This is how she fell. Lightly, as though all the substance had gone out of her body in the instant the bullet struck. Light came through the window and shone all around her, but her face was in shadow, and I couldn't see the terror in her eyes until I caught her and then I was falling too.
I wanted to say her name, to make her stay, but my throat was stuck. She died so far away she wouldn't have heard. And then fire surged into my mind and out through my fingertips, sputtering like white stars behind my eyes. So I knew she was gone.
Eventually I got up and left her alone. I found Buffy. I knew what Willow would have wanted me to do.
Afterwards I used to wonder what it meant that things had happened this way. That I could save Buffy's life but not my Willow's. Buffy kept right on saving the world like she was destined to, but Willow's destiny was a grave, and mine... With her I'd felt like I was chosen for something, something great.
I guess this is it.
I get up every morning in the bed that Willow and I shared; I eat breakfast with Dawn and sometimes watch cartoons and make silly jokes, or watch Xander and make sillier ones. She lets me see her cry sometimes, and it makes me think: the false life she remembers is so much better than the life she's truly lived. Maybe Willow's life wouldn't have been good either. Maybe death saved her from a destiny gone wrong. Buffy's started to say this so many times that I almost think she believes it. But then I see her slipping in at dawn, still gripping the stake like a vice, and I know there's no comfort for her either. Only power can save us.
So each new moon I renew the power I've been given. I watch the blood well up from my left wrist while my right hand drags the bronze-handled knife across the skin. I speak the incantations to Ares and Eris flawlessly, I let them work their way into me, and then I fall to the blooded earth and feel the magic take me, quietly and without words, without thought.
Xander drops by to check on things while we're preparing for the locator spell. Anya's helping me set out the ingredients. She knows the focus that goes into magic, the shift in awareness, the divergence of Soma and Anima, so she knows how little attention I can spare.
"How's it going?" Xander asks, all casual like. His eyes flick to Anya only once, and we can all feel her not looking back.
Buffy half-smiles at him. There's that bubble around them as they talk, low voices, soft, tense words.
"Dawn's trying to find out anything she can about the Seal. Tara's about to do a locator spell, see if we can find the First."
"Why don't you go get some rest? You haven't slept in, like, two days. We'll call you if we find anything."
"Nah, I--I couldn't sleep. Too much going on."
He leans in very slightly, and his voice gets steady the way it always is when she's like this. "It'll be ok, Buf. We've faced this kind of thing before."
He thinks he can be strong for her, but the strength she needs would kill him.
I make myself stop looking. Light the candle, pour the sand, make the circle. Blood would help, blood always helps, but it's only a locator spell. Anya hasn't brought me the knife, anyhow. So I gather the words in my mind, sharp words, old words, and I piece them into the net I will cast to find the First.
And oh, they're dangerous there, waiting on my tongue. I don't want to let them out. My throat tightens; a touch of the old hesitation creeps up my spine and touches my lips. But it's different now. I dash the fear away in a breath. I open my mouth, I say the first word--
The world explodes in dark flame. Gales of wind pinning me to my chair--god, it burns, my blood seethes in my veins but my skin is cool, head thrown back as it fills me. Power, endless stores of it, and more familiar than I'd ever admit. It knows me, this power. It drives through our soft girl body like it fits there.
Buffy's coming for us but we throw her back with a word. A nice big firey word.
"You only make me stronger," we growl, just to watch the way the terror lances through them. Puny souled things. They don't even know that we're going to crush them. We can feel their flimsy little bodies, we can hear the delicious screams already...
But I'm Tara. I'm the one who slips inside the First while it slides into my body; I'm the one who shows Buffy what it is, so she can fight it. The First is in me, but I'm, I'm Tara, I'm--
Something crashes against the wall.
It's gone, instantly. It feels like I'm gone. But I'm on the floor, shuddering, tears welling up in my eyes just like a messy, leaky, regular human, and god, I can't stop shaking.
"It's still in me, it's still there, oh god, get it out!"
"It's ok, Tara, it's gone, shh." Buffy's hands stroke my hair, my cheek. "It's over, just relax now, calm down." Her brow is furrowed, but she doesn't seem hurt. "I won't ask you to do that again. It's too dangerous."
I'm gasping, I can barely make a sound. "Buffy, I'm s-s-sorry, I c-couldn't--"
"I know, I know. It's ok." Her eyes are gentle, like her voice.
"No. Listen to me. I won't risk you. Just try and calm down. Breathe."
The rhythmic hush of her palm on my face is, despite the panic, almost mesmerizing. She bends over me like the sky. "Breathe," she says again, and her voice is steady for me.
So I take a breath, and then another. I know how to do this; my body knows. To lie still. To stay quiet.
One of the girls has been watching me; she knows I can tell, and she likes it. She lets her lips curve into the promise of a smile, lets her eyes linger when they meet mine.
Some other Tara might have blushed and dropped her eyes, started to stammer, maybe smiled her meek little smile. That Tara shivers inside me, but I'm this Tara, I'm Buffy's right hand, and I gaze back at Kennedy with clear eyes. Buffy, busy speechifying, doesn't notice. Xander looks away without even knowing why he does.
I wonder if Buffy's even listening to what she's saying. She communicates better with her body, with the jut of her hip and the proprietary sweep of her gaze.
She's saying something about war, now, how we're soldiers whether we like it or not, and Kennedy is sliding her hand down into the pocket of her jeans. She has to lean back a bit to do it, because those jeans are tighter at the hip than even some of Buffy's, and her fingers are outlined clearly in pale denim. She pulls out a small pink tube. Cherry chapstick.
I watch her shine her already dewy lips and I have to hide my smile because Buffy's talking about casualties and apocalypses and it wouldn't be proper to be grinning all lasciviously right now. I look at Kennedy and I want to say her name, I want to kiss her uberglossy mouth, I want to be improper. Some of these girls will die, Buffy'd said earlier, when none of them were there to hear her. I try not to see Kennedy's body lying still in a pool of blood. I think instead about the color of her eyes, the curve of her neck.
Speech over, the girls dissipate to eat and worry and break things. Ten in the morning and Xander already looks harried. Andrew follows him with the camcorder. Kennedy follows me up the stairs.
"God, I'm so sick of sitting through the damn Gettysburg address everyday," she says, rolling her eyes. "Buffy really needs to get laid."
I shrug a little, and say mildly, "What makes you think she isn't?"
"Oh, come on. She and Spike obviously aren't getting it on; you can practically hear her tense up when he enters the room." Crooked smile. "She can't stop fighting herself. She should learn to loosen up a little. Take comfort where it's offered."
Her hand is on my arm, testing.
"Buffy has a lot resting on her shoulders," I say absently, reaching out to touch her dark hair, sweep it back from her face. "She has to be strong for everyone," I explain. "She can't..." tracing the line of her jaw with one finger, "...can't afford to relax."
There's an empty bedroom just down the hall, not mine; I think Xander sleeps here when no else has claimed it. She tugs me in and shuts the door behind us and then we're kissing, soft cherry kisses deepening into long slow interludes without breath. I'm panting when she lets me go, and she's laughing a bit nervously, her eyes dropping, suddenly shy.
I take her hand and lead her to the bed. It's still unmade, blue and white sheets piled like frosting, light streaming in through the window.
"Wait," I say into her ear, and go to draw the heavy cream-colored curtains, throwing the room into shadow. When I glance over my shoulder she's sitting on the edge of the bed waiting for me, cheeks flushed. She's not so much the daring vixen now that we're in the bedroom, is she? I note inwardly. But then, I'm not the timid little wiccan everyone still sees me as.
I sit beside her and slide a hand up her thigh to feel her quiver. It makes me smile. "Kennedy?"
"I'd really like to kiss you." But she's already bending to meet my lips and I'm pulling her down on top of me, her hair brushing my face, and then her breasts, and then my tongue finds its way to the bare skin of her navel. She gasps and I tighten my grip at her waist, giggling against her belly until she squirms.
"Hey, that tickles!"
"Sorry," I whisper, giggling more. She hooks a knee behind my leg and suddenly we're lying on our sides, face-to-face, legs tangled into the sheets. She's beautiful, she's grinning at me, she's just what I need.
Because I have to be strong too.
Somewhere along the way, I learned balance. Some people never do (would Willow have learned it?). How to keep yourself whole, to dip one toe into darkness without drowning in it. My life has made me resilient, that way.
Sometimes resilience like that makes people think they can use you. Sometimes love makes you let them.
Three weeks after Willow's funeral Buffy came home with her neck torn open an inch from the carotid.
"I'm fine," she said in her Stay-The-Hell-Away voice, and everyone did but me.
It was quiet in the house then, back before the Potentials came and filled it with girl noises and popcorn and 3am Truth or Dare. The air was still, the way it is sometimes when a magic is growing.
The lock on her bedroom door was easy enough to spell open. She was lying on her back staring at the ceiling, miles away from sleep. The television was tuned to some half-dead signal, snow blinking in and out over vague images. Fragments of voices cut through the static. I looked at her. She didn't move.
"I know where she is," she said to the ceiling. "I know where Willow is. And where my mother is."
I said nothing. I remember the way the whites of her eyes were very stark, very bright, and the one stray lash on her cheek, and the burning red wound on her neck that had already stopped bleeding.
"We're so afraid of death," she went on, not looking at me, not looking anywhere. "And we should be. All these, all these barriers we make between ourselves to keep us from losing who we are, they just melt away when you die." Her voice, somehow, was close to breaking without betraying any tone at all. "There's no you left, not really. Just existence without--without self, without boundaries. And I can't stop wanting--"
She broke off, turned her head at last and looked at me.
"Be quiet," I told her.
And went to her side, and kissed her until she pulled back, trembling.
"Tara," she whispered, and since the day she and I lived and Willow died I'd known, not without fear, that one day I would hear her say my name that way. I kissed her again to stop her saying it.
Because, because words. I've been afraid of the power of words for most of my life, spells and names and my father's voice and just conversation, just Hello, I'm Tara--but this power words don't have. Words can't do this. Can't say so perfectly what we would never say anyway, what only flesh can say, blood and bone and Buffy's hand tangled tight into my hair, knuckles flush against my skull as she pulled me onto the bed and under her body.
She tore my blouse open carelessly, pushed the bra up over my breasts and her thigh in between my legs, dragging my skirt up. I struggled. Not for long.
Her fingers found wetness, first at the parting of my legs and then deeper, sliding into me while her thumb hovered, teased. Her mouth like a star, bright, falling, landing on my lips, my throat, my shoulder. I pulled the cord at her back and the halter top came loose; in another moment she had it off and was sliding her breasts up over mine so I could taste them.
She pulled away sharply when I sucked a nipple, then lowered again. I licked the underside of her breast. She sighed, a thoughtless, easy sigh that made my spine arch under the gentle weight of her body. I found the way to make her sigh again, curling down and around to nuzzle her through her jeans. She made an impatient sound and tugged them down with one hand. Then panties, then bare flesh beneath my tongue and the taut quiver of her belly, the pearl of her fingernails where her hand lay on her thigh, suddenly unclenched.
We've all, without mentioning it, held on to little useless pieces of Sunnydale, and of sorrow. A thin, dingy blanket Dawn rescued from Joyce's bed before all beds had become communal property. A spoon Xander makes sure is safely tucked away at night. The bullet I pulled out of Buffy's chest. For Giles, I think, it's Buffy herself he looks at when he needs grief. She's the vessel of all his regret, hope, joy, and loss.
Not mine. Buffy's full; years of holding everyone together -- holding their hope, holding the line -- have filled her up so that she can't hold anymore. I hold her now, when she'll let me. When she'll let go of all that power and let me empty her touch by touch.
Once Kennedy saw Buffy looking at me, at Kennedy's hand in mine, and she thought she knew what Buffy was thinking. Smiled her little smile and kissed my cheek.
"She wants you," she said later, noon stretching through the window, I stretching in her arms. I laughed. "Buffy? Why would she?"
"Why not? I've seen her looking, like she thinks she owns you. She's jealous." She grins at me, hair fanned out on the pillow like a goddess. "She probably thinks of us when she's fucking... oh, whoever she fucks. Whoever it is that makes her come to class the next day looking a real live girl."
I shake my head, chin rubbing her stomach. "I doubt it," I tell her.
Those of us who stayed together after Sunnydale still sleep in close quarters, can still slumber on oblivious to Dawn's jackhammer snoring through thin walls but wake at the sound of a stranger's footstep. The habits you make in war die hard, hard. But Kennedy has always been a heavy sleeper, and it doesn't take much magic to be sure she doesn't wake until I'm back in bed beside her.
And I'm more careless now. Sometimes when I come to the gym I spend thirty or forty minutes watching Buffy show adolescent boys and girls with rich parents how to stand and fall and kick, before going downstairs to find Kennedy with the nine to eleven-year-old group.
Kennedy and Dawn go out dancing some nights, too, and then Buffy waits for me in a cemetery that's exactly like any cemetery in any town, even Sunnydale, except no vampires. Hardly any.
Sometimes she's holding the stake when I move to kiss her, and sometimes she scratches my legs with her nails, but when she comes it's always, finally, with eyes shut and hands open, breath returning in slow, quiet waves. We lie in the familiar shadow of gravestones and she imagines she is home.
I imagine nothing of the kind. I'll go home to my Willow one day, when my heart has spent all its life on this twice-dead woman, the Chosen, the One of many. Kennedy will leave, and Dawn will become the ordinary woman Buffy can never be, and even Xander will find his own life somewhere, though always never far from her. Giles says nothing of the future, so I know he will be the first to go.
I also say nothing. What Buffy needs is the strength I have in silence, the ability to lie still, to stay quiet. To take the love she gives me, the fierce, desperate love for death that is in every bone of her body, every drop of her power.
Every new moon I hold the knife, I speak the words, and then I am wordless with magic. I am as strong as she needs me to be. I can keep my balance. I won't drown.
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Author: Sssenza [email]
Details: Standalone | NC-17 | *slash* | 16k | 02/13/05
Characters: Tara, Buffy
Pairings: Tara/Buffy, Tara/Kennedy
Summary: Tara knows how to deal with power.
Notes: Spoilers mainly for Seeing Red through till Chosen, except a different version of those events.
Disclaimer/Other: This is a work of fiction--a derivative one, at that. The Buffyverse isn't mine. I just like to play there.
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