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Title: Something, Um, Very Strange is Happening
Author: punch_kicker15
Characters/relationship: Giles, Willow, Buffy, Xander, Gen
Beta: My long-suffering husband
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters
Written for: whichwillow The Which Witch Ficathon
Word count: 1587
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Giles grapples with the news of Willow's death in Doppelgangland
Prompt: Choose one Scooby and describe their thoughts when they think Willow is dead (any POV allowed except Willow's)
Many thanks to dragonydreams for running the ficathon, and for kindly letting me switch prompts when my first choice wasn't working out.

Giles put away the volumes he’d been cross-referencing. It wasn’t an urgent project, but he’d needed a distraction from fretting over Buffy’s and Faith’s upcoming examinations. No matter how idiotic and counter-productive the Council had been lately, they could still be useful to Buffy and Faith in the future. He didn’t want either of the girls to completely burn bridges.

He heard someone enter the library.

“Oh, Buffy. I thought you were going out tonight. I didn’t expect—“

Buffy and Xander looked despondent. Had something happened with Faith? He’d truly believed that she’d needed help and understanding, not the incarceration and punishment that the Council wanted. But if he’d been wrong and Faith had hurt, or God forbid, killed someone else? There could be no telling how much damage a rogue Slayer might do. There were several volumes dedicated to the crimes the last rogue Slayer committed before the Council had dealt with her--

But it wasn’t about Faith at all.

It was Willow.

His mind turned first, by reflex, to the practical details. He could tell Oz, Cordelia, Faith, and Wesley the truth, but what on earth would he tell Willow’s parents? “Gang violence” was the popular excuse when a student was killed and there was a body left behind. But how to warn the Rosenbergs that their own child might try to kill them? Or, later, what could he possibly say to them when all that was left of their daughter was a pile of ashes? Snyder had always handled the discussions with parents; for the first time, Giles felt a flash of sympathy for that vile little man.

There were also the questions of how and why this had happened. He’d told himself (or rationalized) that involving the other students would make them safer. That having Buffy near and invested in their safety would protect them. But what if it had made Willow a target? What if someone had turned her to get at Buffy?

If Willow had been turned for that purpose, why did she reveal herself to Buffy at The Bronze, rather than attacking Buffy first? Why give up the element of surprise? Was this part of some twisted mind game by Willow’s sire? He wondered, once again, if Angel had returned from Hell with his soul completely intact. Or whether the soul truly mattered—he knew well enough the horrors that humans with souls could inflict.

Of course, he couldn’t rule out other reasons for her turning—her intelligence could be the attraction. There were all sorts of demons that might covet a keen and analytical intellect for their own purposes. Faith had just staked the Mayor’s right-hand vampire; it was possible that Wilkins wanted someone a bit more intelligent to aid him in whatever he had planned. If only Giles could find out who Willow’s sire was, he could track him down, make him pay for this atrocity--but that was a distraction from the immediate crisis. Justice could come later.

Perhaps magic could have been involved. When he was younger, adolescence and magic had given him an illusory sense of invulnerability. He wondered if Willow could have been affected the same way. He'd hidden the Marenschadt and some of the other darker texts, but there were other ways she could have run into trouble. Last week, Willow had been chattering enthusiastically about a spell to create artificial sunshine. Could she have gone out to try it on a vampire? But Willow wasn't like his younger self. She volunteered for long nights of reading dense medieval texts and fighting vampires without Slayer strength or reflexes. When he was her age he'd taken every opportunity to avoid those kinds of responsibilities. He couldn’t imagine Willow would do something so reckless.

A desperate hope leapt to mind. Perhaps they could find another Orb of Thesulah. He might not be powerful enough to perform the restoration spell, but he knew people who could. They couldn’t undo Willow’s turning, but perhaps he could spare Buffy another loss of a friend. But reality came crashing down again. The spell was a curse befitting a centuries-old monster like Angelus, not a vibrant young woman only recently turned. Would Willow really want to live in the shadows, forever a teenager while her friends and family aged, with Angel as her only peer? A quick staking would be the most humane fate for her.

Somehow they had all ended up sitting on the library stairs. Buffy and Xander both looked shell-shocked. He was sure he looked the same. All of them were numb now. The grief, pain, and anger would come later.

“This isn’t real,” Xander said.

Giles understood; this situation felt somehow impossible to him too. He’d known, even before he met her, that Buffy was likely to die young. It was the way of the world: Slayers had a few moments of fleeting glory before dying and calling another.

Willow's death? Somehow, he'd never been prepared for that. He’d expected her to leave Sunnydale for college, on the way to success in whatever field she chose. He’d been so sure she’d grow up into an amazing woman. It was hard to believe that bright future would never happen.

The enormity of the loss started to sink in. Willow was a brilliant girl, the only one who enjoyed research, who loved learning and books and the library as much as he did. But she was also empathetic and wise. When he'd thought Jenny was haunting the school, Willow had gently helped him realize that his grief was clouding his judgment with one straightforward sentence: "Giles, Jenny could never be this mean."

He’d never see Willow again. She’d never scold him for pushing Buffy too hard. He’d never again see her brilliant smile when she’d found the right answer after hours of poring through texts. He’d never argue with her about the most effective way to perform a clouding spell. He’d never hear her blurt out all of her thoughts at once, in an endearing, if sometimes overwhelming, torrent of words.

She was lost, and only he and a few others would ever know how exceptional Willow was. The world would never know that she was clever enough to destroy Eyghon, strong enough to restore Angel's soul while recovering from a coma, brave enough to defend the Hellmouth against vampires when Buffy had run away.

He heard himself saying, “She was truly the finest of all of us.”

Had he ever told her that? Probably not. The last thing he'd said to her was a request--no, more like an order--to break into the Mayor’s files. And now it was too late to let her know how much she meant to him.

Buffy was talking. The words weren’t really registering, but he could tell by her tone that she was finding some way of blaming herself.

He supposed it was a defense mechanism, a way for Buffy to imagine she had control over the universe. He could understand that. The alternative was to accept that people she loved were hurt and killed for no reason at all.

Someone was walking towards the stairs. Willow-but-not-Willow. Willow the human being didn’t exist any more. What remained was the demon who had taken over her body. He had to remember that at all times.

“What's going on?” They all just stared.

“Jeez, who died?” Was that supposed to be some kind of black humor?

“Oh, God! Who died?” Really, the demon's mimicry was spot-on, down to the cadences of the voice, the worried expression. He couldn’t understand why the demon was going to such elaborate lengths of deception, when she knew that Buffy and Xander already knew the truth. Perhaps this was the demon's last-ditch effort to convince Buffy to spare her. Or worse, there could be some remnant of Willow left in the body, a part that wanted to be staked to end her torment.

Giles knew he should get the unpleasantness over with. Circumstances had forced both Xander and Buffy to dust a close friend in the past; neither one of them should have to do it again. But for reasons that he couldn't understand, he stayed rooted to the spot.

Xander stood up, brandishing a cross. “Back! Get back, demon!”

Finally Giles managed to stand. He should take care of this, spare the others the pain.

But Willow didn’t flinch at the cross at all. She stared at it and Xander with a mix of curiosity and confusion, the same look she had when struggling with a particularly problematic translation of prophecy. Giles’s mind felt foggy and slow. He didn't want to let down his guard prematurely--he racked his brain for any other explanation for the lack of reaction to the cross and couldn’t find one.

Buffy and Xander had already rushed over to hug her. Eventually the message got through to him: Willow was, however inexplicably, alive.

Buffy and Xander had moved away. Buffy was hanging close by, staring at Willow in wonder. Willow looked to him for an explanation: "Giles, do you know what these guys--" and he crossed the distance, wrapped his arms around her, and held her tight, until she squawked in protest.

He backed away, apologizing. He had no idea what the hell was going on. He was sure he’d be mortified about his outburst later, but for the moment, none of that mattered. They didn't get many miracles on the Hellmouth, and he would appreciate this one while he could.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 20th, 2013 07:09 am (UTC)
This is really fine work. Very believable look at what might have been going on in Giles's mind upon hearing the awful news. Great contribution to whichwillow!

Dec. 21st, 2013 04:32 am (UTC)
Thanks! I spent a lot of time thinking about what would and what wouldn't be on Giles's mind at that particular moment in time, so it's gratifying to hear that you find it believable.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 21st, 2013 04:33 am (UTC)
Thanks so much!

Also, I love that icon. Such a great expression on his face.
Dec. 21st, 2013 10:14 am (UTC)
Awesome work. You captured Giles' logical mind very well. Of course, he would have gone through all the practical details as a defense before letting his real emotions crash down on him. Even as her best friends, I don't think Buffy or Xander ever realized what Willow would have meant to Giles at that time. She was the one who was always kind to him in a world he didn't belong to.

I loved it.
Dec. 22nd, 2013 05:57 am (UTC)
Thanks! I totally agree that she had a unique and special role in his life. I'm delighted you think I captured Giles's mind well; I know how passionate you are about his character.
Dec. 21st, 2013 11:54 am (UTC)
Very good character thought study! Totally believable!

Well done :)
Dec. 22nd, 2013 06:01 am (UTC)
Thanks! It's nice to hear you thought this was a believable take on Giles's thoughts.
Dec. 21st, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC)
Nice;y done. I could see Giles trying to be rational to keep grief at bay.
Dec. 22nd, 2013 06:12 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you thought this was a plausible look into Giles's thought processes.
Dec. 22nd, 2013 09:09 am (UTC)
Very nicely done. Really good characterisation of Giles.
Dec. 22nd, 2013 06:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Giles is a fascinating character to me and I'm glad you thought I did well with him.
Dec. 22nd, 2013 07:54 pm (UTC)
This was really lovely! I think you captured Giles's POV in a perfectly in-character way.

Dec. 23rd, 2013 01:32 am (UTC)
Thanks! It was an interesting exercise to try to get into Giles's head at that particular moment, and I'm glad you thought I did it well.
Jan. 5th, 2014 07:01 pm (UTC)
this is truly gorgeous work! Wonderful characterization of a moment that the show plays entirely for laughs - if the writers had been going for a darker tone, this is exactly how I imagine it playing out.

He couldn’t imagine Willow would do something so reckless.

Ooh, nifty bit of "foreshadowing" to S6 and Giles' tendency to rationalize when he's unwilling or unable to deal with what's in front of him esp on emotional or interpersonal issues.
Jan. 6th, 2014 07:22 am (UTC)

It was a really interesting prompt, because the comedy in the library scene works because the audience knows so much more than the characters at that point. It wasn't until I re-watched the episode to write this that I realized that things would be much more dark and complicated than "he's sad because he thinks she's dead, then she's alive and he's happy."

It occurred to me on re-watch that both Buffy and Giles have sacred callings to kill vampires, but it's Xander who approaches the "vampire" Willow in the library first, which is kind of fascinating from a character analysis perspective.

Glad you liked the foreshadowing. I wanted to get some undercurrents of a blind spot/rationalizations in there, which is kind of tricky when he very clearly idealizes her at this point in time.
Jan. 6th, 2014 05:17 pm (UTC)
but it's Xander who approaches the "vampire" Willow in the library first, which is kind of fascinating from a character analysis perspective.

Of course he's known her all his life and they're best friends, but it also fits nicely with the idea of being a "demon magnet" isn't it? Or as he says to Cordy in Ted, "I often want things that are bad for me." (I think I'm flubbing that quote.) Of course Mrs French in Teachers's Pet but he's still attracted to Buffy when she's a vampire (and thoroughly ashamed and horrified by the turning) in Nightmares; etc etc etc.

I actually think this fits quite well with his upbringing. I don't know how much attention that idea gets (I don't read very academic buffyverse journals or papers (and I don't hang out in specifically "Xander fandom"). But it works for me (I tend to view the show through the lens of "(dysfunctional) family dynamics"). His parents and family alternately abuse and neglect him so he gets a lot of negative messages about himself esp from his father, so I can imagine that being attracted to "demons" not only represents a projection of his own internal dark tendencies (jealousy, etc), but it goes along with the notion of "it's what he believes he [as an abused child] deserves." He's used to violence and negativity from loved ones, from the people who are supposed to be his caregivers, it makes sense that he'd be drawn to more of the same.

I wanted to get some undercurrents of a blind spot/rationalizations in there,

"People have a tendency to rationalize what they can and forget what they can't." (The Harvest) That's a core idea of the series and it's weird to me that a LOT of fans misinterpret that sentence and assume that the "rationalizations" are caused by the power of the Hellmouth. I don't think there's any proof of that in canon, even if some of the characters later assume that to be the case. (Joyce being a very good case-in-point.)

I know people call Buffy the "queen of denial" but denial isn't a spectator sport in Sunnydale, it's an Olympic event, and everyone is a participant! *lmao*

he very clearly idealizes her at this point in time.

And she definitely idealizes and admires him greatly, and looks up to him a lot at this point; S4 is when it she starts to see him from a less idealized perspective, which is a necessary part of growing up and maturation.

Another theme here : the rationalizations/denial lead the characters in the Buffyverse to 'see' each other clearly; so it becomes very special when they do see one another and "bear witness" to each other. (I have a huge Buffy & Tara friendship kink myself.)

I think all the characters "idealize" Willow to a degree but isn't that a major the point of Dopplegangland? It's not always a positive idealization or to Willow's benefit (Snyder assuming she'll help another student; she resents the "reliable old Willow" characterization, etc.) I think in some ways Xander "idealizes" her in terms of being "best friend" and "one of the guys" which causes him to fail to see how she pines for him in S1, but also doesn't take her seriously as a woman, or as someone whose feelings he has to worry about hurting; conversely, she's also the only woman in his life whom he's "loved" (including Anya, Buffy and Cordy) who escapes his tendency toward sexual jealousy/possessiveness or slut-shaming.

I hope I'm not coming off as overly-harsh - he's pretty fascinating (I even wrote my first meta in this fandom on him) even if he's not my favorite character.
Jan. 9th, 2014 04:39 am (UTC)
I really like your thoughts about rationalizations and bearing witness; you've given me a lot to think about.

No worries about coming across as too harsh about Xander. Xander's really a polarizing character in fandom, and I pretty much agree with the people who find his behavior incredibly problematic, especially re: Buffy, Anya, and Cordelia.

I honestly struggle more to understand Xander adoration, especially the fics that go on about how horrible Buffy and Willow are for not fully appreciating his greatness or whatever.

Jan. 5th, 2014 09:02 pm (UTC)
This was fantastic. Spot on Giles voice. I loved how analytical he was in the face of Willow's "turning".

Thanks for participating!

Edited at 2014-01-05 09:02 pm (UTC)
Jan. 6th, 2014 06:42 am (UTC)
Oh, that icon is priceless! I love the look on Willow's face.

I'm so glad to hear I captured Giles's voice and thought processes well.

Thanks again for all you do for the ficathon. Looking forward to next year!
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )