DISCLAIMER: This belongs to Joss Whedon. I’m just borrowing.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Season 6 - Smashed/Wrecked

Hide and Seek
By diamondforever



The acrid smell of burning coffee was perfectly ordinary at Johnny’s Café. It wasn’t her fault. She had thought it was at first, but by now, she had realized it had nothing to do with her. The place wasn’t known for its coffee – in fact, it wasn’t known at all by most of the residents of Simpson City.

They all preferred the more swanky restaurants in the town a few miles away. It was older here, the buildings, the patrons. The younger generations were gone, escaped at the first opportunity, like caged birds eager for the open sky. She understood why. It was suffocating here. It was routine. She was the newest act in town, and for that reason she was alienated. There was never anything new here, especially at Johnny’s. Tradition and routine were virtues to Mr. Shaw – he expected and demanded them from his employees.

For that reason, Tara had found it difficult to persuade him to allow her to work there even though he had needed the extra help. In the end, her persistence had won out. He had sent her away still more times than she had come to work, but constant pestering coupled with a desperate determination for work had soon become a routine that Mr. Shaw could not stand. He had grudgingly given her the job.

Granted, they were long hours and she worked for minimum wage. She barely got by, but she made do with what she had. She lived in a flat a few minutes’ walk away. She made enough to pay rent each month, and for that she was grateful. She wasn’t supposed to be happy out here anyways.

Mr. Shaw demanded routine, and so, having no reason not to follow, she complied. 7 a.m. saw Tara at the café’s door. She would unlock it and set the coffee on boil and check the inventory. Then, she would wait.

Because of its location across from the main city centre, Johnny’s had patrons in the upper working class. They drifted in throughout the day, made purchases, exchanged quiet greetings. Johnny’s was, incredibly enough, a refuge for these politicians and city workers; the lack of deadlines and demands was a pleasant change from dreary government work. They came and stayed for as long as they could, reluctant to return to a job they had no wish to be at. Tara knew the feeling, but of course she kept quiet. That wasn’t her concern.

They were nice enough; warm, friendly. They smiled at her as she handed them their orders. At times, they would approach her at the counter for lack of anything better to do. They would engage in the traditional banter, talk about the weather, talk about anything. Then, they would depart, called back to more interesting matters, and she would be alone once more. Not that she minded.

Tara was a mystery to them. They weren’t overtly inquisitive, but she knew they wanted to know more about her. She was content with their curiousity. She took it as a compliment that they wanted to know her. They asked her where she was from, how old she was, what she was doing in a town where in nobody younger than the age of forty willingly stayed. She was from Sunnydale. She was twenty-one years old. She did not know why she was here.

It had been by chance she arrived in Simpson City, weary from a solo cross-country road-trip. She had been driving in some sort of frenzy, unfeelingly exhausted and terrified. She was hiding. Hiding from Willow. She had found the smallest town, tucked neatly into the edge of the country, and hid.

She had watched Willow become a monster. She had watched silent and unbelieving as her beloved redhead turned from light to dark. Willow had taken everything she treasured, everything she believed in, and unknowingly turned it against her. Tara had not and still did not have it in her to continue to watch. So she had fled into the anonymity of distance and ignorance.

They would have come after her if she had told them where she was going – so she hadn’t chosen a destination. They had begged for her to stay. But she couldn’t. Their love for her would not allow them to let her go so easily. They had searched for her. They would still be searching now if more important matters had not been at hand. She had hidden well.

Tara didn’t want to be found, was dead set upon it, and so she was content to suffer. How she lived wasn’t comfortable, wasn’t how she wanted to. She was lonely, but afraid to find companionship.

She didn’t want to let go. Invisible scars ran deep, freshly re-opened whenever she thought of her. She nursed her wounds. She hid, a coward, from what she knew she should do. Tara should have been there, helping Willow, guiding her back to where they were supposed to be. Her love had been too much and it had clouded her more logical senses. She should have stayed in Sunnydale, but no. Like the thin-blooded creature she was, she had run as far away as she could, to the most unlikely of places where now, she lived in misery.

Tara existed in this life now only as a wraith, a breath of wind that left as quickly as she came, leaving no impression on those she encountered. She had grown used to it. It had become routine. She was used to hiding, after all. It hadn’t taken too much effort to settle back into it.


Chapter One

Her days were lived with an intent fervor. Always glaringly present to her was one hope – that she would come back. If she was good, she would come back to her. It was all that kept her going.

The wind-chimes sounded with the sudden breeze as the door opened and closed. Tara looked up from the counter, where she had been wiping down the remnants of lunch hour. Mr. Shaw had left long before on a fool’s errand, leaving Tara to fend for herself during their busiest hour. It would be expected of him, really, to return now, when all the work was done.

Funny enough, it wasn’t him. His errand must have required more than three hours; longer than it would take for anybody to walk through Simpson City. Routine, she told herself. Routine.

Tara recognized the man as a regular patron. His name was David McKellen, a man of few words. He must have taken a late lunch today – it happened often enough. He was a soft-spoken man, and was impeccably raised and refined judging from his carriage.

“Good afternoon, Tara,” he greeted. They spoke often. She liked to consider him her friend – her only friend in this miserable hole. “How are you?” His speech was unhurried, thoughtful, intelligent. The timbre of his voice exuded warmth, care – a balmy breath stirring in the settled sands of her cold heart.

“The usual?” she both asked and answered.

“Yeah.” David always ordered a turkey sandwich and a large coffee. He placed his money on the counter and waited patiently, hands resting in the pockets of his black dress pants as Tara got his order together. He smiled. “Thank you, Tara.”

“Not at all,” she chuckled. “You’re the customer, after all.” She handed him the plate and mug. “Enjoy your meal.”

David nodded and took his lunch, choosing one of the tables near the window. Tara watched unabashedly from where she stood. This was what they always did. She waited.

“Come sit with me, Tara.” David waved her over.

That was her cue. She sat down across from him, hands folded on the table. He smiled once more at her, his wrinkles bunching up about his eyes as he chewed.

“Tara, why are you here?” He asked the same question every time they were in this position.


David knew who Willow was. He had taken the time to find out. It was a month before this day that he had first asked Tara to eat with him. She had politely refused his request, for good reason. But he had come back the day after, and the day after that, with a stony set determination to break through her protective shield. He had succeeded.

Tara hadn’t planned on getting to know anybody in Simpson City. She was content with being in the background, unnoticed. She liked it like that. It meant that she couldn’t ruin anything. It meant she wouldn’t intrude. True, she would long for company on nights when thoughts of Willow inhabited her thoughts, but that was every night.

She wanted to forget her. Willow kept her trapped in the past, held her back from moving on with her life, damned Tara to forever seeing all she had done wrong in their relationship.

But at the same time, she wanted to hold onto her memory of the redhead. For the bad mingled with the good, indiscernible sometimes, with the bad prominent at times, and at others the good. It was like a cube constantly turning on its axis, rotating round and round, with different faces and facets revealed at different intervals in time. She was drawn and repelled simultaneously.

“Are you just going to hide here forever, then?” David watched her, observed her with some sort of soul-searching canniness. It knocked Tara off balance.

She nodded. “If I have to,” she answered quietly.

“Tara, that’s not how anybody should live in this world,” David advised. “Nobody can live by hiding.” He touched her hand. She pulled away.

“I know.” She stood hurriedly. Once again handed the ultimatum of what she was doing in Simpson City, Tara was unsettled, by no fault of anyone’s but her own. “I-I have to work,” she scrabbled together.

David nodded, blinking in a sort of sad solemnity. He took a gulp of coffee. He looked up. Tara took care to have turned away by then, busying herself with menial tasks that excused her from continuing their conversation.

Tara didn’t bother to look up until the wind-chimes twinkled again, signaling David’s departure. Guilty relief flooded her mind. Whenever he was around, she always felt that she was under so much pressure to be a good person, to be a better person than she was.

Tara didn’t know David at all, but his concern towards her well-being made her feel safe with him, as if he were there to watch over her and keep her away from harm. He came almost everyday, ordered the same meal; he was always so thoughtful, always so troubled by something or someone, but he didn’t let it affect how he spoke to Tara or how he acted towards her. In some sort of way, he was like a guardian angel.

Of course, each day ended the same. The subject of Tara’s extended stay in this dreary municipality would be brought up and Tara, as politely as she could, would excuse herself in order to avoid what would inevitably lead to her being persuaded to return to Sunnydale. She would awkwardly, but steadily, keep her gaze down as he finished his turkey sandwich; as he wiped the crumbs off the table onto the ceramic plate, as he dabbed his mouth with a paper napkin taken from one of the metal dispensers on the table, as he looked for a moment at Tara before leaving the way he had come. Tara saw all this from where she stood, pretending not to notice.

Everything was routine. Things were rarely out of order, were always predictable from day to day. Nothing ever changed in Simpson City.

Mr. Shaw chose that moment to return, bustling through the door, angry at someone she didn’t know of. “G’afternoon, Tara,” he muttered, rising a moment from his troubled thoughts. “Everything in order?”

“As always, Mr. Shaw.”

He gave her a rare smile. “Nice to know that I can rely on somebody when I’m away.” He reached beneath the counter and took out a dishcloth, then proceeded over to the tables and began to wipe them down. His back was bent from years of work. He had opened this café in his early twenties’, back when these places had been all over town. Now, in his late seventies’, he alone remained, miserly and ailing.

Mr. Shaw wasn’t a pleasant man. More often than not, he ranted and raved about the most peculiar things, the most minute mistakes, the smallest specks of dirt on the café floor. He coughed and spit out specks of phlegm on the customers, on Tara, on anybody in reach. He was a sick old man, but of course, he wouldn’t admit it. That would be out of the ordinary and therefore, out of routine.

But then, there were times when he broke out of his cliché and let the gentler man shine through. Mr. Shaw was far from a softie, but he wasn’t a tyrant either. He was hardened to the world. He didn’t trust it and didn’t expect it to trust him.

Tara feared that she would become like him. She didn’t know exactly what he had gone through, but she didn’t think it was too far off from what she was experiencing right now. Had he too been betrayed by his love? What had made him so angry, so bitter? Was he driven by the same resentment and regret that plagued Tara? Why was he in Simpson City, so wasted, so alone? He was here by choice, and that was what scared Tara. She too was here by choice.

She glanced down at her watch. 3:30. A few more hours to go. She was always eager to go home. That was what her little flat had become. She had always considered herself a drifter, a person with no home. Then, she had found it in Willow. Her first month here had been hard. She had been homesick.

Now, her once-home was alien. It had faded into the past, for that was what it was – her past. If she dwelled on Sunnydale she knew she would go insane. Tara had done everything she could to forget. Not being able to do that, she had settled with the containing of the longing in anticipation of the exchange Simpson City would make with Sunnydale. It had come to past.

She was halfway through Great Expectations now. For the longest time she had wanted to start it but had never gotten around to it. She had never had the time before. She had the chance to do what she wanted these days. Lonely nights were spent living in a fantasy world, a refuge in pages of adventures she would never have, loves she longed for but were out of her reach. Literature was her solace.

It had been witchcraft before. But the joy of magicks had become something to share over the last two years. No longer was it a ritual reserved for her sole enjoyment. She had given that to Willow and Willow had bastardized it. Magick hurt too much now.

Magick was as off limits to Tara as Willow was. That was okay with her. She was just as responsible for Willow’s fall as Willow was. She would share in the consequences. It was as simple as that. Whenever, if ever Willow became aware of the damage she was doing to herself and those around her, Tara knew she would give up magick. Tara felt it was only fair to also share that fate.

“Tara, go home and get some sleep,” croaked Mr. Shaw. “You look worse than I do.”

“But –”

“Your day is finished. I’ll lock up.” It was a sharp bark that left no room for negotiation. Tara had no choice but to obey.

With a nod and a slight wave, she took her leave. The brisk walk to Northampton Street chilled her more than she had expected. The wind bit into her exposed skin. Winter was arriving all too quickly. She wasn’t used to the cold. She didn’t have enough money to buy a jacket – her sweatshirts would have to do for now.

It wasn’t that Tara wasn’t getting enough sleep – she was getting too much, really. It was just that Tara never slept well anymore. She was in bed by 8:30 each night. A book would be laid out on her lap and she would read until she grew tired. When she slept, she dreamt. When she dreamt, she remembered. And when she remembered, she awoke, and she was lonely again. She hated sleep, but there was nothing else to do. She forced herself to sleep because she knew it was healthy, but despite her efforts, she was slowly wasting away.

She didn’t really feel like doing otherwise, though. It was simply easier to remain as she was – in love with Willow – than to try to move on. Moving on required effort and energy and willpower, none of which she had. And frankly, she didn’t want to. She loved Willow…but at the same time, she couldn’t love her. Loving Willow was killing Tara.

Willow would move on eventually, inevitably. She didn’t see what had gone wrong or refused to believe that something had indeed gone wrong, and as far as Tara knew, she would blame the blonde for up and running and leaving her to deal with whatever consequences she would need to face. Willow would be doing the right thing in moving on.

Tara knew she wasn’t doing the right thing by leaving Sunnydale, but she wanted the easy way out this time. It had been hard to leave, but it would have been harder and exponentially more painful to have stayed and to watch Willow ruin her life. Tara should have stayed, but it was too late now. She had made her choice by moving to Simpson City and unlike most people, she didn’t go back on her decisions.

She was a firm believer in fate. If she was destined to return to Sunnydale, then events would undoubtedly point her back west. But until then, she would live life as she had determined it to be for herself. And she would accept the consequences in stride, as she had grown up doing.


Chapter Two

It was cold – ghastly cold. It was always cold here. Her blood had become ice long ago. She was dying. But this was a voluntary torture. She had something to prove. She was worthy. She had to be.

Tara’s day began much as it always did. Recreated instances that came to her in slumber stirred in her a longing for the past, filling her with a sense of despair to start the day with as she awoke to nothing but the lumpy pillow she held tightly to her bosom. She didn’t move at first, holding stubbornly onto the notion that her loneliness was just a dream and that in a moment, everything would be better.

But of course, none of it was. Reality, in the end, made itself painstakingly clear: Tara was alone. It was a truth she could not escape from. Reality was cold and cruel, but there was no running away from it – she could either embrace it or fall apart as she tried to sidestep the inevitable. It would be better if she could just hide in her bed for the rest of her life, but that would be impractical. Tara was a practical person.

She reluctantly threw off her blanket and ambled into the bathroom. She took a long look at herself in the mirror. She had lost a lot of weight. Her skin hung from sharp bones that threatened to break through thinning epidermal flesh. No wonder her clothes no longer fit – but better too big than too small.

She ate. The food stayed down. Other than that, there was nothing she could do. To be a demon would be a much worse fate than what she was presented with here. Haunted would have to do.

It was cold outside; much colder than usual. Tara contemplated running back inside for a sweatshirt, but decided against it. She was running late anyway. Her walk quickened to a jog as feeling slowly but surely left her limbs. She pulled her jacket tightly about her, set her shoulder in front of her, pointed her head down, and ran on.

Whistling wind screeched and deafened, furious white snow stung her eyes. It was the worst snowstorm Tara had had to face yet, and she was in no way prepared for it. Still, she pressed on, and at long last, reached Johnny’s, much resembling an ethereal specter, wrapped under layers of white. She hurriedly unlocked the door and entered.

She waited listlessly upon drifting patrons for the rest of the morning, smiling a doll’s smile, hooding her eyes with fatigue. Nobody could tell that there was anything wrong with her that went beyond what was wrong with most everyone in the world.

Except for David. He came in around the regular time, clothed in scarves and mitts and toque. An obvious outsider.

“First winter, Tara?” He noted her shuddering at the open door. He shut it.

Tara nodded. “You too.”

He grinned. “Not used to it anymore. It was a lot colder where I came from. It hasn’t been winter where I’ve been.”

“Where’s that?”

“Not here,” he answered cheerfully. David was a private man. He placed his order.

A local woman entered, waving cheerily at both of them. “A coffee, if you would.” She placed her hands palm-down on the counter. “Cold out.”

“Very,” Tara affirmed. She reached for two mugs.

“I hope you’ve dressed appropriately, dear. New York winters can be ghastly for newcomers.”

Tara bit her lip. “Y-yes, ma’am.” She handed over the cup of steaming coffee, thrusting it in front of her as an offering in hopes that it would appease the forward-speaking patron.

“That’ta girl.” She winked, paid, and took her coffee to a window seat, much to Tara’s relief.

Tara went about making David’s sandwich, sliding his coffee over to where he stood patiently. He said not a word, had not said a word since the other woman came in. He watched, as he always did, half with amusement, half with disconcerting intelligence. She did her best to smile good-naturedly, aware that his analytical eye was set upon her, as she gave him the plate.

“Thank you, Tara.” He laid the money on the counter and took his sandwich, taking a tentative sip of his black coffee. “Come sit with me.” As always, she complied.

“Why do you talk with me?” asked Tara, after a moment of silence. It was a fervent question, full of curiousity and guilt. “Half the time, I don’t respond, a-and the other I turn away. I’m not worth the effort.” She wasn’t trying to push him away, but at the same time she was. He was too good for her. She didn’t want to know how he felt every time she ignored him in her attempts to avoid having to answer his well-intentioned queries.

David said nothing for a minute, watching her wither under his stare. Then, he folded his hands in front of him on the table. “Tara, I watch you everyday,” he told her, “and you’re so sad. You try to act strong – and you are – but you can’t make that work on everybody. You looked like you needed a friend. So here I am.” It wasn’t harsh…just firm. David was being very firm about this. He could have explained further, but he didn’t have to. Tara’s cover wasn’t working with him.

He saw her for who she truly was. He saw through her disguise – saw the clumsy oaf, the cowardly tramp, the whiny girlfriend who didn’t have enough guts to stand up for what she thought was right or wrong. And for some reason, he wasn’t repulsed by her.

Tara bowed her head. Her cheeks were flushed red with embarrassment. She was well aware that the lady by the window watched them intently, hanging on their every word like a gossip-monger eavesdropping on a lover’s spat. But she didn’t know what to say…

She didn’t end up speaking, opting to stare into her hands. David finished his sandwich, wiped his mouth, and stood up. He smiled encouragingly and laid a hand on her shoulder, silently communicating that he meant her no harm. Then, he was gone.

“He’s a catch, dear.”

Tara looked up, surprised. It was the lady by the window, grinning. “Special guy.”


“Think about it, girl. I’m sure he’s an animal in bed. Never mind his age.”

Tara didn’t bother to extend customer courtesy to the woman and set her with a stern glare. The lady got the message, communicated with a little nervous yelp. Satisfied, Tara turned back to where David had sat and collected his dishes. She carried them to the back and set them on the washing rack. She was relieved to hear the door open and close, welcoming the normally dreaded gust of chilling breeze. It meant that she was alone again.

Generally, she would embrace the solitude. Now, she wasn’t so sure. Was spending all her nights alone in bed really what she wanted? What did she have to prove? Why was she punishing herself? Because of Willow.

It all came back to Willow. It had become a state of dependency. No matter what, how the situation would affect Willow was always taken into account. Tara just couldn’t help it.

Willow had been Tara’s protégé. That was how it had all begun. That had been the starting point of their relationship. It had been Tara’s role to teach, to nurture, to mother. It was a hard role to shake free from. Even now, Tara felt responsible for Willow’s well-being. It had become habit. Hard as she tried, she couldn’t shake it. She constantly worried about Willow and what was happening to her.

But that was why she was here to begin with, right? For the sake of Willow. She knew what she represented to Willow; she had hoped that her leaving would incite the redhead to see the light, and to see how far she had fallen. Tara was beginning to realize that she could do no more. She had done the most she could by leaving Sunnydale. The rest was up to Willow.

Tara chose to hang on to the redhead’s memory. She chose to. She was a continent away now. What she did had no effect on Willow. If she suffered, she did it in the name of Willow, but not for the sake of Willow. It wouldn’t help anybody. When she left had Sunnydale, she had severed all ties she had with their cause, had ended her association with the Scoobie Gang. Not like she had ever really been a part of them. She had, at some point in time, thought she was. Now, she had made the decision.

Tara had made herself alone. And it was because she wished to be.

Did she want to be alone?

Of course not. She knew what it was like to be alone – to be met by vacant stares passing over and forgetting even before registering, to not be able to confide in anyone.

But it was different now. Tara wasn’t alone anymore.

The wind whistled and blew, causing the chimes to blow back and tangle with the hinge of the door. Tara looked up, expecting to see David dropping by for their daily exchange, albeit, much earlier than usual.

Tara was surprised to see a camisole-clad woman a few years younger than her at the door. She had thought herself to be the youngest of the adults in Simpson City; apparently, she had been mistaken. She raised a hand of uncertain greeting, astonished that anybody could be wearing so little when it was so cold. The brunette looked impetuous, unpredictable. Immediately, Tara felt uncomfortable.

“Can I help you?” she asked tentatively.

“You can try.” The girl tossed her hair back, shaking off the snow. “You know when David McKellen usually comes in?”

“N-not for a few hours,” answered Tara, suddenly wishing that it weren’t so. She hadn’t been in close proximity with anyone her age for a good while. It was awkward. “W-would you like to w-wait for him?”

“Nah.” She grinned impudently. “I’ve got better things to do than wait for that old man.” She dodged back outside before Tara could say another word.

“I-I’ll tell him you were looking for him!” Tara yelled after her. She hadn’t even got a name. Hopefully, David knew who she was.

It was funny that Tara’s mind automatically jumped to “demon” or “supernatural” when anything out of the ordinary occurred. It was what she had come to always be ready for, what she had been required to think before. Suspicion kept everybody alive in Sunnydale. Tara wanted to believe that it was different in Simpson City. And so far, it was, but it was hard to let go of what she had become accustomed to doing.

David arrived shortly after the regular lunch crowd. He always did, whether it was as they departed or a good while after that. He wasn’t a man of the masses, preferring his privacy to being a socialite. Tara understood.

“A woman came in looking for you this morning,” she told him. “She had brown hair an –”

“Kennedy?” So he knew who she was.

“S-she left before I could get a name,” Tara explained, “but if you know her, that’s good.”

“She’s…my daughter,” he said. “I wonder what she wants.”

“W-what do you mean?”

“Kennedy doesn’t usually try to find me unless something’s bothering her.” He frowned, clearly troubled. “We’re not on the best of terms.”

“Oh.” Tara could tell that the news hadn’t been taken well, little news as it was. “I-I’ve been thinking of w-what you said to me yesterday…a-and I wanted to ask you something.”

“Sure, Tara.” He was more relaxed now that the topic had moved away from Kennedy.

But Tara wasn’t. She was about to do something that she had never thought she would do – at least, not for a while. “W-would…would you like to come over to my place for d-dinner tonight?” Her heart pounded frantically in her chest, both from fear and excitement. She never invited anyone over. Her flat was a depressive excuse of a home, due to her voluntary isolation from society. It didn’t give her much of an excuse even then, but Tara never could find the motivation to decorate. It required too much effort on her part, and with most of that effort already concentrated upon psychologically keeping herself together, she didn’t have much to spare.

She opened up her home to David in inviting him. A brave move, she thought, although ripe with opportunity to fail. He could be busy, or just not want to, or b –

“I would love to,” he answered.

Her fate was sealed then. Neither said a word for a few seconds. Tara would have been content to continue silently, but remembered that she needed to give him directions to her place.

“What time should I arrive?”

“W-would seven be alright with you?”

David nodded. “That would be great.” He placed his order.

Tara smiled, hoping that it would calm her. She didn’t know where this decision would lead her to. She knew David, but at the same time, didn’t. She didn’t know his intentions toward her, nor his insecurities in life, about her, about anything. She knew nothing, really. She was essentially inviting a stranger into her secrets. She was already regretting it, but she couldn’t take it back. She had extended an invitation and it was her responsibility to follow through on it.

Nevertheless, the whole wheat bun provided an excuse for more silence, as did the mayonnaise, the meat slicer, and the coffee pot. A relieving, tense silence. She knew there was only so much time that she could spend preparing a meal before it was no longer an option. Inevitably, that moment came, although much too soon for Tara. Smile pasted forcefully to her face, Tara presented David his lunch. “H-here you go.”

“Thank you, Tara.”

They continued as they normally did, although Tara took care to lower her eyes, afraid to have to converse with him before she had had time to sort out her thoughts. She hoped that he wouldn’t notice her avoidance – but of course he did. David never missed a thing. Still, as always, he did nothing about it. He was a passive man. He would wait for Tara to make the first move.

Out of the corner of her eye, Tara watched him eat. If there were some attraction at all between them, it wasn’t from her. To her, their relationship was completely platonic. What she was afraid of was that David didn’t share that sentiment. If he expected anything from her, she would have no choice but to turn him down. She felt a companionship with him; she didn’t want to have to turn him down. But she would – she would have to – and she was afraid to think of the consequences.

She didn’t want to lose the only friend she had left. Would it come to that?

David’s shoes squeaked as they slid along the wet floor. His eyes held hers for a moment, intense and calculating, reading her like a book. Tara knew her fear was painstakingly evident. David knew in a second. The door swung shut before she could open her mouth to explain.

Everything would play out at dinner. The five hours until work ended and David came over passed too quickly, clock-hands moving five times more speedily than she wanted. By the time Tara had locked up, she was mentally berating herself for her rash invitation. She had felt that she needed to prove to David that she wasn’t an isolated freak who wanted to spend the rest of her days wasting away, alone and lonely, in self-inflicted retribution. It had been a big mistake. Her need to be a happy person had been a spur-of-the-moment emotion. Life was pain, she reminded herself. She had to accept that.

Mostly she did, but Tara grew tired of being strong. It was then that she made mistakes such as this. She rarely allowed her heart’s desires to take precedence to her mind’s, and she knew that it was only human for her to slip up, but every time she did… sometimes, she wished that she wasn’t so inclined to such a nature.

Tara hated herself for it because she knew that besides causing pain to herself, she would cause whoever she let in just as much. By allowing them into her life, she made them victims. Willow had become a victim. Everybody had become a victim. Now, David would as well.

It was why she wanted isolation, wanted solitude. Alone, she wouldn’t hurt anyone. Alone, she was weaponless. Her wounds were made with tongue and body – human contact. It was something she couldn’t avoid, couldn’t help. But she didn’t want to hurt anyone. That she always did was a constant reminder of her flaws, of her human blood.

At times, although not recently, Tara liked to believe that she was doing some good in the world, making it a better place for the billions of other beings that she shared it with. She was always proven wrong. Just when things seemed perfect, seemed better, some form of indescribable evil swept in and snatched happiness from her clutches. It was the curse of the unlucky, a curse that only those who had it knew about.

It was, essentially, involuntary isolation, involuntary exclusion. Tara had adapted to it. She had learned, through hard years of depression, to take in stride that she would always be the odd one out, no matter what the situation, no matter how happy she thought she was.

Was she happy now? Did she think she could be happy? She wasn’t. Perhaps another person would be content with what she had in the material world – a job, a home, a friend. But with Tara, there was emotional baggage; emotional baggage that she was reluctant to shed, that was not so easily shed. It had grown on her over the years.

In theory, it should have been easy to let go. She was a person on the run, trying to leave her past behind. That meant her memories, her associations: everything. To be who she defined herself to be, she needed to be running in both body and mind. To be caught in between – where she was – merely made her more of a coward.

She was afraid of much too many things. She was even afraid of potential happiness now. She was so afraid that she almost didn’t open the door when David knocked.

Although in a stupor, she had still somehow managed to prepare an overall presentable dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, freshly bought from the supermarket down the street. Nothing remarkable, but good enough. Thankfully, owing to her natural liking for cleanliness, her flat hadn’t required any reorganization. It was livable and unremarkable, much like her life.

“You have a nice place, Tara,” David commented. Always the gentleman, he was. He took off his scarves and jacket and held them in his hand, unsure of where to leave them.

“P-put it on the chair.” Tara smoothed the lapels of her dress shirt – the only even slightly formal article of clothing she still had available. She fidgeted with her hands, tugged her shirt down. “Dinner’s almost ready.” She turned tail back into the kitchenette, where the pasta was cooking in the pot on the stove.

She knew he was watching her, had something he wanted to say to her. He was aware of her fear, but chose to say nothing, chose not to address it. She was the trembling mouse, with the menacing hawk somewhere above her, preparing to devour her. At least, that was the way it felt. He was the predator; she was the prey.

Her hands were shaking as she clutched the tongs. The utensil clanked against the side of the pot as she lifted the pasta into a strainer, the sudden noise startling her. She heard David step forward to help her and began to back herself towards the stove and away from his incoming person. He was just about to reach her when she heard a knock on the door. Relieved, Tara ducked under David’s outstretched arm with the grace of a frantic love awaiting her long-lost other half to answer her rescuer.

But her relief drained from her face, short-lived, as she came face to face with Kennedy. Tara backed away in horror, a trapped cornered beast. She couldn’t possibly lash out in self-defense, being outnumbered; all she could do was quiver and cower before her captors. She heard David stepping up behind her and saw Kennedy moving forwards. In both terror and desperation, she began to chant.

Ego dico super orbis terrarum protego mihi ex suus malum. A mihi , licentia mihi exsisto. A mihi , licentia mihi exsisto. A mihi , licentia mihi exsi – She was forcefully stopped from continuing by a hand clasping over her mouth. Not that it mattered – she had been about to stop, anyway. Magick, she realized in horror – she had done magick, without thinking. It had come to her as naturally as breathing.

Would they realize that she was different? That she wasn’t a normal human being?

“What the hell was that?” Kennedy exclaimed.

David released Tara from his hold, and shushed Kennedy, ordering her to wait. Then, he turned back into the flat’s interior to look for the blonde, who had scurried around him upon her release. “Tara, calm down.” He raised his hands in front of him as he walked cautiously towards her. “We’re not going to hurt you,” he said slowly.

Wh-why is she here?” Tara accused, pointing at Kennedy. She had calmed down, gathered herself for this confrontation. It was unavoidably obvious that she had spoken in another language, a dead language that very few knew. But unless he brought it up, she wasn’t going to explain. At the moment, she was more concerned of the fact that a stranger had brought another stranger with him to her home without telling her, further cementing any small suspicion she had had of David’s motives. She was being taken advantage of. What did they want from her?

“Please, calm down, Tara.” He waited for her to speak again, but she held her tongue, crossly waiting for him to explain. “I noticed how nervous you were earlier, and I thought it would help if I brought Kennedy along.”

Tara took a moment to run through what had been said. It made sense, she decided, and she was grateful for his intention. She was also grateful for his silence on the other topic. So she dropped it. “But I didn’t make enough pasta for three…”

David touched his chin thoughtfully. “Are you comfortable with entertaining Kennedy for a few minutes while I go and buy some takeout?”

Alone? With…Kennedy? Tara shook her head. “I-I'm not.”

David pursed his lips and nodded. “I understand…”

The idea was absurd, and they both knew it. There was really only one solution to the problem that would satisfy all three parties. “Would it be o-okay if we h-had smaller p-portions then?” asked Tara. “Is that okay?”

“That would be wonderful.”

Tara bowed her head and began to turn away, but stopped when she felt a comforting hand on her arm. “Just to clarify my intentions,” David stated,” I see you as a daughter, not a lover.”

It was one of the more relieving things she had heard in a long time. She smiled the most genuine smile she could – harder than she thought – and returned to the stove, where she began to cook the meatballs. She didn’t know what exactly was going on behind her back, but she could hear David and Kennedy conversing in hushed tones. Tara trusted him.

Her apprehension resolved, it was as if a blanket of tension had been lifted away, allowing her to consider sincerely enjoying the evening and the company. As the meat sauce simmered, she went to entertain her guests.

“Would either of you like anything to d-drink?” she asked. They were sitting comfortably on the floor. Immediately, guilt that she couldn’t properly provide for company welled up, but she pushed the feeling firmly down. She was beginning to realize something; neither David nor Kennedy, or at least David, needed to be impressed – they already were.

For once in her life, she didn’t feel the pressure to be strong. She didn’t need to be the parent anymore. She could be the child.

“Do you have any water?” asked David.

“Beer?” asked Kennedy. She was fixed with a sidelong glance from her father. “Coke.”

“I-I only have water and cranberry juice,” Tara amended. “I s-should have mentioned that earlier.

“Isn’t cranberry juice for people who can’t shit?” Kennedy queried nastily. Off another furtive glance from David, she took on a more apologetic expression. “I’ll have a water.”

Tara nodded, slightly flustered from Kennedy’s comment, and went to get their drinks. She twisted the cap off the last bottle of water in the refrigerator and poured its contents into three glasses. She would need to purchase more soon. She set two glasses on the table, an invitation for David and Kennedy to sit.

The sauce was bubbling in the pan by now. She turned off the heat and poured the meat sauce into the prepared bowl of pasta. Sadly enough, this simple meal would be the most extravagant dinner she had had since she left Sunnydale. She opened the cupboard and took out three clean plates, drying off not-yet-evaporated water with her sleeve.

Behind her, she could hear David speaking softly and sternly to his daughter, no doubt reprimanding her for her rash words. To be honest, Tara hadn’t minded. In a lifestyle so gloomy and serious, any humour – even bad humour – was welcomed. She missed laughing. It was a detail in life she had never truly appreciated. She had forgotten what it was like to laugh, had forgotten the subtle twinkling of throaty chortle she had felt whenever she had allowed herself to. Now, when she laughed…it wasn’t laughter; it was a pretense of laughter. She had been so much less inhibited back when she could laugh.

It was time for her to let go of what held her back. Tara didn’t want to be bound any longer. She wanted to be uninhibited.


Chapter Three

They had all given up so quickly. They were resigned to what they assumed to be out of their control. They were afraid – that was what they were: afraid of rejection. But she wasn’t. There was a want, a desperate need for her to come back, and so she would do everything in her power to become perfection, to be someone that could not be rejected.

“What are you smiling about?” demanded Mr. Shaw. “Stop smiling. You’re making me feel uncomfortable.”

He wasn’t joking. His eyes darted from side to side, alert for trouble – more so than usual. It no doubt perturbed her boss that Tara was indeed smiling, even if only ever so slightly. It was the subtle curling of her lips that made the difference, but contrasted to her usual apathy, a little was a lot in this case. Her expressing any sort of emotion was completely and shockingly out of routine for Mr. Shaw.

“Sorry, sir,” replied Tara, not allowing the absurdity of the response to affect her. “I won’t do it again.”

Last night had reawakened in her the joy of life. Walls of protection constructed to keep herself in and others out had begun to buckle and break as new memories of laughter and ease and trust began to permeate through stony coldness. David had brought quiet maturity, and Kennedy, easy-going conversation.

Having made a conscious decision to uninhibit herself, she had actually enjoyed the evening despite her misgivings of her ability to do so. She had laughed her share of laughter and shared her share of tales long forgotten. And they had listened with interest, and when conversation lulled or darkened, Kennedy had interjected with her unique brand of humour, often at her or David’s expense.

Tara longed for more of David’s company. Much was left to be said about her and her past, much that she needed to let out. She trusted David, more than she trusted any other person at the moment. She wanted him to know her.

David had the rare gift of listening, of sympathizing, of convicting. Everything that she said to him was analyzed and processed to a pulp in his mind as he learned as much as could about her character through her actions, her subtleties, the emotions that couldn’t be controlled as they played across her face. Men like David lived to learn, and to help others to learn.

Tara was relearning how to live from this man. Feelings other than loneliness or bitterness – mischief, contentment, excitement. Normally, these emotions would have brought with them resentment for her past, for what she had and hadn’t done. All happiness had been centred around Willow before – what Tara had thought to be selflessness on her own part. She now realized that it had been cowardice. By blaming all she did on Willow, both the good and the bad, she had never needed to take upon herself the responsibility of her own actions.

But she would now. She would now.

Tara had needed to leave Sunnydale. Her life had been changed in that obscure town. She had entered a waifish, trembling teenager, afraid to engage in conversation with any person, even one who was kind enough to cast a smile her way. Loving Willow had drawn her out of that shell. She was more open now, more confident. Willow had been the greatest thing to happen to Tara. She had drawn her out and loved her; and in return, really, even before that, Tara had loved Willow with all her being. But she had reached a point where she could not develop her character any further.

Truly, Tara still loved Willow – she very likely always would. But now that love, instead of nurturing, was stunting her growth. It had become time for Tara to begin living for herself and becoming the woman she knew that she could be. She needed to be stronger. She needed to find confidence in herself. Not through magick, but through herself.

Tara was through with magick. Last night, it had been a mistake made in desperation. She needed to prove to herself that she didn’t need magick. Every time she cast, she was reminded of the integral role magick had played in her relationship with Willow. It had brought them together and driven them apart. She would live a normal life from here on in. She would move forward and prove that she could be more than who she was, without relying on the way of life she had always went to for sanctuary.

That part of her life was over, and with the closing of this door, another was opened. It was time for Tara the Human, not Tara the Wicca or Tara the Lifesaver. She would be Tara the Normal.

The café door opened. It was Kennedy. “Hey, Tara.”

“Good m-morning,” replied Tara. Despite the reassuring knowledge that this girl meant her no harm, she couldn’t help but feel nervous around her. There was an underlying current in her that Tara couldn’t quite place her finger on.

“David wanted to let you know that he’s not gonna be able to come today,” said Kennedy. “Busy preparing for tonight.”

“Tonight? W-what’s tonight?”

“You’re coming over,” she stated with no room for argument.

“I-I didn’t know about this…” Tara stuttered out.

“That’s why I’m here,” Kennedy drawled.

“Um…why c-couldn’t David come?” Tara didn’t want to seem rude, but the brunette’s sudden arrival had been very much unexpected, and she had always been easily startled.

“He’s cleaning up my mess.”

“Why aren’t you?”

Kennedy laughed softly, her eyes twinkling with mockery. “Do I look like a person who would ever clean up my own mess?”

Frankly, she didn’t, Tara decided. She looked like a spoiled brat who had never needed to worry about anything outside of choosing what she was going to eat for her next meal or what she would be wearing for her next date. Strangely enough, it didn’t bother Tara as much as she had expected it to. “No, you don’t.”

“Exactly.” Kennedy grinned, nodding her fingers, curled into the shape of a gun, at the blonde as she leaned casually against the greasy wall.

‘Would you like to order a bite, Miss?” Mr. Shaw had been gaping intently and angrily at Tara for most of the conversation, obviously wanting her to get Kennedy to place an order and kick-start the day’s business.

“Nah.” Kennedy waved him off. “Already ate.” She turned her attention back to Tara. “So I’ll come by and pick you up after work tonight, ‘kay?”

Tara nodded, a touch bewildered at the speed in which events had progressed in the last minute. “S-sure.”

“Alright! See you then.” She smiled slightly, a playfully shy grin. Then she was gone, jogging quickly down the wintry street.

“Damn kids,” muttered Mr. Shaw. “They poke their noses in and play with us old folks’ minds. And then, they don’t buy a thing in the end. Bringing down the business is what they’re doing.”

Tara distractedly nodded her affirmation. It was clear that Mr. Shaw was on one of his rants – he was a very bitter man and would be at it for a good amount of time before stopping. She had learned from experience not to interrupt him until he was finished. Anger, she knew, had a nasty trick of building up inside a person, whether consciously or subconsciously. Each person had a different method for dealing with it. Mr. Shaw’s was like this.

For herself, she hadn’t yet figured out her reaction. Tara wasn’t very often angry – at other people, even less often. She was submissive by nature, and was laid back enough to avoid being fazed by the little things that would bother most others. It was a blessing to her – she knew that she had a lot that she could be angry about.

Instead, she found herself worrying – always worrying. And then, she found herself trying to resolve whatever bothered her, in whatever way was the most unobtrusive. She had always found it easier to run away, or to simply remove herself from the situation. She didn’t like to interfere unless she absolutely had to.

“Tara, are you listening to me?”

“Yeah, Mr. Shaw. Of course I am,” she answered from rote. Satisfied, he continued.

Sometimes, she wished she could be angry. There was a sort of self-gratifying justice that came with the feeling – a sense of gratification. While allowing anger gave her guilt, it also gave her an outlet through which she could lash out at the injustice the world inflicted upon her and those other victims. It was her right to be angry – she was supposed to be angry from time to time; it was how she had been designed to deal with it. It was why people were always so angry. They were unable to keep their emotions bottled up inside of them. Everyone had different ways of dealing. Some worked out; some poured their feelings into work, into song, into the written word.

Tara knew she had a lot of patience. She could keep everything under control, hide it, put on a strong face. But even she could only take so much before she had to let it out. That was what had happened. Things had reached a point where she couldn’t stand it any longer – and so she had left, putting as much distance between her and Sunnydale. Perhaps not the best way to some – it hadn’t been much in the way of actually blowing off steam.

But running had given her a sense of accomplishment. Things would have remained as they were if she hadn’t. She had been an integral part of the puzzle and by removing herself, she was forcing the others to deal, and therefore, to act. She knew without a doubt that they were better off without her. She was the weakest of all of them, had always needed protecting. She was gone now – they wouldn’t need to worry about her any longer.

“…Tara, why didn’t you ask her to order something?”

“What?” She glanced up, bewildered. Of course, lost in her thoughts, she had missed what was being asked of her.

“Your paycheck depends on the amount of business Johnny’s receives,” Mr. Shaw retorted nastily.

“Yes, sir, I know that,” Tara answered meekly.

“Be sure to remember it,” he ended quietly. “I’m going to run an errand,” he added after a moment, grabbing his winter coat off a hook in the backroom. Without another word, Mr. Shaw hurried to and out the door.

Tara stared after him. He was cold and cruel much of the time. As a result, most residents of Simpson City despised him, as he had a reputation for being nasty to absolutely everybody. Still, Tara sympathized with him. He wasn’t a naturally angry man; nobody was naturally angry. People became angry because of their surroundings, because of the people in their lives.

Every person was born innocent and pure. They became who they were though their experiences, through their peers, their parents. Perhaps it did not completely determine the way one went about living, but it was a strong enough influence. The only reason Tara wasn’t like Mr. Shaw was because of her gift of seemingly never-ending patience, inherited from her departed mother. She was grateful for it. She didn’t like being bitter, anyways.

Two months of bitterness had been more than enough for her.

As decided, Kennedy was waiting for Tara when she left the store. “Ready?” she asked.

“Just about.” Tara dug about inside her bag and finding the shop key, locked up for the night. Mr. Shaw hadn’t returned, as was often the case when he went out during business hours. He always seemed to want to be alone, as though whatever emotion he kept locked up so well within him could not be hidden for so long – as though he needed to go and relieve his pain in privacy. Much of the time, Tara had half a mind to follow him and help him in whatever way she could, but their relationship was strictly professional, and so she had no right to intrude upon his life. She forced a smile. “Okay. Let’s go.”

Kennedy nodded and began to walk briskly back in the direction she had come from. “You mind if I jog?” She picked up the pace without waiting for an answer.

Tara hadn’t really wanted to, honestly, which was what she had needed to do in order to keep up, but optimistically decided that it would be a test of her stamina, which was, she soon determined, flailing. It had been a good while since she had physically exerted herself – since before Buffy came back. Or maybe a bit after that. Either way, not for at least two months. And disregarding sex, of course.

The thought of sex with Willow sent a pang of longing down her body. Tara hadn’t meant for that – but she couldn’t help it. Sex had, even when things had begun to go downhill, always been something that made her forget, if only for a moment. For that single moment, she was in perfection, in purity, in the most beautiful place she could be.

Of course, it hadn’t begun like that. It had started messy, awkward. Neither Willow nor Tara had had much experience with sex; to be truthful, Tara had hated sex. The first time, neither had quite achieved orgasm. Tara laughed nostalgically as she thought back to how she had tried so hard to grind herself into Willow that first time, having not been comfortable enough to actually touch the redhead intimately. She had been so utterly embarrassed, as had been Willow. For nights after, she had adamantly refused to attempt anything at all with her girlfriend, much to both of their sexual dismays.

Yes, they had eventually tried again – once they were closer and had accepted and been accepted by each other to the point where neither needed to worry that the other would ever reject her. They had tried again when they were truly ready. And it had been much better.

She suddenly realized that Kennedy no longer ran in front of her. Tara stopped, slightly winded, looked around wide-eyed. She chuckled as she spotted Kennedy a good block back, dramatically doubled over on the sidewalk.

“God, Tara, you’re like a machine!” she joked lightly, standing up as the blonde backtracked. “I couldn’t keep up with you. Like, you were in a zone or something.”

Kennedy meant it all in good humour, of course. In a foot race, she would run circles round Tara.

“I tend to do that,” Tara apologized. “Sorry.”

“Closemouthed, huh?” They began to jog again.

Tara nodded. Kennedy punched her arm lightly. “I feel ya.” They both laughed and smiled.

In the resulting silence, they moved companionably together. It was comfortable, Tara decided; completely different from before. Of course, she didn’t count on things to remain this way. As per usual, her prediction proved true.

Unsurprisingly, it was Kennedy who broke the silence. “So what was that crap you were muttering last night?” Off Tara’s resulting expression, “I’m sorry. But David would try to kill me if he knew I asked.”

Despite not wanting to, Tara panicked. “I-I, that was, I-I,” she couldn’t explain herself quickly enough.

“It’s okay, really, if you’re a witch or something,” Kennedy continued. “Devil-worshipper, even. Warped, but I think that’s pretty cool.”

It didn’t do much for comfort, but it calmed her enough so that she no longer felt the urge to run into a corner and huddle. She had an instinctual habit of doing that. It made sense to her. If you covered yourself, your more sensitive parts were protected and until you decided to uncover those parts, they couldn’t get to you. Their blows would glance of and become normality, and she would, sooner than she thought, cease to feel the sting of the blows.

Of course, when she moved out she hadn’t needed to do that anymore – but when she was embarrassed, she still wanted to. The safest place to be had always been within herself.

That is, until Glory. Which just made Willow all the more prominent in her mind. When she hadn’t been able to run to herself anymore, she had run to Willow, and Willow had protected her from harm. But not anymore. She couldn’t trust her either.

All Tara was left with was herself, and although she had once more begun to trust herself, she was afraid to be alone in having to deal with her problems. She had grown used to not having to rely solely on herself. It was always so hard to regress. She wanted something better, not worse.

“Was Willow a witch too?”

Tara nodded. “Y-yeah. She was.”

“Gotcha.” Kennedy went quiet for a moment…and inadvertently emerged with a more poisonous strike. “Did you two break up over magick or something?”

Mildly irate, Tara glanced up at her. “Curiousity killed the cat, you know…”

“Yeah, I feel ya.” The brunette smirked. “But I’m smarter than the cat.” She leapt ahead. “And faster too.” All too quickly, Kennedy was a good block away.

Being more than slightly put out, Tara decided that Kennedy was much too confident. True, she did find it slightly endearing, but danger had always sent shivers down her spine, no doubt opposite to the thrill others took from the feeling. It was clear that Kennedy was a part of the latter group.

“Wait up…” she called tiredly after. “I can’t run that fast.”

Almost immediately, Kennedy was jogging back towards her, face alight with victorious smirk. She needn’t have said a word; her point had been made.

Tara sighed. “Willow went…out of control. S-she could…still be. I don’t know anymore.” It hurt to admit it. To Tara, it sounded as if she just didn’t care any longer what happened to her former lover now that she had packed up and left. Evidently, it sounded the same to Kennedy.

“So you slunk out of Sunnydale with your tail between your legs,” the younger woman concluded. “You ran at the first sign of danger.” She didn’t look mightily impressed.

It took excellent control, Tara decided, for her to keep her mouth shut at that moment. A significant part of her mind had for some time now been pushing for her tell someone, anyone, of her predicament – of the nagging pang of guilt that rushed through her every time she thought of the past, to tell anyone the whole story and not just bits and pieces. Presented with such an opportunity, her aching heart had given a shuddering start, a hopeful leap – which Tara stamped firmly down upon.

“I-I did,” she answered sullenly.

Tara wished for nothing more than to be able to turn back the clock and change all that had happened – Buffy alive, everyone happy and all well – but it was too late for any of that. Even had she had been able to go back in time, she would not. Magick was not a part of the solution, not a part of her life. Time continued to pass regardless and she could choose whether to be productive or not. She didn’t like to waste time. There would always be time later for her to get what she wanted – and she hoped against all hopes that time would change what she wanted so dearly.

The rest of the journey to the McKellens’ passed by uneventfully as the two of them walked in a silence neither was desperate enough to break. Finally, Kennedy turned into a side street, beckoning for Tara to follow. She reached into her pocket and taking out a key, inserted it into the door on the right side of the alley.

Pushing the door in, she disappeared quickly into the confines of the building. Tara was left standing alone, her nerves rattled as she peered into darkness. There was another door about twenty metres in, where Kennedy now stood.

“Are you coming, Tara?” From her tone, she was getting impatient.

“Y-yes.” Tentatively, Tara stepped inside and closed the door behind her, flooding her vision with absolutely nothing. Luckily, at that exact moment, the inner door was opened to reveal a warm lived-in dwelling.

“The hallway light went out yesterday,” Kennedy explained somewhat apologetically as Tara moved to stand abreast with her. “David hasn’t got around to changing it yet.”

Tara was very much tempted to suggest that Kennedy change it herself, but it struck her that it wouldn’t be in the brunette at all to even consider the notion of helping out around the house. She settled with a curt nod.

“Good evening, Tara,” she heard from within. “Sorry the light’s out in the hallway. It’s been a busy day!” David’s accented tones brought her back to familiarity and she let out the breath she had been unconsciously holding in. “I hope Kennedy was courteous to you on the way here.”

Tara caught the brunette staring intently at her, nodding. “Yes, she was,” she answered. She stepped inside, and Kennedy shut the door behind them.

It was a two-room flat with a kitchenette that was concealed by a partition, similar to her own place. Blankets lay on the sofa, as well as a pillow. From the accessories spread about the floor, she assumed that David slept on the couch – as expected, of course. Books were laid out all over the room, which didn’t strike her as particularly unusual until she began to pick them up.

Funny Things that Happen When You Mix the Wrong Things.

Quirky. But they got stranger.

The Basic Principles of Witchcraft.

And then, she became frightened.

Advanced Black Arts.

She dropped the book and looked up aghast. David stood by the stove, lobster gloves and apron on, gauging her reaction. She was already headed for the door by that point.

“Tara, wait,” she heard him saying. “Listen to me.”

“What is this?” she demanded angrily, turning around. She looked around the room, only now noticing the assortment of books laid out seemingly at random, and the various titles of every single one of them, glistening menacingly as all she wished to avoid was laid out before her. Books all of magicks and of the supernatural, arranged pretty-as-you-please about her…she turned to leave. “I’m not staying here.”

But Kennedy stood in front of the door, blocking her way. Tara tried to force her aside, but she held fast. Resolutely, she shook her head.

“Move,” Tara snarled in a voice she didn’t know she had.

Kennedy matched steel with steel. “Listen to him.” She was as cool as ice – so cool that Tara didn’t know how to reply.

“Tara, I know this hurts,” David was saying. “But you need to finish feeling sorry for yourself and get on with your life.”

“I am,” Tara stated as evenly as she could.

“No, you’re not,” he replied. “You’re hiding. You’re giving up everything for her. You’re giving up your gift, Tara.” David picked up one of the books, tossing it to her. She didn’t try to catch it and it landed at her feet, open. “You’re keeping yourself locked up all for her sake when it will do absolutely nothing to help her or anyone else.”

“You have no right to judge me.” Her voice was cold, drawn into herself in her obstinacy. She knew he was right, but she didn’t want to admit it. “You have no idea what I’ve been through.” She turned to go, determined to pass at whatever cost.

“Willow Rosenberg tried to kill herself when you left Sunnydale,” David called after her. “She tried to take Dawn with her.”

That stopped Tara dead in her tracks. “How…how would you know that?” Had Dawn – no, she had tried. She was alive, then. What had Willow done? And what could she do to make things right? She could do nothing, she knew.

“Will you stay if I tell you?” David stood waiting patiently. How did he know? And how could he be so calm?

Tara was nearing a state of absolute panic for the second time in twenty-four hours. She was afraid. Why couldn’t she escape her past? Why was it that it constantly caught up with her? All she wanted was the monotony of a regular life.

“Tara, he wants to help you.” Kennedy laid a hand on her shoulder. “That’s all he’s ever wanted to do.”

She all of a sudden was very weary of being strong. “Y-you have five minutes,” she mumbled.

“Please, sit down.” David gestured in a way towards the sofa. When Tara made no move, he sighed audibly and began. “I’d suspected that you were involved with Buffy Summers when you told me you came from Sunnydale; but I couldn’t be sure that it hadn’t just been a coincidence. Last night, when you began to cast, it confirmed my suspicions. I made a call to Rupert Giles in England and he filled me in on everything.”

“Did-did you tell him that I –”

“I had to,” he answered quickly. His eyes softened, seeming to understand the height of fear she had come to. “He was relieved, Tara. He was worried about you.” He was trying to comfort her, but it wasn’t working.

She made the connection immediately, though. How could she have been so ignorant, so inobservant? She had thought to escape, but really all she had done was run headlong into the exact same life all over again. A Watcher in Simpson City sorting through a shipment of magickal tomes – why hadn’t she thought of that earlier? How couldn’t she?

“Y-you’re his Potential?” Tara looked at Kennedy, who, seeming to be at a complete loss as to what to do, nodded hesitantly. The hard cool wall was all of a sudden quite tasteful. She was very thankful of its presence as she slumped back into it.

This was it. They would tell her how Willow needed her and how everything was falling apart without her. And she would return, undoubtedly, to Sunnydale and she would go back to being Willow’s rock, Dawn’s second mother, back to playing her role as the lover and parent.

She would be leaving behind everything she stood to gain. She would lose this new and exciting relationship she had found with this pair in Simpson City. She would lose the chance to grow into who she knew she was meant to be. She would lose her independence. She wanted so badly to keep all of it, but she wouldn’t be able to as soon as David began.

She couldn’t escape. Kennedy was blocking the door. “I won’t go back,” she declared sullenly. “You can’t make me.” She felt like a child, stubbornly refusing to withdraw her cause even though her argument was being solely based on principle.

“You’re right, Tara, I can’t,” answered David, still as cool and collected as ever. “And I won’t because it’s not my place nor do I believe you should yet.” He looked at Kennedy. “Ken, could you help her to the couch?”

Tara would have protested solely on principle, but the more logical part of her was beginning to insist that her misguided sense of hubris was really becoming quite immature. On top of that, her legs were just about to give out as against her will, her body seeming to be shutting down from shock.

In fact, she would have fallen over if at that moment Kennedy hadn’t wrapped an arm around her and half-dragged her to David’s makeshift bed.

“Hey.” Before letting her go, she glanced over worriedly. “Will you be okay?”

Shakily, Tara indicated that she would be. With that assurance, Kennedy withdrew, leaving her alone with the person she most feared at the moment. David didn’t sit down immediately, but disappeared behind the open refrigerator door for a moment. He returned with two bottles of water, one of which he offered to Tara.

For a second time, she was asked whether she would be okay. Once more, she nodded. She adamantly refused to look directly at him, opting instead to stare curiously at the bottle in her hand. The ridged pattern of the formed plastic felt so peculiar, and when she turned the bottle, the clear water inside swirled gently, calmingly. It was, in her opinion the perfect contrast to her turmoil. She found herself becoming completely entranced with –

"Tara, just listen to me. Stop acting like a flipping idiot and just listen." For once, his voice was hard and emotional, all at once. It scared her, commanded that she listen. David was, as always, watching, noticing, assessing. But this time, this time it was different. He was pleading with her.

"I'm sorry," Tara said apologetically. "Go on." She was being childish again – she needed to stop. She needed to grow up. That was why she was here to begin with, right?

"Despite what you choose to believe, I'm not going to try to persuade you to return to Sunnydale," he declared. "In fact, I would really like you to stay here in Simpson City with Kennedy and myself – at least, until my job here is complete. After that, it's your decision whether you wish to remain with us."

His assurance that she would be allowed to choose immediately relaxed her, but her remaining sense of pride forbade that she express it. Instead, she blinked coolly, coldly even, and waited. "So…so what do you want from me?"

"Kennedy likes you." Before Tara could take that the wrong way, he amended his statement. "She respects you. She'll listen to you the way she refuses to listen to me. I want…I want you to teach her."

Tara experienced a moment of extreme bafflement as she tried to comprehend what had just been asked of her. She very nearly laughed at the thought. "T-teach? Me?"

David nodded.

"I haven’t finished school yet, how could you even expect me to –"

"She's finished high school," he explained. "What I want you to teach her is what you know all about – the Slayer. You are one of the only people capable of doing such a thing.” He paused for a second, inviting her to ask for clarification. Tara looked on silently, the expression on her face a mixture of incredulity and curiousity.

“Tara, you’ve been given an incredible responsibility. You are privy to a knowledge that only a handful of people on this earth possess. Now you’re doing all you can to shirk your responsibility and I ask you, what in this cruel heartless world has made you so lose faith in this cause? What has made you so unwilling to help, so nonchalant to the plight of the very earth you walk?”

She was angry after that. She was very angry. “You…you go too far, David,” Tara hissed. “You’re right,” she said. “You’re right. I’m a coward. I’m…I’m a selfish little bitch who’s shirking her responsibility because she grew tired of playing benchwarmer for the Slayer’s team night after night.” She stood up, preparing to leave. “I loved Willow so…much,” she whispered harshly,” and she broke my heart. She broke my heart and made everything fall out.”

Tara glared menacingly at Kennedy, who was standing at the back of the room by the door and looking somewhat uncomfortable, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to push her out of the way. Kennedy was looking at her in such a way that it made her impossible to hurt her – like she had just broken her heart in refusing to teach her.

She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the girl for a reason still unknown to her. Perhaps it was the rarity of the submission Kennedy seemed to be expressing no resistance towards – or, at least it seemed that way to Tara. Her conscience was getting to work. She had never been able to turn anyone away, she knew. Truth, she almost never even began to think of withholding aid when it was within her ability to give it.

She caught herself then. What was she doing? Here she was, in the home of a wonderful man who was encouraging her to do what she wanted and to make her own decision; to stay if she wanted, to return to Sunnydale, to depart into the unknown if she so chose to. And all she wanted to do was to make these two people feel the hurt she felt, although they had done not a thing to deserve it.

Since when had she become the judge? When had she suddenly deemed it a requirement for the world to be a fair place and for her life to reflect it? Reality would never be her perfection; it would never be anybody’s. What was being offered to her now was a compromise, and a perfectly fine one at that. Tara couldn’t identify what held her back from accepting. That was really all she needed to do. Was it because she was being selfish? She had never pictured herself to be that – angry, immature, cowardly, maybe, but never a person with unjustified self-centeredness.

“I’ll do it,” she said quietly. Tara cast her eyes downward, ashamed that it had taken her so long to decide.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and jumped in surprise, although she knew the person to whom it belonged to meant her no harm, or trusted that he did not. David smiled wanly, yet warmly at her. “I thought that you would.”

Tara couldn’t help but smile back.


Chapter Four

She refused to move on. She had displayed that resolve today when she had been approached by that pretty girl in class. She was proud of herself. It would be so much better for her to just move on, but she refused to. She would wait and if she were patient enough, her love would return to her; she merely needed to prove herself worthy.

“She’ll drop by today,” David was saying to Tara over his plate. “Now, she’s not that interested in anything having to do with sitting down so your main concern is that she actually stays and studies.”

Tara nodded. She was tempted to remain quiet – a continuation of the previous night. They had come to a shaky agreement over dinner, with David doing all the talking and Tara the nodding, much like now. She felt embarrassed, to say the least. It was as if David and Kennedy brought out a different side of her – the uninhibited, pent-up Tara that was almost ready to snap from years of repression. She didn’t want to be like this, despite wanting to find the “real” Tara underneath the many layers and years of subservience. She was being unpleasantly surprised at the results of her search as of far. She was discovering aspects of herself far darker than she had ever imagined.

“You are a patient person, Tara.” David smiled slightly. “And you’ll need all of your patience at times with Kennedy. She can be quite the handful, although her respect for you will no doubt come in handy.” He dabbed his mouth with a napkin and folding it neatly into quarters, placed it on the now-empty plate before him. Tara nodded again; taking a small sip of her juice she cast a wary glance towards the door in warning of Mr. Shaw’s return. She would clean up David’s meal after he departed.

“What do I do if Kennedy doesn’t show up?” asked Tara. In all honesty, Kennedy was much more than her match. If the girl didn’t wish to learn, there would be nothing Tara could do about it.

“Trust me that she will,” David reassured her. He retrieved his jacket from where it had been unceremoniously draped on the back of his chair. “If she doesn’t, you just tell me.” He began to take a step towards the door, but suddenly stopped. He had remembered another point he needed to address, Tara surmised.

He spoke with more sincerity than he had ever expressed towards her before. “Thank you for doing this, Tara. I’m beginning to reach the end of my nerve with that brat. She just won’t listen to me.”

So he thought Kennedy was a brat as well, did he? Tara smirked. “Why not tell her?”

“Do you think I don’t try? I’m too submissive,” he confessed. “I’d make a horrible father.”

“I’ll do my best, David.” She offered her hand and they shook on it, business partners in companionable agreement.

“I do realize that it seems that I’m just giving you one of my responsibilities, but I have faith that you will perform brilliantly and better than I ever could.” He patted Tara on the shoulder. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Tara.” David pulled on his hat and gloves and exited briskly.

Tara spent the rest of the afternoon eagerly planning out the lesson in her head. Truth be told, she had always had a penchant for teaching. She had earned all her money in high school tutoring jocks.

She didn’t know what to expect from Kennedy, but she could predict. This would be anything but a walk in the park. Jocks were desperate to keep their grades high enough in order to maintain their status as rulers of the social circle. They had a reason to work hard – Kennedy had none. All Tara really could do was hope for the best, but that didn’t stop her from continuing. She liked to keep things relatively organized, never having been a fan of chaos. Basic structure was good. Inflexibility wasn’t, but the extreme opposite was just as bad. She preferred the compromise.

Mr. Shaw returned around 4pm. He was in a good mood and was actually grinning, if ever so slightly. Tara didn’t ask for a reason, obviously. “Business good, Tara?” he asked in passing. He disappeared into the washroom.

Just as she was beginning to clean up for the day, she saw Kennedy rounding the corner. Tara let out a sigh of relief – she had shown up, which was right away one less thing to worry about. The brunette seemed as though she were about to come in, but stopped with her hand on the doorknob.

Tara motioned for her to enter, but she shook her head, pointing to Tara’s left. There stood Mr. Shaw, smiling nastily, ready to take her order and then not so politely request that she leave upon her declination of his service. Tara was at a loss as to what to do, but Kennedy indicated that she would jog around the block to keep warm until Tara was ready. Of course, she had disappeared from view before Tara could answer.

But she didn’t have time to worry about that just then as a customer, who would be the last one of the day, chose that moment to enter. Tara looked over at her boss, expecting him to either take the order or tell him to scram, but he had frozen in his place. His mouth hung slightly slack, as if in disbelief, but the way he stood conveyed exactly how angry he was. Without a word, he moved to the back door and exited.

Tara was confused, to say the least. What had just happened had come completely out of left field. “C-can I take your order, sir?” she asked, setting her gaze on the early-thirties man at the counter. The sooner she got this over with and locked up, the sooner she could leave.

“No, that’s fine,” he answered. “I was just dropping by to see how my father’s been.” Tara was taken aback by that, and the man seemed to notice. “My name’s Jonathan Shaw,” he said, offering his hand in greeting. “I was in town visiting…let’s just say that dad’s never been out of his mind about my leaving Simpson. He can hold a grudge for years.” He laughed sadly.

“Do…you want me to go and get him?” Tara offered.

“No, it’s okay. He’s stubborn, but he’s still my dad. Give him a few minutes.” Jonathan took of his jacket and stepped behind the counter, helping himself to a mug. “If you need to leave, go ahead,” he said after a moment. “I can lock up after.”

“Are you sure?” asked Tara. She didn’t want to be held responsible for a job badly done tomorrow morning.

“I worked here for two years before I left for college.” He grinned. “I’ll let him know you left. I’m sure your friend’s growing tired of running around the block.”

“I doubt it,” Tara laughed, “but thank you.” She reached behind the back wall for her sweater and put it on. “Good luck with your father.”

“Thanks a lot.” He poured himself the last cup of coffee – the one set aside for Mr. Shaw. Whether it was for his father or for himself, Tara didn’t know.

As she exited, it briefly crossed Tara’s mind that this man could be lying through his teeth, but she let it pass without much thought. He was nice enough, and a little bit of trust had never hurt anybody. Reconciliation needed to be encouraged, not stopped on account of needless suspicions. Besides, this was Simpson City – there was no need for constant questioning.

Kennedy was waiting for her outside in a manner similar to the day before. It completely boggled all of Tara’s logic that all Kennedy was wearing was a sports bra and wife-beater – better to get back to her flat before Kennedy froze. “Let’s go,” she said.

“Not locking up?” asked Kennedy.

“Not tonight. Mr. Shaw has a visitor,” Tara explained.

“Cool. Off we go, then.” Kennedy looked as though she were about to set off full sprint, but Tara grabbed her by the arm before she could take off.

“Let’s walk. I’m tired.”

Kennedy stopped for a moment, then shrugged. “Cool.” They began to walk, trying their best to keep from stepping into the numerous snowdrifts.

“Have you eaten yet?” Tara was mentally listing off the contents of her refrigerator, which wasn’t much. “I might need to stop by the grocer’s.”

“I’ll eat whatever you have,” said Kennedy. “I’m generally a picky eater but I’ll make an exception just for you.”

“Why’s that?” asked Tara. “Is it because I’m tutoring you?” If Kennedy was as big an eater as Buffy, there was no way she would have enough to satiate the girl’s appetite.

“Really, it’s more like babysitting,” Kennedy insisted jokingly. More seriously, “I left the books on my bed.”

That’s not good, Tara decided. What was she supposed to do now?

Kennedy seemed to have caught on. “I won’t tell if you don’t tell,” she offered. “Let’s make tonight…a get-to-know-you night. I’ll be much less of a handful if you know what I do and don’t like.”

“O-okay.” Hearing Kennedy refer to herself as a handful was possibly the most satisfying thing she had experienced all day. Kennedy was proving to be much less intimidating as she learned more and more about her. But then again, that could be held true for most people. There was something about strangers that put her a touch off from being comfortable. To not know somebody and have to interact with them was such a risk. Thankfully, Kennedy was moving from stranger to friend quite rapidly.

“So what’s it like working at a café?” Kennedy threw out. “Is it boring? Or do you get loads of customers?”

“Uhh..somewhere in between that, I suppose,” answered Tara. She was beginning to feel uncomfortable again but it hit her then that Kennedy wasn’t going to offer any information about herself until Tara asked her, which was something she had never been all that good at. She had thought it was because she didn’t like coming across as nosy, but she was beginning to think that it was another one of her so-called courtesies that while making herself more comfortable, really didn’t do much help for anybody.

She took a deep breath. “How long you have you known?”

“About…being a Potential?” Kennedy thought for a moment. “Second grade? David came over to my house and told me and my parents.”

“Isn’t he only supposed to tell you?”

“David’s never been much of a rule-follower,” Kennedy laughed. “He told me a few years ago that he’d rather had my parents accept it and move on early on instead of finding out for themselves in another way when I was older and more distant.”

“How’d they take it?”

“They were glad that David was going to take me off their hands,” she answered. For just a moment, Kennedy looked as if she was about to cry, but as soon as Tara blinked the look was gone. “I came from a big family.” She laughed whatever bitterness she had in her off. “Rich too – made sure that I had all the right schooling and luxuries. Still, there are things that only parents can give to you, and they were shit-poor in that category for all eleven of us.”

“You stayed with your family?”

“Until last year, when David got transferred here. He’s a low-end Watcher,” she explained. “The Council doesn’t like his way of doing things but he gets the job done so they keep him on, even if it’s with the most fucked up schemes they can find.”

“What was it like…with ten brothers and sisters?” asked Tara. One had always been enough for her – almost too much, really.

“Lonely,” Kennedy answered all too quickly. “Wouldn’t think I’d get bored of company, but I’ve always been the rebel.” She passed a hand through her hair. Smugly, “I decided I wasn’t going to be a fucking high-roller like my mom or dad early on.” She shook her head. “The rest of them all think that everything will be handed to them on silver platters. I’m the only one who thinks that we need to work for what’s important to us. I won’t throw my life away because I expect people to serve me.”

Evidently, her family’s way of living had still rubbed off on her, but Tara kept quiet. “What do you want to do with your life then?”

“Live,” she said proudly. Then, “love, fight.” Kennedy smiled contentedly. “I play by my own rules.”

“How do you know your way is the right way?”

“You don’t,” she replied with almost an air of arrogance. “You can’t. What matters is that you live the way you believe you should and stay true to you first. We’re our own masters and we’re responsible for everything we do.”

Wise words from the brat, thought Tara.

Kennedy stopped and looked directly at Tara. “So staying here or going back was and is your own choice, but if you ask me, I’m happy you chose here.”

“You’re beginning to sound like David,” Tara ventured to joke. Kennedy made a face and they laughed.

“So does David call me a brat?” asked Kennedy.

“Just the once so far,” Tara recalled mildly.

“And do you call me a brat?” The brunette eyed her suspiciously.

“Uh…” Tara gulped, “not out loud?”

And before her brain could even begin to process what had just come out of her mouth, Tara found herself sitting somewhat unhappily in a pile of cold wet snow. Her jeans, not that best winter attire she could have chosen to begin with, were already beginning to soak through. Not a good thing as she knew that on top of her being wet and neck-deep in snow, she didn’t have any clean pairs of pants left to wear this week unless she decided to do the laundry twice instead of once.

Kennedy stood over her, grinning smugly with hands placed on her hips. “I am the Brat, wreaker of anguish upon all mature individuals,” she declared boisterously. She laughed and offered her hand to Tara.

Smiling, in a moment of determination, Tara grabbed the girl’s hand and pulled her down to join her in the snow.

“Well,” said Kennedy, “I wasn’t expecting that.” She cast a sidelong glance at Tara. “You’re going to have to pay for that.”

There commenced a short struggle and by some miracle, although she hypothesized mostly due to the element of surprise, Tara ended up on top with Kennedy pinned under her, yelping helplessly as she found that she was at the mercy of the blonde – undoubtedly, something she had thought would never occur.

Tara grinned and laughed merrily at her good fortune. “You lose,” she stated. “Brat.”

Kennedy squirmed beneath her, but as Tara was effectively straddling her, she made no significant progress. Until Tara got off, there she would stay. She stopped moving, stared up at her captor. It was the first time Tara had ever had a good look of the girl.

Her eyes were hazel with subtle flecks of olive. Her face was small and slight, fragile-looking upon first glance, but marked with an acquired taste for mischief. Her skin was a natural tanned bronze tinged with red cold. And her lips…were thin, a light pink…turning an ugly blue.

Tara jumped up immediately, pulling Kennedy up with her. She felt her skin, bare and open to the cold – she had been wearing her usual tank top and shorts. “My God, you’re freezing!” Tara exclaimed. She wrapped her arm around Kennedy’s waist and marched briskly towards her flat, only a block away. “Why didn’t you say something?” Kennedy was shivering faintly.

The girl smiled weakly. “Didn’t wanna ruin the moment.”

“What moment?” Tara almost stopped to stare, but decided that it would be better to get Kennedy out of her clothes and into some warm ones before she fulfilled her curiousity.

“Figure it out, genius.”

“Later,” she puffed out as they neared the flat. “Come on. Inside.” She opened the door and pushed Kennedy inside, staying behind her as she forced her up the stairs and onto the wall directly beside her door.

Tara could sense Kennedy watching her as she unlocked and opened the door in a way not too much different from her Watcher’s. She chose to ignore it. She was doing that a lot these days.

She crossed into her bedroom and took out her spare bathrobe, setting it on the bed. It would be big on Kennedy, of course, but it would be enough until her clothes dried. She slid the closet door shut and returned to the main room. “Change in there,” Tara instructed. “Toss your clothes out onto the floor as soon as you have them off and I’ll take them down to the dryer. The bathrobe’s for you.”

“Thanks, Tar.” Kennedy, no doubt wishing to be out of her soaked clothing, obliged, throwing her clothes out in record time.

Tara was a bit stunned as she carried the clothes down to the laundry room. She hadn’t been called that in a long time.

When she returned, she was surprised to see Kennedy drying her hair, evidently fresh from the shower. “Sorry, I needed to get warm,” she explained. She rubbed a towel back and forth through her hair. “Don’t worry. This one’s clean.” Her face was rosy from being freshly scrubbed. Tara envied her perfect skin, free of all marks that so often defined adolescence and young adulthood. Tara always spent too much time covering up her blemishes every morning.

She tossed the dried shirt and shorts to Kennedy, who withdrew into the bedroom for about a minute before emerging, clothed once more. “So how long did you and Willow go out for?” Kennedy walked over to the refrigerator, sticking her head inside and studying the contents. She selected an apple and took a bite.

Tara was taken aback by the bluntness of the question. “W-what?” Kennedy watched her expectantly. “About two yea – why are you asking this?”

“You have a lot of pictures of her in your room,” Kennedy pointed out. “Happy pictures. You must have loved her a lot. She loved you a lot too.”

Tara nodded glumly. “What’s your point?”

“I want that,” said Kennedy. “I want that kind of love.” She ran back into the bedroom and threw herself onto the twin. “What was it like?” she asked.

“It’s like…” Tara took a deep breath and sat down at the foot of the bed. “It’s like knowing that no matter how many times you mess up, you’ll have somebody to run to.” Willow had been just that – Tara was the hypocrite. She closed her eyes, retreating into her memories. “Somebody who will hold you, kiss you, and just make you feel special. Somebody who won’t say anything while you cry and wait up for you when you’re late…do anything and everything to find you when you’re lost.” She loved Willow, and she had betrayed her. But remembering how much Willow had loved her and how much she had given up because of it…

“Don’t cry, Tar,” Kennedy interjected gently. “It’s beautiful.”

“No,” Tara smiled. “It’s good to cry.” She took a moment to let that sink in. “It means that it was important to me.”

“I want that,” Kennedy said resolutely. “I mean, I’ve kissed a lot of people, but I never feel that spark. I just do it to pass the time.”

“I’m guessing you’ve never had any trouble with that,” Tara observed.

“I’ve always had a way with the ladies,” Kennedy admitted, smiling lazily. “They’re just attracted to lil’ ol’ me. Not that I’m complaining or anything, but it’s pretty boring after a while.” She scratched her neck. “I don’t consider myself a one-night stand sorta person, but everybody else seems to think I am.”

“You do come across as that, to be honest,” Tara said carefully. “Wait…ladies?”

Kennedy squinted sheepishly. “You didn’t know, huh?”

Tara shook her head. It didn’t come across as too much of a surprise, really.

“You okay with it?” Tara was about to answer, but Kennedy interrupted. “Wait, why wouldn’t you be? You’re one too.”

Tara laughed nervously. “Yeah, that’s right…”

“So how long have you been a lesbian?” asked Kennedy, already moving on. Evidently, she wasn’t much of a topic-dweller.

“Uh…all my life,” Tara answered. She actually wasn’t all that sure. Deep down, she was most likely right, but the point at which she’d realized her preference was towards the fairer sex and the point at which she had accepted it had both come in late adolescence. Really, she had always been too preoccupied with servitude to bother about her sexual orientation.

Not until Stephanie had she even become aware of her feelings, much less the possibility of a girl-girl relationship. Before Stephanie, she had been disinterested in intimate affairs. The occasional boy would try to catch her eye, but she had always found their intentions distasteful. Stephanie had changed that.

“Tenth grade,” she amended. “Her name was Stephanie.”

“First love?”

Tara nodded.

“And Willow?”

Tara raised two fingers.

“When you fall you fall hard, huh?” Kennedy leaned back into the pillow, raised her arms above her head, relaxing her guard.

“You’ve heard enough about me,” said Tara. “Y-your turn.”

“What do you wanna know?”

“How long have you known?” Tara mirrored.

“Seriously, all my life,” Kennedy chuckled. “First time I kissed a girl was when I was nine. Spin-the-bottle’s always been the game for me – risk of having to suck face with guys, but always,” she raised her thumb and forefinger, a small distance between the two, “that chance to hit the jackpot.”

“Weren’t you too young to play Spin-the-bottle?” Unless her grasp of corruption in the world was completely off-base, children didn’t tend to get around to games like that until their teenage years.

“Older siblings,” Kennedy explained. “Does wonders on your knowledge of pop culture as a child.“ She winced and held her hand to her chest. “Scarred for life.”

“Your sisters?”

“Kissing my younger brother.”

Tara raised her hands in disgust. “Are you serious?”

“Unlucky day?” Kennedy offered. “If you’re looking for my most embarrassing moment…”



“So have…have you found it yet?” asked Tara. “Love, I mean.”

“I wish,” Kennedy bemoaned, almost angrily. “You’d think that you’d find someone you liked after going through twenty, but…” She seemed genuinely confused at that. “So, tell me about Stephanie.”

Tara didn’t really mind that Kennedy was so blatantly prying. Up until the end, Stephanie had been the brightest spot in her life. Same with Willow – same with all things, really. Tara operated on the belief of treasuring the good times while remembering and learning from the bad.

“S-Stephanie was in the same year as me,” she began. “We had the same classes all of tenth grade. She invited me over to her house to study a lot, and then one day, she just leaned in and kissed me. Before that, the concept of t-two girls in a relationship had never crossed my mind. But I liked how she made me feel when she kissed me, so I kissed her back.”

Tara sighed. “That was when we began to go out. Neither of us had any money, so we would stay in her room pretending to study, but really, we were…” she blushed, giggled, “you know…”

“Getting it on?” Kennedy offered smugly.

Tara hid her face in the covers.

“Didn’t her parents hear you two?” asked Kennedy. “I mean, unless the two of you really sucked –”

“We were quiet!” Tara retorted playfully. She grabbed a throw pillow and whipped it at the brunette’s face.

It was a bad idea. After all, Kennedy was a Potential, and an extremely fit one at that. Tara found herself being pummeled with her own ammunition, and Kennedy showed no sign of letting up. All she could do was cover her face with her hands, laughing much too hard to do anything more advanced motor-wise.

In the end, Tara admitted defeat. Although not exactly what Kennedy had wanted, it seemed to be enough to get her to pull back. They sat beside each other, grinning.

Tara got up after a moment and went into the kitchen, her stomach beginning to demand sustenance. “Is chicken wings okay?” she asked. Kennedy had followed her out.

“Yeah, sure.” The girl shrugged. “Anything’s good, really.”

It was during times like this when Tara wished that her home had more to offer in the form of entertainment. She had never needed much to amuse herself; a good book pretty much did the job for her. Right now, she lamented the fact that she didn’t even have a television.

Instead, there was the sound of the oven being switched on, warming up and the lull of an impending silence. Tara liked silence when it came to solitude, but with company, any noise was better than a total lack of it. She leaned against the cheap wood of the counter, carefully studying her fingernails for lack of anything better to do. They weren’t very interesting at all, but she didn’t want to continue initiating. She had been stepping outside of her comfort zone all evening.

Finally, “What about Willow?” What made you go for her?” For some reason, Kennedy seemed to jump to all the hardest questions.

“E-everything,” Tara answered after a long moment. “I fell for her the first time I saw her.” She fell silent. The magnitude of the emotions she had experienced at that specific point brought back a rush of the fulfillment she had felt everyday she had spent with the redhead.

“But like, what?” Kennedy pressed.

“H-her innocence, her confidence…” She blinked slowly. “Her eyes.” And that was just to name a few. But Willow’s eyes had drawn her, hooked her in. And when she had looked directly at her during that meeting, she had been reeled in for good, Tara knew.

“Cool,” Kennedy answered, puzzled. “So…the most attractive part of Willow was her…eyes?”

“Do you look at the body o-or at the person?” Tara asked pointedly.

“More the body, I guess,” Kennedy admitted.

“So we operate on completely d-different philosophies,” Tara surmised. Willow could have been the ugliest woman in the world and Tara still would have fallen in love with her. The dazzling brightness of her personality had so impressed Tara that she would have had to be a fool to pass the redhead by. It was saddening how muffled that glow had become in light of the events of the past year. Tara didn’t know if Willow would ever be able to fully heal from the scars left behind. And perhaps Tara would never know.

Kennedy’s personality sparkled with life as well. Not innocence, but just fire. Tara closed her eyes, trying to read her deeper. Kennedy was an anomaly to her. This would help her to understand more.

The loneliness she had spoken of was present, swirling and ominous at the centre. And Tara sensed frustration in her immediate mood, speckled with curiousity –

“What are you doing?”

“Feeling you,” Tara responded automatically, still breathing deeply as she continued her exploration.

She probably should have predicted that Kennedy would be more than a little put off by this invasion of privacy, but she was so intrigued by what was in front of her that she plodded almost mindlessly forward. It wasn’t until she felt a white-hot prick of anger flare up in Kennedy’s aura that she pulled back abruptly.

“Who the fuck said you could do that?” It was a harsh and deserved blow. Where she had been so open before, Kennedy was now a closed book. “I’ll see you,” she said simply before turning away.

Tara did nothing to prevent her from leaving, staring dumbly in her wake. Kennedy walked silently to the door. Her gait was one of carefully controlled fury, dangerous and not one to be disturbed. Tara felt horrible.

“Fuck,” she breathed. The chicken was burning.

“What did you do?” David asked, crossing his legs as he leaned back in the booth. “She’s almost never angry.”

“I…” Tara looked away, furious at herself. She was disheveled and in a rare mood today.

“I just really want to know,” David explained. “It must have been pretty bad. Honestly, I can’t imagine you wanting to do something intentionally horrible to anyone.”

“I-I read her aura,” Tara admitted sheepishly. “I know I shouldn’t have.”

He scratched his head. “You’re right there. Most people would be angry if you read their aura. But Kennedy’s especially particular about her privacy.” He took a long gulp from his mug.

“Will she come tonight?” Tara asked tentatively. She needed to apologize.

“I wouldn’t put it past her not to, but if she does turn up, it’s a good sign,” David explained. “I don’t control her life. I merely offer her favourable conditions.”

“W-what did you do to persuade her to let me teach her?”

“Nothing, actually. Kennedy was surprisingly…willing to let you teach her. She likes to spend time with you, I think.”

“Spend time…” The phrase implied a relationship that went beyond that of a student and a teacher. Was that where the curiousity had come from? What did Kennedy see in Tara that was so interesting?

“It’s really the only way that I can put it,” said David. “She never has been all that interested in Slayer history.” At that, he glanced at the time and noted that he must depart, having arrived later for lunch today that usual.

Tara finished eating her sandwich and cleaned up the booth. It would be a slow week; Mr. Shaw wouldn’t be coming in. She had found a note explaining that he had gone off vacationing with his son for the week and instructing Tara to mind the café while he was away.

Kennedy wasn’t waiting for her that evening – not that Tara had been expecting it, really…just hoping. After watching for her through the window for fifteen minutes, she began to make her way home. In true pathetic fallacy, the sky was bleak, clouds swirling in anticipation of an approaching storm.

Tara feared that she had lost a good chance at winning a new friend. She needed friends right now and being given the opportunity… it had been so natural for her to feel Kennedy. Back in Sunnydale, it had practically been a necessity to read her friends. None of them had ever expressed what they really meant. They had always hidden away their problems. As the most seemingly timid of the group, however, they had always trusted her completely, and she had put that trust to good use.

What the Scoobies felt was felt by Tara as she read them and accommodated. It was a matter of comprehending past what was given; there was always much more to be said. Operating under trust, Tara had been a friend to each of them in whatever way had been most needed.

Why had she tried to see Kennedy? There had been no valid reason for her to do so. It had been blatant trespassing. Kennedy had every right to be angry. Really, Tara would understand if she hated her for it.

By the time she reached her door, Tara was convinced that she had ruined everything. And so she was very surprised to see Kennedy sitting back to her door, picking idly at a fingernail. She looked up and Tara froze. “Y-you’re here,” she blurted out.

But Kennedy wasn’t here for pleasure, it seemed. “Teach me how to hide my aura,” she demanded.

Tara felt the sting of those words, knowing she deserved them completely. “C-come in,” she said, unlocking and opening the door. Kennedy pushed past her, seating herself by the counter. She looked straight ahead, eyes hooded, clearly wanting to avoid any sort of unnecessary conversation.

She observed her from the door, saddened at the vast change in the girl sitting at the far end of the room, now stony-faced and hidden. She didn’t dare feel any further, but she knew that there was much resentment towards her deeper in. It was seeping out, stronger than Kennedy’s stone.

“Kennedy, I d-don’t need to teach you how to hide it,” said Tara. “Y-you already are.” She moved closer by just a bit, fearful of response.

“Are you reading me again?” the girl accused, blazing with fury.

“I can feel it,” Tara explained quickly. “You’re consciously blocking off your emotions, but the extremities will still bleed through.” She took a deep breath, “I know you don’t trust me anymore. And…and I know that I deserve it…I’m sorry.”

“Whatever.” Ambiguity, Tara found, was often the best way to avoid having to make a definitive stand. That meant that Kennedy was undecided, which was fortunate for Tara.

“Okay.” She looked down, shuffled her feet. She still felt horrible, and it was clear that Kennedy wanted to avoid the subject. She was in no position to protest. “Would you like something to eat?”

“If you are, sure.”

It would be the burnt chicken wings from the previous night. She’d made a generous amount of them, having expected Kennedy to stay – but she had ruined that. Not in the mood for eating after, the wings remained untouched in the refrigerator. She switched the oven on and slid the pan in. “Would you like a drink?” Ever the hostess.

Kennedy waved her off. “I’m good.”

For some reason, Tara felt rejected. But she remained in chastised silence, filling a glass with tap water (she had run out of that) and taking a long gulp. “I-I need to go to the washroom,” she declared immediately after, unable to continue in the manner that they were.

She set her glass down by the sink and pushed towards the bathroom, but accidentally grazed her hand along the oven door. She recoiled in pain, yelping as searing heat came and went. Ducking her head in embarrassment, she hurried back towards the sink, running her hand under the cold tap.

She was surprised to feel a hand wrap itself around her own, holding it firmly but gently under the spray as the other adjusted the stream to a more median temperature.

“It’s better if the water’s warm,” Kennedy explained softly. “It’ll hurt less later.” She spoke with an uncharacteristic wisdom, and so Tara did not protest but watched in silence as the girl rubbed her hand firmly and soothingly.

After a while, she turned the tap off and leading Tara into her bedroom, sat her down on the bed. She ducked into the bathroom and returned a moment later with a warm wet towel. Sitting down beside her, she wrapped the cloth around Tara’s burn, placing her hand atop it in the aftermath.

Tara looked at her; Kennedy looked back. And Tara sensed something sprout up in both of them then. “Kenn…” she whispered. They were getting closer…and closer…

Kennedy lingered. “How long was it before you wanted to kiss Willow?” she asked, leaning in slowly, delicately, not waiting for an answer.

“Th-three days,” Tara breathed in answer, closing the distance and capturing the brunette’s lips with her own.

Willow had always tasted sweet, of strawberries, but Kennedy tasted like fire. It was the sort of fire that attracted moth to flame, burningly irresistible. Their mouths moved slowly, ever so slowly, together, just feeling. It was too short, but it was enough to tide them over when they pulled back. All the pieces fell into place – why Kennedy had been so eager to come over in the first place, why she had been so angry, why she had come back nonetheless.

“I’ve wanted to kiss you since that first time I walked with you.” Kennedy cupped her cheek, pulling her in for another kiss, brushing her lips again and again against Tara’s.

It was like sweet deliverance for Tara, abetting release, cementing apart her past and present, paving a more certain future. And it felt so damn good. She let herself go, just wanting Kennedy to gouge out her pain and fill it…with whatever this was.

They only stopped because the chicken was burning again.


Chapter FiveA

There was change in the air. She could sense it, infusing her with its scent. Something was going to happen to her love. Something big. She wished that she could help her, but…she no longer had that privilege.

“So what have you learned in the past five months that I could honestly tell your Watcher?” Tara reached up and affectionately stroked the face that hovered centimetres above her own.

“Hmm…” Kennedy chuckled, stealing a kiss from full and wanting lips, “let’s see. That…” another kiss, “you like it better when I’m on top –”

“He wants to know,” Tara pressed. “And I’m running out of things to say.” She tangled her fingers in Kennedy’s hair and pulled her down for a deep kiss. “Unless…” she grinned seductively, “y-you’d like me to tell him what we’ve really been doing.”

It wouldn’t have been so bad if this situation had come up two months earlier. Tara hadn’t wanted to cast a shadow of doubt on David’s belief that she was diligently tutoring his charge. But Kennedy had proven to be a temptation that she just couldn’t resist. All motions of teaching had ended by April, and although Tara would occasionally bring up her guilt at squandering time meant to be used much differently, Kennedy’s obvious fascination of Tara would halt all discussion on that matter, moving them onto much more…sensual conversation.

“If we did,” Kennedy pondered, “how would you explain the whole load of shit you’ve been dumping on him?” She wiggled her body up and down until she was once again straddling Tara. “Think about that.” There wasn’t much intelligible noise for a while as she began to, agonizingly slowly, lick Tara’s neck. All the while, her hands were moving down and underneath the band of Tara’s underwear.

When Tara had recovered enough to speak again, which wasn’t for some time, “but…I feel…so…ugh…bad…unhh…about it.”

“Mmm…” Kennedy issued a rare pause in her ministrations, licking her lips as she lifted herself up to see Tara. “Does it really bother you so much?”

With all of her remaining determination, fast fleeting, Tara nodded. This was slowly tearing her apart.

“Soon,” Kennedy promised. “We’ll come clean soon.”

“But that’s what you said last time,” Tara accused weakly.

“So what do you think about a tongue ring?” the brunette asked brightly, changing the subject and resuming what she had been doing before. There was no more talk on any matters, much less that one, for the rest of the evening. Tara didn’t much mind.

“There’s something you’re not telling me,” David noted quietly. More so it was an accusation, but he refused to stoop so low as to openly charge Tara with the breaking of their trust. Still, he was thinner, and bleary-eyed; his spirit was steadily dwindling. Every day, as the snow had turned to rain and the rain to warm sunshine; every lunch he sat at his booth by the window. Every day, he grew more and more silent. Tara could only ashamedly surmise that she had played a significant role in his deterioration.

But she couldn’t say anything – at least, not yet – and so she merely cradled her mug of tea between her hands and sipped slowly of the steaming chamomile. She really did want so badly to tell him of everything she and Kennedy had been doing behind his back for the past four months, but Tara had dug herself a hole. They only way out would be to grab hold of the outstretched arms of her mentor and allow him to pull her out, but she feared that he would only throw her back down into her pit of lies once he discovered the truth.

They didn’t know each other anymore. They wanted to, Tara knew, but their circumstances forbade it. She had had to choose between Kennedy and David, and she had chosen heart over mind. Normally, she wouldn’t have – but what harm could this relationship do, she had asked herself early in? Their relationship wouldn’t have been considered non-conventional past the point of society’s definition if Tara hadn’t accepted the job, which was unpaid. It wasn’t like they were Watcher and Potential, and they were only three years apart. She had put a lot of thought and effort into convincing herself – but she was sure now that she had made the right decision. Kennedy was the bright spot in her life right now, and was the one who made her longing for Willow bearable.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured, stamping firmly down on her guilt. Worst of all, she couldn’t bring herself to lie outright. She was openly admitting that she was deliberately keeping something from David’s knowledge, but would say no further.

The gap between them had begun almost immediately after. He had asked about Kennedy’s progress; and frankly, there had been very little, if any, to boast of; they had been finding much more interesting things to study. She had had to lie, knowing that she had taken up a position that ethically demanded that her relationship with Kennedy remain strictly professional. But to back out of her role would have been to insult David’s faith in her ability and reliability.

In hindsight, she probably should have – but it was too late for that. The situation had progressed predictably, her web of lies building and building and setting up to unravel at the most pivotal moment. David was nearing the end of his patience, and he would soon employ all of his resources to uncover the truth.

“Tara, whatever it is you can’t or won’t say, I’ll get to the bottom of sooner or later,” he pleaded none too gently. It wasn’t much short of a threat. “I plead with you to tell me now.” A restrained hand on her arm. “I will figure this out, and it will be better for everyone if I know now than if I were to find out without your help.”

David was trying so hard to remain collected for her sake, but all Tara could do was look away helplessly, for she could not say not a word or else betray yet another that she held close to her heart. Two wrongs did not make a right – more so, multiple wrongs.

He withdrew, and she did not, could not, watch him go. Before her lay the devastation she had sown with her presence in Simpson City. An empty plate, an empty cup, an empty seat that should have been filled with the warmth and laughter of a man who cared for her enough to subject himself to day after day of silence and deceit.

He left because he was angry, but didn’t want to take it out on her. Tara wished that he would, just so she could feel the retribution she deserved. He was too good of a man to be associated with her. She was a coward and a liar, but still he stood by her. To see him holding his anger in for her sake broke her heart.

Little things broke her heart – like Willow’s fall, like Dawn’s resentment, like Buffy’s pain. She was a feeler, and to watch her family suffer around her as she ran from the anguish pursuing her mad her feel as though she was betraying them all. She couldn’t help it. She was human. Her first instinct would always be to look out for herself because that was what each person would naturally do. To be better was to be a sacrificial lamb, led to the slaughter for the betterment of those around her. She wasn’t good enough of a person to do that.

Tara’s critical mood lasted through her shift. Not even Mr. Shaw’s feeble attempt at comfort, of which was not irregular of him these days, cheered her up. They had become much more companionable ever since his son’s drop-by months earlier, even occasionally sitting down for a bite to eat in between customers. Instead of answering his well-meaning questions, she ignored him as politely as she could during lock-up, hoping that her mood would be lightened by what awaited her at home.

She was not mistaken. As she closed the door behind her, not bothering to lock it in light of the serenity of Simpson City, she was greeted with the likeness of a sultry siren. “Hey, babe.” The brunette smirked, holding still the image of an elegant predator laying languidly in wait for her prey atop the covers.

Tara let come a slight smile. “Hey,” she mouthed affectionately, revelling in the momentary silence draped over her dwelling. Full of anticipation, she took the stillness in a sort of meditative preparation for the evening. It was her safety, and the stress of her day bled out, dissipating and leaving her at peace.

But Kennedy never let those moments last for long, particularly before her hunger was satiated. She uncurled and stood, slinking seductively towards her girlfriend. She stopped mere inches before her and wound her arms around the blonde’s neck. Fingers dug into her hair, then stopped as well, waiting for Tara to reciprocate – which of course, she did.

Tara pulled them closer together, her fingertips pressing into a muscular back. She leaned forward, but was denied. “My tongue hurts,” Kennedy bemoaned, pouting cutely.

Tara laughed at her tone. “Let’s see what’s wrong, then,” she prodded, nuzzling the nose of her beau. “Open up.”

Kennedy grinned and complied, opening her mouth and revealing the stud nestled in the middle. The piercing was still fresh, and the flesh around it was swollen.

“You were serious?” Tara stared in disbelief at the piece of metal.

Kennedy merely stuck out her tongue in answer. “It hurts,” she said again, laying out her hand of cards – a royal flush of seduction. Tara could never resist such an invitation.

She touched the stud with a tentative finger, patting it, as if unsure that it would stay on if not handed with complete sensitivity. Then, without a word, she encircled the organ with her lips, sucking it fully into her mouth. It was what they had both been waiting for – a game they played each evening.

Tonight was much the same, although usually embarked upon in a gentler dynamic. Kennedy wrapped her legs around Tara’s waist, supported by arms that hid their strength. They charged into the wall with a resounding thud and Tara began to devour the brunette’s soft skin, nipping underneath her jaw, trailing fiercely across it. The action commenced a burning fire within them both.

“Bed?” Tara breathed out harshly, Kennedy’s palms pushing up against her breasts. Kennedy nodded rapidly, and still pressed flush to the wall, they began a slow crawl along it to the bedroom. They didn’t quite make it, though. Tara lost her balance and they went crashing to the floor.

With Kennedy on top, they were going nowhere fast. They were still there when the front door opened hours later.

Tara’s heart froze at the sight of him standing in the doorway and at the expression on his face. He didn’t move, even though he had their full attention. He was a betrayed man. Try as she might, she could not tear her eyes away from his judging gaze. Shamefully, she covered herself, her hands frantically locating and wrapping her discarded sweater about her upper body.

But Tara’s embarrassment played disastrously in contrast to Kennedy’s adolescent façade of nonchalance. She stood – in all her naked glory – and coolly asked, “What are you doing here?” It was a valid question, as David never came over unannounced, but was asked in such a manner that it only served to further ignite David’s fury.

“Fucking hell, Tara,” he spat out like a disease. He didn’t have to say much else; he only swore when…in fact, he so rarely did so that Tara couldn’t recall a time that he ever had before. He didn’t need to say another word because Tara knew exactly what he was asking.

“W-we wanted to tell you,” began to spill out of her in a state of blubbery chaos. “We w-wanted to – ”

“So why couldn’t you?” His voice was hoarse and barely audible, but cut deeply into her soul. He cast a disdainful glance towards his charge. “Cover yourself up.”

When his gaze settled squarely back on Tara, she turned away in shame. There was no explainable reason for what they had done. It had been their combined cowardice and Tara’s submissiveness to Kennedy’s wishes – no matter how misguided – that had brought them to this moment. And it had hurt him deeply, as she had thought it would, to discover that they had deemed him unworthy of knowing of their affair.

“Let me explain,” she pleaded with him. “Please, David –”

But he waved her quiet. He wanted to say something deservingly hurtful, but bit down on that desire with a learned wisdom. “Not tonight,” he stated tersely. He seemed much older all of a sudden, and more exhausted as he rubbed the corners of his eyes with worn fingertips. “I’m tired, Tara.”

With an effort he tried to hide, David walked to the counter and set a bag of Chinese takeout upon it. He had come over to bring them dinner. With a little wave, he wrapped his scarf about his neck and closed the door silently behind him.

After a moment, Kennedy, who had been redressing throughout their exchange, cast a worried glance towards Tara and began to follow. The blonde held her back, though, catching her fingers within her own. “I think he needs to be alone, Ken.”

For a moment, she resisted, and could have broken away if she wanted to, but she nodded solemnly and calmed, keeping her fingers entwined with Tara’s. “I’m sorry,” she said with true regret.

Tara turned a kissed Kennedy clumsily on the forehead. “Me too,” she answered mournfully. “Me too.” For some reason or another, perhaps from pure exhaustion, she lost her strength at that point, and the shame that had been pressing on her all day burst out. She sobbed openly, pressing her face into Kennedy’s shoulder, wishing that she could recover the strength that had at a point in time defined her character.

Here, she was weak – but maybe that was because she didn’t need to be strong. Kennedy was strong enough for the both of them. The brunette wrapped her arms around Tara, rocking her back and forth. “It was my fault,” she whispered consolingly. “I wanted you to, so it’s my fault, okay?” She stroked her hair. “I’m sorry, babe, I really am.” She was shaking slightly.

After a while, Tara’s cries became less and her hold loosened from its tight grasp around Kennedy’s neck. “Thank you,” she murmured, trailing her hand slowly through and down brown hair.

Kennedy lifted and carried her onto the bed. Her warmth disappeared for a minute before returning and wrapping itself about Tara’s whole body. A warm hand caressed her hip, rubbing slow circles round and round. Lips kissed her neck softly, nuzzling against her. There was no urge for sexual activity. This was solely comfort.

An air of contentment settled about her, and she felt more and more sure that if she were to sleep now things would be better tomorrow. She would have energy to deal with things then. Drifting, she heard the gently breath of an “I love you” sound in her ear.

Her eyes blinked sleepily open a few hours later, the heat of the sun’s rays skimming over her face. She had turned over in the night to face Kennedy, who lay snoring lightly, arms still wrapped protectively around Tara’s waist.

She glanced at the figures on the digital clock: she would need to be at the café in two hours. Right now, though, she had time to think. Despite her worrying for her relationship with David, she was momentarily distracted by the sleeping beauty sprawled before her.

When Kennedy slept, she was the most innocent creature. She was like a child at the mercy of those around her, completely helpless in her slumber. It was a face that not many had the privilege of seeing, and that Tara did not often get the opportunity to as Kennedy rarely stayed the night. The only good that had resulted from the horrors of last night was this fleeting moment of peace. Things were going to get complicated rather quickly, and she was well aware that she would be in the midst of it.

She was mostly afraid that David would never forgive them. Never, perhaps, was not the best word, but to see such a strong figure in her life distressed due to her actions struck fear in her heart. She knew how she needed him. David was Tara’s mentor, and he had without question stood by her through her darkest time. He never brought up her past life though it lay within his power to do so, respecting her preference to leave history as history.

His daily presence in Tara’s life had become integral to her these past months, and thought she had been cheating him of his right, his ability to stomach her coldness still amazed her.

She had pushed him to and past his breaking point with her dishonesty. Maybe she should have insisted more fervently to Kennedy that they tell him, but in her heart, she knew that she had made the right decision. She had chosen her side through love, and that was what mattered. Tara wished that things had turned out differently, but she was right to think that not much would have changed if history repeated itself.

A decision made in the name of love could not be swayed. She had loved Willow completely, and for that reason, had chosen emancipation, knowing full well the pain that would result from the distance. But it had been absolutely necessary, and having accepted that truth, Tara had found the strength to suffer, only able to trust that everything would work out in the end.

She would continue to believe that things would – what else did she have to keep her going?

The answer yawned, as if in response. Fingers tapped lightly along Tara’s back, and she stifled a giggle as a familiar sensation rumbled along her abdomen, but fingers persisted in their dance and she fidgeted, rolling into the source.

…which was exactly what Kennedy had wanted, judging from the smile on her face. She blinked sleepily, her gaze finally settling on Tara. “Hey there, beautiful,” she whispered, her hand sliding smoothly up Tara’s back.

“Morning,” she murmured back.

“You’re naked,” Kennedy noted mischievously. Tara hadn’t had the chance to clothe herself last night.

“I have to work,” she parried half-heartedly. Knowing exactly what was going to happen anyways, she leaned closer and kissed her teasingly on the side of the mouth.

Growling in mock frustration, Kennedy leaned her head back to glance at the clock. “You have an hour,” she grumbled, nipping at Tara’s lips. She swung her leg over her prone figure, sliding down to hover over her. She brought her head down slowly, agonizingly stretching out the moment before their lips met in a silent crash. Their hands intertwined and moved up to rest against the headboard. Tara let out an appreciative moan as Kennedy lay her body parallel to hers, sliding her thigh between Tara’s open legs.

She arched her head back, her eyes flickering shut as fiery kisses were trailed down her jaw. Hands swept the curves of her body, lazily traveling the length of heated flesh, groping and kneading, eliciting shuddering and uncontained cries. Kennedy may not have possessed the gift of magick, but she created it with her body, touching in all the right places at all the right times, locking and sucking at just the right pace. She was unhurried, as if making an art of it, waiting patiently until Tara felt that she just couldn’t take it anymore, and pushing her up over her climax.

As Tara lay gasping, Kennedy rose to hold herself directly above her. She grinned impishly, gently trailed her fingers along Tara’s cheek. They stared into each other’s eyes, an understanding established between them of the previous night’s events. Apologies to each other were unnecessary. They had both wronged David, not each other.

“I’ll take care of it,” Kennedy said at long last, laying a tender kiss on Tara’s forehead. “You don’t need to worry.”

“But I will, you know,” Tara pointed out.

“I know.” She kissed Tara once more before getting up. She waltzed to the adjoining bathroom, pausing at the doorway. “I’m going to take a shower,” she announced, not quite closing the door behind her.

Shaking her head, Tara threw a quick glance at the clock. It would be tight, but she had time. Smiling to herself, she trailed her girlfriend into the bathroom, who stood, with one leg stretched over the toilet seat, in the midst of disrobing. She looked up and grinned mischievously, but didn’t acknowledge her any further, descending into the curtain of steaming water. Tara once again followed; she had a favour to return.

Kennedy walked Tara to the diner an hour later, kissing her goodbye quickly before heading towards home. “Set three places for lunch,” she assured her before kissing her once more. “I’ve got everything under control.”

As she began to pull away, Tara held her close. “I love you too, Ken,” she whispered in her ear. She wrapped her arms tightly about the girl’s neck, squeezing gently as she felt Kennedy’s arms rise to cup her spine, rubbing circles slowly up and down.

They drew back to face each other. Tara’s thumb brushed a loving caress along Kennedy’s cheek. She smiled softly, and leaned towards her girlfriend, not caring what the small town of Simpson City might see, capturing her lips in a tender exploration. A first kiss of sorts – the next step in their relationship, completely natural and inevitable. After a minute, Kennedy reluctantly pulled away, running her fingers softly down Tara’s ass. She brushed her nose with her own, eyes barely open. “I’ll be back soon,” she promised.

She began to traipse in reverse along the sidewalk, retaining a steady gaze of adoration. It was not until the corner that she turned and disappeared from sight, a delightful grin still pasted to her face.

Tara stumbled backwards, leaning against the diner door for support. A dreamy expression lit up her face. Her heart felt lighter with her confession – much lighter than it had been in a very long while.

The matter of admitting the depth of the feelings she felt for Kennedy had been nagging at her. It wasn’t that she was afraid of what Kennedy’s reaction may have been, as she knew full well what the girl felt for her, only becoming more and more sure of it with each moment they spent together. It was her lingering feelings for Willow that had caused her such grief. The doubt that she had truly moved on discouraged her. To love someone while loving another would only lead to heartbreak. Until she was sure that she could give her whole heart to Kennedy, she had been afraid. What had changed?

Tara didn’t know. The truth was, she would probably never stop loving Willow completely. Having been changed so much by their love, there was no going back from where they had brought each other. But at the same time, she couldn’t deny that she had fallen for Kennedy. She and Willow were complete opposites. Where Kennedy was emotionally guarded, Willow had been starved for attention. Where she was muscular shoulders and toned physique, Willow was slender limbs and supple skin. They were night and day, but Tara loved them both in turn.

She had tried so hard to leave Willow behind, and to face her memory with a distanced coldness. But whenever she thought of her, all she could recall was the little things that so endeared the redhead to her memory – of her tendency to babble when she got excited, of the way her hands clenched and unclenched with the rise and fall of her voice. Where she should have remembered only the negative aspects of their relationship, she could only see the beautiful and talented redhead she had fallen in love with.

Tara still dreamed of her. Not every night anymore, like it had been in the beginning, but when she least expected it, green eyes surfaced in the muddled visions of her mind. They would embrace in the wake of whispers that confessed their undying love. They would draw back and observe each other with learned longing, rededicating to their hearts the soft curves and shapely lips they had once known like their own. And then, one of them would lean in and capture parted lips in her own. They would sigh as one, a tension that had built up over months and months of separation at long last dissipating as what they both knew to be right returned to them.

“I love you, Tara,” Willow would begin to say against her as her fingers trailed ever so delicately across her cheeks, her eyes, her lips – touching her as she hadn’t for so long. “Do you still love me?” Tears would begin to fall. “After all I did to you, could you?”

And then, Tara would deftly brush them away, kissing the cheeks on which they had alighted. “Always, my Willow. I could never stop.”

Thus would begin the consummation of their eternal love, which could not be frayed even through the cold winters of time and separation. Tara would awaken with Willow’s name on her tongue and find herself wracked with guilt for being disloyal to Kennedy, if only in her dreams.

A continent apart, though they could not physically feel each other, their lives were so imprinted upon one another that they could not be fully separated. Tara suspected that she was not the only one experiencing dreams of reunion.

Tara knew too that Kennedy had been able to deduce what was happening behind her back, and that it affected the degree to which they could be fully committed to each other. She never said anything about the matter – neither mentioned Willow much after their original discussion about the girl – but sometimes, when she thought Tara wasn’t looking, a sadness would rise up in her eyes, as if she knew that she would never be first in Tara’s heart.

“Good morning, Tara.” The unexpected voice of her boss made her jump up in surprise. She turned around and smiled as she looked over at Mr. Shaw, who had dropped by earlier than usual.

Ever since he had made up with his son, he had been different. It was as if though he had found within himself the ability to show compassion now that he had resolved the issue that had hurt him so deeply all those years ago.

“Good morning, Mr. Shaw,” she replied. “How’s Jonathan?” She recalled the brief encounter with his son, who had been so determined to make things right. She wished that she possessed that same certainty.

“He said that he would visit today. He’s bringing Laurie and the children.” He ambled about the diner, casually trailing his finger along the countertops. “Is something wrong, Tara? You seem troubled.”

Was it that obvious? Perhaps the walls she had erected were more worn down than she had realized. “I’m okay, thanks. Just a disagreement with a friend.”

“Your girlfriend?”

And perhaps Tara had underestimated her employer’s perceptiveness. “Her father,” she confessed. “We…didn’t tell him.”

“And he found out?”

Biting her lip, Tara nodded.

Mr. Shaw sighed. “It’s a matter of hubris for fathers when it comes to our children.”

“I-I realize that now,” she lamented, leaning back against the counter. Her fingers dug into the ledge. “I wish that we’d handled it differently. I’m afraid he’ll never forgive me now. He trusted me.”

“Have you talked to him since?” he asked.

“I don’t think that he wants to see me,” she said mournfully. David had trusted her, had opened up his home and his life to her, and she had bastardized and made a fool of him. He would be more willing to listen to Kennedy – they were practically family. Family was made to disagree, to break and build trust. Tara was an outsider here, no matter how comfortable she may have felt. She had been brought into the circle by their grace – she didn’t have that grace anymore. “Kennedy was supposed to have come with him by now.”

Mr. Shaw studied her from where he stood; not condescendingly, but as though he sympathized with her plight. “Do you need to take the afternoon off, Tara?”

“I-I couldn’t,” she stuttered.

He smiled knowingly. “You have something that you need to fix. Trust me, you’ll feel better when you do.”

Tara inclined her head. “Thanks, Mr. Shaw.”

“Anything for my favourite employee,” he said jovially, shuffling over to awkwardly pat Tara on the back.

“I’m your only employee,” she wheezed out from beneath his hearty blows.

He stopped and laughed. “All the more easier for you to stay my favourite. Now how about some lunch before the rush?”

“I’ll make it,” Tara chimed in. Mr. Shaw, despite his best efforts, was a bad cook at best. It was really no wonder that business had improved since Tara arrived in Simpson City. “What would you like?”

“Sunny on toast.” He was already putting the kettle on boil – neither of them much enjoyed coffee, although the diner’s blend was known for its unique taste. Tea was better for Mr. Shaw, anyways. He had drunk himself black with coffee over the years.

The lunch crowd came in shortly after they had cleaned up. David was conspicuously absent. Mr. Shaw leaned over from the counter. “Don’t take it too hard, dear. He needs time to forgive you.”

What they had done to David was wrong. Tara knew that. It was the only thing running through her head over and over again, like a mantra. But there was nothing she could do to make things right. All she could do was to wait for him to forgive her. She had to accept that.

Kennedy showed up just as the last of the lunch crowd was making his way out the door. Tara glanced behind her approaching figure in hopes that David followed, but was met with disappointment. Mr. Shaw, who had been brushing crumbs off of the counter, looked up. Recognizing Kennedy, he quietly excused himself and exited through the back door for his break.

Tara remained silent, anxiously looking on as her girlfriend opened the door and stepped inside. Their eyes met, and it confirmed her fear that Kennedy had not been successful in placating her Watcher.

"He wouldn't come," Kennedy explained apologetically. "But it wasn't because he was angry. I mean, he is angry, but he said that he just needs time to calm down and stuff." She approached Tara, laying a hand meant for comfort on her arm. "I'm sorry I didn't come earlier. David wouldn't even look at me until I offered to make lunch."

Despite herself, Tara felt her lips curling upwards into her trademark grin. "I can see why…you made lunch?" The one culinary attempt ever made in her presence had resulted in rock hard-boiled eggs and burnt water, which was an accomplishment in itself. "You?"

"We got distracted, if I remember correctly," Kennedy pointed out, recalling the incident. "Still, I remember dinner tasting very good that night," she leered, her eyes traveling heatedly down Tara's body.

Tara blushed and laughed, recognizing her attempt to lighten the mood. She pulled the girl towards her. "Wanna taste?" she offered, looping her fingers through Kennedy's belt. Their mouths collided with a delectable sweetness. Kennedy pushed her back against the counter, their hands intertwining and swinging leisurely back and forth; and all the while, radiating warmth built up through and through them.

After a few minutes they stopped, realizing that Tara was still at work and that Mr. Shaw's break couldn't last forever. "I came over to tell you, actually, that David wants you over for dinner tomorrow," said Kennedy. "That's good, right?"

"Y-yes, that's wonderful." Tara breathed an audible sigh of relief. She hadn't fully believed her when she'd said that David wasn't angry. He had all the right to be angry; but Kennedy, Tara thought, may have wanted to shield her from further pain and decided to make things seem as if though they were looking up. But now, with an invitation to cement her belief, she could embrace a more optimistic attitude. "That's good." She kissed Kennedy on the lips.

"Mmm…" Her girlfriend's eyes were closed, a satisfied grin on her face. "Do you want me to stay with you tonight?"

Goddess, did she want her to. Just one morning of waking up in Kennedy's arms made her feel as though she could never sleep without her again. She provided a type of safety that Tara had never before experienced, which coupled with a passionate and unpredictable wildness, made her completely irresistible to the blond. But irrational and selfish decisions would only further muck up an already complicated and delicate situation. They needed David to trust them. They needed to prove to him that it was okay for them to be together.

"You know I want to," she answered hoarsely, “but David…” She didn’t need to continue. Kennedy understood.

They kissed again – just a brush of the lips – and parted. “I’ll drop by tomorrow and keep you company,” Kennedy promised.

Tara nodded. After a moment, she added, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Kennedy replied softly before leaving, the expression Tara had seen that morning returning to her features.

It was the first time they had exchanged the words in full, and it gave her a peace that she had thought lost. She had needed a companion with whom she could share her burdens with, and found it in the most unlikely person. Looking back to when he had first met Kennedy, she had been uncomfortable – even afraid – of her intensity. It had become her most attractive feature. Everything Kennedy did, she did with her whole being. And so, Tara knew that when Kennedy said “I love you,” that she meant every word of it. And that made it more special than anything in the world.

Mr. Shaw returned a few minutes later, a knowing smile on his face as he firmly shut the door behind him. Tara returned the smile and grabbed a rag with which to wipe the tables down.

Shortly after, Mr. Shaw left for an excursion with Jonathan and his children, who were in town for the day. They came running in screaming, “Grandpa, grandpa!” just before being swept up in an unusual show of strength from the old man. Tara had never seen him so happy, grinning from ear to ear as he was showered with affection.

He glanced over at Tara, indicating that the shop was hers for the rest of the afternoon before leaving in a bustle with his family gathered about him. When they were gone, she stood alone behind the counter, the steady drone of the dishwasher and hum of the fan her only companions. She locked up early, as she usually did when left alone these days. Normally, it would be due to Kennedy’s insistence that they retreat to a more private location before things between them became too much out of hand. Unfortunately for her, that was not a valid option tonight. Tonight was to be spent alone.

Tara’s thoughts drifted nostalgically to Sunnydale. There were never nights like this – of lonely peace or boredom. They were always fighting, either for their own lives or for their lives of others, holding the advantage by a bare nose or not at all. Were they fighting now? Were they even still alive? She ached to know the answers. She hadn’t heard anything of them for months now. Tara nearly picked up the phone to dial Buffy’s house as she waited for the pasta to boil. But she couldn’t – it would be too cruel, not only for herself, but for her friends…if they still considered her one.

Did they hate her for leaving? She was afraid to find out. Maybe that was why she hadn’t found the courage to call.

Sometimes, she wanted nothing more than to return to her former life. It was all she had thought about before. Now, the scales were weighed in favour of staying here – not only because of Kennedy and David, but even more the purpose she had discovered for herself in this hidden town.

She was actually useful here. Kennedy could be the next Slayer. At any moment, Faith could die, and the next in line would be called. So many times, Buffy’s life had been spared only by the selfless efforts of her friends. Buffy had never really needed her, surrounded by so capable a group of sidekicks. But here, Kennedy would be alone if she was chosen. She needed an ally, somebody that she could trust with her life. Tara could be that. And that was why she stayed, even through nights like this.

The hope of tomorrow gave her strength.


Chapter FiveB

As promised, Kennedy arrived shortly after lunch the next day. Mr. Shaw had taken a day off in light of his son's decision to stay in Simpson City for the rest of the week, so Tara didn't see it as a problem for Kennedy to stay until closing time. After she had finished cleaning up, she settled into one of the booths, with Kennedy sliding in after her. She had chosen the corner booth, and so aware of their relative privacy, opened her arms to her girlfriend.

Kennedy leaned back against her, and Tara could feel both their bodies relaxing immediately at the contact. She had needed this last night. She had needed to feel Kennedy's body against hers. It was like coming home.

"How's David?" Tara asked after a while.

"Angry," Kennedy replied, "but I guess we can't really blame him." She took Tara's hand and caressed the fingers one by one. "We should have told him, huh?"

Tara nodded slightly. Her free hand played through Kennedy's unruly locks, lingering upon the curves of her cheeks and the harder edges of her face. "Should I have tried harder to convince you?"

Kennedy titled her head thoughtfully, a coy smile playing on her lips as Tara kissed the crook of her neck. "Nah…all you would have done was piss me off."

Tara pouted cutely, and turned Kennedy's head so that she was facing her. "This could piss you off?" She carefully raised an eyebrow.

Kennedy twisted around so that she was kneeling in between Tara's legs. She cupped Tara's cheeks, thumbs brushing lovingly along her cheekbones. "Never," she said softly before leaning in to capture Tara's lips with her own.

Tara's hands crept up to Kennedy's hips, holding her in place if not drawing her closer, so that she deepened the kiss. Their tongues played lovingly across each other's lips, wantonly tasting from mouths that eagerly offered.

Tara moaned deeply as Kennedy let go of her lips and instead lavished her attention along her supple neckline. She bit down gently just below the ear and ran her tongue over the mark, lathing it over before sucking firmly on the spot with her lips (Kennedy always took care to leave her mark inconspicuously). Tara tightened her grip on Kennedy’s body, her legs instinctively locking around her girlfriend’s waist.

She pulled Kennedy back up to her and crushed their mouths together in a wet and insistent kiss. They were both panting heavily, craving an intimacy that was not possible at their current location.

Kennedy held her gaze, and they mutually willed each other to descend from the passion that had ignited faster than they could have predicted. Gradually, their hearts calmed and their pulses slowed. They joined together in a tender kiss before settling back into their original position.

“Why?” Tara asked out of the blue.

“Why what?” Kennedy said casually, distracted by Tara’s fingers.

“Why would it have made you angry if I had been more insistent?”

She thought about it for a moment before answering. “Some people just learn better through experience. Words don’t communicate enough urgency for us to take it seriously.”

The precision of her language in that moment reflected the maturing of her character. Tara would have been very surprised if Kennedy had said what she had said months earlier. But these days, more and more often Kennedy was beginning to express herself calmly and logically. She was learning to balance her heart with her mind. During the time Tara had known her, she had grown from a teenager to the makings of a woman.

After another hour, when it was clear that there would be no more business, Tara began to close up shop. Kennedy assisted her and between them, the work was done at a remarkable pace.

“Should we go now?” Tara asked hesitantly. It was still only five o’clock, and she wasn’t sure if David would appreciate their arriving before the agreed time.

“He’ll be okay,” Kennedy said, flashing a confident grin. She waited restlessly for Tara to lock the door before smoothly throwing her arm across her shoulder. “We’ll just take our time.”

They continued on at a leisurely pace until they got to the door of David’s building. Tara stopped. “Are…are you sure we aren’t too early?” she asked hesitantly. “I mean, this might be too soon for him, for us.”

Kennedy stopped and sighed dramatically. One side of her mouth pulled up in a winsome grin as she touched Tara’s cheek and kissed her sweetly on the mouth. “You’re such a worrier, babe. David’s a reasonable guy.”

“It’s just that I don’t know what to say…” she protested weakly. She knew that at this point, she was just trying to delay the inevitable, that things would turn out fine regardless of how this evening went.

Kennedy echoed her sentiments. “Just be yourself. That’s what David and I love about you.” She opened the door and walked into the hall. At the door, she turned and kissed Tara again. “Let me just make sure everything’s fine before you come in. Wait here.” She winked and opened the door. David must have left it open for them.

Tara waited patiently for Kennedy to return. She didn’t think that anything would go wrong, rebuffed by her belief in David’s forgiveness. So, she was shocked to hear the waver in Kennedy’s voice. “David?” She repeated his name twice, growing more frantic each time. Deciding that she could wait no longer, Tara opened the door and went inside.

What hit her was the aroma of freshly cut herbs coupled with the unsettling scent of…something off. The place couldn’t be described as out of place – save for a pile of books that had been knocked over, not a thing had been disturbed – but she could sense that something terrible had happened.

“What’s going on?” she asked when she saw Kennedy come out of the bedroom.

“He’s not here,” she answered, clearly distracted. “It’s strange, because there’s food in the kitchen. He was cutting vegetables or something and then he just left.” She shook her head and resumed her search. “David? David, where are –?” she stopped short as she stepped into the study. “Shit...”

Tara came up behind her, squinting as her eyes adjusted to the darker room. Her foot resisted when she lifted it, and she realized she had stepped onto something sticky.

She knew now what she had smelled before. It was David’s blood, run deep and thick from the gaping wound in his chest. She felt bile rise into her mouth, but she swallowed it down bravely. Beside her, Kennedy had slumped to the floor, shocked into silence. David was wearing his apron, his lobster gloves cast off nearby. He had just made it to the weapons chest when his killer had caught up with him.

“Who would do such a thing?” Kennedy whispered harshly. Her face had formed into an expressionless wall, her eyes wrought with sorrow and anger.

“W-we need to call the police,” Tara said shakily. She was trying her best to think calmly, to think logically. A familiar sense of panic had settled in her gut, but she was no newcomer to this type of situation, and with her danger sense going haywire, she needed, especially now, to keep her wits about her.

Kennedy indicated that it was in the den, and so Tara scrambled over to the phone and dialled the police department. “Hello?” she asked, waiting impatiently for the operator to answer. “T-there’s been a murder.”

“What is your location?”

“24 Ellison Street, Flat A.” The operator confirmed the address, but before she could reply, someone – something – banged on the door. When it didn’t give, it crashed against the door again, relentless. “Please hurry, I think someone’s still here.”

She hung up and went back to Kennedy who was still crouched by David’s body. She opened the weapons chest and took out an axe for herself. Kennedy looked at her, puzzled, when Tara handed her a sword. “There’s someone outside,” she explained quietly.

Nodding, Kennedy took the sword and gripped the hilt tightly. Tense, they waited on either side of the doorway, weapons ready. The front door at last gave way to the insistent force behind it, toppling over and crashing resoundingly on the floor.

Tara had a clear view of the door, and so she saw the hooded figure step smoothly over the threshold. It clutched a wicked-looking blade in its right hand which slid back and forth against its cloak. It looked like a man, maybe, but she couldn’t be sure until she saw its eyes, intentionally scratched out and scarred over.

It was a Bringer, a man who had given his soul to the fires of hell in return for enhanced senses and physical prowess – a high priest of the First Evil. It sniffed the air, seeking its prey.

“I heard somebody opening the door, and thought that it was merely the two of you come early.”

They looked back, startled. David stood just behind them in the shadows. But they both knew already that something was wrong, as this David stood not a step away from his own corpse. Tara looked severely at Kennedy, warning her not to respond in any way. Whatever this image of David actually was, any noise on their part would give away their position to the Bringer in the other room.

“I’ll admit that I wasn’t all that happy that you had shown up before I had even started to cook, but not one to simply ignore somebody knocking, I opened the door.” The person before them was every inch of David, down to his mannerisms of speech. Tara wanted to listen to him, to believe him, but she reminded herself that it wasn’t possible for him to be living and breathing before them, forcing her gaze to his dead body as proof.

“I had enough time to dodge the swinging sword and kick him down. The weapons chest was my best chance, and so I ran as fast as I could – but not fast enough,” David narrated monotonously. “He came up behind me and thrust his blade into my stomach.” His eyes widened and he gasped as cold metal slid through flesh, protruding from the front of his body. It withdrew with a hiss, and he touched the wound delicately, as if marvelling at the approach of death. His hands dripped with dark blood, the putrid scent quickly flooding Tara’s senses. She bit the back of her hand hard in order to keep from gagging, praying that David would stop.

But of course, he didn’t, his likeness continuing with an expression of almost glee. “I didn’t think that dying would be like this. Your life doesn’t flash before your eyes. Instead, this overwhelming sense of abandonment settles in you as you realize that your life is ending.” He sighed and paused thoughtfully. “I struggled with this. I was difficult with death. I didn’t wish for it to take me quite yet.”

“I lost, though. In the end, I accepted death. And I died alone, the creature gone.”

Kennedy, crying hard, let out a single sob before clasping her hand over her mouth. But it was enough. The Bringer’s head turned towards their hiding spot, sneering in anticipation of a battle.

Tara cursed inwardly. David’s story had done its job. The creature had played on their emotional weakness, making them easy prey for this approaching death-dealer.

“He’s come back to finish the job now,” said David cheerfully. He crossed his arms and grinned.

Kennedy cried out angrily and surged forward, sword raised to strike the Bringer. Her blow just missed as it dodged slightly to the left. She grunted in frustration and swung again in a tight arc. Her blow connected, grazing the Bringer’s arm. It let out an unintelligible roar and parried with brutal force.

Possessing greater strength, the Bringer took advantage of its position to press forward. Kennedy had surprised it at first, but now that it had regained its footing, it forced her onto the defensive, and though she held her ground adequately enough, her exhaustion was becoming apparent.

“You can’t save her,” David said serenely to Tara,” just like you couldn’t save Willow.”

Tara hesitated as she raised her weapon in preparation to join the fight, but she saw the triumphant grin on David’s face, and all uncertainty fled from her thoughts. She would not be controlled, neither by his words or her past. “Fuck you,” she spat out before swinging her axe at the Bringer.

It stopped her with its arm, the force of their limbs connecting causing Tara to cry out in pain. A well-placed kick to the stomach sent her crashing into the wall. Her efforts weren’t for naught, however, as Kennedy had managed to recover ground in the moments where the Bringer’s attention had not been completely upon her.

She thrust at its back, pushing it through to the front of its body, but it wasn’t enough to stop it. The Bringer swung behind it with a vicious slash that Kennedy barely dodged, luckily escaping with only a gash across her cheek. It advanced on her, forcing her back against the wall.

Kennedy was breathing hard with exertion, and it was clear that she wouldn’t be able to hold out for much longer. Her efforts were valiant – but she wasn’t the Slayer.

Tara forced herself up, raising her axe high above her head as she gathered all of her remaining strength for one final blow. The Bringer had anticipated her, however, and turned around to block her. Their weapons locked together for a brief moment before it began to push against her, forcing her towards the ground.

She was scrambling for a spell, anything that would save them, but there was nothing. She had been away for too long. “Ken,” she gasped, her strength failing her, “get him now.”

Just as Tara hit the ground, Kennedy slashed down forcefully, cutting the Bringer diagonally from shoulder to waist.

She fell in time with the Bringer, soaked in blood. Their hearts slowly calmed, the heat of the moment passing into a gruesome aftermath of desecration. Kennedy sobbed again, deliberately looking away from the two dead bodies. But Tara found herself surprisingly calm in the face of everything. She felt grief for a loss of a friend, but otherwise she remained stoic and detached. She simply knew what they needed to do.

“W-we need to leave.”

Kennedy looked over at her, eyes wide. “Where…where can we go?” she whispered hoarsely.

Tara could only think of one place where they could find answers.


Part 6

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