Cold fire burned in his gut, and images of Ethan, Deirdre and Randall merged with those of Jenny and blood roses, haunting every moment since the day Willow tried to end the world's pain along with her own.
He felt it moving inside, seething and swirling, feeding the anger. It was fresh, and new, and intimately familiar. Neither the feelings nor the power were his, but they might have been. He'd walked this path before, more times than he cared to remember.
While he carried Willow's burdens, she ghosted through the days of waiting, the plane trips, the car rides, and most significantly, the testing by council and coven. Each authority in turn passed judgment: burned out, empty, lost. In her present state she could do no harm, though she'd have to be watched.
The same was not said of him. But then, no one knew it should have been.
His binding had worked even better than he'd hoped. Not only had she been numbed to her pain and power, but the mask he'd lain over the binding held firm. Only one person knew what he'd done -- one who knew better than most the damage vengeance could wreak on its giver, and might have spared him the pain of it, if he'd let her.
Methodically, Giles moved about his cellar, gathering the supplies he'd need and pushing away memory of her attempts to talk him out of it.
While Xander had carried his broken best friend up the stairs to comfort her in the aftermath, Anya had been the one who helped Giles work the spell that bound Willow's spirit to his, draining her of both power and affect. After all, it wouldn't be possible for her to act on emotions he housed on her behalf, with power he worked constantly to tame. The spell would protect the world from further damage.
It would cost him greatly, but the return would be his as well.
Anya understood his need for vengeance, but had also been oddly protective of his health. She had things, she said, and they couldn't be taken care of if he killed himself with this effort. The practical thing was execution. A simple matter, and actually standard protocol for dealing with rogue witches.
It hadn't taken much to convince her to assist. He'd have thought a vengeance demon would be less susceptible to the power of suggestion than Anya had been.
While he'd gathered his strength, she'd prepared a circle of power. Late that night, long after the others had found sleep, he'd followed the link created when Willow stole the coven's power from him. While Anya stood ground, he drained the already burgeoning power from her psyche, along with all of the fury, anguish, and pain. Then, halfway through that night's work, he'd sealed away the source. All that had remained was to untangle the coven's power, which they did in silence before the first light of day.
The time had come for the rest of the work. Twilight approached and with it, freedom. He brushed away the cobwebs of memory. He didn't need warmth, or sympathy, this night.
With quiet purpose he prepared the house, chalking symbols at the doorways and window frames, laying spells of protection and containing, strewing herbs over the logs in the fireplace, and lighting candles at cardinal points. Nothing that would pass here could escape, and his solicitor in London was well-prepared to handle the explanations should he not survive through 'til morning.
From the doorway he watched her toss back and forth in the linens and listened to her quiet murmurs. In dreams, the seal was thin, and she lived more of a life than during waking moments. Knowledge of what was to come burned in him, a live wire that lit every nerve ending.
The energy of his intent bristled. It was enough to wake her, and she sat up, staring at him with wide, sleepy eyes. Her body language shouted that she knew something was about to happen, but not what it might be. After a moment's watching, fear began to rise in her.
It pleased him.
Then he turned as if to walk away, so that the tension built to a peak. Silence fed his anger, and he let it harden him even as the power danced deep in his belly. Tonight would end it, this towering, righteous rage that threatened to burst free of his leash, and his life would again--finally--be his own.
With the look of a cat waiting to pounce, Giles stood in the hallway just out of her sight and counted the seconds.
Four, five, six, ...there.
A low-pitched monotone with the merest hint of life: she wanted him to have done with it, to kill her and end the games.
Giles walked back and this time entered the room, lips set together as if holding back the floodgates through the sheer force of one lip upon the other. As he neared the bed, his shadow loomed large, covering her arms and chest with darkness set in stark relief against the bright moonlight.
Her eyes were dull, but she held his gaze, waiting without hope.
To speak would lessen the power of the night, though the desire to rant and rave burned within him. He wanted to shout at her that the numbness she was wrapped in was a lie, that he'd never give her the satisfaction of the easy way out, that he would never provide her with a tower from which to jump to eternal peace while the world was left behind to cope with the wreckage her loss would create.
But he said nothing; instead he took another step toward her and brought himself close enough to smell the slight sourness of sleep in the shallow in-out strokes of her breath and feel the tingle of her fear in the fine hairs along his forearm.
When she reached out to touch him, he gasped at the shock of ice-cold fingers against his hot skin, then snapped out a hand to grasp her wrist and hold it away, certain he was leaving bruises in his fingers' wake. That the moment had arrived suddenly came clear to him as he raised her limp arm in the air and forced her off the bed and against the wall.
No, he wouldn't kill her -- wouldn't let her off the hook, would not allow her to avoid the consequences of her actions, leaving the world stranded. Things had awoken in the earth that were best buried and somnolent. She'd be needed to help with the repairs.
But he would see to it that she paid dearly for her actions. The time had come.
He released the power into her and she fell to her knees as it burned through her. She rocked back and forth, keening grief and rage and shock as the waves of sensation carried her to the floor.
Anger and fear held him firmly in grip as he watched her body shudder, wracked by spasms. She fairly sizzled with power as it leapt, green and gold, about the room. He jerked mentally with each twitch of her limbs, and feeling the last of the binding leave him, he lifted his chin in the air to reach for freedom.
Eyes closed against the flashing lights and deaf to her screams, Giles waited for liberation to wash over him, for the relentless anger and dreadful hurt to disappear.
In time, the sun rose on the pair of them, tangled together in a heap on the floor. But freedom never came.
Grief would be their own.
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