“We need to talk, Willow.” Buffy said softly.
“About what? The First’s sick attempt to piss me off?” Willow shouted, small sparks of darkness erupting from her fingertips and dancing over her hands. “It’s working.” She growled.
“Willow. It’s not The First.” Dawn said softly, standing between Willow and Tara. “She’s holding a cup. The First in incorporeal.”
Willow looked at Tara’s hands, curled slightly around the mug and then looked into the blonde’s eyes. “It’s a trick.” She said, starting to shake. “Tara Maclay is dead.” She said, turning and heading back towards the living room. Buffy stood and stopped her.
“Willow, wait!” Buffy said, grabbing Willow’s arm and spinning the redhead around. “She’s Tara. She’s alive.”
Willow only shook her head, her eyes misting as she backed slowly away. “No. No I watched her. I was at her grave, Buffy.” She said softly. “I felt her leave me…” tears that threatened to fall finally carried through and Willow looked at Tara. “I felt her die inside of me.” She clutched her shirt over her heart. “I couldn’t feel her anymore in here.”
Tara stood slowly, her eyes filled with regret and sadness for her former love. “That was me.” She said softly, making Willow jump at the sound of the voice she was sure she would never hear again. Closing her eyes, the blonde witch waved her hand over her heart and muttered something in Latin. She gasped at the same time as Willow as all of the feelings, all of the emotion, the sum of everything the two were to each other came rushing back. "I was trying to protect you, trying to make sure you couldn't sense me. I felt you searching for me. I didn't know that would happen." she said softly.
Willow slumped against the wall, staring at Tara. “How?” she said softly. “How can this be real?”
Tara knelt next to Willow and gently reached out her hand. “Oh baby, I am so sorry to have caused you so much pain.” She whispered, her hand hovering scant inches from the trembling redhead, she could feel the heat from Willows skin in the palm of her hand, she was so close.
Willow leaned against Tara's hand and shuddered when they made contact. A connection she had remembered, yet thought forever lost surged through both women as Willow finally felt tears burn down her cheeks. “Tara?” she whispered, pulling the blonde to her. “Baby? Oh goddess!” She cried, hugging the blonde tightly, afraid that if she let go she would open her eyes and realize this was a horrible, horrible nightmare and Tara would be gone. As long as she held on though, Tara was real and she was alive.
Tara hugged Willow back, holding onto the hacker as she sobbed, her heart wrenching from the pain her spell had caused, that her absence had caused. Every inch of the redhead she touched caused surges of magic, electricity and love to dance back and forth between the two. Everything they were to each other was renewed in the span of a few seconds as two souls reconnected. “I alive, baby.” Tara said softly, running her hands over Willows hair. “I promise I am real. I not leaving you again, ever.” She said. “I love you.”
Kennedy, who was standing outside the kitchen door, frowned and closed her eyes. She knew what Tara being back meant but she held a sliver of hope that things would be different. Rubbing her face, trying to will tears away, she headed for the stairs, heading for the room she and Willow shared. She closed the door softly and lay down on the bed. She pulled Willow’s pillow to her and inhaled, closing her eyes. She could smell the redhead on the pillow and then, she let the tears come. She cried softly knowing that the woman she cared very deeply for, perhaps even loved, was no longer hers. She felt the loss like a knife in her heart and slowly cried herself to sleep.
Willow climbed the stairs, her brow furrowed as she tried to be quiet. She had been up very late talking to Tara and she was tired. She also felt really bad that she hadn’t even said hello to Kennedy since she came back. True, there were very extenuating circumstances, but she still felt badly about it.
She opened the door to her room and crept inside, gingerly stepping over the sprawling girls that were on the floor. Slipping out of her jeans and sweater, she slipped into bed and wrapped her arms around the small brunette that was curled up on the edge. “Hey baby…” Willow whispered softly, nipping Kennedy’s ear lightly. “I missed you.” She said.
Kennedy shrugged Willow’s arm off of her and scooted further towards the edge, almost going over. “I’ll find a new room tomorrow. But right now I need rest, I have a long day ahead of me.” The potential hissed, sending a chill into the air.
Willow sat up and looked down at Kennedy. “What’s wrong?”
Kennedy shook her head. “Nothing. Good night.” She said.
Willow reached over and turned on the small table lamp by the bed and shook Kennedy. “No. That’s not a nothing tone.” She said. “That is definitely a something tone. What’s wrong?”
Kennedy turned and glared at Willow. “I am. That’s settled. Can I please go back to sleep now?” she asked.
Willow noticed a glint of sorrow in Kennedy’s eyes and frowned. “Baby…what do you mean you’re wrong?”
The brunette potential just rubbed her face, trying to will the tears she felt rising to go away. “I heard you.” She admitted softly. “When you were talking to Tara. She’s back and I’m out. I understand.” She said, her voice cracking with the last few words. “I’ll get my stuff out tomorrow.” Kennedy stood up and grabbed a pillow and headed for the door.
“Kennedy! Wait!” Willow called after Kennedy.
Kennedy didn’t stop and she closed the door with an audible click as she left, leaving very confused and pained Willow alone.
Tara felt the cool air brushing over her as she went through the sword kata the following morning; the cool metal of the hilt had long since warmed as she moved. She was relieved when Xander showed up in the middle of the night with her bags from the airport. The ancient Celtic blade was a gift from Duncan and she felt naked without it. She sliced the air, the short sword singing as she swung and spun. Bringing the sword up into a guard position she was surprised when it made contact with a metal object. Tara opened her eyes and jumped back, seeing a man standing a few feet from her holding a rapier. Being so involved with her workout, she didn't even realize that he was there, she thought she was just feeling Duncan or Richie.
“Good morning Miss Maclay.” Jensen said. “Nice form, but lets see if you can put it to practice.” He said, lunging at her.
Tara jumped back, swinging the Celtic blade in front of her, parrying the rapier’s point. She quickly brought the sword back up as Jensen’s sword came slicing down. Narrowing her eyes, Tara kicked her leg out and caught Jensen in the stomach. She learned from their last encounter and decided to take this fight very seriously, so Tara put everything she had into the kick. Jensen doubled over as the air rushed from his lungs and Tara pressed her attack, swinging the short sword in a criss-crossing arc, driving her attacker back.
“Very good, Maclay. Very good!” Jensen smiled, dodging or parrying Tara’s sword as he danced back. “But you are projecting your every move, so I know what you are going to do every time.” He snarled, dropping to one knee as he ducked under Tara’s lunge. Catching her wrist, Jensen savagely wrenched her arm and felt the bone strain under his hand. Tara’s sword dropped from her numb fingers. Jensen stood and shook his head. “Good bye, again, Miss Maclay.” He said softly, raising his sword in a salute.
Tara closed her eyes and waited for the steel to bite into her neck, but the attack never came. Opening her eyes she stared at Jensen and saw his face twist into a confused scowl. Looking down at his chest, she saw a small wooden projectile protruding from his chest. A sharp twang sounded over her shoulder and Tara watched another bolt sink into his shoulder. Tara backed away quickly and watched as Jensen slid down the fence, his sword dropping from his hand. Tara turned to see her savior and smiled gratefully.
On the back porch, three crossbow bolts on the ground around his shoes, Tara saw a shaky arm holding a newly reloaded crossbow out. Andrew had tears in his eyes and he looked as if he was terrified as Tara slowly walked up to him, gently lowering the weapon as Andrew continued to stare at Jensen.
“I…I’m sorry…” Andrew stuttered. “I…I didn’t mean to…I didn’t…I didn’t know…” he said.
Tara wondered briefly if he was even talking about Jensen anymore. Taking the crossbow from his hand, Tara removed the bolt and dropped the weapon to the ground. She smiled softly at Andrew and caught his gaze. “Andrew…it’s OK. I promise.” She said.
Andrew began to shake and started to sob. “I…I’m sorry…I was making breakfast and I saw...he was gonna...he...” he began to cry.
Tara pulled the young man into her arms and hugged him close. “It’s alright. Everything will be OK.” She assured him.
Meanwhile, the sound of swordplay had awakened Buffy and Faith who came running out the back door.
“Whoa!” Faith said, coming to a sudden stop as she almost barreled into a sobbing Andrew.
“Tara?” Buffy said gently, walking over to Jensen. “What’s going on?” she asked, turning the body over. Andrew had let Tara go and rushed inside mumbling something about breakfast not making itself.
Tara looked at Buffy. “Andrew saved me.” She said. “Jensen decided that my morning warm up was a good a time as any to start trouble.” She sighed.
“Huh. Nice grouping.” Buffy said, looking down at the bolts in Jensen's chest. She turned back to Tara. “What do you want to do?”
Tara turned to Buffy, furrowing her brow in confusion. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Buffy looked down at Jensen and then over at Tara’s sword. “Kinda seeing an end here.” She said softly.
Faith opened her mouth to protest, but closed it again after she realized she was in no real position to make a moral argument.
Tara slowly walked over to her sword and reached down, picking it up. She stared at Buffy and saw no judgment in the Slayer’s eyes. Tara looked down at Jensen and swallowed hard “I…I can’t Buffy.” She said as she backed away. “In a fight is one thing, but not like this.” She said softly.
Buffy nodded. “I’ll drag him off somewhere.” She said. “He’ll live, right?” she asked softly.
Tara nodded, backing away. “He should wake up soon.” She muttered, her voice barely a whisper before she turned and ran into the house.
Buffy looked at Faith and then down at Jensen. “Give me a hand?” she asked.
Faith walked down the two steps into the yard and grabbed Jensen’s feet, helping Buffy lift him. “Would you have let her do it, B?” Faith asked softly, after they dropped the immortal into a row of hedges a few houses down.
Buffy turned and started walking back to the house, leaving Faith staring after her. Buffy stopped after a few feet and closed her eyes. “A lot has changed over the last two years.” She said softly. “I protect my family, Faith.” She said simply.
Faith walked up and put a hand on Buffy’s shoulder, stopping the blonde. “Am I the good one now?” she asked.
Buffy chuckled. “Maybe.” She shrugged. “Maybe I’m tired of people I care about getting hurt or killed because of my damn life.” She said.
Faith nodded. “I would have too.” She said.
The Chosen Two walked back to the house in silence. Both wondered when their worlds became so similar.
Tara sighed as she felt the hot water cascading down her body. She was used to the physical exertion because of the training with Duncan and Richie over the last year. What was different about this was she was actually fighting for her life. Twice now she had faced Jensen and twice she had lived because of someone else intervening. If she had to face him with no one around she would be in serious trouble. She had to step up her training regimen and she knew just the person to talk to.
Willow stumbled through the hallway, sleep still heavy in her eyes and opened the bathroom door. She already had her top off when she froze, staring wide-eyed at the very wet, very naked and equally frozen and wide-eyed Tara stepping from the shower. Willow spun away from Tara and faced the door, a rapid-fire string of apologies rolling from her lips.
Tara grinned, biting her cheek and raising an eyebrow as she gave Willow a cursory once over. ‘Goddess, she is still the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.’ The wicca thought to herself. “I’m decent now.” Tara said softly, pulling the robe closed and smiling.
Willow turned around and looked like she was on the verge of tears. “Tara, I am so sorry. I was half asleep and I know that’s not really an excuse, but I don’t want you to think that I just barged in here hoping to get a look at your goodies because I would so never do that, not that I don’t want to look at you or anything because you are very beautiful, and I will always…” she was silenced by Tara's fingertip placed softy on her lips.
Tara sighed. “I get it. It was an accident. Now, try breathing for me.”
Willow inhaled slowly, her mind suddenly slammed backwards in time to when she and Tara began this little exercise. It would happen whenever Willow would go off on a really rapid-fire version of Willowbabble. After holding her breath for a five second count, she slowly exhaled. Tara never removed her fingertip from Willows lips.
“Again.” Tara said softly.
Willow inhaled deeply again. After another five second count, she exhaled.
“Better?” Tara asked.
Willow nodded. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to just barge in. I was still half asleep.” The hacked said, much calmer this time.
“You’ve seen me naked before, Willow.” Tara said, brushing the incident off.
“True, but this is kind of different.” The redhead said, realizing that she was still naked from the waist up and slipping her pajama top back on.
“You mean Kennedy?” Tara said, her statement merely factual, not judgmental or jealous.
Willow nodded. “I was in a really bad place after…” the redhead bit back her tears. “After you died. I did…horrible things.”
Tara listened, her heart breaking with Willows every word as the redhead told the story of what had happened over the few days following her shooting. She wanted nothing more than to reach out and pull Willow close to her and hold her, but that wasn’t her place anymore.
“After I got back from England, I still wasn’t ready to use my magic. I just wasn’t as bad as I was before. Kennedy supported me through all of that. She anchored me, made me see that there was still something I could hold onto, someone I could…I could love again.” Willow finished with a whisper.
Tara felt her eyes tearing up as Willow spoke. She should have been jealous, maybe even been angry that Willow had found someone else. But those feelings were trumped by a feeling of happiness and relief that Willow was improving in leaps and bounds, moving further and further away from the darkness that threatened to consume her. And it was due mostly to Kennedy. Tara found it suddenly very hard to be mad.
“It doesn’t mean I love you any less. I just…I’ve moved on.” The hacker looked down, like she was ashamed.
Tara smiled sadly. “You’re in a good place now, Will. I’m really very happy for you, for both of you.” Tara said, lifting Willows chin to meet her gaze. She paused for a moment before grinning. “Plus…she’s kinda really hot.” She whispered, wiggling her eyebrows.
Willow chuckled, wiping tears from her eyes. “It doesn’t hurt.” She said. “And the pierced tongue…wow!”
Tara grinned. “That good, huh?”
Willow nodded, before frowning and looking down again.
Tara furrowed her brow and raised Willows chin again. “What’s wrong?”
Willow felt large teardrops pooling in the corners of her eyes before spilling over and running down her cheeks. “I love Kennedy, I really do….”
Tara looked at her former lover, a sad frown on her face. “But?” she asked.
“But I am still so in love with you!” Willow sobbed, enveloping Tara in a hug and squeezing her close. “I don’t know what to do.”
Tara fought the urge to kiss Willow and whispered the same words she used three years ago. “Do whatever makes you happy.” She said softly. “That’s what matters.”
Willow sobbed on Tara’s shoulder as she slowly sank to the floor, Tara kneeling down and holding the redhead close. Willow didn’t care about anything else at the moment; all she knew was that Tara was in her arms again and thanked every god and goddess that was listening for that miracle.
A/N: Relax....this is gonna take awhile, but Willow WILL end up with Tara again...trust me;)