Historian's Note: This takes place in an alternate universe set after the end of Season 6, 6x22 "Grave", and continues through Season 7.
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy or any of the other characters. They belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
As she stared out across the peaceful country side, Willow leaned further back against the tree that continued to support her. The sun was somewhat hidden behind the clouds that were dotted across the sky, just as it had been for the past days. For some reason, the stereotypical depictions of England always being dreary and depressing seemingly made more sense now. All it needed was constant rain, and the image would be complete.
Closing her eyes, she sighed, her body feeling slightly tired, despite all the sleep she had accumulated over the past months. There wasn't much else to do in-between the meetings with the Coven and Giles. The Black Magick was still inside her, although it had been driven deeper into her mind, its power continuing to dim with each day. Giles said it would be inside her for the rest of her days, no matter what she tried to think otherwise. It was a part of her now, as much as the Light was.
Her eyes opening slowly, she could see the sun beginning to set on the distant horizon. Had the day really gone past that fast? It seemed like only minutes had passed. The Coven would be looking for her, along with the only other two people that remained of her life in Sunnydale. As numerous memories came pouring back to her mind, she almost felt like smiling, remembering the numerous times that Xander would recite his usual ritual of the Snoopy Dance. How Anya would constantly worry over her money, and blurt out her numerous sexual conquests with Xander, making everyone else in the room feel awkward. How Buffy and Dawn had constantly been in the midst of a sisterly fight over something that seemed so simple to the rest of them. How much Giles had been at odds with using any form of technology they tried to introduce him to.
How normal the relationship between herself and Tara had been...
The urge to smile fading away completely, the Witch remembered numerous moments when the love between herself and the other girl had seemed like the greatest thing in the world. There had been times when they had simply laid together, not saying anything, but just lying in each other's arms. How much happiness they had found together in each other's embrace, before Black Magick, before Hellgods, before everything that had come after that single summer following the defeat of Adam.
Goddess, it hurt to know how much pain they had all suffered through after those three months of peace. If she had known what was to come, she would have stopped using Magick all together, would have tried to go back to the way it had been in High School. She would have convinced Tara to leave with her, gone someplace where Evil couldn't touch them. They could have been forever in an ignorant bliss. The world could have fallen apart around them, and they never would have noticed.
But hadn't it already done that time after time?
Looking down at the ground beneath her, the grass seemingly silently went on mocking her, telling her that despite whatever could happen around it in the world, it would continue to remain. An unmovable force against all that could dare oppose it. Fire could burn it, reduce it to blackened ashes, but time would heal it, would allow it to return and reclaim its destroyed place. Nothing could stop it, short of an apocalypse that destroyed the planet itself.
She had seen her fair share of apocalypses, knew how close the world had come to being destroyed. She had nearly caused one, had been so desperate to extinguish the pain from the world that destroying it seemed to be the only option that made sense. The power had been so intoxicating that she thought she would never come down from it. And yet, here she was, sitting in the middle of the country, trying her best to make sure that that single part of her could never show itself again in the Light of day.
"Willow?" Looking up at the sound of approaching footsteps, Willow expected Giles to come after her, not the sole remaining person who could look upon her with true love. "Sweetie?"
"They want me again, don't they?"
"They've been asking for you." Nodding, the other girl stopped a few feet from her, her arms folding across her chest in an effort to avoid becoming completely still. "Giles was worried."
"I've been here, doing nothing, just waiting for the Earth to swallow me whole, take me back. That's what they all want, isn't it?"
"Is that w-what you want?" The question wasn't full of anger or surprise, but was instead filled with understanding and sympathy. Both of which made the Witch feel like she didn't deserve them.
"I think I deserve it. That could be my punishment, for everything I did. Would fit the crime." Continuing to look down at the ground, Willow felt the other girl's fingers begin to touch her hair as she knelt down beside her. "Considering that everything is connected. I don't belong here anymore. I don't belong anywhere."
"You belong here with me." The girl's comment causing her to finally break her gaze on the grass, the red-head saw the genuine love and affection in the blonde's eyes. "You always have a place where you're wanted."
"I don't deserve to. After everything that happened, everything that's still inside me, how can I be sure that it won't come out and hurt you?" Her fingers toying with a button on her jacket, the Witch her every raised indentation glide underneath her fingertip. "That I won't hurt anyone around me?"
"You won't. I won't let you." Gently kissing her love's cheek, the girl returned to her feet. "Come on, they're still waiting."
"I'm coming." Slowly pushing herself off of the ground that had been her perch for the past hours, the red-head could feel the soreness in her muscles. "Guess I shouldn't have been out here for as long as I have."
"You could have told me where you went."
"Sorry, you were asleep. I didn't want to wake you up." Her hands trying to work their way into the pockets of her jacket, Willow felt the blonde's fingers slip into place with her own, their shape a perfect match.
"I'm sorry, Tara." Her head still laden with her heavy thoughts, the Witch allowed the other girl to lead her back towards the grouping of buildings that lay at the bottom of the hill. Around the two of them, the country side was still, with only the occasional farm animal making a sound that broke through the silence. It was just a normal day for everyone outside of the realm of knowing what really went on at night.
"For what?" Her thumb slowly moving back and forth across the top of Willow's hand, Tara knew that the other girl was still nervous in her presence, the memories of what she had done and almost caused continuing to haunt her.
"You know what." Keeping her eyes on the houses ahead of them, Willow knew that her other half wasn't going to simply let the matter drop. That wasn't the kind of person she was, even more so ever since they had left Sunnydale.
"You mean for killing Warren, for trying to kill Buffy, for hurting all of us?" Unable to voice the simplest reply, the red-head only nodded.
"Goddess, I'm sorry." A single tear escaped from her eye, the drop trailing down her cheek at a slow but steady pace. "I…I couldn't stop thinking that you were dead, and that I wasn't going to be able to go on without you. I didn't want to go on without you."
"I know, I know, it's ok. We know what happened, I'm fine."
"No, it's not!" Stopping, the Witch looked at the other girl while tears continued to well up in her eyes. "It's not ever going to be alright again! They're never going to leave me, they're a part of me!" Silently watching the other girl speak, the blonde held onto her hand, letting the girl know that she wasn't going to leave. "I want them out of me, I don't want them there!"
"But you're getting better." Offering a small smile along with her words, Tara reached up with her free hand and wiped the tears off of the girl's face. "That's why we're here. To help you control it."
"I…I know, but it hurts. Goddess, it hurts." Looking back at the blonde through her tear-stained green eyes, Willow looked to be on the brink of an emotional breakdown, a complete contrast to the removed girl that the other girl had seen only minutes before. "I don't want it to hurt anymore. I don't want to hurt you anymore."
"I won't let you. You won't let you."
"But I don't know if I can. It wants to come out at times, it almost does, and I'm barely able to control it. I could hurt you."
"You already did once, and I forgave you. I know you won't do it again. You can't." Smiling slightly from behind her tears, the red-head could feel the fears inside her brain beginning to fade as she listened to the blonde's words.
"Willow?" Turning her head, the Witch could hear Giles calling out her name, the former Watcher obviously becoming slightly impatient as he continued to wait for her arrival.
"Come on, they're waiting for you." Smiling, Tara's feet again fell into step, her hand bringing the other girl along with her as the stepped into the doorway.
"Ah, there you both are. The Coven is already waiting for you."
"Sorry. I was…thinking." Hearing the girl's answer, Giles took note of it, but refused to press the conversation any further. Gesturing with his hand towards the door behind him, he felt a small twinge of pain in his chest as he watched the girl emptily open the door and walked through it, with Tara following her just as she always did. To think of all the heartbreak and hardships they had suffered through within the span of only a few months made the former Watcher wonder if innocence truly had a place in the world anymore.
As she ducked underneath yet another attack from the vampire, Buffy felt the thread of annoyance inside her continuing to grow to an unbelievable amount.
"Did anyone ever tell you that the whole 'fight to the death' thing gets kinda old after a while?" She said, feeling her fist connect with her opponent's cheek. The attack sending him flying to the ground, the vampire looked up at her with its yellow eyes filled with a mix of rage and hunger. "Because I honestly think that maybe you guys didn't get the memo."
Responding only with a growl, the vampire was on his feet once more, his fists shooting out in an attempt to land a blow on the Slayer. As each attack flew harmlessly past her, Buffy rolled her eyes before jamming the wooden stake deep into the demon's heart, causing it to explode into a cloud of dust. As the last remnants of her foe fell onto her boots, the Slayer sighed.
"And yet another vamp turned into dust beneath my feet."
"But we love you for it." As he pulled himself onto his feet from his place on the ground, Xander smacked the dirt off of his jeans. "Especially when we get front row seats to all of it."
"Glad to know that you enjoy it all." Smiling at her friend's joke, the blonde girl couldn't help but roll her eyes. "I aim to please."
"Xander does as well. Like last night, we were in this one position that I learned from the time I was in Europe during the Dark Ages, and-" As she started to border close to details her boyfriend would rather not have out in the open, Anya offered a wide smile. "Never mind."
"Thanks." As they all moved towards the entrance to the graveyard, the three Scoobies could still hear the echoing music from the Bronze's midnight crowd. Why exactly the city had decided to build a resting place for the dead so close to the town's only source of night life remained elusive. Common sense was something that could be deemed to be a rare gift atop the Hellmouth.
"Alrighty, so we've won the nightly game against the Forces of Darkness, what's to stop us from hitting up the Bronze?"
"Hitting up the Bronze with your ex-fiancé? Bold of you."
"You didn't tell her?" As her eyes lit up with a combination of shock and anger, Anya barely managed to resist the urge to slap the teenager beside her. "Xander!"
"Tell me what?"
"Me and Anya decided to try and date again."
"And you realize that she's a Vengeance Demon again, right?" Perking up her eyebrow, Buffy simply stood looking at the other two beings in front of her. It had only been two months since she had discovered through the Demonic version of a grape-vine that Anya had once more accepted her former position as a vengeance demon. Xander himself hadn't been surprised at the turn of events, considering what had happened between the two of them on their aborted wedding day.
"Completely understand. What can I say, I'm a glutton for punishment." Avoiding his girlfriend's angry glare, Xander chuckled slightly. "So, you coming with us?"
"I've gotta go home and check on Dawn." Offering her two friends a small smile, the Slayer stuck the stake into the loop of her belt.
"Come on, Buf, you're not giving her enough credit. She can take care of herself!" Beaming slightly, Xander smiled.
"Xander!" Hitting her boyfriend on his forearm, Anya frowned at him. "It's obvious that Buffy doesn't want to be a third wheel!"
"Xander, its fine." Smiling, Buffy almost found herself chuckling as she listened to the two argue. "Plus I'm kinda tired. Figured I'd turn in early."
As she heard the Slayer's answer, the vengeance demon eyed her date wearily.
"Shouldn't you be doing that too? You have work in the morning, and that brings us money, at the expense of robbing us of our time to have sex."
"I have tomorrow off. Union regulations." Pushing his hands into his pockets, Xander continued to smile for a few more minutes before the three of them arrived at the front of the Bronze. "So, have you heard any more from Willow or Tara?"
"Not lately. Tara sent us a letter a week or so ago, but that's been it."
"Did she say whether or not Willow is still all black and veiny?" Perking up her eyebrow, a frown came to Anya's lips. "Because she still owes me for destroying my source of money."
"She's getting better, she's back to the closest thing to normal that she can be." Her gaze falling to the ground, Buffy's smile faded away from her face. "Tara said she misses us, but is afraid to see us."
"Why would Wills be afraid to see us? It's not like we're going to strike her down on the spot."
"Tara said that she told her that she feels like she doesn't belong here anymore, that she's afraid she'll hurt us."
"That doesn't make any sense. This is her home. Granted, we're full of all kinds of creatures of the night, but it's still home nevertheless." Opening the door to the Bronze, Xander held it for Anya to enter. "You coming?"
"Nah, I'm going home. Night." Giving her friend a small wave, Buffy made her way along the sidewalk as she started off towards home. Above her, the night sky continued to shine brightly as the moon shone down on the land below it.
"You can't stop this." As she watched Xander stand in front of her, Willow could still feel the Dark Magicks circulating through her veins, continuing to power her through every other emotion that continued to pool inside her. It made her forget…
"Yeah, I get that." His eyes focused solely on her, Xander knew that he was standing between his oldest friend and the end of the world. And strangely…none of it seemed to matter. He knew what had truly happened to set her off like this, and it would only take minutes for that reason to get here. Just a few minutes… "Trust me, I completely get that. It's just that, where am I going to go? You've been my best friend my whole life. World's gonna end - where else would I want to be?"
"Is this the master plan then?" Chuckling slightly, Willow rolled her black eyes in amusement. "You're going to stop me by telling me you love me? Great plan."
"Well, I was going to walk you off a cliff and hand you an anvil, but it seemed kinda cartoony." Ignoring his friend's dark laughter, the teenager continued to joke, just as he always had.
"Still making jokes, even after all this. You haven't changed a bit." Her hands remained at her side, but he knew that all she had to do was lift them one inch, and he could die. She commanded that kind of power now, and she had already shown that she had no problem using it. Even on her friends.
"I'm not joking. I know you're in pain. I can't imagine the pain you're in. I know you're about to do something apocalyptically evil and stupid and hey, still want to hang. You're Willow."
"Don't call me tha-"
"First day of kindergarten you cried 'cause you broke the yellow crayon and you were too afraid to tell anyone." Interrupting her, Xander could already see the other figure slowly approaching his friend from behind her, however dangerous the action may be. Just a little bit longer…"You've come pretty far, ending the world, not a terrific notion but the thing is, yeah. I love you. I loved crayon-breaky Willow and I love scary veiny Willow. So if I'm going out, it's here. You wanna kill the world? You can start with me. I've earned that."
"You think I won't?"
"It doesn't matter. I'll still love you, and she'll still love you."
"Don't you dare bring her up in front of me." Raising her hand, Willow felt the power inside her start to flow forward as the words to a spell already began to form on her lips.
"Why don't y-you make him?" That stutter…no, no, no... As she turned around, the Witch could see Tara standing a few feet behind her, the bandage covering her shoulder still holding the drying blood from the gunshot, the same blood that had covered her shirt hours ago.
"You're not here, this...this is a trick." Even as she said the words, Willow didn't want to believe them. She had seen the bullet hit Tara, had seen and felt the lack of response from her as she had held her in her arms. "I watched you die."
"She's there, Wills. Look at her, does it look like she's dead?" Continuing to block his friend's contact with the statue, Xander knew that either of them could get through to her. "Does it look like she's not here?"
"Willow, sweetie, don't do this." Taking a step towards her love, Tara's steps were filled with a dulled pain from the bullet wound still so fresh on her shoulder. "I love you."
"You're not real!" Slashing her hand in the air, Willow watched as the girl's cheek erupted with three bloody scratches, the wounds appearing within seconds.
"I love you." The other girl repeated, the blood already drifting down her cheek as she continued to walk.
"Shut up!" Her palm shooting out, the black-haired Witch watched the girl fall to her knees as the spell impacted upon her chest. Looking up, the blonde was only able to return to her feet with an immense struggle.
"I…love you." Again blasting the girl with the spell, she watched as Tara refused to go down again, managing to stumble her way through the blast, as if the attack had lost some of its power.
"Stop…" The words beginning to bring tears to her eyes, the Witch again let a spell fly out of her palm. The spell hitting her squarely in the chest, the blonde girl kept coming.
"I love you." As she reached the girl, Tara held her slightly bloodied hands out to her, the mixture of pain and fear in her eyes making Willow's heart break even further inside her chest.
"Stop it!" Her hands curling into fists, Willow brought them down on the other girl's shoulders and mid-section, the intensity of the attacks finally tapering off completely as the tears began to freely flow down her cheeks. Her bloody hands gripping onto the Witch's shirt, Tara continued to hold her even as the two of them fell to the ground. Approaching them, Xander watched as his oldest friend continued to sob in her love's shoulder, the blood from the blonde's wound continuing to creep down her creek
"I'm sorry, I'msorry, I'msorry, I'msorry…"
"It's ok, ssshhh, stop crying, it's alright." Her hand stroking the crying's girl's hair, Tara saw the blackened strands beginning to return to their normal fiery red color.
As she continued to toss and turn underneath the sheets, Willow's forehead was beaded with sweat as the memories kept unfolding once more inside her dream. Her arms wrapped around the whimpering red-head's body, Tara could feel how cold the girl was. This is how it always was after the Coven had accomplished their daily 'cleansing' of the Black Magicks within the other girl. There was sickness, nightmares, and overwhelming cold. It reminded her of what she had read in her Health courses at college, of how withdrawal usually was for addicts.
Her Willow was a recovering addict.
"Ssshhh, it's alright." Whispering the hushed words into the other girl's ear, she continued to hold onto her, wishing that the red-head would simply awaken from the dream and allow her to comfort her. Melting fully into her lover's warm body, Willow continued to shake and whimper, the dream only continuing to worsen with each memory. It was just another night.
"Tara?" The name escaping from her lips as she silently awakened from the dream, Willow shivered as she felt how cold her body was compared to everything around her. "I'm c-cold."
"I know, sweetie. You always are after the rituals." Kissing the other girl's cheek, Tara continued to hold onto her, able to feel the cold sinking into her own skin. "But they're making you better."
"I had the nightmare again."
"I know." Her fingers holding onto the blonde's arm, the Witch tried to push the memories away, the images of that day continuing to flash before her eyes. Inside her, the Black Magicks lay dormant, but she could still sense them, still hear them calling to let them take over. She remembered how much harder it was when the rituals had first started, when they had first come to England. The pain and cold were unbelievable, and it was only because of Tara holding her that she was able to make it through the night and into the day. Over the weeks, the after-effects had dulled somewhat, but they still had power behind them.
"When is it going to stop? I'm supposed to be getting better."
"I don't know." Saddened that her answer wouldn't help the girl, Tara laid her head against the red-head's neck. "I don't know any more than y-you do."
"Giles probably knows." Her eyes open and staring at the wall across the room, the Witch could feel the cold sweat staining the pillow underneath her cheek. "They all know."
"They're helping you, sweetie, it's not their fault."
"I want it to stop." Resisting the urge to cry by will alone, Willow wrapped her leg around Tara's. "I want to be good again."
"You are, honey. You're good." Entwining her fingers with the red-head's, the other girl lifted her head and kissed the Witch's cheek. "You're not bad."
"I killed someone, how am I still good?" Still shaking, the Witch continued to hear the Magicks inside her talking to her, telling her that she was the same as them.
"That wasn't you. You were in pain, so much that it made you forget who you are. That person, that wasn't Willow Rosenberg. That was someone else."
"It doesn't feel like it."
"Just go back to sleep, you'll feel better if you get some rest." Giving the girl one last kiss, Tara reached up with her recently freed hand in order to run her fingers gently through the other girl's fiery red-hair. As she closed her eyes and tried to find sleep once more, Willow continued to tremble as the chills coursed through her blood.
"Tara?" Saying the girl's name one more time, the Witch felt the fingers gliding through her hair stop for a single moment. "Please, don't leave me."
"I won't." Continuing to feel her girl's hair, the blonde felt the Witch's breathing begin to return to its normal pace, the trembling starting to taper off as well. As she heard the girl finally drift back into sleep, Tara sighed.
It was just another night.