By Annie Sewell-Jennings
Sequel to The Waiting Season
SUMMARY: As old friends return to Sunnydale and life begins to move on, a new adversary comes to town and shows Buffy more about herself than she ever wanted to know. B/S
SPOILERS: Through "Grave"
DISCLAIMER: The characters within this story are the property of Mutant Enemy Productions, except for the ones that you don't recognize, because I made them up all by my lonesome. Aren't I cool? No? Shut up. You don't know me. Bitch. Music will be disclaimed as it is used, and it will be used occasionally. Like in this chapter. Really, it will.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I have had this idea brewing in my head for what seems like an eternity, and only now is it finally coming together on paper. Or screen. Whatever. Anyway, the necromancy information is a combination of genuine research and Lovecraft's mythology, as well as some embellishments from yours truly. It may help if you read my The Waiting Season series of vignettes to help establish this story, and those are also on my site.
I'd just like to make a shout-out to my beta dawg, Devil Piglet. Big props to her mad grammar skillz. You know you a pimp.
San Francisco, California
Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now
The hippies were out on the corner again, just like they were every night. Girls sitting on the pavement Indian-style in their brightly colored peasant skirts and puffy blouses, weaving garlands of wildflowers and singing folk songs, boys with long hair and bellbottoms strumming guitars and passing joints. Which was stupid, if you thought about it, because the cops hated the hippies and they hated pothead hippies even more. Still, they were out there every night, passing out pamphlets about the "revolution" and handing out flowers to everyone who walked by and singing those stupid songs. Every fucking night.
Maya wouldn't miss them.
San Francisco was miserable this August. The city was gripped in the clutches of a vicious heat wave, sending stifling humidity and scorching temperatures across the Bay. Thunderheads loomed in the distance, pushing in slowly and ominously from the Pacific, and lightning crackled and sizzled over the dreary gray waters. It was a wonderful time for the flower children, those wacky free spirits who held protest rallies in Golden Gate Park and stripped down to next-to-nothing, singing about free love and smoking pot.
Shoving her hands in her heavy wool jacket, Maya sighed and ducked her head as she approached the dumb hippies on the corner, trying to avoid their eyes. Lucky bastards, all sitting around half-naked and weaving garlands like that was going to do a damned thing for their "brothers" in Vietnam. And here she was, the real warrior, stuck in some heavy overcoat because of the multitude of actual weapons she concealed beneath the billowing folds of fabric. Knives, swords, a crossbow, daggers... Maya was armed to the hilt, and preparing to fight the war that nobody knew about.
"Fuck," she muttered under her breath as one blonde-haired nymphet with a dopey grin stood up, holding out a string of lilacs and daisies.
"Hey there, sister," the blonde called, her eyes half-closed from drugs and peace. "Have some flowers, man. Embrace the revolution."
"Yeah, the revolution is upon us!" some scraggly-bearded kid poorly playing a sitar added, strumming on the strings. "This is the time, man, the time for love to ring through the mountains and shit, and we're going to stop all the tanks and the choppers in 'Nam with the power of peace, and..."
"And you're going to make the White House hover off the ground," Maya said flippantly, waving her hand dryly at the silly children playing at war. "Yeah, yeah. I've heard it all before, kids."
She tried to move on, but the blonde girl stepped in front of her with her bloodshot baby blues all hurt and wounded, pouting as she presented Maya with her lavender and white garland of flora. "All you need is love," the girl said sweetly, and for a moment, Maya faltered, blinking with a dull look on her face. She was so flabbergasted and struck by the girl's innocent phrase that she allowed the blonde to loop the flowers around her neck, and then stood there with a blank look on her face as the hippie kissed her cheek. "Go on, sister. Fight the good fight."
Weakly, Maya smiled, despair registering on her face. "Yeah," she whispered. "The good fight."
How many roads must a man walk down
Before they call him a man?
And how many seas must the white dove sail
Before he sleeps in the sand?
And how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
The answer is blowing in the wind
The hippies started their happy-go-lucky peace-out again, and before they could get to the bridge where they broke out in crappy imitation harmony, Maya quickly walked away, her hands shaking in her pockets and the necklace shedding petals behind her.
Once upon a time, she'd been one of them, living in a commune and weaving silly flower necklaces, smoking dope out of a copper chukka and preaching the wisdom of vegetarianism. Just a dumb little flower child who thought that the most important thing in the world was the Vietnam War and hating Johnson, until an Englishman pulled her away from her fellow hippies and drafted her in a war that only she could fight.
Shuddering, Maya stopped dead in her tracks and closed her eyes, hissing in a breath as she heard the voice murmur like velvet through her mind. Seductive, sweet-smelling, better than the cheap daisies and wildflowers laced around her neck. Begging for her. Beckoning her to come closer. Images of bloodied battles, triumphant singing, primal drums beating primal rhythms...
1, 2, 3, who are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam
Behind her, the hippies were dancing now, the two women bra-less and fancy-free, spinning circles with their wildly patterned skirts and breasts bouncing underneath loose blouses. Happy-go-lucky girls, thinking that all they needed was love and that would protect them from the monsters of war.
Maya wished that it was that easy, and maybe she could win this. She could go home tonight and get stoned, eat some tofu and weave some pretty necklaces, and then wake up in the morning and go sing with the flower kids on the corner. Add some Jefferson Airplane to their catalogue.
Yet Maya knew that tonight, she was going to die, and love wasn't going to save her in the end.
Blinking, she turned her head and paused, staring at her reflection in the window of a little antique shop. Coffee-colored skin, inherited from her Mexican mother, and dark hair streaming in rivulets straight down her back. Her mother once told her that they were descended from the Aztecs, great warriors and spiritual leaders, queens of their tribe. Turquoise earrings bound in silver glint in the window at her, and she reached up with her hand and touched her hair. Gray in it now, like salt and pepper.
She only started graying a week ago.
Slayer... Come to me. It's time.
The condemned building stood on the corner, rich with history, for on those grounds once stood a grand hotel destroyed in the turn-of-the-century earthquake. The Queen Anne had crumbled to the ground underneath the shock of the quake, burying hundreds of guests underneath tons of debris. An apartment complex was built in its place and was infested with poverty-stricken folks who couldn't afford better, and now the building sat empty and dead, haunted by the ghosts of New Years' revelers.
Cobwebs were draped across the narrow, dirty stairwell like lace curtains, and there was the skittering noise of insects and rodents scampering away as Maya began to ascend the stairs. She reached underneath her thick coat and withdrew her crossbow, carefully loading it with a wooden arrow and warily watching her steps as she walked upstairs to the lair. Dust and ash were sprinkled through the air, and something roared suddenly like a jungle cat.
Startled, Maya jumped back and then sighed when she realized that it was only the storm, just the thunder, approaching swiftly towards the city. It was just like Marcus said, that she would bring down the heavens and make earth into hell, paradise and pestilence meeting at the juncture of the Bay, while the streets steamed underneath pouring rain and blistering skies. So dramatic, Marcus always was. Take a fucking pill, dude. Toke on this for a minute. It'll loosen you up.
Now, of course, Marcus was gone, and she was Alone.
No more attempts to sway him over to the peace-loving side while he preached about the evils of communism, no more all-night talks about foreign policy and demon mythology. Just her and her crossbow, her and her shadow, stalking someone she should not have to hunt. All alone, in the end, just like she said. Just like that. It was how it always went.
A howl of wind suddenly swept through the crumbling foundation of the house, and Maya ducked, covering her head with her hands and shielding her face from the shattering windows. Glass sprayed over her in a sharp shower, and she gasped for air as it was sucked from her body, strangling her, suffocating her. Can't die like this, she thought to herself, desperately clinging to the railing of the staircase as the steps rumbled and quaked beneath her body. I just can't... Not without fighting.
And then the wind died down, and all she could hear was the music from the streets:
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
"Oh," Maya whispered. "Oh, man." For a moment, she was tempted to run, to play cat-and-mouse for a little while longer, so that she could go home and listen to Joni Mitchell records all night and pretend that she was back at the commune again, with her brothers and sisters and their meaningless hippie names, like Moonbeam and Daffodil. She'd name herself Hyacinth and become a nudist. Hyacinth, the Nudist Slayer.
She really needed some weed right now.
Slayers were made of different stuff than mere mortals, though, and if that was one thing the bitch was right about, it was that. Stronger fiber ran through her bones, and she could pull herself together in a crisis like this and move. Gritting her teeth, Maya dragged herself to her feet and began ascending up the stairs again, her crossbow in hand, shards of sparkling glass tangled up in her black-and-gray hair.
At the top of the stairs was the penthouse suite, a joke to the previous occupants, because there was no such thing as a penthouse in the projects. Maya stopped in front of the door and her hand shook a little, just a little, and she felt the sudden urge to throw up. Images of Marcus's battered body, his severed legs still missing, and how nice he'd been to her when she'd first been called, so sweet and considerate, always telling her that she'd be okay and that he'd watch over her because that was what Watchers did until they died...
Come in, Slayer. I've got tea.
"Oh, good," Maya said in a shaky voice. "I was getting thirsty." And she opened up the door and...
On the streets, the dancing hippies did not hear the sound of a girl sobbing and then her final scream. They only heard the beat of revolution, fucking revolution, man, and the noise of the war machine growling forward in Vietnam and the earth, Mother Earth being raped like some kind of whore when she was everything, man. They spun around in circles and passed out flowers to strangers who didn't really want them, and then shrieked when the thunderstorm came and the streets were pounded with rain.
When the woman was gone, the rain departed, and the body was left upstairs in the suite for whoever to find her or ignore her death. As the moon came back out, the hippies on the street started dancing again, laughing and smoking pot and throwing flowers in the gutter, and this was the song they sang:
When the truth is found to be lies
And all the joy within you dies
Don't you want somebody to love?
Don't you need somebody to love?
Wouldn't you like somebody to love?
You'd better find somebody to love
They buried her in the bayou, out in the swampy lands where everything was half-soaked in water and the boughs of the Spanish moss-laden trees dipped into the murky waters. Civilization was far away in this family cemetery, drowned out by the lush scenery. In the dimming light of day, it looked reserved and shy, a little hidden and not easy to seek out, and even though her father chose a crucifix for her headstone, the plot was the essence of Tara.
Licking her lips, Willow knelt at her lover's grave and looked longingly at the headstone, reading the epitaph. Modest and humble was all that they wrote underneath her name and dates, and it was all wrong because she had different memories. Memories of Tara giving her wickedly sly smiles and whispering nasty things in her ear that were shockingly sexual, arousing her with nothing more than words, and she had this way of looking up underneath her lashes that made Willow want to get on her hands and knees and beg...
Two years and four months. That was all in measurable time, by the standards of the modern world, but it had been so much longer than that, really. So much longer. Sometimes, when they lay in bed at night and murmured about nothing in the heady spill of afterglow and sweaty limbs, they'd say the same thing at the same time and she felt like she knew Tara forever. Even before her birth, when they were waiting to be placed in the womb, they were together somehow, and this physical knowledge of each other was merely icing on the metaphysical cake that was life.
And now she was gone.
Yet she wasn't really gone, not really. Oh, yes, her body rested underneath layers of this damp Louisiana soil, encased in a box and dressed in her Sunday best, but the essence of Tara... It was everywhere around Willow, sighing with the wind, strong like the oak tree with its voluminous boughs of rustling wisteria, and wise as the waters lapping against the shore. Tara existed in the worship of memory, in the shrine that was Willow's mind, and she would carry her there for the rest of her life, no matter what.
Willow had traveled far and long to come to this place, riding busses and taking trains, sleeping on the cars at night and experiencing dreams of extreme arousal and pleasure while remembering the way that Warren's eyes pleaded as she drove the bullet through his mortal flesh. You got off on it, she'd accused, and now she knew more about her own words than anyone. It wasn't the murder itself, not the death of another, but the fact that she had power over that person, enough power to take their life and make it hers. Control, power, force... That was what she was addicted to. Not the magic.
On the road, she mostly sat in the train car and meditated. Not literally, not all the time, just... Reflected. Remembered. Regretted. All of those things, and so much more. She pored over her sins and acknowledged that she had done wrong, not by God or by the law of man, but by her own laws and her own decree. She made herself her own judge and her own executioner, for nobody could really punish anyone else, not where it counted. Lock them in a jail, sentence them to death... But it all meant nothing if the person didn't know it. Didn't accept it.
She accepted a lot of things nowadays.
She still had not spoken since leaving Sunnydale. On her journey to Louisiana, she did not find it necessary to use her voice when she had all of the magic within her still. She could imbed her thoughts into the other's mind just as easily as saying the words, because it was still too difficult to breach language, to use her voice and be heard. Besides, Willow was patiently waiting for the moment to be right, for her conversation to push past breakfast orders and train ticket purchases and towards philosophy and apology. Grappling with what she had been through was difficult enough at the moment.
Of course, she worried and wondered about what was happening at home, but her dreams often told her more than enough to suffice on. She had remarkable visions of Anya throwing white fabric from her window and laughing, of Dawn wielding a sword with startling ease and expertise, and of Buffy fingering a black leather coat and smiling secretively to herself. Sometimes, she dialed Xander's number to hear his voice or his answering machine message, though she always hung up when he started asking her name or when it was time to leave an actual message.
She would come home in due time. She just needed to say goodbye, first.
Licking her lips, Willow opened up the purple suede satchel at her side and withdrew a dozen white candles, silently thinking the incantations and blessing the wick before arranging them in a circle around Tara's grave and herself. She stuck a stick of incense into the ground and pulled out the blue sweater, the bloodstain dark and fatal on the left breast. Tara’s blood, her life blood, blossoming so deadly on the shirt.
Gently, lovingly, she laid the shirt on the ground before her and closed her eyes, placing her palms on the fine, knit threads and concentrating on the blood. The memory of the murder burned dim within her mind, but as the smell of the blessed candles filled her nostrils, she started to regress further back, pushing through time until she reached that moment. The moment where they were smiling at each other, so in love, and then the bullet shattering glass and spraying hot, startling blood over...
“Your shirt...” Tara says in surprise, blinking her eyelashes at her, and then she falls forward and into Willow’s arms. But this time, she does not rage against the dying light, because memory cannot change anything. As the blood pours from Tara’s body, Willow feels nothing but this empty, harrowing regret and sadness, and she holds her lover’s warm, dying form in her lap, pressing her palm into the wound and letting the blood cover her hand.
When Tara is dead, she bends down and kisses her lover’s forehead, passing her fingers over her face and gently closing her eyes. She carefully lays her body on the ground and then smears Tara’s blood over her own face, the markings similar to the ones she made from fawn’s blood in the tragic resurrection that should not have been.
Willow is not trying to raise the dead; she has learned her lesson on that account. Death is permanent and necessary, and she cannot take from the dead without destroying the living. It is not her place to decide who lives and who dies, and she must simply accept what fate hands her, even if she hates it. She is merely communing, merely placing her hands in the sands and saying her last farewell.
Time pulls back into the chronology of dreaming, and she finds herself back in their dormitory room, underneath the strings of funky Christmas lights winding around the ceiling. Feisty kitty playing on the floor, rolling and tumbling with a ball of string, her needling claws tearing into the threads of time. “I miss her,” Willow says with a pang in her heart, looking down at the little black-and-white ball of fur. “Whatever happened to her?”
“She ran away, remember?” Tara says in sotto voice, her back turned to Willow, naked canvas etched with ancient lettering. Strands of wispy hair are getting in the way of Willow’s paintbrush, and she resumes the lettering out of habit. “Not so long after this dream.”
“Oh, yeah,” Willow says. “I remember. She was ours, you know, and it makes me sad that we don’t have her anymore.”
Tara shrugs a graceful shoulder, eyes downcast, staring at the blankets that they lay on. “Sometimes people run away,” she murmurs, and Willow frowns.
“Did... Did you run away from me?” she asks, and Tara shakes her head swiftly, without a moment of hesitation.
“No,” she says, and her face is so calm, so tranquil, but sorrowfully dead. “I didn’t want to leave you. I had big plans for that night, you know. There was a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator, and we were going to have a picnic under the stars. Like we used to, remember?”
Willow smiles. Of course she remembers. “That’s very sweet of you,” she says, and Tara winks over her shoulder, so beautiful, just the way that they were two years ago. Everything was so much better than, before they got twisted and torn, all used up until they were just sad ghosts of who they were. “It’s hard without you.”
“I know,” Tara says, bowing her head as Willow writes on her back. “But it gets easier, Willow. Life is like that, I think. It gets easier after the hard stuff passes. You’re strong, too. So strong... You’ll make it through. But you have to go home, where you’re needed and where they miss you. They’ve been waiting for you.”
Willow knows this, knows it through her dreams of insight, seeing the note tacked magnetically to the refrigerator and the people who smile at it whenever they pass it by. They’re waiting for her to come home and be strong with them again, and she misses her friends and her town. Yet she cannot leave yet, not when she feels that there is unfinished business for them both. “Will you wait for me?” she asks, and Tara smiles.
“Of course,” she says. “I’ll always be waiting for you. You’re my Willow. That doesn’t ever change. See, that’s the thing, I guess. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you’re always going to be Willow underneath it all. Cut your hair, dye it black, it doesn’t change you. I fell in love with the Willowness of Willow. Not the magic. Not the spiffy wardrobe. Just the... The Willow.”
It makes her smile, remembering who she used to be. The shy, slightly goofy girl from high school, the one that Giles adored and the confidant of Buffy and Xander. She wants to mend the broken bridges, to be forgiven for what she has done, and she wants to take who she was and combine it with what she is now. She wants to be Willow again, and not some thing drunk on power and control.
“But what about the magic?” she asks Tara, and Tara arches her wheat-colored eyebrow, mouth curved and eyes sleepy. Bedroom eyes, her Tara, and she misses her so. Misses her so.
“What about it? It’s something within you, not something that you can control. That was always the thing. You can’t control magic like that. You can’t put a leash on it and make it do tricks. Just let it go, Willow. Let it be, and you’ll do fine.” A spark enters her eyes, and she grins. “Besides, it wasn’t the magic that made me love you. You’re not nothing without it, and you’re not special with it. Remember, the Willow-ness.”
Right. The Willow-ness, that which makes her Willow. That is what is special, and that is what is good. Not the extraneous stuff, but the real deal, the persona and the spirit within. She bends down and kisses Tara soft on the mouth, and then she sadly looks at her lover’s back. “The poem is finished,” she says, and Tara smiles at her.
“I love you.”
When she came to on the grass, Willow began to sob, weeping for the woman that she’d abandoned in dreams for a waking reality that was uncertain at every step. She fell forward onto the cursed blue sweater, bunching up the fabric by her nose in the hopes of inhaling the last remnants of Tara’s hydrangea perfume, and let herself sob like that first morning. She wept for all of the grief that she would undoubtedly experience, for all of the sorrow of the others, and for all the pain that accompanied loss.
After the weeping, she quietly wiped her eyes and packed up her belongings, extinguishing the white candles and burying the spent incense in the ground. She neatly folded up the blue sweater and replaced it in her satchel, and then paused for a moment before the great stone crucifix that marked Tara’s grave. Mutely, Willow bowed her head and then pressed her fingertips to her lips, transferring a kiss to the hard stone with a gentle brush of her hand.
It was a startlingly beautiful day in the bayou, filled with a million different noises and sounds, and as Willow made her way up the beaten path, she found herself in awe of the world around her. Great winged herons swooped into the murky waters, and the wild flora of the swamp was in full bloom, exploding with color all around. The heat was sticky and invasive, but not so unpleasant, because it reminded her of the singular, joyful fact that she was alive.
The simple, sturdy pine house sat at the edge of the water on stilts, a long dock stretching out into the swamp and a worn pick-up truck parked awkwardly in the driveway. There was an old tire swing rigged up in the boughs of the sprawling oak tree in the front yard, and an image of Tara spinning around on that swing, laughing, came to her mind. It made her smile.
She was not nervous when she rapped her knuckles politely on the front door, not even when Tara’s father opened the door and glowered down at her. He narrowed his eyes with recognition and disdain, and his cold, antiseptic voice sneered at her. “Can I help you with something, young lady?” he asked, and Willow said her first words in almost five months.
“Yes,” she said in a clear, gentle voice. “I’d like to tell you about your daughter.”
She told him all of the wonderful things that Tara was. The way that she laughed. The way her nose crinkled up and her face flushed red when she was embarrassed. The smart, complex jokes that she told. The way that she was always graceful, always kind, and always loved.
She told him the things that she thought her father should know, and when it was all said and done, Tara’s father was in tears, and Willow knew it was time to go home.
(end part one)
Continued in Chapter Two: Cruel Summer