And Never Can Be Told
by Magenta

DISCLAIMERS: I do not own any Buffy the Vampire Slayer character. Joss Whedon, Kuzui, Sandollar, Mutant Enemy do. Iím just borrowing them for fun and Iíll put them back, no worries.
The songs herein contained (and listed below for those who care) belong to their respective owners. I donít own them. (oh, and BTW, I know some of the songs donít exactly fit...thatís why I only used pieces. ;) AND, most of the lyrics are gathered phonetically, so I may have some of them messed up...lol)
"Play Dead" by Bjork from the soundtrack to Young Americans.
"Cuts You Up" by Peter Murphy from the album Deep.
"Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush.
"Once in a Lifetime" by Wolfsheim.
"Tower of Strength" by the Mission U.K. from their album Children.
"Blood and Roses" by the Smithereens.
"Sukiyaki (Ue Mo Muite Arukou)" by Kyu Sakamoto, translation by ?
*note about "Sukiyaki": some dumb olí boy band did a cover of the song and the translation doesnít match this one...which is the only "official" one Iíve found...just so you know...*
SPOILERS: Up to and including "Gone" with some things moved around so I can tell this story.
RATING: PG for some handy dandy British slang. And remember...in some places a fag is also a cigarette... ;)
DISCLAIMER: If even the slightest mention of two women in love gets yer boxers in a bunch...uh...whatíre you doing here?
ARCHIVING: You want it, e-mail me. I want to know where my work goes.
PAIRING: All the obvious ones, T/W, B/S, X/Anya, yadda, yadda...
FEEDBACK: If youíre so inclined, I wouldnít mind at all: the_auryn@angelfire.com

"And Never Can Be Told" by Magenta

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Chapter One:

Tara

~~~~~~~~

"Thanks for meeting me, Tara," Buffy said as she and the shy blonde witch slid into a four-top booth in the back of the Espresso Pump. It was just after sundown, but the Slayer figured that the vamps could wait another few hours to become fodder for a Dust Buster.

Tara gave her a half-smile, which was, in fact, about all she could muster. "Well, I told you b-before I l-left that if you n-needed anything to g-give me a c-call."

"You just never thought it would actually happen?" If Buffyís tone was harsh, the question would have been almost accusatory...but it was merely a question.

The shy blonde looked surprised for a moment before she dropped her gaze to the formica table in front of her. "N-not exactly...I j-just thought th-that, uh, since we...uh, s-since W-W-Willow and I...b-broke up that Iíd b-be out o-of the Scoobies, t-too..."

Buffy reached across the table and gently grabbed Taraís hand. "When I call someone my family, itís for keeps. Youíre family."

She smiled relievedly and squeezed the Slayerís hand. "Thanks, B-Buffy. Howís W-W-Willow?"

"Well, actually, sheís why I called you..."

"W-Whatís w-wrong?" Tara asked, a tremor in her voice.

Buffy sighed. "Sheís crashed, Tara. Literally. She took Dawn with her when she went to see some warlock, then they were chased by a daemon, she wrecked a car that she stole and almost killed Dawn. Sheís trying so hard, and I can see the strain in her eyes, but she needs all of the Scoobies...ALL of us, to help her. Please, Tara. Come talk to her."

"I d-donít know i-if I c-can, Buffy..." the shy witch sighed without looking at the Slayer as two tears rolled down her downcast face. "What s-she d-did...hurt s-so much...w-worse than f-finding out th-that my d-dad and b-brother lied to m-me for my entire l-life because I d-didnít trust them anyway. I t-trusted h-her. C-Completely. Now, Iím n-not even s-sure if I m-made that ch-choice or if she m-made it for me..."

"I know it hurt, Tara...she hurt both of us without meaning to, but the only way we can heal is if we face it. Please," the Slayer pleaded. She watched as emotion after emotion roiled over Taraís tear-streamed face. Love, pain, anger, love...after a minute, the emotions coalesced into a mask of resolve as the self-conscious witch looked up into Buffyís eyes.

"Letís go."

With that, Tara slid out of the booth, a surprised Buffy in tow, and headed toward 1630 Rivello.

*****

"I play dead
It stops the hurting.
I play dead
And the hurt stops."

This verse keeps playing through my head, day and night, in my dreams and in every waking moment. It haunts me. And so does she. Iíve started to not feel. Some might call that Denial, I just call it Survival. If I donít feel the pain, then it doesnít exist and I can live my life knowing that the only person Iíve ever loved shattered my heart.

I canít help but draw similarities between Her and my Father...with the obvious exceptions that She didnít necessarily mean to lie to me and to control me and He did.

I sometimes sit by the window of my hotel room with my feet propped up on the sill and look out into the night, thinking about the past couple of years. Am I wrong to have left her after what sheís done for me, standing by my side after Glory sucked my brain away? Am I wrong for being hurt that she abused my trust and used magick to erase my memory?

I donít think so. Not all the time, anyway.

I miss her so much, but by the same token, she hurt me more than anyone else ever could. She knew what she was doing when she took my memory, but she did it with good intentions...

Is there really such a thing as good intentions when you play with someoneís mind? And good for whom? Dad thought it would be good for him and Donnie to lie and control me...she thought it would be good for our relationship if I forgot about her using too much magick.

This time, Iím not running away. IĎm not going to play dead. Dad may never hear me yell at him for his abuse, but Willow will...

"I play dead
It stops the hurting.
I play dead
And the hurt stops."

*****

The walk home was quiet as the Slayer split her attention between the witch in front of her and her surroundings. Tara was deep in thought, her eyes vacant with a thousand-mile stare and her delicate brow creased slightly.

*What are you thinking about, Tara?* Buffy asked herself as she watched the blonde, not daring to break her concentration. *And, whatever it is, I hope it helps the two of you...*

Her eyes flashed with steely determination as her gait grew stronger. Finally, with about a block left before they arrived at the house, Tara was focused on the now. There was no anger in the set of her jaw or the glint in her slate blue eyes. Just raw fortitude.

Buffy noticed faint coils of smoke waft into the night sky from behind a thick California birch tree. "Go ahead, Tara...IĎll see you later. I need to go on patrol..."

Tara nodded, sparing a short, amused look in the direction of the tree, then headed for Buffyís house.

*****

I suppose that itís fitting that the Slayer falls for a vampire. Itís said that one loves what one destroys. Mortal enemies become lovers, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera... So is the opposite also true? Will Willow and I go from the sweetest of lovers to mortal enemies? Will we love each other as we seek to destroy each other?

I suppose that confrontation and discussion is the one way we can avoid that...

*****

Tara knocked politely on the door and waited for an answer. She noticed when the peephole when dark, then heard the tumblers in the deadbolt unlock quickly and fingers fumble with the chain. When the door finally swung open, the witch found herself enveloped in a warm embrace from the youngest Summers, Dawn. There were no words as the two women held each other, smiles and tears rolling down their reddening cheeks.

"Iím so happy to see you!" Dawn squeaked as she pulled away from the hug, careful to not accidentally hit Tara with her cast. As she pulled away, the witch could see Willow standing in the archway into the living room, her normally pale skin a shade paler and her hands were clasped in front of her. Her cheeks and ears were rosy with emotion and stained with tears.

"Iím s-sorry...d-did I in-interrupt something?" Tara asked, looking back and forth between the red head and the teenager.

Dawn smiled and looked over her shoulder at Willow. "Nothing that canít be taken up again later..." she replied as she pulled the blonde in and shut the door behind her.

Tara stood in the foyer with her arms protectively across her stomach as her determined blue eyes met watery green full on. The teenager watched the silent conversation, but was convinced that nothing was being said... "You want anything, Tare? Tea, coffee? A root beer float..."

"No, thanks, Dawnie," she replied. She didnít know what else to do. Tara knew what she wanted to say, but not how to start into that conversation.

"Okay, well, why donít you two head up to your room to talk...that way youíll have privacy and I can watch The X-Files," she suggested in her gently teasing, icebreaking-kind of way.

Tara smiled thankfully at the brunette as she gestured for Willow to go up the stairs first. The redhead nodded and went up, her hands shaking in nervousness and she gripped the banister for support. Though she thought she might regret it later, Tara put a supportive hand onto the redheadís shoulder blade, and crimson tresses whispered against her fingertips. Willow tensed under the touch, then relaxed as she looked back into shining cerulean eyes.

*****

One of the strongest forms of communication is touch...at least, between Willow and I. We could always speak volumes with a look and a touch. So...what did this one tell us?

Weíve got a long way to go.

There was so much sadness in her eyes...sadness and guilt and, like Buffy, I saw the strain. This was different than what Buffy saw, though. Willow wanted to grab hold of me and never let go. And, dear Gods, I wished I could drown in the churning green sea of her eyes...

"You donít want to hurt me
See how deep the wound lies
On the way, tearing you asunder
There is thunder in our hearts
Is there so much heat from the ones you love
Tell me we both matter donít we?"

*****

"Have a seat," she offered, her voice soft, as she noticed Taraís mild discomfort. She closed the door and locked it out of habit.

"Thanks," the blonde replied, taking a seat on the bed. Willow sat in a chair a few feet away although the blonde knew, by following the redheadĎs eyes, that she wanted to sit on the bed.

*First things first, Will,* she thought and silence reigned as the ex-lovers tried to think of a way to start the discussion.

Taking a steadying breath, Willow decided to jump in head first. "I, uh, know youíre probably wondering about Dawnieís cast..."

"I already know what happened. I want to know why it happened..." Tara said.

Willow hung her head, too ashamed to look into her ex-girlfriendís eyes. "How can I explain something like this without making it sound like a load of excuses? All that power made me feel different...like I wasnít who I was. It was an escape. No one would want to be that me, the old me, Tara, I didnít even want to be that me. So I drowned myself in the new me, the one that everyone liked, including me, and I lost sight of everything, including myself. In the end, Iím back to the me that no one wants to know, except this time, on top of it all, everyone is afraid of me, especially me."

Tara blinked, trying to comprehend what Willow just said, and finally sorted it out. Her azure eyes burned into the top of her ex-girlfriendís head, a head that stubbornly refused to lift so their eyes could meet. "I not only liked you, Willow, I loved you. I still love you...but I hurt so much because I also trusted you with my life and you betrayed that... Why did you take away my memory? After everything thatís happened...why?"

The redhead sniffled and laughed mirthlessly. "It was the only thing I could think of so I wouldnít lose you."

"Talking never entered your mind?" the blonde asked although she could see Willowís point-of-view. However, because she could see it didnít make it okay.

"I wanted a quick fix so I wouldnít have to deal with the truth," she replied.

The blonde canted her head to the side and pushed a few errant strands of hair behind her ear. This wasnít the time to hide behind her hair. "What was the truth, Willow?"

This time, though cautiously, the redhead raised her glistening emerald eyes to meet Taraís sapphire. "I knew I was getting out of control... I knew it, but I couldnít stop myself. I knew what I was doing, that it was the worst possible thing I could ever do, but my hands, my mouth, wouldnít co-operate. The magick drove me to make you forget...and I think I made the other spell backfire on purpose...because I wanted to forget, too. Forget what I did to you, forget that I yanked Buffy out of her place in Heaven, forget everything...I couldnĎt live with the knowledge of all the pain and suffering IĎve caused..."

Willow looked away as tears streamed down her face and the sobs sheíd been holding in since see saw Tara in the foyer exploded from within her. One third of her brain screamed at her as two thirds made her rush to Willowís side and hold her. The redhead clung to her as if her life depended on it, then, suddenly, she pushed away.

"Iím sorry...I, uh, didnít mean to..." she said, wiping her tears on her sweater sleeve. She choked back a few more sobs and pushed her way out of Taraís embrace. The blonde stood and took off her denim jacket, then held a hand out towards the redhead. Willow looked up at the hand first, then into the eyes of the owner of the hand.

There were no words said as Willow took the offering and followed Tara to the bed. The blonde lay down and brooked no argument as she pulled the redhead onto the bed beside her. Tara wrapped her arms around the diminutive form of the former witch and held her as she broke down in sobs, lasting well into the night.

*****

Some would say that not a whole lot was accomplished tonight, between Willow and myself...but, then again, Rome wasnít built in a day... Like Buffy said, she needed the Scoobies, ALL of us, to be there for her. We both want so much to be together again that, after tonight, I think itíll happen...

~~~~~~~~

Chapter Two:

Willow

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"I look up when I walk so the tears won't fall
Though my heart is filled with sorrow
For tonight I'm all alone

Remembering those happy autumn days
But tonight I'm all alone

Sadness hides in the shadow of the stars
Sadness lurks in the shadow of the moon."

I never meant for anything like this to happen. I just wanted everything to be okay again. Is that so wrong?

It is when the people you want to be happy with are hurt by your actions.

All the wishing in the world canít make everything okay again. I just want to crawl inside myself and hide there, fade from existence until the repercussions of my actions are forgotten and we can be as happy and go lucky as we were before.

Tara.

When I fully comprehended what Iíd done, it was like someone had scooped out my insides and replaced them with dark filth and hatred for myself. And I binged on the one thing that could take my mind off of all the bad Iíd created...and take me away from where I didnít want to be: inside me. Magick. I can hardly think the word without feeling sick. It conjures up memories of things I can only wish I never did...because Buffyís right. It is a moot point. But how can you make the invasion of your loverís mind up to her?

Dawn.

Oh Dawnie. Please...forgive me.

*****

"You two need to talk so while you do that, Iím going to go out, okay? Okay. See ya later," said the Slayer as she hastily left Willow and her sister alone in the living room.

Dawn sat on the couch, the muted TV throwing gyrating lights on the walls and furniture in the room. She watched Willow rock slowly back and forth as she stood in the archway, knowing the ex-Wicca was nervous, but sheíll be damned if she were going to make it easy on her.

"Sit," the teenager said, her voice soft, but clipped. Willow sat in a nearby chair quickly and fidgeted with the bottom hem of her sweater. The brunette turned back to watch the muted TV, keeping Willow within her peripherial vision.

"Dawnie, I-"

"Donít."

The redhead closed her eyes against the burning tears that threatened to spill onto her cheeks and prevent her from talking to the young girl across from her.

"Please-"

"Stop, Willow," Dawn said, finally turning to look at the shattered remains of the young redhead. "Nothing you say will make things better, but Buffy seems to think we can work this out..."

Willow remained quiet, her gaze fixed on the floor by her feet.

"I mean, thereís nothing to work out. You took me to some back alley warlock for a magick fix, lied to me about wanting to hang out, you nearly got me killed by a daemon that you inadvertently brought into existence, you nearly killed me in a car wreck and never mind that you broke my arm...you destroyed my trust," the teenager snarled, her voice dripping with venom. She observed the redhead shake with silent tears.

"Why?" the brunette asked, her eyes narrowed at Willow. "Why was magick more important than me, or Tara?"

"It made me feel special...useful...cool. Like finally, Willow Rosenburg is good for something. I mean, why do you steal? What kind of charge does it give you to know youíre gonna disappoint Buffy and Giles when they find out?" Willow countered, her voice low and sad, but clear as a bell through her tears.

"I donít steal and besides, itís hardly the same thing."

Willow smiled blankly. "I used to think that turning off the lights, cleaning up my room or other little mundane things made easier with magick were harmless...look where it got me. Everyone hates me - including myself, everyone is scared of me - including myself, and I nearly got everyone I love killed." Finally, the redheadís sad green eyes met Dawnís hard brown. Intensity wavered.

"Dawn if there was anyway, without magick, I could take away all the pain Iíve caused, I would. Faster than you can say Ďmagickí. All I can do, though, is apologize with all my heart and try to stay out of everyoneís way as I go from SuperWillow to PlainWillow again."

"You were never PlainWillow...or SuperWillow to me. You were just Willow...a sister that Buffy couldnít be to me..."

There was silence again; however this time, Willow was able to look Dawn in the eye and maintain that contact. The teenagerís hard brown eyes wavered in their intensity, then began to shimmer with tears. "I love you, Willow...please, donít make me regret it..."

The redhead, master Hacker, ex-Wicca stood on wobbly legs and stumbled over to the couch to sit next to Dawn. They embraced and cried, Willow repeating over and over "Iím so sorry...Iím so sorry..." until her voice was hoarse.

*knock, knock, knock*

They separated and Dawn gave Willow a look that said ĎIím gonna send away whoever it is, so stay right there.í The redhead stayed put and wiped away a few more tears as the brunette stood and walked over to the door.

"Holy sh-"

The rest of Dawnís exclamation of surprise was cut short as she fumbled with the locks and chain. Willow bolted up and hurried to the archway separating the living room from the foyer in case it was Buffy returning injured from patrol. She was nearly knocked off her feet when she saw Tara hug Dawn...and then their eyes met.

"Iím s-sorry...d-did I in-interrupt something?" Tara asked, looking back and forth between the red head and the teenager.

Dawn smiled and looked over her shoulder at Willow. "Nothing that canít be taken up again later..." she replied as she pulled the blonde in and shut the door behind her.

*****

"I want to love but it comes out wrong
I want to live but I donít belong
I close my eyes and see
Blood and roses..."

Maybe things will be okay after all... Dawnie seems to understand. That doesnít mean she likes the facts. No one does. Part of me wishes I would just pick up and run away, but thatís more likely to cause more pain because it means I was too chicken to deal with my friends and myself...

The rest of me wants to beat that other half down as it screams, "Remember, thatís what Buffy did when she destroyed Angel. It didnít help anything, it just made the pain fester."

The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.

You got that right, sister, but Iím not going to chicken out and bow down. I can do this. If not for myself, or for Dawnie and Buffy and every single Scooby that ever lived...then for Tara. My heart. Even if she never takes me back...

~~~~~~~

Chapter Three:

Dawn

~~~~~~~

"Calm down my heart
Donít beat so fast
Donít be afraid
Just once in a lifetime.
The rain can wash away my tears
The wind can soothe my pain
You made me doubt you
Made me fear
But now Iím not the same."

I donít know whatís worse: being hurt by Willow or being hurt by Willow. Sounds the same, doesnít it? Well, thereís a world of difference. See, Willow broke my arm...but she also broke my heart...so I canít decide which is worse. And the hate and anger...itís building up inside of me and making the pain ten thousand times worse.

And the cherry on top is that I wish I could go to her, to seek comfort with her since Buffyís too busy with Deadboy to notice. You would think that, in spite of being torn out of Heaven, sheíd be grateful that Willow risked everything to pull her out of the Hell dimension we thought she was in...

...and there I go defending her again...

What is the matter with me? One minute I can hardly think about her without stirring up my anger and the next, my heart hurts FOR her.

And there is, of course, Tara. I miss Tara. She was the only one who didnít seem to mind hanging out with the little sister. She enjoyed being with me and she made me feel included with her and Willow...not included in THAT way, but like if there were going to a movie or to dinner where they really wanted to be alone, she gave Willow a look, then would turn to me and ask me if Iíd like to join them. Most of the time I declined...I may be a teenager, but I know when people want to be alone. The rest of the time, when I was scared of being alone or pseudo-alone because Buffy hardly spoke to me, Iíd go with them.

And Willow drove her away.

I want to talk to her, to understand what made magick more important than her family, but I donít know how to start a conversation like that.

*****

"Dawn, can I talk to you for a minute?"

The teenager muted the TV with her good hand and smiled at her sister. "Sure, Buffy. Whatís up?"

"I want you to talk to Willow...do you think youíre up to it?" the Slayer asked.

Immediately, Dawnís face went from bright to dark with anger. "No."

"Can you do it as a favour to me, at least? Iím not asking you to forgive her right away or anything...Iím just asking you to talk to her...to start to heal. Itís not healthy to carry so much anger and resentment...I should know."

"Youíre asking me to consort with someone who almost got me killed, Buffy...who played with all of our minds...who was stupid and to drive Tara away," the teenager replied bitingly.

"Iím not asking for the world, I am asking for the family to come together to help one of their own...is that so wrong? She made some mistakes, itís my fault for not being more upfront about what was going on. I ignored all the signs, I practically enabled it, so maybe you should blame me for what happened just as much as Willow...maybe more so because she never fully realized what was happening, but I should have. Iím the Chosen One," Buffy replied, not angry so much as hurt and confused...still.

Dawn sighed, "You canít blame yourself for everyoneís problems."

"And you shouldnít hold a grudge until you hear the whole story..." the Slayer returned.

"Are...are you forgiving her for bringing you back?" the brunette asked haltingly.

Buffy turned and sat in a nearby chair to talk to her sister. "There was no way she could have known that I was in Heaven. I was angry and wanted to take it out on the world I was sucked back into and since Willow and you and everyone are my family, and thus my world, I ended up being totally unfair to you guys. She was just trying to be the good friend she always was, trying to save me from Hell...so the short answer is yes...cuz, as far as thatĎs concerned, thereĎs nothing to forgive..."

"Why didnít you tell us?"

"I didnít want you to feel guilty..."

Dawn sat there and thought about what Buffy had to say, her mind in an upheaval. "Okay...Iíll talk to her."

The Slayer smiled in relief, then left the room to bring Willow in, who had taken a seat on the steps in case Dawn sent her away. Sheíd heard everything the teenager had to say and swallowed the lump in her throat as Buffy came to get her.

"You two need to talk so while you do that, Iím going to go out, okay? Okay. See ya later," said the Slayer as she hastily left Willow and her sister alone in the living room.

~~~~~~~

Chapter Four:

Spike

~~~~~~~

"I find you in the morning
After dreams of distant signs
You pour yourself over me
Like the sun through the blinds

You lift me up, you get me out
Keep me walking, but never shout
"Hold the secret close," I hear you say

You know the way it falls apart
It takes you in and spits you out
It spits you out when you desire
To conquer it, to feel you're higher
To follow it, you must be clean
With mistakes that you do mean
Move the heart, switch the pace
Look for what seems out of place "

I wonder if anyone sane can explain the attraction I have for the one person with the power to kill me. Is it a death wish? No, wait, Iím already dead. Then, is it a wish to have a life, uh, so to speak, of course.

Okay, so I love the Slayer. As close to it as a soulless daemon can get, at least. I suppose that Buffy is right...this is Hell. For her, itís being alive again instead of in Heaven where she belongs. For me, itís being able to have her body, but not her heart...her soul...her.

*****

"Hey there, stranger," Buffy said as she approached the man leaning against the California birch tree, smoking. She heard her front door close, accepting Tara within so she could talk to Willow. The peroxide blonde vampire looked at the Slayer, but said nothing. He ashed his cigarette, then took one long, final drag on it before he tossed onto the ground and stamped it out with the toe of his combat boot.

"Look, Spike-"

"Save it. I donít need your pities or apologies and I wouldnít accept them anyway. Yíknow, sometimes I just wish you would stake me and end my otherwise ceaseless existence," he said.

Buffy crossed her arms over her chest, but completely without attitude asked, "And the other times?"

The vampire smiled without mirth. "The other times I wish Willow hadnít fixed that Will be Done spell of hers...if you can believe that."

"What do you want to get from this...whatever it is?" she asked, truly curious, though a little sarcastic.

"What any good boy wants? A shag and a fag...? Do you want me to tell you that I want to love you, to be able to do so? Iím a bloody daemon, love, I donít know how to...but whatever I do feel is about as close as Iím going to get to that particular emotion...and itís the closest Iíve gotten since Dru..." Spike pushed off of the tree and looked the Slayer in the eyes. "Why do you care? I mean, youíre the bloody Slayer. Why do you bother keeping me alive? Iím just some kind of joke...a real undead sex toy for you to play with until you get bored and you shove the business end of a stake through whatís left of my heart..."

"Spike..."

"Let me finish, Buffy," the vampire said. He paused. "Oh, bloody hell...Iíve lost my train of thought..."

The Slayer ran her fingers through her now-short hair. "The honest answer is that I donít know. Part of it is that you canít hurt anyone except other daemons and me...and Iím sure I can handle it. I donít love you, but I do...if that makes any sense." Buffy stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the surprised vampireís waist.

"Itís not going to be easy, and it probably wonít last...but why donít we take this one step at a time? We have the rest of my life, right?" she asked with a smile and a sparkle in her eyes.

Although he knew this would only lead to pain at some point, Spike wrapped his arms around the lithe Slayer and pulled her closer than possible in public. *I always was a glutton for pain...* he thought.

~~~~~~~

Chapter Five:

Buffy

~~~~~~~

"You raise me up
When Iím on the floor
You see me through
When Iím lonely and scared
And Iím feeling true to the written word
And youíre true to me
But still I need more it would
Tear me apart
To feel no one ever cared
For me.
You are a tower of strength to me."

Yep, thatís Willow. My tower of strength. I never used to be afraid of her. So why am I now? Because she has the power to raise the dead...thatís an awesome thing.

Yes, okay, it sucks being back here, but itís not all that bad. I get to be with my friends again...but I was with my mom and my family and friends that I failed. Pike was there. I havenít seen him since just after I was kicked out of Hemery... He was in a motorcycle accident, they said to me.

Bull.

He was cornered and slaughtered for his role in the death of Lothos. By proxy, I got him killed because I killed Lothos.

Did I just use the term "by proxy"? Giles would be impressed...if he were here. And heís not because I drove him away. I didnít want to be here, so I practically made him handle everything that would have been easy for even me because I didnít want to deal with this Life.

So Giles is gone, Willowís crashed, everyone hates each other, Tara isnít here...and all of it, again by proxy, is my fault.

Iíve averted apocalypse several times...but my world has fallen apart. Itís time for me to get my family back together, to start healing everyone. Not all problems can be solved with a stake and some holy water...

*****

A soft, tentative knock sounded on Willowís door, surprising the former Wicca. She closed the book she was reading and padded over to the door to open it.

"H-Hi, Buffy," she stuttered when she saw the Slayer standing outside her room.

"Hey, Will...can I come in?"

The redhead stepped aside. "Of course. Mi casa really is su casa and all..." she said as she closed the door and sat on the bed, moving the book she was reading to the night stand. Buffy sat down next to Willow.

"Whatcha readiní?"

"Dune..."

"Oh..."

They sat there in an uncomfortable silence like the one that followed the car accident...these silences were all too often between the two best friends. The Slayer sighed. "Okay, Will, this is ridiculous... We claim to love each other...we claim to be adults. The combination should be enough to work out just about anything, right? So why is just talking to you so hard?"

"Cuz I betrayed your trust by yanking you out of Heaven," Willow replied, her voice soft and waivering under the threat of more tears.

"Thatís just it, Willow, you thought you were doing the right thing because you thought I was in Hell. Why wouldnít you think that? I mean, I jumped into the gates that would unite all Hell-like realities."

The redhead sniffled. "But saving the world from annihilation should kinda get you a ticket into the everlasting peace of Heaven...I should have thought about that..."

"But you didnít...instead you were thinking that I was being tortured by all the daemons Iíd ever killed while living out eternity in a Hell dimension. Thereís no real way to find out the truth...not when the pain of a friend is on the line," she countered, then turned toward Willow. "If it were the other way Ďround, I would have done the same thing...any of us would have, but youíre the only one who could..."

"Yeah, I could and I let it get out of control. Wicca is about helping the world and all I did was help myself. Iíve ruined everything, Buffy. Iíve made everyone afraid of me...Iíve hurt everyone. Iíve lost Tara. I wish I could just crawl into a hole and die... I deserve to go to that unspeakable Hell dimension we all thought you were in."

"Willow, you made mistakes...and we - I - let you. You are responsible for you actions, but weíre responsible for not stopping you when we knew you had a problem that you couldnít control," the Slayer pointed out.

"Buffy, can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Why didnít you tell me? I mean, that I yanked you out of Heaven...why did you let me go on believing that Iíd saved you...?" the redhead asked.

Sighing, the Slayer replied, "I knew what you thought...why burden you with the guilt I knew youíd put on yourself? It sucks, Will...donít get me wrong, my heart hurts, my soul hurts, but itís a moot point now. Whatís most important in our lives is that we start to heal so we can continue to live in this world.

"I told Dawn once that the hardest thing in this world is to live in it...but family like you, Tara, Xander, even Anya, making living here much better...and right now, weíre all splintered and we need to come together and heal."

The former Wicca wiped her eyes. "So...what now?"

"Now, you talk to Dawn."

"What? Oh God, Buffy, I donít know...I donít want to make her hurt anymore than she already does...shouldnít we wait until sheís ready to talk to me?" Willow babbled, her fear rising to the surface.

"She is ready to talk to you, she doesnít know it yet, and she hurts more now by not talking to you than she would by confronting the issues. We should all be here for each other, to catch each other when we fall or to help pick each other up...and itís time to start picking up," the Slayer replied, standing and beckoning Willow to stand and follow.

The two of them walked out of the room hand-in-hand and descended the stairs into the foyer. Buffy silently asked Willow to sit on the stairs and then went in to talk to her sister.

~~~~~~~

Epilogue

~~~~~~~

Dune came in really handy... I memorized the Litany Against Fear for those really tough moments...

"I must not Fear
Fear is the Mind-Killer
Fear is the little death that brings
Total Obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
When it is gone, I will look to my Inner Eye to see its path.
Where it has gone there nothing
Only I will remain."

Itís been tough, trying to get over magick. Iíve had to re-learn things like cleaning my room or turning off the light. Iíve had to learn to not be jealous of Tara being able to use magick. Iíve even tried to get her to find a partner for casting, but she says no. Since she canít cast with me, sheíll be solitary. I feel guilty and shamed, then, but she smoothes out my creased brow and kisses the top of my head...and then I feel better.

Weíre not back together...yet...but weíre working on it. Everything takes time. It feels a bit like that awkward courting stage, but weíve been there and weíve done that and we have so much patience. She has so much patience. I just kinda sit there and thank the Gods for the strength to survive without magick. Weíre rebuilding our trust. I know she feels it when Iím tempted, even if weíre not in the same vicinity, but I feel her and I breathe and I get past it.

In those moments when a vampire surprises us as we come back from a movie that ran a little late, or when Iím in a hurry and I canít find my Psychology book, I almost cast, but a flash of the recent past pops up, I recite the Litany Against Fear and use the time-honoured Old Method...I look in the freezer, in the fridge, in the pantry, under the couch...or I throw the bottle of Holy Water I always carry onto the vamp to give us enough time to run away.

Dawnie is still afraid of me...but I think seeing me with Tara and how Tara is starting to trust me again, sheís feeling more relaxed. I donít blame her...I think Iím the first living being to break her heart and still be around for it. But weíre working through this...slowly, but surely. Everything will be okay...

Buffy is Buffy, but with that little something that few have: intimate knowledge of Heaven. She knows what sheís fighting for, now...not just us, but the place where her mother and everyone resides to live out eternity and as much as sheíd love to be there, sheíd much rather have an active part in saving it from destruction.

Weíve had contact with Giles, but he says heís unable to come back. Heís too busy trying to reform the Council. He send us his love along with some tea to remember him by and he tells us that heíll try to come see us soon.

He sends some good tea, lemme tell ya...

So, thatís it. The rest of our adventures on Earth have yet to be told, but one thing is for sure...weíll be doing it together.

~~~~~~~~FiN~~~~~~~~

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