Act 4

Willow was running in the corridors with Kennedy on her heels and the witch was doing anything in her power to destabilize her pursuer.

"Will! Don't run!" Kennedy yelled. "I'm a Slayer, I'll get there before you!"

"Hey, girls, you could wait for m!" Xander's voice exclaimed from far behind.

Willow turned at a corner and flattened herself against the wall. When Kennedy emerged in her turn, Willow shot her leg down to trip her up. Surprised, Kennedy fell forward. But thanks to her Slayer reflexes, she rolled skillfully on the ground and got immediately to her feet to chase Willow again as the witch had already took off.

"Willow! You're cheating!" The Slayer yelled.

"You're a Slayer, we have to use any possible trick if we wanna win against you in a race" Xander said as he finally arrived beside her.

Kennedy grinned.

"I'm a Slayer, you can't defeat me!" She said before leaving to run after Willow. "If Will gets to Dawn's before me, the kid's gonna make fun of me for the rest of my life!"

"I'll meet you there!" Xander screamed after her.

Then he took off himself. He didn't have to run too long before finding both girls a corridor away. Kennedy had caught up with Willow and had begun to make her pay for perfidy by tickling her.

"Xander! Help!" She yelled between hysterical laughs when she saw him arriving.

The young watched the scene shared between amusement and tenderness.

"I think she's good Kennedy," He said finally.

The Slayer released her prey who leant against the wall behind her to catch her breath. Kennedy ran her hand tenderly in her girlfriend's hair.

"You're so pretty when you're laughing" she said with a satisfied smile on her face.

"Flatterer" Willow replied, smiling back.

The young man considered the scene a moment with a halting-smile on his face.

"Well, it's not that all this is not really cute but what about actually getting Dawn for dinner? I'm starving" He finally interrupted.

"I'm in" Kennedy approved and raised her hand.

"And I'll be first. Right Xander?" Willow exclaimed and took off as quickly as possible.

Xander didn't need more to understand Willow's message and he grabbed Kennedy around her waist as she was about to follow her girlfriend.

"Hey!" She protested.

"I'm trying to help" Xander explained with a fake sorry smile before releasing her and trying to follow the girls' pace.

Willow soon crossed the distance to Dawn's room. Kennedy had quickly almost joined her and Willow was the one to cross the young Summers' threshold first with an elated look on her face.

But what she discovered was far from what she expected to find; and any victory cry died on her lips with her laugh when she saw the three girls in front of her in the room.

And when her eyes met blue eyes, all too well know, all too much buried in a corner of her memory, of a young woman she wasn't destined to see again, she felt like the ground was opening under her feet.

That precise moment, Buffy had probably imagined it dozens of times.

She had imagined that Willow would be busy to do something and that she would watch her for a moment from the doorstep before making her presence known. In her fantasies, Willow would smile to her, would gave her that poor smile Buffy was so used to for so much months now. They would exchanged some unimportant words, about the weather, about their jobs, about anything. And Buffy would have tell she had something important for her. The witch would have probably asked what, simulating a bigger interest than what she was really feeling. Buffy would have left the room again, would have take Tara by her hand to pull her into the room where Willow was waiting.

And then everything would have changed. Willow would have probably blinked once or twice to be sure it wasn't a dream. And when she would have realized it wasn't a dream, she would have smiled again. Smiled as Buffy hadn't seen her smile in a long time. Smiled as she had thought she would never smile again. Smiled as she had seen her smile in that cruel scene Gideon had made her watch. REALLY smiled.

Buffy would have seen a new light in her eyes. She would have seen there life dance again after disappearing two years before with Tara's death. She would have seen joy, happiness, maybe gratitude, without any doubt, love when finally Willow would have got up to get to Tara. The blonde witch would have opened her arms and both young women would have sealed their reunion, ready to take back their life where it had stopped too brutally, where it should have never stopped.

And Buffy would have wanted to disappear, to let them at their happiness. But she wouldn't have been able to. The desire to stay there, to watch that precious moment would have been stronger. The desire to drink in the witches' happiness her own part of tranquility, to find here the satisfaction to have –at last – achieve something good and personal. The satisfaction to learn that death wasn't her only gift.

'Cause in font of her eyes, it wouldn't have been only to Tara's resurrection she would have taken part in, but to Willow's too. Willow, the friend who had chosen to stay to fight beside her when another brilliant and demonsless life was offered for her. Somewhere else.

Yeah, Buffy had played and played again that scene too often in her head to be ready to the one she was watching now.

Because Willow's face wasn't lightened by the brightening smile Buffy had dreamt about. And if Willow was up, it was to step back to hurt the wall behind her.

In her gaze, there was no joy, no happiness nor light of life.

But what Buffy could see there were too many emotions for Willow to bear and that she was trying to fight to hold onto reality.

Incomprehension, pain, memory, love, hope. All those feelings were entwined, entangled with each other, passed successively on the witch's crumpled face.

And what Buffy could see better than anything playing on Willow's face was far to be what she had expected. She had expected Willow to be overwhelmed by her emotions, torn apart by contradictory feelings.

But Buffy had never doubted for a second that what would shout out from that initial torment – the strongest, the most natural impulse, the one that would break every others without letting them a single chance, would be the unconditional love Willow still felt about Tara.

But far from that love impulse that should have reunited her two friends, the most evident feeling Buffy could read on Willow's face was fear. An helpless fear that made the readhead shake violently and prevented her to make a sound as her eyes were roaming on the body of the blonde in front of her, looking for a clue that all this was just her imagination.

When finally she was able to make her mouth work again, it was to pronounce a name, a single name:

"Tara?"

There were tears in that word, question and hope too. The blonde in front of her raised slightly her hand forward but seemed as unable as herself to talk and any sound she was about to say choked in her throat. Their eyes misted over with tears met. Willow felt her heart pounding wildly in her chest and her body started to shake helplessly even more. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply to try to fight the emotion she felt overwhelming her. When she opened her eyes again, Tara hadn't moved at all and was still looking at her. Willow turned slightly her head and saw Xander and Kennedy looking worriedly at her. The world seemed suddenly turn in slow motion, then quickening until whirling round her like a farandole. Colors became brighter before turning dark, sounds choked before becoming deafening.

Then, Willow had certainly the last reaction Buffy could have foreseen. Her muscles suddenly tensed and the witch turned back to bounce all at once out of the room.

Kennedy needed some seconds to realize what was happening. She looked at the door where Willow had just disappeared, then turned to Buffy, Dawn and that blonde girl she had never seen before and whose face was distorted by an indefinable emotion. Willow's voice the second before rang again in her ears and every pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

"Tara" Kennedy repeated in a disbelieving tone. "How?" She added in a whisper.

The brunette Slayer's question made Buffy get back to reality as Willow's reaction had left her speechless.

"Kennedy" She said as suddenly remembering her presence. "It's Tara. It has nothing to do with you" she explained. "We've been able to bring her back 'cause…"

"You?" Kennedy interrupted in a very much firmer tone than before.

"You?" Dawn repeated and turned to her sister.

"Xander and I" Buffy précised. "And a man called Gideon and all a coven" she added quickly.

"You?" Kennedy repeated. "Willow didn't know ?"

"No, no, of course not" Buffy quickly answered. "I wanted to tell her… differently"

"Tara" Kennedy said again and turned to stare at the young woman.

Her voice was now shaking with anger. Her eyes roamed over Tara before moving to Xander and then to Buffy.

"How could you?" She suddenly exploded. "How could you do that to Willow? How could you do that NOW?"

"Kennedy…" Buffy tried to explain and stepped forward the girl.

But Kennedy turned back, didn't listen, didn't look at her and disappeared after Willow.

"You brought her back?" Dawn asked.

She stood and looked at Buffy and Xander one after the other with a severe look on her face.

"Dawn…" Buffy began.

"Is that you?" Dawn insisted in an icy tone.

Buffy gazed at her sister and gave in.

"It's not exactly us. We can't do that. But we found a warlock to do it for us"

"You" Dawn repeated. "You"

The Summers sisters stared at each other in silence until Xander's voice got them out of their trance.

"Tara, are you okay?"

They both turned immediately to the blonde and saw Xander getting closer to support her. Tara nodded but her lost gaze and her shaking hands seemed to show the contrary. Xander put his arm around the witch's waist and Dawn's gaze went back to her sister.

"Look!" She ordered and gestured to the witch with her hand. "How could you do that to her? Especially you?"

"You wanted it!" Buffy replied.

"But doing it?" Dawn asked in a trembling voice.

"Dawn…" Buffy tried in the same tone.

"Dawn… Dawnie…" Tara stepped in and moved her hand forward to the teenager's shoulder. "I'll be fine…"

Dawn turned to Tara. The witch seemed to be even paler then before to Buffy and Xander. The young Summers came back to her and embraced her. Tara started to stroke her hair as she had been so used to in the past.

"I'll be fine Dawnie" She repeated in her sweet voice. "I'll be fine…"

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Unaware of the tragic events taking place some floors lower, Giles had come back to his office after having dinner alone as he had given up to wait for the scoobies to show up as planned. Giles was slightly annoyed because he hoped to see some points with Willow before she left for Brazil. But he thought that Buffy and Dawn's next departure for Rome had decided the group for an unheralded evening.

"Giles, can I talk to you for a sec?"

The former Watcher jumped slightly and looked up. He was surprised to recognize Faith on the doorstep.

"Come in Faith" He said and gestured to her.

The dark-haired Slayer came in and settled in the armchair in front of Giles.

"What brings you here?" He asked while going on writing in a notebook in front of him.

Faith watched him in silence for a moment then took a pencil in a pot in front of her and nervously tapped the edge of the desk with it. Giles looked up and considered her with curiosity.

"Hum Faith" He said. "Try to be gentle with that pencil. Last time a Slayer played with my pencil, she broke it. With all the Slayers I see lately, it could finally get kinda expensive"

Faith stopped to tap with the pencil and put it back into place. Giles wanted to say he wasn't against her taking on of his pencils if she wanted but finally thought better of it.

"So Faith ? I'm listening to you" He said with a smile.

"Well" the Slayer began. "I gave some thinking to our conversation. And to what the council said this morning"

Giles stopped writing and raised his head before putting his glasses back into place on his nose.

"Well" He said. "Very well. It's a good thing. I'm happy you listened to me Faith, really happy"

"Wait" Faith interrupted and fidgeted on her seat. "Listen first to what I wanna say before getting too much happy"

Giles couldn't quite hide his surprise to the former rogue Slayer's words.

"Hum, is there a problem?" He asked gently.

Faith first looked at him straight in the eye then her gaze searched something else to look at in the room. She hesitated long second before getting out:

"I think I can't work for the council any longer"

Giles felt like an electrical discharge to that statement. His eyes widened in surprised and he sat up abruptly on his seat.

"What do you mean?"

"Look at me Giles. Look at your council. I don't have a place in this."

"You refuse to make your place"

Faith shook her head.

"No, Giles. There's no place here for me. You want me to be a leader and i can't be a leader. And I'm not like all the others? So, there's no place for me."

"Faith, do I have to remind you you're a wanted murderer? I thought you wanted to use your Slayer's powers to pay your debts and make up for your errors? I have to admit that change of mind surprises me"

The Slayer raised her hands as to defend herself.

"Hey, hey, take it easy!" She exclaimed when she saw the serious look on Giles face. "I never said I wanted to disappear and live in the sun"

"And I plan to use my Slayer's powers to make things better if I can" she added seriously.

"I have to admit I don't see where you're going with this"

"Well, I'll go on doing patrols, slaying demons and vampires and stuff. But alone."

Silence fell between them and Giles searched for what to say. He stared carefully to the Slayer's face and finally said:

"I don't really see what it'll change in respect to now"

Faith looked slightly offended but took back her composure quickly:

"You won't have to wait something from me"

There was a silence and they both just stared at each other.

"Faith…" Giles eventually began.

"No" She interrupted. "I really thought about it. And you're right. I can't be there without being actually there when you're counting on me, when those kids are counting on me"

"Faith…" Giles tried again.

"But I can't stop being a Slayer, Giles" Faith went on without letting him talk. "That's the only thing I was ever able to do. I'm not B"

Giles remained silent for a moment, just like Faith who had said everything she had to say. Finally Giles decided to reason with her.

"Faith, I don't think that being alone in that fight is a good idea. And I disagree to let you do that"

"You don't have a choice."

She started to get up but Giles – feeling he was about to loose her – insisted:

"Faith, please wait for a second"

Faith cast him a bored glance but nevertheless sat back.

"Listen" Giles resumed. "I'm ready to admit that the council might put a too great pressure on you. But you shouldn't be alone Faith. It's not the Slayers destiny anymore"

"I'm from the old guard Giles" The dark-haired Slayer objected. "And anyway, they don't truct me"

"Of course they do!" Giles protested.

"Of course they don't" Faith resumed in a calm tone. "They still see the murderer in me. You just remind me yourself that I still have my mistakes to make up for"

"It's not what I meant"

"But you said it"

"Faith" Giles gently insisted. "I don't think that going away, acting alone and taking risks are the best things to do to be forgiven. Beside, the council'll refuse to financially subside to you if you're not available. I'll have a lot of trouble to make other members accept something like this."

"I'm not asking anything from the council, Giles. I'll manage"

She fell silent for a second and added after a slight wavering:

"And maybe I have to forgive myself before pretending to others' forgiveness. I have to find my own road. And it's not among you all right now"

Giles didn't answer and looked at Faith again in silence. Finally he sighed deeply before giving in:

"Well, if you think that's the best thing to do, I can't have you stay here against your will. But I'd like you to stay in touch with me. Not the council. Just me. And I'm going to see what I can do to make things easier for you"

Faith was about to protest but Giles interrupted her.

"At least, let me help you. And stay in touch with me. Just for me to know how you're doing"

Faith wavered then finally nodded.

"Okay."

"I've got your word?"

"You've got my word"

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

Buffy and Xander went down the stairs at a quick pace, literally jumped the last step and crossed the lobby to the garden's entrance. Kennedy was there, looking up to the sky, leaning nonchalantly against the wooden doorframe that leaded outside.

"Hey" Buffy said when she saw her and as she came closer. "Where is she?"

The brunette Slayer turned her head to her counterpart and Buffy saw her quickly wiping a tear. The gesture immediately provoked a sympathetic impulse for the girl.

"Kennedy Buffy" said gently. "It has nothing to do with you"

"Nothing to do with me?" She replied harshly. "You brought her ex back to life, a girl dead for more than two years, an ex I always heard talking about like she was the eighth Wonder of the world and it has nothing to do with me? I love Willow, Buffy. How something like this could have nothing to do with me?"

"Listen…"

"No" Kennedy dryly interrupted. "I don't wanna hear anything"

Buffy sighed but gave up. Right now, she had other priorities anyway.

"Where is she?"

"She doesn't want to see anyone" Kennedy answered abruptly.

"Where is she?" Buffy repeated?

"In the garden"

Buffy looked where Kennedy was pointing out and immediately stepped forward, pulling Xander along with her. Kennedy seized her by her shoulder.

"She doesn't want to see anyone" The brunette Slayer insisted.

"And we want to see her" Buffy replied.

Then she got free from Kennedy's grip and went forward in the garden with Xander under the younger Slayer's dark look.

Buffy and Xander found Willow behind the swimming pool. She was sitting on a seesaw that probably hadn't been used in a long time. The redhead didn't get any reaction to their arrival. They both sat on each side of the witch whose hands were gripping nervously the seesaw chains while her eyes were doggedly fixed on her feet.

"Will" Buffy said gently and put her hand on her best friend's one.

The redhead didn't move. In his turn, Xander put his hand on the witch's free one.

"Will" He repeated.

He tenderly put his other hand under Willow's chin to make her look up. His heart squeezed when he saw his best friend's face drowned with tears. He put his arm around her shoulder in a tender impulse. Buffy did the same on her side and held Willow too.

"She's there…" Willow whispered. "She's there…"

Buffy squeezed the redhead's shoulders more firmly and tried a little smile.

"Yeah, she's there Will, it's really her"

"I know, my God, I know"

Willow stopped for a second and tried to control her voice.

"Yesterday evening…" She whispered. "I felt something…Her presence… I thought I was dreaming…I thought it was my imagination…"

She stopped again.

"But no" She concluded. "It's her"

New silence.

"My god, it's her, it's really her…" Willow repeated in a breath. "I dreamt so much about this, I wanted this so much… She's there…"

"Yeah, she's there" Buffy said and held the redhead even more tightly against her and offering her a comforting smile.

"And if I think about seeing her, talking to her, touching her…" Willow whispered again. "I'm terrified…"

"There's nothing wrong with that Will…" The Slayer tried to sound cheerful. "She's afraid too. But as soon as you two talk, it's gonna get better…"

"I can't" Willow interrupted in a more shaking and firmer voice at the same tile. "I won't be able to…" She clarified.

"Will, you two just need some time…"

But Willow shook her head vigorously.

"I won't…" She said again. "It's too hard…That pain…"

Saying this, Willow put both hands on her chest and crumpled the fabric of her shirt between her nervous fingers.

"It's unbearable…" She finished.

There was a new silence while Willow went on gripping nervously her shirt as Buffy and Xander exchanged a glance.

"Will…" Xander began.

The witch turned her wet face to him and didn't let him finish.

"I can't" She whispered. "It's too hard… I can't take that risk… I won't…"

Xander and Buffy exchanged a new worried glance. They didn't get time to say something before Willow resumed absent-mindedly:

"And… there's Kennedy… And Brazil, the council, the Slayers… They all need me…"

"Will" Buffy gently replied. "It's Tara…"

"I…I can't Buffy…I can't deal with that, not anymore, not again… I can't Buffy…"

As she finished her sentence, Willow suddenly threw herself in the Slayer's arms.

"I just can't, Buffy, I can't, it's too hard…" She repeated.

The Slayer closed her eyes and hugged the redhead. She gently ran her fingers in her friend's hair and looked again at Xander who was now tenderly holding Willow from behind.

"Will" The Slayer whispered quietly. "You'll regret that all your life long…"

Willow buried her face deeper in Buffy's shoulder to try to choke her doubling sobs to her friends' despair.

"I know" she answered between two hiccoughs. "I know…"

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Too lost in her thoughts and torments, Buffy didn't see Giles coming quickly toward her as she crossed back the hotel lobby.

"Buffy" Giles called her out when he saw she had not noticed him.

The Slayer looked up and saw her former Watcher meeting up with her quickly.

"Buffy, I was looking for you" He said in an impatient tone. "We've got a problem"

Buffy had a sardonic laugh.

"We have" She said in a harsh voice.

"So, you know" Giles said. "I'd like you to talk to her, maybe you can reason with her"

"Giles, I just talked to her…" Buffy said in a weary voice.

"You already talked to Faith?"

"Faith? What the hell are you talking about Giles?"

"Faith of course" Giles answered in an obvious tone.

"Giles, we've got Tara just coming back from the dead in the hotel and you find obvious to talk about Faith?"

Giles looked at her with confusion.

"Well, seeing things like this…" He began thoughtfully. "But we've got a problem with Faith. She want to leave the council and be by herself, maybe you could…"

"Giles" Buffy said, turning to him. "Faith is my last worry right now. Sorry."

And she left, leaving Giles disconcerted. The Slayer climbed the stairs leading to the rooms. She began to go to the one where they had settled Tara and found it empty. As she had expected, the witch was still with Dawn in her room. Buffy watched them talking from the doorstep for a moment. Tara's face was colorless and a look of intense concentration was plastered on her face. When the witch saw her on the threshold, she gestured to her.

"Come in Buffy"

The Slayer frowned when she heard the shiver in her friend's voice and didn't even notice her sister's dark look.

"Dawn, can you leave us alone for a while please?" Buffy asked gently.

Her sister looked at her, dumbfounded and didn't move in the slightest.

"It's my room" She said.

"Dawn" Buffy said in a firmer tone that didn't meet any more success.

"We're gonna leave you alone Dawnie" Tara said then as she got to her feet.

"No! Not yet!" The younger Summers exclaimed and gripped her arm.

"It's late, you should go to bed" Tara said with a smile. "And so should I" she added.

Dawn considered the witch's tired features and gave in.

"Okay. I see you tomorrow, right?"

Tara nodded and Dawn got up to kiss her cheek before following her sister and the witch to the door.

The blondes walked first in silence in the corridors leading to Tara's room.

"Tara…" Buffy finally said. "I think Willow will need some time to get used to…"

"I know" Tara gently interrupted with a half-smile. "I know" she added in a suddenly darker tone.

Buffy didn't know immediately what to say and Tara helped her.

"I talked a lot with Dawn." Tara whispered. "She told a little what I missed"

"Oh!" was the only sound Buffy could manage to that piece of news.

Tara fell silent and Buffy could see that the witch was deeply lost in thoughts. The Slayer kept quiet until they reached the room. Buffy opened the door and let Tara in before following her in. They sat on the bad, Tara leaning against the wall behind her and Buffy beside her.

"So, what did Dawn tell you?" Buffy asked after a long silence.

Tara started to shake slightly and turned to the window, which showed a dark and starry sky.

"Stuff that happened when…" She stopped briefly and corrected herself: "while I was gone. She told me for Anya"

Her voice shivered slightly when she mentioned the ex-demon name. Buffy remembered that Anya and Tara had been good friends before death took them both away one after the other. The Slayer searched for something to say. But nothing came.

Again, an awkward silence settled in. Buffy looked at Tara and couldn't help but notice how the witch looked darker and loster than she was in the morning.

"She told me for Sunnydale" Tara added. "And…"

Distress on Tara's face grew even more evident and jumped to the Slayer's face. She frowned and put a comforting hand on Tara's arm.

"She told me for Willow" Tara whispered.

Buffy frowned even harder when she realized she didn't know what Tara was talking about. Was it about Willow's problems with magic or in a more down to earth way, about Willow's relationship with Kennedy? Tara didn't clarify. And again, they remained silent for long minutes. And again, Tara was the one to break the silence.

"She doesn't want to see me?" She whispered so low that Buffy had to bend forward to hear what she said.

Buffy was taken aback by the question. She had planned to explain as gently as possible that

Willow needed some time to face her return and hadn't wait the blonde to be so perceptive and direct about that matter.

"She…It's a huge shock for her. Those last years have been hard you know. She's gonna need some time to adjust" Buffy carefully replied.

Tara gravely nodded absent-mindedly.

"I understand" Tara said after a new silence. "I understand her"

Her voice shook slightly as she said the words and she closed her eyes and breathed in deeply as to find energy to add what she was about to add.

"I understand. She had her life during all this time. I'm not supposed to be here. I'm not supposed to turn everything upside down. She's not supposed to turn everything upside down. She-she must have chan-changed a-a lot…"

She had stuttered the end of her sentence and had to struggle to finish it.

"She'll probably need some time…" Buffy said again. "But it'll get better…"

"I'm gonna leave Buffy" Tara said suddenly in a firmer tone, as she had not even heard what the Slayer had just said.

Buffy looked at her in surprise as the words sank in.

"What?"

"You're right" Tara resumed. "We'll just need some time for things to get better. I need some time too. To know who I am. Who I can be in that life."

Tara stopped briefly and looked at Buffy straight in the eye.

"I… I think I'm gonna come back to my father's"

"What?" Buffy repeated.

But this time, her tone was a mix of horror and disbelief.

"I-I've got nowhere where I'm home now. Except to my fa…"

"No" Buffy interrupted more severely than she intended. "You can't do that Tara. You've got a home. You'll got a home. Dawn and I are living in Rome. It's already your home. We want you with us"

Buffy smiled to her, satisfied with herself, already picturing the life the three of them would live in Rome. But the dream turned short as Tara shook her head vehemently.

"No, Buffy. I don't think that's the best thing to do. I think I have to go away. To find my place back"

"Tara!" Buffy exclaimed in a shaking voice. "You still have a place in our lives!"

The Slayer got up and began to pace the room to try to make the stress go away.

"Of course you still have a place in our lives! It never changed!"

Tara tried to sketch a smile but she couldn't and the smile transformed into an indefinable wince.

"I'm gonna leave Buffy." She repeated. "I feel it's the right thing to do"

"Tara, you can't go back to your father after everything that…"

"Maybe I won't" Tara interrupted. "I…I can travel for a while. Try…Try to find myself again"

Buffy stopped her pacing and sat back beside Tara.

"Listen, I know how you're feeling right now. I understand." She said gently. "Hey, been there too, remember?"

Buffy tried to meet Tara's gaze but the witch looked down and she took her hands in hers.

"I know it seems unbearable, insurmountable. I know you feel ashamed and empty. But you'll recover and things'll get better. I promise Tara. You'll love life again. I promise"

Buffy had gently said that, tenderly tracing the witch's shaking hands with her fingertips.

"Come to Rome with us." She added. "We'll be like a family. We already ARE a family. A peculiar family I have to admit. But a family. Dawn will be so happy. And I'll be so happy to have you with us again."

Silence fell again between them, only disturbed by the sobs Tara tried to contain. Buffy ran a hand on her cheek to wipe her tears and repeated:

"Come and live with us. You'll find your love for life again Tara"

The witch finally looked up and awkwardly wiped her tears.

"I believe you Buffy." She said in a trembling voice. "But you have to let me decide where I have to look"

Buffy closed her eyes.

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Neither the bright light of the day nor the hotel's usual noise seemed to be able to disturb Buffy. The Slayer was laying on her bed, still clothed and was staring at the ceiling absent-mindedly. She hadn't slept at all in the night. How could she have? Nothing was happening the way she had thought and hoped. She should have expected that. She was probably too used to her sweet life in Rome to remember how things could so easily slip in the Slayer's world.

Within some hours, Willow would get back to Brazil. And Tara would leave Cleveland. Giles, Xander, Buffy and even Dawn's attempts to convince the witch to come to live in Rome or to stay in Cleveland had been useless. The witch had remained calm, clear and inflexible despite their insistence. Buffy wondered if Tara had ever been that stubborn before. She couldn't remember.

For a second, Buffy had thought to knock Tara out and to force her to come with her and Dawn. But if that solution was practical, Buffy knew it wasn't probably the best.

And Xander and Giles had finally convinced her that they should let Tara the time and space she was begging for to learn to live again. They hadn't said it but Buffy had almost been able to hear them whispering "remember how you needed to get away from us after your resurrection"

Going away to come back better.

Buffy had finally given in to Dawn's disappointment. And she knew her sister wouldn't forgive her soon to let Tara leave.

And would never forgive her if something unfortunately happened to Tara.

Buffy kept repeating herself that Tara was a witch and was able to defend herself but she couldn't help but worry to know she would be alone God knew where.

She knew only too well all the monsters laying in the dark, ready to devour an alone young woman.

Alone and weak.

Buffy had mainly used that point to try to convince Giles and Xander to do whatever they could to prevent Tara to leave alone.

Tara's resurrection had left her weaker than ever and probably unstable for God knew how long.

Giles had promised to use all the council's means to watch after her. But it wasn't enough to make Buffy's crawling anguish to imagine the blonde going alone on the roads.

And a sudden idea stroke Buffy like lightning.

The blonde Slayer took some minutes to consider what her instinct had just told her then bounced out of her bed and rushed out of her room.

She crossed the corridor without meeting anyone, turned on her right at the end, ran along another corridor and finally stopped by a door. She didn't take time to knock and came in resolutely.

Anybody else would probably at least had jumped – or worse had a heart attack – to that abrupt entering. But Faith just looked at Buffy, barely surprised.

"Come in, B. Make yourself at home" She said sarcastically.

Buffy cast a quick glance to the dark-haired Slayer's spartan room. Everything was perfectly in order to Buffy's great surprise. She had always been used to see Faith live in the middle of a mess. The bed was made and nothing was trailing here and there.

"Already ready to leave?" Buffy asked when she understood where that sudden impulse for order came from.

"As you see" Faith simply replied.

"What are you going to do?" Buffy asked as she leant nonchalantly against the wall.

"I don't really know. Killing vampires, demons, that's for sure…"

Buffy let escape a small laugh Faith could only notice.

"Why are you smiling?" Faith grumbled. "It's just the thing I do. I'm a Slayer. I kill things. End of story."

"Faith…"

But the dark-haired Slayer interrupted her with an annoyed gesture when she heard her voice.

"Listen B, if you came here to Giles' request to ask me to stay, you're loosing you time. My decision is made."

Buffy winced.

"Giles didn't send me here." She answered dryly. "Giles didn't ask anything at all. He even told me he fixed stuff up to make things easier for you so… No, I'm not here to talk about this"

"For what then? Saying your goodbyes?" Faith asked, a hint of irony in her voice.

"No" Buffy answered almost embarrassed. "I'm here to ask you to do me a favor"

Faith squinted, intrigued and suspicious at the same time.

"A favor?" She repeated.

Buffy nodded.

"What is it?"

Faith crossed her arms and waited her the blonde Slayer to explain. Buffy breathed in deeply, delaying the moment to ask, testing her choice's validity.

"I'd like you to take Tara with you. To protect her"

Faith was about to react but Buffy interrupted her before any sound could get out of the dark-haired Slayer's mouth.

"She wanna leave too. She needs to get away from us, time for her to get things sorted in her head. And I don't like having her alone. I know she'd be safe with you"

Buffy fell silent and stared at Faith.

"You want me to take this newly resurrected chick with me?" Faith asked in a disbelieving tone. "You're kidding?"

Then she added in a firmer tone:

"It's no"

Contrariety then disappointment passed on Buffy's face. There was a silence before Buffy resumed:

"Faith, do you remember what you told me yesterday?"

Faith shrugged to show that she didn't know nor care.

"What? I say a lot of things I can't just remember then. You shouldn't pay it too much attention"

"You said you wanted to prove you've changed. That you wanted to pay your debt to me, to us"

Faith opened her mouth to answer but she didn't immediately something to say and her mouth closed before any sound get out of it. The look on her face clearly tell Buffy that Faith thought the blonde Slayer had just been the author of a dirty trick. Something she finally gave voice to.

"It's so unfair" She said as she opened her arms in a dramatic gesture. "So? What do you mean?"

"I'm saying that's the deal." Buffy said firmly. "Take Tara with you and be sure she's safe and we'll be even"

"I'm not sure traveling with a Slayer is the safer travel mode." Faith objected with sarcasm.

"It's safer than traveling alone when you're totally lost, in despair and ashamed to be alive"

"So much fun you promise me!" Faith answered and rolled her eyes.

"So, you're accepting?" Buffy asked, arching an eyebrow.

Faith deeply sighed.

"I don't get it. That girl wouldn't be better with you? Or Giles? Or even better with Red?"

"That's exactly what I think." Buffy said impatiently. "But she doesn't want. We can't – or at least don't wanna – force her. And a part of me remembers what you feel after a resurrection"

"The need to cut yourself from everything and to hang with dangerous people?" Faith asked cynically.

Buffy sketched a sad smile to that question that wasn't really one.

"Yes" She answered simply.

Silence fell again between them.

"Faith" Buffy resumed a little later. "We can't know her alone. And she doesn't want to be with us right now. I really need someone I trust to watch after her"

She stopped and looked at Faith with almost pleading eyes.

"Please" She concluded.

Faith bit her lips and tiredly sighed before giving in.

"I feel I'm gonna regret that. But it's okay. I'll play bodyguard for your friend."

Buffy relaxed a little when she heard Faith's reply and smiled warmly to her.

"Thank you"

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The night was falling on Cleveland and the sun was slowly going down in the clear sky, announcing a beautiful starry night. The council's hotel was unusually quiet compared to the agitation of the last weeks. It was the calm going with departure days that was reigning on this summer evening.

Kennedy and Willow had been the first to leave back for Brazil and it would have been some way from the truth to say that none of them looked happy when came time to say goodbye.

Despite Buffy's, Xander's and Giles' efforts, Willow had refused any kind of contact with Tara, had refused to give herself the time she needed to adjust. And she had preferred to rush her return to Rio in what resembled only too much an escape. She had nevertheless taken time to ask what Tara would become and had protested vehemently against the idea to have her with Faith. Giles had finally made her admit that Tara just needed as much time and space to adjust to the situation as herself. Willow had finally given in to Buffy's much disappointment. Buffy had hoped that this piece of news would push Willow to gather her courage and to face Tara. But it hadn't happened. And in the beginning of the afternoon, Willow and Buffy were as teary as the other when they had hugged when the redhead was about to leave for the airport.

All that the Slayer could now hope was that her best friend would finally find the light she had so hoped for her at the end of the tunnel she was still crossing.

All the time – and it has been long – where Willow had passed from arms to arms, goodbyes to goodbyes, Kennedy had stayed beside her, showing even more her over protective stance for her girlfriend. Except the other Slayers, her only goodbye had been for Giles. The brunette Slayer had refused stubbornly to talk to Buffy or Xander and Dawn had avoided her more than ever.

Buffy had tried to talk to her without success. Despite Kennedy's anger, the blonde Slayer couldn't help but feel a great sympathy and gratitude toward the younger Slayer. Sympathy because she knew the weeks to come would be hard for her too. Gratitude because she would be there for Willow and Willow would need her.

It was now Faith and Tara's turn to leave the hotel. At first, imagining Tara going with Faith had horrified Giles, Xander and Dawn and all of them had questioned her sanity to have such ideas. Dawn had been particularly vehement, asking her really seriously if she had gone crazy when coming in Cleveland. Giles had expressed his worry in more …Giles words. And Xander had finally agreed with her, saying he'd rather have Tara with Faith than alone.

Weirdly enough, convincing Tara hadn't been as difficult as Buffy had feared. The witch seemed to have use all her strength to convince the scoobies to give her some time. Struggling against Faith was probably now above her will and she had given in even too easily to Buffy's own taste.

And now she couldn't help but doubt her choice as she was looking at Faith filling the trunk of a car parked in front of the hotel while Tara was shyly standing on the side. But it was probably to late to step back.

When Faith announced it was time to leaven Dawn was the first to throw herself into Tara's arms. One last time, the teenager begged the witch to give up that trip and to come to Rome with her and Buffy. Tara didn't answer and just stroked Dawn's long hair.

In the meantime, Buffy, Xander and Giles were drowning Faith under all kind of advices. Faith sighed, grumbled, protested and had to threaten to let Tara at the next crossroad to make them shut up. And finally, Buffy's intense gaze on here was more efficient than any word to make her understand how important her new mission was.

Faith tapped gently on Dawn's shoulder to ask for her goodbye and the teenager agreed finally to let go of the blonde. Giles and Xander hugged her and asked her to be careful.

Finally, Buffy and Tara were face to face for the last second before the departure. Buffy had to struggle against her emotions and the furious need to prevent Tara to leave by any possible mean. She hugged Tara -almost suffocating her - without a word and Tara returned the hug in the same silence. She eventually had to release her to let her go. Tara gave them a last smile, Faith gestured one last time and they both climbed in the car.

The Slayer started the engine as Xander came behind Buffy and Dawn and put his arms around both sisters.

Then the car slowly began to get away, gathered speed and finally disappeared from sight.

The four friends stayed some minutes on the hotel's stoop, looking where the car had disappeared without none of them talking. Finally Dawn broke the silence.

"Will she be okay?" She asked in an anguished tone to nobody in particular.

No one answered at first. But Dawn repeated her question.

"We just can hope" Giles eventually replied with a dark look.

Silence fell again on the group.

"So, Xander, you're staying in Cleveland?" Asked finally Buffy, who wanted to talk about anything but what really worried them.

She felt the carpenter nodding behind her.

"Giles is bored without me" He said, trying to sound cheerful. "I'm staying to keep him company. And you, when do you leave finally?"

"Tomorrow" Buffy answered casually as she turned to come in the hotel.

The others followed and they passed the threshold behind her.

"Late for work?"

Buffy said 'yes' with her head. She was indeed late and she had originally planned to come back to Rome some days before. But being late at her work was the latest of her worries right now. Cause there was nothing else she could worry about but Willow and Tara.

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End of 'Gifted'

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