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By Counterpunch


Chapter 1

"Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful Past. "
:Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Tara waited.

She idly picked at her knitting, pulling a few stitches through out of habit rather than anything else. She needed to keep her hands busy. She discovered early on that if she had something tiny and focused to do, her brain would quiet itself down for a few menial hours.

A sigh escaped her lips.

Tara hated knitting. She mindlessly completed a row of the burgundy and cream scarf she had been knitting for what seemed like forever.

Too long, she thought.

1, 823, 069 stitches and she had come no closer to easing her aching heart than she had at stitch number 1.

1,823, 070. Enough for now.

Tara placed the long train of fabric beside her on the bed, flexed her aching fingers, and sat up. Feeling the pressure in her bladder, she swung her legs to the side and put her bunny slippers on. Before she could stop it, as she stood mid-step to the bathroom, a memory swept her, powerful in its grasp.

"See?" Willow urged happily, her hands busy fidgeting with an apparently fascinating tissue. "They're bunnies! For my snuggle bunny."

Tara's grin stretched across her face, slowly and with a hint of flush in her cheeks.

Rising to her feet, she took a few steps to meet Willow by the bureau. "Will, they're lovely," she said, gathering Willows hands in her own. "And they'll keep these frigid feet of mine toasty warm for you."

"Oooh, all ready for bedtime snuggles?" Willow bounced excitedly.

Chuckling, Tara replied, "Yes, Willow. All ready for bedtime snuggles."

A devilish glint in her eyes, Willow's mouth turned up at the corner. "Good. 'Cause you know, there's nothing I like better than making sure you're all warm and toasty. Especially during bedtime snuggles".

"Oh really? And how were you planning on doing this exactly?"

"Well, I had kinda planned to throw you down on that bed and have my way with you, if that's alright," Willow said in a mischievous, light hearted voice.

Tara gasped, thrusting her right arm suddenly at the doorway in order to balance herself. Assaulted by her memories, Tara didn't even notice the crying. It felt like a horse had kicked her in the chest, leaving Tara reeling, shell-shocked, and heartbroken for at least the tenth time that day.

Steeling herself, Tara made her way to the bathroom determined to prepare for bed without further disaster. Several minutes later, after brushing her teeth, relieving her bladder, flossing, and washing her face, Tara flicked the switch, submerging the bathroom in darkness. Placing her knitting on the bedside table, she pulled a corner of the blanket down and settled herself under the covers.

She picked up a framed photo of the Scoobies and lovingly cradled it in her hands. She paused, staring at the figures that haunted her. Tracing her fingers along Willow's face, she hesitated before taking a deep, shuddering breath. She put the picture back on the table.

Before turning off the lamp, Tara turned on the radio, the alarm of humanity, like she did every night since, and waited with bated breath.


Not even the hiss of static or the rambling of car commercials could be heard. An abyss of sound pervaded the room, and Tara sighed. Again.

The room, now silent and dark, howled its emptiness back at Tara as she clutched the sheets to her chest and laid her head on her pillow, quietly succumbing to another night of restless sleep and broken nightmares.


Chapter 2


Willow jerked awake, head jumping up from its resting place on the inside of her arm, elbow crooked beneath her head on the table. Willow's eyes were unfocused and panicky, her chest rose and fell rapidly as she panted, still hearing echoing screams from the chasms of her dreams.

Sliding into the chair next to her at a table and room not unlike the research area at the Magic Box, Ms. Hartness slowly began rubbing Willow's back. She had gotten used to waking Willow with a soft hand. But no matter how gently she was woken, Willow always woke with a start. There would be several flustered moments before awareness would settle and Willow would realize where she was.

"Willow, you've been asleep for hours. Aren't you the least bit sore on that table, dear?" Ms. Hartness posed quietly in a sweet Welsh tongue, her arm making tender circles on the middle of Willow's back.

Taking several slow deep breaths to settle herself, Willow blinked and turned her head.

"Why do you keep doing that?" she asked softly, a slight frown on her face and a crinkle between her brows.

"Do what, dear. It's nothing that I haven't done dozens of times now."

Sure in her convictions, Willow knew, more than anything, the kindness this woman was showing her was wrong. A murderer like her didn't deserve being woken tenderly. A torturer like her wasn't entitled to warm biscuits and jam in the morning. Malicious and destructive villains like her don't warrant clemency. The Big Bad doesn't get a break. It went against every Scooby bone in Willow's body. And she knew it.

"I don't deserve this. Any of this."

Before she let herself soften and melt in tears of Tara and sobs of 'sorries', Willow pushed her chair back and stood. Looking to the floor, she hid her eyes. Taking a few small steps, she turned and let out a quiet "Please excuse me," before closing the door to her room behind her.

Ms. Hartness sighed and turned to look as the latch to the door slid quietly into place with a small click.

"No, Willow," she said sadly, shaking her head. "You don't."


Chapter 3


Buffy's eyes hardened and she squinted at her foe. Circling slowly with every muscle tense, she quickly checked the exits to make sure the being in front of her couldn't escape.

"Make me."

Appalled, Buffy screwed her face up and spat, "Dawn, if you think for one second I'm gonna let you get away with this, you've got another thing coming to you."

Not relinquishing her hold on the box of Oreos, Dawn slid slyly closer to the doorway. "Oh yeah? What are you gonna do, slay me? Sure makes the whole jumping off a tower thing kind of redundant, don't you think?"

"That cookie is mine and you know it. It's my post-slayage treat. A Scooby snack for the Scooby! And...and...I even put a post-it on the box, see?" Buffy stammered desperately.

Dawn turned the box over- 'Last cookie dibs' and a little stake were drawn on a sticky note. She rolled her eyes. "Fine," she relented. "But you know this means I get the whole next box to myself?"

Happy that the standoff was over, Buffy yanked the coveted treat and shoved it in her mouth. "What, so you can mix it with Tabasco sauce and marshmallow fluff and call it icing? I think not."

"Ugh, fine. Ignore fine, creative dining. Whatever." Dawn rolled her eyes. "I'm going upstairs, you coming?"

"Yes ma'am. Just give me two shakes of a lamb's tail. I'm going to do another sweep."

Dawn pondered the conundrum as she began climbing the stairs. "Huh. Why do they say that anyway? Lambs don't shake their tails twice. Do lambs even shake their tails once?" Turning around to see if Buffy had an answer, Dawn was puzzled to see her sister nowhere in sight.


Shrugging, she turned and continued up to her room.


Chapter 4

The night was still, heavy with a hint of humidity, thick like a blanket. The rain from the day before soaked into the streets and shimmered underneath the streetlamps. Buffy circled the Summers house for the third time that night. Part guilt and part determination, Buffy continued to stubbornly patrol long after any threat had reared its bumpy face.

Buffy had promised that nothing would ever happen to Dawn as long as she lived. But she had failed. Hadn't she learned? Hadn't she seen what damage a selfish Slayer could do?

And I thought I was different than Faith.

The saintly and superior attitude she had clung to when she had come back had blinded her irreparably. And so she had failed in so many ways. She failed to protect Tara, darling Tara, who made pancakes and juice in the morning. She failed to safeguard her family who had suffered enough that year. Useless and aloof, Buffy was unable to save and defend the people who had selflessly upheld a vigil of support for her and her duty, adopting it as their own.

Thus wrapped up in her thoughts, she sheathed Mr. Pointy. Satisfied with her sweep of the house, Buffy walked back up the front porch. Letting her eyes scan the front yard once more, she reached one hand to the doorknob and hesitated. Twisting around, she stared at the moon for a long moment.

Round and full, the moon shone foggy, caught behind a light mist of clouds. The moon had meant so much before. Cycles of cages, wolves, and magic had occupied the past. Now the only thing that seemed to orbit the Summers house was pain, blood, and death.

Turning her back on the heavens, Buffy entered the house and shut the door on the moon.


Chapter 5

" I put on that sweater you gave me
I woke up in the kitchen a few minutes later
I didn't know how I had gotten there
Did you guide me?
I didn't make it to your funeral
I didn't want ritual or resign
So lost I was asleep in the palms of your hand
In dreams we were happy and safe
I can't comprehend the ways I miss you
They come to light in my mistakes
In my mistakes
In my mistakes"
:Neko Case, South Tacoma Way:

"The stars burn. You can't quite touch 'em, can you? They burn, burn, burn. Tiny little holes right through Spikey."

The vampire made his way through the alleyway. Drunkenly stumbling around trash cans toppled like boxes, Spike muttered to himself; his own crazy voice more soothing than the reviling buzz of victims tearing through his head.

"Time, time, running out of time. Have to get back home. Quick like a bird."

He paused, sensing something wrong. Subtle, like changing a recipe by adding extra salt. The air reeked of dark changes. Unnatural and erratic. Alarmed, Spike braced himself for danger.

"I hear you, you know. Your skittering little legs. Didn't think I could, did you?"

There-- in the corner behind the dumpster-- a buzzing.

At first a low hum, Spike's eyes narrowed and he grabbed a nearby bent golf club, sticking out of a soggy cardboard box like a spider leg, and slowly stalked towards the noise. The humming grew louder like a cacophonous swarm of bees.

Swatting the air around him, Spike crouched ready, club swung behind him like a baseball bat. Slow steps brought him closer to the dumpster. As the buzzing grew, so did his nervousness.

Swallowing loudly, he whispered "Bring it on, luv."

As the last word left his lips, the buzz exploded in a brilliant nebula. Spike lifted his arm to try and shield his eyes as a thousand luminous shards pierced his flesh.

The light was the last thing he saw before blacking out.


Chapter 6


Like a bolt of lightning, Willow shot up in her bed drenched in the warm sticky sweat of nightmares clinging to her flesh.

Pupils dilated, it took her a moment to realize where she was.

England. I'm in England.

But, I felt her, her brow crinkled in confusion. Here, but...not here.

Trying to shake the cocoon of Tara that encased her every time she woke, Willow tried to relax her tense body by following the now mustily familiar landscape of her room at the coven.

A small hum echoed in the back of her sleep-fogged mind, and Willow blinked.

"Willow, this is your room. You'll be expected to arrive at all meals, but otherwise you are free to stay and wander as you wish. Elyse will come and check on you every hour to see if there's anything you require. All right?"

Willow slowly nodded, if only to get Mrs. Hartness to stop talking and leave.

"Good! Then we'll see you shortly for some supper." With a kind smile, Ms. Hartness turned and walked away, her short heels skittering on the wooden floor like beetles.

Left standing on the threshold of her room, Willow forced herself to open the door. She stared emptily at the living quarters in front of her.

Dust particles shimmered in the light that poured in from the large windows opposite the bed. She trailed her fingers lightly over old lacy pillows and a thick, frilly beige blanket before resting on her small suitcase.

Willow pulled a single picture frame from beneath a thin layer of clothes, and sat down on the edge of the bed, staring longingly at the photo in front of her.

Taken the Thanksgiving before Joyce's death, Xander had snapped a picture of Tara and Willow snuggled up together on the couch. Willow had seen him out of the corner of her eye and was about to tell him off, but Tara...darling Tara hadn't even noticed. Staring adoringly at Willow above her, a smug smile of contentment and happiness shone on Tara's face.

Willow traced Tara's grin in a shaky hand before placing the frame next to a small vase of flowers and continued to unpack. Refolding everything before she placed them into the dresser, Willow mindlessly organized her life into five drawers.

A large wardrobe in the corner of the room caught her eye. She stood standing in front of it for a long moment. Abruptly, as if having just mustered up the courage to do so, she opened the doors wide with both arms.

Taking off both her shoes before stepping boldly into the closet, Willow closed the doors firmly behind her, steeped her breathing, and concentrated. Drenched in darkness, brows furrowed, lips tight and hands clenched, Willow faced the back wall and lifted one arm warily. Sifting through several old coats, she held her breath and reached out shakily.

It seemed like forever that her hand crept forward. On and on she moved -- slowly, so slowly -- until suddenly, her fingers touched the back of the wardrobe. The rough and gritty grains of the wood mocked her light touch.

...But there was no magic. Not for a witch in a wardrobe in England, not anywhere. The world was just as it had always been: dry, scabbed, and cruel.

Willow had somehow forgotten this, having had buried a tiny part of herself deep. Long before Buffy had come along and whisked her off her feet with danger and purpose, before Cordelia and her cronies had taunted and belittled her into spackled wallpaper, Willow had protected herself.

Submerged in the companionship of two young boys, a tiny Willow had hidden the white and shining beauty of her innocent heart away. She knew she would need to keep it safe. In order to lose oneself in books and neglect, one had to take the necessary precautions. The lessons of C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, E.B. White, and Tolkien among others had taught her that. She had learned well.

And there it had stayed, shrink-wrapped and refrigerated for the time the Slayer would come with her friendship and bumps in the night.

At the cold, hard touch of the back of the wardrobe, this part of Willow exploded and let loose every moment of pain and anguish in her young life simultaneously. In flashes, her life decomposed.

...a constant key under the doormat

...a skinned knee and sneering faces on the blacktop

...crinkled toilet paper and used wrappers in her locker

...a twenty-dollar bill and a ten-word note taped to the fridge

...two helpless puncture marks in the side of Jesse's neck

...the dark, dismal realization of Moloch's deception

...dead fish on a string in the solitude of her bedroom

...the cold steel of betrayal twisting deep at the sight of two naked bodies tangled together underground

...the bitter frustration of Buffy's blind obliviousness and preoccupation when she needed her most

...a warm bench and a blank, blue-eyed gaze at the fair ten seconds too late

...Buffy's serene body atop rubble and dust

...screams in the night

...the slinking fear of argument

...brittle herbs

...delicate words sheets shirts

...splotches of red

All Willow could see was warm, sticky red. And in that, something broke.

Sinking to the floor of the wardrobe, a lifetime of empty wasted endless days stared Willow in the face. For the first time since the funeral, Willow cried. Giving in to the abyss that claimed her, a low cry began deep in her bowels. Scratching its way through her lungs and throat, its claws erupted with a terrible and mighty ferocity.

It was terrible and colossal. The floods of Noah were nothing compared to the torrential downpour that ravaged Willow.

Shaking, wailing, and hacking sobs on the floor of the wardrobe, somewhere Willow wondered how the tears could feel so hot when her chest felt so cold. Her pulse pounded in her ears as fire poured forth from her eyes and trailed down her face but hissed and evaporated when it ran blindly into the collapsing icy caverns of her breast.

And that was how Ms. Hartness found her charge hours later, throat raw, eyes vacant and unfocused, mouth trembling, with a never-ending barrage of tears streaming down her face.

After Willow's lack of appearance at dinner, Ms. Hartness knocked on her door and saw the wardrobe ajar. She scooped Willow up and rocked her slowly on the floor, whispering chants of 'hush' and crooning old English songs from her childhood.

Hair being stroked softly, Willow brokenly succumbed to sleep with the murmuring of gentle words in her ear.

With a flourish of bed sheets, Willow got up before she could easily persuade herself not to. After throwing some clothes on and washing up, she emerged from her room to be welcomed by a plate of still steaming biscuits, berries, cheese, and juice left on the table. Despite her best intents, a tiny smile graced her lips, cheeks stretching unused to the action. The smile did not reach her eyes as another useless day loomed ahead of her: tedious and barren.

All right, then. First, breakfast; then Giles.


Chapter 7

Tired and weary of browsing through volumes of dry texts, Giles removed his glasses and massaged his eyes with the backs of his hands. Even after the dull, weary itch had faded, he continued to rub as if he could scrub it all away.

Before he could dwell on his unhappiness, a rapid knock on the door drew him forth from his thoughts.

"Yes? Oh, Ms. Hartness. Please, do come in."

Closing the door behind her, Ms. Hartness surveyed the cluttered desk and let out a soft chuckle. "Research, Mr. Giles? I wasn't aware you alone were in charge of the advancing apocalypse."

His eyes crinkling, Giles smiled. She always knew how to barge into a room like an irritatingly welcome friend and make him smile amidst danger, worry, and responsibility.

"Yes, well. It can never hurt to try. Though truth be told, I feel as if I might as well be doing nothing anyway, there's so little to go on. And quite frankly I don't know what to do, Marissa."

Word of the first two murders had spread quickly. The Council, per their form, was predictably slow to consensus and action. But it didn't stop others from having their own ideas. Regardless of any theory, something was coming. And no one having any idea what it was made people very, very nervous.

Recognizing the slow sticky dread of helplessness in Giles' eyes, Ms. Hartness gently nudged Giles' chin to meet her gaze. She beckoned him to stand, wrapped her arms around as far as she could reach, and held him tight.

They swayed silently for a few moments, two little buoys adrift in a wide, dark, and tumbling sea.

Breaking the comfortable silence, Ms. Hartness pulled back to look at Giles. "Rupert. She's not making any improvement."

Meeting her gaze, Giles sighed. "Yes, I know."

"Good. Then I think you realize we've done all we can for her here."

Seeing him opening his mouth, preparing to interrupt, she placed a finger over his mouth and continued. "Rupert. It's been months. She came to us broken. She's still in pieces, but...she's stubbornly resigned herself to live. And I doubt she's even realized it, but she has. In fact, she'd probably deny her own will, but I daresay she's stronger than she gives herself credit for."

Shaking his head, Giles agreed. "Oh, I have no doubts that Willow gotten remarkably better. But it's only been a few months, do you really think she's ready to go back to Sunnydale?"

"My dear Giles. She'll never truly be ready, but she is needed. For whatever is coming. There will be a great battle fought on the Hellmouth soon, as you well know, and your Slayer will need all the help she can get. Willow must go back. It won't be easy, but there's nothing more we can do to help her here. The rest is up to her. And her friends. And you," she finishes, looking up at him with a smile in her eyes.

Giles smiles back. "She thinks you're afraid of her, you know."

Chuckling softly, Ms. Hartness replied "Oh, don't be ridiculous. I couldn't be less afraid of her than Tupperware. Now, come. Let's go to her, shall we?"


Chapter 8


That's all that he could remember. There was no room in his brain for anything else, all possible thoughts scattered like ants by new waves of torment.

Blinding, flashing pain besieged him and tore through his flesh. His mouth opened and closed like a fish gasping for air, but no sound escaped. He was trapped in a bubble of anguish.

It seemed endless, stretching on into infinity, pulling him to the far corners of wherever he was.

He thought it was pain at first, what else could it have been? But for a moment--a miracle moment--his back stopped spasming. Primal body functions kicked in and, relishing the respite from agony, his spine relaxed into a gentle, natural arc.

It seemed that the moment his back relaxed, the rest of his body followed, each muscle softening slowly like butter. It seemed to take forever, but the agony and sound eventually melted until he was just Spike, with elated tears of thanksgiving leaking from his eyes.

Limbs sprawled out, he lay panting heavily on the ground, praising whatever Gods above and below for the solid terrain he could grasp.

Grateful for his newfound freedom, he was nonetheless aware of his vulnerable state. Desperate for survival, now more than ever, he forced himself to his knees and scrutinized his surroundings. Bracing his aching arms on his thighs, he opened his eyes and froze.

Trash cans littered the damp alley. A dumpster lay dormant against the far wall. And a bent golf club stuck out like a spider leg from a dank cardboard box.

It was the exact same alleyway he had come from.

Except it was daylight.

Spike ever so slowly raised his gaze towards the sky.

And didn't burn.


Chapter 9

"Hello?" Xander asked as they walked. "Earth, to Buffster. You there?"

Realizing that someone was talking to her, a sudden "Huh?" blurted out of her mouth.

"Well, that was enigmatic. Maybe a little overacted, but with just a bit more 'oomph', I think you've got some definite Oscar material there."

"Sorry, Xander," she apologized, "I guess I zonked out again?"

"Yeah, sure. Either that or excitement is just pouring out your ears in all new fun ways. Everything alright in there?"

They turned the corner at the tail end of town and started up the long sloping hill. Kids blurred by on roller blades and bicycles as they walked, the sunshine warming their backs like a slow, cozy winter fire.

Picking at the loud, crinkling, plastic wrapping in her hands, Buffy shuffled on, noticing the grass peeking through the cracks in the sidewalk, Stubborn little weeds. "Yeah, I was just out a little later than usual last night, checking things out. You know, no biggie."

Xander recognized that tinge of the sluggish self-hatred Buffy carried. He knew it because he was just as stuck in the quicksand of regret as she was.

There was nothing that haunted him more in his life--not seeing his best friend ashen and unconscious laying bruised and battered on a hospital bed, not staring at the pavement alone and benumbed on Christmas eves, and not even the stricken realization of betrayal in Anya's brimming eyes as she stood emptily on the altar--than the moment Xander Harris, champion of Scooby blind-daring and action, stood motionless in that sunny backyard on the worst day of his life.

But what could he possibly say? No words would make his sticky feet move those months ago, and nothing he could say now would dispell the hanging cloud that smoldered above them. It was a deeply ingrained Scooby habit to save the heavy emotional drain for apocalypses and demons rather than on communication and conversation. It took precious resources to keep up fighting the forces of darkness, let alone the effort of trying to live in the light.

Squinting against the sun, he swept the unspoken conversation away with a silent agreement, "Yeah, no big."

Buffy was grateful for Xander's willingness to sacrifice the topic. She just didn't feel like getting into it. Not today.

They kept walking, stuck in a comfortable silence, each wrapped in their own tiny pockets of grief. The sign for the cemetery snuck up on them as it always did, taciturn and massive.

Buffy hated the sunlight that day. It mocked her relentlessly as her friend lay cold in the ground. Buffy hunted the dark and the evil, but she could do nothing to chase away the shadows that hung under Dawn's eyes or the scars that lingered on Xander's face -- more potent and obvious in the sunshine than they had been the night before.

Buffy squeezed her sister closer to her.

She glanced over at Willow, who had mutely insisted she dress herself that morning, as she sat in the only chair with her hands clasped tight, knuckles shining whitely and trembling in her lap. A constant stream of tears trickled down Willow's face as she looked ahead blankly, lost and irretrievable. Buffy wondered if she'd ever see her best friend again.

It wasn't often a fallen or dearly departed Scooby member had a remnant of them left in Sunnydale. Most drifted away like dust to Angel in L.A. or were possessed in the dark by demons. It was almost a morbid rare treat to be able to visit a grave.

Buffy was slightly startled when they stopped walking, having arrived at their destination, and Xander spoke softly. "You know, I didn't think it would be this hard."

Nodding solemnly, she said, "I know. Me either."

Xander reached to pick up the old bouquet of brilliantly mixed zinnias--petals browning slightly at the tips like burnt paper edges--that rested against the tombstone. "She still doesn't talk to me, but I know her like the back of my hand. These are hers."


He bowed his head in affirmation, and with a forced chuckle said, "She probably did research on appropriate graveside manner."

Buffy gestured down at the mixture of flowers in her hand, "Well, these aren't exactly a dime a dozen at the grocery store, either."

He shrugged. "Well, what's a few extra bucks? We made a promise, Buff, and an elephant never forgets. Or shirks his duty. Or, you know...isn't an elephant."

Xander faithfully went to the floral shop in town every Friday to tenderly collect a mixture of ferns, phlox, irises, and orange blossoms. It had been the only thing Willow asked of him before she left. Somewhere he knew, best-friend deep, that Willow didn't think she would ever be coming back.

He upheld her wish, but always added a single dark crimson rose just for her. It just felt right to him.

Cradling the old zinnias in his arms, Xander replaced them with the fresh bouquet as he sat down in the grass, cross-legged beside Buffy.

She stared at him for a long moment.

Then, taking a deep breath, Buffy began.

"Hey, Tara. . ."


Chapter 10

Accidentally knocking the pots to the floor with a clatter, Tara cursed loudly as she burnt her fingers on the stove and shoved the throbbing digits between her legs, clamping her thighs together.

The morning light shone through the window over the sink in the Summers kitchen, soft like a lullaby, as Tara tried to prepare breakfast.

Ella Fitzgerald kept Tara company every morning, rain or shine, happy or sad, empty or full, pancakes or cereal, ready or not. It chased the silence away, if only for a little while, and jazz was something Tara clung to. Like the last remnants of a tube of toothpaste, Tara squeezed up the few inheritances she had, burrowed deep in her heart.

Mornings at home with Mom had been such a rare delight, and Tara treasured them more than anything. Her father and Donnie always left early to work the farm, so Tara was left alone with her mother for a few precious hours. The house would sing with happiness, smug and full of cookies and magic.

Her mother would hoist her on a stool and hold her protectively from behind like a mama bear at the kitchen counter. She would sing with the radio, under her breath, tickling the backs of Tara's ears. Lady Ella serenaded them warmly and flowers danced on the windowsill as they wove recipes into blankets of solace that Tara would wrap around herself during the long dark nights under lock and key.

Flour, jazz, honeysuckle, and daffodils would stick to the underside of Tara's heart when Father worked a dark magic all his own. Try as he might, however, nothing was more powerful than those happy mornings bathed in light and love.

Trying to shake the burning that licked the tips of her fingers and heart, Tara shook her head and went to the sink to run her hand under cold water.

"Morning, you," Tara felt in her ear as a soft body molded into hers from behind. "Funny shapes today?"

Tara smiled, feeling Willow's grin ripen in the crook of her neck.

The glass she was filling slipped from a lax grip and shattered into tiny fragments along with Tara's carefully conceived morning procedure.

Jerked out of her thoughts, as her back echoed a phantom Willow-warmth, Tara realized it just wasn't enough this morning. She had grown too comfortable with the routine. Her brain had relaxed in habit and her heart was beginning to think.

It was too much.

Barely remembering to turn off the stove, Tara left the kitchen in a flurry, crunching over the broken glass, and hurried to the front door.

She needed to get out. The house was oppressive and caved in on her slowly with faulty routines, patterns, and habits designed to keep her calm. Tara barely had time to realize she was panicking; it struck dart fast, unseen until it hit. Her breathing labored and spots danced behind her eyes as she leaned heavily against the banister.

She just needed to get to the door.

With a last burst of desperate strength, Tara leapt towards the door and grabbed the doorknob as she fell.

Fresh air flew in as the door swung open. It blew the crazy and the panic out of Tara like sifting sand in the wind as she lay collapsed in the doorway with one arm hanging off the threshold.

The hysteria fled after a few moments as a lazy breeze gently blew Tara's sweaty hair into the draft. Her mind cleared slowly, defogging like a mirror after a steaming shower, and her breathing returned to normal as she listened to her heart calming.

Thump-thump. Thump- thump. Thump – thump.

Taraheart , she thought, her eyes brimming with a fresh wave of tears, her throat thickening. She forced them down with a deep swallow.

She knew no one was watching, but Tara felt self-conscious sprawled out like a lunatic in the doorway of the house. Stranger things had happened in the Summers home, she knew, but not in this place.

Tara stood and brushed her hands off on her pants, staring forlornly at the long expanse of the lawn in front of her.

I need more eggs.

She needed to collect herself before going out again. Too unnerved to do it now, Tara hugged her arms, rubbing her shoulders in cold comfort, and turned to go back inside.

The door shut firmly behind her.

Part 11

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