DISCLAIMER: The Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel characters are the property of Mutant Enemy, Joss Whedon, and Fox Studios. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2001 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Part 6 – Truce
"Come on, put your back into it. A Watcher scoffs at gravity." – Giles to Spike, Restless
Buffy walked quickly back to the house. It was stupid to have gone out. Anyone could have seen her and wondered why a supposedly dead woman was walking around the neighborhood again. But she'd been worried about Dawn and had needed to make sure she went to school. It had been a jolt to see her sister with Faith. Buffy's first reaction had been anger, her second jealousy.
She could still see the impulsive hug Dawn had given the other slayer. It was clear her sister looked up to Faith, loved her even. And it was also clear that Faith loved Dawn. Would do anything for her, even if it meant making peace with her enemy. Buffy had been stunned when Faith had put away her weapon and declared that they weren't going to fight. She couldn't imagine the Faith she remembered walking away from any fight.
But this wasn't the Faith she'd known. As much as Buffy wanted to deny it, the rogue slayer had truly changed. Her whole attitude was different. The angry young woman was gone. Which was not to say she wasn't still a dangerous young woman. Buffy wouldn't have wanted to try to hurt something Faith loved. But she could see that the Faith's need to pay the world back, and Buffy with it, seemed to have eased.
Even the way Faith looked was different. Her makeup was softer, her clothing less extreme. She was sexy now without being slutty. Was that Giles' influence? Or the months in prison? Or was it Angel's?
Buffy didn't want to go down that road and resolutely steered her mind to other issues. Such as how she was going to explain her sudden reappearance. Dawn was right; Buffy did need to talk to Giles about this.
She bounded up the stairs and into the front room.
Spike looked up quickly. "Shouldn't have gone out."
He seemed surprised at the admission. "See anything interesting? Kill anyone?"
"Very funny." She walked into the kitchen and poured some orange juice.
He stood in the doorway watching her.
She tried to pretend he wasn't there, concentrated on her drink. Finally, she turned to him in exasperation. "Don't worry. Dawn didn't know I was following her."
"Good. She's mad enough at us as it is."
"At me, you mean." She edged around him and headed for the couch. "I doubt that she could get mad at you at this point."
He shrugged. "She's been mad at me plenty of times. Just not lately is all."
She smiled. "I ran into Faith there too."
He watched her intently.
"We made peace. Or our version of it."
"Good. Faith's alright."
She laughed mockingly. "I hardly take that as a recommendation, Spike." She looked around, felt as if she was reacquainting herself with the living room.
"How's it to be back?"
"Okay. Getting better. Willow filled me in on what's been going on but I think she left out some stuff."
"Wasn't much time last night for the full story."
"Or else she didn't want to make me any angrier than I already was."
"That too, I suppose."
"Well, why don't you catch me up the rest of the way? Say for instance, what happened to that damned robot? Did Willow rebuild her again?"
He shook his head. "Didn't have the heart, none of us did. She took it apart and we melted what we could. The rest she used in other projects or threw away. Said she wanted to make sure that nobody every rebuilt her again."
"Thank God for that." She sighed. "What about Riley, he didn't come back did he?"
"Captain America didn't show his face. You aren't still mooning over him, are you?"
"He's a better man than you, Spike." Her tone was neutral despite the harshness of the words. She wasn't sure anymore if she really believed in Riley's goodness or Spike's wickedness.
"Sure he is." Spike got up, his face carefully controlled.
"I'm sorry," she surprised herself by saying. "I shouldn't have said that."
"No, I imagine you shouldn't have." He walked away, then stopped and without turning around said, "Thing is, I guess when you were dead I made up this little fantasy that you'd come back and see all the good I've done and how Dawn is alright because of me and you'd think the better of me for it. Maybe a lot better." He sighed. "From where I stand now, that fantasy looks pretty daft."
"Spike..." She wasn't sure what she wanted to say.
He walked out of the room before she could continue.
She sat alone for a while, then wandered upstairs. Willow and Tara were out. She was suddenly very tired. She pulled off her boots and walked to her bed. Not bothering to get undressed she crawled under the covers and quickly fell asleep.
She woke hours later. Had the sense of someone watching her. Turned quickly in annoyance, expecting it to be Spike. It was Giles.
"Oh," she said in surprise.
He smiled, the gentle smile she loved. "Did you sleep well?"
She nodded and sat up in bed.
He came to sit next to her and stared at her for the longest time. "To see you again is a luxury I never thought I'd have."
She swallowed hard. "About what I said last night..."
His expression was stern. "I'm not going to explain myself to you. Or defend the choices I've made."
"I'm with Faith now. I know you don't like it, but you'll have to accept it."
"She and I talked."
"Yes, she told me."
Buffy nodded. "Dawn really loves her."
"So do I." Giles voice was slightly defiant.
"Yeah?" She looked down. Her voice was very small. "Do you still love me?"
"Oh, Buffy, how can you even ask that?"
She looked up to see him smiling at her and realized his eyes were full of unshed tears. "Giles? I've been so scared. It was so hard to hang on."
"I know." He held his arms open to her. "But you're safe now."
This time she didn't hesitate; she held him tightly.
"Buffy," he murmured. "I thought I'd lost you forever."
"You can't get rid of me that easily." She smiled into his chest. Her watcher. She had her watcher back. Then doubt crept in. "Are you still my watcher, Giles?"
"Why? Did you want to switch over to Spike?" His tone was gently teasing.
She laughed softly. "No. As in please God no." She buried her head tighter into his chest and whispered, "It's just that you have Faith now, too and she's not big with sharing."
"And I imagine that there will be quite a bit of adjustment for all of us. But you were my first slayer and you will always be that. My relationship with Faith doesn't change that."
"Okay," she said, not quite believing.
"Let's go downstairs now. Everyone is here. Amy wants to go home and we have to decide how to explain her absence."
"And my reappearance. I can't stay in the house forever."
"No, you can't." He got up and held his hand out.
"You go on. Just give me a minute and I'll be down."
"Of course." He smiled at her, his expression full of joy. "Welcome home, Buffy."
His delight was infectious. She found herself grinning back broadly even if she still wasn't exactly sure what home meant.
Xander looked around the living room. This was all so weird. And so great. Buffy was back, Amy was human, even seeing Spike and Faith was somehow normal now. Dawn came in holding a cola and she seemed subdued. "Hey, Dawnster, come sit next to me."
She smiled and joined him on the couch.
"So what's with the long face?"
He chuckled. "I hear you there. It's really unfair we have to sit in school for all those years and miss out on some quality sleeping time."
She giggled. "Where's Anya?"
He rolled his eyes. "She's up with Tara searching the internet for a wedding dress she liked. Someone she once granted the power of the wish wore it."
"How long ago?"
"Oh, 1481 I think she said." He shrugged. "Apparently the blushing bride sat for some famous painter. If Anya can find the portrait, she can get the dress copied."
"Seems like a lot of work for a dress you only wear once."
"Preaching to the choir, Dawnster." He saw Anya and Tara coming down the stairs. Anya held some papers in her hand. "Looks like they met with success."
"See," Anya said as she sat down on the other side of Xander and held out the picture. "Isn't it beautiful?"
He looked at the dress. It was white and sort of involved. He wasn't sure why it was prettier than any of the other dresses she'd shown him. "It's great, An. Whatever you want, you know that."
She kissed him. "I know. I want our wedding to be perfect."
"As long as you're in it, it will be," he said, trying to ignore Dawn who was making gagging motions.
"I saw that," Anya told her. "Keep it up and you won't be the flower girl."
"I don't want to be the flower girl. And I'm like way too old."
"I have to have a flower girl. All the books say so. A young girl to strew lovely petals ahead of me. It's required. And you're the only young girl I know."
Dawn rolled her eyes. "Fine, I'm the strewer."
"Strewer. Slayer. Man, are you multi-talented." Xander winked at her.
Buffy walked over and Anya dug into her purse. The ex-demon pulled out a fabric swatch and handed it to the slayer. "I've decided you can be one of my attendants."
"Oh, joy." Buffy eyed the peach taffeta dubiously. "Who else is going to be in it?"
"Well, Willow and Tara of course."
The two looked over with identical expressions of dismay.
Anya ignored them. "But I think I need more attendants. Three isn't enough." She stood. "Faith, Amy, I'd like you in my wedding."
Amy seemed to be frantically thinking up an excuse, but Faith just shook her head. "I don't do weddings, Anya."
"Nonsense. You'll look stunning in this color." She handed a fabric swatch over. "There's a picture on the other side."
Faith studied it. "This is like a prom dress. In hell." She handed it back. "I don't think so."
Xander tried and failed to imagine Faith in the poufy dress Anya had picked out. Faith may have changed, but not that much.
Giles stood up. "All right, everyone. It's time to figure out some things. Let's start with Amy's situation." He looked over at Amy, who smiled at him gratefully. "I imagine you would like to go home, my dear. And I know your father's missing you."
"He really is," Willow said.
"But you've been missing for two years. You can't just reappear without a decent reason for your absence. Especially with Buffy showing up at the same time."
"I thought I could say I had amnesia. That happens after a bump on the head, right? And that MOO group did hit me when they captured me."
"People can go for years not remembering," Tara said. "And nobody really knows what triggers their memory when it does come back."
Giles nodded. "I was thinking along those lines too. But Amy, I think that it would be better for you and better for us if you were found in LA and not here. Will cause less questions all around."
"Plus then you won't have to explain to your dad why you were in Sunnydale and didn't come to him at once," Willow said with a wry smile.
Faith spoke up. "Angel can help. He knows a woman who runs a shelter for kids on the street. He did her a favor or two and she could probably say you'd come in a few times."
When Faith mentioned Angel, Xander turned to see Buffy's response. Her face tightened a bit but otherwise she didn't react.
Amy looked around. "I can do that. But how will I get there without being seen?"
"I'll take you," Tara said before anyone else could reply. "I have no connection with Angel or LA."
Buffy spoke up suddenly. "I'd like to ride with you."
Giles frowned. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Maybe because you're supposed to be dead," Faith answered sharply.
"Or maybe because you don't want me to see Angel?" Buffy's voice was bitter.
"Why should I care who you see?" Faith sounded serious. "It's just seems kind of stupid for you to go with them if the whole point is to make it like there's no connection between your reappearance and Amy's."
Buffy's lips tightened but she didn't argue.
Giles nodded. "Okay then. I'll call Angel and see if he can arrange things. If all goes well, Amy can be in LA in a few hours and back in Sunnydale by nightfall. I'm sure your father will be thrilled to see you."
Amy smiled at him happily.
"But what about Buffy?" Xander asked. "How we going to explain her coming back from the dead? I mean there's a tombstone and everything."
There was an uncomfortable silence.
"And it's not like your face was all schmooshed so that we couldn't tell that it wasn't really you that died," Dawn said.
"Evil twin?" Willow said. "You know, sort of like in the Parent Trap. You were separated and then impersonated each other?"
Buffy raised her eyebrows.
"It could work," Willow said.
"Well except that Dad won't remember any twin," Buffy said.
"Maybe he didn't know. Maybe the twin was stolen by a crazed nurse that wanted a child of her own?" Willow was clearly running with the idea.
Giles smiled. "Yes, well, I suppose that's a possibility."
Spike spoke up, "Well you could do like a vampire does. Remain officially dead. Then live a life outside of society."
"Good idea, Spike. Hey, maybe she could move in with you?" Xander rolled his eyes—Spike, master of the useless.
"I'm just saying it's the way we come back from the dead. Happens all the time."
"I'd prefer to have my old life back, thanks." Buffy looked at Giles. "There must be a way."
"Plastic surgery," Anya said. "Someone wanted to kidnap you. But they didn't want us to know. So they hired a strange woman to impersonate you and they redid her face so she looked exactly liked you. Unfortunately she slipped and fell off a big tower and then you got away from the kidnappers and came back."
Xander laughed. "Well it worked on Bionic Woman, it could work for us."
Buffy closed her eyes. "Scary as these ideas are sounding, they just might work."
"Why not make people forget?" Dawn looked around. "Make whole new memories. Like the monks did when they made me?"
Everyone looked at her. Then they turned and looked at Willow.
"I know. You want me to ask D'Hoffryn for the spell." She looked around. "Do I have to go to Arashmaharr now?"
Giles shook his head. "Let's see if we can come up with another idea before we resort to him. Lord knows what he'll want in return for this spell."
"Don't think you'll be out and about tomorrow, Buff," Xander said.
She sighed. "Well, I'd rather we do this right than rush it. But we should get Amy home. Are you going to make that call, Giles?"
He nodded. "Maybe you'd like to say hello to Angel before I get into the details with him?"
She smiled gratefully and rose to join him. "That would be great."
They went into the kitchen.
Tara looked over at Xander. "Can I borrow your car?" At his nod, she looked over at Willow, "We can put a glamour on it, make it look completely different."
Willow nodded. "Sure we can, good thinking."
Amy smiled. "I'll be home soon. This is so great."
Xander saw her smile fade. "Do I hear a but coming on?"
She nodded. "I've missed two years. I'll never catch up."
"I graduated with no real schooling to prepare me. You can finish too. It's not that hard," Anya said.
"Or you can go for your GED. I'll help you study," Willow said.
"We need another rat," Tara said. At their looks, she explained. "We don't want anything to look funny right? Willow's been caring for you as a rat, Amy, since high school. How do we explain the sudden disappearance? I'm going to look at the pet stores when I'm in LA. A brown rat shouldn't be that hard to find."
"Good thinking," Willow smiled at her.
Xander was pretty sure no one was inventorying their pets, but he kept that to himself.
Faith nudged Dawn. "We could be patrolling."
Dawn looked uncertainly into the kitchen. "Buffy?"
Faith shook her head. "Shouldn't come out till she's officially alive again. That doesn't mean we get to slack off."
Xander watched them. Dawn was growing up very fast around Faith. On the other hand, he wasn't sure there was anyone better to keep her alive.
"Mind some company?" Spike asked.
"The more the merrier." Faith turned to Amy. "Good luck and all."
Dawn smiled at Amy and followed Faith out. Spike was about to go, but Amy held out her hand and stopped him.
"So, did you find out the answer to that question I asked?"
He shook his head. "Jury's still out. But it's not looking good for the defendant."
She gave him a dazzling smile. "Is it tacky to say yay?"
He grinned back, "I wouldn't say tacky, exactly."
Dawn's voice sounded from the hall, "Spike, you with us or not?"
He gave Amy another grin and hurried out.
"He's yummy," Amy said.
"You really have been a rat too long." Xander made a face at her.
She just laughed.
Anya picked up the fabric swatch that Faith had rejected and handed it to Amy. "Maybe while you're in LA you could look for shoes to match this?"
Willow took pity on Amy. "Anya, she can't be in your wedding. That would make no sense if she's trying to look like she's been away forever. Three attendants and a flower girl will have to be enough."
Anya pouted. Then she looked at Xander. "Maybe you could work on Faith?"
"Oh no." He held up his hands. "I'm staying out of this one, An."
She glared at him but it didn't change his mind. There was little his fiancée could do to him that compared to what he could expect from Faith if he pressed the subject of wearing a peach bridesmaid's dress in his wedding. He might be kind of slow on the uptake sometimes, but he wasn't a fool.
Buffy watched Giles dial the phone, her heart hammering wildly. The last time she'd seen Angel had been the night of her mother's burial. She could still recall standing by the gravesite and sensing his presence, holding out her hand and feeling his envelope it.
Giles' voice brought her out of her reverie. "Hello again, Cordelia."
Buffy made a face.
"Yes, it's me. No, I don't need help with Faith. She's really quite all right. I was hoping to speak with Angel please. Thank you." There was a pause as Giles waited.
"She hasn't changed much." Buffy smiled.
"According to Wesley she has, but it's damned difficult to see any difference from here." He perked up. "Angel? I have a bit of a pressing problem now. No, not that spell you and Wesley were helping us with. Do you remember Amy the Rat? Yes, well she's been deratted, and now I need to be able to get her back into human life without attracting undue attention. Faith thought perhaps your friend Anne could help with that?"
Buffy couldn't wait any longer. Nudging Giles to get his attention, she pointed to the phone, then to herself.
He nodded in understanding. "We can work the details out in a minute. I have someone who wants to tell you why we no longer need that spell." He handed her the phone and walked away to give her some privacy.
She took a deep breath before lifting the receiver to her ear. "Angel?"
There was silence, then an incredulous, "Buffy?"
There was no sound from the other end. "Angel?" she said finally.
"I'm here. Just trying to take this in." More silence. "You're really back?"
"I'm really back." She smiled at his bewilderment.
"Magic. I was trapped in the portal I fell into. They figured out a way to bring me back."
"Wow." There was more silence. Then he chuckled. "I guess I should be used to the idea by now, I mean I came back from hell, Wolfram and Hart brought Darla back from the dead, now you."
Just the thought of Darla made Buffy jealous. Angel had told her as they sat by her mother's grave how his sire had come back to life a human, how he'd tried to save her. Buffy could remember the sorrow in his voice when he told her how he couldn't stop Drusilla from turning Darla again. There'd been something more, something he wasn't saying.
"Yeah, well, resurrection still isn't your everyday occurrence," she said, trying to recapture the way she used to tease him.
"Guess it's that whole higher purpose thing. You and I are necessary and all that."
"I guess. It feels strange though, being back, I mean."
"I know. Nothing's changed but everything's different. I felt the same way."
"You at least seem to have come back sane. I guess Giles isn't having to chain you up the way you did me?"
"Oh, I'm sure he gets plenty of that kind of action with Faith," she said as sarcastically as she could, hoping Giles wasn't listening from the hall.
Buffy felt guilty. She shouldn't have said that—not after how nice Giles was being. She tried to backtrack. "I mean as his new slayer and all."
Was he jealous? "Yeah."
"Wouldn't have seen that. But she's changed a lot since you saw her last."
"Yeah I know." Buffy didn't want to talk about Faith anymore. "So what about you, how are you doing?"
"Me? Oh, I'm good." He suddenly seemed distracted.
Buffy thought she could hear someone else talking "So you're busy? I mean with the detective business?"
He was whispering, "Not now. I'll look at it later."
Another voice was arguing in a crazy singsong way. It sort of reminded Buffy of Drusilla. Angel wasn't trying to reform her too, was he? "Who is that, Angel?"
"That? Oh, that's Fred."
"Voice is a bit high for your typical Fred."
"Oh. Well, that's because this Fred's a woman."
"Used to be a cow though. Heh. Got away and ate bark in a cave," this Fred person said.
"No bark now, Fred. Why don't you go get some oatmeal?" Angel's voice was gentle.
Buffy felt her heart sink. She wasn't sure what she'd been expecting. Angel picked up strays all the time. That's what he did, helped those that had nowhere else to turn. It didn't mean anything. But something about this one bothered her more than most. "Listen, you sound really busy with Fred and all, and I know Giles needs to talk to you, so I'm going to let you go."
She didn't say anything, just waited.
"I missed you."
"I missed you too." She felt tears threaten and sniffed several times. She motioned to Giles. Before she handed the phone to him she said to Angel, "I'll see you around?"
"Count on it," he said softly.
The voice in the background was clear, "Don't just count. Make it harder. See like this. One, four, nine, sixteen, twenty-five, thirty-six, forty-nine..."
Buffy passed the receiver to her watcher and tried to fight the irritation she felt. She wandered into the front room.
Willow came over. "How'd it go?"
"Good," Buffy remembered that Willow had told her she'd been the one to tell Angel that the slayer had died. "You saw this Fred person, right?"
Willow thought back. "Oh, yeah, the one they rescued from that demon world."
"So, umm, what does she look like?"
Willow frowned. "Gosh, Buff. I don't remember."
"Will, was she pretty?"
Her friend grinned sheepishly. "Well okay, maybe I noticed a little. She's small, long dark hair, real delicate looking. But she's like totally loony on account of too long a stay in that demon place. I mean in a mad scientist kind of way because she seems really smart too."
Buffy frowned. "I think she's staying there."
"Oh, Buffy, you know that doesn't mean anything. Angel's still totally in love with you."
"Sure. I know." But she didn't know anymore. He seemed to love so many people. Faith, Darla, now this Fred person. Buffy might believe she was his soulmate but it sure was getting crowded in his soul.
She looked around. "Where's Dawn?"
"Patrolling with Spike and Faith." At her look, Willow raised a hand. "You really shouldn't be seen, Buffy. You know that. That's why they didn't ask you to come."
"It's like they snuck out."
"Oh, there was nothing sneaky about it. They got up, announced their plans, and left, same as always."
"You know what I mean." She dropped the subject as she saw Giles come out.
"We're all set, Amy. Angel's already making some calls. It may take a bit longer than we thought. He wants you to become a familiar face around the shelter so that when you do 'suddenly' remember who you are there will be a number of people to back the story up. Do you mind living a lie for a week or so?"
Amy shook her head. "I was worrying about how I would explain being gone. This sounds good. Kind of scary, though."
"Just think of how happy your dad will be when you call him from LA." Willow shared a smile with Amy.
Tara stood up and took the directions to the shelter from Giles. "Well, we can go then. Xander, Anya, you want a ride back to your apartment?"
They both stood and followed Tara and Amy out.
Willow looked over at Buffy. "I'll be right back. I just want to help Tara enchant the car. Well and to say goodbye." She grinned.
"No problem." As she watched her friend walk out to join the others, Buffy sighed. The house seemed very quiet and close with everyone gone.
Giles moved close. "Everything all right?"
"Sure." She tried to fake a smile but knew she failed. "What could be wrong?"
"It will get easier. And soon you'll be able to come and go as you please." His hand fell gently on her shoulder.
She reached up and placed her own over his for a moment. "It all feels so strange." She walked away from him, began to pick things up aimlessly from the tables, stopped when she came to the photo of her mom with Dawn and her. She touched the glass softly, tracing the outline of her mother's face.
"I miss her too," Giles voice was soft. "She was an extraordinarily good woman."
"People lose their mothers every day. How come they don't tell you it will be this hard when it happens to you?" She fought back tears.
"I don't know," he said. "I suspect even if they told you, you wouldn't believe them."
"I never knew anything could hurt this much."
She fought the sadness for a moment and tried to be strong. It was too hard. "God I miss her, Giles."
"I know," he said, his voice a bit ragged. "I know you do."
Tara drove carefully, not wanting to attract any attention. Amy stared out the window.
"You want some music?"
"No, that's okay."
A few more miles passed in silence.
"Uh huh." Amy's response lacked any real conviction.
"You don't seem it." Tara glanced over at the other witch. "You purple?"
Tara giggled. "Just checking to make sure you were paying attention." She glanced at Amy again to see the reaction.
Amy smiled. "I'm sorry. I'm just really caught up in all that's happened. I'm trying to make sense of it. Little things like who everybody is and what happened to things. It's confusing."
"I imagine it is."
"Like you, for instance. I remember what I saw as a rat, so I know that you and Willow are involved and all. But where did you come from?"
"Hell," Tara replied bitterly.
"You really are a Sunnydale native." Tara laughed. "No, not real hell. But my family, well everyone but my mom, they were pretty hard on me when I was growing up."
Amy stretched. "I'm just the opposite. It was my mom who made my life a living hell. She was a witch too."
"Yeah, so was mine. Only maybe with a different outlook."
"She didn't switch bodies with you so she could relive her youth, did she?"
"Where's your mom now?"
"Tartarus, I hope," Amy said, her voice bitter. "What about your mom?"
"She died. When I was seventeen."
"I'm sorry. How did it happen?"
"My dad said she fell. Said it was an accident. But he lied about some other things." Tara remembered how she used to fear that she'd become a demon. "And he had a really bad temper. In public he was all upstanding but when he got mad, he'd whale on us."
"So you think he killed her?"
Tara shrugged. "Wouldn't put it past him."
"But you got away."
"Yeah. I did." Tara smiled tightly. "They can't hurt me anymore."
"So did your mom teach you witchcraft?"
"Some little things. Most of it though I learned on my own." Tara saw the exit that Giles had told her to take. She moved off the freeway and into LA proper.
"I taught myself too." Amy trailed off as she stared out the window. "Wow. LA looks so big."
"I imagine everything looks big after living in a cage for as long as you have."
"It wasn't a bad cage. You could have changed the bedding more often though." Amy sounded like she was only half teasing.
"Sorry. I'll remember that for the replacement rat."
Amy didn't say anything.
"I am. I've never really been on my own, not even to camp."
Tara pulled over across the street from the shelter. "Angel said to look for Anne. She's tall, blonde, runs the shelter. Introduce yourself as Jane Smith and Anne will explain the plan."
Amy sat unmoving.
Tara leaned over and touched her shoulder. "Your dad really needs you back, Amy. This is the first step. Anne will look out for you."
"Okay. I'm going." Amy took a deep breath. She waited till some teenagers walked into the shelter, then got out of the car and hurried across the street to the shelter door. She turned to look at the car and frowned for a moment.
Tara realized that Amy was seeing the glamour they'd put on it. Tara would appear as an old man, and Xander's car would seem to be a large sedan. She smiled and waved, Amy waved back then walked inside.
Tara let out the breath she'd been holding. They were asking so much of Amy. It was necessary but Tara couldn't help but feel for the other girl. It was really hard to live a lie.
Tara pulled the car away from the curb and eased into the light traffic. She needed to get a rat. It was a cinch there weren't any pet stores open this early in the morning. But that was okay. She could probably get a rat at her next stop. Tara smiled happily.
She drove for a few minutes, then parked in front of a warehouse in one of LA's seedier districts.
A young man came out of the shadows. His wary look eased when he saw her. "Hey, Tara, check you out. All grown up now and quite the woman."
She laughed. "These things do happen."
"So they do. And I like, I like. You got a honey back at college or could I apply?" he asked as he walked her to a door.
"I'm spoken for, Colin."
He laughed good-naturedly and clutched at his heart. When her resolve didn't falter, he shrugged and keyed in a code to an access box on the wall. The door opened soundlessly.
"She'll be really glad to see you, Tara. It's been a long time."
"It's not like I don't call every week," she said gently. As she walked into the building, witch light sprang up ahead of her, showing the way to the stairs and down to the living area.
She opened the door slowly and saw several heads turn. They waved lazily but otherwise ignored her. She walked down the hall and stopped when she came to the right door. She knocked softly, a smile already forming on her face.
The door opened quickly. The face that looked out was snake-like for a moment, then transformed into an older woman. "Tara!"
Tara was pulled into a hug. "Mom. You don't have to go all human on my account."
Her mother held her at arm's length, inspecting Tara's face. Her face relaxed back into the reptilian features she'd worn when she opened the door. "You look tired. And your energy is off." She pulled Tara into the room. "Your father's not making trouble for you again is he?"
"No. We've been busy. We resurrected Buffy. Willow found the spell."
Her mother smiled. "Willow sounds like an exceptional young woman."
Tara looked down. "I wish you could meet her someday."
Her mother's hand brushed her hair. "You know that won't happen, darling. I'm supposed to be dead. And how would she like seeing me like this? She thinks you're human, Tara. And for all practical purposes you are or you'd look like I do now. But just because she accepts that you might have been a demon, doesn't mean that she'll accept that your mother is one."
"I think you're wrong, Mom. Not everyone's like Dad."
"But enough people are, my dear, that it frightens me. When I think of the state you were in when I finally got you away from him. I'd do anything to prevent that from happening again."
"It's okay, Mom. I'm not going to tell anyone. I've kept your secret for two years now. No one is going to find out. Especially not him. He doesn't even suspect that you're still alive. He still thinks I just ran away." Tara felt terrible memories surrounding her, she whispered, "As if I ever would have back then."
"You're a different person now. Strong and capable. He can't hurt you anymore. Let's not waste our breath talking about him, hmm. We have hardly any time as it is." She led Tara to a couch. "How long can you stay?"
"Till nine. Maybe later if you can manifest a rat for me."
"For breakfast?" Her mother looked worried.
"For a pet," she said, giggling.
Her mother was relieved. "Of course I can. What color?"
Tara's mother closed her eyes and muttered in a language Tara had only recently relearned. "Ketlblm rdzachk portlmb."
A brown rat appeared on the couch between them. It promptly climbed into Tara's lap and fell asleep.
"Cool," she said, awed as always by her mother's power.
"You should be able to do this too. I think whatever kept you human also makes it harder for you to do magic." She touched her daughter's forehead, closed her eyes for a moment, then smiled. "But you're much stronger than last time, must be Willow's influence."
Tara smiled happily.
Her mother laughed. "Alright I want to know what's happened since the last time you called."
Tara relaxed as she caught her mother up on everything.
"So Spike," Faith said as she punched the ugly vampire that had been stupid enough to take her on. "What's the story with you and Amy?"
"Not much to tell," he replied as he dusted his own opponent then tossed Faith the stake.
"Uh huh," Faith said as she stabbed the vampire a little more viciously than necessary. His face turned to shock before he exploded into ash.
"Sure looked like something from where we were standing," Dawn said, flipping a huge male vamp off her back and following him down with the stake. He was dust.
Faith looked around, surveying the area. There were no more vampires to be fought. She felt the normal hunger and horniness start to rise. She focused on the latter feeling, telling it to hold off till she was alone with Giles again. She grinned at how he seemed to enjoy the enthusiasm she brought home with her.
"Don't want to even ask what you're thinking of." Spike chuckled.
She gave him an amused look. He seemed to generally have a pretty good idea she was thinking.
"I'm hungry," Dawn said.
Faith nodded. "Me too. Let's go grab something."
They walked across the street to the all-night convenience store. Faith warmed up a burrito while Dawn eyed the ice-cream bars. Spike stayed outside. Mostly to avoid the shoplifter mirrors, of which there were many. The clerk tended to watch them all nervously whenever Faith came in. He remembered her from the last time she lived in Sunnydale. So she didn't always choose to pay for what she ate—no reason to get all bent.
She knew it was wrong but she couldn't help it. Making sure he was still watching, she stuck a lighter into her pocket. She saw his eyes widen. Yeah right, sucker.
"You ready there, squirt? We've got lots more to do tonight."
Dawn made her choice and hurried to join her.
Faith walked slowly up to the cashier, making sure her hips moved as seductively as she could make them. She put down the burrito, pointed to Dawn's ice cream, and said cockily, "And a pack of those," pointing over to the brand Spike usually smoked. The clerk tried to hide a smile as he pulled down the pack.
He was ringing it up and had almost hit total when she said, "Oh yeah, and this too." She pulled the lighter out of her pocket and tossed it on the counter. She almost laughed at his look of disappointment. She leaned in close and made her voice a delicate hiss. "I don't steal anymore so you can relax. But if I did steal, there's no way I'd let you catch me doing it."
He swallowed audibly.
She backed away and handed him the money.
He counted back her change uneasily.
With a sweet smile she put a dollar into the "Save the Children" box. She looked over at the clerk. "Now this is a good cause. You save them as kids, they don't grow up to be like me."
He nodded, then stopped as if wondering whether nodding was a good idea.
"You have a good night now," Faith said breezily as she gathered up her stuff and walked out.
"Was that really necessary?" Dawn asked as she followed her out, already unwrapping her ice cream.
Spike was drinking from a thermos when they joined him. He took the cigarettes and looked askance at the lighter. "The one I have is still good. Was this on special or something?"
"Don't ask," Dawn said.
"Just setting something to rights is all," Faith said as she handed Spike back his change. For once she didn't feel so bad about sponging off the others. "Hey, Giles heard from the Council today. They're freeing up my funds next week."
"So I can teach you how to use an ATM?" Dawn asked with excitement—the kid really needed to have some real fun.
"I know how to use one. I've just never done it with my own card before." Faith smirked.
Spike burst out laughing. "Ah the nostalgia of the bad old days."
They shared a look.
"Not fair," Dawn said. "I don't have a bad past so I can't be in the club."
"Well now. You don't know that for sure. Those knights seemed pretty set on killing you. So maybe, as the key, you were used for all kinds of horrible things."
Dawn seemed pleased at the thought. "And now I'm good. Cool. I'm one of the reformed gang now."
Faith shook her head and smiled over at Spike.
He grinned back. "So if you're coming into all this money, can I expect some rather large blood deliveries courtesy of you?"
"Yeah, yeah." She turned to Dawn. "And I owe you like a hundred by now. Don't worry, I'll pay."
"I know you will." Dawn smiled at her fondly. "I'm just glad you'll have your own funds. No more worrying."
"And lots more shopping. There's this wicked cool leather coat I've been eyeing."
"Can't go wrong with leather," Spike said.
"Yeah, until a big ugly vampire wrecks it, that is." Dawn turned to him. "So you never answered the question about Amy."
"No. I didn't." His tone was clear. He didn't want to talk about this.
A message lost on Dawn. "So you think you could like her?"
He sighed. "Why is this so important to you?"
"I want you to be happy. Amy might make you happy. And she's a witch and all, so she's not just a normal person."
Faith saw his face tighten. "Kiddo, he's not in love with Amy."
He looked away.
Dawn wouldn't let up. "Well you just met her. How will you know unless you give it a chance? She sure seems to dig you."
Faith saw Spike's fists clench. "Leave him alone, Dawn. This isn't our business."
"He's my watcher. And he's in love with my sister. And she's not in love with him. And I'm caught in the middle. So how is that not my business?"
Faith shot her a warning look. "It just isn't, okay."
Dawn looked at Spike and must have seen something in his face that made her shrug in resignation. "Fine. Whatever." She threw her ice cream stick away and walked away from them.
Spike looked at Faith. "Thanks."
"For what it's worth, I agree with Dawn. Find someone else. B will just break you heart." She threw away the burrito wrapper and went after Dawn. It was a few minutes before a subdued Spike caught up with them.
Willow sat up in bed with a start. "Tara?"
The room was empty. And too quiet without the sound of her lover's breathing. Willow even missed the sound of Amy rustling in her cage. She glanced at the alarm clock. It was still very early. Tara was probably on her way back. Except no, she'd said she was going to pick up a new rat, Willow thought in confusion. She frowned. Where had Tara been planning to stay in between dropping Amy off and waiting for the pet stores to open? There were hours to go yet. Willow's frown deepened. Why hadn't this occurred to her before? Even now she was having a hard time thinking about it.
She got out of bed and found the crystal ball that Giles had given Tara for her birthday. Bringing it back to the bed she sat and slowly cleared her thoughts of everything but her girlfriend. Willow stared at the ball, but it stayed perfectly clear, just as it always did. Damn thing never worked for her.
She was about to give up when she remembered the feeling that has startled her out of sleep. That Tara needed her. She concentrated on the emotions she'd felt. Suddenly a mist began to swirl inside the ball. When it cleared, Willow could see and hear Tara and—Willow gasped in dismay—a demon. She was about to panic when she realized that Tara didn't appear to be in any distress. But it was too late. Her lack of concentration caused the picture to wink out.
She curses softly as she tried to get the image back. But the ball wasn't cooperating. She tried to relax, used centering techniques to slow her breathing and still her mind. She thought of Tara and the demon. "Show me how this came to be," she whispered.
The glass again filled with mist. Suddenly she was in another place and a little girl that she barely recognized as Tara was giggling. She sat on the lap of a woman that Willow recognized as Tara's mother from the photo on the nightstand.
"Your name means star," the woman said as she hugged Tara to her. "My little star."
A younger version of Mister Maclay stood at the door. "Don't fill her head with your nonsense, Laurel."
"Astaroth," whispered the mother. "Astarte."
A little whirlwind of bright lights began to spin in front of them. Tara reached out. "Stars."
Her face transformed into a snake. "Ishtar," she hissed to her daughter.
Tara looked up and squealed in delight. "Ishtar. Star. Tara."
The lights brightened.
Her father strode toward them angrily. "That's enough of that." He grabbed his wife and spun her to face him. The floating lights went out.
She smiled sweetly. Her face was human again.
"Don't try your damn tricks with me. I know what you're hiding underneath that pretty face. And I've told you before there'll be no witchcraft in this house." He backhanded the woman viciously.
Tara fell off her mother's lap and screamed.
Willow jumped at the sound. The picture in the ball began to dim. Quickly, she refocused. "Show me more," she whispered.
The ball lit up again. The Tara that faced her now was much older. She was coming home from school, trying to outrun the taunts of her brother and cousin.
"Something not quite right with her." Donny threw a clod of dirt at her. "She's gonna grow up as touched in the head as her mother."
Tara covered her ears.
"If my mom hadn't died when I was born, Dad would never have married your mom. He only picked her 'cause he thought I needed a woman to help me grow up right."
Beth laughed. "Big mistake on his part. Should have picked a good woman, not some sick witch like Tara's mom."
Tara turned around. "Shut up, she's b-b-better than both of you put together." She ran away from them. Finally she stopped, breathing hard and trying not to cry.
"Tara," Willow called to her. "Tara, it'll be all right."
But it only got worse that night at dinner. Mister Maclay had been drinking steadily and at the end of the meal he pulled out an envelope. "You want to tell me what this is, Tara?"
Her mother looked happy. "Is that...?"
"I'm asking the girl." He scowled at his daughter. "Well, spit it out."
"It's t-t-test scores."
Donny mimicked her. "You th-th-think?"
"Stop it," Laurel Maclay said.
"I'll thank you to not talk to my boy with that tone," Tara's father looked over at his wife angrily. Then he looked at his son. "You're excused. Go do your chores before it gets too dark to see."
"Yes, sir," Donny mumbled and went outside.
"He only makes it worse." Tara's mother walked over to the table. "Let me see how she did."
"I told her not to take the test. Wasn't any point seeing as how she won't be going to college any time soon."
"She could go. She's smart as a whip and she's got excellent grades."
He looked over at Tara. Then he smiled cruelly and threw the envelope into the fire behind him. "I said she's not going. What part of that don't you two understand?"
"No!" Tara screamed and ran to the fire. She reached into the flames and tried to grab the envelope.
"Leave it alone, Tara." Her father stood unsteadily and grabbed her by the hair, yanking her away from the flames.
She fell hard then struggled to get up. She held her burnt hands away from her body and tried to stand. In a rage now, Mister Maclay hit her hard. When she slumped to the ground, she didn't get up again.
"Tara," Willow whispered.
"And you call me a monster," Tara's mother had transformed into the serpent. "You'll never touch her again."
And she came at him. Mister Maclay tripped over Tara and went down hard. He reached out blindly and his hand touched the poker. He yanked it free from the hanger and jabbed at his wife savagely.
She dodged it. "No, by Ishtar and Astarte, you won't hurt her again." She rose up and advanced on him. It wasn't clear what she intended, and Willow doubted that the woman even knew how to fight because Mister Maclay got away from her easily. She began a spell and he reacted, jerking back in fear.
She kept talking. In the corner of the room there was a hissing sound.
"I said stop it!" He struck out at her with the poker, hitting her hard in the head. She fell heavily and lay still on the floor. Blood seeped from the wound on her head. As her breathing slowed, her face transformed back to human. The hissing noises stopped.
He looked around. Tara was still unconscious. He replaced the poker then pulled his wife's body up to the fireplace and let her drop onto the poker. Her body fell awkwardly to the ground.
He felt for a pulse. Then he backed up and began to scream, "Laurel!"
Donny came running. "What happened?" He saw his stepmother and stopped.
Willow watched as Mister Maclay seemed to collapse, pretending to a grief that couldn't be real. She was sickened as she heard him say, "Tara fell into the fire. Laurel went to help her and lost her balance. Then she hit her head."
"It was an accident then," Donny did not make it a question.
"Yes, an accident."
Tara woke up then. She saw her mother and screamed. "Mom!' She crawled to her, clearly in pain as she used her ruined hands. "Mom, no."
Donny moved to pull her off, but their father stopped him. "Leave her be for now. Best call the sheriff."
As his son went to the phone, Mister Maclay crouched down next to his daughter. "You want her remembered well and not as the demon witch she was? Then you tell the sheriff when he comes that your burning your hands like that was an accident. You were clumsy and fell into the fire. You passed out from the pain. You don't remember anything after that. You got that, girl?"
She sobbed. "Y-y-yes, sir."
Willow sat appalled. "Oh God, Tara," she whispered. "If I'd known what you'd been through."
The ball sped through the burial. A preacher said the normal things. Tara stood in shock. Her cousin Beth held her as if they were friends. Tara didn't try to get away.
Later Willow saw Tara, hands bandaged, clumsily going through her mother's things. Up in the attic, she found a small chest full of crystals, incenses, and oils. She stashed them away in her room.
During the days that followed, Tara tried to keep out of everyone's way. She did whatever they told her to. All the life was gone from her. At night, she'd creep out to the woods and weep.
"Tara," Willow tried to console her. Her heart was breaking for her lover.
Tara's father became increasingly vicious to her. He seemed to need no reason to belittle her. Her self-confidence plummeted even more as he mocked her. She was allowed to go to school and church but nowhere else. The small house she'd been born in became her world. And on those days that her dad had been drinking it became a violent world. She often had black eyes when she went to school. The teachers never said anything.
One night her father came into her room and found her holding a crystal. "Where the hell did you get that?" He tried to snatch it out of her hand.
"L-L-Leave it alone."
"It's hers," he said as he closed his fist and prepared to strike.
"Fog cover all," Tara whispered desperately. A sudden dense mist hid her from her father. She grabbed the crystal and climbed out the window running desperately for the woods. She hid there for two days. Finally, afraid of the outside world more than what waited for her, she returned to the house.
"No," whispered Willow. "Don't go back to him."
Tara slunk into the house, the crystal hidden in her pocket. Her father turned to look at her.
Willow recognized fear in his eyes as he said, "I ever catch you doing that devil stuff in my house again, I'll tan your hide. You understand me, girl?"
"Get to work."
Willow realized that things were different after that. Mister Maclay never hit his daughter again. He almost acted as if she didn't exist. But Tara never seemed to understand that she had the power from that moment on. The frightened child only saw the man she'd always feared.
The ball ran quickly through the next few months. Willow watched as Tara graduated with honors. Her family sat in the audience, none of them looking particularly proud of her. The ball forwarded a few days then it stopped to show Tara cleaning the bathroom. The mirror above the sink suddenly fogged. Tara stared at it in wonder. Writing appeared: Come to the woods. Then it disappeared.
Tara reached up and wrote Why?
If you want to be free, come to the woods tonight. While the rest sleep. The mirror cleared.
"Who are you?" Tara whispered. But there was no answer. She stared at the mirror a long time before she finished the cleaning.
That night, Tara looked around her room. She pulled out the treasures she'd rescued from the attic and hid them in her book bag. She found some jewelry that must have been her mother's and stuck that in there too. She added her diploma and grades, then grabbed her coat and snuck out of the house.
She walked to the edge of the woods, wondering which way to go. Suddenly a road of stars opened up in front of her. Tara started to breathe heavily and her eyes filled with tears. "Little Star," she said as she stepped onto the path.
The path wound around the trees, leading her deeper into the woods. Suddenly she heard a sound. She stopped in shock. A tear fell slipped down her cheek. "Mom?"
"Astaroth," a voice hissed back. "Come to me, my little star."
Tara ran the rest of the way. She threw herself into her mother's arms, sobbing wildly. They sank down to the ground, her mother holding her while she wept out her pain. "Shhh, my love. Shhh. I'm right here."
Willow watched as they held each other. She was amazed at the sight of Tara' mother. The woman fairly pulsed with power.
"But how?" Tara looked up, joy suffusing her face. "You were dead."
"No. I was close to dead. But I got better."
"But you were in the ground. I saw them put you there."
Her mother nodded and held up her hands. Most of her fingernails had been torn off and were halfway grown back. "Death shall not keep me."
Tara repeated the ritual. "The underworld shall not hold me." She laughed.
"We're getting out of here." Her mother hugged her tightly to her, then stood up and pulled Tara to her feet. She cast some sort of spell back at the house, and then they both winked out and appeared in Sunnydale.
"Why here?" Tara asked.
"I'm not sure. I asked to go where you could find happiness and the spell took us here. At least it's close to where I've been living." She smiled. "Oh Tara, I can't tell you how wonderful it is to live with others of my kind. They found me when I was weak and just free of the coffin. They heard my cries and came for me. They put the ground back to rights so your father would never suspect and took me to LA with them."
"You're happy." Tara touched her mother's face in wonder. "I've never seen you really happy."
"We'll both be happy now, dearest."
Willow watched as they got a room at the same motel Faith had made her home when she first arrived in Sunnydale. They slept the night away, Tara's mother curled protectively around her daughter.
The next day they wandered the town, finally coming to the university campus.
"I think this is where you're supposed to be." Tara's mother reached into her bag and handed Tara some papers. "I took the liberty of getting replacements for you."
Tara looked at the documents. They were her test scores. "Did I really do this well?"
"I only used magic to get them, not to change the results. You did that all yourself. I told you, Tara, you're an incredibly smart young woman." She took her hand. "Let's see if we can get you enrolled?"
Tara followed her mother into the admissions building but went alone to the counter to get her forms. Then they found a secluded spot and her mother spelled them back to the LA warehouse that was her home. In between shopping for clothes and other things she needed, Tara filled the applications out and sent them in. Then she spent time alone with her mother and with the others at the warehouse, all of them demons like Tara's mom. In the presence of humans, they looked perfectly ordinary. But in the basement of the warehouse they could be what they really were.
Tara seemed to settle in quickly at the warehouse. She studied magic with her mother and was spoiled by the others as if they were her new aunts and uncles. They threw her a party the day she got her acceptance letter to college. Some of the younger demons moved Tara into the dorms, then drove away with waves and grins. Tara's mom helped her set up her room, and as a surprise pulled out the Christmas lights that they strung over the door.
The ball forwarded through the rest so fast that Willow could barely make it out, but she recognized some of the moments she'd lived with Tara. Then the ball slowed and Willow saw Amy going into the shelter and Tara driving off to the warehouse to see her mother. Willow smiled at the warmth she saw between the two women when they greeted each other. Willow had never once experienced a moment like that with her own mother.
"Why didn't you tell me," Willow asked the image of Tara. Its only response was to fade out. "Why didn't you trust me?"
She heard a sound on the stairs, looked at the clock, realized she'd been reliving Tara's life for hours.
The door opened and Tara came in, cradling a rat.
"No cage, huh?"
Tara shrugged. "We already had one. Besides, she's really friendly. I think she must have been someone's pet already. She slept in my lap the whole way back."
"What did you do in between?" Willow asked as she watched Tara put the rat into Amy's old cage.
Tara ignored the question. "We need to change the bedding more often. I guess Amy found it unpleasant."
"Okay." Willow tried another tact. "Did you see Angel?"
Tara looked at her, "No."
"Then what did you do in LA all this time?"
Tara smiled. "Oh, I found this great diner. You know the kind that is open all night and serves bad coffee and really greasy eggs."
Willow said softly, "Don't. Don't lie."
Tara was confused. "Well maybe the eggs weren't all that greasy but the coffee was definitely not Starbucks."
Willow picked up the crystal ball. Saw Tara blanche. "I know. I saw you and your mom."
Tara stood mute. There was fear in her eyes.
Willow walked to her, took her in her arms. "Don't you know you can tell me anything? I love you. I love you with a wacked-out father. And I love you with a demon mother. I'd even still love you if you'd become a demon."
Willow held her tighter. "Don't ever lie to me like that."
"I told her you'd say that. That you'd understand. But she's not used to people like you. She made me promise when she brought me here that I'd never tell anyone that she was alive, or about her secret. But I wanted to tell you, Willow. I wanted to so much. I can't stand that this has been between us. I hated sneaking around just to call her."
"Well now you don't have to." Willow looked at her sternly. "But it hurts that you didn't trust me with this, Tara."
"And next time you call her, I want to say hello."
Tara gulped. "Okay."
Willow shook her finger at her. "I mean it."
Her lover nodded quickly. "I know." Then she smiled. "You two are a lot alike. I think you'll like each other."
"Of course we will," Willow said as the pulled Tara down to the bed. "But right now I'm still feeling a little hurt."
Tara smiled. "Is it something I can kiss and make better?"
Willow grinned as she replied softly. "Oh, I definitely think so."
Dawn was making toast when she heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Without turning she said, "Don't even think about touching that orange juice."
She spun and saw her sister stop mid-reach, a silly grin on her face.
"Used to be me saying that."
"Things change." Dawn kept an eagle eye on the glass.
"Everything except orange juice," Buffy said, as she poured herself a glass.
"So you admit some people might have changed?"
Buffy sighed. "It's too early for a philosophical discussion, Dawn."
"I guess." The younger girl held up the bread. "You want toast?"
"No bigs." Dawn handed Buffy the jam, after liberally smearing her own toast. She studied Buffy, her sister looked calmer, more like herself. But she also looked bored. "So whatcha gonna do today?"
Buffy pretended to ponder the question. "First I'm going to discover a cure for the common cold. Then I'm going to negotiate peace in the Middle East."
"Seriously. I'm going to sit on my butt while we all think of an explanation for me being back."
"Sounds pretty dull."
"Tell me about it." Buffy sighed.
Dawn handed her sister the toast, then put her dishes in the sink. "If I didn't have to go to school, I could stay home and we could train."
"You're going to school, Dawn."
Dawn pouted, but she'd known what her sister would say. She headed out of the kitchen. "Well I better get ready then."
"Where's all of Mom's stuff?"
Dawn stopped. "Her stuff?"
"Yeah. You know, all the stuff from her room?"
Dawn turned. "When Willow and Tara moved in, we pretty much just cleared it all out. But I didn't have the heart to go through it, so it's all down in boxes in the basement."
"So you didn't throw anything away?"
"I gave some of her books to the library but other than that it's all downstairs."
"Maybe I'll go through it," Buffy said.
"Do you think that's a good idea? I mean so soon after you're back?"
Buffy gave a bitter laugh. "Afraid I'll go all psycho again, Dawnie?"
"I didn't say that. I just mean...it's sad is all. Like we're really saying goodbye. That's why I couldn't do it."
Buffy walked over and brushed her sister's hair back. "You don't even have tears in your eyes."
Dawn pulled away angrily. "You think I haven't cried? That's all I did was cry. For mom, for you. I cried more than I ever knew a person could."
Buffy reached out for her. "Dawn, I didn't mean..."
She jerked away from her touch. "I don't care what you meant. Don't you dare judge me."
"I'm not judging you." Buffy turned away. "I'm sorry. I keep expecting you to still be a little girl. But you're not. You're all grown up now." Her voice was very small.
Dawn frowned. "That doesn't mean I don't still need you. You're the only sister I have."
Buffy gave a derisive sniff. "What's Faith then?"
"Faith isn't my sister. You know that." Dawn saw Buffy sneer and felt irritation grow inside her, so she decided to strike back. "She's my friend."
The words hit home. Buffy threw away the rest of her toast. "Right."
"Buffy." Dawn felt guilty at her sudden impulse to hurt. "If you want help with Mom's stuff, save it for tonight. We can both go through it."
Buffy's look softened. "No. I should do it. I think it might help me say goodbye."
Her sister nodded firmly. "I'm positive. Now go get ready for school."
Dawn mock saluted. "Yes, Frau Commandant."
Buffy rolled her eyes.
Dawn laughed and hurried out to change.
Buffy sat in the living room, waiting for Dawn to leave for school. The house was quiet with Willow asleep and Tara not back from LA. And Spike in the basement. She grimaced at the thought of dealing with him while she went through her mother's things. Maybe she should have staked him after all.
Dawn came clomping down the stairs, all in black except for a dark pink top that looked very familiar.
"Is that my sweater?"
Dawn stuck her lip out a bit. "Maybe." At her sister's look she fidgeted. "Yes."
"Did I say you could wear it?"
"No, but if you make me change now I'll be late."
Buffy sighed in resignation. "Next time ask first."
"Okay. Thanks." Dawn gave her a quick kiss and was gone.
Buffy sat for a few more minutes, then stood up and headed downstairs. The basement was lit by one dim lamp on Spike's bedside table. The vampire looked as if he'd fallen asleep while reading. His head lay on top of an old volume and his hands still curled on the open pages. Buffy didn't want to admit that it made him look more human, or that she found the sight slightly charming.
She turned away and saw the boxes piled up at the other end of the basement. Turning on a brighter light, she lifted the top one down and pulled it open.
It was full of her mother's shoes. She drew a pair of heels out, recognized them as the pumps her mom had worn whenever she had an important business meeting. She touched the navy leather gently, then stuck the shoe back in the box, which she closed and pushed off to the side. Her mother's shoes were too big for her or for Dawn. They could go to charity.
The next box was more shoes. It joined the other. She pulled down another carton, opened it to find a mess of fabric. She felt herself getting angry as she tried to flatten out the creased in the clothing. "God, Dawn, you could have folded it at least."
Spike's soft voice came from behind her, causing her to jump slightly. "She could barely see through the tears. Just wanted to get the room clean for Willow and Tara. Bloody lucky she got things in the boxes at all."
He knelt down next to Buffy and pulled out a sweater. "Joyce was wearing this one night when I came over for hot chocolate. You and your boy were out."
"Go away, Spike."
"Why? Looks to me like you could use some help."
"Not from you. Go upstairs or something."
"Don't want to."
"I'm working down here."
"And I'm living down here."
She watched him as he got up and lit a cigarette. "No smoking in the house."
He laughed. "No smoking in the house except for down here."
"I don't want you watching me do this."
"Then do it somewhere else. I'm staying."
She sighed in frustration and turned back to the boxes.
"Maybe if you'd been nicer to me..."
"Oh shut up," she said as quietly as she could.
He still heard her. "Free country, Summers."
She couldn't stand it anymore. Rising quickly she hurried to the door. "Forget it. I'll do it while you and Dawn and the psycho slayer are on patrol."
His voice was gentle. "Buffy, did it ever occur to you that I might want to help because I cared for Joyce? And I care for you."
She didn't move, wanted to yell at him, curse him, kill him even.
She could hear him walk over to the box. "Bet that some of this stuff has a story?"
She turned to watch him.
"Bet you'd be the better for it if you told me some of those stories."
She stood undecided.
He shook out a sheer black blouse. "This is fancy."
Buffy saw her mother in the shirt, smiling happily, rushing to the door. "She wore it on one of her dates with Ted."
"Don't remember him."
Buffy sighed. "He was a robot."
Spike looked at the shirt with new appreciation. "Way to go, Joyce."
Buffy walked to him and grabbed the blouse away. "It wasn't like that," she said firmly as she folded the shirt up and put it back into the box.
"Well tell me what it was like." He looked at her speculatively.
"He was a psychopathic serial killer."
"Oh. You mean like me, do you?"
She thought about that. "No, he was worse. He was nice. At first anyway."
"But you stopped him before he could hurt your mum?"
"Barely," she whispered.
"But you did." He lifted up an oversize light blue sweatshirt. "What do you remember about this?"
She grabbed it. "That it's mine. From like senior year in high school. I looked everywhere for this. I can't believe she had it all this time." She placed it on the floor behind her.
"Maybe it reminded her of you when you went away to school?"
"Maybe. Oh," she said in wonder as she pulled out a worn gray flannel top. "When my Mom and Dad were first married, before I came along, they used to buy one pair of pajamas. He'd wear the bottoms and she'd take the top. This was part of the first pair they ever bought together."
Spike didn't look overly impressed.
"You don't think that's romantic?"
"Sharing pajamas? No, not really. But then I don't wear any so the point's pretty much lost on me."
"I really did not need to know that."
"You're disgusting." She put the pajama shirt with the sweatshirt.
"You're keeping those?"
"Yes." She glared at him.
"Suit yourself." He held up several other items of clothing.
She shook her head. "Those are just work clothes, all of these are." She helped him fold them back into the box.
They worked though most of the boxes, and Buffy found it increasingly easy to tell him the memories behind some of the clothes. Her pile grew taller as she added the treasures she wanted to keep.
Spike handed her the next box. She opened it to find it full of jewelry boxes.
He smiled. "I made Little Bit take more care packing this one up. Figured there might be some stuff that was valuable."
She pulled out a string of black pearls. "I remember when my dad gave Mom these. She looked so happy. And so beautiful." She rubbed at the beads. "They're all dull."
"Wear them against your skin for a while," he said very softly.
"If this is a come-on, Spike..."
"I'm serious. Pearls need to be next to skin for the oil and the warmth. Try it, they might come back."
She thought he sounded pretty sure so she tried to undo the clasp. It seemed stuck.
"Let me," he said, taking it out of her hand. He pinched a certain way and the clasp came instantly apart. "See. It's a safety feature." His eyes met hers. "Lift your hair up."
She didn't argue, just turned around and did what he said, letting him put the necklace around her neck. To her surprise his hands didn't linger once he got it fastened.
"Let's have a look."
She faced him.
"They suit you." He turned away.
"Thanks." She bent back to the jewelry and started putting aside everything she wanted or thought Dawn might like in her pile.
He opened a last box and as he did it broke apart. A small cross landed on his skin.
"Bloody hell!" He swore as he shook it off his burning flesh.
Buffy picked it up, remembered giving it to her mom. "This was supposed to keep her safe."
Spike was still fussing with his hand.
She watched him. "How long will it burn?"
He looked up. Saw she really meant it, was curious. "A while. Longer than you'd think."
"What makes it better?"
She shook her head. "That's your answer for everything."
"Yeah. That or sex pretty much make the undead life worth living."
"You have a one-track mind."
"At least I'm consistent."
"Yeah. Consistently annoying, irritating, infuriating..."
"Fine. I get the picture." He slid the last box over to her. It was full of papers and a strange collection of personal items.
"Dawn took these from the bedside drawers."
Buffy pulled out a folder. It was full of pictures. The first one she pulled out was of her mom and dad the day they'd brought her home from the hospital. Her parents looked so young, so in love. So alive.
"There now." Spike eased the folder and the photo out of her hands.
She looked at him but could barely see. It took her several moments to realize she was crying. A harsh, wounded sob ripped from her. "She's gone. She's really gone."
She felt his arms go around her tentatively. "Yes, love. She's really gone."
She fought him for a moment. Then she gave up and let him hold her as she tried to stop the tears.
"You don't always have to be strong, Buffy." His arms tightened around her. She felt his lips touch her neck just above the pearls.
"You're getting off on this," she said in a broken voice as she tried to push him away.
"Oh, of course I am." He let go of her and sat back. Then he reached over and rubbed the pearls into the tracks that her tears had made down her neck. "Back to the source," he whispered. "Mother ocean, Buffy's tears."
She stared at him. His eyes as they met hers were nothing but kind. She frowned at him.
He only smiled. A strange, sad smile. Then he moved his mouth toward hers.
She saw it coming. Didn't move. Didn't try to stop him.
Their lips met.
She expected force and clumsiness. Knew she'd feel his awkward passion and be appalled.
She was wrong. His lips were sweet.
Moments later, he pulled away and looked at her in amazement.
"I'll never love you," she said tonelessly.
"Of course not." He began to gather the items she'd selected from Joyce's things as if nothing had happened. "You want these in your room?"
She could only nod.
He stood up and kept talking. "Tara got home a bit ago."
Buffy realized she hadn't heard her come in.
He seemed to be reading her thoughts. "You were crying. Not surprised you missed it."
Buffy followed him upstairs to her room.
He dumped the items on her bed, then strode out.
He turned to her and gave her a gentle smile. "My pleasure." Then he was gone.
Buffy closed her door and leaned against it as she repeated, "I'll never love you."
She ran her finger over her lips once, then shook her head, trying to clear her mind. She'd just let Spike kiss her.
Even worse. She'd kissed him back.
Giles was lost in thought as he drove over to the Summers's residence
"So you going to teach me to drive this thing?"
"What?" Her question finally registered. "Oh yes, if you like."
She laughed. "Earth to Giles."
"Sorry. I'm a bit distracted." He reached over and took her hand. She rubbed a finger lightly over his palm and he shivered. "Devil," he murmured.
She gave a throaty laugh. "Somehow that never sounds like a bad thing when you say it."
He pulled her hand up to his lips and kissed it.
"I like that. Maybe we should turn the car around and head back home?"
He was tempted by her proposal but just smiled at her and shook his head.
She didn't seem surprised. "Duty before pleasure, Giles?"
"In this case, I'm afraid so." He pulled up in front of the house.
"Think B's in a better mood today?"
"She won't be for long if you insist on calling her that. You know she hates it."
"I know," she said, her tone only mildly contrite. "I don't like her."
"I know. And I doubt she likes you. But you did agree to a truce?"
"I'm not planning on fighting her. Jeez, lighten up, Giles." She reached for the door handle.
"Faith, I have every confidence in you. You must know that."bHe leaned in and kissed her. "Every confidence."
She reached for him and pulled him closer. "You always know exactly what to do to make it all okay. How do you do that?"
He smiled. "I'm your watcher."
She shook her head. "Guess again."
"Hmmm. I'm your lover?"
"Right on two. You get the prize."
He grinned as he tightened his hold. "I've already got it, I think."
"Okay," Xander said from the other side of the open window, "not to break up this Red Shoe Diary's moment, but didn't you call us all together to, oh I don't know, brainstorm? If I'd known it was just going to be for a big make-out session, we'd have dressed more appropriately."
Giles and Faith looked up to see him and Anya watching them. He had a huge smirk on his face.
"Oh, like you never do this," Faith taunted as she got out of the car.
"Well not in a convertible parked in front of Buffy's front window," Anya replied. "Really, Giles, aren't you a little old?"
Faith just laughed and took her watcher's arm as he walked around the car. "This man is anything but old."
He thought back to their rather energetic encounter after patrol. One or two of his muscles were feeling a bit aged. Of course there were other parts that seemed to feel quite youthful whenever Faith was around. He grinned.
"Oh, this is too gross."
"Shut up, Xander," Anya whispered a little too loudly. "If you piss her off now, she'll never say yes to being a bridesmaid."
"I'll never say yes anyway," Faith said under her breath.
"Anya can be a bit dim when she's fixated on something," he shot back.
"I heard that," Anya exclaimed as they climbed the steps and walked into the house.
"Hey guys." Willow looked up from the couch. Tara waved hello. Xander and Anya went to talk to them.
Giles followed Faith into the kitchen.
Spike was at the counter, dipping crackers into his blood. "Well, if it isn't the two lovebirds." His smile took any sting out of his words.
"You're in a better mood than you were earlier. Something happen?" Faith leaned forward in interest.
"No. Just had a good day."
"What did you do?" Giles asked suspiciously.
"Not much. Stayed in the basement mostly."
Faith looked at him skeptically. "Yeah, wicked fun there, I bet."
Buffy walked into the kitchen. "Hi."
"B...Buffy," Faith corrected as Giles glared at her.
"How are you feeling?" he asked Buffy.
She shrugged. "Okay. Had a pretty good day."
"Oh? What did you do?" He glanced at Spike who seemed to be watching the blonde slayer with particular interest. "And did it happen to be in the basement?"
She was suddenly evasive. "I don't know. I just did stuff, you know, to forget that I was stuck in the house."
Dawn walked in on the tail end of the conversation. 'You went through Mom's stuff."
"Yeah. That wasn't so fun." Buffy looked down.
Giles studied her. She seemed on edge. But he supposed being housebound and newly resurrected could account for that. "You're sure you're all right?"
"Yeah." She looked up at him with hopeful eyes. "But I'll be even better if you tell me that you thought up a genius plan for explaining my return from the dead. I cannot overstate how much I am looking forward to leaving this house."
"Let's go into the living room, shall we?" Giles led the group into the other room.
Willow looked up gratefully, then turned to Anya, "Okay, well, we'll have to talk about wedding hairstyles later."
"Yes, but I don't think you're taking this style seriously. It's exactly the way Lucrezia Borgia wore hers at her wedding."
"And you want to look like a famous poisoner, why?" Tara asked.
"She was really quite misunderstood. And the hairstyle goes perfectly with my dress." Anya put her papers away. "I fail to understand why you're not more interested. I thought that's what friends were supposed to do. Listen, help."
"Friend is such a strong word," Willow replied softly. "Ow," she exclaimed as Tara elbowed her.
"A strong, good word. We'll look at your other hairstyles later, Anya," Tara said with a sweet smile.
"We will?" Willow dodged another elbow. "We will."
Anya seemed mollified.
"If we are quite finished with discussions of the nuptials," Giles asked. "We do have Buffy's future to discuss."
"Don't be so copacetic about the wedding attire, G-Man," Xander said with a laugh. "She wants you to wear a kilt to give her away."
"A kilt?" Giles looked horrified. "I'm not even Scottish. Or your father, Anya."
"I know. But that construct I made up that thinks he's my father is not going to be in this wedding. He can just go back to his utility and forget it. And you'll like the kilt. It's old. And you're old. And my dress will look old. It'll all match."
"I thought we cleared up that whole old thing," Faith said from her chair.
"Can we get back to the topic of me?" Buffy groused.
"By all means." Giles was grateful to focus on her if it meant muffling Anya for a bit.
"So what are we going to do? How do we explain that a dead woman is now alive and well?" Xander looked at the watcher.
Giles walked over to Buffy. "You're absolutely certain that you want to resume your old life? Starting over as a new person is still an option."
"I'm sure," she replied without hesitation.
He nodded thoughtfully. "Then we have to find a way to make sure that the body in that grave isn't yours. That a series of mistakes happened to lead us all, and the police, the coroner, everyone, to think it was you."
"A major ret con," Willow muttered. "But no spell?"
"No spell," Giles agreed.
"Then how?" Faith was puzzled. "You want us to muddy up the picture?"
"No," Buffy said, meeting his eyes. "He wants the Council to do it. Don't you, Giles?"
He looked at her. Saw she understood. "They have resources at their disposal that you can't even imagine. And they are quite good at this sort of thing."
"Sure they are," Dawn said bitterly. "After all, they must have explained away thousands of deaths by now, every time a slayer died."
"Not every time." Faith looked down. "Sometimes nobody cares."
"Somebody always cares." Dawn smiled gently at her.
"So the council covered up the deaths. And inserted the successors into a new life." Buffy looked at Giles. "But will they help us?"
"I don't know." He met her gaze frankly. "You've been no end of trouble to them, you know."
Faith laughed. "Seems to me they have no choice. They help; they've got three slayers. They don't and they've got none."
Buffy turned to her in surprise.
"It's not a hug moment, blondie. Just a fact. Dawn won't fight if they screw you over." She grinned. "And hell neither will I. Don't believe in crossing a picket line."
"So, I shall start making some calls." Giles rose.
"And those of use who aren't temporarily house slayers"—Spike smirked at Buffy—"will go patrol."
"Knock yourself out. Literally."
"Real funny," Spike said, ignoring the fact that Dawn was giggling.
"Shaky on the comeback, bleach boy." Xander was having too much fun with it. "Gonna have to deduct a few tenths there."
"Deduct this." Spike raised two fingers.
Dawn giggled again.
"Go patrol, now, please." Buffy laughed. "The rest of us will just stay here where it's warm and safe."
"Now, Buffy," Anya pounced before the others had left the room. "What do you think of this hairstyle?"
Giles gratefully fled to the kitchen to put his plan into action.
Continue on to Part 7 - Restoration