Credit @ Gina1982
Summarize : It has been three long years since Willow's home caved in but one thing remains steadfast, her love for Tara.
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Disclaimer: I own nothing in nor make any money from the stories I write, all characters belong to their rightful creators. Any character that I may create is mine and may not be used without asking but who would want to use one of my creations!
A/N I had this idea in my story "A New Beginning" but it went in a different direction, which called for the rewrite of a chapter there and this idea to be taken out. So here it is in a story all its own.
Willow and Kennedy were relaxing in their Santa Monica California apartment. They had called this place home for the last nine months and Willow couldn't have been happier to settle in one place. She was the head of locating new slayers for the newly formed watchers council, among other things. Her main jobs minus slayer hunting were keeping track of the council's finances and education of the girls.
Though the number of new slayers had slowed tremendously, Willow still had to search the globe on a frequent basis in the event that one should crop up. She then would pass the information along to Giles, who would delegate the task of approaching said slayer to Kennedy or Dawn. Buffy and his job was training the new slayers as well as running the slayer academy. The school was located in a small town away from most evil happenings and Andrew was on hand to help with cleaning, cooking and other small tasks. It was Faith and Xander's job to protect the latest hellmouth in Cleveland and occasionally, a new slayer would join them for proper field training. Upon the successful training of a new slayer, Robin and a few other watchers then take them to different locations around the world to protect an assigned area.
Kennedy placed a few kisses on Willow's lips to try to bring her back from wherever her thoughts were at tonight. Willow's thoughts had seemed somewhere else on an infrequent basis throughout their entire relationship, but it seemed more frequent for the last week. "Willow, is something wrong?" Kennedy asked her girlfriend with a tinge of worry in her voice. She hoped that it wouldn't be the problem that she hated to hear about with a passion. The haunting memory of Tara Maclay got more action in their relationship then Kennedy did most times and it was slowly eating away at the slayer.
"No," Willow replied shortly. "It's just been a hectic week with doing the taxes and all. Giles is trying to come up with a way to generate some more income and that's not going so well. I'm having to decide whose credit card to cut down and so forth also." It was true that Willow was fussing with all of these things but that was not what was weighing so heavily on her mind. She hated skirting around things with Kennedy but the fear that Kennedy instilled in her forced her to do it.
"I bet that will be Buffy and Dawn's," Kennedy chirped with a smile. She was relieved to know that Willow's stress didn't involve Tara Maclay this time.
"I think you're right," Willow said and forced a smile. "They do way to much shopping that isn't necessary."
Kennedy leaned over and put her arms around Willow. As she began to take the kissing to the next level, she could feel the tension in Willow's muscles. There was something different in how Willow responded to her advances and Kennedy didn't like it much. "Willow, what is it now?" The angered slayer asked in an exasperated tone.
Willow and Kennedy had a good relationship for the most part but sometimes it wasn't so good. Willow had tried to avoid the subject of Tara with Kennedy ever since that night last winter when Kennedy had grown overly upset about the subject. They had been about to make love when Willow had one of her frequent memories of something that had been plaguing her mind since the first made itself known in Sunnydale. The night the first had appeared to everyone, it took the form of a loved one who had died at some point in their lives. When the first appeared to her, it was in the form of Cassie Newton rather than that of Tara. This notion poked up in Willow's mind often and she wondered why the first never appeared as her beloved Tara.
Kennedy had erupted and shoved Willow hard once Willow had told her that she was thinking of Tara. Willow didn't blame her in the least because, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't fully move on from Tara. Kennedy had to be at her wits end over this, thus Willow was understanding of the outburst. Nevertheless, to keep it from happening gain, Willow had tried to avoid speaking Tara's name in Kennedy's presence.
"It's nothing Kennedy," Willow said and got up from the sofa. "I'm just overwrought with everything that's going on. I think a hot bath will do me some good."
"Would you like some company?" Kennedy asked but knew the answer. She knew that something more than work was on Willow's mind and knew that it was Tara. A rage threatened to make its way to the forefront but Kennedy suppressed it for the time being. How long would she have to fight against the memory of a dead woman?
"No," Willow said a little more quickly then she had planned. "I won't be long and then we can have some wine and a nice evening."
Kennedy was visibly upset at Willow's quick response but decided to play the game. "All right," she huffed and got up to get a strong drink.
As Willow made her way into the bathroom, she opened her flip phone and dialed Buffy. "Hey, did you get a reason to get Kennedy out of here for a couple of days?" Willow asked her friend in a hopeful tone of voice.
"Yes but Will," Buffy started to ask the question and then stopped. "Look, if something is going on with the two of you…"
"It's nothing that I can't handle Buffy." Willow said softly. "She didn't push me again if that's what you are asking."
Buffy's face contorted into a look of rage at Willow's last statement. She had first thought the two of them would get on well together but not anymore. Ever since Willow had confided the pushing incident to Buffy, she had wanted them to separate. She had also wanted to come and stomp a hole in the ground with Kennedy's body but Willow wouldn't let her get physically involved. "Look, I know that you need to move on from Tara Will but I'm so not thinking that it's with Kennedy."
"Neither am I," Willow said softly. She was unwilling to tell Buffy of her plan because Buffy would think that she was crazy and revert back to rooting for Kennedy. "Buff, I have put her through enough and I'm afraid to tell her its over because of her temper. I need this couple of days to get some things sorted out."
Buffy knew her friend well enough to know that Willow was keeping something from her. "I'll call Kennedy and get her out of there tonight." Buffy said and hung up the phone. She had also made the decision to travel to LA and see what was going on with Willow.
Willow turned off the shower and stepped out. A soft knock at the door hurried her task of drying off. "Will," Kennedy said and stepped into the bathroom. "I see you opted for a shower."
She put her hands on her girlfriend's bare breasts and smiled. "Look, Buffy just called and I have to go shortly." She moved in for a kiss as she fondled Willow's firm breasts. "I was hoping that we could have a little intimacy before I leave."
Willow knew that if she turned Kennedy down now, it could blow up into something ugly. She returned Kennedy's kisses and gave her a fake smile. She truly felt bad for always placing Kennedy second but Kennedy knew the score. She knew that Willow's true love was and always would be Tara. She knew that Willow would never get over the beautiful blonde and made the decision to stay. Now there was the possibility that Willow wouldn't have to keep trying to get over the blonde and she vowed to not string Kennedy along after tonight.
Willow walked quickly to the park that she had been visiting for the last two weeks. Kennedy had left after their love making fest, if one could call it that, and Willow had a restless night's sleep. She saw the woman that could forever change her life in this park. She had made her decision to leave Kennedy, even if this woman didn't pan out to be Tara, in this park. This was the place where life was breathed back into Willow two weeks ago. When Tara died, she took Willow's soul died with her. Finally, it was here that Willow decided to close the book on her life with Tara if this woman was not Tara.
When Willow saw this woman two weeks ago, her knees buckled and her breathing grew rapid. It was as if she had been caught up in some wanky time warp and Tara was there with her. The only differences were, the woman was a bit slimmer and her hair was a bit darker. She had gone to the park to think about her relationship with Kennedy, which had gone south ever since the slap Kennedy gave her last winter. If Willow told the truth, the relationship never fully took off, as it should have. As Willow was thinking about what to do with their relationship, there she was with a little dog. The woman who looked just like the love of Willow's life and Willow prayed nightly that it was Tara.
Willow had gone to the park a few times after that initial sighting. She noticed that the woman came to the park with the dog most every day at the same time. She planned to steel her emotions so that she could speak to the woman and not freak out or end up in a crying mess. She wanted to do this the right way and scaring the woman off was definitely not the right way. Willow knew that she had to be careful in the event that the woman did not remember that she was Tara, but not careful enough to where she had to flat out lie to the woman. If it was Tara, deceit would not go over well with her and Willow knew that she had to walk a fine line so as not to do that.
A small part of her felt bad for how she was handling the Kennedy aspect of this plan but she saw no other way. Kennedy, even before the slap, was moody and harsh to her verbally for a long time. Willow knew that Kennedy's moods were partly her fault because she could not let go of Tara, but when she tried to explain how she felt, it never went well. Kennedy was not open for discussion where Tara Maclay was concerned and it always ended up in a heated discussion. There was an occasion, last summer, when Willow had offered to put some time and distance between she and Kennedy due to their situation. Kennedy would not hear of it and ended the discussion abruptly.
Granted, things weren't always bad with Kennedy but something stopped Willow from giving herself fully to the slayer from the get go. She and Kennedy had many good times but of late, the bad times were surpassing those good times. It felt like Kennedy was holding on to Willow because Willow had nowhere else to go and Kennedy knew it. It was as though Kennedy knew that Willow wanted to do her best to move on from Tara and felt that she would stay because of that. She knew that Willow would have a hard time starting over with someone new and used that to her full advantage in order to keep Willow planted firmly at her side.
When they first met, Willow had an attraction towards Kennedy thus joined in the mutual flirting. She willingly went out on a few dates and slept with the slayer. As time went on, that attraction began to dissipate into friendship, which made Willow sad for the slayer. There was a time when Willow thought that Kennedy deserved better than she could give her, but after the slap, she questioned that also. Kennedy had turned from a good-natured woman to a bitter, hard-nosed woman who enjoyed the control aspect of their relationship. Part of Willow wanted to blame herself for that but she knew that she couldn't truly play the self-blame game. She was always honest with Kennedy, or tried to be, and that constituted releasing herself of all the blame in Kennedy's abrasive attitude.
With her head swirling with to many emotions, Willow sipped her hot drink and waited for the woman to show up. She wondered if she had really gone crazy and even if there was a woman. She wondered if she wasn't just doing this to get away from Kennedy and she was in need of some serious mental help. Kennedy had actually called her a mental case a time or two and maybe she was right. As Willow's brain was doing the self-bashing, there she was, the woman Willow had been waiting for.
Willow's brain went into overdrive and her nerves threatened to get the best of her. She was trying to find a way to introduce herself to this woman but nothing came to mind. Her palms were growing sweaty and her mouth was very dry. Just as she was deciding that a cold drink would have been the better choice, the woman turned and looked right at her.
Willow knew that she had to get hold of herself quickly or all could be lost. She had to calm her racing heart and rapid breathing before the woman approached her, if she approached her. She knew that this first introduction would make or break her chances in finding out who this woman was. This was her chance in rekindling things with the love of her life, she was certain of that. She had to relax and fast because the woman was moving towards her tentatively.
"Are you all right?" The woman asked in a concerned manner, as she looked the shaken redhead over. She had watched her for a couple of minutes and knew that the woman either was having some sort of attack or was very distraught.
Willow took in a few deep breaths and forced herself to relax. She found that words weren't forming well in her mind and thought it best to keep it short until she could better compose herself. "Yes thank you," she said with a tentative smile.
The woman noticed that the redhead seemed a bit more relaxed and wondered if maybe she had an anxiety attack of some kind. "Would you like me to get you a cold drink?" She asked with a soft smile that looked just like Tara's.
"No thanks," Willow replied shortly, as she further relaxed herself so that she could speak more words at a time. "I was supposed to meet someone here today and I get all nervous when I'm meeting someone." Willow hoped that the woman wouldn't ask if the person was coming or was a no show so that she wouldn't have to lie. She did not want to lie to Tara in any way, not even a white lie.
The woman smiled that half-grin that Tara sported so well and Willow's heart almost leapt into her mouth. "I get that way too," she extended her hand to Willow's. "I'm Diana Smith. This is my dog, Baby." The woman pointed at the little pug on the grass and smiled sweetly at it.
"Willow Rosenberg," Willow replied and slowly offered her hand. She was afraid to shake hands with the woman because, if it were Tara, she would feel the vibe and freak. She indeed felt the magical vibe that the two shared so long ago but remained poised, as was her initial plan to do.
"It's nice to meet you," Diana said with a shy smile. "Have you lived in this area long? I've not seen you around here before." Diana finished speaking and picked up her noisy pug. Snorting was a common behavior of the pug due to its nasal construction but Diana loved her Baby anyhow.
Willow found that the dog was adorable, even with the loud and constant snorting sound. She smiled at Diana, "I've lived here for nine months or so but only found this nice little park recently."
Diana looked deep in thought for a moment and then spoke. "I've lived here slightly over four years." She said and then looked at her watch. "I hate to cut this meeting short but I have an important appointment to get to."
"Of course," Willow said in a friendly tone. "I haven't had the time to meet many people here yet. Maybe we could have lunch or coffee soon?" Willow hoped that she wasn't being to forward or presumptuous but had to get in at least one more meeting before Kennedy got home.
"That would be nice," Diana said with a slight stammer. She would like to have dinner with Willow but knew that she couldn't have her come to where she lived. There were things about herself that Diana couldn't have revealed because she felt that people would look down on her if they knew the truth.
Willow scribbled down her cell-phone number and handed it to the woman. "Give me a call and let me know when is a good time for you. We could meet somewhere maybe?" Willow asked with a hopeful look on her face.
"That would be great." Diana asked with a friendly smile on her face. There was something about this woman that moved Diana but she couldn't put her finger on what it was.
Willow sat in the park for a few minutes longer. She had secured a second meeting with the woman that she knew to be Tara. Her plan was going at a good pace and she prayed that nothing would botch it up. She caught a glimpse of hesitancy in the woman's eyes when the dinner was mention, but then one of relief when Willow suggested that they meet somewhere. Willow wondered if there was something to that but decided to slow her thoughts down and do this thing right.
"Will?" Buffy's voice called from a distance and Willow feared that her plan was about to be foiled.
Willow looked at her best friend of nearly a decade and swallowed hard. She did not expect Buffy to come here to find out what was on the go with her. She should have known that the slayer would do something and planned her defense better. "Let's talk at my house." Willow said in a small voice and hoped that Buffy would relent and go to her house. She needed a little time to think on how to tell Buffy what she was doing and if she should tell her at all.
Buffy flashed Willow one of her famous whatever grins and let out a big sigh. "Will, I know you very well by now and I know that something is up. I can buy the fact that you need some time to sort out what to do about Kennedy but to send her away? I know that's not the only reason and I want some answers. Are you in some kind of trouble?" Buffy fired off the questions with a concerned look on her face because she knew, by the tone in Willow's voice, not to mention her body language, that something major was going on.
Willow's resolve was caving in fast. She knew that Buffy trekked all this way because she cared and wanted to help. "I can't tell you here Buffy, it's to complicated." Willow made a firm gesture with her hands to indicate that there was no room for negotiation on the subject.
"That's fine Will," Buffy motioned to a hotdog stand. "Let's grab a bite to eat first and then we talk." Buffy felt frustration at this point but knew that she had to play it Willow's way for a little longer.
"You sound so authoritative," Willow said with a forced smile on her lips, as she followed Buffy to the little stand. "I promise that I will fill you in on what I'm doing Buffy and I swear that I'm not in any trouble physically." Willow didn't want to lie to her friend so left out the fact that there was a possibility that she could be in trouble mentally. She knew by the look on Buffy's face, that she had understood this also.
As the two walked into Willow's home after munching down their food, Willow's stomach began to clench up in knots. She knew that she had to tell Buffy the truth but feared what the slayer's reaction would be. "Let's sit down and I'll get us a drink." Willow said in an attempt to stall.
As Willow went to the kitchen, her cell phone rang and Buffy picked it up with a cheery hello. "This is Diane Smith and I'm looking for Willow Rosenberg." The woman spoke with a slight stutter, one that took Buffy back in time.
"She will be right with you," Buffy said with a funny look on her face as she got up to give Willow the phone.
After a brief conversation, Willow hung up the phone and looked at her friend's questioning eyes. "Buffy, the first evil didn't come to me in Tara's form when it came to all of you. So, for a long time, I've questioned why that didn't happen. Well a couple of weeks ago I saw this woman in the park and she looked just like Tara. I sent Kennedy away so that I could try to speak with her. Buffy, she acts like Tara also. So we're going to have dinner and coffee later and I want you to not say anything until you witness her for yourself."
Buffy sat in the plush chair with a perplexed look on her face. She wanted to stop Willow from getting her hopes up over this Tara look-alike but too wondered why the first did not appear as the kindhearted woman. "Did you get any info about this woman?" Buffy questioned with a hesitant hope that she could find a way to stop this before Willow got hurt.
"She told me that she has lived here for slightly over four years." Willow answered honestly. "Tara has been gone for that long and so I need to explore this a bit further. I swear Buffy that I know what I'm doing. I'm being very careful, please just check this out before you judge me."
Buffy saw the pleading look in her friend's eyes and knew that she had to go along with this insane plot for just a little longer. "You know that I think this is a little off the wall Willow but I'll do it." Buffy stood and hugged her friend tightly. "If this is not Tara, then what?" Buffy's face showed great worry over her friend and the hug was enough to indicate to Willow that she would be there to catch her if she fell.
"I am going to leave Kennedy and move on with my life once and for all." Willow answered firmly because that was her initial plan. She knew that she would have to leave Kennedy regardless of who this woman was but didn't know if she truly could move on from Tara.
"I hope you know what you're doing Willow." Buffy said sadly and released Willow from the hug. "I know it's hard for you but you have to realize that you may be on a wild goose chase."
As Buffy sat at an out of the way booth in the small restaurant waiting for Willow to show up, she saw the woman in question. She indeed looked like Tara, carried herself like Tara, and that smile was certainly like Tara's. She was seated far enough away from where the woman sat to not be noticed but close enough to hear the conversation that the two women would have. She hoped with every fiber of her being that Willow knew what she was doing for her own desire to have Tara back in their lives as well as Willow's sanity. She had seen her friend almost go over the deep end one to many times and feared that if Willow allowed herself to gain to much hope and it not be Tara, she would totally snap this time.
As Buffy sat with a soft drink in hand, she couldn't help but take a few glances of the woman out of the corner of her eye. She wanted so badly to go over and say hello to satisfy her own curiosity. She wanted to make her own assertions about the woman and gain hope that it was Tara but knew that it could mess things up for Willow if she did. As she shook her head to clear it of such thoughts, the woman looked right at her.
Buffy froze up immediately and tried to make herself hide by thinking that she was small enough to fit in the crevice of the booth. She knew that she had to get up and approach the woman no matter how hard she tried not to do it. She had to put an end to her own curiosity no matter what came of it. As she was about to stand up, she literally smacked herself on the leg. She could not do this to Willow because it might scare the woman off. Maybe the woman just happened to look in her direction and there was nothing more to it.
As she was mentally chastising herself, her legs were moving and she was at the booth where the woman sat. "Excuse me, do I know you from somewhere?" Buffy heard herself speak the words before she could stop herself.
"No, I don't think so." The woman said shyly, as Buffy wished that she would move the hair from over her eyes so that she could get a good look at them. She made a mental note that Tara used to hide her pretty eyes also, as the woman continued to speak. "I'm Diana Smith," she said with a slight stammer and extended her hand.
"Buffy Summers," Buffy said and shook Diana's hand with a grin on her face.
"It's nice to meet you," Diana said and smiled Tara's bright smile at Buffy. The name sounded vaguely familiar but she couldn't place where she'd heard it. She had many things that she couldn't place these days but hoped that would all get better someday.
Buffy tried to keep a straight face but the excitement was mounting in her mind. She was certain that either this was a very good imitation of Tara being used to mess with Willow by some evil force, or that it was Tara Maclay in the flesh. "I didn't mean to intrude but you just looked so familiar that I had to come over and investigate." Buffy said with a smile and turned back towards her own booth.
"That's all right," Diana said as her smile brightened. "The lady I'm meeting here just came in." She smiled at Buffy and stood to greet Willow and Buffy saw the difference in her right away.
As Buffy walked to her booth, she gave Willow this look that indicated she thought Willow may be onto something. She was afraid to get her hopes up to high however, as there were always many forms of evil lurking around the Scoobies. She decided that she would sit back and watch the evening unfold. She would also send up a prayer or two that this was Tara, because she knew that Tara could fix not only Willow's life but help out the rest of the gang.
Dawn had come to know Tara as a friend and mother figure since Joyce had died. She sat with Tara's body so it wouldn't be alone and never quite got over the loss. Buffy knew that she would be a plus in Dawn's life for sure. Also, Tara had began to communicate more with Buffy about her love life troubles and Buffy knew that she would continue to do this. Tara certainly would benefit everyone in the group, including Giles. Most of all, she could make Willow complete again and that was the most important reason of them all for her to be back.
As Buffy thought up all of the good things that could come of Tara being back, she also thought of the bad side of things. If this was a ploy of some kind, this person would get inside the workings of the gang via Willow and create all sorts of havoc. She feared that Willow's life could be in jeopardy, either by this person or Willow herself, if this turned out to be a ruse of sorts. She wanted so much to believe that this was Tara but her wiser side compelled her to be careful and not jump on the bandwagon so quickly. She had seen enough things that looked good go awry in her short lifetime to know that one should never let their guard down. That is exactly what she feared that Willow was doing but tried to hold out some hope that Willow was looking out for herself.
Willow and Diana ordered a light meal, which consisted of soup, salad and apple pie. Willow had ordered second so that she could see w hat the woman ordered. She had ordered one of Tara's favorite meals to have when the two would eat out at a nice restaurant. The conversation was minimal during dinner, with Willow mentioning that Buffy was a friend of hers and had dropped in town for her job. Diana had the reaction that Willow knew Tara would have. She immediately assumed that Willow would be more inclined to spending some time with her friend due to her dropping in town for a short time. Willow had to assure her that she and Buffy would have plenty of time to catch up with each other before Diana would continue the meal.
Hope was slowly rising inside Willow as to the identity of this woman and she knew that she had to get solid proof before she made a direct assumption to the woman as to who she was. "So, you've lived here a few years now. Where did you live before?" Willow enquired, as she began to lay out the framework of solidifying the fact that this was Tara.
Diana looked in thought for a few seconds before responding. "I've always lived in California," she said shortly.
"Me too, the town that I lived in was wiped out." Willow said and searched Diana's body language for a sign of recognition but found none. "It was wild and the news claims it to be one of those unexplained mysteries."
"I think I remember reading that in the paper," Diana said and glanced at her watch.
"I'm an organizer of people and funds for a fairly small organization," Willow began another approach. "What do you do for employment?"
"I work in a kitchen," was Diana's short reply. This time, Willow noticed that the woman seemed a little nervous upon replying.
"A cook? I love to eat and if you work in a kitchen, you must be a good cook." Willow said and flashed a grin. She was hoping to help the woman relax, as she pressed onward.
"I was just promoted to second breakfast cook because everyone loves my pancakes and sausage." The woman said shyly and turned her head towards the window.
"I used to have a girlfriend who made the best pancakes in the world. She would make them in funny shapes for this teenager that we looked after." Willow said and clearly saw a flinch in Diana's eyes. "Her name was Tara Maclay," Willow said and allowed sad memories to surface so that she could show Diana her sadness at the loss of Tara. "She was shot a few years back and I've never recovered."
Diana felt a pounding in the center of her head. It was as if images were trying to come to the forefront of her mind but something stopped them. She could feel a knowing presence about this woman but couldn't put a finger on it. She then heard the woman saying, "I will always find you Tara." After that, everything went blank again.
"I'm sorry but I have to go Willow. I have a meeting early and need some sleep." The woman hurriedly stood and turned for the door.
"I'm sorry if I've said something wrong. I didn't mean to," Willow said in a last-ditch effort to stall the woman. She decided that she would take one more gamble. "In case I never see you again, I wanted to thank you. You look very similar to my Tara and have brought back many beloved memories for me. That is not why I wanted to get more acquainted with you however, so please don't think that."
Willow's last statement only disturbed the woman more, as she left the restaurant quickly. "What's going on?" Buffy asked, as she raced up to her friend.
"I need to know where she's going Buffy. Could you please follow her?" Willow asked in a panicked voice, as the slayer gave a nod of yes and raced out the door.
Half an hour later, Buffy returned to Willow's apartment. She had a worried look on her face, which heightened the worry and fear within Willow. "Where is she?" Willow asked in a hesitant tone of voice.
"She went to a mental institution Willow. The Garvin Mental Health Institute." Buffy replied with a look of both confusion and worry on her face. "I couldn't get into the place but that's where she went."
"She told me that she was a cook," Willow said in a small tone of voice. "I can hack the system and see what I come up with." Willow said with a sudden look of rejuvenation on her face. "She has to be Tara Buffy, there were too many things that she had like Tara."
"I thought the same thing Willow but maybe it's wishful thinking for us both." Buffy said, as the hacker easily broke into the institution's database. "That's scary how good you are with that."
"There is no Diana Smith listed as an employee but there is one listed as a patient. Her time of entrance to the place is three months after we defeated Glory." Willow said and scanned the documents again. "It says that her sister brought her in and gave them the details. Her sister was also one who helped them reconstruct her memory by giving them a huge amount of information." Willow copied the material and shut down her computer. "Something's not right here Buffy. I know that she's Tara!" Willow added and slammed her hands down on the table.
"Will," Buffy began to speak, as she rounded the table to comfort her friend. "Maybe we're wrong and that's not Tara. I wanted it to be her too but it's looking like it's not."
"No Buffy," Willow said with a look of desperation on her face. "That is Tara and I know it. Someone did something to her Buffy."
"Willow think about it like this. Tara was with you for a year after we defeated Glory. This cannot be here and I'm sorry to have to say it." Buffy hugged her friend tightly, as the tears began to fall.
"Buffy, Tara changed after the defeat of Glory. She became more outspoken and even got involved in the fights more. She even used an ax on a creature and we all thought it was great. We thought that she was finally coming into her own but what if that wasn't Tara at all." Willow said and received a look of utter sympathy from her best friend.
"Willow you don't know how much I wish that you were right. I'm afraid that you're grasping at straws here though." Buffy said and wiped the tears from Willow's cheeks.
"Another thing Buffy," Willow said and continued piling up the excuses as to how the woman that she was with surrounding the time of Tara's death was not Tara. "When I had my magic meltdown, I begged Tara to stay and help me. It was after the wreck and she walked off. She left me in tears and at the lowest point that I'd had up to that moment. I couldn't understand why Tara would leave me like that but now I do. It wasn't Tara at all!" Willow's face lit up as she spoke, which put more worry lines on Buffy's face.
"Willow she left you because of what you did to Dawn. She knew that if she stayed and continued to caudal you, you would not have gotten better." Buffy felt so badly for her friend but didn't know what else to do besides tell her what she felt was the truth.
Willow's face wore a defeated look on it after Buffy had finished speaking. She knew that she was not going to get through to her friend tonight so decided to try another tactic. "Maybe we should get some sleep and look at this in a fresh light tomorrow." Willow offered but knew that she was not going to back down no matter what Buffy said. She knew in her heart that that woman was Tara and nothing could change her mind.
"Kennedy will be back here tomorrow evening Willow. That means that I have to split and so I hope that we can come to some sort of agreement before then." Buffy said sadly and turned towards the stairs.
As Buffy went to her room, Willow replayed the night's events in her mind. She knew who this woman was but didn't know how to go about proving it. She knew that she had to face Kennedy but feared the outcome of that situation entirely. Most of all, she knew that she would not let her future with Tara slip away from her, no matter the consequences. "I will always find you Tara," Willow said softly and headed for the sofa. She could not bear the thought of sleeping in the bed that she shared with Kennedy another night. Tara was surely alive and it would be wrong of her to sleep in the bed that she shared with another woman.
As Willow made her way to the Garvin mental institute, she ran through the facts that she had. "Diana had told her she lived in that area around four years but the Glory incident would put it at nearly five. She couldn't comprehend the missing piece of the puzzle but believed that there was a huge one missing. "Excuse me," Willow said to the guard. "My name is Tasha Bryant and I am here about a social working job."
The man looked over his records and released the lock to allow Willow her entrance. She had thought enough to delve deep enough into the records to see who was about to become a new employee. She had timed it so that she could hope to beat the new person to the facility and gain entrance before Tasha arrived. Though she couldn't figure out why this place was so secure, she was elated that her initial plan had worked.
"Good morning Miss Bryant," a plump aging woman said cheerfully after Willow had made her introduction. "If you will just step this way, I can answer any questions or concerns that you have on the patients here."
Willow was shocked to see how easy things were falling into her lap and feared that this could be a trap. She knew that Buffy was waiting outside for her return though and would come to rescue her if she didn't make contact in a timely manner. "Thanks Mrs. Beavons." Willow said cordially and asked quickly about two other patients before questioning about Diana.
"That is a strange tale indeed. Diana had come to us a few times as an outpatient and called herself by a different name. She had some problems of the paranormal sort and so was seeing our doctor who specializes in that field. Well, some months later, her sister came telling us that Diana was worse off then she had lead us to believe. Her sister in fact was this other person that Diana called herself and got everything sorted out for us. Her sister, who had gained power of attorney from Diana's girlfriend, put Diana in custody. Anyway, Diana kept insisting that she was this woman until her sister's death via a brutal murder and we showed her clippings. She was heavily medicated and we've been trying to put the pieces of the poor woman's life back together ever since." Mrs. Beavons spoke with a wistful look in her eyes, as Willow took the information in carefully.
"I see," she said without any emotion showing on her face. "Very well then, that will be all." Willow said and dismissed the helpful woman. She then texted Buffy quickly and headed for Tara's doctor's office.
As she opened the door, she was utterly shocked to see Sarah Rollins, one of her video contacts with the coven, during and after her stay in London, sitting there. Every fiber of her being screamed at her to get out of there but she stayed put and prepared to stand her ground. Sarah smiled timidly at her but Willow knew the woman had some reservations. "I think you know what I'm doing here Sarah." Willow said bitterly, as she was in no mood for pleasantries.
"No I can't say that I do." Willow watched Sarah's body language as she spoke and it gave away nothing thus far.
"I want to know what you all did to Tara Maclay and am going to venture a guess that it was to cause me to have that melt down so that I would come under the coven's control!" Willow spat angrily, as she fought off the urge to magically find out everything she wanted to know.
"Don't flatter yourself Rosenberg." Sarah said in a mock tone before she could catch herself. "You were just an appendage that needed strong-armed so that we could get what we needed and you won't get it back!"
Having said that, Sarah's hands rose and Willow found herself being slammed into the wall. Before Willow could move, a barrier was placed between she and Sarah. "Tara was instrumental in beating the first and I think that you know that." Sarah added and got to her feet. "She is needed by the coven and we will not allow you to stop our work." She further added, as an orb made its way to Willow's chest.
It was true that Willow never believed her powers alone performed that spell and aided the gang in the fight against the first. She had no idea how at the time but knew Tara was helping her. "You won't get away with this." Willow said and tried unsuccessfully to conjure up a quick spell to release the magical hold that Sarah had on her, before her powers were consumed by the orb.
"Earth Goddess?" Sarah's face displayed a look of stupidity on it, as she began to speak again. "You are all rank amateurs and how easy it was to make even Rupert Giles believe that nonsense. Tara Maclay was the real power and she had to be protected from the first at all cost. We needed you to go off the deep end so that we could fuse Tara with your powers to enable her to control you without realizing what she was doing. By this I mean, we controlled Tara and she controlled you to defeat the first. Now you are an appendage that needs dealt with properly."
Buffy stood outside the complex in deep thought. Something didn't feel right to her after Willow had sent the message and she feared that her friend was in real danger. "Sir, I need to get inside that building pronto." Buffy tried to speak in an urgent tone so that the man would acquiesce but he merely laughed at her. "You aren't leaving any room for discussion." Buffy said angrily and took him out with a quick punch to the left jaw.
As Buffy raced through the complex in search of Willow, she ran smack into Diana. She knew that Diana's remembrance could be Willow's only hope, as the fear was swelling so great inside her that it threatened to take her last breath. She knew that the danger was real because she and Willow shared that feeling with each other and feared that she would be too late. "Listen, if you think there is a minimal chance that what my friend told you is true, you have to help me. She is somewhere in this building and I think she's in big trouble." Buffy said quickly and motioned her hand up and down the corridor to emphasize the urgency of the situation.
On the way back to the complex the night before, Diana had a gut feeling that she was being deceived. She had faked taking her night and morning medicine and things were trying to push their way to the forefront of her memory but had stopped just short of her being able to collect them. "I'll try but I don't know what I can do." Diana said meekly and searched her mind for an image of Willow.
"You're a witch, you'll figure it out." Buffy said and waited for Diana to get a lock on where Willow was.
As Sarah prepared to launch an attack on Willow, she felt a ripple in the air and fear spread across her face. She knew that if the mage could feel the connection to Willow strong enough, the man-made medicines would no longer stop her. She had known that the day would come in which the medicines could not hinder Tara's powers and only prayed it would be when she was long gone, but feared the time was upon her. "Kiss your amateur self good-bye Rosenberg!" Sarah hissed and readied to move quickly to destroy Willow.
The plan had been to gain control of Tara before her powers came to fruition, or she gained knowledge that she had such powers. It worked splendidly because everyone believed that Willow was the powerful one and Tara merely her anchor. Nobody conceived the notion that Willow was merely Tara's anchor, thus it was easy to hide Tara's powers behind the redhead. It was even easier to funnel her powers through Willow in times of need but Sarah knew, as the door crashed open, the time of ease was over.
When Diana saw Willow in dire need of assistance, it all came flooding back to her in a whirlwind of emotions and she nearly lost her balance. "We don't have time to figure it out!" Buffy urged, as the blonde raised her hands and the barrier crackled into nothingness.
"Get away," Tara spoke calmly but Sarah stood her ground, as she was taught to do.
"You won't hurt me Diana." She spoke soothingly and looked at Willow as if to tell Tara that she would hurt her first.
Tara stood still with her sky-blue eyes fixed on Sarah and the woman was lifted into the air. "Take her out of here Buffy." Tara stated without a stammer and the slayer started to move towards Willow but Sarah sent her into the wall.
"I want to know what you did to me and why!" Tara's voice hinted of a pent up rage as she spoke to Sarah.
Sarah feared that this was the only bargaining chip she had left to save her life. "Promise me that I will live to see another day and I…"
Tara outstretched her hands and Sarah began to speak. "We saw that you were coming into your powers and confidence after Willow performed that spell to bring back the slayer. We feared that she would get in the way of the things that you needed to do in the upcoming battles with the first. So, seeing as you were coming here seeking treatment of your growth in power, confidence and fear of losing your mind again, we took action. We found your look alike, who, of course, was dark and sent her in your place. We medicated you and used your powers to keep Willow from discovering the truth. We then used your death to make Willow have a melt down to enable us to gain access to her. We needed you kept from the first at all costs. We fooled everyone into believing that Willow held the power and funneled your power through her to fend off the first." Sarah said and hoped that this was enough to calm the Mage.
"So this dark magic trip that Willow went into wasn't all her doing?" Buffy asked with anger showing clearly on her face.
"She had acquired a liking to play with magic and so we made it worse to try and drive a permanent wedge between she and Tara. The only problem was, when we made the dark look-alike feel Tara's emotions, they were strong for Willow and that failed." Sarah added, as Tara lifted her hands again and the building shook violently.
"You could have killed her with that magic!" She hissed at Sarah, who exploded into a ball of flames and then Tara calmed.
The three women stood outside the building in a vain effort to gather themselves. Buffy's anger was boiling over so badly that she knew she would have to go kill something to quash it. Willow was filled with elation and sadness, both of which threatened to over-flow. She was thrilled that Tara was alive and well and sad because she had been fooled into believing someone else was Tara. She wondered what Tara would think that said of the extent of Willow's love for her.
"There are more of them," Tara said quietly, in an effort not to deal with her own emotions. Those of anger towards those who put her in this position and anxiety for the amount of time that she had missed with Willow. Most of all, she felt hurt and sadness for what Willow had gone through in terms of grieving over her when she wasn't even dead.
"It doesn't matter how many more exist," Buffy said confidently. "We've got you back now and they won't get a chance to pull this off again."
Tears streamed from Willow's eyes as the women walked up to the door of Willow's apartment. Neither Willow nor Buffy had thought of the time or the fact that Kennedy was probably back. They didn't think of it right up to the point when Buffy opened the door with Willow's key, as Tara tried to comfort the redhead. "Kennedy," Buffy said softly, which jarred Willow's thoughts back into the present.
"Willow," Kennedy said and moved towards the obviously shaken redhead. She stopped suddenly, having spotted a woman that looked like Willow's deceased lover, Tara. "What the hell is going on here!" Kennedy shouted with rage plastered on her face.
"Kennedy I…" Willow started to speak but didn't know where to begin. She just wanted to envelop Tara in her arms and enjoy their reunion. Not to mention, the fatigue of several years was creeping up on her. Everyone knew that she had not rested well since Tara's death and she now felt as though she could sleep for a week.
Tara took the initiative having seen that Willow looked worn out. She looked as if she'd carried the burdens of a million souls on her shoulders for far too long and Tara wanted to now alleviate some of that burden. "I am Tara Maclay," she said with a hint of uncertainty in her voice due to the fact that initiating was never one of her strong suits.
"I don't know who the hel you think you are but you are not going to do this shit to my girlfriend!" Kennedy bellowed and ran at Tara with slayer speed.
Buffy took the opportunity to show that her speed was still faster and snatched Kennedy up like a rag doll. "It's Tara Kennedy and you aren't going to hurt her. I know you are like royally screwed up right now and pissed but I won't allow it. They need to get their thoughts in check and discuss this in the morning. So this means that you are coming with me!"
"Like hell I am!" Kennedy shrieked and planted a swift kick to Buffy's midsection. "I have been there for Willow through a lot of bullshit concerning Tara and won't let anymore go on!" She pushed herself away from Buffy but the slayer did not release her grip.
"Kennedy don't make me fight you on this because you will lose." Buffy said emphatically, as she looked at her friends.
"Buffy she didn't know," Tara said with a confused look on her face and sympathetic tone in her voice. She should have known that Willow would have someone after so much time. She felt bad for wrecking that for the woman who was valiantly trying to get loose from Buffy's death grip.
"Normally I would feel bad too Tara but this woman had the habit of pushing Willow around because she couldn't get over you. She also hit her once or twice I am told. Regardless as to whether or not you came back into the picture, Will didn't need this bitch in her life!" Buffy said and momentarily allowed her anger to win. She slapped Kennedy across the face so hard that her head snapped back and the echo of the sound bounced throughout the room with a definitive ring.
"Kennedy I'm sorry about all of this. Willow finally got her wits about her enough to speak. "You knew that I loved Tara and I had to stop talking to you about it to keep from being attacked verbally and possibly physically. I know some of your behavior is my fault but," Willow looked at Kennedy as Tara put a gentle hand of reassurance on her arm. "I was going to let you go even if Tara hadn't come back. It wasn't fair to either of us to live like this. I was turning you into a cold hard person and that was unfair."
Kennedy looked around the room at the three people who surrounded her. Like a light bulb with a new flash, her resolve caved. "I'll pack in the morning." She had a sad but knowing look on her face as Buffy gave her a chance and let her loose. She knew deep down that Willow was right and the best thing to do was go. She had even contemplated as much on many occasions but never had the guts to do it.
As Buffy followed Kennedy out the door after hugging the two women fiercely, Willow hugged Tara and tears fell fast and furious from both women's eyes. "I told you that I'd always find you Tara." Willow said softly and hugged the love of her life tightly.
"I heard those words in my head that night that we had dinner." Tara said and fir the first time since being rescued, kissed Willow passionately. It was a kiss that made both women feel that everything would be all right in the end.
During their night of talking to catch up on the past few years, love making and words of adoration, they vowed to never lose each other again.
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