ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To rsietz[at]

By Counterpunch


Chapter 31

Chapter Notes

This chapter takes place in Lessons, Episode 1 of Season 7. They're sort of like scenes inbetween what we, the viewers, saw. Think about them logistically and place them chronologically. Any questions, please feel free to ask!

It was astounding what time could do to scoured hearts. Contrary to popular thought, it didn't heal all wounds. It didn't create a salve after months of searing pain, and it certainly did not prepare Buffy for what was on the other side of that door.

"Spike? Are you real?"

His wild laughter echoed in the dark basement, and her face twisted. It was all too surreal. There had been other basements, once. In falling houses. In secret and in shame. In desperation and in need. That urgency to feel something, any thing. Even if it was as dead as she still felt--as dead as she used to be.

Buffy wondered where he'd been. How he'd got here, why his hair looked so different...And what were those cuts on his chest? His eyes were tender. Concerned for him, she lifted her hand to touch his cheek. But then the memories came.

She remembered how she'd stood outside the bathroom looking in, wondering how long it would take her to get used to sitting on the slick, cool porcelain without feeling ill. It took her a few weeks, after everything, to not panic if her back was turned to an open room.

Buffy blinked.


She was washing berries and slicing fruit in front of the sink when a clammy wave passed over her. Everything turned to slow-motion. She watched water droplets spill down the edge of a strawberry that wobbled on the countertop. Slayer instincts forced her blood to pump faster and made her heartbeat pound in her ears. Threat, there was a threat. The pregnant belly of a blueberry rounded slowly in Buffy's vision when the fine hairs on the back of her neck sprang up in attention. Buffy swiveled and snapped to her right. Threat--there was a threat.

She heard a muted clatter as time resumed its normal speed. A bowl crashed on the tile.


Dawn stood in the doorway, her arm frozen and her face a mask of alarm. "Buffy?" she repeated.

Buffy saw herself as if from behind a veil, horrified at the sight of her sister so frightened. She looked down, surprised to see a knife locked tight in her grip. Its smooth and heavy handle was the only thing she could feel and it grounded her to the kitchen. She looked back at Dawn, who was fixated on the fruit-laden countertop, and followed her sister's line of sight. Blood. There was blood. Buffy looked at her other hand. It was then that she noticed the red on the blade. She didn't even feel the cut.

She didn't feel anything except Dawn's arms that surrounded her. Buffy closed her eyes and sank into the hug. That had been the beginning of okay.

She'd had enough to worry about that summer without thinking of him. Plumbing in the basement, arrangements with the funeral parlor, Dawn catching up at school (apocalypses always happened during finals for some endlessly odd reason), phone calls to Giles, double shifts at the Doublemeat, and meetings with the social worker, among other things. Turned out real life took up lots of real time and left none for Spike.

. . . Who was suddenly standing before her. Disheveled. In the basement of the new high school.

Breath. Deep breath. Reel it in, Summers. Dawn is on the line. Stranger things had happened in Sunnydale, she supposed.

"Buffy, duck." Except maybe hearing him say that.

"Duck? There's a duck?"

And then, as happened every so often in her line of work, there was black.


Chapter 32

Chapter Summary

This chapter takes place in Lessons, Episode 1 of Season 7. They're sort of like scenes inbetween what we, the viewers, saw. Think about them logistically and place them chronologically. Any questions, please feel free to ask!

A large pile of bricks takes up residence in Tara's chest. The pressure of Spike's words is sudden and immense. They steal her breath and stab her heart.


His hand drops, and eyes that were so tender and full a moment ago look away, caving with fear and confusion. He turns away, raising his arms to his head, and starts to pace backwards.

Tara pushes past the shock that threatens to topple her. There's no time for that right now. This is time for blind Scoobying. As she rushes forward to stand before him, a calm settles on her like a balm. You can do this. You're an Amazon, remember? "Spike. What did you mean, just now, when you said, 'Buffy'?"

Spike continues pacing. Nothing in his demeanor suggests he has even heard Tara. Instead, he mutters to himself as his steps become more forceful. Her heartbeat thunders furiously in her ears, but Tara manages to focus on Spike's words. After all, they've brought her here; who knows where else they can take her. You have to do this.

He's like a frightened animal pawing away from her questions. "No visitors today, terribly busy." All Tara knows is that she has to keep him talking. Keep him going. But trying to guide him through whatever is happening seems impossible as half of what he says is nonsense.

"Nobody comes in here, it's just the three of us."

Three of us? Tara's heart thuds dully with the dangerous thing called hope. Buffy, she focuses. Buffy will fix it. "Is Buffy here, Spike? Can you see her? Is she hurt? Can you tell her I'm here? Can you tell her -- "

He finally snaps, "Don't you think I'm trying! Slayer's going on and on about some bloody zombies who keep yelling at her and attacking and -- "

She whirls around to focus on a detail she can fix. "Zombies?" she interrupts. "No, Spike, zombies don't speak. They must be manifest spirits raised to seek vengeance. Tell her there m-might be a talisman or something."

"Not ghosts," he says. The events of the past several hours coalesce as Tara watches his crazy antics. That's it . Tara grits her teeth. I need him, even if he can't do it himself. "Spike! Tell her--" she grabs his coat and forces him to look at her. " This is important, damn it. I don't know what's going on, but I need you to tell her what I said. Ok?"

The steel-blue of Spike's eyes bore into Tara's and in an instant she sees the Poet and knows the man behind yellow eyes. And somehow, just for a second, despite everything, she thinks everything can be okay.


Chapter 33

Chapter Notes

This chapter takes place in Lessons, Episode 1 of Season 7. They're sort of like scenes inbetween what we, the viewers, saw. Think about them logistically and place them chronologically. Any questions, please feel free to ask!

"So. . . " Tara says later, calmly, hands folded together, "Do you wanna talk about what happened?"

"Not particularly, no." Spike snaps.

They've been sitting in the basement of the old high school for hours. Spike's behavior has continued to be erratic, talking to people who aren't there, yelling in what seems like pain, though Tara can't find anything physical to explain it. She decides to start small. "Why come here?"

He sighs, realizing the futility of fighting the situation, and decides to respond somewhat helpfully. "Dunno, really. Didn't feel like I was in control of myself. Suddenly there was just someplace I needed to be."

The phrase rattles throughout Tara's entire being.

"I remember," she murmurs, suddenly feeling very cold. And it's true--Tara won't forget it. Ever. Even if she wanted to. Though she was never fully present, parts of her remember Glory. In bits and pieces, like looking through a peephole and only seeing a small part of what's on the other side. When reality blurred into a nightmare and Tara was never certain of what was real. It felt like she'd been constantly dragged under by a tide -- waves crashing around her -- struggling to reach the surface.

Last time there'd been darkness and horrible things swarming, whispering, taunting her. Tara remembers crawling -- slick blackness oozing through her fingers -- and she kept sliding into thicker darkness until she was choking on it; until it crawled into her mouth, through her ears, and dripped from her eyes. And all the while it whispered and hissed. Tara remembers feeling dirty. The way her father had told her she was, the way she had tried to never believe in her heart, the way she finally was in the dark, cold place.

Closing inward still comes naturally, the way it did before she met Willow and the others--before she'd been transformed as a Scooby. She fights against it now. "And then you saw. . . Buffy."

"I didn't just see her , love. I saw them all. Near as I can figure it, I'm crazy and you're just another figment of my imagination."

Tara can't help laughing. Spike squints at her suspiciously. "What the bloody hell is wrong with you."

It's just so ridiculous.

"Listen, I don't appreciate being made fun of, even in my own head."

Her laughter finally dies down a bit. "Spike," she manages to say, wiping away a tear, "I'm not in your head, you're in mine."

He observes her a moment, squinting skeptically, then nods sharply, "Right. So we both think the other's imaginary, yeah?"

"No, you're definitely part of mine."

"Bollocks, no way I'm part of some dead girl's dreams," he says. Tara shrugs. "Fine, prove it. Do a spell."

At that, Tara's prior confidence falters. "I can't," she admits, feeling very small again. "Magic doesn't work here. Trust me, I've tried," she adds darkly.

Spike smirks. "Told you. Not real," he says, gesturing to her.

Tara glares at him. "Fine," she grits her teeth, "I'll show you." She closes her eyes and concentrates, focusing on her connection to the earth, just as her mother had taught her. She remembers how to, even if the earth has never answered her here. She remembers how it felt--almost warm . . . Her eyes fly open.

Not remembering. Happening!

Tara looks at Spike in shock and awe. "What?" he says, oblivious. Tara has no words, her jaw is slack in astonishment.

She feels the earth through Spike.


Chapter 34

Chapter Notes

This chapter takes place in Lessons, Episode 1 of Season 7. They're sort of like scenes inbetween what we, the viewers, saw. Think about them logistically and place them chronologically. Any questions, please feel free to ask!

"So you've never been able to do magic here? Since when?"

"Since always? I've tried, but nothing happens. I-Its like striking a match that won't light. Its been like that since I got here. Spike, can I. . . try something?" Tara asks as calmly as she can.

He leans away from her, slightly suspicious. "You're not gonna curse me are you? I've got that covered, love, trust me."

"No," she shakes her head, "I'm just going to . . . sense." At his nod of acquiescence, she closes her eyes once more and sends her perception outward until it meets the source of energy. There it is--edges rusted, but still burning underneath, a glowing light like a lonely, frail filament.

"Oh, Spike," she breathes in understanding. "It must hurt so much," she says tenderly.

He squirms, made uncomfortable by her empathy. "Well yeah. A hundred some odd years of murder and terrorizing doesn't exactly make for a warm welcome when a soul comes marching back."

The earth, Spike's soul . . . they're connected. Spike is a door and his soul is the key. That's it. "A soul by its nature is a force of energy. I-I don't think you belong here. I don't think either of us are supposed to be here," Tara explains. "But you . . . see me?" she waits as he nods in affirmation. "And you also see-- saw . . . Buffy." He confirms again. "But she couldn't see me." He shakes his head "So. What do we know?" Spike shoots her a look. "B-besides me being . . . dead," she adds.

He leans back and begins listing on each finger, "New high school, all shiny n' fresh, Anya's a vengeance demon again, Slayer and Little Bit are alive and well. No sign of your girl, though. Much as I could figure it, she's out of town. Probably visiting the old homestead. 'Willow Unplugged' as it were, for a spell."

Tara frowned, "What do you mean?"

"I might've been in Africa fighting demons for a near-useless soul, l but even there I could hear the earth screaming with your girl's rage. Grief is mighty powerful, and after what she did last time with you, can't say I'm surprised. Glad I was outta town though, no way in hell I woulda wanted to face her down, all gothed up."

Neither one of them had wanted to talk about it, After. Their fight before the fair. Before Glory. Granted, there had been more pressing matters, like covering up the death of a Slayer, secretly burying Buffy, and moving in to take care of Dawn, for starters. But Willow was clogged with grief and guilt over her best friend's death while Tara was keen to stay as far away from the nightmares of her prison as possible. Ignoring the trauma had been easy. But now, Tara realized deep in her gut, it had only delayed the inevitable. What had happened after she died?

He sighs and looks away before continuing reluctantly, "Been seeing things; hearing people long gone. The ones I killed. Hearing them, in my head. Taunting me. Punishing me . . . things that I did."

This, Tara thinks, is a problem she can hold onto. "Spike, you have to follow her," Tara presses, ignoring the Willow warning bells for another time.

"I can't," he says dejectedly, "You don't know what I did. I can't go see her. Don't deserve to. She doesn't deserve to."

She can sense him slipping away into insanity again, sense this chance slipping away. She remembers being crazy; hearing voices and not being certain of reality. He looks so lost. Delicately, she touches his arm, feeling the thrum of the earth through him. She lets that infuse her with strength and hope, then opens her eyes and speaks as much to herself as to him.

"You can do this."


Chapter 35

Chapter Notes

This chapter takes place in Beneath You, Episode 2 of Season 7. They're sort of like scenes inbetween what we, the viewers, saw. Think about them logistically and place them chronologically. Any questions, please feel free to ask!

Anya hated that her job now felt like, well, a job. "You were saying?" she asked the space cadet in front of her.

"I want more quesadillas?"

"Before that," Anya directed. She'd only just finished with that woman and the boyfriend-turned-giant-worm, but with the news from Halfrek, Anya wasn't taking any chances and was back on Vengeance duty sooner that she cared to.

"A margarita?"

Had they always been this insipidly annoying? She had taken such delight in this part, the creative brainstorming of torture, but now it felt tedious. Like filing pointless paperwork. Or a tax extension.

"After that," Anya gritted her teeth.

The woman's eyes brightened as she finally remembered, "Oh. Yeah! My boyfriend's spineless. He should just, y'know, not be spineless. For real."

"No spine. Got it. I can do that."

Confused, the woman twisted her face, "What do you mean."

"And?" Anya pushed in an irritated voice that clearly stated, 'I want to get this over with already.' "Well honey, what I'm driving us towards here is, sometimes, don't you just wish that--" she was cut off as the Scoobies entered the Bronze.

Relief and irritation warred within, at the sight of Buffy, Spike, Xander, Dawn, and that other woman from earlier. She settled for irritation. "Oh, penis," she mumbled, as they surrounded her.

That was how it always was it them. Accusations, accusations, accusations. Why were they even surprised by this, she wondered as they presented her with Ronnie, daring to ask her to change it. As if things were so easy to just undo.

This is what I do.

"Bite me, Harris. I have rules to work with. Vengeance Demon codes of conduct you'll never understand because you're still all so . . . human," Anya all but spat as she finished.

"I'm not," Spike chirped up. "Demon like yourself, Anya. Now you turn this spell around like a good little Vengeance Demon, or I . . . what?"

She was about to tell Spike off for daring to patronize her when a glimmer caught her attention. Like the reflection of a coin twinkling at the bottom of a water fountain as it caught the light.

It couldn't be.

She turned to look more closely. Yes, there it was. Faint and flickering but there. "Oh my god."

Spike pulled back, sneering, "What are you staring at?"

"Oh my god," she repeated, as understanding dawned on her.

Realizing she knew, Spike quickly tried to hide. "Right, let's go," he said to the others.

Anya grabbed his arm before he could escape. "How did you do it?" She pressed. Vampires didn't exactly go chasing their souls; it was fire to them, an inescapable burning.

"Spike. What is she talking about," Buffy asked with equal measures of confusion and exacerbation.

Still enraptured, Anya ignored her. "I can see you," she breathed with wonder.

Anya remembered why she slept with him all those months ago. It wasn't just to hurt Xander. It was because Spike had been just as empty, hollow, and in pain as she had felt. Anya had known looking into his eyes that his void was so deep it could swallow her for a few minutes.

Yet there it was, filled with light.

"Nothing," Spike said to Buffy. "Let's go, got some worm hunting to do."

"How did you do it?" she insisted, more forcefully. If he could do it, then maybe, just maybe, there was hope for her somewhere down the line. She hated to admit it, but she wanted out of the vengeance game. Her heart wasn't in it anymore; she had given it away to a stupid boy a long time ago. She just wanted to be whole again.

"Shut up," Spike growled.

"It shouldn't be possible," Anya mused, speaking more to herself than him.

"Shut your mouth, you," Spike spat, desperately attempting her from continuing.

"How did you get--" she tried again before Spike exploded with a punch to the face.

"I said, you shut up ."

Anya went down hard, smashing the table and ending up on the floor. Her wonder went straight from awe to pissed. Right, that's how it always was with them: punch first, people later.

Anya wiped her lip. It'll feel good to punch something tonight. "I am so gonna kick your ass."


Chapter 36

They came up with a plan, loose as it is. It's pretty strange, following someone all day without interacting with them. It's even stranger watching him talk to himself.

No, Tara reminds herself repeatedly. Buffy's here. She has to be.

She learns to stay quiet, letting him focus on being present in the 'real world', having full conversations without having to split his attention. The hardest has been hearing him talk to Dawn.

"What's your point, niblet?"

Tears come to her eyes instantly and she squeezes against them, nails pressing into her palms. They're out there.

Things take a sharp turn at the Bronze. Tara tries not to think too hard about the last time she'd been there, but Willow's cruel words still echo in her ears, and she flinches at the balcony. Luckily, it doesn't take long for something to happen. Spike soon starts talking to Anya, which must have escalated quickly into a fight, because suddenly he's kicked across the room by an unseen force.

"Demon, just like yourself, Anya," Spike says. Suddenly, the strange conversation about Xander from months ago at the Espresso Pump makes sense. Tara's heart seizes; everything had fallen apart. Unable to keep her distance any longer, Tara starts to rush over to Spike but he jerks still like he's been grabbed, his head snapping to the side. He punches back at the unknown assailant.

"Working out some personal issues, are we?" he says while being beaten. "Hey, I guess this would be first contact since, uh, you know when. Ooh, up for another round up on the balcony, then?"

Tara cringes. Buffy, then. Before she can dwell on the cruelty of Spike's false bravado, he's off running again. He's fast, but at least he appears to be running in a single direction up the street, away from the main drag. Downtown soon gives way to sprawling neighborhoods and Tara arrives to see Spike mimic stabbing downward at something like with a spear.

Whatever has happened is clearly traumatic, enough to rip the veneer of sanity and Spike's concentration along with it. He stands transfixed, staring at the ground in horror, clutching his head, screaming. "I'm sorry," he croaks.

"Spike, what are you sorry for, what happened?" Tara probes as gently as she can, unable to keep herself back any longer.

"Right. Wrong. All wrong. Wrong maneuver. Not hardly helpful," Spike mutters, to himself this time, she's sure. "God, please help me. Help me!" He screams at her.

Tara looks helplessly at him, flailing and screaming in the alleyway. She grows more panicked at his growing hysteria. "Spike, what happened? How can I help? Help you do what? What can I do?"

"No. No. Too much. Too much. Too much. Too much. Too much. Too much. Too much. Inside me all the way," he taps his chest. "Deep, deep, deep inside me."

"Spike," she whispers. Tara approaches him, tries to grab his hand, but at the lightest touch of her hand on his shoulder, he pulls back.

"Get away." He shrinks, "Get. Uuh." At his increasingly wild movements, and talking to the air, she calls his name louder and louder with each lack of response.

"What the hell are you screaming about? I can hear you. No need to SHOUT!" he screams at the top of his lungs.

She flinches at his outburst. He's never been this unhinged before. She trembles as she reaches out. He continues screaming, louder as if he's being tortured and it conjures up a million memories of her own. "Spike?"

He's crying but then starts to gag. Spinning, he runs away down the alley, away from downtown, out into one of Sunnydale's cemeteries. Tara follows him into the chapel.

It's set up with a dozen wooden pews arranged on either side of a central aisle. A large, simple, gothic crucifix at the front of the chapel can be seen from down the aisle. Tara looks around. "Spike?" she calls out. There are three stained glass arched windows on each sidewall of the chapel. She walks forward and jumps when he speaks from the shadows behind her. "Hello."

Tara brings a hand to her chest to stem her racing heartbeat. "Spike, you scared me."

He steps into the moonlight, bare-chested, offering his shirt out to her. "It didn't work. Costume. Didn't help. Couldn't hide."

"What happened in the alleyway, Spike?"

"No more mind games. No more mind."

"Spike, I know it's scary a-and that it's really confusing right now but try to focus. Focus o-on me, focus on Buffy." She keeps to the back, a few pews away so as to give him space but Spike flinches, recoiling violently.

"I think I hurt someone. Didn't mean to. He's a demon, then he wasn't, and I--" he winces, then robotically starts unzipping his pants.

Tara recoils in disgust and confusion. "Spike, you're scaring me."

She knows what in boys' pants. All high schools are hell, even ones not on top of a conflux of evil. It was hard enough being shy and quirky, but throw being a closeted lesbian witch in the mix, and even without actual demons, Tara's high school experience was nearly on par with that in Sunnydale.

She didn't know how they knew; she never spoke of her attractions to anyone, never let her gaze stray to boys or girls, fearful of giving any excuse for ammunition.

But boys still grabbed their crotches and made lewd faces at her in the halls. She tried to make her body as small as possible in the hopes they'd forget about her but it only served to encourage them. Hunching was default; she ducked her head and kept her eyes on the floor, tired of their faces and the way they brought their fingers to their mouths, flicking their tongues with cruelty twinkling in their eyes, leaving laughter ringing down the halls and tears brimming in Tara's eyes.

A crash pulls her from the past and she shakes her head against it, just in time to see Spike land in a heap against a smashed set of pews.

"I take it things aren't going well," she says wryly.

"Well, yes," he replies lucidly, "Where've you been all night? I tried to find it, of course," he continues, no longer talking to her. "The spark. The missing . . . the piece that fit. That would make me fit. Because you didn't want," he's crying now, and Tara's entire being crumples with sympathy. "God, I can't," he says to Tara now, "Not with you looking."

Spike stands and walks away to a nearby window. He stands there, mostly in shadow, and looks over his shoulder at a spot a few feet from Tara.

"I dreamed of killing you."

Buffy , she thinks. She must have followed him here from whatever happened in the alleyway. Buffy is here with Spike. She flushes, feeling uncomfortable for intruding on this private confessional. She doesn't belong here, knowing what she does; what Buffy tried so desperately to make Tara hate.

Spike continues his confession, but Tara takes her leave, ducking outside to get some air. She sits down in the grass, leaning against the chapel's stone wall, and gathers her head in her hands. Her emotions are all over the place, so she forces herself to take slow, deep, and even breaths in an attempt to calm herself.

Tara remembers that night on the couch; Buffy lost, sobbing into her lap, begging for forgiveness Tara didn't have to give. Instead, she gently cooed and smoothed Buffy's hair. It was so short, then. Tara wonders how long it must be now.

A few minutes later, Spike comes out, looking a bit dazed and beyond exhausted, but in control of himself. Scorch marks from the crucifix visible through the hole in his shirt. Tara looks up and nods in agreement. She's bone weary, too.

"Let's go home."


Chapter 37

Chapter Notes

This chapter takes place in Same Time Same Place, Episode 3 of Season 7. They're sort of like scenes inbetween what we, the viewers, saw. Think about them logistically and place them chronologically. Any questions, please feel free to ask!

When she was little, Willow loved to fly. Ever on the academic circuit, the Rosenbergs would take several short trips out to the east coast for conferences, events, and lectures. Willow'd earnestly beg, for weeks, to join them. As much as she enjoyed spending lazy afternoons with Xander and Jesse, she always felt different. Curious. And if she were being honest with herself, smarter. So sometimes, deep inside, she longed for something more. In her parents world, there were people like her; people who loved learning, spent their lives learning, never stopping, but thirsting for more.

While her parents' hands-off method of raising her had provided little except economic stability, the promises of their knowledge gave Willow wings. Their trips to New England, New York, Washington DC, and Chicago opened her eyes to a life outside of her empty home.

Never in a thousand years would Willow have predicted she'd stay--truly stay (and by choice, even)--in Sunnydale; not when she had Oxford and Harvard at her fingertips and dreams of catching snowflakes on her tongue. But intellect did not beget precognition, and Willow could never have known Buffy would come and change her life so drastically. It hadn't been easy, letting go of her childhood dreams of crunchy autumn leaves and apple cider, but a new purpose had taken over Willow--one that didn't involve grant proposals or academics.

Buffy had probably never understood the depth of Willow's sacrifice that day under the tree. That bone-crunching hug afterward had made her forget, of course. And so she pushed those dreams aside in lieu of a new one. Instead, she settled. Willow put her wishes on the shelf and lost herself in Purpose.

In Sunnydale, she was needed. And it felt good to be needed. To help.

Flying since had been more bittersweet than anything. She still tasted her old dreams, but they seemed so far away now, like childhood clothes she'd long outgrown. Flying reminded her of what she'd given up. And oh, how it had come full circle.

Eleven hours. It takes eleven hours to fly to London. Willow doesn't carry much.

The ride goes by in a monotonous hum, and when the pilot announces their descent into Heathrow, Willow closes her eyes in preparation.

There's a car waiting for her outside baggage claim that takes her to the countryside. The driver tosses her light suitcase into the back as if it weighs nothing. It almost does; Willow packed for Buffy and Xander's benefit--she knew she wouldn't be needing anything.

Giles will be waiting for her, she knows.

A few minutes away from their destination she takes out the photograph and lays it on her lap, smoothing the frame as if it were a rumpled skirt. She traces Tara's face as the car slows to a halt. Willow closes her eyes and takes a slow, deep breath.

The car door feels more massive than she's used to, and she wonders if English cars are all like that or if its a sign of her own weakness. She hasn't had much energy, every little small thing is heavy. Just breathing hurts.

Giles is there, looking more British than ever in tweed and a black umbrella. Everything feels damp as she follows him up the path to the cottage. Willow shrugs off the wet coat and makes no move to turn on the lights, preparing herself in the quiet dark.

She takes another deep breath before turning to face Giles, arms relaxed at her sides, chin flat, and eyes closed.

The seconds pass, beating heavily and long. After a few moments of nothing happening Willow cracks open an eye, confused to see Giles making tea in the kitchen.

He turns around to ask Willow if she wants some, but sees her posture instead and stiffens.

"Please," she pleads.

With a start, Giles understands Willow had expected him to kill her just as Willow realizes that was never his intent.

The crackle of the overhead speaker announces their descent into California

Willow emerged from the meditation, her breathing slow and even. She was in her regular position, palms face up on her knees. Willow thought of the last time her hands had touched her friends. When her arms had bled power and crushed bone. Stripped flesh. Her hands were tainted; she didn't want to touch Xander or Buffy with them anymore.

I'm not ready, she thought, for the third time that day. Giles had said it was important she go back. Had said that she was needed. Well, she didn't know about that, but she was ready to start delivering penance. She had a key to her parents' house, just in case, even though Giles said Buffy assured him she'd be welcome back at Revello Drive.

The problem was, she wasn't so sure if she deserved to be. But she had made a choice all those years ago as a girl under a tree, and Willow was finished breaking promises and letting down the people she loved. Even if they might not love her back anymore.


Chapter 38

Chapter Notes

This chapter takes place in Same Time Same Place, Episode 3 of Season 7. They're sort of like scenes inbetween what we, the viewers, saw. Think about them logistically and place them chronologically. Any questions, please feel free to ask!

Buffy shuffled nervously in place. She hated airports. Everybody who didn't die in Sunnydale left from airports, but no one ever came back. Giles, her father, Willow.


Which Willow was coming back? Would it still be her friend? And what did that even mean, these days. They hadn't connected since . . . well, they hadn't connected. Buffy knew some reformed evil in her days. Heck, she'd slept with two of them. But none of the evil she'd faced prepared her for this. Nothing prepared her for something so terribly common as grief. For what Willow could do. For what the girl who she'd once tackled to the ground with gratitude and overwhelming love.

Xander shifted his sign from one shoulder to the other looking around nervously. He was probably the only person more nervous than her.

"We've never been apart this long before, Buff. I don't know what to do without her," he'd told her at the beginning of the summer just after Willow left. "What'll it be like when she gets back, y'know? She's not--" he broke off, trying to find better words. "She's not gonna be the same."

None of us are, she'd thought.

Buffy tried to hide her fidgeting from Dawn, who was anxious enough. Buffy played with her necklace to try and calm the restlessness but she was still on high alert. Not for the first time, Buffy hated being the Slayer. She hated the positions she'd been put into time and time again; when it came down to killing the people she loved.

What would happen when Willow came off the plane? Would it be awkward? Of course it'll be awkward , she thought wryly. What's three months away from ending the world between friends.

Buffy looked down at her hands and thought of the last time her hands had touched Willow. How helpless and useless they'd been. Buffy hated her hands. They were just tools--they punched, cracked, hammered, gripped, and pushed. They had been powerless against Willow, all those weeks ago. God, if Buffy'd only touched her.

Climbing out of that catacomb had been the easy part. Once she and Dawn had clawed their way to the top, there'd been no time to rest. The world hadn't ended, and it was a bittersweet victory that had come at such a cost. The walk back to the house had been long and weary, Buffy and Dawn holding each other up as they stumbled back to the house. Papers from the coroner greeted them on the tabletop; reminders of what still faced them.

While Dawn took a long hot shower, Buffy had gone to the bedroom and started cleaning up the glass and blood. She'd furiously scrubbed the carpet, hands cut from the broken window pane, foam from the chemicals stinging her hands, scrubbing scrubbing scrubbing, crying as hard as she'd ever cried. As hard as for Angel. As hard as for Mom. She couldn't see through her tears and scrubbed furiously, hands raw, trying to scrub it all away--her mistakes, her grief, her failures. Scrubbing Tara . It had never fallen apart so hard.

She hadn't even noticed Dawn coming in until arms came around her shoulders, fruity shampoo contrasting with the chemical smell of the cleaner. Buffy didn't know how to be strong for this; with a broken family and a ghost in the walls. She didn't know how to accept that Tara's death was her fault or that Willow had willingly walked into darkness because of it. So she simply clasped a hand over her mouth and wept, with endless 'I'm sorry's' breaking from her lips.

The smell of carpet cleaner echoed in her nose now and it made Buffy nauseated as she craned her neck anxiously at the people leaving the plane.

"Do you think she'll get the sign?" Xander asked, nodding towards his yellow crayon poster, pulling Buffy out of the past.


Chapter 39

Chapter Notes

This chapter takes place in Same Time Same Place, Episode 3 of Season 7. They're sort of like scenes inbetween what we, the viewers, saw. Think about them logistically and place them chronologically. Any questions, please feel free to ask!

Walking into their old room last night was nothing compared to the horror that drowned Willow at the sight of that body, lying skinless at the base of the site. Images of ropes in a darkened wood flashed, and panic overtook Willow instantly. She stumbled backwards--as if scorched--trying to breathe, but oxygen was suddenly missing. She sucked in deep breaths trying to fill her lungs but but the air didn't come fast enough. Dizziness assaulted her and she barely made it back up the ladder.

What have I done . . . Did I do this? she thought for a moment before mentally going over the checklist the coven had taught her. As the panic threatened to overwhelm her, Willow clung to her meditation techniques, concentrated on her breathing, and sank into the earth.

The panic settled, changing into the steady, regular flow of Scooby action. It was familiar, even after months of being away. So, there was something skinning people. Ok, no big. She could do this. If this was a test, they sure picked one hell of a pop quiz. No shortcuts this time, no going big, either. She'd do things the right way this time, the natural way. She might be powerful enough to figure this out by herself, but she didn't have the control yet. So it wasn't worth the risk. Willow might not know where Buffy, or Xander, was, but she did know someone who could help her. She would not allow herself to do it alone, she needed a checks and balance system. She would build in a fail-safe and forcefully slow down the magics. She'd lost the thirst to push herself. She didn't want to be powerful anymore. She just wanted to be Willow.

So she would figure it out. The regular way, with some good, old fashioned Scooby detective work.

Her mental list was short, really only one name was on it, but it was worth a shot. Insane in the basement , Anya had said. Time to find out just how crazy Spike really was.


Chapter 40

Chapter Notes

This chapter takes place in Same Time Same Place, Episode 3 of Season 7. They're sort of like scenes inbetween what we, the viewers, saw. Think about them logistically and place them chronologically. Any questions, please feel free to ask!

Ever since that night in the chapel with Buffy, Spike has stuck to the high school basement. Their plan has overwhelmingly been a disaster, with Spike scaring Buffy and Tara more than makes it worth trying to go out again. He isn't okay. This is abundantly clear now. But after that, things have been mostly fine. While Spike sits--off to the side leading against the wall, popping sunflower seeds--Tara has set up a makeshift research table poring over the miraculous books lying open before her.

Tara stopped visiting the Magic Box months ago, not long after she arrived in this farce of a Sunnydale. Once the initial hysterics of her situation wore off, naturally she went to the shop in the hopes of finding a spell or ingredient to help her escape. But when she went, all she found were empty spaces. Most of the books were blank--huge swathes of white between clumps of text she was already familiar with. There were even vacant places on the shelves where objects and ingredients once were. That didn't stop her, of course. She delved deep into whatever material she did find: gods and goddesses, resurrection, deities of the afterlife, the Osiris spell they spent weeks working on before they brought Buffy back. It was all there--everything she had ever looked up during Scooby research.

She left no spell unspoken and no page unread. But no matter what Tara did, nothing worked. Where once there was connection in life, Tara found a gaping void. It was as if she were missing a limb: the magic that was part of her being, woven into the fibers of her cells; the magic that she was born into, and connected her to every good thing in her life. The magic that was such a big part of her relationship with her mother...that kept her warm and soft when life was cold and hard. That brought her to Willow--to Buffy, to Dawn, Xander, Giles, and Anya.

Magic was how she saw the world, it colored every living thing and connected it all. Here, she felt that great connection severed. Living in greyscale, a consuming and aching emptiness surrounded Tara. No matter what material she found at her fingertips, there was nothing she could do with the information. It was inert and useless, just like her.

Resigned to her empty existence, she stopped going to the Magic Box to spare herself the pain. She built herself into routine at the house, to abide without hope; and told herself to endure. She had no choice.

But Spike brought that spark back to her--not just hope, but magic. The earth. The connection. So Tara braced herself and returned to the Magic Box one more time; steeling her heart for the disappointment and pain that had shaded her world for so long. But her miracle continued. The moment she stepped through the door, she released the breath she'd been holding and stared around in awe.

The shelves were full. No books were missing. And when she picked one at random to fan through, every single
page was filled. She felt the earth again and let it infuse her with strength, energy, and most importantly, hope. She brought books by the armful back to the basement and got to work.

Spike perks up as if hearing something in the distance. "Someone's here," he says, breaking the silence.

Tara looks up from her research and freezes. "Here?"

"Sorry," he corrects. "Not here-here. There," he clarifies, referring to the 'real world'. Tara's shoulders relax. "It's your girl," he says a moment later.

She should have been preparing herself. It was inevitable, Willow coming back from...wherever she was. She just didn't expect it to be here , in the school basement of all places. Or now.

"You went away," Spike speaks to a Willow she cannot see, "You've been gone since..." he trails off, the open ended ellipses haunting Tara with the death she hadn't known she'd suffered. "Tragedy," he says, a moment later. "Is there blood? You did it once. I heard about it." Tara freezes. It takes everything to not to dwell on the possibilities of that sentence. Spike walks forward several steps. "Slayer's here too. And Xander." Tara inches closer, not able to help herself even though it brings her no closer to her loved ones.

"There's a body," he explains to Tara. "Everyone's talking to me. No one's talking to each other." Spike turns to face over his right shoulder suspiciously. "Someone isn't here. Button, button, who's got the button?" She wonders if he's gone off again, but he seems clear-headed, controlled. "My money's on the witch," Spike accuses triumphantly.

Tara's eyes linger in the direction Spike looks, knowing that on the other side, somewhere, Willow's alive. Willow--who she last saw splattered with blood and shock--alive. Even as he says, "Red's a bad girl," she can't stop that awe from making her heart sing. "They think you did it. The Slayer and her boy. They think you took the skin."

That, finally, is enough to pull Tara's attention back to the matter at hand. They think you took the skin.

"The what?" Tara whispers. Surely he's mistaken. That couldn't have been. But the smell of Lethe's bramble wafts unbeckoned and turns her stomach. Her knees feel weak and she reaches out to steady herself but misses the wall and buckles to the floor.

"Finally," Spike says, relieved and also irritated, "They're gone." He turns, noticing Tara on the floor and quickly kneels, concerned. "Hey. You alright?"

Tara feels lightheaded. "What happened?" she asks hoarsely.

"Buffy and Xander were here--"

She shakes her head, "No. Be fore . What happened ?"

"S'not my place, love," he says a bit regretfully.

"I c-c-can't-"

Spike seems genuinely remorseful he can't help further. "Really, I don't know what happened. Wasn't here. Was off getting this useless soul."

Her eyes are pleading. She can't bear to know; can't bear not to either.

He sighs. "As I said, only heard about it. It's nothing good. Nothing you probably haven't guessed already, now, deep down." The gaps in the answers speak volumes. "It's always the quiet ones, innit?" he finishes softly, eyes far away. She has a feeling he's not just talking about Willow, anymore.

'Made the earth scream', he said. 'They think you took the skin.'

Tara knows enough. And with the sick feeling in her stomach, she leans forward to heave.

Part 41

Return to Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fiction

Return to Main Page