It was late in the afternoon when Willow woke up of her own accord. She had been awoken by Janet routinely during the day so the doctor could check on Willow’s concussion but once she had shown the doctor that everything was alright, Willow quickly fell asleep again. Janet wasn’t concerned by Willow’s sleepiness, saying it was probably more due to the fact that Willow had not slept the night before rather that the concussion. Jack had gone along with it, knowing that Janet knew far more about these sorts of things than he did.
Jack was alone at Willow’s bedside when the young redhead began to stir as Xander had been escorted out of the infirmary by Teal’c, Sam, and Daniel at Janet’s orders with the stern instructions not to return until he’d eaten something. Jack was confident that his team would take care of Xander and would make sure the teen ate his fill.
If he was honest with himself, Jack was glad he had a private moment at Willow’s bedside. He’d been terrified when Tyson had grabbed Willow, who had selflessly put herself between Xander and danger, protecting the other teenager. Even now his stomach churned as he recalled how Willow had gasped for air, her feet dangling above the ground as Tyson slowly suffocated her.
Jack frowned as Willow gave a soft whimper and her hand twitched where it lay on top of the cover. He knew that he shouldn’t have reacted as he did but his fear of losing one, or both of the teenagers, had overwhelmed him and he had reacted badly. He flinched as he remembered the hurt look on Willow’s face from when he had scolded her, the look of dejection and shame that he had caught sight of before Willow had left his office, face downcast as she shuffled away from him, tired, alone and devastated by his banishment... his rejection of her.
Slowly, uncertainly, Jack reached out and took Willow’s hand. Her skin felt smooth beneath his large hands and he tightened his grip reassuringly around Willow’s slender fingers.
“It’s alright, kid... I’ve got you. You’re okay,” he said softly. In response, Willow let out another soft whimper, her eyes cracking open.
“Hey there, Willow. You gave me a scare, you know that, kid? Between you and Xander, you’re going to give me more gray hairs than Daniel has given me.”
“Sorry,” Willow croaked out, coughing as the effort of speaking irritated her bruised throat.
“Don’t speak, Willow, it’ll hurt too much. You don’t have to apologize... just don’t make a habit of this whole getting hurt thing, alright?”
“Is Xander okay?” Willow asked, her voice so soft that Jack almost didn’t hear what she said. He nodded in reply to her question.
“The others took him to get some food in him. He hasn’t left your side all day... since you were brought up here.”
A brief smile crossed Willow’s face. Cordelia had told her that Xander had been exactly the same when she’d been in the coma after Drusilla had attacked the library. Willow could not ask for a more caring, loyal friend than Xander.
“It must have taken a little convincing to get him to leave,” she mused out loud and Jack chuckled.
“You got that right. I think it was Janet threatening to tie him down to a bed and poke him with needles if he didn’t go that talked him around. I don’t blame him... Janet’s a little too keen on stabbing people with needles.”
Willow gave a dry laugh at that, eyeing the IV port that Janet had obviously inserted into the back of Willow’s left hand. Willow didn’t mind needles but she knew that Xander wasn’t a particularly big fan of them, especially since the drama involved in Buffy’s stay in hospital when she’d come down with the flu. Obviously the fear of needles was a genetic trait Xander had inherited from Jack.
“How do you feel? You’re the one that almost threw up on me this morning, after all,” Jack asked, hoping that Willow figured out that he was only joking. Willow’s cheeks went the same shade as her hair, remembering with a great deal of embarrassment the events of the morning.
“My throat hurts when I try to talk and if I try to breathe too deeply, and I feel really tired and drained,” Willow told Jack, figuring it would be best if she was honest. Jack nodded. Janet had told him what to expect when Willow woke up and everything matched up.
Jack glanced around the room, ensuring that they were alone. Willow appeared to be lucid enough... he hoped that she would remember this conversation later on. He didn’t particularly want to repeat it.
“Listen, Willow... I want to apologize for how I was last night. I overreacted and I was unfair,” he told her. Willow shook her head, dropping her gaze to her lap.
“No, you’re right... I did the wrong thing. You have every reason to be angry with me. We didn’t tell you the truth about what was going on... and I broke your number one rule, even though I know why it exists.”
“Well, strictly speaking you didn’t break rule one,” Jack conceded. “It wasn’t my gun you were touching, but the premise is the same. I know now that you and Xander have way more knowledge of weaponry than I ever imagined you would, but seeing you with the gun... it scared me.”
Willow nodded in understanding, keeping her face downcast.
“I still don’t get why you didn’t go to us for help... I mean... you know that we fight aliens... is it so hard to imagine that we wouldn’t believe in werewolves?”
Willow shrugged. “We’re used to having to hide it... the truth, to try and protect the ones we care about. It didn’t work,” she said in her hoarse, scratchy voice that still somehow seemed to be thick with emotion. Jack felt his stomach clench uncomfortably, knowing in his gut that Willow was referring to the deaths of her parents and of Tony and Jessica Harris.
“Must have been hard to keep it a secret,” Jack offered. Willow shrugged, knowing that it was time to come clean. She knew Jack was aware of Xander’s abusive childhood. It only seemed fair that she spilled the beans about her absent parents.
“Not really... if I’m honest, my parents weren’t around enough to notice... or care.”
“What?” Jack asked, surprised by the calm, emotionless way Willow spoke. Thanks to Xander, he knew roughly how hard Willow’s childhood had been, but to hear her be so casual and calm talking about it... it surprised Jack. He had expected more emotion from Willow as she talked about such a sensitive subject.
“Jack... my parents were in Sunnydale for, on average, two months of the year. The rest of the time, they were either attending conferences, presenting lectures at colleges, or on holiday somewhere,” Willow told him, letting out a single cough once she’d finished to try to ease the discomfort of her throat. Wordlessly Jack passed her a glass of water, which Willow drank.
“Who stayed with you while they were away?’ Jack asked. Willow actually let out a little huff of amusement.
“No one. When I was really little, my parents weren’t away nearly as much and when they were gone, I had someone stay with me when I wasn’t at school... but that stopped when I was about eight. I had meals given to me that I could just heat up in the microwave up until I was about twelve when my parents started going away for longer periods. By the time a finished at junior high, I was looking after myself for most of the year. Like I said... my parents weren’t there to notice what time I came home... or the fact that I had blood... or slime or mud or something else all over me and my clothes. I had to call the neighbor if I wasn’t going to be there, like if I was staying at a friend’s house, but other than that I kind of just did whatever I wanted. My school grades were good, so my parents didn’t really care.”
Jack flinched, feeling like he’d been slapped in the face. On top of the news of how horrid Xander’s upbringing had been, Willow’s story had been hard to hear, especially from her own mouth and the acceptance in her voice, as if Willow thought it was perfectly normal... and acceptable that her parents had rarely been around.
Despite their respective childhoods, both Xander and Willow had fought against the odds to become the good people they had grown into being... willing to put their lives on the line to fight a threat that was bigger, faster, stronger and a lot nastier than they were. It also explained a lot... Willow’s insecurities and her desperate desire to please him... the independent streak that Jack had observed Willow displaying and how Willow seemed to be constantly surprised by how much time Jack spent with her and Xander... and when he showed his affections for each of them, be it by a brief hug or a small gift or even just by smiling at them. Willow had, in all likelihood, grown up to be just as starved of love and attention as Xander had been, possibly even more so.
“I guess rules and having a responsible parent is a kind of new thing for me,” Willow sheepishly admitted. “I’m not making excuses for my behavior but I just thought that since, well, you know about Tony Harris and Xander and everything and you were pushing the whole being open with one another, I thought I would tell you about my parents.”
Jack nodded, tightening his grip on Willow’s hand reassuringly. Willow glanced at him, and Jack could see the tears clinging to her eyelashes.
“Do you still miss them... even though they weren’t always around?” Jack asked. Willow sniffed and her bottom lip quivered.
“Every day,” she replied before she sobbed. Jack stretched his knee out before he shifted his weight from his chair to the side of Willow’s bed. He began to rub Willow’s back and she clung to him in response, hauling her weakened body upright so Jack could wrap her in an embrace. Willow sobbed against the material of Jack’s uniform and he rubbed her back through the thin hospital gown Willow was wearing. Holding her close to him, Jack glanced down at the top of Willow’s head, gently pressing a kiss to it and inhaling the fruity scent of Willow’s shampoo.
“I’ve got you, Willow, and I am not going anywhere. I’m going to look after you, kid. I promise I’ll always look after you.”
Jack wasn’t aware that he’d begun to rock until he realized that Willow’s breathing had evened out, her sobs had quietened and that she had gone quite still. Jack carefully lowered Willow back down to the pillows, the sleeping teenager not even stirring as he tucked her in. Jack smiled as he slid off the edge of the bed, brushing a stray strand of red hair back from Willow’s face.
“Sweet dreams, kid,” Jack told her before planting a kiss on Willow’s forehead... Just like he had used to do to Charlie when the little boy was sleeping. In her sleep Willow smiled and snuggled into the blankets before she fell back into a deep sleep. Jack found Willow’s smile echoed on his own face and he had to concentrate in order to control it.
He did have an image to maintain after all. A.N. Just a short note to thank everyone who has been reviewing. i'm glad that so many of you are enjoying the story.
I hope you all enjoyed the Willow and jack fluff scene.