"Did you get all that?" Willow asked.
"Audio and video," Tara confirmed, keeping her eyes and gun firmly trained on Dawn, who quivered with rage.
"Oh, come on, Dawnie," Willow sneered, "you didn't think I'd really fall for that 'I'm so guilty. Love, Tara' letter, did you?"
When Willow entered the office and saw Riley sprawled across the desk, she rushed to his side, naively thinking she could do something despite the ever-expanding pool of fresh blood spreading out from his inert form. She lifted his wrist to check for a pulse, hoping against all evidence that he was still alive. The obvious confirmed, she set his hand back down gently, eyeing the gun resting next to his arm, which she picked up after a moment's hesitation.
Rage was pouring off of Dawn in waves. Her face reddened and contorted; her limbs twitched and trembled until her entire body shook and a piercing shriek erupted from her throat. She snatched a hunting knife from its sheath, hidden against the small of her back, and lunged at Tara.
"No!" Willow screamed.
Tara saw the girl rushing towards her and automatically raised the gun, but Dawn didn't hesitate. Neither did Tara. The bullet hit the girl under her right collarbone, spinning her around violently. The knife fell from her hand and she fell backwards, smashing her head against the corner of the coffee table in a sickening crack of bone.
For the second time in her life, Tara found herself in a small room, surrounded by suspicious faces rattling off question after repetitive question. The difference this time was that she was not alone. Willow sat next to her in the control room, rubbing the back of Tara's neck as they went over the events of the past week yet again.
When the FBI team had first arrived, the pair was still in the midst of futilely trying to staunch the flow of blood from Dawn's head, but the young woman died without regaining consciousness. Both women had been handcuffed and searched while half a dozen agents kept their M16s trained on them. Willow had repeatedly pleaded with them to go to the control room to see the tape they'd recorded, and eventually the entire group had moved through the small hallway.
The 'surprisingly large amount of evidence' Dawn had referenced amounted to little more than another version of Tara's 'I did it' letter, but once the FBI agents-with Willow's assistance-had breached the security of her computer system, Dawn's culpability was laid plain. The girl had taken a great deal of delight in becoming the sole owner of Supai Island, so named for the Incan God of death. She had only clumsily hidden her identity behind the fictitious Matt Sekhmet, a combination of two Egyptian Goddesses: Maat, for justice, and Sekhmet, for war.
It took another five hours of statements, leading the agents through the mansion to each of the bodies, and waiting for an evidence retrieval team before Willow and Tara were finally loaded onto a helicopter and flown back to the FBI team's base at Santiago, Chile. They moved like automatons from one meeting to another: the Division Head, the U.S. Ambassador, a psychiatrist. They'd been awake for almost 24 hours when they'd at last been driven to the Crowne Plaza.
Their personal Marine escort had informed them that they would be flown back to the U.S. on Sunday, giving them a day and a half to recover from the physical exhaustion of their ordeal. They lay down on the king size bed, not bothering to pull down the bedding or undress, and were both asleep in minutes.
They awoke Friday evening and ordered room service after relaxing in the large whirlpool bath. Sitting at the table in their fluffy white robes, they picked at their food listlessly. Willow pushed her plate away and sighed heavily. Tara set down her fork and reached across the table for Willow's hand.
"I feel guilty," the redhead whispered.
"Willow, we've been through this-it's not your fault. Dawn might have focused on you, but it's only because it suited her twisted needs."
"That's not what I meant," Willow said, lowering her eyes to their joined hands resting on the tabletop. "I...I know I should feel bad that the others are dead-and I do-but right now all I feel is happy that you and I are alive."
"Oh, sweetie, that's normal," Tara insisted, squeezing their joined hands.
"I'm a horrible person!" Willow wailed, sobs wracking her body.
Tara never let go of Willow's hand as she walked around the table to embrace the distraught woman. They stood clutching each other, letting the burst damn of tears flow unchecked onto each other's shoulders.
"It's called survivor's guilt, Will, and trust me I feel it too," Tara said. She cradled Willow's face in her hands and looked her straight in the eye. "Being happy to be alive does not make you a bad person."
Willow sniffled away the remnants of her crying jag and nodded.
"I trust you. I just, I don't know what to do now. I want to know what to do."
"What do you want to do?" Tara asked.
"Well, not go to another island ever again, for starters," Willow admitted. She laughed along when Tara barked out a hearty guffaw. "Then I was thinking I could take you out for that coffee I owe you."
"Hmm, what was that line in Speed about relationships that begin under intense situations?" Tara smirked.
"Please tell me you don't get your love life advice from Keanu Reeves movies," Willow deadpanned.
Tara chuckled and shook her head, but a moment later she was pensively biting her lip.
"Seriously, Willow, you live in Seattle and I'm in Chicago. How can this work?"
"We'll find a way," Willow said, smiling warmly and taking Tara's hands in her own. "There're these newfangled contraptions called 'phones' and 'airplanes' that I hear are all the rage now-a-days."
"I mean it, Tara," Willow said seriously. "The only thing I know for sure right now is I want to be with you."
"Right now?" Tara asked, a gleam in her eye as she kissed Willow softly and led them to the bed.
"Right now," Willow whispered against Tara's lips.
One year later...
"That's the last of it," Tara sighed, wiping the sweat from her brow with her forearm. She leaned over with her hands on her knees to catch her breath.
The move to San Francisco had gone surprisingly well. They had found the apartment on a weekend trip down from Seattle. Willow had packed up and shipped all of her belongings a few weeks prior, then flown out to Chicago and together they'd driven the U-Haul loaded with Tara's possessions to their new home.
Craning her neck over the mountain of moving boxes, she finally spied a shock of red hair and quietly crept towards it. "Have you been setting up your computer all this time?"
Green eyes popped up guiltily. "Err, no? I mean, well, yes you maybe made one or two more trips than me, but I just wanted to get the utilities set up for the shelter."
"Uh huh. One or two?"
"I'll make it up to you?" Willow suggested with a grin.
"Yes you will," Tara concurred, squeezing through two piles of boxes to embrace her girlfriend. "As soon as we take a shower and find some clothes in all this mess, you're taking me out for dinner."
"Hmm," Willow hummed against Tara's neck. "You had me up 'til the 'finding clothes' part."
Tara arched her neck to allow Willow's lips free reign. "Well, we could always, ohh, order in?"
Willow caught Tara's lips and kissed her deeply. Both were breathing heavily when they finally withdrew.
"I'll get the phone," Tara said, idly wondering if her shaky limbs were the result of exertion or Willow-kisses.
"I'll find a restaurant," Willow offered, turning back to her computer.
Tara retreated into the kitchen to retrieve her phone from her purse, pausing at a bundle of letters sitting atop one of the boxes in the hallway. She touched the top envelope and smiled, closing her eyes to whisper a silent prayer for those that were gone. It was coming up on a year, and she would have to remind Willow to buy the money orders.
The previous year, they had agreed to make seven annual, anonymous donations:
To the San Diego Alcoholism Treatment Center, in memory of Alexander Harris.
To the Sunnydale Girls' Empowerment Society, in memory of Buffy Summers.
To the Boston Youth Outreach Program, in memory of Faith Johnson.
To New York University, in memory of Cordelia Chase.
To the Austin School of Music, in memory of Daniel Osbourne.
To the Walter Jenkins Home for the Elderly, in memory of Anya Jenkins.
To the Cedar Rapids Police Department Widows and Orphans Fund, in memory of Riley Finn.
And while it would not bear their names, the memory of Dawn Hewitt and Rupert Giles was the impetus for the shelter for troubled teens Tara and Willow would be opening the following week. In the heady days of planning the shelter, both women had expressed a desire to make some good come of their experience on the Island of Death.
As Tara looked across the room at Willow, she realized...something already had.
Note: spooky 'the end'...thanks, Watty!