five