Duncan sat quietly on one side of the dining room table. Tara, along with Dawn, Buffy, Xander, Anya and Giles sat listening intently to Tara speak. Duncan had Ritchie stay in the living room in case Darius tried anything else. He had to hand it to Tara. Her friends were indeed taking this well.
“That is so cool.” Xander said, grinning foolishly.
Anya frowned, shaking her head. “No it isn’t.” she said, shooting Xander a withering gaze.
“Actually, I’m not seeing a downside to Tara not being dead.” Buffy said, frowning.
“How about a downside to Tara fighting another immortal to the death and having to cut of their head? Is there a downside to Tara…Tara…doing that?” the vengeance demon said. “Speaking as someone who spent 1,100 years in the killing and maiming business, it gets to you sometimes. I mean…really.” Anya said, wrapping her arms around herself.
Duncan raised an eyebrow. “You’re 1,100 years old?” he asked.
Anya nodded. “I am a demon. Vengeance demon, actually.” She said.
Duncan only nodded. “Oh. Ok then.” He said. He was beginning to understand how Tara's family could be so calm.
“Have you…killed anyone yet?” Dawn asked softly. She was sitting right next to Tara, her chair actually touching Tara’s. The teen was clutching the wiccans hand as well, and her face was ashen at Anya’s statement.
Tara shook her head. “No. I haven’t. I told Duncan that I didn’t want any part of this…game.” She said the name with distaste.
Giles removed his glasses and began cleaning them. The maneuver was not lost on Buffy.
“What?” the slayer asked, looking at Giles.
Giles sighed. “Well, it seems to me that Tara cannot simply…choose to participate. No more than you can Buffy.” He said sadly. “As we’ve seen, she will be hunted as an easy target by ambitious immortals everywhere. She must learn to defend herself.” He said sadly. The thought of Tara having to decapitate someone was not an image he relished.
Duncan nodded. “I’ve taught her quite a bit over the last year. She has enough skill to survive against a younger immortal. And she is a witch, so she has that added advantage.”
Buffy instantly shifted into protective mode. “And against an older one? Someone like the one after her now?” Buffy asked.
Duncan simply looked away.
Tara frowned. “What one after me now?” she asked.
Duncan sighed. “That’s why I’m here. You are being hunted.” He said softly.
Tara leaned back in her chair and tried not to panic. “Oh.”
Caleb smiled warmly as he drove. His boys should be bringing the newest one right about…he stepped on the breaks as a girl darted in front of him. “Now.” He smiled, opening his door. “Get in!”
Shannon jumped into the truck and breathed a little easier. It turned out to be a nightmare. Caleb was going on about her being dirty and after branding her neck, the preacher whispered a message to Shannon and stabbed her. She couldn’t believe what was happening to her. All she wanted was to live her life, finish school and become a veterinarian. Now, she doubted she would live through the night. The road was deserted, and if those robed men found her…
A car skidded to a halt a few feet from the girl in the road. Two women jumped out and headed for Shannon. Willow and Faith both checked on the girl in the road. She was bleeding to death. Faith stood and surveyed the darkness. “Yep. Guess I'm back in Sunnydale.”
Tara walked slowly through the woods. She had decided that a walk would do her some good. Dawn had been livid that she wasn't allowed to go, but Buffy had promised that if any trouble came up Tara was under strict 'run away as fast as you can' orders. Tara looked over to the blonde slayer at her side. “You don’t have to go with me. I know you have a lot on your mind.” She said.
Buffy smiled and shrugged. “House full of pre-teen, teen and young women all scrambling for room to breathe, much less sleep. I think a nice patrol is just what I need.” She smiled. "And besides. Dawn would kill me...again...if something happened to you."
Tara grinned, hefting her short sword. “I have to get used to this sword. I’ve been using my saber for the last year. This is kind of new.” She said, changing the subject.
“How long have you been training?” Buffy asked.
“Almost a full year. Martial arts, swordsmanship mostly. Twelve to fifteen hours a day, nearly every day.” Tara sighed.
Buffy’s eyebrows rose. “Wow. You have to be in great shape.” She said.
Tara shrugged. “I guess so. I don’t really…” she froze, feeling the buzz of another immortal nearby and turned, surveying the area. “Buffy…run.” She said.
Buffy readied her sword and shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
Jensen stepped from behind a tall oak and grinned, his rapier glinting in the moonlight. “Tara Maclay. I have come to challenge you.” He said coldly.
Tara tried steadying her nerves as she clutched her sword.
Suddenly, Buffy was leaping forward, her own sword flashing as she swung at the older immortal. She was lightning fast and much stronger, but he was over 500 years old. His experience allowed him to easily parry every blow. He knocked Buffy’s sword from her grasp and grabbed her hand, and spinning her, holding his blade against her neck. He turned to Tara, his sword biting into the soft flesh beneath Buffy’s chin at her throat. “Tara? Do you accept?” he growled.
Buffy narrowed her gaze and was about to break free and show Darius what fighting a slayer was really like when Tara spoke.
“I accept.” Tara said softly.
“Tara no!” Buffy said, yanking her arm free and kicking Darius in the stomach, sending him flying twenty feet before landing in a heap at the foot of a massive oak tree.
“Buffy. I have to. I can’t be free of this. I can’t escape.” Tara said sadly, shaking her head.
“You don’t have to fight.” Buffy said. “I can fight for you.”
Jensen grinned. “That is not allowed. Besides, I don’t think you could handle me.” He said.
Suddenly, a young woman appeared before Buffy and Tara. “You are always trying to save everyone, aren’t you Buffy?” she said.
Buffy staggered back, her eyes wide. “Cassie?” she said softly.
Cassie smiled. “Hey Buffy.”
Buffy narrowed her gaze. “No. The First. Cassie is dead.”
Cassie smiled. “Yeah. Dead as disco. Her problems are over. Yours though…yours are just starting.” She said, nodding behind Buffy.
Buffy turned and saw a Turok-Han, snarling, with hatred and hunger in it’s eyes.
Cassie turned to a now ashen Jensen. “When you’re done with the little blonde, come and see me. I’m at the old winery.” She said smiling, before blinking away.
Jensen turned and smiled at Tara, raising his sword.
Tara stood back to back with Buffy. “Ok. This is really interesting. What is that?” she asked.
Buffy shrugged. “Unbeatable ubervamp.” She said.
Tara nodded. “Oh. Ok. If this ends here, whether I win or Jensen wins…run. Get away from the area as fast as you can. Trust me.” She said. She had seen a quickening before, and she knew that it would either injure or possibly kill the slayer.
Buffy nodded. “Can I hunt him later if…” she couldn’t finish her thought.
Tara grinned. “If you want. I think you’ll have to fight Duncan for it, though.” She smiled.
The Turok-Han leapt at Buffy, springing through the air almost twenty feet. Buffy spun, lashing out with a roundhouse kick that sent the Uber flying back. The fight was on.
Tara turned and drew her sword, stepping away from Buffy and the uber, pulling her coat off and warming up. “You sure you want to do this now?” she asked.
Jensen grinned. “After your head, I will take Macleod’s.” he growled. “En Garde!” he yelled, lunging at Tara.
Willow and Faith both knelt by the girl. Willow had used her cell to call for an ambulance, but she knew Sunnydale all to well. “Faith. We need to try to stop the bleeding. Help me here!” she called.
Suddenly, at the tree line thirty yards from the road, a small form came crashing through the foliage. Buffy rolled to a stop and stood on shaky legs. She didn’t remember ever being hit so hard, except maybe by Glory. She growled and charged back through the thick brush. Glory was a hellgod, and Buffy had beaten her. ‘It’s time this vampire learned what a slayer really was.’ She thought to herself, yanking a thick branch from a tree as she passed.
Faith turned to Willow and saw the ambulance racing down the road. “Red! B’s in trouble. I’m gonna help her. The ambulance is almost here, go with her and I’ll catch up!” the dark slayer yelled, jogging down the small embankment.
Willow nodded. “Be careful! And try not to get killed!” she called.
Faith smiled. “The day a vamp gets the better of me is the day I retire my stake.” She called, moving into the trees.
Willow sighed. “I was talking about meeting up with Buffy again.” She said, looking up as the ambulance stopped. She hated the hospital.
Tara swung her sword in a quick sweep, making her opponent jump back. She needed breathing space. He was winning. She already had several small gashes in her arms and legs. He was toying with her. Reaching inside herself, she found the power that was her life force, her quickening. She channeled part of that essence into her blade and felt it grow lighter, or at least seem to. She now felt the balance, the length, the weight; all were now perfectly attuned to her. She swung a quick pattern, smiling in satisfaction as she felt the steel bite flesh and Jensen jump back.
“Duncan wasted no time in showing you many things, Maclay.” He sneered. “But I have had several hundred years to perfect my art.” He said, bringing his own quickening to bear in his weapon. He swung and Tara blocked the arc, their swords sending a small array of sparks as they clashed.
Tara smiled. He was almost in position. Feigning a stumble, she raised her sword, deliberately opening herself up for an attack.
Darius took the opportunity. Thrusting forward, he felt the tip of his sword bite the young immortal deep in her stomach. He stepped forward, sliding the blade deeper into Tara's flesh. He felt and heard the wet pop as the tip of his sword pushed through her back. “Goodbye Maclay.” He said, yanking his sword from her body. Tara slumped forward, coughing up blood as she fell. “There can be only one.” He said softly, raising his sword to strike.