After a warm dinner of hearty stew and good company, the three visitors were shown to another hut. Inside was a large, comfortable living space, obviously made for human guests. There were two beautiful bedroom suites off each side of the main room. The quarters seemed to be stocked with the knowledge that visitors would be traveling light. They found simple clothing to fit each of them and basic toiletries in the bathrooms.
“It’s lovely,” Willow beamed to their guide. “Will you be back to get us in the morning?”
‘Yes. Must rest now . Be ready.’
“We will, thank you.”
When the demon exited, Giles sat heavily in one of the comfortable chairs and scrubbed his hands over his face.
“What’s the matter?” Willow asked, easily rubbing her hand along his tense shoulder. “It’s a really nice place to stay. You… you aren’t having second thoughts, are you?”
“No,” he sighed, placing his warm hand over hers on his shoulder. “It is a very nice place. Seems like they expect us to be here for the long haul.”
“Oh, right,” she turned her hand to grasp his. “They just want to make sure we know how to handle the magick they give us before we try to use it. Sounds like something you tried to teach me when I was young and stupid.” His soft chuckle brought a grin to her lovely face. “Buffy and the others will be fine. Everyone that’s still there can handle themselves. They’ll be all right, Giles.”
“Yes, I know, Luv. However it is my job to worry, you understand.”
The redhead bent and placed a soft kiss on his cheek. “I don’t think it’s your job as much as simply who you are. And it’s why we love you.”
Soon they parted, Giles to one suite and Willow and Kennedy to the other. After a quick soak in what could only be described as a hot spring that served as a tub in the bathroom, the Watcher settled into the large, soft bed. He let his mind wander for a bit. Thoughts of those he’d left to guard the rift, thoughts of the upcoming ritual and how it might affect the warm relationship he already shared with the two young women sleeping across the hut, thoughts of those he’d already lost. But he was working to earn the tools to close the portal, his slayer and her friends were the best in the world at what they had to do, and the decision about the bonding had already been made. Willow and Kennedy seemed to share none of his doubts about how it might affect their lives, the possibility that the old man might become more a part of their existence than they ever bargained for. But it was decided, everything was going to happen.
It might have been because all the burdens had been taken from him for a short time, it might have been the enchanted peace that seemed to blanket the valley, but Giles quickly fell into a deeper, more restful sleep than he had found in over a week, or even longer.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” Dawn rushed the rest of the way into the infirmary and shoved Andrew back into his bed.
“I can’t just lie here anymore,” he sighed. “Look around, I’m the only one left in here. I know something big is happening. Why won’t anyone tell me what’s going on?”
Dawn frowned, “You’re right. I guess I thought you’d be out of it for a little longer. You do realize I cut your foot off a week ago, right?”
“The boss’ll get me a new one,” Andrew grinned with confidence. “Has he figured out what’s going on yet?”
She smiled at the young man’s loyalty. “Giles is working on it. The truth is, you’re the last one in here because we evacuated the other wounded with the rest of the student body.”
“Is it really that bad?”
“Giles, Will, and Ken went to see the Hora’Quan. They contacted them and we think they might know how to seal the rift. Right now the Scoobies and the upper class are trying to do damage control until they get back.”
Andrew looked up at her with questioning eyes. “Why did I get to stay?”
“Would you have gone quietly if we tried?” Dawn chuckled.
“Hell no! The boss needs me.”
“That’s what I thought. But, right now ‘the boss’ is out learning how to save the world… again. So, just lie down and let yourself recover. Or I’ll have the doc knock you out again.”
“Doctor!!!” Buffy rushed in with three more slayers carrying the bloodied and unconscious Faith behind her. “She took a major hit. I don’t exactly know where.”
“We’ve got her,” the doctor assured. “Perp for X-ray!”
Dawn ran over and went in nurse mode as Andrew looked on.
“What?” Willow questioned the elder. “But we’ve all agreed. We’re all rested and, and we know what we’re doing. What else do we have to do?”
‘Patience. Must be calm. Must be sure. No more doubts.”
“But we’re humans. We always have doubts.”
Giles slid his hands into his pockets. “I’m sorry, Willow. I fear they might still sense my reluctance.”
‘Not reluctance. Insecure of worth. Thoughtful Warrior should walk. Cleanse.’ A trio of demons stepped forward and took Giles among them. They started out at an easy pace, taking him deeper into the beautiful valley.
“Poor Mr. Giles,” Kennedy muttered. “What happened to him to make him keep thinking he’s never doing the right thing?”
“He keeps losing the people he loves,” Willow answered quietly.
‘Walk also. Must be separate before together. Must be calm and clear.’
“Oh, all right,” Willow said as two more sets of demons stepped up to take the pair to separate parts of the valley. “I guess I’ll see you later.” Waving to her girlfriend, she headed toward a beautiful grove of trees.
The shadows of evening were falling over the valley when the three humans saw one another again. Willow and Kennedy shared a content smile, silently informing each other of the lovely and relaxing day each had spent. Then they both turn and looked to Giles. He slowly let a smile spread across his entire face and gave a nod. Before he could react, Willow was in his arms, hugging him for all she was worth.
“Don’t worry,” she whispered in his ear. “We won’t disappoint you.”
As he tried to voice the confusion that clouded his eyes, Foundation’s Stone greeted them at the entrance to the central hall.
‘First eat. Feast and celebrate. Children are now prepared. Then power, wisdom, and strength entwine. All become one weapon for peace.’
Kennedy gently elbowed Willow in the ribs as the whole community gathered for the meal. “You get the feeling we’re about to get married?”
Willow giggled at her teasing tone. “What’s the matter, are you upset I never proposed to you?”
“I always like it when you’re on your knees in front of me.”
The two young lovers continued to tease each other, never noticing the frown creep back onto the Watcher’s face as he walked behind them. But the celebration was a glorious affair, treated with joy by the entire tribe as if it was their own children coming of age. The food was spectacular and it just kept coming. There was dancing and beautiful acts of magick for entertainment. And, while the hall was strangely silent to human ears, their minds were filled with chatter of joy and congratulations.
At last, the humans were swept up by the dancers, spun around and around, and deposited at the ceremonial triangle carved into the floor. The three small cushions had been placed at its center, and they were instructed to sit with their backs to each other. Each looked out directly toward one of the angles, where the three trios they had spent the day with had taken their places. It was now clear that they were to act as a kind of sponsor for their adopted human during the ritual.
Willow felt Giles take in a deep breath behind her and slowly snaked a hand back to find his. When she’d slipped her small hand into his large, warm palm, she gave a reassuring squeeze. He gripped her hand and didn’t let go.
Foundation’s Stone stepped forward. ‘Power, Strength, Wisdom… All are gifts, tools, weapons. Not for play or foolishness. But to help, protect those not gifted. Dangerous alone, all needed. Power tempered by Wisdom, focused by Strength. One must be all, all must be one. Children must grow.’
The native language the demon began to speak came from its mind so quickly that even Giles could not follow it. However, he likely wouldn’t have been able to anyway as the magick began to flow through his body. He could feel it like a whirlwind inside him, until, suddenly, it spread outside the confines of his body. When it did, he could feel it mixing with the whirlwinds that had come from Willow and Kennedy. Everything was being torn from him and replaced, then shifted again. He was on the verge of screaming when it stopped. The two girls, no women, behind him were breathing just as hard and rough as his own breath was coming. He realized that both his hands were being held in feminine hands that had grips that nearly crushed bones. Even with the pain, he couldn’t let them go. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Giles blinked his eyes open and gazed in confused awe at the beings gathered before him. They were tall and slender, each radiating a warm golden glow. They had very small mouths, but their eyes were large and expressive, and seemed to come in every color imaginable. The Hora’Quan were beautiful.
‘Wow. Hell of a rush’ he heard Kennedy’s voice. No… not her voice. It was her thought.
“So, how is she?” Buffy asked the doctor.
Faith rolled her eyes. “I’m good, B. Just let him finish plastering the arm up and I’ll be right back out there.”
Buffy looked expectantly at the doctor until he answered. “Her ulna is fractured. Other than that, there is quite extensive bruising. However, with her accelerated healing, she should recover quickly. The cast is only to protect the bone for a day of two.”
“See. No sweat. We’ve both given each other way worse.”
“No concussion?” Buffy ignored her. “That thing knocked her cold. Did you check for brain damage?”
“She’s fine,” the doctor assured.
Faith rolled her eyes again with a huff. “Shouldn’t you be out there where the action is instead of holding my hand?”
“Rona and her girls have it covered for a while. It seems to have quieted down after that last monster came through at smacked you around. I wish Will and Giles would get back here already.”
“You heard what they said, those demons are gonna take their time. What’s the matter, aren’t you as excited as I am to see what comes down the chute next?”
“You have to wait for the plaster to dry,” the doctor said as Faith jumped off the table.
“Don’t worry,” she shrugged. “I won’t beat anything with it until it gets good and hard.”
She exited with Buffy in tow. It was the blonde’s turn to roll her eyes.
His mind was about to explode. Giles knew he had a hard enough time quieting his own thoughts, but with the unrestrained thoughts of both Willow and Kennedy flooding into his mind as well, the cacophony was deafening. Managing to turn, he could see that the two girls were holding their heads, trying to fight the pain, too. Suddenly, the only thing he could focus on was attempting to harness his own thoughts, hoping that would reduce their pain.
To the humans it felt like an eternity, but within moments of the bonding their demon sponsors stepped in and began shrouding each in protective energy. The pain eased and quiet descended.
‘Shock at first. Calm.’
Giles continued to suck in oxygen. “You could have warned us,” he muttered.
‘Unexpected. Previous link block stronger than expected. Apologize for force needed.’
‘It’s my fault,’ Willow thought. ‘I should have remembered that.’
“It’s not,” Giles answered automatically. “We knew there could be complications, considering... It’s done now. We’ve made it through.”
“So, we’re ready to get the magick now?” Kennedy asked with excitement.
‘No. Ready to begin. But tonight rest. Learn meaning of being same.’
“I guess that did take a lot out of us,” Willow stood up, a little wobbly. A demon steadied her. “You guys are so beautiful. I feel honored to finally be able to see you. And the energy flowing between you. I can see everything now!” She turned and looked at her companions.
‘That’s something you don’t see every day,’ she heard Kennedy think. The golden energy was also flowing brightly between the newly bonded humans.
They were led back to their hut by the entire tribe, still celebrating the ritual, and, at last, left to rest for the night.
“Well,” Giles said nervously. “I-I guess this is good night. We’ve taken the first step. It seems we may actually accomplish what we set out to do.”
“As if there was ever any doubt,” Kennedy grinned as they went to their separate rooms.
The bed was just as comfortable as the night before, and Giles’ mind seemed to be at ease, even with the random and confusing partial thoughts that were drifting to him from the others. Yet this time sleep was eluding him. It was like there was an itch somewhere deep inside he couldn’t scratch. He buzzed as if some part of his body had gone to sleep, but it was a part that wasn’t there. Some important piece of him was missing.
Not an hour had passed before the door to his room slowly opened. He didn’t quite know how to react as the two young women approached and easily slipped into the large bed on either side of him.
Cuddling up to his right, Willow whispered, “We missed you. And we felt you’d be missing us, too. We couldn’t bear the thought of that.”
Giles didn’t say anything, but as his companions settled in close to him and their hands intertwined and came to rest on his chest, he finally began to feel whole, complete. And, in the comfort of their caring embrace, sleep came quickly and easily.