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After The Fact
by Mel Domingo

Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Everything till the end of season 6.

Summary: What takes place after the end of season 6. This fanfic details the journey Willow goes through when she finds she has to say ‘goodbye’.

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it’s entire empire belong to Joss Whedon. This story, written and owned by me, is purely for entertainment purposes only. Enjoy!

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Willow lifted her head from Xander’s shoulder, still tight in his loving embrace. “Tara… my Tara…” The tears continued to flow from her eyes. Days of pent up emotions finally catching up with her. How she wished she would never be able to feel this way ever again.

“Shhh…” Xander pulled her in tighter into his embrace. “I know Will. I know it hurts.”

Willow quickly pulled away from Xander, mildly hurt by the words that had just come out of his mouth. “Hurts? You know it hurts!?! Alexander Lavelle Harris, you have no clue how much this hurts. How can you presume to know how the hell I feel!?!”

“Whoa Will… Let’s put on the brakes here. You know I didn’t mean it that way.” Xander offered gently, not wanting to upset Willow any more than she was already.

Willow backed down a bit realizing what she had just done. She looked down to the ground avoiding eye contact with her best friend. “I-I’m sorry. I know you didn’t.” Willow looked up. “It’s just that… you’re right. It hurts. It hurts like hell.” Willow’s drying eyes suddenly began to well up with tears once again. “How would you feel if the love your life, the one person who made you feel complete, was suddenly ripped out of your life? How could you know what it’s like to hold her dying body in your arms just hoping…. Just praying that you would wake up in her arms just to find that it was all a hellish nightmare?”

“There’s no way I could even imagine how it feels to experience what you’ve been through Will.” Xander edged closer to Willow offering a sympathetic ear. “All I know is that there is a whole group of people here who are here for you. We love you Will.”

Willow started to give in to her friend’s sympathy. “I know… But, how can I live knowing that the one person who made me feel complete is never coming back. Xander… Tara’s gone.”

Xander could not bear to hear any more words from his friend. He just bolted forward to embrace Willow with all of his being. She needed to know that even though Tara was gone, there were other people in her life who love her just as much, maybe not in the same way, but definitely just as much.

“What would I do without you Xander?” Willow whispered.

Xander smiled at her. “I don’t know Will. But hey…. No matter what happens, we’re going to get through this. Right?”

“Right” Willow nodded meekly.

“Hey, how about getting out of this joint. How the hell did you get out here in the first place?”

“I think I kinda flew…”

“Well, I guess that rules out taking your ride back home.” Xander glanced at Willow just in time to catch the beginnings of a smile. “Hey, I knew you were still in there.” Xander smiled back. “Well, you’re in luck. I managed to borrow my parent’s car to drive out here. How a bout hopping into the Xander-mobile and heading home?”

Willow nodded, still too weak to respond verbally. The pair hopped into Xander’s car and sped off into the direction of Buffy’s home. The entire trip, Willow stared out of the passenger side window. Images of the past couple of days flew through her mind – first of Tara, then of Warren’s body in the woods. Willow closed her eyes willing those memories to go away. She did not want to think about the events that took place the past couple of days. All in the course of a couple of days she had managed to lose the most important person in her life and, in the rage of her overwhelming emotions, hurt all of the people she loved so dearly while succumbing to the magicks.

Willow couldn’t decide whether giving in to the magicks had been good or bad. On one hand, it hurt everyone… everything she touched. The magick nearly ended the entire world. On the other hand, it kept her from feeling. It kept her from experiencing the immense pain radiating from her broken soul.

“Hey Will… you still in there?” Xander looked into the open passenger side window from the outside of the car. Willow was thinking so much that she hadn’t realized that they had already gotten back to the house.

“Yeah,” Willow responded quietly. Xander held the car door open while Willow got out. They walked to the entrance of the house that stood unlocked.

Xander was the first to enter calling out “Hey… is anybody home?”

Willow entered slowly unsure of how her friends would act around her after the past couple of days.

“Yeah, we’re right here,” Buffy called out from the living room. She and Dawn were sitting on the couch sharing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“Look who I brought home,” Xander announced proudly.

Willow cautiously stepped passed Xander in the direction of the living room. Buffy and Dawn slowly stood up and walked toward her.

“Oh my god.” Buffy whispered. “Will, it’s so good to see you back to your old self again.” Buffy took her best friend in her arms quickly noticing the emptiness inside of her.

Willow willingly went into Buffy’s arms glad that it appeared she had been forgiven. She parted from Buffy’s embrace offering, “Listen guys. I’m really sorry about everything that’s happened the past couple of days. I feel so terrible about the things I’ve done, the thing’s I’ve said…”

“We know Will… Don’t worry about it ok?” Buffy said. “Is there anything we can do for you?”

“No… I don’t think so.” Willow just wanted to go to her and Tara’s bed to sleep. The past couple of days had worn her out.

“You sure?” Dawn piped up. “Buffy and I were just sharing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I wouldn’t mind whipping another one up for you.”

“No… I’ll be fine. I’m just tired is all. If you guys don’t mind, I’ll just go up to me and Tara’s… I mean, my room to sleep.” Willow quickly looked down to the ground, thrown by what she had just said. She made a rapid exit and went to her room.

Concerned about Willow’s actions, Buffy and Xander quietly followed her upstairs.

Willow got up the stairs and stopped dead in her tracks just inside the entrance of the bedroom, her eyes focused on the puddle of dried blood on the carpet… Tara’s blood. She edged towards the pronounced stain in the carpet and knelt down recalling the events that had happened a couple days earlier. Her hand reached out to touch the redness on the carpet when she suddenly heard Buffy’s voice.

“We haven’t quite had the chance to get that cleaned out of the carpet… Sorry. We just didn’t know how soon you’d be back.”

“It’s ok. I understand.” Willow slowly stood up and walked towards the window. She pulled aside the gauze-like curtains to reveal a windowpane with a bullet hole still prominent. She reached out to it, her finger lightly grazing over the broken glass.

“I guess we’ll have to get that repaired too,” Xander chimed in. “Not to worry, there’s not job too big or too small for super construction man Xander!” Xander’s attempt at trying to make Willow smile had failed.

Willow continued to finger the shattered glass, remembering the chain of events that happened shortly after the hole was made. After a minute, she glanced at her fingertip barely realizing that she had caught a small shard of glass, a tiny bead of blood forming underneath it. Willow didn’t really care much. It didn’t hurt. Her entire body was numb to the world.

“Hey Will…” Buffy touched Willow’s shoulder trying to distract her, “Why don’t you take my bed for a while. You look like you should get some rest. We can deal with this stuff later on. Ok?”

Willow responded, never turning to face her two friends. “Yeah… sure.”

Buffy and Xander led Willow to Buffy’s room and shut the door behind them as soon as they saw her climb into Buffy’s bed.

“Buffy,” Xander whispered not wanting Willow or Dawn to hear, “what are we going to do?”

“I don’t know, Xander. I really don’t know. All I can say is to just give her time.”

“I know. It’s just that, I can see that she’s hurting so much. Buffy, that’s Willow in there – our best friend Willow. We need to help her through this.”

“We will Xander. We’ll find a way. I know we will.”

Inside of Buffy’s bedroom, Willow lay atop of the covers her eyes still wide open. She was drained of all of her energy yet she could not sleep. The pain inside of her gut and the whirling emotions ripping her insides apart would not allow her to do so. How could she when she wasn’t in the arms of her beloved? She closed her eyes wishing and willing that her body would finally succumb to its lack of energy. Hours passed before Willow drifted into a fitful sleep, unable to completely let go.

Willow awoke hours later, not remembering why she was sleeping in Buffy’s bed. She quickly sat up, her eyes wide open, and then realized exactly why she was there. She slowly lowered her head back down to the pillow, silent tears forming in her eyes. In an instant, all the pain and anguish she had been expiriencing flooded her body with a vengeance. She laid there, curled in a tight ball, attempting to collect herself enough to leave the confines of Buffy’s room.

After a good two hours of just laying in Buffy’s bed, Willow finally worked up the strength to go into her room to freshen up before venturing downstairs to the kitchen. Buffy and Xander were sitting at the island sharing a small lunch. Willow walked straight past them not making any eye contact. She headed to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water, the only thing her stomach could process at the moment.

“Hey there stranger.” Xander called to Willow. “We were wondering when you were going to wake up. You’ve been sleeping for nearly an entire day. Which is understandable I guess. Especially after…”

“Where is she?” Willow quietly cut Xander off not wanting to hear his nonsensical ramblings.

“What?” Buffy asked, not quite sure what she had just heard.

“Where is she?” Willows voiced raised a little, frustrated at not getting a straight answer. “Where is Tara?”

“Oh. Um… The coroner came by the other day to pick up the body. “ Xander answered as he pulled the business card out of his wallet. Her handed it to Willow. “There’s a number to call.”

Willow took the card from Xander’s hand and started to head out the door.

“Where are you off to?” Buffy called, catching Willow as she reached for the door handle.

“Where do you think?” Willow bit back. She did not feel like dealing with this at the moment. All she wanted to do was see Tara.

“Why don’t you let one of us take you? I can drive you over if you like.” Xander offered.

“No. I just need to be alone.” Willow answered as she walked out the door, determined to see her beloved.

Buffy and Xander stared at the door that had been slammed moments ago, almost unable to process what had just happened.

”Maybe we should go after her.”

“No Xander. Let her go. I think she just needs some time to sort this out. Don’t worry, she’ll ask for our help if she feels she’s ready for it.” Buffy gave Xander a reassuring smile.

Willow wandered the streets of sunny suburban Sunnydale, California. Everything about the world seemed so beautiful, so perfect… to everyone else that is. The world she lived in was tainted with anger, hurt, and despair. No longer would she spend another one of these beautiful days with Tara. Willow realized that she would never be able to share life’s triumphs and pitfalls with the person who mattered more to her than life itself.

Willow got the to city morgue and walked up to the receptionist desk. “Hello, my name is Willow Rosenburg.” The receptionist looked up at her. “Tara Maclay, her body was brought in a couple days ago.” Willow drew in a deep breath almost not believing the words that had just come from her lips. “I’m here to see her and I-I’d like to make arrangements to take the body for burial.”

“Are you of any relation to her Ms. Rosenburg?”

“Yes… well, not really… not in a familial sense anyway.” Willow stuttered. “Tara’s my girlfriend.”

“I’m sorry Miss but I can only authorize family members to take, or even see, the body. I’m sorry.” The receptionist turned away from Willow breaking eye contact.

“No wait.” The receptionist turned back towards Willow. “You have to let me see her. You don’t understand. I’m all the family she’s got. I love her.”

“I’m sorry Miss, as I said, I can only authorize…”

“I heard what you said.” Willow interrupted, not wanting to hear those infamous words a second time. “Isn’t there anything else I can do. I’ll do anything.”

“Unless you can prove to me, in any way, that you have legal rights to the body, I can’t authorize anything.”

“Wait… Tara and I… We filed papers at the hospital. We did it so we would be able to make medical decisions for each other if something ever happened to one of us. Just call the hospital. I promise the papers are there. Please.” Willow took a deep breath attempting to calm herself. “Please just call. I need to see her.” Willow begged, not willing or able to wait any longer.

“Ok Miss. I’ll put in a request to the hospital to pull up the files. But it’s going to take some time.”

“I’ll be here.” Willow turned and sat down at the waiting area. She was extremely frustrated at the ridiculous hoops she had to jump through just to see her girl.

Hours passed. Willow didn’t care. She was not going to budge until she saw her Tara. Suddenly she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned to see a familiar face. “Xander.”

“I thought I’d find you here. We were starting to get kinda worried. You’ve been gone for quite some time.” Xander sat down next to his best friend.

“They wouldn’t let me see her.” Willow bluntly stated.

“Oh Will… I’m sorry. I know all this legal stuff must…”

“I’m waiting.” Willow cut him off. “I’m waiting for them to get the papers from the hospital so I can see her.”

“Oh. I see.”

There was an awkward silence between the two, neither of them knowing what to say. Minutes passed before the receptionist approached Willow.

“Miss Rosenburg?”

“Yes?” Willow answered.

“We just received a copy of the files from the hospital. You may go in to see her when you are ready.”

“I’d like to go now.” Willow stood and headed towards the doors that led to the morgue.

“You sure you don’t want me to come along?” Xander offered.

“No Xander.” Willow turned to face her friend. “I need to see her… alone.”

She turned her back to Xander and followed the receptionist to the appropriate room where Tara’s body was laying on a cold metal slab – alone. The lady who was working across the room met Willow at Tara’s body and exposed her face – beautiful and graceful even in death.

“Miss Rosenburg, please take all the time you need.” The woman exited the room, giving Willow the privacy she needed.

Willow slowly approached the body, her eyes transfixed on Tara’s unopened eyes. “Hey baby,” she whispered. “It’s me. It’s Will.”

Willow uncovered Tara’s hand and took it in her own. It was ice cold, the life and soul completely stripped away. Tears began to well up in Willow’s eyes. She lifted Tara’s hand to her lips and placed on it a gentle kiss, tears beginning to fall.

“I… I just thought I’d stop by. You know – to see how everything was going. To see how you are… And here I am rambling again.” Willow half smiled to herself. “I miss you baby. I miss you with all of my soul.”

Willow took her other hand and caressed Tara’s face. “I just don’t understand. I don’t understand how you could be taken away from me; taken away from me when life was just starting to get so… good. I just wanted to let you know that…” Willow swallowed hard, trying to keep herself from completely breaking down. She could not believe the words she was saying. “That I’ll never forget you. I’ll never forget you Tara Maclay. I’ll love you always baby and you’ll always have a special place in my heart. Always…”

Willow took in a deep breath trying to center herself. She wanted to get all these words out; she needed to. “You were the one person in my life who made me feel like I was on top of the world. You made me feel so special… so loved. Your love made me an entirely better person. And I want you to know that you’ll always be with me, baby. It’s going to be hard to go on but I can try ‘cause I know that you are with me.”

Willow leaned in to place a tender kiss on Tara’s forehead. “Goodbye Tara. I’ll never forget you.” She placed another gentle kiss on her forehead, not wanting to let go. “I love you.”

Willow tenderly placed Tara’s hand back by her side and proceeded to lift the sterile sheet to cover her body. Willow quickly turned and bolted out, knowing that if she didn’t she would never be able to leave Tara. She walked out to the reception area where Buffy and Xander were waiting for her.

Buffy, noticing the redness in Willow’s eyes took her into her arms and held her.

“I didn’t know you were here.” Willow said to Buffy.

“I just got here.” The women parted. “How are you doing?”

“I just said goodbye... I guess I need to start making the funeral arrangements.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Xander interjected. “Buffy and I have already started making plans. Two days from now. The funeral home will pick up the body. It’s all been taken care of.”

“Thanks.”

“Hey Will… What do you say we all go out and grab some dinner. You haven’t eaten...” Buffy offered.

“No. I need to go back to Tara’s dorm room. Finals are about to end and if I don’t get all of her stuff out by the end of the term, the school will just throw it all away... I can’t let that happen.”

“Then why don’t we come along and help,” Xander answered.

“Sorry guys. This is something I need to do myself.” Willow turned and walked to the door then stopped in her tracks, still facing away from her friends, “Thanks anyway.” Willow continued on her way out the door leaving Buffy and Xander immensely concerned.

“Ok Buffy… exactly when are we going to put a stop to this?” Xander was starting to get extremely antsy. He hated watching his best friend go through this without his help.

“I don’t know Xander. I just know that the timing isn’t quite right yet. We’ve just got to let it run its course.” Buffy looked up to meet Xander’s concerned eyes. “Don’t worry, she’ll come around. Just give her time.”

“If we keep giving her more time, there might not be any time left to help her.” Xander walked away and out the door. He knew it wasn’t quite the right time to approach Willow. He just needed to get some fresh air to help clear his mind.

It was starting to get dark outside. Willow noticed that the stars were already shining brightly, piercing through the remnants of the marmalade sunset. How she wished she could share this moment with her Tara. She recalled the many nights spent on the dorm rooftop with her. They’d huddle under layers upon layers of blankets while Tara gave Willow lessons in ‘astronomy’.

Willow looked up into the sky. “The big pineapple,” she whispered as Tara’s favorite constellation caught her eye. A small smile managed to creep across her lips. “You always knew how to make me smile Tara,” She said to herself.

Willow arrived at the entrance of the dorm hall and walked in, hoping that no one she knew would see her. She didn’t feel like dealing with any unexpected encounters tonight. She continued up the flights of stairs and opened Tara’s door using the key they had illegally copied months before.

It hit her like a ton of bricks. Tara’s essence was present everywhere in the room. All of her belongings seemed to sing out to Willow. The overwhelming scent of her in the room almost knocked Willow flat on her back. It was enough to make the tears well up in her eyes again. Willow made a slow tour of the familiar room, absorbing every sensory experience she encountered. Her books, her clothes, her candles… her bed.

Willow slowly walked towards the bed remembering every single night she had spent there, held tightly in the arms of her beloved. She laid down and embraced Tara’s pillow, drinking in her scent. Then it happened - slowly at first, but Willow could not control the overwhelming wave of tears that quickly took over her entire body. She laid there on Tara’s bed in a virtual tantrum, letting go of every emotion that she had held onto the entire week. “Why…. Why…Why did this have to happen? It’s just not fair.” Willow continued for hours repeating this mantra to herself attempting to purge her system of the darkness that seemed to consume her spirit.

Unable to cry anymore, Willow willed herself out of Tara’s bed and started the arduous process of collecting her things. She went down to the common area where the school had set aside boxes for the students who were moving out after finals. Willow grabbed a couple and headed back to Tara’s room where she ever so slowly began the painstaking process of going through all of Tara’s belongings.

One by one, Willow opened the drawers of the chest that contained Tara’s clothes. She meticulously lifted and folded every piece that came out, trying to put them all in one box. As she lifted each piece of clothing out of the chest, Willow recalled each and every memory she associated with them. A skirt that Tara’s wore on their first official date, the blouse she wore the first night they made love. Every single piece of clothing brought wave upon wave of memories to Willow.

Next, Willow turned to gathering all of Tara’s witchcraft books and items. She walked over to the bookcase that contained all of Tara’s magical texts. Willow ran her fingers over them, remembering how much she had learned about the craft once she had met Tara. She remembered each and every spell they had performed together. Closing her eyes, she recalled the night she had ventured into an alternate plane with Tara as her anchor. She remembered the amount of trust she had put into her newfound friend. Willow remembered everything. Grabbing a couple objects at a time, Willow started piling them into the empty cardboard boxes.

Moving to Tara’s desk, she sat for a second gazing at all of the various figurines and candles that made the room seem so… ‘Tara’. Willow took a deep breath, stopping herself from becoming overwhelmed by tears once again. It seemed so odd to her how quickly the room was reverting to its cold, empty state. Soon, there would be no sense of it being lived in; there would be no sense of her Tara.

Willow quickly stood up realizing that if she sat for a millisecond longer, she would not be able to continue. She continued to wrap the rest of Tara’s belongings and place them into the cardboard boxes. It wasn’t long before the room became a barren cave, an empty hole which held witness to numerous acts of friendship and love between Willow and Tara.

After placing the last of Tara’s belongings into the overflowing boxes, Willow looked out the window realizing that it was daylight. She had spent the entire night in Tara’s room. She took a deep sigh and laid down on the bed whose covers have not yet been touched because it was going to be the last thing to be packed away. Willow had avoided putting the many sheets and pillows away the entire night because of all the memories she associated with it – so many happy memories with her Tara. Thankful that she had not yet stripped Tara’s bed, Willow laid down for the last time on it and drifted off to sleep, exhausted from the events of the past 24 hours.

Back at the Summers residence, Buffy attempted to prepare Dawn’s breakfast – pancakes in funny shapes. She knew they were Dawn’s favorite when Tara was around to cook breakfast.

“Hey Dawn, you better hurry up and come down so you can eat breakfast before school!” Buffy was almost surprised to hear how mom-like she was starting to sound.

“I’m coming!” Dawn ran down the stairs and plopped herself into the barstool at the kitchen island. “So, what you got cooking?”

“Pancakes… funny shapes.” Buffy offered a plate to Dawn. “I know how much you liked it whenever Tara made them.”

Dawn looked down at her plate saddened, “Yeah, I guess I did like the funny shapes more than the rounds.”

“I miss her too Dawn.” Buffy placed a stray lock of Dawn’s hair back in place, smiling.

“Where’s Willow?” Dawn looked up to meet her sister’s eyes. “I didn’t hear her come in last night and I looked into her room this morning. It didn’t look like she was in at all last night.”

“Willow’s got some stuff to deal with sweetie. She’ll be around soon. I promise. Now, eat your breakfast before it gets all soggy and cold.” Buffy smiled at her sister, trying to reassure her, as well as herself, that Willow was truly all right.

Willow awoke a couple hours later finding herself curled up around one of Tara’s pillows. She sighed, forcing herself to get out of bed. She began to strip the bed and placed the pillows and sheets into the last cardboard box. Willow looked around noticing how barren the room looked… felt. So different from how it was less than 24 hours ago. Realizing that she had more boxes than she could possibly carry back to the house, Willow decided to go back to the house to see if she could borrow Xander’s car for a while.

Willow slowly walked back to the house, not wanting to rush matters. The sooner she got back to the house, the sooner Tara’s room would be emptied… Gone… A memory of the past.

Buffy was sitting on the couch reading a magazine on her lunch break when Willow walked through the door. “Willow!” Buffy was a bit surprised at her friend’s entrance.

“Oh… hi.” Willow was glad that Buffy was home. She didn’t exactly feel like being by herself anymore.

“What happened to you last night?” Buffy was curious, as well as concerned, about the whereabouts of her friend. She secretly hoped Willow didn’t find her way back to a place like Rack’s.

Willow sat next to Buffy on the couch. “I spent the night over at Tara’s place. I managed to finish packing up all her things. I was kinda hoping to borrow Xander’s car to bring the boxes back to the house. But I guess he isn’t…”

“Did I hear my name?” Xander burst through the door. “Oh, hey Willow.”

“Willow was just wondering if she could borrow your car to bring Tara’s things over,” Buffy stated.

“Of course.” Xander was glad Willow was starting to open up to her friends again.

“Actually,” Willow interrupted, “I was kinda hoping if you guys could come along and help. It’s just that, Tara’s got a lot of things and…”

“Say no more Willow,” Xander said, “Of course I’ll help.”

“Sorry sweetie,” Buffy apologized, “I’ve gotta be back at the doublemeat in half an hour. I’m just on lunch break. But, I’d gladly help you put things away once you get it back to the house.”

“Thanks guys.” Willow took a deep breath, realizing that she had to say a few things to her friends. “Thanks for everything. I mean, I know I haven’t been exactly the funnest person to be around lately...”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Xander interrupted.

“Well, thanks anyway.” Willow let out remnants of a smile, still hurting too much to produce a full one.

Xander and Willow made their way back to UC Sunnydale to pick up all of Tara’s belongings. It took a couple of trips up and down the stairs but they managed to cram all of the boxes into Xander’s car. As Willow grabbed the last box, she stood at the doorway gazing into an empty shell of a room… a memory of the past.

“Hey Will, you ok?” Xander came up behind her putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Yeah… I will be.” Willow took a deep breath. “I guess this is the last of it.” She turned, taking the last of Tara’s things down to the car. Xander stood at the doorway to the empty room as Willow had done moments ago. Willow noticed that he wasn’t following her to the stairwell. “Hey, you coming?”

“In a second.” Xander answered. Willow continued on her way down to the car but he stayed for a moment, trying to register what he and Willow had just done. Xander looked into the empty room remembering the face of a dear friend, “Goodbye Tara.” He turned around, shut the door to the room, and headed down to the car.

Getting back to the house, Xander and Willow began to bring all of the boxes up to Willow’s room.

“You sure you don’t want to just leave this stuff downstairs for now?” Xander asked, slightly hoping that the rest of the boxes would be lighter than the one she had in his arms at the moment.

“No, I’d rather sort through all this stuff up in the room. Then I’ll decide what needs to get stored in the basement.” Willow answered before stopping at the doorway to the room realizing that the large red stain on the carpet was gone.

Xander noticed that Willow’s eyes were lingering on the spot where Tara’s blood once was. “Buffy and I had it cleaned yesterday. We kinda figured that you’d want to sleep in a clean room when you got back from packing Tara’s things.”

“Yeah.” Willow continued into the room and put the box she was carrying down next to the far wall and sat on the bed, still eyeing the spot on the floor. Secretly, she despised the fact that the bloodstain was gone. Slowly but surely, every tangible remnant of Tara’s existence was disappearing from her life. First her room, her treasured belongings, now her blood – her life force. In a way, she wanted to stain to always be there so it could remind her of her girl. Soon, her body would be buried in the ground, gone forever from Willow.

“Will, why don’t you go ahead and start sorting through the boxes we’ve brought up already.” Xander realized that he had hit a sore spot on Willow. He knew she needed some time to be alone with herself. “I’ll bring the rest of the boxes up in a minute.” Xander made a speedy exit, leaving Willow to herself.

Willow stood up and walked towards the window realizing that the broken windowpane still existed. She seemed half glad that it was still there. Maybe Xander and Buffy had forgotten about it. It was, after all, hidden behind the curtains. Willow thought hard about perhaps not telling them about it. As morbid as it seemed, she needed something tangible - something real - to remind her of her girl; even if it was the bullet hole caused by the tiny piece of metal that killed Tara.

Hours later, all of the boxes had been brought up to Willow’s room. That night, She and Buffy spent some time together sorting through Tara’s things. Slowly but surely, many of Tara’s things were either put in their new places in Willow’s room or put into boxes that would be taken into the basement as soon as they were finished. The two friends spent hours together talking and reminiscing about their experiences with Tara as objects from the past were pulled out of the boxes.

Buffy was amazed to hear the many stories that Willow had to offer about her experiences with Tara. She had no idea that they had hidden their relationship with each other for so long. It almost hurt too much to see the look on Willow’s face when she came across an object that reminded her of a particularly significant event in their relationship, especially if it was from the first few months the two women knew each other. Willow spoke of the many nights she spent in Tara’s room trying out newer, more advanced spells with the many books and objects that Tara possessed. All Buffy could do was sit there in awe and carefully listen to the tale of these two lovers.

The last couple boxes that were unpacked contained all of Tara’s magick supplies – books, candles, herbs – everything that had been taken out of the house months before when Willow was trying to end her addiction to the magicks. Buffy started getting a little uncomfortable the instant she opened the first box that contained most of Tara’s books and some of her crystals.

“Hey Willow…” Buffy was careful about the way she said this to her friend. She didn’t want to upset Willow any more than she had been for the past couple of days. “The stuff in these boxes, what were you planning on doing with them?”

“Oh I don’t know. I guess I was thinking about keeping most of it up here. I set aside some room on my bookcase and I’m sure there’s room for the other stuff if we get a little creative.” Willow gave off a half smile. She could tell that Buffy was concerned about having magick things in her room. But, all of these objects meant so much to Willow. They reminded her so much of Tara. There was no way she was going to throw it into the basement where it would eventually be forgotten.

“Are you sure about that Will?” Buffy wanted to voice her concerns. She did not want Willow to fall back into her addiction, especially now. “I mean, there hasn’t really been any magick stuff in the house since… well, you know. I just want to make sure that you’ll be ok with having it so close by.”

“No Buffy.” Willow quickly became serious. She was not about to let Tara’s most important belongings rot away in the basement. It hurt Willow thinking about how upset Tara would be if she found out. “Tara’s magick stuff stays here.”

“Will… Are you sure…” Buffy wasn’t about to give up on this one that easily.

“I said Tara’s stuff stays up here.” Willow softened a bit realizing that she was starting to push Buffy away again. “It’s just that, all of these things mean so much to me and Tara. And to think of it just sitting in the basement gathering dust… No, they have to stay up here with me.”

“Fine,” Buffy gave up, knowing that this wasn’t a battle she wanted to fight right now. “So the rest of the boxes stay up here. Then, I guess I’ll just take the boxes in the hallway down to the basement.” Buffy turned to walk out the door.

Sensing that Buffy was frustrated with her, Willow called out to her, “Buffy wait! I’m sorry. It’s just that… I need these things with me. They’re just so… ‘Tara’. And...”

“It’s ok. Really it is… I understand.” Buffy gave Willow a smile as a peace offering. “I’ll just bring this stuff downstairs. You don’t need my help unpacking the rest of the stuff right?”

“Yeah… I’ll be fine.”

“Hey, don’t stay up too late ok?” Buffy almost didn’t want to remind Willow of what was happening in less than 24 hours. “Tomorrow’s…”

“I know…” Willow cut Buffy off as she looked down at the candle she had just taken out of one of the boxes. It was the candle she brought to Tara’s room the night she chose her over Oz. She started fingering it saying, “Tomorrow we bury Tara.”

Buffy left Willow to herself as she brought Tara’s things down to the basement. She wanted so badly for all of this to be over with. She wanted Willow to be happy again. She wanted to turn back the clocks just in time to stop Warren from taking out that retched gun. Buffy saw how much pain Willow had been going through this past week. It was almost too much for her to bear.

Willow spent the night unpacking the rest of the boxes. By the time she was done, her room was filled with so many objects and memories that contained Tara’s essence. The room almost felt complete to Willow. It was just lacking one essential thing – Tara.

Willow fell asleep dressed in Tara’s favorite pajamas in the early hours of the morning. She had been done unpacking Tara’s things earlier that evening but she had spent the rest of the night trying to decide what she was going to say at Tara’s burial. There was so much to say, so much she held within her heart, but she could barely manage to put it into words. She finally decided to go to bed because she knew she had to gather some strength for what she had to do that day.

“Willow…”

Willow slightly raised her head from the pillow puzzled by the familiarity of the voice but laid it back down dismissing the voice as a figment of her imagination.

“Willow… Please get up.” The voice begged.

She turned and sat up in bed, her eyes shot wide open when she saw the beautiful angel standing before her radiating beams of warm, healing light. “Tara.”

“Yes my love. It’s me.”

“Oh my god… Tara!” Willow jumped out of bed and quickly ran to embrace her and planted a sweet, tender kiss on her lips. “But… I don’t understand. How is this happening?”

“I need to tell you something.” Tara caressed Willow’s face with her hand, brushing a stray tear away. “First of all, you know I love you. I’ll always love you my Willow Tree.”

“I know baby. I know you do.” Willow looked at Tara with tears in her eyes, barely believing the sight standing before her.

“You have to go on Will.”

“What!?!”

“Will, you can’t let this ruin your life. I know you’re hurting. I miss you too. Will… You have to promise you’ll go on living your life. Live it for the both of us.” Tara took Willow’s hand in her own. “Promise me.”

“I promise.” Willow could barely speak. “But… I miss you Tara. I miss you so damn much.”

Tara took her beloved into her arms, trying to chase away the tears. “I know sweetie.”

“I love you Tara.” Willow met Tara’s lips for a final kiss.

“I love you Willow.” Tara held her in arms, refusing to let her go.

“Willow?” Buffy stood at the doorway to Willow’s room attempting to awake her sleeping friend. Willow shifted in bed but still appeared to be asleep. Buffy walked up to the bed and laid a gentle hand on Willow’s shoulder. “Will… Sweetie, it’s time to get up.”

Willow’s eyes fluttered open. She took a quick glance around the room quickly realizing where she was. “It was a dream…” Willow said to herself.

“What?” Buffy asked.

“Oh nothing. You just woke me up from a dream. That’s all. What time is it?”

“It’s almost noon. Dawn wanted to wake you earlier but I told her you needed your sleep. You looked like you were tossing and turning all night.” Buffy, realizing that Willow needed a few moments to herself, turned to go downstairs. “I’ll see you downstairs in a few?”

“Yeah… I’ll just be a minute.” Willow responded as Buffy left the room. “I really should get up,” she thought to herself knowing that Tara’s burial was going to happen in a little over an hour. Willow got out of bed and stood at the foot of it remembering the dream she just had. She remembered it like it happened only seconds ago. She almost didn’t want to think of it as being a dream. The experience was too… real.

About a half an hour later, Willow met Buffy and Dawn downstairs in the kitchen.

“Hi Willow.” Dawn offered a smile to her.

“Hey Dawnie. You guys ready to go?” Willow asked, halfway wanting to just get the whole ordeal over with.

“Yeah. Xander’s meeting us in a minute or two. He figured he should drive all of us. I think he’s feeling all chauffery after all the driving he’s done the past couple of days.” Buffy hoped Willow didn’t mind. She wanted this day to be as easy on her as possible. She knew Willow must have been dreading it with her entire existence.

Xander met up with the girls in a few minutes. They all rode to the cemetery in utter silence, none of them knowing exactly what to say. When they got to Tara’s gravesite, they were met by two dear friends.

“Anya! Giles!” Willow went up to both of them and gave them a hug. “I didn’t think you guys would come. Especially after this past week… After all the things I did.”

“Of course we came.” Giles answered.

“Yeah… even if your witchy, veiny self did try to smash us all into itty bitty pieces.” Anya interjected in her usual cheery manner.

Willow looked over Anya’s shoulder and Tara’s casket caught her eye. She pushed past the two and stood right next to it.

“The funeral home just brought her over when we got here.” Giles stated.

“Oh.” It was all Willow could say. Seeing Tara in the casket made her realize the finality to this day… This single moment. In a few minutes, her body would be lowered into the ground and become another memory to everyone standing near her. “I guess we should start now. I knew Tara didn’t want your classic burial ceremony so I was wondering if we could all… I guess, just say something about her.”

“I think that’s a lovely idea.” Giles answered, hoping that it would give Willow the confidence to go on.

The scoobies stood in silence, none of them knowing exactly what to say.

Willow was about to give up on the idea when she heard Dawn break the silence.

“I always loved it when Tara cooked breakfast for me. I’m going to miss her funny shaped pancakes. I never told her, but they were my favorite.”

“You just did sweetie.” Buffy put her arm around her little sister and offered her a smile knowing that this must be rough for her. “Tara’s one of the sweetest, most loyal people I have ever known. She didn’t pass judgment on me when I confessed to her that Spike and I had a relationship. She promised me that she would never tell anyone – and she never did. I’m going to miss her inner beauty, her strength, her courage. I’m going to miss her.”

“You know,” Xander piped up. “When I first met Tara, I only knew her as Willow’s girlfriend. All I knew was that she made my best friend incredibly happy – and that made her a good person in my book. But, over time, I got to know that sweet, lovable person that Willow fell in love with. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.”

Giles removed his glasses and used his handkerchief to wipe the lenses. He replaced them to their normal resting spot on his face saying, “Yes, well, Tara may not have been the most quick or nimble person when fighting demons but she possessed an inner strength and courage that quickly surpassed any of my expectations. She has proven herself to be a worthy warrior against the demons of the hellmouth as well as the demons of life. She will be missed.”

“I just want to say that Tara has been a great help around the shop. I mean, who else would be able to ring up five customers while convincing a wannabe wicca that the Aphrodite love spell isn’t exactly the best way to convince a person that he should marry you. That girl has talent.” Anya finished off her sentence realizing that everyone was looking at her oddly. She dismissed it, thinking that it must not have been anything she said.

“Well, first of all, I want to thank all of you guys for coming today. I know that it would mean a lot to Tara to know that you guys cared about her so much. Second, I want to apologize for everything that I’ve done the past couple of days. I know that it wasn’t the smartest decision on my part and that it isn’t what Tara would have wanted me to do.” Willow, took a deep breath, knowing that she had to say what was in her heart.

“Meeting Tara was probably the best thing that has ever happened to me. Over the past couple of years, her friendship and her love has shown me that I am a special person, even though I may not feel like it at times. All she would have to do is look at me a certain way and I knew… I knew that I wasn’t just some ordinary girl. Being with Tara has showed me what love and friendship really is. She’s shown me that love isn’t just the feeling that happens between two people who are attracted to each other. Love is being able to let go… Being able to tell a person that she is wrong and leave when she doesn’t want to listen to a healthy dose of reality. I realize now that through it all, she never stopped loving me... Never. And, I will never stop loving her. She has been a loyal friend and devoted girlfriend. I’m going to miss her with all of my heart, body, mind, and soul.”

Willow didn’t realize until then that tears had been falling on her face for some time. She looked at her friends through clouded eyes and realized just how much they love and care for her.

The group huddled together and watched as Tara’ body was lowered into the ground; each person silently saying ‘goodbye’ to a dear friend. When it was all over, the scoobies started to go their separate ways. Willow didn’t move from Tara’s grave. Her eyes were still transfixed on the lowered coffin.

“Hey Will,” Buffy called after her, “You coming?”

“No, I think I’m going to stay for a while.” She answered.

“Okay, but if you need anything just give us a call.” Buffy walked away leaving Willow by herself standing in front of Tara’s grave.

Willow stood there letting it all soak in. She could barely comprehend the fact that they had just buried Tara. It all seemed so surreal. She took a deep breath and remembered the dream she had that morning. She could recall Tara’s words, her demand that Willow live her life to the fullest even if she wasn’t around. “I will go on Tara. I promise”

Willow sat there for hours. Looking into the stunning sunset, she began to contemplate how her life would be without her Tara.

--- June 30,2002


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