“You know,” Giles called cheerfully over his shoulder to the two girls behind him, “for a transdimensional enthralling spell that didn't go so terribly. At least we all got out of it in one piece, and without doing anything too awfully humiliating. I more than half expected that we'd emerge into yet another alternative nightmare world where we'd be expected to stand for more awards or, or use the internet. There'd be some web address cleverly spelled out in the diamond stars above like http://tonyhead-awards.livejournal.com/ and we'd have to go there to find clues as to how to get home, possibly by nominating our favorite works of fan art and fan fiction for the 2016 Headline Awards. But, thankfully, it's nothing like that. Here we all are back in the desert east of Sunnydale, ready to fight another day.”
“Um... I guess,” Willow answered hesitantly, her voice edged with characteristic worry, “Except for one tiny thing.” She forced a strangled little laugh.
“What is it?” Giles asked, catching a little (but only a little) of her nervousness himself. Until he turned to face her and she took the words right out of his gaping mouth.
Giles turned in a circle, peering in all direction across the flat, nearly featureless desert landscape. Nothing but distant mountains stood against the horizon as far as the eye could see, which under the light of a full moon and a thousand glittering stars was actually pretty far. There was no point in calling out. Nowhere she might have gone. It was as if the Slayer had vanished into thin air.
“Well...” Giles began, chuckling nervously himself. “This is certainly quite...” he took his glasses off and began polishing them absently with his handkerchief as his mind groped for an appropriate adjective. But all he came up with after much too long a pause was “... unexpected.”
“Unhuh,” Willow squeaked, eyes wide, near panic.
But there was no time for panic. They were standing in the middle of the desert with nothing but the clothes on there backs. From the warmth still radiating up from the sand it was clear that the sun had only just set. If they stayed here, they would have an entire night to survive before it came up again. And the weather could easily be predicted. Freezing cold with a strong chance of vampires and possibly a few scattered werewolves.
Sighing deeply, Giles reached an inevitable conclusion. “She'll be alright,” he insisted firmly, projecting calm and certainty as best he could without feeling a single iota of either, stammering his way towards what he had to ask of Willow, trying to keep her calm, or at least no more rattled than she was already. “She probably just... arrived at a slightly different spot that we did. These, these... transdimensional... portals, or what have you, do tend to be a bit... unpredictable. I suggest we make our way back to Sunnydale and trust Buffy to do the same. If we don't hear from her shortly then... we'll get proper supplies and search for her... erm... properly.”
Willow favored him with a doubtful look. She was probably trying to smile, but if so she was failing. Badly. “Um, Giles?” she asked, voice going high and reedy with anxiety, “How, exactly, do we make our way back to Sunnydale?”
This was it, the thing he dreaded. He had to tell her. For once valor would have to get the better of discretion. “We're going to teleport there,” he explained matter-of-factly. “By magic.”
“But, but, Giles!” Willow objected frantically, “I don't have that kind of power! I, I, I can only summon two of the four elements. And, and, my potions come out... soup, and, and—”
“Willow,” Giles said gently but very firmly, gripping her by the shoulders and forcing her to meet his steady, anchoring gaze, “You summoned the human soul of a vampire from the aether to indwell his body once again. You created living flame for the destruction of the Glove of Myhnegon. You defeated the Mayor's magical safeguards to gain access to the Box of Gavrox. Of all the beings from every dimension gathered in that auditorium tonight, Merlin the Magician chose you, Willow Rosenberg, to help him defeat one of the most powerful spells that Morgan La Fay, greatest witch in the history of witchcraft could throw at him! You have the power to do this.”
“But, but,” Willow stammered, seeming more rattled than ever by his attempts at reassurance, “I don't know how to teleport!” she squealed miserably.
“Yes,” he conceded, smiling softly, half amused despite himself by her strangely endearing underestimation of herself. “But I do,” he reminded her reassuringly. “With my knowledge and your power, we can do just about anything. All we need is a little faith and a little luck.”
“Right,” she agreed, nodding shakily, beginning to calm down already. “You know. You always know. You know everything.” Her confidence in him was humbling, and yet it inspired within him a sense of pride and affection that he would have had to describe as almost fatherly. “Okay, so, my body is your instrument; what do you want me to do?” The key word being almost.
Giles took his glasses off again and peered down at them, the better to hide his inappropriate, but most certainly idle thoughts. Thoughts he'd been doing his very poor best to extinguish ever since that fateful night a few weeks ago, the night she had dressed up in leather and lace to foil her evil … well foil. Ever since she had innocently command him 'hey look at those!' and he had thoughtlessly obeyed. And now she was tilting her head sideways at him, somewhere between puzzlement and worry. “Giles, are you okay?”
“What? Me? Oh, uhm, yes. Never better.”
“Are you sure? Because you seemed... distracted. Or, well... sort of. For a second.” She looked up at him with such trust and hope, so sure that if anything was wrong he knew how to make it right. An expectation upon which he had better make good. And fast. It was getting colder out here. And he could hear something howling that he was fairly sure was not a coyote. It might only have been that peculiar semi-zombie chap from the awards ceremony. And then again it very well might not.
“Take my hands,” he instructed her, keeping his voice quiet, calm and businesslike. Willow, of course, faithfully complied. “Now repeat after me and concentrate all of your intention into the words as you say them.” She nodded resolutely and, true to her nod, began repeating every word he said with almost unimaginable gravity.
They began with a simple homing spell, an incantation calling upon the nearest available and kindly inclined god or goddess to help them slide around the dimensions of the physical world through the aether to the birthplace of the more powerful of the two supplicants. Nothing happened. Almost less than nothing. The air did not so much as stir. Giles walked Willow through a dozen other spells, each calling on different gods or spirits. They tried for well over an hour, running through every incantation and benediction Giles could think of. Finally, desperately, they even tried calling upon Christian saints. But Saint Christopher made them no more answer than Winged Mercury and the Virgin Mary was as deaf to their cries as the vengeful Hecate.
“It must be my fault,” Willow apologized. “See, I told you I wasn't that powerful.”
“No, no, I don't think so,” Giles assured her his voice not rising above a whisper now. “There's something... off here. Can't you feel it?”
Willow stood for a moment. Shivering. Contemplating. “Your right,” she said at last, in a voice even quieter than his own. A small, tremulous voice that made him want to shelter her in his arms to keep her safe and warm. “It feels... empty.”
“Well...” Giles suggested, throwing out his last idea, otherwise stumped. “I suppose you could try someone erm a bit, well, closer to home?”
For a moment, Willow was puzzled. Then she breathed a tiny, derisive puff of air out through her nostrils, shaking her head and giving him a bit of a glare, together with an incredulous tilt of her head. “Him?” she scoffed. “I called on Him for fifteen years and got bupkis. Trust me, if I knew how to get His attention I'd have been the world's first astronaut Supreme Court Justice by the time I was five.” Her voice rose steadily in pitch and volume until it became something between a shout and a wail, and every word edged with bitter irony.
“I could have stopped Jesse from being killed!” she screamed at the desert sky. “And Sheila! And Debbie! Even Pete! But no! Someone's too good to answer prayers unless you're absolutely perfect and pure and clean! I mean, if He was listening. If my faith had been enough for Him! I could have closed the Hellmouth myself!” As she cried out, Willow reeled around in an unsteady circle, hands lifted upon high.
“Don't believe me!?!” she challenged, though Giles had said nothing, only stood there with his mouth gaping, having no idea what to make of her unprecedented emotional state. “Here, watch this!” she shouted. “Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam, hagomel lahayavim tovot, sheg'molani kol tov! Amen. Mi sheg'molayikh kol tov, hu yigmolayikh kol tov. Selah! See! Bupkis!”
“Willow! Willow!” Giles grabbed her by the shoulders. For a moment she tried to pull away from him, but when he folded his arms around her, she collapsed into them willingly. Either that, or she was just too broken to resist. Sobbing against his suit front, the young Talent wailed her vernacular litany for the dead of Sunnydale. “It's all right,” he found himself whispering into her soft red hair, over and over, soothingly, senselessly, “It's all right. It's alright.”
“No!” She shouted, suddenly pulling so forcefully away that she knocked him on his tweed clan ass in the desert sand. “Damn it, no! Giles, it is not alright!”
“Oh for the love of Mike!” he shouted, suddenly losing patience with her hysterics. “Get a hold of yourself!” The middle of a life-threatening crisis was no time to panic.
“Oh to hell with Mike!” she shouted right back at him, sense having little place in her ranting any longer, emotion taking the place of reason entirely. “If Mike's such hot stuff then why doesn't he come get us out of this desert and back to civilization right now!”
The desert night remained still. Not so much as a cricket chirped. Then, suddenly, the still night air was ever so slightly disturbed, as if by the slow, ponderous beating of very heavy wings. “Who are you?” a voice from above demanded, startling Willow and Giles alike. They looked up into the stern, battle hardened face of a man... who happened to have wings. “Why do you call upon my name in this desert place?”