Note: It's done, finally, and a huge thank you to Linne who is still the most patient of editors. Thanks to all who reviewed, read the story, and have taken the time to pass along helpful suggestions and criticisms along the way. Always a huge benefit to any writer.
Three Years Later
A lush garden, filled with primroses and hydrangeas, bloomed heavily around Tara in a small, intimate courtyard. Ancient oak trees surrounded an old garden house and canopied the yard, blocking most of the sun's rays, and the heavy fragrance of early summer filled the young woman's nose. Several women, including her mother and grandmother, laughed and joked casually together while seated around wrought iron tables covered in white table linens. The Degas House, Tara recognized it immediately from an old photograph hanging in her first water color instructor's office, was one of the most well known inns in New Orleans. When had her mother been here? Several gifts were piled on the tables, Tara noted, people everywhere seemed to very happy, including her Mama. The colors, all muted and gauzy like one of Tara's watercolor paintings, made her feel like she was dreaming, but the idea that a dream could make her smell the flowers, food, and feel the breeze was alien to her, unless she counted that dream when she'd lived Buffy's life. No, this wasn't a dream. It was more like a memory
I'm so glad he let you come, darlin', Tara heard her Aunt Riona's heavy southern accent as she said to Tara's mother. You know, that man just don't understand that we women have to have our parties too.
Unable to hear her mother's response, the young witch moved for a closer look. In a Moses basket, nestled safely in white eyelet, was a baby-Tara Maclay. The adult Tara realized that all the gifts were meant for her, a baby shower thrown by a long dead aunt she wished she'd known better. All around the blonde, conversations focused on how beautiful both mother and child were. One woman said, That darling baby looks just like her mother, which made Tara smile.
Time sped forward in the dream, and Tara found herself standing outside one of the bedrooms in The Degas House where a man stood in the hallway facing a woman the witch couldn't quite see.
You will not do this, he told the woman. These people are mine and have been mine--
I know! Since you came down here and decided to play mate-with-the-humans, an angry and all too recognizable voice hissed.
You couldn't possibly understand, the man snapped at her.
You think you're the only one here with a duty? A job? Screw you, buster!
Duty? Job? Is that what you believe this is, Anyanka? I'm here because I love these people, Tara jumped a little at the words. Who was he?
Love them? Then let me do what D'Hoffryn sent me here to do! Anyanka's voice reached shrill levels.
And leave the women to Robert Maclay? If you think Donald Maclay, Sr., is the worst thing to ever come along for Alana and Tara, then you've obviously never met Robert.
A wish was made, and you have no control over vengeance wishes, Anya insisted, and stop changing yourself! It's very distracting. You were a woman ten minutes ago!
Riona Phelan won't be alive much longer, and if you grant her wish, neither will Alana and Tara. Go back to D'Hoffryn, Anyanka, leave the Phelans and Maclays alone!
Fine, but this ends our friendship.
The man's features melted and changed into that of one of the women from the party, Aud, don't burn all your bridges. You never know when you'll have need of me, the tall, green-eyed, redhead said before whispering, Forget the family. So this was why Anya couldn't remember all the details of her time with Vékell in New Orleans, Tara thought.
Again time sped forward, and Tara watched the redhead hold her mother close in a friendly embrace. Take care of her, Alana, her gifts are great.
I will, old friend, Tara's mother spoke quietly, Are you certain it's her destiny?
Yes, but I swear I will help her! May I hold the child?
Alana Maclay handed baby Tara to the other woman gently, saying, Vékell, I'm counting on you.
I know, dearest. To Tara, Vékell said, You, like your mother, and her mother, and all the women of your line, belong to me. One day, you'll be Keeper of the Key, and you'll know all your powers, child. I wanted a family, Tara, a wife, and I chose well in the Ó Faolains.
They changed it Phelan centuries ago, Alana smiled.
Not when I chose Aislinn for my wife. Tara wasn't a demon, but she understood why her father must have believed all the Phelans' were demonic in nature. After all, how many others could say they were related to the Powers?
The witch woke up warm, safe, and nestled in her lover's arms. She'd tell her vampire about the dream later, let him rest as long as possible, she decided. Never a demon, but she wasn't quite human either-it was something she could live with. Spike barely stirred when she disentangled herself from the bed linens and his arms. She gently kissed his forehead before slipping quietly into the bathroom for a warm soak, thinking of all that had come to pass since Buffy's death and Willow's disappearance.
Buffy Summers' murder was listed as unsolved, and Ethan Rayne was wanted for questioning. No one had heard any news of Ethan, despite the wanted posters prominently displayed around Sunnydale the first six months after Buffy died. Giles had returned to England two months after the funeral to utilize his Council resources better for the purpose of searching out the sorcerer. Tara also understood he needed to get away from the pain and memories; she couldn't blame him for feeling that way, but she wished he hadn't taken so much guilt upon himself. Anya, unhappy with Giles' departure, had followed the man a month after that. Ten months later, the former demon had called to announce that she and Giles were getting married. Tara had been thrilled for the couple, even when Xander did his best to be sulky as possible. Spike, Tara and Dawn had taken a cruise ship across the pond, as Spike said, to be a part of a very beautiful ceremony. Even Xander had finally relented and stood as best man for Giles while Tara was Anya's maid of honor. Thankfully, Anya's taste in dresses had changed over the years, and Tara found herself fortunate to be wearing a very tasteful, well fitted, strapless silk gown that she'd really liked.
A few weeks after the funeral, Hank Summers had shown up and tried to take Dawn away from Sunnydale, but the girl petitioned the courts for emancipation status. Hank had given up easily and signed the necessary paperwork as quickly as possible, never looking back at Sunnydale again. Dawn refused to reveal the nature of her conversations with her dad, but Tara knew she'd somehow forced him into signing. The teenager ended up working at The Magic Box for Tara. She'd bought the store from Anya and Giles when they decided to open a new business in London, and Spike was always there for both of his girls. In fact, he had a keen eye for bargains and bookkeeping, and Dawn never missed an opportunity to tease the vampire at work. The house on Revello drive was sold to a young married couple starting a family, and Dawn took what little profit she made from the sale to stash away in her savings. She'd become very responsible and was planning for college. Both Tara and Spike were proud of her.
It had taken Xander some time to get over Anya's marriage, but Tara reminded him, You hurt her, Xander, you let her go long before she let you go. He'd finally listened and begun to work through his grief and anger. Only to Tara did the man admit he'd loved Buffy, even when Anya was in the picture, and so he'd divided himself between both women. It was so hard for him to grieve his losses, but Tara was pleased when Xander began to show signs of improvement. It started slowly, but that was good. Five months ago, Xander started making a life of his own with a young woman he'd met through Richard Phillips, his friend from work. Richard's sister, Emily, was studying child psychology at the University. Xander was happy to announce Emily had never a demon, wasn't interested in the occult, and had no desire to destroy the world. Tara found her to be kind, compassionate, and the sort of young woman any parent would be thrilled to have their son bring home. Emily gave Xander the stability and support he'd needed for a long time; he brought out Emily's sense of humor. Even Spike was happy for the two of them.
In the end, it was Tara and Spike who protected the Hellmouth, but the witch had hinted several times that she was ready for a change. Now that Dawn was graduating in the spring, she planned to take her little family on the road for an extended vacation. In order to leave, Spike made the one phone call he claimed dreading more than any other, but it paid off because Angel, his grandsire, was sending a group to look after the Hellmouth in their absence. Tara was grateful to the vampire she'd never met, and she smiled to think about travel-freedom. Their first stop, according to Spike, would be the United Kingdom and a visit to Rupert and Anya Giles. Both Dawn and Tara had agreed, knowing that Anya and Rupert's first child was due very soon, and Anya had said to Dawn, I can't name a baby Buffy! You know that, but if we have a girl, we'd really like to name her Anne if it's okay with you. After the UK, Tara wanted to see France, walk in the vineyards, enjoy the museums and play tourist for a time. Dawn's wish was to see Japan and China, and she said she didn't care where they went first after the baby was born, as long as they went together.
Looking around, Tara realized the house was almost packed. It was so hard to believe that things were changing so swiftly. They'd already sold most of their furniture, and Clem was going to take care of The Magic Box. The only part of business she'd really miss was the gallery she'd made out of Buffy's old training room. Her watercolors, many of which depicted Spike and Dawn in various scenes, had a small but loyal following around Sunnydale, and her paintings had garnered her a modest bit of success. Perhaps Tara would eventually sell The Magic Box to Clem, but never the gallery, she thought, as she mused over her dream and scattered thoughts.
The steam from the bath, thick and humid, collected on the mirror rapidly, and Tara swiped it away with a towel. As she flossed her teeth, her mind continued to wander and plan for the future when movement in the mirror caught her eye. It was the barest glimmer, and it couldn't be, she thought. It's not possible, her breath caught in her throat, The image had faded, but Tara was certain she'd seen Willow on the other side of the mirror.
Spike's voice carried through the warmth of the room, You say something?
She turned from away from the glass, determined not to dwell on the mad glint she'd seen in her former lover's eyes, and smiled at the vampire. After explaining her vision, Spike walked into the room and gathered Tara close to him, kissing her. I'll be fine, she told him, We will all be fine. Do you want to join me? Last bath here in the apartment.
Spike chuckled and nuzzled her throat, tickling the sensitive flesh along her collarbone, Can't resist an offer like that, love. You know, think I'm gonna miss this place.
Not me, she replied.
Not anything about it?
Tara grinned slyly, The bed? And...maybe the tub?
Laughing, Spike replied, Guess we have spent a lot of our time in both places. Then, for a moment, he looked very serious to Tara when he told her, Love you, Tara, always.
And I love you, Spike. She let the anxiety fade, the memories fall into place, and enjoyed her last bath to the fullest.