Chapter Twelve

Los Angeles, Summer 2003

Nervously, Tara twisted the napkin in her hand. She had asked Willow to meet them at Molly’s Diner, as it was the first place that sprung to mind when she phoned, but perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea. The customers had changed since this morning but, from the way the waitress’s hand trembled when she poured the coffee, Tara guessed she’d been present when they’d made their grand entrance that morning.

But they had needed a place to meet other than Wolfram and Hart, as DeLongi had no doubt returned there after meeting Adam and Amanda at the airport. Her mind went through Adam’s plan. It could work, she supposed, but it depended a lot on whether Willow would agree to it. They’re had been a time when she would never had doubted Willow’s eagerness to help her. But that was then, and this is now.

“She’s here,” Adam murmured, and Tara looked up to see Willow enter the diner, feeling the familiar leap in her heart when she caught sight of her. Some things never changed.

“Tara?” Willow asked, as she approached the table, eyeing Amanda worriedly.

“Hi, thanks for coming,” Tara said, trying to keep the nerves out of her voice.

Willow frowned as she sat at the table. “Of course I came, silly. Why? Did you think I wouldn’t?”

Tara shrugged. “I kind of got that impression when we last talked,” she said, softly.

“That was different,” Willow said, her eyes flickering to Adam. “I know you were worried, but I honestly didn’t believe he was in danger. Seems I was right about that, by the way, because here he is, head still attached.”

“Willow,” Tara said. “I’m sorry but you were wrong…in fact, things are much worse than you believe. Arturo is…” Tara took a deep breath. “Arturo is a black practitioner.”

Willow let out a startled laugh. “Tara, don’t be silly, I’ve known the guy nearly a year, and I’ve never even seen him perform a cantrip, never mind a black spell.

“Willow, listen to yourself,” Tara sighed. “You’re the right-hand woman of the chosen one, protector of the innocent, if he was practising back magic, do you really think he’d give you a demonstration?”

“Goddess, you’re serious, aren’t you?” Willow said, leaning back in her chair. “Tara, do know how this sounds? This is Buffy’s boyfriend we’re talking about. Don’t you think she’d notice if something wasn’t right?” Spike snorted, and Willow glared at him, before turning to Tara once more. “You haven’t been listening to Spike, haven’t you? Because you know their history…”

“Yes, Willow, I do,” Tara interrupted. “And I probably know more about Buffy’s relationship with him than you do. Buffy isn’t infallible, honey, she doesn’t see everything.”

Reluctantly, Willow nodded. “I suppose that’s true,” she murmured, “She told me you helped her through some rough times when she first…first came back. But, even so, what makes you think Arturo is a black witch? ” Suddenly, Willow sat upright in her chair. “Oh Goddess, he didn’t do something to you, did he? Are you alright—“

“I’m fine, Willow, I’m fine,” Tara reassured her.

“But she mightn’t be if we don’t resolve this soon,” Adam added, darkly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Willow asked, suspicion in her voice.

“I think, perhaps, that this is my cue,” Amanda interrupted. “ I’m Amanda, by the way, Amanda Darieux. Please excuse Adam’s rudeness in not introducing us. He’s getting a little grumpy in his old age.”

“Willow Rosenberg,” Willow supplied, her inherent politeness kicking in. “Are you a…a…”

“An Immortal?” Amanda suggested,her cheeks dimpling. “Guilty as charged. It’s nice to meet you at last, Tara has told me so much about you.”

“She has?” Tara felt her cheeks blushing as Willow smiled at her. “Only good things, I hope?”

“Oh, definitely,” Amanda drawled, grinning cheekily.

“Can we get back on topic, please?” Adam asked, dryly. “We’re running on a deadline here, remember?”

“And just when things were getting interesting,” Spike grumbled.

“No, he’s right,” Amanda sighed. “I’m sorry, Willow, but they are a few things you need to know about Arturo’s history, and it isn’t pleasant.” Briefly, Amanda filled her in, adding. “They are other aspects of his history that I’m not personally acquainted with, so Adam and I got our hands on some extra material you should read. You are familiar with the Watchers?”

Amanda nodded to Adam, who produced the file they’d downloaded from the Watcher database. Tara ferverently hoped Joe didn’t catch onto them; he took a very dim view of Adam hacking into it.

“I suppose you mean the ones that follow Immortals round, not our kind of Watchers?” Willow murmured,as she flipped it open. “Wesley mentioned them.”

Amanda nodded. “There isn’t much there to prove his involvement in black magic, I’m afraid. I’m afraid our kind of watchers don’t have the knowledge to recognise it when they see it, but I think you’ll find it interesting, nonetheless.”

Willow’s face darkened as she flipped through the pages and Tara winced as she saw a flicker of power dance across her fingers. “He was a Nazi,” she said, flatly.

“A fascist, yes,” Amanda said. “I presume you are familiar with Mussolini’s alliance with Germany in World War Two?”

Willow gave her a look. “My name is Rosenberg, what do you think?”

Amanda grimaced. “Sorry, darling, I wasn’t thinking.”

Willow firmly closed the file. “I’ve read enough,” she said, quietly. “And I presume you didn’t show me this for entertainment value, which means you have something in mind. Why don’t you tell me?”

Adam leaned forward in his seat. “As Amanda has already told you, DeLongi has issued me a challenge,” he said. “I’ve seen what you can do, and Tara assures me that there isn’t anybody that can beat you when it comes to raw power. I’m pretty sure I can beat Arturo in a fair fight, but if he decides to up the stakes …” Adam shrugged. “I need someone to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Willow nodded, understanding. “You need me to bind his powers.”

“Can you do that?”

Willow gave him a cold smile, and Tara shivered, hoping that they hadn’t pushed her too far. “I think I might be able to manage it.”

Paris, Spring of 2003

The sun had already set, but Montmatre was still bustling when Tara strode down the street. In many ways, living in Paris was still a novelty to her. In Sunnydale, walking down the street alone after dark was tantamount to suicide,but here…. Tara shook her head, there were still dangers in Paris, things that lurked in the shadows, but it was paradise compared to what went on in Sunnydale.

Hurriedly, she turned the corner, and eyed the long flight of steps that led up into the artist’s quarter. She had promised to meet Joe at a small blues bar on the square. Apparently they had a new jazz pianist he was hoping to steal. Joe was quite ruthless when it came to music.

The hairs on Tara’s neck rose, and she stopped short, peering into the shadows. Until now, the Bringers hadn’t attacked her in public, but maybe their lack of success had forced them to change tactics. Tara eyes wandered to the carousel at the foot of the steps; it only ran during daylight hours this early in the year, but she was sure she saw something moving…

A creak made her jump, and suddenly Tara could make out an outline sitting on one of the carousel horses. “I’ve been looking for you, my pet.”

Tara reached for her sword before she knew what she was doing. “Drusilla!”

“Now, now,” Drusilla murmured, stroking the wooden horse’s head. “We’re amongst mortals, now. No need to show me your pretty, sharp knife.”

Tara tried to swallow as she took a step back. She was right; there was too much traffic on the steps for Tara to produce her sword without comment. But Drusilla wasn’t under any such compunction. “What… what do you want?” Tara asked, cursing herself for stammering. The last thing she needed to show right now was nervousness.

“Just wanted to pick up our conversation where we left it, sweetie,” Drusilla murmured. “I’ve been having dreams again, dreams of you and my Spike. Can’t be,shouldn’t be, but it is. There is a darkness coming, my pretty, and a hunger that devours.”

“The Bringers, it’s you isn’t it?” Tara asked.

Drusilla grimaced. “She wears my face, you know; told him all sorts of pretty things. But he didn’t listen, so now he’s going to die… burn up in the fire…but he won’t be gone….I…I’ve been having dreams,” she trailed off, uncertainly.

Tara hardened her heart; she seemed so lost, but she could never forget what she was. She knew a bit about Drusilla’s history, knew that even before her first death she had the gift of foretelling. But the power had driven her mad when she was turned. “What have you seen?”

“I’ve seen the end…and beyond the end,” Drusilla murmured, jumping from her seat. “I’ve seen evil rise and cover the earth…and evil struck down, forced to burrow down beneath. It’s a crossroads, my sweet.”

“So…what?” I’m supposed to stop this? Is that why you’re trying to kill me?”

Drusilla giggled. “Oh, my sweet, delicious thing, if I wanted you under the earth…well.” Her face transformed, and Tara took another involuntary step back, causing Drusilla to laugh. “Do not worry, my little immortal, that isn’t why I’m here.”

Tara felt her temper rise. “So why are you here? Did you just come here to taunt me? I don’t care how many Bringers—”

“Oh, those are not mine, my pet,” Drusilla interrupted. “They were sent by her.”

“Her?” Tara repeated. “I don’t understand.”

“You’re not meant to, little one,” Drusilla said, as she approached her. “She doesn’t have a name, she came before words.”

Tara blinked. “Glory? Are you talking about Glory?”

Drusilla shook her head. “You’re not thinking big enough,” Drusilla said, almost sounding lucid. “But that doesn’t matter; it doesn’t concern you for now. The approaching battle is not your fight.”

“I don’t understand, if I’m not supposed to fight, why are the Bringers after me?” Tara asked, puzzled.

She reads the stars,” Drusilla sang, twirling as she stretched out her hands. “The crossroads bleed across the sky and she trembles. The earth is trying to claw her back and she snarls at it’s intent… so she plans, and she plots, and she sees another future where she can win yet again.” Suddenly, Drusilla froze to the spot, her face contorting with grief. “My William, she’s going to eat him all up. He’s been a bad boy, playing with the slayer, but… he’s my William.”

Tara shook her head, not understanding. What had Spike to do with anything? “I need more,” she said. “You have to tell me what I’m supposed to do.”

Drusilla smiled sadly. “They are rules,” she said, softly. “Even for me, my pretty.”

“But you have to give me something!” Tara protested. “Should I go back to Sunnydale, is that what I’m supposed to do?”

“No, no Sunnyhell,” Drusilla shook her head emphatically. “You must not go there, or it will swallow you up”

Tara sighed. “I don’t understand.”

“You’ll see the sign,” Drusilla told her, tilting her head. “Find the slayer when you see the sign...oh, and another thing… I’m hungry!”

Hands that crushed like a vice suddenly pinned her arms to her side, and Tara wriggled helplessly as Drusilla pulled her onto the carousel. “Don’t worry, my sweet,” she murmured. “I’ll hide your body; you’ll be safe until you wake up…I’ve never tasted Immortal blood before.”

Fangs pierced her neck, and Tara let out a cry, even as she lost consciousness…

Los Angeles, Summer of 2003

Impatiently, Methos checked his watch as he paced the roof. The sun had gone down over an hour ago, and there still wasn’t any sign of DeLongi. Where the bloody hell was he? Had he decided against the challenge? Methos grimaced; from the little he knew of the man, it seemed unlikely. He just hoped DeLongi wasn’t busy creating a nasty surprise for him. A quickening suddenly pulsed the air, and Methos stood still. He had convinced Tara and Amanda to stay by Willow’s side, several floors before, which meant DeLongi was the only candidate left. “You’re late,” he called out.

“I had a few things to take care of first,” Arturo said, stepping out of the shadows.

Methos drew his sword as Arturo reached beneath his coat. “What I can’t understand is why you’re so eager to take my head. Aren’t you ---what do they call it nowadays… dating a slayer? Surely, you’re still not pining over Amanda.”

Arturo smiled grimly. “I think we both know this is not abut the state of my heart, Mr Pierson. I had hoped to reach Amanda before she contacted you. It was too much of a coincidence that she decided to visit LA just a day after you and your student arrived, and I couldn’t risk the fact she might spill the beans and blow my cover with Buffy’s associates.”

Methos smiled. “What makes you think that your cover isn’t already blown?”

“Please, don’t insult my intelligence; we both know that Miss Rosenberg doesn’t trust you - while I, one the other hand, have spent the best part of a year building up her trust and friendship.”

“I think you may be leaving out one minor detail,” Methos drawled. “Willow may not trust me, but Tara is another thing.”

“Oh, didn’t you know? Tara is a poor, misguided young lady, drawn off the good path by her unscrupulous mentor…it took quite some effort to plant the seeds of doubt in Miss Rosenberg’s mind, while making them appear to be her own.”

For a moment, Methos felt a flicker of doubt. Could Arturo be right? Was it possible that Willow was just humouring Tara, and all the time hoping that Arturo would win the challenge? Methos frowned, the anger in her eyes at the diner had seemed genuine; but he had been wrong before. ”Why?” he asked, abruptly, suddenly realising what had been niggling at the back of his mind all along. “Why are you doing this? What have you got to gain from being at the Slayer’s side?”

Arturo shrugged. “Maybe I just fell for her charms.”

“Oh please, now it is you who is insulting my intelligence,” Methos snapped. “If you were so enamoured with her, we wouldn’t be up here. You’d be too busy trying to track her whereabouts… or do you already know where she is?” Suddenly, it fell into place. “That’s it, isn’t it? Somehow, you’re involved in all this.”

“Enough, time to fight!” he said, rushing forward.

Methos brought up his blade, allowing Arturo’s sword to slide off it before stepping back. Arturo’s eyes narrowed as he struck again, trying to get through Methos’s guard. Patiently, Methos waited for his opening, ignoring the shockwaves that travelled down his arm as he parried the attack. “I’m afraid you’ll have to try something with a little more flair, Arturo,” Methos drawled, as Arturo circled him warily. “Your swordsmanship is distinctly lacking.”

“I’ll show you lacking,” DeLongi snarled, raising his sword up. “Excendio Immortalus!”

Seeing his opening, Methos darted under his guard and sliced into his waist; ducking to his side as Arturo faltered.

“What happened?” Arturo asked, hoarsely, clutching at his waist as he fell to his knees. “You shouldn’t have been…I should have….”

Methos smirked. “Guess you underestimated Willow’s ability to think for herself.” And so did I, thank the gods, he added mentally.

Arturo’s eyes widened. “But that’s impossible, I’m protected.”

Methos shrugged as he raised his sword to take the kill. “Guess it wasn’t good enough.”

“No, no, wait, you can’t kill me. I…I…I have the light of R’Nathnor. If you kill me, you’ll never find it.”

“And I would care because?”

“She’ll never forgive you; they’re her friends, she’ll never forgive…” Methos slowly lowered his sword, and watched ruefully as DeLongi passed out. Damn it, when did things get so complicated….