DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all the slayerettes belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To ambergoddess13[at]yahoo.com

Eternity Again
By AmberGoddess


Emptiness. That was all that was left of the town of Sunnydale. Just emptiness, and vamp dust. Buffy stood looking out over the devastation, surveying the ruins. A sound came from her right, metal scraping on stone. Her head turned only slightly, though, exhaustion from the battle and the frantic moments directly following sapping both her reflexes and ability to fight any more. A bitter smile came to her lips when she saw the cause of the noise. The large and cheery 'Welcome to Sunnydale' sign had fallen backwards into the crater. The irony didn't escape her. As she thought about it, her smile morphed into something much more genuine, the realization sinking in that she was free.

"Looks like the Hellmouth is officially closed for business." Faith's voice broke the silence, ringing out strongly and echoing slightly off the crater walls. Giles, Dawn, and Faith were approaching her, looking out over the valley as well. Buffy heard Willow and Xander a little behind them.

Buffy didn't turn but stayed where she was, letting her friends come up behind her. Another smile showed on her face, larger than the first and full of wonder. "There's another one in Cleveland." The smile, instead of fading, grew even more at the typically Giles remark. Off the group's varied looks, he quietly added, "Not to spoil the moment."

"We saved the world." Xander sounded disbelieving, his voice soft and hesitant. Willow let go of him, grinning happily. She put a hand to her stomach, a slightly awestruck look on her face.

Walking forward slowly, she smiled. "We changed the world." Wonder radiated from her voice and posture, coloring the air with its feel. She inhaled, taking in the world with her newly discovered senses. The entire world was open to her mind, with humans standing out as dots of brightness among the landscape. Blinding points of light shone among the dim. Every potential a Slayer, and the Hellmouth closed. Now, that's not something you see every day. Her thoughts spurred her next statement, wanting to share what she felt with the rest of the group.

She stepped forward and brushed her hand down her best friend's arm. "I can feel them, Buffy. All over. Slayers are awakening everywhere." She sighed, taking in the incredible feeling of having harnessed her power to such an awesome extent without going to the darkness. The giddiness that sank in after surviving a battle unscathed only added to her joy.

A more serious mood descended with Dawn's next comment. "We have to find them." She spoke softly, but with more maturity than a person would expect from such a young girl. Oh, Dawnie, you've seen too much. What happened to your childhood?

Willow refused to let anything dampen her mood, responding confidently. "We will." She believed it, too. Her new sense of Slayers could track them, she was sure of it.

"Yes, because the mall was actually in Sunnydale, so there's no hope of going there tomorrow." Giles' reference to the inane pre-battle conversation brought a smile to the core Scoobie's lips.

Dawn suddenly looked upset. "We destroyed the mall? I fought on the wrong side." The look on her face made everyone laugh. Buffy looked at her with a tolerant smile.

Xander broke the last vestiges of tension, remarking, "All those shops gone. The Gap, Starbucks, Toys-R-Us… Who will remember all those landmarks unless we tell the world about it?" At that, the stunned look lingering on Willow's face vanished, replaced by laughter.

Giles looked exasperated. "We have a lot of work ahead of us." Willow looked at him, raising a single eyebrow. A sudden pain lanced through her heart as she remembered the person who had taught her that skill. Tara…

Her pain was pushed to the side to deal with later when Faith asked, "Can I push him in?"

Willow turned from the crater for the first time, nodding. "You've got my vote."

Faith looked at Giles, expressing the whole gang's feeling with her words. "I just wanna sleep, yo, for like a week." She shoved him playfully, the truth in her sentence not hidden by the humor she displayed.

"I guess we all could," Dawn agreed. The rest of the gang acknowledged their mutual fatigue. "If we wanted to." It hit them then - the Hellmouth was gone. No one needed saving, there weren't any apocalypses to avert, and they had the rest of their lives open to them.

Willow seemed a bit at a loss. "Yeah. The first is gone, so… Whaddya think we should do, Buffy?" She looked eagerly at her friend, trying to gauge her reaction. The neutral face Buffy was displaying put Willow on edge.

"Yeah, you're not the one and only Chosen anymore," Faith pitched in, "You just gotta live like a person, how's that feel?" The pleasure in her voice wasn't masked by the teasing tone her question was delivered in.

Again, Dawn brought them back to seriousness as she asked, "Yeah Buffy. What are we gonna do now?" There was trepidation in her voice, the worry obvious.

Buffy looked over the ruins of her home, blood running into her eye and pain lancing through her side, feeling the worry of her sister and the trust that twenty girls had placed in her. She smiled. "Whatever we want."

Willow looked at her. "Okay, yeah, in the long run, but any clue as to what we do now?" She didn't want to put pressure on Buffy, but why they were standing in the middle of the road with a stolen schoolbus and twenty injured girls wouldn't be very easy to explain to the authorities when they came. And they will come. An entire town collapsing into the earth is a bit hard to miss. Willow frowned. She didn't like worry-thoughts, but she was getting a lot of them lately. Goodbye, mood.

When it became apparent that Buffy wasn't going to answer, Dawn spoke up. "LA. We can go to Angel's hotel. He's got room, right? I mean, unless he rescued an entire clan of Pylean slaves and nobody told us, he's got a lot of empty space." There were nods all around.

Xander stepped forward. "Sounds good Dawnster, that'll give us everything we need. Food, shelter, and a place to heal up." He wrapped an arm around Buffy. "You with us Buff?"

She nodded. "Yup. I'm right behind you, get everyone organized and on the bus. I'll be right there." Xander hesitated, kissed her forehead, and moved off.

Buffy sighed. How had everything happened so quickly? She gazed out over the abyss, letting her thoughts wander. Soon she noticed a woman standing beside her, staring out as well. Buffy jumped. "Who are you? Are you with the First? Cuz newsflash, he-- no, she-- um, it's toast." She did not like it when strange women were able to sneak up on her!

The woman laughed, somehow setting Buffy's nerves at ease with the sound. "No, child, I'm not with the First. I'm a messenger." She gestured expansively towards her clothing, long white robes that somehow had managed to stay spotless among the dirt and grime. "I speak for the beings you call the Powers That Be."

Buffy eyed her warily. The stories Angel had told her of the Powers hadn't all been complimentary. In fact, some had been downright creepy. "Okay, so what do you want? I feel I should warn you, I'm planning on taking a very long vacation. Maybe to the Caribbean. And in no part of my vacations plans is 'Mind fuck from Powers That Be!'"

The woman nodded seriously. "I can set your mind at ease, then. I'm not here to give you a mission. I'm here to offer you a choice. A gift, if you will." She extended her hand, opening it to reveal a perfectly circular white marble disc, polished to perfection. Buffy looked at it, making no move to take it.

"It's all right, child. It won't harm you." Slowly, Buffy reached out. The woman turned her palm, letting the disc drop into Buffy's outstretched hand. The second it made contact, the world exploded into a pure white light.

Buffy covered her eyes, wincing at the sudden brightness. It slowly ebbed away, leaving her in what looked like a Greek temple of some sort. She dropped her hand, looking around, as her brain verified what her eyes had already seen. She was not in California anymore. "Well, crap." She examined the disc in her hand, trying to find any indentifying markings that would indicate where she was. Unfortunately, all of the markings were in runes of some sort, except for one part that she thought was Latin. "Where's a Scooby when you need one?"

Muttering softly, she stuck the disc into her pocket, wincing as she accidentally jarred the stab wound she'd incurred from the First. She absentmindedly placed her palm flat on the injury to dull the pain, already glancing around the temple to get as much information as possible.

She slowly walked forwards, seeing a focal point at the far end, where it seemed there was something other than white marble and columns. It wasn't until she'd gotten almost halfway to what she now saw was an altar that she realized that the pain she'd been waiting for hadn't come.

She peeled her hand gingerly away from her side, trying not to irritate the wound. What she saw under her hand was… nothing. No blood, no stab wound, not even a rip in her jacket. She pulled up her shirt, noticing in a far corner of her mind that her shirt wasn't ripped either, to see smooth skin.

Buffy let the shirt drop, feeling her face for the shallow cut that had been dripping blood into her eyes for the last fifteen minutes. Her eyes widened as she felt just her skin, unblemished and unscarred. On a whim, she touched her neck where Angel had bitten her all those years ago.

Nothing. Frantically Buffy searched for one scar, one imperfection that would show that the last seven years had indeed happened. Chillingly, there was not a single one. Not even from random household accidents that had occurred before she even knew what a Slayer was. She knew she should be glad that she didn't have any disfiguring marks, but in a way it was as if her entire life had been wiped out.

Giving up, she raced forward, towards the altar. She prayed there would be something there that would give her answers. Mentally she growled, vowing that if the Powers That Be were responsible, they would get an earful. And possibly a good slaying. I'm sure it wouldn't stick.

She slowed as she got within ten feet of the altar, seeing for the first time a man sitting on top of it. Critically she appraised him, examining him from head to tow, searching for possible dangers. He's cute, she noted idly. Hair to die for, good muscles, and he looks tall. The only flaw she could see was the expression of pain on his face, tears running down his jaw and clouding his eyes. Upon closer inspection, his eyes appeared to be silver. That's odd.

"Do you work for the Powers That Be? If you do, I have got some serious issues to discuss." Buffy looked at him, waiting for him to move. Nothing. "All right, you wanna start with your name? I'm sure you have one, most people do."

Slowly, very slowly, the man looked down at her. For the first time, Buffy locked eyes with him. She gasped, seeing an incredible sorrow contained within his silver eyes. "I am Janus. God of choices, god of possibilities." His voice sounded choked with tears. The same voice continued, only much brighter, laughter shimmering through it. Buffy stepped back, taken aback, as he continued to speak. His mouth didn't move, but she could still hear him. Suddenly his head appeared to spin, rotating a full hundred and eighty degrees.

Buffy fell into a defensive crouch. God, Exorcist much? That can't be good. As the back of Janus' head came into view, she blinked, straightening out of her crouch in sheer confusion. Where there should have been hair was another face, the same as the first except for expression. It was the exact antithesis of the first, smiling and joyful. A glint of gold drew her gaze to his eyes. They were like coins shining from their sockets, gold where the other side's had been silver.

"All right, cut the freaky crap. I wanna know who you are and why I'm here. So talk!" She moved forward threateningly, attempting to glean answers however she could.

Before she could reach him, both voices resonated. The contrast hurt Buffy's head as they vibrated off the other, one always lagging just the littlest bit behind. The echo it created bounced in her skull far longer than was comfortable. "You have been told this. I am Janus, and you are here to receive a gift."

Buffy laughed. "Right, I'm getting a gift from the Powers That Be. Even if you ignore the creepy demon messenger, the likelihood of the Powers giving me a gift is pretty much the same as the chances of me passing up a ninety-five percent off sale at Saks. Sorry, wanna try again?"

Janus appeared unperturbed. "The Powers That Be wish to reward you for averting the coming disaster. You have stopped apocalypses before, but none of such magnitude. If the First had been allowed to succeed, it would not have stopped before it had eradicated every known world and turned on the gods. As such, the Powers That Be are offering you a chance."

The calculated vagueness in that statement was enough to make Buffy curious. She sighed. "All right, I'm biting. What sort of chance?" The god smiled., and turned his head so that both faces were in plain sight.

"The chance to have your greatest wish granted."

Buffy's eyebrows rose. "Wow, big congrats on the drama there. But really, points off for the cliché factor. Do you really expect me to believe-" She was cut off.

Janus looked almost upset. "Buffy Summers, you have been the Chosen of the Powers That Be for seven years. Do you truly believe that they would allow such service to go unrewarded? You have exceeded all possible expectations. Not only have you averted disaster, you have served for three lifetimes! Do not waste this opportunity because of your own foolish pride!"

Buffy was stunned. The god's outburst, while it should have been suspicious, had actually assuaged some of her doubts. And besides, what could it hurt? "All right, I believe you. What do I have to do?"

Janus' head swung again, so that only the cheerful side showed. Buffy breathed an inward sigh of relief - not that it wasn't cool, but the dual people gave her a headache. She snapped her attention back to Janus as he spoke. "It is simple. Choose the thing you want most in this world. Make a wish and we will hear you."

Nothing is ever that simple. "That's it? Just… make a wish?" She eyed him doubtfully, hoping for clarity, or at least simplicity. Wait, consequences! Won't there be consequences? He grinned, sensing her thoughts.

"Yes. Hold this when you decide, so we know to listen. And don't worry, if you think a wish accidentally while holding it, we won't hold you to it." He extended the disc to her. She stared, thinking, I could have sworn that was in my pocket. As she took it, he warned her, "Do not dally, though. We can only give you one week to decide. After that, our attention is required elsewhere. And do not fear, Chosen. There will be no unfortunate effects of your wish, not if we can help it."

"Seems fair. Alright then, I have to get back… home… oh, crap. I've been gone at least an hour, what're the others gonna say?" Buffy started panicking, worrying about what would happen.

Janus reached out a hand, stilling her thoughts. "Do not worry, Slayer. The outside world is frozen. You shall be returned the instant you left them. No difference shall be noticeable." He smiled, peace radiating from him.

As she relaxed, he withdrew his hand. "Fare thee well, Chosen of the gods." He touched her forehead and the world exploded.

"Angel, thanks for letting us stay. We really appreciate it." Buffy rubbed her eyes. The fight had drained her, and the encounter with Janus was just too much to think about right now. Of course, she'd been thinking about it for the entire journey to LA, so she wasn't guilty. If only I knew what to wish for…

Angel fidgeted, seemingly uncomfortable with the attention. Twelve new Slayers had been following him around from the second they had gotten off the bus. Willow smirked, watching for a second as they gazed adoringly at him. "It's no problem. We've got room."

Buffy looked around, groaning as she realized the amount of work needed to get the place in order. "Faith, would you…?" She gestured vaguely around, hoping the other girl would get her meaning.

Luckily, she did, and turned to start shouting orders. "YO! Listen up, people. Get your shit together and shut up. Wounded, stay here. Cordy, Fred, can you get bandages and all that shit so we can patch 'em up?" At their nods, Faith continued. "Thanks. Wesley's got room keys, and it's two to a room. Pair up and get settled. This lobby needs to be an infirmary, not a zoo, so get your asses out of here!" The Slayers jumped into action, their new power not getting rid of their fear of Faith. "All yours, B. I need to crash. Yo, Watcherboy, you got a key for me?" Faith loped off, leaving the gang behind.

Kennedy touched Willow's hand, drawing her attention. "I'm gonna go get us set up, okay?" Willow nodded, and Kennedy moved off.

"Goddess, this was a long day." Willow sighed, flopping down on one of the numerous couches scattered around the lobby. Buffy and Xander followed suit, relaxing into the cushions.

Xander rubbed his neck. "I don't know about you girls, but I could use a massage. Think Angel'd spring me the cash?"

Willow threw a pillow at him. "Xander, you've hated each other for years. I don't think he's going to be all that willing to pay for your fun." Xander stuck his tongue out at her, prompting her to throw another cushion.

He batted it out of the air, then groaned as the movement jarred sore muscles. "Sorry, ladies, but the Xand-man is out of action. Sleep is a definite must. See you in the morning." They waved as he dragged himself up and limped off.

"Yeah, Buff, he's right. I'm gonna turn in too. You okay?" Buffy twitched, startled out of her thoughts by Willow's comment.

She grinned, making an effort to seem lighthearted under her friend's scrutiny. "Yeah, all of the good here. Just tired. I hope Dawn doesn't snore." She waved Willow off, grinning.

Once she was alone, she slumped back into the couch, letting her thoughts consume her once more. What the hell am I gonna do? One wish, one little wish. Anything I want… oh, god, mom. I could have mom again! Or Spike… She winced, and shook her head. No, not Spike. Angel - I could fix the curse. I could get my love back, once and for all.

Glancing up, Buffy caught a look pass between Angel and Cordy. It wasn't anything overtly sexual, but it sent a pang through her. He's moved on. Speaking of moving on… A laugh pulled her from her thoughts again, and she looked up, irritated. Kennedy was holding Willow's arm as she bent over laughing. Willow had a smile on her face, but Buffy could tell it was forced. Looking more closely at her friend, Buffy could see tiredness on her face, a tiredness that had begun before the First. It had started a year ago, when a certain blonde witch had been shot.

Buffy looked down, not wanting to see any more of Willow's private pain. Oooh, nice boots, Kennedy.

I know what to do.

Buffy was arguing with herself. At least, that was what it looked like.

Are you sure? Once done, this cannot be undone.

She glowered at the ceiling. "Of course I'm sure! This is good!"

All right, Slayer. I hope you know what it is you do.

As she listened, Buffy got steadily more annoyed. "I do! Now if you don't mind, my wish?" She cringed, hearing how rude that had sounded. Oh well, too late to take it back , I suppose.

As you wish. The words thundered into her brain, making her scream from the force. She fell to her knees, clapping her hands over her ears, when all of a sudden quiet descended. Slowly she rose, dusting herself off and waiting for any sign of her wish being fulfilled. Stupid gods, doing things the hard way always. Drama queens, the lot of them!

After another ten minutes waiting she gave up. "Damn. Worth a shot." The flippant remark hid the sinking in her chest, and as she walked out the door, she felt sorely disappointed.

Do not doubt us, Slayer. You shall have your reward. Buffy scoffed. Then a noise from behind her made her spin, fists ready. They fell, though, at the sight that awaited her.

"B-Buffy? What's going on? Where a-are we?" Blue eyes nervously roamed the room, taking in everything before alighting on Buffy. A hand came up, long fingers nervously pushing fine blonde hair back from a classically beautiful face. Buffy took in the long-sleeved blue shirt and the strip of skin exposed above light cargo pants. Her brain seemed to be on slo-mo, moving as if through fudge.

Her eyes were invariably drawn back to the face, which had by now assumed a worried expression. "B-Buffy, are you all right?"

Staring, Buffy managed one word. "Tara?"

She was floating, cushioned by a warm breeze and covered in serenity. There was no anger here, no malice, or sadness, or fear. Just peace and love.

She looked around, seeing colors not known on earth or any other dimension. A familiar presence shook her from her reverie, and she turned to embrace her mother. "I missed you, mama. So much." Warm fingers stroked her cheek, smoothing away the tears.

"I know, baby girl, but I had to go. It's all right, though, you're here now. We're together." She smiled. Peace. She should be happy. So why did she feel like something was missing?

"Mama, something's wrong. Where's… where's…" Try as she might, she couldn't recall the name. Flashes of red shone in her mind's eye, complimented by sparkling green. Incongruously, a willow tree stood tall in the background. She wept, mourning a loss she couldn't even remember. "Where is she?"

Her mother was helpless, unable to comprehend her pain. Pain had no place here in this most peaceful of realms.

Time passed. How much, she didn't know, but she continued to grieve that unknown loss. Eventually, after what could have been a second or an eternity, a figure appeared before her. Glorious in his perfection, great wings fanned out behind him, illuminating the sculpted breastplate he wore. She fell to her knees before him, bowing her head. He lifted her up gently, his hand warm on her arm. "Rise, child. You should not bow to anyone."

Timidly she looked up, flinching when she met his eyes. She managed to hold his gaze, however, and was rewarded when his sternly handsome face broke into a smile. "You have been called, child. It's time to go. Come with me." He held out his hand, but she shied from taking it.

Before she went, she wanted to know one thing. "Are we going to her?" This was the most important thing. Red-hair-willow-tree. If only she could remember…

The angel nodded. "We are. I am Raphael. I shall take you to the one who summons you. Don't be afraid." She nervously placed her hand in his. He laughed, fierce and shining, and threw his wings open. A brilliant light burst forth, searing into her eyes, but before she could drop his hand she felt herself moving. Falling. Down.

When she landed, and the light cleared, she was assaulted by sensations. The first things she saw was a wall, then a door, then the back of a blonde head. She awkwardly moved forward, attempting to reacclimatize long-unused muscles to the stress of walking. Her foot dragged on the carpet, and the blonde in front of her whirled. Recognition burst into her brain, prompting a question as she realized her surroundings were unfamiliar. "B-Buffy?" She was confused. "What's going on? Where a-are we?"

Buffy just stared at her. The smaller blonde appeared to be in shock, mouth opening and closing soundlessly. Nervously tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, the taller girl said, "B-Buffy, are you all right?" She was getting worried. She'd never seen the Slayer like this before, not even when she'd found out about her and Willow. Willow!

With the force of a lightning bolt, the last pieces of her memories fell into place. She remembered her gorgeous redhead, remembered their love, and remembered the tragic end. She was distracted when Buffy spoke at last. "Tara?"

A crooked grin spread over Tara's lips. "Hey, Buffy. How's tricks?" The next second she found herself wrapped up in a miniature blonde whirlwind. "Oh, goddess, Buffy, I just got back from the dead, I don't want to go there again!"

Sheepishly Buffy loosened her hold. "Sorry, Tara. God, am I glad you're back. You have no idea how much I missed you!" She stepped back, raking her eyes over the older girl. Wait, is she still older? She lost a year, so does that mean we're equal now?

Tara waved a hand in front of her face. "Buffy? You in there?"

"Whoops, sorry. Got a little distracted." Tara quirked an eyebrow, a questioning look sliding onto her face. Buffy blushed, then asked, "Are you still older than me? I mean, you were gone a year-" She clapped her hands over her mouth, eyes wide.

Tara chuckled. "It's all right, Buffy. I know I was dead. But, a year? Huh. That's less than I thought. Guess time moved differently up there." She shrugged, apparently oblivious to Buffy's staring.

She knows? But if she knows, why isn't she all wonky and wanting to go back? Unless she wasn't in a heavenly dimension, but she had to be. She's Tara. "Buffy, you really need to stop doing that. Anyone would think something's wrong." A gentle smile lightened the admonishment, but worry was plain in Tara's tone.

Buffy sighed. She really didn't want to get into this discussion. Unfortunately, she knew she had to. There had been too many dangers over the years for her to let an unknown into her house, even if it was Angel's. "Tara, do you remember where you… were?" Wistfulness clouded her tone as she recalled her time in Paradise.

Tara hugged her unexpectedly. Sympathy radiated from her, enveloping Buffy in a haze of peace. Gently, Tara responded, "I do. I can understand how you acted now, Buffy, when you came back. It was beautiful." A smile lit her face, curving her lips into a grin.

Buffy pulled back, heartily confused. "If you remember, why don't you seem… I don't know, more like I was? I mean, I know I can be a selfish brat sometimes, but it was Paradise. Anyone would miss it. Even you, miss Psycho-Pep-Squad."

Tara laughed, a rueful smile coming to her face. She nodded. "I know what you mean, Buffy. It was Paradise. But it wasn't heaven. Not for me."

Buffy blinked. "Huh?"

"Willow. She wasn't there. I didn't remember her exactly, but I knew I was missing something." Tara sighed. "I saw flashes, of her hair, her eyes, and I knew I wasn't complete. It wasn't heaven, Buffy. It was hell." She glanced down, crossing her arms and letting her hair cover her face in a gesture Buffy hadn't seen for years.

"Hey, now." Buffy moved forward, grasping Tara's arms gently and ducking her head to catch her gaze. "I get it, okay? Tara minus Willow equals badness." Tara laughed, a strange forced sound that seemed the natural precursor to tears. After a moment, though, Tara straightened, taking a deep breath and shaking her head, a silent vow to stop crying passing through her mind.

She pulled away from Buffy, turning around and crossing to the open window. "How is she, Buffy? Really."

Buffy stepped up to the window as well, leaning on the sill and gazing over the city as she answered. "She's miserable. She tries not to show it, and for the most part she succeeds, but she isn't happy without you. She's got a good act, and I think she's fooled the others that she's healing and moving on, but she hasn't, and I doubt she ever will." Buffy fell silent, recalling the moment seared into her brain.

Buffy was walking through the house, taking in the feel of the unusual quiet. Giles and Spike had taken the potentials out for a training exercise, and the absence of noise was alien to her.

Suddenly, she heard a soft sound break the stillness. Curious, but slightly cautious, she moved towards the source, hoping against hope it wasn't a demon or other nasty.

She heard it again, louder now, and somehow harsh. Grating, almost. Sighing, Buffy approached the staircase, sensing that the noisemaker was upstairs. She ascended quickly, straining her ears for any more tell-tale clues that would give away the location of the culprit.

Again the silence was broken, but this time it was shattered as a rain of sobs assaulted Buffy's ears. She stood still, shocked, for a split second, before racing up the remaining stairs. She paused at the top, trying to pinpoint the exact location. When it became obvious that the weeping was coming from Willow's room, Buffy's heart clenched.

She tentatively approached the door, leaning her hand against the wood as she tried to find the strength to enter. The waves of pain emanating, even through a closed door, were vicious and stunning. The Slayer gathered her courage and pushed open the door.

"She was broken, Tara. She still is. I think - no, I know - that there's some part of her that died with you. She's trying to live, and maybe she is, but she's just barely surviving. She's a pretty good actress, she's sure got Kennedy convinced…" The hands went back over the mouth.

Tara sighed. Willow's babble was contagious, she'd always thought that. "She always was good at drama." A thought pricked at her. "Who's Kennedy? It's an odd name." Buffy's eyes widened even further than they already had, giving her the appearance of a deer in headlights.

She attempted to answer, getting out an impressive amount of sound before Tara rolled her eyes and removed Buffy's hands from her mouth. Sheepishly, Buffy looked at them and dropped them to her sides.

"Ah, thanks. Kennedy is… Well, she's…" Buffy tried to explain, but no words came to mind.

Somehow, it seemed no explanation was needed. Tara was a smart girl, she could figure it out. "She? O-oh, I see. She's with… W-Willow. Okay, I g-get it." Her face fell, and she dropped her head again.

I should never have come back. She was moving on, she doesn't need me screwing up her life. As long as she's happy, I'll survive. I think.

"No, Tara, it's not like that!" Tara raised an eyebrow. "O-okay, so maybe it is, but Willow isn't in love with Kennedy. She loves you, she always has." Tara sighed and opened her mouth, but Buffy cut her off. "No. Willow is one hundred percent, head-over-heels in love with you, and right now she's wasting away. Did you see what happened after you died?" Tara shook her head. "Well, you should talk to her about it, but-"

Tara's head shot up. "B-Buffy, I can't! She's moved on, it's not right for me to come back into her life and screw things up for her."

Exasperated, Buffy argued, "Were you even listening to me? She's. Broken. Pay attention, witchy girl. She needs you. I think she might die if this goes on much longer."

"No. That can't happen." Tara's voice sounded more determined than anything Buffy had ever heard her say before. It faltered, though, on her next question. "Do… Do you really think this is the best thing? Me coming back, I mean. Will it really help her?"

A brilliant smile grew on Buffy's lips. "Oh yeah. Now, can you do me one teensy favor…?"

A knock on her door roused Willow from her… Not brooding. Sitting. Sitting is what I'm doing, and anyone accusing me of moping, sulking, brooding, or any other depressy things would be - oh, who am I kidding. I'm brooding.

"If you need an invitation, you can't come in. Otherwise, knock yourself out." Willow frowned. "Not literally, cuz I'm assuming since you knocked, you want something, and if you're knocked out you won't be able to ask, and that would just defeat the purpose of coming here, wouldn't it?" She paused. "Uh, I think the point there was come in."

Buffy poked her head around the door. "Hey, Will, you got a sec?" When Willow nodded, she stepped inside, leaving the door halfway open.

Willow sat up, straightening from the slouch she'd sunk into. "What's up, Buff? Everything okay?" Concern tinged her voice.

Guilt clouded Buffy's brain. Have I really been such a bad friend? Does she really think that the only reason I'd come talk to her is that there's an emergency? She shoved those thoughts to the back of her mind, resolving to think about it later. "Yeah, everything's cool. I do need to talk to you, though."

Willow pulled a chair over next to her, patting the cushion and indicating that the Slayer should sit. "I'm all ears! Well, not all ears, that would be weird. Nope, just good listening ears that listen well and I'm babbling aren't I?" She flushed, fiddling with her hands as Buffy laughed.

"Just a bit, Will. It's cool, though. Part of your Willowy charms. Anyway, you remember when we were leaving the Sunnydale crater? Bus, wounded potentials, all that crap?"

Willow nodded. "That was a bit hard to forget, Buffy. Why?" The look of concern was back on her face.

Buffy sighed, mentally gearing up for what promised to be an interesting conversation. "Well, something happened. A woman approached me, a messenger from the Powers That Be. She gave me a disc, and when I took it I was transported to this temply-looking thing. Greek, I think. Lotta white marble. Anyway, there was a guy there, Janus. Two faces, pretty weird." Willow's eyes widened. "Yep. He said that the Powers were rewarding me for my service, and for stopping the First. They gave me a gift - one wish. Whatever I wanted. Only thing was, I had to wish within a week." Buffy stopped talking, looking at Willow.

The witch was amazed. She'd never heard of the Powers extending a gift like that before, not even to their most favored of champions. What, exactly, did we stop with the First? She stayed silent for a few moments more, mulling over Buffy's story in her mind. "So… What'd you wish for?"

Buffy looked pleased. She glanced down, turning her ankle back and forth, apparently admiring her shoes. Willow followed her gaze, but didn't make the connection. "Yeah, nice boots Buffy. What - oh, you didn't." Her voice raised, horrified. "Buffy, you used your one wish for shoes?"

The Slayer looked defensive. "Hey, I like these boots. I've been seeing them in the Saks' window display for awhile now." She stood and moved to the door, ostensibly getting better light and giving Willow a better look. "Don't you like my wish?"

She stepped backwards, yanked the door open, and vanished outside. Willow blinked, stunned by the blonde's abrupt disappearance. The sound of scuffling reached her ears, and Buffy's voice hissed, "Go in there, stupid! She needs you, and you're ruining my drama!" Buffy stuck her head back through the doorway, a slightly strained smile on her lips. "One sec, Will, my wish is being stubborn." Her head whisked away again.

Willow stood up, intending to investigate the source of the noises she heard. Before she could get three steps, though, she had to sit down again as a form appeared in the door, as familiar to her as her own name.

Tall- curvy- beautiful- long hair blue eyes shy smile. Willow blinked, then blinked again as her mind refused to believe what she saw. It's impossible. She came to the only possible conclusion. "It's the First! Buffy!" She scrambled backwards, knocking over the chair she was in and falling to the ground in her haste to escape.

Tara's beautiful eyes opened wide and she rushed forward at the sight of her love on the ground. "Willow!" Her low voice was anxious, all misgivings forgotten in her mixed joy and alarm. She reached the redhead quickly, grasping her arms and looking her over for injury. "Are you okay?"

Willow didn't answer, choosing instead to stare wide-eyed at the hands that were holding her. Perfectly corporeal, solid hands that she could feel. The First can't touch… "Tara? Is it… you? Really?" She delicately reached up a hand, smoothing a lock of hair back from Tara's face.

Tara nodded, smiling. "It is, sweetie. I'm back."

Willow trembled, wanting desperately to fall into the other witch's arms, but afraid of what it would do to her if it wasn't really Tara.

"It's true, Will. It's Tara." Buffy's voice made both girls jump. She was leaning on the doorframe, the casual posture undermined by the tears in her eyes.

Willow returned her gaze to Tara. "But how?"

"I made a wish, remember?" Willow glanced at Buffy's boots. "I'm not that shallow, Will. I stole these from Kennedy." Quietly, Tara smirked. I might be a good girl, but I'm only human. Willow smiled, seemingly unable to help it.

Her attention was drawn back to Tara when the blonde spoke. "I'm really here, Will. I'm not going anywhere." Willow stood still for one second, a second that lasted an eternity in Tara's mind - Oh gods, she really did move on - before throwing herself at the blonde. Tara suddenly found herself on the floor with a sobbing witch on her chest, but she valiantly overcame the shock and brought her arms up to wrap around Willow, murmuring soothingly in her ear.

The tender moment was broken when a new voice rang out. "What the hell is this?" Tara glanced over, craning her neck awkwardly to get a glimpse of the door. A brunette she didn't recognize stood there, hands on hips and an angry expression on her face. Willow didn't move, didn't even seem to notice her presence, but Buffy stiffened and dragged her out the door. Tara heard the girl protesting as she moved off, then went back to her Willow.

Kennedy let Buffy drag her only a little way off before yanking her arm out of Buffy's grasp. "What the fuck is going on, Buffy? That was Willow, wasn't it? My girl getting up close and personal with some blonde bitch I've never even seen before! And you're just letting it happen? No, you're on her side, aren't you!" She faltered under the glare the original Slayer leveled at her.

Buffy moved forward, stepping well into Kennedy's personal space. She lowered her voice, dropping it until it was just a menacing hiss. "Let me lay it out for you. That 'blonde bitch' in there? That's Tara. You've heard of her, haven't you?" The look on Kennedy's face was all the answer she needed. "Good. I think it's safe to say that you and Willow are history. If it makes you feel better, there was never any possibility of it working out anyway." Kennedy's face contorted into a snarl, but before she could get words out, Buffy continued. "And Kennedy? If I ever hear you call Tara a bitch again, I'll break your face. If Willow hears you say something like that about her, you might just find yourself stuck in some godforsaken hell dimension for eternity. I suggest you back off and let Willow come to talk to you."

Kennedy snorted. "Yeah, right. The chances of her talking to me again are less than zero. She'll be spending all of her time with that -" She saw the warning on Buffy's face. "-witch."

"Do you really think that little of her?" Buffy suddenly felt better about her coming between the two. "She'll do everything she can to make this as easy on you as possible, and she'll feel guilty about how it ends." Buffy saw Willow coming down the hall, and her eyes widened. "I'll, uh, leave you two to talk." She quickly extricated herself from the pair, setting off towards the lobby and the Scoobies.

Willow fidgeted, looking everywhere but at Kennedy She was aware that her hair was a mess and tear-tracks could still be seen on her face. The Slayer was just looking at her, a level gaze that made her more uncomfortable than a glare would have. Finally, after a thorough examination of the hallway and her shoes, she looked up, meeting the other girl's eyes.

Kennedy raised her eyebrows. "So that's it? One look from her and we're done?" she shook her head. "That's bullshit."

Willow raised her head, seemingly gaining strength from her girlfriend's - ex-girlfriend's? - harsh words. "I love her, Kenn. More than anything else in this world or any other. You remember when I turned into Warren? You heard me say, 'We should have been forever' and I meant it. I have my eternity back." Kennedy turned away, not wanting Willow to see the tears in her eyes. "I'm so sorry."

The brunette stiffened. She swung back towards Willow, who flinched from the sudden violence oozing from the girl. "Don't you dare apologize to me, Rosenberg! Go off and be happy with your little bitch. I'm outta here." She turned to leave, but was blocked by a suddenly pissed-off redhead.

"Watch your tongue, Kennedy. Insult her again and you shall regret it." The fall into a slightly more archaic pattern of speech wasn't lost on Kennedy, but she ignored it for her anger.

She stared down at the little witch, trying to intimidate her. When that didn't work, she settled for moving her. She shoved Willow out of her way and stormed off down the corridor, ignoring the thud and the slight grunt of pain she heard behind her.

Willow watched her go from her place on the floor. Well, that went well. Gingerly she hauled herself off the floor for the third time in half an hour. "Bitch," she muttered as she walked off. What did I ever see in her? She pondered that for a moment, then gave up and started making her way back to Tara.

My life is back. I have everything I want right here in this room.

She stood at the door, watching fondly as the blonde slept. Buffy came up behind her. "She fell asleep a little while ago. She'll be fine, don't worry. I had to sleep a lot too." Willow didn't say anything, just nodded and moved to sit at the end of the bed, gently stroking Tara's long blonde hair. She glanced up and smiled at Buffy, indicating that it would be all right for the Slayer to leave. Buffy inclined her head, smiling as she backed out and shut the door behind her.

When she looked back down at Tara, she was met with a clear blue gaze. "Hey."

Tara smiled. "Hey yourself. Everything all right?"

Willow grinned ruefully and rubbed her elbow where she had fallen. "Perfect. I've got you, don't I?" There was a pleading undertone to her joking question, seeking reassurance that she did, indeed, have Tara.

Instead of answering, Tara reached a hand up and cupped the hacker's face gently. Tugging softly, she pulled Willow down into a kiss. It wasn't anything overtly sexual, just a touch of lip against lip, but it still served to take their breath away, leaving them both panting after just a few moments. Pulling back, Willow gazed into her love's eyes.


The End

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