Giles glanced at the clock, then at Willow. He was so tired, so ready to sleep. But in that sleep what dreams may come? he thought.
"Aye, there's the rub," he murmured.
"What's that?" Willow asked, eyes still on her book.
"I am okay now," Giles told Willow. "You need help researching, and I could do that."
"I wish I could believe you, but … you could still be trying to kill Buffy."
Giles sighed. "At least set the prophesy in front of me? Allow me to study it as I sit here."
Giles hunched over, studiously studying the archaic script. His eyes narrowed. "We may have a problem."
"Spike, he's the hero. We assumed Buffy, therefore the Master rising from the ashes seemed perfect. I don't think the Master was ever Spike's enemy. So this phrase about the past, and the ashes, it either refers to someone else, or something else entirely."
"Well that's just bloody perfect," she muttered. "We need to figure this out, we only have a few hours."
Willow left the room, returning with three leather bound books. At Giles' quizzical look she explained, "One is a Watcher's study of Spike; one is Spike's own account—the one you paid him to write, and the last is a book of spells. If we fail, I'm going to have to do something."
He made a sound of disapproval. "I hope it doesn't come to that."
He ached to rub his weary eyes, but the restraints weren't likely to be undone, so he went back to reading, and bore the weight of his stupidity silently.
"Spike must die," Giles said grimly.
"What?" Willow squeaked.
"If Spike's blood washes over the seal to the hell mouth, it opens, but if his ashes do... the hell mouth in Sunnydale is forever sealed."
"The prophesy, the bit about the ashes, it's rather clear now. Spike must be sacrificed."
"This sounds stupid, and way too convenient."
"Yes, well in the world of the supernatural things often are convenient."
"And you're a hundred percent certain?" she asked dubiously.
"Yes… well ninety percent… or so."
"Uh-huh. And why didn't you realize this the other zillion times we read the prophesy?"
'We thought it pertained to Buffy, and the last time I checked, Buffy doesn't turn to ash," he defended.
"This still sounds stupid."
"That doesn't make it untrue! We must stake him on the seal."
"No, if you were wrong once, you could be wrong again. See what you want to see. We can't kill him on a hunch."
"Perhaps we should ask him. Let him make the decision."
"Or not," Willow countered. "Until we know for sure, mister, there will be no telling anyone anything."
"And who's to say I will abide by your wishes?"
She paused, furrowing her brow in her search of an answer. "I'll gag you," she finally said, pointing a scolding index finger at him.
His mouth snapped closed at that, and he glared at her indignantly.
"That's what I thought," Willow said, satisfied.
An hour passed uneventfully as they continued reading. Giles' lips quirked in a half smile that he quickly smothered.
"Um, Willow, dear?"
Her head snapped up. "Huh?"
"Dear, I must use the… er, facilities."
"The…? Oh! Yes, I… wait. I would have to untie you." Willow shook her head. "I don't know, Giles. Can you wait?"
"I can't wait, Willow. I've been waiting." Giles rotated his wrists as much as the ropes allowed him. "I'll come back, but please, allow me a few moments free."
Willow weighed her options. She didn't particularly want to clean up any … mess Giles made if kept from his potty break. But she could trust that he wouldn't run away?
"Just a few minutes?" Willow asked.
"Yes! Please, Willow, now." Giles squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.
"Okay," she gave in, loosening the ropes. "I will use magic if you try anything, got it?"
"Yes, of course." He pushed out of the chair as the last rope fell, and walked briskly to the bathroom.
Willow winced at the crash as he slammed the door. "Maybe I waited too long to let him go," she mused.
"Willow?" Xander called as he came into the house.
She left her book open on the table and moved swiftly to the door. "Did you find him?"
"Nah, I looked everywhere I figured a nineteenth century gentleman might be, but Sunnydale has a lack of brothels and public houses. Just a lot of strip joints and bars."
Willow poked his chest. "This isn't a joke, mister. Dawn's life is on the line."
"Ow, geez, Wils! That hurts! Sorry, mistress, it won't happen again, mistress," he grumbled.
Her eyes burned with irritation as she gripped his nipples between her thumbs and forefingers, and twisted mercilessly.
Xander screamed and slapped her hands away. "Leggo!" He rubbed at his wounded flesh. "Okay, I'm serious. This is me, Xander the serious. I didn't find him. I went everywhere on my list plus some."
Willow sighed and slumped into an armchair. "I hope Buffy's had better luck."
On cue the door swung open and Buffy came in with William on her heels.
"Got him!" she told the two scoobies.
William stood awkwardly, the leather jacket Clem found him rested over his arm. He despised touching it, but he needed what was in the pocket.
"Now wish for a million dollars!" Xander instructed Willow.
"Where was he?" the red head asked, ignoring her friend.
"And how'd you get 'im to come?" Xander asked. "Threaten his manly pieces?"
"No, he came on his own." Buffy glanced over at William.
"Ahh, so you lied? Told him we're taking him to get ice cream?"
"No," Buffy gritted, "He knows what's going down. He's going anyway."
Xander scoffed. "I bet he expects you to make it worth his while."
William opened his mouth to argue in his defense, but Buffy beat him to the mark.
"Shut it, Xander. William is helping us. Helping me because he wants to, not because he has to," she reproached. "Kinda like when he helped me save you."
Xander pursed his lips. "I-"
"Not a word, Xander," Buffy warned.
Xander's mouth clamped shut when he saw the anger in her eyes. "Yes ma'am."
William couldn't smother his grin. Something finally shut him up, he thought.
Buffy nodded, satisfied. "Now, we need to plan—Where's Giles?"
"Huh?" Willow asked, brow furrowed. "Oh! Giles is … in the bathroom... Actually he's been in there a while."
"And why did you let him out of the chair?"
"Um…'cause he needed to go?"
"And why didn't you wait for us?" Buffy ground out through clenched teeth.
"He really needed to go?" she said meekly.
Buffy moved wordlessly to the bathroom door. The others followed at her heels.
"Giles?" she called, knocking.
"He's not in there," William said. "There's only three heartbeats."
Buffy gave the knob a sharp twist. The lock broke and the door swung open to an empty room. A breeze drifted in softly through an open window.