Title: Ghosts
Disclaimer: Don't own it, never will. None of it. Nope. Never.
Characters: The usual suspects.
Category: Drama.
Rated: Somewhere between PG-13 (little more than) and R (little less than). Willow's relationship with Tara is covered (uncovered?) here so if you have a problem with that take your eyeballs elsewhere. Nothing here you wouldn't see on the show except...oh, never mind!
Spoilers: Anything is fair game up to and including the first five shows of season 5 (No Place Like Home). I avoid spoilers so there are no 'future' spoilers here. Anything I come up with here that later happens on the show is just pure luck.
Feedback: Always welcome.
Note: I wrote this because I was disappointed that there would be no new Halloween episode this year, so this is my feeble attempt to entertain with that theme in mind. This was posted at Buffyguide.com before the episode Family was shown. A few things seem very similar here but I meant what I said about not knowing about future spoilers.

"True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen." -
Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld

GHOSTS

"I'm sorry I couldn't be more helpful. Perhaps if you see her again you'll remember a few more details about this woman and we'll have more to go on."

"Not looking forward to that! Maybe I should bring along a camera. You know, start a scrapbook?," teased Buffy. She started to smile but stopped when she saw Giles frown.

"Buffy, I didn't mean..."

"Giles, it was a joke. American humor?"

Giles suddenly looked embarrassed.

"Oh, yes...of course. How silly of me," said Giles with a forced laugh.

"Giles, you need some sleep. Good night," said Buffy.

"Good night."

Giles shut the door and Buffy turned to see both Willow and Tara staring at her. Tara looked away but Willow pouted.

"What?," asked Buffy. The three girls started walking down the street together.

"I don't know. Giles seemed...unGiles-like tonight," offered Willow with a shrug.

"Nah, he's just bummed 'cause he couldn't figure out what kind of demon I ran into last night," said Buffy. "Calling her a devil in a red dress just doesn't do her justice, you know? And not very funny, either."

"The bummed part I'm on board with. But there's more to it than just his losing the Sunnydale version of Wheel Of Fortune," said Willow.

"He's lonely," said Tara, not looking at either Willow or Buffy.

"What?," they asked at the same time.

"Isn't it obvious?," frowned Tara as she glanced at Buffy.

"But...but he's too busy to be lonely," protested Buffy. "Okay, he didn't have a job last year and he wasn't actually my Watcher but he's got...he's got books! Lots of books and being an ex-librarian and all well, that should make him happy, no?"

"That should keep him busy," said Willow. "Happy? Jury's still out on that one."

"He sings. At the Espresso Pump," offered Buffy.

"Not lately," countered Tara.

"Okay, but there's the Magic shop. It's like a job and a hobby all rolled up into one!," tried Buffy.

"Hobbies are for people with too much time on their hands. To make them believe they don't have a lot of free time. Too much free time can lead to loneliness," said Tara.

"You can love a hobby," argued Buffy.

"But can you snuggle up with your hobby at night?," asked Tara.

"With a hubby, not a hobby," agreed Buffy.

"Maybe if your hobby is taxidermy," smiled Willow.

Buffy and Tara both frowned at her.

"Do I even have to say ew?," asked Buffy.

"Okay, so I can't defend the hobby thing," frowned Willow. "Still don't know what we can do about it."

Tara smiled.

"What?," whimpered Willow.

"Your face does the cutest thing when you pout," said Tara.

"Does not," answered Willow, still pouting.

"Yep. Still there," said Tara, grinning now.

Willow's face became a light shade of red. But she winked at Tara when she thought Buffy wasn't looking.

"I saw that. Honestly, Willow, you're getting as bad as Anya," teased Buffy.

"Am not!," protested Willow, making Tara giggle. Even Buffy smiled.

"Returning the discussion back to Giles," announced Willow. "It's not like he has a lot of friends. His own age, I mean, thus ruling us out of course. Not that we aren't his friends. We are. Of course we are. Just not..."

"Old friends," finished Buffy. "And he is cut off from any connection to the Council now. Admit it or not, I'm sure he had friends among at least some of them. Oh, Willow! This is so not good. What are we going to do?"

"Not sure there is much we can do," shrugged Willow. "Want to try to call Olivia? Maybe she could cheer him up."

"Ew," smirked Buffy.

They kept walking but no one talked.

"He's real busy right now at the Magic shop, what with Halloween being tomorrow night and all the witchy wannabes coming out of the woodwork, but maybe we could all get away somewhere. Okay, not romantic, I know, but maybe a change of scenery would cheer him up," said Willow.

"Not a bad idea. I could use a break from all this training, too. So, where to?," asked Buffy.

"Boston," replied Willow confidently.

"Boston!," repeated Buffy. Even Tara gave Willow a strange look.

"Oh, I just said that because of the season. New England's got the changing color of the leaves, and pumpkins, and apple cider, and cold nights, and, and black cats..."

"Black cats?," laughed Tara.

"Yes, and black cats. It's just a whole lot better atmosphere for the Halloween experience. What do we do in southern California? We take in the green plastic plants and put out the brown plastic plants!," said Willow.

"You've never been to New England?," asked Tara.

"Nope. Have you?," asked Willow. Tara nodded.

"You'd love it," smiled Tara.

"Well, it's a nice thought, but school and money and time aside, I just don't see it happening. But it's a good idea," agreed Buffy, not wanting Willow to pout again.

Buffy kicked at a rock on the ground.

"Maybe I should go back. Talk to him," announced Buffy, trying to convince herself.

"And say what? Hey, Giles, got an extra TV dinner in the freezer? Want to watch the late night news together?," said Willow.

Buffy sighed and they again walked in silence.

"No, I'm going back. Soon as I'm sure you two are home safely. I should talk with him. You know, just to let him know that I understand that I'm not the only one making sacrifices on behalf of my destiny."

*****

"Thanks for coming over on such short notice, Xander," said Dawn excitedly as she opened the door for him.

"Hey, no problem. You know we always have fun here," replied Xander with a smile.

"And it's not like Xander and I were planning on having sex or anything," added Anya sarcastically, squeezing past the door as Dawn began to shut it closed.

"Oops! Sorry Anya, didn't see you there," said Dawn with a uncomfortable smile. She frowned as Anya walked past her but smiled again when Xander spoke.

"Anya," warned Xander.

"Xander, she's doing it again. That face. Make her stop. It makes me feel funny," complained Anya.

"That would be guilt," explained Xander. He looked at Dawn and she gave him a very innocent yet confused expression.

"So, Dawn. Where did your mom go? Kind of a late night for her, isn't it?," asked Xander.

"She didn't tell me. But this is the third time this week. I think she wanted Buffy here again but of course sis wanted no part of that. Which is a big good in my book," smiled Dawn, staring at Xander.

"Sounds like Joyce has got someone on the side," shrugged Anya.

"Someone on the...my mom's dating?," laughed Dawn. "No, she wouldn't be...would she?," asked Dawn, becoming serious when she saw that Xander wasn't laughing.

"Nah, I doubt it," reassured Xander, putting his hand on Dawn's shoulder. Suddenly she was smiling again. "So what's it going to be tonight? Board games?," asked Xander.

"More like bored games," pouted Anya.

"Anya! You won last time," said Xander.

"She's right, Xander. Why don't we do something a little more exciting tonight?," asked Dawn eagerly.

Xander crossed his arms and smiled.

"And what would you suggest?," smiled Xander.

"Well...why don't we patrol together?," asked Dawn with her best puppy dog eyes.

"Pa...you mean...outside?," asked Xander, wide-eyed.

Dawn nodded with a smile.

"Your mom would kill me, not to mention your sister!," protested Xander, lowering his arms to his side.

"I don't mean we'd have to stake anything. I know! We could spy on Buffy! And, and we'd bring crosses, just in case," pleaded Dawn. "Please, Xander. Just for an hour. We'd be back long before my mom got back."

"It's not your mom I'm worried about," sighed Xander.

"I don't know, it sounds like fun. Maybe it's time for Dawn to see what her sister does. Might make her appreciate what Buffy does every night. And it's not like you and I don't patrol," said Anya.

"You patrol?," asked Dawn, her eyes opening wide.

"No, we don't," answered Xander, glaring at Anya.

"Do too," replied Anya.

"Do not!," whined Xander.

"Xander, what we were doing on the way over here?," said Anya indignantly, hands on her hips.

"We, uh..."

"Xander screamed like a girl," winked Anya.

"Did not!," yelled Xander.

"Did too! He got cornered by a basset hound. It wasn't a pretty sight," explained Anya.

Dawn gave Xander a strange look.

"It was all dark and shadowy. There was this deep growl and, and...I thought I was defending your honor!," protested Xander.

"It was a deep woof. What, you thought this admittedly small vampire was crawling along on his hands and knees and was going to bite my ankle?," laughed Anya. Even Dawn covered her mouth with a hand to hide her smile.

"Better safe than sorry," complained Xander, trying to hold on to his dignity.

"And then Xander tripped as he was backing away and fell flat on his...wait, it gets worse. He held up his cross and the dog licked it!," laughed Anya. Dawn couldn't help herself and burst out laughing as well. Xander sighed and simply shook his head in defeat.

"So, unless you think we'd run into a big, mean old alley cat, can we go, Xander? Please? Just for a little while?," giggled Dawn.

"Dawn, maybe it isn't such a good idea after all," suggested Anya.

"Ya think?," said an exasperated Xander.

"Xander could never outrun an alley cat!," laughed Anya. Again Dawn couldn't help herself and joined in the laughter. Even Xander was smiling now.

"Xander, I know you remember what it was like to be fourteen. I'm not a kid anymore. I just want to fit in. I want...I want to help," said Dawn. "Maybe then Buffy wouldn't think I'm such a misfit."

"Hey. Buffy's only worried about you. That's all. And never mind her or your mom. I'd never forgive myself if something happened to you," said Xander.

Dawn's smile stretched from ear to ear.

"Okay. And thanks," added Dawn, her face turning a little red.

"I'll be right back with Monopoly," said Xander, turning and leaving the room. Dawn stared after him even after he was out of sight.

"I know what you mean," said Anya.

"Huh?," said Dawn, remembering that Anya was still standing next to her.

"About fitting in. I don't think the others really accept me yet either."

"Really? Why?," asked Dawn.

"Oh, I don't know," mumbled Anya, not wanting to tell Dawn about her past. "Guess I just can't help out much. I just get in the way, or say something stupid."

"I know what that's like," said Dawn.

"Let's get the table set up for the game. Maybe dig out a few snacks? How's popcorn sound?," asked Anya.

"Great idea," agreed Dawn. They went into the kitchen together.

"I've asked Willow to teach me some magic. Nothing big, just a simple spell or two, you know? But she wants to talk to Buffy about it first," sighed Dawn.

"I used to dabble a little myself. In magic, I mean," added Anya.

"Really?"

"Sure. I could probably teach you a simple spell or two. It could be our little secret," whispered Anya.

"I'd like that," smiled Dawn, taking the popcorn out of the cabinet and placing it in the microwave. She hit a couple of buttons and turned to look back at Anya.

"We still might not fit in, but we'd have some fun," said Dawn.

"I am a little rusty. It's been...it's been awhile," said Anya. "But it would be fun. Tell you what. Come down to the Magic shop tomorrow after school and I'll dig out a few books you can start with. Beginner's stuff, but you have to crawl before you can walk. And if it's not too busy I can answer any questions you might have. You know, help you get started. But this is between me and you, okay?"

Dawn smiled, realizing that she had underestimated Anya.

"Thanks, Anya. That's really nice of you."

"So I hear Buffy is going to take you to the Bronze party tomorrow night."

"Yeah. We fight a lot, I know, but...it's really cool that she's taking me," admitted Dawn.

"What are you going as?," asked Anya.

"Oh, I found a costume in a dusty box in the back of the magic shop when we were helping Giles move in. It's a ghost. Just have to throw it over my head. Likin' the no fuss part."

"A ghost. Hmm, simple but still a classic. I like it," nodded Anya.

*****

Willow heard the door close but glanced over her shoulder when she realized that Tara wasn't following her. She was standing by the door, smiling.

"What?," asked Willow, grinning back.

"I just got an idea," replied Tara, still smiling.

"I bet you did," answered Willow slyly, walking back to Tara.

"You go get in the shower. I'll have a surprise waiting for you when you get out," said Tara cryptically.

"Don't wanna come with?," asked Willow, nodding towards the bathroom.

"No, I took a shower before. And I need a few minutes to...get things ready."

"What kind of surprise?," asked Willow excitedly.

"If I told you that, silly, it wouldn't be a surprise, now would it?," said Tara, shooing away Willow with her hand. "Go on, get!"

Willow hesitated, wanting to kiss Tara, but she turned around and headed for the shower. Tara smiled.

*****

Buffy finally decided to be honest with Giles. She would come right out and ask him. But ask him what? How his love life was? No, that would be way awkward. She sighed as she turned the corner onto his street. And then she noticed a car parked in front of his house. A car that looked a lot like her mother's car. In fact...

Buffy couldn't help herself. She leaned over from the front door and peered into the window past a carved pumpkin, its face grinning back at her. And saw her mother, laughing, accepting a drink from Giles. He also held a glass in his hand. And he seemed to be in a much better mood than when Buffy had left a little while ago.

She was so surprised at seeing her mother here that Buffy hadn't realized how far over she was leaning. To stop herself from falling into a shrub below the window, she put her hand out. And hit the window with her hand. She saw Giles turn his head at the noise. A moment later the front door opened and Giles stuck his head out, looking to his right, then his left. There was no one there.

*****

Willow came out of the bathroom wearing a white terrycloth robe, holding a hairdryer in one hand and wrapping its cord around it with her other hand. She put the hairdryer down on the desk. The room was only lit by several candles and sandalwood incense sweetened the air. Tara had put a sweater and a pair of blue jeans out on Willow's bed.

"A little warm for a sweater tonight, isn't it?," asked Willow. "And kinda late for going out too."

"Not where we are going," answered Tara softly, sitting on the edge of Willow's bed. Willow noticed that she too was wearing a sweater and blue jeans. And that she was holding a large glass filled with a red liquid.

"Put them on," said Tara, tilting her head towards the clothes on the bed.

Willow untied her robe and let it slide to the floor, smiling as Tara gazed at her body. She slipped into the pants and then pulled the sweater on. Sitting down on the bed, she pulled on a pair of socks.

"So, where are we going?," asked Willow.

"You trust me, don't you?," asked Tara.

"Of course," said Willow, wrinkling her eyebrows.

Tara handed Willow the glass that she held.

"Drink about half of this, all at once. Leave the rest for me," said Tara.

Willow seemed to be thinking about it.

"Don't be afraid," complained Tara.

"I'm not afraid. Wait...should I be afraid?"

Tara tilted her head to one side but didn't say anything. Willow raised the glass to her mouth but hesitated, frowning at the smell.

"It doesn't taste as bad as it smells," said Tara.

Not convinced, Willow tilted the glass back and drank. When she was done she winced and shook her head, holding the glass out to Tara.

"Tara!"

"Okay, I lied, it tastes worse than it smells," laughed Tara. She leaned over and kissed Willow on the forehead.

"You'll be sleepy soon. Don't fight it. Lie down, close your eyes, relax. And trust me," added Tara.

"You know I do," whispered Willow, closing her eyes as soon as her head hit the pillow.

The last thing Willow remembered hearing was Tara blowing out the candles.

*****

Willow opened her eyes to...to a bright blue sky and puffy white clouds! She sat up quickly, a little light headed, and saw Tara sitting across from her. They were on a blanket surrounded by deep green grass, on a hill under a row of pine trees. Willow tried to swallow but her mouth was dry. She fought off the panic she felt approaching and tried to breath calmly and slowly.

"Wha...how...Tara, where are we?"

"Shhh...here, drink this," smiled Tara, handing Willow a glass of what looked like red wine.

"Is this the same stuff..."

Tara nodded.

"But it will taste different here, like a rich red wine," interrupted Tara. "Go on," she encouraged, drinking from her own cup.

Willow drank from the cup and glanced around. The wine, or whatever it was, did taste good. The hill they were on overlooked a large field surrounded by lichen covered stone walls. Brilliant, vivid yellows and reds painted the leaves on the trees below them. And the sun was warm on Willow's face. She slowly put her glass down next to a picnic basket, a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread extending out from one end. Willow looked up in wonder at Tara.

"It's my gift. To you," said Tara, smiling.

"Is, is this real?," asked Willow.

"Don't ask questions, just enjoy the moment. We only have about an hour."

Willow's mouth opened in astonishment. She could smell the dryness of the leaves, the crispness of the air, the warmth of the grass as its fragrance was accented by the sun. And there was a sound, like the light falling of rain, but softer. And Willow realized it was the sound of brown pine needles as they fell to the ground around them.

"It's...it's New England," whispered Willow.

She smiled and for a moment Tara thought that Willow would cry.

"Tara, I don't have words to express how I feel right now," said Willow, her voice revealing how overwhelmed she was just then. "If you could only know...have you ever been here before?"

"You mean, with another lover?"

"Oh! No, Tara, I didn't mean..."

"No, Willow. You're my first," said Tara, looking away from her as if embarrassed.

They didn't move, didn't speak. The only sound was that of the pine needles touching the ground. And then Willow reached over her shoulders and pulled her sweater over her head, tossing it onto the blanket and shaking her head so that her hair fell back into place.

"What are you doing?," grinned Tara.

"Well, since we're exchanging gifts, and we only have an hour..."

Willow reached out with her hand and touched Tara's cheek, smiling. It didn't matter how many times Tara had seen that smile before. Once again she was deeply moved, knowing that Willow's smile was just for her. And Tara smiled, thinking now that she might cry.

End Of Part One

Part Two

Spike relaxed and closed his eyes with a smile. Maybe he would have another one of those dreams again. Just like last night and the night before that. Yes, that would be nice. And just as he began to drift off he was startled by a loud noise. He glanced up to see Harmony entering the crypt, dragging something behind her.

"Spike! It's not even dawn yet. You're not going to sleep again, are you? That's all you want to do lately!"

"Bringing home your dinner guests now are we, Harm?," said Spike, not even bothering to sit up.

"Actually, she's a gift. For you," said Harmony with a smile as she dropped the body at her feet.

Spike smiled as he closed his eyes.

"Uh, Harm? The soldier boys already gave me a gift. The chip implant. Or are you forgetting that I'm bite challenged again?," sighed Spike.

"I'm not forgetting about that, silly! I know you can't bite a living human. But she's dead. You can't hurt someone who's already dead. So..."

Spike opened his eyes.

"Oh, she's still warm. But you might want to hurry. This isn't like England where they serve the beer at room temperature. Unless you like that, of course," added Harmony with a frown.

"Only the ale is warm, Harm, not the beer," said Spike, sitting up.

"Oh. See, I didn't even drink from her yet. Just...broke her neck," said Harmony with a shrug.

"Harmony. Have you been thinking again?," asked Spike.

"Yes," she said with a smile. She looked down at the floor and shuffled her feet. And then she frowned. "Oh, that's a good, right? This time, I mean," asked Harmony nervously.

"Why don't we find out?," asked Spike, walking over to her, his face assuming the form of his true self.

Spike knelt down and lifted the girl to him, brushing her hair to one side to expose her neck. He hesitated, looking up at Harmony.

"Won't know until you try," encouraged Harmony with a forced smile. She crossed her fingers for luck.

Spike reluctantly nodded. Without hesitating he bit into the girl's neck. Nothing happened. Tentatively he drew his first taste of blood. Still nothing happened. He closed his eyes and eagerly sucked at the torn flesh. The blood was cooler than he would have preferred and it was harder to draw out without a beating heart, but he moaned in his pleasure.

How long had it been? To taste a human again, the feeling, the sense of power! He dropped the now cold corpse, sat up and licked his lips. And smiled at Harmony.

"Harm, I never thought I'd hear anyone say this, especially me, but you are a sodding genius! Why didn't I think of this?"

Harmony excitedly clapped her hands together and knelt down beside him.

"Oh Spikey, I'm so happy for you! For us even!"

"That was very, and I stumble on this word, thoughtful of you. Oh, sorry I didn't leave any," added Spike, nodding towards the girl.

"That's okay. Hey, does this mean I'm the brains of this operation now?," asked Harmony seriously.

"Good God, let's hope not! Why did you do this for me? I haven't exactly been nice to you lately."

"I'm just...you've been so distant lately. I wanted to do something for you. To cheer you up," said Harmony, running a hand through Spike's hair. "And to thank you, for hiding me from Buffy."

Harmony felt Spike tense up at hearing Buffy's name but didn't say anything.

"Harm, here's to the start of something big," said Spike, kissing her hard on the lips.

"Mmm, Spike, I like that word big."

But he wasn't thinking of Harmony as he gently lowered her to the floor.

*****

"Morning, girls. Oh my, you made breakfast again! I should get sick more often."

Buffy frowned at her mother as she flipped the eggs onto a plate.

Only kidding!," said Joyce.

"It was Dawn's idea. I...I just helped," said Buffy, smiling at Dawn.

"Uh, right. But we both did. Help, I mean," said a surprised Dawn.

"Well, thank you both," said Joyce.

"How's the head?," asked Dawn.

"Not bad. I think those pills are making my headache, well, tolerable," answered Joyce.

"You got in late last night," said Buffy but not looking at her mother.

"Yes, I had a lot of work to do. At the Gallery. Guess I got so caught up in what I was doing that it was later than I realized," said Joyce, grabbing a piece of bacon.

"Oh," said Buffy, glancing at her mother and then quickly looking away.

There was a knock at the front door.

"I'll get it," said Dawn, running out of the kitchen before Buffy could disagree. She opened the door but Buffy couldn't hear who she was talking to. After signing a clipboard, she was handed a long package and shut the door.

"Don't know who they're for, but someone here got flowers," said Dawn sarcastically as she handed the box to Buffy. Buffy smiled as she untied the ribbon around the box.

"Was there a card?," asked Joyce.

"Yep," laughed Dawn, holding it up and reading it before Buffy could grab it. Dawn frowned.

"It only says 'Thinking of you'. No name or who it's for. What, Riley forget how to spell his name?," teased Dawn, getting a threatening glare from Buffy.

"And what makes you think the flowers are for Buffy?," asked Joyce, her hands on her hips. Both girls looked at her in surprise.

"What, I can't have a secret admirer?," complained Joyce.

"Do you?," said both girls at once.

"If I told you then it wouldn't be a secret, would it?," smiled Joyce.

Buffy opened the box, revealing a dozen red roses.

"Nice," said Dawn, nodding her head.

"You know, Riley's never given me flowers before. Wonder what he's up to? Assuming, of course, that they're not for you," said Buffy to her mom.

"Buffy, when's the last time a man even so much as called here for me?," sighed Joyce.

"Well, there was that nice window salesman last night," smiled Buffy.

"I'm going to eat my breakfast now before it gets cold," responded Joyce. "I suggest you get those in some water."

Buffy smiled and closed her eyes as she inhaled the scent from one of the roses.

"Mom, I'm going over to Mr. Giles' shop after school today," said Dawn.

Joyce began coughing as soon as she heard Giles' name mentioned.

"Sorry. I'm okay. Eggs must've gone down the wrong way," said Joyce, her eyes tearing up.

Buffy put the box of roses down and stared at her mother.

"What are you going there for, Dawn?," asked Joyce.

"Oh, Anya is going to show me...stuff. We, uh, had a good time last night," said Dawn.

"Really? With Anya?," asked Buffy.

"Yeah. She's nice. Gotta go to school," announced Dawn, kissing her mother goodbye and leaving the kitchen.

"Bye, honey. Have a great day."

As soon as the door shut Joyce turned to Buffy.

"You'll walk her home tonight after the party, won't you?," asked Joyce. "I get so worried about her being out at night."

"Of course. But you don't have to worry too much tonight. Giles assures me that Halloween is a very quiet night for the undead."

"Well, I guess he would know. Last year was quiet, wasn't it?"

"Uh, sort of..."

"Oh, if I'm up to it, I'm going to stop at the Gallery tonight after I pass out the candy."

"Mom, can't you take a night off?," complained Buffy.

"I said only if I feel up to it. Okay?," asked Joyce, smiling.

*****

"Good morning, Buffy!," said Willow, grinning ear to ear.

"Hello to you too. Will, I've warned you about coffee," said Buffy as they walked down the hall to their next class.

"Coffee? Hah! Didn't need a drop of it today," said Willow, still smiling.

"Okay, I give up. Why the extra perky?"

"Oh, I don't kiss and tell," laughed Willow.

"Ah. The fog of this mystery begins to clear," smiled Buffy.

"Buffy, last night, with Tara, it was...wow. Just...wow!"

"Okay, don't take this the wrong way, 'cause I'm way happy for you, but not needin' the naughty details," said Buffy with a wink.

"Oh, a big no to the naughty details. But, see, she cast some kind of spell and, and I went to sleep, or at least I thought I did. Next thing I know, it's late afternoon in the New England countryside. You talk about your hills being alive! Surround sound, surround smell...come to think of it, the cows were overkill," added Willow with a frown.

"Huh?"

"Buffy, it was incredible! Just...wow! And the naughtiness wasn't so bad either," smiled Willow.

"Hmm. Sounds like Tara's been holding out on us big time. In a witchy way, I mean," explained Buffy. "Obviously not holding out on you. With you. So, where is she, by the way?"

"Oh, she's gonna skip her first class and sleep in. That spell wiped her out. Not that I didn't wake her up before I left this morning," grinned Willow.

"Willow! You're going to go blind!," warned Buffy, shaking her finger at Willow before she broke out in a smile.

"Bring on the seeing eye dog is all I've got to say. Hey, how's your mom?," asked Willow. "Giles said the trance didn't work."

"She's doing okay. And the trance worked. It was pretty intense, too. I couldn't talk on the phone 'cause Dawn was standing there. That's why I told Giles it didn't work. But...there wasn't anything around her. My mom, I mean. No ghosty hands, no mist...in fact, while I was in the trance she actually seemed to feel better. You don't think whatever was affecting her could sense my presence, do you? Maybe give up the ghost, so to speak?"

"Don't think so. That's a stealthy spell you did, as far as spells and trances go. We'll have to ask Giles about it. Wow, you and I can talk about college lectures and magic now!," said Willow excitedly.

"Wow seems to be the word of the day," agreed Buffy.

"So, your costume all ready for tonight?," asked Willow.

"Yep. Little Red Riding Whore rides again. You?"

"Remember that outfit you wanted me to wear three years ago? The one I wore under the ghostie costume?," said Willow.

"Oh, good choice. Has Tara seen it yet?"

"Not yet," smiled Willow. "So what's Riley going as?"

"Big poophead won't tell me," whined Buffy.

"Same with Tara. Said I'd be surprised. Though I won't stoop to calling her a poophead."

"Guess Xander will be bringing Anya," said Buffy, ignoring Willow's comment.

"And why wouldn't he? Buffy, they're the real deal."

"Yeah? You really think so?"

"He told me that he needs her," whispered Willow.

"Well, that's not the same as..."

"Same as what? Loving her?," asked Willow.

Buffy seemed as if she wanted to say something but hesitated.

"Let's hope you're right, Will. I'd like to see Xander happy. And Anya," added Buffy after Willow frowned at her. "I don't want to see anyone unhappy."

*****

"The Gallery? You want me to patrol near the Gallery tonight? Do vampires have a sense of art appreciation that I'm not aware of or is this one of those keep me busy assignments so that I'll not feel useless assignment?," asked Riley.

"No. And you're not useless! Stop saying that. It's just that my mom will be there tonight and I worry about her. Oh, but I don't want her to know that you're there. Okay?," asked Buffy.

"Hmmm. If I didn't know better I'd say you were spying on her," smiled Riley.

"What? No, of course not! How could you even think such a thing," whined Buffy.

"Sorry. I was just kidding," pouted Riley.

"Oh, no. I'm sorry! I forgot to thank you for the flowers!," said Buffy, slapping her forehead with a hand.

"Flowers? Did I send flowers? Should I have sent flowers?," asked Riley awkwardly.

"You mean, it wasn't you? Red roses, twelve, in a white box, thinking of you?"

"Uh...no? Sorry. Guess you have a secret admirer," shrugged Riley.

"Well, that's...strange," said Buffy, taking a deep breath.

"You think they were for your mom?," asked Riley.

"Oh, Giles! Can I talk to you? In the back. Alone," hinted Buffy.

"Uh, certainly. Let me just help this couple first," said Giles. But Giles didn't leave right away. Buffy noticed that he was looking at the man and woman. They seemed to be about his age. And they were holding hands. Giles seemed suddenly...sad.

"Excuse, me, Buffy, I'll get Anya to help these customers."

Buffy wondered why Giles would be sad. Was he that lonely to be jealous of them?

"You know, you're as cute as a button when you're flustered," smiled Riley as he touched Buffy's chin and raised her face so that she would look at him.

"Flustered? Who's flustered? And why is a button cute? I've seen some ugly buttons in my day," said Buffy, interrupted by Riley's kiss before she could continue.

They separated and Buffy smiled.

"The idea of your mom dating again bother you?," asked Riley.

"I...I really hadn't thought about it. I mean, I don't want anyone to be lonely, you know? But...I guess I haven't thought about it. Not that we know she is dating. The roses could've been from someone at the Gallery, or, or..."

"Yep, cute as a button," said Riley.

Buffy smiled.

"You haven't told me what you're dressing up as tonight," said Buffy.

"Nope. Gonna surprise you," grinned Riley.

"But I already told you. That's not fair!," whimpered Buffy.

"You offered, I didn't ask," replied Riley in a condescending tone.

"So, Buffy, you wanted to tell me something?," said Giles.

"Yeah," nodded Buffy. "I won't be long," she said to Riley. He nodded and began to look around the store. Giles and Buffy walked down the hall to her training room. She looked behind them to make sure that they were alone.

"Giles, I need to tell someone this. I can't be the only one to know, it's, it's just too important. But no one, not Willow, not Xander...no one else can know. Not yet."

"Go on."

"The trance worked. I only said it didn't on the phone because Dawn was standing there. But there was nothing different about my mom, no trace of magicks or a spell...nothing. In fact, she even seemed to feel better while I was in this higher state thingy."

"Then how did you know it worked?," asked Giles. "Perhaps..."

"Dawn is not my sister," stated Buffy.

"What?"

"Okay, just listen for a bit. When I saw a photograph of the three of us...me, Dawn, my mom...well, Dawn would fade in and out. And then I went into her room. Her room did the same thing. So did she."

"Buffy, what..."

Buffy put her hand up to silence Giles.

"Fast forward to my escape with the monk dude. He said that he and his brethren were hiding a Key from...from an abomination. The Key was pure energy and it opened some kind of portal. To hide the Key it was made flesh. It became human. And was sent to me to protect."

"Dawn," whispered Giles.

"Yes. He said...he said that she didn't know that she wasn't my sister, that she was helpless. An innocent. All of our memories, her memories, were created by these monks. And that I must protect her otherwise many more would die," said Buffy, her voice wavering with emotion.

"Wow," said Giles.

"Yeah. Been hearing that a lot today," said Buffy, taking a deep breath.

"You're right, of course. The others shouldn't be told. At least not yet. Although we may need Willow's help soon. I must admit she seems to be getting better with her control of spells and such. Powerful, even," added Giles.

"Confident. I think she believes in herself. And I know Tara has a lot to do with that," said Buffy.

Around the corner neither Giles nor Buffy could see someone standing there. But what they had been saying had been heard. Every word.

"Buffy, if you only knew," said Tara under her breath as she walked away from them.

*****

"How's it going?," asked Anya.

"Oh, great! These books are really interesting. And the spells don't look that hard. Not at all," said Dawn, turning another page in the book she was looking at. She was standing at the counter near the cash register with Anya.

"Don't let simple words fool you. Magic is tricky. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. So promise me you won't attempt anything without telling me first," warned Anya.

"Alright," pouted Dawn.

"Good. And remember, even with a simple incantation, your intent must be pure. Otherwise, best case scenario? You'll get mixed results. Worst case? Let's not go there," grimaced Anya.

"Then that means people who delve into black magic must have a lot of hatred bottled up inside, right?," asked Dawn.

"Ah, a quick learner. But we aren't even going to think about the black arts, are we?"

"No, of course not. I was just...following your logic," said Dawn.

"Good. And here, put this in your backpack," said Anya as she handed Dawn a wrapped package.

"What's this?"

"A gift. For you. It's a starter kit. You know, some herbs, a little sand, a pair of chicken feet, but no eye of newt or potions of any kind," said Anya.

"Wow. Thanks, Anya! Uh, is eye of Newt too dangerous for a beginner?"

"No, too expensive. I really need to talk to Giles about the employee discount plan," whispered Anya.

"Hey, what about this book?," asked Dawn, holding up a thick leather bound tome that had been next to the cash register.

"Oh, that's way too advanced for you. Be patient, you're just starting out. I'll be right back. I have to help that Elvira wanna be over there. Who does she think she is anyway, dressing like that? Stevie Nicks?"

Anya walked away and Dawn opened the book she was holding, flipping through the pages. She paused at a page every so often, her eyes opening wide and then wider. Looking around to see if anyone was looking, she slipped the book into her backpack.

"Hey, Dawn! Watcha doing?," asked Xander, suddenly standing behind Dawn.

Dawn jumped and then turned to face Xander.

"Doing? Uh, nothing. What would I be doing? Right? Nothing to do. Nope. Bored even," said Dawn with a smile.

"Okay. So, all set with your costume for tonight?," asked Xander.

"Yep. Going to be dead for a night."

"Huh?"

"A ghost. I'm going to be a ghost," explained Dawn.

"Oh, right! Good choice. Fits the mood of the night, if not the theme," said Xander.

"Theme?," asked Dawn, puzzled.

"Yeah, it's a Reincarnation party. You know, come as you were. But I think the joke went over most people's heads," said Xander.

"Oh. So what are you going as?," asked Dawn.

"Well, Anya thought that come as you were meant come as you were last year, so she's going as a bunny again."

"Playboy bunny?," asked Dawn, wincing.

"Nope. Just a big rabbit. She's afraid of them, so she thinks it's a really scary costume. Me, I'm going as a carrot," said Xander with a smile.

Dawn gave him a strange look.

"Get it? Rabbit. Carrot."

"Oh. Right. Anya chews your head off every so often and this symbolizes your relationship. Wow, such introspection from a simple Halloween costume," smiled Dawn. "So you're ignoring the party theme too."

"Uh...yep, that's it exactly," agreed Xander with a frown.

"Hey Xander. Got off from work early today?," asked Tara, suddenly walking out from the back of the store.

"Hi Tara. Uh, no. I mean, yes. From work. Say, you know when that new costume shop closes tonight?," asked Xander.

"Six o'clock, I think. Why? I thought you were all set with your costume."

"Oh, I am. I was just wondering. In case someone asked, you know? Uh, I'll be back in a little while. Bye," said Xander, quickly turning and leaving the store.

"That was odd," said Tara.

"Even for Xander," agreed Dawn, nodding her head. She looked up and saw Tara staring at her.

"What? Do I have something on my face?," asked Dawn.

"No. It's just...you remind me of myself at your age. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to stare," smiled Tara. "I like your hair. Did you do something different to it?"

"Nope. Uh, Tara? Anya's real busy right now. Could you tell her I said good-bye? I need to go home to get ready for tonight, check on my mom and stuff. Okay?"

"Sure. See you tonight," said Tara.

Dawn flung her backpack onto her shoulder and left.

*****

"Hi, mom, I'm home!"

Dawn shut the door behind her and soon saw why Joyce hadn't answered her. She was fast asleep on the couch. Dawn sighed and quietly tiptoed up the stairs to her room. Throwing the backpack onto her bed, she walked over to her closet and took out her ghost costume. The word 'Boo!' was printed in black letters on the front. She held it up in front of her and looked at herself in the mirror that was on the back of her closet door.

She wondered if she should stay home to help her mom pass out candy instead of going to the Bronze. The party would be fun, and Xander would be there, but if mom wasn't feeling good, how could she go? Dawn tossed the ghost onto the bed and looked at her backpack. She opened it and took out the spell book. Walking back to the door of her room, she peered down the hall but didn't hear anything. Her mother must still be sleeping. Dawn shut the door behind her. And locked it.

End Of Part Two

Part Three

"Aw, Spikey, let's go out tonight. We've been stuck inside all day and I'm bored."

"Harm, I know this whole being dead gig is still somewhat new for you, so let me explain it to you again. It's Halloween. Our kind tend to lay low tonight. It's unlucky and can be just plain unhealthy to be out and about," sighed Spike, sitting on a chair in front of the television.

"But why?," whined Harmony.

Spike turned off the television.

"Just trust me on this one, okay?," said Spike, taking another swig out of the bottle he was holding. "I'll say this for the Irish, they might not have the best tasting blood, but they make damn fine whiskey."

"Spike, are you drunk?"

"Not yet. But it's early," he added, tilting the bottle back again.

Harmony put her hands on her hips and was about to say something but suddenly frowned instead.

"Spike, what's that in your pocket?"

"Huh? Oh. Nothing," replied Spike, pushing something back inside his leather jacket. "You going out, are you?," he asked hopefully.

"Did you buy me a present?," asked Harmony, smiling.

"What? Oh, right. I did indeed. It's a ribbon for...for your hair, of course," said Spike, pulling out a blue ribbon from under his duster and holding it up. "And blue, to match your eyes."

"Spike, my eyes aren't blue."

"You sure? Haven't looked in a mirror lately, have you? No, don't suppose you did," laughed Spike. "But blue is your favorite color. Right?"

"Uh...I think so. What is my favorite color?," she asked herself, confused. "Oh, it doesn't matter. Thank you! You're so thoughtful," said Harmony excitedly. She kissed Spike on the cheek.

Spike took another drink.

"Tell you what. How about I return the favor and bring you a midnight snack?," asked Harmony, running a finger around Spike's chin. "Better than popcorn to watch TV with."

"Harm, I told you..."

"Oh, don't be so superstitious! It's not like it's Friday the thirteenth. It isn't, is it?," asked Harmony, a puzzled look on her face.

"No. It's Tuesday. The thirty bloody first."

"Oh, right! I forgot. Anyway, I'll be back soon. Don't get too drunk."

"Whatever," answered Spike, turning the television back on.

Harmony left the crypt. Spike took another drink.

*****

Dawn finished pouring the red sand in a circle on the floor.

"Hmm, wonder if it matters if I pour it clockwise or counterclockwise," she said out loud while reading from the book she had borrowed from the Magic shop. "Oh good, I did it right!"

Dawn sat in the middle of the circle and lit a match, holding it up quickly to three candles along the edge of the circle. The room already was filled with the scent of pine incense.

"A simple healing spell. What harm could it do? The doctor doesn't seem to be able to help mom...maybe I can."

Dawn poured some of the red sand into her left hand. She closed her eyes for a moment, slowing her breathing. After about a minute she opened one eye and glanced at the spell book. Dawn tossed a little bit of sand over each candle as she spoke.

"Damage which I now undo, return things to the form that's true...
Make things how they used to be, hasten the past return through me..."

Dawn looked around the room. Nothing happened. There was no sound, no soft breeze, no dimming of the candles...nothing that would indicate that the spell had worked. She frowned and picked up the book with a sigh, rereading the spell. And then there came a knock at the door. Dawn quickly blew out the candles.

"Dawn? Are you almost ready?"

"Uh, yes mom! I just have to get my costume on. Be right there."

"I'll be downstairs. And don't forget to brush your teeth."

Dawn rolled her eyes. But she was smiling as she grabbed the ghost costume off the bed.

*****

"I never would've guessed you'd be dressed like that," said Willow.

"You know what Charlie Brown's Lucy said about choosing a costume that's in direct contrast to your own personality," replied Tara.

Tara was wearing the classic witch outfit of a long black dress and black pointy hat, complete with broomstick and long nose with the obligatory wart. She and Willow were standing near the band as they were setting up. Behind them were hay bales, corn stalks and quite a few carved pumpkins.

"And why haven't I seen this outfit on you before?," asked Tara, smiling.

"I wasn't sure if you could meet my price. But I could be talked into giving you a discount off the going rate," hinted Willow. "You like?"

"I like," said Tara. "And I think you'll like what I'm not wearing under this," grinned Tara.

Willow's eyes opened wide in surprise but before should could say anything Anya walked over to them in her bunny costume, leading a very large carrot by the hand.

"Hey, nice pumpkins!"

"Why, thank you, Xander! I didn't think you'd notice," smiled Willow, acting embarrassed.

"Uh, no, I meant..."

"Xander, if you want to see the Great Pumpkin rise from your pumpkin patch tonight, I suggest you keep your eyes on my pumpkins!," warned Anya, punching Xander on the arm.

"Anya, I meant the jack-o-lanterns! See!," said Xander, pointing to the wall behind the witch and the hooker. "And might I add...ow!"

"Oh. Never mind," answered Anya.

"Xander, nice costume. But I hope that orange paint comes off your face easily," said Tara.

"Already tested it, and thanks. I almost changed my mind about this but, here I am," said Xander.

"The costume shop was closed when he got there," explained Anya. Xander smiled and shrugged.

"We were wondering where you were. I thought you'd be here about an hour ago...oh! Never mind," said Willow, suddenly realizing why these two might've been late.

"It's not what you think. Anya didn't want to look in the mirror wearing her bunny suit so I had to help her get dressed," explained Xander.

"Oh, Xander, stop lying. We were late because we had sex. You know, I think he likes it when I play dress up," smiled Anya.

"Willow! Great costume! An oldie but goodie. That is the same one you wore about three years ago, right?," asked Xander, quickly changing the subject. "And could you hold my keys for me? The rabbit and I seem to have a pocket shortage."

"Yep. Taking the 'come as you were' party theme in a different direction, but then again, you never know about those past lives," shrugged Willow, taking Xander's keys as he handed them to her.

"And it looks like you just got some competition," announced Anya as Buffy joined them. She looked like Little Red Riding Hood, complete with pig tails, but her dress was cut a little lower and was a little shorter than Grandma would have preferred.

"Didn't I see you two standing on the corner down by the bus depot last week?," asked Xander.

"Yes, and like I told you then, you couldn't afford us," smiled Buffy.

"Maybe not as a pair...," began Xander, quickly silenced by Anya's glare.

"Where's Riley?," asked Willow.

"He said he'd meet me here. Let's get a table before they're all gone," said Buffy.

"I'll get us a couple of pitchers of soda," said Xander as they got settled.

"Hey," announced a ghost, suddenly standing by their table. No one spoke for a moment.

"It's me!"

"Oh, hi Dawn," said Anya. "Have a seat."

"How did you know it was her?," asked Tara.

"She told me what she was wearing," admitted Anya. Tara nodded.

"Something wrong, Willow?," asked Dawn.

"What? Oh, no. Just...Dawn, where did you get that costume?," asked Willow.

"Found it in a back room at Giles' shop. Why? You don't like?"

"Thought so. Oh, no, it's...great, really. It's just, well...spooky. Not in the scary sense, mind you, but in the 'I wore that a few years ago and let's not go there' thingy. I'm sorry, Dawn, it's a great costume. Really."

Dawn turned to face Buffy.

"What? You're fluent in Willowspeak. She likes it. So why didn't you want to come with me?," asked Buffy.

"I told you, mom's feeling great. No headache at all," said Dawn.

"So she drove you?," asked Buffy.

"Not exactly."

"Huh?"

"Uh, Buffy?," said Xander, returning with their drinks and nodding in the direction of the door.

Buffy turned to see Joyce, dressed as a nurse, walking in with Giles, dressed in his sorcerer's outfit.

"Giles stopped by to see how mom was doing and talked her into coming tonight," said Dawn. Buffy's eyes opened just a little wider.

"Hmm, this wouldn't be a date, would it Buffy?," asked Xander.

"Xander, don't even go down that road!," warned Buffy.

"Seems I struck a nerve. Come on, Buff, it's not like they've been together before," said Xander. Buffy gave him a stare that had more fear in it than menace.

"Wait, there's a road to go down? A path even? Where was I?," asked Xander.

"Later, Xander," hinted Willow, nodding at Dawn.

"Hi, guys."

"Mom! This is a...surprise," said Buffy.

"Well, I'm feeling better and Giles talked me into getting out of the house for a bit."

"I was coming here anyway. I needed to get some use of this," said Giles, holding up his arms.

"Right. Well, have a seat," smiled Buffy. "Uh, mom? Who's passing out the candy?"

"It was late enough. I didn't think any more kids would be coming but I left out some candy in a basket on the porch just in case. You don't mind that I came, do you?," asked Joyce.

"No, of course not! I'm glad you're feeling better," reassured Buffy.

The band started playing a song.

"Buffy, I think your annoying boyfriend is here," said Dawn.

Buffy frowned at Dawn but looked up towards the door. It was Riley, dressed in a long black cape and with a very pale face. Buffy got up and walked over to him.

"Hey."

"Hey yourself," said Buffy.

"You look great. In a naughty schoolgirl way," smiled Riley, revealing plastic fangs.

"Let me guess. Dracula?"

"Not necessarily. Just going for that undead look," said Riley.

"Why?"

"Huh?"

"Why? Did you think I would like it, that it would be some big turn on?," said Buffy.

"Buffy, it's just a costume."

"Oh really?"

"Let's dance and talk, okay?," said Riley, taking Buffy's hand.

"But..."

Riley ignored her and pulled her onto the dance floor. They held each other, Buffy resting her head against his chest as the band played a slow song..

"Not the reaction I was looking for," said Riley.

"And what were you looking for? Riley, I am so over that whole bad boy scene. Don't you get it?," asked Buffy, looking up at him. "I'm your girl."

"I know. But..."

"But what?," asked Buffy.

"Maybe I just need to be told that once in a while," said Riley.

"I've told you. And haven't I shown you?," asked Buffy, hugging him a little harder. "Riley, it doesn't matter to me that you don't have super powers. That's not what I need. I'm beginning to think you're in love with the Slayer and not me," frowned Buffy.

"Buffy, there aren't two of you. There's only one Buffy, one person. I don't think of you as this person who goes off to work with super powers and then comes home and is your normal, average girl. There's only you. That's the girl I love. Why...why can't you say those words back to me?"

"I, I have," said Buffy, suddenly looking scared.

"No, you haven't. Not once."

"I...I'm sorry. I can't explain it. It's...it's me. Really, it has nothing to do with you," said Buffy.

"Do you feel the same way about me as you did with Angel?," asked Riley, no longer dancing.

"That's not fair," snapped Buffy, trying to pull away from him. But Riley held her arm.

"If you're going to make that your standard, you're going to be very lonely in this life. We both are," added Riley.

"That's not it. It isn't," said Buffy, her eyes pleading with Riley to believe her.

"I should go. But, but I don't want to. Want do I...what do we do now?," asked Riley, looking sadder than Buffy had ever seen him.

"Just hold me," said Buffy, a single tear rolling down her cheek. "Just hold me."

Xander put his hand on Anya's paw and smiled.

"Hey, good lookin', care to dance with your favorite vegetable?," asked Xander.

"Sure."

Xander leaned over and kissed Anya as they stood up. Only Tara noticed Dawn lower her head and look away.

Willow was watching the couples dance together on the floor. And then she turned and grinned at Tara.

"What?," asked Tara warily.

"Want to dance?," asked Willow.

"Willow, there's a lot of people here. And it's a slow song, too. It's not like two girls dancing to a fast song, you know?," said Tara nervously.

"And your point is?," asked Willow, taking Tara's hand and standing up.

"But..."

Willow pulled Tara onto the dance floor. Dawn glanced at her mother but Joyce seemed to be avoiding looking at her. And obviously so.

Willow held Tara, closed her eyes and began to slowly sway with the music. Tara's eyes darted about the room but most everyone seemed to be ignoring them. She caught Buffy's eye and Buffy gave her a big smile. Tara smiled back and began to relax. The lead guitarist stepped up to the microphone and began to sing.

"I put a spell on you, because you're mine...
You better stop the thing that you're doin'...
I said to watch out, I ain't a lyin'...
I ain't going to take none of your foolin' around...
I ain't going to take none of your puttin' me down...
I put a spell on you, because you're mine."

"I like this song," whispered Tara.

"Tara, I don't hear a thing," whispered Willow back and squeezing her just a little bit tighter.

Joyce glanced at Dawn and smiled nervously.

"Mom?"

"Dawn, it's...complicated," said Joyce, giving her that we'll-talk-about-it-later look.

Then the song ended and everyone made their way back to the table. Willow saw Dawn looking up at her and she gave her a smile. And then Willow stumbled, only stopping herself from falling by holding onto the back of the chair.

"Hey. You alright?," asked Dawn, putting a hand on Willow's shoulder.

"Actually, no. I'm suddenly very dizzy. And, and I don't feel so good," said Willow, still holding onto the back of the chair.

"Maybe I'd better get you home," said Tara, concerned.

"You know, that's not a bad idea," agreed Willow.

"You want me to come with? Make sure you get home alright?," asked Xander.

"No, we'll be okay. You stay and have a good time. It's a quiet night, undead wise, right Giles?," asked Tara.

"Yes, but even still, maybe Xander should go with you," said Giles.

"I won't miss much. You don't live that far away," said Xander.

"You sure?," asked Tara.

"Definitely. Be back in fifteen minutes," replied Xander. "Come on, let's get Will home."

"Will, what's wrong?," asked Buffy.

"I don't know. I'm cold. And I think I might barf."

"Going now," encouraged Xander.

*****

"Thanks, Xander," said Tara.

"Hey, no problem. I'll call in a little while to see how she's doing."

Tara nodded and helped Willow up the stairs, her arm around her shoulders. Tara closed the door behind them.

"Willow? What's wrong?"

"I'm cold."

"Yeah. Kinda figured that one out all by myself," sighed Tara.

"No, I mean I'm freezing," said Willow, wrapping her arms around herself and sitting down on the edge of the bed. She was shivering and looked up at Tara with a scared grimace. Tara quickly grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around her.

"Lie down. Better yet, get under the covers," commanded Tara. Willow nodded and let Tara help her. Tara put her hand on Willow's forehead.

"You don't seem to have a fever. In fact you, you seem cold," said Tara.

"Told ya," whispered Willow through chattering teeth.

"Something's wrong. This is too sudden. Maybe I should call a doctor," said Tara, becoming even more concerned. Willow managed to nod in agreement and Tara ran over to the phone.

"Tara!," gasped Willow, so softly Tara barely heard her. Tara turned and dropped the phone at what she saw. Willow was extremely pale and her lips were turning blue!

"Willow!," yelled Tara, running back to her side.

"Tara, I...I can't breathe!," whispered Willow. For a moment Tara was frozen by the look of terror in Willow's eyes. Willow frantically grasped Tara's hand. And then she was still.

"Willow!"

Tara pinched Willow's nose with one hand and began mouth to mouth breathing for her. She fought back her numbing panic and tried to concentrate on what she had been trained to do. After four breaths she realized that Willow wasn't responding. After seven breaths she began to cry. Tara placed two fingers against Willow's neck but felt no pulse.

Cursing her own stupidity she quickly felt for Willow's breastbone, moved her hand up one palm's length towards the center of her chest and flattened her hand, locked her elbow so her arm was straight and pressed down using her other hand with the heel of her palm five times. She switched back and breathed for her three times and then nervously began the CPR again.

*****

"Damn, Willow has my keys," said Xander out loud. He turned around and headed back the way he came.

*****

"Willow...please, please don't die," cried Tara, tears running down her cheeks. "It's not my time yet...they won't understand. I'm not ready!" She put her mouth on Willow's again and heard the door behind her open. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Xander standing there.

"Okay, I've obviously come at a bad time. I'll...just be going now," said Xander, trying to tip toe back out the door.

"Xander! Don't go!"

"Tara, Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite fantasies too, and I know I've teased Willow about being naughty, but..."

"She can't breathe!," screamed Tara.

"What!? Oh my God! What...what can I do?," yelled Xander.

"Call an ambulance!"

"Right. What's the number for 911? Never mind!," said Xander, smacking himself in the head. He fumbled with the phone but there was no dial tone. It had been off the receiver too long. He hung the phone back up and tried again, this time hearing the dial tone.

"Xander," said Tara softly.

"Damn it!," cursed Xander as he nervously pushed the wrong number. He hung up the phone and tried again.

"Xander," repeated Tara.

"Just a minute!," said Xander.

"Xander, put the phone down."

Xander glanced over at Tara. It had been a command, not a request. She was standing up next to the bed. Xander had only hit the first two numbers and now held the phone loosely in his hand, staring at Tara in disbelief.

"Is she...no, Tara, she can't be."

"Put the phone down Xander. Now."

Xander looked at Tara, not understanding. Tara raised her right hand and formed a fist. She threw her arm to one side and the phone flew from Xander's hand and smashed into the wall.

"Leave us. Do you hear me? Go!," threatened Tara, her eyes piercingly cold.

"Tara? What...," began Xander as he took a step towards Tara. She closed her eyes and winced as if in pain. Xander was flung backwards and hit the wall behind him so hard he couldn't catch his breath. He looked up at Tara, eyes wide open in shock.

"She's mine. Go!," screamed Tara, pointing at the door. Xander scrambled to his knees and hurriedly crawled away. Once outside he stood and ran, not once looking back.

*****

Xander ran into the Bronze so fast that Buffy instinctively crouched down into a fighting stance, putting herself between Riley and the oversized carrot.

"Xander! What the hell...," began Buffy, standing up and relaxing.

"It's Willow!," yelled Xander, out of breath. "I mean, it's Tara. No...oh, damn it! Just follow me!," said Xander, bending over with his hands on his knees.

"Where?," demanded Buffy, already running for the door.

"Tara's place. Buffy..."

Buffy didn't wait for an explanation and Xander knew he couldn't keep up with her. He looked at Giles and Riley, nodded to the door and stumbled out.

"Xander, wait! I'll drive," yelled Giles. "Um, Joyce, stay here. I'll be back. Soon. I hope."

*****

Buffy cautiously entered Tara's room through the already open door. Other than the phone lying on the floor near the wall, the only other thing that seemed out of place was the unmade bed. There was no sign of a struggle. She began to wish she had pumped Xander for more information first. But when she had heard that her best friend was in trouble...

"Willow? Tara?"

Buffy was alone in the room. She walked over to the bathroom but that too was empty. Buffy stood in the middle of the room, not knowing what to do. It was cold in here and she was wondering about that when Xander ran into the room, quickly followed by Giles and Riley.

"Xander, what's going on?," asked Buffy with a shrug. "Where are they?"

Xander looked at the bed and then back to Buffy.

"Buffy, Tara was...she...Buffy, I saw her. Willow, she...Buffy, she's dead," said Xander, shaking his head. "Willow's dead!"

Buffy's eyes opened wide. By the look on Xander's face she knew he believed what he had said.

"And I think Tara is involved!," added Xander.

Buffy's mouth opened in disbelief.

End of Part Three

Part Four

"Buffy, this doesn't make sense. Tara would never hurt Willow. Maybe she just wigged out and took her to the hospital herself. I should go and check," said Riley, pacing and needing something to do.

"Yes, you should. But an ambulance would've been quicker. I just don't get what happened," said Buffy, throwing her hands up.

"Maybe it wasn't Tara," mumbled Xander.

"Huh?," grunted Buffy.

"I mean, what if something is possessing her? That she's not in control. A demon?," shrugged Xander.

"It's possible, but not likely. It is, after all, Halloween. It just doesn't fit the pattern," said Giles.

"Right, 'cause nothing ever happens in Sunnydale on this night," answered Buffy sarcastically.

"Giles, what about the phone? And her using me as a tennis ball against the wall?," asked Xander.

"Those telekinetic powers could well be within her reach. We don't know how powerful a witch Tara is. Even Willow can do that trick with the pencil. A demon doesn't have to be the answer this time. It could simply be that she wigged out, as you say, upon seeing Willow..."

Giles didn't finish his thought.

"Willow's not dead!," yelled Buffy.

No one said anything and no one looked at Buffy.

"I'm sorry," said Buffy softly. "Riley, go to the hospital. Giles, go home and see if you can find a spell that would help locate them, I don't know, maybe something that detects witchcraft. Xander, get Anya and start searching. They couldn't have gotten far. I'll go back and bring my mother and Dawn home and then I'll help Xander search. We'll meet at Giles' in one hour. Agreed?"

Everyone nodded. Buffy took a deep breath and shook her head.

"Where the hell would Tara take her?," said Buffy, staring at the bed.

*****

Spike had been dozing when the door to his crypt was kicked in. Startled, he lost his grip on the mostly empty whiskey bottle but caught it before it hit the floor, spilling a lot of the contents on his pants in the process.

"Damn it, Harmony! You're the noisiest vampire I've ever..."

Spike sat up when he saw that it wasn't Harmony.

"Spike, I need your help!"

Tara stood there in her witch's costume, holding a limp Willow in her arms.

"I'll say you do. Where the hell do you shop for your clothes these days? And we know what you are, you don't have to flaunt it! Uh, hey...what's wrong with Red?"

"She's dead," said Tara, catching her breath.

"Oh, uh, well, sorry 'bout that and all. I know you two were...close. But she was okay in my book, far as humans go. Decent to a flaw, if you will." Spike shrugged. "Wait, help you?"

Tara carried Willow over to Spike and gently laid her down at his feet.

"I'm here to make a deal with you," announced Tara.

"Oh really? Well, guess I could use some extra spending money."

"This doesn't involve money," replied Tara. Spike turned and walked away.

"Well then, guess it doesn't involve me. And since you're not the type who would threaten to kill me, why don't you just sod off?"

Spike heard the sound of an igniting flame. He turned around to face Tara. She had extended her right hand, palm up, a ball of blue fire hovering above it. Spike could feel the heat from the flame from where he stood.

"Can't really help you if I'm a crispy critter, now can I?," smiled Spike nervously.

"Fine. How would you like that chip out of your head?," said Tara, raising her voice. She flicked her hand and the flame disappeared.

Spike stopped smiling.

"I'm listening," he said, suddenly very interested and somewhat sober.

"I...I can't remove it..."

Spike frowned.

"But I can deactivate it," sighed Tara.

Spike walked up to Tara until he was only inches from her face.

"Prove it," he snarled, his breath making Tara wince. She took a step back from him and touched his head with her left hand. Tara closed her eyes. Her lips moved but Spike couldn't hear what she was saying. She opened her eyes and glared at him.

"Hit me," said Tara.

"What?," asked Spike, surprised. "You mean..."

"Hit me," commanded Tara.

Spike slapped Tara across the face with the back of his hand. Her head snapped back but then she slowly turned to face him, her cheek bright red, her eyes tearing up.

"Again!," yelled Tara.

Spike was shocked at her request but shrugged and slapped her again. He fell to the floor and grabbed his head, moaning in pain.

"Believe me now that I can do it?," asked Tara with a smile.

"Yes!," snarled Spike, looking up at her. "What's the deal?"

Tara knelt down beside Spike. She ripped off the fake nose she was wearing and threw it aside.

"I need you to bite her," said Tara softly.

"What? You, you want me to turn her? That's how you intend to help her?"

"No! I need you to ingest some of her blood. And just some, I might add, or I'll activate that chip and not turn it off. In return, I'll deactivate that chip for you. Permanently."

"I don't get it. Why? What are you going to do?," asked Spike.

"I'm going to help her. Witchcraft. You don't need to know," replied Tara.

Spike stood up and stared at Tara. She stood up and stared back.

"How can I trust you?," asked Spike.

"You can't. You only have my word."

"Fair enough. And when do you undo the chip?," grinned Spike.

"Right after you bite her and I start the spell," explained Tara.

"That's it? One bite, done deal?," asked Spike, beginning to have his doubts.

"Not exactly. I need you to guard her body until dawn. No one is to touch it. But that's it. Oh, and if you try to betray me, I'll make your head explode. We on the same page here?," asked Tara, raising an eyebrow.

"Same page. Same book. But how do I bite her without causing myself a migraine? Why not nix the chip now?," smiled Spike.

"She's dead. You can't harm her now so the chip can't hurt you," said Tara.

"Let's party, then," said Spike, breaking into a grin.

Tara smiled and shook her head violently. Spike's eyes opened wide and he took two steps back from Tara. Tara's eyes were yellow. Her forehead was raised. And she smiled at Spike, revealing fangs.

"Don't worry, this isn't real. You're only seeing what I'm allowing you to see. To help you understand. But I did forget to mention something. After you kiss her...I kiss you," said Tara, smiling.

Spike took another step back and tripped on his whiskey bottle, falling on his butt. Tara laughed at the expression on his face.

*****

"Buffy, I'm sure Willow's alright. You'll find her. I'm going to lie down...my headache's coming back. But I'll stay by the phone. In case she calls," added Joyce. Buffy nodded.

"Buffy, you hungry? Can I get you something before you go out? A drink?," asked Dawn.

Buffy really didn't need anything but saw how sad Dawn looked and she knew that she was only trying to help.

"Uh, yeah. How about a soda? And Dawn, don't worry. We'll find her. Giles is right. Halloween is a dead night for the undead," said Buffy, smiling and touching Dawn's shoulder. Dawn smiled and quickly went into the kitchen. Buffy turned around. And saw Willow standing there by the door!

"Willow! I didn't even hear the door!," yelled Buffy, running towards Willow with her arms open.

"Uh, Buffy? There's something you..."

Buffy went to hug Willow. And walked right through her!

"...should know," finished Willow.

Buffy turned around. Willow was already facing her.

"That's why you didn't hear the door," pouted Willow.

Buffy stared at Willow with her mouth open.

"Guess I'm ghostie girl again. I mean, been there, done that, you know? Feels the same as last time anyway. Unless you know something that I don't. Oh, you don't, do you? Know something I should know but don't know and you know?," asked Willow nervously.

"Same old Will," sighed Buffy, trying not to smile. "So, what do you remember?"

"Well, Tara took me home...and I was cold. And then, I couldn't breathe! And then...and then I was quietly knocking on your door."

"Huh?"

"Quietly 'cause my hand was going through the door. Hence the quietness," shrugged Willow.

"That's quiet," agreed Buffy. "So, you don't remember where your body is?"

"No. Wait a minute, don't you know?," asked Willow.

"Uh, not exactly."

"But you have an idea where it is, right?," asked Willow.

"Uh, not exactly. Look, don't worry. We'll figure this out. As soon as we find Tara," said Buffy nervously.

"Tara? You don't know where she is either!?"

"Not exactly," sighed Buffy.

"Buffy, am I dead? Really dead?"

"No. Well, I don't think so. Will, stop asking so many questions!"

"Could ya be just a little more convincing there, Buff?," said Willow, rolling her eyes.

Both Willow and Buffy turned at the sound of breaking glass. Dawn was standing there, staring at them, the glass of soda she had been carrying in pieces at her feet.

"Willow! No, you can't be...how? Willow, how did you die?," asked Dawn, covering her mouth with her hand.

Buffy and Willow looked at one another in shock.

"Dawn, uh, why do you think I'm dead?," asked Willow, looking at Dawn but still facing Buffy.

Dawn backed quickly away until she bumped into the wall behind her.

"Buffy, get away from her. She's not like the others," said Dawn, not taking her eyes off of Willow.

Buffy and Willow looked at one another again, even more surprised than before.

"The others? Dawn, what are you talking about?," asked Buffy, taking a step towards her. Dawn ran up the stairs. They could hear the sound of a door slamming shut.

Buffy and Willow looked at one another. And then they ran up the stairs after her. Buffy found the door to Dawn's bedroom locked.

"Dawn, open the door. It's...it's okay. I can explain everything. Well, I think I can," said Buffy.

Dawn didn't answer.

"Dawn, please. You know I can break this door down if I have to. We need to talk," said Buffy. "Please?"

Silence.

"Buffy, let me try," whispered Willow.

Willow stepped up to the door.

"Dawn, it's me. Willow. And, uh, it really is me. You don't have to be afraid. See, this happened once before and, and...I need to talk to you. I'm not going to hurt you. Hell, I can't! But I'm coming in there. And I promise you that if I upset you, or scare you, I'll leave. But hear me out first. Okay?"

Willow glanced at Buffy and she nodded to Willow. Willow stepped forward through the door. Dawn was sitting on the floor, her knees drawn up to her chest, eyes staring at the floor in front of her. Willow walked over to her and slowly sat down.

"Hey. Don't be frightened. It's me. Really," said Willow.

"I know," said Dawn, choking back tears. "And I'm not scared. I'm sad, because..."

"Because you think I'm dead," finished Willow.

"You are dead. You just haven't accepted it yet. Like the others," replied Dawn, still staring at the floor.

"The others? You see dead people?," asked Willow.

Dawn nodded.

"You sure you just didn't have a nightmare or two? We rented the Sixth Sense only what, a week ago? Although you did seem to find it...funny," remembered Willow.

"I've seen ghosts for about two years now. And it's not like the movie. They...they usually don't know that I can see them," said Dawn.

"Oh. Wow. So, um, these ghosts...do they frighten you?," asked Willow.

"No."

"Okay. So why do I frighten you?"

Dawn tilted her head and looked at Willow.

"You're different. It's hard to explain."

"Try me," smiled Willow.

"You're not alone."

"Huh?"

Dawn looked away from her.

"There's a presence, like a mist, around you. In you. It's a demon. And it's waiting," said Dawn.

"Waiting? For what?," asked Willow nervously.

"To take your soul. You're worse than dead, Willow. You're going to become a vampire."

It was Willow's turn to look away.

"Soon," added Dawn.

"Dawn, this has happened to me before. Three years ago, on Halloween. It was a spell then and, since I kinda feel the same way, I think it's a spell again this time. And, adding to the spooky, I was wearing the same costume. But with the ghost you had on earlier over it. See, we became what we were wearing. We need to find Tara. Maybe she knows what happened," sighed Willow.

Dawn looked at Willow, once again with a frightened look on her face.

"Dawn, what's wrong?"

"Um, Willow? About the spell..."

"What about it?"

"Promise me you won't be mad?," asked Dawn nervously.

Willow smiled. "I promise."

"I think...I think I might be responsible," said Dawn, looking quickly away from Willow.

"How?," asked Willow, trying to keep her voice calm.

"I tried a healing spell. For my mom. Nothing seemed to happen, but she did seem to feel better. I mean, she was able to go to the dance. I, I just wanted to help her, ya know?," said Dawn, beginning to cry. "I'm sorry."

"Dawn, I don't think...hey, don't cry. I, I wish I could hold you. Let you know that everything's going to be alright," said Willow.

"You can," whispered Dawn.

"Wh...what?"

"You can," repeated Dawn, sniffing. She held out her hand to Willow. Willow looked at her and she nodded. Willow hesitated but then reached for Dawn's hand. Her eyes grew wide when she realized that she was able to grip Dawn's hand firmly.

"I can do more than just see the dead," said Dawn flatly.

Willow leaned over and hugged Dawn. Dawn smiled but didn't hug her back.

"Guess we all have secrets to hide," whispered Dawn.

Willow slowly let go of her and sat back down, looking at her.

"You mean Tara and I dancing together tonight," said Willow softly.

Dawn nodded. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Willow looked at Dawn and smiled.

"You know, I have no idea."

It was Dawn's turn to smile.

"Can you do me a favor?," asked Willow.

"Sure."

"Show me what spell you did," said Willow.

Dawn reached under the bed. The page the spell was on was still bookmarked and she handed the book to Willow.

"Uh, need a little help here," said Willow, not reaching for the book.

"Oh, right!," laughed Dawn. "Sorry."

She opened the book for Willow and held it up for her to read.

"Oh, yeah, I know this one. Not too complicated. What did you use of your mom's for the focus?"

"Uh...focus?," asked Dawn.

"Yeah, something that belongs to her, like a piece of clothing, or jewelry," replied Willow.

"But it didn't say that I needed that," said Dawn.

"Oh. No, it didn't. But it was implied, earlier in the book. See, spells are complex, they build up in layers, they progress..."

Dawn looked at Willow blankly.

"Oh."

"Dawn, where was your ghost costume when you performed the incantation?"

"Uh, on the bed. Behind you."

"Well, at least we know what went wrong. Now we just have to figure out how to undo what was done," said Willow.

"Willow, I'm so sorry. I promise I'll never mess with magic again. Ever!"

Willow smiled.

"What could possibly be funny?," asked Dawn.

"That's one promise that I don't want you to keep. You just need the proper guidance."

"You mean..."

"We clean this mess up and I'll make a witch out of you yet."

Dawn looked at Willow with her mouth wide open.

"Just need to find Tara now. Hey, wait a minute. I think I know how!"

Dawn looked at Willow, confused.

"Could you do me a another favor?," asked Willow.

"Oh God, anything! Just name it," said Dawn.

"Hug me. It's nice to be able to touch someone, ya know?," said Willow.

Dawn smiled, sat up and held Willow tightly.

"I know," answered Dawn. "And Willow?"

"Yes?"

"I like your costume."

There was a knock on the door.

"Uh, guys? I'm still out here. Hello?"

*****

"Willow, ya think this will work?"

"Xander! Have a little confidence in us!," barked Anya, hitting Xander in the shoulder.

"Again with the ow! Anya, you hitting me is becoming a bad habit. And might I add, one which I want you to break. The habit, that is. Not my shoulder," said Xander, rubbing his arm. "We might not be here if you hadn't given Dawn the magic supplies."

"And how do I break a bad habit?," asked Anya, trying to change the subject.

"Try going cold turkey," suggested Xander.

"Cold...what's a dead bird got to do with me hitting you?," asked Anya.

"Simple. The next time you feel like hitting me, go to the freezer and smack a turkey. You'll hurt your hand and after a few times you'll lose the urge to hit me," said Xander, smiling.

Anya looked at him. And then she punched him in the shoulder.

"Ow!"

"Guys, can we get started here?," complained Buffy. "Willow, ya think this will work?"

"Well, yes. Dawn told me that there was a demon with me now. This spell locates demon energy. The string," said Willow, pointing at the floor, "is held down by the colored crystals, forming a square which represents a map of Sunnydale. Anya, grind that powder in that bowl there."

Anya nodded and picked up the bowl.

"Giles and Anya have some experience with magic so they will cast the spell. I'm sort of out of the loopy here. The goddess Thespia is called upon. Giles and Anya mix their potions together by blowing them onto the map at the same time, which should create a mist over the parts where demons are. There's different colors for different breeds," said Willow.

"And which breed...color, are you?," asked Anya.

"Um, I'm not sure yet," said Willow, glancing at Dawn.

"Have you done this spell before?," asked Riley.

"Um, yes...but not successfully," frowned Willow. "So, let's get started."

Buffy rolled her eyes.

Giles sat at one end of the square, across from Anya. Buffy sat to Giles' right, Xander to the right of Anya. Willow sat down next to Anya, suddenly aware of how short her skirt was.

"Willow, I don't have to say or do anything?," asked Xander.

"No. You're not really acting as a second, but you being near Anya will help her, as Buffy will do for Giles. You're important to them. It, uh, helps with the flow of energy. Riley, will you get the lights?," asked Willow.

"Dawn, don't try this at home!," warned Buffy. Dawn sighed and shook her head.

Xander nodded but still looked confused. Dawn sat behind Willow and put a hand on her shoulder. Willow reached up and held onto Dawn's hand. Buffy caught Dawn's eye and smiled. Dawn smiled back, embarrassed. The lights went out and the room was only lit by candlelight.

"Giles, Anya, pour some sand into your hand. Anya, you go first," instructed Willow.

"Thespia, we walk in shadow, walk in blindness. You are the protector of the night," said Anya.

"Thespia, goddess, ruler of all darkness, we implore you...open a window to the world of the underbeing," answered Giles, blowing his sand onto the map. "With your knowledge may we go in safety, with your grace may we speak of your benevolence."

Anya blew her sand over the map. Instantly a yellow fog coalesced between the four people sitting around the map. Willow leaned forward for a better look. There were a few different colored dots spread about the square.

"There!," pointed Willow. "Isn't that...the crypt where Spike is holed up? There's two blue dots inside. And another by the door. Probably Spike and Harmony, but I have this feeling that one of them is me."

Willow realized that the mist was already beginning to dissipate. She stared at the map with a puzzled look on her face, then leaned back and whispered something into Dawn's ear. She seemed surprised but nodded in agreement. The fog faded into nothing. Riley turned the lights back on.

Xander looked at the map, then up at Willow, a very confused look on his face.

"Yeah, that's me," said Willow softly to herself.

"So, I guess we pay a visit to Spike," announced Buffy. "Riley, can you take Dawn home? I'd feel better not having to keep an eye on her."

"Buffy!," whined Dawn.

"Dawn, not now! If you hadn't been messing around with magic this never would've happened," said Buffy. Dawn looked down sadly, taking her hand away from Willow.

"Buffy, don't be mad at her. I'm not," said Willow.

Buffy was going to say something but didn't.

"In fact, I need to ask a favor. See, I know this is hard for you to understand, but...I want to walk over there and hug you. And I can't. Only Dawn can touch me. That's so...right now, I'm scared. So, if you don't mind, can she come with? I'll keep an eye on her, I promise," said Willow, trying not to cry.

"Oh, sure, the puppy dog eyes again. That's not fair. But...how can I say no? Will, I'm sorry. I had no idea, you know?," said Buffy, suddenly wanting to hold Willow too.

"I know," said Willow sadly. "And thanks."

Willow felt Dawn's hand on her shoulder again. She turned back and smiled at her.

End of Part Four

Part Five

"Okay, give me a fifteen minute head start. Just in case there's trouble with Spike or Harmony," said Buffy.

"Toothless Spike. Or...Harmony?," said Riley, smiling. "Buffy, Harmony might be a vampire but it's not like she'll be bringing the macaroni salad to the next Mensa party."

"I know, big threat. Just humor me here. Fifteen minutes and then the rest of you can follow. Alright?," asked Buffy, turning and not waiting for an answer.

*****

"Evening, Buffy," said Spike, taking a deep drag on his cigarette. "Wouldn't be looking for me, would you?"

"Hard to believe, but actually...no. I need to go in there," said Buffy, pointing to the door Spike was leaning against.

"Well, I really wasn't expecting company. Place is a mess. Tell you what, come by, oh, say tomorrow morning. I'll have the place tidied up by then. Bring your Watcher along. We'll have tea. Oh, by the way, love the outfit. It's...naughty," smiled Spike. "I like naughty."

"Spike, you're a pig and I don't have time for this."

"I bet you say that to all the boys," replied Spike, taking one last drag on his cigarette before throwing it away.

"I'm looking for Willow and I know she's in there. So, you want to do this the hard way or are you going to get the hell away from that door?," asked Buffy, growing impatient.

"I...I can't," said Spike, looking uncomfortable.

"Spike, are you drunk?"

"That's none of your...uh, I mean, you wouldn't like that, would you? If I was. Drunk, that is. So...I'm not," said Spike, nodding as if to convince himself.

Buffy stared at Spike. "What?"

"She's not in there. Scouts honor. Just...go away," said Spike.

"Since when were you a boy scout?," sighed Buffy, taking a step towards the door. Spike stepped in front of her.

"Get out of my way!," growled Buffy.

"Buffy, you can't go in. Trust me. Okay, bad choice of words there. Listen to me. Please?"

"You, you said please. How...pathetic!," said Buffy, shaking her head.

"Buffy, I don't want to fight you. You might...might mess up your hair."

Buffy was speechless.

"Stupid hair," added Spike.

"Fight me? Alright Boris, what can you do? Sick your sidekick Natasha on me? Where is your girlfriend anyway?," asked Buffy.

"She's not my girlfriend! Besides, I'm looking for someone...a little more challenging, if you catch my drift," smiled Spike.

"Try a jellyfish. That would be a lot more challenging than Harmony. Spike, your bark is worse than your bite. Oh, silly me, you can't bite. Now move!"

"You don't understand...," began Spike. Buffy hit him hard across the jaw with her fist. Spike recovered and punched her right back. Buffy stood there, hand raised to her mouth, again staring at Spike.

"Sorry, love, but I've made a deal with Red's witchy friend. No one goes in until sunrise. And then, well, I have to, of course," said Spike, glancing up at the sky.

"Tara removed the chip? She wouldn't dare!"

"Obviously, she did. Ah, the sweet smell of freedom!," laughed Spike.

"Smells like cheap whiskey to me," snapped Buffy.

"She's trying to help Willow. Love makes you do strange things, Buffy," sighed Spike, shrugging his shoulders. "And besides, I wouldn't want to cross that witch."

"Spike, you're not afraid of Tara, are you?"

"Well, afraid is perhaps too strong of a word. Might I suggest...wary," answered Spike.

"Uh, Spike? Better look out behind you," said Buffy, her eyes focused on something behind him.

"Buffy, you don't expect me to fall for that, do you? That's the oldest trick in the book!"

Spike found himself on the ground, holding his head in pain and looking up at Riley. He was holding a baseball bat. And smiling.

"No, Spike. The oldest trick in the book is your mother. Riley, I thought I said fifteen minutes," glared Buffy.

"My watch is fast," shrugged Riley.

"Good thing. Do you have a cross on you?"

"Of course."

"Keep an eye on him. With his chip out I don't want him getting away," said Buffy, shaking her head in disgust at Spike.

"Well, I tried. Tara still has to keep up her end of the bargain. Smart move, Slayer. Willow's dead and she ain't coming back if you go in there," warned Spike.

Buffy hesitated, but just for a moment. She kicked the door in.

"Oh, bloody hell! It was open! Now I have to fix that again," yelled Spike.

Buffy entered the crypt. It was lit by many candles. Tara was standing next to Willow's body, lying on top of the sepulcher. Tara looked up, then ignored Buffy, returning her gaze to Willow.

"Tara!"

"Buffy! You...you can see me?"

"Uh, yeah. And why wouldn't I be able to?"

"She must be helping you," muttered Tara. "I wonder if she even realizes that she is?"

"Who's helping me? Tara, what the hell is going on here?"

"Buffy, please, you have to trust me. Okay? I know you don't understand..."

"Understand? Tara...is Willow dead?," asked Buffy, her eyes begging Tara to say no.

"Not in the way you think of it."

"Huh? Tara, if I wanted the text version I'd ask Giles. Please," said Buffy, taking a step towards her. Tara backed away and Buffy froze, a puzzled look on her face.

"Buffy, listen to me. You know how I feel about Willow. You know I would do anything for her. Anything. So you have to trust me now. Whatever you do, don't touch her body. It will just make it harder for me to help her. Buffy, I know you love her. I promise you that if I can help her, I will," sighed Tara. She suddenly looked very tired.

"So I can assume there's witchcraft involved here? And magic? Hence the witchcraft," added Buffy.

Tara nodded.

"Dawn tried a spell. Understatement here; it didn't work," explained Tara.

"Yeah, she 'fessed up."

"It's not her fault. She was just...she was trying to fit in. To help. She wants so much to be accepted by you," said Tara sadly.

Buffy looked away, shocked.

"How did you know it was Dawn?," asked Buffy.

"That's not important."

"Tara, you didn't remove Spike's chip, did you?"

Tara winced but looked directly at Buffy.

"It's still there. It's just...inactive right now," shrugged Tara.

"Tara..."

"Buffy, I needed his help. It's not permanent like he thinks. If there was any other way..."

Buffy sadly nodded. Behind her Xander and Giles entered the crypt.

"So what do we do now? How, how can I help?," asked Buffy.

"Uh, Buffy? Who ya talkin' to?," asked Xander.

Buffy turned and gave him a bewildered look. She turned back and Tara smiled at her.

"They can't see you?," asked Buffy.

"No, but I'll allow them to hear me," answered Tara.

"Okay...so, how do we help?," asked Buffy, all business once again.

"Tara?," said Giles.

"It's okay, Giles. I'll explain later. Or at least I'll try," corrected Buffy, not taking her eyes off Tara.

"It's better this way. I don't have to trust Spike to guard her body. Just don't let anyone touch her. I need time. That's our only hope now. By touching her you could break the connection I have with her. Oh, and don't look for me. I...I'll try to explain later," said Tara, suddenly seeming embarrassed. Buffy's eyes opened wide in surprise.

"Wait, there were two blues dots inside here, one outside...," said Buffy, knotting her eyebrows. It was Tara's turn to look confused.

"Tara, are you...are you human?," asked Buffy as gently as she could.

Tara slowly closed her eyes, lowered her head and turned away from Buffy. Buffy immediately regretted asking the question. She took a step towards Tara and reached out to put a hand on her shoulder.

"Tara, I'm sorry. I..."

Buffy's hand passed through Tara's shoulder and she jumped back in surprise. Tara turned to face her, tears in her eyes.

"So...this one of those astral projection thingies?," offered Buffy, lowering her hand.

"Yeah. Buffy, I know what to do, but...well, I might be in a little over my head," admitted Tara.

"Is there anything I can do to help? Can Giles?," pleaded Buffy.

"No. Not now."

"Tara, is...is she going to be okay? Dawn said something about a demon..."

Tara seemed surprised.

"There's a cross on her chest. Leave it there. It will ward off...don't worry about that. It's part of Spike's contribution. I don't have time to explain. We'll know by sunrise if my healing spell worked. I...it's not her that I'm worried about," sighed Tara.

"What? Tara, are you in some kind of danger?," asked Buffy, concerned.

"I have to go. I'm getting very tired and that can't help Willow. Trust me Buffy. And don't look for me. I can't be touched either. That's even more important. Goodbye, Buffy," said Tara, forcing a smile but crying freely now.

"Tara, wait!"

And then she was gone. Buffy turned to look at Giles and Xander.

"Did you..."

"We heard," interrupted Xander.

Buffy shook her head and slowly exhaled. She walked over to Willow, fighting back the urge to hug her. And for the first time noticed the two puncture wounds on Willow's neck.

"Spike. I'm going to..."

"Be looking for him," finished Riley.

"Riley! Where's Spike?," asked Buffy.

"Funny thing about crosses. They tend to ward off vampires but don't prevent them from running away," admitted Riley sheepishly.

"Well, we'd better go find him. Don't know when that chip's going to kick in again and I don't want him partying on my turf," said Buffy, shaking her head.

Giles walked closer to Willow, looking at her neck.

"Don't touch her," reminded Buffy.

Giles nodded. "I think I know what Tara is trying to do. I'm familiar with the spell, I mean. But..."

"But?," repeated Xander.

"By using some of Willow's blood, she's keeping Willow's soul grounded in this plane. Until it can be reunited with her body. But...," said Giles, again not finishing his thought.

"Again with the but! Giles, can we help?," asked Buffy. "What's going on?"

"I need to consult some of my books. I should go. Now," added Giles.

"Uh, hello? Anyone home?"

"Willow? What are you doing out there? Come on in," said Xander.

"Uh, see, that's the problem. I can't," said Willow. Dawn was standing next to her in the doorway. Anya walked past them and entered the crypt.

"What do you mean?," asked Buffy.

"It must be like what a vampire runs into when he's not invited into a home. I can't cross the threshold," explained Willow. Buffy glanced at Dawn.

"Oh, I can come in," said Dawn, understanding Buffy's thoughts. She placed a foot onto the floor to prove it.

"Buffy, I don't need to consult any books. I know what spell Tara is doing. In fact, I'm sure of it now. But there is a problem," said Giles.

"Problem? I don't like the sound of that," said Willow, frowning.

"We need to find Tara. By sunrise. If the spell is successful Willow will live. But someone has to wake Tara up, otherwise she...will never wake up," explained Giles.

"So why didn't she tell us where her body was?," asked Buffy.

"Why didn't who tell you?," asked Willow. "Tara was here?"

"Not exactly. A ghost of her was here, probably an astral projection or...whatever," explained Buffy. She noticed that something still seemed to be bothering Giles.

"What?," asked Buffy, touching his arm.

Giles leaned towards her and whispered so that the others couldn't hear.

"The spell. You may have been correct about Tara. I wasn't aware that a human could perform this spell."

Buffy tried not to react so that Willow wouldn't ask questions. But when she glanced over at Willow she saw that her and Dawn were talking and not paying attention to Giles.

"Xander, you and Anya stay here. Guard the...guard Willow. Don't touch her. Riley and I will track down Spike. Giles, could you take Dawn home? I don't like her being out here with Spike around," said Buffy.

"I think I know where Tara is," said Willow.

"Really? Where?," asked Buffy.

"When we did the spell, I was represented by a blue light. And there was another blue light in a crypt not far from here. My thinking; Tara cast the spell, so if there's a demon aura around me, the same might be true for her. Likin' the logic?," asked Willow hopefully.

"Um, of course. I'll go with you first, but then I'm going back to get some additional supplies that might aid in this spell. And a book or two. Just to make sure," said Giles, looking at Buffy. But Buffy was looking at Willow, trying to smile for her.

"Your logic makes sense, Will. Let's hope you're right," said Buffy.

"We'll take Dawn home later. Is there something else? Something you're not telling me?," asked Willow.

"What? No. No, of course not," said Buffy, not very convincingly.

"Buffy, the spell's going to work. I trust Tara," said Willow.

Buffy nodded. "Yeah. I know you do."

*****

"Riley, I don't trust her. She's not telling us everything."

"Buffy, we're talking about Tara here. How can you not trust her? Maybe she's just scared, okay? And why don't you ever bring a flashlight? These graveyards aren't exactly known for their lighting," commented Riley.

"A flashlight? Why don't we just wave a flaming torch over our heads and yell 'here we are vampires'," complained Buffy.

"It's not like they can't hear us! At least we'd be able to see where we were going," replied Riley just as he tripped over a tree root and fell flat on his face.

"You sure do know how to make a point," laughed Buffy, kneeling down beside Riley to help him up.

"Buffy, we've got a problem," said Riley, not moving.

"Oh? What, are you hurt?"

"No. These footprints. They're fresh," said Riley, pointing at the ground. "I'd say by the depth of them we're looking at a vampire that stands about six foot, six inches, is hungry and is wearing an ugly red sweater."

"Wow, you can tell all that from a footprint? Did the Initiative teach you that?"

"No. He's standing right there," said Riley, getting to his feet and pulling Buffy up with him. The vampire looked down on them and growled.

"Riley, stay behind me," yelled Buffy.

"Uh, Buffy?"

"I don't have time for any macho arguing. Do it!," said Buffy, not taking her eyes off the vampire as it took a step towards her.

"Would it be macho to say that we have company?," asked Riley. Buffy glanced over her shoulder and saw a female vamp approaching from behind.

"Keep her busy but don't close with her. Use your cross," advised Buffy as she turned to face her opponent. She lashed out, fist connecting with his stomach. The vampire looked down at her and smiled.

"That didn't hurt?," asked Buffy nervously, pulling a stake out from her back pocket.

The vampire elbowed Buffy in the face, knocking her onto her back with a bloody nose. Buffy's stake fell to the ground at their feet.

"No, but that must have," laughed the vampire as he jumped on her, hands around her neck. Buffy's eyes grew wide as she realized how strong this one was.

Riley held up a cross in front of him. The female vamp smiled and kicked it from his grasp. He was able to get in two punches before she connected with his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. With Riley's head down, she brought her knee up into his forehead. Riley fell to the ground, dizzy and barely able to move.

Buffy tried to pry the vamp's fingers from her throat but he was too strong. Breathing was quickly becoming a priority. She felt for the stake with her foot, finally finding it and bracing it up between both feet.

"I was looking for that demon killer Spike, but I won't might adding a Slayer to the menu first," grinned the vampire, drooling at the thought of tasting the Slayer's blood.

Buffy let go of his wrists and slapped him with cupped hands against both ears. Yelling in pain, his grip loosened and Buffy was able to bring her arms up under him and break his hold. She head-butted him, breaking his nose and flipped him back by pushing up against his chest. He fell onto his back, right on the stake, and exploded into ash.

"Sorry but the kitchen is closed," quipped Buffy. She rolled onto her stomach and got to one knee. The female vampire held a limp Riley by the hair and was about to bite him on the neck. Buffy knew she couldn't get there in time to stop her.

"Riley!"

The female opened her mouth. And vanished into dust. Riley collapsed on the ground and Buffy's mouth dropped open in shock. Harmony stood behind Riley, a stake in her hand. She looked at Buffy and let the stake fall her feet. Harmony was crying.

"I was there tonight, watching you and Spike. I didn't ask to become what I am. I'm not as strong as you, I can't outrun you and let's not even discuss outthinking you. You owe me one, Buffy. Spike likes to think I'm into pain, and I play his stupid games. All I ask of you is that when you find me, make it quick. Maybe...maybe it won't hurt as much that way. And yes, I'm dead. But I can be hurt. Isn't it obvious?"

Harmony lowered her head and slowly walked away. For the first time in her life, Buffy almost felt sorry for her.

"Riley!," cried Buffy, quickly moving to him, holding up his head against her. "Hey, you alright? Riley?"

"I"m...fine," moaned Riley, rubbing his head. "I think my fragile male ego may need some tender loving care, but I'll live."

"I thought she was going to kill you," said Buffy, relieved but still very shaken.

"Didn't you say Harmony liked unicorns?," asked Riley.

"Yeah. Why?"

"I'm going to buy her one. Then you can stake her," added Riley.

"Still want to look for Spike with me?," asked Buffy.

"You mean, you don't think I'll just get in the way," asked Riley, looking away.

Buffy touched his face and Riley looked up at her.

"You never get in the way. I need you," said Buffy, kissing him quickly on the lips.

Riley smiled.

"We'd better get moving," he said. Buffy helped him to his feet.

*****

"Dawn, why didn't you tell Buffy or me about this, this ability that you have?," asked Willow as they walked through the cemetery. Giles was right behind them.

"Well, you know, Buffy's the Slayer. That's a big deal. I'm not...special. Not like that."

"You are too special! And Buffy and I, we're there for you if you need us. There must've been times, at least at first, that you were frightened by these ghosts," said Willow.

"Well, maybe when it first started. But it's not so bad now. Really, it isn't," said Dawn.

"Still, don't think you can't come to us. Okay?," asked Willow.

"I will. I promise. And thanks, Willow. It means a lot to hear you say that. Buffy wants to protect me so I know I'll never really be part of the gang."

"Maybe now you will be part of the gang, as you say. Your abilities might be very helpful to your, uh, sister," said Giles.

Dawn smiled but Willow gave Giles an odd look.

"Oh, Dawn, are you okay here? In a cemetery, I mean. Do you...,"

"See anyone, Willow? Actually, the dead here seem to know they're dead. Cemeteries tend to be the last place that ghosts like to hang out at," said Dawn.

"Interesting," commented Giles.

"Well, this it," announced Willow. They were standing in front of a small, run down mausoleum. "Hmm. Thought Tara would have better taste than this," said Willow, hands on her hips.

"Do you want me to go first?," asked Giles.

"Why not? If the door's locked, I can always just use the wall," smiled Willow.

Giles grabbed the handle on the door and pushed. The door opened easily. They walked into a room lit by only four candles. Tara, like Willow in the other crypt, was lying on top of the sepulcher. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Unlike Willow, she was breathing.

"Willow, I don't like this place. The stench of death is all around us," said Dawn, wrinkling her nose.

"No, that's just incense. Tara likes that brand and I never had the heart to tell her what I really thought of it."

Both Dawn and Giles gave Willow a frightened look.

"Hey, if it makes her happy," shrugged Willow and adding a frown for good measure.

"I'm glad we found her," said Giles, obviously relieved. "We need to wake her up at sunrise."

"Will she be alright, Giles? Is she in any danger?," asked Willow, suddenly looking very sad.

"I think she's going to be fine, Willow. I'm really more concerned about you."

"But...," began Willow.

"I'll go tell the others and then I'll come back. Will you be alright here alone?," asked Giles.

"Sure. Just don't be too long," said Willow.

Giles nodded and left. Willow walked closer to Tara. A single tear ran down her cheek. And then Willow felt Dawn's hand grasp hers. She looked up and smiled. Willow smiled back.

"Vini, vidi, velcro," said Willow.

"Are you attempting a spell?," asked Dawn.

"No, that's Latin for I came, I saw, I stuck around. It means we wait."

"Oh," said Dawn, not sure if Willow had made a joke or not.

End Of Part Five

Part Six

"Buffy, it's getting late. Or early. You know what I mean. I don't think we're going to find him before..."

"Shh. Listen."

"I don't hear anything. Of course that doesn't mean you don't," added Riley.

Buffy took off in a full sprint and Riley followed, trying to keep up. And then he saw Spike up ahead, kneeling down in someone's front yard. Spike had what looked like a bloody knife in his hand, raised over his head. He was repeatedly stabbing a body on the ground.

"Mock me with your smile, will you? How's this feel?," yelled Spike, raising the blade above his head once again.

Buffy tackled him before he could stab his victim again, the knife flying from his grip. She straddled him, pinning down his arms with her knees and got in three punches to his face before Spike could even cry out.

"Blondie, have you lost your mind? What the bloody hell do you think you're doing!?"

"What!? I should just let you murder someone?," yelled Buffy.

"Uh, Buffy?," said Riley, standing behind her. Buffy turned her head and looked at him. Riley was pointing down at the ground. A carved jack-o-lantern, broken into pieces by Spike's knife, sat atop a dummy stuffed with straw.

"You know, just having you sit there like that was well worth the beating," said Spike, grinning ear to ear. Buffy looked at him, confused, then quickly got up. Spike sat up and she punched him once again.

"Hey! There's no need for that! Willow's bitch lied to me! The damn chip is working again. Why the hell do you think I was taking out my frustrations on Jack there?"

Buffy tilted her head, staring at Spike suspiciously.

"How do you know it's working again?," demanded Buffy.

"Now there's a stupid question! I tried to put the bite on someone. It's my nature! Fish gotta, swim, birds gotta fly, vampires gotta..."

"Suck," finished Buffy.

"What, you want me to prove it? Let me hit your boy scout, it will be worth the headache," suggested Spike.

"He's probably lying and he'll fake the head pain," said Riley.

Buffy turned to Riley and he handed her a stake.

"Hey, now hold on just one minute here," said Spike, standing up. "Red's going to live because of me. You must've figured that out by now!"

Buffy looked at Spike, then back to Riley and sighed.

"I suggest you find cover. It'll be light soon," said Buffy.

"Buffy, you're going to trust him?," asked Riley, astonished.

"Trust him? Never. Let's go."

Riley glanced at Spike as Buffy walked away. Spike stuck his tongue out at him. Riley took a step towards him and Spike ran away.

*****

"Hey, you find Spike? And how did you know where we were?," asked Willow.

"Yeah, we found him. And the chip's active again. We went to see Xander first," said Buffy.

"And I had talked to him before going home for my books," explained Giles.

"Oh."

"Any change?," asked Riley, nodding towards Tara.

"No, but that's a good. We don't want change. Not liking change. Just need to wake her up at first light," said Willow nervously.

"And how are you holding up, Will?," asked Buffy.

"Good. I'm...good. What time is it again?"

"About one minute later than the last time you asked. Willow, relax. It's almost over," said Dawn.

"Dawn, mom is going to so kill me for having you out all night," said Buffy.

"Um, does she have to know? Maybe she's still asleep," replied Dawn hopefully.

"Wouldn't matter. She has that deadly mom sixth sense. Always seems to find out what she needs to know, you know?," asked Buffy. Dawn nodded.

"Buffy, you should go be with Xander. Willow should breathe again at sunrise but she won't wake up," said Giles. "Xander might need some help getting her back home. She should be in her own bed when she wakes up."

"What do you mean she won't wake up?," asked Buffy, concerned.

"The healing process isn't over for me at sunrise. In fact, it just begins. I'll probably sleep until late tonight," explained Willow. "And you should go. Soon."

"Why?," asked Buffy. Willow held out her hand towards Dawn. Dawn reached for it but her hand passed right through Willow's.

"The spell is working. It's time for me to go home," said Willow, smiling.

Buffy smiled.

"Buffy?"

"Yes, Dawn?"

"Don't be mean to Anya. About her giving me the magic supplies. She was just trying to fit in. She seemed...almost lonely."

"I won't be mean to Anya. As long as you promise me you won't try any more magic tricks on your own," said Buffy.

"I promise," answered Dawn quickly. But Buffy was no longer looking at Dawn.

"Uh, Giles? Could I have a word with you," she asked.

"Of course," replied Giles. Buffy took him by the elbow to the other side of the room so that the others couldn't hear.

"Well, uh, this is kinda awkward, so I'm just going to start so that I can get through it. First, I'd like to thank you for buying the roses for my mom. That was sweet of you. And I just wanted to say that I appreciate the sacrifices you make on my behalf. I don't want to see anyone lonely, not you, not my mom...so, if you'd like to see her, I have no objections. It's gonna take a little getting used to, but, well, one step at a time. You don't have to sneak behind my back. Am I making any sense at all or should I stop babbling now?," asked Buffy timidly.

"Actually, no, you're not making any sense at all. Roses? What roses? And why do you think I'm interested in Joyce, er, your mom anyway?," asked Giles, taking off his glasses to clean them.

"Wait. You didn't buy the roses?"

"Sorry, but...no."

"But, but I saw you two...last night, I went back to your place, her car was there. And you came to the dance with her. And, and, hey, what's wrong with my mom that you don't want to date her?," asked Buffy defensively. Giles smiled and put his glasses back on.

"Buffy, your mother did stop by last night. She...she wanted to know if there was something she could do. To help with your training. She doesn't feel like you are a part of her life anymore. That you're growing apart. And she misses you," said Giles slowly.

"Oh."

"As for the dance, well, I thought it might cheer her up to get out of the house. That's all it was. There was no...date."

"Oh."

"Buffy, you're mother is a very nice woman. But there's no chemistry between us, no spark. I, I just don't feel that way about her," said Giles.

"Oh. Well then, that wasn't so bad," said Buffy, rolling her eyes. "I'm just going to go quietly into the night now. And pretend this conversation never took place. Riley. Let's go," said Buffy, walking quickly away and grabbing Riley by the arm.

Willow smiled at Dawn.

"You know, I think he's good for her, in a down to earth kind of way, you know?," asked Willow.

"Willow, he's so down to earth, he's dirt. Buffy needs someone more exciting in her life. Like...Xander, for example."

Willow suddenly looked frightened and Dawn regretted mentioning Xander's name. And then Dawn noticed that she could see through Willow. She was fading away.

"Dawn?," said Willow, her voice a far away echo.

"It's alright, Willow. Everything's going to be all right now," smiled Dawn.

Willow slowly faded, finally vanishing completely. Dawn looked up at Giles. He was staring at the spot where Willow had been standing.

"Giles? Shouldn't we wake Tara now?"

"What? Oh, yes. Of course."

Dawn walked over to Tara and looked up at Giles for his approval. He nodded and Dawn shook Tara's shoulder. Nothing happened. Dawn shook her harder and called out her name.

"Tara!"

Tara's eyes blinked once, twice, then slowly opened. She tilted her head towards Dawn.

"Dawn?"

Dawn smiled and nodded.

"Tara, how do you feel?," asked Giles, helping her to sit up.

"Uh, fine, I guess. What...why did you wake me? I told Buffy..."

"You overlooked the fact that someone needed to wake you up. Otherwise, well, you would have died," said Giles.

Tara sadly nodded.

"If, um, you're feeling alright, I'm going to check on Willow," said Giles excitedly.

"I'm...I'm fine. Really. You should go."

"Okay. And Tara...what you did, it, it was...amazing," said Giles, shaking his head. Tara smiled. Giles smiled back and left her alone with Dawn.

"They know about you now?," asked Tara. Dawn nodded.

"But not everything," added Dawn.

"Well, it's better this way, I guess. She would have found out sooner or later."

"Yeah, I guess," agreed Dawn.

"Dawn, you shouldn't have woken me up," sighed Tara.

"But Tara, you, you would've died!"

"Maybe. But that would've been easier than what I have to do now."

"Tara, I don't understand. It's over."

"Not yet. You should go now. Tell Buffy that Willow will sleep all day. I'll be there when she wakes up. Buffy's going to have a lot of questions and I just can't talk to her yet."

"Tara, what's wrong? Can't you tell me?," asked Dawn, beginning to cry. Tara opened her arms and Dawn hugged her.

"Sometimes," whispered Tara, "sometimes people's lives betray them. Thank you, Dawn. You know what I mean."

Dawn stepped back, tears running down her cheeks. Tara began to cry and they hugged once more.

"It's time to go," said Tara softly. Dawn nodded and slowly let go of her. She walked away, never once looking back.

*****

"Guess we just have to let her wake up by herself, huh?," asked Riley.

"That's what Giles said," answered Buffy, no emotion in her voice. She didn't look at Riley but stared at Willow, seemingly sleeping peacefully in her bed.

"You know, I don't think I had the chance to tell you how much I liked your costume last night," said Riley, whispering into Buffy's ear.

"That tickles!," protested Buffy with a giggle.

She looked at him and stopped smiling.

"How you doing?," asked Buffy.

"I'm not going anywhere, if that's what you're asking," he answered.

"Me neither," said Buffy, leaning her head onto his shoulder. "Me neither," she repeated even softer. Buffy became aware that Tara was standing in the doorway.

"Hey," said Tara, waving a hand. Buffy and Riley stood up. "How...how is she?"

"Just...sleeping, I guess," said Buffy. "Tara, could..."

Tara put a hand up to stop Buffy.

"Buffy, I know you have some questions. Lots of questions. But can I ask of you a really big favor?"

"Uh, sure."

"She's going to wake up soon. Can I be alone with her when she does? Please?"

"Of course. But on one condition," said Buffy. Tara reluctantly nodded. "Answer me just one question."

"That's...fair. Go ahead. Ask."

"How are you? Are you okay? Sorry, two questions, but..."

"I'm...I'm dealing. And thanks. For asking," smiled Tara.

Buffy walked slowly over to Tara and hugged her. Tara hesitated but returned the embrace.

"Thank you," whispered Buffy, closing her eyes and beginning to cry. "Thank you for bringing her back."

"Thank you for trusting me," said Tara. Buffy pulled away but not before kissing Tara on the cheek. Tara smiled but seemed embarrassed. Riley left the room with Buffy and Tara sat down on the bed next to her lover.

It was only about twenty minutes later that Willow opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was Tara, smiling back at her.

"Tara!," yelled Willow, sitting up and hugging her. "Okay, whoa, a little light-headed here. But that might be just because I'm in your arms again."

Willow pulled back from her and smiled. But Tara wasn't smiling.

"Hey, what's wrong?," asked Willow. Tara swallowed and looked away.

"Tara. Talk to me. Please?"

Tara sat there on the edge of the bed but couldn't look at Willow. So she just stared at the floor. Willow moved next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. Tara still didn't look up. So Willow gently touched her Tara's cheek with her free hand and, as soft as a caress, slowly turned Tara's face to her.

"Hey. It's me. Willow."

Tara forced a smile and tried to fight back her tears. Willow leaned over and kissed a teardrop from Tara's cheek. Then she withdrew her arm and took one of Tara's hands into both of hers. And then she simply smiled, not saying anything. Tara gave one of Willow's hands a little squeeze.

"I wanted to tell you. I did. But I was so afraid," said Tara softly, looking down at Willow's hands.

"Sounds like what I said to Buffy about us," encouraged Willow. "But, uh, tell me what?"

"In the beginning, there was just no way to bring it up. You would have...then, as time went by, you became so much a part of my life. I felt guilty about not telling you, about not trying to explain. About lying to you," said Tara, looking into Willow's eyes. She began to cry again.

Willow shrugged, very confused.

"I...I didn't know how..."

"Tara, what are you talking about? I don't understand. You...you just saved my life. What's wrong?"

"I'm not what I seem. I'm...different. I have...Willow, I'm not...human. There's demon in here," said Tara, tapping her chest.

Willow shook her head slowly. And then she sighed.

"Tara, you know me now. And I know who you are. It doesn't matter what you are," said Willow, slipping one arm around Tara's waist.

Tara tried to smile but couldn't.

"Remember that spell we tried, calling upon Thespia?," asked Tara.

"Sure," said Willow. "Back when Buffy was looking for Adam. But the spell didn't work."

"It would have. I, I threw the sand under the chair behind me."

"Oh, so I wouldn't,,,"

"Find out. About me," finished Tara.

"So...what are you exactly? Part demon, huh?," smiled Willow.

"Yep. But, it's complicated."

"Deja vu again," said Willow.

"Huh?"

"Nothing. Another Buffy reference. Uh, complicated how?," asked Willow.

"Well, I'm not sure if I'm half or quarter demon," said Tara.

"But your parents..."

Willow didn't finish her question, seeing the sudden look of panic on Tara's face.

"Okay, so you're part demon," added Willow quickly. "So what? Why should it matter if you're part demon or part Irish?," asked Willow.

"You mean besides how afraid I am of it, or, or how ashamed?"

"Tara! That's not like you. You don't judge others so why are you being so hard on yourself?," demanded Willow.

"You don't understand. This thing, inside of me...it's...it's evil. Very evil. I can suppress it. Most of the time. But..."

"But?," asked Willow nervously. Tara stood up and began to pace around the room.

"See, even Buffy's power comes in part from a dark source. But there is a balance, a symmetry...I can call on the power of this demon to do spells. Amazing things, things I've never shown you. And even in my simple, good spells, the darkness is used, touched on ever so slightly. But the more the demon is called upon, the more it takes control. I, I can't hold it back, can't suppress it."

"Alright, don't call on it. Hell, don't ever cast a spell again! I love you for who you are, not what you can do," said Willow, standing up.

"Willow, the effects of calling on the darkness are cumulative. The demon never grows weaker, just stronger. Permanently," frowned Tara.

"Oh. Oh! You mean..."

Tara nodded.

"Eventually it will take over. When I was younger, I didn't know, didn't understand. I wasn't afraid of it, like I am now. It's waiting, biding it's time, ever so patient. And now, it knows you. It wants you. Dead," warned Tara, taking hold of Willow's hands.

"Wh...what? What are you saying?," said Willow, pulling away.

"I've had nightmares. Vivid, living visions. I wake up, or think I do, and I'm holding you. But the bed, it, it's covered in blood," moaned Tara, crying again.

"Tara!," yelled Willow, hugging her. "Nothing is going to happen. Nothing!"

"Are you beginning to understand? Can you? Even now I can feel it laughing. Someday, and very soon, it will take over. To save your life, I had to give up control. For a long time. The longest ever," whispered Tara.

"Tara..."

"No, Willow, listen to me. I didn't mean to fall in love with you. But I did. I did. To save you...I may have lost myself. And I'm going to kill you. I won't be able to stop it," sobbed Tara. Willow began to cry as well.

"We'll go to Giles. That's it! He, he can help us. There must be something, an exorcism, or, or..."

Tara shook her head violently.

"Don't you think I've tried, my whole life? There is no cure. It's what I am," said Tara sadly.

Willow stepped away from Tara.

"Show me," said Willow.

"What?"

"You can change, right? I want to see," said Willow.

"Willow, no, please, don't ask me to..."

"Show me, damn it!," screamed Willow.

Tara looked down and slowly nodded. It only took a moment. Willow's eyes opened wide and she gasped. She turned her head and looked away, her hand covering her mouth as she cried. Something touched her shoulder and she tensed. It was a hand. Tara's hand. She turned Willow around and forced her to look at her.

"It's okay. I can't bear to look at it either. Loathing would be the word of choice," said Tara.

"No...I, I just wasn't ready. I...didn't mean to..."

"Willow, it's okay. Now you know. I understand," said Tara.

"No, you don't. I love you, Tara. I love you and it doesn't matter. Nothing does!," yelled Willow, trying to hug Tara. But she stepped away from Willow.

"And you know I love you. You're all I can think about. But it's not safe anymore for us to be together."

"What? No...no! You're not going to do this to me! I know the steps to this dance and I won't do it again! I won't," screamed Willow. "I won't...I can't. Please, Tara, I'm begging you. You can't leave me...you can't," cried Willow, sobbing now and falling to her knees.

Tara pushed her away and reached over to the desk, picking up a pair of scissors. She knelt down in front of Willow, opened Willow's hand and forced her to hold them.

"Take this, now, and drive it into my chest! Now, damn it!," yelled Tara. "Here, I'll help you," she said, pointing the scissors against her heart and holding Willow's hand there. "Do it!"

"My God, are you crazy? How...what do you want from me?," asked Willow, her hand trembling so badly she dropped the scissors.

"Like the feeling? I sure as hell don't! How can I stay? I'd kill myself before I'd let anything happen to you. But I won't be in control. Do you understand?," asked Tara, tears streaming down her face. "Do you?"

Tara grabbed Willow and hugged her tightly.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," cried Tara.

"Don't be. I don't care. I love you," whispered Willow, her eyes tightly closed and holding onto Tara so hard that she could hardly breath. But Tara didn't mind.

"Willow, hold me...touch me," whispered Tara. "When you touch me you remind me of who I am."

Willow only cried harder.

"Don't be afraid. Be strong," whispered Tara.

"I don't want to be strong. I only want to be held. By you," sobbed Willow.

"I know. I know," sniffed Tara.

They held each other tightly, not wanting to be the first to let go.

"Willow, it's late. Come to bed with me. We'll talk. In the morning."

Willow didn't move. Tara stood up slowly and lifted her as well. Slipping one arm under Willow's knees, she picked her up and lay her down on the bed.

"Tara..."

"Shh. Not now. Just hold me."

Willow nodded. And smiled.

*****

Buffy knocked on the door. It was slightly open. No one answered.

"Willow?," called Buffy as she pushed the door open. Willow was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor, her back to Buffy. The shades were still drawn, blocking the morning sun.

"Hey," said Buffy. Willow didn't move. Buffy knelt down beside her and put her arm around her, noticing that she was only wearing an oversized T-shirt that probably belonged to Tara.

"You okay?," asked Buffy, leaning towards Willow's face. Willow's eyes were red and puffy from crying. She slowly shook her head no. Buffy followed Willow's eyes to a piece of paper lying on the floor in front of them. She reached for it and picked it up. Willow didn't react at all. Buffy read the letter.

Willow, I had another nightmare last night. Worse, much worse than any of the others. We both know I can't stay. I just don't know what else to do. Forgive me. If I had stayed and seen your green eyes looking back at me this morning I know I could not have left. I love you so much, I don't know how I'll make it through a single day without you. Be strong. Think of me. I'm so sorry, my love. Yours, forever. Tara

"I...I don't understand. Why did she have to leave?," asked Buffy, sniffing and wiping tears from her eyes.

"She must of cast another spell," mumbled Willow. "How...why didn't I wake up? Buffy, what's wrong with me? Why does everyone I love leave me?," asked Willow softly, still staring at the floor.

"There's nothing wrong with you!," said Buffy letting the paper fall to the floor and hugging Willow. "And I'll never leave you, I promise."

"But...you can't make that promise. You're the Slayer. I could lose you tomorrow," said Willow flatly.

"Willow, I'll find her. I will."

"No. If she doesn't want to be found, you won't find her. She...she wants me to forgive her. But forgiving, that...that's just letting go of the past. I don't want to let go!"

Willow leaned back and looked at Buffy.

"Buffy, I can't do this again. It's not fair. It's not."

"It never is," said Buffy.

Willow reached over and picked up the envelope that the letter had come in. Inside were two leaves, one red, one yellow. She held them up to Buffy.

"Those aren't from around here," said Buffy.

"No, they aren't. It's her gift to me. Not to remind me of what we could have been...but where we went together. As a couple," said Willow, beginning to cry. The leaves fell from her hands. "Buffy, it hurts so much. I...I miss her already."

Willow pressed her face into Buffy's shoulder, no longer able to speak. Buffy closed her eyes and held her, rocking her gently back and forth and stroking her hair as Willow sobbed. Buffy bit her lower lip so that she wouldn't cry, so that she could be strong for Willow.

The phone rang. Buffy let it ring three times before she spoke.

"Should I get it?"

Willow shook her head. The phone rang another time.

"It might be Tara," whispered Buffy. Willow lifted her head up and wiped her eyes, sniffing once or twice. She nodded and Buffy leaned over and picked up the phone.

"Hello?"

"Hey. Buffy, is that you?"

"Oz? Is that you?," asked Buffy, shocked.

Seeing the look on Willow's face, Buffy immediately regretted saying his name out loud.

The End
To be continued?