Dazed And Confused
written by Head Rush


Rating: FRM
Spoilers: 'Grave' and 'Lessons'.
Summary: After 'Grave', Giles takes Willow to the coven, and Anya goes along for the ride. Anya's pov.
Thanks: Big boxes of jelly doughnuts to Sharon and Twi, and to Gail C. and Vatwoman!
Feedback Author: Head Rush



I take Giles’ left arm and sling it across my shoulders.

“Agh,” he says, in that stupid, British, ‘It’s fine, I know I almost died – let’s not make a fuss, but ow, I think I might have a bruise coming, or possibly major internal injuries’, way of his.

We hold still for a few seconds, and then he leans on me heavily and we both almost go over. We get some forward momentum going and slowly weave our way through the debris and out of the shop. I can’t believe how sweet and familiar the car fumes smell, and how loud all the ‘shop-opening’ and ‘people-going-to-work’ sounds are. How warm the sun feels on my face. I never really noticed it much before. As we pass a gift shop, I hear a cash register drawer spring open. I wonder how long it’ll be until I get behind a cash register again. Willow killed the Accountmaster Five Hundred in the Magic Box. I loved the soft, satisfying click-clack of those keys; the crash of the drawer as it shot towards me, almost spraying nickels and dimes all over the floor; the smell of warm paper as the receipt roll heated up after lots of people bought things all at once. Not so long ago I opened the cash drawer and found a fluffy bunny keychain had been glued into one of the compartments. I turned around just in time to see Giles disappearing out the back door, laughing his head off. I spent the rest of the day *not* filling out orders in triplicate.

Giles makes a collect call to the coven from a public phone, and then I hail a cab. “Sixteen-thirty Revello Drive,” I tell the driver. At last Giles seems to snap out of his daze, and he shakes his head.

“Make that Kingman’s Bluff, please,” he says.

The whole way there, Giles keeps asking me if I’m sure I’m all right, as if *I* was the one Willow tried to hollow out. It’s sweet at first, but he keeps asking, and after a while it becomes annoying and I get the feeling that maybe he’s just looking for an excuse to work a little vengeance himself. I’ve become familiar enough with the phenomenon over the last thousand years, but I never expected to see it in Mister I’m-So-Rational. Good for him. Go, Giles.

****


When the cabby drops us off, I ask him to wait. You never know when you might need a quick getaway around here. Giles stops talking, and he doesn’t lean on me anymore as we make our way over the clifftop towards Xander and Willow. Although I detest every single part of Xander, from his perfectly square-trimmed toenails to his improbably-shaped head atop a neck so muscly it must restrict the flow of blood to his brain – probably the reason it flows to the smaller head so often, not that I complained – it really does shock me to see him kneeling in the dust with Willow in his arms like that. I want to yell at him to get away from her, but Giles gets there ahead of me and crouches down beside them. He doesn’t acknowledge Willow right away. He puts a hand to the rips in Xander’s shirt and asks him if he can get up. Xander nods and gently disentangles himself from Willow. Giles helps him to stand, and Willow is left kneeling in the dirt by herself.

Giles towers over her. “You’re coming with me,” he says flatly.

Willow doesn’t look up, but she stiffens, and I know what she’s thinking, because I’d be thinking the same. Giles is going to give her what she’s got coming, as it’s pretty clear that nobody else is up for it.

Willow doesn’t move, and neither does he.

“Get up,” says Giles.

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” says Willow, in a voice that carries more than a touch of fear. “Please just go away. It’s over. I’m sorry for everything. You’ll never know how sorry, but it’s *over*. You’re not my Watcher, and I’m not taking any orders from you.” Oh boy, was that the wrong answer. If Willow had looked up since we got here, she wouldn’t be doing the defiant thing.

“It’s not even close to being over,” says Giles. His jaw is clenching and unclenching, but whether it’s from pain or anger I can’t tell. “We’re going to check in at Buffy’s, and then you and I are going a coven in England. I have some friends there, and they’ve made it clear that I must take you to them immediately. I won’t ask you again, and I hope to God you won’t test my patience any more today. The taxi’s waiting, and we need to get Xander to the hospital. Time to think about someone else for a change.”

She still doesn’t move.

“Willow, if you and I don’t arrive at the coven today, they’re going to come looking for you,” says Giles, a little more gently. “Believe me, it’s for the best.”

Not a flicker as Willow shakes her head and winces at this, seeming to sink even deeper into herself. “I’m not going… please, Giles. There are things I have to do. I’m not ready.” She starts crying, but Giles isn’t backing down.

He’s looking paler and angrier by the second. For once, he’s not going to let her wrap him around her finger. Can’t say I blame him – Willow’s not really in a position to make demands, and the first rule of vengeance is, don’t dish it out if you can’t take it. Did she really expect Giles to just let her get away with all that? She’s an amateur all right, whatever she might think.

“I’d do what he says, Will,” ventures Xander, still in peacemaker mode. Xander and I glance at Giles, then back at each other; and as one we decide to spare Willow whatever he has in mind to do if she doesn’t get moving. Xander stretches one hand down to her, and I reach out as well. I can’t help but flinch a little as her cold hand slips into mine and we pull her up. As we start walking back to the cab, Giles trailing along behind, I push away the thought that she might still have some power left.

****


Back at the house, Giles holds up his hands to stop Buffy from flinging herself at him – I bet it’s because Willow’s imploded his pancreas or something – and instead places a hand either side of her face and touches his forehead to hers, murmuring something I can’t hear. There’s a questioning look in Buffy’s eyes, but she nods. Then he pulls away and orders Willow to get packing in a tone that has Buffy staring at him as if he’d suddenly peeled off a human mask, and revealed a less cuddly critter beneath. I don’t know why everyone’s always so surprised when Giles shows some spine. Willow’s backing away, shaking her head as tears spill down her face.

“Willow, *now*,” Giles says harshly, and takes a step towards her.

She shakes her head and runs upstairs, then we hear the bedroom door slam.

“Giles, take it easy – ” Buffy starts; and stops, as Giles’s eyes flash and he barges past Xander and me, clomping up the stairs in those black boots that must be new, and enhance his manliness quite nicely. Giles is one sexy capitalist. And I can say this because Xander made his choice, and decided he didn’t *want* to be Mister Anya Christina Emmanuella Jenkins, so I’m a free agent, and can ogle sexy old Englishmen all day long if I want to.

There’s a whole lot of yelling going on upstairs. Giles is yelling at Willow to open the door before he knocks it down; Willow’s yelling at him to leave her alone; Dawn’s barricaded herself in *her* bedroom, but she’s yelling through the door at Giles to stop pissing Willow off in case she decides that Giles would look better with his insides on the outside. We’re all afraid of the same thing – no one knows if Willow’s evil-free yet.

“Uh… feeling a little woozy here,” says Xander, grabbing onto the back of the armchair. Buffy and I steady him. “We need to get you to the hospital,” says Buffy. “I’m gonna go tell Giles and Dawn where we’re going. Hold on.” And she runs upstairs. The volume decreases by a third or so as Buffy talks to Giles. She comes downstairs with her brow so deeply furrowed you could plant potatoes in it, as Xander’s grandfather once said. I didn’t know humans could do that.

“I’ve never seen Giles like this,” says Buffy. “He’s picking the lock on Willow’s door.” She shakes her head. “He said he doesn’t want to kick the door in and make me have to pay for a new one.”

“Well, you have to admire his efforts to save your dwindling financial resources, even at a time like this,” I allow. “Although when he cools down, he could probably write you a check for it. Out of his own account. Not the one for the Magic Box.” You always want to qualify these things.

“Yeah,” says Buffy distractedly, and the furrow’s back on her brow. “He’s taking Willow to England now, like *right* now, and I don’t know what he’s gonna do with her once they get there. He says he can’t teleport both of us.” Buffy’s pacing around, looking for something to do with her hands. “I’m actually afraid of what Giles might do to her if they’re left alone.”

“You should be,” I say. “Not everything Willow did was about Tara. Or the magics. She was in it for the vengeance as well, and Giles knows it. If she meant business, she should’ve made his head explode the second he came in the door. He’s about to show her why you don’t leave someone only half killed, and good luck to him.” They’re staring at me. “Oh, come on! Are you two seriously telling me there’s no part of you that feels exactly the same? You can be as self-righteous as you want, but the fact is, when someone hurts you that much, you want to hurt them back. Even if it’s only for an instant. Even if you still love them.” I can feel Xander’s stare, and my face is all hot. But we’re not talking about me, we’re talking about Willow. “How do you think I’ve stayed in business for the last millennium? I’m with Giles. In fact, I’m gonna go up there right now and ask him if he wants to make a wish.”

“Anya!” Buffy and Xander say together. I shrug. Fine. Giles doesn’t look like he needs any help right now anyway.

Xander groans, and Buffy starts towing him towards the door. “Giles wouldn’t *really* hurt Will,” he says. “Would he?”

Xander doesn’t appear to have learned anything from our time together. “Of course he would,” I say patiently. “Who wouldn’t, after what she did?”

Xander shuffles from foot to foot for a moment, then says, “Anya, will you go with Giles and keep an eye on him and Willow? It would be kind of stupid for them to kill each other at this point.”

Oh, great merciful Snarzon. “You may have stopped a fiery evil from consuming us all, but I haven’t forgiven you, Xander. You don’t get to ask me for favors.”

“Please, Anya. Just this one time.”

Xander looks at me with those big dumb eyes and I wonder if he’s delirious, but finally I give in. It has to be more entertaining than staying here, and I guess I do kind of owe the jerk, seeing as he’s just helped to save the world. Xander smiles at me, which makes me feel all twisty inside; then they’re out the door and gone. That cabby’s going to be able to fix his kids’ teeth and put them through college on what he must be making off of us today.

Suddenly I’m aware of how quiet the house is. I go upstairs, and Giles is leaning in Willow’s doorway, watching her pack. She’s sniffling, and he looks grim. His hands are at his sides, but half hidden in the sleeves, so Willow probably hasn’t noticed how much they’re shaking. I put my hand on his back and he winces and stiffens up, so I take it away again. He doesn’t look good. ‘I’m coming with you’, I mouth at him, and he shakes his head. I nod, and he gives me a warning look. I shake my head, and he shakes his. ‘Who’s going to deal with possibly-evil Willow, if you die on the way?’ I mouth at him. Logic doesn’t seem to work, so this goes on for a while, until he rolls his eyes and waves a hand, ‘whatever’. I win. I usually do.

Willow finally finishes packing her bag, and I take it, so that Giles doesn’t have to use up any more energy teleporting that as well as her.

“Right, then, we’re off,” says Giles.

“Be nice to each other,” I say brightly, because I know Xander would want me to.

Giles goes up to Willow and she turns away, so he stands behind her and reaches around to clasp his hands together in front of her. That pulls Willow up against his ribs. He hisses in pain, and what little colour was left in his face disappears. His eyes meet mine for a second, and he shakes his head at me, like that’s going to make any difference. I’m coming. He mutters the incantation, and they’re gone. *Where* did he say the coven was again?

****


I’ve teleported to Salisbury, Oxenbury, Norbury, and Canterbury before I finally remember it was *Westbury*. It’s one of those places you have to *really* want to get to. The coven has a big Regency house and grounds in the countryside, and they’ve protected it well. There are guard bunnies everywhere, and I run up the hill to where the grass is cut shorter and Giles and Willow are standing under an oak tree not far from the house. There are benches and garden furniture tastefully arranged around the property.

It doesn’t look like a coven. There should be gothic doors, bats, and tendrils of smoke curling from crooked chimneys... oh, and turrets. I know most covens don’t look like that, but they should. This looks weirdly normal and surprisingly domestic. I glance around, still feeling beady little bunny eyes all over me. Giles grins in a not very nice way, and mutters something about the patron saint of lost luggage. He’s snared a big handful of Willow’s jacket, and his knuckles are all white. Willow’s looking off into the distance. Two witches come out of the house to take her off Giles’ hands. One is youngish, with long blonde hair; the other is older, with shorter, chestnutty-coloured hair. It’s dyed.

“Hello, I’m Julia Harkness,” says the younger, bespectacled one, holding out her hand. “Welcome to Westbury. Blessings on you all.” Giles and I shake her hand. Willow doesn’t. Miss Harkness smiles at her anyway. Although she looks friendly enough, there’s something about her that suggests this woman is someone you’d want to stay on the right side of. “Right, Willow,” she says. “The first thing we’re going to do is try to gauge the extent of your powers after what happened last night. I’m afraid that this won’t be particularly pleasant for either of us, but I feel it’s warranted.”

“Don’t worry,” I say encouragingly. “We think she’s impotent now.”

Miss Harkness’ eyes twinkle at this bit of good news, and she gestures for Willow to go on into the house. Willow’s fidgeting, her body practically humming with adrenaline, and I can tell she’s ready to sprint. Giles murmurs in her ear, then gives her a light shove in the right direction. We all watch silently until she and Miss Harkness are safely inside the house. When they go through the doorway there’s a slight shimmer. Willow’s not leaving there without anybody knowing. Can’t say I’m sorry to see the back of her for a while.

The older witch stays, looking Giles up and down. “And how about you, then, Rupert?” she says accusingly.

“He’s not impotent,” I inform her. “At least, not as far as we know.”

The witch grins and winks at him. “I’m glad to hear it.”

Giles stares at me in that utterly annoying, long-suffering way of his. “Thank you, Anya.”

I shrug. “Just here to help.”

“Your mystical energies are a mess,” the witch tells Giles. She eyes his battered cheek and temple, pale face, and scraped-up hands with a frown. “As, I suspect, is the rest of you. You’ll be letting us have a look at you, then.”

Giles shakes his head. “Ah, no, that won’t be necessary. Really, Megan, I’ll be all right in a few days. There are some things I have to take care of in Sunnydale, but I’ll be back soon.”

“What’s your hurry?” says Megan. “We need you to stay for a bit, Rupert. Willow needs you here.” She touches his arm lightly. “And if you’ll excuse my saying so, you look like something the cat left on the doorstep.”

“That’s because he was dying a little while ago,” I interject.

“Well, I’m not now,” Giles sputters. “And Willow’s probably better off without me for a bit.”

Megan looks at him curiously. “I doubt that very much,” she says. “Touch your toes,” she orders him.

Giles blinks at her. “Oh, for God’s sake, Megan, mind your own bloody – ”

“Do it or you’re not leaving,” says Megan, tossing her hair. “You know I don’t make idle threats.” I like her. She doesn’t mess around. Efficiency is a rare quality in humans. People should say what they mean.

He tears his gaze away from her and looks at me. What’s he looking at me for?

I nod. “Get on with it. I’m tired. You were out of it half the time, but I was awake for the whole thing. Stroking your hair… holding your hand… bringing you juice.”

Giles frowns. “What? You never brought me juice,” he says pedantically. How ungrateful can you get?

“Well, I would have… if you’d been conscious… and asked for it.”

He rolls his eyes. “Stay out of this, Anya,” he huffs.

“You can’t order me around,” I say. “You’re not the boss of me.” Gods, that sounds like something Xander would say. Why is he still in my head?

Giles gives me that look. “I think you’ll find I am, actually.”

Why is he being so stupid? Who knows what’s happened to his insides? He looks terrible, and if he goes back to Buffy’s, he might just go to sleep on the sofa and never wake up. I’ve seen it happen before. We’re not ready to lose him, even if he was ready to give it all up to save us. Giles is one of those people you have to get to know, and then you want to kill him less, not more, and I don’t say that about many people.

“Let’s make it more interesting,” I say. “I’ll bet you fifty dollars you can’t touch your toes. Oh, and straighten up again.”

He glares at me, and his shoulders slump ever so slightly. “I’ll stay for a little while, but then I really must get back to Sunnydale,” he says irritably, looking unhappily at the house.

He knows I never make a bet I won’t win.

****


Megan takes us into the Wedgwood-blue hallway, and I help Giles up the winding staircase and onto the big double bed in one of the high-ceilinged spare rooms. It’s a pleasant room; there’s a dresser, a chair with some clean clothes neatly folded on the seat, and some tables piled with books. I prop up some pillows and sit down next to him, and it’s so comfortable that we both start to doze off. A few minutes later Megan strides in and sits beside him on the other side of the bed. She glances from me to Giles and smiles, but doesn’t say anything. Then she pushes his sweater and t-shirt way up before he’s with it enough to stop her. She seems to know him pretty well. Quick, decisive movements are most effective; no chance for him to get all stuttery and flustered at the idea of a grown woman and a vengeance demon gawking at his naked English chest.

Megan and I sit back and take a good look at the nasty, oozing burn where Willow sucked the energies out of him before moving on to the mass of contusions, bruises, and wrong-looking angles of his ribs. I didn’t know humans had it in them to turn so many different colours. My eyes are getting all wet, because if I hadn’t let Willow put the whammy on me back in the shop, maybe she wouldn’t have been able to hurt him so much.

“So what *did* Willow do to you?” Megan asks him as she roots around in her bag. It’s stuffed with the usual supplies, like bandages and antiseptic, but there’s lot of other, more interesting stuff in there, too. “Was she actually *trying* to kill you, or did she just not realise how dangerous it was to take someone’s power like that? Because if she did it on purpose, to do you in, there are steps that need to be taken.”

“She didn’t realise,” says Giles. I open my mouth, and his left hand closes around my fingers *very* hard. I resist the urge to hit him, and glare instead.

Megan looks doubtful. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” says Giles, his eyes closed.

She doesn’t look convinced. “Really sure? Tell me the truth, Rupert. Let’s hear it right now, because I have to let Julia know what course of action we need to take with Willow.”

“She didn’t know,” he says firmly, avoiding my eyes.

Megan’s not buying it, but she gets up and leaves the room; probably to tell Miss Harkness to douse the flames on the stake or something. Sand works better than water for that.

I look down at Giles. “That was nice of you,” I say. “But you shouldn’t have done it.”

“Perhaps,” he mutters.

Without thinking, I pick up a piece of cotton wool floating in a bowl, aiming to dab gently at the cut on his forehead the way they do on ‘ER’. He chooses the wrong moment to turn his head towards me, and gets an eyeful of antiseptic instead.

“Oww,” he whines, rubbing the eye, which is only going to make it worse. “Please, Anya, I beg of you, stop helping.”

“Fine,” I say, dropping the cotton ball. Giles is looking pretty dazed and unfocused, but he smiles in a pained sort of way and takes my hand in his, gently this time. It makes me want to smack him less. In fact, it’s kind of sweet.

Megan’s back. She puts a big book down on the bed beside them and says, “Sorry, Rupert, this is going to hurt a bit.” She places her hands on his chest where the power outage has taken off the top layers of skin, and begins to speak a healing incantation as she presses down on it. Giles’ eyes water, and he’s holding his breath.

Megan’s eyes go from Giles’ chest to his face, and she lets up for a moment. “Breathe, Rupert.” He takes a few shallow breaths, and she starts again.

I wince sympathetically, but he’s obviously determined not to make a sound. He’s glaring over Megan’s shoulder.

I follow Giles’ line of sight to the doorway, and Willow’s standing there, wearing jeans and a blue sweater now. He struggles up on his elbows to talk to her, but Megan pushes him back down.

“Willow, get away from here,” Giles grates out.

She looks like she wishes the ground would just swallow her. I’ve seen that look on the faces of many women who’ve made a wish for vengeance, and changed their minds when it was too late.

“Willow, do you want to… ” I begin, but suddenly I’m distracted by Giles’ face, which is getting redder and sweatier. He gasps, and so does Willow, and so do I. Giles now has my hand in an iron grip. Willow drops to the floor in a faint. Several witches come running to scoop her up and carry her off.

“What was all that about?” I say, but Giles just shakes his head.

“Almost there,” says Megan, fifty minutes later, and I thank the gods for all our sakes. He lets go of my hand and my fingernails are blue. I look over, and Giles’ burn is fading from dark red to pink. “Well done, babe,” Megan says softly, as if speaking to a small human. It’s annoying. She wouldn’t be patronising him like that if she’d seen him when he arrived at the Magic Box, all spiky-haired and commanding. He was pretty cool. Even Buffy had had that “Whoa” look then. She wasn’t with us the time Willow and Xander and I caught Giles moonlighting at the Espresso Pump, but if she’d been there, that’s the look she would have had.

Megan’s moving away to open a jar of some sort of salve. While she’s doing that, I tentatively rest my hand on Giles’ chest ever so lightly, just to see if it’s still hot – like an experiment – and he sighs a little. I think he likes the coolness of it. His heart’s slamming away in there, and suddenly mine’s going faster too. I’m sure it’s just a sympathetic reflex. Megan grins like she knows a secret, and hands me the salve. I smooth it on, feeling him relax for two seconds, before Megan speaks again.

“Ribs now, and not for the first time,” she smiles at him. “Remember this one?”

Giles nods and shifts his position for her slightly, but he’s obviously not looking forward to this, and I wonder if it might be an idea to keep my hands out of reach this time; but his eyes flick over to mine, and before I know it, he’s got my hand again. I guess nobody wants to feel alone right now.

This one doesn’t take so long, but it’s worse, and Giles is unconscious by the time Megan takes her pain-inducing hands and gives his ribs and everything else a final prod to make sure it’s all back where whatever god he believes in intended.

“Well, that went well,” she says with a rueful smile. “He seems to like having you around. You’re more than just an employee to him, aren’t you?”

“Darn right I am,” I say, making sure she knows how it really is. “I’m his partner. Long-distance, of course. I do all the actual work.”

Megan nods and grins. “I thought so.” How did she know? Probably a witch thing.

“And you?” I say politely, as Xander would want me to. “What exactly is the nature of your relationship with Giles?” Since when do *I* care?

She grins. “Just good friends.”

Her answer makes me happier than I expected, and that makes me… confused? Angry? Two and a half years as a human, and I still can’t figure out what I’m feeling half the time. What I feel for Giles is nothing like what I felt for Xander, but still, he’s the kindest, smartest, most financially adept man I know. Not that there’s been a lot of competition. Mostly, my encounters with human men have been brief; just long enough for their wives or lovers to decide what to wish on them. Giles is the only man I know who makes me feel safe, even though I know I’m not. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but when he left, everything got really bad, really fast.

When I saw him in that doorway, I felt safe, even though I knew I wasn’t, and I know Buffy felt it too. But dumping all our screw-ups on Giles is just pathetic. He’s generally a big old pain in my ass, but when he was dying, I realised that his loss would burn beyond anything I could imagine, and not just because he keeps us all from flying apart. Or tries to. I still don’t get why I feel… something… so strongly for Giles. I don’t want anyone right now. I don’t even want to have wild monkey sex with him to make Xander cry and see the fireworks afterwards, which is something that, were he anybody other than Giles, I’d find pretty darn satisfying.

While Giles is all passed out, Megan takes the opportunity to pull his shirts all the way off. “I think we can do his back now,” she says. She tapes a big square of gauze over the sticky salve to stop it going all over the bed, and then we heave him over onto his stomach. His back is just as colourful as his front, and if it had been a vengeance demon that had done this, I’d have to say they did beautiful work. Lots of attention to detail.

“Wow, Giles,” I say, tracing the random patterns of scars with my index finger.

The witch nods. “Quite a mess, isn’t it? He came here after Angel tortured him,” she says. “That was a bad night.”

Megan’s trying to be gentle as she does whatever it is she’s doing, but even so, Giles is trying to push himself farther down into the mattress, squirming away from her touch. Unthinkingly, again, I put out my hand and let it rest between his shoulder blades. Megan’s been there and done that, so it shouldn’t hurt him, and it doesn’t seem to, because he sighs again and stops moving around so much. I don’t know why *I* should find this strangely pleasing, but I do. There’s a comforting smallness to it that seems to make us both feel better, like nothing bad has happened, and everything else has gone away except for this simple, tangible connection between us. It’s okay, anyway; this is Giles, after all; not Xander, may his tonsils fly halfway out his nose and get stuck there. I don’t want to think about Xander, so I begin rubbing little circles on Giles’ back, which is broader and more solid than I’d have given him credit for. The heaviest thing I’ve ever seen him lift is a daemonic encyclopaedia. After a little while, Megan turns and nods at me. “I think we’d better stop there for now.”

I feel the muscles in Giles’ back tense beneath my hand, and I ask the question for him. “What do you mean, ‘for now’?”

“Well… Rupert’s channelled ten times more mystical energy than a human being is built to withstand. He did similar things in his youth, but he was a good deal more resilient then.” Megan looks down at him. “Sorry, kiddo; fact of life. And there wasn’t the added complication of having all that energy taken away so quickly or forcefully. It should have been a very gradual, carefully monitored process. I’m afraid there’s no way to tell quite yet what after-effects Rupert might suffer, physical or otherwise. This is a first for all of us.”

Giles grunts into the pillow.

“Same old Rupert,” says Megan, shaking her head. “Never one to do things the easy way.”

****


Giles has a few glasses of orange juice and dozes off, which is boring, and I don’t want to go outside, what with all the guard bunnies running around, so I wander down to Willow’s room. She’s sitting on the window seat when I come in.

“Hey,” I say.

Willow doesn’t look at me. “How’s Giles?”

“Okay, apart from the near-death experience,” I say. “Do you want to go and see him?”

Willow looks down, twisting a piece of blanket in her hands. “Not right now. I can’t face him, Anya. He must really hate me.”

“Well, you did try to kill him,” I point out.

Willow nods. “Do you hate me?” she asks.

“Not so much. Inflicting violent retribution on the people that hurt you and those you love has always been a natural and effective means of venting anger and getting even. Besides, Warren was going to come to a bad end sooner or later; you just made it sooner. You wanted to make yourself feel better by making other people feel worse, which is how it always starts. What you did was pretty impressive, considering it was your first time; but you’d have scored higher if you’d called it quits before turning on all of humanity. Don’t you watch movies? You should never stop to gloat before you’ve actually won. You should’ve just killed us all and got on with it.” Willow’s looking at me with a very strange expression. “I’m glad you didn’t though.”

“Yeah,” she says quietly, looking back out the window.

“Are you still evil?” I ask.

She sighs. “Miss Harkness doesn’t think so. She’s trying all kinds of different tests to see how much magic I have, and when my control of it starts to get wobbly. She thinks the power’s still there, but it’s changing. Becoming something different. She’s not really sure what’s happening yet.”

“Okay, so that’s what Miss Harkness thinks. What do *you* think it’s doing?” I say.

Willow shakes her head. “I don’t know. I can’t really focus on anything right now. My mind’s all over the place. I keep thinking about Tara. That was the worst of all, because it was just… random. I asked for what I got. Tara didn’t.”

“Nobody asked for what they got,” I say.

“You’ve been hanging around Giles too long,” Willow smiles. “That sounds like something he’d say.” Her smile fades. “Though I doubt he’d agree with you right now.”

I nod. “Probably not. But he is Giles,” I qualify, “so you never know.”

“Do you want to go downstairs and get something to eat?” I suggest, trying to perk her up with something simple. “Ice cream?” Ice cream would be good right now.

“No thanks. I’m not hungry. My chest burns, and I feel really weird.”

“Is that why you fainted before?”

“I think so.”

“Do you want some of that stuff we slathered on Giles? I’m not putting it on you, though. No offense.”

Willow’s mouth quirks up, and her eyes fill with tears. I’m so stupid. Of course that would remind her that Tara would be only too happy to rub her chest, if she was here. But she’s not here. Poor Tara. She was smarter than all the rest of them put together. I’ll miss her. We had some good talks.

“Anya, would you mind leaving me alone for a while?”

“Sure,” I say. “I’ll see you later.”

Willow doesn’t say anything, and I back out the door. I’m not turning my back on her. As I leave, one of the witches goes in. I guess they have the same idea.

****


I pass the day reading back issues of ‘Modern Pagan’ magazine and watching the witches brewing up stuff for Willow and Giles. After dinner, Megan tells me the bed’s made up. Finally, someone’s attending to *my* needs, and I’m plum tuckered out. I can hardly think straight.

We get upstairs, and Megan turns into the same spare room where Giles is lying.

“I thought we were going to *my* bedroom,” I remind Megan. She looks perplexed.

It was a pretty simple question.

“You’ll be sleeping in here, Anya. We thought you’d want to be together.”

“*Why?*” Giles and I ask at the same time.

Megan’s going all red. “I just presumed...”

“I don’t want to sleep with him!” I hiss at her.

Megan scowls. She takes my arm and leads me out into the hall and down a little way. “I thought if you were partners, you’d want to be with him,” she says, her expression shifting from confusion to enlightenment in the space of like five seconds. “Oh. Unless you meant partners… in business?” I raise my eyebrows and nod, ‘yuh-huh!’ Megan blushes. “Oh, God, Anya, I’m sorry! How embarrassing!” We both smile, and then she looks all serious again. “But Rupert really shouldn’t be left alone for a few days. We don’t know what’s going to happen to him, and I’m guessing that Willow’s about to have the first of what’ll probably be quite a few rough nights, so we need to focus on her, but someone has to keep an eye on him as well. It would help us a lot if you could do that. Just let us know if he…” She waves her hands vaguely.

“Freaks out?” I supply. “Drops dead?”

“Basically,” she nods.

“Fine,” I say. “I can do that.” Sure. Why not. I’ve been around eleven hundred years, made countless men’s lives a living hell; then had lots of orgasms with Xander, and one and a half with Spike, who between them reminded me that being nice to men, living or dead, is a mistake; and so reclaimed my former power. So of course it makes perfect sense that I now exist only to hold Mister Snobby’s hand and say, ‘there, there’. “I don’t think he wants me to, though.”

“What he wants isn’t really as important as what he needs. Just ask him if it would be all right if you stay with him tonight. I’m sure he’ll say yes. If he doesn’t, I’ll explain to him why his wishes were ignored. All right?”

“Why does it have to be me? Isn’t there someone better qualified?”

“No,” she smiles. “You may not be partners *as such*, but I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”

“So have I, and I don’t like it.” Well, sometimes I do. Gods, this is confusing. I wish I’d never been human.

Megan just doesn’t get it. She says to call if we need anything, and heads off down the hall to Willow’s room. With a heavy sigh, I go back to *our* room. Giles should’ve requested a twin. With ensuite.

Giles is lying on his left side with his back to me. I creep into the room and bend down close to his ear.

“Giles, do you want me to sleep with you?”

He jerks, practically breaking my nose. “Do I… what?”

“Ow!” I slap his shoulder.

“Ow! Hey!”

“You hit me first,” I point out, rubbing my nose.

“I didn’t hit… Quite right. What was I thinking.” He frowns. “Sorry… I-I… think I must’ve misheard you, Anya.”

“I *said*, do you want me to sleep with you? I swear, you people can’t answer the simplest questions.”

“That isn’t a simple question.”

“Well, actually it wasn’t a question at all,” I admit. “I know how you enjoy the illusion of control, so I asked you; but really that was just a formality. I’m going to go get ready, and when I come back you’d better have made room for me and not messed up my side of the bed. And you’d better not drool on me this time.”

As I leave the room I hear him say, “Oh, God,” very softly. Then he groans. Poor Giles. He must be in a lot of pain.

****


When I get back, I’m glad to see that Giles has left me plenty of room. Even more than I expected. But suddenly I’m not feeling so good about just slithering into bed with him. Giles may be Giles, but he’s still a man, with all of those unruly man-parts; and still my friend. I sit down in the armchair and stare at the back of his head, trying to figure out what to do. I suppose I could sleep in the chair, but I’m *so* tired, and the bed looks *so* good.

“Anya?”

“Uh-huh.”

“What are you doing?”

“Sitting in the chair. Staring at the back of your head.”

“Wouldn’t you rather get into bed?”

“With you?” After all I’ve seen and done in eleven hundred years, I’m stalling on getting into bed with *this* guy?

“Many women would jump at the chance.”

“Somebody thinks a lot of himself.” What will he think if I get in there? What will he think if I don’t?”

“Oh, just get in,” he says, not unkindly. Oh, fine.

I get under the covers and snuggle down. Nothing feels as good as lying down in a comfy bed when you’re exhausted from helping people save the world. Then I have a thought.

“Giles?”

“Mmm.”

“Are you all naked under there?”

He laughs softly. “Not bloody likely. You’ll have to buy me dinner first.”

“Ha bloody ha,” I say.

“That sounded very English… almost worthy of me,” he says approvingly. “I’ve trained you well.”

“Well, at least I know what knickered means now.”

His laugh is quickly followed by a groan. “Ooh… mustn’t laugh. I think you mean ‘knackered’. Don’t we all. And speaking of knackered, Anya…”

“Yes, fine, I’ll shut up and let you go to sleep. Again.”

“Actually, I was going to ask you if you’d be so kind as to take my socks off for me.”

I sit up and look at him. “Please tell me that was just another example of your hilarious British wit.”

“I only wish it was. Please, Anya? I just can’t quite… move.”

His eyes have turned all jade green and imploring, and I become the first vengeance demon in the history of the universe to get up, go to a man’s bedside, pull the blankets out from the bottom of the bed, toss them back, and…

“*Gently*!”

…peel a pair of Gap socks from his feet. At least he doesn’t have perfectly square-trimmed toenails.

“Do you usually wear jeans in bed?” I ask.

“Yes, I find it saves time in the morning.”

“Would you like me to take those off as well?”

He looks mildly startled. “No. Thank you.”

“But you’ll be uncomfortable.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Yes, you will. C’mon, it’ll only take a second.” I give the cuffs of his jeans a good yank, and his eyes get very wide.

“Christ! Anya!”

“You might want to unbutton them first,” I suggest. “No sense doing any more damage.” We have another staring contest for a few seconds, before he fumbles around beneath the blanket.

“Go on, then,” he says, closing his eyes and rubbing his temple.

“Lift up,” I tell him. And to my utter amazement, he does, just a tiny bit. Enough for me to tug them off while he holds the comforter in place. I take a pair of navy sweatpants and a white t-shirt from the chair by the door and hand them to him.

He looks at me and raises his eyebrows. I don’t get the obscure Giles-code. He rolls his eyes. “Turn around,” he orders. I do, but not before heaving a theatrical sigh.

“You haven’t got anything Xander hasn’t,” I say over my shoulder. “Have you?”

“That’s not the point.”

“You’re pretty shy for guy who made his youthful body and soul the vessel for otherworldly evil,” I say.

“Fine, then. Turn around and prepare to be dazzled,” he snaps.

“No, I don’t want to now.”

He pauses, and says in a soft, puzzled voice, “Did you want to earlier?”

There’s really no good answer to that. It’s one thing to admire someone in the privacy of your own brain; quite another to admit it while they’re gazing at you with kind, searching eyes. “Aren’t you *done* yet?” I say.

He’s quiet for a minute; then more puffing and groaning ensues, and finally he grants me his gracious permission to get back in bed.

****


“I’m sorry, Anya. You must be exhausted, and here I am making all these demands of you.”

“Yes,” I sniff. “But it’s okay. You had it worse.”

“Can’t argue with that,” he says.

“My, aren’t we having a lot of ‘firsts’ lately,” I say. “I’m turning the light off now, okay?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“No pretending to be asleep and letting your hands go any old where?” I say, thinking of Xander.

He laughs. “You have my word.” He doesn’t ask for mine.

I click off the light and pretty soon we’re both asleep.

A few hours later, I’m woken by a solid kick to the shin. “Hey!” I say in a loud whisper. No response. I can hear sobbing very faintly from down the hall, and people moving around. There’s a cry, then suddenly everything’s quiet. Giles’ breathing is louder and more ragged.

“Giles? Are you okay?”

He’s lying on his left side with his back to me. He nods but doesn’t speak.

“Are you sure? Because you’re kind of glowing.” I push myself up and lean over him. There’s a whitish-yellow light emanating from where Willow pulled the power out. His face is tear-streaked, but he’s scowling. “Giles? What is it?”

“It’s all right. Residue from the power. It’ll wear off eventually.”

“That’s good, but it wasn’t what I – ”

There’s another loud sob from down the hall, and Giles winces.

“Sounds like Willow’s having a bad time,” I say. “Megan said she might need you. Do you think you should go to her?”

“No, I bloody don’t,” he says sharply.

“Why not… oh, my God. You two are still connected, aren’t you? Are you feeling what Willow’s feeling?”

“Somewhat. Bleedin’ hell, that hurts. I can’t tell if it’s her or me, though. I think it’s me. It’s almost indistinguishable. Her pain is more emotional, and she’ll be feeling that more than I am. Mine’s more physical, so I suppose I’m feeling that more than she is.”

“Sorry.”

He reaches behind him and pats along my arm until he finds my hand, and squeezes it. “Not your fault, Anya. I’m the one who should be sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. I think I’m just having a reaction to everything.”

He hisses again, holding his breath for a few seconds before letting it out. I don’t know what to do to make him feel better. Vengeance demons really aren’t trained in that sort of thing. Well, I can try what worked before, I guess. Slowly, so as not to startle the unwary Watcher, I slide my hand up under his t-shirt, and start to gently rub and knead his back, avoiding potential sore spots. At first it has exactly the opposite effect that it had before, and every muscle tenses.

“You can relax,” I say. “This isn’t the warm-up to an earth-shattering orgasm. If you can go back to sleep, I can go back to sleep, that’s all.”

“That’s all right, then,” he says.

I’m *not* trying to have my way with him. I wouldn’t have put it past me after Xander took off, maybe, but not right now. It’s a good thing he wasn’t here a few weeks ago. At least I’m not friends with Spike. Besides, he’s a demon; he knows how it goes. I’m doing this because nobody ever does anything for Giles. As far as I know, Buffy never even thanked him for coming back. Plus, it beats both of us lying here having nightmares about the last few days.

He rolls onto his stomach. “That’s wonderful,” he mumbles into the pillow. “Don’t stop. Please? Just for a little while.”

“Well then, take your shirt off. That’ll make it easier.”

“Can’t move that much. Just push it up.”

I do. The angle of this is hurting *my* back, so I swing my right leg over him and sit on his butt. His head lifts off the pillow.

“You’re all tense again. Does that hurt?”

“Ah, no... That’s all right,” he says, putting his head back down. “Carry on.”

“What did your last servant die of?” I say.

“Overwork.”

I have to stop for a second, my hands are cramping. “You’re a funny guy, Giles.”

“I know. Less talk. More action.”

“That what you say to all the girls?” I say, starting up again.

We both start giggling. “You’re not going to put this in your diary, are you?” I say.

“Only the online version,” he says. “The other Watchers will be incredibly jealous.”

“You’re kidding, right?” I say.

“Yes. You know I don’t know how to work the computer.”

I rub and smooth away for a bit. Giles has a very nice back. “You have a very nice back,” I tell him.

He takes a little longer than usual to accept the compliment. “Oh, ah… thank you.”

“Giles, can I tell you something?”

This takes even longer to get a response. He must be falling asleep.

“Yes.”

“When you showed up at the Magic Box, I was very impressed. You looked seriously sexy. You should look like that more often.”

He laughs. “Can I wear my glasses, though? Because I can’t see a bloody thing without them. If Willow’d been any farther away, that binding spell would’ve missed her and hit the petrified hamsters.”

“Don’t be all British about it, Giles. You saved us. Buffy and I would’ve been in a whole lot worse trouble without you, and you risked your life to let Xander do the rest. You’re a hero, and I… kind of love you.” My eyes are getting all wet again, and I have to sniff loudly.

“Anya…”

“Be quiet and let me finish,” I say. “You’ve never been all judgemental of me, even though I tried to kill you the first time we met. Plus… you know… you gave me a life, and friends, and a way to get money. Nobody else would’ve given me a second chance like that. I think you’re kinda great. I wanted to tell you so in the Magic Box, but you weren’t paying attention then.”

“Well… I think you’re kind of great too,” says Giles. “You have a good heart, Anya. If people can’t see that, it’s just their loss. You care about things very deeply… perhaps too deeply, sometimes; and you’ve had a lot to cope with recently… what with Xander and all. I was very sorry to hear about that. But even being a vengeance demon again, I’m glad to see that you seem to have retained a good deal of what made you the human woman we’ve grown to know and… and love. You proved that last night. And you’re proving it right now.”

It’s dark, but I can tell he’s smiling into the pillow. Good. I’m glad I didn’t mess that up.

“Thank you,” I say, my eyes all wet again. “Now turn over.”

“Er… what?”

I sigh. “You may be all sweet and sexy, but you’re also deaf. Turn over.”

“Why?” he says suspiciously. “What are you going to do?”

“You. Your front. Turn over.”

“My front doesn’t need… ah… doing.”

“Are you relaxed?” I say.

“Not as much as a minute ago.”

“Well, then.” I get off him and grab handfuls of his t-shirt and sweats, and haul him back onto his side. He flings out a hand and grabs the side of the bed when I try to help him all the way over onto his back, but I grab his fingers and pry them away from the edge of the mattress. Some people make it so difficult to help them.

“Anya, stop pushing me around! I’ve had enough of that, and it stops now!” he says suddenly, wrenching his hand from mine. I don’t think I need to take that personally, but it still stings.

“I’m only trying to help you!”

He’s quiet, breathing hard. His hand goes to his chest and he massages it very gingerly with his fingertips as we listen to the noise coming from down the hall.

“I’m sorry,” he says, relenting.

“S’okay. Do you want me to keep going?”

“You’re not going to sit on me again, are you?” he says.

“I’m probably not going to sit on you ever again,” I say. “I don’t consider you an orgasm friend, although I’m sure you give perfectly good orgasms. For a man your age. You’re an extremely competent kisser, so you’re probably okay at the other stuff too.”

He snorts. “Anya, you are truly the mistress of the backhanded compliment, and if I didn’t feel so bloody horrible, I’d show you… oh, forget it.”

“What?” I say innocently.

He grins wickedly. “Well, you may be eleven hundred years old, but I’ll bet I could still teach you a thing or two.”

“I’m sure you could,” I say soothingly, knowing that will exasperate him even more. This is fun. Who knew Giles could be so much fun?

Apparently that’s all the fun we’re going to have, because there’s a shout from down the hall, and he’s quiet then. He just rubs his temple and lets me lift up his shirt so I can knead away at his shoulders.

After a while, he takes hold of my wrists. As I stop what I’m doing, I’m suddenly more aware of the gentle rise and fall of his chest under my hands. Up and down, nice and regular. A feeling of… gratitude… surges up from somewhere. This time last night I was watching every breath he took, sure that each one would be the last.

“Anya?”

“Uh-huh.”

His eyes are bleary, but serious. “When you’ve been a demon a bit longer… I hope you’ll still remember who your friends are.”

A pang shoots through me, and I nod. We both know that if I was out for vengeance, unlike Willow, I wouldn’t think twice about it, and I’d do it right.

I fall back, and we both drop off to sleep for another couple of hours. Sometime around dawn, we’re woken by another shout, and then a thump from down the hall. Giles shudders, and I ask, “Don’t you think you should – ”

“No.”

And we both go back to sleep.

****


The next afternoon, Giles and I go for a walk around the grounds. He’s promised to protect me from the bunnies, and so far he has. They run away when we come near them; probably to report our movements back to their superiors.

“Willow’s afraid to face you, y’know.”

He frowns. “Mmm. Have you spoken to her, then?”

“We had a little chat yesterday.”

“Good. How was she?”

“Miserable. Missing Tara and stunned at what she’s done. She’s really hurting. Like you. And not like you.”

Giles nods. “Mmm. No surprises there.”

“Maybe you could say something. Be a shoulder to cry on, that kind of thing.”

His jaw sets. “Believe it or not, Anya, it’s not my problem. Willow has to work through everything that’s happened in her own way, as do we all.”

“She asked after you.”

He grunts. “Very decent of her. What did you say?”

“I said you were getting better.”

“Anything else?”

“Um… She asked if you hated her, and I said probably.”

He stops walking. “You said what?”

“Well, don’t you? You sure haven’t been very nice to her since it happened. Fair enough if you want her dead, or whatever. I don’t think that was news to her.”

“I don’t want her dead! Is that what you said? Anya?”

“Not exactly. More that you were really, really ticked off.”

“I see. Well, that’s one way to put it.”

“If that’s how you feel, why don’t you talk to her, and then we can go home.”

“I *am* home,” he reminds me with a look.

“Well, you were pretty eager to go back to Sunnydale yesterday. Besides, I think there may be some insurance paperwork that needs to be filled out. In triplicate.”

He doesn’t respond to that. “I’m not going to confront Willow. It’s not what she needs just yet.”

“So you *are* enjoying letting her torture herself.”

He looks annoyed now. “No. But I think a bit of soul-searching is in order, as well as grieving. It’s too soon for me to intervene. Besides which, the closer we are in proximity to one another, the more intense our connection becomes. It’ll fade or disappear completely in time. But at the moment it’s still a bit… intense… and not very pleasant for either of us.”

“Is that why you told her to go away yesterday?”

He considers for a moment. “Yes. Partly.”

“Maybe if you talked, you’d both feel better, and it wouldn’t feel so bad.”

He cocks an eyebrow at me, and half smiles. “Since when did you get so wise?”

“Since I’ve had eleven hundred years’ worth of experience in relationships gone wrong; and since Xander and I failed to do what I’m telling you to do.”

“Oh. Right,” he smiles.

“So you’ll talk to her? And we can all get a good nights’ sleep?”

“No. She knows where I am if she wants me.”

****


Later, I wander around by myself a while. I wonder if the way Giles feels about Willow is kind of like the way I feel about Xander. I love him, but I hate what he did. And I hate what I did to him. Wanting to forgive someone and actually being able to do it are two different things. It’s the same even when the person you want to forgive is yourself.

There’s a bunny over there. Two… three… sixty. I head for the bridge. Surely they won’t follow me across the water – their nasty little fluffy tails would get all waterlogged and they’d drown. I run down the hill and take the steps at one end of the rough wooden bridge three at a time. I keep running till I’m across it, and almost fall over Willow, who’s sitting on the steps at the other end.

“God! Anya, you scared the hell out of me,” she gasps.

A funny comment pops into my head, but I don’t make it. “Sorry. I was being chased.”

She looks around. “Y’know, bunnies really don’t chase people. Especially not vengeance demons who probably have the power to turn them into little bunny fritters with the flick of a finger.”

“They fear nothing.” I sit down beside her, though I have to force myself just a bit. I never thought being around Willow would make me uncomfortable. Annoyed, yes; nervous, no. “So what are you doing?”

Willow’s cheeks get all red. “Avoiding Miss Harkness and Giles. I can’t get rid of one of them, and the other probably wants to see me about as much as I want to see him. I saw you walking around with him earlier. Is he better today?”

“He seems okay. Kind of sore. I gave him a good backrub when we were in bed last night, though, and that seemed to help.”

Willow’s eyes get all big, and she stares at me open-mouthed. “Oh. My. God. *You* gave *Giles* a *backrub*? When you were in *bed*?”

“Yes, and he enjoyed it. Mostly.”

Willow’s eyebrows still haven’t returned to their normal position, and she shakes her head. “I’ll bet he did. Thanks, Anya,” she smiles. “Wow. I needed that. Be sure and tell Buffy about it too, if you talk to her.”

“I think that’s what Xander would call ‘privileged information’,” I say.

“Oh, it definitely is,” she smiles. The smile fades. “So is he in a better mood today?”

“I think he is. You should talk to him. He’s confirmed that he doesn’t want you dead, if that makes any difference.”

Willow nods. “Good to know.”

“And he also lied for you. Megan asked him if you knew that taking his power would likely kill him, and he said you didn’t know.”

She frowns. “But I did. He shouldn’t have done that.”

“That’s what I said, but if he’d told the truth, we wouldn’t be here having this conversation.”

She puts her head in her hands. “I almost killed *Giles*,” she says dully, seeming to feel the reality of it for the first time.

“You would have, if Xander had taken any longer to find you,” I say. “But you should have seen Giles when it was over. He was on the floor, all bloody and dusty, but when he felt that you were coming back to yourself, he was so happy for you. He doesn’t hate you. He wouldn’t have looked like that if he did. Of course, he was also pretty happy not to be dead, but still.”

She looks at me directly for the first time since I got there. “Anya… I’m glad you were with him. I’m so, so sorry that I put that spell on you in the Magic Box. On one level it was killing me to do those things, but I just couldn’t stop myself. I was so angry and crazy and shocked by what happened to Tara… and the magics were so strong. I had no control… not that I wanted to control them. ’Cause on another level it felt amazing to be out of control. To let it all out, instead of keeping it all in.” She looks sheepish. “Plus, all that power makes me…”

“Tingly?” I suggest.

She looks really uncomfortable.

I nod. “Yeah, I like that part too.”

“Pretty selfish, huh? All the anger and the grief and the magic… I wasn’t prepared for those things to come at me all at once. I couldn’t brace myself against them, and when I suddenly had to decide whether or not to fight them, I just didn’t have it in me. I didn’t want to. It was all so fast, and so powerful I couldn’t have stopped it even if I’d wanted to, till Giles short-circuited it, or whatever he did. I don’t really understand *what* happened. After Tara… it’s all kind of a blur.” She shakes her head and looks off into the distance, saying, “I just lost it. Completely. And the scary thing is, part of me actually misses that feeling. Wants it again.” She rubs her forehead. “That means that part of me wants to be like *that* again.” She shakes her head. “Evil. A murderer.”

“Or maybe it’s the power you miss,” I say. “I wouldn’t blame you. Power’s great, and the people who love it most are those who used to not have any power at all.”

“The thing that really scares me,” she says, “is that I know I have this… urge… inside me all the time now, and as long as I have that, I can never really trust myself. It’s like part of me is just waiting for the chance to use that power again.”

“Oh, it is, “ I say.

She looks at me. “Thanks for the pep talk, Anya.”

I roll my eyes. “What I mean is, power is power. It’s not good *or* bad. It’s how you use it that makes it good or evil. Cliché, but true.”

“Yeah. Well, I wish I could get rid of it, but I can’t. I have to learn to deal with it, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to. I’m afraid if I see Giles… if he makes me mad… if *anyone* makes me mad… I don’t know how much I can take without setting the magics off again. Does that make sense?”

“Sure,” I say. “Trust me when I say nobody’s looking to make you angry.”

“Yeah, and that’s another thing. Nobody’s ever going to treat me the same as they did before... if they want to have anything to do with me at all. Nothing will ever be the same.”

“No. But nothing ever does stay the same.”

“Yeah. I used to like me. Now I can’t stand myself. I’ve learned more about myself over the last few days than I ever wanted to know.”

“You learned about your friends, too, though,” I say.

She smiles a little. “Yeah.”

We sit there for a while listening to the stream tumbling over the rocks below the bridge, and smelling the cut hay wafting on the breeze. It reminds me of happier times, hundreds of years ago. I used to lie in the hay and watch the stars. Sometimes alone, sometimes not. Either way, it was good. I’ve done it all my life, but there’s not a lot of hay in Sunnydale, and no one to lie with.

“I’m sorry, Anya.”

“I know. You don’t have to keep saying it.”

“Yes, I do.”

Willow gets up and heads back across the bridge, to where Miss Harkness is calling for her.

****


The next few days pass without Giles and Willow coming into contact. They’ve become very good at not being where the other one is… which of course means that they have to know where the other one is at all times. Not a problem, because he can sense her magic from wherever she happens to be. She can probably do the same with his.

Finally, I corner Giles in the stable. “What the hell are you doing?” I say.

Giles lifts his eyebrows. “Saddling a horse.”

“How is that going to help Willow?” I say.

He’s got that annoyed look again. “Believe me, the way I feel at the moment, it *is* helping Willow.”

“You’re just making yourself madder and madder, aren’t you? Are you sure Willow’s the one you’re mad at?” I say, knowing this won’t go down too well. It doesn’t.

“I shouldn’t have left them. I was bloody stupid.” He shakes his head, and mounts the horse. “I should’ve known Willow had a serious problem with the magics long before she raised Buffy. I should’ve stepped in ages ago, and certainly after she threatened me at Buffy’s the last time I was there.” He shakes his head again disgustedly. “I should’ve known better than anybody what can happen when a cocky young idiot gets addicted to magic. I cannot *believe* I was so bloody stupid and blind, and what you all had to go through when I abandoned you.” He digs his heels into the horse.

I get out of the way, so as not to be run over by the beast. “Well, I guess someone could’ve filled you in on what was going on. We didn’t. I didn’t. I’m sorry. It wasn’t your fault, Giles.”

He looks off into the distance for a moment, then back at me. “Not entirely, no. Just enough.”

“You’re Buffy’s Watcher,” I say. “You left because you thought that was the best thing you could do for Buffy, right? That’s what she told us. She’s not blaming you for turning your back for five seconds so that Willow could raise her from the dead, or for anything that happened after that. She was just glad to see you when you decided to come back and kick Willow’s ass. We all were. Except maybe Willow.”

Giles has no comeback for that. “I’ll see you later,” he says irritably, wheeling out of the barn.

****


I wander over to the stream and lean over the wooden rail, watching the leaves swirl along in the current below. It reminds me of the time Xander taught me to play Poohsticks. I even cheated at that. Guilt tumbles around my stomach and my head. Not as much as it did before I became a demon again, but still a little. I guess it’s a side effect from having been human.

“Hey,” says a voice.

“Hey, Willow. Avoiding Miss Harkness, by any chance?”

She smiles. “I am right now.”

All of a sudden, that smile annoys me. “I thought you were getting over that. You’re always hiding from everybody. Don’t you think you should give them a chance to help you?” I say. “You’re here for a reason, y’know.”

Her smile fades. “I *am* over it. Pretty much. But sometimes I just can’t deal with anything or anybody. Nobody can help the way I feel right now.”

“What’s bothering you right now?” I say. There’s only so much nursemaiding I can stand to do for her right now. I can’t help but keep picturing what she did to us the other day, and getting really pissed off about it. Once again, I force that feeling back down and try to look sympathetic.

Willow shakes her head. “Nothing… Well, everything. I don’t know where to start, and I’m so drained I can’t even list everything that’s wrong. How I can ever go back to Sunnydale without Tara being there? How can I ever face everybody again, after this? Not that they’d even want me to. I’ve lost my love. My friends. Myself. I don’t know what to do, or where to go. Everything’s just black and empty and numb. I can’t think or feel anything at all. That’s in the good moments. In the bad moments it just hurts like hell and I don’t see how it can ever get any better. I wish Giles would’ve just killed me when he had the chance. Maybe he still will. I don’t know. The witches haven’t told me what’s going to happen when they’ve finished with me.” She stops herself there.

“Giles was trying to do what he thought was best,” I say, feeling strangely compelled to speak in his defense. “For you as well as everyone else. And for himself! Did you ever think about the fact that he might just possibly want to have a life too? One that doesn’t involve having to babysit a bunch of grown-ups?”

“He shouldn’t have trusted me. He should’ve known I’d just screw it all up for everyone.”

“He was trying to show you that you could trust yourself, as well as him.”

Suddenly her expression hardens. “Everyone always trusts Giles, but we all know that he’s not so damn reliable, either!” she says tightly. I roll my eyes. Has she even heard a word I’ve said? Willow just doesn’t *listen*, that’s her trouble.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” comes a soft, flinty voice from behind us, making us jump.

“Hey, Giles, we were just talking about you,” I say.

He nods, and to my relief, sits down beside her at last. This is good; they’re making progress, and soon I can go home and start fixing the Magic Box. Unfortunately, Willow’s standing up. Giles reaches for her arm, and Willow shakes him off.

“Stop it!” she says her eyes flashing. “You’re always getting in my way, telling me what to do. Just stop it, Giles! Leave me the hell alone!”

“Will you just sit down? We need to talk,” says Giles, standing up. “Willow, I don’t think you’ve grasped the enormity of what you’ve done… what you’ve opened up… what’s going to have to happen now. If you won’t cooperate with me… with the coven… you’re putting everyone at risk; yourself most of all. Do you understand?”

“Oh, what, are you trying to intimidate me again? I’m not afraid of you! There’s nothing you can do to make me feel worse, so just go ahead and give me your best shot! I know you can do more than you did in the Magic Box.”

“What? No!” says Giles. “Stop trying to pick a fight just because you’re too frightened to talk to me properly!”

“I’m not afraid of you!”

Giles has that shark-eyed look. “Well, you’re afraid of *something*! So what is it?”

Willow shakes her head and throws up her arms. “God! Why don’t you just do us all a favour and kill me?” she yells. She hardly ever actually yells, and Giles looks at me, startled.

Willow’s starting to walk away fast. This isn’t how this was supposed to go. I run up and grab her arm. Willow spins around. “Just get the hell away from me!”

And then I’m on my back, staring at the sky. Ow. Maybe she does care after all. Otherwise, why bother to try to protect herself? And maybe that ‘get the hell away’ thing was for *my* benefit, if she felt herself slipping? It didn’t work, but it was a nice thought, I guess. If that’s what she was thinking.

Giles reaches down to help me up, his face thunderous. “I believe that was directed at me,” he says. “Are you all right?”

I nod. I’m tougher than I look. Fortunately. He straightens up and we both see Willow standing a few feet away, her arms crossed over her chest, wincing.

“I’m sorry, Anya,” she says, her face pale, and a little sickly.

“Yeah,” I say, brushing myself off. I’m starting to wonder if a little vengeance of my own is in order.

Giles isn’t going to be moved by the ‘sorry’ routine. We’ve all heard it too many times before. He’s breathing hard, and if Willow’s chest is hurting, I bet his is too. “I made allowances for you when you were under the influence of the magics,” he tells her, “but that moment has passed. You’re the one doing these things now. Just you. If you can’t control yourself at this point, then perhaps we need to reconsider how we’re going about things.”

She looks like she wants to ask him what he means by that exactly, but she’s afraid of what he’ll say. Willow’s face scrunches up, and her hands dig into her pockets.

“Are you really that afraid to talk to me?” says Giles, more gently this time. “Sit down, Willow. That wasn’t a threat. What set this off? There’s something bothering you beyond the obvious, yes?”

Willow’s looking paler than she usually does, if that’s possible. She sits down and puts her hands over her head, like a little child trying to make herself invisible. She sighs.

“I’m… really scared. I can feel… disturbances… through my energies. Something bad. Worse than anything I’ve felt before.”

“In you?” says Giles.

Willow looks at him. “You think I’m hooked into the worst kind of magics now, don’t you?” So that’s what she was afraid of telling him. She’s afraid of what they both might do if that old black magic is still there, just waiting for another chance to get loose.

Giles hesitates. “I don’t know. It’s possible that you may be more sensitive to those energies now, but that doesn’t necessarily have more sinister implications for you personally. Who knows, it may even be of help to us in the future.”

“In the future?” she echoes.

Giles smiles briefly. “I think so.”

A flicker of a smile crosses Willow’s face then, and Giles’ mouth quirks up.

“Is this energy you’re feeling actually inside you?” Giles repeats.

“Not exactly. It’s everywhere. And nowhere. I don’t know… I can’t tell. I don’t know how to fight it. Or even if it *can* be fought.”

Giles runs his hand through his hair, and very tentatively puts the other one on her back. “Can you describe it?”

“No. I think I’ll be able to soon, though. It’s getting stronger.” Willow picks a daisy from the weeds growing by the steps. “I want to go to Tara’s funeral,” she says.

Giles nods. “I wish you could,” he says gently. “I wish I could, too. I’m truly sorry, Willow, but you can’t leave just yet.”

Tears spill down Willow’s face. She gets up, and wanders off a little way. Giles runs his hands through his hair and sighs heavily.

****


We all get through the next few days however we can. Giles spends a lot of time riding, or in the coven’s reading room; almost all of Willow’s time is spent either with, or ditching, Miss Harkness and the other witches; and I don’t have a whole lot to do, so I wander around the village brooding about Xander and whether I really want to be a vengeance demon again. Starbucks is a good place to brood. Too bad they don’t have one in Westbury. From the looks on their faces when I place my order, most of the people in Westbury think ‘frappucino’ is an Italian insult. So I sit in ‘The Pub’ – it’s either that, ‘The Shop’, or ‘The Post Office’ – with a pint, and start to think that a lot of conflicts in my life could be resolved if I just stop letting them… conflict.

I don’t really feel bad about being a vengeance demon; I just know that people think I should. I am what I am, and that’s it. You can only begin to understand the darkness inside you when you accept that it’s there. Willow’s denied the true extent of her powers for years, and look how that turned out. She was weak, Xander was weak, I was weak, and so were Buffy, Dawn and Spike. Giles, the one who ‘ran away’, was the only one who actually faced what was in front of him; and did the thing he didn’t want to do for everybody’s own good. More or less. I’m sure he had other reasons for leaving, but he didn’t act out of selfishness, like the rest of us.

****


I’ve been going to sleep with my hand on Giles’ back. I like it, and he doesn’t complain, so I guess we both find it comforting, in a non-orgasmic kind of way. Plus, his chest is still glowing, so it’s better if he sleeps with his back to me anyway. The only problem is when he turns on his other side and traps my hand and it goes to sleep, so I have to yank it back, and then we both wake up. Other than that, it’s fine.

On this particular night, we’re woken by more prolonged cries than usual. Giles and I both try to ignore it, as the witches have told us to do. We can hear them moving around, and so far they’ve been pretty good at calming Willow’s nightmares. Tonight, though, the noise doesn’t stop. Suddenly Giles gasps, and he sits up.

“What?” I mumble.

“Willow. Something’s wrong. Really wrong.”

The door cracks open, and Megan sticks her head in. “I’m sorry to disturb you both. Willow’s in a state, and she’s asking for Anya. She seems to be having visions.” Megan closes the door, and Giles flops back down.

“Well, aren’t you going to go?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “No. She’s asking for you.”

“But I don’t know what to do.”

“Neither do I,” he says irritably, maybe more to himself than to me.

I sigh, get up, pull on a robe, and head down to Willow’s room. The witches are clustered around outside looking worried. I glance at them, then push Willow’s door open and take a few steps into the dark room. I can’t see her.

“Willow?”

“I’m here,” she says. She’s curled up on the floor in the corner with blankets pulled up to her chin. The room’s icy cold and the curtains are flapping, but the window’s closed.

I start towards her. “Are you okay?”

“Turn around and look in the far corner by the wardrobe and tell me what you see.” Her voice is so shaky I can hardly make out the words.

I look. There *is* something there. Blurry at first. White. It’s human size and shape. Young. Dark hair. Warren. He’s staring at Willow, holding something out to her. Razor blades. He slashes his wrists, screams silently, bursts into flame and is flayed. Nasty. Willow’s gasping for air, her teeth chattering, her body wracked with shudders. I’m pretty disconcerted myself. I look back in the corner and see Warren has remanifested as he was before, holding out the razor blades, and the scene plays out again. And again. And again.

“Warren,” I tell her.

“Thank God. I’m not going crazy, then. He’s been doing that for a hour,” she says. “Anya, you have to make him stop.”

“I don’t know how. I’m getting Giles.”

“No! Anya, don’t! Call Megan. Get someone else!” I hesitate a second. I don’t know what her problem is; whether she’s scared *of* Giles, or of what might happen *to* Giles.

She begs me not to leave her alone, but I have to go. I run back to our room and find that the light is already on. Giles is sitting up, staring at his hands as blood trickles steadily from them onto the bedspread.

“Giles. You need to come with me. Right now.”

“Yes,” he says, shaken.

He gets up without hesitation and we both go back to Willow, who’s still yelling for me.

Giles tells the witches to go downstairs and strengthen the wards around all the rooms in the house, and together we go into Willow’s room. She sees I’ve brought Giles, and glares at me.

“It’s freezing in here,” says Giles.

“Look,” says Willow, nodding her head at the spectre of Warren. “Giles, can you see him?”

Giles stares into the darkness. “I can’t see anything.”

“Yes, you can!” Willow practically shouts. “*Look!*”

Giles concentrates on where she’s pointing, but shakes his head and looks at me. There’s something in his eyes that might be just a hint of is-she-faking. There was a time not long ago when he’d have believed her without question.

Willow’s looking at him. “You’re just saying that because you’re mad at me.”

Giles takes a deep breath. “No, I’m – ”

Okay, I can see where this is going.

“I can see it,” I say, and describe exactly how Warren looks, and what he’s doing; holding out the razor blades.

“Razor blades?” says Giles, seeming to become aware of his hands again. He strides over to the bedside table and snaps on the light, then kneels beside Willow and pulls the blanket away. We all stare down at her clenched hands. There’s blood seeping between her fingers, running down her palms and wrists, staining her pajamas. For a second it’s hard to tell where the blood is coming from. Giles sweeps his thumbs over her wrists. It’s not coming from there.

“All right. Give me those,” he says in a soft, calm voice.

“He’s trying to make me cut my wrists. It’s really hard not to do it.”

“I know. You’re doing very well,” Giles says soothingly. “You’d like to give me those, wouldn’t you?” There’s something highly suggestive in his voice. Willow doesn’t move, but suddenly *I* have an irresistible urge to give Giles the tissues from my pocket. He smiles. “I didn’t mean you.” We wait, but Willow seems to be in shock.

Giles puts his hands over hers and says her name again, followed by a short incantation. Willow slowly opens her fist, and Giles takes the razor blades from her. We all heave a sigh of relief, and I don’t know whose hands are shaking more.

He examines her hands, and reassures us that most of the cuts aren’t deep. He takes a bunch of kleenex from the box by the bed and tells her to just hold onto them and give the bleeding a chance to stop. Giles grabs a couple of handfuls for himself, sits down beside Willow, and puts his arm around her shoulders. I sit down on the other side of her.

“You’re bleeding,” says Willow, eyeing his hands. “I did that, didn’t I?”

“Yes, but I don’t think this is the moment to go into it.” Right. Fun with mystical bonds. Giles looks at me. “Can you still see… it?”

“It’s not an ‘it’. It’s a ‘him’. Warren.”

Giles looks deeply troubled. “Are you positive it’s Warren?”

“Oh, yes.”

Giles looks almost, but not quite, relieved. Well, who else does he think it could be?

“Is… Warren… doing the same thing?” he asks.

“No… he has a knife now, “ I say. “I think his intentions are pretty clear, don’t you? Call the witches? Hide the knives?”

“I’m afraid so,” says Giles. “Willow, close your eyes.” She does. “Can you see him now?”

“Not so clearly,” she says tremulously, “but still a little bit.”

“Keep them closed.” Giles is frowning, and I can tell he’s flipping through all the spells that he’s got stored in his brain.

“How is it that you can see him, and I can’t?” Giles asks me.

“Not all planes of existence are visible to all people at all times,” I say. “If we were to be doing this some other time, you might be able to see it, but I wouldn’t. That’s how it works. Who knows why.”

Willow sobs loudly, and I look back at the space by the wardrobe, where Warren has disappeared, and blood-spattered Tara now stands, sobbing, holding out a bottle of drain cleanser. She makes a ‘cheers’ gesture and drinks it down, then falls to her knees, gagging and vomiting blood and bile everywhere. Her eyes roll up in her head, and she collapses. Then she pulls herself back up and offers the bottle to Willow. This is bad. I tell Giles what we’re seeing.

“Oh, God. Poor Tara.” His face is a mask of pain, and he looks at Willow with concern. Her eyes are fixed on Tara.

“Willow, Tara’s not doing this,” I say. “You can tell she’s being forced. You know she’d never do anything to hurt you. Warren’s controlling her spirit somehow, and keeping her from going on to… heaven… or wherever.”

Willow’s staring in horror at Tara’s ghost. “I asked for this. And now look what I’ve done.”

“This isn’t your fault,” Giles says firmly. “This is all Warren’s doing. None of you asked for what you got. Warren hardly lived a blameless life, and he died violently. His spirit seems to be trapped in a plane that’s neither here, nor in any kind of afterlife or oblivion. He’s angry, and he knows exactly how to hurt you most. You’re going to have to be the one to perform the spell to release Tara’s spirit.”

“There’s a spell?” says Willow, her eyes shut tight.

“Yes,” he says. “It’s pretty powerful stuff, and Anya and I will need to back you up, but I think we stand a chance of breaking the link between them.”

Giles tells Willow to keep her eyes closed until he gets back, and goes off to get some supplies from the witches’ storeroom.

Willow’s shaking like crazy. “Don’t be scared,” I say. “I’ve faced much worse than this in my long and varied career… actually, I’ve *done* much worse than this.” And sometimes I wish I hadn’t.

“Why is he doing this to Tara?” she whispers.

“Because he’s a murderous, pathetic, cruel little jerk. As he was in life, so he is in death. He’s there in the void, nothing to do, so ‘Hey, why don’t I go torment Willow for a while?’ That’s all it is.”

“Maybe,” she says, stiffening. Tara’s back, crying and beckoning, holding a bottle of pills. Willow buries her head in her knees and cries too. I don’t know what to say. I just hug her to me and tell her about some of the things I’ve done to deserving men to try to take her mind off it.

Giles returns a few minutes later with an armload of mystical goodies that he puts on the bed. He lights some big church candles and turns off the bedside lamp. We burn some oils and herbs while he speaks the Latin incantations to clear the energies in the room as much as possible; and to prevent any other malevolent spirits from being attracted by the mystical disturbance. Then he takes a piece of chalk, draws a big circle, and tells us all to sit in it. By the time he does a protection spell, Willow’s stopped crying.

“Giles, if this doesn’t work, I’m going to go to where they are and try to get Tara out that way,” says Willow, and it’s clear that the fear and guilt are giving way to fresh anger. Giles and I glance at one another.

“No, you’re not,” says Giles. “That’s not what Tara would want, and you know it. Now take these.” He hands us both a protection charm, and each of us reads out a passage from a small black book. I have no idea what we’re saying, or what it’s meant to do, but a minute later the glass in the window explodes.

“That’s a good sign,” says Giles as we pick shards of glass from our hair and clothes. “If it wasn’t working, he wouldn’t have felt the need to do that.”

We go on reading a while longer, and there’s a sort of low buzzing noise that keeps getting louder and louder, until we all can make out actual speech from Warren.

“You killed me,” he says. “And now you owe me. You owe me my *life*, bitch! I can’t kill Tara again, not that I wanted to in the first place, but I can do the next best thing, and keep her here with me in… “ he waves his hands around. “Wherever the fuck this is. You can’t give back what you’ve taken from me; but I thought you’d like to know that even if you don’t join us, at least I’m not gonna be spending eternity alone. And neither will Tara.” He pulls Tara roughly to him, and kisses her noisily on the mouth until she wrenches free. He shoves his hand into the waistband of her skirt and slides it down. Tara tries to twist away, but she can’t. His hand keeps moving.

“Bet you miss this, huh, Willow,” says Warren.

Willow’s eyes flash and she starts to stand up. I quickly tell Giles what Warren’s doing. He and I both grab Willow and pull her back down. “Stay in the circle!” Giles orders. “Willow?” Her eyes are darkening, and she’s shaking and gasping for air. Giles’ eyes are darkening too.

“Come and get me, Willow,” says Warren. “I can feel your energy… your anger.” He smirks. “Fascinating! I almost can’t tell them apart. Come on and kick my ass. Kill me all over again. I know you want to.”

“Don’t do it,” says Giles. “He’s just trying to bait you. If you keep reaching out like this, you’ll open a doorway, and he’ll move into this plane of existence, angry and powerful. Do you hear me, Willow? You can’t reach out to him.”

“I’m not reaching out to him, I’m reaching out to Tara,” she says, staring fixedly at Warren.

Giles moves around and gets in her face. “You can’t reach out to either of them,” he says, his voice hard. “Willow. There’s even a possibility that Tara might not really be there. This may simply be an optical illusion Warren’s created to trap you. Are you going to listen to the man who wants you to commit suicide, or to me?”

Willow stares at him, and she’s *mad*. “I can’t believe you! I know what I’m seeing, Giles! I know it’s Tara! I can feel her energies! I have to do something! I’m *going* to do… something!” She’s getting more and more upset now; she’s on the verge of losing it again. She takes a step towards Warren, but stays in the circle.

“All right, then,” Giles says quickly. “But even assuming it really *is* Tara, what you’re doing is worse than useless. It appears she’s helpless to reach back; and as soon as you penetrate the barrier, Warren will intercept your energies and use them against us. Stop it, Willow.”

“He can’t do this,” says Willow. “I can’t let him do this; and not you, or anyone else is going to stop me from doing whatever I have to, to save her. If he’s going to take his revenge out on anyone, it has to be me, not her.” Her eyes are all black again, and her head dips forward in Warren’s direction.

“Hey!” snaps Giles. He takes her shoulders and turns her to face him. “You have to focus now, Willow. I have to be able to trust you if we’re going to go through with this! Look at your chest! Look at mine!” He grabs her bloody hand in his and winces as he holds it to the glowing place on his chest so that she can feel the unnatural heat of it, then puts his hand out and presses it to her sternum, which has to be just as warm and painful.

“Let *go*, Giles.” She immediately tries to pull away, but he’s got a good grip.

He shakes his head and forces her to look him in the eye. “You and I are connected. Your energies might be strong enough to withstand this, but mine *aren’t*, and whatever comes back at you will hit me as well. You know what happens when your anger gets out of control. Now you have to use that knowledge. Channel the anger into strength. Use it. Wrap it around your power as you read this aloud, concentrating on Warren.”

Willow’s eyes slide from Giles to Warren. I can’t see her pupils anymore, and she’s rolling her shoulders forward, trying to ease the burn, probably. Warren’s standing there, holding a gun to Tara’s head. He squeezes the trigger, and water dribbles down Tara’s tearstreaked face. Warren laughs and licks the water from her skin. Willow’s eyes are wide, fixed on the two of them. Pain is written across Giles’ face. Willow’s magics are strong enough that even I can feel them now, so who knows what her power feels like as it runs through his newly-tenderised body.

Giles thrusts the book into Willow’s hand and taps his finger loudly on the paragraph to get her attention. She doesn’t move. “Show me you can control it. Show me I can still trust you,” Giles says softly.

Willow doesn’t look at him, but she nods, takes a deep breath, and starts to say the spell.

Warren keeps taunting her, but Willow holds steady, keeps reading, and little by little his voice becomes less distinct. A strong gust of wind blows through the room then, and the candles go out. The only light we have now is that which emanates from Warren. He’s looking angrier than ever, and suddenly a massive burst of power rips through the dimensional barrier. Somehow Warren’s opened a space that’s big enough for him to get at us. Giles was right; Warren’s absorbing Willow’s power, drawing it from her. She’s screaming, and I’m holding Giles up as he staggers, eyes screwed shut and gasping for breath. Warren’s looking satisfied. The frequency of the energy flowing between them is so intense that for a few seconds all I can hear is a buzzing in my ears. The flow stops suddenly, it’s quiet, and then there’s a head-splitting explosion of green energy that flings us all out of the protection circle, and slams us into the wall.

We all lie there stunned for a moment, before Warren walks through a shimmery barrier to stand just a couple of feet in front of us.

Willow’s obviously scared out of her mind, and her teeth are chattering so much I can hardly make out what she’s saying. “I thought he couldn’t manifest in this dimension.”

The witches are pounding on the bedroom door, but Warren must have sealed it shut. I call out to them what’s happening, but tell them to keep away. The last thing we need is for Warren to start using their power as well.

Warren stands there staring at us before he kneels beside Giles and says to Willow: “You were gonna pick us off one by one. So maybe that’s what I should do to *your* friends. Whaddaya think? That’s fair, right?” Warren reaches down and presses his hand down, through, and now right *inside* Giles’ chest, and smiles when he cries out. He concentrates on Giles for a few seconds, then looks up. “Still some juice in the battery,” he says. “Worth having. Too bad when he’s dead, you won’t be able to recharge him.” He looks thoughtful. “But I might. How’s about that, old boy?” His hand digs into Giles’ chest again, raising another, weaker yell from him, and Willow gasps as she slumps to the floor with her arms wrapped around her chest. “Oh, wow,” says Warren. “Were you guys, like, bonded or something?” He shrugs. “Well. Not any more.” He passes his hand over Giles again, just to see what he’ll do, probably. Giles doesn’t do anything. His eyes look like they did that time when one of Glory’s minions was stupid enough to come to the Magic Box. Blank. And dangerous. But then they close on him. I will him to open them again, but he doesn’t.

I try to grab Warren, but my hands just pass through him, and all I feel is cold air.

Shakily, Willow says, “Don’t. Please, Warren. There has to be something I can do for you.”

Warren strokes his chin and pretends to think. “Ooh. Intriguing suggestion. But I’d rather play a game. It’s called ‘Who do you like better?’ The game has two prizes, one player, and a judge. I call the judge,” he grins. “Big surprise, right? You’re the player. Tara and Giles are the prizes. We each get one. You get to go first. All you have to do is choose who you like better: Tara or Giles. The winner gets to stay in your dimension. The loser gets to be destroyed in a really cool way. Go ahead. Take your time.”

“We’d better get back in the circle,” I say. Willow nods, and between us we drag Giles back inside it.

Tara appears again, sobbing as she slowly draws a knife across her throat. Blood gushes down the front of her white shirt. Giles is lying on his side, eyes squeezed shut, but just about conscious. Willow puts out her hand and kneads his shoulder very gently. She shoots me a look that’s somewhere between desperation and despair. I’m more familiar with that look than I’d really like to be.

“Tara, I’m so sorry. I’m gonna get you out of there,” she says. “Hang in there, Giles.”

Giles stirs slightly, and just manages to get out, “Willow, I can’t take any more.”

Willow takes his hand and squeezes it. “I know.” She stands up and makes some brief, complicated gestures around him, setting up a protection spell. She looks at me. “Keep it going, Anya.”

I nod, and move over beside Giles to begin a constant chant under my breath, not loud enough for Warren to figure out exactly which spell I’m using.

“Do you really think that’s going to work?” says Warren. Willow ignores him, but I’d like to know the answer to that too.

“No,” Tara gasps. “Willow, *don’t*. Don’t let him make you use your power at full strength. You’re not ready yet. You don’t know what’ll happen.”

Willow looks at her apologetically. “All I know is what’ll happen if I don’t.”

Willow holds her hands up to a dim shaft of light coming in the window. First right, then left. She turns the wastebasket upside down. We hear the soft chimes of metal falling on the floor, and the scuffle as she starts sifting through it all in the dark. Warren’s tapping his foot. I guess he can afford to indulge her. He has a lot of time to kill.

Warren takes a shot at penetrating the protection spell around Giles, but there’s no way I’m going to let him through it. Willow stretches her hand out towards Warren, and a red ball of energy hits him, knocking him back and making him go all fuzzy for a few moments.

Willow has a handful of razor blades again, and makes a tight fist around them until the blood runs freely. That’s gotta hurt. She drops the blades, picks up the book she dropped in the explosion a little while ago, and finds the page Giles had marked. Then she takes a white crystal into her right hand, and rolls it around until it’s completely covered in blood, and something inside it is glowing.

Giles is coming around a little, and he rolls onto his back so he can see what she’s doing. “Willow. If this backfires, it’ll tear you apart,” he says weakly, trying to sit up and getting nowhere close. “Let me help.”

Willow shakes her head. “No way. You’re not up to anything right now. Please, Giles, just stay down.” Willow runs her finger over the text until she comes to the right place, and starts reading it silently to herself.

Giles looks at me. “Help,” he says, gesturing, and I reach my arms under his shoulders and prop him up. “Just sound it out, Willow,” he says. “You don’t have to understand it.”

“What does it do?” I whisper.

Giles closes his eyes for a second. Even talking seems too much of an effort. “It’ll sever the connection between discrete hybrid hypoplasmic entities… Warren and Tara,” he says. “At least, we hope so.”

Warren’s started talking again. “That’s a big spell for a little witch,” he says.

Willow glances up from the book. “So was the one that flayed you.”

Warren shuts up.

Willow starts reading, and Warren starts yammering again, trying to break her concentration. It’s still dark, but I don’t need much light to know that veiny-Willow’s back. I take a step away from her before I realise what I’m doing. Her head tips towards Warren as she starts reading the Mesopotamian text aloud. Giles backs her up with whatever’s left of his energies. I start chanting a repulsion spell to keep Warren from coming any closer.

Warren lets loose a burst of power, and Willow counters it easily. He’s never been a match for her, but right now his arrogance and fear are making up for what he lacks in magical ability. He tries again, a different spell, and Willow’s hands burst into flame. Giles makes an uncoordinated grab for the blanket. I get to it first and wrap it around her hands, smothering the fire. When the blanket comes off, they’re black and peeling. I can’t tell how badly they’re burned. Willow cries out when she expels the next stream of hot blue energy from her hands, so they can’t be good. The room is hot and stuffy, with all the energies flying around. I look at Willow’s hands again, and it’s as if nothing had happened to them. Neat, but just a little creepy coming from her.

Warren makes a sign, and instantly Tara’s skirt is alight.

“Whatcha gonna do now?” says Warren, as Tara slaps wildly at her clothes. She tries to tear them off, but they won’t come. Willow’s saying every spell she knows to try to get the fire to go out.

Giles picks the book up off the floor where Willow dropped it, and hands it to her. She takes a deep breath. She looks at me for just a second, and she’s terrified, trying to keep it together, trying not to lose control. I don’t want her to lose control either. She starts saying the spell where she left off last time. The flames licking up Tara’s body vanish. Willow lets the book fall to the floor. Warren stops playing around and watches her as she stands there, eyes closed, saying something over and over under her breath. She’s powering up, that much is obvious.

“Keep your focus,” Giles says softly. Willow nods, her eyes still closed. Then she opens them.

“Whatever happens, I love you, and I know you’ve done all you can,” says Tara.

“Love you too,” says Willow. She takes another deep breath, closes her eyes again, and stretches her hands forward, breaking the boundary of the circle. A blinding light surrounds them now.

There’s a crack like a thunderstorm has moved into the room. I feel the vibrations from Warren’s wild screaming right through the wooden floorboards. There’s a flash, and a shock wave radiates outwards, almost knocking us out of the circle again. When it’s over, Tara’s left slumped there in the corner. Alone. “Willow, that’s enough, he’s gone!” she gasps. Willow’s pretty out of it, and I have to shake her before she starts listening to anything we say.

Willow crosses the room in three steps to kneel by Tara. They can’t actually touch, but they sit there silently, just looking at one another. Tara smiles, and Willow grins back as she starts to cry.

Finally I notice that the bedroom door has cracked open, and Megan’s standing there. Everything about her, from her hair, piled up in a bun, to her feet, covered in mud from where she must have had to go outside and gather ingredients in the dark, is askew. The fact that we survived some of those mystical explosions is probably due to her and her cronies. I wave her in and she brings along a couple of the guy-witches. They come right over to Giles, who passed out a few minutes ago, and between them they get him off the floor and out of the room.

I turn, and Willow and Tara are looking at me with those ‘see you later, Anya’ expressions I know so well.

“I’ll just be going now,” I say. “Bye, Tara.”

She smiles at me. “Bye, Anya. I might come for a visit sometime. We can finish our argument about the French Revolution.”

I close the door behind me, and head back to the bedroom, answering the witches’ questions the whole time. When I get there, Giles is propped up on pillows and wiping blood from his nose on the back of his hand, which is also all bloody. I hand him those kleenex he rejected earlier. He’s a mess again, but as usual he keeps asking if I’m all right, which I am, apart from a lump on the head. I hadn’t even noticed it till now. Good thing my skull is one and one-fourth of an inch thicker than a human skull, and a couple of hundred times more resilient. I still have a headache though. I help Giles to the bathroom, and he lowers himself down onto the edge of the bath while I take some aspirin, and then get the first aid kit from the cupboard under the sink.

“Pretty weird night, huh?” I say, by way of making conversation while I clean up his face.

“One of the weirdest,” he agrees. “And there’s been a lot of competition for that lately. Ow. Take it easy, will you?”

I disinfect and bandage the razor cuts on his hands and the cut on his forehead that was reopened when we hit the wall. “So, do you think Willow’s gonna be okay?” I ask.

Giles watches as I tape the bandages in place. “I think so,” he says. “Eventually.”

I raise an eyebrow. I like to use Giles’ mannerisms on him sometimes, just to see the disconcerted look on his face. “So you were okay with her using her power the way she did just now?”

“Ow. Not so tight… that’s better. Well, it was far too soon for comfort as far as I was concerned. However, the coven’s only been able to gauge Willow’s energies under controlled conditions. Warren provided her with a real test. Her control wasn’t terribly good at first, but she was doing extremely well by the end; even when she was under enormous pressure to just let go and lash out to help Tara any way she could.”

“Not only Tara,” I point out.

He smiles. “Yes. Well, if she’d allowed the magics to overtake her again, she wouldn’t have given us a second thought. So something good did come out of all this. I know Willow.” He smiles. “The real Willow.” He shakes his head. “She has so many good qualities, if only she’d wake up and acknowledge them. It’s because she doesn’t, that she’s susceptible to being ruled by her flaws. She dwells far too much on her weaknesses and mistakes. That’s why I’m more concerned about how… and if… she’s going to be able to come to terms with what she’s done and what she’s lost. If she can cope with that, I have little doubt that, in time, she’ll be able to cope with the magics as well. But only if she can forgive herself for what she’s done. Otherwise, I’m afraid the grief and remorse might be too much, and that’s when the magic could really become a problem again.”

“Oh,” I say.

“What Willow’s done, and how she deals with it, are going to inform the kind of person she’s going to be from now on,” says Giles, fiddling with the bandages.

He’s not glowing anymore. “How’s your chest now?” I ask.

He stands up and faces the big mirror over the sink, then lifts up his t-shirt. His skin is red where Warren reached into him, but it doesn’t look as nasty as it did when Willow hurt him. Giles squints at it, and gives it a little prod. “Not too bad,” he says.

“I’ve certainly seen worse,” I agree, grinning at him. Our eyes meet, and he grins back. Suddenly we both feel the urge to look away. Okay, then.

“So,” I say. “Ever been knocked out in England before?”

He smiles. “No. This was a first. And hopefully last.”

On the way back to bed, Giles stops by Willow’s door, where we can hear faint, exhausted sobbing. “I’d better see if there’s anything I can do,” he says, swaying. I steady him and help him into her room, where he stays for the rest of the night.

****


The next morning, I go out after breakfast and see Willow bathed in sunlight, sitting Indian-style on one of the stone benches.

“Hey,” I say, sitting down beside her.

She cracks an eye open and smiles slightly. “Hey. Thanks for your help last night. I’m sorry you got dragged into that.”

“So am I. How was Tara after we left?” I say.

The relaxed look on Willow’s face disappears instantly. “She’s gone on.”

“Where?” I say.

“I don’t know. Heaven, I guess. Where Buffy was.”

“She didn’t she tell you?”

“No. I think she was trying to protect me. To keep me from trying to find her before it’s time. She said she might be able to contact you or Giles sometime, but it would be too dangerous for her to come to me, with… all that’s happened.” Willow half laughs. “Even as a ghost, she doesn’t trust me. I was lucky it all worked out the way it did. For all of us. Plus, I could’ve been killed.”

“Yes, you could,” says a rumbly voice from the doorway. “How do you feel about that?” Giles comes and sits beside us on the bench, stretching his long legs out. His feet are bare, and he plays with the wet grass between his toes while he waits for her answer. “Willow?”

“I’m trying to decide,” she says. “I’m glad I wasn’t. A day or two ago I-I might not have been. But today I am. I needed to see Tara that last time. I’m sorry for the way it happened, but afterwards, when we talked… it was amazing. She’s dead, and *she’s* the one comforting *me*.” Giles nods, and Willow goes on, “She always knows just what I need to hear, and she makes sure I listen. I’ll see her again one day, and in the meantime there are things I need to do. She made me promise to do them for her right now. Maybe someday I’ll be able to do them for me too. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” says Giles, with a slight smile.

We sit there for a little while, the sun warming the hewn grey stone behind our backs.

“Xander was amazing,” says Willow. “You’d have been proud, Anya. He was as ready to die as Giles was. I think partly because he felt he had a lot to prove, to atone for.” I can feel her looking at me. “And maybe because he felt he had nothing left to lose.”

“Who knows,” I say. I don’t understand Xander anymore. “He’s not the man I thought I knew. They never are.”

Willow’s smile is tinged with darkness now, and determination. “I think… maybe we just become more of what we always *have* been. Like, y’know, deep down, Xander’s not so different now than he was when we were kids. Funny and sweet. He’s never had a lot of friends, but he’s always been totally loyal. And he’s not stupid. He just uses the dumb jokes to hide how sensitive and insecure he is.”

“And he does such a good job hiding it,” I say.

“Well, he’s kind of had a good reason to feel insecure lately, hasn’t he?” says Willow.

“Your shagging Spike probably didn’t inspire confidence,” says Giles.

“Are you still here?” I say. “I wasn’t even *with* Xander then. Besides, someone who’d buff the hood of a police car with their Slayer’s mother isn’t really in a position to comment on choosing an appropriate sexual partner, are they?”

“Touché,” Giles grimaces. “Remind me to thank whomever told you about that.”

I open my mouth.

“*Anyway*,” Willow says quickly, squirming, “Xander’s Mom and Dad put him down all the time. They totally torpedoed his self-esteem from, like, the age of four. After school we always went places where we could hang out till the last possible second before his curfew. Did you know that when he was twelve, he won the school spelling bee and could’ve gone to the state championship?”

“You’re telling me that Xander won an insect that could spell?”

“A ‘bee’ is like a contest,” she says. “I know, it sounds way ‘Little House on the Prairie’. Anyway, when the school notified his parents, they made all these stupid comments; ‘well, someone made a mistake, all right’… ‘you’ve gotta be kidding’… ‘shit, no wonder you’re such a smartass’… Stupid Mister Harris actually cuffed him around the head and asked him if he’d cheated. He couldn’t stand that Xander was smarter than him. That’s why Xander used to play dumb in front of them, and it got to be kind of a bad habit, I guess. Anyway, he was so wigged at the idea of getting up on stage in front of all those people with his parents in the audience. He knew they’d totally psych him out. They’d fight, and embarrass him in front of all the other kids and his dad would go all Tony Soprano on the teachers. So when the test to qualify for the state spelling bee was handed out a couple of weeks later, he misspelt every single word, from ‘cafeteria’ to ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’.”

“The teachers didn’t think that was weird, coming from the spelling genius?”

Willow rolls her eyes. “Nope. They weren’t the most attentive. They never even questioned the bruises he used to have all the time. Xander hardly ever mentions his parents. But they really messed him up in some ways. I think especially when it comes to relationshippy stuff. It might take him a while to get past some of that, but I think if you can find it in you to give him another chance, it’ll be worth it.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. “So I’m supposed to forgive him for leaving me at the altar because he had a sad childhood?”

Willow shakes her head. “Well, he’s trying to forgive you for what you did with Spike. Xander really, truly loves you, Anya, and love doesn’t come or go easily for him. That’s all I’m saying. I’m just feeling kind of warm and fuzzy towards him right now, y’know?”

I nod. So am I, kind of. There’s a movement in the bushes. Bunnies. I get up and go back inside. I wonder how Xander’s doing. I wonder if he can help fix the Magic Box.

****


A few days later, I say goodbye and close the door on Willow and the witches. Giles carries my suitcase down on the gravel driveway and takes his glasses off to clean them. “I have to admit, I’ll miss you, Anya,” he says, wiping the lenses on his t-shirt. “Who’s going to rub my back when you’re gone?”

“No more sexy entries for your diary,” I say. “I guess you could always make them up.”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.” He smiles and rubs my shoulder. “Thank you for coming with me, and for helping with Willow. It means a great deal. Especially considering Willow hurt you, and you *are* a vengeance demon, after all. This was a bit outside your job description.”

“Yes, it was,” I say.

“Giles puts his glasses back on. “And… thank you also for doing what you could to hammer some sense into *my* head. Not an easy job at the best of times. You’re a good friend, Anya.”

“Yes, I am,” I say.

“I hope being here has done you some good, too,” he says.

“It did,” I admit.

The taxi pulls up, and almost as much as I didn’t want to come here, now I don’t want to go. But I think Xander needs me more, and Giles wants me to stick close to Buffy and Dawn for a while. He heaves my suitcase onto the back seat and gives me a quick hug, grunting when I return it. Why does he always *do* that? I get into the taxi, and hope to Snarzon that Halfrek never finds out about any of this. She thinks I’m soft enough already. I like to think of it as overcompensating.

END