The Hunt Begins
Author's Note: This starts almost immediately after the end of A Kiss Before Dying. There's a slightly changed tone.
To anyone who asks: Yes, I'm going there.
Also: I have parts 1-8 done but will only be posting a couple at a time, per the suggestion Marcel made in his review of AKBD.
There will be a trivial crossover later, but I'm not qualifying this one.
Disclaimer: Joss owns the Buffy and Angel characters. I own the plot, this AU, and this particular name for Kennedy.
X X X X X
Everyone came to see me while I stayed in the hospital for a couple more days; everyone who wasn't already badly injured, like Rona and Robin Wood. As near as the doctors could tell I was suffering from nothing more than a mild concussion and severe exhaustion; as though I'd not only been up for five days straight but had spent that time running marathons.
I knew, though, that I was lucky to be alive.
My hair, as near as I could tell, was now permanently red. Anya mentioned that during the Slayer activation spell my hair had gone white for a few moments, then suddenly had begun to darken, turning a bright red by the time the spell was at its peak.
It hadn't faded since. And it was exactly -- exactly -- Willow's shade.
Something else I'd noticed: My magical power levels had increased about tenfold. I could have moved my bed simply through my own telekinesis, if I' wanted to, without hardly trying. If I concentrated, I could manage a truck or two.
Willow had given me more than her hair color. She had given me her power.
Even from beyond the grave, she was still looking out for me.
I'm not glossing over this -- really, I'm not. But since I'm still in the hospital, I don't think this is the time to go doing any experiments.
Like I said, everyone visited -- Buffy, Giles, Faith, Xander, Anya, Dawnie, Vi, even Angel and Cordelia, who seemed very much in love, but frustrated.
I wondered if anything could be done about that curse. The two of them had done so much for me and Buffy after Willow'd been shot; maybe it was time for things to go their way, for a change.
But there were three visits that really stood out.
The first was from Giles. In the four days since the Sunnydale Hellmouth had collapsed on itself, Giles had not been sitting back toasting his victory; he'd been making phone calls around the world, to see what the situation with the Watcher's Council was.
Most of what he termed the "Old Guard" of the Council had died in the London explosion -- but not all of them. They were trying to get a new one organized -- a better one, taking the best of the old ways and mixing them with the new. They were slowly beginning to make plans, and Giles wanted me to be part of them. I agreed.
A surprise was that Buffy and Dawn, at least for the moment, wouldn't be joining them. "I'm not the only Chosen One anymore," she explained to me. "I want to take a vacation. a long vacation where, for the most part, I can just be Buffy Summers for a while. I'm not saying that if I hear someone yelling for help, I'm not going to run to help, but --"
I smiled. "Buffy, it's, it's okay. Really. You don't need to explain yourself to me. Take the time off. You've earned it."
"It's good to hear someone just accept the situation," Buffy said. "I'm either getting 'how could you do that" or frosty silences from pretty much everyone else."
"They understand," I said. "It may take them some time, but they'll understand."
The second visit was from Xander and Anya. Wherever Giles ended up, they'd get there . . . eventually. They came in together and Anya held up her left hand.
Which had a sizeable diamond ring on the appropriate finger.
"So --" I prompted.
"After everything that happened I wasn't going to let him get away again," Anya said. "So the day after we got here I asked him to marry me. When he said yes --"
"How could I not?" Xander said happily.
"--I immediately drove us like maniacs to Nevada--"
"We have the speeding tickets to prove it."
"--where we made everything good and legal. I didn't have to threaten to eviscerate him once to stop him from backing out."
"Not going to back out this time," Xander said. "I screwed up big-time the first time around and I'm not about to make the same mistake twice."
I couldn't have been happier for them. And the reason they weren't going to show up immediately, of course, was a honeymoon.
"Whoever invented computerized banking, I want to worship them," Anya said. "We still have our money that we'd saved up in Sunnydale -- enough for the honeymoon and some nice prudent investments. Or maybe some small-cap stocks. I'm not --"
Xander silenced her with a kiss. "Smart girls are so hot," he said when he pulled clear.
"Uh-huh," was Anya's only response.
The third and most surprising visit came from Kennedy. Not that it was a surprise that she came; we'd bonded a bit over the last several months. Even if I couldn't be the bed partner she occasionally wanted -- I didn't do casual, and when she'd shown up it had been too soon for me anyway -- we had more in common that our orientation: we both liked mysteries (she introduced me to Robert Parker, I introduced her to Steven Saylor and Marcia Muller), we had some shared tastes in music -- there was actually very little music I didn't like, except for gangster rap and redneck country -- and we both liked Italian food, though she was kind of disappointed that I couldn't share her love for shrimp fra diavolo.
"Hey, Tara," she said when she came in. "Thanks for the new and improved muscles." She spent a minute or so doing Hulk Hogan-style poses, and I laughed harder and harder with each new pose.
"Did, did you do well down in the pit?" I said when I was done.
"I kicked ass," she said. "Okay, not as much as Buffy and Faith, but I think I held my own."
"Knew you would."
She grinned at that. "Yeah, you did, didn't you?" After a second. "You have a way about you, you know that? You fill everyone around you with confidence -- not by the speeches Buffy tried, though they have their place, but by simply letting them know how great they are being themselves."
"You don't need anyone filling you with confidence, Kennedy," I said. "You're incredibly sure of yourself."
"A lot of other people would say I was full of myself," Kennedy said.
"Well, it is true, 'modest' is never a word that's going to be used to describe Jacqueline Olivierez Kennedy."
"You do remember that it means your death to tell anyone else my name, right?" She sat down on the edge of the bed. "I got called Jackie O all the way through high school."
I said, "It's your secret to tell or not. I reserve the right to torture you with it in private, though."
"Fair enough," she said. Then her face got serious. "You know, Tara," she said. "What you did -- that was one of the bravest things I've ever seen."
"All, all I did was cast a spell," I said. "You and the other Slayers were the ones down their facing off against the Turok-Han. You were brave."
"Yeah, we were," she said. "You were braver. We all went in thinking that we might die. You went in knowing. And you did it anyway."
"I had to," I said.
"You did," Kennedy said. "A lot of people wouldn't. That was not only the bravest thing I'd ever seen, it was the toughest. You're a tough chick, Tara MacLay. Don't ever let anyone tell you anything different."
Then she leaned over and kissed me. Not an "I want to rip your clothes off" kiss, but not an "I think of you as a good friend" kiss either.
When she sat back up she said, "Tough chicks are so hot."
"I told you --" I said. Not that the kiss had been in the least unpleasant.
“I know what you told me,” she interrupted. “I was kind of there, remember? You told me you weren’t up for anything, and certainly nothing casual. Well, I’m putting you on notice: I don’t want something casual.”
“I’m not saying I’m head over heels for you or anything,” she said. “But I like you and we have a lot in common and I’d really like to try to get something started with you. You know? Because I think there’s a possibility there, I really do.” Before I could say anything she said, “I warn you. I’m a difficult woman to say no to.”
“I know that already,” I said. The thing is, while I liked Kennedy, and she was good-looking, she really wasn’t my type.
On the other hand, I wasn’t hers, so she said, and look at her now.
It wasn’t as though I felt like I’d be being disloyal to Willow. I would meet her again in Heaven -- and I loved her, missed her, and knew she was, watching over me every second of the day -- but I couldn't see her not wanting me to ever date again. I believed in soulmates, and Willow was mine. But not every relationship has to be with a soul mate.
I didn’t believe in casual flings. But there are gradations between casual and soulmate. And if Kennedy wanted to try for one of those middle-ground type of things, I couldn’t give her a flat out no.
“Tell you what,” I said. “I’m not saying yes. But,” I added as her face started to fall, “I’m not saying no, either. You want to pursue me, pursue me,” I said. “I’ll give you your chance to win me over.”
“Let the hunt begin,” she said, grinning.