"I didn't see anything," Willow mumbled. Without Tara holding her up, she might have collapsed. The sun, in defiance of the terrible events, blazed brightly, making it hard for her to focus. Her headache had reached migraine proportions.
The cop nodded but didn't back down. "Sometimes we see more than we think." Watching her closely, he clicked his pen open and closed. The sound further aggravated Willow. He knew it. She could feel his eyes on her. Gauging her reaction. "Why don't you walk me through what happened? Where were you when the shooting started?"
She wanted to kill him. If only Willow had the energy. His voice stabbed at her. His question, the situation made her remember. Laying her head more firmly on Tara's shoulder, she closed her eyes and concentrated. "I was inside with Tara." Her lips curled up. Hmm, inside. They'd been in the bedroom, laughing and teasing. Dressing for breakfast. With Buffy.
A coil of pain twisted around Willow's heart. Her voice trembled as she continued. "We...we started down the stairs."
If they hadn't been playing, would Tara have been outside when the shooting started? Would she have been able to save Buffy?
Or would there have been two bodies on the stretcher?
The image was so horrific. Willow turned and hugged Tara desperately; she needed the connection. Needed to prove that Tara was still there.
"Shh, baby. I'm right here." Just like always. Tara rocked them, crooning tunelessly until Willow could relax her grip slightly.
The cop waited patiently. His expression was sympathetic yet determined. He'd stand in that one spot until Willow finished her story - no matter how long it took.
"That's when we heard the first shot. We thought it was a car backfiring. Until there were more." Muscles tensed, ready to run, Willow mentally replayed her sprint into the yard. "We ran outside." Willow relived each second of the tale in slow motion as she talked. "I saw Buffy and Xander. Buffy was lying down. Or...half lying. Xander was kneeling. Holding her. I didn't understand."
Willow still didn't understand. How could this have happened? Her emotions teetered dangerously from an eerie calm to choking grief to the leading edge of a killing rage. Magical sparks blew through Willow's channels and lit the dregs of her personal energy store. Grappling with her inner demons, she missed the cop's next question, coming back to the conversation to find him staring at her. "What? I'm sorry..."
His pen scratched audibly across his notepad for a moment. "I asked if you saw anything else. Maybe the shooter?"
"No. Buffy...Buffy and Xander were here..." Wait. Willow stopped and closed her eyes again. That wasn't right. "When I came out of the kitchen, I did see someone." Willow's mind slowly wakened. The need to concentrate on what she'd witnessed helped her ignore the headache. "He was wearing a black jacket, I think." Pushing away from Tara, Willow paced to the edge of the deck and stared at the yard.
She could feel the cop move next to her. "Did he look familiar?"
"No." Willow thought she was telling the truth. She still gripped the deck railing, bent her head, and thought really hard. Nothing. Not one real, useful detail. "I'm sorry," she mumbled. So sorry. She'd been so tied up in getting off the magic, in reconnecting with Tara, that she hadn't been there when Buffy needed her. And now Willow couldn't even describe the man who'd shot Buffy!
"That's alright, Ms. Rosenberg." A large hand disturbed Willow's intent examination of the wooden railing, a crumpled business card held between beefy fingers. "You call me if you remember anything else."
That would never happen. Turning away from the extended card, Willow walked back into the house. Buffy's house. Goddess. Buffy.
It was too quiet. Xander, Willow, and Tara sat in silence. Rather, Willow and Tara sat. Xander slumped. He'd followed the girls into the house, dropped into the armchair, put his elbows on his knees, and buried his face in his hands. He'd been like that ever since.
What were they supposed to do now? This time, Willow had no answers. Her mind was disconnected, her emotions numb. Unaware of the way her fingers gripped Tara's hand, she mindlessly examined the furniture, carpet, walls… The cycle repeated itself endlessly. Television, floor lamp, Xander, mantle with pictures.
Mantle with pictures. Willow's gaze stopped on a photo of Buffy and Dawn. Another of the Scoobies and a grimacing Giles.
Oh, Goddess. Dawn.
Willow's mind snapped on and hit the ground running. Or hopped erratically like a jumping bean.
They had to tell Dawn that Buffy was dead. They had to call Giles and tell him that Buffy was dead.
Was it repetition that made Willow able to at least think the word "dead" without crying?
And there was the funeral to arrange. That would be easy. Willow still had all of the paperwork from when they'd buried Buffy the last time.
Taking care of the demons wouldn't be as simple, though. The Buffybot was out; it had been destroyed. And, well, Buffy was officially dead this time. Even the Sunnydale police would notice if she "reappeared".
Damn. The pain was still there. Willow's breath hitched in a sob at the newest reminder.
Buffy was dead.
No. No, she couldn't get lost in emotions. Couldn't get lost in the fact Buffy would never hold her hand. Never cuddle close while they watched movies. Never…
Willow hurtled off the couch, fleeing the memories. There were things that had to be done; she had always been the Lead Slayerette. That hadn't changed. Voice hoarse yet firm, Willow took control of herself – and the situation. "Tara, can you pick Dawn up from school?"
Looking haunted and strained, Tara nodded. "Wh-What should I t-tell her?"
"Nothing." Some of Willow's assurance crumbled, and she looked at Tara in panic. "We…we should tell her together, right?"
A flicker of a smile and a hint of relief answered. "Right." Without another word, Tara left the room. The front door closed with a soft bang, and Willow felt the emptiness expand.
Was it always going to be like this from now on? It was so hard to keep going. "Xan?" Willow walked over and touched his shoulder. He didn't move. Pretending that he was paying attention, she gamely went on. "Do you still have those old patrolling schedules from last summer?" The summer when Buffy was only temporarily dead. "I thought we could use them…"
"No!" Xander erupted from the chair. Looming over her with clenched fists pressed against his thighs, he shouted, "Who cares about patrol? Aren't we going to do anything about Buffy? Aren't we going after him? He killed her – and you're talking about patrol schedules?"
Unconsciously retreating a step, Willow stared dumbly at Xander.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Xander demanded."Buffy's dead, Will. Who cares about patrol?"
Willow regained her position – and then moved into Xander's personal space. "What's wrong? I don't know, Xan. Maybe the fact that Buffy's dead! I haven't forgotten, but what can we do about it? It wasn't a demon attack! It was human!"
"It was Warren!" Xander's voice echoed in Willow's ears, each successive wave of sound growing louder. She barely heard his following announcement. "He started shooting, and she shoved me out of the way. She died because she pushed me out of the way."
Before Willow had a chance to recover, he stormed out of the house.
The cemetery smelled like dirt. Willow huddled next to Tara and watched Buffy's coffin slowly lower into the ground.
"Come on, sweetie. We should go." Tara tugged gently on Willow's hand, urging her (as she had for the past thirty minutes) to leave for home.
Not yet. They couldn't leave yet. Not until Buffy was all the way gone. Willow knew Buffy was dead. After all, she'd said it often enough when she'd called Giles and held Dawn as she'd screamed and cried and pleaded for it to all be a dream. But until the coffin was covered and out of sight, a tiny ember of hope flickered in Willow's heart. Hope that Buffy would burst from the metal box. Hope that she'd wake up with Dawn and laugh about their similar dream.
One front loader bucket of dirt at a time, Willow's hope disappeared.
Finally, as the cemetery workers packed up their equipment, Tara pulled Willow away from the gravesite. "Mr. Giles is waiting for us at the house." She paused next to Joyce's old Jeep. "He said he wanted to t-talk to all of us. Have you heard from Xander?"
"No. Not since…" Not since. Willow didn't bother to finish the sentence. Tara would know what she meant. Not since Buffy had died and he'd left the Summers' house. Willow had searched everywhere, even snuck into his apartment building by telling a neighbor she was Xander's girlfriend. He hadn't been there.
"He'll show up." Tara was a terrible liar.
Still, Willow summoned a smile and nodded. "I know," she lied back.
Despite their best efforts, however, Xander was not waiting in the living room with Giles and Dawn. Willow didn't understand. He was mad and understandably grieving for Buffy. So was she. But he needed to be here. Xander was a Scooby; he'd Buffy's closest male friend. He'd been Willow's first, and for a while only, friend.
Fresh tears streaked Willow's face as she sat next to Tara. Goddess, she couldn't lose Xander, too. It was too much. Nausea swelled, clogging her throat. Black dots danced in front of her eyes. Holding very still, Willow fought the lightness in her head and watched Giles pace uneasily in front of the mantle. After a few seconds, the dots faded. Willow pressed her hands to her still-twisting stomach.
"Willow, I…" Giles cleared his throat and removed his glasses. Rather than cleaning them, he rubbed a hand over his face and eyes. He looked tired. Worn. Old. "There is no good way to deliver the coming information. Forgive me."
There had been nothing good since Buffy died. Willow leaned into Tara and closed her eyes, bracing for another blow.
It wasn't enough preparation.
Not nearly enough.
"Buffy had not thought to create a last will and testament," Giles announced. "With her death," his voice wavered and cracked, "the Council successfully petitioned the court for Dawn's wardship. She and I will be returning to England this evening."
He kept talking. About sending someone to help with the Hellmouth. About the Summers' house. About all of them trying to move on and have a normal life.
Willow stopped listening. All she could really hear was the voice – her voice – screaming in silent denial of the horrible truth: Buffy was dead, and Giles was taking the last little piece of her away.