On a lovely summer day, Tara held her wife gently as they walked into the small restaurant out in the sticks, faraway from the bustle of city-life. Willow had been worried about sitting in a hot car for 45 minutes, considering her condition, but in the end, it had been worth the trip. The view was magnificent, as the balcony on the other side of the restaurant overlooked a gorgeous valley below.
Ten years she and Willow had been married. Ten wonderful years, in which plenty had happened. A few years ago, Tara had been promoted to the post of Regional Collector Senior when Dar retired from the position and had been transfered to another office. Already, Tara had instituted many reforms that made life easier for Collectors and significantly shortened the time a soul would be left in limbo. Of course, many Harvesters, but mostly old-school bureaucrats, were constantly out for her blood because these reforms. But, she paid them little mind. Despite her busy days, she found plenty of time to spend with her wife and friends.
Willow was still with the computer company she had interned with, but now held the position of senior developer. As a valued software designer, Willow had been given complete creative control over her projects and excelled, finally making the couple's moneytroubles a thing of the past.
In fact, things were going so well for them, that they had opted to partake in a Reaper InVitro program. A little bit of Tara and Willow's DNA had been mixed together and implanted in Willow's womb. Willow was now, as they said, thick with child. It would only be two months until their daughter would be born.
Willow's relationship with her parents had improved significantly over the past few years. Especially Sheila had turned 180 degrees in her course and made it absolutely clear that she had accepted Willow's sexuality completely. In fact, whenever Willow and her mother would go shopping together, Sheila always adamently wore her sweater with the 'I'm Super Proud of MY Gay Daughter'-imprint. Though Willow was slightly embarrassed by this, she was also very happy, because Sheila had finally become a real mother to her. And, of course, she was looking forward to becoming a grandmother.
They did face the prospect of having to move from their beloved home to have move space for their budding family, but the girls had decided to buy the property next door and had grand plans to turn the two homes into one. But that would be for later. They hadn't even decided on a name for their daughter yet, after all. First things first.
But that was not why they were here. They were here for Dawn's party.
"Hi!" Dawn greeted from the longest table on the balcony. "Tara, Willow, over here!"
Tara and Willow moved to the large table, where Dawn, Xander, Anya, Buffy, Faith, Giles and Joyce had already taken a seat and were gathered around the stack of books lying on the table.
"Hi, Dawnie," Tara said. "Sorry we're a bit late. Couldn't scythe in... Willow's pregnancy..."
"Yeah," Willow replied. "I just don't trust it."
"You're taking baby-safety to the max, Will," Xander replied. "Poor kid ain't even born yet."
"Hey!" Willow spoke indignantly. "I'm just careful. I want to be a good mom, Xander."
Faith frowned. "Since when is scything harmful to babies?"
Tara shot Faith her patented 'Don't get Willow started'-look and Faith wisely kept her mouth shut because Willow would bombard her with her many no-travel-by-scythe-when-with-child standpoints.
"Alright," Dawn grinned and picked up a book from the table. "Now that we're all here, I can show you. Lo and behold!"
Dawn held up the hardcover book, which read on the jacket : "Bunny the Vampire Slayer, by D.F. Summers. Book 5 : Pink Shadows over Sunnyvale."
This party was to celebrate the release of Dawn's latest book, already a best-seller due to the many pre-orders. Already, the first reviews were in and things were looking good for Dawn. Unlike the publisher's party at the release of the previous fours books, Dawn had opted for something small for friends alone this time around.
What started as a series of unrelated short stories in her teen years, ended up in a book series that was so popular that Dawn was hailed as the next J.K. Rowling. The Bunny-series starred a bubbly blonde cheerleader called Bunny, who found out she was the chosen one, who alone would stand against the vampires and demons in the night. Dawn had re-used many storylines from her older tales and, with Tara's help, worked it into a coherent storyline. Though Dawn had wanted to give Tara credit for all the help and work she had put into the books, but Tara had always refused, saying she was merely the catalyst and Dawn was the real talent.
Bunny was obviously based on Buffy, something she would always get a little bit embarrassed about. Buffy had never seen herself as an ass-kicking super-hero, but Dawn obviously thought otherwise. In contrast, Xander was quite proud that he had been given a role in the novel as Alex, the smart-alec joker of the lot. Anya also found herself into the novel, and promptly Dawn found herself sued... but the matter was settled before it even came to court. Spike and Drusilla also found themselves in the book as recurring villains, as the vampire lovers Mike and Daisy, roles which they oddly enough quite enjoyed. Spike was always pushing for his character to be written to be more violent.
Willow and Tara were also in the books, as the girls Aspen and Lara. Aspen and Lara both started out as shy girls who developed into strong female characters and powerful wiccans. The many, many fans of the couple rejoiced as the girls came out of the closet and found love in each other's arms at the end of Book 3.
Dawn had been worried that Faith might mind appearing in the books as the Slayer-gone-rogue Fabienne, but Faith tremendously enjoyed it. Dawn had lobbied for a lesbian relationship between Fabienne and Bunny, but her editor strongly recommended her not to have two lesbian couples, so she conceded and kept the relationship in the realm of subtext... Besides, there were more than enough Bunny/Fabienne shippers on the Internet to fill that particular need.
Another popular character was that of the demon supergrass Joz the Liar. Joz was an obsequious toad of a demon. While intelligent and insightful, he often made foolish decisions and viciously blamed others for the outcome of his less successful schemes.
"I was kinda worried about this one," Dawn said of the fifth book, which involved the threat of a bubblegum-chewing goddess who was trying to find a mythic key to open up the fabric of space. "I was worried that the sudden introduction of Fawn would be seen as a self-insertion, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. The fans seem to accept it."
"So, Dawnster," Xander smiled. "What are you planning for book 6? Studly Alex saves the day and gets all the girls?"
"You try that every book, Xander," Dawn smirked. "And I always say no. Actually, the original plan involved Aspen and Lara. A nerd-trio would terrorize Sunnydale, and in the climax, one of the nerds would kill Lara."
A sharp intake of breath sounded from Willow. "W-wha?" Willow blinked. "B-but... You can't! You just... CAN'T! You can't kill off Lara! I mean, p-poor Aspen! She's gonna be all sad and alone!"
"Uh, well, actually," Dawn said carefully. "Aspen would be driven insane by grief and become a witch so steeped in darkness, she murders the nerds and tries to destroy the world to end her pain."
Willow stared at Dawn for some time, before her lip started to quiver. Tears formed into her eyes and she let out a strangled, pouty croak.
"Oh, sweetie," Tara held her wife tightly. "It's okay..."
"I don't wanna lose you, Tara," Willow sniffed.
"It's the hormones," Joyce whispered to Giles, who was already cleaning his glasses vigorously. "It's okay, honey. We're all here."
"Pregnant woman in the house," Faith rolled her eyes. "Be careful what you say, Dawn."
"Hey, hey, hey, whoa!" Dawn said quickly and took Willow's hand. "It's okay, I'm not gonna do it. I'm not gonna kill off Lara."
"R-really?" Willow looked up hopefully.
"Yeah," Tara replied. "Dawn and I had a long chat about that storyline."
"And we came to the conclusion that it was a total brain-fart. Seriously," Dawn said. "I mean, it's just a dumb idea, not to mention a nasty cliche. It's just as stupid an idea as putting a dragon in book 2. Tara talked me out of that one too. Really, Tara's my QA-agent."
"Y-you're not gonna kill off Lara?" Willow asked softly. "Aspen and Lara'll be happy and together forever?"
"I promise," Dawn replied. "I'm going to rethink the entire plot of book 6 and 7. No more magic addiction, no more break-up, no more killing off Lara and no more dark Witch Aspen. I've already got some good ideas to work with."
"Okay," Willow replied. "As long as you promise. And you too, Tara!"
"I promise, sweetie. As soon as Dawn steps out of line, I'll take care of it."
"Hey," Dawn crossed her arms. "I'm 26 now, you know?"
"Sorry," Tara smiled.
"That's okay," Dawn replied. "Besides, I wouldn't sell any more books if I killed off Lara and turned Aspen to the dark side. I mean, come one, everybody loves Aspen and Lara! God, what was I thinking. That was a plan only Joz the Liar would come up with. And we know how well his schemes usually work out."
Xander rubbed his hands as the food was finally delivered. "Well," he said while digging in. "That's in the past now. Tell me, how's that 'Bunny versus Aliens' project coming along?"
Dawn smiled. "Deal is done. There will be a comic-book series."
"YESSSS!" Xander moved to high-five... somebody... but seeing somebody wanted to high-five with him, he sat down again and sheepishly returned to his plate. "Well, uhm, that's great."
"Not so great," Buffy frowned. "I think the Aliens might win this one."
"I dunno, there's a good money in crossovers these days," Anya replied. "Just look at the box-office hits of the past five years. 'CSI versus Lost', 'X-men versus Predator', 'StarGate versus Star Trek' and 'Darth Vader versus Grievous'. Marketeers like me love non-intelligent people with too much money to spend on useless crap films."
"Oh," Dawn broke in. "I can't be very open about it yet, but there might be a Bunny tv-series in the near future."
"Cool!" Faith chuckled. "I want Helena Bonham Carter to play me!"
"Well," Dawn said. "I know my agent wants David Warner to play Miles."
"Good lord," a surprised Giles replied.
"Yes," Dawn smiled. "And we want William Shatner to play The Master."
While the friends enthusiastically let names of actors, one more outrageous than the other, fly over the table, Tara relaxed as the sun warmed her skin and a gentle breeze blew through her hair. Willow had lain her head on her shoulder, confident in the knowledge that they would be together forever, both in reality and in fiction.
Today was one of the many moments that Tara was truly happy.
On a bright morning, underneath a clear blue sky, Faith Lehane stepped into Sunnydale Pines Graveyard. She passed headstones and mourners as she followed the winding path which lead towards her destination. Sunnydale graveyard was a painfully cheery place, even for a graveyard. Being such a small town, Faith could hear the happy sounds of the ice-cream parlor down the road just as clearly as the sobbing couple mourning over the death of their child. A shrill contrast. Still, Faith had seen it all over the course of her long life... and to be honest, spectacles of Death and mourning had never bothered her much to begin with. That is, unless the Death had happened to someone she had known and loved.
Faith could no longer describe herself as young, but even though most Reapers led a disease-free life of about 150 years, Faith felt much older than she would seem to an outside. And she was tired. So very tired. But not too tired for one final trip.
She walked up the steps leading towards the small grove where they lay. Her friends. Her family.
"Hey, guys," she spoke softly as she entered the grove and closed the small iron gate that separated these graves from the rest of the graveyard. "I still miss you all."
Her attention drew towards the first ornate headstone, which simply read 'Buffy Summers-Lehane. Beloved wife, mother and sister. Born 19th of january 1984. Taken from our midst 29th of March 2049'. "Hey, B," she spoke softly and bent down to kneel in front of the grave. "Has it really been 20 years?"
Like she did every week, Faith took a fresh rose from her satchel and placed it in the holder in front of the headstone. It had taken her a long time to find a florist which still sold genetically unmodified roses, as everything was modified, cyberised and computerized these days, but the extra cost had been worth it. Her wife had never really approved of genetic modification, after all. Buffy'd become a vegetarian after she found out the new generation of pigs were 95% genetically modified, but finally gave in a little when fruit and vegetables were being modified as well. Faith smiled at the memory: Buffy could be so very opinionated at times.
After letting her fingers slide over the picture of Buffy which was built into the headstone, she moved to the opposite side of the path, where two twin headstones stood peacefully underneath an old oak-tree. The headstones read 'Willow Rosenberg-Maclay. Born 8th of February 1984, laid at rest 30th of January 2059. Tara Maclay-Rosenberg. Born 16th of October 1981, laid at rest 31st of January 2059. May they be forever together in Death, as they were in life.'
Faith reached in her satchel again and took out two white lilies. Faith closed her eyes again, remembering the days she lost her friends. Willow... she had taken up the hobby of painting in her autumn years, mostly as a way to prevent losing her fine motor-skills when the arthritis started to affect her joints. She had gotten really adept at it, and had swindled all her friends, children and grand-children to sit for her. The only one who she hadn't manage to convince, was Tara. Tara had been simply too shy to do so, but had finally agreed after some gentle pressure from Willow. Willow and Tara worked together for days, until the painting was finally finished. "It's finished," Willow had told Tara, and her wife rushed over for a look. But when Tara regarded the painting, Willow squeezed her wife's hand slightly, before slumping to one side.
Reapers were naturally attuned to Death, yet Tara maintained she never had seen it coming. Faith supposed Tara might have been in denial about it, though.
It had been different when her Buffy had died. It was a sudden, violent end when a drunk driver smashed into her wife's car late at night. It was a simple, stupid accident. Buffy had been killed instantly, and there had been no pain. Then, it was Tara who had helped Faith cope. Certainly, she knew that Buffy had gone to a better place, but Faith had not been in a forgiving mood. It took Tara days of diplomacy to talk her out of violently murdering the drunk driver, his family, his dog and everybody else he had ever known in his life. And like Tara had helped Faith, Faith had helped Tara when her loss crushed down upon her.
Faith remembered it well. She had teleported to Tara's house to get the latest news about the Rosenberg-Maclay clan after a difficult assignment, only to find Tara sitting next to the body of her wife, while gently cradling Willow's soul to her chest. Try as she might, Tara had not been able to bring herself to place Willow's soul in the container.
After changing a few words with Tara, the two friends had merely looked at each other. Faith gazed deep into Tara's eyes... and knew what she had to do. Faith had clicked her scythe open.
At 0.10 am, of January the 31st 2059, Faith Lehane-Summers harvested the soul of Tara Maclay-Rosenberg. After gently placing both the souls of her beloved friends into the container, Faith immediately headed to the Head Office. There, she passed booth-jockeys, pencil-pushers and rulebook-thumpers alike, bloodying quite a few noses along the way. There was no paper-work, no delays, no hassle, no bureaucracy. Instead, Faith personally delivered the souls of her friends to the Afterlife they deserved.
And Faith paid the price for it. For the unheard 'crime' of harvesting a fellow Reaper, spitting on proper procedure and physically assaulting fellow Reapers, the higher ups had taken away her scythe.
Faith had been stripped of her rank and position, and was dishonorably ejected from the Harvester corps. She was suspended without pay for 2 years, and because of this, she lost her house. Of course, the now sizable Summers clan had taken her in, as they were only to happy to help out the 'grand matriach' of the Summers-Lehane family and Faith found strength in that. When the 2 years were over, the only thing she could do was accept an non-field commission at the Head Office, tucked away somewhere in a corner.
For five years.
Five years of Hell. Pure Hell...
It was only when she had gathered enough 'goods' on a few of the high-ups, that she was awarded a minor position as a 'provisional Harvester'. Meaning she was given all the crappy jobs the other Harvesters looked down on. But at least she was back in the field, even if it was in a limited capacity.
But the funny thing was, that if anyone asked her if she would have taken Tara's soul, even knowing what would happen to her afterwards, Faith would immediately answer 'Yes'. Because it had been the right thing to do.
Faith rose again, feeling a dull ache in her back. She rubbed it gently.
Yes, Faith knew she was getting older. She was the last of the group of friends left. Xander and Anya had passed away quietly within years of each other before Willow and Tara did. And Dawn... poor Dawn had been waging a war with the cancer ravaging her body. Two years she had been fighting with tooth and nail, and she had won... but it had been a costly victory. Her body had been totally spent, and she only enjoyed 14 months of clean health before finally passing away peacefully. That was only five months ago. The grave of Dawn, situated between her sister and her mother, was given a small orchid from Faith.
It was then that Faith took her scythe and cloak from her satchel and donned them, becoming ethereal. She passed the new grave that was being readied to dug, next to Buffy and headed out of the iron gate. With determination, she followed the path and stepped out into the road.
She checked her watch impatiently. Late again, as usual, she thought, just before the bus rounded about the corner.
She'd left a note for her family... she hoped they'd understand. But they knew who and what she was, so Faith thought they would. Hoped they could.
A sardonic grin etched on her hardened features. The police would no doubt find the cloak and the scythe. Oh, my, that would be enough to give the high-ups plenty of ulcers and heart-attacks. Too bad she wouldn't be around to see it. One last act of defiance before headin' out...
The bus came closer and closer.
I'm coming, my friends. B, light a candle for me.
The bus was almost upon her.
Faith removed her hood... and phased into reality.
The sound of a rubber on asphalt as the driver of the bus stepped on the breaks.
The odd sensation of being launched and slamming against the ground.
Lying wordlessly, staring at the blue sky above.
The panicked shouts coming from the pavement.
Funny Faith thought before her vision faded to black. I had expected there'd be pain...
Glimpses of a dog-faced man grabbing her and putting her on a scale. The dog-faced man gave someone she couldn't see a thumbs-up. "Alright," the dog-faced man said. "This one goes through. NEXT!"
More darkness. And then...
Impossible brightness and warmth. Faith tried to force her eyelids shut, but found that she no longer had eyelids... or eyes, arms and legs for that manner. She did, however, feel the presence of others in this strange white void. Inside, she felt happier than ever before, and she didn't know why entirely. But it felt so very right.
Faith, she heard. I've missed you so much, Faith. I've been waiting for you.
Buffy was there, somewhere. Somewhere in the void, but Faith couldn't see. Then Buffy was suddenly everywhere, all around her.
Don't force it, Faith sounded from another direction. Just let it come to you. It was confusing for all of us at first. We all had to adjust. But you're welcome here, Faith. I'm so happy to see you again.
"T?" Faith replied. "Is that you? Where are you?"
Slowly, the void started to dissipate and made way for... something else... she didn't know what, exactly, but she knew she belonged there. Eternal bliss and happiness.
Suddenly, Buffy stood there before her, looking as she did when they had first met and wearing an impossibly white gown. Faith suddenly saw that she had hands again, and found herself standing on solid ground.
"Hey, I guess I've been processed," Faith chuckled and gently embraced Buffy. "Oh, god, how I've missed you, B."
In her life, Buffy had never seen Faith cry. It was oddly fitting she did after they both had died.
Willow and Tara emerged from the remnants of the void, also wearing white gowns. And, as in life, the two were inseparable and always close to each other. As they watched Faith and Buffy holding each other tightly, they turned to each other and smiled, deciding to give the two lovers some privacy and a chance to be together again after 20 years.
Willow and Tara gently dissolved into colored sparks of pure energy, circling each other wildly for a moment before molding together and retreating into their own private slice of heaven.
Together in Death as they had been in life. In elysium, true love is boundless.