When he finished telling her what he had done, every word a barb dragged out of his skin, Giles felt sick. Willow was silent. He should never have told her. Of course she was repulsed. Willow was quite the sweetest human being he knew, and she was so very young; he had no business detailing the entire vile affair to her just to make himself feel better. He'd adjusted, over the years, and put the entire mess behind him, so he should never have stooped to bringing it all up now....
"The stories were right," Willow said, sounding awed. "You really are a hero."
His hearing must have gone wonky. "I beg your pardon?"
She looked him full in the face, her green eyes shining. "No wonder they made you into a legend."
"Willow, you don't understand. I killed all those people--"
"Uh-huh. Like I've killed all those vampires. Okay, not anywhere near as many as you, but still, I've killed."
"It's not at all the same thing. Vampires are soulless monsters."
"So was His Eminence and his--his underlings. Minions. Followers." She shrugged expressively. "You know."
Maybe he wasn't making himself clear. "These weren't monsters, Willow, they were human beings. Some of them may have had mystical powers, some didn't."
"Some of them had tortured you. Some of them were torturing other people when you stopped them," she countered. "Giles, you wiped out an entire evil regime, all by yourself!"
"Not by myself, I had the freed sorcerers empowering me, and afterward Lady Alison led attacks on the other garri--I'm getting sidetracked," he realized, and shook his head. "The point is, Willow, *I enjoyed it*."
"'So'? I spent my entire life learning to defend and preserve human lives. It's my family's calling. And there I was, taking delight in making people die in excruciating ways. I was going to make the entire place collapse, remove all the bricks from the walls."
"And why didn't you?"
"Because Melissa stopped me."
"No, you're wrong. You didn't do it because too many innocent people would get hurt. Don't you see? You wouldn't kill the mage for them. You freed the prisoners. You killed the bad guys one at a time, making sure they were bad and not just forced to work for His Eminence."
"And it felt bloody wonderful! It was a rush, like--like Eyghon!"
She looked genuinely troubled. "Giles, aside from being tortured, they made you powerless, humiliated, and terrified. Of course it felt good to strike back. If it didn't, you--well, you wouldn't be human. But you didn't go running around the rest of the world, striking down people for the fun of it, no matter how good it felt. Right?"
He was flabbergasted. This was not at all the reaction he had expected from sweet, sensitive Willow Rosenberg.
"Look, it's late, and I don't know about you, but I'm totally exhausted. Right now, sleep would be of the good. We can argue philosophy and morality and stuff in the morning. Okay?"
"I suppose...that is...." He trailed off, unable to think of anything to say.
Willow thumped the bed reassuringly. "It's big enough that the whole Scooby Gang could climb into it and hardly notice, so nobody has to sleep on the sofa. But we could put a sofa cushion in-between us, if it bothers you."
He rubbed his forehead fretfully, trying to understand how he'd gotten so confused. "No, no, that's quite...all right."
"Good!" She wriggled beneath the quilt. "One thing, though. We have to both promise not to think about anything tonight. I mean, nothing scary is going to happen while we sleep, so we can sleep, so we just need to think Happy Thoughts."
"Happy Thoughts. Quite."
"That's settled, then." She laid back, her hair very red against the white pillows, and pulled the quilt up to her chin. After a minute she asked, "How do we turn off the lights?"
The room promptly darkened.
From the darkness, a little voice asked, "Did you do that?"
"Oh." There was a long silence, then the little voice told the room at large, "Thank you!"
Strangely, Giles was far more weary than he had realized. He didn't even have time to think of a sarcastic remark about Happy Thoughts before sleep overtook him. At some point in the night he realized he was shivering, but then a soft hand kneaded his shoulder, and he felt warmth still the shivers, and fell asleep again without questioning it.
Music heralded the return of their captors, but it was muted, and Giles ignored it, luxuriating in the bed's warmth and the memory of sleep. The smell of food lured him from that, but he courteously pretended to remain asleep until Willow finished using the commode. By the time he finished arising, she was seated at the desk with her back to him, munching on porridge and something very like bacon.
"I hope there's caffeine in that drink, or you're gonna be a grump for awhile, huh? I can see steam coming from the pitcher, so that's a good sign."
"As I remember, it's an adequate substitute for coffee." Filling a plate, he sat on the voluminous sofa. "You might pour me some."
"Or you might get it yourself," she observed amiably. "The lights are back. Do you think they listen to us?"
"Undoubtedly. But we have nothing to hide. They already know the whole story of my previous experiences here--Lady Allison was part of them, after all."
There was a circle of sugar on her upper lip. Willow's small pink tongue darted out and licked it away, making her look like a well-fed, self-satisfied kitten. "She was? How?"
"Melissa, with her knack for survival--she would have made a magnificent anthropologist--had somehow hooked up with the opposition to the regime, and it was Allison and a few of her friends who came riding to the Hall with Lissa after the exodus alerted the countryside that something was up."
"And Ethan, too?"
He grimaced. "No."
Willow's eyes widened, and she set her mug down with a bang. "He was working for His Eminence?"
"Not exactly, no. He'd written down some lyrics, and gotten someone to roughly draft out the score, and was planning to sell them to the highest bidder."
"He didn't try to rescue you?"
He didn't have the heart to tell her that his former friend, the man whom he'd once admired for his independence and skill with magick, had been deliberately waiting until the regime's torturers could completely break him. It would, Ethan had explained, make getting along with Ripper so much easier, keep him from making foolish decisions to run off and seek a new life once they went home. Willow wouldn't be able to imagine Xander or Tara doing such a thing to her. For that matter, neither could he.
"No. He was busy looking after his own interests. I had him hunted down, and took him home with me, to protect the locals." //And I tried very hard to kill him, landing him in hospital for a month and in a nursing home after that. It wasn't nearly enough.//
Giles made himself drink half the mug before he leaned forward earnestly. "You said Spike was a great deal like Ethan. We all of us, including me, tend to be naïve about Spike. The chip the Initiative put in his head keeps him from harming humans, at least overtly, but it doesn't give him a soul, like Angel's. We forget that, and we treat him as, er, a Slayerette, expecting him to be loyal and return our friendship. Rather like the way I expected Ethan to try to help me, even after all he'd done."
"But Spike really cares about Dawnie."
"Yes, he does. And although I'm quite sure he'd drink her blood if he could, he'd probably then turn her, considering that by doing so he was doing her a favor."
"Oh." Willow's face was positively green, making it blend in nicely with the room's décor. "Would you...?"
"Kill him? If I have to, yes, of course I will."
She made a face. "It's harder when it's someone you know and have joked with than when it's just some stray vampire."
"You don't kill Ethan."
He sighed and drained the mug. "Not yet, I haven't. But when you get older, you tend to feel a certain fondness for people you knew in your youth, even for the enemies, because you both witnessed the same events, remember the same era."
"You wouldn't feel fond of the guy who tortured you!" she objected.
"No. But you're already kind to Spike, even after he tried to rape and bite you. Give you a few decades, and you'll be reminiscing about the times he's lied to us or betrayed us." He frowned. "In my case, perhaps it's a sign of early senility setting in."
Willow seemed to have lost her appetite. "What about Melissa? Did you and Lissa...?" Abandoning breakfast, she curled up beside him on the sofa and waited expectantly.
"No. We had a long talk. She explained that because she was a few years older than I, and so large and warm and loving, she felt I viewed her as a mother figure. I pointed out that she was the antithesis of my mother. She said that was the point." He heaved another sigh. "Then came the dreaded 'can't we just be friends.' That's the inevitable kiss of death. Tell me, do you women pass that phrase on in--in pajama parties, or is it genetically programmed in all of you?"
"I think it's a genetic thing."
He nodded, unsurprised. "In any case, she wanted to stay behind to study the development of a new society to replace the one I'd helped eradicate. She was particularly fascinated by the melding of two kinds of magick users, the musicians and the plain magicians. Which helps explain her marriage a few months later to the mage I pretended to kill."
"Oooh, dumped *and* replaced. Poor Giles."
One eyebrow tilted. "Well, she may have had a point. Outside of Lissa, my tastes have usually run to petite women."
"Like Buffy," Willow nodded.
"Or--or Olivia. She wasn't big." Seeing the expression on his face, she floundered, then pounced on a new topic. "Lady Alison wants you to stay."
"This is the second time I've been kidnapped to Akhdar against my will. It's a nasty habit, and it needs to be discouraged."
"But they practically worship you."
He made a gagging noise.
"What's so bad about being worshipped?"
"Nothing, I suppose, if you're a god. Which I'm not. Willow, I can't put an end to poverty and bring about world peace. I can't even make Sunnydale a safe place to live."
"You could help them, though."
"Ah, yes. Adolf Hitler was trying to heal a damaged economy and restore pride to Germany. You remember reading what a wonderful job he did of it? Six million Jews, Gypsies, and disabled people murdered."
Her lips were a thin angry line in her pale face. "You're not Adolf Hitler!"
"I could be! My idea of helping out is to stage a massacre, remember?" Running a hand through his hair, Giles got up and began pacing again. "Power and magick are--are addictive for me. I can't do just a little magick, wield just a little power."
"That's what you do in Sunnydale all the time, and it hasn't turned you into a fascist magician yet."
"'Yet' being the operative word. Surely you've noticed how much I turn to you and Tara to cast the spells, with me or without me?" He stopped with his back to her, staring at a blank wall. "Oh, over the years I studied magick--I made sure to know everything possible about it, so I would never be powerless again--and I even did an occasional spell to help Buffy, but I...I have to be careful."
It was a revelation. "That's why you're always bugging me about not trying the big spells. That's why you hide your spellbooks from me."
"I don't want you to make the same mistakes I made. You can't imagine what it's like to know that a friend is dead because he followed you, because he trusted you to know what you were doing and to be able to control the demon you summoned. Or what it's like to know that you can kill that many people, and take joy in it."
"Can we say 'over-protective'? I'm a big girl now, Giles. And I have you as an example."
He threw his arms up in despair. "I ran home to my family in a panic, gave in to all their plans for me, hid in the Watcher library where I wouldn't have to work magick and wouldn't be responsible for anyone or anything other than returning the library books on time. What sort of role model is that?"
"Sometimes a role model can show you what not to do, instead of what to do. Except that you're mostly the other way. You show us that we should work our butts off, and protect other people, and study hard, and be thorough." She thought about it, and conceded, "And also make smart alec remarks under our breath a lot."
"I'm not going to be the role model for a world. Or for anyone, for that matter. In fact, I refuse to take responsibility for anyone else. I have enough trouble governing myself."
"Now you're just being silly. You're the most responsible person I know. My parents talk the talk, joining all those marches and committees, but you're the one who walks the walk. You patrol with Buffy and kill vampires instead of staying home and reading Watcher journals. You teach us fighting skills and magic. When you want to be all distant and adult and professional, but we need more, you show us you care and help us muddle through our personal problems. When you know something has to be done, and it's awful, and we'll maybe even hate you for it, you go ahead and do what has to be done."
"I obeyed bad instructions from the Council of Watchers," he said, with the air of a man matching your bid and raising it. "I drugged poor Buffy, and she and Joyce were almost killed by an insane vampire."
"That's another thing you teach us. How to admit when we did something wrong, and to always do something to fix whatever mistake we made instead of just walking away," she said serenely.
"Who are you, and what have you done with the teenager who thinks I'm an old fart who doesn't know how to live?"
Willow dimpled. "Oh, you're still really old, although you're not as old now as you used to be. But you have to be an old fogey, because it really freaks us out when you're not."
Giles paused in thought, then eyed her suspiciously. "Hang on. I know what this is. Did Ethan talk to you?"
"Sure. I told you, he said he was doing this for your own good."
"Did he make you feel guilty? You're blushing, Willow. He did, didn't he? That worthless...he knows exactly what strings to pull. Getting you on his employer's side is just part of his job. He isn't sincere. He doesn't even know how to spell it!"
"Maybe this time he really is trying to help you."
"And maybe this time he can get me tortured by the opposition, as well as by the old regime. He probably gets extra points for something so chaotic in nature."
She said in utter disbelief, "These people wouldn't torture you. They love you."
"Legends are easier to love when they stay a universe away."
"We're close to you, and we love you anyway. Even though we know you get impatient, and you're old-fashioned, and sometimes you make that funny clucking noise with your tongue when you're mad."
He seemed to be trying not to smile. "Don't forget the fuddy-duddy part."
"The problem is, we know you so well that we just take you for granted. Last year, when we went away to college, we just sort of ignored you. And now we admit we need you, and we hang around and bug you again. But it's wrong to expect you to just sit around and wait for us to show up. Don't you see? Maybe--maybe it's time to admit that you CAN control your use of magick and you ARE a very, very good person. Don't you deserve the attention and praise and--and love these people want to give you? Haven't you more than earned it?"
"No." Giles sat down beside her again, and took her hands in his, looking earnestly at her. "I have all the accolades and love I need. Oh, I'm sure I'd be quite proud if Sunnydale threw a party or a parade or something in my honor, because that's...well, at least there they wouldn't be honoring me for committing an exceptionally successful mass murder. But it isn't necessary; I'm happy with the work I've done and can still do."
"That's another thing we hate about you. You're too damn stubborn."
He grinned wryly at her. "I can't take credit for that, actually. It's a family trait."
Willow blinked hard, because her eyes were welling up. "Let's make a pact. I still think you should stay here and be king or hero or something. You think you should go home. Let's agree not to talk about it. The first one to talk about stuff like that has to pay five dollars. Agreed?"
"Except...then what do we talk about? Music's out. Books are out, 'cause you mostly read books about magick. TV's out, 'cause you don't watch it."
"Shopping? You and Buffy love to discuss clothes."
"Yeah, like you know anything about clothes, Mr. Three-Piece-Suit."
"That comes dangerously close to discussing the Watcher Council," he warned. "There is a dress code."
"That's why you dress nicer since you dropped out, huh? Oh, I know! We'll play Anywhere But Here."
"And that is played how, exactly?"
"Right now, I'd rather be in a limousine drinking champagne with David Duchovny. Present company excepted, of course."
"Ah. I'd rather be doing a horseback tour of the Grand Canyon with almost anyone."
"I'd rather be--" Willow broke off, seeing him rise and face the wall usually used as an entrance. "They-re--they're probably coming to get the food tray."
Giles simply shook his head.
This time the lady with peanut butter hair was accompanied by three massive men with stern expressions. Willow felt her heart hit her knees before bouncing back to the bottom of her stomach. This didn't look good.
They stared at each other in silence, bristling, neither one willing to budge an inch. If they weren't blinking and breathing, Willow would have assumed they were frozen by some sort of statue spell. "So!" she said brightly. "I guess you guys know each other, right?"
"We met over 20 years ago," he threw over his shoulder. "I wasn't feeling my best at the time."
"We are all gratified to see your health so much improved," Lady Alison said frigidly. She'd been much nicer to Willow yesterday. "We've been waiting a long time for your return."
"Who could refuse such a gracious invitation?" Giles touched his forehead. "Oh, wait, I'm sorry, there wasn't one, was there?"
"We tried that, and were ignored. We need you. You're a hero. You destroyed a corrupt, sadistic regime and put us all into office."
"In our world, it's traditional to say thank you after someone does you a favor, not bind and imprison the alleged hero. But you--you paid Ethan Rayne--Ethan Rayne, of all people--to kidnap us and bring us here." Giles swept the room with a glance. "It's the same building, isn't it? For all I know, this could even be the same cell. Is it?"
Her cheeks flushed...a delicate blue tint, instead of pink. Willow was fascinated. When they used blush here, was it colored blue?.
"Of course not! We don't want to torment you, you know that."
"Exactly how would I know that? The last time you saw me, I was in shock, utterly traumatized. You knew returning here would devastate me, would bring back terrible memories, and you dragged me back anyway."
"This isn't about you, this is about hundreds of thousands of people who need you. They respect you. With your presence here, they would be reassured and heartened in a time of political turmoil, but you selfishly refuse to put forth a little effort--"
"A little effort? What would you call eliminating dozens of wizards and the vicious old man who used them to control you all? Haven't I done enough for you already? This isn't even my world. I owe you nothing."
Willow's gaze flickered from one angry face to another. "So...I guess I get the five dollars, huh?"
"I had hoped you would see reason." Lady Alison drew in a long shuddering breath. "There is not time to waste on temper tantrums. Until you are willing to discuss the issues calmly and fairly, the child will remain with me."
Giles grabbed her throat, and had to be pried away by the three men, whose silent presence was now explained. Given their size, three was overkill. They must be intimidated by his reputation.
Touching her throat delicately, the woman said, "She will not be hurt. I give you my word."
"Your word is worthless. It's starting already, isn't it? Using evil in the name of the greater good." His voice shook. "There's no difference at all between you and the old regime, except that they used torture. How many days will you wait before you do the same?"
"How dare you compare me to that murderous animal?"
Willow found herself wishing that Giles had come back to visit Melissa at least once, because then maybe he would have learned a little bit about how The Mage used magick without music, and then the spell on his voice wouldn't stop him from blasting these fanatics into confetti. Or at least knocking them out.
The scariest part was that she couldn't see any way that they'd ever bring her back, because they'd remember how Giles pretended to go along with the bad guys before and then wiped them out. Even once Giles agreed to do what they wanted, they'd have to keep her as a lever, like Ethan said. She'd be the way to keep him obedient. Judging by the despairing look he cast her way, Giles knew it, too.
"Child, come here."
Willow shook her head, edging behind the desk.
Lady Alison's voice gentled. "You'll have more freedom in my home than you do locked in this room. You won't be hurt. There's no reason to hurt you."
//Yeah, right, until you have to make Giles do something he doesn't want to do.// On the other hand, if she played Little Mary Sunshine, all innocent and gullible, maybe she could find out the trick to linking with the well of magick in this dimension, and then rescue Giles.
The woman held out her hand.
"Willow, no!" Giles thrashed against their hold, but the Three Stooges were all over him.
That lever deal worked both ways, Willow realized unhappily. She wasn't going to cower behind the desk and watch them hurt Giles just because she wouldn't do what the Lady Alison ordered.
"He won't eat if I don't make him," she told the politician. "A sick hero won't do you any good."
"He is a strong man," Lady Alison said coolly. "He will be fine. And he will calm down."
Willow stared at her. "You really don't know Giles. You only got one out of three."
Somebody else came through the door, without benefit of music--just faded right through it. This one was taller, and a little heavy, with long black curly hair framing a darkly tanned face with laugh lines around the dark brown eyes. She wore a long-sleeved red tunic over baggy black satin pants, with a sword and scabbard on a black belt slung low across her hips. She looked like a Mom who wouldn't take any guff from smart-alec adolescents, and like a woman who knew how to use that broadsword.
"Alison, I can't believe you were stupid enough to shoot yourself in the foot like this."
For an instant, sheer terror flashed across Lady Alison's face, then she composed herself and turned. "Melissa. I thought you were at your place in the country."
"I know you thought that. But I came as soon as I heard." To Willow, as if they were already friends, the woman said, "There are no redheads in Ahkbar, and those kids are better than an organized spy network. Word was halfway across the continent by dinnertime last night." She turned to Giles, who had relaxed in his captors' grip, and genuine warmth lit her plump face. "Rupert, you louse, I've missed you. What are you doing here?"
"They hired Ethan Rayne."
"Oy. Are you all right?"
"So far. This is Willow Rosenberg, a dear friend." He made the introduction gravely, as if he weren't being gripped by three burly men who dwarfed him. "This is--er, was--Melissa Steinmetz."
"Melissa of Steinmetz, here. They don't use surnames the way we do. It makes genealogy almost impossible--the family trees take up whole walls."
Lady Alison said, "Melissa, why don't you and I go to the conference room and talk? I'll have my armsmen take Willow to my home."
"Why don't we talk here?"
Willow said quickly, "She's going to use me to make Giles stay here and do what she tells him to do."
"Oh, he wouldn't like that. He was pretty sick of being told what to do when he left here before. You wouldn't try to force the hero of Sorcerers' Hall, would you, Alison?"
"The singers are fomenting revolt. If Sir Rupert came out in support of us, they'd lose face and all hope of ousting us."
"It isn't a revolt if the people vote for a different political party. I keep explaining this system to you, and you keep ignoring me. We've had a long run in office. The singers are entitled to give it a try. Variety is the spice of life, remember?" To Giles, she explained, "Instead of Democrats and Republicans, we have those who support the use of music in casting spells, and those who'd rather do without the music. They're not used to representational government, though, and the ones in office panic when they think they'll get voted out."
Giles was smiling in disbelief. "You went into politics? You? I thought you were going to study the society, not remake it."
"What can I say? Things were rather messed up when you left. You'd made a good beginning, but they needed help getting organized." To the three guards, she said calmly, "Let him go. Now."
"No! We need his help."
"Are you being another brick in the wall?"
Lady Alison paled. "He won't risk his friend--"
"Take the binding spell off, and he'll find a way to rescue Willow and kill you. If you don't take remove the binding, everyone will know his support is false, and will equate you with His Eminence. Either way, we lose. And I don't see you hurting this young woman; that isn't you." Everyone stared at Lady Alison, who shook her head. Melissa sighed. "Fine. But let me introduce them to my son."
Another local stepped through the wall. The room was starting to feel quite crowded. This one was probably Willow's age or close to it, broad-shouldered and slim-hipped, with a shock of black hair falling over his forehead, which was almost as tanned as his mother's. Instead of the ubiquitous baggy pants, he wore blue slacks that had apparently been painted on his body, and his fingers were already strumming the strings of the acoustic guitar hanging from his neck.
"You ain't nothing but a hound dog,
Crying all the time.
You ain't nothing but a hound dog,
Crying all the time.
Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit,
And you ain't no friend of mine."
The verse ended with a background chorus of four baying hounds, three of them black, one the color of peanut butter. The deep-voiced singer thrust out his hip.
"Thank you. Thank you very much."
Giles staggered to the sofa and sank down on it, looking like a man who'd been sucker-punched. "Dear God. What have I wrought?"
"Sit. Good dogs," Melissa said, bending to pet the brown one.
Somewhat dazed, Willow murmured, "I heard Elvis isn't dead, but I didn't realize he was so young when he didn't die."
"This is my son, Jacob."
"Pleased to meet you, ma'am," he told Willow. There was a playful glint in his hazel eyes, and his faux Southern accent sounded a bit more English than Southern. His skin wasn't at all blue.
Giles shuddered, and looked at Melissa. "The record player and albums I sent you?"
"And the articles on electricity and making simple batteries. My husband has been working on running the record player with magick instead of batteries, but so far that makes the music drag. Sometimes I think it's deliberate; like fathers the world over, he loathes his son's music."
"You couldn't teach him Jimi Hendrix?"
"What can I say? I liked Elvis. Be grateful I didn't use the outfits Elvis wore in Vegas. Jacob, the binding...?"
Solemnly, he extended one finger. A ray of golden light sprang from the tip to Giles's throat and traced the black filigree lines, erasing them one by one. He didn't even hum to do it.
"I'm getting all confused," Willow said. "I thought you were from the no-music party."
"My husband is. As for myself, I like diversity. That's the whole point of freedom, that we can share things. Actually, I think my husband wouldn't be against musical magic if he could carry a tune, except that he associates it with Rupert."
"But...didn't he come help Giles out with a fake spell when we needed to make Faith think Angel turned back into Angelus?"
"He owed me a favor." Giles smiled at Melissa. "I introduced him to his wife."
"And now he says all debts are paid in full, so he refused to come with us. He has a tendency to be a tad jealous sometimes, but he's a good man."
Willow bared her teeth and jumped back when one of the black hounds licked her ankle. Verifying what her eyes told her, she asked the singer, "You turned them into dogs?"
"Mother's idea," Jake said. "She said Lady Alison has a tendency to be a bit of a bitch, so...." He shrugged. "Did I get the hip thing right? I've never seen him. All I had to go on were Mother's descriptions, and the records."
"Let me get this straight," Willow said firmly. "Ethan was hired by the good guys to kidnap us, which was a bad thing, but they weren't really bad when you compare them to the first bad guys. And Giles introduced your dimension to rock-and-roll, which killed a lot of really rotten people who all deserved it. And now we've been saved by an Elvis impersonator."
"I believe that sums it up nicely, yes, thank you," Giles murmured. "And you wonder why I don't feel godlike?"
The dogs whined, gathering around Jake and pawing at his knees. Willow watched, fascinated. "Will they stay like this?"
"For a few days, but it will wear off unless Jacob renews the spell. I don't think that will be necessary. We just need to present Alison with a fait accompli, and she'll adjust."
Willow felt a Happy Face blossoming. "I was telling Giles the children in the schools talk about him like he's something out of the legend of King Arthur. Was that your doing?"
Melissa smiled back at her.
Plopping down on the sofa beside Giles, Willow bounced on the cushion a couple times. "This is so cool. For once, I know how to make everybody happy. Giles, meet Arthur."
Giles pulled his glasses from his pocket, donned them, and frowned at Jake. "His name is Jacob."
"He's the young king. Don't you see? He's from this dimension, and from ours. One parent practices magick without using music, one doesn't practice magick at all, and he practices magick with music. And the fact that he's young and good-looking is a bonus."
"Thank you. Thank you very much," Jacob repeated, back in Elvis mode.
"And you're Merlin, the much-respected wizard, praised and feared by all."
Giles said wearily, "Willow, I want to go home."
"And you will. Merlin always came and went. When you're here, you'll be like the Mage Emeritus, tutoring Jake in music and--and morality--and magick. But lots of the time, you'll be gone. You know." She waved one hand. "Mysteriously vanishing into the mists...only to reappear in Sunnydale, with us."
Melissa handed four leashes to Jake, who slung the guitar over his back. "Take these hounds outside. I think they need a walk."
"Do you think Father would fall for the 'Can I keep them? They followed me home' routine?"
"No. And when the spell wears off, they'd beat you to a pulp. Go on, now."
"Peace with you, Jacob," Giles said.
"Peace with you."
The dogs seemed nervous about walking into a solid wall, but Jake tugged on the leashes, and they all disappeared. Even from the back, he was good-looking. Collecting herself, Willow turned back to Giles.
"It'll be like being Buffy's Watcher, only everyone will know about it."
"Jacob may not fancy having a stranger give him instructions. He isn't a teenager, he's a grown man. I'm quite sure I wouldn't put up with it willingly at his age."
Melissa interjected, "I don't think that will be a problem. You were always good at showing other students how to do things without talking down to them. Besides, Jacob's father can't help him with music, only with his own form of magick, and Jake's eager to learn the unusual approach you used."
"I'm telling you, it's perfect!" Willow cried.
Giles said crossly, "I'm not growing a beard, or wearing a funny hat."
"See? You're right in character. You're already grouchy, just like Merlin. You can just wear blue jeans and sweaters, like at home, and that will be different enough for here. You could bring some jeans for Jake, too."
He turned to Melissa. "You're awfully quiet. Should I worry?"
"That depends how you look at it. I know more about a constitutional monarchy than anything else, given where I was raised, and the locals would be more comfortable with it. And what mother wouldn't want her son to be king?" Melissa walked over and took his hand. "Besides, I've missed you, Rupe. No one else here shares my roots."
"It'll work, Giles, you'll see." Willow was on a roll. "When things are boring at the Hellmouth, you can come here for awhile. And you'll get the recognition you probably won't ever get at home, because if the vampires all knew you were a Watcher, it'd be like painting a target on your throat." She hesitated. "There's just one small stipulation."
"I shudder to think what it might be. Well?"
"I get to come visit once in awhile. I've always wanted to be Nimue."
He sat for a long moment, then leaned his head back against the sofa and closed his eyes. "I can't believe I'm saying this...I'll think about it."
She waited for a count of ten. "Are you through thinking about it yet?"
Without opening his eyes, Giles asked Melissa, "Do they have aspirin here?"
"There's a drink that tastes like lemonade that combines a mild painkiller with a mild intoxicant. I'll order you one. Or a healer can cast a spell."
"I'll reserve the healer for later. The headache will undoubtedly get worse."
"That means he'll do it," Willow observed wisely.
Melissa leaned over him and kissed him on the cheek with motherly warmth. "I'll get things organized as quickly as possible. You can make a speech in the courtyard, revealing Jacob as your charge, and promise to come back soon to work with him, and remind them that musical talent or no, we're all brothers and sisters, and an honor guard of both types of magick-users will send you both home, and it's done."
"You always did expect miracles."
"I'm Merlin now. I can demand them."
Laughing, she bustled out of the room. Giles rubbed his temples, looking fretful. Maybe he wasn't as enthusiastic about this as she was, but Willow couldn't help thinking this was a Good Thing. Guys weren't good at talking out their feelings, and they tended to hide bad memories instead of dealing with them. Being a hero was not something to be ashamed of. It was time Giles admitted that he was a pretty darned heroic kind of guy.
"How come you're in such a hurry to go back home?" she asked, prodding him out of his thoughts. "To catch Ethan?"
"Unfortunately, I doubt we will. Even if he hung about to enjoy himself watching our friends search for us, he'll vanish as soon as we return. If I make it back to Sunnydale, he'll assume I killed people to do it, and that he's the next on my list. I expect we've seen the last of Ethan for, oh, the next year or so. He panics easily, but quickly forgets it."
"I guess this must have been one of his being good things, huh? I mean, coming here helped you come to terms with what happened before, and now you get to be Merlin. A younger Merlin, even."
"He did it for the money, Willow."
Well, maybe. Probably mostly. But she couldn't help remembering that swift caress of the unconscious Giles's face. And why did he keep coming back to Sunnydale, if not to be around Giles?
Oblivious to her mental defense of Ethan, Giles grimaced. "I suppose I'll settle for just getting out of this cell, if I can't actually leave this universe yet."
"You could show me around. I mean, I'd like to at least get to pet a horse dragon. Oh, and they must have a bathtub somewhere!"
He said absently, "Every household has several ponies to heat the water with their flames. And no, you may not take one home as a pet."
Willow widened her eyes innocently, but he wasn't buying it. Deciding to table that argument for later, she asked, "So...what happens now?"
Despite himself, he smiled. "Elvis has left the building," he observed, and rose, holding out his hand. "Why don't we?"
---copyrighted by Jane Leavell as of Friday, September 28, 2001
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