BLACKEST OF BLUE
By D. M. Evans
Disclaimer: All characters are property of Mr. Whedon and UPN and I'm just grateful for a chance to play in his sandbox.

"There's a stone on my pillow
Where my head should be
I'm a weeping willow
I'm on my knees

It's a jealous sunrise
Tear me from the womb
And hands cover my eyes
Still the sun gets through

And when it all comes down
You can't turn around."
--- Brother "Blackest of Blue"



Giles' hand shook as he grabbed his luggage off the carrier. His worst fears jelled the instant he got the call from Buffy. He wished he could say it was unexpected but it wasn't. Maybe he should have warned Buffy and Tara more strenuously. He knew they had seen the same signs as he had and they had to know the worst was coming. But they were closer to the problem than he was, younger, less experienced, maybe even more trusting. He should have made it clearer to them.

He regretted his choice of going back to England but at the time it seemed like the thing to do. He had been rapidly going from Buffy's Watcher to her surrogate father. She had been heaping all the household responsibilities on him from bill paying to disciplining Dawn and it was time to leave and let her grow up. It had nearly killed him to do so especially seeing the look of betrayal on Buffy's face when he told her.

"Giles!"

He whirled. He almost didn't recognize the three young people he had come to think of as his own. Buffy's eyes were bloodshot and ringed with black. Xander, a deep cut over his cheek, held Anya steady. Her head was swathed in bandages and bruises stood out on her pretty face.

"I'm s-sorry it came to this," he said as Buffy threw her arms around him.

Buffy's answer was the hot tears soaking through his shirt. Giles stroked her hair.

"How could this have happened?" Xander's voice dripped with pain and betrayal.

"Too much power," Giles muttered. "Tara and D-Dawn?"

"Dawn's in school. Tara disappeared, Giles. I'm afraid she went after Willow." Buffy took a step back, wiping at her puffy face.

"Let's get out of here and you can finish telling me about it," Giles said, hefting his luggage while Buffy grabbed his carry-on.

Once they were in Xander's car, heading back for the Summer's residence, they sat in uncomfortable silence trying to find the best way to talk about the unthinkable.

"Did you know, Giles?" Buffy asked finally. "Did you know it could come to this?"

He took off his glasses, wiping them. The accusation in her voice gutted him. "Yes. You knew I was worried about all the magic Willow was using. I know you overheard our fights."

"She accused me of taking your side more than once." Buffy closed her eyes. "She accused Tara of it, too. I... I don't understand how it happened." Buffy gulped as tears started again. "Giles, she is my best friend. She's known Xander almost all their lives. And she attacked us."

"Do...do you know what s-set her off?" Giles asked.

"She's been using magic for almost everything," Xander said. "I can remember fighting with her sometimes then....there's like holes in my memory."

"She is easily c-capable of casting a forget spell. It's easy...it's too tempting. I had thought... when Angel turned on you B-Buffy, to try but it's not right. I learned my lessons about magic the hard way long ago." Giles threw her an apologetic look and she reached over, taking his hand. "After she took all our memories, I should have realized she hadn't learned not to mess with that spell."

"She started just taking things she needed from the Magic Box. I know a college student can't afford everything she wanted but I can't just make exceptions for payment," Anya said. "We talked about it. She started paying and the money would just disappear."

Xander slammed a hand down on the steering column. "Damn it. I can't understand this. We love her. Why didn't we see this coming? We should have done something to help."

"I'm not sure you c-could have," Giles said softly. "I t-tried to warn her and she threatened me."

"Giles, that was more like a rant if you're talking about when you first learned I was...back," Buffy said. "But I heard her threaten you. I think Spike did, too. We knew something was wrong but we were all too afraid, too numb to do anything."

"We never thought it could come to this," Xander said.

"I don't know how we missed seeing it," Buffy said.

"Eyes will not see when the heart wishes them to be blind. Desire conceals truth as darkness does the earth," Giles said and they all stared at him. He knew the look. They were waiting to hear what musty tome that had come from. "Seneca," he added and they just nodded blankly.

They all fell silent for the rest of the drive. Giles wished he could have found something to make them all feel better, but in this case words were inadequate. The sense of betrayal was too deep, too fresh and raw for that. While he had feared this very thing happening, he had convinced himself that it couldn't. They were all too close, too good-hearted for something like this to occur. Yet it had. No one said anything more until the Summer's residence came into view.

Buffy opened the door. Dawn stood in the foyer, hands white-knuckled around a baseball bat but she relaxed seeing her sister.

"Dawn, what are you doing here? I told you to go to school," Buffy snapped.

"Buffy, it's four o'clock," Dawn said. "I didn't know where else to go after school. I was hoping you guys were Tara." Dawn looked over at Giles, her bottom lip trembling. She dropped the bat and flung her arms around him. She wept against his chest as he stroked her hair.

"Has Tara been back at all?" Buffy asked.

"Not that I could tell," Dawn mumbled.

"You still haven't told me what c-caused all of this," Giles said gently.

Buffy motioned him to follow her. Abandoning his luggage in the foyer he trailed after her. Anya and Dawn didn't follow them into the basement but Xander did. Giles paused on the stairs, assaulted by the strong, sickly sweet stench like meat left too long on the barbeque. Buffy stabbed a hand at the cot and it took Giles several moments to realize what he was looking at wasn't a heap of blankets.

The face was no longer recognizable, nothing but a mass of charred flesh, running with straw yellow plasma leakage and bluish pus. Teeth gleamed whitely from a lip-less mouth and the scalp was burnt, cracked and nothing remained to suggest this unfortunate once had hair. Buffy pulled the blanket back from what had been a man, now swathed in damp bandages streaked and spotted with the same fluids running from his burnt face. Fingers poked out from some of the dressings, burned nearly to the bone.

"S-S-Spike?" Giles questioned, knowing it had to be. Nothing human would still be alive.

Pulling on latex gloves from the box by the cot, Buffy nodded. She started to peel away the dressings from his arms, gagging as hunks of dead flesh stuck to the bandages. Underneath the tissues were healing. "I actually called Angel and Wesley to find out how to treat Spike. They're too busy with skin-eating demons to come to Sunnydale immediately but they'll try to get here. Wesley promised me the saline and the bandages would clean the wounds and let them heal." Buffy babbled more so she wouldn't have to think about what she was doing more than anything else. "I was going to stake him as a mercy but then he looked at me and started talking. He's not quite ready to give up."

Giles sat on the other side of the unconscious vampire and started helping Buffy. "And Willow did this?"

"Yes. It all started like Xander and Anya said, with little things and little fights. Giles, she was using magic for everything, absolutely everything."

"I know. And I did warn her the b-best I could but she wasn't listening."

"Well, three days ago we were all out on patrol and I know she was just trying to help but she didn't listen to Tara when she told her a Delon demon could reflect back magic. It was like she was some kind of know-it-all and she totally disregarded Tara's warning. Spike and I were nearly fried," Buffy said.

Giles jumped as the arm he was working on moved when a large area of flesh pulled free with the dressing. Spike's eyes opened and the raw facial muscles twitched even though there were no lips to quirk up.

"'Allo, Rupert," Spike rasped out.

"I was hoping you'd sleep through this, this time," Buffy said, concern shining in her eyes.

"Hurts...too much. Hungry."

Buffy glanced over at Xander who nodded.

"I'm on it," Xander said and headed back upstairs.

"The b-backfired magic did this?" Giles asked hopefully. The alternative was too hard to think about.

"I wish. This might have been forgiven," Buffy said.

Spike mumbled something that sounded like 'No bloody way,' but his charred lips mushed the syllables.

"She just attacked?" Giles' pale eyes dimmed at the thought.

"It wasn't...I guess, it was like that. Tara and I both pressed her about the magic. Maybe we jumped her too hard, put up too much of a united front against her." Buffy glanced away. "I know how I felt when you all attacked me when Angel first came back. It was the most alone and friendless I've ever felt. We didn't mean to make Willow feel like that but we were frightened and afraid. We were worried about her. We thought intervention was the way to go."

"I've been worried about Willow ever since she gave Angel back his soul," Xander said, returning with blood in a squeeze bottle. "Cordelia told me just how scary it was when Willow's eyes went black and she started casting the spell in a language no one knew."

"Spike, we have to set you up." The apology was ingrained in Buffy's voice.

She glanced over at Giles. He nodded. Together they drew Spike up into a semi-reclining position. Buffy flinched as Spike screamed. Xander handed Buffy the bottle. She squeezed some of the blood into Spike's mouth as he had no lips to suck with. Some of the warmed fluid dribbled down his chin.

Giles watched and wondered why the vampire was even hanging on. What made a Slayer want to care for him? Was this a failing on his part that Buffy could have this much compassion for a vampire? Or was it a strength of character given Spike's willingness to help in the past? Giles suspected the vampire had taken this kind of punishment to protect Buffy or maybe Dawn.

"How did this happened, Buffy?" Giles asked as she fed Spike a little more.

"Willow tried to run off on us. She didn't want to face up to what she did. Anya and I tried to get between her and the door. Willow did some sort of magic and flung us out of the way." Xander took a deep breath trying to rein in his temper. "Anya hit her head. I slammed into Dawn. That's when Willow ran out and Spike went after her. He got pissed because Dawn got banged up."

"That's when she wigged out and fireballed him," Buffy said, squirting more blood into Spike's mouth. His head sagged as his throat worked wearily. "We couldn't move. How could we...even understand what was happening? This was worse than when Angel betrayed us. At least he had an excuse."

"Buffy put Spike out before he went up as dust...not that she was doing him any favors," Xander said, his eyes nervously trying not to look at the scorched vampire.

"What if it had been one of us who went after her, Giles? We would have died." Buffy's voice cracked. "No one went after her at first...not after what happened to Spike. We tried to stop Tara but she snuck out during the night. She might have cast a finding spell. I don't know. I'm afraid to know." Buffy sniffled then lost control. Tears ran down her face, dripping onto Spike. He reached up and touched her cheek with his charred fingers then let his arm fall back with a moan.

Giles moved around the cot and caught Buffy in his arms. "I wish I could say something to make this b-better but I c-can't," he whispered.

"We don't even know if Tara's alive. If she caught up with Willow and Willow was still in the same frame of mind she was when she cooked Spike..." Xander let the thought trail away.

"It's too horrible to think about. She loves Tara. Willow couldn't hurt her," Buffy insisted, going to give Spike more blood but he was unconscious again.

"B-Being betrayed by someone you love hurts the most. You know that, Buffy," Giles said, hating to make her think about Angel's reversion at a time like this. "She might want to hurt Tara the most after this...and they both could be on the offensive."

"I have to believe Willow will come to her senses, Giles. " Buffy stabbed a finger down at Spike. "This isn't Willow. I don't know what it is. Maybe part of the backlashed spell gone wrong. Maybe it made her a little crazy."

"Magic is intoxicating, Buffy. You c-can't know the power. It can make what you do as the Slayer seem paltry." Giles pursed his lips, remembering the wonderful heady feeling he used to get when Eyghon took over his body. There was little that competed with that sense of power. "I almost didn't pull back from the edge when I was Willow's age. It took the death of one of my friends and I'll do all I can to prevent Willow from having to p-pay that p-price."

"Can you do anything really?" Xander asked.

"I c-can start with a finding spell of my own. Not to find Willow. It's p-probably for the best I don't look for her straight away. She might be able to track the spell back to me. I'll see if I can find Tara and get her back here to come up with a better plan than just running after Willow willy-nilly."

"Is there anything you need from us, Giles?" Buffy asked.

"I need to get upstairs and get the necessary spell ingredients out of my luggage. Xander, you may have to run to the Magic Box for some of the things I need," he replied.

"Anything you need, G-man."

"Let's finish tending to Spike first," Giles said.

"I'll do it. You get that spell ready, Giles," Buffy said, frustration thickening her voice.

Giles didn't blame her. She was the Slayer, after all, used to enemies she could hit and kill. This time the problem was her best friend and despite her actions no one - well perhaps Spike - wanted Willow hurt or dead. Leadenly he went back up the stairs with Xander trailing after him.

Anya was stretched out on the couch, softly wheezing in her sleep. Dawn, curled up in the chair, trembled just a bit as she watched the TV. Giles quietly unpacked his carry-on. He had thrown some spell ingredients together in a rush, things he thought could easily make it past customs.

"What are you doing, Giles?" Dawn asked softly.

"C-Casting a spell to locate T-Tara."

"I can't handle more magic," Dawn said, unfurling from the chair.

"Maybe you should go upstairs. Dawn, do you know where Amy the rat is?" Giles asked.

"Up in my room. Willow brought her there when she and Tara left the dorm."

"C-Could you bring her down here?" he asked not looking up from his luggage.

"Okay," she said scurrying up the steps.

"Giles, what do you want with Amy?" Xander asked.

Giles didn't answer right away. He wrote hurriedly on a pad of paper. "It has always bothered me that we couldn't ever turn her back into a human. I've had time, now that I'm not always trying to save the world, to research Amy's problem. C-Can you go to the Magic Box and get these items, Xander. I really should help Buffy with S-Spike."

"No problem." Xander took the list and left.

Dawn came back with the cage. "Here she is."

"Sit with Amy for a few minutes. I need to help Buffy and I don't think you need to be seeing that."

Dawn swallowed hard, her color fading. "I saw him burning, Giles...heard him screaming. I...it was horrible. I hear it...smell it in my dreams. He was only trying to protect me."

"I know." He touched her cheek then headed downstairs. Buffy was working on unbandaging Spike's legs, tossing the gory dressings into a large black garbage bag.

She looked over her shoulder at him. "I said I can do this, Giles."

"I-I can't get any further on my spells until Xander gets back with the ingredients," Giles said, setting back to work.

Spike was one of the many things he had worried about when he had left for England. He had wanted to take out the vampire back when Spike first confessed his feelings for Buffy but the vampire proved too helpful against Glory. And given Buffy's state of mind after Willow and the others had torn her from heaven had made him even more nervous. Angel was bad enough. Spike was an unthinkable choice but he hadn't known what to say. He was afraid he had been standing in Buffy's way of healing, of becoming an adult and hadn't been sure if he should say anything or should he simply trust in her.

"Buffy, are you sure you're doing the right thing? Making him s-suffer like this?" he ventured, watching her face.

She refused to meet his eyes. "This is my fault, Giles. I can't just let him die."

"This isn't your fault, Buffy. And I don't..."

"Have to remind me I'm the Slayer and killing vampires is what I do. No, you don't but it's more complicated than that and you know it." Her chin lifted as she got the defiant look her knew too well.

"I'm afraid I do." Giles fell silent. He worked mechanically on Spike's wounds. They got the dressings all changed and replaced them with fresh, saline-dampened bandages. Spike came to again during the procedure and Buffy forced more blood into him. When he was asleep once more, they went back upstairs. Xander was waiting for them sitting with Anya on the couch. She still looked out of it as she leaned against him.

"I got everything," Xander said, offering up a bag.

"Th-thank you. Dawn, you didn't want to see more magic. You might want to go to your room," Giles said.

"I...if you can help Amy, I'd like to see that," Dawn said, shoving onto the couch besides Xander.

Buffy's head snapped around. "What's this about Amy?"

"I m-may be able to turn her b-back into a human," Giles said, setting a sliver of loadstone in a bowl of water. He took out a reddish powder from the bag Xander brought and blew it over the bowl. He chanted something in a language the rest of them didn't recognize and the loadstone spun madly. When it stopped pointing somewhere other than due north, the water shimmered and showed Tara in a stand of Eucalyptus trees. She seemed to stare right at them. "Come home," Giles whispered. She nodded and the water went blank. "Well. She's alive," he said with relief.

"She heard you?" Buffy asked, amazed.

"I think so. H-hopefully she'll come back here so we can work out a plan. I don't relish searching the forest for her even if we were at full strength which we obviously are not." He wiped his forehead and glanced over at the cage where Amy ran around on her wheel.

"Do you think it will work?" Buffy asked following his gaze. "Willow and I tried a lot of times but never got it right."

"I don't know, B-Buffy. I'm not...not even sure how Amy got stuck as a rat. That spell shouldn't have trapped her like this. When she t-turned you into a rat we were able to reverse the spell relatively easily. I have no way of knowing what went awry but I have a c-couple of spells we can try. Can you take Amy out of the cage, Buffy and hold her please?"

Buffy did that. Giles could see all of their unease as he began the spell. He didn't blame them. Magic could be hard to watch and in light of everything he should probably have sent them all out of the room. But these were stubborn, resilient young people, far too used to the supernatural for their own good sometimes. He shoved it out of his mind as he cast the spell. Nothing happened. He choked the cursing back just like he almost always did around Buffy's friends, when what he really wanted was to vent a blue streak that could make Spike blush.

"Should we wait?" Anya asked, leaning forward.

Giles shook his head, taking off his glasses. He had gotten into the bad habit of playing with them ever since he quit smoking so many years ago. He was only barely aware he was doing it. "No. L-Let me try something more drastic."

"Okay, how drastic? We shouldn't clear out, should we?" Xander asked.

"No, I'm the only one at risk."

"I don't like this sound of that," Buffy said.

"I know what I'm doing." Giles fished out an eagle talon from his bag of tricks, hoping he fully remembered the blood magic he had once learned from the granddaughter of a yuwipi man. He hooked the tip of the talon into the thick of his thumb and let a few pearls of blood form. He rested the bloody digit on Amy's rodent head and hesitantly intoned the proscribed words.

Amy's furry little body began to shimmy and shiver. Buffy dropped her, scooting back wide-eyed. The rat made a squeal as it convulsed and contorted. Finally in a blinding shimmer of golden light the rat disappeared and a naked young lady took its place.

"You did it, Giles!" Buffy cried. "Dawn, go get her a blanket."

Trembling, Amy sat up with Buffy's help. She held out her hands in front of her. "I...I'm human again," she sobbed.

"We're sorry it took so long," Buffy said.

Amy tried to focus on her. "Buffy?"

"Yes."

"Your hair...it's different. You look older."

"You've been a rat for three years Amy," Buffy replied as Dawn raced back into the room with a blanket. She draped it over the shivering witch.

"Three..." The girl's mouth flopped open.

"T-Try not to think about it just yet. There'll be t-time to explain everything to you," Giles said, wiping his sweating face, smearing it with blood. "Is there anything we can get you...outside of clothing."

"I...I'm very tired."

"Come on, Amy. You can sleep in my bed," Buffy said, gently drawing her up to her feet. "Giles you look beat, too. Maybe you should get some rest."

"I'll be fine," Giles lied when what he really wanted to say was 'I'm totally knackered and could use a scotch.' He levered himself up onto a chair and glanced over at Xander. Something the young man had said had been nagging at him. Certainly it was something he should have known. Had no one ever told him before or had he simply not heard? It could have been the latter. Willow had gotten into witchcraft after Jenny's death, her first real spell was the return of Angel's soul. It was something the young girl really shouldn't have been able to do and from Xander's brief recounting of Cordelia's story it was highly possible she didn't do it alone. He should have guessed at that. It should have been obvious but at the time he had been enveloped in agony caught in the emotional mire of Jenny's death and the horrible torment Angelus and Drusilla had inflicted on him. How ironic that even still evil at the time, Spike was the one who aided in his rescue, granted for his own selfish reasons. After that, there had been problem after earth-ending problem to contend with and he had never had the time to think about why Willow's magical ability seemed so effortless and accelerated. "Xander, tell me again about what Cordelia said about the time Willow restored Angel's soul."

* * *

Giles sat on the edge of the bed, gazing into the mirror. He looked old, older now than he had a mere handful of days ago. He hadn't realized how much the Hellmouth had taken its toll on him and no matter what the outcome, this thing with Willow was going to cost them all years. He couldn't even see Ripper in the weather-beaten man looking back at him and Giles knew he desperately needed to find him. Rupert Giles the Watcher wasn't who was needed here. He had to resurrect Ripper, shake him from his grave and only pray he could lay him back to rest when this was done.

Giles didn't feel comfortable in this bedroom. Part of him would have liked to share it with Joyce but that would have been such a huge conflict of interest that they both had danced around each other for years. Some things just weren't meant to be and that had been one of them, sex on the hood of police car none-withstanding. Perhaps he should just let Buffy sleep in what had become Willow and Tara's bed and he take the couch once again since Amy was sleeping in Buffy's bed. Still, exhaustion dragged at him. He needed rest, good, undisturbed rest. A soft knock at the door startled him. He opened it to see Buffy standing there.

"I just wanted to be sure you were all right. I hope I didn't wake you," she said.

"I'm fine. I think I should make do with the sofa, and you take the bed."

"Giles, you're exhausted. Air travel makes anyone tired when there's not some horrible drama just waiting to slap you in the face. You have to be beat. I'll be fine on the couch."

He ran a hand through his thinning hair. "I am exhausted, Buffy. You and I are suffering from the same malady. We're trying to blame ourselves for this, for not intervening more, harder, earlier. We're both standing here asking ourselves how thick were our blinders that we couldn't see this. I'm not sure, no matter what happens, that we'll ever forgive ourselves and yes, it's making me horribly tired."

She looked like she wanted to hug him again but didn't. "I know, Giles."

Why hadn't he ever asked her to call him Rupert? She was the closest thing he had to a daughter. He thought of all of them as family and yet he was still the outsider known only by his last name. But then again, they said it with such affection that he never doubted he mattered to them. He thought about the times Xander had called him things like G-man and he had snapped about it. He rather wished he could have seen it for the fondness it was and take back his ill-humor. Why didn't things like this ever become clear until a tragedy forced them into focus?

"You take the bed, Giles. I'll be fine on the couch until we find someplace for Amy to stay," Buffy said again.

"No, you won't."

They both looked down the hall at the new voice. Dawn stood there, her thin arms crossed.

"I'll sleep downstairs. You take my bed, Buffy. And don't tell me how you don't need much sleep and all that crap. I know that. But you need some good sleep if you're going to help Giles tomorrow. There's nothing I can do to help so it won't matter if I miss a little sleep," Dawn said in a tone that brooked no argument.

Buffy gave her a grateful smile. "Thanks, Dawnie. Okay I'll take your bed once I give Spike his midnight feeding. If babies are half as demanding as he is, I'm glad I don't have any."

Giles tried to smile at her wry desperate humor. He was used to Buffy's way of joking to ease off the tension. "Do you need help?"

"No. I'm just giving him his bottle. I don't have to change the dressings again until the morning." She made a face. "And that is gross much. You can help with that."

"Of course. Try to get some sleep."

"Good night, Giles."

He shut the door and turned back to the bed. He didn't doubt sleep would be hard to find.

* * *

Giles wrinkled his nose at the sleeve of his shirt. The reek of infection and scorched flesh had ingrained itself into the cotton in the time it took him and Buffy to change Spike's dressings. Muscles had begun to take the place of the black eschars lending a new level to the gruesomeness of their work. At least the large pustules of infection seemed to have mostly drained away as Spike's vampiric nature sped along his healing. It would have gone faster if he had remained unconscious but instead he had awoken and sniped in that most irritating way he had. Giles wasn't sure he blamed him. The vampire had to be in anguish.

Giles listened to the young woman on the other end of the line. Cordelia was confirming his worst fears as she gave her version of what had happened nearly four years ago. But it also gave him a plan of attack. He moved the receiver off his shoulder where he had cradled it to leave his hands free but the smell of his shirt was getting to him. Not to mention Cordelia's unending babble. "Yes, thank you, Cordelia. That tells me everything I need to know. The skin-eating demons are still at large but Angel and Wesley believe they'll have it handled by tomorrow. I'll let Buffy know. I'll call back when we know more. Good day Cordelia. It was good talking to you again."

"What's up with the call to Cordelia?" Xander asked, helping Dawn fix breakfast. He and Anya had arrived just after sunup looking worse for wear but willing to help out.

"I wanted to c-confirms a few things about your r-retelling of her story about how Willow cast that spell for Angel, Xander. Only C-Cordelia and Oz were there with her and I have no idea how to contact Oz," Giles said as Dawn set the mound of scrambled eggs on the table.

"Why is that important?" Buffy asked as Xander added toast to the feast.

"Xander's second hand description of events got me thinking. Willow couldn't cast the spell at first then as C-Cordelia put it, it was like something grabbed hold of her and was speaking through her. I'm wondering if s-something moved into Willow." Giles said, staring at the very American breakfast wondering if it would be all right to just get by on tea. He didn't feel up to eating. A little toast would do him but he was sure they wouldn't have lemon curd on hand. It was his favored thing to spread on toast or better yet, crumpets.

"Like a hitchhiker?" Buffy asked.

"P-possibly. I've c-considered that it could have been someone like Jenny or the original gypsy who cast the spell that helped Willow out that time and stayed with her. Or worse, it could be some kind of entity that I can not even guess at empowering her," Giles replied.

"That's the worst case, right?" Xander asked.

"No, the worst c-case would be that it's just Willow and not something else forcing her to do this." A gloomy look moved over Giles' face.

"But how will we know?" Buffy asked, picking at the eggs.

"I've a spell that can s-separate them...keeping them separate will be the real challenge," Giles admitted.

"I can help."

They spun in their seat at Amy's intrusion. She stood in the doorway in an ill-fitting jogging suit.

"Amy, this isn't your f-fight. It could be a nasty one and I can't ask you to risk your life, not after you just got it b-back," Giles said.

"I've heard all the talk this morning. I have an idea that it has to do with Willow. She and I were casting spells together when the...rat thing happened to me. She cared for me afterwards. I owe you all for helping me," Amy said, lifting her chin a bit.

"You aren't up to this," he argued.

"I'll just be back-up. I can help you contain the entity... if there is one," Amy said.

"Very well. We-we appreciate your help." He gave in.

"Good because after this, I'll need yours. Three years right? I don't have a home left, do I?" Amy shrank into herself a bit.

"No," Xander said.

"What am I going to do?"

"Sit down, have breakfast," Anya said.

"I must c-confess I didn't think about that, Amy. I was more concerned about reversing the spell," Giles said.

"And I'm grateful. It'll work out," Amy said unconvincingly.

"What do you need to do all this, Giles?" Buffy asked.

"I'll get it from the M-Magic Box. The only thing I need from you is to wait and see if T-Tara comes home. I don't want to try and find Willow until we see if Tara returns. Right now we're just playing a waiting game," he admitted reluctantly.

"I don't think this," Buffy grumbled.

"I-I know but there's nothing else we can do. I really c-could use Tara's assistance," Giles said and headed out to get what he needed for the battle he feared was ahead.

* * *

The sun was going down and Giles was disheartened that Tara hadn't returned home. He went outside to see Buffy sitting on the stoop.

"How much longer are we just going to sit on our hands?" she snapped without looking at him.

He sat next to her. "It's d-difficult magic, Buffy. I haven't d-done anything like this in years."

"So you're not up to it."

He cringed a bit at the sharpness of her voice. "I'm not s-saying that. It would be easier if T-Tara were here. Amy has been a rat for the last few years and she was a mere dabbler the last time she spell cast. I-I would prefer to have an experienced witch on my side." He looked at her but she made a concerted effort to avoid his eyes. "B-Buffy, have I done something wrong? All day today you've been avoiding me."

Buffy gazed at him coolly. "I've been thinking a lot about what you said...about both of us feeling guilty when we shouldn't. Thought about it all night and most of the day. You're right. I shouldn't feel guilty but maybe you should. If you hadn't deserted us this wouldn't have happened."

Giles' mouth dropped open. "B-Buffy, you don't mean that. I-I didn't abandon you."

"Didn't you? Damn you, Giles! When I needed you most, you left me. You knew Willow was getting out of control and still you left," she raged, slapping her hands against the steps causing the wood to groan.

"You-you can't put this on me, B-Buffy. I did what I had to . You had gone into a sh-shell where none of us could r-reach you. You were letting me d-do everything for you. I t-took you as far as I c-could but I c-couldn't make you want to live again. So I t-tried to force you." He paused and took a ragged breath before his stammer got so bad he couldn't speak. "M-maybe it was the wrong thing to do. B-But I didn't know what else to try."

"Did you try anything? It was like you were afraid to even touch me, like there's this wall between us. Did you even want me back, Giles? With me gone you could get away from the Hellmouth and you did just that." Buffy hurled herself off the stairs and away from him.

Giles stammered something unintelligible, barely aware of the tears that trickled down his face. "H-how can you think that? D-Don't you know how much I love you? You've been my whole life since I met you. It's more than just my d-duty and I know you know that. You've known that since the time the W-Watchers expelled me for being too close to you. I died inside when you were gone. But I won't lie to you, Buffy. If I had known what Willow and the others were planning, I would have stopped them. Willow made bargains with powers best left undisturbed." He paused, rubbing a hand over his mouth and chin trying to hold back the sobs that wanted to come screaming out. "I knew...even before you told us that you weren't in h-hell. S-something told me you couldn't have been in hell but I tried to convince myself th-that you might have been trapped in Glory's dimension because that was the only way to live with what they d-did to you. I did the b-best I could for you and I'm sorry that wasn't enough for you." He ripped off his glasses, hiding his eyes behind his hand.

"I can't deal with this. I have to go take care of Spike," Buffy said, shaking her hands as she tried to run past Giles.

He stopped her. "No! S-Spike can wait. You're not going to run from this, B-Buffy. Talk to me, scream at me, anything but don't let this fester any longer," he shouted.

"Is there anything more to say?" She jerked away from him, circling back out into the yard.

"B-Buffy, I'm s-sorry to have caused you more pain. I-I know I did. When you let me get on that plane alone without seeing me off, it was the hardest thing I've ever done. I knew I wasn't going to be forgiven for going."

"And yet you still left."

"Could you have stood on your own if I stayed?" Giles asked, moving over to her. She refused to look at him. "Tell me why you left Spike live like this, Buffy."

"You've asked this already."

"I know and you only told me half the truth."

"What do you want me to say?" Brimming with tears, her eyes still managed to flash fire at him.

"T-Tell me when you went from being r-repulsed by him to caring about him." Why was he dragging this out? He didn't want to know but he couldn't let more secrets poison them further.

She tossed back her mane of golden curls. "I'm not in love with him if that's what you mean."

"And yet th-there's something between you. Are you involved with him?" Giles asked, suspecting he already knew the answer.

"You have no right to ask me that. You gave up that right when you left," she snarled.

"M-maybe so. B-but this is wrong, Buffy. It was wrong when you were with Angel b-but at least he had a soul. Spike is a caged monster and that's all he'll ever be unless you planned on having Willow conjure up his s-soul, too, not that he'd thank you for that pain," Giles said, moving into her personal space.

Buffy shoved him back. "I never even thought about asking that. Maybe Spike is a monster but at least he didn't run out on me! First my father ran out, then Angel, then Riley and finally you. How do you think this makes me feel?" she sobbed, wiping at her face, infuriated at him and herself. "Why is the only man who hasn't abandoned me a monster? Why do the ones who say they love me have to just leave without even saying goodbye? So what if I turned to Spike for comfort? I know it's wrong. He knows it's wrong. The really sad part is he knows I don't love him. He knows he's being used to make me feel less alone and yet he doesn't run. He puts up with being used because he does love me beyond reason, beyond good sense. And it wasn't like you're thinking. I stopped it before it went too far."

Giles trembled with the emotions he tried to hold in. "Listen to yourself, Buffy. H-How hard and calloused is that? Is that easier than actually living? J-Just take what you need and skim along the surface of life without caring. My God, Buffy, you've all but turned into F-Faith. Using up people, trying to warm yourself on their fires is wrong and you know it is. You'll never fill that v-void in yourself until you let yourself live again."

"How dare you!" Buffy pounded a fist on his chest, staggering him. She raised her other fist but it landed without power behind it as Buffy dissolved into tears. She wrapped her arms around Giles, crushing herself to him. "I'm so sorry, Giles," she cried sagging in his arms.

He eased her to her knees, clinging to her. "It'll be all right, B-Buffy. We can get through this."

"Don't leave me again."

"I can't p-promise that but I will get us through this somehow. And if I do go, Buffy it won't be because I don't care, that I don't love you. But I can't stay here and stand in the way of your life. No one can live it for you. You can't ask us to and you can't just quit."

"I'm so lost, Giles."

"N-No, you're not, Buffy. Your friends are all around you. They're here for you. You just have to remember how to reach out to them."

She buried her face against his neck and cried for some time. There was warmth in his arms, some kind of fatherly comfort that she had been missing for so long. "Can we help Willow, Giles?" she asked finally.

"I hope so."

"Without killing her?"

Giles separated her from him, looking at her tear-stained face. "I-I don't know. I do know if Willow had tried that s-spell on anyone other than Spike she would have killed them. When she threatened me in your kitchen that one night, I didn't d-doubt she could and would have hurt me if I tried to interfere with her."

"You'll do whatever you have to even if it kills her," Buffy whispered.

His eyes lowered. "If I have to and I don't say that lightly Buffy. You know how much I care for Willow."

"With her being a mini-Giles most of the time, no big surprise."

Both of them forced smiles.

"No one wants to hurt W-Willow but this can't go on. If she continues on this dark path, Buffy, it will consume her. I've seen it all too often b-before. That's why I never wanted her to use magic. Maybe you're right. Maybe this is my fault. If I had been more strict about her magic use back when you were in high school, this might not have happened."

She shook her head, putting her hands along side his wet cheeks, feeling the stubble beneath her fingers. It surprised her. He was also so well-groomed normally. "You're right, Giles. You can't live our lives for us. I know this isn't your fault but...there's so much pain inside me. I didn't mean for it to spill out all over you but you hurt me, more than you know. And now this, with Willow. You say my friends are all around me but sometimes it feels like I'm very much alone." She sat back in the grass, sniffling.

"I know and I'm s-sorry for it all, Buffy, truly I am. Not everyone has left you. I came as soon as I could when I knew you truly needed me. And look at Xander. He's never left you, not even when you rejected him, not even when things got h-hard between you and him over Angel. He's stood by you. Willow, until now, has stood by you despite all the d-dangers and if we can help her, she'll be there for you again."

Buffy nodded weakly, wiping her wet face, wishing for a tissue. "I hope you're right." She tried to find her feet. "I...I really should tend to Spike."

"D-do you want me to help you?"

She looked at him and Giles wondered if she'd say no, if she worried he'd just finish Spike off to end the twisted relationship they had together. Buffy just nodded and held out a hand to him.

"It really is gross. I could use help."

"Very well. Let's get it done."

They walked into the house past the stark faces of their friends and family knowing they had to have heard the fight. There was no disguising the red, swollen eyes so they just headed into the basement with as much dignity as they could muster. Giles stared down at Spike as Buffy gathered up the fresh bandages. There was no way of getting rid of him now without destroying Buffy entirely but the urge was there. He should have done it when they had kept Spike captive in his house and for the life of him Giles didn't know why he hadn't. And yet, he was at a loss to explain Spike's actions since the Initiative had rendered him harmless.

"Giles, what are you thinking?" Buffy asked, handing him a pair of scissors and latex gloves, trepidation gleaming from her wide eyes.

He feared what she might be reading in his face. He took the scissors and sat down to his grisly work. "I'm wondering what made Spike do it."

"He did it for me...for Dawn. He's been willing to lay down his life for Dawn before. You know that."

"I do, Buffy. But why?"

"The chip..."

"Doesn't explain this, Buffy," he snapped but his face softened seeing the hurt in her eyes. He tried to explain more carefully. "All it does it keep him from hurting people physically. Why doesn't he try to hurt any of you through others? He did try at first so what changed him? Aversion therapy, like the chip, is notorious for not working. The subject gets used to the pain and more and more is needed. Somewhere Spike lost his desire to really hurt any of us and I would like to know why. And what would it take to make him revert to form?"

Buffy sagged into herself, her hair swinging down to hide her face. "Probably not much. I know that Giles. I know that he's not like Angel."

"In some ways, maybe he is," Giles suggested. Buffy cocked her head to one side, a puzzled look on her face. "Angel keeps his evil in check by will power. I am not comfortable with suggesting it, but Spike seems to be doing the very same thing but that doesn't mean that veil of civility isn't easily torn away." Giles examined Spike's burnt arm. There was more muscle mass today than a mere twelve hours before. It was quite astonishing to behold and the curious Watcher in him wanted to make a video record of this if it wouldn't disgust most everyone else.

"For either of them. I know that, too." Buffy wrinkled her nose as she dropped a dirty dressing into the bag. She looked at a hunk of flesh that flapped down over Spike's chest. "Should...I mean do I try to pull that off?"

Giles leaned across and cut the dead flesh free for her.

She shuddered, looking at her gloves slick with blood and flecks of burned tissue. "Thanks...this is so hard. And when I think that if Mom's cancer had been more lingering...when I think of the care Dawn and I would have had to give her..."

"Buffy, don't." he reached for her but stopped short remembering he also had on gory gloves. "It didn't happen that way. There's no need to try and imagine it. This is bad enough."

"Giles, I don't mean this like I did outside but can you do this? Are you really up to it?" Buffy asked.

His blue eyes closed, the crow's feet around them deepening. "I don't know. I think so. Buffy, the types of magics I may have to call on are kinds I haven't used in years. But I am stronger than I ever told you...more than I want to think about. I was strong enough to hold a demon in check inside my own body. I can handle someone who, I'm hoping, hasn't had all that much experience with the dark arts."

"Why, Watcher, did you used to be a bad boy?" Spike's diction was much cleared now that his lips were half regenerated. His eyes opened up, holding an amused look.

"You would pick now to wake up," Giles grumbled, hoping Spike hadn't heard the rest of the discussion.

"Playing with demons? How bad were you?" Amusement colored the vampire's voice.

Giles jerked the dressing across Spike's stomach off less than gently. The scorched flesh ripped free with a wet, tearing noise and Spike howled.

"Sorry."

"The hell you are."

"Giles, Spike, both of you just behave." Buffy ordered, stamping a booted foot. "Your strange, demon-summoning past aside, Giles, you can handle this?"

"I can," he said, as Xander came downstairs with a bottle.

"Tara's here," he said, lateraled the bottle off to Buffy.

"You feed Spike. Giles and I have to talk to her," Buffy said.

"I can feed myself now," Spike said, grasping the bottle with shaky hands. The seal his half-healed lips made around the nozzle was leaky and loud as he sucked at the blood.

Somewhat disgusted, the mortals retreated upstairs, leaving him to finish his meal. Entering the living room, grateful for the fresh air compared to the miasma in the basement, Giles looked at Tara's pale face. The young lady looked like she had aged a decade in a few days. She ran over and hugged him quickly then stepped back, hiding shyly behind the swag of her hair as she dropped her gaze.

"I'm s-so g-glad you're h-here, M-Mr. Giles," she stuttered highly stressed as she collapsed back on the couch, shaking.

"And I'm glad you're all right. I don't think you should face Willow alone, not until we learn her state of mind," Giles said, sitting in the chair.

Tara had the look of someone who was cried out. Her white skin was blotchy and her lifeless hair tangled and rat nested. "Did...did you put S-Spike out of his m-misery, B-Buffy?" Tara turned her gaze toward the Slayer, the horror she had witnessed in regards to him still reflecting in her eyes.

"No. He's recovering but it'll take a while," Buffy said, staring at her boots as she rubbed her arms. Her eyes snapped up. "Tara, did you find Willow?"

Tara shook her head. "I tried casting finding spells but Willow k-kept b-blocking them and b-bouncing them to other places. Finally I just tried looking for her the old-fashioned way. I d-didn't find anything." She glanced toward the staircase, hearing someone coming down. A look of puzzlement crossed her face. "Who's t-that?"

"I'm Amy."

Tara's face screwed up. "The r-rat?"

The young lady wrinkled her nose at the moniker. "Yeah. Mr. Giles found a way to cure me."

"Amy's going try and help us, Tara," Giles said.

"You have a p-plan then?" Tara asked. She brushed at the knots in her hair with her fingers as a hopeful look dawned on her wan face.

Giles nodded then outlined his theories about how Willow might be sharing control of her consciousness with something and told her how he planned to separate them if he was right and how they could bind Willow at any rate.

"Should we try to f-find her now?" Tara asked when he was done.

"We're all tired. We could use a few hours rest," Giles said, wondering when the last time Tara had slept. It could have been more than a day. She looked like she hadn't shut her eyes since Willow ran off.

No one argued despite their unease. No one felt much like sleeping and waiting, not knowing if Willow was going to come back asking for forgiveness or to finish the fight. Still they did their best to rest.

* * *

"Tara you can try the finding spell now. Amy is warding us so Willow can't track the spell back to us," Giles said, spreading a circle of white sand out around them in the soft grass of the Summer's back yard.

"And you'll try to b-break through Willow's s-spell so she c-can't block the finding spell?" Tara asked, casting a spell to shield the power circle from the warm gusty winds that had sprung up over night.

"Yes."

Giles glanced up at Buffy as she stood with Anya and Xander, all of them watching apprehensively as the three spellcasters worked their art. They had sent Dawn to a friend's with her protesting all the way. Giles prayed she had the sense to stay away. He wished he could do more to allay their fears about the magic but it was only going to get worse before it got better, if it ever got better.

Next to him Tara quivered but steeled herself for the task at hand. He piggybacked his spell with Tara's. Her magic went to Willow immediately but he could feel it begin to skitter away. He focused his power into a sledgehammer, shattering the block enough for Tara's spell to slip past. He felt Willow pressing back at him. Amy's wards held but just barely. Willow's power frightened him, not so much by its strength, however. He had held more power within him with the likes of Eyghon but because he could sense the undisciplined nature of it. Willow had no idea how to control the things she was dealing with. She was blindly groping her away along, taking the easiest path, which was always so easy to do with magic. His stomach roiled at the realization Willow wasn't likely to give up such easy supernatural muscle.

"I found her," Tara said, relied etching into her face.

"Where?" Buffy asked, walking over to the circle, her hair riding the wind. Behind her Xander looked torn between following on Buffy's heels and keeping Anya safely away from any hint of magic.

"On the way to L.A."

"Does she know Giles and Amy are here?" Buffy asked.

Tara shook her head. "She m-might k-know there's someone with me but I d-don't think so. And if she does, she can't p-possibly know who it is."

"I hate to be the one asking this, but what if my former best bud comes back here looking for a fight? What do we do with Will if she attacks us again?" Xander asked, pulling Anya close to him protectively.

All eyes moved to Giles just like in the days gone by. Somehow he was comforted by it. Maybe it was the way things were supposed to be. They turned to Buffy when the really bad things were after them and muscle and quick wits were needed and turned to him when research and careful thought were called for. He realized how much he missed being needed.

"That's a good question. I hadn't even thought about what we do when we find Willow," Buffy said.

"Hopefully we can help her but if worst c-comes to worst then...there are Watchers trained for this sort of thing, keeping magic c-contained. If I have to, I can take Willow back to England with me. The Watchers skilled in magic can p-prevent Willow from accessing hers and help guide her back onto the path," Giles said reluctantly, knowing they wouldn't want to hear that.

Buffy's face paled as she swallowed hard. "Giles, that's....I don't like that at all."

"We might not have a choice, Buffy," he replied, pinching the bridge of his nose, readying himself for a fight.

"I don't trust the Watchers. They've pulled some pretty hinky things over the years. Like having you poison me or Wesley trying to drag Faith back to England for punishment. They put themselves above the law and it isn't right," Buffy argued, advancing on him further.

Getting to his feet, Giles ran a hand through his hair. "Buffy, I know you aren't c-comfortable with this but Willow's put herself outside the law already. If she's truly crossed over the line, regular p-people can't control her and they will suffer for it. The thing with the Delon demon was an accident but she purposely hurt Xander, Anya and Spike. I c-can't risk her hurting anyone else."

"And who says you get to make those kind of decisions?"

They all spun at the sound of Willow's voice. The young witch floated across the yard to the amazement of her friends.

"I thought she didn't track you back?" Anya said accusingly.

Willow snorted. "Like I would have to. I knew where to find all of you. I am surprised to see you here, Giles. Shouldn't you be back in England giving up on everyone? You should have stayed there. This has nothing to do with you."

The coldness of her voice, the look in her eye had them all frozen. Only Giles had seen this Willow before, standing in the Summer's kitchen the night he had gone off about her resurrecting Buffy. He wasn't sure they were prepared to face her so soon but there was nothing to be done about it now.

"This has everything to do with me, Willow. D-Did you think you could hurt your friends and I would have nothing to say about it?" Giles shot back hoping to keep her distracted while Tara prepared her part of the binding spell. He moved away from Tara and Amy, drawing Willow's attention.

"I didn't mean to do that!" Willow balled her fists, looking to them for support but saw none was forthcoming. She squinted in the brightness realizing there was a player she hadn't been expecting. "Amy?"

"Hello, Willow. Sorry to see you again like this." the young woman said with a shrug.

Willow's lips parted as she tried to digest this new wrinkle. "How?"

"Me," Giles said, feeling an odd anticipation for the fight building in him. It would be easier to let Ripper off his chain than he thought. He should have known that. After all, he had suffocated Ben without a second thought to prevent Glory from ever returning, from hurting those he loved any more. He would do what he had to now as well even if it meant hurting a young lady who had been like a daughter to him in many ways.

"Should have known." That came out as a grumble. Giles flinched just a bit as her eyes turned to flint. Willow's pretty eyes had always been the mirrors of her inner being and what he saw reflected there frightened him.

Tara nodded at Giles just a bit then stepped forward. "Willow, this has to end. We can't keep going on like this." Her voice cracked and her eyes misted. "I love you, you know that don't you?"

"So much so that you left me over nothing," Willow screamed back.

"It w-wasn't n-nothing, Willow. You c-can't stop using magic. It's starting to use you," Tara snapped back. She spun around so she wouldn't have to look at her lover. Flinging her hair back over her shoulder, she whirled back around. "And I came b-back. I gave us every chance but you're like an addict. I f-feel like I'm losing you and it's killing me. It's killing all of us. Look around at what you've d-done!" Tara swept a hand back at Buffy, Xander and Anya

"Listen to her, Will," Xander urged, taking a hesitant step forward then danced back quickly, seeing a look on Willow's face he hadn't seen since Anya had made her bring over vampire Willow from another dimension. She looked like that vampire in attitude now.

"Willow, this isn't you. You never wanted to hurt anyone, I have to believe that," Buffy said.

"Why? Because only you get to be strong? We all have to wait for you to save us? You can't stand having someone who can be just as strong," Willow accused, tears leaking from her eyes.

Buffy shook, trying to rein in her emotions. She wanted to run to Willow, hold her close to show her how much they all cared. But she knew deep down it wouldn't help and it would only put her in the line of fire. "Will, that's crazy. I'm not jealous of what you can do. But I am afraid of it. I was afraid of how much magic you were using even before you hurt Xander and Anya. You gave Anya a hairline fracture of her skull. You nearly killed her."

Willow's head snapped back and forth violently. "It was an accident but you wouldn't listen."

"Listen?" Xander raged, his face hardening. "You didn't give us a chance. You bolted and when Spike tried to stop you, you barbequed him."

"And that's really what has Buffy standing against me now, isn't it? I hurt her boyfriend. Did you know that Giles? As soon as she was out of your sight she found herself another dead playmate," Willow said, her voice going lifeless.

Giles forced himself to stay calm. "I know."

"But I'm what concerns you, not that?" Willow's eyes bored into him, trying to root out why this would be so. "It's not even natural. At least my magic is and yet you're here to what? Stop me? Did you think you have what it takes?"

"Willow, no one w-wants to hurt you. We're here b-because we love you and we w-want to help," Tara said, her hand going to her mouth.

"You make it sound like there's something wrong with me, Tara. I don't need any help. I'm just fine."

"No, Willow you're not. And if you c-can s-stand there and tell us that when you n-nearly killed three of your friends, then you're s-sicker than you know," Tara said, taking a few steps closer before she got shoved back by Willow's magic.

"I'm not sick and you're not stopping me." Willow's body tensed and everyone could feel the energy building, crackling in the air. "That's why I had to come back here. I couldn't have you dogging me, Tara. Buffy's tied to the Hellmouth. There's not much she can do but I knew you'd never let me go."

"Willow, we only w-want to help," Tara said, looking back at Giles.

"I know what you want." Willow edged closer to the big tree Angel used to use to climb to Buffy's room so she could have something at her back.

Buffy moved with her, holding out her hands. "Please, Willow. Don't do this. I...I can't do this. I can't fight you."

"It's always about you, isn't it, Buffy? Well, not this time. This time it's about me." Willow pointed a finger at Buffy, saying one word in Latin and a crackle of golden energy leapt at the Slayer. It hit a blue shield that skittered before Buffy and it fizzled harmlessly. Willow's head jerked in Giles' direction, her eyes wide with surprise. "You did that."

"You're not leaving us any c-choice, Willow. Please, b-believe me when I say no one wants to hurt you. We can still work this out." He tried to keep his voice even and only just managed it. He knew Willow could see the cracks in his facade. They felt as wide as the English Channel to him.

"Jealous because all you ever did with your magic was to play stupid games with your buddies?" Willow asked, her lip curling.

Giles scowled, feeling the anger overwhelm him. This was the hard part about magic; emotions played too large a role. If he wasn't careful, he could easily unstopper a bottle inside himself that couldn't be capped off. "Don't p-presume to know what I've done with my magic, Willow. You c-couldn't even guess at the things I've done and seen."

"Well, let's see what you have," Willow said, her eyes going black but her spell was interrupted by Tara lobbing a loud but harmless magical firecracker at her. Willow spun on her lover as if shocked she would interfere.

Giles took advantage of that and started reciting the spell that would separate out anything that might be hiding in Willow's body. Willow shrieked in a language and voice that were definite not her own. She tried to combat him but fell to her knees as Giles intensified the spell. Something gray and diaphanous started pulling away from Willow.

"What is that?" Xander cried but Anya clamped a hand over his mouth fearing he might break Giles' concentration.

Tara joined in the spell and the entity broke free of Willow. Amy began her spell, encasing it with a globe of green energy. The thing inside howled, throwing itself from one side to the other, causing the young witch to bead up with sweat all over her body. Willow picked herself up off the ground in a daze.

"Is it over? Giles, what is that thing?" Buffy asked, edging closer to him.

"From the language, I'd say it's the s-spirit of one of the gypsies that cursed Angel," he said, shaking from the effort of the spell.

"Jenny?" The dread of even suggesting it rang clear in Buffy's voice.

He shook his head. "Older I would think. M-Maybe the original witch who cursed him. I might have been right in my thoughts on her moving into Willow to help with that original spell and d-decided she liked having a body again enough to stay."

"Maybe so," Willow said, rubbing her head in obvious pain. "She's helped me so much. She's made things so easy but there's more to me than just her. I don't need her any more."

Willow shoved a hand at Amy like she was throwing a ball and Amy started to convulse. Giles and Tara, not expecting more trouble once the separation was achieved, moved too late to stop the spell. Amy pulled apart into a golden shower of light and was gone with a shriek. The binding spell ruptured and the entity beeline for Willow. Giles barely managed an incantation in time and the entity swirled around and seemed to disappear into herself.

"No!" Willow screeched.

Buffy walked toward her friend on quivering legs. She looked over to where Amy had been. "Willow...what did you do? Did you just make her disappear? Teleported her away?" She took in a deep breath. "Did you kill her?"

"They're attacking me, Buffy! They're hurting me. I have to protect myself," Willow said, waving her arms. A wall of wind, like miniature hurricane, took all her friends off their feet, stunning them. She moved in the finish what she started but a cough stopped her. Startled and still not sure how to press the attack, Willow looked around then saw something she hadn't expected standing in the shadows of the house. Standing was a generous term for it. Spike leaned against the wall of the house, looking more like the Mummy than a vampire, leaving bloody streaks on the siding, documenting his path out of the basement.

"Is that what you were doing when you did this to me, Red? Protecting yourself?" he asked, knowing the best he could do was buy time for the others. He couldn't go out into the sun but part of him wanted to, to end the pain. He didn't even know where he found the strength to drag himself out of the basement. All he knew was the others needed him.

Willow looked sickened but she threw it off. "You're a vampire, Spike. Isn't killing your kind what Buffy does every day? It's not wrong."

"This wasn't because I'm a vampire, Red, and we both know it," Spike said, watching the others regain their feet. He just needed to hold her attention little longer. "You would have done this no matter which of us had come after you."

Willow shook her head. "No, I wouldn't have hurt them...really." She sounded desperate to convince herself as much as the others and if they had heard it, it might have given them hope they could stop her and save her.

"You just killed someone, love." Spike's half-healed lips skinned back from his teeth. "I know what that feels like. It's heady, isn't it? It's not something you just walk away from once you get a taste for it. It leaves you hungry for more."

"And you would know all about that," Willow said, then cried out as blue circles of light slid around her. She looked over at Tara realizing she was helping Giles with the binding spell. "How can you do this to me, Tara? I love you."

"You're n-not g-giving us a c-choice," Tara said sobbing.

Willow looked at Buffy. "Buffy, please, they're hurting me."

Buffy looked at her then back at Giles, torn. "Will, don't fight them. It'll be easier that way." She wanted to make them stop. She wanted all of this to be a bad dream but she knew it wasn't.

"You were my best friend. You can't just desert me. I brought you back from the dead!" Willow shrieked, trying to charge her but the tightening bonds of energy stopped her.

Buffy's mouth worked trying to find the right words. Her eyes widened in horror as the binding circles warped and began to splinter. Willow chanted something in Latin and Buffy saw the fireball heading for her, knowing she'd never move in time. She flinched as it slammed into another blue shield. She looked over at Giles as the ball morphed into a fire wall, pushing right at him. She could see the cost of his counter spell as blood started trickling from his nose. She didn't know if his body could stand what he was putting it through. "Giles!"

"Ice," Tara yelled and the firewall solidified.

"Tara, no! Don't fight me!" Willow screamed throwing her all into yet another spell. The instant the last syllable passed her tongue she clamped both hands over it. "Oh no, no," she whimpered realizing what she had just done.

Tara just stared for a moment, holding both hands out to Willow. Her body lifted into the air going one way while something white and lithe pulled free from it, even as Giles' shield-magic enveloped her seconds too late. The gauzy white form traveled along the blue energy of his spell, circled around Giles then disappeared into him. Giles staggered back, dropping to one knee.

"Giles?" Buffy asked soft and afraid. She tried to go to him but Xander held her back. Buffy didn't bully her way past him. She couldn't join this fight. She knew it wasn't hers. Still, her Watcher needed her and she didn't know how to help.

Giles got back up, his eyes going black. His strength seemed refreshed as he started the binding spell again. Giles licked his lips, reveling in the feeling of power coursing through him.

Willow recovered enough from the shock of what she had done to hit him with another spell. Giles disappeared to Buffy's screams. She bowled Xander over to get at Willow but something stopped her, like warm invisible arms that sought to keep her safe. Giles reappeared hovering above the trees but rather than fall he floated down. They didn't know what language he was speaking in but beams of blue lanced through Willow. Her mouth opened in a wordless scream. The beams anchored into the ground forming into a complex cage. Willow dropped free of the energy trapped within it, mere inches from Tara's fallen body. Willow no longer fought. She snuck her fingers past one of the beams to touch Tara's hair.

Giles dropped to his knees and Buffy caught him. She eased him all the way to the ground. He shuddered in her arms. The acrid stench of his sweat burned her nose as she felt it soaking into her clothing. There was more blood than she expected, some of it trickling from his ears. His eyes, still blacker than night, focused on nothing she could see. As his breath came in deep ragged gasps, Buffy watched the blackness fade back to blue.

She rested her cheek on the top of his head as she held him, rocking gently. She listened to Willow saying over and over again, 'Tara, baby, talk to me.' Finally it just became a chant of Tara's name. Xander knelt by Tara. Anya rested her hands on his shoulders, her face seemed to be taken over by her fear-widened eyes. Buffy felt rooted as Xander started CPR on her while Anya ran inside, presumably to call 911. She didn't dare let go of Giles lest she lose him, too.

"Buffy."

She startled at Giles voice, his ribs creaking under her convulsive clasp. "Are you all right?"

"I...I will be." He swallowed hard, pain etched deep into the lines of his face. "We have to get Spike and Willow out of sight before the ambulance arrives."

"I..." Buffy just let her thoughts trail off and settled for helping him to his feet.

Giles leaned his weight on her as she led him over to where Willow was now in a fetal position making a mantra of Tara's name. The cage shrank down cocooning her then disappeared with a wave of Giles' fingers. Satisfied Willow's magic was bound, even though he suspect it was no longer needed by the vacant look in her eyes, he looked down at Xander working on Tara.

"She's gone, Xander," he said softly.

Xander broke off the CPR for a moment. "I brought back Buffy once. I can bring back Tara," he argued.

"It's too late. Tara's not there any more...she's inside of me," Giles said, amazement at how it made him feel evident in his tired face.

All three of them looked at him, their eyes begging for him to tell them it wasn't true.

"But...I have to try," Xander protested.

"Let him try, Giles. It might make for fewer questions if the ambulance guys see we tried to help. I can carry Willow down into the sewers. Spike, can you get back downstairs on your own?" Buffy asked, letting the Slayer in her take over.

"I'll manage," the vampire said.

"Anya, help Giles inside. We have to get the blood washed off of him," Buffy said, transferring his weight to the ex-demon.

She scooped up Willow who made no protests. Buffy, seeing how empty Willow's eyes were as she called for her dead lover, realized her friend was broken. The four of them staggered inside, leaving Xander fighting to reverse some of what Willow had done.

* * *

It had taken hours for the police to leave them in peace. In the end, they knew the cops were convinced Tara was just another young victim of a drug overdose. They had even brought in dogs to check out the place. Dawn had been summoned home at their request and she clung close to Buffy now. At least she had been spared seeing Tara's lifeless body lying on the grass.

Buffy fetched Willow and Spike back out of the sewer under the house where they had hidden from the cops. Spike collapsed gratefully back into his cot, his dressings filthy. Buffy laid Willow on the floor, not sure where she should take her next. The young witch was quiet now, staring into nothingness. Buffy glanced over at Giles where the older man sat wearily on the steps.

"What did you do to her, Giles?" She managed not to sound too accusatory. Dawn hugged her tighter as Buffy asked that.

He shook his head. "Nothing. I just bound her...I think Tara's death snapped Willow's mind."

"Is she still inside you somewhere?" Anya asked with a shudder.

Giles covered his face with his hands, rubbing it slowly. "She's starting to trickle away, going to where she belongs now."

"Can we help Willow now?" Buffy asked.

"I don't know, Buffy. She's c-catatonic. I'm not a psychiatrist. I have her b-bound as I said and she should be harmless now. I'll do what I can to get her help," Giles said. "We should move her upstairs. There's nothing more I c-can do tonight."

"I'll help you with that, Buff," Xander said.

Anya slid an arm around Dawn leading her away from Buffy so her sister and Xander could carry Willow up the stairs.

"I'll take c-care of Spike." Giles got to his feet, moving away from the stairs slowly.

"I'll be back to help you," Buffy said.

Spike watched them all go. When he was alone with Giles, he pointed at his leather jacket tossed over the washer. "Bring me my jacket, Rupert."

Giles didn't feel like arguing. He fetched the jacket for him. Spike dug out his cigarettes and popped one into the ghastly remains of his mouth. He flipped the pack to Giles who didn't argue. He lit his own cigarette and Spike's. Spike pulled out his ever-present flask, unscrewed the top, held it above his mouth and let the amber liquid pour into him. He shoved it at Giles.

"Scotch."

"Thanks." Giles let the powerful drink burn into him. Buffy just gave them both a look when she returned but said nothing.

Together they changed Spike's dressings again but no one spoke. Watcher and Slayer climbed the steps together. When Giles faltered a bit, Buffy steadied him, feeling the exhaustion in his quivering muscles. She led him to the master bedroom. Giles tumbled into bed without a word of protest.

"I put Willow in my bed...now that Amy..." Buffy let it trail off. She covered her face as a loud sob escaped her.

Giles managed to stagger back up and caught her in his arms. He said nothing just held her. Buffy pushed him back toward the bed so they both could sit before he collapsed. Their tears mingled for a long time.

Finally Buffy said, "What am I going to do now?"

"We'll make sure Willow's taken c-care of, Buffy. We'll find someone to heal her if it's p-possible," Giles promised.

She wiped her swollen eyes. "What about Tara's body? I...I guess we should notify her father but I don't know how. She hated her family. Maybe they shouldn't be involved. How can I afford Tara's funeral? I don't even know if she wants buried or cremated. What about all of her stuff?" The questions just spilled out of Buffy uncontrollably. When they were done, she flashed Giles an apologetic look.

"I'll take c-care of it, Buffy. The police will handle notifying her family if they c-can be found. I'll tell the Council she died helping you and see if I can't free up some money from them," he said.

She tossed her head back fighting for control. "Thanks. What would I do without you, Giles?" Her lips fell into a slack scowl realizing that she would most likely have to do without him once more. Giles looked away and Buffy didn't have the heart to blame him for going once more. "How did it come to this?"

"Power, Buffy. It's always about the power." There was a spark in his tired eyes and Buffy realized how much he had enjoyed that power, too.

"What do we do now, Giles?" She sniffled. "We can't tell them she killed Tara...I can't even imagine what the autopsy will show."

"I don't k-know but you have my word, Buffy, I'll take care of Willow the best I can."

"If she comes back to herself...Giles, can she live with this? Can anyone kill someone and still find their way after it?" Buffy asked, leaning her head against his shoulder.

"Yes."

Buffy's lips pursed as she tugged on her hair. "Faith didn't and she was stronger than Willow."

"I d-disagree. Willow has always had a quiet strength and when she recovers, we'll do our best to help her find her way again," he said, stroking her back.

"But you can't be sure of that."

"Yes, I can." He sounded sad and far too old suddenly.

"But you've never killed anyone, Giles. Your friend that got killed because of your magic, that was the demon's doing," Buffy argued, touching his hand, knowing he had the skill to do it. He had helped train her after all.

"Buffy, I k-killed Ben," he said softly not sure if he should even tell her, especially now.

Buffy pulled away from him like he had turned to fire. Her mouth dropped as she shuddered. "What?" That came out as a jagged gasp.

"I killed Ben. It was the only way to stop Glory, Buffy. You b-beat her back into her human cage but it was only a m-matter of time before she freed herself again. I couldn't let that happen. I knew...you can't take a human life, Buffy. It's not in you but it is in me. I had to p-protect you," Giles said, pulling off his glasses but Buffy plucked them from his hands before he could clean them on his shirt.

Buffy's whole body began to shiver. "You murdered Ben?"

Giles glanced away, unable to meet her horrified eyes. "I did what was necessary to s-save the world, Buffy. I don't feel good about it but it doesn't keep me up nights. It was the only thing I could have done."

She looked at the glasses in her hands. "I think I know you, Giles, then you do things like you did today, you tell me things like this and I realize I don't know you at all and sometimes you are so very scary."

"I know." There was apology inherent in that. He took his glasses back. "I do what I do for you, Buffy, at least now I do. My killing Ben is entirely d-different than Willow killing Amy and Tara. I know that. I c-couldn't let the world end so Ben had to die but this... Willow killed the love of her life. She killed b-because she could, not because she had to. She might not ever recover from that but if she does, I'll be there to help her."

"Giles, can we not talk now?" Buffy asked sounding like a young girl, like she had when he first met her. "Can you just hold me and pretend none of this happened?"

Giles just stroked her hair and let her finish crying herself out.

* * *

"You'll call us when you get to London," Buffy said to Giles as she smoothed Willow's hair. The girl said nothing. Her catatonia hadn't broken but she was at least walking and eating when gently told to do so.

"I'll call you the instant we land, Buffy," Giles promised. "I know you all aren't comfortable with the Watchers looking after Willow but they're well equipped for this. They have access to the best doctors and to magics of all kinds. If anyone can help Willow, it's them."

"I may not trust the Watchers all the time but I do trust you, Giles," Buffy said.

"Take good care of her, G-Man," Xander said, kissing Willow's cheek gently. She didn't react.

Giles smiled faintly. "I will."

"Please, come back to me someday, Giles." Buffy hugged him tight enough to make his bones creak. "I know you think I've learned all I can from you...but I think I still need you."

Giles caught his breath, telling himself now was not the time to get weepy. "Once Willow is settled...we'll talk about it, Buffy."

"I think that's your plane," Dawn said, tossing her arms around both him and Willow quickly.

"Goodbye all. Come on, Willow, dear," Giles said, turning Willow in the direction of the boarding ramp. She shuffled along with him. Giles looked back over his shoulder, wanting to stay, wanting to be able to take back the last few days. Instead, he knew he had to be strong and get Willow to the help she needed. There would be time for his pain later.

Falling into the blackest of blue
Reaching out for the one thing
Falling into the blackest of blue
I reach out for the one thing

Now I walk in silence
'Cause it's all been said
But it's making no sense
Should I scream instead?

The days go forever
And the nights won't end
My restless dreaming
Is my only friend
--- Brother "Blackest of Blue"