DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all the slayerettes belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Why by DeAngelis/Marucci is from Annie Lennox's Diva CD and is likewise used without permission or profit.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
This is the book I never read
These are the words I never said
This is the path I'll never tread
These are the dreams I'll dream instead
This is the joy that's seldom spread
These are the tears...
The tears we shed
This is the fear
This is the dread
These are the contents of my head
And these are the years that we have spent
And this is what they represent
And this is how I feel
Do you know how I feel?
'Cause I don't think you know how I feel
Why, Annie Lennox
Tara stays in our room, Dawn stays in hers, and I stay in hers. Can't even say her name now, because it drags me one step closer to the truth. But her pillow still smells like her, and I know every item in her closet, and she should be walking through the door any time now. Except she won't. Ever. Unless I can think of a way to bring her back. Back to me.
I keep trying to think of a way. I have all this magic, all this power, and it is useless to me. Like parlor tricks and bait and switch, all I can do is see her through closed eyes, and when I open them, she isn't there.
They keep coming and going, Tara and Dawn and Xander and even Anya. Giles has abandoned us, run back to England as if being half a world away will make it less real, make it hurt less. There's no one now except us, broken, exhausted, beaten and too stupid to stay down. We patrol, with Spike for muscle and the Bot for presence. Recklessly relying on her luck, even though she is gone. Before everyone goes home or to bed, Tara and I heal them. My power, her finesse. Then she goes to our bed, and I go to hers. Tara stays for Dawn, who is more sullen each day. Can't blame her. Mom gone, sister gone, Dad in Spain with his latest bimbo and no time for a daughter he doesn't remember because she didn't exist while he was married to Joyce. She is my last link to her, and I see the traces eyes, attitude, physical grace. Dawn blames me for not saving her. I couldn't, used all my power to bring Tara back to learn at the end it was a useless waste, power that could have closed the rip and saved her. It makes me sick, but I don't begrudge Tara. I loved her, I love her, but it wasn't the same.
Tara comes in frequently, coaxing me with endearments to join them, but I can't. I failed them all, her most of all. When I close my eyes, I see her perfect dive into the hole in the sky, and hear the boneless thud of her dead body landing. The hole she closed is no bigger than the one in me, and I am afraid of the terrible things that will come out if it is opened.
To stay away, I spend time in the Magic Box. Up in the loft, reading the ancient books, absorbing some of their power each time, trying to build mine back up. I'm going to need it to go to her, to retrieve her, or to stay with her. Anya is afraid of me, and sends Xander up to tell me it's time to go home. Xander's never afraid of me. He wants to quit all this, marry Anya and have a regular life.
Tonight, Xander stands and watches me, waiting for me to pause so he won't interrupt. I slide the book back on the shelf and get to my feet. His tone when he greets me is too casual, and I know they have appointed him to speak with me about my withdrawal.
"Xander, I know what you're going to say, so save your breath," I told him.
"You know the future now?" he asked, in a too casual tone.
"Of course not. But I know they sent you to talk to me."
"They did," he acknowledged. "But I would have done it anyway. I'm worried about you, Will. You don't eat enough, you hardly sleep, but you go out on patrol with us every night. You hardly talk to anyone."
"I'm fine, Xander."
"You're not fine, Will. You don't even know which direction fine is." He took a deep breath and gentled his tone. "She's gone, Willow."
"I know that."
"You know that here," he said, touching my forehead. "But not here." His hand moved to my chest, pointing, but not touching.
"It doesn't matter where I know it, as long as I know it."
"Whatever, Xander. Is that all of your little speech, or is there more?"
"See you later," I said and ducked by him, down the stairs, out the door that Anya is so impatient to lock.
I can't go home now, to Dawn's anger and Tara's sorrow, but I must. The Bot needs some tuning before we go out tonight. I walk slowly, but it doesn't help, and I find myself on the sidewalk before my home. The lights are on, as if keeping the darkness away is as simple as shining a light on it. I enter quietly, wishing the basement had its own entrance. I can hear them in the kitchen, and I paste on a happy face.
"Hi. Smells good."
Dawn looks at me and grunts, but Tara smiles. "Hi. It'll be ready soon."
"Half an hour? I have to do some stuff to the Bot."
"Thanks," I say, and pass them. I close the door quietly and go down the stairs to see her standing in the gloom. Turning on the light makes it worse. It's her, it looks like her, but it isn't her. It doesn't have that spark. But to someone who doesn't know, it can pass for real.
"Hello, Willow," it says in her voice.
"Hello, Buffy," I answer. "I'm going to work on your reflex and punning programs."
There's no more talking except when I command it. Testing its reflexes is dangerous. I don't have super speed, and it hits me extra hard a few times before I can move. Each time, it apologizes in Buffy's voice and helps me to my feet. I'm not sorry, though. It's the least I deserve. I'm pretty much satisfied when Tara calls down the steps, "Five minutes."
"K," I answer, and turn to the Bot. "Wait here until I call you."
"I will wait for you to call me," it answers cheerfully, and is still, so I climb the stairs, go to the sink and wash my hands. Dawn has set the table, so I take my seat and wait the few minutes it takes for Tara to bring pasta and sauce and garlic bread.
"Dawn made the garlic bread," Tara says, then asks, "What happened to your face?"
"Accident with the Bot," I say, not wanting to explain that I didn't want to move out of its way. I bite the bread. It is extra garlicky with a brief sweet undertone. I flash Dawn a thumbs up and she smiles.
I eat so I don't have to talk, and listen, even though I don't want to. Tara is so good with Dawn, gets her to tell everything that she did today, and as I finish eating, Tara turns her attention to me. I smile weakly over my empty plate. "Everything was really good, thank you. And you," I add to Dawn, and push away from the table.
Tara asks Dawn to clean up and follows me through the living room and upstairs. She doesn't knock, just comes in and closes the door behind her. "I'm worried about you, Willow," she says without prelude.
"I'm ok, Tar."
"You're not okay." Tara moves closer to me. I want to move away, but there isn't anyplace to go. "At least let me heal your face."
"Fine." I let her approach, and try not to flinch when she lays her palm over my eye, then each cheek. When she's finished, she runs her hand through my hair. Her touch is gentle and soothing and comfortable, and was once all I needed. Now, though, it is something dangerous. It can pull me from her.
Tara kneels in front of me and raises my shirt. She heals those bruises too, and gently turns enough to see my back and heal those bruises too. I am warm and sleepy now, and Tara gets me to my feet and walks me through the bathroom to our room. I climb up in our bed and she gets in behind me, spoons me against her, brushing my hair with her fingers so gently. "I miss you, baby," she says softly.
"Mmmm," I answer, more than half asleep.
"You rest now," Tara says, and I'm asleep before she says anything more.
When I wake, I am still in our bed. Tara is still curled around me, stroking my hair. "How long?" I ask.
"Two hours," she says.
"We need to get ready for patrol," I croak.
"No patrol for us tonight. You're exhausted, and you won't rest unless I make you, so we're staying right here," she says firmly. Then, in a gentler tone, she asks, "Where did you get those bruises?"
"I told you, accident with the Bot."
"Will, you know you can't lie to me."
"I wanted them," I whisper.
"It's my fault." I am still whispering, as if my voice won't work, or maybe it's just that I don't want anyone to hear.
"What's your fault?"
"All of it, the whole awful mess."
"No, sweetheart, it's not your fault. I don't know where the fault lies, with the monks or with Glory or the Powers That Be, but it isn't your fault."
"I didn't help her."
"You helped her every day. If there had been any other way, Buffy would have taken it."
"She wanted to die," I say.
"No, she didn't," Tara says, her hand moving evenly through my hair. "She was tired and scared something bad would happen to us, but she didn't want to die. She did what she did to protect us, to save the world." She lowers her voice again. "She didn't want to leave Dawn and she didn't want to leave you."
"But she did," I answer, and suddenly I am crying. No noise, just tears pouring down my face.
Tara turns me to her, and I let her. She holds me, not talking, just her hands, one moving on my back, the other stroking my hair. I begin shaking and can't stop, and Tara still holds me gently. I don't want to admit what's wrong, but this strange noise starts. It's me and I can't stop. I keep thinking Tara should run away, but she doesn't. Her hands move patiently, soothing me while I cry myself to sleep.
We are in the same positions when I wake up again. Tara is still stroking my hair while I lay atop her, and her familiar smell is the reason I don't jump up. "Tara," I whisper, a plea I hope she will understand.
"It's all right, sweetheart," she answers, and the hand not stroking my hair holds me securely against her.
"I'm so sorry," I say, and I am crying again, and again she says nothing, just holds me and rubs my back.
"I'm sorry you felt like you couldn't tell me."
I can't answer, except to make that awful noise again, and again Tara lets me cry myself to sleep.
The third time I wake, she is beside me. There is a dim light on, and when I sit up, she hands me a glass of water. "Where's Dawnie?"
"With Xander and Anya."
"Oh, I bet they love that." I gulp down the water, and Tara reaches for a gallon jug to refill it.
"They'll all survive a night or two," Tara says calmly, then puts the jug back on the floor.
I sip the second glass, but it is empty soon, and this time, I just hand it to her. She sets it aside and looks at me for a moment. "I love you, Willow, but you have to let her go."
I hang my head. "I don't know how."
"I think we should move."
"From here?" I ask stupidly.
"Away from Sunnydale. Without a Slayer, it's too dangerous here. You may as well have a target on you. Xander, too." She takes my hand. "We don't have to go far. But we need to do it soon, so Dawn's school doesn't get disrupted."
People always think I'm sensible, but I'm not. Tara is, though. She examines things and sees the options. "I don't know if I can leave her."
"You need to let go, baby." Her voice is soft and her tone is gentle, but firm. "She won't rest until you do."
"It's not fair." I can hear myself whining.
"It isn't," Tara agrees. "But she chose her path, and now you need to choose yours."
I look at her quizzically. She is calm, but I see her resolve face. "What do you mean?" I ask cautiously.
"Do you want me to spell it out?"
"You're certain," Tara asks.
"Okay, here it is." She pauses for a moment to gather her thoughts, then looks directly at me. "We're leaving. All of us, Dawn and Xander and Anya and me. We're leaving Sunnydale before it finishes us off. How many people have you watched die, Willow? How many friends suddenly disappeared? Or worse, reappeared? We've done everything we can do, and it isn't enough. I want you with me, Willow, not here crying over her grave until it's yours."
Her hand cups my cheek. "I love you so much, Will, and I know you love me. I saw how you took care of me, and Buffy and Dawn at the same time. Buffy did what she did so we could be together, so Dawn could grow up safe and loved, so Xander could stop getting beaten all the time, and so Anya didn't wish to be a demon so she could protect us."
"What about Spike?" I ask stupidly.
"What about him?" she asks, and her tone is cold. "He's a monster, Will. Just because he looks like a man and pretends to be one doesn't mean he is. He pretends to be our friend now because it's convenient for him."
"So no Spike."
"No Spike," Tara repeats firmly. "You and me and Dawn and Xander and Anya."
"Where will we go?" I'm so flabbergasted that all I can do is ask these small questions.
"We can go anywhere. To LA or San Francisco or east. My grandmother left me her place. We can go there if we have to."
"Okay, I'll go."
"That's not enough, Willow."
She lets that hang for a while before starting again. I can't give her the answer she wants.
"Look at me," Tara demands, and I raise my eyes from her knees. "You have to let her be at peace. Say goodbye however you have to, but we're not bringing her ghost. Just memories. Leave the Bot for Spike. It's his anyway."
"Okay," I say again. I'm suddenly exhausted, and struggle to keep my eyes open.
"Lay down, baby," Tara instructs, and when I do, she gathers me to her. "I love you," she says quietly, and it is the last thing I hear.
The next time I wake up, the house is silent and empty. Tara left a note. All it said was "3 days."
I went to Buffy's room and laid on the bed. I buried my face in her pillow, knowing that when Tara returned, she expects me to be finished with Buffy. I cried again, for my best friend and all the time we wouldn't have together. For being too scared to tell her exactly how I feel. For not kissing her any of the times we were so close.
I pull the photo album out from under her bed. It is mostly pictures of me and her and sometimes Xander. We went through so much, and we knew from the beginning that Slayers have a short life expectancy. Buffy was different. The Council didn't own her for all they tried. Why they thought she would do their bidding after they tried to kill her time and again is a mystery to me. I close my eyes and see her pacing the floor in the Magic Box, and the look on that wanna-be Watcher's face as the sword buried itself six inches into the beam millimeters from his nose. "I'm fairly certain I said no talking," she told him, and we nearly broke into cheers.
I close the photo album. It comes with us. So does her leather jacket. And a few other things that will got into a box now and come out of it when we get where we're going. Right now, though, I know I need to go to the cemetery. I haven't been since we buried her. The thought of it makes me want to vomit. She looked like she was sleeping, encased in magic so powerful that Spike couldn't touch her again even if he wanted to.
We buried her during the day on purpose. Most of the lowlifes sleep then, or can't come out into the sunlight. I didn't want Spike there. What hold he had on Buffy, I don't know. But after spending so much time in the darkness, she deserved to be safe in the light for at least a few hours. Everything I had left in me, I put into making her safe. Giles helped, and Anya, and Tara, too, even though she still looked dazed.
I remember doing "the right thing." Driving to LA to tell Angel, and further to tell Faith. Angel's first question was, "Are you all right?" Then he wanted to know what happened and why we hadn't called for help. That night, I slept alone. I didn't really sleep. I pushed the bed over to the window so I could look at whatever sky wasn't smothered in pollution, and got up early so I didn't have to see their looks again. I left before anyone but Gunn saw me.
Seeing Faith was even harder. All my feelings about her jealousy and lust, mostly swirled around my stomach while I waited for her. Prison didn't suit her. She was pale and her fire was banked, and her annoyance with me was a façade. Faith spoke first, asking, "What?"
"Buffy's dead," I choked out.
"You're shitting me."
"Damn it!" Faith swore. I thought for a moment that she would destroy the phone, but she drew a deep breath and asked, "A vampire?"
I shook my head. "A hell god."
Faith nodded. After a few long seconds, she said, "You look like hell."
I shrugged, then cautiously asked, "How are you?"
"Great," she answered sarcastically. "It's a real country club."
"But safe," I pointed out.
"There are monsters everywhere," Faith answered.
"I think it's just life. Not the game. Just, monsters in people suits, monsters in their own skins, people acting like monsters. It sucks."
"You didn't tell her, did you?"
"Tell her what?"
"That you're in love with her."
"No." Why deny it? Faith can do nothing to me, and who will she tell? "How did you know?"
"C'mon, Red, get a grip. You mooned after her all the time. Anyone could see it."
I don't believe her, but I just say, "Whatever."
Faith shrugs. It's another thing that doesn't really matter if she can't get a rise out of me with it. Then she drops her own bombshell, and I wonder whether she really is changing. "Write me sometime, let me know what's going on."
I try not to show my shock as I answer, "All right."
Behind her, a bell rings. "Gotta go, Red. Thanks for coming and letting me know."
I nod. She's all ready hung up the phone. I hang up mine and watch Faith walk away.
Outside, in the car, I don't know what to do. I could just keep driving, until I run out of gas or money, and see what happens next. At the exit, I turn left, toward a home that fell down around my ears. It's still my responsibility.
It's late when I get back. I go to Buffy's room and lie on her bed with that stupid stuffed toy she had from when she was little. Mr. Gordo doesn't say anything, and the house is quiet around us. I close my eyes and pretend to sleep like I did when I stayed over. So many nights I waited, terrified that she wouldn't come home, and breathed easily only when I heard the front door open and close quietly. I could tell from her footsteps what kind of night she'd had. Often, they were uneven because she was injured, and I would fix her up. If I wait long enough, maybe I'll hear her come in again.
I woke up alone to an empty house. After that first night, I continued to sleep in her room, leaving it as she left it. I tried to learn how to resurrect her, and I did all the things they expected me to do. When any of them approached me, I pushed them away.
Now, though, I am dragging my feet as I walk to the closest cemetery. It's also the prettiest, and the least used. We buried her beside Joyce, in a spot that gets dappled sunlight all day. The closer I get, the stronger the go away feeling gets, so I know the magics are working.
As I kneel beside her grave, I put a stone on her headstone. Just another little thing I learned from my father. I don't know where or how to start. I close my eyes for a few moments to gather my thoughts.
"I miss you so much," I began, and suddenly she shimmers into being in front of me, and drops to her knees once she solidifies.
"I miss you, too," Buffy says, smiling. "I've been waiting for you."
"Why did you leave m- us?"
"You know I had to do that, Will. Otherwise the world would have ended."
"Mine did," I tell her.
"No, it didn't. You just acted like it did." Buffy held out her hand.
I looked at it for half a second before clasping it. It feels right, warm and calloused and strong.
"I'm glad you came," Buffy said, and squeezed my hand. "I never told you because the time was never right. You were with Oz, and then he broke your heart, and then there was Tara."
"Tell me now."
"Oh, you know all ready."
"Tell me anyway," I demand.
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
"I know. That's why I'm sorry I was so afraid. Plus, I was afraid that it would make things more dangerous for you. I mean, people messed with you because you were my friend. Imagine how dangerous Sunnydale would have been for you if you were my girlfriend."
"It wouldn't have mattered."
"Sure, it would. If I focused on you, well," Buffy shrugged. "It wouldn't have been pretty."
"How do you know?"
"I know a lot of things now. Advantage of being dead. Oh, and Mom and Ms. Calendar say hi."
"You're with your Mom?"
"Yeah," Buffy said, and continued. "Make sure you give everyone our love. They know, but reassurance is always good. I can't stay much longer," she added.
"Are you happy?"
"Yeah," she says with her best smile.
"And safe?" I continue.
"Yeah," she repeats.
"Are you watching our for us?"
"As much as I can. You guys are a handful."
"Tara said you can't rest until I let you."
"Tara's a smart woman, Will. You should listen to her more often."
"I just, when I saw you, my heart broke."
"I know," Buffy says. Her free hand wipes away a tear I didn't know was there. "I want you to be happy."
"How do I do that?"
"You know how, Willow," Buffy chides. She cocks her head, listening to something only she can hear. "I have to go," she says, and surprises me with a kiss. A real one. It is far better than I imagined. "I love you, Will. Be happy and stay safe."
She shimmers out of sight, leaving me tingling where we touched. If this was a hallucination, it was a humdinger. I don't think it was, though. I stay there, lost in thought, until I realize dusk is coming. I'm safe on the streets, have a few badass spells ready for nearly anything. As if they know that, nothing and no one approach me.
Tara is on the sofa, reading something she sets aside when I find her. "Buffy sends her love," I tell her.
Tara pats the cushion beside her. "Good."
"You knew she'd come," I accuse.
Tara just nods. "She couldn't leave without saying goodbye," she says.
"Has Dawnie seen her?"
"No, just you and I. Maybe Xander." After a few seconds, she asks, "Better now?"
"Yeah." I slide closer to her. "Are we really leaving?"
"Day after tomorrow."
"Where are we going?"
"Don't know yet. We were kinda waiting on you." Tara puts her hand on my thigh.
I cover it with mine. In the background, I hear the front door open. "What does Xander think?"
"What do I think about what?" Xander asks. He puts two pizza boxes down on the coffee table. Dawn and Anya are with him.
"Where to go," I say cautiously.
"Ooo, I vote San Francisco," Dawn says eagerly.
"You don't get a vote until you're 18," Anya says, and even Dawn can tell she's teasing.
"I don't care," Xander says. "I can work anywhere."
"I need broadband," I say, then remember, "We don't have any money."
"We have some," Xander says, and Anya elbows him. "Ow, Ahn, we talked about this. We're a family, we share."
Anya harrumphs, then asks Tara, "Is your grandmother's house safe?"
"As far as I know."
"I think we should go there. No rent. By the time the school year is over, we should have a real plan."
"All in favor?" Xander asks, and raises his hand.
Anya's flies up. Tara looks at me. I raise my hand, and hers follows.
"All righty, then, we have a plan. Pack light, and we'll get out of Dodge day after tomorrow," Xander says cheerfully. He passes paper plates around, and we each grab a slice. This is the first meal that hasn't choked me. Around me, my family talks and laughs, and for the first time ever, I can believe in a future without Buffy.
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