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Author's note: This third part picks up where part two left off, borrowing dialogue from the original Btvs episode, with various changes to the plot. Originally, I intended to kill Willow off, but my muse rebelled, and showed me that the story could still work without such a sacrifice. Plus I think I covered all my dislike of what she and the slayerettes did to Buffy earlier in the series. Warning you now however, there is final surprise in store concerning Tara, which I have only hinted at previously. Enjoy.

Slaying the Red Slayer.

If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803–82,
American philosopher and poet, from 'Brahma' (1867).

Buffy blinked, hardly believing her eyes. She had just prepared herself for another round of furious fighting with her once best friend, when suddenly a new player entered the deadly game. "Giles?"

Her former Watcher and surrogate father uttered no answer. His grim expression remained fixed on the end trajectory of his blast of magic which had heralded his entrance.

Anya slowly rose up from the shop floor, and blinked, feeling the same disbelief as Buffy did. "Giles?"

"Uh oh," a voice murmured, causing the girls to transfer their mutual gazes of disbelief to where Giles had fixed his.

Willow was lying collapsed on the floor, her voice the only part of her that belied the injury which Giles had caused to her. "Daddy's home. I'm in wicked trouble now." Sarcasm and the effects of her visit to Rack's still empowered her enough to let her sit up. She cleaned the blood from her nose with her hand as she rose to her feet, her now normal eyes the only indicator that Giles had done some damage to her inner magical resources.

"You have no idea," Giles finally spoke, grim tones matching the grim expression. "You have to stop what you're doing."

Willow smiled mockingly. "Uhh, sorry. Can't do that. I'm not finished yet."

"Neither am I," Giles informed her. "Stay down," he ordered calmly, his hand making a slight movement.

Willow fell back to the floor, wincing at the impact.

"How'd you do that?" Anya voiced the question she and Buffy were both longing to have answered.

From her position on the floor, Willow laughed. "That's borrowed power. No way is it gonna be strong enough....."

"I'm here to help you," Giles interjected.

Willow rolled her eyes. "Thanks, but I can kill a couple geeks all by myself. But, hey, if you'd like to watch ... I mean, that's what you Watchers are good at, right? Watching? Butting in on things that don't concern you?"

"You concern me, Willow." Giles revealed. "Stay on this path and you'll wind up dead."

"Willow," Buffy uttered imploringly. "Listen to him. I don't want to fight you anymore."

"I don't want to fight you either," Willow replied, but not in the tone her once best friend desired. Her eyes were fixed on Giles, the need for his power consuming her humanity. She started to rise again. "I wanna fight him."

"Stay down," Giles ordered, repeating his hand gesture.

"No," Willow replied, making one of her own to block him.

The first hint of uncertainty crept upon the Watcher's face, causing his slayer to move cautiously to his side.

"Remember that little spat we had before you left?" Willow taunted. "When you were under the delusion that you were still relevant here? You called me a rank, arrogant amateur. Well buckle up, Rupert..." she paused here dramatically as a light suddenly surrounded her body, and her eyes turned black once more. "'Cause I've turned pro." She began to chant. "Asmodea, bring forth......."

Giles gestured again. "Vincire!"

A Green blast of magic shot from his hand, forming a circle around her torso, binding her arms to her body, the power of it causing her skin to reflect the colour.

"What?" Willow uttered in disbelief. "No! Get off! Solvo, libero..."

Giles ignored her hand, his own still outstretched towards her, the blast of magic still emanating from him, until suddenly Willow threw her head back and closed her eyes, seemingly giving up the fight. The strength of the containment took control of her gravity, raising her from the shop floor. The band of magic changed spectrum into a more constant shade of blue grey.

"What did you do?" Buffy asked him.

"Contained her and her powers within a binding field," Giles explained. "It puts her in a kind of ... stasis for the time...." he trailed off as he looked at her properly for the first time. "Missed me?"

Buffy laughed and hugged him, the laughter fading into a grin as he hugged her back. Anya watched them embrace for a moment, then came up behind, causing Giles to open the embrace to encompass her as well. They hugged, forgetting for the moment the battle ahead of them, focusing on the reunion in the here and now.

Then Giles broke away and looked at Willow. "I'm very sorry about Tara," he remarked sadly.

"Er Giles," Buffy began, ready to tell him, but then he looked at her, and something about his eyes caused her own to question the sequence of events which had brought her here.

"This..... won't hold me ... forever," Willow remarked, causing everyone to look at her again, as their focus switched to her fall once more.

As they had yet to realise that Willow's descent had only just begun.

 


"Hey, you've decorated."

Angel turned to Xander as he, Spike and Tara entered the living room of 1902 Crawford Street behind him, rolling his eyes at the wisecrack, even though he detected the nervous tone underneath. Xander was calling up his humour defence to distract himself from worrying about Willow. Angel envied his ability to even say the words right now, despite the tone not entirely convincing.

Fred and Gunn looked up at their arrival, their serious expressions deepening as they noticed the absence of the slayer.

"Latest update from Wes," Gunn remarked as he rose from the sofa to greet them. "they're about an hour away."

"That's some good news at least," Angel acknowledged.

"Well, we knew you would bring the bad," Fred said lightly. "How's it going there?" She asked softly.

"Buffy and Willow were going one on one as she told us to get out," Angel informed them. "Anya still providing the protection spell, though I don't think it will hold Willow for much longer."

"Way to motivate the troops, deadboy," Xander remarked, but Angel ignored the nickname, his concern for Buffy overriding everything else right now. "I wish we knew what was going on in there," he uttered softly.

"Me too," Xander agreed, dropping his attempts at humour.

"You all right, luv?" Spike asked Tara, as he lingered with her on the threshold of the living area.

Tara nodded automatically, but everything in her stance conveyed the opposite. She felt torn, emotionally and physically. As if one part of her was where she was now; helping the second line of defence which the Mansion had now become; while the other was still at the front line, watching the woman she once knew transform into a stranger, far beyond her reach. Before they had been two quiet beings, content to wield power only when the slayer turned to them for help. Now they were beyond that power, though she had just begun to realise how much. But while Tara felt herself ascending, she knew Willow to be doing the opposite.

And she knew what lay in wait for her, when she hit the ground.

 


"I came as soon as I heard." Giles remarked. He and Buffy were in her old training room at the back of the Magic Shop, where, to the slayer's surprise, nothing had changed, except for the weapons cluttering the floor, having slipped from their places on the wall during the aftershocks of her and Willow's duel.

"The Council?" Buffy queried.

"The Council haven't a clue," Giles replied. "About much of anything, really. No, there's an extremely powerful coven in Devon. They sensed the rise of a dangerous magical force here in Sunnydale. A dark force, fuelled by grief."

"Willow," Buffy uttered in understanding.

"I'd so hoped it wasn't her," Giles confessed. "And then a seer in the coven told me about Tara. That's when the coven imbued me with their powers."

"And sent you here to bring Willow down," Buffy guessed.

"Buffy, what's happened here?" Giles asked her.

"God. I don't even know where to start," Buffy replied. "If Tara hadn't appeared when she did......"

"What?" Giles queried incredulously, causing her to start again.

"Tara appeared in the reception of the Hyperion, in a cloud of blue lights, suffering from a gunshot wound," Buffy explained to him, her mind focusing on that moment, as, unconsciously it began to put things together. "She was the first alarm to us that something big was going down. We closed the offices and set up at the Mansion."

"Well, Willow's clearly been abusing magic," Giles concluded. "Though I knew that before I even left. I should have realised that her spell to bring you back was not just a fluke."

"Xander told us that they were trying to take care of the Trio," Buffy continued. "Jonathan and that other one were arrested. But Warren escaped and shot Tara, causing Willow to demand her to be brought back."

"And the powers said no," Giles finished. "Which caused her to seek revenge." He stopped his pacing to join her rest placing against the pommel horse. "I should never have left," he sighed.

"No, Giles, you needed to go," Buffy assured him. "This wasn't your fault. If I hadn't given up on life none of this would have happened."

"What? No, Buffy," Giles clasped her hand as he shook his head at her. "If I'm not culpable in this, then neither are you. None of us knew that Dawn could also close the door which Glory was trying to use her to open, not even Dawn herself. We didn't know that your death would send Willow into the realms of dark magic in order to bring you back. My only consolation in this is that her first attempt succeeded."

"Mine too," Buffy replied. "It gave me the courage to break away. To make my own choices instead of sitting back and waiting for the next big evil to defeat. I didn't think that Willow would experience a flip side to the sacrifice she made for my life."

"None of us did," Giles agreed, accepting that he was not at fault.

"Especially her," Buffy added, her gaze drifting from her former Watcher to the door which led to the shop floor. "I don't think she had any idea what she was getting into."

 


Anya cleared up another pile of shop supplies wreckage into a box and carried past the floating Willow to the shop counter.

"Anya..." Willow's voice said suddenly in her head, causing her to turn round and face her for the first time since Giles and Buffy had left her their to talk.

"Willow," She acknowledged nervously.

"I need you, Anya," Willow's tones resonated in her head once more. "I need you to do something for me."

"I know what you're trying to do," Anya remarked with a confidence she didn't entirely feel. "And I hate to burst your bubble, but that mind control mojo doesn't work on vengeance demons, so why don't you just...."

"Stop talking and listen," Willow's voice commanded.

"Okay," Anya nodded.

"You need to free me," Willow ordered.

"No," Anya uttered, turning away from her, walking towards the back rooms.

"You don't want to call out to them," Willow commanded inside her head again, her tone almost hypnotic. "You want to take away this binding spell."

"I don't know how," Anya replied.

"I do. Do you want me to tell you?"

 


"What's gonna happen to her?" Buffy asked him.

Giles straightened up from his leaning position next to her before the pommel horse. "Well, the coven is working on a way to extract her powers without killing her. And should she survive, you ought to know, Buffy, that there's no guarantee she'll be as she was. Willow has killed a human being. How will she be able to live with herself?"

"I wouldn't worry about that," Willow answered, causing them to turn their concerned expressions on the door of the workout room.

The gazes met Anya's hovering body, seemingly unconscious, and deepened into alarm as they saw who was controlling her.

"Willow doesn't live here anymore," the witch announced, letting go of Anya, who fell to the floor.

Buffy looked at Giles then started forward, ready to resume the fight once more.

Willow lifted her hand and send a bolt of magic at her, flinging her back towards the wall opposite, the impact sending her to the ground.

Giles held out a hand. "Vincire!"

"Solutum." Willow uttered, dissolving the bind spell before it had even begun. "Fool me once..." She uttered, pausing to let Giles see the variety of knives and other arsenal from the training room hovering behind her.

"Willow..." he began, knowing it was useless, but prepared to try anyway.

"Shame on you," Willow taunted, sending the knives towards him.

Giles looked to his left and gestured to the dummy, which obligingly floated into the line of metal fire.

Willow angrily shoved the dummy aside, causing Giles to send a ball of magic at her. "Excudo!" He cried.

The witch flew against the brick wall, the strength of the ball carrying her through it into the shop once more. Her body slammed into one of the support pillars, sending it to the floor, along with everything else nearby it.

 


In 1902 Crawford Street, Tara flinched, as if somehow she had felt the impact that her lover's body was experiencing. Startled, she stilled herself, checking for the others in the living room before her.

None of them had noticed her reaction, too focused on trying to hack into the surveillance cameras that protected the street on which the Magic Shop stood from theft if not from the other demons of the hellmouth.

A noise seemed to call for her, causing her to turn, and she walked towards the other end of the room.

Someone was standing there, waiting for her. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness and defined who it was, Tara's unconsciousness caused the rest of her to realise what had really happened when she appeared to Buffy in the Hyperion only hours ago.

 


"That all you got, Jeeves?"

Giles gazed silently back at Willow from his stance by the workout room door. Between them the remains of the Magic Shop bore a striking resemblance to a bomb site, which they appeared only to be on the threshold of.

"'Cause, I could stand to go another ten rounds. Whereas you can barely stand."

"Your powers may be undeniably greater," he conceded. "But I can still hurt you if I have to."

"Boy, you just don't get it, do you? Nothing can hurt me now. This?" She indicated to a cut on her face. Waving her hand infront of it healed the slight physical wound instantly. "Is nothing. It's all ... nothing."

"I see. If you lose someone you love the other people in your life who care about you become meaningless," Giles remarked. "I wonder what Tara would say about that."

"You can ask her yourself," Willow remarked, sending a blast of magic towards him.

Buffy rushed forward then, sending Giles away as the blast caused what was left of the loft above to come crashing down. They landed in a heap on the floor, books raining down around them.

"You're always saving everyone," Willow remarked as her once best friend rose to her feet. "It's kinda pesky."

The Slayer watched her as she reached into the burning bookcase beside her and picked up a ball of fire. "You probably even think you're buying escape time for Jonathan and the other one. Well, I got a little secret for ya. I can kill them from anywhere I want. With this." She waved her hand and the ball of flame grew in size. "It'll find them. It'll bury them. Along with anyone helping those Dead Men Walking."

"Don't," Buffy cried helplessly.

Willow's tone turned mocking. "Unless somebody, somehow can get there in time to save them. Huh. Oh, well." She through the ball of fire into the ceiling above her. "Fly, my pretty, fly."

The ball disappeared into the sky above the Magic Shop.

Willow smiled at them. "See what I did there?"

Buffy looked towards Giles, who nodded. "Go." He agreed. She turned and ran towards the back exit.

"Good luck," Willow added, before returning to Giles. "Thought she'd never leave. Now I finally have you all to myself."

 


If Willow had stopped to watch her once best friend, she would have been surprised at her next move, for Buffy did not immediately go after the fire ball.

Instead, she slipped a hand into her pocket and fished out her cellphone, which to her surprised relief, was still working.

"Angel, it's me," She announced into it as soon as the line had connected. "How far away are Wes and Cor?"

"Under half an hour," Angel replied her. "How are you doing?" He asked.

"Middling," Buffy replied. "Giles arrived, with some magic from a coven in Devon, which he's using against Willow right now. But she's sent a ball of fire towards Jonathan and the other one. Can the furies protect against that?"

"When Wes and Cordelia get there, I think so," Angel assured her. "How's Anya?"

"Unconscious," Buffy replied, as she crouched next to the vengeance demon. "I'm gonna stay with her, keep an eye on things here. I don't believe Willow sent me away just to save the geeks."

"I don't either," Angel agreed. "I'll call you when they're safe. I love you."

"I love you too," Buffy returned before ending the call.

 


"You're such a hypocrite," Willow continued to Giles. "Waltzing in here with your borrowed magic. So you can tell me what? Magic's bad? Behave? Be a good girl?" she laughed. "Well, I don't think you're in any position to be telling me what to do." She looked up. "Do you?"

Giles was pinned against the ceiling, pained by her power. She gestured with one finger and he fell, hard, impacting the floor on his front.

"I used to think you had all the answers. That I had so much to learn from you," Willow's scornful voice continued.

"Willow..." Giles began, and again she gestured, sending him to the ceiling once more for his pains.

"You were jealous. Still are. Just couldn't bear that I was the one with power. That's why you ran away."

"Incurso!" Giles chanted and green magic flew out of his mouth towards his assailant.

"That's why you," Willow began then stopped as the magic hit her, making her stumble backwards, and Giles fall to the floor again. "That was rude! Now I forgot what I was saying."

"Perhaps you're not as strong as you think you are," Giles remarked, slowly rising to his knees. "You're expending way too much of your mystical energy to maintain your powers. At this rate you're going to ... burn out. And up."

"Blah blah blah," Willow mocked, annoyed.

"Willow, you need to stop," Giles continued.

"What I need..." Willow said, pausing to move herself forward and grab the Watcher. "Is a little pick-me-up."

She put her hand to his chest and began to drain away the borrowed power. Giles groaned in pain, until suddenly Willow staggered from the onslaught and let him go. "Whoa. Head rush." As he fell to the floor, she leant against the counter in pleasure at the rush. "Wow. Whoa. Who's your supplier? This is ... wow. It's incredible. I mean, I am so juiced ... Giles, it's like ... no ... mortal person has ... ever had ... this much power. Ever. It's like I, I'm connected to everything ... I can feel ... it feels like ... I ... I can feel..." she paused as she suddenly realised just how much she could feel. "Everyone. Oh. Oh my God. All the emotion. All the pain. No, it, it's too much. It's just too much."

"Willow," Giles began weakly. "It doesn't have to be ... like that. You ... you can stop it."

"Yeah. I, I can. I have to stop this." She stood up. "I'll make it go away."

"Willow..." Giles tried again.

"Oh, you poor bastards!" Willow uttered, as a swirl of magic began to encircle her body. "Your suffering has to end."

"No...." Giles cried weakly as the magic tornado she had created carried her away from him.

 


"Ow! Son of a bitch!"

"Buttwipe!"

Jonathan turned to his cohort. "I wasn't talking to you."

"Oh. Reflex," Andrew apologised.

Cordelia, who had been the one to forcefully push the two idiot boys into the reception of the Hyperion, rolled her eyes and turned to Wesley, who acknowledged her expression of annoyance with one of the same. "Call Angel, let them know we've arrived. After the furies set up the shielding we'll be in somewhat of a communications blackout."

Cordelia nodded as she walked round the reception desk and picked up the handset of the landline. "Groo?" She called out as she dialled the numbers.

Her boyfriend walked in from the courtyard, the furies behind him. "Princess, is everything okay?"

"Ask me again tomorrow," Cordelia replied as she waited for the line to connect. "Angel? It's me. We're here. What's happening?" She paused to listen for the reply, then abruptly slammed the receiver down, ending the call. "Get that shield up now!"

"What is it?" Wes asked her.

"Willow's sending a ball of fire towards us," Cordelia informed him grimly.

The furies began chanting.

Andrew turned to Jonathan. "You know, Mexico is looking a whole lot more safer now," he remarked.

"Can it," Cordelia ordered. "We don't have the luxury."

 


Buffy had heard the tornado heralding Willow's exit, and the noise was enough to wake Anya from her unconscious state as well. Together they rushed from the workout room, to discover Giles on the shop floor.

"Giles," Anya called out, as they kneeled beside him. "Giles!" She repeated, shaking him.

His eyes opened and acknowledged them. "Anya. Buffy."

"I'm so sorry," the former apologised. "Willow forced me to free her with her brain. Are you okay?"

"I can see..." Giles began.

"Oh. It's a ... miracle," Anya replied uncertainly.

"Willow," Giles clarified. "I can see her. She took the magic I had and ... now ... I know where she is. I can feel what ... Oh, God."

"Giles ... you have to rest," Buffy uttered.

"Silly girl. I'm dying," he replied.

"No you're not," Anya countered.

"It was ... It was the only way. I thought we ... there'd be a chance ... now ... I know where Willow is. She's going to finish it."

"Finish what?" Anya asked.

"The world," Giles informed them.

 


Back at the Mansion, Angel experienced no surprise at Cordelia's abrupt end to the telephone call, knowing time was of the essence.

"Same old Queen C," Xander remarked jokingly.

Then suddenly his last ex-girlfriend appeared before them.

"Holy frijole!" Anya uttered, surprised to be there.

"Anya!" Angel remarked, startled. "What are you doing here? Where's Buffy? Where's Giles?"

"Giles?" Xander queried.

"He's still at the magic shop," Anya replied.

"Giles is back? You didn't tell us that," Xander directed at Angel who merely rolled his eyes. "Did he stop Willow?" He asked Anya.

"No. And things just got a whole lot worse," the vengeance demon replied.

"How worse?" Gunn asked.

"End of the world worse. Willow's going to destroy it."

"She can do that?" Fred asked.

"She can and she will when she gets to where she's going," Anya replied.

"Where's she going?" Angel asked.

"Big old Satanic temple. Kingman's Bluff?"

"There's ... no temple on Kingman's Bluff," Xander remarked, confused.

"Proserpexa?" Angel guessed.

"Who's she?" Fred asked.

"Uh, way up there in the hierarchy of she-demons," Anya explained. "Her followers intended to use her effigy to destroy the world. They all died when the temple got swallowed up in the big earthquake of '32."

"So now seventy years later, Willow's going to make their dreams come true," Angel said grimly.

"She's going to drain the planet's life force, and funnel its energy through Proserpexa's effigy and, and burn the Earth to a cinder."

"Not if I can help it," Angel uttered.

"You can't," Anya revealed, causing them to stare at her in shock. "Something else Giles said. No magic or supernatural force can stop her."

"What does that mean?" Gunn asked.

"Don't know. He, he said, 'no chosen warrior can stop her,' and then he said a bunch of other stuff. He really wasn't too clear."

"Anya, what are you...." Angel trailed off, suddenly not wanting to know.

"I ... I should get back to him," Anya added.

"Is he okay?" Fred asked.

"Don't think he ... has a lot of time left. I'm sorry," She readied herself to go.

A hand clasped her wrist, causing her to turn and look.

"Let me," Tara replied.

Anya nodded, and together they disappeared in a cloud of white lights.

 


On Kingman's Bluff, a steep promontory of earth overlooking Sunnydale, a witch stood, watching Proserpexa's temple come forth from the earth which had once hid it's resting place.

"From the pit of forgotten shadows, awaken, sister of the dark, awaken," Willow commanded.

The steeple of the temple climbed higher and higher, as the ground of the bluff broke away to reveal the intricate gargoyles and carvings on the ancient building. A woman with a snake curled around her, the largest carving of all, stared lifelessly back at the witch who had summoned her temple forth.

Suddenly a voice seemed to echo with the witch's mind, making her pause as the words became audible.

"I'm not just gonna sit here while Willow incinerates what I'm chosen to protect," the slayer remarked, though a part of her refused to leave Giles' side.

"I have to stop her."

"Always the Slayer..." Willow remarked, and her words were heard by her once best friend. "Right to the last."

"Willow?" Buffy queried.

"And it is the last, you know? For all your fighting ... thinking you're saving the world... And in the end ... I'm the only one that can save it."

"By killing us?" Buffy countered.

"It's the only way to stop the pain," Willow informed her. "I can't take it anymore. But I know you, Buffy. You're a warrior. You won't go out without a fight. I don't really have time for one. But you should go out fighting."

"Willow, what are you....." Buffy trailed off, as the witch interrupted her. "It was me that took you out of the Earth. Well, now... the Earth wants you back."

The floor began to open below them, and Buffy clutched at Giles, until suddenly a cloud of white lights appeared and whisked them away.

 


They reappeared in the Mansion, making Angel and the others rise from their seats in surprise as the lights coalesced into their forms. As for the slayer and Anya, they could only watch, as Tara placed her hands on Giles' wounds, a halo of golden light emanating from her palms, healing him.

"What about the Magic Shop?" Buffy asked Tara as the last of wounds faded away.

"Whatever Willow cast for you there," Tara replied, "it will only last as long as she does. When the temple is activated, Proserpexa will take over."

"Giles?" Anya called out, still not quite believing the magic Tara had worked. "Giles! Don't die. Not yet, there-there are things I wanna tell you. Thanks a lot for coming. It was good of you to teleport all this way. Though in retrospect, it probably would have been better if you hadn't come and given Willow all that magic that made her like ten times more powerful. That would have been a plus."

Giles could not yet replied, still recovering under Tara's healing hands. Buffy turned from him to cast her gaze around the room. "Where's Xander?"

"Gone to save her," Angel replied.

 



"Proserpexa let the cleansing fires from the depths burn away the suffering souls and bring sweet death," Willow chanted.

Lightning crackled between her and the statue of the she-demon, while underneath them the ground shook from the spell.

Magic continued to flow from her, swirling the wind around them, creating a storm of gigantic proportions.

And then suddenly everything ceased, as Xander appeared infront of the statue.

"Hey, black-eyed girl. Whatcha doin'?" He asked her.

"Get out of here," Willow ordered.

"Ah, no. You're not the only one with powers, you know. You may be a hopped-up uber-witch, but ... this carpenter can drywall you into the next century."

"I'm not joking, Xander. Get out of my way. Now." She sent a blot of magic at him, lifting him off his feet and throwing him to the ground at the base of the statue.

 


"There..." Giles finally spoke, causing everyone at 1902 Crawford Street to gather more closely around him. "It's not over."

"Giles!" Anya cried in relief. "You're not dead!"

"No," he managed before being engulfed everyone. "However, I am still in some pain," he added, causing them back away.

"Oh... Well ... why aren't you dead?" Anya queried. "Why aren't I dead?" She added, wondering.

"Why aren't we all dead?" Gunn added.

"Uh, the threat's gone. Willow's been stopped," Giles replied.

"Oh. You mean she's......" Anya stopped, afraid to finish her sentence.

Giles shook his head as they helped him to sit up. "The magic she took from me, it did what I hoped it would do."

"Oh. You dosed her," Angel uttered, realising.

"Yes," Giles confirmed.

"You knew she'd going to take your powers all along," Buffy added.

"The gift I was given by the coven was the true essence of magic. Willow's magic came from a ... place of rage and power."

"And vengeance," Anya reminded him. "Don't forget vengeance."

"Oh. How could I? In any case, the magic she took from me tapped into ... the spark of humanity she had left. Helped her to feel again. Gave Xander the opportunity to ... reach her."

"Xander?" Anya queried, noticing his absence for first time.

"Yes. It was he who got to her in time. He saved us all."

The Scoobies and Angel Investigations smiled, before helping their Watcher to the near piece of soft furnishings.

Tara stepped away, her senses focused on her girl, her concern not quite as eased as the rest of them.

 


Xander, clutching his bruised ribbed chest, rose to his feet and stepped into the flow of magic once more, stopping it again.

"You can't stop this," Willow informed him.

"Yeah, I get that. It's just, where else am I gonna go? You've been my best friend my whole life. World gonna end ... where else would I want to be?"

Willow's tone changed to one of scorn. "Is this the master plan? You're going to stop me by telling me you love me?"

"Well, I was going to walk you off a cliff and hand you an anvil, but ... it seemed kinda cartoony," Xander replied.

Willow shook her head. "Still making jokes."

"I'm not joking. I know you're in pain. I can't imagine the pain you're in. And I know you're about to do something apocalyptically evil and stupid, and..... Hey. I still want to hang. You're Willow."

"Don't call me that," She growled at him.

"First day of kindergarten. You cried because you broke the yellow crayon, and you were too afraid to tell anyone. You've come pretty far, ending the world, not a terrific notion. But the thing is? Yeah. I love you. I loved crayon-breaky Willow and I love ... scary veiny Willow. So if I'm going out, it's here. If you wanna kill the world? Well, then start with me. I've earned that."

"You think I won't?" Willow countered.

"It doesn't matter. I'll still love you," Xander replied.

"Shut up," Willow commanded, gesturing with her hand. Xander's head jerked to the side, and three cuts appeared on his cheek, as he had been scratched by her.

"I love you," He uttered.

Willow gestured again, causing him to double over from the pain, but Xander was determined that nothing would stop him from saving her. "I ... love y...."

"Shut up!!" Willow cried and threw a blast of magic at him. The hit made him stagger, but he didn't fall down.

"I love you, Willow," Xander persisted, walking forward.

"Stop!" She cried, sending another magic blast, but one so under par that it barely touched her best friend.

"I love you," he repeated.

"Stop," Willow cried, as he came close enough for her to touch him. Despairingly she hit him with fists, hoping for something, she wasn't sure what.

Xander stood still, taking the blows, as Angel had done for Buffy, many months ago and not far from here.

Willow ceased her struggles and fell to her knees.

He fell with her, putting her arms around her as the tears became audible. "I love you," he uttered once more.

Slowly, as the sun began to cast it's usual brightness over Sunnydale once more, the magic receded from Willow, her veins retreating into her skin and her hair turning from black to it's usual red shade.

Xander continued to hold his friend, as she finally released her grief, letting his embrace heal her body and soul.

The End.
To be Continued In

Life Anew.