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.
Chapter Summary: Giles takes Willow out to lunch.
Word count: 1549
Chapter 1 is here:
The magic shop, like the convertible, had been an impulse purchase for Rupert.
For the past few weeks, he’d been wondering if the shop had been a mistake. He’d expected it to be an excellent vantage point for a variety of magic users, both demonic and human. But the human customers were visiting the shop as a lark, which seemed odd given Sunnydale’s reputation. His days had been occupied with the dreary tasks of running a business.
But now, in the convertible, sunlight warmed his skin, and beside him sat a brilliant girl, the wind whipping through her bright red hair. Now all of the drudgery—maintaining inventory, adjusting prices, and humoring idiotic customers—seemed entirely worthwhile.
When they reached Capriccio’s, Willow looked inside the window and balked. Rupert had the sinking feeling that she’d decided to go home and collapse in misery again.
She looked up at him, anxiety written all over her face. “This place looks fancy. Should I have dressed up?”
He gave her a reassuring smile. “You’ll be fine. The owner’s aren’t pretentious. They’ll appreciate someone adding a touch of color to the place.”
The dining room was half-empty, just a dozen businessmen blathering to each other about sales accounts. Their yammering blended into a low hum, creating ideal conditions for a quiet conversation with Willow.
He asked, “Your boyfriend never took you here?” It was obvious from her earlier question, and from her curious stares at the brightly-colored paintings and mosaics on the walls: this place was entirely new to her. Still, he could learn as much from the way she answered as he could from the actual answer.
Her face crumpled a little, but she composed herself. “No we’d just do takeout like Doublemeat Palace.”
“That’s a shame,” he said. “A lovely young lady like you deserves to be courted.”
The interplay of emotions on her face was fascinating. First she blushed at the compliment, and then her eyebrows drew down in indignation on behalf of her wretched boyfriend. It was odd and rather refreshing to watch someone who wore her heart on her sleeve all the time. Everyone Rupert knew kept their emotions walled up, adopting an air of invulnerability or ironic detachment.
“He’s a college student. And he’s in a band, so he’s broke,” Willow protested. But her voice was weary, as if she didn’t have much stomach for defending him.
Rupert murmured, “You’re very loyal to him. I have to say it doesn’t sound like he deserves it.”
She looked down at her hands, which were unfolding and re-folding her napkin. “He was a good boyfriend before all this happened. And he forgave me.”
“Did he really?” Rupert asked. “From what you’ve told me, he brought it up this morning. In my experience, when someone truly forgives a betrayal, he doesn’t hold onto it as an excuse for his own misbehavior.”
She made a noise that was somewhere between a gasp and a sob, and her shoulders slumped even more. “You—you have a point. I got maybe three sentences out before he threw it into my face. He wanted so much time to process the fluking thing back then, but this morning he wouldn’t give me five minutes to vent before he started getting blamey.” Her voice rose, and the words tumbled out almost on top of each other, as if a dam had broken, and a torrent of words were flooding out. “The more I think about it, the madder I get. On top of everything else, he let me think that I was being Crazy Jealousy Girl, when actually I was right about the two of them.”
The anger in her voice encouraged him; that was a far more promising response than moping. Anger was a strong motivator to move forward; moping tended to keep one in a state of inertia.
She glanced at the menu. “Oh, ziti!” Then without looking up, and without any segue whatsoever, she asked, “Where did the Flingy Spell come from?”
Caught off guard by the multiple changes of subject, he could only stammer, “Er—“ in response.
“The spell you showed me in the shop? How did you learn it?” She looked up, and seemed to sense his discombobulation at the sudden change in subject. “I’m tired of talking about me and Oz. It’s the only thing I’ve talked about all day. Let’s talk about you.”
Just then, the waiter came and took their order.
Rupert asked, “Would you like to share a bottle of wine?”
She shook her head. “Not when I’m feeling all grr—my friend’s dad drinks when he’s mad, and it just leads to badness.”
It was difficult to imagine her as a mean drunk, but he didn’t press the matter. He ordered a glass of Vermentino for himself.
After the waiter left, Rupert said, “The spell I showed you is called Nasser’s Projectile. I learned it with a group of friends in London.”
A hopeful look crossed over her face. “Did your friends come here, too?” He understood. Given the utter uselessness of the “Wiccans” who’d visited his shop, Willow might encounter difficulties finding others to help her learn magic.
“No,” he replied. “It’s been a long time since most of them have practiced magic. They’ve all grown old and unadventurous—just boring, really.”
She asked, “Is that why you left? Because you were afraid if you stayed, you’d turn boring too?”
His heart thudded to a stop for a moment. This one’s even sharper than you guessed, Rupert. Half out of her mind from heartbreak and she can still read you. “Um—yes, I suppose that’s the gist of it. I wanted new adventures; they didn’t.”
“I can see that,” she said. “It’s hard to get in a rut at the magic shop when there’s a break-in or demon attack every other week.” A wistful look crossed her face. “I’d like to see London someday. I’ve never even been out of California.”
“You’d love it,” he said. “It’s the finest city in the world.” You’d attract a crowd of admirers five minutes after arriving there, he thought, but he kept that sentiment to himself. Instead he spoke of live music nights at Dublin Castle, ghost hunting at The Flask, and teleporting into the Barbican to sneak into the tropical gardens.
She listened with rapt attention for a good quarter of an hour, her dark green eyes shining with wonder. “Wow, I can’t imagine why your friends ever got tired of that.” Then she abruptly shifted gears again. “I keep forgetting to ask you—how are you sorting the ingredients at the shop? It wasn’t alphabetical, and it wasn’t Mr. Bogarty’s system.”
“He had a system? What on earth was it?” Rupert asked. It had bewildered him for days now.
“It was geographic,” she answered. “Kind of like wine? It never made any sense to me. Nobody goes into a magic shop and says, ‘I don’t care what kind of spell I cast, as long as all of the ingredients come from Bolivia.’”
He chuckled. “No one serious about the craft, of course. Though I’ve seen a fair number of unserious customers. My system is grouping together ingredients that are used in the same spells. So Angelica root, jasmine, hyacinth, and goldenrod are together because they’re all used in the Demon Locator spell.”
“Ooh!” She bounced in her chair a little. “A Demon Locator spell sounds really nifty. What book is it from?”
“It’s from Bester’s Guide. The Watcher hasn’t taught it to you?” At her stricken look, he added, “You didn’t give away The Slayer’s identity. It’s obvious to anyone with a clue about the supernatural.”
Their food arrived. He was grateful for the interruption; it gave him a few seconds to think of the exact words to say next. He could be treading on dangerous ground if he didn’t get the phrasing properly ambiguous.
After a few bites of pasta, he said, in what he hoped sounded like a completely casual tone, “I could walk you through the Demon Locator spell. It can be a bit challenging to cast, so I’d rather not try it in the shop. But if you’d like to come over to my flat sometime, I’d be happy to help.”
He sipped his wine, letting the bitterness roll over his tongue, feeling a bit of trepidation. Flirting with her and inviting her to lunch was one thing; a standing invitation to his flat was far more aggressive, and could easily backfire. On the other hand, Willow seemed oblivious to her sexual allure; she might not even recognize a subtler approach. And a woman like her would rarely be alone for long. Even in this odd little town, sooner or later, someone would appreciate her charms. He’d rather risk offending her by acting too quickly than risk missing a shot at her by waiting.
She went completely still. Her usually expressive face turned to an unreadable mask. After a few agonizing seconds, she smiled and asked, “How about right after lunch?”
His mouth went dry. He took another sip of the wine, which didn’t help. This was all happening much faster than he’d imagined. But if the universe dropped this opportunity in his lap, who was he to turn it down?