Apparently, there aren't all that many flights between Uganda and the USA, so Spike tells me.
Which is why we're in London, so we can catch a flight to Sunnydale.
I was a bit envious of Mr Giles, to tell the truth. England sounded so... so exciting and exotic, and I thought the people there would be like Mr Giles, gentle and warm and listening, and that Spike was the way he was because he was a vampire.
And then... oh Lord, Willow and I made complete /idiots/ of ourselves when the delegation from the Watcher's Council came round, we were so nervous.
Then Buffy stood up to them, took charge, and we were all whooping and cheering her on...
Anyway, here we are in London.
And part of me wants to go to Bath, to see how Mr Giles is, see whether he's heard anything about... about Willow and the others.
I mean... I mean, we told him Buffy'd come back, would they tell him if...
If I died?
Then I think about how all I know is that he's in Bath, and I have no clue where Bath is, and no clue where to find Mr Giles, and no idea what to say to him if I did find him.
"Um, Mr Giles? It's me, T-"
I wish I had his phone number, then I could leave a message on the machine. If he had one.
Not long to go, now.
I try to keep away from the windows, because, well, sunlight and reflection.
I don't have one.
I can't... I can't look in mirrors.
It's... it's kind of a reminder. I'm not really here. I'm not really /here/, so I don't have a reflection.
I know it's stupid, that it's part of the vampire thing, but... I can't look. I can't look, and see I'm not really here.
It's a kinda blessing, in a way, too. I don't have to look into a mirror, see Spike looking back at me.
He's still here as a ghost, though, but it's /him/ ghost. It's him. Not me.
I don't have to see. Part of me wants to, in that kind of 'horrified fascination' way, but I don't have to.
I don't have to.
But still... I know what he looks like. I know what /I/ look like, now.
And I know that no matter what it looks like, the body's cold and dead.
I'm walking around, but I'm /dead/. I'm cut off.
Where there should be a heartbeat, the sound of breathing... nothing. The body doesn't move unless I set it in motion.
Where there should be peace... endless, endless hunger. A pit inside me that wants and wants and wants and can never be satisfied.
Where there should be sunlight... nothing.
Nothing, ever again.
I used... I loved the sun, I loved the light, the warmth, the beach. I...
It was /there/. It was there, in Willow's smile, in the flicker of a candle flame, in a warm bed on a cold night...
Now, I can watch, but never touch. Its touch is death, bursting into flames, immolation in the fire.
And I promised Spike I wouldn't do it. I promised him.
I have to keep it.
I have to...
I'm cut off.
I'm cut off, but I'm still connected.
I still have the gift. The magic still comes to me.
And... I don't understand, I don't understand how I can be dead, yet still have the gift. Vampires can do magic, I know... but I never knew they could have the gift, the power. They weren't a part of the Earth, not any more...
I'm still connected. There's still an oath to be kept. There's still a promise to be met. There's an obligation that can't be ignored.
There's still a balance.
I keep telling myself that. Hold on to that.
The hunger is of me, but it's /not/ me.
I'm Tara Maclay. I'm nearly 21 years old. I'm a witch. I stutter whenever I'm nervous. I'm not good with violence.
I had a kitten, Miss Kitty Fantastico (what happened to her? I haven't seen her in so long). I fell in love. I had a family.
All the while, I can feel the hunger within.
All the while, I feel ready to break, ready to accept insanity, a blessed release from the knowledge, from knowing what I am, what I /really/ am.
But I've been insane. It's no escape.
I have to face it. I have to /know/.
I have to know what I am. What I've become.
But it's like Spike said - there /are/ no rules for what I am. For what we are.
There's no-one to teach me. No-one to tell me.
I have - /we/ have - to learn this all over again.
We learned - we knew, we thought we knew, what, what we were.
And then it changed, it all changed, and now we have to learn it again. Learn what we are, what we've become.
That's why we're going back. We have to know. Have to know how this happened.
So we're going back to the beginning. Where it began.
And oh God, I wish I thought this was the right thing to do, that we were doing the right thing.
I wish I could be sure about this.
"Welcome to Sunnydale."
I am so bloody sick of that sign.
So bloody /sick/ of it.
And knowin', this time, I came back of my own free will, makes it absolutely no better.
I came /back./
I have offically lost it. Sanity is no longer welcome in Spikeville. Leave all mail at the door.
Might as well move in with the bricklayer, while I'm at it.
Good, ain't lost it all. The day I think Harris is intelligent company is the day I exorcise myself.
Okay. Crypt. My crypt.
Hope Clem's been lookin' after it. If he hasn't, I'm gonna...
God. This is pathetic, isn't it?
Right then, off we go.
Not bein' a complete idiot, I check the cemetery out before she goes in.
No Slayer. Good. Different cemetery tonight.
Here we go.
Then I realise Tink isn't with me. She's back a bit, casting around lookin' for-
'Don't think it'll be here, love.'
'I know.' she says, all quiet voice again, 'I... I was... I wanted to know...'
'Yeah. Thing is, they ain't 'xactly likely to bury you near the evil vamp's place. Too many bad memories. Nah. Probably closer to the Slayer's.'
'You were family.' I say. 'One of 'em. They'd wanna keep you close.'
'I... I wasn't that...' Tink begins.
'Yeah? Ask Niblet. Girl practically doted on you.'
'No.' I tell her. ''Cause the Slayer and me, we weren't watchin' her. Too wrapped up in each other, we were. Which means...'
'Which means...' Tink pales suddenly. 'Oh God, Dawnie! Oh God, she was at school that day-'
I open my mouth, then close it again. /I/ wasn't there. I wasn't there, and right now-
'Dawnie... Oh my God, Dawnie... she was so happy, so happy we were back together... no...' Tears are tracking down her face. 'No...'
She breaks down, sobbing.
I sit down next to her.
'Dawnie...' she whispers.
I don't say anything. Not just yet.
Niblet doted on Tink. Almost like a mother. Not Joyce, never Joyce... but still /there/. The one who listened to her, who reminded her to live when Buffy died, who did everythin' she could to keep her going...
Comin' home, findin' her body...
The world couldn't be that cruel. Couldn't.
Then again, it's cruel enough to pull Tink out of whatever heaven /she/ was in, so...
Oh God, what do I /do?/
'We'll make it right.' I say softly. 'We'll make it right. She deserves that, she does. She deserves it.'
'Can we?' she whispers, her voice empty. 'Can we? I died... I died, and Dawnie...'
'We can do right by /her/.' My voice's barely holdin' it together. Joyce. Oh God, Joyce, Dawnie... you never deserved this... no-one deserved that... oh, not /you/... I hurt her... Oh God... I hurt her, I swore to protect her, the most precious girl in my life and I hurt her...
'By her.' I repeat.
Caught in this touchin' moment, neither of us notice the vamp slippin' up behind us.
We notice when it *poofs*, tho'.
Tink and me look up.
Clem. It's Clem. And I've never been more grateful to see the cheating, loose-skinned son-of-a-bitch in all my life.
'C-Clem?' Tink says.
'Here, lemme help you up.' Clem offers, reaching out.
Tink takes it. 'Th-thank you.'
Once she's standing, he looks away. Never been good with cryin', Clem. Too much of a softie. Sucker for a good sob story.
'You alright?' he says.
'I will be.' Tink says.
'Um... good trip?'
'I'm... I'm still recovering.' Good one.
'Find what you were lookin' for? Get back okay?'
She hesitates. 'You... could say that.'
'Like the new style.'
Let's take a moment to consider this statement, shall we? Right now, Tink's outfitted in the T-shirt, jeans and jacket we managed to pick up at the market. 'Shabby' doesn't even /begin/ to describe these.
That's Clem for you. No class.
'Thank you.' Tink says.
'So, um... why don't we get back to the crypt?' Clem says. 'I, um, I was gonna order pizza, maybe... maybe watch "Monsters, Inc."...'
I sigh. 'Clem, we /are/ monsters.'
He can't hear me, worse luck.
'That sounds good.' Tink says, ignoring her resident Spike.
Clem brightens up. 'Okay!'
They trot off, and I trail along behind.
The crypt's littered with fast food wrappers, pizza boxes, beer cans and crisp bags.
Have I mentioned Clem has no class?
'Um... I was gonna clean up earlier...' he says.
'That's okay.' Tink reassures him. 'Have you been alright?'
Clem blinks, surprised. 'Yeah. Yeah, I've been okay. Things usually get quiet this time of year demon-wise anyway.'
'How's Buffy been?'
Clem's never been good with evasive. 'S why he cheats at poker. 'Um... she's good, she's good. Doing well, the last time I saw her. Dealin' with a lot of her issues. She and Dawnie are like /that/,' - he demonstrates, crossing his fingers - 'these days.'
'How is she?'
'Dawn? Oh, she's doing great. Shot right up, these last few months. Almost as tall as you, now.'
'How about the others?'
/Definitely/ jittery. 'Well, Anya's been getting back into the vengeance demon business. Takes her all sorts of places. Xander's been workin' on the new high school, and, um, Willow's been... away. Needed to get out of town for a while.'
Tink visibly swallows. 'What... what about the other... the other witch? I thought... I thought they'd got back together...'
'...She died,' Clem can't meet her eyes. 'She died, Spike. I'm sorry.'
'How...' Swallow. 'How did it happen?'
'Well... um... You remember that Warren guy? Uber-geek guy, gang of nerds?' When she nods slowly, he continues. 'Soon after you left, he came round Buffy's house... wanted to kill her, I think... and he, uh, killed Tara. Shot her dead.'
'What happened to him?' Tink says softly.
'She was a really sweet girl, you know? Really sweet and nice... she didn't deserve to go like that, not her... no-one does...'
'What happened to Warren?' she repeats.
'He died.' Clem still can't meet her eyes.
'...Willow. It was Willow. She killed him.' he says, looking down, 'Buffy... Buffy hustled Dawnie over here, so she'd be somewhere safe, then, um... then... Dawnie... Dawn and me, we went over to Rack's place... you know, the black magic guy... lookin' for Willow, and, um... then she showed up... and sucked him dry.'
Idiot. /Idiot/. /I/ wouldn't have let Niblet do anything that mind-bogglingly stupid.
Can you blame her?
/I wasn't here./
Idiot, idiot, /idiot!/
'Wanted... she wanted the magic, the power, to, um, take care of the rest of the geek guys...'
I can guess what he means when he says 'take care', and it's not pretty.
'Then what?' Tink asks, her voice gone scary-quiet.
I glance over at her at that.
'Then, um, Buffy's Watcher... Giles? I think that's his name... he showed up. Apparently, apparently they'd seen what was going on, and so they, um, zapped him over here. And then, she, um... she sucked him dry. Not "dead" dry, but, um... dry. And it, um... it overloaded her. She couldn't take it. Couldn't... so she um... decided to, um... destroy herself... and the world with her.'
'And then?' Tink says in that same quiet voice.
'Xander.' Clem blurts. 'It was Xander. He... he managed to get through to her. Reach her. I... I didn't quite get how, but... but he got through... and then...and after that, Giles took her back to Britain... she needed to get away, get out of town...'
Tink's gone into scary silence mode.
'Well... um... you must be tired from the flight... um, why don't I go get the pizza?' Clem says. 'Um... Extra-large, Meat Feast do you...?'
'Um, I'll... uh.. Yeah, I'll...' Clem wisely decides to flee.
Tink doesn't see him go.
She sinks to the floor.
And then she starts to cry, big, wet tears rolling down her cheeks.
'...So silly...' she manages to say through wracking sobs. 'Isn't it silly...? We... we could have stopped off in London... seen Willow and Mr Giles... didn't have to go to... to all this trouble... could just have said hello... isn't it silly... ?'
'Maybe next time, love.' I say, sitting down next to her. 'Maybe we'll catch them next time.'
'Next time...' she agrees.
'How... how... I don't... how... how could... I don't... Willow... how...' She lifts her head, meets my eyes, but it's not me she's looking at. 'I don't.../why/?'
'Got me there, love.'
She's not asking me, anyway. Not really.
But I know. Oh yeah, /I/ know.
Not what she needs right now, tho'. Not at all.
'I used to read her fairy tales,' she murmurs. 'I used to tell her these, these stories, and she'd be all curled up in bed... then, then we'd snuggle up together, whisper in each others' ear... she was so soft, so warm... and we'd stay in bed till after the sun came up and, and we had to go to classes...' She's looking at me, looking properly now. 'How... how could Willow do that? How could she do something like that...?'
'I don't know, love.' I tell her. 'I don't know...'
'What-?' Tink begins.
It slips out from round the chair, a black and grey shadow. Then it blinks at us, trots over to me and sniffs.
'Hey! Hey!' I tell it. 'Get away from there! Shoo!'
The kitten doesn't listen, sniffin' closer.
'What...?' Tink begins again.
'...Clem.' I snarl. 'Bloody Clem! The bastard decided to have the soddin' kitten poker sessions in _my_ crypt! No /wonder/ it's all trashed! "I was gonna clean it up"... yeah, /right/!'
'Kitten poker?!' Tink gasps. 'Spike-!'
'Hold onto him.' I tell her. 'He'll come in handy for the stake.'
'SPIKE!' she gasps, scooping the kitten up into her arms. 'Come here. Come here. Come to Mommy... We're not going to let the bad ghost use you for poker, are we? No, we're not!'
She glares at me as the kitten nuzzles at her - but underneath there's a part of her that's /glad/ for the distraction.
She ain't the only one.
'Huh. Not like /I'm/ gonna touch him, is it?' I huff.
'Actually...' She dares a quick look at its backside. 'I think she's a, a she...'
The kitten *prrrs* again, and nuzzles at Tink's arm.
'Yeah, whatever. Not like we're gonna keep her 'round anyway.'
Tink *looks* at me. 'Spike, we are /not/ going to turn her out onto the street!'
'And why not?' I inquire, my arms crossed.
'Kitten poker?' she retorts. 'Spike, you're a /ghost/, she can't hurt you!'
'How are we gonna feed her?' I demand. 'Or wash her? And what about the... the litter?'
Tink tickles the kitten under her chin. 'We'll take care of it, won't we? Yes we will, yes we will...'
'Yeah,*sure*...' I mutter.
'Pay no attention to the mean old ghost.' Tink tells the kitten. 'He's just sore because he didn't have a cigarette today.'
I look up at the heavens. '/Women./'
I am now Tara-whipped.
I look down at the little patch of ground, at the stone set at its head, the coat fluttering behind me in the light breeze.
'Goodbye,' I whisper to my grave.
Then I step away.
Spike steps forward then, crouches down in front of it, running his ghostly fingers over the inscription.
He murmurs something then. It sounds like a line of poetry.
I don't listen closely. Some things are best left personal.
Finally, he stands up, steps back to join me.
We stand there in silence for a while, by my own grave.
Finally, Spike says 'Wanna go?'
I nod, and we leave the place.
That soft-eyed, quiet-voiced girl... the girl who felt frumpy and unloved, who tried to hide her body in baggy clothes, who believed no-one could ever love her, not her stutter, her lank hair, until she met Willow... that girl... she's dead.
All there is now is a dead body in the ground, and a dead body walking the earth.
All there is.
'Dawnie.' Spike says suddenly.
'The inscription on the stone. Dawnie put it there. It's her touch.'
'Yes,' I agree. 'Yes, it is.'
He plunges his hands into his pockets. 'So what now? Back to the crypt and the dead rats your kitten's leavin' on the floor?'
'She's not a ratter,' I chide him. 'But... no. There's something I want to do first.'
The Magic Box looks as if a horde of demons hit it, and I want to believe that *was* what happened...
But it wasn't.
It was Willow. My Willow.
I know it. I know it, like I knew she loved me, like I knew Mama was dying...
I know it. This was her.
She did this. She devastated the shop, drained Mr Giles...
She did this.
'Spike? Is that you?' Anya comes out of the shop, carrying a box of... well, of debris, there's no other word for it. 'Just to let you know before any talking begins, you don't get to go there again.'
She sets the box down on the kerb.
And I realise... I realise the cues I'm getting from her, the signals, the faint tang of her scent in the air... they're not human.
She's a demon again.
'Oh my God. Oh my God. How did you /do/ that? I can...' Her face darkens. 'You're not Spike. You're *not* Spike. Who /are/ you?'
'Get *out* of here!' Spike hisses. 'Get out! *Now!*'
The tinkerbell light pops into being.
Anya blinks again. Stares.
'It's me, Anya.' I say quietly. 'It's Tara.'
Anya's head snaps up. 'Tara? But you were dead! We went to the funeral! No-one wanted to talk to me - the whole vengeance demon thing. It was a very moving service, at least I think it was. Your deadbrained family didn't show, thankfully.'
'It's me.' I repeat. 'Tara.'
'Tell the whole world, why don't you?'
'Shh.' I tell him.
Anya's eyes narrow, and her gaze tracks over to where Spike's standing. 'Spike. If you're there, then... oh my god, it's Tara, it /is/ Tara! How did the two of you /do/ that?'
'It's a long story.'
'And, of course, we've got so much to do.' Spike snarks.
Anya hefts the box. 'Just let me dispose of this, and then we'll talk. How does that sound?'
'I'd rather be forced to haunt the Poofter.' Spike mutters.
'Be nice, Spike.' Anya and I tell him in unison.
We sit down in the Espresso Pump, at a quiet table alone.
'...Everything we deserve?' Anya frowns. 'You're sure he didn't mean in a vengeance-type way? Because that's D'Hoffryn's thing, and he's not going to be too happy if someone's trying to poach.'
'Yep.' Spike says. 'Clear on that. *Not* vengeance.'
'Everything we deserve?' Anya shakes her head. 'It'll come to me, it'll come to me. But it would work... must have been one of the old ones if he could do this. One of the powerful ones. Because there's no way that your soul would have ended up haunting your own body, without that kind of intervention. You would have been cohabiting, like in that Steve Martin film with the weirdness. Or, or Tara would have been haunting /Spike/, like in that film with the pottery.'
My mouth drops open. 'This was /deliberate/?'
'He /wanted/ this?' Spike growls. 'I'm gonna find a way to get physical and kick his ass, then I'm going back to Africa and I'm gonna kick his ass from here to Hell!'
'I wouldn't. Creatures like that are usually too powerful to kill easily. Or at all, sometimes. They usually have their own reasons for whatever they do, and they're not usually, you know, friendly.' Anya says. 'I would have thought you knew that.'
'Had other things on my mind.' Spike mutters.
'Buffy,' Anya guesses. 'Well, she hasn't mentioned you since you left... but then we haven't been talking much, so I wouldn't know.'
'Wouldn't surprise me.' Spike mutters. 'Not like I didn't deserve it.'
'If it's any help, she hasn't been feeling vengeful lately... though that may change if you show up. Dawn's a bit more promising, but we were occupied by saving the world before I could get there.'
'I know. I heard about it.'
Anya considers. 'Well, it's not like it hasn't been a big topic. Apocalypses usually tend to be, you know. And Rack was a player in this town. Or at least, he was, before-'
'Before Willow killed him.' I finish.
Anya regards me more critically. 'You /are/ well-connected. Most of them don't know that. You're remarkably calm about this. You're not about to break down into a blubbering heap on my shoulder, are you?'
'Been there, done that.' Spike says. 'We're just workin' on the "dealing" part.'
Not even that, I don't say.
'You're dealing with this very well.' Anya says.
'So are you.' Spike says. 'I mean, why else're you stayin' round the place? Vengeance demon of the world, you are. You don't have to stay here. Go as you please. But instead, you stay near the guy who... oh, lessee... /left you at the altar/. Very well.'
'This is where my apartment is.' Anya says, her face stony. 'This is where my ex-livelihood was.'
'But you can leave them. Got /your/ business with them sorted out. No reason for you to stay... unless you're as masochistic as Tink and me.'
'Tink?' Anya echoes. 'Peter /Pan/?! I hated that crocodile with its tick tick tick. I didn't want it to eat the nice man with the hook.'
'Why're you here?' Spike asks. 'What's holding /you/ here?'
'You miss it.' I whisper. 'Being human. You miss it.'
'Hey, don't go transferring *your* issues onto me!' Anya huffs. 'I've read about this, you know.'
'Then why /are/ you here?' Spike presses. 'Never read about makin' a new life for yourself, smart lady like you? New people, new friends, all of that crap?'
Anya's mask drops for a moment. 'Where else can I go? It... it was all I had, and now I don't have it any more.'
'Got the vengeance.' Spike points out.
Anya stares down at her coffee. 'Yes. I do.'
'Vengeance not feelin' so good any more?' Spike presses. 'Afraid of hurtin' people? Afraid it'll be okay to hurt people? Okay. So what do you have?'
'I... I don't /know!/' Anya wails. 'All I had was Xander, but then he left me, and then all I had was the vengeance, and even /that's/ not fulfilling, and I don't know what to /do/ any more!'
'Don't look at us.' Spike says. 'What do /you/ want to do?'
'Why don't you tell me?' Anya challenges. 'You're the one with all the insight into my life, why don't you tell /me/ what I should do?'
'No.' I say. 'Anya... /we can't tell you that./'
'/Why not?!/' Anya shrieks. 'Why not?!'
'We've got more than enough lives to lead, pet.' Spike says. 'Can't be living anyone else's.'
'Then /what do I do?!/' Anya's... oh my God, Anya's crying. Anya's /crying/. What...
Whoa. Sunnydale's turning into CryFest 2002, and that was /so/ wrong of me...
Reflexively, I hand Anya a tissue.
She declines it, pulls out one of her own, dries her eyes.
'What do I do? What...' she repeats.
'What do you want to do?' I ask.
'I don't... I don't know.' she murmurs.
'Well, we can go get some buffalo wings while you try to figure it out, 'cause I'm not having Tink do this on an empty stomach.' Spike says. 'Shall we go?'
'Yes.' Anya decides, pushing back her chair. 'Yes. Let's go.'