All characters, settings and other properties belong to their respective creators, producers, and distributors. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No claim to rights or other infringement of any sort is intended.
Please note that, solely in the interests of dovetailing with canon, lines of actual broadcast dialogue are used throughout. Again, no claim to rights of any kind is intended.
Day - 1630 Revello Drive, Sunnydale CA, May 7, 2002
A coy smile touched Tara's mouth. ''Better not get used to 'em.''
''Hmm, yes ma'am'', Willow purred. She reached out and grabbed Tara's belt loop, pulling her in for a deep kiss that turned into a tender embrace. Tara smiled broadly, her head resting on Willow's shoulder.
They were happy.
Together again, their problems put firmly behind them, Willow and Tara had finally managed to drag themselves out of bed and from each other's arms. Still in their room in the Summers' house, they were making themselves presentable for the outside world.
''Okay, not quite the response I was fishing for.''
''No,'' Tara gently chided, ''he's here.''
From the window, she could see Buffy below in the backyard and Xander walking up behind her.
''Think they're making up?'' asked Willow as she reached back into the dresser drawer.
Tara turned from the window, smiling at her girlfriend. ''I hope so. That's the best part.''
They could talk and laugh, revel in the comfort of a relationship rekindled. They were soul-mates. Forever. Willow stood with her back to the dresser, smiling at Tara.
Then one of the panes in the bedroom window shattered and, to Willow's shock, her face was spattered in a fine red mist. Her surprise was mirrored by that of Tara. Unaware of the red stain rapidly expanding across her own chest, Tara frowned.
With those two words she pitch forward on to the floor. By the time Willow reached her she was quite dead.
Willow grasped Tara's shoulders, gently shaking her. Rolling the limp body of her girlfriend over, she pulled her into her lap, desperately willing her to live.
''Baby, come on! Get up!''
Tears now ran freely down Willow's face as she sobbed piteously at the agonising loss. She rocked back and forth with the dead body of her true love. Yet even now she was unwilling to accept the inevitable.
Willow threw her head back, teeth bared in blind rage at the dark, at the void of despair that clawed at her mind and soul and that was mirrored in her pitch-black eyes. Suddenly her eyes throbbed a deep, violent blood-red, the silence of the room punctuated only by her harsh, rasping breaths.
''Oh god, oh no. Please, please, come on...'' Her hands caressed Tara's face with the utmost care and gentleness. ''Come on, Tara! Please, come on, baby...''
The lighting in the room darkened, dark blue clouds swirling across the bedroom ceiling, punctuated by the lightning flashing within. Calling into the ether, Willow gave voice to her pain and to her will.
''By Osiris, I command you, bring her back!''
Now currents and eddies swirled rapidly overhead, the lightning increasing in intensity. Someone was listening.
''Hear me! Keeper of darkness!''
Suddenly the clouds twisted, warped and from within appeared the face of the Keeper, lightning flashes around it.
''Witch!'' It bellowed in deep, rasping tones. ''How dare you invoke Osiris in this task!''
''Please,'' she begged, tears coursing down her cheeks. ''Please, bring her back.''
''You may not violate the laws of natural passing!''
The words simply refused to make sense. ''How? How is this natural?''
The creature's tone was harsh, lacking any kind of empathy for the shattered witch. ''It is a human death, by human means.''
''But I- ''
''You raised one killed by mystical forces,'' the Keeper declared peremptorily. ''This is not the same. She is taken by natural order. It is done.''
Willow was sobbing now, her last chance to save her soulmate slipping through her grasp. ''No. There has to be a way.''
''It is done,'' the Keeper pronounced imperiously.
Yet she would not be refused. With a scream of pain and rage and defiance against the injustice of existence, she attacked the Keeper, a column of pure magical energy bursting from her mouth. With a scream of pain the Keeper disappeared in a final flash of lightning.
Letting Tara's dead body slip from her arms to the floor, Willow rose and strode purposefully from the room - blood on her hands and death and vengeance in her eyes.
For a fraction of a second the room was quiet and still.
Then a man entered.
He moved swiftly, surely - experienced hands checking the still warm body, hands familiar with the physical trauma of a shattered human body. He knew he had one chance to save her and - with luck - protect the future.
The massive and sudden intake of breath rasped at her throat and made her cough, chest heaving, her back arching violently to service the desperate need for air. Her eyes fluttered open to see a man - a stranger - looking back.
''Whoa, easy, easy. You've had a shock. You need to rest a second.''
''Who... What happened?''
He looked so sorry that he had to tell her. He replied as gently as the horrifying news would allow. ''You were shot. You... died.'' Only when he gestured down to her body did she notice the still wet blood staining her shirt, the ragged hole punched through the material right over her heart. Her vision swam and she might have passed out but for a strong grip on her arm. ''Don't worry. It didn't take.''
To his surprise she pushed his arm away. ''Wh-what did you d-do to m-me? What a-am I?'' Her stammer was pronounced, her tone panicked, almost shrill with accusation.
''I... I brought you back.''
''No, that, that's b-black magic. Deep, d-deep black m-magic.'' Lying on her back, she did her best to push herself away from him. ''What have you d-done?!'' The note of terror - verging on actual hysteria - was painful.
He showed her his empty hands, trying to soothe her, showing he meant no harm. ''Don't worry. There was no magic - just science. You're you. You're Tara Maclay. One-hundred percent.'' He stepped back, giving her some much needed breathing space, and offered her his hand.
''Not even a bad card trick.''
Tentatively, she took his hand and stood.
Only now did actually notice her surroundings. She would have sworn that only moments before she was looking up at the ceiling of their room in the house on Revello Drive. But she was outside. The azure sky was shot through with white clouds. A cool breeze whipped her hair. She could smell a salt tang. She could hear the sea.
''Where am I?''
''We're just near Kingman's Bluff. Willow needs you.''
''She's hurting without you. Hurting so much she wants everything to end. You have to help Xander.''
Her confusion was evident. ''Help him do what?''
''Talk some sense into your girlfriend. Stop her destroying the world.''
And then he was gone. No burst of magic, lights or swirling smoke. Just... gone. And hurrying up the track in front of her was Xander. Catching sight of his apparently dead friend very much alive halted him in his tracks. His mouth hung open, tears starting in his eyes. Barely able to hope he wasn't hallucinating he edged towards her.
''Is that really you?''
Yeah - that was her alright. ''What happened? Willow said you were dead. Did she...?''
She shook her head. ''No. Someone else brought me back. Right here. Just now.''
He could see she was nervous, uncomfortable, her hands twitching involuntarily. She was freaked. And who could blame her?
''The man who did... this.'' She still couldn't say the words. ''He said we have to stop Willow?''
''Yeah. Seeing you... well, dead, she, ah... Well, she kinda flipped out. She's sucked up a ton of dark power - just running on pain. Decided the world'd be better off dead. And now she's got the juice to do it.'' He sighed deeply, breath ragged with emotion. ''You know, for such a smart girl she does the dumbest things.''
''So how do we stop her? I can't hurt her. I mean, I don't have the power anyway, but I would never...''
''I was thinking more on the lines of telling her I love her. And reminding her about the yellow crayon. You want in?''
''You're making this up as you go along, aren't you?''
'''kay. I'm in.''
He glanced over her blood-soaked torso. ''Um, don't take this the wrong way, but...''
He flushed a little. ''Could you lose the shirt?'' Her mouth dropped open in shock, but Xander had his reasons. ''I'm just thinking that seeing you all bloody isn't exactly going to let Willow know that you're okay. Least if she can see you're not injured...''
She could see the logic behind his reasoning. Still...
He grinned. ''Plus, y'know – vicarious thrills.''
She squeaked in shock, only to see Xander's teasing smile broaden. He was trying to help her relax, if only a little. She hesitated for a fraction before whipping her shirt over her head. She took a deep, calming, cleansing breath. ''Ready to save the world?''
''Nope.'' His smile twitched as he studiously avoided gazing at her generous cleavage. ''Ah, you?''
The smile widened. He gestured towards the summit of the bluff. ''Shall we?''
''Yeah.'' She held out a delicate hand and Xander grasped it firmly in his larger callused paw.
''Yeah.'' He started up the track then paused for a moment. ''Hey, do you think anyone ever saved the world in their underwear before?''