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Chapter Fifteen

Los Angeles, Summer 2003

Willow tried not to dwell too much on the sudden, grim expression on Tara’s face as she rose from the table. It drove home the changes that happened in the last year, and she wasn’t sure how to deal with them. This was not the Tara she’d fallen in love with, the lover who’d died in her arms in a pool of blood on their bedroom floor. This Tara was older, harder.

And Goddess help her, she still loved her.

She had been trying to hold it together over the last few days, trying to stay strong. She, better than anyone, knew how strong emotions could cloud your head in a crisis. But there was so much a she could take, and she was reaching the end of her tether.

For the first time, she understood what Buffy must have gone through when Angel had been returned from the hell dimension. At the time, she’d not got understood why Buffy had kept Angel’s reappearance to herself, and had eventually come to believe that Buffy hid him because she was afraid of their disapproval. Now she suspected she had barely scratched the surface of Buffy’s turmoil.

And then there was Spike. She had always thought there was more to their relationship than Buffy admitted to but all her doubts were erased, yesterday, when she glimpsed the brief moment of devastation and hope on her face before it shut down into her usual calm, Slayer facade.

Willow sighed and Tara threw her a concerned glance. “Sorry, just thinking about Buffy and Spike,” she murmured, ignoring Faith’s snort.

“He still loves her,” Tara offered softly, as they stepped out into the hallway.

“I think it’s mutual; but you know Buffy, not big on the emotional sharing.”

Tara smiled lopsidedly and Willow’s heart gave a little leap. “They’ll work it out…or rather, he’ll work it out and drag her around to his point of view,” she said, laughing. “I think that’s why most of her relationships didn’t work out. They were so used to following her lead, they never realised that sometimes she need someone else to show her the way.”

Riley’s face popped into Willow’s mind, and she found herself nodding in agreement. “She’s going to give him hell, you know, you didn’t see the expression on her face when she realised how long he’d been back.”

“Spike can handle it.”

“Listen Guys, as much as I enjoy hearing about Bee’s love life, we have another problem to deal with right now,” Faith drawled, as the entered the elevator. “Besides, I think we all know it isn’t Spike and Buffy you two are really talking about.”

Willow’s felt her cheeks heat up as Faith smirked at her knowingly. The dark haired Slayer was way too perceptive when she wanted to be, and very direct about making her opinion known. It was one of the traits she’d grown to like about Faith over the last year, but she also dreaded it. “Um, right,” she muttered. “So, how do we approach this…bad cop, good cop?”

Faith grinned. “I’ve always liked playing the bad cop,” she said. “I seem to have a real knack for it.”

To Willow’s surprise, Tara shook her head. “Better if I did it,” she said. He’d see another immortal as more of a threat.”

Faith threw her a speculative look. “You sure you can handle that?” she asked. “No offence, but you don’t strike me as the scary type.”

“I’m armed, and he isn’t” Tara said simply. “I know that, technically, you’re a better fighter than me but I’ll be the only one in the room who could take his quickening…so yes, to him, I’m the bigger threat.” She sighed. “I wish Adam was here,” she muttered, “He’s better at this kind of thing.”

Willow snorted. “I’ll bet he is,” she said.

“Please, let’s not do this again,” Tara said. “I know you don’t like him, but he’s a friend and I owe him my life… several times over.”

“He’s dangerous—”

“So are you,” Tara cut in. “But that never stopped me loving you, did it?” An awkward silence fell in the elevator, as both of them realised what Tara just said. “Sorry,” Tara muttered self-consciously. “I didn’t mean it to come out like that.”

“No, you’re right,” Willow said flatly. “I suppose I deserved that.”

“No, you didn’t,” Tara murmured, reaching for her hand. “I know how much you’ve struggled with it, I shouldn’t have thrown it in your face.”

Willow looked down as Tara’s fingers slipped through hers and tried to blink back the tears that suddenly blurred her eyes. “How did we get to this place?” she asked softly.

“I-I don’t know,” Tara admitted softly.

The elevator doors opened, and Faith cleared her throat. “Time to kick some bad guy ass,” she joked uncomfortably. “Come on, you can use some of the pent up sexual tension on him, it works wonders, trust me!”

Kennedy, thought Willow, and immediately felt guilty for enjoying the feel of Tara’s hand in hers. Was it always going to be like this? Was she always going to feel guilty for feeling so gloriously happy every time Tara stepped into the room? Kennedy had never made feel this way, so giddy and anxious, and so achingly in love. What was she going to do?

As if sensing her thoughts, Tara extricated her hand. “Come on,” she said gently. “It’s time we found out exactly what Arturo’s hiding.

Paris, Early Summer of 2003

The television hummed lowly in the background, but Tara ignored it as she pecked at her laptop. It had been a week since she’d encountered Drusilla in Montmatre and, try as she might, she couldn’t get it out of her head. It was all very well for the vampire to tell her that she had to wait for a sign, but something told her that Willow was in danger.

Bringers…Bringers…damn it, I knew I should have paid more attention to Willow’s database passwords,” Tara thought grimly, as she skimmed through the search engine’s results.

“Bringers!” Tara jumped guiltily in her chair as Adam stormed into the room, and quickly slapped down the screen of her laptop.

“What about them,” she asked. “Oh goddess, not another attack?”

His eyes narrowed as he glared at her, as if picking her apart for lies. “No, but something tells me it won’t be long before they’ll make another appearance,” he drawled slowly. “Tell me, what do you think?”

“Is that a trick question?” Tara prevaricated.

“You’ve definitely been spending to much time with Amanda,” he snorted in disgusted. “That’s probably the most circular answer you’ve ever given me.”

Amanda wasn’t the only Immortal Tara knew who was good at avoiding questions, but now probably wasn’t the time for telling him a few home truths. “I don’t know anything more about the Bringers than you do,” she said, and technically that was true…technically.

“That’s not what I heard,” he told her grimly, throwing himself onto the couch. “In fact, I was told, in no uncertain terms, that you were the girl with all the answers.”

Tara’s guilt turned to concern as she saw the expression in his eyes. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” she observed.

“That would be one way of putting it,” he muttered, before glaring at her once more. “Stop trying to evade the question!”

“I’m not!” she protested. “I really don’t know who they are.”

“But?” he prompted.

Tara sighed, giving in. “I saw Drusilla the other week,” she admitted.

“The Vampire?” Adam said incredulously. “And you didn’t tell me? What the hell were you thinking, Tara?”

“I didn’t want to worry you,” she murmured.

“You didn’t want to—” he paused, and took a deep breath. “Let’s try this again,” he said, in an even voice. “What did Drusilla want with you?”

“She wanted to give me a warning,” Tara said reluctantly. “But,” she said, as Adam opened his mouth, “It wasn’t anything we could use. Drusilla isn’t really big with direct answers, she’s more into stars and portents, and waiting for the ‘sign’.” Tara said, making quotations marks in the air,

“Funny you should say that,” Adam said darkly

“What?” Tara asked. “What happened?”

“Let’s just say I got a blast from my past, today,” he sighed. “A seer, and an Immortal to boot; she seemed very concerned about your welfare.” The sarcasm dripped off his words, and Tara shivered as she realised who he must be talking about.

“Cassandra,” she said, before she could stop herself, and Adam threw her a sharp look.

“Where did you hear that name?” he demanded, getting to his feet. “She hasn’t approached you, has she? Has she?”

Tara shook her head. “Her name came up in passing once,” she said. “When I asked Joe about Immortal witches.”

“And what did Joe say?” Adam asked, his eyes narrowing.

Tara swallowed nervously. “N-n-nothing much,” she lied. “Just that she seemed to be able to spin illusions and had the ability to influence other people’s actions with her voice.”

Adam gave her a long look, then sighed. “Yeah, that pretty much sums her up,” he said mockingly. “She also doesn’t like me much, as Joe probably already told you, so avoid any strange brunette immortals you stumble across, in the near future. I don’t think she’ll try anything, but it never hurts to be careful.”

Tara nodded numbly, as she studied her hands. “I’ll avoid her,” she promised softly as she wondered, nonetheless, what the Immortal witch was truly like.

Tara,” he said warningly. “I mean it, Tara, our lives are complicated enough as it is without throwing Cassandra into the mix.”

Tara glanced up and froze as an image on the television screen caught her eye. “Where’s the remote?” she said, jumping to her feet. “Quick, where is it?”

“Tara, what the he—“

“Ssh!” she said, waving him into silence as she grabbed the remote from the coffee table and turned the television up.

“…nobody is quite sure what happened yet, but rumours of an earthquake causing the disaster are already circulating,” the newscaster voice intoned solemnly over the aerial footage.

Tara felt her feet give under her, as the camera zoomed in on the yawning pit, her eyes flickering to the town’s name on the bottom of the screen once more. Oh, dear Goddess, no….

“Tara.” She felt a firm hand grab her shoulder and steer her to the couch. “You’d better sit down.”

Nobody knows yet what the death toll is but the pit is over eight miles in width and the chances of surviving such a devastating upheaval is minimal at best…”

The urge to giggle uncontrollably was almost overwhelming. Drusilla had said she’d recognise the sign when she saw it. “Willow,” she murmured, as she felt her eyes grow hot. “Oh, please goddess, not Willow.”

Los Angeles, Summer of 2003

The Slayer eyed Methos as if he was something that crawled out of the dark ages, which in a manner of speaking was correct, but it irritated him nonetheless.

“Who are you?” she asked grimly, the stake still clutched in her hand. “And how the hell did we get here? Was it you?”

“Why is it that everyone always assumes it’s my fault?” he asked rhetorically.

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe it’s because one moment I’m in Los Angelus, and the next I’m in the middle of a desert, with only you for company,” she snarled. Hmm, it seemed that the Slayer’s temper hadn’t improved with the return of her memories.

“Actually, technically, that isn’t true,” he drawled, nodding at Angel’s unconscious body. “I believe you’re acquainted with him?”

Her eyes rounded as she jumped to her feet. “Angel!” she gasped, running to his side. “What did you do to him?”

“What did I do to him?” Methos spluttered. “It was you who was trying her damnedest to drive a stake through his heart only a few moments ago!”

Startled, Buffy’s face went thoughtful. “I wouldn’t do that,” she said, but he could hear the question in her voice.

“Probably not, no,” he agreed reluctantly. “But you weren’t exactly yourself at the time. I’m not exactly sure how this place works, but it seems to attach itself to the darker elements of a person’s personality and bring it to the fore…in your case, I think it was the Slayer part of you that was in driving seat. You didn’t seem to recognise him, all you saw was a vampire.”

“And you?” she asked, suspicious. “Why did I attack you?”

“I interrupted your kill,” he said reluctantly. “You didn’t seem to like it.”

“Oh,” she said, her voice suddenly small. “Thank you, I guess.”

“Any time,” he drawled. “Or, rather, not. Tackling an angry slayer was definitely not one of my brightest ideas.”

A twitch of a smile curled up the corner of her lips. “You still haven’t told me who you are,” she reminded him.

“Adam Pierson,” Methos said dryly, as he slowly got to his feet.

“Oh!” Buffy’s eyes brightened. “You’re the guy who came with Tara; an Immortal, right? Have you met Arturo?”

“Yeah, about that…” Methos said, then halted as he saw Angel’s hand twitch. “Um, I’d step back if I were you,” he said, grabbing hastily at the amulet. “You’re not the only one who wasn’t feeling himself!”

“Hey, where did you get that?” Buffy demanded, stepping back nonetheless.

“Giles,” he said briefly, figuring a lie was the best way to stop the questions. “Something about a prophecy.” Well, that part was true. “Best as I can make out, it negates the influence of this place. “Which is why you’re Buffy again, and I’m not trying to swing a sword at you.”

“Used to do a lot of that, did you?” Buffy asked.

“It was the thing to do,” he said, shrugging, as he slowly approached the Vampire, the amulet extended before him.

“How does it work?” Buffy asked, curious.

“Well, touch seems to do it,” he said grimly, resisting the urge to jump as Angel’s body twitched again. “Although you’re the only empirical evidence I’ve had of that.”

“I bet you’d look good in tweed,” she drawled. “You’ve already got the vocabulary and accent down pat.”

“Huh?” Methos asked, momentarily nonplussed.

“You sound like a Watcher,” she explained, grinning. “There’s an opening, if you want one.”

Methos laughed, despite himself. “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt,” he said wryly. “It didn’t fit.”

“Bet’ya that’s a story,” she teased. “Care to tell—” Suddenly, Angel was on top of her, the ridges on his face springing into prominence as he snarled and pinned her to the ground. With a soundless grunt, she rolled him over. “Hey, I can’t hold him all day, you know!” she called over her shoulder. “Make with the glowly amulet, already!”

Warily, Methos approached the snarling demon and pressed the amulet to his shoulder. Fascinated, he watched the ridges smoothly sink back into his skin.

“Buffy?” Angel croaked unsurely.

The Slayer smirked. “Welcome back,” she said.

“I didn’t realise I’d left,” the vampire said dryly. “Um, Buffy, what are you wearing?”

“What?” she asked, then blushed furiously as she glanced down the tiny rags that covered her body. “Oh, right,” she muttered, scrambling to her feet before she recovered herself. “Hey, you’re one to talk, Mr Loin-cloth!”

If it weren’t for the fact a vampire can’t blush, Methos thought with amusement as the vampire shifted uncomfortably, I’d be looking at two red faces…kids!

Angel suddenly glared at him as if sensing his thoughts. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Saving your ungrateful ass, apparently,” Methos drawled.

“What is that you’re wearing?” the vampire asked, ignoring the reproach in his reply.

“Leather and wool,” Methos said brusquely as he picked up his sword. “All the rage, back in the day.”

“And the bronze sword?” Angel asked, his eyes homing in on the blade.

“Never you mind,” Methos said flatly. “We’ve better things to worry about, like tracking down your friends and getting the hell out of dodge.”

“You know, you never explained to me where we were,” Buffy said thoughtfully.

“That’s because I don’t know,” Methos said tersely. “I thought you’d have a better idea. I believe you’ve tangled with the First before?”

“The First,” Buffy said, her face paling. “That’s all I need…wait a minute, what did you mean by tracking down our friends?”

Methos sighed, this was turning out to be a really long day.