Author’s Note: Thanks to Ari, for taking me seriously when I said I wanted an exacting beta. 🙂 I don’t know if these changes are enough, but I hope so. And if not, consider this the second draft of however many the story needs. 🙂
Set sometime after Willow’s return to Sunnydale in Season 7 but before “Selfless.” This is not a songfic, I promise. I just have this thing about opening stories with a quote, and this time it was a song. 😉 Specifically, “One More Day” by Diamond Rio.
One more day, one more time
One more sunset, baby, I’d be satisfied
But then again I know what it would do
Leave me wishing still for one more day with you
–Diamond Rio, “One More Day”
Xander was probably going to kill her, but what was she supposed to do? Anya was a vengeance demon, the patroness of scorned women, and Amy was feeling scorned. Besides, ignoring the vengeful thoughts of the average person on the street was one thing, but like any demon, when a powerful witch went to the trouble of summoning her, Anya did as she was told or things went badly.
Nevertheless, the fact remained that Xander was going to kill her. And if Xander didn’t, then Buffy almost certainly would. And in a much more literal sense of the word “kill” than Xander was even capable of. If there was one thing she’d learned the hard way being around those two, it was that nobody messed with Willow and got away with it. And that was exactly what Amy had in mind–messing with Willow. Of course, Xander and Buffy aside, Anya had to admit that a very, very secret part of her wasn’t entirely unconvinced that Willow didn’t deserve it. She had, after all, tried to end the world. And worse, she’d destroyed the Magic Box and all of Anya’s potential income along with it.
That being said, she did hope that whatever Amy intended to wish for wasn’t *too* horrible. She liked Willow well enough when she wasn’t being all veiny and dark magicky and trying to kill people and destroy the world and private property.
“I wish,” Amy started in a loud, overly dramatic voice that almost made Anya roll her eyes. The one drawback to people who knew their wish was going to be answered was that they tended to overdo the actual act of wishing. “I wish that Willow would experience what it’s like to have her dreams–her whole life–ripped away from her.”
The vengeance demon just stared, disbelieving. “Well, that’s a stupid wish if I ever heard one.”
Amy bristled. “Excuse me?”
Clearly the time as a rat had addled or shrunken her brain, Anya thought, exasperated. “She already did that. Buffy died, she brought her back only to discover she’d yanked her out of heaven, she got addicted to magic, Tara left her, Tara came back, Tara died, she went evil and tried to destroy the world…or did your beady little eyes manage to miss that somehow?”
The witch’s eyes darkened. “No. I mean I want her to get a glimpse of the perfect life she could have had, if none of those things had happened. And then I want it ripped away from her.”
Anya let out a melodramatic sigh. In her opinion, it still showed a distinct lack of imagination, but at least it didn’t involve a messy death or maiming or something else that Xander and Buffy really wouldn’t ever forgive her for. “Oh all right. Done.”
The sun was warm but not harsh on her closed eyes. The room smelled faintly of jasmine, rose and vanilla, like a sense memory of their favorite incense. Never mind that she hadn’t burned a single stick since that day: dreams weren’t supposed to be logical.
A soft breeze stirred through an open window somewhere, and she could hear fabric rustling and the quiet pad of bare feet on carpet, almost as noiseless as a ghost. Her ghost.
Willow sighed and snuggled deeper into the pillows, not yet willing to leave this illusion behind for reality. A peaceful smile, so elusive in the waking world, crossed her lips as she felt the mattress dip slightly beneath a familiar weight and a puff of breath caressed her ear along with a musical alto voice that she’d never again hear outside her dreams.
“Hey, slugabed,” the memory of Tara prodded fondly. “You going to stay there all day?”
“Yep,” Willow murmured sleepily. All day. All year, if she could. Anything to stay in this place where she could pretend to still be happy. “If I wake up, you’ll go away.”
Tara laughed throatily and Willow’s heart contracted painfully with missing. The memory of long honey-blonde hair whispered across her cheek and the voice drew even closer. “I’m not going anywhere. ‘From this life to the next,’ remember?”
Lips that she knew as well as her own found the pulse in her throat, and Willow woke up. Bolted up, and stared in disbelief at the vision in front of her. Her voice, when she finally found it, had a raw edge of desperate hope. “Tara?”
Willow’s hands flew up of their own accord, touching warm, solid arms, shoulders, face…warm and corporeal and alive, so very alive. “Oh my God…you’re here. You’re alive. You’re…you’re…you’re real, right? Please be real.”
Tara immediately shifted into comfort mode, pulling her lover closer and placing a reassuring kiss on her forehead before pulling her into her arms. “Hey, hey, it’s okay…I’m real, I promise.” Loving fingers brushed strands of red hair tenderly out of Willow’s face as she finally let herself begin to relax into the embrace. “What happened?”
She didn’t know where to start. “Well…you were dead. And I went evil. I killed…oh, God, Tara, I killed someone. A human. I made with the flaying and I almost destroyed the world, only Xander…Xander wouldn’t let me.” A sob welled up in her throat but she swallowed hard to try to force it down. “And Buffy was dead, but I brought her back, only she was in heaven, and you left me ’cause I was using too much magic and then you came back ’cause I was getting better but that was when…when…”
Tara shushed her softly, hands still running through her hair. “It’s okay, Willow. It was just a nightmare. I’m here, and you’re not evil.”
In spite of herself, the redhead shivered. It wasn’t just a nightmare. Or at least…if it was she’d been dreaming for over a year. But she was afraid to say that. Afraid that if Tara knew, she’d want her Willow back and she’d have to leave…
“Remember?” Tara continued in a soothing voice. “You were so upset about what Glory did to me that you threw Ben across a room and accidentally snapped his neck. That scared you so much that you wanted to swear off magic forever, but Giles convinced us to go to England with him instead for a few months and work with a coven he knew…”
The Coven. The Coven had gotten involved before everything went so horribly, horribly wrong. And all because she’d given in to an impulse she remembered fighting because she’d been so afraid of what Buffy and Tara would think of her, even though she’d hated Glory so much for hurting Tara, and hated Ben for being Glory even though it wasn’t his fault…
“…and they taught us how to use our power in harmony with the Earth instead of taking from it?” she asked in a small voice, as if remembering instead of guessing based on her own experience with the Coven. “Or…or taught me, rather–I think you’ve always known that.”
Tara smiled shyly at the compliment and gave her a quick kiss on the lips. “See? You do remember. And that’s why we decided to ask Miss Harkness and Giles to perform the ceremony today.”
“Ceremony?” Willow squeaked.
Tara looked at her sideways and raised an eyebrow, something like a smirk hiding in the corner of her lips. “Will. Tell me you didn’t forget about our handfasting.”
Handfasting. She and Tara were…getting married. A surge of happiness swept through her and she shook her head vigorously. “No. Definitely not forgetting. I just…I’m just…”
“Nervous?” her lover guessed. “Me too.”
Willow nodded as the two of them fell back on the pillows together, still wrapped in each other’s arms. “‘From this life to the next’…is an awfully long time,” she remembered Tara’s earlier words.
Tara nodded against her chest. “Do you think we should have chosen something else? I mean, would you have rather done something more in keeping with your traditions instead of just the glass and the canopy?”
“No! No, baby, you’re the only one I ever want to be with,” she pledged with heart and soul. “You’re my always. And besides, it’s not like Judaism has a whole lot in the way of wedding traditions for two girls.”
Tara smiled wryly in acknowledgment. “My always,” she echoed. “But Willow…if anything ever did happen to me…I wouldn’t want you to be alone. I’d want you to find someone else, at least for the rest of this life.” She snuggled boldly closer. “As long as I get you back the next time around.”
Willow smiled ruefully. “Let’s not talk about that, okay? Awake now, see? Nightmare over. Now…today is all that matters.”
“There you are,” Buffy announced cheerfully when they finally emerged from their room. “I was just about to leave for the florist’s and wanted to make sure I didn’t forget anything.” She ticked off on her fingers. “Ivy wreath to symbolize marriage, rosemary for, um…remembrance–huh, no wonder you gave that one to Dawn–red, white and burgundy roses for passion, unity and beauty, violets for faithfulness, snowdrops for hope…and what’s Xander adding again?”
“Larkspur,” Tara supplied. “For humor and levity. And dock, for patience.”
“Humor and levity, of course,” Buffy grinned. “That’d be our Xander.”
A marriage wreath. Willow’s tummy felt tingly just at the thought. She was also relieved that Xander was contributing something to the wreath, since it meant that Xander hadn’t died in Tara’s place or something.
“Oh. And don’t forget tarragon,” Tara added with an adoring look in Willow’s direction that made her whole face glow. “For unselfishness.”
Unselfishness. A knot tied itself in Willow’s stomach again but she ignored it and forced herself to look away, afraid Tara would read it in her eyes and realize something was wrong. You weren’t being unselfish when you cast that spell to make her forget, a nagging voice in the back of her mind prompted. How is this any different?
“Right,” the Slayer agreed cheerfully, then frowned. “Suddenly I’m not so sure the florist will have all of these.”
“In Sunnydale?” Dawn contributed, coming into the room with her hands shoved deep in her pockets. “They probably do. And if not, Giles probably has it at the Magic Box. I bet he made sure to stock up, just in case.”
She flashed a beaming smile in Willow and Tara’s direction then, an expression that suddenly, painfully reminded the redhead of her Dawn’s excitement the morning Tara had come back, the last happy morning before she died. “I know I’m probably not the best person to be putting the unselfish thing in, but…”
“You’re a teenager, Dawnie. You’re supposed to be just a teensy bit selfish,” Willow informed her with a forced smile and an affectionate pat on the arm. “You’ll learn.”
She was beginning to realize that Tara back wasn’t the only treasure she’d been handed. If they’d gone to the Coven after Glory was defeated, this was a Dawn who didn’t have memories of a Willow so high on magic that she almost got them both killed. Maybe this was a Buffy, too, who never got yanked out of heaven by her friends, never had to learn all over again to want to live. And if so…
Was it so wrong to want to keep them?
“Okay, I’m off. Wish me luck,” Buffy declared, sounding like she was girding herself to go on patrol.
Apparently Willow wasn’t the only one who picked up on that. “Need backup?” Dawn asked, amused.
“Nope, somebody needs to be here when the ale arrives.” She stopped halfway to the door and frowned. “On second thought, Dawn, you’re coming with me.”
Anya held up a box, an expression on her face that Willow couldn’t quite decipher. But her hands were bare and she and Xander avoided looking at each other whenever possible, which made Willow wonder. This world was so perfect, it was jarring to think that something as dramatically un-perfect as Xander and Anya’s wedding that wasn’t might have happened here too. “Got ’em.”
“Altar?” Tara asked next without looking up, checking off candles on her list.
Xander’s spine visibly straightened as he pointed–a throwback to the soldier he’d briefly been responding to the voice of command. “Just waiting for the stain to dry.”
Willow smiled warmly at both of them. Xander for being his loveable, teddy bear self, Tara for the quietly efficient take-charge tone in her voice. “You didn’t have to make such a nice one for one use, y’know.”
He shook his head, eyes sparkling. “For my best friend and her best girl? Nothing but the best will do.”
Tara flushed and hid her face behind her hair, the shyness resurfacing for just a moment before she went back to her list. “Miss Harkness?”
“Giles is picking her and the rest of the Coven ladies up at the airport as we speak,” Buffy answered as she came into the yard, passing out bundles of herbs and flowers to each person involved in the wreath.
That made Willow frown, thinking of Giles’ tiny Citroen. “Are you sure they’ll all fit?”
“As sure as they’ll all fit in my back yard,” Buffy quipped, which meant not sure at all. The Summers’ back yard was pretty tiny, but UC Sunnydale had absolutely put their foot down about hosting a ‘religious’ ceremony of any kind in their quad, all of the churches in town were out for obvious reasons, and there wasn’t really any other space that everyone trusted to stay safe from interruptions of the supernatural sort. All the wards in the world wouldn’t keep everything out, but they were pretty sure no demon would be stupid enough to trespass on the Slayer’s own private property.
Still…with all the guests and everything for the ceremony, it was going to be a wee bit crowded. In an odd way, it was probably a good thing that no one wanted to involve the Maclay clan. Or that things between Willow and her own conservative Jewish father had been strained ever since he’d found out she was not only dating a woman but also a practicing witch.
Willow leaned against her lover with a smile and a happy sigh. She was Tara’s family now; this would only make it official. And even if her own mother was supposed to come, her real family–their real family–was already here, together and happy, as it should be. Tara and leaned in too, resting her head against Willow’s and twining their fingers together.
But not for you.
That niggling thought Willow shoved to the back of her mind almost angrily. So this wasn’t her world. What made that other her deserve it more than she did? Hadn’t she suffered enough?
“We don’t have to hold the ceremony in this dimension, you know,” Anya pointed out a little impatiently. Everyone just looked at her. “Granted, it is one of the more pleasant ones out there, but I’m just saying there are alternatives.”
“Nope, here’s good,” the redhead countered cheerfully. “It’ll just be a little cozy, is all.”
For a moment, their eyes met and Willow got the sudden, sick feeling that Anya knew. But how was that possible? What silly kind of vengeance would it be to give her everything she ever wanted?
“And we can definitely do cozy,” Tara agreed in a throaty voice that made her lover shiver deliciously. Gratefully, Willow tore her eyes away from Anya and returned the suggestive smile with one of her own.
“Somehow I don’t think things are going to get quite that cozy,” Xander joked.
“They better not,” Buffy agreed emphatically. “Not in my backyard where the neighbors can see. Cozy later, decorate now.”
“Work, work, work,” Dawn complained cheerfully, accepting an armful of greenery from her sister. “You’d think you were a responsible adult or something.”
The ceremony itself passed in something of a blissful whirlwind for Willow. She remembered Miss Harkness and Giles blessing the circle and invoking the four corners. She remembered each of her friends donating a piece of the wreath that she and Tara would hang in their room once it had dried–Buffy, the wreath itself as befitted the leader of the group, Xander bringing larkspur and dock, Dawn rosemary (for remembrance) and tarragon, Giles snowdrops and violets, and Anya (who was nothing if not passionate) roses.
She remembered Miss Harkness winding the scarlet and gold ribbon around their joined hands and she remembered exchanging silver rings engraved with a Celtic endless knot, a trifecta. She remembered the two of them stepping together on the wine glass and feeling it crunch beneath her feet with a finality that had made her heart soar.
But most of all she remembered how beautiful Tara looked in her ethereal blue-gray gauze dress–sea and sky to compliment Willow’s earthy dark green–and how it felt to look into her eyes and promise her everything: her heart, her life, her soul…her always.
When it was over, they mingled for a while before finally retreating to the relative quiet of Buffy’s sofa, content to just sit and hold each other. Willow couldn’t remember ever being so happy–Tara was alive, and better yet…she was her wife.
“Hey,” Buffy announced, plopping herself down next to her friend on the couch and smiling over the top of her head at Tara. “How’s married, er, handfasted life?”
“Sunshine and puppies so far,” Willow replied cheerfully, snuggling deeper.
“Then this should put you over the top,” Xander added holding out an envelope. The newlyweds looked up belatedly to notice that pretty much the entire Scooby Gang had deserted the reception and was now standing in a half circle around the coffee table.
They looked at each other, then Tara reached up and took the envelope. “What’s this?”
“It’s a wedding present,” Dawn announced with a bright smile. “From all of us, although Xander and Giles chipped in the most since, well, poor high school student. Only you have to open it now instead of after…well, later.”
Exchanging another look, Willow leaned in eagerly while Tara ripped open the envelope to reveal two tickets for the Pacific Surfliner, to San Diego, and a confirmation number for a reservation for two at the Hotel Del Coronado.
“It’s a…it’s a honeymoon?” Willow guessed, floored.
“Oh wow…you guys, you didn’t have to do this,” Tara protested half-heartedly, but the smile on her face was more magical than all the spells in the world.
Buffy grinned. “Okay, so San Diego’s not very far away but it was the only way we could afford a week at a fancy hotel on the beach and a limo to pick you up at the train station and take you there.”
“Speaking of, we should probably get you to the train station so you don’t miss your train,” Xander added, glancing at his watch.
“But…our guests,” Tara protested meekly, glancing over at the small cluster of Coven witches mingling around the buffet on the counter in the kitchen.
“Don’t worry, Tara, we’ll keep them occupied,” Giles promised with a fatherly smile. “Besides, I hardly think they would begrudge you.”
Tara smiled shyly.
“Our clothes–” Willow pointed out.
“Are neatly folded in suitcases and waiting at the top of the stairs,” Xander grinned. “That was Dawn’s contribution–she snuck upstairs and packed for you while you weren’t looking.”
“Since I didn’t have any money,” Dawn agreed with a chipper smile.
“Looks like we’re out of excuses, honey,” Tara mock-sighed.
“Guess so, unless some evil demony whatever decides to try to conquer Sunnydale this week and they end up needing us,” Willow agreed, unable to completely suppress a joyful smile.
Buffy shuddered. “Don’t even joke about that, Wills.”
Climbing off the couch with her partner in tow, both of them hugged each of their friends in turn. “So when do we leave?” Willow asked.
Xander glanced at his watch. “Considering the train leaves in half an hour, now would be a very good time.”
Willow sighed happily. Once they’d arrived and checked in, she and Tara had wasted no time breaking in the hotel room, and now lay exhausted and sated in each other’s arms. A place that she would be more than willing to stay for the rest of her life.
There was a knock at the door. “Room service,” a voice called.
“Funny, I don’t remember ordering anything,” Tara remarked drowsily and started to sit up.
Willow laid a hand on her chest to stop her. “It’s okay, sweetie, I’ll get it.” Reluctantly, she clambered out of bed and found a robe, tying it around her waist as she stumbled to the door.
The man on the other side smiled, holding the handles of a steel cart with a bottle of champagne and a bowl of strawberries on it. “I’ve been instructed to wish you congratulations from ‘the Scoobies.'”
“Aww, how sweet.” Willow stepped aside to let him push the cart into the room. “Look, baby, they sent us champagne.”
“And strawberries,” Tara enthused, crossing to her side with a sheet wrapped tightly around herself. The last time she’d done that…or at least the last time Willow remembered, had been the morning Dawn had caught them. And strawberries…
Internally, Willow flinched just a little. “You taste like strawberries,” her memory taunted her, but she shoved it aside.
The room service guy gave them a casual salute and stepped back into the hallway. “Have a good night, ladies.”
As the door closed, Tara plucked a strawberry from the bowl and popped it happily into her mouth. “It’s almost too good to be true, isn’t it? Just like we were two normal people, and there wasn’t a Hellmouth waiting for us at home, ready and eager to cause trouble.”
Willow forced herself to smile, the room suddenly feeling claustrophobic and accusing. Thief, it seemed to whisper to her. You stole all this. You don’t deserve it. It’s not yours.
Desperate for an out, she grabbed the empty ice bucket on the cart. “I’m just gonna go grab us some ice, ‘kay?”
Tara nodded and gave her a quick kiss on the lips, her own still red and sweet-tart with the juice. “Don’t be long.”
“I won’t. Promise.” And she wouldn’t. She just needed a moment to breathe, to convince herself that this was right, that this was where she belonged, not just where she wanted to be.
By the time she reached the ice machine in the hall, she had almost succeeded. Until she spotted the back of a disturbingly familiar blonde head standing there, staring away from her down the corridor. Oh no…no, it couldn’t be–
The blonde turned around, and Willow’s heart sank. “Anya?”
“It just figures, doesn’t it?” the vengeance demon complained with a deep sigh. “You get your perfect little world where Buffy and Tara never died, and Xander *still* leaves me at the altar.”
No wonder she’d been so uncharacteristically quiet all day. But wait–Anya knew? How did she…? “How did you know…?” Willow’s heart almost stopped as the look on Anya’s face told her everything she needed to know. “You’re here to take it all back,” she blurted, panic starting to rise.
“That was the wish,” Anya admitted. “You get one perfect day, then you have to go back to your regular life knowing how it could have been.”
Willow’s face crumpled. “But, who…?” Who would wish something like that on her?
“I can’t tell you. It’s against the rules, and I’m already on thin ice with D’Hoffryn as it is.”
“But…but…you don’t have to take it back, right?” she pleaded. “You granted the wish, can’t you just…say you forgot and left it this way?”
“No, I can’t. My power doesn’t work that way. I can’t only grant half a wish.” Anya folded her arms and frowned.
“Then…” The action drew Willow’s attention to the dark stone in its silver setting that hung around Anya’s neck and sent a surge of hope through her like adrenaline. “…I’ll break your necklace. I read in a book somewhere, that’s your power source. I break it, poof, wish undone.”
The vengeance demon took a startled step back, covering the talisman instinctively with one hand. “That would only reset everything back to the way it was, as if the wish was never made. Do you really want that?”
Willow almost cried. No matter what she did, she was going back. But to go back without that precious memory, of looking into Tara’s eyes as they vowed themselves to each other for eternity… “No.”
Anya nodded. “You still have the rest of today. When you go to sleep, you’ll wake back in our reality just like you woke up here.”
Willow nodded, grateful at least for that much. Now all she had to do was stay awake…and not break down and spill the whole story to Tara, ruining what little time they had left.
Tara was standing at the window staring out at the sunset when Willow returned to the room. She looked like a goddess wrapped in that golden glow, more beautiful than ever, and one look made all of her partner’s resolve to be brave fly out the window.
Crossing the room in a heartbeat, Willow pulled Tara into her arms and kissed her. Kissed her with all the passion, all the loneliness, all the longing and regret of the past year.
As soon as breathing forced them to separate, the words came pouring out as she clung to Tara’s arms like the lifeline they’d always been for her. “I love you, ‘kay? I’ll always love you, more than anything. Even if I do like you said someday and find somebody else, they’ll…they’ll never be you. Remember that, please?”
Tara let go, her eyes wide and frightened and her stammer returning like it sometimes did when she was nervous. “Willow? W-what’s going on? W-why are you suddenly talking like we’re never going to see each other again?”
Willow swallowed hard, but she had to tell her the truth. She owed her that much, or at least part of the ceremony they’d undergone was a lie. “That stuff I told you about this morning? It wasn’t a nightmare. It was real. My reality. I didn’t tell you ’cause…well, I thought if you knew I wasn’t your Willow, you’d want your Willow back, and I thought I could stay but I can’t and you won’t remember me when I’m gone…”
For most of her monologue, Tara just stared bewildered, her mouth slightly open. When Willow paused to suck in a deep, sobbing breath, she reached out one hand to tenderly touch her lover’s hair. “That’s why you said ‘if I wake up, you’ll go away,’ isn’t it? All those things you told me…about me, about Buffy, about you…they really happened to you?” she asked in a quiet voice. There was no doubt, no skepticism in her tone, and why should there be? They’d all faced stranger things before.
Willow nodded miserably. “I know I’m being selfish again. Just like when I brought Buffy back, just like when I made you forget…but it’s so hard. I just wanted to go back to the way things were…when we were happy.”
Tara frowned, something uncertain and painfully familiar creeping into her eyes. “You made me forget? Forget what?”
Willow felt sick with fear–had she ruined everything all over again? “Not you you…my Tara. We had a fight. About magic–you were right, I was using too much. But I got scared, so I made you forget. And you found out…and you left me. And then when things were getting better, you died.”
The last sentence was a play for sympathy and she knew it, but what did it matter? She was going away anyway, going back to her Tara-less world and that hurt too much for her to care about anything else.
“Even knowing what Glory did, you still–”
“I’m sorry,” Willow whispered. “I know magic isn’t just for making all the bad stuff go away. And that’s why I should have told you right away, but I wanted…I wanted more time. But it was me that did it, not your Willow. Please don’t let what I did–”
Tara shook her head. “I would never…” She stepped closer again. “If I…if she left you, Willow, it wasn’t because she didn’t love you. I could never stop loving you. It was because…because she couldn’t bear to see you go down that road if there was something I could do to stop it.”
“I know.” And she did, despite the mixing up of pronouns. “But I still did it again. I took your special day away from the other me because I…I missed you. And now I have to go back, and I can’t take you with me.”
“Yes you can,” Tara promised, laying her hand over her partner’s heart. Her left hand, with the ring on it that they’d exchanged that afternoon. “I’m here. I’ll always be in your heart. I live there, just like you live in mine.”
They kissed again, this time with equal desperation on both sides. Then Tara stepped back and held up her hand for Willow to see the ring with its pattern of trifectas. “‘From this life to the next,’ remember? In any lifetime, any reality…you are my Willow. You’ll always be my Willow, and I’ll always be yours no matter what you do. And wherever I am, if you’re not there, I’ll wait for you. No matter how long it takes.”
Another kiss, and this time when they parted breathlessly, Tara asked: “How much time do you have?”
“Until I go to sleep. I’ll wake up…back there and you won’t remember I–me I, I mean–was ever here.”
Her partner smiled slyly and turned around, leading her by one hand back towards the bed. “Then I suggest we stay awake for a long, long time…”
Willow jerked upright in bed like a lightning bolt, staring around her in dismay at the dim, moonlit darkness. Oh God…no…she hadn’t meant to fall asleep. She’d meant to stay awake all night, then maybe…just maybe she’d get one more day. “Tara?” her frightened exclamation echoed in the empty room…her room, at Buffy’s house. Their room.
But the bed was empty. Tara was gone, and this time all the wishing in the world wouldn’t bring her back.
She swallowed a sob but a whimper still escaped. “Tara…”
“For what it’s worth–” The voice out of nowhere startled her, jerking her attention to the corner of the room just as Anya stepped out of the shadows. “–I’m sorry. I didn’t think it would be so…effective.”
She did sound genuinely contrite, if a little defensive too. But that was Anya.
Willow flopped back on the bed and pulled a pillow over her head. She didn’t want Anya, she wanted Tara. “Go away.”
As usual, the vengeance demon was lousy at taking a hint, or even a direct command. “Just don’t tell Xander or Buffy, okay? It’s not like I had any choice, and–”
That made Willow angry. Yanking the pillow off, she scrambled out of bed to confront the other woman. “You didn’t have a choice? What about my choices, huh? Did I ask to spend one day living my perfect life and then come back here? To know what I could’ve had…”
She stopped, suddenly aware of a cold weight on her finger. Stunned, Willow lifted her hand in front of her and stared at the silver ring with its endless knot. Her wedding ring.
Anya shrugged, looking embarrassed. “The other you will probably freak out when she wakes up without it, but they’ll eventually give up on finding it and buy another one. Anyway, it’s not like she can demand it back like Xander did with our engagement ring.”
Willow frowned at her, for a moment startled out of her self-pity. “Xander…Xander did that?” Her Xander? That didn’t seem like him.
Anya sighed but admitted, “Unfortunately, no. It would have made hating him a lot easier if he had. But anyway, the ring is yours to keep if you want it. Think of it as a souvenir.”
Overwhelmed, Willow surprised them both by pulling Anya into a fierce hug. “Thank you. I mean…for everything, even the…yeah. At least now I know one of me got the happy ending, right?”
“Yes, unlike me and Xander,” the vengeance demon sighed melodramatically.
Willow forced a smile and closed her eyes. For a moment, she could pretend that the arms holding her were Tara’s–warm and loving instead of hesitant and a little awkward; smelling of rose and jasmine and vanilla instead of Anya’s expensive perfume.
From somewhere, maybe a window she hadn’t realized was open, a soft breeze whispered through her hair like familiar fingers then swept down to caress the ring on her hand. And on that breeze was the memory of a promise:
“Wherever I am, if you’re not there, I’ll wait for you. No matter how long it takes.”
And I’ll find you, she promised in return. No matter how long it takes.