Author's Note/Disclaimer: One of my more recent non-crossover fics. To me, this is the very definition of an AU: Canon alters, and the story explores what happens after the alteration. The story is mine. The characters belong to Joss Whedon. The opening few lines of dialogue are from the end of Seeing Red.
Tara's thoughts, here and throughout the fic, are marked off * like this *.
X X X X X
As Tara pulled away from Willow, she said, “Xander!”
Willow gave a wry grin and said, “Okay, not quite the response I was fishing for.”
Nodding towards the window, Tara said, “No. He’s here.” They both went over and saw Xander walking up behind Buffy in the backyard.
Willow asked, “Think they’re making up?”
“I hope so. That’s the best part.”
Then Willow gave an impish grin. “Think we should listen in?”
Tara looked at her. “Willow! I’m ashamed of you.”
Immediately, Willow shrank from the force of Tara’s words. *Damn,* Tara thought. *I have to remember how fragile she still is.* Tara shook her head and said, “No, sweetie. I meant it as a joke.”
“Oh,” Willow said. “Does this mean --?”
Tara laughed. “You are incorrigible.”
Willow wiggled her eyebrows. “Then by all means come over here and incorrige me.” Impulsively, Tara stepped forward and swept Willow up in a passionate kiss. When she released her, she and Willow had switched positions. “Whoo,” Willow said. “I always said you had me going around in circles, but --” she grinned.
Tara grinned back. In the distance, a truck backfired. * No, wait, that’s --*
The window shattered and blood spattered all over the front of Tara’s shirt. Willow said, “this -- is -- ridicul--,” and fell to the floor. Blood was beginning to stain her blouse.
* Oh, no. No. Please, Goddess, no. Don’t take her -- the world needs her. I need her.* She knelt down, put her hands on Willow and began to pray to all the gods and goddesses she could think of. * Please save Willow. Please. I beg of you, do this for me.*
Her prayers, as with so many, went unanswered.
She pulled her hands away as though she had just touched a hot stove.
* I just felt her die. I just felt Willow die.
And there’s no way to fix it. *
Tara felt the tears begin to well up, and forced them back down. She needed to find out what had happened. Gently, she laid Willow on the floor and went downstairs --
And almost crashed into Xander. “Tara! Get Willow. Buffy’s been shot.”
“Oh, god. Oh, god. What --”
“Warren shot her. I’ve got to call 911 now.” * So Buffy was still breathing. Thank the goddess for small miracles.*
Xander picked up the phone and made the call, then hung up and yelled out, “Will! Will! Get down here! Warren just shot Buffy!”
“Wait. W-Warren did this?” * Warren? That, that incompetent -- he killed her? Killed the woman I love, and maybe Buffy too? I’ll -- I’ll --*
She took a deep breath.* I’ll make sure he gets what’s coming to him if it takes the rest of my life. But I will not kill him. No matter how much I want to.*
Distractedly, Xander said, “Yeah. He came in while Buffy and I were talking and told us that we wouldn’t get away with it and fired. WILLOW!”
“Xander --” Tara said. “One of the shots, it, it went wild, and --”
Xander caught her meaning right away. His face ashen, he raced upstairs into Willow’s room. “No!” he yelled.
Tara ran up after him. As he began to cry, she hugged him.
Then he stopped crying. When he pulled away, Tara saw a cold look on his face. “I’m going to find Warren and pull his intestines out through his ears.”
* That may be what‘s coming to him. But not from Xander.* “Not yet. We have more important things to do.”
Xander nodded his head. “Right. Get Buffy to the hospital, tell Anya and Dawn. Then we kill Warren.”
And for some reason, that set Tara to crying. “No,” she said. “You can’t do this.”
“You can’t make me be the strong one. I, I can’t cry or deal with it if I’m worried that you’re going to run off half-cocked after Warren. I have to be strong if you do that. So promise me. Promise me that you won’t do anything stupid. Promise me you’ll let me cry.” She looked up at him. “Promise me.”
Xander closed his eyes. “I will.” When he opened them again, he hugged Tara.
“I felt her die,” she said as she heard the sirens in the background. “I felt her die . . .”