DISCLAIMER: The Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of Mutant Enemy, Joss Whedon, and Fox Studios. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2002 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.

Fate

"We've saved the world...again. Now go to sleep," Buffy ordered as she closed the door to Dawn's room. She let her shoulders sag and turned to her own room, trying to not see the door to her mother's room...to Willow and Tara's room. Her mother. Tara.

God, what had happened? "Willow," she whispered. Her friend couldn't hear her. Was out of range, somewhere safe with Giles where she could heal...atone. But could she atone? Really?

Buffy tried not to think of a forest, of ruined meat hanging skinless from a crosstie. Of Warren. That bastard. Had he deserved it? She didn't doubt he was twisted. He had just grown darker and darker, preying on the women who loved him, who didn't love him, then who barely knew him. Willow was his last victim.

His victim. She couldn't be his torturer...his killer.

But she was. Buffy closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to dispel the memory. Willow was a killer.

Willow was Willow. Sweet, innocent. Always cheerful. The dependable one. Willow.

"Stupid, mousy Willow." Buffy tried not to hear the taunting voice that Willow had used on her. Over and over. It had hurt. Really hurt. Willow's voice. It had reminded her of something.

Buffy sat heavily on her bed, contemplated taking her clothes off then decided she was too tired. The dirt would wash off her clothes. And the sheets. It wouldn't be the first time she'd woken up in grave dirt.

Willow had seen to that.

No, she was just trying to help. She always wanted to help.

What had Willow's voice reminded her of? Buffy thought about that as she relaxed her head, let it sink into her pillow. So soft. So clean.

Never be clean again, Willow had muttered, as Giles had gently led her away. Dirty hands and Buffy knew it was all her fault ultimately. If she'd left Willow out of it, out of the slaying and the nightmares, then her friend wouldn't have turned to magic, wouldn't have turned evil. Willow would have stayed innocent. Buffy knew there was something wrong with her logic but ran out of energy before she could figure it out. She let go of the thought as sleep took her away.

She was in a warm and familiar place. Safe and light and free from the pain she had carried since she'd been ripped away. But what was she doing here?

"I needed to talk to you."

Buffy turned. "Tara!" She ran to her, embraced her. "You're okay."

Tara smiled gently. "I'm dead, Buffy."

Buffy frowned. "But you're here, and I'm here, and if you're dead, then I'm..."

Tara shook her head. "You're dreaming. That's all. I'm at home in your dreams."

Buffy turned away without answering. She couldn't let Tara know what Willow had done. She had to hide that from her.

"I already know." Tara touched Buffy's shoulder. "I know everything."

"It's my fault."

"How is it your fault?"

"I came to Sunnydale, I involved her."

"You had to go to Sunnydale."

"But I didn't have to involve her. I could have left her alone. She'd have been hurt but it would've been okay in the long run. Better."

"You would have died without her."

"But look at what I made her! Tara, she killed Warren."

"I know." Tara's smile was full of sympathy.

"She tortured him, Tara. She pulled his skin off and left him hanging alive just long enough for us all to see. She wanted us to see."

"Yes, she did. Bored now," Tara whispered.

"What?" Buffy realized she'd heard that before. Where?

"It was her destiny," Tara offered helpfully. "You can't change what's meant to be."

"You think it was her destiny to kill Warren."

Tara shook her head. "Without you it was her destiny to be evil."

"Willow didn't have to be evil. That's ridiculous."

"Think about it, Buffy. She would have been at the Bronze, with Jesse and Xander, that night when you first ran into Luke and Darla. If you'd walked away from her to keep her out of harm's way then you wouldn't have noticed that she'd left with that vampire. She'd have been turned that night. The vampire you met when Anya's spell backfired, that thing was Willow's destiny."

"I don't believe that."

"It's true. But because of you, she's less evil than she would have been."

"Because of me and my choice to involve her so I wasn't alone? She's slightly less evil because I made a selfish choice?"

A new voice sounded. "No. Because I made a wish."

Buffy didn't want to turn around. The last time she'd heard the voice had been in the asylum. It wasn't real then. Could it be real now? "Mom?"

She felt warm hands on her shoulder, turning her gently. "Buffy."

"Mom!" There was only this moment, with a warm hug and a feeling of safety and love that had been missing ever since she'd walked through her front door and found her mother dead. "Mommy," she said as she buried her face in Joyce's neck.

Finally, she pulled away. "I've been so lonely. I've tried and I've tried but I haven't done a very good job. Dawn--"

"Shh, Buffy. I know. I've seen it all. And I'm sorry. I didn't know it would end up like this."

Buffy frowned. Tried to remember. "You said a wish? You made a wish? Please tell me it was on a star, or you threw a coin into a fountain."

Her mother shook her head sadly.

"Not Anya..."

Tara laughed. "She's not the only vengeance demon, Buffy."

"Then which one?"

Joyce shrugged. "I never knew, never even saw her."

"There are always some around here," Tara said helpfully. "They like the Hellmouth."

"Figures." Buffy turned to her mom. "But what wish?"

"It all happened so fast. I just was so angry. I wanted vengeance. " Joyce reached out to stroke Buffy's face. "I just wanted my little girl back. I had lost her such a long time ago."

"What are you talking about?"

"Buffy, you weren't supposed to be in Sunnydale. " Tara waved her hand and suddenly an image appeared. "This is how it was."

Buffy stared at the people that appeared in front of her. Familiar scenes played across it, focusing on her friends. Xander and Willow at school the day she first met them. Cordelia insulting Willow's outfit just the way Buffy remembered it happening. She had stood and watched. But there was no Buffy standing with Cordelia in these pictures.

"I don't understand. I was there."

"You weren't there," Joyce said. "We moved to Cleveland. I wanted to get as far from LA as possible, and I had a college friend there that could rent me the space for the gallery."

Buffy watched as Willow sat in the bronze, trying to look nonchalant as she waited at the bar for someone to notice her. Someone...something did. Willow left with the first young man who had ever shown her that kind of interest. Only he wasn't that young. And she never came back.

Well, eventually she came back. But not the same. She was a new, evil Willow--the vampire Buffy had met. "Oh, god," she whispered.

"You saw what she was like," Tara said quietly.

"The Master turned her?"

Tara nodded. "He liked her hair. Turned her and let Darla train her. They were...close. Then Angel came to town. He wanted to meet up with you, Buffy. Thought you'd show up when you heard about the Master getting free of the Hellmouth. But you didn't show. Angel killed Darla. And Willow made him pay. Over and over."

Buffy turned to her mother. "You said you lost me?"

Joyce gave her a look so full of love Buffy nearly sobbed. "You didn't like Cleveland. You didn't fit in. I was preoccupied. I saw what was happening but I was so immersed in my own pain I just didn't try to stop it. The watchers found you again, only I didn't know it then. I thought you'd fallen in with a bad crowd. What did I know? In any life I wasn't much of a mother."

"You were the best mother," Buffy said fiercely.

"The best mother wouldn't have told you not to come home. Wouldn't have sat all that summer you ran away wondering if you were safe or even alive. I had a lot to learn, still do." Joyce pointed to the images. A fiercer, Buffy--scarred and tough--appeared. "You eventually dropped out of school. Disappeared for days at a time. I'd find receipts from strange places in your pockets, when I could actually get to your clothes. Then one day you came home with a cut that looked like someone had tried to slice your face in half. I got scared. I paid a detective to follow you."

Buffy saw the other version of herself talking to a tough-looking older man. "Your watcher," Tara explained.

"But Giles," Buffy whispered.

"In Sunnydale," Tara answered. "You didn't know him, he wasn't your watcher. But he asked you to come. There was word that the Master was starting work on a factory. You planned to go in a few weeks but then your watcher decided to send you to LA earlier to stop another problem. He decided you could hit Sunnydale on your way back. A quick stop to clean up what had undoubtedly been exaggerated by an inexperienced watcher."

"And where you went, I was going," Joyce continued. "The detective knew something was up, told me so I went through your things. It took a while but I found your ticket. And a lot of other things I didn't understand. Your weapons...they scared me. I bought a ticket on an earlier flight and waited for you at LAX." Joyce looked down. "I was convinced you were involved in drugs. I was so angry at you."

"You didn't know," Buffy offered.

"You said it yourself. How could I not know?"

Buffy looked down. "You didn't want to know. It was safer."

"Not for you."

"Shhh." Tara touched Buffy's hand. "Watch."

Buffy stared hard at the image, found herself being drawn into the action. She was at the Bronze, Buffy realized, then slowly the sense of recognition faded as she began to integrate with her alter ego. The place was full of vampires, but they hadn't scented her yet. She'd never seen so many in one place. Her watcher hadn't told her about this. That Giles guy had tried but she hadn't believed him, had brushed off his offer of help. She was the slayer. She fought alone. She slipped into the basement. There was a cage, and a man was chained. She nearly freed him, fell for the trap, but realized in time he was a vampire.

But he knew her name. His voice was soft, and his eyes were gentle as he told her his name was Angel. He said he had a soul.

"I don't believe you," she said. Her stake drove the point home.

"You killed Puppy," a low voice drawled. Buffy turned. A redhead stood on the stairs blocking her exit. "Now what am I gonna do for fun?"

"Not really my problem." Buffy pulled out another stake and advanced.

"Oh, you're feisty. I like that." The vampire let her face morph into the demon. Her eyes glowed a strange green. She slowly backed up the stairs.

Buffy followed her. The music in the club went dead as the other vampires turned to watch. A very old one rose from a throne like chair and said, "What have you found, Willow?"

"Not sure, Master." The redhead answered. "But I'd like to find out."

"It's a slow night. Nothing to do but wait for the factory to be done." The old one smiled magnanimously. "I give you leave."

Willow smiled seductively at him. "You're the best." She turned back to Buffy. "We haven't met." She took a step forward. "Let's keep it that way."

Buffy smirked. "All you need to know is I'm the Slayer."

An interested buzz started up in the club. Catcalls sounded from the balcony. Willow looked up and laughed. "Wow, this is the most fun we've had in forever. And that's a timeframe I expect to understand really well." Willow circled her. "So how many of us do you think you can take before you die?"

Buffy didn't look away. "All of you. And I don't plan to die."

"Let's see about that." Willow backed away and spoke to the crowd. "Ok, one at a time. And leave some for me."

"There will be plenty for you, Red," Buffy said as she met the first vampire's kick and sparred briefly before staking him. Another came at her. She finished him off too. But there were more. And more. The kills were taking longer. Buffy could feel herself tiring. She tried to catch her breath before the next vampire came forward.

"Ok, it's my turn. I don't want to wait until all the fight in you is gone. No fun in that." Willow stepped forward and she and Buffy circled each other. A sudden commotion at the main door made them both turn.

Buffy gasped. A dark-haired vampire was holding her mom. "Look what I found, baby."

Joyce struggled futilely. "Buffy?"

"Buffy? What kind of name is Buffy?" Willow walked toward Joyce.

Buffy lunged at her, but the redhead spun out of the way. "Let me guess. This is your watcher?"

The vampire holding Joyce shook his head. "Her mom."

"Oh, Xander. This is really good."

The vampire ducked his head. "I like to make you happy."

"And you do," Willow said as she kicked out at Buffy, narrowly missing as the tired slayer jerked back. "This is great. It'll be so much better with a witness." She walked over to Joyce, keeping an eye on Buffy as she moved. Reaching out, she grabbed a handful of Joyce's hair and pulled hard. "You can watch your daughter die. Or maybe, when she's dying, I'll make her watch while I kill you. Which do you think would be more fun?" Willow scowled. "Not going to answer, huh? Ok, then. I guess it's fight time." She let go, and turning, advanced on Buffy.

Buffy feinted then punched home with her other hand. But Willow wasn't there. She felt her stake being pulled out of her hand.

Willow played with the stake then looked at Xander. "Are you feeling a little peckish?"

He nodded.

"Why don't you take a little taste?" She laughed as Xander bit down on Joyce's neck. "Not enough to kill her, love. Just enough to hurt her."

"You bitch," Buffy tried to rush past her but Willow caught her by the arm and threw her into the crowd. Buffy punched her way out, only to find the vamp waiting for her, holding the stake as if it were a knife. "Now I get to be the Slayer," she said with a grin.

"Slay this," Buffy said, desperation giving her new strength. She kicked and punched, trying to get past the vampire's guard. For a minute she thought Willow was finally giving ground as the vampire retreated slowly toward Joyce. Then Willow smiled and very calmly said, "Bored now." Buffy realized too late that the vampire had just lured her closer to Joyce to improve her mother's view.

"Buffy!" Joyce screamed as Willow drove the stake into Buffy's chest and let it stay there.

Buffy looked down and tried to pull out the stake but it was too much for her. Blood started to flow from the wound and Buffy fell to her knees.

Willow followed her down. "There now. Isn't that much better? Don't worry. It'll take a while to kill you." The vampire let her face go back to human and smiled sweetly at Buffy as she ran her finger through the blood and brought it to her lips. "You taste so good."

Joyce sobbed, "You're a monster."

"That's pretty harsh. You hardly know me." Willow nodded to Xander. "Let her go. I want to watch their pain."

Joyce nearly collapsed when the vampire let her go. She slowly made her way to her daughter. "Buffy..."

"I'm sorry, Mom. I know I disappointed you."

"I should have paid more attention," Joyce sobbed.

"It wouldn't have mattered. I'm the Chosen One. It's my destiny."

"Well, this is really touching," Willow mocked. "All this talk about destiny and disappointment. Next you'll get to the part where you say you love her, and then she'll say that she loves you."

"You know nothing about love," Joyce retorted in fury.

"Don't want to. Never had it when I was human. Now that I've been reborn, I don't need it." Willow stretched sinuously. "I spent too many years lonely and afraid. Now, people fear me."

"You're sick," Buffy gasped, squeezing her mother's hand hard as a wave of pain hit her.

"This was fun, but now it's not." Willow yawned. "Maybe we could make this dying part go faster." She gave the stake a little poke.

As Buffy gasped in pain, Joyce leapt at Willow, surprising her enough to land a vicious punch before the vampire knocked her away. "You'll regret that." She kicked out and sent Joyce flying. Then Willow turned and advanced on Buffy. Her foot hovered over the stake. "It's gonna hurt a lot when I do this."

Joyce struggled to sit upright.

"Finish her, Xander," Willow ordered. "But let her watch this." As Willow's foot came down, Joyce screamed at her. "No!"

The stake slammed through Buffy, and the pain was unimaginable. She felt blood rise in her throat. "Mom," she tried to say, but no sound came out except a faint gasp of air.

Joyce fought Xander as he hauled her up into his arms. Her eyes met Willow's and, even as Xander's teeth tore into her neck, she whispered, "You're a monster that shouldn't exist. I just wish I could I could make that happen."

Buffy, watching as her mother stopped struggling then went slack, thought she heard an amused voice say, "Wish granted," just before everything went black.

"You understand now?" Tara's voice was gentle.

Buffy shuddered. How many times had she died? And this time at Willow's hand? "She's my friend."

"She is your friend, this time around. You didn't cause this, Buffy. You saved her." Joyce took her hand. "You changed her destiny just enough that she stayed human. She tasted evil, but she's still Willow deep down. That creature I had to watch kill you was never born."

"Why are you showing me this?"

Tara stroked her hair. "Because you have to live. Because you have to look forward, not back. Your life here on out is uncharted. We can't help you see your future. But we can help you understand the past."

"You're not to blame. You never were," Joyce said fiercely.

Buffy felt the control, the ice she'd kept around her heart ever since she'd been brought back crack. She began to cry. The way she had that one time with Tara. When the other girl had held her and tried to make it better.

Tara walked over and gave her a hug. "You'll be alright now. Really."

Buffy smiled through her tears. "I'm going to miss you, Tara."

"I know. I'm going to go now." Tara slowly faded away.

Buffy turned to Joyce. "I've missed you too. So much."

"And I've missed my little girl."

Buffy allowed herself to sink into her mother's arms. She held her tightly and resisted when she felt an arm trying to shake her loose.

"Buffy, let go of the pillow, it's time to get up," Dawn said crankily.

"I'm up." Buffy remembered saying that to her mother on her first day of school in Sunnydale. How long ago that was. But it seemed like only yesterday. And why did she feel like her mother was so close. She looked at Dawn and said, "I was dreaming I think."

"Something good, I hope," Dawn said as she walked out of the room.

"I'm not sure, but I think so," Buffy said, as she slipped out of bed and got ready to face her future.

FIN