-PG-13, beware of character death. Ooh!
-Veers off after Wrecked.
"Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air."
-Sylvia Plath, Lady Lazarus
Willow marks her forehead with the lifeblood of the fawn, and both cheeks. Tara will always remember her that way, later. Always and later and now and it will fill her with dread. Willow who she's known as someone who blows out the candles with her breath and not her mind saying before time, and after. Before knowing and nothing.
Let her cross over, Willow says, and Buffy rises as Lady Lazarus out of the ash, but Willow's the one with the red hair, and Tara remembers.
Dawn falls asleep on her shoulder, just like that. An easy sleep that Tara envies. She dreams of burnt earth herself, sand, a scorched sun. The desert? She's wearing a pink dress. Dawn isn't there when she wakes up. She's not in her bedroom either.
There's a sun outside this window too, just rising. Willow arrives with it, and a girl. "Hey," Willow says, nervous. "Hey, this is Amy. Amy, Tara, Tara, Amy."
"Dawn," Tara begins.
"I know I was out all night," Willow tells her, "But it's not what you..."
"Dawn," Tara repeats. "She's not here."
"Dawn?" Willow echoes blankly, and there's not a wisp of recognition there.
Willow makes her breakfast. Tara had been going to make Dawn pancakes (funny shapes) and she bursts into shameful tears over her eggs and orange juice. Runny yolks stare up at her sadly.
"Willow, you have to fix this. You have to get her back."
Willow takes her palm and smoothes her fingers across its lines, and says earnestly, "I will, baby. I'll fix it. Tell me more. I'll fix it. Don't cry. I'll fix everything."
"And no one remembered me?" Dawn keeps asking.
"I remembered you," Tara tells her gently.
Dawn hasn't left her bed in the two days she's been back. She's always cold, and she says that's why.
Tara's lost. "I'll get you another blanket."
Tara holds Dawn close.
"Willow doesn't remember?" Dawn asks her then. "Are you sure? Because you remember, and maybe she's pretending. Do you think so?"
"No, sweetie. No." Her heart is beating so fast, so hard, that even her vision throbs. She closes her eyes against this, against everything.
"Well. She could forget again, you know," Dawn whispers apologetically.
She calls Giles. Giles will fix what Willow can not. Giles will fix Willow. Everything will be all right. She's shaking, hot and cold and cold, as cold as Dawn is, she's certain.
She hears, "This number is not in service, or you are out of the service area. Please try your call again later," and she screams.
Buffy comes running, dagger in hand. She keeps saying her name, trying to get her attention, but doesn't attempt to touch her. And she doesn't put the dagger down.
"Giles," Tara sobs, once. "Oh, Buffy..."
"What's wrong? What are you talking about?"
The tears abate, abruptly. "Giles," she hears herself say. "Your Watcher?"
"I don't have a Watcher, Tara, you know that. I'm self-made." And Buffy smiles, this twisty little pursing of the lips. Dagger in her hand, still.
Tara moves behind the kitchen counter. Her centre twinges with a kind of phantom pain.
That night, she takes Dawn and runs.
It's late, late, late and she's not thinking. Spike won't be in his crypt at this everawake time.
But he is, strangely, and he meets them at the door. Opens it, barely. The slip of him visible to them is all sleek skin and taut muscle under a bone-white moon. "Whose that knock-knocking on my door, then?" he asks, and she can't read him at all.
"Can we come in?" Tara pleads, dizzy with it all and at a loss.
Spike looks them over lazily. His aura is cloudy, like dead eyes. She remembers her mother's eyes. Dead, all gone. All gone now.
"Dawn can't stay there with them anymore, she just can't," Tara continues. "They're..."
The door is thrown open all the way then, kicking up dust, and Buffy's there, looking vicious, finger crooked and locked in Spike's belt loop.
"They're what?" she asks.
"Buffy?" Dawn asks tentatively.
"You'll just have to come back later," Buffy tells them flatly, and her aura's blue, pulsing, needling at Spike's.
There's a sick silence, and then Dawn scurries backwards, jarring Tara's shoulder.
"What seems to be the problem?" Spike asks calmly, although he seems a bit wild, a gleam in his eye and a Slayer at his back.
"Willow did something," Tara blurts out, and Buffy's tugging Spike back inside but he holds fast. "Spike," she says desperately. "Willow..."
"And Giles," Dawn adds. "Giles is gone."
Spike softens, imperceptibly. "Giles isn't far, bit. You know that. Now tell us what Red's done."
"We'll tell you," Dawn tells him. "But just you."
She meets her sister's eyes defiantly and then Buffy blurs towards her with hands that seem to be claws and a face that is not her own.
And Spike kicks her legs out from under her, kicks her in the head. Blood splatters across his pant leg. She doesn't get up.
But they can see her chest rise. Fall.
"We have to go," Tara whispers. "Now." She reaches out to touch him and he shuffles away from her, making a small noise, an exhale, a silent scream. Tara's hand hovers at his bare back. The lines of him are sharp.
"We should put her inside," Dawn says shakily, pricking the hush wide open as if pricking a balloon. Whoosh. "So that if anything comes by... so that she'll be okay, you know?"
Spike carries her inside without further discussion and lays her carefully across his bed. He arranges her hands at her sides. It would be touching, maybe, except for the fact that she just looks dead, again. All gone. Something within Tara heaves and doesn't really settle.
Dawn's persistent. "Will she be okay?"
"'Course," he says firmly.
"And you remember Giles?"
Spike wrist-rubs his eyes. "Of course. Bloody pain-in-the-arse Watcher."
Xander pulls his door back all the way before he notices Spike, the spattering of blood. Then his face opens up wide, the way it does. "What's going on? What's happened?"
"Get Anya," Tara tells him, "and we'll explain on the way."
He pauses, and maybe they're all expecting him to say Anya? but all he says is, "Okay." He motions them in, holds up a hand. "Not you, Evil Dead."
At the threshold, the vampire paces and paces.
Spike's car smells of old things and of leather, of Spike. Things she notices: there's blood on the backseat, smudged rust. The seats are sticky. It's cold. Dawn huddles up next to her.
Xander, from the front seat: "So, let me get this straight. You're talking to me about nonexistent people, yet Anya and I are the crazy ones?"
"Yes. For the last time. You're as cracked as the broken bottle I'd like to bash your tiny little head in with, Harris. Can we move the fuck on?"
"Okay," Tara says. "Okay. We have to focus. Spike, do you even know where you're going?"
"I'll know when I get there."
"Oh, wonderful," Xander mutters.
"Quiet," Tara says sharply, nerves stretched wire-thin. It's unlike her, but no one calls her on it. "Why do we remember? Why us?"
"Demon," Spike says immediately. "Immunity, I suppose. You?"
"I don't know," she answers truthfully, disturbed. "Maybe my magic? I don't know." The mere thought of magic tears at her and she swallows thickly. "What's happening?"
"Simple, really," Spike says rather smugly, not realizing she's referring to the universe as a whole, the ether and everything below it and beyond it. "There's always fallout from this sort of nonsense. Said as much to you that night, Harris. Your witch took her turn at playing God, and you better believe she knew something would come of it. Bringing the Slayer back, that was some heavy mojo."
"You're giving me I-told-you-so?" Xander asks incredulously.
Spike chuffs lightly. "Giving you the truth, mostly. Got Buffy back, yeah, but now something's been taken away. Can't have your cake and eat it too, right? So they say."
"Someone," Dawn corrects him quietly. "Someone's been taken away."
She kicks the back of his seat until he says, "Right you are," and then they leave Sunnydale behind, and Buffy. And Willow.
And Tara's cold.
She's never met Angel before, and finds him to be kind. Or maybe that isn't the right word. He nods understandingly in all the right places and uses a wealth of platitudes, but then when Spike, having apparently finished (another) cigarette shows up, with more swagger than usual and hard, hard eyes, Angel's eyes go the same way and Tara's not sure she wants to be around either of them any longer.
"We'll have to work fast," she says, sidestepping the Alpha male staredown with a minimal amount of finesse. "We can't hide from Willow for very long."
"And Buffy?" Dawn asks.
Tara doesn't know. She's tired, so tired, and she faintly hears Spike speaking, "Bint'll have to take second place for once in her life, now, won't she?"
Jarring tone of voice, and she can't decide if those are his true feelings or a pointed jab at Angel. Regardless, the situation deteriorates fairly quickly after that. Wesley sends her to bed when she starts shaking over his Giles-y books, and can't stop.
Dry-eyed, she bandages Spike's ribs up for him. She doesn't think she'll ever cry again.
Tara. While she's in bed, jarring her out of her haze of near-sleep. Tara, it's me.
No. She forces her mind to go blank.
Tara. I know you're listening.
I know lots of things.
Willow, stop it, she thinks, and thinks it hard.
I miss you. I don't understand this.
I guess you don't know everything, then, do you?
That doesn't even sound like you.
Why are you doing this to me?
It's not me doing this.
No one's who they think they are, I guess.
The next day, they get Giles back. He catches a red-eye to LA.
Anya's gone, of course.
"I'm sorry," Angel tells her, as if her pain is his own. Spike slouches against the wall and looks supremely unimpressed.
Xander doesn't seem to know what to do with himself. When she asks him about it, he just shakes his head. "Willow," he says, without elaboration.
"Yeah," she agrees. She doesn't tell him who he's really missing.
Her eyes fly open, and it's not Willow tonight, it's Buffy, and it's not in her mind, she's right here, her breath sweet and warm on Tara's cheek.
She keeps very still. "Buffy? How did you get in here?"
Tara stares at her, sees her big doe-eyes reflected in Buffy's flat, newly dark orbs. Buffy sees this and pouts. "What, are you scared of me? It's Willow you should be worried about, you know."
"Oh," Tara says. "Oh, okay. I mean, I know that."
Buffy props herself up on her elbow. "She's coming."
"Willow?" Of course it's Willow. It's always Willow, and Buffy nods.
"She'll be here soon."
"Yeah?" Tara asks dumbly. She feels shocked and stupid.
Another nod. "Spike told me what she did, you know. He told me everything. And he said we'd make me like I was, you know, before, even if I hated him for it. Isn't that... what is that?"
"Buffy. Where's Spike now?"
Buffy sits up then and looks at her hands pensively, just like Buffy always did. She seems regretful. She doesn't answer the question. Oh God, oh God. Spike.
"I don't want someone to have to die in my place," Buffy whispers eventually, and Tara sighs, feels her limbs begin to loosen out of adrenaline-lock into arms and legs that move by their own volition. She lays her hand on top of Buffy's.
"But there isn't any other way to fix this," Buffy says. "I have to fix this. I have to."
"What do you mean?" she asks. Her words stumble over one another, into one another.
"It's always me," Buffy tells here, all dewy lashes and finality.
"Buffy..." Tara begins, and then she feels a sliver of something cool work its way inside of her, and she's lost any mobility that she'd fleetingly regained.
Buffy's holding her hand and petting it gently. "I couldn't kill him," her lips say. "I need him."
And then she catches a glimpse of the hilt of that dagger.
And then Spike's there, and he's bleeding too, one side of his face a pulpy mess, and he's speaking to her, saying things that are reduced to white noise, static.
And then Willow's there, and Buffy's not and Spike's slumping against the wall again, he's on the floor, and WillowWillowWillow.
Tara, I love you, Willow says in her mind. I don't know everything or anything, you're right. But I know that I love you. Please, Tara. I know it. I'll be good. Please.
And Tara remembers, and she's cold.