At the airport, we see a clock, then people getting off an airplane. A family come through the gate; the boy is slow, and the girl walking behind him pushes him along, which makes him drop his bag. The father picks it up and tells them to stop acting up. Buffy, Dawn and Xander are waiting nearby. Xander is carrying a large sign which says "Welcome Back Willow" written in yellow crayon, a reference to his talking Willow down at the bluff last season. Dawn teases him a little; apparently he's told that story many times. Xander is still proud that he saved the world through talking. Buffy and Dawn are nervous because of what Willow did (killing people, threatening Dawn), but Xander doesn't seem to be nervous. He figures Giles wouldn't have let Willow leave if she hadn't finished her recovery course. Buffy reveals Willow didn't finish, but Giles said it was really important that she come back early Dawn is not happy at this news at all. Xander breaks in to note that they're closing the gate, so everyone must have gotten off the plane but Willow still hasn't shown up.
We see the clock again, showing the same time it did the first time, and the exact same family walk past, and run through the exact same events. This time, however, Willow also walks into the terminal. But now there's no sign of the gang. Willow stands, and looks around, clearly upset that no one seems to have come to meet her.
A young man is spraying graffiti on a wall at a building site. A shadowy shape runs in front of the camera, and clicks its claws together. A creepy voice starts speaking to the man, noting that he's all alone. It asks if he's frightened to be all alone. The young man is scared by the voice, and stops spraying, asking if there's someone there. He looks around, but can't see anything, as the voice gives way to malevolent laughing. The boy suddenly screams as something pounces on him.
Willow is at Buffy's front door. She knocks, but there's no answer. She goes round to the back, knocks again, but this door is unlocked, so she goes in. A clock reads 10:41 p.m. She calls out for Buffy, but no one answers. She goes upstairs, into the master bedroom, where a plaque on the door announces that this is now Buffy's room. Willow looks around, then goes over to the window, where she remembers Tara's death, as this is the window that Tara was shot through. She looks at a collection of photos Buffy has displayed there are some of Xander and Dawn, but don't seem to be any of her. She looks at Buffy's address book, which is lying open at the family and friend's page; there's no number for her (or Giles). Suddenly she hears the front door slam, and she drops the book and runs out of the room and down the stairs, calling for Dawn and asking if she heard the door. But again there doesn't seem to be anyone there. Disheartened, Willow goes through to the living room and lays down on the couch.
We see the same clock reading 10:41 when Buffy and the gang walk in through the front door. They're speculating about Willow's apparent absence. Buffy says Giles told her she got on the plane in London; Buffy thinks Willow may have doubled back and got off the plane after Giles left, or got off at the layover in Chicago. Dawn thinks this means Willow must be evil; Xander tries to defend Willow. Buffy says she hopes Xander is right. Dawn suggests they check the messages to see if Willow called. Xander shuts the front door. They hear a noise upstairs and go up to investigate; Xander calls out for Willow, asking if that was her.
Buffy and Xander come back down; they didn't find anything upstairs. Dawn apparently came back down first and then checked for messages; she reports that there are none. Buffy says she checked with Giles again, too, but he hasn't heard anything either. They sit on the couch. Buffy says that Giles is wigging out, and blaming himself. She told him it wasn't his fault, that perhaps Willow couldn't face them. Xander speculates that Willow didn't think they were ready to forgive her, which he says he gets. Dawn thinks they should blame Willow, not themselves. Buffy agrees, and says there's only so much they can do if Willow isn't even going to be there. The gang fade out, and we see Willow lying on the couch where the gang was (are) sitting. She fell asleep. When she wakes up, it's morning, and still no one seems to be home. She goes to the phone and calls Giles, but he's at a council meeting and is unreachable, so she hangs up. She looks forlornly around the empty house.
Willow walks to the Magic Box, which is closed, burnt out, boarded up, and has "Unsafe" signs on it. As she approaches, Anya comes out, holding a box of salvaged merchandise from inside. Anya tries to back into the shop when she sees Willow, but Willow pleads with her to not run away. Anya says she thought Willow was with Giles, learning how to not kill people. Willow tells Anya she just got back. Anya asks if she just got back as in she's all better, or if she came back to bring about a fiery apocalypse of death. Willow says neither, but she has been studying, and she is better. Anya sarcastically pretends to believe her, and mentions that Willow destroyed her livelihood. Willow apologizes while Anya rants. Anya stops when Willow tells her to say whatever she wants, finding it no fun if Willow doesn't mind. Willow sits down on the curb; Anya puts down the box and sits next to her. There's a moment of awkward silence, and Willow picks up a three horned skull from the box and idly plays with it. She asks Anya where everyone is these days, struggling to sound casual. Anya eagerly gives her an update on her own life; how she's moved back into her old apartment, and is travelling around the world for her vengeance jobs (she went to Brazil recently). Willow clearly isn't the slightest bit interested, and asks about the gang (hastily putting the skull she just accidentally broke back into the box). Anya asks if Willow hasn't seen them, and when Willow admits she hasn't, Anya tactfully decides they must still be mad at her. She says they've been temperamental recently, and starts to tell Willow about the mixup over "Ronnie the worm boy" a few days ago. Willow rudely interrupts, asking where they would be. Anya thinks probably the High School, because everyone is there lately. She tells Willow that Buffy has a job there, Xander too, and Spike is insane in the basement. That last bit gives Willow pause. Anya notes that Xander likes to start work early and is probably already there.
Willow walks up to the construction site, and calls for Xander. There's no one around, but there is the most enormous pile of sand in the world. Willow clambers through the fence and down a ladder, only to find a skinned body lying near a graffitied wall. Xander and Buffy are there too, disturbed by the gory scene. Of course, they're unaware of Willow's presence there, and vice-versa. Xander tells Buffy he found the body before his crew turned up; he gave them the day off and called Buffy right away. Willow hurriedly climbs back up the ladder, wanting to get away from the body. Xander hears movement on the ladder, but dismisses it. He tells Buffy he knows she's thinking that Willow did it.
Willow wanders through the High School, looking lost. She goes down to the basement, looking for Spike. He jumps out at her, telling her this is his place, and that she needs permission to be there (a special slip with a stamp). He rambles for a moment about trying to "fix" yourself, then starts to talk to a particular spot in the empty air. Willow thinks he's talking to her. She tells Spike about the body she found, and says she can't find the gang; Spike raises his eyebrow at that, then looks at the spot in the air again. Willow tells him the body was skinned, and asks what could do that. Spike tells her he heard that she did it once. Willow asks what aside from her could do it, but Spike is talking to the "air" again, eventually deciding he should hide his face from it. Willow doesn't know what's going on. Spike notes that everyone is talking to him, but not to each other. He decides that Willow isn't actually there; it isn't specifically clear whether he realizes she's invisible to the gang, or thinks that she's just another one of his delusions.
Buffy and Xander head through the basement to Spike's place. Xander says the blueprints are useless down here it's like the walls are moving. They hear Spike and walk into the end of his rant about fixing yourself, although predictably they can't see that Willow is there too. It turns out that the "air" Spike was talking to during his conversation with Willow, was in fact Buffy. When Spike asks Willow about the body, they assume that he must have seen the body. Buffy tries to question Spike, but he's not very forthcoming, and decides to hide his face from Buffy because she knows what he did. He again notes that everyone is talking to him, but not to each other, as Buffy and Xander move to leave. When Spike announces that "the witch" isn't there, Buffy thinks that he must have seen Willow. Spike tells the spot where Willow is standing that the Slayer and "her boy" think she did it. Buffy asks if there's something there that killed; Xander just wants to know why he's Buffy's "boy." Spike tells them he has to go, that there are things there without permission, and he needs to check their slips.
Willow is at Anya's front door. Anya opens it as Willow tells her she needs help. Anya tells her that she doesn't have any money. Willow barges in, and Anya sarcastically invites her in. Willow tells her about the body; Anya asks if it was Willow as Willow asks if it was her. They both answer no. Anya notes that Buffy will think it was Willow, which Willow already knows. Willow says she has to find whatever did it, to do something good; but Anya perceives that Willow really just wants to prove that she didn't do it (Willow wants to know when Anya got all insightful). Anya agrees to help Willow, providing it's not difficult or time-consuming.
The two of them sit on either side of a map of Sunnydale. The curtains are drawn and lots of candles are burning. Anya asks if this is going to get all sexy; Willow says she would be shocked if it did. Anya tries to joke a bit more, but Willow isn't in the mood. Willow tells Anya they're going to do a spell which will show little specks of light on the map for all the demons in Sunnydale. Anya asks if it will hurt the carpet, and Willow assure her it won't. They do the spell, and many specks of light show up, including a big clump at the High School, and a light Anya identifies as being herself, which she waves to. She thinks the spell is pretty, until the clump starts to smoke and burn. Willow hurriedly stamps it out, and picks up the map, while Anya complains to Willow that the spell in fact did hurt the carpet, which is now burned. Willow notices a small burn mark in a park, where there are some caves. It's near the body, strong and by itself. Anya thinks that's a pretty thin lead. Willow tells her to teleport her over there. At first Anya refuses because Willow damaged her carpet, but eventually she admits that she can no longer teleport at will (punishment for curing Ronnie the worm boy). Now she can only teleport on vengeance business, and has to file a flight plan. Willow sympathizes with her, as Anya tells her that she no longer finds the vengeance fulfilling, and she now finds causing pain really upsetting. This time Willow actually listens to her, and she understands how Anya feels; she asks if Anya is afraid of losing control. They understand each other, and mutually sympathize. Anya notes that it did get a little sexy at first Willow makes a flirtatious expression, but quickly loses it and dismisses herself to go find the demon. Anya stops her, asking if there isn't another spell Willow needs to be cast, perhaps a location spell to find the gang. Willow tells her she already tried that, but it went screwy it told her they didn't exist.
In Buffy's house, Buffy, Dawn and Willow are doing some research; Dawn on a computer (on the "Demons, Demons, Demons" database), the others in books. Dawn is eagerly asking for more details about the body for her research. Buffy is impatient, and tells Xander she needs to do something, and she thinks they know who did this; they just don't want to face the truth. Dawn breaks in to excitedly tell them she thinks she found the culprit. She tells them about a demon called Gnarl, who secretes a paralyzing fluid through his fingernails, which he uses to incapacitate his victims, before tearing off their skin in strips and eating it while they are still alive this process takes hours. Although Buffy is initially unconvinced, Dawn thinks this is their guy, because there was no pool of blood at the scene Gnarl laps up the blood of his victims. Xander comments that Dawn's enthusiasm is terrifying. They try and figure out how to find Gnarl. Xander suggests asking at Willy's Place, but Buffy thinks a better idea is to follow the trail of minute blood particles Gnarl must have left behind.
The gang are being led by a rambling Spike through the woods, as he follows the blood trail only he can smell. Xander isn't sure it's going to work. Buffy thinks it's straightforward enough Spike follows the blood smell, they follow the "fairly ripe smell of Spike." Dawn is still excited about their good solid detective work, and chatters about possible techniques they could use in the future, including maintaining a database of demons they defeat (she also wants to wear high heels more often). They pass through some trees, and Xander walks into Spike, who has stopped. He points them towards a cliff; they are unconvinced, and Xander mocks him. Spike pushes aside a bush to reveal a cave, before shooting Xander a contemptuous look and mocking him in return. Spike leaves.
Willow is standing in front of the same cave. She crawls inside (it's a very small entrance). A fire is burning inside. She sees something running at the back, and the same creepy voice that we heard earlier notes that Willow is all alone.
The gang make their way into the cave now. Xander and Dawn are clearly nervous. They hear something moving in the cave.
Willow looks frightened as Gnarl continues to talk to her, taunting her about being all alone (he must be able to sense the magic at work preventing her from seeing the others). She walks slowly deeper into the cave.
Dawn asks if the others can hear the talking. They can; but Buffy thinks it's far away, and is only echoing to sound like it's nearby. But no sooner does she say that then Gnarl leaps out, slashes Dawn, then disappears. Dawn rapidly begins to lose control over her body. Buffy decides they should get Dawn out of here and come back for Gnarl later. She tells Xander to seal Gnarl in.
Willow turns around at the noise only to see the entrance to the cave being blocked. She cries out for it to stop, only to hear Gnarl laugh. She's trapped in with him.
Gnarl taunts Willow about being trapped. Willow tries to cast a spell; but Gnarl tells her he loves spells they leave him alone. Willow tries to claw her way out, but quickly gives up. She tells him that it doesn't matter if he's immune to magic, as she has more than that. She offers to fight, but she's not very convincing. Gnarl tells her that her friends left her there on purpose, because they wanted him to have her.
Buffy and Xander support Dawn between them as they hurry through the woods. Buffy suggests there might be an antidote listed at the site Dawn was viewing. Dawn, muffled, tries to apologize, but Buffy and Xander aren't mad. They congratulate her on correctly identifying the demon.
Gnarl tells Willow that she was a gift for him. Willow tells him to stop it, and asks if her friends were really there. Gnarl leaps out and slashes her. As Willow sinks to the ground, Gnarl tells her that her friends were here, but abandoned her and sealed her in. He says he loves presents, and as he drags a now paralyzed Willow toward him, says that he can't wait to unwrap it.
Buffy and Xander, now carrying Dawn like a plank of wood, finally arrive at Buffy's house. They put Dawn face down on the sofa, only for her to tell them (very muffled since she can't move her mouth), "Face up, face up!" They flip her over. Buffy goes to check the computer as Xander comforts Dawn; he tells her she'll be doing the limbo in no time (Dawn retorts "as a pole!"). Buffy finds out that the paralysis is permanent until Gnarl is dead. Buffy moves to go after Gnarl, but Xander points out that they can't just leave Dawn there; what if she vomits? Buffy decides to call Anya to come and watch her, which Xander thinks Anya won't like, as Dawn pleads with them to stop talking about vomit.
Gnarl is still taunting Willow. He cuts her stomach with his nails. He then tears off a strip of her skin from her stomach and eats it, clearly savoring it.
Anya tells Buffy she thinks Dawn is dying, but Buffy corrects her. She and Xander are gathering weapons. Xander and Anya start to annoy each other. Anya discovers that Dawn is posable, as she pushes Dawn's legs up so that she forms an "L" shape. She then maneuvers Dawn into a sitting position, and comments there's hardly a need to undo the paralysis. Buffy, interested in the posable Dawn game, eats some nuts Anya brought back from Brazil Anya takes them back. Anya tells them she's feeling very benevolent today, and mentions helping Willow. Buffy and Xander's ears perk up at this, and they ask if she saw Willow. Anya tells them she did, and that Willow decided to go to some cave where she thought they might be. Buffy worriedly asks if Willow went to the cave, and Anya says that's where she was headed when Anya last saw her. She continues to play with Dawn as Buffy talks to Xander about "the Gnarl." Anya corrects them it's not "the Gnarl," just Gnarl. Buffy asks her if she's familiar with Gnarl, when Anya says she is, Buffy gives her an axe and tells her to come with them. They walk out, leaving Dawn after all though Buffy comes back and sticks a remote control in Dawn's frozen hand.
Willow is trying to cry in pain; Gnarl laughs and continues as he was, taunting her and tearing her skin. He pulls off another strip to eat.
Buffy, Xander and Anya are running toward the cave. Anya is lagging behind and complains about being out of shape, as she's been teleporting for months.
Willow is whimpering as Buffy lunges at Gnarl. Buffy wonders where Willow is; Anya tells her Willow is right there and is badly hurt. Xander reaches down to where Anya indicates, and waves his hand, but he can't feel anything. Anya tells him his hand is going right through her. She wants to know what's going on. Buffy thinks the invisible thing is a separate issue from Gnarl, who again lunges out to attack her, slashing at her he cuts through her clothes but doesn't manage to get her skin. They fight. Anya reminds Buffy of something she told her on the way, that she has to get Gnarl in the eyes. Anya talks to Willow, noting that she is really hurt. She tells Willow that Buffy and Xander are there, and Buffy is fighting the demon, but if they get too close Anya will have to run. Willow can't see Buffy or Xander, but she's happy that they came, and that they didn't leave her. Buffy is having a hard time fighting Gnarl, as he's so quick, but she eventually succeeds in stabbing him in the foot. This gives him pause, and allows her to grab him and gouge his eyes in with her thumbs, leaving smashed eyes all over her thumbs, grossing her, Anya and Xander out. Anya tells Willow that Buffy killed the demon, as Willow starts to breath more deeply, noting that she can move again. The pain from her stomach hits her.
Back at the house, Dawn squeaks as she suddenly falls over.
Buffy comes near where Willow is. Anya tells them that Willow is hurt badly; she goes for help. Xander gestures, saying he thinks Willow is roughly around there, and Buffy talks to that area, telling Willow that they can't see her, but they're really glad she's back (Buffy doesn't seem to realize that Willow can't hear them, either). Willow materializes in front of them; she's rambling about how she couldn't find them, and the demon said they left her. She sees them, and Buffy tells her everything is going to be okay. Willow agrees, because her friends are there.
Buffy walks in to her old bedroom, which is now Willow's. Willow's stomach is bandaged, and she's sitting cross-legged on the bed, and her eyes are closed. Buffy moves to go, but Willow notices her. Buffy apologizes for disturbing her, but Willow tells her she didn't have any strength left anyway. Buffy didn't know meditating took so much energy. Willow tells her she's growing new skin. Buffy is impressed, and Willow explains that she's drawing power from the earth to heal herself. Buffy says she should go, but Willow asks her to stay; she missed Buffy. Buffy says that they (the gang) missed Willow, too, then stresses that she missed Willow. Buffy tells her that Dawn is trying to figure out what caused the invisibility. Willow tells Buffy that she did herself, on accident. She remembers thinking that she wasn't ready to face the gang again yet. Buffy is disturbed that Willow made something like that happen by just thinking about it, but she tries to hide it. She tells Willow that's it's okay. Buffy admits she thought Willow might be the one who skinned the young man; she regrets thinking that, and says that Xander never thought it. Willow tells Buffy that he did a little she even thought it a little herself. Willow points out that Xander has the benefit of being able to keep his thoughts to himself, but Buffy is the Slayer and she has to voice these things, and it's okay. She also says it's okay if Buffy still isn't sure about Willow, because she isn't either. Willow moves to meditate again. When Buffy says she thought Willow was too tired, Willow responds that it hurts too much not to try. Buffy offers to let Willow have some of her strength; when Willow admits it would help a lot, Buffy sits and holds her hands to meditate with her.
Synopsis written by Elliot.