DISCLAIMER: Buffy and Her Friends belong to Joss Whedon and a bunch of suits. I'm adjusting their realities for fun, not profit, as I own nothing and have the credit report to prove it.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: © 2009 MF Vinson. All rights reserved.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Leave the Past
By sailor80


If anyone told me this, I'd think they were crazy. But I was there. I saw all of it, felt it, survived it. I loved two women with all my heart. One lost her soul and the other her life; I lost my mind twice. That's why I'm writing this down.

It's a long story, so I guess I should start as close to the beginning as I can. And since it's my story, I should tell you a little about me. I'm nothing special, though if Willow or Buffy heard me say that, I'd get the self-esteem lecture again.

I grew up in your basic nuclear family. Mom, Dad, brother, me. We had a farm. There was a lot of work, but I liked it. I liked being outside, or in the barns. We weren't poor, but we weren't rich, either. Things were all right while I was little, but when I was 12, everything changed. Dad started drinking a lot. He swore at all of us, and he hit Momma and me. He said she was a demon, and I was one, too. It was ridiculous, but he was listening to a new preacher who told him that our Way was evil.

There was - is - no evil in it. It's white magic, green magic, based in Light, but they were fearful because they didn't understand. Dad tried to stop us, and we had to hide the few sacred things we used all the time, and practice when he and Donnie were gone, or when we went to Granny's.

Things got worse as Dad grew more paranoid, angry, and suspicious. Donnie aped him, and whenever Momma wasn't there to stop him, he hit me, too. I learned quickly to keep my eyes down, to flinch whenever they came near, to lie about the most basic truths of my brief life. Then Momma got sick, and Daddy and the preacher said it was the devil come to collect payment. He wouldn't take her to the doctor, and she got sicker and sicker, thinner and more pale, until early one morning when the moon was dark, she left me.

Without Momma to protect me, it was nearly unbearable. Granny pulled me from them whenever she could. I didn't have any friends at school, because I was awkward and afraid and stuttered, and because I involuntarily backed away whenever anyone tried to be nice, and because Donnie told lies about me. Plus, I was different. I knew it early on. I guess Momma and Granny knew, too, but we never talked about it. To me, liking girls instead of boys was just another thing that made me the freak they said I was.

I was in my last year of high school when Granny got sick. She could see the future, and she told me that I would be happy and loved. Then she gave me the means to get away. It wasn't a ton of money, but what was important was that it was mine, and that I could use her address to apply to colleges. Granny lasted until my graduation, and I spent the week after tending her while she, too, slipped away. That night, I packed her car with the things I wanted and might need, and left. I stopped after four hours and called my Aunt Cathy to tell her Granny was dead. "Keep going, Tara," was all she said.

I came to Sunnydale because I got a full scholarship to the university. I think the Powers That Be had a hand in it, too. If I had known the truth about Sunnydale, I probably would have kept running, but none of that was in glossy propaganda from UCSD or the Chamber of Commerce. They showed the ocean beach, a lovely park, happy people.

Keeping my head down was habit by then, and my stutter was horrible. The people at college were just like the people in high school. I didn't have whatever 'it' was that would help me fit in, and I was left out. So I did my schoolwork and grieved for Momma and Granny, and practiced the Way they had shown me. But I was lonely, and when I saw a flyer about a Wicca group, I screwed up all my courage and went to a meeting.

That was where I met Willow. I see her name, hear it, write it, and all those emotions wash over me again. She was beautiful in a way no one I had ever seen before was. She had gorgeous red hair, so many shades of auburn and brunet and blond. Green eyes. She was pretty. And after I got laughed out of the meeting for suggesting we might do magic, Willow came after me. I was hers after the first smile she gave me. My body hummed whenever she was near. I sound sappy, I know, but it's true. I think that we have souls, but those souls are contained in ambulatory chemical mixtures, and you have greater reaction, positive or negative, with some people. Willow and I together were all fire and air.

I found out about Willow and Sunnydale on the same night. The whole town lost their voices. I found a spell, and thought it might work, and set out for Willow's dorm. It was dark, and I saw these things, hideous floating heads. When I ran, they chased me to Willow's dorm, and chased us through the building down to the basement laundry room. I watched Willow try to move the soda machine magically. When I realized what she was doing, I took her hand. I felt like a switch had been flipped. She had so much power, but no focus. Together, we moved the machine, and spent the rest of the night leaning against each other. Moving the soda machine again to get out was just as easy, but how I felt when she touched me was anything but.

After that night, she came around more and more, making excuses to herself to see me. I told her as clearly as I could what I wanted from her, and for weeks, she thought it over. She kept me from her friends for the longest time, but I didn't care. I took whatever she would give, and gave everything in return. And when she finally brought me to a Scooby meeting, Oz, her first boyfriend, her first love, came back.

He looked at her like she was all ready his, and I knew I would lose. I ran out of Mr. Giles' apartment, back to my dorm room, and cried for hours. When I couldn't cry anymore, I stared at the ceiling and tried to reconcile myself to life without her. I didn't want to go to classes the next day, but I made myself. For comfort, I wore a sweater she left in my room.

I ran into Oz, and found out the part of their story Willow had left out. I didn't know weres could shift during the day. I was lucky. Buffy's boyfriend and his friends were there, and they took Oz. As much as I didn't want to, I knew I had to tell Willow. I found her in the library, and she tore off to find Buffy. I went back to my room and tried to resign myself to losing Willow. To being friends, but nothing more.

The power went out that night, and I had candles, but I didn't light any. I sat by the window and stared at the sky. It always made me feel better. When I was little, Momma would make up silly stories about the stars, and it was calming to think about that instead of the morass of my real life.

I was surprised at the knock on my door. No one ever came over except Willow. And it was her, with a candle. "Extra flamey," she said, and when I told her she had to be with the person she loves, Willow said, "I am."

We laid in my bed all night, talking. Kissing. Talking some more. Kissing a lot more. I was so happy and amazed. This gorgeous, smart, funny, considerate, wonderful woman loved me. Loved me back.

But Willow came with a lot of baggage of her own. There were the Scoobies with all their history and secrets, and Xander's girlfriend Anya and I were never really a part of them, no matter how included we were. There was the ongoing insanity of living on a Hellmouth. Something always needed to be researched, or hunted and killed, or magicked. And Willow is scary smart. She synthesizes bits and pieces of things that seem to be unrelated into one astonishing plan or spell or idea or answer.

None of that mattered at first. Willow decided that I was hers, and she gave me the same attention she gave to everything else she cared about. Sometimes Slayer business pulled her away, but I understood then, just like I did later, that it had to come first. But watching all of them together, especially she and Buffy, hurt a little bit. I was jealous, even though I tried hard not to be, and they tried hard to make sure I knew there was nothing to be jealous of. Buffy had Riley, Xander had Anya, Willow had me.

That summer was the best summer I had since I was young. The money Granny left me meant I didn't have to work. I did anyway, part time for Buffy's mother, who ran an art gallery downtown. It was more for the experience than the money, but it let Mrs. Summers have a little down time and keep the gallery open. Business was good, and Mrs. Summers listened to my ideas and tried some of them out, and mothered me like she did the rest of Buffy's friends. I was glad to have her in my life.

When I wasn't working, Willow and I were together. Sometimes Buffy was with us, and we did girly things. Things I never did when I was growing up. We had fun. More often, Willow and I would just be together. Exploring each other. We made love for hours, and when we woke up, we started again. I tried to show her the Way, but she never quite got it. She was competent and powerful, and her spells improved, but she never made the connection between her power and its Source. It didn't seem important. We were young and in love on the Hellmouth, playing cards with the Devil's own marked deck.

At the end of summer, Riley came back, and Buffy's disposition improved dramatically. We had a picnic on the beach, something else I had never done. Willow called up a thunderstorm - the unintended consequence of a minor spell - and we all ran for shelter, laughing. That was the last time I remember clearly that all of us were happy. School started, and the Hellmouth, too, returned from summer vacation.

First, Dracula came to town, and Willow and I went from dorm room to dorm room to house to house to house to the gallery putting out uninvites and blessing and warding the entrances. After that, I began to realize just what being a Scooby is. There was always something. A demon. A close call. And then there was real life. Riley coming to grips with life as a regular guy. Xander trying hard to find his way. Buffy's sister doing what teenage girls do. Her mother, looking more like mine every day.

Willow alarmed me, too, with the depth of her need. She needed us to love her. She would do anything for Buffy, consequences be damned. She would do anything for me, except be more respectful of the power she held. I bit my tongue a lot. I didn't want to lose Willow. Being with her...Willow was amazing. She had this thing. It lit her up, and it lit up the rest of us, too. When she smiled at me, when I was the only thing on her mind, it was incredible.

Something came to town looking for a key. It thought Buffy had it, and began to harass her. Spike harassed her, too, as Joyce got sicker and Riley more withdrawn. Buffy moved out of the dorms so she could help her mother at home, and at every turn, she was pushed and pulled.

My birthday got closer and closer, and I kept a secret, the only one I ever kept, from Willow. From everyone. And then my family came to town. I was so scared. I didn't want to leave Sunnydale, leave college, leave Willow. I felt useful there, and appreciated, and loved. I nearly got them all killed trying to hide what I thought was my true self, and they stood up for me. All of them. One by one, they stood up to my family for me, and I was so shocked. They did that for me. At the time, I suspected they did it for Willow, but it didn't really matter, because the outcome was the same. I found out I'm not a demon. Momma wasn't a demon, and Granny wasn't a demon, and my daughter won't be a demon. It was all a lie.

Willow surprised me with a party. The Bronze was full of my friends - I had friends! Lots of friends! - and family. Willow, Buffy, Dawn, Xander, Anya. Even Mrs. Summers and Mr. Giles came for a while. And Willow and I danced. That was the best night, the best birthday I ever had. Of course, it wouldn't last.

The Watchers Council coming to town was the last straw. Buffy didn't tell her mother they were there. Mrs. Summers, she thought, had enough to worry about, and from what Willow told me about the last time Quentin Travers was here, Joyce Summers was the last person he might want to see. Buffy kept on doing what she could to help. Going to classes, cooking, cleaning, patrolling. It got to her. We could all see it, but Buffy wouldn't admit to needing help. The Watchers Council interrogated and tried to intimidate all of us, until Buffy reached her limit. She set her ground rules and told them to agree or leave. Quentin Travers folded like a cheap suit, and we all cheered.

After that, Buffy told us the truth about Glory and about Dawn. We did what we could to make sure Dawn was never alone. Glory took Spike first, though we couldn't figure out why, and sent him back as a message. I had seen Spike fight and recover, but he remained bruised for weeks after that. Mrs. Summers died, and we rallied around Buffy. Dawn was angry at the secrets everyone kept from her, and angry that her mother was dead, and nothing anyone could do made it better. She even tried to bring Mrs. Summers back.

Willow and I disagreed more and more. I couldn't make her see what she needed to see. And I was afraid she would leave, afraid to be alone again. I wanted us to be happy. I wanted things to be simple. I knew all ready that they never are, but I still hoped.

We fought for real the first time one day in early spring. Things are really confused after then. We started by talking about her magic use, and her power, and the truth slipped out, that she frightened me sometimes. After that, things went downhill fast. I didn't realize how insecure Willow was, or I was, for that matter, and everything escalated so fast. She stormed out, and I went to the fair by myself, hoping she would show up and we could talk calmly. Fix things. But that wasn't what happened.

I was sitting on a bench, looking around at everything and trying to decide what to do when a warm hand covered mine. I thought it was Willow, but when I turned to see, it wasn't. It was a blond in a tight red dress, and I knew right away that it was Glory. I was scared, too scared to make any noise, and she crushed my hand and silenced any noise I wanted to make by threatening to kill everyone in sight. I knew she could do it, so I clenched my jaw and tried to breathe. She thought I was special. She thought I was her key, and she lifted our hands.

When I saw my blood, when I saw her taste it, then spit it out, that was when I was really afraid. I was afraid she would make me betray Dawn. Somehow, I didn't, and that infuriated Glory. She threatened me one last time, and then did what she said she would: She put her hands in my head and wiggled her fingers and again made me feel dirty and ugly and ashamed.

I was there through all the rest of what happened, but seeing it was like looking through the filthy window of a long deserted house. It was horrible and frightening and frustrating. No matter what I tried to say, it came out nonsense. I couldn't control my thoughts or actions. The first night was the worst. The doctors wouldn't let me go home, and I spent the night in the psychiatric ward with the rest of Glory's victims and the odd schizophrenic.

Willow checked me out before lunch the next day, and took care of me after that. I wanted her to know I was there, and appreciated it, and didn't blame her, but I could never get it out. There was pill after pill after pill, and Willow's sad, sad smile, and at night, when she thought I was asleep, she cried. Buffy came by after patrol for a brief visit each night, to check on us and give Willow some support and to get some in return.

Things were so, so bad after that. Glory tore the dorm down to get at us, to get Dawn, and we got away only because a truck hit Glory. Buffy was in a full panic after that. She had promised her mother she would keep Dawn safe, but she couldn't even slow Glory down. She packed all of us into Spike's RV and we ran. For the first time ever, the Scoobies ran, and it turned out as bad as if we had turned then to fight.

The knights hurt Giles. Xander was still in a cast from his encounter with the troll. Buffy was at the end of her resources, and so was Willow. Anya was afraid, and so was Dawn. Spike was Spike. Whatever he really felt, he hid. Glory was worse than any of us dreamed, stronger and more determined, and she snatched Dawn from us.

Willow left me for a while then, and Anya did her best to take care of Giles and I while Willow brought Buffy back. I saw them kiss - sisterly, they thought, but the glow around them was unmistakable - and then they let me lead them to Glory.

The pain of Glory's hand in my head was the same as that of Willow's hand in my head when she reversed what Glory had done. I thought my head would explode, and the pain was so intense. It went on and on, it seemed, and I screamed into the brightness until I passed out.

I came to with Willow in front of me. She looked anxious, but when I answered her sensibly, she kissed my face, all over, my lips last, and pulled me against her. I hugged her just as hard, and held on while around us, Buffy fought Glory and the others fought the scabby little minions. I thought Buffy might win. She beat Glory down, and raced to get Dawn.

It was too late. The portal opened, high up in the clear night sky, and Buffy and Dawn were outlined against it and the things that came from it were just as bad as the things that had been in my head. Grotesque and frightening, and we stood and watched as Buffy pushed Dawn away, and ran to dive headfirst into her death. I pulled Willow to me so she wouldn't see, but we heard the horrible noise of her body landing and watched the sky pull back in on itself. The minions scattered as Dawn hurried down the tower, and it was Spike who picked up Buffy's body and led us in a mournful procession away from there. The lights and sirens passed us, but no one saw us limp away.

That night, we went to the emergency room yet again. Xander's cast was damaged, and mine was gone. Anya couldn't walk without help. Giles was paler than usual and blood stained his shirt where it leaked through the bandages. Dawn was bleeding, too, from the long, shallow cuts across her stomach. Only Willow was physically unhurt, apart from being spent from expending so much magic. She herded us from place to place, arranged Buffy's burial beside her mother, somehow retrieved what was left of the Buffybot. She didn't sleep for days.

She didn't cry, either, which frightened all of us. She and I moved our things into Buffy's house, Dawn's now. She would come to bed with me, but I woke up alone. Sometimes I found her in Buffy's room, sitting on the floor beside the bed, staring at the closet. Others, I found her in the basement, patiently sorting and soldering wires or writing computer code for the Buffybot. Some nights I couldn't find her, and I would know when she came home because she would kiss my forehead when she passed me on the the couch. She wouldn't answer me when I asked where she had been, and I never did find out.

That summer, Willow became de facto head of the Scoobies. Xander even made her a plaque, with sparkles, "magic sparkles," he said. She got stronger and stronger, and farther and farther away from me. I tried everything I could think of to reach her, but she always danced away. I was tired, too, and confused, as I took care of the house and tried to take care of Willow and Dawn, as much as either of them permitted. Mostly, though, it was Willow taking care of all of us, arranging patrols and picnics, looking like everything was fine.

I wanted to believe her, that we could bring Buffy back without dark magics, even though I knew it wasn't true. By the time I realized the truth, it was far too late. The deed was done, the deal she made finalized, and Buffy clawed her way from her coffin like the monsters she hunted.

Willow was so proud of herself, and so glad to have Buffy back. I thought, fleetingly, that everything would be fine again. That we could have something that passed for a normal life. I wanted that so bad, I kept quiet about too many things for too long.

We had one more perfect day before our lives were torn completely apart, and I will always be grateful for that. Xander called that demon because he wanted the same thing I did, for all of us to be happy again. Willow and I walked through the park hand in hand, and sang to each other, and made love.

And then we found out the truth. It was as dark and ugly and hateful as her death, that we had pulled Buffy from heaven, not rescued her from hell as Willow insisted we would. Somehow, we all tried to go on. Xander and Anya announced their engagement, and Willow pulled party decorations from the ether. We argued again, and again and again, about her cavalier use of magic.

Willow lied to me. Her problem was so much worse than I thought, and she cast a forget spell to make me forget that we argued. I found out by accident, and she was contrite, and swore she would do whatever it took for me to stay. I asked for one magic free week. Just one.

We nearly got killed, all of us, because of her next spell. She took our memories, our lives, from us. Despite her explanation, that she, like Xander, wanted to do something to make our lives happier and easier, it wasn't something I could overlook. Not anything she could fix with cookies, either. And that forget spell made everything so much worse. I was so angry when Xander broke it, and I knew I had to leave.

Only Anya really understood. The others protested. Dawn sulked, slamming doors. Willow knew what she had done, and sat on the floor silently, watching while I put my things into boxes and bags. Xander grumbled while he loaded the car, until Anya finally told him to help quietly or not at all.

I couldn't even cry that night. I sat on Anya and Xander's couch and stared out the window. Hurt. Hurt. Hurt. Morning came, and around me, Anya and Xander prepared for work. They both hugged me before they left, and somehow, I got myself together. I showered and went through the paper, made calls and found a place of my own. Not in the best part of town, but where they - Willow - rarely went.

Within two days, I was in there, in a place of my own for the first time in my life. And then I cried.

After that, I got myself together. There was still school, and I was careful to stay away from the places Willow hung out. I would catch a glimpse of her sometimes, moving across campus between classes. Every week, at least once, Dawn and I would meet up for a while. We went to the movies, or got ice cream and talked. It got later than I realized one night, and I walked her home.

No one was there, and she convinced me to wait with her until one of them returned. We watched cartoons. Dawn snuggled into my side, and we fell asleep. When we woke up, it was morning. The television was still on, and it was still just us. I sent Dawn to get ready for school and went into the kitchen to make pancakes.

Willow came home, and another girl was with her. She introduced Amy, formerly Amy the rat, who babbled about their reckless use of magic the night before, and all the hurt came back. I had to leave, and Willow tried to stop me, but I kept going, away from the woman who had once been my everything.

A few weeks later, Buffy got in touch with me through Anya, and I went to her job to meet her. We sat in the break room, and Buffy asked me to check the spell Willow had done to resurrect her. She said Spike could hit her, and wanted to know why, if she had come back wrong. I promised I would, and told her not to worry.

I ran into Willow outside the Magic Box when I went to borrow the book I needed from Anya. Willow looked different, and told me she had stopped. I wanted to believe her. I was glad for her, and told her that, and felt her watching while I walked away.

I was horrified all over again when I learned the details of the spell Willow used to bring Buffy back. She had promised her soul to resurrect Buffy. Willow would never rest, and would never be free of the darkness she chased. She protected the rest of us, had us there for moral support and window dressing, while she offered herself in exchange for Buffy. I realized that Willow and I were truly over, that nothing she could do would let me allow her to get close again. And I hurt again, lost another day staring into space while I mourned.

Buffy needed answers, and I read and re-read, and found nothing to explain why Spike could hurt her. I called Anya and asked her to have Buffy call me. When she did, I offered to come to her place, but she insisted on coming to mine. She said she knew where I was, and I didn't ask how, just told her to come over before she went on patrol.

Buffy was nervous. I was nervous. She wandered around the front room, picking up things and putting them down without looking at them. Finally she sat down, and asked me what I found. I tried to joke that she had "cellular sunburn," but Buffy broke down. She slid to the floor and hid her face in my skirt and begged me not to forgive her for the things she let Spike do to her. And she cried. I never saw Buffy cry, not even when her mother died, and it frightened me as much as her.

I did the only thing I could, curled around her and made comforting noises. Eventually, I was able to get her back onto the couch beside me, but she wouldn't look at me, and couldn't stop crying. I didn't try to get her to stop, either. She had been through so much. She cried and got tireder and after two hours, I coaxed her back to my bedroom and we laid on top of the covers. I held her until she fell asleep.

Buffy was restless in her sleep, too, but I talked quietly to her each time and she settled down again. When she woke, it was nearly 4 am, and she tried to leave. She was embarrassed, I think, but I got her to talk, and she stayed.

I was surprised, stunned really, when she kissed me. I asked what she was doing, and she told me, "I need to feel alive. I need to be warm."

I made my decision in a few seconds. If she was going to make a conscious choice to stay away from Spike and the darkness he offered, and that choice was me, I could live with that. She had been my hero since she stared down my father, and she was gorgeous and brave and strong. I would be lying if I said I wasn't attracted to her from the first time I saw her. She waited for me to say "ok" before kissing me again.

We didn't go any further that morning, and Buffy walked me to my afternoon class and asked if she could come over that night.

We fell into a pattern after that. Buffy came to my place after patrol, except on the nights that Dawn and I went out. Those nights, I waited at their house for her. The first one, I replaced the wards and uninvite spells at the doors and windows after Dawn went to bed. I told Buffy, and she thanked me. We sat on the couch, kissing until I yawned, and then we went to her room and slept on top of the covers, fully clothed.

Willow was never there any more. Amy had sought her out, and Willow had gone with her, and the Summers rarely saw her. I think they were relieved, though both of them were careful not to talk about Willow to me.

On one of our nights out, Dawn said Buffy was better, and she knew it was because of me, and asked when I was coming home. I told her I didn't know, but when Buffy got home that night, I told her about our conversation.

Buffy told me she was going to ask me as soon as Willow finished moving out. She kissed me, and told me she loved me, and kissed me again, and I told her I loved her. I fell asleep that night to her smile, and woke in her arms to Willow's angry stare.

Buffy woke up, too, and sat up, asking sleepily what was wrong. The she saw Willow.

Willow said a lot of hurtful things. I held my tongue, and Buffy controlled her temper. Our voices got louder than we intended, and we woke Dawn, who had a few things to say to Willow, too.

The three of us, Buffy, Dawn and I, stayed in Buffy's room while Willow gathered the rest of her things. I had a bad feeling about Willow. She was as angry as I had ever seen her, and when she stopped in the doorway the last time, her eyes were black. I had just enough time to get a shield up before she completed her spell. She disappeared while we recovered, and it was a good thing. Buffy was furious. Dawn was angry, too, but I was just shocked and drained. They babied me for a while, until I made them stop, and we spent the day getting my things and moving them into the Summers house.

After that, Buffy was openly affectionate toward me. She and Dawn and I talked about things, and I made sure they ate regular meals, not just junk and take out. Xander told me that Buffy was as happy as he had ever seen her. He missed Willow, though. We all did. I saw her on campus sometimes, usually with Amy, but she stayed away from us. I heard things, but kept them to myself.

Spike was another problem. He continued to pester Buffy, even after we ganged up on him and insisted he stop. Sometimes Buffy came home with bruises from him. The night she came home with torn clothing and bruises, crying because Spike had tried to rape her, I had enough. I cleaned her up and we went to bed, and not for the first time, Buffy talked and talked and talked, sharing random events from her life.

I was careful not to wake her when I got up early. Before class, I went to Spike's crypt. I spilled him from his chair to the floor and stood over him, bouncing a fireball in one hand. For the first time, Spike was afraid of me, and I had his complete attention while I explained that he could leave Sunnydale for good or he could become a pile of ashes. I flipped the fireball toward him for good measure before I left. When I went by his crypt the next morning, Clem was there, and he told me Spike was gone.

After that, things were better. Dawn and I helped Buffy find a better job, teaching self defense at UCSD, and Buffy was able to begin to get a handle on the bills her mother left. I paid the utilities and we shared the rest of the costs. Dawn settled down and her grades improved. I was happy again, and after Xander and Anya broke up, he moved in with us so she could keep the apartment.

Xander took care of the things that Buffy and I hadn't been able to. It was gradual, but soon faucets didn't drip. Drains worked properly. Holes were fixed, damaged woodwork replaced. Xander, with Buffy and Dawn's help, built a deck onto the back of the house. I worked in the flowerbeds and put in an herb patch.

The social workers signed off on Dawn's case and stopped coming around. School ended, and Dawn and I found jobs for the summer. Buffy, Dawn, Xander and I had lunch together sometimes, and he took us through the new high school once or twice. Buffy and Xander told me how they had destroyed the last one, and discussed the irony of the library being rebuilt over the hellmouth. Buffy pulled Dawn into her self defense classes, and made me come, too.

Once or twice, I saw Willow pass by the house. The things I heard about her were unpleasant. She came into the store one day when I was working, saw me and turned around. I was so relieved, but I called Buffy and asked her to meet me when I got off work just in case.

We had a good summer. We did things together, all four of us. Things beside patrol and research. We had fun. Buffy grew out her haircut, and her hair got lighter as her skin got darker. Her wardrobe got lighter, too.

Summer ended, and things got weird again. I took afternoon classes so I could patrol with Buffy. As a university employee, she could take two classes a semester for free. I encouraged her to take advantage of it, and she took poetry and art history, and we put her first A up on the refrigerator.

Night was another story. The demons were worse, darker and stronger. We saw so many that we had never seen before, and they boasted that their time was coming soon. Buffy called Giles for advice, something she hadn't done since he returned to England.

He was on our doorstep within 24 hours, and when I saw him, I knew that whatever was coming was bad. Buffy didn't want to include Dawn in the gathering around the table that night, but I made her. Giles talked in low tones about the things he had learned: the reappearance of Bringers everywhere, the deaths of potential Slayers and their Watchers, and someone resembling Willow seen in the area each time. I watched all the brightness drain out of Buffy while Giles talked, and when he finished, not even Xander could make a joke.

"Find out what we have to do to kill it," Buffy ordered, and went to our room. When she came back, she was in black leather and attitude, and I wanted to cry.

I was waiting for her when she returned. She was filthy, covered in dirt and blood, but wouldn't talk to me. I sat on the bed while she showered. She finally came from the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, carrying the big jar of salve. She laid on her stomach, and I rubbed it gently into the bruises and scrapes, but she didn't say anything. When I tried to start a conversation, she cut me off. "I'm tired."

"I know."

That set her off. She sat up and told me I couldn't possibly know how tired she was of being the Slayer, of being hunted all the time. Of saving the world for people who didn't know and wouldn't care if they did. Of living in the dark. Of seeing everyone she loved exhausted and battered because of her. She kept her voice as low as her words, and went on and on until she wore herself out. I put her to bed then, took off my nightgown and panties and got in with her. I pulled her as close as I could and held her. I didn't try to talk, since she didn't want to listen.

It was so long before she moved that I thought she had fallen asleep when she whispered that she loved me. I felt her relax then, and kissed the top of her head and asked her not to give up. She pushed herself up to look at me, and we began to talk. For the rest of the night, what little was left, we talked. While Xander and Dawn got ready for their day, we talked, and after they left, we made love. That's a happy memory, making love in daylight with Buffy. She never believed she was beautiful, but she was. Like Willow, she had something inside, an extra spark. If Willow and I were about combustion, Buffy and I were about layers. Getting through and between the ones all ready there. Adding more, becoming deeper and richer.

I loved Buffy so much. Seeing her hurt, watching her close down, those things hurt me, too. She was afraid of her power until it was almost too late. For all she said that the Slayer was separate, they were sides of the same coin and shared many attributes. I think she gave me as much as she gave anyone, apart from Willow. We never talked about Willow, or Glory, or Buffy's death, or any of those things that made up our shared past. I think that maybe she talked about them with Xander, but that last year, more and more, Buffy set herself apart from us. I think she knew what was coming, and that it would be harder to do what she had to if she let herself go with us, with me.

The last two months were the second worse time of my life. Buffy was angry and frightened. The house got smaller and smaller as it filled with adolescent girls. Giles came and went, leaving behind more potential Slayers and clues to what we fought, research for Dawn and Xander and I. Buffy came home just after sunrise each day, filthy, exhausted, and injured. I couldn't cry in front of her, no matter how much I wanted to, so I did what was expected. I helped her clean up, applied stitches and bandages, healed what I could after she collapsed from exhaustion.

The things Giles found were amazing and terrifying. He brought many of them to us for research. Books written in blood on pages of skin, amulets and weapons so powerful that even Xander recognized them, the metal forms of the Slayer's creation story that nearly stole Buffy from us early. She didn't patrol that night. I wouldn't let her leave me once I got her back, and took her to our room and closed the door against everyone. That was the last time we made love in the dark, except for the very last time. After that night, we slipped away to one of the empty houses around hers while the potentials went through their afternoon training sessions.

It was Dawn's idea to use the scythe's power. Buffy and Faith manipulated it easily, but no one else could. It gave them a rush, and if we could unlock it, we could spread that among all of the potentials. We worked out the spell, Dawn and Giles and I. When we had it, our war council met - Buffy, Faith, Giles, Xander, Dawn and I - and picked a day to take the fight to the hellmouth.

Our preparations were simple and heartbreaking. Pack a change of clothes and anything you can't live without. Make peace with yourself. Buffy and I left the house at dusk to go next door. She was beautiful and somber and gentle, and in the morning, I let her sleep until she woke. She kissed me one more time, and put her Slayer mask and armor in place, and we went next door so she could lead the troops into battle.

She left Dawn and Xander and Giles with me, Dawn to help with the spell, Xander and Giles to guard us. Everyone else went to the basement to wait for the hellmouth to open.

The spell was amazing. I never felt anything like the power and energy that flowed through me. It was intoxicating, and I was far away from myself for a long time afterward. Giles took the scythe from me to the Slayers, while Dawn and Xander took me to the bus. Xander was ready when the girls came streaming from the collapsing school, and Faith was the last one on, grabbing the handle and stepping in as we pulled away.

I knew before anyone that Buffy wasn't with us, and I chose then to stay out of my head. I let Dawn and Xander take care of me, but I couldn't let myself think or feel or try anything. The three of us left them, all the new Slayers and Faith and Giles, and went from here to there, unable or unwilling to settle anyplace.

One year after Sunnydale fell into the nothingness it came from, we were staying at yet another rented house in another small town. They always made sure there was a yard, and that the other houses weren't too close, and that we could see all around us.

Dawn and Xander were quiet all day. Giles called to check on us, and Faith called, and Angel called, and they let the phones ring each time. I couldn't sit still, and wandered from room to room, even though I knew I would never find in any of them what I was looking for. I found Dawn, though, looking at the photo album she carried away from the wreckage of our life, and sat beside her on the floor. She moved the book so it rested on both our legs, and put her arm around me. I put my head on her shoulder, but didn't look at the pages for a long time.

When I did, I couldn't help the noise that I made, or stop the tears once they started. They were pictures of people I didn't know, of Buffy and Willow and Xander long before I met them, and as we slowly turned the pages, they became the people I knew. Mr. Giles and Mrs. Summers and Dawn were in some of the pictures, but mostly they were Buffy, frequently with Xander and Willow. Then Mrs. Summers disappeared, and Mr. Giles, and Willow, and I was in some of them. The last one, I don't know when Dawn took it, but it was so clearly both Buffy and the Slayer. It made me cry harder, as I touched it through the plastic cover, willing my fingertips to feel Buffy's skin, her hair, her lips.

I cried until I physically couldn't any more, sitting on the shiny wooden floor in a house with too little furniture. I stayed there long after Dawn drifted away, after Xander knelt beside me for an hour, until after they went to bed. I was stiff and sore when I got up and went outside.

The moon wasn't up, and clouds meandered in front of the stars. All of the sounds of spring were in the cool, damp air. It was the same as the night a year before, and so, so different. I was alone, again, and Buffy was finally at rest, and the world would never be the same.

I didn't stay out too long. Instead, I went to bed. And dreamed of something other than death for the first time in more than a year. Buffy sat on my bedside and stroked my hair like she had so often, and smiled a small, sad smile. Willow stood beside her, the same smile on her face. When they left, Momma came, Granny behind her.

My pillow was soaked when I woke up, but I felt better than I had in a long time. Something sent me to the duffel bag I brought with me from Sunnydale. For a year, I carried it around and never looked in the outside pocket, just like I had yet to even open Buffy's bag.

There was an envelope in that pocket. It wasn't quite flat, and I opened it carefully. When I unfolded the pages it held, a chain spilled into my hand, and I saw Buffy's familiar script on the pages. I looked at the necklace first. It was simple, a chain with three interlinked charms. A stake, a cross, and a open heart. The heart glittered more than the others, and when I looked closely, it had tiny diamonds all around.

I put it on, and for a second thought I felt Buffy's breath on my neck, her hands over mine as I set the clasp. I don't know when she found time to get it, or to write what she did. I didn't cry while I read her words, or after. I was just sad, so sad, for all the time we couldn't have together, and I folded the pages and put them safely in their envelope, and then back in the pocket they came from.

Then I went to the bathroom, washed my face and combed my hair, and went to the kitchen. I made pancakes, and Xander made jokes, and Dawn smiled. We survived, when so many didn't. We had each other, and our memories, and a future, whatever future we wanted, because Buffy did her job. She stood watch at the hellmouth, and beat it out of existence, so we could have those things, and maybe be happy. So I'm going to try.

When I put this away, all of this that I've written down, I'm going to try not to think about it anymore. Those years, Willow, Buffy. I don't know if I'll be able to, but I'm going to try. Otherwise, everything she did is wasted. I still miss them both, Willow before she turned dark, Buffy as she came out of it, and I wouldn't trade the time I had with them for anything.

The End

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