Return to Don't fear the Reaper Chapter Twenty-Four

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.
Note: This part's title is lifted from the famous Johnny Cash song. Don't know why, really, it just felt appropriate.
Italics are thoughts.

Nothing could have prepared Tara for the sight she saw at the construction site. After running all the way to the site, and rounding about the corner of the highstreet, she was confronted by something close to a warzone.

Firetrucks, ambulances and police were already around, either cordoning off the site from the inevitable onlookers, taking care of the wounded or putting out the fires that were still spread across the construction site. Mayhem and chaos was all around her. The cries of the wounded and the worried families that had gathered around were almost overwhelming. A large crater was at the center of the construction site, and the steel superstructure of the building-to-be was severely damaged, to the point of collapsing. A bulldozer lay on its side, having crushed a foreman's office underneath its weight. One of the large cranes was still on fire.

Tara sensed the pain, the confusion... it crushed upon her mind in waves. To make matters worse, she sensed the pain and confusion of no less than seventeen distressed souls.

"Oy, ducks," Tara heard. She turned around, still feeling numb. She saw Spike and Drusilla, apparently having a good chuckle over their handiwork. Drusilla looked especially pleased with herself, her demented grin the only thing visible from underneath her hood. Spike tossed her a container, which Tara barely managed to catch after coming to her senses somewhat.

"There's your Warbucks," Spike chuckled. "We'll do a write-up a little later. Dru and I are takin' a break from our hard work. Know any good restaurants in this one-horse town?"

Tara moved her mouth, but no words came out.

"Oh, bugger this," Spike shrugged. "There's some dead people out there. Take care of those, will you? There's a good girl..."

"Big metal tank go BOOM!" Drusilla raved, then giggled like a schoolgirl on crack. "Pretty sounds..."

Tara said nothing when Spike and Drusilla passed her and walked away. There were no words for the horror in front of her. Only disbelief and tears. Endless tears.

She almost didn't see Buffy's car pulling up near the place of the disaster, but when Tara noticed a black SUV parked diagonally across three parking spaces, she knew her friends had arrived. Her heart broke when she saw the panic on Willow's beautiful face when she jumped out of the car. Tara shook out of her daze and left for a small alley. Making sure she was out of sight, she put down her scythe and removed her cloak. After stuffing it in her dufflebag, Tara returned to the sight.

A near hysteric Willow was already stopped by the police. Her girlfriend was arguing with the policewoman about wanting to go down into the site to find Xander.

"Willow," Tara called. Willow almost jumped, but relaxed when she eased into her lover's arms. Holding each other tightly, Tara could feel Willow's sobs.

"Sssh, sweetie, sssh," Tara tried to comfort her girlfriend as best she could.

"Oh, god, it was horrible," Willow sniffed. "I was just... watching the Warbucks interview on TV, waiting to see Xander and... then something exploded and this shard of metal just... hit Warbucks and... Oh, god, I'm think I'm gonna be sick... Xander, oh, god, Xander... He has to be okay, he just has to be."

Willow seemed to relax somewhat, but was no less determined to find a way around the police barriers to get down to the site to look for Xander, and probably for Anya too.

The answer came when they saw Buffy waving at them from the distance, frantically beckoning them from beyond the crowd. Tara and Willow didn't waste any time and followed her, and arrived at the ambulance just in time to see the orderlies wheeling Xander into the ambulance on a gurney. Aside from a nasty wound across his forehead, he seemed to be very much alive.

"Xander!" Willow rushed to him and grabbed his hand. "Xander!"

"Hey, Wills," Xander smiled weakly. "Looks like I'm gonna looking for a new job. Ahn... she was with me a moment ago... She's safe... God, you don't think it hurts this much when you see it on TV."

"Baby," Willow turned to Tara. "I, uh, am gonna ride with the ambulance."

"That's okay, sweetie," Tara nodded grimly. "I... have to take care of the dead here."

And thus began the waiting game. The hospital was abuzz with doctors and nurses running back and forth. People were sitting in the waiting room, waiting for any sign of their family members, spouses or friends. When Tara was finished soothing and collection the souls of the dead, she joined her friends as quickly as possible. She found Willow, Buffy and Dawn sitting in a corner on the ground and learned Willow and Xander had been separated by the orderlies. Willow'd been waiting here without news for hours.

Tara said nothing after that. She just sat down next to Willow and let her cuddle up against her. And so Tara waited too. There weren't many words spoke, aside from Dawn who often went to get drinks for everyone. Ever so often, Buffy would call Faith, or Dawn would scribble on her notepad. There was nothing much else to do.

And, of course, Xander's parents were nowhere in sight.

Finally, there came some news. But not from a doctor, but rather from Anya, who came from the ward. Though she was relatively unhurt, safe from what looked to be a broken wrist and some small cuts on her arm, she did seem stricken.

"He's okay. I'm okay," was all Anya said. "At least, health-wise Xander's okay."

The friends exchanged looked when they followed Anya, who still seemed rather dazed, to Xander's room in the ward. "It was just a concussion. Just a concussion..."

"Anya," Willow asked when they came to a room and saw Xander laying in bed through the glass windowpane. "Why is there a cop outside Xander's room?"

"That's just it!" Anya replied. "God, it's ridiculous, as if... as if he blew up the damn thing. He wasn't even near it!"

"Anya, calm down," Buffy said, took the other blonde by both arms and held her in place. "Now, tell us what's going on."

Anya burst into tears. "Xander was in charge of the butane depot when the tank blew up," she said. "And that's what exploded... I... I think they're planning to charge Xander with negligent homicide. It's... too early to tell, and they still need to do forensic testing but... they want to make sure Xander doesn't leave town and... Oh, god, this sucks! All I'll have for the next twenty years will be chats through a glass window and some conjugal visits every three months... Oh, god," Anya bit her lip. "I'll, uh, I'll... I need some air..."

While Anya ran off, they shared a look and entered Xander's room. Inside, they found Xander watching an episode of Stargate SG-1, which he turned off when he saw his friends enter.

"I miss Richard Dead Anderson," Xander said while putting the remote on his nightstand. "So, hey, welcome to my temporary home, where the TV is snowy, the food is cardboard, the smell is sterile and where you only gain entry after you've sustained life-threatening injury... or need to have your tonsils removed, whichever comes first."

"Xander," Buffy said as she, Dawn and Willow hugged him at once.

"Whoa, being hugged by three gorgeous women," Xander smirked. "Be still my heart."

"Xander!" Willow admonished. "I'm still large with gayness. This is a completely non-sexual get-well-soon, hug."

"Oh, hey," Xander smiled when he saw Tara and took her hand. "There's the big knowledge woman who saved my life. If you hadn't called me and told me to get my ass out of the line of fire, I'd be walking around without a head too, just like Warbucks."

Willow frowned at Tara for a moment, making her feel uncomfortable. "I, uhm, I just had a h-hunch," Tara almost whispered.

"Yeah?" Xander replied. "Well, I don't know what kind of mystic universal mojo you happened to tune into, but I'm not complaining. Thanks, Tara."

"What's the deal with the Man outside?" Buffy asked.

"Bobby out there? Fellow Stargate fan," Xander shrugged. "Nice guy. We get along fine."

"But, Xander, aren't you afraid?" Dawn replied. "I mean, there's a cop right outside your door!"

Xander seemed thoughtful for a moment. "Scared? I'm terrified. But I have to keep a straight face on for Ahn, Dawn. She's... shook up enough as it is."

Xander and the girls talked for a moment longer, until the nurse came along to kick them out. Tara could never shake the numbness and revulsion she felt. For the first time in her life, she was ashamed to be a Reaper.

Buffy put off Tara and Willow in front of their home. It was nighttime now, and Tara had never felt as tired as she had now. She and Willow entered their apartment in silence.

"Sweetie," Tara said while Willow was walking back and forth from the table to the kitchen, bringing the dishes to the sink. "I..."

"Don't," Willow whispered softly. "Just... don't..."

Tara sank on the couch and removed her shoes. She watched Willow for a moment.

"Did you know this was going to happen?" Willow asked softly. "You called Xander to warn him."

"I suspected," Tara kept her eyes downcast, unable to watch her lover in the eyes. "Officially, I'm not supposed to know who the... target was, but I... suspected. Spike is known for his... extremism, but I never in a million years expected this kind of..."

Willow sat down next to Tara, just out of reach. "Baby? Would have stopped him? If you knew, I mean?"

A few tears rolled across Tara's cheeks. "I would have t-tried..."

Willow inched closer to Tara and hugged her tightly. "I'm sorry for giving you a cold shoulder. I... It's just been..."

"A rough day, I know," Tara ran a hand through Willow's long silky hair.

"Isn't there anything you can do?" Willow replied. "I mean, there must be rules against this sort of thing, aren't there? You can't let him get away with this, baby."

Tara looked at a stack of forms on her desk and nodded grimly. "Yes... Yes, there is something I can do," Tara said.

Scant a few days later, Tara found herself sitting in Darla's small office located in the Head Office's main building. If her action had caused a stir, she herself had noticed little about that, but seeing that Darla had summoned her into her office, she figured Darla had been receiving some heat over it.

"So," Darla sighed, producing the offending form. "You filed a Writ of Misconduct against Spike."

Tara nodded. "Yes, I have," she replied calmly.

"Do you realize the full extend of just what you have done?" Darla said, though there was no anger in her voice.

"I... think so," Tara replied.

"No Collector has ever filed a Writ of Misconduct against a Harvester. It's completely unprecedented! You know that harvesters and collectors take care of their own... this... this goes against all tradition," Darla sputtered. "You've created quite a stir. I'm getting all kind of people I never even met before in life barging into my office asking me to order you to withdraw your Writ."

Tara shifted slightly. "Will you do so?"

Darla shook her head. "No," she replied. "I trust your judgment. And your record has been exemplary."

"This is something I must do," Tara said. "Spike went too f-far."

"I've read his report and I tend to agree," Darla sighed. "But... Harvesters are going to balk when they know they can be held accountable for their actions. They require a certain... creative freedom to do their job, and many are worried they'll be curtailed by the Collector Seniors if this Writ goes to tribunal."

Tara looked away slightly. "I... realize that Harvesters need a certain amount of freedom to act, but I also believe that they should limit their 'collateral damage'. I know for a fact that Faith and Mort never Harvested anyone who wasn't on their list. Spike and Dru, well, they don't mind much who's on their list or not. And that has to stop."

"Tara, let me be honest with you," Darla said. "The high-ups are going to do anything in their power to bully you into withdrawing your Writ of Misconduct. They don't want to see this case go before Tribunal. They're going to drag your name through the mud. It doesn't help that you personally know one of the victims, nor that said victim is your girlfriend's best friend. They will cite conflict of interest. And as if that isn't enough, you were once a Harvester-in-training. They could make it seem as if you submitted the Writ out of spite."

Tara nodded grimly. "I know..."

"Tara," Darla sighed heavily. "Spike may be a maverick, but he does get the job done. And the high-ups don't care about his collateral damage. I know it stinks, but... you have to realize that Spike is considered to be more important to the Reapers than you are."

"This is just... something I must do," Tara replied. "Dar, the Harvesters are supposed to listen to us not the other way around. If we let this slip, what'll be next? I know Death is a blessed release, but that doesn't mean we should write off Life without so much as thinking about it."

"Alright," Darla said. "I'm going to make a few phonecalls and disappoint a few people. I suggest you go home and get some rest. Prepare your case well, Tara."

Tara offered Darla a weak smile before she stood up and got ready to leave.

"Tara?" Darla spoke, causing Tara to turn around. "You can't go against the system. It'll chew you up and spit you out. Believe me, I know..."

"I can at least try," Tara replied.

Tara found Faith sitting in the backyard of the Summers residence. Though she was still incapacitated, she could walk on crutches for short distances. Although Buffy was constantly nearby to order Faith to sit down in her wheelchair before she would hurt herself. Tara suspected that Faith secretly quite liked being pampered and wheeled around by Buffy, but she would never admit it.

Tara and Faith sat near the garden shed, sharing a lone can of soda. Joyce had put Faith on a beer-free diet for the duration of her stay.

Faith took a sip. "Quite a stir, T. Thresher Magazine called me. Asked me for an interview... looks like they want to know what kind of person you are, T. I told them to go interview their own asses."

"Faith, I... I don't want to harm you or the other Harvesters," Tara replied. "It's just..."

"Spike trained me, you know that," Faith replied. "What do you expect me to say, T? 'Gee, T, how nice that you are requesting my mentor to be stripped of his rank?'."

"Faith, I just need to hear you say that what he did is wrong," Tara replied. "I know Harvesters have a grim duty, but we... Reapers aren't supposed to be gods, Faith. We shouldn't believe we can do anything just because we are the Guardians of Death."

Faith seemed conflicted, torn between her friendship with Tara, and her loyalty for her duty and her mentor. She looked away briefly and seemed to think.

"What Spike did," Faith said softly. "It's not... not... wrong."

"It's not wrong?" Tara seemed stricken.

"Nope," Faith said quickly. "I said that is was not not wrong... I suppose. Spike always told me to be creative and different in my approach, but he also told me not to let it go to my head. Looks like he broke his own cardinal rule."

"Faith?" Tara frowned. "You used the term 'cardinal rule'."

"Yeah," Faith shrugged. "I learned it from Joyce's boyfriend. I think it was used in Silent Hill 3 too."

Tara just shook her head and took her friend in a brief embrace. "Thanks, Faith. I just needed to hear you say that."

"Hey..." Faith said softly and rose from her seat slowly. "Don't let them push you around, T. Don't you dare let them push you around."

"FAITH!" Buffy called over from the kitchen. "Sit down in the chair before you hurt yourself!"

"Argh, yes, MOM!" Faith called back, humor evident in her eyes.

Tara shifted uncomfortably. She was sitting opposite to Spike and his legal aide assigned to him. Of course, Tara had been expecting a pre-Tribunal interview, since it was customary. However, Tara had not expected Lindsey MacDonald to be assigned to be Spike's legal aide. She avoided his burning gaze and focused on Spike... at least he was the devil she knew.

"Alright, miss Maclay, let's keep this short," Lindsey started. "What exactly are we doing here. This is a pointless exercise."

"Damn right," Spike added.

"Miss Maclay, in case you haven't noticed, we're Reapers. We deal in death, we collect souls and we cull the mortal herd, so to speak, on the orders of the Powers-that-be. So what are you protesting against, I have to ask?"

"That is n-not to be contested," Tara replied. "I refer to the BlackBorder incident several days ago when Spike did not only Harvested his intended soul, but also caused a lot of... collateral damage, as Reaper terms put it."

"I know why we're here, thank you very much," Lindsey crossed his arms. "What is the problem with that, I wonder? You know better than anyone that the innocent dead go to eternal bliss in Elysium. Yes, the Powers-that-Be wanted Warbucks removed, but the others, well, if they were important enough to continue their lives, the Powers would have let us know in advance... they can see past, present and future, after all. But we've heard nought from them, so as it stands, those fallen souls simply... didn't warrant any special treatment."

"Not important?" Tara asked. "They were important to somebody. Everybody is a son or a daughter to someone else. A spouse or a parent. The dead might receive eternal bliss, but the loved ones left behind suffer needlessly."

"And how is that different from your job, miss Maclay?" Lindsey replied. "When you collect the soul of a dying person, are you not ripping away a loved one? And why do you even consider this a point? This is what Collectors do. What you have been doing for the past 10 years of your life?"

"Collectors gather the souls of those why die of natural causes, or because of human intervention," Tara replied. "What Spike did is different."

"How so, pray tell?" Lindsey smirked.

"There's a difference between dying peacefully and by being ripped away by the actions of an overzealous Harvester! And if you had ever been in the field you would have known that!" Tara spat. "You didn't feel the pain and agony those 17 souls felt because of their violent deaths! You didn't take them to your chest to soothe and calm them enough to be able to find their way to the afterlife. Instead of doing your job, Spike, you left those souls lying about while you went to your hotel-room to do god knows what with Drusilla! And let's not even talk about the wounded."

"All this is still meaningless," Spike replied. "Like Lindsey said, if I did Harvest someone I wasn't supposed to, the Powers would have stopped me the moment I tried it."

"And who are you to decide who lives and who dies?" Tara challenged.

"It's what Harvesters do," Lindsey added. "It's what Reapers do."

"They why is it policy to remove Collectors... AND Harvesters, I might add... from active duty the moment it looks like they're going to snap?" Tara replied. Lindsey fell silent for a moment, and she realized she'd scored a point to which he had no quick rebuttal. "We're not gods. We're not supposed to make that kind of decisions. Granted, the Harvesters act on the orders of the Powers, but the rest... we don't interfere with the free will or the fate of the mortals. That's not out job."

"Well," Lindsey smirked. "Perhaps it should be. Perhaps we should be gods."

Tara's jaw almost hit the floor, and she could see that Spike was frowning slightly. "I... I can't believe what I'm hearing."

"Just an idle thought," Lindsey shrugged. "The fact remains is that the dead and wounded aren't our concern. The souls of the dead have been collected and processed and the wounded, well, they won't be our problem for a while yet."

"You know," Tara replied softly. "I'm starting to see why Mort failed you."

Lindsey bit his lip for a moment. "Well, I see we can't win this argument with... arguments. Let's put it this way. If this tribunal goes through, and Spike gets suspended or stripped of his rank, it could set a dangerous precedent. A precedent which many people would rather not see."

"He's right about that, listen to him!" Spike crossed his arms.

Tara nodded, but her resolve remained strong. "I will not retract the Writ," she spoke resolutely.

"Off the record," Lindsey spoke. "A lot of people, high-ups, will be quite pissed. They can make life very difficult for you. Think of your career, miss Maclay. Think of the bright future ahead of you. And be assured that you'll have none when you continue to pursue this."

If Lindsey thought he could intimidate Tara by this threat, he was sadly mistaken. Tara looked him right at the eye, gaining her confidence. "No, I will not retract the Writ."

Lindsey sighed and grabbed a file from the pile next to him. "You are close friend with Faith Lehane, aren't you?"

"Ey?" Spike seemed surprised. "What's Faith go to do with this?"

"Quiet Spike," Lindsey said before turning back to Tara. "Maverick Harvester, never filed a single report in her life, never plays by the rules, often informs you about classified Harvester cases, lets you make use of her emergency passcodes, has problems with authority figures and has a list of transgressions and breach of protocol as long as my arm. Because she is a Harvester and is good at her job, we've let things slide... Until now."

And finally, Tara's resolve faltered. "B-but... N-no, you can't! F-faith has nothing to d-do with this!"

"Lindsey, you bugger, what is this all about?" Spike snarled in his direction.

"When I'm done with Faith," Lindsey grinned, "she'll have been stripped of so many ranks and privileges she won't even be qualified to sweep the floor! That is, if you give me a reason to do so. Your best friend's future is in your hands, miss Maclay."

Tara was shaken by Lindsey words. She did not care about her own career as much as she should, but she never expected that they'd go after Faith to get to her. Faith... No, they can't... If I go through with this, will she ever forgive me?

"What the bloody hell is this, Lindsey?" Spike stood from his chair and shouted at the lawyer. "Faith has nothing to do with this. You leave her out of this! Dammit, I was her yoda, man!"

"Spike!" Lindsey also rose from his seat. "I will do anything in my power to prevent this case from ever going to Tribunal! This is bigger than you now, Spike."

"SOD THIS!" Spike shouted, and for a moment, it looked like Spike was about to punch Lindsey's lights out.

"Well, uh, let's have a short recess in light of... events," Lindsey said as he backed away slowly. "Spike, let's talk this out.

Though she tried not to show it, Tara was quite distraught. A brief visit to the coffee-machine and three cups of atrocious brown office caffeine slop later, Tara stepped over to the office public phone booth and dialed.

Please be there, I need to talk to you, Tara closed her eyes while the punched in the last number. Please have your phone one, please have your voicemail turned off...

A click sounded on the other side. "Faith here. Talk to me, baby... So," Faith said, sounding husky, "what are we going to do later on? I know what I'd like, you know? If you'd just slide your tongue..."

"Faith?" Tara asked.

"Oh, uh, T!" Faith sounded through the phone. "I, uh, I was kinda expecting B to call me from the School, and, uh..."

"I can hear you blushing over the phone," Tara quipped in spite of herself. Before Faith could say anything else, Tara interrupted her and told her what had happened during the meeting.

"And that's what they said," Tara concluded. Faith was silent and seemed to take it in.

"Do what you have to do, T," Faith finally said softly. "I trust you."

"But they could..."

"Don't worry about me, T, I got plenty of aces up my sleeve," Tara could almost hear Faith smirk. "Besides, I got Buffy... and I got you for a friend. They can't take those away from me... the rest is peanuts, T."


"Whatever you decided to do, I'll back it," Faith told Tara.

"Thanks, Faith," Tara smiled. "I... I just needed to hear that."

"Tara, go back into that room and give 'em hell."

And Tara did, after stopping for another cup of brown office slop. Interestingly enough, when she stepped into the room, she noticed that Lindsey and Spike were arguing. However, Lindsey quickly cut him off as soon as he saw Tara had entered the room. He sat down, and Spike did the same, even though he was glaring daggers at Lindsey.

"Well, miss Maclay," Lindsey grinned like a rabid bullshark. "You've had some time to think it over. Do you..."

"I will not withdraw the Writ," Tara whispered softly.

If Lindsey was disappointed, he did not show it. "Well, that just proves the point that there's nothing quite as dangerous, or annoying, as a person of upstanding moral fiber."

"You have my answer," Tara replied softly. "Are we done here?"

"Not yet," Lindsey grinned. "I have one more thing to say to you, miss Maclay. Despite earlier rulings of the tribunal, I find the circumstances of your first Harvesting in Sunnydale highly suspect."

"That has nothing to do with it!" Tara replied sharply. "The case is closed, the files are sealed."

"True," Lindsey nodded. "But considering the unorthodox nature of your accusation, I can request to have those files re-opened... and that request will be granted if you pursue your current course of action. Willow... that's your girlfriend's name, right? Well, if we find out that any mistakes have been made in the past, we will be obligated to correct those," Lindsey's voice took on a hard edge. "And if there haven't been any reasons to Harvest your sweet little Willow, we will find a reason to Harvest her. As for you, Tara, well, accidents happen..."

It took a few moments for those words and the implication behind them to fully register in Tara's brain. She felt numb, as if someone had thrown a brick and hit her right between the eyes. She sank to her seat, flabbergasted, saddened and terrified at the same time.

"Now you just wait a damn minute here!" Spike rose from his seat. "It's bloody low to threaten to kill her lover."

"Shut up, Spike! Like I said, this has grown beyond you now!"

"Bollocks, mate, I won't be a part of this," Spike snarled. "We don't cull one of our own!"

"I..." Tara whispered softly. "I f-formally w-withdraw the W-writ of Accusation." I'm sorry, Willow. But you love life so much and I won't have you be hurt in any way.

"Well," Lindsey chuckled. "I knew you had a breaking point. It seems everybody has a price."

"On one condition!" Tara broke in, directing her attention at Spike. "You make sure that Xander Harris is cleared of all wrongdoings! And you do right by everyone you've hurt!"

"Miss Maclay," Lindsey started. "You are in no position to make dema..."

"DEAL!" Spike said, and extended his hand, which Tara took gratefully.

"Spike, what are you doing?!"

"Oh, shut your cake-hole, you paralegal twat!" Spike spat and then turned back to Tara. "Let's work things out, puppet."

Spike and a very happy Tara left the room, leaving Lindsey defeated once again.

"Hamburgers are ready!" Tara called from her kitchen. "Come and get them while they're warm!"

Xander paused the movie, while Willow, Dawn and Buffy jumped for Tara's homemade hamburgers. Faith and Anya, however, kept to the couch to be waited on. Faith because she was still recovering from her injury and Anya... because she was Anya.

"Tara's hamburgers are so delicious, Xander," Willow smiled. "Seriously, you won't know what you're in for."

"Tell me that horror-story again, Wills," Xander called over.

"Oh, yeah," Willow scraped her throat. "In Europe, you know, the hamburgers are tiny! I mean, European king-sized jumbo burgers are actually smaller than American small-sized burgers!"

Xander grimaced. "My brain hurts whenever I hear that. I mean, I know they're Europeans and all, but how do they survive on so little food? I mean, tiny hamburgers, come on!"

"I know," Willow said. "But I have to admit, the first time I actually managed to finish a 'king-sized burger' was when I was in Switzerland."

"Well, mine might not be king-sized, but I hope you like them anyway," Tara smiled when she flipped the last burger in between two halves of a bun.

The gang took the big stack of hamburgers to the table to return to the remainder of their movie night, today's theme : unintentionally funny crap. They'd started off the evening with Max Magician and The Legend Of the Rings, with a side order of Alone in the Dark, to finish off with the once-classic-now-silly Barbarella.

Tara sat down next to her girlfriend and grabbed a burger while Xander restarted the film. Immediately, the naive, blonde Barbarella (renamed Bimborella by Xander and Cordirella by Willow) faced off with the evil queen. The evil queen had been pissing off Willow ever since her first appearance in the movie.

Hello, pretty pretty...

"And, of course," Willow grimaced, "the evil queen is a lesbian. Because we all know that lesbians are evil to the core. Why, Tara and I torture small animals on a regular basis, don't we, sweetie? And we've been burying the bodies of our victims in the park, you know? Cause we've been draining blood from people to bathe in it, as we evil lesbians do. Oh, you think Richard Pryor and Johnny Cash died of natural courses? Hell, no, it was an evil lesbian plot. Lesbians are all evil psychopaths, because Hollywood said so."

"Breathe, Will," Buffy smirked.

"And lesbians don't all look the same and act the same. We don't all wear kicker boots, we don't all listen to K.D. Lang, we don't all watch Ellen, we don't all wear dozens of earrings and we don't all read the same books. Lesbians are as diverse as the four winds, no matter what my mother's stupid checklist says," Willow crossed her arms, looking generally broody and very, very pouty.

"Alright, I think you have some 'ignorant mom'-issues to work out," Anya smirked.

Willow stuck out her tongue and resumed her brooding.

"What I don't get is the hair," Buffy replied. "I mean, people in the seventies had no sense of fashion whatsoever. Those lava-lamps say it all, really. And what kind of person coats the inside of a spaceship with seventies-style psychedelic wallpaper?"

"Why would anyone build something called an 'orgazmatron'?" Dawn shrugged.

"I'll explain when you're older, Dawn," Faith smirked.

As the movie continued, Tara moved back to the kitchen to fetch some snacks for her friends, but couldn't resist grabbing a file folder from a deskdrawer and sneaking out to the balcony. In the file was written, in fine detail, how Spike had done right by his victims. Say what you want about Spike, but he's a man of his word. And Tara had to admit Spike and Dru had outdone themselves to right their wrongs. To his credit, Spike had realized that Faith had almost had to pay the price for his transgression. But though he had promised to do better in the future, Tara wondered just how long that would last.

The fact that Xander was sitting in her living room was proof enough of Spike's hard work. Xander had been formally and publicly cleared of all charges when the forensics report made it clear it was a production error that was the cause, not mishandling of the equipment. In fact, the construction company was being sued for placing the tank too close to the pavement.

One man, who had been seriously injured, had been arranged to be given a winning lottery ticket. A teenage boy had been set up for a harvard scholarship, and one girl would find the love of her life in the nurse helping her through the ordeals of learning how to walk for a second time. And the filefolder was full of these cases of 'good Karma' for all forty wounded and families of the seventeen dead.

"Hey," Willow stepped up from behind. "Got sick of the movie."

"I suspected that," Tara smiled as Willow hugged her and treated her to a staccato of brief, playful kisses, before inviting her for a deeper intense kiss on the lips.

"What was that for?" Tara asked.

"Because I'm proud of you," Willow said. "It was my Tara who made a difference. My own Tara."

"Spike did most of the work," Tara shrugged. "And I didn't really make any difference. The Head Office covered everything up and tightened the rules for Writs of Accusation. If anything, I made things worse."

"Don't be silly," Willow replied, softly rubbing Tara's cheek. "You helped those people. Maybe you take care of the dead, but don't forget about the living, baby."

"That really is a crappy movie, isn't it?"

"Let's stay out here a little longer. The moon's beautiful today."

"So are you."






"I love you, sweetie."

"I love you too, baby."

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

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