Return to Don't fear the Reaper Chapter Nineteen

Don't fear the Reaper

Author: Useful_Oxymoron
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Well, I don't own Willow or Tara. If I did, I wouldn't have made certain... questionable decisions in the later seasons. In any case, Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy own these characters and I don't intend to make any money off them.
Notes: The dream sequence in the beginning is again an example of art imitating life. I've been replying Grand Theft Auto Vice City lately and a few days back, I had a disturbing dream that I was the game's protagonist, made man Tommy Vercetti. The dream in the beginning of the story was almost literally the dream that I had myself, though the 'victim' was actually a bully from my own childhood. And, though I'm not squeamish by any means, afterwards, the dream left me feeling sullied and dirty, especially because it seemed too real for comfort. Oddly enough, I still enjoy the game as I always did. Oh, well, at least I got a nice plot device out of the deal. Don't know what GTA:VC is? Check this link :
Btw, the game and the dream, take place in 1986.
Italics are thoughts.
Bold is a dream.

Tara Vercetti grimly stepped inside Willow Rosenberg's office, only to find the nervous young lawyer twittering uncontrollably. Tara shook her head... all of this was supposed to be so easy. Fly into Vice City, do the drugdeal, get back up to Liberty and get on with life. Instead, the drug deal went sour and an unknown party made off with both the drugs and the money. Mob money. Mob money that Tara, and by extention, Willow, was responsible for.

Tara knew that if she wasn't a made woman in the Forelli family, they'd both be hanging from a meathook in a freezer right now.

"I did NOT go to law school for this," Willow trembled visibly. "I went down here to get away from the families, minimal contact, just a few favors every now and then. And now this crap... Oh, shit, we're screwed, we're screwed! We're gonna end up fishfood. Archaeologists will find our skeletons with our feet still in the cement a thousand years for now. I've got the Forelli's breathing down my neck, and Diaz..."

"Shut up, Rosenberg!" Tara scoffed. "I told you, I'm gonna take care of this. We're gonna find that money and present the thieves' dicks to Sonny Forelli on a silver platter."

"Yeah, well," Willow's hand shook while she took a small mirror from her desk, poured on it a small mound of white power from a plastic packet and started spreading it out with her creditcard. "You'd better do it damn quick. Have you got a lead?"

Tara nodded grimly while Willow put a straw to the white powder and sniffed it up deeply, almost instantly calming herself down. "I'll be back in a little while, you take care of yourself and don't snort too much of that crap."

"I love this crap," Willow said while she lent back to enjoy her high. "Keeps my hands from shaking."

A few moments later, Tara sped across the streets of Vice City, through the nights filled with purple neon-lights of the many nightclubs. The yellow power-colored sports-car which she had jacked for the occasion drew a little attention from the pedestrians, but Tara paid them no mind. She fiddled with the radio. V-ROCK blared through the speakers, but Tara was not exactly in the mood for LoveFist this evening. She turned the dial to 'Emotion' where the latin lover DJ Fernando Martinez was just announcing a new song. Tara recognized the song as the theme of one of this new cop shows... What's it called again. Hm, oh, yeah, Miami Vice. Hm, stupid name for a stupid show. I mean, come on, the police always wins, how unrealistic is that?! Everybody knows those donut-belching morons couldn't find their own asses with both hands and a flashlight. Heh, I never expected that show to have made it through its first season. Nice music, though.

Tara thought about Willow, and how she had left her, sitting back in her chair with her eyes closed, enjoying her high and forgetting all about her current troubles with the Forelli's. Hm, when I've found that money, I should take her out sometimes. Maybe go dancing at the Malibu or go for a midnight stroll on the beach? At least she was determined to find that money and get the Forelli's off their backs. Then maybe, Willow wouldn't need to snort that filth to calm down anymore. Oh, Tara had plenty of ideas how to make Willow relax that were not only healthier, but also even more addictive than any drug could ever be. Hmm, no, she's probably not interested... Oh, Tara, Tara, Tara, why do you always have to fall for the straight chicks?

Then again, after ten years in a maximum security prison, 'straight' had become something mythical from the outside.

And then, Tara spotted her target. She followed the pick-up truck for a while before passing it and blocking its way. Tara jumped out of the car and pulled the truck's mewing occupant out of his and threw him into an alley.

"Tara!" shouted the frightened man as Tara pushed him into the wall and drew her Desert Eagle.

"Where's my money, Donny?" Tara asked threateningly as she regarded her idiot brother. The bane of her childhood was now a small-time snitch barely making ends meet. Oh, the irony... "You were the only one who knew about the deal."

"T-t-t-tara," he stammered. "I... I don't know anything about..."

A shot fired in the night. A young man holding his now ruined knee. An uncaring, cold Tara ready to commit fratricide without so much as a second thought. It was a typical night for Tara Vercetti, actually.

"Quit crying, Donny," Tara said. "You've got another knee left."

"Tara!" cried Donny. "You can't do this! I'm your brother."

Tara nodded. "Thanks for reminding me." And so another shot was fired. And a young man lost his other knee. "I remember my 10th birthday party! I remember you stuffing firecrackers down my shirt!"

"T-those were just silly pranks, Tara," Donny begged.

"Pranks?!" Tara screamed, pressing the nozzle of her gun into Donny's mouth. "You broke my wrist and set me on FIRE! Now," she said ominously. "I'm going to ask you ten times where my money is, Donny."

Donny's eyes grew wide when he realized Tara was holding a pair of hedgeclippers in her free hand. "I'm not weak little Tara anymore now, am I? AM I?!"

An hour later Tara returned to Willow's office.

"How'd it go?" Willow asked while Tara returned. Tara shrugged and dumped a bloodied pair of hedgeclippers on her desk.

"He didn't know anything," Tara scowled. "But it was fun nonetheless."

"Glad someone's enjoying herself," Willow trembled and closed the blinds of her office for fear of mafiosi with sniper-rifles. "Now get that off my desk! Haven't you heard of that new-fangled AIDS-thingy the government invented?"

It was then when Tara noticed a man sitting next to Willow's desk. He was wearing a leather coat and a cowboy hat... and a very bad rug to boot.

"Oh, Tara, this is Avery Carrington," Willow said.

"Tara Vercetti," Tara greeted.

"Willow told me all about you, ms. Vercetti," Avery said. "Being a realtor, you run into all kind of difficulties and there's something you might be able to solve for me. Now, there's a..."

Tara suddenly found herself staring through the skylight in her very own loft.

She blinked once. She blinked twice.

Where the hell did that come from?! Tara wondered. It took her a few moments to catch her bearing, because the dream had been so very real. For a moment, she felt disgusted with herself, to have committed violence on such a level without any remorse at all... She felt like taking a long shower and scrubbed herself all over with soap.

She took a few deep breaths and reached to her side for Willow only to find her lover gone. She frowned for a moment, until she heard sounds from the kitchen below her. Tara smiled briefly. She was at home, she was with her love, they were together and Willow wasn't snorting forbidden substances to calm her nerves. Quite a relief to say the least.

Tara grabbed a bathrobe and headed down the stairs. She approached Willow, who was cooking eggs and making toast.

"Morning, baby," Willow greeted.

"Hm, morning," Tara said, treating her lover to a brief good morning kiss on the lips.

"Does somebody owe you money?" Willow asked. "You were talking in your sleep, sounding 'take charge'-y. It was kinda sexy, actually. "

Okay, Faith, no more late night sessions of GTA for this girl, Tara thought to herself. Obviously, I have some issues to work out.

It had been three weeks after the Tribunal, and Willow and Tara had been looking for the perfect moment to start their vacation, and Willow had chosen the free period after exam week. Not only was it the best way to relax after having gone through the stressful exams, it was also the time she could take a few days off from work at the computer shop. But even though exam time was over now, and Willow had obviously aced every single one of them, there was one important event which led them to postpone their vacation for one day.

"Buffy's big day," Tara said. "Faith is so proud of her."

"I'll zip over to Jenny's to work two half days at the computer shop," Willow said. "That's why I woke up so early. Didn't you hear the alarm clock?"

"Obviously not," Tara replied. "Um, did I say anything else in my sleep, sweetie?" Something involving murder, mayhem and destruction of private property, maybe?

"I was too busy being snuggled to notice," Willow smiled warmly. "It's always so hard for me to tear away from you, baby."

Willow finished her breakfast and was off to the computer shop, leaving Tara to gather their clothes and pack for their holiday tomorrow. But first, a nice long shower.

About twenty minutes later, Tara blow-dried her hair and started to work on packing. Unfortunately, Willow and Tara did not own suitcases, but Joyce had promised to lend them some. Buffy's mother was nothing if punctual : at 11 o'clock sharply, the doorbell rung.

Tara welcomed Joyce into her home, where she had laid out the clothes and possessions they were planning to take with them to the resort. From clothes to Willow's laptop to various instruments of personal grooming and make-up to... Tara had quickly put a towel over some articles of clothing that she'd rather not have Joyce see.

"Thanks for lending us your suitcases, Joyce," Tara smiled at the two sturdy big Samsonites. "But I could have picked them up, you didn't have had to drive them over."

"It's no trouble, really," Joyce said, "but, um, I have to admit to having a bit of an ulterior motive to come over."

"Oh?" Tara asked, and motioned Joyce to sit down. "Is s-something wrong?"

"Hm, new chair?" Joyce asked while she sat down on a blue linnen coated lazy chair with wooden arm supports.

"Old chair," Tara smiled. "Somebody threw it out and Willow and I dragged it back home. All of our furniture is second hand... you should recognize your old couch. But that's not why you came here, did you?"

Joyce shook her head. "First of all, I'm not judging anyone here, but I wanted to talk to you... about Faith. At first, I thought Buffy was just, um," she blushed slightly, "experimenting. Not that there's anything wrong with that, lord knows I did some experimenting in my days, but... it looks like Buffy's relationship is getting more serious. Oh, Faith's a nice girl, but, um, she can be a little direct."

"That's Faith, alright," Tara smiled briefly.

"I mean, Faith's kind to Buffy and Dawn thinks she's cool. I... just feel I wouldn't be much of a good mother if I wouldn't... get to know a little bit more about Faith."

"Have you asked her yourself?" Tara asked.

"I've tried, but she's not exactly forthcoming. Now, I know she's legally emancipated from her parents and that she's, um, experienced," Joyce said. "But she never really talks to me about it. What I'm really worried about is that Buffy's going want more than Faith is willing to give her. I just don't want my daughter to be hurt. Buffy's got a bad track record with relationships."

"Joyce," Tara smiled. "Let me put your mind at ease. Faith is smitten."

"You're sure of that?"

"I've known Faith for five years and I've never seen her like this," Tara smiled. "I've no doubt she truly loves Buffy. Faith is impulsive, and tends to express her affections very physically, but don't let that fool you. She might seem tough, but she is a kind person who deserves a lot more than life has been sending her way. "

Tara thought for a moment. What more to tell? She didn't feel right about telling Joyce about Faith's insecurities. Faith had said goodbye to her family when she was fifteen and never looked back. Faith and Tara had talked so many times over the past five years but whenever the conversation drifted towards Faith's parents, she changed the subject. Tara couldn't be completely sure, but she guessed that they'd been abusive towards her. In any case, it was a chapter of her life that Faith had closed and Tara felt she had no right to talk about it behind her back.

"Look," Tara said. "Faith is an... uncomplicated person. What you see is what you get. She always speaks her mind and she never says something she doesn't mean. If she says she loves Buffy, she does. I can see it in her eyes whenever she talks about Buffy."

Joyce smiled briefly. "Thank you, Tara," she said. "You've set my mind at ease. And, uh, I hope think I'm judging you or lesbians in general. It's just that Buffy keeps telling me she's not gay, so I'm... confused sometimes."

"Not at all," Tara said. "It's great that you're open-minded. I'd like to say my family was accepting, my father was mostly didn't care either way."

"I'm sorry," Joyce said. "I'd love my daughter unconditionally, whatever happens. I just afraid that, if Buffy is gay, she doesn't feel safe enough to come out to me and Dawn. Willow trusted me, and I hope Buffy will too. Did you know that Willow came out to me before everybody else?"

"Really?" Tara asked. "Willow never told me that."

"Oh, yes," Joyce smiled at the memory. "Poor thing. She was trying so hard, but the words came out jumbled and wrong. She was only fifteen back then and, God, she was so scared she was actually trembling. I just told her it was okay and hugged her. She cried for half an hour, she was so relieved. God, she must had been planning her coming out for weeks."

"Knowing Willow, she probably did. Oh, do you want something to drink?"

"No thank you. I just think it's so sad that Willow's parents won't accept her sexuality," Joyce added.

Tara shifted slightly. "Things are getting better. With her dad, at least."

"I'm happy for her," Joyce smiled. "Well, I've kept you long enough. I'll pick you and Willow up later."

"Right, Buffy's big day, how could I forget?" Tara said. "Oh, and will we finally meet the mysterious mister Giles?"


That afternoon, Buffy's big moment had finally arrived. Standing barefoot on a thick plastic mat, Faith, Tara, Willow, Xander, Anya, Dawn, Joyce and her new beau Giles, were spectators who observed Buffy standing in the middle of the room, clad in her white gi and currently beltless. Around her stood all her instructors, several of her classmates and a few of her students.

Out of the back of the large practise room came an old japanese man in a black gi. Mister Miyagi, the owner of the dojo, who was a man even shorter than Buffy was, stood before her and bowed respectfully, a gesture which Buffy mimicked.

"Buffy Summers," started mister Miyagi in an accented voice. "Through, your years of dedication to the Arts, as well as testimony given by your instructors, your peers and your students, you have proven yourself in all our eyes. I am honored to bestow to you, in front of your peers, your students, your family and your closest friends, the greatest gift I can offer you."

He took an item from a small pillow had been holding and wrapped it around Buffy's waist. With a final tug, Buffy was wearing the coveted Black Belt. She beamed with pride while hearing the cheers and applause from the people she considered to be the closest to her in the world... and noticed with a smile that Faith's woots were definitely the loudest of them all.

"You have reached arrived at a pivotal point on your journey, but rather than to see this as an end, you should see this as a new beginning. There are more challenges ahead, and ever more things to learn. But for now, enjoy the spoils of your victory."

Of course, such an event would be incomplete without a big party at the bronze. While Lordi were playing a rocking number from their latest CD, Buffy and friends relaxed in a private alcove away from the dance floor.

"So we finally met the mysterious G-man," Xander grinned. "What's the verdict Buff?"

"He's nice, very British and polite, and he seems to give mom a happy," Buffy said, "Jury's still out with Dawn, she's rather protective of mom. Especially since Ted."

"Maniac-man, Ted," Xander shook his head and turned to Tara and Faith to explain. "It took five of us to take him down after he hit Joyce. And then it kept five of us to keep Dawn from kicking the living crap out of him until the police arrived. Great days."

"Let's not talk about him," Buffy grimaced while the music swept up again, fully aware that Faith's hand was resting on her thigh. "I want less of the 'Eeew, Ted' and more of the 'Yay, Buffy!'."

"Xander is often awkward in conversations," Anya replied. "I've noticed that before. But I forgive a lot because of the many sexings."

The group collectively rolled their eyes. "Well, in any case," Xander pointed out. "Buffy can break all the bones in G-man's body without leaving any marks at all, if he turns out to be trouble. Yay for the black-belted Buffy."

At that moment, a not unattractive looking guy in his twenties approached the alcove where the group was sitting and spent some time concentrating mainly on both Willow and Tara. He strolled over with a slight swagger in his step. "Well, well," said the guy. "Would any of you lovely ladies like to dance with me? I promise I won't step on your feet and freely worship the ground you walk on."

"Uhm," Tara instinctively grabbed Willow hands. "We're, um..."

"Kinda gay," Willow finished with a nod.

The guy frowned for a moment. "Really?"

"R-really," Tara replied.

"Thanks for thinking of us, though," Willow said sincerely.

"Are you all gay?" the guy asked.

Buffy bit her lip for a moment. "I think Faith and I are technically bisexual," Buffy said, causing the guy to perk up slightly, but only until Faith possessively slung an arm around Buffy's waist and shot him a 'use it and lose it, buddy'-look.

The guy shrugged. "Such a loss for men everywhere," he sighed wistfully and made a dignified retreat.

"Oh, you can borrow Xander if you really want to dance!" Anya called after him. "I'm sure he won't mind!" Not surprisingly, there was no answer.

"Ladies," Tara smiled. "I think we've just been complemented.

"I think I've just been scorned," Xander frowned.

"Hey, I just realized we've got four on a row," Faith proclaimed. "Coolio."

Then came the time for gift-giving. Xander gave Buffy one of his classic Wonder Woman comic books, while Tara and Willow handed Buffy a grey T-shirt with the words 'I trained for 12 years and all I got was this lousy T-shirt. Love, Willow & Tara.' printed on it. Anya, not surprisingly, gave money.

"Yeah, I got a present for you too, B," Faith blushed slightly. "It's not really ready yet, and it needs some more layers. But the colors came out very nicely. And, well, I suppose you're wondering why I've been wearing a T-shirt to bed the whole week."

She rolled up her sleeve to her shoulder, revealing a bandage that was wrapped around the middle of her upper arm. "It's still a bit sore," she hissed when she unwrapped the bandage.

"Oh, god, Faith," Buffy's breath caught in her throat when Faith revealed a mostly finished tattoo. It was a red-colored heart surrounded by a trio of thorny roses, dripping blood. Inside the heart, in a gothic font, the letter 'B' was inked.

"It's not finished yet, B," Faith said nervously. "The roses still need to be colored. I, uh, I hope you like it, because it kinda doesn't come off."

"Faith, this... this is like, totally wow," Buffy replied. "Just so... wow."

"A wow?" Faith grinned. "I got a wow! Yes!"

Anya rammed an elbow in Xander's side. "Dammit, Xander, why don't you do something romantic like that for me?! How about a big indian across your back?"

Xander shook his head. "No, no, Ahn. Kinda allergic to the pain that comes with rampant tattooing."

"Screw that, you coward, I want my indian chief!"

Willow pouted slightly. "What about you, Tara? No skin-inked love-statement for me? I thought I was your sweetie? So how about a sapphic love-poem in my name across your back? Or maybe a cute lil willow-tree on your ankle?"

"Um..." Tara blanched slightly. "Will, I..."

"No, it's okay, your soft skin is already perfect," Willow replied. "Don't even think about marring it. In fact, I forbid it," she said mock-imperiously.

With some relief, Tara let out a sigh and offered Willow a sweet smile. "Are you sure, sweetie?"

"I'm serious, don't get a tattoo," Willow said dead-pan this time, letting Tara know that exploring that particular avenue was potentially dangerous to her health.

"Yes, ma'am."

Willow frowned for a moment and peered into the distance, apparently seeing someone she recognized. Then, when a beefy figure pushed through the crowd, she did.

"LARRY!" Willow squealed and almost jumped into his arms when he arrived. "What are you doing here? Why didn't you tell me you were coming to town?"

Willow and Larry had been friends ever since they'd both come out to Sunnydale High, though in a different manner. They were more like partners in crime, in a tireless effort to thwart the anti-gay elements in Sunnydale High, starting with a two year war of attrition with the Young Republicans club. Though the war technically ended with a stalemate after Willow and Larry graduated, they had thwarted the clubs efforts on many occassions and pulled more than a few heinous pranks, though their involvement was never actually proven. After Larry won a football scholarship at the University of Nevada, the two stayed in contact through e-mail and phonecalls.

"Oh, we're just passing through to Cisco," Larry shrugged. "We thought you'd left already and we're only staying with my parents for one night. Lucky to have caught you here, Rosenberg. Oh," he said while he motioned another guy, a buff black-haired jock in his very early twenties to step over. "This is Jason, by the way. Basketball-player extraordinaire."

"Hi," Jason greeted, a bit shyly.

"Hi, I'm Willow. Gosh, I feel like I know you already, because that big doofus over there told me all kind of intimate details about you, Jason," Willow babbled.

"Hold it right there, motormouth, before you sprain your tongue again," Larry chuckled. "This lovely lady here must be Tara."

"H-hi," Tara said, equally shyly as Jason was earlier. "H-how are you?"

In the meantime, Larry crossed his arms and smirked at Buffy. "My, my, Summers, I always knew you wanted to see how the other side lives."

"Oh," Buffy said quickly. "I'm not gay."

"Denial isn't just a river in Egypt, honey," Larry smirked for a moment.

"Besides," Jason said. "Saying you're not gay isn't very convincing when another girl has her hand on your butt."

Faith smirked knowingly at Buffy. Buffy glared at her, but made no move to remove Faith's hand.

"Harris," Larry greeted, but before he could say anything more, Anya quickly stepped in between them.

"Stay away from my penis!" Anya threatened. "Or else!"

"Come again?" Larry blinked.

"Anya!" Xander blushed and buried his face in his hands.

"Xander's penis is my penis too!" Anya protested. "You had your chance, dough-boy."

Larry was more amused than insulted. An embarrassed-to-the-bone Xander quickly dragged Anya to the dancefloor, while he and Jason walked to the bar together with Willow and Tara to share a Real-Life meet-and-greet, leaving Faith and Buffy to remain seated.

"Oh, what a day," Buffy smiled. "I'm officially walking on sunshine, Faith."

"Do you really like the tattoo?"

"I'm a little overwhelmed," Buffy admitted. "But it's definitely of the cool. D-did it hurt?"

Faith grimaced. "Oh, the pain. The pain... So horrible. I'll be five by five, but I'll need lots of kisses to recover, B."

"Allow me," Buffy chuckled before accepting Faith's hungry lips to her own. Away from prying eyes, the two girls engaged in a make-out session to end all make-out sessions.

"God, B," Faith gasped when the other girl was in the process of giving her an above-average sized hickey on the nape of her neck. "If you keep this up, I'll need to get you alone in a room real fast?"

Buffy treated Faith to a teasing kiss to the lips, signifying her intent. There was no doubt in Faith mind that Buffy wanted to celebrate.

"Faith," Buffy hissed as Faith's hands into the pockets of her jeans while she was trying to unlock the front door. "Mom and Dawn are at home."

"Oh, yeah," Faith grinned. "Like they don't know, B."

"That's beside the point," Buffy said. "I just hate to broadcast 'Hi, I'm an enormous slut'-rays all over Sunnydale."

"Why?" Faith grinned. "It's only me you're sleeping with. And it's in your bedroom... Of course, if you wanted too, I could take you right here on the front lawn."

"Get inside!" Buffy hissed when she opened the door. Just as she and Faith slipped in, they were confronted with Joyce who sat in the living room, next to... someone else. A tall looking man in green slacks and shirt with a hard look on his face.

"Riley," whispered Buffy while Faith looked from her lover to her lover's ex and back again.

"Buffy," Riley replied while he rose from his seat. Joyce did the same.

"I'll leave you to talk," Joyce said, the coldness apparent in her voice. "Buffy, if you need me, I'll be in the kitchen. Faith, will you come with me for a moment?"

"But..." Faith protested.

"Faith, please," Joyce said. "Riley and Buffy need to sort some things out. Actually, what Buffy needs to do most is to show Riley the door, but I'll leave that up to her," she added with only the barest hint of anger in her voice.

Riley nodded briefly.

"B?" Faith asked, holding her girlfriend's hand.

Buffy looked her in the eyes. "I can handle this, Faith."

Faith glowered at Riley for a moment before joining Joyce, shooting one more look at Buffy.

"You, outside," Buffy told Riley harshly.

Buffy and Riley walked through the night of the darkened streets of Sunnydale. They moved in a steady pace, but while Riley looked at Buffy, Buffy stoically keep looking in front of her.

"Your mom was rather... harsh," Riley said. "And Dawn, well, she still kicks hard," he said, referring to his painful shin.

"Do you know what you put me through?" Buffy asked Riley.


"Shut up," Buffy replied. "Now it's my turn to talk. You just left, Riley. You didn't even say goodbye. No note, no dear Jane letter, not even a damn phonecall. You think you can just walk back in here and..."

"Buffy," Riley interrupted and stopped her. "I can't imagine what I put you through. Well, actually I can. I... I've missed you every day, Buffy. And... now that I've been gone from your for a year, I... I realize what a terrible mistake I made when I left you. I..."

"Save it!" Buffy spat and pushed Riley away. "I've shed my last tear over you, soldier-boy! You chose the army over me and I've moved on."

"Have you really moved on?" Riley asked. "Have you really forgotten what we have shared for almost one and a half years? Buffy, when you were gone from me, I realized how much I love you and that I've been a real idiot to have let you go," he said and fished a small box out of his pocket. "What I'm trying to say is," he said, sinking to one knee in front of a confused Buffy. "Will you let me set things right? Will you marry me, Buffy?"

"Riley," whispered a flabbergasted Buffy. This has been an overwhelming day... from waking up to wheaties instead of her usual Count Chocula, to her black belt, to Faith's tattoo to a sudden proposal of marriage from a guy who she hadn't even seen in a year. "I..."

At that moment, a car that was parked across the street exploded. Lights came on in the houses to the side, while several alarms from nearby went off. Torn and twisted pieces of metal spread across the asphalt while Buffy and Riley looked on in confusion.

In a nearby alley, Faith threw off her cloak and scythe and collapsed against the wall, sobbing uncontrollably.

The next midday, Buffy was fixing herself a milkshake in the Casa de Summers kitchen, when Willow stormed in through the kitchen, fresh from her job .

"I just don't get some people," Willow pouted. "Here they are, ordering the most powerful and expensive computer equipment on the planet. Nice PentiumD, lovely Abit mainboard, two 7900GTX's in a SLI configuration, SATA-raid harddrives, the works... And then they put in 25 cents worth of power supply. Yeah, right, all that nice stuff? It's all gonna fry when the first surge comes along. And who are they gonna whine to? Me and Jenny, that's who. Stupid poopy-headed..."

"Breathe, Will, breathe," Buffy chuckled.

"Sorry," Willow pouted. "Not angry with you. It's just... oooh, that makes me so mad, I could just scream!"

"Just concentrate on vacation. Vacation, Will, vacation," Buffy smirked. "Milkshake?"

"Oh, yes, please," Willow said, accepting a glass. "Right, leaving in half an hour. I came to say goodbye and to bring you the fish-feeding schedule."

"I stand by my duty and will not fail your beloved fish," Buffy said and saluted briefly. Then, Willow presented her with the schedule. It was a matrix made up of 64 squares, all filled in for different dates, times, food types and water temperatures. "Uh, Will, this is, uhm."

"Thanks for taking care of my fish, Buff," Willow smiled. "Be sure to use the small set of scales to weigh the feed. And they like some small pieces of bread every wednesday, just don't put in too much or they'll be spoiled. Oh, and don't tap the glass. They kinda hate that."

"In other news," Buffy replied. "Riley's back in town."

Willow blinked. "You're kidding. When did he get back?"

"Yesterday," Buffy sighed. "Brings back memories of all those buckets of icecream I ate over him. He asked me to marry him."

Willow gasped... then blinked... then babbled like there was no tomorrow. "This... this is huge, Buffy. Uh, so does he expect you to come live with him at West Point? Have you forgiven him? You're not leaving Sunnydale, are you? Did you say yes? Did you say no? Are you leaving school? What did your mom say? Is Dawn still angry with him? Where is he staying? Oh, god..." Willow finally said. "What about Faith?"

Buffy blinked in response. "Could you repeat that? Slowly?"

"This is huge, Buffy," Willow sighed. "I can't go on vacation now, not now that my best friend is gonna need me."

"Wills," Buffy smiled. "It's not an issue. You go and enjoy your vacation with Tara. You've earned it. I swear nothing spectacular is going to happen while you're gone. Have you seen Faith, by the way?"

"No," Willow frowned. "Why? I thought she wanted to celebrate with you."

"Mom says Faith went out yesterday and didn't come back. And..."

Just as Willow was about to reply, they heard a loud crash from the living room. Willow and Buffy shared a look before rushing there, only to find Faith and Riley locked in an argument that was already settled. Faith was laying on her chest while Riley pressed his knee into her back to keep her down. In the meantime, a downed Faith was loudly shouting colorful obscenities, amongst other things alluding that Riley's parentage was a pairing of barnyard proportions.

"Cool it, lady," Riley said. "Cool it!"

It was then that Buffy noticed a large bouquet of roses lying in front of Faith. "Dammit, Riley, let her go." Riley reluctantly did so. Faith quickly withdrew, running to the door while still shouting obscenities.

"Faith, wait!" Buffy went after her, with Faith was already out of earshot. Angrily, she turned back to Riley. "God, what is wrong with you?"

"I don't know," Riley said. "We sorta came to the house at the same time, I said hello and she started to attack me for no reason at all. Is she a friend of yours?"

While Buffy and Riley argued, Willow picked up the bouquet of roses. The card read 'Endless Love, from Faith.'

"... and then that stupid guy wanted a cheap-ass PSU installed into his brand new computer," Willow pouted when Tara picked up the suitcases and Willow slung her laptop bag over her shoulder. "I mean, a machine like that should have a Cooler Master PSU, or at least an Antec. Hello, what are these people thinking?! Some things you just shouldn't skimp on, baby."

Tara rolled her eyes. It was so cute how Willow could get so worked up about computer stuff... type... things. Of course, Tara didn't understand half of what Willow was saying whenever any kind of topic related to computers came up.

"Oh, and there was this weird thing at Buffy's house," Willow said, while she and Tara walked down the stairs to the taxi below. But after Willow told the story while Tara was putting the suitcases in the boot of the cab, she was more than a little anxious.

"Willow," Tara said. "I'll meet you later at the a-airport."

"But..." Willow frowned. "Baby, what's wrong?"

"Don't you get it?" Tara replied. "Riley h-humiliated Faith in front of B-buffy. I... I have to s-stop her before she does something really s-stupid. Don't w-worry, sweetie," she quickly kissed Willow on the lips before running back upstairs.

Faith grinned wickedly while standing behind Riley in her ethereal state, her scythe at the ready. Riley was doing the dishes, and to Faith, his doing of household chores was a cheap way of getting back in the Summers family's good graces, despite the fact that both Joyce and Dawn had trouble hiding their anger towards him.

But soon enough, Riley would no longer be a problem. A plugged in toaster, dangerously close to the sink... Such a tragedy, Faith grinned. Just a little closer Iowa-boy. Just a little closer and Buffy'll be all mine...

"Don't do it, Faith," sounded Tara, wearing her own cloak.

"Get out of here, T," Faith replied.

"You're going to kill Riley in Buffy's house?" Tara asked.

Faith gritted her teeth.

"She'll know it was you," Tara simply stated, something that wasn't lost on Faith. Slowly and reluctantly, Faith started to lower her scythe... and finally dropped it.

A few moments later, Tara took her sobbing friend into a tight hug.

"She's gonna leave me, T," Faith cried. "I just know it. She's gonna leave me for him! Why can't I ever get a break? Why is there no one out there for me?"

"Ssh, it's okay, Faith, it's going to be fine," Tara tried to console her friend.

"And why shouldn't she?" Faith snapped. "Look at me. I'm filth... I'm trash... I'm nothing... I'm beneath her, T."

"Don't say that," Tara replied and looked Faith in the eye. "You're Faith. You're my best friend. You were always there for me when I needed you the most. Don't let me hear you call yourself filth again, Faith."

"I want Buffy to be happy," Faith sighed. "But not any of that sappy 'As long as she's happy' hippy crap! I want her to be happy with ME and no one else! And now that Riley asked her to marry him... I mean, Buffy, she never told Riley about us... and... she never actually said that she loves me."

"Did she say yes to Riley?"


"The proposal?"

Faith frowned. "Well... no..."

"Have you asked her about it?"

"Uh... no..." Faith bit her lip.

"Why don't you?" Tara asked.

"You make it sound so simple."

"That's because it kinda is?" Tara suggested.

Faith sighed heavily. "Kinda jumped the gun, didn't I?" she said while Riley finished drying the dishes and literally walked through her to get to the living room. "Look, you just go with Willow. I promise I won't do anything stupid."

"I can't leave now," Tara said. "How could I enjoy myself when I know my best friend is in pain?"

Faith placed both her hands on Tara's shoulders. "T, you deserve this," Faith said. "Look, I'm okay. Whatever happens, I'll let you know. I'll just warp over and let you know what happened."

"If you're sure..." Tara said.

"I'm sure," Faith smiled. "I promise I won't kill Riley."

"Faith," Tara glowered.

"Or harm him or his property in any way," Faith reluctantly added. "You sure know how to ruin a girl's fun, T."

Nerves gripped Faith by the throat as she knocked on the front door of Casa de Summers. This would be it, happiness or buckets of icecream.

"Faith," Buffy smiled when she opened the door. "Come in."

Faith and Buffy sat down in the living room. "No food?" Faith said while putting down the flat box in her hands. "Cause I brought a pizza. It's, um, Extra Spicey."

"I'll be burping all night, you know?" Buffy chuckled. "Very unladylike."

"I won't love you less for it," Faith offered a half-smile. "On the contrary, B."

"Riley's gone," Buffy said. "Back to West Point."

Faith felt her heart skip a beat, but she didn't dare hope yet. "Did you..."

"Hell, I can't get married," Buffy smiled. "I'm only 19 years old. I'm not even old enough to legally drink or rent a car yet. I don't know what I want to do with my life. Besides, when I told him he wrestled my girlfriend to the ground, things were pretty much settled."

In her mind, Faith was somersaulting through the room out of sheer happiness, but outwardly, she remained uncharacteristically stoic.

"Faith... I don't want, Riley anymore. I'm over him. I want to be with you now," Buffy trembled slightly. "I never met anyone like you before and... I kinda love you."

When she heard that magic word, her mind was going wilder than a Rammstein concert... yet she managed to hide it well. "Kinda?" she asked.

"Kinda muchly," Buffy blushed. "I feel horrible about what I put you through. I should have told Riley about us right away. I want to make it up to you."

Faith handed Buffy a slice of pizza while she snuggled against her and laid her head on Buffy's shoulder.

"That tattoo is so cool, Faith," Buffy said. "Nobody's ever done something like that for me."

"That's kinda the point, B," Faith smirked. "Should really get the rest inked in soon. It'll look better when it's finished."

"Don't you want a slice?" Buffy asked.

"Not right now," Faith whispered. "I just... want to hold you for a while."

Continue to Don't fear the Reaper Chapter Twenty-One

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