DISCLAIMER: Angel and Buffy belong to the genius that is Joss Whedon and not me. No money is being made from this and no copyright infringement is intended.
SPOILER: Based on the Buffy Episodes: Conversations with Dead People and Dirty Girls and the Angel episode Orpheus.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
DEDICATED: To my own girl.

In This Life
By Celievamp

Willow blinked, trying not to fall asleep at the wheel. Not a good idea. She could dimly hear the beat of Faith's music leaking through her headphones. She must have it turned up real loud, she thought, but I doubt it can drown out the thoughts she must be having. They would be back in Sunnydale in a couple of hours. She wondered what she had missed. She wondered if Kennedy had missed her. Kennedy.

So why was she still thinking about Fred?

The Big Bad's warning still rankled with her as well. The warning had been stark: whatever she did however she played it she was screwed and so was everyone else. And it would be her fault. It was all her fault. In her arrogance, in her belief that just because she could she should she had over-turned the natural order of things. She had brought Buffy Summers back from the dead. And now all Hell had broken loose.

She had thought she was dreaming at first. She had recognized Cassie from the research she had done on the girl before her self- prophesied death but they had never actually met. Yet here she was, large as life, emerging from the stacks of the UC library.

As she had said. "It's kinda complicated. Kind of ironic too, you know. I wrote all that intense poetry about the end, and here I am again."

The supposed message from Tara had shattered her. The Dark knew her well it seemed, knew her guilt, her weakness, her need. Tara McClay. Her lost love. The one she had almost destroyed the world to avenge.

"She says she still sings."

Tara had sung to her sometimes, late at night when Willow could not sleep. She had a beautiful soprano voice, sweet, powerful. She liked to sing folksongs, love songs. She could have made a living at it but as far as Willow knew she had never sung in public. She was always too shy, too self conscious. It was these little things that she missed the most, that broke her heart. Tara's singing. Tara's touch.

To be told that what you had done had not only broken the bounds of death and hell and almost destroyed the world and might yet again but had also damned your dead lost love. "You killed people. You can't see her. That's just how it is. I'm sorry." To be so close and yet denied. Even though she knew the truth Willow felt her fragile heart break just a little more remembering that night: their very own day of the dead.

"She's crying... she misses you too. She wishes she could touch you."

Oh God, yes. To be touched by her again. People on the outside always assumed that it was Willow who led, Willow who was the strong one because Tara was so quiet, so self-effacing but they were wrong. So wrong. Tara was the strong one, the sensible one. A word, a touch from Tara was enough to send her into ecstasy.

Tara. Tara - I miss you. I miss you so much. Her hands were gripping the steering wheel so tightly that her knuckles were white. Slowly, she relaxed, tried to calm her thoughts. Wasn't going to do anyone any good if she took them off the road.

Willow had the feeling that what was going down in Los Angeles was different from what was going down in Sunnydale. Another different big bad? Was it going to end up as a Godzilla v Mothra battle. Two big bads duking it out for control of their poor battered world. Or would it be a hell-timeshare kind of deal.

Every day without Tara hurt so much. Every day it was like a giant hole inside her that got a little darker, a little deeper and it was not getting better. And the urge to use her magic, to just reach out with her mind and give the cosmos a little twist got stronger and stronger.

Her magic, her power and her self had got so intertwined it was impossible any more to tell where she left off and the magic began. The coven had warned her as much, so had the Big Bad.

"The power is bigger than you are... we can see your path, and you have to stop. You can't use magic again, not ever."

Sometimes she wondered what had happened to that Willow, the Willow who hated to cause anyone pain. When had she changed? Was it the day that she met Buffy? The day she met her vampire Doppleganger? The day. So many days to choose from. So many things she had seen and things she had done that were not supposed to happen to little Jewish girls from Sunnydale. She had never really believed that her resolution to never use magic again would be enough. She still had all her powers. Sooner or later the temptation to use them not because she should but because she could, would be too strong and she would reach out and make things just so and...

"You're not gonna be okay. You're gonna kill everybody."

She had to be strong. She had to be. The thought that her only alternatives were destruction of the world or destruction of herself scared her witless.

"So go. Be with her. Everybody will be safe, and you'll be together again. It's not that bad. Really. It's just like going to sleep."

Willow shivered. The Big Bad had suckered her good. Just enough for her to believe, just enough plausibility to be true. Insidious... for weeks now the words had polluted her thoughts: `It's just like going to sleep.'

But maybe she was stronger, strong enough to get through this. She had seen through it after all.

"Suicide thing was too far, huh? Hmm. You seemed so ripe. "

So ripe. Had she been? Was she now? Most of the time she was okay, she was dealing. And when she was with Kennedy, things were fine. And seeing Fred, Wesley, Angel - even Cordelia - again, had been fun. Really. Like the old days. There had been moments, actual whole seconds when she had forgotten that Tara was dead. It helped of course that none of them had ever met her.

Willow shuddered. It wasn't fair. She had to be on her guard all the time, especially when she was with Kennedy. The girl knew about Tara, about how close she and Willow had been but there were limits. Calling out your dead girlfriend's name every time your new girlfriend made you come probably exceeded them. That was why she had to be on her guard all the time, so that she wouldn't slip so that Kennedy, Buffy, Xander, none of them would know just how much being in this life when Tara was not was killing her. But she hadn't been able to fool the Big Bad. Not for a second.

"I stand by my opinion. The world would be a better place if you took a razorblade to your wrist. I can see it now. Candlelight, the Indigo Girls playing, picture of your dead girlfriend on your bloody lap."

And the threat - `I am not a fan of easy death'. Willow had seen death in many forms in her time with the Scoobies. In her mind a flayed body screamed. Tara stood before her, blood flowering on her pretty blouse, dead before she hit the ground. Willow knew all about death, easy or otherwise.

So now they were heading for the big finish.

But whether that would be in Sunnydale or in Los Angeles was a moot point. Something was brewing there. Something more than the stone demon who had stolen Angel's soul and unleashed Angelus upon the world once more. Strange, the mixture of old friends and new. And even the old friends were changed. Cordie she was no nearer understanding than she had been the first day they met. Wesley seemed older, darker. There was a harder edge to his British reserve. And Angel/Angelus of course. Fitting somehow that her first use of magic since her return should echo the first magic she had ever done - re-ensouling Angel.

The newbies were a mixed bunch. Fred she instinctively liked, recognizing a fellow geek. She was cute as well. Very, very cute. Gunn would fit right in with the Scoobies, a good man to have at your back in a fight. Lorne might take a little getting used to. The whole green thing. And Connor. Angel's son. Him she did not trust. There was something insubstantial about him. Something lacking, the kind of vacancy that evil just loved to fill right up. And the sneer was genetic - who knew? Something was going on between him and Cordelia - something that the rest of Angel's squad weren't too happy about but didn't have the will or the heart to do anything about.

Cordelia had changed - almost as much as she had.

"How've you been?"

"Higher power. You?"

"Ultimate evil. But I got better."

As Wesley said: they had a history together. Xander for one thing. She obviously had Connor wrapped around her little finger. They had talked. Willow could not say that it had been a comfortable conversation - but then they had experienced very few of those in our history. Willow had thought she had figured out a way to find Angel's soul - the Delothrian's Arrow spell was pretty cool. It did bother her that Cordelia didn't seem as excited by all of this as she was but then she had been excited enough for the both of them and Cordelia had just been shot.

No one stays the same forever but she was concerned by how much Wesley had changed. As she told him "Does seem like you've given in to the grumpy side of the force." They had a difficult conversation about their own personal trips to the heart of darkness. Willow had told him how she had flayed a guy alive and tried to destroy the world so she had a pretty good idea where he was coming from. Darkness. Been there. Done that. Thought about getting the t- shirt.

Apparently he had had a woman chained in his closet for a while. Which was unexpected. And a little disturbing. He tried to play it down in the darkness stakes but Willow thought it was up there. All in all it was a strange conversation.

She tried to find out a little more about Fred. An intriguing woman. There was an innocence about her that was so refreshing. And her babble mode rivaled Willow's own. Okay, Willow was willing to admit she might have a thing for her. But she was with Kennedy now, she told herself again. She was with Kennedy.

First attempt to resoul Angel didn't go so well. She got bitch- slapped by Beastmaster. She gave it her best shot. She gave it the Invadoria Disparu banishment spell. It got into her head. It was horrible. The worst. Like being coated in ice cold black filth. She got the message: as long as the soul was under the Beastmaster's protection it would never be freed. So she upped the odds. She felt her eyes go black. This was the serious stuff. She would not back down on this. What did she have to lose?

Her soul.

At that moment, she did not care. She owed this to Angel, to Buffy, to everything they had gone through together. "Alesh ashtoreth!" The ground started shaking. She had woken something up. Then the giant floating head appeared. Nice parlour trick, nothing more. She told the others to ignore it, focus on their target.

It worked. Somehow. Angel got his soul back - and just in time. Junior was about to spike him. Willow tightened her hands on the steering wheel, if she were Angel she would watch that one closely - and not turn her back on him.

And saying goodbye to Fred... something happened between them. Something good, Willow managed a tremulous smile at the thought. Something for the future. If she hadn't irredeemably blown it.

Fred was being sweet and attentive and Willow had panicked, she admitted to herself. She hadn't even suggested... not openly. And Willow had shot her down. "I'm seeing someone." Was she? Was she really seeing Kennedy, or was she just having sex with her. Perhaps it was for the best. Fred didn't deserve.

It had been a bad day. She really really didn't want to pursue this.

"Red?" Faith was looking across at her. "Are you okay?"

This from someone who, if possible, had had an even worse day than she had. "Yeah... just thinking through a few things."

"Fred's a sweet girl," Faith said in her soft rasp. "You could do a lot worse."

"I'm not looking," Willow said hurriedly. "I'm."

"With Kennedy, yeah, I heard," Faith said. "Look, about Tara. I heard what happened. I'm so sorry. So sorry. She was a good kid. Decent."

Tears pricked at her eyes. Every time she thought she was getting over it something happened and she was back in their bedroom watching blood flower on her lover's breast.

"Thanks," Willow whispered. The way she was, for someone to have got through to Faith the way Tara had just underlined to her how special her lover had been.

Willow blinked, focused on the road ahead. There was a pickup truck coming towards them, moving fast. Then the passenger door opened and something was pushed out, rolling across the road to lie in a crumpled heap. Now she knew they were nearly home.

"What the f..." Faith swore as Willow brought the car to a halt.

Her name was Shannon. And she was dying. Someone or something had terrorized her, branded her and then knifed her, just about eviscerating her. Gutted like a catfish, as Faith put it. All to send a message to the Slayer. Yep, they were definitely back in Sunnydale.

The End

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