Authors Note : This BTVS fic was written way back in 2003 and is up on a couple of sites that are still out there, but Kath and I wanted to bring all our writing together on this site (eventually all be it slowly) and we decided to start with this one. I just wanted to take a moment to stress that it warrants it's M rating so please be aware of that, but hopefully for all of you who know the story this will be a place you can easily find it from now on, and for any new readers – I sincerely hope you will enjoy.
Copyright Disclaimer : Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Willow, Tara, Xander, Giles and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, together with the names, titles and back story are the sole copyright property of Joss Wheldon, Fox and Mutant Enemy. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the authors. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Please contact the authors for permission to reproduce this story on any other fan fiction site.
Paring : Willow / Tara - Buffy / Other - Set in Season Seven, but as you will see quickly veers away from the events presented. The First is still the big bad, there is a gaggle of SIT's in town but something very different is about to happen…
Rating : M Contains scenes of violence, sexuality and nudity
Shades Of Grey : Part One.
It was Saturday, Xander loved Saturdays, they meant he could lie in bed, watch cheesy TV and not have to worry about getting into work before the crew to check the site over for vandalism, or for the general 'disruption' that was often rampant in Sunnydale. Saturdays meant junk food and lots of coffee whenever he wanted it. Then there were scruffy clothes, back into the jeans and long sleeved T-shirts that still owned such a large part of his heart but had been banished from his weekdays.
'Oh yes, relaxing clothes.' He sighed at the idea.
This Saturday however was different. It was two thirty in the afternoon and he'd just stepped out of the shower, his second of the day. He'd been up since eight a.m., helping Buffy with the latest round of SIT training. His head hurt, his back hurt and he was pretty sure by the end of the day he'd have a shiner from the right hook that one of the young Slayer's had accidentally landed on him during sparring.
"So much for Saturdays." He groaned pulling on a pair of khaki combat pants and a cream T-shirt with black long sleeves.
He was due back at the Summers house by five. Buffy had said something about a group discussion on The First and how to deal and then he'd agreed to meet up with Anya on 'neutral' territory to discuss things like why he was being nice to her and why she was being nice to him.
"I need to tidy the apartment too." Xander moaned to himself as he wandered through to the kitchen, picking up two half drunk cups of stone cold coffee on his way. "God, I sound middle aged." He grumbled to himself as he put the cups in the sink and gave them a quick blast of lukewarm water trying to get the thick granulated sludge out of the bottom.
Standing up straight he flexed his shoulders back and then leaned forward trying to look in the glass panel of a kitchen cupboard to assess how his bruised cheek was doing. The redness hadn't spread upwards into his eye like he had expected and instead it ran in a slightly angry looking line tracing his cheekbone.
"Great." He sighed and pulled open the cupboard and pulled out of it a box of cereal. Pushing his hand into the badly opened top, he pulled out a handful and began munching it one piece at a time.
Deciding this was one of those moments he needed coffee, he flicked the kettle on to make himself one just as the doorbell of the apartment briefly resounded around the room in a shockingly pleasant ding-ding.
Dumping his small handful of uneaten cereal on the counter, he trudged barefoot towards the door getting there just as the doorbell sounded out again.
"Okay I'm coming but if you're a debt collector, a demon from hell or some kind of religious nut go away I'm really not in the mood to deal." Xander flicked the lock and pulled the door open, pushing his hand up through his wet, tousled hair.
"I don't think I fall under any of those categories."
A voice Xander never, ever counted on hearing answered him in a gentle almost heart soothing tone. Slowly the carpenter's head rose and dark brown eyes looked up meeting pale blue ones.
"Tara?" He squeaked.
Standing in the hallway outside the apartment, Tara smiled softly and pressed her hand down the side of the three-quarter-length brown suede jacket she was wearing making the material go lighter to mark the trail of her palm. With her other hand trembling slightly she reached up and pulled the subtle rainbow striped hat from off her head and balled it up in the hand that removed it.
For a long moment Xander just stared at her and then backed up slightly away from the threshold.
"So you've started ringing the doorbell and getting all civilized rather than just showing up and pushing us towards insanity?" He eventually turned away shaking his head.
"What?" The blonde witch's brow creased in a confused frown. "I…"
"Oh and doing the innocent trick, yeah very convincing. So come on, let me have it, the apocalyptic message, the image of death and Hellmouthy goodness that you have to sear on my brain and scar my existence." Xander turned and walked back towards the kitchen expecting her to follow.
"Have I c-c-come at a bad time?" Still standing in the doorway Tara watched the young man retreat into the apartment growing more and more confused before in order to keep him in sight she took a few steps inward.
"A bad time?" Xander laughed bitterly and shook his head. "Oh you're good aren't you." He stopped in the sitting room and turned to look at the door. "Okay I'll fall for it, I'll ask the million dollar question, why her? I don't get it so come on tell me, why her? Why choose Tara?" His face was held in an angry snarl as he regarded her with cold eyes. "I know you're low, but this is like bottom of the stack low. Tara was a good person, you have no right to mess with her memory like this."
"Xander what?" The blonde raised a hand to her forehead and rubbed it briefly. "I think maybe I shouldn't have come, I should have waited until tomorrow, having just got back and all." She glanced nervously over her shoulder. "Yes." She nodded to herself. "I'll go, and come back when I'm less tired and…" She paused looking at him. "And m-m-maybe I'll call first…" She turned and took a slightly hesitant step backwards to the door into the safety of the hallway.
For a long moment Xander just let her turn and retreat, his angry mind tossing and turning over what the 'vision' had said before it froze.
"Back." He whispered, his dark eyes flicking up to look at the doorway. "Hey, hey wait!" He called hurrying to the door and when he reached it he looked down the corridor to see she was still retreating towards the elevator.
Tara stopped when she heard his footsteps. She turned back looking at him still apologetically, though she wasn't quite sure how she could be causing all this confusion.
"Did you say back?" He asked his voice sounding restricted in his throat.
"Yes." Tara nodded looking a little confused. "I just got back this morning, and I have to say things feel really strange." She admitted glancing around. "Even for Sunnydale."
"Holy shit, do you mean it?" Xander ran the short distance down the corridor down to the blonde. Remembering everything they had learnt about the First so far, that the images and visions it had produced had had no form nor physical presence, he reached out and almost roughly closed his hand around Tara's suede clad arm.
"Xander?" Tara turned and looked down at his hand frowning as his grip actually hurt slightly.
"Oh my God." His eyes went so wide it made the growing swelling on his cheek spike with pain.
Before Tara could blink she found herself wrapped up in strong thick arms that hugged her and held on too tightly.
"How… oh my God." Xander released her and stepped back only to pull her into another hug a fraction of a second later. Tara felt a left sided smile begin to creep onto her face, when suddenly Xander pushed her away again and stared at her. "No, wait a minute. How can you be back? Did someone one… God Dawn didn't…" He backed up a little, his dark eyes going wider still as the colour draining from his cheeks. He suddenly put distance between himself and the blonde.
"Xander what is it?" Tara asked her voice full of concern. She cast a quick glance over her shoulder just in case something was behind them that could have been the cause of Xander changing so quickly. "Xander please, you're scaring me. You look like you've seen a ghost." She frowned gently and moved forward extending her hand to comfort him.
"No, no you're not a ghost, I know that with the squeezing and the hugging, but you could be a zombie, a brain eating zombie." Xander backed up more. "Or one of those things like in the high school, with the talisman. Where is it, where's the talisman?" He glanced around the empty corridor.
"Brain eating Zombie?" Tara looked down at herself with a frown. She had thought the chic suede jacket she was wearing and the lace up purple jeans underneath it made her look rather nice. "Talisman, high school? The Hellmouth High re-opened?" She shook her head confused as she tried to piece together what he was saying.
"Or maybe you're something new, some kind of girl on girl loving Hellmouth fiend?" Xander looked up his eyes wild.
"Xander please." Tara felt herself blushing hotly. "Look is Anya here, maybe she'll make just a little more sense than you are right now. I find myself hoping that it's not marriage that's done this to you." She tried the joke softly hoping it would have at least some kind of effect on the obviously panicking figure in front of her.
"Anya?" Tara's words did change Xander's reaction considerably, when her words actually filtered through to his brain. "Marriage?" He asked again.
"Look I really am sorry about missing that…" Tara bit her lip slightly and tried an apologetic smile. "I was going to call, you know, I sent a card and everything but I just couldn't be there. Not with Willow and I both being, you know, in the wedding party and everything." She shook her head. "I'm really sorry." She added quieter. "I'm sure it didn't spoil the day."
Xander's mania seemed to ebb a little as Tara's speech went on, he straightened up and looked at his visitor with a curious but gentle frown.
"Tara there was no wedding," Xander said slowly. "Well there was, that is people and wedding things were there but I backed out, last minute, after considerable wacky demon things going on that is." He explained the basics to her and watched the very real pained and sympathetic frown that creased Tara's brow as he spoke. "But Tara." He added smiling at her very typical gentle offer of condolence. "You were there."
Less than ten minutes later the carpenter and the Wicca were sat on chairs opposite each other in the apartment almost as if facing off for some high-strung political commentary show on CNN. Each cradled a mug of coffee in their hands, both looking slightly pale and uneasy. Tara was still wrapped in her suede and Xander was still barefoot and shell shocked.
"So you weren't at the wedding?" Xander said slowly looking up from examining the contents of his cup.
"I left Sunnydale after the spell… the crystal. I moved out of the house and then about a week, maybe a little longer I left. First I stayed with a friend in Oregon and then I travelled a little. I went to Europe you know, trying to sort my head out, deciding what I wanted, what I was going to do with my life." Tara shook her head making an attempt to meet his eyes. "It took a while, a long while, but nearly a year after I left I knew it was time to come back. I flew in from Florence today." She leaned forward and put her coffee down on the table.
Xander sat silently looking at Tara for a moment not sure what to make of either her presence or her story. She certainly looked like Tara. After all who else, apart from Willow, would put purple jeans, Dr. Martin boots, a brown suede jacket and a rainbow-striped hat together? She spoke like Tara, her words coming in that quiet slightly reserved almost apologetic tone, and her words carefully chosen for clarity and yet information.
'The problem is if I believe what she's saying than it means.' Xander argued with himself. 'No!' His brain couldn't even process what that would mean.
Xander knew at that moment, if he wasn't sure earlier, that he was way out of his depth. He had to call out bigger, stronger, more capable guns here. The only question was, who?
"Xander I'm sorry." Tara's soft tone brought the carpenter out of his thoughts and by the time he looked up at his visitor she had stood up and the soft muted coloured hat was placed gently back on her head pressing down her long blonde hair so it flowed over her shoulders. "Maybe I shouldn't have come back." She took a little step away from the chair.
This wasn't at all how she had imagined returning to Sunnydale was going to be. Yes, she had been prepared for awkward, after all a year was a long time and a lot of things could happen. Yes, she had been prepared for anger, after all she had sent no word, only the card to the wedding that hadn't happened, she'd not even sent birthday or Christmas greetings. She had even been prepared for out right rejection, the fact that they might not want to see her, especially after so long and after the way she had just gone, without word, even to Buffy or Dawn. But Tara was not prepared for this. Not for complete and utter confusion, mystification and she had to acknowledge, fear.
"Tara, no wait!" He called putting his cup down, spilling most of it over the polished surface as he jumped up after her.
"It's okay." Tara stopped and turned back to look at him. "This was a bad idea, I shouldn't have expected to just walk back in here and everyone to be okay." She held up her hand warning him back a little, her voice sad and tired. She paused and linked sorrowful blue eyes with brown. "I'm sorry, I understand really I do." She said in little more than a whisper as she broke the eye contact and turned to leave.
"Tara no." Xander hurried after her despite her objection. "You don't understand." He shook his head quickly as he darted round in front of her baring her way to the front door. "You really don't understand." He stressed looking at her. He could see the confusion and hurt in her eyes, as well as the almost overwhelming tiredness. "Please." He dropped his voice slightly lower. "Come and sit down, maybe have a nap or something. You look beat." He offered her a warm smile.
"Long flight, hate planes." Tara admitted feeling herself waiver slightly in her determination to leave. That was until she looked up and caught a glimpse of a photograph of Xander, Buffy and Willow together hung up on the wall just beside the door. "But I shouldn't be here, I didn't want to put you in a difficult position." She shook her head, her resolve returning.
"Tara please, there are things I need to explain." He tried again. "Rest up a bit, take a shower, just chill for a while." He offered. "Just stay here." He re-stated. "I need to do a couple of things but then, then we'll talk, we'll sort things out. Come on Tara, you're done in and I have a great and comfortable apartment." He gave her a cheesy smile.
Tara took a breath and looked at Xander for a long moment, her head tilted slightly in contemplation.
"Okay, I'll stay, for a little while, a few hours." She conceded. "The lure of your comfy corner couch is just too much." She smiled at him seeing a flicker of the Xander she knew, the man who wanted to do his best to make everything right in the world.
"No one can resist the corner couch." He smiled back. "You okay if I pop out. I promise I won't be long." He pointed over his shoulder at the door.
"I'm fine, though don't blame me if I fall asleep while you're gone." Tara shook her head and took off her hand and unfastened her coat, slipping it off her shoulders she folded it carefully in half.
Xander stood silently watching as the blonde neatly laid her coat on the floor and stood back up to straighten out her jeans and the light pink top she wore. He tried not to stare as she walked over to drop lightly on the couch.
'She's got thinner, quite a lot thinner.' He thought as he watched her, noticing the change in her body shape as he compared her to the memory in his head. 'And her hair is a lot longer and lighter than it had been the last time…' His thoughts stopped in his head. They made his brain hurt. He so had to get someone else over here.
"Make yourself comfortable." He bid her as he crossed to the door picking up his keys and his coat off the peg as he backtracked. "Help yourself to anything in the kitchen."
"Thank you Xander." Tara called back pushing lightly off the couch to reclaim her recently abandoned coffee.
"I'll be right back." He nodded and slipped out.
"And everyone stops and smiles as the Xan-man enters the house." Xander announced trying to be as normal as he could as he arrived at the Summers house.
From the bottom of the front drive he had heard the constant low level dim of young women arguing and he knew that this wasn't going to be an easy task. Now as he pushed open the front to what looked like a mini war zone, he was more than sure.
"Yeah I'm smiling, I'm so smiling." Buffy stamped by him throwing comics at the huddle figure of Andrew on the couch. The geek whimpered a little and clutched them to his chest, checking to see if any of them had been damaged in the Slayer's tirade. "I need you to go shopping again, they've eaten everything but the grout out of the tiling." The Slayer growled in the carpenter's direction.
"Actually Buffy…" Xander winced slightly as he watched her stomp off towards the stairs. "Can the shopping wait?"
"Not really." She turned to glare at him but something made her stop. "Xander what's wrong?" She saw the familiar look of mixed fear and anxiousness in his eyes.
"I..." He glanced around as two SIT's walked by bickering, none too gently pushing past Buffy to go up the stairs. "Can we slip outside." He pleaded with her trying to push through her agitation.
"This better be really good." Buffy scowled after the SIT's and then followed him out to the porch.
"Well, I don't know how to categorize it really." Xander beckoned her further from the house wanting to ensure the only two people to catch the conversation were Buffy and himself.
"We have three categories right now... The First... the crazy potentials or other world ending news. Which is it?" She slowly followed him all the way out to the sidewalk his hesitation making her give an aggravated sigh.
"Other, I think." He replied uncomfortably having glanced down the street for a moment before answering.
"Xander…" Buffy looked over her shoulder at the house with a frown. "They are killing each other in my house for fun so do you want to spit this out?"
"I have a house guest." He shifted edgily. "Well no, not a house guest, I have a someone at my house."
"Xander if this is about your love life I really don't think that it needs to involve me right now." She stated as she fixed him with a hard stare. "I will go out and buy you celebratory drinks and meet her right after I save the world, but right now I need to rescue my bathroom." She turned to go back towards the house.
"Buffy I really need you to come to my apartment, like now!" Xander blurted out his voice taking on a slightly panicky edge.
"I don't have time for this." Buffy shook her head she continued back up the front walk.
"Buffy please, you have to have time for this." He reached out and took her arm as tightly as he dared to.
For a moment Buffy just stared at Xander's hand around her arm. Her eyes angry and full of annoyance but she drew in a tight breath and looked at her old friend giving him the small birth.
"Fine, everyone else has lost their bloody minds today why not you as well. Let's go, you've got one hour." She pulled her arm back.
Xander didn't say anything else as they got into his car and he drove them the short distance to his apartment building. It was only once he had pulled his car into its designated parking spot that he pried his hands off the wheel and turned to Buffy.
"We going up?" She questioned him when he turned but didn't seem to be moving out of the car.
"I think I need to tell you who's up there before we go up there." Xander pulled lightly at the front of his shirt.
"If you have an uber vamp trapped in your closet it's not my problem." Buffy tried to get him to tell her with a little of the sadistic humour he liked.
"No." He swallowed hard.
"Xander, come on what the hell is going on?" She pushed him harder, Xander could be flaky but this wasn't Xander's style in the slightest to be outright insane.
"Tara." He mumbled putting his head down.
For a heartbeat Buffy didn't say anything, and when she did her words were proceeded by a short harsh laugh.
"Wow Xander that sounded a lot like the name of a person who if she is in your apartment you've just delivered me to the First. You switched sides suddenly and decided the great all powerful evil needed a gift wrapped Slayer?" Buffy looked at him with cold eyes.
"No." Xander stated almost angrily. "I thought exactly what you did." He looked up and pointed at her. "I thought it was the First, I'm not stupid."
"You're hurting my brain, who is in your apartment?" She swatted his hand away.
"Tara!" He stated again this time without mumbling or putting his head down. "Maybe a Tara clone?" He made a second guess his voice more uncertain.
"You're trying to tell me that Tara, Tara Maclay, girlfriend of Willow, is upstairs in your apartment?" Buffy checked the details before adding in a less than strong voice. "Xander she's dead."
"Buffy, all I know if that there is a girl in my apartment, she looks like, sounds like, acts like Tara. Add to that the fact she has never been to her knowledge dead and my brain is hurting too." Xander shook his head trying to show he understood it less that the Slayer.
"We buried her." Buffy pointed out staring at him in disbelief.
"You need to see her Buffy, to talk to her, something's odd here and it doesn't add up." Xander pleaded with her.
"Let's go see the Tara clone or The First," Buffy sighed and pushed out of the car slamming the door hard behind her making the whole car rattle back and forth with the force. "Might be the quickest ending to a world apocalypse, for me at any rate because there's not a lot I can do about it if you 'house guest' rips my head off." She growled pushing off towards the building.
Feeling his stomach fall even further Xander followed her and rushed ahead to open the building's security door.
His hand shaking slightly as he opened the front door, Xander swallowed and eased the door inside. Part of him was completely terrified at what horrible thing he might find inside, though he wasn't actually sure what he classed as horrible.
If he opened the door to find the place gutted and trashed with an apocalyptic message scrawled on the wall in blood maybe that would be terrible but at least that would clear up the First issue.
Then again if he opened the door and the apartment was empty it would clarify that he was going completely insane and would be the next one to spend a few days tied to a chair under day and night watch.
"So where are you hiding your Tara..." Buffy pushed past him wanting to get this over with quickly before she had to drag Xander home and tie him to a chair. "Clone?" She stopped her voice seizing in her throat.
Xander hadn't realized he hadn't actually looked up until he felt Buffy push by him and heard her voice crack. The uncommon noise made him raise his head.
The apparent was perfect, even the two coffee cups had been moved off the table and tidied away to leave a figure curled up on the corner couch sleeping soundly. The figure was Tara, dressed almost just as he'd left her though she had taken off the heavy black Docs and was curled up into a loose foetal shape on the sofa.
"It has to be the First." Buffy whispered in an icy hiss as she started to slowly move forward her arm extending. "It can't be..." She moved closer and closer leaning to reach her hand and close it over Tara's leg.
The slim figure sleeping on the couch tensed instantly her breath catching in her throat when she felt the hard grip.
"Oh my God." Buffy pulled back when her hand closed around real flesh and didn't pass through the apparition. She was pinned to her spot when blue eyes blinked open and focused past her onto Xander.
"Oh Xander I'm sorry I..." Tara stopped as her gaze shifted to take in the Slayer who stood stock still by the side of the couch. "Buffy." She whispered a well of emotion rising when she saw the blonde.
"Who are you?" Buffy's voice shook as her eyes locked with blue ones.
"W-W-What?" Tara's sleepy brow crumpled slightly in confusion. "Buffy?" She shook her head.
"Who are you?" The Slayer repeated the question.
"Buffy, I know I've been away for nearly a year, but..." Tara stopped. "Why are you looking at me like that?" She frowned and titled her head to appraise the look she was getting.
"Because we buried you." Buffy felt the words slip out of her mouth before she could stop them.
"What?" If Tara had been standing up she would have fallen over, the fact that she was still lying down saved her from that particular embarrassment.
"You died, he shot you." Buffy filled in the cold details.
"Died?" Tara heard her voice shake.
"How can you not know any of this?" Buffy questioned back.
"This is why isn't it?" Tara suddenly looked at Xander. "Why you said what you said, why you went out?"
"Tara, I know you said you were in Europe and I didn't want to say anything. I couldn't tell you that here in Sunnydale you died." Xander tried to explain what little he could.
"I didn't just say I was in Europe I've been in Europe. I flew in this morning from Florence." With a shaking hand she reached into the back pocket of her purple jeans and pulled out a badly creased boarding pass. "Buffy I left Sunnydale eleven months ago." She turned pleading eyes back to Buffy.
"When exactly?" Buffy pressed for the small detail.
"W-W-Willow..." She stopped and swallowed. "There was a spell." She felt herself choke up, unable to say exactly what had caused her to leave. "You have to remember what she did." Tears sprung into blue eyes.
"I remember lots of spells Tara." Buffy stared the real emotion before her but not letting herself react to it. "Then she got clean and you came back to her and then..." She didn't finish as her own resolve broke a little.
"Clean?" Tara blinked her eyes free of tears. "Willow's clean?" She stared hard at the Slayer, the news both exciting her and breaking her heart at the same time. After all wasn't that exactly what she had wanted to come home to find? That her lover, the person that completed her was okay and better than that had controlled the one thing that had forced them to part.
"If you're really Tara then tell me what you said to me after my mother died." Buffy pushed her not answering the question.
Buffy's query threw the blonde for a moment and made her focus on what was actually happening once more.
"In the hospital?" She asked for the small clarification. "When I told you about my mother, when you asked whether it was sudden and I said it's always sudden?" She tried to piece together the right words to reflect the memory.
"Tell me something else only you would know." Buffy pushed her strength faltering a bit.
"Something only I would know?" Tara frowned trying to wrack her brain. "The night Willow and I first kissed, I gave her my grandmother's dolls eye crystal."
"Xander?" She looked at him for confirmation.
Xander nodded almost without actually moving his head, though he didn't look any more content.
"Buffy please, what's going on" Tara watched the interaction beginning to feel slightly ill at ease. "When you said I died, what do you mean?" She pushed up to sit.
"Warren shot you, through the bedroom window." Buffy felt a bitter taste in her throat as she spoke the words.
"I… I don't understand." Tara pressed her hand into her forehead. "Buffy I swear to you, I left Sunnydale eleven months ago."
"You say you left after the memory spell?" Buffy cautiously moved over and sat on the end of the couch.
"Yes." Tara nodded again. "I moved out, it was horrible. Dawn wouldn't speak to me, you didn't know what to say, I couldn't even look at Willow." She shivered. "I couldn't be here like that." She shook her head. "All my life I've been in places that made me feel bad and this was my home, I needed to feel safe and wanted in my home." She explained her reasons as best as she could in this highly tense situation.
"It must have been the First, something the First made." Buffy reluctantly put two and two together, her stomach filling with a hard icy feeling as she worked things out. "It's been playing us for a year, that's how it knows us, how it knows what to taunt us with."
"The First? Who is the First?" Tara frowned more. "I swear to you Buffy I left here, I went to Oregon to stay with a friend and then to Europe. I've not been back to Sunnydale until today."
"Tara, this isn't going to make any sense." Buffy looked at her and took a breath. "But if what you're saying is true then for the last eleven months something was here living in your place, dying in your place."
"You mean I was never gone?" Tara looked between Buffy and Xander, she watched as the carpenter shook his head solemnly. "But… but that makes no sense." She pushed up from the couch and backed away from them slightly.
"You were distant, withdrawn but you came around when we needed you." Buffy filled in shaking her head.
"But... Dawn hated me, she wouldn't even say goodbye when I left the house." Tara shook her head. "You didn't want me around." She glared at the Slayer.
"The 'you' that was here made it up to Dawn, you two used to go out for shakes twice a week and movies." Buffy's voice was blank. "You helped me with the Spike thing and Willow... you forgave her."
"And then I was shot." Tara had turned deathly pale colour that peaked whiter when both Xander and Buffy gave a hard nod. "And Willow?" She swallowed as she asked the question, her body trembling.
"Someone murdered you Tara, you died in her arms." Buffy could bring herself to give a clear answer.
"What did she do?" Tara asked pointedly.
"She killed him." The Slayer tried to keep some volume in her voice. She had first cast a sideways glance at Xander to see that his mouth was all but sewed shut.
"The boy who shot me?" Tara felt her stomach twist painfully and it only got worse when the Slayer nodded. "Xander, I'm sorry I have to use your bathroom." She managed to inform them what she was doing before hurrying out.
"What do we do?" He asked in a hiss when she had left.
"Xander I just told her she died and Willow killed someone, give her a minute. I know I need one." Buffy put her hands up over her face as she leaned back on the couch.
"Yeah." The young man paced in front of the window. "Do you believe her?" He found he just couldn't keep silent.
"She's real, she looks like Tara, she sounds like Tara, she knows stuff Tara should know." Buffy leaned forward taking a deep breath. "I want to believe she's Tara because then she's alive."
"But it's not as simple as that is it?" Xander paced more. "Buffy, we buried Tara."
"Xander I know that!" She stood up snapping at him.
"Should we talk to Giles? Maybe there's some tests or something he can do on her. You know find out if she's real or something." Xander suggested reaching up to pull at his hair.
"Call him, but don't tell him." Buffy shooed him and headed down the hall.
"Tara?" Buffy knocked on the door to the bathroom.
"Just a moment."
There came as small scuffle from inside and the sound of the toilet flushing, then water being run in the sink and only then the soft click of the door being unlocked.
"Tara?" Buffy pushed it open slowly to see her sitting back on the tub edge. "Look I know I just blurted that out but you have to understand what we've been going through."
"Of course." She raised her hand to her lip nodded slightly. "It must have been terrible for you, I'm so sorry." She dropped her head in a classic Tara position.
"No, you see there's a new big evil in town called the First, as in the first evil. It can take the form of anyone deceased and it's killing off all the Slayer potentials before it takes out Faith and I to snuff the line." Buffy blurted it all out.
"Slayer potentials?" Tara frowned trying to keep up.
"The girls who would be called when Faith and I die, the First's eyeless demons have already knocked off most of them. The last few left are shacked up at my house." She crouched down so she was eye to eye with Tara.
"I'm sorry I had no idea what things were like here. I ... I just thought it was time to come home." Tara looked up into Buffy's eyes.
"It is." Buffy nodded.
"No, no it isn't." Tara shook her head.
"Tara, I have no right to say this but Willow needs you. She's fighting so hard to keep her magic in check and she's so lost without you." The Slayer sighed. "She's not Willow anymore, she's like she's empty, vacant, just trying so hard to go through the motions but she's not alive."
"But, I shouldn't be here." Tara shook her head. "I died." The words came in a haunted tone.
"Tara, look at me." Buffy leaned forward and took the very warm, very real hands in her own. "If you were in Oregon or Florence or wherever, it wasn't you. You never died."
Tara had to stop herself crying the instant Buffy took her hands, it was the first contact they'd shared for so long and it said that at least Buffy wanted to believe she was who she said she was. That fact combined with everything she had just learnt and everything she was feeling inside before that made her just want to fall apart and cling to the strong Slayer for support.
"But something did." She stated shivering, refusing to give in and crumble.
"I know." Buffy nodded. "The First has powers, powers that we don't understand." She was honest, there was nothing else that she could be. "Xander called Giles, he might be able to help explain."
Tara merely nodded. What else could she say in a situation like this? What voice did a dead woman have?