Act 4

"Why do you want to bring her back ?"

As Gideon's question hit her ears, Buffy felt shared between indignation and astonishment. Did this question only have a meaning? Seeing her reaction, Gideon thought good to precise:

"I'm asking you this cause this girl died two years ago after all. People don't usually ask for a resurrection after two years of mourning"

"We didn't really have time to mourn" the Slayer answered coldly. "We've been kinda busy since her death"

"Ah! The first Evil! Brilliant what you did with it, I'll give you that"

In front of their chocked and questioning looks, Gideon added :

"I told your reputation predates you. I can say I'm really aware of this world's activities"

He looked like he was lost in thoughts for a time and both friends wondered what kind of activities Gideon was talking about. After a silence during which Buffy and Xander waited patiently for him to care about them again, his attention finally returned to them :

"But, let's get back to the reason of your visit"

He paused again.

"So, you want to bring your friend back two years after her death. Why?"

Then he added more firmly :

"I don't bring anyone back without knowing the seekers' motivations"

Buffy and Xander exchanged a glance.

"Is that really important?" The carpenter asked. "You want to be sure we're ready to take the responsibility of our choice?"

It seemed full of meaning. But Gideon showed an amused smile.

"It could have been this. But I'm sorry to disappoint you but what becomes of the dead I bring back is none of my business. It'll have to be yours"

He was serious again and the smile had been replaced by a cold resolution as he said those words. But the expression just last for a second and he smiled again as he concluded:

"No, I'm just curious"

He stared at them again in silence before asking again :

"So, why?"

"Obviously, because she has been murdered." Buffy spat in an icy tone.

Gideon sunk back in his seat and crossed his arms. He didn't answer at first and stared at Buffy with acuity. She finally felt slightly uneasy to be the object of such a scrutiny.

"I obviously meant : except for the fact she's dead" he said finally.

"Well" Xander began after casting a glance to Buffy. "It's about her friend, our best friend, Willow…"

"Ah!" Gideon interrupted. "Willow Rosenberg ! "

Xander frowned severely and his look went instinctively suspicious.

"Don't be that surprised my dear" Gideon exclaimed when he saw his reaction. "Your friend Willow is quite famous too. You have to understand : we can't be that close…" Saying this, he was holding his thumb and his forefinger real close from one another "…to destroy the world and not draw curiosity. That event didn't remain unnoticed"

Buffy and Xander shared the uneasy feeling to the memory. Buffy brushed it off with a gesture of her hand, not willing to hear compliments or ecstasy about that Willow's deeds.

"Yeah, for Willow" She said. "She and Tara…"

But Gideon interrupted her again and his face lightened up with a gleam of understanding.

"Tara Maclay. I see. A witch herself "

Buffy pooched. Why asking her questions if he already knew everything? But she answered anyway:

"Tara was…"

"Miss Rosenberg's girlfriend" Gideon interrupted again.

"Do you really need to ask questions if you already knew all the answers?" Buffy eventually cracked.

The warlock didn't seem to notice exasperation in the Slayer's voice, or he didn't care.

"I didn't ask about the relationship between Miss Rosenberg and Miss Maclay. Actually, I already know all this. My question was about YOUR motivations to come here and ask for Tara Maclay's resurrection."

"We want to bring Tara back cause Willow never came to term with her death" Xander reeled off as quickly as he could to prevent Gideon to interrupt him.

"That's the reason?" Gideon asked Xander.

"Yeah, it is. For Willow" Xander repeated.

Gideon stared at Xander as he wanted to read through him if he was telling the truth. The young man withstood the warlock's piercing gaze without blinking. Gideon finally turned to Buffy without saying anything more to the carpenter:

"And you?"

Buffy couldn't help a gesture of surprise.

"Xander and I are here for the same reasons." She answered. "We want to do something for Willow"

Buffy fell silent. She wasn't really at ease to talk about her motivations toward Willow, even if she had expected that kind of questions.

"You've been resurrected yourself" Gideon resumed. "Ho…"

But the Slayer interrupted him this time. That objection was the first thing she had expected to hear from the warlock.

"Exactly. I know what it is"

"Few can tell so" Gideon admitted.

"Probably" Buffy answered coldly.

They stared at each other for some more seconds in silence.

"So, your motivations?" Gideon eventually asked again.

"I already told you. For Willow. Willow's my best friend and she's suffering. We want to do something to make that suffering end. And only Tara's return can do that"

there was again silence. The atmosphere in the room had become strangely tense and cold as time went. And Gideon's next words did nothing to warm it up.

"I think you're not telling everything. There's something else."

Buffy frowned.

"What do you want more? My best friend's happiness is not a sufficient reason for you?" she asked, a hint of anger in her voice.

"I would probably be a sufficient reason" The warlock answered calmly. "If it was the only one"

He set his dark gaze in Buffy's eyes as he was trying to read her soul.

"And it's not the only one" He concluded.

Xander watched the exchange with surprise. What Gideon wanted from Buffy? They had spent days talking about bringing Tara back and Xander knew that giving Willow another chance was what Buffy wanted so much. And he didn't really see what Gideon could look for. He decided to come to Buffy's help as the Slayer seemed not know better what Gideon wanted to come to.

"Tara was our friend too" He began "We will of course be happy to have her back. But we're here for Willow. Really"

Gideon cast him a glance as he was talking but didn't answer. He stoop up suddenly in front of Buffy.

"Come on, Miss Summers, you know there's something else. Tell me, tell your friend"

Xander looked at Buffy getting up in her turn and answered in an exasperated and angry tone:

"There's nothing else!"

Gideon crossed in arms firmly and stared fixedly at Buffy in front of him.

"There's something else" he said.

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Faith gave a furious blow on her right, turned around sharply to her left as she felt a vampire ready to throw himself on her. The dark-haired Slayer dusted him quickly before nudging a third enemy in his face. A fourth one's attack made her jump down to the ground and did a forward roll to get away their attacks. She got up immediately and attacked again by a forward kick followed by a circular blow. The vampire first got back before he put himself together again and struck back. The Slayer avoided the first blow just by moving a little her head on her side. The second blow had her stepping back and as the third came, she felt two strong arms circle her from behind and hold her into place as a fourth blow hit her in full face. Faith fought to try to free herself but she couldn't move her arms in the slightest. Her opponent fist knocked violently her jaw a second time and Faith felt blood oozing in her mouth. She gave up then to try to free herself and concentrated on the vampire who was hitting her. When his fist was about to connect with her face for the third time, the Slayer moved her head slightly on the side and the vampire hit his counterpart who was restraining Faith.

Faith felt the vampire behind her releasing her slightly and she took advantage of this to free one of her arm and elbowed the vampire behind her who finally let go of her.

Now free, a furious Faith rushed onto him and beat him up before dusting him without letting him a chance to defend himself.

Then she turned with a murderous look to the two remaining vampires who were ready to jump her. The sight of an enraged Faith made them hesitate for a second and this second was deadly. The Slayer hit him with such violence that the creature understood she couldn't resist for long. His comrade probably understood it too cause he run away as quickly as he could. Faith noticed running away through the blows she was giving and growled to the thought to let escape her prey. She then gathered her force and struck him a sequence right jab, left jab even more violently than before and the vampire faltered. Faith just had to run her stake to his heart. She didn't wait for him to disappear in dust to stand up and go after the runaway who was already several dozens meters away.

Faith saw the vampire slaloming between the tombstones and changing often directions to try to loose her. But Faith was far too fast and nimble and she gained ground meter after meter. The vampire turned regularly around to see Faith even closer than the previous time.

Finally in a path's curve, the Slayer saw her prey break a crypt door open and disappear in the crypt to try to escape her. Faith growled victoriously. Trapped this way, he couldn't escape her. Faith rushed inside the crypt and slid the crypt stairs down just some seconds after the vampire.

It was dark and Faith stayed a second on the last steps of the stairs to get used to the darkness. She stepped in, searching where the runaway was hiding. The crypt seemed vast and deserted. But Faith's senses told her that there were vampires here. Several vampires. This time she stepped back, her Slayer's senses yelling there were too much opponents for her. But Faith stayed at the bottom of the stairs and looked up. She wasn't sure what to do. The others weren't too far and Kennedy had probably met up with the group now. Maybe she could take care of this crypt herself. But if there were as much vampires lying low in the darkness as she sensed, some help could be useful. Her gaze traveled from the dark room in front of her to the stairs behind her. Once. Twice.

And finally, she didn't make the decision of what she was about to do. Faith felt a huge pain behind her skull and fell forward, sent nearly to the middle of the room by the violence of the blow. She heard steps getting closer and could feel a vampire close by her. She struggled at full force against the pain, which was about to make her loose conscientiousness. She had to stay conscious at any cost. Her survival might depend on that.

"So, what do we have here?"

The voice vaguely reached Faith's ears, muffled and distorted by the buzzing in her head. Faith opened her eyes and looked up slightly. A tall vampire was standing in front of her and he held an iron bar he had just hit her with. The Slayer ran a hand behind her head where she had been hit. Her fingers touched a sticky liquid, which glued her hair to the gaping wound opened by the blow she had just received. Faith winced and began to get up. She was going to show to that vampire she had hardest times before.

When she was finally up, Faith stared at her opponent: a tall vampire who was looking at her with a fierce smile on his demonic face.

"A Slayer going down here all alone, it must be my lucky day!"

"I don't think so" Faith growled. "Meeting me is never a sign of luck for a vampire"

"I'd said that the rules are about to change honey"

Saying this, the vampire gestured to something behind her. Faith turned around slowly and could see what her instinct had told her before: there were several others vampires in the crypt. But the Slayer couldn't help but step back when she saw how many yellows eyes she could now see appearing in the darkness. Faith had to face the facts: there could be more than fifteen vampires lying low in the blackness, ready to devour her. She clutched her fists and cast a glance behind her. Retreat was her only chance to survive. Her chances to win were too poor in a space that confined, alone against fifteen. Maybe she had just found one of those nests Jenny's group was looking for earlier. She had to climb up those stairs and warn her. Just one vampire was blocking the access to the stairs.

But he had to understand her plans because when she turned around and was about to throw herself onto him to free the passage, the vampire beat down his bar again to her. Faith had to roll on her side to avoid it and when she looked again at the exit, it was too late : three others vampires were ready to attack her.

Faith looked at the starving horde, which attacked her by waves and seemed to have a great pleasure to keep her away from the exit and to see her desperate attempts to reach it.

The dark-haired Slayer felt blows on her face, her back, her stomach. Sometimes, one of her attacker even began to bite her. But with revived energy, Faith finally got rid off the vampire before he could drink from her. But Faith knew only too clearly that her chances to get through this were now hopeless. But she wouldn't surrender without fighting and wouldn't fall without carnage in this nest.

She promised it to herself while giving blows all around her as violent as her weakening strength allowed her.

-----------------------------------------------------

"Where's Faith ? " Kennedy asked again while looking frantically around her.

The Slayer she had seized by her arm shook her head to say she had no idea.

Kennedy turned around to search the girl called Melinda that Jenny had referred to as her second in command. She needed several seconds to locate her in the rabble. Kennedy made her way to her by giving crossbow blows to vampires who tried to slow her progress and she finally reached the girl as she was dusting a vampire. Melinda, who had noticed Kennedy's approach, turned to her.

"What d'you want?"

"Where's Faith?" Kennedy asked immediately. "I thought she was with you"

Melinda nodded and looked around her.

"We're really close to the nest" she explained. "When we followed the ones coming from the theatre, they met up with another part of the group. And as you see" she pointed around her in a circular gesture. "There're a lot of them"

"This is really a vampires town" Kennedy grumbled. "But it doesn't tell where's Faith now?" she insisted.

"I think some of the vampires ran away. Faith followed them I guess."

"Alone?"

"I don't…"

Melinda interrupted herself to deliver a blow to a vampire who was getting too closer to her own taste, then turned again to Kennedy.

"I don't know. She didn't look like she wanted to follow my lead. She's one of the Chosen two after all. She has to know what she's doing"

Kennedy sighed deeply.

"Chosen or not, she's all alone somewhere in that cemetery full of vampires. I don't like this. Do the job here, I'm taking two of your girls with me and I'm going in search of her"

Melinda nodded.

"Okay. We follow you as soon as we're done here"

Kennedy nodded her head and made her way out the fighters' circle. She gestured to two girls to follow her and they got away from the battle.

"What do we do?" Asked one of the Slayer Kennedy had just enrolled.

"We're looking for Faith" Kennedy answered. "I need back up with me"

"Okay" Both Slayers answered and exchanged a glance with a smile on their lips.

If she had been less worried about Faith, Kennedy would probably have noticed how proud the girls were to have been chosen to go with her. But right now, she was far too concerned about Faith to notice anything.

Faith could be anywhere in the cemetery and nothing could tell her where. Kennedy closed her eyes a second and decided to rely on her instinct.

"That way" She said.

Then she went to the path she had just pointed, closely followed by the others Slayers.

The group began to run, attentive to any clue able to lead them to Faith. Kennedy was going forward without really knowing where she was heading but sure to be in the right direction. It was a weird feeling she happened to feel during the previous year in Brazil. But she couldn't totally shake her feeling of worry. What if she was wrong this time? What if her Slayer instinct didn't lead her where she wanted? A hand on her arm shook her from her thoughts and made her come to a stop.

"What?" She said, almost abruptly to the Slayer who had just stopped her.

"Listen" the girl simply answered.

Kennedy did as she was told. Her Slayer earing caught the fuzzy noise of a battle taking place really close and her Slayer's senses told her there was a lot of vampires involved.

"We have to go and see" she said

"Looks like they're many of them"

"I know"

Kennedy looked around her quickly.

"They're beneath us, probably in a crypt"

The other Slayers nodded their understanding. Kennedy stared around again and pointed to a crypt's door, less than fifty meters from them.

"There" She said simply. "Gather branches and twigs" She was gesturing all around her. " and build a torch"

Saying this, she fumbled in her pocket and finally got a lighter out from it. She threw it in one of her fellows' hands.

"And then meet me in the crypt!"

"You can't go alone" protested one of the girl.

"Hurry" Kennedy answered simply. "Faith's there. And she needs our help"

Then without waiting for an answer, Kennedy crossed the distance to her goal as both Slayers began to do as they had been told.

Kennedy came down the crypt's stairs four by four. Once at the bottom of the stairs, she immediately perceived in the darkness a group of vampires going at Faith fiercely as the dark-haired Slayer was desperately trying to resist. Kennedy came briefly to stop in front of that scene. Faith's face was bruised, blood was pouring freely from her lips, her nose, her neck, one of her eyes was swollen, her clothes were torn in pieces, she was cornered, close to give in at any moment without any victory hope. But she was still fighting, still standing, giving with rage more and more weaker blows that missed their goal nearly each time.

With an enraged scream, Kennedy rushed onto the vampires and she took advantage of their surprise to dust two vampires and to push away the others from Faith with kicks and blows. When she was near Faith, Kennedy pt her arm around her waist and tried to pull her to the stairs with her.

"I was waiting for you" Faith whispered in a weak voice she tried to sound ironic.

Kennedy gave her a sympathetic glance and couldn't help but smile.

"And here I am" She said simply while hitting a vampire who tried to block access to the exit with her crossbow.

If that one was not a problem any more, Kennedy understood it would be really hard to get out from this trap while carrying Faith. But a glance to her fellow Slayer told her she hadn't much of a choice, the rogue Slayer now barely stood up.

Kennedy used her weapon and her legs to keep the vampires from them while casting regularly glances to the stairs.

She let out a relief sigh when she saw a light and when a first Slayer appeared at the bottom of the stairs, holding a huge flaming torch she handled with dexterity to keep the vampires at a distance. The second Slayer was soon there behind her and went to Kennedy, fighting her way with kicks and torch's large moves around her.

"Get up!" She screamed to Kennedy. "We're on your back'

Kennedy hesitated for half a second. She cast a glance to the group of gathered vampires so close and she saw that the giant flames from the Slayers' torches terrified them.

Kennedy seized Faith more firmly and began to climb the stairs which led outside, and was quickly followed by the other Slayers who threw their flaming weapons in the middle of the vampires whose piercing cries hit Kennedy's ears when she reached the top of the stairs.

She got away quickly from the crypt and when she thought she was away enough, she laid Faith carefully on the cemetery grass, close to a tombstone whose lettering had been erased by time. The dark-haired Slayer's able-bodied eye batted once or twice before staring at Kennedy. Then she stood up on her elbows, coughed and spat a little blood. Kennedy gave her a handkerchief from her pocket and Faith wiped the blood oozing from her nose and her lips.

"You okay?" Kennedy asked.

"I'll be fine" Faith answered. "Been there already."

Now relieved on her former mentor state, Kennedy sighed and patted her gently on her shoulder.

"Hey, second time I save your ass!" She said in a happy and satisfied tone.

"Don't get used to that!" Faith grumbled.

Then she sat up and without looking at her savior, she whispered so low Kennedy hardly heard her:

"Good job then"

--------------------------------------------------------

"There's something else" Gideon repeated.

Xander saw him raise his hand, his palm open in front of him. He wanted to shout, to stand up, to jump, to do something. He saw Buffy's hand seizing her sword near her and getting ready to defend herself in case the warlock attacked her. But nothing more happened. Gideon did not move more and no flash of lightning, no energy bolt gushed from his raised palm. Time seemed to stop: Gideon with his hand raised and his eyes locked on Buffy, the Slayer in front of him, ready to strike back and Xander half up near his armchair, ready to jump if necessary.

And suddenly Buffy felt an unbearable headache and she dropped her sword and felt to her knees. Thousand voices seemed to yell in her head something she couldn't quite understand. Buffy put her hands around her head, as this gesture could have been enough to make the pain disappear.

Xander came immediately to her, kneeled to her side and put his hand on one of the Slayer's arm.

"Buff" He called in an anguished voice. "What's going on? What's wrong? Hey Buff…"

But Buffy didn't give any sign she had heard him or was even aware of his presence. He looked up angrily at Gideon.

"What did you do? » He screamed to the warlock.

He was about to get up when he felt Buffy topple over. He turned around to her and caught her as she was falling to the ground. Her face was tensed and the screams in her head were so strong and loud that Buffy felt like her head was about to explode.

And everything stopped. The screams. The pain. Buffy opened slowly her eyes and was surprised to have a sweet light welcoming her. She looked around her. She wasn't in Gideon's lair anymore. She was in a kitchen bathed by the sweet light of the sun. A kitchen she recognized immediately. Revello Drive kitchen. Buffy blinked in surprise. But that feeling vanished to be replaced by curiosity. Buffy pricked up her ears. The house was silent. She moved carefully to the door giving onto the hall, as if too curt moves could have made her so important house disappear. Buffy reached the hall without anything happening. She looked through the window. It was a sunny day. It was probably spring or the beginning of the summer. Buffy headed to the stairs and climbed it slowly, as she was pushed by an invisible force guiding her steps. A strange feeling traveled through her as she saw those familiar walls again, walls covered with photos of a past for so long disappeared. When she reached the second floor, she caught a glimpse of her room's door opened partly. She came closer and pushed the door opened to come in. The sight welcoming her took her breath away. It wasn't her room. It was Willow's room. Willow and Tara's room. And they were both there.

"Hey. Clothes" Willow said smiling and looking at Tara.

"Better not get used to them" The blonde witch answered with a charming smile.

"Hum. Yes, ma'am"

Buffy came forward in the room and stared at the scene as she was hypnotized. She saw Willow tugging at the waistband of Tara's jeans and pulling her close. The look Buffy could see on Willow's face was one of absolute contentment and happiness. A look Buffy couldn't remember having seen for so long that it seemed to her it could have happened in another life. The Willow standing in front her put a smile on her lips unwillingly. Tara's voice brought her back to reality.

"Mmm… Xander !"

"Not quite the reaction I was fishing for" Willow said, letting go of Tara.

"No, he's here"

Tara got closer to the window to look at what was happening outside.

"Think they're making up?" Asked Willow as opening a drawer.

Tara turned around and smiled to Willow. The same happy expression as Willow was lightening her face.

"I hope so. That's the best part," she answered.

Buffy couldn't help but smile too and felt a sweet warm to witness that moment between the two witches. For a second, she forgot to wonder what she was doing here, she forgot where she was supposed to be and why.

And then that sharp noise. A gunshot. Then a second. And a third. The noise of a window breaking. And another noise, a thump, duller noise she couldn't recognize.

Tara's smile transformed in a look of surprise and pain. Buffy's face twisted with horror when she noticed a small red dot getting bigger and bigger on Tara's blue sweater.

"Your shirt…" the blonde witch painfully got out.

Buffy's attention came to Willow whose face only showed incomprehension.

"Tara?"

Willow got forward and Tara fell in front of her. Then Buffy saw Willow's white shirt splattered with blood. The Slayer wanted to scream but no sound got out of her throat. Her legs started to shake and Buffy had to lean on the wall behind her to support herself.

"Tara? Baby?"

Buffy saw Willow leaning over Tara, turning her, putting her arms under her body.

"Please ! Please, come on ! Come on, Tara! Please come on baby!"

Willow's sobs tore at Buffy's heart like nothing did in a long time. She saw a blood stain appear under Tara's lifeless body. Willow begged Tara, she begged her to get up, begged her to be alive. But nothing happened. When Willow raised her head, her eyes were dark then bloody red. Buffy quivered when she saw the expression of pain, rage and grief that distorted her best friend's face.

And suddenly, Willow's head turned to her. Buffy jumped. Her eyes met Willow's filled with tears ones. The witch let go of her girlfriend's body and got up to face Buffy.

"It's your fault!" She yelled, her voice full of hate.

"It's your fault" she repeated while a terrified Buffy stepped back until she tried to push herself in the wall behind her.

She tried to stammer something, to defend herself but she couldn't get a sound out.

"It's your fault" Willow repeated again as she pointed to Tara's lifeless body behind her.

"Will…" Buffy finally managed to get out.

"He was shooting you, he was trying to kill you! YOU!" Willow suddenly exploded.

"And she died. Instead of you Buffy! Instead of you! You, the Slayer, you who should have protected her, YOU!"

Buffy's legs gave in and she slid slowly along the wall. Willow's gaze didn't let go of her and Buffy could see blazing blame dancing in it.

"Where were you?" Willow resumed. "Where were you when Warren had to be stopped? Where were you Buffy? Where were you Slayer?"

"Will…" Buffy repeated. "I would have so wanted, I would so want …"

But Willow didn't listen and went on as she hadn't say anything.

"You were with Spike. With a vampire. You preferred screwing a soulless vampire than protecting Tara! She didn't deserve that Buffy! She didn't deserve to die in your place! By your fault"

Willow's voice was now strangely loud and Buffy wanted to block her ears to stop hearing her best friend's blames when Willow's distorted face by hate and grief was staring at her with disdain.

"You're guilty of her death!" Willow yelled even louder if it was possible.

"Guilty!"

This time, Buffy fell to the ground and slapped her hands on her ears with full force.

"Guilty!" She heard again.

"Guilty!" rang in her head as thousands of voice had yelled it at the same time. "Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! "

The blame grew as a lament strong and distant at the same time, throbbing and cruel and nothing seemed to be able to make it stop. Buffy wanted to defend herself. She felt tears pouring from her eyes, along her cheeks and slid to the corner of her mouth. She hardly heard the sound of her own voice.

"I didn't want… I so have wanted…" She repeated several times by way of a defense.

And then, she felt a hand on her arm. A hand she felt seizing her and shaking her. And she perceived a voice among the screams.

"Buff…"

And the voices vanished as suddenly as they had come. Buffy opened her eyes and turned her head to see Xander looking at her worriedly. She was back in Gideon's lair. She loosened her grip around her head and wanted to get up. But she was shaking so violently that she couldn't do it without Xander's help.

"You okay?" he asked.

"What…what happened?" She asked in a so weak voice that she had a hard time to recognize it as her own.

"You began to hold your head and you fell to the ground" Her friend answered. "And you kept repeating 'I didn't want, I would so have wanted…", something like that. I think he did a spell on you"

Buffy turned to Gideon and got to her feet with Xander's help.

"What…What was that?" she asked in a slightly trembling voice. "Is that… Is that what Willow thinks? Is that her state of mind?"

Gideon had moved at all and gave her a mocking and amused smile.

"I thought you would understand yourself. Well, obviously you can't ask those Slayers to have a brain added to their supernatural strength. No, it's not Willow Rosenberg state of mind you just saw"

He paused, like he wanted to give Buffy a chance to find the answer herself. Or for dramatical effect. It couldn't be said.

"It's yours"

Buffy didn't jump to that assertion but her eyes grew wide with surprise.

"Mine?" she asked, dumbfounded.

Gideon crossed his arms over his chest and answered in an almost annoyed tone.

"Come on, Miss Summers, don't tell me you didn't know. Of course, most of the time, you just tell yourself you couldn't know, you can't save everybody, that you made your part. You tell yourself you were at a bad point at that time, that nobody can't hold it against you. And in fact, nobody actually holds it against you."

"What the hell is he talking about Buff?" Xander asked, turning to Buffy who was staring intently at the warlock.

If Buffy intended to inform Xander, she didn't have enough time as Gideon resumed as Xander had not even talked.

"But you know it's there. That little voice deep inside of you. That voice telling you that you could have done better. That you SHOULD have done better. It's always there. Oh, most of the time, it's low and discreet. But when you find your sister crying in her room sometimes at night, or when you see your friend Willow looking in the distance after a sleepless night, the voice gets louder. It reminds you that you failed. And then you know that finally, there's just one person holding what happened against you. And that person is you"

Gideon stopped again and looked at Buffy to gauge her reaction. She didn't move and stared at him fixedly, thousands of feelings dancing in her eyes. Xander for his part, looked at the warlock and the Slayer one after the other, trying to gather the pieces.

"Buff…" He finally answered low. "You feel guilty for Tara's death?"

Realization hit him as he said the words. Buffy had never mentioned this but he shouldn't be surprised. He had cursed himself for months for staying still looking at Warren pointing his gun at them. At their house. At their friends. Even if he had kept telling himself that he couldn't have done anything, that he didn't had enough time to do something, he had hated himself for his helplessness. So, how Buffy, with all her powers, with her way to always want to protect those she loved, could have felt nothing of that feeling of shame and guilt he himself had to face?

Gathering what Gideon had just said, Xander wasn't surprised by what he had enunciated, he was surprised not to have ever think about it before. Buffy felt guilty for Tara's death. Now it had been said, it seemed crystal clear.

And he understood about what all this finally was. And Gideon gave voice to his conclusions before him:

"You didn't come here, against your own convictions, out of Tara Maclay's or Willow Rosenberg's friendship"

he stopped, considered Buffy who was close to interrupt him and resumed quickly :

"I should say, not just out of Willow Rosenberg's friendship. It's true, it's one of your reasons. But it's not the only one as you kept telling us, Miss Summers. If you're here, it's for you too. To relieve your heart and conscience of that weight. Am I wrong?"

Xander looked again at Buffy then at Gideon. Buffy hadn't still moved and Xander wondered if the Slayer had registered that the warlock was asking her something. He was about to hail her when she finally reacted. She looked up to Gideon and Xander saw a light in her eyes telling him that whatever inner fight she was fighting for a moment was now over.

"You're right. Willow's not my only reason, even if the main. Yeah, I also do this for selfish reasons, because I failed in Tara's death. Because sometimes, I feel that guilt coming back to me. Because I feel it each time I look at Willow and because it became unbearable not to be able to look at my best friend without feeling responsible for the weight on her shoulders. And because Tara was my friend too. And because I miss her too. For all those reasons, I brushed some of my former convictions off, to come here in front of you and to present my request. That's what you wanted to know. Now, you know it"

Buffy fell silent and withstood Gideon's weighting gaze on her until the warlock uncrossed suddenly his arms and exclaimed simply:

"Fine!"

------------------------------------------------

There was a great bustle over the Council's sickbay. Several nurses were fidgeting around more or less seriously wounded Slayers.

Sat on a stool, Kennedy let escape long bored sighs while a really young nurse was trying to disinfect the wounds on her face.

Kennedy turned her head when she heard the door open and she gestured widely when she saw Willow appearing in the doorstep, followed by Robin and Dawn.

"Stop moving please" the nurse asked with a hint of impatience. "I can't…"

But she couldn't finish her sentence. Willow had just reached Kennedy and stared worriedly at her girlfriend.

"You're hurt?" she asked.

Kennedy rolled her eyes.

"It's nothing" the Slayer answered. "Just some bruises and cuts. With Slayer healing, it will be all disappeared by tomorrow"

"Even if your healing power is amazing, we can still help nature" protested the nurse.

Willow offered a sympathetic smile to the nurse, guessing Kennedy had probably given her a hard time.

"I'm gonna finish"

The nurse help her her cottons willingly and got away quickly.

"What happened?" The witch asked while taking care of her girlfriend's wounds.

"Patrol" Kennedy said. "Nothing big"

"She saved Faith!" Exclaimed a young Slayer on Willow's left.

"Saved Faith?" Willow frowned.

"Saved Faith?" Robin repeated.

"Rescue between Slayers, nothing more" Kennedy grumbled and freed from Willow's hands.

Willow and Dawn stared at Kennedy's face. Then Dawn spat out :

"She doesn't say the exact truth. Can be read on her face"

Kennedy sighed and was about to get up when Faith's voice interrupted her :

"Good guess, little Dawn"

They all craned their neck to see Faith lying on a bed behind a half-drawn curtain. The dark-haired Slayer was obviously in a worse state than her counterpart. One of her eyes was black and half closed, her lips were cut in several places and nearly every inch of visible skin was bruised. A light bandage could be seen behind her neck, half-hidden by her dark locks.

"Actually, she came to rescue me in a vampires nest" Faith resumed. "Don't give up such a glory Kennedy" she added to her counterpart.

Kennedy shrugged and didn't answer.

"You were in a vampires nest? Alone?" Robin asked.

Faith simply nodded.

"I chased a vampire and he leaded me to a nest"

"Alone?" Robin repeated.

"Buffy and you suggested me not to have young Slayers following me some days ago. So, yeah, alone"

Wood frowned severely and was about to say something but was interrupted by Kennedy.

"It was perfectly stupid. You should have taken girls with you. Or followed Melinda's orders and stay with the group"

Faith shrugged and let herself fall back onto the mattress with a stubborn look on her face.

"You disobeyed again?" Robin asked.

Faith sighed with a bored look on her face.

"I won't follow orders from kids who still were in primary school when I killed my first vampires." Was her reply.

Robin rolled her eyes and opened his mouth to answer severely, but Willow was quicker this time:

"You can do everything you want as long as you don't put anybody at risk!" She exclaimed angrily. "Kennedy could have been killed trying to get you out of there!"

"It's nothing Willow" Kennedy said to calm her girlfriend down and trying to hide her satisfaction to see Willow getting angry that way because she had been worried about her.

"It's not nothing" Robin said darkly. "first, the other day and now this"

He stared at Faith but the Slayer was looking at anything but him. Robin looked at her wounds then her turned to the others.

"We're gonna let you have some rest Faith. We'll talk about this later."

But Faith didn't answer more and didn't look at them getting away, didn't see Kennedy gesture to her as she followed the group outside.

---------------------------------------------------

Xander was slouched in his armchair and he looked like he was half-asleep. It was late now and the sky outside was black. The room would have been plunged into total darkness if not for the high candles lit nearly everywhere and bathing the room in a dim light.

Buffy for her part, was pacing in front of Xander, looking at her watch so often that most of the times, the minute hand hadn't moved in the slightest.

She cast a glance to Xander whose head rested on the back of his armchair and whose closed eye and regular breath pointed out he was sleeping. But Buffy couldn't wait more and got closer to her friend before sitting on his armrest.

"Do you think it's gonna take long?"

Xander jumped in his seat.

"What?" he asked panicked and seized his axe at his feet.

Buffy considered him with an amused smile before putting a reassuring hand on his arm.

"I was asking if you think it's gonna take long?"

Xander shrugged to show his ignorance.

"Well, I don't know what it means to ask for a resurrection to a whole coven when you're a warlock like Gideon. It's the first time I do something like that.

Buffy looked at him dumfounded.

"Well, asking for a resurrection to a coven. Last time I practiced a resurrection, the coven members were just two witches, it was quicker" he corrected.

Buffy sighed and looked again at her watch. It was now hours that Gideon has gone to present their request to his coven. Since then, they were waiting for the decision in his lounge.

"Finally" Xander said. "if the reply is positive, it wouldn't have been too hard to convince him. I expected more difficult ordeals, like killing dragons or fighting zombies or stuff like that. Was rather simple finally"

"Speak for yourself" Buffy grumbled.

There was a silence between the two friends.

"What did you see exactly?" Xander eventually asked.

"Tara's death" Buffy answered without any hesitation. "Like I was there"

She fell silent, looking like she was playing the scene again in her head and shivered.

"I think I understand better why Willow lost it" she added.

Xander wanted to ask some details but he changed his mind think to the situation's morbid.

"Why didn't you ever talk about it?"

Buffy gave him a questioning look.

"About the fact you feel guilty about her death?" He clarified.

Buffy shrugged.

"I don't think we ever had the chance to talk about this." She answered in a tired voice. "And I think that, you know, talking about it would have just make it tougher, more tangible…"

Xander didn't answer. After that famous night of terror when they all tried to escape Willow, himself had never talked again about his own guilty feeling. Maybe bringing Willow back to reason had make it easier to bear. Buffy never got something that concrete to fight her own.

"Buff, it wasn't your fault…" the carpenter said gently. "You did everything you could"

Buffy shrugged and snorted.

"No. Not at all"

"Buffy…" Xander began.

"Xander" Buffy interrupted in a low voice, staring at her palms opened in front of her.

"I did nothing. I didn't do enough. I'm THE Slayer. Those three geeks should have been nothing for me. But I let them do their stuff. I thought there was so much more important than taking care of them. So much more serious"

"Buffy…there's nothing you could have done"

But Buffy went on her train of thoughts, as Xander hadn't even talked.

"Everything just seemed so petty compared to my own pain… And she had to die and her death had to almost destroy Willow for me to finally understand how wrong I was to cry over myself. How lucky I was to be there to help my sister to grow up…"

"Buffy…" Xander interrupted again.

Buffy looked up to him and crossed her arms over her chest.

"It wasn't her time Xander" She said more firmly. "That bullet was for me"

Xander didn't answer and they remained silent for a moment.

"They have to accept…" Buffy resumed.

"Buff." Xander said gently. "You know that even they accept, it doesn't guarantee success"

The blonde Slayer nodded.

"I know this Xander. But if they refused, we won't have any chance…"

Gideon's sudden entrance interrupted the train of their conversation. The door opened wide which made the two friends jump slightly, and the warlock appeared in the room. He came quickly to them and they got up.

Gideon stared at the questioning and hopeful faces as none as them dared to ask the fatidic question.

He then began:

"The coven studied your request," He announced. "Each member expressed his point of view and the coven finally reached a decision.

Buffy and Xander held their breath, waiting for the answer.

"That resurrection looks like a hard but really interesting challenge. The coven will then try to bring Tara Maclay back to life."

Buffy and Xander exchanged a glance.

"You can leave now. She'll come to you"

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end of 'Guilty'