They had been distracted. They should have known better but really, he hadn't known anything that would put him at risk. Buffy was the Prime Slayer, Willow was The Witch and Dawn was the Key so they were horrified to finally defeat their demon enemies and find Kenedy dead and Giles slumped on the ground beneath her, his expression reflecting the pain he'd felt when whatever had happened to him had happened.
They'd buried Kennedy, Buffy had returned to her journies through Europe, Faith stayed in Cleveland and Xander had accompanied Dawn back to Oxford leaving Willow to care for their mentor and pseudo parent.
It had been a week before the former librarian had opened his eyes but he wasn't the same. The confusion, wisdom and knowledge that usually lurked in his eyes was gone to be replaced by mistrust, annoyance and anger. He demanded to know where Buffy and the others were and why she in her incompetence had been left to look after him. She'd been the only one left. They'd all left them both behind. There wasn't anyone else to look after him but he wasn't interested in hearing that. They hadn't been able to find out from him what had happened, whether he hadn't remembered or was being beligerent no one knew. They'd had to give up asking after a nurse had had to sedate him when he began throwing things at Willow. And she had only asked him if he was ok which had led to a rant about her annoying prescence and that he'd bloody well tell her hif he remembered anything so she could bloody stop asking.
Giles had originally demanded to be left to his own devices, that he didn't need a 'sitter or carer, particularly if it was her who hadn't been born with a spine. He had finally acquiesced under Buffy's loud insistence over the phone from Europe and so Willow moved him out to Colorado Springs and the home she had made for herself there three months previous where she ignored the changes he made to her home without consulting her. Despite his frequent and loud accusations that she had made him a prisoner, she was beginning to feel like one herself. Any money that came to him remained in his accounts and she had taken on two part times jobs and reduced her study load to part-time to help care for him.
But she didn't tell them. Whenever the Scoobies called to ask her how it was going she lied and told them it was ok, or not so bad. In truth she barely slept, was plagued by thoughts of her flaws, worked or studied. She was crumbling and she was beginning to think Giles was revelling in it. Sometimes she saw a fascinated type of glee when she fought back tears.
Her neighbours were polite but kept their distance and she didn't blame them. Giles had been awful to those who had dared to come by on her return to the house from Boston. The neighbour on their right, a Jack O'Neill, was some sort of military brass at the Cheyenne Mountain base, who she hadn't met yet but the neighbour on his right, Mrs. Nora McGilloughcutty was lovely. She wrote to Willow now that Giles behaviour prohibited visitors and phone calls to the house. She kept Willow sane and even gave Willow a spare key and quiet room for any time she needed a break. Willow had never used it but appreciated the offer all the same.
The day had been hard. O'Malley's, where she worked as a waitress, had been busy. She had blisters, aching muscles. She had been studying for exams when she wasn't working and had reached information saturation sometime earlier in the week and was growing frustrated by her lack of knowledge retention. She was glad though that most of O'Malley's customers seemed to be military from Cheyenne. They kept their hands to themselves and encouraged others to do the same.
It was late, dark and close to midnight but she was back at the house she could no longer think of as home and the uncomfortable single bed in what used to be her spare room. At least she could get some sleep soon... well after she'd dealt with Giles who had heard her car come in and had begun shouting already but she'd get the mail first...
He was shouting. Again. Jack was home more often now but he knew from his neighbours that the shouting had been frequent from the time the man had moved in. It was an older man, older than him by a few years from what he understood, and his niece who was the one being yelled at. He hadn't met them yet.
He had been in this house for ten years now and knew just about everyone in the neighbourhood, had been involved in repairs for half of the houses and to bar-be-ques at the other half but the pair immediately next door had only been there for a year. She'd bought the house, a mature university student, but before the academic year had started she had been called to Boston to help her friends, returning with her irrascible uncle in tow.
It was the general consensus of his neightbours that the woman was some sort of saint for dealing with her uncle. She was, by all accounts, a polite and generous young woman but kept to herself to spare them all the wrath of her uncle which was not a discerning thing. His neighbour, Nora MacGilloughcutty had warned Jack. She had been to greet the new neighbours but Willow had been at school. Mr. Giles had been rude and accused her of trying to have him removed from the neighbourhood. She hadn't returned but met Willow when the woman had gone out for a walk.
So much for home being quiet. He'd been stuck on base for the last three days. He'd never realised the trauma that SG-1 had been to Hammond and knew that George was laughing his sizable ass off everytime he got one of Jacks reports on his desk. George was fond of karma. Jack pulled the keys from the ignition and climbed out of his truck to retrieve his mail before he went inside to sleep. He wasn't the only one getting home late. His neighbour was wandering up the driveway, muttering to herself as her companion bellowed from somewhere inside the house. The light from the floodlight on the front of her house caught her face as she looked up and Jack was pleased to be surprised before the surprise turned to concern.
When Nora had said 'mature university student' Jack had imagined a woman in her late thirties at her absolute youngest. What he saw at the mailbox was a young woman, barely 25 with bright red hair, her upper body in a stretch baby-tee, long legs covered by a short skirt, and brightly coloured sneakers on her feet. She looked like a student he guessed. He was only familiar with the students at the academy and they all wore uniforms.
"Hi," he said, smiling.
"Oh, uh hi. I thought I was the only one who worked ridiculous hors and retrieved mail at midnight."
"So did I," Jack chuckled. "I'm Jack O'Neill."
"I'd kinda guessed that. You're very elusive Mr. O'Neill."
"I am? And call me Jack." Even in the poor light he could see her blush.
"Maybe it's just that both of us keep strange hours Jack."
"Maybe," he nodded, collecting his mail from the box.
"Oh. I'm Willow. Willow Rosenberg. The man you can hear yelling is my uncle, Rupert Giles."
How did someone so young become the guardian of someone so... horrible. Didn't she have any other family? What about a home? He suppressed a sigh. He'd just dealt with Teal'c's neighbourhood problems. He didn't need any of his own. His thoughts were interrupted by more bellowing from the house behind his neighbour.
"Where have you hidden it witch?"
"He's looking for a photo album," she explained, looking up to the sky as though praying for patience. "And I had my cell phone turned off while I was at work."
"Where did you hide it?"
She scowled and looked back at the house. "In the rubble of Sunnydale. He hasn't seen it in... a year but every few weeks something will prompt a memory of it and he'll begin looking for it, cursing me when he can't find it." She shrugged. "Nothing to be done about it except tell him again that it was one of the many things lost in the earthquake."
She fell silent as Jack watched. Her attention drifted to the letters she held, flicking through them slowly. "Sometimes I think that Morpheus who sees all our dreams is tormenting me with a nightmare. Then I remember our flight from Sunnydale as we sped away with it literally sinking behind us." She looked up at Jack again. "I've lived through my nightmares. Living with Giles like he is now... he was strong for me when I needed him. I can do this for him now." She smiled self-depreciatingly and shrugged slightly. "I'm a little freaky and a lot dysfunctional."
Jack raised a querying eyebrow.
She sighed. "There's no one else to look after him. OUr friends and family are committed elsewhere." Her pause was punctuated by a loud crash coming from her house. "I'd better go in. It was nice to finally meet you Jack. Good night."
He watched her go and wondered how she managed and what he was going to do to help.