Chapter Twelve: Stay With Me

Willow looked up at her finally and pulled in a shaky breath. "Buffy, we just wanted to say - that is, I just wanted to say, that I'm sorry. I should have found out more where you were instead of concentrating on bringing you back. I guess I didn't see the big picture. And now after everything, I'm losing the people that mean the most to me." She shot a despairing glance over at Tara, who refused to meet her eyes.

"We should all have thought about it," Xander said quietly. "It's not just Will's fault, we're all responsible."

"Well, I'm less responsible, because I did tell you all how dangerous the spell was," Anya objected. Tara shook her head, frowning fiercely.

"I should have stopped her. I k-knew from the beginning it was a bad idea. But I was s-so..."

"Scared of Willow?" Dawn offered bluntly. Buffy shook her head at her.

"Before this gets out of hand, I just wanted to say that first of all, I love you guys," she quickly pointed out. It was hard to sit still, even with the calming influence of Giles' presence, and so she rose to pace in front of the coffee table.

"What's done is done. No one can go back and alter what happened. And no one has the right to do that," she said, glancing at Willow's bent head. "I want all of you to promise me that you will never do anything like this again."

"You can guarantee we won't," Xander agreed readily. Anya and Tara nodded their assents.

"We couldn't anyway," Willow said meekly. "That was the last urn I could find."

"You need to stop!" Buffy burst out angrily, feeling the color rising to her face. There was a stunned silence as everyone registered that her words were filled with more emotion than they had seen from her since she had been back. Willow managed to meet her eyes.

"I thought I was doing the right thing. I wanted to help you," she protested.

"You wanted to help yourself!" Tara spoke up suddenly. Willow swung to face her girlfriend, her face stung. "You have a problem, Willow, and it's already hurt Buffy, and last night it could have hurt all of us. You've been doing magic recklessly, and you need to control yourself before it gets out of hand."

"You have been dipping into the magic basket a lot, Will," Xander pointed out gently. Willow jumped to her feet.

"Quit attacking me!" she said, her eyes flashing in anger. "I know I was wrong, okay? But I was just trying to fix it!"

"You can't fix everything with a simple incantation, Willow," Giles asserted firmly, rising to his feat as well. "You need help."

"What I need is for you to get off my back, Giles," she snapped in return.

"Alright, calm down!" Buffy said, stepping in between them. She turned wide eyes on her friend. "Can't you hear yourself? You're yelling at Giles. I heard what you said to him the night he came back, too. You threatened him. What's happened to you?" She reached out and took hold of Willow's hand.

"Believe me. I am as angry with the rest of the gang, but I'm mostly worried about you," she pleaded with the witch. "Giles knows what he's talking about; he's not trying to attack you. Why can't you listen to us? We love you more than anything, and we're all worried."

"Y-you need help, Willow," Tara stammered. Willow remained tense, and then she suddenly sank down into her chair, her hand going to her face. Buffy squeezed the hand in hers and knelt in front of her.

"Listen to us, Willow," she whispered. "We love you."

"I don't," Anya shrugged unfeelingly.

"Anya doesn't, but the rest of us do," Buffy hastily amended, shooting Anya a glare over her shoulder.

"You're right," Willow managed at last, her face stricken. "I need help. I - I can't stop it anymore."

Giles strode forward. "I'll help you," he offered.

"Yes, please help the powerful witch before she kills us all," Anya chimed in.

Buffy stepped away from her with a final squeeze and glanced up at Giles. He smiled encouragingly at her and she squared her shoulders. "I have to ask you guys for a favor." She caught Dawn's gaze and smiled at her slightly before turning back to them. "I need time to heal. I want you guys to move out," she turned to Tara, her face sad. "I don't want to leave you without a place to stay, and I appreciate all you've done for Dawn while I was...gone." A painful swallow. "But I'm back now, and I have to make Dawn my priority. She's my sister, and I can take care of her now. We need time to be a family again."

Tara nodded understandingly. "I have a place I can stay." Willow shot her a pained glance, but she ignored her. "I need some time away, too."

Xander rose, pulling Anya to her feet. "We understand Buffy. Just do me a favor and call if you need anything. We can always vid fest it into the wee hours of the morning if you need a Dawn break."

She smiled at him. "Thanks, Xand."

"You could pick up smoking," Anya said helpfully. "I hear it's a worthwhile habit to start if you have stress. Though it does leave all that disease behind. But with your life span, I wouldn't worry about it!" she added brightly.

"Thanks for the suggestion. I'll take it into consideration," she grimaced.

Giles caught Willow by the shoulder and pulled her aside. "Where will you be staying?" he asked softly. She shrugged, not able to meet his gaze.

"Oh please," Xander scoffed. "Willow's gonna stay at my place until she finds a place of her own." Willow glanced up at him, relieved.

"What about all of our living room sex?" Anya burst out. "I am not having orgasms in front of her!"

"Please don't," Willow said weakly. Xander pulled his girlfriend away, mortified.

"I will give you a call in a couple days," Giles continued, pretending he hadn't heard Anya's words. "We'll start work then." Willow nodded, and he hugged her tightly. "You can get through this, I promise."

She nodded slowly. "I guess."

Tara left first, promising Dawn she would call so they could get together for lunch. Anya and Willow left together, Xander lagging slowly behind them. Buffy followed them to the door, and he turned before he left.

"Thank you for everything last night, Buffy," he said quietly. She paused and met his eyes, which were damp and filled with pain. It reminded of the look he had given her as a child, thinking that she would strike him, and pain lanced through her in remembrance. She reached out and pulled him to her, his arms creeping around her back quickly.

"Love you," she said. He tightened his arms convulsively and then stepped away, swiping at his face.

"Got some dirt in my eyes," he responded gruffly. "Love you too. See you around, Dawnster!" He waved at Dawn in the doorway and then turned and bounded down the steps.

The door swung shut slowly, and Buffy leaned against it, breathing a sigh of relief. A hand rested on her shoulder. "You handled that remarkably well, Buffy."

"Thanks, it was my first time," she said. Turning, she looked from him to Dawn.

"Should we do Chinese or pizza?"

"I'm going to have to teach you to cook," he groaned, heading for the phone.

"You could just cook for us," Dawn supplied brightly.

"In a pig's eye."

"What does that even mean?"

"It means I'm not going to be your sodding maid whenever you feel like it."

"Does sodding mean the same thing as buggering?"

"Where did you hear that from?"

"Spike."

"Of course, the wanker."

"What does wanker mean?"

Buffy smiled as they went back and forth.

That night, Giles flicked the light off in the bedroom, settling in with a deep sigh. He was going to sleep like the dead. His belly protested slightly as he shifted, and he bemoaned the third helping of General Tsao's chicken he had eaten.

There was a light knock on the door, and he sat up.

"Come in."

Buffy stood in a baggy shirt and shorts, her hair tumbling haphazardly down her back. "I needed to talk to you about something you said last night before I fell asleep," she explained quickly.

He reached out for the light but hesitated as she stepped closer. "Of course."

She paused and then looked down at the floor, debating. He waited patiently for her to speak. "When you said I was your home... Did you mean that?"

Mincing words in this case wouldn't help, so he answered firmly, "Yes, I did."

"Oh." She shifted, her hand reaching up to brush through her hair nervously. "I'm glad. But I just wanted you to know that you don't have to stay if you don't want to." Her face turned away, and he could tell it cost her much to utter the words.

"How could I be happy anywhere else, Buffy?" He chided her warmly. She could hear his smile in the darkness and moved closer to the bed.

"Buffy?" He could tell there was more on her mind.

"I - I was just wondering if..." She took a deep breath. "Can I sleep in here tonight?"

There was a pause, and then he tossed the covers back. "This is your house, you may sleep wherever you wish. I'll just sleep in your bedroom, if that's alright? Just so I don't have to sleep on that bloody couch again." A hand stopped him as he began to rise, and he paused, confused.

"I thought - "

"I meant, could I sleep in here with you tonight?" she amended shyly.

Giles froze, painfully aware that his heart was thundering in his chest. She couldn't possibly mean what he thought she meant.

"I thought it would be nice if I could just stay here with you," she said. "I don't mean...anything like...." He could almost feel her blushing in the dark. "I just wanted to see what it was like, I guess. Is that alright?"

"Whatever you want, Buffy," he answered softly. The bed dipped as she climbed in and he draped the covers over her as she scooted down to rest against the pillow. When she had finished moving he lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling, unable to relax with the heat of her body so close to his. Inwardly he was glad he had chosen to wear jogging pants to bed tonight instead of his usual boxer shorts. How in the world was he going to be able to sleep with her so close?

"Giles?" He could barely make her out in the dark, her face turned toward him.

"Yes?" he asked, cursing the tremor in his voice.

"Could you...hold me?"

After a moment he rolled closer to her, reached out and placed his arms around her. Breathing out slowly, he gently enfolded her in his arms and pulled her to him. The silk of her hair brushed against his neck, and he trembled slightly as she wrapped a small hand around his arm, burying her face in his chest.

"This is so nice," she said wonderingly, her breath tickling him.

"Yes, it is, isn't it?" he mused, raising a hand to touch her head. Remembering what Dawn did to soothe her sister last night, he began to run his fingers through her hair, lulling them both into a peaceful calm with the movement.

"Love you, Giles," she mumbled against him finally.

"I love you, too, Buffy," he replied. Just as he registered that she had fallen to sleep, it claimed him as well, pulling him down into a dark tide of warmth, where he could feel her heart beat against his, and smell the scent of her hair against his cheek. She was here, and she was safe.

He was home.

THE END