By Sweetprincipale

This is set in my non-canon, but canon-esque series following Uncontrollable and Unmentionable. If you haven't read those first, please do, or this won't read nearly as well or make much sense. Unknown begins a few weeks after the end of Unmentionable, around the beginning of season five.

Author's note: Some people thought Willow was going season six "Dark Willow" here. Remember, from Xander's portion of the dream, he's seen a future without Spike in their crew, and he saw Willow's eventual outcome as a magic addict. Willow in the last chapter, and in season five, does absorb a book of dark magic in order to fight Glory, but in season six, she absorbed pretty much an entire magic shop. What you're seeing here is badass, grieving, going crazy Willow, but not evil, fully out of control Willow.

Author's Second Note: Sections may overlap, because I'm telling parts of days from multiple perspectives.

Author's Third Note: Sorry for the long delay in posting (as usual) I'm hoping to be more regular with the updates now! My double shifts end this month!

Dedicated to: ginar369, omslagspapper, Illusera, Sirius120, The-Darkness-Befalls, Alottalove, AGriffinWriter, Annamonk, Rosalea12, modernxxmyth, Jedi SteelWolf, sjwheelan, DidiSummers, SPUFFY FOR3V3R, Gothic Saku-Chan CailinRua, Lou, , Mike13z50. Thank you so much for struggling along with me and our heroes.

Direct Quotes are obviously not mine, but belong to the fabulously talented and creative people who wrote them. In this case, some of season five's dialogue will be used.

Disclaimer: Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.

Part XLI

"What's that book?" Xander asked nervously as Willow's hands slowly rose from the pages.

Willow didn't answer him right away, so he crept closer and read the flaking golden letters across the cover as she shut it. Darkest Magick. Oh, well that can't be good.

"I think I could use a few of these." Willow remarked in an eerily calm voice. She was kneeling back behind the counter again, rummaging in the formerly sealed compartment. She started grabbing whatever was inside, tossing some of it up by the register, leaving some of it inside.

"Willow!" Xander's voice demanded her attention, but she ignored it, scooting from behind the counter now, walking with long, quick strides around the shop. She seized a piece of cloth from under a display and tied it into a roughshod sack, then started loading some of the shop's archaic but lethal-looking weapons into it. "You know more about weapons than I do. Are these going to do enough damage?" She finally turned to her friend.

Xander looked extremely freaked. He held up the book by the tips of his fingers. "Darkest Magick? As in black magic? As in evil? We're anti-evil!" his voice rose to a hoarse shout.

"You're dating a former demon, Spike's a vampire. Evil's relative." Willow answered in a distant voice and dropped the bag with a heavy metallic clunk.

"Are you saying you're going to the dark side?" That kinda makes sense, what with the future frying of me and all that dream stuff.

Willow looked at him angrily. "No! I just - everyone thinks I'm powerful- but they also think I'm an amateur. Tara's the real thing." Willow whispered softly.

Xander shook his head. "Wills- what you can do is scary-real. I've seen what you can do!"

"When I have her!" Willow cried, and clutched his wrists convulsively. "Don't you understand that? When I have Tara, I can be some mega-witch, I can help Buffy, maybe I can make something to save us, to stop her! What am I supposed to do without Tara?" Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.

Xander freed his hand to wipe his thumb along her cheek. "This is the girl who re-souled Angelus talking? No one in a hundred years could do what you did, and that was when you were still trying to float a pencil, Will. You stole something out of the afterlife- you telling me can't send someone into it?" Xander winked.

Willow teetered on a precipice in her heart. He always tries to make it better. Make it okay. But he doesn't get it. There's no okay this time. There's just pain. Pain and fear, and worrying that you won't be able to fix it. Fix her.

"This isn't some demon. This is a god. I'm not that strong."

No. She probably isn't. Or wasn't. She just sucked up a book of black magic, though, so who knows what that does to the wicca batteries. "So- what do I do?"

"You -stay here. No. Go to the hospital. Be with Anya and Tara. I don't want her alone."

"But you said you needed an anchor." He protested.

Which just proves I knew I wouldn't be using him. I'd never want him to try and control this. What I want to do to her. Willow smiled sadly and tapped the book. "Not anymore. I don't want to be anchored. I don't want to hold back. She deserves to go down."

"Willow! Wait!" Xander watched her throw her head back, arms raised, mouth moving in whispers he didn't understand, and then- she vanished. "Dammit!" He raced out into the night, not knowing exactly where she'd go, no trail to follow. He stopped at the corner, hands to his head.

My best friend is going to go get killed- or I'm going to go help her and get myself killed. By my best friend.

Xander took off running. He went blindly in the direction of the "Sub-Cordette Zone", and figured soon enough he'd be able to tell where Willow was by the lightning in the sky.

Because she's wind. Yeah, that works with controlling storms, or shooting out lightning bolts when you're pissed. I thought there was more veiny face/black hair going on and more dead Tara. Wait, Tara's alive.

Okay, whose dream are we using anyway?

His steps faltered.

What if this is just reality?

Things could still be okay, if I get there fast enough.

"Where's the bloody fire, Slayer?" Spike found his patrol interrupted by a blonde bullet, closely followed by a red car and freaked Watcher. "What's with the slay mobile? Not very discreet, bright red an' all."

Buffy snagged his arm and kept running, heading in the same vague direction that Xander had chosen moments earlier, although unbeknownst to her. "Willow. Melt-down. Glory!"

"What?" Spike hissed and kept moving. "Shouldn't we get in the car?"

"No, I don't know where we're going yet, or at all. We might end up in some little alley or something. I'm looking for signs, where Willow and Xander might be."

"Xander? What's he taggin' along for? If I was goin' to go hunt up a little revenge I'd take you." Spike halted her for a moment.

Buffy paused, and Giles braked, rolling down the window. "Buffy, this isn't effective. Get in the car, we can strategize on the way!"

She allowed Spike to maneuver her into the red sports car. "She has to know she can't. She can't really - kill- Glory." Buffy finally said. "Not just the two of them, not tonight, no planning, without that deolathy-whatsit thing."

"Hard to kill what's immortal, give you that." Spike smirked lopsidedly. "Doesn't really matter what you use, still gonna be a bugger of a job."

"Willow's the smart one. She'd know that going after Glory, without backup, without a spell or a plan, or-a-anything really, she'd know that was suicidal. Right?"


"Not reassuring!" Buffy smacked Spike's knee and the back of Giles' headrest simultaneously.

"I'd do it." Spike murmured.

"I did do it." Giles recalled.

Buffy moved her hand down to Giles' shoulder. For Jenny. He went after Angelus, because he killed Jenny. The equivalent of a super powerful witch going after a knocked down god might be a crazy British librarian attacking a legendarily evil vampire with a baseball bat. Sure. "Giles. Jenny was- well, you couldn't bring her back. Willow still has Tara. She has to know that Tara needs her the most now."

Giles said nothing, wondering if that were true. Spike filled the breach.

"I'd do it." The vampire repeated. "For the right person. Person I loved." He sapphire eyes locked onto her jade ones. "I'd do it. 'Cause I'd have to do somethin'." His voice dropped into a range that only she could pick up, the sounds of cats curling, purring to their mates, a low rumble Giles could hear but not understand. "Worse if your girl was incredibly special, beautiful- your world. An' a fighter on top of it." His lips touched her temple, hands locked on hers. "Have to fight if your other half can't."

"My other half." Buffy whispered, slightly breathless, fingers tightening on his. "Tara really is a fighter."

"Let's hope she is. An' let's hope she can pull through until we rescue Bonnie and Clumsy." Spike snarked and raised his voice. "Strategize, Rupes? Where do we go?"

"I imagine the place with a meteorologist's nightmare occurring is a good place to start." Giles pointed into the distance through the dark windshield. Far above the hills, in the rich section of Sunnydale, a slowly swirling mass of black and lavender clouds hovered in the night sky.

"Wind and fire." Spike nodded, following the Watcher's gaze.

Glory traipsed down the stairs from her lush bedroom to the luxurious living room of their stolen home, followed by three of her minions. Her steps were uneven, whole body swaying as she hummed.

"Your Magnificence, would you like us to assist you?" Jinx asked hesitantly.

Glory smiled and ignored the question, happily telling her followers, "You know, I think I'm still a little buzzed from eating that witch! What a mind she had. Mmm, nummy treat."

Jinx frowned. That was hours and a transformation ago. She'd never remained "buzzed" for so long, or after a day spent in hibernation. Not to mention what attacking one of the Slayer's allies would surely mean. And there was so little time left until the Door would be in range.

Jinx bowed and addressed her when she finally weaved down the last step. "Is Your Grace not the slightest bit concerned about-"

Her scoffing snort cut him off. "What, about the Slayer? Don't be stupid. I know I'm closing in. The Key's as good as mine." Her minions, those who'd entered with her and those already in the living room, smiled at her confidence. "So it wasn't in one friend, it's gotta be in another. Something the Slayer would protect. All I gotta do it rip through 'em one by one until I finally..." Glory trailed off. There seemed to be slight tremors under her feet.

The walls began to shake and rattle. Some of the expensive object d'art hanging on the walls fell off and and smashed to pieces. The lights in the house flickered and then stayed dim.

Glory looked around with a frown. "Did anybody order an apocalypse?"

The front door burst open, and in the darkness a figure floated, boot tips scraping lightly as the wind carried her body and blew her hair around her face.

Minions fled from a being they could only half see as the house seemed to buckle around them.

Willow chanted softly, in a deadly voice, speaking spells she didn't "know", that she'd simply absorbed. "Kali, Hera, Kronos, Tonic..."

Glory stared, unafraid, but annoyed.

"Air like nectar, thick as onyx..." Glassy black eyes took in the object of her spell, the figure she was binding in her words. "Cassiel by your second star..."

A glint of red in the darkness caught the hell goddess's eye. She smirked. "It's the lover." She boldly approached the girl. "That's so cute."

Willow's empty hand twisted viciously, "Hold mine victim as in tar." The air baked and shimmered around Glory, who abruptly stopped walking.

Glory's eyes widened in puzzlement as she struggled and failed to move forward. "Huh? Hey!"

A few of the braver minions were returning to their queen's side. Willow's head whipped toward them. Winds filled the room and blew them back like specks of dirt caught in a hurricane gale. She sent them reeling outside, the door slamming behind them.

"This is between the two of us." Willow hissed to the trapped goddess. She dropped her bag to the floor with a thud, and both hands gripped invisible chains, as if holding her enemy in place. Each word came out with an effort, seething through gritted teeth. "I ... owe ... you ... pain!"

"Can you see where they- ahhh!" Buffy yelped as a figure slammed into the side of Giles' car as it paused at a stop sign.

"Told you not to stop." Spike grumbled. "Stop screaming, it's the 'anchor'."

"I'm glad to see you. We really need to get cell phones, okay?" Xander panted and slid in through Giles' passenger side door.

"What are you doing out here, you're supposed to be with her!" Giles demanded as the young man climbed in beside him.

"Hard to keep up if your god-bashing buddy can teleport and you failed gym." Xander pointed out with a wheeze. "She's not hard to find- just hard to catch." Xander pointed up into the hills. "Local thunderstorm. Really local."

Giles started to drive. "Well, now that we're all more or less assembled, does anyone actually have a plan?"

"I'm planning to root for the witch." Spike lit up and sat back.

"Not in the car!"

"Willow's going to die and you're worried about needing an air freshener?" Buffy looked furious. "I can't believe she's going after her. I'm not even going after her." But I would. I know I would, I just- I don't want her to. I never wanted her to. I know we're stronger together, but most of me wishes we could be strong together in different, safer locations.

"That's 'cause she didn't turn Spike into a stroke victim." Xander pointed out.

"Look, never mind what could have happened, what are we going to do now?" Giles pounded the steering wheel as the speedometer climbed over seventy through the small suburban streets. "I thought you were going to attempt to anchor her, for something along the lines of the deolathrian?"

"Will doesn't want an anchor. She wants to lose control."

Buffy bit her lip. She had known that feeling a few times lately. "Glory messed with the wrong girl."

"Shatter." Willow's single word was spoken like an imperial decree. Magic obeyed. The mirrors in the ornate living room all shattered as one. Shards of glass flew toward the unmoving target. Razor-like pieces sliced the goddess' dress, but left the skin underneath unmarked.

Glory laughed with more confidence than she felt. She'd been projecting her own magic back. It was stronger, infinitely stronger, but this one- this one had some juice. "Is that it? Is that the best you can do? You think I care about all this, the house, the clothes?" Glory pulled the ribboned red dress off to reveal a skimpy black negligee underneath. "You checking me out?" Glory had the audacity to give a condescending smirk.

Willow winced, sickened at the suggestion. "Shut your mou-"

"Shut yours." Glory exploited the momentary lack of concentration and her magic breaking her from her prison. Her hand flung out, the back catching Willow's pale cheek with all her demi-god strength.

Willow flew back, literally found herself further airborne, making a parabola over the couch, toppling it as she landed.

"This is all trappings for this stupid human sack." Glory brushed off her uninjured arms. "I'm about the real stuff." Glory slowly walked to Willow, crunching glass beneath her feet without a wince.

From behind the sofa, Willow lifted her head, blood oozing from a nostril and a split on her cheekbone.

"Sucking on your girlfriend's mind. That's what I'm talking about."

Fury gave her strength. Willow reared up with a growl, eyes burning black.

Glory beamed in satisfaction. "Oh yeah. That was something to treasure. I can't read minds, but I can kinda get some 'pictures'. Your little honey- mmm. She was colorful."

"Give it back." Willow snarled softly, wiping away the blood that was running down her chin.

"Oooh, sorry, sweetie. I can't do that. I own it now. I own her. Sucked her dry."

Willow seethed, a black vein appearing like a streak of lightning on her brow. "Come," a low hiss, a crooked finger.

Glory turned her head slightly as something slithered across the floor- a bumpy looking sack. Willow snapped her fingers, and it opened. "What's that?" Glory asked in an amused tone. "A bag of tricks?"

Willow's face was cold and cruel, her own sinisterly amused smile painted on her lips. "No." She thought of a rising wind, and one filled the room, lifting an assortment of blackened daggers from the bag, floating them between the goddess and the witch. "Bag of knives." She heaved her arm forward, and the knives flew like arrows.

Glory batted them aside easily. At least, seemingly easily. She masked gasping for air with a laugh. "Sorry. Gonna have to do better than that."

"Spirit of serpents now appear..."

Glory's eyes narrowed. This bitch is dangerous. I should have just taken her out. She slung the nearest heavy object to hand at Willow, which happened to be a coffee table.

Willow caught it against her torso, but she ignored the pain and shock, clawing back to her knees, bracing herself on all fours, finishing her chant as she looked unblinkingly at Glory. "Spirit of serpents now appear, hissing, writhing, striking fear."

A snake appeared out of the carpet, and wound itself angrily around one toned leg, tail lashing angrily.

Glory shook her head with mocking pity. she reached down and hurled the snake to the floor, then stomped on it, killing it in a puff of smoke and inky blood. "I like snakes. You remember that. Your little visitors aren't gonna do anything to me." Glory smiled crookedly. "This is just getting weak and pathetic." She slowly sauntered to Willow, reached down and suddenly latched onto her throat.

"Unng, no." Willow croaked, fingers pushing back against her wrist, knees struggling to find grip as she was dragged forward.

"Weak and pathetic... just like you."

"How in the world are people not fleeing their homes, or peeping out of their windows?" Giles slammed on the breaks they reached the curving drive of a sleek, modern house.

"Must be that mental illusion stuff you were talkin' about. She's got people fogged not to notice this place I'd guess. Reckon we can, since we've been dosed with Red's magic ourselves, and she's the main attraction right now." Spike was clutching the door handle, tensed, waiting to spring, holding back because he knew getting caught ended this whole show pretty damn conclusively.

"You think they don't notice the house spitting out midgets?" Xander pointed into the lawn.

Buffy peered over Spike's shoulder. "Demons. Her demons. Think they can see us?"

"They saw Tara, didn't they?" Xander mumbled.

"Weapons." Giles reached behind the driver's seat and felt for the bag on the floor. "More in the trunk. Any sign of that plan, Buffy?"

"Yeah." Buffy kissed Spike's lips and Xander's forehead in quick succession as she scooted out of the car. "You go after the little guys, I'll go after the big guy. And don't get killed. Or I'm gonna tell Mom and Anya on you." She smiled briefly at Giles and Xander. "Spike-"

"I'm not waitin' in the fuckin' car, Slayer."

"I was gonna say- game face. And don't get caught."

"No one thinks the shiny soul is in the ugly prezzie, do they? Spike nodded, and vamped.

The yard was full of fleeing minions charging out and then a few bravely trying to charge back, only to be intercepted by three very pissed off men.

"Don't say anything specific." Giles said form the corner of his mouth.


"They'll hear what we say. They may have some sort of link to her, some mental pathway. We don't know for certain what her powers are. And the less they know of us-" Giles' swung a double bladed axe and ignored the spatter on his glasses as it connected with the first minion who realized there were interlopers, "the better."

Buffy waited until the chaos level was off the chart. About thirty seconds of Spike. She grinned, even as her heart hammered, as he stood on the perimeter and roared, the picture of demonic, yellow-eyed fury. "Who. The Bloody HELL. Is settin' up shop in MY TOWN?" Spike demanded in rage.

She watched another thirty seconds. First contact. If the minions could tell, by some kind of touch or merely by being in his presence, they gave no sign. If they did realize it belatedly, they didn't have much time to dwell on it.

The grass was littered with torn throats and red-black blood, he tore through them with fangs and brute force.

Buffy realized she was more deeply in love every second with this vampire.

If watching him make body-confetti just makes you feel proud-okay, and maybe a little wet, it's love...

Now I better go in and save someone else I love. Who's probably doing something equally stupid because she's in love.

Love's a bitch.

Buffy slid into the house without a struggle.

Willow struggled. She'd been dragged up by her hair, her head swimming after it had been shoved into the wall behind her, and she was aware of Glory running something along the side of her face. Her magic was unfocused, draining.

Glory needed to end this. Her battle of wills with the witch were more draining and painful than she'd let on. The big meal, rich in mental power, was helping but it wouldn't be long before little weaknesses started to show. Better send a message with this one.

The knife brushed, sharp edge down, against Willow's cheek. "I guess I have room for seconds. And you'll still taste good... in pieces." Glory whispered in a sinister, almost intimate voice.

She stepped back, startled, sickened, when the witch's spit splattered on her face. She wiped it off, a kind of disgusted wonder across her face. Who the hell do these mortals think they are?

"You know what they used to do to witches, lover?" The dagger drew back, lined up. Willow's eyes narrowed, then widened in horror. "Crucify 'em."

"I heard they used to bow down to gods, too." A flippant voice startled the ex-goddess and she turned.

Willow wrenched herself free and ducked down, scrambling towards Buffy.

"Things change." Buffy cracked her knuckles. "'Cause no one's bowing around here." She smiled with false perkiness.

"This must be the Slayer."

"And you must be Glory." Her adversary looked startled, and it bought them yet another precious second. "Didn't think I'd know who you were? Know the all powerful older than words name? Come on. I do my homework." Buffy stated evenly.

"I do mine." Rattled, Glory bluffed to an extent. "This is your witch."

"I'm really not so good with the possessive pronouns." Buffy shrugged, and helped Willow past her. "I'm more about the ass-kicking."

"Same here." Glory advanced, slightly unsteady.

Buffy stood still. She didn't want Glory to get out into the yard. Nowhere near Spike. But I don't want to take her on if I can help it. I'm not gonna be able to kill her, and the last thing I need is a god with a bigger grudge... Why do I have to be all mature and logical now?

I guess I'm not. "Nice to meet someone in the workplace with similar interests. Bring it." Buffy widened her stance into a slight crouch, pushing forward, waiting, waiting for Willow to fully clear this battle zone.

Through a slightly puffy eye, Willow noticed the minor flaw in the goddess' steps, the disheveled look, in spite of all the boasting. She'd been able to weaken her a little. And she'd certainly been weakened herself. Time to tire both of us out a little more. "Thicken." Willow whispered, her hand weaving through the air as if stirring something only she could see.

Glory halted, frowned. "Already tried that trick, witch."

"Different trick." Willow smiled faintly, and pulled Buffy's elbow. "Move."

"I was going to tell you that!" Buffy murmured, backing from the room with her battered friend.

"Great minds, huh?" Once Willow realized Glory was truly trapped, they turned and bolted.

Glory was mired in place, and her own magic wasn't breaking the bindings this time. She fumed, shouted impotently, watching them run as she sent her threats after them. "This isn't over! This isn't over, I know you! I will find you! I know what you have, and I will rip all of them apart until I have it!" She howled into empty house.

"I thought they weren't supposed to be able to see us?" Xander cradled a swollen jaw. "I don't get that part. 'Cause, boy did they see us." For short people, man, could they punch. And stab. And mojo. He didn't know exactly how he managed to be alive at this moment, with only a few injuries. Dumb luck and heavy hammers, and probably the fact that these little rug rats hadn't expected for humans to see them, anymore than they had expected to be seen.

"Presumably Glory herself saw Tara. She's a god, not a demon, and therefore outside the parameters of the protection spell. If, as we suppose, she has power to control what others see, perhaps she transmitted that vision somehow. That perception. So much is about perception..." Giles paused in cleaning his bloody weaponry and looked at the lawn. A half dozen bodies lay motionless, and another dozen or so had fled.

"Yeah, they sure must be able to - where's Spike?"


"Spike. Where is he?" Xander felt his entire system turn to ice.

Giles' cast a sharper, frantic glance across the still figures. "No. No, he'd be ash, he wouldn't be-"

"Don't say anything else!" Xander left the car side with a hoarse command. "He was right here! Two minutes ago, he pulled one of those dudes off me." Who was gonna stab me. In the back. Where it wouldn't just be a scratch.

Shit. Spike saved my life.

"He was right here!"

"Still am." Spike shuffled up behind them, grunting slightly, coat removed and held in front of him like a black leather sack of goodies.

Or rather a sack of baddies. "Open the trunk!"

"What?" Giles hurriedly threw open the boot, getting out of Spike's way.

"I listen." Spike addressed Xander. "What'd you tell me? Kill 'em all, but save one for you?" The coat was tied in a bundle, sleeves knotted around the body wrapped inside. "I listen." He dropped the bag heavily into the car.

"What in heaven's name are you-"

"Tired of lookin' in your books, no offense." Spike wiped his hands on his jeans. "Thought if anyone would know what can hurt her, it'd be something that looks after her."

"You think he'll talk?"

"I think he will when we get done with him." Spike looked at the house. "Where are they? Where's Buffy? I ran one of this lot down, but I-"

"Oh thank God. There they are." Giles rushed forward. "Stay back." He urged Spike.

"I'll do you one better." Spike slunk into the shadows. "They shouldn't see me here, with the white hats, if any of her little spies are peekin' through the windows, if any made it back inside yet."

"But Buffy-"

"Tell her to meet me at home. She'll be busy lookin' after the witches anyway." Spike retrieved his coat, and its contents. "Sorry. Next one's yours." He smirked at Xander, and took off into the night.

"Willow Danielle Rosenberg, if you ever ditch me again, I will - I don't know what'll do, but you're not gonna like it." Xander hugged her hard, felt her collapse against him, into the side of the car.

"Spike's safe, he wanted to distance himself from the 'good guys'." Giles grabbed Buffy's hand and pulled her into the front seat. "Come on. I can't believe we've had this long."

"But what's going on?" Buffy demanded, looking behind them for the tenth time.

"Talk and drive." Xander cradled Willow's head and wiped off her cheek with his sleeve. He then realized his own arm was bloody and he sighed. "Why aren't they chasing us?"

"Can't." Willow smiled up at him blearily, touching his cheek. "Air gone wild in there..."

"Faithless... little...cretins..." Glory spat and snarled, still in place.

Forms ringed her, prostrating, bowing, chanting- nothing appeased her.

"The wind seemed to drag us!"

"We were attacked at once!"

"An ambush!"

"We had no idea who was there, that a mere mortal witch could-"

"So you just ran from a little window and a couple mortals?" Glory raised one eyebrow warningly.

"We thought it was something bigger?" Someone suggested hesitantly.

"So you ran and left me to deal with it?" Still stuck in place, Glory's fury radiated in blue sparkles around her.

"What they meant to say, Most Forgiving and Fearsome One, was that we knew you could handle it, and that we thought we were being further attacked. We rushed to your defense." Jinx placated.

"And they were well and truly attacked, Your Unholiness." A priest, cowering less than his counterparts, pointed out. "We priests and mages of course, sought refuge elsewhere. Your ritual cannot be completed without our assistance, nor can we be replaced in time, so if you will please forgive us for our most unworthy-"

"Shut. Up." Glory rubbed her temples. "And get me down?"

"We're working on that, Most Gracious and Patient One. We-hrm- seem to be fighting the air itself..."

Glory seethed, then looked at Jinx. "Three fighters? Tell me about them. Let's see who else is in the Slayer's merry little band. Any real threats?"

"You're goin' to want to start talking soon." Spike said in a bored voice. Hot cigarette ash dropped on the minion's skin, and he flinched. "I'm not exactly patient."

"I will never betray my beloved goddess." The minion replied steadfastly.

"Aw. That's so sweet." Spike exhaled, and then struck like lightning, a broken hand left at the end of his attack. "That's for a friend of mine. I don't got many, so you can expect me to take it serious when someone messes about with them."

"You're a... vampire." The minion panted in pain. "You're friends with the witch?"

"Yeah." Spike told him. "I am. An' I don't want it spread around, so... you're gonna have to take that secret to the grave with you, alright, mate?"

The minion looked around. They were already in a crypt, a bare stone one with a few granite caskets inside. He was tied to a single lighting bracket, half strung up, half tied down. "Seems I'm already here. You may as well kill me now."

"Not until you tell me what kills her." Spike struck again, a boot this time, hard and fast, and a kneecap splintered.

A strangled yelp, then he asked, "Friends with the Slayer then. What kind of vampire are-"

"Slayer's a right bitch. Bossy, airheaded, bitch." Spike said with as much spite as he could work up- and it rang with conviction, because there had been so many times he believed just that about the woman he now he loved. "An' let's not muck up the order of things, yeah? I ask. You answer." Spike twisted an arm back and the minion just laughed.

"You think this is pain? We're from a long lost place of torment that you half-breeds cannot imagine. It's only these human creatures that feel the flames..."

"Let me turn up the heat then..." Spike put the cig out, sneered in a menacing manner, and cracked his knuckles.

"She's been up for just a little while, and they moved her into a private room- not the psyche ward, just a private room- until you came to get her. I don't know what they gave her but she's still kinda hazy. Even for the way she is right n- yeah. Sorry. You probably don't want to hear about that." Anya spoke to Willow, though she addressed four weary looking figures.

"Okay. She's okay." Willow looked through the small window in the door, and saw her goddess dreamily staring into space, alternately whimpering and smiling. Her own lips trembled and twisted.

"Give us a moment." Giles murmured quietly, and pushed Xander and Buffy away, letting Anya slide past him as well, magnetically fused to Xander's side as soon she could reach him.

Willow didn't look at Giles. Her eyes belonged to the lost girl on the other side of the glass. "Willow." Giles' words touched her though his hands remained relaxed in his pockets.

"She's - I didn't fix her. She's still in there, waiting for me to fix her. She- she said I was her hero. Just the night before." Willow whispered, tears slowly escaping.

Giles hesitated. He'd already borne the brunt of her temper once tonight, and what he was going to say wasn't going to make her happy. "Do you only love her if she's perfect?"

As expected, he got a reaction, but nothing magical or physically painful. Stunned, aching eyes, rosebud mouth that was already injured quivering in denial. "I love her! I love Tara, I - she's perfect already, how can you-"

"I asked because I wondered. Sometimes people think to be in love, to be happy, that you have to be whole, have to be healthy. Love... love is simply love, Willow. Whole or in pieces. We want to stop their pain, we would take it for them if we could." Giles' arm stole around her shoulders as her head bowed. He drew her in, his hazel-flecked eyes faraway, on a trajectory of a relationship of his own, Joyce's worries, his resistance, her cancer, his scars, the shattering inside when she lost him in the ravages of her mind.

"I love her so much." Willow finally choked out. "I'm terrified. What if I never get her back, if she never- never knows how much I love her, how much we- we were in love?"

He held her shaking form and whispered into her hair. "It sounds harsh, darling, but... the truth is, we would love them forever, even if they never recognized us again. She may not know you fully, but you still know her. Know everything you loved, and you will show her."

"But what if-"

"You'll show her. She'll know." Giles held her at arm's length as she straightened up. "Even if you couldn't- nothing changes in here." he touched his own chest. "Does it?"

Willow hesitated. Everything changes! So much hate for the person who hurt her, so much hate at herself for letting it happen, not protecting her, failing to be her hero when it really mattered, failure to avenge- blackness boiled in her heart and seeped up to the surface of her eyes for a hint of a second. And that's really kind of about me. What I failed. What I did.

Nothing changes about her though. About how I feel. Nothing could stop me loving her. "She's my girl." Willow finally whispered.

"Then go in there and get her." Giles opened the door.

"The Door opens... A few days' time and it'll open, the Key is here, the Stairway, parts made by man, but some made by Her hands... You can't kill her. She'll consume... consume you all."

"Every time you talk you get blood all over your frock." Spike wiped his own bloodied hands. His informant was a mess of burns, bruises, and stabs, and losing life fast. His head was lolling and his words were spoken more to himself than to his confessor. "Save on the laundry if you'd get to the bloody point, no pun intended."

"You waste your time. And I shall be anointed by her when I rise to join her in our new home..." A peaceful, somewhat gory smile marred his gray features.

"You keep talkin' 'bout how you don't mind the pain." Spike inflicted some and paused to let the screeching die down. "How it's just these stupid dimensional bodies. But she's in one, isn't she?"

"Merely a vessel."

"You can put other worldly things in vessels." Spike knew all too well.

"They did. With the Key."

Spike tensed. "Did they now? Clever little bastards."

"But she'll find it. She always finds it."

"Faithful little potato sack, aren't you?" Spike plied his bruised hands yet again, and again waited for the resulting screams to cease. "Tell me how we hurt this 'vessel'."

"Can't." The minion laughed now, darkness creeping over him as outside the sun rose. "Only one thing hurts her. She is omnipotent. She is unbreakable. Oh, my Most Beautiful and Terrible-"

"Tell me what. Tell me the one thing." Spike drew him up by his sweat and blood soaked collar, choking him.

"It doesn't exist here. Not in your dimension."

"Lotsa stuff that isn't in this dimension seems to pop in for visits." My soul. This soddin' 'Door', and the Hellbitch on the hill...

"Couldn't catch it. They tethered the Key, but they couldn't catch this. No, couldn't put it in a vessel." The minion insisted stubbornly.

Spike dropped him back to the floor. "You lot put some ex-goddess in a vessel, but the other side can't put a little weapon in one?"

Through a haze of pain and blood, the minion looked at the vampire. "Only the Key could hold Dagon's Sphere now. The Key or Glorificus. It's the tool of a god, only they are strong enough in this realm. No. No one else. She's safe from that at least."

"What about the one strong enough to protect the Key?" Spike mused to himself, half-aloud.

The minion blinked, and there was a second where blue eyes locked with bloodied ones.

"The Slayer has it? And you know because you-", streaked eyes went wide, "you're the-"

Spike snapped his neck with the speed of a cobra striking.

He shook all over. Too close. Too bloody close. The Dagon Sphere- Dagon's Sphere. Who's Dagon? What's the sphere, then? Tool of a god, only one's strong enough to hold it are me and Mrs. Unholy One?

Spike knew the baddies wouldn't be still for long, not after an attack on their own property. They'd probably be on the move- but they wouldn't be able to move far, knowing the Key was around. So they'll be on the offensive now. Looking to strike.

He gathered up the dead demon and shoved him inside one of the stone coffins in the chamber. Blood still streaked the floor, but it'd be harder to trace without the body it belonged to, if anyone even bothered to look. He flicked his lighter across the edge of the robe. It flickered into flames.

He watched the body burn, staring into the heart of the flames. How similar to another glowing, burning object, one he was itching to touch.

All of them touched it, 'cept me. It's not so powerful.

Unless the shiny ball is, just like he said, a vessel for this dimension. Maybe it's what's inside that's so powerful.

So powerful that he's right. Only the Key or Glory could hold it.

And it can hurt her.

Spike put the stone lid back onto the coffin, smothering the fire. He waited a few minutes, checked and made sure the inside was just smoldering ash, then moved with deliberate haste.

The sun was up. Buffy'd be waiting at their home, in another cemetery. He hadn't wanted them to have a trail to their place, nor did he want her to see the aftermath of what he'd done to get information.

He hurried into birthing daylight, coat surrounding him, as he looked for the nearest sewer entrance.

Gotta get home. Gotta get this shit offa me, and that's gonna take a lotta scrubbin'.

Gotta ask her what she thinks. Calm her down if she's frantic. Say I'm sorry for makin' her wait and worry.

He wondered if she'd been waiting long.

"Sorry it took so long. The doctor on duty signed off on her discharge papers, and here's the scripts for her medication and the antibiotic. You can leave. We'll bring the wheelchair up after she's had some time to get dressed."

Willow took the forms and the accompanying discharge patient care instructions.

"Hey. Can I come in? I brought breakfast goodies. Well- hospital cafeteria breakfast goodies, so I guess I should say I brought food. Food-like stuff. I'm gonna go out and come back in." Buffy, who'd babbled her way slowly into the room, now started backing out.

"It's okay. She needs to eat." Willow motioned her over with a sad smile. Tara stared at the ceiling and blinked at the first rays of light. "Tara? Sweetie? Buffy brought us breakfast."

Humming and blinking, chasing an invisible something with her finger across the bed.

Buffy squeezed next to Willow. "I'm sorry. Will, I'm- I'm so sorry. I should have-"

"What's in the bag?" Willow cut her off with a sad shake of her head, a brave little smile trying to get out.

"Breakfast burritos. There's um- this is ham. This is bacon. This one is veggie. I think..." Buffy poked the plastic wrapped bundles uncertainly.

"It's fine." Willow took two. "Tara? It looks like there's avocado. Mm, and mushrooms." No response.

Buffy bit her lip. "What do we have to do? What do we need?"

Willow hugged her suddenly. "We" was a very comforting word right now. "I have to get her someplace safe. I can make any place safe, I have the spells... I mean, I can make it safe enough, I guess." I hope. Like safe is a word anymore...

"I know. You got the mojo. I saw you kicking some butt. Well, holding it still." Buffy smoothed her friend's hair back.

"Yeah, and they gave me these prescriptions. Tranquilizers and - stuff to keep her calm. Help her sleep." Willow's stomach twisted. Talking about her lover like she wasn't even in the room. Not okay. "But Buffy, sometimes Tara is fine. Right. Tara? Sweetie." Willow took her unbroken hand. Tara looked nervous for a moment, then sighed and shook her head in puzzlement.

"Plastic and their six sisters. Six sick sisters." The pale witch muttered anxiously.

"Shhh. It's okay." Willow smiled reassuringly and held up the burrito. "Gotta eat, baby." She took a first bite, then held it out to her. Tara cocked her head, leaned forward and nibbled.

Sitting on the sidelines, but so deep in the midst of this tragedy, Buffy felt helpless. "Can I do anything? You can stay at Mom's. I know they wouldn't mind. I-"

"Yeah, maybe." Willow watched Tara swallow and make a face. "Hospital food, I know. We'll get something better at home."

"Home? Home home home?" Tara blinked rapidly, a look of distress on her face.

"With me. With Willow." The redhead quickly explained.

Tara nodded, but then pulled her knees to her chest and huddled, half-rocking in place. Closed over again.

Willow struggled to keep her tears in.

Buffy tried to think of something to do. "I can go to the drug store for you? Get what she needs?"

"Yeah. Thanks. You um- you have to go to the hospital dispensary too. They dispense equipment and stuff."

"Like- crutches?"

"Like restraints. They said I might have to- keep her still at night. She might wander off if I... Buffy, I'm not doing that. I'll sit up all night and watch her, but I would never-" Willow angrily wiped at her eyes. "I'm not doing that."

"No, you're not. And you won't sit up alone, either." Buffy swore.

"She has moments, Buffy. I see it. When she looks at me. That she's fine. But even if she's not. Even if she never is, even if she's always like this-" Willow lightly touched Tara's knee, and the soft blue eyes fluttered in her direction- locked. A shy smile emerged.

"Willow." Tara's voice was warm and relieved. For a second. Then the soft crooning began again.

"She's my girl." Willow stated simply.

And sometimes you love them, no matter what they are. Who they are. What's inside. Buffy thought of Spike, good, bad, evil, soulful. They're just yours. "I understand."

"I know you do." Willow spared her a glance before leaning over and lightly kissing Tara on the forehead. "Hear that, Baby?" Tara looked up at her. "You're my girl. For always. You're my always." Willow prayed some part of her understood.

Tara looked up, eyes still dreamy, and smiled. "Willow's. Always."

She had to find her own "always." A snarky, sunlight challenged always who was deep in this mess and hadn't been around all morning. We need to put a phone in our place. Or cell phones. Totally with Xan on that. We really need cell phones.

It had been a busy start to the day. They moved Tara and Willow in with Joyce and Giles, hopefully just for a few day.

Xander went off to work with a thermos of espresso attached to his tool belt, taking continuous sips to keep him awake. Anya stole a few hours of sleep between Tara and Joyce watching, and then ran the gallery singlehandedly while Giles and Willow attempted to put wards on the house.

Buffy ran errands, spoke to someone at the college about getting Tara an extension, and the whole time worried that she really should have checked on Spike first.

Why hasn't Glory come after us yet? Is she waiting? Is she watching? What's up with that?

A few hours ago...

Ben fell to the floor in a heap. "Ow! What? What happened now?" He took in the ring of demons, the wrecked living room, and the black slip he was wearing. "Seriously. What now?"

"Thank heavens! The transformation ends the witch's spell." The mages stopped struggling and poring over books.

"Man, I hate walking in on the middle of the evil insanity." Ben groaned and rubbed his knees. "Or falling in. Do you think you could ask my sister if she could sit down at sunrise? In pants?"

"There has been a fearful struggle! The Slayer and the mate of the witch your sister attacked were here with several others and they besieged Glorificus! They actually - briefly disabled her." Dreg emotionally explained, modifying his words at the end. "They've killed and wounded a dozen of your sister's faithful servants, and -"

"Wait. Someone can stop her?" Ben's eyes lit up, then looked troubled.

"Only temporarily!" Jinx waved this off impatiently. "We have to hunt them down. The Slayer. Her witch, a man who is probably her Watcher, and another comrade. A man, your age, I imagine."

"Don't forget the vampire. He dispatched the most of those fallen." A shaking minion interjected.

"I don't know if he was with them, he simply seemed annoyed we were in his turf." Another minion mused.

Ben "Hunt down people trying to kick Glory's ass? Not interested." Ben laughed, although very conflicted internally. If they kill her- they kill me. That's always what I think. Only now I have to think about it for real. This isn't years away or months away. Not even weeks now. Days. Not many.

Jinx seemed to be having similar thoughts. "This is no time to joke! We have a few days, that is all, and when she dies, you die, do you understand that? Do you understand what kind of life you will have in the new world?"

"Inhumane and evil?" Ben spat.

"You are the Vessel! You are the prophesied one! You will be worshipped and loved as the restorer of the Unholy Queen to her rightful immortality!"

"I will be watching hell on earth, millions of people that I want to help getting killed,and knowing I'm responsible!" Ben shouted in Jinx's face. "What part of that don't you get?"

"That feeling dies away Master Ben. In a very short time. A few years, less. This won't be your world for long, it'll be hers, and you'll be part of it."

"A few years? Less. And I'll be part of hell. Really selling it, Jinx." He scoffed.

Jinx smiled patiently. "But you already have it in you, that ability to fit in... You kill. You lie. Conceal. Allow evil to flourish when you could so easily-"

Ben cut him off harshly, shoving him back. "Stop it!"

He didn't. "Because you're afraid to die, Master Ben, and so is your sister. The one way you are both so truly alike, a family resemblance." Jinx clasped his hands entreatingly at Ben. "Don't you understand, Benjamin? A few year of horror- and then millions, even billions of years, uncountable, unending years- of being worshipped." His tone wheedled. "And if that doesn't appeal to your humanity- then how about simply years and years of being alive? Of never, ever dying? You understand, don't you, that you will become immortal when she ascends? You'd never have to face your one greatest fear. The unknown. Not knowing what happens after this mortal coil stops turning, for you will simply transcend it."

Ben didn't reply for a long time. Maybe a solid minute, of just staring at the demon, a darkness in his eyes, face unchanging, unmoving.

"Help us. You can go places we can't, move freely in their world. Help us. Help yourself." Jinx whispered.

Ben's jaw flexed once. "I'm gonna be late. Can you like- fix the furniture by the time I get back? Sweep up all this glass?" Ben shoved past him and upstairs. "Gotta take a shower. Stinks like evil."

Jinx watched him leave, sorrowfully clucking his tongue. "He can try," he murmured, "but it never washes off when it's inside..."

"Why are you in the bathtub?" Buffy breathlessly demanded.

"More important- why aren't you joinin' me?" Spike grinned and hoped all the blood was off of him by now, hoped he looked like he'd just been relaxing, not trying to soak and scour off what stubbornly clung to him.

Buffy dropped her bag and took off her coat. "Because I've been running around like crazy trying to help everyone do everything. Mom and Tara are covered. Oh, yeah, Willow and Tara are in the guest room at Mom's house, okay?"

"What? Why?"

"Safety. We hope." Buffy sighed. Naked vampire. Bubbly naked vampire. I need sleep.

No one said you couldn't sleep on a bubbly naked vampire.

Because that shouldn't be a sentence. "I think my head's gonna explode." Buffy suddenly groaned.

Spike stood up and flipped the rubber plug out with his toe. The water was red tinged anyway, but his skin was white, maybe a little bruised but clean. "Have a hot shower then, Luv. Wash it all away."

"I can't. I can't wash this away. I don't know why she hasn't attacked us yet, but she's going to. She saw my face. She said- she'd get us. And I don't know how to stop her. Willow can hold her off, and maybe that's enough but what if it's not? It's only a few more days, but there's no way we can get Tara back without killing Glory and then they can't make that god-slicing-dicing arrow thingy and nothing else can hurt her and-"

"And I think that what I did today," Spike shushed her by seizing her and pulling her steadily towards him, pressing his wet chest to her pale pink shirt, leaving a damp imprint across her breasts, "might have given us that clue we needed."

"What'd you do?" Buffy let him tug her shirt off over her shoulders, pulling her arms through weakly, eyes reflecting a mixture of doubt and hope.

"Found out we might've had the weapon we need the whole damn time."

To be continued...