On the other side of my skin, something moves. My face is sticky with sweat and blood, a dull sting deep in my arms.
Inside, something moves.
My cells realign to make space. Muscle fibres tear, come apart and move together as pain sends white sparks through my vision. And then I rise, lifted out of my skin. I choke. My lungs struggle to grab hold of air, but the spell is working. A force like water surrounds me, spins. My physical body is pulled in all directions, but mentally, there is no division between the force and myself. I have funnelled myself into the spell, and with the network of power I weave between dimensions.
I tug at universal laws like harp strings, releasing them with a surge of vibrations. I feel like I could die, but the music is beautiful.
Tara touches my arm.
"Yeah?" I jerk my head up, coming face to face with a tablefull of Giles' books.
"I was just wondering what you were thinking about."
Tara stares down at her hands, the way she did around her family. Her whole aura seems to crumple, and I realize too late the defensive quality my voice had held.
I touch her arm, feeling stung and guilty at the same time. "Oh," I say, "just school stuff."
She squeezes my hand under the table. "If you want to talk, I'm always here."
"Thanks." I smile, and she smiles back. Breathing gets easier.
"Alright," Giles' voice echoes through the room as he enters.
"Maybe later," I say to Tara, who nods.
The magicks I used are very powerful. I'm very powerful. So maybe it's not such a good idea to piss me off.
My last conversation with Giles echoes through my head and leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. My insides twist painfully. But as he enters, he barely even glances as me.
"Does anyone have any new - oh. I trust the others haven't made it yet?"
You rank, arrogant amateur.
"Not yet," I say.
"Although Anya's in the back room, counting up the money," says Tara.
"Right. Well, I suppose it's reassuring that recent events haven't upset routine too significantly."
"Was that... sarcasm?" I ask.
Her examines a spot on his glasses. "You know, I'm honestly not sure."
"I am here!" exclaims Xander, throwing his hands into the air as the door closes behind him. "And where might my lovely lady be found?"
"Money," say the three of us, and Xander says, "Should have guessed. Um, Buffy suffered a minor cooking calamity -"
"Is she okay?" asks Tara.
"Yes, but the toaster suffered some third degree burns and tragically might not make it. So, she asked me to pass it on that she will be late."
"Yes, well, what with saving the world for us, I suppose one can be forgiven a toast mishap now and again," says Giles, though his brow is furrowed.
Anya returns from the back room, embracing Xander with a cry of "Xander-bear!" causing him to blush and the rest of us to busy ourselves in something that looks like work. The book of vampire lore I've got is a bit old-Englishy for my tastes, but I'll take it over my childhood friend's very public, very embarrassed shows of affection. And once I get through the prosiness of the prose, the text is actually kind of interesting. How vampires travelled the world looking for the Valley of the Sun and the Gem of Amara. How even immortal creatures are willing to risk their lives - I mean, existences - for a chance to be something greater.
When Buffy and Dawn come in, the two smell of smoke and Buffy's eyes are tired.
"You okay?" I ask.
"Yeah," says Buffy. Her head jerks up in the way that's become familiar since she came back. Like she's surprised to see us. I wonder what happened to her, to change her so much. I wonder why she won't let us help.
Give the girl a break, she just got back from hell. She's doing the best she can.
"It was a busy night," says Dawn helpfully. "With the days getting longer, Buffy's been putting in a lot of hours."
That's never affected her before, but Giles nods anyway. "Anything unusual to report?"
Buffy pauses before saying, "Nope. Since Willow and Tara helped with the thermogravity -"
"Thaumogenesis," I say.
"Right - weird floaty-thing - it's been… quieter. I'm just, you know, getting used to being… back."
"If there's anything at all -" says Giles.
"I'll be fine." Buffy smiles. "But thanks."
And she walks forward and embraces him. He startles briefly, then hugs her too. "I'm glad you're back," says Buffy.
"And I you."
I have to look away. Giles' eyes shine, and for the first time in months, emotion tugs in my chest with force greater than magic.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Giles calls my name as everyone files out the door. "Willow, a word?"
"I'll get dinner started," says Tara, kissing me goodbye. She's gone so quickly that for a brief moment, I'm convinced she and Giles have planned this discussion together. My chest tightens painfully - what if he told her? What if he's turned her against me, too?
But when everyone's left, Giles simply says, "Sit down, please."
"Okay," I say, sitting down in a chair. He remains standing, and I feel as though I'm listening to a lecture at school - though unlike at school, my heart beats so fast it feels like it will overheat. "So what do you want to talk about?"
"I think you know."
I open my mouth to say something, but no words come to my tongue.
"I'll take that as a yes," says Giles. There's a bluntness in his voice and I don't want to call it accusatory, but it's pretty darn hard to think of anything else to call it.
"Dark doesn't always mean evil," I say. "Sometimes it's dark because it's hidden."
"Where magic is concerned, there are valid reasons for certain spells being hidden. I respect your interests in… widening your range of knowledge, but these aren't realm to be entered without guidance."
"Well, then guide me!" my voice comes out louder than I intend, and my skin burns - figuratively, but the intensity isn't much less than would start a magical fire.
Very calmly, Giles sits down across from me. Behind his glasses, his eyes stare into mine. "I have known you for years, and this isn't who I know you to be."
"Don't I get a say in who I am?"
"Willow," he says. "I of all people know the allure of magic, and it's not my place to judge you. But I feel obligated to do whatever I can to keep you and your friends safe."
His eyes flick down towards the table at the end of the sentence. His fingers knit together as though in prayer, and I remember what this means to him. Losing Buffy broke something in all of us, and he was the most certain she was really gone. He was the one who'd protected her for years, guiding her through this world none of us knew about, and then she was gone -
The anger flickers out and I want to cry.
"I thought you'd be happy she was back." I keep my voice quiet so he won't hear it shake.
"I am," he says. "Of course I am."
"Then what did I do wrong?"
"The fact you kept it a secret makes me think you know that."
I stare down at my hands and scrape away a chip of purple polish.
Giles touches my shoulder. "You're a bright young woman, and I understand your desire to learn. I know you hold great power within you. But where magic is involved, ability and intelligence aren't always the most important factors."
"Then what is?"
"Wisdom." His eyes are on me again. "And control. You have done great things, and I don't doubt you will continue to do so. But there are times when the greatest act is to refrain from involvement."
"If you mean it was wrong to bring back Buffy, I can't agree with that."
"She told you she was in hell," says Giles. I nod and he sighs. "You must know how stupid what you did was."
I nod, my eyes stinging.
"I'm glad she's safe. Of course I am. But did you have any indication prior to the spell that something had gone wrong with her afterlife?"
"Just… a feeling."
"What sort of feeling?"
"Like something was wrong in the world."
"I think we all felt that," he says. "We were grieving." He looks down at the table scattered with books. "I should clean up."
We stack the shelves in silence, and when there's nothing left to do, we remain standing. "Thanks," I say into the silence. "For talking to me. No one's really doing that lately."
"They're adjusting to a lot of changes," says Giles. "Are you and Tara well?"
"I think so. Just… it's hard, sometimes. She's not such a fan of the new magic, either."
"She wants you to be safe," says Giles. I nod. "Funny how annoying it can be, having people who care about us." He says it gently, and I smile. "But it does make our lives more meaningful."
"It's not like I'm angry with her. I just wish I had someone to talk to who, you know, understood."
"You have my number," says Giles. "I can't promise to understand, as I've never experienced the sort of power you possess - but I know the technical, and to my own degree, the emotional aspects of magic. You may phone me anytime, and I will speak to you honestly."
Like Buffy, I embrace him. "Thank you."
"Promise you will talk to me before attempting any experimental magic?"
I'm tired when I leave the Magic Box, but it's not a bad kind of tired. For the first time in a while, my thoughts have stopped racing.
a/n: Thank you for reading the latest chapter of my story, and thank you especially to Muffyn1 and TazFlan93 for their reviews!