Tara was a woman on a mission. Or, at least, a reasonable facsimile.
The past few days she just hadn't been able to get the story of Willow's previous relationship out of her mind. How her sweet and love-stricken Willow had been used and discarded by this Amy character. She just couldn't understand how somebody could be so cold to be able to do that to someone like Willow, knowing how caring her lover could be.
Friday... And time to hand in her souls for processing at the Head Office. Tara, however, didn't go to the check-in window this time. Like Mort had shown her, it was best to trust on the internal office mail service, which was more reliable, faster and certainly less stressful.
"Hi, Paul," Tara greeted the mail-runner she'd gladly entrust her souls to.
"Heya, miss Macl.. Uh, Tara," Paul returned the greeting. "I take it you've got souls for me to get to the right places?"
The honey-blonde pulled a container from her cloak, all souls safely contained in orbs and accompanied by the appropriate paperwork and put it in Paul's cart, along with a few bucks for his trouble. "Thanks, Paul... Could I, um, ask for a favor?"
"Any special requests for your souls?" Paul winked. "Got a bad one in the mix?"
"Well," Tara started to say, "the one called Warren Mears could be put on the fast track downstairs. Killed his girlfriend because she supposedly annoyed him and then got shot by the police. Real piece of work."
"I'm sure the lower beings would love to pick him apart," Paul grinned. "But I can tell from the look on your face, Tara, that that's not the only thing you'd like to ask."
Tara nodded briefly and answered with a smile. "Someone stole something from a friend of mine, something that's very dear to her."
"You want that someone tracked down?" asked Paul, to which Tara nodded shyly.
"Her name is Amy Madison," Tara started. "She attended Sunnydale high and was on the cheerleading team. Don't know much else, I'm afraid."
Paul bit his lip and thought for a moment. "Not much to go on, but it should be enough. Alright, I'll see what our department can dig up. No charge... well, just smile for me, if you'd like."
Tara did so.
Tara found herself floating in a swirling miasma of grey mists. Weightless, she tried to move through the thick soup, barely being able to breathe. But Willow was lost and she had to find her.
From the corner of her eye, she noticed a flash of red hair. She snapped her head towards the color and swam clumsily through the fog with desperation. There was nothingness as far as the eye could see, but all she could think about was finding her Willow. Always Willow.
"Willow!" Tara cried out. "Willow, sweetie, where are you?"
"Sweetie, please!" Tara cried out. "I'm so alone!"
And finally, the mists parted, allowing Willow to emerge. The redhead had her back to Tara, who finally found her feet on solid ground. "Oh, Willow," Tara was so relieved to find her love safe and well. "I was so worried..."
Before Tara could finish her sentence, Willow turned around and roughly shoved her away, causing her to fall onto her back.
"You lied to me," Willow spat at her, her normally peaceful features twisted in a demented rage as she looked down on her. "I trusted you completely, and you lied to me."
"N-no, I..." Tara started to say.
"Quiet!" Willow grimaced. "Every word out of your filthy mouth is a lie. I can't believe I ever trusted you!"
Tara slowly got to her feet. "W-what are you saying? W-willow, I never..." Tara's words caught in her throat.
Yes, she had lied to Willow.
"Your words of love," Willow snarled. "Your touch, your kisses, your embrace, your caresses... ALL LIES! Why wasn't I worth enough? Worth enough for you to be truthful to me, Tara?! Is Tara even your real name?!"
Tara had to close her eyes as an incredible ache pounded in her head, and when she opened her eyes again, the sight in front of her made her want to break out in tears.
Willow was standing in front of her, her eyes glazed over, her skin a pale gray. Her formerly bright red hair was dark and matted to her skin. She looked thinner and haggard, but the most horrific part of this vision was a deep scythe-scar across her throat. The wound had spilled blood across her skin and clothes, blood that had long since dried.
"Why did you do it?" Willow croaked in sadness and looked upon Tara with a mixture of fear and regret. "Why did you kill me, Tara? How could you?"
"No!" Tara folded her hands against her face and cried. "I... I'd n-never..."
"I loved you," Willow continued, the sad tone of her voice slicing straight through Tara's soul, "I loved you so much, so very much. And you killed me. I can't believe you killed me. I thought you loved me too... I thought we were going to be together forever."
"I love you so much, Willow," Tara cried. "Please, believe me," she said, approaching Willow. But Willow shied back in fear. "I'd never hurt you!"
"I'm going now," Willow cried. "Away from you. Away from my pain," Willow said as she turned around, headed into a bright light that had formed behind her.
"N-no!" Tara shouted after her. "Don't l-leave me!"
"Where do you think you're going?" a huge, red skinned demon stepped in between Tara and Willow. "With her? No, no, no," said the demon while Willow continued walking into the light. "No, they don't allow liars in Elysia, my dear."
"WILLOW!" Tara shouted when Willow was completely obscured by the light. "Please don't leave me!"
"Don't disturb the honored dead, liar," the demon grinned. "She will spend her eternity elsewhere, away and safe from the likes of you. You will spend eternity apart, and will never, ever meet again."
"WILLOW!" Tara cried as the demon held her back. "PLEASE!"
"Willow!" Tara shouted as she woke up, bathed in sweat. It took her a few moments to realize she was in her own bed, in her own house. Safe. With Willow.
"Sssh," the slight redhead was right next to her. "It's okay, it was just a dream. Just a dream. I'm not going anywhere, I'm right here with you, baby. Always with you."
Oh, Goddess, what a dream... what a dream. Oh, Willow, my Willow, you're still here. Still here with me...
Tara literally flew into Willow's arms, hugging her so tightly, she groaned in surprise. "Oxygen... issue," Willow smiled.
"Oh, I love you," Tara mumbled into Willow's hair while she slowly released her. "I love you."
Willow, in turn, had a concerned look in her eyes. "You were screaming my name in your sleep... In a scared sorta way, so I'm guessin' your dreams were less of the naughty and more of the terrified."
Tara relaxed... slightly. "I... Oh, goddess, it was horrible."
"I'll go get you something to drink..."
"No!" Tara said, clutching to Willow again. "I... j-just don't go. Stay w-with me. Please?"
"Okay, okay, I'm not going anywhere," Willow spoke softly. "Too tired anyways," she yawned briefly. "Your shirt is all wet."
Tara sat up in bed and watched her own reflection in the mirror that was fitted on the door of her dresser, averting her own eyes. I'm Amy... Tara thought remorsefully. She and I are the same. We both lie to Willow... We both used her and hide the truth from her...
Did she really use Willow? In a way, she did... Refusing to end her life had robbed Willow of an eternity of happiness in the Upper Planes. And why? Because Tara Maclay loved her. Because Tara Maclay saw in Willow a way to escape her own loneliness. I'm using her. Just like Amy did.
On the other hand, she knew like no other how much Willow loved life. How much she loved learning new things every day. How much she loved her friends. How much she loved...
Looking in the mirror, she saw Willow lying prone behind her, her eyes wide as her face was pointed at an odd angle. Blushing slightly, Tara figured out just what exactly she was looking at.
"Are you looking at my butt?" Tara asked gently.
"Well," Willow blushed slightly at being caught. "Can't blame a girl checking out a very nice butt. I mean, a butt that's very nice to look at, well rounded and generally aesthetically pleasing. And, dare I say it, pretty darn hot too, baby."
Tara looked over her shoulder. "Vixen," she grinned. "I... I just dreamt that you were l-leaving me. It wasn't v-very..."
Willow sat up and quickly hugged Tara from behind, laying her chin on her lover's shoulder. Tara closed her eyes and just enjoyed the feeling of Willow's warmth against her. "See," Willow whispered softly. "That's where you're a dummy. I'm not going anyway, cause you're not gettin' rid of me that easily. I'm here to stay, Tara."
A few moments later, Tara lay curled up peacefully against Willow, but the dream was still fresh on her mind. She thanked her lucky stars that the 'insurance investigator' ploy she and Faith'd cooked up had been given to Willow secondhand from Buffy... Tara doubted Willow would have ever believed her if she had told her herself.
How long can I keep this up? Tara shuddered.
"Are you cold?" Willow asked in response. "Shall I get a blanket?"
"No," Tara whispered. "Stay here, with me. Please."
The next day, after sharing breakfast... and a shower... Willow had left for class and Tara had gone to the post-office to get her mail. Luckily the post-office was just a block away from her apartment, so Tara didn't have to walk long.
Still flushed from the memories of her morning shower, Tara unlocked the mailbox and see what was delivered. Thresher magazine, a thick envelope labelled eyes only which Tara knew was another harvesting case, the monthly progress report telling Tara which of her collected souls had already been processed and which had not, the Reaper United which was the newsletter for the Reaper Union of which Tara was a member and... a thin brown unmarked envelope.
Wow, Paul works fast, Tara thought. She hurried back to her apartment and locked the rest of her mail into her desk. The honey-blonde Reaper sat down on her couch and opened the brown envelope. In it was a handwritten message with an address and the words 'good luck and have fun'.
Apparently, Amy Madison was living in Bakersfield now, as a paralegal assistant in training. Hm... that's outside my district. That means I'd have to get Faith to cover for me, Tara thought. Also, she'd have to formally ask permission to the local Collectors to use Reaper powers within their district. But, she'd met Eileen, the local Collector Senior in Bakersfield, at the bi-monthly conferences at the Head Office, so she was sure Eileen wouldn't mind.
Time for some action, Tara smiled briefly and collected her cloak and scythe. But first, call Faith...
As it turned out, Faith was already in town on harvester business, but decided to postpone it to cover for Faith... as long as she had beer and doggytreats in the fridge. Faith showed up with Buffy in tow. Buffy, always being tremendously happy to see Tara and her doggytreats, licked Tara in the face and barked happily for a moment, then ran over to the couch and plopped down, showing off a big doggie yawn in the process.
"Buffy again?" Tara asked.
"Doggie identity crisis," Faith shrugged. "Besides, I don't think Willow's friend'd mind much."
"Alright," Tara squeezed Faith's shoulder for a moment. "There's beer in the fridge..."
"...and pizza a call away," Faith grinned while fishing her PSP out of her satchel. "I'll go make a trip through Liberty City and wait for any dead people to show up."
As soon as she had said goodbye to Faith, Tara teleported right to the address she was given, and found herself standing in the middle of a nicely furnished and well-lit apartment. It was obvious from the modern black furniture and glass table-tops, that the person living here either had a great sense of style, or at least believed she had a great sense of style.
So, this is Amy Madison, Tara thought as she looked at a picture of a young woman on the desk. Amy Madison was an attractive young brunette with dark eyes, classical features and a soft smile.
Tara removed her hood and phased into reality. I just hope she kept it, Tara thought as she started to open a few cupboards. It's been a few years since...
Another closet revealed only more clothes... very expensive clothes too. Judging from the apartment and the furniture, there was no way Amy could afford these kinds of haute couture masterpieces. Armani, Versache, Chanel, a lot of brands Tara couldn't even begin to recognize. She carefully replaced the clothing and soon found her prize.
Bobby was a ratty old bear, his formerly yellow plush gone slightly grayish with age, as had the red chemise he was wearing. He was missing one of his button-eyes, and had all the appearance of an old, well-loved toy. She never expected Amy to keep Bobby in plain sight, but oddly enough, it was inside a wall-mounted display case.
Upon closer inspection, she found that Bobby was not the only thing inside the display case. There was a signet ring, an old ceramic statuette of a Gray Hound which looked to be hundred years old, an old leatherbound copy of the Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist... And more. A total of nine items that had been precious to someone else than Amy.
Tara closed her eyes and shook her head when she realized what these items represented to Amy.
Still, Tara could not feel anger at Amy's actions. This was a woman with looks, a nice home and a career in the pipeline. She had everything, and yet she needed to seduce and use young impressionable girls to feel strong, in control and secure. It made Tara feel sad.
But that feeling was shot to hell when Tara found Amy's journal in her desk. In it, was a detailed and devastatingly accurate account of Amy's twisted hobby. Amy's latest victim, a girl called Roberta, worked at a fashion boutique in main street. Amy had seduced her, swept her off her feet and, since Roberta's responsibility was sales and inventory, talked her into stealing, or rather, 'misplacing' expensive clothes. When Roberta had questioned Amy's ferocious appetite for clothes, Amy had not only broken off the relationship, but had threatened to tell Roberta's very religious parents all about her sexuality.
That was Amy's MO. To use her apparently finely honed gaydar to look for innocent young girls who hadn't realized about their own sexuality yet and use their insecurities to her favor. To make them scared and dependable on her, Amy told them the world, their family and their friends would reject them if they knew the truth, thus giving Amy full control over them. The latest entry said that Amy had found a young intern at her lawfirm to be a potential next target.
Tara shook her head and flipped back. Willow had not been the first girl Amy had toyed with, but she soon found detailed entries on her Willow.
"March 29th : She suspects nothing. Few words of love and a kiss and she's jelly in my hands. Poor, poor Willow... Never seen such a love-struck little goose. How could a smart girl like her be so stupid?"
"April 25th : Those little friends of hers are tenacious. No matter how much I turn Willow against them, they keep trying to break my hold over her. That bitch Buffy actually threatened to break my nose this morning! Well, Buffy, let's just see what Willow has to say when I tell her 'Willow's sweet butterfly' was threatened by her so-called friends. Oh, this is going to be fun!"
"April 26th : Buffy was in tears! Oh, I always knew that little redhaired egg-head had passion inside of her. Seeing her yell at Buffy at the Espresso Pump was a sight to behold. Poor thing... She actually thinks I love her. Well, at least it'll get those little friends of hers out of my hair, for now. "
"April 28th : I don't believe it! First Buffy, now that dork Xander and that tiny snip of a girl Dawn?! Dawn pulled my hair and kicked me in the shins! 'Oh, Willow, my love, your friends were so mean to me... See how intolerant they are? See how much they hate people who are different from them? See? They want you to be like them, they'll never accept you as a lesbian. They don't love you as much as I do'. Fools. They've played right into my hands."
"May 5th : Oh, my, dear diary, what did our silly little goose do today? She gave me an old teddybear and some sob story of being precious to her. What?! Seriously, this is starting to get embarrassing. I'd better end this soon. I'm passing this class and when I make the cheerleader team, I'll drop her."
"May 25th : Well, I made the team! Cheerleader Amy! I don't need Willow anymore, but there's still some money to be squeezed from her. Serious trip ahead."
Tara's knuckles had gone white as her hands clenched the diary in anger. She felt like kicking something hard. The honeyblonde Reaper simply couldn't believe what she was reading. Willow's love is one of the greatest gifts... To spurn it just like that... Oh, this bitch is soooo gonna get it, Tara fumed and slammed down Amy's journal.
From checking Amy's appointment book, Tara's learned that Amy had just spend a day in LA on assignment for her firm and could be on her way back to Bakersfield at this very moment.
The game was afoot.
Teleporting right into a moving car was one of the hardest things for a Reaper to do. Tara remembered Faith and her had practised it many times during their advanced Reaper training. They would stand at the top of a building, looking down on the cars below and try to teleport from the rooftops into the backseat. Once, Tara had ended up with her lower body inside the asphalt and was stuck there until Faith had pulled her free. Once, Faith had missed the target completely and ended up inside the sewers underneath the street.
Teleporting was a precise art which was honed with practise. Now, Tara could teleport to the top of the Griffin Park observatory telescope or even on the back of a moving motorcycle without any trouble at all. Of course, aside from targeting yourself on the back or inside a moving vehicle, a Reaper instantly needed to concentrate on remaining seated, otherwise he or she would just phase right through the metal and be left standing on the road.
Tara grinned wickedly when she found herself sitting shotgun next to Amy inside of her red, sporty Porsche... From reading her journal, Tara knew that Amy had swindled the daughter of a used car salesman to part with it very, very cheaply.
She noticed that they were still in the middle of the wilderness on the road to Bakersfield, but still quite a few miles away from it.
Now, it was time for Amy to learn her lesson. Of course, Tara could just take back Bobby the bear and give him to Willow, but then she'd have to explain how she'd got it... And Amy would learn nothing, and keep deceiving more of those poor girls. No, better to 'convince' Amy to return the bear to Willow herself.
Tara clicked open her scythe and got to work... The scythe was bathed in a bright glow. Immediately, Amy's cell phone went off.
"I don't have a Crazy Frog ringtone," Amy muttered and took the phone. "Madison. Hello? Hello? Hellloooo? Roberta, is that you?"
No answer. Amy shrugged and put it back in the holder.
"Hello?!" Amy yelled again. No answer. She put down the phone again.
"Oh, screw this!" Amy snarled, yanked the battery out of her phone and tossed it to the backseat.
Jib-jib-jibby-jub-gah-bah-gahbalhah-jib-jib-dooquaaaaaaahhhh-jib-jib sounded from the phone. Astonished, Amy looked over her shoulder and gaped at a powered phone without the battery in it.
It was then that her car was starting to swerve across the road, out of control. Amy tried to yank on the wheel, but it was to no avail. No strength in the world would manage hang on to the wheel as the car pulled one wild move after another out of the hat. Amy screamed as her car sped towards a ditch along the side of the road, but pulled away at the very last moment.
Unbeknownst to Amy, Tara had used her scythe to take over control of her car and was calmly steering the car over the road. Of course, as much as she wanted too, she could never do anything to hurt Amy... but Amy didn't knew that.
Amy shivered in terror while her car accelerated to top speed and, for the first time, Amy truly regretted owning a Porsche. With a speed of 200 miles per hour, Amy's car hurtled towards a bend in the road. Ever closer, ever closer. Amy yelled and started clawing at the door to get out. Of course, Tara kept the door closed, seeing that the speed would definitely kill Amy.
At the last moment, the car steered the curve, but with its speed, it rammed through the dirt and skidded to two wheels, almost tipping over. Again, the antics started again, this time with more speed. Amy pulled on the wheel, yelling, screaming and crying. Finally, she gave up and covered her eyes with her hands, shaking and crying.
Until she could no longer hear the hum of the engine. Slowly, ever so slowly, she peeked through her fingers... and found the car parked at the side of the road. Amy sank back in her seat, trying to breathe calmly. Deep breath... deep breath... She reached into the glove compartment and took out a can of evian water. She opened it up, took a big sip and placed it on the dashboard.
A flashing light and a siren behind her, alerted Amy to the presence of a motorcycle cop. Immediately, she went into 'flirt'-mode, puffing up her hair and already getting a sad smile ready for action.
"You alright, miss?" the cop asked. "You were driving rather recklessly back there."
"Oh, I... I lost control of the car," Amy pretended to hyperventilate. "I... I was so scared, officer."
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"N-no," Amy sighed. "I... I think I'll be fine. Just let me sit here? Please? Y-you're not going to give me a ticket, are you?"
Tara felt like vomiting. Amy was so obviously manipulating the man... She could swear she could even see Amy batting her eyelashes at him.
"I don't think that'll be necessary, miss," the cop adjusted his helmet. "Just drive carefully now, okay?"
"Thanks officer," Amy husked, but as the cop turned around, Amy saw the can inexplicably lift up and fly out the window. It hit the cop right in the butt, and spilled the water all over his pants. The cop froze in his tracks.
"Take that, you red-neck hillbilly bastard!" Amy heard her own voice say, but it wasn't coming from her mouth.
She did the only thing she could do : gulp.
Amy drove along with a grimace on her face. On the backseat, next to her disabled phone, lay two tickets. One for reckless driving, one for insulting an officer of the law. All things considered, she was lucky not to be taken into custody for assault charges. But this nifty little joke would cost her close to 500 dollars.
Some miles from Bakersfield still. She was looking forward to a hot shower and a nice meal, so she could forget everything about this horrible day.
The car started to slant to one side slightly, accompanied with flap-noises. Amy parked her car to the side of the road and found that her right front tire had been punctured by an errant cactus. And there was nobody else on the road.
Grunting angrily, Amy opened the trunk and got to work. She jacked up the car, removed the hubcap, screwed loose the wheel, removed the wheel, replaced the wheel, screwed on the replacement wheel, replaced the hubcap, jacked down the car and tossed the punctured tire in her trunk.
Amy was tired, sweaty and covered with grease and even more eager to get underway. She started the car and drove it onto the road. Two meters later :
The guilty parties : another errant cactus, a broken Hello Kitty mug, a discarded hypodermic needle and a serrated piece of metal.
"FUCK!" Amy yelled and kicked her car for good measure.
And so Amy started her long trek to Bakersfield on foot. She walked along the road in the searing heat, trying to hitch a ride whenever a car passed.
Of course, what she didn't know was that Tara was using her scythe to keep her neatly obscured from sight so the passing drivers could not see her. Unlike Amy, Tara wasn't bothered at all because her ethereal form. When it was obvious that Amy was in for a long walk, Tara had used her pager to have a ethereal moped teleported to her location. Fortunately, the Head Office Vehicle Department was quicker to respond than the Head Office and general and Tara had gotten one almost immediately.
With the scythe clicked in the holder and kept active by the moped's internal power-source, Tara slowly drove alongside Amy and had time to carefully read Dawn's latest story. Lately, Tara had been Dawn's betareader, a role which she had gladly accepted. Dawn had asked her to be cruel... Well, Tara didn't want to be cruel, so Dawn had to settle for her being honest.
She had read the story once. It was about a highschooler who fell in love with his biology teacher. The romance blossomed slowly, but surely. However, it turned out that the teacher was, in actuality, a giant praying mantis. This was the first time one of Dawn's stories didn't have a happy ending, but it seemed to fit this particular tale very well.
For the second read, Tara was scribbling notes in the margins of the story, keeping track of common spelling mistakes Dawn made, some plot inconsistencies and things that seemed out of character. Dawn'd take these notes, rework the story and give her the improved version later.
Just then, Amy rounded about a corner in the road and, behind the ridge, found a gas station. Though Tara was a bit miffed at this, Amy saw it as her salvation. She practically ran inside and batted her eyelashes at the attendant. Of course, the attendant fell for her charms and promised to personally drive the tow truck out to her car to help get her on her way.
At least he would have, before Tara surreptitiously moved a long candybar into Amy's backpocket. Seeing how the gas station attendant had the habit of checking out Amy's butt, it wasn't long before he saw it. He accused the bewildered Amy of stealing and threw her out of the shop.
And so Amy continued her long trek home to Bakersfield. For good measure, Tara used her scythe to move a muddy puddle right to the side of the road... just as a truck passed by.
"ASSHOLE!" shouted the now muck-covered Amy at the truckdriver.
Geez, what a potty-mouth, Tara thought as she watched the drenched Amy. At least now she's as ugly as her soul is.
A thoroughly exhausted Amy finally arrived in Bakersfield, leaving a string of freak accidents in her wake. Traffic lights inexplicably turned from red to green just as she wanted to cross the street. Two fire hydrants suddenly burst open while she passed, sending her flying across the pavement. And, just before reaching home, a barbershop pole almost dropped from the wall onto her head.
Finally, Amy returned to the safety of her house and plopped down on the couch, not caring how much she was staining the white fabric.
But she wasn't safe. Not from Tara.
Amy rolled off the couch and strolled towards the shower. But just as she turned on the shower and prepared to undress, she jumped back in shock: the water coming from the faucet had frozen completely.
In fact, the entire room had gotten very, very cold. Amy shivered and almost howled when she saw the walls of her apartment freezing over instantly. She hurried to the door, skidding over the ice that had formed across the floor, but only found that the door was neatly frozen in place.
Amy screamed as she was suddenly yanked from the floor and slammed into the ceiling. She was pinned to the ceiling and slowly started to rotate.
"What's going on?!" Amy screamed. "What's going on?!"
The large dresser moved effortlessly from the wall. The large make-up mirror twisted to a horizontal position so that Amy could look inside it. Black ink leaked from the hinges and rolled over the glass, slowly forming a word.
Payback, said the mirror
Amy gulped and took a few deep breaths. "Who... What are you?"
The ink started to move around again, first forming a large puddle before reforming into a new word: Karma.
Again, the ink formed a puddle and reformed into words. Return what you have stolen. Try to repair the lives that you have damaged.
"I... I don't know what you're talking about," Amy said nervously.
LIAR! the ink formed. And for a moment, it was as if the building was in an earthquake. Amy's television exploded and water burst from a ruptured pipeline in her kitchen. I KNOW!
"What do you know?" Amy dared to ask.
Eileen. Roberta. Cassie. Frederique. Susan. Sarah. Allison. Penelope.
The ink drew together once more. WILLOW!
Amy screamed as she was suddenly dropped to the floor and landed with a thud. She groaned and picked herself up, only to fall down again when she slipped over the icy floor and tried to scurry to the door.
Pay your debts and change your ways. Or misfortune shall follow you till the end of your days.
"Y-you can't make me!" Amy stated defiantly.
Tara couldn't believe what she was hearing. She has guts, I'll give her that... but this'll work. And for only a moment, Tara used her scythe to show herself, if only for a few seconds. Or rather, she showed an illusion of herself as the traditional Grim Reaper: the skeletal, tall, menacing icon of death, disease, war and famine, with a thick black billowing cloak.
After fading back This time, Amy dropped to her knees and started to grovel. "Please," she cried. "I'll never do it again, I swear. I'll return everything... I'll do everything, just please don't kill me!" Amy rose to her feet and walked to her desk. "See? Here's my ATM-card," she showed it to a seemingly empty room, not sure in which direction to talk. "I'll... I'll go pay all those girls back."
Whoa, quite a change. I must make an impressive sight as the Grim Reaper.
Everything, said the mirror.
"E-everything?" Amy asked carefully.
EVERYTHING! The doors to Amy's 'trophy-case' opened, as well as her dresser. Clothes, money, personal items, the car! Everything! Stay out of these girls' lives! Never bother them again! Never threaten them again! Never lie to them again!
"I will," Amy sank to her knees and cried. "I will..."
Karma, replied the mirror. Find someone to love, truly love. Stop your games and find Happiness. Before it's too late.
That said, the room unfroze, and Amy was left sitting all alone in her apartment.
The bronze. It was a nice enough hang-out, and from what Tara had understood, Willow, Buffy and Xander had spent many school nights in here. Oddly enough, this small-town club managed to attract internationally acclaimed singers and bands. She wondered if the Bronze's owners had Hollywood connections of some kind.
Still, they had fun sitting on the couches underneath the stairs, talking quietly and taking some time to shoot pool every now and then.
The only problem was that Anya was here. Now, Tara liked Anya. And she was pretty sure all of her friends liked Anya. It's just that... Anya could be very direct.
"What?" Anya huffed as Xander and Buffy were glaring at her. "What are you looking at me for? They're the ones having the tawdry, squiggly lesbian lick-fest at least 3.2 times a week," she said, making both Willow and Tara turn red like beets.
How the conversation had gone from Gila-lizards to heterosexual-to-homosexual 'relations per week' ratios, Tara wouldn't even venture to guess.
"Ahn!" Xander hissed.
"What?!" Anya replied. Xander pointed at Dawn, who was sitting next to Willow and was drinking her cola through a yellow-striped straw. The younger Summers was looking at the entire scene with amusement.
Anya nodded. "Ah, kid in the room. Alright, I shall refrain from making coarse comments about Tara taking Willow's innocence and the olympic tongue-wrestling that was undoubtedly involved."
"Don't stop on my account," Dawn shrugged. "I already know about this stuff, you know?"
"How?" Buffy asked suspiciously.
"From reading slash fics. Duh!" Dawn replied. "I think I'll work this whole conversation into a story tomorrow."
Anya grinned broadly. "See? I told you she was old enough. Okay, back to Cleotara seducing the willing slave girl. Or maybe we're talking about Willius Ceasar conquering the saucy Egyptian love-queen."
Willow and Tara shared a look. What had happened between them on that fateful camping trip, their feelings and their wonderful memories, would stay between them and them alone. Only the details that there was no Willius Ceasar and no Cleotara.
"Say, did you hear Andrew is dead?" Xander said, causing both Willow and Buffy to do a double take.
"Andrew is dead?" Willow asked. "Seriously? How?"
"He fell on an AT-AT," Xander said. "One of those big plastic toy ones. Andrew is General Veers' latest victim."
"How did that kill him?" Dawn asked. "How could that kill him?"
"The AT-AT shattered when he landed on it and the shards drove right into his chest," Xander whistled. "Or so I've heard. There's some rumors floating about that he fell over because he was doing... weird things with a Boba Fett action figure... things God, and God being George Lucas in this case, never intended action figures to be used for. But, you know, that's just rumors. Unsubstantiated rumors, really. He could just have been dancing with his Boba Fett action figure and accidentally trip over a rug... Oh, who am I trying to kid?"
Tara wondered what was going on when Willow first shared a look with Buffy, then with Tara, then with Buffy again. Fortunately for Tara, salvation walked through the door. Willow froze, her eyes suddenly transfixed on the entrance. "Amy..." she whispered.
"Well, I'll be Captain Kirk's buttmonkey," Xander replied with a grimace on his face when he noticed who Willow had seen.
"Look what the cat dragged in," Buffy added.
"It's the bitch from hell!" Dawn hissed when she saw that Amy had spotted them and hurried into their direction. Immediately, Buffy, Xander and Dawn formed a cordon around Willow, not allowing Amy near her.
"Okay, Madison," Xander crossed his arms and glared. "Time to make like a troma movie-prop and split... and spew gooey blood and guts while you're at it."
"Want me to kick you again, Amy?" Dawn narrowed her eyes at her. "Cause I know where it hurts."
"Be careful," Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Dawn's a hair-puller, Amy."
"Look!" Amy pressed nervously. "I really need to talk to Willow. Please?"
"I think you've said enough to her for one lifetime," Xander pressed. "Don't let the door hit your shapely ass on the way out."
Willow and Tara shared a look and Tara could see in Willow's eyes that she was going to confront Amy. Tara squeezed Willow's hand and kissed her on the cheek to let her know that she supported her and would be there if she needed Tara. Willow rose from the couch and slowly pressed through the cordon.
"Guys," Willow spoke gently. "Thank you, but... I'm over Amy now. She can't hurt me anymore."
"Willow," Amy started. "I'm... I'm sorry for what happened, I... I wanted to give this back to you." Amy fished into her pocket and produced a wad of cash. "That's your savings. All of it. 2868 dollars and 17 cents. With interest."
Willow took the money and looked at her ex with surprise. "Uh. Thanks?" She had never expected to see her money ever again.
"And," Amy said quickly and reached into her backpack to reveal.
"BOBBY!" Willow yelled and literally snatched the old bear from Amy's hands. With tears forming in her eyes, she hugged the ratty old bear for all her worth.
"There, see?" Amy told... someone... above her? Near her? Someone invisible? "See? I did it! I did it! I returned everything! See? Now you've got to leave me alone! Forever! Like in the deal!"
Xander and Buffy shared a look. "What the hell is this?" Xander whispered. "Seriously of the weird."
"I think that voodoo-doll Dawn made of her is finally starting work," Buffy blinked.
Willow stepped towards Amy, looking her square in the eye. "You don't control me anymore, Amy," Willow spoke softly. "I've found someone who really loves me now. And, I really hope you find someone too, I really do. I hope that person can give meaning to your empty life."
Amy nodded briefly, then left in silence while Willow and her friends took their seats.
"Seriously weird," Dawn confirmed.
Willow, in the meantime, was still hugging Bobby. "He still smells the same, he still feels the same. I'm so happy."
"I'm glad, sweetie," Tara smiled warmly, knowing she'd done good.
"What... what could have gotten into Amy?" Willow said. "When she left me she was so... mean..."
"People can change, sweetie," Tara said. "Maybe something happened to her."
"I guess we'll never know," Willow said. "Tara? I meant what I said to Amy. I'm so happy you're in my life, baby. And..." Willow said, hugging Bobby one more time. "I want you to have Bobby."
Tara felt the bear being pressed in her hands. "B-but, sweetie, y-you just got him back."
"I know you'll take good care of him," Willow smiled and leaned in to kiss Tara on the cheek. "Besides, I'll get to see him every time I'm at your house. Willow's got visitation rights, baby. Uh, not that we're divorced, cause we'd have to get married first, and that's not legal at the moment, sadly. But if it would be, I'd love to marry you, but we'd never, ever get a divorce, I just know it... and I'm going to shut up now..."
"I love you," Tara smiled.
"Love you too," Willow returned.
"Well," Anya broke in. "That's a sure sign of a lick-fest on the way. Just look at their eyes and lust that is contained within them. They're going to work on their 3.2 per week quota tonight, mark my words."
"Crocodile Hunter 'ere," Xander spoke in a phony australian accent. "Today, we'll be scouting for the wild and elusive lesbian lovebird. Oy, now, she's a beaut, ain't it? Just look at the love in 'er eyes, there, thing of beauty, mate. So now that we've found 'er, I'm gonna try to poke 'er with this stick to provoke a response."
"Xander!" Anya hissed. "Don't make fun of the lesbians. It's tacky."
"I wasn't making fun of the lesbians, I was making fun of you, Ahn," Xander sighed. "Willow, let me save you from this all, by challenging you to a pool-match."
And as Willow and Xander moved to the pool table, Tara could only watch her love and think one thing : I'm nothing like Amy.