The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe - Willow & Tara Forever

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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 6)
PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2014 12:22 am 
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9. Gay Now
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Joined: Sat Sep 24, 2011 7:45 pm
Posts: 975
Topics: 15
Location: Beyond the orbit of Mars and accelerating...
Hey Citanul!

Yeah, i wrote this bit listening to the Team America Montage track, so i definitely agree with you.

Although Takarn likes his dead animal cooked, same as us :)

Govakri was a sort of Psychic warrior, using psi powers to enhance his close combat and sneaky skills.
Sadly, he was added as a replacement, so he didn't get much chance to shine (or develop).
but he had major brain/soul muscles :)
Oh, and the bakery thing was based on a work-mate. A new guy at work was super-amazing and efficient, and the manager who hired him found him in a bakery :P

Yep, everything magic-sensitive can sense Tara (it was a magic-type flaw, like Slayers and vamps liking their blood) and the vamps do know her.
An explanation is coming :)

I'll see about getting the next chapter up tonight or tomorrow, all being well.

Enjoy!

R :flower

_________________
“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 6)
PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2014 6:36 pm 
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9. Gay Now
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Joined: Sat Sep 24, 2011 7:45 pm
Posts: 975
Topics: 15
Location: Beyond the orbit of Mars and accelerating...
Note: Today’s chapter includes a quote from a very famous Willow/Tara story Hellebore.
The quote is used with Chris’s permission. Also, go read the story. If you haven’t read it, you’re not really a Kitten. Also SMUT! It has so. Much. Smut!

Also less random interjections by the Scoobies in this chapter. They've said all they really need to, though Tara has some explanatory asides.

This chapter is the setup for the big reveal next chapter, and we meet some new friends.
Today's episode is brought to you by elven culture, and the word 'Gay.'
Kiss-kiss!

Enjoy!


8: Into the mist


“Um, guys, this is where I made it to the mourn lands,” Tara said.
“There was a bunch of shopping and prep work, but nothing particularly interesting happened, so I’m going to skip over a bit here.”

“Just another day at the office?” Dawn asked.

Tara nodded. “More or less.”



The encounter at the docks had been a relief for Tara, and a bit of a let-down for the fighters in the party.

Melchior and friends had simply walked onto the ship as they docked and demanded their surrender at swordpoint.
In return for the peaceful surrender of the ship’s captain, Takarn was gracious enough to allow the crew to ‘escape’.

However much of a rogue the captain may have been, his concern for his men bought him a good deal of respect in the eyes of the party.
In return for details as to when and where shipments came in, Gerald was able to reduce the captain’s punishment to a fine and a ban from returning to the city for 5 years.

One successful raid lead by the intrepid investigators, backed by Gerald and a squad of the citadel Guard, and a major pipeline of Dream-lily into the city was closed off.
Which was how the party found themselves on the edge of the Mourn lands.


+++


Tara stood on the prow of the Lightning Rail, holding on to the railing, the wind blowing through her flying hair.

She was glad of her armour now, or at least the spells on it that kept her comfortable. The further toward the former country of Cyre they went, the colder it got.

A deep voice rumbled. “Strange feeling. Moving through the air without flying.”

Tara smiled at her companion, still clad in his armour, something he wore almost as a second skin.

Except for the faint hiss and crackle of the lightning arcing between the carriages and the ground, their passage through the air was almost silent, though the whistle of the wind gave the experience a certain ambiance.
Being outside in the cold wind made for a contemplative experience. In truth it was only somewhat cool, but after the tropical heat of the city of light, the change was quite noticeable.
At least… California was dry with its heat.

She smiled as she realized that she was starting to get some of the smaller memories back, some filler, some context for her life.

“You are smiling again,” he rumbled. “Willow?”

Tara melted at Willow’s name.

“Hmmm. No. that’s an altogether different smile,” he said, grinning the way only a dragon could.

“Mmm… Willow,” she said, a dreamy expression on her face.

“Interesting. Mammal. Dragonkind. Love looks the same: slightly dopey,” he teased, giving Tara a gentle nudge.

Tara squawked as he roughly shoved her sideways.

“Oops. Sorry,” he said helping her up.

“California,” she said when finally upright.

“Uh, who?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s a ‘where.’”

“Oh. Righty then.”

Tara chuckled. “You’ve been spending too much time with Catherine.”

If anything, Takarn looked like an awkward schoolboy, he looked down and scuffed his clawed toe against the wooden decking. “Tara? I need mammalian female advice. Do you think she likes me? Could she love a dragon?”

Tara gaped in shock at her nervous-looking friend, almost pinching herself to assure herself that she wasn’t dreaming. Takarn and Catherine?
“I… I don’t know Takarn. You, um, might want to ask her about that,” she stammered.

A strange jingling sound attracted her attention. Takarn was jiggling around as he tried to contain himself.
Tara clicked. “Hey!”

Unable to contain himself he roared with laughter, holding on to the railing to keep himself upright.

When he had calmed enough for coherent speech, though still gasping for breath he explained.
“Sorry Tara. I couldn’t help myself. I’ve been holding onto that one for ages.”

Tara scowled at her friend, though she soon chuckled along with him.
“Beast,” she scolded mildly.

“I figured some laughter was a good thing. We are nearly at our destination.”
“Look,” he said, pointing ahead of them.

Tara looked. There in the distance was a grey wall. It stretched from horizon to horizon.
“Merciful Goddess! Is that?...”

“The mourn lands. Yes.”

“What… what is that?”

“That, is the grey mist that fills the place. We are still a couple of hours from it.”

“We’re two hours away, and I can see it?”

“Yes,” he growled. “The fog reaches several miles into the sky. High enough that we would have trouble flying over it.”

“What is it?”

“Death. Darkness. Necromancy. Nobody knows.”

“I suppose it’s too much to hope for, that it not be filled with monsters?”

“Few come back to tell the tale,” he rumbled. “Monsters of some kind are a safe bet.”

Tara shuddered as she observed the grey wall. It was vast. All encompassing.
Too much for one woman.

No.

She steeled herself.
Willow was on the other side of that wall. And for Willow she would willingly march into hell.
Tara looked at her fear, looked inside herself to what she could lose if she died here, to what she would lose if she did not march willingly into darkness.
And compared to that pain, her death held no fear at all.

Takarn eyed his friend. Even as unskilled as he was at reading the expressions of soft-skins, he could see Tara gathering herself, looking within, and bringing forth the quiet strength she held inside.
He knew. He had felt such emotions before.
This quiet woman beside him would let nothing stop her from reaching her love.
He could respect such absolute, unyielding conviction.
It was a kind of madness.
And it worried him.

He feared what would become of the gentle woman beside him, his friend, if her devotion was put to the test.
He had seen clerics and paladins damaged by such determination, un-tempered by wisdom or restraint.

He had never met Willow, nor was he likely to.
He thought she must be someone special, to kindle this kind of devotion in gentle Tara.

For weeks and months he had trained her, driving her to exhaustion and beyond, making her strong. And every time she was ready to collapse, the simple mention of her name got Tara moving again.

And he hoped that when she finally made it home, she was still Tara.
Gentle. Kind. Quietly strong.

He sighed, the sound coming out as a rumbling purr.
“Come. There is food inside. And we will be away from that,” he said, pointing at the approaching wall of grey.
Tara nodded, glad to have a reason to avoid looking at the slowly expanding line on the horizon.

Inside, her friends were in fine spirits. In one cabin, Catherine was determined to beat a grinning Govakri at a game of reflexes.
The annoyed expression on her face suggested she had yet to win.

In the next cabin Melchior pored over maps and journals. The journals were copies of testimonies, from those few who ventured into the mist and came out with their lives or sanity intact. There were alarmingly few of each.

Tara was struck by such longing, such intense homesickness that she had to hold on to the door frame.
These people, these true friends, had offered to walk willingly into the most legendarily hostile place, in a world filled with danger.
Without being asked.
Just because they knew she needed to go.

She did not have many friends, but the ones she had were of the highest quality.
It made her sad, that these people would risk their lives for her, and if all went well, she would leave them behind forever.
It felt more than a little, like betrayal.

Catherine’s voice intruded on her introspection, to Tara’s relief.
“Hey chica, wassup?”

Tara raised an eyebrow at her terrible accent.
Catherine grinned. “Just practicing my Cyran accent.”

Melchior sighed, a strange sound, coming from a body of wood and metal.
“Please don’t. The mourn-lands are dangerous enough, without you antagonizing the survivors.”

“I’ll have you know I’m one quarter Cyran, metal man.”

“Everyone’s a little bit Cyran,” Melchior retorted. “Even me.”
He eyed her with his glittering green gaze.
“I doubt it would stop any Cyran natives from bludgeoning you senseless though. So you might just want to stick with your regular accent.”

“Bugger.”

“Much better.”

Catherine waved her boss to silence as she zeroed in on Tara once more.
“Uh, hey.”

Tara smiled a little. “Hey.”

“So uh, yeah I suck at this, but you look kind of bummed. And not in the fun way.”

That got a slight smile from Tara.
“I miss my… family I guess.”

Catherine put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Hey relax Tara, we’ll get you home to them at some point, I promise.”

Tara smiled sadly. “But then I’ll miss you.”

“Good,” Catherine said with a grin. “You should. Because I’m awesome.”
She sighed. “Look, I’m not one for hugs, so just imagine I’m giving you a comforting hug or something. Y’know, classy-like, with no groping or anything.”

Tara rolled her eyes, but she could not keep the small smile from lifting the corners of her mouth.
“But in all seriousness, you have always been passing through.”

Tara raised an eyebrow.

“Dammit, you’re making me go all poetic and crap. I’m just saying, uh, that I have always had a feeling that you’re not meant for here. Your story is someplace else.”
“It’s ok to be there, missing us here. It would be a terrible thing to be here, missing them there.”

She gave Tara a friendly punch in the shoulder, making a metallic ‘bonk’ sound. “I’ll miss you kid. No doubt.”

Tara raised an eyebrow. “Kid?”

Catherine waved her hands, shushing her. “But this thing you have with Willow? It sounds like the kind of thing people write stories about. Legends even.”
“I guarantee, one day, books will be written about you guys. One day, old folks will be sitting around the fire telling tales of the legend of Willow and Tara. Thousands will know the tale. Millions even.”

Tara chuckled. “That’s a lot to live up to.”
She looked Catherine in the eye. “And I’ll miss you too.”

Catherine grinned. “We’ll have you missing us in no time.”
She got to her feet. “Come on, I’m bored and want to poke around this train a little. Never been on one before.”

“I have once. It marked a big change for me. The change from my old life to the new. I moved from Utah to California by train.”

“An improvement?”

Tara bobbed her head cheerfully. “California had Willow. Definitely an improvement.”

Catherine laughed. “Sounds like a good reason to go. I want to wander. Let’s get some grub before Takarn and Govakri eat it all. Then we can go poke about a bit.”


In the room filled only with Takarn and food, one of which was already large, and the other rapidly shrinking, there was little space for the two women.
Takarn was parked on a stool, set a little way out from the wall to leave room for his wings. This unfortunately left little room for anything else.

“I’d snag some grub, but I have this image of a hand going out and a bloody stump coming back.”


“Like Faith in full-on consume-mass-quantities mode,” Buffy said, with a cheeky smile.

“Damn straight. Don’t you steal my food, Alright?”



Takarn rumbled. “Have no fear. I will not eat you. Humans taste terrible.”
He grinned, a horrifying sight.

“Somehow that fails to reassure me,” Catherine said.

His grin continued unabated.
“I got food for you also,” he said, gesturing to the covered platters nearby.

“Wicked. Let’s eat, all this doom and gloom is making me ravenous.”

Takarn eyed Tara. “There are moments I envy you your talents.”
He pointed behind her and ruffled his wings.

Tara smiled a little. “You do take up a lot of space.”

Tara and Catherine grabbed a platter each and had a look.

“Eww, chicken!”

Tara looked at her platter. “Would you prefer steak with mushroom and blue cheese sauce?”

“By all the gods yes! Gimme!”

They swapped, Tara getting a spicy chicken salad with a fruity dressing and some kind of crushed nuts sprinkled on it.

Catherine had a forkful of steak and mushroom, with every sound of enjoyment. “God this is good! Tara, I may have to marry you.”

Tara chuckled. “Don’t look at me, he got it.”

“Then I am marrying him.”

He raised a scaly eyebrow. “You’re in for a surprise come the wedding night.”

Catherine waved a fork admonishingly. “Life’s all about surprises. It’s what makes it interesting.”

He waggled his blue, forked tongue and held up two thick fingers.
Tara blushed furiously, and even Catherine looked surprised.
“Uh, two huh?” she grinned. “Sounds like a challenge.”

He hissed his laughter. “Paladins are forbidden to marry. Probably to protect us from you.”

“Oh come on, I can’t be that bad.”

“I hear you wore Gerald out,” he rumbled.

Catherine shrugged. “I thought those citadel guys would have more stamina. Bummer.”
She sighed exaggeratedly. “Easy come, easy go. Well it was fun while it lasted. The dancing was good.”

Tara goggled. “Are you really breaking up with Gerald?”

Catherine shrugged. “Not so much breaking up, as never that serious to begin with. Truth be told, we’re better friends than lovers. I think it only went on as long as it did because we were both horny.”
She eyed Tara and grinned. “You distracted yet?”

“Hmm? Oh. Yes, I had forgotten completely.”

“Finish your chicken salad, I wanna go explore the train.”

Tara munched cheerfully. “Soon. Omnomnom. No hurry.”

Catherine gestured with her fork. “I see you’ve finally gotten used to your armour. People see you in that, they are going to assume you’re a cleric or something.”

Tara shrugged. “Even magically enhanced, it’s not the most comfortable. But as Takarn pointed out, it was bought for a reason. That, and it’s easier to carry when you’re wearing it, than as a big lump in your backpack.”

Catherine waved a piece of steak around on the end of her fork for emphasis. “And we are at the end of the lightning rail, on the edge of the mournlands. A dangerous place by all accounts.”


+++


“There’s no way they’ll throw us off the train! We’re nearly there, and the area is too dangerous to stop in.”

The two were standing in a dark passageway leading to the engine car.

Tara raised an eyebrow. “I'm not sure it works that way. And I'm not sure I want to be walking all day, to cover the last half hour of train journey. Just because you were wrong.”

“Aww, come on, I'm sure we can talk our way out of it. Or you can. No one can resist you when you do that soft ‘please?’ thing.”

“Except you.”

“Yeah, well. I'm used to it. I’ve built up an immunity to it. The train guys? Not so much.”

“Hmm. Not sure I like the sound of having a ‘thing.’ Mind you some of my family have a ‘thing’ of their own that they’re famous for.”

“Oh, this is good. Tell me tell me! If only to stop me breaking-in here for a few minutes.”

“Um, ok. Well, Willow has what she calls her ‘resolve face’ that she wears when she really puts her foot down. Her lips go all thin and she looks so stern.”

Tara put on her impersonation of Willow’s face, her mouth looking as flat as a letterbox slot.

“And Buffy and Dawn both share the famous ‘Summers Pout,’ which is something they use to get their way when they’re feeling put out.”


“Hey I do not pout!” Dawn protested, arms fold and pouting somewhat.

“You so do pout,” Heather said. “And… and it’s adorable!” she finished awkwardly as Dawn’s pout turned to a glare.



She demonstrated by poking her lip out and looking sad.

“Ohmigods! That’s adorable!”

Tara giggled. “I know! They both do it, though both of them insist that they’re nothing alike, and that they don’t pout.”

Catherine was giggling hysterically. “More! I wanna know about the rest of them too.”

When Tara had finished laughing she added a little more. “Well, Mr Giles polishes his glasses when he’s nervous or needs time to think, but I think his ‘thing’ is when he shakes his head and looks terribly disappointed in you. Buffy and Willow almost always crumble to that.”


“Also you call me mean names, like ‘wilful’ and ‘intractable,’” Buffy said, putting the now-famous Summers Pout™ to good use.

Giles shook his head and looked terribly disappointed. “Buffy, you are wilful and intractable.”

“I’m pretty sure you made that last one up. It sounds medical-y,” she grumbled.

“Nope, it’s a real word,” Willow said.

“What does it mean?” Buffy stage whispered.

“Stubborn,” Willow translated.

“Um, ah. I really can’t fight that one.”



“He sounds like a teacher I once had,” Catherine said.

“He is a teacher. Also a librarian and something of a father to us all.”

“Cool. Anyone else?”

Tara looked thoughtful and smiled. “Xander does this puppy dog thing, where he looks so sad and slumps his shoulders. Of course he does it when someone takes the last jelly filled doughnut, so it loses some of its impact over time.”

“Heh. A man after my own heart.”

“Lucky you’re in a whole other dimension, Anya would likely threaten to chop bits off you for that.”

“The jealous type huh?”

Tara smiled at the memory of her friend. “My best friend Anya doesn’t have a thing like the others. She has something better.”

Catherine raised a questioning eyebrow. “Don’t leave me hanging girl, what?”

“She tells you exactly what she thinks. All the time. Every time. She also says all the things that other people are leaving unsaid. It was always exciting when Anya was around. You really learned to be open and honest with her around, because if you weren’t, she did it for you.”

“She sounds fun.”

Tara grinned impishly. “Well, she said that she was 1100 years old and didn’t have time for pretence. Though from what I can tell, she was always like that.”

“That’s pretty old.”

“Anyanka, patron saint of scorned women. She had an ex-boyfriend who was a troll god.”

Tara thought for a moment. “Or was a troll, who stole a god’s hammer. I was never clear on that.”
She blushed and looked awkward. “Any time I asked about him she, um, got lost in reminiscing about how, ah, ‘big’ he was. After that you couldn’t get much out of her.”

Catherine just laughed, long and hard.


“Well, I for one, could live without graphic descriptions of Anya’s former conquests,” Giles muttered.

“You know, you have your own ‘thing’ too right?” Dawn said, looking at Tara.

“Um, I have a thing?”

Buffy giggled evilly, all but rubbing her hands in anticipation. “Well, I figure you have two big ‘things’.”

“Oh my,” Tara said with a small crooked grin.

“That would be one,” Buffy said. “Most people do a half smile like Giles, just a little smile. But you have the half smile thing in a whole other way, you smile with half your face.”

Tara visibly tried to even out her smile, with no success whatsoever. Eventually she just gave up and settled for a full, if slightly twisted smile, with just a touch of embarrassment.

“I mean, don’t feel bad Tara, it’s kinda cute, um, in a totally-not-hitting-on-you kinda way,” Buffy said somewhat awkwardly.

Tara raised an eyebrow. “That part I got,” she said.

“And right on cue, that would be the other one,” Dawn said.

“Um?”

Dawn grinned. “The raised eyebrow, usually given when you are gently hinting that we might be about to do something dumb.”

“The famous ‘raised eyebrow of mild disapproval’,” Buffy said.

“What impresses me is the way you get so much out of just a look. I mean, for me to get everyone to stop the way you do with just a look, I’d have to scream and prob’ly punch someone.

“It’s a gift baby,” Willow said. “Pure mom vibes.”

Tara’s face became all stern and unimpressed. “Young lady… go to your room!”

Willow looked rather shocked until Tara burst into giggles.

“Not bad,” Buffy said. “I think the sudden attack of the giggles kind of wrecked it though.”

Tara quirked her now famous half smile. “I’ll have to work on in. now, back to the story.”



“Um, I’ve never really been one for that sort of thing. Or even descriptions of it to be honest.”

Catherine was red faced from laughing when the engine-room door opened.
“What are you doing?” a man asked.

He was an older man, dressed in hard-wearing clothes covered in pockets and tools, so Tara took him for a mechanic.
He took in Tara’s glittering armour and Catherine’s leather-and-guns motif.

“Um, a-actually we were coming to ask you if we could look around, but um, I kind of broke her with a funny story.”

Catherine stood up straight, breathing hard. “Oh yeah, it was good,” she said, still somewhat red faced.

He smiled at them. “Well, you two are quite the most interesting pair I have found outside my door in a long time, if you want to come in, you are most welcome to do so.”

With a flourish worthy of a courtier, he stepped aside and gestured for them to enter.


+++


The control room of the lightning rail was more like the bridge of a ship than the engine room of a locomotive, or at least Tara guessed it was, not being particularly familiar with either.

The whole front and sides of the room were enclosed in glass, giving an amazing view of the countryside.

The room itself had a number of large, brightly painted levers rising up out of the floor, and a number of panels covered in runes and lights, glowing in such a way as to not look out of place on any episode of Star Trek.

“Wow. Cool,” Catherine said.
Tara nodded her agreement.

The man called out. “Nice to see that you two managed to keep it clean. We have guests.”

A musical laugh was tinkled throughout the compartment, seeming to dance around the room. “You were gone for a matter of seconds, how are we supposed to make a mess in that length of time?”

“Cornchips,” he said simply.

A lithe figure dangled down from the ceiling hatch grinning, a long red braid dangling down further still, almost sweeping the floor. She grinned at the two women upside down, before flipping herself with gymnastic ease and landing silently on the decking.

“One time! One time we have an accident with cornchips, and you won’t let it die!” she said with mock irritation, her voice no less musical.

Tara was stunned, frozen like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck.

The lithe shape in front of her was gorgeous. There was no other word for it. She wore her close fitting uniform of dark green and tools as though she was a hunter, and her hair was fiery red, reaching down her back in an elaborate braid.
She smiled disarmingly at the two women, a smile that lit the room with warmth and made her almond-shaped indigo eyes twinkle to amazing effect.

“Wuh?” someone said.

Tara wasn’t sure if it was her or Catherine who spoke.

“Great gods above,” Catherine whispered. “If she’s on your team, I'm joining.”

“Lenoreal, play nice,” the man muttered.

“I always play nice Mike,” her eyes twinkled. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your lovely friends?”

“Buh,” Catherine said.

“Ladies, I present to you Lenoreal I’nshar Firesong,” he said with a somewhat mocking flourish.

“But she goes by the name Lenore most of the time,” a deep voice said.

A second person dropped out of the ceiling hatch with a thud, unlike Lenore’s acrobatic appearance.

“Additionally I present to you, Rorik Silversmith. These two are my mage wrights. I'm Mike by the way.”

Lenore held out her hand with a charming smile. Catherine took it with a dazed look.
Tara waved at the new arrival, a powerfully built man who was a bit on the short side. A neatly braided bead added to his look of general dwarvishness.

He shook Tara’s hand in a firm, but not crushing grip. “Pleased to meet you. You’ve just saved us from at least an hour’s extremely dull calibration.”

“An hour’s extremely necessary calibration,” Mike replied.

“Oh rot,” Lenore said. “We only calibrate the carriages when there’s absolutely nothing else to do.”
“I’d much rather get to know our charming guests,” she said with a thousand-watt smile.

“I'm Tara,” said Tara.

“I’ve forgotten who I used to be,” Catherine said dreamily. “I’ll be anyone you want me to be.”

Tara thought she was heart-stoppingly pretty. Her hair was the kind of fiery fall that women would kill for, and her eyes were as deep as the evening sky.
But the differences between her stunning self and true beauty were telling. True beauty had freckles, had shorter hair, just a shade more orange, and had eyes as green as the forest in spring.
And true beauty did not have sculpted cheek bones and pointy ears.
And just like that, the attraction was gone.

Catherine on the other hand was still mesmerised, and truthfully didn’t seem to mind.
Rorik sighed and gestured to a battered but serviceable set of couches to one side of the control room.

“You won’t get much out of your friend now I'm afraid,” he said.

“Is it a spell?” Tara asked carefully.

“Nah. I put her in an anti-magic field once to test it, same result.”
He rummaged in a cool-chest and brought out two cold bottles. “You like ginger?”

Tara nodded cheerfully. “Yes please.”

“Nope, no magic in this, just elven blood and curiosity.” He tossed a beer to Mike and grabbed another.

“And she… um,”

“Likes girls?”

Tara nodded, Rorik shrugged. “She’s an elf.”

“Um…”

Mike raised an eyebrow. “No elves where you come from?”

Tara looked a little embarrassed. “Ah, no. All we have are legends and stories.”

Mike chortled and rubbed his hands together. “Oh goody! Please, tell me your legends of elves. Most of the nearby countries have the same legends, mainly because they actually have elves nearby.”

“Um, ok. Well if I remember, elves are supposed to be beautiful, long lived, magical, passionate and changeable.”

“Huh, well yeah. Except for the last bit. By their own standards perhaps, certainly by the standards of Rorik’s people. But by the standards of humans, elves are steady.”

“My people live a long time,” Rorik said. “But elves are immortal. An elf marrying a human and living a full and happy life would be considered about the same as a one night stand to a human. A few decades is meaningless to someone who will live forever.”

“And the um, gay thing?”

“Well, they like singing, but generally they’re not given to frivolity. Terribly restrained lot, they are.”

“There’s a difference then. Our elves are known for their restraint, yours for being gay and frivolous.”

“Uh, no, that’s not what I meant. I mean that Lenore is a woman, who likes to be with other women. Where I come from, we call that gay.”

“What a cheery term,” Mike said.

“What do your people call it?”

“Elvish love I guess. I think it’s one of those cultural things. They say the northerners have fifty words for snow and no word for desert. Maybe this is the same?”

“Elves are gay?”

Mike grinned. “Gay. Cute, I like it. Elves don’t make any kind of distinction with regard to love. Each of them potentially will live forever, and each of them is searching for that one perfect love that will sustain them throughout eternity.”

“So out of all peoples, elvenkind are most likely to look for love in out of the way places.”

Tara turned to Rorik. “And your people?”

Rorik shrugged. “Are generally more concerned with getting the job done, than with what people do in private.”

Tara raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Privacy is absolute among my people. We could not live the way we do, without it.”

“And theirs are two of the more influential peoples around here. Their attitudes rub off. Now dating a goblin, that would cause trouble.”

Catherine and Lenore chose that moment to re-join the group. Catherine looked rather giggly and dazed, Lenore was simply smiling.
“See, no harm done,” Lenore said.

“Lenore was just teaching me about elven culture,” Catherine said. “Elven culture is nice,” she said with feeling.
Absently, she dropped down on the couch, still staring away into space.

Tara giggled at her mussed hair and kiss swollen lips. “Oh my.”

Lenore spoke warmly. “My people have a belief, that when we fine our one perfect love, we will know it. We will find it with a kiss, and be together forever.”

Tara sighed. “I don’t know much about your culture, but it sounds romantic.”

Mike grinned. “Was she the one?”

“Not quite,” Lenore purred. “But a very pleasant discovery nonetheless.”

Tara smiled softly. “Elven culture sounds quite nice. I think my people’s culture could do with more kissing.”

Lenore smiled. “Why thank you. And you are quite attractive my dear. But I can tell that your heart belongs to another.”
She stopped and looked closely, her indigo gaze drilled into Tara. “You have found what I seek,” she said with more than a hint of envy visible on her sculpted features.
Lenore looked her over appraisingly. “You are very lucky.”

Tara flushed a little, but met Lenore’s gaze. “Thank you Lenoreal. Though that wasn’t what I meant.”

“Treasure what you have found Tara. What you have is worth more that gold or jewels or magic”

Tara bobbed her head. “I know. Believe me, I know.”

Lenore looked at Tara with a strange expression, intense longing, mixed with perhaps a dash of hope.
“Once, long ago, so long ago that there are few left who remember, our goddess walked among us. And in that time she gave us her greatest wisdom, which I would pass on to you.”
Her face took on a solemn expression, and her musical voice a serious tone. “You who have, what we all seek.”
"All else is transitory; the time will come when even the gods fade away. But love endures. Cherish love; nurture it, protect it, rejoice in its coming. Be true to love. And should any being, be they man or woman, demon or god, seek to take from you that which you love, defy them. For love gives you that power."

“Wow. That’s, um, that’s really something.”

“One perfect love, for eternity. Let me ask you, would you defy the gods themselves for your love?”

Tara looked inside herself. So much was missing, so much was blurry or confusing. She knew she did not yet have all her memories, not even a large fraction.
But one thing she knew: love.
She looked up proudly. “Yes. For her, I would defy anyone.”

Lenore smiled. “Good. Now, what were we talking about before I interrupted?”

“Gay. It’s a new word we were talking about while you were…”

“Learning?”

“Yes, while you were making friends, Tara was telling us a little about her people and ‘Gay’ was the word they used to describe people who found love with their own gender.”

“You know, the kind that doesn’t lead to babies.”

“Women have babies all the time with other women.”

“I meant without magic.”

Lenore grinned. “If there’s no magic in your loving, you’re doing it wrong.”

Mike sighed. “Best mage-wrights in the business, but can I take them anywhere?”

Rorik waggled a finger at Lenore in mock seriousness. “This is why we never get to go to nice places.”

Lenore ducked her head in mock shame, her lower lip sticking out in a fearsome pout.
Tara chuckled softly at the antics of the three friends.

Lenore put away her fearsome pout. “So the word is gay? Sounds a lot like the common word for gay.”

“It is.”

“Oh. I like it. Though I have to ask, why do you need a word for love between women? Or men?”

“Uh. Honestly I have no idea,” Tara said. “Where I come from, it’s a way to distinguish a relationship from the usual man-woman thing.”

Lenore nodded. “I understand what you meant, I wanted to know why.

“Um, regular relationships lead to babies?” Tara said uncertainly.

Lenore quirked an eyebrow at Tara.

Rorik spoke up. “You’re being elvish again.”

“Perhaps I should explain,” Mike said.

“Please,” Tara said.

“Elves are immortal, their life forces are tightly contained and carefully meted out over the centuries.”

“Not like you mortal types who positively throw the stuff around, as if you had to get rid of it,” Lenore interjected.

Mike continued, ignoring the interruption. “And because of that, elves do not breed by accident.”

“It takes intense love and commitment to make a child,” Lenore said.
“It takes only slightly less effort for a male and female to conceive, than for two females.”

“Oh!” Tara said, surprised.
“And the boys?” she eventually said.

“Have plenty of fun. But they need lots more help to have a child.”

“Wow. I could spend a lifetime learning how that single thing, immortality, makes your society different.”

“You would be most welcome to do so. Though I think you are needed elsewhere.”

“Hence our trip,” Catherine said, finally focusing on the conversation.

Rorik nodded. “I figured. There’s a reason we load mostly cargo wagons on this trip.”
“Years ago, this used to be the primary line from Sharn to Metrol. It was called the Light Run, linking the two cities of light on the continent. Now we carry only produce and wares to Cloris, the small town on the edge of the mourn-lands and the end of our line. Sometimes we take treasure seekers and researchers, but we never take as many on the return journey.”
Conversation stilled after that, each absorbed by the incalculable enormity, of a disaster beyond human comprehension.

Catherine spoke up softly, breaking the contemplative silence.
“You guys must hear a lot of theories about the day of mourning on this run.”

Mike nodded. “Yeah. Lotsa crackpot stuff, but yeah, we do.”

“Any favourites?” Catherine asked, unconsciously leaning in to Lenore’s embrace as she did.

Rorik interjected. “Disaster. It had to be a disaster. If it was some kind of war-ending super-weapon, whoever had it would be telling everyone about it.”
He leaned forward intently. “No one came forward and said ‘Hey it was us. Now do as we say, or it happens again.’”
He was obviously in his element, this was clearly a pet project for him, and something that he had thrashed out with the others, more than once.
“But Cyre was in the middle of the whole damn thing, they were getting really beat up in the war. I figure they were getting desperate enough to try something insane. And it blew up in their faces.”

Mike held up his hand. “Though if you encounter any Cyran expatriates, don’t mention this theory. It may well be the truth, but mentioning it is likely to start a fight. In a big way.”

“Oh yeah,” said Rorik.

“With all that, what brings you out to the mists?” Lenore asked.

Tara smirked a little as Catherine wriggled back into Lenore’s embrace. “Ah, we would be closer to the researcher mould than the treasure hunter.”

“And yet if I read the anxiety in lady Tara correctly, you do seek a great treasure,” Mike said.

Tara nodded slowly. “I am separated from my love. My way back to her lies in the mists ahead.”

“You walk a dangerous road. I have ventured a short way into the land that was once the vibrant country of Cyre. It is appalling. There are no words to describe how terrible it is. Very, very few have seen the interior, and fewer still have returned to tell of it.”

“I go to Metrol,” Tara said steadily.

Mike looked shocked. “Ye gods woman, you don’t set yourself an easy task!”

Lenore looked thoughtful and spoke carefully. “I am no warrior, or I would accompany you. Nor am I a priest, but I shall pray for you with everything within me. For if anything deserves the attention of our Goddess’s aid, it is this quest.”

Tara looked surprised. Lenore just cocked her head in a uniquely elven way.
“Before you go, I must press you for details. My brother is a bard and he would never let me forget it if I let you leave on such an utterly romantic quest, without getting enough details for a fine song.”

“Oh. Um, I think that would be alright.”

“You can go with Lenore while we get ready to land this train,” Mike said.
He spotted the echo of sadness on Catherine’s face. “In fact why don’t you both go? The work has been largely done and Lenore’s job at this point is essentially lookout in case of disaster.”

“I have good eyes,” Lenore said. “Also I’m pretty good at scrying.”
She held out her hand and pulled Catherine to her feet, though Catherine made no move to break the hold she had on her hand. Catherine in turn hauled Tara upright.
She stood. “Come ladies, let’s get some fresh air.”


+++


“So, um, Lenore seems nice,” Tara said with a slight teasing tone.

The pair were walking down the main street of Clovis. The place reminded Tara of a western town. Everything was laid out along one main street, with shops, taverns and sleeping establishments laid out on either side. Unlike a classic western town, it was paved. It was fairly obvious that the place had fallen on hard times, many of the shops were abandoned and there was an air of defeat to the place.

Catherine grinned. “Wuff! Nice doesn’t even begin to cover it.”
“We’re meeting up after we get back from the expedition, gonna see how things go. Looks to be an interesting time.”

“I think you are looking forward to it,” Tara teased.

“Oh hell yes. It’s official, she’s my girl, I'm hers. At least for a while anyway.”
She nudged Tara with her shoulder. “I'm definitely looking forward to finding out about elvish loving.”
“Which reminds me, Takarn’s been giving me some funny looks lately. I think all this love talk has got him a little spooked. I think we need to find him a girl. Or whatever you call a girl version of him. Dragonette maybe.”

Tara blinked in surprise and stopped in the street. “Goodness! How are we supposed to find him a date? I haven’t seen another one of his people, let alone a female one.”

“Hell, I’d be tempted to give it a go, if it weren’t for Lenore. Don’t wanna mess up my working relationship with the guy though. Still, two penises has distinct possibilities.”

Tara flushed. “Um, er, oh.”

“Relax, I'm not going to give you a blow by blow description,” she said with a grin.

Tara groaned. “That was awful. Come one, let’s go find the others.”


+++


In due time the party was rounded up, and their supplies packed upon a small cart with big obstacle-clearing wheels.

Catherine was deep in thought. A little beer spread around the old-timers had yielded valuable information. Mostly in the form of rambling yarns.
As she had suspected, Clovis was the place that her troubled companion Rinaldo had passed through, when he emerged from the mists. The old-timers clearly remembered a large blast-scarred man emerging from the mists, though they had little else to contribute.

Melchior had volunteered to pull the cart for most of the journey, on the proviso that someone else would do it, if they found something interesting for him to study. Sometimes being a tireless mechanical man had its advantages.
Every now and then Tara would get a stab of homesickness looking at him. Physically he was completely different to her stuffy English friend, but though he was partly mechanical, his fastidious nature reminded her so much of mister Giles that it hurt sometimes.

Everyone in the group was packing and checking their gear carefully, and with equal care, avoiding looking at the cliff-like wall of grey fog that walled off the world to the north.
Having the sunlight blocked off almost entirely from the north did strange things to the lighting, giving the small town a look of perpetual twilight. A twilight which clashed disturbingly with the sun beating down on the grassy plains to the south.

The fog loomed. It looked from the corner of the eye like a huge cliff ready to fall. Tara wondered to herself what it did to the minds of the people who lived in its shadow day by day.

Looking around, she saw traces of it in every face. A sense of hopelessness and dread seemed to tinge every expression.
A few glanced their way with quickly suppressed flickers of hope, but most just regarded them with resignation.

None dressed in bright colours, or seemed to have any energy about them.

As if reading her mind Takarn spoke. “It seems many treasure seekers have been through here. I think it affected them.”

“Not as much as that damned thing,” Catherine said, waving at the grey bulk that filled half the world. “I’m looking forward to getting inside, then I don’t have to look at it,” she added.

“We will follow the lightning rail line to Metrol,” Melchior said.

“The ground is good, so we should make good time, even on foot. Keep in mind though, it’s going to be a week’s travel easily.”

“Fuck it. Let’s do this, let’s get Tara home,” Catherine said.

“And come back wealthy and famous,” Govakri added, finally breaking his silence on the subject.

“Um, I’d just like to mention that I don’t actually know if there’s a way home in there, only that there’s something important to me there.”

Melchior hummed cheerfully. “I know that. We each have our reasons for going. If we make it back, we will be among a very, very select group. I shall take many notes.”

“Also there are some really famous pieces of Cyran art that the remaining government of Cyre will be really pleased to get back, Catherine added. “Pleased in a monetary sense. We get to do good, and make out like bandits. It’s something I like.”

“Ethical looting. Whatever next,” Govakri added.

“I know I’ve said it before, but I just want to thank you for helping me. Going in there by myself… well I’m glad I don’t have to.”

“Don’t feel bad Tara. The trip is not without risk, but also not without reward. We go in there for you. But that is not the only reason.”

“We’re damn good at what we do, Catherine said. “And what we do, is go places no sane person has any business being, and kick ass when we get there. If anyone can walk out alive from this hellhole, it’s us. So just chill, alright?”

“And don’t forget, we look fabulous doing it,” Melchior said evenly.

All heads turned to look at him in amazement.
“Yes, the metal man has a sense of humour. Try not to look too shocked,” he said dryly.

“Mama told me there would be days like this,” Govakri said in a wistful voice. “To my eternal shame I did not believe her. And now look where we are.”

“You regretting coming?” Catherine said, nudging him with her shoulder in a friendly fashion.

“Gods no. I set out to make my mark on the world. I sign up with you lot, and less than a month later we are going to the most famous, dangerous, and interesting place in the whole world. I could not ask for better.”

“Where did you find this guy Mel?” she asked.

“In a bakery. Shall we go? I doubt the former kingdom of Cyre is any safer at night.”

Catherine looked at Govakri in amazement. “Dude, I’ve seen you fight, you’re fucking deadly. And you used to work in a bakery? What the hell kind of bakery was it?!”

Govakri flashed her a grin. “Nope, he found me in a bakery. I was buying a snack and he came in looking for a huge box of donuts. I asked him why a person that doesn’t need to eat would need so many donuts. He told me they were for you guys, the rest is history.”


Reluctantly the party moved out. Walking down the road towards the lightning rail line. Everyone was keeping their spirits high, but there was a brittle, artificial edge to it.
All too soon they reached the lightning rail line, and the huge carriages sitting atop the rows of runestones.

The carriages floated above the rows of stone when they were moving, but when stationery, they rested on the stone platform built to accommodate them.
The platform had several buildings attached and acted as a sort of train station and warehouse.
The carriages and engine sat quiescent on the platform, the polished brass and wood gleaming in the strangely subdued light.

To the left of their approach, and ahead of the train loomed the end of the tracks and the wall of grey.
While the runestones that gave the lightning rail their lifting power were still present, the magic that made them was damaged in the cataclysm.

Rumour was that anyone trying to use the lightning rail would vanish into some alternate dimension, never to be seen again. Certainly, magic was awry in the mourn-lands, magic relating to transportation especially so. Anyone trying to teleport more than a few metres tended to go arrive in several different locations. With predictably gory results.
And the less said about airships, the better. The bound elementals that drove them through the skies tended to break loose and eat the ships with everyone on board.
Which meant that plain old-fashioned walking was the order of the day, so the group had procured a hand cart. Animals would not go into the mist, and they needed several weeks worth of food to make the journey.

Mike, Rorik and Lenore met them on the grass in front of the engine.

“Best of luck to all of you,” Mike said, shaking hands with everyone.

“Aye, you’ll need it, though I wish you all the best,” Rorik said.

Lenore simply embraced Tara and said softly. “The Goddess walks with you, have no fear.”
When she came to Catherine, she kissed her with enough passion to raise the temperature by several degrees.

“You bet your ass I'm coming back alive,” Catherine murmured after they broke from their embrace.

“No kiss for me?” Takarn rumbled, hissing with amusement.

Lenore pulled his massive opal-scaled head down and kissed him on the side of his jaw. “Keep my girl safe, ok?”

Takarn blinked in surprise, his crest raising slightly in his version of a blush. “I’ll do my best.”

“Go,” Rorik said simply. “Hurry out, so you can hurry back.”

Melchior looked at Tara and raised one metal eyebrow.
She nodded and took a deep breath. She stepped forward with her pack shouldered.
“Let’s go.”
She stepped out down the tracks, her friends in tow.
‘Just a little while longer baby, I’m coming.’


+++


The mist had swallowed them, muffling out all normal light and sound, leaving them with only eerie echoes, despite being mere footsteps from the world of sunlight and grass.
It was like waking from a dream into the real world. If the real world was in fact, a horrible nightmare.

There was more than just the strangeness of the fog. Fog was not a new thing. No, there was a creeping sense of wrongness about the place.
Beyond the sunlight, nothing lived. And on some level, everyone who stepped into the mist could feel it. It felt to each as though they were alone in a vast, never-ending darkness, huddled around the last candle. And the candle was soon to go out.

The grass was dry and dead, given a greyish cast, though still greenish, as though it were prevented from becoming truly dead, and it was stuck in some unpleasant state of half death. Hours went by in the tense monotony of marching.

Then they found their first corpse.


+++


Death was no stranger to Tara, much as she might wish it were otherwise.
The body was that of a young man, dressed for travel rather than war. His body bore no marks of battle, nor of predators, though the expression on his face showed that his end was not a pleasant one.

“What killed him?” Melchior asked.

Tara examined the body with care.
“Magic, I think. There are no wounds and nothing that suggests poison. He, um… I think he saw it coming, whatever it was.”

“I’m pretty bad at mammal expressions. And even I don’t think it was a peaceful end.”

Tara shook her head sadly.

“How long has he been dead?” Govakri asked.

“I don’t really know. Not long by the looks of things. Whatever did this may still be in the area. I could try to find out?”

Catherine touched Tara on the shoulder. “What killed him is all around us. Look at how he’s dressed. I’ve seen that same style worn by Cryran expatriates living in denial. I think he died in the mourning.”

Melchior “Don’t try to read him Tara. If you attempt to find out what killed him, and you get too good a look at the day of mourning we may lose you also.”

“Well, could we bury him?” she asked.

Melchior hummed, his equivalent to a sigh. “If we try to bury every corpse we come across, we will be here for several lifetimes. But I think we can spare the time for this one.”
He gestured with his hand, and a large cube-shaped hole appeared in the ground beside the fallen man.

“Well, that beats shovelling,” Catherine said.

She caught Tara’s look of mild disapproval.
“And, er, leaves more time to be reverent and stuff.”

“Tara? Did you want to say a few words?” Melchior asked quietly.

She nodded and stood by the fallen young man. She tried to imagine what he might have been like, or what things he might have done had he lived.
Melchior quietly checked, there were no possessions on his body. This close to the main point of entrance to the mourn-lands, every would-be adventurer and treasure seeker had likely passed this way.

“I don’t know you. I don’t know your religion, whether you were a good man or a bad one. I don’t know who you might have loved or left behind. And I shall never know what wonders you might have created had you lived. But wherever your soul is now, I hope you are at peace. I hope you are in the arms of the Goddess. I hope you are blessed.”

Takarn and Melchior lowered the young man’s limp body into the hole as gently as they could manage.
With a wave of his hand, Melchior restored the earth, burying the fallen young man securely, several meters beneath the earth.

“Come. We have a long way to go, and none of us is safe in this blasted place.”
The friends gathered their gear and moved out in silence.

Eventually Govakri broke the mood. “You know, this place is deeply unpleasant. But from the stories, I was expecting a lot worse.”

Takarn drew his blade from its holster with a defiant ringing sound. “Now you’ve done it. If I get killed now, I’m definitely blaming you.”
The rest of the party drew their weapons and readied themselves for battle, forming a loose circle facing outward.

Several silent minutes passed.

“I feel slightly foolish,” Takarn rumbled, carefully putting his massive blade back in its sheath between his wings. “In the bard’s tales, they always get attacked right after someone says that.”

“I know, which was why I said it now. See?” he said, gesturing to the landscape around them. “Good footing, nice open spaces for shooting and blasting things, lots of room for you to swing that sharpened girder you laughably call a sword. I was thinking you know.”

Takarn eyed him carefully. “You are a very odd man. I like the way you think.”
And grinned in his dragonish fashion.

“You are smiling right? You are happy yes? In a non-eating-Govakri way yes? Please say yes.”

“Relax human. No eating.”

“Speaking of eating, it’s getting dark,” Catherine said.

Takarn gave her a puzzled look.

“Dark means evening? Evening means dinner-time.”

He shrugged. “If we are going to set camp, we need to find a place before it gets dark. This place is legendarily bad. No surprises.”

“According to the map, there’s a village over that ridge,” Melchior said. “It was once a service station for the line. We could investigate and find ourselves somewhere defensible before it gets dark.”

“Good. Let’s pick up the pace.”

Together they began to walk more briskly. Catherine fiddled with the straps on her gear and checked that her weapons drew smoothly.
The rest of the party simply marched on.


It wasn’t long before they found themselves looking down on the village from a low hill.
“Well, nothing obviously nasty, which I take as a good sign,” Catherine said. “Tara? Wanna do your look-see thing?”

Tara nodded.

Melchior put a gently restraining hand on her shoulder. “Be careful not to go too deep here. There has been power and death unleashed on a scale never before imagined. To look too closely at it would be like staring into the sun. You may get hurt.”

She looked at him and nodded slightly. “I’ll be careful, I promise.”

She rummaged in her pouch for a quartz crystal and began to chant softly. She closed her eyes as her viewpoint launched toward the settlement. She steered her spell around the buildings, flashing through the walls and windows, looking for danger.
“There are bodies in some of the outer buildings. It looks a little like someone tried to bury the dead. The buildings closest to the town hall don’t have any bodies and… oh!” she gasped. Her eyes popped open.
“There’s been a battle at the town hall,” she said, in a hollow tone. “It looks quite recent.”

Melchior gestured. “Takarn, would you?”

Her draconian friend drew his massive blade. “Surely. Follow me.”

Catherine drew her weapons and followed along quietly behind him, Govakri silently shadowing them both.

Melchior and Tara let them get a good distance ahead before following.

There were a few tense moments as they moved through the village, but they were able to reach the hall unmolested, though the sense of unease that nagged at Tara grew by leaps and bounds.

When the pair arrived at the hall, they found the others poking around the large building.

“No one alive here now,” Takarn rumbled.

“This looks fresh,” Govakri said. He picked at the red blood with the tip of his dagger.

The front doors to the hall were smashed in, and there was a fair amount of blood in the entry area, evidence of a fierce battle.
There were gouges and notches in the door, along with hammer marks. Curiously, the door had not been hacked apart, but pounded until the brace gave way.

Takarn looked closely at the broken wood. “This was hit with a lot of force. Not sure I could have done this.”

“Warforged,” Melchior said simply.

Tara raised an eyebrow. “You could do this?”

He shook his head. “No. But not all my brethren are so modestly built. Many of us are substantially larger. And more brutal.”

He looked at the wood. “This looks like juggernaut work. Larger than me, but smaller than a titan. A titan would have simply smashed the building down.”

“How recent?” Catherine asked.

“Impossible to say. This happened after the day of mourning certainly. And it’s older than yesterday, as the blood has dried. Beyond that, who knows? Nothing fully dies here, or rots. That includes blood stains.”

Govakri wandered out from the back of the building. “Bodies were stripped of weapons and valuables. Food was left behind.”

“Definitely Warforged then. Food is scarce here. No one else would leave it behind.”

“Tastes ok, so I’m thinking it’s fairly fresh. I imagine anything that had been here a while would taste funny, or mess with you in some way,” Govakri said, nibbling carefully on some salvaged trail rations.

“Anything you find is yours man. I’m so not eating anything from this hell-hole,” Catherine grumbled.

“More for me then.”

“Fine, but if you turn into a zombie or a ghoul or something, I am totally setting you on fire.”

“Is that how you kill zombies?”

Catherine shrugged. “Dunno. But, pretty much anything is more manageable when it’s been burned half to death.”

“Ghouls are much harder to kill than regular people. Wounds do not slow them down. You need a kill shot to stop them,” Takarn said absentmindedly as he poked clumsily about in the debris.
“Zombies can only be stopped by decapitation. If you chop off their limbs they can’t move.”

Catherine and Govakri both stared at their giant draconian friend.

“He’s a paladin,” Tara explained. “Fighting evil is what he does. The undead are pretty, um well, evil.”

“What about you?” Govakri asked, flashing her one of his quick grins. “You’re all priestified, and you hang around with the walking siege weapon here.”

Tara shook her head. “I’m not one for fighting.”
She thought for a moment. “Still. I have to say, I’m not a fan of the undead. There’s just something so… wrong about them. I could be happy with less of them in the world. And I’ll do my part to protect people from them.”

“When the undead are about, she kicks ass and takes names,” Catherine said with a happy smile.

“Well, there’s no moral ambiguity with them, no questions of ‘is it right?’ Or ‘should I be doing this?’ We’re alive, they’re not. We’re good, they’re evil. Destroying the undead is a life affirming activity.”
She smiled shyly. “Also most undead don’t handle the light very well.”

Takarn interrupted. “Blood. Signs of battle. Where are the bodies?”

“Scavengers?” Govakri asked.

“Not here,” Melchior put in. “Nothing lives in here. Even we are only visitors.”

“If they show up as either zombies or ghouls, I'm blaming you,” Catherine said waggling a finger at Takarn.
He shrugged. “Seems fair.”
He looked around. “We should get ready for the night. Not much light left.”

+++

Melchior and Tara shared cooking duties, Tara making a spicy, chewy camp-bread and Melchior a rich stew.

“How… why, did you learn to cook Melchior?” Tara asked as she flipped the speckled bread, which at this point looked rather like a puffy pizza.

The metal man dropped his jaw in a sort of smile, one reminiscent of Takarn’s toothy grin.
“It seemed like a useful skill to have. Besides, it’s in the handbook.”

Tara frowned quizzically. “There’s a handbook?”

He nodded. “Care and maintenance of your humans. They give it to us when we’re manufactured.”

Tara gave him a look. “Are you messing with me?”

He ‘grinned’ wider. “Maybe.”

Tara opened her mouth to make a clever reply, and choked off. “Evil. Something is coming.”

“Good. I hadn’t gone to sleep yet,” Takarn said standing and reaching for his sword. “I may yet get a full night’s sleep.”
Melchior hissed to the two women. “Up high. I want you two shooting down at whatever is out there.

“I love it when bad guys can’t reach me,” Catherine said.
She strapped on her leather gloves and drew her weapons.

Tara buckled on her gauntlets. In truth, had the attack happened later, she would most likely be out of her somewhat uncomfortable armour. As lovingly crafted as it was, and as not-sweaty-making, it was still not super comfy, even after some solid weeks of practice.
“Goddess, watch over us,” Tara prayed, enmeshing all of them in near invisible protective energy.

“Psst! Up here,” Catherine said, dangling down a stretch of rope.

Tara shook her head and stood beneath the ceiling hatch.
Her brow furrowed as she concentrated. With a slight shimmer she floated off the ground and up through the skylight onto the roof.

“Showoff,” Catherine muttered as she climbed out onto the roof.

Tara shook her head. “I can climb quite well in this, but there’s not much room, or time.”
She looked out into the gloom and whispered a prayer, one of her mothers. “bandia an, lig dom a fheiceáil.”
Spoiler:
Goddess, let me see.


Before her eyes, the murk of the fog-choked night parted.
Streamers of energy were revealed to her. Dark bands running from the north-east, lighter strands encroaching from the west.
And in them she could see movement. Dark knots in the shape of men approached from all around.

They had the shape of men, but not the soul.
Dark energy roiled in the place where a soul would be, but it was an energy with a more human shape than that of a demon.

Tara shivered at what she saw. These people were not corpses possessed by the vicious spirit of a vampire, or the malevolent spells of a necromancer. These people willingly gave away what made them human, in return for power.
Next to her, Catherine cursed with quiet intensity. “Ranged combat my ass! Can’t see anything out here.”

Tara took her hand and whispered. “See as I see.”

“Whoa! Ok, freaky. I can see. Uh, what’s with all the stripey stuff?”

“Energy. The basis of spells. Magic if you like. The dark is probably left form the day of mourning, the light is life, trying to get back in.”

Catherine called down through the hole. “Hey guys, there’s like, twenty dudes out here and they don’t look happy.”

“Warforged?” Takarn asked?

“Buggered if I know, Tara-Whoa!” she breathed.
“Oh my gods!” she squeaked. “So bright…”

Tara grimaced. “Sorry. I’ll explain later, just look the other way and shoot bad guys.”

“Wha-? Uh, right. Bad guys. Hey wait, normally you’re all ‘let’s talk them down’ and all ‘let’s not kill anyone’ and stuff.”

“Soulless Evil? Please, please destroy them?” Tara said pleadingly.

Catherine grinned, her aura brightening. “Cool! I hate that look you give me when I really enjoy a fight. You make me feel all guilty and stuff.”

“Bad guys please?” Tara said.

“Oh right. Well, they know we’re here, so no sense hiding.”

She pulled down a set of goggles, took careful aim with the golden pistol and pulled the trigger.
A bolt of tight orange fire shot from the muzzle-like tip and slammed into one of the figures about twenty meters away. The blast hit him square in the chest and knocked him from his feet.

“Ooops! My bad!” Catherine called mockingly.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she said without turning to look at Tara. “They know where we are. Big bolt of fire pretty much makes that obvious.”

The burning figure stood up.
The fire licked his body lovingly. Even from here Catherine could hear the hiss and pop of melting flesh.

“Aw, come on!” she complained. “That was a perfect shot. Be dead dammit!”

Melchior climbed smoothly out of the hatch. “If they aren’t warforged, I might as well be up here with you.”

Takarn shoved open the front doors and stood proudly with his burning blade, waiting for the enemy to close.
He shouted a warning message up to the roof. “Scream if you fall off the roof. I don’t want to chop any of you.”

The figures started to lope forward, closing the distance quickly.

“I think they’re zombies. Go for the head,” Catherine called.

“Not zombies. Zombies don’t run,” Takarn rumbled.

“Head shot’s good for everyone,” Catherine said putting actions to words.
With her silver pistol, she took aim and hit one in the head with a bolt of blue-white energy that closely resembled fire, but left freezing air in its wake. The impossibly cold blast hit the running figure in the side of the head and dropped it instantly. It did not rise.
“Yep, head shot seems to stop them, whatever they are.”

Melchior muttered unhappily. “I was all geared up for a battle with Warforged. I had these earth barricades all ready to go.”
He sighed metallically. “Oh well, lightning is good for most things.” He pulled out a chunky wand of polished ash wood, the end blackened as if by fire. After giving it a brisk rub on his silk mantle, he pointed it at one of the running figures.
A sheet of blue-white lightning erupted from the chunk of wood and hit a running figure with a palpable impact.
Smoke poured from the fallen figure long after it had fallen. Bits of flesh burned from within, and the whole body twitched spasmodically.

“Definitely not zombies, Ghouls! They know how to fight and they feel no pain, so watch yourself!”

A half dozen attempted to mob Takarn, slashing and stabbing wildly with their long, serrated swords. The dragon-man for his part, waited for an opportune moment and slashed his huge blade horizontally through their mid sections. He bisected 2 completely and slashed one so badly that his intestines spilled forth over his crotch.
The disembowelled figure grinned horribly as the smell of steaming innards reached him, and he charged.

Up on the roof, Catherine and Melchior had claimed several more casualties, striking them down with a combination of ice, fire and lightning.
The smell of burned flesh caused Tara to wrinkle her nose in disgust, when a figure scrambled over the edge of the roof.
Flames were still licking his clothes and parts of his flesh were still hissing as they cooked. Catherine’s blast of fire had hit squarely in his chest, and any regular person would have died of shock long since. His rib bones were burned black and exposed to the air, however the figure scarcely noticed his horrific injures, and almost giggled with glee as he struck out at Tara.

Possibly worse than the charred bone exposed to the air, were the pieces of glass and metal piercing his skin, and the patches of skin that had been deliberately removed, exposing raw flesh beneath.
His lidless gaze was a horrifying mix of unwholesome hunger and madness, and Tara felt a rush of gratitude when Catherine turned and casually shot him in the head with her silver pistol, flash-freezing his head and dropping him instantly.

“The queen was expecting better. She wanted power, not this helplessness,” a dry voice whispered.
Another figure had appeared on the rooftop in absolute silence. In one oiled-smooth motion he stepped between the two women and almost casually shoved Catherine off the roof.

She yelped indignantly as she went over the side and landed with a thump.

He grabbed Tara’s armour by its protective collar and manoeuvred her with contemptuous ease between himself and Melchior.
His gloating grin revealed sharp fangs, and Tara realized that she was face-to-face with another vampire.
Before she could even panic, the vampire screamed and let go of her armour, leaving a glowing mark where his hand had touched the brushed metal.

He stared in horror at his smoking hand.
“I am not helpless!” Tara said in a voice that was both loud and annoyed.
She raised her clenched fist to the vampire’s chest. “Fiat Lux!”

Blinding golden light shone from her hand through the vampire’s chest, illuminating his bones from within for a brief moment.
And it was only a brief moment before he exploded into a cloud of gritty ash and dust, his look of surprise vanishing with the rest of him.

Turning, she saw a quartet of ghouls climbing onto the roof next door. From the way they had their eyes fixed on her, it looked as though they were getting ready to jump over.
Though Tara could wield the magic of light in a number of violent ways, she had never been comfortable doing so. Until now.
Looking at the four leering monsters as they got ready to jump, she was filled with a sense of utter revulsion.

Several thoughts flitted through her head, almost too fast to follow, ‘Wrong/sick/cleanse!’
Instinctively, she shouted. “Sol!”
Her metal gauntleted hand formed a claw and light filled it, burning like a small star.
She hurled it at the four as they leapt across the gap.

The burning globe engulfed them all, sweeping them back and immolating them amid the boiling stone and incandescent wood of the house next door.
They were gone so fast they did not have time to scream.

The undead were hollow mockeries of life, corpses of otherwise good people dragged from their rest by dark energies. But to willingly give up your soul piece by piece, and replace it with darkness and lust?
That concept made Tara shudder.
Wrong didn’t even begin to cover it.

Melchior was cheerfully zapping ghouls with lightning over the edge of the roof, and a sudden increase in violence and bright light attested to the fact that Catherine was back on her feet. Tara faced backwards, determined that no others would sneak past.
It was a good thing too, as three more ghouls clambered over different parts of the roof and charged her from different directions.

They moved clumsily, almost limping, but with frightening speed. Tara had only ever seen Buffy move that fast before. And right now she wished her Slayer friend was here.


“Yay me!” Buffy said cheerfully, happy to be included again.

“As if you didn’t have enough shit to kill,” Faith grumbled.



Tara stood her ground and summoned more sunlight, this time lancing out as a tight, focussed beam of energy. Not only was it much easier to cast, but it did not carry the risk of incinerating their dwelling, as had happened to the neighbour’s house.

As fast as they were, Tara was able to skewer two of them with lance-like beams of sunlight.
The blasts dropped them like a bag of rocks, unsurprising given that the beams shone through them.

The remaining ghoul grinned, pieces of glass jutting out though his flayed cheeks, unconcerned by the likely death of his companions.
He swung his blade at Tara’s head. She had enough time to see the sheer number of notches and embellishments on the blade. It made it more of a saw than a sword, and to think, ‘Willow!’ before the heavy blade slammed into the side of her head.

And bounced off, leaving her unharmed.

‘I really should have put on my helmet,’ she thought to herself.

The ghoul looked oddly surprised, the leering grin fading from his face, making him look unpleasantly more human.
He shrugged and attacked again, going for her legs this time. Tara tried to dodge out of the way of his powerful blows with limited success.

On his second swing, his serrated sword made contact with her left leg with a ringing clang. Tara was surprised, having barely felt the blow. She glanced down and saw that the heavy blade, for all its force, had left the armour without even a scratch.

The ghoul was frozen in place, a look of horror on his face.
He wasn’t even looking at her, his gaze was dragged to the north-east and he screamed.

His screams raised in pitch and he writhed, falling to the roof, there to writhe in agony. His shrieks ear-splitting as black smoke began to pour from his thrashing body.

Melchior looked at Tara who was currently backing away from the thrashing ghoul, looking completely horrified.
“What did you do?” he said, completely distracted from the fight by the inhuman screaming and thrashing.

Tara shook her head. “I-I didn’t do anything!”

The thrashing figure stopped with shocking suddenness, going instantly limp and silent.

Below them the sounds of violence tapered off, with a last flash of light and a thud.

“Hey! You guys ok up there?” Catherine shouted.

“We are fine. You?” Melchior asked, leaning cautiously over the side of the roof.

Takarn was wiping his sword clean of accumulated gore, using a shirt that was no longer needed by its owner. “We have run out of bad guys.”

Catherine looked up. “Did we get ‘em all? And what was all that screaming?”

Tara’s pale face showed over the edge, looking shell-shocked.
“I d-don’t know!”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Catherine shouted up.

“He just fell down and started screaming.”

Catherine rubbed her shoulder and groaned. “Huh. Weird.” She looked up again. “You think maybe he didn’t like the taste of your mojo?”

Tara shook her head, still clearly shaken. “No m-mojo. He didn’t even t-touch me.”

“Hold up, I wanna look at this.”

Melchior and Tara waited while Catherine scrambled up the inside of the barn and climbed out the hole.

“Gods! Whatever happened to him, it must have been really unpleasant.”

She crouched down by Melchior, next to the mystery corpse. Though the body was covered in wounds, it was apparent that most of them were painful, rather than life threatening. And self-inflicted.
“I shot one of these guys square in the chest. Did enough damage that his relatives should have felt it, and he fucking giggled. Gotta tell you, it’s creepy as all getout.”

“Ghouls,” Melchior said darkly. “They enjoy pain.”

“That bit I figured. What the hell is a ghoul?” she asked.

“Cultists usually. They undergo a ritual which leeches away their soul, a piece at a time, and replaces it with demonic essence.”

“Why the fuck would anybody do that?!” Catherine asked incredulously.

“Power, beauty, eternal life. The usual.”
He looked over at the two women. “With an infusion of dark energy, they are no longer mortal. They don’t age, they get stronger both physically and magically and their conscience fades, so they no longer feel bad about anything.”

“They don’t look pretty, Mel.”

“It requires formidable strength of will to survive with your personality intact. Everyone likes to think they have it. Few do.”
He stood. “Usually the darkness ends up corrupting them to the degree where they are little better than monsters. The few that do keep their personalities are extremely dangerous.”

Tara shuddered, to do such a thing on purpose filled her with horror.
“There… there was a vampire with them.”

“A Vampire?” Catherine asked.

“It, um, went poof.”

“Went poof?”

“Why are you repeating everything I say?”

“Repe- no. I’m not. I’m just surprised that you took down a vampire all by yourself. You’ve said it before, you’re not one for fighting.”

Tara smiled awkwardly. “I didn’t fight it, I, um, mojoed it.”
She held up her hand and wiggled her fingers, which were glowing faintly. “Vampires don’t like holy things, or light. My magic is both.”

“So, we should call you the Vampire Slayer huh?”

“Um, no?”

“Well, you did describe your Slayer friend as a little ball of sunshine, which sort of describes you, y’know, what with the actual sunshine you often produce. Plus vampires going poof with one hit is pretty impressive.”

“No Tara the Vampire Slayer please. It just sounds wrong. And the life of the Slayer is pretty-well war, from sundown to sun up. That’s a bit much for me.”

Catherine poked the body with her pistol wand, as if assuring herself that he was really dead.
“Which begs the question: what happened to this guy?”

Tara shook her head. “I have no idea. He took a swing at my head, which bounced off my protective shield. He took a swing at my leg, which bounced off my armour. Then he fell down screaming and this black smoke started pouring out of him.”
She shuddered, her armour jingling slightly. “It was very unpleasant.”

“Does that mean something? Black smoke? I dunno much about magic, but that sounds kinda ominous.”

Tara though for a moment. “Well white smoke is usually used for purification, and black for binding. Maybe the spell that bound his dark essence failed.”

“Uh, dumb question, why?”

Tara held up her hands in a ‘who knows’ gesture.

“Did you cast a spell?” Catherine said to Melchior.

“No. lightning only, and Tara’s protection spell of course.”

“Would that…”
Tara shook her head. “No. it’s the same blocking spell I use almost every day. It stops magical and physical damage. It doesn’t even stop spells, just injuries.”

The trio stood around looking worried and perplexed, until the sound of massive wing beats signified the arrival of Takarn. The roof shook as he landed.

“What happened?” he rumbled.

“That is what we are trying to determine. He apparently died after coming face-to-face with Tara, after a couple of unsuccessful attacks.”

Takarn prodded the body with a claw, something people seemed unable to avoid.
“Perhaps his masters were not pleased with his failure to kill you?”

“Unlikley. He was only at it a few seconds. He got in maybe two good swings. Then this,” Melchior said, gesturing to the horrifying corpse.

Govakri snorted. “If the varied evil types in the world were that nuts, they would not need the likes of you,” he said to Takarn.

Takarn gave the slightly wheezy rumble that suggested he was thinking hard, before he spoke. “This place is famed for its twisted magic. Could the spell have gone wrong?”

He looked at Melchior, who took his hat off and scratched his shiny head. “I do not know. Oddly enough, magic researchers are reluctant to come here. What with the chance of imminent death and all.”
His jaw hung open just a little, his version of a wry grin. “And while I have a fairly good grasp of the principles of magic, my understanding follows a practical bent. I am an Inquisitive, or as Tara puts it, a “private investigator,” not a magical researcher.”

“Well, if this is anything to go by, we can still use magic,” Catherine said gesturing to the scorched bodies around the battle site.

“We are only in the border lands. Despite our good luck so far, we have nearly a week of travel. It will get worse.”

Govakri spoke up. “While you lot were discussing the finer points of thaumaturgy, I found this in the pile of ash that the vampire left.”

He held up a finely worked sword in a well-made scabbard, and a letter.

Melchior passed the letter to Tara and examined the sword.
“This sword is enchanted. And it’s an officer’s sword from the Metrol city watch.”

Tara could see only basic anti-dirt/water protective spells on the letter, and opened it. It was a set of orders penned in an angular style that Tara thought looked vaguely familiar. Alarmingly, the orders concerned their group and gave instructions to destroy them or lead them away from the ruins of Metrol.
Silently she handed it to Melchior.

He read in silence.
“Interesting.”

Govakri read over his shoulder. “I’ve seen writing like that before somewhere.”

“Karnathi immigrants,” Melchior explained. “It’s Brelish, written by someone used to the angular Karnathi script.”

“Looks like someone doesn’t want us going anywhere near Metrol.”

“Are you dissuaded?” Melchior asked mildly.

Govakri flashed one of his quick grins, visible even in the dim light. “Hell no.”

Melchior nodded. “And do you think that it is hard to see that?”

“Uh, what?”

Catherine butted in. “What he’s saying. Is that the best way to draw someone like us in, is to kick up a fuss trying to keep us away. We’re liable to want to know why they don’t want us there, and go look because of it.”

He looked thoughtful for a moment.
“Good point. I’ve made a career out of going places other people don’t want me to go. I imagine you guys are the same.”

“Why?” Catherine said. “We’re already headed there.”

Melchior spoke up. “They may not be aware of that. Cyre is a big country, and from a distance we look like treasure hunters. It would be insane for treasure hunters to drive straight for Metrol, as there is an entire country to loot.”

“I do not like being lead around by the nose,” Takarn growled. “There is an upside to this.”

The others looked at him curiously. “Someone wants us to go there. That makes it ever more likely that we will get actual answers when we arrive. And someone to demand those answers from.”

He grinned.
There were a lot of teeth in that grin.


Tara stopped her reading and looked more than a little desolate.

“Baby? What’s wrong?” Willow asked.

“That was the last time we really thought of ourselves on a regular expedition. After that we started to find the bodies. Lots of bodies. I thought I had seen death before, as a Scooby, but that was nothing like this. As we travelled to the capitol, we came across more bodies and dangerous magic. It was awful. But not far from the capitol we… we saw something terrible. I’m n-not s-sure if it was a battlefield o-or if they had been washed there by a flood or something-”
she broke off, gathering herself. Willow squeezed her hand and sent her silent support and her love.

Tara stared at a horror only she could see, and spoke in a hollow, lost voice barely above a whisper. “So much death.”
She looked away. “On one vast plain before the city, were uncountable thousands of bodies, maybe… maybe even millions. Not all of them were human, but most of them were, or close enough.”
She went on in a hollow voice. “There were so many of them we couldn’t walk between them, and there were mountains surrounding the plain. I went up to see if there was a way through.”

“There wasn’t.”
“We had to reach the capitol by walking on the dead, in some cases, climbing over them.”

“Good god,” Giles whispered.

“Damn, that’s rough.”

Tara nodded slowly. Her expression was desolate.
“It was one of the most horrific things I have ever had to deal with.”

She looked up into Willow’s stricken gaze. “But I had something now, something I never had before,” she smiled softly into Willow’s sad face. “I had you. On the other side of all that horror was you. And I wasn’t going to let anything or anyone stop me from getting to you.”

“Wow,” Willow squeaked. “I’ve never been anyone’s inspiration before.

The group was silent for a while, until Xander cleared his throat. “Uh, Wills, that’s kinda not true.”

Willow turned to an awkward fidgety Xander. “Um, you’ve always been my inspiration Willow.”

Willow’s answering smile was poignant, combining sorrow and joy in equal measure.
And love. For what would she have been, without Xander’s absolutely steadfast devotion?
“Xander,” she said tenderly. “I’m your inspiration?”

He nodded wordlessly, his good eye glittering.
“Remember when we were kids, and every year in class, they made us stand up and tell everyone what we wanted to be when we grew up?”

“You picked batman,” Willow said with a gentle smile.

He grinned sheepishly. “Well yeah, until the kids teased me, and the teachers spoke to my parents about me being delusional.”

“And after that you just said ‘fireman.’”

He nodded slowly. “One time, after your stupid parents made you cry, I gave you a big hug. Remember?”

Willow smile sadly. “You have to be more specific Xander, that happened an awful lot.”

“You cheered right up, and because we’d had that whole career-day thing, you asked me what I wanted to be.”

“I remember,” Willow said with a soft smile.

“I looked down at your smile, at the light in your eyes, and I knew I wanted to protect that, to protect you. Right then I knew what I wanted to be.”

She looked at him with glittering eyes, waiting for him.

He looked at her, his dark eye filled with infinite care.
“I wanted to be your hero.”

Willow stared at him, absolutely gobsmacked. She closed her mouth with a click and opened her arms.

“Xander Harris,” Willow sniffled. “You come here. You come here right now, and get the biggest, bestest hug ever!”
He did, and she wrapped him in a fierce hug. “Xander, what would I do without you?”

“You’ll never have to find out.”

Her hug was fierce enough to leave marks, and he relished it. And held her close.

There was love in both their lives now, but first and foremost they had each other.
“I love you Wills, always have, always will.”

The slim woman squeezed his sturdy frame with every ounce of strength she had.

“Thank you Xander. You kept me going, y’know? Until Tara could come back. No-one else could have done it. Just you.”

Tara had her head bowed slightly, her eyes closed, almost as if in prayer. A silent tear rolled down her cheek and a soft smile made her features glow as she sat in awe at the emotions pouring through the link she shared with Willow.

A little way back from the rampant huggage, Faith spoke to Anya.

“I’m a little surprised you’re not giving them shit about all this,” Faith said quietly. “Always been kinda your style.”

Anya shook her head. “No. I am completely secure in Xander’s love for me. Being a peanut does wonders for understanding things.”

“Huh?”

“This is why ‘The Fluke’ happened.”

“Huh, some more?” Faith said.

“Look at them Faith. He would give his life for her. Instantly, and without a second thought. He already tried to once, which I thought was very selfish of him.”

She sighed an exasperated sigh, but the poorly hidden look of pride she wore let Faith know she wasn’t all that upset.

“He loves her to the very bottom of his soul.”

“Uh, yeah?”

“Now imagine you are a dumb teenager with hormones squirting out in all directions. In a disgusting, yet strangely arousing display. You love a girl more than you even understand. So you must kiss her, yes? It not like there’s any other kind of love is there?”

“Hmm. Not when you’re a teenager. I know I did plenty of dumb, messed up shit when I couldn’t figure out my own head.”

“Right. Thus, the fluke.”

The two oldest Scoobies, and two oldest friends, spent the next while reconnecting.
Story time was reluctantly abandoned for dinner, with a promise to pick it up after dessert.


+++


A pleasant evening meal provided by Mary put them in better spirits. Or at least less dramatic spirits.

In honour of Tara’s story, she had done a spectacular pork roast, complete with traditional roast vegetables and gravy.
Blissfully replete Scoobies lay comfortably on the couches and beanbags around the room.

“God-damn that woman can cook,” Faith said with a happy groan.

“Uh-huh,” Buffy added.

“That was some quality pig,” Xander said. “I think I may be addicted to crackling.”

“There’s a joke there about crack and crackling, but I’ll just shut up now,” Willow said.

“I am starting to understand the old saying. That the fastest way to a man’s heart, is through his stomach,” Giles said with a happy smile.

Anya weighed in. “The stuffy librarian is wrong. It’s through his ribcage.”

“Front is generally a bit easier,” Faith added.

“Can we stop, before I lose my yummy meal, please?” Buffy said.

“Sorry Bumblebee. Don’t wanna make ya puke, not when you’re finally startin’ to put on some weight.”

“Faith!” Buffy protested.
“Deal, babe. You’re a Slayer. Ya never gonna get fat. But you’re too damn skinny, an’ it worries me a little.”

“You’re worried? Why?”

“Makes it look like you’re all depressed and shit. Makes me feel like a bad girlfriend.”

Buffy blinked in surprise. “I’m sorry Faith. I didn’t know.”

Faith smiled a little. “S’ok. You’re gettin’ some of ya shape back. S’all good.”

“Happy Buffy is a curvy Buffy?” Buffy asked.

“Damn straight.”

Buffy seemed mollified by this and returned to snuggling.

Dawn was snuggled into her fluffy pink comforter. “If you two are finished being weird, I think it’s story time,” she said.

Slowly the little family assumed story time positions.
Xander had his arm around Anya, who had her head resting on his sturdy chest.
Buffy was up the other end of the same couch, snuggled up to Faith in a similar fashion.
The Terrible Three were snuggled on the smaller couch, buried in in an alarming shade of fluffy pink, Heather in the middle for a change.

Giles sipped his tea quietly, sitting in what Buffy called his ‘Grandpa chair’. He waited patiently for Tara to gather her thoughts, as Willow blissfully and contentedly lay her head her beloved’s lap.

“Um, ok. So I’m going to pick this up when we made it to the city. Before that there was a lot of fighting and danger, but it was pretty much the same sort of nastiness, day after day. Death everywhere, the dead walking, and other nastiness.”

“I find it more than a little concerning that you, of all people, would be so blasé about that sort of thing,” Giles said. There was a look of concern on his face that matched his words.

Tara shook her head solemnly. “Not blasé at all mister Giles. I just don’t want to dwell on it. It was an un-ending display of un-death. The trees, the grass… even the rivers were dead. It was instinctively wrong. They were not even rotting, just… dead.”

“Ah,” said Giles. “Perhaps I misspoke.”

She gave him a reassuring smile, before explaining. “We were attacked by zombies, more ghouls and a few Warforged, more or less constantly while we travelled. While it was alarming and dangerous, it was very repetitive and I don’t think would make for a good story. And it’s not something I really want to dwell on.”

“We did discover a few things though. Healing is not supposed to work in the Mourn-Lands due to the contamination of death magic. We discovered that was true, with the exception of my magic.”

“Also, magic users: witches and wizards, were unable to recover magical strength, for the same reason. Um, that also wasn’t true for me.”

“Weird. Why?” Dawn asked.

Tara glanced at Giles and smiled. “Just like mister Giles, Melchior was full of theories. His favourite one was that it was because I had already died once. I’m not sure I agreed with him.”

“I think it’s because you are too wonderful to be affected by the nastiness,” Willow said loyally.

Tara ran her thumb affectionately across Willow’s knuckles. “Very sweet,” she said.

“And not sucking up at all,” Dawn said, more than a hint of teasing in her voice.

“She just wants sweaty lesbian sex later. It’s completely understandable that she should be sucking up. Bravo.”

Willow glared at Anya. It was difficult due to her current position, but she managed it. Sadly the effort was wasted, as her death-glare had the same effect that all glares directed Anya’s way did. None at all.

Taking care not to disturb the reclining Willow in her lap, Tara rummaged around for her journal and once found, flipped it open to the bookmarked section. She leafed through a couple of pages, deciding where to start.

“Well, eventually we made it to Metrol. It was a very big city, though not as vast as Sharn, the city of light. It took us the better part of a day to work our way from the outskirts to the palace.”

Tara looked downcast. “It was very sad. Even with the mist everywhere, you could tell that the city had once been filled with life. Metrol was once the cultural centre of the world. Plays, music, food, fashion, all from Metrol. It was a vibrant place, now brought to ruin.”

“Musta been pretty gross,” Faith said.

Tara shook her head slowly. “That made it all the more unreal. They didn’t rot or decay. All that sort of thing is part of the process of life. In the Mourn- Lands, even that was stopped. They weren’t gross, they didn’t smell, they were just… dead.”

She met Faith’s eyes. “It’s hard to explain. I think in some way it would have been less awful if they had started to decay. That would have been gross, but more… normal, I guess.”



The small group of friends looked up the steep mountainside at the palace above them. What had once been a soaring construction of white marble to put any palace to shame, now was a looming hulk. Though the day of mourning had done little to physically damage it, the life of the place had gone. The gleaming white columns were lit by the dim pre-dawn light, to the shade of old bones, and the fog covered everything like a shroud.

Metrol had been one of the largest cities in the world, and in the middle of a war, it thronged with people. And now all those people were no more than corpses, spilling out of doorways, choking taverns and passageways like some form of obscene driftwood.

Under any other circumstances, it would have been a harrowing sight, but the party of friends had been numbed by their overexposure over the last few days.
They were exhausted and stumbling, fatigue showing in every movement. Even the tireless Melchior was moving slowly and deliberately, his mind numbed by the vast carnage surrounding them on all sides.

They had walked on the dead, climbed on the dead, and for one awful exhaustion and nightmare-wracked night, slept among the dead.
Exhaustion had left its mark on all of them.
As exhausted as they were, no one was able to snatch more than a couple of hour of restless, terror-filled sleep.

Catherine and Tara moved slowly and tiredly through the body choked streets and alleyways, moving almost like the walking dead themselves.

Takarn and Melchior were not visibly affected, though there was a deliberateness to their actions that was not normally present. Both were snappish and taciturn by turns.

Govakri, if anything, was more energetic than usual. He couldn’t sit still. His every movement was filled with a febrile, nervous energy that made anyone in proximity jumpy or unsettled. Tara just felt exhausted just looking at him.

It had been barely a week since the party of friends had entered the accursed land, yet if you had reminded them, they would have been surprised, for it seemed a distant memory, perhaps of another life.


“You know, I can’t help but feel a little left out,” Dawn said. “Everyone’s gotten a cameo so far but me.”

She looked at Tara mournfully. “Did you forget me?”

Tara smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry Dawnie, I haven’t forgotten about you. It might not seem like it at the moment, but sweetie, this whole section, um, ‘chapter’ I guess, is about you.”

Dawn perked up. “Really?”

Tara bobbed her head. “Really. What’s the one thing we haven’t seen in a while?”

“Uh, living things?”

Shaking her head, Tara continued. “What’s more fundamental, even than that? Often a symbol of life.”

The light dawned. “Oh… Oh!”

She looked more than a little sheepish. “Um, right. Now I feel dim.”



The party of friends stopped at a small guard house at the base of the hill and looked up at the palace towering over them. In times past it must have been a glorious, uplifting sight. Now it loomed menacingly, threatening as if filled with evil intent, as if it wished crush them at any moment.

Tara eyed the mighty palace thoughtfully. Any instinct to look away quashed. In there lay her answers, and by the Goddess, she was going to get them.

“You feel it too,” Takarn stated.

She met his eyes. “What is it?”

He grinned hungrily. “Evil.”

Turning, he gestured to the once-beautiful palace. “There is evil in there. Not the tainted darkness of this place, but true evil. Evil that plots and spins its webs.”

“You seem almost happy.”

He rumbled. “I am. Spells. Spirits. Ghosts. These are things I cannot deal with. Evil, I can HIT!” he said, putting action to words and smacking his huge fist into his palm.
“This evil is something I can do something about. I can destroy it. Make the world a better place in a measurable way.”

Tara looked at her friend.
Uncomplicated. That was the best way to describe him. Not that he was unintelligent or even slow, just that he liked his world simple.
Good was to be protected, evil was to be destroyed. Everything else could safely ignored.

And to be honest, there were days when she envied him that focus. He never doubted, never wondered if he was doing the right thing. He fought evil, and was fulfilled by the fight.

She yawned and blinked tiredly, too exhausted to be surprised by the yawn sneaking up on her.

“Come,” he rumbled. “We’ll set up this guard house as our base-camp to explore.”

He eyed her. “We also need your restorative powers.”

She nodded tiredly. “Lead the way. Really. I’m likely to trip over my own feet otherwise.”

Takarn lead them inside the guardhouse, the inevitable task of removing the bodies already having been taken care of by Takarn and Melchior.

Her friends looked at her with exhaustion dulled features.
“I think I’m going to need to meditate after this,” Tara said.

“There’s a good spot up top,” Catherine said dully.

Tara nodded. Exhaustion hung off her like a heavy blanket, slowing her thoughts and rendering her movements slow.
Carefully, she removed a polished stone from the pouch on her belt, a chunk of gleaming haematite the size of a small egg.
Her friends gathered around instinctively. They had been through enough battles together, to realize on an emotional level that Tara brought comfort, and surcease from pain.

She called upon her magic and asked the Goddess to bless her actions and those of her friends.

Bandia, MáthairIarr,
Iarr mé go bhfuil an cloch leigheas mo chroí
Agus cabhrú liom a dhéanamh, tús úr nua
I bless sé anois le solas agus grá
Agus fuinneamh ó thíos agus os a chionn
Beidh mo heartache a thuilleadh fanacht
Tarraingíonn an cloch cneasaithe sé ar shiúl
Beidh mé a bheith ina iomláine, beidh mé a bheith saor
Mé réidh mé féin de cén bhuairt orm

Spoiler:
I ask that this stone heal my heart
And help me make a new, fresh start
I bless it now with light and love
And energy from below and above
My heartache will no longer stay
This healing stone draws it away
I will be whole, I will be free
I rid myself of what ails me.



With those words streamers of blue and white light flowed from Tara to her friends.

In a matter of seconds they stood straighter, looked more alert, and for want of a better word, more alive.

Catherine smiled giddily. “Oh my god. I can see why you don’t use that spell very often.”

“Whoa. I feel like a million gold pieces,” Govakri added.

“Hard? Shiny? Like a dragon is sitting on you?” Melchior said with a grin.
Takarn rumbled. “If you wish to experience that last one I can help you.”

Catherin grinned. “Someone’s feeling better.”

“I think that might be your first ever joke,” Melchior said.

“Joke? Who is joking?” he asked, showing his equivalent of a grin.

Tara returned his grin with a twisted smile of her own. “If you would like to get organized, maybe see about some food, I’ll be upstairs meditating.”
She left with a spring in her step that had been lacking for some time.

“Food. Yes. I could eat some food,” came the deep gravelly voice.

Tara smiled as she climbed. She suspected she’d lost a couple of pounds from the constant walking, lack of sleep and lack of appetite.
Now, as Catherine had put it, she felt like a million bucks.

And while normally the effects were less dramatic, Catherine was right, this spell was addictive. To go from tired and exhausted, to feeling well-rested and energized was very much like a drug.
More than one spell caster had gone awry as a result of this spell.

She climbed the ladder through the trapdoor, to the lookout on the roof. When the city lived, this must have been a favourite place to take a break.
Though it was not the tallest building in the area, it was well situated to look out over this part of the city and the open areas around the palace. Even with the ever present mists, the platform gave a good view, though Tara would be willing to bet the view was noticeably less pleasant than in ages past.
She sat down and crossed her legs, closing her eyes to shut out the sight of the dead city.
She took a deep breath and began her meditation.

Often, at home in the city, she would rise before dawn and go up to the garden to meditate as the sun rose. Something about the spark of the sun cresting the horizon filled her with some inexpressible, primal emotion. Equal parts poignant loss and something akin to joy filled her.

Here in the land of the dead, there would be no dawn, for all that the grey atmosphere was lightening with the coming day.
Though the mist was not particularly thick, it was all pervasive. And no sun could penetrate even light mist, when it was a couple of miles thick.

If she wanted a sunrise, she was going to have to organize her own.
Her brow furrowed in thought, could she make the sun rise?
She closed her eyes and began to meditate.

She felt herself sink deeper into the well of her power, feeling the tattered connections, the wounds on her soul.
And she felt the power, the power of her magic, touched with the currents of wind and sun, the power of the endless sky. It cradled her, soothing her battered soul. And it was vast.
Feeling carefully about, she felt some of those tattered connections were already restored. She smiled internally, she knew why, or more correctly ‘who.’

Willow.
The name resonated within her, it made her soul sing, and was a balm to the tattered parts of her spirit.

Willow.
Goddess, she was addicted. Just saying her name made her heart race and gave her a warm feeling deep inside.

Willow.
She shuddered happily, little goosebumps rising on her flesh, as she pictured those beautiful green eyes and flaming hair.
‘Oh now I have to stop this. This can’t be healthy. I’m supposed to be meditating, not getting off.’

Willow.
She shivered happily, feeling oddly naughty and more than a little pleased.
She let herself feel the wonder that was Willow for a few more moments, before reluctantly tucking her image away in her heart, like a favoured perfume or special treat. To be savoured, not to be touched lightly.

Slowly, reluctantly, she returned to her meditations.
Here in this cursed and blasted land the taint of darkness and un-death affected everyone. She had been holding off on the revitalizing spell, until they were close to their destination. Under these conditions she wasn’t sure how long it would hold for, and having a weeks-worth of fatigue drop on you could be fatal at the wrong moment.
That and she knew how addictive the spell could be.

Now, revitalized, she could meditate, gathering her strength, replenishing her magic, rather than staring dully at the wall in exhaustion.
She sank down deeper into her trance, a state familiar to her, after month upon month of desperate attempts to recover strength for the next day’s trial.

She gathered in the strands of energy from around herself, careful to gather only the tiny light coloured strands, the magic of life.

Here in this place she could gather vast power, if only she were willing to absorb the darkness.
She shuddered at the thought, something small tugging at a corner of her mind. She knew that the tiny sense of deja-vu had some meaning, it was important somehow. She concentrated on it, but nothing came.

Frustrated, Tara realized that despite her intent to meditate on the dawn, she was still getting distracted.
Revitalizing spells were not a complete substitute for sleep it seemed.
There was no dawn here, and Tara missed it more than ever. Something about the phrase ate at her, digging at her with its wrongness.

‘There is no Dawn here,’ she said in the confines of her mind.
She was hit by a sudden, inexplicable pang of loss, so sharp, so sudden that it was almost akin to losing a limb.
She meditated on her feelings. ‘Dawn, not just sunrise.’
She meditated on the Dawn, picturing the sun rising over the glittering towers of Sharn.

Her viewpoint shifted, she found herself picturing the sun rising over houses and trees. Something about that particular sunrise made something ache deep inside her.
She tugged at the feeling.

So many of her feelings, her memories, went nowhere. It was an intensely frustrating sensation, akin to having a word on the tip of your tongue, while being desperate to sneeze, and being unable to do so.

She dug in and pulled at the feeling, not caring that what she needed may be in the missing part of her soul. She had been patient, accepting, if for no reason other than to preserve her sanity. She had heeded wise cousel to let such things come in their own time. Well not any more.

For this thing, this one thing, she was going to demand answers, right now.
Had anyone been watching they would have seen nothing, nothing beyond a woman, albeit one wearing armour, meditating peacefully on the tower.

Inwardly she was raging. The pain was intense, in her frustration she pulled at the scars on her soul and psychological scabs of barely healed wounds.
And as before, a face was revealed.

She saw/felt a rush of warmth as her mind’s eye saw the face for the first time/again.
An overwhelming sensation of deja-vu washed through her. Had she done this before? Was this something that kept happening?
She pictured a heart shaped face, expressive grey eyes filled with life, long hair and a radiant smile.

In her mind this face was inextricably bound with the scene of the sunrise that had lead her here.
Was it something that they did together regularly? Before she ended up here?

She felt something click into place and all other complex emotions were washed away by a surge of love. The emotions were enough to bring her to her knees, were she not already sitting down.

‘Dear Goddess. A daughter, I have a daughter!’
Her mind was filled with glimpses of their life together, nights watching movies together, braiding her hair, fixing breakfast, Willow helping her study, holding her as she cried. Little pieces of a life together.

In her mind’s eye, she examined her hand, and found it smooth and unlined.
‘Goddess, how old am i?’

Her meditation was forgotten as she basked in the radiance of love for her family.

Brave Buffy.
Loving Willow.
Loyal Xander.
Patient Giles.
Honest Anya.
And Dawn, her daughter.


Tara closed her journal and looked up at Buffy. “I h-hope you don’t think I’m intruding on something Buffy,” she said, her slight stutter betraying her nervousness. “I just knew that I loved Dawn, and not much else at that point.”

Willow looked as though she was expecting Buffy to leap over and start biting people.

Buffy smiled reassuringly. “It’s ok Tara. I already extracted a promise from Faith to look out for her, if anything happens to me.”

Dawn gave her a sharp look.

“But you and Will are kind of her moms. Especially how you looked after her while I was dead that one time.”

Tara looked reassured, as did Willow.
“I have more moms than any sane person has a right to expect,” Dawn said.
She frowned. “And I have lost every single one of them at some point.”
“Though I got most of them back,” she said with a little smile.

“Um, I’m feeling like I’ve got a serious case of the stupids here, but what do you mean Dawnie?” Willow asked.

“Well, I lost Mom-mom during that whole suckfest with Glory.”

She shuddered, before looking between Willow and Tara.
“But you guys are my moms too, because, well you looked after me, and loved me, even though I was a brat, and I love you.”
Tears glittered in her eyes. “We lost Tara next year, and W-Willow? We lost you then too.”

Willow covered her face in a mixture of sadness and shame.

“The monks made me out of the Slayer, which is Buffy, so she’s kinda my mom in a weird way, but Faith is also the Slayer, one of the chosen two, which explains why I am so much taller and cooler than Buffy. And have dark hair, when no one else in the family does.”

A sad, almost wistful expression flashed across Faith’s face.
Buffy looked up, surprised by the sudden spike of emotion, subsiding when Faith gave her only a closed look and a tiny head shake.

Dawn carried on, missing the exchange completely. “Buffy died, and Faith went crazy and then off to jail.”
“At some point or other I have lost everybody important in my life. Luckily I got you all back, so whichever God or Goddess is responsible for Tara coming home, is now my official favourite. So if we have to paint ourselves blue, and run around naked in the snow instead of having Christmas, I’m still happy.”

Xander blinked at the truly mind-bending visuals. Eventually allowing himself a small grin, before he was hit by a flying cushion.

Tara smiled, reassured. She gave Willow a reassuring cuddle before reopening her journal. Willow was either reassured, or stunned by the boobage involved in a cuddle from her position.

Either way, she seemed happy.



“We eat a lot of stew, I’ve noticed,” Catherine said.

Govakri grinned easily, unlike his recent nervous twitchiness.
“Throw random ingredients into pot. Add water, heat. Pretty universal. In any culture I would imagine.”

“Not mine,” Takarn rumbled. “We have trouble eating sloppy things. No stew for us.”

Catherine gave him a disbelieving look. “Dude, I’ve seen you eat stew. Messily, granted, but with reasonable success.”

“Yes. I like stew. It took years of practice to eat it properly.”

More disbelieving looks followed.

“What? I don’t have lips. Stew is hard. Not hard. You know what I meant.”

Takarn stirred the large pot of the aforementioned stew. The smell was delicious, though that may have had something to do with the party’s lack of appetite this last week, and it’s sudden restoration.

“Just don’t eat all of it big guy, I’m unaccountably hungry just now,” Catherine said, smiling at a recently arrived Tara.

She raised an eyebrow. “You know when most people use the phrase ‘floating with happiness’ they’re being metaphorical or something. Not you.”

Tara had simply stepped out over the hatch from the ceiling and simply floated down to the ground.
“I am happy. I meditated, gathered my strength, and remembered my daughter.”

“Then this is congratulations,” Melchior said. “How old is she?”

Tara blushed. “Um, teenager,” she eventually said.

“Belated congratulations then,” he said with his version of a grin.

Catherine made a show of looking closely at Tara’s face. “Well whatever your beauty routine is, you’ve got to tell me. Because I would have sworn you were younger than me, and I’m twenty five.”

“Um. I don’t know. Maybe I’m older than I look? Though I don’t feel… old.”

“Few do. You all seem young to me,” Takarn said.

That got him the fish eye from Catherine.
“Well, how old are you? In fact how old is everyone?”

“Thirty one,” Govakri put in.

“Nine,” said Melchior.

“Eighty seven,” Takarn said quietly.

Catherine gave him a funny look. He shrugged and rumbled quietly. “By my people’s standards I am just a child. It can be annoying sometimes.”

Catherine turned to Tara and gave her an inquisitive raised eyebrow.

“Um, I’m not sure,” Tara said. “Younger than thirty I had thought.”

“Well, you either started really young, are older than you thought, or, well… magic.”

“Magic?”

“Tara honey, there’s not a stretch-mark on you. Now granted, not everyone gets them, but there’s usually some sign that you’d have had a kid. I’ve seen you bathing remember? No marks. So I figure: magic. Throw a quick healing spell at someone and it’ll get rid of all that. Hell, use the right spell, and other than a newly acquired ability to breast feed, you’d never know you’d just given birth a few minutes ago.”

“That is likely the best explanation,” Melchior said. “Your magic is some of the strongest I have ever seen. Perhaps not the equal of Izolda’s in terms of destructive power, but in terms of depth and healing power? Far greater.”

“True,” Takarn rumbled thoughtfully. “Your magic is deep.”

Melchior continued. “And as one of the strongest healers in the world, I would not be surprised to discover that you were able to get rid of a few wrinkles, along with the, ah, stretch-marks.”

Tara blushed at the attention and discussion of her body.
“Um, thanks guys, but can we stop talking about my stretch-marks and things now please?”

Catherine grinned. “Sorry.”

Tara shook her head, Catherine didn’t seem to be too sorry. Like her best friend Anya, Catherine seemed to delight in pushing other people’s buttons.
She blinked in surprise, a smile spreading across her face.

“You have that look,” Catherine remarked. “You going to start floating again?”

Still smiling, Tara looked down briefly. “I don’t think so. I didn’t get caught as much by surprise this time.”


“Well that’s just not fair!” Anya protested. “Everyone else got a floaty moment, why not me?”

Tara chuckled. “Sorry Anya, what was I thinking? ‘Tara looked down and realized she was completely wrong, she was in fact floating, she was floating so high, that she was floating only millimetres below where she had floated when she remembered Willow and Dawn.’”

“Much better,” Anya said. “And entirely appropriate for someone with best friend status.”



“Let us refuel the organic members of the party, plan our approach, and make a move. The palace is famously large and we have a long day ahead of us.”

Various nods greeted his pronouncement.

“But first food,” came the deep rumble from Takarn. He was staring fixedly at the big pot of stew with not one, but both eyes. A sure sign that he found it absolutely riveting.

Melchior fiddled with his eye and went to keep watch, while the rest of the party waited for dinner to cook.

_________________
“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


Last edited by Azirahael on Wed Oct 22, 2014 8:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 8)
PostPosted: Sat Oct 04, 2014 12:53 pm 
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awesome update. I really can't wait for the next!


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 8)
PostPosted: Sun Oct 05, 2014 10:23 am 
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Sorry my feedback has been conspicuously absent the past few chapters. I have been reading but life has been chaotic and busy so I t haven't had time to sit down with a keyboard and write some feedback. The build in the story has been really interesting especially watching as Tara grows stronger in herself and abilities while also gaining memories and pieces back from her past. The Mourn lands descriptors are strong and the sense of hopelessness and eerie suspended death of the place is haunting. I appreciate that you covered the journey without turning into a fantasy epic of tedious detail and repetitive scenes. You set the stage well and moved the story forward and I am quite looking forward to the next part.
The build up including Tara getting her armor and the ax and the training involved in learning to actually work with and live in the armor was nice to see as well. The hints and mentions of how Tara reappeared in this world are intriguing and I look forward to learning that full story in time.
-H.

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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 8)
PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 9:21 pm 
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Hey Lois, Mystic!

Thanks for the feedback!


Any feedback is good, and yours is especially thoughtful. And thought provoking :)


Part of my impetus for actually playing Tara in a typically violent fantsy setting was to highlight the differences between your standard roleplaying murder-hobos, and the mindset of a modern person.

When i started writing the story, one of my focuses was to explain stuff.

So, yeah, i spent a bit of time on the 'Why Tara can do X' part of things.


In the second part is where we discuss why Willow doesn't just go zap-zap-zap in a fight.
According to the rules of the Buffy RPG, any spell that a caster knows can be fired ad infinitem.
At least the rules we were using, had some point limits, so you ran out of ammo.

The short version is that Willow is a spazz. And likes shiny new things.

I still remember an in-depth discussion of her using the teleport spell on Glory.
Yep, she got a nosebleed and a headache.
However, your typical encounter with Glory left buildings smashed and people dead or broken.

I would have gone with the nose-bleed myself...


Anyway, coming up this week is the big face-off and explanatory chapter where we find out... pretty much everything.

Enjoy!

R

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“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 8)
PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2014 10:07 pm 
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Great update. It's always fun when they come close to comparing how many actual hours each woman on the show put into being Dawn's mother. Can't wait to see the lich or demigod or whatever is waiting for them in that castle.

One question I have is whether Anya coming back will be explained by the end of this arc or later on in your next story? Can't wait for the Tara saves Faith scene. Looking forward to the wrap up.

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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 8)
PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2014 10:19 pm 
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Hey Citanul!

Yeah, lots of these flash-forwards are just little tid-bits.

Yep, there's a full-on explanation of all of that, along with Xander freaking out, and Faith's Very Bad Day.


[shameless plug] But that's all in the next story :) [/shameless plug]


Don't panic, it's 80% written, so i swear it will get finished.
I won't leave anyone hanging.

It's a bit more Kitten-friendly, in that it's got stuff-all to do with D&D.

But i have a bit of fun with the concept of high level characters stomping all over low level/mid level problems.
currently i'm having fun writing Tara going home to get some things of her mother's things. Willow tagged along of course :)

Big reveal chapter coming soon, probably tomorrow.

R :bounce

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“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 8)
PostPosted: Sun Oct 12, 2014 4:11 pm 
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I know I don't leave feedback often, but I am reading.

More soonish, please? :flower :flower :flower :grin

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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 8)
PostPosted: Sun Oct 12, 2014 9:30 pm 
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Heya!

Your wish is my command.

Just formatting the post now...

R :flower

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“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 8)
PostPosted: Mon Oct 13, 2014 12:18 am 
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So, here we are at the big explanation. I was trying for a stilted and odd tone with the voice of the big-bad, but I think I may have ended up with evil Yoda. I did try to avoid it, but I’m not sure.
Let me know what you think :P



Terrible Answers

“I don’t care what anyone says, there has to be an end to these… fuckers,” a pissed off Catherine said, blowing on the white hot end of her pistol-wand.

“We are in the mourn-lands,” Melchior said. “A place whose former population was measured in the millions. Just be glad Rinaldo convinced you to spring for at least one weapon that doesn’t run out.”

“It might not run out, but I think it might melt.”
She swapped the weapon to her other hand. “Or cook my hand.”

She pulled a heavy leather glove from her pack and put it on.
“Right, that should see me for a while. Tara? Which way now?”

Tara concentrated, trying to feel the pull she had felt on the rooftop garden, something that seemed a lifetime ago.
She pointed down a side corridor. “That way.”



“Is it wrong that every time you mention her, I get this flash of Michelle, with a gun?” Faith said. “It’s kinda hot.”

Buffy swatted Faith. “Hey you, no fantasizing about Michelle Rodriguez.”

“You never know, she might turn out to be a Slayer. Might be why she’s so badass, nearly as bad as me. Might get to train her,” Faith said, waggling her eyebrows suggestively.

Buffy was not amused.

“We’re not at the stage where I can tease you about other women, are we?”

“No,” Buffy said frostily.

“Sorry cookie. Didn’t mean to piss you off.”

“Ok. Apology accepted, let the grovelling commence.”

“Dinner, bubble-bath, massage?”

“It’s a good start,” Buffy said, a small smile sneaking out from behind her stern expression.

“Damn but you’re high maintenance, woman.”

“Also, I might be a cookie, but it’s a horrible nickname.”

Faith sighed melodramatically. “Ok, scratch that one.”

“If you two dopes are quite finished?” Dawn groused.

“Listen to the mini-Giles, snookie.”

Faith gave Buffy a level look.
Dawn glared
.



The din of battle from the corridor behind them died down. The sounds of a massive blade shearing through flesh and bone, ended with a vigorous kicking sound and a clang. A faint ‘whoosh’ sound was heard immediately after.

Heavy jingling footsteps thudded their way up the corridor towards them and Takarn made an appearance. For a change he actually had his helmet on, something he rarely bothered with, given that most of his foes had trouble reaching his head.

He was breathing hard, his breath like a furnace in the confined space. It reminded anyone who had forgotten, that his people traced their lineage to the dragons of old. And they meant it.

“Two vampires and a ship-load of zombies. I drove them back. Killed one of the vampires. More will be coming. Soon.

Melchior nodded. “They’re keeping the pressure on.”

Takarn growled, breathing hard. “We’re being herded.”

“Aye. I had that feeling,” Govakri put in.

“Yeah. But why?” Catherine said. “They don’t seem to be stopping us going where we want to go. So why fight?”

“The dead do not think like the living,” Melchior said. “You cannot frighten them off. Not with the same things that scare regular soldiers. They do not care. They feel no pain. They keep coming. Something my people learned at Karnath.”
He took off his hat and rubbed his head thoughtfully. He didn’t get sweaty or even tired, but somewhere along the line he’d picked up the habit from someone.
“They want us to get to whatever it is. They just don’t want us leaving. And they don’t want us to know it.”

“They’re driving us towards someone,” Govakri said with assurance. “Someone who can handle us.”

“Explain?” Melchior said politely.

“We don’t have long,” Takarn warned.

“If they wanted us dead, they’d just pile on us non-stop until we died. There have been plenty of good ambush spots they could have used. And at least one of the vampires or ghouls would have been smart enough to figure it out. There’s no need to drive us to a kill box or something, they could just wipe us out.”

“He’s right. The dead have no reason or desire to fall back. The vampires maybe. Not the walking flesh or bones.”

“Nothing has really changed,” Melchior said. “We were expecting a trap, we found a trap. We know of its existence, but not its nature. So we go forward prepared, but none the less, we go forward.”

Takarn growled. “I feel better than I have in an age. Let’s get this done. Let us kill the necromancer at the heart of this.”

“Necromancer?” Tara said.

“Aye. Vampires. Walking bones. Walking corpses. Disturbed from their rest. Forced into service.”
He looked angrier than Tara had ever seen. The scales on his eye ridges stood out, and heat and fury radiated from him.
“A necromancer did this,” he growled. “Let us get some answers.”

Govakri flashed one of lightning grins. “Let’s go walk into a trap.”

Catherine glared at him. “Idiots. I am surrounded by idiots. Something about having a dick, makes all men into silly boys.”

“I have none of those encumbrances,” Melchior said.

“And?”

He pulled out a wand. “It’s a good plan,” he said, his jaw dropping into a grin. “I've been saving this for a rainy day. Time to have some fun.”

“Good gods. They’ll be fitting him with a penis any day now,” Catherine muttered.

Still grinning, Melchior said. “What makes you think they haven’t?”

She gave him the fish eye. “There’s a terrifying thought.”

“You two are hilarious,” Takarn rumbled. “Let’s go kill dead things.”
He hefted his sword meaningfully, and checked the fit of his armour.
“At speed. Let’s spring the trap early. Tara can you help?”

She nodded. “I have been thinking how I could help. I have two spells, one to find where we’re going faster, and another to help us all fight.”

“Sounds good. Do it,” Takarn growled.

Tara looked decidedly awkward. “Um, in order for the second spell to work, you’d have to follow me. As in ‘follow me into battle,’ if you, um, get what I’m saying.”

Catherine shrugged. “We followed you here. No big change. Do your thing.”

Tara looked around at the various grins, nods and shrugs.

She nodded back.

She concentrated on a simple spell and whispered. “Show him the way.”

Sparks of white and blue flowed from her hands to Takarn, forming an arrow of light in front of him.

“That is where we are going.”

Takarn nodded, checking the grip on his sword, clearly ready.

Tara took a deep breath and stepped forward, intoning a spell with due gravity.
“This is my army. Though they are few, their hearts are mighty. Goddess, Mother, lend them your strength, let their courage never falter, let the strength of their hearts be the strength of their arms, let their strength of will be the strength of their body. Let them bleed not, as we fight this foe in your name.”

Light exploded from Tara, wreathing her in white fire. Unconsciously, she unfolded her wings and stood tall, channelling the Goddess’s power. Turning to her friends she held out her hand. “Will you follow me?”

Takarn stood up straighter. “Aye. Into fire and death I will follow,” he growled. “For your Goddess and the Flame.”



“You can do that?” Dawn asked.

Tara nodded. “I’m really not comfortable leading everyone into battle like that, but the spell was for militant priests and paladins. I, um, adapted it a bit after I was taught it, but in order to grant the protection, I still had to ‘lead’ or at least try my best.”

“I think you did very well Tara,” Giles said, with more than a hint of approval.

“Sure cuz. You wanna lead, I’ll follow,” Faith said.

“I’m really hoping things never get that desperate again,” Tara said, quirking a small grin at the ‘cuz’ label.




The others stepped forward. She could see her flame burning in their eyes. “We follow.”

Catherine looked at her hands. “Good gods. I feel like I could run forever, fight all day and fuck all night.”
She looked around. “Not that that was an offer or anything.”

“Let us move!” Takarn roared.

He took off at speed, his clawed feet covering the ground in a tireless, ground eating trot.

Tara ran behind him, the others taking up the rear as they ran to their fates, hoping to catch it off guard and give it a good thrashing.



And it worked.

Takarn followed the glowing arrow in front of him at a dead run, the rest of the party running at full speed behind him.

Together they sprinted through doors being closed, past barricades being erected, and a number of surprised vampires. Several times Takarn’s massive blade licked out with deceptive speed and separated a surprised vampire’s head from its shoulders, skewered it through the heart, or simply separated it horizontally into two parts.

The lesser minions, the skeletons and zombies dragged into service by dark magic, simply ignored them, not having been given any orders to the contrary.
“You know where we are headed, yes?” Melchior said evenly, keeping pace with Takarn’s thudding footfalls.

“Up and centre. Throne room?” he speculated.

“I believe so.”

They burst out into a huge opulently decorated hallway, to find a good two dozen skeletons fitting themselves into large decorative urns in decorated sconces. They were supervised by a quartet of surprised looking vampires in palace guard uniform.

“Fiat Sol!” Tara shouted, flinging a hand out to the massive cut-crystal chandelier.

Her friends ducked their heads or otherwise shaded their eyes, long having become accustomed to the spells Tara used in battle.

Their enemies had no such practice and screamed in pain as the chandelier blazed with the full power of the noonday sun.
The skeletons calmly continued stuffing themselves into the urns, but the vampires had no such equanimity.

All four vampires howled in pain and fled the hallway. They covered themselves with their ceremonial red cloaks as best they could, and ran from the burning rays of the sun, trailing smoke as they went.

Ignoring the skeletons, Takarn charged up the long sweeping slope toward the ornate double doors. The rest of the party followed at a dead run, trusting to their speed and their friend’s ability to run down anyone he encountered.

He flapped his wings and snapped himself forward, twisting his body to slam feet-first into the massive door.
The double doors slammed open wide, and they charged into the room.



+++



Within was a regal looking woman in a shimmering emerald dress.
Though not revealing, the dress was cut to accentuate her figure. It was of exquisite quality and offset her dark eyes and pale skin perfectly.
She stood in front of a throne, her hands resting on a glowing glass sphere sitting on a pedestal.



“You sure she’s evil?” Faith said. “Cos she’s not showing much skin.”

Tara smirked a little. “If they ever make a movie of this, I’m sure she’ll show lots of cleavage.”

“Stripperwear is a sure sign of evil,” Xander added.

Faith bounced a peanut off Xander’s head. “Dude, you watch way too many bad movies.”




If she was off-put by their dramatic entrance, she gave no sign. She raised one sculpted eyebrow in question, but made no hostile moves.

Her friends examined the room with a practiced eye, marking the two other exits from the room.
“Mel? Let these two deal with this. I wanna do something about those skeletons, before someone out there gets clever,” Catherine said.

Melchior nodded. “Indeed. We’ll be outside. Call if you need us.”

“And if you need us?” Tara asked.

“We’ll scream like big sissy girls," Catherine said with a grin.
The grin faded from her face.
“Get us some answers Tara,” she said seriously.

Tara nodded.

Catherine nodded back, one warrior to another. She saluted jauntily with her still-glowing weapon and went outside with Melchior to start smashing skeletons.

Takarn gestured with his chin towards the two doors. “Tara?”

She nodded and with a sharp gesture she shouted “Murum Lucis!”
Magic sprang into being at her gesture. Glassy barriers filled with light sealed off the doors from any trespassers. Or escape.

If the woman in the green dress was alarmed by the spell casting, she gave no sign of it. Instead she stepped away from the glowing sphere and reclined on the throne. Even sprawling on the throne was something she somehow managed regally, catlike.

And even if Tara could not see the darkness swirling about her, pulsing even, everything about her would have positively screamed to her: Vampire.

She had never met the Master, never met Angelus. But thanks to her late-night conversations with Spike and Anya, she knew that most vampires were creatures of arrogance and brute instinct. Without a human soul, they had no empathy for others, no ability to reflect (on any level) and never took the time to think, preferring to simply act, to live in the moment.

Whoever or whatever this one was, she was different.



“One-percenter,” Faith murmured.

Tara looked up from her journal. “Hmm?”

“Uh, sorry. Yeah, One-percenters. Like, nearly all vamps are complete retards. G-man told me that without a soul, they lack, what was it?”

“The human awareness of their own weakness and mortality,” Giles helpfully supplied.

“Yeah, that. So unless you get just the perfect combo of a body that had brains and a demon that’s a little less crazy than the rest, you get your typical vamp: dumber than shit.”

“Ooo, like the Gorch brothers. Incredibly enough, they were One-percenters,” Willow said.

“As hard as that might be to believe,” Giles replied. “Though they did kill a lot of people and survive many attempts to do away with them.”

“Angelus, Spike and Drusilla were like the One-percenters of the One-percenters,” Dawn said.

“Spike was the brains, Angelus the creativity and Dru had the crazy angle pretty well covered,” Xander said, distaste evident on his face.

“What’s haps with Druscilla?” Buffy asked. “Is she still out there making with the crazy?”

“Vi and Rona have made a project out of it, trying to track her down in their spare time. Last time they managed to get anything on her, she was in Istanbul. I guess they’ll have more luck when they move to Europe.”

“As long as they take Princess bitchy-pants with ‘em, more power to them,” Faith muttered.

Willow looked upset at the conflict, and not sure who to support. Wordlessly Tara gave her a reassuring squeeze, which Willow returned with a sad smile.

“The likes of them, the vampires anyway, are thankfully rare. There have been less than two dozen vampires of their kind in all of history.”

“So what about that Marcus guy? Y’know the one that wanted to become a god or whatever.”

“Somewhere between the, ah, One-percenter’s as you put it, and Angelus. He’s been around a long time, knows of the Dark Prince and the Scourge of Europe, but was never on their level.”
He fixed Dawn with a questioning look. “What happened to him, now that I think to ask?”

Dawn looked a little upset. “We pumped him for information, used him to hone the newbie’s Slayer senses and then let little Chrissie stake him when we were done.”

“It was wicked fun B. Ya shoulda seen all the freshmen Slayers runnin’ around with blindfolds on. It was hilarious, them all twitchy ‘cos there was a vamp around, walkin’ into each other and screaming, punching or both.”

“And then you just staked him?” Buffy said, looking just a bit put out.

“We had to B. Me and D talked about it. It was gonna hurt us keepin’ a vamp around like that. He was growin’ his arms and legs back on. Eventually we’d have to chop them off again, and you can’t just keep someone around as a punchin’ bag.”

“Even a soulless monster?” Buffy said incredulously.

Faith shook her head. “’S’not about them B. It’s about us. Who are we if we torture people? They may be monsters sure, but what do we do to ourselves if we do that shit? Shit like that chips away at your soul. Makes you into a monster if it goes on too long.”

Quietly she said. “Been there, done that. Bought the goddamn t-shirt.”

Buffy made a face. “Sorry Faith. I guess I just got used to the idea that anything’s ok, as long as we do it to vampires and other evilness.”

A look of understanding passed between them. Her gaze softened as Faith took her hand.

“So, vampire queen then?” Dawn said.




Takarn growled. “We are expected.”

“Indeed,” the woman said.

She sat up a little. “It is I, that was the architect of your fate.”

“Karnathi then. Only Karnathi would use grammar like that.”

The woman smiled evilly, bringing all new meaning to the term.
“No. I was born to a small fishing village, that one day the ancient and mighty empire of Karnath would stand upon. They speak the language of me.”

“Fascinating. Under other circumstances Melchior and I would enjoy talking about the distant past.”
He growled, low and threatening enough to vibrate the stones beneath their feet. “But that is not why we are here.”

She smiled, more genuinely but no less evilly. “No. My creation, you are here because of me.”
She was looking at Tara when she said ‘my creation’.

Tara looked shocked.

“Who. Are. You?” Takarn growled, his voice a naked blade, alive with threat.

“And how am I your c-creation?” Tara asked, her stutter betraying her mental state.

“I am Vol. Once Empress and one day again. My creation? You. I had caused you to be made, you are mine.”

“Vol. First of the vampires. First Empress of Karnath. Killed while attempting to become immortal. Cursed to a half life.”

She exulted in Takarn’s description, taking each part as an honoured title. “Yes. And now, soon to be free. Again alive.”

“Y-you know her?”

“Dangerous. Thousands of years old. Considered a god in some circles. If it is her.”

“A god?”

He nodded. “Not by me. Still dangerous.”



“So she was like Glory?” Buffy asked.

“Oh no. she was definitely worse.”

“Worse?! Seriously?” Faith said. “I mean I’ve heard from everyone about this Glory chick, B especially. And she was like, un-killable.”

“Vol was worse. Nearly as un-killable, but smarter. She planned for the long term. Her web of intrigue was legendary and far reaching, she was more patient and more cunning even than the master.”

Tara shook her head. “You’ll see why she was so sneaky in a minute.”

Buffy settled back against Faith. “Ok, cool beans.”

“We never did find out if it really was her, or some other crazy powerful vampire pretending to be her. Either way, she was pretty scary.”




“Um, you said you m-made me?”

“Yes. I needed a particular thing, with particular abilities. You are that thing.”

Tara looked shocked. More than shocked, like an animal staring at an oncoming truck.

“What abilities?” Takarn growled.

Vol frowned. “Your speech, do not presume to address me so. I shall answer though, for I require her cooperation.”
She smiled evilly again. “And I have answers to give.”
She turned to look at Tara. “I caused your creation, your resurrection to bring about my own.”

“What?!”

The empress seemed to enjoy Tara’s discomfiture. “Few there are with the power to resurrect. Great warriors all, unlikely to help me.”

She smiled. “So I needed something new. Powerful, light, new. Not a warrior, yet rooted in the divine.”

“B-but how?” Tara stuttered, clearly close to tears.

Takarn said nothing. He was angry, but they were getting answers at last.

“Let me show you. My gift.”

She arose smoothly from her throne and strolled over to the blazing barriers. She looked at Tara and gestured at the barrier.
Tara concentrated and lowered it, the light fading away.

Casually, gracefully, the empress stepped through, clearly expecting them to follow.
Tara looked at Takarn helplessly.
He shrugged and made an ‘after you’ gesture.

They followed into another large room, this one clearly remodelled into a cross between a mad scientist’s laboratory and a torture chamber.

Tables held pages of spells and glowing crystals. The other end of the room held partially disassembled bodies on slabs of polished stone and steel.

The casual horror of the place made Tara ill.
But worse was to come.

At the end of this chamber of horrors, this place of experimentation without conscience, was a figure hanging in chains.
Tara froze in shock, a sense of recognition echoing through her on several levels. She recognized the general form of an angel. But seeing her stirred something inside her.

The angel hung limply, her clothing torn, her wings tattered and broken. A creature of the highest planes, of beautiful heaven, dragged down to this terrible and forsaken place.
And killed.

Tortured. Ruined by the soulless monster now gazing upon her proudest work.

“Immortal they are said to be. Undying children of the sun and sky. We put that to the test.”
She smiled with genuine warmth at Tara. “Untrue.”
And something horrific clicked into place for Tara.

Vampires were soulless monsters. Corpses dragged into a semblance of life by dark magic, and driven by the lusts of the demonic essence inhabiting their dead shell.
They were evil almost by default. The demonic spirit they had in place of a human soul, not being one for cuddles and conversation.

But this woman, this creature pulsing with evil, she had a soul.
She was not driven by the inhuman lusts of a demonic spirit. No, this was something much worse: something human that was as dark as any hell-spawn. Tara did not know whether Vol was born evil, or had willingly and knowingly chosen her path, but the end result was the same. Absolute evil.

Tara felt a pang, heart-deep pain as she saw the torn and fallen state of this once-beautiful being.
A fragment of something, some memory flickered through her. Words echoes inside her heart, ‘Fly. Be free.’

Somehow this noble woman had spoken to her, long ago.
She had left a last message, written on her soul, ‘Fly. Be free.’

And she had come back, thrown it all away. She had willingly walked back into the pit.

Tara fought back her tears with anger. “Why?! Why would you do this? What possible reason could there be for-for this?!

Vol raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Resurrection is light magic. Powers of love and heaven. Angel is a creature of light, has the power, but cannot raise me. Light burns the dark, or is drowned in it. Only a mortal can bridge the gap.”

She reached out and plucked one of the angel’s pristine white feathers, letting it drift to the cold stone floor.
“Mortals are simpler, easier. The ritual less complex, needs only the right fuel, the right blood.”

Tara moved slowly, ghost-like over to the fallen angel, the fallen woman.
Tears fell as she brushed aside a frayed lock of golden hair and touched the cold cheek. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
The queen continued, ignoring Tara in her monologue.

“Sneaky. Unexpected. Did not cooperate. She put more of herself into you than we intended. Cast you out, unfinished,” Vol said, her idiosyncratic speech echoing around the cold stone room.

Takarn growled. “Looks like you did not get what you wanted.”

Vol shrugged, making the movement seem effortless and languid. “Knew she would have to get stronger. Go out, experience the world. Left early, but not unexpected.”

“Sent one out to guard her, keep her alive, but no more.”

“Rinaldo?” Tara said hesitantly.

The queen shrugged. “Soul-burned and blast-scarred. His name I don’t care to know.”



“Ok, so that explains creepy grabby guy,” Willow said.

Tara nodded. “He always described whoever it was he was working for as ‘my lady’. But he never said how or why he knew that.”




She gazed at Tara. “Unfinished though you were. Cast out while being born. You left part behind.”

She lead the way back to the throne room, unconcerned by the armed warrior and the witch at her back.
The sounds of enthusiastic destruction could be heard through the partly open double doors. The other three members of their group were finding new and creative ways to destroy skeletons.

Vol gestured to a glassy sphere on a nearby pedestal.

Tara froze the second her eyes locked on it.

And she was filled with an inexpressible yearning so intense it felt like physical pain. The vague pull she had felt was increased a thousand-fold, until she was surprized that she wasn’t dragged bodily toward the sphere, or vice versa.
She braced herself and looked away, towards the almost eager Vol. The vampire’s mask of studied unconcern slipping for a moment.



“I’m sorry sweetie, but this next part is going to be a little hard for you to hear,” Tara said gently. “It involves me learning about our breakup and the reasons behind it.”

Willow nodded sadly. “It’s ok baby, it needs to be said.”

“I understand now Willow, I truly understand. The Goddess showed me your path. I don’t agree with some of the choices you made, but I do understand.”

She locked gazes with the sad green eyes of her love. “And I forgive you.”

“Uh, you sure you're ok with us hearing this shit Red? I mean I get that ya need to talk through this stuff, but you realize the rest of us are gonna hear it, yeah?”

Willow nodded slowly, before realizing that lying down, it wasn’t that obvious. “I know. No more secrets. I have had enough secrets to fill a lifetime, and look how much damage they have caused. We nearly broke up because of secrets. So I’m choosing family over not-feeling-embarrassed-ness, or whatever it’s called.”

She sat up a fixed Faith with her famous ‘resolve face’. “And that includes you missy. I love you ok? In a non-sexy way, not that you’re unsexy, but the love-ness includes no sexy stuff.”

Faith blinked in surprise at Willow’s openly spoken declaration of decidedly non-sexy love. Resolve Face™ and Willowbabble™ made for a mind boggling combination.

She grinned, a safe fall back. “Sure. Not sure I could handle you and B anyways.”

Willow turned her stern gaze on Heather and Jules, both squirmed and tried unsuccessfully to hide behind Dawn. “I'm including you two in all this. Dawn loves you two to bits, so you're Scoobies now. Family.”

She met Jules’ eyes, and her gaze softened. “Real family, ok?”

Jules eyes were suspiciously bright and blinking rapidly. She looked over to Faith. They shared a moment of silent understanding and Faith nodded.

Willow went back to addressing the room at large. “Um, all of which means that in now am airing all my dirty underwear- laundry! Dirty laundry! In public now.”

She subsided, furiously red cheeked and avoiding everyone’s eyes, especially Faith’s.

“Yep, that’s real family alright,” Buffy said. “Love and horrible embarrassment in one neat package.”

“Glad ya said that Bumblebee. Gonna remind you of that later.”

Xander stuck in his two cents, grinning at Buffy. “I have this premonition thing, which just came to me, that you are really going to regret saying that.”

“Too late,” Buffy said.
She looked pleadingly at Tara and her journal.

Tara picked up the story again.




"How do you resist?" the queen hissed. “That is the other half of your soul!"

Tara shook her head. “No it isn't. The other half of my soul is out there," she said, making a wide sweeping gesture.

Tara's face took on a look of resolve. “And she has a name."



Tara Leaned forward over Willow’s expressive face. “Willow,” she whispered with intense longing.

Tears glittered in the corner of Willow’s eyes as she whispered back. “Tara.”
Her soul in that one word.




Tara gestured to the glowing orb on the pedestal. “That is simply a piece of me, and not even the most important part."

The queen looked at Tara with an expression of disbelief.

Her angular face shifted to an expression of calculated cruelty. “I think you may be unpleasantly surprised to discover that you were wrong, child. No use to me as you are, however. So take this as my gift. A gesture of good faith if you will."

She picked up the orb and tossed it to Tara.

Tara caught the orb, which was surprisingly light. Desperate filaments of light streamed from it to Tara's body, filaments that were met by ones from Tara herself. A desperate inexpressible yearning filled her, yearning and a terrible sense of loneliness.

"Break it. Break it, and reclaim yourself," the queen said with a cruel smirk. “And the truth."

Tara hesitated.
This was a part of her. A part of her soul. So why was she hesitating?
On some level she feared the truth.
On some level she knew there was something to fear.

She let go of the orb.
It fell to the cold stone floor, almost in slow motion. She was gripped by an almost desperate need to catch it before it hit the unyielding stone.

The sphere of fragile glass hit the floor, and shattered.
She felt an appalling sense of otherness as the swirl of ethereal white light rushed into her. She felt as though some huge wound was torn open, sticky and bleeding, and then quickly sealed. Properly healed, for the first time she could remember.

She felt invaded, and yet strangely whole.

"Tara!" Takarn shouted, clearly concerned. He jumped forward to kneel by her side.

She gripped his huge hand in a vice-like grip as her legs gave way.
She fell to the floor, memories rushing through her.
She could feel parts of herself clicking into place, she could feel her innermost essence changing. It was a terrifying feeling.

And she remembered.
She remembered dying.
She remembered Willow’s betrayal.
She remembered Willow taking by force, that which would have been freely given.
And she wept.

The queen smirked. “So sad, to flee one abuser, into the arms of one far worse. Yet you fight and strive to return. To your abuser.”

The queen examined her manicured fingernails. “Such is the way of the victim, of the weak.”

Tara wept for the loss of her trust, of her innocence, of the destruction of their relationship.



Tears were streaming down Dawn’s face as she remembered one of her darkest times, when her little family seemed to be breaking apart, never to be fixed.

Heather pulled her in to a fierce hug and held her tight as she cried at the memory of those horrible months.

Willow hid her head in shame, tears spilling unheeded down her cheeks.




She remembered the lonely times, crying alone in the dark.
More alone than she had been as a child, for she had tasted the warmth and completeness of love, and to have it stripped from her was painful beyond all measure.

But she remembered more.
She remembered those first tentative steps towards reconciliation, the awkward looks, a mix of sorrow and guilt and need.
And the joy of passion reignited, of hope for the future, of building something better, stronger. Something more resilient, more balanced than their first relationship.

And the sound of screaming, as it was torn from them.

Tears streamed down her face, but she was smiling.
She laughed and wept.

“You want to hurt me with this? I am stronger now, because of it!”
Tara stood. “Willow broke our relationship, true. But I rebuilt it with her. Stronger, wiser, more mature. And this time I was not the junior partner!”

Vol threw up her hands in disgust. “I care not. Your weakness disgusts me.”
She fixed Tara with a hard stare. “But I did not arrange for you to be brought all this way, to discuss betrayal.”
“It is time for you to do what you were made to do. What you agreed to do. After that you are free to go and look for your ‘Willow,’” she said with obvious distaste.

Tara flinched.

“Shh, Dawnie, it’s over now,” Heather said, making reassuring noises to her distraught companion.

Jules ruffled her hair. “Hey, don’t cry sweetie. Look,” she said pointing to Willow.

Willow’s eyes were watery with tears, but she had a look of heart-stopping wonder on her face.
She reached up a tentative hand to stroke Tara’s face.
Tara closed her eyes at her touch. “My Willow,” she whispered with a soft half-smile.

Dawn hugged Heather back as she saw the obvious love the two women shared.
“I want someone to look at me like that,” she said with a sigh. “Like I’m the most precious thing in the whole world.”

“You are the most precious thing in all the world Dawnie,” Heather said with a squeeze.

“Yeah,” said Jules. “Don’t feel bad honey, we’ll find you your special girl.”

Dawn looked over Heather’s shoulder and quirked an eyebrow.
Jules rolled her eyes. “Or a special guy, if you wanna go that way,” she said smirking. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course.”

“And plus, you still have us to kick around with,” Heather said.

Dawn leaned into the hug appreciatively. “I know. And I love you guys, I really do.”

She looked across at the blissful duo, and cast her eyes to Buffy, reclining into Faith’s embrace, her eyes closed and a content smile on her face.
“I just never realized how much I wanted that until I saw it for myself,” she said, with a sad little sigh.

“You like girls now?” Jules said. “’cos I know some of the girls think you’re the cat’s pyjamas. I could so set you up.”

Dawn giggled. “Not exactly what I meant, but thanks.”

“Hey what are friends for? Daybreaker, Diamond and Highlander, BFF’s!”

“Dork,” Dawn said, with an affectionate smile

Jules scowled. “Who’s worse? The dork? Or the weirdo who hangs out with dorks?”



After a pause to gather herself, Tara continued on with her story.




“I agreed to this?”

“Yes. A disembodied soul you were, but you did agree to help me. And now it is time for the help. The power you have, the life you have, the hope you have? All. Mine. And I gave it to you.”
She smiled in an attempt to appear genuine. “And to you I give it freely. All I ask is that you heal me.”

“Heal you? What do you mean?” Takarn growled.

“I want to be human again,” the empress said.

She looked at Takarn. “Surely you approve, paladin? As a vampire I am powerful beyond words. A goddess. As a living woman, I am mortal. Eventually my time will come and I will greet the hereafter.”

Takarn narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “What trickery?”

Vol held up her hand, smiling. “I swear. No tricks. I have done much work, much plotting to get this far. You think I wish to risk all that I have spent, by not keeping my word? No. After this, you may all go in peace, I care not. All I ask is that you in turn do not interfere, do not attack.”

She looked at him significantly.
He looked back, defiant.

“It would take more years to find another pure soul, or to cultivate the kind of power needed in another way. I can and will do it again if I must. But I find that after all these centuries, am Ill-disposed to wait.”

“I don’t believe you. Why would Vol let us go? Your plotting is legend,” Takarn growled.

“One cannot plot with a reputation for treachery. Who will work for you, knowing they will be killed or betrayed?”

Takarn looked unconvinced, and Tara looked lost in her head.
The queen concentrated for a moment and shouts of alarm came from outside the throne room door.

Shouts and the ‘zhwut!’ sound of Catherine’s wand-pistol firing were heard. Several times there was a louder, deeper ‘Thwoooph!’ and the blazing light of Melchior’s fireball wand.

Takarn was visibly torn between the desire to help his friends and staying here to protect Tara.
Before he could force himself into motion, the building shook and a groaning, cracking sound was heard through the doors.

Afterwards, it was silent, save for the sounds of shifting rubble.
Catherine and Melchior came cautiously through the door, Govakri darting in moments later.

“We are not leaving in that direction,” he said evenly.

“W-what happened,” Tara asked, her stutter giving away her fear.

“Undead,” Catherine said dispiritedly. “Thousands of them. Way more than we could shoot or blow up. Mel walled them off.”

“It will take them many hours to dig through the rock. We are safe from that direction, at least for a while.

Tara stood as a dozen of the queen’s guards silently entered the room. Vampires, all in gleaming armour.
Takarn readied himself for battle.
The queen forestalled their attack with a raised hand.



“A choice I give you. Let her do what she was made to do, and remove the most ancient queen of vampires from the world. Or watch her and all your friends die, as I drown you in their blood.”
“What do you say paladin?” she said, almost spitting the word.

“Why,” he grated.

Vol shrugged. “The years pass slowly. More than five thousand years I have walked the night. Done great and terrible things, accumulated vast power. And for what?”
“I built an empire, ruled, made my people strong. Gathered great wealth, built great monuments.”

She sighed, an oddly genuine sound coming from this strange creature. “The clock does not tick. There is no tomorrow, only today. There is no reason for anything. I have no children to build for. I have no love to shower riches on. The empire I have built, for my power, is just a distraction. Power lets you do things. And I have nothing I want to do.”
She looked sad. “I would be warm again, would see the sun, would sleep in the arms of a lover and raise a child. I would have my tomorrows be different from today.”

She touched the pedestal thoughtfully. Tara’s fragment of soul had rested there until moments ago.
“And to do that I needed vast power. Child, you owe me your existence. One day you may re-join your beloved, however little she deserves you. You may see your child again.”
The queen’s gaze bored into Tara. “This. I. Gave. You!”

“All I ask is that you do the same for me. I no longer wish to be queen of the vampires, I no longer want that power, that un-life. I want that which is granted to mortals.”

She glared at Takarn. “And I would have your word that you will not harm me paladin, once I give up my power.”

Takarn glared at the vampire, thinking.
As much as it stuck in his craw to aid Vol, of all people, whatever power she possessed as a human, it had to be less than the power she wielded as a nigh-immortal vampire.
“You have it. If you aid Tara. And give us leave to go in peace. I will not harm you. I will not allow the others to harm you either.”

“You swear it?”

Takarn stood straight, favouring her with a magnificent glare that would have done his dragon ancestors proud. “Nothing is unbreakable, save the honour of a paladin. I swear in the name of the Silver Flame I shall not harm you. I will not allow my companions to harm you. While we are here.”
He fixed her with his gimlet stare. “I make no promises about the future.”

“Fair.”

Tara had remained silent throughout the entire exchange. She felt as though she needed a year to process everything she was feeling, and she did not have a year.
She focussed on the one thing that had brought her this far.
Willow.

Her memories were still settling into place.
But one thing she knew: she loved Willow.
She had fallen in love, broken apart and fallen in love, all over again.

And now she had fallen in love, one more time.
And was there any choice?

No.

“I’ll do it.”



“You did that for me?” Willow squeaked.

Tara shook her head sadly. “No sweetie. I was selfish. I was hurting and I wanted you back in my life. I didn’t think how it would affect you, or anything else. I… I did it for me.”

“No baby, that’s where you are dead wrong,” Willow said.
She spoke with to conviction of one laying down the highest law. “You did it for us.”


+++



The ritual chamber was prepared, in the centre of the palace, below the throne room.
Vol lay on a bier, draped in green silk.

Tara stood nearby, preparing the materials she had been given. Sacred herbs, precious gemstones

“Do not fear. An ordinary mortal cannot command an army of undead. When I live again, they will not be subject to my vampiric control,” Vol said, attempting to be reassuring.

“A necromancer can command the undead,” Melchior said mildly.

“True. But even then, only through spells. A small army perhaps, and then only after preparation.”
“I truly intend to let you go. Nothing would be served by fighting you as a mortal.”

“You ok with this Mel?” Catherine asked.

Melchior shrugged. “She has done as she has promised. What she says is logical. However, I am no judge of evil or madness, and neither follows our logic.”
He took off his hat and scratched his metallic head, a reassuringly human gesture for someone originally created as a war-machine.
“I suspect some form of treachery, but at this point we have little choice. We cannot win a fight against thousands, and we cannot flee those thousands. Nor will magic allow us to escape this shattered and ruined place.”

“Well, there are just days when this job sucks,” Catherine said.
She sat down rather sulkily. “This would be one of those days.”
She fiddled with the straps of her holsters. “It feels really weird to be like this. I feel like I should be exhausted or something, and I’m not. I feel like I should be terrified, and I’m not.”

“It is Tara’s spell. I know of it,” Takarn said, his voice coming out as a low growl.
He sat down next to Catherine and grinned. It was a terrifying thing, but Catherine had long since become accustomed to his mannerisms.
“Tara has called upon her Goddess. To protect us as we help her.”

“Right. Who is this Goddess Tara goes on about?”

He shrugged massively. “I do not know. Whoever she is, she has power.”

“How long will the spell last?”

“Until the battle is done. The spell has a number of names, but the short version of it is Crusade.”

He gazed at Tara preparing the resurrection ritual in the background.
“Any who fight willingly in her cause will know limitless courage, strength and endurance. If they fall, it will not be because their hearts failed them, or their courage faltered.”

“Sounds impressive.”

Takarn nodded. “Aye. The power of that spell has turned battles, routed armies and saved kingdoms. Tara can cast it. She is doing the direct will of her Goddess.”

“Ok, now I’m worried,” she paused, looking puzzled. “a little.”

“This far into the Mourn Lands, divine gifts do not function. Tara’s do.”

He scratched his chin with one blunt-clawed finger.
“Something powerful is happening here.”

“Why do I get the feeling that this is going to end up in some book somewhere?”

He grinned again. “Vast forces are moving. I have felt it. My brothers have felt it. We are all pawns in such matters. As is Tara.”

“Shit. We’re gonna go squish, aren’t we?”

He grinned. “I’m not so squishy.”

He poked her with a blunt-clawed sausage-like finger. “You I’m not so sure about.”

“Hey! Quit copping a feel.”

“Sorry. I thought the delicate parts were at the front. My bad.”

She grinned back. “Just messing with ya. Shoulders are safe territory, for any species, I think.”

Catherine leaned against the wall near her huge friend.
“So. Resurrection. Can she do it?”

Takarn rumbled speculatively. He sounded like a kitten that had swallowed a gravel crusher.
“Yes. I think she can. Her magic is strong. Her natural tendencies lead her towards healing. And her unique heritage should take her the rest of the way.”

“Ya mean being an angel?”

“Yes,” he growled, clearly displeased by something.

“C’mon man, spill. What’s the problem? I thought you liked having a buddy you could talk flying with, or whatever.”

More unhappy gravel noises echoed from him.
He watched Tara working on her ritual, lighting candles and anointing Vol in oils.
“Tara is part angel. That is not a problem. How she came by that heritage is.”

“Uh, what?”

He shook his huge, spike-maned head. “Not my story to tell.” He picked a speck of mud from a groove in his armour. “Neither of us is happy about it.”

“Wanna give me a hint here big guy? Feeling a little lost.”

“No.”

Catherine groaned in frustration. She knew that tone of voice, and there would be no way to talk him round.
Muttering to herself. “Stupid paladin code,” she turned to Melchior. “Hey Mel, d’ya think we’re gonna be betrayed.”

“Logically, no. History suggests, yes.”
“Evil does not follow our rules. There is no reason to start a fight as a mortal. There is a life to be lived and easily lost.”

“But still. She could have us killed to silence us.”

Takarn stretched mightily, sounding much like a ship under full sail, creaking and popping.
“What could we say?” he said. “We met a vampire claiming to be Vol. Legendary empress and first vampire. Now she’s mortal. Who does that help? Who would believe?”

“And what difference does it make? I mean sure, evil sorceress, bad. But evil sorceress vampire-queen? Worse, gotta be.”

Takarn held up his hand. “I think she’s ready.”

Tara had stopped drawing lines, anointing with oil and burning herbs, all the things one did to help with a difficult spell.
Now she was staring worriedly at the empress’s midsection, refusing to meet her smirking gaze.

She looked up at Takarn, looking more than a little lost.
Takarn reassuringly raised his fist, a peaceful gesture for creatures with claws.

She smiled nervously and raised her own fist in response.
She closed her eyes and began chanting, sprinkling the reclining empress with salt and the glittering crystals of crushed gems. With her other hand she waved the smudge stick in a circle, filling the area with sage-y smoke.

As Tara chanted, sparks of blue and white rose slowly from her body and began to drift around the raised bier, surrounding her and the empress. More and more rose each second, turning slowly around them, filling the room to the walls, a galaxy of stars drenching the room with soft, warm light.

“Goddess, Mother, teacher,
she moves, but does not grow,
she sees, but does not feel,
she moves, her heart does not beat,
she thinks, but does not live.
The bargain is struck,
Let the unclean thing fall.
Let her breathe the clean air,
Let her walk in the sun,
Let her heart beat once more.
By my will, let her live.
For my love, let her live.
In your name, let her LIVE!”



When she cried the last word, she slammed her hand down on Vol’s breastbone with painful force.
Vol screamed as the light poured into and through Tara, a river of stars rushing into her body and flowing through her into the dead flesh.

For nearly a minute the torrent of light flowed through Tara and into the queen.
The body of the vampire queen was lit from within with light and she screamed constantly in agony. The power of the light within her form burned the demonic essence from her dead flesh, and renewed it. Slowly the burning white light began to fade leaving her feeling cold, hot, and definitely strange.

She clutched her chest and sat bolt upright in a moment of apparent panic, immediately afterwards she clutched her head and groaned as the world spun.

“Go slowly. It will take some time to adjust,” Tara said softly, almost sadly.

Vol laughed. “After five thousand years without a heartbeat, it takes some getting used to having something moving in my chest. It feels unpleasant, throbbing.”
She rubbed her fingers together and stared in fascination. “Everything feels so… intense.”
She stood slowly and carefully. “I had forgotten how everything hurt. Something you don’t notice at the time.”

As she stood, Tara noticed that her newly pink skin had dramatic blue tattoos. They spread across her back and part way down her left arm.

The gift of the dragons, ‘proof’ of draconic bloodlines, Dragon Marks.
And they were glowing.

“You are Dragon-Marked,” Takarn said flatly.

Vol smiled. “Of course. Noble I am.”

She smiled. Tara guessed she was going for ‘warm’ but was out of practice. Her only warm smile so far had been when she was talking about awful things. The former vampire queen looked slightly sickly with her odd smile.

“And what House?” Melchior asked, the first stirrings of apprehension audible in his voice.

“Vol,” she said simply.

“I meant, which Greater House, does house Vol belong to?”

“Vol is a greater house. Our own mark do we have.”

Melchior face-palmed. “Oh gods. The missing Mark.”

“Yes. The Mark of Death.”

Takarn drew his sword. The queen’s guard drew theirs.
Vol, for her part did nothing save raise one eyebrow. “Nothing is unbreakable, save the honour of a paladin. Swore on the flame you did, paladin.”

Takarn looked deeply annoyed, but did not move.
“I mean you no harm. My word I gave you, and I’ll keep it. No harm to you and your friends. Go in peace.”
She stretched out her arms wide, possibly a gesture of surrender, possibly one meant to show that she wasn’t armed.

The tattoos on her back glowed, illuminating the wall behind her with an eerie blue light.

“Uh guys? You know the bodies outside? Well, they’re getting up,” Catherine said.

“How many?” Melchior said evenly.

“One… two… three…” she counted. “A million. Seriously. I think all the bodies out there are getting up.”

“Well, now we know how a mortal woman can be more dangerous than an ancient vampire queen,” Melchior said evenly.

“Ironic is it not? That the mark of death cannot be used by the dead,” Vol said, her face flushed and dreamy as she concentrated on the power flowing through her.
“The truth did I tell you. I sought that which was the purview of the living. And free you are. Go in peace.”

“And the dead?”

“My army. Four nations still reeling from the war. Twenty million soldiers. I will rule the world.”

“Why?!” Takarn roared.

“Why not?” Vol said evenly. “I desire to rule. To sculpt the world to my desires. Now I can.”

“And all the talk of different tomorrows, was that all a lie?” Tara said, clearly upset, though sadly, not surprised.

The empress looked genuinely surprised. “No. Why lie? Alive I wished to be, for all the reasons I told you. I also wish to rule the world.”

Catherine drew her weapon, only to have Takarn’s massive hand clamp around her forearm.
The queen’s guard gathered around her protectively.

Takarn shook his heavy head. “No. I gave my word.”

“Are you fucking serious?!” Catherine asked, incredulous.

“Deadly. Nothing is unbreakable, save the honour of a paladin.”

The queen laughed happily. “I had no idea of the power possible with the Mark. Five thousand years is a long time to learn, get ready.”
Eventually she focussed on the group of friends, looking past the armoured shoulder of her guards with every evidence of amusement.

The group was looking tense, almost drawing lines.
Takarn was standing between the group of friends with the queen at his back.

“The world as we know it is about to end, and you are standing on your honour? You have seen the world as we have seen it. It is fragile, it cannot survive another war, and in this land are all the population of Cyre AND most of the armies of the other four kingdoms. The world cannot stand against that kind of force.” Melchior said.

Takarn glared back and slowly drew the enormous blade from the holder between his wings.
“You remember the part where I pledged my honour?”

Govakri nodded nervously. Catherine looked truly pissed. What Melchior thought was a mystery as he regarded his friend evenly.

Tara looked devastated.

“Yeah, I remember,” Catherine spat.

“Good. I meant it.”

His blade blazed with light and he spun shockingly fast, his clawed feet digging into the cracks between the flagstones to provide leverage.

His massive blade lashed out with impossible speed. It hurled from his hand, turning once before it slammed home in Vol’s chest.

Unable even to scream, she grunted with the impact, the breath driven from the lungs she now needed, after five millennia of inactivity. The huge blade slammed her back like a child’s toy, nailing her to the stone wall.

“Kill them all,” Takarn growled.



“Wowwie. I see why Faith likes this guy!” Xander said.

“Indeed,” Giles said. “Honour has no place if it would allow the world to end.”

“I hope you haven’t caught the gay bug from being around all the gayness,” Anya said, an enquiring expression on her face.

Xander’s face fell. “Sorry Anya. I can’t hide it any more. The girls have shown me the way. I must tell you… I’m a lesbian!”

Anya looked at him, nonplussed.
“See that’s funny. Because I like girls.”

“Ah. I see. Sorry, I wondered if perhaps you had turned into a very ugly girl. In which case I would need to get the strap-”

“Anya! Shhh!” Xander said, waving his hand in front of her face and turning bright red.

Anya turned her head just slightly and gave Tara a tiny wink.

Tara returned the wink.




Although the friends were shocked at the sudden turn of events, they hadn’t survived this long by reacting slowly.

In an almost perfectly synchronised move, Melchior and Catherine drew and fired, Melchior with a wand he had in his pocket, Catherine with her standard fire-throwing wand.

Melchior’s bolt of lightning was not stopped by the guard’s metal armour, if anything it was drawn to it. The vampire disintegrated, the metal of his armour dropping to the floor with a hollow crash.

Catherine’s bolt was aimed, though no less dramatic. Her bolt of fire slammed into the face guard of the nearest vampire’s helmet and filled it with inferno.

The vampire screamed and thrashed, tugging desperately to tear the burning metal cage from his head. To no avail.
Catherine ignored him and took another shot at another vampire. This second vampire jerked his head to one side, not fast enough to avoid getting hit, but enough that his helmet actually took the brunt of the blow.

Below his feet, his fellow guardsman disintegrated, ash and dust spilling as his armour collapsed to the ground, hollow. He turned and ran, his helmet burning hot, the side of his head on fire.
One other vampire bolted from the room, either fleeing or to aid his companion.

That left 9 vampires in heavy armour, with swords drawn. Inhuman strength made them light on their feet, despite the weight of steel they wore, and they wove their swords in front of themselves with the speed and grace of vipers.

The situation looked grim. Their most potent weapon was without his most potent weapon, and without his chosen sword he was substantially less dangerous.

Tara’s frantic thinking slowed, and a sense of calm came over her. She knew what to do, it was simple really. She felt the power welling within her. Usually the power for her spells was drawn from the earth, her more potent spells from the everlasting sky. But this power welled from within, from some secret place, some hidden well of immense power. And Tara was struck with a sense of awe, for this was the power of The Goddess.

Before the power burned her from within, she opened eyes she had not realized she had closed. And with a word, let loose the power.

In the days to come, around the campfire, or around the table in a tavern, her friends would try to remember the word. They would spend many a wonder-struck hour trying to put into words their feelings as they felt the power her word.

The vampires screamed in horror, the expressions on their distorted faces spoke of absolute terror. Whatever could put that sort of fear into a vampire, it was enough to drive them from the room instantly. Two dropped their swords as they ran shrieking from the room, all composure forgotten. The rest simply disintegrated, their screams of horror audible as they faded and scattered to dust, their armour and weapons falling to the ground. From outside, crashes could be heard as the fleeing undead knocked over furniture and ornaments in their haste to escape.

“Holy crap!” Catherine blurted. “I think I need new pants!”



“I remember that effect,” Willow murmured.

Tara blushed, but kept on with her tale.




“What the hell… was that?!” Govakri said. He had a distinct starry-eyed look.

The whole party stared, amazed.
It took their leader’s level head to jerk them into movement.

“Vol yet lives, though for how much longer, I’m not sure,” Melchior said pointedly.

The Burning light that radiated from Takarn’s huge blade was flickering, a sure sign that the evil nearby was soon to expire.

Blood ran from vol’s mouth as she gurgled and coughed. She was helpless, pinned like an obscene butterfly to the wall by the huge sword.
“On your… honour,” she gurgled.

Takarn looked annoyed.
“Our order is a militant one. Honour is not served by drowning the world in blood. That is pride. Vanity.”

He grasped the blade and smoothly drew it from the wall and her chest. He swung the heavy blade around and beheaded her, with one oiled smooth and deceptively swift motion.
Her head rolled across the floor looking just as stunned and disbelieving as it had when it was attached.

Tara looked away.

“Great gods, this bitch don’t die easy,” Catherine said as the head twitched and blinked.

She drew a bead on the blinking head and fired.

And fired.

And fired again.



+++



The group of friends stood around looking at each other as if surprized to still be alive.

Catherine sat down with an air of purpose. “Right. Later I’m gonna want a bath and a good deal of food. And sex. But for right now I’ll settle for an explanation of what the hell is going on.”
She looked pointedly at Takarn and Tara.

Govakri glided back from the window. “Well, if it’s any consolation, the bodies out there seem to have fallen over again.”

“Hooray. We might yet live. Explanation please?”

“The House of Vol was the house that carried the Mark of Death,” Melchior said. “A mark so terrifying, that over the years, everyone with it was killed.”

“Starting to see why. Ok, that bit I’d kinda figured, what with the listening and all.”
She looked at Tara. “What was with the pants-wetting magic? Also, I thought paladins were supposed to keep their word?”

“We are,” Takarn rumbled. He tore down a curtain and used it to clean his sword.
He looked up from his cleaning. “Not at the expense of people’s lives. It’s a rule.”

“Um, sorry,” Tara said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you, I just had to do something useful. A-and it was all too close to use zappy spells without hurting us.”

Catherine grinned. “That wasn’t why I need new pants, but hey, no apology needed.”

Tara flushed a little.

“What the hell was that Tara?”

“A word of power,” she said softly.

“A what? Sorry hon, I’m no closer to an explanation.”

“It is the language of creation,” Takarn said, much quieter than his usual bass rumble. He was almost reverent. “The words that made the world. Only a few fragments now exist,”

Govakri sat down. He said nothing but was clearly listening carefully.

“Words of power are not normal words,” Melchior explained.

“They were the words spoken by the gods, when they created the world. They can only be spoken by those with a connection to the higher powers, the pure of heart, and the powerful.”

“To the wicked, the words bring ruin. To the dissolute, pain. And to the virtuous, joy,” Tara said, as if reciting from memory.

She looked up. “It was all I could think of.”

A crooked smile or sorts broke across Melchior’s’ face. “You are full of surprizes.

“So it’s like, a bomb? That blasts only evil types?” Catherine said, looking a little annoyed. “How come you didn’t use it before?”

Tara looked a little ashamed. “Um, because it doesn’t only hurt evil types. It hurts everyone who’s not actually good. Which is… nearly everybody.”



“Wicked, a smartbomb,” Faith said. “sounds damn useful.”

Tara shrugged. “Not as much as you’d think. Most folks are just regular people, not good, not evil. A spell like that would be like setting off one of those flash-grenade things in their face.”

She grimaced. “Not the kind of thing you want to use near innocent bystanders, or demon hunters that don’t wear white hat. Especially in the middle of a fight.”

“Point.”




Takarn took up the explanation. “Messes up undead something fierce. They were never intended to be part of creation. A perversion.” He looked pointedly at Catherine. “Safe spell for me and Tara. Not safe for you or Melchior or Govakri.”

“So, does this mean we passed muster?”

Takarn rumbled his hissing laugh, sounding much like a kettle boiling over.
“Yes, you passed. The gods see you. And they mark you ‘good’,” he said, complete with air quotes.

“Ye gods, a paladin just air quoted me. The world is coming to an end,” Catherine said.

“I feel oddly good considering what just happened,” Govakri said. He scratched his head thoughtfully. “I’m assuming magic, mixed with ‘hey, we just brought down a legend?’”

Melchior nodded. “That about sums it up.”

He looked at Tara. “You are being very quiet for a moment of triumph.”

“She had her soul returned, Melchior. And resurrected a vampire queen. Give her time to think.”

“Uh, what? Soul? What?” Govakri said, worried.

“Not all of it, just the missing part,” Tara said softly.

She looked up. “I have all my memories at last. But I really need time to think. I do know a few things though,” she stood up straight. “I am Tara Maclay. Witch, Scooby, beloved of Willow Rosenberg, and mother to Dawn Summers, of a sort.”
“I died on another world, far away. And I am alive because the queen of the vampires needed me. She needed me in order to live again, and because they took the life of an angel to do it.”

Catherine clutched her head. “Ye gods woman! Every answered question raises two more!”

Tara’s expression fell. “I’m sorry Catherine, I don’t try to make things awkward.”



“Ugh, not your fault, just… too much crazy in one day.”

Tara smiled sadly. “I know, I really do.”
She sighed. “Before we go there’s something I have to do. I have my answers, and I’m happy to explain. Um, later maybe.”

“Okaaay,” Catherine said slowly.

“We have to take a body out of here.”
Tara’s expression carried a shade of awkwardness, but there was not a trace of apology, or anything that suggested that she might waver.

“Not her,” Catherine said, gesturing to Vol’s headless corpse.

Tara shook her head sadly, looking away from the corpse and towards the room that held the broken form of her mother in this life.

“They tortured her, killed her, and drained her life-force to resurrect me.”
Tara’s face was one of utmost sorrow.

“All so I could do this,” she gestured at the body, lying in a huge pool of blood. “I was not worth the price,” Tara said brokenly.

“Horseshit,” Takarn growled flatly.

All eyes turned to look at him, surprized at his angry tone.
“She gave her life for you. And you have done well with it. Do not disrespect her gift to you!”

“B-but-“

“No!” he roared.
The spikes of his crest stood up and unconsciously he spread his wings a little, clearly dealing with intense emotion.
“What was done here was blasphemy! But out of it came you! And you are of the light!”

Visibly he calmed himself, struggling somewhat.
“No life without sacrifice. No light without darkness. Born in the blackest place in all the world. You shine brightly indeed.”

He moved softly over to Tara. “You owe it to her. To make all dark things regret your rebirth.”
He lifted her chin with one huge sausage-like finger. “All evil. Everywhere.”

Tara nodded, tears in her eyes.

He stepped toward the doorway to the awful laboratory, and held out his hand.
Tara took it, gripping one of his warm scaly fingers.
Together they lead the rest of the party through the laboratory to the chained figure.



+++



“Merciful gods,” Catherine whispered.

The group stood, stunned in the cold laboratory. The body of the dead angel hung from chains above a polished metal table. A table splattered with her blood.

“No mercy here,” Takarn growled, the tense set of his body and the spikes of his crest showed the tight rein he was keeping over his anger.

Tara looked at her broken form with infinite sorrow. Mercifully, her head hung down, her face concealed by her fine golden hair.

“Her name was Ariel,” she said tenderly. “And she was my mother in this life.”
Tara looked to her friends. “And we have to bury her properly, we have to get her out of here.”

“Uh, I gotta say, I don’t know anything about burial customs for angels here. I mean yeah, we should do something, but do we burn her, bury her or entomb her?” Catherine said.

Govakri patted Catherine on the shoulder. “I don’t know either. But I’d say getting her out of her has to be a start yes?”

Melchior chipped in. “Indeed. We can look up the details once we are free of this damned place.”

“Uh, I hate to be the one who’s all disrespectful here,” Govakri said.

He looked a little embarrassed. “But we are standing in the palace of Metrol. Are we going to take the time to gather, er, priceless artefacts of lost Cyre for return to the Cyran survivors?”

“You mean loot,” Melchior said evenly.

“Ah, yes.”

“Yes, I should think so. It may be that we shall never have an opportunity like this again, it would be a shame to waste it.”

“Also, we’ll be waaay famous for surviving this, and we’ll need some proof. Plus once we come back alive, others are going to try this. So we need to get the important stuff to the right folks before the looters arrive. Like, the bad ones, y’know?”

Tara noticed the slightly apprehensive looks the Govakri and Catherine were shooting her. She sighed.

“Guys, I’m not your mother. And I don’t exist for the sole purpose of telling you not to do things. We’ve come this far, it’s only fair that you earn some reward for it. And I imagine we’ll show a good deal more respect than actual looters.”

Catherine relaxed noticeably. “Whew. I was worried there for a moment.”

Tara shrugged, all the more impressive with wings. “There is an entire world filled with Cyran survivors looking for closure. If we bring a few artefacts back, and show them that they can be retrieved, they might be able to mount an expedition and start to reclaim their homeland.”

She smiled wanly. “And I think they will reward you handsomely for doing so.”

“Righto then. Let’s get lootin!” Catherine said.
She caught Tara’s eye and coughed. “Respectfully.”

+++



“We had a lot of trouble getting back out of the Mourn-Lands,” Tara said to the Scoobies.

She looked up from her journal. “We hadn’t realized it at the time, but we had been chaperoned the whole way to the capitol. Getting back out meant a lot of fighting. None of it was organized, so we didn’t have too much trouble with any given fight. But we had to fight so often, two or three times a day.”

“We were beyond exhausted when we finally escaped. Only magic was keeping us going.”
She smiled softly. “When we finally stepped out into the light after something like two weeks in shadow and mist, it was like being reborn.”




Up ahead was light.
Light different from the never-ending gloom of the mist.
It shone like hope, like the promise of a new day, and the battered group of friends quickened their pace.

Slowly the light grew, rich and golden. Whether it was strong enough to actually generate warmth or not, the friends certainly felt warmer.

The power of Tara’s magic and fervent prayers had gotten them this far, all of them together pushing and pulling the sturdy cart they had scavenged from the city.

But none of them had rested to any meaningful degree. They were worn down by constantly fending off random attacks by walking corpses, vampires and the occasional warforged patrol.

The magic flowing through their veins kept them moving, but even that had its limits, and a week of poor sleep, followed by a week of no sleep was pushing it.

And then they made it.

They stumbled, hungry and battered, exhausted beyond mortal limits, into the light of the setting sun.

And it was glorious.

“My gods,” Catherine whispered. “I’d forgotten what it looked like.”

The tired group stood basking in the warmth of the setting sun for a few minutes before Melchior interrupted.
“If I remember Tara’s explanation correctly, the spell that has kept us going will fail at sunset. I strongly recommend that we get to the tavern, eat, and sleep for several days.”

“Ye gods yes,” Govakri said, quietly, but with feeling.

“Not for me,” Tara said, gesturing to the cart. “I have something to do first.”

Melchior rested a hand on her arm. “She will still be there when you wake.”

Tara would not be moved. “This is too important to wait.”

“I will watch over her while you sleep. I promise you, her remains will not be disturbed.”

Tara shook her head sadly, but with determination. “No Melchior. I need to do this now.”

“Uh, Tara?” Catherine interjected.

“No Catherine, I need to do this! I never really knew her, but in a way she was my mother.”

“Tara, look!” Catherine shouted, pointing at the cart frantically.

The cart was piled high with boxes and bundles. On the top, tucked protectively between two large trunks, was the shroud-wrapped body of the angel.
It was illuminated by a shaft of rich golden light from the setting sun, and tiny white and golden sparks of light lifted from it.
They drifted up from the shroud gently, slower than sparks from a campfire.

‘Softly’ was the word that came to Tara’s mind upon seeing the sparks.

She approached carefully, her companions keeping a respectful (or safe) distance.
As the moments passed more and more sparks lifted from the body, passing harmlessly through the shroud, until with a soft sigh the shroud collapsed, and a vast cloud of sparks lit the sky.

Perhaps it was only her imagination, but Tara thought she heard a voice whisper, ‘Free.’

Takarn padded slowly over and laid one warm hand on Tara’s shoulder plate. “She is on her way home. Soon she will rest with her people.”

Tara reached up and laid her own hand atop his.
“I’m glad.”

The friends watched the cloud of light until it was lost against the setting sun.

“Time to rest for us too,” he rumbled softly.

“Less permanently I hope,” Catherine muttered. “But at this point, I’ll take anything.”

_________________
“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 8)
PostPosted: Mon Oct 13, 2014 1:51 pm 
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3. Flaming O

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Location: Baltimore, MD
awesome update! can't wait for the next bit.


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 8)
PostPosted: Wed Oct 15, 2014 3:40 am 
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6. Sassy Eggs
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Great update. I have to say that the entire time they were talking to the big bad I was praying in the back of my mind that the DM you had wasn't the type who felt it was his duty to make the paladin fall half way through the campaign.

Few things are as aggravating as making the party's meat shield become a fighter without bonus feats mid fight.

A part of me was also half expecting the Angel to just pop up once they left the fog and open a portal for Tara right there. It's good they will spend at least a little more time there. It feels like there should be some more wrap up before you set this world aside for good.

looking forward to more.

_________________
Time and Time Again


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 8)
PostPosted: Sun Oct 19, 2014 11:57 am 
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9. Gay Now
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Location: Beyond the orbit of Mars and accelerating...
The Leave-taking



“This is the last part guys. This is where I left the city of light and came home,” Tara said.

Willow looked up from her traditional place, reclined on the couch with her head resting in Tara’s lap. “Did you say goodbye to everyone?”

Tara nodded sadly. “That’s what this part is all about. Me saying goodbye to my friends.”

“It’s not all bad,” Xander said softly. “You came home.”

“And made our weird little family complete,” Buffy added.

Tara looked up and smiled a little sadly. “I know.”
She took a deep, cleansing breath. “And I’m glad to be home, you have no idea. But they were my friends, and I still miss them.”

“And what would Cathy do if she saw you bein’ all sad puppy?” Faith asked.

“She’s yell at me for being an idiot.” Tara’s face broke into a grin. “Then she’d kick your butt for calling her Cathy.”

Faith laughed.

The sad mood broken, Tara returned to her story.




It had been a busy few weeks.

It had taken time to find buyers for the artefacts that they had recovered, and longer to persuade them of their authenticity.
This world may not have had Nigerian Princesses, but it had more than its fair share of Authentic™ Cryan Artefacts. But eventually the crowns, diadems and robes of state had eventually been returned to members of the Cyran government-in-exile. And the grateful government had rewarded the group handsomely.

Though Melchior was careful to insist that the group’s contributions to this find remain secret, word did spread through the halls of power and to those in the know. Melchior and Takarn were talking over some very interesting job offers and the group’s star was definitely on the rise.

Tara however, was unconcerned.
She was going home.

She was going home!

The enormity of it all got to her sometimes, and she had to stop to take a deep breath.

The nearness of what had seemed for so long an impossible goal made her giddy sometimes.
And sometimes, the fact that she was still separated by a vast, impassable distance brought tears to her eyes.
But step by step, all obstacles were being overcome.

Her days were filled with constant research in the libraries of the citadel, and the mages guild. The gate spell was refined and polished, made stronger, safer and more potent. The dimensional distance to cover was vast, and a general planar travel spell would not do. The spell Melchior had built was made for one specific thing: Get Tara to Willow.

It would have no other purpose.

Melchior had spoken with some friends of his, and had arranged for Tara to have access to the guild library. Catherine had done the same with Gerald, and secured access to the citadel’s astrological records.



Tara looked across at Giles as she read those words. The librarian in him was more than a little starry-eyed at the thought of all those books, unread by anyone on this earth. The sorcerer in him was a little distracted too.

He shot her a look of pure envy.

Along with an apologetic smile.




Between those two resources, and Melchior’s more rarefied magical expertise, they were able to not only create a spell to cover the vast gulf between the worlds, but to find Tara’s home.

In truth, it was this aspect of the spell that was trickiest.

Maintaining any kind of connection across a dimensional boundary was nearly impossible, but to do so across the dimensional gulf between this world, and the world of Tara’s birth, was regarded as flatly beyond reason. And almost the only measure they had was Tara herself.

Thus, much of Tara’s day was spent meditating in front of a silver mirror, refining and refining, over and over, her link to Willow.

The idea that any kind of link could be maintained across such a gulf, garnered her any number of sceptical looks and pitying smiles.
The general assumption being that she was out of her mind.



“Was it really that unbelievable?” Dawn asked from the couch, buried under a thick pink comforter with her two besties. “I mean they have magic ships and spells and all sorts of stuff!”

Tara shrugged. “We have planes and spacecraft and we can talk instantly to people on the other side of the world. How many people here would believe it?”

Silently, all the Scoobies raised their hand.
“We’ve met you,” Buffy explained.

“And I’ve seen Will with you,” Xander added. “I’d believe it in a second.”

Willow sighed. “I wish I’d realized that a few months ago. It would have made things a little easier.”

Tara ruffled her hair. “But sweetie, you’d have missed your chance to bond with Faith.”

Willow thought for a moment. “True. Yay?”
She looked up at Tara, green eyes meeting blue. “Was it so very far?”

Tara nodded. “Any plane has a number of nearby planes that can be contacted with relative ease. Their world was a crossroads, much like ours. But it was so very far away, that no one had heard of Earth, nor could they find it magically.”
She leaned down and kissed Willow softly, hiding them both for a moment behind her snow-white hair. ‘It was so very, very far baby.’




For the sake of the heroes who had breached the Mournlands, they humoured her.

Tara did not care. She was going home, to Willow.
That single fact, that truth of her heart, blotted out all other concerns. Against that power, no other thing could hold sway.
That single purpose had underwritten her every action over the past year.
And now all her hard work was coming close to fruition, at long last.

The spell was done.

Checked and rechecked by Melchior, and his friends in the mage’s guild. It was as perfect as any single spell could be.
Now it was just a matter of fine tuning it based on the dimensional location of Tara’s home.

Willow.
And a planet called Earth.

And while Tara missed her friends, her Family, and many other things about her life, all those things paled in comparison to that chord singing through her soul.

And now that she was whole and her memories complete, her dreams had taken on a whole new flavour.

A distinctly erotic one.
It seemed as though her subconscious mind was making up for lost time, with this part of her life so long ignored.
Most mornings she would wake up, damp with need.

On occasion Catherine would gently tease her about it, especially if Tara woke her with her sighs and happy moans.
Tara was really looking forward to getting home.
And then one day, almost by surprise, they were done.
And with barely a week to spare.



Tara was blushing furiously as she read this part. Willow was not helping by waggling her eyebrows suggestively.

She looked away, and unfortunately saw everyone else’s reaction.

Dawn was hiding under her blanket, and giggling madly.

Giles was looking embarrassed, and looking everywhere except at Tara.

Everyone else had huge grins.

She ducked her head and went back to reading.




Every possible coordinate was refined, every syllable scripted, every energy flow tuned to perfection. The spell was as complete as mortal magic could make it.

And Tara was utterly grateful for Melchior’s help. In between cases, he routinely put in 24 hour days, and Tara knew she would never have completed the spell in time, without his unrelenting attention to detail.

Many a night she staggered off to bed, leaving her metal friend poring over complex astrological charts, only to find him in the same place when she woke in the morning.

It was sometimes hard to tell what her friend was thinking, or how he felt about things, but in this he was unrelenting.

In a way he reminded her of Giles. He cared as much as anyone could about his young charges, though he too had trouble saying it. So he showed it by deed, rather than word. He too worked long hours into the night. He searched book after book and made call after call, to find every possible fact he could, all to make the life of his charges just a fraction safer.

And now the work was done.

In six days the planes would align. The vast gulf would be a fraction narrower, and the travel a fraction more likely to succeed.
In six days she had to go. The planes would not align so helpfully again until next year, and that was just too long to wait.


Packing was simple. She gave everything to Catherine, which was as simple as waving a hand and saying “It’s yours.”

To which the response was just as simple. “Cool.”

And given that the troupe had spent a good portion of the last year on the road, the remaining packing was as simple as picking up her pre-packed travel pack.



Faith made a face, something that Buffy picked up on.

She raised an eyebrow in question.

Faith grunted. “Yeah. I used to be like that.”
She smiled wryly. “Relax B. Got way too much crap to run with now.

Buffy gave her a look.

Faith smiled shyly. It was very un-Faithlike. “Uh, plus I love you. That’s another good reason not to run.”
Buffy smiled, equally shyly.

Dawn thought she might pass out from an overdose of sheer adorableness.




Which left Tara with absolutely nothing to do to assuage her nerves and sad feelings.

So after a day spent moping, Tara put on her best dress and decided to visit all her friends, to say goodbye.
She decided to start with Brother Marcion, as he lived furthest away.



The temple of the Silver Flame never closed its massive doors for anything save invasion. Day or night people could be found there working, counselling, training, and tonight was no exception.

Tara found Marcion training in the rear courtyard. Though Marcion was a healer of sorts, she found him dressed in heavy chain, and armed with a shield & mace.
It reminded Tara quite forcibly that the order was a militant one, and they took their sworn oath to protect the world from evil, seriously. Even the healers could fight, and if Tara’s eye was any good, brother Marcion could fight quite well.

He and his sparring partner, a younger warrior, similarly armed and armoured, battered at each other with expert strokes, husbanding their strength until with a triumphant cry, Marcion kicked his opponent’s feet out from under him and brought the spiked metal ball down on his head with a resounding ‘bonk!’ sound.

“Ha! Got you!” he said, doing a little dance.



“Is it wrong that I now have an image in my brain, of Giles doing the happy dance?” Buffy asked.

“Perish the thought,” Giles said, attempting to maintain his dignity. “I’ll have you know I’m an accomplished dancer. I do however, have better things to do with my time than ‘the happy dance’.”

“Giles, everyone does the happy dance,” Buffy countered. “Clearly you haven’t been happy enough.”

“Buffy, I am content. More than that, I am extraordinarily happy, and yet I feel no urges toward ridiculous dancing.”

She grinned worryingly at him. “We just need to make you happier.”

Now Giles looked worried. “Please don’t.”

Buffy just grinned.

Giles fancied he could see the wheels turning in her head, and cringed internally.




Marcion froze when he became aware of Tara, her eyes dancing as she tried unsuccessfully to stifle a giggle.

“Ow,” the young fighter groaned. “You could have pulled that a little more.”
Marcion tried to gather the tattered shreds of his dignity. “Sean, show a little dignity, we have a guest.”

Marcion hauled Sean to his feet. He pulled off his helmet and rubbed his forehead ruefully.

Tara waved. “Hi Sean. Still trying to beat this old reprobate?”

Sean ran his gauntleted hand through his sweaty hair, wincing as a few strands caught in his gauntlet.
“Time for a haircut I think,” he muttered.

He grinned at Tara. “Hey Tara. I’ll get him one day.”

“Hey,” Marcion protested. “I’m not that old!”

He pulled off his helmet, revealing his bald head and solidly grey hair.
“But you are a reprobate,” Sean added.

He wiped off with a cloth and wandered over.
“So Tara, what brings you out today? Besides abusing the elderly of course?”

Her face fell. She didn’t want to say the words, but could not bear the thought of dragging this out.
“I’ve come to say goodbye,” she said.

A broad smile lit his face and he pulled her into a huge, metallic (and slightly stinky) bear-hug.
“That’s fantastic news!” he said, once he had pulled back from the hug.

“It is?” she asked uncertainly.

“Of course!” he said.

“It is?” Sean asked, clearly not understanding why Tara saying good bye was a good thing. He’d always liked her.

“Of course!” Marcion said. “Tara comes and goes quite regularly, but she never says good bye like this. Is the spell finally finished then?”

Tara nodded. “There is a planar alignment in six days. I have to go then.”

“Uh, spell?” Sean said.

Marcion nodded. “Tara is not from this world. All she has done, has been to return there.”

“Oh. OH!” he said, as several things clicked into place.

“So… you’re going home?” Sean said to Tara.

Tara nodded, her sad expression turning radiant at the thought of seeing Willow again.

“Her love is waiting there,” Melchior said softly.

“Then this is good news!” Sean said, finally getting on board. He looked a little bashful all of a sudden. “I’ll miss you, you know. But I’m glad that you get to go home.”
His eyes widened. “Not that I mean that I want you gone! I mean I do, but not because I want you to go, just that I think you should be happy.”

Tara laughed gently at his panicked babble.

Marcion just sighed. “Age brings many, many compensations. The chief of which, is this sort of thing not happening anymore.”

Tara patted Sean’s chain-clad shoulder. “It’s ok Sean. I know what you meant.”
Sean grinned sheepishly.

“Sean, get changed. We’re going to lunch,” Marcion said decisively.

Sean brightened. “Kebabs? Ooo, that spicy sausage place Takarn took us to?”

“No. We are going to eat food with a knife and a fork. Like civilized folk,” Marcion said, with something of a grin.

“We should get changed then. Even the taco place is going to give us funny looks if we show up like this.”



Tara smiled. Sean’s earlier treat: a trip to the Taco-Hole, well… there had been humour certainly.
And the discovery that Takarn couldn’t eat Tacos, not with any amount of practice.

It was messy.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like spicy foods, more that tacos were fiddly and awkward to eat. More so with big hands and no lips.
Luckily the Taco-Hole had taken the resulting food disaster with good humour.



“That food disaster couldn’t be worse than the time Buffy tried to do Mexican,” Dawn said, earning herself a glare from Buffy.

“It wasn’t that bad!”

“Buffy, we call it ‘The Time The Kitchen Got Angry.’ It was pretty bad.”

Xander coughed and said “Fire alarm,” under his breath.

Buffy switched her glare to him. “Traitor.”

She huffed. “This is why I like sammiches and salads. Nothing to catch fire.”

“Aww pumpkin, don’t be sad. You an’ me make a good team in the kitchen.”

And it was true. Buffy was a good cook in Faith’s opinion, as long as you kept her away from fire and hot things. Thanks to her two stints as a waitress, Buffy was a whizz at assembling and delivering food.




“No. We’re not going to the Taco-Hole. We’re going somewhere nice, so try not to dress like a ragamuffin.”

“Ooo, I can wear that nice shirt that someone got me for my birthday,” Sean said.

He took off quickly to get changed, almost skipping in his glee. For a sturdy young man in chain and plate, it was a sight to see.

Marcion watched him go with a wry grin. “There goes an amazing young man. You have no idea the confusion he causes my superiors.”

Tara smiled. “Oh?”

Marcion shook his head wonderingly. “I have no idea how my sister had a son like him. He has fun with everything. Which is a shock to the system for the grim old buggers that run the order. He does what he’s asked, when he’s asked. And he’s fairly good at it too. But he is never serious.”
He pointed at the young man skipping across the courtyard. “He’s 25 years old and he skips. In full armour.”

They watched him stop to talk to one of the female stable-hands working nearby, very excitedly if the amount of arm waving and bouncing was anything to go by.

“He’ll never be a paladin. He lacks the iron conviction. But he’ll make a magnificent temple guard, or maybe even a Justicar. If he can learn to tone it down in public, just a bit.”

Tara’s smile softened as she thought of someone. Another person who tended to wave her arms around and bounce when she got excited.

Marcion smiled warmly and squeezed her shoulder with affection. “And that’s why we’re celebrating. Find a comfy spot in the shade while we get cleaned up, ok?”

She nodded and found herself a stack of hay-bails to sit on while she waited.

+++

“Wow. We’re going there?” Tara asked.

“Yes,” Marcion said. “It seemed singularly appropriate.”

The trio were looking out of the cab windows at the Skyway, an area of the city so upper class, that it did not in fact touch the ground. Instead it floated above, suspended by mighty magics. The underside of the district was stone and steel, covered with thousands upon thousands of glowing runes. So many that they lit the buildings below with a weird light, night and day.

“Wow! This is awesome!” Sean said. “I’ve never even been to the Skyway, and now we’re having dinner there!”
Sean’s grin was infectious, and he had clearly studied the place, as he excitedly pointed out famous landmarks as the cab closed on the ornate balcony.

The goblin cab-driver grinned cheerfully as Marcion paid him for the ride. “You enjoy dinner! If you not like, I know good Karnath sausage place!”

Tara found herself wondering what the notoriously un-fussy goblin people considered to be ‘good’ food.
She felt just a touch off-put.

“No tacos today. Today we celebrate, and dine in the light,” Marcion said.

“Are you sure we’re dressed for this?” Sean asked. He fiddled with his green shirt nervously.

“Of course. You have your best shirt, I have my ceremonial healer’s robes, and Tara is wearing her lovely cream and blue dress. We look smashing.”
He smiled at Tara. “It probably wouldn’t hurt to just be yourself,” he said gesturing to Tara’s back.

She smiled and shrugged. “How did you get a table on such short notice?” She asked.

Marcion grinned. “Our order is well respected, believe me. And oddly enough I am well regarded in the order, being senior and all. Between that, and your friend Takarn’s famed willingness to do violence to people who disrespect his friends, they were positively falling all over themselves to give us a table.”

Tara raised an eyebrow and nudged the brutal mace hanging from the old man’s belt. “And this?”

“Not an affectation, I promise you. It is written in our code. Any knight of the order must be willing to do battle with evil anywhere. And must be armed to do so. We are always armed. We have learned to our cost that evil does not always appear when we are on the clock.”

“And all members of our order are knights,” Sean added quietly.

“Everyone?” Tara asked, surprised.

Marcion nodded grimly. “Even the stable boys are armed. The knight business is a legal thing, so we can remain armed at all times.”

“We don’t like losing people,” Sean said solemnly.

“Enough grimness, alright? We are here to celebrate the end of Tara’s long road home.”

“With amazing food. Let’s not forget the food,” Sean said.

“Behold the bottomless pit that is a growing young man,” Marcion said with a fond smile.

He looked up and saw a rather worried-looking man approaching them in a waiter’s outfit.
“Anyone this worried at seeing us has got to work here,” Marcion said mildly.



+++



The trio ate their meal, happily ignoring the snooty glances that the restaurant’s patrons were shooting them.
Contrary to Tara’s expectations of a super-fancy restaurant, they actually supplied sensibly sized portions. In Sean’s case, larger than sensibly-sized.

Tara was working her way through a trencher filled with tiny portions of a dizzying variety of meals in small bowls. She especially liked the seafood and chicken themed ones.



“Is it just shrimp you’re allergic to, or is it a whole seafood thing?” Xander asked.

“Um, it used to be shrimp, lobster and crabs. These days I don’t have that problem.” Tara smiled. “Buttered crab is very nice I discovered.”




“I really like this butter and cheese mix,” she said, poking at it carefully, trying to figure out the ingredients spread on the crunchy herb bread.

“Mmm-hmm,” Sean said. He was speaking around a mouthful of crab meat.

Sitting on his plate was a butter-and-herb drenched crab claw of prodigious size. The claw had been cut horizontally and peeled off, leaving the bottom half as a container for the seafood. The thickness of the shell was sufficient that nothing short of a sledgehammer would have cracked it.
The herb-and-garlic scented seafood chunk was easily the size of his head.

“If you actually eat all of that, you definitely deserve some kind of reward,” Marcion said. “Even Takarn would consider that a big meal. And he ate a whole pig once.”

“It was only a piglet,” Tara countered. “But yes, even he complained after that.”

Marcion eyed Tara with a gentle gaze.
“How does he feel about your journey home?”

Tara looked down sadly. “We haven’t really talked about it. Not in depth. He knows I’m going, and he supports me. He’s supported me the whole way. Far, far more than any person could ask for.”

Marcion nodded. “He is a paladin. It’s what they do. But, more than that, his people trace their lineage back to the dragons of old. Little is known of them. But their loyalty and capacity for emotion are legend, even untold aeons later.”
Marcion patted her hand comfortingly. “I can’t say that I know him supremely well, but I suspect your up-coming departure is affecting him far more than he knows how to deal with.”

Tara nodded sadly. “I know. We’re making a day of it. Just him and me, the last day before I go.”

Marcion’s brow was furrowed in thought.
“I suggest not. He’s been your constant companion for over a year, and has been ready to lay down his life for you, more than once. He loves you, you know?”

Tara nodded mutely. ‘How would Xander feel, if he had to say goodbye to Willow forever?’



“Oh wowie,” Willow said. “Even thinking about that makes me sad.”

“Don’t be sad Will. I’m not going anywhere,” Xander said.

Willow mimed a hug and tossed it over to him. He mimed hugging back.




The thought almost broke her heart. Takarn may not have been with her since childhood, but he was her protector every bit as much as Xander was Willow’s.

A tear rolled down Tara’s cheek, and her jaw quivered as she tried not to cry.

There was no choice, not even the concept of one. Her heart belonged to another world, and to the love found there. But she would miss his solid presence, his iron conviction, and his absolute belief in her. It was going to feel like she’d lost a leg, or an arm.

“How many others do you have to say goodbye to?”

“The neighbours, the nurses at the clinic, Melchior and Catherine.”

“My dear, whatever you choose to do is entirely up to you. But I think you should bid them farewell quickly. Tomorrow perhaps. And spend the rest of your time with your closest and dearest friend.”

Tara nodded mutely.

“They’ll miss you, no doubt. But take the time to be with him. You’re family to him, you know?”
He sighed heavily. “I have lost many friends over the years. One of the things they teach you in the order: tell your friends what you feel. You never want to leave things unsaid. What if they are taken from you unexpectedly?”

Tara nodded. “You’re right. We’ll enjoy our meal, and tomorrow I will say goodbye to the others. And then there will be time for Takarn.”

“Good-good,” Marcion said cheerily.

“I guess I have just been putting it off, out of fear,” she said.

Sean quirked a smile. “Our order has a saying for that too. ‘Live life without fear, for then you will live deeply.’” He took a big bite out of a slice of succulent seafood. “I am definitely living deeply now. Mmm.”

“I think he likes seafood,” Marcion said with a smile.

Tara smiled, putting aside her worries, at least for a little while.
A giggle escaped at the blissful expression on Sean’s face. He shared Xander’s love of food, and the tendency he and Willow both shared, to hum happily when they ate something particularly yummy.



“Hey, I don’t hum!” Xander protested.

“You do Xander,” Willow replied. “You’ve done it since we were kids. My mom even remarked on it once, and you know how oblivious she is to anything outside of a book.”

“Uh, I’m not trying to seem insensitive or nothing, but what happened to your folks?” Faith said looking around the group.

Willow cleared her throat. “They were away giving lectures when Sunnydale became a crater. They were ok when I saw them last. We still keep in touch by email, but things are more or less business as usual for them.”

“My folks got out in the big exodus,” Xander said. “They’re in LA now, and doing ok last time I spoke to them.”

“I think you’re better off away from them Xan,” Faith said.

He nodded. “Yeah. Still miss them sometimes. The sad thing is, if they found out how well I was doing, they’d be round all the time trying to borrow money.”

Faith snorted. “Well hell, you’re doing all right man.”

He grinned. “I’ve got a real family now, eh Tara?”

She smiled back at Xander. He more than anyone, knew what it was like coming from an unpleasant background.

She returned to her story.




“You know there’s no way you can eat all of that,” she said teasingly.

Sean grinned, a bit of buttery sauce running down his chin. He rummaged around in his pocket and pulled out a small, obviously empty bag. He rummaged inside the bag and pulled out a box, one far too large to fit in the bag, which still looked empty.
He chewed enthusiastically and swallowed.
“Tada! Bag of holding. I came prepared.”

Tara looked at Marcion in question.

Marcion shrugged. “It would be a shame to waste something this good, so I lent him my bag.”

“Does a place this fancy let you take home leftovers?”

Marcion shrugged. “I’m the customer, I pay. If I want the leftovers, they’re mine. Besides, the order’s distaste for waste and general intractability are well known.”

He smiled toothily. “So, tell me of your homeworld Tara.”

“Ooo! And tell us of this mysterious lover.” He sighed happily. “It all sounds so romantic.”

Marcion rolled his eyes and bounced a slice of carrot off Sean’s head.
Sean simply picked up the carrot disk and ate it. “Ignore the old grouch Tara, tell us all.”

Tara looked off into the distance, a soft look on her expressive face. “Her hair is the colour of autumn. And her smile lights up a room…”


Tara’s face looked dreamy as she described Willow. Willow simply looked up from her lap with tears in her eyes.

It warmed Giles’ heart, and made him more than a little uncomfortable, to see such naked adoration in Willow’s eyes.
He felt, after the few years they’d had, that they deserved a little love and comfort.



+++



Two days later, Tara stepped into the temple of the Silver Flame. The carven stone walls were sturdy, and possessed of an elegant simplicity, lacking much of the baroque style favoured elsewhere in the city. Though they were a touch martial for Tara’s taste, she had always felt at home in these halls.

The people here fought darkness. To their last breath in many cases. And they had no time for wishy-washy behaviour, or a lack of commitment. It tended to make them blunt to the point of abruptness.
And it had always made her feel a little more at home.
Anya would have liked these people. Other than their strong anti-demon tendencies.


And now she felt as nervous as the first time she had entered these majestic halls.

She mentally chastised herself for her nerves. She was not facing the dragon, she was visiting one of her oldest and dearest friends.
As she entered, she looked around to calm her nerves. She saw with fresh eyes the people she had seen and talked with many times. After she had absorbed Marcion’s words, she saw her friends and acquaintances in a new light.

Every single person was armed. From the scribes to the stable boys. Everyone was sleekly muscled in a way that spoke, not of gym work or even physical labour, but long hours of hard training.

Once again she was reminded that these kind and somewhat gruff folk were at war.
They stood for the light, and fought the darkness, In a very literal way.
Much as her own family did.

A surge of warmth filled her, as she remembered again one of the pivotal events in her life. One that ranked up there with the extra flamey candle.
‘You can go ahead and take her. You just gotta go through me.’
Tara echoed the words that followed. “We’re family.”



She looked up from her book, tears in her eyes. She looked across at Buffy. “Family.”

Buffy smiled warmly back and nodded. “Family.”

Tara tried to communicate everything that meant in a look. The first person to ever truly fight for her, to stand up and say ‘she’s one of us.’

Taking a leaf from Willow’s book, Buffy mimed a hug, and mimed throwing it to her. She caught it gratefully, and snuggled into it as Willow added her own awkward upside-down hug.

It was good to be home.




And she realized that this was true for her huge friend, as much as it was for the others in Sunnydale.
And then she felt rather foolish, because Marcion had pointed that out 2 days ago.

“Hello Tara. I assume you are looking for Takarn?”

Shaken out of her thoughts, she saw Cecile approaching.

The powerfully built brunette woman was someone she often chatted with, as she waited for Takarn to finish whatever he was doing.
Tara nodded to the helpful warrior woman, noting anew the callused hands and the sleek play of muscles in her arms.

Cecile grinned. “Contrary to expectations, he is neither training, nor eating. He’s out the back, helping with some repairs.”

Tara raised an eyebrow. Takarn’s ability to learn skills unrelated to warfare, was about as good as her ability to learn skills involving warfare.
She thought back with her now compete memories. The one time she had been successful in a warlike endeavour, it had been slaying a demon. And truth be told, it had been unaware of her presence. And facing the other way. And she had time for a long wind-up at the hit.
She shook her head ruefully. Whatever she may be, Slayer she was not.



“I remember the demon,” Willow said.

“No-one messes with my girl,” Dawn crowed.

Instinctively Tara ducked her head as she blushed in an instinctive, and aborted action. She stopped herself and looked back up to meet Willow’s shining gaze.

“No they don’t.”




In the rear courtyard, which acted as a sort of workplace and training area, she found Takarn holding up part of a wall while masons worked.

He grinned as he felt her approach. “At last they found a constructive use for me.”

“Now Takarn, you’re a useful guy,” one of the masons said absently as he carefully lowered a block of stone into place. “Any time we need something held, squashed or broken, you’re the first guy I think of.”

Tara smiled as Takarn’s grin widened. “No use outside of war. Ha!”

Tara chuckled at his good spirits.
“And you’re out of your armour even. That does make a change.”

He shrugged, attracting complaints from the three working men. “Hold it still!”

“Sorry. Yes, armour free. For this stuff it gets in the way. And it needed fixing.”

“You shoulda seen the shower of scales when he peeled off the under layer,” one of the other mason said, between chips at a larger block.

“Do I still have to hold this?” Takarn asked, ignoring the comment.

“YES!!!” came the three-fold response.

Takarn rolled his eyes, in opposite directions.

“Just a few more minutes. This last block is the keystone, so it needs to be exactly right.”

Takarn used his forked tongue to make a rude gesture at the man’s back.

Tara giggled. Her friend was generally stoic, but even he had a sense of mischief from time to time. It was rare that it came out, but it did happen.

Takarn rumbled, as close as he came to a sigh, given that sighs and hisses were threat responses in his kind.

“What brings you here today Tara?”

Tara smiled, just a little sadly. “You. I was going to spend the next few days saying goodbye to everyone, but Marcion suggested I spend the most time with the person who meant the most to me.”
She placed her hand on his massive shoulder. “And that’s you, in case you were wondering.”

His crest raised, a sure sign of embarrassment in a species that didn’t blush or sweat. He shook his head to try and get it back down.

“Stop wiggling dammit!” came the protest. “A couple more minutes and you can jump and wiggle to your heart’s content. Show some of that famous paladin stoicism I keep hearing about.”

Takarn muttered something draconic under his breath but subsided, his crest slowly lowering.
He cleared his throat. “That explains the healer showing up at the door asking for the ‘big rainbow knight.’”

Tara frowned. “Is something wrong?”

“No. Just throwing you a surprise party. I understand it’s a human custom.”

He grinned.
“I don’t like surprises. You may act surprised if you choose.”

“Oh,” Tara said, surprised.

“Yes. That,” he said in response.

“Um, when?”

“Tonight. I am to find an excuse to bring you to the tavern. There was talk of a hedgehog.”

Tara cringed. One time Catherine had come to pick her up from the clinic, and it had taken all of 10 minutes for the hedgehog story to come out. Her co-workers had been impressed, and more than one of them had asked if she and Catherine were dating.

Tara was a little worried about what her clinic friends would think of her adventuring companions.

Most of the clinic staff knew that she had another job, and most of them thought that she worked for the university. Though a few of their jobs had come from the university, most of the day-to-day work came through Melchior.

And for the most part, they had no idea that Tara lived a life of adventure when she was away from the clinic.
Now her quiet world, and her loud world were going to come crashing together.

In a tavern.
With alcohol.

Tara smiled. ‘What the hell.’
She was going home.

And that thought made her smile more broadly yet.
Days. Mere days stood between her and Willow, and it made her almost giddy with excitement.

Like a child looking forward to Christmas, she wanted to close her eyes and sleep away the days in between.
She thought she could afford a little embarrassment.
And a few drinks with her moderately scandalous friends.

“You know, that sounds kind of fun.”
Takarn raised one scaled eyebrow in question, a gesture both their species had in common.

Tara shrugged helplessly. “It’s nice to do something different every once in a while.”

The eyebrow stayed raised.
“Even things you don’t normally find comfortable.”

Takarn’s jaw dropped in a draconic grin.
“And even the worst embarrassment fades, eventually.”

He grinned wider as the masons pounded on the stone block with heavy leather-wrapped mallets.
“I was not there. And I heard about the hedgehog song,” he rumbled cheerfully.

Tara sighed. “Catherine likes to watch me squirm.”

“No. I got it from Marcion. He is friends with the barkeep.”

“Goodness, is there anyone he doesn’t know?”

“Healer. Knight of the Flame. Investigator. And he’s been around a long time. As your people view such things. He knows almost everyone interesting.”

“Right, hold still while I pound this last block into place. After that you’re free to go.”

Takarn grunted his acknowledgement, and all three men began pounding the last block with their huge wooden mallets.
It snapped into place with an audible click.

“Honey? You might wanna back up a little,” the mason said.

She backed well off.


“Alrighty. Just let go and backup. If it doesn’t hold, I don’t want you getting squashed.”

Takarn let go and jumped backwards with a snap of his wings.

The wall held.
The men then pounded the wall in strategic places to get the blocks to settle, but it was eventually pronounced ‘Good.’

“Cheers man. You chopped a good couple of days off that job. I owe you a beer or six.”

“Make it the good ginger beer,” Takarn replied. “Then we’ll talk.”

“You’re on.”

Takarn turned to Tara. “Did you have plans for what you wanted to do with your last few days on this world?”

Tara touched him on the shoulder. “I wanted to spend the time with my oldest and dearest friend.”

“That would be me,” he said with a drop-jaw grin.

Tara smiled shyly. “Yes it would.”

He grinned cheerfully, a terrifying sight to anyone not used to it.
“So. What shall we do?” he asked in a friendly fashion.

Tara slumped a little. “I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead.”
Her eyes prickled as she looked at her oldest friend in this world. “Oh Takarn, I’m going to miss you so much.”

He carefully put his massive arm around her shoulder, his flinty scent and fierce body heat oddly comforting.
“And I you. But fear not. One day we shall meet again. If the Flame wills it. If your Goddess wills it. And if they do not, I will wait for you. In a place where no shadows fall.”

“Oh Takarn,” she said softly, tears in her eyes.

“And then I shall at last meet this Willow who means so much to you.”


Tara wept silently, allowing herself to realize at long last, that her dreams came with a price.

And she felt terrible, as she realized that she would miss her truest friend. But missing him paled in comparison to the dagger in her heart that was her separation from Willow.

“Fear not little one. If you are happy, then I am happy. No matter where you are.”

Tara sobbed as the conflicted emotions roiled within her. Joy and love and a heady sense of anticipation, all mixed with a sense of loss and fear of the unknown without her solid protector at her side. She leaned on him, relied upon him terribly, his rock solid comforting presence an anchor in an unsteady world.
A sad smile lit her face for a moment as she remembered Xander, and his steady presence in Willow’s life. Willow’s rock, as Takarn was hers. What would she do without her huge friend?

“You will fly,” he rumbled.
She looked at him in surprise.

“I am not good at reading softskin faces,” he rumbled comfortingly. “I do speak fluent ‘Tara.’”

She laughed then, almost a sob, but it held a laugh concealed within.
He hissed his version of a low chuckle. “I cannot say I will always be there for you. But while I am, my strength is yours.”

“Soon it will be time to fly. Proud and true to your mate. But until then. Let me watch over you. As I once did,” he said. The strength of his emotions robbed him of fluency, and sending him back to the choppy phrasing of his mother tongue.
Tara nodded silently, sadly.

He scooped her up as easily as a man scooping up a kitten.
“First we find peace,” he said, spreading the massive canopy of his pale rainbowed wings.

With an almost gentle leap he took to the skies, heading for a place that gave them both peace.



“I just wish we could thank him y’know, for all he’s done,” Willow said.

Tara shook her head with a sad smile. “You don’t thank for this,” she said in her friend’s rough phrasing. “This is honour.”

She looked faraway. “To him this was simple rightness, the fulfilment of his purpose. He needed no thanks for that.”

She looked back down at her family. “But I thanked the goddess every day for him. He was my… Xander I guess.”
Xander blushed and wiped at his good eye awkwardly.





Some minutes later, Takarn alighted in the sanctuary, surprising one of the watchers no end. The other, the citadel guard Tara knew as Geoff, was less surprised.

He simply bowed his head respectfully, and ushered his shocked friend from the garden.
Takarn put Tara down gently.
“Here we will find peace. Together.”

“You know I’ve spent most of the last week here?” Tara said in mild protest.

Her huge friend shoved her gently toward ‘her’ tree. She had been here so often over the last few weeks that there was a flattened spot on the grass where she traditionally sat.

“That was for a purpose. This is to feel. So sit. And feel.”

She took in the tree with fresh eyes. Many willows had a silvery sheen to their bark, but the bark of this tree shone white. Even now weeks later, the tree was in flower, swathed with a unique shade of orange-red.

Though this sacred place was as familiar to her as her own hand, even now that shade squeezed her heart. Even a glimpse filled her heart with a poignant sense of hope and love and loss.

Obedient to her friend, she sat and closed her eyes. Automatically she folded her legs and rested her back against the smooth, almost polished bark of the white tree.

Long familiarity with meditation allowed her to find a measure of peace, despite the thoughts jostling for position in her head.
Chief amongst them was one thought, one concept that drowned all others: Willow.

She forced herself to calm, long practice coming to her aid in this tumultuous moment.
After some internal struggle, she was able to unpack and examine that one overriding thought.
And was almost immediately lifted out of her meditative state.

She was going home to Willow!

That one thought blotted out all others, and made a mockery of her attempts to find calm.

So rather than fight it, she gave up her attempts to find calm, and let herself feel the excitement.
She revelled in it, let it roar through her, let her heart soar with the joy of seeing her lost love, let it plummet to the depths of fear and despair, that she would not make it through.

She examined her fears in all their heart-breaking intensity.
‘What if she had moved on? What if she had a new lover?

For all that they had reawakened a sleeping connection together, Tara knew very little about Willow’s life.

How terrible would it be, if she came home and found Willow with someone else? What would she do if Willow chose to stay with them, despite her love for Tara? How would she feel if Willow walked away from her new lover into Tara’s arms? Could she do that to them?

A small selfish part of her screamed YES! That she would do whatever it took to sway Willow from her new love.
But the rest of her loved Willow most of all, and wanted her to be happy. Whatever the cost.
That part of her told the selfish part to shush.

She knew Willow loved her, and she knew she loved Willow. That had never changed.
But however much it hurt, she could never destroy Willow’s relationship.

She forced herself to examine that thought. What would she do if Willow, despite her love for Tara, was in a relationship?
The thought filled her with pain. She made herself face the idea, and she realized that, like Angel with Buffy, she could not bear to stay in Willow’s life and not touch her, not be with her.

No. If Willow was in a committed relationship with someone else, Tara would have to leave. After the crying, the tears and the hugs, she would have to go. It would break her heart, but not as badly as being around Willow and not being with her. That would be too much to bear.

Having bravely faced her worst fears, Tara allowed herself to indulge her hopes. She knew it was dangerous, she knew she was setting herself up for a greater fall, but she didn’t care.
What if Willow missed her? What if Willow was single, and waiting for her? With arms open wide? And that shy, cheeky smile?
She shivered in anticipation. Heat flowed from her chest down to low in her belly. Just the joy of holding Willow in her arms, of feeling Willow holding her and breathing in her scent, it made her feel as if she was melting away to nothing but a pair of comfortable boots.

After all the long months, mere days separated them.

And like every child as Christmas approached, the few remaining days suddenly seemed an agonizingly long time.

She smiled inside. Hanumas, Xander had called it. A festival combining all the best parts of Hanukah and Christmas, which in Xander’s opinion was food, movies, candles, presents and more food.

And after Tara started dating Willow, he had graciously altered the festival to be Hanumastice, adding Solstice into the mix, and adding more interesting candles.

Her internal smile broadened. She still remembered the look of horror on the face of Willow’s mother.
She had once come home to find their menorah correctly lit as per tradition, but loaded up with brightly coloured and scented candles. It had taken Xander a while to come around to the idea that scented candles and soaps were not necessarily part of Wicca, or any particular pagan belief. Still, it made for a nice smelling Hanumasitce. And most of Xander’s other presents seemed to be pleasantly scented in some way.

As long as she lived, she was going to associate Xander with scented candles.

She was looking forward to seeing him too.
As much as the soon-to-be reunion with Willow dominated her thoughts, she sometimes took time to remember her family, and this was one of those moments.

Xander. The surge of warmth she felt for him was almost a surprise, but how could she fail to love someone who loved Willow as much as he did? Willow & Xander. Where one went, the other followed.

Once, all they had was each other. Their tiny circle had grown to include another lonely soul, soon to become fast friends. Jesse.
They had both been devastated when they had lost him, and clung to each other ever more closely as their world shrunk.
But their battered hearts had opened to include another desperately lonely soul.

Buffy.
And slowly their family began to grow.

‘Go ahead and take her. You just gotta go through me.’
Tara found it hard to put into words how she felt about the little blonde Slayer, even here in her quiet mental space.
Could she ever express what those words meant to her?

She knew she loved Buffy. Something about the fierce warrior woman stirred something surprisingly maternal in Tara.
Buffy looked after them all so fiercely. No one ever need doubt her devotion, she had given her life twice for those dearest to her. But sometimes she needed a little looking after, a little mothering, and Tara was happy to provide.

Awe. Awe was definitely part of the mix. Her beauty, the fierceness with which she fought, the way she took on the most overwhelming of foes with scarcely a though for her safety. All this put Tara in awe of this powerful woman.

Envy was a tiny part of it too. She was to confidant, so strong, and so petite. Though Tara was no huge beast, she could not help but feel a little clumsy and lumbering next to Buffy.
She smiled inside. The envy was only the tiniest part. She didn’t envy her the duty and vigilance that went with those strengths. The heavy burden that Buffy shouldered, with only minimal complaint. It made Tara determined to lighten her load however she could.

Sometimes they had talked in the night of loss and fears. It had brought them closer together, knowing that there was someone who wouldn’t judge, who would always be there. Even the ever vigilant Slayer had finally realized that here was someone safe, someone who could be trusted with anything, even the most precious things in her life. The hearts of Willow and Dawn.



Buffy blushed furiously at Tara’s naked love, somehow more embarrassing than actual nakedness.

Faith just murmured teasingly ‘Awww,’ and gave her a hug.




Dawn.
Goddess, Dawn. The surge of emotion she felt was almost overwhelming. Fierce protectiveness. Motherly love. Outright fondness and joy at the sheer life in her. And an element of the cool big sister as well.
Her internal smile grew. Den-mother-Tara had only ever made a couple of appearances, but almost always when connected with Dawn.
A small, slightly guilty part of her remembered the shocked looks on various faces when she had put her foot down. The rest of the Scooby gang had just not known how to handle it, and had meekly gone along with her pronouncements.



“Oh yeah,” Xander said. “You learned not to mess with Tara when she was in full-on mom-mode.”

“Mom-mode?” she asked mildly, one eyebrow raised.

Xander cringed. “Um.”

She relented, a smile warming her face as she switched back to story-telling mode.




Willow had been most appreciative and had encouraged take-charge-Tara, as she put it. From time to time in the bedroom as well.
She blushed at the thought of what happened the last time take-charge-Tara had made an appearance in the bedroom.
There had been costumes. And paddled behinds. Oh my.



“Oh my god!” Buffy said. “You did not just say that.”

It was Tara’s turn to blush. She coughed. “Um, ah, sorry. I sometimes forget to edit what I read. Could we maybe pretend that I didn’t say that?”

Predictably, Faith was grinning. The rest just looked shocked or embarrassed.




She reluctantly put that memory away for when she was alone, and returned her thoughts to the daughter of her heart.
iníon de mo chroí as her mother would have said, proud of her ancient heritage.

Once, she believed that she would never have a daughter of her own, and had poured many of her hopes and mothering instincts into an appreciative Dawn.
Again she smiled inwardly. That had changed, oh my. Elves were a creative people, and a quirk of physiology lead to women significantly out numbering the men. They had long ago dealt with the issues that followed from that, and Lenore had been happy to provide a spell created by her people. A spell that promised to change the future that Tara intended to share with Willow utterly.

She couldn’t wait to share that particular secret.

And she couldn’t wait to see Dawn again, and see her face light up when she shared the news.
A pang of heartfelt pain settled into her chest as she realized how much of Dawn’s growing-up she had missed.
How much had she grown? To Buffy’s annoyance, she had surpassed her sister’s diminutive height before she was even a teen, and showed no signs of slowing down. Idly, Tara wondered if Dawn was the tallest female Scooby now.



“Yes!” Dawn crowed, interrupting to pump both fists in the air jubilantly. She did a little dance seated on the couch, celebrating until Jules and Heather poked her in the ribs. She subsided with a yelp.
In a display of unsurpassed maturity, Buffy poked out her tongue. Dawn responded in kind.




How was she now? Who was she becoming?
Had she followed up on her interest in magic? Was Willow teaching her? How was Willow doing these days with her magic? Had Willow changed her hair again?
Mentally she rolled her eyes at her inability to keep her thoughts from Willow. ’So soon now!’

Unable to resist, she let her thoughts roll happily back to Willow. The first thing that had always stuck Tara about Willow, were her eyes. Her face was so open, her happy smile and sparkling eyes drew her in. there was a lot to love about Willow. Her kindness, the depth of her feelings for those she loved, her slim figure and pert bottom. Even the way she moved was treasured.



Dawn let out a tiny squeak at the ‘Pert bottom comment.’

Tara’s blush intensified, and was matched by Willow’s silent mortification.




Tara whimpered in longing. Delicious agony as she imagined folding her Willow in her arms, breathing in her delicious scent, running her fingers through her soft red hair.
Red hair. Red flowers.

Something huge loomed in her subconscious.
Long practiced meditation techniques served her well, lessons learned on her mother’s knee. She could almost hear her voice.

‘Secrets are like kittens Tara. You can’t chase them, they’ll run away. You must coax them, gently.’

So, as hard as it was, she let her mind drift around Willow, letting anything Willow come to mind. Running, snuggles, loving, running her fingers through hair so soft, so red.
A red the same shade as the flowers on the tree, a message from the Goddess.
There it was, she had the shape of it now.

Willow.

A message from THE Goddess. The Mother.
Their connection was only partly a gift of the Silver Flame. The Goddess herself had a hand in this.
But her oldest teachings were clear, The Goddess did not take sides, she did not answer prayers.

But this time she had.

She had helped her make contact with Willow. They had passed messages of love to one another.
Love.

And she realized the truth. That if she was to re-join Willow as a friend, that if friendship, but not love was to be waiting for her, then she would know. The Goddess would not destroy hope like that, she would not bear false witness to love.

She laughed out loud, a sound filled with such hope, such release that it was almost a series of sobs.

Takarn watched his friend carefully. She ran deep, his friend. So much flowed beneath the surface, that it made her seem even more unpredictable that an average human.
Even still, when she began to laugh, he was still caught off guard.

A band of tension broke inside her, a tension she had not even been fully aware of, and she laughed and cried with joy.
She was going home. To love.
Willow’s love.



“You mean you weren’t sure up until then?” Dawn asked.

Tara shook her head, thinking how best to explain it. “We had a link, but we had only passed a few words. Even though I knew Willow loved me, we hadn’t had a chance to talk, or even explain much. It’s easy in that situation to fall prey to your fears. So I had deliberately avoided thinking about it. Until then.”

She looked down fondly, stroking Willow’s soft red hair. “It was then that I knew it was safe to believe.”




The party was in full swing when the pair showed up.

Even though they couldn’t have been there for particularly long, Catherine was already dancing on a table with Lenore.
The audience were clapping in time with the music and egging them on as the two engaged in what could only be described as ‘very dirty dancing.’

“Tara!” Catherine cried as Lenore ground against her. She waved with her free hand, spilling beer onto the protesting crowd.
Sounds of jubilation rippled around the tavern, as the celebrating crowd (and the rest of the tavern) realized that the cause of the celebration was now present.

Varies cheery shouts of “Hooray!” “Tara!” and in one case “Who?” rose above the hubbub.
Takarn gently bulldozed her forwards, using her like an icebreaker to part the crowd.

“C’mon, get up here girl!”
Tara shook her head, instinctively trying to hide behind her hair.

It didn’t work. Takarn scooped her up with one shovel-like hand and deposited her on the table. He grinned as Tara glared at him, and he went to find a drink.
Almost instantly she was mobbed by Catherine and Lenore. They took a hand each, and tried to dance in a ring around the sturdy circular table. Their efforts were hampered by the fact that the two women were dancing completely different steps, and Tara was not dancing at all.

“You know, this would be some women’s idea of heaven,” Tara said as the two women writhed sensuously against her. “But I am nowhere near drunk enough to be comfortable with this!”

Lenore flourished her hands and made a faintly luminous blue drink appear, complete with a small paper umbrella.
Tara’s eyes widened. “Nononono! I remember what happened last time I drank that stuff!” she protested.

She tried to gracefully exit the bump and grind, to no avail.
“C’mon Tara. It’s your party,” Catherine said. “I’m not trying to get you drunk, just to have some fun.”
She grinned. “Then just have one. To loosen up.”



A half hour later…

“But the hedgehog can never be buggered at aaaall!” the tavern chorused.
Tara, Lenore and Catherine leaned out from the table, high above the crowd as they sang the last line of the song.

The crowd cheered and stomped their feet enthusiastically.
Tara stumbled back from the edge and face palmed. “Goddess, I did it again. How do you talk me into these things?”

“It’s a gift!” Catherine called, over the slowly subsiding crowd.

Tara made a goofy face as Lenore kissed Catherine on the cheek.
“You couldn’t have gotten a gift like ‘great dancer?,’” Tara complained. “You had to have the gods grant you the gift of ‘talk Tara into things.’”

Catherine made a rude noise.
“It is a great gift I tell you!” Catherine protested. “And plus, I also have the gift of great dancing.”
She demonstrated by dancing a jig on the table-top. Lenore danced a lightning fast counterpoint, moving so smoothly that it almost seemed that Catherine was standing still.

Elven grace evidently was not just a children’s tale.

Tara hopped lightly off the table, as soon as a space opened on the floor.
And came face to face with Norlene, one of the nurses from the clinic.

She raised an eyebrow. “I never would have believed it, had I not just witnessed that with my own two eyes.”

Tara flushed pinkly.

“Uh-huh. It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch.”

Tara looked everywhere but Norlene’s face.
“And the hedgehog song? I haven’t heard that old thing in years.”

“Err, um, ah,” Tara said helplessly.

Norlene took pity on her embarrassed squirming and patted her comfortingly on the back. “Oh relax Tara, it’s not the end of the world.”

Tara took a deep cleansing breath and let it out. “I know. But it’s hard when your work friends and your… other friends collide. I’m never quite sure how to act.”

Norlene raised a questioning eyebrow. “And how different are you with them?”

Tara looked across at Catherine, dancing some version of an Irish jig with Lenore, and Takarn arm-wrestling the barkeep.
“More confident I guess. And I usually have to restrain their more bloodthirsty impulses. They all have a distinct ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ policy. In order to, um, blunt their more violent impulses, I had to step up and negotiate. It’s pretty scary, but it’s better than the alternative.”

She looked at Norlene a quirked a wry half smile. “Not something I have to do at the clinic, so I can be a bit more myself.”

Norlene shook her head. “No difference. You’re a quiet person, I don’t think that will ever change. But I see how you are with the little ones. It’s a gift. And gods help anyone who threatens them on your watch.”

Tara squirmed again. “Um, yes, w-well…” she trailed off helplessly.



“Den-mother-Tara makes an appearance again,” Dawn said with a giggle.

“All those spanked bottoms,” Buffy said, tut-tutting and shaking her head in mock disappointment.

Still red, Tara sighed. “I’m never going to hear the end of this am I?”

“Don’t be mean guys,” Willow said, waving her finger admonishingly. The effect was predictably less impressive by virtue of her lying down. “It was an honest slip, so don’t hassle my girl about it, or you’ll get to see Angry-Willow.”

“Man, this place is no fun sometimes,” Faith muttered. She was still grinning though.




“Word spread, after you took Chirurgeon Savison to task.”

Tara looked a little like a deer caught in the headlights. “W-well he was being m-mean,” she said hesitantly.

“Hey there sweetie, don’t get upset. We were all quite proud of the way you tore strips off of him.”

Tara blushed. “I w-wouldn’t go that far.”

Unbeknownst to Tara, 3 of the other nurses had joined Norlene. She cleared her throat and spoke out, the other nurses chiming in, “DON’T YOU DARE!”
They collapsed into giggles as Tara covered her face.

“Oh don’t be like that,” Norlene said, giving her a friendly shove.

With a thump, Catherine jumped off the table and landed next to Tara, grinning with alarming cheerfulness.
“My ‘embarrass Tara’ senses were tingling.”
She grinned in a way that left Tara feeling distinctly worried.

“Nonono!” Tara said, waving her hands frantically to dissuade Catherine.

Catherine just grinned wider.
“Aww come on, there’s almost no gossip on you, and almost as little to embarrass you with! Come on, you’re going home in a few days, and I’ll never get the chance again! C’mon Tara, you owe me!”

“What! How do I owe you?” Tara said.

Catherine waved her arms around vaguely. “Because of… stuff. And reasons.”
She turned to the nurses and waved enthusiastically. “Ok, spill. Tara chewed someone out, and not in the way that leaves everybody happy. What happened?”

Please to have a new audience to tell Tara’s limited war stories to. “Well, Chirurgeons are generally something of a high and mighty lot...”

Tara fled.

Sometime later Tara found herself sheltering by the fire, or more accurately, sheltering by Takarn, who practically blocked all the heat from the fire.
Across the tavern common room they could see Catherine laughing her ass off, as she compared funny Tara stories with Norlene.

“Goddess, You wouldn’t think there was that much to tell,” Tara muttered, still blushing.

Takarn nudged her as gently as he could manage. “I remember this young human. I met her on the road to Sharn. Looked as white as chalk when I ran into her.”

If possible Tara’s face turned a little more pink.
“I could tell there was something special about that one.”
He placed his hot scaled hand atop Tara’s. “Even then.”

She leaned gratefully against his bulk, taking comfort in his fierce heat and slight flinty scent.
“I don’t feel particularly special,” Tara said.

Takarn dropped his jaw in a draconic grin. “Few do. Except the mad and the self-absorbed.”
He waved his huge hand casually at the laughing women. “They are honouring you. Though they do not know it. Soon you will be gone. So they fix you in a treasured place in their hearts. And make that place more glorious by exchanging stories of you.”

Tara looked a little blank-faced at her companion’s sudden depth. Again she was reminded there was more to her friend than met the eye.

“Not my wisdom,” he rumbled. “We in the Order are trained to expect loss. And to treasure the loves we find.”
He poked her shoulder gently with a blunt claw. “As you must.”
He grinned and waved to attract Catherine’s attention and pointed at his subdued companion.

Catherine ploughed her way through the crowd to get her.
Takarn stood and roared. “Music! Something we can dance to!”

The bard and his friends put down their scrolls and picked up their fiddles, setting up a lively jig.
And Catherine dragged her into the crowd.

And all she knew for the next few hours was the rhythm.


+++


“Feeling better?” Catherine asked as she draped a sweaty and slightly drunken arm around Tara’s shoulder.

Tara made a face, but didn’t pull away. She was every bit as sweaty, if not more.

“You know for an old monk, that Marcion dude can really dance,” Catherine added.

The pair were leaning against a rail, looking out over the night-time city. A favourite location to stop and think, if the polish on the brass rail was anything to go by.

“Yes. And thank you,” Tara said. “Sometimes it all gets to be a bit much.”
She leaned into her friend’s slightly damp embrace. “This was the most fun I didn’t realize I was missing.”

“How much blue punch did you drink? Because I am way too drunk to figure out what the hell you just said.”

Tara giggled. “I meant that you were right.”

“I was? Cool.” Catherine blinked. “About what?”

“Not needing to think for a while. You were right.”

“Glad I could help. Never been in your sitch, but I figured you looked a bit bummed.”
She laughed and spread her arms expansively. “And hey, I’m the queen of not thinking about stuff, so this was right in my wheelhouse.”

Tara laughed a little. “Thanks. If it wasn’t for you, I would have been mopey girl at my own party.”

“All part of the service. Not much I can do to get you home, so I figure I’m here for moral support.”
She looked a little embarrassed. “Plus hanging around with you practically makes Lenore glow. Which is no bad thing.”

Tara raised an eyebrow in question.

Catherine explained. “That ‘one true love’ thing she mentioned?”

Tara nodded.

“It’s a real thing, but not all elves take it seriously. Lenore does. Just talking about it makes her a little wild.”
She coughed. “If you know what I mean.”

Tara chuckled.

“That and she has her brother writing the story of Tara and Willow.”

“What? I didn’t think she was serious.”

“Jesus Tara. The bits I heard just about made me cry like a little girl. He’s really good.”
She looked away embarrassed. “Made me wonder where my ‘Willow’ was… my soulmate.”

Tara nudged her shoulder affectionately. “And until you find her, you’ve got Lenore.”

Catherine’s face lit up. “Yeah. Wow. Did I ever get lucky there. Best thing I got out of my trip to the mourn-lands. Even better than the sweet jacket I found, or the boots.”

“Or the piles of gold?” Tara teased.

“Not sure I’d go quite that far. Damn we made a fucking mint-worth of gold.”
She eyed Tara. “Made worse by you giving us your share, and Takarn giving us half of his.”

Tara smiled warmly. “I already have payment worth far more than gold.”

Catherine snorted.

“No, really. You guys walked into the mourn-lands to help me. Fought warforged, undead and a vampire queen. And then helped me carry the body of… well… sort of my mom, I guess. Out. Back through all of that. A bag of gold doesn’t even begin to cover what I owe you.”

“Tara, it was a huge bag of gold. Seriously, I had to put it in a bank, because there’s no way it would fit in my purse.”
She eyed Tara again. “And you’re right. There’s no way gold could pay for what we went through. I wouldn’t do it again, for ten times as much gold.”

Silence reigned. Or as close as it was possible to come in the city of light.

She placed her hand on top of Tara’s. “But I’d do it for a friend.”

Tara’s eyes watered. Catherine had such hidden depths, like so many of her friends.
She was loud, coarse and loved to watch her friends squirm.
But she was honest and true, and her tough-girl exterior hid a surprisingly warm heart.

Tara engulfed her in a hug.

“Ack! Get off me! My girlfriend will get all jealous!”

Tara just squeezed tighter and laughed. Catherine was ferociously fit and sleekly muscular, but at least she was not as overpoweringly strong as her other friend.
And she’d have to try a lot harder to escape the hug.

Lenore laughed musically from the side lines. “Your girlfriend is not the jealous type,” she said.
Catherine muttered something about elven hearing, which got another musical laugh, but she returned the hug.

“Ok, now it’s getting weird. Lemme go.”

Tara let her go with a chuckle.
“When you tell your friends about me, make me dead sexy, ok?”

Tara nodded cheerfully. “I will. I’ll tell them you look like Michelle Rodriguez.”

“Who’s she?”

“Um, she looks a lot like you?”

“Sexy?”

Tara nodded.

“Cool.”

The pair stood in companionable silence, watching the people moving to and fro on the levels below. Even at night, the business of the city never stopped and it blazed with light, visible half a kingdom away.
“Promise me something?” Catherine asked softly.

“Of course.”
Catherine grinned evilly. “You have to tell your friends about our adventures, even the embarrassing parts. Hell, especially the embarrassing parts.”

“Oh no,” Tara said, mild dread in every word.

More evil grinning ensued. “Oh yes!”

She poked Tara with a finger, punctuating her words. “You. Promised.”
She waved her arms expressively. “Besides, I’ve seen you taking notes in that journal. There should be enough to fill out a good story by now. My heroic exploits, if nothing else.”

“You’re definitely in there, have no fear.”

Catherine’s huge smile fell. “Damn. Now I really want to be there when you read it out. Kinda bummed now.”

“Well, if I’m telling the embarrassing parts of my story, this night is going to be right up there. You could tell me something for my family if you like?”

“But how will you remember all the cool stuff I say?”

Tara tapped her head. “Memory spells and meditation.”

“Uh, I am awesome?”

“Sure.”

“I am really awesome! And dead sexy!”



Faith burst out laughing. “Man, I love this chick!” she said.



Tara groaned. “Oh goddess, what are they going to say when I tell them about this?”

“That I’m awesome?” came the response.

“How drunk are you?”

Catherine laughed. “Damn, you’ve seen through me. Hardly drunk at all.”

Tara frowned at a completely unrepentant Catherine.

“Ok, ok. Tell them… tell them this: This is my friend. She looks after me when I’m being an idiot. She looks after all of us. You look after her, or so help me bitches, I will cross the divide between worlds and kick your ass!”



Tara was blushing furiously as she read this from her journal. The lounge was silent as the extended family absorbed her words.

Unexpectedly, it was Dawn that broke the silence with laughter, stealing Faith’s thunder somewhat.
Between giggles she managed to get out “Spicy… Talk!” before collapsing into fits of giggles. Her two partners in crime, buried under the huge fluffy blanket with her, just looked at each other in confusion as she laughed herself silly.

It didn’t take the rest of the gang long to join in the laughter, even Giles was unable to stop a restrained chuckle or two.

Willow heroically managed not to laugh, though she was grinning quite a lot.

“Shush you,” Tara said, trying not to smile. Willow mimed zipping her lips.




Tara face-palmed. Thanks to her restored memories, she had a good idea what someone would say when she relayed these words.



“And I was right!”

Laughter was the only coherent response.




“What? I didn’t think it was that bad.”

Tara shook her head. “I’ll explain on the way.”

“C’mon Tara, let it all hang out. It’ll be like the time we dealt with the muggers in the alley, after our other party.”

It did feel good to let go sometimes, to just let herself be herself, to let her energy flow the way it wanted to.
She let her wings unfurl, as white light filled the alleyway.

There were no muggers that night.



+++



The crisp wind ruffled Tara’s hair.
Five days had passed in a blur as she tried to cram in as much time with her friends as possible, much of that time they’d spent at the tavern.

She’d even roped her friends into a visit to the clinic, so that Tara could say goodbye to the little ones.
Her heroic friends had made quite an impact. Catherine had been the bee-knees with the boys and girls, they followed her everywhere. All the girls wanted to be adventurers just like her, and all the boys wanted to kiss her.

Then Takarn had shown up.
Though the mark the flame had left on him made him a little less aggressively colourful, the tips of his wings were still dipped in colour, and he was still polished to a mirror shine. Especially so, given that his armour had just returned from the shop.

He really had no restraint when it came to colour or shine.
And once again he was mobbed by children.
He always complained, but he never actually seemed to mind the enamoured tots.

They had visited every part of the city in a sort of rambling tourist spree. They had visited the highest spires, all crystal, gold and shining with light, day or night. They had plumbed the uttermost depths, the burning heart of the city, a giant lava field that provided the city with its massive industrial power. They had healed the sick and distributed cartloads of food to the poor. Tara’s vast accumulated wealth bought a lot of food.
She had kept only a bag of varied and shiny coins to give to Anya upon her return. She knew that a present that was unique, valuable and also money would be well received.

They had even fought a few gangs that sought to relive the poor of their newfound prosperity, which kept the fighters of the party amused for a while.

They had sampled every food of every foreign land they could find. And then they had staggered off to get various sovereign remedies for upset tummies.

But the last day had been all business. Fasting and meditating, gathering strength for the journey.
Tara funnelled her mind down to one thing, the task ahead. All else was put away, her mind clear of everything except one overriding goal.

Willow.

Her whole soul sang with that name, that joy. That truth.

And now she stood on the deck of an air ship, a good couple of miles above the College of wizardry.
The wind ruffled her hair. It was crisp, but surprisingly warm at this height, all part of the magic of the city.
Below, far below, Melchior was supervising the final implementation of the spell.

The spell itself was relatively simple, and something any competent mage could manage easily enough. They would tear open the void between dimensions, and Tara would pass through. Then the hard part would follow: traveling that immense void back to the world of her home.

She had even sought the help of the druids, the ancient order that had protected the world from other-planar invasion since the early days of creation. She had taken the opportunity to send a letter to Elder Gann, to tell the old druid that she had found her answers, and was on her way home.

The void yawned between all dimensions, and the inhabitants of this world were well acquainted with it. The issue was the sheer distance, for lack of a better term. Spirits and spells had little difficulty with such metaphorical distances, but living beings were another thing altogether. Opening the door was easy, but it was up to Tara to travel the distance from here to the world of her birth.

To that end, she had gathered and borrowed every scrap of mystical energy she could get her hands on. Even Catherine had donated her energies, small though they were. And now she burned with borrowed energy. Literally.
Normally (or normally these days) her excess energy tended to leak as a soft glow, visible in dim light.
But now she was stuffed to the gills with energy, and she burned with light to the degree that she was hard to look upon, even in the bright sunlight on the deck of an airship.

Catherine leaned over the rail, scanning the ground far below for the flash of light that would signify the start of the spell.
Before Tara could even think of anything to say, Catherine stiffened. “It’s starting!”

It was time to go.

Catherine marched over and hugged her fiercely, her eyes squinting against the fierce light, checking the straps on Tara’s gear at the same time. The huge axe was strapped to her chest, the long shaft hanging off the edge of the deck. Her pack was strapped tight to her lower back, giving her wings room to move should she need them to.
“You’re good,” Catherine said, concentrating furiously to avoid any kind of distraction.

She kissed Tara on the cheek and slotted Tara’s helmet on, doing up the straps tightly. “Tell Willow I said hi,” she said roughly.

She stepped back to give Takarn time to step forward.

“May your Goddess stand between you and harm, in all the dark places you must walk,” he growled over the sighing of the wind.

He lifted her up by her armour. “Now in the name of the flame, GO!”
He hurled her from the deck of the ship, to fall through the still air to the portal below.

Speed was a poor substitute for power, but every little bit helped, and thus she was to hit the portal with every bit of speed possible.
She fell like a stone, wings tucked away into non-existence, and soon the wind rose to a roar, blotting out all other thoughts.
Her heart hammered in her chest as she fell, all thoughts gone save one ‘aim for the light’ and the background anticipation/joy of ‘Willow!’

She was fully committed. Holding nothing back, she fell like a bullet for the bright light, unfurling now to a dark void, edged with light.

She had seen this before, at the top of a tower. And now it was her turn to fall in, to fall through.

But she was prepared, and she would not die. She would not allow it.
If the portal failed in some way, she would never know, for she would be dead in an instant.

Strangely the thought comforted her. Better that, than trapped, worlds away from the other half of her soul.

The portal yawned beneath her, growing as she blasted toward it with a speed that should have been terrifying, but now simply represented another small obstacle.

She vanished into the void with the speed of a bullet, and her soul sang a single word.

‘Willow!’


**Fin**



Continued in 'And the Stars Shall Fall.'
I'll add a link when i've actually posted it.


As mentioned before, it's 80% complete, so baring sudden onset of death, it'll get finished :)
And this is the prequal to it.

And it's filled with W/T goodness. Also B/F and commando Dawn. :)

Thanks for sticking with me so far. For anyone who enjoyed it, there's more to come.
Lots more.

probably in a few weeks. :bounce

See you then!

R :flower

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“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 10)
PostPosted: Tue Oct 21, 2014 4:18 pm 
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8. Vixen
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DIBS!!!

Oh, Richard!!! :bow :bow

And you left us there hanging with Tara - hurtling towards hope, love and of course, Willow. :wtkiss

More soon please!!! :flower :flower :flower :flower

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Heather aka vampyregurl73 aka Riverwillows73
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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 10)
PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2014 6:45 am 
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Great ending leading up to the new beginning. Can't wait to see how the return plays out from the point of view of the Scoobies and all the brand new Slayers Willow made.

The party scene was a really satisfying send off. Great to see some of the more run of the mill characters Tara bonded with making a farewell appearance.

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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 10)
PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2014 11:29 am 
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just gotta say I loved this fic and can't wait for the next. Keep up the good work, and thank you for sharing it with us.


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 10) (Complete)
PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2014 8:03 pm 
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Glad you guys liked it!

Yep, more coming soon, but like i said, i can write OR i can post.

And i write all over the place, so i can't just post the bits i've done, because i routinely go back and add new bits as i think of them.

Linear? Nope. Not even. :moo

I wear the Cow of Shame.


R :flower

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“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 10)
PostPosted: Sun Nov 30, 2014 3:57 pm 
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I was just rereading this and I absolutely cracked up at the undead prostitute skills comment. I think that's the first time I've read a fic that talks about anyone else except xander getting any kind of skills from the halloween costumes. Well accept for Citanul's time and time again fic.

I hope the writing's going well on the next fic. I can't wait.


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home (Ch 10)
PostPosted: Sun Nov 30, 2014 4:46 pm 
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Yeah, i liked it too.

I saw something very like it on another fic, can't remember if it was B/F or W/T, so i figured i had to include it.

I think i'll post the first part this weekend, if not sooner.

I will probably do it as another thread, and mark this one 'complete.'
There is waaaay more of part 2.
Part 1 really is the prequal.

See you soon!

R :flower

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“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home - Part 2 (Ch 1)
PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 1:22 am 
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Book 2
And the stars shall fall


I was going to do this as a separate thread, but this is a ‘pre-approved’ thread, so stuff it 
This is the ‘Buffy-side’ of the story, and takes place before Tara gets back to Willow.
We’ll have a couple of chapters with no Tara, and then a very happy reunion.
This ep prettymuch features Willow and Faith, getting along reasonably well.

Enjoy!


Willow

Willow was meditating under ‘her’ tree in the grove, a place special to everyone at Slayer central.
It was a special place that Willow had found, and she had planted a small tree in the centre.
A Willow tree, in honour of Tara. She hoped Tara would approve.

It was a hallowed place, where everyone could come to remember those they had lost.
Buffy and Dawn came every week to remember their mother, sitting and talking in gentle voices about the experiences they had shared with Joyce. Her cooking, her endless caring. Even the arguments were remembered with fond smiles.

Xander came every once in a while to remember Anya. He missed her honesty. She could be annoying, or even stunningly embarrassing, but no one ever wondered where they stood with her. Even the other Scoobies mentioned how much they missed her from time to time.

And when things were especially bad for him, he would look around nervously and talk to the tree, pouring his heart out as though to a patient friend. He always felt better when he did that, as though he had been heard. He could talk to Willow about anything.

Any subject save one.

There was one person he missed, almost as much as he missed Anya, and this loss he could not share with his best friend. To talk about her with Willow, was to pile fresh agony upon wounds, that had only the barest veneer of healing. Even after almost two years.

Even Giles came to the grove from time to time, careful to ensure that no one saw him enter. He would stand by the small tree, his head bowed. Too many lost faces crowded his mind’s eye, and he came here to let them out. Sometimes a silent tear would roll down his cheek, sometimes a few whispered words. And afterwards, he would shoulder his burden anew, with perhaps a lighter step.

But Willow came to the grove almost daily. Always a regular visitor, she had frequented the grove more regularly since the day nearly a month ago, when her heart had been healed. Others would say ‘Miraculous’ at such an event, Xander would smile and simply say ‘Willow’.
But Willow herself knew better. She knew a different word, a word that combined ‘Miraculous’ and ‘Willow’ together.
Tara.

Since that tenuous sense of hope, Willow had made a point of visiting regularly.
She’d wondered if perhaps this was unhealthy.
ventually she’d decided that she didn’t care. Any contact with Tara, no matter how ephemeral, was of the good.
Almost two months after that momentous day, Willow was once again cross-legged under the small tree, in her favourite place in the world.
The Grove.
A faint smile coloured her serene expression as she meditated. The wind ruffled her hair, feeling like the delicate touch of ghostly fingers.

Time passed.

Willow felt something tickling at the edge of consciousness, a sensation so delicate it was more imagined than sensed. It felt strange, almost familiar, both alarming and comforting, like a childhood memory suddenly brought to light. Still in her meditative state, she listened for that idea. It was too subtle to focus on, like the subtlest of lights in a dark room. To look upon it directly was to lose it. So she listened to the world, hoping for another contact. Until after a timeless span... There!
She reached out for that tiny feeling that seemed at once a whisper and deafeningly loud, the sound of a desperate struggle at the far end of a vast tunnel. She reached mentally, straining to catch the tiniest whisper. She felt even this tiny contact begin to fade when she heard a voice, a voice she had never dared hope she would ever hear again.

‘Willow!’

A hollow space inside her filled, filled to bursting with the most powerful and dangerous emotion: Hope.
She reached into that nowhere place with all her strength, with the strength of the earth, with the strength that had stood her against a Hell-God, with the hope flooding her heart and with the one strength that had never failed her.

Love.

She reached into the nowhere place and felt a connection, like a hand taking her own. A hand more familiar than her own and more loved than any in all the world.

‘Tara?’

‘Willow!’


She shuddered in ecstasy as the bond, once thought lost, was re-forged. She felt the dark places in her heart tear open, felt long-held darkness, loss, and despair banished. Across impossible vast dimensions, love awoke a bond that not even death had managed to fully break.

‘Tara! Where are you baby?’

Willow felt love flood down the bond, just as it had an eternity ago, in another life.
Like a desert drenched in life-giving rain, Willow’s desolate soul bloomed. Tara’s love washed over her like warm rain.
Her skin felt alive for the first time in years, the hollow space inside, filled at long last.
Her own desperate need flooded out of her to Tara.

‘I got so lost,’ called Willow, in a voice almost child-like in its sorrow.

‘I found you. I will always find you,’ Tara said, her voice distant but reassuring, echoing Willow’s own words from another life.
Then Willow heard the words made her explode in a supernova of hope and love, impossible words, words that could not possibly be.

‘Don’t give up baby! I’m coming home!’

Willow could feel the grasp of her beloved begin to fade even further. Willow did not want to lose Tara again, but she wanted, needed for her to know the most important, truest thing in all the world.
That her Tara was loved, wholly and completely.

Sensing that her time was short, she said three words, the three most important words in the world.
And she heard those words echoed back as everything went dark.

‘I love you.’


+++



When Willow awoke it was evening. A crispness was in the air and the sun was well on its way to setting.
She was exhausted, drained, utterly spent. And she smiled a goofy, sappy smile that would have attracted any amount of amusement from the other Scoobies, had they been present.
Tara’s voice had faded, but it had left something behind, a link, a trace of their love, much as the pair had shared in the past.

Willow could feel Tara. She lived.
And she was coming home.

Coming home.
To Willow.

She smiled.


+++


For the next few months, Willow was a changed woman.
A sense of happiness filled her with a giddy joy. So much so that she frequently had to stifle the giggles when around the rest of the Scooby gang.
Between this and the numerous blissful staring-into-space episodes, they were starting to wonder what was going on.

As much as she loved Xander, Buffy, and even stuffy Giles, she didn’t feel she could deal with the inevitable worried looks and concern for her sanity. Something she knew she would get, if she told them what was going on.
They might live in a world populated with vampires, demons and general craziness, but even in that world, this would seem entirely too much like denial. And they would think she was going insane. Again.

Strangely enough, one of the few people she could talk to was Faith.
Though they had long shared an intense dislike of one another, the reasons for that anger and distrust had long-since passed. And while Faith was not as close to her as Buffy, her experiences meant that she did not judge what she heard in the same way that Buffy did. And so two profoundly hurt people found comfort in each other’s company.

She could feel Tara. It was a distant connection, but it was a connection none the less. That connection changed everything. Tara was not gone, she was ‘away.’
And that meant that she would be back.

Earlier that week, Xander had asked her if she was doing a bunch of drugs. Willow had suffered such a terrible attack of the giggles that she had lost the power of speech for several minutes. The scene of Xander, Buffy and Giles staring at Willow while she sat on the floor, helpless with the giggles was so hilarious, that Faith fell off the back of the couch laughing.

“Y’know Will, this is not helping with the whole ‘bunch-o-drugs’ thing,” Xander said.

Faith’s howls of laughter echoed up from behind the couch while Willow sat giggling, red faced and gulping for air. Unsurprisingly Faith’s howls attracted attention from the junior Slayers and watcher trainees. It was a chain reaction of hilarity.
In a short span of time all the Scoobies and a number of junior Slayers were in disarray, either hanging onto various bits of furniture or helpless on the floor as they howled with laugher.
Eventually the giggles drove Giles from the room muttering something about “Demonic possession” under his breath.

The episode was tension clearing, in a way that the whole gang desperately needed. Even Giles carried a shy smile.

“Nope... no drugs... or... wacky spells...even... I promise,” she said, over gasps of air and the pain of overworked stomach muscles.


+++


Faith and Willow walked together through the long grass to the grove, a path leading back to Slayer central clearly visible.
Faith looked back the way they had come. “Huh, looks like a lotta folks have stuff on their minds,” she said, pointing to the track.

“Umm... I think that’s mostly me” said Willow, looking slightly sheepish.

Faith gave her a measuring look. “Chill Red, I’m not gonna get on your case, just ‘cos you feel like you gotta get away from everyone, Ok?”

The simple honesty touched Willow and she reached out to Faith, squeezing her shoulder.
“I am such a dummy for not realizing that we could talk sooner.” Willow said, leading the way into the grove.

“Yeah, well there was that whole ‘evil bitch out to destroy the world’ thing. That’ll make it kinda difficult” Faith said with an air of studied casualness.

Willow looked upset. “I may have overestimated the ‘Me talking to you’ factor,” she said.

“Red? I meant me,” Faith replied.

“Oh, umm... Sorry... Wait, when did you try and destroy the world?” Asked Willow, curious despite herself.

“You know, the Mayor? He was gonna ascend to demon hood and I was gonna help him burn down the world?” Faith explained.
She sighed. “Y’know, when all that started I felt so damn smart. I figured I’d be a super spy and infiltrate the bad guys.”

“You didn’t go over to him?” Willow asked. “Because we just figured, y’know: Evil.”

“Well, yeah,” Faith said tiredly.

It was pretty clear to Willow that she’d spent a lot of time thinking about this. Maybe too much time.

Faith continued. “But not at first. I figured I could get the inside scoop, maybe show Buffy I wasn’t a complete fuckup. Maybe make up for some of the shit I’d done.”

“What happened?”

“This is gonna sound really dumb,” Faith said with an exhausted sigh.
“But he was nice to me. Gave me stuff, took me on picnics, showed me he cared. Didn’t take much of that before I was on his side for real.”

“Wow.”

“I know, right? Dumb kid from Boston figured she could outwit a 300-year-old, immortal, politician.”

“Um, when you say it like that, it makes us look kind of stupid.”

Faith shrugged. “He took one look at me and figured out which buttons to push. But I let him Red. Still my fault.”

“Isn’t that what politicians do?” Willow asked lightly.



They had entered the grove by this stage, and walked slowly over to the young tree to sit.
It would be some years before they could really say they sat under it, but it was growing fast and strong.

“We should start a support group or something, kinda ‘Apocalypser’s Anonymous,’” Willow joked.

“My name is Faith, and I tried to blow up the world?”

“Hi Faith” droned Willow, with a small wave.

“My name is Willow, and I tried to end the world” she said, with the false cheer of someone a touch over-medicated.

“Hi Willow” Faith replied, the humour gone from her face.


Birds chirping in the forest and the sound of rustling leaves was all that was heard for a time.
The softest of breezes washed over the pair as they sat in silence, lost in the darkness of their respective pasts.


Eventually Willow treated Faith to a measuring look.
“Faith, I’ll make you a deal. Here in this place, this grove which is sacred to me and all the Scoobies…” she paused to gather herself.
“I won’t ever to lie you, ok?” Willow said.

“Don’t you witchy-types do ceremonies an’ sh-crap for this sort of thing?” Faith asked, a ghost of her usual smirk visible on her face.

Willow thought for a moment. As much as she was never quite sure of where she stood with Faith, she needed someone to talk to. Someone who wouldn’t just call her crazy. Whatever Faith was, one of the things she wasn’t, was down on the quirks and kinks of others.
Willow nodded. This was right.

“Do we gotta get naked and dance around?” asked Faith, her grin back in full force.

Willow rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“In this place Faith Lehane, I will not lie to you, nor keep secrets from you, nor shall I share our secrets with any now living, without your consent. In the name of the Goddess and the fallen, I do so swear” she intoned, her attempt at solemnity spoiled by her general lack of gravitas.

Faith’s expression changed when Willow said ‘Lehane’, clearly she was surprised that Willow knew her last name.

“Huh... so I gotta do that” she asked.

“Nope, but you should, otherwise it just won’t be fair, and that would definitely be of the badness.” She chirped.

“Ok” said Faith, getting into the spirit of things. “In this place Willow Danielle Rosenberg, I will not lie to you, nor keep secrets, nor shall I share our secrets with any now living, without your consent. In the name of the Goddess and the fallen, I do so swear.”

Willow looked surprised, her mouth open comically.

“What? Surprised I knew your middle name? Or that I remembered what you said?” Faith asked with a smirk.

“I didn’t think you knew my middle name, I thought only Xander knew,” Willow said, puzzled.

Faith explained. “It’s all that official paperwork for this place, your full name went on a bunch of forms and I got nosey. Which I’m guessing is how you know my last name.”

“Umm... Yup, guilty as charged” Willow replied.

“Ok.”

“Ok.”


They both sat in silence. Eventually it became unbearable.



“You know, you left a loophole in that oath thing, yeah? Vamps don’t count as living. Did you really wanna talk to Angel about this stuff?” Faith asked.


“Umm... Nope, though I did put it in on purpose” Willow replied, fidgeting nervously.

“So Red, You wanted to talk? I mean we had a ceremony and everything,” Faith said, leaning back on her hands.

“Umm... So, you might have noticed that I have been acting a little different lately,” Willow began.

“You mean acting like you’re stoned, in love, or both?” Faith responded.

Willow stared at Faith, her mouth open.

“What? I got eyes y’know! I figured if you got yourself a new hottie, or some prime pot, it was probably what you needed. God knows you coulda used some.” Faith groused.

“Nope, no new hottie, no drugs. And hey missy! What do you mean, ‘coulda used some?’” Willow grumbled.

“Look Red, I’m not tryin’ to judge here. But up until just recently, you’ve been kinda going through the motions, like you are done with living. Y’know, like those old farts in Florida?” said Faith.

Willow nodded, agreeing with Faith. “Ken... she tried, but as much as she wanted me, and as much as I liked having her around, I couldn’t love her. It was pretty selfish of me, and not fair to her,” Willow said sadly.

“Girl, she wanted you bad. Still does come to think,” Faith commented.

They sat in silence for a moment.

“She wasn’t Tara.” Willow finally responded.

“Yeah, I hear you Red. When you meet the right one, someone who really gets under your skin, there’s no-one else.” Faith said, a faraway look in her eyes.

“Umm... You’re not going to tell me to get over it are you?” Willow asked.

“Nah, I figure you got the others telling you that. I figure it probably wasn’t your typical relationship. Lotsa people die Red. Most of them leave someone behind. They don’t try to end the world. That says pain. The kinda pain you don’t recover from.” Faith offered with a shrug.

“Ho-kay, time out,” said Willow, making a ‘T’ sign. “When did you get so wise?”

Faith shrugged. “Pain, Red. Pain and suffering. That’s how we all learn, some of us just need more to get the point,” she said. She nibbled on a bit of grass absently.

Willow let out a huge huff of air, gathering herself. “I talk to Tara” she said in a small voice.
Faith just nodded, taking it in stride.

“And she talks back.”

That got a look.
“Y’know, that’s a little different,” Faith said carefully. “What does your girl say Red?”

“Don’t give up baby, I’m coming home,” quoted Willow, absolute joy radiating almost visibly from her.
“My baby is coming home. Faith, this is what I wanted to share with you, why we’re out here today.”
She looked a little sad. “I wish I could share this with Buffy and Xander, but they would think I had lost my sanity. Again. They’re too close, Tara’s d...” she broke off, unable to say the words even now.

She began again. “When Tara was taken from us, Buffy and Xander blamed themselves. I think they wouldn’t allow themselves to even think about her. It was too painful for them.”
They duo sat in silence for a few minutes, contemplating the gentle breeze and the rustling of the leaves.

“So this thing with your girl coming back... that like the thing with Buffy? ‘cos I’m not sure that worked out so good.” Faith said.

“You mean the whole ‘Boinking Spike’ thing?” asked Willow.

Faith’s face twisted into an expression of disgust. “Yeah. That, and how she was acting when the First was trying to sink Sunnydale. Seriously, what’s with her and doing the nasty with dead guys?”

Willow’s expression wasn’t much better, though it changed when she held her hands up in protest. “Whoa, hold up there missy! I’m pretty confident that Spike does not compare to Angel. Angel really loved Buffy and he was her first, y’know? Spike was Buffy trying to feel... anything, even something bad, I guess.”

Willow paused thoughtfully for a moment, Faith content to let her think.
“I think Buffy has been searching for something her whole life, something she can’t explain. Something she couldn’t get from Angel, Parker, Riley or Spike...” Willow trailed off.

“Sometimes I get the feeling from B that… that she’s just going through the motions, that she’s not really feeling, that she’s acting like she’s feeling out of habit,” said Faith, struggling to put what she was thinking into words.
Her voice changed noticeably, becoming husky and lost. “I think... I think Buffy is dying inside, and I... I just don’t know how to save her.”

Willow looked at Faith and was stunned to see her eyes glittering with unshed tears.
“Red?” Faith said in a small quiet voice, totally lacking her usual bravado. “Willow? I... I think… I’m in love with Buffy.”

Willow gaped at Faith’s titanic conversational bomb-drop.
It totally obliterated her capacity for rational thought.
Her mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water, which was appropriate because that’s how she felt.
The analytical part of her brain rolled on regardless, and tapped the rest of her brain on the shoulder, mutely holding up an explanation.
“That... that actually... makes sense. Sorta,” said Willow haltingly.

“Huh?! Red, are you messing with me?” Faith groused.

“Nope, no messing going on here, scouts honour,” Willow said as she held up three fingers. “Not that I was ever really a scout, because you know, outdoors, me with the booky-bookishness and so-on, but you get what I mean, I hope.”

“Uh, yeah,” grunted Faith. “Red? What did you mean about it making sense?”

“Please don’t kill me for saying this, but you two are kinda alike in a lotta ways, fashion sense not included,” Willow chirped cheerfully, before turning serious.

“Stop me if any of this sounds familiar: Buffy had a few relationships, but something was missing from all of them, so she moved on. She needed a relationship with a little bit of darkness and a lot of intensity. She wants someone who can understand the Slayer part of her life, who knows about the darkness in the world and won’t need rescuing every Tuesday. She wants someone who can keep up with her, someone who won’t be intimidated by her Slayer strengths. And she needs someone who understands about pain, loss and redemption. Any of this sound familiar?” Willow looked up to see Faith staring off into space, the tears she had been holding back finally rolling down her cheek.

She reached out and squeezed the dark haired Slayer’s shoulder. “I think she’s been waiting for you her whole life, she just didn’t know it,” Willow took a deep breath and plunged on. “Which is why she took the whole thing with the mayor so hard.”
Willow tucked her hands into her lap and said in a small voice “Faith? It really messed her up. I think that her relationship with Riley might have been a reaction to how close she got to you, and that didn’t end well.”

Faith still had not uttered a word.

“Buffy is not good at dealing with things Faith, she bottles up the serious stuff. She made such a big deal about being a proud resident of boy’s town that I think, maybe, she got scared at how close you two got.”

Faith’s expression had crumpled as Willow talked, her teeth clenched as she visibly tried to resist breaking down, despite the tears already flowing down her face.

Willow looked at this woman, the dark Slayer that once held the world hostage, and had once had a knife to her own throat.
And all she saw was a girl. A girl wounded by the world, by her own actions, and by the loss that those actions brought.

Seeing Faith’s pain brought tears to her own eyes and, almost unbidden, Willow found herself reaching out and enfolding the larger woman in a hug. Faith’s body was iron-hard as Willow wrapped her arms around her rigid form.
Faith let out a small sound, a low animal keening, before she dissolved into heavy, wracking sobs.

Faith’s rigid form collapsed and she hunched herself into a tight ball in Willow’s lap. A small, battered child hiding from the world. Her sobs were ragged and uneven, torn from her very soul as Willow simply held her.
She held tight, as Faith’s form was battered by a grief she had barely allowed herself to feel. Willow’s own tears flowed freely, partly in response to Faith’s grief, and partly her own.
Willow held on to Faith, until the storm of grief had spent its fury. Minutes later, Faith unwound herself from Willow and eventually sat up, exhausted and sniffling from all the tears she had shed.

The wind rustled in the leaves gently, bringing a sense of freshness to the grove.

“Death cost us both someone we loved,” Willow said sadly.
She gathered herself and spoke fiercely. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t get them back!”

Faith sniffled and nodded, wiping her eyes and slowly gathering her wits.
After a few minutes had passed she spoke roughly. “So what’s this about your girl coming home?”

Willow gave Faith the space to deal with her feelings, and accepted the clumsy diversion.
“She spoke to me Faith,” said Willow, her face lit with a dreamy expression. “She told me not to give up, that she loves me, and most importantly: she is coming home to me.”

Faith was relieved to be talking about a topic less traumatic to her equilibrium. “Red, I don’t know jack about witchy stuff, or you and Tara,” she said, wiping her face on her sleeve.
“But... You sure this is not something cooked up by a bad guy to mess with you? I mean, take you out of the picture, and the only mojo we got is G-man, and your little baby witches. An’ they ain’t in your league, girl.”

Willow smiled for a moment before answering. “Certain. Magic could fake a voice, if they knew what to fake. Or an image, pish! Easy-peasy. But Tara and I were close, Faith. Closer than anyone realizes.”

“C’mon Red, you two were ‘Gay-type lesbian lovers’, how much closer than that can you get?” Faith said, making air quotes.

“We were... we are, witches in love.” Willow corrected herself.
“Our magic combined, our souls touched. I could find her anywhere. She knew when I was hurting, I knew the touch of her soul and she knew mine. Even after everything that happened, even after what I did, that did not change. And you cannot fake the touch of a soul Faith. You can’t fake love that deep.”
She touched her chest. “I can still feel her, here, inside. My baby is a long way away, but she’s not gone.”

Her face changed, becoming stern and letterbox like. “She’s. Not. Gone.” She stated, laying down the law to the universe.
“And every day she gets a little stronger, a little closer.”

“I don’t know how she’s doing it, but my baby is going to overturn the heavens for me.”

Faith looked up from the grass she had been fiddling with.
She locked eyes with Willow and saw the absolute commitment burning in her gaze.

“Faith, you have to understand, I would lay siege to hell for Tara, I would tear down the sky for her. I thought I lost her, and I tried to burn the world, to free myself from the pain. I couldn’t forgive the world for continuing on, without her in it. And she loves me every bit as much as I love her.”

“And if Buffy can forgive me for trying to kill every living thing on the face of the earth, she can forgive you for the ‘Mayor Incident’,” she said with a cheery smile and air quotes.

Faith looked glum, staring at the grass again.

“Faith, look at me” Willow said seriously, waiting until Faith’s eyes met her own. “I forgive you. I understand what pain can make you do, I understand, and I forgive you. Are you hearing me missy? I hated you more than anyone, and I forgive you. Ok?”
Faith nodded numbly and sniffled.
Silence reigned in the grove for a few more minutes.

“I guess this means we’re best buds now huh?” said Faith in a half-joking tone.
Willow looked at her for a measuring moment and extended her hand. “Hi, I’m Willow. Wanna be friends?” she said, very child-like.

Faith took her hand with a wry grin “Sure Willow, I’ll be buds with you.”

“Yay! New friends!” chirped Willow, keeping her child-like tone and waving her hands in the air.

“Whoa, emotional rollercoaster,” Faith said, looking a little woozy.

“Yup, better get used to it missy. Buffy is worse.”

“Yeah, I had noticed. B’s kinda all over the place huh?”

“It’s all part of the Buffy experience.”

“Cool.”

“Actually, about the only things she consistently holds onto are presents, cheese, and bickering with you. Hmm, maybe that should have been a clue right there,” Willow pondered.

“Cheese? For real? I mean, presents, sure everyone likes new stuff, and yeah I can see how she still be kinda focussed on, Y’know, that,” Faith offered. “But cheese?!” she said, disbelieving.

“Ah-huh.” Willow said, her head bobbing. “Buffy really likes cheese. Really. She has dreams about it. She even told me that when she was having deep and meaningful Slayer prophetic dreams, like, communing with the First Slayer and stuff, cheese was involved. I even got cheese in my dreams when we were linked by a spell backlash.”

“Damn Red, that’s a lot of cheese... stuff. I’d be tempted to say ‘that’s weird’ or something, but for our lives, cheese is pretty tame.”

“Ah-huh. Now the last person I told about this was Riley, and he never went anywhere with it. Silly man. So learn from his mistake, use the cheese.

Willow grinned at a smirking Faith.
“And to be fair, I’ll give you the same warning I gave him: if you hurt Buffy, I will beat you to death. With a shovel.

Faith raised an eyebrow. “Pretty specific there, Red.”

“Yup. Vague disclaimers are nobody’s friend, missy,” she said bobbing her head in a cheery nodding spree.

A moment passed in contemplative silence.

“Right, so this is like... more words than I have ever said in one sitting, I feel like I’ve used up my yearly quota or something. How ‘bout we quit jawing and do... something? What can I do to help you with your girl?”

Willow looked at the honest expression on the dark Slayers face. ‘on Faith’s face’, she corrected herself.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I have no idea how she’s gonna get back or what she’s doing to pull it off, but having you in my corner is a big help. You might be able to help me with a few rituals, or haul some gear around all sneaky-like. I don’t even know what I’m gonna do. I figure if I charge this clearing with energy and good vibes it might help on the big day.”

“Ok, I’m there,” said Faith, commitment visible on her features.

“I’ll let you know when I need a hand with stuff, I promise... now about you and Buffy,” teased Willow.

Faith groaned, and tried to head off the interrogation. “You know, everything seems a lot simpler now that I’ve said it out loud,” she shrugged. “Guess this is what alla’ them prison shrinks meant by ‘verbalising’ stuff. Maybe I shoulda listened.”

Faith rolled smoothly to her feet and dashed out of the grove into the field. Willow blinked, owl-eyed, as Faith made a show of scanning the horizon carefully and then dashed back.
“I love Buffy Summers!” she said loudly. “I am in love with a girl. And. Her. Name. Is. Buffy!” she shouted, jumping up and down, pounding the ground with both feet to punctuate her declaration.
Having burned off a bit of nervous energy she looked back towards the buildings that were their home and said in a gentle voice. “I love you Buffy.”

Willow was still owl-eyed at Faith’s display, sitting cross-legged, like a surprised (slender, female) Buddha.

“What?” asked Faith at Willow’s expression.

“So I’m gonna go with ‘huh?’ or maybe ‘what the fuzzy heck?’” a still-sitting Willow asked, as Faith dropped to the grass.

“You know how it is Red, I just didn’t want to have one of those moments like in the movies. Where someone says something dumb about someone else, just as they wander up behind ‘em? ‘cos if I hadn’t looked, you know Buffy would have wandered in just as I opened my big yap,” she groused.

“Tara told me ‘telling someone you love them is never a bad thing’ but um... the timing would not have been of the good. wow, imagine the awkward looks and explanations and, how do you explain your way out of that one, anyhow?” Willow babbled.

“I’m startin’ to see why your girl likes you so much Red, I bet you can hold your breath a really long time,” Faith said grinning wickedly.

Willow blushed furiously and said “Thanks Faith, I can always rely on you to lower the tone of a conversation. And thanks too... for talking about Tara in the present tense.”

“No problem. Now get to work, unleash all that book learning and smarts on helping me figure out how to get Buffy on side, and not have her freak.

“Well setting you up on a date is not going to work. Plus: creepy,” Willow pondered. “With all that’s going on, sending her anonymous flowers or chocolate will freak her out.”

Faith slumped slightly, looking somewhat defeated. “Damn, that was plan A and plan B.” She groused.

“Sorry missy, you’re gonna have to do it the hard way: be her friend, get to know her, let her learn to love you, or not, all on her own.”
Willow made eye contact with her newfound friend. “Faith? I believe in you, but Buffy is my best friend. I’m all about helping her find love, but she is going to make that choice for herself or not at all.” Willow said, her resolve face firmly in place.
“You see this?” she said pointing to her face, her mouth a flat line like a letterbox. “This is my resolve face, this means that I mean business, I mean... um. Anyway, no to any setup and stalker stuff.”
“Seriously you don’t need that, you’ve got everything in common, just talk to her about stuff, and listen, and be there for her, and let her be there for you, when she can be.”

Faith listened silently as Willow spoke.

“When Tara and I first met, we were friends for ages before anything else happened. She listened to me, all the time, she was there for me always. She gave and gave, until I had a chance to come round.”
Willow stopped to gain Faith’s attention. “Faith, you have to realize, I thought I was a proud resident of boys town. It took a long time for me to realize that I could love Tara the way she loved me.”

“But if I lived in boys town, Buffy is the mayor or even maybe president. It’s going to take her a lot longer to come round, if she ever can. Faith, I don’t want to be negative girl, especially on the subject of Sapphic romance, or my best friend falling in love. But you have to accept that Buffy might actually be straight, no matter what you may hope. She may never feel that way about you, no matter how close you become as friends.”

Faith nodded, still silent.

“But if you can accept that, and still want to be her friend, then I’ll help you, ‘cos everyone can use another friend. And hey, who knows, there could be Buffy snuggles in your future.” Willow said, wriggling on the spot as she said ‘snuggles’.

Faith smiled sadly. “Ok Red, good plan. I guess whatever happens I need to be a better friend to B. There aren’t many people who can understand how she feels about this Slayer stuff.”
Faith stared off into space, as if remembering a wonderful memory. “I swear Red, when I met her, she was like a force of nature.” She slumped sadly. “Now look at her. Walking around lifeless, no special ‘Buffy’ light to her at all.”
Faith sighed and continued. “It would break my heart if B couldn’t ever feel the same way, but I... I want her to be... alive, I want to make her happy, I want for her to be happy, like she was when I met her,” said Faith with determination.

“That’s what I wanted to hear,” said a near-luminous Willow.
“So let’s finish off today with a blessing, ‘cos I’m feeling pretty talked out, and I need delicious treats to fill my growly tummy,” Willow said.

“This where we get the blessing of the luuurve goddess?” quipped Faith.

“No, because that would be creepy. Instead we are going to ask for a simple blessing from Bridgid, goddess of wisdom, justice, strength and war. Pretty much the Slayer’s patron goddess. We are going to ask for her wisdom, to choose the right path, to help you do the right thing, for Buffy see you in the best light and to help her forgive you. No persuasion, just you being the best Faith you can be, and hoping that Buffy sees that.”

Willow closed her eyes and chanted:
“Brighid
Daughter of Dagda
Fiery Arrow
Smith, Healer, Protector
You are a woman of peace.
You bring harmony where there is conflict.
You bring light to the darkness.
You bring hope to the downcast.
May the mantle of your peace cover those who are troubled and anxious, and may peace be firmly rooted in our hearts and in our world.
Inspire us to act justly and to reverence all the Goddess has made.
Brighid you are a voice for the wounded and the weary.
Strengthen what is weak within us.
Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.
May we grow each day into greater wholeness in mind, body and spirit.
In the name of the Goddess, may it truly be.”


“Cool” said Faith.
“Uh, thanks for the blessing and stuff, it was kinda nice. If you gotta talk to your girl about all this stuff, well I guess you can. It was wicked good to get alla that stuff out about B and your girl...”

“But?” said Willow.

“How am I gonna face B?” Faith agonized. “What if she takes one look at me and figures it out? What if that totally blows it right there?”

“You should be safe, Buffy once listed her ‘remarkable self-involvement’ as one of her Slayer powers, along with ‘alarming strength’. She was joking, but Buffy can be pretty dense about that stuff a lot of the time.” Willow explained.
“Come on, growly tummies wait for no woman.”

And with that the pair got up and walked back to Slayer central for dinner.

_________________
“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home part 2 - And The Stars Shall Fall (Ch 1)
PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 1:24 pm 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Dec 01, 2013 1:35 am
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awesome!
I'm so glad you've started posting this!

It was really cool to see Faith and Willow settling their differences and bonding.

I can't Wait for the next chapter.


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home part 2 - And The Stars Shall Fall (Ch 1)
PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 6:35 pm 
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8. Vixen
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:banana :eatme :banana :eatme :banana :eatme :bounce :bounce :bounce :bounce

So happy to see this final being posted and I can't wait for more!

Willow and Faith in the grove is so touching and sweet and sad, well done!

:flower

H.

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Heather aka vampyregurl73 aka Riverwillows73
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 Post subject: Re: Coming home part 2 - And The Stars Shall Fall (Ch 1)
PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 7:46 pm 
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9. Gay Now
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Heya, and welcome back!

Glad you liked it :)

i should probably put up a disclaimer or something, but i intend for there to be some very sad, tear-jerker moments.
I cried for some of this, and i wrote it.

Also a few righteous anger moments.


But they're a ways off yet.

Anyway, i promise, no broken relationships, no long-term character death, and only short term angst.
And only a tiny bit of that :)

Also some *cough* smut *cough*.

Anyway, there's plenty of it to enjoy, just be aware, as i go back and edit new stuff in, i'll need to go slowly, even though there's a big backlog of words.

Every now and then i get a hit of "That's a much better explanation!" and go back and edit some foreshadowing into it.

Aslo i like some of the secondary characters a lot, so we'll focus on them some times.
But Willow and Tara are our Queen, and co-Queen. :wtkiss

Coming soon!

R :P

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“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home part 2 - And The Stars Shall Fall (Ch 1)
PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2014 12:35 am 
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6. Sassy Eggs
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Great to see this has started up again. In the long run I think having the buildup/prequel and the main story in one thread will be helpful.

I liked how the stage setting was done primarily with a tighter focus Willow and Faith's relationship. I always liked the idea that post English coven Willow would have a newfound understanding of what Faith went through and that if they had a few more episodes to play around with then a much more detailed conversation between the two on the drive from LA to Sunnydale would have been nice.

Looking forward to more.

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Time and Time Again


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home part 2 - And The Stars Shall Fall (Ch 2a & 2
PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 4:01 am 
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9. Gay Now
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Location: Beyond the orbit of Mars and accelerating...
Merry Hanumastice Kittens!

Here's another (looong) chapter for y'all.

And Yay! Tara's in this chapter... sort of.

They're not back together yet, but that's coming soon :)

Enjoy!





Chapter 12 - Matchmaker


Willow and a very nervous Faith, wandered into the dining room. The passed under Xander’s colourful ‘Food Place’ banner, which hung just over the door.

Xander and Buffy were sitting at a table animatedly discussing subjects of great import, if the amount of fork-waving and knife pointing was anything to go by.

Dawn was sitting at the same table, looking through some of Xander’s comic collection. She looked up as Willow and Faith entered. Faith’s face held an expression of such naked longing and absolutely smitten desire, that Dawn was amazed the room did not immediately catch fire.
Just seeing it made Dawn feel weird inside, and it wasn’t even directed at her.
She followed Faith’s smouldering gaze across to Buffy and Xander. ‘Xander!’

She ducked down behind her comic and thought furiously.

‘Of course! Faith had that one night stand with Xander ages ago, she must have gotten more than she expected!’ Dawn grinned behind her comic.

‘Wow! Who would have thought? Badass Faith, carrying a torch for little-ole Xander all this time!’

She smiled a thoughtful smile that would have given Buffy the instant wiggins, had she seen it.
Buffy had been on the receiving end of far too many of Dawns ‘cunning plans,’ which tended to be as bizarre as her choice of snack foods.
Sadly, Buffy was deep in a philosophical discussion with Xander, as to whether fashion sense counted as a super-power, and thus remained totally wiggins-free.


+++


“X-man? You in here?” Faith called out.
She looked uncomfortable as she took in the heavy steel fire door and dark bunker-like basement.

“Hey Faith. Over here by this cheery red light,” she heard from the darkness.

Faith sauntered over with excessive casualness, past racks of emergency rations, camping equipment and other supplies.
“Xan? What’s with the box of chocolates?” she asked in the red-lit darkness.

“Huh. I was about to ask you that.”
He held up a pink music player with a sexpistols sticker on it and a big box of chocolates.

“This has to be Heather’s, no sane person would mix old-school punk, with that shade of pink,” Xander quipped.

He poked the screen a few times and started the playlist. The rich chocolaty tones of Barry White rose from the speaker unit.
He raised one eyebrow and was about to say something really witty, when Faith beat him to the punch.

“What the Fu-” she said, before she was cut off by the thump of the fire door closing.

Dawn grinned to herself, ‘Two hours alone with Barry White, a big box of chocolates and nothing to do but talk and make out. The perfect crime!’
Dawn skipped happily up the stairs, out of the run-down sub-basement and down the back corridors of Slayer central.
Secure in the knowledge that she had done her bit to help the cause of love.

“X-man? Get the door open,” Faith said in a strange, flat tone.

Xander sighed, something weird was going on here, he mused as he switched Barry off.
He would have expected Heather to try something bizarre like this, but Heather would most likely have locked herself in here with him, not Faith.
Trapped in a room with a crushing mini-Slayer, Xander shuddered at the thought.
As much as he liked Heather, he thought of her as a slightly more punk version of Dawn, and romancing either of them would be wrong on more levels than he could count.

He turned the knob to open the lock, or at least he tried to, it wouldn’t budge. “Hey, leather gal, wanna come over here and apply some of that famed Slayer strength to the stuck-Yiiii!” he yelped, as Faith materialized next to him.

She grabbed the knob in a white knuckled grip and turned. The metal groaned in protest, and with a distinct metallic snapping sound, it broke off in her hand.
She stared, shivering, at the broken metal in her hand.

“Relax Faith, I got this,” said Xander, pulling out his cell phone.
He sighed as he realized he had no reception, ‘being underground will do that,’ he thought.
He looked up from his phone to find Faith sitting on the floor shivering, her arms wrapped around her knees as she rocked back and forth.

‘Not good Xander old buddy, not good.’
“Uh, Faith? You ok? You look kinda wigged out,” he said as he crouched down next to her.
The broken latch thingy was still clutched tightly in her hand. When he reached out and touched her shoulder, she flinched.
“Faith, it’s ok, we’re safe, Giles knows the codes for the door, he can open it when they come looking for us, ok? We got food and water and torches, so we’ll be alright while we wait.

She whispered hoarsely. “Bad girls get to stay in the cupboard.”

Xander’s heart sank, he’d heard that Faith’s home life was not exactly puppies and roses. But now he was getting the feeling that it was worse than any of them imagined. ‘God, why does the worst horror have to come from your own damn family?’ he thought.

“You’re not a bad girl Faith, you’re a hero. You hear me? You protect the innocent, you fight evil. You’re a good girl, ok?” he said, trying to project earnestness and reassurance into every syllable.
He looked into her eyes, seeing a frightened girl looking back.
“Just be relaxing-gal ok? We’re in Slayer central, the safest place in the world, outside of Norad. Whoever locked us in here will come get us. And if they don’t, Giles or Buffy will get us out, ok?” said Xander.
‘Mental note: get counselling training,’ Xander thought to himself.

They sat in the dim red darkness for a while, until Faith began to fidget. Never one for sitting still at the best of times, this situation was clearly getting to her. Xander hoped her self-control lasted until whoever set them up came back. He had a nasty suspicion that any kind of Faith-breakdown would involve the breakage of anyone else in the vicinity.
“So, how’re your girls getting on Faith? Any amusing stories from training the miniature Slayers?” he said, projecting an air of false joviality.

He couldn’t make out much in the dim red light, but he could see Faith retreating inside.
And he saw the Slayer rising in her place.
She stopped shaking. And then she growled. It was a sound that reminded Xander why primitive man hid in caves, with fire to protect them. It spoke directly to Xander’s hindbrain and told him one thing: Fear.

Faith exploded up from the floor and slammed into the steel fire-door with brutal force. She screamed with bottomless fury and pounded the heavy door with inhuman power. Heavy thuds echoed around the room as she kicked the door with all of her strength.
Impossibly the steel door buckled and bent under her furious beating, but it did not break or give.
Neither did Faith.


+++


Buffy scooted along the back corridors of the Slayer complex.
She had spent all morning training batches of junior Slayers and was looking forward to some best-friend goodness, in the form of Xander and Willow quality time.
She shrugged her bagful of weapons into a more comfortable position on her shoulder.
She was especially looking forward to spending time with Willow, lately she had really perked up, it was almost like getting old Willow back.
Buffy smiled a little, perhaps a nice evening of girly movies and Xander teasing was just what the doctor ordered. Something normal to make her feel… human.

Buffy, stopped dead in her tracks.
Just on the edge of hearing was a sound that triggered her Slayer instincts, a sound of terrible, inhuman fury.
All thoughts of Willow and Xander fled as she drew a sword from her bag and bolted down the corridor towards the distant sound of heavy pounding.

She arrived at the fire door in record time and found the door shut, but bowed outward, the narrow concrete corridor echoing to the sounds of furious pounding and muffled howls of rage. Whatever was in that room was crazy-strong and seriously wiggy about something.
She looked at the door lock, one of those annoying push-button things, and not one that she knew the code to. Still, the door opened inwards, so there was very little chance of whatever nasty demon-thing getting out.
Experimentally she kicked the door and yelled. “Hey noisy, keep it down! You’re in serious danger of grumpy Buffy out here!”

Inside the room, Xander heard someone hit the door hard from the outside, prompting a short pause from freaky-Faith. He couldn’t hear much through the heavy door, but the tone was unmistakably Buffy.
“Buffy! Open the door! Faith’s having a major freak and I’m so not having a good time here!” he bellowed.

On Buffy’s side of the door, she didn’t hear much before the heavy pounding began again. But she heard someone yell her name... Xander!
Buffy cursed under her breath, ‘how did he get himself into this situation? And how did this nasty get onto the grounds, whatever it is?’

She stepped back and kicked the door hard. It was never going to give, but the hinges might. She dumped her weapons and braced herself against the concrete steps.


Inside, after the second violent slam, which shook concrete dust from the ceiling, Faith quit hitting the door. She backed off a ways and all but collapsed into a ball, wrapping her bloodied hands around her knees.

“Buffy!” Xander yelled.

She pushed, her best bud was in danger and she need to get through this door now.
She let go of the restraints she normally kept on her Slayer nature, and with gritted teeth she pushed.
Metal tore and concrete made a grating sound. The heavy metal pins holding the door into the concrete wall gave up in the face of Buffy’s terrible strength.
With a fierce shriek, she tore the steel door from the wall. It slammed to the concrete beneath her.

As her eyes adjusted to the red-lit darkness, she took in an unharmed Xander and a woebegone Faith, her bloodied hands and torn clothing liberally sprinkled with dust.

“What-” she managed to get out before a sobbing Faith hurled herself into her arms.
Too many shocks, too many sudden shifts.
Buffy was completely unable to process and just stood there as a sweaty and battered Faith held her tight.

She looked over Faith’s shoulder at Xander with a distinct ‘what the hell?!’ expression.

Xander shrugged palms up, the internationally recognized symbol for ‘I have no clue.’
He gestured to the sobbing Faith and made hugging motions.

Buffy shook her head frantically.
Xander pointed firmly at Buffy and mimed hugging again, he then folded his arms and glared at Buffy, his message clear: ‘Hug Faith’.

A very tentative Buffy cautiously wrapped her arms around the substantially taller Faith, and murmured “It’s going to be ok” and other such comforting noises.
She was lost at sea. What could have possibly happened to turn the invincible ‘Dark Slayer’ into this battered... girl? This girl who was sobbing her heart out and holding onto her. Holding on as though Buffy were the last lifeboat on a big ship with iceberg issues.

“Shhh Faith, it’ll be alright, I’ve got you, you’re safe ok? You’re safe,” Buffy said, defaulting to Dawn-comforting mode.
After a couple of minutes of sobbing, Faith all but collapsed with emotional overload, requiring Buffy to carry her upstairs to the infirmary.


+++


As Giles tended to Faith’s wounds, Buffy quizzed Xander.
“Xander, what happened?” Buffy asked gently.

“I’m not sure Buff, I got a message to meet Faith in the old civil defence storeroom. Y’know, the one Giles keeps threatening to make me inventory? I show up, poke around a bit and find Heather’s music player, and a box of chocolates. Faith shows up, asks me what’s going on and then the door slams shut.”

He sighed. “Buffy, she freaked, and I mean really freaked. She turned all little girl and said something like ‘bad girls go in the cupboard.’”

“I think her home life was worse than any of use realized Buff. She retreated inside herself Buff, she hid so deep that the only thing left was the Slayer part of her. And the Slayer knew it was in trouble and wanted out bad. I gotta say it was pretty terrifying, I know I’m going looking for new pants shortly,” he said.

“I have never seen Faith like this,” Buffy whispered sadly. “I used to think she was invincible, Xander. She was like this force of nature, unconquerable, wild, free. I wanted to be like her so much.”

“Invincible, force of nature, unconquerable. Sounds like someone I know,” Xander said with a small smile, nudging her with his shoulder.

Buffy ignored him. “But on the inside she’s carrying so much loss, so much pain. She’s so lost.”

“Are we talking about her, or you?” Xander asked quietly.

Buffy said nothing.

“You’d better stay with her Buff, if she wakes up all wiggy she’s gonna need you to calm her down, or stop her from hurting anyone,” he said.

“I think Xander is showing remarkable insight Buffy,” Giles interjected, putting the medical equipment away. “It might be best if you stayed with her, at least until she wakes up. If, as Xander put it, she wakes up ‘wiggy’ you are likely the only person who could deal with her.”
Giles looked at her over his glasses, wiping his hands clean. “I gather you rescued her from a traumatic situation?”

Buffy nodded glumly.

“Then she is rather likely to see you as a comforting presence. I have given her a mild sedative, which will give her a chance to sleep and recuperate from her ordeal.”
Giles let out a breath. “There’s not likely to be any permanent damage, but Faith is going to be in some pain, and without the use of her hands for a day or two at least.”
He met Buffy’s glum face. “Buffy, I know you’re not terribly comfortable in Faith’s presence, but could you please stay with her? At least until she has had a chance to recover her wits.”

Buffy nodded again.

“Xander? Could you help me tidy up the medical supplies? And perhaps enlighten me as to what occurred?” Giles enquired.

“Sure Giles, though I’m not really sure what’s going on,” he said as they left the room.


+++


Buffy sat silently by Faith’s bed, wondering what had happened.
If she was honest with herself, she had gotten used to ‘invincible Faith’, however annoying she may be.
And now here was a side of Faith she had never seen: Faith the wounded girl. She just didn’t know how to react to that.

She watched over the bandaged and sleeping Faith, she looked so much younger when she was sleeping, the armour of her bravado and leather stripped away.

Buffy did not like being trapped here with only her thoughts for company. She felt her sense of guilt growing.
‘Which is stupid, because hello? You didn’t lock her in a basement. And if you did, it would not be to have some sit-com date with Xander.’
‘No, if you have to honest with yourself, it has to be because you handled that ‘deputy mayor’ issue so very badly. Way to go Buffy, maybe if you’d yelled ‘murderer’ one more time it might have fixed everything.’

‘Wow my inner voice is sarcastic.’

‘Be honest with yourself Buffy, you would have staked that guy, except you were too slow.’


A shocked expression appeared on Buffy’s face as she realized where a big chunk of her guilt came from.
‘God, if I hadn’t been so slow, I would have been the murderer.’

She groaned.
‘Why do I have the feeling that Faith would have been more understanding than I was?’

She hung her head, hiding behind her loose blonde hair.
‘She saved me from that, even without knowing it. She saved me and I came down on her all judgement-girl. God I am such an ass.’
‘Yeah, well she did try to blow it off like it was nothing,’
a part of her countered.
‘Well what were you expecting? It’s not like her life was filled with love and trust up until that point. And after her watcher was horribly killed in front of her, her only friend in this crazy world turned on her, and proceeded to judge her from on high.’

Buffy groaned again, her head in her hands.
‘This is all my fault, I drove her to the mayor. Me. Judgement-girl. With my remarkable self-involvement and alarming strength.’

‘Hey! You shut up!’
she thought to herself, poking a finger at the air, ‘don’t make me come up there and kick your butt.’

“Is Faith going to be ok?” asked a sheepish Dawn, not just derailing Buffy’s train of thought, but dynamiting it and cheerfully setting it on fire.

“Yiii!” yelped Buffy, shooting to her feet in shock.
“God Dawn, give me a heart-attack why don’t you?!” she groused.

Buffy’s brain may have been out to lunch, but chewing out her baby sister? That was something she could do in her sleep.
“Dawn, what were you thinking?” she said, seeing Dawn’s guilty expression and putting two and two together.
“Why in the name of fuzzy puppies and kittens did you lock Xander and Faith in the basement? And Barry White?!” she finished, an incredulous expression on her face.

Dawn looked downcast.

“Hey, what girl doesn’t like Barry?” croaked Faith.

“Faith! You’re awake!”

“Yeah, B. I was having this great dream, but I heard all this yelling an’ stuff, so I woke up,” she said hoarsely.

“Umm... sorry,” said a suddenly contrite Buffy.

“It’s cool. I lied, the dream sucked.” Faith rasped.
Wordlessly Buffy handed her a glass of water. Equally silent, Faith held up her bandaged hands. Embarrassed, Buffy held the glass to Faith’s lips, letting her drink.

“Thanks B,” said a much less croaky Faith. “So what were you two bitching about over my unconscious bod?”

“Dawn has something she wants to tell you,” Buffy declared, shooting Dawn a significant look.

“Uh, yeah. Umm... Faith? I’m sorry I locked you in the basement. I thought it would be fun to set you up with someone nice.” Dawn looked very contrite.
“I didn’t know you had a thing about locked doors, I guess I never thought about it much, I mean no-one ever locks anything around here.” Dawn said in a very small voice, her head hanging in shame.

“D? C’mere a minute,” Faith gestured from the bed.
Dawn shuffled over to the bed, her hands folded in front of her and her head down.
Buffy was struck by how much Sad-Dawn resembled Sad-Willow.

Faith laid her bandaged paw on Dawn’s hand.
“It’s ok, lil’ D. You weren’t to know ok? It’s not like I tell anyone about this stuff. It’s ok D, you hear me? You were expecting to come back to me makin’ out with X-man. Or maybe looking a little pissed. You didn’t know about my stuff, ‘cos I never told you.” Faith looked puzzled for a moment. Out of the corner of her eye she had seen a look of annoyance pass across Buffy’s features.

“D? Why did you try to set me up with the Xan-man? I mean I get that you cared and were tryin’ to do somethin’ nice, but why Xander?” she asked.
Dawn blushed and looked at her feet. “Well... you have that history, and I thought you liked him. You looked like you liked him.” she said.

“Naw D. He’s a great guy, but I’m not into him like that ok? That ‘history’ stuff? That was me being screwed-up back in the day, ok? I took advantage of him, when I shoulda been his friend. I owe him an apology for that,” she explained.
“We good?” she asked, looking under Dawn’s hanging curtain of hair.

Dawn nodded.

“Well alrighty-then. Go tell X-man that you’re sorry you locked him in the basement with a crazy woman, and we’re all done.” Faith said, ending the discussion.

“And then you can spend the next few days as Xander’s worker-bee, helping him fix the busted door” interjected Buffy.

“The door you kicked in, you mean?” Dawn shot back automatically.

Buffy pursed her lips and pointed out the door. “Shoo!”
Dawn shooed.


“Don’t blame her B, she was only trying to do something nice. Dumb, yeah. But her heart was in the right place,” said Faith.

“Thanks Faith, for not being too mad at her I mean,” Buffy responded.

Faith shrugged “I should thank you for hauling me out of that hole before I did any worse damage,” she held up her bandaged hands.

Buffy grimaced. “Does it hurt much?”

“Aches like a sonova bitch, but I should be ok in a couple days,” groused Faith.

Buffy fidgeted with the bed cover. “Well it was my clueless sister who got you into this mess, so I’ll look after you until you’ve got working paws again.”

Faith snorted. “What am I, a kitten now? It’s cool B, you don’t have to do that, I’ve always looked after myself, I’ll be ok.”

Buffy shook her head. “Uh-uh, I owe you in more ways than I can easily deal with. Plus I’ve been thinking I haven’t really just hung out with you since... ever. It would be a chance for us to just kick back and stuff.”
She brightened. “Plus it would totally get me out of mini-me duty, which is of the good.”

Faith just looked at Buffy’s determined expression.
“Ok, B. You win.” She said.

“Yay! I win! Go me!” said Buffy clapping her hands gleefully. “Wait, I just celebrated hanging around with you and generally being your dogsbody for the next few days.”
She slumped. “My brain hates me.”

Faith’s snicker was the only response.


+++


Around an hour later, Faith and Buffy were walking through the rear courtyard.
Faith was attracting a number of impressed looks.
“B? Why is everyone looking at me funny?” grumbled Faith.

“Oh, er. Dawn told me earlier. After the juniors heard what happened, some of them went down to have a look at the place. They saw what you did to the door. With your bare hands. You are now legend-gal, the Slayer who tore down a steel fire door with her bare hands, and has the injuries to prove it,” chirped Buffy.

“What? I punched it a few times, no big deal.”

“Faith. It’s a civil defence fire door. It’s like 2 inches thick and made almost entirely out of steel. It now looks like a really cheap wok. Xander had to order another one, it’s that badly busted.” Buffy rambled on cheerfully.
Faith groaned.

“Seriously, I am impressed. Slayers are strong, I should know, but wow. Really, wow. Also Xander says hi. And that he is never going to upset you as long as he lives.”

“Cool. Gotta have a talk with Xan someday. I owe him an apology for y’know, using him. The first time should be special, you know? Gentle, kind, uh, sensual I guess. And, um… cuddles and shit afterwards.”

“Okaay, overshare much?” said Buffy, clearly uncomfortable.

“Huh, I woulda thought you’d be all approving of gentleness and stuff for someone’s first time,” Faith said, eyebrows raised.

“Well, yeah. It should be all flowers and cuddles and smoochies and stuff, and eeew! But can we not talk about you boinking Xander because... eeew, ok? He’s like my brother. I’m all happy that he got a happy, but I don’t want a naked Xander inside my head,” Buffy complained.

Faith grinned. “Heh. Funny.”

They strolled in silence for a few minutes before Faith began to look uncomfortable. “Yeah, so B? Uh, this is pretty bad but, uh... at some point I’m gonna have to go to the little girls room and I literally do not have hands to do that with.”

“Oh god. Just, oh god. Could this day get any worse?” groaned a horrified Buffy.

Faith grimaced. “And then I’m gonna have to take a shower.”

“Thank you for your prompt attention towards answering my question. I think I’ve remembered an urgent appointment to knock myself unconscious.”

“Yeah well, I’m sorry B, but it’s no fun for me y’know? I’m the freakin’ Slayer. Now I can’t even wipe my own ass, and have to have someone else hose me down in the shower,” Faith grumbled.

“I would have thought you’d be used to that by now, what with your correctional adventures featuring so prominently in your past.”

Faith stared flatly at Buffy. “Thanks B, that really helped. Ya totally made my day there.”
Faith stopped walking. “I don’t wanna keep having this conversation, an’ I sure as hell don’t wanna have it on another rooftop. You and me? We have rooftop issues. So here’s the thing: I killed a guy by mistake. A bad guy sure, but a human guy, twisted evil soul an’ all.”
She turned to Buffy. “I’m sorry about that, I really am. And I am way more sorry than you’ll ever know, about how I acted afterwards. I was a stupid, fucked-up kid, and I made a huge fucking mess, including some more dead guys.”
“But get this through your head. You, Buffy Summers are a freakin’ bigot.”

Buffy open her mouth to protest, but Faith held her huge bandaged hand up sharply and cut her off.

“You were able to overlook Angel’s past when he killed half of Europe and G-mans girl. You were able to forgive Willow when she killed a guy and tried to destroy the goddamn world. Hell, you got over the fact that Xan-man’s girl had been cheerfully torturing and murdering dudes for a thousand years! So why can’t you let my screw up go?”

She eyed Buffy with a calculating stare. “Let me ask you this B, how many humans have you killed?”

Buffy glared at Faith, all the old reflexes kicking in. “None, Faith. That’s the difference between you and me, I’m not a murderer.”

“Yeah? Well fuck you. Is Willow human?”

“Do you have the stupids? Of course she’s human.”

“Even though she’s a witch.”

“Hey!”

“’cos you killed a witch once, Amy’s mom, remember?”

“Hey that was self-defence!”

“Sure. How many bringers did you kill? Thirty? Forty? Well guess what B? They’re human too. Twisted, evil, but still human. The not going ‘poof’ or dissolving into goo might have been a clue to that one.”

“Hey! They were working for the first and were trying to kill us!”

“It’s cool B, they were trying to hand you over to Caleb, who was also evil, human and killed by you. You had to defend yourself, you had to fight. Doesn’t change the fact that you killed them.”

Buffy was inarticulate with frustration.

“Knights of Byzantium? Ring any bells? Not even evil, trying to save the world, just had different views from you on how to do it.

“They were trying to kill my little sister!”

“I hear ya B. Anyone went after my little sis, they’d be more dead than I have words for. Hell anyone goes after lil’ D, I’ll tear their hearts out with my bare hands.”

Faith looked at Buffy’s protesting face with a mixture of sympathy and frustration. “So quit being a stick up bitch about me and my fuck up, and let it go dammit! I don’t wanna hear about it again. Now get lost! I don’t want to see you again until you’ve dealt with your shit.”

And with that Faith strode away, leaving Buffy gaping like a fish.

+++

Buffy sat moping with her head in her hands.
‘God what is wrong with me?’
‘Faith is being so good to me, to the others, to Dawn. And I’ve been a bitch to her.’
‘God she’s right about me. I’ve killed as many people, as many humans as she has. More even.’


“Buffy? Are you ok?”

Buffy looked up and saw Willow wandering over the courtyard towards her.

She got as far as “I-” before bursting into tears.

Willow ran the rest of the way to her side, and wrapped Buffy in a hug.
“Buffy, what’s wrong?”

The Slayer said nothing and cried her eyes out.
Willow held tight to her best friend and sheltered her with loving arms, weathering the storm until Buffy could tell her what was wrong.

After a few minutes, Buffy had cried herself out and looked up to meet Willow’s worried gaze. She sniffled pitifully.
“I’m such a bitch,” she said in a voice filled with sorrow.

“What? How? Why? Who?” Willow asked, slightly panicked.

“Faith. I hurt Faith. She was being so nice to me, and Dawn after her crazy thing.”
Buffy slumped, managing to look even more defeated. “Will, what’s wrong with me?” she asked.

“Buffy, what happened?” Willow asked in a gentle voice.

“We were talking Will. It was nice you know? Like we used to talk back in Sunnydale, before everything got screwed up. Then I threw her prison time in her face, I did it without even thinking. Like a reflex,” Buffy sniffled.
“And you know what? She handled it, she didn’t blow up or anything. Then I called her a murderer.”

“Oh Buffy,” Willow sighed sadly.

Tears in her eyes, Buffy continued. “She called me a bigot Will, she said I got over Angel’s evil past, even though he killed Miss Calendar and half of Europe, I forgave you when you went crazy, but I couldn’t forgive her for her screw-up.”
“She killed a guy, by mistake Will, and I came down on her for it. I extended the olive branch, but when she backed off scared, I totally over reacted.”
“I’ve been judging her since day one, and she let me know it. God, I keep calling her a murderer, and I’ve killed more human people than she has. And I just can’t let her go.”

“Then don’t.”

Willow squeezed her friend tight. “Buffy, you are possibly the only person in the world who can really understand where she’s coming from. You are the only two people alive who know what it’s like to have the entire world resting on your shoulders. Don’t let her go. Get over what she did, sure. But don’t let go of Faith.”

Buffy looked up at Willow, still teary-eyed and sad, but slightly more hopeful.

Willow looked slightly guilty. “And um, she’s right. I did way worse things than her, so did Angel, even with her terrorizing us. We both had our reasons, and so did Faith. I think if you can forgive me and Angel, you should forgive Faith.”

Buffy stared at the skyline, thinking hard.

“Go find her Buffy and talk. Really talk. Open up and tell her everything, ‘cos I’m telling you Buffy, as your best friend, she’s changed. You can trust her Buffy, I promise you. And she deserves better from us.”

Buffy spoke in a hollow voice. “If I hadn’t been so slow, I’d have killed the deputy mayor that night. I think that’s why I keep hitting Faith with it, to tell myself over and over that it wasn’t me, even though it would have been.”

“Wow. That... that makes a freaky amount of sense.”

Willow leaned over and rested her head against Buffy’s. “As much as I want to help you Buffy, you need to have this conversation with Faith.”
“This needs to be dealt with, once and for all. It’s eating away at your relationship, and ok, so I was all jealous girl back in the day, um, so was Xander, only without the girl part, I guess what I’m trying to say here Buff, is that she gets you, really gets you, like no-one else. And that’s something too precious to lose,” Willow babbled, looking slightly worried.
Willow took a deep breath and let it out with a whoosh. “I want you to be friends, like you were before. I was jealous then, but I’ve grown up a bit since, we all have. I think on some level you need her, and I know she needs you.”

“But what if I screw this up Will?” she asked in an almost pleading voice.

“Then don’t screw it up,” Willow said.

Buffy shot her a pleading look.

“I’m serious Buffy, it’s all up to you now. So promise me something. Promise me that whatever happens, you’ll stay and fight. You never give up a fight Buffy, don’t start now. Promise me you’ll fight through this thing with Faith and come out the other side.”

Buffy looked up, clearly struggling internally. “Yeah Will, I promise. Stand and fight, no backing down, no running away. We get through this thing today.”
“I hate what we’ve become, what I’ve become. I don’t wanna be that Buffy anymore, that hypocrite gal. I want my Faith back, I want my friend back, like it used to be.”

Willow smiled softly, her eyes glittering. “Then go find Faith, and tell her.”

Buffy got to her feet, still puffy-eyed, but with a look of determination on her face. “Time to slay this thing, once and for all.”

“I think I know where she might be,” Willow said.


+++


Buffy walked towards the grove, hesitant, but determined to follow through on her promise no matter what happened.

Over the soft sounds of the wind in the leaves, she heard quiet sounds of conversation.
Even with her heightened senses she could not make out what was being said over the wind, but she could hear Faith and Xander in the grove ahead.

She entered the grove and felt its stillness and peace soak into her.
In the clearing, beside the tree, Xander and Faith were locked in a tight embrace.

Buffy felt something lurch inside her as she saw the two of them together. She waited silently until they broke apart, each smiling slightly.

“Hey Buffy. Uh, I might just leave you gals to it,” he said, making to leave. “And thanks Faith, that meant a lot to me, y’know?”

Buffy’s heart sank again as she saw Faith’s embarrassed smile. “S’ok Xan, I owed you.”

Buffy spoke up at last. “Xander, stay, please? I need for someone else to see this.”
Faith’s expression closed up as she heard Buffy speak.

“Faith? You were right. I was being a, yeah, hypocrite, I guess about the whole murderer thing. If I’m honest with myself I’ve killed more people-people than anyone,” she said.
Buffy took a deep breath. “I guess I needed to convince myself that I wasn’t a murderer, to stay sane. And that all landed on you.”
Buffy looked away, unable to look Faith in the eye.

Xander looked from one woman to the other as Buffy spoke.

Buffy stared at her feet in shame. “And I was guilty about the deputy mayor because... because if I hadn’t been so off-balance that night, I would have staked him. I know you panicked and tried to pin staking him on me. Well I did the same to you. I pinned all my guilt on to you and kept hitting you with it, to tell myself it wasn’t my fault and, and... I’m sorry Faith.”

Xander glanced at Faith as Buffy spoke. The look on her face took his breath away. Faith’s face was a near indescribable picture of hope and longing. He looked away, feeling like an intruder after seeing such naked need.

“And if it’s ok, I’d like to start over, to be friends again, like we were, I... I want my Faith back, and I don’t want to be judgemental girl anymore,” Buffy said looking up at Faith, her eyes glittering with unshed tears.

Faith closed her eyes as the emotions thundered through her, ‘my Faith,’ her jaw clenched as she fought not to cry like a little girl.
After a few deep breaths she managed to get her emotions under control and said in a husky, unsteady voice. “Yeah B, I’d like that. Like we used to be.”
She took another steadying breath. “And B? I’m sorry I freaked and tried to fuck up your life, I... you have no idea how sorry, but I’ll make it up to you.”

Buffy shook her head. “You already have. It’s all in the past now, let’s just put it behind us and move forward, together ok?”

A fragile hope bloomed inside Faith, ‘Together.’

“Ok B. Together.” ‘Always’

Buffy smiled sadly, tremulously. “I’ve missed you Faith.”

Faith fought to keep the tears from her voice. “Oh B. I’ve missed you too.”

And with that she was swept up in a fierce hug. Clumsily she returned the hug and unable to stop herself, she wept into Buffy’s hair. “Oh god B, I’ve missed you so much, I’m so sorry.”

“Shhh... it’s ok Faith, it’s gonna be ok. We’re gonna be ok.”

Xander looked away, his good eye glittering. He wondered if Buffy knew how Faith felt.
‘Not consciously,’ he decided.
He quietly left the grove, leaving the two reunited friends to catch up in peace.


+++


“We need to go dancing. You know, totally blow off some steam,” Buffy said.

Faith looked genuinely surprised. “Holy crap! Stop the press, wake the president, Defcon 1!”
She eyed Buffy suspiciously and poked her experimentally in the shoulder. “Buffy frikkin’ Summers, did you just suggest we have fun?”

“What?! I’m all about the fun and fun... stuff. I’m fun-Buffy, that’s me,” Buffy said, faintly offended.

“Sorry B. My mistake. Must have been thinking about some other, not-fun Buffy,” Faith grinned at Buffy’s discomfiture.

Buffy groaned. “Ugh, I know what you mean. It’s been crazy around here lately, setting up the training syllabus for the mini-me’s, watchers... argh! And Willow is trying to get in contact with some more witches to get some more witchy mojo on our side. It’s like having an actual job. I really need to get out and just boogie all night.”

Faith snorted, getting an offended look from Buffy.
“Hey, it’s the new millennium, disco is cool again!”

Faith grinned. “Disco was never cool, and I’m not sure ‘boogie’ is disco anyways. But yeah, rockin’ out to some pounding bass would be awesome.”

She looked at her heavily bemittened hands. “How about Friday? I should have working paws by then.”

Buffy nodded. “It’s a date! I’ll let the terrible three know that they are in charge of making sure the world doesn’t end Friday night. They’ll be grumpy that they have to work Friday, but I think they’ll like being in charge of the patrols.”

Faith’s heart jumped when Buffy said ‘date’, but she fought down her hopes. She distracted herself with work talk. “How’re those two working out?”

Buffy groaned. “Heather acts like a crazy person, but actually comes up with decent plans, Jules seems totally sane, until you actually pay attention to what she’s doing when you can’t see her. Between them and Dawn they come up with some good ideas, if you can keep the insanity in check. Right now they have Willow researching an invisibility spell so they can test their flour bomb idea.”

Faith thought for a moment. “How is lil’ D doing these days?”

Buffy protested. “Little? She’s gigantically huge!”

Faith raised an eyebrow. “Nah B, you got it all wrong. She’s pretty much normal sized. It’s you that is just damn short.”

“Hey! No cracks about my height, I’ll have you know I’m a very respectable five foot four.”

“Ahahahahah!” Faith burst out laughing. “Nice one B!”

She took in Buffy’s annoyed expression. “You weren’t serious were you? You are like, four-five inches shorter than me, an’ I’m pretty much on the button for average height, at my towering five by five,” she grinned.

“Hey, quit it!” Buffy grumped.

“C’mon B, don’t get all stressed out. Lie about your age if ya want, but lying about your height is like, really pointless ‘cos we can all see you.”

Buffy glared at Faith as if willing her to spontaneously combust. Faith remained annoyingly flame-free.

“Don’t feel bad B, you’re just the right height, it makes you a little cutie,” Faith said patting Buffy cheerfully on the head with her huge mittened hand.

“Graaargh!”

Faith grinned and bolted away laughing, hotly pursued by Buffy.


+++


The junior Slayers training on the rear field were treated to the sight of Buffy madly chasing Faith across the grass, only able to keep pace with Faith’s longer stride because Faith was laughing her ass off, which significantly hampered her ability to run.

In the shade of a nearby tree, Willow looked up from the spellbook she was studying, and saw Buffy madly pursuing a laughing Faith across the training fields. She smiled as she saw Buffy finally catch Faith and tackle her to the grass with a howl of victory. The pair rolled and rolled, spraying grass around liberally, until Buffy landed on top of Faith. Faith’s howls of laughter changed pitch and she began to shriek as Buffy tickled her mercilessly.

Faith gasped and shrieked as Buffy’s strong fingers and expert knowledge of humanoid anatomy, zeroed her in on every one of her ticklish spots.

“Aieee!!... No... fair... no... hands!” she shrieked as Buffy worked her over.

Willow smiled, noticing that Faith had not used her strength to throw Buffy off. Hands or no hands, Faith’s strength was near legendary. Willow raised an eyebrow as she realized Buffy was straddling Faith’s bucking hips, and though Faith was writhing and shrieking in protest, she was making no real effort to escape.

“Buffeeee!” Faith squealed, breathless.

Buffy finally quit tickling the gasping and red-faced Faith. “I win!” she said raising her fists in triumph.
This gathered a number of bemused and amused looks from the many junior Slayers who had witnessed Buffy’s ‘victory’.

“Yeah B, you win,” gasped Faith, panting as she looked up at a glowing and triumphant Buffy. “You’re a very respectable five-four and not at all five-one.”

Watching them, Willow smiled and wondered if Buffy was really the winner here.

Faith grinned up at Buffy. “I’ll give you a rematch when my paws are working again, then we’ll see how you make out.”

“You’re on!” said Buffy.

Faith gazed up at Buffy’s triumphant face.

“Uh, B? Not that I’m uncomfortable at all, but you might want to get off... of me. You are kinda riding me in full view of half the school.”

“Eeeep!” Buffy said, and rolled off Faith, ending up on her back beside the taller Slayer.

Faith groaned. “Oh man, I think I peed myself.”

Buffy winced. “Sorry. My bad.”

“It’s cool B. Brought it on myself. I shoulda known better than to hassle you about your height, given that you are only one inch shorter than me an all,” she said with a sly smile.

Buffy nodded. “So you should be, given that everyone knows I’m five –four.”

They lay in silence for a moment, listening to the sounds of junior Slayers returning to training.

“Uh, B? I kinda need to visit the little Slayer’s room.”

Buffy groaned.

“And there’s that shower thing.”

Buffy sighed. “Come on then, let’s get this over, before we all die of awkwardness or embarrassment.”

“My bathroom. We’d have more space in the gym showers, but I don’t think you’d enjoy having an audience while you scrub me down,” Faith said.

“Really, no,” Buffy agreed.


+++


“I really can’t believe I’m saying this, but hurry up and get my pants off B! I’m busting here,” Faith groused as she did the pee-pee dance.

“Boots,” Buffy said as she knelt in front of Faith.

Faith complied somewhat unsteadily, and was quickly divested of boots and socks.
“God, could you have gotten boots with more laces?” Buffy groused.

Buffy stood up and started on Faith’s pants, undoing the belt easily enough.
“Wow. These things are like, painted on,” she said as she struggled with the tight black jeans.

Faith grinned. “Yeah, stretch denim, shows off my wicked ass, without ripping when you high-kick someone.”

Buffy blushed slightly but kept working at peeling Faith’s skin-tight black jeans off her body. After a brief struggle Buffy managed to peel the jeans down and found herself kneeling in front of Faith’s panty covered crotch. Red silk panties even.
Both Slayers froze in embarrassed silence, trying to ignore the scent of arousal that filled the air.

“Sucks that you can’t hide anything from a Slayer huh?” Faith said softly. “Was hangin’ with a hottie earlier, got kinda turned on. Sorry B, didn’t mean to make this worse than it already is,”
Buffy was blushing furiously, but remained in stoic silence.

“Uh, B? I’m not tryin’ to be mean here, but I gotta go, and I can’t do that with my panties on.”
Silently, Buffy reached up and slid her hands under the waistband of Faith’s red silk panties. Faith tried not to react, but could not stop herself from shivering slightly at Buffy’s touch.
With agonizing slowness, Buffy peeled Faith’s panties down.

“Ohmigod! Faith, you’re bald!” Buffy blurted.
Faith snorted and started laughing for a moment, before a pained expression crossed her face. She stumbled hurriedly to the bathroom, wiggling her panties off as she went.

She plomped down on the toilet with a look of such blissful relief that Buffy looked away in mortified embarrassment.
The sounds that echoed from the bathroom were not so much splashes, as a ‘Whoosh!’ followed by a blissful “Ahhhhh,” from Faith.

Buffy banged her head against the wall for a while.
Her nose wrinkled as she rubbed her head, and she looked around. Sighing, she picking up Faiths red panties with two fingers, and holding them at arm's length, dropped them in the wash bin with an expression of ‘yucky’.

Buffy sat down on Faith’s surprisingly neat bed and looked around the room. Though Faith’s room was literally metres away from her own, Buffy had never been inside.
Faith usually treated her room like some kind of ‘inner sanctum’. No-one was allowed in, with the occasional exception of Dawn. It wasn’t what Buffy was expecting, though to be honest, she wasn’t sure what to expect, beyond leather and maybe some heavy metal posters.

The pale green walls were decorated with a number of art prints, ones Buffy knew she’d seen before, though she couldn’t think where. On her desk were jonquil flowers, a laptop and music player, but on her bedside table were photos that Buffy had thought lost forever.

A photo of all the Scoobies at the beach, the one they convinced a passing surfer to take.

One that Xander had taken of Buffy mid-babble, her hair done up in a pony-tail, her eyes sparkling and her mouth open.

One recently taken of Willow sitting cross-legged on the grass meditating, eyes closed, head tilted to one side and a goofy expression on her face.

And two pictures that broke her heart.

One of Tara, her hair done up in a messy bun, looking up at the camera with a shy grin on her face. It was taken in the early days of her relationship with Willow.

And lastly, in pride of place was a picture that Faith had to have taken herself. Thanksgiving in Sunnydale. Buffy’s mom coming in from the kitchen with a roast turkey. She looked radiant. Buffy and Dawn were in the picture, mouths open and pointing accusing fingers at each other.

She smiled as she remembered the scene. She and Dawn were accusing each other of snaffling the brownies that mom had made for the day after. It happened that each of them had stolen some.

Now she recognized the prints on the walls. Her mom’s favourite prints.
How long she stood there lost in memory, she did not know, but she was eventually interrupted by Faith.

“Uh, lil’ help here B?” she said hesitantly.

Buffy put down the photo of her mom and went to help Faith.
Faith was sitting on the toilet looking terribly embarrassed. She put on a brave face. “Sorry B, need you to wipe my ass and stuff.

Buffy snagged a bunch of toilet paper, leaned Faith forward and she wiped her bottom neatly and professionally. She managed to do the same between her legs without dying of embarrassment or blushes.
Faith sat with her legs together, covering her lap as the toilet flushed.

“Uh, you act like... you’ve done that before,” she ventured.

Buffy, smiled a tight embarrassed smile. “I used to help mom change Dawn when she was a baby,” she stuck her tongue out and made a yucky face. “Babies are gross.”

Buffy’s expression changed and her voice became a hollow whisper. “And Tara. Glory... took Tara’s mind, she broke her. Willow looked after her for days, weeks, but even she couldn’t be there all the time. She had to sleep sometime, and Tara didn’t always remember what the toilet was for.”

Buffy’s voice hardened. “I’ve disliked a lot of people over the years Faith, but I’ve never hated anyone until then. That bitch took Tara’s mind, for refusing to tell her about Dawn.”

Faith remained silent. Buffy never talked about Tara, she had the feeling that something important was happening here and she didn’t want to mess it up.

Buffy’s expression was lost. “She stood up to a hell goddess for my little sister. She’d have died rather than betray her,”
“That bitch tortured her, and took her mind. Tara wasn’t a Slayer, she wasn’t a fighter. And she sacrificed herself for Dawn.”
Buffy’s expression changed to a copy of Willow’s resolve face. “And she gave me the strength to do the same.”

Faith looked up, lost.

She took Faith’s bandaged hand in her own, holding it up. “My blood. Dawn’s blood. Summers blood. The same.”

“The monks made her out of me, Faith. She’s more than my sister, she’s me... she’s my daughter... there’s no words to describe what she is to me.”

Faith rested her head against Buffy’s hair. Buffy could not see the pain and confusion her words had caused, and for that Faith was grateful. Some things needed to stay buried.


“Faith?” Buffy whispered.

“Yeah B?” Faith whispered back, shaken.

“If anything happens to me, will... will you watch over Dawnie for me?”

Faith looked up sharply. “Always B, you don’t have to ask. You never have to ask that. Like she was my own. With my life, ok?”

Buffy gave a wan smile. “Thanks Faith, that means a lot.”

“B? I’ve never been accused of being a giant brain, or sensitive and shit. But even I know what you just asked. And it means a lot that you would ask me, would trust me with something like this. I won’t let you down B. You’ll find my body dead on the ground, before I let anything worse than a bruise happen to her.”

“No dying Faith. I’ve lost enough family.”

‘Family,’ the word echoed inside Faith.

They were silent for a while, until Faith started to fidget.
“Uh, can we have this conversation, like, not on the can? It’s a little weird, plus my ass is going to sleep.”

Buffy lead the way to Faith’s bed where they sat, side by side, Faith still pantless.

“This Tara chick sounds badass, wish I’d met her. Y’know, before I lost my marbles.”

Buffy smiled slightly. “I think you’d have liked her. I think she’d have liked your badass motorcycle-riding self. I think you’d have made great ‘big sisters’ for each other.”

“What was she like B?” Faith asked softly.

“Kind... warm... giving... she looked after us all, kinda like my mom. God, she was so strong Faith. She never gave up, she always, always did the right thing. She took whatever the world threw at her and kept on going.”
She looked down and fiddled with her shirt. “Whenever I had a freak out or couldn’t deal, she held it together. She was practically Dawn’s mom after our mom died, after I died. God, none of us would have been here if it wasn’t for her.”
Buffy’s eyes glittered with unshed tears . “I miss her Faith, we all do, it’s why we can’t talk about her. We’d all fall apart.”

“It’s ok girl, I get it,” she put her hand on Buffy’s arm.
“B? If you gotta fall apart sometime, I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”

Buffy said nothing for a moment, then her face crumpled. “She died because of me, Faith! Warren came looking for me and shot her. I wasn’t fast enough, I wasn’t good enough to protect her,” she said in a despairing voice.

Faith put her arm around a distraught Buffy.

“I’m never fast enough,” she said hollowly.

Faith held Buffy tight, understanding intimately what she was feeling, and what was unsaid.
Not fast enough to stop Dawn being kidnapped, to stop her from being hurt. Not fast enough to catch Riley before he left. Not fast enough to stop Faith staking the deputy mayor.

“Shhh... You’re the best B, the best there ever was. You died and came back twice, and you’re still fighting, still kicking ass. Nobody could do more, no one ever did. If you’re not fast enough or good enough B, then no one ever will be. ‘cos I mean it, there’s no one in the whole damn world that can top you.”

Faith stroked Buffy’s hair gently as the smaller woman took shelter in her strong arms.
They stayed that way for several minutes until Buffy began to feel restless and sat up, disentangling herself from Faith and sniffling slightly.

“Nice to know there’s a soft centre to your crusty exterior,” Buffy said.

Faith smiled nervously. “Uh, yeah. Just don’t go tellin’ everyone, it would totally bust my rep. Speaking of crusty, I’m kinda disgusting here, I really need to take that shower.”

Buffy nodded. “Give me a second, I’ll go get some stuff and get the shower running.”

Buffy went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. She left to get something from her room.

Faith sat on her bed, feeling oddly nervous and exposed. She looked down at her pant-less self. Well, that explained some of it.

‘God, how did I get myself into this mess?’ she thought miserably to herself.
‘Oh yeah, punched out a frikkin’ fire door. That hurt. Pretty badass though,’ she thought, grinning slightly to herself.
‘I wonder if that blessing Red put on me did any good? I guess so, B kinda opened up to me, and I don’t think I have screwed anything up so far.’

Buffy tapped softly on the door and came in carrying towels, fluffy dressing gowns, plastic bags and rubber bands. The last got her a raised eyebrow from Faith. “Ok, I’m almost afraid to ask. What’re the rubber bands and junk for?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “How else are we going to keep your bandages and other medical-y stuff dry?”

“Huh. Good thinking B.”

Buffy shrugged. “It’s how Dawn kept her cast dry when she broke her arm.”

Buffy quickly bagged Faith’s hands and wrapped them securely with rubber bands.
“Shower time! Lift your arms up,” Buffy chirped.

Faith lifted her arms with some trepidation.
Buffy briskly shucked Faith’s halter and sports bra in one swift motion, leaving her completely naked.
Faith had never felt so naked in all her life. Being naked was one thing, she wasn’t shy about her body, but feeling naked? This was a whole other matter.

“Go on, the shower’s waiting,” Buffy said, making shooing gestures toward the steamy bathroom.

“Uh, right. Shower then,” Faith said, and left for the shower.

She got into the steamy shower cubicle, and clumsily closed the door behind her, glad that the FBI liked spending taxpayer money on luxuries. Like extra-large shower cubicles for their senior staff.
It made for great living space when the new Watchers Council, aka Giles, bought it off them.

She luxuriated in the shower, feeling the hot water just sluicing the sweat and grime of the last god-awful day away, along with most of her tensions.
She clumsily manipulated the shower control, making it just a bit hotter and tipping her head back. She let the water gush through her hair, revelling in the sensual pleasure of the hot water.
She was just starting to wonder how she was going to deal with the soap when she heard the shower door open behind her.

She opened her eyes, expecting to see Nurse-Buffy done up in scrubs, or full Haz-Mat gear with a scrub-brush on a stick. What she got was naked-Buffy, holding peach body wash in one hand and a shower-scrub thingy in the other.
Faith’s mouth reacted, while her brain was still flopping around like a fish, fresh-caught in the bottom of a boat. “Lookin’ good B. Why so naked?”

Buffy blushed furiously. “Well how else am I going to wash you? I’d get soaked otherwise. I might as well get my shower done at the same time.”

Faith grinned. “Sorry B, can’t return the favour right now, maybe on the weekend, when I’ve got working hands again?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Just... turn around will you? I want to finish this before I turn into some kind of Buffy-shaped pink prune-thing.”

Faith complied, turning and leaning her forearms against the wall. Buffy washed her back, doing a great job with the scrubby thing. Faith figured she was working off some of her stress with the scrubbing. Whatever the cause, it felt good.
Buffy scrubbed down her arms without too much trouble, then it got... interesting.

Faith could feel the wheels turning in Buffy’s head. Faith had run out of body parts that were ‘safe’ to wash.
She wondered how Buffy was going to handle this new hurdle, when Buffy’s tiny hands slipped around her front and Buffy’s small, pert breasts pressed into her back. The scrub-thing did a good brisk tour of Faith’s taut stomach before starting a similarly brisk tour of her breasts.

“Whoa! Time out! B, stop! Please!” she yelped.

Buffy froze as Faith winced. “Ow damn! Uh, Buffy? My girls are a bit bigger than yours, just... slow down ok? Gently B, gently.”

Buffy winced. “Sorry. My bad,” she said, before she started cleaning again.

This time she moved more slowly with the scrubber.
Faith sighed. “Ahhhh, that’s way better. Just like that.”

The slightly rough scrubber was having a completely predictable effect on Faith as it worked its soapy, slippery way around her breasts. Faith’s breath caught as the scrubber caught on her achingly erect nipples. And unless she was very mistaken, Buffy herself was sporting a pair of bullets, pressing into Faith’s back.

“You cold B? I could turn the heat up a bit if you like?” Faith said, leaning back into Buffy’s embrace ever so slightly.

Buffy shrugged, producing more shivers in Faith. “It’s ok, I’ll be fine once I can get in the water. Uh, I need you to turn around.”

“Huh?” said Faith, her brain turned to mush by the actions of the scrubber and Buffy’s boobs on her back.

"Well I need to wash your, uh... vagina?” Buffy said in a squeaky voice.

Faith smirked. “We're not at the gyno’s office B. ‘less you’re tellin’ me you wanna play doctor?”

Buffy was blushing intensely. “Well... show me your... girl parts and I'll-"

Faith snorted. “Oh god, what are you? Like, twelve? Really B, you gotta stop hanging with Red so much."

Buffy looked annoyed at this last comment and started reaching around Faith. “Hold still so I can wash your cooter!"

Faith burst out laughing as Buffy groped around her.
And she kept on laughing. She howled. She laughed so hard that she slipped and fell on her rear with a splash. Landing on her butt didn’t slow her down in the slightest and she just kept laughing her ass off.

Buffy just looked cross. She stood with her arms folded, her stance defiant. It would have been more defiant had she not been soapy, wet and naked.

Still laughing, Faith shook the water out of her eyes and looked up to see Buffy’s pose and was reduced to helpless giggles. Buffy’s trademarked ‘Defiant’ stance looked somewhat different than she intended, when she was naked, covered in foam and her crotch was at head height.

Buffy for her part, was having trouble holding on to her annoyance. When Faith let go, it was hard not to be dragged along in her wake. Plus she had a point. Eventually her stern expression crumpled and she joined in with Faith’s helpless hilarity, eventually ending up on the floor of the shower, getting hosed along with Faith.

When they started to wind down, a breathless Faith gasped out “Cooter!” and it started all over again.

Buffy responded with “Girl parts!” and more laughter.

“Muffin!”

“Pussy!”

“Peach!”

“Beaver!”

“Clam!”

And then they were reduced to gasping for breath again.


When they eventually recovered, Buffy asked. “How come yours were all food?”

Faith countered. “Well how come yours were all animals?”

“Err... furry I guess,” she said before glancing at Faith’s perfectly smooth groin. “Oh.”

She blushed furiously.

“Made to be eaten,” Faith grinned.

Buffy’s blush intensified. Still breathing heavily, she clambered to her feet and extended her hand to Faith. Faith held up her arms and Buffy hauled her to her feet.
Or she would have done, save for the effects of peach body wash. Faith’s arms slithered out of Buffy’s grasp like greased eels, and her feet shot out from under her on the slippery floor.

Faith’s sliding legs kicked Buffy’s feet out from under her, and she fell.

Face first.

Onto Faith’s chest.

“Ow,” she groaned.

Faith said nothing.

Buffy opened her eyes. And came face to face with Faith’s breasts.
Faith snorted, her witty comments and laughter lost, as she made an inadvertent attempt at drowning in the shower spray.

Gasping and choking, she said. “If you wanted a closer look B, *cough* all you had to do was ask.”

Buffy muttered under her breath, ignoring Faith. “Stupid slippery peach.”

Faith grinned again. “There’s a phrase just loaded with meaning. You know if Xan could see us, he’d blow a fuse and die of a happy heart attack.”
Buffy groaned and levered herself to her feet, this time she managed to hold on to Faith and successfully haul her upright.

“Sorry I knocked ya down.”

“My bad for dropping you.”

She retrieved the peach body wash and started washing Faith’s long muscular legs, working her way up.
Faith’s breath caught as Buffy’s small strong hands massaged the inside of her thighs almost sensually, her face on a level with her crotch.

Faith laid her hand on Buffy’s head and said softly to her, “Gently B.”

Buffy delicately slid her small hand between Faith’s legs, washing her most private place carefully. Faith could not help but gasp as Buffy’s hand slipped across her folds, washing, soaping, cleaning. She bit her lip to avoid moaning. Worse, Buffy turned her around as ran those small strong hands around her butt and between her cheeks. She wasn’t in either place long enough to get Faith off, but it sure felt good.
Buffy was blushing furiously and grabbed the shower head to give Faith a close range blast of hot water, rinsing her off with a yelp.

Faith squirmed. “Whoa B! That tickles girl!”

Buffy smiled innocently at Faith as she directed the point blank spray of water into all Faith’s delicate areas, enjoying making Faith squirm.

“Got to get you all clean! Can’t have you all soapy and itchy all day, that would be all kinds of badness, you might get a rash on your cooter,” Buffy said with a grin.

Faith snorked, managing not to drown this time. “Don’t start that again. Please, my guts couldn’t take any more.”

Time passed.

“Uh, B? I’m five by five. Pretty sure I’m clean, you can put that somewhere else now.”

“Oh! Sorry, I sort of zoned out there,” Buffy said and replaced the hand piece on the hook, pointing the water spray away from their bodies.

She grabbed the shampoo and gestured to Faith. “Turn around, I’ll do your hair and then we’re done.”

Faith complied, resting her bandaged hands against the wall and throwing her head all the way back.
Buffy’s hands massaged the shampoo into Faith’s long dark hair. Faith sighed at the sensuous and strangely comforting feeling of strong delicate fingers massaging her scalp.

“Oh B, that feels really... good.”

“I know right? I miss when my mom used to wash my hair. Whenever I was stressing out about something, like exams, or boys or the latest big bad, I’d have a bubble-bath and my mom would wash my hair, and everything would be alright.”

“Oh, yeah,” Faith sighed.

Buffy carefully rinsed out Faith’s hair and started working her conditioner into it.
Faith sighed a happy sigh. “That feels so good, that’s like the nicest thing ever.”

She luxuriated in the feelings Buffy was generating inside her. “We could get Xan to put a tub in or something, then maybe Red could wash your hair, or... or I could return the favour, you know. Less weird than both of us showering together anyways.”

Buffy smiled. “You know, that’s not a bad idea. Shame those government types never thought to add a hot tub or something.”

“Woulda been too obvious they were livin’ large on the taxpayer. Not that I ever paid taxes.”

Faith sighed when Buffy finished with her hair and rinsed her off.
“Scoot. My turn,” she said, shooing Faith out of the water.

They swapped places, giving Faith the chance to check out Buffy unobserved. She fidgeted with her bagged hands as Buffy started washing herself briskly, all business.
‘Well, one question has been answered today: is Buffy a natural blonde? Oh yeah. Collar and cuffs match, though I figure she bleaches her head hair some.’
She closed her eyes and imagined as many non-sexy things as she could. The last thing she wanted was to get turned on more. There was no way she’d be able hide it from Buffy’s nose, or to explain it away as the result of lusting after some imaginary hottie. Not when they were the only two present.

She imagined skies and clouds, rolling meadows, trees, anything non-sexy. She started to imagine her ideal day with Buffy, walking hand in hand through the grass, talking about whatever popped into their head, lying on the grass watching the clouds go by. She sighed contentedly at the happy scene, ‘If only’ she thought.

She became aware that the water had been switched off. She opened her eyes to see Buffy staring at her.
“What?”

Buffy’s expression was puzzled. “You had this dopey smile on your face, and were humming to yourself. It was very un-Faith.”

“Uh, right. I was just thinking that it might be nice to go for a walk you know? My legs still work, and we never get to look around this place during the day time. I mean all day it’s ‘train the baby-Slayers’ and all night it’s ‘patrol for vamps’ with the kids. Might be nice to just hang, you know? Look around a bit.”

Buffy smiled. “You know, that sounds nice. And yeah, I could use some time away from the hordes. Come on, let’s get you dry and dressed so we can escape our crushing responsibilities for a while.”


+++


A short time later, the pair were wrapped in fluffy pink bathrobes and Buffy was working Faith’s hair with a blow drier. Faith for her part was clearly enjoying the pampering and had her head thrown back, revelling in the sensations of Buffy working her hair with fingers, drier and brush.

“Man that feels... awesome,” she sighed.

Buffy smiled. “No problem.”

“Thanks B, this day has just been a blast. Actually, today has been really weird, but nice I mean. I mean… it’s just been good to kick back, and do girlie stuff for a change.”

Buffy smiled warmly. “It’s ok Faith, I get it. It’s not good to be all-slay, all the time.”

She ran her fingers through Faith’s hair to make it look tousled, rather than poufy blow-dried.
“I normally do this sort of thing with Willow... minus the showering part, because that would be just weird. But the hair and nail polish thing, yeah. It’s nice to do this sort of thing with someone else. With you.”

Faith couldn’t speak for a moment, when she spoke her voice was a little husky. “Thanks B. That means a lot, you know?”

Buffy sighed. “We were close once, you and me. I’m tired of fighting, tired of being suspicious. I want it back the way it was. I want my old Faith back,” she said quietly.

Faith’s voice cracked. “Listen B, that Faith is dead. Dead and gone and never coming back. That Faith was lost and broken and alone. An’ a little bit crazy too. But what you can have, is new Faith, ok? This Faith has survived her mistakes and actually learned from them a lil’ bit. This Faith is tired of fighting and suspicion and running away. And this Faith wants friends and is going to stick by them. So... so how ‘bout you give this Faith a chance?”

Buffy smiled. “I’d like that.”
She put down the drier. “Well, your hair’s all done, time for the ritual nail polish.”

Faith wordlessly held up her bandaged hands.

“Well, I can do your feet. Very girlie, and you were all about the girlie-ness earlier.”

Faith giggled, her dimples showing. She then looked embarrassed. “Don’t tell anyone I did that. It would totally bust my rep.”

“Faith: totally ok with the girlie-ness of bubble bath and painted toenails, but not the girlie-ness of giggling.”

“Hey, come on! I’m not un-feminine. I just have a reputation as a badass to uphold,” Faith protested. “Painted toenails are ok, I can be a badass with pretty feet, I just can’t be a badass and giggly. It’s like cotton-candy and fish: it just don’t go together.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose at the idea. “Can I just say: Yukky. Also never mention that idea around Dawn, she’s liable to try it out... and eeew!”

Buffy sat cross-legged on the bed and patted her lap. Faith gave her a strange look.

“Sit down, it’s nail-time,” Buffy said cheerfully.

“You want me to... sit... in your lap?” Faith said slowly.

Buffy rolled her eyes and pointed to the bed. “No, silly. You sit there, you put your foot here, so I can do your toenails.”

“Uh, right. Sorry B. I guess I’m kinda ‘stranger in a strange land’ here. Never had a girl... friend to do my nails y’know. Never had anyone like Red to do this stuff with.”

She sat down cross-legged and extended a foot to Buffy. Buffy tucked the foot into her lap and looked up smiling happily. Her expression changed to one of awkwardness as she realized Faith had come undone. Wordlessly she leaned forward and re-tied Faith’s robe.

Buffy grabbed several bottles and a box of cotton balls and started work on Faith’s toenails with an emery-board.

“So... um, did that hurt?” she said hesitantly.

“Huh?” said Faith, slightly dazed. “Did what hurt? The toes are fine.”

“No I meant getting your, um...” she gestured helplessly at Faith’s crotch, now hidden beneath the robe.
Faith’s eyes focused with some reluctance. “Uh, look. All kidding aside, I’m ok with you calling this stuff ‘girl-parts’. I mean it’s a little weird, especially given that you hang with Red. Who used to have her hands in girl’s parts, and still manages to talk like a twelve year old. But it’s ok to call em’ that. Was just kinda funny is all.”

Buffy blushed slightly, but soldiered on. “Now that we’ve survived that apocalypse of embarrassment, was it all with the ouchies? Getting your girl-parts waxed?”

Faith thought for a moment. “Was a bit rough the first time, got easier after that. The more you do it, the less it hurts. Worse than waxing your legs, but quicker. Helps if you get someone who knows what they’re doing. Better than shaving though. Forget having a razorblade down there,” Faith said with a shudder.

“Being a Slayer clues you in to what a blade can do to flesh,” Buffy agreed.

Faith nodded. “I really want that sorta thing kept far, far away from my girl.”

Buffy grinned at Faith’s delicate phrasing. “Well there’s nothing wrong with keeping things neat and tidy with a nice safe trimmer.”

“Shaving every day or so, versus, uh, ‘ouchies’ for a few minutes every few weeks? No contest.”

Buffy returned to her work on Faith’s toes, pronouncing her ready for the first coat after a few minutes of work.

“Not pink, that’d be just too weird.”

Buffy rolled her eyes again. “Please! Not with your colouring. You need darker tones like dark red, plum or maybe scarlet if you really wanted to show off.”

“Dark red looks cool, do that,” Faith suggested.

Buffy looked at the bottle. “China Glaze Siren it is... who comes up with these names anyway?”

“I guess if you’re trying to sell nail polish to girls, ‘Dried-Blood Red’ don’t sound too clever.”

“Oh. Yeah, I can see how that wouldn’t look good.”

Buffy wedged Faith’s toes with cotton buds and got to work, her task made more difficult by Faith’s ticklish feet. Luckily Buffy had plenty of practice with Willow, and managed to get the first foot done without too much trouble.
Faith hung her foot over the side of the bed to dry and gave Buffy her other foot, repeating the wriggling exercise with the new foot.
Wiggly Faith feet were no match for a Slayer with years of wiggly-Willow experience, and the toes were soon expertly painted.

“Damn B, that tickles,” she complained, her feet writhing in protest.

Buffy giggled. “It’s kinda cute. Wiggly Faith toes.”

Faith raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “Please B, cute? Really? Are you that determined to wreck my Ford-Tough image?” Faith asked.

Buffy responded. “You have cute toes. It’s not my fault, it’s a thing. Cute toe syndrome.”

“Right, no one’s gonna see these toes but you. I mean I can’t hide them from you, you’re the one who made em like that. Can’t have people thinking of me as ‘cute’ though. I have an image and everything.”

While they waited for the nail polish to dry, Buffy looked around the room, taking in the pictures of her friends and family, and the prints on the walls.

“Faith? Why do you have those prints hung up on the wall?”

Faith looked uncomfortable for a moment, but eventually explained quietly. “They’re your mom’s favourite prints and uh, flowers.”

“I know that, I saw them every day for years. I was wondering why they’re on your wall. And why do you have photos of the gang on your nightstand, and jonquil flowers on your desk?” Buffy asked.

“Uh, look, I’ll spill. But you gotta understand that this goes back to when I was twisted and screwed up. It’ll involve a buncha stuff you might not wanna hear about. So don’t go killing me, ok?” Faith asked, almost pleading.

“I promise. Scouts honour, your good deeds have bought you several days of guaranteed no-killage,” Buffy said holding up three fingers.

Faith was silent for a long time, but when she finally spoke it was in a faraway voice. “Before everything went to hell, being with you and Dawn and your mom was... was the closest I have ever been to a real family. And that thanksgiving? Was like magic, really B, that was one of the happiest times of my life, even if I wasn’t feeling that comfortable while it was happening.”

She shrugged. “Too new, y’know? Like I had no idea how to handle stuff like that. I hadn’t even seen anything like that since my Grammy and... Hope... died.”
“You know how crazy and screwed up everything got after that. I mean, I really went off the rails. But B? You know what really broke me? What really sent me right off the edge?”

Buffy shook her head slowly.

“I held a knife to your mom’s throat, I threatened to kill the woman who’d only ever shown me kindness, and you know what she said?” Faith said, interrupting her monologue to stare, lost and despairing into Buffy’s hazel eyes.
“She said that she would have been my mom too, if I’d just asked. It broke me B. To know I’d been so close, to know that if I’d just reached out my hand, she’d have pulled me in and loved me, and been my mom. And I’d just thrown it away.”
Faith looked at Buffy with a look of bottomless loss. “We coulda been sisters B. You an’ me an lil’ D. We coulda been a family. And I broke it all.”
She hung her head in shame. “And then when I finally got my head on the right way, I couldn’t say sorry, ‘cos she was gone. I never got to make it up to her.”
“So that’s why I got those prints up and those flowers she always had around. To remind me of happier times and to remember your mom, ‘cos I miss her and I wanna tell her how sorry I am. But I can’t ever.”

Buffy smiled a sad smile. “She knows Faith. Believe me when I tell you, my mom knows.”

Faith smiled slightly. “I used to wonder where you got it from, y’know? Where that special no-surrender Buffy-ness came from. I wondered if it was a Slayer thing that I’d missed or something.”
She looked Buffy in the eye. “You get it from your mom. I swear to god B, your mom is made of fucking iron.”

Buffy raised an eyebrow but said nothing, waiting for an explanation.

Faith continued. “I mean there she was, tied up by a crazy psycho chick. A stone killer holding a knife to her throat, and you know what she did? She bitched me out! Seriously you’da been proud! Uh, maybe not the whole thing with the knife, but proud yeah? She told me where to get off, told me all this was my damn fault and why. Man, she chewed me up and spit me out.”

Buffy could not help but smile slightly.

Faith spoke in admiring tones. “That woman had stones. Solid rock, right the way through.”

“Thanks for the really disturbing visual, Faith,” Buffy grumbled, though there was little force behind it.

Faith ignored the comment and looked at Buffy admiringly. “You are your mother’s daughter, Buffy.”

Buffy looked surprised. “You called me Buffy. You never call me Buffy, why now?”

Faith shrugged. “Uh, I was being all serious and meaningful and crap. I wanted you to really hear me y’know?”

“I hear you Faith, I really do,” Buffy said with a smile. “My mom was no warrior, but in her own way she was strong. Mom strong, like Tara-strong. She never swung an axe, but you knew not to mess with my mom.”

Faith grinned a little, regaining a bit of her bravado. “Joyce the badass. Don’t mess with the Summers women.”

“Darn Skippy!” Buffy chirped, sharing Faith’s grin.

“Ok, give me your feet so I can put on a clear coat, then we can head out for an afternoon of shirking responsibility and general slacking off.”

“I think we’ve earned it B. We’ve been working so hard on the Slayer syllabus that I actually know what the word means, and how to use it in a sentence now. Who’da figured?”

Buffy expertly applied the clear top coat to the nail polish, blowing on Faith’s toes to help them dry.

“Ungh!” Faith complained. “Do you know how to do anything that doesn’t tickle my feet? Or the rest of me?”

“What can I say, I like watching you squirm. It’s kinda like how me and Willow torture Xander with girlie stuff. It’s just fun. I guess I’m evil that way,” she said with a grin.
“Come on, let’s get you dressed and outa here. We have a date with some hardcore goofing off.”

“Cool. I’m thinking that given the circumstances, we might skip the skin-tight jeans or leather. Bottom drawer, black track pants, red stripe,” Faith said pointing with her bandaged hand.
Faith also pointed out a red halter top and a comfortable pair of red satin boxers.

Buffy rummaged around in the sock drawer, looking for a pair of socks that actually matched. Then she found a brand new pair of bright rainbow socks. She held them up with a raised eyebrow and a questioning look.
Faith looked embarrassed. “Uh, yeah. Present from a friend. Never actually worn them because... well, duh.”

“This is the sort of thing Willow wears on her goofy days,” Buffy commented.

“There might be a reason for that. It was Red that got them for me. Always wanted to save them for a special occasion. Like when I was really stoned, or had a major head injury.”

“Neato!” Buffy said adding them to the pile of clothes.

“No way am I wearing rainbow socks. C’mon B, I’m not your own personal dress-up doll.”

“Are you sure? Because I totally have to dress you. You could be action Faith, now with kung-fu grip.”

Faith just gave her a level look.

“Aw come on, rainbow socks are awesome, plus you can show them to Willow and she’ll be really pleased. And they are the only socks in your drawer that match.”
Buffy made a pouty-face, her bottom lip poking out sadly. “Please?” she plead.

Faith rolled her eyes. “Geez B, laying it on a little thick ain’tcha?”

Buffy pouted some more.

“Fine. I’ll wear Red’s stupid rainbow socks, just quit giving me puppy dog eyes.”

“Yay for Buffy!” she said clapping her hands excitedly. “I’m adding ‘pouty-face’ to my list of superpowers.”

Faith shrugged. “Flying would have been cooler, but I guess you can leave that one to Red.”

Buffy looked thoughtful. “Um, I’m not sure Willow’s latest spell counts as flight, I mean it has a tendency to make things nearby explode and dump her on her head. I wouldn’t call that a success. Or a superpower really.”

“Yeah, well, she told me about when she fell off the deep end and learned to fly. Not so much a spell, just forcing the issue with a ton of power,” Faith said. “She said the flying was cool, but she was too messed up to appreciate it. So now she’s trying to figure out a way to do it without the evildoing.”

“Hooray for no evildoing. If she could learn to fly without exploding things, well that would be great also,” Buffy chirped.

“That would be something to see,” Faith said.

She snorted and grinned, getting a questioning look from Buffy. “Sorry, just had an image of Red flying a broom stick, complete with stripy socks.”

Buffy’s face lit up. “I’ve just had one of those amazing brain things! An apostrophe or whatever. We should do a Halloween dress-up thing!”

Faith gave it some thought. “Huh. Not that far away. Sure, sounds like a blast. Y’know, if you really wanted to play dress up, the Peach has half price drinks once a month, on Fridays. If you go in some kind of costume.”

Buffy bobbed her head enthusiastically. “Ok, great!” Her expression clouded. “Wait, what’s the Peach?”

Faith shook her head. “Girl you really gotta get out more. The Peach Pitt? It’s like the Bronze only with more coffee and actual food and slightly less booze. During the day they do coffee and munchies, at night it’s more of a bar kinda vibe. Most of the mini-Slayers hang out there on account of you can get coffee pretty much 24/7. Food’s decent too.”

Buffy looked grumpy. “How come I haven’t heard of this place?”

“When was the last time you just kicked back, and didn’t just spend the day sleeping or doing laundry?” Faith said with a shrug.

“Uh... um...” Buffy said.

“My point exactly. I swear in a school of like, a couple thousand people, you must be the only person who has never been there. Town ain’t that big, there’s a limited number of hang out spots, an’ the Peach is all of them,” Faith said.

“Sigh. I think you’re right. I seriously need funning. Wanna go Friday?” a slightly bummed Buffy said.

Faith grinned. “Sure B, I’ll help you blow the rust of the fun muscles. Or some other confusin’ metaphor.”

She pointed at the laptop. “When they have costume night next month, we could go in costume if you want. Look under the laptop, there’s a flyer I think.”

Buffy poked around under the laptop and snagged the flyer.

“Hmm... ‘sexy space aliens’ and next month ‘powerful women’. The month after that is ‘Heroes’, I assume they mean like hero-heroes, not the people from that show.”

“Yup. Can we get dressed now? I really wanna get out in the sun, y’know? Soak some heat into my bones,” Faith said.

Buffy stood up. “Sure. Um, stand up and I’ll do my breast... best! To get you dressed without having a heart attack.”

Faith stood up with a smirk. “Feelin’ a little Freudian there B? I don’t blame ya, I have a wicked rack. It’s ok to be jealous.”

“Hey I’m not jealous! My boobs are just fine thank you. Better than fine. Amazing even… and I can’t believe I just said that,” Buffy said, face-palming herself.

“Look B, I know I’m havin’ fun torturing you an’ all,” Faith said smirking.
“And it is fun, sorry. But hey, I’m glad you came to help me out. I can’t even guess how bad this woulda been with anyone else.”

Buffy untied Faith’s fluffy belt and gently pushed her gown over her shoulders. The fluffy pink robe piled at her feet. Faith made a show of shivering. “C’mon B, don’t leave me hanging, girl. I need clothes.”

“Hold your arms out in front, like you’re a zombie.” Buffy said.

Faith did so, looking confused. Buffy slipped the halter top on and wiggled it into place. The front of the top had ‘Bitch Queen’ printed across the front in elegant feminine lettering.
Buffy giggled and said “That top is so you.”

Faith grinned. “I know right? I was so blown away when I saw this that I got a bunch of them. I wear them to train the mini-Slayers. They kinda think it’s my badge of office, when they ain’t checkin’ out the goods.”

Buffy blushed, grabbed the boxers and knelt for Faith to step into them.

Faith quickly stepped in and was almost relieved when Buffy pulled them up. Having a half-naked Buffy at head height to her own naked crotch? Well, that was dangerously close to a number of distracting dreams she had been trying desperately not to have lately.
She wasn’t sure what it meant, but after waking up in a pool of damp need, filled with dreams of a little blonde Slayer, she felt guilty.
Worse, when the obvious solution presented itself, she couldn’t get images of Buffy out of her head. Which added to the guilt. Unable to find release by herself, and being strangely unwilling to find it with anyone else, had left Faith with a hair trigger and a mountain of frustration.

Buffy neatly extracted the little cotton balls from Faith’s toes and pulled on the stripy rainbow socks. “There, embarrassing cute toes covered,” she said.

“Yeah, by embarrassing socks,” Faith grumbled, and stepped into the track pants Buffy held out for her.

“Aww, don’t be like that, feel the fun remember?” Buffy chirped. She shook her own hair out of its towel and put the brush through it.

Faith awkwardly dragged a pair of sneakers out of the closet with her feet, while Buffy put her own hair up in a simple ponytail.
“I’ll go put some clothes on my own self. Back shortly,” Buffy said.
Faith managed to manoeuvre herself into a dark red sleeveless jacket while Buffy was talking.

+++

_________________
“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


Last edited by Azirahael on Mon Dec 22, 2014 4:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Coming home part 2 - And The Stars Shall Fall (Ch 1)
PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 4:03 am 
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Topics: 15
Location: Beyond the orbit of Mars and accelerating...
Part 2 of this chapter:

+++



10 minutes later, Buffy was back wearing a white summer-dress with peachy coloured flowers printed all over it.
“Tada!” she said. “Behold my commitment to goofing off: a dress totally unsuitable to high-kicking. No slay-age for the next couple of days.”

“That safe? Both Slayers off-line at the same time?” Faith asked.

“The world got by with one Slayer for thousands of years and managed not to end. And she had to sleep. We’ve got an army. And Willow, Xander and Giles,” Buffy said. “They can deal.”

“Come on Faith, I’m serious about this goofing-off thing. You were right about me, I was becoming not-fun Buffy. I’ve saved the world a bunch of times and died twice doing it. I’ve earned a couple of days off, and so have you.”

Faith clumsily scooped up her phone and manoeuvred it into her jacket pocket. “Cool. There’s still a ton to do, but yeah, you’re right. Us going missing for a couple of days won’t be the end of the world. And hey, it’s still Summer for a while yet, which should mean that we’ve got a little while before the bad guys start crawling out of their holes.”

Buffy bobbed her head cheerily. “Summer is the season of the sun, the thing that most evil types fear.”

Faith smirked. “I’d say that thanks to you, demons everywhere are terrified of Summers.”

She looked expectantly at Buffy, who looked back blankly.

“That was a joke B. Your name is Summers, you’re the Slayer...”

Buffy hung her head. “Ugh. You’re right. I so need the fun. Let me get your shoes on and we can get out of here. Time for some sun and serious goofing off.”

In a short while, shoes were tied, blankets and picnic baskets were recovered and the pair were off, with a slight detour to the food place.



Buffy rummaged around in the many large refrigerators looking for sandwich ingredients.

Faith managed to scoop up a number of pieces of fruit and put them one by one in the basket.

“B? Check the Scooby icebox, there’s a bunch of stuff in my shelf that’ll be great for this.”

Buffy poked around in the industrial refrigerator with the Scooby-Doo, paw print and rainbow star stickers plastered all over it.
She pulled out a cardboard box from the collection of foreign beers and had a look inside. And then squealed with delight and hopped up and down with joy.
“Cheeses! You have expensive foreign cheeses!

Faith couldn’t help but smile. Dawn and Buffy looked very little like each other, but mannerisms and attitude welded them together. Which reminded Faith about something.

“Well Red mentioned you liked cheese, an’ I thought it might make a good sort of peace offering. I was trying to think of the right time to give it to you. Uh, merry Christmas or whatever.”

Buffy wiggled her way through a little happy dance, hugging her box of cheeses tight.

“Uh, B? Can I ask you a personal question?” Faith said hesitantly.

Buffy hugged her box of cheeses in front of her like a security blanket. “I think we are way beyond personal, but shoot. I can’t promise I’ll answer, but you can ask,” Buffy said.

“Ok, well this is gonna sound kinda weird, but you said some stuff earlier that confused me. I didn’t wanna get in to it then ‘cos there was so much to deal with, y’know?”

Buffy bobbed her head cheerfully. “Uh-huh. I hear you.”

She put down the precious box and started assembling sandwiches.

“Right, so, uh,” she hesitated. “What did you mean earlier about Dawn? You said the monks made her out of you. Which is so bizarre it just begs an answer,” Faith said nervously.

Buffy grimaced. “Oops. Sorry Faith, I forget that you don’t know stuff sometimes. You deserve to know, so I’ll spill the beans. Just not here. Private family stuff, I’ll explain when we get somewhere private-er.”

Faith held up her hands in surrender. “It’s cool, you don’t hafta if ya don’t wanna.”

Buffy smiled. “It’s ok Faith, I want to. Plus, it might matter one day.”


+++


Buffy and Faith walked together through a warm sun-dappled trail in the woods, far out the back of Slayer central. The smell of leaf moulds and summer flowers filled the air with a richness and sense of potential that could be found nowhere else.
Warm rays of sunlight squeezed between the overhanging branches and brought light and contrast to the green tinged dimness beneath the boughs.
It was magical.

Impulsively, Buffy hooked her arm through Faith’s, and just about gave her a heart attack.
Buffy smiled at Faith’s surprised look, until she melted slightly and returned a hesitant half smile.

“You and Red are both kinda touchy-feely huh?”

“That Willow, she’s a snuggler. Hogs the blankets too. But yup, I guess I’m kind of a touch-er. Penalties of fighting an evil, non-touchy ghost thing for ages, I guess. Sorry, I didn’t think,” she said as she pulled her arm free.

“Naw B, it’s ok. Really. Just caught me by surprise is all,” Faith said.
She held her elbow out shyly in invitation and Buffy linked up again.

“I guess I’m still figuring out how to even have friends. If I’d had someone like Red or Xan in my corner growing up, I might have come out of it better, you know?”
She nudged Buffy. “I was always kinda jealous of you for that. I mean you didn’t have many friends, but the ones you had were the best. Like, Red or Xan-man would have taken a bullet for you. Giles too.”

Buffy paled at the word ‘bullet’, but nodded silently.

They found a clearing a distance from the track, a small hole in the leaves left by a fallen tree. The wind rustled the leaves gently and birds twitted quietly in the distance. Other than those natural sounds, it was perfectly still.

“It’s perfect, let’s set up here,” Buffy said.

Faith nudged her away. “It is pretty and I like it. But come a little further and I’ll show you an even better spot.”

Buffy pouted slightly, but allowed herself to be pulled along until they left the trees and entered an open field.
The grass waved knee high, and rippled as the soft breeze washed across it. In the distance, at the top of the long grassy rise, was a large oak tree.

If the clearing in the forest was tranquil, this place was peace and freedom made manifest.
Fluffy clouds competed with the deep blue of the sky, completing the picture of peace.

“What do you think? Good, yeah?”

Buffy sighed “So peaceful, and we can see the sky. Come on, let’s get up there so we can have lunch.”

Together they ambled up the hill to the tree, soaking in the soft susurration of the wind on the grass, bumblebees buzzing among the flowers, and the occasional quiet bird chirp.

Buffy was totally awestruck “This is... just amazing, Faith.”

“Y’know what’s embarrassing about this place? It’s like, 10 minutes’ walk from Slayer central and I only ran across it by accident one night.”
Faith stared off into the distance, rapt with the open sky. “You should see this place by moonlight B, it’s pure magic.”

Buffy looked at her companion, utterly amazed. This was a side of Faith that she had never seen before.
It warmed her heart to see this unguarded side of Faith, she was touched to see the capacity for wonder that Faith hid beneath her armour.

She linked her arm with Faith and looked out at the cloud dotted sky with her, sharing a moment.
“Show me?” she asked softly.

Faith looked at her silently and nodded.

Buffy smiled.


+++


“No crackers. Crackers are an abomination. Every time you eat good cheese with crackers, a little fishy dies. Say no to crackers,” Buffy stated with authority.

“Right. Got it. Crackers: bad,” Faith said.

“Now I only grabbed the eating cheeses, some of the ones you had were better for cooking. We can do something with them later,” Buffy said as she laid out the cheeses on a small wooden board.
She added a small, oddly shaped knife, and covered the cheeses with a cloth, to keep ferocious mice at bay.

The pair sat back to enjoy the view. They were sitting in the shade of the tree with their bare feet sticking out into the sunlight, the heat from the sun pleasantly toasting their painted toenails. Faith in dark red, Buffy in pink.

“I’m assuming there’s some reason we’re not eating the cheese, or the sammiches?” Faith asked.

“Don’t want to spoil our palette with sammies. The cheese has to warm because it’s been in the ice box, and we are appreciating the wonders of nature,” Buffy said.
She pointed out at the open landscape. “So appreciate,” she said with a mock scowl.

Faith couldn’t help but smile. “Okay, okay, I’m appreciating already.”

Buffy lay back on the blanket and looked into the clouds.

Faith lay back and shaded her eyes as she too searched the clouds.

Nothing was said to disturb the peace for several minutes.
A silent tear leaked from the corner of Faith’s eye.

“Clown hat,” Buffy said cheerfully, randomly pointing at the sky.

Faith looked at the vaguely conical cloud and smiled. The temptation to say something snarky died on her tongue, she found herself looking into the clouds for things to describe.
“Buzzy Bee,” she said finally, pointing to a cloud.

“What’s a Buzzy Bee?” Buffy asked.

“Uh, kids toy. Big wooden bee with wheels. You pull it along behind you and the wings go round,” Faith explained.

A look of comprehension dawned on Buffy’s face. “I am officially educated,” she said.

“Sheep!” she said, continuing the impromptu game.

“Pffft!” Faith commented. “Everyone sees sheep, you’re not even trying. Look: exploding pineapple.”

“Bird.”

“The space shuttle.”

“Ooo, good one. Um, hey! Heart with a stake through it,” Buffy said, pointing triumphantly.

Faith smiled sadly. “I remember,” she said.
Faith sat up and looked away from Buffy, covertly wiping at the tear that tracked its way down her cheek, quietly glad that there hadn’t been a chance to bother with makeup today.

“How’s the cheese B?”

“Mmm... cheesy goodness awaits. Yep, let’s do the cheese thing,” Buffy said, sitting up with a smile.

She fussed around with the packets of cheese, putting them in order. She opened the first one and sliced off two soft cubes.
“Try this first, it’s called Quark cheese. It’s really mild, like cottage cheese almost.”

“How am I supposed to eat anything without fingers?”

“Open wide,” Buffy said, and popped a soft white cube in Faith’s mouth.

Faith chewed speculatively. “Huh, not bad. Go good on some hot crusty bread or somethin.”

Buffy cut neat slices from a small white wheel of cheese as she savoured her own cube. “Actual food later, now is all about appreciating the unadulterated cheesy goodness.”

“As cheeses go, it’s not very cheesy. This on the other hand is Camem-burt,” she said holding up the packet.

“Pretty sure Burt an’ Ernie are nowhere near this. Ok B, cheese me,” Faith said, opening her mouth and holding out her tongue with an ‘ahhh’ sound.

Buffy smiled and popped the small wedge of cheese on Faith’s tongue. Faith chewed the soft melty cheese as Buffy savoured her own wedge with a happy humming sound.

Faith looked at Buffy as she relished the taste of the cheese. She had a blissful smile on her face and looked slightly spacey. ‘Geez, Red wasn’t kidding when she said that B liked cheese.’

Faith chewed her cheese thoughtfully, it was sort of cheesy, nutty and something else. “This is nice B. What’s the chewy stuff on the outside?”

Buffy stopped her happy humming sound “Fungus.”

“What!? I’m eating Fungus?”

Buffy nodded cheerfully. “Uh-huh. Don’t panic, it’s no worse than mushrooms, which are also fungus.”

Faith looked a bit put out. “Uh, yeah. But still... gross.”

“As opposed to curdled milk, all squooshed up into cheese?” Buffy asked.

“Yeah well, anything is going to sound gross if you say it like that,” Faith complained.

They slowly worked their way through Brie, Monterey Pepper Jack and a sharp English cheddar. Each cheese provoked a stronger and more ecstatic reaction in Buffy, until she fell back on the blanket with a happy sigh that Faith typically associated with the end of a serious bedroom session.
She was starting to think ‘Buffy likes cheese’ was nowhere near an accurate description.

“Oh my god Faith!” Buffy sighed happily. “These cheeses are amazing! Best present I’ve had in ages!”

“You, uh, really like cheese huh?” Faith said.

Buffy sighed a replete sigh. “It’s better than a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. It’s like someone squooshed a tub of B & J into a pill, than did that a bunch of times, so there’s a bunch of pill... stuff. And I get to eat it! So, um... cheese good?”

Faith laughed. “It’s ok B, I get it. Cheese good.”

Faith carefully cut the wheel of blue cheese with the little cheese knife, held clumsily between her bandaged hands.
Skewering the wedge of stinky cheese on the little prongs she said. “B? Close your eyes an’ open your mouth.”

Buffy complied, and Faith flicked the little wedge of blue and white into Buffy’s mouth.
She moaned as she savoured the salty cheese goodness, making happy little “mmm-mmmm” sounds.

Faith stared in amazement. She liked cheese well enough, and the selection of cheeses they had eaten had all been good and cheesy. But Buffy was... writhing ever so slightly on the blanket. And making happy little humming sounds as she consumed the cheese. Buffy’s writhing and hip rocking motions were subtle and understated, but visible if you were paying attention.

And having an effect on Faith. Watching Buffy all-but get off in front of her, writhing on the blanket in low-key ecstasy was doing terrible things to her composure. She felt hot and breathless, as if someone had closed all the windows on a hot car, and she felt a growing liquid heat low in her belly. Different from the ‘itch to be scratched’ hungry and horny feeling she got after beating down a bunch of vamps.
It was deeper, lacking that sense of ‘I just wanna pull the trigger and go home’ that H&H gave her.

She came to the conclusion that a happy Buffy was an exciting Buffy. And she definitely wanted happy Buffy in her life.

Buffy sighed a happy sigh. “Wow, that was really good cheese.”

Faith looked across at Buffy. “I’m getting that impression, yeah.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes, absorbing the peaceful atmosphere, until Buffy broke the silence.
“Faith? Where would you be if you could be anywhere in the world?” Buffy asked.

“Right here Buffy,” Faith said softly.

“You wouldn’t want to be in Paris? Or Hawaii, or somewhere really amazing?” Buffy asked.

Faith shook her head. “Nah. Our place here is beautiful. We’re doing good in the world B, and I have friends here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Buffy was pleasantly surprised. “Wow. That’s really good, I hadn’t thought of it that way I guess. Well that shoots a hole in a game of ‘anywhere but here’.”

Buffy looked thoughtful for a moment.

“Well... what would be your perfect day then?”

There was silence.

Buffy looked around, Faith was gone.


+++


She found Faith behind the tree and about 20 metres away, sitting silently in the long grass, her arms wrapped around her knees. She walked slowly towards her, knowing that Faith could hear her approach.

“Um... are you ok?” Buffy asked.

“I’m totally ok. I always up and vanish when things are five by five,” Faith said in an acid tone.

Buffy said nothing. The wind hissed as it blew small gusts across the grass. The leaves of the oak rustled behind them.

Faith hung her head. “Fuck.”
She growled in frustration. “I’m sorry B. I just don’t know how to handle it when things are good. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for everything to go to hell you know? I guess I just pick at it, to get the waiting over with.”

“It doesn’t always have to go to hell you know,” Buffy said.

“I just... I got scared B. I guess the old Faith left some junk behind when she left, ‘cos I get freaked out when things are good.”

Buffy laid her hand on Faith’s shoulder and knelt in the grass next to her.

Faith spoke. “You asked me what my perfect day was? This. This simple, stupid little thing was my perfect day. This is what I was imagining in the shower, just hanging out under the open sky. No city, no Slayers, no stress, no responsibilities. Free to just... be.”

“Is that pathetic or what?” she said angrily.

Buffy squeezed Faith on the shoulder. “I don’t think it’s pathetic. This has been really good, filled with goodness even. Hanging out with you and having a picnic, has been the best day that I didn’t know I needed. Just... nod if you understood any of that.”

Faith nodded and sniffed.

“Oh honey, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to say anything to upset you, you know me, always with the remarkable self-involvement. I’m kinda bad at figuring out what’s happening around me,” she said sadly.
Buffy put a comforting arm around Faith’s shoulders and held her while she figured out what to say next.

Faith sniffed a little louder. “S’not your fault. Just me being messed up and not able to deal, y’know? I just got scared is all. Scared because things were good. How messed up is that?”
The closeness with Buffy was making Faith more than a little nervous, but she was unable to pull herself away. It was a torture she just couldn’t bring herself to end.

Buffy spoke up. “I get it Faith, and I get that way too sometimes. So often the good times are just the silence before the hammer comes down. I think it’s us Faith. We’ve just been hit too often, so we expect it.”
Buffy stood up “C’mon, let’s go blob on our nice comfy blanket, while I explain some really wiggy stuff.”

Faith got to her feet and wandered back to the blanket with Buffy.

“So, I’ve never had to explain this to anyone from the ground up, so this is new to me. Also I’ve spent so long keeping this a secret and protecting Dawn, that it really never occurred to me to tell you. Um, sorry.”

“It’s cool B, just say what you gotta say, I’ll figure it out somehow,” Faith said.

Buffy took a deep breath. “Hokay, remember when you were in Sunnydale the first time? And Dawn had that huge crush on you?”

“Uh, Yeah?” said Faith cautiously. “I remember you being seriously pissed about it.”
She smiled as she pictured a much younger Dawn, following them around and generally asking all sorts of questions. “She was pretty cute running around in those fairy wings all the time.” Her smile stretched into a grin. “Remember when she-“

Buffy interrupted with a shake of her head. “That never happened, Dawn did not exist until two years later. Any past anyone had with her is a false memory.”

“...the hell?!” Faith burst out. “I thought you were gonna tell me she was adopted or something, not this! Uh, sorry. Go on.”

“She used to be a mystical energy ball-thing called The Key, that a hell-god called Glory wanted to use to get back to her own world. In order to hide it from her, the monks who protected it cast a spell that sent her to me. They sent her in the form of my sister, so that I would protect her no matter what.”

Gaping, stunned silence was all that Faith could manage.

“A key can be just used whenever. But to use the key in the form of a person, Glory needed to bleed her to open the portal.” Buffy said.
She plucked at bits of lint on the blanket. “And it would stay open until the blood stopped flowing. They did it too, they took my little sister and used her blood to open the portal. And the world started to fall apart.”

Faith was clearly holding back a torrent of questions, but she managed to hold off until Buffy finished her story.

“The thing is, the monks made her out of me. My blood, her blood, Summers blood. We were the same...” Buffy said.
Her voice changed, becoming hollow. “They cut her Faith, they made her bleed. I couldn’t let my little sister die, I just... couldn’t. She was mine, my blood, my sister, my... daughter, I guess.”

Faith’s eyes took on a haunted look.
Buffy kept talking, oblivious to the emotions flashing across Faith’s features. “The First Slayer told me ‘Death is your gift’. I figured it out. If we had the same blood, my death would close the portal. So I jumped into the portal, and... closed it.”

Buffy stared off into space.

Faith carefully put her arm around Buffy, uncertain about offering comfort, but determined none the less.
“I know B. I… I felt you die, and it damn near killed me.”

Buffy continued on in her hollow tone, not really hearing Faith. “We’re Slayers Faith, it’s what we do, what we’re for. We fight and we die. Alone, in the dark.”

“Not any more B. We got backup now. We’re in the dark, but we are not alone, not anymore,” Faith said, squeezing her comfortingly.

Buffy looked up and smiled. It was a wan smile, but a smile never the less. “Not alone. Thanks Faith.”

Faith blew it off. “No problem B. Any time.”

“So that’s how my sister got turned from a ball of green light into a real girl, and how she went from the key in human form, to being just a regular girl, once the portal was closed.”

“That’s kinda rough. Shit like that would really mess you up,” Faith said.

Buffy nodded. “It did, there was a bit where she wasn’t sure she was real and she cut herself. And she stole stuff.”

Faith squeezed her shoulders. “Been there.”

Buffy smiled a little, and leaned against her. “Thanks for listening Faith. And understanding. I’m sorry I never told you about Dawn before. I wish I’d known what a good listener you were.”

Faith looked embarrassed. “That’s new Faith. Old Faith woulda made some smart-assed crack and run off.”
Faith swallowed. “B? I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you an’ all.”

Buffy smiled. “It’s ok, you weren’t to know. And I wish you’d have been there Faith. Two Slayers? We’d have put that bitch in the ground for sure.”

Faith looked a little surprised. “Whoa, sounding a little like me there sister!”

Buffy looked a little sheepish, but still smiled. “Well if anyone deserves the title, it’s her.”

“She sounded nuts, and kinda airheaded.”

“You have no idea,” Buffy said.

“Went to school with a chick like that: blonde bimbo, cheerleader, total air head. Bitchy too.”

Buffy mumbled something indistinct and looked away.

Faith laughed softly. “C’mon, spill. It’s been a day of secrets, so dish, girl. You have a thing for cheerleaders back in the day?”

Buffy grumped. “No. I said I tried out for cheerleading, but sorta didn’t make the cut, plus: evil witches and spontaneous combustion,” she said.

Faith gave her a look. “How did a Slayer flunk cheerleading?”

“Uh, evil magic?” Buffy said with a ‘please believe me’ look.

Faith spoke. “Tell ya a secret? I was a cheerleader in school.”

“No way!” Buffy burst out.

“Yes way. Totally, I was good at it too. Then: watcher, vamps, crazy shit.”

“Wow. I really didn’t see you with pompoms and stuff. Faith the cheerleader. Sorry, it won’t fit in my brain.”

“Yeah, well, don’t tell anybody. I don’t think my rep could survive, what with the cute toes and other crap,” Faith groused.

Buffy picked random grass stalks.

“Giles gave me his ‘Responsibility’ speech when I tried out for cheerleading. He said I couldn’t be a cheerleader and a Slayer at the same time.”

Faith disagreed. “Pffft! My watcher told me to go for it.”

“What was she like? Your first Watcher?”

Faith was silent for a while, long enough that Buffy was worried she’d overstepped.
“She was great. The best. She didn’t take shit from anyone, not even me when I was pissed off. She was like the mom I shoulda had.”
Faith scratched her eyebrow with her rough bandage.

“B? You know I had a shitty home life?”

Buffy nodded slowly.

“Well the Watcher’s Council got it exactly right when they sent her. Diana Dormer, super watcher. I used to call her ‘big D’ or ‘big momma’ ‘cos she was a big girl. Hugs... like you wouldn’t believe,” Faith said.

“Think... like your mom, only with her hair in a bun, wore steel toed boots and tweed jackets and had a tendency to hit stuff with an axe, while yelling at them. Uh, actually, think a louder, chick-version of G-man. I swear B, I loved that woman, I wished she coulda been my mom.”
She smiled a bittersweet smile. “You know B, she offered to go beat the crap out of my old man. The only reason I didn’t let her... is ‘cos she’d have found out how bad it really was, and there would been body parts when she finished. I didn’t want my momma bear behind bars.”

Buffy silently put her arm around Faith’s waist and gave her a comforting squeeze.

“It’s a shame she never got to meet British. She’da had him sputtering in his tea in under 5 minutes. He woulda turned a beautiful shade of red when she hit on him too. She had a thing for English guys. It woulda been awesome,” Faith said.

Buffy hid her smile behind her free hand.

“It’s a shame she couldn’t be here. She really had the goods. All the girly-girls would have been in awe. I mean really, she had big tits. I think having a bunch of Slayers checking out the goods woulda actually made her blush, god knows nothing else woulda, she was bullet-proof.”

“I suppose that out of a thousand girls there’d be a few interested in, um, ‘the goods’,” Buffy said as she popped a sammich in Faith’s mouth.

“Girl you got no idea! Like, this is the biggest concentration of gay women anywhere in the world,” Faith said, through a mouthful of eco-friendly Tuna and lettuce.

Buffy looked lost, a feeling she was having a lot lately. “Huh? What now?”

Faith gave her a look as she chewed. “This place is like a big gay summer camp for girls.”

Buffy blinked with surprise.

“I swear B, you have the worst gaydar of any human being I have ever met. Seriously. I knew about Red and her girl before you did, an’ I only met them for like, 3 minutes one time.”

“Hey! No fair, I... um... with...” Buffy’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “It’s true, I have no gaydar. So enlighten me Obi-Wan, who’s gay around campus?”

Faith thought for a moment. “About half the mini-Slayers I figure.”

“What!”

“You know more gay people than straight B. Lessee, Andrew, Danni from Heathers squad, all of Jules’ squad plus Jules, Willow duh! Lilly, Moia and that Hawaiian chick that I can never remember the name of. Y’know, the one who always wears that flower thing in her hair?”

“Wait, Andrew’s gay?”

“Oh, yeah. Why do you think Xan keeps sending him to other countries? He has the worst crush on X-man.”

“Poor Xander. Heather and Andrew. How awkward for him.”

“Pffft!” Faith retorted. “He’s got it easy. English has his own fan-club, so do you for that matter.”

“Giles has…” she blinked. “Me?! I have a gay fan club?” Buffy said, shocked.

Faith shrugged. “Sure. What’s so hard to imagine? You’re a little cutie, you’re in great shape and you save the world by kickin’ ass. Who wouldn’t like that?”

Buffy made goldfish impersonations.

“Don’t forget, these girls are as hormonal as anything. And don’t overlook the H&H effect after a good slay.”
“I think the only reason you don’t get propositioned more often is that you intimidate them a little.”

“What?! I’m intimidating now?” Buffy protested.

Faith raised an eyebrow. “You telling me you wanna get propositioned more?

Buffy looked uncomfortable. “Well, no to the propositioning. And what do you mean [/i]more?[/i] No one propositions me. Buffy is a hit free zone.”

Faith rolled her eyes. “Geez B, what do you think all those offers to go to the movies, or get a coffee, or do your hair are all about?”

“Perfectly innocent,” Buffy countered. “Dawn does that stuff too,”

“Yeah, but she’s your very special sister. She don’t got the hots for you,” Faith explained.

“Uh... um... er... So Giles has a fan club?” Buffy said, clumsily segueing into a less uncomfortable topic.

Faith grinned. “Yeah, he made the mistake of showing up to open-mike night at the Peach. He’s a really good singer. Anyway after a few rounds of ‘behind blue eyes’ and stuff from the rocky horror picture show, there were more than a few girls all starry eyed...”

“But he’s like… old,” Buffy protested, her face screwed up in incomprehension.

“Says the woman who dated a 200 year old dude.”

“Hey!”


+++


Faith woke from her post-lunch nap, to furnace-like heat.

She rolled to her feet and found herself brushing sand from her shirt. “... the hell?”
She looked down at her un-bandaged, uninjured hands. She looked around at the scrub desert.

Blazing sun, sand, rocks and cacti were all present in abundance.

“Well damn. Not in Kansas anymore,” she said to herself.

She took a step, the heat from the sand scorched her bare feet. She could feel the grains being forced between her toes. Her perfectly pedicured and painted toes.

This felt real.

She felt someone walking towards her and looked up.

Some distance away, a figure was approaching, walking barefoot across the sand.
Nothing about her seemed threatening, from her pink Indian style choli & sari combo, to her gentle features, so Faith walked towards her.

They met in the middle of a ridgeline, giving them an expansive view of the desert.
“Hi Faith,” she said with a small wave.

Faith gaped. “Tara?!”


+++


“So I’m dreaming right? Why are you in my dreams?” Faith asked.

“You’re not dreaming Faith, you’re having a vision,” Tara said with a soft smile. “I’m glad you remember me.”

Faith shrugged. “Yeah well, I’ve got your picture on my bedside table. Red gave it to me when... we made friends.”

Tara smiled brightly. “I’m glad. But that’s not why we’re here.”

“Why are we here?” Faith asked.

Tara replied in a soft singsong voice. “You are here to receive a vision, I am borrowed. I am here to help her do that, I speak for those who have no voice. I speak for her.”

Faith became aware of a second female figure crouching beside her, weaving, watching, constantly moving in a primitive combat stance, invading her space. The figure was dark in every sense of the word, dark skinned, dark dreadlocks, dark face paint.
She eyed her carefully. “So why you Glinda?”

“We have a connection,” she said.

The figure lunged forward and sniffed, taking a huge inhale of Faith’s scent.

“Whoa!” said Faith, annoyed. “You better tell Malibu Christine here to back off, or I will put her on the frikkin’ ground.”

“Life is your gift,” Tara said in a slightly dreamy tone.

The crouching, weaving figure took another long sniff at Faith’s bare midriff.

Faith gave her head a shove, forcing her back. “You best step off bitch!”

The dark figure crouched low and threatening. She growled.
Faith took up a fighting stance and bared her teeth. “Give it your best shot.”

The dark figure lunged for Faith.

“You think you... hey!” Tara protested as the dark figure received a brutal snap kick to the chin.

“I’m guessing you’re all, powerful and shit. But you know what? Martial arts have come a long way since your day.”

The figure lunged again only to have Faith step smoothly out of the way and smash her elbow down on the back of the figures neck.

“You know what’s so embarrassing? You fight just like I used to do, all rage and power and,” she rammed her knee up under the dark woman’s chin. “You lead with your chin, just like I used to.”

The dark figure staggered back, angry and woozy, but still in the fight.

The scene was split by a piercing whistle and Tara stepped between them. “Okay, time out! We don’t have much time and I need to... Hey!” she said as the dark figure leapt through the air at Faith.

Only to be met with another brutal kick to the face, that left her flat on her back.

“It’s ok Blondie, say what you gotta say while I deal with Chrissy here,” she said as she straddled the fallen figure and proceeded to rain blows into her face.

Tara face-palmed.
“Fine,” she said in an annoyed tone.

She spoke loudly over the sounds of violence. “This is the year everything changes, Life is your gift... can you hear me?”

“Five by five, *urk!* just give me a sec,” Faith said as the darkened figure rolled her over and pounded her head into the sand.

Faith head-butted her in the nose and rolled them over again. “Let’s see how you like it bitch!” she said as she grabbed the woman by the throat and bashed her head against the packed sand.

“Go on Blondie! *pound*pound* I’m listening!”

“You think you know what you are! You think you know what’s to come! You haven’t even begun yet!” Tara shouted over the sounds of the brawling women.
“The lost shall be found! The broken made whole! Hope shall be born!” she yelled.

Faith looked up, surprised. “Did you say... mmmph-urgle!” she said, as her adversary took advantage of her distraction to shove sand in her mouth, and elbow her in the throat.

“Remember! Life is your gift!” Tara yelled, before sitting down grumpily to watch the two women fight. She sighed.

“Ack! Pthbt!” Faith spat sand from her mouth. “Got it! Good stuff, life is my gift. Sweet!”

The desert faded from her mind as she woke up.


+++


Faith opened one eye and lifted her hand. Still bandaged, though she was thankful she didn’t have sand in her mouth, ‘Ok, back in Kansas then.’

She sat up. Apparently she and Buffy had dozed off in the shade of the tree. She checked her feet. They were lying in the sun, though with no sign of sunburn or sand.
She looked over at Buffy, who was snoozing silently, inches away, her own feet bathed in sunlight.

Faith smiled sadly. “Oh Buffy...” she whispered.

“Mmmrrmph?” Buffy said sleepily.

Faith lay back down. “Go back to sleep hon, plenty of time later,” she said softly to Buffy.

“Mmmrph.” Buffy mumbled.

Faith closed her eyes.

+++

“Oh my god! You should have seen her with that blue cheese! I almost creamed my pants just watching her!” Faith exclaimed.
She shook her head in disbelief. “Damn Red, you weren’t screwing around when you said she likes cheese.”

Faith and Willow were in Willow’s office, Willow was still seated behind her desk after Faith burst in, her pen still poised over a pile of paperwork.

Willow nodded cheerfully, forgetting the clerical stuff for a moment. “Ah-huh. Possibly the only person in history with a metabolism high enough to feed a cheese addiction and still stay tiny. Go Slayer powers.”
“When she’s sad, or needs cheering up, she eats icecream and watches girly movies with me and Xander, but when she’s alone? The cheese.”

Faith nodded her agreement. “Thanks for your advice though. Today was the best. It was just awesome hanging out with B and just shooting the breeze.” Faith said.
She smiled. “And you were right. Even if she’s never my honey, it’s great to have B as my friend again.”
“I dunno if it’s just when she’s with me, but she seems, you know... better,” Faith scratched her ear with her bandaged hand. “More like how she used to be, I guess.”

Willow beamed happily and nodded.

“Uh, anyways, that ain’t why I’m here. I had something to tell everyone and I needed to tell you first, ‘cos it might be a little rough on ya.”

“Uh-oh. Um, this doesn’t sound like puppies and kittens to me,” Willow protested.

Faith shrugged and kicked the door shut behind her. “Dunno, that’s for you to say I guess. So look, B stuffed me full of cheese and sammiches after we had a big-ole girlie talk, which was good. Then we slept it off in the shade, also good. Then I had a funky vision thing, which was kinda cool, but this is where it gets a bit rough for you.”
She took a deep breath. “Your girl was there Red. Pretty in pink, and large as life. Uh, so to speak.”

Willow stared into space for a moment, before turning to Faith with a pleading expression. “Tell me about her? Please?”

Faith nodded. “Sure Red. I figured you’d wanna know this stuff, so I came to you first. Uh, I’d-a paid more attention, but I was busy pounding the tar out of some aggro black chick at the time. Man did she stink.”

“Wait, an African woman? Did she look all ‘clan of the cavebear’ and stuff?” Willow asked.

“Uh, yeah, kinda caveman looking, claws, all face paint and growling. Not a big fan of soap either,” Faith said, as Willow face-palmed herself with a groan. “What?”

“Faith, I think you just beat up the First Slayer,” Willow said into her hand.

Faith shrugged one shoulder. “Huh. That would explain why she couldn’t fight worth a damn. What are you looking at me like that for?”

Willow looked at the Faith, incredulous. “Faith, you just beat up the mother of the Slayer line, the most powerful Slayer of them all.”

“Nah,” Faith said. “Not everything old is stronger, some things get better with practice,” she said, attempting to buff her knuckles on her top.
“Her technique was crap, all rage and wild swings. Probably work fine on vamps, useless on someone who has real training.”

Willow looked at her goggle-eyed, pen still in hand.

Faith held up her hands. “Hey I used to fight like that. Leading with my chin and all. B fixed me right up, punched me in the face until I learned not to. Easy once you know how.”

“Well, okie-dokie then, um, tell me about that when you tell the others, but Faith, tell me about Tara?”

“Ok-ok, don’t get your panties in a bunch, lemme siddown.” Faith said as she flopped into Willow’s couch.
“First off, lemme tell you, you got great taste in girls Red, ‘cos Glinda is a honey. And she’s the only person I know who could pull off a pink sari. She looked like she did in the picture you gave me, maybe a little more tanned, a good bit blonder, like she’d taken up surfin’ or somethin’.”

Willow stared dreamily into the distance.

Faith grinned. “Oh yeah, she bitched out me and Malibu Christine for fighting while she was trying to pass on some prophesy. And she got kinda mad about it.”

Willow’s eyes lit up and she hid her huge grin behind her hand.

Faith smiled and scratched the back of her head sheepishly. “Yeah, she was kinda take-charge. Shame Pissy Chrissy wasn’t listening.”

Willow look puzzled, but just prompted Faith for more.
“Uh, yeah, so we were in a desert an’ she was dressed in one o’ them Indian outfits, y’know? That look like a cheerleaders outfit with style? A sari or whatever? And she looked pretty good in pink. And kinda happy now that I think on it, ‘least until the fight broke out.”

Willow had a dreamy smile on her face as she listened to Faith talk, clearly picturing Tara in a midriff-baring pink number.

Faith smiled at Willow’s dopey look and continued her explanation. “I asked her why she was there, you know? She said she had a connection, and that she spoke for those who have no voice.”

Willow’s smile was still plastered to her face. “That’s my girl, always with the helping of people.”

“She also said, uh... gimme a sec’... Life is your gift. Also er... yeah! The lost shall be found, the broken made whole and... uh, hope shall be born.”

Faith scratched her head as she thought. “She said a bunch of stuff about ’you’ve only just begun’ but that was about it. Sorry Red, I spend most of my time tryna’ put some bitch on the ground.”

Willow still had a dreamy expression on her face. “Thanks Faith, I’m glad you told me.”

Faith nodded. “I’m not saying our shit is the same, but yeah, I know what it’s like to lose someone. It sucks.”
She hauled herself to her feet. “C’mon Red, let’s go find the others and tell ‘em I’ve been seeing things.”

Willow scribbled a note on her page and got up.

“Ya wanna do the phone thing and get ‘em together?” Faith asked, holding up her bandaged hands.

Willow nodded and pulled out her phone.

To: <All Scoobies>
Msg: Scooby meeting in the lounge. Important. Don’t panic! Good news! 



+++


“Ohmigod! You punched out the First Slayer!” Dawn said.

Faith looked sheepish. “Uh, yeah I guess. Hey, bitch had it coming! She kept sniffing me and generally being weird. And I don’t wanna go all schoolyard, but she jumped me. Learned that lesson the hard way.”

Silent looks of amazement greeted her.

“Uh, right. So in between punches, I got this prophesy thing: This is the year everything changes, life is your gift, the lost shall be found, the broken made whole, and, uh, hope shall be born.”

They sat in silence for a long moment.

Giles eventually broke the silence. “One must be careful when interpreting prophesy, words typically have more than one meaning. That having been said, this is possibly the most clearly positive sounding prophesy I have heard of in some time.”

“Why is it always this stuff though? Why is it always ‘the lion shall lie with the lamb’ and never ‘go to 415 west street and kill the vampire?’” Xander groused.

“Because then the, ah, ‘other side’ would know we were coming,” Giles explained.

“And try and remember, the people having these prophetic visions, they don’t know us, or our names. And sometimes a prophesy can be fulfilled by anyone who fills the criteria. This is why prophesies usually refer to ‘The Chosen one’, ‘the one that slew a god’, and ‘the Red Witch’ and the like.”

Buffy’s voice cut through Giles’ explanation. “Death is your gift.”

He fell silent, all eyes turned to Buffy.

Buffy continued. “That’s what I was told: Death is your gift. I thought it meant that killing was all I was good for. When what it meant was my life is a gift I can give for my sister.”

Dawn turned pale at the reminder, Buffy reached out squeezed her hand reassuringly. Dawn looked quite surprised at the affection.

She looked at Faith and Giles. “We have to get this right. I’ve only had visions from the first Slayer twice, and both times it was all ‘end of the world-y’.”

“And that time she got cranky and tried to kill everyone. Can’t forget that one,” Willow said.

Buffy grinned. “Less of a vision and more of a hissy-fit.”

“Well I got ‘life is your gift’. Not sure how that could be a bad thing, but you never know,” Faith said.

“Maybe you have to save someone?” Dawn piped up.

“Maybe you have to live for something,” Xander said.

Faith lifted her bandaged hands in a ‘who knows’ gesture. “Hope so. That sounds way less suck than dying. And hey I’m already alive, so that’s half the job done.”

She looked at Buffy. “Sucks that you died B.”

Buffy emulated Faith’s shrug. “Meh. I’m over it. Nice that you got a non-apocalypse-y vision though.”

She turned to Giles. “So, Giles. You’re our resident expert on doom and gloom, what’s the possible down side to ‘Life is your Gift?’.”

Giles thought for a moment. “Life... for whom?” he said slowly.

Buffy grimaced. “And there we go, instant doom and gloom. Thanks Giles, you always come through.”

“Wadda-ya mean, English?” Faith asked.

“If we were deliberately looking for negative connotations, we might ask who the gift of life was for. Would it be someone we know? Perhaps it might be life for an evil entity, which we then have to deal with? There is also the unpleasant possibility that ‘life is your gift’ is meant to be interpreted in a similar fashion to Buffy’s, that you may be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice.”

Faith looked at Dawn. “Five by Five.”

“Hey hey! No to the dying-ness and bad stuff ok? We talked about this,” Buffy protested.

Faith leaned over and whispered in Buffy’s ear, unheard by anyone else. “Like she was my own B.” Faith’s voice hitched. “I swear, like my very own.”

Buffy looked into Faith’s sad eyes and squeezed her shoulder.

Willow smiled a little at the closeness between the two women, something that seemed lost on the others.

Giles spoke up. “However necessary it may be to investigate the possible, ah, ‘doom and gloom’ aspect, I take this vision as a positive sign. I think we should be on the lookout for good things to come.”

He waved his hand to attract the attention of the smiling and suddenly distracted Scoobies. “However, in the same way that ill-intentioned beings have their prophesies interrupted by, well, us. Ah, I think we should be on the lookout for evil beings attempting to interfere with this prophesy.”

“And the other stuff sounds kinda cheery,” Willow said. “I mean lost stuff being found? And I think more hope-y-ness is always good. And hey, broken stuff fixed-up, can’t go too evil there.”

“I think it goes without saying that there will be substantial research done on this subject, though I should mention that there is almost no information on the First Slayer, or her visions. Typically Slayers that receive visions do not share them with the Council, treating them as privileged ‘Slayer only’ information.”

Faith grimaced. “Oops.”

“I wouldn’t be too concerned Faith, I have it on good authority that the council approves of your actions,” he said with a small smile. “Willow? Would I be able to borrow your assistant for a few days? I ask, as Xander keeps sending my assistant to England.”

Faith snorted, Xander looked at the ceiling, and Willow looked grumpy.

“But Giles, I’ve only just got her trained up the way I like...” Willow pouted. “and I’m just now realizing how bad that sounds. Um. Sure you can have Danni for a few days, but you have to give her back though, I’m up to my ears in work.”

“Of course. I imagine if we can’t find anything in a few days, Xander and I will be able to plod on without her.”

Xander grimaced. “Oh goody. Books.”
A light went on in his head. “Here’s a wacky notion: I’ve got a couple of squads of juniors due for a couple of days of not-hitting things, how about I drag ‘em in and show them why they should be happy they’re Slayers and not Watchers?”

“Ooo, good idea! And when they’re going bonkers from all the reading, they can... actually I’ve got no idea, but I’m sure I’ll think of something, possibly involving getting hopped up on sugar and caffeine,” Willow said.

“Ah research food, brings back memories. Of a few months ago. Huh, seems like longer,” Xander said scratching his head.

“Summer’s nearly over, it’s about time for the horrible evil to start rearing its ugly head. It’s actually nice that we are being all pro-biotic and getting in early,” Buffy said.

Giles smiled his small smile. “Pro-active Buffy. But yes, it is nice to have a head start on things.”

“Spiffy. Well, you guys do that thing, and I’ll take Faith for some quality goofing off and recuperating time,” Buffy said.

“Yes, well. There’s no impending apocalypse, so I think a little time off will do you both some good.”

“Hey, what about us?” Willow complained, pointing to herself and Xander.

“Next week?” Giles suggested.

Xander and Willow bumped fists.


+++

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“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home part 2 - And The Stars Shall Fall (Ch 2)
PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 6:41 am 
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9. Gay Now
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Location: Kaskinen, Finland. Citizen of Kitopia
Yay for great update-y goodness... I'm glad how Faith & Buffy have started their journey to orgasm buddies...

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 Post subject: Re: Coming home part 2 - And The Stars Shall Fall (Ch 2)
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2014 3:22 pm 
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Great chapter. I like how you're handling the Buffy/Faith baggage so far. Way too much happened back in season 3 and 4 for "Straight Gal Buffy" to immediately jump in the sack with Faith.

On a side note an excuse for the vagueness of prophecies I always liked was to just assume that the person having the vision of the future has so little frame of reference for the events seen that even the wisest seer comes up empty when trying to describe what they saw. A web comic I read a long time ago basically said that without a strong working knowledge of Geography, Politics, History, Theology, and Physics you are basically just looking at pictures.

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 Post subject: Re: Coming home part 2 - And The Stars Shall Fall (Ch 2)
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2014 4:58 pm 
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cool chapter.

I laughed my ass off during the shower scene!

And I can totally see Faith kicking the first slayer's ass! That is so something she would do.lol

I can't wait for the next update!


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 Post subject: Re: Coming home part 2 - And The Stars Shall Fall (Ch 2)
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2014 5:47 pm 
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9. Gay Now
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Location: Beyond the orbit of Mars and accelerating...
Glad you guys liked it :)

Yeah, the girls have a lot of baggage.
I like it when they get together, but i prefer a slow (ish) build up, and addressing the crap that they have.
Rather than they just jump into bed.

Um, i really can't handle anything too bad happening to Tara and willow.
So all the whacky relationship stuff happens to Buffy 'n' Faith.

Also, this story has a lot of gayness.
It's not 'gay-world.'
There's an actual plot reason for it.

Cookies and cake to anyone who guesses :)

Matty, Heather and Julie may not play :P

As to Faith and Sineya, yeah.
Faith's not necessarily a better fighter, it's more that Buffy wasn't expecting a fight in her dream.
Faith is always expecting a fight.
So she wasn't caught out.

And why would she be better than her descendents? They have training. and are two of the best Slayers to ever live.

Also, things to look forward to:
Marriage (not saying who :P)
Babies.
Sex.
Super powers.
Guns.
Whacky magic.
Kink.
A trip to Europe (sort of).
More sex.
Good deeds.
The origin of the Slayers.
And turning the whole world upside down.

Yeah, i went after everything.
But there's a lot of cuddles and happiness, so don't panic :)

Trigger warning:
Contains Violence, attempted rape, and the Goddesses' own vengeance.
Not for a while yet.

Anyway, i hope you'll all enjoy it, even if it does get a bit serious.

R :flower

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How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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