Summary: Tara is captured by Glory's minions, but things are not as they seem. . .

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for intensity and character death.

Time Frame: "Tough Love", alternate sequence of events. (some spoilers).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me ( to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

Author's Comment: "Tough Love" depressed me mightily. . .I decided to give Tara a chance to choose her own fate. . .


The door slammed behind Willow, and I took a moment to cry a little. It had all gone according to plan, though I had been even harsher with her than I had intended to be. . .I just hoped that she would forgive me someday. I cast a simple warding spell on the door to make sure that I would not be interrupted, then brought out the ritual materials that I had carefully hidden and got to work.

Six hours later, I was walking through a certain park, alone and apparently unguarded. From what I knew, vampire activity wasn't very high in this area, but I had brought along a couple of surprises for any that did come along. Fortunately, I was spared any unwanted distractions, and it wasn't long before I heard what I had been both hoping for and dreading: "Miss. . .a moment of your time, please?"

I turned, and Xander and Buffy were right: they did look like hobbits with leprosy. I had a dark impulse to laugh, then used the very real fear I was feeling to fuel a terrified expression. * Time to make them work for it a little * I took off running, and managed to play a rather twisted game of hide and seek with them among the trees and benches for about five minutes before they surrounded me and laid surprisingly strong hands on me. I struggled, but they paid me no heed, except to stuff a gag in my mouth before dragging me into the hotel and into the elevator.

The elevator reached its destination in all too brief a time, and I was carried into the presence of Glory: they dropped me ignominiously at her feet, then moved off to the edges of the room, watching me intently and blocking any possible means of escape.

The goddess was wearing a red dress, and her lips pursed as she cast a dismissive glance at me and commented, "Is this all you could bring me? I remember this one. . .she was one of the witches that zapped me into a half mile fall a couple of months back. . .that really smarted." She leaned forward and yanked the gag from my mouth, then continued dismissively, "But it was the little redhead who really pulled it off. . .you were just along for the ride." She laughed coldly, then concluded, "I guess someone has to play second fiddle in any relationship. . .isn't that right, little witch?"

I got to my feet, then replied, "Is this how a god speaks to mortals? Strange, it sounds like just any shallow bitch who gets her kicks from abusing anyone stupid enough to sit still for it." I looked back at where the Crusty Minions were staring at the scene, then added, "So what do you do when you get bored and there are no humans to torment? Smack these guys around and add a few more scabs?"

Glory's eyes darkened, and I stood quietly as she started to throw a punch at me that definitely would have taken my head off. She pulled it at the last second, but it was still enough to send me to the ground with a bloody nose. The Crusty Minions murmured, and I got up, ignoring the mild bleeding as Glory responded, "You'd think that from the shape I left that vampire friend of yours in that you'd realize that mocking me is a very bad plan. . .oh well, humans torture just as well as vampires do. . .with the additional bonus of being able to do permanent damage without killing you. . .how tempting."

I smiled coldly at her and muttered a quick incantation. Glory's eyes widened as she recognized it and darted forward, but it was too late: the rune that I had traced on my right hand hours ago in sea salt and vampire dust glowed bright yellow, and Glory stopped dead in her tracks, cursing. After a moment, she took a couple of steps back and gave me an appraising look before commenting, "I'm impressed. . .not many practitioners could master that spell. . .and even fewer would be brave or foolish enough to actually use it. As of now, if I or my boys here cause you any harm, you will gain the ability to instantly cause your own death. . .without any additional pain and without any chance for me to stop it. . .very clever. Of course, the spell is only good for two days, and I could just wait it out, but I have the feeling that your little friends will show up here before then, and you people have been terribly lucky so far in messing up my plans."

I smirked at her and waited for her to move on to Plan B. Glory blinked, then walked behind me, making no sound until she leaned in and whispered into my ear: "Tara. . .have you ever considered that a change of alliances might be nice for you? Sure, there's a certain amount of glamour in hanging out with the Slayer, and in having a powerful witch as your lover, but if I can make it back to my home plane, I'll be a big player there, and I can always use a smart gal like you as my right hand." She walked in front of me, and inclined her head at the Crusty Minions, commenting, "Jinx and the boys. . .they serve me well, but none of them really makes it as someone who would be my primary advisor back home. . .someone with a good head on her shoulders and who I could trust to keep some skanky hellbitch from shanking me when my back is turned." I remained silent, and she slipped back behind me and whispered, "And as for your little red-headed bed warmer. . .I think I can guarantee that I can provide superior incentives in that area, too." She leaned in and nibbled on my earlobe for a moment before stepping back into my peripheral vision and waiting in visible impatience for my response.

Fortunately, I had anticipated this avenue of attack, and I deliberately took a moment to feel genuine temptation at the offer that Glory had just presented to me before taking two steps back from her and breaking into cold, mocking laughter. In spite of myself, my old insecurities caused me to feel a pang of guilt as I saw Glory's expression change and show shock and just a little hurt before I reminded myself what she was and ruthlessly pressed on: "Oh, such a tempting offer. . .to abandon friends who have supported me through thick and thin and to desert the love of my life for some pathetic goddess who surrounds herself with Tolkien rejects and who has been in town for six friggin' months and still hasn't managed to get anywhere near her stupid Key. . .how desperate do you think I am, exactly?" I paused, then remembered something that Buffy had told me Angel had said once. I walked forward, locking eyes with the angry goddess from inches away as I concluded: "Well, what can I say? I like them sane."

Glory's eyes flared in rage, and she retreated a few feet from me before stopping and smiling at me with an utter icy malice that shook me to the depths of my soul. "Funny you should bring up sanity. . .because if you can't be tortured, and you don't want to change sides, that just leaves sucking your brains and listening to you babble your little heart out. . .and I'm feeling a little peckish right now. So what's it going to be: turn traitor, or just go crazy?"

It didn't take much acting ability on my part to do what I did next: screaming and trying to claw my way past the Crusty Minions came rather naturally at that moment. They subdued me and dragged me back to Glory, who sighed and commented, "Well. . .you did turn out to be just another terrified human after all. . .oh well, at least you're good for something, unlike that vampire friend of yours." She leaned in, and I felt her cool fingertips on my scalp for just a moment before she pressed on and they entered my head.

I felt a rush of energy filling my entire body, making me feel more alive than I ever had before, though I knew the feeling was a cruel illusion. I could hear Glory gasp, surprised and momentarily pleased by the amount of juice she was getting from this particular brain sucking. I felt the energy fading, and felt a moment of panic as I thought Glory might hold on for too long, but she withdrew, shoving me to the floor.

I lay there for a moment, limp and silent, and Glory took it as the usual results of her attentions: "Well, that was quite a rush. . .you had a lot of energy in there. Quite a pick-me-up. Well, as fun as it is to see you limp and drooling, I really need to get my Key, and I'm pretty sure that the information is rattling around somewhere in that whacked-out head of yours." She leaned forward, seized me by the shoulders, and shook me, demanding, "Where's my Key?!"

At this point, I started laughing. Glory smiled and released me, thinking at first that it was a manifestation of madness, but her eyes narrowed in shock as she saw my eyes mocking her and noticed the tone of the laughter. She recoiled, and stared at me as she snapped, "This is impossible! No one keeps their marbles after being brain sucked! How--?" As I got to my feet and gave her a glare almost worthy of Buffy herself, Glory swayed on her feet, then whispered, "Something's wrong."

The Crusty Minions moved forward, calling out endearments and concern for their goddess. As they approached her, she staggered back into a wall, and the Minions fell to the ground, inert. I looked down distastefully at the unsavory remains and commented sardonically, "I figured that keeping those mockeries up and around had to use a lot of power. . .you seem to be suffering an energy crisis, goddess. . .wonder how that happened?"

Glory glared at me, then managed to make it to her bed, where she sat down and looked up at me as she screeched, "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"

I smiled, then turned to show her where a new rune was glowing brightly on the nape of my neck, and commented, "You know, in this day and age you should check your food before eating it. . .you never know when some crazy person might have tampered with it."

Glory stared, recognizing the rune instantly and whispering, "No. . .that ritual has been lost for centuries. . .how?"

I smiled and replied, "The rune was etched on a sword that Buffy liberated from one of the Knights of Byzantium, and the Council of Watchers has very useful research materials about you. . .I tracked the ritual down without much problem, really." Glory kept staring, and I elaborated, "The problem was. . .the energy produced by the ritual and tied to the rune was lethal to you, but getting it through your outer defenses was going to be difficult. A spell, or even an enchanted weapon couldn't penetrate your body, so the energy could never get there to do its work. Then it occurred to me there was one time when you had to let energy get inside you." I tapped my head and concluded, "A contingency spell to set it off when you pulled your little brain sucking trick and voila! Not exactly the usual version of the poisoned chalice, but an effective one, don't you think?"

Glory was getting weaker, and she whispered, "You fool. . .that energy is lethal to all organic life. . .you'll die too."

I nodded, then elaborated, "Yes. . .it will cause rapid failure of my nerve tissues. . .I can already feel my toes going numb. I'd estimate that I'll be dead in ten minutes. . .but that gives me nine and a half minutes you don't have." I walked over to Glory and glared at the fading light in her eyes as I whispered, "Give my regards to oblivion."

Glory shrieked, and there was a bright flash as her life force faded out and died. Her body shimmered and changed, and I was greeted with the sight of Ben wearing Glory's red evening gown. He blinked, then sat up and asked, "Tara, right? Why are you here? Are you all right?"

I could feel my legs going numb, and I moved over to sit next to Ben on the bed as I shook my head and showed him the glowing rune. His eyes widened in shock as he recognized the mystic sign and he immediately stood and lifted me into his arms, carrying me over to a nearby couch. He was closing his eyes in concentration and beginning to mutter an incantation when the door to the suite was kicked off of its hinges, and a very familiar group of people burst into the room. I laughed involuntarily as I realized what they were seeing: piles of rotting hobbits, a man in a red dress, and a friend who had just pulled off a really dumb stunt. Buffy stormed up, apparently ready to rip Ben's head off, and I called out, "Buffy, don't. . .he's trying to help me." I didn't add that the effort would almost certainly be futile. . .Ben would probably figure that out himself in a moment.

Willow came over, and there were tears in her eyes. I looked up at her and whispered, "I'm sorry. . .I didn't mean what I said. . .well, most of it anyway." Willow nodded numbly, and I stated flatly, "You found my notes."

Willow nodded again, then replied, "You explained everything very well. . .I could have done the rituals myself just from your descriptions." Her voice remained choked, but her eyes flashed anger as she added, "We never would have let you do it, Tara."

I rolled my eyes at her and responded, "Duh. . .that was kind of the point of the whole fight, Willow. I had to do this. . .and I couldn't let you stop me."

Willow shuddered and walked away from me, and Ben chose that moment to begin chanting and placing his hands on the two primary energy points of my body. After a few moments, I could see my body begin to glow pale yellow, and I could see the others watching in fascination. Twenty seconds later, the glow faded, and I could see the verdict in Ben's eyes.

Buffy walked up to him and demanded, "Will she be all right, Ben?"

Ben looked back to me, and I nodded. He looked back at Buffy and replied, "The damage done by the energy to her body before it was extracted by Glory was too great. My treatment will make her comfortable, and give her a few more minutes than she would have had, but I'm sorry. . .there's nothing more I can do." I smiled as he turned back to me and whispered "Thank you", before he left to change into something a little less flashy.

Buffy's eyes were brimming, and she looked more helpless than I could ever remember seeing her. She sat next to me, and I broke the silence by saying, "I'm sorry, Buffy. . .I know you've had enough sorrow this year already. . .but it had to be stopped, and I decided I was the one to do it."

Buffy blinked, and tears ran down her cheeks as she replied, "Tara. . .that was my job. . .I never would have asked this of you."

I nodded and responded, "I know, Buffy. . .but you already died once for the cause, even if you didn't quite have the permanent part of it down." Buffy laughed involuntarily, then looked guilty as I continued, "It was a difficult spell, Buffy. . .only Willow or I could have cast it, and I couldn't let Glory take Willow away from all of you. . .take her away from me."

Buffy was silent for a moment, then whispered, "Is there anything I can do for you?"

I thought, then nodded, "Is Dawn nearby?"

She nodded, then replied, "She's with Giles outside. . .I'll get them." She began to turn away, and I called out, "Buffy."

Buffy turned back and waited, and I locked eyes with her and requested quietly, "Take care of my family." She knew I wasn't talking about the three losers who came here in November: she nodded once and left the room.

Xander and Anya walked over: Xander looked angry, and as helpless as Buffy had, while Anya just looked sad. I looked over at Anya, who was still trying to deal with the whole issue of death with all too little personal experience, then smiled at her and commented, "You were right all along, Anya. . .it is stupid and mortal. . .but we have to deal with it, I guess."

Anya seemed about to speak, then leaned in and gave me a quick hug before retreating, and I watched Xander look after her with concern before reassuring him, "She'll be all right, Xander. . .she's just still trying to figure it all out, but she's got plenty of help there. . .I know it."

Xander nodded slowly, then replied, "Anya's tough enough to make it through just about anything, Tara. . .but I'm really worried about Willow. . .she has to go on without you, and without even anyone left to hate for it. . .I don't know what to do."

I looked in his eyes, and felt a momentary pang of sadness: Xander hurts for all of us, and I knew that what would follow would be worse for him than anything that would happen in the next few minutes. I extended my right hand, and Xander reached out and clasped it as I responded, "Xander. . .I don't know about a lot of things, but I know that you will be able to figure out what will make Willow feel better: it's what you do." I looked into his eyes and concluded, "I certainly know you've done it for me enough in the last year. . .God knows that I think you'll pull it off for someone you've loved since you were five." I blinked, and tears fell for the first time since the whole damned thing started as I added, "Xander. . .keep an eye on her. . . and give her a swift kick in the ass if she doesn't move on fast enough. . .she deserves to be happy."

Xander nodded, then withdrew, and I saw someone lurking in the shadows, someone that wouldn't come forward unless I asked him to, and I knew that there were things to be said. I looked over to the patch of platinum blond highlighted against the wallpaper and called out, "Spike."

There was a moment of silence in the room, and I was gratified to see that Spike came forward rather quickly. He quietly looked down at me for a moment, then commented quietly, "I'm impressed. . .you managed to do more to that hellbitch in a heartbeat than I would have managed if all of the fantasies I had while she was torturing me came true. . .my compliments: I clearly never realized just how damned resourceful you could be. . .not to mention crazy."

Xander heard the comment, and was stepping forward with an angry expression on his face when I held up my hand: he stopped in his tracks and turned around, still looking angry. I looked up at Spike and replied, "God protects fools and small children. . .at least long enough to get the job done in this case." Spike smiled, and I smiled back at him before continuing, "I never thought I'd say this, Spike. . .but I'm glad I got to know you." Spike blinked in surprise, and I added in a blunter tone, "Of course, if you go evil again and do anything to these people, I'll come back and haunt your sorry ass."

Spike chuckled, then responded, "Might be worth it, at that." He winked at me, then turned away as a familiar figure darted into the room and threw herself at me, sobbing. I held Dawn and stroked her hair for what felt like a long time before she withdrew and looked at me with glittering eyes, whispering, "This is all my fault."

I shook my head in negation and replied, "No, it was Glory's fault, Dawn, and she's gone now." She looked away, and I squeezed her hand and continued, "Dawn. . .I know you've been struggling with the whole question of where you came from, but none of us get to choose that. . .your situation is just a little different, that's all. You have a sister and friends who love you, a good head on your shoulders, and a bright future ahead. . .you just have to believe in it and not be afraid to go on, even when things like this happen." I drew her back to me and hugged her as hard as I could manage with my fading strength, then whispered, "I love you, Dawnie."

Dawn tensed, then whispered back, "I love you too, Tara," then stood up and walked away with a dignity that made me proud of her.

I saw Giles watching me with visible guilt on his face, and I beckoned him to come over. He looked at me and whispered, "I never should have let you see those materials the Council left. . .the temptation was too great to-"

"To do what had to be done before Glory picked us off one by one and used Dawn to do something horrible to the world? Yes, that was a rather great temptation, actually. . .and would you have ever forgiven yourself if withholding the information had led to that end? I know that I never would have forgiven myself." My voice was even, though there was an undertone of reproof there, and Giles looked down, acknowledging it. I smiled to break the momentary tension, then added, "I know you would have done it if you could have, Giles, but you couldn't, and that was that." Giles closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them as I continued, "Buffy is very lucky, Giles. . .it would have been nice having someone like you around when I was growing up. . .things might have been different." My vision blurred for a moment, and when it cleared I looked up and over to where Willow was standing next to Buffy, looking numb and helpless. I sighed and concluded, "Though if the way things were was the only way I could have come to this place, surrounded by these people I love with every bit of my soul. . .I wouldn't change any of it."

Giles nodded slowly, then leaned forward and kissed me gently on the forehead before walking over to Willow and whispering to her. I looked around and could see Ben trying another ritual as a last ditch effort to save my life, but I could tell from the angry and frustrated expression on his face that he knew that it would be futile. I turned back, and Willow was there, her beautiful green eyes marred with tears. I smiled at her and commented, "Not exactly like the place where we met, is it?"

Willow laughed involuntarily and smiled through her tears as she replied, "Yeah. . .no wanna blessed-bes in this room." She sobered quickly, and most of the life seemed to drain out of her body as she whispered, "Tara. . .when Oz left I thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. . .but this is so much worse I'm not sure I can make it through the next hour. . .I can't deal with this."

I felt a pang of fear, and I gathered all of my fading strength and managed to lock eyes with Willow as I whispered, "Yes, you can. . .Willow, everyone is going to be hurting for a while, because of this and all of the other pain that Glory's actions and Joyce's death have caused this year. They need you to pull yourself together. . .it's going to hurt for a long time, but don't let it beat you. . .don't let HER beat you." I saw a spark of intense anger in her eyes, and added, "I fell in love with a fighter, not someone who would curl up in a closet when her friends need her." I gasped, and her eyes widened as I concluded, "Help them. . .go on doing the important stuff that kept you in this place when you could have left. . .and when you think of me, smile, don't cry."

Willow nodded, then leaned in and kissed me very gently on the lips. After a moment, she pulled back, and the last thing I saw before the world faded away was the sight of my Willow with love in her eyes.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired