"Let it wash over you." Giles sat across from Willow, studying her face as she followed his softly spoken instructions. Her eyes were shut and she wore an expression of complete calm. "Feel the energies shift with your breath. Focus on the elements, the colors. Recognize the emotions they elicit, but keep your mind separate from them. You are merely an observer, not a participant. Relax and simply let it be."

The redhead started to smile. Giles stopped his coaching and frowned. "What is it, Willow?"

"'Let it be'?" She opened her eyes and muffled a giggle. "Did you really just say that?"

"Yes, sorry, how very Beatles of me." He shook his head and used the break in the exercise as an opportunity to stretch out his back.

"That's okay, Giles. 'We Can Work it Out'." Willow giggled again and Giles gave her a weary sideways glance.

"Are you going to continue on with this, or can we get back to your meditation? This is difficult work, Willow. It requires concentration and dedication." His stern expression relaxed into a smile. "I swear you're like this 'Eight Days a Week'."

"I'm all about the homework and the extra credit, but I can only take so much of this 'Magical Mystery Tour'," Willow said with another giggle before turning serious. "I'm still really nervous, Giles. The whole surprise Anya fiasco didn't really boost the old mystical ego."

"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself, particularly since we haven't found cause for the confused magicks here in Whispering Pines. I'm confident it will all come back to you in time. You're doing very well and you don't have to go through it alone." Giles reached out and covered her hand with his. "'I Want to Hold Your Hand' through this, Willow." They paused for a moment, holding their serious expressions for as long as they could manage before both burst out laughing again.

"See now, this is good. This is fun. Been like forever since we've done this, just you and me and the magicks make three."

"Really? Seems like only 'Yesterday'." Giles gave her a helpless shrug. "Sorry, couldn't be helped."

"It's okay." Willow looked thoughtful. "This kinda reminds me of England and the coven."

"Fond memories, I hope." Giles sipped his tea.

"There are some definite warm fuzzies mixed in. But it was 'A Hard Days Night', too. Or three or four." She studied his face. "Do you miss it?"

"Not particularly. Though the Devon coven is a lovely place..."

"I meant England, Giles. Do you miss it?"

"Yes and no. A part of me remains there and always will, I suppose. But my life is here now and quite honestly, I can't imagine it any other way. 'I Feel Fine'." He caught Willow rolling her eyes. "It's just so bloody addictive."

"It sure has been such 'The Long and Winding Road'."

"Good one." He nodded, impressed.

"Oz educated me on the essentials of classic rock."

"As well he should have," Giles said approvingly. He began to collect the teacups and set them on the tray. "We've come along way, and I can’t help but have this worrisome optimistic feeling that everything might just be looking up for a change. Although I must admit I'd feel much more confident if we could unravel this Slayer sickness anomaly and recapture Katako Hojo."

"But mentioned unmentionables aside, we're good here," Willow agreed.

"We really are, aren't we?"

"Yup. And of course there's the cute-ification incarnate that is you and Buffy together, making me all jealousy girl with how you two seem so natural together. I don’t know why it took you guys so long to wake up. You should have done this ages ago." She laughed as Giles tried to glare. "She loves you."

"'Yeah, yeah, yeah'..." He gave the table a quick wipe with a napkin.

"I mean it, Giles. Buffy really loves you."

He straightened up, pausing to look at her.

"I know," he said, his eyes showing his inner peace. "Now, diversionary tactics of relationship gossip aside, you best return to your meditation. I feel your focus is really improving."

"It is, isn't it?" Willow's voice broke with excitement. "I can center myself pretty quickly, even with distractions… thank you very much Xander, Dawn and Buffy. Sure, it's coming back at a slug’s pace, taking its own darn mystical time, but it's really coming back." She waved her finger in the air. "Floating pencils be damned! I’m ready for more. I was even thinking of trying that glamour technique, you remember, the one you showed me that stormy night we stayed up till dawn. I'd waken you with another bad dream after the... um, you know."

"I remember," Giles grinned. "While there is definite improvement, Willow, I feel you've been working much too hard lately. Meditation is one thing while advanced casting techniques are quite another. I don't want you to strain yourself or take unnecessary risks."

"I just want to try little things. No super-sized triathlon spells yet, only laps around the kiddie pool for this witch. I’m so not ready for anything above knee waders and the occasional locator spell." Willow nodded emphatically. "But I need to get this under control, Giles. I can't go around unintentionally zapping dead people back into this plane of existence."

"I don't mean to be overly protective. I trust you entirely, I do. But there is still much left unexplained in regards to magicks and their functioning here. It's best to err on the side of caution."

"I so totally get that and I wouldn't think of trying anything without my safety net." She gestured towards him with a happy smile.

"You'll regain your confidence and control in time. For now, the exercises you're doing with Jo at the coven should make for suitable practice to ease you back into it. Besides, they always need extra help in the garden and you are an excellent weeder." Giles grinned before turning serious. "And frankly, after all that’s happened and with our general uncertainty about the magicks here, I am glad that someone checks in on them from time to time."

Jo heard the cheery jingle of the bell as the shop door opened. She looked up once at the stranger and then took a second appreciative look. He was tall and handsome, with dark brown hair spiced with grey accents. He glanced around for a moment before examining a few handmade candles and essential oils. Putting down a bottle of lavender, he moved on to investigate the display of garden fresh herbs.

"Hello there. Can I help you find something?" Jo asked politely, setting aside the price tags she was working on. He turned toward her, his mouth curling to a friendly smile framed by his neatly groomed, peppered beard.

"I'm sure you can," his voice seemed to purr. "You wouldn't by chance have herbs and goods of a more rare variety here, would you?" His British accent was smooth and sexy.

"I guess that depends on what you're looking for," she responded, studying him more carefully. He was dressed in a black leather coat, black slacks, and a navy blue shirt buttoned to the topmost button. "What's on your shopping list today?"

"Stingers root, four dried salamanders, some rose hips...."

"Rose hips?" Jo chuckled. "That one doesn't really fit with the other two."

"Nice in tea, though."

"If it's not too presumptuous of me, can I ask what you're planning to do with such an interesting list of ingredients?"

The stranger stepped forward, his charcoal eyes twinkling. "A spell."

"You practice magicks?"

"What I do is hardly practice, my dear."

"Is that so? Such confidence." She raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps you might show me something?"

He leaned forward, resting his elbows to the countertop, close enough that Jo could smell the tea with his words. "A tempting proposition, though my instinct tells me you might be able to show me a thing or two." His fingers gently caressed the cookbook displayed beside the register and came to rest barely an inch from her hand.

"Perhaps." Jo glanced away only to immediately turn back to him.

"Do you have what I'm looking for?" He put a long list down on the counter.

Jo stared at his eyes for a long moment before realizing he'd asked her a question.

"Maybe." She looked at the list for a moment before turning around and reaching for a jar on a shelf behind her. As she twisted the lid off, she inspected his face carefully as his attention shifted to the jars of preserves displayed on the other side of the register. "You're new here, aren't you? I don't remember seeing you around town before."

"I've been around for a short while." He straightened back up, giving her room to sort his items. "Migrating here and there, mostly."

"Just passing through?"

"Actually, I might settle down here. Whispering Pines is a lovely town, good people, salt of the earth and all that."

"You don't strike me as the small town, earthy type." Jo knelt to look below the counter.

"Is that so?" He lifted a brow and cocked his head slightly askew. "Tell me, what type am I?"

She retrieved several small plastic bags, stood, and offered him a welcoming smile. "Well, I have to say that the jury’s still out as I barely know you."

"What's to know?" His lips curled back into a cocky grin.

"Perhaps you could start with your name?"

"Pardon me, where are my manners?" He extended his hand to her. "The name is Ethan."


Previously   Credits

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