DISCLAIMER: None of this is mine, it all belongs to the genius of Joss Whedon (but then again, what genius would kill Tara?)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: 7x22 Chosen

By diamondforever


"When the time comes that a soulful vampire shall fight alongside the Slayers, then shall the black witch call the white witch from the fields of eternal bliss to bring about the closing of the circle of good and evil. Many shall fall to make way for the white witch, and although she does not will it, the two must fight, or so perish, with the earth beside them…"

Chapter One

They'd won. As Willow hung onto Xander, it went through her head. They'd won, actually won, as in kicked the First's army to the next hell dimension. They'd won, as in saved the world from yet another near apocalypse, with no one except for the now-evacuated residents of the former Sunnydale knowing any better. Things were looking up.

And no more Sunnydale. Yes, no more home, but hey, no more Hellmouth, which was totally fine by Willow. Yes-sir-ee, no more Sunnydale Hellmouth was definitely a good thing. Yep, things were looking up.

"So, Buffy," she heard Dawn ask for the second time, "where to?"

And for the second time, Buffy just smiled. A sad smile, but hey, who wouldn't be sad if their home for the last six years had been reduced to ground zero? Even though she had been fighting to keep the town safe since the day she had arrived in Sunnydale, Buffy had been able to find true happiness, at least at one point, on the Hellmouth.

Willow knew she would follow Buffy to the ends of the earth. The Slayer had saved her many times over the years, and Willow wanted to repay that. She was after all, according to Buffy, the most powerful witch to walk the earth. That had to leave some space for "protect your friends from whatever evil throws their way." And Willow would do just that. Inseparable to the ends of the earth, they would be.

How she wished Tara could be here now. She had used to think that they too would be inseparable. Loving each other in old age, always together. Dying side by side, together in the afterlife, inseparable through death. That belief had been cruelly torn apart by Warren. The anger she felt towards him was still fresh, a wound barely healed. He had caused her so much pain, and in return, his life had been torn from him…literally.

Sometimes, Willow still wanted to show that anger and pain. Maybe that was why she'd never really liked Andrew. He had been an accomplice in Warren's plans, naïve and unaware, but nevertheless part of the chain of events leading to her Tara's death. Just as guilty, and just as deserving of death.

But she wouldn't do that. That was the past now, and it was time to leave that behind. No more embracing of the dark arts, right, Willster? She chuckled at her Xander-esque impression. But he was right. No more dark arts. That had driven Tara away, and had taken away any chance for her to be with Tara in the afterlife. The dark arts had separated them, and Willow would always remember that.

Willow smiled. She could picture her love looking down at her from heaven, wishing her well. You'll always find me, and I'll always find you, she had said, stroking her face. It had been the night after Buffy had died, and Tara had vowed that they would never be truly apart, that not even death could completely separate them. Willow's belief that this was true, and that Tara was watching over her, was what kept her going now. Tara wanted her to be happy.

How Willow wished she could be happy. But that could never happen without Tara in physical form here beside her. Kennedy would give her brief moments of pleasure and release, but Willow had always been in a blissful heaven whenever Tara was around her. Kennedy would hold her in her arms at night, but Willow would dream of Tara and the love they had shared. Kennedy would move inside her, but everything would feel and smell like Tara. Everything was Tara.

She would move on though. How could she live if she continued to pine over a love that she could never have again? Willow wouldn't waste away. She would try to live as Tara wished for her to do so, loving to the fullest, using her magicks for a good cause. Goddess, no matter how hard it was, she would continue to live with the magical spark and vitality that had drawn Tara to her.

As the group of survivors walked back towards the tattered yellow school bus, Willow took Kennedy by the hand. This'll work, she thought, her resolve face making its way to the surface, this is gonna work.

Willow woke with an urge to weep, a normal occurrence in the past months. As usual, her love had been in her dreams. Her dreams weren't happy. They were retellings of her last day with Tara. Sometimes, it included the happy times, the love-making, but it also told the inevitable death that occurred at the end of each dream turned nightmare.

All was silent on the school bus, traveling along the road with a steady bump-bump. Kennedy's arm was wrapped possessively around her waist, as if to protect her from harm. There was no way that she could know that Willow needed no protection from physical hurt. There was comfort in the embrace, and there was warmth, but there was no unbridled love. Willow tried to snuggle closer, but found that the bus seat wouldn't allow it.

So unable to go back to sleep, she moved Kennedy's arm, and bump-bumped with the bus up to the driver's seat, where Xander sat steering the bus along the road to Los Angeles. It was obvious that he was near exhaustion, as his head bobbed up and down with the terrain.

"Need a break?" Xander jumped slightly, the change from the sleepy silence of the road startling him.

"Willow!" His demeanor brightened. "Scared the heebie-jeebies out of me there…" He smiled, his one eye gazing into hers. Damn that cleric.

"Eyes on the road, sailor." Willow tried to sound happy or at least cheerful. "Wouldn't wanna crash now, wouldja?"

Xander obliged. "Any idea where we're headed to after LA?" He knew he would follow Willow and Buffy wherever they went, as long as they stuck together. They were best friends, after all. However, if it came down to a choice between the two, he would go with Willow. He had known her all his life.

"I'm sticking with the Buffster," she answered. After the split up in LA, everyone would scatter. But Willow intended to stay with her best friend.

"Not going with Kennedy?"

"Nah…she's nice and all with the cuddles and smoochies, but she's not you or Buffy." At least it was a part-truth.

"You mean she's not Tara," Xander mused. No denial this time. They needed to talk about this.

Willow bit her lip. "You know me too well." As much as she tried to ignore it, Kennedy didn't fulfill her, didn't have that connection with her. The physical part of their relationship was amazing, but the emotional…was nada. What she had felt with Tara could never and would never be replicated. It was completion – anything otherwise was a gaping hole that continually became deeper and deeper second by second.

"Ah. That I do." Xander pulled the bus over and opened his arms, inviting Willow in for a hug. "It's ok, Will…"

"No, it's not ok!" Tears began to fall down Willow's cheeks; tears she'd held back for an eternity.

"Look, Will," Xander moved to face her. "Tara's dead. You need to accept that. Would she want you to go on like this?"

Willow shook her head. "I tell myself that every second I'm awake, but when I sleep, the memory's so fresh. I see her body, and the blood. Then I realize I can't go on with her all over again." A fresh sob coursed through her body.

"Shhh…" Xander gently stroked her hair. "Go on. You can tell me everything."

"When I wake up, I wanna die and I want the world to die with me. Like in the past, remember? Then I think, 'What's wrong with me? Would Tara want me like that? It's like a 'What Would Jesus Do?' 'cept that it's not. It's a 'What Would Tara Think?' And I tell myself to go on living and cry myself to sleep again." Willow's body shook with the force of her sobs, her face hidden in the folds of Xander's bloodstained shirt.

"You can do it, Will." Xander kissed her forehead. "We're here for you."

"She was the best person I've ever known," Buffy said quietly from where she had been standing for the past minute. She laid a comforting hand on the redhead's shoulder. "And I can't tell you how much she meant to Dawn. We all love her."

"She meant so much to her family. And still does," said Xander.

"So where's our family headed to, Buff?" Willow wiped her tear-stained cheeks. She still had one more card up her sleeve against life: her friends.

"Helping Angel out. You?"

"LA then."

Buffy smiled; another sad smile, but with a hint of relief and joy. "Where would I be without you guys?"

"Well, headed towards LA?" Xander suggested.

"No," Buffy corrected. "I'd be dust. Or be rotting in a grave. Or drowned in a cozy little cave. Need I go on?"

"But then," Xander fought back valiantly, "you would have to ask yourself, where would we be without you? We'd also be dust. Vampires turned to dust, if you care to home in with the logical smarty-pants radar."

"And I guess that's why I'm here." Buffy's smile spread to a grin. "Saving the two of you from certain death and an eventual dusting."

"We can protect ourselves now, Buff." Willow didn't want to be looked upon as weak. "But aren't you glad it's over?" Now that the topic of discussion had turned from Tara, she had regained some of her composure.

"That's a definite yes," said Buffy. "And better yet, as Faith so kindly pointed out to me, I'm no longer the only active Slayer. But back to what we were talking about." She paused. "Do you miss Sunnydale?"

"Well, we did spend our whole lives there. Me and Xander, anyways. It was our home, Hellmouth or no," said Willow. "I know I'll miss it. At least a little."

"I don't miss Sunnydale as much as I miss what I left behind," whispered Xander.

"Anya went down fighting." Willow hugged her oldest friend. "And she died saving Andrew, a person she didn't even like. Would the old Anya have done that? No. She changed because of you, and in the end, I have to say that she was my friend." Willow wasn't sure if what she had just said was the right thing, but she wanted to remember Anya as a good person, and not just an ex-demon.

Buffy nodded in agreement. "We'll always remember her for what she did."

"Always doing the stupid thing, she was," Xander muttered bitterly.

"No, Xander," Willow frowned. "She wasn't doing anything stupid."

"It came down to worrying about herself, or about others…and she didn't choose the usual one," said Buffy.

"Kinda wish she had."

"Look, Xander, the people that we love are in a better place now, and they would want us to be happy. We need to live on to do their memories justice. Yes, we have a time to grieve, but not now, not when there are so many lives on the line. When this is over, I know that I'm going to sit down and cry for all the people we lost today, but right now, we need to get to LA." Willow took a deep breath. "We just need to go on living."

"Thanks, Will." A brief smile flashed across Xander's face. "All of us needed that." Although the phrase was mostly used with the tone of sarcasm, this time around, it was said with complete sincerity.

"Bu-" Willow began.

"All of us," Buffy confirmed, a tear finding its way down her cheek.

Willow understood, then, what she had been trying to deny. Spike. Buffy had loved Spike. He hadn't come out of the school, which meant only one thing. "He was brave and he's saved all of our lives Goddess knows how many times."

"This time, Spike saved the world," Buffy replied, her voice barely audible. Tears steamed silently down her face. "He used the amulet that Angel gave me to defeat the First's army. 'To be worn by a champion,' he told me. Spike…" Three more tiny droplets fell. "He was in so much pain."

Quietly, the three friends cried, arms wrapped and linked, exchanging strength and comfort. They wept for the dead. They wept for each other. They wept for all they'd been through.

After a while, Xander turned back to the wheel, and started the bus. Buffy and Willow made their way back to their seats and slowly drifted back to sleep. Except for the occasional sniff, all was once again silent on the school bus.

Chapter Two

Tara stood in front of her, eyes glowing, pain eminent. "Don't do it, Willow," she whispered, her breath soft like the wind. "Please don't do it."

"Tara!" Willow cried. "Come back to me, Tara!" She could see her love moving away, disappearing into the light at the end of the dreamlike tunnel.

And suddenly, she was in the room they had shared; the room in Buffy's house. Tara stood by the window, smiling, hands in her pockets.

Willow knew what would happen, like every time she dreamed. The fateful shot rang out.

"Your shirt…" She sounded confused as she fell forward, canyons of blue closing.

"Tara?" Willow dropped as well, clutching the blonde's body to herself. "Tara?! Baby?"

"Willow?" It was Kennedy, standing at the door to the room. "C'mon, we gotta go."

Willow squeezed tighter to the lifeless form in her arms. "Baby, come on! Get up! Get up damn it!" She would bring her back.

"By Osiris, I command you, bring her back!" Magick would always be her first option in an emergency.

"Willow?" Kennedy was shaking her now."

"Get off me!" Willow shrieked. "Come on, Tara. Please, come on, baby…"


"Willow! Wake up. You're having a nightmare."

"Wake up, Tara…" Willow moaned, Kennedy's presence not registering.

"Tara's gone, Will, let her go."

"No! She's not gone. She needs me! I need to save her, bring her back!" Willow made as if to reach for something; something that only she could see.

"Willow!" Kennedy grabbed her shoulders. "Tara is dead, and she's not coming back." She hated when Tara was brought up. To know that she wasn't the one Willow was in love with made her hate even the mention of the blonde Wicca. She didn't know why she was feeling this – it was odd. That she cared for this petite redhead surprised even her. It felt like the right thing to do, to comfort Willow – but it seemed like Willow didn't want that comfort. She wanted to drown in her sorrow as it ate at her day after day…

"She's my baby," Willow whispered, "I need her, she needs me." She began to sob. "I can't live without her." She couldn't let go. It was like this all the time, but this time there was more. It was like Tara was actually there, reaching out to her, just out of her grasp. Something tempted her to grab her by whatever means. Willow knew magicks might do it, but if only she knew what to do. Osiris couldn't bring her back, who could? Could she, Willow Rosenberg, bring Tara back? No…she couldn't. She had promised not to do that. "Tara…."

Kennedy gathered Willow into her arms, trailing her hands up and down the redhead's back. Slowly, the witch returned to slumber.

Kennedy was used to this by now. Every night, Willow cried for Tara. Sometimes, when she thought that Kennedy was asleep, and sometimes, shaking in her arms like this, upset by another re-enactment of Tara's death.

The Slayer sighed, closing her eyes. This would never work, her and Willow. For as long as she lived, Willow would remember and mourn Tara. No matter how she tried, she would never be able to bury her love in her heart. Willow could try to love her, but she would never be able to see Kennedy as she had seen Tara. Damn Tara. Couldn't Willow see how much she loved her? I love you, Willow Rosenberg, but we both know this will never work.

Tomorrow would be a new day, and tomorrow, Kennedy would begin to let Willow heal on her own.

Willow awoke to the absence of Kennedy. Looking around bewilderedly, the sun glaring brightly through the glass windows, she realized the bus had stopped. She also became aware that there was no one else in sight. Stretching luxuriously, she pulled herself up to the entrance.

Welcome to Angel Inc.

So they were in LA. Where was everyone?

She stepped out of the bus and took in her surroundings. No human beings in sight. No Scoobie Gang, no mass of Slayers, nothing. Where was everyone? The witch glanced up and down the empty street, desperately searching for a familiar face, any face.

"Buffy?" No answer.

"Xander?" Silence.

"Ta-Tara?" In desperation, she threw out her love's name as a prayer.

"Don't do it…do-don't do it!" A hysterical voice was heard from a dark alley off to the side. "Please…d-don't make it happen."

Willow moved towards the source of the crying; a young blonde woman was huddled on the floor, long legs curled into a fetal position, rocking back and forth. "Are you ok?" Willow knelt down beside the shaking figure. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

The blonde lifted her head, and familiar blue eyes pierced the redhead. She gasped as a wave of desire coursed through her body. "Tara?" Even the sight of her caused arousal.

"Don't do it, Will." Tara's eyes pleaded with her. "Don't let it tempt you."

"Do what?" Willow didn't understand.

"It's coming…don't do it. Fight it. Fight it, damn it!" Tara leaped towards her, arms outstretched.


Willow awoke once again, this time, with Buffy peering down at her concernedly. "You were mumbling Tara's name again. You ok?"

When Willow nodded, she leant back, allowing her to get up. "I was just about to wake you. We're here." She paused. "Kennedy told me to tell you that she went ahead to help set the place up."

"Are we at Angel's?" Willow pushed Tara's warning to the back of her mind. She'd think about what it meant later. Right now, she needed to focus on what lay ahead.

"Yep. Fred's out there doing her "Welcome to Los Angeles" speech. What a sweetie."

"We've met." Willow smiled briefly as she remembered her last trip to LA.

"Any chance?" Buffy asked. "For, you know…"

"I don't think it's gonna happen," answered Willow. "Either way, I'm with Kennedy right now."

"It's good to move on, Will. Things will get better in time."

"Thanks, Buff." Really, Willow wasn't so sure. What had Tara meant? Don't do what? Even now, the events from her dream were dislodging themselves from her memory. Willow shook her head. She wouldn't think about this now.

Buffy had already begun to walk towards the front of the bus, so Willow followed her. Together, the friends exited the bus amidst the rest of the survivors. Fred stood in the middle of it all, a grin spread wide on her face.

"You just missed my welcome speech," she exclaimed. She turned to Willow. "How's it going?"

"Shiny," Willow answered.

"Well, we've got everything set up," Fred continued as if she'd never stopped, "and I think we can comfortably fit y'all onto the bottom floor."

"Great, Fred," Buffy smiled at the cheeriness of the woman standing in front of her. "But we need stuff. Sleeping bags, clothes, money. None of us brought anything from Sunnydale. We need those more than shelter even."

"You have no reason to worry." If it was possible, Fred's grin grew even wider. "Wolfram & Hart will provide you with absolutely everything and anything you need. Partnership does have its benefits."

"Wolfram & Hart…" Buffy frowned. "Isn't that the law firm that was after Angel?"

"Yeah, but Angel made a deal with them. He's the CEO now. You should see all the cool facilities we've got now…science lab, entertainment department…"

Willow stopped listening to the exchange at that point and began to wander around the street. Like in her dream, she took in her surroundings. The street was the same, but this time around, people were traveling up and down the street, bustling and lively.

And there, just past the Angel Inc. building, was the dark alley where Tara had been. Willow was drawn towards the passage, moving quickly, hoping against all hopes that her questions would be answered upon her arrival.

But it wasn't meant to be. The alley was devoid of life; not even a rat stirred. She walked to the spot where Tara had sat, reverently touched the ground there. What did you mean? Don't do what? She had always been able to decipher her love's thoughts, but the meaning of her dream words eluded her.

She stood there for another moment, lost in thought, before slowly walking back to Buffy and Fred, both still immersed in conversation. Apparently, the topic had moved to fighting techniques. "So I didn't realize how much it hurt when I kicked the demon. Maybe I shouldn't have hit its horns…" Fred cocked her head, mind occupied. She then took a breath and continued describing her adventures with Angel Inc.

Buffy didn't say anything, but just watched the excited woman babble on.

By the time evening came, everything was pretty much organized. All the younger Slayers had spread their newly acquired sleeping gear on the ground floor of Angel Inc. They had been able to get more than just sleeping bags and pillows…also toiletries, trinkets, and new pajamas. And there was a promise from W&H: more to come.

Meanwhile, the Scoobie Gang, including Andrew and Principal Wood, had gotten their own private rooms on the second floor with Fred and Cordelia, the latter still comatose. Angel, Wesley, and Gunn had left LA to organize a second front, and were just coming back now that the world was safe. If all went according to plan, they would be back tomorrow night.

Just before turning in for the night, Willow caught up with Kennedy, who hadn't been around all day. Busy setting up her sleeping bag by the staircase, she didn't notice Willow until she was practically standing over her.

"You don't have to sleep here, you know…" she said.

"Not tonight, Will." Kennedy shook her head. "I'm just really tired…"

It wasn't a good excuse, but Willow let it pass. "Oh. That's no problem." This was weird. Normally, Kennedy would pounce on this kind of opportunity. "I'll see you tomorrow then?"

"Yeah, sure." Kennedy went back to straightening her bag.

Awkwardly, Willow retreated up the stairs and into her room. The furnishings were simple, but the room was quite comfortable. Settling into bed, she breathed in the fresh night air from the open window.

She remembered that Tara did this every night. "It connects me with nature," she had said, tilting her head back, closing her eyes, breathing in the scent of the night. Nothing would escape her acute senses…anything from perfume to freshly cut grass she would recognize and enjoy. Every smell would cause her to sigh in ecstasy.

Back then; Willow had never joined her at the window. Instead, she had sat on the bed, breathing in Tara. Vanilla. The two were one. Even now, she always carried a blossom of vanilla with her, everywhere she went. That way, her most vivid memory of Tara would always remain near.

She took out the flower from her blouse pocket, wrapped and sealed in a skin pouch. Willow had made this in England, at the urging of Giles. If Tara were near her, Willow would be able to feel her presence. Sense would replace verbal communication. And Willow had never tried this before, afraid that the spell would reveal that Tara was not here. That was what kept Willow from doing something irrational, her trust that Tara was close by, watching over her.

But now, she needed Tara more than ever. She didn't know why, but her longing for the blonde increased every minute. So she took the pouch, and touched the red lining that she had so lovingly made; cotton string died red with her own blood and mixed with Tara's hair. She let herself become totally attuned to the air around her, calling out her love's name in her mind. Tara…like a never-ending wail, growing steadily louder.

And then she felt it…a slight touch on her arm, and an invisible hand stroking her hair. "Tara…" Willow smiled. It was true. Tara would never leave her completely. "Hold me?" she whispered. And immediately, warm, strong arms wrapped around her, holding her lovingly.

Willow lay back, closing her eyes, and for once, she was confident that she would be able to sleep uninterrupted. Tara-ghost was protecting her, after all, and she couldn't be hurt by anything when Tara was with her.

Tara stroked Willow's hair, knowing that she couldn't see her. Every night since the day she had been taken away, she had watched over her. Just a few more hours, sweetie…They'd be together again, she knew that much. It couldn't be prevented. That was what the Goddess had told her. Prophecies couldn't be changed. Only the results could be altered.

And she needed Willow's help to change the outcome of this prophecy. If she didn't succeed…the world would end. And only her and Willow could do anything to stop it. Be strong, Will…Even though Willow couldn't hear it. She could only feel her until the time came. And she would need to leave soon.

So Tara squeezed the sleeping redhead tightly, trying to give her the warmth, courage, and love that would seek to elude the witch within the next few days.

Be strong, my Willow tree…dream happy dreams.

Chapter Three

The next morning dawned bright and early, and Willow rose with the sun. Her dreams had been about purple carrots…something she hadn't dreamt about for too long. In fact, the last time she had seen purple carrots was at least a year and a half ago…when she and Tara had still been living together.

So she had awoken expecting to find another warm body beside hers, but nothing was there. And that ache for Tara was back, stronger than ever. She knew Tara had been with her in spirit last night, holding her in her arms as she slept. But why did she leave? Why had she left her when everything had seemed to be getting better?

Because you don't deserve her, she told herself. But then why had Tara come to her? Why had she stayed near to her? She had definitely seen her with Kennedy, getting smoochies by the dozen at any time she pleased. Wouldn't she be jealous?

The answers eluded her as she made her way to Buffy's room, who was doing some early-morning aerobics. Willow knocked quietly on the door, observing the Slayer's graceful movements.

"Morning, Buff. Couldn't sleep?" There were bags under the Slayer's eyes.

"Not really." An awkward silence ensued, neither really having anything to say. Buffy didn't really want to talk about Spike, and Willow was too caught up in her thoughts about Tara.

"You wanna get some mochas?" A pause. "No? Ok." Willow turned and made her way towards the stairs.

"Wait." Buffy's voice was heard. "Get me one too?"

"Sure thing."

Downstairs, most of the Slayers were still sleeping, but Kennedy and Rona were up and rolling up their sleeping bags.

"Morning," Willow greeted.

Both girls nodded in answer and continued to clean up.

Willow waited momentarily, expecting a more intimate greeting from Kennedy, but it never came. She frowned. What was wrong with the Slayer? Was there a reason that she was being so distant?

"I was just going for some coffee," she began. The last thing she needed right now was more questions. "You wanna come, Kennedy?"

Kennedy nodded, a small smile gracing her face for a moment. They left the building and walked in silence the few blocks to the nearest Starbucks. After getting two mochas, they sat down opposite each other at one of the tables.

"So what's bothering you?" asked Willow. No babbling today.

"Nothing's wrong, Willow."

"Really, something's wrong. I can tell." Willow paused, frowning. "Don't you trust me enough to tell me?"

"Nothing's wrong, Willow!"

"Bullshit." Willow's voice rose. She knew when she was being lied to. "Something's wrong. You were too tired to sleep with me, in my bed, last night? What kind of lame ass excuse is that? And this morning. If you're my girlfriend, I should be getting smoochies, not little good-morning nods. Those are for acquaintances, not girlfriends. So tell me, what in the frilly heck is going on?"

"Your girlfriend is bothering me." Kennedy's mouth contorted into a sneer. "Tara's bothering me." She spat out the name like a disease. "I'm tired of hearing about her. I'm tired of waiting for you to get over her. Every night, I have to listen to you cry for her. I know you dream about her, why else would you be crying?" She stood up, knocking the chair she had been sitting on to the floor. "You don't realize how much it hurts me, do you? No. You're too busy wallowing in your own self-pity to notice my pain. You're a selfish bitch, you know that?" She heaved, aware of what she had said, but she couldn't stop. She needed to be heard, needed to let Willow know how she felt about this. "If we're not pouring the same amount of effort into this relationship, then I can't do this anymore. I don't think this is gonna work." Tears stained her cheeks as she ran out the door, onlookers clearing a path for her.

Willow didn't really react for a few minutes. I don't think this is gonna work. That was what Tara had said. Was it happening again? Was she going to lose Kennedy? She shook her head. She had already lost Kennedy. I don't think this is gonna work. The sentence ran through her head a few more times.

And suddenly, Kennedy didn't matter anymore. It was all Tara. There was no one else in the world but Tara. For all she cared, Kennedy didn't even exist. Who were those people staring at her, anyways? She knew none of them were Tara. And those voices…They think you're a selfish bitch…People stared at her accusingly. You know what can make it all better…She agreed with that voice in her head. The use of magicks was a small price.

Taking out the crushed Lethe's Bramble from her emergency pack of magickal ingredients, she whispered the word "forget" without thinking twice. None of the people here would remember her as the bitch. And so she left the coffee shop, people already forgetting who she was.

A few blocks away, she stopped, horrified. What had she done? She had used magicks that she'd sworn never to use again. Willow looked down at the crushed plant in her hand. It had come so easily, using the spell. It had been her first reaction. All that work in England thrown out the window because of a fight with her girlfriend? What was wrong with her?

Gradually, she began to make her way back to Angel Inc., her mind an entirely different entity from her body. Now that she had used the magicks selfishly, she was once again drawn to the power that came along with the practice. But what dam had snapped within her? Willow knew that she had completely overcome her addiction, especially after the nifty Slayer spell she'd done. She had pushed away the dark, so why was it coming back?

At her pace, it took her the better part of an hour to arrive at her destination, where Buffy was pacing worriedly.

"So where's my chocolatey mocha?" she tried to joke. Silence. "Ok, something's wrong. Tell Buffy what's wrong, Will."

"Nothing's wrong, Buff."

"Kennedy came back half an hour ago, and she hasn't said a word to anyone, hasn't looked anybody in the eye." Buffy eyed her best friend suspiciously. "And you're not babbly at all. Out of the ordinary, I must say."

Willow just looked at her through distant eyes. What's wrong with you, Rosenberg?

"Will." Buffy moved in to stand directly in front of her friend. "What's wrong?"

"Kennedy broke up with me." It was a part truth, but not the whole. She couldn't tell Buffy about the magick, she just couldn't. They pulled at her, tempting her resolve, offering her the greatest treasure of all, Tara. Why was this happening? "Called me a bitch."

"She's the bitch." Buffy immediately gathered Willow into a hug. "Can I do anything to help?"

Again, Willow didn't reply.

"Will, last time you broke up with someone…bad stuff happened. We can help you through it this time, Xander and me. You won't need to do anything you'll regret."

Willow retreated further into her mind at the small referral to Tara. Even though it hurt, she knew it was true. And she couldn't tell Buffy that she'd already done something regrettable.

"If there's anything you need to talk about, or if you just wanna hang, I'll always be here for you." Buffy squeezed lightly, and pulled back.

"Same to you, Buff." Willow walked up to her room and closed the door behind her, still lost in thought. Why was this happening to her now, just as everything had seemed to be getting better?

As soon as Willow left her sight, Buffy went to Kennedy, who had been sitting at the bottom of the basement stairs ever since she'd gotten back.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" She stared at the brunette accusingly. "She's completely crushed."

Kennedy, eyes red, couldn't look Buffy in the eye. "Do you really think I wanted to do that?"

"All I know is that she's looking like she did when Tara left her all over again. God knows what she could do in that state." Buffy's eyes stared coldly at the girl in front of her. She didn't even bother to keep Tara out of this. "And it's all your fault."

"That's the problem." Kennedy's eyes darkened. "Willow's still with Tara. In here." She touched her heart. "You can't have two girlfriends."

Buffy took pity on the younger Slayer, her eyes softening. "Tara was her soulmate, Kennedy. Nothing can change that fact. No matter what, Willow will always remember and mourn for Tara." Kennedy's face fell at this. "But I assure you, Willow is trying to move on, and she needs you beside her supporting her one hundred and ten percent."

A slight glimmer of hope appeared on Kennedy's face. "Does she?"

"She does." Buffy smiled sympathetically. "Give her a little bit of time to cool off. Then you can make it up to her."

"I just feel so bad…you should have seen her eyes when I told her that it was over. It was like she wasn't even there anymore."

"She went through a bad break-up with Tara, and then when they got back together…well, you know what happened." Seeing Kennedy's eyes cloud in anger at Tara's name, she changed the topic. "Just give her a little time to cool off, ok? And don't blame her about Tara…Tara was special. "

Kennedy nodded, her lips curling up in a small smile, but her eyes reflected the hate she felt for the blonde witch.

"Buffy!" They heard Giles shouting from upstairs.

Buffy gripped the Slayer's shoulder and turned to go upstairs.

"Buffy." She turned back. "You know…" Kennedy twisted her neck around, a forced smile on her face, "you're a lot nicer when there's no apocalypse to worry about."

Buffy smiled and climbed the flight of stairs to the ground floor. "What is it, Giles?"

"It's Faith." Giles looked extremely distressed. "She took some of the girls with her to take out Caritas." The after-hours demon hangout had been, at long last, vacated by The Host as he left town to search for a different source of income.

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "What's so bad about that?"

Giles muttered something unintelligible and pointed at the sunlight peeking through the closed drapes.

"Oh!" Buffy knew what was wrong. A demon massacre in broad daylight would have every demon in LA after them tonight. It wasn't like Sunnydale – demons ran amok in the night. They had no one to fear – until now. "Rona! Gather everyone up. We're going to a demon bar, just like the field trip." She turned to Kennedy, who had made to move, but looked in no shape to fight. "You can stay here if you want. Should be quick work." Kennedy graced her with a grateful smile.

"Thanks," she mouthed.

By the time they arrived at the bar, Faith's group had taken care of about half the demons. Although they were outnumbered, they seemed to be holding up pretty well.

"Hey, B!" Faith paused mid-kick. "Glad you could make it."

"What made you come here in broad daylight?!" Buffy quickly staked a vampire that had been attempting to jump her from above. "Think about what's gonna happen tonight!"

Faith didn't answer immediately, but proceeded to throw a stake at a vampire behind Buffy. "Interrogate and shit later, B. We're still outnumbered two to one here."

Buffy nodded, but her eyes promised post-battle pain. She then jumped over a particularly vicious vampire. "Hey, wanna see a trick?"

Dusty, and blood-dyed in ten different colours, Buffy sighed. It was finally over; part one of the slayage, anyways. How could Faith have been so stupid? She had let her want for blood take over again. Would she let bloodlust capture any sense left in her? She looked over at the Slayer, questions invading her mind. What would happen tonight? They were too outnumbered to win.

"Don't worry, B," Faith chimed in, "we can handle them."

Buffy shook her head. "How can we know that for sure? They could fan out, and take over LA, and we wouldn't have enough Slayers to stop them."

"B, I –"

"Slayers can get hurt. Slayers can die. We've all got cuts and bruises just from that fight, but look at Amy, her arm's broken." Buffy stopped, fearing the worst. "They could die out there…they're all so young."

Faith slung a companionable arm across Buffy's shoulders as they walked. "So were we," she said softly. "They all know the dangers of being a Slayer. Hell, they understand that better than we do."

"That's what I'm worried about." Buffy stopped, turning to the brunette. "They look up to you. They'll follow you to the end. You're risking their lives every time you lead them into a fight. I don't think you understand the danger!"

Faith's body tensed at the harsh words, and instead of answering, she broke into a sprint towards Angel Inc. Everything she did was wrong, no matter what her intentions were. And she didn't need another lecture.

"Faith!" yelled Buffy, running after the fleeing Slayer. "Stop!" She caught up with her and grabbed her shoulder, forcing her to slow down. "You can't run away from things you don't wanna hear."

"Watch me," Faith grunted, shrugging Buffy's hands off her shoulder.


"I know what I did was stupid." Faith stopped. "But sometimes, my head doesn't work so well with the sense. I don't think of the consequences when I do things."

"It's been known to happen." Buffy smiled slightly. "But you're in for some major slayage with Giles."

"He mad?'


"Well, here we are then," Faith smirked, pushing open the double doors of the Hyperion.

Buffy grimaced, as Faith knocked on the wall of the room where the former Watcher sat engrossed within Wesley's book collection. "Hey, G-man, what's happening?" Faith tried her best to act casual, causing Buffy to snort into her hand. But the unworried mood was pushed aside at Giles' response.

"How could you?" His tone was angry and accusing. "How could you lead twenty mere girls into an unneeded skirmish that endangered all their lives? Barely two days have passed, and you're already back to picking fights with all of demon-kind. I thought that you had changed."

"And I have, G-man." Faith shrugged, her face still nonchalant. "Just figured I'd get some demons off Angels' back, is all."

"I don't believe Angel asked for your help, F-"

"And I know he sure as hell didn't ask me to get his soul back," Faith interrupted, sneering.

"That's right," said Giles, a triumphant smirk uncharacteristically appearing on his face. "Wesley did."

Faith opened her mouth to reply, but found that she didn't have a good comeback. "Well –" she began, "he…I, uh-"

Buffy snickered.

"Shut up, B," growled Faith, her face turning a deep shade of crimson.

"Hey…" Buffy laughed, "Willow-blush."

Faith wisely shut her mouth.

"Speaking of Willow," Giles' voice softened, "how is she?"

"Not too good." Buffy sighed. "She wasn't really talking when she came back. Seemed really distant."

"Break-ups are tough," said Faith.

"It's not like you would know though," Buffy pointed out. "You're the one-nighter Slayer. No healthy relationships," she tried to joke.

"Look who's talking?!" Faith threw up her arms, completely missing the humour. "At least I haven't gotten it on with any vampires!" It had meant to be a painful jibe, but the words struck deeper than expected. "No harm meant, B."

Buffy nodded, her figure tense. "No harm done." Nobody said anything for a few minutes, knowing how much Spike had meant to the Slayer.

"As I was saying…" Giles broke the uneasy silence. "We must now worry about demons; tremendously angry demons who now no longer have a local hangout. Any suggestions?"

"I say that we take them out tonight before they can do any damage," Faith innocently stated, "but then you'd say I was trying to 'wage war on all of demon-kind'." She said the last sentence in a ridiculous British accent.

"I do believe that that might be the best option at the moment considering our situation," replied Giles, letting the taunt pass. "The demons will indeed attempt to take mortal ground tonight in their rage, and at all costs, we must protect this city." If Angel came back to find his city in ruins…well, Buffy wasn't going to let that happen.

"Then we need to get ready, tell the others to get ready," Buffy muttered.

"Where will you be patrolling?" asked Giles.

"Where we were before," said Faith. "It'd only make sense for the demons to start there."

"We should tell the others." Buffy, still quiet and brooding, moved silently out of the room.

Giles made to go after her, but Faith laid a hand on his shoulder. "I think B needs some time alone, aiight?" When the former Watcher relented, Faith sat down at the opposite end of the round table. "So whatcha doing?"

"I'm convinced there must be some prophecy relating to the new Slayers," he answered. "Care to join me?"

Chapter Four

A few hours later, Buffy and Faith had gathered all the girls, most nursing minor injuries, on the ground floor for a briefing. The former espied Kennedy still sitting at the bottom of the basement stairs chin in hand. Nodding to Faith to begin without her, Buffy went to the brunette. "Hey…you feeling any better?"

"Not really." The Slayer's red eyes gave away that she had been crying again, although she did look more composed.

"Did you try to talk to her?" Buffy sat down on the stairs beside Kennedy.

"I tried to," Kennedy replied glumly. "She was lying in bed when I went to see her, so I snuck in and tried to talk to her, but she stopped me. When I tried to apologize, she told me to get out." Tears began to fall again. "Her face was so haunted and distant, like she wasn't even there, and there's a glint in her eyes that she's trying to push back. Just seeing her like that, and knowing that I might have caused that, it makes me feel so horrible."

"She's hurting. Just give her some more time," Buffy reassured her, not wanting to hurt the Slayer. Inside, Buffy knew that wasn't true. It was over between Kennedy and Willow. Truly, it had never begun, but Kennedy didn't need to know that.

Kennedy nodded, rubbing her eyes. "So what have I been missing?"

"Well, Faith took out some vamps and underwordly creatures this afternoon," stated Buffy. "Now it's garbage time."

Kennedy stood up and began to make her way up the stairs. "I'm helping."

"You don't have to if you don't want to," said Buffy, laying a hand on the girl's arm.

"I need to be strong, remember?" A hint of mischief flashed across Kennedy's face as she moved stiffly past Buffy to join the throng of Slayers.

"This is easier than before, but still important," Faith was saying. "Not world-ending or shit this time, but if we don't beat these bastards back, they'll destroy LA." She turned to Buffy with a "how was that?" look, motioning for her to continue.

"We'll need to stick together, since we're outnumbered, patrolling the area around the demon bar," Buffy ordered. Just like old times…me, battle commander. "We'll need to load up on weapons, so take whatever you can find. Axes, swords, knives, stakes, anything. Everyone clear?" She looked around the room making eye contact with every girl, daring them to contradict her. She then fixed her eyes on Kennedy, questioning her readiness.

Kennedy, in turn, held her gaze, determined to stay strong in front of the other Slayers.

Slowly, Buffy nodded and led the way out of the building.

Dawn sat at the counter on the second floor, twiddling her thumbs. Why was she always left behind? She was old enough; in fact, older than Buffy had been when she'd started. She wanted to do something! "Giles, do you know how to do a demon locater spell?"

"Willow might have a book on it," Giles answered. "Why?"

"I just feel so useless right now. I want to help!"

"And you are, Dawn. I need some help to look over these prophecies, and your increasing knowledge in language is an immense help. If there is a new threat, we need to be ready to help."

"I still feel useless," Dawn muttered. "It's not like there's a big bad ready to destroy the world." As she turned away, a brilliant solution to her problem burst into her mind. "Unless the demons didn't go to the bar…"

And Giles took the bait. "I think we should ask Willow about that book." He stood up and left the room, a triumphant Dawn trailing after him.

"Will?" Xander knocked on the Wiccan's door. "Can I come in?" When there was no answer, he gently turned the doorknob and entered. "C'mon, Will, talk to me."

"There's nothing to talk about," was the muffled reply from under the tangle of sheets and blankets.

"I know about Kennedy." Xander inched cautiously towards her. "It's ok to be like this. Break-ups are hard. I would know." He sat down on the bed. "Will? Willow?"

The sheets just rumpled in further.

"I love you, Will," Xander breathed, "and I hate to see you like this, ever." He stroked what he hoped was her head. "I haven't seen you like this since you lost T-" he stopped, knowing it would hurt Willow more if he brought up Tara.

"Finish it."

"Well, I was gonna say that you haven't been like this since you lost teddy so many years –"

"What you really meant to say."

Xander remained silent.

"Say it," Willow ordered, "Say it!" Her voice broke.

"You haven't been like this since," he stopped, taking a deep breath. "Since Tara," he whispered.

"What does that mean?" Willow whispered back. "What does all this mean?" Xander could hear her sobbing.

"Is this about Tara?" Xander gently lifted the corner of the sheets, revealing the witch's trembling body. "You were doing so well. I thought you were better now."

"I don't know what anything's about anymore…"

"Would Tara want you like this? No way. And neither do I," Xander pleaded. "Tell me how I can make this better."

"Don't you see, Xander? You can't make it right. Only I can. It's so empty without her though, and I don't know if I can do it. She's my rock you know? I can't do anything right without her. And I don't understand, why I'm feeling like this. Everything was ok before, and I was getting better. Now, I need her more than ever, and I need her here, with me. And I don't know what's gonna happen if she isn't." Throughout her babble, her voice had risen steadily in volume. She pointed at the door, resolutely pulling the sheets back over her head. "I wanna be alone now," she whispered.

Tears fell freely on the face of the man beside her. Seeing his best friend like this really did break his heart. It hurt at least as much as the hole that Anya had left in him. "I'm always here for you, Will." As silently as he had come, he left the room, closing the door behind him. "Just don't fall apart on me again."

What he didn't see was Willow's tear-stained face, pale and taut, as she stared after him.

"Leave me alone!" she screamed, hoping that her voice would calm the constant whispering in her mind. Just the right spell…and she'll be back with you. "No! Shut up!"

She curled her frail form into a ball, hands grasping her head. "Give me some peace. Let me think about it," she begged. Thankfully, the voices allayed slightly, giving her a moment to think. "Thank the Goddess," she muttered.

How had this happened? Why was her yearning for Tara so strong? She always wanted the witch back with her, but now, it was like a situation of life or death. And the magicks. The magicks were back, wanting to be used, demanding to be used. As if her giving in to the temptations back in the coffee shop had triggered a chain reaction of cataclysmic consequences.

The redhead rubbed her temples in an attempt to clear her mind. She had always thought that the magick could be only an addiction at worst, but now, it was different. It was like the magicks had a mind of their own, a determination to be used for selfish purposes; to be abused.

And they wouldn't stop until they'd gotten what they wanted. Just one little spell to make it all go away…the temptation had now grown to that of a never-ending pain and annoyance, threatening insanity or slavery.

The magicks throbbed in Willow's mind, aching to be released. She couldn't figure out why she had even needed the magick in the coffee shop, why she had been so willing to use it. What was happening to her?

She heard a quiet knock, and watched the knob turn slowly. "Willow?" It was Dawn.

Not now, Dawnie…Willow couldn't let her see her like this. "Leave me alone."

The door opened anyways, the resulting light revealing Dawn and Giles. Both stared nervously around the room, unsure of Willow's reaction towards their presence. "Erm…" Giles muttered.

"We were just wondering if you had any books on demon location spells," Dawn piped out in an attempt to dispel the tension.

"I don't have anything anymore," Willow answered quietly. She turned away, not wanting her friends to see her condition. "Leave me alone."

A barely audible "sorry" was heard as the room was once again returned to darkness.

Willow began to cry again. The pain and loneliness she felt was magnified a hundredfold by the confusion apparent on her friends' faces. WWTT…What Would Tara Think? She ran it by herself a few times, but couldn't seem to come to a conclusion. What would Tara think about her actions?

You can find out…Great. They were back again.

"Could you just be quiet?" Even if Willow gave in…"I already tried, k? Osiris said it. I can't bring her back!"

Osiris? Willow heard laughter ring through her mind. She wrinkled her nose. The magicks found that funny?


Osiris is weak. Summon Hades. He will bring the white witch to you.

"I won't."

It is your destiny.

"Then my destiny is to die." Willow bit her lip. She wouldn't lose all she had worked for. "I won't give in to your stupid mind-games." Tara was with the Goddess, and Willow would never, ever bring her back to the cruel reality of life. The blonde witch had given her complete devotion and love. She deserved to have that reciprocated in her memory. "I'll be with her when I'm supposed to be."

What if that time were now?

"What the hell does that mean?" Willow sat up, glaring at the space in front of her, as if there were an animate being there. She waited for the answer.

Tara willingly gives her soul for your happiness.

"You lie."

To lie is to defy the rules laid down by the Powers That Be. We do not lie.

Willow waited for more, but it never came. "Stupid voices," she muttered bitterly. "Just when they got me interested too…" But now that the tempters had finally left her, Willow could feel the fatigue that had been oddly absent of late begin to settle over her. So she decided to take advantage of the lack of disturbance in her head and made a journey to the shores of sleep, with plans to stay there for as long as the Goddess would let her.

Chapter Five

"B, do you see anything?" Faith was getting restless from the waiting. The hairs on her neck stood up on end, bristling like a cat waiting to pounce on its prey…and at the moment, there was no prey in sight.

"Nothing at all." For the last ten minutes, Buffy had taken to pacing up and down the alley they were occupying. "I remember Giles once said that 99% of slaying was waiting…" She blew into her hands, rubbing them together for warmth. "Damn it's cold."

Faith heard the sound of distant thunder. "And it's gonna rain too."

"It's like pathetic fallacy." Buffy looked up, letting the raindrops strike her face.

"Come again?"

"Willow told me about it once. It's when the weather reflects the emotion and intensity of people." Buffy paused, wondering how she'd remembered that. "Or I think she did."

"You going brainy on me, B?" Faith smirked, imagining Buffy as a scholar with the hat, robe, and diploma.

"Negative. Just trying to put together a few new puns."

Buffy wanted to keep the mood light, knowing that tonight would be tough. They were outnumbered, and even with so many Slayers, she wasn't sure if they could come out on top.

"So what have you got?"

"Not much. I'm feeling out of it tonight." Buffy sighed, her shoulders slumping in defeat. A punless night was never a good one.

"Shit, B, no need to be down about that." Faith wrapped a comforting arm around the older Slayer. "We'll get through this."

"Buffy, Faith!" A young Slayer ran breathlessly towards them. "They're coming! Kennedy says she saw demons moving in from all sides!" Kennedy had insisted that she take lookout.

"So Brown-Eye's ok then?" Faith nodded at the wide-eyed girl in front of them, beckoning for her to return to her post.

"Recovering." Buffy gathered up the stakes they had been sharpening, all business.

"Are we ready then?"

Buffy nodded, brandishing a sword and a very pointed Mr. Pointy. "All set." She perked up, her 'spidey-sense' tingling. "And just in time too."

Faith didn't answer. She didn't need to. The two Slayers moved as one to meet the vampires approaching from around the corner. Faith immediately swung her axe, partially beheading a vampire, dusting it. Beside her, Buffy plunged her stake into another vampire's heart. "Hello Vamp Generation X!" she exclaimed, eyes widening slightly. At least another hundred demons moved towards them, surrounding them in the alley.

"Will…" Gentle hands wiped the tears from the redhead's cheeks. "Shh…" Firm arms wrapped around her, a soft kiss on her forehead.

Only then did Willow dare to sneak a glimpse at her guardian angel, afraid and hopeful of what she'd find all at the same time. She knew who it was, but her fear of losing this feeling drove her to question the reality of her soulmate's touch. But when she felt a soft hand cup her cheek, Willow found the courage to stare into the smiling blue eyes that watched her. "T-Tara?"

The blonde witch stroked the wet cheeks before her, her digits traveling the contours of the hacker's face, her lips erasing evidence of tear-trails as they moved along. "Just a little more, Sweetie. Soon, I'll be with you soon."

Tara knew she wasn't supposed to be doing this, but she couldn't watch Willow suffering on her behalf. It wasn't her fault, and she would have to give in, as per her destiny. They would both suffer in the coming days, and Tara knew that Willow would need strength and love, for her role would be the hardest. So Tara would give as much as she could to her love, to give her the courage to fight.

"I love you…" Tara couldn't resist, gently pressing her lips to the other's, drinking in the taste that was purely Willow.

Willow's senses didn't register the kiss for a moment, as she knelt dazed and confused. She didn't know how she had gotten here, or why her dream, for that was the only possible explanation Willow could think of, had become so much better so quickly.

But when Willow felt Tara's lips on hers, a dam of pent-up passion exploded, careening through her senses, controlling her actions. At once, her tongue had darted into Tara's mouth, discovering and remembering, searching for proof of reality. One of the two moaned, undistinguishable whom. Hands moved to neck and waist, stroking soft skin, feeling.

This seems so real, but so impossible all at the same time, thought Willow. But soon she didn't think at all as Tara's lips moved from Willow-lips to Willow-neck, gently sucking on her collarbone. Willow threw her head back in pleasure, cries for more escaping her.

Tara complied, her tongue moving up to nibble on Willow's ear. But even now, she could feel them approaching, she had to go. Tara knew she would be punished for doing this, but if her suffering would lighten Willow's load, it was a small price to pay. But still, she had to go, as her control over the dreamscape slipped away.

"I love you…" Tara returned to Willow's lips, leaving a chaste kiss there before allowing her hold on the dream to slip away, embracing the awaiting punishment.

Willow loosened her vice-like grip on Tara's blonde locks, which she had been twirling round and round her fingers, moving to push Tara's head further down her body. After the brief kiss, Tara had moved back down to her collarbone, sucking harder, marking her. But Willow wanted more, even as she felt herself getting wetter. She wanted Tara to take her, to pull her over the edge. She continued to moan, until suddenly, she felt a warm sticky substance sliding down to her breasts. And Tara became a dead weight against her.

Immediately, her eyes shot open, bending to catch the lifeless body in her hands. "Baby? Come back!" She hugged Tara's body to herself.

"She brought this upon herself, you know." Dazzling white light began to solidify into an angelic-like being. "She knew the consequences."

"What happened to Tara?" Willow slowly raised her hand to shield her eyes, the brightness of the figure blinding her.

"The white witch has broken the rules of her bondage in Nirvana and must pay for her disobedience." The figure smiled sadly, shaking her head. "Only you can save her."

"But I can't. I promised her!" She was torn, but she would hold steadfast to her vow. "I won't!"

"You must, black witch. It is essential that the white witch is brought back to the living. If not, the world shall end with her." The light began to fade. "The choice lies with you."

"Come back!" Willow swiped at the dimming glow. "Tell me what's supposed to happen! Come back!"

Willow shot up, hot, bothered, and quite confused. The dream really had been confusing. One second she'd been crying over Tara's lifeless body, and the next, Tara was comforting her in a peaceful utopia of softness.

But what had Tara meant? How could they be together again? And why had the pretty white lady called her the black witch?

We can tell you what you need to do.

Willow rolled her eyes. The voices were becoming more annoying than tempting now. "Oh yeah?"

Yes, black witch.

Willow was confused with the title, but leaned back on the headboard, arms crossed and eyebrows raised, awaiting an explanation.

You must bring the white witch back.

"And you've been saying that for what, the past five hours?" Willow smirked. "Anything else?"

She suffers for you. Only you can end her pain.

When she heard the word "suffering," Willow sat straight up, a worried look on her face. "She's hurt?"

Her pain grows, and when her spirit is broken, all shall suffer in return.

About a thousand different emotions played across the redhead's face. No, she wouldn't believe it. "You lie," she said through gritted teeth.

We cannot lie.

"Tara is happy, she's in heaven. My baby's fine." Willow repeated the mantra in her head, determined that it was true. But still, there was that creeping fear that what the voices said was true…was Tara really ok? "No, I would know if she hurt."

She loves you too much to let you know of her suffering.

"Don't let her. Let me share her pain." Willow would never let Tara suffer for her love.

So be it.

And suddenly, Willow was on fire. Every individual nerve screamed in pain, begging for release into black oblivion. She screamed, and the pain was gone.

You feel half her pain.

"Half her pain," Willow repeated. She knew what she had to do. There was the possibility that all this was a lie, but she couldn't and wouldn't take the chance that Tara was not at peace and just sit back and do nothing. "How do I bring her back?"

Chapter Six

Robin Wood, former Principal of Sunnydale High, awoke from his most recent sleep. He winced as he touched the bandages around his stomach, his wound not yet fully healed. "Guess being a Slayer's son doesn't give you their gift of healing," he muttered. He was fine as a daisy, considering that the blow had been near-fatal. Giles had assured him he would make a full recovery.

But for now, he was well out of the line of danger, the glass of water on the nightstand being the most threatening object in his visual radius. Unexciting for sure, and safe…he couldn't help but feel useless. Wasn't he supposed to be out there, fighting the good fight? How he wished he were. In this little room off to the side, all he had to occupy himself with were his thoughts.

Not that he was complaining; he had a lot to think about – like Faith, for example. He didn't know what he felt towards the cocky Slayer, but he was definitely attracted to her. Was there something more between them? Or did Faith just think of him as a one-night stand? Her reputation would suggest that that was all he was. With all the time he had had to think over the past few days, he would have expected himself to come to a conclusion on the matter by now. However, he suspected that the object of his desire would continue to plague his thoughts until he found closure in a face-to-face confrontation of any kind.

And yet something was weighing on his mind; something not having to do with the brunette of his dreams. It was something he felt he needed to remember. Something his mother had whispered in his ear, as he lay in bed many-a-time.

"Be watchful," she had murmured, "for the time when a soulful vampire and the Slayers unite to fight a great evil. Two witches shall rise, and the world shall depend on the outcome of their conflict." Well, that time had come; but there was more to what she had said, although he'd never paid much attention to it anyways. Something must have stuck though, for him to remember even that much. His mother had believed in this prophecy, had urged him to believe as well. But he hadn't; and he couldn't really blame himself for not doing so.

Back in the 1970's, the Watcher's Council would have dismissed even the thought of two Slayers as a myth, much less a whole gaggle of them. But things had changed when Buffy Summers came along. She was different, a rebel, not a do-as-she-was-told Slayer. And she had changed all of that. No longer was it the Chosen One, but the Chosen Two, and now, the Chosen Group. That his mother had so vehemently believed in this had startled all around her – including her son.

And how could a vampire have a soul? Robin hadn't believed that possible, having never heard of Angel. That is, until he'd seen Spike less than a month ago. Back when Spike had killed his mother, he had been a killer, a Vampire Slayer's slayer. But when he'd resurfaced in Sunnydale, Spike had been changed. He had somehow, somewhere, gotten a soul; and not a cursed soul, but a human soul.

And what would happen with the two witches? Would they know of their destiny? Could anybody help them achieve what they would most definitely have to in order to save the world? He did not know. But all the things his mother had warned him about had come true. And he knew something else was going to happen, and it wasn't going to be pretty.

"Are you ready, Dawn?" Giles sat across from the teenager, holding a measure of potion in his right hand, his left flipping through the crinkly pages of the spell book, that they had been fortunate to find in Wesley's library. They sat cross-legged outside a square of string, amber and quartz crystals weighing down the four corners.

"You bet." Dawn replied cheerily, reverently cupping her half of the potion. "This is so cool!"

"The magicks are a dangerous force," Giles instructed sternly, a tight smile appearing for a few seconds. He couldn't help but remember his first real spell, during which he had acted none too differently, as giddy as a British boy could be.

"Yeah, sorry," Dawn blushed and shifted her body, composing herself. "I'm ready. Can I start?"

Giles nodded, closing his eyes.

"Thespia, we walk in darkness, walk in shadow. You are the protector of the night."

"Thespia, goddess, ruler of darkness, we implore you, open a window to the world of underbeing."

As one, they blew their halves of the potion into the center of the square.

"With your knowledge may we go in safety. With your grace may we speak of your benevolence," they chanted together, slowly opening their eyes.

Sure enough, the potion had begun to slowly move around the square, gathering in various-sized clumps, along and inside the interior of the square.

Dawn squealed her approval, pointing excitedly at the biggest clump that was at the moment, turning a bright yellow.

"That is approximately where Buffy and the others should be engaging the demons," said Giles, flipping through the book in search for any additional information.

"So we're at the center of the square? And all the demons are colour-coded according to species?" Dawn's eyes bulged. "Cool…"

"If that's how you want to put it…" Giles continued to scan the pages. "According to these charts, vampires are yellow, Grothlar demons are green, ven-" he frowned. "Oh my. It seems that we may have discovered a new species…"

If it was possible, Dawn's eyes opened even wider, a dreamy grin spreading across her face. "We did?"

"You see that violet clump over there? The book doesn't have a species for that colour."

"Well, purp's wiping out yellow."

And sure enough, on the battlefield-like square, the yellow clump was quickly dissolving, making way for the advancing forces of purple.

"Could the violet represent the Slayers?" Giles thoroughly wiped his glasses clean and replaced them on his bridge.

"Everything's good then, right?" Dawn smiled.

"I suppose so."

"You have summoned me, black witch." Hades, Keeper of the Dead, hovered menacingly in front of Willow.

"Bring Tara Maclay back to me," she shouted above the howling wind that had filled the room. This guy was scary, and Willow admitted that the flames surrounding the dark god intimidated her. "Return her to her love. Bring her to me!"

Hades scoffed evilly, as if having already known her wish. "The white witch's return cannot just be willed to happen. It requires much pain and sacrifice on your part."

"I will pay any price." Hades wasn't really all that bad, with the reputation he commanded. Maybe it was all the myths and movies, like in Hercules. Come to think of it, the movies must have been pretty wrong; Hades didn't have blue hair. No wonder she'd been laughing so hard when the Disney version came out…

"Black witch." Willow was shaken out of her mind-babble by the god's voice.


"You would pay any price?" Hades sounded amused. Again, not so mean and evil after all.

"Any price," Willow confirmed. "Just give her back." She and Tara had never had the chance to work everything out after they'd gotten back together, never had the time to make things right. Willow was going to make everything right again; and that definitely meant no pain for her baby. If she had her way – and she would – Tara would never hurt again.

Meanwhile, a dark red dot had formed in the center of Dawn and Giles' demon-tracking spell; a dark crimson clump of dust in the exact location of Angel Inc.

"Giles, what does red stand for?" Dawn frowned as she caught sight of the new occurrence.

"Hell-gods." The ex-watcher looked up from another potential prophetic book he had found. "Why?"

"Because there's one in the building if this is right." Dawn pointed to the rapidly darkening spot.

"It can't be…" Giles fiddled with his glasses. "How?"

Their eyes connected in understanding and horror as they realized who it was. "Willow."

Kennedy pulled the crossbow trigger, and another vampire bit the dust. As lookout, she was well out of the action and the most she had to worry about was the occasional vamp that wandered too close to her vantage point.

This kept her safe and sound, away from any potential dangers. All Kennedy wanted was for this to be over. Then she could go and make things right with Willow. She had to…or else.

"Bring her back to me!" Willow demanded, accepting the pain that wracked her body. The energy gathering had begun, and more was to come. Hades had demanded penance for his favour, and Willow concurred. Furthermore, she would allow him take anything and everything from her. Anything was the operative word. Anything to save Tara. Absolutely anything. "Let her cross over!"

"There is more energy required, black witch." The hell-god stood to the side, seeming amused at the voluntary infliction of pain on display.

"Take whatever you need," Willow managed through the pain. "Undo my spells, take my soul, just bring her back."

Hades nodded, smiling. "So be it."

Chapter Seven

"Willow, open up!" Dawn rammed herself against the door, ignoring the painful shocks that went down her arm. "Oh damn it!" she yelled to no one in particular. Giles had run off to find Xander and Andrew, and to get an axe.

Suddenly, she felt a sickening rush, sucking at her energy, weakening her. It was a dark power, pulling at hers, forcing Dawn to feed its growing power with her own. She groaned, sinking to the floor and into black oblivion.

Buffy paused in mid-strike, a sickening feeling overcoming her. Something was taking her life-force, borrowing it to further its will.

She glanced around at the other Slayers. They'd felt it too. One by one, they fell to the ground, either beaten down or struck, unable to do anything about it. Only one withstood the attack.

Faith didn't know what was happening. Why was everyone getting downed? They were being swarmed, bitten and drained. There was no way they could win this now. She tenderly picked up the fallen Buffy, knocking away multiple demons trying to get a piece of the Slayer. At a dead run towards Angel Inc., Faith took in the gruesome scene of death, to both Slayer and demon. They had been winning, beating the bastards back. What the fuck had happened?

Multiple scenes flashed through Willow's mind, scenes with no immediate significance; scenes of weakness, death, but none of Tara. She was all that mattered; anything else was irrelevant. The pain was merely a means through which to get her back, a small price to pay in Willow's mind. She would and had offered everything she could.

Hades remained in front of the hacker, hands now splayed on her shoulders, using her as a conduit to draw in the energy required to bring Tara back. And Goddess, there was a whole lot of that energy coming in. Willow hadn't felt this good since…since Rack. But that had been dark energy, bad magick…but then again, couldn't this be put under the "bad" list too? She had good intentions though; this time she had a reason! Right? She was doing this for the good of Tara! And the world.

But doubts or no, Willow knew there was no going back. She'd already stuck her hands way too deep into the pool of tadpoles to pull them back out.

"All is ready, black witch. Are you?"

Willow nodded, strong despite the pain, resolved to resurrect Tara. "I am ready."

And with those words, Hades reached into her, moving to the source of her power, and taking the proffered light. "It is done," he boomed, his darkness disintegrating along with Willow's hold on consciousness.

"Willow!" Giles was back with the axe, now diligently hacking at the door. A normal door would have given way by now, but some supernatural force repelled the man's efforts. "Open the door, Willow!" he bellowed, beginning to tire.

"Dawn is starting to wake up…" Andrew whined. "What do I do now?"

"Help her up then!" Xander shouted, returning with an axe to replace the one he'd smashed in.

"What is going on?" Giles muttered. "Why won't the damned door open?"

As if in answer, the hinges of the door burst, sending the wooden frame into Giles and Xander. And it wasn't just the door that exploded outwards; the walls of Willow's room…weren't there anymore.

"Willow?" Dawn pushed past the blinded men, waving her arms to clear the debris. "You ok?" She gasped.

"What is it, Dawnie?" Xander pushed the door off of his body. "Is she ok?" He too stopped. "Great oogly-moogy!"

"Xander?" Giles groaned, throwing the other half of the door to his right – barely missing Andrew, sitting defeated on the floor – to stand beside Xander. "Oh dear…" he quickly removed his glasses, wiping them vigorously.

Willow lay in the centre of the room, pale and unmoving. But it was the person that lay beside her that instilled such surprise from the quartet of "rescuers."

"Tara?" Dawn rushed forward, instinctively trying to help the unconscious blonde witch. However, Giles pulled her back. She began to protest, but realized his logic.

"Ahem." Giles removed his clean glasses again, wiped them, put them back on, and repeated the process all over again. Averting his gaze, he turned to Andrew, who was just getting up.

"What's going on?" The nerd made his way over to the gaping trio. His jaw dropped. "Cool…"

Dawn grabbed Andrew's head, turning it away from Tara and Willow.

"Hey!" Andrew wailed. I've never seen a naked woma-"

"That's quite enough, Andrew," Giles said stiffly. "Xander, close your mouth."

"But – " Dawn did it for him, his jaw snapping shut with a resounding "clack."

A quiet moan came from the room. Tara was beginning to stir.

At the same time, Buffy also began to stir in Faith's arms. The brunette slowed her pace immediately, checking to see if the injured Slayer was all right. Buffy's eyelids fluttered. "Spike?"

That hit Faith hard. Even though Buffy had hurt her and been hurt by her so much, there was a place in her heart that would always be reserved for Buffy, and Buffy alone. "No, it's Faith," she whispered. "You're safe now." She lovingly stroked the blonde's hair.

Slowing to a stop, she gently set Buffy down on the ground, allowing her to sit up. "Oh…" Buffy moaned weakly, "what happened?"

Faith turned away. "Everyone's dead."

Buffy jumped up in Faith's face. "H-how?" She laid a hand on the brunette's arm.

"You all just fell over, like you had no energy, 'cept for me." Faith captured Buffy's eyes. "We were winning," she stated. "We were winning, and then everything just went to hell." A single tear slid down her cheek. "Why?"

"We're going to find out," Buffy said, turning away in slight embarrassment of having seen Faith's moment of weakness. She grabbed the other Slayer's hand, leading her back to Angel Inc.

Chapter Eight

Tara slowly took her first breath of two years, letting the oxygen flow through her body and allowing the pain to leave her mind. She repeated the process twice more, re-adapting to the once-familiar atmosphere of Earth. There were other people in the room, making different sounds, presumably the Scoobie gang. But Willow wasn't saying anything; was she even there? She opened her eyes and sat up.

A scream came from the blurry figure to the left of the blurry figure to the right. Guh…Tara shook her head in confusion, blinking in an attempt to focus her vision. Heaven seemed to have so much more clarity in comparison to Earth. But she knew that scream. "Dawnie?" Her voice came out as a croak. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Dawnie?"

"Tara!" Things were becoming clearer now. She could even see Dawn's big grin. But why was she not looking directly at her? Tara moved a stray lock of hair from her face, brushing an exposed brea- Ah! She was naked! The Powers That Be had sent her back sky clad?

And who was beside her? She looked behind her, catching sight of Willow's still form. "Will?" Immediately, she forgot her own predicament. "Sweetie?" She hesitantly touched the redhead's pale face.

Willow shifted slightly, her face scrunching in to resemble a baby waking from a nap. "Tara?" She stretched and opened her eyes. "Tara?" Willow threw herself into the blonde, hugging her tightly. "I found you? You're real?"

Tara smiled, kissing Willow's flaming locks. "You found me, darling."

Willow's eyes lit up as she felt a heavy weight lifting from her heart, a hole being filled. "I found you," she said, clutching Tara's hand. "I found you, baby." She touched Tara everywhere: eyes, lips, cheeks, arms, exploring the contours of her love.

"Ahem." Giles forced his interested eyes to turn away, furthering his resolve by removing his glasses to once again clean them.

Reluctantly, Willow pulled back. She frowned. Why were the others here when Tara was so obviously naked? Naked! Her eyes widened, her hands a blur of motion as she grabbed for a sheet with one hand while moving to cover Tara's uncovered body from the open view of a goggle-eyed Xander and Andrew. "Get out!" She knew she didn't have to say more with Dawn and Giles around to clear away the peeping – or gaping – Toms. Right now, Willow needed to stake a claim.

Slowly, Willow moved her face closer to Tara's; unsure if this was okay to do so soon. Tentatively, she stroked the blonde's cheek, touching Tara's forehead with her own.

As if sensing the redhead's apprehension, Tara took the initiative, leaning in to brush the redhead's lips with her own. "I love you," she whispered. "I will always love you."

"Were you in my dream? Cuz I saw you and we were kissing and then you were dead, and I woke up and the voices told me you were in pain and you were! I felt it an-"

Tara silenced the redhead with another kiss. "I saw everything. I've always been with you."

Willow's eyes widened in fear. "Everything? Does that mean you saw me and Kennedy? Oh Goddess, oh Goddess, I don't love her, don't even really like her that much, I love you! Only you. And Buffy and Xander, but that's differ-"

Tara once again silenced the girl. "It's ok, Will," she said, smiling. "You needed to move on with your life. I'm so proud of you, sweetie."

"An-and the magick?"

"I understand why you did it." Tara kissed Willow's brow, gathering the redhead into her arms. "It's hard, you know, losing a loved one? We both know how it feels."

"You're so strong," Willow murmured into Tara's neck, utterly exhausted from her magical expenditures. "And soft. And mine." Encased in her love's embrace, she drifted off to sleep.

Tara shifted, needing to lie down, but not wanting to wake the redhead. Everything seemed so perfect now, with Willow here beside her, but it wasn't. She had wished for this for so long, and now that it had finally come to pass, all she could think about was the damned prophecy. If what it said were true, either she or Willow would have to die.

But not now. This was the calm before the storm. Mother had always told her never to take the peace for granted. So if they were only allowed a few days of happiness, Tara decided, then she would revel in them, make them the best days of her life, the best days of Willow's life. "Yours," she whispered, wrapping the sheet around them. "Always yours."

Dawn and Giles ran down the stairs, dragging Xander and Andrew along, both struggling to get back to a naked Tara.

"How do you think it happened?" asked Dawn. She was happy that Tara was back, but confused at the same time. How exactly, had Tara been able to come back?

"The only way that it could have happened was magick," answered Giles. He seemed worried, tense. "What has Willow done this time?"

"But Tara's back –"

"She could only have been brought back by dark magicks." He stopped, his back hunched in defeat. "There will be consequences."

In silence, they made their way back to the library, all lost in there own thoughts: some apprehensive, some fearful, some naughty. Xander and Andrew sat down at a table, while Dawn and Giles went back to their demon-tracking spell where a nasty surprise awaited.

"Where did all the Slayers go?" Dawn gasped. The area of the fight was now overrun by yellow. Only two purple dots remained, quickly moving to the center of the square, making contact –

"Giles!" Buffy and Faith burst through the lobby door, panting. "Something's happened!"

"What is it?" Giles ran over to the Slayers.

"Everyone's dead," said Buffy. "I'd be dead as well, but Faith got me out of there in time."

"How did this happen?" Giles asked worriedly. Were these the consequences of Tara's return?

"We just lost our strength. Kinda fell over." Buffy looked so small and confused that Faith touched her arm in a loving gesture that went unnoticed by everyone.

"I felt it too! That's why I fainted." Dawn came over to join them. "It was like something was…sucking at our energy."

"So why wasn't Faith affected? Who else wasn't?"

"None of the guys were. Faith. What about Fred?"

"Fred went to a meeting at Wolfram & Hart," said Buffy. "We wouldn't be able to find out anytime soon."

"And Principal Wood?"

"I'll go take a little look-see," said Faith, already making her way up the stairs.

"Was Willow hit as well?" Buffy asked.

"Willow…" Giles removed his glasses.

Buffy froze. "Oh God, she's hurt, isn't she?" Before anyone could stop her, she had run up the stairs and entered Willow's room "Tara?" Her mouth hung open. "Tara!" She fell back onto the floor, scurrying backwards hurriedly, white as a sheet. "What the hell's going on?"

"What?" Willow shook her head, unwilling to believe what she had been told. "It's not true, can't be true. I knew there was a price, but not this. No, this can't be it."

"Sweetie." A clothed Tara took her hand, rubbing soothing circles. "It had to happen."

"Twenty girls are dead because I gave in." Willow dropped to the floor, curling into a tight ball. "Don't say it had to happen."

Tara tried to gather Willow into her arms, but the black witch merely made herself smaller. "Don't touch me, Tara. I don't deserve you."

But Tara wasn't about to give up. "Darling, you couldn't have prevented it." Despite Willow's struggles, she wrapped her arms around the redhead. "You would have gone insane if you hadn't given in. The prophecy says so."

"Don't!" Willow screamed, tearing herself from Tara's grasp and standing up. "Don't try to make me feel better. I don't want your pity. It's my fault that all this happened, and I'll take the blame for it. I won't let any of you share in my pain." Before they could try to console her, Willow had run up to the top level of the building, entering the first room she saw and throwing herself onto the bed, sobbing.

Tara made to go after her, but Xander held her back. "Let her sort this out on her own for a bit."

Slowly she nodded, relaxing in his grip. Gently, Xander guided the Wiccan to the couch, setting her down beside Buffy.

"Tara…" Buffy touched her arm. "What prophecy?"

"The reason I-I had to come back." Tara looked down, uncomfortable with being the center of attention. "The prophecy of the Two Witches. Willow and I, we're the two witches, s-soulmates."

"That's all well and good then, right?" Xander sat down beside her. "Or is there a problem my genius brain hasn't seen yet?"

"Many years a-ago, H-Hades attacked the P-Powers That Be and won. In order to k-keep him from destroying the world, they offered him their most p-precious daughters."

"The Two Witches," said Dawn. "Right?"

Tara nodded. "B-But Hades was cruel. The Two W-Witches had always been lovers, soulmates. Together through eternity. H-Hades wanted to separate their s-souls forever. He m-made o-one witch kill the other. That way, one of them w-would go to hell. It would cause more pain."

"So you're saying that one of you is going to have to die?" Buffy began to pace the room. "How do we know whose the do-er and who's the do-ee?"

Giles stared disapprovingly at Buffy, wanting to reprimand her, but he was cut off by Tara's answer. "O-one witch would be marked by him beforehand."

"How does someone get marked? They don't just get Magic-Markered do they?"

"One of the w-witches will have h-had some former contact w-with Hades, made a deal with him. The other witch has to k-kill the marked witch or give h-herself as a sacrifice."

"You have to kill Willow," Xander confirmed, "and you'll have to live with the pain forever."

"Or you could kill yourself, and Red would never forgive herself," Faith pointed out.

"So either way, one of you will go insane, and one of you will be dead," Dawn concluded softly.

"I'm going to k-kill her." Tara couldn't bring herself to say her name. "I w-won't let her go to hell." She looked away, not sure how her friends would take this. "She's been through enough, and I've had my share of heaven, or something like it. I'm n-not going to let anything happen to her."

"Can Hades be fought?" Buffy glared at the blonde, stopping her pacing. "Can he be stopped?"

"The Witches have fought him before. None have succeeded," answered Tara. "L-listen. If I kill Willow, she'll go to heaven, to the Goddess. She won't s-suffer at all."

"But if we were to defeat Hades –"

"If we fight and lose, he'll make us his demons. We'll serve him for as long as he wants us to. Neither of us will have peace. He'll have both our souls." Tara held Buffy's gaze, her chin high, awaiting a challenge.

Buffy relented, averting her gaze, but Tara pressed on. "His demons are everywhere. They've been sent to watch us, to make sure we can't win. They want us to fight; he wants us to fight back. Hades wants our souls."

A silence settled over the room of survivors. Nobody said a word as the information sunk in.

"I-I understand that this is a very important matter," interjected Giles, "but right now, there is another important issue that we need to address." He took off his glasses and rubbed them gently before putting them back on. "The demons at Caritas – were you able to beat them back before…you know…"

"We took out about half of them before whatever happened back there," Buffy answered, slipping back into her usual commander-y self. "Their egos took a beating."

"Right now," Xander interrupted, rubbing his eye patch, "I think we need to worry about our resident witches. I, for one, would like to see these two live long enough for me to walk in on them again."

Tara raised an eyebrow before looking down, a deep blush apparent on her face.

The site of the bar was now bloodier than before. Lifeless bodies lay slumped in every direction, some human, some not so much. Not a breath was drawn, not a single heart beat. Except for the one that had once stopped, and had started again, thousands of years ago.

"Rise my child," Hades whispered. "Your task is not yet finished. Your rest will not come so soon." He paused, thoughtful. 'These two are the last. My feud with the Powers shall be settled by the new moon." He looked back down at his oldest, most trusted servant. "Rise and watch. My victory cannot be delayed. One more fight and you shall at last sleep the sleep of death."

"Yes, Master, I will continue to watch the black witch. She and the white witch will challenge you, and you shall gain the last souls of the witch's line and your victory shall be complete. You will have humiliated the Powers."

Hades nodded, satisfied, disappearing in a flurry of wind and fire.

"Two more." Kennedy smiled. She knew the Master had placed her in Sunnydale in wait for this event. That was why she had asked to be look-out. The Slayer had known this was going to happen. Tonight was the night when everything would change. Tonight was the night when the prophecy would begin to manifest itself for the last time.

"Then it'll all be over." Willow would be so surprised to find that her ex-girlfriend was the original favourite of the Powers; the most powerful witch in history. And yet, not powerful enough to save Julia from eternal pain. Was she still crying up there, in Nirvana, where no hatred or sadness should have been? One last job, and she would go to her love one last time, to ease her pain, before slipping away to eternity in Hell.

Chapter Nine

"Willow?" Tara sat down on the bed beside the shivering form of the redhead. It hadn't taken her long to find the Wiccan, her sobbing audible throughout the whole floor. "Hush, love."

"Are you really Tara?" Willow rolled over to face her. She touched the blonde's cheek. "Or are you just here to punish me? I couldn't just let you suffer! I love you too damn much. And the voices said that your strength was what kept the world in existence. You see? I was doing the right thing." A tinge of hope appeared on her face.

"I love you, Will." Tara smiled. Her redhead was still as adorable as ever. But her response seemed to throw Willow off of her optimistic hold and back into her pit of depression.

"You see?" Her voice rose in panic. "You're not really my Tara. You're another punishment. You'll fade away just when I think you're really here!" Willow threw herself into Tara-arms. "I'm sorry!" she sobbed. "I'm so sorry. I'm a selfish ex-girlfriend. All I wanted was to see you again, to touch you, to feel you. And because of me so many people are dead now. L-like Kennedy!" She came back up, eyes bulging. "Oh Tara, I cheated on you. You weren't even gone for a year and I slept with another girl. I'm sorry, it's just that I needed someone to step back to, and when Kennedy looked like she was interested, I-I got caught up in the moment. I wasn't even thinking about you." She looked down, hanging her head in shame. "You would never have found someone else so soon if I had died. I don't deserve you anymore. You're too good for me. And I'm so confused."

Tara lifted Willow's chin, forcing her to stare into her eyes. "I love you, Willow. That's all that matters right now. I'll tell you everything…after." And she lowered her lips to the redhead's.

The kiss wasn't passionate, but tender, a comforting touch meant to calm. Neither furthered the kiss, the warmth of the other's lips enough to satisfy both parties. Willow began to suck on Tara's lower lip, her hand tangling itself in the blonde's hair. Moaning, she pulled back, with tears on her cheeks.

"You're real," she affirmed. "You're not here to punish me."

"Never." And the kiss resumed, this time on a more passionate level. Tara pulled Willow on top of her, hands teasing at the bra clasp underneath the redhead's shirt.

For hours, they explored each other: mouths, lips, necks, fingers, slowly re-discovering and re-mapping. Tops were discarded, revealing valleys of infinitely soft skin, begging to be found again. Bra straps were pulled down, allowing access to shoulders. The clasps were undone, uncovering sensitive treasures. Eventually, all upper body clothing had been removed, giving way to mouths and fingers that slowly began to re-chart the contours of bodies.

Whispered and moaned affirmations of undying love sounded as the witches took turns giving and taking pleasure. Mounds of flesh turned red from loving attention of both tongue and teeth. And yet they did not give in to the primal needs; instead expressing the heights of the devotion through their patience. True love, as had once been said, was when the flame could go un-fanned for days, weeks, months even, but still burn bright.

It was yet another hour before pants were tugged off, panties following shortly after. And as they began racing towards the brink of the abyss, a single thought echoed through their souls. I love you.

Downstairs in the dark basement, the Scoobies huddled close together, a sight for sore eyes. They had gone underground after the moans and cries of pleasure had begun to ring through the building. Unfortunately for them, the basement of the Hotel Imperion had recently become infested with rats, as Dawn had quickly discovered.

As Xander busied himself clearing away dead rats, Buffy and Giles calmed the screaming Dawn and Andrew. Faith had run off to save the undisturbed-as-of-yet Robin from any potential sexual scarring.

"It just couldn't get any worse than this," Giles muttered, plopping ungracefully onto a wooden box.

"If I hear one more 'Ah rat!' from either of them, I'm going to crazy glue their mouths shut!" Buffy plopped down beside Giles, albeit with more poise. "See them make any noise then," she added smugly.

"Wouldn't do a thing, B." Faith came through the door, supporting a worse-for-the-wear Robin. "They'd just scream through the glue. Then I'd have to bruise them 'til they couldn't make any noise. Then you'd beat the shit out of me for hitting your kid sister." She took out her dagger, smiling. "Guess I'll have to settle for the rats." She threw her weapon, impaling a fleeing rat. She pulled her knife out with a satisfied grin, but a sickening stench then filled the air.

"Oh, good going, Faith." Buffy grimaced, covering her nose. "As if it didn't stink enough already."

Faith shrugged it off, seemingly nonchalant, but she moved to a window, opening it and sticking her head out.

"As much as I love you guys, hurry up with the loving, it's hell down here," Buffy thought aloud. And let's get this baddie back to Hell where he belongs.

"Anyone wanna play truth or dare?" Andrew looked around hopefully.

Reluctantly, the Scoobies huddled together in the least-infested corner beside the open window, desperate for anything that would drown out the incoherent begging screams of ecstasy that came from somewhere up above.

Chapter Ten

They lay side by side, skin on skin, exchanging slow sensual kisses. "That was… wow," Willow groaned. The connection she had with Tara just now was mind-boggling – their bodies and souls were intertwined, and the scent of their love still hung in the air. She kissed Tara's neck. "I love you, baby."

The blonde smiled and nuzzled Willow's hair, but frowned and pulled back after a moment. "W-we need to talk," Tara said gravely. She had seemed distant and thoughtful for the past few minutes as they lay cuddling in the bed.

"About what?"

"Why I could come back."

"Because I brought you back," Willow frowned. "You came back because I wanted you enough."

"T-that's not true, sweetie." Tara sighed, stroking Willow's cheek with the back of her hand. "Nothing would have been able to bring me back. Not even your love."

"I don't understand…"

"Everything that's been happening…happened for a reason. It's happening because the prophecy said so."


"The prophecy about us. Y-you've been hearing voices, right? Telling you to use magick? To bring me back?"

"Yeah…" Willow's frown deepened. "Were they sent to annoy me into bringing you back?" When Tara nodded slightly, her green eyes darkened, betraying her panic. "A-and I gave in! I haven't learnt anything! One little button is all anyone needs to press, and boom, I'm all dark-magick Willow!"

"That's n-not true!" Tara kissed Willow's forehead, motioning for the redhead to lie back down. "It's a wonder you even lasted that long. Nobody can hold out after Hades marks them."

"But Hades isn't that bad!" protested Willow. "He's just a misunderstood demon who –"

"Who just happens to want our souls," Tara interrupted softly. "Don't you see, Will? Nothing would have been able to prevent all of this from happening. If you hadn't given in to the voices, Hades would have sent something else to tempt you until you gave in. Hades controls everything now…the Summer Land, The Powers That Be…h-he wants to defeat the Goddess…"

"Are you saying that everything we've gone through wasn't something we chose?" Willow was crushed. "Was our love even real?"

"Y-yes!" Tara quickly kissed Willow's brow. "It's the only thing he can't control. Us. Our love."

"Then why did you have to die? I mean, we were controlling our own destinies…right?"

"W-we couldn't, can't, stop prophecy, sweetie." A tear fell down Tara's cheek, only to be wiped away by Willow's fingers.

"Baby, what is it?"

"I-I have to tell you something," Tara whispered, "and you'll hate me for s-saying it."

"Tara." Willow leaned in, capturing the blonde's lips in a tender kiss. "I could never hate you."

"Oh, W-Will!" Tara kissed the redhead once more, and once more after that. Taking a deep, calming breath, she continued. "R-remember when we were talking about h-how cool it would be to b-be the focus of a prophecy? W-we are, a-and one of us h-has to d-d-die."

Kennedy quietly eased open the double doors of the Imperion, trying her best to look battle-worn. "Hello?" The hall was empty. All the better – she would have time to prepare. She had to stay close to Willow and this other witch, by any means possible, even though any hopes of a more intimate relationship with the redhead were gone with the soulmate back. Pity they'd never gotten further than some mild petting – Willow was pretty hot, and to be able to say that she had succeeded in seducing one of the two witches would have garnered infinite respect from the underworld minions. Moreover, if only for a fleeting moment, Willow had helped her to forget the huge void that the absence of Julia created.

She shook her head. Either way, she would need to act as she had before, eager to get Willow back. So – she rolled her shoulders back, a smirk appearing on her face – into role.

The Slayer muttered an incantation, causing deep lacerations and bruises to appear along her body. Ow. She felt the blood gushing out as she sank to the floor, and as she lost consciousness, she couldn't help but wish all of this would end soon.

It was the second shock that Willow had received within the last twenty-four hours, and she wasn't boding well. It was too much. First, with the killing…now, to be killed. Why couldn't evil just leave her the fuck alone? "T-there has to some way around this." She held Tara's gaze, pleading with her to unveil a loophole. "Please." She was asking, begging. "Tell me there is a way."

But Tara looked away. "I-I won't let any more h-happen to you, Will. You've been through enough. A-and you'll go straight to heaven. It w-won't hurt at all."

"I don't care," Willow replied. "There has to be a way for us to defeat this. Together. I-I just found you again! This can't be true…"

Tara brushed back a lock of Willow's hair in a tender caress. "You wouldn't have been able to find me again if the prophecy wasn't true," she reminded quietly.

"Why can't we fight him? Why can't we fight Hades?"

"If we lose, he'll take both our souls." Tara kissed Willow softly. "Better mine than yours," she said grimly. "Would you want to be condemned to Hell?"

"Why won't you understand?" Willow scrambled out of bed, hurriedly throwing shirt and jeans on. "Better in hell with you than without you in paradise!" Sobbing, she ran downstairs and out the door – she just had to be away right now.

"Will!" Tara grabbed a bathrobe and ran after her, but was held up when she happened upon the injured girl in the lobby. Her whole being was telling her to run after Willow, but she felt obliged to help this person. "H-hey, are you okay?" The young woman was mumbling in delusion, barely holding onto consciousness.

"H-help…" the girl forced out. "Buffy…Faith…Slayers…o-only me."

And Tara understood. This was one of the new Slayers. "Buffy…" She had to find Buffy. Buffy could help this girl. Tara had to find Willow. The blonde's mind was in panic mode. "B-Buffy!"

The basement door flew open as Buffy and Faith answered her call. "Kennedy!" They carefully adjusted the brunette's position on the floor.

"Kennedy…" So this was the Slayer that Willow had been talking about. She was pretty. Tara knew that as a natural human reaction, she should have resented the girl, but she just couldn't seem to do so. There was such sadness in her aura that Tara's heart reached out to her, wanting to help ease the pain. "W-will she be okay?"

"Should be," grunted Faith. "Got cut up pretty bad. A wonder she's still breathing, huh?" The two Slayers were doing a quick check of Kennedy's body, searching for broken bones. "Anything, B?"

"We can move her." Buffy gently lifted the wounded Slayer into her arms. "Thanks, Tara. We'll take it from here."

"I-I have to find Willow." Tara began to make her way to the door, but realized that with the head start Willow had, she'd never be able to find her. She looked around in dismay, trying to devise a way to locate the redhead. Then it came to her. "O-of course!" Gracefully, she flowed into a cross-legged position on the floor, a bright light – or her "Tinkerbell," as Xander had put it – coming out of her a moment later.

Willow had run, not caring of the dangers that awaited her in the darkness, and now, she knew she would regret her rash decision. Though she was loathe to admit it, she was lost. The shadows of guilt surrounded her, threatening to engulf and consume her.

Willow…She turned, her arms flailing in an attempt at self-defence – but there was nothing but dark.

Willow…It came from all around now – a condemning, mocking voice. The darkness devoured her, not unlike the shadows that had devoured Carl Bruner in "Ghost" – taking her away for past and future sins.

Damned…it whispered, damned to hell. And Willow couldn't help but agree. She had all but given up – anywhere without Tara was hell. Like now. She was so lost, alone. And even more lost and alone would she be if Tara went to hell, and her to...heaven. Heaven seemed such a punishment – it would be paradise without the one being that made any place a paradise. Tara didn't deserve to go to hell. If anyone, it should've been her, Willow Rosenberg, who most deserved to go.

Willow! The voice had changed – no longer condemning, but urgent and pained. Willow! She looked up. Dark cloaked figures circled around her – women, maidens, mere children. Fight the prophecy. Free us.

"Who are you?" Were these the witches of old who had fought and lost? Or the lovers who had sacrificed themselves for their soulmates?

We belong to the Dark King, they wailed. We are the ones who came before you. You, witch, are the last – the last he needs. Only you can free us.

"H-how?" Willow questioned. "How can I free you? If I could I would, but how? I can't fight a hell-god!"

Challenge him…fight him…win.

"Yeah, I know that. Win and be happy, lose and be sadly. But how?"

The fiiirrst…youuuu muuuuuusssstttttttt…with a deafening shriek, the figures began to circle round and round, rapidly picking up speed. With a thunderous noise, the cloaked shadows disappeared, their exit punctuated with a painfully hot spray of dust. Hades had called them back.

Willow sighed, taking her head into her hands. Things hadn't gotten any better – she hadn't learnt anything from her visitors, nor did she have any idea what to do next. And she was still lost…in more ways than one. "Tara…" she whimpered. "I'm so lost, baby. And you're mad at me, I'm sure. I'm so sorry, so so sorry – f-for everything."

I'll always forgive you, Sweetie.

Willow jumped. "Tara? Where are you?"

Right here, darling. A dim flickering light whizzed around the corner towards the redhead, growing steadily brighter as it got closer. I will always find you. The bulb of light bounced up and down in front of Willow, periodically touching her face. Let's get you h-home.

Willow nodded, allowing Tara to begin to lead her back to the Imperion. As she faithfully followed, Willow couldn't help but hope. Perhaps she could convince Tara to fight. Now that she had had time to calm down, she understood that Tara's decision to sacrifice her own soul had been out of love. How could Tara love her so much after all she'd done?

She hated this. She hated having to hand each tomorrow over to speculation. She hated having to risk her life every night, even if it was for the sake of keeping others safe. Was it too late to leave? Was it too late to just sweep Tara into a car and drive away to safety? Couldn't she just have a normal life?

No. Willow already knew the answer. They were witches, and because of that, they could never really be rid of the supernatural. But couldn't they, you know, take a break? Just get away a-and settle down, find a job, and raise a family?

After this. Just one more…

"Willow?" She whipped around, brushing a hand off her shoulder.

"Angel?" Immediately, a smile broke across her face.

"I just got back from some business. Wes and I saw you a while back, but we weren't sure if it was really you. Er, who's the fairy?" He eyed the bobbing light curiously.

"Oh, that's Tara. She was leading me home – I got kinda lost."

"Tara?" Angel raised an eyebrow. "Isn't Tara, um, you know…"

"C-can I tell you in the car?" Willow didn't feel comfortable standing on a dark street in the middle of the night, regardless of the company she was in.

Angel shrugged and began to walk back to his car, beckoning for Willow to follow.

"Baby?" Willow offered her hand to Tara, who obliged. Once she was comfortably settled in the palm of Willow's hand, the redhead created a fist around the light and joined Angel at the car. She slid into the backseat and closed the door after her. "Wesley," she greeted.

In return, the former demon-hunter nodded. "Willow."

On the way back to Angel Inc, Willow told the two men what had been going on in their absence. Surprisingly, neither seemed phased that Tara had been resurrected. However, the massacre of the Slayers cast a blanket of silence over the occupants in the car.

"They're all dead?" Angel leaned back in his seat, his face troubled. "How did that happen?"

"It was my fault." Willow looked down, ashamed. "I-I gave into Hades."

"Hades?" Wesley turned around once more, raising an eyebrow at Willow

And so she told them about the prophecy involving her and Tara. "We don't know a lot right now…just that either me or Tara has to die."

"I knew a witch once," said Angel. "Back in the 50s', I met Dre down in Mexico. She was being mugged, so I helped her out and walked her home, but she just scowled at me and begged me to kill her. I asked her why…she didn't answer really. Said something about having killed her lover, and mumbled on a bit about a prophecy."

"What happened to her?" asked Willow. Maybe this Dre could help them out.

"I went back the next night. She'd killed herself."

"Oh." Willow looked away – and the car was once more silent.

"Have you looked into the books yet?" Wesley asked, after a while.

"Not yet. Everything's been just a teensy bit hectic and we haven't had time to get organized."

It was then that they arrived back at the Hyperion. Willow ran inside, desperate to reunite with Tara. She discovered her lover's inert figure in the lobby and immediately unclenched her hand, allowing Tara to return to her body.

"W-Will!" Tara gasped. Scrambling to her feet, she threw her arms around Willow's neck. "Oh, Sweetie…"

Willow closed her eyes and held on tight to the blonde, bathing in the warmth of being loved. "I'm so sorry," she whispered, burying her face in Tara's neck. Hesitantly, she kissed the skin there, breathing in the vanilla scent.

Tara stroked Willow's hair, whispering soothingly into her ear. After a while, she just closed her eyes and held the redhead. "It's okay, Will." Gently, she kissed Willow's ear. "Y-you just needed some time to yourself."

"How do you always do that?" Willow wondered aloud, pulling back to gaze into Tara's eyes. "How do you always forgive me?"

"Because I love you." Tara smiled, leaning in to give the redhead a reassuring kiss. Willow could be such a worry-wart.

Willow nodded, reverently stroking her angel's face, getting lost in her eyes, imagining how she was going to show Tara the depths of her love…

"She's awake." Giles' voice broke the couple out of their trance.

"Who's awake?" Willow raised an eyebrow.

"When I was chasing after you, I-I found K-Kennedy on the floor," said Tara. "She was r-really hurt, but alive."

"She's pulled through, much as I thought she would," affirmed Giles. "Do you want to see her?"

The two witches glanced at each other, unsure of what the other wanted to do. Willow didn't want Tara to feel uncomfortable in the presence of her ex-girlfriend, and Tara didn't Willow to feel nervous in addressing her former…lover.

"I-I guess –"

" – we should talk to her, huh?" Willow finished. Tara nodded in answer, reaching down to clasp their hands together. They could do this. They could do this.

"Let's go," said Tara. She began to walk towards Buffy's room, where they were keeping Kennedy.

"Hey, Tara." Buffy, as acting nurse, smiled as she opened the door for them. She seemed to be tip-toeing around the pair since Tara had told her about the prophecy, frightened, almost. "H-hey, Will." She looked away nervously.

"Buffy?" Willow stopped, nodding for Tara to wait, as she touched Buffy's arm. "Look, I'm still Willow and Tara's still Tara. We're not gonna turn you into a frog. We're not going for world domination. We're not becoming evil witches. Nothing to be afraid of."

Buffy nodded, looking away sheepishly. As always, Willow had seen right through her. "Sorry, it's just overwhelming. I mean, you, Will, super-super-super witch who's part of a prophecy!"

"Buff, that's exactly what I thought when I found out you were a Slayer. It was just that I was too shy to say anything about it." Smirking, she squeezed the Slayer's arm before going through the door.

Willow froze when she caught sight of the room's occupant. Kennedy looked…horrible. Bite marks and bruises were apparent all over her body and both arms were in slings. "Hey, Ken," Willow managed. She smiled hesitantly, moving over to sit at the foot of the bed.

"Willow." Despite her obvious pain, Kennedy smiled wearily at the redhead. "You're looking better, Red."

"Yeah, I guess I am." Unconsciously, Willow squeezed Tara's hand. "But you're not."

Then, Kennedy noticed Tara. She frowned, the expression deepening as realization dawned on her face. "Tara," she spat out.

"Hi, Kennedy." Putting up a strong front, Tara sat down on the bed beside the Slayer, smiling warmly. "How are you doing?"

"Been better," Kennedy leered. "She's ugly," she tossed to Willow. "Jealous too. I can sense it."

Willow shot a worried glance at Tara – missing Kennedy's smirk – before getting up. "Ken…" she warned.

"Don't you understand, Will?" Kennedy tried to set up, but fell back defeated as she cried out in pain. "I…love you, and you've…you've just been using me as a fucking rebound. I was just a convenient lay while you found a way to bring your "true love" back. You couldn't even begin to comprehend my love. You don't feel shit for me."

"That's – " Willow wanted to deny it, but she couldn't. In many ways, she had been using Kennedy. Yes, she had been a convenient rebound. Yes, always in the back of her mind she would have fantasies of a time when she and Tara would be together again. She was physically attracted to Kennedy, but nothing more – and Willow knew that would never be enough to have a solid relationship. She didn't love her. Kennedy had been her object – the one who occupied her heart was Tara. She had used and abused her – but Willow's pride prevented her from admitting it to anyone but herself. Willow looked away, silent and ashamed.

"Heh." Kennedy smirked again. Guilty, she mouthed to Tara.

The blonde looked away. Tara wanted to be mad, but she just couldn't. She understood why Kennedy was so upset. Willow had been using her, and nothing else – if she were in Kennedy's situation, she would be angry as well. "W-we'll give you some time to cool off." Tara motioned for the redhead to follow her out of the room.

Upon exiting, they were stopped by Buffy. The Slayer didn't say anything, but quietly observed the witches for a moment before continuing into Kennedy's new room.

Tara gently guided Willow back to their room and sat her on the bed. She closed the door, and then sat down beside her lover. The redhead sat huddled, hugging her knees to her chest. "Sweetie?" She propped her thumb beneath Willow's chin, forcing eye contact. "It's okay, alright?"

"Why do I always make everything worse?" Willow whimpered. Her voice was high and strained, as if at any moment her delicate control over her emotions would crack. "I can never do anything right – ever. No matter, how, how hard I try, or, or how good my intention are, all I ever manage to do is fuck things up for everyone around me."

Willow closed her eyes as hot tears of shame fell down her cheeks. "You're back, and I should be happy – but I'm not. I'm gonna lose you as quickly as I found you. Please, Tari," she sobbed, "stay with me! I don't want you to leave." Her words seemed childish and irrational, but she spoke from her heart, something she hadn't done for the past year. Ever since she had lost Tara, a part of her had been lost in absolute eternal pain. She couldn't function, and to keep herself alive she shut down that part of herself – she closed off her heart and emotions to the world. Her life…became a lie and she, a shell of herself. Willow didn't want to become that shadow again.

Tara wrapped her arms around the redhead's neck and leaned forward so that they sat forehead to forehead. "I…" She kissed the redhead's cheeks, tasting her salty tears. "I don't want to leave you, Sweetie – I never want to. When I was…gone, I would pray to the Goddess for as long as I could to send me back to you, by whatever means she saw fit. I never thought that this would happen, Wil –"

"If you're going to Hell, I'm coming with you," whispered Willow. "And you can't change that." She said this with absolute seriousness, leaving no room for Tara to argue.

Slowly, Tara nodded, although inside she cried out in frustration. Why couldn't Willow understand that all she wanted to do was keep her safe? "W-we'll get through this," she said. "We will." Tara shifted her body so that she could hold Willow in her arms as she pulled the covers over their now-intertwined bodies. She nodded, as if to reassure herself that what she was telling wasn't a lie. "We'll get married, have children, and grow old together after all of this. We'll go away, and we'll live happily ever after."

Willow blinked back tears as she nuzzled her nose into Tara's neck and breathed in the familiar scent. It was their picture-perfect future, but neither seemed to be able to pull up that image just now.

"Ken, I know you're hurt, but cut Tara some slack, huh?" Buffy crossed her arms sternly as she stood over the fallen Slayer. "When you found out about Tara, you knew what you were getting into with Will. You knew that Tara would always come first in Will's heart. I know this is mean…but suck it up – be a big girl."

In a flash, Kennedy lashed out at Buffy with her bandaged arm, but her clenched fist was effortlessly stopped by Buffy's palm. "Look here, Slayer," she said with deadly seriousness, "leave Tara alone. I am not going to let her get hurt, and definitely not by a brat like you. She has a lot on her plate, and she's keeping it together for everyone's sake, so leave her the hell alone."

"Fuck you," Kennedy spat. She lay back down, sulking.

"Good night, Ken." Buffy patted the brunette's arm and turned off the bedside light. "Get some sleep."

Chapter Eleven

The study was packed and Wesley's literary collection was being put to full Scoobie-usage as the group went through the library, going over each book with a fine-tuned comb. As of far, their search remained fruitless.

Setting down her book, Faith made her way to Willow and Tara, both engrossed in volumes upon volumes of books. "Hey, Blondie," she whispered. "Could I have a word with ya?" She nodded towards the staircase leading to the basement.

Tara nodded and gazed momentarily at Willow before getting up and following the brunette. "Hey, Faith."

"Got a few questions." The Slayer took a seat on the bottom step and gestured for the witch to follow suit.


"Why'd I get stuck with the fucked up situation?"

Silence, a befuddled expression – she tried again. "Why wasn't I affected by Red's spell? All the other Slayers felt it, but I just stood there confused as hell. Why?"

"It was magick c-contact," Tara explained. "You weren't in contact with any great magicks recently. Th-the Slayers got their powers, Buffy was r-raised from the dead, Dawn is magick –"

" – So I'm special, huh"? Faith crossed her arms and smirked, leaning back. "Not bad…" She shook her head and turned back to the blonde. "But that's not why I pulled you away from Red. I wanted to talk to you. Alone."

"What is it?"

"You're really gonna sacrifice yourself for her, aren't ya…"

Tara crossed her arms defiantly, "I love Willow. I won't let her go to hell. I won' – "

"As smart as they say you are, Blondie, sometimes, you can be pretty fucking dumb."


"She's not happy when you're not with her." Faith tried to communicate her point across without pinning the larger blonde up against the wall like her gut instinct told her to do. "And you aren't either. I'm pretty damn sure you weren't too happy in heaven all alone. Do you think she'd be?"

"I wasn't in heav – "

"That's not the friggin' point, Blondie! You two belong together. Anyone could see that she would follow you to the ends of the earth and back if that meant she could be with you. As long she's with you…Red's happy."

Tara nodded. She knew that what Faith was saying was true. She hadn't been happy without Willow. When they broke up, Tara had felt so…incomplete; like there was this big gaping hole that kept growing larger and larger. It was just that she couldn't let Willow suffer. Hell…it was eternal suffering. If Willow were to go, Tara would take her place in a heartbeat – which was what she had been planning to do. Better her than her love, right?

But she knew that if they were separated again – and this time, forever – there would be unbearable pain in store the both of them…was it worth it to save her love? Was her unhappiness a fair exchange for guaranteeing her a place in heaven? Alone? Would Tara be strong enough? It was eternity…alone, in Hell.

"What'cha doing?" Strong arms wrapped themselves around Tara's waist and Willow's red mane came into view as she casually draped herself over her lover's back. There was noticeable tension in her body as she did it, but that feeling of apprehension was overridden by her love for the woman she was holding. A quick kiss was dropped on the sliver of exposed neck above Tara's turtleneck.

Tara didn't answer. Instead her hands moved to cover Willow's, and she twisted her neck around so that she could rest her nose in the nook of Willow's neck. The redhead's arms tightened and she sighed contentedly as she sat down directly behind Tara.

Faith smirked again as she watched the witches. They were oblivious to everything but each other. Silently, she climbed the stairs and returned to the study. With everything being so hectic lately, these moments were precious.

"I love you," Tara breathed, "so very much."

"I'd never doubt it," Willow replied, caressing the blonde's slender fingers.

Tara looked upwards, gazing lovingly into green eyes. There was a spark within those pools, a spark of undying love and care. Her hand reached up to lightly caress the smooth pale skin of her lover's cheek, fingering fiery locks. Slowly, eyelids fluttered closed and anticipating lips drew together.

For so long, this had been withheld from them. Always, more passionate expressions of love were used now – never the simple kiss, the innocent touch. Mental fireworks abounded as they went back to the beginning, the renewal, the first. Those earliest caresses and kisses, trembling lips upon trembling lips – the purest feeling of love – no movement, just that single whisper of a touch, that one connection. It was simplicity; it was bliss.

A shout of triumph sounded from above, and the witches reluctantly pulled away from each other. They were loathe to lose this rare moment of quiet. "Let's go," whispered Tara, taking Willow's hand in hers and squeezing it assuredly.

Xander stood in the study, fist and book raised in the air, victory written on his face. "Yes!" He shouted goofily. "I found it. I, co-founder of the "I Hate Research" club, have found it. Ha. Go me."

A dazzling smile adorned Willow's face as she rushed to hug her best friend. Perhaps the loophole had been found – hope glimmered in her eyes. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you."

"Hold your horsies, Will," Buffy pointed out. "We haven't seen the book yet. Xander, have you looked through it?"

"Observe." The carpenter gestured grandly at the book's cover. "I'd bet me a shiny nickel that that's Hades and two witches!"

"It may well be," Giles confirmed, adjusting his glasses. He smoothly filched the book from Xander's hand and began to read aloud:

The End of Hades

Specially-abridged storybook version of the Prophecy of the Two Witches.

Once upon a time, there was only heaven. Now, heaven was not a nice place. Both the good souls and the bad souls lived there. The Goddess made the Powers That Be watch over heaven as a reward for being her favourites, but they did not like their job. They didn't want to live with the bad souls, so they created a new place for the bad souls. They called that place Hell. Now, heaven was only for the good souls.

But there was no one to make sure the bad souls weren't escaping, so the Powers That Be took their most trusted servant, Hadramades, and gave him the job of ruling Hell – "

"That's so mean!" Dawn interjected. "I mean, Hadramades was good, so they send him to watch Hell?"

"Maybe he got some hot dominatrix chicks to keep him company." Willow tried to joke, but the humour was completely lost in the seriousness of the group. "Sorry," she whispered.

"Erm." Giles gulped visibly before continuing. "There – there's a picture of his departure here." He turned the book around so that the others could see.

"That's so mean!" Andrew wailed. "They sent him off alone? Did they even realize how lonely he would be? It's lonely being evil, you know…"

Coughing, Giles continued:

Over time, Hadramades changed. No longer was he handsome and good, but a gnarled, evil demon. He became like his charges. He hated his job, but most of all, he hated the more fortunate servants of the Powers That Be. He gathered the souls of Hell and unleashed them on Heaven in his anger, and easily won. Then he had a choice – the Powers That Be were at his mercy. In a moment of humanity, Hades, as he had come to be known, spared them. Instead, he took his revenge on their most beloved – the Two Witches. He demanded their souls in payment. The Powers That Be agreed reluctantly, but the witches did not seem to care. They were happy as long as they were together.

Willow squeezed Tara's hand.

Hades wanted this kind of love. He was jealous and he did not want the witches to be happy. He told the witches that he wanted one to kill the other. That way, one would have committed a grievous crime, condemning her soul to Hell while the other would merely stay in Heaven. They would be unhappy forever.

Grimly, the witches decided, and it was done. Once in Hell, the witch was given a choice. She could work for Hades and be reunited with her love when Hades defeated the Goddess, or she could go directly to the deepest level of Hell, alone forever. Blinded by love, the witch chose to work for Hades.

This cycle continued for thousands of years as the pair was reincarnated. Slowly, Hades' army grew, until he was almost powerful enough to defeat the Goddess.

But one day, two witches fought back. They were not the first to do so, and they risked their souls both being lost to Hades. However, they were determined to be together. They wanted to be together so badly that Hades could not separate them. Their love was stronger than Hades' hate, and they cast him back into Hell, freeing the souls of all the witches before them. These witches were able to have one last goodbye to their soulmates before passing on.

The room was silent as Giles solemnly closed the book. The severity of the prophecy had not been lost on them – this was do or die. Again. It was another impending apocalypse that they would have to stop.

"When the time comes that a soulful vampire shall fight alongside the Slayers, then shall the black witch call the white witch from the fields of eternal bliss to bring about the closing of the circle of good and evil. Many shall fall to make way for the white witch, and although she does not will it, the two must fight, or so perish, with the earth beside them," Robin blurted out. His eyes were glazed over, and they stared off into space.

"The final prophecy," Giles exclaimed in surprise. "Very few know of it in this dimension."

"When I was younger, my mother whispered that to me every night as I went to sleep." Robin repeated the prophecy again. It flowed smoothly out of his mouth, as though the saying of the prophecy was his reason for being. "It was passed down to her from her father and from his father before him." It was if he were in a trance, with those of long ago using him as a vessel through which to communicate. "When the time comes that a soulful vampire shall fight alongside the Slayers, then shall the black witch call the white witch from the fields of eternal bliss to bring about the closing of the circle of good and evil. Many shall fall to make way for the white witch, and although she does not will it, the two must fight, or so perish, with the earth beside them." Suddenly, he shook his head, and his eyes returned to their normal hue. "Whoa," he breathed out. "What just happened?"

"It seems that the Power That Be planned for you to be their messenger, Robin," Wesley observed helpfully.

"And it means that you," Giles bowed his head, "you are the last."

Once more, silence filled the room. It was a heavy silence, one that pressed down on every occupant like a weight slowly crushing them. They were waiting, waiting for the response of the two that held everything – their lives, the rest of the world – in their next words.

"I won't let you do it," Willow whispered. "I won't let you, Tara!"

Tara turned away. The two must fight…the words echoed in her mind and soul. The two must fight, or so perish, with the earth beside them. It was their time. They had to fight him – and they would win. "We'll fight," she murmured. "We'll fight him – together." Gathering confidence she looked up, her eyes traveling to her left, where her lover sat anxiously in waiting. She squeezed Willow's hand and smiled, completely aware of just what her words meant. They were very likely going to die. Would it be worth it, doing the "right" thing? The brilliant grin on the redhead's face dispelled all her worries as they nodded simultaneously.

"Alright then," Buffy smiled tightly. "Let's get to work."

The Scoobie Gang and Angel Inc. nodded, getting back to work.

"Awaken, my servant."

Kennedy moaned. Her wounds may have been self-inflicted, but they still hurt like a bitch. Sometimes, this just wasn't worth it – so many had already been sacrificed to her cause. Was she ready for two more on her conscience? It hadn't been so hard before, leading fellow witches to eternity in Hell, but then again, she'd never had this type of connection with her victims. Willow was…one of a kind. Kennedy's character wasn't supposed to be likable, but somehow, Willow had seen past her tough façade and touched her. As much as she tried, she couldn't hate her.

And Tara – what was her deal? How could someone be so kind? Her caring aura reminded Kennedy so much of Julia. All this; all this for Julia. All this so that they could be reunited…in Hell. She was prepared to give the world to Hades in her desperation to see her, to touch her, to feel her…but still her sense of good-will tore at her. Every soul she took for Hades struck at her, like a knife slashing into the same wound over and over again – an unbearable guilt that followed her eternally. As hard she tried, she couldn't shake it. Eventually, she had learned to ignore it. Julia. Julia. Julia. Her goal was all that mattered. Her labour would bear her the fruit of being with her love forever. She didn't care if everybody else had to suffer…she told herself. But she did. She did care.

"Master, is there no other way? Are you sure that they are the ones?"

"They are the last," Hades stated. "They have the power to defeat me."

"But how can you tell? How can you be sure tha – "

"It is your job to ensure my victory, Kennedy. You must break apart their love. Break their bond. Sow discord and resentment like you have done so many times before. It is almost finished."

"But –"

"You will do as I say, servant!" Hades leaped onto the bed, his eyes alight with a blazing fury. He grabbed one of her broken arms and began to twist it to the left, slowly, painfully. "Is that clear, Kennedy?"

Hiding the pain from her face, she answered. "Y-yes, Master," Kennedy breathed. "It is."

"See that you do not fail me. We wouldn't want that conscience of yours to come into play now, would we?" Hades withdrew, and flashed a toothy white grin. "My will be done." A burst of flame, and he was gone.

Kennedy sighed. She was torn. Julia was close; so close that she could almost taste her, feel her…but Hades was right. Her sense of right and wrong – that had been for so long silent – whispered to her, urged her to do what was right, even if it meant that her dream had to be shattered. Why'd this have to happen now?

Part 12

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