So much has been lost of Imperial history not just because of the fall and the subsequent troubles but also because moments that now seem critical to us if we could but find them were, at the time, not noted. Sometimes it because life and death hung in the balance, sometimes because the event was fill of secrecy, and sometimes because those involved did not see the ramifications a simple act would have on generations hence.
The Coming Twilight-Understanding The Fall of the First Empire
"I'm Tara, um, Maclay," Tara replied.
Tara reached for the slim hand offered to her without thinking. Something seemed to ripple over her entire body. For an instant Tara thought she saw herself, smiling shyly. Then the tang of the night sea air and very gentle rolling of the ship returned her to her senses.
Our hands fit together perfectly, Tara thought. Willow. What a graceful name. It fits her.
She didn't let go of Willow's hand.
"Um, about... that girl," Willow started in a soft voice. "I, err, we are looking for her, but not for the reward or anything, I mean Be-Buffy is family and she's kind of my little sister by proxy-not that Buffy is her sister or anything, but is really worried and how did you find her, I mean you were.is she okay?"
"Yes," Tara said in a musical voice. "She was stunned and h-hurt. Her memories are kind-kind of messed up. She says her name is Claire."
"It's... not," Willow said looking around again. "Please believe me-"
"I do," the blonde interjected.
Willow smiled and relaxed. It became easier to breathe, but there was still a tightness in her chest. She felt her smile ease but it did not fade. Then she realized they were still holding hands. She glanced down at the entwined fingers and then looked up blushing. Reluctantly she opened her hand and Tara did the same.
"You're her friend?" Tara asked.
"Kind of," Willow replied. "I was B-Buffy's friend, and when her."
"Sister," Tara said evenly. Willow felt herself nod and sigh.
"Yes, her little sister," Willow said quietly. "I like her, and for some reason she thought I was cool."
"You may be just what she needs," Tara said earnestly. "Give me a moment."
Tara knocked on the door of the stateroom and then turned the key in the lock. There were no lights on in the room. There was a sound of stifled sobs that echoed in Tara's soul.
"Claire, I'm turning on a light," Tara said gently.
"Don't," Claire pleaded in a rasp.
Tara eased forward. She felt the divan and moved from there to the first bed. She went further and heard the girl trying to be quiet. Tara sat on the bed. She was above the huddled figure on the floor between the beds. In the weak light that penetrated the porthole she could tell Claire had her arms around her legs and was huddling away from her.
"I used to hide in the closet when things got bad," Tara said flatly. "When I w-w-wanted something to.not be real I'd h-hide and pray and h-h-hope in the dark. But it didn't change things. It just gave me a chance to.accept what-what I just couldn't change."
"I can't be Dawn," Claire said in a rough whisper. "I don't remember so much, but I can't be her."
"Do you remember the girl outside?" Tara asked carefully.
"I think so, but... my sister, the bossy one, she's her friend but that girl's smart and nice," the girl replied. "I like her, but I can't remember her name."
"Can she come in?" Tara asked evenly. "She's very worried about you."
"You'll be here?" Claire asked urgently.
"Yes," Tara replied. "I'll get you home, Claire. I promise."
"What if I'm really her, you know, Dawn?" the girl asked reluctantly.
"I'll call you Dawn for other people's sake, but you'll always be Claire to me," Tara told her and touched Claire's shoulder.
The girl uncoiled off the floor and hugged Tara with a desperate strength in the dark. Tara gave back the embrace almost as fiercely. Claire broke the hug, stood up and tried to look calm.
"I think we'll need a light," she said in a shaky voice.
Willow pulled the jacket closer around her. It was a silly thing to imagine, but it was as if she could almost feel Dawn's sharp edged pain being slowly eased. She shook her head and tried to concentrate on the stars above. The electric lights dimmed most but she could make out Sirius and Rigel. The sound of the door in front of her opening made her look back quickly. The silhouetted figure there made her chest tight again.
"Please come in, Willow," Tara said politely.
Willow tore her gaze from the blue eyes in front of her. As she stepped into the room Dawn stood up and held out her hand politely. There was turmoil behind those green eyes though. Willow smiled softly and took the girl's hand.
"Hello," Dawn said with just the barest uncertainty in her voice. "I'm afraid I don't remember your name. I'm sorry."
"I'm Willow, Willow Rosenberg," the redhead said tightly. She wanted to grab the girl in front of her and hug her, scream at her and take her home all at once. Instead she waited for some recognition in Dawn's eyes. There was a softening of the girl's stance and an almost pleading look in her eyes.
"Is my mother all right?" Dawn asked in a voice younger than her years.
"She's in trouble, Dawn," Willow said evenly. "I won't lie to you, but she's safe for now, and so is Beth."
The youngster flinched at her name. Tara looked worried. Willow reached out and took Dawn by the hand. The girl looked up at the redhead with tear filled eyes. Tara moved closer to Dawn and placed a hand on her shoulder. Willow noticed that Dawn seemed to steady with Tara's touch.
But then, who wouldn't be steadier with her beside them? Willow wondered for an instant. She turned her attention quickly back to Dawn.
"Tara told me just a bit," Willow said gently. "Dawn, things happened to you no one should have gone through. But Beth and I are here, and so is Mr. Giles and even that boy Alexander. And you've got Tara here too. We'll figure something out."
"My sister's here?" Dawn asked raggedly. "Why? To yell at me for causing so much trouble?"
"It's not your fault," Tara said firmly.
"No, its not!" Willow said with a hurt tone. "Honey, she loves you. I know you two fight but, but.who wrote letters every week, even when you were on your own with your Mom across the Channel? Who always came through with Dunlop peppermints and chocolate cookies when I sent you a message Beth is having a rough time at school?"
"I did?" Dawn asked with hopeful tone.
"Exactly," Willow said with an emphatic nod. "And who dove into ten feet of water to get back your compass after she pulled you out of the river?"
"She showed up with it after she sent me home all wet and crying," Dawn said distantly, then she brightened. "You were the one who told me how she'd gone in three times after it. There was a log over the river and I was getting my orienteering badge and the compass was a present from."
There was a long moment of silence in the cabin as Dawn closed her eyes. Both women held their breath. Then Dawn let out a choked sob and looked at them in confusion.
"Where did I go?" she asked brokenly. "Where's home? Why can I see the stupid compass and know it's important but I don't know why.or who."
Both women took the frightened girl into their arms at the same moment. They moved in tandem, both supporting Dawn and yet not interfering with the others embrace. Willow felt herself wishing she could give Dawn some measure of strength and hope.
Tara wished she could take Claire's pain away. Claire had accepted too much guilt and responsibility for her slim shoulders to bear. The news that her sister and others were near had given Tara hope. If Willow was any indication this Beth had friends that cared about-Dawn, she was Dawn. Tara looked into Willow's eyes as Dawn seemed to ease into a calmer state. Before she could speak there was a knock on the door.
Willow and Dawn looked up quickly with worry on their faces. Tara stood up and walked to the door. As she got close she dropped her hand into her jacket pocket. As her hand touched steel and wood her senses seemed to get clearer. She knew she was experiencing her body's response to danger. She'd felt it before, but she had never felt it so strongly. And underneath those age old reactions she had made a decision without thinking about it.
If anything on the other side of that door was a threat to either of the two people behind her it would cease to be a threat no matter what it took.
Tara looked through the peephole in the door.
The purser's assistant stepped away from the door with a shudder. The girl who had been on the other side of the door was pretty, but in a scary way he thought. He wondered who she was and why the captain had sent her a note. He was in a hurry and almost ran into the well-dressed young man coming out of a nearby cabin. The steward went on his way as the young man realized he'd dropped his key. He knelt on the deck and tried to find it.
"What do you wear to a Captain's table?" Tara asked with a worried frown.
"Wow," Willow said looking at Tara's invitation. "We didn't get an invitation to the Captain's table. Of course we're pretending to be, ah, traveling incognito, you know, undercover and all."
"It's n-nothing," Tara said quickly.
"Because you get invited to the Captain's table all the time?" Willow asked.
"No," Tara said, looking down. "I sh-should put in an appearance, or people might ask questions. Someone needs to be with Claire-"
"Dawn," Dawn said softly. "It's okay Tara."
"I'll get Beth," Willow said with a smile.
"You'll be here too, right?" Dawn asked Willow with a frightened look.
"You bet," Willow replied. "I'm not promising I can control the wild sister or anything, but I'll be here."
"Thank you," Dawn said earnestly.
"And get out your clothes," Willow said to Tara. " We'll find something to put you in for dinner. I'm bringing back an expert."
Willow left the room in a hurry. She brushed against a lean man in the passage between the two staterooms.
"Sorry," she said quickly and hurried past into her stateroom.
The young man stopped and thought for a second. The slim redhead was familiar. He tried to remember the context he'd last seen her in and thought of a school uniform. Then he looked quickly back to the room.
"Summers," William said softly. "Bloody hell."
He hurried back to his own stateroom.
"Stars not that thrilling tonight?" Buffy asked with a grin as she looked up at Willow's return. The blonde was sitting at the desk near the door typing carefully. Giles looked up from the bed where he was studying several books and newspapers. Alexander was near Buffy with a small dictionary looking slightly flustered.
"Buffy, you've got to promise me you're going to be calm," Willow said as firmly as her excitement would let her. Time in the room stopped as Buffy stood up and walked the small distance to Willow.
"Why?" Buffy asked with her heart in her throat. "Have you seen her? Is she okay? Where is she? Tell me she's all right."
Willow backed up under the questions until her back pressed against the door. Buffy's calm of a moment before was gone like a ripple in the storm tossed ocean. Willow saw the worry and the fear her friend was carrying. She reached out and grasped Buffy by the arms, holding her at length and steadying her.
"She's alive, but she's confused," Willow said gently. "Don't! Don't ask until I explain. She was stunned in the attack, knocked out maybe, no I don't know for sure, but what ever it is she's got fuzzy memories. That girl found her and she's good with her. Her name is Tara Maclay and she's somebody important, I think, because she got an invitation to the Captain's table tonight, but she's all modest about it which reminds me I kind of promised you'd help her pick out the right clothes, I think she's kind of shy and not to much into Europa fashions, but really nice."
"She's hurt?" Buffy asked in a small voice.
"No!" Willow insisted. "Just... confused. She thought her name was Claire, oh, of course, her journal and those Claire Durano novels."
"She doesn't know who she is?" Buffy wailed softly. "Where is she Will? I've got to see her! She needs me!"
"Buffy," Giles said softly. "We need to approach her carefully. Dawn has been through a lot. If we frighten her she could become unbalanced, or run away."
"She won't," Buffy insisted. "She's my sister. I'll take care of her."
"Before or after you're arrested?" Willow said flatly.
"With a girl who looks like Dawn but who won't be able to answer identifying questions," Giles added.
It seemed to Willow that Buffy shrank before her eyes. The small blonde looked down for a long moment. Willow almost reached out for her friend but a glance from Giles stopped her. Finally Buffy looked up with a ragged intake of breath and pushed her hair back.
"All right," Buffy said tiredly. "I'll be.on my best behavior. Please, take me to her."
"Come with me," Willow said with a worried smile as she held out her hand.
"I'm sorry," Dawn said looking at the floor.
"About what?" Tara asked as she sat next to the girl.
"You've been helping somebody who gets people hurt, or worse," Dawn said with a shudder. "Not that I cared."
"The people on the train?" Tara asked. When Dawn just nodded Tara reached out and gently lifted Dawn's face until she could meet the girl's troubled eyes.
"Why can't I remember their names?" the girl asked. "Why did they have to die because of me?"
"I found you half starved and bloody," Tara said quietly. "You were cold and woozy. I'm surprised you made it as far as you did."
"But you made me better," Dawn pointed out.
"I just healed up the outside wound," Tara replied. "I can't fix your memories, or your heart. Dawn, I think you're still hurt and it-it hurts too much to remember right now. I know that's how I felt when."
"When what?" Dawn asked with large eyes, trying to focus on something other than her own tattered memories.
"I was in a battle," Tara said distantly. "I sh-shouldn't h-h-have been, but things got bad very f-fast. I tried to help and get the w-w-w-wounded in to shelter. I was.there was an explosion and the Marine I was helping got hurt worse. I got hurt too. I couldn't get him out of danger. Someone who'd been very nice to me saw us and came running out to help."
"You didn't want to get hurt," Dawn said with a sincere earnestness. "And you didn't hurt him."
"I know that now," Tara assured her. "But it took me a long time to get here, and I had hypno-therapists and everything. All you've had up 'til now is me. But, w-with everything I had when I was hurt, you've got something I didn't and I'm hoping it makes all the difference."
"What's that?" Dawn asked, almost afraid of the question.
Buffy followed her friend out the door and looked very surprised when Willow lifted her hand to knock on the door across the passage.
It can't be this simple, she thought worriedly. It's a trick. Will's been fooled or it's a trap. It can't be this easy.
"Miss Summers," a familiar voice said behind them. "We need to talk."
William, Prince of Oldenberg, would later wake up with a start at the dreaming memory of Beth Summers pushing her slim friend forward, out of danger, and then whirling past his defense with a knife that simply seemed to appear, cold and sharp, at his throat. Then just as recognition showed in her anger-filled eyes Riley's hand closed on the noblewoman's wrist. The former Marine didn't hold back and the rescue hold made Beth gasp in pain.
He heard a girl's voice, edged with fear, call out "Beth!" Then Finn recoiled unsteadily from a blow from a common staff. A blow the mercenary might have blocked had it not been for the red haired spitfire on his arm. Then William was looking up at two sets of eyes, green and blue, glowering at him while Finn lay carefully still next to him. He looked over to see why the soldier wasn't reacting when he saw the striking girl, all curves and gently tousled hair leaning on her staff with one hand invisible in her jacket pocket.
Dawn saw Tara look up suddenly, then grab her staff and pull open the door. She saw a big man grab... Beth. She heard her sister's pain. She said something, but she didn't remember what. Then Willow leaped on the giant's other arm and Tara snapped the staff up along the man's jaw. Dawn ran to Beth who put out an arm, shielding her. She was always doing that part of Dawn's mind recalled. It was so frustrating usually, but now it seemed familiar. Dawn clung to that familiarity hopefully, but nothing else came readily to mind.
Tara didn't know who the large young man was but his moves had been those of an experienced fighter. She kept her staff out of range and hid her still delicate feet in their boots behind its protection. She marveled at how he picked up on the fact she had him covered without a word. She didn't look over at Willow or Dawn. The redhead was angry and Dawn felt oddly safe. Tara just accepted that knowledge as she struggled to stay calm and alert. She had no doubt if the man chose he could take her out if her attention wavered even for an instant.
Riley looked up and saw the girl's eyes stay focused, even with the adrenalin coursing through her body. The weapon was no doubt a small handgun and the person holding it would use it. He froze. His armor would stop any torso hit, but there were places that were all too vulnerable right now. So he stayed still, watching her. Even with the edge of disaster in the air he found the view appealing.
"William?" Buffy asked tautly. "What are you doing here?"
"This isn't a conversation for the out of doors," William replied tightly.
"And him?" Buffy asked pointing at Riley.
"Mine," the prince said as he looked at Riley. "Sorry about this, old boy."
"Let's get inside," Dawn said calmly.
Buffy whirled and held the girl by the shoulders. The blonde looked her sister over quickly as worry etched her face.
"Are you okay?" Buffy asked with a quaver in her voice.
"I'm fine," Dawn said gently. "Let's get inside before anyone gets hurt. Please, Beth."
"That sounds like an excellent idea," Giles said firmly from the door of Beth's stateroom. William looked over and saw a dark shape in the older man's hand. Both shape and hand were in shadow. The nervous-looking boy behind the man was carefully handling something as he put it back into a bag.
Beth reached down and helped the prince up. Then she put an arm across Dawn's shoulders and glared at William. Tara stepped back and took her hand out of her jacket slowly. Then she looked quickly at Willow. The redhead met her gaze instantly.
"Are you all right?" they asked in unison.