Los Angeles: Summer of 2003
“Okay, we’re ready,” Buffy said, and Methos raised an eyebrow as her grip on his shoulder tightened painfully
“Easy,” he said. “I may be an immortal but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it when my bones crack.”
“Oh, sorry.” The grip loosened. “I guess it’s nerves, if this doesn’t work…”
Methos nodded. “I know, I don’t especially like the idea of being stuck in a bronze aged hell either,” he said dryly. “Let’s do this, shall we?”
The others huddled closer, each of them holding onto him as he held up the amulet by it’s chain. “Right, he muttered, biting down a moment of claustrophobia. “Here goes nothing.” He took a deep breath and carefully slipped the chain over his neck.
“Shit,” Kennedy muttered. “What do we do now—”
The pain flashed through him, and Methos fell to his knees as the amulet began to glow. He heard Buffy’s voice but couldn’t make out the words .The world whitened. He let out a strangled cry as he felt something inside wrench. Nausea filled his throat and mouth and he swallowed it down, closing his eyes as the light became more intense, seeming almost to burn, and then…
Wincing, he opened his eyes, some part of his mind registering the sudden weight pressing down on him even as he managed to move his head slightly and feel the familiar scratch of carpet pile. The light was dim and, for a moment, Methos didn’t realise what was blocking his view.
Then the leg moved.
“Perfect, just perfect, ” he muttered into the carpet. “Would you lot get off me?” A groan answered him, and the weight above shifted as the various bodies began to move.
“Did it work?” a voice asked, Methos recognised it as Elaine’s. “Did we make it?”
“Either that, or we’re in some kind of weird, beige hell,” Kennedy snorted.
“It’s the accounting department,” said Angel.
Methos groaned as he felt the last body peel off him, and he managed to flip onto his back.
“Are you alright?”
Methos squinted as Buffy’s face swum in to view. “A few cracked ribs, give me a moment.” Buffy nodded and backed away. He figured living with Arturo had given her an education on how immortal physiology works.
He felt his ribs creak back into place, and took in a deep breath as the pain in his chest eased. Better, much better. Slowly, he sat up and looked around. He saw a few bruised and battered faces, but nobody looked seriously injured. He guessed he took the brunt of it. Typical.
“It’s pretty quiet,” Kennedy said as she eyed the empty desks.
“Too quiet,” Angel softly agreed.
“I wonder how long we’ve been gone?” another Slayer piped up.
“I don’t know,” Elaine said. “It feels like days.”
“There, maybe,” Angel said. “But not necessarily here; could have been hours, could have been years.
“You’re kidding, right?” Kennedy asked sharply, before turning to Buffy. “Tell me he’s kidding.”
Buffy gave her a pained smile. “No, he’s right.”
“Well, I know one thing: we’re not going to find anything out just standing here,” Gunn said grimly.
“Huh, I don’t know about you, but the first thing on my list is a shower and a change of clothes,” Elaine chirped up.
Buffy shifted uncomfortably as she realised she was still wearing her bronze aged outfit. “Yeah, that too,” she mumbled.
“Oh, I don’t I know,” Kennedy drawled out as she looked down at her own random collection of scanty rags. “I think it has a certain something…do you think Willow will get a kick out of it?”
“I’d find a mirror first, the face paint leaves something to be desired,” Buffy said dryly.
Well, maybe the word ‘paint’ might be a little overly optimistic…”
Methos sighed, looking down at his own outfit and the battered, bronze sword. “I was very fond of my Ivanhoe,” he sighed.
“Relax,” Buffy said. “Arturo always carries a few spares, I’m sure he’ll lend you one.”
Methos winced. “Ah, yes, about Arturo, I’ve been meaning to tell you but—” The immortal’s presence washed over him coldly, and Methos cursed under his breath, fumbling for the blade.
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “We’ve got company?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said flatly, grasping the short sword as he prowled towards the door.
“It’s probably Tara,” Buffy said, lowering her voice as she signalled to the other Slayers to fan out around the door.
Methos shook his head. “Too strong,” he said.
“Really, you can tell the difference? But Arturo said…” Buffy shook her head. “Never mind, but if it isn’t Tara, it’s probably Arturo.”
“Gods, I hope not.”
Buffy’s face darkened. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Long story,” Methos muttered as he gently turned the handle and pedalled backwards as the door swung open.
A woman stood in the centre of the hall foyer, her face hidden by the deep cowl of her hood. Not that he needed to see her face. He already knew who it was. “What are you doing here, Cassandra”
“Methos,” She said, smiling wryly as she saw him wince. “Ah, they weren’t privy to your true name, I take it?”
“Methos?” Buffy echoed. “The Methos? But Arturo said—”
“Yes, well, Arturo said a lot of things,” Methos snapped. “Pity so few of them were true.”
“Hey, what is with you?” Buffy demanded. “Every time I mention Arturo’s name you react like you’ve suddenly got a bad taste in your mouth.”
“Yeah, I’m all ears,” Angel asked. Buffy scowled at him. Obviously, he’d sounded a touch too eager.
“Don’t you start!” She said hotly. “I know that you two don’t get on but…”
“Hey! I ain’t the one calling him a liar!,” Angel said defensively, glancing at Methos. “That’s what you’re calling him, right? A liar? How bad is it? Will we have to kill him?”
“You are not killing my boyfriend!”
“The point is moot,” Cassandra interjected gently. “Arturo is already dead.”
“What?” the word flew out of Methos’s and Buffy’s mouth simultaneously
“Please tell me it was you,” Methos added, as his mind went over the possibilities and didn’t like where it was going. Cassandra shook her head silently and he groaned. “Amanda?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Tara,” Angel said softly.
“Tara? But Tara would never do something like that…” Buffy’s face faltered.
“Kennedy huffed. “Don’t be so sure.”
“Leave it alone, Kennedy,” Angel said, sighing.
“All I’m saying—”
“Why are you here?” Methos interrupted impatiently. “And where is Tara?”
“I was with Joe when Amanda phones him,” Cassandra sighed. “Apparently Arturo tried to kill someone called Willow, and Tara jumped into protect her.”
Kennedy pushed forward. “Willow? Is she all right? Is she hurt—“
“You didn’t answer my second question, Cassandra,” Methos said, gripping Kennedy’s shoulder to silence her.
Cassandra hesitated. “Arturo was possessed by the First,” she said. “The quickening didn’t go well.”
Methos groaned. “How is she?”
“And Willow,” Kennedy said, shaking Methos’s hand away. “Where’s Willow?”
“Willow is well,” Cassandra said. She accompanied Tara to France.”
“France?” Methos said. “How long have we been gone?”
“It’s been two days since the amulet took you,” Cassandra said.
“Listen, I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care,” Buffy said coldly. “But if someone doesn’t tell me what the hell is going on here, I’m going to be a very unhappy Slayer.”
“Seconded,” Kennedy said grimly.
“You want the truth? Fine!” Methos snarled. “Your fine, upstanding boyfriend was in fact a Nazi mass murderer in league with the First, and using you for information. That good enough for you?”
“Wh-what?” Buffy’s face paled. “I think… I think I need to sit down.”
“As tactful as ever, I see,” Cassandra drawled.
“Don’t start on me, Cassandra, I’m not in the mood,” Methos snapped. “Why is Tara in France? Why did…oh shit. It was a dark quickening, wasn’t it?”
“A dark quickening?” Buffy asked, seeming to collect herself.
“It happens sometimes,” Methos muttered. “Can have some nasty repercussions. Even an old and seasoned Immortal would be in serious danger of having their entire personality tainted by it and Tara….”
“Is neither,” Angel said softly. “I’m guessing there’s something in France that can reverse the process?”
“If you get the person there in time, before their personality is completely subsumed, and even then, it’s not….certain,” Methos said, his mind racing. “Fine, France it is, then.”
“Uh, aren’t you forgetting something, like an apocalypse, perhaps?” Gunn asked. “if two days have past then it must be about to happen.”
“At Dusk, three hours away,” Cassandra confirmed.
“An even better reason to leave town,” Methos muttered.
Cassandra snorted. “Some things don’t change.”
“Now is not the time, Cassandra,” Methos said. “I need to get to France as soon possible and unless you know…” Methos halted, studying her face carefully. “But you did know, didn’t you? That’s why you waylaid her in the airport. You knew, and you said nothing. If this is your way of getting around your promise to MacLeod then I promise you, Cassandra: if Tara doesn’t survive this, I will make you pay for this.”
Cassandra laughed sourly. “Do you really think it was MacLeod’s plea that stayed my hand, Methos?” she said. “Do you actually believe I let you live as a favour to Duncan? Believe me, if I though there was any other way…” She took a deep breath. “Yes, Methos, I knew,” she admitted softly. “But I didn’t stay silent because of some petty vengeance, Tara would not have deserved that. I stayed silent because, however horrific her ordeal is right now, it is nothing compared to what would have happened if she hadn’t taken his head.”
Bordeaux, France: 1996
At last, the quickening flickered to an end, and Cassandra slowly approached the headless corpse on the concrete floor. Silas, dead, as was Kronos and Caspian. There was only one monster left.
“I killed Silas, I liked Silas.” He sat prostrate on the ground, not even looking up as Cassandra dragged Silas’s axe towards him.
“And now I’m supposed to forgive you,” Casssandra ground out.
Cassandra looked up, disbelief running through her as she saw the plea in Duncan’s eyes. “You want him to live?”
“Yes, I want him to live.”
But she couldn’t do it. As long as Methos lived, she wouldn’t have peace. She needed him dead, needed to know that he would never hurt anyone, the way he’d hurt her, ever again. Steeling herself, she raised the axe. He just lay there, not even raising his head, but she couldn’t summon any pity for him. Three thousand years had passed and she still lived with the nightmares. She cried out, a scream of rage, and—
It was wrong, all wrong; it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. She was supposed to leave, find a teacher, but instead she stayed…and lost.
There was darkness and screaming, clawed creatures spilling out of the earth. They had thought they could stop it, but the Immortal who was destined to stay their hand now rode at the First’s right hand.
Faith wasn’t sure what had happened to Tara, but she was certain that it had something to do taking Arturo’s head. But it was too late to fix it now.
“We’ve got to stop her,” Faith said, turning to Willow.
“I can’t,” Willow said hoarsely. “You can’t ask me to do that.”
Wesley had made it to their side, scrabbling through the rubble. He had been wounded in the dawn attack, and his chest was heavily bandaged, but at least he was alive, unlike Giles.
Faith sighed. Tara’s defection had only been the first blow. When Buffy and Angel had also disappeared, taking with them a good chunk of the Slayers, the heart had gone out of the rest….
“We’re going to lose, aren’t we?”
Faith looked at the young Slayer lying down on a makeshift bed of coats and jackets. She didn’t look a day over fourteen and, from the look of her wounds, she wouldn’t live to see fifteen. She didn’t know what to say; she didn’t want to lie.
“Well, if we’re going to lose, we might as well give them a bloody nose while we’re at it,” Wesley said, and Faith threw him a grateful look
“Listen up, people,” she said aloud. “You heard the Watcher, time to give these freaks a taste of their own medicine, who’s with me?”
The ragged crowd of survivors sent up a hoarse cheer. Most of them would be dead by nightfall, and those were the lucky ones.
Faith laughed, she’d always known she’d die young; at least she’d go down fighting…
Cassandra faltered under the weight of the vision, the axe suddenly feeling heavy in her hands. Gods, was it true? Could the taking of his life really affect the future so drastically?
“Cassandra! I want him to live!”
But what Duncan wanted didn’t really matter, anymore than what she wanted. The axe fell from her grasp, and she stumbled back, afraid she might give into the temptation of ending him despite the repercussions. She didn’t know how she made it to the metal footbridge and dragged herself across it, but she did.
She needed to keep going, she couldn’t look back.
A champion would need a teacher, and Death had been elected for the job.
Los Angeles, Two days previously.
The others hovered just outside of reach, afraid to touch her, but Tara’s eyes followed Amanda as she circled around. She had to be taken care of. “Amanda, what are you doing?” She kept her voice small and scared as she turned to look at the witch. “Willow, what’s happened?”
Amanda pinned her with her a look. “We have to handcuff her.”
“B-but she’s okay, look at her. She’s just a little bit shaken up,” Willow said, taking a step forward. Tara hid a smile as she slowly got to her feet. She was nearly within reach.
“Willow, she has to be restrained, ” Amanda warned. “Trust me on this.”
Damn it, wouldn’t the bitch shut up? “I-I don’t understand….what’s happened?” Tara said the words softly. It wouldn’t do for them to hear the snarl in her voice. She debated about which one she could kill first: the witch or the thief? She risked a glance at the floor, and saw her sword lying beside De Longi’s body, just beyond Willow. Very well, the witch first.
“How about we all take a step back,” Faith drawled. “No rush here; we just figure what happened to Tara when that quickening thing hit her. Take it step by step.”
“Faith,” Amanda said lowly. “Please believe me, Tara really isn’t herself right now. Look at her face, look at her eyes.”
“W-what are you saying,” Tara said, her eyes widening.. “Amanda, I thought you were my friend. Why are you saying these things?”
“See?” Willow said, taking another step forward. “It’s Tara—”
Tara struck, a quick strike to the gut and a sweep at her legs. The witch crashed into the wall and Tara dove for her sword - only to have a foot pin her hand to the floor.
“Uh-uh,” Faith drawled. “No running with scissors.”
Tara glared as Amanda swept the sword out of reach and bent down beside Willow.
“So, who’s playing house inside her head?” Faith asked flatly.
Amanda hesitated and Tara smirked. “Afraid to tell them the truth, Amanda?”
“Amanda?” Faith said. “What’s going on here?”
“It’s called a dark quickening,” Amanda said flatly. “I’ve never seen one up close and personal before but, from what I know, it’s not a possession, exactly. It’s more like her moral compass has been…rewritten?”
“Let me get this straight,” Faith said. “You’re telling me that this dark quickening has made her evil?”
“Well, I wouldn’t have put it quite that bluntly, but yes.”
“But there’s a way to reverse it, right? What would it take, another quickening? Isn’t that how you guys work?”
Amanda looked up from the cut on Willow’s forehead. “That wouldn’t be a good way to go,” she said softly.
“I notice how you didn’t say it wouldn’t work.”
“Look,” Amanda said. “A dark quickening is very rare. It only happens when you take the head of someone so evil, so maddened, that all they can think of is inflicting hurt and pain.”
“So, let’s say we do look for a quickening that could cancel it out. An ordinary quickening wouldn’t do the job. Your average Immortal is like you’re average mortal, neither good nor evil, but a bit of both. You’d need a special kind of quickening, let’s call it a light quickening, and if a dark quickening can only be gotten from an evil Immortal—“
“Then a light quickening can only be got from a good person,” Faith sighed. “Gotcha. Strike that plan.”
Willow groaned. “What happened?” she asked.
“Your ex ran you into a wall,” Faith said.
“But I did it from a place of love,” Tara piped up sarcastically. “Truly.”
Faith stared down at her coldly. “You can shut up.”
“Or I stuff a gag in your mouth,” she said shortly.
Tara sneered at her but kept her mouth shut. She needed to be ready in case they let their guard down again. She had things to do, places to be.
Yes, you do, and the quicker we are joined, the better it will be.
Tara cocked her head and listened to the voice. It made such beautiful promises, unlike the other one…
…oh goddess, oh goddess, don’t listen to her. Fight it…
Tara’s lip twisted derisively; what was there to fight? She was free now, truly free.
…don’t listen…don’t listen…
It was barely a whisper now; soon it would be gone…
“The First, I sense her,” Willow said tersely.
“Probably wants to play with her new toy,” Faith said.
Willow glared at her. “Don’t say that!”
“It’s just tellin’ the truth as I see it, Red,” Faith sighed. “She’s become a liability. I say we tie her up, like Amanda says, and—”
“No!” Willow said. Dragging herself to her feet. “There must be something we can do?”
“Listen, I’d love to have an easy answer, Red, but—”
“I might know a way,” Amanda said softly.
Willow looked at her eagerly. “You do?”
“It’s a long shot,” Amanda said reluctantly. “And I’m not sure if we can find what we’re looking for. M-Adam knew but…”
“He’s gone,” Faith said.
Tara giggled. “Oops, and whose fault is that again?”
Amanda ignored her. “We need to get to Paris as quickly as we can,” she said. “I’ll book a private jet and—”
No need,” Willow interrupted. “I can get us there.”
“You sure you’ve got the juice, Red?” Faith asked.
“Oh, it isn’t a matter of juice, it’s the will power that she’s lacking,” Tara said nastily.
“Oh Goddess, this is worse than what Glory did to her,” Willow said hoarsely.
“Hey, don’t sell yourself short, honey dear, you did a pretty good number on my mind too. Twice, if I remember correctly.”
“Don’t listen to her, Willow,” Amanda murmured, as she pulled out her mobile phone. “She’s just trying to distract you. Do what you need to do.”
Tara watched as Willow backed away to the other end of the room and dropped into a lotus position. She went through her options. It was obvious Amanda was making a beeline for Joe’s, maybe she could use that to her advantage and get Joe to help her. Once free, there were a few things that would work in her favour; for one thing, she spoke the language…
Tara’s eyes wandered over to Amanda, keeping her body limp as Faith heaved her up from the floor. The thief might be a problem, she knew Paris like the back of her hand - but it wasn’t anything that a bullet in the back and a hack of a blade couldn’t handle.
As if sensing what Tara was thinking, Amanda looked up from her phone. “You’d better pat her down. Adam has a habit of carrying more than one weapon, she may have one secreted upon her.”
Tara sneered, if she had another weapon, the witch would be dead by now; but she kept her mouth shut and listened as Amanda spoke softly into the phone.
“I need to know where… Dark Quickening…You don’t? No, Adam can’t…portal… Duncan… Can you find out? We’re on our way…. Long story…”
“Any luck?” Faith asked, as Amanda hung up.
Amanda shrugged. “There’s someone who might be able to help us,” she said. “Joe said he’d try and track him down.”
“We’re good, to go,” Willow said, taking a deep breath.
“Giles will need to know where we’re gone,” Faith said.
“already taken care of,” Willow murmured.
Amanda took a deep breath. “How does this work?”
Faith’s grip on Tara’s arms tightened. “You just hold on and hope—”
Light flashed painfully into Tara’s eyes and she let out a scream, she struggled against Faith’s grip and felt a moment of shocked pleasure as she felt herself slip from the Slayer’s grip. Then the agony slipped through her mind and the word twisted and—
“Shit, she wriggled free!”
Tara didn’t pause to think. She leapt to her feet, saw Faith try to head her off from the front entrance of the bar, and immediately leapt for the back way. A slumped body, the witch, was in her path, and she leaped over her.
Amanda’s voice cried out. “Joe, shoot her!”
Joe moved into her path, a gun in his hand, but Tara barrelled into him and sent him flying before she hit the door. She made her way unerringly through the back office and hallway and slammed through the door into the back alley, not even pausing for breath as she hit the street. Her biggest danger, right now, was Faith’s speed and Amanda’s sensing range. She needed to lose them both, fast.
She slipped down a side street and made a dash for the next boulevard, another side street and she found the Seine. She didn’t halt; she kept on running. The first place they’d look would be Adam’s place; the Highlander’s barge would be further down the list.
She ran down the steps, grinning as she saw the barge moored to the same ring it had been tied to on her first day in Paris. MacLeod would have least one blade stashed onboard for emergencies. It would be foolish to do otherwise.
She felt the steady thrum of another immortal’s presence and cursed under her breath. Damn it, Amanda must have figured it out. Never mind, she’d still reach the barge first...
A dark haired figure appeared on the barge’s deck and Tara faltered. She couldn’t make out his features against the skyline but she knew who it was.
“Hello, Tara.” His voice was soft, gentle, a hint of his native Scots still in his accent.
“Stay away from me,” she snarled backing away.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” he said, as he reached the gangplank. “You see, I know what you’re going through, right now, and—”
“Stay away from me!” The clatter of feet on the stone footsteps rang out behind her and Tara cursed as she felt another presence approach. Instinctively, she ran.
And felt the bullet rip through her spine and through her chest, sending her to the ground in a splatter of blood and bile.
Distantly, she heard the soft thread of feet as she held onto the last dregs of consciousness. She heard the scratch of denim and his steady breath, as he knelt down and touched her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Tara, I’d hoped we'd meet under better circumstances.”
And then the world went black.
BACK : TBC
FICTION : BUFFY
FICTION : CROS
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