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Tabula for One

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The group had reconvened at Xander's apartment for an impromptu emergency meeting, following the previous night's ghastly revelations at the Bronze. They were shocked and disgusted to find out they had - by accident, malpractice or both - torn Buffy screaming out of heaven(or at least a dimension that resembled it) when they had resurrected her six weeks previously. The tense silence was finally broken by the most likely suspect, as Anya finally spoke up.

"Do you think she walked around on clouds wearing, like, Birkenstock's and played a harp? 'Cause those are just not flattering," she paused briefly. "You know, the clunky sandals, not a harp. I mean, who doesn't look good with a harp?" Willow looked at her in frustration while Tara turned to her cup in embarrassment. Xander just looked at her in confusion. "What? I-I'm just saying what everyone's thinking. Right, baby?"

She turned to Xander who offered his boilerplate grin of appeasement.

"You are attractive and have many good qualities."

Anya looked back at her fiancé, hurt, but bit her tongue to hold back the venomous retort that first came to mind. Tara looked up at her and gave her the acknowledgement she expected - an assuring(if sad) smile to show that she wasn't being ignored.

"It's totally not stupid... To wonder what it was like for Buffy. But it could have been any one of a zillion heavenly dimensions. All we know is that it was a good place and... She was happy there."

"We took her away from that. We wrecked it for her," Willow whispered guiltily as her gaze remained locked at her tired hands. The hands who had hurt her friend so very much.

"We didn't wreck. We didn't know," Xander tried as he attempted to soothe their broken hearts and spirits, as best as he could.

It was of no use. "We didn't want to know," Willow spat in disgust. "We were so selfish. I was so selfish," she admitted while silently continuing her train of thought in her own busy head. 'Why couldn't I just had left her be and kept things going as they were. We could have made it work. Eventually. We-we were getting better and dealing with it all, we just needed more practice!'

Xander shook his head in grim frustration. "Maybe we were. I just feel weird feeling bad that my friend's not dead. It's too mind-boggling. So I've decided to simplify the whole thing. Me like Buffy. Buffy's alive, so me glad." He didn't know just who he wanted to convince the most; Willow and the others or just himself. All he knew was that it wasn't working - and that Willow's small nod was an empty gesture that satisfied absolutely nobody.

"Not to be miss psycho pep squad, but we have got to stop obsessing about what we did... And start trying to make things better for Buffy," Tara offered. They had screwed up - there was no denying that - but they could still help out. If Buffy let them. They could still try to make it easier for her in some other way, one that didn't involve them breaking the laws of nature and magic.

Anya's spirits rose slightly. "I'm with miss psycho pep squad!"

Xander decided to approach the problem head-on. "We need to spend more time with her, just hang out. Maybe have weekly dinners over here, or a book club... Short books... videos." He'd always been one for solution-based approached. It was the planning for said solutions that he was more lacking in.

Willow looked up at him. "I can fix it. I know a spell-"

"No," Tara interrupted harshly. "No more spells."

"Then what?" Willow was grasping for straws - she felt overwhelmed at every turn. How was she supposed to help if nobody would even let her even try? "This isn't something that's gonna be fixed by a video club. I know I messed up, okay, and I wanna fix it."

Tara's growing frustration was obvious to everyone at the table. They hadn't failed to notice the repeated butting of heads between the two witches in the subject of their differing attitudes when it came to magic, spellcasting and the situations that warranted them. "I can't believe that we are talking about this again. You know how powerful magic is, how dangerous. You could hurt someone. You could hurt yourself."

"But I know a spell that will make her forget she was ever in heaven," Willow offered. She knew the spell would work. She had used it before, after all.

"God, what is wrong with you?!"

Tara's outburst was a signal to the others that no, things were not going to be solved that evening. It would get a lot worse before it got any better. Xander stood up and moved towards their bedroom.

"I'm gonna go get that phone you probably don't hear it. High-pitched ring. Ears like a dog."

Anya followed him soon after. "I'm gonna help you with that."

As the door closed behind them Tara sighed deeply at her girlfriend. "Do you think I'm stupid? I know you used that spell on me."

Willow had been frozen in place - her mouth gaping open as Tara let loose on her - but now she fully realized the situation that she herself had put them in. "Tara, I'm sorry, I..."

"Don't. Just... don't. There's nothing you can say." She shook her head in frustration and still had a hard time believing that Willow would ever do something like that to her. I mean, it was Willow.

"Tara, I didn't mean to-"

"To what," she spat out. "Violate my mind like that? How could you, Willow? How could you after what Glory did to me?" Her voice lost its edge and quickly moved from justified anger to despondent sadness.

Willow's brain - usually a wonder of activity that could juggle several complex processes simultaneously while maintaining a regular conversation on advanced subjects - suddenly froze with only one train of thought slowly limping through her head. "Violate you? I... I didn't mean anything like that. I-I just wanted us not to fight anymore. I love you."

"If you don't want to fight, you don't fight. You don't use magic to make a fight disappear." Tara suddenly realized with the utmost clarity where this conversation would inevitably end up and suddenly felt her heart shatter - shatter into a million pieces as it fell to the bottom of her stomach.

Willow, however, had no idea what was coming. "But I... I just wanted to make things better... better for us."

"But you don't get to decide what is better for us, Will. We're in a relationship. We are supposed to decide together." Tara felt as if she was reading from a script - that she was just regurgitating the words that her heart already knew she had to say to lead them to the now inevitable conclusion.

"Okay. I realize that I-I did it wrong," Willow offered. She finally realized that she had screwed up, beyond recognition. This was worse than anything she had ever done before and she knew it.

"You did it the way you're doing everything. When things get rough, you-you don't even consider the options. You just... You just do a spell. It's not good for you, Willow. And it's not what magic is for."

Willow had heard it before and hadn't listened to it then. "But I... I just wanna help people." She pleaded but knew she was grasping at straws.

"Maybe that's how it started, but... You're helping yourself now, fixing things to your liking." Willow knew Tara was right. During the summer she had been forced to use magic to manage the responsibilities of Buffy's funeral, fostering Dawn, organizing patrols, repairing and reprogramming the Buffybot and helping Tara recover from both physical and mental trauma. She was using magic as a crutch because she knew she wasn't strong enough to do it otherwise. She had failed, - again - just like she had failed Buffy in the final fight against Glory. Like she had failed to protect Tara following their first argument regarding her magic use. "Including me," Tara then added, a sad encore to signal the beginning of the end.

"Tara, no!" That was not what she was trying to do. Willow was so terrified of Tara leaving her, she always were. That Tara would realize just how pathetic Willow was, how she had always been. It wasn't like she didn't trust Tara, but ever since Buffy died things hadn't been the same between them. Willow were always exhausted and when she had free time it was as if she didn't have the energy for anything anymore - not until she started to use a few spells here and there to get the schedule to work enough that she actually had time and energy to be with her love.

Tara looked down at the table and sighed as she gathered the willpower she required to utter the seven words she had never thought she would have to say to Willow. "I don't think this is gonna work."

And there it was. "Hey. It is. It... it's working. Tara, please. I... I need you, baby. I... I need you. I-I don't need magic. I-I don't. I... let me prove it to you. Okay? I-I will go a month... Without doing any magic. I-I won't do a single spell. I swear." Willow already knew it was over. She had driven away the only one who could still stand to be around her these days. She had ruined everything. Again. She had tried to be more than the cowardly geek and she paid the price of her hubris.

She should've seen it coming, really. People had warned her to break out of the old reliable mold they knew her from. Her parents certainly didn't want her to remain with her friends and girlfriend in Sunnydale. not when she had opportunities from some of the best schools in the world. And Giles had told her repeatedly that she shouldn't have gotten involved with magic, it was just too much for her. It's not even the first time she had gotten involved above her standing when it came to her romantic life either - Oz had upgraded to some hot musician who actually shared some of his interests. And even before then she had gotten fooled by an Internet demon who strung her along by simply expressing any kind of interest in her. If anything, Willow getting her comeuppance from attempting to reach beyond her limits was kind of impressive in just how groundbreaking the outcomes actually were.

So that's something.

"Go a week. One week without magic." Tara didn't know exactly why she gave Willow this final hope, this final lifeline. She had already figured Willow wouldn't be able to manage even a week, but at least she would know she had given Willow a chance to prove herself. And - in the deep recesses of her mind - she shamefully admitted to herself that she'd given herself an out, one with definitive parameters that would absolutely absolve her from any guilt.

"Fine. Fine. That's easy." She would do this. Willow would do this to prove her love and then Tara would... Tara would realize, once and for all, what everyone else already had done in the past; that Willow had nothing else to offer.

"Go a week, and then we'll see. I don't know, I just... I think we both need some, I don't know, space." Despite everything, Willow felt her blood turn cold. There would be no doubt what was coming for them and their future. "I can't believe I'm saying this," Tara continued while fighting back tears.

Willow had to ask, despite already knowing the answer. "Are you saying you're gonna leave me?"

Tara couldn't even summon the strength to look at her. "One week, Willow. One. Week."



It was early morning the next day when Dawn and Tara stood by the bottom of the stairs. They were getting late and were waiting impatiently for Willow to join them for the walk to today's meeting at the Magic Box. Giles had summoned the Scoobies for some news and expected everyone to show up.

It was the teenager that finally had enough. "Willow, come on! You ready?"

"Not so much," Willow confirmed apologetically as she appeared at the top of the stairs, newly showered and wrapped in towels. "You go ahead. Tell Giles to hold up. I'll be there in a sec."

Tara didn't have any more patience for this. She just wanted the meeting over with - she already knew what would happen. They'd find a new monster and Willow would manage to convince Buffy and Xander that they just had to let her cast a spell - one to save the day and thereby validate her continued magic use. "Fine," she almost spat out.

Dawn noticed the added venom in the reply but kept her cool demeanor, there had been enough fights between her two best friends over the last few days. "Hurry up. You don't wanna miss the lowdown on our latest featured creature."

Willow nodded with a mirthless smile and watched as the two left the Summers Residence. She heard them talking as she moved back up the stairs as the tears kept pushing their way to the forefront.

It was time to be the responsible one, for once.



November 13

I might have been wrong. Willow apparently did understand just how serious I were yesterday when I told her that I'd leave her if she wouldn't go without using magic for a week.

So she left me first. Left us. Once Dawnie and I had left for the meeting that Mr. Giles had called, she packed up almost all her stuff and moved out of Buffy's home. She left a note and explained she'd keep her promise and stay clean but that she wouldn't be able to do so surrounded by all the magic paraphernalia and the danger that always appeared at Revello Drive. So she's moved back, back to her parents.

Dawnie and Buffy doesn't know, I haven't told them yet. After Giles told us that he's going back to England tomorrow(for good?) none of us were in the mood to talk. Anya wasn't in a good mood at all once a group of vampires came for Spike's head and made a mess of the Magic Box. He and Buffy disposed of them easily and then went out on patrol but Buffy were really upset by the news from Giles so I don't know how she'll take Willow moving out, not on top of everything else.

You know, despite everything that has happened I still miss her. I still love her so damn much. I think she'll come back, after the week of sobriety is over. Although, she hasn't taken any pictures with her when she left. She only took clothes, her laptop and her toiletry when she left. I did find a Ziploc bag filled with that damned Lethe's Bramble though so at least it doesn't seem like she's going to try that crap again so hey that's something! Next time I'm at the Box I'm going to see if Anya want to buy them off from me. If I never see the plant again it'll still be too soon.

The time apart will do us both some good and - even though she hates it at home - she'll at least be safe while she tries to stay clean. Amy doesn't seem to appreciate her absence though - just how much does that poor girl understand from her surroundings while she's stuck in that form? Should we have put a blanket over her during our private time?



November 14

Giles is on a plane back to England for the second time in three months. Nobody saw him off this time and I think we're all pretty mad at him for abandoning us. Not just Buffy but also everyone else. Isn't he still a Watcher and if so; isn't Buffy his, well, job if nothing else?

As soon as we got the call that he were about to board the plane Dawn finally asked where Willow were hiding and why she hadn't shown up at the Box yesterday. I gave her the note and explained what had happened since Halloween - she deserved to know why we are taking a break - and she declared that it's probably for the best that Willow is out for a while or Dawn would kick her ass for what she had done to me.

I hate that I didn't find feel bad for not defending Willow.

I hate that we've become so broken.

I hate that I fear that we might not be able to fix this. I love her but can't trust her and it hurts so damn much.

Later in the day I heard her tell Buffy that Willow had moved out. Buffy just asked if Dawn knew if Willow had paid this month's rent before she left. I think she's a lot more detached from the world than we already feared but she just refuses to talk to us about it.



November 18

Okay I'm actually getting kinda worried here. Nobody has seen or even heard from Willow(other when I think I got a quick glimpse of her at the campus but she moved out of sight before I could get a better view) since she moved out. All we've gotten is an automated letter from the USPS that contained a receipt and confirmation of her change of address, back to her childhood home.

I fear she has failed at her goal and is cutting us all off so she'll be able to abuse magic without intervention from her friends. Her family.

She would rather stay in that cold, heartless house than face the consequences of her actions.

I think I have lost her for good and I can't stop crying.



November 20

A week has passed and still there's nothing from Willow. I've caught another glimpse at her again and this time I know it was her, despite the clothes she was wearing. Haven't seen her in that style of clothing in the past but they did resemble some of the stuff I saw in the old pictures, those of her High School days that she tried to hide when we first moved in together. I also found the Doll's Eye Crystal hidden in the back of a drawer. If nothing else she must come back for that, right? It's hers.

I urged Spike to keep an eye out if he is in her area. He answered rather noncommittally but when pushed he said he would try to keep me informed if he spotted her.

I also asked Anya at the Box if Willow's been around but she hasn't seen her - not since the fight at Xander’s place. She didn't even know that Willow had moved out and was gonna ask Xander if he knew anything. So yay, at least she hasn't been buying any magic supplies. But on the other hand, I thought that Xander and Anya had been told already. From what I understand, this might be the longest that Willow had gone without speaking to Xander - at least since I first met her.