Stasis
written by Head Rush


Rating: FRT
Spoilers: All of season 6 BtVS.
Summary: Picks up immediately where 'Grave' leaves off.
Feedback Author: Head Rush



Where there was rage, there was numbness. Where there was power, there was emptiness. Where there was love, there was death. Willow didn't know how long she had clung to Xander before she dared raise her head from the crook of his arm. She didn't care what he thought of her; whatever it was, she deserved it. She couldn't feel anything anyway. Her head felt like it was going to explode. She had to remind herself to blink. To breathe.

"We'd better get back," Xander said. He sounded far away "I tried to call them, but whaddaya know, a big honking stream of energy shorted out my cell phone." Xander stood up slowly, and then his hand was in front of her face. She didn't know what to do with it. He reached under her arms and lifted her to her feet. Then everything went black.

* * * * *

Buffy had never run so freaking fast in her life, but when she reached the Magic Box, she couldn't bring herself to open the door. Giles' dead body was behind it. He was dead because she'd abandoned him when he had come to help her. She should never have left him. But if she hadn't, Dawn and Xander might be dead. She stared at the doorknob; as long as she didn't look, he could still be alive. He had to be alive. God, please don't let Giles be dead. If he *was* alive, he would need help now, so why was she still standing here? Buffy took a deep breath and slowly opened the door.

Giles was weaving towards her, his arm slung across Anya's shoulders. He grinned, and Buffy burst into tears.

* * * * *

It took forever to get Giles home. They had to keep stopping, and the noises he was almost, but not quite, too British to make, stabbed at her. Anya had told her that Willow was alive, and apparently Xander had done something heroic. Buffy hoped to God Xander was okay and would check in soon. She felt a little pang of guilt for not automatically including Willow in the thought. Finally they stumbled into the foyer.

Buffy kept Giles on his feet while Anya worked the filthy black trenchcoat from his shoulders. He'd been leaning on them more and more heavily as they approached Revello Drive, and was more or less unconscious now. Anya was looking worried. Buffy hadn't realised how much Anya really did care about him. Maybe they'd gotten closer spending all that time in the store together.

Anya gave a little smile. "When he wears this coat, it makes me want to have sex with him."

It was the first funny thing anyone had said for a long time, and perhaps they giggled a little too hysterically, but it was such a relief, a release, to be able to be stupid about something as unrelated to issues of life and death as Giles' sexiness. Finally she pulled herself together enough to respond. "You'd better hope he didn't hear that. Remember when you called him `ruggedly handsome' that time? I caught him looking in the mirror afterwards. He totally tried to pretend he was getting something out of his eye."

"He *is* ruggedly handsome," said Anya.

She meant it, too. Anya *liked* him. Buffy's mind had boggled enough for one day. "Enough with the disturbing sex talk," she said, dumping Giles' coat onto a chair. "Let's get him onto the couch."

Through a combination of brute strength, cushions, and throw rugs, the women managed to manoeuvre Giles into something resembling a comfortable position. They stood looking down at him. Buffy had a sudden flashback to the sight of her mother lying there, and swallowed hard, scrutinising his face, watching for the rise and fall of his chest. "He's really pale."

"He was dying."

Buffy looked up, alarmed. "He's not dying now, is he?"

"I don't think so."

"Do you know where he was hurt?"

"Willow bounced him off the ceiling. She brought bookcases down on top of him. She blasted him with her energy, and she sucked out all of his; which, by the way, is something humans rarely survive. He was brave. He held out for a long time." She smiled down at him. "He even tried to make me feel better."

Buffy knelt beside the couch, wondering what Giles would do in her position, wondering if she should've just called an ambulance right away when they were in the middle of the town; or if that wasn't the kind of help he needed.

"Tea," Anya said suddenly. "Giles would want tea, if he were conscious." She disappeared to put the kettle on.

Buffy went to the bathroom cabinet and retrieved the white first-aid box that Giles had left when he'd gone back to England, in the hope that people and whatever else in Bath wouldn't be hitting him on the head all the time like they did here. She perched on the coffee table beside him and studied his battered face.

"How's he doing?" Anya hovered with a laden tea tray.

"Only one way to find out," said Buffy, making a command decision. "Help me get his sweater and t-shirt off." Buffy propped him up, Anya tugged, and they both stared in mute horror at what Willow had done. In addition to the gashes on his temple and the back of his head, Giles' chest and stomach were a mass of wrong colours surrounding a burn unlike anything Buffy'd ever seen. She sat beside him on the couch, and tipped him forward a little bit. He moaned, and she felt his muscles knot. "His back's the same," she said. The network of old – four years old, to be exact – scars did not escape her notice.

"Giles, I'm so sorry," she said. That really didn't even begin to cover it.

"He understood. You're the slayer. You did what you had to do. So did he. Giles had the borrowed power to defend himself, for a while, anyway, but Dawn and Xander and those bedwetters wouldn't have had a chance without you."

"Yeah, but – "

"I heard him tell you to go. He didn't want you to stay for him." Anya's mouth quirked. "I, on the other hand…"

They both grinned at that, and the tension ebbed again, just a tiny bit.

Back to the task at hand, Buffy popped the clasp on the first-aid kit. "Usually Giles does the doctoring. I'm afraid I'm gonna make it worse." As usual.

"Look at his hands. I saw a man with hands like that once. His fingers fell off. Of course, I meant them to."

"Of course you did," Buffy said distractedly. "It's strange; I never noticed… did Willow do that to his fingers, or have they been kind of crooked since Angel…" Since Angel had tortured him and she hadn't known where or how to begin to talk about it, and he hadn't seemed to want to anyway… But still. She'd never even told him she was sorry.

"Since Angel tortured him?" said Anya.

Buffy flushed. "He told you about that?"

"Not really. Xander told me more."

"Is he still… mad?"

Anya picked at a piece of fluff on her skirt. "No."

"You are the worst liar!"

"Well, he's not mad anymore. Over time, his anger and resentment has been sublimated into numerous non-specific psychological dysfunctions."

Okay. "That doesn't sound good."

"That's what I said when Willow told me."

She still didn't know where to begin, so decided to start at the shallow end, working the dried blood from Giles' face and hands. She dabbed antiseptic ointments on the cuts, then stuck gauze pads wherever they'd stick. His hair got all caught up in the surgical tape. Buffy made a mental note not to be around when he peeled it all off.

Buffy and Anya both jumped when the door opened and Xander steered Willow into the foyer ahead of him. He went straight to Anya, and enfolded her in a bear hug. After a moment he glanced over the top of her head to look from Giles to Buffy. "How is he?" Willow was edging towards the stairs, but Xander caught and held her arm.

"I don't know. He made it back here, but he's been unconscious ever since." Buffy's eyes fell to the slashes across Xander's chest. "How're you?" Xander nodded a vague gesture of affirmation, words failing him as they were everyone else. Willow pulled away from him and went upstairs. The door shut and locked.

"How's Willow?"

Xander shrugged. "Hasn't said a word. Not good. She didn't want to come back here, but I didn't give her any choice."

Buffy nodded. "We'll give her some time. I can't talk to her right now, anyway."

Anya collected a handful of supplies from the first-aid kit and took her ex-fiancee's hand. "Come on, Xander." She tugged him, unresisting, up the stairs.

Buffy watched them go, and heard one of the bedroom doors shut. With a sigh, she turned back to Giles.

"Giles, how can you tell if ribs are broken?" She prodded gently here and there, then jumped as he suddenly gasped and pushed her hands away.

"Guess that's how," said Buffy. "Sorry."

His eyes were closed, his teeth gritted. Eventually, he exhaled. "Bloody hell."

Buffy jigged her leg up and down anxiously until he relaxed a little and eventually focussed on the tray Anya had left.

"Tea," he observed gruffly.

"Anya made it for you."

His mouth quirked up, and Buffy wondered if he liked Anya as much as she liked him. "Hospital," said Buffy. "Then tea." Before he could protest she jumped in with, "Unless you'd like me to set your ribs for you. I've seen how they do it on `ER'. It doesn't look that hard."

Giles allowed a faint smile, which faded instantly as he sharpened up a bit. "Willow…"

"Is upstairs," finished Buffy. "Anya and Xander can keep an eye on her. We need to get you… what's that word you say? Sorted?"

Giles gave her that vaguely pissed off, long-suffering look he'd been giving her since she was fifteen. This time, she was glad to see it. Some things could be relied on never to change. He lifted an eyebrow. "Very good. We'll teach you to speak English yet."

* * * * *

From the upstairs window, Willow watched the taxi pull up, and saw Buffy helping Giles out to it. Giles was walking. There was some relief in that. When the driver got a good look at Giles, he got out of the cab and helped him into the back seat.

She forced herself to turn back to the room's interior. To the bed she and Tara had skipped classes one day to pick out. To the pressed flowers Tara had picked one time when they'd been walking in the mountains. To the teddy bear she'd given Tara for Valentine's Day. To the closet full of Tara's clothes. To the bloodstains on the floor. Giles was right. Tara wouldn't have believed her capable of doing what she did. She wasn't Willow anymore. There was no coming back from this; there was nothing to come back *to*. Her mind was blank. She couldn't think. Couldn't feel anything. That was probably a blessing.

Four days later, wrung out from unspent emotion and violent physical reactions, Willow lay on the bed hugging Tara's teddy bear, and conjured a spell to stop her breathing.

* * * * *

Anya, Dawn, and Xander were parked on the couch in front of a comfort-viewing `Silver Spoons' marathon on Nick at Nite when Buffy brought Giles back from the hospital. They all leapt up to greet him. Dawn threw her arms around him and he tried to reciprocate.

"Careful, Dawn, he's still pretty messed up," Buffy said pointedly, looking at Giles.

"I thought you were just going to visit him," said Dawn. "We didn't know he was getting out."

"Nobody knew he was getting out. The doctors didn't want to let him go, but he didn't wait around to argue."

Xander gave Giles' shoulder a gentle tap. "It's good to see you, Giles."

"And you. All." Giles beamed at the little crowd that was so pleased to see him. "Xander, I never had a chance to tell you how well you did. You were marvellous. You saved us."

Xander smiled, blushed, and shrugged. "Anya told me what you did. What I said to Willow wouldn't have made any difference if you hadn't given her all that good magic first."

"Giles was a hero," said Anya. "It was very sexy."

Giles and Xander blinked, and Dawn's eyes widened.

"Let's get Giles some tea," Buffy said quickly. "I'll put the water on, and let Willow know you're, uh… home."

Buffy went upstairs, and for a couple of minutes all that could be heard over the television was the sound of door opening and closing. Finally, Buffy came back down, frowning. "When was the last time anybody saw Willow?"

* * * * *

Giles descended the stairs and looked from one troubled young face to another. "How has she been behaving? Has she spoken to any of you? Has she been eating? Sleeping?"

"None of the above as far as I know," said Buffy. The others nodded in agreement. "There's been some world class throwing up, and her room is totally trashed. Whenever I've been up in the night, her light's always been on. Sometimes it sounded like she was talking to Tara, but it didn't really make any sense."

"She hasn't been downstairs," said Dawn. "She's only gone from her room to the bathroom."

Giles nodded, arms crossed, eyes on the floor. "Right. Has anyone actually tried to speak to her?"

"Well, yeah, we all did," said Xander, "but she wouldn't open the door. We didn't want to… well, let's be honest, we didn't want to push her over the edge. She's had all she can take and way more."

"Yes, I dare say she has," said Giles. "We have to find her. I'm not at all sure that she won't try something…" He ran a hand through his hair.

"What're you saying?" said Xander. "You think she'll try to hurt herself? Or us?"

Giles shook his head and began polishing his glasses. "I don't know. It's possible. What she felt the other day was…" he faltered, lost for words. "Indescribable. Grief… fury… light and dark mystical energies… all bound up together. It was impossible to tell where Willow… that is, our Willow… as we knew her… left off, and the magics took over. I wouldn't like to speculate how much mystical energy may be left in her system at this point. It may be flaring up again." Just the memory of the way she'd looked at him when he'd arrived at the Magic Box was enough to turn him over. "She wouldn't survive another episode like the other night."

Buffy nodded. "Neither would you. Or any of us."

"Giles is right; we have to find her," said Xander. "She can't have been gone more than half a day. She can't have gotten further than, say, a plane bound for Australia." He sighed heavily. "Damn it! Why didn't I go and check on her this afternoon?"

"Because she doesn't respond," said Buffy. "Dawn, you stay here in case she comes back or calls. I'll check out her usual hangouts, not that I'm even sure where those are anymore." She looked Giles up and down. "Maybe you'd better stay with Dawn. We don't know how Willow will react to seeing you, and besides, you're not really Mr Action Guy right now. You should still be in the hospital."

But Giles was already grabbing his black coat from its hook by the front door. He was about to pull it on when he stopped, replaced it, and instead layered a blue flannel shirt over his t-shirt. He disappeared into the kitchen for a few minutes, returned with a backpack, and took off down the front walk.

* * * * *

By late evening, the smoggy warmth of a typical summer day in Sunnydale was giving way to a damp chill off the sea, and Giles was running out of both ideas and energy. He'd done the rounds of the airports, the train and bus stations, the malls and parks. He'd even checked a few of those bookshop cafes he hated to admit he liked, as Willow had been a regular at those places; she'd been the one to introduce him to their charms.

There was only one place he hadn't yet tried, and had been hoping he wouldn't have to. In a warped sort of way, it was almost a nostalgic experience for Giles to push open the wrought iron gates of the Restfield Cemetery. He'd spent quite a lot of time here over the past few years, and had had some good talks with Willow and the others while waiting for the dead to rise.

He knew every inch of this bloody place; every tree root, every… He clicked on his torch and promptly stumbled on the uneven ground.

He swore, softly and at considerable length. The sudden tension combined with the rapidly wearing off painkillers to make him feel quite strange. Giles steadied himself with a hand on the side of the Alpert crypt as sweat broke out on his forehead, his ears rang, and his vision dimmed. If he were to faint, any vampire that came along would think it was their birthday. Giles took some deep breaths and blinked rapidly until his vision cleared. Then he realised the door to the crypt was ajar. If Spike was in, and in the same sort of state that Buffy had described, this was a very bad place to be. He shone the torch into the dank little room.

"Spike?"

He pushed the door all the way open and swept the beam of light over the sarcophagus, over Spike's ancient tv and armchair, and over the masonry that had fallen in the wake of the fireball Willow had sent to kill Jonathan and Andrew. Before she had turned her attention to him. *'Now I finally have you all to myself.'* What the hell had *that* meant?

Giles flicked the light off, quietly moved away from the door, and settled himself on a discreet stone bench to wait. It was the oldest trick in the book, but he hadn't the reserves to do more.

* * * * *

Two hours later, Giles was shifting uncomfortably for the umpteenth time when at last he detected a movement. He turned round as much as his ribs would allow. Willow stood framed in the doorway of the crypt, looking up at the stars. She was wearing only her pink and white baseball shirt and pair of carpenter trousers. She slid down until she was sitting with her back against the stone, and wrapped her arms around herself. From where Giles sat, she might almost be mistaken for the same sweet, insecure teenager who was always ready – perhaps, in retrospect, *too* ready – to help him with anything that needed doing, or to be the voice of reason when all about her were losing their heads. He'd never expected her to be the one to go off the rails. Of course, the signs had been there all along, and he'd done nothing.

Giles stood up and watched her tense as she saw him. Good.

He wouldn't be able to chase her if she ran, and he wasn't at all sure he'd be able to defend himself if she attacked. However, to do either of those things, she'd have to be concerned for her own self-preservation, and if she was anything like he had been – and she was – that would be unlikely at this point.

"Hello," he said softly.

* * * * *

Giles. She wasn't ready to deal with him yet; everything was too fuzzy, too far away, feeling drunk and hung over at the same time. He came a little closer, not too close. She could see the bandage on his temple glowing blue-white in the moonlight.

"Vampires out here, you know," he said, looking her up and down.

She knew.

Giles nodded, accepting her silence, and leaned resolutely against a gravestone.

Eventually, she mumbled, "Is it… Are you… okay?" He cocked his head, but didn't say anything. He was right; it was a stupid question.

"You used some magic today," he said at last. He must have felt the residual energies in her room.

"It was an observation, not an accusation," he went on. "Still, the magics you used were dark. What was the spell you performed?"

He only wanted to know in case she was about to go insane again.

"Willow."

"You… I don't… It- it''s none of your business."

His posture stiffened, and though he didn't raise his voice, the tone was far more professional than the one she was used to hearing from him. "It is very much my business; and I've earned the right to interrogate you. You don't have to tell me, of course. I can ask the coven or the Council to send someone. But you will answer the question."

They stared at each other until it became clear that he was going to win. "It was… directed… at myself."

He walked over to stand a couple of yards away. His look burned right through her, as though he could hold her there with that alone. As he always had been able to.

"What did you try to do?"

She didn't answer.

"Either you tell me, or I'll make my own assumptions and take action accordingly."

Finally she said, "It was for asphyxiation."

He nodded. Maybe he'd already known. Maybe he thought it was a good idea.

"Never do magic again," she said.

Giles simply stared at her until she had to look away.

"You were very angry with me the other night," he said. "You went for me not only because of the magics, but also because of some injustices you seem to feel I've done you, none of which you've raised before now. I thought we were friends. I know it's… it's been more difficult recently, but nonetheless I thought we were all right. Clearly, I was mistaken."

Willow didn't reply. She couldn't even remember what she'd said, let alone whether she'd meant it.

"Hard to tell which is worse, isn't it? What's behind, or what's ahead." Giles closed the distance between them and knelt in front of her. Her heart started pounding. She pushed her back up against the cool stone of the crypt as though she could burrow right through it and away from this.

"Look at me," he said sharply, and she raised her eyes to his face, but fixated on the bandage on his head. She felt the warmth of him as he leaned forward and put his hand on her forehead. "Suppose I do *this*," he said, and pushed into her mind. It was something she'd done with Tara as their relationship had deepened; opening themselves up completely as the ultimate gesture of trust, only Tara had been much more gentle.

Willow gasped and tried to squirm out from under his hand. "Stop!"

He didn't. In fact, the magics he was using *hurt*, and it made her angry. He held her in place with one hand on her head, and the other twisted into her shirt. He was saying something, but she couldn't take it in.

The black magic surged out; her impulse to retaliate made manifest. She struggled to hold it in, keep it back. She felt Giles watching her, offering neither help nor guidance. She was going to lose it, and this would be the end.

Giles's hand slid from her forehead over her crown when she put her head down on arms folded over her knees for some privacy while she struggled to contain the warring forces running through every cell. The black magic hadn't left her as she'd thought it would; but stayed with her like the ghost of a twin.

"You have both light and dark magic. Use the one to balance the other," he said.

Some time later, she didn't know how long, she almost managed it, but was too worn out to hold the balance. "All right," Giles murmured. Suddenly the pressure eased. His energies flowed into her own, containing them for her, working hers and his together. Giles' hand left her head. He eased himself down beside her, closer than he ever sat; well overstepping both their comfort zones.

Why wouldn't he just *go*? "Leave me alone! I'm not bad, I might be, you don't have to… to…" she jabbered, words tumbling over her tongue, loose and crazy sounding. "I'm not."

"Does your head still hurt?"

Willow recognised the look he was giving her; it was the one he gave her the morning after she'd done the Acathla spell. She didn't know what he was getting at, but noticed his bandage again. "I didn't mean to hurt yours. I did, but I didn't."

"We'll talk about it later."

"My head feels weird. I can't think."

"Reaction to the magics," he said. "It'll wear off."

"I thought you didn't have any power."

"Did you."

"Xander said it all came from the coven."

He shook his head.

"Why didn't you tell us?"

"I don't tell you everything, Willow, any more than you do me."

"We didn't. We didn't know," she said pathetically, and felt in must be in some way an apology, but how, or for what, she didn't know.

"I've been in contact with the coven," he went on. "They're expecting us."

She wouldn't go. No way. As Willow scrambled to get up, Giles' arm came down across her like an iron bar. She struggled ineffectually for a minute, but this latest burst of magic on top of the last few days had used up everything she had. She subsided, breathing hard.

"I'll take that as a good sign," said Giles, his arm still weighing warm and heavy on her, but no longer actively holding her down.

"What?" she said quietly.

"You're afraid. It's a fair indication that deep down, you still want to live."

"You must be sorry I wasn't powerful enough to off myself."

He rounded on her, blazing. "No, I'm bloody not! Nobody wanted to harm you; but if we had, it would have been easy enough once the binding spell had been cast. And if you really did want to `off yourself', there are plenty of ways that don't involve magic. I told you; I came back to help you."

She nodded, unable to argue, wanting to believe him. Not long ago she would have believed anything he said without question. Was it him that had changed, or her?

"I knew you wouldn't want to hurt me. I was counting on it. That just makes it worse."

Giles shook his head, slumped back against the crypt, took his glasses off, and sighed.

"You're wrong," he said gently. "I tricked you into taking the magics I had. I knew it would be too much for you, and I knew it would probably kill one of us. I hoped that if anyone had to go, it would be me, but I was equally prepared for it to be you. It was absolutely my last resort, but you gave me no choice."

She nodded.

His arm lifted and she turned her head to see him take a thermos from his backpack – actually, it was Dawn's blue Hawaiian-print backpack. She blinked, seeing again Dawn's terrified expression as she'd cruelly offered to send her back where she came from. *'Cause you don't belong here.* But she was the one who didn't belong here, or anywhere.

Giles held the thermos cup out to her. She didn't take it. "Go on," he said.

"No, thanks."

"You haven't eaten or drunk much in the last few days. Have you had anything since leaving Buffy's?"

She shook her head. How did he know what she'd had or not had? He'd been talking to the others about her. Annoyance and embarrassment flared, making her cheeks hot. Way to be irrational.

"Drink it, then. Don't add to your problems." He pressed the warm plastic cup into her hands. She looked down at it, but it was too dark to see.

"It's an herbal mixture to relieve anxiety and calm you down a bit; that's all. I promise." Still she hesitated, and he said, "Would it help if I told you that Tara showed me how to make it after Buffy died?"

Now she couldn't swallow at all, her throat was so tight.

"Why did you want to have me all to yourself?"

"Huh?"

"That's what you said the other night."

"No – "

"Yes. You said I was a hypocrite, and you used to think I had all the answers, but now, apparently, you've realised that I'm only a mere mortal. So let's set the record straight; I am not now, and never have been, jealous of your power. Is that understood?"

She nodded.

"I haven't been jealous of that kind of power since I was your age, and ended up using it to kill one of my closest friends."

Again, a nod. Her throat was so tight. Why did he have to yell at her *now*?

"Do you want to use those magics again?"

"No."

"That's what I said. Didn't stop me doing it, though. I had to go to the coven for that." He looked over at her. "And so will you."

She shook her head. The magics were buried, and staying that way.

"Tara's funeral is on Tuesday. I've got us booked on an overnight flight that evening."

Still shaking her head. She wouldn't leave here, wouldn't leave Tara, wouldn't go to where a bunch of strangers would do something awful to her.

"You'll go, and let them help you get the magics under control, or you'll die. It's that simple. Your energies aren't going anywhere. It's a matter of learning to live with them now, and going through the grieving process."

She stared straight ahead, her face burning, the blackness closing in again.

"You won't stay numb forever," he said gently. "The sooner you can let go, the better."

She nodded.

"Easy to say, I know," he said.

"If I let go, I'll… never stop." Giles put his arm around her shoulders, and she let him pull her into him, into his warmth and strength. She couldn't help but notice the raw scrapes and scabs on his knuckles from where they'd hit the ceiling. "I can't remember everything I said, but I'm so sorry. I know it was horrible, and I didn't mean it."

Giles' chest heaved as he sighed. "Some of it, I think you did. We'll get to that when you're feeling better." He shifted uncomfortably against the stone at his back. "Do you really feel that I abandoned you all? That I ran away?"

"No, not like that. All that stuff I said about you leaving was... We all missed you so much. I know you were... are... just trying to have a life of your own, and we're not kids anymore, but everything here got so bad... nobody knew what to do. It just got worse and worse. And then Tara," she finished quietly.

"You could have called me at any time. You know I would have done whatever I could."

She nodded. Giles had saved her life more than once. He was the only grown-up who had ever treated her as an equal and a friend, and was still doing so in spite of everything.

Giles indicated the mug in her hand. "Drink."

This time, she did. It tasted of some of Tara's favourite herbs; chamomile and sage and lemon balm, and some things she couldn't place. Almost immediately, she felt the potion start to take effect. Giles was murmuring something, but she was back to not understanding him again. She could barely keep her eyes open. She would just close them for a moment.

END