Rating: NC-17 (for the entire work, this chapter is PG.)
Genre: Angst, smut
Characters/Relationships: Willow/Giles, background Oz/Willow
Summary: Set in an AU in which Giles never summoned Eyghon or returned to the Watcher’s Council. During the events of Wild at Heart, Willow makes an intense connection with the new magic shop owner.
Word count: 1436
Buffy : I have to go. I have to find Veruca before the sun sets. I will, though. When I do, this thing stops. She's bad news. Do you want me to get you something before I take off? Kleenex? Chocolatey... Chocolate anything?
Willow : No.
Buffy : I'll come back as soon as this is finished. I just want you to take it easy, ok? Riley was right. The main thing is put the blame where it belongs. Don't hurt yourself.
--Wild at Heart
After Buffy left, Willow leaned back on the bed, desperately trying to think about anything except except Oz’s betrayal. But her usual distractions--fanfic, music--were all about relationships, which she couldn’t bear to think about. She picked up her world history textbook, then threw it back down on the bed in disgust. Studying at a time like this was something that only the dullest person alive would do. Oz and Veruca were probably off somewhere together laughing at boring old Willow and her pain.
Buffy’s words kept tumbling through her head. Put the blame where it belongs.
Oz and Veruca were the leading players in the blame-o-rama game, but they would never hurt as much as she was hurting right now. It wasn’t fair.
She put the textbook back on the shelf, and grabbed a spellbook. She flipped through the pages, until the words Deceitful Hearts Be Broken caught her eye. The casting seemed straightforward enough, and she had everything except dragon’s blood. She grabbed her wallet and headed out to the magic shop.
As if her day wasn’t bad enough already, someone had rearranged all of the ingredients at the shop, so there were chicken feet where hellebore used to be, and angelica root where the chicken feet used to be. She hunted in vain for the dragon’s blood.
“May I help you find something?” The voice behind her made her yelp in surprise.
She turned, and blurted out the obvious: “You aren’t Mr. Bogarty!”
The tall man smiled at her. “No. I’m Rupert Giles. And you are?”
It was the easiest question in the world, but it felt like it took forever for her brain to kick into gear, because he was staring at her. Not in a “look at what a weirdo Willow is” kind of way, but in the way that guys sometimes looked at Buffy. No one ever looked at Willow with that much intensity, not even Oz. And especially not handsome men with British accents. It felt simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying, like standing at the edge of of a high cliff. And she had no idea how she was supposed to react to it.
After what felt like an eternity, she said, “Willow Rosenberg.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you,” he said. “Was there something you were looking for?”
“Dragon’s blood. I’ve looked all around and I can’t find it anywhere.”
He sighed. “There’s a good reason for that. There’s a shortage right now, and we won’t have any more until the next dragon-hunting season.”
“When will that be?” she asked, her voice quavering. Would she have the guts to complete the spell if she had to wait a few days? A few weeks?
“Not until 2005, I’m afraid.”
This was too much to bear. “But I need it!” she wailed. Everything started to blur as tears welled up in her eyes. To add to the humiliation factor, once she started, she couldn’t stop crying.
He put his hand on her shoulder and steered her to the back of the shop. She collapsed into an armchair, trying to think of a way to stop bawling. She’d read somewhere that physical pain could distract from emotional pain and cut short a crying jag. She dug her nails into her palms, as hard as she could. The pain worked; the flood of tears finally slowed.
When the room came back into focus, she noticed that the new shopkeeper had made a cup of tea for her. “Thanks,” she croaked. She took a small sip of the tea; it was way too smoky and bitter to be enjoyable, but it coated the back of her throat, obliterating the salty residue of her tears.
He knelt beside the chair and asked,“What happened to you?”
She’d interrupted his workday with a ten-minute tearfest, and he’d made tea for her. It seemed rude not to offer some explanation. She began, “It’s my boyfriend--” and before she knew it, she’d blabbed out the whole story, werewolves and all, right up to the point where Riley had dragged her away from the car.
At that point he interrupted her. “I understand. You wanted the dragon’s blood for the Deceitful Hearts spell.”
“Yeah, that was it.”
“I think it’s probably for the best that I’m out of dragon’s blood.”
She braced herself for some boring speech about responsible use of magic.
Instead he said, “Your boyfriend sounds like a right pillock. It would be a shame to waste perfectly good dragon’s blood on him.”
She shocked herself by giggling in response. Just five minutes ago she thought she’d never laugh again. He laughed, too, clearly pleased with himself.
“May I make a suggestion? This might be a good time to getting some stress out of your system. I know a spell that could help.”
She followed him to the next storeroom, trying not to gawk at all of the boxes of charms and unidentifiable animal parts.
Crash test dummies were lined up parallel to the far wall. “What are those for?” she asked.
“Target practice.” He cupped his hands together for a moment, and then opened them to reveal a twitchy little ball of magic. He threw it at the dummy, which wobbled but didn’t fall over.
“How did you--”
He put his hands over hers. “Hold your hands together like this. Now visualize all of your power flowing into a sphere in your hands.”
She took a deep breath and tried to follow his instructions. Without an incantation, her magic seemed to just be flailing around her insides. “I can’t. Everything’s too jumbly.”
He fished something out of his pocket and put it in her hand. “Bloodstone crystal. Close your eyes and hold onto it for minute, and we’ll get that energy re-focused.”
At first it just felt like a highly polished rock in her hand. Maybe crystals weren’t as powerful as the books made them sound. Or maybe she was the problem. She was just about to give up when her palms tingled. Her eyes flew open as she willed the magic into a sphere. She raised her arms and threw it. It soared, then abruptly plummeted, hitting the dummy’s feet.
“That’s a good start,” he said. “But you can’t let go mentally when it leaves your hand. Think of it as an extension of your mind until you hit the target.”
Standing up straighter, she tried again. It felt kind of like stretching her arm all across the room. She hit the dummy with a satisfying thunk. She tried again, thinking about how catty and mean Veruca had been to her. The ball of magic hit the dummy even harder. This was getting fun. She conjured up another ball of magic and thought of the way Oz had ignored her the other day at lunch--he wasn’t a wolf then. Her magic pulsed with her heartbeat, expanded and veered off course, knocking down a Horned God idol on the other side of the room with a loud crash.
“I’m sorry!” Willow blurted out. “I didn’t mean to!”
He examined the idol. “He’s lost his horns, but otherwise he’s unscathed.”
She wanted to crawl under a bed somewhere for the rest of her life. “I’ll pay for it.”
He shook his head. “Think I’ll double the price, and say it was scarred by a beautiful and powerful witch.”
“You can’t do that!” That was like, deceptive business practices or something.
“Why not? It’s nothing but the truth.” There was that intense look of his again. She felt a furious blush spreading over her face.
Then her knees got a little wobbly, and she stumbled slightly. He made a move to catch her, but she waved him off. “I’m fine.”
He asked, “Would you like to go somewhere for a bite to eat?”
She hadn’t eaten this morning because she was bringing breakfast and coffee to Oz. She hadn’t wanted to eat afterwards. She wasn’t even sure she could eat at a time like this.
Willow cleared her throat, and tried to sound as cool and grown-up as possible as she replied, “Sure, I’d love to.”