"He had such sad eyes," she said, as they walked together.
"Who now, pet?"
"In the book you gave me-- Grant's memoirs... there was a picture of him."
He didn't respond, save to nod, the corners of his lips raising slightly as he did so.
They walked under the branches of a tree along the sidewalk. A car drove past in the gentle, predawn gloom.
It wouldn't last long. The air had a smell of dew and fog that would soon burn away in the morning sun. But for now, there was a misty perfume to the air, and there was a quiet broken only by their footfalls, and the early birdsong.
Buffy shifted her weapons bag to her other shoulder. They hadn't talked much. They'd worked, yes. Somehow-- how strange did it seem?-- they hadn't talked about anything that happened before. She wondered if they had anything they could really say about it at all.
Instead, they fell into a habit. Patrolling in the dark, and, at dawn, he would leave her at her door. If anyone asked-- and they had-- loudly-- she wouldn't be able to explain why it seemed ok.
They paused in front of her house, and she sat down on the step. He looked up for a moment at the pale blue of the sky above her, and sat down with her again.
"He'd never counted the dead, you know," he said suddenly, looking over the rooftops across the street at the rising rim of golden sunlight.
"I don't think it helped much-- for him. That's what you were seeing..."
And then the silence. Buffy's eyes trailed to the vines that had begun working their way up the foundation. They looked rich against the stone.
The warmth of the light fell over them suddenly, flowing like water over the rooftops and onto the grass.
They couldn't find much to say, but didn't feel like searching for the words. They were just silent, and she turned to look at him as he sat in the morning sun. He didn't seem much different, though it was strange to see him in the daylight. He was squinting into the sun, as if he were trying to read something there.
"You know, Buffy," he said quietly, "It's a lot brighter than I'd remembered."
At that moment, a light went on in the house. He stood up swiftly.
"Guess this is where I get off," he said, and turned to walk down the pathway. Dawn opened the door.
"Hey, Dawnie," her sister said, smiling at her slightly.
"I heard the noise outside."
Dawn watched Spike, frozen in place, his back turned to her.
"Are you hurt?"
"No, Dawn, I'm fine..."
Willow walked tentatively into the bedroom. Very little had been moved or changed.
She opened a drawer, fingering the soft knit of a blue sweater, and thought a moment. She could hear Dawn in the next room, chattering on the telephone. Buffy was outside.
She hadn't pulled the blinds, so the light was grey and diffuse. She thought it would seem horrible... the loss there, of more than just a life but of what that life had meant inside of her. That was the worst. Ever since she'd started to get better-- no, maybe only because she knew it *was* she getting better-- she was aware of the cold and horrifying truth that when she gave in to her anger with power... that she had killed the part of her that was Tara. She killed the love in her. In the middle of it, when she'd hated so much, she wasn't sure if she had even remembered who Tara was.
She pulled the sweaters from the drawer and folded them into a waiting cardboard box. Bookshelves needed to be emptied, and closets. It was time to put the ghost to rest.
And she thought it should seem painful, to be in that terrible room.
But it felt warm.
She sat down on the bed, clutching a pile of clothing to her chest. Her temples, usually weighted with a dragging, dull pain, were free of sensation. Like a child momentarily relieved of a heavy burden, she began to cry out her relief, openly and freely.
The faint perfume of Tara's hair seemed to play in the clothes and linens around her.
She curled up on the bed, suddenly tired, clutching the shirts and sweaters close as she cried.
Her black hair clung wet against her cheeks, and her normally pale skin was colored with welts and bruises. She took a second to take stock of her surroundings, and chose a course of action.
They would cross the river soon, and would try to surround her. Best to move fast now, and take them out one by one if she could evade them. She wasn't sure if she could survive another direct confrontation. She had barely made it out as it was.
Pulling herself to the bank from the river mud, she bolted for the underbrush of the forest. She would keep off the main paths, make it harder for them to find her. And then she ran swiftly, with silent grace, into the dark of the trees. The pain in her arm thrilled through her, less pleasant than foreboding as the gravity of her situation pushed through on her wandering thoughts. It was broken in perhaps two places.
She ran through the branches, listening carefully to the sound of her pursuers. They were still far enough behind her. As she skirted the edge of a clearing, she paused and smiled at the stars that shone down on her there. She reached her hand up, her good arm straining towards the crystalline light.
An arrow pierced her hand and she screamed. She could see them in the distance, her eyes detecting their black clothed shapes against a blacker night. She tried to calm her mind, to see in it what they were planning for her, but the raw panic had taken hold. Her bare feet moved deftly across the moss covered river stones, through which ferns sprouted and waved gently in the wind. The sound of falling water filled her ears as a woman landed before her, striking her to the ground as she reached for a stake.
Drusilla screamed and lunged forward onto the woman, whose companions were coming closer now. They struggled in the woodland mud, and Drusilla dragged them closer to the rocky edge of the falls, the sharp drop into the white and bubbling continuance of the river below them. She broke the woman's neck in the same motion she pushed them both over the edge.
She wept as she fell against the pulverizing rocks, and as she hit the surface. She cried yet more as she dug herself deep into the river mud, against the crags and beneath the crushing water, to hide, to heal, and to wait. She clutched against the mud and the rocks and sobbed violently, her lungs filling with the water.
Why did they have to chase her? She hadn't done anything wrong.
Continued in --- part two ---