This story takes places after and makes references to Tabula Rasa. All comments, edits and tapes of Giles gratefully welcomed by author.
Giles knocked on the Summers' door. It was midnight but the lights of the house were still burning brightly. It had taken him, Xander and Anya a while to clean up the Magic Box after the latest debacle. The memory of kissing Anya flitted across his brain again. He'd been desperately trying NOT to think of that particular event. He was quite fond of the young woman but certainly not in a romantic way. Then the memory of hugging Spike shuddered its way across his neurons. He decided thinking about kissing Anya was definitely better.
Dawn opened the door. Her eyes were red from crying, "What now?" she asked.
"I thought I'd check to see how you all were doing."
"Wonderful," Dawn retorted, she didn't invite Giles in but simply turned around and walked into the living room. Books, pillows and magazines were strewn everywhere.
"Why are you crying?" he asked gently as he followed her into the living room.
"Tara packed her stuff and left," Dawn mumbled, wiping the sleeve of her sweatshirt across her eyes.
"I was afraid that might happen. I'm sorry, I know.."
"Sorry," Dawn said, her voice rose slightly. "Everybody's always sorry around here. And I'm sick of it, you know that! Buffy's sorry she's not dead. Tara's sorry she can't live here any more because of Willow. You're sorry because you have to leave. Who's gonna be next on the sorry parade?"
"I don't know," Giles responded mildly. The girl was very upset and he wished again he didn't have to leave. But his leaving was the best thing for Buffy right now no matter what other considerations there might be.
"So why don't you take your sorry and and bugger off!" Dawn concluded her tirade and them plopped down on the couch. She picked up one of the ratty throw pillows off the floor and hugged it to her.
Giles wondered briefly if she really understood what bugger off really meant but now wasn't the time for a lesson in British slang. Instead he sat down beside Dawn on the couch and said nothing.
After a minute, Dawn sighed and said, "Sorry I yelled at you."
"That's all right, I understand," Giles replied calmly.
"Why does everybody leave me?" Dawn asked, a new flood of tears starting.
Giles thought any answer he could give to that statement would sound trite. Dawn had lost so much in so little time. What could he say? That things would get better? He hoped they would but there was no way to guarantee the child that. Instead he changed the subject slightly. "You really like Tara, don't you?"
Dawn nodded, "She's so calm. Not like everybody else, all running around all the time. She and I would just sit quietly in the living room reading at night. We'd have a snack. Sometimes we'd talk about what we were reading. Nobody else likes the same kind of books I do. Tara likes to read all sorts of things, not just magic books or Sports Illustrated or Cosmo."
"You can still talk to her," Giles suggested.
Dawn shook her head, "It won't be the same as when she lived here. And what if she doesn't want to talk to me anymore because I remind her of Willow?"
"I don't think she'd do that," he responded.
"Maybe," Dawn conceded, she picked at the damp edge of her sleeve. "You still going to leave?"
"Yes. You do understand why, don't you?"
"Because you think Buffy will never get back to her old self if you're around to lean on. But I think that's stupid."
"Buffy will never get back to normal and you'll just be gone," Dawn hugged the pillow more tightly.
Giles knew this was Dawn's real fear. That her much beloved and much needed sister was always going to remain sad and aloof from her. "You don't know that."
"Yes I do. Everything around this place always ends up fucking sucky."
"Dawn," Giles rebuked.
"Well it does," she said angrily.
"Don't you at least want to give Buffy the chance to get back to, well not the way she was before, but better?"
Dawn looked at him for a moment, weighing what he'd said. "Yeah," she sighed, feeling much older than her fifteen years. "But I'm going to miss you."
"And I'm going to miss you," Giles leaned over and pulled the girl into a hug. He kissed the top of her head and held her.
"Giles, what if Buffy never gets any better?" Dawn asked, her voice barely more than a whisper.
Pushing Dawn a little away from him so he could look her in the eye, he replied, "Then we'll try something else and we'll keep trying until she is better. All right?"
"Okay," Dawn agreed leaning back into the hug.
"And I expect frequent updates," he said firmly.
"I'll use that email account Willow set up for you and I'll call."
Giles continued hugging Dawn until he felt her start to pull away. He rubbed her back gently before he let go. "I think you should head on up to bed, it's late."
"Okay, I'll see you tomorrow at the farewell breakfast."
"Thank you Dawn, I was trying to put the thought of eating Xander's banana and chocolate chip pancakes before a long journey out of my mind. My stomach cramps at the very thought."
"You just don't have any appreciation for good food, that's all," the teenager informed him.
"If that's your idea of good food then you've lived on the Hellmouth for far too long," Giles joked, letting a small smile form on his face. He was pleased when Dawn smiled back.
"Well, you can always throw Xander's pancakes at the demons to kill them."
"A fate too cruel even for hellbeasts. Off you go," he pointed up the stairs.
"Good night," Dawn said.
"Oh, Dawn, is Willow here?"
"Yeah, she's in the big bathroom. Doing the, you know, crying thing."
Giles nodded. He waited in the living room until he heard Dawn shut the door of her bedroom before he headed up the stairs to confront Willow. The conversation with Dawn was a walk in the park compared to the one he was about to have. Striding up the stairs he stood in the door of the bathroom. Willow was sitting on the floor, the very picture of abject misery. Her eyes and face were red from weeping. He knocked on the door and said, "Willow, we need to talk."
"I don't want to hear it Giles," Willow wiped the tears from her face and stood up.
"Well you bloody well are going to hear it," Giles snapped. He stepped across the doorway of the bathroom and closed the door firmly behind him.
Willow crossed her arms and set an statement of contriteness on her face. There was nowhere to go in the bathroom, so she backed as far away as she could from Giles. "I screwed up," she softly. "I was just trying to make things better."
"Don't you dare," Giles roughly said, nearly spitting the words. "Don't you dare give me some mewling apology."
Willow's eyes narrowed at Giles' tone but he continued, "I would have thought after hearing your resurrection spell removed Buffy from heaven you would be more cautious about magic. Have you thought about what could have happened if the spell you cast wasn't accidentally broken? The lives you could have ruined?"
"It was an accident," Willow responded flatly, her voice no longer apologetic.
"And accidents happen, is that it? Your intentions were good and that's all that matters?" Giles resisted the urge to cross the bathroom and shake Willow by the shoulders. "You still have no idea how dangerous the power you are playing with is."
"Just because you couldn't handle it doesn't mean I can't," Willow dryly informed him.
Giles' lips narrowed in anger. "Is your argument now going to be because I was young and stupid once now you get the same chance? Because it is not a good argument."
"Hey, at least nobody's died because of my magic," Willow retorted smartly.
Giles crossed the small distance between them and enunciated each of his next words with a pointed finger, "Nobody has died.yet."
"And nobody will," Willow replied, shrugging her shoulders as if was no big deal. "I'm not sitting around trying to use black magic to gain power or anything. Unlike some people with shady pasts, I might mention. I'm just trying to cast a few spells to make people's lives better."
This is the person in real danger, Giles thought, not Buffy. Buffy is strong, with time she can recover. Dawn gives her a reason to get better. But Willow, what reason does Willow have to stop playing with magic? Maybe he could still reach her before she crossed any more lines. "Who's life are you making better?" Willow didn't respond, so he continued. "It seems to me the only life you are trying to make better is your own. You don't want Buffy sad because it upsets you, so poof," he spread his hands in the air, "you change her memory. You don't want Tara arguing with you so, poof again," he gestured again even closer to the young woman.
"How many other little things have you been changing the last several months? Don't have change for a parking meter. Poof. Don't want to have to explain to your parents why you don't want to come to visit? Poof again!" Giles thought back to the many incidents where he had suspected Willow of using magic. He knew bringing up her estranged parents was a sensitive topic for Willow but this was no time to consider her bruised feelings. "What's next? Dawn having problems in school? Poof, a straight A student. Xander and Anya getting cold feet before the wedding? Poof, perfect love."
Willow was staring at him coldly. Nothing he was saying was reaching her. "Wait, Tara's gone because you tampered with her mind, maybe you'll just cast a better spell this time. Poof, girlfriend back! A perfect little love slave for you to order about!"
"My relationship with Tara is none of your business," Willow responded coldly.
"Of course it isn't," Giles retorted. "Life, death, memory, love, they're just your little play things now. You can do anything you feel like because you have the power," Giles leaned closer to Willow, she moved back involuntarily as he stared right into her eyes. "And power makes up for everything, doesn't it? Makes up from being the teased little girl. Being the brain that dressed funny. Makes up for your parents not giving you enough attention. Makes up for Oz leaving you. Makes up for every taunt, every slight, because now you're the one with power and you can make them do what ever you want." Giles voice was a harsh whisper as he said the last sentence.
"It's not like that," Willow eyes were a little frightened as they stared into Giles' eyes. "It's not. I'm not some kind of monster or anything. I'm just trying to help. Things have just been a little crazy." Willow's voice was soft and pleading as she spoke.
"You're not a monster," Giles backed away slightly, "yet. And if you don't want to become one I suggest you take a long hard look at what you've been doing." He turned away from Willow and stepped to open the door. "Good night," he went through the door without turning around or waiting for Willow to respond.
* * *
I feel hung over, Giles decided as he got out of his car. I must be getting old if three hours of sleep makes me feel like I've been on a two-day bender. He hadn't been able to sleep after leaving the Summers' house. The conversation with Willow had upset him deeply and sleep had eluded him for quite some time. He had purposefully gotten up early so he could be the first to arrive at Xander's apartment. He needed to talk to the young man. Anya opened the door at his knock.
"You're early," she unceremoniously informed him. "Xander is still slicing bananas and the bacon was just started."
"That's all right," Giles said as he entered the apartment. The scent of frying bacon and bananas was nearly overpowering. He detected the smell of coffee underneath though. "Coffee?" he asked as he followed Anya to the kitchen.
"Here, you look like you need it," she handed him a mug and pointed to the coffee machine.
"Hey G-man," Xander said as he looked up from the mound of bananas he was cutting up. "Bring your appetite?"
Giles looked at the large bowl of batter with chocolate chips already floating in it. "Uh, not really."
"Don't worry," Anya assured him, "We got some bagels and croissants for you."
"That's right, got you old boring people breakfast food," Xander piped up.
"We didn't get you anything bran, though. What with the small airplane bathrooms and all," she explained helpfully.
"Thank you, most thoughtful," Giles took another deep draught of his coffee. He was going to miss having conversations with Anya and Xander. He thought of divining the meaning of them as mental acuity exercises. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you both before the other's arrived."
"You're worried about Willow," Xander stated as he dumped the chopped bananas in the bowl.
"Yes, yes I am."
"We are too," the young man replied as he started ladling batter on the hot griddle. He concentrated on his task but continued talking. "The memory spell went wrong in a big, bad way."
"Casting the memory spell in the first place was a big bad," Giles responded. He hoped his command of the English language would improve when he was away from Sunnydale."
"She was just trying to make Buffy feel better."
"Yes," Giles conceded, "and she was trying to make Tara forget about their fighting."
"Didn't know that," Xander flipped the bacon over. "She's my oldest friend but.."
"She's starting to scare me."
"Me too," Anya interjected. "I've tried explaining to Xander what power can do but he kept thinking Willow would be exempt."
"Hey, Will, Will is good people," Xander defended his friend.
"Power is very enticing," Giles said, taking another sip of coffee. "And power comes very easily to Willow."
"Like math," Xander looked up from his cooking. "Math came really easy to Willow, none of the rest of the kids could figure algebra out at first. Not our Willow though, she got it from the first page. And despite all the math geek comments, she really liked getting it faster than everybody else."
"Math generally doesn't have the power to destroy that magic does."
"Tell that to the people the atomic bomb dropped on," Anya said, "I don't think people truly realize how dangerous mathematics is."
Giles and Xander looked at the ex-demon for a moment before returning to their conversation. She had a point, they realized, but they didn't feel like delving into the ultimate applications of calculus.
"So, what do we do?" Xander finally asked. "Remind her how dangerous magic is?"
"I think it's gone beyond that now," replied Giles. "If she keeps heading the way she is," he let his voice drop off.
"I'll do," Xander started to say and then looked over at his fiancee, "We'll do whatever it takes to help her."
"Sometimes helping people means you have to hurt them."
Xander responded to the statement with a nod and then returned to his pancakes, little bubbles were forming in them. "Have you talked to Buffy about this?"
"No, I don't think she's capable of dealing with anything else besides her own issues right now. You'll have to be the ones to keep an eye on Willow."
"Yeah us!" Xander sighed. There was a knock on the door. "That'll be Buffy and Dawn, let's get down to the important and less emotionally charged pancake eating."
* * *
Giles sat on the hard plastic bench of the Sunnydale airport and contrasted this leaving to the one he had done just a few weeks ago. This time there was no big group of well-wishers to send him off. Just him and his carryon bag this time. I should be happier this time, he thought, Buffy is alive. But recent events weighed too heavily on him, a sense of dread had settled in his stomach along with the croissants. He wondered if the next time he returned to Sunnydale it would be under bad circumstances, very bad circumstances.
"Giles," Tara's voice interrupted his musings.
"Oh, hello," Giles smiled at the woman. She looks tired, he thought, tired and worn out. Like the bottom of her world has just dropped out, he supposed it had.
"I just wanted to say good-bye," she returned his smile with a small tight one of her own.
"I'm glad you did," he gestured to the seat beside him.
Tara shook her head slightly, "I can't stay but a minute. My ride is parked in a no park zone," Tara looked around the airport again; she had expected at least one of the Scooby gang to be waiting with Giles. It was easier this way; she really didn't want to talk to any of them right now. "I was wondering if it would be, you know, okay to call you sometime."
"Of course, of course it would," Giles assured her.
"I mean, I know you've known Willow longer and everything but I was hoping," Tara's voice trailed off.
"We're still friends, Tara. Please, call or email if you need anything, and that includes a sympathetic ear."
Tara looked at Giles with sad eyes. "And if I need you to help me stop Willow?"
Giles didn't respond immediately but then he nodded, "Then I'll be on the next plane here."
Tara nodded in response and then turned her back to Giles and started walking back across the airport. Giles watched her retreating back and wondered why it felt so cold in sunny California.
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