Title: Afterlife Happens
Author: Exiled
Spoilers: Up to Afterlife
Email: Exiled@runbox.com
Rating:PG
Feedback: Yes, Please! I live on it!
Archive: Please Ask.
Pairing: Buffy and Willow
Previous Parts: http://www.fanfiction.net/profile.php?userid=30044
Disclaimer: I don't own them, I'm just torturing them for you.
Summary: What if Willow overheard Buffy's confession to Spike about being in Heaven at the end of Afterlife.
BETA: Ann Marie is the Great Goddess, without her this part would be in shambles.
Note: I took "liberties" with the Myth of Oirsis, Seth, and Isis.
Note: The prologue has direct quotes from Jane Epson's script.

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Afterlife Happens

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Part One

"That's okay. I've got it. Look, guys ... There's this thing. And I'm just gonna say it."

Willow watched as her best friend fidgeted. Something that Buffy never did in front of just the gang before�before she died. The red headed Wiccan didn�t know what do or say to help put her friend more at ease. She was worried that Buffy was just going to have to ride it out. They all were just going to have to ride it out.

�There is no greater gift than for your brother to give up his life for yours." Or some such quote. She really should have remembered it, considering her drama class had done the play over the summer. It was a period of time that was nothing but a huge painful blur for the young woman.

"You brought me back." Buffy was saying, "I was in a place ..."

This was hard for Willow to watch as the slayer struggled to stay coherent.

"I was in Hell." The blonde was able to spit out.

An overpowering sense of pride rushed through Willow. This was the acknowledgement she had been waiting for; the validation she had craved.

"I don't ...I can't think much about what it was like. But it felt ... I felt like the world abandoned me there. And then suddenly you guys ... You did what you did." Buffy�s words ground to a halt and she could see her friend fight to force a smile.

�Oh, what tortures the she must have endured? �Well,� the Wiccan thought to herself, �if I can pull her out the actual three-D surround sound version of Hell with magic, then I�m sure there is a spell I can use to help her through this horrible time.�

"It was Willow. She knew what to do." Tara said quietly.

Willow felt her pride rise another notch as Buffy turned her sad eyes on her.

"So you did that?" Buffy questioned.

Willow could barely contain her delight as Buffy singled her out�but the pain in Buffy�s face more than dampened that joy. There must be some kind of spell she could do to erase the pain and bring the old Buffy back.

"And the world came rushing back. So... thank you. You guys gave me the world. Thank you. I can't tell you what it means to me." Her newly resurrected friend ground to a halt once again. Long pauses between words seemed to the norm with this version of the Slayer.

Willow felt a jolt when Buffy finally lifted her eyes enough for her to fully look into them. What she saw was beyond pain, beyond horror, and the witch almost thought she saw longing there.

"I should have said it before." Buffy finished.

Willow could tell that was a prepared and rehearsed speech. Willow shrugged; asking Buffy�s permission to hug her. It was an old Scooby thing, she had once explained to Tara, Buffy was a sensitive empath, and it was how she was able to feel vampires close to her. But, sometimes it meant that the slayer just couldn�t stand to be physically touched, even by her friends. Especially by her friends. At her best friend�s nod, Willow quickly crossed the short distance to her.

"You're welcome," Willow blurted out between the tears. �I promise you, promise you, I will find a way to wipe away that look in your eyes.� She vowed silently to herself

"Welcome home, Buffy." She heard Xander say just as he joined the hug and together they engulfed their friend.

Willow knew Buffy wouldn�t be able to tolerate the contact for long, so it was no surprise when after a few seconds Buffy broke the hug.

"Sorry guys�." The blonde started to apologize.

"It�s ok Buff!" Xander interrupted backing away.

"It�s just too soon," she said looking up at Xander and Willow she muttered. "I-I just can�t deal with. . . ."

"It�s ok!" The Witch tried to put her friend at ease but she could tell that she�d lost her when Buffy turned and started wandering towards the training room.

Willow just watched her go; there was no use in trying to stop her or engage in conversation. The few days since she�d been back, once Buffy drifted off mentally she stayed gone for a while.

"Now that�s a sad puppy," Xander mentioned while sitting at the round table in the center of the Magic Box.

"Yeah," Willow�s mind was going into her overdrive mode. She turned back to her friends after hearing the outside door to the training room close. "I think we should make Buffy forget."

"What?" the other three people chorused at the same time.

Willow walked over to the table. �Quickly, I have to say this and do it quickly, today; it would be the only way the spell could work.�

"I�ve been researching the spell the monks used to create Dawn�" She started only to be interrupted by her lover.

"Willow," Tara started in that maternal voice the young Wiccan despised. "We can�t do that kind of magic! Do as you will and harm none!"

Willow glared at Tara, thinking what a stick-in-the-mud she'd become. 'She's holding my own growth and power back!'

"Look Tara," Willow snapped. "If you�d had your way Buffy would still be in that torturous Hell Demission!"

"Wills, all she�s saying�" Xander started.

Willow burned, seethed with rage at the mutiny! Turning, she made for the training room, fully intending on doing the spell.

"I'm right about this," she told them as she left, "and you guys will see!"  She hurried, because if she was going to rework Buffy's memories of Hell, she had to do it quickly

"Buffy?" she queried, getting no answer. When it was apparent her friend wasn't in the room, she opened the door to the outside.

Willow was startled to hear Spike's voice and the tail end of his comment. "...but I know a thing or two about torment."

"I was happy," she heard Buffy say in that same sad voice. Everything inside Willow froze. She couldn't move, couldn't think, stuck holding the outside door slightly ajar. She couldn't believe she'd heard correctly. Buffy couldn't have been happy in Hell! It was that bastard, Spike, again! He'd done this to Buffy! He'd confused her to the point where she didn't know what to think!

"Wherever I ... was ... I was happy. At peace." Her friend reiterated.

All Willow could do was stand there as if her feet were stuck in glue. Her emotional high from Buffy's praise only a few minutes earlier drained out of her. 'No!' she thought frantically. Bile rose up in her throat. 'What have I done?'

"I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it." The words seem to pour out of Buffy�s mouth and each one was like the stroke of a whip.

�But we weren�t alright; we were never even close to alright!� Willow thought�begged in her mind.� Don�t you understand nothing was right, nothing could ever be right, without you here?� Fat salty tears began to stream down Willow�s face, and she was able to free a hand from the paralysis that had gripped her long enough dash them away. She wanted to turn away from the words, from Buffy, but she couldn�t.

"Time didn't mean anything, nothing had form... but I was still me, you know?" The young witch saw the slayer look questioning at the Vampire before she continued. "And I was warm and I was loved... and I was finished. Complete. I don't understand about dimensions or theology or any of ... but I think I was in heaven."

�Heaven?� Willow thought, �you were loved? But, I love you! I�ve always loved you!�

"And now I'm not."

"Buffy?" Spike asked.

"I was torn out of there. My friends pulled me out. And everything here is bright and hard and violent... Everything I feel, everything I touch... this is Hell."

�Hell is being with me.� The witch thought in anguish.

"Willow? Sweetie?" Tara�s voice broke the thrall Buffy�s words had over Willow and she let the door slide softly shut. As the door�s lock clicked all control the young girl had over her tears dissolved and she slowly slid down the wall as sobs wracked her small frame.

She couldn�t see her lover through the torrent, but she could feel her hand on shoulder.

"Sweetie, honey, what�s wrong?" She heard Tara ask and it enraged her.

She pushed to her feet, "What�s wrong?" Willow knew she was shouting. She couldn�t stop herself, couldn�t stop screaming, at the one person who always believed in her.

"What�s wrong? Well, I�ll tell you what�s wrong!" She paused at Tara so she could walk up to the Xander blob that just ran into the room. "I�ll tell you all what�s wrong! Buffy was in heaven! Heaven and I sundered her from it and now she�s in Hell!"

"Will, you aren�t making any sense." Xander told her calmly walking up to her and gathering her into a hug. "Tell me again, slowly and in one syllable words."

It almost worked. He was almost enough, but he wasn�t. Buffy�s words echoed in her mind, �I was in heaven, and now I�m not, I was torn�.�

"Oh God, I have to go!" Willow said quietly, and when Xander wouldn�t release her, she threw him against the wall and dashed out into the day.

Part Two

I look around the park I found myself in when I was too tired to run anymore. It�s a nice park by Sunnydale standards. A small lake on one end, a pretty little stream and bridge on the other. Tara and I would come and eat lunch here between classes last year. Before she lost her mind, before Buffy called me her "big gun" and before Buffy died.

Before �I was in heaven, and now I�m not, I was torn�.�

I so don�t want to go there right now; I try to distract my mind by looking around. There are lots of people out sitting at tables, having picnics, so I guess it must be lunchtime. Which means it's only been a few hours at the most, since I overheard Buffy�s confession to Spike.

Dawn will be getting out of school in about 3 hours, I think automatically. Then remember that Buffy�s back so I don�t have to worry about picking her up anymore.

�I was in heaven, and now I�m not, I was torn�.�

Dawn! Think about Dawn and how Tara and I tried to never leave her alone after� well� Buffy killed herself. Well, she didn�t exactly kill herself; she just jumped to save the world� yeah, right.

That�s what it felt like. My best friend was so tired and worn down emotionally last spring that I thought, from her message to Dawn, that she was happy about taking the high drive off the tower.

And I was right.

Oh, Goddess Bless! How could I have pulled her out of heaven! How could I been so selfish? I find myself on my hands and knees getting sick on the beach. The bile rising up in my throat like the red hot lance to my heart I feel at my actions, if only I could purge this guilt as easily. Buffy was in heaven, she had reached her reward; she was warm and safe and happy. The tears start again, but I�m too weak to get up and run so I slowly collapse onto my side.

�I was in heaven, and now I�m not, I was torn�.�

How could I have done that to my friend? How could I have been so arrogant as to assume that magical death equaled Hell? Why didn�t I just trust in my craft enough to simply ASK where my best friend was, my love for her gave me the right to know.

�You didn�t ask because you love her and you didn�t want to live your life without her.� The voice in the back of my mind answers for me.

But that wasn�t totally it� I answer the voice and now I�m getting really concerned for my sanity.

I felt her death! I felt the pain, and yes fear, she had at the moment her soul separated from her body� her body that fell a hundred feet - just like so much meat. Her body that the Powers that Be couldn�t have lowered to the ground with some kind of dignity. Not let it drop, broken, and soiled, and�.

Lifeless!

The Powers That Be, or God, let his warrior die like that and I -- I had the power to change it, so I did!

I did without asking because I no longer believed in the Goddess or God, I just believed in me�.

And now, it's too late.

I was in heaven, and now I�m not, I was torn�.

She�s here and so am I.

And I might not know about God but there is one thing this little lapsed Jewish girl is sure of, you can�t take your own life. Oh no! What if Buffy�s planning to do that? No, she wouldn�t, she�s the Slayer and they fight to their last breath� except that�s what Buffy did, last spring.

I would reverse the spell; only in my research last night I found out that once the Hitchhiker was dead the spell I did was permanent.

I realized that my body was getting chilled from lying on the rough sand of the small beach. I don�t know how long I had been there, but the lunchtime crowd had cleared the park.

Thank God for the residents of Sunnydale extreme denial because not one of the people stopped to check on me as they left.

I slowly sit up thinking about how to help Buffy� I could kill her and then she would go back to heaven. I already have a curse on my soul for working the dark, who am I kidding, the Black Magic, no even that�s not correct, Blood Magic to bring her back.

I was hoping that by bringing back the warrior of the people it would bleach out the stain a little, and then future good deeds would wash it away.

But now it doesn�t matter, I�m damned. Taking her life, a mercy killing at that, wouldn�t add to the damage.

I stand up with my mind made up. I will kill my best friend and then beg what Gods there may be for forgiveness and hopefully she will be accepted back into heaven.

Oh man! What am I thinking? I fall back to my knees as the bile comes back; I have to swallow it down.

No, no, don�t think about killing your love, your friend, if you do then you'd never be able to do it. Stop thinking about never seeing Buffy again! Stop it! Now! Stand up; no it doesn�t matter if your legs are wobbly, walk�.

This is just another�mental exercise. No, no crying. You caused this, you have to fix it.

I start back for the house that I�ve shared with Dawn and Tara for the past 5 months planning the murder of my best friend, a knife would be too painful, and hey, Slayer reflexes. Stabbing her in the back would be too ET, too Brutus?

How about a gun?

I�ve never used a gun. And I�d heard about people surviving even the worse wounds: shotgun blasts from point blank range that nearly cut them in half�.

So a Slayer? Check gun off the list of �How to murder your best friend.�

I hear a crazed giggle and I look around to see where it's coming from, before I realize it's me. I have to clamp a hand over my mouth to make it stop. When I think I can continue, I start back down the street.

I could overdose her. I get lost in a fantasy of grinding up painkillers into her drink. She would just go to sleep and back to her reward. The trouble with that is it would take so many it would be all powdery pills and very little drink.

A bark of a laugh escapes before I can pull it back and make the thought go away. And I have to use the hand again. I know I must look strange walking down the street with tears flowing down my face and a hand over my mouth.

Sunnydale: as long as I don�t bite or threaten to kill anyone I�m safe with my thoughts of�well�killing someone.

"That�s just sick." I say out loud. "I�m sick!" and I finally get a stare from someone that I�m sharing the sidewalk with, and she hurries to cross the street. Good riddance. Leave!

"Hey," I shout and can�t stop my words. "Buffy died for you! And do you thank her?" I look away from the person�s back, a girl I think, as I watch her run into a nearby shop.

The shop brings me up short because I realize that I�m back into the downtown section of Sunnydale and I don�t want Tara or anyone else to see me. I don�t want them to know I�m a cold-blooded murderer on top of being a dark witch. I slip into a nearby alley, it�s a longer way back to the house, but I don�t think anyone will see me.

As soon as I know I'm alone I continue my plotting.

The ideas come and go -- gun, knife, stake, sword, poison, drugs -- none of them I'm totally sure would work, or work quickly enough that she wouldn't feel too much pain.

Let�s face it; trying to kill a Slayer just ain�t that easy. I nearly bark another laugh as I walk up the step to the house that I considered home for these past months.

"Hello, I�m home." I announced as I walked into the house hoping that no one will be there. I really don�t want to explain either my tears or what I heard this morning. When no one answers I think I�m safe.

It was still early for Dawn, but I pray that Buffy decided to walk to go pick her up.

And at the thought of Dawn, her frantic face comes unbidden to my mind. I can hear the youngest Summer say clearly: "You can't bring her back and then take her away again�." I stop dead in my tracks and I feel my heart seize. I realize that I could never kill Buffy. It was just a sick fantasy.

I feel the tears start again as I realize just how much pain I've caused. I want to turn around and run away. I don't deserve to breathe the same air as these people. Here I've spent the better part of an hour plotting my best friend's death! I can't kill her, I would never be able to, and even if I did, it would be like sticking the knife into Dawn, too.

I'm so ashamed.

'Stop it!' I order myself silently. I pause at the staircase and sit down on the bottom riser. 'You can feel sorry for yourself later; just think of a way to help Buffy now.'

'I need to check my books; maybe there is some kind of spell.' I start up the stairs intent on finding something that will help Buffy, when about half-way up a feeling -- that can only be described as agony -- hits me right between the eyes.

I nearly double over from the sheer force of the emotion that's radiating down the hallway from� Buffy's room!

A sense of prescience fills me with dread, I know in my heart what Buffy's doing, and I'm as sure as anything in my life that if Buffy succeeds then it won't be Heaven she would find herself in.

I run the rest of the way up the stairs and fling open Buffy's bedroom door to find�.

� Buffy sitting on her bed with a razor blade poised over the major artery of her wrist and arm. We both stare in shock for a beat; Buffy's eyes looking exactly like the doe's that I slaughtered two days ago to bring her back.

Then at the same time we break from our paralysis. The power rises up within me, I now know where it's coming from, but it doesn't matter! It never mattered! With a wave of my hand the razor blade flies out her fingers, cutting them deeply, and imbeds in the window frame.

"You have no right!" She screams jumping up, and the doe-eyed look is now one of murderous rage. Only the worst vamps earn this particular look of rage from the Slayer maybe Angelus� maybe the Master.

The power is curling around my hands, crackling; I see the red and black forming and engulfing my arms. How dare that little girl challenge us!

I throw my arm up in a stop motion and the mighty Slayer is thrown head-over-heels over the bed. I'm surprised, then frightened at the power that's filling me. But I'm mad too, I thought there was a chance Buffy might try to kill herself, I never really thought she would truly do it! That she would give up, again!

The Slayer is pulling herself up by using the bedpost for support. She's dazed, but I know from experience that this is actually when she's most dangerous. When she's a little dazed she's not in control of the Slayer as it fights to survive. I won't get another chance, power crackling between my fingers or not.

She just begins to face me when, again I lift my hand, only this time I use it as a focus point to direct my Will into her mind�. Sweat beads on her forehead has she resists my intrusion, so I smother it along with her consciousness.

She falls face forward onto her bed -- out.

The power wants more, though. The power isn't finished, and I start feeling lightheaded and happy. A strange feeling of euphoria runs tingling through my body from my hands, the power just feels so good�. I sit down on the floor laughing, I'm strong, I am the strongest person in this world!

�I was in heaven, and now I�m not, I was torn�.�

Well, that's a downer. And I start to fight the power. It takes a while, but it retreats. For the time, I feel it, though. It's like a living entity, it's old and patient and now that it's awake, I will always have to be on guard against its seductive call.

I look up at my best friend and know I'm in over my head. Both with the power I can now summon with a careless thought, and how to help Buffy. I notice blood pooling around her hand where the razor blade cut her fingers�.

Well one thing at a time.

I wrap a towel around her hand, then I tuck her in the bed.

I go to Tara's and my room to get the phone; I have to call the Magic Box�.

Its time to fess-up to my friends and let us figure out a way to keep Buffy alive. Because I know if the Slayer is going to let her commit suicide, then we have a long road ahead of us to keep her alive.

And -- I think I might need help--too.

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Part Three

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I'm sitting here sewing up Buffy's fingers; normally she doesn't need stitches, even when the cut is down to the bone, like it is now. All Giles used to do was pull the edges together with tape and by the next day the cut would be closed. The day after that, the scar would be gone.

Tiny stitches, close the wound, pull the thread, tie the knot, move on to the next one.

The light from the window I�m sitting under is just enough. It�s the window that Buffy would climb out each night to go on patrol.

I guess I'm overcompensating for not fixing her hands when she clawed her way out of her own coffin. And the guilt just keeps on coming. Not only do I pull her out of heaven; I leave her in a coffin, six feet underground.

I'm two for two in the 'let's traumatize your best friend' competition.

Well, at least I'm using the purple thread. She likes purple. I have no idea why surgical thread is different colors. It just never occurred to me to find out.

I hear the front door slam open and footsteps on the stairs; it�s a single set so my guess it�s Tara. Xander probably went to pickup Dawn from school and Anya wouldn�t leave her money in the middle of the day, so it has to be Tara. Usually I would be able to feel it when Tara was this close to me; only now, I�m working hard at not feeling anything.

Tiny stitches, close the wound, pull the thread, tie the knot, move on to the next one.

She comes rushing into Buffy�s room all out of breath and flushed faced� And her beauty absolutely stuns me. I don�t want to feel, I don�t want to think of the conversation we have ahead of us.

Tara always warned me about using too much magic; to her it was her religion. She truly believes in the natural order of things, �do as ye will and harm none.

Well, I�d say she�s broken that rule. I'd say she's harmed one, so what does that mean?

Have I damned her, too?

Don�t think, don�t feel, don�t breathe�.

Tiny stitches, close the wound, pull the thread, tie the knot, move on to the next one.

She�s standing a few steps inside the doorway watching me. I can see the concern written all over her face, and at the same time I know she reaching out to me. Not on a physical level, we are sooo past that, she�s reaching out to me with her emotions.

She�s an empath; she can project her emotions�calm reassurance�that�s what I suspect she trying to send to me.

"Sweetie?" She asks, when she gets no response, she moves further into the room to stand by the opposite side of the bed.

Alright, so now I have to talk to her. I can do it; I used to talk to her all the time. But that was before I found out that I may have talked her into damning herself to raise my -- what? Just what was, I mean is, Buffy to me? More than a friend, less than a lover, no she's more than a lover; she was a part of me.

"Willow, sweetie, Xander said you sounded�." She starts with that concerned tone of voice she has, the tone I used to love, but now I can't stand to hear.

"Tara," I cut her off without looking up, I don't want to miss a stitch, now do I? "Tara, I will tell you what's going on when everyone else is here." I have to pause, the tears have started again and I don't trust my voice.

"I will only be able to say it once." I finish lamely. I use the sleeve of my shirt to wipe my face.

"Willow, baby," she starts to come around the bed. And I don't want that so�. If I can't stand to hear the concern in her voice then the touch of her love will shatter me.

"Stop!" I shout, and I suddenly feel it, the power, uncurling, looking for a fight. I want to use it; I want to crush her just so I won't have to look at the pain in her eyes. It wants to crush her, it wants to be released and I want to let it free.

God help me, I want to let it have me. I would do anything to make this burning in my soul stop.

Tiny stitches, close the wound, pull the thread, tie the knot, move on to the next one.

Don't move, don't look up at Tara, keep your hand steady. Don't let her know�.

Is this what it means to be damned? Is it this constant torture, this searing insight into how horribly you have hurt the person that you love most, is this what Hell is going to be like?

I can tell that the tears are coming again because Buffy's fingers have become blurry. Oh, well, there wasn't anymore room on her fingers to put another stitch. I start to methodically pack away the First Aid kit, when I realize that Tara is still there.

She must have seen something in me because she's still standing exactly as she was when I shouted at her. I mildly wonder if some of the power might have leaked out and I froze her accidentally.

But then her hand flies to her mouth in horror, so nope, not frozen.

"Willow, honey, please let me help." She begs.

I look up at her for the first time, I meet her eyes with mine and I let her see it. I'm not sure if it manifests on a physical plane or not. With Tara it doesn't matter. She takes an instinctive step backward before she can catch herself.

We just look at each other for a few moments -- not moving, not speaking -- not feeling.

The front door opens downstairs and I hear Xander and Dawn come into the house. Since I have no idea how deeply Buffy is sleeping, I motion Tara to follow me as I stand up. As I brush past her, she doesn't touch my arm but her words stop me.

"We will talk about this, I will not lose you." Tara tells me, her voice is full of confidence.

I let it come out a little bit more, enough for it to show on the outside, enough for it to take the edge off the worst of the pain. But, once I take the reins off, it floods outs -- oh god the relief -- it's smothering the agony. It drowns all the questioning, all the wondering � gone in a blink of an eye.

When I'm ready, I do a slow pivot to face Tara. I want her to see it, I want her taste it, to touch it, this is power! This is the monster I'm destined to become.

"That's not your choice." I say coldly, using a tiny hint of force. "Nothing will be your choice ever again." She backs away from me, and keeps backing until her back is pressed up against Buffy's closet door. Her expression is one of utter devastation as the tears well up in her eyes.

"Will-Willow," I notice her stutter is back. Her fear of me is wafting off her in waves and it�s delicious. "I know you're not a bad person�."

"I don't care what you know or think you know, Lover." I mock her, feeding off of her hurt along with her terror.

I detect the magical energies forming around her and act before she's ready to anchor the shield. With a twitch of my little finger I shatter it.

"Always the Wiccan, Lover?" I smirk, "A mirror shield to deflect my power back at me?"

One measured step forward into her space. "A mirror shield, Lover? Come now, can't you do better than that?" An idea forms in my mind�. "If you like mirrors so much, how about I put you in one? I wonder how long it would take for you to loose your mind?" I pause for effect. "Again."

If I'd thought she was afraid before, I now know what real fear tastes like. I take it all in -- the rapid heart beat the quickened breath -- she's gasping for air like a marathon runner on the 26th mile. It's all-glorious! I start the spell as she slides down the door to huddle on the floor.

Choking sobs behind me catch my attention and I whirl, bringing my hands up to blast anyone sneaking up on me�. When all I see is my best friend curling into a ball and rubbing her eyes like a petulant child that has cried herself to sleep.

A flash of purple on her hand sparks a memory�.

Tiny stitches, close the wound, pull the thread, tie the knot, move on to the next one.

I realize, for the second time in two hours, that the power has taken hold of me. I stand there in shock, and I start to feel so cold that my teeth begin to chatter.

"Fight Willow, fight it."

I can hear Buffy's voice in my head. "You're my big gun� I kind of love you!" All the times Buffy told me she loved me, or told me I was worth something, that I wasn't just a geek to her, it all rushes through my mind.

But the power is old and strong, and it's so embedded within me that I don't want to resist it, I want it to wash away my pain, I want it to wash away all my mistakes.

I hear a whimper at my feet and I look down in time to see Tara pulling herself to her feet with the help of the doorknob.

'Oh no! I couldn't have�.'

I think frantically.

"Tara baby," I plead. She won't look at me; her hands are trembling and she won't look at me. I reach out to touch her on her shoulder and she shies away.

"Please, Tara, look at me, say something!" I beg falling to my knees. She's been my rock, my constant. "Please you have to forgive me! I can't loose you too!"

Tara takes a step, then two, away from me. I think she's leaving but she stops and turns around. Tears are running freely down her face, her eyes are red and bloodshot, she tries to take a deep breath but it catches on a sob.

What did I do? What could I have done to cause this? I have no memory from the time that I stood up, until now� I vaguely remember something about a mirror, only that thread is quickly fading�

Tara looks away, running trembling fingers through mussed blonde hair.

"When my mother died," she starts, then has to pause to gather her wits. I know this because I know her; I see her straightening her back, standing up as if her mother was here, watching us.

"When my mother died," she repeats. "I promised her that once I moved and left Daddy and Donnie, I would never live in fear again."

Tara turns to me and her eyes are cold. I know what's coming, I know and I can't stop it.

"I love you, Willow, but I'm not the one you love, and I'm not the one you want�. And after today I'm afraid of you." Tara's composure totally dissolves on the last word and she turns to dash out the door. Only Dawn and Xander are standing there as silent witnesses.

"No! No, baby! I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!" But it�s too late, she ignores my pleas. Tara gives Dawn a hug and then she leaves.

The power is building in me again� It's whispering that it will take all my troubles, that it can fix everything if I would just let it out. I would never have to know what it does; I would be happy and safe�.

I feel like I've lost everything�.

I don't want to resist.

But I do.

I fight it because I haven't lost everything - yet. Tara was right, she was right that she's not the one I want� not the one I love.

And even if Buffy hates me for the rest of my life, I will hold on to this one truth: when I was at my darkest, twice in one day, my love for her saved me.

With that realization the Darkness, the evil, the power - retreats and leaves me to my mistakes. I can never fix my best friend; I can only love and support her, and hope that one day she recovers.

Still the power is old and patient and it's awake now.

_____________________________________

Part Four

_____________________________________

I stand up and dash the tears from my eyes. Tara was gone, I knew her inside and out, and she was truly gone. There would be time for tears, private tears, in the future.

Now, I had to check on Buffy. I ignore the questioning glance from Xander and the accusing glare from Dawn to turn toward the Slayer. She was so beautiful; my heart just melted all over again. It looks like she had been sucking on her thumb the way her fisted hand was laying next to her face. She had pulled into herself; she only slept on her side when she had strong nightmares. I learned that during the High School sleepovers we would have when my parents were out of town. I was the one she trusted with her troubles back then, not Spike.

It seems like this one was one of the 'bad ones.' The kind that was more night a terror than nightmare. That's if the tear tracks and muffled moans were any indication. I have to still my hand as it instinctively reaches to shake her awake, like I used to do.

"Willow, she's dreaming, wake her up." Dawn tells me from behind. "You know you�re the only one that could ever do it safely." I swallow the ironic laugh. Dawn doesn't know that I'm teetering on the edge of insanity. She doesn�t know that Buffy probably hates me right now.

But, she's right; compassion demands that I wake the Slayer from whatever holds her in its grip. She is enspelled and I don't know if she can fight her own way out of the dream. It's hard enough for her do it when she's sleeping normally!

'How will you be able to control her when she wakes?'

The nagging little voice was back. The answer of course was: I don�t know. OK, cue the power sluggishly turning its head like a long asleep anaconda, 'Oh, but we will be able to easily keep her under control. Actually, she will never have to even know it.' The Power whispers seductively in my ear. It is watching, waiting for any chance to be released into the world again.

"No. Never." I tell it not realizing that I say it out loud, until I feel Xander's comforting hand on my shoulder.

"What Will? Why not wake Buffy up?" He gently tightens his fingers as an affirmation of his words. "What's going on?"

I turn my head to the side to see concern, confusion, and trust in his deep brown eyes. The trust nearly does me in and I walk into his strong warm arms.

"I have so messed up Xander." My voice is muffled against his shirt. For once Dawn doesn't say anything, as I feel her supportive arms wrap around both of us.

"You brought her back, Willow. There is nothing�." I just cry harder drowning out the youngest Summers' words.

After a few more minutes I think I have enough control to try and help Buffy with her nightmare.

Xander and Dawn let me step out of their arms without a word. Both are looking at me for answers I don't have at the moment.

Turn away from their eyes and just think Willow! I command. Just think�.

"Xander, where is Oz's gun?" I ask turning back to him.

"Huh?" His confusion was evident.

"Willow, no?" Dawn starts but I wave at her to be quiet.

Xander blinks at me as he realizes that I'm serious and then his dark eyes grow deeper with worry.

Before he can answer Dawn does. "It's in the closet down stairs, the darts are on the top shelve." She turns, "I'll go get it, last time I checked the drugs were still in date." She's out the door and poor Xander was still at� "Um."

I have to dismiss him from my mind. I'm hoping that we won't have to use the gun on Buffy but its nice to have backup in case what I'm about to try doesn't work. I refuse to use the Power I have; I refuse to unleash it, I mean me, on the world. At least not with my friends in the fallout zone. So I'm going to try the next best thing.

Just like Tara, Buffy is an empath; it�s how she knows when vampires are around. She can feel vampire's emotions inside of her. I'm hoping she'll be able to feel me. I start taking deep cleansing breaths like Tara tried to teach me last winter.

"Find your center Willow; everything comes from the center of you." I hear her words in my ear. I, of course, didn�t want to find my center, I wanted learn spells. I didn't want to waste my time learning the "touchy feely" side of magic. Buffy needed Power to fight Glory. But that wasn't the real reason that I ignored Tara's teachings, the real reason was that I thought I knew better. Now I know I didn't.

'Too late now�.

' It tells me.

'No, its not.'

I answer.

I start to breathe, in one two three, out one two three�.

'How boring!'

I hear it mumble. 'You don't have to do it this way; all you have to do is wave your hand�.'

I keeping taking deeps breaths, the way Tara tried to show me. Thank God that Xander's quiet or he could ruin my concentration.

As I breathe, I finally begin to relax, and I�m able to start thinking about Buffy.

I think of how she looks with the sun shining in her hair, turning it into golden silk. I think of her kindness, of her bravery, of the way she fights and how much it resembles ballet.

When I�m ready, I walk around the bed and start to stroke the damp hair away from her face. I try to project my love in my touch � experience the peace her beauty gives me � I want her to know what she gives me everyday just by being my friend.

I�m frightened that the power might rise but it stays dormant � silent � I don�t know why.

Slowly, I hear her sobbing stop. She uncurls from the ball that she had pulled herself into, to lie flat on her back. I watch as she takes a huge breath and then releases it and I know she�s drifted into calm, more peaceful rest.

Since the Power stays quiet I risk looking at Buffy with the sight that Tara taught me to use. She could naturally read auras, whereas I never thought of it as an important skill. You don't need to see a Vamp�s aura to know its evil.

I can't be sure about Buffy's because that part of me is so weak, but I think she's in a deep dreamless sleep.

Dawn appears in the doorway with the gun. She looks at me and I shake my head no. Relieved she hands the gun to the still confused and stunned Xander.

My best friend, a little slow on the uptake sometimes, but I love him anyway. I just hope he still loves me after he hears what I have to say.

I don't want to leave Buffy alone and yet, I don't want to have this conversation in here, so I compromise on Dawn's room. I know that from her doorway I can just see Buffy. I can't stay still so I pace in the small area. I just don't know how to tell them this awful news.

Xander stands with the gun close to the doorway, which interferes with my pacing, so I glare at him until he moves further into the room. Dawn just makes herself comfortable on her bed.

My pacing takes me out of sight of Buffy for a second so I rush out of the room to look at her.

"First thing we buy," I tell them walking back, "is a baby monitor."

Dawn picks up one of her stuffed animals and hugs it close to her. I can feel her worried eyes on me. Xander is just waiting for me to say how bad it is, and then he can go about trying to fix it.

I face them, they have the right to see my eyes and know that I�m a monster.

"Buffy wasn�t in Hell, like I thought, she was in Heaven." I blurt out.

"So that�s what you meant this morning?" Xander says, yes � he's sometimes not the brightest.

"I don�t care." Dawny tells us softly, as one single tear overflows and tracks silently down her face. "I don�t care, I know that makes me a selfish person, I�m just glad she�s back. I needed my sister."

She seems to calm while saying her piece; I was worried that we were going to be treated to one of her legendary temper tantrums. She also doesn't seem surprised by my revelation.

"So what�s the stitch Will?" Xander asks as he wipes at his eyes. "We�we took her out of Heaven, as in the angels sing and the trumpets sound?" His weak joke falls flat.

"Yes, we�I since I�m the one that insisted on doing the ritual, �tore�--I think her exact words were--that we tore her out of Heaven." I don�t want to mince words with them. I want them to know just how bad it is, just how damned I am. That I�m a vile dirty thing and I don�t belong here.

I wait for their words of disgust, I brace to hear the worse they have to offer because I deserve it. I deserve to be punished, to be banned or exiled from them. I couldn�t stand to see the depth of their hatred so I turn back to go check on Buffy.

I guess my hideous crime has left them speechless. The Power is beginning to notice my despair�it�s waking again�it can take all this away.

"Willow." Xander is right in front of me; he grips both my shoulders and gives me a small shake.

"Xander?" I�m a little confused and slightly panicked. The last time this happened Tara left�. Buffy?

"Where�s the gun�."

Dawn gives me a tiny wave with her free hand, she has the gun.

Lost time, yes, right.

"Will, you just zoned out there for a minute." He tells me, watching me intently. I shake off his hands and resume my pacing.

"Sorry." I choke out as the pain overwhelms me again and I crumble to my knees sobbing. 'How many times in one day can I cry, how many tears do I have to shed before it will all just stop?'

I vaguely notice Dawn standing up and handing the gun over to Xander. I feel her arms going around me and I want to pull away, I want her not to bother with me. They need to watch Buffy in case she wakes up. But she is so warm and right now I am so cold.

After some time I�m able to pull myself together and while I don�t stop crying I can at least form words.

"Thank you Dawn," I tell her pushing away to stand up. I notice that Xander has taken over my place by the door, watching Buffy, and us. I�m relieved that he realized the need.

As I�m standing up I realize that I'm still weak and my knees start to buckle but Dawn is there to help me sit on her bed. She reaches behind her and picks up a cup of water that is on her dresser. I guess that�s where Xander went to get the water.

After I take a good drink, almost emptying the entire cup in one gulp, I give it back to Dawn. She hands me a wet wash cloth, the coldness feels good on my hot skin.

"Willow, I know you feel rotten and awful but I want you to hear us out." Dawn has her version of resolve face on so I know I�m stuck.

"We�re not sorry about having her back." Now Dawn is crying, too.

Xander clears his throat. "Will, you are still the boss of us." He states softly. Then clears his throat again. "Dawn and I have figured out that Buffy doesn�t want to be here. So what do we do to keep her alive?"

I tell them simply; "I don�t know."

We look at each other, and then we know what to do.

"We need Giles." We say at the same time.

"I�ll check on his flight and see if he can get an earlier one." Dawn says, leaving the room. Xander walks over and touches my shoulder and then goes into Buffy�s room.

I�m left alone sitting on the youngest Summers� bed. She�s no longer the only Summers thanks to me.

They think we need Giles for Buffy alone, they don�t know that I need him, and I�m not sure if he can or even if he will want to help me. But I need him anyway.

Part Five

 

"Willow! Wake-up, Buffy�s up and wants to leave."  I hear Dawn�s urgent voice through the fog of sleep.  The last thing I remember was Dawn going downstairs to call Giles and Xander looking in on the Slayer. 

"Buffy, just wait for Willow and she�ll explain." Xander says.  Thank God for thin walls. And I�m instantly awake and moving towards the hallway.  It�ll only take me a few seconds but I know just how fast the Slayer can move.  If Xander delays in using the gun she�ll be out of here.

How could I have fallen asleep?  I should�ve been there when Buffy woke up. 

"Xander if you don�t put that down, I�ll wrap it around your neck and you�ll wear it as a necklace!"  Good--she�s still threatening him, that�s means there�s time.

"Buffy," he tries to reason again as I get to the doorway - blocking it.  "Wait for Will � low." He finishes.

"Yes, Willow." The Slayer crosses her arms and looks straight at me.  Her blue eyes burn a hole through me; I�m stunned by the hatred coming off her in waves. I vaguely notice the overhead light  - so it�s dark outside.  I wonder how long I was asleep.

"Well, Willow?  We�re waiting for you to explain why I�m prisoner in my own house!" The Slayer doesn�t scream; she never screams.  But if I were a vampire, right now I�d be saying my prayers � except vampires don�t pray.

"Will?" Xander looks at me for support.  He can see Buffy�s blue eyes too.  Buffy�s eyes are hazel, the Slayer�s are blue.

"Yes, Willow?" She raises her eyebrow slightly in question.  "And while you're explaining why I wake up to Xander standing over me with a gun, you can also answer what kind of mojo you used to put me out!" Her voice is a barely contained furious whisper.

I don't know what to say.  I wasn't expecting a defiant, angry Slayer.  I was expecting a depressed or embarrassed Buffy.  The difference has thrown me.  I can feel all their eyes on me.  Xander's pleading with me that I might have been wrong earlier.

Dawn is behind me, so I can't see her face but I can imagine it.  They didn't want to believe that Buffy was in heaven because, let's be real, yanking someone out of heaven is a crime of biblical proportions.  

Wrath of God and all that.

I've had time to accept my damnation, Xander hasn't.  I spare a glance his way and notice that the gun has dropped slightly.

"Xander!" I hiss at him and he lifts it back up.  I turn back to Buffy in time to see the slightest flash of frustration play across her face.  I now know why we are still talking instead of Buffy being gone. 

Xander has kept the Slayer on the other side of the bed, while he's as far away from her as the small room will allow.  He�s backed into a corner. The Slayer could probably get to him before he got a dart off but the uncertainty is keeping her in place, for now.

I take a breath, I have to sound calm and collected or Xander will lower the gun and Buffy will be gone.  We�re not even sure a dart will put her out; although I do think it would slow her down enough so that we could overpower her.

"Willow! Explain, now!" The Slayer interrupts my train of thought.  She is the very picture of indignation.  Her arms crossed at her middle, her head held high, the rage at being told to what to do flashing in her eyes.

"Buffy, we know that you were in heaven, you don�t have to pretend anymore." I tell her softy. I don�t want to enrage her more than I have to at the moment.

There is a stunned silence and then she starts to laugh, she is laughing so hard that she nearly topples over onto the bed.   

And I am again surprised.

 I don�t know what�s going on with her.

 "Buffy?" I question and take a tentative step into the room, and then notice that Xander has to adjust to have a clear shot, so I stop.  When Giles was accidentally shot with the tranq gun he slept for three days. I would probably sleep for a week.

 Buffy dashes the tears from her eyes and stands up straight.

 "Look Will, I know that I haven�t been little miss sunshine since I�ve been back. . ." She doesn�t finish her sentence.  I see her trying to breathe but the air catches and she can�t get it in.  I want to go to her, I want to take her into my arms and tell her everything is going to be all right.

 I ache.  I literally ache with the desire to comfort my best friend.

 "Will," her eyes catch and hold mine for a moment.  I can�t tell what I see, but I think it's hate, or anger, or fear?

 "Xander." She does the same thing to him, only her eyes change, they�re soft and loving.

 "I wasn�t in heaven. I�I can�t talk about it." Her words run out and I can tell that she�s about to slip away to wherever she�s been going the past few days. 

 Xander lowers the gun and looks at me with uncertainty.  What can I say to him?  What do I say to Dawn or what can I think?  Buffy wasn�t in heaven?  I know what I heard.  I know what I saw this afternoon when I came home.

 The Slayer shakes herself out of the trance she had fallen into, then walks slowly towards me.  "May I go now? I have to patrol."

There is still something going on�the razor blade?

"Buffy when I walked in on you this afternoon I felt�I felt�an incredible amount of pain." I start remembering that it wasn�t just me.  "Then I saw you with a razor blade�."

"Willow," she shakes her head no.  "I was changing the blade on my Dad�s razor.  I�ve had it since he left."  She goes back around the bed, and after kneeling, holds up an old fashioned razor in her right hand. "I know Lady Bic would be better but it somehow makes him closer to me." 

She sighs and stands up, putting the razor on the bedside table.

"Is this why you went all veiny?" She asks, coming toward me. "Cause I gotta say I didn�t like whatever it was you did." She stops in front of me, staring up at me with fire in her eyes.

"Actually, I think you have the problem that needs to be addressed." She continues, "I think you are using way to much magic."

"She has a point there Willow" Xander agrees.  He leans the gun against the doorframe  and then walks over to us.  "You have been depending on it too much."  

What can I say to them?  They�re right; I almost lost it twice today.  If it wasn�t for Buffy and how much I love her, I would have lost it.  Could I have been wrong?  I know what I felt when I got home, could I have just been projecting my own fears and pains onto Buffy?

Tara is the empath, not me.  I rarely feel what other people are feeling.  Maybe I am wrong; maybe I misunderstood what I overheard, too?

"Willow, this morning?" Dawn's question echoes my thoughts.

I seize on it.

"This morning I overheard you talking with Spike�." I never get to finish as the Slayer, with her eyes blazing, takes another step forward.  There isn�t six inches between us now.  And despite the fact that she�s a few inches shorter than I, she intimidates me. 

She is the Slayer.

"How dare you listen to a private conversation?" She spits out, her voice a horse whisper, she�s so angry.  I really have no idea how she�s restraining herself from lashing out physically.  Her fists are clenched at her side.

The power rises up to protect me and I beat it back down.  I stand fast in the middle of Buffy�s emotional storm.  Both Xander and Dawn have had to take a step away from her.  The fire from her rage so intense that it's burning me from the inside out.

I want to run. I want to flee from this force of nature before me. 

Dawn steps back up beside me.  She places a hand on the small of my back and it steadies me.

What do I say to her?  The truth.

"Yes, I listened to your private conversation; now answer my question." I order her and for the life me of I have no idea where I got the strength to say those words.

Buffy is still staring into my eyes, she�s still in front of me, she hasn�t moved a muscle and yet I can sense something changing about her.  A second passes, then two and I can see it.  I can see the walls around her heart--no--her soul, begin to crumble into fine dust. 

And I know I was right. She's been acting. Acting normal, because she knows that's the only way we'll leave her alone long enough. ...

I think she�s stuck in the pose because I can see right through her.  It�s like she�s becoming invisible.

Oh God, the pain that I felt earlier in the day starts again, it just begins to radiate out from her.  The emotional storm changes into a category five hurricane.

"I don�t have to deal with this�." She mumbles softly as she brushes past me towards the door. Too late I remember that Xander had put down the gun.  There is nothing to keep Buffy from leaving.  Nothing to keep her from dying.  

The Power starts up; �I can keep her here� but I force it down even as I�m turning around to try and grab her.  I know it�s a useless gesture, there is no way I can stop her without magic.

Only I don�t have to because Giles is standing there blocking the way out.  And Giles seems to fill the doorway, more importantly; he has the Tranq gun pointed directly at her.

"I believe I would like to hear the answer to that question, too." He voice is steady, calm, but his eyes are flashing every bit as much fire as the Slayer�s were earlier.   

Buffy stops and then she just crumbles to the floor�the sobs being ripped out of her�she grasps for air and she can�t breathe it hurts so badly.

"I just want to go back!  Please Giles let me go back!" She shouts at her true father.

Xander takes the gun out of his hands so that he can kneel down and gather his Slayer into his arm as if she were a child.  He cradles her against his chest as he lifts her and carries her to her bed.

He only glances at me as he passes but I can see the pure and adulterated fury he feels at finding his Slayer in this condition.  �That�s ok, Giles, you can hate me as long as you help her.� I think to myself, I know this is my fault, and that�s ok too, as long as we save Buffy.

She�s all that matters right now.

He sits down and then eases back to the backboard of the bed, holding Buffy as if she were the most fragile crystal in his arms.  It�s painful to watch as her body trembles and is shaken by the sobs being torn out of her.

"Dawn, if you will, the first aid kit?" Giles asks, and Dawn is gone out the door in a second. 

He strokes Buffy�s cheek, mumbling soothing nothing words to her, he pushes her hair off her hot sweaty face, trying anything to calm his daughter�s cries, but nothing can slow down the torrent of pain.  She�s curling tighter and tighter into a ball in his arms, I know what�s she�s doing, she�s trying to retreat, run away from the pain.  I take a step forward but he waves me back�.

"Giles?" I question him, "We have to do something."

He just nods and I see tears shining on his face.  He can�t talk because he, too, is sobbing.

Dawn returns with a full syringe.  So she understood what Giles was asking her to do. I know what it is, and I just hope she has a large enough dose, because if we don�t do something we�re going to lose Buffy in a completely different way.

Dawn holds it up for Giles to check but he�s crying too hard, so he just shakes his head.  She hands it to me, I think it's enough, I hope it is at least.  I take it from her and walk over to the bed.  I ignore Giles� rage and plunge the needle into Buffy�s thigh.

The Slayer has no reaction.  I empty the syringe into her leg anyway.

Then I stand back as Dawn sits on the bed in front of Giles and Buffy and begins to stroke her hair.  Dawn sings to Buffy, some lullaby I think, I don�t understand the lyrics.

After a few minutes the sobs slow, then stop, a few minutes later she�s asleep.  Dawn stands up so that Giles can put Buffy on the bed.  When she�s settled Giles turns to me, none of his rage has diminished.

"Xander, Willow, downstairs, now."  He points needlessly at the door.  "Dawn you stay here, and watch her, if she moves call me immediately."

I take one last glance at Buffy and then I meekly follow him.  Whatever he does I deserve it.

As long as he can help Buffy.

Part Six

I follow Giles down the stairs, he has his glasses in one hand, and he�s holding on to the banister with the other.  Each step is slow and deliberate.  I can�t tell if he�s having trouble negotiating the stairs or if he�s just using the time to process what he found.  When he left a few days ago Buffy was dead; now she�s alive.

Even though I called him and broke the news; I guess he just didn�t believe me.

But now he knows the entire truth; she�s alive--only she wants to be dead.  I guess it�s a huge shock for him.  I don�t know.  I don�t want to know.

I decide to break the ice, and it was ice I was feeling off of Giles.  Or fire?  Fire and Ice?

"How did you get here so soon?" I remember that he told me it would take a few days to get the tickets and clear up loose ends with the council.

"What?" He asks looking back over his shoulder. "Oh, yes, well it was Anya�s friend Hallie?  Wasn't it Anya?" He says reaching the bottom of the stairs.

Xander touches my shoulder from behind; I think it�s in support.  I�m not sure because I�ve had to shut down. All my energy has to be given to Buffy or to keep the Power from rising.  I have nothing to spare.

I see Anya pacing in the living room as I follow Giles into the room.

"Yes, Hallie owed me a favor so I �wished� Giles was here." She tells me as she rushes over to Giles.  "Was I right?" She asks him, it�s unusual to see her so nervous and upset.

 "Anya?" Xander says from behind me and walks over to her to give her hug.  It seems to be an unspoken agreement that my confession to Giles will take place in here, the place where Buffy found her mother dead.

 Irony thy name is mine.

 Xander engulfs her in a tremendous hug.  "I love you, and I know you didn�t mean to rip Buffy from heaven."  She tells him when he releases her.

 "What?" Xander is dumbfounded and I have to admit that I am too.

 "After what Willow said this morning I did a little more checking into the," she pulls away from Xander and uses her fingers to put quotation marks in the air. "The Slayer goes to Hell thing." She finishes.

 "And?" He motions her to hurry up the explanation but it seems that Giles is out of patience.

 "And she found out that it�s nearly impossible for a Slayer to be cast into Hell, unless the Slayer is physically living, and then they usually die before the denizens of place can have their way with her."  Giles finishes and turns to look directly at me.  "But of course if you had done just the modicum of research you would have found that out."

 Giles is shaking in rage.  I have never seen him look like this, except for that one time when we discovered that it was Ethan Rayne behind the cursed costumes.   I still feel strangely calm.

 "When I found that out I sent Hallie after Giles." Anya finished for Giles.

 "Hallie?" I hear Xander�s question but my entire vision is filled with the man that has been more of my father than Ira Rosenberg. 

 "Halfrek" Anya clarifies, "she�s a Justice Demon and she owed me one."

 I can now understand why Ethan Rayne backed away from Giles all those years ago.  The gentle librarian has been replaced by a wild eyed mad man � and I feel � nothing.  I want this over so I can get back to Buffy.  This is just something to get through, that�s all. 

 Giles, whose approval meant everything to me yesterday, means nothing now.  And I hear a slightest hint of a voice in my ear, �as it should be, he is nothing.�

 He is now beneath me.

 No, that�s not true, I love him and despite his anger I know that he still loves me. I shake myself, and then fold my arms in front of me.  It�s not a defensive pose so much as just a tired and cold one.  It�s only been a day and I�m exhausted from containing the power inside me. 

 "I want to know what happened, what spell you used to get Buffy. . . " his voice cracks on her name.  But he takes a breath and continues, "To get Buffy back?"

 I try to tell him but I can�t, I turn around to face the mantle and I see the picture of Buffy that we all have.  I remember the bright sunny day it was taken; we were seniors in High School and the sun � on her hair�.

 I feel the tears start falling down my cheeks.  Well at least the ice is melting.  I only want it to be over, for Buffy to be glad to be alive, for this insane power inside of me to be gone.

 I guess Anya realizes that I can�t speak so she starts to explain to Giles how I could be so much more than wrong.

 "Willow and I bid for the Urn of Osiris on E-bay, then Willow collected the final spell ingredients and we did it, except for the demons that interrupted it, that is.  We thought it didn�t work until Buffy ran into us �." She relates the facts to Giles in her straightforward way. 

 I just stand there with my back turned staring at a happy Buffy in the picture.  �You will be happy again one day� I promise her.

 "So the ritual of resurrection might not have been completed?" I hear his words, and I hear real fear in his voice.

 "No, after this morning Tara and I did a simple spell to see if Buffy�was well�Buffy.  And she is, Buffy that is, except for a little rearrangement of some genes and stuff." Anya trails off and I feel Giles eyes on me again.

 "The ritual," he begins and I sense a change in him, in his tone. "I assume it was the one that some people think Isis used to resurrect Osiris after Seth?"

 I turn back to him.  He�s staring at me intently.  I nod.

 "Vino de Madre?" How did he know? Does this man know everything?  It�s as if he can see the blood on my hands.  I just want this over with, I need to see Buffy, I need to reassure myself that she�s still asleep.  And there is something deeper, too. 

 "A baby deer." I say then regret it when hear Xander�s horrified gasp as he finally figures it out.

 Anya tries to take him in her arms to comfort him but he steps away from her.

 "I helped Willow in the ritual and I�m not sorry about it." I am so proud of Xander and yet, I know he�s wrong.

 "No, Xander it was me, I�m to blame." I tell him and try to give him a small smile.  He gives me a tight nod and then steps back toward Anya. 

 "So you used blood magic, life force magic, to call Osiris to grant you a life that was taken before her time?" Giles was relentless. 

 "Mystical death." I correct. I feel fresh tears on my face.  I�m fighting my feelings of shame; I�m fighting whatever power it is inside me because it just wants to be free.

 "And the ritual was nearly completed when the, ah demons attacked?" He takes out a hankie and wipes tears off his face before putting his glasses back on.  I know I�m not supposed to answer his question, he�s in Giles thinking mode.

 "So then. . . "Some kind of light goes on in his eyes.  He's figured something out.   "You rank arrogant amateur!" The rage from earlier comes back and he steps into my space, much the same way Buffy did a few moments ago.  I'm shocked into losing some of the tight leash I have on the power and I feel it rise up, trying to break free.

 Giles takes a step back, blinking at what he sees in me.  I hear a gasp from

Xander and there is true fear in his eyes.

 "Osiris I presume?" At Giles' question it's like the floodgates are opened and the power surges through me.  I-I, that never occurred to me-I never thought-I am so stupid!

 I have to close the gate; I can't let an ancient God loose on my friends!  I try, I really do.  But it's--he is just so strong.

 I hear Giles' voice through the fog of rage that Osiris feels at being contained.  I just don't want to fight him anymore.  I want to curl up and sleep.

 Giles grabs my arms and I vaguely hear what he is saying, I concentrate on his mouth, then his words. . . "He can't control you, it's your vessel, your body, he can't control you without your permission." I don't know where Xander came from but his arms suddenly wrap around me from behind, he's not trying to restrain me, he trying to make sure I know he loves me.

 "He� Your permission." Giles is holding onto my arms.  I feel his warmth through my skin.   "It's not like me!  This isn't like that time with Eyghon, Willow!"

 I can feel Giles' love!  Was he ever really angry with me or was that an act?  Oh God, I can't hang on!  "It hurts Giles!  Its hurts so bad!"  I know my mouth is working, I can feel it moving--but all I can hear is Osiris--instead of vague whisper, now that he has been named, he's shouting.

 Osiris wasn't planning on showing his true nature until he had worn me down more; made my life so hard that I just gave up.  But, Giles named him�he figured it out�he�s trying to save me.

 "Lies!  Lies!"  Osiris yells clearly in my head, my heart, my soul. "You don�t want to live in this world." Osiris tells me and at this one moment it's true.  I'm so tired of the constant struggle and of fighting to keep the Power, no him, contained.  And I know there is still another fight, the fight to keep Buffy alive.

 It's all my fault; I'm to blame.

 "I can make sure the Slayer returns to her reward, you can't!"  The Power, or Osiris, is just so strong, he's so relentless.

 He's right, too.  All I really care about is making good my mistake.  I know he speaks the truth, that if I release the Power, Osiris, into this world, he will keep his word and send Buffy back.

 "I will not hurt your friends, nor your family.  I want the world, they do not matter." He continues, and it's not just words, its thoughts and feelings.  I know he will honor any agreement he makes with me.  I know because we're almost one...

 "Don't do it Willow!" Xander's whispering in my ear.

 Giles must sense my resolve lessening because he shakes my arms. . .  and the forgotten picture of Buffy I had been clutching falls out of my hands. The glass doesn't break as it lands face up on the carpet.  Giles reaches down and scoops it up, grabbing my face in one hand and holding the picture before me in the other.

 "Look at her!" Giles makes me see her, my best friend, the person that I owe my life to many times over.  "Remember love Willow, she won't make it without your love!" He continues and I can't understand how there can be two truths--the one from Giles and the one from Osiris.

 Giles squeezes my cheeks with bruising force, "Don't close your eyes!  Look at Buffy!"

 It's like my best friend is smiling at me.  It's like she's in the room with me right then and she's smiling at me.  And then I know, in my heart of hearts, that I could never give in to the promises of a dead God.

 I love her with all my heart and soul--if she never loved me back--if she never forgives me, it won't matter as long as she's happy.

 So I start the slow climb back; inch by inch, the God kicking and clawing every agonizing inch I force him down, until at last I slam the lid on him.

 I finally see Giles clearly; I see his love, he's no longer angry--if he ever was, he's just relieved.

 And I also see pride in his eyes?  No, I have to be mistaken.  I've done nothing for him to be proud of me.

 The strange numbness is returning; though I'm now not sure it really left - I want to get back upstairs -not stay here talking.

 Buffy I need Buffy. . .

 Then my body violently protests, it tells me that I was just in a battle over it as bile rises up.

 I just have time to drop to my knees and get sick in the fireplace � instead of on the carpet -which is good 'cause Buffy would be mad if she had to clean the carpets.

 Wouldn't want Buffy mad at me, any more than she already is, or Dawn. .  . Xander's supporting me, keeping me from falling on my face in the--yuck!

 "You're my best friend!" I tell him.  Why is he kneeling down?  Why are there tears in his eyes?  Why am I so dizzy. . .

* * * * * *

 I feel something cold over my eyes when I wake up.  I reach up to pull the cloth off and I�m met with the bright light of the table lamp.  I realize that I�m laying on the couch in the front room.

 "Buffy?" I say trying to sit up.  I have to see her; I have to make sure she�s alright.

 "Easy Willow," I hear Giles� voice seconds before his hands appear to push me back down. "She�s fine; I boosted the sedative just an hour ago." He reassures me as he sits down on the coffee table. 

 I lay back closing my eyes against the light. 

 "How long have I been out?" If he�s had to boost the sedative then � I don�t know because I didn�t know what time it was before.  "I mean what time is it?" I change my question.

 "About 3 in the morning.  Here try some of this tea; it tastes awful but should calm your stomach."  I open my eyes to see a cup in my face.  The odor is truly awful, but I take a tentative sip of it anyway.  Giles steadies the cup while I drink, otherwise I would spill it.

 After I finish he puts the cup back and just looks at me.

 "Are you quite aware of things?  Do you have it under control or do you need some more time?" He asks cautiously, as if expecting the God to reappear in the room.  �Hey, maybe he should be careful?�  I still feel disconnected; like I�m not really here.

 I check the Power and it�s dormant at the moment; so I sit up and nod to him.

 "Where is Xander?" I hate to say that I'd just noticed that he wasn�t around.

 "He�s giving Dawn a break so she can get some sleep." Giles tells me standing up and walking over to a chair.  He pauses, taking off his glasses to clean them, and I brace for some bad news.

 Its a few minutes, in which he cleans every single spec of dirt that even thought about attaching to his glasses, then he puts them back on as if they were a piece of armor.

 "I had Anya retrieve your notes on the resurrection ritual from the Magic Box, while you, ah, took your nap." He starts, pointedly not looking at me as he sits down in the overstuffed chair.  "They were quite thorough," he motions to the coffee table and I see all my notes spread out on it.

 "When he finally turns toward me I find that I've discovered a sudden, intense interest in a string hanging from my shirt." 

 When I have no comment he continues. 

 "Yes, well, the gist of it is, since you used your body to channel the energy of Osiris and didn�t complete the ritual you are stuck."  I glance up at that; I didn�t realize, I didn�t think!  I�m suddenly full of nervous energy, I can�t stay still so I stand up and begin to pace.  I guess I�m taking on the mannerism of the Slayer?

 "Of course! It all makes sense to me now."  I say pacing back and forth.  The resurrection part of the ritual was complete, but the part where I sent Osiris packing wasn�t.

 "I can�t believe that I�m that stupid!" I turn to Giles and he jumps as if he thought I was about throw a lightening bolt or something.  So I look out the window instead of watching the fear grow in his eyes.  "Magic 101, always ground the power after you use it, always, always release the unused energy back to where it came it from."

 I feel his nod; the strange detachment is changing into an unusual awareness.  It's like I can now spilt my consciousness because just thinking about Buffy brings an image of her unnaturally still on her bed; with Xander sitting in a chair next to the bed trying not to doze off.  It's like I�m floating above them, only I�m not because I know I�m in the living room with Giles.

I hear him clear his throat; loudly.  So I glance over my shoulder at him to continue, the hyperawareness fading back into numbness.

"While you are correct;" he starts up his lecture voice.  "If you had finished the ritual within 24 or 48 hours you might have avoided this fate." I tense as his hand falls on my shoulder; I hadn�t heard him walk over here.  At a gentle pressure I turn around to him.

"But, you have to remember that, according to Xander, the backlash of the spell breaking rendered you unconscious.  Then Xander went on to tell me how, though drained and slightly disoriented, you were able to defeat several of the demons that invaded Sunnydale." He finishes then goes to lean against the fireplace.

I guess someone cleaned up the mess that I made.  Though as empty as my stomach was�. 

"You must realize that you were not simply playing the fool; you were not being stupid and raising a demon for personal gain or gratification." What is left unsaid is the damage he did when he raised Eyghon.

I shake my head to clear it; I have to figure out what he�s saying.

 "So what you mean is that I�m stuck with Osiris inside me; that I�m a Glory?" I ask while staring at the reflection of the wan red headed girl in the darkened windows. 

 Despite all the sleep I�d gotten in the past few hours I still have deep circles under my eyes. I have a new understanding for what Ben went through and how Glory could, finally, overwhelm him.

 "Not exactly, I believe, and this is just conjecture on my part; that if we complete the ritual then the essence, or the soul if you will, of Osiris will gladly leave." Hope springs up inside me, even now with the Power dormant I still feel it waiting for any sign of weakness.  But my hope is short lived as I see the expression of Giles� face reflected off the same dark windows.

 "The catch is?" I ask spinning around.  He sighs, and takes off his glasses again.  How do we ever get through these conversations when he�s always cleaning those damn things!

 "Giles!  This life please?"

 "Yes, quite right," he puts the damn things back on.  "I am reasonably certain that we can get rid of Osiris � but you have opened conduits of Power within yourself that were never meant to be opened�." Again he pauses, this is so frustrating, maybe I should blast him one.  Then realize what I'd thought and I�m immediately sorry.

 "Please Giles just use a few nouns, just spit it out!"  I�m getting frightened, or more frightened, or frighteneder?  The blank numbness is finally beginning to burn away.

 "You are or will be, the most powerful Sorcerer this world has seen since Merlin."

 'Well, I wanted him to spit it out'.  I think to myself.   

 "It is my belief that Osiris is in control of the power at the moment, he is trying to use it as leverage in his quest to usurp your body, but once he is gone, that bit of control lost, you will be able to kill with a misplaced thought."  

 'Where are my legs?  Where did they go?'  I think as I begin to slide to the floor, only to be caught by Giles.  He�s so warm and I feel so cold, as he carries me back to the couch.  He careful when he lays me down on it.

 I have to protest his words; "I would never think of killing someone!" I try to shout but my voice is nothing more than a horse whisper because I know it's a lie.  What if the power had been in my control when I carelessly thought about blasting Giles a second ago?  Would the man who's my father now be a pile of ash?  How do you control your thoughts?

 "Oh God, I�m going to be sick." I tell him, and he has time reach for the trash can by the table. 

 When I�m done, I sit there panting; he leans over to remove the trashcan and picks up the washcloth.  I stop his hand as he starts to wipe my face. There is only one answer:

 "Kill me; it�s your job to protect the world.  Just kill me." Now that I�m faced with it, I don�t want to die, I want to be here for Buffy, I want to protect her, love her � but I know if we don�t get rid of Osiris sooner or later I�ll give in and let him have me. 

I�m not that strong.

He flinches and I can�t tell if it�s from my words or because of the death grip I have on his arm. 

"No Willow, you must accept the responsibility of your actions, you must learn to live with the results." He tells me as he shakes his arm loose and continues to wipe to face.  I see the love in his eyes, and I feel it in his touch.  I always knew that Buffy was his daughter; I just never knew I was too.

"What am I going to do?" I cry to him, he�s the adult, he needs to fix it.

"You have to choose to live; you have to choose to learn to control this power.  Power corrupts Willow; you can�t let it destroy you." I can�t stand the earnest look in his eyes, so I turn away from him. 

"I can�t Giles," I tell the wall. "What happens the first time I go into babble mode?"

Giles� fingers touch my cheek, forcing me to face him.

"I know you can control this Willow, I know you can learn how to use this Power for good."  He�s trying to give me strength through his touch.  He�s trying to keep me grounded in this world through the sheer force of his love.

Just like I tried to do with Buffy.  Just like I know WE can do with Buffy.

I can feel him, he knows that I�m beginning to listen to him, to believe his words.

"Think of the good you can do with it, Willow? Think of the help you would be to Buffy in her fight?" Now that did it, that was it, I would do anything for her and he knows it.

�Damn him!�

he knows of my love for her.

The floodgates open, not of the Power, but of my pain and guilt, and I begin to sob.  Giles just sits down on the couch and holds me.

"How?" I mumble into his shirt hoping he knows what I�m asking.

"There is a coven in England; I�ve already spoken with them on the phone." He tells me and, despite my tears, for the first time I begin to feel like things might get better.

"We can drop you off on our way to taking Buffy to the council for treatment�."

Part Seven

"We can drop you off on our way to taking Buffy to the council for treatment�."

"What do you mean drop me off? You can�t take Buffy to England!" I shout, standing up out of his arms. "How do you propose to get her there?"

He looks guiltily away from me, and I know his plan. "You�re going to keep her drugged!" I can�t seem to lower my volume.  I hear footsteps on the stairs and Dawn and Xander�s voices.

But it's just Dawn that comes into the room.

"Willow we cannot keep her alive; the Council has resources that we �." He trails off, sitting back in the couch.  He turns slightly pale.

"I don't understand� I'm against the very thought of the Council having their hands on Buffy in this state � Oh wait a minute, yes, I do understand!" I shout back at him. "They think of her as a tool only, Giles, not as a friend, or a sister, or a daughter.  They don�t love her!"

"What?" Dawn gasped. "You can't be serious!"

Score one for her, at least she didn't shout.

Now it�s his turn to jump to his feet angrily.

"They can keep her alive, they can give her the professional help that she needs to get through this � crises!"  He half-pleads with Dawn and half-orders her to understand.

Dawn answers him; I�m too shocked to say anything. "They don�t love her! They want her to get better so she can just go out and fight their little war.  Well she died for them and I won�t let her die�again." The youngest Summers finishes, crossing her arms in front of her.  It�s not a protective stance; it�s the mirror image of the Slayer�s "I�m going to kick your ass" stance.

But, something that Dawn just said sets off--I don�t know what--I can feel the answer surfacing, I can�t push it, I have to wait for it to come to me. I go sit down and just listen for a change.

Giles looks away from us both. "No Slayer was called. So the line runs through Faith, they don�t want Buffy to die." He doesn�t sound entirely convinced.  He shakes off whatever doubts he has and turns back to Dawn. Since I�m sitting down and quiet I think he feels I�ve given up the argument.

 "Well, how do they expect to keep her there? She�s the Slayer, if she really wants to get out she will!" Dawn counters sarcastically, then she glances to me for help, I just shake my head.  

 Giles is right, we can�t keep Buffy here in the house�she�s the Slayer, she could have overpowered us all earlier. And let's not forget all the weapons and sharp objects we keep around.  All she would have to do is grab a knife or a sword, or even a crossbow, and it would be over. �Then why did she choose a razor blade? Her father�s razor?� 

 "They have ways of � neutralizing her � extra abilities." Giles� face has turned nearly white; the words he just uttered are so extremely distasteful to him.

 Dawn gasps, "You want to take Buffy and stick her in a�a prison! You want to strip away the very things that make her Buffy!" Giles flinches as if each word Dawn says is a physical blow; he remembers her eighteenth birthday.  I think he�s had more nightmares about it than Buffy.

 "That�s not living." Dawn is relentless as she takes an aggressive step closer to him. Note to self: never try to cross the youngest Summers.

 "I know, but at least she�ll be alive!" Finally, that insane British reserve is broken as Giles yells back at Dawn. He falls, more than sits, back on the couch.

 "What kind of life is that Giles?" Dawn presses, her voice cracks and she has to clear her throat before continuing. "You want to keep her locked up, away from the sun, in a chemically induced haze? How could that possibly help her? This isn�t something in her mind, this is a trauma and she needs us, she needs all of us!"  She finishes by uncrossing her arms; fists clinched at her sides, once again a mirror copy of Buffy.  She stares down at him.

 Giles holds her gaze for just a moment then he drops his eyes.  "I just don�t want her to die again, I�I don�t know if I could live through it." He whispers, looking away.  Giles looks like he�s shrinking, aging before my very eyes.  "This way she could get better�maybe�one day?" The tears overflow and start streaking down his face. Now it�s his turn to clear his throat. He takes off his glasses to clean them, trying to gain some composure. "At least where there is life, there is hope." He says putting his glasses back on, determined.

 And I have nothing to say to that, he�s right.   Where there is life, there is always hope.

 Dawn gives up, in that one point they agree. She goes around the coffee table and sits next to him; he breaks down in her arms and begins to cry. She comforts him in much the same way that he did me a few a minutes ago.

 My terrible mistake is bringing us together, instead of separating us, like I feared it would when I found out about Buffy being in heaven.  I hated myself, I wanted to die, I wanted to kill Buffy�I thought I was damned�that I deserved to be in Hell.

 I thought I was damned, so why did it matter what did?

 Maybe I�m not damned?

 Why it does matter?

 We love each other, that�s why. That�s the basic truth in all this �mess; we simply and completely love each other.  When I thought the only answer was to kill my best friend, I didn�t because of Dawn. It would have crushed her to come home and find her sister dead.

 Buffy didn�t fight us or try to overpower us because she still loves us.

 �Why the razor blade instead of a dagger?  Because Xander gave her the dagger for her birthday, the sword was from Giles for Christmas her senior year in High School, the Crossbow from Dawn, the knife from me �.   

 That�s the key and an idea springs forth�. Love is the key.  I think.

 "Giles?" He looks up at me and I continue. "Will you give me one chance to talk to Buffy before the council takes her?"

 "What are you going to do?" He asks, hope shining in his eyes, in his face, in the way he lifts his shoulders and pulls out of Dawn�s embrace. Then I can see him come crashing down. "I won�t allow you to place a, Gea, a magical compulsion on Buffy or to erase her memory �"  

 I hear Dawn�s gasp and ignore it.  I have to think, I have to concentrate on Buffy.  She�s all that matters right now.

 I interrupt him. "First I doubt I could place a strong enough Gea on her to keep her from figuring out some way to hurt herself." I hold up my fingers counting them down. "Second, �Hello, Heaven!� It was a huge crime ripping her out of there; it would be a bigger one wiping her memory."

 "Then what do you plan?" Such a simple question �such a long answer.

 "I don�t know." Ok--not so long. "But, I sort of need her to wake up; if it doesn�t work � then at least she�ll be able to say good-bye to us before she leaves?"

 He nods, only I�m not sure he knows what he�s agreeing to.  He's not sure, because I�m not sure and it's my plan.

 "She should begin to wake in 2 to 3 hours," he continues standing. "She�ll be fully awake by mid morning." Giles finishes speaking on a yawn; it's contiguous because I yawn too. Once again, I am exhausted. Though I don�t understand why Osiris has been quiet for all this time.  Maybe he knows I will never let him win?

 "Ok you two go to bed. I�ll relieve Xander for a few hours." Dawn has turned into a little general. I want to protest, but just can�t. I�m too tired. Dawn stands up and points at the couch.

 "Giles, sit down before you fall down." And the funny thing is that he obeys her.

 "Willow, upstairs, after you check on Buffy tell Xander to sleep in my room." With that she heads off to the kitchen.  And I head up to bed for a few hours.  I need rest to keep Osiris contained and to help Buffy.

 But I think I have the key, I just hope that Buffy still can feel love; it might pale in comparison to heaven and it might not be enough�.

 There is only one person on this earth that can help Buffy and I know who it is.

* * * * * *

 I wake to the sun streaming in through a crack in the curtains and immediately start to close them using magic � and stop just in time. Osiris is just waiting for a mistake like that one. Using magic would let him rise up while I�m too groggy to control him�I don�t want that to happen.

 Thinking about Osiris is certainly a great way to become wide awake, it works better than coffee. Though I�m still tired, there is none of the confused grogginess that I normally have in the morning. Yep, being possessed by the God of the Dead is a great way to deal with the early morning groggies.

 I take a quick internal inventory.   Say that three times fast � or not.  The little sleep that I�ve gotten has refreshed my mind, if not my body. It has also helped me focus on the situation with Buffy. It�s important that out of all the weapons in this house she chose to use her father�s razor, the one thing none of us gave her�I know I might be taking a huge gamble by banking on that one little thing�I just pray that I�m right.

 I get out of bed and make a quick bathroom stop, there are advantages to having Joyce�s old room, and privacy in the bathroom is just one of them. When I get back to the room Dawn knocks and pokes her head through the door giving me a tired smile that doesn�t reach her eyes.  I remember the brat, the self absorbed teen from just last year.  When her mother was alive, when her sister wanted to be alive �.  I�m sorry Dawny, I sorry you had to grow up so fast.  I�m sorry that your sister was the same age when she killed her first Vampire.

 "I heard you moving around," she explains, oblivious to my thoughts.   She glances over her shoulder toward the hallway, toward her sister�s room. "Buffy�s awake and she � well you'll just have to see for yourself."  It�s plain that she�s worried about leaving Buffy�s side. I nod at her, and she backs out of the door closing it.

 I would have preferred to get some coffee or a bagel or to read War and Peace � anything before I see her or maybe that�s just because I don�t want to do this?  Duh, you think Willow?

  I stop by the trunk were I keep my magic supplies and as I open the top the bile rises up in my throat and now I�m happy that didn�t have that bagel or coffee.  What's with me that I can�t keep anything down?   

 Still the tension is building inside me and this time it has nothing to do with Osiris.  It has everything to do with my love for my best friend.  I brace myself to leave the room that Tara and I had made our own.  It�s funny that this is the first time since she walked out on me that I�ve thought of her.  The woman that I thought I�d spend the rest of my life with, leaves--and I don�t care.

 All I can do is think about Buffy.

 It's only three steps to her room, but it feels much longer this morning.  I hear Dawn talking so I pause right outside the doorway and listen.

 "Please eat something Buffy." Dawn�s pleading with her. 

 "No, Dawny, I�m just not hungry." She answers her sister in a flat monotone.  That�s not good; Buffy always uses her voice to convey emotion.  Much like her expressive face.

 "Hey, Buff just a little?"  It�s Xander. "Where is that legendary Slayer appetite?"

 "I don�t know Xander?  Maybe it�s in heaven?"  Oh boy, this is bad. �Well, you were expecting good?�  That inner voice is really beginning to get on my nerves.

 "Buffy," Giles warns.

 "What, Giles? Put that gun down and let�s talk about it?"  Ok, sniping sarcastic Buffy just made an appearance.  

 �Showtime'.  I think; and the tension I was feeling in my nice comfortable room just turned into � I don�t know more tension, the most tension � delaying again Willow.  I steel myself for what I might find � what does steel yourself mean �you become like steel?  I don�t want to be like steel I want to be caring and loving so I�ll know what to do.

 Oh, just go in there.

 I walk into the room and immediately I�m assaulted by the heavy emotions swirling around in the tiny space.  Fear is coming from Giles and Dawn�anger from Xander�grief from Buffy.  Dawn stands up and lifts a tray of food off the bed and carries it to the make-up table. She then backs away giving me a wink, the hope is shinning in her eyes.  She believes in me, she believes that I can help her sister and I have no idea why.  Her faith in me is like a physical blow and I nearly double over from it.

 I avoid looking at the Slayer for a moment to regain my composure.  My eyes just happen to fall on Giles� he and Xander are backing up to stand against the wall. Like Dawn they pound me with their hopes.  I flash on the despair I felt yesterday--everyone wanting me to fix things; I�m just not worthy. 

 At that thought I feel Osiris rumbling, knocking on the lid I slammed shut last night.  He�s not pushing, yet.  Just checking for an opening, I don�t give him one.

 Giles settles the tranq gun in the crook of his arm. It's pointing in the vague direction of bed though; he doesn�t have it aimed at Buffy. And it comes back to me, this is my fault, I might not be able to fix it, but I have to try to help. I feel the pain rising up and burning its way through me because I know; I just know that if the council gets their hands on Buffy then she�ll give up.  She�ll let them drug her or do what ever it takes so she can sit and daydream about heaven day in and day out until she dies.

 So which is better, she dies here, right now or dies later in the jail made of her own mind? Oh god!  I don�t want her to die!  I shake my head to clear it; I have to push it all down.  I let one lone tear escape to run silently down my face. 

 "Well are you just going to stand there and stare at the suicidal emotional cripple?" Buffy�s biting words cut through my concentration and I turn my head toward her.  She�s carelessly sprawled on top of the bedspread with the pillows stacked up next to the headboard.  It looks like she�s washed her face because the tear tracks from last night are gone.

 I want to open the �sight� that Tara taught me to use, the empathic ability to read my best friend, but I can�t risk it. I can�t risk Osiris rising up.  Then I realize that I don�t need it.  Buffy is staring at me with barely contained fury, her eyes flashing fire. And it hurts.  It hurts to think that she hates me so much.  I want to fall to my knees in front of her and beg for forgiveness!

 "We�re waiting?" The Slayer says, then sits up. I notice Giles aims the gun right at her until she settles back against the headboard.  She pulls her legs up to her chest and then wraps her arms around them. "You're in charge of this little freak show aren't you?" She says defensively.

 I open my mouth to speak, to say something, anything, but nothing comes out�I literally can�t get my voice to work.  How am I going to help Buffy if I can�t talk?

 "What�s the matter Will? Guilt got your tongue?" The venom in her words stings me. 'And you were expecting her to open her arms and give you a hug?'

 The rest of the Scoobs fade into the background as I purposefully walk around her bed and stand next to the window.  I can�t worry about them; my mind is to full as it is right now.  I can only concentrate on her.  It�s always been her, since I first met her.

 "I love you, Buffy." It pops comes out of my mouth.  It just jumped out and into the air.

 "What?  How dare you � You can�t," she sputters, and the anger I saw earlier sparks over into rage.  She doesn�t move, she becomes so still it�s frightening.  She's one of those big cats getting ready to pounce and I�m her prey.

 I have to turn my back on her, before I blurt anything else out.  I try to school my expression into a neutral one. When I turn back she�s still trying to form a reply so I answer her previous question.

 "No, Buffy, guilt doesn�t have my tongue; it doesn�t because I don�t feel guilty about bringing you back." I try to build up my courage by pinning her with my gaze. But then something even more frightening happens.  Her face goes completely blank.  I know that look, she�s drifting off.  I know I have to push it or I�ll lose her. 

 "I did feel guilty, I felt terrible, and I felt so bad last night I asked Giles to kill me�."  That got her attention. 

 "Then you know what I want." Her voice is less than a hoarse whisper.  "All I want to do is go back." And now she turns her head and her pain filled gaze pins me to the wall. "Will, you were my best friend, if you truly loved me as you claim�." She continues sitting up and then kneeling on the bed.

 I force myself away from the wall; I literally have to concentrate on getting my feet to move the two steps up to her bed.  I reach out to her; I stroke my fingers down the side of her face, feeling the silken texture of her skin, trying to convey all my love in the touch.  She allows the contact, staying still, her eyes pleading with me.

 "I do love you, Buffy," I'm able to admit my feelings to her at last.  "I�ve loved you so much and for so long �." I can�t continue.  I can�t say the next words out loud; I can only say them in my mind and hope that my touch tells her the rest.

 "But no, I won't kill you." I see her flinch at my words. And it wounds me. She crumbles down into the bed, lying prone with her face buried in her hands. I sit down next to her; she�s not crying, she�s hiding.

 "Buffy, please look at me?� I ask and she turns over. "I�m sorry you were pulled out of heaven, I'm sorry you hurt so much, but I�m so thankful you are back�." I didn�t see the slap coming. One second she�s just lying there looking sad and the next my cheek is stinging.   

 "Shut-up, Willow! Just shut-up!" She screams at me, sitting up, her fists clenching in front of her, she�s trying so hard to hold them back, her nails are digging into her flesh. "Don�t tell me you�re happy I�m back, don�t tell me anything!" She punctuates each word by hitting her thighs with her fists. "I hate you, don't you understand, I hate you all!"

 I watch stunned as Buffy rolls over and gets out of the bed. She stands at the foot of it with her hands still clinched at her sides. A slow trickle of blood leaks from between her fingers to fall on the carpet. 

 "I love you, Buffy." There my mouth goes again; the words jump out and hang in the air between us.  And it�s like she has been struck in the face by the strongest vampire.  Her head jerks to the side and her body whirls around.  She ends up leaning her forehead against the closet door.  Her shoulders are locked, the muscles rippling under the loose tee she�s wearing.  I can hear the dry panting as she struggles to get her breathing under control.

 I count the breaths she takes, one, two three � I can�t help it � I have to take my mind off what I�m about to do.  She turns back around at four and now it�s my turn to fight for air as I see the raw, the naked, fear�no�longing in her bright eyes.

 "I gave and I gave to this Hell; I gave everything I had, every dream, every love, everything I ever wanted, I gave it�." The tears overflow and start to streak down her flushed cheeks. I can feel it, I can feel her pain and it�s like all her nerve endings are scraped raw.  She has no defenses, she has no barriers, all her emotions are open and they are consuming her.

 "I gave it gladly, I gave it willingly and with love because that was who I WAS, Willow.  Past tense�was �." She chokes, she's crying so hard that she can barely squeeze in a breath between the sobs. "And then," She has to stop again. "And then � I--All that I ever wanted or needed, all the love � I can't tell you, I can't explain it." But she doesn't have to because I see it on her face.

 I can feel it coming off of her in waves, the terrible agony is instantly replaced by a wonderful peace, a wonderful feeling of completeness, that all the love in  the world was all  for her, she had earned it, this was her reward.  It was her right to be that loved, that warm, that finished.

 Until I ripped her out of there--and after the glimpse I�ve gotten of it, of heaven, feeling the pain that comes rushing back is all the more crushing.  It nearly drives me into the floor.

 How can she stand it, how does she do it?  Minute after minute?  Moment to moment?  I wouldn�t have the strength � it's not strength � its love.  She�s still able to love; of course she would still be able to love�heaven�she was immersed in it.

 "Buffy," I sigh her name instead of say it but it's enough to get her attention. Enough to pull her out of whatever daydream she had fallen into for those few seconds. "You're right, I can never understand it."

 "Don't give me any of your pity!" She spits out, "I don't want it! Damn it, I just want to go back! Why can't you just leave me alone! Why can't you see that?" It's like I've been slapped again.  She goes from that incredible love, to that horrendous pain; no wonder she wants it over, for it to end.

 Now it's my turn to breathe, now it's my turn � I'm crying so hard I'm having trouble forming words.  "I love you, we love you, and I know you still love us!"  She turns back to face me again with an incredulous look, shaking her head no.

 "No, I don�t love you, I can�t love anyone right now�don�t you understand I can�t feel anything!" She shouts it, thinking that volume will add force, will make the words true.  But I�ve figured out the real truth, even if she doesn�t know it herself yet.

 I finally stand up from the bed and reach over to pull the razor blade out of the window sill.  I shake it at her.  "Then why did you try to use this to � to," can�t say the words.  "Instead of any number of other things in this house?"  I take a step toward her.

 'Oh God!, I don't want to do this, please God, Goddess, Creator, Yahweh, please help me, please make this be the right thing to say� to do.' I pull out my Athame from the sheath I had hidden it in and wave it under her nose.  "Why did you try to use this," I hold up the razor blade again," instead of something like this?" I throw the tiny razor to the floor and show her the 10 inches of sharp steel that I use as a ritual knife.

 "I-I-I�"

 "Stop stuttering," I yell, my face inches from hers.  "You didn�t use one of the weapons lying around the house because of the pain it would bring me�or Giles who taught you how use most of them�or Xander who made some�or Dawn."  She�s shaking her head no, so I grab her face like Giles did to me last night.  I force her to look at me; I force her to see her truth in my eyes.  Then I tell her very slowly so I know she understands � "I will not kill you, I don't want you to die."  I release her face and pick up her now limp hand; I turn it over and place my Athame in it.

 "We love you, damn it!  And we would do everything we could to keep you alive and you know what?" I reach out to her, grabbing her shoulders with my empty hands. "All of our efforts would probably have failed, because you are the Slayer!"  

 She steps away from me, her eyes are so bright when she finally realizes that she has the knife, and there is nothing we can do to stop her.  She pauses to feels the weight, the balance, like a warrior should do when given a weapon.

 "Willow, good lord!" I hear Giles from what seems like far away. I silence him with a motion of my hand � I don't think I used Osiris.  And I wonder why the God of the Dead is so strangely quiet.  

 I know what Giles is thinking, that even if he fired a shot off now, Buffy would still have time to plunge the knife into her heart.

 "My love gives me the right to ask this of you, and your love for me demands that you obey." I know that I�m pushing it by using the word obey; Buffy never �obeyed� anyone in her life.  She looks up sharply, a retort forming on her lips.  But I silence her like I did with Giles, with a wave of my hand.  "I ask you one thing and one thing only, if you insist on dying, on suicide�" I see her flinch again and I am relentless. "You do it now, and front of us all." I can't risk a glance away from her to find out what the others are doing so it�s a surprise to see Dawn step up next to me.

 "She's right, Buffy; we can't stop you, we would try but eventually you would escape." Dawn reaches her hand out and runs it along her sister's arm. "I love you, when you were gone it was so awful �" Dawn chokes on a sob, I see her swallowing trying to get her voice under control.  The pain of four months without her sister nearly overwhelmed her, the thought of loosing her again ... it�s the same pain that I�m feeling now.  

 Finally, Dawn�s able to continue, "If you are going to leave me alone, then do it here, now, in front of me, I want you to see how much it hurts!"  She screams, it�s not the irritating scream of childhood, but the painful wail of someone that is nearly beyond their tolerance.

 "Me too, Buff," Xander steps up behind me and he too reaches over to touch Buffy's arm. "I love you, I've loved you from the first moment I saw you. Over the years it's changed," he gives her that half-smile he does when conceding a point. "It's changed, it's grown, you are still my hero. And I know that you love me."  He tells her as he steps around me to rub her back with his other hand.  He too starts to cry; only his tears add fuel to the fire of his words.  "If you are going to die, if you�re going to kill yourself, then do it now, and watch me die with you. �Cause that's what happened last time when you jumped off that tower. I died."

 And I can feel her being crushed by a totally new force, not the painful agony of a remembered place, but by the solid wall of love beginning to engulf her.

 "I say, you all are nuts!" Giles comes into the group from behind Dawn. "Willow, are you mad?"

 For the first time in the confrontation Buffy looks up and meets someone�s eyes. She stares into Giles� bright ones. He's trying to hold in his tears and failing miserably. He gives her his patented fatherly shrug. "I told you before you died jumping off the tower, that you are everything a Watcher could want in their charge." He pauses to gather himself, it's made all the harder to see because he's normally so reserved. "What I've neglected to tell you is that you are everything I could ever ask for in a daughter. You are the daughter of my heart."

 He then takes his daughter in his arms, holding her, trying to enforce his words with the sheer force of his love. "Please don�t die again, for if you do you will take my heart with you."

 Dawn joins their embrace, "Live, Buffy, please live for us."

 Xander joins in and I see the mighty Slayer totally engulfed in the love of her friends, of her family, safe in her father�s arms. Her legs give out and she's held up, supported, loved.

 I have no place here so I start to turn around--I know her decision--she's not selfish. And it's going to be a long hard road for her, and for me. 

 I can't stand to watch, I don�t know what I feel at the moment�love yes, I love her with all my heart�I�m still human though and I�m now faced with the reality of her words.  "I hate you, don't you understand I hate you!"  She had cried.  And just a few minutes ago I was so sure that was a lie, I was sure she loved me too, if only as a friend, why can�t I believe it now?

 I start to walk out of the room, I need to be alone, I need to re-gather the peace I felt last night with Giles.  I can feel Osiris beating on the lid to the prison in which I have contained him.

 But I hear her words!  I have to go, I have to escape, get out of the room before she sees me fall apart � "I hate you, don't you understand I hate you!"  Her voice follows me, it won�t leave me alone.  It echoes back and forth in my mind.  It�s bouncing from one side of my head to the other, growing louder and louder, drowning everything in its wake.   

 Until I can�t think, I can�t see, I can�t feel.  I stumble into the wall by the doorway�the noise of her screaming is deafening me�I can�t stand it.  It�s assaulting me, but as the physical pain increases, it nothing compared to hearing the truth�she hates me, she will never love me, she will never forgive me, and I don�t deserve it�I am damned.  The damned are doomed to live forever without love, without peace, with the hate of the people that they wronged to keep them company � I can�t deal, I am just so tired I want it to stop. I don�t want her to hate me!

 I stumble away from the wall, I�m so confused, I know I felt Buffy�s love, I knew those words were just said in anger or pain � now they seem to be the truth.  I can�t live this way; I can�t live knowing that she hates me!

 Please I want it to stop; I want all this confusion and pain to end. 

 "Just make it stop!" I scream.

 I hear a man say, "Thank you, I will."

 And then�. I feel a hard shove from behind � but instead of falling to my knees, I�m forced up, I�m pushed up into the air.  I close my eyes and brace for the impact against the wall � that never comes.

 When I open my eyes, I have a moment of disorientation because of instead of looking up to see my friends I have to look down � I look down and into the face of � me.  Only I�m not me, because my hair is now pitch black, and my eyes are dark bottomless pits.

 "Osiris." I whisper but no sound comes out of my incorporeal lips. 

 He�s won. 

 Part Eight

 

 Without my body holding me together, I feel myself drifting off into the ether�the true definition of damned�in a few minutes I will cease to exist.  And it's right, it's justified that I should die a true death, a soul death.  I hate myself, I deserve this for pulling Buffy out of heaven, for lying to my friends, for putting a stain on their souls.

 I�m vaguely aware of Osiris as he stands there in front of my friends; he, she? I don�t know�.  It doesn�t matter, nothing will matter to me in just a few moments.  I watch as he looks down at his new body. He lifts his hands, wondering at them, the flesh that he had been denied for so long � everything he has wanted for thousands of years made manifest and real.

 I feel my soul begin to lose its form, I�m falling apart. My friends are still embraced, unaware of my fate, until Buffy�s Slayer sense goes off.  I always know when she senses something because she gets really still, like she is now, and she cocks her head to one side as if she�s listening.

 When she sees him, his black hair shining in the late morning light as it comes through the window, she pushes the others out of the way and steps forward ready to meet the challenge.  Or so I thought�.  

 "Willow?"  She questions slowly, her tear stained face a mask of confusion.  "No, you aren�t Will; I can�t feel her in you."  Then her eyes desperately search the room � I�m falling apart.  I�m leaving; something is pulling on the bits and pieces of my soul, I�m being pulled away from Buffy, away from my family. I�m being swallowed into the cold darkness; my hearing goes, my sight�.

 "Don�t leave me alone!" The guttural scream reaches into the empty night that�s absorbing me.  I can�t hear the words so much as see them as sparkling streaks of white light. They reach out to me; they encompass me in their terrible beauty.  She�s terrified, beyond words, and as always, I must answer her command, comfort her fears, I must go to the one that I love. 

 But I don�t want to, I don�t want to go back, I don�t want to fight, I don�t want to have to deal with the pain I caused.  The cold, the vacuum of nothingness is better than facing the crime of what I did to her.  Anything is better than facing that, than standing before her and asking for forgiveness.

 "God Will, come back to me!" The light from her anguish pierces the night and I know I must try to return, I have to go back and accept whatever punishment awaits.

 I focus all that I am, all that I could ever be into one tiny point. Some of the emptiness surrounding me retreats and I am back in the bedroom.  What I see horrifies me; my friends are huddled into a corner, far away from Osiris.  My love, though, is oblivious to the threat, she�s on her knees before him, and her face is stretched in a grotesque mask of insanity.  My Athame clutched in both hands before her as her wild eyes stare unseeingly towards me. The real me, not Osiris.

 I can see with overlaying patterns, her tears are bright blue lines of light drifting up, trapping me in their net of grief, and then she feeds me strength, with the red of her anger.  I am growing stronger with each passing moment � and I can tell that the Dead God knows this � he has yet to reach his full power, so he can�t just strike her dead with a thought, he has do it physically.  He lifts his arms to kill her. 

 She is unknowing, unseeing, so caught up in her agony that she is completely unaware of the danger she�s in at the moment.

 In a desperate bid to stop the God�s killing blow I reach out my insubstantial hand to grab his arm � and I am slammed back into my body.  I see through my eyes, I hear Buffy�s wailing through my ears � I stop the killing blow from descending.

 Osiris tries to shove me out again, but now that I am aware of his tactic I hang on with all my might and his attempt fails.  I don�t understand what has just happened or how disaster was averted.  Suddenly I flash on the vague memory from last night and Giles� words echo in my mind: "He can�t control you, it�s your vessel, your body, and he can�t control you without your permission."

 Osiris has been the strongest when I have been at my weakest.  It�s not the magic that�s the trigger, it�s the pain.  He has no claim over me except for what I gave him in the ritual, and what I give him now, through my need to escape, to hide from � myself. 

 He can only win if I give up.

 He shoves again, he pushes at me with claws made of words�she doesn�t love you�you are damned � and they are � just words.  They no longer can wound me, I no longer believe them.  I�m not absolutely sure of what the truth is, but one thing I am sure of, is that my love is not only for Buffy, it�s for my entire family and it�s for me.

 I slam the lid viciously down on Osiris. I have no more patience for his games or for close calls; I'll go to England and learn what I must from the Witches that Giles knows, and then he will be gone.

 I will be strong. I am strong, and soon Buffy will be strong, too.

 The self revelation is all well and good but I have a best friend kneeling before me on the verge of complete collapse, and speaking of collapse � 'was my body always this clumsy and heavy?' I think--folding to my knees in front of Buffy.

 I reach out to touch her cold, rigid arm.  Sometime during the battle with Osiris she had closed her eyes.  I slowly run my hand down her arm to where she has the Athame clutched�it's like her hands have been frozen to it�I have pry her fingers off of the knife.  I do it carefully, it would be bad if she suddenly thought I was a threat and plunged the 10 inches of steel into my belly. 

 After I have the knife I feel the others come around us, I put the knife on the floor and see someone, I don�t know who, pick it up.  My attention is focused on Buffy; her hands are still so cold that I sandwich them between mine to rub some warmth into them.  Her face is so pale it looks like all the blood has drained from her body. 

 The word shock comes into my fogged mind.  My own thoughts are beginning to slow down and I recognize the now familiar feeling of total exhaustion.  I know I don�t have long before I pass out, so I drop her cold hands and reach out to take her thin shoulders in my grasp.

 "Buffy, I�m here!" I tell her strongly while shaking her.  "Come back to me!" I muster the energy to shout and I�m rewarded with her beautiful hazel eyes blinking open.  It takes just a second for her to recognize me and then I�m tackled to floor.  I can feel the love pouring out of her, as the color returns to her cheeks, along with her tears.

 "Don�t leave me again!" She's mumbling over and over into my chest.  Normally, I would love to be holding her; but the exhaustion is overwhelming me.

 I try to stroke her hair, I can�t lift my arm and it falls to the floor.  "I love you." I tell her right before the darkness takes me � again.

 I wake to the wonderful feeling of soft fingers stroking my face.  As I come up further I realize that I�m lying on a bed embraced by someone.  It�s not Tara, because well, whoever it is, is smaller and has more muscle. 

 "Will?" Buffy asks quietly.  She moves her hand away from my face and then a warm cloth is placed over my eyes. "Giles said that when you woke up your head would hurt." She tells me, pressing down on the cloth with a slight pressure. "When you�re ready he left some tea to settle your stomach."

 "Thunks" I whisper and then realize that my mouth isn�t quite working.  And with the speaking comes the headache.  "Agh." Well that was clear at least.

 "I know Will, remember I�m concussion girl?" She says quietly. The bed moves as she shifts, picking up my wrist and rubbing the pressure point that Tara taught us.  And my tummy instantly begins to settle. 

 "I have the curtains closed so the light shouldn�t be too awful, do you want to risk a look?"  She takes the cloth off my face, and I open my eyes slowly; she�s right, the light doesn�t seem too awful.  I realize that we are in her room, in her bed.  Buffy is sitting on the edge.  She reaches over to the table and gets a cup, I smell it and it�s the same thing as last night.

 She watches me quietly while I drink it, just as last night I immediately feel better.

 "Giles told me what has been going on." Buffy tells me taking the cup back and placing it gently on the table.  Her actions slow and deliberate; which means she�s very upset and trying not to show it.  "You�ve been asleep for hours, so I�ve had time to do some thinking." She tells me, putting her hands together in her lap. Most of the time Buffy can handle her supernatural strength with the grace of someone born to it. But every once in while it gets the best of her and she has pulled doors off their hinges or crushed a drinking glass without meaning to.   

 Xander and I would use that as sort of Buff-O-Meter to gauge her emotions.  The way she placed the cup back on the dish and then put her hands in her lap tells me that she�s spiking in the red.

 Buffy won�t look at me, she�s looking everywhere in the room except at me.  It also seems that she�s not going to elaborate on what Giles told her.

 "Where are the others?" My mouth is finally working as I sit up against the headboard of the bed.  I�m happy that they felt comfortable enough to leave Buffy alone, but I�m worried about it too.  Buffy is going to need help, support and love; just because the first crisis is over doesn�t mean there won�t be another one. My head pounds in time with my thoughts so I rub it to try calm it down a bit.

 "I promised them that if I decided to � leave � I would do it in front of them." My mouth drops open; it has so long since that Slayer insight of hers had kicked in that I had forgotten about it.  Of course if she promised, then they would feel safe in leaving her alone�Buffy doesn�t lie�except about heaven.  The nagging little inner voice pops up to remind me, that it wasn�t a lie�if I hadn�t been so full of myself I might have seen through the act.

 "Will?� She touches me to get me back from where I had floated off too.  This last Osiris bid has worn me down worse than I thought.  I can barely concentrate � the others.

 "Where are the others?" I repeat.  She�s worried about me, I can tell from her look.

 "Giles and Xander went to pick some council people and someone from a Coven in Devon�s Sire." I chuckle at her pronunciation.  "Dawn is napping; she was pretty worn out."

 "We have to talk Will," she tells me and stands up to start pacing.  I hide the smile because it�s been a while since I�d seen Buffy pace and I just love her all the more for it.

 "I know, Buffy." And then that�s not enough, the words just shoot out of mouth.  "I�m so sorry Buffy, I�m so sorry I yanked you out of heaven!" I rise up to my knees on the bed.  A sick dizziness grabs me for a moment at the sudden movement, but I am able to breathe through it without Buffy noticing.

 After a few seconds, and a lap around the room, she stops.  "I know you are Will, and I really want to � I really do want to �." Her words trail off and I know that I am not yet forgiven, nor do I deserve to be.  She tries to start again, "Will I want �." I cut her off.

 "I know you do Buffy, you just can�t right now, and that�s ok."  I reassure her.  "You may never be able to forgive me." I tell her earnestly.  I want her to understand that if she can never do it, it will be alright.

 "But I want to, Will!" She starts the pacing again. "I want to because I love you, but I�m so angry at you too." She stops facing the closet door, her shoulders taut, the muscles in her arms are cords.   I push down the hope that surged up at her confession of love. For some reason I can tell that when she said the word this time, she didn�t mean it as a friend.  She meant it as a lover.  The only problem is I know that there are more words coming, and I�m not going to like a lot of them.

  "I don�t understand how I can love you so much that it hurts," she turns toward me.  "How can I love you like that?" She pauses, her expression one of beauty.  And again I have to push down the hope that she could love me; that all my dreams for the past six years could be realized.

 Then her face shifts, and I feel a sudden dark tension fills the room.  This is it, this is the other shoe.  She was always good at projecting her emotions, and that�s what she�s doing now.  "And I hate you, too."   

 When she says the word hate I�m crushed; I knew it was coming; I had no hope and yet I did, I did hope that she could one day forgive me.  This is normally the place that Osiris would rise and let himself be known, but since I was expecting him, he stays still, quiet.  I�ve figured out one of his games and I need to get rid of him before he thinks of another.

 I shake the thoughts of the Dead God out of my head; this is Buffy�s time.  If the Witches from England are already in Sunnydale then this may well be the last time Buffy and I get to talk.  I know they will want to return as soon as we can because the tentative control I have over Osiris is such a danger.

 "Buffy I understand," I start, false �Best Friend� platitudes on my lips, she�s so frail�. 

 "No you don�t!" She shouts and then takes a deep breath.  Her hands clenching at her sides as she tries to regain control of her wild emotions.  "You don�t understand because you can�t.  I don�t hate you so much � as I hate me!" I wasn�t prepared that revelation. 

 "I hate how you see me, what you think I am, I�m not Willow!" She turns and begins the wild pacing, trying to calm some of the turmoil in her heart.  "And I hate me, for always trying to live up to it!"

 "But I don�t�." I try to get out only to be interrupted yet again.

 "Yes you do." She stops, looking at me, her eyes burning with their intensity.  She has all this rage built up and she needs to give it voice.  And I need to � just stay quiet and listen.   She nods, and starts moving again.  "I�ve lived my life trying to be �the best friend,� or Xander�s hero, or Giles� Slayer, and Mom�s perfect normal daughter � I tried and tried � and it exhausted me."

 "I�ve always tried to believe in the reflection of other people's wants and desires for me, and never what I wanted or desired � except when I died." Buffy stops talking, stops moving, she�s perfectly still, lost in her thoughts. 

 "But, Buffy �"  I start trying to nudge her out of the daydream.

 "Quiet, I�m talking now!"  She whips around as the anger touches the surface, then she gives me a small smile in apology.

 After taking a deep breath she continues: "Now it's time for me to figure out who I am, what my new place in this world is, besides taking care of Dawn, where do I belong, what do I do with the rest of my life?"  She walks over to me; she lifts her hand and gently traces my lips with her fingers.  I close my eyes and lean into the touch.  It�s heavenly to be caressed in that way.  She lifts my chin and I slowly open my eyes.  She looks down at me, her face is so full of love it takes my breath away. 

 "But, Willow, I have to find who I am without � without you here." Crushed.  I feel like I�m falling � Osiris tries the lid and having to fight him seems to steady me.  

 "I understand, I�ll have Xander pack my things �." I�m proud that my voice only cracks a little. I start to stand up �. Only to be roughly pushed back down to the bed, by two strong hands on my shoulders.

 "You still aren�t listening to me!" Buffy shouts, frustrated.  Her hands on my shoulders force me to sit still as she continues.  "I said I love you, and you told me you loved me, was that a lie?"

 "No, I �." I mumble, totally confused, and yet unable to stop the hope that is budding once more in my chest.

 "Giles tells me that you have to go to England?" I nod, I�m afraid to say anything, afraid to breathe until I hear all that she has to say.  "He wanted me go too, but my place is here, with Dawn." She must sense my understanding because she releases me to start her moving, her pacing.  She�s like a caged tiger or a sleek black panther.  "Giles said that Witches� school normally takes 13 moons?" She stops, turning to me, questioning.

 "I don�t know � it makes sense �.." And it does, one full year. "At least to become a novice." I tell her, thinking out loud.

 "Then I want this year, I want to find out who I am, what I�m doing back here, and you need to do the same." She comes back toward me.  "One year for us to become � novice�s at living." She stands before me, in her full Slayer glory.  The hope that had been crushed just moments ago rising up again, against my will.

 "But one year from tomorrow, when you are finished healing from this God thing, or becoming, or whatever you have to do �." Buffy says, looking down at me without the pain that I�ve become accustomed to seeing.  "And in one year when I�m healed and know me, not the Slayer, I want you to come back here �."

 I can feel it; I can feel the hope, the love, rising up through me, burning a path, creating a new Willow �.  Please say it Buffy!  I�m begging, every bit as much as I wanted my life over, I now want it to go on�. 

 "I want you to come back here and let's see if we can �." She runs out of words.  She opens her mouth but nothing comes out.  She sits down next to me.  She gives me that shy half-smile of hers and she very slowly and carefully leans over to give me a small chaste kiss on my cheek. A small kiss that curls my toes and sends sparks through my body.

 Buffy stares down at the floor. "I love you Willow � and I think I want to spend my life with you. But I have to heal; I have to be whole when I love you."  She glances up to me and I give her the biggest smile I have.  It seems to encourage her.  "Will you try to love me, I mean Buffy? Whoever she may be?"

 "Yes!" I tell her!  "Yes, yes, yes!" I take her into my arms and we fall over onto the bed.  I kiss her face, I kiss her strong hands, and I can�t stop whispering yes, over and over into her ear.

 "Cough!" The word echoes loudly from the doorway. And we both jump up off the bed together ready for a fight, only to see Xander standing there.  He has the happiest smile on his face I have ever seen, his eyes are so bright that they seem to be glowing.

 "About damn time." He tells us, as Giles and Dawn join him in the doorway.

 "About what time?" Dawn asks, confused.

 "I caught them necking." He tells her, triumphant.  And Dawn squeals like a baby seal as she rushes into the room to give us a hug.  The release, the permission to be happy is needed; Buffy and I can�t help but get caught up in Dawn�s sweet reaction.  We hug her back �. Until Giles breaks the mood.

 "I ah, hate to break this up�." He starts taking off his glasses to clean them.  "But, ah, Miss Hartness is downstairs, the Council has leant us their private plane, it's refueling as we speak." He tells me, tells Buffy, "Willow, we, I think it best if you leave now, before Osiris can �."

 "I understand Giles." I look down at Buffy.  She bites her bottom lip to keep from saying something.  I think I know what it is, but it can�t happen, not now, not yet.

 "A Year then?" I question, and at her nod I turn towards the door, to my family. 

 "I want to say good-bye now," and I in turn hug each of them.  I can�t look back at either Buffy or Dawn or I won't have the strength to walk out the door.

 "The Coven asks that you bring nothing � it's their way, you enter the world with nothing�." Giles babbles, following me. 

 "It�s fine Giles," I tell him.  It doesn�t matter what I take to England in a pack or suitcase, it only matters what I carry inside of me. I turn back to him, to my father.  And I realize that I am no longer a child and I need to go from this point forward alone.

 He seems to understand without words; he stops, and lets me see the pride he has in me for the first time.  It shines through him, lifting his shoulders, making him straighter, and if I�m not mistaken he appears to be years younger.

 As I walk down the stairs I think about the last day and a half and while I�m glad it�s over, I can�t help dreaming of the future.  As I said earlier in the day, I will go to England, I will rid myself of this God, I will learn my lessons�then I will come back to Sunnydale and claim my lover�my future.

 The End

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