The air was calm, a soft breeze blowing from the North, shaking the stubborn leaves that had not yet fallen and scattering those on the ground. Buffy looked away from the dead leaves, hazel eyes finding her friends. Anya was sitting on the ground, leaning against a tombstone. She seemed oblivious to the damp ground, her hand resting on her stomach. She was five months pregnant, her face seeming to glow since she had discovered the news several months before. Buffy had honestly never seen her look more beautiful. A small smile crossed her face as Xander joined the group, handing his fiance a cup of hot chocolate as he joined her on the ground. Her eyes moved to find Giles, looking through a large book, his eyes seeming to search the pages for answers to questions that only he knew. He should have been relaxing, just as he had told all of them to do. Next, she saw Tara, her eyes narrowing slightly though she was unaware of the action. The newest member of their group was kneeling on a blanket, setting up candles and talking. Buffy looked finally at Willow, watching her best friend make notes on a small notepad as she half heartedly carried on a conversation with Tara.
Buffy moved from the tree where she had been standing, retrieving the soda that Xander had purchased for her and grabbing Willow's. She moved past Giles, putting her hand on the book to make him look up at her and smile before making her way to Willow. She sat on the blanket beside the redhead, her foot accidentally hitting Tara's leg. "I'm sorry," she said, offering an apologetic smile at the girl before handing Willow her soda.
"I'm almost ready," Willow said, taking the drink and having a sip as she continued checking her notes for a fifth time. She had to make sure that everything was correct before they started the spell.
"Anything I can do?" Buffy asked, feeling a bit useless, as she always did whenever the slaying turned to matters of witchcraft. Give her a demon to kill and she'd kick ass. Make her sit patiently and chant? Well, at least she could kill vampires. Thankfully, she had Willow for all the magic stuff. Her friend had been getting better and better at the spells over the last couple of years. Buffy still found it amusing to remind Willow of the times that she couldn't even lift a pencil when, now, the redhead was performing protection and guiding spells with ease.
"Hmm?" Willow looked at her and blinked then smiled, "you can help Tara. Honey, tell Buffy what she can do."
Tara looked at the slayer, giving Buffy no doubts that she had several ideas of things she could do, none of them very helpful at the moment. Finally, the girl said, "I'm setting up the candles and preparing the supplies. If you'd like, set the candles up in a circle and I'll concentrate on this."
"Sure," Buffy said, wondering again what it was about this girl that bothered her. Ever since they had first met, even before she had been aware of the exact nature of Willow's relationship with Tara, she'd not liked the girl. It wasn't like her to not have an instant dislike to someone, and it bugged her that she didn't understand why. Over the last year, she'd grown used to Tara though, ignoring her dislike and trying to accept the girl that Willow loved for her friendships' sake. It definitely didn't mean that they had to be best friends though.
Once the circle was created and Willow was finally sure that she was familiar enough with the spell to proceed, she called everyone to their places. She and Tara sat in the middle. Buffy was behind Willow, Xander to her left, Giles to her right, with Anya behind Tara. Candles were lit as Willow took Tara's hands. She smiled at her lover as the spell began. Everything was fine through the first part. The wind had picked up, blowing against the candles that remained burning. It wasn't until Willow reached the last chant that things started to feel wrong. She continued speaking, knowing how dangerous it would be to stop the spell in the middle, but something didn't feel right.
She was suffocating, finding it difficult to breathe much less speak. Her eyes half closed as the wind picked up even greater force, leaves and dirt in the air around them. She could feel the apprehension in her friends, saw the slight flash of fear in Tara's eyes. She could feel her shirt sticking to her, sweat soaking her body as a fever spread over her. She was almost finished. She began to speak the final words when it happened. Her head snapped back, her eyes staring at the sky as she began to speak rapidly, a blinding flash of light surrounding them as her head snapped back, her eyes unseeing as she felt a strong rush of power overtake her entire body. She distantly heard screaming as her body was slammed by some unseen force. She fell forward, the spell completed.
Buffy was frozen. She watched as Willow glowed then fell forward, the redhead's body slumping. She dropped Xander and Giles' hands, moving to Willow. She pulled her best friend against her lap, relief evident in her eyes when she saw that Willow was breathing. She touched the redhead's face, brushing her sweaty hair away from her eyes. After a moment, an eternity, Willow's eyes fluttered and she opened them slowly.
"Buffy?" she said hoarsely, her throat parched.
"I'm here, Will," Buffy smiled.
"Anya! Oh my God, Anya!" Xander cried out, looking at the blood covering the ground around his fiance. She was unconscious, though breathing. "She's hurt!"
"What?" Willow sat up quickly, holding her head as she fell against Buffy. It took her a second to gather herself before looked and saw Tara laying on the blanket, her eyes closed. "Tara?"
"What's wrong with Anya?" Buffy asked, not wanting to let Willow go but seeing the blood on Xander's hands.
"I've got to get her to a hospital," Xander said, standing and picking her up. "She's hurt. She's been hurt."
"Giles," Buffy looked at her watcher, saw him looking around in a daze, his eyes finally focusing on her. "Go with Xander. He needs someone to drive him."
"Yes, yes, of course," Giles stood and moved to follow after the boy.
"She's not moving, Buffy," Willow whispered softly, moving across the blanket to touch her lover's face. She looked at Buffy, her green eyes wet, "She's not moving."
"Let me see," Buffy said, moving to look at Tara. She leaned over, placing her ear above the girl's heart. Her eyes closed briefly before she sat up, taking Tara's hand. She felt for a pulse. Nothing. She looked at Willow, felt her heart breaking as the redhead looked back at her, a look of shock on her face. "I'm sorry, Willow. She's gone."
Buffy sat in the large chair, her knees under her chin, her arms wrapped around her legs, her hazel eyes on the quiet redhead. It had been over two hours since the spell had gone bad. Two hours since Willow had spoken. They had sat on the blanket for what had to have been half an hour, Willow just sitting there looking at Tara's lifeless body. Buffy hadn't known what to do, not wanting to hurt Willow more by forcing her away from her dead lover, but also knowing they couldn't remain there forever. She'd simply stayed silent, holding Willow as the redhead tried to understand that Tara wouldn't be waking up. It was Willow that had finally looked at her, not saying a word, just smiling a sad smile that she had rarely seen on the redhead's face. There had been no tears, no words, nothing.
Buffy was more scared by what Willow wasn't doing. She seemed to be in shock of some sort. Buffy had decided that they should go to the magic store to wait for news about Anya. The store tended to be their base of operations of late, having taken over from the library as their general meeting place. She knew that Giles or Xander would check for them there first. Buffy had gotten all of their supplies together, one eye on Willow who, by that time, was standing by a tree, simply staring into space. The slayer had left the blanket under Tara, not wanting the girl to be on the dirty ground. When she had gathered everything, she'd taken Willow's hand. The redhead had followed her, her grip very tight on her hand. Along the way to the store, she'd had to stop at a pay phone and make the phone call. An anonymous tip to the police telling them of a girl laying dead in the park. They acted as if they got calls like that all the time, thanking her and hanging up. She'd never been entirely fond of Tara, but she'd never have wished such an end on anyone. And Willow. Buffy hated what her friend must be dealing with at the moment.
"Are you cold?" Buffy asked softly, seeing Willow holding her arms around her chest. It was rather cold in the empty store at night.
Willow looked at Buffy, taking a moment to focus before she shook her head. She leaned back against the sofa, her green eyes moving away from the slayer again.
Buffy was at a loss. She had no idea what she should be doing. When Miss. Calendar had died, there had been tears and grief and guilt. She'd known Tara better than Miss. C, but tears wouldn't come. She knew it was horrible of her as a person not to feel sad that Tara was gone, had died in such a manner, but she could only bring forth sadness for what Willow was experiencing. She was sorry that Tara was dead. But, how was she supposed to help Willow when the redhead was in shock? And she was worried about Anya. They'd not had any calls from the hospital. When they had first arrived at the store, she'd tried calling, but they had no record of the girl. She assumed they were in ER still and probably hadn't registered yet. She hoped that it was a type of shock, making her so worried about Anya and Willow and accepting Tara's death so easily. She'd always thought of herself as a nice person, albeit a bit selfish at times. Why couldn't she cry?
In a way, she knew. She had to be strong, for everyone. Anya was obviously hurt. Xander would be a mess. Giles had seemed to be in some sort of stupor afterwards, not seeming to be much help. And Willow was in shock. If she fell apart, who would help them? She was sad for what Willow had lost and she was scared for Xander, praying that Anya would be safe, but she couldn't break down. Someone had to keep them together. And she was the slayer, after all. It was her duty to be brave and strong. Even when all she really wanted to do was hug Willow and cry.
"She's dead," Willow whispered softly, speaking for the first time in hours.
Buffy looked at the girl and nodded, "I'm so sorry."
Willow looked at Buffy, studying the slayer, "They'll find her body?"
"I called the police," Buffy said, "they probably already found her."
"Another random gang attack," Willow said softly, making a face. "She deserved better."
"I love you, Willow. I'm here if you need me," Buffy said quietly, needing Willow to know she had someone.
"She looked peaceful," Willow remarked, "do you think it hurt?"
"No," Buffy said, moving from her chair to sit beside Willow. "She went quickly."
Willow nodded, becoming lost in thought again. It seemed unreal, like some bad dream. She kept waiting, hoping that any moment she'd wake up. Only, it didn't seem like it was going to ever end. She felt Buffy's hand on hers. She couldn't feel that if it were a dream, could she? If it wasn't a dream, it meant that it was real. Tara was dead. No, it was a dream. Just a very bad dream. If she was good, if she stayed quiet, she'd wake up soon. Then this nightmare would be over. Everything would be the same as it had been the day before. She looked at Buffy, seeing the sadness and love in her friend's eyes before looking away again. Just a dream, she told herself as she squeezed Buffy's hand tightly. Just a very very bad dream.
Buffy adjusted her position on the couch, careful not to disturb Willow. The redhead was laying against her, her head in the slayer's lap. Buffy was rather relieved that Willow had drifted off to sleep after sitting silently for over an hour and a half. It had been frightening how quiet Willow had been, speaking only that one time to discuss Tara's death before drifting off again. Buffy had no idea how to reach her, not having much experience with situations like this. She hoped that when Willow woke up she'd be able to react, to cry or scream or be angry. Just something. Anything would be better than the quiet calm she had displayed so far.
Buffy brushed Willow's hair from her face, leaning back against the sofa until her head rolled back. She let her fingers move through the tangles in the redhead's hair, gently brushing them as she stared at the ceiling. It had been over four hours since the spell. Willow had spoken maybe three dozen words. She still hadn't heard from Giles or Xander so she had no idea what was happening with Anya. She really hoped the girl was all right. They'd become friends over the past year, surprisingly enough. She didn't want to lose another friend. She was looking at it positively. No news is good news.
Buffy moved her head, looking down into Willow's green eyes. She smiled softly, "I'm here."
Willow frowned, her eyes dazed with sleep. She rolled her head slightly, seeing that she was laying on the couch at the magic store with her head in Buffy's lap. She became aware of the slayer's fingers brushing her hair. She moved her head back to look at Buffy. "Where is everyone?"
"Honey," Buffy spoke slowly, "do you remember the spell?"
Memories assaulted Willow's mind, her eyes widening as she whispered, "It wasn't a dream?"
"No," Buffy never knew that such a small word could do so much damage. She watched as Willow sat up quickly, moving her arms around her chest.
"I thought it was a dream," Willow said, shaking her head as she began to pace. "It seemed like a dream. Are you sure this isn't a dream?"
"Willow, stop," Buffy said sharply, taking the redhead's hands and squeezing. "It happened. It wasn't a dream."
"Not a dream?" Willow repeated, her voice hysterical. "That means that I killed Tara."
"It was not your fault," Buffy said, seeing the guilt enter the redhead's eyes. "Something went wrong. None of us are to blame."
"It was my spell," Willow whispered, "my spell."
Before Buffy could respond, the door opened. She looked up to see Giles walking inside, his face pale. He looked at them before looking away, moving to sit at the table, his head going into his palms. She felt Willow move closer, her hands tightening their grip. She spoke softly, "Giles, how is Anya?"
"She's out of surgery," Giles said quietly, his voice so soft they could barely hear him.
"She's OK?" Buffy asked, looking at Willow and seeing that the redhead was studying Giles with a slightly panicked look in her eyes.
"She's being kept for observation," he said as he finally looked up, dropping his hands.
Buffy felt a cold chill enter her body as she saw the tears in his eyes, felt Willow's fingernails digging into her palm so hard that she could feel blood. "What is it, Giles?"
"No," Willow whispered softly, shaking her head before Giles had a chance to speak. She closed her eyes as she slid to the floor, pulling Buffy down with her.
"Giles?" Buffy looked at him, seeing him look at Willow sadly. She had missed something.
"It's the baby, Buffy," Giles said quietly, blinking away his tears, "Anya lost the baby."
"Oh God," Buffy whispered as she heard Giles' words. Not the baby. Flashes of Anya and Xander's happiness at the pregnancy, their search for the perfect name, the glow that had surrounded Anya for months came to her mind. She felt fingernails digging deeply into her palm as she sat in stunned silence. She had never even thought about the baby. She'd just assumed that it would all be fine. She'd been so very wrong.
Willow felt Giles' words like a knife entering her heart. She had known that Tara was dead, was trying to deal with being responsible for her lover's death. Now, she'd also killed a baby. A child that hadn't even been born yet. She'd killed two people that night. She closed her eyes as she felt guilt gnawing at her. It was all her fault. She didn't care what Buffy said, it had been her spell. She had intended for anyone to be hurt or to die, but they had. It was so hard to believe that two lives could be taken in such a short time. She held on tightly to Buffy's hand, not knowing what she should say, what she should do. It had seemed like a bad dream, Tara's death and the botched spell. Now, it was an increasingly horrible nightmare. Only, this time, she wouldn't be waking up. It was real. She was a murderer.
"Anya had a miscarriage shortly after arriving at the hospital," Giles said in a soft voice. He could see the grief the girls were feeling and wished he could have given them good news. Unfortunately, he couldn't. "She only regained consciousness about an hour ago. They weren't sure if they were going to lose her too."
"She's OK, though?" Buffy questioned, blinking away her tears as she demanded an honest answer.
"Physically, she appears to be fine," Giles said, running his hand over his face. "They won't really know anything until they examine her further. She was understandably upset when she heard about the miscarriage. They had given her something to help her sleep before I left."
"Should we do something?" Buffy asked, looking at him for guidance.
"Concerning Tara," Giles glanced at Willow and saw the redhead staring at the floor, a guilty look in her green eyes and a thoughtful frown on her pretty face. When he saw that she did not react to his statement, he sighed, realizing that she wasn't listening anymore. He looked at Buffy, "did you leave her?"
Buffy nodded, "I called the police before we came here, reported her body. I assume they've found her by now."
"And the materials?" he asked trying to be delicate in his questions but knowing that he needed to ask them.
"I only left the blanket," she said quietly, her hand moving to brush through Willow's hair as the redhead sat silently. "I brought everything else back here."
Giles nodded, thankful that she had managed to keep her head during the situation. He, himself, had been so shocked at the turn of events that he hadn't thought properly at all. He was about to respond to Buffy when Willow looked up, her face resolved, her eyes determined.
"Xander," she said softly, her voice trembling with emotion. She cleared her throat as she looked at Buffy, "I need to see Xander."
"Honey, do you think that's a good idea?" Buffy asked softly, not at all sure if going to the hospital was the right thing to do.
"Buffy, he's my best friend," Willow said, begging her other best friend to understand. "I need to be there."
"Tomorrow might be a better idea, Willow," Giles said quietly, having seen the condition that Xander had been in when he had left. Losing a child was a terrible blow for anyone. Anya's status being uncertain didn't help matters for the young man.
"You could take a nap and then I'll take you," Buffy suggested, brushing her fingers over Willow's cheek. It had been such a long night already. All she wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep. Going to the hospital meant dealing with the reality that Anya had lost the baby, had been hurt herself. She was scared of what she might find, of what might face Willow. Going to sleep wouldn't change things, though. It would be procrastinating, putting off the inevitable. She spent enough time in her life running away from her thoughts, her feelings, her actions. Maybe it was finally time to stop running.
"Fine, I'll call a cab," Willow said softly, knowing in her heart that she had to see Xander, to see if Anya was going to be okay.
"No, you won't," Buffy said, knowing that Willow was the most stubborn person she'd ever met and would call a cab. She also knew that this was something they had to do. "I'll take you. I need to see Xander and Anya, check on them. Are you sure that this is what you want to do?"
"I have to face them, Buffy," Willow whispered as she blinked away a fresh batch of tears. "I'd rather do it now than wait. I have to make sure they're okay."
"We'll face them," Buffy corrected softly, her thumb brushing away a tear that fell from Willow's pretty eyes. "I'm here, Willow. No matter what happens, you won't lose me. Ever. You're my best friend. You know that, don't you?"
Willow nodded, knowing that she didn't deserve such devoted friendship. She had killed Tara. She had caused the loss of Xander and Anya's baby. Yet, Buffy was here by her side, not giving her a chance to feel alone. But even the slayer couldn't stop the guilt from consuming her mind. It was all her fault. Two lives lost because of her. Stop it, she scolded herself. She had to think about Xander and Anya. She needed to see them. She sighed, "I know. Can we go now?"
"Giles, can I borrow your car?" Buffy asked, seeing by the look in his eyes that he had doubts. "We have to see them, Giles."
"Be careful," he replied as he tossed her his keys. He watched them leave, Buffy's arm around Willow's waist as the small girl guided her friend outside. Watching them, he had the sudden clarity that nothing would ever be the same again.
The trees passed by in a blur as the car moved down the quiet street. The sun was starting to rise, signaling the arrival of dawn. It was a new day. Willow sighed as the car pulled to a halt at a stop sign. It seemed to be taking forever, but not nearly long enough. She had to see Xander, had to look into his eyes and see whatever emotions lay there. No matter what they might be. She was scared, so very scared. She knew that she still hadn't dealt with Tara's death, that she was still in shock. Tara was dead. Willow glanced at Buffy, watching as the slayer kept her eyes on the road ahead. She whispered, "Thank you."
Buffy's eyes moved from the road to look at Willow. "What are you thanking me for?"
"Everything," Willow said softly, not able to offer more than a sad smile.
"I haven't done anything that deserves a thank you," Buffy objected, wishing again that she could somehow erase the last few hours from their lives. As soon as she had the thought, though, she banished it from her mind. There was nothing that could change what had happened. All they could do was deal with it. She still had doubts that Willow was even aware of everything that had happened. No, looking into those beautiful green eyes she knew that Willow was fully aware.
"You've held me together," Willow admitted, "during the time when I'm closest to falling apart. Without you, I'd be dealing with this alone."
"As long as I'm alive, you'll never face anything alone," Buffy said quietly as she went back to watching the road. "We're getting close to the hospital. Are you sure about this?"
"No," Willow admitted quietly, unable to lie after Buffy's sincere words.
"We can do this later," Buffy mentioned, knowing what Willow would say, and knowing that she would support the redhead, no matter what the decision.
"Xander's been my best friend for as long as I can remember," Willow said, "I need to see him. Even if he hates me, which I can understand since this is all my fault, I have to try. I'd hate myself if I didn't."
"I know," Buffy said with the ghost of a smile, "and Xander won't hate you. There is no fault in this, Willow. No one is responsible. I don't know what it was, but it wasn't anyone's fault. We'll go to the hospital, and we'll see Xander. Then we'll deal with whatever happens, together."
"I love you," Willow said softly as she leaned her head back against the window and watched as Buffy neared the hospital.
Xander looked at the tubes coming out of Anya's arms, listening to the steady beeps coming from machines that he couldn't even identify, feeling the clammy coolness of her hand, and having no idea what to feel. It had all happened so fast. One minute, they'd been doing a supposedly routine spell. The next, he'd been in the hospital learning that his baby was gone and that Anya was lucky to be alive. He was still reeling from almost losing Anya. He hadn't even had time to think of the others until after Anya was stabilized. He knew that made him selfish, but he didn't care. Now, though, he was feeling guilty for not thinking of his friends.
He squeezed Anya's hand as she slept, hoping that she knew that he hadn't left her side. The baby was gone, but she was going to be okay. He was still unsure how to react to the loss of his child. That part was still hazy. He hadn't had time to comprehend anything except the fact that Anya was alive. Looking at her now, he was struck by how much he loved her. When he had held her, thinking she might be dead, he'd been paralyzed with fear of living without her. She had become such a huge part of his life without his having even realized it. It had taken something so horrible for him to realize just how important she was to him.
He sighed as he watched her sleep, knowing that she was under some heavy drugs. She'd been in pain, during her times of consciousness. Her eyes had been so sad, so confused. She hadn't screamed, but he could see that she had wanted to. She was so brave, his Anya. And she had no idea. She still seemed to consider being human a weakness. He could never convince her that it took more courage to live as a human than it did to spend centuries as a demon. He stood and brushed her hair from her face, placing a soft kiss against her forehead before straightening. He had been sitting for hours and needed to move. She would be out for a while, so he decided to get some coffee. Maybe he'd call Giles and see if everyone was okay.
He went to the cafeteria and bought some coffee, cringing as he took a sip. It was awful, but it was drinkable. He finished half of it on the elevator ride back to the fourth floor. When the doors opened, he entered the hallway, looking for the phone. He found it, along with the line of two people waiting to use it. He knew he could use the phone in Anya's room, but he didn't want to risk disturbing her with his conversation, so he sat down to wait. In a way, it was almost a relief to be out of the hospital room. No beeps or wires or tubes. He put the cup on the floor beside his chair, leaning down and running a hand over his face. He couldn't handle this. It was all too much. What was he supposed to do?
With a sigh, he looked up, wishing he knew all the answers, knowing that he knew nothing. He had no idea what the future would hold. Anya was alive. Their baby was gone. He was so lost, and he hated it. Hated not knowing what to do. It was the first time in years that he'd been so scared. And then it happened. The elevator doors opened and he saw her. He stood, his foot knocking his cup over, spilling the remains of old coffee on the floor. He looked into her eyes, saw the despair and fear in their green depths and inhaled sharply. She was hurting, he knew instantly. He glanced behind her, seeing Buffy standing so close the girls were touching. A hand holding hers, squeezing much in the same way he had been squeezing Anya's moments before. He moved forward, his arms opening as he pulled Willow against him, hugging her as tight as possible as he finally let the tears fall.
Buffy watched Xander hugging Willow and realized that the redhead had been right. Xander needed her. She stood there for several minutes watching as her two friends stood silently, hugging as Xander cried. The friendship between the two was nearly visible during that time. She had to admit that she almost felt left out. Almost, but not quite. There was history between Xander and Willow that had started long before she had arrived in Sunnydale. She couldn't feel jealous of a bond that had existed when she'd still been a silly cheerleader in LA. Instead of feeling left out, she began to realize what an honor it was that these two remarkable, special people had opened up their hearts and their lives and allowed her a place. She'd never really known true friendship until meeting Xander and Willow. Now, she was witnessing it.
Willow was the one to pull back first, her green eyes finding Xander's teary brown eyes. She used her thumb to wipe away a tear as she asked softly, "How is Anya?"
Xander nodded, giving her a small smile as he said, "She's going to be okay. She's asleep now, but the doctors said she'll be fine."
"Thank God," Willow whispered, having feared the worst despite Giles' earlier assurances. She felt Buffy's hand on her back, relaxing slightly as the slayer began to move her fingers in a comforting circular pattern.
"The baby didn't make it, Will," Xander said quietly, watching as she flinched, her eyes closing before they opened filled with guilt.
"Giles told me," Willow said softly, saying, "I'm so sorry, Xander. I'm so sorry."
"It wasn't your fault," he said, taking her hand and moving her to sit down where he had been sitting. He paid no attention to the spilled coffee, finding that he just needed to sit for a while.
"Yes, it was," Willow said softly, leaning over and resting her head on his shoulder. It was all her fault. It had been her spell, her responsibility to ensure that everything went off perfectly. Now, because of her, Tara and Xander's baby were dead and Anya was laying in a hospital bed.
"Willow, stop," he said sharply, causing her to look at him in surprise. "It wasn't your fault. I don't what happened, but it happened. Maybe it was meant to happen. Who knows? We probably will never know. All I know is that Anya is alive, that I didn't lose her," remembering suddenly about Tara, he looked down, "I'm sorry. I forgot about Tara. Oh, God, honey, are you okay?"
"I'm better," is all Willow said, knowing that, despite his claims that it had just happened, she had been in charge of the spell. She had to have done something wrong, made some mistake.
"Will, you want something to drink?" Buffy asked softly, after Willow and Xander had been silent for a few minutes.
"Not really, but thanks," Willow said, giving Buffy a fragile smile. This had been, by far, the worst night of her life, but it would have been far worse if she hadn't had Buffy with her. She honestly didn't think she could have made it without her best friend. She got to her feet, running a hand over her face and feeling the wetness from earlier tears. She sighed, saying, "I'm going to go to the bathroom, wash my face."
Xander waited until she had turned the corner before asking Buffy, "How is she, really?"
Buffy shrugged, "I honestly don't know. She was in shock, at first. Couldn't accept that Tara was dead. After she finally realized that it wasn't just a bad dream, her first thought was for you. I know she's blaming herself, I can see how badly she's hurting. I do see improvement, from how she was a few hours ago. She scared me, then, Xan. She seemed so lost, I've never felt so powerless, so scared. I knew that I couldn't lose her, but I didn't know how to help her. I still don't know what to do."
"Just be there for her, Buff," Xander said, giving her other best friend a smile. "She's going to need you. I'm going to go check on Anya, see if she's awake yet. I'll be right back."
Buffy nodded, leaning back in the chair as she waited for Willow and Xander, lost in her thoughts as she tried to figure out the next step to take.
Xander entered the hospital room, quietly closing the door behind him. He moved to the bed, relieved to find Anya watching him. She was awake. "Hey babe. How are you feeling?"
She looked at him, not sure what to say. She was still confused, everything had happened so fast. They'd been performing the spell and the next thing she could remember was waking up in the hospital. The doctor had come to see her, telling her things that she didn't understand. She was alive. Her baby was dead. She didn't know what to say.
"Anya, honey, are you feeling okay?" Xander asked again, "Do I need to get a doctor?"
"The baby is dead," Anya whispered, wondering how he could look at her with so much love.
"I know," he said quietly, sitting in the chair beside the bed and taking her hand. He brought it to his lips, kissing it as she looked at him.
"Our baby is dead," she said again, not able to stop the tears from flowing. "I'm alive and our baby is dead!"
"I love you," he said as he stood, taking her into his arms as she cried. He was careful not to hurt her, feeling the wetness of her tears on his shoulder. He felt a tear run down his cheek as he sat down, not letting her go.
Buffy looked through the door, smiling sadly as she saw Xander holding a crying Anya. She leaned her head against the door, again wondering how so much could happen in such a short time. Poor Anya. She'd been so excited about the baby, planning the nursery and everything from nearly the moment she had discovered she was pregnant. Buffy hated to think what she must be feeling. The slayer turned away, giving the couple privacy as she looked down the hallway. Willow had been gone too long.
Buffy moved down the hall towards the restroom, trying to figure out what she should do. She was the slayer. She was supposed to protect her friends, not stand by as everything fell apart. Nothing could bring Tara or the baby back. She knew that. But there had to be something she could do. She hated feeling so powerless. It was near the women's room that she felt it. She couldn't explain what it was, but she ran the rest of the hallway to the door, opening and rushing inside. She found Willow sitting on the floor by the sink, crying and rocking back and forth.
"Oh, honey," Buffy murmured as she knelt on the floor.
"My fault," Willow said as she reached for Buffy desperately. She repeated those two words over and over as the slayer held her.
"It's not your fault, Willow," Buffy said softly, sitting on the bathroom floor as she pulled Willow against her. She brushed the crying redhead's hair as she spoke, wishing she could take away the pain.
"My fault, all my fault," Willow said as she sobbed, holding onto Buffy tightly as she cried, finally letting it all out.
"Why don't we go home," Buffy suggested softly, her eyes moving to the door, glad that they were alone. "We could both use some rest."
"Okay," Willow finally relented, knowing that Xander was all right and that Anya was at least alive. Buffy moved to stand, helping Willow up. The redhead wiped her face, wishing she hadn't broken down like that, especially in front of Buffy. Despite everything that had happened, Buffy had remained strong. There had been no tears from the slayer. Willow didn't care what Buffy said, though. She knew it had all been her fault. She'd been in charge of the spell. She didn't know what had gone wrong, but she had been responsible.
"Willow, please don't," Buffy said, seeing the guilt in her best friend's eyes. "How many times do we have to tell you, it wasn't your fault. Something happened. None of us could have stopped it. I'm the slayer and I couldn't even stop it. I hate seeing you in so much pain."
"I love you, Buffy," Willow whispered as she hugged the blonde, wishing she had half her strength.
"I love you too, Willow," Buffy said quietly, holding her friend tightly as she closed her eyes, wishing she never had to let go.
Willow laid beside Buffy in the slayer's bed, unable to sleep at all. She couldn't quit thinking about Tara's death and Anya's losing the baby, blaming herself for the botched spell that had taken the two lives. She'd gone over every detail of the spell before they'd begun, careful to check every supply and word before attempting to cast the spell. It was a routine spell, something that should never have resulted in death. She didn't understand what happened, couldn't explain what had gone wrong, and she hated not having the answers. She felt Buffy stir beside her, a soft smile crossing her face as she looked at her best friend. Buffy had been great since everything had happened, not leaving her alone, supporting her despite the fact that she was responsible for the death of her girlfriend and of her best friend's unborn child. She didn't deserve a friend like Buffy, looking away from the sleeping slayer as she sighed sadly.
Tara's death really couldn't have happened at a worse time. She and the blond witch had been arguing for weeks, their relationship slowly falling apart, and they'd had another fight that afternoon before meeting the others that had resulted in Willow's decision to move out. She had loved Tara at one time, still cared a great deal about her lover, but she hadn't been in love with Tara for a while. It hadn't been fair to continue their relationship just because it was comfortable and easy. She'd planned to move out that night, after the spell had been cast, feeling more relaxed and happier than she'd felt in months. It hadn't been Tara's fault, their break-up. Willow was the one to blame. She'd first gotten involved with Tara because she was lonely and liked the fact that someone wanted her, she'd wanted a friend and their relationship had progressed as time had gone by. It had been nice, being loved and cherished. And she had loved Tara, really she had, but she'd loved someone else more and Tara knew it. The blond hated Buffy, couldn't stand being around the slayer that unknowingly held Willow's heart, and that caused many of their arguments. Tara had been convinced that Buffy wanted Willow, always telling the redhead that the slayer hated her and wanted her to go away so she could have Willow to herself. Willow had finally decided that being with Tara wasn't fair to either of them, and Tara had agreed. The blond witch had understood, and had not blamed Willow at all for loving someone else, the two parting that afternoon as friends. Now, Tara was gone, and no one knew that they'd quietly broken up before her death.
Willow was sad to see Tara die, knew she'd miss the blond that had become such a good friend and so much more for nearly a year, and she'd cried for the loss of such a bright, beautiful soul. They'd been drifting apart for weeks, but it didn't mean she missed Tara any less. The redhead quietly got out of bed, not wishing to disturb Buffy. She wiped the tears from her face as she pulled out the magic book that had the spell she'd cast earlier. She turned on the small desk lamp and began to study the words, needing to know what had gone wrong, wanting to understand why Tara was dead, why Xander's baby was dead. She was to blame, the spell being her responsibility, but she needed to understand why! She began to read, making notes and checking her notes, tears continuing to fall down her cheeks as she tried to find answers to explain what had gone wrong. She owed it to Tara to find answers, knowing that the blond wouldn't want her to feel guilty but knowing there was no way she couldn't feel responsible. She'd prepared the spell, done the necessary translations, checked the ingredients, had everything carefully planned. Giles had done the spell before, had verified that everything was correct. What, then, had gone wrong? Why was Anya now in the hospital after losing the baby? Why was Tara dead instead of giving her a hug good-bye as she moved out?
"Will, what are you doing?" a soft voice spoke from behind her.
Willow turned to look at Buffy, "I'm trying to find out what went wrong. I need to know what happened."
"Willow, honey, you need to get some sleep. It's really late and it's been an awful night," Buffy said quietly as she got out of bed and moved to her friend. She sighed, "You said the spell was right, that everything was as it should be. Looking over all that a hundred more times won't change the fact that something happened, it won't change the fact that Tara is dead, that Anya lost the baby. I trust you, Willow, and I believe that it wasn't your fault. Performing any spell on the Hellmouth is dangerous, as we all know, and that energy from the Hellmouth makes things unpredictable. It wasn't your fault."
"Buffy, Tara's dead. I have to find out what happened," Willow whispered, her green eyes looking at the books in front of her. "She was so sweet, such a great friend, and she understood me in a way that not many people do. I owe it to her to find some answers."
"She wouldn't want you to blame yourself, either," Buffy said softly. "She loved you."
"I was leaving her tonight, following the spell," Willow confessed softly, "we'd broken up earlier today. It wasn't very surprising. The last couple of months, we'd been more like friends than a couple, and we argued a lot and we were both happy about moving on and just being friends. Now she's dead and I don't even know why."
"You're broken up?" Buffy moved to Willow and hugged the redhead from behind, "I'm sorry, Wills. I didn't know things were bad between you two."
"They weren't bad. They just weren't working out," Willow sighed, "and I blame myself. I mean, I tried to love her the way she deserved to be loved, but I couldn't. And after disappointing her like that, after not being able to love her completely, I'm responsible for her death. It's all my fault. The last few months of her life were miserable, she was unhappy, I was unhappy, and, even though we were still friends, it just wasn't the way it should have been. She died before she ever felt really loved."
"Nonsense," Buffy said, "You loved Tara and she loved you. It might not have been working out now, but there was love in that relationship. She was damn lucky to be loved by you, Willow, and I don't think she'd agree with you that she'd never felt real love. I watched you two together, from the first, and it was real. You cared about her, Willow, and she made you happy when no one else could. You were good for her, made her smile and helped bring her out of her shell. I don't think she'd have any regrets for the time she spent with you."
"I've looked over all the notes, reread the spell, and it was right, Buffy. Everything was like it should be. I don't understand what happened," Willow said quietly, knowing that Buffy was right, in a way. Tara and she had loved each other once, and maybe that was what she needed to remember instead of the last weeks of Tara's jealousy over Buffy and her own inability to deny her feelings for her best friend. She could remember their afternoon together, after they'd decided to break-up. The tension was gone, they'd been happy, having lunch and talking and Tara had laughed a lot.
"I don't know, Willow. Sometimes there just aren't any answers," Buffy said as she hugged the redhead again. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Eventually," Willow sighed, "I feel responsible, no matter what you say, and it's going to take me some time to deal with that guilt. I doubt I ever really get past it, but maybe over time I can move on."
"I'm here, Willow. You know that," Buffy said quietly, "I love you. You don't have to go through this alone."
"I love you, too," Willow whispered as she stood up and followed Buffy to the bed. She laid down and felt the slayer's arm go around her waist, giving her a tight hug as they eventually fell asleep.
"You look awful."
Willow gave Anya a small smile as she moved to sit beside the former demon's hospital bed, "Yeah, well, you don't look that great, either."
"I feel worse than I look," Anya said quietly, her eyes watching the redhead sit down. "Thanks for coming to talk to me."
"We're friends," Willow said, "I wanted to check on you earlier, but Xander wouldn't leave you alone. He loves you so much."
"I love him," Anya smiled, "I don't know how to say this, but I need to tell you. The baby, it wasn't your fault. I don't know what happened that night. I felt a shift in the air and then I saw that light and Tara fell, but it wasn't your fault about the baby."
"Anya, don't," Willow shook her head slowly. It had been three days since the spell had gone wrong, and she didn't want Anya forgiving her so easily.
"Listen to me," Anya sighed, "it was my fault. The doctors told me, they said, it would have happened sooner or later. My body, I'm missing something that would keep the baby alive. I don't know, a lot of medical terms that I don't understand. I can never have a baby, Willow. They were shocked that I managed to get pregnant in the first place, but it won't happen again. When I had the miscarriage, there was some internal injuries, and, well, I guess it's punishment for my centuries as a demon. I can be human, but the body isn't perfect. I haven't told anyone except Xander, but I wanted you to know. I understand about feeling guilty, about blaming yourself for things that are beyond your control, and I wanted you to know that losing my baby wasn't your fault."
"Oh, Anya, I'm so sorry," Willow whispered, having not expected this conversation at all.
"Hey, it's okay. I mean, I've had several days to deal with this. I did my crying, and now it's time to stop thinking about it. Xander and I, we're talking about getting married soon and maybe looking into adoption," Anya said with a soft smile.
"There are a lot of children in this town that need parents," Xander said quietly as he stepped into the room. He took Anya's hand, squeezing it as he leaned over and brushed his lips against her forehead. He looked back at Willow and Buffy, who had just entered the room with him, "Anya will make a wonderful mother."
"Yes, she will," Willow nodded, feeling as if she had cried more in the last few days than she had during her entire life. "When are you being released?"
"Tomorrow," Anya smiled, "thank God! I hate the food here and the nurses are rather rude. I just want to go home."
"If you need anything, we're here," Buffy said softly, having heard about Anya's condition from Xander.
"I'm sorry I couldn't go to Tara's funeral," Anya said as she looked at Willow.
"It's okay. She understands. It was a simple service, really," Willow said with a sigh, "she wanted her ashes spread at the ocean. She loved the ocean, you know?"
"It gets easier," Anya said really softly, her eyes catching Willow's. "The guilt, it fades eventually. You'll always love her, and one day you'll be able to think about her without tears and sadness. You'll love again and that will make her happy."
"It wasn't your fault, Will. Giles looked over everything and he said that the spell was accurate," Xander reminded before he sighed sadly, "Maybe it was just her time. Our baby needed someone to look after him, to take care of him, and Tara was chosen."
"Oh, Xan," Willow moved into his arms, hugging him tightly as he tried to smile and not cry. She pulled back, giving him a fragile smile, "I love you."
"Love you, too, Wills," Xander smiled gently, "now, no more tears. Promise me, no more guilt, okay? We've lost enough lately. We need to continue to live, to love, to try to be happy."
"I promise," Willow said as she looked at Buffy, taking the slayer's hand and squeezing, seeing a look in the slayer's eyes that seemed to support Tara's arguments. She didn't know if Buffy might love her in that way, and she wasn't ready to find out, yet, but it gave her hope. She looked at her friends, smiling softly as she said, "We can move on, together."
Buffy squeezed Willow's hand, knowing that one day soon, when Willow was ready, she was going to confess her real feelings for the redhead. She loved Willow so much and wanted to spend her life with her. She smiled softly as she said, "Together, we can do anything. I really love you guys."
Xander pulled Willow and Buffy against him, hugging them tightly as he looked into Anya's eyes, squeezing her hand as he mouthed the words, "I love you."