Morning falls through the curtains in sheets of light. A stream of orange filters past my eyelids, and I turn to put my arm around Tara. But there's only space.
When I open my eyes, I am alone with the warm crumple in the sheets and an indent in the pillow. A faint scent I associate with spells, candles, herbs, home.
I sit up and comb my fingers through my hair, slide on a pair of slippers and walk out into the hallway.
"I know, I'll talk to her." The serious note in Tara's voice makes me pause before I walk into the kitchen.
"It's just, I'm worried," says Buffy. "She's been acting differently lately." I walk as close as I can while remaining in the hallway, out of view.
"I know," says Tara. "But… it's been hard for her. For all of us - we lost you, and now you're back, and we're glad you're back, but it's… it's huge, Buffy. Things changed so much so fast, and then they changed back."
"I'm not sure they're ever going to change back," says Buffy quietly.
"Hey." The sound of a mug or plate being put down. "You are happy, aren't you? Being back?" I can picture Tara's face, the worry in her eyes. I want to walk into the room, to put my arms around her and hold on until she feels better. But that doesn't seem right, after overhearing a private conversation (about me? I don't want to assume, but who else could it be?). Besides, it isn't my reassurance she needs.
And to be honest, I've been wondering too. It's unnerving, how sometimes I'll talk to Buffy, and her eyes will go right through me. At the end of the conversation, I know she hasn't heard a word I said, know she's been gone the whole time. But I don't know where she went.
"Of course," says Buffy firmly. "Tara, you don't even need to ask - it's amazing to be with my friends again, to be here for Dawn - I would have done anything to have this chance."
"Okay. Good, I was just... making sure."
Buffy sighs. "Guess I've been kind of out of it, huh?"
"It's not your fault. Anyone would be."
"I wish there was, like, a Resurrection for Dummies out there. A guide to getting back to all the... life-ness."
"At least," says Tara, "if you've died twice now, in the service of good, you've got to have some major karma points this lifetime."
"Third lifetime's the charm." A pause, and the clink of dishes being cleared away. "But do you really think that's it? For Willow, I mean - just change stuff?"
"I'm not sure. I'll talk to her, though. About toning down the magic. To be honest… I kind of miss how things were, too." My heart speeds up painfully. What does she mean? What's wrong with now?
"Hey," says Buffy. There's a pause, and I wonder if she's hugged her. "You two are great together. You'll get through this." Through what?
"Thanks," says Tara. "I know. I love her so much… but I guess that's why it's scary. Sometimes I wonder if she's really happy, or if it's just the magic."
"Of course she's happy. She's got an amazing girlfriend. Told me herself."
Tara laughs. "Thanks."
"Whatever's going on with her, I'm sure she'll tell you. She really loves you."
I'm not sure if they talk any more. I walk back to the room, careful to keep my steps silent. At the edge of the bed, I fold into myself and try to think.
Why wouldn't I be happy? I love Tara, and Buffy's back, and I'm getting stronger - isn't this what I want? What we all want? Why are they upset with me for living in a way that makes me, finally, feel good about myself? The world needs people to fight the forces of evil, and the stronger I am, the better we'll be able to deal with them. The better our chances of survival. Is there something about this I'm not getting?
First I try to be angry. They shouldn't have been talking about me like, I don't know, the weather. Unpredictable. I'm their friend, not a tornado. If they want to know what I'm going to do, they don't have to try and predict me. They could just ask.
But my anger fizzles out like drops of water on a frying pan, losing substance and floating away. Because to be honest, if they'd asked, I'm not sure what I would have said.
I want to be good at magic, and I want to be good, in general. Every time I think about it, it sounds so simple. But then I do a spell, and magic floods my veins, and I'm higher than I've ever felt before. I have no fear. I'm not the stuttering high schooler, scared of Cordelia, scared of her own voice. I'm a force. I've defeated death. And if I have some vanity about that, haven't I earned it?
Tara's talked to me about reducing our magic use, says she'll do it together with me, to support me. Like magic is an addiction, a drug.
It's not a drug. It's not that easy.
I want to tell her that magic isn't some outside substance I put inside me. It was there, in my body and mind, to begin with. I just had to open the door.
When I learned to float pencils, I felt it, that first connection to something greater. Like the strings of an instrument, vibrating with sound. A harmony that held the world together. It felt like possibility.
When I'm using magic, colours are brighter. Birds are a symphony and a slice of sunlight is golden artwork. Memories connect like lines between stars, filling up the sky with light, and everything makes sense. I can't explain it, because words haven't reached that plane. But there's a place where metaphor blurs into reality, where chemistry blurs into poetry, and suddenly, I understand.
Magic isn't distortion. It's pure truth. The type of truth that ignites you molecule by molecule, blazing up until you're nothing, or until you're something no human's ever been before.
I want Tara to come back. I want to tell her this. I want her to understand why, even if I can't explain what I'm doing, I have to do it.
Instead, I crawl back under the covers and pretend to be asleep.
a/n: Thank you so much to everyone who followed/favourited this story, and to TazFlan93 for the review! It means so much to me that people are interested in this story. I hope everyone has a wonderful new year. I am starting school soon, but will try to update this story at least once every two weeks.