Pain. That’s what she remembered first. A lot of pain. The voices started to filter in a few seconds later. “Is it really her?” was a question she heard. “Maybe a vampire?” came another. Then it dawned on her. She wasn’t breathing.
Tara sat up, gasping deeply for air. Around her, five girls jumped back, shrieking as they went.
“I knew it! She’s a vampire!” a girl replied, grabbing a stake and jumping at Tara.
The blonde Wicca was normally a very passive person. She held that life was sacred, that it was to be cherished. But she wasn’t about to let a girl stake her, either. Grabbing the girl’s wrist as she stabbed at her, Tara kicked her leg out, catching the girl in the stomach. She kicked hard, flipping back and rolling the girl over her. Tara stood up and scanned the room. She didn’t recognize anyone.
“This is very bad.” A girl said, grabbing an axe and holding it in front of her. “Where’s Buffy?” she squeaked to the girl beside her, who was holding a crossbow.
“I’m right here.” A voice said from behind Tara. Tara turned and felt relief wash over her. “Buffy.” She smiled, words not enough to convey the joy she felt at seeing her friend.
Buffy just stared at Tara, her eyes digging into the witch. “You died.” She said, staring at the blonde.
Tara nodded. “I did.” She took a tentative step towards the slayer and stopped when Buffy jumped back. “Buffy?”
Buffy shook her head. “Change. I don’t know how you are corporeal and I don’t care. Just be someone else. You don’t be her.” Buffy growled.
“Buffy, it’s me. Tara.” Tara said, trying to decipher what was going on.
Buffy just shook her head. “Everyone out. Now.” Buffy said, peeling off her jacket. She stared at the witch as everyone filed past her. Buffy stopped the girl with the axe and took the weapon. “Make sure no one interrupts us.” She said softly. The girl nodded.
Tara swallowed hard. She had spent the last year in an intensive training program. She was now in the best shape of her life. Her reflexes were faster than ever, she could actually fight now. She didn’t take a test or anything, but she could go toe to toe with Duncan in two different martial arts, and then there was the sword. She drilled for seven hours a day on just using her saber. But she held no delusions that she could take Buffy. Buffy was the slayer. She was faster, stronger and from the look on her face, she was very, very displeased right now.
Tara backed herself against the wall and tried to smile. “Buffy? Uh…you do remember me right?” she asked.
Buffy cracked her knuckles and rolled her neck. “I remember Tara Maclay. She was the kindest, most understanding and caring woman I knew. She died when a misogynistic freak decided he didn’t like getting beat by a girl. He was aiming for me. He shot her. I lived. She didn’t.” Buffy said slowly, anger lacing her voice with each word. “And now, you are here. In her form. Corporeal. Trying to trick us by using the image we all want so desperately to see just one more time.” Buffy said, her teeth and fists clenched. “Now change or I swear by every god listening I will tear her face off of you and pound you into a new form.” Buffy said, spinning the axe dangerously.
“Oh goddess. Buffy, please. Listen.” Tara said, hoping she could reach the slayer. “I swear it’s me. How can I prove it. Please.”
Buffy shook her head. “It’s this game then. Fine. Twenty questions.” Buffy said. Something inside of her wanted so desperately to believe it really was Tara in front of her. “When did we first meet?”
Tara bit her lip. “Well…I first met you when you were in Faith’s body.” She said softly. “I met Faith earlier, in your body, at the Bronze. She was kinda mean.” Tara shrugged.
Buffy felt her heart beat faster. Just how much could the First fake? “When did I learn you were dating Willow?”
Tara actually shrugged. “I’m not sure. I wasn’t one hundred percent until after Oz left.” She bit her lip. “The day after?”
A single tear fell from Buffy’s eye as she looked at Tara. “What secret did I tell you and only you?” she whispered. It was only Tara and her that night.
Tara smiled sadly. “Spike. About you and Spike.” She said, her own tears forming as Buffy let the axe she was holding clatter to the floor.
“Tara?” Buffy whispered, her voice small and shaking, like a child. “Oh god Tara…how can it really be you?” she asked, stepping forward, hesitantly reaching for the blonde.
Tara decided to close the distance and grabbed Buffy, pulling the now sobbing slayer into her arms and hugging her close. “Shhh…I’ll explain everything, I swear. Please. Don’t cry.”
Buffy gripped Tara tighter and sobbed as a myriad of emotions ran through her. Everyone had missed Tara so badly. Even Xander had moments, when he would see something; hear something that would remind them of the Wicca. They all missed her so much. ‘And now that she is here…’ Buffy thought to herself. “Oh god…Tara.” She whispered as tears ran down her face.
‘Goddess. I didn’t really have this big of an effect on her did I?’ the blonde wicca asked silently. “Buffy. What’s happening? Why is everyone telling me to change my form? What’s going on?”
Buffy just wiped her eyes and looked at Tara. “I’ll tell you later. We’ll swap. Please, not right now. Oh god. Anya and Xander, they have to see you. And Dawn. She is crying her eyes out. I even saw Giles crying. Do you know how disconcerting it is to see Giles cry?” Buffy said, trying to use levity on the very unusual situation.
“Oh god. It’s an apocalypse, isn’t it?” Tara said, groaning.
Buffy actually smiled. “What can’t we face…” she said softly, taking Tara’s hand and pulling her gently towards the living room. The words echoed in her mind from the whole musical fiasco they had all faced. None of them had stayed together last year. And as a result, things had gotten so bad that three normally harmless geeks had almost gotten the best of Buffy, Tara had died, and Willow went insane with magic.
Tara smiled softly. “If we’re together.” She said, finishing the line. “I’m here Buffy. I’m real and I swear, I am not going anywhere.” She said softly.
Buffy wiped her eyes again. “We need you so much, Tara. Especially now. It’s bad. Very, very bad.”
Tara squeezed Buffy’s hand, trying to reassure the blonde. “Where’s Willow?” she asked softly. She wasn’t sure why she had waited so long to find out, since the hacker was the reason for the trip to Sunnydale in the first place.
Buffy froze. “Oh boy. We have to talk.” She said, wondering how she was going to explain Kennedy to the Wicca.
Duncan picked up his bag from the conveyer and headed for the exit. He needed to find Tara as quickly as possible. Darius was sure to be here soon, if he wasn’t here already. He looked up and sighed, seeing Richie struggle with his two bags and his carry on. “Hurry up Richie. We don’t have a lot of time.” He said, realizing how testy he was sounding.
Richie smiled. “Relax Mac. We’ll find her. Sunnydale can’t be that bad, can it?” he asked.
Duncan shook his head as they stepped to the nearest cab. “Maybe not yet, but it’s about to get a lot worse. If Jensen finds Tara before we do, I can only imagine what will happen. And I don’t like it one bit.” He said. Duncan took the slip of paper from his wallet and looked at the address that Tara had given him. “1630 Revello drive please.” He told the driver. Duncan settled back and closed his eyes. He hoped he was in time to save Tara
Buffy turned to Tara and bit her lip. “About Willow.” She said, her voice sounding hurt as she led Tara back into the dining room. “I think there are some things you should know.” She said, wishing she didn’t have to deliver the news.
Tara furrowed her brow. “What is it? Is she hurt or something?” she asked, suddenly paling. She suddenly thought of a reason that would explain the sudden loss of feeling Willow at all. The spell she performed was only to stop the hacker from scrying for her; a sort of masking spell. But all sense of Willow had been torn from Tara’s consciousness.
Buffy quickly shook her head. “No. Nothing like that. In fact, she’s in L.A. right now. But…” Buffy took a deep breath to calm herself. She had faced down demons with less frazzled nerves. “She’s sort of seeing someone.” She said softly.
Tara raised her eyebrows slowly. “Oh.” She managed to say. She couldn’t be upset; after all, to everyone here she had been dead for over a year. It was natural for Willow to move on. She even expected it. “I see.” She managed to say. “Is she…I mean, Willow…is she h-happy?” she asked.
Buffy nodded, her face a mask of regret. “Happier than she’s been in about a year.” She said sadly. “Kennedy may be a pain in the ass, but she’s good to Willow. Xander and I would have taken turns stomping her into tiny parts if she wasn’t.” she said. “You ok?”
Tara forced a smile and nodded. “Yeah. Fine. I mean, it’s been a year hasn’t it?”
Buffy nodded. “Actually…why has it been a year? And…about you being dead…” she trailed off.
Tara inhaled deeply. “Better gather everyone. I should tell everyone together. Save a bit of time, you know?”
Buffy nodded. “Consider them gathered. So…have you seen anyone? Other than me and Dawn?” she asked.
Tara shook her head. “Not yet. I really want to though. I’ve missed everyone so much.”
Buffy nodded. “Consider it done.” She smiled before dashing from the kitchen, which was declared off limits to everyone in the house after the incident. Buffy didn’t need anyone playing twenty questions with someone she wasn’t sure was safe. But now that she was convinced, she couldn’t wait to gather everyone together and present the good news. God knows they could all use it.
Tara sat at the kitchen island and rubbed her head. She felt a headache coming on. She was excited but also very scared. ‘The good news is I’m not dead, in fact, I’m immortal. The bad news is that I have to fight other immortals in a deadly sword duel and take their heads in a game that may have consequences resounding throughout time.’ She thought to herself. “I sound insane.” She said softly. Tara looked up when the door opened and watched as a blonde man backed in with bags of groceries.
“Buffy. I know the kitchen is off limits, but the frozen food is now just cold and the cold is getting warm. I’ll just be a few seconds.” Andrew said, not noticing that Buffy wasn’t there. He turned and saw Tara sitting there and promptly screamed like a little girl before passing out, scattering groceries everywhere.
Tara had gotten all of the scattered groceries put away when Buffy entered the kitchen. “What happened to Andrew?” Buffy asked, raising an eyebrow.
Tara shrugged, smiling her half smile. “I don’t know. He said something about frozen food and then screamed and passed out.”
Buffy furrowed her brow, then the answer hit her. “Oh. I think I understand.” She said sadly. “Tara…the three geeks that were pestering me last year, you remember them?” she asked.
“Well, Andrew was one of them, along with Jonathan and Warren.” She said softly. “Warren didn’t take to me kicking his dork ass all over Sunnydale, and showed up one morning with a gun…” she said, trailing off, her emotions welling up as she recalled that day.
Tara closed her eyes. “He shot me.” She put it together.
Buffy nodded. “Willow went kind of postal…actually, she went really postal.” Buffy took a deep breath. “She killed Warren. Flayed him alive and incinerated the remains.” She whispered.
Tara stumbled back, falling onto a stool, as she stared open-mouthed at Buffy.
“Then she went after Jonathan and Andrew. They scampered off, and came back a few weeks ago, see, Andrew was being controlled by the new bad….and he killed Jonathan.” She said. She had seen this story played out, and somehow by telling it, she realized just how messed up everything seemed to be. “Willow caught Andrew one day, and he was freaking out. I guess seeing you, someone he felt he had a hand in killing…plus, he’s kind of a wuss. He’s trying to redeem himself, from what I can tell, he’s doing it through cooking.” She shrugged. “Sorry, I guess I should have made sure no one came in.”
Tara shook her head. “He’s helping you now.” She said, making her question a statement.
Buffy only nodded.
“Last year, he was trying to take over Sunnydale, and now he’s trying to save it. And by teaming up with you, he is trying to redeem himself.” Tara said, looking at the unconscious boy sprawled across the floor.
Buffy only nodded again, realizing now that it sounded ridiculous.
Tara smiled softly. “Pretty gutsy move on his part.” She said. “I mean, it takes a lot to change like that.”
Buffy shook her head, amazed. “Well, he and Jonathan were mostly pains in my ass. Warren, though.” She said, shaking her head. “He was the dangerous part. And now, well…he’s gone.”
“Giles, Xander and Anya will be here soon, you need anything?” Buffy asked.
Tara was about to speak when she felt it, the strong buzzing in the back of her head that let her know that another immortal was near. She jumped up, spinning and taking note of the locations of all the doors. “A sword would be good.” She said, her body tensing.
Buffy jumped to a high alert stance and let her eyes dart around the room. “What is it?” she asked.
“Buffy, please, I need a sword.” Tara almost begged. She cursed herself for breaking one of the first rules Duncan had taught her. Never leave your sword out of reach. Sunnydale airport was way out of reach.
A knock on the kitchen door made both Tara and Buffy jump. Kennedy’s head poked in the doorway. “Buffy. There’s a guy out here, says he needs to talk to…” she looked at Tara and gestured with her head. “He needs to talk to Tara.” She said. Her voice made it clear that she didn’t like the blonde.
Tara turned to Buffy. “Buffy, please. I need a sword.” She begged.
Buffy nodded. “Come on.” She said, taking Tara’s hand and moving into the living room. She grabbed a short sword from the weapons chest and handed it to Tara. “I take it that this isn’t a social call?” she asked, picking up a sword of her own. She moved to the front door, a dozen pairs of eyes belonging to scared potentials watching her move, each with their own weapon.
Tara shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m sorry; I may be more trouble than I’m worth.” She said sadly, taking a stance beside Buffy and testing the weight of the short blade. It wasn’t her saber, but it would have to do.
The blonde slayer smiled. “You’re a Scooby. You’re all worth any amount of trouble.” She said. She nodded to Tara once and reached for the handle, throwing the door open and raising her sword, ready to fight…one of the most gorgeous men she had ever seen?
Duncan looked up and put on his best smile when he heard the door handle rattle. He was about to say something when he saw the small blonde standing in front of Tara holding a raised sword. He jumped back, almost knocking Richie over as he did.
Tara’s eyes got wide and she grabbed Buffy’s arm, holding the slayer’s hand from striking. “Duncan?!” she said, rushing past a still stunned Buffy.
“I know we’re early, but don’t you think this is a bit much?” Duncan said, catching Tara as she slammed into him, hugging him.
“Duncan Macleod, you scared me to death! I wasn’t expecting you for a week!” she said, lightly punching him in the chest, smiling the whole time.
Duncan shrugged. “Well, this isn’t exactly a planned visit. I came to warn you about something.” He said, lowering his voice.
A cough from the porch made Tara and Duncan both turn. Buffy stood there, her arms folded in front of her and one eyebrow raised. “And your friends would be who?” she asked, wondering why they needed swords at all.
Tara bit her lip. “Sorry Buffy, these are two very dear friends of mine.” She said, looking apologetically to Buffy.
Buffy and extended her hand to Richie. “Sorry about that. We live in a tough town.” She said cheerily.
Richie nodded. “I get that.” He smiled. “I’m Richie, by the way.” He said, trying his charm.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I’m Buffy.” She said dryly.
Richie’s face fell. “I was almost laid out by a Buffy?” he said, shaking his head.
Buffy squeezed his hand and smiled innocently as he winced in pain. “And you have a problem with my name?” she asked.
Richie shook his head quickly. “No. No problem.” He said.
Buffy let him go and smiled at Tara. “We should go in. Night life has gotten a lot more interesting since you’ve been gone.”
Tara nodded, looking around. “Ok. Duncan, Richie. Come on inside.” She said, guiding them into the house. “I’m actually really glad you’re here.” She said to Duncan. “I can use all the support I can get.”
Duncan turned to Tara. “Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked, remembering all to well how his family reacted to his resurrection.
Tara nodded. “Trust me, they will understand.” She said. “I’ll leave out you and Richie, of course. I mean, I won’t give away your secret.” She said hurriedly.
Duncan grinned. “Answering the door with swords may have thrown some suspicion onto us.” He said wryly. “I trust your judgment.” He assured the blonde.
Tara smiled. “Ok. If you’re sure.” She said.
“I can’t speak for Richie, but if you need to tell them about me. I’ll be behind you.” Duncan said.
Willow stood in the doorway and watched as the dark slayer packed her things. She didn’t have a lot but from the pace she was setting, Willow thought that Faith might be having second thoughts. “Faith? We’re all set with the car.” She said softly.
Faith nodded, slipping a shirt into the small bag she had. “Thanks red.” She said softly. ‘Sunnydale. I’m really going back there.’ She thought to herself.
Willow tilted her head to the side and grinned. “Something wrong Faith?” she asked.
Faith looked up and shook her head. “I’m five by…”
“Five, I know.” Willow said, walking over and sitting down on the bed. “But why don’t I believe you?”
Faith stopped her nervous fidgeting and just looked at Willow. “Guess I’m kinda nervous.” She said softly. “I mean, going back to the Dale is kind of nerve wracking. I don’t have a great history there.” She said. “I don’t have a great history with B or the gang either.”
Willow nodded. “I understand what you’re going through.” She said softly.
Faith shook her head. “No. I don’t think you do. I wasn’t exactly the prime example for sanity.” She said.
Willow grinned. “Yeah. I was there. Remember.” She smiled.
Faith nodded, sitting next to the redhead. “That’s right. But just because you were there for the meltdown, doesn’t mean you know what I am going through.” She said, looking down, studying her nails. “No offense.” She said sadly.
Willow nodded. “I guess you don’t know about what happened.” She said.
Faith looked up. “I heard about blondie…about Tara.” She said.
Willow smiled. “And about me going all black eyed, black magic, trying to destroy the world and flaying Warren alive?”
Faith just stared at Willow. “They sort of left all of that out.” She sputtered.
Willow smiled. “How about when I killed a magic dealer, stole every bit of his magic, went all psycho on my friends, kicked Buffy’s ass, smacked Giles all over the magic shop, drained him of his magic, tried raising an ancient temple of an evil goddess and began siphoning off the life force from the Earth itself and using that power to try to burn said Earth to a cinder and thus killing every living thing on the planet.”
Faith felt her jaw drop further and further the more Willow talked. “You’re yanking my chain, right?” she asked, hardly able to process the information.
Willow shook her head. “Nope. I did it all.” She said softly. “And they accepted me back, and all you did was try to kill them.” She shrugged. “I tried to kill the whole world.” She smiled.
Faith stared at the redhead and nodded slowly. “Ok then. Let’s head for Sunnydale.” She said, standing up. “Sounds like B could use a hand.”
Willow smiled broadly. “That’s the spirit. We could sure use another slayer.”
Faith feigned a surprised look. “Hey! I’m a slayer!” she exclaimed.
Willow laughed. “Wow! What a coincidence!”
Willow and Faith stood and Faith grabbed her bag. Together they headed for Sunnydale.