They struggled out of the building that was beginning to blaze behind them, both gulping down the cold night air. Buffy was briefly struck by the similarity between this scene and one that had happened a little less than a year before. Then she impatiently brushed aside all these half formed thoughts, relief that he was safe rapidly being replaced by anger, at him for putting himself in danger, but more at herself for letting him. She spun round to face him, her turbulent emotions clearly stamped on her features. "What the hell did you think you were doing?" she exploded.
"Buffy, you...you don’t understand..." said Giles, trying to catch his breath.
"What don’t I understand?" she shouted.
"There was...a test..."
"I know all about the test."
"I couldn’t...I couldn’t make you..."
"Why not?" she burst out. "God, couldn’t you just have told me about the test? If you’d just talked to me, given me the shots, so I could have done the stupid test and pleased the Council, we could have gone on as normal. Oh no, you had to go and do the last action hero act and nearly got yourself killed!"
"You don’t understand!" said Giles, his voice rising in volume to match hers. "I couldn’t give you the damn test. I couldn’t do that to you!"
"Why not?" raged Buffy.
Giles stood silent for a long moment, looking down into her face. When he spoke, his voice was surprisingly gentle and full of some emotion that Buffy couldn’t quite name. "Can’t you guess?"
That stopped her anger abruptly. <What the Hell is that supposed to mean?> she thought, her mind racing. <Guess what? What does he want me to see?> Her thoughts raced round in circles, and all the while she was drowning in the seas of his eyes, as she tried desperately to work out what he meant, what she should do, and why she felt sure that his green eyes were asking her some question she couldn’t understand. Why she would have sworn he was leaning in towards her, as though he was going to kiss her, and not just a chaste fatherly kiss, but the sort of kiss she had dreamed about. And why part of her wanted him to. It felt so right, so much what she wanted...And then there was a tiny, malicious voice in her head. <Remember Angel.><Damn you!> she screamed at herself. "Giles...I can’t...I can’t do this...I-I can’t..." She backed away from him, tearing her gaze away and pushing her hair away from her face with trembling hands. She couldn’t look into his face, couldn’t bear to see the pain she knew would be there. And she did the only thing she could think of. She ran. Giles could do nothing but stand and watch her go.
From the shadows at the end of the alley, a solitary figure also watched after the retreating figure, and shook its head in disbelief. "I don’t believe it," Faith muttered . "She ran. Jeez, what more does she want?"
And in an anonymous dark grey car, the representatives of the Watchers’ Council watched them. "I believe we may have to take some action against Miss Summers and Mr Giles," remarked Quentin Travers to the two younger men.
"What do you suggest, sir?" asked Blair.
"A new Watcher, of course," replied Travers. "And if they still have not seen reason after a couple of weeks... Well, we shall see."
"She did what?"
"She ran away," replied Faith, scowling furiously. "He was within, like, a gnat’s ass width of telling her, and the dumb bitch ran."
"She doesn’t know what the hell she’s managed to get, that’s what’s wrong with her," said Faith morosely. "Giles is one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met, and he practically worships the ground she walks on, and she’s so wrapped up in her own problems and her great romantic tragedy with the great poof -"
"Have you been talking to Spike?"
"- that she doesn’t realise what she’s got."
"She’s scared. She’s so scared she’s trying to block the whole thing. She’s so hung up on the past that she can’t see the present. And he’s probably just as bad, with his bloody ‘I’m old enough to be her father, I’m her Watcher, it would be taking advantage’ attitude. They both just need some way of making them see -" She broke off abruptly, and a slow smile began to spread over her face. "I think it’s about time we did something practical." She stood up, leaving Faith looking after her with a very bemused expression.
"What do you mean, ‘practical’?" she asked as
"If we just leave it to them, they’ll keep going like this, misunderstanding each other, being unhappy, from now until doomsday. What they need it a little helping hand." She straightened again, and Faith craned her neck to see what was under the thick Oriental rug.
"A five pointed star? What’s that for?"
"It’s a pentagram. It’s used for protection."
"Protection? What sort of -" It was as though a cartoon light-bulb had suddenly flashed into life above Faith’s head, so extreme was her abrupt understanding. "Oh no," she said, shaking her head. "You can’t hex them, they’d never forgive you."
"Okay, for one, I’m not going to hex them. It’s just a small spell, it shouldn’t have any sort of devastating results. It should just take out some of the barriers they’ve managed to set up in their minds that are keeping them apart, take out some of their inhibitions. Sort of like being drunk, only without the giggling fits, or the maudlin stage, or the being sick, falling over unconscious and waking up the next morning feeling like your brain is being sawed in two with a blunt knife -" She noticed the look Faith was giving her, and looked down at the floor in embarrassment. "Or so I’ve heard. Anyway, I’m not intending them to find out. The spell should be so subtle they hardly notice it’s in effect." She retrieved a box from the corner cupboard. "If you’re not with me, you can leave. The negative energy could impede the ritual."
Faith sighed and raised her hands in surrender. "Okay Red, I’m in."
"Thank you," said
Faith grinned. "So what do I do?"
"Whoa, tangent girl, can we focus here?"
"I cast this circle to protect me from all negative and positive energies and forces on any level that may come to do me harm. I draw into this circle only those energies and forces that are right for me and the most correct for my work."
Then she walked the circle again, saying softly, "I create sacred space. So mote it be." Faith watched, fascinated, as her friend turned to the four cardinal points, and spoke some lines of what, from the snatches she could hear, seemed to be poetry. Then she began to speak under her breath, alternately pleading and cajoling the supernatural forces, burning incense that filled the room with the sickly sweet scents of vanilla and cyclamen. And nothing happened. Faith began to fiddle with her nails, her low boredom threshold already exceeded.
"Anything happening?" she asked.
"A better way to do what?" asked Faith, sounding, accurately enough, like she was trying to conceal profound boredom.
"To work magic. Another way this could work..."
"Oro te, umbras lucis et tenebrarum. Per Janum, per duos sanguinem oro. Audite me..."The words didn’t really matter. The words just helped her to clarify her whirling thoughts. The Latin just seemed to flow, like it had always been there inside her, waiting to escape. What really mattered was what was happening in her mind. Pushing down this end of the seesaw. Her head was full of light and music, music without notes or form, perfect in its complex simplicity, the music of the spheres. The rush of power through her was intoxicating, like flying, high over the treetops and the houses, knowing she was blessed above all the people below because she was flying and they could not. The music rose to a crescendo that should have been deafening, but just made her feel like she was rising on the currents of melody. She felt the raw magic surge through her, permeating every cell of her being until she felt that she must be glowing with cold fire."My God..." she whispered, filled with the exaltation of the power as she surfed on its eddying currents. Faith yawned and grinned.
"Are you done then? Great. Could we get some food now? It’s getting kind of late..." Her voice trailed away.
"Red?" she asked, uncertainly. "Are you okay?"
"Never been better," said
"Red?" asked Faith with growing fear. "
"What?" asked "
"W-what’s happened?" she asked, her voice her own again, but tiny and terrified. "Why can’t I see properly?"
"Oh God," whispered Faith. Her friend’s eyes were still engulfed by the pitch-blackness. For a moment she sat, paralysed, before forcing herself to stand and walk over to the other girl. She looped an arm around
"Faith...what’s wrong with me?" she gasped out. "What’s happened to me?"
Faith said nothing, just tried to help her friend out of the house. There was nothing she could say or do to help.
She opened the door to find Faith, looking as close to distraught as
"I don’t know what’s wrong with her," said Faith, her words tumbling over one another as she tried to tell everything at once. "She can’t see properly, and her eyes are all freaky, and she’s shivering, and I can’t do anything -"
"Faith, calm down," ordered
Faith looked almost on the verge of tears. "She was trying some sort of spell, only it wasn’t working, and I thought she was going to give up, only then she said she thought there was another way it could work. Then she started talking Latin and all these lights flew round her, and then her eyes were all black, and she was like this."
"Wait a second," she muttered, jumping to her feet and hurrying up to her room. When she returned, she was carrying a small, heavy box, which she set down carefully on the table.
"What’s that for?" asked Faith nervously. "What’s wrong with her?"
"She’s probably called up too much power for the spell she wanted, and she’s got to keep all the excess bottled up inside her."
"How could she do that?"
"I don’t know," replied
"What does that do?" asked Faith, following at the young witch’s heels as she crossed to where Helena was lying, curled into as small a space as possible, occasionally letting out muffled sobs.
The crystal began to glow with eerie green light, pulsating like a heartbeat, each beat leaving it glowing a little brighter, until the whole room was filled with green light, like sunlight through beech trees or the light on the seabed of shallow waters. Then, abruptly, it winked out, leaving only a faint, ghost like after image.
"Try to get some sleep," said
"I’ll get him to come over, don’t worry." She pulled the blanket that lay over the back of the couch over the other girl’s body, and then, seeing that
As soon as they were out of immediate earshot, she spun around towards the young Slayer. "What the hell were you doing?" she hissed. "What spell were you doing that it got her into this mess?"
"Will, this really isn’t the time -" began Faith, before
"It is the time. She gets herself like this, and then you just come along and expect me to be able to put everything right."
"But you did -"
"What if I couldn’t? What if it was something so bad I couldn’t make it better? Why didn’t you go to see Giles about it? I bet he doesn’t even know you were casting."
"What, so you cast spells on whoever you want and that’s okay, but she tries one little spell and it’s capital punishment time?" retorted Faith angrily.
"At least I don’t mess up my spells and end up full of magic."
"Yeah, ‘cause your spells are always so successful," said Faith snidely.
"It doesn’t matter what my spells are like," she said, with tightly controlled rage. "It doesn’t matter whether they go right or wrong. I don’t cast spells without knowing just what I’m doing, and I *don’t* cast spells on Giles. I care about him too much for that. We all do."
"If you really cared about him then you’d want him to be happy," Faith burst out angrily, and the same moment wished she could take the words back again, as she saw the strange look that stole over
"I want him to be happy," she said quietly. "More than anything. There’s no one who deserves to be happy as much as he does. But how can he be when the person he loves has been dead for more than a year?"
Faith snorted in derision. "Jeez, considering you’re meant to be percepto-girl around here, you can be really blind. I guess he loved Ms Calender once, but there’s someone he loves more than her, someone he’s always loved more than her. The reason he’s here, the reason he carries on, the reason he’s the person he is."
"Of course Buffy. Who else would I mean? He loves her, more than anything."
"B-but in a fatherly way, right?"
Faith rolled her eyes despairingly. "
"You mean all this time, all those silent conversations and weird tension between them, you never noticed?"
"I...I just didn’t look."
"No, I guess you wouldn’t," said Faith, her voice softening a little. "I saw some of it when I first came here, but I guess you’ve known them both too long.
"Well, she should be okay to sleep it off for now," said
"Believe it. They’re in love, whatever that means, they just haven’t accepted it. Yet."
It had been a bad day. Buffy had been jolted out of a particularly vivid dream, after lying awake agonising into the small hours, then managing to snatch a few hours of restless sleep. From the moment she woke up, it seemed like everything she did reminded her of the person she was trying so hard to forget. She couldn’t pick out an outfit from her wardrobe without thinking about how much she must have tormented him over the last three years by wearing such revealing clothes, couldn’t drink her coffee at breakfast without it reminding her of their amiable bickering over tea versus coffee, couldn’t read her book to blot him from her mind as it was one he had recommended. Everywhere she turned, he was there. When her mother was driving her to school, she had turned on the radio, hoping to be distracted...
...I would fight for you, I’d lie for you,
Walk the wire for you, Yeah I’d die for you,
You know it’s true, Everything I do, I do it for you...
...Buffy angrily stabbed at the off button. <Yeah, because I really need reminding about that kind of thing,> she thought. She had faced so much in her life - demons, vampires, witches, invisible people, ghosts, even Snyder - but this was something new. She didn’t know what to do, and that scared the hell out of her. Now she was sitting in her lesson, the same thoughts that she had been trying to block for the last twelve hours flitting around in her head. He loved her. She loved him. She shouldn’t love him. She was scared to love him. She wanted him, but she didn’t want to lose him. She wanted his love, but didn’t want to lose his friendship. She dreamed of him every night, and feared sleep because of what it showed her. What could she do? Caught between love and fear like a butterfly pinned to a board. Buffy was abruptly jolted awake by the strident call of the lesson bell. She didn’t know what the lesson had been about, or even what the lesson had been, and when she looked down at the notes she had been supposed to be taking, she found only a page of nondescript doodles, amongst which the initials RG seemed to figure frequently. She scowled, and tore the offending sheet from her file, screwing it up with unnecessary vehemence and pushing it deep into her bag. She angrily pushed an escaping strand of golden hair out of her eyes, and stood up, trying to concentrate on packing her bag rather than on the thoughts which seemed to fill her head. <I’m losing it,> she thought in irritation. <I’ve got to stop obsessing over this, or it’ll drive me nuts. I’ve just got to behave like normal, and everything’ll be normal again.> She walked out of the classroom, almost straight into Giles who was hovering by the door, and nearly turned right round and back into the room again. Instead she turned on her heel and walked briskly off in the other direction.
She could hear him calling her, but pretended she couldn’t. She couldn’t face him, not now, not now...
His voice was closer now, and it took all her strength to stop herself from breaking into a sprint. Then he was in front of her, effectively blocking her way. Buffy pulled up short, clutching her file to her chest like a shield while refusing to look into his face. She knew that if she did, she might not be able to look away.
"Morning Giles," she said quietly, keeping her voice carefully level.
"Buffy, I think we need to talk."
"I don’t think we have anything we need to talk about."
"But I think we do," he said firmly. "I think we need to talk about this before it pulls us apart."
"There’s nothing to talk about," said Buffy neutrally,
"Giles, I’ve got to go, I’ll be late for class," she lied as she turned around swiftly and hurried off, leaving her ex-Watcher standing alone in the thronged corridor.
Buffy pushed blindly though the crowds of people, feeling crushed by a huge weight of emotion, her throat closed by tension until she thought that she would choke. She ducked into an empty classroom, slamming the door behind her and leaning on it until she had gained some semblance of control. Then she walked to the window and stared out into the street, although she wasn’t really seeing it. <What am I doing?> she asked herself. <I must be losing it. I can’t...I mustn’t let myself feel this. It hurts too much...> She heard the door open and close behind her back.
"Hey Buff." Xander’s usually flippant tones were nervous. Buffy didn’t reply. "I...I was wondering if you’d seen
"Oh. Okay." She could hear his hesitation, then his footsteps turned towards the door again.
"Pretty lame excuse for talking to me," said Buffy quietly, not turning round. The footsteps stopped.
"Lame? Me?" The humour in his voice was only a veneer, under which his worry clearly showed.
"What do you want Xander?" asked Buffy wearily.
"I...I wanted to see if you were okay."
"Okay? Why shouldn’t I be?"
"You want the list? You’ve hardly spoken all day, you didn’t even notice when I tried to pass notes to you in class, you’re standing alone in a deserted classroom, and you’re wearing your depression clothes."
Buffy looked down at her sombre black trousers and the grey top with the black band at the collar. She managed a small smile. "I guess I do look kind of funereal."
"Like you’re auditioning for a black and white film," agreed Xander, moving to stand beside her. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"About whatever it is that’s bothering you."
"You’re not!" exploded Xander, for a second abandoning his usual mask of frivolity. "Something’s wrong, and if even I can see that, then it has to be something pretty damn big." His voice softened. "You can’t just ignore it and hope it goes away. It won’t. You need to talk about it to someone."
Buffy closed her eyes. "I can’t..." she whispered.
"You can, and you have to," said Xander firmly. "If you don’t, it’ll just eat you up."
They stood in silence for a long moment, before Buffy’s shoulders sank.
"There’s...there’s this guy..." she began, then trailed off.
"Did he hurt you?" asked Xander quietly.
"No," replied Buffy quickly. "He’s never hurt me. Not like I’ve hurt him. And I really like him, and I’m fairly sure he really likes me."
"But I’m scared," Buffy admitted. "I’m scared that if I let myself love him, something’ll happen. It always does, with everyone I love." Her voice began to quaver with suppressed tears.
"Oh man," said Xander quietly, then put an arm around the Slayer’s shaking shoulders and pulled her close to him, gently stroking her hair as she cried. "Buffy, you’ve had bad things happen to you. Things that suck beyond the scale of even my love life. You’ve been hurt. But love doesn’t have to be like that. Love can be...the best thing that ever happens to you. It doesn’t have to be death and darkness. You’ve got to believe me."
"I do," cried Buffy softly. "I know that, logically. I just...I can’t risk it."
"But you can’t go through life not letting yourself love anyone," said Xander quietly. "You’ll miss so much." He felt her nod into his chest. "Okay, here’s my attempt to help you sort this one out. Question one. Is he a vampire, or any other form of demon?"
"Question two. Is he going to really or metaphorically rip out your still beating heart and play squash with it?"
"I don’t think so."
"Question three. Is he principal Snyder?"
"Then I say it’s worth a shot." Buffy raised her head from his chest slightly. "You can’t go through your life trying to stop yourself feeling anything, Buff. If you love him, and he loves you, then it’s worth a try."
Buffy thought for a long moment, then gave a somewhat watery smile. "Xander, you’re the best, you know that?"
She sniffed, wiped her eyes, and began to walk towards the door.
"Was that a ‘yay team’?" asked Xander.
"Yes. I...I’m going to talk to him." She paused with her hand on the door handle. "Thanks, Xander."
Xander stood for a second in the deserted classroom, before exhaling loudly. "Thank you