It was the following morning, and both Giles and Willow were still at the table researching the counterspell required to save Xander's life. Because the type of spell that Willow used was not common, it hadn't taken long to narrow it down to a handful of spells, but the problem came in choosing the correct one. The counterspells were actually quite similar in nature to each other, but they were also mutually exclusive, which meant that if the wrong one were used, the others would become useless and Xander would be beyond help. That was of course something they dearly wanted to prevent, which was why it was taking so long for them to be certain.
In the hope that it would jog her memory, Giles had grilled Willow over her dream, making her explain everything that she could remember happening. Each time he did so, Willow remembered something new, but so far nothing that would provide the clue they desperately needed. They were reaching the point where they might have to simply pick one by chance and pray that they had chosen correctly, as they both knew Xander would not survive much longer.
"Alright, Willow," Giles said tiredly, "lets go through the dream again."
"Giles, I've gone through it so many times now you can tell me what happened better than I can," Willow grumbled.
"Considering the alternative, I think that you can suffer through," he told her pointedly, and Willow had little option but to nod her assent.
"Okay, I was angry about, well, you know what I was angry about," Willow began, "and I tried to see what Buffy was thinking, but that brick wall blocked my view, so I tried to see what the hell Xander was thinking, and when I saw him I began to wave my arms around..."
"Wait, you say you waved your arms around?" Giles asked, interrupting her. "Can you remember whether there was a specific pattern?"
Instead of answering, Willow moved her arms around in the way she had in the dream. Giles immediately recognised the movements as part of one of the spells, and flicked through the books at breakneck speed to double check he was correct.
"Have you found it?" Willow asked excitedly, and was surprised that she had no interest in the spell itself, only in the fact that they'd be able to help Xander.
It had been a while since that had happened; even when researching the demon of the week, or the most recent apocalypse, she often saw the problem as secondary as the chance to absorb more esoteric knowledge. Even she could see that wasn't exactly healthy, but she didn't see it as a problem either; at the end of the day the reasons why she researched shouldn't matter as long as she researched and the job got done.
"I believe so, yes," Giles replied, his tone indicating that he too was finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, "in fact, I'm certain of it." he then shot up out of his chair and made his way to the stairs. "Come on!" he said to her urgently, reminding Willow that she had to be the one to cast the counterspell.
"What do I need to do?" she asked as she followed him up the stairs.
"Simply recite the counterspell whilst in physical contact with Xander," the former Watcher informed her, and went on as he saw the uncertain look on her face and assumed she was worried about how much contact was needed. "Simply holding his hand will be sufficient."
Willow breathed a small sigh of relief, but not for the reason Giles thought. She hadn't even entertained any such concerns, she was instead worried about how Buffy and Joyce would react to her having to be so close to Xander, especially after the way they had treated her last night. At the moment, she was firmly ensconced on the shit list of both Summers women, despite the fact she hadn't meant for this to happen, and knew that neither one would be willing to listen to her side of the story, at least not until Xander was out of danger.
When they entered the bedroom, they found that both Buffy and Joyce were asleep; Joyce in the chair in the corner, and Buffy snuggled up to Xander on the bed, her head resting on his chest. Both Giles and Willow stopped and surveyed the scene for a moment, as neither one could remember the last time they had seen such a look of serenity on Buffy's face like she had now. That moment quickly passed, as they reminded themselves just why they had rush upstairs, and Giles cleared his throat, the sudden noise enough to wake the pair.
"Wha... Giles?" Buffy mumbled sleepily as she sat up.
"We know which spell it was, and need to cast the counterspell," Giles informed her quickly, which acted like a double espresso to the blonde Slayer as she instantly became alert, Joyce not far behind, "so I suggest that you and Joyce go downstairs for a few minutes while we do what's necessary."
"Why can't we stay?" Joyce asked.
"We need to concentrate and, to be frank, I doubt that your presence will allow that," Giles replied simply, having caught the hard looks that both she and Buffy had sent Willow's way.
He, too, realised that neither woman would be very happy with Willow's close proximity to Xander, and whether he agreed with their continued animosity towards the young woman or not, he could see that their presence would certainly make a tense situation all the worse, and he needed Willow to remain as focussed as possible to ensure success.
"Alright, we'll go downstairs," Buffy replied before Joyce could say anything, "I need a coffee to function anyway."
While Buffy was still pissed at Willow, she knew that her feelings had to go on the back burner at the moment, especially as they were so close to fixing Xander, and all but dragged her mom out of the room, barely sparing the redhead a glance.
Willow waited for the two women to leave before she went over to Xander, and her heart constricted at the look of pain that was on his face, knowing that she was the one that put it there, intentionally or not. She sat cross-legged beside him on the bed, took the book from Giles and placed by her side, and then grasped Xander's right hand in her own. Taking a moment to compose herself, she then began to recite the counterspell from the book, taking great care to annunciate the words correctly so that she didn't run the risk of making a mistake.
It took several minutes, which both Willow and Giles knew was longer than normally necessary, but eventually the counterspell took affect and the pain began to recede from Xander's features. Once Willow was certain that the spell had been counteracted, she released Xander's hand and then got up from the bed, looking down at Xander worriedly as he had yet to awaken.
"I'm sure he's alright," Giles assured her when he noticed Willow's concern, "he just needs to recover from his ordeal, and his body is conserving energy by keeping him asleep."
"When do you think he will wake up?" Willow asked, feeling less concerned now that Giles had assured her, but unable to stop worrying completely.
"To be honest with you I have no idea," he replied, keeping as close to the truth as he could without giving a voice to his thoughts, "but I doubt it will be any longer than necessary."
In truth, Giles was worried by the fact that Xander hadn't awoken as soon as the spell had been revoked, as it leant weight that the young man had already been permanently damaged by the spell, but knew that now would not be the best time to voice his opinion. If Xander did not show any improvement by tonight, and remained in this coma like state for an extended period of time, they would need to figure out how they would explain his absence from work, as well as figure out a way to keep his body nourished while he was incapacitated; if Xander were in a hospital they would be able to help with that, but Giles doubted that Buffy would agree to him being admitted, especially with her own dislike of hospitals. It was an aversion she had to overcome, sooner rather than later, unless of course she intended to have a home birth, but that was a discussion for another time.
The more pressing concern right now was to try and deal with the animosity Joyce and Buffy had with Willow, as Xander would need a calm and relatively stress free environment to help with his recovery, which was something he most definitely would not find if her were to wake up now. It was ironic that Giles would often allow Xander to be the one to deal with these issues, as while he wasn't the most tactful of people, he certainly seemed to have a way with dealing with the non-Hellmouth dilemma that cropped up from time to time.
Giles believed he had a good grasp of both sides of the argument, which he hoped would be an advantage in finding some sort of middle ground between the trio, but he still feared that their emotions were ruling over their rationality at the moment, and that any endeavours he made would be useless. However, like most things in life, he didn't have the luxury of postponing it until a later date, so he would have to play the hand the cards had dealt him.
"Let's let him rest," Giles suggested as he gently took Willow by the elbow and led her downstairs. "We have a couple of other things to discuss in the interim."
Willow was well aware which things Giles meant, and was quite frankly not sure what she could say that would make any difference, especially if Buffy and Joyce weren't willing to listen to what she has to say. The trouble was, just like Giles, she knew that this was the best time to talk about it, as the last thing Xander needed was to wake up to the atmosphere that was in the air at the moment. There was another reason Willow didn't want to wait for Xander to wake up, and that was because she feared that he would side with Buffy and Joyce over the whole thing, a prospect that Willow did not like at all.
"Well?" Buffy demanded the moment they were in sight of her. "Did it work?"
"Yes, we have successfully countermanded the spell," Giles informed her, and saw that both Buffy and Joyce sighed with relief at the news.
"Where is he?" Joyce asked, having noticed that Xander had not joined them.
"He is still unconscious; while the spell is no longer active, he is still feeling the effects of it," he explained, "and it will take time for his mind to recover."
"Will he recover?" Buffy asked, fearing the answer.
Giles tried to think of a way to put things that would reassure them all, but couldn't think of one that didn't require him to lie in one form or another. "To be honest I am unsure, as he had been under the spell far longer than it was intended to be used. I would say that the longer Xander remains unconscious, the greater the chance that there has been permanent damage."
Like a shot, Buffy was out of her chair and stalking towards Willow, only for Giles to intercept her. "Get out of my way!" Buffy demanded as she struggled to get past.
"No, Buffy, Willow is a guest in my home just like yourself and your mother, and I will not tolerate any violence under my roof, from you or anyone else," Giles told her calmly but firmly, knowing that if he lost his temper there would be no chance of this ending peacefully.
They both knew that if she wanted to Buffy could get past Giles with ease, but not without the rink of injury to him. That she wasn't doing so gave Giles hope that she could be reasoned with, as well a feeling of relief as he'd gone several months without a concussion and was in no rush for that to change. He could see that Joyce, while still less than happy with the redhead, was more calm than she had been last night, and took that as a good omen also. He knew that this would not work if they were not willing to listen to reason, but it seemed like he might have a chance.
"How can you defend her after what she's done?" Buffy asked him incredulously.
"I am doing this as much for your benefit as for Willow's," Giles informed her. "We need to discuss exactly what did happen last night, so we are all aware of the facts."
"I know the facts; she tried to have me kill my baby!" Buffy screamed.
"Buffy!" Joyce snapped suddenly. "Listen to what Rupert has to say."
"Mom?" Buffy said, her tone one of surprise and hurt.
"This is not a problem you can solve with your fists," Joyce told her. When she saw her daughter about to say something, she continued. "Before you say it, I am not siding with anyone, and if I were it would most certainly not be her, but before we all do something we regret, I think we need to calm down and deal with this rationally."
It was taking a lot of effort for Joyce to remain calm herself, but she had often told Buffy that she needed to deal with her problems calmly and rationally instead of flying off the handle, and she would not make herself look like a hypocrite in her daughter's eyes. That wasn't to say she didn't wholeheartedly agree with her daughter's sentiment, but she was an adult and had to set an example.
Willow had remained quiet throughout this exchange, knowing that to speak up now would only make things worse. She was glad that Giles, and it seemed Joyce, wanted to deal with this rationally, as it at least gave her hope that she might be able to salvage her relationship with the two Summers women, and Giles as well.
"Alright," Giles said when he felt Buffy relax, thankful that she was listening to her mother, "why don't we all sit down?" he waited for Buffy's nod of agreement and return to her chair before he, too, sat down, and indicated for Willow to sit on the couch beside him, which kept him between her and his charge.
"Okay, we're sitting down, we're all calm, now explain to me whet we have to talk about, as I thought the facts spoke for themselves," Buffy said with forced calmness, looking pointedly at Willow, who was still silent.
"We live on a Hellmouth, Buffy; nothing is ever as simple as it seems," Giles began with a sigh. He looked over at Willow, who seemed to have withdrawn into herself somewhat, and knew that he would have to be the one to try and explain things. "While it is true that Willow was the one that attempted to cast a spell on you, and successfully cast one on Xander, she did not do so consciously. When I arrived at her dorm, I found Willow asleep on her bed; the spells had been cast as part of a dream she was having, and Willow was completely unaware that she was doing so."
"What difference does that make?" Buffy asked stubbornly.
"The difference, Buffy, is that Willow was not in control of her actions when she did what she did," Giles explained. "We have seen in the past how a person's perception can change reality; Marcy Ross believed that she was invisible to everyone and actually became invisible because of her conviction. As I said back then, we live in a place where the saying 'I think, therefore I am' takes on a whole new meaning. Willow is no more to blame for what her dream manifested than young Billy was when he inadvertently made our nightmares become real."
"I won't lie and say I didn't think about it," Willow said, finally joining in the conversation, "but thinking about something and actually doing it are two different things. And as Giles said, I did nothing wrong."
"I didn't say that, Willow," Giles denied.
"While we do live on a phenomenon that allows the impossible to become possible," the former Watcher went on before she could say anything, "you are not completely without blame here. It is quite clear that you are a powerful witch, but you seem to lack both the wisdom and control to balance out that power."
"Of course I have control!" Willow stated forcefully.
"If you had control, Willow, Xander wouldn't be in a coma right now," Giles pointed out bluntly.
"That's not fair and you know it!" she cried.
"Life isn't fair, and we all know that," Giles retorted. "Everybody has dreams where they do things they wouldn't in real life, but few of us have the power or the knowledge you do. While I am loathe to admit it, Xander once talked about a comic book that had a suitable quote for this situation; 'with great power come great responsibility'. Your power is great, and will no doubt only increase as you get older, but with that power comes the responsibility of controlling your power so that situations like the one that happened last night does not occur. It was your lack of control over your own abilities that provided your subconscious with a way of making your dream a reality.
"As I said before," Giles went on, "you did not purposefully cause what happened, but you also didn't take steps to prevent it. Admittedly, you weren't to know that something like this were to happen, none of us did, but you must now take steps to ensure that this does not happen again, otherwise dream or not, you will be to blame, and will have to face the consequences."
"Giles is right," Buffy said, her tone far calmer than it had been before. "We all know how fast and strong I am, and because of that I have to constantly be on guard. If I'd lost control earlier when Giles got in my way, I could have hurt him, or worse. When I was first called, I'd broken more than one coffee mug because I held it too tightly, and I nearly ripped another cheerleader's arm out of their socket during a practise. It took time, and a lot of hard work, but I've reached a stage where I don't have to think about every move I make, and instinctively know how much strength is safe to use. You need to do the same with your magic, otherwise the next time there might not be a counterspell to find."
Buffy hated to admit it, but she had a unique insight into what Willow was dealing with, and could, reluctantly, understand how last night could have happened. She shuddered to think what might have happened had she gotten into a fight with someone when she first became the Slayer, as they would have been nothing more than a smear on the wall before Merrick, and later Giles, taught her how to control her abilities. She at least had people around to train her, whereas Willow hasn't had anyone to train her but herself.
It made Buffy wonder why Giles hadn't considered training Willow himself, although with the way he talked, or to be accurate didn't talk, about his past it wasn't a massive surprise. He hadn't exactly been a model student himself if Eyghon was anything to go by, so while Giles might have a better understanding of what shouldn't be done, that didn't make him the ideal candidate to show someone how it should be done. Jenny Calendar had started to train Willow, but hadn't got very far into it before the whole Angelus saga, so apart from that Willow had been left to her own devices, and in hindsight that was not a very good thing to do.
Try as she might to hang on to it, Buffy felt her anger seep away, but that still left the feelings of mistrust this whole thing had caused. She still remembered Willow's first thought upon hearing of her pregnancy was to find a spell to 'fix' it, and she was smart enough to know that Willow could only have been able to cast the spell she'd used in her sleep if she'd already been researching it. Willow may not have knowingly cast it, but that didn't mean she wouldn't have done so at a later date, and because of that it would take a long time for Buffy to feel comfortable enough around Willow and not feel glad she had the amulet to protect her.
Joyce was thinking along a similar vein to her daughter; she had never really talked to Buffy about what it was like to be able to do the things she could do, partly because she didn't want to know, and to hear the note of worry in Buffy's voice when she talked about it made her realise that she should have done so a long time ago. That Willow was in a similar situation, only without the support system her daughter had been blessed with, made it very difficult for her to maintain her anger at the young woman.
That's not to say that Joyce didn't still hold Willow at least partly responsible for what happened, as her dream self wouldn't have been able to do what it had if she hadn't read up on the subject in the first place, nor did it mean that she would apologise for the way she had acted last night, as given the circumstances she felt justified, but she would do her best to ensure that she did not harbour a grudge against the young woman. However, now that she's been made aware of things, Joyce would have no sympathy for Willow if something similar happened again because she didn't take heed of what was said.
Willow couldn't say that she was particularly happy with the way the conversation had gone, but she knew that it could have gone a lot worse. While it hadn't been said outright, Willow knew that she was no longer seen as the guilty party concerning Xander's condition, at least not completely anyway. She herself felt a little guilty over the whole thing, and would freely admit that she did have a part to play in it, but that was where her agreement ended.
Who were they to say she didn't have control over her power? No one has control over their dreams, and Willow thought it unfair that Giles and the others were holding her to a different set of rules to everyone else. As Giles himself had stated, she shouldn't be held accountable for what she did when she was asleep, no more than someone should be held accountable for what they did while sleepwalking. The trouble was that Giles had then immediately turned round and said that she could in fact be held accountable, although she knew that pointing out this double standard to them would be pointless; like many other times before, they had made up their minds and now their opinion was fact. That had never bothered her before, the way they, and she herself, did that from time to time, but it wasn't as fun when you were on the other end of it.
Willow knew that the others would be keeping a close eye on her from now on, definitely all the time Xander was laid out and probably until the birth of Buffy's baby, so she would have to be more careful around them, but she could see no real reason why she should change the way she did things, as it had worked just fine for her so far, with the occasional and inevitable blip, nor did she have any intention of doing so. After all, it was her life, and she would live it as she so wished, whether the others like it or not.
Now, that wasn't to say that Willow wanted to antagonise them, as she still considered them her friends after all, and would remain so until such time that they made it impossible for her to live her life without doing so, so for the time being she was, not happy exactly, but willing to tow the party line, at least until she knew they weren't watching her every move. That meant, of course, that she had to appease them, which began by deferring to their judgement and there was no time like the present to do that.
Willow knew that they would be suspicious if she were to come around to their way of thinking too quickly, so she would have to play it carefully. Fortunately for her, the only person who could be able to tell whether she was being deceitful, no matter how careful she was, was currently out of commission.
"I can't say that I agree with everything you've said," Willow stated, keeping as close to the truth as possible, "but I can see that you all feel strongly about this, so I'll at least look into it."
"I can help you with some simple mental exercises that will afford you better control over your mind, whether awake or not," Giles suggested to her, happy to to hear that Willow was at least willing to entertain the possibility that she needed help, "and I can also contact a few people to enquire about someone who could give you more formal training in magic."
Willow nodded her agreement instead of speaking, as she didn't trust her voice at the moment. Giles knew people that she could have learnt from, and he never told her! She's had to learn everything herself, apart from a couple of lessens from Ms. Calendar, and he'd had people he could have called from the start, and yet didn't. It just proved to her that she really hadn't done anything wrong; even if she didn't have control, which she knew she did, it was Giles' fault for not providing her with the necessary training in the first place, especially when they needed her abilities to help.
As far as Willow was concerned, Giles was now just covering his own ass for not helping her out before, and was making it sound like she needed help so that he could provide it, in an attempt to hide that it was his fault in the first place. He knew she had been learning magic from the beginning, and definitely after she cursed Angelus, but he never once tried to teach her himself, or get anyone else to either, and yet still blames her for her lack of control.
"Now then, there is another thing we need to discuss," Giles continued, ignorant of Willow's inner thoughts, "and that is Xander. As I stated previously, I am unsure as to how long he will remain unconscious, and we need to work out what is to be done if it is going to be for an extended period of time."
"What do you mean?" Buffy asked.
"Well, to begin with, his employers will need to be informed that he will not be returning to work for the foreseeable future, and they will of course require a reason that is both feasible and will not result in Xander's termination. His parents will also need to be notified, although from what Xander has said of them, we could simply tell them we told them and they wouldn't have the faintest idea."
"You're right there," Willow agreed, happy that they were no longer focussed on her, "they'll only notice he's missing when they notice he hasn't paid his rent."
"Okay, I'm sure we can think of something," Buffy stated confidently, "what else?"
"Well, Xander will no doubt need to be looked after, something I am both willing and happy to do, but I do not have the necessary medical training to look after a coma patient, which is basically what Xander is for the time being. We have no idea whether his condition will worsen or not, or what other complications might occur, and we are simply not qualified nor equipped to meet his needs. However, if he were in a hospital..."
"Absolutely not!" Buffy objected immediately. "We're not sticking Xander in a hospital, especially not one in Sunnydale! All we need is for it to get out that a friend of the Slayer is holed up in the hospital, and who knows what might happen!"
"Buffy, you yourself have been admitted into hospital before, and nothing happened to you," Giles pointed out, "so has Willow and Cordelia."
"Yeah, well, the only reason Angelus didn't do anything to me is because Xander stopped him, and both Willow and Cordelia had people with them all the time, so they couldn't be got at without causing a disturbance."
"Wait, what do you mean that Xander prevented Angelus from getting you?" Giles asked.
"Angelus turned up one night and Xander made him leave," Buffy replied with pride in her voice, although she would admit to acting very differently when she herself had found out. "I won't go into details because I know Xander wouldn't like it," she went on before they could ask, "but yeah, he stopped Angelus from doing whatever it was he wanted to do."
Buffy had been having a conversation with Angel, not long before he decided to leave Sunnydale, when she'd happened to ask why Angelus never tried anything when she'd been in hospital with the flu. Angel had never been the most expressive individual in the world, so when he visibly reacted to her question Buffy knew there was a story there.
It took a while, but Buffy finally managed to get the encounter he, or to be precise Angelus, had with Xander out of him, which she initially thought was a lie until she realised that there was no way Angel would try and make Xander look good in her eyes. She'd thought about confronting Xander about it, but figured there must have been a reason he hadn't told her, and knew that he would only get embarrassed and play it down, so she decided against it, although now that the others knew she might change her mind on that.
"Good Lord," Giles said eventually, a little shocked by that revelation. It wasn't unprecedented for a human to back down a vampire, but it was well documented that Angelus was anything but a normal vampire, and while Xander was quite proficient in his fighting skills now, it wouldn't be unfair to say that he wasn't at the time the incident occurred.
"Getting back on track," he said after a moment, "while you do make a good point, we have no idea how long Xander will be in the condition he is now, and we are simply not qualified to look after him in the way he deserves. I know that you are averse to hospitals at the best of times, and not without good reason given your less then stellar experiences, but what we have to focus on here is what is best for Xander, and if he is not awake in a day or so, the hospital would be the best place for him."
"He's right, honey," Joyce continued, "I don't like hospitals any more than you do, but we'd only be hurting Xander more by keeping him from the best care, and I know you wouldn't want to do that."
It was emotional blackmail and Buffy knew it, but she also knew that they were right. Also, she would need to be admitted to hospital herself in a few months when the baby was due, as there was no way she was having him or her anywhere else, so her dislike of hospitals would need to go on the back burner.
"Alright, if we have to we'll take him to hospital," Buffy relented, albeit reluctantly, "but if we do need to do that, what are we going to tell them happened for him to be how he is? It's not as though we can tell him it was magic, and there's no way I'm letting anyone hit him to make it look like he injured himself in a fall or an accident."
"We could simply say that we hadn't heard from him and went to his house to check on him and discovered him lying on the floor," Giles explained. "It wouldn't be a lie, as that was how I did find him, it would simply be a day or two after the fact. That would work out better, as we could call for an ambulance and leave them with the burden of working out what happened as opposed to us."
"It would also be a good enough excuse to appease his bosses, as I couldn't see them firing him whilst he was in a coma," Joyce added, "especially if we were to suggest that the local media would get wind of it if they tried."
"That's a good idea, Joyce," Giles praised. "Of course," he went on, "I am hoping that these contingencies will not be necessary, and that he will awaken shortly, but realistically that isn't likely to happen."
"Alright, we'll work out the particulars if we have to," Buffy said, not wanting to think too much on that subject right now, "but right now I could really do with a shower and a change of clothes, not to mention breakfast."
"I think we could all do with some rest," Giles said in agreement. "I have nothing that requires me to leave today, so I will keep an eye on Xander, and we can all reconvene here this evening."
Willow was quick to agree, happy to hear that she could get away from the others for a while, especially as she had classes to attend. "That's fine with me; will you need help clearing up, Giles?" she asked, more out of courtesy than out of any desire to help out.
"I'll give Rupert a hand," Joyce said, "I don't have to be at the gallery until later."
In truth, she wanted to have a word with him about Willow, and what options were available to them if something like what happened last night happened again. She was no longer feeling the same animosity towards the young woman, but her family came first and she wanted to ensure that measures were put in place to protect them, and she now included Xander in that.
She knew the way her daughter was beginning to feel about him, and she would need to be blind to not know Xander's thoughts on the matter, and wanted to give them every opportunity to explore that aspect of their relationship, wherever it may lead. She still had her misgivings over the timing of Buffy's change of heart where Xander's suitability as a boyfriend was concerned, but she would be lying if she said the thought of them getting together didn't appeal.
"Thank you, Joyce, that would be lovely," Giles replied, having quickly cottoned on that Joyce wanted to speak with him about something, although what it was he was uncertain.
"I'll just go up and look in on Xander again before I go," Buffy said as she made her way towards the stairs.
"Alright, honey, I'll see you tonight," Joyce replied to her daughter's retreating form as she bounded up the stairs.
"I'm gonna get going as well," Willow said, seeing this as her best chance to depart.
"Alright, Willow," Giles replied. "Try to get some rest."
"I will," she told him, before she nodded to Joyce and made her way outside.