TITLE: The Knowing
AUTHOR: Claudine
EMAIL: claudine423@yahoo.com
PAIRING: W/G, W/Ethan, there may be others but it hasn't occurred to me, yet
Rating: PG
FEEDBACK: Sure! - always looking for ways to make my stories better.
NOTES: Future-fic. New character. This story assumes that a romantic relationship took place between Giles and Willow after the gang headed to Cleveland. But the rest...I'm not sure of. We will all fill in the blanks as we go along.
DISCLAIMER: Permission to use these characters relating to BtVS & AtS has not been given. Joss, Twentieth Century Fox, UPN, WB & Mutant Enemy own TM and copyrighted them. Serena Michaels is mine, though...all mine...and you can't use her...This is purely for fun, and no copyright infringement is intended. You know the drill...

Part One

"Rupert Giles?"


"I'm Serena Michaels. Come with me, please." She stepped around a large patch of muddy ground as she led him deeper into the woods.

Giles followed closely behind the woman who looked and sounded like she was in charge.

"Watch your step here," she held up a piece of yellow 'caution' tape for him to step under.

"There's a little blood spatter off to the side there - please be careful not to disturb the evidence."

He had never been to an actual 'crime scene' where a full-fledged police investigation was going on. Though he had seen his share of dismembered bodies, both human and supernatural, there was something about this experience that turned his stomach. Maybe it was just the feeling in the air, the eeriness of it all, but he couldn't dismiss it.

"Been in upstate New York long?" She was nonchalant about everything, as though stepping over blood stained drop cloths was the most natural thing in the world.

"Not very." Giles looked around for any clues that might lead him to an explanation he could give her. So far it look like your average run-of-the-mill vampire attack.

“You bought the Hightower Retreat in the Catskills, right? About half an hour from here?”

“Yes.” He was trying to keep up with her.

“My parents used to take me and my sister there when we were kids. Every summer. We loved it. But after the owners were found murdered twenty five years ago…well, nobody wanted to set foot on the property again. It was a shame – 5000 acres of land...rumor has it the place is full of ghosts and vampires and things that go bump in the night.” She turned and looked over her shoulder at him. “If you believe in that sort of thing.”

“Yes,” Giles offered her nothing more.

She sensed she was beginning to annoy him with her idle chatter. “Must have cost you a fortune. You fixing up the place to re-open it? I'd love to see it again.”

“No, it's sort of…a workspace for me.” He followed close behind, mimicking her footsteps around little flags and people taking pictures of things he couldn't even see.

“126 rooms, two tennis courts, three Olympic sized swimming pools, one golf course, hiking trails, a baseball diamond, riding stables, three kitchens, two ballrooms, and a 300-seat movie theater? You must like your privacy.”

Of course it sounded ridiculous to him. But even though she had called him in on this investigation he sensed that she honestly didn't believe in vampires and demons. And he didn't want to convince her. He had started living his life by allowing the innocent people in the world to remain innocent. Once a person knew the truth….they could never turn it off. The knowing never stopped.

"I have a sort of...extended family with me. We all work together." He neglected to mention that his family included 2 vampire slayers, several demons, a few ex-demons, two vampires with souls, a mortal or two, a guy named Wesley who he couldn't exactly fit into any of those categories, and an occasional visit from the ghost of a lawyer that nobody but Wesley and one of the vampires was happy to see.

"The guys up at precinct think I'm crazy for calling you." She kept walking, leading Giles further ahead, deeper into the woods, further into the crime scene.

"Oh?" He wasn't surprised.

"Yeah," she stopped and turned to him. "Actually, they think you're crazy. Some kinda ghost buster or something." She noticed his lack of surprise. "Boys in blue aren't exactly into supernatural disturbances. They like things they can shoot and kill, makes it easier for them to sleep at night."

"I understand." He removed his glasses when the lenses misted up from the rain that had just started to fall around them.

She smiled at him, but it was a smile full of pity. Though she had never met him before she knew a lot about Giles. News travels fast and he was a new player in town. Men like him aren't exactly a dime a dozen. When someone shows up in the vicinity who has a history steeped in the occult, people tend to keep an eye on him. It could have gone either way for Serena at this point – expert testimony or suspect. She kept her mind open to either possibility.

She reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out a dry handkerchief and handed it to him before she turned and walked a few more feet to a blood-soaked sheet that was covering, what looked like, a human body. "To be honest I don't know what to believe," she said. "I'd like to say that things are black and white, but…I've seen too much I can't explain. Cops always like to have answers, though, even if they make them up just to pacify themselves. Not me. I want to know what's been doing this to people.”

“There are others?” He couldn't believe he hadn't heard about a rash of murders like this.

“Four including the victim we found tonight. All within the past month. All in this five-mile stretch of land.” She was comfortable when she spoke, as if she had every aspect of the murders burned into her brain.

“I'll help if I can.” He figured he would look at the body and tell her it was a vampire attack and she would either choose to believe him or not.

“The victim is 29 year old Willow Rayne. Her wallet and purse were found half a mile north of here along with some herbs and oils. Looks like she was a practicing witch, not uncommon these days. She was found about three hours ago by a bunch of kids who were up here partying, though it looks like she's been dead for quite some time." Serena bent down and touched the edge of the sheet as if she were going to pull it off of the body, but she stopped when she caught Rupert's expression. She stood up and went to him to apologize for her abruptness. "I'm sorry. I forget, sometimes, that not everyone is used to seeing what I see on a daily basis. Do you need a minute?"

"Did you say Willow... Rayne ?" It took every ounce of his breath to force those words out of his mouth. He was numb. The thought was absurd and yet, somehow, he knew that it was going to be true.

"Yes. Do you know her?"

The color had drained from his face, his bottom lip now quivering as the rain intensified.

"I desperately hope not." He took a deep breath as visions of Willow Rosenberg swirled around his mind, from the day she walked into the library at Sunnydale High School, to the day she packed her bags and left them in Cleveland without so much as a note. Truthfully, it was Giles she was leaving, not the others. And he hated himself for it. "Would you mind if I..." He nodded toward the body.

She understood. "Go ahead. Whenever you're ready. Although, I have to caution you, this is an investigation and the rainfall isn't helping. We have to finish gathering all the evidence before it's all washed away. Someone might come and move you along if you take too much time. I'll keep them away as long as I can." She was kind when she said this, as kind as anyone could be in this situation.

"I understand. I just need a moment." It never occurred to him that taking the time to wonder 'what if' was doing more damage to him than the actuality of the situation in front of him. Had Willow married Ethan Rayne? And was this her body in a bloodied mass at his feet? Had she really abandoned her responsibilities and her friendships for a life with Ethan? And did it get her killed? If he had just lifted the sheet he may have seen someone he didn't recognize and he would have worried for nothing. But he knew stark reality. And he knew irony. And he knew that things never went well in his world. Chances are if he cared about someone...they met with a brutal end before their time.

Serena took a few steps back and pulled out her cell phone. She allowed him as much privacy as she could but she could not leave him alone with the body.

Giles bent down on one knee and tore off the bloody sheet.


Part Two

“It's my fault…I'm sorry. When you said you thought you knew her I should have…” Serena was almost at a loss. She felt bad that she asked him to come down to the crime scene for his expertise and ended up showing him the murdered remains of his friend. What were the odds?

Giles cut her off, “No, it's not anybody's fault. I just…” He stood up and took a deep breath which only made him more nauseous. He spit on the ground and wiped his mouth with the handkerchief she had given him moments before.

She handed him a bottle of water. Though she had already drunk from it she figured he wouldn't be too finicky at this point.

He took the bottle and rinsed his mouth a few times, spitting the bile he had vomited out onto the ground beside him. “I'm sorry, I didn't expect…”

“It's ok,” she said. She had seen lots of people lose their stomachs at a crime scene. It was bloody, gory, messy, and, no matter how gross the movies make it look, they can't capture the stench in the air around a murder like this. “I don't mean to press you, but...do you have any idea what might have happened here? There doesn't seem to a drop of blood left in her body. This sheet is soaked with blood because she was covered with it – but we don't think it's hers. It's crazy, but it looks like this blood was thrown on her intentionally. Like she was... marked or something. We're not even sure that the blood we found back there was hers - from the patters on the trees and the ground we've determined that it might be where she was doused...or marked. It's definitely related to this incident, but forensics won't be able to tell us until at least tomorrow if it's hers...or even if it's human. I've never seen a slaying like this. My guess is a ritual sacrifice. Maybe her coven or whatever you call it offered her up in exchange for…who knows what. I don't have to tell you that these people operate outside the law because they think they are untouchable. But what could someone have done to her that would have drained her of every last drop? If you could supply us with a list of local...”

“It wasn't human,” he interrupted.

“Excuse me?”

“You asked for an explanation, are you prepared to accept the one I'm about to give you? Because it isn't logical and you won't find a mug shot in any database you search that will match the thing that did this.” His eyes drifted toward the body once more.

“Mr. Giles I called you because of your knowledge of the occult. It's no secret that you are an expert on many things, witchcraft being one of them.” She wanted to be kind to him considering what she had already put him through, but his demeanor changed so quickly after he had seen Willow's lifeless form.

“Witchcraft, the occult, ritual sacrifice, vampires, even werewolves, Ms. Michaels, all of it is real…as real as I am. Mythology is a word made up by man to alleviate constant warfare. Things that you've been told were fairy tales and ghost stories are most likely rooted in truth. If people knew the dank reality of this world you'd have fortresses with reinforced walls and motes…magical barriers surrounding government offices, capital punishment would consist of holy water and exorcisms to go along with the beheadings….and wizards and witches would replace your high-ranking officials. Actually, that last point is probably already true, though it's not exactly common knowledge.” His temper grew with each word. Something had done this to Willow. His Willow. He seemed to forget the fact that she hadn't been his Willow for quite some time. In fact, it seems as though she was Ethan's Willow, as unthinkable as that was. He hadn't seen her in so many years, but Giles knew that Willow would never have gone to Ethan on her own let alone married him. Ethan must have forced her. And there wasn't a question in Rupert Giles' mind that this murder had Ethan Rayne written all over it.


Part Three

"And you believe her husband has something to do with this? The spouse is always a prime suspect, but at this point all we can do is bring him in for questioning. If you have something substantial please let me know so I can go to a judge for an arrest warrant." Serena was taking notes in a little black, leather-bound notebook. She had let him prattle on about ghosts and goblins while trying to ignore the fact that he truly believed that it was all real. The idea of ‘ghosts' might have been something she was able to accept, but vampires? A grown man just stood in front of her and told her that vampires were real. Although he had an air of reliability about him, she chose not to believe him. As odd as he was, though, he still had something to contribute to her investigation. She just wasn't sure what it was yet.

"Ethan Rayne has everything to do with this. There is no question in my mind. He…he…worships Chaos." It never occurred to him that those words wouldn't mean anything to her.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand, I..."

Again he cut her off. "Chaos...he worships demons...haven't you been listening to me…he looks harmless, yes, he's a simpering pillock on the outside, but he is capable of devising evil plans that your mortal mind cannot begin to fathom.” He took a breath and shook his head in disbelief, “Never mind.” He changed gears quickly. “Their address...where do they live?" Giles never lost his composure like this. Seeing Willow's body like that did something to him. It triggered the anger he had buried when she left him so many years before with so many unresolved issues. He loved her. He told her often. But the power she harnessed was stronger than both of them and when Willow crossed over to the dark side one time too many, Giles tried to control her. She was too far gone to let him help. She had packed her bags and left in the middle of the night leaving Buffy and the others at a loss and Giles with a broken heart for the last time in his life.

"I'm sorry but that information is private. Even in a situation like this I'm not..." She was torn. No matter how much she kept from him she knew that Giles was going to get it out of her - one way or another.

"Just tell me where. If you don't tell me I have other ways of finding out. And I assure you that if I have to make a phone call then by the time your crew gets there mine will have already been there and gone. And my people don't care about evidence and forensics. We fight those things that your boys in blue are afraid to admit exist...and we gather our own information, information you couldn't possibly process by any stretch of the imagination. And that, Ms. Michaels, that information leads us to the people and the things, yes things, that do this to human beings…to innocent people…to beautiful, powerful people like Willow. Just tell me where they live so I can stop this from happening to someone else." Giles was breathing heavy. If it hadn't been raining Serena was sure there would have been fire coming out of his nostrils. Part of it was anger, but most of it was sorrow that he refused to show more of. “Every second wasted here means another life,” he said.

The rain fell faster, now, and played like a drum on his head.

Serena wanted to believe him. She wanted to know what was doing this, why four people had been murdered like this, but she didn't know enough about this man to trust him. Her eyes looked directly into his and she said, "I'm sorry but this is not how we do things...even if I wanted to believe you, there are others that need convincing, and they won't be as open-minded with you as I am trying to be."

Giles knew that it meant her job if she helped him and he couldn't blame her for being protective of a suspect. He knew that she could not fathom the sickness that lurked in Ethan Rayne's mind. “I know that you don't believe what I've told you, but…this girl is dead, and there were...how many…three others? I promise you there will be more.”

“Is that a confession Mr. Giles?” She wished she hadn't said it even as the words poured out. Serena saw the sadness in his eyes and shook off the attitude for a bit of compassion. "We sent a car for Ethan Rayne before you even got here. I can bring you to the station and you can watch while I question him...I'll convince my superiors somehow." She knew that even allowing him to watch was going to be a stretch, but she felt that he would be helpful.

"They won't find him," Giles sounded defeated. The anger had worn off and the numbness was setting in again as the rain poured down on them like a waterfall. "He has powers you can't even imagine. If he hasn't killed your men already, I've no doubt he will - if they can even catch up to him. Do yourself a favor and call your men off, save their lives, Ms. Michaels. You aren't prepared to deal with someone like Ethan Rayne." He stepped away from her and bent down to Willow's body. He mumbled something in Latin that Serena didn't understand and a warm yellow glow surrounded the body on the ground. "Requiescat in pace, love. I'm sorry... for everything ." The yellow light grew brighter, the heat intensifying around Willow, now, as her body lit up and shone so bright that Serena had to look away. When she looked back Willow's body had turned into thousands of sparkling diamonds like an impressionist painting covered with dew drops. The rain stopped and a wind blew in and swept Willow away leaving Giles leaning over a muddy puddle of nothingness.

"What was that?" She drew her gun instinctively and pointed it directly at his chest. Serena looked around to see if any of the other officers in the area saw what had just happened. "Where…where is the body? That light...how did you do that? What… what's….” she couldn't finish her sentence because her heart was pounding so fast.

He stood slowly and just looked at her, his hair soaking wet, his eyes empty and expressionless, his voice full of irony yet almost breathless and spoke the word " Magic."


Part Four

Serena blinked once before she was thrown to the ground by the force of something unseen. A lightening bolt. Or several. When she righted herself Rupert Giles was gone, the body was gone and she had no explanations to give her superiors.

“Michaels? You over here?” A voice called out to her.

“Yeah, Chursky…I'm here…I'm ok…” She stood up but her feet were sinking into the mud. The rain had started falling again, this time with a vengeance. “What the hell?” She asked herself.

“Hey…you ok?” Detective Mike Chursky grabbed onto her. “What the hell happened here? Where's the body?” He led her away to a more stable piece of ground, though the whole area, now, was smoldering as if the torrential downfall had just put out a forest fire.

“Lightening. It split that tree in half over there…I think it…it…must have hit the body.”

She knew it sounded absurd but it was her only out. What was she going to tell them? That Giles had blessed the body and made sure it would rest in peace and then she watched as it blew away like dust in the wind before her eyes?

Thunder clapped overhead as another bolt of lightening hit the ground beside them.

“We gotta go. Something is not right here...this lightening shouldn't be hitting here like this.” Mike took her by the arm and pulled her back toward the path that led to the road.

“But…Mr….he….” Serena didn't see what happened to Giles. She figured he could take care of himself given the show he had just put on for her, but she had to account for him.

“Your expert? He's gone…walked out of here about three minutes ago.” He threw his arm around her and covered her with the poncho he was wearing. “You sure you're ok?”

She thought for a moment before she said, “I'm not sure.”


“Yes...I know what has to be done, just get back here,” Buffy said and hung up the phone. The Slayer took a deep breath while her blood turned ice cold and sent a shiver down her spine.

“What? What's wrong?” Xander happened to be walking by when he heard Buffy's voice. By the sound of things, something was wrong.

They were in the largest room of the main part of the Hightower Retreat. It was a ballroom that they had set up as their base of operations. It was full of computers, communication devices and a teleporting chamber that had taken Wesley five years to perfect. They could go anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye with the chamber. Inter-dimensional teleporting was still elusive, though. Wesley was working on it, but it just didn't seem to be happening as quickly as he would have liked. They always had portals to fall back on in a pinch and with Amy's power and Illyria's strength - opening a portal wasn't as difficult as it used to be.

“It's Willow. She's…” She couldn't say it. Buffy was in fight-mode. Loss of a loved-one fight mode which meant equal parts numbness and bitterness. Most of all she was ready to kill Ethan just as soon as she could grasp the concept of him and Willow being married.

“What?” Xander felt his knees give out. He knew just by looking at Buffy that it was bad.

“I'll explain everything but first we need everyone here.” Buffy walked over to a large mirror and looked directly into it. A warm blue light scanned her body from head to toe and projected her image to every room of the house that was wired with a hologram receiver. “Guys...come downstairs, now. Giles is on his way back from that crime scene he was called to. The body was…” Buffy choked back a few tears before she could say the words, “Willow's dead.”

Within seconds everyone was by her side – Dawn, Wesley, Spike, Charles Gunn, Amy Madison and Faith. Buffy hadn't called for Angel – he was in Morocco in negotiations to avert another apocalypse. She didn't want to bring him home unless they absolutely needed him. Though they had all joined forces and were working together, Angel still spent a lot of time working on things alone. The teleport machine made it easy for him to check in – any time from any place. It seemed to work out better that way. For him. For Spike. But mostly – it worked for Buffy.

“Where's Illyria?” Buffy took a quick attendance and realized they were one short.

“Still in the turret in the far north corner,” Wesley said. “She's counting the blades of grass on the property," he thought for a second and added, "all five-thousand acres." As usual an awkward silence filled the room. He looked around and added, humbly “She hasn't come down since Tuesday.”

”I'll fill you in but then you have to get her. We need her for this, Wes,” Buffy said.

“Willow's…dead?” Xander just couldn't grasp the idea. “I…oh, man.” He leaned against a sofa for some support. Though they hadn't spoken in years Xander and Willow always shared a bond that went beyond anything the others could ever understand. They had a history. A yellow-crayon-breaking kindergarten-dating kind of history. No matter how well everyone knew her, Xander had known her the longest and this news turned his insides first to ice and then to steel.

“I know. I want to grieve, too but there's no time for that,” Buffy said. In fact there seemed to be less and less time for grief in her life as the years went by. She was getting angrier with age instead of softening as a person was supposed to. While Spike and Angel kept their boyish good looks, Buffy noticed herself catching up with them and wondered when the day would come when she would look into a mirror and know that she had passed them. Would it be a blessing? She knew that Heaven was out there, yes, because she had been there but Willow had torn her out of eternal serenity. Would Buffy be allowed to go back? She often wondered…and the possibilities frightened her. What if you only get one shot? Here she was ready to avenge Willow's death when down inside she had always resented the witch for tearing her out of perpetual bliss. But that was the life of a Slayer – duty first, self last.

“What's the plan? Do we know what did it?” Faith asked.

"Or who," Dawn added. More often than not as the years went on the group found themselves battling humans rather than fighting demons. It was a harsh reality. One they could never accept. A battle they could never truly win. Laws and morals still drove them so they could never kill a human. The best they could do was destroy the things their enemies utilized to do harm and try to make them see the light. That's what they had done with Amy. She took one step too far and the gang ended up in a knock-down-drag-out fight with her. Willow had been the one who believed in Amy's rehabilitation the most. She knew Amy was strong and somehow convinced her that it was better to fight for the side of the good. How ironic.

“Ethan Rayne,” a voice interrupted from the doorway.

As if on cue every set of eyes in the room darted to the door to focus on Giles standing before them, soaking wet with Willow's lifeless body in his arms.


Part Five

"The grass is angry. Six-hundred thousand four hundred-fifty-two blades of grass just beyond the front door choked on human blood." Illyria stood at the window in the tower looking out onto the rolling green while the rain continued to pour down. "The rain could fall another hundred years but the grass will never be clean." They stood in the dark, flashes of lightening illuminating the space around them every once in a while. She had night vision like a cat so the darkness didn't bother her .

It was like a scene from a scary movie. ‘Come to think of it,' Wesley thought to himself, ‘Every moment with Illyria is like a scene from a scary movie.'

"Yes," Wesley agreed softly, "The previous owners were murdered. Their bodies were found outside just as you described." Wesley still walked on eggshells around her even after all the years they'd been together. She had never left his side. Though she was no substitution for Fred, Wesley still felt a responsibility for her. Once a Watcher always a Watcher.

She brought him back to life after Vail had killed him. At first she had given up and gone to the alley as planned to fight beside Angel and Gunn. But while they were fighting Illyria came across a powerful sorceress from another dimension. She forced her to repair the damage that had been done to Charles and then brought her back to Wesley's body. The sorceress, using her own power and strength she had drawn from Illyria, brought him back to life. Illyria was bound to him, not just by Fred's memories that lingered inside of her, but now because of her own bond with him.

"No. It was another. A boy." She was as still as a statue, her blue eyes empty as she cocked her head to the side as if listening to a distant voice on the wind. "At the mercy of a vampire," she added and then focused on something that Wesley couldn't see. “He begged for his life. And they laughed. And then they slaughtered him and drank as much of his blood that they could. The rest of it poured out like hot wax onto the earth.”

"There was a cadre of vampires here before we moved in. Giles and I..." he searched for the right word, "...removed them." He stepped closer, cautious of his movements around her.

"You murdered them," she stated.

"They didn't have souls. We couldn't have killed them because they were already dead."

He stepped even closer, still careful not to startle her.

"Like the witch's shell downstairs in the dancing room?" Illyria met his eyes. “She is soulless.”

Wesley was not surprised, he knew how well attuned she was to the world around her.

"Yes," he said softly, “She is soulless but it's not the same. Will you come downstairs with me? We need your help."

"You want her brought back," Illyria said, "Like I brought you back."

"No," he said. Though he hadn't been dead long, Wesley always resented Illyria for bringing him back to life. Back to earth. Back to live in the hell that the world was turning into before their eyes. There were no white lights when he left this plane, no cherubs, no flashes of his life gone by, but for those few hours that he was gone...he knew there was something better. And he was headed in that direction until Illyria's strength ripped him out of the promise.

"But the other Watcher does." She was not asking, she was stating a fact. "He burns for her. His heart is cold and wishes to avenge her death. His pain will pierce a thousand dimensions but no form of revenge will sate him."

“That is what we call love,” Wesley said.

Illyria walked over to him and looked him in the eye and said softly, “I know.”

Wesley just held out his hand and waited for her to decide she was ready to go with him.


Xander stood over Willows body with Amy by his side. They were still in the ballroom where there were before. It was the most central place. The room was always occupied by someone and Giles had made everyone promise that the body would never be left alone.

“Look at her,” Xander said, smoothing Willow's hair back from her face. “Why did he do this? Why did he bring her back here like this? Haven't we suffered enough? Hasn't she suffered enough?”

“He wants a proper burial. I don't blame him – she deserves that, Xander. He loved her, he needed to do this.” Amy looked down at the body and said, “She's gone. I can't believe it. If it wasn't for her I would have died a long time ago.” She took a deep breath and took Willow's hand in hers. She closed her eyes and chanted a spell that cleansed Willow's body of all the mud and leaves that had been covering it. Xander moved aside and Amy ran her fingers through Willow's hair. It was magically cleansed and looked brushed as if it were brand new. “That's better,” she said.

“Hey,” Buffy interrupted, “Can I have a sec, here?”

Xander just wrapped his arms around Buffy and held her tight. “I always thought she'd be back...that she'd be fighting by our side again.”

“I know,” Buffy said, “Me, too.”

“No matter how much we fight, no matter how many things we kill…it's never enough.” Xander squeezed her tighter.

Buffy thought to herself, ‘ Welcome to my world,' but she didn't say anything. This was a tough time for them all.

“Xander?” Amy said and nodded toward the door, coaxing Xander away from Buffy.

“Yeah, ok,” Xander said and kissed the top of Buffy's head. He squeezed her hand once and left the room with Amy by his side.

Buffy pulled up a chair and sat by Willow's body. The body was clean and neat and looked shiny and new…and healthy…and alive. “It's all so stupid, Will...why did this happen?” She tried not to cry but it was no use. The Slayer leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees. She looked down at the floor as a mass of tears fell from her eyes like raindrops. Buffy watched as they seemed to fall in slow motion, each tear creating its own little puddle as it met with the floor she was staring down at. “You stayed away so long…we needed you and you left us. Why? Because of Giles? All he did was love you…you stupid…selfish…” But she couldn't finish. Buffy just cried harder.

She thought back to the first day she met Willow back at Sunnydale High. It seemed like a million years had gone by. So much innocence was lost in those hallways and that library, that cemetery and at the Bronze. They were all guilty of something. Willow, yes, for bringing Buffy back from the dead, but…what if Buffy had never gotten them mixed up with vampires and magic in the first place? If she really thought about it – it was all her fault. Or maybe it was Giles' fault. For that matter, maybe it was Merrick's fault. Too much blame to place, not enough people to lay it on. It was what it was and Buffy had to face it.

“Hey,” Spike said softly as he placed a hand on Buffy's shoulder, “Need a hug?”

She laughed and cried at the same time at the vampire's attempt to console her.

Spike sat behind her, anyway, and wrapped her up in his arms from behind. He rested his chin on her shoulder and spoke softly in her ear. “Red's gone…I can't believe it…sorry, pet.”

“Yeah, me, too.” Buffy said and eased into his embrace.

“Hey, how come you're all free with the snugglies now? Is it ‘cause tall, dark and forehead isn't here or ‘cause you need consolin'?” He was toying with her, trying to lighten the mood. He know how his little nicknames for Angel made Buffy laugh.

“Little bit of both,” she said. Honesty was the best policy. Yeah, right.

“You want to be alone, don't you?” Spike asked.

“Just for another minute,” Buffy said.

“Will do,” he said and stood up. He squeezed Buffy's hand and then slipped out of the room.

“I'm sorry, Will.” Buffy sat in silence for a few moments. She closed her eyes and took inventory of all the memories she had of her friend and tried so hard to burn them into her brain so that she would never forget.

Though it seemed like she had only been alone for a minute, at least three had gone by. “This body was empty.” The voice was cold and startled Buffy. It was Illyria.

“What?” Buffy stood up and stepped away from the blue demon. The Slayer never quite got used to Illyria's manner of speech. “She's…dead…of course it's empty.” Buffy moved closer to Wesley.

“No,” Illyria said, laying her hands on the body as if making sure of something, “It was soulless when its heart stopped beating.”

“No,” Buffy said, “How could it have been soulless? That would make her…”

“A vampire,” Wesley said.



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