Author's Notes: This entire idea came about as a result of my own twisted musings and an overdose of Willow/Angel and Willow/Angel/Spike Fics. As always a big thank you to my wonderful betas: KallieRose, Lisa Kelley, Angie Smith and Filip Janik... you guys rock.
* * * * *
As she stood looking over the crater that used to be Sunnydale, Willow felt a deep twinge of regret and pain. It had never been a nice place to live, but it had been Home – the only home she’d ever known. Despite all of the bad things that had happened to her there, she would miss Sunnydale.
In a strange way, she would even miss the Hellmouth. For seven long years now, it had been a part of who she was. Defending the world from the Hellmouth and fighting the forces of evil had become a part of her identity, and now, that part was gone.
Closing her eyes, Willow took a deep breath and felt her power stir within her. She touched the magick and smiled, relaxing into its gentle warmth, feeling the ebb and flow of the world around her through that connection. With a whisper of thought, she sent tendrils of her consciousness outward, into the vast crater. She searched the very fabric of reality because they had to know, they had to be certain that the danger was past.
Her awareness scoured the crater that had been Sunnydale, searching for any trace of the powerful, malignant presence of the gate to Hell, but there was nothing. Spike had not just closed the Hellmouth: he had sealed it off completely and permanently, effectively destroying even the faintest trace of its evil power. The thought of the bleached blond vampire brought a tear to her eye. Despite everything that had happened, he’d been a good friend and would be missed.
As she stood there, connected to the vast and tangled web of the universe, Willow whispered a soft prayer, asking her Goddess to have mercy and protect the soul of a vampire who had saved the world from evil. She felt it was the least she could do.
With a reluctant sigh, Willow pulled her awareness back into herself and opened her eyes. She turned slightly to look at Buffy, and smiled softly before she spoke, “The Hellmouth is gone. Spike didn’t just close it - he erased all traces of its existence.”
Buffy nodded and Willow saw a single tear slip from her friend’s eye. In that moment the sadness, the loss, the pain and regrets of the past seven years threatened to overwhelm them both, and the two friends wrapped their arms around each other. They stood for what seemed like an eternity drawing comfort and strength from that embrace, the warmth of their friendship chasing away the darkness and the pain. Within moments, they were joined by another as Xander wrapped his strong arms around them both, and they shifted just enough to reciprocate.
The three original Scoobies, the last guardians of the Hellmouth, had survived and they were finally free.
* * * * *
Kennedy’s eyes narrowed slightly at the sight of her girlfriend, her Willow, embracing Buffy. She always hated how close the redhead was to the blonde Slayer, and seeing the two of them hugging made her blood boil. With an effort, she bit back her emotions. Now was just not the time to deal with this, not here in front of everyone. She and Willow would have to have a talk about it later though.
Forcing a smile, Kennedy walked toward the three of them, wondering for the umpteenth time, how a loser like Xander and bimbo like Buffy would ever have survived if Willow hadn’t been there to help them. “So, where to now?” she asked, just loudly enough to force the trio to acknowledge her question.
* * * * *
At the sound of her girlfriend’s voice, Willow opened her eyes and glanced towards the younger girl. Despite the smile on Kennedy’s face, her eyes were cold and hard, a look the redhead had become intimately familiar with over the past few weeks. She had done something wrong, something that made Ken angry with her.
The feelings of relief, comfort and security that had filled her for those all too brief moments while she was wrapped in the arms of her two best friends drained away almost instantly, replaced by an icy feeling of tense anxiety.
As her friends released her and looked at Kennedy, Willow quickly crossed the short distance to her girlfriend and threw her arms around the brunette. Kennedy reciprocated easily, as though nothing were wrong, but in a voice just low enough for Willow to hear her she whispered “We’ll deal with this later. When we’re alone.”
The cold fury in those whispered words sent a hint of a shudder down Willow’s spine, but she quickly suppressed the feeling. If her friends were to notice it, the attention would only make things worse later. So she only nodded softly, acknowledging her lover’s words before releasing her and looking back to Buffy expectantly.
* * * * *
As he closed his eye and wrapped his arms around Willow and Buffy, Xander felt the pain inside him well up and threaten to spill over. Anya was gone forever, and that fact hurt him far more than he could ever have imagined. A part of him had always thought, or at least hoped, that someday the two of them might be able to patch things up.
He felt his best friends shift in his embrace and felt their arms snake around him, pulling him close, supporting and comforting him, and the pain faded away. None of them needed to say anything because the hug said it all. They were here for each other, and right now, in this moment, that was all that mattered.
To Xander’s deep annoyance, Kennedy’s voice cut through the moment, shattering the feeling of comfort, “So, where to now?”
He felt Willow shift slightly in their hug and, without looking, knew that his oldest friend in the world was looking over to her girlfriend. As her body suddenly tensed up, Xander’s eye snapped open and he shot a look at Kennedy. What he saw in the brunette girl’s eyes chilled him through to the core. It was a look that Xander knew all too well from his father. It was a look that Xander had hoped to never see again. Seeing that look directed at Willow of all people hit him like a fist in his gut.
Xander dropped his arms and stepped back from his friends, his shoulders slumped abruptly and he slipped into the same, slouching posture he had throughout his high school years. Realizing what he’d done, he drew himself upright and squared his shoulders, biting back the surge of anger that was building in him. He wasn’t that scared kid anymore, and this wasn’t his father.
He swallowed the lump that surged up into his throat as Willow crossed to the younger girl and hugged her quickly. Xander saw Kennedy’s lips move, and while he couldn’t hear the words she whispered, he heard them echoing from his own childhood, still dripping with a promise of violence in his father’s drunken voice, “We’ll deal with this later…”
As Willow turned back toward where he and Buffy still stood, the horrifying realization sank in, “Oh God… Kennedy’s a slayer too.” This was bad… very, very bad.
* * * * *
Buffy smiled as she watched Willow embrace her lover. Kennedy had been good for Willow, helping her move past Tara’s death, helping her stay grounded and keeping the redhead on the right path. She was glad that she had encouraged Kennedy to pursue Willow.
She turned and looked one last time at the ruined remains of Sunnydale before answering Kennedy’s simple question. “We’ll head to LA,” she answered finally, without looking away from what was left of Sunnydale. “Angel’s got that whole big, empty hotel thing, so maybe he can put us up for a few days while we figure out where we go from here.”
She took a deep breath before turning back toward the bus. There were injured Slayers and allies on the bus that she should check on. She called to Willow, “Will, can you call and let him know we’re heading his way? Kennedy, we need to get everyone settled on the bus and check on our wounded.” She didn’t look back as she walked toward the school bus that held the survivors of their war with the First. There was still work to do.
* * * * *
A sharp, burning jolt of pain ripped Angel from his daytime slumber and into wakefulness. One of his childer had perished, he knew it without question, and he feared he knew who had passed as well. Spike was gone, fallen in battle against the First.
Throwing back the covers on his bed, Angel stood and began pacing, fearing for the lives of the others: Buffy, Faith, Willow. The irony was not lost on him as he realized that the three people he feared for the most in their battle with the First were the most powerful champions in the fight. The restless pacing, however, wasn’t helping him calm his nerves.
Knowing that any hope of sleeping was lost to him now, Angel glanced at the clock by his beside. The baleful red numbers declared that it was just past noon. He sighed softly and decided to get dressed. There was a lot of work to do before they stepped in and took control of Wolfram and Hart’s LA branch, and if he couldn’t sleep… then at least he could do something useful.
Just as the souled vampire finished buttoning up his shirt, the shrill sound of his cell phone chiming out the notes of “That Old Black Magick” shattered the quiet of his room. A tight smile slid across Angel’s face as he scooped up the phone and opened it. That ring was reserved for just one person.
“Willow?” he answered quickly.
“Hi Angel,” came the redhead’s soft, calm voice through the line. Angel frowned almost immediately, as he heard the stress and anxiety in her voice.
Before she could say another word, he cut in, “What’s wrong, Willow? Is it Buffy? Did she…”
“No, she’s fine, well… not fine, ‘cause we lost a lot of good people in the battle and Spike died and, oh, we did sorta destroy Sunnydale… but good, at least, 'cause she’s not dead or hurt and the Hellmouth is closed for good…”
Angel couldn’t help but smile, not just at the news that Buffy and Willow were okay, but also at the method of delivery. Angel had always had a soft spot for the shy hacker turned witch, especially since she had re-ensouled him not once, but twice now. Just hearing the sound of Willow’s voice soothed some of his earlier fears, but still the nagging sense that something was wrong ate at the edges of his perception.
“Willow,” he said interrupting her before it turned into a full-blown babble, “What is it?”
She was quiet for a moment before she answered, and in that brief silence Angel could hear her heart hammering through the phone and felt his demon stir to the sound. His smile melted away as he realized that she was scared of something or someone. “It’s nothing, Angel,” the lie rang in his ears for what it was, but he let it pass for now, “but Sunnydale is gone, we have more than a few wounded, and we need a place to stay.”
Even though she couldn’t see him, he nodded slightly as he answered, “We’ve got plenty of room in the Hotel, and you’re all welcome here for as long as you need. And I’ll be here if you need to talk about whatever it is that’s got you scared.”
“Thanks,” she said softly into the phone. “For everything. We’ll be there in a couple hours.” She hung up the phone at that, knowing that he was never one for saying good-bye.
Angel stood, quietly thoughtful for a few moments, before closing the phone and heading down to the lobby of the hotel. He pushed away the memories of his fallen childe, there would be time enough to grieve for Spike after the living had been tended to. Even as he went about making preparations for the impending arrival of the Sunnydale contingent, his mind kept drifting back to Willow, and wondering what he could do to help the girl he owed so very much.
* * * * *
“...And I’ll be here if you need to talk about whatever it is that’s got you scared.” Angel’s words echoed in her ears as she hung up, and a part of her longed to tell him. To let the handsome vampire rescue her from this, but she couldn’t do it. Not now, it was just too dangerous…
Willow closed her eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath as she closed the phone and tucked it into her pocket. She could hear Buffy and the other healthy Slayers organizing the bus and checking on the injured, and a part of her knew she should go and help, but she just couldn’t bring herself to move yet.
“You want to talk about it, Will?” Xander asked softly from behind her.
She stiffened slightly at the sound of his voice, surprised that he wasn’t in the bus, helping Buffy. “Talk about what, Xander?” she responded instantly, feigning confusion.
“About what I saw between you and Kennedy just now. About what she’s doing to you. About why you let this go on and why you haven’t said anything to us.” There was no accusation in his voice, no blame, just care and support, the unconditional love of her best friend.
“Xander, I…” she started, turning to face him. As she saw the look on his face, her feeble denials of what was happening died on her tongue, unspoken. He just looked so scared, so worried about what was going on that she couldn’t do it. Couldn’t lie to him, couldn’t tell him everything was okay. Her voice trailed off into a long moment of silence as she desperately tried to find something she could say, something that would take his fear away and make him understand why…
As the silence stretched between them, Xander turned away, looking out into the vast empty space that used to be Sunnydale. “I’m sorry Willow,” he said softly. “Of all of us, I should’ve seen it, should’ve recognized the signs. But I didn’t, and I’m sorry for it.”
“Xander,” she started again, her voice wavering at the pure, raw pain in her friend’s voice. “I can’t… she’ll…” Tears welled up in her eyes and spilled softly down her face at the thought of what Kennedy would do to Xander if he tried to help her.
Xander nodded slowly, his pain at seeing Willow cry obvious, “I love you Willow. You’re my best friend and I am here for you. But you can’t let this go on… she’s a Slayer now, she could kill you…”
“You can’t save me this time, Xander,” she said softly, in a tear-choked voice, “No one can.”
The truth of those words struck Xander like a slap in the face, dragging him back to the last confrontation he’d ever had with his father. “You’re right Will, no one else can save you from this,” his words were full of bitter regret as he spoke. “This time you have to save yourself. But know this: I’m here for you, no matter what may come.” Gently, he reached out and cupped Willow’s cheek with his hand, brushing away a tear with his thumb.
He gave her a soft smile of encouragement as she closed her eyes briefly, before reaching up and placing her own hand over his. She answered him with a small, strained smile of her own and a soft nod, before releasing him and watching as he turned and walked toward the bus.
Looking back at the bus, Willow felt a jolt of fear shoot through her. Kennedy was staring out at them intently through one of the bus’s many windows.
Closing her eyes once more, Willow whispered softly, “Goddess help me. I am lost and I need you to show me the path.” She could only hope that her Goddess would answer.
* * * * *
The next half-hour passed in a chaotic jumble as the busload of injured and exhausted soldiers began its journey toward the City of Angels. Willow slumped in her seat next to Buffy, utterly drained by the magick she was using to keep the gravely wounded Principal Wood alive. Without her, the injuries he’d sustained in the battle would prove fatal long before they could get him to a hospital.
Even through her exhaustion, the redheaded witch could feel the hostility that her girlfriend barely managed to contain over her proximity to Buffy. This situation continued to move steadily from potentially bad to probably catastrophic.
Closing her eyes and leaning against the window, Willow willed herself to sleep, knowing that she would need her strength sooner rather than later.
* * * * *
The redhead stirred gently at the sound of a soft, familiar voice. It was a voice that she knew she should recognize, but couldn’t place through the fog of her deep slumber.
“Willow, wake up,” the voice repeated insistently.
Slowly the witch opened her eyes and took in her surroundings. The sudden realization that she was no longer on the bus hit her like a ton of bricks and she sat bolt upright. She found herself sitting on a bed that she knew all too well, in a room that would always haunt her dreams. It was the room she had shared with Tara, and it was their bed she was in.
She stood slowly and walked to the window, reaching up and touching the glass pane that had been broken the day her world ended. The glass was warm beneath her fingers, heated by the sun’s bright rays. It had been such a bright, wonderful day until that terrible moment when everything had changed. She squeezed her eyes shut against the tears that welled in them as she thought of that day.
Behind her she heard a soft rustle of movement, and a moment later, Willow felt Tara’s soft, strong arms wrap around her from behind and pull her firmly against the blonde’s body. Tears streamed openly down her face now as Tara whispered softly, “I’m so sorry, Willow.”
She relaxed into the embrace, savoring the warmth and tenderness in her dead lover’s touch. It had been so long since she had felt this, since she had felt like someone really, truly loved her. “I miss you, Tara,” she whispered softly. “But I’m dreaming again, aren’t I? You aren’t really here, are you?”
Tara didn’t answer her question. Instead, she just held Willow, offering her all the comfort a memory could. After what seemed like hours of just holding her, Tara finally spoke, “Why are you doing this to yourself, Willow? Why do you let her hurt you?”
Tears welled up in Willow’s eyes at the gently accusing voice of her dead lover. “I deserve it, Tara. I did terrible things after you died,” her voice wavered, nearly breaking with the guilt behind her words. “I killed the man who murdered you, Tara, and I made him suffer, made him feel the pain that I felt when he took you away from me.”
She stopped, fully expecting Tara to pull away at her words. Instead, the blonde continued to hold her, comforting her. “You were my light, Tara,” Willow continued, pulling away and turning to look into Tara’s eyes. “You were every good thing I ever wanted.”
“And he took you away from me,” Willow’s voice hardened with remembered anger, “and even now, after everything that happened, and all the terrible things I did, I’m not sorry for killing him. I’m evil, Tara, a murderer without remorse. No one should ever love someone like me, but Kennedy does, and I deserve what Kennedy does to me.” Tears of guilt and anger and pain spilled freely down her face as she spoke.
Willow could see the sadness and pity in her dead lover’s eyes. “Oh, Willow,” she murmured softly, putting her arms around the redhead and pulling her close again. “No, you don’t deserve this. You did terrible things, even before I died, but I never stopped loving you – not then, and not now. And neither did the others.”
Tara’s words cut her deeply, and her anger at herself bled away into guilt, guilt over letting go of Tara and guilt over the things she had done. Her tears increased, and she fell sobbing into the blonde’s embrace, allowing herself to be held, allowing herself to be loved for the first time in so long
“I’ll always love you, Willow,” she whispered over and over as they sank softly to the floor, gently stroking Willow’s hair, and soothing her pain. Hours seemed to pass as the redheaded witch rode out the flood of her damaged emotions and Tara contentedly helped her through it.
As her tears gradually began to subside, a sense of calm descended on Willow that she hadn’t felt since before Tara’s death. She looked up to see Tara smiling softly down at her. “Thank you, Tara,” she whispered softly.
“I’ll always be here for you when you really need me, baby,” the other girl responded softly, her voice full of sadness, “and I’ll always love you. But this isn’t the end, redemption is a long road and you’re only just beginning, Willow.”
Willow nodded, a lump forming in her throat at Tara’s words. Tara leaned in and kissed her softly on the cheek, before getting to her feet and offering Willow her hand. The blonde helped Willow stand up and wrapped her arms around the redhead, hugging her fiercely and whispering in her ear, “If you stay with Kennedy, she’ll end up killing you, Willow.”
Tara let go and stepped back from Willow, a serious look on her face. She held her hand out to the redhead. A single, tightly closed, white rosebud appeared in her hand and she offered it to her former lover. “You deserve better sweetie, and he is out there, waiting for you.”
Confusion rushed in on Willow as she took the flower. “‘He’? Who ‘he’? And why a ‘he’ and not a ‘she’? I don’t understand, Tara…” She tried to move, to step closer to her dead lover, but found herself unable to move. “Tara, baby? I don’t understand…”
Tara took another step backwards and the light in the room began to grow brighter, washing away color and detail. A strange, distant sort of look came over the blonde’s face, and she spoke, “You think you know…what you are…what’s to come? You’ve only just begun.”
As the light surged abruptly into a blinding flash, Willow called out one last time, “TARA!”
* * * * *
“TARA!” Willow gasped out harshly as she jolted awake, startling Buffy awake beside her. Almost instantly, Willow realized she was sitting on a school bus next to Buffy, on their way to LA.
“Will, are you okay? You were dreaming…” Buffy asked in a concerned voice as she turned in her seat to check on Willow.
“I was?” she asked in a confused voice, “But it seemed so real...” Willow let that thought trail off as she looked around and realized that it was early evening and the bus was driving on city streets. “Where are we?”
“We just dropped Giles and Robin at the hospital. We’re almost to Angel’s hotel,” Buffy answered, a hint of tension in her voice at the thought of seeing Angel again. “We should start getting everyone up, most of us have been sleeping since we got on the road.”
Willow nodded and turned to get out of her seat and help Buffy. As she did, a single, closed white rosebud fell from her lap and for just a moment, Willow could swear she felt Tara’s lips brush against her cheek.
Seeing the flower fall, Buffy’s hand darted out and gently caught it before it hit the floor. For a moment she stared at the bud, puzzled by its appearance. “Where did you get this, Will?” she asked curiously as she handed it back to the redhead. As Willow took the flower from Buffy, it burst instantly into full bloom, surprising them both.
“Tara gave it to me… in my dream,” Willow half-whispered as a broad smile spread across her face.
“That must’ve been some dream…” Buffy replied, unable to recall the last time she’d seen her best friend look so incredibly content and happy.
“You have no idea…”