Back to the Beginning: Choices
by Amanda
Rating: R

Disclaimer #1: No copyright infringement intended to Joss W, ME, FOX, WB, UPN, etc.
Date: 072802-072802
Spoilers: All of Season Six. This is the 10th in a series.
Note #1: Be warned character death. (A standard in amanda fic’s) So essentially, I am on a fast moving train to fan fic writer’s hell.
Note #2: If it is written in italics it is the character’s thoughts.
Feedback: Expecting shock and scorn and even flames…

As the phone let out a loud shrill, Buffy lifted her head up from the table, peering around the kitchen with squinted eyes.

Not now, just go away!

“Don’t expect me to answer that, I do not work for you.” Anya huffed from the chair she had set up in the corner, far away from both Buffy and Xander. Buffy had heard her come in a few minutes before, but didn’t understand why she was sitting so far away. At least there was a comfort knowing that no matter what in their lives was going wrong, Anya was always Anya.

“No one is asking you to Anya.” Xander snapped, but didn’t move to answer the ringing phone either.

Fine.

Buffy’s mind snapped silently. She got up and walked over to the wall, taking down Holburn’s black phone. She really hoped it was something Slayery, and not a late night call from a girlfriend or something. There was enough tension in this room, hell in all of Sunnydale tonight, Buffy figured, and held her breath as she spoke.

“Hello?”

“Ah! Buffy, thank goodness you are there, we have been trying everywhere to reach you.”

“Well you found me.” She leaned against the wall sighing thankfully that it was only Giles.

"There is something terrible wrong with Willow. We can’t seem to place what it is exactly.-"

“It’s Xander.” Buffy cut him off, from the long-winded explanation she figured that was coming in her direction.

“Pardon?”

“He thinks that Tara came and told him to get Willow off magic.” Buffy looked over and saw Xander looking at his hands, but listening. She was trying to make her voice as light as possible, to not make him feel any worse. She was sure that he was beating himself up over this enough. “This Tara gave Xander a necklace. Have Wills take it off. She’ll get better.”

“But it wasn’t?”

“No, I think it was a witch or something, using a glamour on Xander.”

“How is he taking it?” Giles asked, concerned.

“Oh, just great.” She glossed over the question, not a time to answer, not now. Buffy sighed. “We are a little busy, with Dawn and Holburn being kidnapped and all.”

“Buffy!” Giles exclaimed, and it sounded like he dropped a teacup in the background.

“I know I know.” She rubbed her eyes. She still was having a hard time understanding that one. Usually when some one was taken she would have a clue as to why, but not this time. This seemed just too random. Buffy felt the nervousness in her gut, telling her that this time it was different, completely different, and she was unsure what she could do.

“Who has them?”

“Some random vampire I guess.” She shrugged.

“Do you have a name?”

“Veronica, but that means pretty much nothing to me. I haven’t seen her myself either.”

"And you do not know what she wants?"

“Something to do with Faith. Spike thinks she is all revenge happy.”

“Spike?”

“Oh, yeah, he showed up tonight.” Why did he have to come tonight? Why not any other night, when he could have been properly dealt with? But oh, no he had to show up when everything was stressed, and then he just had to kiss her. Faith was so upset, so hurt. She had stormed off without letting Buffy explain. But she expected no less. If things had been reversed, Buffy was sure that she would have reacted with same way. Faith was sensitive to rejection; always expecting it, no matter how much Buffy expressed and proved her love and devotion.

“I see. Wait, this is about Faith you said?”

“Yeah? Why?” Buffy stood straighter, paying attention to the tone of his voice as it changed.

“Well nothing concrete, but I recall. Willow, hand me that book, oh and take off that damn necklace.” He said into the background.

Buffy waited, listening to the pages turning, and Giles’ breath as he mouthed words. She could picture him, pacing with the phone tucked under his chin.

“Oh, dear.” He sighed.

“No with the ‘Oh Dear’ I have way too much happening here for an ‘Oh Dear’.”

Please please please, nothing that registers an oh dear!

“You have not seen this vampire Buffy?”

"No. Why? What is it?"

"It appears that the only record of anyone or creature from Faith’s journal with the name-"

“Faith has a journal? Do I have a journal?” That was interesting.

“Buffy, please, this is serious.”

“Right.” She shook her head, chastising herself as well.

“The only Veronica I see is Veronica Asling.”

“And that is who?”

“Faith’s first Watcher.”

Silence.

“But I thought that she went the way of the Dodo?” Buffy mumbled, thinking back to all that Faith had told her, about the gruesome murder she had witnessed.

“Indeed, but one can never be too careful or too certain as we know.”

“Do I.” She huffed.

“Buffy, please be careful. If this is at all possible, then you need to realize that this demon will have a strong hold emotionally on Faith, and it may hamper her judgment. Wait, what Willow? Buffy we are leaving now.” Was this the other shoe? It felt like she got hit in the head with another shoe.

"You guys don’t-"

“Buffy, we are leaving now for the airport.”

*****

“Evil huh?” I quirked my eyebrow at Spike.

“Evil, damn right! I’ll prove it to you.” His hands became firsts at his sides, his shoulders tightened up.

“This will be fun.” I grinned before sending a sidekick at him. He stumbled back. Spike lunged at me, but I grabbed onto his shoulder and used the momentum to flip him to the grime coated alley floor.

“Are you really doing all of this out of your sense of duty? Or are you doing it out of rage, out of jealousy? Who is holding that stake, is it the Slayer, or the broken little girl, Faith?” He said as he sprung back up, the tail of his leather trench snapping like wings.

“Maybe both. Doesn’t matter, not really. The end will be the same.” I replied.

“You think? I have killed two Slayers in my time.” He came at me but I connected with a roundhouse kick to his side before he could get a shot off. He lost his balance slightly, and reached out to grab my shoulder.

“Big deal Billy. You have never met a Slayer like me.” Grinning I gripped his hand to keep it in place, and with the other hand, pushed down on his shoulder, forcing him to flip forward onto his back.

“True.” He conceded with a grunt as he landed. I took his hand and jerked it back, hard, shattering the bones in his wrist. Loved that sound, always have, since the first night I heard it. The crackling snap of dead things bones. Gave me a tingle, and made the Slayer inside of me howl. I grinned like an idiot as Spike grunted in pain. I tossed him away.

*****

“They are coming back, and I think that Wills is going to be fine, Xander.” Buffy said to him, as she hung up the phone.

“So you charmed her? Is that it? You would think that after all these years you would know better.” Anya huffed.

“I did what I thought was right, what I thought needed to be done to help her.” He defended, standing up from the table. Everyone considered him the bumbling idiot, the gofer. When he saw his opportunity to do something, to actually contribute and help he jumped on it, throwing all caution to the wind.

“You have been so preoccupied with Willow this and Willow that, what about me Xander Harris?” Anya walked over to him. She had been biting her tongue for days, he knew that, and he knew that it meant she was holding everything in, and when she did that, the smallest thing would set her off in an explosion. He was fairly certain, that he was about to see her snap. “I thought you couldn’t help but love me, that you had to fight tooth and nail to get back with me, and now, now it is all about Willow, and all about Dawn getting kidnapped. What is the big deal? This happens all the time. You know they don’t need you here.”

SLAP.

His arm left his side before he could stop himself; his palm collided with her cheek in the same instant. He had never raised his hand to her before, never thought himself capable of it. But it had happened, he had slapped her.

“You dare lay a hand on me.” She growled at him.

“Anya you don’t know what you are talking about, okay? This is a big deal, all of it. And yes I am going to be concerned about Willow, I love her, she is my best friend. And Dawn? We don’t know what will happen, what is happening out there. It isn’t like Faith can radio in to the Slayer cave, and let us know if she needs backup.” He fired back.

“I am leaving you Xander for good. If you can’t see that I am important, that I should be the first one you think about.” She crossed her arms.

“Fine.” He said, relieved. There was just too much, it was all just too much. She glared at him, she had clearly not been expecting that rebuke, she had expected him to cower before her, and beg for another chance. Maybe everything that had happened, from him standing her up at the alter to now was for the best, was showing him that he didn’t have to have her in his life to be a real man. He had been looking for validation from her for a while now, but maybe it being over was for the best. They seemed to be going in different directions, her being a demon and all.

She turned and stomped to the back door, shoving it open. With one foot on the porch, and the other still in the kitchen, she said over her shoulder, “You didn’t even apologize for hitting me.” Then Anya kept walking, and the screen door slammed behind her. Xander Harris knew that she was gone, forever.

He heard the Slayer walking towards him, and turned with his shoulders slumped, expecting a nice warm Buffy hug. What he got instead was a punch to the face, so hard, that he finally knew what it felt like to fly. It was only for a second, across the kitchen, but he was flying. Until his back slammed into the pantry, with a painful thud, and he slid down to the floor. Xander put his hand to his cheek.

“Buffy?” He asked, confused.

“Don’t you ever hit a woman!” She glared.

"She’s a de-" He snapped back. But she took another step closer to him, effectively killing the words on his tongue.

“She’s Anya.” Buffy sighed.

He knew immediately that he deserved whatever she dealt out to him, dropping his gaze to the yellowed tiled floor. She was completely right.

“Now get up, we have to find Faith. Giles told me some pretty scary stuff.”

*****

“Faith, you belong with me. You don’t belong here. Think of the things we can do together. If you come with me I will let the little one live.” Ronnie said as she rushed over to her. Faith turned with a half-spinning hook kick to Ronnie's head, which backed her up a step, but she kept her balance and leaned back in to punch Faith. The Slayer countered with a downward block, and a jab to her throat.

“No.” Faith growled.

“If you refuse they will not live to see the next sunset.” Ronnie hissed, her hand on her throat.

“You’re bluffing.”

“I never bluff Faith. You should remember that.” Ronnie grinned as Faith ducked a half spinning crescent kick, instinctually knowing that Spike sent it at her.

“Yes, Luscious, you should know better.” From below his center of gravity, Faith shoved him hard, sending him against the alley wall, and she followed his body with her fists, lashing out with two kidney-punches. She grabbed Spike’s shoulders and hurled him down the alley, through the air into three rusted garbage cans.

Ronnie was impressed. This was not the nervous, the new fighter Faith that she had raised, she had trained. This was a fighter, a warrior, and for just one moment, Ronnie felt her resolve shiver.

Faith turned back to Ronnie saying, “You won’t touch Dawn, you know better,” then moved like light, spinning twice, delivering a nasty backhand punch to her face, and dropping her to the ground. Faith grabbed onto her jacket, yanked her back up and punched her in the face, knocking her down again. The fire was still in Faith’s eyes burning even brighter than Ronnie had seen it in some demon’s eyes that she had encountered over the years. It was controlled and calculated to a point. She knew that Faith was completely focused on the fight around her, that she was thinking nothing beyond what kicks and punches she could use to inflict the most pain. There was a grace to it that Ronnie had never guessed that Faith could possess. She smiled at herself, as the brunette Slayer punched her again. She would make a wonderful vampire; there was no doubt about that.

Looking over Faith’s shoulder, she noticed Spike getting closer. He had managed to sneak up behind Faith, and punched her in the mouth as she turned to face him. From Ronnie’s position on the ground it looked like Spike had hit a brick wall, not the girl’s face. Her head did not move at all. She dropped Ronnie’s shoulders, and stood slowly, turning to look at the blonde vampire.

“Thanks for that.” Faith chuckled, licking the blood from her lips before delivering both a backhand punch and a punch to his jaw. Spike stumbled.

“Damn, you are a strong one, aren’t you?”

“‘Bout time someone noticed.” Faith grumbled standing back up. She kicked Spike twice in the face. He tried to punch her, but she grabbed his arm, sidestepped him and threw him away again.

*****

He had a terrible feeling. Not unlike what he felt when they were captured, but this was more profound, more deeply disturbing. They had been inside of this cage for hours, and it had been quite some time since the obvious leader of the group had left. And left with specific instructions that Holburn and Dawn were to remain ignored and untouched.

He had not been so close to this many vampires, ever. Surely going on patrol with Faith and Buffy had introduced him to the aspects of “wild” vampires, so very different than those controlled instances he had experienced during his training with the Council. But this group was somewhere in between. They followed the orders of the, undoubtedly, beautiful leader as if their lives depended on it. She had magnetism, a power over them that made him nervous. That and the fact that she appeared so calm, so patient, as though she knew that she would win whatever battle, whatever game she was undertaking with Faith. That had him concerned. He knew that Faith was strong, intelligent, and resourceful. But when it came to matters of the heart, when it came to those she loved she was volatile and rash. And that was certainly something that needed to be avoided, if his instincts were right.

He looked across the cage, seeing Dawn looking out through the bars, seeming lost in thought. He expected that she was imagining scenarios of their rescue. Imagining the Slayers bursting through the doors, swords in hand, prepared to fight to the death to save them both. Holburn wished he had that level of innocence, that he could loose himself in that daydream. Alas he cynically knew that something here was terribly different than when Langoustino had captured Dawn. It was simple really; the more complex the plan, the easier it was to find a fatal flaw, the missing chinks in the armor of the enemy. This plan, from what he understood was simple. Faith would be turned, or Dawn and he would be killed. A plan that simple only has two possible outcomes. Taking into consideration that there had never been an account in the journals of a Slayer ever being turned, the second option seemed imminent, causing the beads of sweat on the back of his neck.

He slowly crawled over, to sit beside Dawn. She looked over at him, her wide blue eyes still glazed from her daydream. He was going to say something out of character, but it was something he needed to say, needed her to know, just in case.

“I want you to know Dawn, I need you to know that the rebuke I offered yesterday had nothing in the world to do with you, and had everything to due with responsibility.” He said, and tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear.

“Oh.” She sighed. He knew she was not understanding, and leaned forward, pressing their lips together, giving them both something else to think about. Comforting each other, in the basest of ways.

*****

The light around them was changing, lightening. Sunrise was not far off, and she knew that this could not go on much longer. With the sun coming up, it would give Faith an advantage she was not willing to give. Veronica charged Faith with an axe kick, but the Slayer rolled out of the way just in time so that Veronica’s leg landed on a wooden crate instead of Faith's head. Faith smashed her arm down on to Veronica’s knee, audibly breaking it, and then landed a backhand punch to her face. The pain shot through her lower body, biting at her nerves, cutting through the muscle. She screamed out into the air.

“Ha!” Faith laughed throwing her head back. “Little promise from me, Ronnie.” Faith grinned. With pained eyes, she glared at the Slayer, thinking of the thousand ways she would be paid back for this pain.

*****

Spike swung a rusted pipe at the back of Faith’s head, but she reached her hand up behind her, grabbing a hold of it and swung it downward and around, wresting it from his grip. She wasn’t supposed to know he was there, that he was coming. She was good, probably the best he had fought in a long time, if not ever. Her attention was fully on him now. And it amazed him, the look in her black eyes, and the fire in her. Even on her best day Buffy never had that look of pure rage.

Her spinning wheel kick landed against his face, sending Spike to the ground. She followed, dropping down on top of him, pinning his arms under her knees, and leaning hard. She had him trapped, and there was nothing he could do, no burst of strength that could dislodge her.

Realizing this, Faith let her concentration slide, and looked around them.

“Fuck!” She groaned.

“Awe? Veronica’s slipped away, hasn’t she?” He chided; glad the broad had slipped away. With her leg broken like that he would have had to carry her, and there was no way he could run with her in his arms in this condition. So they both would have turned into roasted vampires.

He glanced up at Faith, the blood on her mouth, the sweat covering her skin. She was an amazing woman. And he understood completely, maybe for the first time, exactly what Buffy saw in her. The drive, the passion, the strength, and the heart. She had only fought to stop them from hurting the little one. That showed she loved the little one. They had clearly never given her the credit that she deserved, from the stories that he had been told about her; he had a completely different picture than the truth, than the woman holding him to the ground, glaring at him.

*****

She was gone. The coward had limped away. Just great. My only consolation was the sun coming up, and the fact that with her leg broken like it was, she couldn’t get too far.

If vamps needed to breath he would have been panting. The big bad, the William the Bloody had gotten his ass handed to him by me. He spent more time on his back during the fight than most vampires. This was the one who always got away? I knew if that chip hadn’t been shoved in his head, B would have dusted him years ago. He was nothing special when it came to fighting. He certainly didn’t have the size or strength of Angel.

“Prove it to me, prove to me you wouldn’t for one second even entertain the thought of hurting Dawn.” I said. I knew the chip was gone; he had been fighting me with no pain. But I still wasn’t convinced. They all said he was trying to be good, they all said that he was changed, that he had protected Dawn while B was in the Hell Dimension.

“I most certainly would,” he growled.

“Not convinced.” I snapped, holding the stake in my hand at my side, feeling it get heavier with each breath I took. I wanted to shake him; I wanted him to understand that him playing this fucking macho game was bullshit.

“You’ll just have to live with that, won’t you pet.”

“Guess so.” I sighed. He smirked thinking I would let him go. He actually thought-

“If you are lying, I am sorry.” I said softly.

“What?” His eyes rounded as he felt the stake punch through the shirt, the skin, the muscle, the bone, down into the center of his heart. In a light puff of air he dusted, and my knees were on the alley floor. I closed my eyes, leaning my head back.

If he had only convinced me. I had to choose. Between letting him live, for all of the good he had done in the past, for fighting beside B when she needed him to, versus, what he was, a vampire, and that he could very well be planning on killing Dawn himself. There was no fucking way I was going to take the chance. I was not some dumb-ass evil mastermind, locking up my nemesis, just so they could escape again. If I doubted you, you were dead. Period. And I doubted Spike.

I stood up, brushing off my pants, running my fingers through my hair. I could smell the sun lapping up the morning mist as it hit the city. Ronnie was somewhere near by, I just hoped she was not with Dawn. I prayed that she would be forced to hide out somewhere else until nightfall.

*****

The sun was warming the wood beside her as it began its climb into the sky. Buffy was sitting on the back porch of her house, waiting. It was like the world forgot to read the memo, the one telling them that today was a very bad day, that everything good in her life had been taken or shattered. Because the world around her was happy. The birds were singing away, the bees were moving from the flowery weeds in the lawn. It was all wrong.

A tingle ran up the base of her scalp, and Buffy lifted her head to see Faith as she opened the low back fence, and stepped into the yard. She looked like she had gone fifty rounds with a pack of nasty vampires, her cheek swelling, her lip split, and the vast amount of dust that stuck to her skin and clothes.

Buffy held her breath expectantly. Would they argue? Would Faith still be mad enough to hurt her, like she had promised? Across the yard the two Slayer’s glances met, and slowly, like an invisible string was pulling it, the corner of Faith’s lips formed a grin.

“Hey.”

“Hey right back.”

They were both whispering, but could hear one another from this distance. Faith had stopped walking.

“I’m sorry, B.” She said, resuming her steps. She sat down next to her, placing her hands on her soiled knees.

“I understand, Faith. I would have reacted the same way. He just did it. Spike is never one who was big on the thinking things through, or reality.” Buffy sighed, relieved. “I am sure when he sees reason, he will apologize.”

Faith flinched. “Um, B?”

Buffy looked at her.

“Spike, he won’t be apologizing to anybody.” Faith gulped. “He kind of showed up when I was having a talk with Ronnie.”

“What?”

“She was telling me what she wanted, in exchange for Kiddo. And well, he appeared all friendly like with her, and.” Faith sighed. “You know the drill, B, we fought, I won, and he went poof.”

Buffy was dumbstruck. Spike was bad again? Spike could fight? Spike was gone?

“I wasn’t sure if he was you know, bad or not. He wouldn’t tell me. I made the choice B, and I’m not sorry for it, but,”

“I understand, you did it for Dawn.” And Buffy did understand, and she knew that she would have done exactly the same thing. Regardless of all that he had done for them in the past. When in the balance, Dawn’s life out weight all others to her. It always had.

“You mad that I kind of um, staked him?” Faith asked.

“No, kind of glad I didn’t have to. I have had enough of that for a whole life time.” She set her hand on Faith’s thigh, squeezing it.

“I just couldn’t trust him, not with Dawn’s life.”

“I know.” Buffy said, leaning closer to her.

“I will do what ever it takes to protect her.” Faith vowed, looking at Buffy like she was her world.

"Not being turned-" Buffy added strongly.

“This is not your call, B.” She sighed. Buffy couldn’t believe that Faith would actually consider – wait. Of course she would. Faith would die for them, but she would be damned if she let that happen, if she let Faith become a vampire. God, just the thought of having to stake Faith, her Faith, brought a river of tears pooling in the bottom of her eyes.

“So they turn you into a fucking vampire Faith, then what? They will still kill Dawn!” She exclaimed, and Faith pulled Buffy against her fiercely. The younger Slayer rocked them, slowly. Buffy would not let that happen, she couldn’t let that happen.

Faith just held her for a few minutes, neither of them speaking. The world around them was doing that for them. Taunting them with the normalcy of the day, when it was anything but. Buffy loved the warmth coming off of Faith, the smell of her, that wasn’t from any perfume, or detergent, but was just her, just her skin, and her sweat. It made her heart a little calmer; it made her feel complete, safe. For these few precious moments, there was nothing in the world but the two of them. Buffy had come so far, learning to control her past, learning to accept the love and support of Faith, really taking them both back to a purity, a love that they should have always been able to share with each other.

“I love you, you know that right?” Faith said softly, before setting her lips on the top of Buffy’s head.

“It’s the one thing in this world that I am sure of, Faith.”

“Good.”

“Why with the questions?” Buffy wondered why Faith would even for one moment doubt Faith’s devotion to her.

“I just, you know finally got the ‘whole seize the day’ thing. That you never know what is laying in wait around the next corner, and me, I’ve pretty much always been a do-it-tomorrow-girl, and then would sit later and wonder about all the what ifs, and the shouldas. Kinda contradicting my own, ‘who cares’ life rule.”

Buffy leaned away from Faith, so she could look at her as she spoke.

“I’m not going to do that anymore. Either of us could die any day, any moment, and I don’t want to live with regrets. I want you to know what I am thinking, all the time. So,” Faith shrugged. “That is why with the question. I love you B, I have since before I can remember, and I know, I can feel it inside of me that I always will. I can’t not. It’s a part of me.”

Buffy was softly crying, and Faith cupped her cheek.

“You know, I realized I still loved you standing right here, that day.” Faith whispered.

“So did I.” Buffy replied, and leaned to meet Faith’s kiss.

*****

Dawn was leaning back in Holburn’s arms, feeling the beating of his heart as they both sat quietly. To say that she had been shocked when he kissed her would be a huge understatement. It had totally come out of left field. Not that she had minded, but more that she had been surprised, and then a little worried. Did he know something that she didn’t? In the movies, before something really terrible happened there was a kiss. And here, in a cage, she had the kiss, did that mean?

The front door flew open and Veronica came limping in. Her face was bloody, her hair a little ratty. For half a second Dawn’s hopes soared, she looked beaten up. But then she came crashing back down. If she had been beaten by Buffy or Faith, where were they? Why was she back here and not a pile of dust?

“Someone looks hurt. Went a few rounds with a Slayer?” Holburn asked, making Dawn freeze. What in the hell was he doing talking to her like that? Didn’t he know that he was pretty much worthless in the trading game that was being played here? She begged him to keep his mouth shut, by stiffly leaning against him.

“I will admit that Faith has progressed well since I was her Watcher. But I do see that she still has difficulty following orders.” She grimaced as she limped past them.

*****

She took her lips away and I actually whimpered. Whimpered. How whipped was that? But I knew what was coming next, I knew we were going to leave this happy metal place where nothing bad really ever happened and it was just me and B and our love.

I knew we needed to talk, I knew there was planning to do, but I just didn’t want to. The night had seen me through a thousand emotions, and I was tired. Couldn’t I just have 30 minutes of calm? Thirty little minutes of her in my arms, before the reality set it, before the darkness came, reminding me that it was all my fucking fault that my ex-Watcher was a fucking vampire who was holding our baby girl hostage in exchange for my life?

I must have done something terrible, something so heinous to deserve this as my life.

Well, you did kill people.

Oh, yeah, right. Forgot about that! Fucking brain. No I didn’t forget. I knew I deserved all the pain and all the suffering Hell could muster, but not them. B didn’t, Kiddo didn’t. Only me. But they loved me, so maybe my evil bad shit was tainting them, pulling them down with me.

“Hey you, stop it.” She whispered, cupping my chin.

“What?” Was she a fucking mind reader again?

“Stop with the negative thoughts, stop with the blaming yourself.”

“What?” I scoffed.

“Faith, I love you, I know you. And that look, that look tells me everything that you are thinking.”

DAMN

“Oh.” I shrugged. “Um, B, so let’s get with the planning.” I said as a painful diversionary tactic.

“Right, it is kind of up to us, at least until later when Giles gets here.”

“What?”

“Oh!” Buffy teetered. “He called, Willow was totally sick.”

“That magic wack job looking like Tara?”

"Right, I smacked Xander for that by the way. It was a talisman thingy she was wearing that was doing it to her. But I mentioned the drama that is Sunnydale-"

“And they are coming?”

“Yes.”

“Good, I hope it isn’t too- yeah, good, we need them.” I looked back through the screen door. “Where are Xander and the demon formerly known as the ex-demon?”

“Big fight. It all went plewy in the kitchen. I think Xander is putting ice on his face.”

“Whoa. Anya socked him?”

“Um, heh, no. That was all me.” She grinned. B snacked Xan? Something heavy must have happened, she never hit the Scoobies. “So what should we do?”

“Well, I broke her leg, so I don’t think she can get very far.” I shrugged. “We go looking I guess.”

“Okay, but erm, Faith?”

“Yeah B?”

“Before we go looking, there is something I need to show you.” She raised her eyebrow, her eyes twinkling. Whoa, I knew that look, and it made the blood rush towards only one place on my body. My breath hitched slightly, and I nodded mutely, and watched as she stood up and walked back into the house. She was halfway through the kitchen, before I sprung up and raced after her.

*****

Giles was getting his second wind as he stepped through the front door of the Summers’ home. Willow was following closely behind. The flight had been loud and uncomfortable, but he had managed a few solid hours of sleep.

“Where are they?” Willow pondered, and there was a thundering of noise coming down the stairs, before Buffy was in his arms.

“I am so glad you guys are back.” She hugged him tightly.

“Are things?”

“Still the same G-man. We did a sweep this afternoon, but nothing. I hate to say this,” Faith turned to Willow, looking tired and defeated, “But can’t you do some mojo Red?”

“Maybe. Um, you guys talk. Where is Xander?” She asked.

“Kitchen.” Faith nodded behind her, and Willow left the room.

“So, Faith?”

“It’s her, my old Watcher. And the deal is pretty simple. I get turned, Dawn goes free.”

"Well you know that-"

“Right, it’s fucking bullshit. So I know we have to find them and save the day.” Faith crossed her arms. This was a heavy burden on her, he could clearly see that. He only hoped she could hold on, that they could all just pull through.

*****

“You just don’t want to believe that I can control this.”

“I know that you can’t!” Xander exclaimed to Willow as she sat down across from him at Buffy’s kitchen table.

“No. You don’t know anything. I will give you this, you did see what I became, but you will never know what I feel, what I felt, Xander. I have felt different my entire life, before Buffy, and before the whole, ooh I am gay now thing. I have been different. You want to know what makes me different? I am a witch. I always have been.” She took his hand. “Yes, even in the first grade, I was a witch then, I just didn’t know how to use my power, what it meant, the responsibility that came with it.

“But I do now. I had to loose everything in my life, everything that was good and pure and right, for me to see what I was doing wrong. I was letting it control me. That is what you saw. Magic without someone in the driver’s seat.

“I’m sitting there now, all buckled up, hands at two and ten, Xander. I know how to do this. Giles and I talked and he agrees with me. When you gave me that necklace, it was draining my power, but you forgot what I told you. Dawn’s life, what made her the Key? That took away all of the dark magic I had in me. What you and this witch were taking from me was my life essence.”

“Huh?” He was awed, Willow babble at its most coherent, but he was still a little lost.

“A witch’s soul is bound in magic, you were killing me, and I am pretty sure this, whatever, that gave you the talisman, the charm, knew what they were doing. I know you don’t trust me, but why would you do that to me?”

“It was Tara.” He sighed.

“What?” She leaned back in the chair, struck.

“They looked, and sounded like Tara. She said it would help you.” Xander pleaded.

Willow stood up slowly. “Where is she?”

“Wills, no. It isn’t her.” Buffy said coming into the room.

“I know that Buffy, but I need to stop her. Now.”

“Red, we kinda need you on board here, for this.” Faith said coming in behind Buffy, and Xander wondered how long they had been standing outside.

“Here.” Willow tossed something to Faith. “That will glow brighter the closer you are to Dawnie. I won’t be gone long.” Willow smiled at the Slayers. “I’ll find you in an hour.” She turned back to him. “Where?”

“Abandoned house on Division Street.” He hung his head.

*****

She watched as they lifted him, placing his hands in the shackles that were connected to the rusted chains that had been rigged over the support beams above. They had been tested, and she knew they would hold.

Clasping her hands together she went to stand a little closer to Dawn. This really was her favorite part. The Watcher had been stripped bare-chested and the vampires turned to her once he was secure.

“Raise him up, but just so his feet are off the floor. I want it to hurt.” She grinned. She noticed the little one turning her head away. “You need to watch this, dear.” Veronica said gently to her.

“Why are you doing this? Why?” Dawn sobbed, as the chains groaned with the British man as he went up about 6 inches. The muscles of his arms and shoulders were bulging with the weight of his body. She knew, from experience, that the joints would begin to feel as if they were about to pop. The middle ground between gnawing pain and the actual searing burn.

“Why not? I don’t have to have a reason. There isn’t some grand divine plan. I do this because I love it.” Veronica grinned, and she did. Torture had been a fascination of hers when she was alive, and it had transcended into a practiced art after Kakistos had turned her. She tilted her head as the blonde man swayed in pain. With a sigh she commanded. “Gut him, please.”

A vampire stepped forward, holding the four inch serrated blade, and with a flick of his arm, backed with the supernatural strength he possessed, the skin split, from the belly to the sternum. The sound of the Watcher’s entrails hitting the cement floor was cloaked by the curdling scream from Dawn beside her. She held the girl, insuring that she watched, and hissed in her ear, “So sorry little one, I know he was special to you. But if it is any consolation, you will all be following him shortly.”

*****

She stood, arms holding herself as she looked at the woman standing before her. The face, the hair, the posture was all the same. It was perfect, even capturing the smell of sage lingering on her clothes. But the eyes that she loved, the eyes she wanted to be able to look into for eternity were not there. Willow was seeing the same color, the same texture of the skin that surrounded them, but the soul behind them was not the same, was not her Tara.

“Do you know me?” Willow asked.

“Of course I do Willow.” The voice was so perfect that she felt her stomach convulse.

The way she said my name.

“What are you doing here?”

“I came to stop you, from doing the magic. It is killing me, seeing you like this.” This Tara said stepped closer, and cupping Willow’s cheek in her hand. How long could she pretend that this was real? For how long could she close her eyes and lean into this touch. This skin was warm, the breath so close to her own. With her eyes closed she could almost feel the perfection of the moment. Her Tara returned to her. “I love you Willow, and I can’t stand for you to feel this pain.”

Willow sobbed deeply, letting herself collapse into those arms, feeling the softness of the body against hers. If she only kept her eyes closed, if she only forgot the world around them, she could stay like this, with her Tara forever.

*****

Faith and Buffy emerged from the basement, both wearing light jackets that concealed the arsenal they carried. Giles was not so shy, strapping the ax to the harness on his back.

“I think we have everything, do we have everything?” Xander asked, tucking one more vial of Holy Water into his pocket.

“I think so, I have the little blue glowing orb thingy.” Buffy said looking at it in her hand. It was opaque for now.

“Well the sun is setting soon. Let’s go.” Faith said stepping towards the door.

“Wills will find us right?” Buffy asked as they all left the house.

“That’s what she said.” Xander shrugged, still worried about his friend. It sure as hell had looked like Tara to him.

*****

“I can take it all, Willow. Give it to me, let me cleanse you.”

“Who are you?” Willow growled.

“What? I am Tara.”

“No, my Tara is gone. I held her body in my arms, felt her spirit leave this world. I held her as the breath left her body, and the blood pooled on the floor. Who are you?”

“I came back, Willow.”

“You came back?” Willow laughed taking a step back, feeling the power that she held, innately tingling through her arms to her fingertips. “You can’t just come back from the dead. You think I am fool, witch? You think you can trick me with infantile glamour spells and words of devotion?”

“Willow this is for your own good.”

“Do you have any idea who I am? What I am capable of?”

“You are scaring me.”

“See, Tara would never be scared of me, not now. She would know that I have battled and won. She would be proud of me. You are not Tara. And you are very foolish. I will strip you of the spell myself.” Her eyes bled red, and the Tara before her wavered, like heat, and left standing a tall young woman, with plain brown hair, and dull brown eyes. “All better. No more tricks.”

“You, you,”

“Me, Me. I am the strongest witch you will ever know. And take my advice, or I will hand you over to the Slayers and they don’t take kindly to magic abusers – trust me on that one. Never try a draining spell again. You do know that any real witch is born with a core of magic in their soul, you take all of their magic, and you kill them. Do you want to be a killer?”

"No, no I just wanted to be stronger, to show them."

"Witchcraft is not a popularity contest, it isn’t about who is better or fast. Everyone is different.” She sighed. “Please, give me the charm, and leave my town.”

She complied providing the small pin from her shoulder. Willow held it in her hand. With a little added power of her own she could ensure that anyone who wore this would completely resemble Tara. She could have it placed on anyone, and they would be Tara to her. She could hold her again, feel her, and touch her.

Tara was gone, though her love would remain with Willow, in her heart. She would always have the memory of being loved by her, being challenged by her. But she would only have the memories. She needed to move on, needed to, in a sense, let go. Let her Tara go, let herself move on. Faith had been right; Willow could love again, never the same, but in a different way. She dropped the pin to the concrete, and ground it away under her boot heel.

*****

“So this thing is supposed to work?” Buffy asked shaking it. There was a light blue glow to it. She looked at Faith who shrugged at her.

“I think we should try the warehouses.”

“Right, best place to be, and Ronnie knows it.” Faith said, and the group started heading in that direction.

“So it really was her, huh, Faith? Your Watcher?” Xander asked.

“No, she is a demon in her body. Ronnie would never do something like this. It wasn’t in her nature.” Faith grumbled. “Was a bit of a mind-fuck to see her though.”

“I can understand that.” Willow said as she slipped out of an alley, and joined the group.

“Hey Wills.” Buffy said, handing her a stake.

“You okay Red?” Faith asked.

“I’m fine. Just an under achieving witch who got a mightily stern tongue-lashing from me.” She grinned at Faith, but her eyes were sad. Buffy could only imagine how painful it must have been for Willow to see Tara, she didn’t-

“Holy Moly- look at that!” Xander pointed at the orb in Buffy’s hand. It just spiked, glowing an impressive blue.

“She is right here.” Willow mused.

They all stopped, and Faith spun around, looking and smelling the air.

“Fuck!” She pointed a few thousand yards down the lane, Buffy could see, but not the others, not with human eyes. It was a door, wide open.

“Now! Let’s go!” Buffy took off running, and Faith followed.

*****

Interesting, Veronica thought. The physical reaction to seeing her friend’s death. She really was amazed at the rage it produced in Dawn. She would have to remember to write that down later. She looked out the now opened doors of the warehouse. The sun was setting. And she knew that Faith was out there somewhere, closing in fast.

*****

I would make Ronnie pay for ever thinking that she could touch Dawn. I could feel it surging through my body, the adrenaline, the power, the Slayer ready to fight and defend those she loved.

I think both B and me were feeling it because we sprinted through the doors, not giving a flying fuck how many vamps were on the other side.

“Oh, God! Oh God no!” B screamed falling to her knees before the scene. There was no air in the room, no air in my lungs. This was not possible, this was not happening. God! Buffy!

I moved to block her view, pulling her tightly against me, pressing her face into my chest. Looking up at Giles, as he came running in behind us, with my eyes I pleaded with him to take down Dawn’s body.

...continued in Beginnings...

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