ImMortal part 18: Out of the Frying Pan

The limo jostled slightly as it maneuvered speedily along the sun drenched streets of Los Angeles. Willow and Xander worked to gain room, pushing the various bags of supplies they’d stolen to the farthest edges of the cabin. With childlike fascination, Anya took to exploring the amenities the extravagant transport had to offer. Illyria sat off to one side, looking inhumanly stiff and out of place. She stared unblinkingly across at Buffy, observing the Slayer as she fussed over the injured vampire hunched over at her feet.

“I’m fine, Buffy… just, just don’t.”

Growing increasingly irritated, Giles swatted Buffy’s probing hands away, snarling through clenched teeth as bolts of pain shot through him with every motion. Buffy retreated, watching uneasily as he settled as low as the seat formation would allow. When the pain finally eased, he crafted a reassuring grin.

“That went rather well,” he sighed.

“If by ‘rather’ you mean ‘extremely’ and by ‘well’ you mean ‘crazy’, yeah.” Xander shook his head as he kept a lookout for any possible pursuit cars. “Peachy getaway.”

“Hey, there’s a bar with miniature bottles of booze. Looks like we won’t need that…” Buffy interrupted Anya with an ungentle kick to the shin.

“Ouch!” Anya flashed an offended glare at the Slayer.

“Sorry, must have been a pothole,” Buffy suggested, offering an apologetic shrug. “You know, after the laugh riot that was getting outta there, I could use a little something to take the edge off. Anya, would you mind?” She gestured to the bag beside Anya, exchanging a meaningful look to clarify the request.

“Lord yes. I’d kill for single malt.” Giles watched hopefully as Anya fetched a bottle and passed it to Xander. When Xander reached out to hand it off to Giles, the Watcher swiped the bottle from his hand and tore off the label and cap, chugging down half the contents in sloppy gulps.

“No need to break out the violence G-man, you’re wish is our command,” Xander teased.

Giles wiped his mouth clean with his sleeve, clenching his eyes shut as another wave of pain washed over him.

“Let’s not rule it out just yet. Perhaps a slight touch of aggression might get it through that useless slab of meat on your shoulders to refrain from referring to me with that infuriating pet name.” He pinched at the bridge of his nose, rubbing out the insistent tension that had settle in, unaware of the gang sharing a concerned glance with his uncharacteristic remark.

“Um… okay. Sorry.” Xander shrank back into the seat and folded his arms, his face stern.

Eager to redirect the awkward moment, Buffy pointed out the back window. “Anyone coming?” she asked, craning her neck to view the passing city landscape.

“No one yet but the pessimist in me says I can’t believe it would be that easy,” Xander answered, crawling along the generous seat to get a better view as well as gain a bit more distance between him and the grumpy Watcher.

“You call that easy?” Willow squeaked.

“No one died so for all intents and purposes, it was a walk in the park,” Anya agreed, receiving a grateful smile from Xander.

“Anyone injured?” Buffy asked, briefly scanning the gang. “Willow, how you feeling?”

“Amazingly un-veiny, bordering on good-ish, even,” she shrugged. “The little taste test of magicks back there seemed to help. I don’t know if I should be worried or happy.”

“You fared quite well, Willow,” Giles mumbled. “Perhaps now you can get over this infantile fear of your powers.”

“Uh, yeah… Giles, you okay?” She asked then quickly added. “I mean, you took a lot of hits back there.”

He grunted in shifting to get more comfortable. As he sat upright, his hand slipped, sending him fumbling clumsily to the seat cushion between Buffy’s legs. Before he could pull away, she invited him to remain with a caress along his head. The moment the gentle glide of her fingers brushed his skin, the pain dulled.

“Feeling much like month old Swiss cheese at the moment, but I’ll live… in a manner of speaking.” He chuckled at the irony of his words, insensitive to Buffy’s sadness with the comment.

As the car cleared a shadow cast by a passing skyscraper, a beam of sunlight streamed through the window, searing Giles’ face to red within seconds. He jolted back, growling in pain.

“Bloody hell.” He shielded his face from the pattern of passing light and shadow. “I take it this car isn’t one from Angel’s fleet?”

“No. It’s on loan from a friend,” Buffy explained. “We need to cover the windows or cover you.”

She stripped off her second layer shirt and blanketed him with it. Xander quickly followed her example, donating his leather jacket to the cause as Anya added her wrap and Willow, her vest.

“Feeling better already.” Giles said, offering an unconvincing smile. Thin wisps of smoke continued to rise from him, thickening with every passing second.

“You look like my laundry hamper.” Xander’s jest couldn’t hide the concern in his eyes. “This isn’t working. We have to do something or Giles will be dead-man-dusting in no time.”

He started searching through the various cubbyholes within the limo.

“Why can’t this be like a survivalist’s limo; chocked full of goodies like thermal blankets and rations and…”

A strangers voice interrupted, announcing from over a speaker situated near the privacy glass separator, “Madam prefers a smoke free environment while traveling. Please extinguish any tobacco products or narcotic substances…”

Xander quickly broke off the speech with the press of a button. “It’s not that kind of smoke, pal. I know this is going to sound weird but our friend here has a severe allergy to the sun…”

“Oh, a vampire,” the driver responded. “Madam must have forgotten to pass along that information. There is a yellow switch on the panel to the right of the separator. It should provide you with adequate protection.”

Buffy flipped the switch and all the windows immediately fogged to dark. Giles’ face relaxed with the welcoming shade.

“Ah, that’s more like it.”

He tossed off the suffocating layers and climbed up to settle in beside Buffy, returning his attention to enjoying his bottle of scotch. Buffy began to examine his gunshot wounds only to have her hand directed away again. The rejection quickly turned her mood as she focused on the blue figure watching silently.

“Would anyone care to explain why my recently deceased sister is sitting across from me?” Buffy challenged, remaining as calm as she could while confused emotions welled within at the sight of the blue tainted girl observing her.

“Short or long version?” Xander asked.

“After the week I’ve had, I’ll take it short and fast, like removing a Band-Aid.”

“She’s not Dawn, she’s Illyria, a time shifting goddess who’s had much of her powers sucked from her and who seems to have taken a liking to Giles,” Anya explained quickly, looking to Xander for approval.

“That about sums it up,” he agreed regretfully.

“That’s not an entirely accurate account,” Giles countered. “ Illyria still holds many of Dawn’s memories. She can project moments, scenes…”

“It’s not Dawn, though,” Anya repeated.

“It’s complicated,” Giles snarled.

“No, it really isn’t. Dawn died so that Illyria could be reborn…”

“Anya!” Giles’ outburst startled everyone. Again, he closed his eyes as if restraining his temper, and he slumped back into the seat looking exhausted. After a second, he continued softly but with clenched teeth, “No one asked for your opinion, Anya. End of discussion, it’s making my head… it’s bothersome.”

“Looks like Illyria doesn’t discuss much of anything. At least not with anyone but you,” Buffy said snappishly though Giles seemed unaffected by her tone, more distracted with drinking his scotch.

Illyria observed the exchange with a faint smile, as if the entire drama was for her entertainment. “Words are pathetic; the last resort of the defenseless and weak. I favor action.”

“I kinda noticed. You fought well back there,” Buffy said reluctantly.

“Humans break all too easily.”

“Not all of them.”

“I’d welcome a worthy adversary. It would seem all I can encounter in this wretched realm are insects undeserving of my notice.”

“If we’re so undeserving, why are you hitching a ride with us?” Anya asked.

“I’ve no other place to go.”

“Well, that works out ‘cause neither do we,” Xander smiled and turned back around to keeping watch out the rear window.

After a long silence, Illyria’s gaze fell on Giles who seemed to be losing his battle to stay conscious. The bottle in his grip became loose, slowly sinking to his lap. His eyelids drooped, growing heavier with every passing second until finally, they closed. The tension in his pale face melted away as his head tipped aside, coming to rest peacefully on Buffy’s shoulder.

“Your Halfling requires a sacrifice.”

“What?” Xander whipped around from his lookout. “Sacrifice?”

“She means that Giles needs blood,” Buffy translated.

“Man, I didn’t even think to grab that. Sorry Buff.”

“It’s alright. We can improvise for now.” She retrieved a pocket knife from her jeans, unfolded the blade and before anyone could object, drew it shallowly along her wrist.

“Ugh… think I’ll just…” Xander’s face paled and he swallowed down the sickness he felt wash through him in witnessing the self-inflicted wound. He gestured toward the back window, “I’ll just keep watch for tails.”

“And I’ll keep a lookout for any cars pursuing us,” Anya agreed, repositioning to get a better view away from the scene.

Illyria noticed the missing thumb and index finger on the Slayer’s hand as she brought her arm up to Giles’ parched lips. Barely conscious, the vampire instinctively began to drink from her, his face morphing to reveal the demon. With his transformation, Willow’s expression grew disconcerted. She stopped herself from voicing it, not wanting to add to the already worrisome situation.

“I’ll scrounge up the first aid kit,” she offered and made her way to where she’d helped Xander stash the supplies.

“Does it hurt?” Illyria asked flatly.

“What… this? Not when I’m this tired.” Buffy shrugged, bringing up her other hand to support her effort. “Okay, maybe a little.”

“Not that superficial nursing wound, Slayer. The absent fingers your vampire won from you, are there phantom pains to remind you of what he’s taken, to remind you of his true nature?” Illyria asked coldly.

Buffy responded calmly, “Do you feel the phantom pain of the love Dawn had for us?”

The goddess’ gaze drifted out the window and with a bit of satisfaction, Buffy refocused her attention to feeding Giles.

“You fought… satisfactorily,” Illyria grudgingly divulged, her eyes avoiding a confrontation with the Slayer.

“Thank you.”

After a short time, Buffy felt Giles’ suckling wane and looked down to see him go limp against her. It was a disconcerting sight, to see Giles slip away into stillness only served to remind her of his condition.

The silence in the cabin seemed deafening as the witch returned with a wealth of supplies in her hand. She settled in across from Buffy, fished through the first aid kit and quickly began the all too familiar task of cleaning the Slayer’s wound.

“So where are we going?” Willow whispered as she tended to her friend.

“I don’t know,” Buffy answered as a yawn came over her. “And neither will they.”

“That’s it, Buffy’s finally lost it. One giant leap from the kiddy pool to the deep end. Way out there,” Cordelia paced back and forth before Angel’s desk. “Can’t say I’m surprised, psychologically speaking. She’s always been a few lilies short of a basket case.”

“I can’t believe she’s gone loopy,” Fred responded, pacing the opposite direction as Cordy, both wearing a path in the floor. “I mean, yeah… there is a whole lot of stress and all, but Buffy is the Chosen One. She couldn’t have survived this long without some super duper coping skills.”

“Well, it must be some zany variety of mass hysteria ‘cause Slayerlocks and her three bears skipped out of here, taking all the forbidden porridge with them.” Lorne sighed burdensomely and sunk into the couch.

“You mean five… um… bears, don’t you? Anya, Xander, Willow, Illyria and…”

“Well, Blue Bird isn’t so much a bear as a walking catastrophe waiting to happen, Fred-i-kins. And Buffy’s beloved British Biscuit’s about to blossom into the big bad wolf of Li’l Red’s nightmares, if you catch my drift.”

“What’d you mean ‘porridge’?” Angel’s arms folded tightly across his chest as he leaned back in his chair. “They took something?”

“That’s the icing on it, Angelcake’s. Archives just buzzed me with the bad news. Looks like our merry band of thieves withdrew some curious party favors left over from that shindig a while back. You remember the one with your little shish ka-Giles episode?”

“Get to the point, Lorne!” Angel growled.

“Besides the supplies they shoplifted from the warehouse, looks like they repossessed the mystically tainted liquor,” Lorne finished, more than a bit miffed at Angel’s callous tone.

“What? Why would they take that?”

“Seeing as how that particular dark-arts label is intended for less-than-favorable outcomes, I’m leaning towards behavior modification. We know the liquor leaves its consumer highly susceptible to suggestion, right? Next step is guesstimating why the gang wanted it.”

“Giles!” Fred paused her pacing. “To keep him from going all grrh, maybe?”

“You think they think they can keep him contained with some cursed booze?” Angel sighed.

“It’s as good a guess as any.” Lorne shrugged.

Growing increasingly frustrated in following the seemingly alien conversation around her, Cordy demanded, “Would someone please tell me what the hell is going on?”

Angel hammered his fists down onto his desk, making everyone flinch with the unexpected act. His angry expression lessened with notice of the tension wrought faces of his friends.

“Sorry… I’m… I’m sorry.” He stammered and then let out a frustrated sigh. “I didn’t mean to…”

“We’ll figure it out, Angel. We will. It’s what we do,” Cordy reassured him.

“It’s just… why aren’t we out there? I’m sitting here doing a great job at being useless while I should be out there. I’m waiting and I hate waiting. Wes, report, now!” He jumped to his feet and began to pace along the liberally windowed wall. Fred and Cordy quickly joined in, creating a strange sort of parade across the office space.

Wesley snapped closed his cell phone and shook his head in frustration. “Long story short, they got away.”

Angel stopped. “What do you mean ‘they got away’?”

“It would seem incredible luck on their part or astounding incompetence on ours, but the parking garage gate has inexplicable seized shut and refuses to budge. Not one of our eight onsite task forces managed to slip out after them before the gate fell.”

“Tell me we’re tracking them; satellite or radio or something.”

“GPS can’t seem to get a lock on them. The traffic signal cameras aren’t transmitting. Even the mystic’s locator spells are producing conflicting results. It’s like they vanished into thin air.”

“How is that possible?” Angel grumbled.

“ Illyria?” Fred suggested.

“I don’t believe so,” Wes shook his head. “We successfully extracted her time displacement capabilities with the device Knox left behind.”

“Willow, maybe?” Lorne suggested.

“Perhaps, though our mystics would be able to track such paranormal activities.”

“I need answers instead of more questions, Wes. How could they disappear?” Angel sighed.

“I honestly don’t know. But to pull the wool over the eyes of Wolfram and Hart’s inexhaustible resources, they must have had help; help that not only knows what they’re doing, but that does it remarkably well.”

“Look, Giles is going pitch black out there and Buffy is with him, and Willow and Xander and what’s-her-name.”

“Anya,” Fred suggested.

“No, the other one,” Angel responded tersely.

“ Illyria,” Cordelia answered, triggering another sigh from Angel.

“This is beyond bad, a pissed off goddess and a vampire with the knowledge of a Watcher.”

“Not just any Watcher… Giles,” Cordelia added. “What do you suppose he’s like all soullessed up and no place to go?”

“We’re not going to find out. I want them found.” Angel marched determinedly up to Wes.

“I understand that, Angel. We have the entire spectrum of Wolfram and Hart’s Intelligence forces working to…”

“That’s not good enough, Wes. Find them. Find them now! Whatever it takes, just do it!” Angel yelled and stormed out of his office, leaving his friends to exchange nervous glances.

“Raise the roof kiddies ‘cause the parties just getting started.” Lorne raised his drink, flashing an ‘I told you so’ look to his associates before downing the contents in one gulp.

The accommodations were quaint but cozy, far removed from any town and prying eyes. Nestled within the dense protection of the forest stood a rustic log cabin. It could comfortably house a party of six with its three small sized rooms all furnished with adjustable futons that could transform into couches by day. The small central living space could serve as an eating area or lounge. The wall located at the far end of the space held open air cupboards, a narrow countertop and a washing basin. And to top it off, there was a characteristic outhouse, something Buffy hadn’t seen since her Girl Scouts days. That was one thing she couldn’t claim to miss in regards to roughing it.

The limo driver aided them in unloading their stolen bounty, helping stack the supplies just within the door. Buffy was grateful Giles never fully awakened from his slumber while on the ride to the cabin. If it wasn’t for Illyria’s strength and overprotective fascination with him, she would have had a clumsy time getting him settled into their home away from home. Once those tasks were completed, the driver politely excused himself with some final words of thanks in being able to service such a heroic band of outcasts. Buffy forced a smile and dug deeply into her pockets, retrieving a wadded up twenty dollar bill to offer as a gratuity. It was the last of anything resembling money that she had. The kindly man refused and with an amused smile, bowed graciously in dismissing himself back to the vehicle. Buffy watched as he drove off down the unpaved road, kicking up dirt and stones with his hasty retreat. It was at that moment she took the first full breath she’d had since Giles’ extraction.

An hour passed as the gang acquainted themselves with their scarcely furnished yet livable quarters. It was evident that everyone, apart from Illyria, was still in a state of shock from the confrontation that had occurred just hours before. The absence of any real conversation was palpable as they worked. Buffy felt more than a hint of guilt in dragging them all into insanity once again. Though it felt like everything was unraveling around them, she sought comfort in keeping what little was left of her family together.

Even with the anxiety of what was to come, it was more than a small comfort to see her friends trudging on just like old times. Anya and Xander decided to share one of the rooms. The subtle gestures of intimate familiarity didn’t slip by the Slayer’s watchful eyes. She noticed their fingers lingering together in an accidental meeting while making up their bed and enjoyed their poignant stares and tender smiles. Perhaps their relationship could be salvaged in this, if nothing else.

Willow claimed the neighboring room, eager to sift through the many spells and prophecies contained within the extraordinary book she’d borrowed from Wesley’s private library. It seemed she was mystically rebounding with her newfound confidence in her capabilities. Buffy was thankful for that, knowing she would need her friends abilities soon enough.

Illyria made it perfectly clear she didn’t required rest and that such a necessity only demonstrated their pathetic failings. Xander was quick to thank her for her sacrifice as he and Anya stocked the pantry together. Shortly after, Willow joined in the effort and Buffy took her leave to see to Giles.

With the other arrangements made, the final room was left for Buffy to share with Giles. Her roommate lay sleeping atop the unmade bed; still as death and just as cold. Though there were no signs of life, she always felt something of a presence when with him, as if a ghost of what he used to be remained. Only now, she felt it was fading, as was his temper and kindness and all those things that made him what he was. He was changing just as her friend had said. It was like she could sense the emotional depreciation happening to him. She could certainly hear it in everything he said; see it with his impatient actions. If she didn’t act soon, she’d lose him forever. It was a loss she couldn’t bare again, not after all others she’d suffered through. She pushed the doubts from her mind, focusing on the objective. Giles must return, no matter the cost.

After a while, discrete voices could be heard over the quiet space of nature. Soft whispers revealed worries over what was happening and was going to happen as Buffy’s friends continued to unpack the provisions. She listened as she tucked Giles under the blankets, caressing him off into a deeper sleep.

The sun set beyond the wooded horizon and Buffy watched it, staring out into the dimming sky as the voices congregated in the living room space of the cabin. It was time to tell them. With a tender kiss to Giles’ forehead, she left the room, closing the door shut behind her. As she turned around, she saw the lantern lit faces of an eager audience awaiting her.

“How is he?” Xander asked quietly, his hand mindlessly slipping into Anya’s. They sat close together, allowing just enough space for Buffy to sit if she liked.

“He’s seriously wiped, sleeping it off. Not surprisingly, the day’s fun filled activities took a lot out of him,” Buffy explained as she took a few apprehensive steps forward. “It took a lot out of all of us.”

“Some more than others,” Xander mumbled.

“Yeah, I know. That’s what I need to talk to all of you about.”

“All of us, not so much. What’s with the Scooby member’s only meeting minus one member?” he asked.

“Where’s Giles? Shouldn’t he be here too?” Anya added.

Rather than answer the questions, Buffy crossed the room to take up a prettily wrapped package sitting among the plain supply boxes near the door. Anya’s eyes perked up with the appearance of the decorative parcel. Buffy couldn’t help but smile at the ex-demon’s reaction as she carefully set the box upon the small wooden table centered within the room.

“Anyone else curious why Illyria is here?” Xander asked. “No disrespect, Blue.”

“As if I would require respect from a lower being such as you,” Illyria responded dryly, standing stiff at a window, watching the proceedings with little interest.

“Must be for that winning attitude and outgoing sociability, I guess,” Xander grinned.

“She’s here because I need her, Xander,” Buffy answered and the blue tinted goddess glanced over with a spark of curiosity.

“Need her?” Willow repeated. “For what, exactly?”

“To exact bloody vengeance on those who held captive her demon mate,” Illyria said in expectation. “I too seek revenge on those who imprisoned me to this inferior dimension.”

“Not revenge, Illyria. It’s not about them, not anymore,” Buffy corrected.

“What is this about, then?” Anya asked, her eyes never leaving the box on the table. “And what’s in the decoratively wrapped package? It looks like a present. Is it someone’s birthday? Are we celebrating?”

“Yeah, kinda.” Buffy smiled. “If this works, we’ll all be in the mood to party.”

“If what works? What’s going on, Buffy?” Willow asked.

Buffy gestured to the box. “I think I’ll let it speak for itself. Open it.”

“This is for me?” She smiled in surprise.

“Actually, it’s for Giles.”

“Then shouldn’t he open it, if I remember how the ritual works correctly?” Anya asked. “And do we all get one?”

Willow lifted the lid and set it off beside her as she rifled through the box, investigating the contents. She removed one carefully bundled item and began to shed the layers of tissue paper protecting it. The witch’s smile quickly faded, her eyes going wide with recognition of the bowl-shaped artifact.

“Goddess no.”

“What is it?” Xander asked, concerned by Willow’s troubled reaction.

“That looks like an urn of Osiris,” Anya gasped. “I knew that creep on EBay was bluffing. Limited edition my ass!”

“What? You mean that doohickey we used to resurrect… um, the cup that Willow needed to … But I thought the one we used before was the last one and it got all smashed?” Xander stammered.

“It was the last *known* urn of Osiris? Doesn’t mean there aren’t more out there that were unknown,” Anya shrugged. “Until now, that is.”

“I hope it’s for real. It’s a gift from a sort-of admirer. Not like they supply certificates of authenticity with these things or anything? They don’t, do they?” Buffy looked to Willow for a response.

“Um… it… it looks like the real thing but Buffy, this… this is beyond dangerous.” Willow shook her head.

“I know, Wil.”

“No, I really don’t think you do,” She contested. “The magicks that I used to bring you back were primal and dark and… and unstable.”

“But you can do it, right?”

“It’s not a matter of ‘can’, it’s a matter of ‘should’. This is…”

“Dangerous, I know.” The frustrated look from Willow warned her of the coming argument. “I mean… fine, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Giles died a mystical death and it might…”

“He was turned by a vampire. Since when is that considered a mystical death?” Anya challenged.

“It’s not but someone told me there’s a loophole in the mystical death deal.” Buffy explained. “Giles’ inferno amulet thingie qualified him for the resurrection spell. It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?”

Willow’s refusal was plain on her face even before she spoke. “We can’t possibly know this will work. It could cause a rift in our dimension, open portals to hell dimensions and unleash unspeakable horrors…”

“I don’t care,” Buffy concluded. “We have to try.”

“What are you saying? You should care. It’s your job to care.”

“I need him, Willow! I need him more than ever.”

Buffy’s outburst startled even her as she quickly covered her mouth, glancing over to see if there was any sound or movement coming from the room where she’d left Giles sleeping. When there was no sign of movement, she continued on in a stern whisper.

“If that’s not enough for you, if you need a reason, another unselfish Buffy reason? Fine… how about this? The sick, sad truth of the matter is when we did what we did back in Sunnydale… when you used the Scythe to activate the Potentials it severed the Slayer line forever. That was it, no more heroes waiting in the wings. We used up all the Chosen One juice with that Hail Mary play and once this generation of Slayers dies out, the line dies with it.” She paused to take in the looks of dismay on her friends faces. “We did that and we’re responsible.”

“We can’t know that for sure,” Willow gasped.

“We can’t know anything for sure anymore. All I can do is feel our way through and I feel it, Willow. Somewhere way down deep inside I just know that what we did was… it was…”

“Necessary! It had to be done, Buffy. We spared hell on Earth,” Willow insisted. “We did what we had to do. It was…”

“It was impulsive. It was risky. And most of all, it was our only hope.” Buffy’s hand came to rest on her abdomen. “I’ve been told there’s hope in this, too. Hope to renew what we ended and it starts with this child.”

Xander swallowed hard to clear his throat. “This is… it’s all too much, Buffy. Where did you get all this from?” He asked with a rasping voice, overwhelmed by the news.

“I have a source.”

He chuckled, unconvinced. “Well it sure as hell better be a reliable one because if this is…”

“Reliable? Like Angel and Wolfram and Hart or the Council of Watchers? I mean, come on… what’s reliable? How many times have we blindly listened to interpretations of cryptic prophecies? It’s an option, Xander. It’s at least something in a world full of nothings and I have to try.”

“Buffy, I get that. We all do,” Willow reassured her. “But even if what you say is true, I can’t help but wonder what part Giles has in this?”

Buffy took in a deep breath as she peeked back at the closed door to her room. She let out a weighty sigh as she faced her friends. “We’re losing him. I know you all see it, even though you don’t want to and it’s getting worse… *he’s* getting worse. It’s something else I was told. The curse, Angel’s curse... it was never meant for anyone but Angel. Giles is losing his soul, possibly forever, and I can’t let that happen. *We* can’t let that happen. I need him, Willow. I love him.”

“We all love him, Buffy. But you have to know that there are no absolutes in this. We have no idea what could happen in trying this spell. Giles was totally right when he said I got lucky with you. He was right when he said…” Willow paused and her face paled with dawning realization. “He doesn’t know any of this, does he?”

“No, and I’m not going to tell him.”

“He deserves to know.”

“Yes, he does. But he can’t because he’d never go along with it.”

“He’d definitely be all objecty to the magicks…”

“No, not the magicks,” Buffy said softly.

“There’s a catch, isn’t there?” Anya asked. “There’s always a catch.”

“For the spell to work, he has to lose his soul.”

“What?” All three said in unison.

“Isn’t that what we’re trying to prevent?” Willow said quickly.

“It’s like this, Angel’s curse is failing. If we let things run there course as they are now, Giles’ soul will be gone forever, irretrievable. But if we can remove his soul before that happens, we can save what’s left, do the spell and bingo, human Giles with a human soul.”

“This doesn’t make sense,” Anya sighed.

“It makes sense, it’s just crazy,” Xander concluded. “So you just do this without telling Giles, without giving him a choice.”

“Pretty much.”

“And us? Do we get a say here or are we just your prawns?”

“Pawns, Xander,” Anya corrected.

“Pawns?” Xander rephrased.

“When I found out Giles was turned, I was intent on dusting him. I had it set in my mind, ready to *kill* him because that was what Slayers are supposed to do, kill vampires. You guys went against my wishes, not giving me a choice in the matter, and gave him back his soul. It’s what you decided friends should do and I love you for it. I always will. Giles would never approve of this and as a Slayer, neither should I. But I’m not here as a Slayer. I know how these things can blow up in your face. I can’t deny the danger. So I’m here as woman who loves Giles and is willing to risk everything to try and bring him back. And I’m here as a friend begging her friends to understand the risk and to do it anyway.”

“And if he loses his soul and the spell is a bust?” Xander asked soberly.

Buffy’s eyes filled with tears as her words strained with emotion. “Then I’ll be the Slayer I am and I’ll drive a stake through his heart.”

It didn’t take long for Willow and Xander to exchange their own teary-eyed glances as they moved to console the distraught Slayer. Already suspecting the verdict, Anya began to sort through the rest of the contents of the decorative box. Sure enough, Willow gave a nod, prompting a nervous smile from Xander.

“Perfect happiness,” he sighed, pulling Buffy into his burly arms. “Besides the obvious, what’s the plan?”

part 19...