Title: Shadows and Regrets

PART TWELVE

Tara woke, feeling the chill in the air and wondering if Willow had hogged the blankets again. But Willow's place in the bed next to her was empty and the sheet covered Tara completely. Sitting up, she saw Willow standing by the open window and realized why the room was cold.

"Willow?"

Willow turned and Tara smiled, so grateful to see that her eyes were normal.

"Did I wake you?" asked Willow. "I just wanted a little fresh air."

"No, I...I'm not sure. Maybe it was the cold air," shrugged Tara.

"Sorry. I'll shut the window."

"No, you don't have to," said Tara. But Willow closed it anyway and came back to lay next to Tara.

"You feel okay?" asked Tara. Willow nodded.

"Yeah. Just thinking. Hard to sleep and think at the same time," smiled Willow.

"Whatcha thinking about?" asked Tara, slipping her arm around Willow.

"Oh, we'd better wait until morning for this conversation," sighed Willow, nuzzling Tara's shoulder.

"Oh, sure! Now I won't be able to sleep, wondering what you're wondering about."

Willow pouted but Tara stared at her.

"Okay, I give! You know I can't win a stare contest with you. It's about...Buffy," said Willow. She felt Tara stiffen next to her ever so slightly.

"Go on," encouraged Tara hesitantly.

"Well, Karen said that we did contact her. But she was scared. What could Buffy be afraid of? I'm not a likin' it and now I'm all worried."

"Willow, I don't think...what I mean is, I know I can't tell you how to feel, but you shouldn't dwell on this. There's nothing we can do about it. We tried to contact her. Maybe simply doing that frightened her."

"But see, there is something we can do," said Willow, sitting up on one elbow. Tara frowned, not understanding.

"Well, there's something I can do if we, meaning you, agree to help me," hinted Willow.

"No. No, you can't be even thinking about this," said Tara, sitting up. Willow sat up and crossed her arms.

"Why not? What if Buffy isn't so much afraid as she's in pain? Tara, I have to know."

"Willow, please..."

"We have almost everything we would need," interrupted Willow. "I know my limits. I know what I'm capable of doing."

"Being able to do it doesn't make it right!" cried Tara, raising her voice. But she saw that Willow had already made up her mind. Tara swallowed and looked down, taking in a deep breath.

"Tara, I need your help. I can't do it without you," said Willow, gently touching Tara's arm. Tara glanced at her hand but looked away.

"Bringing her back...Willow, I don't know. You're messing with some primal stuff here," winced Tara.

"She could be trapped in Glory's dimension, in an eternity of torture! Tara...at least think about it. Okay?" pleaded Willow.

"Willow, Giles is hurting and Faith...what I mean is, how can you even think about this right now?"

"Because there's nothing I can do for them. This is something I can do," she answered.

Tara nodded and got out of bed.

"I'm going to check on Dawn and, um, get a drink of water," said Tara, still not looking at Willow.

"Sure. And honey? Thanks for listening. I was worried you'd wig out over this. I know..."

"No, Willow. You don't know. That's what is so wrong about this," said Tara, raising her head up to look at her. Willow frowned but still looked defiant. Tara left the room and shut the door behind her.

Willow turned the light on and reached under the bed to retrieve a book. Flipping it open to a well worn page, she began to read. Glancing up once to look at the door, she continued to read, pulling the covers up around her. After a few minutes she decided the room was getting too cold and slid out of bed to close the window.

She had taken three steps before she remembered that she had already closed the window. Turning, she caught her reflection in the mirror. And she smiled. Her eyes were completely black. Willow put the book back under the bed and turned off the light. She closed her eyes and soon fell asleep, ignoring the cold that surrounded her.

Tara passed Dawn's room but her bed was empty. She made her way downstairs and found Dawn sleeping on the couch. The television set was on, some woman selling silver jewelry to all the insomniacs up at this hour. Smiling, Tara pulled the blanket up over Dawn and she stirred but didn't wake. Picking up the remote, Tara clicked off the television and set the remote back down on the couch next to Dawn.

Waiting a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dark, Tara turned...and a hand suddenly and firmly covered her mouth. Tara's eyes opened wide with fright. She was looking at Faith. Faith put a finger up to her lips and nodded towards Dawn. Tara tried to nod. Her eyes remained wide open. Faith slowly eased her hand from Tara's mouth and, as if to reassure her, took Tara's hand in hers and led her into the kitchen.

"I hate it when you do that!" whispered Tara, looking back to see if Dawn was awake.

"What, hold your hand?" smiled Faith.

"You know what I mean," glared Tara, though her face quickly softened into a grateful smile. "I'm glad you came back."

"Whatever. I'm not staying. Only here to pick up a few things."

"Oh. So, um, where you going?" asked Tara.

"Don't know yet. Doesn't really matter as long as it's not Sunnydale," shrugged Faith.

"But...Faith, you weren't going to say goodbye? Not even to Dawn?"

Faith looked as if Tara had just punched her in the stomach.

"I don't know if I can do that. Thought I'd leave a note or, or a letter or something," frowned Faith.

"A note," repeated Tara with contempt.

"Yeah, it sounds even lamer hearing it out loud."

Faith turned and began pacing back and forth.

"Don't suppose you could tell her?" begged Faith.

"Oh, I get it. You want to break her heart but you want me to deliver the message. And I thought Slayers weren't afraid of anything," said Tara bitterly. Faith ran a hand over her face, covering her mouth with it and gazing at Tara.

"Sorry," muttered Faith.

"Where have you been? Dawn was so worried," hinted Tara.

"Okay, stop playing your trump card. I know I have to talk to her. Where was I? I had some unfinished business to take care of."

Even before Tara could form a confused frown, Faith answered.

"With Karen."

"Oh. So what exactly did you do?" asked Tara.

"I set her free or sent her home or, well, you know," said Faith, throwing her hands up in the air.

"Wait, you wanted to help her? And she let you?"

"Yeah. On both counts," answered Faith defiantly.

"Oh."

Tara looked at Faith, looked away, then glanced at her again.

"So, it was pretty intense, wasn't it? Experiencing how she died, I mean," said Tara.

"Um, yeah. I guess."

"You...guess?"

"Well, what I mean is, intense? Sure it was. But...but I don't know how Karen died," whispered Faith.

"Huh? But you said you helped her, that..."

"Tara, it was different for me. Maybe, maybe because I'm already dead. I don't know."

Tara stared at faith, unsure of what to say.

"Karen's gone, there's no doubt about that. But...I relived my own death, not hers," winced Faith.

"Oh, Faith. No."

"Just as fun the second time around, might I add," replied Faith, rolling her eyes. "Why, Tara? Haven't I been put through enough shit already?"

"I'm sorry," shrugged Tara. Faith nodded. They were both quiet now, uncomfortably lost in their own thoughts. Tara moved over next to Faith.

"Will you talk to Willow before you go? She wanted..."

"No."

"But Faith..."

"No," repeated Faith firmly. "What, she feels bad about what happened? Not my problem. And you don't want your girlfriend around me now, Tara. I just don't trust myself yet. Understand?" asked Faith, making it perfectly clear what might happen. Tara grimaced but nodded.

"Do me a favor. Go wake up Dawn. I need to do something first," said Faith.

"Sure," said Tara, taking a step to go but then hesitating. "Faith, you're not just trying to make me leave so that you can disappear, are you? Dawn needs to see you."

Faith ignored her and opened the refrigerator, holding up a white plastic cup.

"Oh," nodded Tara, still not leaving. Faith looked at her, knowing Tara needed to say something.

"What?"

"Faith, I don't know if this means anything to you, but I don't want you to go either. I'll miss you."

Faith smiled.

"Thanks," she whispered. Tara smiled and went into the living room, kneeling down next to Dawn. She shook her shoulder and whispered her name.

"Dawn. Hey, Dawnie. Wake up."

Startled, Dawn's eyes popped open.

"Tara!," she shouted, sitting up. Dawn looked around, suddenly realizing where she was.

"Hey, what's wrong? Did you have a bad dream?" asked Tara.

"Um, yeah. I thought I was in my bed and you called out my name from your bedroom during...uh, you know, I, I um, can't really remember the rest," winced Dawn, her face obviously red even in the dark. Tara tried not to smile.

"Why did you wake me up?" asked Dawn.

"There's someone here who wants to see you," smiled Tara. Dawn's eyes opened wide as she look past Tara. She bounded up from the couch and practically tackled Faith.

"I knew you'd come back!" grinned Dawn, hugging Faith tightly. Faith closed her eyes, smiling, and hugged Dawn back. But then Dawn eased herself away and looked up at Faith.

"You're not staying, are you?" whispered Dawn. Faith bit her lower lip, unable to look at Dawn.

"What, things get tough so you're going to run away? Again?" yelled Dawn.

"No! No, I'm coming back. I promise. But Dawn, I need..."

Faith stopped, seeing how upset Dawn was. She forced herself to go on.

"Dawn, I need some time alone. Just for a little while. You can't...I know I promised..."

"Faith, you've been alone your whole life! Look what it's done to you!" snapped Dawn.

Faith closed her eyes and quickly turned around, her head hanging low.

"Oh, oh Faith! I'm sorry! I didn't mean..."

Dawn pulled at Faith's arm, forcing her around and again hugging her. Faith slowly responded and hugged her back.

"I'm sorry! I'm being selfish. I just don't want you to go," cried Dawn. "I don't want to be alone."

"I know," nodded Faith. Tara watched, her mouth open, suddenly wondering if they had done enough over the past month to help Dawn. Wondering if she had.

"I can't begin to understand what you're dealing with. I, I just want to help," said Dawn, looking up at Faith.

"Dawnie you, more than anyone, can understand. But I need to sort some stuff out. And I'll call. Lots. I promise. I just can't be here right now," said Faith, wiping her eye.

Dawn nodded and pressed her face against Faith again. Faith glanced at Tara and mouthed the words 'thank you' to her. Tara smiled and went into the kitchen to leave them alone.

"Do you have to leave tonight?" whispered Dawn.

"I'm afraid so," answered Faith. "Can you do me a favor?"

"Anything, Faith. Anything."

"Stop sneaking off to see Spike. Invite him here. If the others don't like it tell them when I get back I'm going to kick some ass, big time," smiled Faith.

Dawn looked up at Faith and smiled but her smile quickly faded.

"Faith, I liked Matthieu. I wish..."

Faith put a finger over Dawn's lips.

"Shh. I know. Thanks," nodded Faith.

*****

Dawn stood in the doorway of Faith's bedroom and leaned her head against the door. Something was different, out of place, but she couldn't figure out what. The room was dark, the perfectly made bed highlighted only by the moonlight coming through the window. And then she understood. When Faith was here the shades were always drawn shut.

With a silent sigh Dawn ventured into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. She folded her hands on her lap and stared at the pillow next to her.

"Want to hear about my day?"

Dawn smiled and affectionately ran her fingers across the cold comforter.

"Nothing exceptional about it really. Wasn't too hot...it didn't rain...in fact, most people won't remember this day. It'll just blend in with all the rest, lost in the blur of summer. But it was special. Well, for me anyway. See, I didn't cry. Not once. So...yay me," said Dawn, whispering the last two words.

Dawn chewed on her lower lip and then remembered that Faith seemed to do that a lot. She smiled again. Briefly.

"I went to his grave today. Oh, there's no headstone yet. But I brought some flowers. Daisies. Don't know if he liked those," shrugged Dawn. "I mean, I never really got a chance to know Matthieu. Guess you didn't either, come to think of it. And daisies? What was I thinking? I should've brought something that had a stronger fragrance, you know?"

Dawn closed her eyes. The only sound was the ticking of the clock.

"Did, did you know that the grave faces west? Towards the beach. Yeah, I know he...but you always liked the beach."

Dawn slowly looked around the room. Everything was exactly as Faith had left it.

"So...how was your night?"

The room was quiet. Even the clock didn't seem as loud as before. Dawn stood, quickly smoothing the covers with her hand. She walked over to the shelf and picked the clock up with both hands as if it were an egg and she might crack its shell. This had belonged to Giles. Buffy had liked it and for some reason that she didn't understand, Faith had too.

Dawn walked back into her own bedroom and set the clock down on her dresser. She looked at it for a moment then lowered her head. Eyes closed, she listened to the soothing ticking that for some reason had connected three people that had been very important to her. Had been. No, they didn't belong to the past. Not yet. They were still very important to her.

Dawn raised her head, listening more than looking around the dark bedroom.

"Buffy, I know you were here before. And I don't know if you can hear me now, or, or if you can even understand what I'm feeling where you are. But you were here. And you didn't talk to me. Why? What were you afraid of?"

Dawn glanced at the clock, ignoring the steady ticking. Just next to the clock was a photo of her and Buffy and her mom. Dawn had to look away.

"Buffy...I miss you."

Dawn glanced at the clock. It wasn't quite midnight yet. And again she hadn't made it through a day without crying.

*****

The vampire was tiring. She tempted him by turning her back as if to ignore him and this, as expected, enraged him. He charged, she spun low and his knee met her heel with a sickening crack. The Slayer stood above him, smiling.

"Who are you?" he demanded, trying to mask the fear in his voice.

"Me? I'm the new kid in town."

Pat drove the stake down through his chest, feeling it lodge in the ground under him. She pulled it free just as the vampire burst into ash. Smiling, her first instinct was to listen, to feel her surroundings. Pat slowly stood, eager for another opponent but confidently knowing this one had been alone when she had attacked him.

Pat pivoted on her heels and threw the stake hard. Spike caught it just before it would have hit his chest.

"Hey! That was awfully rude!" yelled Spike.

"Oh, come on Spike! It's not like I was aiming at your heart. Can't a girl have a little fun?"

Spike frowned, shifting the cigarette to the other side of his mouth. Pat approached him and he held the stake out to her but she ignored it. Instead, she yanked the cigarette from his lips and took a deep drag from it. He gaped at her as she slid it back between his lips and took the stake.

"Speaking of fun, seems to me you were toying with that vamp. Didn't know you were such a big tease," said Spike with half a smile.

"Wasn't much of a challenge. Had to make it...interesting. You don't get the same rush after the kill if he's so stupid he couldn't push a broom if you shoved it up his..."

"I get the idea. So what are you doing for fun these days?" asked Spike.

"You mean besides killing things?" grinned Pat.

"Yeah. Besides that," nodded Spike.

"Well, I've been hanging out at the Bronze. You should stop by sometime."

"You want to dance with me?" smiled Spike.

"Maybe. Buy me a drink and we'll see," hinted Pat suggestively.

"A drink. You're only sixteen!"

"So? Got a fake ID now. And the bartenders don't usually even ask for it if I flirt a little," laughed Pat.

Spike raised his eyebrows.

"Hey, I've got this gig all figured out," shrugged Pat.

"Do you now?"

"Sure. Buffy was the best. If they can get her how long can I last? Gotta live each day to the max, ya know? "Cause, well, you never know," winked Pat.

Spike frowned and shook his head, taking another drag from his cigarette.

"So, how's Dawn holding up?" asked Pat.

"Okay. Why don't you drop by and give your regards?" suggested Spike.

"If it was only her I might. Already extended the olive branch. Well, maybe not the whole branch. Maybe just a leaf or two. But I can take a hint," sighed Pat.

"Can you now? So, you're still living out of that dump masquerading as a motel, you're drinking, you're smoking...and you're alone. Word of advice. Make friends with the Scoobies. You're going to need them," glared Spike.

"No can do. I had a great teacher, Spike. You just can't trust people," answered Pat firmly.

"Is that so? You remind me of her, so much, but Faith didn't teach you that. She believed it once, a long time ago. But..."

"Who said I was talking about Faith?" challenged Pat.

Spike stared at her for a moment and then nodded his understanding. Tossing his cigarette on the ground, grinding it out with his boot, he smiled. But it was a cold smile.

"So much talent, so much potential...and you have no idea how effortlessly this seems to come to you. You're so much like her. And you're going to end up just like her," said Spike, sadly shaking his head.

"A vampire? Nah, not a chance," smiled Pat. "I'll die first."

"Yes, you will. Who said I was talking about Faith?" asked Spike, smiling right back.

Pat's smile quickly faded.

"See ya around, kid," said Spike, no longer smiling.

Pat just stood there and watched him walk away as he merged with the shadows at the edge of the cemetery.

THE END