Pairing: W/T

Rating: PG-13 for language

Angst/Drama Rating: This is about a 3 on the 1-10 scale.

Setting: The Grove Coven Main Compound – Tucson

Disclaimer: I in no way, shape or form own the characters from BTVS, they're owned by Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy. All original characters are in no way connected to them except by me in this forum. I own nothing but my soul, and even that is only a fleeting ownership… such is life.

Overall Summary: Everything up to most of "Seeing Red" happens, BUT (and there's always that handy dandy "but", isn't there?) obviously it had a different outcome. I took liberties, I'm playing with timeliness and will push them forwards and back to suit my plot as needed (ain't that a bitch?). That's what makes it AU with a Canon backbone, most is my own creation, with some borrowing going on. Some characters will only float in and out not as main characters. "Seeing Red" doesn't happen completely canon nor does season- what is it I've seen? Slayven? That follows afterwards in my little opus. But I have plans - oh yes, I have plans, lol.

This will be my version of the story and how I think things could have been done. There will be characters, situations and additions that weren't there and subtractions as I see fit so that is what pushes this into the "slight AU" category. It's a rough start, it does get better - I promise. Thanks for reading.

Author's Notes: In General:This is my first attempt at fanfic, and my first at writing something that would remotely resemble a story in a VERY, VERY long time. So please bear with me. I know it's a rocky start, and as I get more comfortable, finding my style again and back in the swing, it does get better. All constructive criticism will be welcomed. Each chapter will have Author's Notes and ratings adjustments as needed – so watch for those. Flashbacks are in italics and only a few chapters will have them.


The car was quickly heading through town heading back to The Grove. Dana was at the wheel of her baby blue convertible VW Bug, and Willow was sitting with her face turned upwards to the sun enjoying its warmth. Dana sped up as they were leaving the city, and moving towards the edges of town.

As they approached a four way stop, they both noticed a beat up pickup truck pulled off on the opposite side of the road. A petite woman standing on the fender wearing the smallest pair of shorts either woman had seen in a long time.

They both looked at each other, and Willow shrugged at Dana, saying, "Your call, you're driving."

So Dana pulled over to the other side of the road in front of the truck. As they pulled up, they could hear the woman cursing loudly, and quite well.

When the engine stopped, the little female barely glanced over her shoulder, as she kept banging on some part of the engine. Dana and Willow got out of the car, and approached the truck. Standing there for a few minutes listening to her cuss and bang, Dana cleared her throat.

"Motherfucker!"

The young woman yelled loudly before she jumped off of the fender, and turned to face them. She looked Dana and Willow up and down before her eyes lingered on Willow, with a rather intense gaze.

"Well, at least you aren't the creepy cowboy wannabes that are normally out here," She said.

Dana and Willow looked at each other again.

"Not to state the obvious, but, uh, do you need some help or something? Call a tow truck, maybe?" Dana asked.

The young woman pulled a rag out from under the hood, and smiled as she wiped off her hands. "That would be great, if you don't mind. My name's Claudia, but everyone calls me Claude," she said as she stuck her hand out.

Dana took her hand first. "I'm Dana and this is Willow."

"Willow," she said as she shook Willow's hand, holding it just a little too long. Willow pulled back her hand consciously.

"Hi."

Claude was a very petite woman with brown hair streaked with gold from being out in the sun, and she was very tan. Her features were pixie-like – high sharp cheekbones, and large, expressive eyes. Her stature only encouraged this image, as she was barely five feet tall.

Compared to both Willow – who was not tall at almost five feet six inches, made Dana looked like a giant, being nearly six feet tall. Her rail thin frame was topped off with a mop of extremely curly, blonde hair, and gold, almond shaped eyes, much like a cats. No hints of brown or green in her eyes, just a rich gold.

The trio of striking women made an odd sight, as they stood along the side of the deserted desert road, staring at each other.

"So, do you need to call someone for a ride?" Dana asked, as Willow shot her a look.

Claude didn't miss it the exchange either, and said, "Umm, actually the ride would be great, it's not far. I'm at staying at Canyon Ranch, maybe five or six miles back."

Willow sighed heavily, shifting her feet as she gave Dana a baleful look.

"No, that's fine. It's on our way. We'll pass right by it," she said. "Are you a guest or an employee?"

"Employee," Claude smiled, "I'm the recreational guide, slash manager, slash gardener. I arrange hiking, rock climbing, nature tours to the caverns – things like that for the guests. A girl's got to do something for fun around here. So where are you two headed? There's not much out here but ranches and coyotes." She said with a shrug.

Willow looked at Dana with a raised eyebrow, waiting to see how she answered without giving too much away.

"The Grove," she said without elaborating.

"Oh…oh. That's like a religious retreat or something, right?"

"That's one way to put it," Willow muttered.

Claude looked back and forth between the two. "You're not in a cult or something are you?"

Dana laughed outright as Willow smirked before saying, "No, not at all."

"And you're not going to try to convert me or anything?" Claude teased.

Willow snickered at the comment, shaking her head Dana said, "No, that's not what we do."

"Oh, ok, good. Well, let me grab a few things, and we can go," Claude replied.

She turned, and used the bumper to push off, grabbed the hood to slam it closed, which setting off another round of very colorful cursing. She went to the cab of the truck, reached in and pulled a few things out including a backpack, slamming the door as she went. Walking past the front tire she kicked it muttering, "Piece of shit, pain in my ass…"

Willow was leaning against the car door staring at her feet, lost in thought. The look on Willow's face made Claude stop short to study her. When Willow looked up, Claude's face was one of concern as she was left to wonder why the pretty redhead seemed to be so profoundly sad.

"Front seat or back seat?" Willow asked quietly.

Smiling brightly to lighten the somber mood, Claude said, "I'll take the back."

As she moved to get in, Willow noticed how tan Claude was, and how white her smile seemed against her skin. Willow also realized she was being checked out with more than a passing interest. An obviously uncomfortable flush creep over Willow's face, making her shift nervously on her feet and stiffen slightly. Willow opened the door, motioning Claude into the car.

"Thanks," Claude said, tossing her backpack over the seat, and hopping in.

"Are you ok? You really should have a hat, and sunscreen, and maybe even a long sleeve shirt. You're so fair…here," Claude picked up her backpack and rummaged through it, saying "Take this, it will help."

She had handed Willow a bottle of water, and taking it with a weak smile, Willow said quietly, "Thanks."

"Hold on to your hats ladies!" Dana yelled, as the bug roared to life and she mashed on the gas pedal shooting the little car out onto the road, dust flying.

As they drove, Dana could see Claude watching Willow intently in her rearview mirror, which Willow was completely oblivious to. So lost on her own thoughts, she paid no attention to their surroundings, or the conversation being yelled back and forth around her.

Slowly turning the bottle of water in her hands, Willow was thinking about the last time she saw Tara. Claude's open interest brought familiar old feelings to the surface; it always came back to Tara. Her throat tightened, and she felt tears building behind her eyes. Blinking rapidly trying to stop the tears that she knew would come – that always came – she began to wish she hadn't left The Grove that day. It would have saved her guilt, memories, and the shame she always felt when her thoughts meandered back to the woman that still holds her heart. Yet again, it all came screaming back.

Tara was crying, and begging Willow not to leave, her own tears streaming down her face. But what was worse was the fear Willow could see in her beloved's eyes; the knowledge that the woman she loved more than the air she breathed, feared her. She had been so good, worked so hard, to get her dependence and reliance on the dark magicks under control, only to have it ruined in one fleeting moment.

When Willow heard the shot, and Xander screamed, she and Tara jumped off of the couch, looking out the window .Her mouth dropped open when she saw Warren waving a gun at Buffy, bellowing, his face almost purple and contorted in rage. He began firing the gun without really aiming at any target. In that instant it all changed. Willow would not let him hurt her friends, her family.

Warren turned, and looked at her, but didn't really see her through the rage coursing through him so heavy she could smell it. When he fired again, it seemed like everything slowed down. She could even see the bullet as it left the barrel its path traveling directly towards Tara standing next to her.

That's all it took.

This was the one thing that pushed her over the edge; the one thing that could make her throw all the months of work out the window with both hands. She heard herself roar, "YOU WILL NOT HURT HER!" and with a flick of her hand the bullet stopped in mid-air. With another motioning she turned the bullet around, and with all her anger, she sent it flying back at Warren.

The force was such that when it hit the gun it exploded, pushing straight through ,and hitting Warren right between the eyes blowing the back of his head off. Glass shattered everywhere from the force of the pulse of magicks Willow sent to stop the bullet. Xander was cradling Buffy and Willow had pushed Tara to the floor.

She stood, shaking, her eyes black and magick crackled from her finger tips, as every nerve tingled. She looked down at Tara and saw it; that was the first time she saw fear. FEAR. Fear of her in her lover's eyes and it was almost an audible snap, and she crashed to her knees next to Tara, whispering, "Oh Gods, what have I done?"

Her eyes were still black as she began to shake, sweat, and cry. She never thought she was capable of killing another human being. Demons and vampires were one thing, but taking a human life? She looked again at Tara and the fear was still there, the one thing she never thought she would see…

She pulled herself out of her bitter reverie when the car jerked to a stop. She started to get out, but Claude hopped over the door pulling her back pack with her.

"Thank you both for the ride."

Willow smiled stiffly, and Dana said, "Not a problem. Will your truck be ok?"

"Yeah, this isn't the first time this has happened. I'll just have one of the guys go drag it back up here," Claude said with a sigh.

She looked again at Willow, her head cocked to one side, as if she was trying to figure her out, and delighted at the prospect. "Well, umm, yeah, well, like I said, I arrange for day and overnight trips for hiking, and we have cabins in the Chiricahua Mountains. It's beautiful this time of year, and cooler than the city, so umm, just to return the favor you know, if you guys wanted to do an overnight stay, I could arrange it – it would be my treat," she said as she looked hopefully at Willow. "You know return a good deed kinda thing?"

Willow had no idea this was all being directed to her, since she was still absently staring at the unopened bottle of water in her hands.

Dana piped up, "That's very sweet of you, should we just call the ranch or come by?" she said as she shot a look at Willow.

"Yeah, that's great, you can stop by anytime you like. Just ask for me at the front desk."

Dana nudged Willow, trying to draw her back to the present. "What? Umm, yeah, thank you, that sounds nice."

"Well, we've got to be on our way. Thanks again, Claude. That's very sweet of you," Dana said as she started the car, waving as she backed out and headed down the driveway.

They sat in silence, Willow once again had her face turned to the sun with her eyes closed. Dana noticed the tears creeping down her face, and knew why without asking. Finally she said, "You know that offer was really directed at you, right?"

With a shaky sigh Willow said, "Actually I did, I'm not completely oblivious." She opened her eyes, wiping at the tears with the back of her hand, and stared at the landscape, as she dropped the water onto the floor under her feet.

Giving her a sidelong glance Dana said, "You have no intention of calling on her do you?"

With a sad smile, Willow replied, "None at all."

Dana smiled sadly and patted Willow's knee. She knew some of what Willow had been through, and it was so much so quickly over the last 18 months for anyone, much less a young woman of her age. Not only was her heart bruised but her soul had been scarred by what happened. All the conflicting emotions that often made things harder for Willow; concentration is hard under normal circumstance, but it can be nearly impossible when your emotions are in turmoil. Dana did not envy Willow her lot in life at the moment, as they made the turn onto the long gravel driveway back to The Grove.

TBC…