Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox and minions. This was created for entertainment purposes only, without remuneration. The story and all original material belong to me. To quote the fabulous Missy Elliot "copywritten so…don't copy me."
Distribution: The Mystic Muse http://mysticmuse.net
Feedback: Yes, please
Author's Note: Meant to be read with Tempus Fugit S4, a lighter ride than this one. S6 spoilery, but diverges from canon after S6. I started writing it months ago so there is no crossover with S7. Mad props to all the Kittens especially Jenny Jewwitch for the Kaddish and the constant support and to Melissa (witchpunk), my wonderful beta/muse.
Warning: This is going to be a long ride with lots of angst, but I'm a Kitten at heart so don't worry about our girls. I will take care of them. No Arrg. Promise.
Summary: Willow tries to deal with losing Tara.
Willow looked up from her laptop and scanned the room with unfocused eyes. For the past hour she had worked on the same email, but still sat staring at two short words and a blinking cursor on a field of white.
Slowly her eyes focused on her surroundings and she felt a deep frown crease her forehead. It was a familiar room, the guest room in the Summer's house, but it had been altered. All of the furniture, everything that had been theirs – hers and Tara's – was gone. Erased. Removed to the basement where no one could stumble on it accidentally and injure themselves. She knew why they had done it. For her. And probably for themselves as well, but now that the familiar four-poster bed, paintings and rugs had been replaced by cheap catalog furniture the room just felt sterile as if someone had scoured it with antiseptic to remove a deadly infection.
Her fingers moved in a blur over the keyboard finally coming to rest on the cool laminate surface of the desk.
Xander is too friendly, too accommodating and full of self-help book inspired advice. Buffy can't look at me. Dawn doesn't even see me and when she does her eyes are full of blame and anger. And everything in this terrible town reminds me of her.
How was your day?
The cursor slowly backed over the words on the screen as the redhead released a long sigh. It wasn't fair to unload on Giles. He had done so much for her over the past months, had been the only one to truly accept and forgive her. To ask her to forgive him. Because, as he explained it she had needed a Watcher, a mentor desperately, but he had been so focused on his Slayer that he let her growing power go un-schooled. Willow's case had been an eye-opener for the Council. They had even begun a new Watcher program with the redhead as test case. Witchy Watchers was the term she used in private with Giles to make him smile. The old Willow could make everyone smile and she had begun to practice on him hoping to find pieces of that old Willow again.
Old Willow. She cycled through the words that would describe her old self: Hacker. Best Friend. Nerd. Sidekick. Junior Scientist.
So much for me being the scientist, she thought ruefully. Now it's Willow Rosenburg, guinea pig.
Another long sigh and her eyes fell on the hard, ugly lines of a cheap Ikea knockoff bookshelf. Tara would never have allowed such a monstrosity near the Summers house. She permitted herself a small smile at the memory of the gentle look of disapproval Tara would only occasionally allow herself to express.
But she isn't here. She'll never be here again…
It terrified her sometimes. All of the great novels about love lost and grief spoke of the haunting afterward. Seeing their ghost everywhere. But she was back in Sunnydale, back in the same room where she and Tara had shared so much – love, lust and pain, everything – but there was nothing now. The connection was gone. Wasn't their love supposed to last forever even after death?
But it hadn't. It had died in this room with a bullet and a god and that was the terrible thing, the thing that couldn't be discussed or shared with anyone because it meant she had failed. The dark magic she had unleashed had somehow managed to sever her tie to the only thing that had ever really mattered in her life. The only light.
How many times can I fail you?
For the thousandth time since her arrival she considered rushing down to the basement and dragging up every piece of furniture until the room was bursting with it. At least then she would have something of Tara around her. Objects that had been touched by Tara's hands, pieces of the past that possibly even smelled like her still. But she knew this exorcism was not just for her, it was for Dawn too. The teenager still couldn't discuss the blonde without crying. Twice Willow had stumbled on the girl speaking quietly to a framed photo of Tara that hung in the hall.
Dawn had always confided in Tara and now there was no one. And the black hole that Tara's death had torn into the fabric of their lives continued to pull at them all with its terrible gravity. Weighing them down. They were all trying to escape its pull, to regain what they had lost with jokes and everyday acts, but there was no way to reverse the process that brought them here. No way to turn that black hole back into the bright star it had once been. Entropy. First law of the universe. Every system tends toward disorder. Chaos. But this system had found a terrible order that was artificial and suffocating. Unnatural.
Willow looked once again at her laptop. Maybe it wasn't a black hole for her anymore. It hadn't really been since that day on the hillside when she had tried to take away everyone's pain for good. Since then the place in her heart where Tara had been felt more like a blank. A white space. Like the agonizing white of the blank email.
White is the color of mourning in the East.
Realizing that the email was not going to get done, she shut the laptop with one shaky hand and looked at the clean lines of the box springs and mattress they called a bed. She was so tired. Exhausted. But she knew what that bed meant – dreams and nightmares. She could handle the nightmares, the endless visions of blood and power that always began with that one line, "Willow… your shirt." She was a Scooby after all, used to waking up shaking with fear.
It was the dream that tore at her soul and left her sobbing in desperation. The same dream. It always began in impressionistic gasps, the fractured sensations of waking. Waking in Tara's arms. It started with the warmth of her body against Willow's, the perfect Tara-shaped landscape of flesh fitted against her own, an arm thrown across her chest. The weight of Tara's arm was warmth and home. The temperature of love. And then it became a world of Tara smell. The blonde witch's personal chemistry mingled with jasmine and sandalwood and something else. Something uniquely Tara that spoke directly to the deepest place in Willow's mind. The primitive brain that searched for the simple things – food, sex, shelter, comfort. The things that mattered.
And then sound. The gentle flutter of her love's breath through red hair, breezing over sensitive ears. A sleepy sigh falling on her own lips like a kiss. Because she was that close in the dream. Her breath mingling with Tara's, the air of the room passing through one body and into the other. It was always at this point that her dreaming self began to run through the possibilities: stay still, open her eyes and watch Tara sleep? Or wake her with slow easy kisses, fingers and open mouths. Her hands would begin to roam, moving lightly over soft skin eliciting another breathy sigh. Feeling the flush and braille of her lover's arousal as her fingers made their slow and steady progress. This was the story of their love written in skin and breath, sighs and wet and Willow wanted to read it all, but there would be no open eyes. That was the dream and the dark and the end. No vision, no sight. She would never see her love again. Not even in sleep.
Willow took a deep breath to cleanse her mind before laying her head down wearily on the cool plastic surface of her desk to rest. Not to sleep.
Buffy tilted her head back to look up at the stars, rubbing the well-worn wood of her favorite stake between her palms. It was a slow night. Her Slayer senses picked up no supernatural activity, just the endless burrowing of earthworms beneath her, the gentle movement of the breeze around her.
But this was the place. She knew it from the vivid dreams that had haunted her nights since Willow's return.
The thought of the redhead made her grimace, her forehead becoming deeply lined. She hadn't had these morbid thoughts since Willow's departure to England. but since her return the Slayer had found her thoughts drifting back to that dark empty place she had fallen into after her resurrection. Because they had brought her back to make things the same, but nothing had been. Nothing. Especially not her friendship. The powerful magic her best friend summoned to bring her back had damaged their relationship irrevocably, had increased the distance between them to a space so much larger than the line between life and death. And there was no magic that could span that gap.
She felt her jaw clenching in anger at all she had lost. Angel. Riley. Tara. Her mother. Even Faith. But the loss she couldn't seem to get over was Willow because she had been there for the Slayer through everything. And then she wasn't. And worse, the redhead was there in the house haunting her. A ghost she couldn't touch or see clearly. A reminder of everything she had lost and could never retrieve. Because that wasn't her Willow. The demon with the dark hair and eyes had swept her Willow away and no matter how much therapy she had received in England, Buffy could see her still in the familiar green eyes. And a small part of her blamed Tara, but the larger part blamed herself. She was the Slayer. It was her job to protect her family from evil.
The hairs on the back of her neck began to stand at the memory of that other Willow. The demon of grief and anger. The only enemy Buffy had faced and failed to defeat.
All the therapy in the world isn't going to make Willow right, she thought bitterly. That was the worst part, that she would never really be able to understand what had happened. Why Willow had gone all black magic. But then she hadn't really felt close to Willow in a long time. Long before the resurrection. And some of it was Tara and that made her feel guilty. Because it had been different than Oz. Even when Willow was deeply involved with the guitarist she had always made time for Buffy, but as soon as Tara entered the picture Buffy had felt like an outsider.
Not like you tried really hard, she chastised herself. She knew she hadn't made time for her best friend, but there were good reasons. Riley reasons and then resurrection reasons and finally… Tara. It was hard to admit, but she had begun to prize her friendship with the blonde. She found herself sneaking around to meet Tara for coffee in secret and not to talk about Willow or to help Willow. To help herself. Because Willow looked for solutions when you talked to her about problems. And sometimes she wasn't looking for a solution. But she found that she could tell Tara her secrets and problems and Tara would just let them be. She would take in Buffy's nightmares with that deep blue gaze and give comfort not answers. She felt the tears well up in her eyes at the thought of the sweet blonde.
Tara I'm so sorry…
A hard blow to the back of her head sent the Slayer to her knees. As she tried to regain her balance, the sounds of a loud scuffle became audible behind her.
Willow's head shot up from desk at the sound of Buffy's voice echoing through the house. She looked wildly around the room trying to find the reason for obvious alarm in the Slayer's voice, but the room was black. It took her a few moments to realize where she was, the strange objects of the familiar room disorienting her already sleep-fuzzed brain.
"Buffy?" she finally managed to croak out weakly and then headed toward the door.
"Dawn!" the Slayer's angry voice now boomed through the house. Even her voice was a weapon, smashing through the house, against walls and eardrums.
Willow tripped over the laptop cord and quickly regained her balance before moving out into the darkened hall. The Slayer's voice was becoming more and more panicked as she searched the house for her sister.
"Buffy are you okay?" She mumbled as she picked her way down the hall trying to locate the light switch in the dark. The sound of Buffy's feet on the stairs drew her attention to the other end of the hall where the moonlight was streaming in as if to light her way.
She finally reached the top of the stairs relieved to find Buffy staring up at her with no visible wounds, at least nothing she could see in the dim light streaming through the window. There was a moment just before the Slayer looked up when Willow thought everything had finally returned to the way it had been. Before. There was a problem, a danger and they were moving together to find each other and make it right. Which meant that all of her careful attempts to remain cheery, her bright-colored clothing and talk about computers. Everything she had done to make them see that she was the old Willow who could be depended on and trusted was finally paying off. She knew it would be a slow process, but maybe this could be the beginning…
"Wil?" It sounded so normal, that small vulnerable word in the darkness, but it had been months since Buffy had uttered the familiar nickname. Or was it years?
And then their eyes met and the Slayer staggered back as if she had been struck.
"Where is she?" Her tone was accusing. Angry.
"I…I don't know. I just…." Willow stammered in shock trying desperately to understand the sudden shift in mood. Her still sluggish brain struggled with the scene before her. Did something happen on patrol? Something that looked like it might be her fault? Did she do something in her sleep? Maybe had a nightmare and cast a spell by accident? She studied her friend's features for a clue, but there was nothing. Her clothing was not torn, there were no bruises or blood, just Buffy looking stylish and slightly mussed after a Patrol as always. Even in the darkened hallway, her friend's slick sense of style and personal grooming was obvious. Even in the dark…. It took only a nanosecond for the answer to work its way through the redhead's powerful psyche – the darkened stairway, the eerie light from the moon that made the Slayer's golden hair look dark and her bright eyes look shadowed and almost black.
Evil Willow. Magic-abusing Willow.
She stared down at her best friend, her hero since she was fifteen, and knew with a sickening wave of nausea that Buffy was staring up at her enemy – Dark Magic Willow.
I failed you again Tara…
"No! No Buffy it's not…I'm not…" she scrambled for the light switch finally finding it to illuminate the hallway in the harsh light of a seventy watt bulb. "I was writing an email to Giles and I just put my head down for a second." Buffy stood staring up at her, blinking her eyes against the hard light. "I mean, I must have fallen asleep and what time is it?"
Several moments passed as the Slayer stared up at her in silence. Finally her mouth opened a bit and her features softened slightly with relief and Willow let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding.
"Eleven o'clock and Dawn's not here." All hope the redhead had died with the taut sound of her friend's voice. Former friend she reminded herself. And hopefully future friend. Again. Maybe.
"Did you check the frig? Maybe she left a note?" she offered in a small voice. A deep crease formed between the Slayer's eyebrows in response. "You know, cause that's the rule in the Summers house –" Willow stammered hastily.
"No I didn't check the frig because there is no note because Dawn knows she's supposed to stay here tonight," Willow watched her friend's back as the blonde Slayer retreated angrily down the stairs toward the kitchen. "Because I told her to in my most Mom-like voice!" The redhead summoned every bit of strength she possessed to follow her down the stairs. At least she's talking. Buffy talking is good. Talking to me is even better. This was the most Buffy had spoken to her since her return. She followed her carefully, trying to remain silent so her friend would have more room to speak. "…she knows how dangerous everything is right now and she knew she shouldn't…"
There was a pause as Buffy ripped down a note that was taped to the refrigerator.
Willow winced as the note was slammed violently against the kitchen counter.
"What part of no does she not understand?"
"Well, probably the part spelled N-O. You know, it has a whole other definition when you're sixteen. I mean, I know that was like forty years ago, but I still remember you not doing well with the whole n-o thing either. Maybe it's a Summer's girl thing?" Willow kept her voice soft and upbeat hoping that she wouldn't alarm her friend or worse, enrage her. "But, um, danger…there's danger?"
Buffy's eyes fell on her as the question squeaked out of her mouth and Willow froze in terror. The blonde's eyes narrowed as she studied the redhead's features, her eyes focusing somewhere behind her. And Willow could feel then, could sense it with some other part of herself. It wasn't Buffy behind those eyes. It was the Slayer, studying her with all of her senses, both physical and supernatural. Assessing the threat.
Willow swallowed past the lump in her throat, wondering again what the Slayer saw when she looked at her. Why she never met her eyes. Did she see the dark magic there? Because it would always be there. She knew that now. It was a part of her, a part she could control. A part she never wanted to see again. The coven had explained that to her. There was no difference between dark and light magic, it was how you used it. And she had used it badly, but there was no way to reverse that. There was only the way forward if her friends would allow her that. Just that one small thing.
The only problem with forward was that it lead farther and farther from Tara. That was a conflict she hadn't been able to resolve yet. Maybe she would find a way to go forward without leaving everything behind. Maybe sideways? Or on a diagonal?
Buffy shook her head and met Willow's eyes for the first time. "Yeah, danger. Of the Big Bad variety." The Slayer's forehead furrowed and she looked at the floor.
"Um, okay…" Willow fumbled unsure of what to say. There was a Big Bad and no one had told her about it. Of course, she had sensed something, had discussed it Giles, but the fact that the rest of the Scoobies hadn't thought to confide in her…did they think she was involved in some way? "So, is it demon, hell-god or…oh my God! Is Dawn dating a frat boy?"
Buffy almost laughed at Willow's attempt at humor, "Don't even joke about Dawn dating frat boys…or Dawn dating. Remember how that turned out the last time…" And then her friend's smile quickly faded into deep sadness. "It's…things and some vision that Cordelia had," Buffy's eyes rolled up into her head as she mentioned the former cheerleader's supernatural powers. Well, at least some things never changed. They would always be able to bond over Cordelia-bashing.
Willow took a deep breath worried suddenly about the contents of this vision. "So, what did the former Queen of Mean see?"
There were a few moments of silence as the two stood facing each other. Willow knew that Buffy was weighing the situation in her mind. Whether to trust her or not. With a loud sigh, the Slayer finally pulled a small wooden box from her pocket and set it on the formica counter next to them.
"This. And some other things that I didn't believe, but…" the Slayer shrugged.
"They came true," Willow finished for her and the blonde nodded slightly. "Like?"
"Well, they were all so ridiculous. Like, would you believe it if someone told you Faith would save my life?" Buffy asked pacing the room, the strong muscles in her jaw working visibly under the skin.
"No." Willow's knees felt weak. Faith. Well, that was certainly the last thing she could imagine. The Dark Slayer had simply dropped off their radar since her last appearance. Her betrayal had seemed so insignificant when they were facing a hell-God and Buffy's death. Not to mention Dark Magic Willow. But there it was, the old anger that Faith's name inevitably roused in the redhead. And jealousy, Willow admitted to herself guiltily. It was always jealousy. She could feel it burrowing its way down toward the dark places where the magic waited. Waiting to punish Faith for the past. But she was different now. Everything was different now.
"But she did…save your life?" Willow asked carefully and paused to pull two bottles of water from the refrigerator handing one to her best friend.
Buffy looked surprised by the response, but accepted the water with a genuine if slight smile. "Thanks." The Slayer stopped to take a drink and Willow jumped up to sit on the counter. "Yeah, I was ambushed by about six vamps," she recounted without emotion as if trying to distance herself from the events. "Somebody or some body hit me from behind and when I came to, Faith was there. She staked two of them and gave me enough time to recover…" she trailed off suddenly and looked out the window at the dark sky.
"You know, I swore the next time I saw her…" Buffy failed to finish her sentence again and Willow followed her friend's thoughts to their obvious conclusion. Because Buffy had sworn to kill Faith for what she had done to her lover and to herself. But she hadn't and Willow had. Willow had taken her own murderous revenge and it had cost them all dearly.
"So that's what Cordy saw?" Willow tried to steer their conversation back to the events at hand because as much as they needed to have that discussion she knew she wasn't ready to have it yet. Not with Buffy.
"Yeah, that and the box," she motioned to the wooden box on the counter and then shivered. "Which totally gives me the wiggins, by the way."
Willow felt her forehead tighten into deep lines. The Slayer's 'wiggins' were never to be taken lightly. "What about the box?" she asked past the sudden tightness in her throat.
"Oh, you know, your run of the mill end of the world stuff," Buffy answered in her stock, impending-apocalypse flippant voice.
"Except in this version you and I use it to set off the end of the world. Or some big mega-merging of dimensions, blah, blah, blah."
Willow's face grew pale and she felt for the cold counter to steady herself. "Oh, great." She squeaked. "So, I'm thinking we get it out of here, like, now."
Buffy grimaced, "That's funny, that's what Faith said too. That we should let her have it –" she rolled her eyes again. "like I would trust her with some end-of-the-world thingie." Buffy took another long slow drink from her water bottle. "Besides, I'm thinking that this is one for Scooby research. Cordy wasn't all that clear on the details… actually she wasn't really clear on anything besides Faith, so I'm thinking we should see what we can dig up."
The world was spinning around Willow. She felt faint. Two weeks back in Sunnydale and she was working on another apocalypse that might be set off by her own actions. Again.
End of the world. End of the world. End of the world. Why is it always the end of the world? Couldn't it be the end of cheese or something?
"Wil? You okay with this?" Buffy asked gently, looking intently into Willow's eyes. The redhead took a deep breath and nodded emphatically.
"What do you need me to do?"
And a miracle happened. Buffy actually smiled at the familiar words that still hung in the air between them. Willow had said them hundreds of times to her best friend, but this was the first time…since. And maybe, Willow thought as her heart raced, maybe this can be the first step forward… even if it does mean the end of the world, she thought with a wry smile and then felt the familiar set of resolve face spread over her features. End of the world schmend of the world! Who cares. Her world had ended in the upstairs bedroom four months ago. All she had left was in the kitchen with her now and she would do anything to get it back. To go forward from here. Willow nodded and smiled at the comforting sounds of Buffy running through the finer points of her "plan."
Okay, so things are almost back to normal, whatever normal is, Buffy thought as she walked briskly to the first house on her list. Dawn's newest friend, Rain. Dawn had gushed about her for the past week so it was a safe bet that her sister was here. And what kind of name is Rain anyway? Hi, I'm Storm Summers. Okay, like Buffy's such a normal name…
Buffy stopped on the sidewalk in front of a modest-looking, but well-kept home, not the mansion she was expecting after the endless Rain monologue: Rain drives a Mercedes. Rain went to Paris this summer. The younger Summers' mantra of the past weeks cycled in her head. Rain, Rain, Rain. Her inner rant was cut short by the unmistakable feeling of her 'spidey senses' going into overdrive.
"Great, my sister's a runaway and the place is crawling with vampires," she muttered and began a quick visual sweep of the neighborhood. Nothing.
She sucked in an enormous breath and steeled herself for the coming confrontation. "Hi Mr. and Mrs. Rain, sorry to bother you at nine thirty, but there are vampires in your yard and my sister's a…"
Her voice caught in her throat as every hair on her body seemed to stand on end at once, but this was different than the normal vampire alert. Something powerful was nearby, something familiar. It felt as if the air was charged, like lightning was about to strike. She had only felt this way around…
"Faith!" she called angrily at the stand of her trees to her right. All of this Dawn drama had brought her to the end of what was becoming a very short rope. Her temper was about to flare white hot.
After a few long moments the Dark Slayer emerged, arms crossed clad in her usual black leather pants and boots. A tight black top under a dark leather jacket made the image complete. Great! Dark Slayer meet Twinkie Slayer dressed in her ready-to-meet-the-parents yuppie wear. Buffy sighed. Round two and she was already at a disadvantage.
"Took you long enough B, thought you were getting deaf in your old age." Faith smirked as she assessed Buffy's ensemble. "So how's the whole Meg Ryan look working out for you?"
The blonde Slayer took another long, deep cleansing breath and tried to suppress the rage that threatened to overwhelm her at the mere sight of the other Slayer.
"You know, I was so looking for an ass to kick tonight," she began, shedding the silk jacket as she took a step toward Faith, "might as well be yours." She took a swing and missed by a millimeter as the other Slayer ducked in surprise. "Besides, I owe you one," Buffy muttered as she circled her prey. "Or two, or three…"
"Whoa!" Faith's face had changed from her usual arrogant smirk to a look of desperate confusion. "Look, B," she held her hands up in front of her body, palms forward. "Believe it or not I didn't come here to fight."
Buffy continued to circle Faith, but the Dark Slayer still refused to engage her standing flat-footed with her hands up. Fight me you psycho! "Um, how about…not!" Buffy challenged.
"Didn't Angel tell you –"
"Oh, that's right, you two are buddies now. Guess you finally won that one," Buffy spat the words at the younger Slayer and swung catching her with a straight right. Faith's fell to her knees in Rain's perfectly manicured yard and the blonde Slayer quickly prepared herself for a counter-attack, but it didn't come. Faith stayed kneeling on the ground, her head ducked in submission.
"Don't exactly remember winning anything except a prison sentence," she heard the Dark Slayer mutter.
"So you're just here to help," Buffy growled, her words dripping with sarcasm.
"Yeah. Angel told me that things were about to get ugly for you and that I had to do something about it. Cordy and her fucking visions or whatever."
"So what did he tell you?" she challenged.
"That you were in danger and something about that box…it's not cool," the dark slayer continued still looking straight ahead. Buffy remembered a Psych paper with sudden clarity. Something about prison inmates unable to look people in the eye after their release. That juxtaposed with a film about wolves and their complicated non-verbal language. Because we're all still animals and a direct stare is a direct threat in that other language that most of us have forgotten.
"I just can't believe they let you out. You're a murderer."
Faith's head snapped up to face her and Buffy felt a smug satisfaction. Finally. Maybe now they could fight. Maybe they could finish this once and for all. But all of the fight left her body when she saw the deep pain in Faith's eyes. And the blood. Her lip was torn and bloody from the blonde Slayer's punch and her arms hung limp at her sides.
"Neither can I," she said hoarsely and then cleared her throat. "Look, just give me the box, B. Let me do the right thing for once."
Buffy felt something break inside her at the sound of the other Slayer's voice. She hadn't even dared to hope for a moment like this. She had buried any idea of it so far down that it now surprised her how much hope she had. But it wasn't possible. This was another game. Faith was playing them all again. Angel. Cordy. Everyone.
"You! Do the right thing! How many chances am I supposed to give you?" Buffy found herself yelling at the top of her voice. And worse, she was now standing over the kneeling Slayer threatening her with her fists. She felt separated from herself, but the other Slayer had always done this to her. Brought out the demon in her. "You don't know how to do the right thing Faith. You never–"
"B, it's you and Red who start the apocalypse in Cordy's vision. Not me." she said it calmly. Her voice even and soft.
"Buffy?" It was Dawn's voice behind her. "What are you doing out here? Are you insane?"
Buffy swung in one quick movement to confront her sister. "What are you doing here Dawn? I told you –"
"Faith?" Dawn interrupted her sister and bounded down the stairs toward the Dark Slayer. Buffy paused for a moment, they know each other? Of course they know each other. The monks, she reminded herself. She realized with a start that she was staring at a very nervous, very pretty girl who was standing in the bright light on the porch.
"Um, hi, I'm Buffy. You must be Rain," she managed and the girl gave her a small nervous wave. Way to make an entrance Buffy, she chastised herself again. The sound of her sister's ecstatic squeals finally made her turn to the Dark Slayer who was now swinging her sister in a high arc.
When she finally touched ground again Dawn stood laughing and admiring the younger Slayer. "When did you get out…" Dawn glanced back at the porch nervously. "…of school?"
Faith smiled and rolled her eyes and Buffy could have sworn she saw tears. "I, um, graduated in June," she smiled and then regained a little of her characteristic bravado. "And you're looking hot Half Pint. When did you grow up?"
Dawn blushed and ducked her head and Buffy felt the monks' implanted memories wash over her filling in the gaps. Images of Dawn following the Dark Slayer around all moony-eyed. Her sister had idolized Faith from the moment she had set eyes on her. And Faith had always given the girl her undivided attention even sneaking Dawn out on a patrol with her when her sister was only eleven. "What? The girl needs to know how to defend herself," was the only defense Faith had offered at the time. And at some point Dawn's idolization had blossomed into a full-blown crush and Faith teased her lightly whenever she got the chance.
Buffy found herself smiling at the memories. Even if they aren't real, she thought sadly, they are accurate. Look at the two of them. It's disgusting. Faith did everything she could to hurt me and Dawn thinks she's the coolest thing since sliced cheese or whatever.
Once again, she felt the anger rising up in her throat. It wasn't fair. Dawn hated her and loved this evil…
"I'm as tall as you now so maybe I can finally borrow your leather pants?" Dawn flirted playfully.
"Sure if you don't mind that I wear them commando –" the Dark Slayer began with an amused smirk only to be cut off abruptly.
"Ew!" Dawn squealed and pushed the Dark Slayer's shoulder turning Faith directly into the light from the porch. Her sister's smile disappeared immediately. "Faith, what…?" she whirled on Buffy in a rage, "What did you do to her?"
Before Buffy could answer Faith intervened. "Hey, down, Half Pint. It was a v- …" Faith glanced at Rain on the porch and managed a pathetic "…v-very big mugger." She wiped at the blood with her sleeve and smiled brightly at Dawn. "Besides, you think your sister could do this much damage? Look at her, she's so thin, she'd break if she hit me this hard."
Dawn's face turned slowly from rage to amused doubt. Buffy knew her sister didn't believe the story, but with a quick nervous glance at Rain still on the porch, Dawn had decided to let it go. For now.
Buffy decided to go on the offensive before her sister could recover. "Dawn, I told you to stay home tonight."
Dawn immediately went into righteous angry teenager mode. "I know but Rain wanted to do a whole Matrix fest and you weren't around…" Buffy put her hand up to stop the inevitable ten minute monologue. "Fine. But you're grounded for two weeks. And be home at ten tomorrow morning and ready to do dishes."
Dawn groaned, but accepted her punishment. She turned back to Faith." And don't leave without stopping by this time. Okay?"
Faith managed a pained smile as she exchanged a quick glance with Buffy. They both knew that the last time Faith had 'failed to say good-bye,' she had actually taken Joyce hostage in their home and switched bodies with Dawn's sister." How about Sunday, I'll come around and hang out if it's okay with your sister."
"Cool!" she turned to Buffy with her best pleading, puppy-dog face. "Can she Buffy? Please, please, please…" Buffy stared at her little sister and back at Faith narrowing her eyes slightly. Once again, she was the bad guy and Faith was the hero. Well, at least that way she could keep an eye on the rogue Slayer because she knew she couldn't deny Dawn another person that the teenager had lost. Just her luck that Faith had managed to come back. Not Tara.
"Alright! But dishes…"
Dawn began to dance in place with excitement and Buffy felt her own eyes roll in disgust.
"Yes! Ten o'clock. Dishes and maybe I'll even vacuum." Dawn ran squealing up the porch. "Oh my god Rain, I can't believe Faith is back!"
"And Dawn, stay here all night. And don't invite anyone in…" Buffy yelled after her.
"Yep," her sister responded absently.
"And no wishes!" she finished hotly.
The two teenagers turned to enter the house and she could hear Rain speaking in hushed tones, "so were they, like, together or something before? You know like Willow and Tara…"
Dawn's response was lost as the door closed leaving the two Slayers alone again in the dark. She knew Faith had heard Rain's question and waited for the inevitable barbs and innuendo. But there was nothing, just strained silence.
Well congratulations,"she began half-heartedly. "My sister still thinks you hung the sun."
"Um, it's the moon I think," Faith corrected gently. "Thanks… you know, for not…whatever."
Buffy found herself speechless for the fifth or sixth time that night. First an apology and now thanks. Well, almost thanks.
"Kind of had other things on my mind," she responded testily. "And the last thing Dawn needed after Mom died was to hear that her hero was an…" Buffy trailed off unable to find the nastiness the end of the statement required. Why did it always go this way with Faith? Why couldn't she control herself, her emotions around this girl?
"Evil bitch?" Faith offered, one eyebrow raising slightly.
"Yeah. That works," Buffy snapped back and then surprised herself by smiling briefly. And there was silence again.
"So, the box…"
"You're not getting it." Buffy stared down the younger Slayer daring her to challenge her, but Faith just shrugged and looked up at the moon.
"Then you're not getting rid of me," she said softly and returned her stare to the blonde. Their eyes locked for long moments until Faith finally smiled and looked away.
"Great,"the blonde muttered as she picked up her jacket and began the long walk home. A long walk that meant too much time to think about her actions tonight. She had been right to attack Faith hadn't she? No matter what the Dark Slayer said, she couldn't be trusted… and she was stalking her, which was so not cool. I was definitely in the right on that one…right?
Just walk. You have more important things to worry about tonight. Just walk and breathe and forget about her.
Buffy walked and didn't bother to look back. Faith would follow her like a shadow. Like regret. Some things never changed.
Willow smiled again at the laptop screen. Even though she had spent the past two hours searching in vain for anything about the object in the box, she still felt somehow victorious. She was useful again. She was a Scooby. Even if it was a bit strange that the Slayer had suddenly decided to trust her with something this dangerous. Not gonna dwell on that. Moving forward…
But there was still the box, or more importantly, its contents. It had taken her over ten minutes to get the nerve up to open it only to find that it didn't contain a boobytrap or a doomsday device that began counting down as soon as the top was lifted. Inside was an innocuous-looking, beautifully crafted metal object resting in black velvet. A series of small stars was etched into its otherwise seamless surface, but their arrangement seemed random. Not a constellation, or at least not one I recognize, which brought Willow's thoughts back to Tara and her universe of unique constellations. Well, if you close one eye it could be the Big Pineapple, she smiled wistfully and then shook her head as her eyes began to tear up. There was something compelling about those stars, something familiar and sad…
Okay, not gonna go there right now.
Forward Rosenburg …or diagonal maybe.
When she finished the minor tweaks to the search bot she fired off an email to Giles about their situation and was surprised to receive an autoresponder reporting that the Watcher was 'out of the office' until the end of the month. An autoresponder? From Giles? It was inconceivable from a man who took such pride in despising all things digital. It had taken Willow nearly two hours to show him how to simply open the email client. Another three to teach him to send and retrieve mail.
"Giles, you sneaky…." What would make the Watcher go AWOL now when he knew she needed him? A rueful smile played across her lips. Because she needed him. And so did Buffy. The Slayer would undoubtedly try to contact the Watcher for a second opinion on the situation. An opinion other than Willow's. And the Watcher was forcing their hand. Forcing them to work together again. Or maybe he's got a hot date, she thought with a chuckle. I hope you have a hot date Giles, 'cause someone in the Scoobies definitely should be getting some…
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door slamming downstairs and then the unmistakable sound of the Slayer's angry footfalls on the stairs. Great, now what have I done?
Willow hit the key to launch her customized search bot and turned to face whatever fury the Slayer had in store for her, but Buffy stopped short at the door to Willow's room like a Vampire without an invitation. The blonde's forehead was deeply etched in angry lines. Willow took a deep breath waiting for the inevitable accusations and recriminations, but again, there was only silence.
"Buff? Are you okay?" The Slayer nodded once and gestured toward the wooden box.
Willow shook her head, her worry growing by the second. In her vast experience, a quiet Slayer was a dangerous Slayer. It was a warning sign: Hurricane Buffy ahead. "Um, no, not yet." She typed in a few more commands and turned back to the Slayer. "Did you find Dawn?"
"Uh huh." The Slayer nodded and then dropped back into her brooding, folding her arms tightly around herself.
Willow frowned at a new security feature in the Council's access codes and looked back to Buffy. She wanted to laugh and share the Council's pathetic attempts at security with her best friend, but knew she would draw at best a blank stare. So she opted for a loud, meaningful sigh instead. "Is this twenty questions? 'Cause if it is that's cool, but it would probably take less time…"
"Dawn was at Rain's house-"
"Rain? As in forty percent chance of?" Willow couldn't mask her amusement.
"Yeah, I know – Willow tree…" the Slayer almost smiled again, but immediately dropped into a terrifying frown.
"So I take it something happened?" the redhead prodded her friend gently. "Something besides your usual Summers sisters argument?"
The muscles in Buffy's jaw clenched immediately and Willow knew she was in dangerous territory. One misstep and the fury the Slayer was suppressing would be misdirected – in her direction.
And then she knew without any doubt the only thing that could put Buffy in such a state without actually hurting anyone. Well, except Spike.
"Faith." Willow whispered the word as if the Dark Slayer's name could somehow conjure her into the room. Felt the hissing of its soft sounds slip between them like a knife.
"Did she hurt Dawn?" Willow asked and suddenly remembered the Dark Slayer's affectionate relationship with the younger Summers. Dawn was the only person in Buffy's world Faith hadn't attacked. Why would she try to hurt her now?
"No. No hurting. She'd never hurt Dawn….she just…" Buffy let out an angry laugh and frowned. "She said she wants to help! Do you believe that?" And suddenly, they were too close to Willow's own situation. Her own desperation and need. To be believed. To be forgiven. How ironic that she and Faith finally had something in common. Buffy, thankfully, didn't seem to see the parallel.
"Do you?" Willow asked without thinking. "Believe that?"
Buffy turned on her, mouth open, face pinched in righteous anger and Willow prepared herself for the coming storm. But it didn't arrive. The Slayer stood above her in a threatening posture, finger pointing at the redhead accusingly, but there was only confusion in her face now.
"I don't know," she mumbled softly and her face tightened again, hands falling useless to her sides. "I mean, I want…'cause even Angel's all with the forgiveness…but she's, like, the queen of the double cross and backstabbing…and she took my Mom hostage and Angel with the poison…" The Slayer threw her hands up in the air in angry frustration. "And I…" Buffy's eyes found Willow's and looked deeply into them, as if she were searching for answers hidden there. The two women remained that way, Willow forcing herself to meet the pain and fear in her best friend's hazel gaze. "I just don't know if I can ever trust her again, you know?" the Slayer finally said softly.
Willow swallowed the sob that threatened to erupt into the room, but the tears, she couldn't hold those back. They streamed down her face as she nodded once almost imperceptibly to let the Slayer know that she understood. That they were no longer talking about Faith. Buffy's eyes were tearing up as well, her bottom lip quivering as she tried to keep her grief in check. At the sight of the Slayer's tears Willow felt suddenly detached, studying the strange mix of emotions as if from a distance. It was a trick Ruth had taught her. A way to buy time before acting out her grief and pain with magic.
She noted with sadness the part of herself that wanted to rise up in angry defense of her own actions – Buffy had stabbed Faith for Angel, why couldn't she be forgiven for wanting to avenge Tara? – but the larger part wanted to take her longtime friend in her arms and hold her, finally give Buffy the comfort she had been searching for. She wanted to forgive her friend for not being able to forgive her.
But she couldn't. Her arms were bound to her sides by fear and grief. She couldn't touch anyone. Not since Tara…
"I'm sorry B-" Willow began, her voice hoarse with unshed tears, but she was interrupted abruptly by an insistent 'bing' from the laptop.
Both women looked up simultaneously to find the source of the intrusion.
"Um, search bot," Willow explained, wiping clumsily at the tears on her face. She turned with a mixture of regret and relief to the comfort of her laptop and away from the bright pain waiting between herself and Buffy. "It's probably nothing…" she began expecting another long list of mis-hits, but there it was. It was obvious from the keywords that someone knew what they were talking about. She clicked on the promising link and began to scan the contents of the page rapidly.
"So, is it Tiffany? Can we take it on the Antiques Roadshow?" Buffy joked nervously and Willow noted in her peripheral vision that the Slayer was carefully drying her eyes.
"Um, it's demon," she answered absently as she was drawn into the star chart that matched the strange configuration on the object almost exactly. "So, not exactly Antiques Roadshow material. Well, maybe the English version…" which elicited a grateful smile from Buffy. She returned her attention to the page and clicked on a few links. It wasn't much, but at least they had something. Her eyes returned to the object in the box and she felt the familiar feeling of sadness and longing wash over her again.
"Anything interesting?" Buffy prodded gently and Willow shook herself out of her reverie.
"Um, yeah. The stars etched into the surface. I thought they were just ornamental, but it looks like they're a constellation…" she trailed off concentrating again on the text before her.
"Like the Big Dipper?"
Willow smiled slightly and looked up at the Slayer, "Not exactly. A constellation that's only visible in a demon dimension."
"Oh. So more like the Big Ripper?"
Willow nodded, but kept her attention fixed on the page before her. It was fascinating. If this page was accurate, she was reading a legend born in a different dimension. A demon fairy tale. But for all the differences it sounded strangely familiar. She felt Buffy move behind her in the room and deduced quickly that the Slayer was checking out the demon device. It struck her suddenly that she had only been alone in this room since her return. No other living human body had shared this space with Willow since that day four months ago…
"Oh Orpheus!" Willow was shocked by her own outburst, but the realization had struck her like a thunderbolt and demanded release. "It's the Orpheus myth."
Willow turned to find the Slayer with her hand still in mid-air hovering over the device. "Orpheus. And no, I haven't gotten up the nerve to actually touch it yet," she answered Buffy's unspoken question. The Slayer nodded once and removed the metallic object carefully from the box.
"So who is this Orifice guy?" she asked casually.
"Um, Orpheus." Willow stifled a laugh at the Slayer's typical malapropism. It was comforting to know that some things never changed. "It's Greek mythology." When her explanation was met by a blank stare, Willow continued, "Okay, Orpheus was this superstar lyre player in ancient Greece who fell in love. Only, um, she died…his love I mean." The redhead stumbled and took a deep breath, "But he couldn't live without her, so he went to Hades, played his lyre for the big demon god in charge and Big Demon was so impressed he said that Orpheus could take her back…" Willow's voice trailed off again. The details of the legend eluded her for a moment, becoming mixed with the distorted details of the demon legend and her own experience.
"But there was a catch?" the Slayer's comment brought Willow back to the room and her explanation.
"There's always a catch," Buffy smiled proud of her correct assessment.
"The deal was that Orpheus could have his love back, that she could follow him back to the surface, but he had to keep playing and not stop."
"That's all," Buffy asked obviously disappointed.
"Well, he also couldn't look back to make sure she was behind him," the redhead answered, careful to keep any emotion out of her voice.
"I take it he looked."
"Yep," Willow nodded once and Buffy rolled her eyes in disgust.
"Just before he got to the surface." A strange silence had descended on the room and Willow found herself automatically filling the empty space. Just like Old Willow would, she thought as the words tumbled out of her. "The last thing he saw of her, was her soul being pulled back into hell." She shivered at the image that had haunted her since childhood. For some reason her mother had decided that the myth of Orpheus was suitable bedtime reading for a nine year-old. "Gotta love those Greeks and their flair for gut-wrenching tragedy…"
"Oh my God. That's…" the Slayer began and then trailed off shaking her head.
"So sad, I know," Willow finished for her.
"No, it's so stupid!" Somehow Willow had stumbled unwittingly onto the trigger for the Slayer's pent-up fury. She was expecting the Slayer to draw a parallel between the myth and her own experience sending Angel to hell, but Buffy never did the expected. She was now pacing angrily, clenching the demon device tightly in her palm as she muttered about Xander leaving Anya at the altar and then something indecipherable about Riley.
"Um, Buffy…" Willow began, motioning carefully toward the Slayer's clenched fist. Oh god, we have no idea how this device actually works. Anything could set it off.
"I mean, what is wrong with these people? Can't they just…"
"It's just a myth," Willow interrupted gently hoping to defuse the situation automatically closing her eyes to begin one of Ruth's meditation techniques gently extending the circle of calm to include her friend. "And the device…"
"Yeah, I know it's just…" Buffy paused and removed the demon device from her iron grip. "Well, at least we know it doesn't crush easily," she offered with a smile releasing her anger with a shrug.
Willow blinked slowly and allowed herself one more cleansing breath before focusing once more on the metallic object that Buffy now held between her thumb and forefinger. "That could be a good thing…or a bad thing if we actually want to destroy this demon-end-of-the-world machine."
The Slayer studied the object carefully as she mumbled absently to her friend, "Are you sure it's a machine? 'Cause I'm not seeing any screws or seams or anything…"
Willow turned her attention back to the keyboard, quickly modifying a program to break the Council's weak security precaution. "No. I don't know what it is. So far the only clue we have is this demon myth and whatever Cordy told you." Buffy again rolled her eyes at the mention of the Seer.
"It doesn't sound like much of a demon myth to me. I mean, what kind of demon plays a liar and gets all mushy over love and…"
"I said it sounded like Orpheus. The demon version was some kind of warrior-cannibal whose love slave gets killed so he goes and defeats all of the underworld god's gladiators to get her back and…" Willow trailed off as the look on Buffy's face turned to one of focused concentration. "Did you find something?"
"Yeah," the Slayer mumbled absently and then scraped at something with her fingernail. Willow cringed visibly trying to hide her growing panic and disapproval. Delicate was never a word used to describe the Slayer and delicacy was definitely an asset when dealing with an apocalyptic demon device.
"There's something written here…" Buffy squinted and held the device closer to her face.
"Wait! I'll get a magnifying glass," she crossed the room quickly to search through her nightstand. The soft sounds of the Slayer's muttering were barely audible over the noise of her desperate search for a glass. "Um, and you might not want to hold it that close to your…"
"Oh! What does Tempus Fugit…?"
"No!" Willow practically leapt across the room to cover her best friend's mouth with her hand, but it was too late. The spell was cast. "Oh God Buffy…" As the energy coalesced around them she felt herself involuntarily reaching down into her own power to protect them or worse, to strike out against the magical charge. As the power poured out of her she felt it circling with the energy of the device in a terrifying feedback loop. Okay, this definitely has the potential to become an apocalyptic event, she had to give Cordy that much.
"Wha-" The Slayer's words were lost in the energy cyclone of the spell as it spun around then, distorting timespace and drawing them into a smaller and smaller space. Willow was rapidly losing her internal battle for control and the Slayer's panicked gaze locked with her own only made the pull stronger. Everything in her was screaming that she needed to protect them, to save Buffy. That no one else she loved could be lost. And the dark magic moved in deepening waves through her system like nausea. Like pain and grief. The riptide of magic and power pulling her farther and farther from the shore of herself until…
With sudden clarity her eyes found a small photo of Tara visible on the shelf behind Buffy's head. It was the only photo of the blonde she allowed herself. Willow had taken it at that first birthday of Tara's at the Bronze. The first birthday they had shared. Her blonde hair was tousled from a stolen moment with Willow in the bathroom. Her lips were red and swollen from kissing, but it was the smile in her eyes that mattered. That lopsided smile that was only for Willow. A smile of promise and love.
The world spun around her, but the pull receded until there was just the two of them. Tara soothing her with gentle fingers of calm weaving through red hair, through the everything of them.
And then the light and the heat…and nothing.
The room was too bright, migraine-bright. She raised a heavy hand to shield her eyes from the glare.
"Willow what did you do?" Blinking her eyes against terrible white, Willow tried to focus on the source of the sound. Buffy. A very angry Buffy. What did I do?
"Buffy?" she croaked and opened her eyes slightly, still struggling to orient herself. Everything seemed slightly…off. She couldn't seem to find her balance in the blinding room. Thankfully she was sitting on something soft. The bed? But the room shouldn't be bright, it was dark outside.
And then she remembered. The device, the demon myth and Buffy speaking something in Latin. And then the Dark Magic.
Don't say it. Don't say it out loud.
"What did you do Willow?" The Slayer's voice was rising in pitch moving rapidly toward angry hysteria.
"What…I didn't do anything." Willow mumbled and opened her eyes a little further.
"I saw your eyes! They went all black and then…and then we were here!"
Oh god, where are we? Some demon dimension?
Willow opened her eyes through a stabbing headache of white to find that they were in their dorm room on campus. She looked around in disbelief at the twin beds, their stuffed animals and the Chocolate Okay, this is strange. Our dorm room? Doesn't seem too demon-y yet…
Her mind began to cycle rapidly through the possibilities: demon device so I'm thinking either alternate reality where Buffy and I still live in the dorms or…this is some kind of joint hallucination…
"What?" Willow looked up to find the Slayer staring down at her with hands on hips. Everything about her posture was threatening.
"You did this Willow," the Slayer gestured at the familiar objects in the room, her voice rapidly dropping into a growl, "so make with the undoing. Now."
Willow took a long breath and tried to center herself.
"I didn't do it Buffy…" she began calmly only to be interrupted by a desperate Slayer.
"I saw your eyes…"
And that was it. She had tried for so long to win her best friend's trust. To earn it through her actions, not with explanations and promises, but this was too much.
"You did it Buffy! You! Not me!" Willow yelled and then put her hand over her eyes again to shield them from the light and her own blinding rage. Buffy still stood above her and Willow sighed deeply, "It was the device. The demon device. Remember?" Buffy's expression was still angry, but her head tilted slightly to the left.
"The engraving on the back," Willow got up and walked past her friend to the mini-frig. She pulled out a water, pressed its cool surface to her forehead and turned back to Buffy. "When you said the words out loud it must have activated it."
"Don't!" Willow's eyes flew open and she noticed that the muscles in Buffy's jaw were knotted with pent-up fury. Well, at least if she beats me to death I won't have to deal with this migraine. Careful to keep her voice calm and low she approached the Slayer, "I wouldn't say it again. We don't know what it'll do."
"So if that's true then what was with all the black?" Buffy challenged suspiciously, but Willow noted with relief that the Slayer's shoulders were relaxed slightly. The threat had passed. Almost.
"I tried to stop it," she replied in a matter-of-fact tone. "The spell," she added as an afterthought and then began to study her surroundings. She couldn't remember exactly what was in their dorm room, but this definitely felt right. The anonymous stuffed animals on her bed, Mr. Gordo on Buffy's. And Buffy's outfit was so…freshman year. The incessant whine of a Britney Spears song was audible from next door. She looked down to find that she was dressed in a long blue skirt she'd thrown out a year ago and a favorite t-shirt that she hadn't been able to throw it out even though it was so worn as to be unwearable. Because I wore this shirt the first time Tara and I kissed…
She looked down again at the bright colors of her t-shirt.
And it looks brand new.
"Oh God," Willow looked around the room wildly, searching for something to confirm her suspicions.
"What is it?" Buffy's voice was tight with concern. "Wil what's going on? Where are we? I mean, okay, I know we're in our dorm…" All of the anger was gone from her friend's body and voice replaced now by fear.
"I don't…" Willow began and then scanned her friend's clothing before letting her eyes rest on the calendar above The Slayer's bed. She couldn't see the date, but she didn't have to, looking instead to the black bulky watch on her wrist. "I'm thinking maybe it's when we are that matters."
Willow sat back down onto the twin bed, noting the familiar creak of its uncomfortable box springs. The icy cold of the water bottle was now pressed to the back of her neck alleviating some of the pain.
"I'm sorry Wil, I just….," the Slayer began, her voice low and halting.
"It's okay Buff. Really," Willow interjected hastily. She wasn't expecting an apology and she certainly wasn't prepared to have an emotional discussion right now.
"No. No it's not, I shouldn't have assumed…just because…."
Willow opened one eye slightly to find that the blonde was now sitting on the bed across from her, kneading her hands in agitation. It was such a familiar feeling, the two of them here in this room facing each other and sharing pain. But it was never pain like this. It was Riley and Oz pain. Nothing like this.
"Buffy, my eyes went all with the black, big magic ensued and we're here…" she motioned at their surroundings. "It was the logical conclusion."
The Slayer stood up and began to pace. "I just can't believe I…I mean, it never works like that with two words and poof. You usually need stinky herbs and someone has to do the hokey-pokey and…not just two little words!" She stood again facing Willow, her forehead lined and angry. "I can't believe I did this. I'm so sorry."
"It's okay. Really. I think we should probably be thinking less about the blame and more about the getting the hell out of here…" the redhead trailed off wincing in pain. "Do you remember where we kept the advil-type stuff?"
Buffy immediately leapt into action, obviously glad to have something to do. As she searched through desk drawers Willow focused on another meditation technique she had learned for just this situation, concentrating on raising the temperature of her hands. As the migraine slowly eased she could hear her friend's nervous rambling through the meditation.
"Are you okay? I mean your head?" Buffy asked and extended two orange pills. Willow carefully withdrew herself from the meditation and accepted them. "Wow. Hot hands," the Slayer said with a nervous smile.
"Yeah," Willow offered with a bit more strength. "It's a trick to get rid of migraines only I don't think they had witches in mind when they came up with it," she said as she held up one glowing hand.
"Was it the magic? Your head?"
Willow nodded and then winced at the new round of stabbing pain the movement brought on. "Big magic leads to big headache," she said weakly. "But, hey, no nosebleed," she offered with a smile.
Buffy nodded once, her own smile rapidly fading replaced by the familiar expression Willow and Tara had long ago secretly dubbed Colonel Buffy.
"Okay, so we're stuck here and I'm not seeing any demon device," her eyes quickly scanned the room. "So now I'm thinking research. We could call Giles," she offered hopefully.
"Yeah." Willow offered. "But if it's a time machine, which it probably is, then we're in serious trouble."
"Why? I mean, I'm not seeing the big bad here. We figure out how to get back and do it, right?"
"Well, almost." Willow's forehead furrowed into her trademark expression of deep concentration. "Except if we're really back in the past then anything we could do could radically change the future. You know. Sensitive dependence on initial conditions, like the butterfly effect."
"Okay, you totally lost me, Wil…butterfly what?"
"Basically any small change can have a huge effect. Like a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon could cause a hurricane in the Caribbean." Still a blank stare. "Or, a more specific Buffy-type example would be me taking the water from the frig could lead to something terrible. I know it sounds crazy, but what if you go looking for a water to take on patrol in a couple of days, but there isn't one because I came back in time and took it. So you go downstairs to the soda machine to get one and that takes you two minutes longer than it should have. And before, in the timeline where I didn't get back, you totally missed this huge pack of demons because you walked through too early, but now you're two minutes late so…"
Buffy was nodding her head in recognition so Willow trailed off. "Oh not good." And then it really hit her. "Oh God! Really not good!"
Willow nodded. "Yep. Really not good."
"So we've really got to get out of here."
"Yeah, but we don't even know how to do that, so until we do, we need to do everything as much like we did before as we possible can."
"How are we supposed to do that? I mean, I don't' remember what I had for breakfast." she said desperately. "Back in the real now," she finished and shook her head in confusion.
Willow moved to her backpack and fished around until she found the familiar edges of her overstuffed filofax. "Well, this should help."
"Oh, yeah," Buffy moved to her bag and pulled out her own while Willow smiled at her own resourcefulness. It was so familiar, the edges of the used pages carefully turned down in precise triangles. As she flipped through the pages she noted different events carefully color-coded in her own hand-writing: a Physics exam written in royal blue with footnotes, Oz's departure written in small black letters. She half-listened to Buffy's monologue as she mused over the filofax's contents.
"…none of this makes any sense. I mean, where are we? And where are the we that are supposed to be here in these bodies? Shouldn't we be here in our own future bodies with our own future clothes?" Willow looked up at the Slayer's off-hand remark. As usual Buffy had stumbled into an important observation. Yeah, why are we in our old bodies? "…and where is that demon thingy?" Buffy looked up suddenly. "Maybe it's at the house!"
Willow forced her mind back to the present. "I don't know. If it's not here with us, it's probably back in our own time."
"Yeah, but it could be. So we should probably check it out."
Willow nodded absently. It could be. And Buffy was action girl, she knew that. That Buffy needed to know that she was making physical progress toward her goal at all times. Besides, that would give Willow more time to think, to figure out what was going on. Because between the physics and the magic, this is going to take me a while. "Yeah, you should."
"Oh great," Buffy said with obvious disgust. "It's the twenty-seventh right?"
Willow nodded as something in the back of her mind turned over the date. Three cubed. With a shrug she turned the final pages to the day. "Yep."
"All mine says is lunch and patrol."
Willow smiled at her friend's typical lack of organization and then look down at her own sure that it would be well-ordered.
And froze. Somewhere far away she could hear the sound of pages turning and the Slayer mumbling, "every page just says 'lunch' and 'patrol'. Why did I even bother?"
But Willow couldn't even offer her usual 'uh-huh' in response. At some point in the moments since turning the page, her brain had stopped working. As if the five words 'pizza and spells with Tara?' written in enormous purple letters and outlined in pink were some kind of spell set to take away her thought and voice. She felt her body begin to shake uncontrollably.
"Wil?" Buffy's voice sounded faint and distant. "Wil what is it?" Closer now, because the Slayer's voice was rising in volume.
"Buffy," her voice broke in the middle of the word and she couldn't seem to say anything else. Like a dream, a nightmare in which her voice was gone. Like the Gentlemen.
"What happens today? Is it Adam?" Buffy had crossed the short distance to kneel next to the redhead. There was a moment during which Willow was sure she would break down completely. That she would fall sobbing to the floor and never rise, but it passed and she made her terrible, familiar way into the numb.
"It's…it's Tara." Her own voice surprised her. It sounded so normal. So controlled. But her face was wet suddenly. From tears? "This is the first time we kiss…tonight. Today."
"Oh God Wil…"
"I can't." Her voice was calm and even, but her hands were now shaking so badly she had to drop the filofax to the floor. Arms wrapped themselves tightly around her and it took her a few moments to realize that they were her own.
"It's gonna be okay." Willow felt a hand on her knee and looked down to see Buffy's well-manicured fingers gripping her tightly, but she couldn't feel it. The numbness was working its way out from her heart to her extremities. Buffy never touches me anymore.
"I can't." She repeated calmly and the arms encircling her clutched tighter.
"Wil, you just said we have to…"
She noticed the clock out of the corner of her eye. 2:30.
"It's too late. She's at the Retreat already." The robot voice continued. "When I'm not there, she'll leave."
"There's still time," Buffy said gently.
"Buffy I can-" and her voice broke again. "She's gone. She's gone and I can't…" She knew she was dangerously close to meltdown, so she closed her eyes and began to take deep breaths, lowering herself into one of Ruth's meditations. Trying to regain control. In. Out. Center. But it wasn't working. There was no center here and everything was shaking. It's about controlling that power, controlling your emotions, she heard Ruth's calm lecture over the insistent roar in her ears.
"Wil you have to," she heard Buffy say, then a knock. A soft, tentative knock on the door. Tara.
And then a long, low sound like an animal crying. Keening. It took her a few moments to realize that the sound was coming from her as she curled into herself on the bed.
"I can't…" But Buffy was already moving toward the door.
Tara's gone. This isn't real. This isn't real. She's gone and nothing can bring her…
"Oh, h-hi B-Buffy. Is, um, Willow h-here?" It was unmistakable, the soft musical sound of that voice. And Buffy's long exhale as she breathed an almost inaudible 'Tara.'
After a few long moments the Slayer cleared her throat and began speaking in a shaky voice. "Yeah, she is, but…" she didn't get the chance to finish her warning.
"What's wrong?" Tara's voice was simultaneously gentle and protective and Willow felt rather than heard her move toward her in the small room.
Tara was so close now.
If I just open my eyes I'll see her. It's not the dream.
And then the gentle pressure of Tara's hand on her shoulder. Enough pressure to release the sobs she had been holding back with every ounce of her strength. They tore through her now like an earthquake. Like dark magic.
The warm weight of Tara's hand began to move in slow circles on her upper back as she cried for what seemed like hours.
Open your eyes.
It wasn't a physical act. She didn't will her eyes to open, the room simply faded from black to … Tara.
This isn't happening. This is not real.
"Tara?" the word broke apart in her mouth.
Tara's eyes were glistening with unshed tears as she looked deep into Willow's eyes.
"Is she…" she tore her eyes from Willow's to turn to Buffy, "is she h-hurt?"
Through the blur of tears she watched Buffy shake her head slightly and wipe at her own eyes. "No."
This isn't happening.
But it was and Tara was searching her face, her blue eyes filling with pain. Willow studied the familiar features, the perfect arch of the eyebrows, the beautifully sculpted planes of her cheeks and forehead. The curve and sigh of her lips. The endless blue of her eyes and that gaze that told Willow she existed. Again.
The sobbing stopped and Willow reached slowly through months of grief to bring her fingertips to hover just above her lover's lips. And stopped.
I can't touch her.
If I touch her now I'll never find my way back.
She could feel the heat under the sensitive pads of her fingers. Could feel Tara's warm breath moving over her own skin. And then they were touching, Tara bridging the distance between them to bring her face into contact with Willow's hands.
The familiar electricity surged through her at the contact and then the calm, Tara fusing disparate elements together like the sun.
Tara's hands were now holding her face tentatively. Delicate fingers shakily running through red hair.
Because we've never done this before. Never been this close.
Willow traced the lines of her love's face softly, carefully. Drawing them into her memory, trying to erase the pain she saw there.
"Willow what h-happened? Is this about Oz?"
As she shook her head, she felt Tara's hand gently wipe the tears from her cheek and let out a long breath she didn't know she'd been holding. Willow tilted her head forward until their foreheads were touching. Until she could feel Tara's breath on her lips.
"I thought I lost you," she heard herself whisper shakily.
The blonde pulled back slightly to look into Willow's eyes, the world becoming a sea of Tara blue.
"Me? This is about m-me?" She could see the disbelief there, the insecurity that had always shadowed Tara. She ran a trembling hair through silken blonde hair.
"Everything's about you." She let her hand drop to the soft skin of Tara's neck feeling the strong pulse beating beneath her fingers.
"Everything." She leaned in to press her cheek against Tara's whispering low in her ear, "Always."
And she could hear it somewhere, a small voice telling her that this was wrong. This was not the way it happened. It was wrong and dangerous and she needed to stay in control. But there was the pull and presence of Tara and she would never be strong enough. She was already falling into her orbit.
Willow slid her tear-slicked cheek against Tara's and felt the blonde whimper in response.
"Willow?" That familiar catch in Tara's voice that spoke to a place Willow thought she had buried months ago.
"Oh God, Tara…" She lost herself in the overwhelming smell of her, the impossible feel of her hair against skin and lips. Ran her fingers over the exquisite smooth of her neck.
This isn't right.
I don't care.
Willow pulled back slightly to whisper again in Tara's ear, surrounded by jasmine and sandalwood and everything Tara. The world was liquid again. "I think I'm going to kiss you," she whispered softly and heard the blonde swallow. "Okay?"
She felt the almost imperceptible nod and closed her eyes feeling her way back, sliding her cheek against the heat and flush of Tara's. Until their lips were that close.
This isn't real.
She was shivering now uncontrollably as she let her hands slide once more to Tara's neck to feel the jump and pull of her pulse just under the skin. To reassure herself.
Willow moved forward slowly feeling the heat between them grow exponentially until her lips finally brushed softly against Tara's and the shaking stopped. Everything stopped. And it was the first kiss. Awkward and tentative and full of promise. Tara's lips parted slightly and she heard the whimper, felt the sigh as she took the blonde's full bottom lip between her own and moaned. Slipping one reality over another, tracing memories over in her mind, everything coming back in waves of taste, smell and feeling. But it was never this good, never this…perfect. Because if it had been she would have died in that room with Tara…
Maybe she did.
As the thought crossed her mind, Willow pulled back slowly to open her eyes. To make sure.
Golden and glowing with her mouth slightly open, her eyes closed still lost in the kiss.
"You're so beautiful."
Deep blue eyes opened slowly, heavy-lidded as a lop-sided smile formed on perfect lips.
"You are." Tara stated simply and then lowered her eyes, shaking her head slightly. "I never thought this w-would happen."
"Neither did I," Willow said and smiled for the first time, reaching out to tuck an errant strand of gold behind Tara's ear.
Clear blue eyes found green again and held them steady. "Can we…again?"
Yes. Always. Everything.
Willow leaned in slowly to bring her lips to Tara's again. Slow Willow. Slow. This is a first kiss, not a first…everything. And this is shy, sweet Tara. Pre-vixen Tara. So… slow.
She took a deep breath to steady herself, because she wanted everything now. To climb inside Tara and forget it all. Or remember.
Bringing her lips to Tara's in another delicate kiss, she was surprised to feel the blonde's tongue trace her own in a warm wet line. She opened her mouth and the touch of Tara's tongue was an incredible relief. It had taken all of her strength to keep her in that other world without Tara, without this. The kiss deepened, and she was winding her fingers through blonde hair, surprised by Tara's reaction. They had taken things slow in the beginning. Light kisses and hand-holding. Willow wouldn't even take her shirt off for weeks, embarrassed of her body.
But she could feel the blonde's desire racing to match her own, building the thing between them with blinding speed. She knew the deep blue of Tara's eyes with absolute certainty. It meant love and desire. It was the moon that followed her at night.
And that was a problem because that voice was telling her that it was too fast, too much for the blonde witch.
This isn't how it happened! Not at all. Slow down.
Willow pulled back carefully gasping for air quickly noticing that Tara's chest was heaving as she struggled to catch her breath.
"I'm sorry Tare," she managed finally. "I don't want to rush you."
Tara's mouth curved immediately into a stunning smile, her eyes dancing over Willow's with mischief.
"Um, you c-couldn't…rush me Willow," and then rolled her eyes in amusement and embarrassment. "K-kind of an impossibility."
Willow just stared at the blonde in disbelief for long seconds. They had taken it so slow, been so careful not to rush things. And then she understood with blinding clarity. Tara had held all of this back for her.
"I mean," Tara affirmed softly and then blushed. "Unless you d-don't want to."
This isn't how it happened. This is wrong.
She paused again, thinking of the future that wasn't set. The infinite possibilities spilling out in front of her. Then it hit her, what if this is the last time I ever see her?
Everything is new. I'm rewriting the past. With Tara.
Starting right now.
Willow held Tara's blue eyes with her own and pulled the pink t-shirt over her own head watching carefully as the blonde blinked slowly once and then swallowed.
"Is this r-real because…" Tara began and then stopped as Willow's hand closed over her own. She moved toward the blonde slowly, raising Tara's hand and placing it over her own breast as their lips met. They both groaned simultaneously as Tara deepened the kiss turning the room into a furnace. Burning everything away.
Willow brought her hands to the front of Tara's shirt to find what she had hoped for – buttons. Thank god! Because she couldn't imagine tearing her mouth away from Tara's to get the shirt over her head. She fumbled the top two buttons open and finally broke the kiss to bring her mouth to the perfect skin of Tara's neck and chest. She felt as much as heard the blonde groan again and continued to work the buttons open as she ran her tongue over Tara's neck to trace the outline of her ear. But Tara stiffened suddenly and Willow froze.
"I'm sorry…too fast?" Willow mumbled, pulling back immediately
"No! N-not too fast…it's just…" her brow furrowed, two worry lines appearing between her eyes. It should have made Willow panic, but the familiar sight and sound of Tara's stutter brought tears to her eyes. Everything about Tara was stunning. Even her imperfections. "I have to c-call someone," and then Tara lowered her head, her hair falling forward. "To cancel s-something."
A slow smile began to spread over Willow's face. The date. What was that girl's name? And she's going to cancel. Definitely different.
"Okay," she said softly tracing the line of Tara's jaw with her fingers.
"I mean, if I'm s-staying," Tara mumbled.
"Oh, you're definitely staying. Leaving is just not an option," she said gently bringing the blonde's face up to her own pulling her into another long deep kiss. Tara broke away again carefully pushing Willow back.
"I h-have to tell you something."
"Okay." Willow said easing back onto her elbows.
"I h-had a d-date tonight," she began, and lowered her eyes again. Willow knew she should pay careful attention to her words, but she was lost in the sight before her: Tara, golden hair tousled, lips swollen and red, button down open to reveal her breasts still encased in a sheer white bra.
This can't be real.
It can't be as easy as two little words.
"Uh-huh," Willow mumbled and reached out to trace the side of one of the blonde's breasts with her hand.
Tara shivered and then put her hand over Willow's to stop her.
"Willow, I want you to know the truth and how sorry I am…"
The redhead stopped her with a fierce kiss and then pulled back slowly to rest on her elbows again. She watched amused and then aroused as the blonde's eyes traveled over her chest, her mouth opening slightly.
"You are so not the sorry party here. If I wasn't such a clueless dummy you wouldn't have had to make a date with Miss I'm-so-cool-with-my-leather jacket."
Tara's mouth began to turn up into another smile as she met green eyes.
"You're n-not mad?"
"No, but I will definitely be miffed if this phone call takes more than thirty seconds of my Tara time."
She was rewarded with another brilliant Tara smile.
"Okay," the blonde said and then quickly rose to her feet, pulling the button-down closed with one hand. Willow watched her walk, watched the familiar sway of her hips under the olive material of her cargo pants. She would have sworn that she could map the curve of those hips from memory, but even her eidetic memory couldn't do this simple sight justice – Tara walking across a room. A miracle.
The blonde dialed quickly and turned to face her.
"You know her number by heart?" Willow asked playfully.
Tara froze, deep lines forming between her eyes as she held the receiver to her ear.
"No. I m-mean…her r-roommate's a f-friend of mine," she should have felt sorry for making Tara stutter, but she couldn't help herself. She wanted everything. If this was going to be their last moment together she wanted every piece of them in the small space of the room.
"Uh-huh," she said and then moved her hands up to unclasp the bra in the front. Tara licked her lips once before her face flushed scarlet.
"Oh, uh, h-hi S-Sandy," the blonde closed her eyes and turned her back on Willow. "Is R-Rachel there?"
The redhead rose silently and moved directly behind Tara. She could feel the heat pouring off of her, radiating into the air between them.
It was more and more real every second. Not a miracle anymore, just a fact.
She brought her arms slowly around Tara's waist to the bare skin of her stomach and heard the blonde's breathing catch and then quicken. Bringing her lips to one perfect ear, she whispered low, "You know I tried, I really did, but I just couldn't be that far away from you…"
"Oh, uh, hi R-Rachel, um…"
"One thousand one," Willow whispered and then kissed the sensitive skin behind Tara's ear making her jump.
"Ah, um, s-sorry…um, about t-tonight…"
"One thousand five," she began to carefully pull the button-down off of one shoulder kissing bare skin.
"I, uh…yeah, it's j-just that…" a loud sigh escaped Tara and she cleared her throat.
"Tell her you're mine," she continued to torture the blonde with kisses on her neck and ears. "All mine."
"I'm, uh…I'm gonna have to c-cancel…"
"One thousand nineteen Ms. Maclay. Could you move that phone to the other ear?" she whispered, her voice hoarse with need. Tara shifted the receiver from one side to the other and Willow pushed the remaining material aside baring both shoulders. She traced her fingertips gently down the blonde's sides drawing small circles before bringing them up to cup her breasts. Tara's breath caught in her throat, but she continued to talk to Rachel as if nothing had happened. Willow smiled into Tara's neck, licking from her collar to the back of her ear as she pulled the blonde against her, pressing her breasts into her back.
"Oh God!" Tara moaned and then cleared her throat again. "No, I'm o-okay Rachel, I j-just re…remembered something…"
Willow was about to begin a new round of tortures when she caught sight of their reflection in the window. The window. Tara. Every muscle in her body locked with the terror of it. She felt the grief and panic move through her again in an agonizing wave, but she held it down. This was not about grief. This woman in her arms was bright and new and now. And nothing mattered but that. Not the future. Not the past.
This is happening.
Nothing but Tara in a bra, a sexy smile on her lips as she looked down at the redhead's hands and then her own smiling gently into one pale shoulder. It was so familiar the two of them like this. She could never resist holding the blonde from behind whether she was at the mirror or washing dishes – for the redhead it was simply irresistable. It had become one of their most familiar private jokes, but this Tara didn't know it yet.
And then blue eyes met green, her smile fading as they stared at each other in the glass.
"Tar…" all of the teasing was gone, replaced in one moment by desperate need and Tara somehow seemed to understand, pressing herself back against Willow and reaching behind to grab one hip with her free hand.
"Rachel I've really got to go," Willow could still hear the other girl talking as the blonde hung up the phone. Tara held her eyes in the glass for long moments bringing her hands to cover the redhead's where they rested over her breasts and then slowly turned in her arms. Willow worried briefly that they would return to the gentle teasing, that Tara would become shy. Would want to take things slow.
And then she felt Tara's hands sliding tentatively over her breasts and gasped.
"So, I'm yours?" she asked and Willow nodded. "So, that means…mine?" the blonde demanded studying her hands as they moved over the flushed skin of the redhead's chest finally bringing her mouth to Willow's in a breath-taking kiss.
"Yours. Forever," she choked between kisses and felt the tears threatening again as she unclasped Tara's bra running her hands over the familiar landscape, feeling nipples harden against her palms.
She let her hands drop to the waistband of the cargo pants and began to unbutton them.
"Is this okay?" she asked gasping for air and Tara nodded wildly.
"Skirt?" Tara asked and then dropped her head to kiss Willow's neck, her mouth open and hot on her collarbone.
"Oh God! Zipper… in the back."
As she freed the final button and pushed the material down over Tara's hips warm hands circled her waist and then the familiar sound of a zipper.
Tara's mouth moved over her neck back to her mouth before pulling back abruptly.
"Willow I can't stand up…" she trailed off breathless.
"Bed. Now." Willow gasped and stepped out of her skirt and shoes to sit on the side of the bed.
Tara was still struggling gracefully with her pants and sneakers and Willow felt a steady calm descend on her as she studied her. Followed the sinuous curve and line of her. This is happening. This is real.
And Tara was standing before her, shy again, covering herself with her arms.
"Come here sexy," Willow said without thinking.
Not something freshman Willow would say. Definitely not…
But Tara was smiling again and moving toward her. Willow guided her down to sit beside her.
"I'm not s-sexy," Tara began, her eyes falling again to the floor.
"See now your gonna make me think I'm doing something wrong…" she traced the blonde's perfect nose and then turned her head gently to face her. "'Cause if I was doing this right," she paused to kiss the blonde gently, "you'd know that you're the sexiest woman on earth." She punctuated her statement with a long, slow kiss, moaning loudly as Tara's hands found their way to the back of her head pulling her deeper in.
"You're definitely doing this right," the blonde managed between kisses and then pulled back to study Willow's face. "Am…am I? 'Cause you know I've never…"
"Better than right." Willow soothed. "Definitely righter." And kissed her bare shoulder. "Rightest even."
"But I think it could be righter, you know, if we were, uh, actually on the bed," Tara offered with a mischievous smile.
Oh my God. Sexy is definitely not a big enough word for Tara. It never was.
Somehow they made their way up the bed, falling together in a tangle of limbs and bare skin and Tara was over her, studying Willow's face. Her hair fell in a golden curtain around them, filtering the light to a soft glow and the redhead felt tears spring to her eyes again.
"I'm afraid I'm too heavy…"
Willow smiled up at her, pulling her down gently into a tight embrace. "You're not…trust me."
"I do." Tara smiled that beautiful lopsided smile and finally lowered herself onto the redhead's slim frame, bare skin sliding over bare skin everywhere.
"Tar!" The word was torn out of Willow like a sob as she brought her mouth up to meet the blonde's in an end-of-the-world kiss.
It was never like this.
There was no line between them anymore, mouths wide open, hips beginning a slow rock in that language that Willow's body knew by heart.
"These have to go," she mumbled and pulled at the thin strip of fabric on Tara's hip. The only thing left between them.
"So do these," the blonde responded tugging at Willow's panties.
The redhead nodded once and shivered as Tara pulled the fabric slowly down her legs and finally let them drop to the floor. Willow sat up slowly and pushed the blonde down to the bed, making her way down that perfect body with hands and mouths, stripping away the last barrier between them.
She knew she should slow down, should focus on committing every moment, every taste and smell to memory, to make it real, but she couldn't. Because this was the now finally and their love was a verb again, not a noun. There was no memory to draw from, no pattern of love-making to fall into. It was all new and her world had focused down to the space beneath her hands and mouth. Moment to moment as her open mouth moved over a perfect knee, the soft skin of Tara's stomach, the arch and peak of perfect breasts. She felt it all at once, the everything of Tara, the taste, sound, smell and sight of her as if she had developed a new and separate sense just for this.
And it told her that the exquisite tension that she was holding onto, carefully drawing out and trying desperately to control was building beyond them. The room was no longer large enough to contain their want. And the ache was going to break her. And Tara. She could hear it in the blonde's breath, the sobbing way she pulled Willow against her body and mouth. Desperate.
This is how it happened:
Hands between thighs, wet and heat and Tara. The slow, impossible pressure and no release. Desperately holding onto this thing between them that had everything and nothing to do with magic. But it wasn't hers. It was theirs. Hers and Tara's. And its own. And she couldn't control it.
Willow knew in that moment with absolute certainty that it wasn't a dream or a hallucination. It was real. Because nothing, no one on earth or any other possible future or past could make her feel like this. Nothing and no one but Tara.
Their eyes met, black with desire and she felt with that other sense as everything in Tara tensed and then released, screaming Willow's name.
Willow pulled back once more to study the lines of the face beneath her, the deep blue eyes holding her safe.
And finally…let go.
"I thought I'd lost you."
The Slayer held her breath as she watched the scene unfold in front of her. Watched the two women connect in that way that made everything around them seem insignificant. Unimportant. Including herself. And it was, she realized for the first time, everything in the universe was insignificant in the face of a moment like this. Slaying, demons, death. Everything. And all of Tara and Willow's moments had been like this. Before.
A tear rolled down one cheek, surprising the Slayer.
Why didn't I see this before?
Because you didn't want to. Because you're the queen of denial.
As Willow slid one cheek along Tara's in a move that was slow and sensual, Buffy inhaled sharply.
And you shouldn't be seeing this now. Hello, hot and heavy lesbian sex scene is definitely in the making and you're still in the room!
Buffy quietly backed away closed the door to their dorm room and stood in the hall unsure of what to do. Should she wait to make sure that Willow was alright? Make sure that in a fit of grief and rage she didn't go black magic.
An image of Willow wrapped in on herself in grief slipped into her mind and she realized with a wave of guilt that she had never seen her best friend cry for Tara. The redhead hadn't even mentioned her lost love since her return. Not once. They had all carefully stepped around the issue, assuring themselves that it was best for Willow. That she had moved on with the help of whatever counseling she had received in England, but Buffy saw now with terrible clarity that she had been wrong. They all had. Willow would never move beyond Tara.
And I didn't do anything for her. Willow is my best friend…what am I saying? She's more than that, she's like my soul mate… in a totally platonic, never-gonna-have-sex kinda way…and I couldn't even let her cry.
Because that was the Scooby way. Somehow, at some point a rule had been written that they would all suffer in silence. And they had. Making their way through terrible loss and grief and because there were more important things to worry about. And there was always something. New apocalypses, new evil. Always something more important and they were all paying for it.
Emotionally retarded, she thought with a smile. Dawn had accused her of being emotionally retarded a month after Tara's death because she hadn't cried at the funeral. She hadn't cried for Tara at all. The teenager was right…as usual. And she was all alone in the future somewhere. Alone with Faith and that device.
The unmistakable sounds of Tara and Willow's love-making finally filtered through her senses. She felt a deep flush across her cheeks and laughed at her own discomfort.
Why does this make me all uncomfortable? Yep, emotionally retarded. That's me.
With a sigh she pulled on her jacket and quietly locked the door. There was certainly no reason for her to stay. Now that it was the two of them again. They were all they had ever needed.
She wiped the tears roughly from her face.
Okay, what's the plan? What am I doing? Oh yeah. Demon device. Checking the house for it.
Another loud moan from inside and her stomach turned over uncomfortably.
"Buffy! I'm home!" Dawn slammed the door behind her and dropped her backpack heavily onto the floor.
"Hello?" she yelled again hopefully. Dawn didn't have to explore to know that the house was empty. The sound of it, the terrible emptiness of being alone was so familiar, she knew its awful echoes by heart.
"Willow?" she asked quietly, tentatively and was thankful when there was no reply. She hadn't told anyone, but she was still scared of the redhead and hated to be left alone with her. There was so much they couldn't say to each other.
"Great. I don't know why I bother being on time ever," she muttered angrily and made her way up the well-worn staircase. "I could have stayed and had cool eggs with Rain, but no." That was so like Buffy. Everyone had to work on her schedule. Everyone else had to do what she wanted, when she wanted it. But if she was late and ruined everyone else's plans that was okay.
"Because Buffy's so much more important than me or anyone else."
Dawn paused as she rounded the corner and found herself in front of Tara's photo. Looking around guiltily, she brought her fingers to her lips and touched them to the glass carefully. "Sorry I thought that about Willow, Tara, I just…well, you know…" she trailed off unsure of how to finish the statement and knowing that she didn't have to. Tara had always known.
With another long sigh she made her way down the hall, stopping to check Buffy's room. The bed was made, the room was tidy and clean. No Buffy. And no clues as to where she was or when she'd be back. Nothing new.
"Guess I should've checked the frig," she mumbled and headed back into the hallway toward the stairs, but something stopped her. Movement out of the corner of her eye. Movement where it shouldn't be in that room at the end of the hall that had been her mother's and then Tara's and Willow's and now, finally was just a guestroom. The guestroom that Willow slept in. The room she hadn't been in since that day she had spent with Tara's body.
Okay, think like a Slayer. What would Buffy do? She'd tell you to get your ass out of the house…so, what would Faith do?
Dawn smiled and wiped her palms on her jeans, preparing herself for the walk down the hall. Movement. But there was no one in the house and no sound. The teenager's skin felt electric, the hair on the back of her neck standing up uncomfortably. And she knew she should leave, should find her sister and let the Slayer investigate, but she didn't. She looked once to the smiling photo of Tara and took a deep breath to steady herself before walking quietly toward that room.
It seemed to take forever to reach that dark room. The shades were still drawn, leaving it in shadow, but there seemed to be something moving inside. She swallowed past the lump in her throat and crept forward. The first thing she saw was the laptop. The screen was cracked and flickering an eerie green. Then the burn marks and the glass. Black soot scored the walls in large areas and broken glass from the window reflected back the laptop's flicker. And there was a shimmer in the air, like light projected without a screen. She thought she saw a familiar silhouette and blonde hair out of the corner of her eye.
"Tara?" And she could swear she smelled it – jasmine.
But when she turned to look there was nothing. She stepped carefully into the room knowing that she shouldn't, knowing with every cell in her body that something had happened here. Something powerful and dangerous. But if Tara was here it couldn't be bad, right?
Think Tara thoughts. Tara will protect me. Tara will protect me…
Then she saw it and her stomach turned over – the shattered window. The bullet that had ended everything and taken Tara and Willow away from her. And a silver object on the floor that didn't belong, that felt…wrong.
"Oh God, oh God," she brought a hand to her mouth to stop herself, but she couldn't because she knew that Buffy was gone. There was magic in this room. Magic and Willow. And Buffy would never have allowed that to happen.
"No," She whispered, but it was drowned out by a wail in the distance. A long, low ghostly scream of anguish that she knew without thinking was Willow.
Buffy's gone. Willow went dark magic and took her with her. And the bullet…
I'm alone. I'm all alone. Again.
"No!" the word was torn out of her in an anguished scream.
She felt as much as heard the house shake under the impact of something powerful, but she couldn't move. Her eyes traveled over the ruined room searching for evidence to verify what she already knew. Buffy's gone.
"I'm alone, I'm alone…" she muttered softly.
"Dawn!" The voice was familiar and loud as it echoed through the house. It was big and insistent and real, not the ghostly wails that reverberated around her in the small space of that room.
"Dawn, what the fuck happened?" The voice was now right behind her, but she couldn't move. Until she felt the warm weight of a hand on her shoulder gently turning her. "Where's Buffy?"
The Slayer pushed pass her into the room, stake in hand and Dawn studied her back as she assessed the danger, and felt a choking sob of relief work its way into her throat. Because it was so familiar, the strong set of her shoulders and her fighting posture. It was familiar and real and she was there with Dawn.
"Faith?" The teenager finally croaked. The Slayer turned to her, her face full of concern.
"Are you okay?" Faith moved toward her and Dawn watched her eyes as they checked for any sign of injury. And she knew she shouldn't break, knew she should be tough and strong like the Dark Slayer, but she couldn't. Not now. So she threw her arms around her and cried into the rough leather jacket. They stood that way for several moments in an awkward embrace, Faith tense in her arms. Finally, after what seemed like hours, she felt the Slayer's arms close around her stiffly.
"It's okay D, it's okay…" the Slayer whispered and patted her back clumsily. "We'll find her. I promise."
"I'm alone," she cried into Faith's shoulder. "They're gone and I'm alone again," she continued, her voice rapidly disintegrating into hysterical tears.
Faith pulled back slowly and held her face between two strong callused hands.
"No you're not." She wiped the tears carefully from the teenager's face, her jaw clenched tight as she stared with barely restrained fury into Dawn's eyes. "You're not fucking alone!" The Slayer closed her eyes and took a deep breath, her movements immediately reminding Dawn of Tara's meditation techniques. And then dark eyes flashed at her familiar and wild. "I'm not leaving. Okay?"
And Dawn knew that she could trust the Dark Slayer, despite everything she had heard, all the looks and whispered accusations. She knew it in the way she knew that Tara was still with her. The way she knew without a doubt that Willow and Buffy were gone.
Willow studied Tara's face as her fingers trailed lightly over soft skin. She hadn't been able to look away once, needing to reassure herself with every moment that Tara was still there. With her. Real and solid. A shy smile crossing perfect lips as her breathing finally slowed.
"Um, wow, that was…" the blonde trailed off with a blush.
"Yeah, it was. Definitely." Willow smiled and lowered her eyes to study her hand's lazy progress over the pale skin of Tara's chest, her fingers finding a familiar bump on the collarbone. She winced at the memory of Tara's embarrassed and painful explanation. Her father had broken it in high school. A bad break that was never set properly. The memory brought a rush of protective anger and Willow took a deep breath to control the fury that threatened.
"Are you okay?" Tara's warm fingers on her cheek gently brought Willow's attention back to deep blue eyes. The redhead felt a slight pull, like magic, but chose to ignore it dropping her head to place a light kiss on the old injury.
Probably just residual effects from the device…
"I have never been more okay." Willow leaned in and brought her lips to Tara's with a sigh. The blonde's hand moved to the back of her head, fingers entwined in red hair and Willow moaned as she was pulled into a deeper kiss.
Please let this be real. Let me stay here forever…I give it all up. Everything for this.
"Ever." She whispered as she moved to hover over the blonde, gasping as strong hands pulled her down against bare skin everywhere. Another long sensual kiss evolved quickly into something desperate. "Oh, God Tara!" the redhead moaned as she slid her thigh between the blonde's legs.
It wasn't like this…even the first time we made love it was never like this.
They had been so cautious, so careful with each other. Slow and tentative and shy. That Willow would have never believed Tara wanted her like that. That she wanted Tara like this. But this was wild and unrestrained, Tara pulling her against her, sliding a thigh between her legs, mouths wide open as if they were trying to consume each other. It was like the night before…before. When Tara had come to her room and the world was a poem again, not a sentence. For a moment.
"Wil?" the blonde pushed Willow back gently, gasping for air.
"Oh, sorry. I'm going too fast aren't I?" the redhead began, pulling away slowly.
Tara gripped her firmly with hands and thighs, a mischievous smile playing over her lips. "No. Imp-possibility remember?" And pulled Willow in for a long slow kiss. "But Buffy…"
Oh yeah. Buffy.
The Slayer was sure to return to the dorm room after her 'mission'.
And then she's gonna want to talk about the device. Full research mode. She's going to want you to find answers and you want…
She let her eyes drift back down to the blonde's beautiful face beneath her. Eyes black with desire, lips red and swollen from kissing, breathing hard as she studied the redhead carefully. And there was the unbearable ache between her own legs.
You want to have hot sweaty sex with Tara. Forever.
"You are so beautiful," Willow murmured and began to slowly trace a perfect breast.
"M-maybe we should g-go to my room."
Yes, we should go to Tara's room. Get control of yourself and go to Tara's…
Willow let her eyes drift down to the blonde's chest and knew there was no way she could leave this room, this miraculous place she had discovered again with Tara. Not yet. She dropped her head and brought her mouth slowly to cover one breast.
Tara arched up into her. "Willow!" And it all slipped away again with that one word. On those lips. Sending a shudder and wet jolt through her that was stronger than any magic. Bigger than time.
Buffy walked quickly through campus toward home, her eyes adjusting quickly to the rapid onset of night. It was that moment between when the world seemed to pause before taking that last step into dark.
But to the Slayer inside it was something else. It was the line between the two pieces of herself. She felt it every night, the quickening of her pulse, her hearing and sight growing more acute, her muscles twitching with desire, skin humming with the electric thrill of aggression. The outlines of things growing more distinct as the predator in her blood began to wake. Like a vampire ready to hunt in the night. And that was the dark secret she had kept for so long. This thing she had known from the beginning and hidden even from herself. That the Slayer was a demon made to fight demons. They talked about the Chosen One and a higher purpose, but she was created to hunt and kill in a centuries-old fight to the death. They could sugar coat it with lofty titles and prophecies, but it was still violence and naked aggression.
She had kept that secret for so long. Until Faith.
Faith who was now out of jail and alone with her sister in some apocalyptic future.
And she knows all about the demon, she thought with a scowl. Faith had had no problem getting in touch with her inner demon, had understood it and embraced it while Buffy had taken the high road burying it under perkiness and comic relief.
Until she had found release in death. She was finally free from the demon and they brought her back.
Willow brought me back. But not Tara….
She froze in the middle of the sidewalk. They had never actually discussed the details of that day. What had happened in that room to bring out the demon in her best friend. Oh God, did Willow use up all of her resurrect-y magic on me? Maybe Tara would still be here if Willow didn't…
The sound of laughter brought her back to the present. Her ears picking out the familiar masculine voice from the crowd. Riley.
Before she could make an escape, he was running toward her, calling her name with that wide, trusting smile. She felt a familiar smile crowd her face at the sight of him. Riley had been so easy and comfortable. And he had loved her.
But you can't give him what he needs right now. He's looking for smitten co-ed Buffy and After Spike and Glory and everything. I just can't. And he would never understand.
So keep it short and sweet. You're on a mission…
And then it hit her as her smile faded, you never could give him what he needed.
She was swept into a warm kiss, strong arms circling her waist. "Are we still on for later?" His face was split by a love-struck grin. It was so hard for her to believe that anyone had ever loved her like this. Unconditionally. It was so tempting to fall back into old behaviors. So easy to convince herself that she was that shiny girl.
"For?" she winced.
He looked around briefly, "For Patrol later. You know, with the guys."
Buffy nodded absently and tried to remember the specific details of the night. Unlike Willow she had no carefully organized filofax, no significant emotional landmarks. But 'the guys' had to mean the Initiative…
"Sorry, but I've got this thing…at home that I have to do. You know, important family-type… stuff. Just sorta came up." She shrugged and put on her cheeriest smile.
"Oh, your Mom still giving you a guilt trip about not visiting?"
"What?" She looked up into his broad smile and watched fascinated as his mouth moved, but there was no sound.
She's alive. Here.
Somehow, this simple fact had gotten lost in the dorm room. The Slayer had been so caught up in normal Scooby procedures and Willow so focused on Tara that her mother had slipped quietly through unnoticed.
She pulled away from Riley abruptly, trying to run before the tears started. "I've got to go…sorry." And then a firm grip on her arm stopping her.
"But I thought…I mean this maneuver's been planned for…" she looked down at the hand on her arm and felt the two parts of herself separate. That girl that she had been who could comfort and reassure him had disappeared long ago, killed in self defense.
"Look, I'm sorry about your maneuvers or whatever, but I've got to go," she turned again, but he still held her arm.
"Are you okay? Maybe I should go with…."
It took all of her strength to keep from breaking the hand that held her. The hand that kept her from her mother. From home. "Riley please…I really need …"
"To go," he finished for her, hurt and frustration apparent in his voice. "Yeah, I got that part."
She wanted to scream at him and cry and break down in his arms and tell him everything,
My mother is alive
My mom is in our house now. And I'm here and…
But instead she took a deep breath. "I'll call you later. Okay?"
And she was gone in a blur, running toward home.
Dawn took a deep breath and wiped the tears roughly from her eyes.
It's going to be okay. They're just gone. Not dead. You can get them back. What would Buffy do?
She looked up to find Faith's dark eyes studying her carefully.
Buffy would kick Faith's ass …even if it wasn't her fault.
Dawn laughed out loud at the image and the Dark Slayer's angry features dissolved into a confused smirk. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing." The teenager shook her head, but found that she couldn't stop laughing.
"You better tell me," Faith said in her most threatening voice which only made Dawn laugh harder.
"I was just thinking about what Buffy would do now…" she trailed off unable to explain. Because Faith was sure to take it the wrong way. Nothing that happened between the two Slayers ever seemed to go the right way.
And she had never understood it. Why her sister hated Faith so much. Faith was funny and smart and…totally cool! Like a rockstar. And yeah, she acted all tough with the cursing and the head-bobbing stuff, but she was so obvious. It was all right there with Faith. Right on the surface. Unlike Buffy with all her silent gloominess. Maybe that's why Buffy and the Scoobies couldn't see it. Because it's obvious.
And Faith doesn't talk to me like I'm an idiot.
"She'd probably blame it on me and try to kick my ass," the Dark Slayer muttered angrily and crossed her arms.
"See! That's exactly what I was thinking. Great minds do think alike." Which brought a slow, steady smile to the Slayer's face.
The ghostly sound of a gunshot and glass shattering brought them both back to the grim reality of the bedroom. Faith's eyes again traveled over the room's contents, finally landing on the silver object in the middle of the floor. Dawn watched the Dark Slayer's jaw clench as she bent to pick it up.
"B…supposed to be mine… so fucking hard-headed," she could barely hear the Slayer muttering under her breath.
"What is it?" Dawn leaned over a leather-clad shoulder. The scary metal thing actually just looked like a little sculpture. Cute. With stars on the top.
"Uh, I don't know." The Slayer turned to face her, holding the object between them. "Cordy saw it in a vision." Faith paused and met Dawn's eyes for a moment as if she was making a decision and then shrugged. "B and Red are supposed to end the world with it or something."
"So why …I mean, is that why you're here? You know 'cause I'm thinking it's probably better if you stay, like, a hundred miles away from my sister." And that brought another smile to the Slayer's face.
"Yeah, something like that. I'm supposed to stop it," she looked around the ruined room with a grimace. "So, so far I'm 0 for 2."
Another ghostly Willow-wail echoed through the room and Dawn shivered.
Tara and Willow.
"Is that Red?" The Slayer asked cocking her head to the left, like a dog listening to something beyond human hearing.
"This is the room where Tara was shot," she answered simply and shuddered again.
Deep furrows appeared on Faith's forehead. "Red's girl?"
And mine. And Buffy's.
Not just Willow's.
Tara was everyone's girl.
And they stole her from the world. From us.
She wanted to explain it all to Faith, but found that she couldn't. She was holding back too much. Fear, grief, anger. If she let go of any piece of it right now, the rest would surely come pouring out. And they had more important things to worry about. End of the world things. And no Buffy to help. And she didn't want to be that crying helpless girl. She wanted to be tough. Like a Slayer.
"Yeah. Can we get out of here?" Faith just nodded.
Dawn walked through the doorway and felt the chill lift, the eerie sounds dying as soon as she stepped over the threshold.
"What the fuck?"
She turned to find the Dark Slayer staring down at her empty hands.
Faith looked down at the floor. "It's gone. Like, totally, fucking poof, just gone out of my hands." They both turned frantically back to the room to find the silver object lying where they had found it with the broken glass and debris.
The Slayer scowled and rested her hands on her hips. "Okay, well, that's not going anywhere obviously. I'm thinking we are gonna need a witch and since Red's gone…"
Dawn turned automatically to find Tara's smiling face on the wall. Tara had taught her a few spells and incantations, but she had been adamant about Dawn staying away from big magicks. No matter how great the need.
But there's nobody else.
"What about Giles?" Faith asked.
The teenager turned back. "Um, he's in England, so, like, factor in 24 hours of travel time at least if we can even get a hold of him…"
"Well, I could call Angel, but…."
"Hey! There's Anya. She's a witch. I mean, she was a witch."
Faith frowned. "Anya? The ex-vengeance demon?"
"Well, yeah, but technically she's an ex-ex-vengeance demon now since Xander dumped her at the altar. But she's cool and all with the demon knowledge you know, except when she's eviscerating people's boyfriends and…" Faith was shaking her head with a smile. "What?"
"I forgot how much you people talk! Jesus, between you, B and Red…" the dark Slayer rolled her eyes and began to walk toward the stairs. This was the Faith Dawn loved. Annoying, smartass, tough softie Faith. She couldn't decide if she wanted to hit her or hug her.
But hugging Faith could be dangerous. And I've gotten away with one today already so…
She opted for a playful punch to the arm that had no effect whatsoever on the rock-solid Slayer but made her feel better, "Look, just because I'm not all monosyllabic five by five cavewoman like you…"
"Whatever," Faith rolled her eyes and hopped playfully down the stairs. "Can we go find this Anya chick before you talk me back into a coma.
"Whatever," Dawn mocked her and stopped dead in the hallway. The door had literally been ripped from its hinges and Faith was now propping it precariously back in place.
"You were screaming," the Dark Slayer offered with a shrug. Dawn tried to suppress the enormous grin but couldn't. She followed Faith through the ruined doorframe into a beautiful end-of-the-world Sunnydale day.
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