Author's note: The narration will be alternating chapters Tara/Kennedy 1st-person narration.
Also: The town mentioned below doesn't exist -- but it used to. Where it was is now under the waters of the Loch Raven reservoir.
Disclaimer: Joss owns all but the plot and AU.
X X X X X
I hated lying to Tara like that, really, I did.
I was a lot more into her than I wanted to let her know right now. I didn't want to scare her off, but I was fairly sure I was in love with her.
I'd been kinda disappointed back in November when she'd told me she wasn't up for casual, or anything else. But when I asked around and got the backstory, I got it completely.
Having the love of your life shot to death in front of you like that would've put anyone off dating for awhile. And from all I heard this Willow Rosenberg was someone well worth loving, and I'm not just talking in a physical sense.
But maintaining control the way she did. I'm telling you, if someone killed someone I loved in front of me I don't care how many bodies they threw in front of me I wouldn't have stopped until they were a bloody smear on the asphalt somewhere. I'm talking Gil Grissom going home in disgust because he can't find any useable evidence kind of violence, you know?
But Tara didn't do that. She held herself together and led the charge to fight off a demon army while Buffy lay in the hospital, and at the end personally stopped the bastard who'd killed her girlfriend and almost killed Buffy. (And that would've been the end of the world. I'm not saying I like Buffy all that much, but I respect the hell out of her. Without her, we'd all be dead right now.)
And that revenge -- whoo boy. That was one nasty revenge.
Tara made herself out to be this nice girl -- and she was, don't get me wrong -- maybe the nicest person I'd ever met. But she was proof that nice didn't mean soft. The way she handled herself back then showed what a tough chick she could be when she had to.
Buffy, Faith? They're tough. I'm tough. But it's a lot easier to be tough when you have the strength we do. Tara, she's got power of her own, but that's not what makes her tough.
And I find tough chicks really hot.
Tara had laid down the law from the beginning: don't seriously try to get her into bed. And I'd gone along with it.
At the beginning, I stayed chaste because, well, she was the only woman I was spending any time with who both swung my way and was out of high school. (I’ve always liked older women. What can I say?) And while it's not like Sunnydale was gay-unfriendly, cruising the bars would as likely have made me vamp food as gotten me a date for the evening. Not that I slept around on a regular basis -- I didn't. But every once in a while you have to -- as Faith would put it -- "scratch that itch" or you wind up frustrated and cranky. So I satisfied myself with, well, satisfying myself.
But after I found out what life had been like for Tara, things were different. One day Tara told me about her father and brother and what the men in her family had done. I don't get along the best with my parents -- any of them, my mom, my dad, or my stepmom -- though they all love me in their way. Stepmom doesn't get me in the least, but she's always tried to be nice, and I like her for that. Dad's just distant, but then he runs a big-ass Fortune 500 company. And mom -- well, she kept in touch even though she didn't have custody, and we get along whenever we meet. She always made sure she was there, even if it was on the phone 95% of the time.
But in Tara's case -- I mean, her mom was great, but Jesus fucking Christ, the men in her family make "reserved and distant" look like Bill Cosby. I mean, I'd've rather had Homer Simpson for my dad than any member of the MacLay family.
And she survived it. That's because she is seriously tough. She may have come out of it nervous and stuttery, but she survived, she flourished, and she got out of there. I kept the flirtation casual, because I made the promise. But damn, did I start to wish I hadn't.
And there was more. I got to talking with Tara and found out that despite her kind of soft and squishy exterior and her devotion to magick -- which is fine if it works for her -- I've gone beyond thinking it's fairy-tale crap, obviously, seeing as how I wouldn't be the Slayer I am today without it, but it still isn't anything I want to become an expert on -- that we had a lot in common. Over the months leading up to the big battle against the First, we became friends. By the time of the battle, I’d decided that once it was over, I was going to try again with Tara -- to see if she was willing to give something a try between us.
She got me reading this guy named Steven Saylor who sets his mysteries all the way back in ancient Rome. And we both found out we couldn't stand Patricia Cornwell, and for the same reason. Don't get me wrong; Cornwell can write. But every character in her books is so damn depressed and miserable it's a wonder they don't just kill themselves. Not that I'm all about the fluffy, by any stretch. But c'mon. There's gotta be some good with the bad.
Like with real life, you know? It sucks that Chao-Ahn died. I liked her, even if I never could understand a thing she said. It sucks even worse that Amanda died. Sure, she was weird, but I’ve never been one to hold weird against someone. And she killed a vampire by herself. With no training at all. She would have made one hell of a Slayer.
No. She was one hell of a Slayer.
It even sucks that Spike died, vampire or no. It sucks that all of them died - especially Chloe.
(It still hurts when I remember Chloe. I know that the First was responsible, but I still can't help thinking that my calling her a maggot was the last straw. Tara was able to get me through that night, especially after Buffy's speech about her being an idiot. I never hated Buffy more than I did at the moment. Chloe was not an idiot. She was a 14-year old girl in well over her head who couldn't handle what was being thrown at her. She wasn't tough. Some people just aren't suited to be on the front lines. But that doesn't make her stupid.)
But, then, Tara pulled off a miracle spell and lived through it, thanks to the help of her dead lover. And we kicked the First back into the Hellmouth and then Spike made sure the hole was sealed up nice and tight. And Xander and Anya ran off to get married the second they made sure Tara was going to be alright.
Good and bad.
When I saw Tara lying there on the bus, barely breathing, Anya bent over her the way Vi was standing over Rona, my heart stopped. I ran over to see what had happened.
It was then that I noticed that her hair was still red.
“She collapsed when she finished the spell,” Anya said. “That’s why I stayed with her -- she knew the spell might kill her and Giles told me to get her out to the bus no matter what.”
Buffy came over and said, “She thought she’d die?”
Anya said, “Yes. And Giles told me not to tell you about it because then you wouldn’t have let her do the spell.”
“How is she?” I asked anxiously.
“How should I know?” she snapped. “I’m a former vengeance demon, not a paramedic.” She softened a bit. “She’s breathing. That’s the important thing. We won’t know more until we get to the hospital.”
The hours before we got there were some of the longest of my life. I watched Rona drift in and out of consciousness; I watched Robin Wood fight off his own injuries; I watched Anya go over to Xander and hold his hand once I told her I’d keep an eye on Tara.
And I watched Tara. Watched this formerly blonde goddess who’d willingly gone to what she thought was certain death to save the world.
I sat down next to her and clasped her hand. “You will get better, Goddammit,” I said. “You will.”
And she did.
I don’t say there’s any cause and effect there. Even I’m not that arrogant.
When it came time for Tara to leave the hospital and migrate over to the Hyperion hotel -- we’d been staying at Buffy’s ex Angel’s headquarters ever since we’d escaped Sunnydale -- I made damn sure I was one of the people there to take her over.
Xander drove and Giles sat next to him while I held Tara’s hand in the back seat. “Good to have you up and around again,” I said, grinning like an idiot.
“Good to be up and around,” she said, grinning back. After a couple of seconds, I let go of her hands. If I was going to pursue this goddess, I was going to have to take control of my usual take-no-prisoners approach towards getting what I wanted.
Not that I was going to take prisoners. But aggression wasn’t one of Tara’s big turn-ons.
“Tara,” Giles said. “Now that you’re up -- when I came to visit you in hospital I asked you if you’d be part of whatever the new arrangement was between whatever Watchers’ Council arises from the ashes of the old and the hundreds of new Slayers around the world.”
“Hundreds?” she said.
“The Devon Coven in England did a search. In addition to the surviving Slayers from Sunnydale, there are another 728 Slayers worldwide, ranging in age from 12 to 23. That’s a total of 745 Slayers -- far more than there are Watchers available. “
“How many Watchers were you able to find?”
“Counting ones we’ve managed to lure from retirement, those who holed up so well the Bringers couldn’t find them, and those who by sheer luck weren’t at Council Headquarters, we have just shy of 70 where there were once over 400,” Giles said. “Even if we aggressively recruit some replacements it’s going to be quite a while before the organization is anything like it once was. Still, we have made some decisions.”
“I’m listening,” Tara said.
“To prevent such a devastating attack as occurred when the First killed nearly half our number with a single blow, the Council is going to decentralize. While the main headquarters will still be in London, its heads -- of which I am now one -- will be scattered worldwide, in eleven field offices. I am to be the head of the North American branch. We will have two field offices, one in Los Angeles, which will be headed up on a temporary basis by Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, and the other in --”
“Cleveland?” Tara asked.
“Surprisingly, no. It turns out the Cleveland Hellmouth is dying, and its energies are starting to diminish significantly. A small contingent of Slayers and the Ohio coven will monitor it, but it should be completely inactive within a year’s time. Faith and Robin Wood will be heading up that group. No, we’re to be based near the only other active Hellmouth in North America: a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland, called, um -- Warren.”
I knew what that name meant to Tara, and looked at her to see how she’d react.
She startled me and everyone else in the car; she laughed.
Xander said, “That’s a bit of a surprise, Tara; one of the things I know about witchery is that names have power.”
“Not that name,” she said. “Not anymore. I’ll be there.”
“Well, then, that’s where I’m going,” I said. Giles looked at me, like I’d forgotten who was the Watcher and who was the Slayer here. “C’mon,” I said. “Buffy’s taking a vacation and Faith’s going to be bedded down in the mistake by the lake for the next year; I’m the most experienced Slayer you’ve got. If there’s a Hellmouth, I want to be there.” True enough, but my main reason was that Tara was going to be there. Kind of hard to pursue her if I’m going to be chasing down demons in the outback.
“Fair enough,” Giles said. “Though I warn you, you will likely be doing as much training as actual fieldwork.”
I shrugged. “As long as I get to kick some vampire butt every once in a while, I don’t have a problem with that.”
“That shouldn’t be an issue,” Giles said. “Warren has been experiencing the same mysterious deaths Sunnydale has -- as has the Baltimore region as a whole for quite some time now. It should be quite challenging.”
“I love a challenge,” I said, but I was looking at Tara when I said it.